"I've had enough." Don dug his hands in his pockets and dug the keys out, brows together.
"There's no sign of the police, they're clearly not interested and I'm freezing. Mike come on. If Todd wants to get this place fingerprinted tomorrow he can come in and do it himself, we're going home."
Mike stood for a minute longer, surveying the broken window of the office, now temporarily boarded over. It was nearly two am in a wet, cold, February and they were answering the peals of a burglar alarm that had dragged them out of bed to Sanctuary, the night club that Don owned and they both worked in.
"It must have been kids messing about. There's been no attempt to take anything, not even the cash box."
"And you'd know about that?" Don teased a little more gently. Mike shrugged.
"Cash, answer phone maybe, computer disks. It all adds up if you know where to sell it. Except I wouldn't have set the alarm off."
"You were the one who had it installed, you said it was a good design." Don said, startled. Mike grinned.
"Good. Not that good. I could fix it in about fifteen minutes, uninterrupted."
"I don't want to know, Michael. Come on, we're out of here." Don stood back to let Mike down into the now silent club and out of the front door. They were both tired and too cold to talk much on the short journey to the Victorian house well out on the edge of town. It was only under the hall light of the house that Don really looked at his partner, and something in his face caught his attention.
"What's the matter?"
Mike gave him a faint grimace. Don locked the front door behind them and Mike came slowly into his arms and buried his face in Don's shoulder.
"Getting a cold. That's all."
"You want some aspirin or something?" Don said into his hair. Mike shook his head.
"I just want to go back to bed. This is Todd's fault, he's been sneezing at me all week."
"You sure that's all?"
Mike stifled a laugh and lifted his head, shaking his hair back.
"That's all. Just a cold. Not anything dramatic. I'm going to bed."
Don kissed him, let him go and stood for a minute to pick up the phone and dial Todd's number. The answerphone took his brief message about the break in. Todd was a semi sleeping partner in the Sanctuary ownership, but as the oldest and closest friend Don had, he took a serious hand in managing any problems that arose, business or otherwise.
Mike was asleep upstairs, face down under the quilt. Don sat on the edge of the bed to feel his forehead. He was breathing a little more heavily than usual and he was slightly warm.
Don leaned over him to pick up the alarm, setting it a few minutes earlier with a view to either needing extra time for getting him up and going in the morning, or to make him spend the day in bed. Mike would laugh at him, but Don found it hard not to reflexively grab at the slightest sign of trouble in Mike, trying to smother it before it had time to move out of control. Living on the streets as he had done for several years with TB, AIDS and God knew what else rampant around him must have toughened his resistance to steel, but Don still remembered very clearly the painfully thin, wary eyed teenager who had finally agreed to share this house with him. A kid with very little stamina to spare and who raised every protective instinct Don had to the boil.
Mike rolled over to grab and silence the alarm at the first bleep. Don waited until he lay back before he struggled over to look at him. No doubt. His eyes looked swollen, he was swallowing very carefully and from the sound of his breathing he felt as if he had a head full of cement.
"We didn't do you much good last night." Don said dryly. "Stay put."
It was a clear indication of how Mike was feeling that he did. Don put a glass fizzing with aspirin into his hand and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Are you going to eat?"
"Oh God…" Mike said hollowly and drained the aspirin. Don rubbed his arm, anxious and sympathetic.
"You're in no fit state to go anywhere today."
"Need to do the insurance papers for the office."
"I can do that."
"It's my job, I'll be okay. It's just a cold."
"Looks more like flu to me."
"Oh Don-" Mike said in exasperation. Don gave him a faintly apologetic smile.
"Okay. But there's no point in you dragging yourself over to the office. I'll get Todd to fax the papers here-"
"You're not going to spend the day fussing over me. You go in, you talk to the police and fax the papers over. I'll send them back when they're organised."
"I don't like leaving you alone."
Mike didn't respond to that immediately. There had been a time, not so long ago, when not being left alone meant even alone in a room. Or even for five minutes.
"Is that going to go on forever?" he said eventually. "It's not like you're constantly there all the time at the office or even here."
"I suppose it's you being alone in the house." Don admitted. "I'm sorry, its habit. I can't help it."
Mike looked at him. Don smiled and ruffled his hair.
"Allright allright. I'll phone in an hour or so. Eat something."
The club finally had police wandering around it. Don put his keys away and found Todd's partner Gil on the dance floor, arms folded across his massive chest, biceps bulging out of his t shirt. He met Don with an open and sweet smile.
"Made it out of bed did you?"
"Shut up. Michael and I were turning alarms off at two this morning. Who got the police out of bed?"
Gil's grin widened. "Todd gave them a ring and had a little chat."
"Ah." Don headed for the office, amused. What Todd lacked in inches he made up for in a will of steel. Just as what Gil's size and bulk threatened was totally belied by a gentleness that would have made him the despair of any battle commander. He was more than ready to tease his friend about the clearly intimidated police downstairs, but Todd's expression stalled him instantly. Todd put down the phone at the sight of him in open relief.
"Thank God. Don't you ever turn your mobile on? I got hold of Mike but I didn't want to scare him-"
"What?" Don demanded. Todd sighed.
"There was someone here with the police this morning. Nothing to do with them, just waiting around to talk to a member of staff. Looking for a James Dawson."
Don's head snapped up. It was a while since either of them had heard that name.
"Who was he?" Don said grimly. "Did he say?"
"No. But there was a good resemblance."
"I don't know. Definitely family. He didn't get any details of course, I denied all knowledge, but he said he's seen Mike around here. It's only a matter of time."
"Let me know what the police say." Don headed back towards the car park. Todd followed him onto the gantry.
"What will you tell Mike?"
"What you told me."
"Is that wise?"
No, probably not, Don reflected. However, there didn't seem to be much choice.
He found himself speeding through the back streets towards home, something he repeatedly scolded Mike for doing. The roads were quiet, the driveway at home was clear. And the front door was open. Mike was neurotic about doors. Locks and privacy, security, were the lynch pins that held his life together. Don's heart started to pound. He left the car and headed for the house at a dead run.
He found Mike at bay on the stairs. An older man was just inside the hallway. Don recognised him the instant he laid eyes on him. Taller than Mike, heavier built but with the same grey eyes and the dark brows that marked both men. Mike looked like a deer, his tension apparent from his sheer immobility. Don, who knew that look, knew he was barely breathing. He didn't move his eyes from the man to speak to Don.
"It's my brother."
'It' could be the right term, Don was prepared to dislike him on sight.
"I got your address from the police." Dawson said politely to Don. His voice was deeper than Mike's with far less of his London accent. "Don't blame them, I don't think they understood our situation. I have to say, James, I was surprised when I found the house. Very gothic."
"I've lived in worse." Mike swallowed carefully. "Bridges. Doorsteps."
"If you're expecting shock, you're wasting your time." Dawson said almost gently. "It was your choice."
"Did you see where I ended up?" Mike's voice gathered strength, "I warned you."
Don was watching tensely. This had nothing to do with him, much as he hated the fact. He couldn't stop it- not in a way that would protect Mike. In fact he wondered if it might not help him to say things he had been thinking for years. He could see Mike's hands trembling, his voice painful.
"I had NO choice. I didn't ask-"
"You lied to the police, that was the choice you made."
That was more than Don could bear. He put a hand out and drew Mike to him, holding his shoulders. Mike subconsciously put his hands up over Don's and Don saw Dawson's lips curl slightly.
"I see. And how is this gentleman any different from Ted Lewis? Do you really know the difference?"
"Get out." Mike said tonelessly. Dawson's half smile deepened.
"Get out." He mimicked as brutally as Don had heard Mike mimic upper class accents. "Or will your boyfriend hurl me out?"
"I'll do it myself." Mike said flatly. Dawson laughed.
"My poor little brother with the big, soft eyes. You were a manipulative, whinging little toad as a child, I can see you're no different now."
"What did you want me to do, Craig?" Mike's voice was steady but Don could feel him trembling under his hands. "Keep quiet? Let it happen? Pretend it didn't really matter?"
"Have you any idea what harm you did? Mum and Dad are still suffering NOW, the whole family was marked by it-"
"I was right, wasn't I?" Mike said softly, "It didn't matter."
"Gay yes, we could have handled that, but it's this whining and messing around that gives you lot a bad name-"
"This man is my lover." Mike sounded frozen. Don held onto his hands, not knowing what else to do and knowing from his tone he was near to an explosion. "In four years he has NEVER harmed or abused me, how dare you compare him to Lewis?"
"That is such tripe-"
"Is that how you define assaulting a vulnerable child?" Don snapped. Dawson's mouth twisted.
"Is that what he told you?"
Don felt Mike flinch. Dawson shook his head.
"Oh James. What else did you dream up?"
"You know damn well I never made any of it up." Mike said hoarsely.
"Was this what you came to say?" Don said shortly. Mike shook his head.
"What ever he's got to say I don't want to hear."
"I'm not going to fight with you." Dawson said coldly. " You did the best thing you could do, clearing off as you did. I wouldn't be here now. Except Mum's ill. She wanted you to know, God knows why, but I said I'd try finding you. It's the St George hospital near home if you can be bothered to see her. Why she thinks you would defeats me, it’s been six years and you could have been dead for all she knew."
Silence. Dawson shrugged and turned on his heel.
"Ring the hospital before you visit. Dad doesn't want to see you. Neither does anyone else."
He shut the door behind him.
Neither Don nor Mike moved until the car started up further down the street. Then Mike pulled away and sat down on the stairs, arms tightly folded. Don could have strangled Dawson bare handed. Mike flinched when Don moved towards him. Very slowly, Don sat down on the stair below. He waited a long time before Mike spoke and gave him a clue about what hurt the most.
"I didn't tell. They found out at school, they were asking too many questions-"
"Don't justify yourself to me." Don said very quietly. "You did nothing wrong."
Mike looked up at him. Huge eyes. Fragile eyes.
"No one asked me if I wanted Ted Lewis charged. It wasn't my choice."
Don thought of him four years ago, a boy on a bridge in a torn denim jacket, a lightening smile as if he was afraid of being caught with it, a mind well hidden under layer upon layer of street wisdom.
("So things got grim…"
"Oh really grim… so I ran away.")
As if it was all that simple. As if any fourteen year old child could just walk onto the streets of a city and survive. Don swallowed on acid and tried to keep his voice level.
"I don't think you're going to get an apology, my love. You can't make- Craig was it? admit anything."
"He doesn't even see it. None of them did." Mike held his knees tighter, eyes expressionless. "They didn't believe it. Even with the doctor's reports they still didn't believe it. The only one who ever did anything wrong was me for telling."
How many times had they touched on this? Not often enough. Don put an arm around his shoulders, and was prepared for the sudden explosion it tiggered- not just a struggle but blows that would rip at his face as though he was a stranger if he touched Mike without warning, or in this kind of distress. And no sound. Mike could die without a sound escaping his lips. Don pinned his wrists with the skill of long practise, dragged him close and held him, too tight to let him thrash. It took several minutes before the desperate struggling died away and he felt Mike start to breathe again. Don bent his head and kissed what he could reach of Mike's hair.
"You were a child. You weren't responsible for anything that happened. There was nothing you could do."
Mike was gone.
Don turned over and sat up, listening for a minute. Nothing. The house was silent in the darkness. The clock stood at three am. Don slid out of bed and padded onto the landing. The small figure curled up at the top of the stairs was heart wrenchingly familiar. It was a place Don hadn't seen him in over a year.
"Hey." He said softly, not wanting to startle the huddled young man. "You know that's not allowed. Bed."
Mike turned his head on his knees to look. Soft, grey eyes, unreadable and appealing. For a minute Don considered following his instincts to sit down beside his lover, put an arm around him, give him the comfort he longed to. Except he knew that wasn't the form of comfort Mike needed from him.
"Michael." He said again, firmly. "Now please."
Mike got slowly to his feet. Don waited until Mike moved past him, returned to their abandoned bed, then lay down beside him, pulled him close and held on tight. It took a minute before Mike unwound his arms and responded.
Again Don closed his mouth on sympathy, questions, reassurances, and stuck to the same and the old familiar orders.
"It's still night, you're not going anywhere until seven at the earliest. Settle down and go to sleep."
Mike's head buried in his neck. Don stroked his hair, stifling his own anxiety. Making his body language calm, relaxed, confident.
"Michael." Don said without opening his eyes. He heard Mike's soft sigh and the weight as he lay back again.
"It's nearly morning."
"It's nowhere near. Time to sleep and that's all. Settle down."
Silence. Mike rarely argued. Four fifteen am. Four thirty am. Don was woken by the creak of the stairs.
(The small, painfully thin body curled on the top step, always dressed again, always with the grey eyes open, watching the door, flashing to anything in the house that moved. Waiting.
"Damnit Michael, the door's locked. You saw me lock it. What's going to happen?"
"Don't be sorry, just tell me. What's the matter?"
"I don't know."
Except coax him back to bed, settle him down and within an hour he would be gone again, back to his post to wait.)
The face turned up to his on the darkness of the landing, was frankly guilty.
"Michael, once more and you and I will fall out, I promise you."
He recognised the expression on Mike's face, a belief never yet fully defeated that said wearily, 'enough times and you'll give up'. Don sent him ahead into their room with a sharp swat.
"YOU give up. You've never won this one and you won't start tonight."
Mike curled up into a tight, disconsolate ball on the edge of the bed. Don paused to open the curtains and then the windows. It was freezing outside and the icy blast made him flinch, but sometimes it seemed to settle Mike. He was still faintly claustrophobic, still not fully used to being inside although he'd spent only two years living rough. Don lay down and pulled Mike once more into his arms, tangling himself sufficiently around his lover to hope to wake if Mike did. Although Mike had all the elusive qualities of a ghost when he wanted. He was aware of Mike's restlessness for hours afterwards, although he made no further attempt to get up. Don drifted, not wanting to fall asleep and leave Mike completely alone.
It was not yet seven when he abandoned the battle and slid gently out from underneath him. As usual, once daylight was here, Mike was soundly asleep and trying to make up for eight hours of disquiet. It had been years since they'd had a night that bad.
Don covered him over and left him to sleep, checked the club faxes and mails, returned what messages he had to and made coffee, wondering briefly if it wouldn't be easier to go away for the weekend. Get away from the club and the town and the entire situation to somewhere with plenty of distractions. He abandoned it as soon as he considered it. This was going to be a hard few days and the old routines were based in this house, the safety and security Mike was going to need. Mike didn't cope well with strangers and Don didn't need any inhibitions in handling him this upset. With luck, a quiet few days and no time to work himself up, this might pass without too much damage done.
With half an eye on the time, he started to make breakfast, deliberately looking for something he had some hope of getting Mike to eat. Any form of junk food or finger food had long since been banned from the house: Mike put it down to an unreasonable and eccentric prejudice against junk food and accepted it as such without question. Don had never corrected him. Mike had often in the past ascribed his actions to deeper and darker motives, crediting him with far more intent and severity than Don knew he was capable of. But as Mike tended to have a deep respect for the illusory boundaries, Don let him think what he wanted, not troubling to point out that his control over the shopping sprang simply from living with a partner who had spent years suffering from malnutrition. And from a desire to keep their home life as far removed from Mike's past life as possible. In the past Mike had always coped better by talking of their relationship as his attempts to serve a demanding, unreasonable master, preferring 'because I say so' to explanations. He complained the same, but Don suspected he found blaming Don's decisions on erratic and unfathomable whims easier than accepting being cared for and about.
It was no easier to rout Mike out of bed, still tired, than it had ever been in the past. Don quietly insisted, knowing to let him sleep now would quickly fix a pattern of sleepless nights. He sat on the edge of the bed, flicking through the morning paper and reading only a word here and there while Mike showered. Todd would have to handle the club this weekend. He would probably be expecting it. Mike emerged, still damp and naked. Every night and morning for the last three years had begun and ended the same way, it was ingrained habit now. Don laid the paper aside, sitting on the end of the bed and looked Mike over, taking his hand to gently turn him around. No cuts, no bruises, no marks. He turned Mike back and picked up both his hands, turning them palm up then palm down. The three deep red marks ran from mid forearm nearly to wrist. Two were raised and welted. The third, the skin had broken and was weeping. Don's stomach chilled and clenched, he looked up sharply and saw what he should have seen to start with, what a few months ago he would have been looking for. The white face, the familiar, frightened, despairing look in Mike's eyes that made his heart tighten even further.
"When did you do that?" Don said, forcing his voice to sound calm.
Mike swallowed hard and didn't answer, his eyes anywhere but on the marks. Don got up and drew him across to the bathroom, pulled the well stocked first aid kit down. The grooves were deep enough and wide enough that it was only by experience that Don knew they were the marks of fingernails. And self inflicted.
Damn. It took only minutes. Two minutes of him being alone and in the right frame of mind.
Don cleaned all three scratches, aware from experience that the third one would scar. The back of the forearm was already well marked with the faint and silvery lines. He bandaged it from wrist to elbow, the dressing less for the cuts than to keep Mike's nails away from the scratches. Once he'd broken the skin he'd been known to worry at the cut and deepen it.
"I know exactly how that bandage is wrapped, I'll know if you touch it before I do." He said sternly to Mike, snapping the first aid kit closed. "And as soon as you finish breakfast, you cut your nails. Get dressed."
Don waited. Mike slowly complied, close to shaking. What choice was there? To fight, to cry now, would only prolong it, make this more complicated, more distressing. Already fighting against tears, Mike let Don take his hand and lead him downstairs, into the library where the dying fire gave out enough warmth to make this still a friendly room, although it was the one room, with the one chair where Don spanked whenever they dealt with anything serious.
Don sat in the chair, pulled him closer and swiftly lowered jeans and pants. Mike twisted, eyes frantic with distress now the moment was actually here.
"Don please, leave me alone."
Don gripped his arms and pulled him gently face down over his knees, holding him there and close. There was no point in talking about it, nothing that wasn't already known and clear, long ago decided. He held his lover against him and spanked firmly and hard, bringing his hand sharply down on the pale, tense bottom in his lap. Unhurriedly. Calmly.
"Harming yourself is not acceptable, Michael. Not now, not ever. You don't need to do it and I will not allow you to choose to do it. Do you understand me?"
Mike didn't answer. He was silent over Don's lap, only the movement of his body betraying his distress. Don's heart sank, recognising the ground ahead.
"Do you understand me?" he repeated without changing the quiet pitch or the calmness of his tone.
Silence. The smooth curves of Mike's bottom reddened under his steady hand, hard, sound smacks that covered and scalded every inch.
"Michael I'm talking to you."
Sometimes he could feel Mike's struggle to contain turn into a physical battle, an outright war of breath held, muscles strained, anything to keep the walls intact. A war not born of defiance but of years of habit. Don paused, waited and rubbed his back, knowing what was ahead and no happier about it than Mike was, but knowing it was as necessary as this punishment. He'd always stopped and waited, never wanting Mike to go through this struggle alone, or for a punishment to serve to force him into it. Mike knew far more about force and emotional blackmail than Don ever wanted him to.
Mike gasped. Once. It was about the nearest he could get at this moment in time to a sob. Don rubbed his back and waited, deliberately pushing at muscles he could feel his lover straining to hold rigid.
"Come on baby."
The first release of sound was as always, swearing. The last of his defences, a sound of control and hatred that was the only thing Mike could allow himself to say. It was groundless and Don didn't listen to it. A few seconds later he heard the first sobs, high and terrible sounds. Quietly Don returned to and finished the spanking, completing a last circuit over Mike's bare behind that left both cheeks deeply red and hot. Once begun, the tearing sobs moved rapidly from alarming to far easier, far quieter crying.
When he started to calm down, Don brought him gently to his feet. Mike's immediate response was to look down, look away, anywhere but at him. Don waited for a minute, then put an arm around his waist and pulled him down to his lap, holding him until Mike twisted and wrapped both arms around his neck.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry-"
Don sighed, head against his, breathing through Mike's tumbled hair. "You don't need to apologise to me. It isn't me you hurt. All you ever have to do when it gets that bad is tell me, you don't have to hurt yourself."
"I wanted to." Mike said almost inaudibly.
"I know. That's what I spanked you for. So stop with the guilt."
Mike was still trembling a little. Don felt his long fingers moving gently over his hair, tangling possessively, smoothing. "I am sorry."
There was a different meaning behind that to the first apology and Don understood it. Mike had intelligence and perception enough to understand how hard this was on both sides. He found Mike's mouth, kissed him gently and Mike's hug was as comforting this time as it sought comfort.
"As soon as you've eaten you cut your nails and let me check them."
Mike didn't answer but Don saw the faint nod. The rest was harder but part of the same established pattern, the routine established for these reasons and there to be used.
"And you stay where I can see you. The office work stays upstairs, I'll find things for you to do today."
That sounded innocent but there was a world of meaning in that that they both understood. He saw Mike's eyes fill with tears again, but said nothing further, just gave him a brief, hard hug and lifted him to his feet.
Somewhere in the early afternoon, Gil and Todd appeared, Todd with the police report in hand. Long used to the house and it's occupants, they simply forced entry to the garden when there was no reply at the door. Don straightened up from the hedge he was strimming and brushed his hands off, watching the two cross the lawn, Todd barely reaching Gil's shoulder. Mike sat back on his heels leaving the bed he was weeding half finished. He was by far the keener gardener than Don, having a far fuller knowledge of what to do and how and leaving Don to do only the rough and heavier jobs which were the only aspects of it that Don found satisfying. Gardening to him was a way to let off steam. The garden had been simply mown and hacked back at regular intervals and that was all until Mike moved in and started directing the operation.
"Files." Todd said, dropping them on the garden table. "Insurance documents. The window's been replaced, the police suggested a camera but as the glazier pointed out, do we really want a lot of pictures of the back of people's heads? And yes I would like tea, or whatever else you feel appropriate for this hour of the day."
That raised a smile from Mike, who was peeling his gloves off. He glanced at Don who nodded and Gil ambled across the lawn with him towards the house, slinging a heavy arm around Mike's shoulder in a greeting that made the younger man stagger. Don let them go without concern. Mike was as safe with Gil as he was with himself. And if Gil hadn't spotted the bandages, Mike was likely to tell Gil himself. Maybe the only person Mike ever did tell. Don sat down astride the bench at the table and flicked through the papers, not looking at Todd.
"Thanks. Sorry you've been lumbered with all this."
"How is he?" Todd said lightly.
"We had a hell of a night. And he went for himself in the early hours of this morning. Not cutting thank God, but he broke the skin. Three good scratches."
Todd breathed out in a heavy sigh. "It's been months."
"Dawson came here yesterday." Don said shortly. "He was here when I got home. It wasn't pretty."
There was a long silence.
"What did he want?" Todd said eventually.
"Mike's mother. She's ill and wants to see him."
"Does he want to see her?"
"At the moment, no. Not under any circumstances." Don picked up the papers and tapped them on his hand. "I'll sign these and turn them in. I suppose the police haven't got any ideas?"
"My dear boy, they aren't even interested. Anonymous break ins don't produce results, they only went through the motions because I insisted." Todd took the bench opposite. "And don't change the subject. Are you allright?"
"Fine. It just means we're back on full alert again. Sleeping with one ear open, keeping him in sight around the clock."
"If you need us to have him at any time, we're always there." Todd's voice was very serious for a minute then broke abruptly into flippancy at the sight of his lover and Mike appearing from the kitchen. "You know my motivation. He keeps Gil out of my hair for hours, I never get so much done as when Mike's in the house."
The tray put down on the table suggested someone had decided it was a civilised hour for alcohol. Don picked up the gin and tonic laid out and moved to give Mike room to sit against him. It was instantly apparent from his face and body that Gil's presence had given him a lift. Gil, who had made his feelings known about crushing his bulk into miniscule garden furniture, sprawled full length on the grass.
"We saw Ranger before we left."
Don quirked an eyebrow at Todd. Who grinned.
"He and James are in the middle of a slight domestic disagreement."
Gil snorted. "Jamie wants to move in. I give Ranger 3:1 against."
"Ranger appears fairly well convinced James is resorting to doing the most appalling things he can think of, in rapid succession, with the aim of impressing on Ranger that he needs to be under closer supervision." Todd said serenely. "I have to say I think Jamie's winning."
"He said something about Jamie lying in wait for him on the train back from London last night," Gil said, grinning at Mike. "Jamie and another of his gang of anonymous friends. All harmless, he just seems to have selected the largest, noisiest ones he knew."
"Singing." Todd said meditatively. "A few games of tag moving up and down the aisles of the train. Just enough to make every passenger want to wring their necks."
"Jamie staged it of course." Don said grimly. Todd smiled at him.
"Of course. Once Ranger realised he was participating in this little farce, one or two of his edicts about he and Jamie having separate social lives went west. I think James concluded the journey under close arrest."
"I wish I had half his nerve." Gil said shaking his head. Todd patted his shoulder.
"You don't darling. You wouldn't sit for a month."
"6:1 against." Mike said, getting up and reaching for Todd's empty glass with the intent of heading to the house for a refill. It was about the most animation Don had heard from him all day. It wasn't easy to hook an arm around his waist and gently pull him back down onto the bench. He felt Mike's reaction: not resentment, just the jar of reminder.
You stay in my sight. You do nothing alone.
Don gave Todd a glance of apology across the table.
"You know where it all is, help yourself to a refill."
"No problem." Todd rose without a second glance or the slightest surprise in his tone. He and Gil had been part of this situation since the beginning. Mike didn't move, but Don could feel the heaviness back in his muscles, his eyes staying down on the table.
They were getting ready for bed when Don looked over and saw Mike had stopped undressing and was sitting limply on the end of the bed, elbows on his knees, face blank.
It was no surprise. This was the first time they'd had to revert to this routine in a long while. Time had been they'd lived like this for months, a day made up of getting from hour to hour, the restrictions understood and accepted and frequently tested. Don hung his clothes up, judging the need to talk with other concerns he'd learned in the early days.
Yes Mike needed to talk. And there was no way he could see Mike in such pain and not listen to him, not try to encourage him to put into words what went round and round in his head. But at the same time he could get too bogged down into words, it could stir up too much and make things worse, not better. There was a time and a place for just insisting, gently and firmly, he got up, went on with the distractions and routines that helped him day to day.
"Come on Mike."
Don went to him, got him to his feet and his hands went automatically to the buttons of his shirt.
"I'm not going to sleep."
Not rebellion, just a statement of fact. Don kept his voice calm.
"You are. And you're going to stay in bed whether you sleep or not, believe me."
"You know what I want to do?" Mike's eyes met his. Don sat down on the bed and waited.
"Run. Get outside and not stop."
Don didn't answer for a moment. That had always been his worst fear. That Mike, who had been running for years, would simply run away from him too when the stress was at its worst. But he never did. Once he'd made the decision to sleep in the house, the first night he had stayed, it had been one of the alarmingly binding promises Mike made to himself. Whatever happened, he stayed.
"You've told me yourself, running is another way of distracting yourself."
"And controlling. I know." Mike looked down at the shirt in his hands. "But I still want to."
I could kill Dawson, Don thought silently. Aloud he said steadily, gently,
"But you're not going to. We're going to face this down the way we have before. You're going to be fine."
Mike looked up at him. Don held out his hands.
Mike went to him silently. Don held his hands, waited until Mike sat beside him and leaned, head against Don's but in a position where he didn't have to see Don's face.
"Nothing's going to happen." Don said quietly. "We're going to stick to the same rules we've always had and we're going to straighten this out like we have before. And I know why you want distractions, I know it helps. But they're short term solutions. We've got to be tough enough to fix this altogether. Not just stave it off for a few hours."
Don kissed his hair. "Get undressed."
It was going to be another long night.
Mike lay for some hours, struggling with a twisting stomach and the compulsion, the knowledge, that if he could see- if he could just see what was happening- it would take away the anxiety eating him. Don had understood that right from the start. There were two bolts on the inside of their bedroom door, bolts Don had put there without a word, years ago, and that Mike knew he could lock without drawing a word from Don. Sometimes it helped to know that door was secure. Other nights, like this, there was something different to the anxiety. Something nameless that Mike had never understood. It was nearly two am. when it got too much. He glanced at Don, knowing he had no chance if Don awoke, knowing he ought to stop himself but the need to be up was too strong. Silently, carefully, he slid out of bed, picked up Don's sweater from the chair and slipped out onto the landing. The sweater was heavy and smelled comfortingly of Don. Mike wrapped himself in it and sat on the top of the stairs. He didn't need the lights on. He just needed to be here, with his eyes open, able to look, to see. The front door, the entrance hall from which every downstairs door led off, the five doors off the upstairs landing. Nothing could happen now that he wasn't prepared for.
Don stirred twice, sending his heart into his throat, but both times he heard the steady sound of his breathing resume. The third time the silence went on and on until the sound of the bed creaking made his throat tighten painfully.
There was no way out of this once Don woke: no distance or route to disguise what he was doing or where he was. Mike turned and gave him a look of mingled despair and apology. It was too dark to make out Don's face above him, just the outline of the powerfully built figure, hands on his hips, hair tousled. He said nothing, just waited. Mike slowly got up and moved back to the bedroom, apprehensive, distressed, in another way relieved. Don followed him, took a seat on the edge of the bed and Mike swallowed at the hand that caught on his wrist before he could get back into bed. He was pulled down across the familiar, hard breadth of Don's lap, felt Don's arm round his waist, his hand pull down his shorts, then the loud impact of a sharp smack in the darkness, a blazing swat that was repeated down one cheek and then down the other. By the third, Mike was wriggling involuntarily, unable not to try to move his bottom out of the line of fire. He was out of breath and smarting when Don pulled him to his feet, voice still quiet.
"Bed. And you stay put this time."
Mike lay down, felt the shift of the bed as Don settled beside him, then the heaviness of an arm pulling him close. The comfort of his warmth and arms outweighed anything else Mike knew. He closed his eyes and concentrated on Don, distracted only by the stinging of his backside. The anxiety was quietened. The stairs could call, but they weren't an option now. They were clearly, inarguably forbidden, and there was a good reason not to listen, and Don was here. Simply, powerfully, undeniably here.
It was past dawn when Don stirred. There was something wrong, he was aware before he even woke. The instinct dragged him abruptly from sleep to waking, jerking him to his feet. The bed was empty beside him. He already knew he wouldn't find Mike on the landing. His heart was thumping as he headed for the bathroom, pictures in his mind of three or four years ago, other times when Mike had slipped away. A huddled, grey eyed boy on the floor, eyes pleading despair and arms running with blood from what ever he could find. Never life threatening. Just attacks. Self aimed attacks that somehow released whatever agony it was that built up inside him. A few times Don had seen him go through hours, struggling visibly with thought after thought after longing until sooner or later his fingernails would claw, there would be that quick and deep scratch at his arms, at his face, discreet enough to hope to evade Don's attention. They were the mild ones. It was when he was alone- always when alone- that he was likely to really do himself harm.
The bathroom was empty. Don was heading for the kitchen at a dead run when he saw the paper on the end of the bed. Mike's handwriting. Clear and well scripted as though for a handwriting lesson.
"I'll come back. I love you. Mike."
Don reached the top of the stairs. Mike's jacket was gone from the hall and the front door was unbolted. The house was empty.
("You can't fall in love with a stray." Todd had told him, watching through that autumn with growing disapproval.
Don's answer was blunt. "He's not a stray, he's a child.")
He came from the streets, moving around a route Don couldn't fathom or follow. Grey eyed. Soft voiced. Scruffy and unkempt in clothes hardly designed to withstand the early gales. And a single, laughing quote from Wilde that made Don's head snap round at three am. one October night.
"He comes and goes like a ghost." Todd had complained frankly, watching Don pour brandy into two crystal glasses. "You rattle around in this almighty house like Vlad the impaler, collecting articles still older and stranger than you are-"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Don you could have anyone you wanted. You do not need to be casting your heart away on this vagrant- who I might add is actually underaged-"
"He's under age to be living alone anywhere, never mind on the streets. He's far safer with me than he is out there."
"Do you know ANYTHING about him?" Todd demanded. "What's he doing living rough anyway? Where is he from?"
Don gave one of his more infuriating shrugs. "He doesn't want me to know."
Todd gave him one of his narrower looks. "Has it occurred to you with this child that EVERYTHING is on his terms?"
Don didn't answer.
"Where do you go?" Don asked the boy softly that night, watching him dress, knowing they were minutes away from him slipping out of sight for another few days. "Where DO you sleep?"
"Here and there." Mike shrugged into the very old, battered and faded denim jacket he was never without. Two hours had been long enough to get his clothes dry enough to be wearable. Don would have given a lot to make him take a thicker, warmer coat, but Mike would never accept anything from him but the chocolate and cola which was all he ever seemed to eat.
"This is ridiculous." Todd remonstrated without any real conviction over and over again in the following months. "You can't conduct a relationship with a stray dog."
"It isn't a relationship."
"He comes back to you, night after night -"
"Maybe one night in three." Don said simply. "And he never stays until breakfast. He never even falls asleep."
Todd perched on the edge of the desk, looking at his friend. "Could you find him if you needed to?"
Don snorted. "I wouldn't know where to start looking."
"So what DO you get out of it?"
"Sex." Don said cheerfully. "With a very beautiful and very sweet friend."
Todd's sardonic look informed him his flippancy was not appreciated.
The boy grew thinner as winter dragged on. Slighter. Gaunter. Always tired. Sometimes now he actually fell asleep in the bed above the library and Don cradled him, painfully aware of the bones in the body he held. It was the one time the boy actually tolerated any form of care and comfort. Huge amounts of protectiveness fought with a growing sense of fear in Don. He was getting too thin too fast. Whatever Don did, Mike could never be persuaded to eat. In eight months Don had never seen him pick up fork or spoon. He'd resorted to stocking the cupboards with the junk food most likely to tempt a teenaged boy, anything which might persuade Mike to eat at all, but it was always odds and ends. Infrequent. And again on Mike's own terms. Mealtimes only made him laugh and slip away, always gently but obstinately elusive. A little boy mixed up with a much older and wiser soul, an enchanting thoughtfulness and perception. All within the shield of wild-animal habits and savagery. Mike had spent too long trying to survive, the man inside appeared only in flashes.
It was a strange, casual relationship, mixed with rare gestures of alarmingly deep affection. Most of the time he was offhand, teasing Don if he tried to touch or hold. These moods were punctuated by sudden flashes of emotion and gestures of love so passionate they were near violent.
"You're hung up on ownership, admit it." Mike teased him once.
"I wouldn't mind owning you." Don said bluntly.
Mike laughed and Don felt the rush of thin arms flung around his neck from behind, a kiss to his hair that was alarmingly fierce, then the boy was gone and once more curled up in a tight ball on the arm of the sofa, burying himself once more in his book.
That December he vanished for over a week. Don waited, worrying as day followed day without the slight, denimed figure appearing in the Sanctuary carpark. He took to driving slowly around the local streets, but he had no idea where Mike went. Then one night he locked up the club and there he was, perched on the bonnet of his car. Don broke into a jog.
The small figure glanced up and smiled, but warded away his hands. The darkness did little to hide the black eye or the bruising spreading down one cheek. Don put his hands down, folded his arms around the smaller body and held it tight. Mike's initial response was to freeze, then try to pull away. Then his breathing went ragged and he stood still in Don's arms, although he made no attempt to respond. He was damp to the skin, shivering as Don's hands moved over him.
"What happened to you? Are you hurt?"
"I got in a fight-" Mike reared, hard as Don's hands found his ribs. "Don't-"
Don pulled off his jacket, wrapped it around the boy and drove him to the single 24 hour clinic on the edge of town. Mike had dozed in the car, assuming they were going home. His face at the sight of the clinic registered pure and irrational panic.
"I can't go in there."
"Relax, you just need someone to look you over." Don said soothingly. "Come on, it's-"
Mike lashed out at him as he reached over. Don's breath was taken away by the sheer ferocity of the attack. The door opened, Mike slid out on to the street, braced like the stray mongrel Todd called him.
"I told you, you can't ask me for things like this!"
"There's a time and place Michael, and you are hurt." Don said sharply. "This is a 24 hour clinic, they won't ask you for your name or an address-"
"I meant no!"
"Michael I'm NOT going to let you go back out there until I know you're in a fit state to survive. I can't do it."
"Its nothing to do with you!"
Don took a few deep breaths and made the step he'd never yet taken. He'd never locked doors. Never argued. Never insisted. This colt was fragile, nervous, he'd coaxed and stood still, letting the boy come to him and move away whenever he needed to. This was the first time he'd reached out and grabbed for the bridle.
"It is now. You're going to have to co operate with me this once. I'm sorry."
There was a pride and a last ditch, all or nothing courage in the way Mike's head reared, in the sheer vulnerability of that pitifully defiant gesture that snapped any last reservations Don had. He snagged the boy's wrist, pulled him close enough to stifle his struggles and held onto him, waiting until Mike realised he was going nowhere.
"Not this time." He said when Mike began to tire. Far faster than any boy his age should. "This time I win."
Mike's dark eyes lifted to his. He'd frozen. Don ran a hand gently down the unbruised side of his face and steered him into the bright lights of the surgery, feeling the tension of panic run through the smaller body in response.
"It's okay. I'll stay with you, I just want someone to check you over and make sure you're not really hurt. It's okay."
He expected Mike to cling. He was faintly alarmed by the boy's pure withdrawal once they entered the building. Mike's eyes blanked and fixed as he sat where Don put him in the waiting room, not struggling, not resisting in the slightest. There could have been a sign clearly printed over his head.
I'm not here, I can't see you. I can't feel this.
He simply shrank away when Don touched him. The GP was sleepy but sympathetic and did his best to deal with the multiple bruises and scrapes on the body Don undressed. The mind wasn't present. Don had an uneasy feeling they could have done anything to him in that quiet doctor's surgery, that the most brutal of acts would have meant exactly the same to Mike as the antiseptic and antibiotics administered gently and professionally. Outside in the carpark, he finally let go Mike's hand and the boy looked at him still with those queerly detatched eyes.
"Have you finished with me?"
"Yes." Don said gently. Mike gave him another look. Then turned and walked away. Don swore quietly and let him go.
This time he was gone three weeks.
Don lived in a nightmare that entire time. Whatever trust Mike had had in him, whatever recourse he'd had to escape from the untold dramas he was living with, he'd broken. Mike would not come to him now. In breaking that trust, he'd taken away Mike's last refuge. And he had an uneasy feeling that to Mike, that insistance had been as brutal as a rape.
It was seven am one Friday morning that Don stumbled over a small, huddled figure curled up with the frost on the stone doorstep. Surrender hadn't extended far enough to ringing the bell.
"You let him GO?" Todd demanded. "You LET him just run away? My God Donal- after all you and he did getting him OFF the damn streets in the first place-"
"That was different. When he came to me he was still a child, he just had handfuls of survival tricks. All we did was train him out of those so they stopped running his life for him." Don said through his hands.
"He's barely twenty now!"
"When he first came it was like living with a wolf. He couldn't cope with talking, that's why he and I pulled those rules down out of thin air." Don flung the pen down at the desk and sat back. Todd gave him a narrow look.
"Maybe they're out of date. You know how I handled him. Blunt orders and affection. No discussion. No complications."
"That's what he asked you for."
"That was what he needed. Someone to make him stop."
Todd sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Don he was wild. Semi anorexic, he never slept more than two hours at a stretch, he never talked to anyone but you and Gil for about the first six months- he used to go and hide when I came near the house-"
"It was all down to control." Don interrupted. "I swear he'd stopped eating because it was about the only thing left in his life he had any control over. The cutting and marking- that's about control. At least it's pain he's got control over, that he's managed and he uses it to keep what's inside him under lock and key. I thought we could just go on handling this the way we always had. But he isn't a kid any more."
"What you're telling me is he's dependent on control and he's depended on you for control for four years. And you let him clear off alone-"
"He's never depended on me." Don said sharply. "He chose to keep control over himself by handing parts of his life over to me. That was his decision, I never would have made it for him."
"What happened with the Dawsons?" Todd said softly. "Gil's told me parts of it- what Mike told him. I never liked to ask."
"It was a close friend of the family's." Don stared at the pen. "Used to babysit the kids once a week for years. God knows how long it went on for. Eventually some teacher at school realised when Mike was thirteen or so. I think he'd got old enough for the bastard to get a little more adventurous, there were probably more signs of abuse. Mike was scared stiff of the man by then, he'd made all sorts of threats, and when the police asked, Mike named him. The family flatly refused to believe him and accused him of lying. Social services stepped in, took both kids away for a few weeks. Craig was returned when the family formally challenged the allegations and Craig denied everything. Mike ran away. Where and how he survived from there on I have no idea. He more or less abandoned James. I didn't know that was his name until a year or so ago when he applied for his passport. He'd always told me 'Mike'."
"Do you know where he's gone now?"
Don shook his head. Todd unhurriedly got up, wandered across to him and wrapped his arms around Don's shoulders.
Don spent the week working every hour he could spend at Sanctuary, sleeping at the studio flat that led off the office, coming home only to change and eat. The house was cold and empty when he passed through on Friday evening. He let the door slam shut behind him, tossed his jacket and keys onto the sofa as he passed through and stretched his neck as he walked into the kitchen. Mike was leaning against the counter, waiting for the kettle to boil. He looked up, not smiling, but his arms opened wide. Don half fell into them. After a minute of fierce, desperate kisses, his dampness finally got through to Don and he held Mike back to look at him. Dishevelled, damp to the skin, bruises under his eyes, unshaven. Don knew without asking. Old haunts. Benches. Doorways. Rooftops. There was a handkerchief, filthy, tied over his palm. Mike let him peel it off, standing passively, his eyes loving as Don swore over the untidy cut.
"MIKE- You should have gone to casualty with this-"
"Rubbish. And it was an accident."
Don glared at him. Mike slipped his hands free to lean back into Don's arms and let Don tear into him, snapping about him being wet, cold, lucky his cold wasn't now pneumonia- he held onto Don until he ran out of steam, rubbing his back slowly, steadily. Finally Don pulled himself together and shut up. Mike lifted his chin, demanding silently until Don kissed him. Don buried his face in Mike's neck.
"Get out of those clothes."
"I'm going to shower, I'm freezing."
They said nothing else. It was the utter familiarity, the distant fall of the shower, the odd shut door that reassured Don while he heated the nearest thing in the freezer. Mike came back down, shaved and dressed in clean clothes, his hair damp and his hands warm, and they ate together while Don held and worried over his palm. Even after the hot water the torn skin held dirt. Mike pushed his plate away, watching Don collect disinfectant and lint.
"It was glass. I think I got it all out."
Don held out a hand and Mike offered the palm, leaning on the table while Don searched the wound carefully.
"Nothing. Eat the rest of that."
Mike shook his head silently. Don didn't argue. After eating nothing but odds and ends for a week, his stomach wouldn't be up to real food in real amounts for a day or two yet. He sat, grey eyes fixed with interest while Don cleaned the gash and filled it with antiseptic. The quiet was unbelievably comfortable. Don bandaged the hand lightly, Mike flexed his fingers once or twice, then held still as Don turned up his arm. The bandage there was gone. Two of the scratches had vanished. The third was still marked, red and purple on the pale skin. Mike freed himself gently, took Don's hand and turned out the light in the kitchen.
Don followed him into the livingroom, obeyed the gentle shove into the sofa, took Mike on his lap where he wanted to be and watched tv although every nerve he had was concentrated on his lover.
"I could remember every damn thing." Mike said very late that night. They were lying side by side, past doing anything now but talking. The stage where they could talk all night, except Don usually interrupted, the one with the eye to the time and the self discipline to make them both stop. Don felt him move in the darkness, lifting his arms above his head.
"The whole damn lot. It was like being hit in the face. Craig stood there in front of me and I felt how HE used to make me feel every day for years. Panic. Every second, every day. I didn't know what it was then, but it was there all the time. The minute I heard Craig talking it hit me. Suffocating."
"It must have been terrible."
"It was pretty grim."
Don smiled faintly. "How grim?"
"Oh really grim." His hand found Don's hair and tousled. "Craig hates me. I could see it in his face."
"That's his problem."
"You know Ted Lewis was a friend. He'd been in the house all my life." Mike sounded perfectly reasonable. "When you're that age you don't know its wrong- you don't know anything different. You just think this is what life is like. It feels natural."
"Justified." Don said bitterly. Mike rolled over to him.
"I thought it was until I met you."
Don held him fiercely. The bones and the body another man had hurt for years, before Mike was aware of what it was that was being damaged. He'd done it once before, on a night when Mike had talked him into accepting the helm on a ship he couldn't handle alone. Held him, so angry he was close to tears, cradled him and kissed every long ago bruise and touch as though he could cancel out the memory.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Don demanded in the foyer. The place was full of evening visitors streaming around them with flowers in hand. Mike didn't take his eyes from the ward listings board.
"You don't have to."
"You were the one who suggested it." Mike pushed him firmly down the corridor. He was managing the front well but Don could see the sweat over his forehead as they reached the ward doors. He quietly grabbed hold of Mike's hand and stopped him.
"I'm coming with you."
"Better on my own." Mike gave him a quick smile of appreciation, squeezed his fingers and let go. "Doubt she'll recognise me. Wouldn't look twice at me next to you."
Don swatted him firmly. Mike smiled and went in. Don sat on the bench opposite the door and tried to stop fretting. One minute. Two. He got up and went to the glass. Mike was standing at the far bed, hands dug in his pockets, shoulders hunched. Don couldn't see the woman. Ten minutes. Don couldn't stand it any more. He pushed the door open and walked onto the ward. Mike was still standing beside the bed. Don saw nothing in the woman beside him. She was light boned like him. Clearly very ill. Mike glanced round and said something to her. He was about to move away when she spoke. Mike hesitated, then uncertainly stooped over and kissed her before he left. He walked straight past Don, leaving him to follow, headed out of the corridor and down the stairs to the carpark. Don trailed him silently all the way out to the car where he ran out of steam and stood silently, staring into the paint work. Don put an arm around his waist.
"There's a pub over there, come on."
"You need a drink, love."
Mike turned unsteadily and put his arms around Don's neck. It was nearly a full minute before Don felt him work his way past the gates he always had to defeat and he began to cry with that same, half gasp, half curse. People cast them looks of sympathy as they passed. Don rocked him slowly and waited, with no intention of trying to calm him down. It seemed like hours before he pulled away and wiped roughly at his eyes.
"Are you okay? Don lifted his chin and his heart turned over at the sight of Mike's reddened eyes. Mike pushed back against him for a moment.
"Yeah. I just want to go home. Really."
Don woke with a jump, knowing before he looked that Mike was gone. The clock stood at seven am. Don rolled to his feet and headed for the landing, heart thumping. Mike was sitting on the top step, asleep, with his arms wrapped around his knees and his head laid on his arms. Don stood for a minute, exasperated, concerned, his heart slowly coming back to normal. He stooped, picked Mike up and carried him through the doorway to the bed. Mike didn't wake. Don pulled the covers over his chilled shoulders and left the curtains drawn.
It was nearly nine when he went back up, mug in his hand.
Mike stirred unwillingly. Don pulled him over and put the coffee into his hand.
"Do you know where you ended up last night?"
Mike winced. "I don't remember."
"Nice try." Don watched him drink the coffee, gradually waking up, curling his fingers around the mug like a cat. "Get a move on. Breakfast's on the table and going cold."
"I didn't know it was that late."
"Too much night owling." Don swatted him as he headed past to the shower.
They ate in companionable silence, Don reading through the morning paper while Mike watched him and listened to the radio burbling quietly away in the corner. As soon as Mike finished, Don folded the paper and got up.
"Leave the dishes. Come into the library, I want a word with you."
"Uh oh." Mike said softly. Don ignored that, led the way into the library and closed the door. Mike folded up into the single armchair, leaving Don the chair behind the desk.
On the top of the black leather desk top lay Mike's note. Don turned it around and tapped it.
"Ah." Mike said carefully.
"Ah?" Don sat back, looking at him quizzically. "Have you any idea how scared I was when I found that?"
"I wouldn't have done anything stupid." Mike said slowly. Don shook his head.
"You ran off. How intelligent was that?"
"I mean I wouldn't have hurt myself. I needed some time to think."
"You HAD hurt yourself only the day before. You know the rules we follow when that happens. You don't go anywhere alone until you can be trusted not to do yourself damage. You know that. And if you wanted to go anywhere, why couldn't you have said that to my face and discussed it with me first?"
There was a silence that stretched on for several minutes.
"Michael?" Don said eventually. Mike winced.
"I thought you'd probably say no."
"You're right, I probably would have done. With hindsight, it would have been the wrong answer."
Mike looked up, startled. Don shook his head at him.
"That doesn't however negate the fact you vanished with nothing more than a piece of paper informing me you'd disappeared of your own free will."
Mike flushed. Don folded the paper and dropped it in the bin.
"There are two rules we've had for a while. One, that if you reach the point of wanting to run away, you talk to me about it. Two, that when I decide it's necessary, you stay within my sight at all times."
"I know." Mike admitted. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to go. Without hassle."
"Without having to listen me saying anything to make you think it was a bad idea." Don said wryly. Mike gave him a faint smile.
"More or less."
"Come here." Don pushed the chair back from the table. Mike came to him without enthusiasm, but already quietly unfastening his jeans. Don pulled them down and took Mike over his lap, pulling his shorts down after his jeans.
"Why do I ask you to stay in my sight?"
Mike sounded unsteady, mostly from his position. "So I'm not in danger of hurting myself."
"And that is not an ultimatum." Don laid a hand over his bare behind, feeling it tense beneath his palm. "So long as you have me within sight and within call, you are not likely to get to the point of needing to do it. That's something we both agreed on a long time ago."
Don said nothing further. Just raised his hand and brought it down sharply on Mike's upturned bottom, the first of a long and steady series of swats that made Mike grimace and wriggle over his lap. Don heard one or two yelps but nothing more and it told him more than Mike suspected. The kid was less than heartbroken about the two ignored rules. The true distress, any real crying, followed crimes involving real guilt. He worked back and forward over Mike's bottom, reddening it firmly and soundly, determined this was going to be a thorough punishment, mind on discouraging his lover from considering any other unplanned midnight excursions any time soon, until both cheeks were scarlet and Mike was starting to squirm in earnest.
"So what do you do when the wanderlust hits, Michael?"
"Tell you." Mike's breathing was starting to come in hitches. "I won't do it again, I won't NEED to do it again…"
"That's not the point."
"I know.." Mike's voice was twisting up into a muted wail in spite of himself. "Don.."
"If I catch you out of that bed again," Don said sternly, "Without a DAMN good reason, there is going to be trouble. Do you understand me?"
He felt rather than heard Mike's answer, a series of sounds not entirely connected to words. He rested his stinging hand on Mike's back and rubbed, feeling his lover sob. Mike slid slowly off his lap to his knees. Don ran a hand gently through his hair, straightening out the sandy coloured strands one by one. Eventually, Mike got unsteadily to his feet, pushed Don's hand out of the way and buried himself in Don's lap. It was not quite the fierce assault this gesture had always been at one time. Don held him closely, stroking his back, feeling him unknot, muscle by muscle. Mike hadn't moved when he reached to his desk for his paper, tucked the sandy head more deeply under his chin and returned to the morning's news.