Friday, February 12, 2010

Callum


Title: Callum
Author: Ranger
Author's Note: This is fan fic written by kind permission of AJ and Dash whose Island series I love- an island where tops 
and brats go to be trained to live happily in discipline relationships, and where they can be matched with 
the right partners. I strongly recommend reading the original stories. Thanks again to the guys for giving me a free hand to play in this playground, it was great fun!  More Island stories can be found at: The Island - In its Original Form and The Island - New Terms

~*~   ~*~   ~*~ 

"There's only three of them." Neil cautiously shifted his weight in the infirmary to reach the files on the bed. The cast, immobilising him from hip down to both ankles seriously impeded his movement. Callum pushed the folders nearer, into his hands.
"That's fine, don't worry."
"I'm supporting one more- Sajid- he's been matched and gone about four months, it's going pretty smoothly and I can handle that over the phone and by email. It’s the hands on guys I can't manage."
"It'll be okay." Callum said soothingly. Neil cast a glare at his plastered legs.
"Never again do I climb any rock face on this…….."
Callum looked at him. Neil shook his head.
"….Island. And a broken pelvis entitles me to swear."
"You've read the sign in the common room. Tops may only swear when at least one mile off the coast, off duty and under extreme provocation." Callum said with a straight face. Then gave his friend a gentle push. "It'll be fine. Trust me."
"I HATE dumping my guys on anyone- especially when you and Paul have already got your hands full." Neil said fretfully.  Callum took no notice of that, tactfully turning back to the files.
"Give me the low down then. Tell me all about your maniacs."
"MY maniacs?" Neil grinned, distracted. "My well behaved, angelic 5s? A walk in the park for you! That's the one point I think Hayes is right on: after your B7s and 8s you can handle my gang with your eyes closed." He flipped the file open and turned it around for Callum to see. "Liam. What you see is what you get; he's a sweetheart. Not been here THAT long. He's just got limited amounts of common sense, no sense of danger and no understanding of cause and effect."
"It’s a common problem." Callum commented, thinking of the lively, sweet tempered young man he saw around The Island. "From what I know of him, he's easy going."
"He's not hard work at all- just needs a close eye and a firm hand before he takes anything out of control." Neil shifted again, uncomfortable in the plaster. "No matches on the cards as yet, although he's going to be a dream to place. Seth. He can be quite challenging. Gets aggressive fast, and once he's angry he winds himself up and up until he blows. Sounds as hard as nails and actually needs very gentle handling. Take things lightly enough and you can avoid the whole blowing up problem in the first place, I'm sure a lot of it's a defensive habit."
"Ok, kid gloves." Callum pencilled a note in the margin. "Paul will take him. He looked the easiest of your three and Paul two brats are harder work than mine."
"That's debatable." Neil said darkly. "I've MET Tom…."
Callum smiled. Neil turned the page to show him a form.
"Seth is in the early stages of a match. European guy. Ken."
"That’s the one you weren't keen on." Callum said, remembering a few conversations late night in the canteen. Neil winced.
"I don't know. Might be wrong. He just doesn't strike me as having the patience Seth's going to need to settle long term. Anyway. He's visiting once or twice a month. Isn't due for a few weeks."
"That leaves Alex." Callum said, picking up the third file. "Your baby. I'll have him and Liam."
Neil pulled a face. "Alex is the one I'm really not happy about leaving. It's only been two weeks, he's nowhere NEAR settled yet. Not even enough time to build a half way decent relationship with him."
"He's young isn't he?" Callum said abstractedly, reading the admission notes in the file.
"Eighteen." Neil said wryly. "A lot younger than the other two. They pretty much get on okay, but he'll trail after Liam's mad ideas without thinking twice at the moment. He's so new I've been keeping him pretty close, he hasn't had the chance to get into difficulties. Don't think I've seen the real Alex yet either. He's very quiet. Reserved. Which doesn't tally with the emotional profile the admissions team wrote."
"He'll be okay." Callum folded the files and crossed his heart. "We'll be gentle I promise. With ALL of your three."
Neil gave him a faintly nervous look. "Are you seriously going to move my fives in with your sevens?"
"More room." Callum said matter of factly. " No point in unsettling all of them if we don't have to. And better to absorb your guys into our routine than start from scratch again."
"Putting barbed wire down the hallway?"
Callum laughed. "No. Our guys keep their rooms. Liam and Seth can stay together in one room and Alex can have the other spare room to himself. We'll be fine for a couple of weeks until you're fit again. Have they been in to see you?"
"Liam and Seth a lot." Neil smiled. "Liam like a yoyo. Alex hasn't. Mostly because I think he's scared about what he does now I'm out of action."
"I'll hold his hand." Callum promised, getting up. "And I'll be back with questions as they arise. You rest and stop worrying."
Neil pulled a face. Callum stooped and kissed his friend's forehead.
"It'll be okay. Get some sleep."
He left the infirmary knowing Neil was far from reassured. And not as confident himself as he'd let Neil believe. IF Neil hadn't seen through him. It was a skill most of the Tops were highly competent at.
"I'm sorry." Hayes had said that morning, looking anxiously from Paul to Callum, seated side by side in his office. "We don't like mixing fives and sevens- not a good combination for anyone- and a serious handful for you. But everyone else is working at full capacity now, no one else can take three orphans on board like this- and we need tops with a lot of experience to handle a group this size. You two are a tight unit and you have the room in your cottage to take the three together. The only other possible option is to split the group up and hand them out around the fours and sixes groups-"
"No." Callum said at once. "Bad enough for them to lose Neil. Don't want to split the group up as well."
"Exactly." Hayes said unhappily. "And Neil's partner has three brats of his own, one of them new. There's no way he can handle Neil's three too. Which means overworking you. The fact is, we're running a little above our capacity right now, and the answer is that we expand a little. Juggle the budgets in a month or so and employ a couple more tops. But not until the next board meeting. Is this feasible? Will your brats handle it?"
"They'll have to." Paul said simply. "Carl will. Mitchell I'll just keep a close eye on."
"Simon'll be okay." Callum said, thinking of his own two charges. "He's not really a seven. More a very unsettled five. Tom….."
Hayes gave him a wry smile. "Is Tom. Yes. What we could do is move all of you into one of the big houses so you and Paul could be together more easily?"
Paul and Callum glanced at each other.
"We'd rather keep our guys in their own cottage." Callum said absorbedly, "It's okay. We'll manage. If you'll get my two to class, I'll round up these three and move them in with us now."
"No problem." Paul said placidly.
"If I can help at all, you only have to ask." Hayes said with some relief. "This is much appreciated both of you, believe me." 
 
************ 
 
"You're kidding me." Seth dumped his tray on the table and pulled the chair out next to Liam's. The canteen was full, and as usual more than slightly noisy. Liam glowered at him over a plate of scrambled eggs.
"I'm NOT. I went back to get the books I forgot this morning, and heard Ryan talking on the phone in Neil's room-"
"You listened?" Seth said innocently. Liam growled.
"And so would you! Neil's seriously out of action for at least three weeks which is why WE get dumped in another cottage."
"They're not seriously going to stick us in with a bunch of sevens though are they?"
"From what Ryan said, yes." Liam put his fork down and pushed his plate away. It was a fairly safe move with Neil restricted to an infirmary bed. "He said something about they'd talked about offering the job to one of the tops in training if it was only for a few weeks, but it sounds like they gave up on that. And the resident tops had volunteered to do shifts to stay with us for a few days but they couldn't run like that for so long."
Seth pulled a face. "At least we could stay in the cottage!"
"But all the resident tops who have stayed with us so far are committed. They do a few hours and then go home to their own brats, none of them would do the job full time." Liam grinned, the usual sun briefly coming out in his face. "If all goes well with Ken, would YOU want him mucking around with three other brats at all hours of the day and night?"
"Is that all you're going to eat, Liam?"
Both Liam and Seth glanced up. Callum was no taller than Neil but heavier built and a lot darker. He gave them both a friendly smile.
"As soon as you've finished, come over to cottage 5 and I'll help you move your stuff over. You'll be moving in with me and Paul, and our brats, for a couple of weeks until Neil's fit. Do you know where Alex is?"
Seth glanced at Liam, rolling his eyes slightly. Liam tried and didn't quite stifle the grin.
"No. Maybe he's still at the cottage, I don't know."
"Allright." Callum said easily. "Get a move on. You'll need to be moved and ready in time for classes this morning. And Liam, if you're not going to finish those eggs, get yourself some toast. It's a long time to lunch."
He waited until Liam got up and moved towards the serving hatch before he left. Liam, returning with two pieces of toast, both of which he abandoned on the plate of cooling eggs, pulled a face at Seth.
"So what they say about T8s is true then. They ARE control freaks." 
 
******* 
 
"You CAN'T seriously mean they're moving in here!" Simon said in outrage. Callum leaned across to shut the door to his room. At the other end of the cottage in his office, Paul was breaking the same news to Mitchell and Carl and probably meeting the same protests.
"They DID move in here this morning. And they're staying with us until Neil's fit enough to go back on duty, so I don't want to hear any more about it. You know people come and go here, it's something everyone has to deal with in the cottages."
"Not in gangs like this! This isn't integration, it's invasion!"
"That's rubbish." Callum said calmly. "And they're probably nervous about being here, and they're upset enough about losing Neil, so neither of you are going to say ANYTHING that is going to make them feel unwanted or unwelcome. Is that clear?"
Simon glared at him. Tom, who was sitting on the windowsill with both long legs drawn up under his chin, merely nodded. He had said nothing. Simon hadn't stopped protesting since he and Tom came back from lunch to be informed that two extra rooms in the cottage were now occupied. Callum sighed inwardly and softened his voice. Both Simon and Tom had been with him for several months, they were used to each other and to having him and the cottage to themselves. What was most likely bothering Simon was instant insecurity about where he fitted in amongst another three brats. It was never easy trying to accommodate new people into a familiar routine. Which was why The Island usually introduced new brats one at a time into a settled cottage.
"It isn't going to change much for you two at all. It's only for a few weeks. You've got nothing to worry about. In the meantime, if we need to work on cheering Liam, Seth and Alex up a little, maybe we should try a late swim this weekend."
That raised a flicker of interest under Simon's scowl. Callum got up off his desk.
"I'll get the keys from housekeeping on Friday evening and we'll have the pool to ourselves for an hour. Simon, you've got a class in ten minutes."
"It's only the General Studies lecture-" Simon began dismissively. Callum opened the door for him.
"Which you can tell me all about later. Quick, you're going to be late."
Simon grimaced, but moved. Callum put an arm around him in the doorway and gave him a hug.
"Don't worry. It'll be fine."
"Yeah, right." Simon said quite audibly under his breath.
Tom hadn't moved off the windowsill. Callum waited until the door shut, then looked at him more carefully, moving across to put a hand on his forehead.
"What do you think about all this?"
Tom shrugged his big shoulders, apparently without feelings on the subject.
"The poor so and so's have to go somewhere."
"Have you got another headache?"
Tom shrugged again. "The start of one. It was stuffy in class this morning."
"Anything else? Your eyes feel okay? Sick?"
"No, just the headache." Tom gave him a faint smile, unwinding his long legs to get to his feet. He was one of the tallest brats on The Island, over 6 foot and gangly enough to look a lot taller, and he seemed to be genetically incapable of looking tidy at any time. Fresh out of the shower in newly ironed clothes he still looked had the knack of looking like he'd just spent the night in a field. Callum automatically straightened his hair as he passed him to open the drawer he kept locked. Tom accepted the two Tylenol he took out of it and the glass of water he was handed, knocking the pills back without complaint. Callum watched him, not too happy.
"If you get another of these headaches I'm going to get someone at the infirmary to check you over. You're getting them way too often at the moment."
"I think it's the heat, I'm not used to it."
"You've been here long enough to acclimatise." Callum took the glass from him. "Why don't you lie down for an hour? I'll come and check on you in a while."
Tom went quietly. Callum pulled out a notebook from his desk, half an ear on the sound of Tom's door opening, then the creak of his bed as he lay down. Callum sat down and added to a list in the notebook that was getting worryingly long. He'd shown the book to one of The Island medics weeks ago and had Tom's eyesight tested, wondering if it was eye strain, but the problem didn't seem to be getting any better. He logged the amount of Tylenol given and the time, put the notebook away and settled down to reading through the three files in detail of Neil's brats. 
  
 
*********** 
 
The heat broke about five pm with a storm that opened the skies in nearly torrential rains. With the risk of lightening, not to mention the risk of the electricity going out if the storm continued, all evening activities were cancelled by five thirty. It meant that by six pm, all the Island brats were in their cottages with an evening ahead of them of amusing themselves.
It had to happen sooner or later Callum thought philosophically when Simon unwillingly came in at five to six; the last of their brats to come home. They were going to have to meet up and get used to each other at some point. Liam and Seth had come back at five thirty from the dining room apparently seeking solidarity in numbers. They'd vanished into the communal family room and turned the tv on. Alex, who didn't seem to be part of the Liam-Seth group, had followed ten minutes later and gone straight to the room he had to himself. Simon would have buried himself in his room too except Callum went out to stop him.
"Simon. Tom's asleep, he's got another headache. Is there anything you really need out of your room?"
Simon's expression made it clear he was being ridiculous.
"Only dry clothes! It's pouring out there-"
"Since you didn't take anything of yours out of the dryer last night there's piles of dry clothes in the laundry room." Callum pointed out. "Get something from there. I'd like Tom to sleep if he can."
"So what do I do all night?" Simon demanded. "Laundry?"
"Why don't you watch tv with the others?" Callum suggested. "At least you won't be bored with Tom out of action."
Simon went, with less than good grace. Callum left his door wide open, gave a brief glance at Liam and Seth settled at the tv, and went back to his room and his files.
"Callum?"  a hesitant voice said from the doorway ten minutes later.
Callum looked up from his paperwork and smiled at the young man standing there.
"Hi Alex."
"Can I go over to cottage 4 for a while? Tony's got one of my books."
"Alex it's pouring out there."
"It isn't far to walk…" Alex pleaded. Callum shook his head.
"The forecast is for more storms. Why don't you ask the others if they've got anything you want to read?"
Alex's face had fallen and the faint shrug Callum got took all of the conviction out of what might have been a smile.
"Sure."
"Alex?" Callum started, intending to call him back. Alex hesitated, then flinched as voices rose in the family room down the hall. Callum got up from his desk at once, heading past Alex fast.
"Hang on a minute."
Seth and Simon were nose to nose and glaring at each other in the middle of the room, with Liam clearly ranged on Seth's side. Callum got between the two main combatants and took the pack of cards out of Simon's hands.
"What exactly is the problem here?"
No one answered. Simon was staring at the floor and Seth had his arms folded, clearly keeping quiet with an effort. Callum flipped the cards over in his hand,
"Simon, are these yours?"
Simon's defensive scowl instantly took over. "I JUST-"
"Yes or no?"
"Yes." Simon muttered. Callum pocketed them.
"Then they're confiscated. You know the rules. No cards outside the games hall."
"That's a stupid rule." Simon said sourly. "We're ADULTS for Pete's sake…"
"And communities have rules." Callum said cheerfully. "If you want to write a petition to the directors I'll be happy to check and sign it for you."
"They'd only turn it down."
"I'm sure they'd explain their reasons to you." Callum surveyed the other two, not blinking on the scowls. "Why don't you gentlemen find something else to do? There's plenty of other games in the cupboard. Plenty of videos."
"IF you like Gwynneth Paltrow." Liam said under his breath. Simon glowered at him.
"Better than Angel."
"Why don't you toss for it?" Callum suggested patiently. "Or do you want me to?"
"That's fine." Liam got up with a final scowl at Simon. "I'll stay in my room."
"Oh dear." Callum moved placidly to fill the doorway, blocking Liam's exit. "Well I see we have two problems here. One is that no one is going to stay in his room for the next few weeks. The other is that you are all going to have to work out how to share the facilities around here."
The lack of enthusiasm was deafening.
Callum looked around the family room, fixing each one of his group with a Look.
"Now one of two solutions leaps to mind. Either you can promise me- faithfully- that you will try to get along without my help? And that includes working out how to share the tv and video."
He was met by sullen silence and a distinct lack of eye contact. Callum folded his arms and settled his shoulders back against the doorframe.
 "Or Paul and I can organise group video nights."
Liam looked, bewildered at Simon, who had frankly cringed at that comment. Callum gave Liam and Seth an amiable smile.
"You see we have several, VERY pleasant videos of Barney. Which we like to watch, back to back, in the company of ALL our brats when no one can think of anything better to do. A nice, friendly way to spend a long evening together. A real bonding experience."
"You're not serious." Seth said, laughing. Callum raised his eyebrows at Simon.
"Am I serious Simon?"
"Yes." Simon mumbled.
"So shall I get out Barney's fun filled day of songs….? Or can you guys entertain yourselves without my help?" Callum inquired. The answers he got were mumbled but quick.
"Yes …"
"Wonderful." Callum said warmly. "In which case I'll go back to work. But I'll keep an ear out just in case you change your minds."
He was aware of the silence he left behind him. Alex was still standing in the hallway, looking miserable. Callum dropped an arm around his shoulders as he passed.
"Why don't you come in-"
The bleeper on his belt made him wince.
"-while I answer the phone. I'll be one minute Alex, I promise."
Alex took a seat on the sofa and stared at Callum's bookshelves. Callum sat down at the desk and picked up the phone, dialling rapidly.
"Hi, Callum Richards?"
"Callum it's Andy." The head of cottage 8 sounded tired and fed up. "There was a little impromptu beach party tonight- IN the rain- the detention centre just rounded up about seven assorted brats including both of mine-"
"Where did they stage that!" Callum demanded.
"On the cove where they had the harbour lights. Thank God they were spotted before anyone tried swimming. But the guards who saw them said there was someone else on the beach. Not with the party, but further along. Could have been anyone of course, but from the description, it sounded an awful lot to me like Tom…"
Callum took a slow breath. "Hang on a sec?"
Tom's door was still closed. Callum tapped gently and opened it. The curtains were drawn, the bed was empty and the window off the latch. Resisting the urge to swear, Callum went back to the phone.
"Okay. Thanks Andy."
Alex looked up, faintly inquiring as Callum put the phone down. Callum gave him a wry smile, pulling his jacket on.
"Alex I'm sorry, I've got to go out for a bit. If I get this sorted out before ten I'll come and find you and we'll have that talk- if not, I'll make a time with you first thing in the morning. I promise."
Alex's shrug said it all. "You don't have to, it's okay-"
"It's what I do, and it's important." Callum gave him a quick smile and went past him into the hallway. "What are you going to do? Why don't you watch videos with the others?"
"I'm really tired. I think I'll just go to bed."
Damn.
Cursing Tom, Callum zipped his jacket, checked on the other three who were assembled around an episode of Angel, and tapped on Paul's door. Paul's response was quick and sympathetic as soon as he saw Callum's face.
"Tom?"
"Again. Out of the window. I can't report it from here. There's an uneasy truce going on in the family room, please can you keep a CLOSE eye on it?" Callum glanced down the hall in search of Paul's two brats. Paul grinned.
"Homework. I'll go in and sit with your guys, go on."
"Alex is in his room."
"I'll check on him too. Go on."
Muttering, Callum headed out to the dark and rain of the lawns outside, and jogged across to the main building, deserted at this time of the evening. There he picked up the phone and contacted the Island security force, reporting one of his brats missing, then dialed a second line. Ryan's private line.
He sounded faintly harassed. No doubt already dealing with the idea of seven brats on a beach beside a high tide in bad weather.
"Hello?"
"Ryan it's Callum. I'm afraid Tom's missing. Last seen about an hour ago. Security have been notified, I'm going to start looking now."
"Was he the one seen on the beach?" Ryan demanded. Callum winced.
"Probably."
"Allright." Ryan's sigh was audible. "Please let me know when he turns up."
Callum broke the connection and went back outside. The Island security force would be looking for the unidentified walker on the beach- although there were plenty of people that might have been. Most of the visiting tops, like the Residents, followed the curfew out of general support for the Island and the brats, but there were some who needed more space and solitude than the day allowed for.
Making himself stay away from the cove, Callum began to check Tom's known haunts. In this weather and at this time of night the central compound/village was deserted. Cottages 7-9 had no figures hanging around in the shadows, and the temp tops in charge would have quickly notified their colleagues of any illegal visitors. At the end of half an hour, still drawing a blank, Callum used his keypad to exit the compound by the cliff gates and headed up the path that led above the cove. A few cigarette ends, insufficiently covered with shale, drew his attention at the top of the path and would usually have held his interest, but tonight he couldn't have cared less. The rain was beginning to ease off a little, but the paths out here were still slippery and badly lit. Callum pushed away a nagging image of Tom sprawled somewhere with a broken ankle or a cracked head, and followed the path down to the beach. The tide was so high now there was barely enough sand to walk on. The security forces must have moved their search elsewhere. Callum jogged across to the harbour and had a quick look around the boats, but there were few places to hide there at this time of night, and Tom was given to wandering. Not hiding. Callum was planning to aim for the detention centre and try talking to the security forces when his bleeper went off. 
 
********* 
 
"He came back through the window," Paul said, shutting the office door behind him. From the look of the group settled around the tv he'd successfully coaxed Alex into joining them.
"I heard the window shut and had a look. He was wet through. I sent him to have a shower and buzzed security."
"Was it him on the beach?"
"They didn't find anyone else down there. Although that doesn't mean it was him." Paul glanced at his watch. "I was about to chase everyone to bed anyway. Get out of those clothes before you freeze, and you can have the pleasure of wringing Tom's neck in peace and quiet."
"I'd better call Ryan and let him know." Callum went past Paul, heading for his room. "Thanks Paul."
"Pleasure." Paul said mildly.
Ryan sounded nothing more than relieved to hear Tom had materialised. Callum hung up with a promise to hand in a report in the morning, changed out of his wet clothes and made enough coffee to thaw himself out. He was feeling distinctly more human by the time he tapped on Tom and Simon's door. Simon was in bed, reading. Tom was towelling his hair, slim in the t shirt and shorts he slept in, but undamaged and looking unstressed. After the mental images of the last hour, it was a relief to see him whole. Callum gave him a simple nod and a quiet,
"Tom, I'd like a word with you please. Goodnight Simon."
"Night." Simon turned over and carried on reading. Callum checked briefly on Alex, who was already asleep, and Liam and Seth both of whom were settling down, the light out. He was aware of muffled laughter from them as he went back to his own room. Tom followed a minute later, now towel- less and barefoot, his dark eyes deceptively innocent. Callum shut the door behind him and nodded him to the sofa.
Tom took the seat offered and waited. Callum propped his hips on his desk and folded his arms. It took nearly a minute of silence before Tom's eyes dropped to the carpet, losing some of their self possession.
"Do you know how many people have spent their evening looking for you?" Callum inquired.  Tom's voice was softly matter of fact.
"They didn't have to. I can look after myself."
"Considering you vanished without letting anyone know where you were going, and you've been wandering around in foul weather with a risk of storms, I think that's debatable. Where did you go?"
"Just for a walk." Tom said lightly. Callum surveyed him.
"Did you go down onto the beach?"
Silence. It had taken months to get Simon past the point of reflexively lying his way out of trouble, but that wasn't part of Tom's repertoire. A straight question always got a straight answer.
"Only for ten minutes or so."
"So you went out of bounds, to a restricted area, alone, at high tide." Callum said bluntly. "And you can look after yourself?"
"I didn't do anything dangerous."
"I walked along the cliffs this evening looking for you, young man. And those paths ARE dangerous. If you'd fallen it could have taken hours to find you. If you'd had an accident on the beach in this weather and with the tide this high the chances are we WOULDN'T have found you."
Tom looked back at him, not defiant but with the typical Tom expression. Of mild, detached interest, like a scientist watching an intriguing experiment.  Callum held his eyes, not amused.
"So what's the excuse this time?"
Tom shrugged placidly. "Fresh air."
"THOMAS."
Tom jumped slightly. Callum got up off the desk, not raising his voice but sharpening it.
"That doesn't wash with me and you know it. Now you can stop bluffing me and talk, or you can occupy that corner over there until you're more in the mood. I've got all night."
Tom looked candidly back at him, not moving. Callum took his arm, drew him to his feet and steered him across to the corner of his office.
"Allright little boy. I've got things I can usefully be doing if you need some thinking time."
"Callum-" Tom started, his placidity cracking slightly. Callum turned him to face the wall.
"No. I gave you a choice and you made it. I'm not interested in playing games. When I ask you a question I expect a straight answer. Now you can stand there and give that some thought."
"You know you're wasting your time?" Tom said with a hint of grimness under the casual tone.
Callum pulled out his chair and sat at the desk, opening a book.
"Thankyou for letting me know. Quiet please."
"I really don't see what you're hoping to achieve."
"One." Callum said without looking up.
Tom sighed. "If you can keep your head, when all about you….are losing theirs and blaming it on you…."
"Two." Callum commented, turning the page.
Tom sighed again but kept his mouth shut. Callum read for ten minutes, to all intents and purposes unaware of the tall and fidgeting man in the corner behind him. He stopped there, not unimpressed with Tom's effort to be quiet and not wanting to push him into betraying himself. Often, once in trouble, Tom seemed to go into self destruct mode, unable to stop himself pushing as far as he could go, regardless of consequences. Callum kept his voice very calm as he laid the book down.
"Come here Tom."
Tom came across to him, from his face totally unmoved. Callum turned his chair around.
"Do you want to tell me why you climbed out of your window and left the compound?"
"No." Tom said honestly. Callum mentally wondered how often he was going to fall into that trap before he learned to rephrase his questions.
"Right. But I'd like you to anyway."
"I needed to be outside. It was hot and the house felt crowded."
"From your room?" Callum said wryly. Tom shrugged.
"Too many people around. And I LIKE rain. I wanted to be out in it, that was all. And it got rid of the headache."
Callum looked at him for a long time, not unsympathetic. Simon broadcasted his feelings far and wide. Tom acted on them. This escapology act wasn't new and he could understand why he'd chosen tonight for a replay. It didn't however make it any safer or any more legal.
"I'm glad. But the rules are that brats don't leave the main compound alone and without permission, and they certainly don't sneak out of windows when they're supposed to be in bed."
"You'd have said no if I'd asked." Tom said wearily. "Because of the storm. And the paths being dangerous, because you are essentially a nice guy with genuine if slightly excessive concern for others. And because of the curfew, and because you know I wouldn't have stayed inside the compound. Because this is a community governed by rules with all the socio political implications held within that concept. Which I do respect, in that I appreciate that you respect it."
Callum looked at him, aware it was half past eleven at night and this conversation could easily go on for hours. In Simon- in most Brats- this would have been the point of surrender. Simon by now would be distraught and panic stricken. Tom on the other hand could steer the conversation into realms of legal discussion that would leave Callum struggling to follow. And it would achieve nothing because that wasn't the level that meant anything to Tom. Academically he could paint most people on The Island around in circles and it was a skill he was more than slightly cynical about. People tended to spend far too much time listening to Tom and not enough simply looking at him. It had been something Callum had rapidly worked out in the first few weeks of being handed this particular brat.
"That's rubbish." He said bluntly, keeping his tone even. "You respect it yourself, or you wouldn't be here. And the only thing you need to keep firmly in mind is that you do as I say or I make life very difficult. End of story."
He saw that go in. Tom flushed and his lips folded as if he was keeping back something. 
Callum opened a drawer and took out a small, rounded paddle, pushed his chair back and held out a hand to draw Tom over his lap.
"And you are going to be punished for sneaking out and leaving the compound. It's a serious matter, you wasted a lot of people's time and caused a lot of worry this evening." 
 
********* 
 
Liam heard the first few muffled swats of the paddle and turned over, lifting up on one elbow.
"Told you he'd catch it. Listen to that! Ben told me he was a T8..."
"And the brat climbed out the window, he's bound to be in serious trouble." Seth said sleepily. "I told you the sevens were lunatics. You didn't need to ask Ben that."
Liam lay down again, ears still attuned.
"I wish Neil would come back on crutches or something."
"It's easy sunshine. Nothing to worry about." Seth turned over, oblivious to Tom or the sound effects. "Don't climb out of windows, don't fight with the prima donna next door, don't give Callum any reason to get upset and you'll be fine. We're only here for a few weeks." 
 
********* 
 
Beds were funny things where brats were concerned. It was part of the unofficial temp tops' brat assessment, right under coke addiction and chocoholicism. Most brats would do anything rather than get into bed. Not a few of them were hard to KEEP in bed for the full stretch of the night. And most were still harder to prise out of bed once morning arrived.
It was something of a relief to find from Neil's records that his three were fairly independent at getting up so long as supervised. Callum was usually up and dressed by six thirty, ready for work when his brats' alarms went off at seven. Both he and Paul were then locked in the effort needed to get their brats out of bed, dressed, fed and ready for the first item on their schedules for nine am. Tom was a natural night owl who hadn't taken well to an eleven pm curfew when he arrived on the Island, or to the lights staying out until morning. Left to his own devices, he would be up until three or four am and then sleep until mid morning, and he had found it very hard to adjust. Simon needed a lot of sleep and just resisted getting in or out of bed on principle. Callum looked briefly in on Liam and Seth as the alarm went off, interpreted the groans and mutters as those of people who would more or less get up in the next few minutes, and went in to his own two, lifting his voice to the energetic enthusiasm necessary to get Simon conscious.
"Rise and shine. Tom, come on the shower's free."
Tom muttered, turning over deeper into the covers. Callum pulled the covers off him and out of reach.
"Shower. Come on sunshine, there's five of you to fight over bathrooms now."
Tom produced a semi human sound. Callum sat on the edge of the bed until he got his eyes open, then patted his hip.
"Roll over a minute, lets make sure I did no irreparable damage last night."
Too sleepy to object, Tom turned over and Callum slipped his shorts down. He was still faintly red, but there were no bruises.
"I think you'll live." Callum decided and slid his shorts carefully back up. "Shower please."
Tom groaned, but knew Callum well enough to stagger to his feet. Callum pulled his quilt straight, making the bed enough to ensure he wouldn't get back into it, and turned his attention to Simon. Shaking him got two violet eyes open, a stir and the usual pitiful tones of a suddenly woken brat.
"It's too early…."
"It's seven." Callum took the covers, always less ruthless with Simon, but Simon clutched them.
"No…."
"The rain's stopped, it's a beautiful day."
"So it'll be hot and sticky like always." Simon pulled the covers up and turned over, should hunching in a way Callum knew. He made another, firmer effort to remove the quilt.
"There's air conditioning inside and plenty of ice around. Up you get."
"Callum…" Simon rolled over to face him, looking tousled and unhappy. "I don't feel well…"
"What's wrong?" Callum said patiently. Simon tried and failed to get the quilt back.
"I don't know- just achy and tired."
"Why don't you have a hot shower, see if that helps."
"It won't. And I'm dizzy."
"You've just woken up."
"It ISN'T that!" Simon's voice lifted, threatening tears. Callum ran a hand over his hair, pushing it out of his eyes, and avoided the argument. His head was cool, this was a standard Simon opening gambit.
"Suppose I get you some tea while you wait for the shower?"
"I HATE tea."
"Tea or milk."  Callum said patiently. Simon looked at him, picking up on the conciliation.
"Milk."
"Okay." Callum got up and switched Tom's radio on as he passed it. Liam's radio was on next door and he could hear the two of them talking. Alex's door was still closed and Callum paused, tapped and pushed it open. Alex was dressed and curled up on his already made bed, reading. Callum blinked, taken aback.
"Good lad. How long have you been up?"
"Not long." Alex gave him a faintly wary look, still curled around his book. Callum smiled at him and shut the door, deciding he and Alex needed to talk this morning. He poured milk from the fridge in his room and took the glass back to Simon. Simon was still awake, but curled up into a disconsolate ball that was not hopeful. Callum sat on the edge of the bed beside him.
"Sit up."
Simon pulled a face that suggested that was way beyond his capabilities, but struggled up on one elbow and took the glass. Within one mouthful he grimaced and pushed the glass away, voice rising to a wail.
"It's FREEZING-"
"Fridges do that." Callum said mildly. "You can have tea if you'd rather."
"I don't want anything, I just want to be left alone." Simon flopped back down and curled up, wrapping both arms around the pillow. Callum put the milk on the bedside table and glanced at his watch.
"Okay. I'm coming back in ten minutes. Tom will be out of the shower, and you are going to get up. Whether you do it or I do it for you is your decision."
He was faintly surprised when Simon cut several corners to their usual discussion patterns and dissolved straight into tears.
"You never understand anything!"
"What don't I understand?"
"I told you I don't FEEL well!"
Callum sighed, accepting this was not going to be easy. This was a fairly natural Simon reaction to Tom having been in trouble last night. He liked Tom and this wasn't deliberate- some brats were not unknown to stage crisis in the middle of other brats' crises, resenting the attention of their temp top being so dominated- but he couldn't help but react. And no doubt amplified by knowing he was competing with four others now instead of one other. It was a genuine need for reassurance that Callum understood, but that made it no less wearing to deal with. Simon intended on occupying every inch of his time and attention this morning and there was no way to avoid it. He detached the covers from Simon's clutch and lifted him across to his lap, wrapping him up.
"What feels wrong?"
"My head and stomach hurt…" Simon twisted around and clung to him. Callum rubbed his back, feeling him calm down fractionally as he was held.
"Really hurt?"
"Yes!"
"Okay. You have a shower, get some breakfast and we'll see how you feel then."
"You mean you're going to make me go to class!" Simon wailed.
"I mean we'll see how you feel then." Callum said firmly. Tom appeared in the doorway, glanced at Simon without surprise and started to look for clothes. Callum lifted Simon to his feet.
"Have a shower. Go on, get yourself woken up."
That brought on fresh tears. Callum had to steer him gently but forcibly towards the bathroom and put him inside. Tom, dressed, shaved and still looking like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, passed him en route. Callum caught him, giving him a quick smile and a careful look over..
"How are you feeling?"
"Sore." Tom said frankly. "I'm okay. I'm sorry."
"We dealt with that last night. You DO have people to apologise to this morning though."
"I know." Tom said without enthusiasm. Any of the others would have been miserable this morning, and at the very least would have wanted a hug from him now. Tom rarely appeared to need anything from anyone. Callum dropped a hand on his shoulder and knew that was as close as he'd get.
"I'll take you as soon as the others are in classes. Are you going to breakfast?"
"I said I'd meet Mitchell and Carl. "
Paul's brats. Which meant a good chance that Paul would keep an eye on them. Callum nodded and let him go. Liam came out into the passageway, dressed and ready, and looking bored.
"Callum can I go down to the dining room?"
Callum considered it for a bare few seconds before he rejected it. This early on, he wanted to keep Neil's two close to him, he didn't know enough about them to trust them and they'd been left alone for too long already.
"I'd like you to wait and go with me and Simon."
"Oh God, that'll be hours." Liam said in disgust. Callum looked at him.
"That's a slight exaggeration and not really very helpful. You can wait in the family room."
"But Seth's already gone with Paul. And I don't need anyone with me," Liam said hopefully, "Really- Neil never came with us."
"I'm not Neil." Callum nodded at the family room. "I'm sure you won't be waiting for long."
Simon emerged from the bathroom, damp and robed, and headed for his room in the manner of Anne Boleyn mounting the scaffold. Callum overtook him and opened the door of the wardrobe he shared with Tom, going rapidly through the hangars for Simon's familiar jeans and a polo.
"What's first on your schedule this morning?"
"You KNOW." Simon said bitterly. "You memorise them."
"How very obsessive of me." Callum laid the clothes out beside him. Simon flinched away from them.
"I'm not wearing THAT."
Knowing they could go through the entire contents of his wardrobe without finding anything he wanted to wear, Callum took little to no notice of that.
"What is it then? English lit? More on the intricacies of Noel Coward."
"It's too boring!" Simon curled up and buried his face in his knees. "I don’t understand it anyway- Tom does, he gets off on the stuff-"
"Hey." Callum pulled him upright and put the polo over his head. "I thought you wanted your degree?"
"I don't!" Simon came to life and wrenched the polo off, hurling it at the wall. "I don't want to wear this stupid thing either!"
Callum caught his wrists and brought them down, sharpening his voice.
"Then what DO you want? Tell me right now or get on with it, it's getting late."
"I KNEW you were going to be horrible if I told you I felt ill!" Simon tried and failed to wrench away from him. Callum retrieved the polo.
"That wasn't an answer, so I'll assume you're wearing this."
"Callllluuuuummm……" Liam's voice said from the doorway.
"No." Callum said without looking round, cursing under his breath as Simon looked once at his audience and then dissolved back into tears.
"But I'm STARVING…"
"You'll live another five minutes. Which is how long Simon is going to be. Family room."
The door shut. Simon buried himself face down in the bedclothes.
"Now he hates me, you hate me-"
"Sit up and put your jeans on."
"I'm NOT getting dressed! I'm not going anywhere today and you can't make me, I'm ill!"
"Then you still need to come down to breakfast and eat."
"I'm not GOING ANYWHERE!" Simon's voice spiralled upwards into one of his steam engine shrieks. "GO AWAY!"
Callum gripped his arm, intending to pull him to his feet. Simon, anticipating the movement and panicking, caught his alarm clock off the bedside table and hurled it into Callum's face.
Unfortunately his aim was good.
Callum ducked, but not in time to avoid the blow. The clock hit hard before Callum knocked it away and for the next twenty seconds he couldn't do much more than stand, a hand firmly pressed over the point of impact and the other hand locked on Simon's arm, breathing carefully and dealing with both annoyance and pain. Within ten seconds Simon had scrambled to his feet, sounding distraught.
"Callum? I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do that, I swear I didn't mean it! Did it cut you? Callum?"
"No, it didn't cut." Callum moved his hand to reassure him, deliberately keeping his voice as it's normal pitch and tone before Simon had time to get really frightened. Actually the only person he was really annoyed with was himself for letting Simon do it in the first place. There was no hope now of getting to breakfast on time and no chance of calming Simon down in time for class. Still gripping Simon's arm, he went to the doorway and raised his voice to reach the family room.
"Liam! Alex!"
Liam came into the doorway. Callum glanced past him for Alex.
"You two better had go to breakfast. I'm sorry."
Alex moved with alacrity. Liam gave Callum a more doubtful look before he followed. Callum steered Simon back to the bed and sat down, listening for the main door shutting down the hall. Simon promptly began to cry again as they heard it and Callum pulled him down over his lap.
"Callum don't- please- I didn't mean to, I swear I won't do it again-"
"You don't throw at all, little boy. That's NOT the way to handle a problem." Callum slipped his shorts down and held him as he began to squirm. "However you're feeling that's never acceptable and you know it."
"I didn't mean to hurt you I swear!"
"That's not what I'm upset about and you didn't hurt me. This is about you NOT being allowed to throw tantrums or anything else."
Knowing Simon was too upset to hear much of anything, Callum didn't talk any further. Just began spanking hard and methodically, covering the bare bottom on his lap with even handed swats, unmoved by Simon's shrieks which were out of all proportion to what he was actually feeling. It usually took a while to get past his immediate defensive panic to the point where he was thinking but eventually Callum heard his voice change and felt him stop struggling. He placed the last few swats unhurriedly, but with a careful eye on his penitent. As soon as he let go he was nearly knocked over by Simon struggling around to cling to him, his arms locking around Callum's neck in a stranglehold, frantic for comfort and all else long forgotten. Callum let him cling while he pulled Simon's shorts up, talking to him quietly and soothingly, then gathered him into his lap and started the long process of calming him down.
He was still clutching, crying quietly and steadily, when the others got back from breakfast, in no fit state for anything. Callum glanced at his watch and lifted Simon over to the bed, feeling his grip instantly tighten in panic.
"Simon it's okay. I'm going to get the others to class and then I'll be right back."
So much for talking to Alex. 
  
 
*********** 
  
 
"I don't know what you're so worried about." Seth said following Liam up the stairs of the main teaching building. Across the grass below he had a clear sight of Liam's temporary temporary top jogging back towards cottage 7 at a long, easy stride.
"He's got his hands so full with the prima donna and that other gangly maniac he's not going to have the time to notice you. This is going to be easy!"
"Do you think I've got time to see Neil before class?" Liam said doubtfully. Seth snorted.
"I think you could probably bunk off class altogether. Callum's not going to pick up on it and Paul's no better, Mitchell's a pain in the neck. So long as we check in on time and no one actually reports us, they're not going to interfere."
"You heard what Callum said to Tom last night."
"Tom and Simon are his. And he's welcome to them. We're just billeted there. It isn't the same."
Liam glanced at his watch. "I'm going to see Neil."
Seth snorted. "Just make sure you're out of the infirmary in time for class. Neil WILL notice. I hope he takes his time recovering. This is probably the most room for fun I've had since I got here."
Liam didn't reply. Just turned and made his way downstairs against the crowd. 
 
******* 
 
There was a large notice on the inside of the tops' common room door, stating in large black type,
THIS IS A BRAT EXCLUSION ZONE 
 
Callum found the nearest armchair and collapsed into it, greeted by several smiles from the five or six other temp tops scattered in the chairs around the room. Some were working on files. Most were drinking coffee. Paul dropped a hand on his shoulder and sat beside him.
"What did you do with Simon?"
"Talked him into going to his afternoon class. ON the condition I met him the minute it finished. Which gives me an hour and twenty three minutes."
Paul grinned. "It sounded a good one."
"One of his best." Callum pulled himself together, leaned over and poured himself a coffee from the hotplate. "Tom AND the other three were a bit too much for him I think. Thanks for bailing me out last night."
"Any time." Paul shut the file he'd been working on and dropped it on the table. "If you want me to take Simon and Tom for a couple of hours and give you some time with the other three-"
"We're taking them swimming tonight. That should them occupied long enough for me to talk to poor Alex. How did you get him out of his room last night?"
"Got his hand and pulled." Paul said comfortably. Round, balding and infinitely placid, most brats were drawn to him and Callum could well believe Alex had responded.
"Where did Tom go in the end?"
"Over the fence, up the cliff path and down on to the beach. He told me the house was too crowded."
"Oh. There was a circular released this morning from Ryan. The beach is out of bounds after six pm, unless for organised events."
Callum nodded. "That makes sense. I heard about the beach party."
"Surprised Tom didn't join in."
"Not much of a mixer, Tom. Ryan came over about eleven this morning for Tom to apologise to him about last night. He took me aside and asked me if I thought Tom needed a one to one."
Paul raised his eyebrows but said nothing. Callum drained his coffee.
"I said it would drive him mad. If either of my two are a one to one job it's Simon. Except I don't know how sensible it would be to let him have one person to himself unless it IS for ever and ever amen. He never will really settle until he has that kind of security. Tom's fine 70% of the time."
"Just completely out of his tree the other 30%." Paul said mildly. Callum grinned.
"Like skiving off lectures to swim around the Island."
"He did tell you cross current swimming was a recognised sporting event."
Callum lounged back in his chair, looking idly up at another neatly written notice on the full wall length notice board under the 'Staff memos' section.
We the Believing, led by the Convincing, are doing the Implausible for the Impossible, secure in the knowledge that having seen and heard Everything, we are now qualified believe Nothing.
"You know someone ought to frame that and hang it over the airstrip."
"No, the directors went with 'It'll Be Fine'." Paul said cheerfully. "It's getting carved in stone somewhere." 
 
*********** 
  
  
  
  
  
  
 
Saturday morning was the about the one time where the orphans theoretically had a few hours of unstructured time. In actual fact there were plenty of sports and leisure clubs running, and very few of the brats managed to stay unsubscribed to one of them. Seth was heading back from the beach, struggling slightly under the weight of scuba gear when someone hit him heavily in the back. Staggering, Seth looked around to glare and found Mitchell grinning at him.
"Been deep sea diving?"
"Scuba." Seth said irritably. "Do you HAVE to crash around like that?"
"Yes." Mitchell said cheerfully. "Do you know Paul made me join the choir? ME? I wanted to change to diving but he said it took long enough to force me into the choir. What's scuba like?"
"It's pretty good." Seth gave him a slightly wary glance, then the enthusiasm overflowed and he dropped his voice. "Want to know something?"
"Know something?" Mitchell grinned. "Naturally. What? If it's about the new brat they admitted last night, I KNOW. One of the 8s saw his notes and-"
"No." Seth glanced around and shoved half his kit into Mitchell's hands. "Something I saw last week. Guess where Tom bunks off to when he goes walk about?"
"He just clears off to the beach." Mitchell said dismissively. "He's out of his tree he is."
"NO. I've seen him before and I watched him today…." Seth leaned over and muttered something to Mitchell. Mitchell gazed at him for a second and then laughed.
"NEVER? Really?"
"I saw it." Seth vowed.
"We've got to go up there! Follow him…" Mitchell trailed Seth, eyes gleaming. "Round up the others and tell them- the sneaky so and so!"
"I meant to go out after tea…" Seth began. Mitchell snorted dismissively.
"You won't get ten feet away from Paul then. We need to get everyone together and talk about it-"
"Everyone?" Seth said suspiciously.
"Carl. Simon."
"SIMON…."
"You'd be surprised." Mitchell said mischievously.
"And Liam." Seth added. Mitchell nodded.
"Okay. After curfew tonight- after the barbeque. We'll have an hour before bed. If we all collect in the family room around the tv, chances are Paul and Callum will push off to their rooms for a while We can talk then."
"What about Tom and Alex?" Seth pointed out. Mitchell pulled a face.
"Ok. My room then. We can gather in there and talk." 
 
******** 
  
 
The Saturday afternoon events were one of the standard weekly occasions to mix brats with visiting tops, as well as the other social functions they served. Callum wandered, half an eye cast over the crowd for each of his five. Alex had dived in with cottage 4 group who he did actually seem to talk to. They had to be the only people on the island he did talk freely to. In two days, despite hard effort, Callum had got nothing more out of him than monosyllables. Mostly 'yes' and 'no'. Liam who always had more energy than he knew what to do with, was playing cricket on the lawn, watched by Seth who was stretched full length on the grass with several other brats. Simon, who was surprisingly charming when the mood took him, was talking animatedly to two of the resident tops. Which left Tom, skulking around the edge of the lawn, brows drawn down over his dark eyes, his hands dug in his pockets.  Callum sighed and headed down the steps towards him. Tom was not a social person at the best of times. Recently he seemed to hate these events more and more, resenting the time and the manners required of him. As the only other brat he paid any attention to was Simon, who loved socialising, it was never surprising he was bored at them.
"Take your hands out of your pockets." Callum said in his ear, slipping his arm through Tom's. Tom glowered at him but complied.
"This is SO boring."
"Talk to people."
"I HATE talking to people."
"Cricket?" Callum suggested. Tom pulled a face.
"Not the way they're playing. Besides, the English brats hog it and tell everyone else they're doing it wrong."
"There's plenty of tops playing."
"The English tops are even worse." Tom said blackly. "I've done my bit Callum- can't I go up to the library now? Please?"
"No." Callum said simply. "Not until six at the earliest. What are you going to do? Cricket? Tennis? "
Tom looked at him wearily. "No."
"Then what?"
"I'm going Callum, I've had it with this."
Callum shook his head, unmoved. "If you leave the lawn, I'll take you back to the cottage while we discuss it. And then I'll bring you right back here."
Tom stared at him for a minute. Simon at this point would have produced a scene that would deafen everyone in a 200 yard radius. Tom, who was far less predictable, scowled. Then sighed.
"I HATE it."
"Why?" Callum said patiently. "You've never minded it that much before now."
"I've been doing this every week for nine months. I know every brat in the place and every damn top living here or shipped in." Tom glanced around, taking in the sixty plus men scattered around the lawns. "There isn't one outside of you or Ryan that I'd give the time of day to. What's the point?"
"Apart from getting you lot out of your usual routine and outside your usual circle of friends?"
"It's a meat market!" Tom said dryly. "Don't con me, Callum, I'm not stupid. This is weekly adoption day at the orphanage. Brats paraded for this week's intake of tops. Today's selection of lamb chops laid out for the shoppers. After nine months of turning out through this, I think I qualify as past the sell by date and I ought to be excused!"
"I don't think so." Callum said cheerfully, starting to worry. Across the lawn, Simon was laughing, watching one of the visiting tops intervene with a quiet argument between the cricket players. Tom shook his head, brows even lower over his eyes.
"I'm no good at this Callum. I don't even like it. And I'm not going to swallow the Disney time rubbish you tell the others."
"What, you mean about the top on the white charger? Blast, who told you?" Callum steered him towards the veranda. "Unfortunately that doesn't get you out of showing up and being polite." 
 
*********** 
 
All seven appeared to be sitting in the family room together, enjoying a film Callum didn't recognise, but which looked harmless enough. Having checked on where his five were and that all of them seemed to be prepared to keep themselves usefully occupied for the next ten minutes, he left the family room door ajar, went into his office and sat down at the computer, opening up his email account. Picking his words carefully, he began to draft a mail to Ryan, outlining his growing concerns over Tom.
"That's it." Mitchell said quietly, "He's got the computer on. And Paul's in his office. We'll be safe for fifteen minutes or so."
Simon glanced at his watch and got up, Carl following him down the corridor to his room. Mitchell waited until they were in, checked again on the steady click of Callum's computer and nodded at Seth and Liam.
"What the hell are you up to now?" Tom asked without interest from behind his book.
"Nothing." Mitchell said reflexively. Tom snorted. Alex looked up from the end of the sofa, looking bewildered and a little lost.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. Just stay here and make happy tv noises." Mitchell glanced at Callum's door once more and slid out. "And if you drop a word to Callum or Paul….."
Tom ignored that. Alex looked actively scared.
"What are they doing?" he asked Tom a little tentatively. Tom rarely spoke to anyone but Callum, and detached himself from the rest of the group by habit. Tom didn't look up.
"It's another of their stupid ideas. It'll be creative and yet spectacularly badly thought out, and will crash down around their ears in about 48 hours. It usually does."
 Ryan must have been working at the computer, about two minutes after the message was sent Callum's phone rang. He got up and checked quickly on the family room door. It was still ajar, and tv sounds and conversational voices came from inside. He shut his own door and gave his full attention to Ryan.
"Hi, thanks for calling back."
"You sounded really quite worried."
Ryan didn't sound too happy himself. He took his brats very seriously, especially in matching. Callum sat down at his desk and stared at the shelf above it, which was lined with no less than fifteen photographs of his ex brats now happily matched and scattered to the four corners of the globe.
"I am. He's been having these headaches for the last two months for no reason anyone can see. He isn't using them to get out of anything, I'm sure they're genuine, I'm starting to wonder if they're just stress related."
"It's alarming how cynical he is over matching." Ryan commented. "I'm re reading your mail now."
"That doesn't worry me so much, Tom IS cynical. Or at least he works very hard at convincing himself he's cynical. What bothers me is that if he stops letting himself want a match, we've got no way of getting through to him. It's hard enough now. If he gives up, he'll talk himself off the Island, out of the whole discipline community, and go right back to drifting."
"He has that right." Ryan said quietly. "And if he decides that is what he wants, there's nothing we can do except remind him we'll be here if he ever changes his mind."
"He won't." Callum said flatly. "He's another Simon, it's just all turned inward. Simon has a basic faith in the world that wherever he pitches a tantrum, someone will drop everything and sort him out. It's never occurred to him to doubt it. Tom's got no faith in anyone at all, so he just never bothers throwing a fit out loud. It's all buried. He just clams up and walks away. Even after nine months with me it takes a pickaxe to find out what he's feeling. A lot of the co operation I get from him is just basic courtesy on his part, not because he's let himself want anything from me."
"Maybe the counsellors-" Ryan began. Callum butted in, too worried to be polite.
"He's been there, done that, and he runs rings around them. He knows too much about what they're doing and what they want him to say. Half the time, he's read most of the books they have and knows as much about the subject as they do. He doesn't WANT anything from anyone. Not help, not support. He DID want to be a part of the Island, but from what he said this afternoon, I can see him starting to talk himself out of wanting that too."
"But we can't force him, Callum-"
"He's a 7.8, this is exactly the kind of insecurities you expect from someone of this rating- do we just let him get on with it because he happens to have picked a particularly sensitive area to fight us on?"
"He's well tied up." Mitchell said softly from the doorway of Simon and Tom's room, and pulled the door almost shut, keeping a wary eye on Callum's closed door.
"What's this about?" Carl demanded. Seth, sitting cross legged on the end of Tom's bed, glanced around the five. Liam, Simon, Carl, Mitchell, making the most of his limelight.
"You know where Tom's been sneaking off to?"
"He goes down to the sea." Simon said, frowning. "He told me. That's what the tops get so upset about, especially after he tried that swimming stunt a few months back. He's risk mad."
Seth snorted. "You know I'm with the scuba club? I was down on the beach last week, the day after Neil fell climbing the beach cliff. Tom was wandering about where Neil was picked up. We were putting away equipment and I watched him for a while. Then when I looked again, he'd disappeared. He didn't go up the cliff, he wasn't on the beach, there was no where else he could have gone. So I went back the next day." Seth glanced at Liam for confirmation. "We had resident tops in and out, they weren't taking too much notice of where we were. There's an entrance about eight feet up in the cliff. I can't get up there- I've tried but there are tops everywhere with it so near the harbour, you get three feet up and someone comes and asks you nicely to get down or else."
"So what's up there?" Carl demanded. Seth grinned.
"Caves."
"How do you know?" Simon challenged. "You've not been up there!"
"Then why did Tom take a torch and rope?" Seth retorted. "He left the rucksack outside his window when he came back in and Paul caught him. It - uh - happened to get in my way."
Carl grinned. Simon looked upset.
"Why didn't he tell me if he's exploring caves!"
Mitchell snorted. "Because you'd only have to run into a cobweb or be asked to go somewhere dark and you'd make enough noise to have every top on the Island turn up."
"I would not!"
Liam grabbed Simon before he could storm out. "Sit down, you'll have Callum in here!"
"I'm not staying if he's going to call me a wimp!"
"Oh shut up Simon!" Mitchell said irritably, "You ARE a wimp."
"And you're a-"
"Belt UP." Liam said more sharply, grabbing a pillow before Simon could hurl it. "Seth and I were planning to go down to the cliff and look, if we can get away from Big Brother and the surveillance."
"Except you fives can never plan anything." Carl said scornfully. Mitchell jumped and grabbed for the door, hissing to the others.
"WATCH it…."
The door creaked open. Alex, not Callum, peered around it.
"What are you doing?"
"Playing chess." Carl said unpleasantly. "What are you doing?"
"Oh let the kid in." Liam said reproachfully.
"Are you daft?" Simon said under his breath, "You know how close Callum's keeping him, apart from which he'd be scared to death-"
Carl glanced at Mitchell and grinned, then opened the door. "Come in kid."
"What?" Simon demanded. Mitchell shook his head at him.
"You see Alex, this is a sevens cottage. The intelligence system in here goes a little higher than for the fives. Which means our initiation test is that little bit harder. We have to be able to trust people."
"Oh don't be mean!" Liam snapped. Mitchell grinned.
"We're not being mean, we DO have an initiation test here. Don't we Simon?"
Simon nodded slowly. Alex looked from one to the other of them, swallowing.
"It's okay, I don't mind."
"The test is," Mitchell went on slowly, "You have to break bounds, and bring back proof that you went outside the compound. Without being caught."
"Proof?" Alex said nervously.
"Something from the harbour." Carl suggested. "Or the airstrip. Or the heather from the top cliffs."
"The quicker you do it of course," Mitchell said kindly, "The quicker we know you can be trusted to listen in to private meetings."
"Okay." Alex said with dignity, "Tomorrow."
"Yeah right." Carl said, shutting the door behind him. "So when do we go up to the cliffs and look for the cave?"
"Tomorrow!" Liam said enthusiastically. Mitchell and Carl both pulled Duh faces at him.
"On weekends you never shake the tops for a minute. And they're out of lectures, all over the beach, everywhere."
"The only time we'll get anywhere without being noticed is in lectures." Simon said matter of factly. "Mornings are best, the longest time. Callum drops us at the main building at nine. He won't look for us again until 1pm."
 "And none of us have to sign in to lectures." Mitchell added. "Although we probably  will if we get caught."
Carl shrugged that off. "We take torches up with us, climb the cliff and check this out. Tom won't be up there at that hour-"
"He DOES have to sign into lectures." Simon explained for Liam and Seth's benefit. "After he missed about eight."
"- and there'll be no one on the beach in the morning on a Monday." Mitchell went on. "It's the temp tops staff meeting at ten, and it always drags on. No one'll look for us."
"How do we get out of the teaching blocks without being stopped though?" Liam demanded. "You know what the trainee tops are like. ANYONE in sight to practise on and the ID gives us away. And if you take the ID off you get stopped even quicker!"
"You carry a couple of books or a file or a piece of paper so it looks like you're going somewhere for a good reason, and you walk fast, looking like you've got somewhere important to be." Carl advised. "It looks like you're taking a message or running an errand. Works every time. Go out of the square alongside the library, climb Hayes' fence and cut across to the beach path. From there we can get over the compound fence and down to the harbour."
"Meet at the harbour at nine thirty." Mitchell suggested. "Less chance of us all getting stopped that way." 
 
********* 
 
Neil looked bored, but distinctly more lively. Callum dropped a pile of books into his lap and stooped to give him a hug.
"How are you doing?"
"My legs are still tied to weights and I can't move two inches, but apart from that-" Neil pulled a face and put the books on his bedside table. "How are my babies? Tortured? Bullied? Eaten by your sevens?"
"Fine. Liam and Alex in church with Paul and his lot, Seth with the scuba club. He's keen isn't he?"
"He goes through phases. It was carpentry last month. How's Alex?"
Callum sat on the side of the bed. "Did he talk to you? Ever?"
"Of course he did. He said hello sometimes. Nodded. Once or twice he gave me the time if I asked him nicely." Neil smiled. "He'll warm up in time, he's just shy. You're too used to your walking, talking hurricanes."
"Shh, they're being wonderful today. Angelic. They all got up on time, they're watching tv without fighting-"
"You made them watch Barney!" Neil accused. "My poor boys! Scarred for life-"
"Not yet. Compulsory happy singing is just a threat so far."
"Am I keeping you?" Neil teased, seeing him glance at his watch. Callum pulled himself together.
"Sorry. I'm edgy. Ryan's called a case conference for Tom at twelve."
"On a Sunday?"
"It seemed like a good time. All the brats will be at the social this afternoon, tops in all directions, people can be spared. And it's pretty urgent."
"What's wrong?" Neil said with interest. "What's he done now?"
"Ryan wants to see if we can do some more purposeful matchmaking for him."
"Right." Neil lay back, raising his eyebrows. "I'd have thought if any of yours cried out for a quick match it was Simon. That's if you don't hand in your resignation and take him yourself."
Callum smiled faintly. "I would actually, I could get very fond of Simon. But not in the right way, not really. And Simon won't be hard to match. Tom on the other hand-"
"Someone less with the protective instincts than tracking equipment and a bloodhound." Neil said lightly. And leaned over to shake Callum by the knee as he failed to respond.
"Come on, it's a documented phenomena here. There's someone for everyone. We get a nervous wreck handed to us, and sooner or later a top appears who can't live without twenty four hour trauma. We have a trainee top bored to tears with every brat on the Island and sure as fate a brat gets inducted who's obnoxious enough to drive us mad, but who he thinks is wonderful."
"I hope you're right." Callum said wryly. Neil patted his knee and lay back.
"I'm right about everything except rock climbing." 
  
 
*********** 
  
 
 Ryan had called in several favours to make people turn out on a Sunday afternoon. It was a discreet group: himself, Callum, Calvin as the head of counselling for the brats, Hayes as director for the tops, and Pritchard who was responsible for co ordinating and organising the matching process on the Island. All of them had read the report Ryan had put together overnight, based on Callum's reports to him.
"The essential core to this," Ryan said when everyone had had the time to re read the sheets in front of them, "Is that Tom has been with us for nine months now without anything approaching a match and is unlikely to match anyway without a good deal of encouragement."
"If not pushing." Calvin said under his breath. Callum cast him an irritated look but didn't answer. Cal had suffered more than once at Tom's hands, and acid tongue.
"What we need to do if possible, is look at any ways of taking a stronger hand in the process." Ryan went on smoothly. "Is that on the right lines Callum?"
"I think we need to accept Tom is no fool." Callum said bluntly. "He's also rated as a 7.8. I don't think it's going to do him or anyone else much good to look for any top rated lower than an 8.5."
"And they don't turn up in handfuls." Hayes added. "They come here in the end allright, at that rating they're bound to come across us sooner or later- but there aren't that many of them to the pound. The more extreme ratings never ARE so frequent."
"And Tom doesn't immediately strike as a seven." Callum said in agreement. "The tops we get with the high ratings quickly attach to the Mitchells and Simons of this world. The emotional high maintenance types. Tom NEEDS that with someone, but they're going to have to put a lot of work in to get him there, and they're going to need patience. Quite likely several years worth. And they're going to need to understand in the meantime that Tom needs space."
"Those are the sort of details you can establish with a top when we get into a match." Pritchard said placatingly, "Any top with that rating is going to be emotionally very literate-"
"I'm not talking about handling details, I'm talking about gut instinct. Something a person either has or doesn't have." Callum said calmly. "And just for the record, I am not emotionally involved with Tom and I would be a lousy match for him even if I wanted it."
"I think what we need to discuss is who is currently on the Island and where else we can look for tops who are potentially compatible." Ryan folded the papers in front of him, drawing the attention back to the point. "Although that is no guarantee that they and Tom will find themselves compatible."
"I can think of three off hand." Hayes said, scribbling names on his paper. "Two on the island- one in training, one visiting- and another who comes in fairly regularly. Two eights, one nine. And of a type that might be geared towards Tom's needs. Is it worth giving them a copy of Tom's profile, have a quiet word with them and see to it they run across Tom in the weekend activities?"
"What about contacts we have off the island?" Ryan asked. Hayes glanced at his watch.
"I can pull up a list and mail it across, but I need to do it from my office."
"Would it help to reassess Tom?" Pritchard said reasonably. "Put together a more up to date profile if the last one is so old?"
"I can't vouch for what I'd come up with." Said Calvin. "The first one wasn't easy and he was new at the time."
"How about you and Callum liase with Pritchard and try updating his profile between you?" Ryan suggested. "And if any of Hayes' leads go anywhere we can think about re assessing Tom himself. At the moment, by Callum's own word, Tom's already under pressure and we don't want to add to it. Or add to any feelings he already has that he's a problem. Callum, are you happy with all this?"
Callum nodded. Ryan got up.
"Right. Hayes, can you give me the names of the tops you have in mind, and then approach the three you're in contact with. We may as well start with the most immediate options while we-"
The knock coincided with Callum's bleeper. Callum pulled it from his belt even as Ryan called, "Come in!"
It was one of the resident brats, someone Callum recognised by face if not name, and he looked apologetic.
"Ryan, I'm sorry, Paul sent me up. Can Callum come at once please?"
"Excuse me." Callum said politely, and headed for the stairs at a stride approaching a jog. Paul wouldn't interrupt a meeting without good reason. Either one of his brats had flipped and he needed help, or else one of Callum's was in urgent need of him.
There was a crowd on the lawn. Brats were rapidly being collected by their temp tops and strays steered away by visiting tops, leaving a small circle over by the wall of the admin block. Paul was kneeling on the grass, one arm around Carl who was dripping blood from a nasty cut across the forehead and obviously on the brink of shock, and the other around Simon who was pale green and shaking visibly. Two more brats were on the grass, both nursing minor cuts and being checked over by one of the infirmary staff who had been present and off duty. The window beyond them was broken and the glass was scattered far and wide on the grass and on the path. Callum quickened his pace ahead of Hayes who had followed him, keeping his stride and his face even and dispassionate. Paul glanced up at him and let Callum pull Simon up into his arms, wrapping him up tight and close. Simon clung to him.
"It was an accident," Paul said calmly, lifting Carl over to his lap now he had the space. "A badly placed ball and people standing too close to breaking glass. No one's fault."
"Are you hurt?" Callum lifted Simon's head from his shoulder and checked him over quickly before he drew him back into a tight hug. "Then what are you so aeriated about? 
Minor cuts?"
"He just saw it happen." Paul moved Carl's hands away from the handkerchief he was pressing to the cut on his face. "I have no idea where the other five are, and I think I'm going to have to go to the infirmary with Carl to get this cut treated."
"I'll see to it." Callum steered Simon with him, moving towards the lawn where the afternoon's activities were being continued. In the distance Callum noticed Hayes had been unable to resist locating John and was talking to one of the other tops, keeping hold of John's hand. A quick scan of the lawns didn't bring up a single one of the five faces he was looking for. He checked again, then peeled Simon away from him.
"Simon, where did the others go?"
Simon was still very pale and looking on the brink of tears. He shook his head, fixing Callum with wide, wet eyes.
"I don't know-"
There was a look in those violet eyes that Callum knew and set off every warning bell he had. He fixed Simon with a look in turn that brought the tears welling up in earnest.
"Simon Richard Hunt, you tell me right now." 
 
******* 
 
A call to the security forces had guards heading out towards the cliff path and the beach at full speed. Callum grabbed the nearest visiting tops within sight, sent one to alert the infirmary staff in case they were too late to prevent accidents, and planted Simon into the arms of another with an order to behave that was sharp enough to destroy any last vestiges of Simon's self control. Then dragged his hastily assembled posse off at a run. Taking the brats' favoured path rather than the one laid down for the convenience of the pedestrians. One or two of the newer tops were slightly wide eyed by the time the last of them climbed the perimeter fence. Callum led them up the cliff path in time to see Liam's dark head disappearing down the steep path that led to the beach. His shout was loud enough to freeze the brats and the visiting tops in their tracks.
"STAND STILL!"
An answering shout from their left announced the security team were in the vicinity. Callum jogged to the top of the path and found Liam, Seth and Mitchell, looking petrified and unsure of whether or not to run. Callum pointed at the ground beside him, somewhat relieved.
"You three, up here, right NOW."
They came rather slowly, Seth looking sullen, Liam upset, Mitchell resigned. It was Mitchell Callum focussed on once they came into reach, sharpening his voice.
"Where are the other two?"
Mitchell looked faintly startled. "Back on the lawn-"
"They are not. Where were you three going?"
Mitchell opened his mouth. Callum, recognising the gathering look of injured innocence, interrupted him.
"I know all about the caves you were intending to explore tomorrow."
Mitchell shut his mouth. Liam eventually answered.
"We were going to have a look at the caves but only the three of us. We thought it would be a while before we were missed. Carl got that cut and Paul had Simon because he was throwing a fit. We never saw Alex or Tom. Honest."
"Callum?" one of the security guards said behind him. "Tom's down on the beach, Jake just picked him up."
"Four." Callum muttered and pointed his three brats ahead of him. "You three, move. Right now. Not a WORD Mitchell, you're in enough trouble."
Jake Mullins was the head of security, a tall, deceptively quiet man who stood and moved with the same fluent efficiency he put into his work. He was talking rapidly into a radio as Callum reached him, resisting the urge to grab Tom. Jake gave him a nod of greeting.
"I've sent for ropes."
"What's going on?" Callum demanded, reading Tom's face. Tom winced.
"Alex."
"What about Alex?" Callum said sharply. Jake interjected, cool and reassuring.
"He's about five minutes ahead of us if that. And we need proper equipment before we move."
"There are caves up there." Tom said urgently. "Going back a long way. Some of them go under water. I've only gone through the first three."
"And Alex is up there?" Callum demanded, voice rising. "What is HE doing up there? YOU I could understand-"
"He found out about the caves and he sneaked away from the lawns about an hour ago." Tom said without reacting to the annoyance in Callum's voice. There was genuine concern in his face and some exasperation. "The stupid kid came down here, I saw him go so I followed him. But I got grabbed on the way."
"By me." Jake added. "So we came down here together to have a look."
"And he won't let me climb up until we have ropes." Tom said angrily. "Which is ridiculous, as I've done it about twenty times!"
"I have this problem with broken necks." Jake said mildly. "I'm just funny that way. And unfortunately I'm in charge, so we're waiting."
Tom growled but didn't argue. Callum glared at the other three who were standing miserably a few feet away on the beach.
"Did you three know about Alex going?"
Heads were shaken. Callum looked harder at Mitchell.
"Did you know he intended to come up here alone? Why didn't he come with you three?"
"There seems to be the honour code at work here." Jake commented. "Tom has already explained that he doesn't feel he can tell me. Ah. Ropes."
Two of the security team were approaching at a run, carrying ropes and helmets. At the end of all patience, Callum gave a level three glare to all four of his brats that reduced Seth and Liam to the colour of paper and made Mitchell's head drop, fast.
"WHAT am I not being told here? If Tom won't say, then it certainly involves one of you and if I have to wait one minute longer with Alex in any sort of danger, your lives will not be worth living when Paul and I finish discussing this. MITCHELL?"
"We told him it was an initiation test," Mitchell said despairingly.
"What, to climb that cliff?" Callum demanded. Mitchell shook his head.
"Just to break bounds! He must have heard us talking about going up there and…." He trailed off, leaving Callum with his arms folded, anxious and very annoyed.
"If I find out that you lot teased Alex into this- WHAT do you think you're doing?" he added to Tom, discovering him putting on a climbing harness amongst Jake and the other two guards preparing for a climb. Jake interrupted placidly before Callum could go any further.
"Tom is a practised, experienced climber and he knows the caves. I'll take good care of him, I promise you. In the meantime, I'd like you here to handle Alex if he needs you. It might be as well to clear the scene a little."
Callum swallowed on a tightening stomach. If Alex was hurt- they didn't want brats standing around watching while a casualty was brought down. Nor did they want the brat's temp top to be the one to find him. And Jake was doing this by the book, with proper equipment. He was clearly expecting to deal with trouble. Jake's hand brushed his arm in a gesture of discreet but sincere reassurance.
"I know you climb, but I think you'd be the most use at the moment here on the ground for Alex when we get him. My team can take your other brats back to the detention centre until you're free to collect them."
At least they would be safe, supervised and in one place. Without a chance to start comparing stories. And they more than deserved it. Callum glanced at Liam, Seth and Mitchell, pale and miserable, and nodded at the guards standing with them. Seth dissolved into tears as they were led back towards the cliff and the guard walking beside him put an arm around his shoulders, talking gently and reassuringly to him. They were out of sight by the time Jake and the rest of the team were prepared to climb. Tom was listening to Jake's quiet instructions with his hands on his hips, calm and focussed. 
Looking at the group it would have been impossible to pick him out as a brat amongst the three tops. Two more of Jake's team waited on the beach, prepared to give back up if it was needed. Within ten minutes the infirmary team appeared in one of the emergency jeeps, and the beach began to swarm with people. Callum found himself wondering where Simon was and what was happening to him, and berated himself, well aware that he was trying to distract him from a deep and gnawing fear that brought his eyes back to the cliff again and again.
Come on Alex. You hang on little boy. You're tough, you can do this, you hang on.
It was approaching twilight when one of the guards emerged from the cliff entrance and slid down the ropes. He spoke briefly to Ryan who was waiting with the guards at the foot of the cliff, then jogged across to Callum. Callum straightened, consciously bracing himself. The guard looked calm, but urgent.
"They've got him. He's stuck though, Jake asked if you could come up and keep him calm while they get someone through to help him."
It helped so much to have something active to do. Callum accepted the harness without question, buckled it on and saw the Jeep's headlights flash onto the cliff face as he began to climb.
Tom's cave was actually a series of caves, and looking at them, Callum could see at once why they were irresistible to a brat without much forethought for danger. They were beautiful. The first cave was small and cramped but from there another cave opened out of the back, sloping sharply downwards. The guard led him slowly down the steep path, shining a flashlight ahead of them as the light deteriorated. A third cave opened in front of them as the descent began to level off, and Callum heard the slop of water. Several more flashlights flicked towards them and Callum saw the water ahead of them, a gentle basin that disappeared under a rock ledge. Jake was kneeling on the ledge and turned towards Callum, breaking off from the conversation with the others. He got up and moved away from the water, lowering voices.
"This must run out to sea, it's tidal. At low tide it's possible to wade under the ledge into the next cave. Alex did that and went on a way further. When he tried to come back the tide had risen and he can't now get under the ledge without going under water, which he's too afraid to try."
"Oh my God." Callum said blankly. "Do we know how much further the tide rises? Is he safe there?"
"Tom says he's gone under the ledge under water now to reach the caves beyond and that it doesn't rise much further. And that Alex has at the least another three caves to retreat into if he needs to. He's in no danger. Just very frightened. As low tide isn't for another four hours, I rather think our best option is to get someone under the ledge to him who can bring him back. We've tried talking him through it and he really is too scared."
 "NOT Tom." Callum said grimly. Jake put a hand on his shoulder.
"He's done it before and he's obviously had some experience in this kind of thing. I'll go with him and I promise he'll be fine. Once I get hold of Alex I can get him under and bring him back with us. We just need to run a rope through first to make it safe, and I want more lights here. Yes?"
Callum nodded slowly. Jake's hand squeezed his shoulder and let go.
"Thankyou. Alex can hear us clearly from the water edge. Can you talk to him and work on keeping him calm while we sort out equipment? He's not really responding to us."
Callum went past him to the water edge. Jake spoke quietly to the other two members of his team and Callum tried not to watch Jake and Tom begin to secure a rope and then move into the shallows of the water.
"Alex?" he said clearly. "Alex can you hear me?"
"Callum?" Alex's voice came back in a wail of pure distress, sounding a lot younger than eighteen. Callum instinctively knelt on the damp sand, bringing his voice down closer to where Alex's was coming from.
"Yes it's Callum. Are you allright? What are you doing?"
"I climbed on the rocks to get away from the water." Alex sounded genuinely panic stricken. "I'm going to fall, Callum, I can't move and the water's getting higher-"
"No it isn't Alex." Callum said firmly. "It won't get any higher and you have plenty of dry land. If you're on rocks, then make yourself safe and sit still, Jake's coming through to get you as soon as we have more light in here. Are you allright?"
"Just wet." Alex sounded fractionally calmer. "I scraped my hands trying to get under the ledge but the water was too deep, I couldn't do it."
And he wasn't the most confident or competent swimmer. Callum raised his voice again.
"It's allright Alex, we're going to sort it out in just a minute."
Tom had led Jake out to the ledge, leaving them both standing about waist deep in the water. Jake stretched under the ledge, running an arm under it as far as he could. Several more flashlights appeared in the cave with other members of Jake's team. Jake waded back and collected a rope, pausing to speak briefly to Callum.
"Tom says the ledge is about six foot long before it lifts into the next cave. We'll go through to Alex, take a rope with us, and then I can manage Alex and make sure we stay in the right direction while we bring him back."
Callum nodded and lifted his voice again. "Alex? Jake and Tom are coming through to you in a minute. Jake is going to bring a rope so you can follow the way back, and he's going to help you swim under the ledge."
"I can't do it!" Alex's voice rose again, instantly. "I tried and I couldn’t swim far enough, I nearly drowned! I can't do it!"
"You can if Jake and Tom help you." Callum said firmly. "Alex? Alex stop crying and listen to me. It's allright, you're going to be fine, just be quiet so you can hear me. This is going to take maybe fifteen seconds. That's all. You can hold your breath for fifteen seconds."
"I can't!"
"Of course you can. You try it. Ready? Deep breath and hold it. One… two…"
Callum glanced across to Tom and Jake who were wading out, carrying their rope.
"Eleven… twelve…thirteen… fourteen…. Fifteen. Did you do it?"
"Yes." Alex admitted, sounding slightly more together. "But not under water!"
"You can." Callum watched Jake and Tom step back, Jake locking the rope around his waist, and then dive together, disappearing from view.
"They're coming through Alex."
The next ten seconds seemed to take years. Then Jake's voice, calm and together.
"We're both through, Alex is allright. I'm going to bring Alex through first. Tom WAIT here until you hear me call you. Clear?"
Tom's answer was muffled. Alex's scream of terror was piercing with the cave accoustics.
"NO! No I can't! Let me go! PLEASE!"
"Alex, fifteen seconds and you're here with me." Callum said loud enough to reach him. "Just fifteen seconds and it's over, I'll be here and I'll take you home."
Alex's second scream was abruptly cut off at the sound of a sharp swat.
"Come on Alex." Callum called again. "I'm here."
"We're coming through." Jake said, and then there was a noisy splash and silence. Callum, unable to bear it any longer, waded out to the start of the ledge. It seemed to take forever. Then he saw two shapes appear in the water below, grabbed and pulled. Jake surfaced with Alex in his arms, frozen with terror. Callum reached for him, and then had to help Jake to prise him off. Shaking, Alex buried himself in Callum's arms and clung to him.
"Allright Tom, we're clear." Jake said to the ledge and stepped back. A minute later Tom surfaced, as easily as a seal, and found his feet.
"Are we leaving the rope set? Makes it easier next time."
"There is not going to BE a next time." Callum said decidedly over Alex's head. "That is IT. These caves are being boarded up."
Tom's look was reproachful.
"That is a criminal waste of scientific and geological evidence."
 NO comment. Callum guided Alex out of the water and accepted the blanket the medic there passed him, wrapping his shivering charge tightly before they walked up the steep path to the entrance cave. There Alex was taken from him and lowered in the arms of one of the more experienced climbers while Callum descended in the semi glow of headlamps and flashlights. The second his feet touched the ground, Alex grabbed for him again. There was a small crowd on the beach. Ryan met them, took one look at Alex with open relief and nodded Callum to one of the jeeps.
"Take him in that and get someone to drive him home. It'll be quicker."
"Tom." Callum said, glancing around. Ryan waved him away.
"Tom's fine, I'll see to him. Go on."
One of the medics came to help him lift Alex into the back of the jeep.
The cottage was deserted. Callum had no time to worry about that. The medic unlocked the door and Callum carried Alex from the jeep straight to a hot bath, worried about shock as much as him being wet and chilled. From there he settled him into bed and the medic checked him over, finding nothing but the scrapes on his hands and being badly shaken up. Callum put antiseptic on his hands and sat with him, watching the tylenol and milk the medic had prescribed rapidly knock him out.
Once he was sure Alex was deeply and soundly asleep, he grabbed for the phone.
The detention centre was still holding Liam, Seth and Mitchell. Callum was about to bleep Paul when he heard the front door open and Paul appeared, alone and looking distraught.
"Where is everyone? What happened? I was stuck with Carl for hours, they had to sedate him to get a piece of glass out and there was no way I could leave him-"
"Mitchell's in the detention centre with my other two." Callum said grimly. "Shh, Alex is asleep."
"Is he okay?" Paul glanced through the doorway at Alex, then softly shut his bedroom door. "Where was he?"
"Behind a ledge, in a cave, trapped by about five feet of water." Callum said sardonically. "Tom and Jake Mullins had to dive to get him out, and Jake brought him back more or less by brute force. I have NO idea where Tom is, except that Jake had him so he's fairly safe-"
"I'll stay with Alex, you go and get Liam." Paul said quietly. "Go on. And once you've got your gang together, I'll go down and get Seth and Mitchell."
"Oh you haven't heard the really fun part." Callum informed him. "Want the entire story? The little darlings, sans Tom, told Alex he had to pass an initiation test, which involved breaking bounds. Alex must have heard their conversation about the caves. Seth found out Tom was doing some private explorations and told the others and of course they decided to go and look for themselves. They were intending to bunk off on Monday morning, but when you and I were both tied up this afternoon they thought it was the perfect opportunity for a preview. Poor little Alex cleared off on his own ahead of them to pass this bravery test of theirs."
"Horrors." Paul said darkly. "That sounds like Mitchell to me, and if it was, I'll bet there was pressure brought to bear on Alex to do it."
"Tom realised where Alex was going and followed him, but got caught by Jake who thankfully wouldn't let him just dive into the caves alone." Callum shook his head. "I nearly throttled them on the beach. I don't want to think about what might have happened this evening!"
"Don't." Paul said practically. "You're exhausted and we're both upset with them. I vote we collect them and then do the mean thing and refuse to talk about it until tomorrow. They can all go straight to bed now, and we'll sort all this out in the morning. The infirmary kept Carl overnight as he had a general anaesthetic, I've only got Seth and Mitchell to worry about."
"I don't even know where Simon is." Callum muttered, heading for dry clothes. "What kind of a top am I for pete's sake?"
"An overworked one." Paul said calmly. "I'll track Simon down, you worry about Liam." 
  
 
********* 
  
 
It was a sign of how long his poor brats had been left at the detention centre that they'd been given chairs in their allotted corners. All three turned their heads towards him at the sound of the door opening with expressions of such piteous appeal that Callum had a brief try at convincing the guards to release Paul's two, along with Liam. He was faintly surprised when for once they agreed. Callum signed the appropriate paperwork and crossed the room to the three corners where his brats were sitting, Seth still sniffling.
"Come on then. Mitchell, you too. Paul's at the cottage, he's looking after Alex."
"Is Alex okay?" Mitchell hazarded, very cautiously.
"No thanks to you, yes." Callum shepherded them outside onto the path. "Just bruised, shocked and very upset."
"Callum?" Jake's voice said quietly from the other side of the path. Callum glanced up and found Jake standing with Tom, who was dressed in dry and borrowed clothes. Callum remembered Jake's apartment wasn't far from the security block: he'd obviously kept Tom in his own charge. He glanced at Callum's other brats and returned his gaze to Callum, tone placid.
"I was going to hand Tom back to you, but I see you have your hands full already."
"I'd like to get these three home, yes." Callum agreed, looking at Tom. "If I can trust Tom to make his own way home- unless I need to sign for him too."
"As he was attempting to rescue when found, I'm not sure that technically he is my official responsibility." Jake said thoughtfully. "And your journey looks complex enough at the moment."
"How many miles to Babylon? Four score and ten…." Tom murmured under his breath.
"With a porpoise right behind you." Jake added. Tom looked at him sharply and then started to laugh.
"WHAT?" Callum demanded, out of patience. Tom grinned at him, still laughing.
"He's so right. It IS a caucus race."
Callum began to explain sharply that he had no idea what they were talking about and cared less; then abruptly shut his mouth. And looked at Jake.
"I'm sure Tom CAN find his own way home-"
"We were just going to file the report on Alex," Jake said candidly, "And then I would be delighted to see Tom reaches the cottage safely."
"Thankyou." Callum said courteously, and led his three brats down the path, resisting the urge to grin.
Yes Jake. And take all the time you need. 
 
******* 
 
"You did what?" Paul demanded, pushing the office door to. Mitchell, Seth and Liam, all of them very unhappy, had finally accepted that nothing was happening tonight except a very early bedtime. Simon who had spent the evening in the next door cottage 8, had returned still less impressed that he too was subject to the same sentence.
Callum subsided into a chair and folded his arms behind his head.
"I left them to stroll back in their own time. I hope they take HOURS. I had forgotten that Jake is an appalling book worm. AND a climber. AND a T9."
"You devious little…." Paul began, laughing.
"And single." Callum completed serenely. "By the time they've strolled a few miles, exchanging obscure quotes, I sincerely hope Jake will be hooked enough to find a lot of excuses for hanging around the cottage. Better that than Tom hanging around the detention centre."
"What kind of a brat is going to shack up with the head of security?" Paul inquired. Callum smiled.
"Ah, but Tom is not your average brat. Now I have only one question. Do I do the decent thing and stay up here, or can I justify my jealous paternal instincts and watch what happens on the doorstep when they say goodnight?" 
  
 
************* 
  
 
About four am Callum stirred, some sixth sense picking up movement outside his door. He padded through his office, opened the door silently and Liam nearly screamed at coming suddenly face to face with his temp top. Callum looked at him, barefoot and shivering, dark hair in his eyes, looking like most of the brats at night, far younger than he was supposed to be.
"What's the matter?"
"I - " Liam coughed and looked at him appealing. "Neil never minded me waking him up and I sort of thought-"
"Can't sleep?" Callum drew him into the office and switched the fire on. Liam hovered, relaxing a little as Callum seemed prepared to talk to him.
"No." He risked a look at Callum and then his conscience burst its banks. "We didn't mean to get Alex into trouble like that, we really didn't! Mitchell was only teasing, we never thought he'd go near the caves!"
"We'll talk all this over in the morning." Callum said softly. "Right now, you need to go back to bed and get some sleep."
"I can't sleep when someone's mad at me." Liam said unsteadily. Callum sighed, hooked an arm around his neck and pulled him into a hug.
"That's a natural side effect of doing something as daft as sneaking off towards unexplored caves without a word to anyone."
"You WERE mad. You were really mad." Liam's hands sneaked out from his sides and Callum felt them wind into the fabric of his t shirt. He pulled Liam closer and kissed his forehead, hard.
"Yes, I was, because you might have been killed wandering around those caves! I'm not mad now. And neither is Paul. And we'll talk about this in the morning and straighten it all out then. Worrying now isn't going to change anything and it isn't going to help. Come on."
Liam whimpered but let Callum steer him towards his room. Seth was fast asleep on his stomach, arms wound around his pillow. Callum remade Liam's bed, pulled back the covers and waited for him to get in. Liam complied with a sigh that was close to tears. Callum covered him over and sat down beside him, stroking his hair out of his eyes. Such a sweet face Liam. Nothing but honest liveliness and good nature. He turned over onto his stomach but the position moved him closer to Callum rather than further away. The confession was very quiet and not very steady.
"I want Neil."
Callum slid down onto the floor beside him, silently got an arm under his shoulders and pulled Liam's head into his shoulder. Liam's few tears were quiet and more than slightly sleepy. Callum let his hands do the soothing, rubbing slowly and steadily over Liam's back until he was aware of his deep, steady breathing. He lifted Liam's head over to the pillow and covered him up, rubbing the last couple of dried tears from his neck. Seth was still peacefully asleep. Callum made the rounds of the other two rooms, opening the doors softly. Tom was asleep, as usual sprawled to the four corners of the bed with the covers on the floor. Jake had no idea what he was in for. Callum picked the quilt up off the floor and shook it out over him before he checked on the buried mound that was Simon. Alex next door was also dead to the world, still heavy with the effects of tylenol. Callum looked once more in on Liam and went back to bed. 
  
 
***** 
 
They were all still soundly asleep at six thirty. Callum headed for Paul's room, savouring his coffee in the last few minutes of peace and quiet. Paul greeted him with a faint smile and a nod of warning at his room.
"I've had Mitchell in with me since about four."
"Liam came looking for me around then." Callum waited until Paul shut the connecting door, leaving Mitchell asleep in his bed. "How about I call the kitchens and get breakfast brought over here this morning? I don't really want them to get the chance to start regarding this as a joke or an adventure when they start talking to the other brats. At least not until I've made my feelings very clear."
"What are you doing about Tom?" Paul said dryly. "He wasn't really involved."
"No." Callum sat down on the arm of Paul's sofa and drank the rest of his coffee. "He HAS been in trouble every time he's wandered off, which includes every time he's gone to the caves. I want a word with him about exploring unchartered, dangerous ground, but apart from that he went after Tom in good faith and Jake grabbed him before he got too far. And Alex isn't going to be fit for much this morning. I'll talk to him separately as well. I DID call Neil last night. He's in no fit state to take a hand in this and I admit I played it down quite a bit. He has enough problems at the moment. But he wants a word with his two when we're finished with them and he really is NOT happy."
"It's the setting Alex up I'm really annoyed about." Paul agreed. The phone sounded in Callum's room and Callum got up, jogging down the hall. Paul ambled after him and grinned as Callum turned to face him.
"Good morning Jake. Yes. Yes, that would solve a LOT of problems. Thankyou, I'll drag him out of bed."
"Taking Tom to breakfast?" Paul said mildly. Callum put the phone down with open satisfaction.
"He is. Thought Tom might be in the way here this morning. He's right too. I'll get Tom up and out now."
Tom, unusually enough, was not difficult to waken. When he knew who was intending to meet him at seven, he was out of bed, showered and dressed in less time than Callum had ever known. Once he was out of the way, Callum and Paul began the united task of routing out the others. Alex, Callum checked on and left with firm orders that he was to stay in bed and wait for breakfast there. Ten minutes later when breakfast was delivered, Callum took him a plate of toast and milk and shut his door. Mitchell, Simon, Liam and Seth sat in the family room under Paul's eye, eating under unhappy protest.
"Right." Callum said when the last plate was stacked and the last cup surrendered. "I'd like someone to explain to me just why you found it necessary to tease someone as young and new to the Island as Alex, and to make it clear to him that he had to get himself into trouble in order to find any kind of acceptance with you."
Several looks were exchanged. Paul propped his hips against the back of the sofa and folded his arms, adding his look of grim inquiry to Callum's.
"Simon?" Callum said sharply. Simon swallowed.
"It wasn't meant like that."
"It was only to shut him up and get him out of the way." Mitchell blurted out, acutely uncomfortable. "We were talking about the caves and-"
He trailed off. Paul lifted an eyebrow at him.
"Talking about the caves. That you'd found out about them and you were intending to leave lectures on Monday morning, break bounds that you are perfectly well aware of, and go down to explore a site you knew NOTHING about and where NO ONE would know where to look for you."
"That's foolhardiness bordering on idiocy." Callum said sternly.
"We didn't know Alex meant to go to the caves!" Seth protested. Callum silenced him with a look.
"But you were quite prepared to go there yourselves and take those risks."
"TOM's been going there for months-" Mitchell muttered.
"Tom is not part of this discussion." Paul said mildly. "You are."
"This isn't a discussion, this is cut and dried!" Mitchell said hotly. "You're just playing cat and mouse with us now, it isn't fair!"
"Excuse us." Paul said politely to Callum, getting up. Mitchell capitulated the instant he moved, his voice rising to a wail.
"I'm sorry! I'll behave, I promise!"
Paul gave him a warning look but came no closer.
"I can understand why the caves were irresistible." Callum said bluntly. "I'm not pleased but I understand. But setting Alex up was just plain unkind. It borders on bullying and there is NO way that we are going to tolerate ANYTHING like that in this cottage. You all of you remember what it was like to be new here, not to know anyone, and I know for a fact all of you met with a lot more kindness from the other brats than Alex has seen from any of you!"
"I certainly never thought we'd need to protect new brats from you." Paul added.
Simon looked on the brink of tears at that and Liam was staring hard at the floor.
"Apart from being frankly mean," Paul went on, "The Island has a basic rule of courtesy. Of respecting other people, of hospitality and politeness. None of which you've extended to Alex. You've made him feel like an outsider in his own cottage, not to mention leading him into trouble."
"We didn't tell him to go to the caves!" Seth protested. Paul silenced him with a look.
"You told him he had to break bounds to prove himself, didn't you? Not just the one of you who said it. Every one of you who went along with it is JUST as responsible. We are very lucky this morning that Alex is alive and unhurt! I'm ashamed of all four of you."
"And you're not the only one." Callum added. "We are NOT going to have that kind of behaviour here. If we can't trust you not to go leading other brats into trouble then we obviously need to think more about who you mix with."
"And that you need closer supervision." Paul agreed. "Not to plot together in cliques or to vanish at the first opportunity to follow dangerous and half baked ideas."
Simon and Liam were in tears now and Mitchell wasn't far off. Paul glanced at Callum and cut to the chase.
"All four of you are grounded for the next two weeks. And that will include Carl too when he's released from the infirmary. NONE of you leave this cottage without supervision. Either Callum or I will take you to meals and you sit with us. And until you prove you can be trusted together, one of us will be with you all the time you're here too. That means all of you either in this room where one of us will be on duty, or alone in your rooms."
"And all of you who absconded yesterday without permission are going to have lines to write." Callum added. "You ALL know better than to vanish like that, never mind leave the compound. And further more, you are all of you going to get a spanking for bullying a new brat. That more than anything is inexcusable and I don't expect to ever see or hear of it again."
"Understood?" Paul inquired. There were four separate mutters of agreement. Paul shot Callum a look of sympathy, acquired Mitchell's hand and led him towards his own office. "Seth, you can occupy that corner over there."
Callum got to his feet.
"Simon, you'll find another corner in the hall."
Both brats moved with alacrity. Callum put a hand on Liam's shoulder and steered him towards his office at the other end of the corridor.
He noticed, with some satisfaction as they passed the main entrance door, the two tall outlines of Tom and Jake, entwined on the doorstep and pretty much oblivious to anything going on anywhere else on the Island.
~The End~
Copyright Ranger 2010

6 comments:

Sierra said...

I like that Tom found someone. I do not understand how anyone would find Simon more attractive than Tom. Interesting story.

bentley1530 said...

Were you thinking about the Tom and Jake from this story when you came up with the Tom and Jake in the Fall Chance Ranch books? They seem to have a lot in common.

Key said...

I agree with bentley, Tom is a much more interesting brat and I'v always loved the Tom and Jake in falls chance. I really enjoyed reading this just as much as I enjoyed reading the original island stories

jen vieira pinto said...

This was awesome! I've always been interested in Tom and Jake. They have an amazing relationship and are so good together. It was great to see the very beginning. I remember it being mentioned in FCR that Jake was a security guard when they first met and I thought that didn't seem to be a job that fit Jake in my mind for some reason. Seeing where he was a security guard changed that impression. I really loved this story. There should be some link between this one and FCR so people know to read this to learn more about Tom and Jake. I just stumbled upon it by accident, but I am tickled pink that I found it.

Great writing as always. I found myself grinning like an idiot while reading it.

connie cox said...

Hurrah! Tom and Jake's story! Love it! And you made it fit with all the other FCR Tom and Jake storiees!
Brilliant!!!!

Elriaen said...

Is this the same Tom and Jake as in FCR? The descriptions fit and their hobbies are similar but Jake is a Higgins rather than a Winthrop Forbes?
If it is them, I'd love to see Callum or Ryan turn up in Silver Bullet Everest or maybe even Simon if he's a brat Tom got on with. It would be incredible if Tom had both the FCR and TI communities to fall back on, once he will allow himself to fall back on anything!
Also, if it's them, how does this transition into 'Will you walk a little faster'? From what Dylan from TI did, it's pretty hard for brats to run away from the island without any kind of plan as Tom seems to have there.
All very interesting! Will be keeping an eye out for more Tom and Jake backstory! They're probably competing with Theo and Bear for my favourite couple!
And just in case Google doesn't publish it, my username on the yahoo group is Elriaen. I'm currently a bit of a lurker but I'm working on it!


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