Title: Rattling the Bars
"You're grounded." Damien said bluntly. "Two weeks."
I stared at him, outraged.
"That's the end of it Nick."
Damien turned the lock on the front door and waited for me to precede him upstairs. I stood where I was, coat still in my hands, furious.
"Bed please, it's late."
"Two WEEKS for one rotten film!"
"Nicholas, you're already on thin ice." Damien snapped the hall light off and looked as though he was ready and willing to snap something else if I didn't get moving. "Upstairs. It's past eleven and I'm tired if you're not."
I ran upstairs, livid. ONE film. I'd even gone with Allen, I'd been keeping him company since Robin had no interest in anything that involved sitting still for two hours. And when Allen suggested we saw the Jack the Ripper film-
"It's an 18 classification- I'm WELL over 18 for Gods sakes I've SEEN horror films before!"
"I said no."
"What do you want me to say? Stand there in public and announce, no I can't see that, my boyfriend says I can't handle scary films-"
Damien pulled my coat out of my hands, turned me around and swatted. Not gently either.
I headed for the bathroom, fulminating. Allright, so it was not a -nice- film. Allright, so I was easily spooked, I admitted it. But for Pete's sake, I was old enough to decide what I wanted to see, and to take the natural consequences if I chose to take that risk. If it annoyed him so much, I'd lie awake and be scared on my own, it didn't have to disturb him.
I brushed my teeth, gradually losing the edge off my temper. Two weeks grounding was ridiculous. He was unbelievably over protective about this kind of thing anyway; I could understand he wasn't happy that I'd disobeyed him but that wasn't worth two weeks grounding.
Pulling myself together and willing my voice to sound steady and assertive, I went back into our room. Damien was undressed and sitting on the edge of the bed, taking his watch off. I hovered by my side of the bed, pulling my nerve together before I spoke.
"Damien? I'm sorry I didn't tell Allen about the film…. I should have done."
"Yes." Damien agreed. "But thankyou."
"I-" I sat down on the edge of the bed, fiddling with the edge of the duvet. "I'd rather be spanked than grounded- get it over with?"
"That isn't your decision to make though. Is it?" Damien said matter of factly.
I flushed, embarrassed. "No……. but can we talk about it?"
Damien set the alarm clock and pulled the duvet back, lying down. "The answer's no, Nick. You know it, you know why, if you choose to push me on this then you have to live with the consequences. If you have to spend a fortnight without access to films or tv or the computer you might learn to think a bit more carefully about how you use those privileges."
"They are NOT privileges, they are normal adult RIGHTS." I said hotly, more or less under my breath. Damien Looked at me.
"I beg your pardon?"
No, I'm not THAT stupid.
"Nothing." I muttered and lay down.
"Good." Damien said dryly, and turned the light out. I turned over, glaring at the line of his nose and jaw in the dark.
"It wasn't even that scary!"
"We've gone over this. I'm not having it Nick. Life is not an endurance competition, there is no reason for you to lose sleep and have your head full of images that worry and upset you. And moreover, I said No. If you want to watch films, or tv or use the internet then I will tell you what you can and can't see. If you don't approve of my decisions then you don't have to watch at all."
That was so unfair I stared at the ceiling, steaming. "I was with ALLEN!"
"I told you No. YOU, not Allen. YOU need to learn that I expect you to obey me wherever you are and whether I'm there or not. Who you're with is irrelevant."
And that was Damien at his most autocratic and his most unreasonable. Ever since that mess with the binding spell a few weeks back, he'd been about as rigid as if someone had inserted a broom handle down his back. In my more annoyed moments with him, that was not where I muttered about it having been inserted either. He was all over me like a rash and I was getting sick and tired of it.
"It's STUPID." I muttered under my breath, stomach tightening even as I took the risk.
For a moment I thought I'd got away with it, then Damien leaned over and turned the light on. I looked at him apprehensively. I knew that expression: he was not kidding,
"Nicholas, if you like you can be spanked as well as grounded. It's entirely your decision."
"Sorry." I murmured, very quickly and very sincerely. Damien looked at me for a long and very nerve wracking minute, then turned the light back off and lay down again. I started to breathe once more.
He was being a pain. Ok the spell thing hadn't been one of my brighter ideas, but ever since then he was down on me like a ton of bricks every time I put a foot wrong. And it wasn't FAIR. He could have his ridiculous ideas on what I could and couldn't handle at home, but I was NOT about to say in public that my boyfriend said I was too much of a wuss to handle anything scarier than Disney productions. Still fuming, I flung myself over and kicked the duvet out of the way, huffing. It produced a sort of low growl from Damien, who grabbed me around the waist and yanked me into my usual place against him, with a shake that suggested I cuddle up, shut up and sleep. Fast. I resisted the urge to growl back.
Things seemed still less fair in the morning. It was Friday for a start: the day of the week I didn't work at all since His Majesty issued the three day working week decree. The thought of being home all day, grounded, was not inviting since Damien was likely to present me with a list of unentertaining things to do to fill my time. He'd only JUST permitted me to stay in my own home, alone on my days off, and he'd made sure I had a list of permitted and non permitted activities. I reflected bitterly on that as I dressed and he shaved. Damien passed me, pulling a sweater over his head.
That was an ominous sign.
Damien is totally incapable of going to work without a jacket and tie.
"I'm not going in." he announced, pulling the duvet straight. "I'm owed a few days leave and it's quiet at the moment. And I've got things to do here."
Yes, like drive me up the wall.
I gave him the look of Narrow Hostility. He didn't even notice; he never does.
"Breakfast." He just said simply, heading downstairs and scooping up Anastasia on route. She promptly lay down across his shoulders, purring shamelessly.
Already thoroughly fed up, I got dressed, deliberately leaving the bathroom well splashed and towels scattered, since I had a good idea who'd get to clean it later.
"Nick, now." Damien's voice said from the foot of the stairs. I found the tatty, grey sweatshirt he hated, pulled it over my head and went down, as slowly as I dared.
He was cooking. We NEVER eat cooked breakfasts during the week. That got right up my nose along with everything else.
"I don't even LIKE bacon." I muttered as he put the plate down in front of me.
"You liked bacon the last time we had it." Damien pulled out his chair and sat down, buttering toast.
"I don't like THIS bacon. It's too salty."
"Then eat it with the egg."
"I'm not hungry in the mornings."
Damien ignored that and carried on eating. I poked the bacon twice, sat back and picked up my mug of tea. Anastasia wandered past, chirruped and rubbed against my leg. Very discreetly I tried picking off a piece of bacon.
"Don't even think about it." Damien said without looking up.
Leaping tall buildings in a single bound, faster than a speeding bullet, more annoying than Anne Robinson….. I glared at Mr X ray vision over my plate.
"Well I don't want it."
"But you're going to eat it." Damien said cheerfully.
That's what HE thought. I sat back, cradling the tea in both hands, and scowled.
Damien reached for a second piece of toast and LOOKED at me. "NOW, Nick."
I was sick to death of the kitchen corner by ten am.
"Feeling any politer?" Damien inquired, returning from the garden with an empty laundry basket. I glared at the wall without responding. Damien, drat him, still took no notice. Whistling cheerfully, I heard him head upstairs. He never HAS got the basic hang of this kind of situation. I stood, radiating boredom, oppression, illtreatment and injustice, and he just carried on happily doing the housework.
By ten fifteen my legs were aching, I was bored and feeling increasingly pathetic, and wondering whether Damien intended to leave me here for the rest of eternity. I knew better than to turn around. When he came into the kitchen I did risk a very quiet and very plaintive attempt at his name with a serious effort to eliminate the whine.
"Yes?" Damien said mildly.
"My legs hurt……"
"I'm sure they do."
Damn. Sympathy was NOT what I had in mind here. And ok, I GOT the point. I already knew. He wasn't going to let me budge from here, except on his terms.
"Okay, I'm sorry." I said with bad grace.
"You sound it." Damien said dryly. I scowled, then as I heard him go back into the hallway, my nerve cracked.
"I am, I'm sorry- Damien-"
"Sure?" Damien said from the doorway. I turned to face him, not happy, but more than ready to move out of the corner.
"Then you can signify it by finishing the bathroom. Properly please."
I headed upstairs, carefully not stamping. Okay, if he wanted a slave of the lamp he could damn well have one. THAT ought to support his delusions of dictatorship.
I was still religiously polishing inch by inch of the bathroom when he came upstairs, a mug in either hand.
"I'm finishing the bathroom." I explained. "Properly."
"So I see." Damien said, putting the mug down in easy reach. "I don't think the skirting boards really need polishing."
"You did ask me to do it properly."
Damien took the duster out of my hand and put me on my feet.
"Drink your tea. And then if you've got a burning urge to polish, you can do the woodwork on the stairs."
"Yes sir." I said crisply, took the duster and headed for the stairs. Maybe I ought to wear a loincloth or something. Or find something to wear as a collar. I polished every inch of the woodwork with grim satisfaction, then went back upstairs to our room where he was working at the desk.
"What shall I do now?"
Damien looked around with mild surprise, making me realise my tone perhaps had been a little too obvious.
"Why don't you hoover?"
"Hoover what?" I asked, taking pleasure in the sincerity of my tone. "Exactly?"
"Well the floors are usual." Damien picked up another pen. "Use your imagination darling."
Ha. If he tempted me, the consequences were entirely his own fault.
I went downstairs and hoovered the floors. And hoovered. And hoovered. And hoovered. With an ear out for his lordship. It took about twenty minutes.
"Nick." Damien said eventually, coming downstairs.
I pointed at the hoover, indicating that I couldn't hear him, and besides, I was hoovering. He walked across and pulled the plug out of the wall, then swatted me, taking the hoover out of my hand.
"Take the rubbish out please. And then I think you can find another corner while I make lunch."
"I was HOOVERING." I said with satisfaction. "You told me to hoover."
"Now I'm telling you to take out the rubbish."
"What rubbish?" I asked politely. Damien Looked at me.
"The kitchen rubbish darling. Which is where it usually is."
"Certainly." I watched him wind the hoover lead up around the handle, following him into the kitchen. "Would you like to watch from the window?"
Damien put the hoover back in the cupboard. "I've seen you take the rubbish out before, I think I'll manage to survive missing it this once."
"It's just that I AM grounded." I pointed out. "I wouldn't want to see anything unsuitable out there that you hadn't vetoed first."
Damien stopped in midstride. And turned around, one eyebrow raising slowly. The expression was of mildly amused incredulity.
"Like THAT is it my lad?"
I looked at him, waiting patiently for his expert decision. Damien shut the cupboard door, took my hand and led me with him out to the lounge and the sofa.
About half way there, I realised where we were headed, and started to pull back, trying to get my hand out of his.
"No! Noooo it's not FAIR, I didn't DO anything!"
Damien took a seat, taking no notice, and I found myself over his lap with no very clear idea of how I'd got there and my sweats being pulled down without any introduction or apology. At some point during those few seconds I went from righteous, furious indignation to upended, bare bottomed and horribly aware I'd gone a lot too far. Damien's hand landed rapidly and very firmly in a hail of swats that covered every inch of skin in a steady circuit, and indignation very quickly became the last thing on my mind. By which time it was a little late to withdraw the statements that had got me into this position in the first place.
"Okay, I did!" I said hurriedly, trying to swallow down tears, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it! It was rude, I was pushing, I know, I'm sorry!"
Damien didn't pause, putting in a little and very painful work on the lower curves of my backside, which just about removed any power of coherency I had left.
"Et Ego in Arcadia Vixi." Damien said conversationally. "Mocking the rules is STILL disobeying them my lad. In fact it's worse because it isn't up front disobedience, it's under the guise of implying that I am being unreasonable, that you are a victim of rather than a participant in this relationship and that you bear no responsibilities here. Your implication is also that I don't understand the insult. I assure you Nicholas, I do. To quote Kipling, there is a point beyond which it is NEVER wise to go, because sooner or later one runs into someone who has studied the animal. And knows perfectly well what you're up to. DO you disagree with our rules?"
"No." I pleaded, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it-"
"I know. And I also know that you didn't seriously intend the insult. You DO however know exactly what you can expect for rudeness and disobedience."
And if I'd forgotten, by heck did I remember now.
"So are we finished?" Damien inquired, "Or do you want to play some more?"
"I'm sorry," I said with total sincerity, "I didn't mean it, I'm so sorry."
Damien pulled my sweat pants up and put me on my feet, face still stern.
"Then please go and do as I asked."
I fled, still sobbing. Damien waited, arms folded, watching me hastily assemble the rubbish and take it down the garden where I stacked it by the bin. He was waiting in the doorway when I came back in, stepped back to let me past him and shut the door before he said a lot more gently, "Come here."
I buried myself in his arms. He hugged me tightly, chin on the top of my head, comfortingly warm.
"Are you going to talk to me?" he demanded gently. I shook my head hard in his shoulder.
"That's opting out, not talking. Isn't it?"
I didn't answer since I was still crying fairly hard. Damien towed me with him to the kitchen armchair and sat down, pulling me into his lap.
"It's not FAIR." I managed between gulps.
"You getting cross about that film-" I trailed off, aware I was trespassing on territory I'd already surrendered once. Damien sounded quietly interested.
"Why isn't it fair?"
"Because I was with someone! I can't SAY in the middle of a packed cinema that you say I'm too much of a chicken to watch anything worse than a PG!"
"Allright," Damien said firmly, " I'm not even going to respond to the accusations in that statement. I'm quite happy to discuss this with you, but NOT issues and terms you know perfectly well aren't true."
"They are!" I said hotly. Damien didn't sound at all rattled.
"Can you rephrase that, or do you need some thinking time?"
And for thinking time, read corner time.
I managed to shift gears with serious effort, although it did nothing for my temper.
"It's embarrassing to say I can't see a film because you won't let me! And it DOES look like you think I'm too much of a wimp to handle it!"
"You don't need to explain anything unless you want to." Damien said mildly. "You can always just say you'd rather see something else. Your only responsibility in that situation is to you and me, you don't need to make it public to anyone else."
"It's still embarrassing!"
"I'm sorry you find it that way. But since you know you don't have to explain yourself to anyone, and that I'd never expect that of you, what you're actually saying is that you find it embarrassing that I forbade you to see those kind of materials and you feel as though it reflects badly on your strength of character. As a matter of fact, it doesn't. I think it says a great deal about your strength of character and your nature that you can be so strongly moved by images and themes that the majority of people can only be blasé about. But however much you don't like it, I'm afraid the fact stands: what you may and may not see is my decision and not yours. And every time you push me on this, you're going to find yourself in trouble. So you might as well accept it and stop worrying."
I looked down at my hands, fiddling with his shirt. Damien pulled me against him and kissed me. An 'I understand' kiss, and an 'I love you' kiss and a 'This is closed' kiss. I got all the nuances. And all he said mildly was:
"How about lunch, hmm?"
I picked at lunch, despite Damien's several firm requests to eat. I really wasn't hungry. When we cleared up, he further asserted himself by sending me through to the living room with instructions to find a book and lie down. If he got much more assertive, I'd be needing permission to breathe. I picked a Terry Pratchett out of the bookcase and curled up without opening it. Damien followed me a moment later with his own book and settled in the nearest chair. We read in silence most of the afternoon. Or he did. Eventually, when I saw him looking, I opened the book, but otherwise I just lay there, thinking deeply and bitterly about the iniquities of life.
It WASN'T fair.
A few spells and a few nightmares and he started laying down the law right left and centre, as though it didn't matter at all what I thought or felt. And if I TRIED telling him what I thought, he didn't care. He was STILL blocking access to the tv unless he was with me, and he had put the parent controls on the internet which made me so furious I refused to go near the computer. It was humiliating. I was an adult. I was his partner, not a child in this house, I HATED this.
He was mean and domineering and life sucked.
I was still reflecting on this while he towed me around Sainsburies, unable to evince any interest in fruit or in dinner. Not wanting to talk or communicate much with him, I gave him the minimum eye contact possible and muttered when he asked a question I couldn't evade. As you would expect from Mr I'm Always Right, he didn't appear to notice. No anxious second glances, no quiet inquiries as to what was wrong. No concern about the fact I was barely talking to him. He didn't even insist when I shrugged instead of spoke. Not only was he heartless, he also didn't give a damn about me. By the time we got in the car I was so fed up with him I was barely talking to him in earnest.
We put the shopping away in increasingly tangible silence in the kitchen. Anastasia marched into the kitchen and halted, looking from one to the other of us. I picked her up and buried my face in her fur, turning my back on Damien. He sounded completely oblivious behind me.
"Why don't you go up and have a bath?"
"It's not even six pm." I pointed out. Damien shut the cupboard and opened the freezer, taking out a packet of chicken and putting it in the fridge to defrost.
"There aren't any time limits on baths."
"I want to watch a video."
Did I LOOK filthy? I gave him a fairly filthy stare and headed upstairs, taking Anastasia with me.
I bathed, as instructed, reflecting still more deeply and with growing depression. And got out when he called, without answering him, trudging slowly and obediently into the bedroom with the towel wrapped around me. Damien had pyjamas already laid out, which was yet one more nail in the coffin of my opinion of him today. He'd changed the bed. The fresh smell of clean sheets was nice, but I was in no mood to let it sink in that deep. He sat on the end of the bed and held out his hands until I went to him and stood, letting him dry me, staring at the floor in silence. He rubbed me down, ending with drying my hair, gently and thoroughly, combing it out with his fingers when he was done. I let him get on with it, hunching my shoulders, and slid away as soon as I could, picking up the pyjamas. Damien took the top from me, pulling it over my head.
"Are you warm enough in those?"
I nodded, about to slide away again but his hand snagged on my wrist.
"No, I think we've got some business here."
THAT got my attention fast. I looked up at him in shock. Damien pulled me gently back to him, taking hold of both my hands.
"This fit of the sulks you've been showing me all afternoon."
"I HAVEN'T-" I said hastily, straightening my face as fast as possible as I realised the quagmire I was standing in. Damien didn't look like it made any difference at all; he was talking quietly and seriously in a tone I knew all too well.
"I've given you plenty of time to pull yourself out of it and you've turned down every chance. You know perfectly well what's acceptable behaviour and what isn't, and you know why, we've been living by these rules a long time. Haven't we?"
Going on seven years.
And he'd never once let me get away with pulling sulks on him. I went hot and cold, realising just what I'd got myself into with a - somewhat self indulgent afternoon, and it made me forget all about the self righteous feelings of being angry with him. In the very early days we'd had this discussion a lot. Now, I couldn't remember the last time I'd done this. Or why today I'd been stupid enough not to think it through.
"Why don't we sulk and ignore each other when we disagree?" Damien asked quietly. I felt my face get steadily warmer.
"Because it's hurtful." I admitted.
And God knows the state I'd be in if he ever tried this on me for five minutes. I knew he never would, and that was one of the many reasons I loved him, and looked up to him. And I did: he earned my respect in the same way he earned my love; every day in a hundred ways.
"And it's being angry without being honestly angry or honestly defiant. And it's being selfish- not sharing feelings. Covering up, making the other one guess. Playing with them."
"And it's still a tantrum based on this film issue, isn't it?" Damien went on quietly. I shook my head, well aware of the whine creeping into my voice and not able to stop it.
"Noooo…… I just HATE it!"
"I know you hate it. But I said no, and that's the end of it. I won't put up with scowling and stropping and arguing. The answer is no and it MEANS no. You're not going to change my mind. Are you?"
I shook my head again, more slowly. "No…"
Damien tugged gently at my hand. "What do you do if you're angry with me, Nick?"
"Tell you." I said very softly. "Talk about it."
And he'd listen. He'd always listen.
"Yes. And if you find when we talk it through that you're still looking at an answer you don't like, what do you do?"
And this was the really hard bit. I scowled at the floor but admitted it.
"So why am I going to spank you?" Damien asked gently.
Ok, I'd been pretty sure that was inevitable, but it still brought tears to my eyes.
"Damieeeeeen! Nooooo…….. I'm sorry, I'll stop, I promise!"
"Yes, you WILL stop, and I gave you every chance to stop by yourself." Damien said imperturbably, keeping hold of my hands. "This isn't about eliciting promises Nicholas, this is about your behaviour this afternoon being unacceptable. And I'm still waiting for you to tell me why."
Tears were starting to run, I was disintegrating into a snivelling, gulping wreck.
"Sulking. And fighting on the film issue after you said to stop. Damien noooooo……"
It made no difference. I got turned over his lap and the spanking I got was still sounder than the one I'd earned this morning. And as I could still feel the first one, I was thoroughly regretting my temper, my argument and my having thought for a moment that crossing him would be a good idea by the time he was done. It was not worth it.
"I'm sorry." I said for the fourth time about an hour later. I was still crying. Not so much because it hurt- I was pretty sore, but the worst was long over. But because it felt like a lid had been taken off and all I wanted to do was curl up on Damien and cry it out in peace.
"I don't know why I've got to be so horrible about it, it's stupid. I KNOW I get upset, I KNOW I can't handle watching that kind of thing and I keep on doing it-"
"You are not horrible." Damien said firmly. "And it's not an issue now, you don't have that choice to make anymore."
"Even when I know it's going to upset me I still can't stop myself. I always think that this time it won't. This time I can do it."
"There is nothing WRONG with being sensitive." He had one hand tangled in my hair, stroking my head where it rested on his lap, and I felt his fingers shake gently, pushing my hair back from my forehead. "You haven't failed in any way, it doesn't make you any less good a person or any less brave, it isn't something you have to learn to get over."
"I KNOW." I said in frustration. Damien shook his head at me.
"You DON'T know, because this still doesn't outweigh what you're telling yourself. That you shouldn't be frightened and that being frightened is a failure in your standards. And you want to overcome it and be in control of it."
"You keep on about control." I said miserably. "I'm NOT controlling!"
Damien stooped to kiss my forehead. "Shhh, just listen to me."
"I TOLD you I was being horrible!"
His voice didn't sharpen in the slightest, but I knew that tone and he turned my head, making me look at him.
"Listen. Stop second guessing what you're going to hear, stop putting words into my mouth, stop blocking yourself from hearing anything. Are you safe with me?"
There was no question or accusation in that, just a gentle reminder to think and to remember, and I nodded, feeling the reconnection to a lot of memories, endless times where I'd known absolutely that I was safe with him. "Yes."
Damien held eye contact with me, one of those looks that goes on until I can feel my way into that soft hazel, feel it move past eye contact into my guts and my heart, and it's only him I would ever, ever dare to let there.
"Then calm down, relax, clear your head and let in new information. Let it in and give it a chance to be thought over fairly before you chase it out."
I did take a few deeper breaths, gradually aware of my shoulders unclenching a little. Damien pushed his fingers through my hair again, once more stroking.
"At the end of the day, everyone experiences fear differently. It's basic animal instinct sensing danger, and some people's instincts are tuned higher than others. And some people have a gift of empathy and imagination that makes words and images real to them to the extent that they pick up real perceptions of danger. That IS a gift, you know more about people and places and other times than I ever will because you can be there in a picture or a film or a story, experiencing it. If I watch the ending of Titanic I see a sad story with amazing visual effects. You feel terrified people drowning, and naturally you find it very disturbing. It has nothing to do with bravery, you perceive what's happening differently to the way I do. Put it into those terms and the courage it would take you to face out an image that really upset you would be FAR more than it would demand from me! And it really would be courage, because you'd be facing down real emotions at a level I wasn't experiencing. Does that make sense?"
I nodded slowly.
"I find that amazing." Damien told me quietly. "I love standing in a museum with you and seeing something through your eyes that's real to you, and to do with real people and a real place. Or seeing how involved you can get in a story, it makes it alive for me too. It's a gift, it isn't something you have to overcome."
"But a grown man shouldn't fall apart because of a film or a book or some stupid story on the internet." I said bitterly. Damien shook his head.
"No, say what you mean."
I looked at him blankly. Then flushed, shrugging.
"Allright, 'I' shouldn't fall apart."
"Because normal men don't!"
"How many have you surveyed?" Damien said matter of factly.
I glared at him with as much irritation as I could manage, which wasn't much considering I was still sniffling and curled up on him.
"It's common knowledge."
"That's something of a sweeping statement?"
"Normal men do NOT stop sleeping for a week because they read a ghost story!" I said furiously, "Or freak out because they watched the X files! They don't spend half their bloody life in tears and they DON'T spend the other bloody half coughing and wheezing and gulping on bloody nebulisers every time something goes wrong!"
I shut my mouth, wondering where the hell that had come from. Damien's eyes were very gentle.
"This is NOT about asthma!" I said sharply. "OR last winter!"
"Do you remember what I said when you came out of hospital?" he said quietly. "I think last winter scared you more than you realised. And you've not had an easy few months. It's been a lot to deal with."
"I am NOT trying to control everything!"
Damien held me where I was, his voice staying calm. "Think about it. Give it fair thought. You said you can't make yourself leave alone things that scare and upset you, you have to keep going back to them."
The internet story. That I'd had to read and then try to straighten out for myself, long after I knew I was out of my depth. The film. Which I knew he'd be unhappy about, the man had already restricted every other form of media in the house when I wouldn't leave it alone- I'd known and it had been me who insisted on seeing the film, not Allen. Mostly to prove something to me and to Damien. He'd taken to sending me out of the kitchen when he cooked recently because I couldn't stop myself from interfering. And somewhere along the line I'd gone quiet on him- not the sulks of today, but I knew, the last few weeks- the last few months if I was honest- I hadn't been talking to him about the important things. I'd been keeping myself to myself, holding onto information I didn't want to share, and I knew why. If I shared it, I ran the risk of THIS- of him thinking differently to me, making a decision for us and making me stick to it.
Ok, his worst fault is that he is ALWAYS right.
I'd been so furious today I'd spent the whole day fighting him and the restrictions he'd put around me.
"It made me so angry." I said eventually. "I knew you could MAKE me stop but you couldn't reach everything."
"Like the kid who sat down but told his teacher he was still standing up on the inside." Damien traced a finger over my eyebrows. "It isn't easy to accept having decisions made for you, this kind of relationship is no easy option. The real test of it is the decisions you really don't like or agree with. We've run into a few of them before now and you haven't liked them."
True. There were always very good reasons for those decisions and very good reasons why I didn't like them, but once the heat went out of my anger with them, they were the right decisions, made at the right time.
"If I could make you change your mind every time I didn't want to do something and I told you I was upset or it was unfair or I didn't agree, I'd do it over everything." I told him, not for the first time. "I'd walk all over you. I did it to my parents for years. I could negotiate them off the table."
And I couldn't move him an inch when he dug his heels in. Not in the big things and not in the minor day to day things. No negotiating, no second chances, no days off, no exempted subjects. That's what made his strength so safe to lean on.
"And I never let them near any big problems."
"In case they interfered?"
"In case it pushed them far enough to stop letting me decide what we did." I admitted.
This was no new ground. The first year of our relationship we'd gone over and over these issues- medication I'd ignored for years, appointments I never turned up to, drugs I took when I wanted to, risks I took when it seemed like a good idea. Once Damien took responsibility for the whole, the stress dropped out of it. And I did actually remember us talking, years ago now, him saying something about being in a position of powerlessness leading to a need to control what COULD be controlled. I'd grown up surrounded by medications, natural and medical restrictions, limits, hassles, pressures all based on the asthma and the only means I had of not being a victim of it all was to do it in my time when I wanted to- to show clearly that I was in charge and it happened at MY will. And I remembered how hard that had been to surrender to Damien, although I'd wanted to. I'd been scared enough to know the danger I put myself in and to know I needed someone less volatile in charge of it.
I knew that feeling of powerlessness. I'd had it again last winter, watching the little girl at the swimming group gasping and turning blue. And countless times when I'd stopped to get my breath in the weeks when it felt like I never COULD breathe no matter how careful I was. And I remembered too that moment in the pool, deciding if it was going to get me, it was going to be on MY terms. In MY time.
"We've been in a discipline relationship for years, it isn't like this is the first time you've ever said no and I didn't like it." I said somewhat unsteadily, "We DID this ground in the first few months, it isn't like I'm not sure what I'm doing, I'm not new at it- I KNOW I want it, I know I'm happy like this, I know WE'RE happy like this. I haven't got any doubts about it at all! I don't MEAN to be horrible."
"You are NOT being horrible." Damien said again, gently. "Don't read too much into this sweetheart. I think those few months last winter pushed a lot of buttons for you. You remember times you've felt like this before, and you're automatically reacting the way that you used to find most helpful, before us. We know there are other ways that help more, it's just hard to let go of habit. We can do it, we've done it before, it'll be fine."
"I don't know what to do." I confessed, very close to tears again. "I don't even know when I'm trying to control things- I don't mean to- I know I won't let you cook- and-"
"All you need to do is what you're told." Damien's finger traced over my eyebrow once more and down my nose. "Just that one thing. That's it. I'll worry about everything else. I'll help you, it'll be fine."
"It isn't that easy!" I protested.
Damien smiled at my glare, pushing at my lower lip which he clearly felt was protruding more than it should. "Yes it is, we're good at us."
I nipped his finger in exasperation and he yelped, laughing. "Oi! Biting's out for a start."
I pushed up far enough on one elbow to get past his guard and kiss him, briefly and hard, biting at his lip which he seemed to mind far less than his fingers.
"I love you so much."
He folded both arms around me and slid down on the sofa, rolling until I was on top of him, in a far more comfortable position to continue what I'd started.
"It's allright baby, it's fine. We're fine."
I stopped, half way out of my seat.
"I wanted toast."
"We're eating cereal." Damien said calmly, bringing the milk to the table. "Sit down."
"You have cereal, I'd rather have toast-"
"Nick, sit down."
I sat back down, glaring at him. "There's no difference, it's still a good thing to eat for breakfast, I AM eating-"
"And I put out cereal. It's a brand you like, just eat it." Damien said, passing me the milk. I sat back in my chair, folding my arms.
"I don't WANT cereal this morning."
Damien Looked at me. I unfolded my arms and sat up, flushing a little, reminded. Damien took the pack from me and poured out a bowlful, putting it in front of me before he poured out his own. I scowled at it.
Ok, it WAS a brand I liked- quite a lot- and most mornings I chose cereal. But this morning he'd put out cereal and I wanted toast. And however rationally I tried to think about it, I was still UNrationally furious about the fact that I wanted toast.
Damien drenched his own cereal in milk and started to eat, sparing me a glance of sympathy over his spoon, but I knew without trying further, he wasn't going to give on this.
All I had to do was what I was told.
This was my part of the bargain, I had to try here. I made myself pick up the spoon, resisting the urge to knock the bowl across the table, and dug it into the cereal.
This is just breakfast Nicholas. It is not a life shaking issue, it doesn't matter, it is NOT worth fussing about. Why are you so bothered about cereal anyway?
Because he chose it and I didn't.
There had to be awards somewhere awarded for pettiness and obsessiveness above and beyond the call of duty. Angrily I ate cereal, keeping my eyes down and my stomach under control with serious effort. Damien got up to take his bowl to the sink, rested both hands on my shoulders and his freshly shaven jaw scratched mine as he dropped a kiss on my cheek.
He spent the day giving me all the help he could while I wrestled with my still boiling temper. We shopped, a quick and efficient zoom around the supermarket which I always hated on Saturdays but which he made as fast and as painless as possible. And by late afternoon, when the sun was finally starting to clear through the clouds and it was bright outside, we walked through Newsham park, several miles through the woods and the cornfields, ending up with one of our favourite spots on the top of the hills where we lay in the long grass, well hidden enough from the few other walkers to cuddle and to doze in the sunshine, watching it turn from bright afternoon to hazy mid evening.
The peace of the sunshine stayed with me through the five mile drive home. The main part of the village was busy with people eating in the several pubs on the high street and the street smelled deliciously of barbecues. The far end of the high street, about a mile further down at the other end of the village, also smelled of smoke, but a different kind of smoke.
The street began to grow hazy as we came down past the bank, and by the time we saw the fire engines we could see the smoke too, thick and black, pouring across the street.
The whole thing was like a bad film.
Margaret, our sweet neighbour, was standing on the pavement by the second fire engine, watching the firemen work and her face, when she saw us, was awful. I remember Damien pulling in to the pavement by her house, snapping something at me about staying put which I couldn't have listened to if I'd tried, and the strong smell of the smoke- the whole street was grey. I dodged the cars across the road ahead of Damien and I remember the shock like a physical thump when I saw flames inside the window of our bedroom, and the sensation of suddenly shaking all over like I was freezing. Somewhere in the middle of it I remembered Anastasia.
Damien caught me on the front lawn where we wrestled like drunks in between firemen.
"No. Nick NO, come here. Come here."
I fended his hands off as long as I could but he grabbed me and pulled me against his chest, wrapping both arms around me in a full body lock.
"NO baby. Let it go. They're just things."
"Anastasia!" I screamed at him, several times over the roar of the water and the fire.
He sounded ridiculously calm. Then I saw his face and fought my way through his grip to get my arms around his neck, and we clung to each other on the grass. One of the firemen shouted something to us and Damien lifted me off my feet, walking us both back to the safety of the road. There was nothing else we could do.