Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fire Fire

Title: Fire Fire
Author: Ranger

If we'd been clearing out my office, we would have been knee deep in clutter.
Naturally, it being Damien's office, everything went neatly into the tea chests and each item was practical, necessary and dust free. The only thing I could legitimately pull faces over was his CD collection, and since he kept all the ones I hated for listening to at work, I didn't really have grounds for complaint.
It was all so revoltingly neat we had it packed by eleven am.
"You're not really a real person at all, are you?" I accused, dropping the last of his immaculate files into the box ."You're actually an android or some kind of martian-"
"Sent to defend the rest of human kind from you." Damien finished serenely, ducking. I followed the hurled duster and wrapped my arms around his neck from behind, effectively preventing him from disconnecting his computer.
"I keep looking for wires."
"Found any yet?" Damien tipped his head back to grin at me. His hair had escaped his morning gel and was hanging in his eyes, he looked tousled and happy and alive with the kind of enthusiasm that any new challenge tends to light in him. It's irritatingly infectious and extremely sweet. I kissed him, checking thoroughly.
"Not so far."
"Keep looking." Damien put a hand behind him, patting at what he could reach of my leg until I let go and watched him heave the computer monitor over to it's box, his biceps rippling under the line of his shirt. If he wasn't very careful, we were going to be putting his desk to a use for which it definitely was not designed.
"That’s the worst of it, suppose we take this lot over and start sorting it out?" Damien suggested, stretching. "And stop it." he added, catching my eye. "Later."
"How MUCH later?"
"Tie a knot in it." Damien swiped another quick kiss and heartlessly pushed a box into my arms. Muttering, I followed him downstairs.
His company had been located here since it began, using the set of offices over the top of a workshop. Just before Christmas Jeff had spent several long evenings at our house while he and Damien went over and over the figures with the accountant, and eventually they'd decided that expanding was a necessary risk to take. The new offices were on a trading estate just outside Marston Mortaine, a village about five miles away from home, and a couple of miles from town where my offices were. It meant he now got to do the cross country driving I did to get to work, but put us quite a bit nearer during the day. And, I reflected as I followed his car through the thick woodland roads, it was by far a prettier drive than hacking his way through the town traffic. The new offices were on the fourth floor of a large, glassed building at the back of the industrial estate, shared with a solicitors practice, a telesales company and an insurance company. None of whom were around, it being a Sunday. Damien and I loaded up the lift with his boxes and Damien locked the front door of the building behind us before we went up to the fourth floor. The offices up there were open plan: something I was not at all sure about but Damien's sole interest was in the quality of the light for drawing and he dragged me over to the desk at the far side of the room by the windows, putting the nearest box down on the floor.
"Those shelves, that desk, that filing cabinet. Can you start unpacking this lot and I'll bring the rest of the boxes through?"
I sat cross legged on the floor in front of the shelves and started to put out his files and folders. The offices were pretty much brand new: the carpets still had the new smell to them and the furniture was still gleaming. We worked for an hour, putting stuff away, and we were nearly ready to go back for the next load when the lift opened and Allen and Robin emerged, arms full of boxes.
It had been inevitable of course. I gave Robin a sweet, come-closer-and-I'll-bite smile and leaned over the desk to give Allen a hug.
"You're looking a lot better." Allen said when he let me go. "How are you doing?"
I winced, flushing at the reminder. Damien came immediately to my rescue, sounding completely at ease about it as he always did.
"Not bad at all. Did you lock up downstairs when you came in?"
Robin flashed the keys at him. "The caretaker's downstairs anyway, he said he had to be on duty while we were in the building. Sounded thoroughly pissed off about it too."
"He probably is on a Sunday afternoon." Damien said mildly. "Jeff apologised to him on Friday and offered to come in and be the key holder, but he wouldn't have it. We've heard a few fits of minor martyrdom from him."
"He sounds a barrel of laughs." Allen took Robin's box from him. "Come on, this lot won't shift itself."
They continued heaving boxes out of the lift while Damien and I finished unpacking. Damien glanced at his watch as they brought up the last ones, and lifted his computer onto his desk.
"Nicky, if I go back for the last load of boxes can you set this up for me?"
"It’s the heavy stuff left." I objected.
"I'll come and help." Allen offered, straightening up from the shelves he was stocking. "I'm getting most of this wrong anyway."
"Fifteen minutes." Damien promised, pulling out his car keys. He and Allen left together. I sat down at Damien's desk and started to connect up the various outlets.
"Still too frail to carry stuff about?" Robin inquired from behind his desk.
Get stuffed Robin.
I took no notice and plumbed in the printer. Robin, bored with unpacking, got up and wandered over to join me.
"Are you back at work yet?"
I shook my head, feeling my face heat up again. We were into January now and Damien still said no.
"Why not?"
Grrrrrrr. I ignored him, working on the fax machine. Robin picked up the adjoining cable, holding it out of my reach, and grinned at me.
"Why not?"
I got up. Robin's expression became slightly wary and he retreated a step. Since the day I'd lost my temper and thumped him, he'd been a little less confident about pushing my buttons, but then Robin was a born button pusher.
"Don't get adgy, I only asked!"
I waited until I was sure he wasn't going to ask anything else, then sat down again and went back to the fax. Robin mooched, hands in his pockets, turning over the files on Damien's desk.
"Weren't you unpacking?" I inquired when he really started to get on my nerves. Robin shrugged.
But it was more fun annoying me, I understood. Robin picked up a candle out of one of Damien's boxes with a whistle.
"I didn't think Damien was the candle type."
"I gave it to him. It’s a de stressing one."
Supposedly proof against annoying junior partners.
Robin dug for a box of matches at the bottom of the box and tried to light it. Since it was keeping him quiet and out of my hair I let him get on with it and went back to the computer. The first sign of trouble I noticed was a whoosh and a startled yelp from Robin. I glanced over in time to see him drop a large sheet of flaming carbon paper onto the carpet, which promptly started to smoke ominously. Horrified, I scrambled over the desk, snatched up the nearest heavy object and broke the glass to the fire alarm.
The resulting siren was so deafening we both clapped our hands to our ears.
Robin gave me a long look, shaking his head, then stamped on the blazing carbon paper.
It went out instantly.
The siren continued to blare.
"You are SUCH a prat." Robin said conversationally. I glared at him and carefully moved the broken glass from the fire alarm, trying not to cut myself any more than absolutely necessary. No matter how I poked and prodded the bell I couldn't make it stop.
"We're going to have to find the caretaker." Robin yelled over the din. "PRAT."
He was right. I keyed for the lift, only to find it unresponsive.
"It's probably automatically shut off in cases of fire," I yelled to Robin, who was banging the controls. "Where are the stairs?"
"I don't know, I only saw the place today!" Robin shouted back.
We searched for a while before we found a stairwell leading downstairs. The caretaker's office was empty. The earsplitting siren was beginning to get to me and I was shaking by the time we got out into the carpark.
The caretaker was in his mid to late sixties, a thick set little man with white hair and a scowl that made us both hesitate in the doorway. His voice was shrill with outrage.
"You're SUPPOSED to exit the building immediately! Where are the other two?"
"Out -" I began. The man cut me off.
"There's a FIRE somewhere and you two swan down here like it's nothing if my fire safety record gets compromised-"
"There isn't a fire, I accidentally broke a fire alarm-" I began uncertainly. The man nearly screeched.
"You BROKE an alarm?"
The tone made me jump.
"I didn't mean to-"
"You don't need to be QUITE so nasty-" Robin pointed out. The caretaker didn't stop.
"You DO realise the fire brigade is on it's way? You DO realise you could be charged for wasting brigade time? Making false calls?"
"I didn't call-"
"The alarm is automatically linked to the fire station! STAY there!" the caretaker headed for the door to the building. I swallowed on a very dry throat and coughed.
"I didn't mean to."
"Have you got an inhaler?" Robin asked me. I fumbled through my pockets and then shook my head, somewhat shamefaced to admit it to him.
"I don't really need one-"
"Damien needs you on a lead, he really does. Sit down." Robin towed me across to a bench set beside a rather nice ornamental lake. Actually the lake had been a feature of the landscape that had been too expensive to dispose of, and had there fore been built around. It was rather pretty. I had an idea and poked Robin who sat beside me.
"Got your cell phone?"
"Its upstairs in my jacket."
I got up and headed back towards the building. Robin followed me, shaking his head. Upstairs in the office the siren finally shut off. I picked up the phone, dialled and waited for the operator.
"Fire, police or Ambulance please?" a voice inquired.
"I need to cancel a fire call out- it was a false alarm, just an accidental breaking of an alarm."
The woman was pleasant and the cancellation made quickly. Somewhat relieved, I put the phone down.
"Great." Robin slid off my desk. "Lets go and cheer up Ferret Features."
The caretaker was standing in the carpark again, staring at the road like a pointer on the scent.
"Excuse me?" I said nervously. "Its okay- I rang up and explained, they won't come out- there'll be no problems about false alarms-"
The little man bristled and grew by about seven feet. Robin took a step backward.
"Look we only-"
"DO YOU REALISE-" The man bellowed at me, "WHAT you've done to the fire records today? It took you two nearly ten minutes to exit the building! It's supposed to be cleared in FIVE! The fire brigade is supposed to be here within seven minutes! YOU cancelled them! NOW who's going to confirm the building safe?"
"It was a false alarm!" Robin protested.
"The building STILL has to be confirmed safe and inspected before I can shut down the fire alarms! Its part of my job!" the little man ran a hand through his hair, radiating disgust at me. His voice didn’t lose power in the slightest. "You've caused TOTAL havoc, this is going to cause me terrible problems sorting out the paper work, never mind claiming for that broken alarm! All because of you meddling with things you have no business to meddle in! I'll be complaining to the head of your company! Don't you DARE re enter the building!"
He stormed back into the building, slamming the door. I retreated to the bench and sat down, trying not to wheeze. Robin followed me, shaking his head.
"God, someone put the rattle back in his pram. Hey." He added, looking at me. "Allright?"
I nodded. He put a hand on my shoulder and shook.
"Hey. He's a grumpy old git, he's not worth paying any attention to."
"I know."
Damien's car pulling into the carpark was both a shock and a relief. Partly because right now I wanted him very badly, and partly because nothing on earth was going to make me lose it in front of Robin Porter. I saw Damien catch on before the car reached us. He got out, leaving the door open, face anxious.
"What? What are you doing out here in the cold?"
I took a breath, looking together and self controlled. Damien pulled me up into his arms and that was the end of it. I buried myself in him, blurting it straight out.
"I set the fire alarm off!"
"It was only an accident," Robin said behind me.
"It's okay, that's not a hanging offence." Damien said mildly in my ear. "How did you do that?"
In his voice it sounded trivial. A calm fact of life, not a problem at all.
"I was lighting a candle and dropped it, so Nick hit the alarm. It wasn't really a fire." Robin admitted.
"Candle?" Allen said startled. Robin pulled a face at me.
"One of his."
"Then you shouldn't have had your hands on it then, should you?" Allen pointed out, swatting him towards the car. "Come on, boxes."
"The caretaker said not to go back in the building." Robin protested.
"If we meet him I'll explain it to him." Allen reassured him.
Damien gave me one last hug and took my hand. "Come and help me get the rest of the computer upstairs."
I didn't have a lot of choice, he towed me after him. Allen and Robin grabbed boxes and took them inside. Damien took the spare inhaler he carries from his jacket and handed it to me, watching critically while I took two hard gulps from it.
I nodded, still shaking slightly, and leaned over the boot to pull the scanner towards me. Damien's hands slid into the back pockets of my jeans. I jumped, but not enough to risk discouraging him.
"As soon as this is set up we'll go."
"And do what?" I hinted.
Damien pulled me up and around, propping his hips against the book and linking his hands in the small of my back.
"I'll give you three guesses."
 Okay, I was prepared to believe that that might take my mind off the caretaker. 
"My computer STILL isn't running right." Damien pleaded with me over the phone on Monday. "I've upgraded, downloaded, onlined, offlined and kicked it a few times and it still isn't doing what I want."
"What have you lost?" I asked, turning over. According to Someone, I was supposed to be using this extra sick leave time to catch up sleep, rest and recuperation, which included his current obsession of staying in bed until nine at the earliest. Which was nice if he was here, but boring during the week.
"I can't find any of the wages files, OR the design programmes and if I ask it for my email account it laughs hysterically and crashes."
"Damien, its only a computer." I glanced at the clock. "And it's only quarter to nine. If SOMEONE wasn't so nuts about me staying in bed I could come over and sort it out for you……."
Damien laughed. "Come on then. Since it's for a good cause. Thanks darling."
I dressed and shaved, stepping over Anastasia who was loving all this time off I had and was spending a lot of it on my lap. We were moving from a wet, blustery winter to a wet, blustery spring. A few glimmers of purple and white in the banks along the roads indicated the first crocuses bursting in the woods as I drove. Around the lake by Damien's office, daffodils were starting to sprout, although it would be weeks yet before they began to flower. I parked the car beside Damien's and spoke briefly to the secretary at the front desk before I headed up the stairs. Half way up, I met Hitler himself. The small, white haired caretaker. He took one look at me and snorted.
"Oh God, it's the disaster area. I was here until five pm last night sorting out the mess you left me young man. Think you can manage not to touch anything?"
I ducked past him and headed for Damien's office. Fast.
Damien was leaning over his computer, scowling at it. He leaned over the desk to kiss me when he saw me.
"Thankyou. This thing is about to go through the window."
"It can't be that bad." I pulled out his chair and sat down, picking up the mouse. Damien put his hands on my shoulders, watching for a minute, then squeezed.
"I have a meeting- shouldn't be more than twenty minutes, are you okay here?"
I nodded, absorbed by what I was doing. Robin waved at me from his desk and threw a donut over from the packet on his desk. I caught it, brushed sugar off the keyboard and settled down to sorting out Damien's system
I was close to finishing when Robin slipped up to the desk and nodded me discreetly at the fire alarm.
The glass had gone. The button remained there, exposed.
Robin leaned on the desk beside me and dangled a key. "Guess what I found lying about? I just locked all the fire doors……"
"Are you mad?" I demanded.
Robin grinned. "Come on. There's only half the staff in today, the company above us is out while the office is redecorated- only a handful of us are in here- think how it's going to get up Ferret Features' nose if he can't clear the building in under twenty minutes, never mind five?"
"He'll know which alarm was sounded." I protested, "They'll know EXACTLY what set it off and why?"
"So?" Robin said cheerfully. "What's he going to do about it? We'll say one of us knocked against it because the glass wasn't repaired."
I hesitated, considering this with maturity and true consideration of all the possibilities, just like Damien asks me to. Then got up, picking up my jacket, inspired.
"There's the main switchboard downstairs, we could probably set it off from there from the master switch."
"Untraceable." Robin grinned at me. "Come on, I've got the key."
He turned the lift on for us to get downstairs, then turned it off again on the ground floor. In the hallway, Robin lifted the case of the fire alarm control box. Underneath was a row of buttons and lights. I cast a quick glance around, took a deep breath and pressed the lower button. The siren burst into life all over the building. Robin replaced the case, put the fire door key on the caretaker's desk, grabbed my arm and we evacuated in an orderly fashion and with deep joy to the carpark.
Of course no one else evacuated at all. People hung out of the windows and shouted to us, and Robin yelled back to them about an electrical fault and the doors shorted out- after that the people stuck in the offices and corridors above began to regard the whole thing as a joke. The caretaker stumbled out of his office a few minutes later, moaning. Robin and I sat on the wall, looking innocent.
"Problem with the system?" Robin asked sympathetically. The man glanced at his watch.
"If the building isn't evacuated before the fire brigade get here our insurance goes invalid! We're supposed to be able to evacuate in five minutes!"
"You've got one minute and twenty three seconds left." Robin pointed out, looking at his watch. The caretaker gibbered.
I liked that bit. I hoped in a minute he might do it again.
Naturally since the building by rule had to be evacuated within five minutes, Damien emerged out of a second floor window with five seconds left to go, hung by his hands for a minute and then dropped to the ground. He jogged across to us, looking fed up.
"I've been looking all over the place for you two, how did you get out here?"
"We just came down-" Robin began. Damien wasn't listening.
"ALL the doors are locked, all the fire doors- it doesn't seem to be an actual fire, but I still want to know how you two got down here."
He was looking at me. I looked blank.
That for some reason never works.
"Did you two have anything to do with this?" Damien demanded.
There is a problem with that kind of question, which it that looking innocent is one thing. Outright lying is another. That is morally questionable. I looked at him reproachfully.
"HOW did you get out?" Damien repeated, putting his hands on his hips.
"I- still had the key from Sunday." Robin offered. Damien shook his head.
"No you didn't, I put both of them back on the caretaker's desk yesterday. This is a false alarm, this was set off from the main switchboard and all the firedoors are shut."
"Maybe they're jammed electrically?" I offered, trying to be helpful.
Damien Looked at me. "DID you have anything to do with this?"
"…….yes….." Robin and I both conceded after a minute. Damien nodded, surveying the sky.
"Setting the alarm off?"
Robin and I looked at each other and agreed on the plea.
"Locking the doors?"
Robin swallowed, answering with more care than I'd heard from him before.
"The key from the caretaker's office- we put it back!"
Damien did not pick up on the hint that that concession should exonerate us.
"You DO realise you could have caused a panic? People are stuck behind fire doors all over the building! This is NOT funny!"
"They know it's not a fire, we told them!" Robin protested. Damien shook his head.
"WHAT if there was a real fire now?"
"Well the fire brigade IS on it's way?" I offered.
Damien LOOKED at me. I shrugged, melting into a small wicked-witch type puddle on the tarmac.
"The building has to be evacuated in five minutes and the firebrigade here in - seven-"
"Or?" Damien said crisply. Robin cleared his throat.
Robin cleared his throat more forcefully. "It invalidates the insurance……."
Damien took a deep breath.
"They'll be here in forty three seconds?" I explained helpfully.
For some reason Damien didn't appreciate that. He signalled his lack of appreciation by sending me to sit in his car and by requesting Robin to circumvent the lake. He then returned to the building. Robin was still jogging sullenly around the lake- which I supposed kept him occupied and unfrostbitten, and I could see why Damien wouldn't want him in a car that was not fiddleproof- when the firebrigade arrived. I rolled down the window to watch the large red engine sweep into the carpark and pull up in front of the building, and nine men pour out of it, dressed and immaculate.
The caretaker rushed up to them and started gabbling in a very unassertive way which was very unlike the snapping and snarling he'd been doing yesterday- no doubt trying to explain to them that they couldn't enter the building until it was evacuated. Which I didn't expect the firemen to agree with. However, I could see as the firemen approached the building that they had some sort of problem and weren't really paying him much attention anyway. Several of them were peering very doubtfully at their boots. A handful of people exiting the front door indicated Damien at work somewhere inside with a key. They paused in the doorway, about to let the firemen in, but the two in the lead turned to the fireman in the single white helmet- who I assumed was their chief- and indicated their boots.
The fire chief appeared to give this careful consideration. In fact he consulted with most of his men. I gradually realised, with growing enjoyment, that some of them had two left boots on while others had two right boots on, and this appeared to be the source of their distress. The fire chief tried for a minute to direct the swapping of boots, while firemen held each other upright and wavered dangerously, but it was clear this was not going to be a practical solution. Eventually the chief, as you would expect, took command of the situation and held up a hand. The caretaker, who was watching them with increasing disbelief, started nattering at him, and I got out of the car to hear what was said, too interested now to care about the cold. The little man looked on the brink of jumping up and down.
"-have an evacuation to do here! There are people IN the building!"
The firechief gave the man a slow and patient look. "Now then. Her Majesty's fire fighters can't go on duty improperly dressed sir. This won't take a moment. Now lads, over here! Everyone get your boots off and lets sort this out."
Robin arrived from his circuit of the lake, panting and blinking at the circle of firemen sitting decorously around a pile of left footed boots and a pile of right footed boots, like a well behaved brownie pack.
"Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew…."
"Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub." I finished happily. "Damien said three times round."
"YOU'RE not running anywhere!"
"I have asthma and it's foggy." I said apologetically. "I'd probably asphyxiate."
"I AM asphyxiating."
Another handful of people exited the building through the front door.
A bang on the glass from the third floor made us both glance up and Damien's indication from the window was that Robin had better continue running and I'd better get back in the car.
I listened with appreciation to the firemen sorting out their boots. It took them nearly five minutes before they were all sorted out, and once they were, they reassembled around the fire chief, looking enthusiastic.
"Now then." The fire chief said to the caretaker, who was still waiting beside them.
"Who raised the alarm?"
The caretaker pointed at Robin who was on his third lap of the lake.
"Thankyou sir. Come on lads."
The firechief set off at a brisk trot in pursuit, eight firemen jogging in his wake like ducklings under their yellow helmets.
Damien emerged with another batch of people and came to stand beside me, watching them make their way around the lake in an orderly line.
They caught up with Robin beside the ornamental fountain, had a brief chat with him while they completed a second circuit, and then accompanied him back to Damien, who greeted him with a pleasant smile.
"Round again please."
"WHY?" Robin protested plaintively, panting.
"Because you're lost in the smoke and panicking. It's important to stay near water."
"What about Nick!"
"Nick's been overcome by the fumes. Run along."
Robin gave him a look of despair and headed off around the lake again.
"The building OUGHT to be inspected!" The caretaker pointed out yet again.
"Very right and proper." The firechief agreed. "Now we know the problem is, we can have a look at the premises. Can't we?"
"The building's fully evacuated." Damien said calmly. "I just checked."
The caretaker sat down on the step, gulping. The fire chief patted him kindly on the shoulder.
"Good work. I see you follow your insurance regulations to the letter. Fully evacuated before we arrived."
The firebrigade made a quick check of the building and shut off the alarm. When the firechief returned, I was quite close enough in the car to hear his voice.
"All the doors are fine- must have been an electrical fault that set off the alarm and stuck up the doors. Maybe the system needs a bit of a dust. It's all fine, you can re enter the building."
People started to wander back inside, followed by the caretaker. The fire chief shook hands with Damien and paused in the door to the fire engine to pull his helmet off and grin at me.
It was Richard. A friend of Damien's from the Cricket Club. 
"It wasn't my fault." I said from the top of the stairs.
There was silence from downstairs, then the distinct clink of the decanter where Damien kept the scotch.
"How," his voice inquired from the foot of the stairs a moment later, "Can this by any possible stretch of the imagination, NOT be your fault? And I WOULD be prepared to believe temporary insanity OR possession."
"Do demons sound fire alarms?" I wondered aloud, mostly to myself, thinking of Buffy and Angel. It wasn't a tactic they seemed to have to deal with very often.
"I know a couple." Damien said sweetly, taking a seat on the stairs behind me. I glared at the plaster, not amused.
"You were the one who circumwhatted the fireservice!"
"Darling, I corrupted the fire service for two reasons. One, to prevent someone getting into trouble that he did NOT start-"
I begged to differ with that.
"-And two, because of a purely selfish desire to wring your neck myself."
Well that was slightly more hopeful. When Damien starts making ridiculous threats, the danger is usually past- it's the mild ones that are nasty and that you have to take seriously. Once he starts threatening to knot your legs around your neck, he's usually starting to see the funny side of things.  I risked turning around to see his face. He was sipping whiskey, tie pulled loose, collar open, an expression of polite inquiry on his face. I slid down to sit on the top step, wrapping my arms around my knees.
"I'm sorry?" I offered when he didn't say anything further.
"That's how Robin appears to feel too." Damien commented. "Which is interesting, considering that neither of you were sorry enough for that poor caretaker to think twice."
"He wasn't very nice." I said softly. Damien turned around to look at me, raising an eyebrow.
"Nicholas. I run into people from time to time that I don't like very much- that is NOT a reason for declaring war on them. Nor trying to get them into trouble!"
"We didn’t, we only meant-" I trailed off.
"What?" Damien said patiently. "What did you mean?"
"It was a spur of the moment thing, we only thought it would annoy him."
"Well." Damien sipped his scotch, considering that. "I think for you it was spur of the moment: I think for Robin it was a little more premeditated. And I've told you before about following his mad ideas, haven't I?"
I muttered something to the effect of possibly.
"Haven't I?" Damien repeated. I flushed.
"Robin said the caretaker shouted at you on Sunday. And that he said something to you yesterday as well."
I flushed darkly, ducking my head over my knees. "Mmn."
"What did he say?"
"Doesn't matter."
"He said I was a disaster area."
Damien didn't answer for a moment. Then drained his glass and held out an arm to me. I slid down the stairs to him and leaned into the hug he was offering.
"If you'd told me, I would have taken him aside on Sunday and had a word with him. He had no business to speak to you like that, and certainly no business shouting at you. But we could have sorted this out by a quiet and civilised conversation- and if necessary a few words with his employers."
"I don't WANT you to have to sort things out for me!" I said bitterly. Damien snorted.
"Tough, that's my prerogative. And how was your and Robin's solution the better one, hmm? Between you, you wasted the time of about twenty five people over an hour and a half. APART from the difficulties you would have got the caretaker into if the building hadn't evacuated in time."
"How can not evacuating invalidate the insurance anyway?" I said doubtfully. "He was just fussing-"
"No, the insurance is based on the building being designed and maintained in such a way that it can be evacuated very quickly." Damien told me. "It's one of the insurance clauses that goes with temporary and cheaply made buildings, in order to prove they're safe and viable. If the fire drills don't consistently run to time the insurance DOES become invalid because the building is clearly a serious fire risk. So yes, you COULD have caused problems. Less invalidation than having to explain to the lease holders exactly what you and Robin did to mess up the escape plan. After which I'm not sure they'd continue to grant Jeff and I the tenancy."
"Nick you can't play with situations and other people because it seems like a good idea at the time."
"I didn't mean to."
"I know. It just seemed like a good idea at the time."
I looked at him doubtfully. He shook his head at me.
"If you seriously can't manage better impulse control than that then you obviously need a lot less freedom to be impulsive in. Come on."
I winced at the hand held out.
"Richard didn't mind…….."
"Richard and his men were very kind. But you DON'T sound fire alarms, NOR sabotage fire exits for the means of disciplining irascible caretakers who happen to have got up your nose." Damien clicked his fingers, waiting. I took his hand very slowly, eyes stinging.
It was actually the first time I'd got into any real trouble since before- those ghastly couple of weeks in December which I spent a lot of time trying not to remember too clearly. My heart was thumping by the time we got to the top of the stairs and I was already in tears, disintegrating like a damp paper bag. Damien steered me ahead of him, took a seat on the bed and drew me in between his knees, but took my hands, tugging gently until I looked down at him.
I nodded, trying to hold my breath and stifle myself before I really made a scene. Damien unbuttoned my jeans, tugged them and my briefs downward and I shut my eyes, letting him turn me over his lap and burying my face in the quilt on the bed.  He didn't say anything further, which was rare but for which I was sincerely grateful as I was already on the brink of seriously losing it. We'd done this so many times, and yet panic was already making my chest tighten and start to ache and I was quickly starting to be scared purely by how scared I was. Damien's arm was too tight around me to let me struggle anyway. I felt his hand rub the small of my back, gently and deeply, his voice several millions miles away.
"It's allright. Breathe, you're okay."
I flinched hard, shocked at the strength and smart of the first swat. I never remembered how much that hurt. By about the third swat breathing was out of the question and by the sixth I was crying silently and very hard, out of all proportion to the situation at hand. I lost count after that but it wasn't very much more than a couple of admittedly sound swats before Damien hooked an arm under my chest and pulled me up into his neck. I wound both arms around his neck and shook, crying ridiculously hard. Damien shifted himself backwards and lay down against the pillows, holding me tight, chin on the top of my head. For several moments I gave serious consideration to throwing up. Then I stopped shaking and clung to him instead.
"It's allright." Damien said again, gently and quietly. "It's okay Nicky, you're allright."
"I'm sorry," I managed eventually with something like coherence, "This is silly-"
"No it's not, this is exactly why I won't let you go back to work." Damien kissed the top of my head and smoothed the hair back off my forehead. "Better?"
"I'm NEVER going to get past this," I said in despair. Damien pulled me back down against him and hugged me, reassuringly tight.
"Yes you are, you're a lot better than you were. It's going to take some time before you get your resiliency back, that's all. You're allright."
"I'm sorry about the fire alarm." I said eventually. "Really. I didn't mean to get anyone in to trouble."
"I know."
We were quiet for a long time, then Damien glanced down at me as I started to giggle.
"Thinking of the caretaker gibbering."
Giggles became a screech as Damien bit firmly on my neck.
"I'll gibber you in a minute. Go and get yourself ready for bed, brat, lets see how funny you think that is." 
Some people have NO sense of humour. 

~The End~ 
Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Key said...

This is one of my favourites from your Nick and Damien stories, I still laugh no matter how many times I read it at the vision of eight fireman jogging round the lake after robin!

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