Thursday, February 11, 2010

My True Love gave to Me

Title: My True Love gave to Me
Author: Ranger

There is a look Nick gets, which says to me he's going to be Ill. Not exactly a physical sign, not a temperature, but the look that chills me to the bone, which means we're about to hit crisis, blue lights and sudden emergencies. We got up on the morning of Boxing Day, and he was helping my mother unpack the dishwasher when he coughed, and I saw that look. Frankly it scared me silly.
Bearing in mind that at the time we were in a small, Northumbrian village, very easily cut off by snow and flooding, twenty miles from the nearest hospital, we were taking more than a few risks. When I finally did get concerned enough in the middle of the night to take him to hospital- more because I wanted to be sure of getting him there in time if he seriously needed help- I realised I was being downright foolhardy. I wasn't happy about the idea of dragging him out into the cold and stress of a long drive home, but at the same time, within six hours we'd be home, and there we had a much better chance there of getting him through this without crisis. Nick argued but not very convincingly, which told me he too was more nervous than he was letting on. That clinched it. We went home.
He was thoroughly miserable for the next few days. I kept him in bed, turned the heating up full blast and embarked on the 24 hour struggle to keep him occupied. It's never been a good idea to push Nick into sleeping when he's stressed, upset or unwell. It's been ingrained in him all his life from hard experience, that if anything really nasty is going to happen to him it will happen in the small hours of the morning: and this time like all the other times, he was frightened of letting himself fall asleep. The only thing to do is try to keep his mind off how much air he thinks he's getting, so we played cards, read and watched videos for hours, and he slept for brief patches whenever he ran out of energy to fight it off. In the mean time I forced enough Ventolin down him that on the afternoon of the 30th, half way through an incredibly boring film, I glanced over and realised with a sense of flooding relief that he'd dropped off again and that he was breathing fairly quietly. He had no temperature, he wasn't coughing half as much and it looked to me like the antibiotics had taken hold. We were going to get through this in one piece.
I went downstairs around seven am, made up a tray of tea and ran a bath for him. He dragged himself upright, cards still scattered around him from our four am game, one of them marking it's shape on his cheek. I sat on the edge of the bed to kiss him, and rubbed the mark with one finger. Sleepy appreciation turned into an appealing look of hopefulness as he realised I hadn't brought breakfast with me.
"Hey beautiful. I've run a bath for you. Put something warm on and come downstairs."
He moved, slowly and cautiously but with clear interest in being up. I sat where I was and listened to him for a few minutes. I couldn't hear his breathing which after the last few days was a good sign. And he wasn't coughing, despite the steam in the bathroom. I pulled myself together and went downstairs, trying to turn off the high anxiety of the last few days. Rationally, Nick is right. If anything dreadful is going to happen, it's most likely to hit when he's asleep. Except the 1999 New Year attack came out of a chest infection and he deteriorated within about four hours on New Year's Eve. Wheezing that went on and on, until we hit the true asthmatic nightmare and his breathing went silent. Once you get to that point things can't really get much worse, and I fully intended that we never got to that point again.
I was at the foot of the stairs when the phone rang. Wincing at the state of the hall carpet and the kitchen beyond after three days of no housework, I picked up the receiver and hooked Anastasia off the table.
"Hi sunshine." Allen sounded alarmingly cheerful. "How's the patient?"
"Not bad." I leaned against the wall, settling the phone into a more comfortable position. "We had the usual couple of nights where he was too scared to sleep, but he got about five hours on and off last night without any panics."
Nick came downstairs, still pulling a heavy sweater into place. I smiled at him and got the You're Talking About Me grimace.
"He's getting up this morning- just tired and fed up now. With luck he'll sleep right through tonight."
Nick sat down at the table. I stretched the phone cable far enough to sit with him, pulled fresh toast out of the toaster and passed a slice across to him. He didn't look keen but he picked it up.
"I've got a problem," Allen admitted. "I was wondering if you'd mind doing some babysitting this morning? I've got a meeting in Birmingham at eleven and Robin's got a horrific cold. He's streaming and hot and thoroughly miserable and I really don't want to leave him alone all day."
"Of course not," I said with sympathy. "That's fine."
"You'll have him? He's too worn out to be any trouble, I was just worried whether Nick was up to someone else being in the house-"
"No, Nick could do with the company." I said cheerfully. It would be distraction if nothing more, and he could do with someone else to talk to. I could feel Nick looking suspicion at me.
"Thanks, I really appreciate it. I don't know exactly when I'll be back- probably around three at the latest."
"We'll be here. No, as long as it takes, it's not a problem."
"Thanks Damien, that's a weight off my mind. And his I think, he didn't want me to leave today. About nine?"
"That's ok. See you then."
"Who?" Nick demanded, the second I turned the phone off. I finished the toast and licked marmalade off my fingers.
"Allen. He has a meeting this lunchtime, and-"
"No!" Nick said, levitating out of his seat. I buttered another piece of toast, deliberately not noticing.
"Robin's got a cold. From the sounds of things, he's really not well and Allen doesn't want to leave him alone. He'll drop Robin here about nine and pick him up around 3- which won't kill us." I added, looking at him. You were complaining yesterday about being bored."
"Not THAT bored." Nick said more or less under his breath.
He argued for a while, more niggling than seriously protesting. Although to be honest, tired and not terribly happy with life, if it hadn't been Robin it would have been something else that grated on his nerves. Well aware it wasn't going to do anything to improve his temper I towed him into the lounge and bullied him into doing the physiotherapy that is occasionally necessary when he's really congested. He doesn't actually mind it that much, although he was pulling faces of high tragedy when Robin arrived. I wasn't actually sorry Robin caught us at it. If nothing else it might convince him Nick was still fragile and in no state to withstand much teasing. To be sure, I left Nick in the living room, intending to take the opportunity to warn Robin. Allen however was ahead of me as he gently prised Robin's arms from around his neck.
"I'll be back as soon as I can. Don't torture Nick. You never win anyway. Behave."
Robin mumbled something approximating a promise and gave me a look of misery very similar to Nick's as Allen drove away. He actually looked terrible. His eyes were red and swollen, he was breathing heavily and clearly not too comfortably and he appeared pretty much on the brink of bursting into tears. I put an arm around his shoulders and gave him a hug, steering him towards the living room.
"Come on. Nick's as fed up as you are, all he wants to do is curl up and watch tv. Take that look off your face, this has to be better than spending the day at home on your own."
"No, I get to spend it with the wimp of the universe-"
"Watch it." I warned. Robin trailed in behind me, took one look at Nick on the floor and automatically gave Nick one of his humourless smirks.
"I won't ask what it is you're doing."
"Keeping his lungs clear." I said before Nick had time to take that in.
"It looks like you misread a page of the karma sutra."  Robin said tactfully. Nick bestowed a Drop Dead look on him. I made him turn over and carried on, taking no notice.  Robin curled up in a tight ball in an armchair, shivering despite the fire. Nick sat up and more or less did the breathing exercises we're supposed to do, and I helped him to his feet.
"I'll set your nebuliser up down here. Why don't you find a video to watch?"
That was met with wild enthusiasm. I hooked a video off the shelf at random, set Nick up with the nebuliser and sat with him until I was sure he was breathing clearly and wasn't likely to have any ill effects from the physio. Then I got up. They were both tired, they were both barely coping with being out of bed, I doubted either of them were up to conversation. And the kitchen was weighing on my mind, there was housework in desperate need of doing. They both seemed engrossed in the video anyway.
"I'll be straightening the kitchen out if you want me, I won't be long."
Nick gave me his best Abandoned look but didn't argue. Robin didn't respond at all. I pulled the door to keep the heat of the fire in and cleared the table. That was the least of the mess. I'd got the washing up finished and was regretfully deciding the floor had to be washed when I heard a yell of shock from the living room. Alarmed, I fled. Anastasia burst out of the lounge the second I opened the door, heading for the stairs as though the wolves were after her. Robin stood in the middle of the room, dripping water and carnations in equal amounts. Nick had both hands on a now empty vase and from the way his eyes were flashing, had seriously lost his temper.
"WHAT's going on in here?"
Robin looked at me and held out a shaking finger at Nick.
"He threw water at me!"
"He squirted Anastasia." Nick said as though that explained everything, pulling the nebuliser mask off his face.
Right. It was obviously going to be one of THOSE mornings.
I looked at the spray gun dropped at Robin's feet and resisted the urge to say "but-" "what the-" "WHY-"
"Robin, go up to the bathroom, get out of those wet clothes, I'll bring you something to change into. Nick, sit down and finish the nebuliser."
"I-" Nick began indignantly.
"Now." I said, cutting him off. Dry and nebulised, those had to be the priorities. Robin looked in no condition to withstand being cold. Nick scowled, but sat down and pulled the mask back on. Robin ran upstairs, still dripping, and I followed him, resisting the urge to screech.
"Why did you have to turn that spray on the cat?" I demanded as soon as we were well out of Nick's earshot. "For Pete's sake Robin-"
"She got in the way." Robin protested. I glared at him.
"The cat lives here and she is NOT going to be alarmed or assaulted in her own home. Is that clear? And if that was an attempt to wind Nick up you can stop that too."
Usually any form of warning from me makes him scowl. This time he flinched visibly and his eyes went down, reddening still further. I sighed, put an arm around his neck and pulled him against me, still damp as I hugged him.
"Well it wasn't a particularly nice thing to do, was it? If you can't behave downstairs, I can get you settled in the spare bed up here until Allen gets back. And I do mean that."
He wrapped both arms around my waist. In a wretched temper and wanting Allen. I rubbed his back, understanding and not a little sorry for him.
"Come on kiddo. A couple of hours, that's all, and he'll be back. You'll live."
"Get yourself out of those clothes."
I helped him change, finding clothes of mine as he's somewhat taller than Nick. He'd gained control of quivering lips and eyes by the time we went back downstairs, and had a scowl firmly locked in place once more. Nick greeted us with an identical scowl. I held out my hand, having made a quick assessment of the situation. I had things still needing doing and the two of them were not likely to be amicable after this. And despite my threats, I wouldn't leave Robin upstairs alone, while Nick in his own home would be at ease on either floor. Which left only one option.
"Right." I said with as much sternness as I could summon up in the face of two sniffling brats, "I did hope you two could get along for ten minutes without supervision, but since that doesn't seem to be an option, you'd better split up until I'm free to do some refereeing. Nick you can go up to our room, Robin, you can stay in here. And neither of you wander please."
I could feel Nick's objections resonating through his hand, although he held onto the explosion until we were in the hall and the door was shut.
"That ISN'T fair! He drenched Anastasia-"
"And you retaliated. Throwing water at someone with a severe cold is not terribly sensible, never mind not particularly kind." I pointed out. "He doesn't feel well, he's GOING to be short tempered-"
"I don't care if he gets pneumonia!" Nick informed me, not interested. "What do you want me to do when he starts attacking my cat?"
There was no point in debating this, or rising to it. Nick is more resilient than Robin for the simple reason that he is far more resourceful. He wasn't upset, just annoyed. He was also this morning every bit as short tempered as Robin, and I wasn't about to let him wind himself up any higher.
"I want you to go upstairs to our room and stay there, out of his way, until lunchtime." I told him mildly. "Now please."
Nick drew himself up and gave me a glower that should have turned me to stone before he stormed past me towards the stairs. "I'll stay there until bloody kingdom come if he's in the house
Not unamused, I caught his wrist before he made his exit and raised my eyebrows at him. 
"I beg your pardon?"
For a split second I saw him think about it. Then drop his eyes and his tone.
I let him go, nobly not teasing.
"Upstairs. Turn the radiator up in there and put the tv on."
That in itself should reassure him I wasn't at all annoyed. And maybe let him know why he and not Robin was bound upstairs. He made it upstairs quietly and vented his feelings in slamming the bedroom door. Frankly I was inclined to think that fair enough under the circumstances.
Robin was curled up in an armchair, watching tv. I checked he was warm enough, left him to it and went back to the housework. Half an hour of solitude wouldn't do either of them any harm and I'd get enough done to leave the rest with a clear conscience. I was putting the rubbish out when I noticed with some exasperation, yet another fence panel blown down at the foot of the garden. Robin glanced up as I collected my jacket from the hall and opened the lounge door.
"There's a fence panel down, I'm just going to nail it back up before the others come loose. I'll be ten minutes."
His look held no interest in fence panels and said he was still far from happy. I went across and felt his forehead. Warm, but not hot. I tousled his hair and let him go.
"Why don't you lie down for a while?"
"Because it's worse lying down and I've got a headache." Robin said heavily. I glanced at my watch.
"Allen said you could have more aspirin at twelve. Only another half hour to go."
He grunted and went back to staring at the tv. I went outside, waded across wet flowerbeds and embarked on a struggle with the fence. 
Ten minutes later, Robin's voice drifted across the lawn with a delighted sardonicism that warned me even before I turned to see his head protruding from our bedroom window.
"Oh Damien….."
Oh God.
I abandoned the hammer and the half hung panel, and sprinted for the house.
I found Robin watching with interest as Nick dangled from the open loft hatch above our bed. The loft ladder was lying on the floor. My heart just about went through my throat until I saw Nick's face, concerned and mildly interested, peering down at me.
"He was making too much noise in the lounge." he offered in explanation.
Honestly, I didn't swear.
 I swung myself up into the hatch, sat on the ledge and found to my relief that Nick hadn't hung or otherwise harmed himself. His jeans pocket, snagged on the lock, was the cause of his suspension. I dragged him high enough off the lock to untangle him and pulled him up beside me. Once there he clung to me. I hugged him, alarmed about what this had done to his asthma but to my relief he was still breathing quietly. My second instinct was to turn him over my lap and impress on him that climbing around up here, alone, was dangerous, and the loft was a damned sight too cold for someone who was supposed to be ill. It was quite an effort, but I didn't do it.
 "If you ever come up here again without me," I said in his ear, too quietly for Robin to hear, "I am going to wring your neck. Understand? Are you allright? Arms? Shoulders? Wrenched anything?"
Nick shook his head. I felt his shoulders and wrists briefly and then leaned down to hold my hands out to Robin.
"Pass the ladder up here."
Robin passed it up. I re connected it, collected Anastasia and Nick and re sealed the loft as soon as they were on the floor. Then I brushed off my hands and looked from Nick to Robin. Nick looked exhausted, angry and apprehensive. Robin just looked smug, which annoyed me even further.
"Would anyone like to explain what just happened?" I invited. Neither of them seemed keen to accept. Something about Robin's face caught my eye and I turned his face to look more closely. He was starting to bruise beautifully over one temple.
"What's the matter with your face?"
From Nick's stricken look, the bruise was on his account.
"I dropped the loft ladder on him."
That was one of those Nicholas statements that makes one stand and blink for a moment.
That ladder is not light and the distance from the loft to ground is a good eight feet. If that was truly the case he and I were going to go into the matter in some depth when Robin was gone.
"It was my fault." Robin said grumpily. "I followed him upstairs and I tried to go up into the loft."
"So you unlatched the ladder?" I asked Nick in disbelief. Nick was now bright red and looking beyond coherent speech. I pointed at the stairs, waited for Robin to move and grabbed Nick's arm, drawing him back out of earshot.
"We ARE going to talk about this later." 
And when I got an excuse to get Robin out of earshot I had a few things to make clear to him too. I must have been insane to think these two could be left together under any circumstances.
I left Nick stationed in the lounge, dragged Robin into the kitchen, fed him more aspirin and was about to give him an earful before I went through to Nick and explained the same facts to him. I was interrupted by the distinct smell of gas.
There was quite enough of it to scare me, and it got noticeably stronger as I went back into the hall. I grabbed Nick from the lounge and we conducted a rapid search of the house, neither of us finding the source. By then, it was strong enough to convince me we should none of us be in the house still. I grabbed Anastasia from the kitchen, shut her in my car and chased both Nick and Robin out to take refuge at Margaret's house before I phoned the gas board. 
Things more or less deteriorated from that point onward. 
The gas board and I traced the problem to it's source. Nick, fiddling in the loft without thinking things through. The pilot light on the boiler had blown out. Once it was re lit and the house was aired, we had no more problems. I thanked the gas engineers and went to retrieve my brats. We were on our way back to the house when it became apparent that Robin had, while at Margaret's house, succeeded in pushing Nick over the brink. My sweet tempered, gentle lover, had taken a tube of superglue and discreetly filled his trouser pockets. By the time Robin and I realised this, Robin's hands were securely glued to the fabric. 
It was actually one of the worst things I'd ever known Nick to do, although as always it was done without any real malice. Allen's face when confronted with his superglued partner was not a pleasant sight. I could well understand. If someone assaulted Nick in that way I'd be looking for blood myself. He was rather short with me. Robin, as well as looking exhausted, ill and miserable, was now thoroughly stressed and frightened into the bargain. I was very far from happy with Nick by the time they left and I went upstairs to where he was cornered.
The fact he was equally stressed and miserable made me feel almost guiltier than I could handle.
I shouldn't have accepted Robin that morning, and once I had, I should never have left the two of them alone, not for a moment. Hindsight is ever perfect.
Nick was in enough of a state by then that despite his not being up to it, there was no way we could delay the discussion. We never have delayed things because of his asthma if we can help it. I've tried never to add to the impression he grew up with from his parents, that he is too fragile - too vulnerable. That's no self image to liive with: if I'm worried I try to do it without involving him. And also I was determined that it would never become a reason for evasion with me, as it has been with other people. On the other hand, if he's not having a good day and there isn't an important reason- and I can be fairly sure he won't be too stressed by it- we have waited a few times rather than stress his breathing. This time there was no question of waiting. I kept a close eye on him. He never has got into difficulties because of a spanking- the emotional release isn't a trigger for him, while emotional repression very much is. He was however emotionally and physically shattered by the time we'd talked it through, and I ended up chasing him to bed at nine that evening.
Not the way we usually see the New Year in, but a distinct improvement on 1999. 

We both went back to work on the 5th January.
It being the first day back, we all spent most of it at the office fielding problems arising over the holidays, organising bills and getting the dust off the desks. Robin was still off work. His hands, thank Heaven, were uninjured from Nick's exploits with glue, but his cold was only improving slowly. Bored and with little to do in the afternoon, I came home early to find to my surprise that the front door was unlocked. Despite my leaving it securely locked that morning. And Nick's car was nowhere in sight. I opened the door cautiously, a little unsettled. There were several possible explanations- the most likely one being that Nick had forgotten something vital, shot home for it and forgotten to lock the door again when he left. In which case we were going to have yet another long and detailed conversation about keys and their uses. There was however no evidence of Nick having come home and looked for something. For a start, the house was still fairly tidy. Anastasia however was glowering around the edge of the kitchen door instead of running to meet me. And the bath was running. I headed upstairs, relaxing. Burglars tend not to bathe in mid crime. Wondering what Nick had done to his car this time I dropped my jacket on the bed and pulled my tie off, raising my voice over the sound of bath water.
"Where did you leave it?"
Silence. There were none of his clothes lying around. Nick is incapable of getting wet without strewing clothes in at least three rooms en route. I tapped at the door, getting worried.
No answer.
I opened the door. Robin gave me a lazy smile from the bath.
To say I was surprised is putting it mildly. Wondering what on earth he and Nick were cooking up now, I glanced through the window to the drive. Still no sign of Nick's car.
"Ok, what's going on here? Did Nick let you in?"
"Not exactly."
"What exactly?"
Robin smirked at me. On the drive, I heard Nick's car pull up.
"What are you two doing?" I asked again, losing patience. "Has he lost his keys again?"
The door opened and Nick shouted upstairs, a cheerful yell.
"Hey! Did you get the afternoon off?"
Robin got out of the bath behind me, neglecting to bring a towel, and trailed after me onto the landing. Nick started to run up the stairs- and I realised Robin's intent at the same minute that Nick realised who was standing with me, naked and dripping. I saw him freeze about three steps up, and his face drained of colour. I looked at Robin, and his self satisfied smile said it all.
This time I did swear.
Nick was already retreating down the stairs, looking anywhere but at me. Had he thought it through for three seconds he would have known; but cornered, my boy does anything but think. And Robin knew it. I ran down the stairs in time to grab Nick half way out of the door and held on by dint of yanking him against me and getting both arms around him. It was like trying to hold on to an eel, he was struggling with all his strength.
"Stand still." I said over and over again, hearing my own ridiculously calm voice as we wrestled. "Nicky it's allright, its okay, just listen to me for a minute-"
"Get off me!"
"It's okay." I pulled his head into my neck and pinned it there, dragging him in far enough to get the door shut. "It's allright. I swear to you it's allright. Just stand still and listen to me. We're fine. It's okay."
I don't know how long it took, but he stopped fighting me. Mostly I think because he realised he wasn't getting anywhere. He wasn't making a sound, but he was shaking all over.
"It's allright." I said again, relaxing my grip long enough to rub his back, anything to try to calm him enough to hear me. "Robin broke in, he's staged this. Think about it. Nicky think."
Nick didn't move. I kissed his temple, his forehead, making him feel me, making him think about who was here.
"Could you really believe I'd do this to you? Would I? In our own home? Really?"
"No." Nick said very quietly.
I hugged him, talking softly and calmly into his ear, trying to get him close enough to make him understand me by osmosis if not by language.
"Yeah. You know that. It's okay. It's going to be fine. I've got to deal with Robin. Then I'm going to call Allen and we are going to straighten this out. I need you to sit down and wait for me. Can you do that? Nicky?"
No verbal response. I moved him to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair and he sat down. I pulled his chin up and kissed him, deeply and hard.  "This is staged, this is some stupid prank of Robin's, it's nothing more. You think about it. I'm going to be five minutes. Stay here darling."
No response, no eye contact.
"Promise me?" I insisted.
Nick took a minute to response but nodded. I paused in the kitchen doorway to look at him, dark eyes blank and wide, hair over his forehead, still white as a sheet. Under stress, his first instinct is very often to escape. Bearing that in mind I locked the front door as I passed it and ran upstairs.
Robin was partly dressed, and from the look on his face when he saw me, he was caught between satisfaction and growing apprehension at having achieved his objective. I grabbed him on the landing, turned him around and swatted him. Hard.
That effectively killed any hint of complacency. Robin screeched and pulled away from me, twisting his hands. Moving rapidly from aggressor to petrified brat. It was that which saved his neck and calmed me down to safe levels. This was not the spiteful or aggressive action it looked like- it was the hitting out of an angry brat who was rapidly becoming very frightened at what he'd done. And it needed handling as such, no matter my current desire to throw a punch at him that would floor him, if not break his jaw. I fixed him with a very grim look and pointed at his belongings on the floor.
"Get your clothes, you are going to wait in the lounge while I call Allen and then we are going to talk about this. And if you put one foot wrong I am going to spank you first and explain to Allen later. Do you understand me?"
"I just-"
I cut him off, snapping my fingers at the clothes. "Pick them up and get yourself downstairs right now."
Robin grabbed his shirt and fled. He hesitated in the hallway, looking through at Nick. Who, thank God, was still sitting at the table. I gripped his arm, steered him through to the nearest armchair and pushed him into it.
"Sit there and stay put."
Robin sat and I saw tears start in his eyes. At this precise moment, I didn't think that at all inappropriate. I grabbed the phone in the hallway and called Allen's cell phone.
"Hello, it's early for you-"
"I have your brat here and I'm holding on to him until you can collect him. Can you come straight over?"
"Damien?" Allen sounded startled. "What's he done?"
"He's just turned up naked in our bath for a start."
Allen didn't ask further. "I'll be ten minutes."
I put the phone down, made sure Robin was still where I'd left him, and went through to Nick.
He was hunched- everything about him was hunched. His shoulders were around his ears, he looked very small and to me he seemed to be vanishing by the minute. I sat down beside him, hooked an arm under his knees and lifted him over to my lap, holding him tight. Tight enough to convince me he wasn't disappearing anywhere. It took a minute, but he twisted inside my arms, with some difficulty, and clung to me.  I stroked his hair, less worried about him seriously believing Robin at this moment than about what the shock might do to him.
"Are you okay?" I said in his ear. "Nick?"
Nick got his head out of my shoulder. I pushed his hair out of his eyes, more worried about him than was at all sensible.
"Come upstairs baby."
Nick shook his head. I got up, lifting him with me. "Yes. You need your inhaler."
And we needed to reclaim the house, before this situation started to look to him too much like a disaster. Robin- Robin I was concerned about, nuisance and badly mannered little horror that he was- but Nick at this moment needed me badly. I manhandled Nick upstairs and watched him try one gulp at the inhaler before I got the spacer out,
"That one didn't get anywhere near you, sit down."
"I can do it like this."
It was the tone that means panic is setting in and I cut it off quickly and firmly. Debating would do nothing to calm him down.
"You can't. Sit down."
That worked. He sat and stared at the floor.
I connected up the spacer and sat down on the bed beside him, cupping his head in one hand and holding the spacer with the other, fitting the mask over his face. We sat for some time, both of us listening to the sound of him breathing.
The sound of Allen's car on the drive made Nick tense from head to foot. I laid the spacer down and put an arm around his waist.
"Come on, it's going to be fine."
"I'm not coming down." Nick said with difficulty. I kissed his hair and made him get up.
"Yes. This affects you as much as me, we both need to deal with this."
He pulled against me, sounding close to tears.
"I'm NOT going down there, not while HE's there."
And he was warming up to a full blown paddy. Or at least the best he could manage when this upset. I pulled him around before he had time to gather the energy and hugged him hard enough to bring him down a little.
"This is our house and you've done nothing wrong. Come on."
He really didn't want to.
I got him down the last few stairs by persuasion mixed with brute force, and opened the door at the foot of the stairs, hanging on to Nick with one arm. Allen's anxiety increased visibly as he came up the drive.
"Oh God, what's he done now?"
Nick didn’t look at him. I shut the front door and nodded Allen towards the living room.
Robin was white as a sheet and hanging on to the last of his defiance with both hands. He took one look at Nick and summoned up the nearest he could manage to a jeer.
"Oh come on, you don't think I was serious do you-"
"Neither of us thought for a minute you were serious." I informed him. "You don't need to worry about that."
"What's going on here?" Allen inquired. Robin looked up into his face and the last of his front melted away into the beginnings of tears.
"This is about the glue." Nick said deadly. His hand was clutching my belt behind my back, I could feel the clench of his fingers. "You wanted to fix me for getting you with the glue."
"He broke into the house-" I began.
"I didn't, I got the key-" Robin protested. And trailed off. "I know where you keep the spare one." He added lamely.
"And?" Allen said shortly. I looked at Robin, waiting. Robin gulped audibly.
"I didn't-"
"You didn't what?" Allen looked at Nick with growing concern. "ROBIN. What happened?"
"I knew when Nick was coming home-" Robin hesitated, trying to find a way to put it. "I was on the landing with Damien when he came in-"
"You said he was in your bath!" Allen said, looking blankly at me. I looked back at him and saw light dawn.
"Oh no…you have got to be kidding."
For the first time I saw it sink in to Robin just what he'd put at risk here. The look he was giving Allen was heartrendingly sincere and very frightened.
"I didn't mean it, Nick and Damien know it was just a - joke- I didn't do anything with Damien -"
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer little boy." Allen said sternly, "I know perfectly well what you mean by 'joke'."
That was it. Robin's mouth twisted and while he fought it, he dissolved into tears. I saw Allen's face soften.  Nick pulled away from me and sat down on the sofa, wheezing audibly. I ran a hand over his hair and crouched in front of him, drawing him forward into the position that eases tight breathing.
"It's okay darling, you've had the Ventolin, this won't get nasty."
"Do you need anything Damien?" Allen said quietly.
"He'll be allright."
"Then I'll get this young man out of your way. We'll be in the kitchen."
He took Robin's arm and shut the door behind them. I sat with Nick, stroking his hair and waiting until he stopped wheezing quite so badly.
"Okay?" I asked eventually. Nick glanced up at me.
"What was he doing?"
"He was in the bath when I got home."
"Because he knew he could wind you up." I went on stroking his hair slowly, smoothing it out of his eyes. Nick turned his head against my chest and shut his eyes.
He was breathing a little more calmly when Allen tapped on the door. Nick nearly went through the roof at the sight of him. I left him sitting there and went into the hall, shutting the door behind me in an effort to calm him down. Allen looked tired, angry and upset.
"Is Nick allright?" he demanded as soon as the door shut. "I can hear him wheezing from here."
"I don't think he'll have an attack. Or not a bad one."
Allen nodded and glanced back towards the kitchen, his face tense. "Robin's getting hysterical. I think the best thing I can do is take him home and try and sort us out- I know that does nothing to help you two-" he broke off and ran both hands through his hair. "What the hell do we do about this?"
"You make a lot of noise, you convince him that the world is ending, then you spank him. Get him upset enough that when you tell him it's over and he's forgiven, he believes he's paid for it and he can let it go." I glanced at the lounge door. "I'll worry about Nick."
"I'm so sorry Damien."
"Nick nearly put him in a surgeon's hands last week."
"Yes. But this is emotional and it's-"
"Hey." I dropped a hand on his shoulder. "If WE don't turn this into a drama, they won't either. This ISN'T a threat to anyone, no one's got a reason to be upset here. It was a silly, childish prank- just an attempt to scare. That's all."
"I don't know what the hell to do with him." Allen muttered. "I spank him for slamming doors- what do I do when he stages an affair?"
I smothered a laugh that was born of shock and stress more than amusement. Then went upstairs, took the small wooden paddle out of the drawer in out room and took it down to him. Allen looked askance at me.
I held it out. "Take it with you and see what you think."
"I've never touched him with anything other than my hand."
"Yes, well Nick was a bit taken aback when we bought it. But he tends to need things more clearly graded than I do."
Allen took it from me, looking rather thoughtful, and pocketed it.
"Are you sure you two will be ok?"
"We'll be fine."
And they needed things straight between them before we tried straightening things out as a full group. Unwilling to leave Nick any longer, I opened the lounge door, got his hand and made him come into the hall. He fought me the entire way, silent but struggling. In the hallway I wrapped both arms tight around him from behind. Robin was still crying, although he was obviously doing his best to be quiet, and he buried his head in Allen's neck at the sight of me. Allen gave me an apologetic look over his head and steered him out of the front door. I closed it behind them, turned Nick around and hugged him.
"How about we order a takeaway?"
Nick tipped his head up to look at me, genuinely surprised. I kissed his forehead.
"Chinese or pizza?"
"And that's it?"
"What do you think we should do?" I asked him. He shrugged, unhappily bewildered. I waited, watching his face. Eventually he shrugged again.
"Nothing I suppose."
"What do you feel like we should do?"
"Talk I suppose. Although I know, there's nothing to talk about."
"He just gave you a fright." I said calmly. "No different to a kid jumping out in a sheet, and shouting boo."
"It ought to be more than that."
"Nick, do you really think I'd be unfaithful to you? Don't say what you think I want to hear, you tell me."
I'd slowed him down enough to make him think, and his answer was honest.
"No. I don’t. But -"
"It made you think, just for a minute, you might have been wrong." I kissed him again, more gently. "He scared you. You're going to feel shaken up for a few days, even if it was just Robin, being a pillock. I could cheerfully throttle him myself, but Robin IS a pillock."
Silence. Nick wrapped both arms around my waist and leaned against me.
Robin didn't come in to work the next day. The receptionist took Allen's message, but I wasn't surprised. He did appear however on Wednesday morning, still pale, still looking shaken enough to attract the sympathy of every member of staff he ran across. He muttered in response to my good morning and headed for his office without looking at me. I carried on sorting out the files I needed for the day, intending to go and talk to him as soon as I was done. After all, we did have to work together. Two minutes later however he tapped on my door, struggling to get his eyes up to mine.
"Hi." I put the files down. Robin hesitated for a minute, then came in and shut the door. It took him a few more breaths before he blurted out,
"I am so sorry- I really didn't think what was going to happen, I just wanted to get Nick back for the glue thing. It really scared me and my hands were sore for days, and all Allen said after he talked to you was it was my fault for getting Nick angry enough to do it-"
There was more distress in his face and voice than was resistible. I put an arm around his shoulders and he leaned hard against me, very close to tears.
"I REALLY didn't know Nick would get asthma if I upset him, I never meant to do that to him- I just wanted to get at him, and I know what he's like about you. I didn't mean to do anything to you or Allen even."
"You thought I'd like you getting Nick upset?" I said mildly. Robin buried his face deeper away from me.
"I was a bit fed up with you for telling Allen about squirting the cat and winding Nick up when I stayed with you-"
"And I'm sorry." Robin got his face up to mine, very flushed but with his eyes utterly sincere. "I really am sorry, I didn’t mean things to get bad enough for Nick to be ill and you to hate me, I just-"
"I don't hate you." I interrupted. Robin hesitated, thrown off course. I gave him a hug and let him go.
"I WAS annoyed with you but I know it was just a bad idea and a temper tantrum, not any intent to do harm. It was Allen you needed to straighten things out with and I'm guessing that's done."
Robin nodded slowly, flushing again. "Yes. I won't EVER do that again, I swear."
"So we're okay. Apology accepted."
"Wh-" Robin swallowed. "What about Nick?"
I looked up at him. Robin shrugged a little with rather careful indifference.
"Allen made me ring him at work yesterday to apologise. He put the phone down as soon as he knew it was me. He talked to Allen when Allen rang, but then Allen said he wouldn't speak to me."
Ah. I sat down on the edge of my desk to think about that. Nick of course hadn't mentioned it to me. He'd been a little quiet last night, but I'd guessed he was still shaken up, and I hadn't pressed him.
"I can't MAKE him talk to you, Robin."
Robin looked at me uncertainly. "But he won't even listen to me when I try to say sorry."
And he clearly felt my role included forcing brats to accept apologies they most likely didn't believe. I shook my head, not entirely certain, but also knowing at the moment I was not about to force Nick to do something I had doubts over.
"He has the right to react. I should give him a few days then try again."
"But I want to tell him now!" Robin said unhappily.
"Yes, because you want to feel better about it." I pointed out. "I'm sorry Robin, I'm not going to bully Nick into putting his feelings aside to deal with yours."
"I listened to him when he apologised to me about the glue…." Robin said more uncertainly. I took a deep breath, wondering where this cycle of retribution was going to end.
"Yes, but as I remember at the time, you took on board a fair amount of responsibility for starting and escalating the battle that led to that."
"So he started this fight too!" Robin protested.
"But I suspect Nick feels that you didn’t play fair." I said mildly. "If you'd glued up his car or something like that, he would have been annoyed- but you got him where it really hurt."
Robin went scarlet again. "I know. It was mean, but I didn't think about it being mean-"
"To Nick it FELT very mean, what ever you meant by it." I got up off my desk and picked up my files. "Give him a week. Let this simmer down and give him some time to get over it, then talk to him again. See what he says."
"Pleeease.. can't you talk to him now?"
"No." I said simply. "Give it a week, then try again."
"It's not fair I've got to be miserable for a week because he wants to sulk!"
"That's something you need to talk over with Allen," I said a lot more crisply, "And I don't want to hear any more about it until this time next week. You've got work to do, haven't you?"
Robin muttered something and left, fairly quietly. I thought for a minute, then sat down at my desk and picked up my phone. Nick answered fairly quickly, but without any enthusiasm.
"Hi darling. Want to meet me somewhere for lunch today?"
"Yes, if you'll come and pick me up."
"Wow. What enthusiasm."
A faint sputter of amusement.
"How about if I wear the leopard skin and the flying helmet, would that help at all?"
"You are a strange, strange man." Nick said with a little more warmth. I smiled.
"I'll be there at one. Don't work too hard."
Yes, definitely one artist in need of cheering up. I put the phone down not without some thought. I'd give it a week. If things were still frozen between Nick and Robin then, I might consider talking this through with Allen. In the mean time, if Nick was expecting somewhere exotic for lunch, he was going to be disappointed. I intended picking him up sharp at one and taking him straight home. He was going to be lucky if he had energy left to return to work with, and eating was going to be the last thing on his mind. 
~The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010


Key said...

Wow that bath stunt was definately a low blow, poor Nick!..Batman so needs to sort Robin out..I think Nick should sneak into Robins house and superglue all his pants to the outside of his trousers lol

Anonymous said...

i LOVE your NICK AND DAMIEN series of all your writings.

i don't know exactly why because i usually love brats but i do not like robin at all.

am just wondering if i'm
the only one who thinks so? :-)

Unknown said...

I love Nick and Damien and like a lot of readers absolutely despise Robin. I tend to re read the stories that don't have Robin in them ;)

Emy said...

Nope you're definitely not the only one. Who actually likes Robin? I'm pretty sure I haven't come across a reader who does ;)

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