Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sticks and Stones

Title: Sticks and Stones
Author: Ranger
Warnings: Let not your flock abroad on very windy nights. (I have no clue why, possibly they blow away.)

Sincere thanks to Rolf and Libby, both of whom allowed me to live while I wrote this despite my whingeing constantly to them about not being able to work out the politics of it. Their help, their patience and their insight is a lot of the reason it actually got finished. {}


I'd actually known for a while that Beth wasn't too happy. Usually bubbly, she'd been quiet for some days, and every time I asked her I got a smile that didn't reach her eyes and an "I'm fine honey, don't worry. Just tired."

I used that line myself, I didn't believe it any more than Damien ever did when I tried it on him.

"I don't think things are going well with this guy she's living with," I told Damien on the weekend. We'd been sailing all afternoon on our local lake, tacking one of the sailing club's two man yatchs back and forth in the sunshine since it was nearly 100 miles to where our own yatch was in storage. Apart from which, she's too big to sail in a public water sports lake. We'd actually spent a lot of the afternoon planning where we meant to take her this summer. I was all for Lyme Regis again, the coast from there to Southampton. Damien who was sluicing sand and lake water off in the shower while he listened to my arguments, was more inclined to take her further afield this year and had been trying to talk me into it for several weeks now. The thought of abroad always had petrified me. Damien stopped rinsing soap out of his hair and gave me a curious look through the shower door.

"Who is he? I've never heard her talk about him."

"They've been living together just over a year, she knew him at school and met him again at some party." I peeled myself out of very damp jeans and took a seat on the floor to wait for my turn for the shower. "She doesn't say much about him. When she talks about what she did in the evening or weekend it's never 'we', always 'I'."

And that to me was always a dead giveaway. Damien made a hmmn sound and vanished back under the water.

"I don't hear much about him at all except he phoned her the other day at lunchtime and I could hear him shouting," I went on, lifting my voice so he could hear me. "She was in tears when she put the phone down, she went straight into the workshop so I didn't ask her about it, but I could see she was crying."

Damien emerged from the shower, leaving it running for me, and took a towel down, scouring his hair.

"Poor Beth. Sounds like they're going through a bad patch."

"If not breaking up," I said dryly, heading into the shower. Damien shut the door behind me and I heard his voice over the roar of the water, soft with sympathy.

"Not that much you can do, love, other than be there to listen if she wants to talk, and make it clear you do care how she's feeling."

He knew I liked Beth.

She had no problem in the least with the odd hours I worked now, nor the days when I worked from home. Asthma didn't phase her in the slightest; she made it clear that my work was worth the flexibility and there was never any tutting or sighing when I rang in sick. She was a good colleague too; she was talented, she had the gift of making her employees feel comfortable and valued, and she worked hard herself, the office was always a pleasant place to be. I loved working for her. It was the first time in my life I'd consistently enjoyed employment: it had always before been a strain at best and a total nightmare at worst. I'd always wondered why Damien found such solid pleasure in the job he did and the companionship that came so easily to him with the others in his office.

"I keep getting to the edge of asking," I said doubtfully through the shower door. "Then thinking I should mind my own business. She doesn't talk much about home at all."

"It's a difficult one." Damien took my place on the tiles, rubbing
his arms off. "You know her better than I do; would she be upset if
you did ask?"

"She'd just say if she didn't want to answer." I came out of the
shower dripping and took the towel he handed me. "It's making her
feel hassled I'm worried about."

"It's concern, it only says you care about her." Damien stopped me
before I followed him out of the bathroom. "Clothes."

I pulled a face at him, picked them up and put them into the linen basket. At his glare I re-extracted my jeans, took out a tissue and my car keys and followed him into our room. It was hot in the evenings at the moment: so hot that we were tending to migrate up here in early evening as it was cooler than the living room, and sprawling out on the bed with the windows open, either to watch tv or to read. He took my towel from me and scrubbed my back and legs dry before he let me collapse on the bed, hanging both towels over the bannister on the landing. I switched the tv on, flicking absently through tonight's offerings and hastily getting past Gardeners' World on BBC2 before he saw it and demanded viewing rights.

"Fame Academy or EastEnders?"

Damien stretched out beside me with an eloquent groan. "Neither. What do we pay the licence fee for? Remind me?"

"The news?" I found some black and white western on five, and put the remote down, reaching over Damien for my book. He wrapped an arm around my waist as I settled down against him, propping To Kill a Mockingbird on his chest, his hand absently rubbing the base of my spine. Neither of us had bothered to dress, the humidity at the moment was awful. After a moment he leaned to kiss my forehead, mind still clearly with me even though his eyes were on the film.

"Try not to worry about it, love. Beth always strikes me as a very capable lady."


Beth was out doing surveys Thursday morning; she didn't come into the office until nearly four. Nor could our part-time secretary raise her on her cell phone, although she usually did turn it off when she was with clients. I did what I could in the way of handling questions from the workshop staff where necessary, and the mid-week delivery went out at lunchtime, wrapped and completed. I was tying up the odds and ends left on my desk when she appeared, slid her briefcase under her desk and disappeared into the filing cabinet.

"Hi, Nick. Was it a good morning? I'm sorry I didn't ring in."

"The delivery went out, Jefferson and Co. rang again, they want to talk to you-" I leaned over for the Post It note I'd left on the phone. "I need you to check through the designs for Lieberstar before we send them and the workshop got me to check against the blueprints for the three Westbridge signs. They were fine, but they've only just started on them if you want to check."

"I'm sure they're fine." Beth was fiddling, I couldn't see what exactly she was doing, but I heard the faint hiccup in her breathing. I got up and came around the desk as she shut the cabinet, and got the full beauty of a black and purple bruise above her left eye. She'd done her best to cover it with makeup. The attempt had been unsuccessful.

Her eyes filled with tears when she saw my face- I was too shaken up to be anything like discreet. All I could do was put my arms around her and she went rigid for a moment, shuddering, then broke into sobs, dropping her head down against my chest as if she were exhausted.

Even when she calmed down a little, she couldn't stop crying. In the end I picked up her bag and my jacket, locked the office behind us and took her home with me. In the garden, sitting on the bench under the sweetpeas and cradling the glass of wine I'd handed her, she petted Anastasia and gradually began to calm down a little. I sat on the stone steps, warm from the sun, and we talked about nothing in particular, the garden, the weather, the cat, inconsequentials, until she was pale but tearless and her voice was steady again. She tensed visibly an hour or so later when we heard Damien's car turn into the drive. I didn't move, just waited until he reached the kitchen doorway and LOOKED at him hard enough to pull his eyes to me first. He didn't blink, nor appear to see Beth's tearstained face and red - and black - eyes. Just smiled at her, said something cheerful and sincere about being pleased to see her and suggested to me we had a barbecue for tea since it was too hot to sit inside. I followed him into the kitchen, leaving Anastasia in charge of Beth, grabbed Damien by the fridge and kissed him.


He knew I was about to explain and cut me off, nodding towards the garden and Beth who was still in earshot.

"What would Beth prefer? Chicken, or we've got that fish in the freezer."

She came to help in the end and we took our time, cutting salad, bread, meat which Damien skewered into kebabs and we sat amongst the roses and sweetpeas on the patio while it smoked and crackled over the fire. We talked about boating while we ate, Beth knew the coast we loved to sail and talked with enthusiasm about which ports and seaside towns were best on the route. It was when we were finishing the wine with the last of the barbecue smoke still flavouring the air, that I started to panic. The conversation had trailed off, she still sat there with a black bruise around reddened eyes, her fingers flickering nervously around the stem of her glass. Damien took the ball from me with a calm and flat out lack of delicacy, simply putting a hand gently under her chin to look more closely at the bruise.

"That's very near your eye, love; have you had that looked at?"

She didn't jump or flinch away, just tried to smile, sounding offhand and choked.

"No, it's just a bruise, nothing serious. Just a silly accident."

Please, I silently begged Damien, don't be polite and leave it there. If he decided that was the best thing to do, I'd do it too, but tactful disinterest right now seemed the cruellest course we could take.

"It looks like a blow," Damien said very gently.

If I said that, most people would snap back "Well it isn't". Or ask what business it was of mine. Or change the subject. Except people don't tend to do that to Damien, and I knew the look she was getting- no one can pack more warmth or concern into their gaze than he can, and it's there for everyone, everyone responds to it. Her eyes filled with tears again and she ducked her head. Damien let go of her chin and held her hand instead and I came to sit on her other side.

"Mick lost his temper," she said in the end, taking a deep breath to try and steady her voice. "It was my fault really-"

I kept my mouth shut with an effort. Damien just waited, his thumb rubbing her knuckles. I knew the simple comfort in that gesture. Beth took a long, sobbing breath.

"We had an argument, that was all, and it got a bit heated. I shouldn't have nagged at him. He's tired and run down, he doesn't usually act like this."

"You've been looking down for some time," I said gently, "I thought something was wrong."

She gave me a somewhat watery smile but the tears overflowed again. Damien put a hand on my knee, voice soft.

"Nicky, why don't you make us some tea?"

I knew the code. It was not any implication that this was not fit for my ears or I had nothing to offer here- it was simply that I'd brought her home to him because I trusted him to know what to do to help, and what was said now was between them. He'd tell me later what he could without invading her privacy. I got up, collected Anastasia, took her into the kitchen with me and washed up while they talked. I was nearly finished when Damien led her into the kitchen, an arm still around her.

"I'm going to take Beth to pick up her car, Nick; I won't be long."

She looked red-eyed still but calmer, and she kissed me before she left. I took my book into the garden and read until I heard Damien's car and then the heavy clunk of the front door being locked. He looked tired and he came heavily down the steps, settling on the bench beside me and wrapping one arm around me as I moved over to lean against him.

"Is she all right?"

"I think so." Damien kissed the top of my head. "He's away tonight; apparently he left after their argument and she doesn't think he'll come home for a couple of days."

"Is that the first time he'd hit her?"

"No," Damien said sadly. "She wanted me to tell you, darling, she's making plans to leave him. She has for a while, this was the last straw. She has a sister nearby, she's going to see her tomorrow and talk it through with her."

"I'd like a quiet five minutes alone with him," I said grimly. "There's NO excuse for it; how could anyone hit someone like Beth?"

"What worries me most is her being safe while she moves out," Damien said wryly. I twisted to see his face.

"What did she say?"

"That she wouldn't take any of her things out alone. If he hits out when he loses his temper, her actually trying to leave is likely to be a major provocation. I hope she'll take her sister with her. Or that other members of her family will go and do it for her."

"WE could go with her!" I said hotly. Damien looked straight down at me, hazel eyes steady.

"I did make that offer and she said she'd consider it. If she does want us to, we'll take Allen as well; he's not likely to try anything with the three of us watching. But you are not, absolutely NOT, to go to that house with her alone, is that clear?"

"I was always told bullies were cowards," I muttered. The hand resting on my ribs moved and poked, making me squirm.

"Is that clear?"

I knew that tone and pulled a face, with only one acceptable response left to make.

"Yes, it's clear. But he's only ever hit out at her when they're alone together-"

Damien shook his head, unmoved. "We don't know him, we only know he has an unpredictable temper and not enough inhibitions about aggression. And men around might make him all the more likely to hit out. Anyway. It's Beth's decision and she doesn't need to be pressured about it."


SHE didn't need to be pressured about it?

I said nothing at all about it when I arrived at work. Strictly speaking, I didn't work Fridays but I'd begged Damien for an hour to go and collect some papers and make some calls, and for once he'd actually listened and agreed. I think he knew I didn't want Beth sitting in that office alone this morning. Beth looked tired and fragile but calmer, and for the first hour we juggled the phone messages and workshop questions together. Then when I was preparing to settle down to some drawings and hoping Damien didn't feel suspicious enough to ring me and check where I was, she shut the office door and came to sit on the other side of my desk, resting her chin on her arms to look at me with an expression usually reserved for puppies and Anastasia when you're eating tuna.

"I've got a favour to ask you, Nick- I don't like to put you in this position but you're the only person I can ask-"

I looked at her blankly. She cleared her throat.

"I- I want to move out to my sister's today, I can't stand being in that house any more- I had to get out quick this morning because Mick was there; I couldn't take anything more than my usual work things- will you come with me while I pick up my overnight things and clothes? Please?"

Poor Beth. I picked up the phone at once, reaching to hold her hand. "Of course we will, I'll call Damien now-"

"No.." She put her hand over the phone until I put it back in its cradle. "Just you?"

"Why?" I said, puzzled. "He said if you needed help we'd go-"

"I LIKE him….." Beth trailed off, flushing a little. "He was really sweet and he did ask me not to do this without several people there but I have to do it today and I'm sorry, love, but your Damien's a bit on the scary side when he's being practical."


"He just doesn't want you to get hurt," I said gently, well able to understand. There was something about Damien's LOOK when you were suggesting doing something you knew was less than sensible that wasn't easy to face. Beth shrugged a little, lips awry.

"I'm sorry, I know- I'd just rather it was just the two of us. Nick, please? I just want to get my stuff out of there and go."

Her eye was all colours of the rainbow in a white face. She looked tired, and vulnerable and scared, and my heart went out to her. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to be afraid- truly afraid- to go home, and to be honest, that was what settled me. Thank God, I never WOULD know what it was like to have a partner I lived in fear of. The worst that ever would befall me, I knew, was a sore backside- and to be honest, always a well-deserved one, that was total surety. There was nothing unpredictable about Damien. In fact it was highly predictable I'd be getting a sore backside from him when he found out about this. I acknowledged that, sighed, and got up.

"Will Mick be home? I don't want either of us hit here."

"He won't, he never comes back before lunchtime." Beth got up, sniffling. "Thankyou, Nick; I'm too scared to go there on my own. Isn't that pathetic? I've lived with him and I'm terrified of him."

There was no resisting that, how could I possibly resist that?


I went home having had time to rehearse this until I felt fairly sure of my lines.

Damien wasn't going to be happy about this; I was well aware of it and the discussion that would follow would not be pleasant, but I planned on telling him as quickly as possible and getting it over with before dinner. Once it was finished, however pathetic I was feeling, we'd have the rest of the evening to cuddle and to hopefully carry on discussing boating plans in front of the tv. That part was well worth going home for. It didn't make my stomach feel any more settled right now though, no matter how I tried to focus on it.

Damien arrived about two minutes after I did: I heard the front door shut and his call as he hung his jacket up.


"Feeding the cat." I put Anastasia's biscuits away, stepped carefully around her and went to give him a hug. The last of his aftershave still lingered as he kissed me, jaw scraping comfortingly against mine, the office coffee on his breath.


"Hi." I gave him a smile and saw his eyebrow go, even as his hands stopped wandering and linked in the small of my back, his face becoming quizzical.


"I need to talk to you," I admitted. Damien didn't move, just waited, hazel eyes calm and cheerful.

"Go on then?"

Not here. I'd planned this sitting down. I slipped through his grasp, took his hand and led him after me into the kitchen, taking a seat at the table. He took the seat next to me, pulled it out and sat down, leaning his elbows on the table and waiting. I loved that look, it always said no matter what I told him it wasn't going to be nearly as dreadful as I thought it was. I took a deep breath and launched myself off the cliff.

"Beth told me she was moving out and asked me if I'd go to help. She was really upset, and I think a bit ashamed that she hadn't planned it better and she asked me if I'd go with her alone. Mick was at work, she knew it was safe."

I hesitated, looking at him. He hadn't moved.

"I know you said only if we went together, but she was desperate and when I thought about it, I really didn't feel I could say no, she's been a good friend to me. I'm sorry."

He still didn't say anything. I swallowed. This had sounded smoother in the car, without awkward silences.

"We didn't see anyone. She got most of her things together, between our two cars we managed it in one load and I spent all afternoon helping her store things there. She's moving in with her sister for a few weeks."

It was definitely his turn to do some talking. His eyes were still fixed on me but I couldn't read them. Then he tugged his tie loose with one steady yank and linked his hands in front of him on the table, voice quiet and very serious in a way I really didn't like.

"Was there anything at all unclear about what I told you in regard to going to that house with her?"

"No," I said honestly. "I'm sorry. But I felt I had to, and this once it was the right thing to do. She needed the help and she asked me not to call you."

Damien was shaking his head slowly, long before I finished.

"If I said no and you understood it, then what happened, Nicky? Do you realise what could have happened if he'd been there today?"

"He wasn't, Beth checked on that-"

"He might easily have come back. Beth might easily have been wrong," Damien interrupted quietly. "What did I tell you?"

"No," I admitted. "I knew that."

"So why did you feel you didn't need to listen?"

Hazel eyes surveyed me, acute and uncritical, just waiting for an answer. I wasn't at all sure I had one. I shrugged, somewhat helplessly.

"I thought about it. She's a friend, she's been very kind to me, I couldn't say no-"

"I said no," Damien reminded me. I shrugged again, still less happily.

"She asked me to. I thought I needed to. I'm sorry, but I'd do it again."

His eyebrows rose….. and kept on rising.

"Excuse me?" he said eventually. I flushed but looked right back at him.

"I would. She asked me to, I'm sorry, I know what you said. But this was a one off situation, she really needed that help and I needed to give it to her." He was still looking at me so I kept talking, actually thinking for once I DID sound together, reasonable and convincing. As a matter of fact I thought this was the first time I'd ever really had a watertight case to put to him.

"I'm an adult, I have other responsibilities and I had a responsibility to help her as she'd asked; I thought that for once, in this situation, it outweighed everything else. I know you're not happy, I know that was disobeying you and I'll take the consequences, but I would do the same again."

Damien surveyed me for some seconds, then he folded his arms. Never a good sign.

"WHY did I tell you not to go there alone with Beth, Nick?"

"Because you were worried about her husband, I know, but-"

He cut me off without waiting for the end of that.

"He's got little enough self control that he's hit her, and injured her, habitually over a period of time. Do you really think if he's got no reservations about her coming into work with those kind of injuries from domestic abuse that he'd think twice about hitting you, another man interfering in the situation? He'd probably have still LESS reservations about thumping you than he does thumping Beth!"

"That was less important than seeing Beth wasn't hit!" I objected, "And he wasn't there-"

"Neither you nor Beth had ANY means of ensuring that," Damien said pointedly. "Which was why I said, if any of us needed to do that we took no less than three of us- more than he'd be at all likely to try anything with. Apart from which, Beth has been through quite enough! It would do her no good whatever to have to endure another unpleasant scene and to feel in danger, it wasn't a situation she should have had to walk into feeling insecure. That WAS her prerogative, but as her friend you SHOULD have been thinking for her as well as for you, and it was another reason I forbade you and her to go back there alone!"

That went home. I sat, eyes on the table, feeling my ears stinging slightly. Damien's voice softened but it was no less serious. He leaned forward, not touching me but his head closer to mine.

"And you ARE my priority, I told you NOT to go into that situation because I do NOT want you beaten up and God knows what else by a man who clearly can't be trusted. I can imagine Beth put a lot of pressure on you without meaning to; she's in a dreadful situation and I know she's your friend, it put you in a very hard position. But what should you have done, Nick?"

I didn't have a clue. Damien waited, in that way he has that means he intends to sit there until I come up with some kind of competent answer. Upset and not a little confused, I took a deep breath and tried to explain again.

"I didn't see how I could refuse. I'm sorry, yes it probably wasn't the brightest idea and I understand you didn't want me or her in any kind of danger, but she asked and I went and I'm sorry. It worked out ok, nothing happened and it's done now."

"Nicholas, that really is NOT the point," Damien said gently. I looked at him, beginning to be worried by his tone.

"I did it with the best of intentions. Just once, I did what I thought was right, I'm an adult and sometimes I have to MAKE those decisions."

"NO, Nick. This boils right down past all the details to one basic fact. I said no. Nothing else beyond that has any relevance here."

"It does to me!" I said stubbornly.

Damien looked at me for what felt like a long time, hazel eyes under dark brows and that one line on his forehead I know with fingers and tongue, its depth, its length, the way it deepens when he's serious. He was deadly serious now. Finally he gave me a quiet nod and got up.

"Then that's a point of view we're going to have to work on, my lad, and you're in a lot of trouble. No MEANS no in this house, and it always has done. Go upstairs, find a corner, I'll be up in a minute."

Thank God.

I got up almost with relief, recognising the cue that we were on the home stretch. I hated this part with a passion, my stomach was starting to churn still harder, but at least now the path was inevitable and peace WOULD lay beyond it. I was very ready for that bit, it had been a grim day.

I stood in the corner on the landing, head leaning against the wall while I waited, heart thudding, fists clenched by my sides. My palms were sweating. I'd expected this all afternoon and it made it no easier to actually face. Damien didn't keep me waiting long. I heard his footfall start up the stairs and my heart jumped. It was always hard at this point not to instinctively look around to him. I kept staring at the wall, and swallowed as he went past me into our room and I heard the ominous sound of the bedside drawer opening.

"Come here, Nick."

He was sitting on the bed, the paddle lying beside him. I went to him slowly, he drew me in between his knees and unbuttoned my trousers, tugging them and my underwear down before he drew me gently to his right. I went where he led me, bending over his lap until my stomach rested on the warm solidity of his thighs, my arms folded under me on the bed. His arm lay heavily over my waist, drawing me closer against him and his other hand rested across my bottom, making me shut my eyes in apprehension.

"What's this for, Nicholas?"

It was never easy to think, never mind talk in this position.

"Going to Beth's house alone when it might have been dangerous."


No. I shut my mouth firmly, and my eyes. Damien's hand landed square and hard across both cheeks, making me jump.


"I had REASONS for doing it," I said shortly. He was GOING to understand this. He wasn't happy I'd gone and it was potentially dangerous, I accepted that. I accepted that, but that was all I'd done wrong.

"I said no, Nicholas." Damien swatted again harder. "No MEANS no. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what the situation, no matter who asks you, I do NOT expect you to ignore that."

I took that as standard Damien lecture, I'd heard it more than once. He didn't say anything further and what followed wasn't pretty or at all pleasant: he was extremely thorough.

I was on my knees on the floor beside him, gulping and gradually getting to the point of coherency when he spoke again, voice soft and still stern above me. His hand was on my hair and had been for some time, combing softly through what by now had to be total chaos.

"You, my boy, are very seriously grounded. And if you thought you had any concept of what it meant before, you're about to get a whole new vision. This is NOT going to happen again. I am not going to be defied like this."

I glanced up at him in shock. Damien looked right back, and I knew his expression- not at all cross but VERY grave. It was the expression I associated with real trouble and I didn't understand it at all. His hand slid down to cup the back of my head, a firm and comforting grasp. His words weren't comforting at all.

"If you won't obey me out of my sight, or even commit to trying, then you don't GO out of my sight, my boy; you clearly need some serious practise in doing what you're told and in understanding what that means."

"It wasn't that bad!" I pleaded. Damien raised his eyebrows. It was the same expression I'd seen in the kitchen and it made me sink my head against his knee, groaning.

"It's because I said I'd do it again, isn't it? I didn't mean THAT exactly- I wouldn't go back and do it again because you were right, it was dangerous for me and for Beth, that was a mistake, but I STILL say I needed to do it. I had good reason, I really did, itwasn't that awful!"

"You don't tell me what you need to do, my boy; I'll tell you." Damien said firmly. "Your one and only job is doing as you're told and you're going to get the hang of that fact. Until you do, you'll stay in my sight and RIGHT in my sight, I'm not going to put up with this kind of disobedience, Nick. It's not on and you know it."

That was very far from an encouraging statement. But right now, thoroughly spanked, miserable and sore, I didn't feel in the least inclined to argue. Damien leaned down and kissed my forehead.

"Get yourself undressed and into bed, please."

"It's barely seven!" I said in shock. And got up, hurriedly, at the look I got, eyes filling again. He was rarely ever this cross with me. No, not cross, there was no anger in his face, his voice or his touch as he drew me back to him and hugged me again, long and tightly. But he was absolutely implaccable, I knew there was no way I was going to talk him around this evening.

"And I'm really NOT happy with the choices you made today. Bed, please; I'll bring you something to eat."


I didn't hear the alarm go off in the morning, just woke when he gripped my shoulder, then pushed my hair out of my eyes.

"Nicky. Time to get up."

It's rare for him to be awake before me, and he was dressed too, although roughly, not yet shaved. I slid out of bed, still sore enough from yesterday to rub tentatively at my backside as he turned to the wardrobe, then surreptitiously slide enough clothing out of the way to glance at the damage in the mirror. There was none, there never is. Just a distinct and global shade of pink where there ought to be white. Damien put clothes out on the bed for me and I kept my mouth shut, heading past him for the bathroom. He caught my hand as I passed him, drawing me back in front of him.

"Where are you going?"

"To shower?" I said, confused. Damien put me gently back down on the bed.

"No. I told you yesterday. You stay in my sight, I'll tell you exactly what you can do and where you can go."

"I need a shower!" I said indignantly. Damien carried on dressing himself, not looking round.

"I know that, thank you, Nicholas."

Arg. He was obviously planning on making today as difficult as he possibly could, and I didn't have many options but to put up with it until he decided by whatever criteria he operated by that we were done. I sat and fumed, half inclined to play him at his own game and simply not move unless told. He took no notice until he was dressed, then held out a hand to me.



I trailed him, trying not to look too obviously 'I told you so', and stopped short as he took his shaving things down from the cabinet and nodded me at the carpet beside him.

"Sit down."

I opened my mouth. And got a LOOK that made me fold up on the carpet, arms folded. He made me sit there while he shaved, wiped off his face and buttoned his shirt. Then picked up a towel and handed it to me.

"Shower, please."

"Are you going to stand and watch?" I said snidely. And got a swat that made me shut my mouth and glower quietly while I went through my own ablutions. He stood over me while I showered, shaved and dressed, not saying anything, just with a manner that made me hurry despite myself.

He made breakfast while I sat in the kitchen chair, placed so I stayed in his line of sight, we ate together and I sat once more while he washed up, put the dishes away and cleaned the kitchen. I sat on the doormat, out of the way, while he stacked the chairs and washed the kitchen floor.

"At least let me help-" I said irritably when he started washing up, and was met with a look so resolute I blinked.

"Thankyou, but all you need worry about doing is exactly what you're told. Sit down, please."

I sat. My temper boiled over when he told me to move to the doormat, this was totally ridiculous. I informed him so and found myself bent across his hip before I'd got a full sentence out. Even through my jeans, on top of yesterday's paddling, I was very willing to sit anywhere he said and nurse my stinging eyes and stinging something else when he let me go, and I curled up and watched while he scrubbed the floor tiles, in no way inclined to protest any further. He didn't speak to me much, although when he did it was in his usual voice, he wasn't cross with me. That I wouldn't have been able to stand. This in itself was bad enough.

I was staggered once I realised how exactly he meant what he said. Everywhere he went that day, I went too. Not even a participant, he wouldn't let me do anything or move without direct instruction or permission. Without book or any other means of distraction I was just expected to trail him and where he settled to a task, to just – sit there. I was initially too shocked to argue. In the course of that awful morning I sat on the stairs while he hoovered, on the bedroom carpet nearby while he made the bed and straightened out our room, including my usual clutter of books and clothes. It was horrible to watch him do it. And by lunchtime, I was sitting on the front step, watching him wash the car with growing misery and fury.

"I don't understand!" I wailed at him finally. "ONCE, just ONCE I decide against you for a good reason and you act like I'm committing mutiny or something! I TOLD you about it, I said I was sorry, what more do you want?! Just ONCE I did something a friend really needed me to do, it was exceptional circumstances!"

He looked up from washing the car, half bent across the bonnet, sleeves rolled up and hands dripping, and gave me a look that was actually very gentle.

"That isn't the point."

"Then what IS?" I demanded. "I don't make a habit of this, you know I don't, it was one thing and I accepted I'd be in trouble for it-"

"And pay your conscience and me with a spanking when you were finished," Damien said mildly. "That isn't how it works, Nick."

"You say it's a choice, actions have consequences!" I spat back at him. Damien wrung his cloth out and dropped it on the bonnet, leaning to look at me.

"Yes. And that's true, but that's only one aspect of it. Punishment isn't a transaction to pay off each separate deed, it's part of an ongoing process to STOP a behaviour. Without that long term goal it just becomes an accounting game."

"I do not regard us as a game!" I said furiously, bitterly hurt. "I had reasons, you just don't care what they were!"

Damien grabbed me before I made it off the step, sat me down again and sat beside me. I fought back in grim silence for a moment, then surrendered and glared at the grey stone of the drive, working hard on not feeling the arm around my shoulders. Damien took no notice, talking softly and in a tone that reminded me however livid I was with him at the moment, I was cared about and he intended on explaining this to me, for the rest of the year if need be.

"I'm not interested right now in the ins and outs of why you went to that house with Beth or the moral justifications for it. I know it was a very pressured situation, but that ISN'T relevant to this, Nick. The sole issue here is that I TOLD you what to do, I told you clearly what the boundaries were in that situation, and therefore I spanked you for flat out disobedience. For not doing as you'd been told to do. THAT's the behaviour you and I have been working on for years, it's a behaviour that is never acceptable no matter what the circumstances and I WILL go on spanking for it until you stop. However many years that takes."

"That's a petty distinction!"

"No darling, it really isn't," Damien said quietly. "It's the behaviour, NOT the incidents. That's a behaviour that has the potential to get you into a lot of trouble and danger, and has done in the past. THAT's what I'm interested in stopping. Not sticking an appropriate price on each isolated event. I make decisions in your best interests, in particular to keep you safe-"

"WHY can't I be right and you be wrong?" I demanded, not looking up. "It MIGHT happen. We just have different views of this-"

Damien interrupted that before I finished the thought, his tone instantly changing to a sternness that cut me off, fast.

"This is not an issue of right or wrong, It's simply understanding right now that you do not use that tone of voice or raise your voice to me."

He stopped, waiting, but I knew that tone and I wasn't in any mood to provoke further. When he continued, his voice was still stern but quieter.

"You do not weigh up the moral and ethical value of each thing I tell you to do or not to do, and then make an informed judgement on whether or not you obey it. You do as you're told. QED. It's that simple. The issue here is very straightforward, Nick. I said no, you disobeyed me."

"ONE incident! I don't do it all the time, this was exceptional circumstances-"

"There ARE no exceptional circumstances unless I tell you there are," Damien said quietly but absolutely bluntly. "MY decision, Nick, not yours. The details here don't matter, this is the same rule we've had from day one: you do NOT disobey me. That's the entire discussion in a nutshell."

"I had REASON," I said bitterly. "It's more complicated than that!"

"No, it's not," Damien said firmly. I growled at the asphalt.

"I STILL don't understand why you're going so nuts over this. I said I was sorry, I got spanked for it, it's not like I did anything dreadful!"

"In part, it's the attitude," Damien said bluntly. "You did this in the belief you'd square it with me later, that the punishment for it would make things right, books balanced, that was the end of all complications. And you decided that this incident outweighed your responsibilities to us. Those are two skewed perspectives on principles that are absolutely fundamental to this relationship and I will not let them persist. And moreover, with your safety and your needs in mind, until I have your word and commitment to obey me in all things out of my sight, whether or not you agree with them, I can't let you out of my sight. If you don't understand that now, then we'll work on it and I hope you will soon."

The man would look SO good in one of the third Reich uniforms.

He kept me with him the entire of that day. The only time I got out of his sight for a moment was in the bathroom, and that meant having to ask him if I could go. He spent the afternoon gardening, which not only meant me sitting on the path like some overgrown garden gnome, but also moving with him as he moved.

"What do you think I'm going to do?" I burst out mid-afternoon when he asked me to move for the second time. He'd gone less than three metres from his previous spot. "I'm not GOING anywhere, I'm not even DOING anything!"

"That's not the point and I asked you to come here please," Damien said mildly, still pointing at another spot of path.

"WHY?" I demanded.

I didn't get a second chance, Damien came unhurriedly towards me and despite that I got up as soon as I saw him move, I still got swatted.


That has to be one of the worst responses to 'why' I've come across. I didn't point it out; he didn't look receptive. I was bored to death and moving from angry to simply hating this. He weeded down both beds, without hurry, took me back into the kitchen and I ended up planted in a kitchen chair in his line of sight while he started to make dinner. Somewhere during watching him cook it got progressively harder and harder and eventually despite all efforts towards self control he heard me, looked up from the stove and held out a hand. I didn't move. He left the pan for a moment, came over and took my hand and towed me with him back to the stove, pulling me against him and holding me while he stirred the contents. I leaned against him, wanting the comfort as much as I still resented the whole situation, somewhere between wanting to let it all go to him, and not wanting him to see just how much this was getting to me. I was still doing my best despite the tears to keep quiet. Miserable or not, I was still angry with him.

Damien didn't say anything but he rubbed my back steadily while he finished frying off chicken and whatever else was in the pan, covered it with water and set it to simmer. Then he put his back to the worktop, pulled me into his chest and wrapped both arms around me. We stood like that pretty much until the casserole was done.

He took me out for a walk when he'd finished clearing up after dinner- he still wouldn't let me do anything but sit while he cooked and washed up and put away. We went down to Amersham park and walked there for over an hour, mostly hand in hand where the ground was smooth enough. Neither of us said much. He hadn't all day, and I didn't much want to talk to him, petty though it sounds. When we got home he did actually send me to find a book, albeit from the living room shelves where he was watching, and we cuddled on the sofa with our books until nine, when he took me upstairs, sent me to bed and settled beside me, still dressed, still reading.

It was the final insult in a long and unpleasant day.

I didn't argue, but I turned as far away from him as I could get and made damn sure he knew he was being thoroughly ignored.

Sunday wasn't much better. Although I had the comfort of at least knowing Monday was only 24 hours away and this would end there.

I was walked down to get the morning papers, sat on the carpet and glared into space while he spent half an hour on the computer, sat while he made lunch. Argued briefly, got thoroughly swatted and sat on the grass at the cricket club while he played his usual summer Sunday afternoon match. He hadn't let me bring a book- the main reason I got swatted. That was two and a half hours of incredible tedium. Within an hour I was sorely tempted to get up and go for a walk- in front of the rest of the club, in mid-game, he would actually be very hard put to do anything about it. There was a certain satisfaction to that- here he couldn't stop me. In a way, bringing me here had been a tactical error, he couldn't enforce his one man dictatorship here. Then I thought about it a little bit more and despite the fact I was alone, I felt my face flush hotly.

That was a mean, downright nasty little thought.

Yes, I knew Damien wouldn't do anything to embarrass me here, his hands were effectively tied until we got home. I'd done that once or twice, long ago in the very early days, when I didn't really understand our relationship beyond that I was angry with him and it was up to him to stop me if he could. Now- it wouldn't be a thoughtless act of temper. It would be a deliberate gesture of Sod You, a dependence on his self restraint being greater than mine, his consideration of me being something I didn't need to emulate with him. That shamed me more than anything. Because I knew he wouldn't react as I deserved and turn me over his knee here on the field. If I did this, no one here would know but him and me- no one on this field, despite being friends of ours, knew anything of the discipline aspects of our relationship. But it would still effectively be to humiliate him in public, to state openly to him that I didn't care about his authority. And to take full advantage of the fact his hands were tied here to get my own way. In a way, that was as underhand as openly cheating him.

For some time I sat feeling so horrible I couldn't look at him. To bring me here, to carry on with his cricket commitment despite the battle we were currently locked in, it spoke of an implicit trust in me. That despite how angry I was- and I knew my boy, he DID know exactly how I was feeling right now- it hadn't occurred to him not to trust that I'd keep the rules of this horrible situation, that I WOULD sit and stay put for no other reason than that he'd told me.

I was so horrible I was amazed he actually lived with me.

He DID put a lot of trust in me. I wasn't a kid, I understood how things worked, I understood what it was that he and I adhered to even if I didn't give it that much in depth thought. No matter what anyone else did, no matter what happened, we had a commitment and understanding that superceded everything else, something we'd built together, which existed only because he and I created it, protected it and stuck to it. It was the code we lived by because we wanted to and we valued it. If either of us stopped doing that, then it was in danger of vanishing because no one outside ourselves saw or recognised those values we held. And they weren't something Damien had come up with alone and inflicted on me because he had the personality to do it- he hadn't made me live any way I didn't want to- they were my beliefs too, what he'd taught me I thoroughly agreed with. I just couldn't follow those principles without his help.

I'd been thinking about nothing but Beth that afternoon. And Damien understood that, if I'd have called him when she asked, he would have done what he could to help me find a compromise- I hadn't given him that chance, which wasn't too nice in itself. But beyond that, we'd decided long ago that we followed our own way and our own rules, and didn't let that be corroded by anything outside it. Not people, not situations, not work. Beth might have been a special case, but that wasn't the point. Today, Beth. Tomorrow, Robin. The day after that, one of us with work. It was the starting point on a slippery slope and I knew it. That was what Damien was defending. It's what I should have been defending too. I'd had options that day- harder ones- but options that would have been as good, and maybe better for both of us. Nothing had happened but I hadn't seen to it that Beth and I were sure nothing COULD happen. I should have insisted on talking to Damien, should have spoken to him, asked Allen to come with us, asked Beth to bring her sister with us, we could together have found a way to help her that she was happy with. I was too old to fall into this trap again and again, surely there would one day come a point where I actually did the right thing FIRST.

Damien was watching me across the pitch where he was standing, fielding. I caught the look and returned it with all I could pack into the glance, reading his lips across the field.

"Are you all right?"

Only he can stand there in whites, shirt sleeves rolled to the elbows, his hair escaping from its morning gel in the way that makes him look about eighteen- and still look that worried.

You can't go and hug people in the middle of cricket games and besides, he'd told me to stay put. I nodded back to him, trying not to be too obvious in what I mouthed back to him.

I love you.


I stood with him while he stowed away his kit and said goodbye to the other club members; he didn't hang around this evening. Within a few minutes we were headed for the car and he slipped an arm around my waist, pulling me close as we walked, face anxious. I'd spent two days being concentratedly difficult and he was still looking worried about me.

"Are you all right, darling?"

"I'm sorry." It wasn't the time or place but it came bubbling out anyway in a rush I couldn't control once I started. "I'm really sorry, it was horrible, I DO understand, I didn't mean it to feel like that to you I just didn't think about it, Beth was so upset-"

Damien unlocked the car, dropped his kit bag into the boot and put both hands on my hips, drawing me close. We were out of sight of the clubhouse here, and right now I didn't care much anyway. I flung my arms around him and he hugged me hard, head against mine.

"It's all right. It's all right, Nicky."

"It's not, I DO get it, it was horrible and I DO love you, you trust me to do things when you're not around and I understand-"

"It's okay," Damien said firmly and I realised belatedly I was talking fast enough that I was starting to get breathless. I stopped and took a deep breath. Damien kissed my forehead, nudged my head up and gently kissed my lips.

"It's fine. Let's go and do this somewhere a little less public, eh?"

"I really am sorry," I said sometime later. He was sitting in the kitchen armchair and I was curled up on his lap, badly creasing his cricket whites. He didn't seem to mind that much, we'd been there awhile. His arms tightened around me, his voice in my ear, vibrating under me it was so close.

"I know. It's all right, no one's going to get shot at dawn, it's fine."

"I'm horrible, I should have KNOWN-"

"I don't like that word, stop it."

It was firm enough to break into- for at least the third time- the apology I admit I'd been repeating. Damien kissed the top of my head severely.

"You had reasons for doing what you did, you made a mistake and that was based on misunderstanding. It's all right. I needed you to see why it was wrong, and you do."

"WHY don't I ever get this the first time around?" I demanded. Damien didn't react, his tone didn't change in the slightest.

"You often do. You concentrate on what's important to you at the time, that's who you are and it's all right. I just need you to keep a few basic rules in mind too so that it doesn't get you into trouble."

"I'm sorry."

"I know, and that's enough." He turned me around enough to kiss me properly and thoroughly, spending a moment that certainly distracted if it didn't take my mind off it altogether. Then he put me on my feet and got up, swatting me gently towards the stairs.

"End the self recrimination, I love you and it's fine, I needed you to understand and you do."

I sat on the edge of the bed to watch him change, feeling slightly better if not fully convinced. We'd been talking this through for well over an hour now, and I knew I was starting to cover the same ground over and over. Damien pulled a clean sweater on, once more lifted my chin and kissed me.


I tried. And got up, trailing him back downstairs. He pulled a kitchen chair out as he reached the fridge, put it where he could see me as he worked and clicked his fingers at it.


I grimaced but sat, watching him assemble materials for cooking pasta.

"If I get it then do we really need to continue this one man and his dog business? I DO get it-"

"I know, and yes we do." Damien shut the fridge and I caught the lump of cheese he threw across to me, watching him chew on the other piece he'd cut off the block he was now grating. He didn't appear inclined to explain any further. I ate cheese, glaring mildly at him.

"Why? If the point is understanding and there IS that understanding then how does this in any way serve a purpose-"

Damien paused and looked at me, one eyebrow raised.

"What part of 'yes' didn't you understand?"

"You're totally unreasonable," I said without heat. He leaned past me to collect the milk from the fridge, unmoved.

"Everyone needs a hobby."

~ The End~


(Nothing to do with the story, just to satisfy Blake's curiosity and mine)


I got to sit and watch him wash up after dinner, my one request- okay, it was approaching a plea- to come and help being met by a firm and simple "no." I didn't argue, today had been complicated enough. After dinner he took me with him upstairs while he had a bath and soaked out the kinks of a long cricket match and once more I sat on the carpet beside him and we talked about sailing routes, about our ketch moored at Southampton and a minor ambition we'd talked about that I was never about to let get too real of us taking her to Greece. We argued that for a while, since Damien, in the way of starting small, was still trying to persuade me that we needed to spend this year's holiday sailing the French coast. No. The English south coast was absolutely fine. Never too far from shore, never too far from English speaking hospitals. I'd never been abroad in my life and I wasn't about to start now.

We ended up playing cards in our room until nine, at which point, again, Damien sent me to bed. Since we were already lying on the bed I rolled over and glared at him, the most impassioned glare I could summon up considering it had been something of an emotional day.

"That's silly-"

Damien paused in the middle of putting away the cards and gave me that look he reserves for when I argue, that reads as mild amazement that I'm not doing as I was asked. I held the glare.

"I TOLD you I was sorry, I get the point, I couldn't be MORE-"

I was. He leaned over, I found myself pinned with one hand and the other dusted off the seat of my trousers, briefly, but very firmly.

"You clearly still need practice in doing what you're told and we'll stop when I'M good and ready, not when you tell me you've had enough," Damien pointed out. "Get to it."

I got to it, quickly, smarting and not happy.

He did still stay with me and read. Last night I'd taken that as comfort. Tonight I actually got the gist of the other half of it- this is what life was like if he really DIDN'T trust me to be alone. And I knew this was a performance being put on for my benefit, more than a reflection of mistrust on his part, but it still stung. It took a long time to fall asleep, and he didn't come to bed until eleven.

I woke on Monday, as usual ahead of Damien and the alarm, with a sense of flooding relief. The weekend was over, Damien's iron fist act ended right here, at least for the duration of the working day. Anastasia got up from the end of the bed where she was sprawled, climbed over Damien and came over to me, complaining that it was breakfast time. Damien, face down as usual, arms tucked under his pillow in the way that spreads and braces his shoulders, was still fast asleep. He reminds me of a jaguar like that, the solid pads of muscle outlined under smooth skin. I dropped a kiss on his back and slid out of bed without waking him.

It was already getting hot outside. I fed Anastasia, opened the back door and stood for a while, soaking up early morning sun and relief in equal amounts. I did not do Damien being cross with me at all well, it was a relief that the weekend was over. The sound of padding footfall behind me surprised me: Damien usually dresses before he comes down, it's me who wanders around barefoot at dawn. The stinging swat he landed across my shorts surprised me still more. I spun around and stared at him in total indignation. He did not look at all amused.

"What do you think you're doing?"

It ought to have been fairly self evident. I looked at the kettle and two cups stood out in front of it, then back at him. He swatted me again, not as hard but still firmly, going past me to pour tea.

"I thought I'd made it clear to you, you stay in my sight until I tell you otherwise. If you want to go anywhere at all, my lad, you ask first and I'll let you know."

"That was yesterday!" I wailed at him in outrage. Damien looked back at me, one eyebrow raised in a distinct warning to check my tone, now.

"And I'll let you know when the arrangements change."

"How long for?!" I demanded, too stunned to take the warning. The other eyebrow was climbing in a distinctly sinister manner.

"When I decide, you'll be the first to know. It will NOT be any time I'm hearing that tone or any other sign that you haven't yet understood clearly that it isn't your decision."

That was crushing enough even for me. I watched him pick up the mugs and walked where he nodded me, ahead of him back upstairs, and couldn't stifle the stamp as he indicated the bathroom carpet.

"Sit and wait for me please."

"NO. This isn't fair, I said I was sorry and I meant it!"

It was not by any means the brightest move I could have made. Damien put both mugs down on the bathroom windowsill and beckoned me to him. I stood where I was, somewhere between outraged and definitely apprehensive, with a clear knowledge I'd just gone too far.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell, but it ISN'T fair, it's not like I don't understand what I did wrong-"

He was still beckoning. I took a deep breath and went to him. He looked very serious and his voice was extremely stern, not a tone I usually hear at half past six on a Monday morning.

"I'll tell you what's fair, and understanding does not get you out of a deserved punishment. I don't want to hear any more about this, and I definitely don't want to hear another 'no' from you. Is that clear?"

In that tone, with that expression, there is one right answer and one only, and I gave it promptly.

"Yes, sir."

"Sit down."

I sat, fast. Damien ran a basin of water, eyes still on me.

"You'll come into the office with me today, you can ring Beth from there. We agreed a long time ago you'd work from home when needed and I think this is a good example of it being needed."

I didn't open my mouth, just LOOKED at him. Damien, wholly unintimidated, began to shave without further comment.

I fumed all through breakfast. After breakfast he parked me at the foot of the stairs while he hoovered, took his car keys and told me to collect what I needed to work, with a further rider that made me want to spit, that anything I forgot I'd do without. Since I DO work from home when asthma makes it imperative, I have virtually everything I need here anyway.

It was not a nice day.

Robin took one look at me when I appeared in the main office area and grinned from ear to ear. Damien took no notice of him, led me into his office and cleared the far side of his desk, pushing a chair over to me.

"There, make yourself comfortable and make a start."

"There's only so much I can do," I pointed out, somewhat sullenly I admit. Damien was sorting through his own desk and messages and didn't look up.

"Then do what you can, because when you run out of things to do you're just going to be sitting there. Mondays are half-days workwise for you anyway."


He spent the morning dealing with phone calls and drawings, while I sat and worked as best I could, punctuated with one phonecall to Beth. I think she got the general gist that I was in trouble, when I hung up I gave Damien a cold glance across his desk.

"She said to tell you she's sorry she dragged me over there on Friday, she hoped you weren't too annoyed with her."

Damien didn't comment.

He took me out with him at lunchtime- which was a relief, I was spared at any point Robin's stares and comments- and we spent the afternoon in his car and trailing around sites where he surveyed and talked to various ground crews. I was hot, bored to death and ready to scream by five pm when he finally turned the car towards home.

There I made it as far as the kitchen before he pulled out a chair and told me to sit. At that point, I admit, I seriously lost my temper.

It had a lot to do with the heat, still more with frustration and boredom, and it didn't do anything at all to help. Somewhere in the early stages of that diatribe, as I expected but at that point was unable to make myself do the necessary to avoid, Damien retrieved the chair from where I'd kicked it, I was turned over his lap and was spanked soundly enough that any anger very quickly slipped sideways into flat out misery.

"SIT," he said sternly when he put me back on my feet, and I sat promptly, trying to cry fairly quietly and with some ragged semblance of dignity. Damien dug in the fridge, poured and iced two glasses of juice, pulled his tie loose and took my hand, taking me into the garden with him where he sat on the bench and after a few seconds of altercation, got me to sit on him. It was at least cool out there, the patio was shaded and the awful heat of the car gradually began to wear off both of us. I calmed down gradually, the weight of his arm around me becoming less restraint than comfort.

It was exactly what he would have done had I made that scene anywhere and at any time- except usually there would have been a little more distance between us, more chance for me to get it controlled or at least out of his sight before he saw quite how fed up I was.

Which informed me yet again of the point of this. I didn't have to like it, though.

Tuesday was a carbon copy of Monday. I was past protest by this time. He was going to insist on what he was going to insist on, I didn't have any control over that. I trailed him and sat mutely where he told me, with hour upon hour to reflect on just HOW much control and freedom I DID have over my time ordinarily. You don't realise these things until they're removed: there were hundreds of ways he trusted me on a daily basis to keep our rules out of his line of sight, and some I did pretty well on and some I admit I fairly often skimped on. He did, however, talk to me now, and we talked a lot while he did housework, while he cooked, while he drove to the sites he needed to visit. I hadn't spent this much time alone with him, really WITH him, in some time. Initially I just felt bad watching him work while I sat, nothing more than a stationary audience- we split the housework pretty much fifty-fifty ordinarily. But he said or did nothing to make me feel he resented it, and I began to realise something almost ridiculous here, the privilege of taking that share and doing that work, was not something to be harassed into doing or forced to complete, but something that was done for care of us and our home by us. Or by him as the Captain of this particular ship if I was in mid-mutiny.

I'd never before seriously MISSED doing the hoovering.

They were both long days, but Tuesday really wasn't that dreadful. Wednesday I asked him, tentatively, what he'd said to Beth. The answer wasn't encouraging.

"I said I'd let her know when you were ready to come back to work and to call us if she needed to meet with you."

"So when?" I asked, still more tentatively. The glare I got made me go back to the drawing I was working on. I know, I know, he'd let me know when and I might just as well stop worrying about it, it wasn't something I was going to have any control over.

There were actually some advantages to this. I'd never known as much about his work as I did at the moment, seeing the sites, seeing the drawings, he talked me through it and I watched him work as he watched me work, it was kind of nice. Often his work was a part of his day I couldn't share and a part of him I didn't know so well. It was nice to spend every lunch hour with him too. On Wednesday afternoon he stopped at a pub on the way out to one of his sites and we ate in the pub garden, in the shade by the river and argued amicably still further about the boat and the route and the ins and outs of the French coast. His argument now was that I didn't trust his navigation.

Since I don't get the charts at all and he IS the one and only navigator of the crew, that was a ridiculous argument and I told him so. The chart table is solely his part of the cabin, I don't go there.

The holiday was getting closer, we'd need to go down a day or two in advance and check her over, do the ballast tests and everything else before we loaded her and took her out. I always loved this part of summer.

We ate in the garden that evening and when we came in I was about to subside resignedly into my chair when Damien offered me a tea cloth. He washed and I dried while we talked, but after that whatever he did he mostly asked me to do with him, which was entirely better than
sitting and watching.

We were back at cricket again on Sunday and I lay full length on the grass with several books, periodically looking up to watch the action on the pitch. He loves his cricket. I could see the enthusiasm in his face, watching the rest of the team as well as playing himself. I never have got the joy of pounding up and down a pitch in hot sunshine, it's a pastime the point of which escapes me.

He'd kept me with him at work all week, taking me over to my office on Thursday to talk to Beth and collect more work. She didn't ask questions, but she looked a lot happier and said she was settled at her sister's. Her face was healing and the marks looked much better, I was thankful to see she wouldn't scar, externally at least. I still couldn't imagine what it would be like to be afraid of someone you loved.

Saturday we'd spent doing housework together, and once or twice Damien had sent me to another part of the house to get something or do something, the first time he'd let me be anywhere out of his sight in a week. It was almost odd, and it was something I took no chances with. What he asked me to do got done: it was a heck of a lot better than sitting and watching. I had a fair idea that Monday he'd let me go to the office for the morning, so long as I did nothing stupid, he'd gradually keep lengthening the reins.

"You look very well," Beth said when I picked my files up on Thursday. I gave her a somewhat awkward smile. She knew I worked from home mostly through asthma but also to a degree for stress management, a part of it I was far more embarrassed about and far less prepared to discuss.

"A lot better than you did last week. Are you feeling better?"

I'd been being jumped all over for six solid days by that point, the answer- or the feeling- made no sense to me whatsoever.

"Yes thanks, I feel pretty good."

~ Definitely The End ~

Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Key said...

Damien reminds me a lot of Paul in Falls chance ranch in some parts of this story, brilliantly writen as always, loved it :)

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.

Do you want to read the FCR Books
and Short Stories on your E-Reader?
Well, lucky for you, e-book files can be found in
both the Yahoo Group and the Discussion Forum.