Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Sharp End

Title: The Sharp End

Author: Ranger


Damien started it.
It was entirely HIS fault we were sitting at the end of the bed, looking at the wretched thing. I’d got as far as picking it up and we were still sitting here five minutes later.
“Come on Nicky.” Damien said for at least the third time. “Two seconds and it’s over with.”
That was easy for him to say. I had one more try at pushing the thing into his hand, handling it with extreme caution.
“YOU do it.”
He lifted his hands, fingers spread, declining to do the dutiful thing.
No. Shortly and simply, like it said everything. I put the thing down in the neat little box HE had acquired to keep all this stuff organised- WHO does this kind of thing??? – and got up, heading for the bathroom, despite the fact that my jeans were already at an undignified half mast around my thighs. I made it about half way through the standing up bit before his hand closed on mine and pulled me back down again. We were sitting very close, his knee against mine, and he hung an arm around my shoulders, tipping me towards him until my head was against his. He was freshly shaved, his cologne was strong and the neck of his rugby shirt was open. After three months of winter, he was still tanned brown. We sat there for a minute in silence, then he turned his head and kissed my temple, let me go and patted my knee firmly.
If I came out with that blunt, matter of fact ‘no’, he’d swat me. Fuming, I reached for the blasted thing again. It looked as vile as it was. I hated it.
All right, all right. Resisting the urge to swear, I grabbed the swab from the box, picked a spot at random on my thigh and forced myself to push the needle in.
“Gently.” Damien said as though I was doing something perfectly normal. “And let it go slowly. Nick, slowly.”
I’d like to see HIM doing this slowly on his own thigh. Although to be fair, he had. When we first started playing this horrible game last year, he’d said he wanted to know exactly what it was I was being asked to do. I pulled the needle out, recapped it and dropped the syringe back in the box, glaring at him as I got up and yanked my jeans back up.
“Happy now?”
He did swat me then, although not very hard, and once more caught my wrist, pulling me down into his lap and rubbing his palm over the remaining sting in my thigh.
“It’s not nearly as bad as you work yourself up to think it’s going to be. You got very casual about it last winter, you said yourself that you didn’t mind doing it.”
”That was eight months ago.”
And it wasn’t easy. After a gap that long, it was starting the whole hurdle again from scratch. I had one go at getting out of his lap and didn’t succeed in moving an inch.
“The tablets were fine. I DON’T see why we have to go back to the injectable stuff just because it’s winter.”
“Because the slow release is more effective in the injectable form.” Damien said quietly. “You don’t have hours when it’s working well and hours when it’s wearing off, just when you most need it.”
”I’m fine!” I leaned past him since he wasn’t letting me down, and snatched up the peak flow and oxygen log. All in all, what I really needed was a flaming personal assistant for all this junk.
”I know, and you don’t need to yell at me please.” Damien took the log from me with its scrawled row of figures. “What this says is that what we’re doing works. You’re not getting readings all over the scale, no matter what the weather’s doing or how tired you are and so on. Because we do the meds properly, and that means in the winter the injectable Bricanyl.”
”Because it worked for ONE year.”
“You KNOW all the crap that comes with this….”
I trailed off, loathing the thought of it. MORE equipment to keep track of, MORE drugs to collect at regular intervals, regular appointments with the district nurse who’d clearly been constructed by Dr Frankenstein in his off duty moments, who would prod the injection sites and go on yet again about rotating them and how much easier it would be if I wasn’t so skinny. She clearly thought Damien was living with a well medicated skeleton.
“And you know all the hassle that comes if we don’t.” Damien said matter of factly. He pulled me down against him and hugged me tightly for a moment, dropping another kiss on my ear since I had no intention of letting him get to my mouth, and put me on my feet.
“Get a move on. We told your mother we’d be there by ten.”
Oh joy and rejoicing.
I did up the jeans, found a pair of trainers and just to make it clear he was out of favour, put on one of his sweaters. A heavy, grey fisherman jersey that swamped me, since he’s a good handspan and a half broader than me across the shoulders and he actually HAS a chest. I had to fold the sleeves back, but it draped comfortingly down over me to nearly mid thigh, and the rolled neck was deep enough for me to sink behind up to the nose if need be. And it carried the consoling smell of him on it.
He didn’t take any notice, which takes all the fun out of it.

My parents have a garden surrounded by three large ash trees, and the garden was knee deep in leaves. My father emerged from behind his newspaper, gave Damien the slightly shaken smile he keeps for Damien in charging-about,-sorting–the-world–out mode, kissed me and disappeared towards the shed with his pipe streaming blue smoke behind him. My mother, who thinks Damien is wonderful, kissed him, herded him towards a plate of sausage rolls and mini quiches as though it wasn’t a mere hour after breakfast and we were totally incapable of feeding ourselves, and came to hug me.
“Darling you’re lost in that sweater.”
”It’s mine.” Damien pointed out, leaning against the kitchen table to eat quiche.
“It’s cold.” I said sourly, unfolding my arms long enough to return the usual maternal embrace which went on long enough for me to be absolutely sure she was checking on my current weight. “Mother, ask him if you want my ribs counted.”
”They’re all there.” Damien handed me a plate on which stood several sausage rolls. I returned the plate to the counter and leaned beside him, glaring. Mum, quite unfazed, began to pour coffee.
“I can make you some toast if you’d rather, darling.”
”We had breakfast.”
”What IS your weight like at the moment? You look thin to me.”
Oh God. I grabbed my jacket from the back of the chair and headed towards the garden, hearing Damien behind me.
“It’s about right, he always does lose a little when the cold weather starts-“
He and my mother, both happy as jaybirds so long as they were gossiping about my health. Dad, in the shed, with The Archers jabbering away on radio four, filled another couple of flowerpots with earth and gave me a vague smile that didn’t care in the least what I weighed.
“Being hassled?”
“On all sides.” I told him. He passed me a sack full of crocus bulbs and I sat down on one of the battered, paintstained stools at the bench, starting to press them down into the compost filled flowerpots.

Damien towed me out onto the lawn about half an hour later, to start raking and bagging the leaves that were everywhere. Our own garden has similar problems, but since I live with Damien and not with Dad, every weekend during autumn the leaves get collected and disposed of with military precision. Dad had made himself scarce since he knows Damien. If he turns his back for five minutes he gets his gutters swept and his drains cleared, I swear mum slips Damien lists of things she wants doing.
“Your mum was saying your dad’s shed needs some repairs.” Damien told me, raking heaps of leaves together while I struggled to find the perforations in the roll of rubbish sacks. “The roof mostly. I wondered whether he’d like us to have a go at that this afternoon?”
Knowing Dad, he’d probably hate it. I dropped the roll of sacks for the third time and muttered.
“Want me to have a go?” Damien offered, holding out a hand. I took no notice, finally got a sack ripped off and began to try and get the wretched thing open. Damien leaned on his rake, watching me for a moment, then gently picked up the other end.
“I think it’s upside down love-“
That was it. I hurled the sack down, not made any happier by the fact that hurling still made it flutter unhurriedly to the ground instead of land with any kind of satisfying crash.
”I can open a bloody sack! I can actually look after myself for five minutes WITHOUT getting lost or broken, I’m not QUITE the idiot you make me out to be!”
There are times when you blurt out something that in your head sounded perfectly reasonable, and then realise as the words hit the ground just what a total prat you’re making of yourself.
Damien’s expression was grim and I hated the quiet way he laid down the rake, then his hand closed on mine and led me around the side of the house, out of sight of the kitchen windows. There he let me go and gave me a look that made me drop my eyes to the ground in a hurry.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”
“If you do,” Damien said quietly but sternly enough to turn my stomach to water, “Then this is NOT the time, place or manner in which to discuss it. And if you don’t, then it’s inexcuseably rude. Which is it Nicholas?”
How to get yourself shot in eleven words or less.
“I didn’t mean it.” I said sincerely, well aware my face was starting to flush bright scarlet with embarrassment and horror at how deep I’d got myself without any real warning. “Really. I don’t think that. You don’t treat me like an idiot.”
”I’d hope to God you don’t feel I make you out to look like one either.” Damien said grimly.
That was awful. Just how awful a thing it was to have said, and to him of all people, finally sunk into me. I reached for him, eyes starting to sting, and hugged him tightly, folding my arms around his neck. Reassuringly both his arms locked around my waist, just as strongly.
“I’m sorry.” I said with absolute sincerity. “Of course you don’t, that was a foul thing to say. I’m so sorry. I’m just fed up about the Bricanyl.”
”I know.” Damien released his grip, linking both hands in the small of my back to see my face. He still didn’t look any less stern.
“Is that the way to let me know how you’re feeling? Or to speak to me?”
I managed to shake my head, about ready to sink through the floor. “No.”
“If I trusted soap anywhere near your mouth, I’d take you inside and soap you out until you were blowing bubbles.” Damien said severely.
That actually did help. Damien making those kind of facetious threats is a good sign that he’s not nearly as serious as he’s sounding, but my face was still flaming. There is a low, retaining wall against the fence down the side of my parents’ house and Damien led me to it, taking a seat.
I knew within a step where it was we were going. Yes, I felt absolutely awful about this; yes I wasn’t going to do any better if I had to wait through the rest of the day knowing as soon as we got home we’d have to deal with it; but outside, with the very real possibility of either of my parents coming around that corner- I really was not at all keen for either of them to catch me over Damien’s knee. Nor to explain to them why strategies they wouldn’t have considered using when I lived with them, my boyfriend used without the slightest qualm.
On the other hand, it wasn’t my choice to make.
I wasn’t exactly co operative as Damien turned me over his lap, although I didn’t exactly resist either. I don’t think it would have made much difference if I had. He pulled back the sweater to above my waist and my jeans felt horribly thin as the palm of his hand rubbed over the seat of them. His other arm was locked around my waist, giving me some illusion of security. Feet against the ground, bracing myself on the wall and his leg for balance, breathing the damp and earthy smell of the ground and the leaves of the lawn, I stared at the gravel of the path, already feeling so awful that just being put into this position was enough to make my eyes reflexively fill with tears. I wished passionately that he’d get on with it. Then his palm left the seat of my jeans and I promptly changed my mind. Even through denim, it hurt like hell. He only gave me I suppose about a dozen swats, but hard enough that each one made me jump, and it took only one or two before the tears started to overflow in earnest. The last few he landed at the tops of my thighs, his arm tightening over my waist as I began to squirm without conscious intent, trying to move my legs away from his swatting hand. He still got every single one where he intended. I could feel all twelve handprints, smarting hotly under my jeans as he put me on my feet, and I put one hand back to rub tenderly at the worst one on my thigh, even as I leaned against him. He wrapped both arms around me and rubbed my back, letting me snivel quietly into his neck.
“It’s horrible having to do it. The syringes and all of it.” I said eventually, aware I probably wasn’t making much sense. “Last year was a one-off, a trial-“
”And this year it’s set routine.” Damien said gently. “I know. But if that’s what it takes to make you safer, that IS what we’re going to do Nicky.”
”I don’t MIND doing the bloody injections.” I said bitterly. “They’re not exactly fun but they’re not that much of a hassle, they take less time than the nebulisers do. It’s just- I don’t know. The shock of it all starting again. And Mum going on as if I’m about to collapse where I stand because it’s turning to winter.”
He didn’t say anything. Just combed his fingers through my hair, his eyes dark, then drew my head down and kissed me gently.
“Come and help me get those leaves finished.”
I trailed him, keeping hold of his hand, back to the lawn. It was like painting the Forth bridge, more leaves were whirling down as we bagged up the ones already lying on the ground. Armfuls of red and brown and gold, crunching under foot and under hand.
”I am done.” Damien said about forty minutes later, knotting the last bag and sitting firmly down on what was still no shortage of leaves. “Your father’s getting a leaf blower for Christmas.”
”He’d hate that too.” I kicked the last bag of leaves over to the twelve or so we’d filled, and screeched as Damien grabbed my ankle, yanked it out from under me and broke my fall as I landed on top of him.
“It’s that or a roof on the garden. Or we take those bloody trees down.”
I squirmed as he rolled over, pinning me down on a bed of leaves that were rapidly entangling themselves in my hair and over my face. Damien bit my neck and I fought to get my hands free as one of his hands found its way up under my sweater, making me squirm still harder.
“You can’t DO that here!”
”We’re under three foot of leaves, who’s looking?” Damien demanded, digging his fingers into the ribs he’d just located. I grabbed a handful of leaves and wriggled around under him, trying to find a handhold. There is absolutely nothing on my side except stealth when we wrestle; he’s bigger, stronger, a lot heavier and faster, and he has the technique down to a fine art, he can usually get both my wrists pinned in one of his hands in seconds. I managed to get one of my legs between his, which distracted him just long enough for me to get a hand around his back, and he yelped, squirming himself as I shoved a handful of leaves firmly down the back of his jeans, and hopefully his shorts as well.
He rolled over, trying to get a hand back to pull out leaves and I took the opportunity to scramble up and run for it, hearing his snort of outrage behind me.
“There were earwigs, earth and God alone knows what in with that lot, COME here!”
NOT likely. I fled for the far end of the garden, hearing the thud of his sprinting after me, far harder and faster than I was going to manage. I ducked around the back of the shed, out of sight, waited a few seconds for him to go around the other way to meet me, then doubled back with a clear path to the house, the kitchen and my mother whose presence would prevent him wreaking any too obvious reprisals.
He was lying in wait around the corner of the shed and I shrieked as he grabbed me, the world reversed in one abrupt spin, and I found myself dangling upside down in mid air, Damien’s arms locked firmly around my waist, my head was about on a level with his knees and there was absolutely nothing I could do except try and brace myself against the grass or his legs, trying to stop laughing.
“I’m going to be picking leaves out of God knows where all day.” Damien informed me, heading across the lawn with me still upside down. “Or not, since it’s not exactly somewhere I can fish around with any kind of dignity-“
”Damieeeeeeeeeen-“ I hooked my knees over his shoulder, trying to give myself some kind of illusion of being able to move, still helpless with laughing. Being upside down has that effect on me, even going on a Waltzer makes me absolutely paralytic for a quarter of an hour afterwards. He used to do this a lot when we first met, I think as something that got my attention when I was zoning him out, or being too deliberately awkward, until he moved on to other and more direct tactics.
“Put me down!” I ordered as he reached the patio. Mum opened the kitchen window. I couldn’t see her face, but her voice sounded absolutely fine with the fact that her son and heir was being manhandled in her garden.
“Would you two like coffee?”
“Would you like coffee darling?” Damien inquired, giving me a solicitous look down to where I was hanging. “Yes please Caroline, we’d both love a cup of coffee.”
“On the condition that you retrieve the leaves.” Damien gave me a considering look. “Did you know you were turning purple?”
He swung me back over onto my feet and I staggered for a moment, out of breath and dizzy. But not at all breathless. I realised that and wondered how long he’d been aware of it.
“Leaves.” Damien reminded me, giving my mother a cautious glance through the window and standing close enough to the wall to be out of sight while he loosened his belt. I leaned against him, still laughing, and began to locate leaves.



“Somewhere else Nicky.”
”I’m doing the damn thing, I know where I want to put it.”
”Yes, I know where you want to put it too. Somewhere else.”
“I ALWAYS use my bloody thighs, you KNOW that.”
He said nothing more. Just stopped, half way through undressing, and Looked at me.
“Well I can’t reach anywhere else.” I snapped at him. “SHE won’t let me use my stomach.”
He clicked his fingers, sharply enough that despite myself I got up in hurry and surrendered the syringe to him. He turned the bedside light on which is brighter, and I stood, trying not to scowl or pull away as he ran his fingers over the top of my thigh and found the patch I’d hoped he wouldn’t.
“No more get put in there.”
He might as well have carved that in stone, it’s pretty much what the tone means. Thus spake Jove.
”It hurts less there.” I said irritably.
”Yes, because the tissue’s getting damaged from over use. Somewhere else Nicky.”
I didn’t say it. Just took the syringe back from him and hesitated for a moment. I really did hate having to inject anywhere else other than my legs or stomach. And the District Nurse from the Black Lagoon had finally told me to stop using my stomach until I put another half stone on and the punctures didn’t bleed. Which Damien had pried out of me after the appointment, more or less with a crowbar as I really hadn’t wanted to share that titbit of information with him.
Damien was still undressing, but watching. And making it clear that he was watching. I took a deep breath, shifted the waistband of my pyjama trousers south which added indignity to injury, and stuck the wretched thing into my hip. Which hurt. I could have predicted that for him.
I shoved the equipment back into the box, not at all happy and well aware that my mood was totally out of proportion to the two minutes and slight discomfort the bloody procedure took if I didn’t make a four act drama about it. Each needle had to be used several times before disposal, which meant by third time it was blunt and starting to hurt, which hacked me off even further, and that was when it became all the more tempting to go for the numb spots I was supposed to avoid and let heal. I sat down on the edge of the bed when I was done, grabbed the oxygen monitor and clipped it over a finger, watching the dial climb.
94. Great.
I turned it off before Damien could see the dial, put it away with the rest of the junk and got into bed.
“What was it?” Damien said quietly, sitting down to take off his watch. I did for a moment consider adding to the number. Then turned over and glared at the pillow instead.
“It was ok.”
”Which means what figure?” Damien repeated in the same tone. He drives me nuts when he does this.
“Ninety four.” I said shortly. There was the click of Damien’s watch laid down and the beep of the alarm clock being set for the morning.
“Then you need to do twenty minutes on the oxygen.”
“It’s only ONE point short.”
”Now please.”
I didn’t move. I don’t know why. I didn’t really hold out any hope that he’d just let it go. Damien pulled the duvet back off me.
Ok, ok, ok. I sat up, grabbed the tubes and turned the dial on the tank that lives under the bed. Welcome to intensive bloody care. This is JUST what all normal guys like to do in bed.
Damien snapped the light off, pulled a pillow under his shoulders and waited until I had the tubes settled before he put an arm around me and tugged me down onto his chest.
“I don’t know why we can’t keep the oxygen downstairs so we don’t have to sleep in a bloody hospital environment.” I said bitterly.
“Because it needs to be to hand if you need it through the night. And so you can sleep with it on if necessary.” Damien’s hand slid under my pyjama jacket and began to rub slow, soothing circles on my back. Which if anything, made me angrier.
“You know we could think again about the pump infusion Bricanyl.” He said quietly after a few moments while I fumed and he apparently thought the whole thing through again. “It would save you having to handle so many separate injections.”
”I am NOT going around with a bloody drip and pump strapped to me all the bloody time.” I said flatly. “I don’t NEED the 24/7 infusions, and you know what they said anyway about finding sites for it.”
”Nicky if you don’t watch your language you’re going to find yourself with a mouthful of something unpleasant.” Damien told me firmly. “I’m hearing far too much swearing from you at the moment.”
Fine. Then he could talk about this calmly, I wasn’t going to talk at all. I tried pulling away and thumping over onto my side. Damien simply grabbed my arm and rolled me straight back to face him, and he didn’t look amused.
“And we’ll do without the tantrums either. I know you don’t like this. I get it. But we do NOT need the first and last twenty minutes of every day to be full of growling and flouncing around while you do the med routines. It’s not necessary, it doesn’t make it any easier or any more pleasant. Does it?”
I glared back at him, making it very clear with my eyes if not my voice that it wasn’t HIM who had to do this. He looked back for a moment, quite unintimidated. Then he leaned over and snapped the light on.
“All right my boy, you can go and fix that glare on the corner instead of me please.”
“Da-“ I started, outraged, and he not only pulled the duvet down this time, he swatted me as well.
Still annoyed and slightly shaken too, I detatched the oxygen tubes, climbed out of bed, and feeling distinctly small, took myself across the room to the corner. And stood, trying not to fidget, very aware of my bare feet on the carpet and the rustle of paper as Damien picked up a book behind me. Great. That meant I was going to be here a while. I tipped my head back, stared up at the corner instead of directly AT the corner, and tried to figure out when he’d lost patience.
All right, I admit it. I was pushing my luck glaring at him, that’s never a good idea when I’m already being read the riot act.
I did NOT growl and flounce around.
I flushed, thinking about it, and shifted my weight. Maybe I was being a little grumpy about the whole thing, but justifiably so. It was a pain, quite literally. I hated the bedroom being stuffed full of medical equipment, and I hated still more being in bed dripping tubes. It made me feel about as attractive as a dishwasher. Which, ok, if I’d talked to him about he would have been sympathetic and probably very reassuring, but I seriously doubted his answer was going to be ‘Yes, let’s ditch the oxygen’.
Standing here in pyjamas, staring at a blank wall, I actually felt about nine and a half. Which once more confirmed the message I was trying not to get.
Ok, so I was behaving like a brat.
I WAS a brat.
But I probably didn’t have to be a brat quite this obviously.
I get it. Let’s go back to bed now.
Another page turned. I changed my weight over to my other foot. How fast did he read anyway? And what was he reading? He was burning through whatever it was, which he usually only does on things he hates. Probably my new Terry Pratchett then. Which he tolerates me reading in bed under protest as he has to keep on asking me why I’m laughing.
I wobbled dangerously and grabbed at the wall just in time to stop a complete fall.
“Nicholas, stand on both feet.”
I stood on both feet.
A steady draught came from beyond the blinds over the bedroom window. Ours is an Edwardian house, and without double glazing. Eighty years before people had lived in our house and slept in this room. I was willing to bet none of them ever got stood in this corner.
”And stop picking at the plaster.”
I put my hands down and tried not to sigh audibly.
I’m sorry. I’m done. PLEASE let’s forget about it now?
I couldn’t see a clock and it felt like several hours when he spoke again. Quietly, in a tone that warned me clearly I was not off the thin ice yet.
He needn’t have worried. With cold feet and the subduing effect of cream paintwork for the best part of half an hour, I had absolutely no wish to push this any further. I turned around and he gave me a look from under his eyebrows that was only about three degrees south of a glare. He was still holding the book open with the clear message that given the slightest doubt, he’d send me back to the corner and go on reading.
“Are we done with the paddies for tonight?”
“Yes sir.” I said promptly and apologetically. He shut the book, laid it down and pulled the covers back.
“Come on then.”
I turned the oxygen cylinder back on and slid under the duvet beside him as he turned the light out, fumbling the tubes back into position. He leaned up on one elbow and helped, since he does it better in the dark than I do, then lay down and I once more subsided with my head on his chest.
“I’m sorry.”
“I keep hearing that.” Damien said dryly. “Straight after every strop. I know you hate the injections, but you’ve got to do them and we’re not going to have this performance twice a day, it doesn’t accomplish anything. There’s no need for you to work yourself up into a state.”
“It isn’t the injections so much.” I said plaintively. “It’s all of it. It’s ALL difficult.”
“It doesn’t have to be.” Damien’s hand tapped my shoulder, lacking a good deal of the sympathy I felt entitled to. “We’ve done all this before, it’s been fine. It’s a LOT better than being in and out of hospital because your stats are all over the place.
You’re making this difficult by letting it be such a performance and it’s becoming a habit.”
”I’m not!” I protested. Damien didn’t give way.
“It’s a habit. Whatever kind of day you’ve had, you only have to see that box and the temper starts. I know you don’t like it, I know it’s hard to accept, but you’re going to behave properly about it or deal with me, I’m not having any more of it Nick.”
I bit on a fair amount of outrage.
He KNEW I hated this. He knew it made me furious. And now he expected me just to be miserable about it quietly? He didn’t want a partner, what he really wanted was an AI. He could plug THAT into the mains too at night.
His hand was once more stroking my back, making me realise at some level that yes, I knew he loved me, and he wasn’t setting out deliberately to drive me around the twist. But this really wasn’t fair. I knew exactly what he was saying. ‘Behave properly’- do the meds calmly and without what he’d call ‘fuss’ - or he’d jump all over me. How just is that?
“I don’t think that’s fair.” I said as civilly as I could manage. Damien sounded wry in the darkness, his voice above my head.
“It doesn’t have to be fair.”
Thus spake Jove again. I was going to find a stone mason to chisel all this into the walls. The seven hundred and thirty four commandments. As nicely as I could I slid out of his arms and back onto my own side of the bed. It still wasn’t fair.


I glared at Damien, who glared right back. He won. I opened, not willingly, and got a mouthful of greasy, fish flavoured oil.
There is really no way to describe the sheer disgustingness of the feel of it as much as the taste. And there’s another horrendous few seconds where you hold it in your mouth and try and work out whether swallowing it and getting rid of the sensation in your mouth is actually worth the revolting sensation of moving it around your mouth TO swallow. And whether you can risk swallowing without bringing it straight back up again. I spent the usual few seconds where my mouth argued with my brain before my brain got the upper hand. I swallowed, gulped again hard to get rid of any more of the stuff and hissed in sheer revulsion.
“Corner.” Damien said shortly, capping the bottle.
I headed to the nearest corner of the kitchen, still trying to work the greasiness out of my mouth and make it some how less pervasive. We didn’t curse a blue streak while we did the Bricanyl injections, did we Nicholas?
No Damien.
Except on the third use of the bloody needle when it was blunt, and it hurt, and I couldn’t get the damn solution into the syringe properly and it took several tries, and I was fed up with spending nearly half an hour of a Sunday morning trying to get through pills, packets and potions. I still thought the answer was that I went and did all this in a separate room where he didn’t – or better still couldn’t – see what went on while I did it. He didn’t agree.
“Wash your mouth out.” Damien told me sternly a few minutes later. “And I don’t want to hear that again.”
From someone who knew all the words to ‘Twas on the Good Ship Venus’ and had frequently sung them with various rugby clubs, along with other gems of appalling obscenity that I couldn’t have listened to without blushing, never mind sung aloud, that was rich. I explained that to him in between gulps of water, and got swatted.
“I don’t use any of those words TO you or in your hearing, and certainly not in context. Do I?”
I didn’t use them TO him either. I used them TO the box of syringes, for a very good reason. And this morning I had used ONE, and one only.
The expression on his face warned me not to press the issue any further. His patience while I did the med routines, was currently at its absolute minimum, with a policy of zero tolerance in the bedroom. What we really needed was the U.N. in blue helmets, upstairs at all times.
He put toast on the table, I collected milk and various things to spread on toast, sat down and coated one slice in marmalade which covered up the remains of fish taste. Admittedly, as soon as we got to breakfast every morning things promptly got back up to speed again. He had put one of his Steeleye Span CDs on, since it was still officially Christmas, and they were belting out ‘See Amid the Winter’s Snow’ in close harmony with Damien half unconsciously singing the chorus which was the one bit he knew all the words to. He actually has a lovely baritone. He caught me smiling at him as he brought the tea pot across to the table and stooped, kissing me briefly and firmly as he sat down.
“You.” I pushed the marmalade into reach. We had two days left of the Christmas holidays, today and tomorrow, and nowhere we needed to be and nothing we particularly needed to do which was always nice.
“Shall we go sailing this morning?” Damien suggested through a mouthful of toast. “There’s a good wind and it’s not THAT cold.”
His idea of too cold to sail is the water frozen solid. I phoned the boat yard while he did the washing up after breakfast and established that yes, they were manned and hiring boats out to the few lunatics prepared to go out on the lake in January. I was changing into the warmest things I owned and wondering whether I could talk Damien out of the wetsuit idea when I heard the phone ring downstairs. We both had wetsuits, the short sleeved and legged things which supposedly fit under clothes in cold weather, but they were hell to get in and out of. Taking mine with me, I headed back downstairs in time to hear Damien say cheerfully,
“Hi Allen.”
”No.” I told Damien severely, sitting down on the stairs where I could watch him. “NO way. Absolutely NOT.”
“We’re going over to the lake.” Damien said to the phone. “IN wet suits.” He added looking at me. I pulled a face at him. “But we could meet you there.”
”NO.” I said again more forcefully. “NOT under any circumstances!”
”About eleven thirty?”
“We’ll see you there.” Damien said and put the phone down as I grabbed for it.
”I’m NOT talking to Robin.” I said emphatically. “He got me drunk last week! I’d never had a hangover in my life until he put all kinds of junk into that wine, that was PLANNED!”
“Yes, and he got walloped by Allen for it, plus an earful and a half from me at work when I saw him on Tuesday.” Damien steered me back upstairs, with wet suit. “And he apologised to you and you accepted the apology.”
”I was drunk at the time!” I protested. “That was just downright MEAN, I felt awful for two days afterwards and I didn’t do anything to him at all! You KNOW every time he comes near me he’s going to do something to torture me-“
”He has a strange idea of what’s funny and it needs sorting out.” Damien agreed. “But most of the time he’s a nice kid, and you love Allen.”
”I do love Allen, I just have no clue what he sees in that –“ I trailed off, words failing me. “NO. If you’d stop letting him in the house none of these things would ever happen.“
”Like you gluing his hands to his pockets?” Damien suggested, straight faced. “Or dropping loft ladders on him? Or posting him to Northampton?”
I swiped up the nearest thing to hand which was a pillow and hit him with it. He fended me off and found his own wet suit. The sight of him getting into it was distracting and I sat down on the bed to admire him doing it, slightly diverted from the question of Robin.
“If he comes on the lake I’m going to drown him.”
”He’s not coming on the lake, they just want to meet us for a coffee.” Damien zipped up the top half of the suit and picked up mine. “Want a hand?”
That was too good an offer to turn down. I got up, still grumbling.
“You can like him as much as you want, just keep him AWAY from me. And LISTEN to what he says to me!”
”If he starts, all you need to do is tell me.” Damien pointed out. “I’ll sort him out if you let me know when it’s happening, instead of boiling up to throwing things at him.”
Or punching him. I didn’t think Allen ever had told on me for that one.

We had a good two hours sailing one of the two man yachts that morning and we pretty much had the lake to ourselves. A few hardened souls were biking around it, and a few people were walking dogs, but apart from the paddle boats in the shallows by the docks, no one else was braving the water. The wind was strong and the boat raced, we had to reef in the sail to keep her from tearing under the strength of the gusts. On days like this I could try again to persuade Damien to try winter sailing the Tamar. To which his answer is usually yes, if we take her to the Mediterranean to do it.
We were both wind blown, cold and thoroughly exhilarated when we finally handed the yacht back to the two half frozen boatmen on the dock and strolled up towards the pub restaurant on the lakeside. Allen waved to us before we were half way there, and we spotted them leaning against the fence over the lake. They must have been watching us for some time, they both looked cold and Robin was blowing on his hands.
“That’s beautiful to watch.” Allen said as we reached them. “Makes me want to learn how to sail.”
I Looked at Damien, who grinned and hooked an arm around my neck as we started to walk towards the restaurant.
“We’ll split you between two boats in the summer. Nick can teach you and I’ll teach Robin.”
I gave Robin a curt nod, and got a brief flash of eye contact, a very brief twitch of his mouth that might have been hello. Unusual for him. If he was being sarcastic with me I knew about it, and if he was in one of his sunnier moods it was obvious to all- that kind of mutter wasn’t at all in character. And he was hovering on Allen’s far side, well away from us but at a distance from Allen too.
Also unusual.
The restaurant was quiet and I followed Damien to the bar, watching Allen and Robin settle on sofas by the window overlooking the water. Robin shouldered out of his coat and curled up on the corner of the sofa, looking out through the glass. Usually when we sat anywhere with him, his hands were everywhere and he was either chattering nineteen to the dozen in the way that drove me mad, or he was playing chess against some invisible opponent at the table with every item within reach.
Damien, carried away by it being Christmas and nearly the end of Christmas, ordered coffee and two hot chocolate fudge sundae things which when they landed on top of the counter I could see were going to guarantee that neither of us wanted to eat again for the rest of the day.
“Oh to be someone who doesn’t have to watch their waistline.” Allen said regretfully when we brought them across to the table. Damien waited for me to slide in on the sofa and dug me in the ribs.
“It’s a never ending battle trying to get anything to stick to his metabolism.”
And Damien spent too many lunch hours hurling himself around a squash court with various colleagues while he waited for the return of the cricket season to ever put on weight. I dug back, well aware of the build under the wetsuit, which I thoroughly approved of and had well mapped out. Damien and I shared one of the sundaes, scuffling in silence for the popcorn pieces although the smile I got whenever I caught his eye suggested that he was letting me win. Allen thoughtfully ate ice cream out of theirs and Robin picked half heartedly, then sat back and drank coffee.
I’d seen Robin with chocolate; this was appallingly out of character.
He’d eaten very little and Allen hadn’t commented on it when we walked out of the restaurant half an hour later. He’d barely fidgeted either.
“Want to walk around the lake?” I suggested on impulse, still watching Robin. “There are the standing stones, that’s not too far to go.”
Damien glanced at me and I could see he was somewhat surprised: I think he’d been about to offer me a graceful way for us to escape. But Allen seemed happy to walk, and Robin trailed him without comment. I could see Damien’s eyes on Robin too although he was too tactful to comment. We kept pace for a while, Robin drifting further back, his hands in his pockets, until I slowed my pace slightly and let Allen and Damien get well ahead of me. Robin didn’t look up as I fell into step beside him. I watched him for a few moments, well versed in the shoulders, the lip and the eyes: I did them all myself if Damien wasn’t watching and I thought I could get away from it.
“What was it about?” I said eventually. Robin didn’t answer. I walked a little closer, hunching my shoulders against the wind coming in off the lake.
“Was it this morning? Last night?”
Finally I got a nod.
“Bad?” I said gently.
Robin finally let me see his face and I saw his eyes fill. Sometimes, just occasionally, I see why Damien comes over all protective about him. I put an arm through his on impulse, pulled him close and gave him a hug, keeping pace with him.
“What was it about?”
“Still being grounded.” His voice was so soft I could barely hear it. I thought at first too that the colour on his face was windburn, and then I realised, he was actually bitterly embarrassed. So much so that he could barely look at me.
“Still?” I repeated. Robin winced, ducking his chin down into the raised collar of his jacket.
“I’m still officially on probation.”
Oh dear.
I’d never asked Allen or Damien about Robin’s six weekends in prison custody, they really weren’t something I wanted to think about- and I’d certainly never spoken to Robin about them. I knew his sentence had been twenty weeks, with only eighteen days of that actually served in custody, but the remainder of those twenty weeks on licence. Which meant essentially that he was bailed to Allen’s responsibility and with an evening curfew. I wasn’t too clear on the details, but I was aware from Damien that Allen had added to that. It probably wasn’t as severe a grounding as it had been near the beginning of the twenty weeks, and I didn’t think Allen’s version of grounding was likely to be as strict as Damien’s - but twenty weeks was a long time.
“What happened?”
Robin didn’t answer for some time, although I could see it wasn’t for lack of trying. He was absolutely humiliated. I could see the effort it was taking him to find words, never mind get them out, and it amazed me.
“I was moaning- some friends about a party.” He said eventually, thickly.
“And Allen wouldn’t let you go?” I surmised. Robin nodded, not meeting my eyes.
“What happened?” I asked, as tactfully as possible, well aware he wasn’t likely to want to explain- and aware too that there lay what he was most upset about.
Robin stopped, leaning against the railings over the lake, and I could see he was very close to tears.
”I lost my temper.” The tears did well over then. “He spanked me. And he talked to me about it again this morning.”
From the way his voice shook, it was hard to work out which in his eyes had been worst.
“As if I didn’t care what happened with that woman, and I’d go and do it again- like I thought it was ok to forget all about it- I don’t! I was just upset because I wanted to go-“
Arg. I could seriously understand. I put an arm around Robin’s shoulders and felt him start to sob, although he choked it back so hard he spluttered more than cried.
“I would have been home by the time the curfew started, it doesn’t HAVE to mean I can’t go anywhere or do anything, that’s Allen, not the court. And it’s been four months, there’s only another three weeks of the parole to go-“
And Allen was sticking it out to the final day.
“I know.” Robin said thickly. “I GET it. I’m not going to do that again, but I don’t understand why he has to push this out to the whole bitter bloody end, and he expects me to just accept what he says without –“
Making a fuss.
Oh been there, done that, got the t shirt.
I hugged him and he abruptly leaned against me, reminding me poignantly of just how young he was. I tended to forget.
There were two halves to this, both of which I understood so well I could have written a thesis on them. On the one hand there were all the rights and the wrongs and the ins and the outs of the situation, all of which created a bottomless well of emotion. And on the other was Damien- or in Robin’s case, Allen- making their assessment of the situation and simply saying ‘no’. And in many ways, once that ‘no’ was spoken, nothing else was relevant. There was no point in arguing any more. There were no rights, there were no wrongs, there were no marks to be gained from debating, there was just the umpire’s decision, which was final.
It wasn’t nearly as straightforward as it sounded.
I took a breath, trying to find the understanding I had for myself, although I didn’t remember where it had come from.
“It’s trying not to worry about what’s fair. Or what you think is the right thing to do. Not that that doesn’t matter, and it’s not like that in everything.” I stopped, aware I was already starting to wander off track into a forest of words. “Look. There are things you give him to decide. And they’re his decisions, that’s how it works, and you know he makes them FOR you. So if you get a ‘no’ – or a ‘yes’ for that matter- you just have to trust him that he’s got his reasons and go with it.”
”I do.” Robin mumbled, rubbing at his face. “Mostly.”
Yes, so did I. But there was more to it than that.
“You can stand in the middle of ‘I think that but he said … whatever’.” I said slowly. “Which is going to pull you every which way. Or you can accept that it’s his decision, that he’s made the right one for you and that’s the end of it. And there IS peace in that.”
“Can you DO that?” Robin demanded. “Even on the things that REALLY piss you off? No matter what you think, he says and you just say fine?”
No. That wasn’t what I meant. There was a whole world of subtleties, none of which I could explain well.
I took a breath, thinking about it.
There was something Damien insisted on with me, although not something I thought we’d ever explicitly talked about. Cheerful as opposed to grudging obedience. He never let me get away with muttering, scowling or sulking about it when he did lay down the law- as far as he was concerned that was disobedience not far off refusing to do at all. And he’d never let me leave a situation or discussion still showing any sign of smouldering over it. It made me livid at times, like the recent battles we’d had where he’d challenge even the slightest sign of temper with the medications. But ‘no’, or for that matter ‘yes’, were fixed points in our house.
I could mentally hear the arguments of the pop psychologists lining up to protest about repression, the whole thought made me smile. My parents had never challenged any signs of temperament or protest when my will crossed theirs, and I’d stamped and sulked around that house for eighteen years, not controlling any of my feelings because there was never any expectation that I should, until my emotions pretty much controlled me. I was quite capable of working myself up into tempers and anxieties and stresses and depressions intense enough to make myself ill, and given half a chance I did.
Damien was reasonable, he didn’t expect me to hide my feelings or to behave at all unnaturally- he just had clear expectations of willing, positive obedience in specific situations, with the understanding that it was hard to do sometimes, but with the expectation that I WOULD do it, and properly. And I had to admit it, I was a hell of a lot happier with him than I’d ever been as a child.
“No.” I said eventually. “Not every time, not with everything, and not easily. It’s something I’ve tried to learn how to do. But I know he loves me, I do trust him to know what I need and to make the right decision for me, even if I don’t actually agree with it at the time.”
”I GET that.” Robin muttered. “I’m not being forced to do anything I don’t want to. I DO bloody agree. I’m just still pissed off about it.”
I had every sympathy with that.
We started to walk again, aware of Allen and Damien waiting some way ahead for us to catch up.
“What DO you do?” Robin said, half under his breath, but honestly. I was touched by the honesty in his voice, I’d never heard him sound so frankly upset.
”When you’re this pissed off about it?”
It was a good question. I had a nasty suspicion that I probably made it clear how brassed off I was. Although Damien wouldn’t have allowed me to be walking around this lake in the clear state Robin was in: he would have jumped on the first sign and kept on jumping, until we worked it through to a point where I could feel better about it. I did probably know one answer though, much as I myself didn’t use often use it properly in moments of crisis.
“Talk to him about it.” I said dryly, reflecting that at least on the issue of the medication I’d shown, demonstrated and spat fragments of everything I felt on the matter without once actually saying to Damien what was going on in my head. Not that I didn’t think he had a fair idea anyway, but that wasn’t the point.
“We DID talk about it this morning.” Robin said miserably. “It still boils down to ‘no’.”
”Then he’s got his reasons.” I said again, gently. “There’s a difference between arguing the issue, and telling him you feel rotten about it. One he’s going to jump all over, the other-“
Damien I knew I could always depend on to listen, and to want to help. And at the end of the day, however it might feel sometimes, we were always on the same side.
Don’t do as I do, child, go and do as I say.

We went home for lunch, saying goodbye to Allen and a somewhat more alive Robin in the car park, and lounged at home eating salad and left over turkey while we read the papers at the kitchen table. We were washing up some time later when Damien suddenly took the dish towel out of my hands.
“Nicky, go and do a peak flow reading.”
THAT had come out of the blue. I looked at him, taken aback, but moved automatically towards the stairs. Half way up, it hit me. I felt the cold sweat start, my chest abruptly seized and I held onto the banisters, sitting down and leaning my head hard against the wall to concentrate. I could feel the tightening band lock around my lungs with an equally powerful wave of very real fear behind it. Damien came into the hall, I heard him run up the stairs past me and disappear into our room, then the sound of his stride coming back.
“Here.” Damien sat down on the step beside me and put an arm around my shoulders, handing me the peak flow tube. It took a minute to get myself calm enough to use it, I was aware of my hands shaking and a growing sense of nausea as my chest went on gripping. I could hear my own breathing now. Not like the usual clank and grind of the chronic asthma, this was the flat out panic wheezing. The dial stood at 150. That was all the hallmarks and I knew exactly what we were facing. One of the classic brittle attacks. They came without warning, out of nowhere, I could go from fine to being in real trouble in a very few minutes. These were BAD stats now, and I knew from bitter experience that they could plunge a lot lower than that: these were the unpredictable and frequently unstoppable attacks that tended to end with ventilators in the worst case. To say I was terrified right now was putting it mildly.
Damien had to pretty much manhandle me upstairs since breathing was taking up more energy than I could spare for walking, and I watched him set up the nebuliser with ridiculously steady hands. He must know what was happening, he knew the signs as well as I did, but he still sounded absolutely calm, as though we actually had the time to combat this, as though it might NOT go horribly wrong as we’d seen it do several times before. The peak flow was down to 130 when I took it again, and once he’d given me the nebuliser mask, Damien took the oxygen monitor and clipped it on to my nearest finger. 78.
NOT a good sign.
Damien looked at his watch and sat down on the bed to hold my hand. If he was disturbed by the fact he was in imminent danger of having his fingers broken by my crushing them, it didn’t show in his face.
“Mind if I put the tv on? The match should start any minute.”
It wasn’t the football he was interested in, only the distraction, and I knew it; but I nodded. The tv clicked on. I clung to Damien and tried not to gulp. Damien’s free hand pushed my hair back from my face, as warm and comforting as his voice.
“You CAN breathe Nick, you’re getting more air than you think you are. Breathe slowly.”
He and my mother: the only two people in the world whose voices work like ventilators. If he talked me through it I could keep breathing, panic didn’t swallow me whole. The nebuliser finished and Damien turned on the oxygen cylinder, handing me the mask instead of the usual tubes. I clung to his hand as he reached for the phone, seriously scared he was about to call it quits and ring for an ambulance, but he squeezed back reassuringly, laying the receiver in his lap to dial without letting go of me.
“I just want to try ringing Paul, it’s all right darling.”
Considering it was New Year’s weekend, we’d be lucky if he was home, never mind what his family thought about patients taking up his free time.
Paul Wilkes, who has been our GP long enough to know our history, came to the phone immediately when Damien made the request of his wife at home. Damien talked to him for a few minutes, turning my hand to check the oxygen monitor. I had no interest what it said, most of my energy was focused now on moving air in and out of the clamp locked around my chest and I was aware of the early stages of getting tired. And I mean Tired. This is the point where it truly gets dangerous, where we usually do have to give in and call for help, and that’s when the tubes and ICU units start getting involved.
“He said to give you the adrenaline, alternate the oxygen and the nebuliser and he’ll come straight over.” Damien said when he put the phone down.
I was getting past caring what happened. It was only the second time we’d ever used the injector pen, and other than hearing the click I didn’t even register where Damien had shot it. He set up the second nebuliser and we swapped masks, he laid the oxygen tubes out of reach and I leaned forward, resting my forehead on his chest, the forward angle that makes breathing fractionally easier. Damien held my shoulders, his fingers rubbing lightly across the back of my neck, his voice in my ear.
“It’s all right Nicky. If it gets any worse we’ll go to casualty, but the oxygen’s helping, the figures aren’t dreadful.”
I did twist my hand far enough to see the dial. 80. Not good, but I’d seen them down in the low sixties before now. I could actually feel the effects of the adrenaline starting to work. My hands were shaking, I could feel my heart racing, but it was actually a little easier to breathe, a little less of the effort it had been, and the fear I’d felt a few times before in the past, of just not being able to keep trying any longer, was starting to fade too.
We’d completed the second nebuliser and were back on the oxygen when Paul arrived, in a sloppy sweater and jeans that spoke of a lazy morning enjoying the holiday. It wasn’t anything like the first time he’d carried out these tests in our bedroom and we knew the routine by heart, although he raised his eyebrows when he found the wet suit.
”How long is it now?” he asked while he was waiting for me to get sufficient breath together to do another peak flow test.
“Just coming up to twenty minutes.” Damien said from my other side. I managed to blow into the monitor hard enough to shift the dial and Paul took it from me.
“150. That’s coming back up. And the oxygen levels are up to 85. Do another five minutes on the oxygen and start the next nebuliser. I’m going to call the hospital and see if I can give you any more of the Bricanyl.”
If they wanted to muck around with the Bricanyl levels I knew the routine: they were going to want me in hospital while they did it. And once they’d got me there, I wouldn’t get out again until I had two consistent days of a peak flow at 300. Which after an attack like this usually took a while.
“Don’t stress. Just breathe.” Damien said quietly and sternly beside me, and I wondered how he’d known what I was thinking. His hand cupped the back of my neck once more, heavy and comforting.
“I didn’t feel a thing all morning.” I said in between gasps. Damien shook his head.
“Slowly Nicky, breathe properly, don’t gulp. I didn’t see anything either. Not until you went white in the kitchen and I saw the dark rings starting under your eyes.”
The peak flow log was open on the bedside table where Damien was continuing to map out the readings as we took them. At seven thirty this morning it had been 430, which for me, first thing in the morning, was pretty good.
“I can give you another shot of the Bricanyl.” Paul said cheerfully, coming back from the landing with his cell phone. “Another 25 milligrams and that should start to make a difference in about five minutes. What’s the score?”
“Three-one.” Damien said without looking at the tv. I caught his eye and he gave me a faint, apologetic smile.
We sat and watched the next half hour of the game together, Damien and Paul drank tea and my wheezing gradually got quieter and easier and eventually tailed off altogether. I was dozing on and off, and the peak flow was standing at 260 when Paul took it for the last time and began to re pack his bag.
“Unless you go back under 200, I think you’ll be ok. I want to run the flags up Nick, I think that’s the first time we’ve handled an attack this bad without needing the hospital to take over. Use the oxygen as you need to, keep a close eye on the figures and call me if you’re worried. Otherwise I’ll drop in and see you tomorrow morning.”
I heard Damien go downstairs with him, but nothing of what was said on the stairs. Despite Damien and Paul banking me up with pillows until I was sitting bolt upright, I still fell asleep more or less as soon as they left the room.

It was dark when I became aware of the tv again, quiet and in the middle of a film from what I could hear of it. The bed stirred as Damien sat down beside me and I turned my head to find him. He’d put a blanket over me at some point, the oxygen tubes were off and I felt like I’d run a marathon. He leaned over and kissed me, pausing with his face about six inches from mine to look carefully.
“You look better. How are you feeling?”
Sore. My chest felt bruised from the effort of hauling air in and out against all the odds, and I was still tired, but I was breathing fairly quietly, as though it had never happened.
“WHY is it always New Year?” I demanded. Damien smiled, but without much humour, his eyes gold and green with sympathy.
“I don’t know darling. I wish I did.”
He has gorgeous eyes. I leaned back against the pillows, soothed and with the edge sliding off the frustration.
”I didn’t DO anything.”
”I know you didn’t.” He said promptly and comfortingly emphatically. “You were fine while we were walking, you weren’t at all bothered by the cold while we were at the lake. Sometimes they just happen anyway. Sit up and do a peak flow, and I’ll help you get undressed. You’ll be a lot more comfortable in bed.”
I did the three huffs into the monitor while he drew the curtains, put the lights on and straightened out the room. The figures were relatively good. It didn’t look right now like we’d be having any panics in the middle of the night, this had been short and sharp and looked – nervous though I was about getting too hopeful- as though it was over.
“I wasn’t stressed out either.” I said, somewhat defensively as Damien helped me change into pyjamas. And literally helped. I was exhausted. Left to myself I’d have gone right on sleeping in my clothes.
He held the covers back for me and stretched out on top of the duvet, giving me a somewhat askance look.
“Stressed out?”
“It wasn’t because I wound myself up this morning over the meds.”
I wasn’t at all sure that he’d agree with that: my emotions were very definitely tied in with my asthma somehow, that was one of the numerous elements of life that he’d identified over the years that even if they weren’t a specific trigger on their own, pushed things towards better or worse. He shook his head at once though, waving the remote at the tv to dull down the sound.
“No. You were fed up but you weren’t in a state. And I’ve never known you have an attack no matter how much stropping you were doing. It’s stewing about things and keeping them quiet that causes you problems, not getting upset or angry or anything else. Don’t you remember that consultant we talked to who said about asthmatics needing to literally get emotions off their chests?”
I nodded, relaxing somewhat in relief. Attacks like this worried and upset him, and caused havoc- if I was in any way responsible I would have felt awful about it.
“So what are you feeling guilty about?” Damien said bluntly.
That wasn’t something that went easily into words. Damien snapped the tv off altogether and turned onto his side, running his hand up over my chest.
“Was it anything to do with Robin? I meant to ask you about that. Allen said they’d had a difficult morning.”
”That’s tactful.” I said wryly. Damien waited, propping his head on his hand. I took the hand still wandering over my torso and laced my fingers through it.
“He was asking me what to do about being – excuse the vernacular- ‘that pissed off’ about a decision Allen made.”
Maybe it’s the years together, but he reads me in shorthand. I knew he’d get most of the implications behind that. He nodded slowly, waiting.
“What did you tell him?”
I laughed and winced as my ribs caught. Damien shifted his hand to rub them gently.
“Well I didn’t explain to him what I was doing before breakfast. I wasn’t too sure what to say. He was still pretty upset and angry, he was barely talking to Allen- you and I just wouldn’t be done with the situation if I was still in that state.”
“Maybe he needs more space.” Damien said quietly. I shot him a look, aware of his tone.
“I’m not criticising Allen. I just didn’t know what to say about what I’d do in his position when the answer was you wouldn’t let me act like that in the first place. Not that you expect me just NOT to get upset about decisions I’m not happy with, but...”
I trailed off, not sure how to explain. He didn’t expect me not to feel. But he wouldn’t put up with me going silent on him, or sulking, any more than he’d put up with any other means of arguing back.
“You are someone,” Damien said eventually, “Who has a few more serious compulsions and limitations than most people because of the asthma, and you don’t cope well with stress. You can’t afford to fret and make yourself ill when you have to deal with what are going to be inevitable restrictions. A good part of that is learning how to accept the word ‘no’ and be happy within the limits set. Not always agitating to get outside them. It’s a very old fashioned and probably a very British concept.” He added dryly. “Not many people these days are brought up to resign themselves to ‘no’ at all, never mind learning to do it gracefully.”
That was my boy. Old fashioned as hell, but they were values we both believed in. I’d heard him say to me, so, so many times, “Nick, you control your behaviour. It doesn't control you, whatever you'd like to think. You are not a helpless victim of it. You are making yourself (scared/angry/anxious/insert whatever into the blank that I was currently wound up about). You're going to have to change that behaviour and I'm going to insist on it.”
My parents always accepted slammed doors, shouting, growling, being ignored and withdrawal as the lot of living with a teenaged asthmatic, and mostly, I admit, worked on not annoying me. Damien, who isn’t even slightly intimidated by the thought of annoying me, made it crystal clear in the first few weeks we lived together that he wasn’t tolerating any of that, and if I didn’t keep my temperament within acceptable limits, then he’d do it for me. And did so.
Habit does play an awfully large part in it. Yes I still sulked and stropped and got sick with anxiety at times, but Damien taught me how to control it, and that I actually had a choice about whether or not I let it rule me, with him heavily on the side of one choice, defending me from the other. It’s not easy to stay really, successfully stroppy while standing still in a corner. The action totally blows the mood.
Or at least it does for me.
I gave some serious thought once more to what I’d said to Robin, not a little embarrassed. Giving good advice is an awful lot easier than actually following it: I was not exactly a living personification of the text book example.
“I really don’t like the tubes and all the rest of it in the bedroom.” I said eventually. I was too shattered to be emotional about it too, which probably helped with the tone.
Damien went on waiting, his hand still circling over my waist in the dark, not saying anything but it was clear I had his full attention. I rolled over and buried my face against his neck, felt his arms close around me tightly.
“I know it’s got to be done. I know it’s doing the job. But it’s not easy to- I don’t like that every time we go to bed you’re seeing me dripping tubes and dials and needles, it’s the last thing done before we go to bed, it’s the first thing we do IN bed in a morning. It’s a serious mood killer. Unless you’ve got some medical fetish you’ve not told me about yet,” I added with a forlorn attempt at a laugh.
He didn’t even bother answering that, just freed a hand and swatted me, a lot more accurately than really should be possible in the dark. He clearly gets way too much practice.
“By the time we’ve done all that, I don’t feel anything like interested in or capable of… “ I trailed off again, aware of how pathetic this sounded.
Damien rolled over, pinning me underneath him, and kissed me for answer. A lot more firmly than I was expecting too, considering he knew the state my ribs were in: it certainly wasn’t appropriate for someone supposedly fragile.
“I don’t see it as anything different to shaving or eating,” he said in my ear. “It’s just one of those things that have to be done, and I want you to be safe and comfortable. You’re a whole person Nicky, this is one very minor aspect, not the defining feature.”
”I know.” I said somewhat wearily. I knew the answers. There were none. He sounded very gentle though.
“And we do need the oxygen up here darling. It isn’t that I don’t know or don’t care that you don’t like it, but apart from this being one of the safest rooms to keep it in, you most often do need it early in the morning or during the night and you need to be able to sleep on it if need be. I don’t want you sleeping in another room or either of us hauling that tank from room to room as needed, it makes a lot more sense just to have it here. The rest of the stuff, the monitors and the Bricanyl we can move to the kitchen and do there.”
It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but then again I knew the answer I wanted just wasn’t feasible. And the way I felt right now, he was likely to have a more romantic evening with the cat than he was going to get with me. Sometimes that got to me more than all the rest of it combined. The tears were as much from being tired and feeling rotten as minding about all this, and I knew he understood that, but I still hated myself for doing just what would put the highest pressure on him. He settled down against the pillows and manhandled until I was lying against him, both of us pressed together full length, head to foot, with his cheek against my head. I could feel the warmth of his breath against my hair.
“I know. I know. Go to sleep baby. It’s going to look better in the morning.”


We spent most of Bank Holiday Monday in bed, watching tv and videos, reading and dozing with Anastasia who loves it when one of us is ill and spent most of the day luxuriating on the duvet. Damien went back to work on Tuesday, but he wouldn’t let me go back until Thursday, which is one of my half days anyway. Beth met me in the workshop with a hug and a somewhat anxious look at my face.
“Do I want to know if you had a good holiday weekend?”
“Probably not.” I admitted. “Other than the asthma it was ok.”
And actually, to be back at work, feeling fine just four days after a brittle attack of that calibre was a very new experience. In previous years I’d have been in hospital for days and home for days more after that. The Bricanyl and the wretched oxygen did have its advantages.
“Well we’re not exactly falling over work.” Beth said flippantly, smiling at the three guys who run the workshop side of things for us, all of whom were drinking tea and taking very little notice of the one or two orders half packed and ready on the workshop floor. “If you want to take the rest of the week out love, it’s not going to be a problem.”
”I’m fine.” I trailed her up to the office, where she had the small two bar fire on full blast. “If there’s nothing better to do I’ll get the filing cabinets straight.”
Beth looked at the filing cabinets and her desk, winced and picked up her coat.
“No. I can feel a very important meeting executive meeting coming on, taking place somewhere with opportunities for shopping and good coffee. Nick LEAVE that, we ran around in circles for weeks before Christmas, we’ve earned some slack time.”
We wandered around the town for a while, through the several junk and antiques shops and ended up in the tea shop away from the persistent drizzle, where we shared lunch, chat and very little that had anything at all to do with work. I dropped Beth back at the workshop afterwards, turned back onto the main road and considered my options. I often dropped in on Allen, who typically was ready for a break from work and a chat by now since he worked from home. Damien generally needed more warning if I wanted to meet him for lunch, There was nothing at home really needed doing since I’d had all of Tuesday and Wednesday alone to deal with that. Giving up on any kind of firm plan, I went home, planning to find my new Terry Pratchett and finish it off while I waited for the end of Damien’s working day.
Damien’s car was on the drive.
That did make me slightly nervous. He does occasionally come home for lunch, or to change; although it was more likely he’d come home if he wasn’t feeling well. Or worse still, as I did often worry about, he’d got himself hurt on one of his sites. I put my car behind his, let myself in the front door and dropped my case and coat in the hall.
”In here.”
He was in the direction of the lounge. I shut the front door behind me, left my shoes with my case since if he was going out again he’d need me to move my car, and went in search of him.
“What’s wrong? I wasn’t expecting you to-“
Anastasia blinked regal welcome at me from where she was stretched out in front of the fire, which was blazing in a way that made the day outside feel distinctly less grey and damp. Damien was stretched out beside her, long legs reaching nearly to the door, and he was in jeans and a crew sweater, loose and comfortable wear that said clearly that he was home and intending to stay at home.
I knew the look I was getting too.
He sat up and beckoned to me, deliberately and seriously, and I unfroze in the doorway and went to him, mouth still running independently of brain.
“I thought you were ill. I saw the car on the drive and-“
He pulled me down within reach, unknotted my tie and pulled it loose.
“I took the afternoon off. Get rid of that jacket, there’s a bottle of wine in the fridge, don’t be long.”
Well I’d love to know how he was going to word this on his timesheet.
Still faintly shellshocked, I went automatically into the kitchen, left my jacket over the back of a chair and found a new bottle of wine chilling in the fridge, two glasses put out ready on the table and the phone switched to silent. Dire Straits struck up quietly on the hi fi in the lounge with Mark Knopfler’s dark, sandpaper voice – one of Damien’s ex pin-up boys I hasten to add, not mine.
“Hayes.” Damien’s voice said imperatively from the lounge.
That tone never fails to make me smile.
I pulled the wine out of the fridge, picked up the glasses by the stems and went to join my man in front of the fire.

Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Dark said...

so amazing :)
I wish you kept going with it lool

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