Thursday, February 11, 2010

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

Title: On the Seventh Day of Christmas
Author: Ranger

It was entirely Damien's fault.
He spent the whole of Boxing day being unreasonable, irascible and completely over dramatic. I blame it on the red wine his mother kept plying us with on Christmas day. He knows he shouldn't drink it; it never has done him any good. As far as he, Mr Perfection On A Stick, was concerned, the entire reason for our continual disagreements was that I had a chest infection, based on apparent x ray vision and ESP. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. It's Damien Blasted Mitchell with a bee in his extra sensory bonnet.
We bickered, quietly and persistently all through the day, maintaining the necessary displays of domestic harmony for the benefit of his parents who took very little notice. It ended at eight pm when Damien sweetly requested my presence in the kitchen under the pretence of making yet more tea, and entirely the wrong person got sent to bed. There was nothing wrong with MY temper.
There was still nothing wrong with it at four pm the following day when I was discharged from the local hospital, with antibiotics for a severe chest infection.
"We're better going home." Damien kept saying to his mother while I wheezed and he packed. "He WON'T have any more attacks like that- not on antibiotics- but he'll be calmer at home and our GP knows him if we do have an emergency."
His mother, who had not regained her own colour properly since I turned blue in the early hours of the morning, gave me a faint smile and repeated her perfectly sincere promise that we were not visitors in their home, and we didn't need to go anywhere. I gave her a hug for that, since Damien refused to let me help with the packing. We had intended to stay for the week. Northumberland is far enough away that he sees very little of his family and he'd been looking forward to this for months. Trust me to come up with a way to ruin it. Incidentally I'd argued long and hard while we waited for me to be discharged from the hospital, but Damien can be like a tank once he gets an idea in his head. We were Going Home and that was the end of it.
"It's okay," Damien said again, to her and to me, putting the suitcases down in the hall. "These things happen- especially at this time of year. We're just better off not taking any risks."
His father, who appears to have realised years ago the futility of ever arguing with Damien, shut the dogs in the kitchen, brought Damien's car around and fended the rest of the family off us while we made our escape.
So we drove the six hours home through the pouring rain, to a cold house and our sulking cat. By which time we were both cold, tired and thoroughly ratty with each other. Damien had withstood all my arguments to stop and eat on the way home. He stopped for a quarter of an hour in Nottingham and I was escorted into the service station more or less under armed guard, where I was permitted to use the bathroom in a time limit of about three seconds before I was sent back to the car. He then purchased the most boring sandwiches he could find and made me eat them. By that time I was sick to death of being reminded that cold air/additives/smoky service stations are likely triggers for an asthma attack, and was about ready to make him eat the plastic sandwich packaging. We were barely on speaking terms by the time we got home. The minute we were inside the door Damien dumped the cases in the hall, snapped the landing light on and took no notice whatsoever of my attempts to negotiate with Anastasia.
"Upstairs and get into bed. Right now."
"I was going to make tea." I pointed out with the kind of frigid dignity that ought to demand respect. Damien intercepted me before I reached the kitchen, choosing a tone of his own that I knew.
"You're going to bed. I'll be two minutes, go on."
He probably meant the two minutes literally. I went, growling. The house was unpleasantly cold, nothing felt lived in or slept in and after the noise and bustle of his parents' house, it felt abandoned. Damien came upstairs a few minutes later. I heard him sigh and the mattress dipped as he sat down on the bed beside me, pulling me against the damp leather of his jacket.
"Come on baby. If you cry you're only going to make yourself wheeze again. You're okay, you'll feel a lot better in the morning."
"I didn't MEAN to drag you all the way back here again-"
"Of course you didn't." Damien said calmly, rocking me. "Don't be daft."
I leaned hard against him, hating the whinge in my tone and not able to stop it.
"It isn't FAIR. Asthma wrecks everything, no matter what I do or how hard I try- I wreck every Christmas-"
He knew what I meant. Two years ago it had been a chest infection that put me in hospital on New Year's Eve with one of the worst attacks of my life. Which, rationally, was why he'd over reacted so hugely this time. I understood it and I hated it. Damien's fingers combed through my hair and I could feel his lips move against my temple.
"You don't and you can't help it. This is a bad time of year for you, the weather doesn't help and you're run down from work. And no, it isn't fair. But it doesn't matter."
"It DOES." I said incoherently into his chest. Damien pulled me closer in a rough hug and kissed me.
"It doesn't.  I just get you to myself for a few days, we've still got a holiday. Come here, lets get you out of these clothes."
I snuffled into his neck, partially mollified but still bitter. A holiday I was going to spend- as per bloody usual- struggling to breathe. 
He kept me in bed for three days. Or rather we stayed in bed together as there was little point in him getting dressed to stay with me. Time descended into the usual unreal blur of bad asthma patches, where days and nights stopped having boundaries as we watched tv, played cards, read and Damien made occasional forays to the kitchen for food. The days between Boxing Day and New Year are so vague anyway that I didn't resent missing them much. On the morning of New year's Eve, we played black jack from about four am to six, and I woke again around seven, the cards still scattered around me. Damien was dressed and the tray he was putting on the dressing table looked hopeful, as though he was expecting us to eat downstairs instead of in bed. He sat down to kiss me, collecting the cards one handed.
"I've run a bath for you. Put something warm on and come downstairs."
I dressed slowly when I got out of the bath, aware that I was breathing fairly easily after several days of rattling like an old car. My chest was even quiet enough to hear the phone and Damien's voice as I headed downstairs.
"- nasty, but he started to pick up yesterday. 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. He's getting up this morning- just tired and fed up now. With luck he'll sleep right through tonight."
And He really appreciated being discussed as if he was about four. I sat down at the table in the kitchen and glowered at him. Damien gave me a brief smile in return, the phone tucked between his shoulder and neck as he buttered toast. He was wearing clothes which shouted Being On Holiday to the initiated. A heavy knit jumper and cords. Neither his sort-out-the-house-and-garden clothes, nor his work clothes. This was one of his sitting around and enjoying time off outfits and it was comforting. Whatever he did today, he was planning to do it with me.  A gentle day of nothing with Damien sounded an attractive idea. Damien passed me a plate of toast, sat down and steadied the phone.
"Of course not- that's fine. No, Nick could do with the company."
WHAT? I glared at him, suspiciously.  Damien didn't look round.
"We'll be here. No, as long as it takes, it's not a problem. Ok. See you then."
"Who?" I demanded, the second he turned the phone off. Damien sucked marmalade off his fingers.
"Allan. He has a meeting this lunchtime, and-"
"No!" I said sharply. Damien took no notice.
"Robin's got a cold. From the sounds of things, he's uncomfortable and miserable and Allan doesn't want to leave him alone. He'll drop Robin here about ten and pick him up around 3- which won't kill us." He added more firmly. "You were complaining yesterday about being bored."
"Not THAT bored." I said under my breath. "Damien- do we have to? I thought we were going to have this holiday to ourselves?"
"We've had four days to ourselves and he'll be gone by 3. We'll live."
"I can't stand him even when he's well."
"We'll live."
Heartlessly cheerful, Damien took no notice of any argument I came up with. No I didn't need to go back to bed. No, the antibiotics were working well, I didn't need to worry about catching Robin's cold. No, emigration was not an option until the weather improved, as most planes were still grounded. He lit the fire in the living room, brought down my entire kit of medications and watched me take them. Then insisted, despite the fact that I was no longer rattling, on the physiotherapy routine that goes with chest infections like this. I was still lying twisted at the bizarre angles required over cushions, moodily tolerating him thumping his way over my lungs, when the doorbell rang. Damien paused and gave me a warning look before I could move.
"Stay put."
"If that's-"
"You're not exactly in a compromising position and if you move, we may as well start again for all the good it'll do. Stay put."
I flopped back down over the cushions with a sigh meant to follow him out into the hall and inspire him with guilt. He's a damned sight too resilient; it didn't have any noticeable effect at all. I heard Allan's voice, followed by Robin protesting about something, then coughing. What ever he was objecting to didn't seem to cut much ice with Allan. Then the front door shut and Robin trailed into the living room behind Damien, bringing a waft of freezing air with him. His eyebrows rose at the sight of me.
"I won't ask what it is you're doing."
"Keeping his lungs clear." Damien shut the door and knelt beside me again, returning to the steady, heavy rhythm of his cupped palms over my chest. While it's not exactly uncomfortable, it still takes effort to cope with it and to continue breathing at the same time. I twisted my head to glare at Robin as he sat down on the sofa, instantly curling his legs up under him. His nose was red, his eyes were puffy, he sounded as though he had a head full of concrete and he looked as fed up as I felt.
"It looks like you misread a page of the karma sutra."
I looked disgust at him. Damien snorted and patted my chest. "Turn over. Nearly finished."
I rolled over, buried my face in my arms and surveyed the fire instead of Robin while Damien completed the last section of the routine. Once he was done, I sat up and did the coughing exercises we were supposed to finish with and Damien got to his feet without criticising, which suggested he was about to leave me in peace.
"I'll set your nebuliser up down here. Why don't you find a video to watch?"
I shrugged. Damien looked at Robin who shrugged. Damien pulled me to my feet and took a video off the shelf, handing it to me.
"Put that on."
Notting Hill. Watchable and inoffensive. I pushed it into the video recorder and curled up in the armchair as far away from Robin as I could get. Robin folded his arms, huddled up in his corner of the sofa, and we scowled at each other. Damien brought the nebuliser downstairs, clicked on and already steaming. I pulled the mask over my face which excused me from talking, hugged my knees and watched the film. Damien sat with me for a few minutes, then tousled my hair and got up.
"I'll be straightening the kitchen out if you want me, I won't be long."
I gave him a look which should have wrung his heart strings and made him stay with me. He only smiled and pulled the door to as he left to keep in the heat of the fire.
"I knew you were kinked," Robin commented without looking at me. "I didn't realise quite HOW kinked."
I turned my back on him and took no notice. Robin sounded still nastier behind me with his voice clogged with cold.
"Or that you two performed for audiences. You really do have 'sub' written across your soul, don't you?"
Button pusher. Not only was he going to inflict himself on me all day, he intended to be at his most vile into the bargain. Without looking, I raised two fingers at him and declined to comment.
"NAUGHTY boy." Robin said without much amusement. I huddled deeper into the chair, breathed my green fog and concentrated on the tv screen. The sofa creaked as Robin got up and started to wander, peering at the photos on the shelves, the books in the bookcase. He knew this room fairly well. He and Allan came here regularly. Except he was usually a lot nicer when Allan was with him. Robin flicked at a few of the plants with a finger, then picked up the plant spray from the top of the shelf.
"Hey. Are you the one with green fingers?"
I ducked as he sprayed water at me, covering my head. Robin laughed and sprayed it at the window.
"Wow, look at the range?"
He made a few rifle noises, then twisted the spray cap, changing the spray from a mist to a directed jet.
"YES. Perfect accuracy every time…"
I glanced around in time to see him take aim and release a powerful jet of water directly at Anastasia who was washing herself by the french windows. Anastasia leapt a foot in the air with a screech of shock, and fled.
Beyond outrage and hampered by the mask, there was nothing I could say. I grabbed up the vase of carnations on the mantelpiece instead and emptied the entire contents into his face.
It was actually quite a large vase.
Robin's yell outdid Anastasia's. I put the vase down and looked at him, drenched from neck to waist in freezing water, carnations dropping from his head and shoulders. His look of pure horror was quite satisfying.
"You SOD-"
"WHAT's going on in here?" Damien demanded, appearing in the doorway. Robin levelled a dripping finger at me.
"He threw water at me!"
"He squirted Anastasia!" I said hotly, pulling the mask off. Damien looked from the dropping carnations to the spray gun dropped at Robin's feet, and gave Robin a nod towards the stairs.
"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-" I began indignantly. Damien Looked at me.
I sat down and pulled the mask back on. Robin ran upstairs, still dripping, and Damien followed him. The nebuliser had finished ten minutes later when they reappeared, Robin damp haired, subdued and dressed in some of Damien's clothes. Damien surveyed me and held out a hand.
"Right. 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."
Robin dropped down onto the sofa and gave me a self righteous 'so there' look. Damien grasped my hand, drew me out into the hallway and shut the door on him.
"That ISN'T fair!" I exploded as soon as the door shut. "He drenched Anastasia-"
"And you retaliated. Throwing water at someone with a severe cold is not terribly sensible, never mind not particularly kind." Damien pointed out. "He doesn't feel well, he's GOING to be short tempered-"
"I don't care if he gets pneumonia!" I hissed back, furious. "What do you want me to do when he starts attacking my cat?"
"I want you to go upstairs to our room and stay there, out of his way, until lunchtime." Damien said serenely. "Now please."
"I'll stay there until bloody kingdom come if he's in the house!" I spat back. Damien's hand closed over my wrist and drew me back.
"I beg your pardon?"
There was nothing but gentle inquiry in his face and his voice, but I knew the tone. And shut up. Fast.
"Sorry." I mumbled. Damien let me go.
"Upstairs. Turn the radiator up in there and put the tv on."
Which meant he wasn't particularly annoyed with me, but I still declined to reply and went upstairs, shutting the door a little more firmly than was necessary. I waited for a second after the bang, stomach fluttering a little in expectation of Damien following me- he's usually death on slammed doors. But he must have been out of earshot, as he didn't come up. I wasn't sure whether I was relieved or disappointed.
Anastasia looked at me from the middle of the bedspread and then went on washing herself, cleaning the large damp patch on her side.
It reminded me perfectly of how much I loathed Robin. From the lounge- directly below our room- I could hear the continuation of Notting Hill on video. The very sound of Robin in the house made me boil. Damien would throttle me if I went downstairs. I briefly considered opening the door and shouting to him to turn the sound down, but doubted Damien would approve of that either, and I'd probably gone about as far as was safe. I sat on the end of the bed, feeling under siege. There was the spare room on the other side of the hall- that was further away. There was the bathroom. I could go and soak in the bath, that was out of earshot- except Damien had told me not to wander from the room and he generally means things like that.
The sound of the video was driving me mad. There was only one other exit from this room, which would get me further away from Robin and his wretched noise, and which would not be LEAVING the room. I got up on the bed beside Anastasia, unlatched the trapdoor to the loft and pulled the ladder down. Then I found a book, tucked Anastasia under one arm, and feeling vindicated and beautifully in the right, climbed up the ladder.
It was cool up there, the central heating being held within the lower floors of the house by Damien insisting on careful insulation when we moved in three years ago. He had put down the flooring in here to make it safe to walk around, as I had in our first rented house, put my foot through the ceiling by injudicious walking between the beams. Boxes of his stuff and mine were neatly filed in corners. I put Anastasia down and she promptly went to explore them. There were two sleeping bags piled by the boiler which gave off the most heat. I sat on one, wrapped the other over my shoulders, leaned against the well wrapped boiler and settled down to read. There was nothing whatever to hear up here save for the steady click and hum of the boiler. I looked around when I got tired of my book. Some of my college stuff was up here. Boxes of notes I'd never need but didn't want to get rid of. A trunk of Damien's that held bits of his school stuff. That was stacked perilously close to the boiler, leaning against it, with a couple of bits balanced on the boiler itself. I cleared a space, moving the trunk back and stacking the few books and the tin helmet out of the way. The helmet baffled me slightly, but Damien had various bits belonging to his grandfather up here as he and I had done most of the house clearance for his parents when he died. I pulled the rusting thing over my head and the leather strap under my chin, lay down full length and went back to reading.
The way the bedroom door opened told me it was not Damien below. Damien never goes anywhere in a furtive manner, it isn't in his nature. I pulled the helmet off, folded my book and cautiously peered down. Anastasia got off my lap and waited, bolt eyed, braced to hide if necessary. Robin. Who's ever infuriating grin spread across his face as he saw the ladder.
"Rapunzel Rapunzel, let down your hair…." He invited, peering up at me.
"Push off." I said shortly. "Damien told you to stay downstairs."
"I don't think he told you to get in the loft." Robin countered. "He's found a fence panel blown down, he's in the garden repairing it, and I'm BORED-"
"I'm not." I informed him. "So clear off."
"What are you doing?" Robin took a step up on the bed and reached for the ladder. Anastasia headed for cover at the sight of him. Infuriated, I did the only thing I could think of to prevent invasion and unlatched the ladder. It fell out of the loft like- well. A suddenly unlatched steel ladder. Robin, who had both hands on it when it fell, went over backwards and the ladder bounced with alarming vigour off the end of the bed. It landed half on the floor and half on Robin. Petrified at the strength of the fall, I grabbed for the descent rail, intending to jump to the floor and get the ladder off him. I needn't have worried. Robin pushed the ladder off and got up, shaking his head to clear it. He didn't sound amused.
"IF YOU WERE LESS OF A BASTARD I WOULDN'T HAVE TO BE DANGEROUS!" I retorted, struggling. Robin paused and looked at me.
"Are you stuck?"
"NO!" I snapped, kicking. Robin got up on the bed and peered up at me.
"Your jeans are caught on the hinge. You ARE stuck."
I thrashed around, hanging by my hands from the rail through the hatchway, to which I was now securely anchored. I couldn't get back up enough to get into the loft, and I couldn't get far enough through the hatch to let go and drop. Robin's look of satisfaction was such that I would have broken his nose had I been able to get down to him. He opened the window and leaned out, carolling sweetly across the garden.
"Oh Damien….."
That was it. If I ever got free, I was going to kill him. Decision taken, I hung there and flushed deeply and miserably with total humiliation. Damien appeared in about thirty seconds, on the run and looking far from happy. He took one look at me, yanked the ladder out of harm's way and climbed up on the bed to check Robin's diagnosis.
"He was making too much noise in the lounge!" I objected without much hope. Damien didn't answer. Just jumped and caught the lip of the loft hatch with his hands, pulled himself up and somehow managed to climb around me until he was in the loft itself. Then he hooked one arm around my waist, used the other to hoist my torn jeans pocket off the hinge, and pulled me up beside him. I rubbed my arms, turned around and gave him a hug. We were both shaking.
"If you ever come up here again without me," Damien said in my ear, "I am going to wring your neck. Understand?"
It was a fair comment. I nodded against his chest. Damien peeled me away to look at me.
"Are you allright? Arms? Shoulders? Wrenched anything?"
I shook my head. Damien leaned through the hatch and held out his hands to Robin.
"Pass the ladder up here."
He re attached it, collected my book and Anastasia who was not impressed, and climbed down ahead of me. I stood back with Robin and watched him shut up the loft once we were both down, not too sure of what my reception might be. Damien got down off the bed, brushed off his hands and looked from Robin to me.
"Would anyone like to explain what just happened?"
Robin and I both looked at the floor. Damien frowned at Robin.
"What's the matter with your face?"
I glanced up. A large, purpling bruise was extending across Robin's temple. I flushed, upset at the clear evidence I HAD been a little over enthusiastic with the ladder.
"I dropped the loft ladder on him."
Damien looked at me.
"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?" Damien inquired of me. I nodded, feeling my entire face radiating heat now. Damien pointed at the stairs. Robin and I moved silently ahead of him. Damien pulled me back a step on the landing, his voice lowered for my ears only.
"We ARE going to talk about this later."
I had no doubt of it.
Damien poked the fire back into action in the living room, and got up to look at the pair of us, both of whom were hovering sheepishly, well aware he wasn't pleased.
"I'm strongly tempted to send both of you to bed until Allan gets here. And I WILL if I have any more trouble. Is that clear?"
Robin and I both muttered something along the lines of affirmation, me with not a little gratitude that he wasn't going to make more of a fuss. As soon as Robin was out of sight, my goose was cooked. However so long as he was here, Damien would do nothing to embarrass me, or to give Robin any satisfaction whatsoever. To that extent he was on my side an I knew it.
Damien graciously accepted our word, and directed me to the rocking chair at one end of the room, and Robin to the sofa at the other. He himself took a book off the shelf and sat between us, settling down to read. He pointedly neglected to provide either of us with any form of occupation. Without anything better to do, I leaned back in the chair and watched the garden, aware of Robin fidgeting.
We survived in this way for half an hour in silence as Damien made it clear he was in no way interested in conversation. At that point he got up and announced he was going to make some drinks and Robin could come with him as he had no wish for us to kill each other while he was gone. Robin trailed after him without enthusiasm.
They were gone less than a minute when I heard Damien's voice in the hall, sharp and urgent.
"What?" I got the door open and found Damien in the hall, looking worried.
"I can smell gas in the kitchen- it's pretty strong-"
I followed him and sniffed, hard. He was right. He left me checking the gas appliances downstairs and ran upstairs. He was down again quickly, followed by cold air as he'd opened every window in the house.
"It's worse up there. I don't know where it's coming from but we're not taking any chances. Get your coats."
I grabbed coats and shoes from the hall. Damien had stopped only to collect his keys and his mobile phone, and Robin who looked thoroughly scared. We congregated on the driveway and Damien left the front door wide, already dialling his phone.
"Nick, go across to Margaret, tell her what's happening and ask if you two can wait with her, you'll freeze out here. This could take hours."
"I'll phone Allan." Robin offered, looking panic stricken. I paused, looking at Damien and the house.
"You're standing too close- Damien, what about Anastasia!"
"I just shut her in my car and she'll be safer in there." Damien said bluntly. "Leave her and go to Margaret's, you shouldn't be standing around out here in the cold."
"What about-"
"Nick move. If this goes on more than an hour or two I'll take you over to a hotel and we'll book a room for the night, but it should be fine. Go on."
He hooked an arm around my neck and kissed me when I hesitated.
"Go on, its okay."
I grabbed Robin's arm and moved. 
Margaret was her usual sweet self, sent us straight into the kitchen and went over the road to offer Damien support and coffee. Robin pulled his phone out of his pocket, went into the hall and called Allan- part of which I heard. He made it sound as though Damien and I had been torturing him since the moment he arrived. He wandered back in, looking fed up.
"He's on his way. He'll be about half an hour."
I shrugged. Margaret's son was fond of modelling- I'd seen some of his pieces before. A top sailed ship lay in bits on the table, it's delicate wooden pieces being assembled section by section. Robin stirred the pieces with a fingertip.
"What's this?"
"Margaret's son makes them. Leave it alone."
"I'm not doing anything to it." Robin snapped back.
"You're fiddling, leave it alone."
"Can I touch this bit?" Robin said, pulling a face at me and hovering a fingertip over the model. "This bit?"
I turned my back on him. Margaret appeared with an arm full of clothes.
"Robin? Damien said these were yours and they're dry."
"What's happening?" I demanded. Margaret gave me a reassuring smile.
"The gas board are there, they're going through the house now.
"It's cool." Robin said cheerfully, picking his dry clothes up. "By the time he gets this sorted he'll have forgotten all about this morning."
I looked at him in disbelief. "You really think so?"
"It's Christmas. AND I'm ill."
Margaret carried another tray of tea outside, presumably serving the gas board. Robin pulled his sweater over his head and paused again over the model.
"Wow, look at the sails on this."
"Leave it ALONE."
"You could do A levels in being crotchety, I'm not DOING anything."
"Give UP."
"You're nearly as retentive as Damien is." Robin followed me, his voice taking on the jeer I hated. "You don't think you can distract him from the vase of flowers you slung? Or the hanging from the loft thing? Still in trouble are we?"
"You wait until he tells Allan."
"He won't." Robin said confidently, "He never does. Besides, I didn't DO anything-"
"You squirted my cat." I informed him. "Apart from being a complete pain in the neck."
"So sue me." Robin twisted the little half built ship around and flicked up the miniature cannons. "Aim….. fiiiire…."
Beyond annoyed now, I snatched something off the table and discreetly grabbed his dry trousers from where they hung over the chair. Robin stopped machine gunning with 16th century cannons and glanced out the window.
"Is Old Mother Hubbard out of sight?"
I leaned both hands on the sink and checked out of the window, hiding a smirk.
"I think so."
He exchanged Damien's too long jeans for his own trousers, buttoned them up and pulled his sweater down. I leaned against the sink and watched him, hoping.
"Think your house'll blow up?" he asked buoyantly, leaning past me to have a look.  "Wow, look at all the service men."
"Drop dead."
Robin grinned at me. "Want to go out and have a look?"
Damien opened the kitchen door. Robin promptly moved away from the window and dug his hands deep in his pockets, looking innocent. I stifled a yelp of glee and gave Damien a smile of warm and entirely blameless welcome.
"Is it okay?"
"It's fine, they're leaving." Damien said cheerfully. "Nothing wrong."
"What caused the gas?"
Damien held out my coat, shrugging me into it.
"I remembered you'd been up in the loft. The pilot light had blown out on the boiler- remember last year I stacked the trunk and stuff on the north side to block the draughts?"
"Oh God, I'm sorry-" I said through the hand over my mouth. Damien tousled my hair.
"It's not a hanging offence, nothing's damaged. We got the upstairs aired and the boiler re lit. It'll take a while to get the house warm again, but it's not the end of the-" Damien paused and looked at Robin.
Robin looked nothing short of petrified.
"I can't get my hands out of my pockets!"
I looked on, bemused, while Damien went to Robin and tried to pull his hands up. They refused to move and Robin yelped and twisted away.
"What's the matter?" Damien ran a hand down Robin's wrist and blinked.
"What have you got in there? Chewing gum?"
"NO!" Robin wailed. "They were damp, I just thought they were still-"
Damien put a hand through his arm and drew him back across the road. He paused en route to thank Margaret with charm and courtesy, led Robin into the house and left me to shut the door, steering Robin into the kitchen.
"What happened?"
"I don't know!" Robin sounded near tears. "If I pull it hurts and-"
"So stand still and don't pull." Damien ran a hand down into his pocket and felt again at his trapped hands. "The material's set hard, what did you have your hands in?"
"You would keep messing around with that model." I said solicitously. "I do hope you didn't get glue on your hands."
Damien looked at me. Then he Looked at me. Then he held out his hand.
I looked back at him.
Damien clicked his fingers.
"Come on. What was it?"
"I don't know what-" I began with mild indignation.
I jumped and looked at him reproachfully. "I haven't got it."
"What was it?"
Uh. I swallowed. "There was a tube on the table and I only put a little bit in on the lining.."
"Just a little adhesive-"
"NICHOLAS MARTIN HAYES….." Damien began, very gently.
"Superglue." I admitted.
Robin looked at me in blank horror.
Damien raised his eyes to the ceiling. Then took a pair of scissors out of the drawer and started to cut the pockets out of Robin's trousers. 
I was getting very tired of the corner on the landing when Allan arrived. By then Robin was in his boxers downstairs, reduced to two patches of linen pocket lining stuck to the back of his hands. From the sounds of things he had his hands in water while Damien talked to someone on the end of the phone about chemical properties. I heard Robin wail at the sight of Allan and Allan's alarmed demand to know what the problem was. And then a shocked silence.
They were all over reacting in a completely unnecessary way.
There was a few minutes of conversation below, then the front door shut and there was quiet below. Then Damien's voice said calmly from the bottom of the stairs,
"Nicholas, would you come down here please?"
Was the first answer that came to mind.
Then I turned slowly and made my way downstairs. I made sure I coughed a few times on the way, although admittedly not very convincingly. Damien was waiting for me in the kitchen, arms folded, leaning against the draining board, looking long, solid and disconcertingly perceptive. He gave me a patient nod towards the table.
"Sit down. Would you mind explaining to me exactly why you decided to glue Robin's hands to his pockets?"
"He wouldn't stop fiddling!" I muttered. Damien looked at me.
"So you put superglue on his hands?"
"On his trousers."
"How? Do please tell me you two didn't stage a fight in Margaret's kitchen?"
"She brought his dry clothes over." I stared at the floor, wondering why something that had sounded so rational ten minutes ago, sounded so incriminating now. "I took them off the table and-"
"Filled his pockets with glue." Damien finished. I winced. Damien shook his head, went across to the drinks cabinet and found the brandy decanter.
"I have just had to tell Allan that in the course of two hours in my care, his partner has been soaked to the skin in cold water, bruised by a heavy ladder dropped on him from above, been chased outside because of a gas leak and had his hands glued to his trousers. He left Robin with us because he was worried whether he was fit enough to be left alone!"
Put like that it did sound a little…
Excessive. Possibly.
"Allan'll know that isn't YOUR fault-" I pointed out, trying to find some optimism in the situation.  Damien fixed me with a hard stare over the edge of his glass.
"Allan is going to need his brains testing before he relies on me to take any competent care of anything ever again. You do realise they may have to remove that material surgically from his hands? Not to mention what they do if his fingers are glued together."
My heart jumped unpleasantly. Damien sighed.
"Yes. I know you wouldn't dream of causing that intentionally, you just didn't think it through. Which is a familiar enough refrain in itself. But you CAN'T go around assaulting people, whatever the reason! You must have thought at some point that what you were doing was dangerous!"
I shook my head, approaching tears. "I just saw the glue- and he was being SO annoying I just-"
"Reacted." Damien said dryly. "Like you JUST released the loft ladder which fell on him. And JUST threw the vase at him."
"I only threw the water!" I said indignantly. Damien shook his head.
"I suppose I ought to be grateful for that. Nicholas, you can NOT give way to every impulse that crosses your mind!"
"He's so annoying!"
"I know he is, but I STILL expect more of you than to retaliate at his level. As for the glue-"
"He deserved it." I muttered. Damien gave me a grim look.
"That has to be one of the most-" he paused, shaking his head. "Purely- naughty- things I've ever known you to do. You knew exactly what you were doing when you picked that glue up."
"I didn't mean to hurt him!" I pleaded.
"You most certainly meant to glue his hands to his pockets." Damien retorted. I shut my mouth, more than slightly shamefaced. Damien put his glass down and straightened.
"You WILL apologise to Robin and to Allan tomorrow."
I suppose I didn't try particularly hard to keep the mutiny out of my face in response to that particular order.
"I'm sorry."
"Not noticeably." Damien said wryly. "Upstairs please."
Oh God. I swallowed and tried to find some redeeming feature of glue.
"I - he wouldn't leave the model alone-"
Damien waited. I went slowly upstairs ahead of him.
"He is SO annoying!" I appealed to him in our room. "And it was only glue-"
I trailed off as he took the paddle out of the drawer.
Damien sat down on the end of the bed and surveyed me.
"Nicholas, are you seriously telling me there are justified grounds for putting superglue on people?"
"No…" I said unwillingly.
 "On skin for heaven's sake! WHAT if he has to have his fingers cut apart? What if he ends with his hands scarred or with skin grafts because you lost your temper with him? The loft ladder was dangerous enough- you might easily have seriously hurt him with that- but at least I can see how that was a spur of the moment action!"
"So was the glue!"
Damien pulled me to him and unbuttoned my jeans. "You are NOT going to behave like that, for any reason, under any circumstances. It is dangerous. You are going to start thinking before you act if it kills me. And you're also going to keep in mind that if someone is left with us to look after, you have a certain responsibility towards them!"
"He's infuriating!" I pleaded.
"That is not an excuse! IS it?" Damien looked at me, turning my chin up.
He wasn't angry. He never is angry. But he seriously didn't find this funny. I shook my head, becoming more unhappy myself by the second.
Damien drew me over his lap and his left hand gripped my hip, anchoring me firmly. I flinched as he drew my shorts down, starting to reach panic stations.
"I really didn't MEAN to hurt him-"
"You CAN think before you act, you do it far more than you used to." Damien interrupted, clearly neither listening nor interested. Which was not encouraging. "But you are going to think every time before you do something dangerous that really does have serious repercussions. You do NOT release heavy objects on to people, you do not drop or throw ANYTHING in temper, and you NEVER put any dangerous substance on anyone for any reason, do you understand me?"
What possible other reply was there? I clutched at his leg, well aware he was not saying the most obvious thing. That I had behaved far worse than Robin and he was clearly ashamed of me.
"Yes… "
Damien said nothing further. A second later, the paddle landed and I exchanged any thought of rational speech for disbelief that I never remembered between times how hard Damien paddled. Or how much this always brought home to me with stunning effect that he really- REALLY - was not happy with me, and I had done something that he took very seriously. All breath rushed out of my chest and I jumped hard at every crack, clutching him and twisting my face up tighter and tighter with the effort to contain the natural reactions. My eyes started to sting hotly at the second sharp swat and within three more, tears were forming and my lungs were starting to spasm with sobs. Within two minutes I was totally convinced that glue was something I never intended touching again, and that I had succeeded in upsetting Damien to a degree I had never meant and was not at all sure I could cope with. All of which I tried to express to him within the inarticulate apologies now flowing freely from me and getting more sincere by the second.
It was a while before I realised he'd stopped and that he was rubbing my back; deep and soothing circles that were kind if really not that helpful. I slid down to my knees, utterly disconsolate, and tried to stop crying quite so hard for the sake of dignity if nothing else. Damien's arm wrapped around my shoulders and pulled my head into his lap.
"I'm sorry." I said incoherently, "I'm sorry, I didn't-"
Damien kissed my forehead and didn't comment.  A few minutes later when I was slightly calmer he gave me a hug and lifted me to my feet.
"Wash your face and come downstairs."
I shook my head, hard. Damien gave me a gentle push towards the bathroom.
"Go on."
I covered my face with enough cold water to unclog my eyes and stumbled downstairs. Damien had turned the Christmas tree lights on in the lounge and drawn the curtains. The room was warm and welcoming, the tv was on and he was sitting on the sofa. He held a hand out when he saw me. I tried sitting on the other end of the sofa but he grabbed my wrist the second I was in reach and pulled until I fell on top of him. His arms were tight and warm. I curled up since he wasn't giving me the option of doing much else, and helplessly began to cry again.
"You are going to apologise to Allan and to Robin." Damien said in my ear.
By that point I would have agreed to anything whatsoever that he asked of me.
Damien didn't comment. Just held me and stroked my hair, steadily and rhythmically, his attention apparently on the tv. 
The phone rang around seven pm. Damien kept hold of my hand and towed me with him out to the hall, still sniffling.
"Hello? How is he? Thank God. That's great."
I looked at him. Damien handed me the phone. It was Allan, sounding fairly cheerful.
"Is Robin allright? I'm so sorry-"
"They dissolved the glue, he's a little sore but he's fine."
"I really am sorry, I didn't mean to hurt him-" I glanced at the clock above his head and realised with a sick shock they'd been in the hospital nearly six hours. "I'm so sorry, I've wrecked your New Year-"
"He's allright Nick, he'll be fine." Allan said reassuringly. I handed the phone back to Damien and slipped his grasp. Damien captured me before I could run upstairs and pulled me into his chest.
"Thanks Allan, I'll call you in the morning."
He leaned past me to put the phone down, then gave me a hug that made me cough.
"Are you going to cry all evening?"
I shook my head, embarrassed. Damien nudged my head up and kissed me.
"Allan says he's going to use you as the ultimate threat to Robin- if he does anything awful, he gets to spend an hour with you."
"Shut UP…."
Damien laughed, refusing to let me slip away. "You've had just about enough for today, haven't you? Why don't we have an early night, hmm?"
"It's New Year." I said unsteadily.
"So what?" Damien kissed my forehead and pushed me gently ahead of him upstairs. "We don't need to be awake, it'll happen without us." 
He went down to lock up during the news, and came back up with two tumblers, one of which he passed to me. I tasted it and choked.
"I'm supposed to have a bad chest you know-"
"You've hardly coughed all day. If nothing else, Robin distracts you beautifully." Damien tousled my hair. "Besides which this stuff is supposed to be medicinal."
"Oh yes?" I shifted over to let him lay down against me and cuddled up. Damien lounged back against the pillows and flicked the channel over to something more entertaining before he picked up his tumbler.
"Happy New Year darling."
"Without any more glue, I promise."
"We've talked that into to a natural death, now let it go." Damien said firmly. I coughed and blinked hard as my eyes filled with tears.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to do stupid things, I really don't-"
"OR to be wheezing and turning blue all the time,"
"Come here." Damien took the glass out of my hand and pulled me closer, wrapping me up too tight to move.
"I don't," I said unsteadily into his chest, "I didn't want to drag you down here when you wanted to be at home-"
"Nicky, shut up." Damien turned his cheek against mine, scratching along my jaw. "You're tired and you're not well, that's the only reason you're taking this so hard. Don't let it all get out of proportion. It's okay."
"It was so stupid-"
"The glue or the asthma?" Damien nudged my head up and kissed me, deeply and thoroughly, cutting off any further apologies. "I can love you either way, it isn't hard. I wanted to be with you, and I am, so it's fine. The where part isn't nearly so important. You finish your drink and we'll get some sleep. Things are going to look a lot better next year." 
~ The End ~

Copyright Ranger 2010

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