Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mugs


Title: Mugs
Author: Ranger


"Nicky, it's me."  Damien said, as though the last voice I'd ever recognise on the phone would be his. I shifted the phone to my other ear, juggling my book and a mug of tea.

"No kidding? Where are you?"

"Still at the office. I'm sorry love, this is going to take longer than I thought. Have you eaten yet?"

"It's past seven!" I said in protest. Damien sounded apologetic.

"I know, but this has to be done. I don't think it'll be more than another hour. Get yourself something to eat- and I mean a MEAL, something halfway decent- and I'll see you as soon as I can."

"Why can't Jerry stay there half the night?" I pointed out, scowling. "It's his damn business, it's his client-" 

"Actually it's a sales problem and that's my department."

And his tone informed me there would be no more arguing about it. I shut up and glared at the carpet.

"Get yourself something to eat." Damien said again, gently. "Defrost something- no sandwiches. I won't be much longer."

"I love you." I informed him grouchily. He laughed and blew me a kiss.

"I love you too. See you later."

Grrrr.

I put the phone down and headed for the kitchen. Anastasia materialised the second the fridge was open and did her winding around my ankles thing. Eventually, to avoid both of us being injured, I picked her up and snuggled her under my chin while I looked. There was nothing in there that looked good. In the end I took out a yoghurt, just so I could say I'd actually eaten, shut the door with my hip and took Anastasia back into the lounge. It was a traditional British summer evening. Damp and grey and cold. I curled up on the sofa in front of the tv and ate yoghurt while Anastasia stood on my chest and begged, licking bits off my fingers as I offered them to her. Damien hated me doing it, but if he wasn't prepared to come home and stop me, he had no grounds for complaint. I could say with absolute honesty I hadn't eaten a sandwich. Actually, it was pretty inevitable we'd end up discussing that later, but it was HIS fault. I ate the dregs of the yoghurt somewhat slowly, watching the window, but he didn't come home.

Later, I went back to my book. Anastasia got off me and went to sit on the windowsill, doing the watching for Damien's car that I didn't want to be caught doing. Eight pm turned into eight thirty without sign of him. At a quarter to nine, really indignant now, I called his office. There was no answer. Well that at least was a good sign, he had to be on his way home. I wandered back into the kitchen, dug a casserole out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave. At this time of night he wouldn't want anything heavy and he didn't deserve anything at all, but he'd no doubt be starving. If I put some bread in the oven to have with it- the headlights on the drive flashed through the glass of the front door. I put the bread in the oven, listening to the car door slam outside, then headed for the front door, brushing flour off my hands. I got it open before he reached it, all prepared to sound fed up.

The sight of Allen half supporting, half carrying Damien the last few steps from the car to the house, made me choke on the words with pure shock. I stepped back on nothing more than instinct as Allen got him up the steps. He was helping himself, he put his hand out to grip the door frame then let go of Allen and I caught sight of his face in the light. His nose and mouth were half obscured with dried blood, one eye was swollen shut and about half his face was dark red or purple with bruising. I was beyond saying anything by then. Damien transferred himself from Allen's arms to mine and I gripped him, feeling him cold and shaking against me, his voice ridiculously calm and distorted by his stiff lip.

"It's okay. It's allright, it looks much worse than it is."

I felt myself go cold as if a thermostat had suddenly been turned and my own hands started to shake in reaction as I hugged him, scared to hold him too tight.

"Where do you want him Nick?" Allen said grimly. It took everything I had to let Damien go and pull myself together.

"Up- upstairs."

Damien leaned heavily on me, stumbling when he moved, which was so unlike him it terrified me. Allen gripped him on the other side and it took several long minutes to manoeuvre him to the top of the stairs. I snapped the light on in our room and Allen lowered Damien down to sit on the edge of the bed. From the way he stiffly bent in the middle, more was bruised than just his face. He flinched when Allen started to peel his coat off and I grabbed reflexively for Allen to stop him, unable to stand Damien's hiss of pain.

"NO."

Allen lifted his hands instantly. I touched Damien's hair to reassure myself and tried to sound calm.

"Sorry. I'm sorry. I can do that."

The sight of Damien, eyes closed, sitting there with his face that colour, almost took away my power to think. I pushed at my eyes before I could start to do anything stupid, like cry, and controlled my voice.

"C-can you bring some hot water and a towel?"

"Sure." Allen said gently. "I'll put the kettle on."

He went away and I took no further notice of him. Someone must have put Damien's jacket on him after he was hurt: there was no mark on it but as I eased it over his shoulders I saw his shirt stiff with blood from his nose. I'd undressed him a thousand times, I knew every inch and muscle, how every part of his body moved. I got him out of his clothes without causing any more of those awful flinches and gasps. He lay still and let me, his eyes closed, breathing stiffly and heavily as though he had a cold. I concentrated hard on what I was doing and tried not to think. There was a large, blackening bruise and scrape across his ribs and side, which looked all too like someone had kicked him. I noted it all with an increasing detachment, taking care not to touch where he was grazed or sore. Allen brought a bowl of water, towels and flannels up, and three mugs of tea. I soaked a flannel in the warm water and held it gently against Damien's mouth, thawing out the crust of blood there as the most obviously uncomfortable injury.

"What the HELL happened?"

My voice appeared to be coming from miles away and I sounded about to bite someone. Actually it was the only way I could keep from dissolving into tears. 

"He was mugged in the carpark." Allen said quietly, through a mouthful of tea. "They were after his wallet."

"They were only kids." Damien said with difficulty.

"They got away with about fifteen quid and a credit card." Allen added. "The police said they had a fair idea who they were."

"Did they call a doctor for you?" I demanded of Damien. Allen shook his head.

"They wanted to. He wouldn't have it."

"It isn't necessary, I've had worse than this playing rugby." Damien muttered. I leaned straight over for the phone.

"That's ridiculous, you could be concussed or anything."

Damien got a hand out and found my thigh. "Nick don't over react."

I held his hand and dialled anyway.

Our GP knows us well. He's turned out not a few times in the night to deal with my asthma, and he likes Damien. He listened to me for about thirty seconds before he interrupted to say he'd come straight round. There was a knock at the door as I finished the call and Allen got up off the windowsill.

"That's Robin. He stayed to deal with the police, he was going to bring Damien's car back."

"There's a casserole and bread in the oven," I said, sparing some attention from Damien. "Make yourselves something to eat, help yourselves to anything you like- I'll be down in a minute."

"Okay. You've only got to shout if you want me." Allen said gently. He gripped my shoulders as he passed and I saw a fair amount of Damien's blood had dried on him too.

"It's okay." Damien said thickly as I went back to bathing his face very very carefully.
His hand moved on my thigh and squeezed. "It's fine. Going to be fine."

I leaned down and kissed his forehead, which was about the one undamaged part of his face, and went back to easing the blood away from the cuts.

I'd never felt so sick in my life.

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

Allen let our GP in. By this time, time had taken on a sort of strange unreality of darkness and electric lights and people coming and going. And Damien lying under the quilt on our bed, barely moving, barely talking and not looking anything like my Damien. Our doctor didn't bother Damien much. Just confirmed he had nothing broken, he had no internal bruising or bleeding, and no concussion. All he could tell me to do was keep him warm, and give him painkillers and anti inflammatories to keep him comfortable until the swelling and bruising started to go down. And to take my inhalers. I hadn't even noticed but I was wheezing like a steam train. He stayed until that was under control. Once he'd gone, I put another quilt over Damien, turned out the lights that hurt his one good eye and sat with him, stroking his dark hair off his forehead. There was grit in his hair that spoke of him having spent some of tonight lying on the gravel in the carpark. I fingercombed out as much as I could, hating it as much as I hated the faintly snoring breathing he was managing through his swollen nose. I was vaguely comforted by the fact he fell quickly asleep. That at least suggested he wasn't in too much pain. It was still some time before I could get up and leave him to sleep without me there.


Allen and Robin were in the lounge, the lights out, the tv chattering quietly. Something in black and white that cast shadows across them both. Robin was asleep, curled up on the sofa, his head in Allen's lap. Allen glanced up and slid out from underneath Robin, laying him flat. He carried on sleeping peacefully. Allen drew me out into the hallway and softly shut the door on him.

"Allright?"

"Damien's asleep." I folded my arms to keep myself warm. I hadn't noticed, but I was freezing. "Did you two eat?"

"Yes, we're fine." Allen steered me to the kitchen. I stood numbly, watching him boil a kettle.

"What time is it?"

"Just after midnight." Allen poured things into a mug and stirred. "Sit down Nick."

"I'm sorry, you two must be dying to go home."

"We're staying here tonight. Or I am. I'll kick Robin out if you want me to." Allen sat down and put the mug in front of me. I picked it up mechanically.

"He can't sleep on the sofa. Why don't you have the spare room? I'll make up the bed in there-"

"I'll do it in a minute, you drink that." Allen said firmly. I sipped the tea and winced as the whiskey in it hit me.

"When did he call you?"

"As soon as he'd called the police. He knew he wasn't fit to drive and he didn't want to scare you any more than he had to."

I took another mouthful of tea, scalding my tongue, and swallowed hard, holding my breath. Allen drew his chair closer to mine, put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me against him. It was more a physical reaction than actually crying: it was sensation without feelings being involved. I got myself under control again within a few minutes and he gave me a long, hard hug before he let me go.

"You get yourself up to bed. I'll lock up down here and see to Robin."

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

Neither Damien nor I slept very much and the night went on forever. Damien could barely get himself awake enough to respond to me, but he was so uncomfortable he couldn't settle into anything deeper than a doze. Every time he moved he woke himself up. It was awful. There was nothing I could do except keep very still so I didn't shake the bed and hurt him, keep warm flannels on the swellings on his face to try and ease the pressure a bit, and be there whenever he did wake. God knows we've got each other through some horrible nights in the past, but it's always been me that was the cause of them, with him as the undamaged bystander. He was good at this: he always knew what to do and what to say. He was always calm, always cheerful and distracting when he was supporting me through a night like this. I didn't know what to do. If this was anything like what I put him through with my asthma, he deserved a medal. About five I went down and made some tea and he took more of the painkillers, which seemed to knock him out a bit more successfully. I sat with him until sixish, trying not to disturb him until it was light enough outside that I could call it morning and head downstairs with open relief. Anastasia met me on the landing and opened her mouth in a pink, silent wail that indicated she was hungry and that we were mean sleeping with the bedroom door shut. Further sounds from the spare room indicated that Robin and Allen were awake. Which only reminded me still further that things were strange. Different. Wrong. Horrible.

Robin wandered into the kitchen while I was feeding Anastasia, wearing the scruffy remains of his yesterday's suit. He hovered in the doorway for a moment, hands dug into his pockets. I gave him a sideways glance, too wound up to care for once what he did or said, and left Anastasia to bolt her breakfast. Robin scuffed across to me and after a minute gave me a rough and awkward hug.

"Don't look like that. How is he?"

"The doctor said he'd be fine." I rubbed my eyes as Robin let me go. "What do you want for breakfast?"

"We'll eat at home, don't worry about us." Robin tousled my hair; a well meant gesture if somewhat heavy handed. "And I'll talk to Jerry this morning, he'll deal with the police."

"What about the police?" I said sharply. Robin raised his eyebrows.

"Didn't you know? Damien wouldn't let the police record the attack on him- just the break in."

Actually, that didn't surprise me. Robin pulled out a chair at the kitchen table.

"Jerry ought to be shot anyway. The lights in the yard are crap and the workshop does nothing to protect the tools in there which is why the kids hang around to nick them-"

"Rob, get yourself home and changed." Allen interrupted from the doorway. He tossed his car keys across the table into Robin's hands. "Come back and pick me up when you're done and I'll drop you at work. Quick, it's six thirty."

Robin went without argument, which was novel. Allen moved me gently out of the way and took some eggs down off the shelf.

"Do you think Damien might eat scrambled eggs?"

"I can see to that-" I began vaguely. "Allen you don't have to, it was kind enough of you to stay last night."

"I can at least see you have a decent breakfast before I go." Allen said calmly, finding the frying pan. "And why don't you make me a shopping list? You're neither of you going to want to go anywhere for a few days."

********************
  
Damien was still asleep when Allen left around 11am. By which time he'd brought back the shopping, cancelled Damien's stolen credit card, nagged until I ate and made it clear that he was prepared to stay with us or to come back at any time I wanted.

Much as I appreciated him, I wanted him to go. I wanted the house to ourselves again. Wanted it to feel more normal. Wanted to be with Damien without anyone watching us.

"Not that you would," Allen said on the doorstep when he left, "But try not to push him about the police, or making charges. The police won't press him. Not easy for any guy to come to terms with being beaten up. Especially by kids."

It was the furthest thing from my mind. I went back up to Damien, making as little noise on the stairs as I could possibly manage. Damien turned his head and his eyes moved if his mouth didn't.

"Hey gorgeous."

I sat very carefully on the side of the bed, picked up his hands and kissed his fingers. His knuckles were bruised too- obviously he'd managed a few strikes at who ever had attacked him. Damien shifted an inch, caught my wrist and pulled until I crawled across to him, putting an arm very gingerly over his shoulders. He didn't move but leaned his head against mine.

"Are you allright darling? I'm so sorry-"

"Shut up." I turned my head and kissed his hair, nuzzling through it until I found his scalp. "What hurts? How do you feel?"

"Lousy." Damien said frankly. "I don't think there's any part of me that doesn't ache."

"My poor baby." Having found one spot on his head that didn't seem too tender, I concentrated on that and felt him sigh, his weight increasing against me.

"That's nice. Was that Allen going?"

"Yes. He was so sweet last night. He just brought a week's shopping back so I didn't need to leave you alone."

Damien grunted, a faint sound which might have been appreciation. "And Robin didn't drive you too mad?"

"No, he was fine. I didn't see much of him."

"Good." Damien closed his eyes. I slid my hands very gently down around his neck and shoulders, looking for any sign of bruising before I began to rub, easing out the tension and hopefully some of his headache. The familiar, solid feel of him beneath my hands was very reassuring, the warmth and resilience of his muscles, still powerful, still strong. I shifted gradually until he was using me as a pillow, kept my cheek against his hair and went on massaging.

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

He slept a lot of that day, the bruising on his face slowly darkening. I'd never known him so quiet. It hurt him to talk, his face was stiff, but the quiet was emotional as well as physical. I could feel the shields around him. I spent most of my time lying beside him, keeping him company if nothing else. He made me go back to work the following morning, although I argued from eight pm the previous night to the moment he kissed me goodbye on the doorstep. He insisted he could move around without too much discomfort, and he'd managed to dress. He further promised me to take things gently and to ring me at lunchtime.

He was in the kitchen when I got home. I slipped in somewhat quietly, aware it was not yet quite four pm and that he very probably wouldn't approve of me slipping away from work quite so early, even on a Friday. The house smelled of fresh scones and he was shaved, wearing clean clothes rather than the sweat suit he'd been wearing when I left this morning. The bruising looked less pronounced, and his mouth moved normally to smile when he saw me.

"You're early."

And that seemed to be all. I kissed him and hung on him to watch him decant scones from the oven. His mother has him programmed: in spare moments he always makes scones. Being Damien, instead of spending the day resting, he'd clearly spent the time polishing: the house was immaculate.

We spent a long, peaceful evening watching the tv until he said his ribs were starting to ache and went upstairs for a bath. I lounged on the sofa for a while, keeping a wary eye on the stairs while I watched the X Files. It was a sort of joke between us, but I wasn't actually supposed to watch it. There'd been one too many incidents of me getting spooked and refusing to turn lights off, or being afraid to look at mirrors after an episode. Well, when spooked who KNEW what you were likely to catch sight of behind yourself?

He didn't notice.

He still wasn't noticing when the doorbell rang. Faintly surprised that anyone would ring at this time of night I went into the hall, shouting upstairs to Damien who I could hear coming out of our room.

"I've got it!"

Robin was flushed on the doorstep, his shirt opened to the waist, his hair on end. He looked more than slightly agitated. I peered, looking for Allen, but couldn't even see evidence of Robin's car.

"What ARE you doing?"

"I need to see Damien." Robin pushed his hand through his hair, making it yet more untidy, and from the look he gave me I was suddenly worried he was about to burst into tears. I stood out of the way to let him in, moving from startled to anxious.

"Why? What's happened?"

His usual answer at this point was to jeer. Instead he stood in the hallway, trembling. I shut the front door and shouted upstairs.

"Damien! Robin's here!"

Damien appeared a minute later, pulling a sweater over his head. He still looked sleepy to me, probably from the painkillers but his eyes changed at the sight of Robin. Robin barged straight across the hallway and flung himself into Damien's arms. Damien stooped a little to hug him with a resigned kindness that suddenly told me a lot about their relationship at work.

"What? What's the matter? Where's Allen?"

"At home-" Robin pulled away, not meeting Damien's eyes. Damien put both hands on his shoulders, then touched his forehead, frowning. Then looked to me.

"Nick..?"

"I'll go and polish the aspidistra?" I offered. Damien steered Robin into the kitchen and shut the door behind them. I sat in the lounge and flicked through the tv channels, wondering what on earth was the problem this time. In the month or so that Damien had forced me to spend an hour of every weekday in Robin and Allen's household I'd got to know them both quite a bit better, and Robin, I knew, was about as subtle as a brick. There wasn't much he did that Allen didn't pick up on. It was only about twenty minutes before the kitchen door opened and I sat up. Damien.  He came in and turned the tv off, his face alone making my stomach clench. Grim and anxious. Never a good combination.

"What's he done?" I demanded. Damien ran a hand through my hair on his way past me.

"The little idiot spent the evening in a night club and he's taken something- supposedly it was an Ecstasy tablet, but God alone knows what was in the cut, it could be anything from soap powder to cocaine. He's got no idea who the dealer was. And now of course he's panicked, which isn't a good thing to do on a hallucinogen…. can you call Allen for me? Just tell him Robin's here, he's okay and can he come straight over. And then sit with Robin for a minute. I need to find out what's likely to happen and whether we need to get him to casualty."

"People take Ecstasy all the time, most of them it just wears off." I said stupidly.

"And some of them die." Damien glanced back at the kitchen. "Just sit with him and try and keep him calm, I'll be quick as I can."

He ran upstairs with more energy than his bruises should have allowed, the bannisters shaking with the impact. I picked up the phone and took it into the lounge out of Robin's earshot. Allen was horribly cheerful when he realised it was me on the phone, and horribly upset when I relayed the message. I stuck to the lines Damien had given me, but Allen knew perfectly well something was wrong. Robin was pacing in the kitchen when I went in, shirtless and bare from the waist up, pushing at his temples as though his head was splitting. He was very pale and when he looked at me there was something very strange about his eyes. It took me several minutes to realise that his pupils were huge, so big there was no visible colour to his eyes other than the black.

"Are you okay?" I asked tentatively, not sure what else to say.

"What do you think?" Robin snapped. I shrugged.

"That it was a bloody silly thing to do."

Robin slid away from me, scowling.

"Allen said if you ever hit me again he'd tell Damien."

I frowned at him, confused. "He didn't, he said if we got into a fight again he'd tell Damien. And why on earth would I hit you?"

Robin went back to pacing, pushing at his temples again.

"I don't know what sort of unnatural bastard you are anyway. A group of bloody teenagers beat him up in a yard…. I'd stay in the yard and WAIT for them, smash the hell out of them..." his teeth bared and he made a punching motion at me.

"You'd be insane." I said flatly. Robin gave me one of his more twisted leers. 
"Too scared?"

"I've got caned twice this year, and it's twice too many." I snarled back. Robin looked at me, startled into standing still.

"CANED? Are you serious?"

"Get stuffed."

How did he provoke me in to these kind of conversations? I sat down at the table, remembering I was supposed to be keeping him calm.

"Why don't you sit down?"
"Because my head hurts like FUCK… Damien really uses a cane on you?"

"Only when I really do something stupid." I muttered. "Or dangerous."

"Christ!"

I glared at him, beyond arguing. Robin grinned.

"Show me? Where does he keep it?"

"Go to hell." I said bluntly. Robin opened his mouth- and then closed it again. Allen had been right- since that punch in their front room a few months back, Robin had thought twice before he pushed that little bit too far. I took a deep breath and sat back.

"If you stake out the office looking for those kids, and Allen finds out, he'll kill you."

"He won't cane me." Robin said scornfully. I shrugged.

"Damien would me and rightly so. It's dangerous and it's asking to get beaten up."

And if Damien caught me taking Ecstasy - 

I stopped that thought before it began. I had no clue what Allen was going to make of this, but Robin didn't seem to be thinking that far ahead yet. Damien re emerged, took one look at Robin pacing and took his arm, planting him in the chair next to mine.

"From what I can discover, you need to drink. Water or fruit juice and slowly. Nicky, find a t shirt and shorts for him, something big and loose."

What that had to do with him drinking I didn't inquire. Damien had the back door open when I brought them down, and the kitchen was filled with the cool and growing darkness of the evening. The main lights were out and he'd turned on the much dimmer lights under the kitchen units. He'd also got Robin stripped to his boxers, and from what I could see, Robin was shining with sweat from head to foot. He was sitting at the table, his head on his arms. Damien glanced around at me but went on sponging Robin's chest and back with a wet towel. A large glass of fruit juice was sitting on the table in front of him.

I curled up in the white, swivel armchair that sits in the very far corner of the kitchen, tucked my feet up under me and swung the chair gently from side to side. This reminded me very clearly of three nights ago when the marks on Damien's face had been a lot more obvious and we'd also been sitting around with dim lights, both of us scared and silent. Damien looked up at me at one point, his eyes very soft in a way that told me he understood what I was thinking.

"Why don't you go to bed, sweetheart? Nothing's going to happen, it’s just going to be a matter of sitting around and waiting until Robin's more comfortable."

I didn't want to be up there alone. I shook my head and went on swinging the chair. Anastasia came in, gave Robin a look of disdain and got onto my lap, settling down with her paws tucked under her and her chin on my knee. 

Damien went to answer the door when Allen arrived, held out his hand to me and took me with him. Allen looked white and nervous. Damien let me go at the foot of the stairs and patted my backside gently.

"Go and have a bath and get ready for bed. I'll be up in a minute."

That was not what I wanted to hear. Although with Allen looking like that and Robin in the kitchen, still silent and shining with sweat, I wasn't about to stage a protest. I went in silence, hearing Damien and Allen's voices talking quietly in the hall for a moment, the words indistinguishable, then the quiet click of the kitchen door. 
 

I was dry, dressed and ready for bed long before Damien appeared. I sat at the top of the stairs in the dark, hugging my knees, infected by Damien's attempts to dim the lights downstairs. Eventually the kitchen door opened and I heard Damien's voice in the hall, low and soft, then Allen's in reply. Allen had an arm around Robin, who was wearing the t shirt and shorts and was barefoot, moving slowly and clutching Allen. I got up and came very quietly and unobtrusively downstairs, sliding into place behind Damien. He didn't look at me, but automatically his arm moved out and snaked around my waist. He leaned against the doorpost, pulled me to lean against him and we stood, watching Allen help Robin into his car, and then the car move out of sight as it turned into the street. I shut the front door behind us, slipped the bolt across and Damien wound both arms around me as I turned, pulling me tight against him; so tight that breathing wasn't easy. His head rested against mine for a moment, then subsided into my shoulder, muffling his voice.

"Is he allright?" I asked tentatively. Damien sighed.

"I think so. Allen's just in for a very long and worrying night with him. He's getting tired and depressed which is a sign of the drug wearing off, but the woman I spoke to at the hospital said not to let him sleep for a few hours yet. Allen wanted to take him home. Thought he'd be calmer there. Agh. If you ever, EVER try taking ANYTHING like that I will KILL you."

I hugged him back, shaking him slightly. "Damien……"

"Except you wouldn’t. I know." Damien lifted his head and kissed me, hard. Then let me get a breath and went back to do the job a lot more gently, easing out the crush injuries he'd caused. "Sorry."

"The only clubs or bars I've ever been in more than a few minutes are ones you've dragged me in to," I pointed out when I was able, "And you have a hard enough time making me take the drugs I'm supposed to."

"It's got nothing to do with me, you've just got a naturally lot more sense." Damien took a deep breath and leaned his forehead against mine. "Oh Nicky. I might be an overbearing, patronising git, I might be hell to live with, I might not even be good for you, but I need you, I want you and I have absolutely no clue what I'd do without you."

"Hey. I'll tell you when you're hell to live with." I folded my arms tighter over his shoulders, aware I was nearly off my feet and we were probably bruising each other.  "And the best thing is, you won't care."

Damien laughed rather unsteadily.

"You're tired." I said in his ear. "Why don't I make some tea and bring it up? You go and lie down."
"Mmn." Damien kissed my ear in turn and let me go. "I'm going."

"And I don't know how you're not good for me." I said, leaning on the bannister as he started upstairs. "I thought I made you the judge of that?"

"That's why I worry about it." Damien said, pausing above me. I shook my head at him, aware the danger was already passed. His eyes were soft again, already full of humour.

"It’s the worrying you do about it that qualifies you for the job." I told him. He blew me a kiss and went on upstairs.

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

He rang them Saturday morning. I was hoovering upstairs at the time, but I heard his voice if not the words.

"He's okay." Damien said when he put the phone down and saw me sitting at the top of the stairs. "Very upset, but no ill effects thank God."

I came down the last few steps when he held his arms out to me, leaning against him automatically.

"He loves you a lot."

Damien didn't comment. A year or two ago, I might have done something similar- not something so very stupid as taking drugs, admittedly, but something that would make Damien loudly and clearly authoritative. My father had a heart attack a year or two after we first met and I stopped eating. At the time I'd thought I was too upset to eat, but what I'd actually needed was Damien to get firm enough to make me feel safe again. By the time Robin and Allen finished talking this through, Robin was going to be feeling very supervised indeed: hopefully enough to make up for how upset he'd obviously been about Damien.

His remark about the carpark still rankled. If I really loved Damien would I want to lie in wait for a group of teenagers I probably couldn't identify and get into a fight with them?

When I looked at his bruises I felt a muddle of emotion- distress. Numbness. A dark kind of rage. Those words weren't enough.

Robin trivialised that emotion. What I felt when I looked at Damien's bruised face was indescribable.

And he's pre empted me. Damien was my partner, and yet it was Robin who was upset enough to make the dramatic gestures. Robin who wanted the revenge while I just muddled along quietly.

Sometimes I hated him.

******************* 

"Why don't we go out for a walk?" Damien suggested that afternoon when we finished clearing up from lunch.

"You'll get cold." I shook the dishtowel out- just as he liked it- and hung it neatly on it's hook. "Anyway. I wanted to read this afternoon."

"Just a short walk?"

I retrieved my book from the kitchen table and gave him a faint smile.

"Chess?" Damien suggested. I pulled a face at him.

"You ALWAYS win. AND laugh at me."

"Come and watch a video then? Something funny."

I rubbed his back as I passed him but took my book into the lounge.

I read there, in peace and quiet, for about half an hour. In that time, I didn’t take in a single word. And my stomach still clenched when his voice interrupted from the doorway.

"Darling. Why is there an empty yoghurt pot on top of the tv?"

"Um." I thought about it, marking my place with a finger. "Oh. I was eating it when Allen brought you home. I'd forgotten about it and we haven't been in here much so-"

Damien took the book out of my hand and sat on the table in front of me.

"Yoghurt?"

"I like yoghurt." I put a hand out to brush the fading bruise on his cheek. Damien caught my hand and held it.

"What else did you eat?"

"It was nearly a week ago!" I protested. Damien looked at me.

"DID you eat?"

Oh God. He was serious. He was actually going to follow this up…

"It wasn't a sandwich." I said with what confidence I could summon up. Somehow it sounded a lot less convincing than it should have done. Damien was already shaking his head, totally unmoved.

"Do you remember any conversations we've had along these lines before?" 

"I know, but you were late-"

"And you were fed up with me? Is that it?" Hazel eyes looked at me, large and warm and not in the least deterred.

I felt myself start to flush and my voice rose slightly in response.

"No- I'm not being difficult, it just hasn't been a usual couple of days-"

"You weren't being difficult? Did I ask you to eat a proper meal or not?"

"I'm not going to die from skipping one meal, I wasn't even hungry-"

"Did I tell you to eat a proper meal?"

"Not in the context of-"

"Yes or no." Damien interrupted. I looked at him, frustrated. Big, calm, dark hair in his eyes, gorgeous and extremely annoying. Damien raised his eyebrows at me, waiting.

"Yes." I admitted crossly. Damien got up and held out a hand to me. I looked at him for a minute, startled until his fingers waggled and I realised he was serious.

"No!" I said hotly. "Damien this is silly! It was days ago and it was a silly gesture anyway, it didn't matter!"

"Whose decision is it?" Damien asked mildly. I glared at him.

"NO."

Damien's eyes grew very steady. "Nicholas."

"NO!" I flung myself out of the chair and stalked towards the stairs. "It was DAYS ago and it DOESN'T matter."

"Stand still."

Anastasia heard the tone, got off the windowsill and headed under the sofa. I took no notice. The living room door slammed behind me with a satisfying bang. Damien opened it quietly on the rebound and came into the hallway.

"Come here."

His voice was horrendously calm. I looked at him. He pointed at the hall floor in front of him.

I stood where I was on the stairs and glowered at him, furious and with no intention of moving.

"NO. I'm NOT going to let you spank me over something so stupid. It was DAYS ago, it didn't matter then. It was a JOKE."

"I'm not interested in what it was or when it was." Damien clicked his fingers, still pointing at the floor in front of him. "Come here."

"Leave me alone!"

"Now."

That horrendously quiet voice was not good. I stood where I was, aware I was starting to shake at the hands and knees, my stomach freezing over.

Damien held out a hand to me again.

I went slowly down the stairs, moving closer until we were face to face. Actually the top of my head comes just past his shoulder and I wasn't looking him in the face, but I was where he was pointing.

"Whose decision is it?" Damien said mildly.

"Yours." I mumbled.

His hand held out to me once more.

Arg.

"Nooooooo…" I wailed assertively and convincingly as led me upstairs. "I ATE, it wasn't a sandwich, you don't need to get drastic about it-"

"I do, it works beautifully." Damien said heartlessly. I trailed after him, taking my time over the stairs, which had suddenly become a very short walk.

"This isn't fair!"

"Why isn't it fair?" Damien inquired, sitting on the end of the bed. I folded my arms to glare at him. According to all the rules of body language, it should have intimidated him.

It didn't.

"Because it isn't!"

"Darling. What happens when you make dramatic gestures to prove you don't agree with me?"

Bastard that he is, he actually stopped and waited for an answer.

"I get into trouble." I said defiantly, flushing, when it was clear time was going to stand still until I told him. Damien nodded calmly.

"And when you decide not to do as you're told?"

"I ATE, you said to eat!"

From the way his eyebrows rose, I was seriously sunk.

"If you're at all confused about who's in charge around here Nicholas, we can work on clarifying it. What happens?"

"I don't know!"

Damien's eyebrows rose still further. "Then let's remind you."

Arg again.

He pulled me closer and I found myself moving without thinking, twisting out of his hands, my voice rising back to the screech.

"NO, it's not fair! I don't CARE what you said-"

Damien's hands closed on the waistband of my jeans and my feet moved instinctively to catch up with the rest of me as I was yanked back between his knees. The swift, sharp movements of his hands as he unbuttoned and tugged my jeans down implied that further fussing would be a bad idea, but I still had a good try. It made absolutely no difference. I got nowhere, my underwear was tugged down after my jeans and my eyes started to prickle as he turned me over his lap quite unhindered by my struggling, the two of us fitting into position with the ease of long practice. Way too long practice. I could smell the fresh laundry smell of his jeans, feel the knit of his sweater against my hip as his arm looped around me, holding me firmly against him. I shut my eyes tight and concentrated on this NOT being the painful experience it was probably- inevitably- going to be.

"What did I tell you to do Nicholas?"

I swallowed on more defiance, well aware I was in no position to provoke him.

"Eat something. Not a sandwich. And I DID."

"I said make yourself a meal. You understand what that means."

Damien punctuated himself with two sharp slaps that made me duck my head and shut my eyes still tighter.

"I wasn't hungry!"

"But you ate a yoghurt AND left out the evidence to prove to me you hadn't done as you were asked."

"A yoghurt's GOOD-"

"WHY was the evidence left out Nicholas?"

Arg. 

There is nothing I loathe more than lying in this position, bare and accessible, with nothing to do except hold these horrendously unpleasant conversations, well aware what ever I say there IS no avoiding a still more unpleasant outcome.

"I don't know." I said defiantly.

His hand swatted down, hard enough and rapidly enough to change my mind. Fast.

"Allright, I was fed up because you stayed at the office! You weren't THERE-"

"So it didn't matter what you ate? You only do as you're told when I'm watching?" Damien inquired.

Put like that, it sounded horrible. Tears stung my eyes and I stopped kicking quite so much.

"I wanted you to come home and I hate you working there late- and I was right! Wasn't I? I was bloody RIGHT!"

My eyes stung still more hotly and my throat began to hurt. Damien's voice didn't alter above me.

"You do as you're told Nicholas. Whether I'm there or not. I have good reason for what I ask you to do and I do NOT appreciate demonstrations- no matter how subtle- of protest. If you have a problem, we talk about it. Openly and honestly."

But if we talked about it, he got all rational and WON.

But that blasted right hand was at work again and now that seemed the right and fair option….. and I was starting to feel seriously and genuinely sorry. And not just for myself either.

"I will, I promise." I blurted out, tears really starting to come now.

"And I don't expect a strop when things don't go your way and you're well aware that what you did was wrong. Is that clear?"

"Yes-" I admitted, well aware of what I was cueing. His further comments were non verbal and directed just as pointedly, if to a different part of my anatomy. I swore silently at the floor while he settled into a steady rhythm, covering the same ground again and again until within a few repetitions I was yelping and twisting, unable to help myself. It made no difference. The tears began to run in earnest in response to the sting and I held my breath, trying to stifle myself. Damien went right on smacking, soundly and steadily, giving me no chance to deal with the steadily increasing bombardment. At the point I lost it and began to cry properly he wasn't even half done.

I was crying hard and not thinking about much else when he lifted me upright. My backside was blazing, my chest aching from sobbing, my head starting to hurt in sympathy. Damien turned me around and wrapped me up in his arms, rocking in silence.

"Allright." Damien murmured to me. "Its fine. It's allright."

I struggled around and leaned against him where my chest could actually expand to it's fullest degree. Damien pushed his fingers through my hair, smoothing it off my forehead. We sat like that for some time while I calmed down enough to know what was happening. His voice was in my ear when I next heard it, gentle and undemanding.

"You're exhausted, aren’t you?"

"I am not."

"You are little boy. Over stressed, over tired and over wrought."

"You don't need to worry about me."

"That isn't how it works and you know it." Damien said serenely. He ran a finger lightly down my nose, face very close to mine. "Don't you? Hmm?"

"I'll get over it."

"Don't you ever say that to me."

His face didn't change nor his voice much, but he was serious enough to stop me cold.

"That's not dealing with anything, that's not sharing anything, that's shutting me out. You're NOT in this relationship alone and neither am I. We DON'T shut each other out. No secrets."

My eyes stung again in response to that. Damien leaned down and kissed my forehead, then leaned his head against mine.

"Nicky. Come on baby. Don't tear yourself up."

That was more than I could cope with right now. Damien stopped me turning away, still lipping at my forehead. "You're going to take a couple of aspirin, something to drink and then you're going to get some sleep."

"Its three o clock in the afternoon."

"I think you've had enough." Damien said mildly.

I suddenly realised I'd been doing a lot more thrashing around and struggling with him than his bruises could really cope with. Damien grabbed me when I tried to get up off his lap.

"Hey."

"I'm too heavy for you."

Damien snorted, a comforting sound accompanied by a decidedly uncomforting swat on an already sore place.

"Did we agree or did we not, on who makes the decisions around here?"

"Yes, you." I said hurriedly.

Damien gave me a long look that warned me I'd better be very sure of that, then stooped and picked me up, heading for the stairs. It wasn't good for his ribs, but while I wound my arms around his neck and buried my face in his shoulder, I decided that now perhaps was not the best time to point it out.

 ~The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010

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