Thursday, February 11, 2010

Honour Amongst Thieves

Title: Honour Amongst Thieves
Author: Ranger

The cable sliced into several untidy shreds and fizzed warningly. A second later something hit me in the back like a stampeding horse and knocked me out of the way, onto the grass. The lawnmower engine cut out. I pulled myself upright. Damien leaned with his hands on his knees, panting like a sprinter. Then he lifted his head and the look I got was less than encouraging.

"Nicholas. Tell me you put the circuit breaker on in the kitchen." 
Oh heck. I winced as he straightened up and started towards the open kitchen door. 
"Damien- I MEANT to- I put it out-" 
He'd found it. It was swiped up off the draining board and held out to me accusingly. 
"NICK. Come here." 
I got up off the grass without hurrying. Damien waited, the circuit breaker still extended. 
"Show me how that works." 
"I know how it works…" 
Hazel eyes fixed me where I stood. "Just for fun," Damien said gently, "Lets pretend you haven't just crucified the lawnmower cable and show me you do actually have some idea of how NOT to be electrocuted.  Humour me." 
Oh I hate that tone. I took the circuit breaker and fumbled the plug out of the wall, fingers trembling a little as he watched me, his hands planted on his hips. I set the circuit breaker, put the plug into it and watched that horrible little dial click over to TRIPPED. 
"Bang, you're dead." Damien said politely. "HOW many times have you run over that cable so far this year?" 
"The mower's heavy." I pleaded. "And it's uneven out there, you said so yourself-" 
"Four!" I said indignantly. Damien lifted an eyebrow at me. 
"Four. What do we have the circuit breaker for Nicholas? Do you remember that part?" 
"So the mower cuts out when the cable's broken." I mumbled. Damien gave me a friendly smile. 
"Exactly. And how much protection do you think the circuit breaker is going to afford you when it's sitting on the draining board three feet away from the plug socket?" 
I flushed, darkly. Damien shook his head at me. 
"This is the end. You are banned from the lawn mower, you have nothing further to do with it. My blood pressure won't stand it. I'll repair the cable, I'll do the rest of the mowing, and while I do it you can find yourself a quiet corner and stand there until I'm finished. THEN we'll talk about how many times I need to tell you about basic safety before you pay me any attention." 
There are certain expressions and tones of voice with Damien that you DON'T argue with. 
I left him to cable and mower and headed for the relative safety of the landing, muttering. He gets neurotic enough when I run over the cable with the circuit breaker in, so I had no idea what he was so aeriated about this time. Nothing ever did blow up. And while in theory I had no serious objections to the mowing being his sole responsibility, the sheer number of household tasks that were becoming off limits to me were starting to get embarrassing. After my single, abortive attempt to bleed the radiators, Damien informed me I was not allowed near water in any shape or form when he was out of the house. Which was as unreasonable as it was silly. Sweet as he was, I sometimes wondered if Damien realised how lucky he was that I was prepared to put up with his various quirks and neuroses…. I heard the crash from the top of the stairs. Quiet but distinct. The sound of something being knocked off the sideboard. 
I wouldn't have minded, except I could hear the coughs of the mower from the other side of the house where Damien was trying to get the motor started again. This house ought to have only two occupants, and I knew where we both were. 
Our room was nearest. I slipped in and grabbed the nearest thing to hand which happened to be the cricket bat lying in Damien's open kit bag behind the door.  He'd been muttering for days about oiling it, despite the fact that the cricket season was some weeks off yet: it was heavy, solid and more than reassuring as I made my way softly downstairs. 
The man was standing at the sideboard, rifling quickly through the drawers, tossing contents on to the floor to get them out of his way. It was the despatch with which he did it that really annoyed me. I moved across the carpet directly behind him, just as he found Damien's passport. That was a little too much. I raised the cricket bat and cracked him smartly across the back of the head with it. 
It was the sort of follow-through I've seen Damien make on several cricket pitches over the years. The man rose upwards onto his toes with the force of the blow and then pitched forward like a felled tree, hitting the carpet hard. I dropped the bat and grabbed him anxiously. He lay face down and moaning. About my own age, scruffy, denim jacketed and with oil stained jeans. 
"Are you allright?" I pulled him over onto his side, trying to see if there was any blood. It was a heavy bat and I had hit him rather hard. He fended my hands off, flinching when I touched the rising lump at the back of his skull. 
"Ow! God, could you have hit me any bloody harder?" 
"You shouldn't have been going through those drawers!" I said indignantly. "What do you think you're doing here anyway? How did you get in?" 
"Can I have a glass of water?" 
"No you can't! I'm going to call my partner and then I'm calling the police!" I scrambled up with every intention of shouting for Damien and letting him deal with this intruder. The man stopped me with the most plaintive look I'd encountered from anything other than puppies or kittens. 
"Don't. Please. I didn't mean any harm, I was only looking for …." 
"For what? Cash? You broke into my home!" 
"You'd break into mine if you were desperate enough." The man dragged himself upright, rubbing at his head. "God. You could have cracked my skull with that thing. Do you know I could sue you for assault?" 
"Damien!" I yelled at the top of my lungs. 
"WHAT?" my friend and lover shouted back from the garden, sounding anything but encouraging. The man on the floor pleaded with his eyes. 
"Don't. Don't call him. Please." 
"Nicholas WHAT? 
"Nothing." I called back. "Thought I could hear the phone." 
Silence. Damien had gone back to the mower. The man and I looked at each other, then he warily got to his feet. "Can I have that water now?" 
I glowered at him. Inimically we headed into the kitchen and I passed him a glass of water. He stood rubbing the back of his head while he drank and watched what he could see of Damien now mowing the far end of the lawn. 
"Is he the gardener?" 
"No. That's the owner of the cricket bat. And he knocked up half a century against the county team last year, so I wouldn't risk him using the bat on you personally." I said coldly. 
The man looked at me, more or less under his eyelashes. 
"Look. This was a big mistake. I really didn't mean to do any harm, I'll just take off now and we'll call it quits-" 
"You broke in here, you think I'm not going to call the police?" I demanded. Again those soft eyes pleaded with me. 
"You didn't call him…" the man nodded at the garden. "Please. Please, I won't do this again. Just let me slip quietly out and I won't bother you again, I swear. This is the first time I've done anything like this- why do you think I'm doing it all wrong? I just thought it'd be easy to slip in, pick up any cash I could find and head out again with no harm done. It was just a temptation, that's all." 
"How do I know that?" 
"Come on. I'm hardly a professional!" the man gave me a faint smile that turned into a soft, heart rending appeal. "Please? I'll go now, you won't see me again." 
I glanced out to where Damien was mowing around the trunks of the elders at the foot of the garden, and swearing as he did so. The grass around there isn't easy. 
"Okay." I said at last. "But if I see you anywhere near the house-" 
"Granted." The man headed for the door, fast. "Thanks mate. I mean it. And I won't sue you for assault either, I promise." 
I opened my mouth. He shut the door behind himself fast and I saw him sprint out of sight down the road, moving like a bat out of hell. 
"Bastard." I said to the closed door. 
"Excuse me?" Damien said grimly from the doorway.  I pulled myself together, fast. 
"I- er- nothing, I was talking to myself…" 
"If I remember rightly, I asked you to find a corner." Damien advanced on me, and paused to pick up the scattered articles from the ransacked drawer. "What ARE you doing?" 
"It just suddenly occurred to me," I said, lying frantically, "Your passport must be out of date- it needs renewing at once, it won't get through the office before-" I trailed off under his eye. "Sorry." 
Damien pointed at the stairs and clicked his fingers. I rapidly withdrew back towards my corner, aware of him shaking his head behind me as he rearranged the drawer. As I passed the table at the foot of the stairs, I glanced down and realised with a horrible jolt. The burglar had taken my car keys. 
There was not much I could do about it now, as I reflected somewhat desperately in the corner of the landing. I could hardly explain to Damien that I had not only kept from him the fact that we'd had a break in, but that I'd let the intruder leave along with my car keys. That was too much to confess, I would be dead. Plainly and simply. I would just have to get the locks changed on my car immediately, before the burglar returned and took it as he must be intending. And I'd have to do it discreetly too. 
Damien had one of those evenings where he seems determined to circumvent every idea I have. He COULD have gone back out to the garden to finish the chores we'd been doing. And I could have phoned for the AA. Instead, he cooked. When he called me out of the corner half an hour later, it was to sit down to eat immediately. As soon as we were finished and we washed the dishes, he planted me at the table with a pad and the instruction pack for the circuit breaker, with a polite request that I transcribe the entire set of instructions no less than twenty times. 
That took all evening. 
I had NO chance to get near the phone.  No sooner was I done with the lines than I was dragged upstairs, policed through all the evening medications and we got ready for bed. Damien seemed absolutely determined I was not going out of his sight. No we hadn't left any lights on downstairs. Yes both doors were locked. If I'd left my watch in the kitchen it wasn't going to go anywhere, I could get it in the morning. If I HAD to know the news headlines, I could put the TV on in here. I ended up lying with my head on his shoulder, watching the news in bed which I always find terribly depressing, with no idea of what to do to protect my car or to deal with the problem at hand without confessing everything to Damien. Once I did, the explosion would probably register on the Richter scale. Damien flicked the tv off and leaned past me to turn the light out, glancing at me as he lay down. 
"What? You're not still worrying about the mower are you? You and machinery don't mix, it's a fact of life." 
"I can mow." I said with all the indignation I could muster in my current state of anxiety. Damien turned over, wrapping his arms around the pillow. 
"Not until someone prescribes me tranquillisers you can't. Go to sleep." 
The way he said it, it sounded easy. I lay and bit my nails, imagining the burglar waiting outside for the lights to go out. At the first cough of the engine outside, I nearly jumped through the roof. Damien who had been mostly asleep, jumped with me and grabbed for me as he relaxed. 
"Nicky! It's just next door. You scared the living daylights out of me!" 
"Sorry, it made me jump." 
"You're a bag of nerves." 
He wasn't wrong. I waited until he was still again, then gently slid the covers back and padded to the window. Both cars were still on the drive. 
"What's the matter?" Damien muttered from the bed. 
"Too hot. I just wanted to open the window." 
Silence. He drifted back to sleep again. Very quietly I slid out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Somewhere in the garage was a steering lock. It wouldn't STOP a theft but it would certainly slow one up- might disconcert him, might make him take enough time to make noise… I unlocked the front door and found a coat, then hunted for the garage key. The hall light snapped on above me. 
"What do you think you're doing?" 
That was a good question and one I had no answer for. Damien, wearing boxers and nothing else, surveyed me without any amusement whatsoever. 
"Where exactly are you going at this time of night?" 
"There's something in the garage…?" I said helplessly. Damien's hands went to his hips. Never a good sign. 
"Nicholas. Put the key back, take the coat off and come up here. NOW." 
I had very little choice as he was standing, watching me. He waited at the top of the stairs until I joined him, saw me back into bed and turned the light out once more. 
"What's going on?" 
"Except?" Damien said wryly. "Come on Nicholas, spit it out. There's some natural disaster hovering around here, I know the signs." 
Silence. I stared up at the ceiling. Damien's arm hooked around me and pulled me against him. 
"Nicky. You'll feel a lot better once you've told me." 
I doubted that. I shut my eyes, prayed for a voice filled with conviction. 
"I think I left my headlights on." 
"Is that all?" 
"You said if I flattened the battery one more time-" I protested. I felt Damien's smile against my neck. 
"Well you didn't. I walked around your car when I put the mower away, I'd have seen it. Now will you relax?" 
No. Except we were now entangled and his arms were too firmly around me to be able to slip away once he dozed off. I was here now for the duration. Once I was certain of that, no matter how I tried, I didn't stay awake long. 
Damien was still asleep when I woke shortly after six. We'd separated at some point in the night: he was doing his four point sprawl, draped over his pillow like a jaguar draped out over a branch. Usually I would have settled down to admire him, particularly with his shoulders bare, relaxed and beautifully displayed, but I had other things on my mind this morning. The car- miracle of miracles- was still on the drive. I snatched at the first clothes I came across, realised half way downstairs I'd picked up Damien's sweater instead of mine and it was about four sizes too big, and grabbed the phone out of it's cradle with sleeves trailing in all directions. 
The AA promised a locksmith within an hour. For safety's sake, I filled two buckets with water, went outside and started slowly to wash both the cars. 
I knew where the spare set of keys to my car were kept. I had the bonnet up and the radio on when Damien appeared in the doorway, dressed but still tousle haired and sleepy. 
"Hello. What brought this attack of efficiency on?" 
It was too early to be worrying about neighbours twitching at net curtains. I hooked a forearm around his neck, careful of my wet hands, and kissed him. 
"Hello. Couldn't sleep." 
"You ought to get insomnia more often on weekends, I like it." Damien pushed my hair back. "Coffee?" 
I went back to the cars. A minute later he reappeared in the doorway, looking bemused. 
"Nicky? The AA say they'll be ten minutes. Does that mean anything to you?" 
Ouch. I straightened up, surreptitiously sliding a hand under the bonnet. 
"I called them. My car wouldn't start this morning." 
"What's the problem?" Damien started down the drive towards me. I had little to no choice. In the split seconds I had left, I located the spark plugs, picked up a sponge full of water and drenched them. Damien had headed for the driver's seat and didn't notice. The car coughed weakly when he turned the ignition over and refused to start. Damien got out and peered over my shoulder. 
"Plugs damp." 
"You ought to park nearer the fence at night while the weather's bad. Better still, you need to turn this junk heap in for a decent car." 
"It just needs wiping out and spraying." I said hopefully. Damien moved back with a gentle swat to my rump. 
"Are you coming in for breakfast?" 
Fate was on my side. After breakfast he dived straight into some files he'd brought home from the office and left me to meet the AA serviceman on the doorstep. He took no further notice of us. The AA man grinned when I explained my problem, dried the spark plugs and changed the lock. I tried not to cringe too much at the bill he handed to me, just swore to castrate the burglar should I ever see him again. As the AA van pulled off the drive I knew at least that this particular crisis had blown over without leaving damage in it's wake. 
Damien pulled off his glasses and dropped them on his files to smile at me as I came in. 
"Is it sorted?" 
"He's got it going again." I put the new keys away and came to look over his shoulder. "Are you planning on doing that all afternoon too?" 
"We've got to be at the Green Man in an hour. Didn't you remember?" 
"Oh Lord. Yes. Batman and Robin." 
"Allan and Robin." Damien corrected, getting up. "You'll like them. I promise." 
"Whatever." I said under my breath. Damien grinned but didn't argue. Robin was a colleague of his, some new junior director we were supposed to be having dinner with. His partner, Allan, I knew less about. I'd never met either of them, but Damien liked them and I usually tried to get along with anyone he liked. 
The Green Man was one of the more presentable pubs on the edge of Burstock village, a couple of miles out of town. The part of it that was Tudor had been left un mucked about with, which made it one of the few pubs we could go to without Damien muttering savagely about poor conversions and extensions and unreclaimed wood. We took one of the low tables near the open fireplace and I leaned on the bar, waiting patiently for the elderly landlord to catch on that I could do with serving. I saw Damien get up behind me and glanced around at the couple he was shaking hands with. A heavily built, dark man who I assumed from his age, was Allan. And a younger man in a red jacket who…. 
Who was the burglar. 
I turned back to the bar, not believing my eyes. 
"Nicky." Damien said cheerfully. I fought my face into a frozen smile. 
"Allan. Robin." 
The burglar went bright scarlet. "Nice to meet you." 
"The pleasure's all mine." I said flatly. Robin swallowed. 
"Were you getting drinks-" 
"Oh please allow me." I headed back to the bar. Robin followed me, leaving Allan to sit down with Damien. 
"What the HELL are you doing here?" I demanded as soon as we were out of earshot. Robin scowled.
"I couldn't talk Allan out of it. I did try. Anyway, we were bound to have met sooner or later." 
"You WORK with Damien and you burgled our house last night-" 
"It was a JOKE!" Robin hissed under his breath, glancing back at Damien and Allan. "It just went wrong, that's all!" 
"You broke into our house!" 
"Does Damien know?" 
"Of course he doesn't! Nor does he know you swiped my car keys! Do you know how much it cost me to get the locks changed?" 
"I'd have given them back to you." 
"I didn't know that, did I?" 
"Nicky?" Damien said, slightly puzzled at why we were still standing at the bar. I grabbed the tray and took it across to the table, letting Robin follow me. Allan gave me a warm smile and accepted his pint. I handed the other one to Damien and buried myself in cider, leaning back into the heavy, sagging couch. 
"So." Robin said brightly, taking the chair opposite me. "Has the cricket season started yet Damien?" 
Damien gave him a look of faint surprise. "Not for another month or two. Do you play?" 
"No. I thought you might." 
I glowered at him. 
"I do actually." Damien admitted. "Mostly for the village teams." 
"And what about you Nick? Do you handle the willow at all?" 
His blue eyes were round and malicious with none of yesterday's appeal in them. I looked dislike at him and wished for spontaneous combustion. 
"Nicky regards a cricket pitch as something to read beside." Damien said easily, shooting me a What's The Matter look. "Actually when I can prise the book out of his hand, he's a demon bowler." 
"Not a batter at all?" Robin said sweetly. 
"When he has to." Damien looked from him to me. "Why?" 
"Oh just interested. Funny how apparently fragile men can pack such a powerful punch."
Allan stepped into the breach. 
"We're more walkers. Mostly hiking, although you have to drive a fair way to get up on to the moors around here." 
He and Damien started talking about their favourite moorland sites. Robin and I sat and covertly glared at each other over the table. 
"What about running?" I asked him unpleasantly. "I bet you can manage a good turn of speed when you have to?" 
"How's the car at the moment?" Robin gave me a saccharine smile over his drink. "My locks just keep freezing up at the moment…" 
"Excuse me." I said politely. Damien frowned at me. Robin was following before I was half way across the pub. I led him out of the heavy front doors, into the carpark and well out of earshot before I turned on him. 
"Are you going to keep on and on about it?" Robin said furiously, "It was just a JOKE!" 
"YOU were the one who was going on about it!" 
"You socked me with a cricket bat!" 
"You broke into my home! You were going through the damn cupboards!" 
"Do you WANT your keys back or not!" 
"Are you threatening me?" I demanded. "If you don't return those keys AND cough up for the locks being changed, I swear-" 
"You'll what? Damien told me, you're not exactly the - physical- type. Unless you've got a cricket bat in your hands." 
That was it. I stormed away towards the edge of the carpark. Robin laughed behind me. 
"Going home? Damien won't be too thrilled about that will he?" 
I spun to face him. Robin smirked at me. 
"Better think twice, Nicky boy. If you don't want to be sleeping face down tonight." 
That was about the end. I don't remember exactly what happened next. Just that we were struggling and jammed up against the wheels of a Volvo with it's alarm screaming when a hand closed over Robin's wrist and hauled him away. Damien's arm hooked around me and hoisted me to my feet. I knew it was Damien even before I heard his voice, low and sharp in my ear. 
"What the HELL is going on here?" 
Robin stood panting, his shirt pulled out, his tie askew. Damien hung on to me. I could feel his breathing, calm and deliberate, his chest against my back. 
"I think," he said eventually, very coolly, "Robin, you had better go inside." 
I couldn't see Damien's face. I saw Robin's though and it paled at Damien's tone. He moved at once, heading back towards the pub. Damien held me until the door shut, then took my hand and pulled me with him into the privacy of the pub garden. There he took my chin and turned my face up to his. 
"Are you allright? Nicky? What the devil happened with him?" 
"It's okay." I mumbled, wincing as he touched what had to be a split in my lip. Damien shook his head, refusing to let me turn away. 
"I've never seen anyone make you angry enough to shout, never mind hit out. What did he do?" 
"I really don't want to talk about this." I said under my breath. Damien shook his head. 
"That's unfortunate, because we're going to. Nicky what happened?" 
"We just had an argument." 
"Since when do you argue with anyone? 
My voice cracked. "Did you tell him I was a wimp as well as everything else?" 
Damien's hand on my wrist stopped me making a break for the open gate. I struggled and only succeeded in letting him get both arms around me, which actually helped quite a lot. 
"What IS all this?" Damien said firmly against my ear. "What do you think I've told Robin?" 
"You work with him." I said into his neck. 
"I do. He's good fun and I like Allan. Now what did he tell you?" 
"NOTHING." I said, nearly in tears. Damien sighed. 
"Darling. We're going to get to it eventually if I have to sit you and Robin down and wait all night. It would be ever so much easier if you'd just-" 
Batman's voice. I glanced up and pulled hastily away from Damien, thoroughly ashamed to be found in his arms and in tears. Batman had Robin firmly by the wrist and had my car keys in his other hand. 
"I wondered if this might explain anything?" Batman said reasonably. "Robin seems to have them in his pocket for some reason." 
Damien frowned across at Robin. "What are you doing with those keys?" 
I looked at the ground. Robin looked at the trees in the middle distance. Batman reached across, took Robin by the shoulder and pulled him closer. 
"Young man, you have exactly three seconds to start explaining, or you and I are going to take a short walk into the nearest copse and I am going to explain a few things to you in CLOSE detail." 
Robin flushed scarlet. Which made me feel distinctly better. 
"They're Nick's keys." Robin said unwillingly. "I found them-" 
"Where?" Damien demanded, shaking two sets of keys out of his pockets. "I've got Nicky's keys here with mine." 
"My spare ones." I muttered. Damien looked from one to the other of us. 
"Robin…." Batman said grimly under his breath. Robin shot him a brief and apprehensive look. 
"I sort of picked them up in your house last night-" 
"When were you in the house?" Damien said blankly. Robin flushed darker. 
"It was a joke. You were talking about how front entrances were too open to allow break ins when we were doing the West designs, I said anyone could slip in and do what they wanted- so I did. I was just going to take something you'd recognise and give it to you on Monday, but HE caught me-" 
"Nick saw you in the house last night?" Damien interrupted. Robin shot me a look of mild triumph. 
"He damn well laid me out." 
"I didn't know who he was!" I said furiously. Damien put an arm around my shoulders. 
"Wait a minute. Go on Robin. You'd forced entry, met Nick, apparently failed to identify yourself, what next?" 
Batman folded his arms. For a placid looking man, he could make surprisingly menacing faces in private. Robin swallowed. 
"I er- picked up the car keys on the way out-" 
"Why?" Batman inquired. Robin winced. 
"Just- I don't know." 
"In other words he won the fight so you thought you'd pay him back." Batman said quietly. "That's a familiar story, Robin Porter." 
"You didn't know who he was?" Damien said to me. I shook my head. 
"Not until he walked in this afternoon." 
"So you confronted a burglar, saw him off the premises and forgot to mention it to me?" 
"You were already annoyed." I said plaintively. Damien closed his eyes for a few seconds.
"Nicholas. You disapprove of simple insurance salesmen so strongly that you have been known to imprison them." 
"ONE." I said stung, "I imprisoned ONE!" 
Robin's eyes widened. Damien shook his head at me. 
"And yet burglars you engage in free fist fights, then release them back into the wild." 
"It was a cricket bat!" I argued. "I didn't punch anyone-" 
"You hit Robin with a cricket bat?" Batman said with interest. I stopped and thought about that one for a minute, eyes on Damien. He was looking at me with a rather strange expression. 
"Across the back of my head." Robin confirmed without tact or diplomacy. "He laid me out cold." 
"For about four seconds." I snapped back. Damien's hand closed gently over mine. 
"Allan I think we need to continue this discussion somewhere fractionally less public? We're beginning to attract an audience." 
"Do we have all the facts of the case here?" Batman asked us both. Robin nodded. I thought for a minute, then added a second, reluctant nod. Batman dropped a hand on Robin's shoulder. 
"In which case I'll abandon dinner with your permission, Damien? I make sincere apologies to you both for Robin." 
Robin looked anything but apologetic. Damien steered me towards his car. We drove home more or less in silence. 
"Upstairs." He said the minute the door shut behind us. I fled. He wasn't angry- Damien is never angry- but I could sense a lecture boiling up. Standing on the landing, forehead pressed against the usual corner, I could hear him muttering to himself downstairs. 
"Would you explain to me," he said eventually from the foot of the stairs, "Why you found it necessary to brain Robin with a cricket bat? That's the part I'm really curious about. Is that how you handle all intruders?" 
"There's only ever been the one." I pleaded. Damien sat down on the bottom stair. 
"You know you could have killed him?" 
"If I really thought I'd hurt him I would have called you." 
Damien shook his head. "Much as I appreciate your confidence in me, my ingenuity falls short of disposing of dead bodies. Have you any IDEA of how serious this could have been?" 
"I just wanted to stop him- he was going through that drawer-" 
"Common sense must tell you, a heavy bat swung at someone's head is likely to prove damaging. For Pete's sake Nick! You know those things are dangerous, you've seen accidental injuries, what on earth possessed you!" 
"I didn't stop to think…" I said helplessly. Damien twisted around to look at me. 
"Nicholas. If you are seriously telling me I cannot trust you to exercise any form of rational judgement without my supervision, I'll see to it you never ARE out of my supervision. And that'll mean I take you to and from work and you stay in my sight at ALL times. Is that what you're telling me?" 
"No." I said miserably. Damien shook his head. 
"So I'll assume while you were swiping Robin around the ears with a seven pound bat, you had some little inkling it wasn't a good idea?" 
"I didn't KNOW it was Robin." 
Damien muttered something about needing a drink and disappeared towards the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later with a glass in hand, came half way up the stairs and once more sat down. 
"I begin to see why you wanted to clobber Robin in the carpark." 
"I didn't know who it was, I just thought it was a burglar." I pleaded. "I just wanted to make him stop." 
"Exactly. First you go dealing with intruders alone and unaided AND forget to mention it to me, then you start using offensive weapons-" 
"It was the first thing that came to hand!" 
"Nicky, you don't accost intruders!" Damien sounded increasingly exasperated. "For all you knew, he could have been armed! No matter what, you DON’T start fights with criminals in the act, it's about the most dangerous thing you can do and it's very unlikely you'll win. We have phones! You could have dialled 999, slipped out the front door and called me." 
"What good would the police be? They'd have been about half an hour too late." 
"Any police involvement would have put the fear of God up Robin for a start." Damien said darkly. "Although you probably would have been charged for aggravated assault yourself. What was it he said to you in the carpark that started the fight?" 
"He was going on and on about cricket." 
I didn't answer. Damien glanced up at me. 
"Gave you the impression I'd been telling him a little more about us than you were happy with?" 
I didn't answer that one. Damien held out a hand to me. I moved silently down the stairs and sat next to him. Damien put an arm around my shoulders, pulled me close and kissed my forehead. 
"I suppose it's fairly apparent now that Robin and Bat- Allan- have a similar relationship to ours? Although I can't say I envy Allan much. Nicky, what do you think I'd say to anyone behind your back?" 
"The man is a bastard." 
"He has his good points." Damien said mildly. "He's slightly better on the days when he isn't concussed." 
"That isn't funny." 
"What did you do about the- oh. The AA changed the locks I take it?" 
"And the plugs." 
"Which you sabotaged of course." Damien said mildly. I winced. 
"I promised not to tell you." 
"Promised Robin. An anonymous burglar. Nick, if there was an ounce of malicious intent in you, you would be lethal." 
I didn’t feel up to answering that. Damien pulled me to my feet and pointed upstairs. My heart sank. 
"I didn't MEAN-" 
Damien waited. I trailed ahead of him, near tears. This was a familiar point in our discussions and it tended to be the point of no return: it wasn't often I managed to sway Damien from here. 
"Look, I only meant to stop him, not hurt him, it was only-" 
Damien passed me, opened the wardrobe door and my knees started to shake as he took down the eighteen inch rattan cane from the top shelf. 
"Oh no, Damien DON'T- please- I swear I didn't mean to hit him with it, I just panicked-" 
"This is beyond the shadow of a doubt a caning job." Damien said firmly. "Someone could have ended up dead because you chose to pick up that bat. Robin OR you- you had no way of knowing he was safe." 
"It was a mistake, that's all!" 
"It was a very bad choice and if I have anything to do with it, you'll think twice before you make another decision like that one." Damien said frankly. "Over the end of the bed please." 
In skilful hands, no cane requires the removal of any clothing to make it's presence felt. My boy is ex public school, well practised and well trained, and I was all too familiar with his expertise. The number of times he's taken that cane down I can count on my fingers, but every single time has been an experience I NEVER want repeated. My mouth was dry and my stomach already starting to hurt. 
"Now." Damien was rolling his sleeves back with a dispatch I really didn't care for. "And you can console yourself with the thought that if you HAD killed him, what would be happening to you now would make this look like a chimps' tea party." 
Damien's mercurial nature is part of his mystery and magic to me in every other area of life but this one. Things I expect to infuriate him are laughed off. Details which seem to me to be ridiculously sententious he takes extremely seriously. Once he gets a certain look however, you can start applying the law of the Medes and the Persians. The man does not change his mind. 
"Nicholas bend over." 
He flexed the cane once or twice in his hands, a horribly business like gesture. I gave some serious thought to being sick, but somehow turned my back on him, locked shaking knees and leaned over the end of the bed. The cane touched lightly across my backside, across both cheeks. 
"Stand still." 
I never have any idea whether it's worse with my eyes open or closed. I stared hard at the duvet and heard the swish a split second before a sharp, business-like crack. And a searing, blazing line lit up across the lower curves of my rump, making me jump and involuntary tears flood to my eyes. I just about stopped myself hissing anything indiscreet through my teeth, coming out with some indiscriminate sound that released the breath rushing out of my chest. Every muscle I had involuntarily clenched. He meant business allright. Two. Three. Four. CRACK. 
Sheeeeeeeiiiitt. OW. Damnit. I twisted, trying not to straighten up and grab, a movement which would not be helpful. They used to do this to kids; the knowledge of that defeated me. Who could do this awful thing to a child? 
"Stay put please." 
Easy for him to say. Tears were streaming down my face, a sheer physical reaction to the blazing, appalling sting of those three lines across my bottom. I hadn't got the breath to cry. 
I shut my eyes and concentrated on holding my breath. For some reason that seemed to me to be a helpful thing to do. It was about the only thing I COULD do. If he went on beyond the usual six, I would seriously consider dying. 
"OW! Damien for God's sake!" 
Silence. Two. Three. CRACK. 
I squirmed, not able to keep myself from sobbing now, as much as I'd not been able to cry before. Two. Three. Four. 
The swish and snap seemed deafening, the noise was almost as bad as the impact, the shove forward onto my hands, then the almighty sting and blaze of the line lit up across my backside. The pause this time seemed to go on forever, then I heard yet another brisk, swish CRACK. I hadn't got the breath to yell. Just hiss like water off an iron and struggle, somehow, to deal with the appalling sting of that eighth stripe. 
"That'll do." Damien said from several hundred miles away. He had to be joking, I wasn't going to be able to move this century. It took some time to straighten up and I put my hands behind me, clutching with all my strength at that horrible, burning sting. Damien put the cane back in the cupboard and gently tousled my hair. 
"Go and wash your face." 
No, I was going to curl up and die somewhere. It hurt too much to move. Damien relented after a minute, hooked an arm around my neck and rubbed my back while I shook and gasped. It took a few minutes, but gradually the sting wore off, settling down to manageable proportions. My entire backside felt hot as fire. 
"I can't believe you hit him." Damien said behind me while I washed my face, which was almost as hot. "Why on earth didn't you call me?" 
"What would you have done?" I snapped back, beyond being civil. "Held aloft your magic sword and shouted-" 
"By the power of Greyskull." Damien swatted my sore bottom gently. "I probably wouldn't have tried to decapitate him." 
"The fact that I didn't may haunt me forever." 
"You'll learn to love him." 
I snorted. The only thing giving any consolation at all at the moment was the thought that somewhere on the other side of town, dear Robin was probably just as uncomfortable as I was. 
"I hope Batman breaks his neck. What's the matter with him anyway? What did he think he was doing breaking in here?" 
"He's a man of many bright ideas and not a great deal of common sense." Damien paused and grinned. "I don't think his plans catered for meeting you. He may actually have met his match. Which reminds me, my lad. If you’re so fond of cricket, this year I'm signing you onto the team full time and I'm not swallowing ANY excuses." 
"You can drag me to the pitch but you cannot make me bowl." I said irritably. Damien's bright eyes suddenly laughed at me. 
"What'll you bet?" 
~The End~ 
Copyright Ranger 2010

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