BOTH the cars were home.
It was no real surprise, it was nearly half past six. Dagan turned into the drive and put his now slightly battered Mazda behind Gordon's sleek and gleaming Megane. He took his time getting out and locking up, his stomach churning unpleasantly behind the still crisp shirt of his business suit. And the Megane's bonnet, when Dagan felt it on the way past, was already cool. Not a good sign. It left his stomach still tighter as he turned his key in the heavy, glassed front door.
The hallway was cluttered with James' piles of exercise books, standing in three untidy heaps beside the coat rack. Dagan stepped over them with the care of long practise, folded his arms to stop his hands from shaking, and went through into the kitchen.
Gordon of course was cooking. James quietly assembled meals without fuss or drama, but Gordon was no more capable of standing back and watching him do it than he was of tap dancing. He was now peeling the potatoes- properly- in neat spirals, while James thoughtlessly stirred flicks of whatever herbs looked interesting into the meat he was cooking. He had what Dagan called his 'yes dear' face on.
"And another thing," Gordon was saying crisply, adding another uniformly neat potato to the pile, "If this continues much longer we can forget access to the basic things like fresh milk. The supplies won't last forever and the supermarkets are already-"
James looked round, gave Dagan a brief roll of his eyes and a quick smile. Gordon followed his gaze, changing conversation in mid sentence,
"And where on earth have you been? I rang your office forty minutes ago, it does not take you forty minutes to cover three miles."
Dagan didn't flinch from the request or the sharpness of it. Just crossed the last few steps to him, accepted Gordon's rough and exasperated kiss and leaned hard against him. Gordon's arm closed automatically around him, then tightened, and he dropped the knife to hold him properly.
Only Gordon could make that sound so accusing. Dagan buried his face deep into Gordon's solid shoulder and held on to him, feeling Gordon's rough cheek rub against his forehead. James crossed to them unhurriedly and ran a hand down his back.
"Daig? Are you allright?"
"He's freezing." Gordon said over his head, "I TOLD you he wouldn't take a coat if you didn't watch him-"
"It isn't that cold." James' hand moved between them to rest on Dagan's forehead, then he gently turned Dagan around to face them.
"I crashed the car on the way home."
The admittance was no longer difficult. Dagan heard his voice waver out of his control, and had more on his mind now than breaking this diplomatically.
"Oh my God-" Gordon said grimly. James pushed Dagan's hair off his forehead, large blue eyes concerned behind his glasses.
"Did you hurt yourself?"
Dagan shook his head. Gordon's arm hooked around his shoulders and pulled him close, tucking his head once more under his heavy chin.
"Are you sure? Did you hit your head?"
Dagan shook his head as much as he could. "Just the car got crunched."
"What happened?" James said gently. Dagan shrugged.
"I was coming down the slip road off the duel carriage way and the guy ahead stopped suddenly. I swerved to try and miss him and went into the barrier."
Silence. Dagan felt Gordon's head duck and the hard pressure of a kiss against his hair.
"Where are your keys love?"
Reluctantly, Dagan freed a hand and dug into his pockets. Gordon gave him one last hug and let him go, heading for the driveway. James tousled his hair.
"Go and get into warmer clothes, I'll get you a drink."
"Good." James gave him a gentle swat towards the stairs. "Go on."
Dagan wandered into the hall. Through the hall window he could see Gordon slowly circling his car, running a hand over the damage.
James's office was a mess. Gordon complained long and loud about it, and periodically forced James to tidy up, driving him mad by organising things into files and labelled boxes, but James insisted all teachers were natural squirrels and chaos was necessary to his peace of mind. He was settled serenely among his flood of books and paper, working through a pile of exercise books when Dagan passed his door and leaned against the frame. James looked up quickly, feeling the eyes on him, and smiled.
"No." James said serenely, tossing his pen down into the pile of books. Dagan smiled faintly.
"You're never busy. And Gor is always busy."
"Gor was born busy." James waited, the last of the evening sunlight reflecting off his glasses, his held tilted like a large, tranquil bird. Dagan cleared his throat. Gordon's fingers dug suddenly into his ribs behind him, making him yelp in shock.
"Are you coming running with me or are you going to stand there like a lemon?"
"I'm coming." Dagan said automatically, heading for his room. "I won't be a minute."
Gordon surveyed his older partner, hands on his hips. Tall, muscular in shorts and a sweatshirt, he still managed to radiate brisk efficiency.
"This isn't a room, it’s a disaster. I don't know how you find anything."
"I know where it all is." James said calmly.
"You're not going to work all evening. ARE you?"
"Don't you 'no Gordon' me. If you're still in here when we get back I'm coming up here, dragging you out and locking the door. Then I'm going to buy you yet another filing cabinet."
"I won't be long." James picked up another exercise book and flicked it open, his placid voice gravening slightly.
"I wouldn't run him too hard love, he's probably still shaken up."
Anxiety promptly crossed Gordon's face, taking away a lot of the hardness.
"I did think twice about taking him out at all, but he sits in front of those damn computers all day, he needs the exercise. I thought we'd go down to the park. He's still baby enough to want to be on the swings if he thinks no one's looking."
James, who knew perfectly well that Gordon would also be on the swings with Dagan given half a chance, kept a straight face.
"That's a nice idea."
"What is he DOING? Knitting himself clean socks?" Gordon bounded back down the hallway, clapping his hands. "Dagan! Before Christmas would be good!"
Dagan emerged from his room, dressed in running clothes. Gordon looked him over from head to foot and nodded.
"Come on then, while it's still light. James you've got half an hour!"
"Thankyou." James said, winking at Dagan. He heard Gordon chase Dagan downstairs, and Dagan's giggle cut off as Gordon shut the front door behind them with his usual, energetic bang. Then he got up and wandered down the hallway. He and Gordon shared a room because they had always shared a room. Their possessions had long since become so jointly entangled there was no separating them, and they were incapable of thinking independently for any domestic arrangement. Dagan's room held a slightly different atmosphere. Still young, still finding his confidence with them, his own particular belongings lived here, and in the house it was respected as his 'own' space. As well as containing what Gordon referred to as 'toys'. His computer and the Nintendo Gordon refused to let him play with outside this room, the dart board on the wall, his few books since Dagan read only under protest. A single bed that was kept made up and used as Dagan wanted. His clothes, since the wardrobe in the main bedroom was filled and Gordon had long since overspilt his own belongings to the small dressing room attached to the master bathroom. James leaned in the doorway, taking in the neatness of the small room. Mostly because Gordon demanded and insisted on pristine tidiness. There was nothing here that spoke of anything wrong or different about his youngest lover. James stood there for a minute or two, doing nothing in particular, just letting himself absorb any sense of anything unusual. Then he straightened up and went to the wardrobe door, taking the jacket that Dagan had left hanging up. The pockets revealed a packet of sweets which Gordon was clearly not supposed to know about, and Dagan's cell phone. Which as usual needed charging. James had another look around and went back to his office, taking the phone with him.
He was reading downstairs, curled into the deepest of the armchairs, when Gordon and Dagan came in. From the sound effects, Dagan went straight upstairs- only one member of their household ever ran up steps like a stampeding colt. Gordon came into the lounge, leaned over the back of the chair to kiss him and turned the lamp on.
"You can't possibly see to read there."
"I can." James leaned his head against the back of the chair to smile at him. "Is Daig ok?"
"Quiet." Gordon glanced towards the hallway, hands on his hips, still catching his breath. "He's active enough. Shocky I think. He's gone up to shower, then I'll get him a drink and an aspirin and chase him up to bed, he can have an early night."
"You think?" James said dryly. Gordon grinned.
"I have faith."
"You're a brave man."
"I am." Gordon flexed his biceps at James and shouldered out of his sweatshirt. "I'm going to shower. Then I'll sort out the baby."
"If he ever hears you call him that…."
Gordon snorted as he headed for the stairs. "He'll accept it maturely as a demonstration of my feelings towards him."
"And if you believe that you'll believe anything." James called after him, returning to his book.
He was half way through the next chapter when Dagan's footfall came down the stairs, much quieter and much, much slower. Gordon had obviously informed him of the bedtime plans. He was in the shorts and sweatshirt he slept in, barefoot and damp haired, looking very subdued. James shut the book and silently held out his arms. Dagan curled up in his lap, tucking his feet up under him. James rubbed his back, discovering that as usual Dagan had decided that drying himself was a waste of effort and put on clothes while still damp. Gordon would have sent him up to change. James felt the dampness of his shirt and pulled him closer.
"What's the matter?"
"Gordon wants me to ditch the Mazda."
"You've talked about that before, its at the end of it's saleable life anyway."
"He's going to make me have a Renault." Dagan said heavily without lifting his head from James' shoulder. James smiled.
"I can't help you, he made me have a Renault too. He just likes Renaults."
"He services all the cars and runs them, love. If he wants to run a fleet of Renaults and that makes him happy, then so be it."
"I don't see why we have to drive around like a group advert." Dagan said wearily. James went on rubbing his back. The shower started above them.
"Are you going to tell me?" James said mildly.
"Tell you what?" Dagan said from the depths of his neck.
James waited. Eventually he felt a sigh that gusted down his collar.
"Gor's going to kill me."
"You know I nearly ran into the back of this car?" Dagan said slowly.
"I was on the phone at the time."
Dagan curled up tighter and buried his face in James' neck.
"I'm sorry, I was just trying to call Simon and I looked away just for a minute- I didn't see the car ahead stop."
Silence. Dagan turned his head against James' shoulder, sounding miserable.
"So Gor WILL kill me."
"He won't be happy, he's warned you about that before." James pointed out. "But considering he'd walk barefoot through a desert for you, I don't think you need to worry about him killing you."
"Will you tell him for me?" Dagan begged. "Please? If you tell him he won't go quite so nuts."
James sighed. Then capitulated, feeling Dagan's tension against him.
"Ok. But you and I are going to have words about you editing the facts you tell us young man."
James patted his hip. "Get up."
Dagan rolled off him, heavy eyed and gangly. James gave him a gentle push towards the kitchen.
"Get yourself a drink and make me one while you're at it."
"He'll yell at me." Dagan said miserably. James pulled his head down and kissed his forehead.
Dagan went, arms folded, very far from happy. James took his glasses off, pocketed them and slowly climbed the stairs.
Gordon was in their room, towelling himself off vigorously. James shut the door behind him and came to sit on the bed, waiting until Gordon looked around at him, startled.
"I just got handed a confession." James said mildly.
"A- Dagan?" Gordon frowned, hanging the towel around his neck. "What's he done?"
"He was using his phone when he crashed."
Gordon's breath hissed out between his teeth. James watched him, not altering his tone.
"I think to be honest, he's too ashamed to tell you."
"It'll have to go down in the insurance papers…" Gordon dropped the towel on the bed and picked up a sweater. "I'll wring his neck! I've TOLD him about that, he'll be lucky if the insurance company pay out, never mind if the police don't investigate it!"
"I told him I'd deal with the censoring of the story he gave us since he told me about it. I think the phone issue is between you two." James watched Gordon pull his clothes on with the short, clipped movements that betrayed his annoyance. Gordon nodded, eyes on the watch he was strapping on.
"I've told him and told him. God knows his attention span is fragile enough without trying to use a phone AND drive… "
"He just stopped thinking for a minute."
"I'd guess he thought, and then had a second thought that neither of us were watching and it went against what he wanted!" Gordon said shortly. "Are you coming down to lend moral support?"
James hesitated, then sighed. "I suppose so. This does involve both of us and I agree with you completely, he shouldn't be using his phone while he's driving."
"Which he well knows." Gordon added. James nodded without enthusiasm, watched Gordon run a comb through his hair, then got up and went with him towards the stairs.
Dagan was perched on the edge of the sofa, both hands wrapped around the mug he was holding. He looked up at them both with clear apprehension but most of his attention was on Gordon. James went back to his armchair and sat down, removing himself from the main floor, but leaned on his knees, paying attention. Gordon sat on the arm of the other chair, folding his arms across his chest.
"HOW many times have I told you about using your phone when you're driving?"
Dagan's head promptly went down over the mug. "I know, I'm sorry."
"For exactly this reason! If the police had seen you, you would have been charged if not actually fined. You're going to have to put this down on your insurance claim and it will probably be rejected as the accident being caused by you driving without due care and attention."
"So why were you using the phone when you knew very well you shouldn't be?" Gordon demanded. Dagan shrugged a little, risking giving Gordon a brief look of appeal.
"I just wanted to phone Simon and the traffic was slow."
"That is going to prove a very expensive phone call." Gordon said shortly. "It's nothing more than luck that you and the other driver aren't hurt- if you'd pulled this trick at high speed someone might well have been killed."
"I wouldn't!" Dagan protested. Gordon Looked at him.
"You told me you wouldn't use the phone while driving AT ALL."
Dagan fiddled with the cup, eyes troubled and entirely on Gordon now.
"I did mean that when I said it, I don't usually break my word-"
"There's no 'usual' about it, Daig. Either you do or you don't." Gordon said bluntly. "The other issue is that you're not showing much respect for yourself or James or me, if you're risking getting yourself killed or imprisoned. That is NOT on, my lad. There is no way I am letting you out on the roads if you're a danger to yourself or anyone else."
"I'm not!" Dagan said passionately. His eyes were starting to shine and his voice was getting higher, a sure sign he was upset.
"So which was it?" Gordon asked him. "You forgot that I told you not to use your phone unless the car was parked, or you decided you didn't need to obey that particular rule?"
James looked at the floor, as aware as Dagan was that that amounted to a choice between being hung or shot. Neither would be a good answer. Dagan, as he often did when frustrated and cornered, declined either answer and lost his temper instead.
"It's a stupid rule! I see people every day using phones in cars, I've done it hundreds of times without hitting anything or any ONE! This was just bad luck! I'm SORRY, ok, but it's not like I did anything wrong-"
Gordon's thunder cut across his shout without effort, cutting him dead.
"WHAT YOU DID young man was break a rule we agreed on and discussed between ourselves some time ago! And I can shout too, Dagan. A lot louder than you can."
Dagan dropped back onto the sofa, head down, face furious.
"I will not," Gordon said sternly, "Tolerate you doing anything I consider to be unsafe- and I have no interest whatsoever in what anyone else does, just in what you do. And I most certainly will not tolerate you breaking clearly understood rules just because James and I aren't there to watch you. If you can't behave responsibly when I'm not there to enforce it, the only choice I've got is to make sure you can't NOT behave. Which means your phone stays in my desk for a week and you can manage without it."
"That's not fair!" Dagan said hotly.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, but nevertheless I'd like your phone please."
"It's in the office on the charger." James said quietly. Gordon looked inquiringly at Dagan. Who muttered something under his breath and ran upstairs. Gordon caught James' glance and rolled his eyes skywards. They both waited in silence until Dagan appeared, angry and making no effort to move quietly, and thrust his phone at Gordon.
"Thankyou." Gordon pocketed the phone and pulled the piano stool well clear of any obstructions before he sat down on it. "Come here please."
"No!" Dagan said hotly. "It's a stupid rule and I don't see why you won't accept this is just an accident!"
Gordon held out a hand to him. "We're going to deal with this first. Then we'll talk about the future of this rule."
"That just means no!"
Gordon leaned over, caught Dagan's wrist and drew him, dragging his feet and already close to tears, onto his right side and from there over his lap. James looked down at his hands, deliberately averting his eyes and his attention as Gordon lowered Dagan's shorts to his knees. Much as he would have preferred to leave, he owed it to Gordon to be here and to support his authority on this particular issue, as Dagan had brought him into it. Usually spankings were private between Dagan and whichever of them was involved- most often Gordon- which was much easier on the nerves of whichever of them wasn’t involved. The first few sharp smacks were accompanied by a wail from Dagan and made James turn his hand over, scraping at the residue of biro on a nail, and concentrating his mind determinedly on his half marked books upstairs.
Gordon didn't lecture; he very rarely did. Just dealt with the business at hand with the same efficiency and thoroughness he did everything else. One arm held Dagan firmly against his stomach, and the other covered both upturned cheeks in steady, crisp and hard spanks, four or five on each spot before he moved onto already reddened skin. Dagan squirmed, already out of breath from holding it in awkward gasps, and near to tears with the distress of defeat. He was always far more unhappy with himself than they ever were with him when he finally accepted he was culpable. And Gordon HURT when he spanked, no matter what the offence. Nor did he ever stop while it was still anything like bearable.
"Okay!" he choked out eventually, trying to twist away from Gordon's clamped arm, "Allright, I'm sorry! I won't do it again, I promise- I won't!"
"This isn't about getting promises from you," Gordon pointed out, "This is about the fact that you broke a rule we have."
"I'm sorry I did it then!"
James stared harder at his nails. He heard Gordon making what were effectively reassuring noises, but the vigorous, steady swats didn't slow. A minute later Dagan's yelps and protests disintegrated into unrestrained tears. It seemed like an eternity before the room was quiet, except for Dagan's tearing sobs. James risked looking up and found Gordon with his eyes on what he could see of Dagan's face, letting him lie where he was over his lap, one hand moving slightly and comfortingly over his shoulders. Within a minute Dagan's sobs moved from seriously distressed to disconsolate and Gordon drew his shorts back into place, took Dagan's arm and pulled him up into his arms. Dagan clung to him until Gordon picked him up and carried him across to the sofa, sitting down with Dagan's long legged body in his lap. James quietly got up, collected Dagan's now cold mug of tea and took it into the kitchen. They were both gone when he came back out.
Gordon came downstairs half an hour later, looking less than happy. James indicated one of the fresh mugs of tea and Gordon picked it up, but subsided on the sofa without drinking from it.
"He asked to sleep in HIS bed."
"That'll last until two minutes after we've turned the lights out." James said comfortably.
Gordon looked into the depths of his tea, cradling the mug between both hands. James reached over and pulled Gordon's solid weight down against him. Gordon shifted to get comfortable, sliding down until his sandy head was against James's chest. James ran his fingers slowly through Gordon's hair and carried on drinking his own tea.
They went upstairs shortly after ten thirty, the landing light emphasising the darkness of Dagan's room. Gordon turned their bedroom light on quickly, turning out the landing light, and stood for a minute in the doorway of Dagan's room, listening. No sound suggested a still awake brat.
"What if he has gone to sleep?" Gordon muttered, passing James who was undressing in their room. James gave him a faintly amused look.
"Darling, he's slept in there plenty of times, it's HIS room."
"It's his room, not his bedroom, and I wouldn't have left him alone if I thought he was going to spend the night there."
"He doesn't need an audience when he's sulking, and he never wants one either. Leave him alone, he knows where we are when he wants us."
Gordon looked far from convinced. James blocked the doorway and took his shirt away from him.
"No. You'll go in and drag him out of bed, he'll throw a strop and it'll be two am before anyone gets any sleep. Leave him alone, it won't kill him."
Gordon looked at him. James looked back. Shorter, definitely plumper, his good natured and placid eyes steady behind his glasses. Gordon shook his head and went into the bathroom. James finished undressing, set the alarm, then went next door into Dagan's room without knocking, pulled back the duvet and held out his hand.
Dagan didn't move. Dark hair shaken out on the pillow, dark lashes closed, his usually active body still, he was the living picture of the sleep of the pitable and pathetic. Less sulking now than embarrassed and angry with himself. James took his nearest hand and tugged, once.
"Now. Or we can talk here and now about tomorrow's detention with me."
"Oh God." Dagan muttered, giving up on the illusion and crawling upright. "You're going to make me read again-"
"I practise on you, pet. What keeps you quiet works on all the fourth formers. Get a move on."
Dagan moved but very slowly and without enthusiasm. His pace grew slower the closer to Gordon they got. James took his hand once he reached carpet and towed him next door, over the threshold and across to the bed, pushing him over into his designated space and Gordon's opened arms.