Thursday, February 11, 2010

Working Week


Title: Working Week
Author: Ranger
Author’s Note: This story belongs to H and MC.
WEDNESDAY 
  
Damien seemed to be on a mission to make this week a living nightmare. I'd been an hour late home on Monday, which had earned me an earful. An additional twenty minutes on Tuesday had gone down like a lead balloon. And now, at twenty past six on a Wednesday evening as I slipped my key in the lock, I knew more or less what to expect. The only thing I could do was pass this off with confidence and assurance, as if I was a grown man who knew completely what I was doing- 
Damien was leaning against the kitchen doorway with his arms folded. 
"Do you know what time it is?" 
That was not a rhetorical question. I glanced at my watch, trying to find the right air of doubtfulness as though my watch was not always reliable. 
"About five past six?" 
Damien Looked at me. I winced. 
"Okay, twenty past six. I'm sorry, the traffic was hell and I had mountains of work on my desk-" 
"Do you remember what we talked about yesterday evening?" Damien inquired. I hastily reviewed my options.
"I had a meeting this morning which ran over time and then-" 
"Yes or no?" 
"Yes." I admitted. 
"And what did we decide?" 
"You decided." I muttered. Damien's eyebrow rose at me with arctic implications. 
"WE decided that nine hours is a sufficient working day for you. And that you come straight home at five unless you clear it with me first. So what happened today?" 
"I told you, I had too much to do-" 
"The amount isn't relevant Nick, you had a deadline of five pm. What happened?" 
He's like a stuck record and I know it: at this point he'll just go on and on until I crack and admit it. I cut the battle short and surrendered. 
"I ignored it. I was worried about how much was left to do-" 
"I'm sorry you were worried." Damien straightened up off the door post. "But the fact stands I told you, at five you call it a day, and you chose to disobey me. I think in honour of the fact we've had this discussion no less than three times this week and you've worked about three hours overtime, you can make up for it with a nine o clock bed time for the rest of this week." 
That was so unfair my eyes stung. I hurled my coat down after my case, trying and failing to keep the screech out of my voice. 
"Damnit I was WORKING!" 
"After the time I told you to stop. And considering this is the third time you've come in late in three days," Damien interrupted sternly, "You're lucky not to be spanked. One more word in that tone of voice however, and I might reconsider. Wash your hands and change, you have exactly two minutes. Move." 
Arg. I glared at him and ran upstairs. I was barely at the top before his voice froze me, taking on the depth I recognised very well thank you. 
"Nicholas, come down here, NOW." 
He can make entire sentences with that one word, he uses it far too much. I came downstairs a lot more slowly than I'd gone up, down to where Damien was standing, with a sternness to his face I didn't much care for. His eyebrow quirked at me above grim eyes. 
"Was there something else you wanted to say?" 
Yes. Several lungfuls about how unfair and ridiculous he could be sometimes. Especially when I was already going through hell at work. I shook my head. Damien turned me around with a good, solid swat that made me jump. 
"Then try using the stairs without the temper tantrum." 
I hesitated for a second. It's not often I get to this point of wanting to let rip and really scream at him, throw the kind of paddy I know he certainly won't put up with. Right now I felt he was bent on making me as angry as he possibly could, while we both knew he'd jump all over me if I lost my temper. I stifled myself with serious effort and went upstairs, quietly. The bathroom mirror got sworn at for the full two minutes I was allowed by Jove in the kitchen. 
He'd made pasta for some reason best known to himself, despite the fact I loathe it. It took yet more effort not to point that out to him, deposit the plateful in the bin and make a sandwich. It took only two minutes before he was onto me again, infuriatingly calm. 
"Nicky stop pushing it about and eat it." 
"I hate this spinach stuff." 
"It isn't the brand you hate, just try it." 
"I can't stand pasta." 
"Then come home on time and do your share of the cooking." Damien said with a little less patience. "Nick you've been working all day on nothing more than junk and sandwiches, eat that please." 
"I didn't take any damn sandwiches." I muttered. Damien looked at me. 
"So what DID you have for lunch?" 
Nicholas, learn to keep your big mouth shut. 
"There wasn't time to go out at-" 
"So you haven't eaten since breakfast? In which case you definitely eat that." 
I glowered at the plate. 
"Nicholas NOW." 
Damnit. Damien sat, waiting until I cleared the entire plate. Actually he was right, this was a different brand and it was actually eatable but that was beside the point. I snapped my knife and fork together and pushed the plate away with a So-There look at Damien. Who simply picked up the plate and got up from the table. 
"Allright, I've had enough of this my lad. You can take that horrible mood up to bed, right now." 
I stared at him, scandalised. 
"It's barely seven o-" 
"One." Damien put the plate down sharply. "Two…" 
I moved. Fast. Steaming with outrage. All this week he'd been horrendous. Down on me like a ton of bricks at the slightest thing. The slightest bit late, the slightest bit out of temper- I undressed, not taking too much time over it, knowing he was quite likely to come up and check on me before long. I briefly considered turning the tv on quietly and keeping an ear out for him on the stairs- I could always claim if I were caught that he hadn't TOLD me not to watch tv- except I knew my chances of getting away with that one tonight were zilch. I lay down, folded my arms behind my head and glowered at the ceiling. What on earth he thought I was going to do up here for the next four hours was beyond me. 

I woke when he snapped the tv off. The clock radio stood at eleven pm. From the state of the quilt, he'd been lying on the covers beside me for some time. Damien came over to put a mug in my hand and started to get ready for bed himself. I looked at the contents of the mug with growing suspicion that grew as I tasted it. Neither tea nor coffee included, just warm milk. 
"Just drink it." Damien said firmly. "The last thing you need is caffeine. You drink too much coffee anyway." 
"Going to ban that too are you?" I snapped, waspishly. 
Damien turned, half dressed, and fixed me with a look I knew. I subsided into the mug. He finished undressing, padded over to me and I grudgingly moved over to let him cuddle up, glancing resentfully at his mug. 
"I bet you're not drinking milk." 
"Nicholas shut up." 
Damien settled with his back against the pillows and slung an arm over my chest, pulling me down against him. We drank in silence and I admit I unwound a little. Damien took the mugs away from me, leaned over and turned out the light. I felt him shift a little, well aware he wasn't settling to sleep. Not yet. 
"Go on then." I said when he didn't embark. "Start the lecture." 
"What lecture?" 
"The one I can feel you working on. That starts with time sense and moves on to bad temper and the evils thereof." I pulled away from him and rolled over, burying my face in my arms. "Get it out of your system. Enjoy yourself." 
Damien swatted me, hard. 
"COME here." 
 I scowled at him. He hooked an arm around me and pulled me up, making me settle against him and holding me too tight to pull away. 
"Come here you stroppy so and so. What's got into you?" 
I didn't answer. Damien's palm rubbed soothingly over my shoulders and down my back. 
"I'm sorry." I blurted out eventually. "I'm just tired and fed up and-" 
"Yes, I got the message." Damien ran his fingers through my hair, refusing to co operate with the drama or let me sit up. 
I shut my eyes, feeling the compulsion to let go to that touch. 
"The office was mad again all day. They're talking about cutting down the secretary hours now, you know how much more paperwork that's going to give us?" 
"This isn't the time to start thinking about that." Damien said firmly. "You need to get some sleep tonight. Tell me in the morning." 
That calm, lazily moving hand was very soothing. 

It was about two am I woke, realising I was having to think very carefully about breathing. I'd been dreaming uncomfortably for a while about my parents' dog lying heavily on my chest and not being able to push it off. Once I woke I realised what the problem was. I lay still for a while, making myself think calmly about what I was doing, breathing slowly and steadily. Except it was getting a lot worse very fast. I reached for Damien and gripped his hand hard. 
"Da… " 
He woke at once, turned over and his hand instantly gripped mine back in the dark. 
"Okay. Lay back, you're fine. It's allright." 
No. I knew a lot about asthma attacks and the 'fine' ones didn't feel like this. Damien padded back to me with the nebuliser already clicked on and steaming. I took the mask from him, trying not to gasp in growing panic. Damien sat down and replaced the pillows behind me, his hands moving slowly and steadily over my chest and arms. I was past hearing what he was saying. Usually he puts the TV on or the radio, any distraction to concentrate on, I knew that he hadn't was not a good sign. Five more minutes and he gave me a hug, then reached past me for the phone. 
"I think this is a blue light job, love." 
Actually I agreed, but the resulting wave of panic strangled my breathing even further. Its only happened a few times that we've had to go to hospital like this, but every time has been a serious nightmare. 
"No." I managed to pull the mask off enough to talk to him. "Five minutes." 
"I'm not sure we've got five minutes." Damien said gently. "I think you're going to need a steroid shot." 
"Five." I pleaded with him with my eyes. He let the phone go and pulled me back against him, holding me upright, rubbing my chest slowly and deeply while I struggled. 
"Allright baby. It's okay. It's going to be fine. Just breathe nice and slowly, I've got you." 
He and my mother, the only two people on the planet whose voices are more effective than drugs. Both of them have sat with me through plenty of nights talking me through attacks. It was nearly four before we relaxed, the tv now quietly chattering away to itself in some irrelevant middle of the night repeat, the two of us tightly curled up together and once more drinking tea. This time he didn't argue with me over my right to caffeine. I was still having to think too carefully about breathing and still too wound up to consider sleeping. Damien dragged me out of bed and we lounged together in a hot bath for half an hour, the steam finally loosening the grip on my chest, then ended up tangled on the sofa downstairs, watching The Italian Job on TV while the light slowly came up outside. I stirred in response to the clink of milk bottles landing on the doorstep outside and lifted my head, realising I'd dozed off. Damien's arm tightened around my chest. His head was propped on his hand, he was humming softly along with the TV, a tune I recognised. 
"We are the self preservation society…" 
It was nearly six thirty. I hauled myself up with difficulty, not wanting to leave his comfort or warmth. 
"You should have gone back to bed, you're going to be shattered."
"Neither of us are working today." Damien ran a hand down my back. "I'll ring in as soon as there's someone in the office." 
"I'm fine, I'll go in around ten or so when I'm a bit more together." 
"You had no sleep, you're drugged up to the eyes and you're still not breathing that well." Damien said calmly. "You're not going anywhere today, believe me." 
"I'll be okay in a couple of hours, there's no need to fuss about it. I've got too much to do to sit around-" 
"Nick you're not going anywhere. You might as well stop worrying about it. The state you're in, you'd be no good for work anyway." 
I flushed, not happy but well aware he was right. After a serious attack like last night's, I tip over into fresh attacks all too easily. And I was exhausted and hung over from being terrified most of the night. 
"Allright, okay. But you don't need to baby sit me, you might as well have a decent day." 
"We nearly ended up in hospital last night." Damien slipped his arm around my waist and pulled me back down against him. "Give up." 
I collapsed back against his chest, not sure how I felt. If he'd gone to work I could have at least had some messages telephoned over, faxed the worst of the work over- I knew with him here I'd be lucky to get anything much done at all. Despair combined with an odd and childish sense of No School. We ate breakfast still in front of the TV at a time of day when we'd usually be rushing around in circles, showering and dressing and preparing for a day spent apart. I felt vaguely guilty, unable to keep my eyes off the clock and thinking constantly- this is the time I'd be dressed by. This is the time I'd be washing the breakfast dishes. This is the time I'd be heading for the car.. Damien got up off the sofa and I heard his voice in the hall, calm and cheerful, talking first to my office and then to his. 
"-Jerry its me, I'm not coming in - no, Nicky. One God-awful attack last night, we neither of us got much sleep and he's still not too good this morning- no, maybe tomorrow, I'll see how he goes. No. I'll ring you tonight." 
That was it. QED. 
I heard the phone click down, then Damien came into the doorway and held out a hand to me. 
"Come on. Back to bed for a couple of hours."  
 

THURSDAY 
 
We both more or less slept until mid day, at which point he got up and dressed. At the point I started to do the same, I got the look I've learned to recognise. 
"Where do you think you're going?" 
"I'm fine." I said honestly, meaning it. I was. My chest sounded relatively normal and I'd slept enough the previous evening- apart from which I was starting to think in a lot more clarity about those files sitting on the desk downstairs, and the acid gnawing at my stomach wasn't diluting at all. Damien pulled a shirt over his head, not even looking at me. 
"You stay where you are." 
"I'm NOT wheezing," I said indignantly, "I'm not even TIRED-" 
"Good. Read. Watch tv." Damien sat down on the edge of the bed and kissed me, firmly. "Enjoy it. But after an attack like that, you stay here and warm, and you DON'T go stressing yourself any further." 
"I'll go back to bed in an hour or so," I pleaded, "Just a wander around- I've got a few faxes on my desk that need to be sent over, they're ready to go-" 
"Tell me where they are and I'll send them." Damien smiled at the look on my face. "Unless they're not ready to be sent and you meant you wanted to do an hour's work on them first?" 
"Ten minutes?" I hazarded. "You can send them as soon as they're done?" 
"Stay in bed." Damien snatched another kiss and stood up. "What can I talk you into eating?" 
"I'm not hungry." I gave him a hopeful look. "No exercise. If I got up for a couple of hours-" 
"Nicky. If you want any chance at all of going back to work tomorrow, you take today very easy." 
"You have no idea how important this is!" 
Damien paused in the doorway. It was the calm, faintly amused look I associate with Damien at his most immoveable. 
"Okay. Your choice. You get up and work now for an hour. OR you go into work tomorrow if you're fit enough." 
"You'll probably say no tomorrow anyway!" 
"If you're not up to it I will." Damien said calmly. "But if you work now, the answer is definitely no. You don't need another attack like that one." 
There was no answer to that. The smile he gave me coaxed me to dilute the glare I was giving him and told me he did understand. 
"Find a book you like. You said last weekend you never had time to read anymore. Come on sweetheart, one calm day. The gremlins won't get you." 
He hadn't met the new management team. The office where I worked had been taken over two months ago and since then the workload had been deepening steadily and the demands toughening. Rumour had it there was an attempt afoot to push us into giving an excuse for making all employees reapply for their jobs. A means of getting the less 'suitable' of us out of the boat. The whole idea terrified me, there wasn't much I wouldn't do to avoid having to re interview. Damien had flicked through some of the new paperwork we'd had to take on board and called it hoop jumping. I knew it was a means of evaluating us. It was keeping up with that which had started knocking the working day up and up a little at a time until Damien put his foot down and starting setting time limits. Which was all very well, but he was in no danger of losing his job and I was. 
The more I thought about it, the more I felt my stomach tighten. Eventually I knew there was no way I could stay here any longer. I slid out of bed, padded to the top of the stairs and listened. No sound from Damien. I braved the stairs, a little at a time. No sign of him in the lounge. I risked a quick look in the kitchen and reassured myself there too. He must be in the garden or garage; he usually took advantage of any free time to be outside. It wasn't hard to find the files I wanted on the desk and nip quietly upstairs again. I left the door open wide enough that I'd hear his footfall on the stairs, opened the files and buried myself in them, feeling the acid subside somewhat at the feeling I was actually doing something about the problem at hand. 
It took longer than I expected; it always does. I clapped the files shut as I heard Damien on the stairs, pulled the bedclothes over them and hastily flipped over, grabbing a book off the bedside table and opening it at random. Damien glanced at the cover and put the mug of tea down beside me. 
"You don't usually like Lindsey Davis." 
"I thought I'd give it a go. You're always raving about her." I leaned over to collect the tea, burying myself in it thankfully. Damien tousled my hair. 
"Are you hungry yet?" 
"Not especially. What are you doing?" 
"Wondering whether I've got the energy to take the cracked tiles out in the kitchen and cut some more to fit." Damien stretched until his shoulders cracked and then sighed. "I suppose I have. If you see the air turning blue, you'll know I've cut them wrong." 
"I'll stay out of your way." I said, grinning at him. He smiled and left me in peace. I waited until he reached the bottom of the stairs before I pulled the covers back, retrieved my files and went on with the work. 
I was too engrossed this time. Damien was at the top of the stairs when I realised the familiar sound of him approaching was not a good thing, and hastily concealed the evidence under the quilt. Damien was dusty, looked tired and sounded fed up. 
"Cracked three. I hate tiling. If we do this again, we get someone in to do it and THEY can crack the damn things wrong." 
"I told you we should have painted." I said reasonably. He shook his head at me. 
"And you were right. Next time, drag me out of the shop before I get any more bright ideas. Move over." 
Oh heck…. 
There was nothing I could do, no time and no way to conceal this. The files rustled as Damien lay down on the bed beside me. Then frowned, moved over and pulled back the quilt. He has eyebrows that can make speeches all by themselves. 
"Congratulations Mr Hayes." He said eventually, pulling the files out one by one and dropping them into my lap. "It's five design projects and a biro." 
I looked down at them, feeling my face start to burn. 
"They were so nearly ready for faxing over-" 
"Thankyou." Damien said gently, relieving me of all five. I looked at him. He dropped them on the dressing table, sat on the bed once more and beckoned to me. I pulled a face, miserable and thoroughly fed up. 
"I'm sorry, they needed doing and I didn't know what else to do-" 
"Leave them, like I told you." Damien patted his lap. "And don't look at me like that. I told you 'no'. You heard me, you understood me, and you knew I meant it. Come here." 
I crawled across to him, already near tears. "I can't just LEAVE them-" 
"That isn't the issue. If I say no, I mean no. And I've got a good reason." 
He lifted me across his lap and as I buried my face in my folded arms, he slipped my shorts down, leaving me bare and vulnerable under an already lifting hand. 
"And apart from the fact I said no, sneaking files out of the dining room and then hiding them from me isn't exactly laudable. In fact it's pretty much akin to lying." 
"I TOLD you they had to be done!" 
"That isn't the point. The point is, I said no and I meant no." 
Arg. He'd been like this all week. Refusing to discuss anything, just laying down the law without excuses or mitigating circumstances being at all relevant. I grimaced as his hand fell, hard, across my upturned bottom, leaving a burning smart behind. I turned my head and glared hard at the quilt, taking in the threads, the colour, trying to ignore the steady and hard smacks covering my now hot and very tender bottom, a complete circuit moving from one side to the other. It never took very many before I was mouthing words, silently grimacing and saying the words I was determined wouldn't reach my lips. 
Ow. Ow damnit- ow ow ow - 
"Ow!" A yelp escaped as his hand swatted particularly hard on the underside of one cheek, instantly matching it with a swat to the other side, and my eyes filled with tears.
He gave me two more, just as hard, and then lifted me back to sit on the side of the bed. I was tender, my eyes blurry, but compared to his usual efforts that was fairly mild and I knew it. 
"Are we clear now on what 'no' means?" Damien said beside me. I blinked hard, keeping the tears back. 
"Yes." 
"Nicky…" Damien's arm came around my shoulders and pulled me close. "Pick a book you like and settle down. I'll get rid of these files and I'll stay up here with you-" 
I shrugged his arm off and burst into tears. Damien said nothing for a moment, then his arms closed around me and he lifted me into his lap, holding me so tight I couldn't fight him off. 
"You DON'T understand," I said incoherently, still pushing at his hands. "You have no idea what it's like at the moment, I can't just LEAVE it all for two days while it mounts up and mounts up, I can't extend deadlines like I used to do-" 
"I know." Damien said in my ear. 
"It's too much to do already, if I leave it any longer it'll never get done and if Jackie's hours are cut I'll catch some of her work too-" 
"I know." Damien's hand swept my hair back and held my forehead, cool and heavy and pinning my head against his neck. "But you can't work in this state. You'll get far more done and you'll feel a lot better about it if you calm down and spend today recharging your batteries. You'll get a fresh start tomorrow." 
"You won't let me work tomorrow." I was sobbing now, letting him rock slowly and hypnotically back and forward. Damien's arms tightened around me. 
"If you prove to me for the rest of the day that you're resting and calming down, you might well be fit enough to work tomorrow. Right now, the way you're going you'll be good for nothing." 
"I'm sorry." I wasn't even sure now what for. "I'm really sorry.." 
"So stop working yourself up into a state and work on calming yourself down a bit." Damien rubbed my back, gently peeling me away from him. "Come on baby. Forget the files for tonight. Promise me. And you'll be fresh to deal with it tomorrow." 

FRIDAY 
"Are you SURE you're fit for this?" Damien said when we separated on the drive. 
I glared at him, still ringing from the effort of talking him last night and this morning into letting me go in. On the condition I came home early. And did nothing stressful. Ha ha.
Actually I knew if he seriously thought I shouldn't go in, he'd have said so and I wouldn't have had a hope. And that was some reassurance. The fact he let me argue told me he was only looking to make sure I was serious about wanting to work. 
"I'm fine. If I have any problems I'll ring you, I promise." 
"Keep the windows open. Don't let anyone smoke near you." 
"For all you know I go through twenty a day once I'm there." 
"If I ever find you even looking thoughtfully at cigarettes, your bacon is cooked my lad." Damien gave me a discreet and firm swat. "Behave." 
 I gave him a brief hug and headed for the car, mind already on the pile of things mounting on my desk now the two secretaries were likely to have their hours reduced. "I'll be fine."  
 

"Nick I'd be a lot happier if you'd let me call an ambulance." Jackie said for the fourth time. I shook my head. Hard. 
 "S'okay." 
I gripped the desk edge and concentrated on breathing. It was going to get easier. Any minute now. I recognised Damien's footfall behind me, jogging, then slowing to a rapid walk over the lino tiles. He'd made good time, it was barely twelve minutes since I'd asked Jackie to phone him. His hands closed over my shoulders and I turned to him in frank relief. Calm, self possessed, smiling reassuringly at John who was reaching the stage of open panic. 
 "Hi." 
"He's been getting worse for the last ten minutes." John said nervously, watching me grip Damien for balance. Damien picked up my coat with one hand and hooked it around my shoulders. 
"This is a hospital job." 
"Not-" I objected. His arm prevented me from pulling away. 
"Yes. It's okay, sometimes he just needs the drugs in stronger concentrations." 
"Do you want an ambulance?" John demanded. Damien steered me towards the lift. 
"Quicker if I drive, thanks." 
In the lift he pulled me against him and I leaned, hard, tipping my head against his shoulder. There's a precise angle that makes breathing easier. My mother used to get me to lean against pillows. Damien just holds me. 
"Sorry." I said unsteadily. Damien shook me gently. 
"Stop talking and calm down. Nicholas calm down. Breathe quietly, breathe slowly- come on, you can do it." 
My lungs obey that growl. The iron band eased slightly but I couldn't stop the wheezing. Damien stroked my back, turning his face against mine. I hate hospitals and he knows it. He drove unusually fast through the mid afternoon traffic. 
Apart from one ghastly, horrible new year when I ended up on a ventilator for eight hours, this was one of the competitors for Most Dramatic Casualty Visit. As usual, once we got into the seriously melodramatic part, I knew very little about it. I came around in a cubicle, undressed, an oxygen mask irritating the hell out of me and Damien leaning on the steel bars beside me, a polystyrene cup of coffee in his hands. That more than anything told me we'd been here a while. He refuses to drink out of paper or plastic on principle. I pushed the mask off and heard myself rusting in and out like an old car. 
"What time is it?" 
"Past six." Damien put the cup down and smiled at me. A tired, calm and very reassuring smile. "How are you doing?" 
"I have no idea." 
"They sedated you in case you needed ventilating. They thought about it a lot for half an hour or so." 
"I didn't skip any nebulisers." I said, wanting him to know I wouldn't put him through this lightly,  "Not one of the tablets or inhalers, nothing." 
Damien shook his head. "Darling, after that almighty one you had Wednesday night, I've watched every single dose with you, I know you haven't missed any. It's allright. These things happen." 
Not usually out of the blue. He knew it and I knew it. When we first met, I  had bad attacks on a regular basis, sometimes two or three a week. It was Damien who relentlessly documented every single attack, where we were, what we did, what happened. It was him who picked up patterns no one else had seen and triggers no one else had identified. Him who ruthlessly began to eliminate causes I hadn't noticed and get me into routines which dropped the number of attacks within days. I'd lost count of how often he told me, very firmly, there was a reason for every single one. Within six months, we had them under better control than I'd ever had in my life before. 
He was looking at me now in a way that told me he knew what I was thinking. I gripped the hand that reached for mine and tried to concentrate on his voice. 
"Allright. Leave it for now, you're okay, that's all the matters at the moment." 
"I didn't do anything." 
Damien's voice didn't change, calm and firm. "Nicky leave it. One thing at a time."
That was his gift. He saw things far more clearly and single mindedly than I could, he could put things aside and concentrate just on the here and now. And he made me do it too, it gave a calmness to my life I'd lacked completely before I met him.

The hospital insisted I stayed in under observation. Or rather they suggested and Damien insisted when I was less than enthusiastic. He didn't want to leave and I didn't want him to go, but once I was allocated a bed somewhere inside the maze, neither of us had much choice. Apart from swearing he'd be back if I had any more attacks, there wasn't much else he could do and I tried to pull myself together enough to send him home in a state where he'd get some sleep. I for my own part, got to spend the night in a room beside an elderly man who coughed solidly until sunrise and another man across the ward who periodically had attacks even worse than mine which involved large numbers of people rushing about and made me long to be at home, in peace and quiet and in a bed that included Damien. 
 

SATURDAY 
It took forever to get discharged. Having played this game numerous times, I listened to the consultant on autopilot, wondering how long it would take to contact Damien and get out of here. It was mid afternoon when we got home and Damien took my coat from me, opening his mouth on a line I could see coming a mile away. 
"I'm not going to bed." I warned him. Damien looked at me. Then relented. 
"Sofa then. I'll bring you the phone, you can talk to your parents. Your mother was out of her tree last night, it was all I could do to stop her descending on the hospital." 
I was a little surprised at that; usually they come no matter what. Damien paused in the doorway, folding my coat. 
"By the time I got hold of them the worst was over." He said more or less in explanation. "Besides, I thought we needed to talk before they got involved." 
I frowned at that, wondering what he meant. I'd done nothing wrong: I was clear about that. No missed medication, no risks, no exertion, nothing I could pin point as a trigger. I'd been sitting peacefully at my desk when the attack hit like a bomb. 
"Talk about what?" 
"It can wait." Damien hung the coats up and brought the phone across. I chatted to my mother for a while, changed into the fresh clothes Damien brought me and gradually began to get the last twenty four hours out of my system. There was an immense amount of peace to just lounging here, listening to Damien wander around, the quiet sounds of one of his CDs playing. The every day sounds. 
I woke when the phone rang and drifted for a while, listening to Damien's voice behind me, quiet and deep and profoundly reassuring. 
"…no, it was just a precaution. I picked him up around two pm, he's just tired now. It was pretty hairy for a couple of hours last night, but once we got through that he wasn't too bad." 
Probably his parents. I didn't bother waking up fully. Damien leaned against the stairpost, making it creak. 
"Yes. No, a week- he was signed off for a week. And they want him for another physiotherapy assessment which before they look at changing any of his drugs. Two attacks like that in a week aren't good." 
A week? I vaguely remembered discussion about doctor's certificates: Damien had obviously been paying attention. I sat up and Damien straightened, catching my eye. 
"Okay Jackie- thanks for ringing, I'll tell him you called." 
Jackie? I watched Damien hang up and come to sit on the arm of the sofa, well within leaning distance. 
"That's kind of her." 
"I think you scared most of your office staff witless." Damien's fingers ran through my hair, untangling gently. "You'd be a lot more comfortable in bed my boy." 
"I didn't see the doctor's certificate." 
"You weren't listening." Damien said bluntly. "About that point you were edging towards the exit with both ears firmly closed. You didn't hear the part about the physio assessment either." 
Actually he was right or I would have argued that. It hadn't been necessary in some time. 
"What do they want that for?" I muttered, irritated. 
"They're looking for reasons why you had two life threatening attacks in the space of seventy hours. Not counting the small ones and your general state of health the last few weeks." Damien slid off the arm of the sofa and sat beside me. "I thought we needed to get a few things straightened out between us before we start talking to anyone else about all that. I don't want them to mess about with your medication unnecessarily, it isn't the drugs that are the problem." 
I frowned at him, not liking the sound of this. 
"I didn't DO anything." 
"Darling," Damien said patiently, "For the last six weeks you've been coming home more and more wound up, working longer hours, not enjoying any of it, worrying about it even when you're not working. You haven't got the physical stamina for this kind of stress." 
"It comes with the job." I said, more than slightly indignant. "You know why things are rocky at the moment, there isn't a lot I can do about it." 
"Actually there is." Damien's tone had changed. No less patient, if anything more gentle, but I recognised it: he was really serious and he wasn't about to be argued with. 
“This is the end, Nicky. You've been tired for days. You’re so stressed you don’t know what day it is, you burst into tears at the slightest thing-" 
"I don't!" 
"All It took on Monday was a blown light bulb. And it's starting to have a serious effect on your health." 
"I can't NOT do the work!" 
"I know you can't." Damien said calmly. "Which is why I think the time has come for you to put your resignation in." 
That took me so much aback I stared at him for nearly a minute. 
"You're not serious." 
"You can have the doctor's certificate extended, I spoke to the GP this morning. He'll confirm your need to resign on grounds of ill health, which means you don’t need to work out your notice." 
I found my voice and all the strength I could muster in my current state of disbelief. 
"Damien, I am NOT going to resign!" 
"You are." Damien said quietly and calmly. "I'm not going to argue about it Nicky. I'll take some time off work, we'll get your doctor's certificate extended on Monday morning and then I'll draft your resignation letter with you." 
 “I’ve got to work!” It was an effort finding words to say to him, I was so stunned. "This is my job you're talking about, you can't just decide-" 
"I have decided." Damien interrupted. "End of story." 
"DAMIEN!" 
"I'm sorry, Nicky. No. We're not debating this, the decision has been made. What I say, goes." 
He meant it. Really and seriously meant it. 
I left him sitting on the sofa, ran up the stairs and chose the bathroom as the one room he really couldn't follow me into. He seriously expected me to give up a job I'd held for nearly three years, for no better reason than he told me to. He seriously believed he could make me. And unfortunately for me, I was afraid that I believed him too. 
I slid down the wall and sat under the window. He couldn't do this. I couldn't believe he WOULD do this. I'd had attacks before, we'd gone through bad patches with my asthma before, he'd never reacted so badly. 
It was about five minutes before I heard him come upstairs, the creak on the landing as he glanced into our room, then a sigh as he saw the bathroom door. We never closed doors on each other; he didn’t have to try it to know it was locked. 
“Nicky…” 
“Leave me alone.” I said through my sleeve. He sounded resigned rather than exasperated. 
“Apart from the fact that it probably isn't too sensible it might be to lock yourself in when you're still likely to have another attack, I'm not prepared to have a conversation through a door with you." 
"I'm not prepared to have a conversation at all." I said flatly. 
His voice gathered decision on the other side of the door. Not anger, just sheer matter of factness. 
"And I'm certainly not prepared to let you speak to me in that tone of voice no matter how upset you are. I’m too tired to muck about. If you make me break that lock, you’re going to be sorry.” 
I buried my face deeper in my arms. He sounded perfectly calm. 
“Nicholas, unlock it. Now.” 
A small, brown bird landed on the windowsill outside, fluttered for a minute, and then took off like a bat out of hell as the door burst inwards. Damien picked up the broken lock and pocketed it. I knew that thoughtful look. I’d definitely gone too far. He put a hand over my wrist, brought me to my feet and steered me ahead of him into the bedroom, where he sat on the edge of the bed and patted his knees. 
“Come on."
"You are not going to spank me for refusing to give up work for you!" I spat back at him. "You don't HAVE that right, you can't make me do it!" 
"I told you we're not going to argue about it." Damien said calmly. "And no, I'm not going to spank you for that. I'm going to spank you for locking yourself in the bathroom. Which comes under the heading of behaving like a brat." 
"How do you WANT me to behave?" I could hear my voice spiralling upwards. "You've been doing this all bloody week- pushing me to breaking point and then jumping on me for breaking! What do you think I am, a bloody Vulcan?" 
"That wasn't something that had occurred to me, no." Damien's mouth was wry and mildly amused which only served to infuriate me further. "I don't expect you not to feel. I do expect you to handle your feelings like an adult rather than a small child." 
"Drop DEAD." I told him sincerely and turned on my heel, intending to head downstairs. He caught my wrist before I took the first step. 
"Oh no my boy." He was already walking me across the room, ignoring my pulling. "You stand here until you get this tantrum out of your system. When you're ready to talk, you can tell me." 
"Try when hell freezes over." 
That earned me a good, hard swat as he turned me to face the corner. 
"Nicky, I'd give a lot of thought to what you're starting before you take this paddy any further." 
I folded my arms and glowered at the paint work. If he thought standing here was going to make me see his point of view, he was in for a LONG wait. 

I'd lost all count of the time when he spoke to me, quite calmly. 
"Are you ready to talk to me?" 
"No." I said flatly. I was damn tired of the corner and of standing but he wasn't going to win on this one. Not now, not ever. I felt vindicated as I heard him sigh and head towards me. 
"Then you'd better take this sulk to bed. You're in no state to stand any longer." 
I stepped away before he could touch me. "Fine." 
His sigh was short and exasperated. "Nicky…." 
"I told you, I'll come around to your point of view when pigs start formation flying over Clacton. Until then, you know what you can do with your ideas about me and what you obviously think of my career." 
"NICHOLAS SIT DOWN. NOW." 
I didn't actually notice the move across to the bed- just that somewhere between jumping at his tone and looking at him, I was sitting exactly where he was pointing. Damien's tone was perfectly calm but from his tone I'd pushed this to it's absolute limit. 
"I told you, this is NOT up for discussion. And I will NOT tolerate another word from you in that tone or couched in that kind of language, am I making myself clear?" 
There is one answer to that, one I don't find myself resorting to often, but one that I know all the same. 
"Yes sir." 
"THANKyou."  Damien frowned, hands on his hips. "NOW where are you going?" 
"You told me to go to bed." I said with all the civility I could muster. "I'm not sleeping up here." 
I half expected him to grab me as I walked past, but I was aware as I pulled blankets and a pillow from the airing cupboard that he hadn't moved. I took my pile of bedding downstairs and made up a bed on the sofa, fuming too much to care that he hadn't - yet- followed me. He was not going to win this one. Mr Damien Mitchell was going to have to come to terms with the fact that for once, he was on a losing wicket. 
The phone in the corner clicked once or twice in the way it does when someone's dialling from the upstairs extension. I lay back on my pile of blankets and wondered irritably who he was going to involve in this, torn between embarrassment at him letting someone else into a private matter between us and vindication that I'd put enough pressure on him that he was looking for moral support. I nobly resisted the urge to get close enough to the receiver and listen in. What I could do- and did- was get up to turn the hall light off, which was close to the foot of the stairs. Damien's voice was low and quiet, but admittedly not as downhearted as it ought to have been. I couldn’t make out the words. 
I returned to the sofa. Then after a moment's thought, turned the light on in the kitchen which prevented the lounge being in total darkness. A less familiar room becomes surprisingly disturbing to lie in when it's dark. 
The light on the video was flashing at nine forty five pm. It felt like the middle of the night. I watched it click around to ten zero three before I heard Damien come quietly down the stairs and froze. Not exactly wanting to pretend I was asleep, I just maintained a look of dignity and stared straight back at him. He sat down on the edge of the sofa beside me. 
"Are you going to keep this up all night?" 
"Quite possibly." 
"Darling. You're not fit, we've neither of us had much sleep for the last night or two. Lets call it quits for tonight and we'll straighten this out in the morning."
"Fine." I said politely. "Goodnight." 
"Nicky….." 
"No, we'll talk in the morning." I said, blocking out the reaction I usually get to Damien coaxing. "And no, this is not emotional blackmail which is the next phrase rushing to your lips. I'm upset, I'm angry, I just want some space to think in." 
There's only been one or two occasions where Damien's resorted to brute force, but I knew at that moment he was very close to it. Then he leaned over and kissed my forehead. 
"You know where I am if you want me." 
I never felt so abandoned in my life as when he got up and went upstairs. I was calm and dignified until he was out of sight. When I heard the bed upstairs creak, I was struggling with tears. I considered a rapid and wide range of options, which moved from heading for the nearest friend's house, to a fantasy of having a fatal asthma attack here and now. I was instantly ashamed of that one. He'd had a bad enough time with me the last few days. I vividly remembered something he told me once about the horrendous attack I had over New Year. He'd spent eight hours sitting with me in a high dependency unit, again a crisis I remembered nothing whatever about, but which he had spent with his eyes on the wall clock, numbering every minute he and I lived into 1999. 
I hastily pulled myself together as I heard him on the landing again, my stomach tightening. With apprehension or hope I wasn't sure. He came back downstairs, pulled the blankets away from me and held out his hand. 
"No. We've never got into these games and we're not starting now. You sleep upstairs, with me, and we sort this out in the morning." 
"I TOLD you-" 
"Nicky, unless you want the spanking of your life, get up." 
His voice wasn't exactly threatening. On the other hand, I believed him. He waited until I took his hand and pulled me against him into a hug. 
"This has gone far enough." 
"You're the one who-" 
He swatted me hard enough to make me stop. "Upstairs." 
The lights were off. I trailed ahead of him into our room, curled up on the far side of the bed and felt the movement as he lay down beside me. Then his arm hooking around my waist, finding it's usual grip and pulling until I was against him. I had a brief try at detaching myself and stopped at his growl. 
"Save the dramatics. We do the rest of this tomorrow after breakfast." 
Several comments leapt to mind. On the other hand, his arms were tight around me, he was warm and very comforting and there were few other places right now that I wanted to be. 
 

I woke when he did, his initial stretch and roll shaking me into first daylight and then the sickening thud of remembrance. He caught my eye and interrupted before I could open his mouth. 
"No. You do your medication, we have breakfast like civilised beings and then we straighten this out." 
Yes Damien. Three bags full Damien. 
Breakfast went on for several centuries. It was a warm enough day that the back door stood open while we washed the dishes, the early morning breeze was cool but fresh and someone's radio was playing faintly in the distance. Church bells reminded me this was a Sunday as Damien wiped the counter down, slung the tea towel over the radiator and turned to me. 
"Right." 
We took up positions in the lounge like wrestlers looking for a grip. Or rather I did. Damien took the armchair in the lounge and waited for me to settle on the edge of the sofa, trying to remember where we'd got to last night. 
"Point one." Damien said before I could come up with any points of astounding logic and credibility. "You ARE resigning. That isn't negotiable. Point two," he added as I opened my mouth, "While I understand you are upset and angry, and I sympathise, I will not put up with any more of the behaviour I got from you last night." 
"In other words," I said bitterly, "You win, I lose, and you want me to shut up about it." 
"This has nothing to do with winning." Damien said mildly. "This is a decision that had to be made in your best interests and it’s the only decision we can make." 
"YOU can make." 
"I'm not leaving you to agonise about this for days only to come to the same decision. In the end you'd have to. And I'd give it about forty eight hours before we ended up in casualty again. Your stress level needs dropping now. Today." 
I gazed at him, not sure whether to laugh or detonate. "You think THIS is dropping my stress level?" 
"Darling," Damien said patiently, "You spent most of last night stamping up and down the stairs and I haven't heard you so much as cough." 
I glared at him for nearly a minute, with no idea how to get around that or it's implications. 
"What the hell do you think I'm going to do all day?" I demanded eventually. "Just what sort of occupation do you feel like allowing me to dabble in?" 
"Nicky I won't warn you again." 
"I'm sorry." I buckled under his look, but stuck to my guns. "But that's how I feel." 
"I don't expect you to stop working. Just to look for a job in a less stressful field. And accept you just aren't geared towards management and that kind of commercial set up. You're a good artist, you could find work in plenty of other scopes with a lot less pressure. You don't need to rush into anything. You can take your time, find something you really want to do, instead of something you do because you're terrified of failing. And before you start on that line of attack," Damien added, "You didn't fail. You kept a casualty team and an anaesthetist fully occupied for two hours but you didn't fail." 
Silence. Damien got up and sat on the arm of the sofa next to me. 
"We'll get an appointment with the GP tomorrow, you can talk this through with him. Then we'll deal with your office and I'll straighten out some leave. We'll get this sorted." 
I turned unsteadily and leaned against him. He put his arms around me and kissed the top of my head. Eventually I drew away and got up, snuffly but one hell of a lot calmer. And aware of it. Gradually I became aware of implications- tiny but significant. The files sitting on the table which would go back to the office and become someone else's problem. That tomorrow morning would dawn, six o clock would come, and Damien and I would not be going anywhere. That weeks stretched before me which would move at my pace and his, undictated. Well except by him, and I could live with that. 
"Better look in the freezer and see what we can defrost that's eatable. Or we may have to fight through the Sunday crowds at the supermarkets." 
"Excuse me…..?" 
His tone made me look up, warned and alarmed. Damien's voice was gentle but pointed. 
"There's still the matter of that locked door and that horrendous tantrum you threw last night before you launch into any plans for the day." 
"That isn't fair," I protested, "I was upset last night, I'd only been out of hospital a few hours and then you tell me I'm throwing my job in-" 
"The day I let you get away with dramas like that, I'll be laying in a six by two box. Until then, you behave like that at your own peril and you know it." 
I was in trouble. Some of the finer points of last night drifted back to me along with a thin layer of ice over my stomach. Damien gestured courteously upstairs. 
"After you." 
"You said yourself I was drugged to the eyebrows in hospital- and I didn't sleep the night before, you can't blame me for being thrown when you start making these executive decisions," I said as we reached the top of the stairs. 
"You can be as thrown as you like and I'll sympathise, so long as you avoid slamming and locking doors and carrying on like a Cheltenham tragedy gone mad." Damien sat on the end of the bed and drew me in between his knees. "That I won't put up with and you know it." 
"You weren't so serene yourself!" I held on to his hands, well aware now I was only delaying, not averting. "Who was it you rang and moaned at last night?" 
"Allan." Damien gave me a dry smile. "At that point, it was talk to someone else or go downstairs and strangle you. I imagine Robin's pretty good at the odd tantrum." 
"What did he say?" 
"That he'd make Robin get off the sofa no matter what it took." 
I hated to admit it, but I sided with that particular piece of advice. Damien slipped his hands out of mine, unbuckled my belt and jeans and I surrendered to the inevitable as his thumbs slipped under my waistband and pulled the denim down to my knees. He was equally ruthless with my pants, they slithered down my thighs and I felt the chill of fresh air as he drew me firmly down over his lap. His left arm lay across my back and his hand gripped my hipbone firmly. I wriggled, but half-heartedly. His warm hand rested against my bare backside, making me quiver. 
"Do you want to go through any of the details of last night?" 
That wasn't the casual invitation it sounded like. I grimaced and tried to remember, not wanting at this point to irritate him any further. 
"Locking the door." 
"That would be one point, certainly. And?" 
"I don't know.." I said helplessly. "Refusing to talk to you- storming off to the sofa- and I suppose I wasn't very polite… I WAS upset-" 
"There are ways and means of handling it. Telling me to drop dead doesn't come high on the list." 
Arg. He's never keen on that kind of interaction. 
"I'm sorry." 
"I know you are. Unfortunately that doesn't change very much." 
I hadn't really expected it to. I felt his hand lift, then his strong palm slapped down hard, right across both cheeks. I wriggled, yelping as he slapped again and again, sharply, first left and then right, moving from the middle of my rump down towards the junction of buttock and thigh where a spanking hurts the most. I gripped his leg and his hand whacked down in a noisy, steady rhythm, and each stinging smack built on the previous smart until my entire backside was blazing and wincing, and I was crying. Eventually his hand paused in it's steady smacking and instead stroked my glowing bottom, lightly over it’s tenderness and heat. I let him lift me down to the floor and crumpled to my knees, getting one hand back to rub where I was sorest. I’d had far worse from him before now: this was not severe, and already the blazing was fading to a far more tolerable heat. I wiped my face, controlling my gasps. He pushed my hair out of my eyes. 
“You’re out of breath enough now, and not a trace of asthma.” 
I turned against his hand as it ran down my cheek, knelt up and buried myself in his chest, crying and not trying particularly hard to stop. He held me tight, rocking a little to and fro. 
"You've been a bastard all week." I said eventually. He kissed what he could reach of my face. 
"You've needed all the structure you could get." 
"You know I don't have to go to work tomorrow?" 
He laughed at that, one gentle snort that I felt against my neck. "I know. Suppose we get on to Jerry and I take a couple of weeks leave instead of just a few days? We could go away for a while. Drive up to Wales to that B&B with the cockroaches you got on so well with- or-" 
"Say the word camping and you'll be the one sleeping on the sofa." I warned. He grinned. 
"I'm not that much of a bastard." 
~The End~

Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Dark said...

wow.this is like one of the best stories I ever read :)
I love these two . I love Damien . I wish i had someone like him in my life :(
I really loved the part where Damien kind forced Nick to get back to bed with him ..
so sweet and cute ...and it really shows how much they love each other ..
Thank you for writing such an amazing story .and Thank you for allowing us to read your work

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.





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