Monday, February 15, 2010

Madding Crowds


Title: Madding Crowds
Series: Into the Woods
Characters: Simon Kent-Hatton/Ewan Granger, Alex, Sgt Tony Dunn
Author: Ranger, with serious help and input from Rolf and Libby, both of whom I love and who have the patience of saints {} thankyou for letting me borrow a character Libby, he'll return discreetly and unmolested I promise.


Madding Crowds

"If anyone," Alex said severely, banging the marmalade down on the table. "Puts clothes in to be washed with tissues in the pockets again, they will be returned WITH tissue all over them and you can have the joy of brushing it all off yourselves."

He put the toast rack down at Ewan's elbow and Ewan emerged briefly from behind the Sunday Times, gave him a quick and peaceful smile of thanks and retired behind it again. Simon at the far end of the table, peered briefly under the nearest silver salver and forked bacon onto his plate.

"It's his fault, he uses all the handkerchiefs."

"As a matter of fact I do not." Ewan folded the paper neatly and placed it beside his plate to pick up his coffee. "YOU use handkerchiefs and go through them like water because you use them for doing unmentionable things to your car and to your horses."

"That's ridiculous, why on earth would a horse need a handkerchief?"

"I distinctly saw you and James wipe the nose of that thundering great piebald brute yesterday."

Alex quelled them both with a glare, looking from one end of the long, polished table to the other.

"It's not as if you don't HAVE enough handkerchiefs. I iron incredible numbers of the things. There's no reason why either of you need to be walking around with pockets full of tissues. Apart from anything else it ruins the lines of your suits."

"We'll avoid the tissues." Ewan said soothingly. "Won't we Simon?"

"Absolutely." Simon paused halfway through his bacon and picked up the pile of envelopes beside his plate. Alex took the plate and refilled his coffee cup.

"If I believed that, I'd believe anything. Shout if you need more toast."

"Thanks." Ewan finished spreading marmalade and wiped his fingers, watching his lover slit open envelopes with his knife. "Anything interesting?"

"A couple from the college. The edited version of the article."

"Any significant changes?"

Simon slid the envelope down to him. "Not really, just trimmed for word length. I thought they would, the layout's always awkward in that journal."

"Going to forward a copy to Dunn?"

Simon grinned, finishing the last of his bacon and got up, bringing the rest of his letters with him. "I know Langtree collects them all, he reads all the journals, but I don't think our Sergeant Dunn reads much at all."

"I doubt he's short on brains." Ewan commented, sitting back and sliding an arm around Simon's waist. Simon perched on the arm of his chair and opened another letter.

"No. But he's not at all the imaginative type and I doubt very much that he's interested in fiction. Prefers his 'hard facts'."

"I can't imagine why Langtree thought he would be a good liason officer for you." Ewan said mildly. Simon snorted.

"I heard he got himself into trouble and missed out on a promotion, ended up being shunted sideways."

"Really?" Ewan sat back to see Simon's face. Simon ran his fingers through Ewan's thinning hair on top, combing it back.

"He's also the most scientifically minded cynic on the staff. I think Langtree's hoping that if I can convince Dunn I can convince anyone. Are you riding this morning?"

"I'll take you."

Simon smiled. "A new plot boiling?"

"I'm going to sit in the car and cogitate, yes-" Ewan glanced up as
Alex's voice bellowed from the kitchen.

"SIMON!"

Simon raised his eyebrows and swung to his feet. Ewan followed him down the hallway. Alex was standing on the table, glaring at the floor with one trembling, outraged finger extended downwards.

"UNDER there. I will not HAVE spooks in the kitchen, I make it VERY clear-"

"What is it?" Ewan said with interest.

"It's still THERE. AND that smell again. I told you-"

"Smoke." Simon walked around the table, then knelt down on the floor. Ewan sniffed, considering.

"Wood smoke."

"SMOKE smoke. It's not smoking in MY kitchen." Alex stepped still further away from Simon. "Just take it upstairs and psychoanalyse it up there-"

"I don't think I can." Simon said apologetically, holding out a finger. From his smile, whatever it was, it was on the small side. "It's a dog."

"Tell it to go away."

"Being dead hasn't taught it to speak English." Simon put his hands on his knees, watching something over towards the doorway. "It's perfectly friendly."

"It can be perfectly friendly upstairs!"

"It likes you."

"That's very sweet, now take it away!" Alex folded his arms, glaring. Simon smiled but got up, patting his knee.

"Come on boy, let's go. Let's go, this way."

Ewan followed him into the passageway, watching him shut the door on their still muttering housekeeper.

"Where is it?"

"Still in the kitchen, I can't move it if it doesn't want to go." Simon grinned as Ewan stifled a laugh, pulling him away from the doorway. "Shh for pete's sake, he'll hear you."

*******************************************************

The stables were some fifteen miles out of town and belonged to a friend of Simon's, who kept and trained and cared for hunters and a small number of show jumpers for private clients. Simon himself owned three horses here, which under Ewan's persistent encouragement, he took some responsibility for the daily exercising of. Once he was actually here, it was one of the parts of his day that most relaxed him. Like most things he turned his hand to, he rode exceptionally well and James was one of his very few friends who had kept contact with him over the past couple of years. Ewan, supplied by one of James' under grooms with a mug of tea, settled in the driver's seat of the giant Bentley with the doors open, in the shade of the grey cotswold stone of the stable wall, and admired the rolling green paddocks spread out to either side as the sedate clip clop of the four horses James and Simon were taking out, faded into the distance down the main drive. Beyond the white gate into the stable courtyard, another young groom was energetically washing a large chestnut mare, while another swept the cobblestones. The yard, like every inch of James' stables, were immaculate. Very faintly in the distance, from the open door of one of the loose boxes, radio one was playing to itself. Ewan sipped tea and let his mind wander, taking hold of the fragments of his newest book's evolving plot.

It was nearly fifteen minutes before he heard the car, moving a little faster than most drivers used to James's ways took these roads- you tended to come upon riders without warning, on horses who were extremely highly strung. He recognised it before it came to a halt beside his, and the driver rolled down his window. Ewan gave him a polite and somewhat reserved nod.

"Mr Dunn. What a surprise to see you here."

"Alex told me where you were." Dunn said without apology. "I need Mr Kent-Hatton."

"He's riding." Ewan said mildly. "At the moment I'd imagine on ground only accessible by horse or foot, he and James tend to cover a good six miles or so most days."

"I'll wait." Dunn said shortly. Ewan watched him get out of the car, slam the door and pull a cigarette pack out of his pocket. He offered one to Ewan who shook his head, picked one out for himself and lit it, drawing in a deep lungful of smoke.

"Hard day?" Ewan inquired, returning to his mug of tea. Dunn gave him a brief and rather sour look.

"You could say that. All hell breaking loose, I was told not to come back without Kent-Hatton."

"What is it?"

"Horrible." Dunn said succinctly. "That missing kid in Broughton."

Ewan heard that with a mute sigh of apprehension. It was currently splashed all over the papers and news reports, the child in question was barely seven and had vanished from her front garden in early evening four days earlier. Public pressure, as always in the case of any child abduction, was extremely high, as were emotions. He didn't know if Simon had heard- he tended to avoid papers and news broadcasts- but he was likely to find being involved an extremely distressing business.

"I didn't realise that came under this county's policeforce." Ewan commented quietly. Dunn grunted.

"Total lack of any leads to follow, they're getting all neighbouring counties involved now. Soon as we had any real background, Inspector Langtree sent me straight out here, thought he'd see if Mr Kent-Hatton's crystal ball could give us any help."

"Always worth a shot." Ewan said drily. Dunn gave him a grim and unapologetic shrug.

"I don't know what mojo he works, but he got that woman's murder sorted overnight and Langtree thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread."

"And what do you think?"

Dunn shook his head. "Not commenting. I just take him where I'm told, tell him what I'm told and then wait and see what he comes up with."

He looked ill, Ewan thought, surveying him from behind his cup. Tired and roughly shaven as though he hadn't spent much time in front of a mirror recently. His shirt wasn't ironed and he had an air of grimness that was part of his face and movements that Ewan didn't remember from their previous meetings.

"It must be very hard for all police involved." He said fairly gently. Dunn gave him a faint grimace.

"Bloody horrible. Particularly for the ones who have kids themselves."

Ewan finished his tea and watched Dunn pace, moving on to a second cigarette. It was nearly half an hour before he heard the familiar sounds moving down the drive and got out of the car. James and Simon were riding abreast, both leading a second horse and walking the four to cool them down. Even at this distance Ewan saw Simon recognise the car and Dunn. Instead of going to the side gate to the stables, he moved ahead of James, drawing the rein of the second horse tighter, and brought both to a halt in front of Dunn's car, inclining his head slightly.

"Detective."

"Mr Kent-Hatton." Dunn flicked his cigarette. "Inspector Langtree's compliments, he'd like you to come straight back to the station with me, he needs to ask for your help."

James had dismounted and tethered both his horses to the tall, whitewashed gate. He crossed to hold the head of Simon's horse as he dismounted, giving Dunn the brief and disinterested glance he spared for most things that didn't have a mane or tail.

"Police? I'll see to these, go on."

Simon glanced at Ewan, who usually objected strenuously to him leaving the putting away of his horses to anyone else, but Ewan only nodded. Aware of his heart starting to thump, Simon surrendered the reins to James.

"Thanks. Same time tomorrow."

"See you." James clicked to the horses and led them into the yard. Still in jodhpurs and boots, Simon dropped his crop and helmet into the back of the Bentley and gave Dunn a hard look.

"It's a child."

Dunn dropped his cigarette and ground it out. "She's seven. Vanished from her garden, six twenty pm her mother looked out and she was playing with a paddling pool, alone, her friend had gone in to tea but was coming back shortly. About six thirty five her mother looked out again, she was gone. No one saw or heard anything. A lot of witnesses were out in their gardens at the time, no cars were reported other than those of families living in the street. All houses searched in the street, huge public broadcasts made of details, very little response. No one's seen her."

"We'll follow you." Simon said briefly, and got into the passenger seat. Ewan gave him a brief, concerned look as he started the engine.

"Any glimmers?"

"Just what's on Dunn." Simon said shortly.

'Emotional fingerprints' he called it, he could generally 'read' those glimmers on most things and most people. Parapsychological forensics. He looked sharply at Ewan now, reading them on him as he did every day.

"You didn't tell me about the case."

"I thought if it was going to come up, you'd hear about it soon
enough." Ewan followed Dunn's car out through the gates. Simon's look
was slightly chilled and his voice had taken on the familiar icily polite tone.

"I really won't break. This is supposedly my career."

Ewan, experienced, kept his mouth shut and followed the police car in the direction of town.

**********************************************

It was a scene he was beginning to become familiar with from long experience with Simon- just never numbed to.

The house was a small, well kept semi in the suburbs, a neat garden scattered with brightly coloured toys, including a small pink bike and a paddling pool still filled with water on which floated a few leaves, grass and rose petals blown from the bushes against the house. The child's parents were white, stunned and red eyed, the house smelled strongly of coffee and the three policemen in the house spoke gently, calling them by name and taking their time explaining before they let Simon and Ewan into the narrow lounge. Once there, Ewan saw Simon switch on professional mode so smoothly that the parents never had the time to be shaken or to be too hopeful by the police description of him as a psychic. He spoke to them quietly and soothingly, warm and patient, his body language as careful as his words, using all his experience as a professional psychologist- if he was using any of his other skills at present Ewan couldn't see it. The parents' story was the same as the police version, and Simon didn't interrupt them. The mother, when she had finished, ran her hands over her eyes and looked at Simon: as often happened Ewan saw that she'd warmed to him as someone quieter and less active than herself in this situation where she felt so vulnerable. Her voice to him was confident and she took the lead.

"You'll want to see some of our Sarah's things, won't you? Her room?"

"I usually ask if I can hold something personal." Simon said gently. "Something that's handled a lot. With an adult it's usually a wallet or keys."

When he did this sort of thing he also hated doing it in front of an audience. Ewan, staying well back and quiet, mentally counted the number of people in the room and winced, but Simon's entire attention was on the mother. She thought for a moment then got up and went into the hallway, coming back with a pink and slightly grubby little coat.

"That's hers, she wears that all the time, school and playing, I can't get it off her to wash it."

Simon took it, folding it slowly between his long hands, and looked down at it. His first action was to smile, eyes still downwards.

"This is her Barbie coat."

The mother smiled too although her eyes filled with tears. "Yes. It's like the one her doll has, she loves it."

"Very sunny." Simon said slowly. "She's very friendly- lots of people, especially girls, lots of friends."

"Yes, school friends, they're in and out the house all day."

There was a long silence. Then Simon straightened out the coat and handed it back to the mother.

"Thankyou."

"Do you know anything from that?" the mother's eyes were wide, once more agitated now he'd stopped. "Did you see anything?"

Simon put a hand over hers, voice very kind. "It doesn't work like that, I'm sorry. I can get an idea of who Sarah is and what she's like, that might be helpful in the next few hours- if I have a strong sense of her-"

"Come upstairs." The mother got up, taking his hand, "You need to see her room, that's got all her things, you'll see best from there."

Poor Simon. Ewan hesitated, for Simon's sake wanting to follow, but Simon's voice in the hallway was quiet and professional, he'd let this poor woman show him what she wanted and take the chance to do what he could to support her if he couldn't gather any more information. The father sat where he was on the sofa, hands joined limply between his knees, eyes blank, and didn't say a word. The policeman patted his shoulder and made him another mug of coffee.

************************************************

Dunn had waited outside in the car, muttering as they went into the house that it was policy to protect the family as far as possible from stranger after stranger. He got out as they closed the front door behind them, Ewan following Simon in silence. It was often after the contact as much as during that Simon organised impressions into information: it was best not to disturb him. He stood for a minute on the pavement, taking no notice of Dunn, then turned to him and shook his head.

"I'm sorry, I can't be very helpful."

"Nothing at all?" Dunn demanded. Simon put a hand over his watch, carefully and accurately rotating it to a central position on his wrist, absorbed by the task.

"I'm very much afraid the child is dead. Other than that, only very minor details about her likes and moods at home, nothing 'bad' has ever happened to her here in her eyes. Which to me would make it unlikely that her family are involved in her disappearance."

"Dead?" Dunn said shortly and anxiously. "How do you know that? Is there any way you can verify that?"

"I can't give you any information or direct you to the body." Simon said softly. "I can only tell you my perceptions, and warn you, clearly, I may very well be wrong. I sincerely hope I am. Please, let's move away from the house, those poor people have quite enough to deal with."

Dunn came with him towards the Bentley, voice still low but sharp.

"Why dead? What makes you think that?"

"It's very hard to explain." Simon leaned against the car roof, taking a breath before he looked at Dunn. "There is a sense of people I get from touching things that belong to them, or in other ways that give me a 'residue' of them. It gives me something similar to a connection with them in time and space, a perception of them, and there is a difference in that 'feel' between someone living and someone passed on."

"But if she has then you can do what you did with that woman in the park and find out more can't you?" Dunn demanded. Simon looked wry.

"Possibly. I have a feel for her now, I would know her if I had any -" he hesitated, wincing slightly, "Contact- with her, or regarding her- but in the park I had a crime scene with a good deal of emotional memory imprinted on it, and the woman herself chose to approach me. All I can say to you now is should you find any evidence of where she went, or any objects or clothing that were with her that I can use as a connection to her, I might well be able to help further. I am sorry."

Dunn looked grim but nodded. Ewan unlocked the car and put a hand on the door- then glanced up as one of the police emerged from the house, jogging down the path towards them.

"Tony!"

Dunn went to meet him. Simon hesitated, arms still on the car roof. Ewan put a discreet hand on his waist, glancing to meet his eye.

"Okay?"

Simon nodded abstractedly. The policemen talked for a moment, then Dunn came back to them, looking grimly satisfied.

"It's finally some good news. There's been a sighting of her over in Haddon, a little girl in the cab of a farm truck with a man, the same clothes she was wearing when she went missing, the police over there are closing the roads."

"I very much hope it's her." Simon said sincerely. Dunn gave him a faint smile.

"Changing your mind now?"

"I can only tell you what I perceive Mr Dunn, sometimes those perceptions are wrong just like everyone elses. Sometimes it's lovely when they are." Simon opened the car door. And stopped. Ewan knew his expression. Dunn gave him an irritable look.

"Like you said, Mr Kent-Hatton, we need to move out of sight of the house, very stressful for the family-"

"SHH." Simon said sharply. Ewan stood back and Simon walked a few yards down the road, hands on his hips, head bent at a strange angle as though straining to hear.

"Seems odd to me," Dunn said shortly, "How the mumbo jumbo starts the minute it looks like you being proven wrong."

Simon was talking, more or less under his breath, but Ewan could see his lips moving.

"This is ridiculous," Dunn said more loudly, "I'm going to have to move him on, this isn't- well? What was that then?"

Simon was pale and the pupils of his eyes were still slightly blown, he was wincing on the sunlight as he walked back to the car and he spoke to Ewan, vague, his attention entirely inward and focused on processing.

"An E name, Edith possibly, or Enid, I think it's a couple of generations up or back- maybe a grandparent, I don't know."

"And what did she want?" Dunn demanded. His tone was becoming actively derisive. Ewan opened the car door for Simon, voice quiet but firm enough to reach him.

"We'll continue this at home, come on."


"So?" Dunn demanded, getting out of his car on their drive. The windows glittered through the thick ivy frontage, and their housekeeper, barefoot and wearing a pink string vest over cycling shorts, opened the front door. Simon paused at the top of the steps and sat down. He still looked very pale.

"Something about a key, she was showing me an old, Victorian iron key."

"And what's that to do with?" Dunn demanded. "Anything about who this man is with the girl?"

"That isn't her." Simon said softly, looking at his hands. Dunn snorted.

"She was SEEN, not two hours ago! A concrete sighting, description correct, and you want me to take back a vague, 'she's dead but there's some E named old woman with a key'? Do you realise how SERIOUS it is to even suggest this child's no longer alive?"

"I can only tell you what I know." Simon said shortly. Ewan stepped between them, gesturing Dunn back towards his car with his rather cragged face set and expressionless.

"Simon, go down to the kitchen. Mr Dunn, let me show you out."

"If she's dead, where is she?" Dunn demanded of Simon, looking over Ewan's shoulder. "Do you know that?"

"No, I told you. I'm sorry." Simon folded his arms tightly, leaning back against the doorway. "I tried but I can't tell."

"So how do you KNOW she's dead? SEEN her? Is SHE chatting in your ear like that woman was in the woods?"

"MR Dunn." Ewan said very clearly. Dunn looked at him, a little taken aback. He summoned up his dignity and temper once more, glaring down through the open door to the hall to where Simon was now standing, white faced and silent.

"I'm sorry, I'm merely interested to know how Mr Kent-Hatton draws his conclusions-"

"We warned you," Ewan said quietly and clearly, "Simon can only tell you what he can discern from the evidence. The untangling of that evidence is entirely up to you Detective Sergeant. Simon's done his part and now it's time for you to go."

The housekeeper, poised in those revealing shorts ridden high up over long, tanned legs, gave Dunn a poisonous look and went to put his arms around Simon. Simon buried his face in the man's neck as though he was exhausted. Dunn watched, somewhat startled and shocked by the way Simon folded up and clung to him.

Ewan opened the car door and looked at Dunn. The look went right into Dunn's gut, there was something about it that made him supremely uncomfortable. Before he quite realised what he was doing, he was climbing in.

"We'd appreciate knowing any developments about the case, Mr Dunn." Ewan said mildly. "Simon thinks a lot about the people he gets involved with, it helps to know if there is any progress."

Looking at Dunn's face, he had a fair idea of what Inspector Langtree was about to be told about 'progress'.

Shutting the front door on the disgruntled detective, Ewan went back into the hallway, drawing a deep and quiet breath for himself before he moved towards Simon. He was silent but his hands were clutching Alex and Alex himself looked anxious, his arms wrapped tightly around Simon's taller and ganglier frame. He tapped Simon's shoulder as Ewan reached them and Simon untangled himself long enough to turn into Ewan's arms, finally breaking into tears. Ewan wrapped both arms quietly around him and held him tight, dropping his voice into the deeper, quieter pitch that reached Simon no matter how far away he was.

"Allright. Allright my boy, it's all over. Easy now, it's okay."

Alex moved around them into the kitchen and Ewan heard the kettle snap on. Simon was trembling slightly against him and his sobs were rising rather than quietening in pure relief at being able to let it out. Ewan didn't try to stop him. Just stooped and picked him up without difficulty, and carried him through to the warmth of the kitchen and the large chair beside the Victorian hearth. Alex put a mug of tea within reach and pulled out a kitchen chair, watching them with some anxiety.

"Was Dunn as much of a bastard about that as he looked?"

Ewan shook his head abstractedly, but Simon twisted around to find Alex, his eyes swollen and his face red with tears. It was a serious indicator of how distressed he was that he'd made no attempt at all to escape from Ewan's lap, something he only usually indulged himself in on rare occasions and very strictly in private.

"She IS dead, I knew as soon as I touched that coat."

"What happened?" Alex said softly, "Do you know?"

Simon didn't answer, turning his face back into the shelter of Ewan's neck. Ewan sat back in the deep chair and held him, stroking his hair, making his voice reassuringly final. And warning Alex with a glance not to press the subject. Neither he nor Alex had any way of understanding what Simon's perceptions were or how they affected him: some contacts barely affected him. Others, like this, he could have reactions to as though he'd been involved in a violent or traumatic incident himself. It took experience to take that into account and accept it. Dunn would probably by now have drawn the conclusion that Simon was a nervous wreck, given to hysteria. As a matter of fact, while Simon's nerves were strung like piano wires, hysteria had no part in his nature: this kind of melt down was genuine and extreme distress, it was rare and Ewan found it worrying.

"You told Dunn what you knew." He said into Simon's ear. "It's his problem now, not yours."

"It doesn't work like that."

"Yes it does." Ewan said with quiet finality. "It does because I say so."

Simon pulled back, managing something approximating a laugh. "Wouldn't it be nice if it was that easy?"

"It's exactly that easy." Ewan said with blunt unreasonability and total conviction. "You leave it and drink that tea."

"Here sweetheart." Alex put the mug into his hand, watching Simon push wet hair back from his forehead, still shaking all over with reaction. This was a particularly bad one, and he and Ewan both knew the implications. "Are you still aware of it? What did you find?"

"It's gone." Simon took a long drink of tea, his speech clearing a little and his breathing finally settling down. "It was very clear for a few moments in the street, but not enough to be useful. The grandmother was very strong and she was pretty aggressive, but I couldn't get to what it was she was trying to put over. She wouldn't answer me, she just kept hammering on that key. The key. Every time I tried to ask anything, she whacked that picture back harder. There was nothing in the house. The mother was spilling out all over the place, but nothing useful, nothing I could get hold of."

"And Dunn doesn't know us well enough yet to accept fragments." Alex finished. Ewan gave him a Look.

"And that's his problem now. We're going to have dinner. And then we're going for a walk, you're going to have a bath and we're going to bed. That's all you need to think about."

Simon subsided back against Ewan's chest, finishing his tea. Ewan stroked his back, aware he was still trembling a little.

"Are you feeling better?"

Simon nodded a little, giving him a slightly embarrassed smile. "Yes. Sorry to make a scene, it's faded down now."

As Ewan had suspected. That wasn't necessarily a good sign.

***************************************************

They heard nothing more for a week.

Ewan was aware that Simon was casting. Like a fisherman throwing out a line, trailing it through the water in hope of a connection. It was something he'd seen him do on other occasions, especially in the morning or at twilight in the evenings. Sit in a window, or at his desk, one of his multiple 'fiddles' in his hands- a crystal paperweight. A wooden ornament. A flower from the vases of fresh flowers Alex kept stood in the rooms they used most. A set of rosary beads he kept in his desk drawer, although he wasn't Catholic. He was holding the beads in both hands, his head bowed over them, his eyes open and looking unseeingly through them when Ewan walked in to the library. The pink and golden light of early evening came through the picture window and fell across the desk and his hands, and across the white roses stood on his desk. Ewan sat on the edge of the desk and lightly touched the hands clasping the beads.

"Anything?"

Simon took another deep breath. He was breathing slowly and deeply, his eyes nearly unfocused, then he sat back and gave Ewan a faint, sad smile.

"Plenty. But not her."

Ewan turned the open notepad on the desk to read it. Several scribbled notes were there. Names. Places.

"Nothing I can get a handle on." Simon said wearily. "Fragments. Lots of different people. None of them to do with her."

"No one approaching you?" Ewan said quietly, putting out a hand to push his hair back off his forehead. Simon shut his eyes under the caress.

"It's like listening to a telephone conversation on a crossed wire.
Bits and pieces, indistinct voices miles away."

Ewan took the rosary beads gently out of his hand and put them back in the drawer.

He saw to it that they spent the time as they usually did, keeping them to their usual, tight daily routine. Which in itself, kept the big house quiet and with a calm atmosphere, from Alex's capable and ever organised supervision, to the two cleaners who came daily and clanked their buckets and mops softly around the building under his eagle eye. The household ran like clockwork, as it must have done in the days of Simon's ancestors when a staff of twenty three ran it's rooms, family and grounds. Meals were served at their appointed hour, mostly in the kitchen although Alex insisted on serving dinner in the dining room in the evening. Simon and Ewan left for their daily ride, returned, worked for the appointed time in the library where the two big wooden desks stood end to end, ate, and left for their walk irrespective of weather, ending the day in the drawing room upstairs where the fire crackled patterns up the wooden pannelled walls while Alex, curled up in the armchair before the kitchen fire, sank himself into one of his more lurid romance novels and let the dishwasher whirr to itself in the corner.


It began to rain while they were out for a walk on the eighth day. Sunday. Alex heard them come in an hour later, the heavy bang of the front door and footfall on the stairs- enough to make him pause in his bread making to put the kettle on, more than prepared for the bell to ring for tea when they were changed. He was startled by Ewan's emergence, wet headed and shivering, into the kitchen.

"It started to pour before we were a mile away. We're in the drawing room, Simon's lighting the fire."

"How was the walk?" Alex asked, starting to set out the tray. Ewan came past him, picking up a tea cloth.

"Fine, until I got into an argument with a wasp. I came down for some ice-"

Ewan broke off as he opened the freezer door. And straightened up, his voice changing.

"Alex, why is the freezer off?"

"I was defrosting it." Alex said without looking round. "What were you saying about-"

"It's bone dry and unplugged, it's clearly been off for several days." Ewan shut the freezer door and leaned on the table. "How long?"

"We're not using it that much, I thought it was more economical to use the fridge and shop more often-" Alex said helplessly. Ewan opened the fridge and flipped open the ice box. The items jam packed in there told their own story.

"How long, Alex?"

"It isn't Simon." Alex said firmly. Ewan folded his arms, giving him a straight glare.

"When did he make you turn the freezer off?"

Alex sighed. "Thursday evening- DON'T start with him? Ewan please?"

"Did he give any reason?"

"The usual." Alex turned the stove off, giving Ewan a look that would have melted a far harder man. Ewan shook his head.

"So he told you to turn the freezer off because he didn't like it being on, and you cheerfully stopped using it."

"This is his home, he's my employer, he's entitled to tell me how he wants things done!" Alex protested. Ewan shook his head.

"What DO you do when he starts getting fixated about things Alex?"

"You get cross with him, which just makes him miserable!"

"And he gets still MORE miserable if things roll on until he's made himself ill." Ewan said firmly. "You TELL me Alex. You don't help him cover things up. That freezer stays on, and if he starts insisting you turn off anything else you come straight to me. Is he just fixating about this, or has he said anything else to you about it?"

"He told me not to shop at the supermarket yesterday." Alex said unwillingly. "Only the local shops."

"Why?"

"Something about people touching them- too many people. Germs I suppose, like last time."

Ewan, who remembered that fixation as well as Alex, nodded, keeping his face impassive.

"Allright, I'll sort it out. Don't worry, you shop where you like and you buy WHAT you like, this is just stress manifesting itself, there's nothing in it."

"DON'T be cross with him?" Alex pleaded, watching Ewan head out of the heavy kitchen door. Ewan only shut it behind him. The house deadened sound. Huge, stone, the great passageways high ceilinged and the floors flagstoned, it drank sound into the walls, it was impossible to call to anyone in other rooms.

Simon, at the desk in the drawing room, was surrounded by books in a way that reminded Ewan of fortifications. Three or four deep all around him, his chair against the wall, one long and slender leg under him, his shoulders hunched over the book in his hand. The go- away air was mixed with one of intense concentration, radiating outwards. It was in itself intimidating. It had taken Ewan some months in their early days to overcome his own timidity when met with that wash of absorption and withdrawal. It seemed the most forward and rude thing to interrupt, like breaking into a cabinet meeting to ask if anyone wanted more tea. These days he saw it for what it was, and he walked straight through the backwash of it, taking the book gently out of Simon's hands. Simon's eyes lifted to his in shock. Ewan marked his place, closed the book and placed it on the stack.

"Please go and turn the freezer back on, and put everything in the ice box back where it belongs."

The rush of scarlet started at Simon's cheekbones and stained outwards. He got up without a word. Ewan followed him down to the kitchen. Alex glanced at them from the stove, apprehensive and miserable. Simon didn't look at him. Silently he plugged the freezer back into the electric socket, checked the temperature gauge and went to the cupboard under the sink where the cleaning materials were kept. Ewan shook his head.

"It's perfectly clean, Simon."

"It should be bleached, food goes into it." Simon said stiffly. Ewan looked at Alex.

"I'm sure it was cleaned when it was defrosted? Yes. It's clean."

"You have to be careful with uncooked food." Simon repeated, still holding the bleach bottle. He knew perfectly well if he persisted Ewan would simply come and take the bottle from him. Ewan didn't move, just waited. Simon let it go reluctantly and shut the cupboard door. Ewan folded his arms, nodding at the freezer.

"Everything out of the ice box and into there please."

"It isn't cold enough yet."

"It soon will be."

Simon opened the fridge door and then still more unwillingly the ice box. And stood where he was, the impassive mask beginning to slip.

"It's only been in the ice box, it isn't properly frozen. It won't be clean."

"WHY has it been in the ice box?" Ewan said firmly. Alex turned, wiping his hands, voice gentle.

"There's nothing in there that's been in there more than twenty four hours and it's all frozen right through lovie, it's fine-"

"Why has it been in the ice box Simon?"

Alex put a hand on Simon's arm, reaching past him to empty the ice box.

"I'll do it. If there's anything you're worried about we can throw it away-"

"No, we can't." Ewan interrupted. "Alex, Simon will do that, we've taken up enough of your time with messing around and shopping daily, it isn't necessary. Simon, I'm waiting."

It was a tone Simon responded to and he moved, slowly pulling items down from the ice box shelf. Ewan waited, not moving to help and despite Alex's agonised and silent pleas across the kitchen, he didn't allow Alex to help either. It seemed to take Simon an inordinate amount of time to open the freezer and put items back inside, but eventually he shut the freezer door and Ewan nodded politely to Alex.

"There. That ought to make your life easier and I apologise for the trouble you've been caused Alex. If there is ANY more interfering in the kitchen you will tell me immediately."

Alex looked far more upset than Simon. Ewan put a hand on Simon's shoulder and steered him back down the hallway, not to the study but to the foot of the stairs and up, past the row of hanging portraits, past the stone balustrade to the end of the first floor where his dressing room stood. It adjoined their bedroom, but it was unmistakeably Ewan's room. Simply furnished, it was still a room that bore his stamp more than any other and it had a dual effect on Simon, who both loved and hated it. Once over the threshold Ewan released his hold on Simon and quietly closed the door behind them, nodding at the far wall where a gap stood in the furniture, leaving a clear space.

"Corner please young man."

Colour moved slowly into Simon's pale face, flushing both cheek bones dark red. He did however move, stiffly, shoulders rigid, taking a silent place by the wall. Intensely proud, intensely dignified, he found this an extremely harsh discipline in itself, and Ewan used it very sparingly for that reason, but there were times when it achieved what he needed- Simon understanding, clearly, that he was not in charge of the situation. Taking the chance himself for a moment's thought, Ewan perched on the edge of the desk, folded his arms and silently took a few deep breaths.

They'd had the conversation ahead of them so many times before, and yet they still had to go over the same ground. Ewan was prepared and ready for them to need to do this over and over for years to come yet. Simon's compulsions were the one area he couldn't bear challenging on. In many ways it was a flat refusal to admit that he had succumbed to them. Every time it provoked blind withdrawal and denial. Which was why Ewan kept on and on and on bringing him back to this point and facing him directly with them, making him look no matter how hard he found it for the language to explain, to put them into logical terms, to see them for what they were. It was hard, and Ewan knew it. Simon was clever- brilliantly clever. Academically clever. He didn't handle well what couldn't be justified, reasoned or explained. Particularly when he was doing it. There were large chunks of Simon that he kept under lock and key, labelled 'unchartered ground'. Ewan often thought the sign ought to read more simply 'hic draconis'.

Here be dragons.

This was going to be a long, difficult and distressing evening. They weren't frequent, but they were regular: just thankfully they were coming at gradually lengthening intervals as time went on.

His eyes snapped up as Simon stiffened, half turning out of the corner. His face was alert, his eyes distressed and they looked straight at Ewan. Ewan pushed up from the desk and grabbed his hand, holding it and feeling the chill spread through him, steadying him. Simon shut his eyes and ducked his head, then turned it sharply to the right as if listening. Then looked pleadingly at Ewan. Ewan jerked his head at once, voice short.

"Go on, we can do this later."

Simon walked away from him, once more closing his eyes. Ewan stood still, feeling the back of his neck prickle. Simon's head snapped sharply to the left and he frowned, face strained as though trying to make out a sound from far away. The door, already shut, opened a fraction and then slammed again firmly.

"Allright, give me a name." Simon said quietly. "Listen to me. Give me a name."

The room perceptibly chilled. Ewan, aware of his heart thumping, slowly took a seat on the armchair and watched, trying not to shiver. The lightbulb overhead went out with a tiny, crystaline crack.

"Who?" Simon said again with authority. "Tell me again. Go slower. Yes. Ok, I got that. Where?"

Ewan, straining, could almost see the man he was talking to- although how he knew it was a man he didn't know. From long experience with Simon he had learned where to look and what to look for although he never saw what Simon saw. The first time he'd witnessed this he'd been truly terrified.

"Yes." Simon said again. "Allright. Yes."

Ewan heard him open the door and turn the hall light on. The sudden rush of light and warmth was shocking. Simon was already heading down the stairs and when Ewan reached the foot of them he was shouldering into a coat. Alex came out of the baize door and gave them a resigned look.

"Spook alert?"

"24 St Margaret's terrace." Simon said without looking up. Ewan lifted his own coat down off the peg.

"Where?"

"Alberthorpe."

Alex raised his eyes skywards. "I'll keep dinner warm then and see you when I see you."

*************************************

St Margaret's terrace was a row of old cottages in a village 15 miles away, elderly enough that the rooves sagged underneath the chimney pots. Ewan got out of the Bentley and watched Simon walk slowly over the cobbles. This was an old village, a tiny place in the middle of nowhere, and the night was getting distinctly damp and cold. There was little light and Ewan was very aware of the risk of turning his ankle as he followed.

"What are you looking for?"

"I have no idea." Simon said bluntly. Ewan took the hint, stood still and let him walk. Simon passed number twenty three, and stopped outside the blue front door, waiting. Then raised his hand and knocked sharply at the door. Ewan took a slow breath. There was no response from inside the house. Simon bent and looked through the letter box, then went to the side of the little cottage and unlatched the side gate. Ewan came to life and followed him, voice low and cautious.

"Simon, this is private property, you can't just-"

He was left with the alternative of following or speaking to empty air. At the back of the house a cat shot past them swearing, and Ewan heard the tinkle of broken glass. Then the click of a light and he saw the open and broken kitchen door and Simon disappearing rapidly into the house. Ewan followed him into the tiny, immaculate kitchen and beyond it to the lounge, where Simon's snapped on light revealed an elderly lady, sprawled on the floor with blood on her white hair and black marks staining down her face. Simon was on his knees beside her, looking but not touching, his hands spread out above her. Ewan swore quietly and pulled his cell phone from his pocket, well aware that in previous centuries, with his eyes like that and his hands outstretched, Simon would likely have been burned as a witch.

"Hello? Yes, an ambulance please and the police. Twenty four, St Margaret's Terrace, Alberthorpe. An elderly lady, perhaps seventy, appears to have been attacked. Yes, she's breathing. Ewan Granger and Simon Kent-Hatton."

The police ought to seize on that name, he reflected as he shut the phone.

They did. D.S Dunn headed the three policemen who followed the ambulance crew into the tiny lounge, and the look he gave Simon and Ewan was anything but friendly.

"Hello Mr Kent-Hatton. Had a tip off did we?"

"I was asked to come to this address." Simon said curtly. He was still kneeling by the lady. She'd come round sufficiently to grasp at his hand although neither he nor Ewan had been able to encourage her to speak. The ambulance crew were rapidly setting up a stretcher beside her and lifted her across, covering her with blankets.

"Well." Dunn said grimly. "Want to tell us what happened then? Who tipped you off? Her great grandmother?"

"Her son." Simon straightened, folding his arms. "I couldn't get anything more than his name and the address, and that it was very urgent I came here. When we did, we found this lady here collapsed."

"And-" Dunn began. Simon interrupted him, looking him straight in the eye.

"You want two teenaged boys, local, one has something red around his neck or near his face, possibly a scarf or hood. One has an M name. They have a ring of hers, and some money. They're still near here."

"And you know this how?" Dunn snapped, pulling out his radio. Simon glared back.

"Because their mental fingerprints are all over her and it's very fresh, they're still in this area."

Muttering, Dunn began to talk into his radio and the two other policemen with him went quietly back to their car. The headlights lit the street as they started the engine.

"You realise I ought to arrest you." Dunn said over his radio. "At the scene of the crime, breaking and entering-"

"Trespassing at ABSOLUTE worst." Ewan said shortly, beginning to lose his temper. "She would have died if it wasn't for Simon."

"You'd better hope we find those lads." Dunn said viciously. Ewan shook his head and put a hand on Simon's arm.

"You know where to find us, Sergeant. Come on Simon."


He drove the distance home, half an eye on his partner who sat silently, his heavy hair once more in his eyes.

"His name was George." Simon said as they pulled into the driveway. "Soldier. Something to do with a gun in the way he died, I don't think it was in combat."

Ewan locked the car and waited for him. "Will they find those lads?"

Simon didn't really do premonitions. Or not properly. But sometimes, a casual question dropped at the right moment, especially when he was not really listening, could elicit startling answers. Simon nodded, on his way into the house.

"Both. With the ring, and the key."

"The key?" Ewan queried, shutting the door. Simon looked up, trance broken.

"What?"

"You said a key. I knew her ring was taken, you said to Dunn. What's the key?"

There was a long silence while Simon looked blankly at him. Then shook his head.

"I don't know."

"That DAMNED dog is in the kitchen again," Alex shouted through the open doorway. "If you want to eat it needs to go!"

Simon handed his coat to Ewan and went down to the kitchen.

It was past midnight when they finished eating, and Ewan did nothing more than send Simon straight up to bed. Alex refused to go until the dishwasher was stacked and the clearing up done.

"I won't sleep if I do go and leave it in a mess." He pointed out when Ewan remonstrated with him, helping him take the last of the dishes into the kitchen. "You let me get on with it. Want some tea to take up?"

"Not at this hour, we'll be fine." Ewan hooked an arm around their housekeeper and kissed his cheek. "Night Alex."

"Sleep tight."

The smell of smoke was in the corridor outside the kitchen as Ewan went towards the stairs, and it grew stronger as he reached their bedroom. Simon was standing by the window, arms tightly folded, back rigid.

Ewan mentally sighed and left the door open, stopping in the doorway.

"The dog again?"

No. Well yes, but someone else." Simon sounded abstracted. Ewan pulled off his watch, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.

"They're like buses, nothing for days and then about six come along at once."

Simon didn't answer, staring hard at the floor.

"Is this important?" Ewan asked quietly.

"They're ALL important." Simon said shortly. Ewan took the hint and shut up, waiting. There was a long minute, then Simon unfolded his arms and put his hands over his ears. Ewan went to him, took his hands and held them, waiting until he put his arms down.

"What? What is it?"

"I don't know. Several. Arguing."

"About what?"

"Two wanting to talk, neither's going to wait, I can't hear anything for the fighting and they're not clear-"

"Do you know them?" Ewan said calmly.

There were some - spooks, spirits, whatever you wanted to call them- that were familiar to Simon. He found that faintly nerve wracking. Some Simon merely recognised, but some appeared to be almost casual friends. It was difficult to tell since no one was more self conscious about it than Simon and information about it was difficult to obtain from him.

"Do you know who they are?" he said again. Simon shook his head.

"No. I don't recognise either of them. Just the dog."

The dog too. And Simon was starting to look distinctly frayed around the edges. Ewan held his arms, watching him.

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know, I-" Simon paused, stiffened, and then flung Ewan off, voice sharp. "BACK OFF."

Ewan stepped back, aware that the shove had been mental as much as physical and not aimed at him. Simon's voice gathered mastery.

"That is ENOUGH. YOU are going to have to wait, no WAIT or I'm not listening to either of you. Come downstairs with me and we'll sort this out. Ewan go to bed, I'll be up as soon as I can."

It was an uncanny feeling being one of three people spoken to in the room, when neither of the other two were visible. Ewan shook his head.

"Do it here, I'll wait."

"It could be hours."

Simon took a chair and steepled his hands in front of his face. Ewan took a seat on the bed and waited.

He didn't understand much of the following conversation, not much of it was aloud and it was like listening to bits of half a phone conversation. Only the gist was available.

"Ok." Simon said finally. "Ok then we're done. Thankyou. Yes."

"Are you finished?" Ewan said quietly when nothing further was said. Simon shook his head, eyes not opening.

"Two yes. The dog's still here- and someone else."

"Who?"

"I don't know."

Ewan glanced at his watch and got up. "Then tell them to wait until morning, it's two am. What were those two about?"

Simon shook his head again. It was a weary gesture, from which Ewan inferred it hadn't been the information he was hoping for.

"Fragments. Bits and pieces, I don't know yet."

"Then if there's nothing you need to do come to bed."

"That one's still there- it's complicated, I can't even tell who's who, it's like the same thing from different people- AND the dog-" Simon dropped his head in his hands. "It's because I've been casting like I have, I'm pulling people in like a bloody magnet, this has happened before. I shouldn't cast, I really shouldn't, it's not a safe thing to do…"

"What happened?" Ewan said grimly. Simon gave him a faint and twisted smile.

"I cracked up. That was the breakdown I had at Cambridge in the middle of my Ph.D."

That did it. Ewan pulled Simon out of his chair and down onto the bed beside him, voice short and clipped.

"Ok, everyone in this room listen to me. There will be no more talking tonight, Simon needs to sleep and anyone but the two of us needs to leave. You're welcome to come back in the morning but right now I'd like everyone to leave. Everyone."

Simon turned over and buried his head in Ewan's lap, clinging with a tenacity that meant his hands shuddered where they held on. Ewan cupped a hand over his head, sheltering it, and went on rubbing his back for a long moment or two until his shuddering eased out. Then he bent his head and kissed Simon's dark hair.

"Sit up a moment."

Simon sat up and winced, retreating as Ewan reached past him to the bedside drawer, taking out a small, opaque bottle.

"No, it's not that bad-"

"Yes, I want you to take a couple, you need some sleep."

"I'll sleep for a week on those. I don't need to, I'm fine, really."

Ewan caught him on the retreat, drew him back and swatted him as he tried to pull away.

"Simon."

"No please, I DON'T need them, I'll BE fine-"

He sounded close to tears. Ewan got up, aware he was shivering with cold as much as exhaustion.

"They were prescribed for a reason. Open."

"And the reason was that I'm mildly insane." Simon said bitterly. "Ewan please-"

Ewan slipped the pills between his lips, holding his chin, and handed him the glass of water from the table. "Swallow. Simon, now. Gone? Show me."

His shaking hadn't abated any. Ewan ran a calming hand over his face and through his hair, keeping his voice low and gentle.

"Good lad. Let's get you to bed. Is it quieter in here?"

Simon nodded fractionally, getting up. "It helped."

"Good." Ewan turned him, undressing him swiftly and gently with the familiarity of a lover, keeping close contact between them throughout. And lay down, pulling Simon against him and settling the heavy blankets over them. A traditionalist, Simon. No quilts, no duvets, only blankets and sheets would do. The long, angular body was still shivering and Ewan held him closely, feeling Simon's hands grip him in return.

"You are NOT insane. You are NOT imagining this Simon."

"You don't know that." Simon said nearly inaudibly into his ear. Ewan kissed what he could reach of his face, fiercely.

"Yes, I do. I trust you, and you KNOW what you feel, what you see, what you hear. It's just too much at the moment, and you're tired."

And stressed. And berating himself for not being able to locate the one piece of information he wanted. Ewan stroked his hair, softening and deepening his voice.

"It's allright. You do know what you're doing. It'll be allright."


The heavy authority in his voice was comforting, Simon let that voice and those arms sink into his bones and still some of the chaos and doubt swirling behind his closed eyes. And the room had quietened, there was no presence now apart from themselves, the first silence of a long day.

Except for the small black dog, vigorously scratching itself as it lay on the rug.


Simon was woken some time during the night by a giggle. Ewan was not at all the giggly sort. And Alex, who was, slept at the other end of the house to them. He turned over, and saw a small brown head flash past the end of the bed. Just a glimpse, something caught from the corner of his eye. The dog on the rug turned over and wriggled in delight at something- someone- scratching it's belly. Very quietly Simon slid out of bed and knelt on the carpet. The sleeping pills were strong, he could barely see but he could sense what his eyes wouldn't tell him. And the warmth of relief and recognition was penetrating the drug mist. Voice soft, as easy as he could make it, he reached out towards the two on the rug.

"Hello Sarah."

*********************************************

"Why here?" Dunn said sourly, tramping alongside them through the wet grass. "What's THIS got to do with those two lads- little thugs. All they knew was she lived alone and she was vulnerable, and old people often keep money about the place- was there something they dropped?"

Ewan, keeping hold of Simon's hand, didn't answer. Simon was still dizzied from the sleeping pills, although he was calmer, and his stride was none too steady. He paused on the edge of the quarry, looking down.

"What?" Dunn demanded, stopping. "We found what they took from the old lady- was there something else?"

Simon let go of Ewan's hand and Ewan grabbed his arm, steadying him as he slithered down the loose, red shale bank. The quarry had been abandoned thirty years ago, it was over grown with weeds and dumped rubbish. Dunn stood where he was, watching, hands planted on his hips. Simon stood at the bottom, between dumped mattresses and fridges for a moment, scanning slowly around him, then Ewan touched his arm.

"The tv."

"Mr Dunn." Simon called. Dunn swore but came slowly down towards them.

"What? This had better be bloody good, I've got decent trousers on-"

Simon nodded past him. "There. There's a small cave in the quarry wall, don't touch anything."

Dunn gave him a deeply suspicious look and moved past him. Simon turned his back on the quarry and stared up at the trees beyond. They were on the edge of Alberthorpe here. Out of sight and sound of the village.

Dunn emerged, handkerchief clapped to his mouth, retching. Ewan gave him a dispassionate look, digging his hands deeper into his pockets.

"He did tell you to bring back up with you."

***********************************************

"And you're telling me, straight out, she TOLD you." Dunn said pleadingly.

They were sitting in the drawing room, drinking tea, with their ferocious housekeeper cross legged on the hearthrug, chest bare through his pink string vest. Simon shrugged over the edge of his mug. He had remained the calmest of all of them throughout, through the arrival of a number of deeply distressed policemen. It was at times like this that Ewan saw his training, his skills as a psychologist, but something more behind it- Simon wasn't distressed because he had knowledge none of the rest of them had.

"She'd been trying I think, but I'd - opened a channel if you like, trying to listen for her- and there was too much coming in to pick her out."

"And they innundate you like that? All the time?"

"Not all the time." Ewan said quietly. "Mostly it's the strong ones, ones that deliberately make contact. Usually at inconvenient times."

"They're no respecters of time, place, manners or anything else, they want to be heard and they have their own priorities." Simon said lightly. "And they do things in their own time too."

"And how do you know it's right?" Dunn demanded. "How can you follow these hunches like you do and KNOW it's going to take you to the right place?"

Simon shrugged. "Other people confirm what you see. That's your sanity." He cast a brief look at Ewan before he continued. "And you have to learn to shut that door when you need to. Mostly I can. Sometimes it gets away from me a bit- when I'm run down, or when I'm trying too hard, or when someone's particularly persistent.... or malevolent. They're not all nice."

Dunn shook his head slowly. Simon gave him a wry smile.

"They want things, they've lost things, they need to find things,they need to tell people things. It's what's important to them, not to us, that makes them contact."

"What did Sarah tell you?"

Simon looked down into his tea. "Not much. I've got no paediatric psychology experience, I wouldn't know where to start with her, I just let her chatter- she mentioned a tv. And red stone. And George."

"George?" Dunn said, startled. Simon nodded.

"The old lady's son. He committed suicide in that quarry- a long time ago, I don't know when."

"You're telling me he's looking after her?" Dunn said in disbelief. Simon shrugged.

"He got her to talk to me. Last night I was- bombarded. There were several people there, but he was arguing like hell, he kept coming back and coming back, wouldn't let anyone else get through to me- he made sure I was listening for Sarah."

"More tea?" Alex said gently, taking Dunn's cup from his stiffening fingers.

Ewan put an arm around Simon's shoulders. He'd been sitting on the arm of Simon's chair throughout, the big, quiet man who followed Simon wherever he went, and who'd stood silently beside him throughout this horrible and difficult morning. Dunn looked across at them, eyes hungrily taking in the quiet gentleness of the movement, the way Simon leaned against him.

"I don't think there's anything more Simon can do for you until you have the autopsy information- if you want his help at that point. Which means, if you're done, I'm going to get him back to bed."

"I'm fine." Simon said mildly.

Ewan pulled him to his feet. "We had a disturbed night. Thankyou Mr Dunn."

"Tony." Dunn said suddenly. "Just Tony is fine. What-" He paused, looking from Ewan to Simon. "What about the old lady? The E name you said? And that key?"

"Did you find a key with the old lady's belongings?" Ewan said suddenly, remembering. Simon shook his head.

"No, they didn't. I get mixed messages all the time, they don't trouble to sort them out for me- you had a grandmother named Edith, Tony. Didn't you?"

Dunn looked at him blankly. "Yes- my mother's mother."

Simon gave him a brief, sympathetic smile. "Well she thinks a lot about you."

****************************************************

Once in bed, Simon slept for most of the rest of the day. Ewan took his work into the adjoining dressing room and left the door ajar, keeping an eye on him, but his sleep was clearly peaceful and the remainder of the drugs in his system ensured it was deep. He had toyed briefly the night before with the idea of contacting a colleague of Simon's, a man who as well as being a friend of theirs was a talented psychiatrist who had on occasion taken Simon as a patient. Early that afternoon he gave into that impulse and phoned, finding relief himself in talking his concerns through. Their friend listened quietly without comment until he was finished, uncritical and accepting as he always was of Simon's unique perceptions.

"We both know it's real." He said when Ewan ran out of steam. "You and Alex both live around a certain amount of paranormal experiences in your home which you both validate, and we both know logically that Simon has proved beyond doubt with his accuracy on a daily basis that this isn't random imaginings. He isn't schizophrenic, he isn't unbalanced. Simon also knows it's real and he always has done."

"Just when he gets these periods when he starts to doubt himself."

"It makes him anxious. Neither you nor I can truly know what it feels like to be inside Simon's head, to process other people's voices and feelings and knowledge without hard fact to accompany them. It's not surprising he can at times begin to doubt his own perceptions."

"Which is when he turns to the external control things." Ewan said mechanically.

"Exactly." Their friend confirmed calmly. "The fears about the freezer. Shopping. In the past it's been certain doors that he wants locked all the time or wanting rooms cleared, hasn't it? It's about having control of his environment and moreover controlling you and Alex. Enforcing his will. It's purely a means of reducing his own anxieties about feeling out of control of what's going on inside him. Nothing more, nothing worse. It's not an appropriate way of doing it, and it needs handling firmly, but as soon as those anxieties are reduced the compulsions stop, we know that."

"I think the rest just is being tired and overwhelmed." Ewan said with some relief. "He said it was what he calls casting – actively opening himself and searching for contacts- that caused the breakdown at Cambridge."

"Which worried you."

"I didn't know that was the root of it."

"Ewan I don't think that was the sole cause. He didn't have you then, he didn't have any kind of routine or structure to hold on to, he didn't have the insight or understanding into his gifts he has now. Don't let him get tired, keep him busy and put your foot down on the compulsions. If he's not doing better in a week then make an appointment and I'll see him, but I'm sure he'll be fine. He's got a tenacious grip on reality, Simon."

It was reassuring, but Ewan still wandered through into the bedroom when he put the phone down and sat on the edge of the bed, watching Simon sleep. Still pale, still tense at the lips and forehead, but quiet, his outstretched hand half curled. Ewan laid a finger into his palm and stroked gently. Simon's hand automatically closed on his and Ewan gripped it, stopping the movement before he woke him. And lay down on the side of the bed, keeping hold of the long, supple fingers inside his.


He woke when Alex brought a tea tray up shortly after four, setting it softly down in the dressing room. Ewan gently disengaged their hands, but Simon rolled over and pulled himself up on one elbow, blinking.

"What time is it?"

"Four." Alex heard the voices and pushed the door open. "I thought Ewan at least would be hungry."

Ewan moved over and Alex put the tray on the bed, handing a cup to Ewan and the other to Simon.

"I'll make dinner for seven if you're up. I wouldn't trouble with the walk though, it's pouring outside."

Simon sat up, propping his elbows on his knees to eat one of the ham sandwiches laid out on the plate.

"Has Sergeant Dunn rung?"

"You're not going if he has." Ewan said darkly. Alex paused in the doorway to give him a wink.

"Maybe he has and maybe he hasn't. But if he did it wasn't with a message for you."

"What do you make of that?" Simon demanded as the door shut. Ewan took a sandwich from the plate.

"Well if anyone can convert that uptight little-"

Simon grinned at him. Ewan ran his fingers through his hair.

"How are you feeling?"

He saw Simon consider it, the dark green eyes far away for a moment, then he nodded.

"Ok. It's quiet in here."

"Then we need to talk about the evils of messing with the freezer." Ewan said mildly. "Don't we?"

Simon silently looked down at the sandwiches. Ewan turned his chin up.

"Don't we. And yes you DID Simon. I'd like to know why."

"Because the food in there was at risk. It isn't hygienic or safe to be eating partially frozen food."

Simon's voice was courteous and cold. Ewan didn't let go of his chin.

"There was nothing wrong with the food or the freezer."

"The freezer was working inefficiently."

"What made you think that?"

"The motor had been sounding tired for days."

Ewan shook his head, voice crispening. "RUBBISH Simon. Why did you make Alex turn the freezer off?"

"I did not make him do anything." Simon said politely. "I suggested-"

"WHY did you make Alex turn the freezer off Simon?"

"As I told you. Because the food in there was unsafe and inedible."

Silence. Ewan looked hard into frigid, deeply anxious green eyes.

"Don't lie to me Simon. I don't like it and it never works. Why did you make Alex turn the freezer off?"

Simon gave him a look of mingled helplessness and pleading. Ewan shook his head.

"If you like you can have time to think, but we ARE going to talk about it."

"I don't KNOW why!" Simon said despairingly, "If I knew why I wouldn't DO it-"

"You weren't thinking anything at all when you went to Alex and told him to clear the freezer?"

Simon put his head down on his folded arms. Ewan tapped the top of his head.

"Simon."

"I don't know what I was thinking. It just worries me. I get an idea, like the food rotting in there, and it goes on and on until I have to do something about it-"

"With Alex, not with me." Ewan said soberly. Simon risked a brief look at him.

"Yes, well Alex listens."

"And why don't I?"

Simon turned his head back down to his knees. Ewan waited.

"Simon, you're the psychologist."

"Because it's a negative, furtive expression of repressed anxiety," Simon sing songed, half under his breath, "WHICH is based on compulsion driven by-"

Ewan pulled him up in one strong yank and put him on his feet, soundly swatting his bottom.

"Enough. Corner my boy."

Simon turned back at once, flushed and apologetic. "No, I'm sorry- I am. Really. It's not allowed, that's all. If I had those feelings I should have told you, I should have recognised them and not acted on them, it was being secretive and it was being unfair to Alex."

"All true." Ewan put his hands on his hips, not wavering. "Now corner please."

Simon's lips twisted with protest and distress. Ewan held his gaze.

"Now Simon."

Very slowly Simon turned and walked through the connecting door into the dressing room, across to the wall where he stood, head down, hands fiddling awkwardly with the hem of his pyjama jacket.

No one could look more lost or shocked than Simon Kent-Hatton stood in a corner. Ewan picked up his cup and finished the tea, keeping an eye on him. More than ten minutes would reduce him to a wreck, it was already pure determination keeping him stood facing that wall against his dignity and will. Ewan didn't make him wait that long. Shutting the connecting door behind him he quietly moved the straight backed chair into the middle of the room and began to roll up his sleeve with quick and careful accuracy.

"Come here Simon."

For all his height he looked bewildered. A bewildered little boy in the beautiful man's body, the hands still fiddling awkwardly, moving slowly and reluctantly with the stain of embarrassment still on his cheekbones. Ewan took a seat and held out a hand to him, waiting. Simon silently laid himself over Ewan's lap and Ewan folded the long, graceful body over his legs, settling him without regard for his dignity and a lot of regard for practicality, his bottom raised and angled, his head and shoulders well down beneath the pressure of his left arm. Simon flinched when he drew the pyjama trousers down, letting them drop to his ankles. His voice was muffled and fractionally unsteady.

"I AM sorry. It just gets away from me- and I know, that's no excuse, I should have told you. I should have gone to you, not Alex."

"Yes. And I would have made sure you felt better about it Simon. You and Alex acting on these things together don't do anything to make you feel any calmer, and you know it."

Ewan took a firmer grasp on him and Simon ducked his head, shutting his eyes and gritting his teeth as Ewan's hand cracked down hard and accurately, landing somewhere he'd much rather it didn't. For some time there was just those steady, sharp sounds and the growing heat and sting, then Simon began to shift his weight and his breathing became less even under the rhythm. Ewan, aware of his twisting and the occasional hisses and sounds, concentrated on the now scarlet underside of Simon's upturned buttocks, and brought his hand down fractionally harder than before, quickening the pace, slapping each cheek soundly in turn. It was enough. Simon's breathing went ragged, his head ducked still further and Ewan saw his shoulders shake in the first few unsteady breaths of tears, then as he persisted, Simon lost control altogether and his sobs became audible, dominating both breathing and struggling. Ewan landed another six sound swats and stopped, running his palm gently over Simon's shuddering back before he drew up the fallen pyjama trousers and guided the long, heavy body draped over his lap upward and on to his feet.

Simon hung back when Ewan drew him over to the chair, rubbing at his eyes and nose, doing his best to stifle the sounds he was making. Ewan sat down in the chair, took Simon's arm and pulled, until Simon gave unwillingly and half collapsed into his lap. And at that point he turned and folded up, gathering his long legs up awkwardly and burying himself in Ewan's arms, the tears breaking free in earnest. Ewan held him tightly and began to rub his shoulders in long, slow strokes, feeling the gasping and shuddering against his chest with deep sympathy. It took a while before Simon's arms untangled and folded around his neck. Ewan held him, nuzzling quietly at the dark head beneath his chin.

"I'm sorry." Simon said eventually, unsteadily. "It IS irrational, I know it's irrational. This has been a HORRIBLE week."

"So what do you do?" Ewan said softly. Simon sighed.

"Talk to you. I know. I know."

"So do. No, you're not going anywhere, come here."

"I'm okay now."

Ewan didn't answer. Just silently pulled until Simon folded back up against his chest. With a sigh, Simon tucked his head deeper under Ewan's chin and let it rest there, slowly relaxing against him.

The small black dog, with an equal sigh of relaxation, curled up at Ewan's feet and tucked it's nose beneath it's tail.


~ The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010

5 comments:

Sierra said...

Wow, these two stories are absolutely fascinating

Tori Barnes said...

I am in love with Ewan, Simon and Alex. I think that Det. Dunn could grow on me eventually. I would like to know if you plan on continuing with this story line, or if I should just begin the mourning process now. Thank you for sharing your writing talent. This is a wonderful story and I hope you do continue.

mell8 said...

Ghosts, detective mysteries, and hot men. I think you've nailed all three of my favorite things into this series and I really do hope you write more about them sometime.

I would love to see Alex get settled with someone too, and Dunn needs some help getting his own life in order. It would be nice to see both of them happy, as well as see more of Ewan and Simon together.

This is a great story and I hope there will be more soon!

Ranger said...

Thank you Sierra, Tori and Mell

I do have a couple of other plots roughed out for these guys, what I lack is the time! one day. I enjoyed writing these, it's great to hear you enjoyed reading!

Anonymous said...

Wow reading this was such a vivid experience. I could see everything happening like a movie. Also, I'm usually only attracted to stories with at least some sexy times, so it says alot that that I still love this even without any sex lol I hope u continue these characters stories. Especially loved Alex. :-)

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.





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