Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sealark ~ September

I slowly stretch in the early morning light streaming in the window.  A perfect day for sailing and I look forward to it.  Dark, chestnut, a long and lanky craft that I love the feel of.  The power and magnificence, sending shivers down my spine as I lean back over the surf and soar ......
The frame beneath my hands is like my second skin, we become one when we’re together, able to handle any obstacle in our
path.  The world and troubles seem far away, far, far below us.

Now get out of bed and come sailing with me.

Sea lark


It was a ten minute drive down narrow and muddy farm tracks and then across a misty, wet grass field to reach the little cottage by the river.  ‘Little’ was the right description. Hidden amongst elderly trees and the brown reeds near the river bank, with the thatched roof so sharply sloping that a man could touch the edge from the ground, the several hundred year old crumbly red brick cottage was almost secreted entirely from view. 

Parking as slowly and gently as he could, and as near to the cottage as the wild grass allowed, Dare turned off the engine and twisted in the driver’s seat of the Range Rover to put a gentle hand on the knee of the man mostly laying on the back seat with one plaster casted leg stretched along its length.

“I’m going to get the doors open first. Promise me you won’t try to move until I get back?”

He got a brief nod without eye contact.  Jaw tight, both hands were fisted; it was becoming an unpleasantly familiar indication of pain. Under Dare’s hand and under the loose sweat pants was the rough and insensible hardness of heavy plaster cast, not skin, which took away any possible comfort in the gesture. Dare got out, not shutting the door to avoid shaking the car, and walked up the narrow path mown through the high, wild grass, under the overhanging branches of the bent and twisted ancient quince tree and past the tiny handkerchief vegetable plot that had long since run wild . The key was under the broken flower pot where the estate manager had promised they would be.

It was a big, old fashioned iron key, and the lock was heavy to turn over. The wooden door was equally heavy, and swung open into a stone flagged, uneven floored hall with coat pegs on the wall that led into a small kitchen where nothing much had changed in sixty years. A dusty wooden table and chairs filled half the cramped space, and an oil burning stove filled the hearth. A heavy stone sink was built into one corner alongside a short wooden work surface, and not much else. One wooden latched door led into the bathroom and the other into a small stone floored and whitewashed brick walled living room that completed the entire downstairs floor space, with a sofa that occupied all of one wall and a large hearth with a fire laid ready. Dare knelt down on the stone hearth, silently thanking the estate manager for his thoughtfulness, and dug for matches in his pocket to light the fire from the screwed up balls of newspaper and the kindling sticks amongst the logs. When it was lit, he got up and opened the small door off the living room to find the wooden stairs, narrow but not too steep.

He went back to the car, thankful to see that there had been no attempt to get out of the car unaided. Jonah had the crutches ready and slid them down to the grass as Dare opened the door, edging himself inch by inch until Dare could get hold of him and slide him the rest of the way. They said nothing; they were still learning how to do this without the aid of nurses and physiotherapists, but Jonah’s colour had noticeably worsened with movement and once he was leaning in the doorway of the car, Dare took the crutches out of his hands and dropped them on the grass, stooping to gather up the not inconsiderable weight of him in the cast, and carry him up the path.

Normally, whenever they went anywhere new, it would be some time before Jonah took any notice of the house. If they’d arrived here together on any day except today he would want to search the garden, the land around it, the river, to familiarise himself with the location, and within a few minutes would be pointing out details that Dare knew he wouldn’t have found if he’d lived in the place six months. Where they slept was the last thing Jonah ever cared about; ‘new’ sent his energy sky high. The difference in him now, hot, shaky, rigidly still with caution, was painful. Dare carried him as swiftly as possible into the cottage to lay him down on the couch. It was only then he saw the tears running. It was sheer, helpless pain; Jonah had moved around more today than he had since the day of the accident, and Dare spoke quickly and quietly, touching his face.

“Ok. It’s ok. I’ll get some pillows and we’ll make you comfortable, just keep still and breathe.”

Jonah didn’t answer, eyes shut, and Dare jogged back to the car to grab the stacks of brand new pillows he’d bought yesterday on the physiotherapist’s advice, plus the stack of folded blankets. The hospital painkillers had made Jonah horribly travelsick the whole way from Bristol and he still looked green, it had been a miserable journey for him from start to finish. He co operated as best he could with Dare propping him, supporting the weight of his casted leg and covering him thickly with enough blankets to ensure he wouldn’t go through the additional pain of shivering. The cottage was chilly after the permanently tropical heating of the hospital and they were in the middle of deserted Norfolk countryside in the cooling weather of early autumn. When he was settled, Dare pushed a hand gently through Jonah’s shaggy, dark blond hair, shaking it back, and went to get the bag of medication and one of the many bottles of water from the car, sorting out two of the top-up pills. Jonah bolted them, and Dare put the top on the water bottle, standing it in his reach.

“I’m going to unpack the car, love. Shout if you want me.”

What he would want most was quiet. Space. It was what Dare knew he’d been desperate for all the time in the noise and bustle of the hospital. He’d never complained but the hospital staff didn’t know Jonah: Dare had seen the bright lights and sounds and nonstop talking and visiting and touching of nurses grating on him by the hour. This was the first time he’d been completely by himself in a quiet room in over a month. 

In the tiny living room with the whitewashed stone walls, and the uneven stone floor and the crackling fire, listening to the distant sounds of Dare in and out of the kitchen as he brought things in from the car, Jonah stared at the ceiling and slowly started to feel his jangled nerves unwind. The awfulness of the four hour journey here that crossed middle England from coast to coast. The much, much worse awfulness of the hospital. It was finally starting to feel – somewhere else. A long way off. Jonah turned his head to look at the fire flickering and leaping in the hearth, and finally he shut his eyes and fought the rising urge to sob with more or less sheer relief.

Dare heard him almost at once. Abandoning the box of cans on the floor he went into the sitting room, sat down on the sofa to gather Jonah’s head and shoulders into his lap, sliding his free hand down to take Jonah’s. Jonah clung to it, clenching his fingers tightly around Dare’s, and it was a long time before he started to quieten and his grip started to slacken as the painkillers took effect. It felt like the deepest luxury to be able to touch him like this, alone and naturally, for the first time in weeks. It was infinitely better than clumsily trying to cuddle on a hospital bed without curious stares and interruptions from the nursing staff.  

He slept almost all afternoon and Dare sat where he was and dozed with him as the fire warmed the room, letting go of hours of worry and a day that had started before dawn. There was complete silence in the cottage. Real silence. No cars in the distance, no pipes humming, no electrics buzzing, no clocks ticking. Nothing at all but the soft sounds of the fire which warmed the little room with its soft wood smoke smell. It was Jonah who roused him by trying to sit up and promptly hissing with pain. Dare hastily caught him, holding him still until he was awake enough to remember about the cast.

“Easy, easy. You don’t bend that way.”

“I don’t bend at all.” Jonah said tonelessly.

With a newly pinned and still healing pelvis and a hip to ankle cast on his left leg, Dare saw his point. He eased out from underneath Jonah, putting pillows behind him.

“It won’t be long before you get rid of the cast, that’s going to make a big difference.”

Jonah didn’t reply as they had already been around a few times on their differing versions of what would and would not make a difference. Dare kissed what he could reach of Jonah’s familiarly rough, stubbled face and got up, his fingers lingering on Jonah’s collar, straightening it. It was hard to stop touching him, hard to stop wallowing in the luxury of being alone with him.

“Anything you need?”

Jonah didn’t reply.

“Jone.” Dare said warningly.

Jonah didn’t move or look up. It was something he’d started to do in the hospital a few times as the only way to escape the situation he was in, a total refusal to acknowledge anyone or anything, and it was another reason Dare had wanted them out of the hospital to be able to handle this firmly enough in the way that would work for Jonah before real withdrawal had any chance to get a foothold. They had far too much ahead of them to risk it.

“Jone. Stop and think.”

Nothing. He might as well have not existed at all.

They were going to come to this sooner or later and Dare thought it might as well be sooner. He put his hands to his belt and unbuckled it, aware that Jonah’s eyes abruptly came to life and turned to look at him, and there was a definite trace of surprise and apprehension in his face. Dare doubled the belt over and held out a hand to Jonah.


Jonah didn’t react, still staring at him.

“One.” Dare began calmly, not leaving long between the count. “Two-”

Jonah moved automatically, experienced enough in Dare counting to be keen for him never to reach three. He lifted his hand uncertainly, and Dare took his fingers, turning his palm up. The belt was a flexible one and Dare used only the end of it, firmly but with care, to place a brisk swat on Jonah’s palm. It took all of Jonah’s self control not to yelp as much from surprise as the smart; Dare’s grasp on his fingers prevented him pulling away and Dare held his palm still upturned to look at him with an expression that was quite shockingly normal.

“You answer me when I speak to you.”

Jonah started to answer automatically, then swallowed to clear the knot in his throat and tried again, surprised that his own voice sounded normal too.

“Yes sir.”

It was weeks since he’d last said that phrase, but it didn’t come at all rustily. This was a part of a language they both knew; far, far better than the mess they were currently dealing with.

Dare let him go, put his belt back on and straightened the blanket over him before he went into the kitchen. Jonah slowly rubbed at his now pink and stinging palm, startled and with a conflicting muddle of feelings that went from surprise – he and Dare had gone through many similar encounters although they didn’t normally involve belts or hands – mild outrage at finding himself in trouble in a situation that ought to give anyone a white card to behave as they liked, and a tiny part of him oddly happy at the first truly normal moment in weeks. It was definitely being them. The safe, rooted entity that was Dare and Jonah. And that was quite a novelty.

“I've got tomato soup or minestrone, and it’s not the awful tinned stuff,” Dare called from the kitchen as if nothing had happened. “Which do you want?”

Jonah found his mouth opening to reply without his conscious thought, motivated by his smarting hand.


“I’ll do it with sandwiches. That ought to buffer your stomach enough against the pills.”

Damn the bloody pills. Jonah sat, still rubbing at his palm. The smart was fading rapidly and it felt very different to the dull, nagging ache of his legs and back. Dare came back with a plate of sandwiches and a pronged toasting fork, spearing one of the sandwiches and holding the fork out to Jonah, then without ceremony he simply pushed the whole couch across the floor to within reach of the fire, putting the plate of sandwiches in Jonah’s lap.

“Toast those for me.”

When he brought the soup in, Jonah was holding the toasting fork out to the fire.

There were oil lamps filled and stood on windowsills ready for lighting but Dare took no notice of them when it began to get dark outside around five. Just the act of eating tired Jonah out. He argued to stay on the sofa on the grounds that it was easier, it made more sense, it was more comfortable, it was less risk to Dare’s back, not saying what they both knew: that being lifted would hurt and he wouldn’t admit to being afraid of it. Dare still carried him, as gently and as evenly as was humanly possible, up the staircase which opened into the one and only room upstairs: the long, low attic bedroom. It was directly under the cottage eaves, the roof was low enough for Dare to have to stoop anywhere but in the middle of the room, but it was the biggest room in the house and it was lit on all four walls by the long, low windows, the south one of which looked out over the river among the tall reeds behind the cottage.

The single big cast iron bedstead was ancient but holding the new, soft mattress and mattress toppers that the estate manager had taken receipt of on Dare’s behalf as he had the sofa downstairs. It would have held an entire family and probably once had done. Dare had unpacked their belongings – which were not plentiful, they had always travelled a lot and generally didn’t carry much more than essentials around with them – and made up the bed thickly with quilts, pillows and blankets that might hopefully save Jonah pain, and turned it so that as they lay in bed they could look out over the water, misty in the gathering dark outside. He laid Jonah down and lit the oil lamp in the deep windowsill which cast a soft, low light through the big room. It was cool up here, just short of being actively cold, but the warmth of the fire had seeped up through the floorboards and the blankets on the bed were thick. Their clothes had been stowed in the battered and antique dresser against the wall and in the heavy wooden chest at the foot of the bed, the only other furniture but for a high backed, elderly armchair by the other window.

Dare helped Jonah find the multiple night time pills in their bottles in his shaving kit, undressed him, and used the pile of pillows to prop him in a position that reduced his pain enough to sleep. It was a skill he’d learned fast through necessity at the hospital based on trial and error; it took slow, careful work to do at a pace Jonah could handle without reducing him to the humiliation of tears of pain and exhaustion; much slower than busy nurses could do, but it was so much easier here where they had control over the lights, the furniture, the time and interruptions. He’d wanted Jonah to have back the normality of them going to a different room at night and settling to bed together, and it helped as he had known it would help: Jonah fell asleep like a candle blowing out and within a few minutes Dare knew he was sleeping more deeply than he had ever seen Jonah manage to do in the weeks in hospital. Beyond the lamp, the old glass of the window looked out on the darkness and Dare went to stand by it, bracing one hand against the bare wood of the beam. They didn’t need curtains here. There was no artificial light around them, just the river and the miles and miles of marsh, and in the distance Dare could hear the marsh birds calling.

It was still mid evening when Jonah stirred again and Dare laid his book down, sitting back in the chair in the corner. He’d got into the habit of starting to talk at the first sign of movement when Jonah was still coming round in the ICU; it seemed to help Jonah orient himself more easily and more calmly and saved him sudden movements that hurt.

“Hey love, I’m here. You slept a while, it’s a lot quieter here than it was in Bristol.”

It took a moment of blinking before Jonah focused, fighting his way through the blur of medication, and turned his head to look at the window. He often went more by the quality of the light outside than he did by a clock, he’d always had a near supernatural sense of time.

“It’s about nine pm.” Dare got up and came to sit with him, careful not to shake the bed. “How are you doing?”

Not great if he was any judge. Jonah’s colour wasn’t good, the cast was heavy and after a couple of hours laying still in any one position he was always in a lot of pain.

“...back.... head.” Jonah said vaguely.

By habit, following what the physiotherapists had taught him, Dare pulled pillows into a line alongside Jonah’s side to support him and Jonah gathered himself and rolled the very little he could over onto his side against the pillows. Dare lay down behind him, pushing up his t shirt to reach his back and rub, working gently over his shoulders and down his spine until Jonah drifted off again. Dare still took his time, making it an intimate touch, not that Jonah had the energy or will to care at the moment, but it was a form of comfort for them both. He was so fit. Well worked muscles over bone, toned, still hard even after several weeks in bed; he was never out of training between races. The surgeon had commented more than once that it had been his fitness that saved him, kept his heart going through the night, gave him the strength to withstand the shock and the surgery. The surgery had been harsh and invasive. There was hardware now holding Jonah’s pelvis together and containing the damage the broken bones had done inside.

For the first time since before the accident they shared a bed, laying undressed and under covers together, in full darkness. And that was bliss. Somewhere around midnight, and again around three am, they went through the rigmarole of changing position, using the bottles the hospital had supplied them with to avoid Jonah having to get in and out of bed to a bathroom, drinking the tea from the thermos flask that Dare brought to bed with them, and taking the next set of medications. Jonah said nothing more than monosyllables through shut teeth and appeared to want to go back to sleep as quickly as possible, but once Dare woke and found him lying awake in the darkness, eyes open, face immobile, but tears running slowly and steadily down his face. It was one of the most awful things he’d ever seen. He slid the three inches of space between them to spoon him and got his arms around Jonah, very gently helping him shift position and he found Jonah’s hand, intertwined his fingers with Jonah’s to grasp it.

“Breathe. Breathe Jone. Slowly, deeper than that. That’s it. That’s the way.”

It had been very difficult to hold him like he needed in a narrow hospital bed to be able to help, with lights on in the corridor outside, people passing by and staff in and out. Here, in a decent sized double bed and under the covers together in a dark, quiet room it was very different and Dare felt Jonah start to calm against him as his breathing deepened. But it still gave little sense of reaching him.


“Well? Isn’t she beautiful?”

The brand new, long, white yacht was graceful but it wasn’t her that Dare was looking at. Jonah laughed at him, throwing him the snatcher, and Dare helped him guide the yacht close to the board walk and tie her off at stern and bow. Jonah took a moment more to finish bringing down and packing away the sail, feet and long legs bare under the white shorts and white and blue wind cheater, shaggy dark golden hair lashing in the wind. He badly needed a shave, he was alive on the excitement of the wind and the racing water, animate with enthusiasm. Still barefoot, he leapt up onto the dock and Dare grabbed him, taking advantage of the early morning and the deserted marina to kiss him, which with Jonah was always a thorough and prolonged business that he expected your full attention in. 

“Isn’t she fantastic? Don’t you want to try her?” Jonah demanded when he finally came up for air. His face was cold in contrast to the heat of his breath on Dare’s face, he tipped his head back and his dark blue eyes were alight with excitement that was contagious and the always there Jonah sparkle, as though at some deep level there was something about life that he found hugely funny.

“She moves like a swallow, come on.”

“It’s five am, don’t you want something to eat first?” Dare protested, not trying very hard.  “You must have been up half the night.”

“It was light by four am, I couldn’t wait a moment longer to see how she did on open water. Come on.” Jonah towed him towards the dock and Dare followed him down onto the yacht’s deck, ducking out the way as Jonah began to free ropes. There was still boatyard sawdust on her.

He sailed like he did everything else. Artlessly, without effort, with his whole body and his whole being involved. Helping where needed, Dare mostly sat on the deck and watched Jonah handle the sails and lean back at impossible angles into the wind, sending the light craft flying out into the harbour where the breeze was strong and surf was in the air.

Later, much later in the little marina flat that Dare had rented for the next three months, Jonah dozed, sprawled face down and naked on the bed in the sunshine streaming through the French windows. Tanned and weathered, toned from near constant work on boats all year round, well worked muscles showed in his shoulders, in his calves, in the squared curves of his buttocks and the lines of his long arms, and his skin was as golden as his hair. Dare lay beside him for a while, running a finger slowly up and down his back. Periodically Jonah twitched without waking, but he loved to be touched, like a cat. With teeth. Maybe a panther. Or a tiger. You could make Jonah Trevelyan growl, snarl and even purr if you knew him well enough. Dare ran his fingers through Jonah’s wavy hair, always wild, and thick and soft enough that was impossible not to touch, and dragged himself up off the bed with his own muscles protesting slightly at the workout Jonah had just put him through. The man came in off the water without his energy abated in the slightest, sailing had a stronger effect on Jonah than a bottle of Viagra. He stretched his back, and absently picked up the Nikon D3 camera lying on the table, checking the frame, and then aiming the lense at Jonah. Jonah didn’t stir at the quiet click; he was far too used to it. Dare pulled on a pair of shorts and took the camera with him out onto the balcony. The marina was starting to get busy now it was mid morning, boats of all kinds were moving on the water, and a small fleet of sails were gathering just beyond the harbour. The racing fraternity, starting to collect and train in earnest with just a few weeks left to go. Dare spotted the Canadian logo and the French one in amongst the yachts in the distance. He picked his angles, taking a couple more frames before he left the camera on the table and went into the little galley kitchen to put the coffee percolator on.

Coffee and Danish pastries would get Jonah out of bed when he was three days dead.


His hair looked lank and darker, perhaps because his face was so white. He’d had no colour in his face since the day of the surgery; according to the medics because of pain, drugs, blood loss and shock. Dare very lightly smoothed some stray strands back, careful not to move the bed or risk waking him. He’d had maybe five hours of good sleep on and off through the night, and that was better than he’d ever managed in all their time the hospital. He still smelled of hospital disinfectant and the stuff they’d painted on the surgical wounds, a foreign smell that wasn’t Jonah. He was coming to the end of this current sleep cycle, it was approaching seven am and the next dose of pain meds would be needed soon. Leaving him sleeping, Dare dressed and went downstairs, raking out the fire in the grate in the living room, setting a new fire, and turning up the stove in the kitchen. The thick walls of the stone cottage had held the heat surprisingly well through the night, it was quite comfortably warm this morning. The cottage front door was a stable door and Dare unlocked it and folded the top half back, letting in cold fresh air and the misty morning outside. The trees were starting to turn, gold and yellow appearing in amongst the green, and the mist rising from the ground and the river promised the first frost not far away.

The pantry was full of the odds and ends he’d stocked it with yesterday. Dare looked around the shelves for a few minutes, considering. He’d spent several days shopping in the few hours snatched from being with Jonah in the hospital, ignoring the prices and looking for anything at all that might tempt Jonah into wanting to eat, and had collected shelves full of small things, snacks, nibbles. In the hospital it had been a constant battle to prevent well intentioned nurses from dumping overloaded trays of institutional slop on Jonah’s lap which ensured he couldn’t stand the thought of eating for hours afterwards.  They’d both lost more than a few pounds. Dare made coffee and left it to warm, until the scent began to steal through the cottage, put Danish pastries into the warming oven and went upstairs, taking the next set of pills with him.

Jonah was awake, and his hands were fisted again, the giveaway of how much pain he was containing. Dare sat down carefully on the side of the bed, holding out the pills and handing Jonah the bottle of water from the night stand. Jonah knocked back the pills, not looking at him while Dare watched.

“It’s damp outside this morning, but it’s not raining.”

Jonah’s total lack of response said it all. The weather had always been the first thing he was interested in on waking. Dare peeled the bed covers away, slid his arms under Jonah and lifted him as smoothly as he could.

“Come and dress downstairs by the stove, it’s warmer.”

The physiotherapists had emphasised the need for movement and weight bearing, and for the first few weeks Jonah had been avidly keen to do everything they asked of him and as much more as he could manage, irrespective of pain or exhaustion. Bad news and relentless lack of success had beaten that out of him. Once Dare had helped Jonah to take off his nightwear – or more accurately undressed him since he found bending very painful – Dare filled a bowl with hot water, and put a towel, wash cloth and a bottle of liquid soap down in his reach, standing him with both hands on the kitchen table, rigidly upright in the cast.

“You wash, I’ll get you clean clothes.”

Jonah looked at the bowl and towel without expression. Dare went past him as if he hadn’t seen and for the several minutes it took to find underwear, sweat pants, a clean sweatshirt and t shirt and thick socks, hoped. When he came back into the kitchen it was apparent that Jonah hadn’t moved at all, not even to put the washcloth in the water. This lack of activity was so alarmingly unlike him.

Dare pulled out the chair next to him and wrung the washcloth out in the water, soaped it and put it into Jonah’s hand.

“Jone. Wash.”

Jonah might have asked why. He might have said no. Actually he said nothing at all and his hand didn’t move. He was shivering slightly in the draft from the door, and Dare draped a towel around his shoulders and took the wash cloth from him, letting this battle go by. Jonah stood and co operated silently with being washed, being put into clean clothes and being shaved, without ever lifting his eyes. Dare ran a brush through his hair when he was done, put a hand under his chin and kissed him.

“Want breakfast inside or outside?”

Silence. Jonah still didn’t look up. He hadn’t said a word yet this morning. Dare took the coffee off the stove.

“Jonah. Inside or outside?”


It was said dully, without interest, in a tone that suggested the swatting of an infuriating fly. Dare opened the lower half of the kitchen door into the garden.

There were several battered, slightly musty smelling recliner deckchairs in the store room. Dare took one to the garden by the river and set it up at its furthest reclining position before he went back to the kitchen, collecting several blankets and a thick fleece, and Jonah’s crutches. Jonah accepted being helped into the fleece and his trainers without comment, and Dare didn’t ask; he simply put the crutches one under each arm. It took a minute for Jonah to get his balance and he went several shades paler.

“You walk down there,” Dare said with all the cheerful authority he could muster, “I’ll bring your breakfast.”

Jonah didn’t move, but he looked up and his eyes were bitterly furious. “I’m not bloody walking anywhere.”

He couldn’t sit down or get off the crutches without help. Which made this effectively blackmail. Hating himself for doing it, Dare poured coffee into a thermal mug and waited by the door, which was near enough to grab Jonah if he lost balance.

“Come on love. The physios said the more you did, the easier it would get.”

“I doubt any of them have ever bust a pelvis.”

“They’ll have seen plenty of people who have, and you walked every day in hospital. The quicker you do it, the quicker it’s done.”

“Sod off.”

There was very little emotion of any kind in Jonah’s voice or eyes; it was all very quiet. Only a few weeks ago a conversation like this would have inevitably involved things being hurled down for emphasis and hands banged on surfaces to accentuate key points; Jonah was expressive in whatever he did. Dare would have gladly welcomed a little banging and shouting this morning. Instead Jonah looked him, blue eyes without expression or warmth, then he visibly gritted his jaw and dragged himself towards the door.

It took him several minutes, and his breath was coming between his teeth at the end of the twenty feet to the chair. Dare shadowed him, trying to do it casually without hovering, and put the thermal mug down on the grass to take the crutches and lower him into the recliner. Jonah was still breathing in tight gasps, and Dare crouched down, putting his hands on Jonah’s shoulder and arm, gripping in the same way that often Jonah had gripped onto him in the hospital. Sometimes he’d seriously thought Jonah would crack his fingers.

“Well done. Well done love.”

Whiter than a sheet, he was sweating. Drops were standing out on his forehead. Dare brushed at them, and picked up the coffee, putting the mug into Jonah’s hands.

“I’ll bring you a book and your breakfast.”

He brought a plastic bucket too, which upturned served as a table surface within Jonah’s reach, on which Dare put a plate with small, neatly cut pieces of warm Danish and one of the comedy fantasy books Jonah often took with him on trips when he wanted something easy and escapist to read. Jonah had his hands cupped around the coffee mug and it looked as if he’d drunk a little. Dare tucked his cell phone into the pocket of his sweats.

“Just in case you yell and I don’t hear you. Got everything you need?”

No answer.

For the first time Dare found himself hesitating to leave Jonah beside the water. There was a kind of stupid, primitive dread when he looked at Jonah’s face and the crutches, which he swallowed down and didn’t let reach his face. Instead, he went back to the cottage, not looking to see if Jonah ate. Trust, to Jonah, was important. Space, to Jonah, was hugely important. He always, always needed time alone, wherever they were, whatever they did. This was what mattered to him, and he hadn’t had it for so long that Dare was starting to be afraid of the effect it had had on him.

Dare sat down in the kitchen, alone, and when he put his head in his hands, discovered that he was shaking slightly. Jonah and water. If you loved him you understood it; it was something he needed like breathing, and it was another reason Dare had been so desperate to get him out of Bristol hospital. They were used to being apart for weeks at a time when they were working, they were both people who could handle alone time, but for Jonah, the presence of living, moving water and time to be alone to feel it were vital. He’d sail or walk whenever he wanted time to himself; he’d never drive if he could help it. He loved the outdoors. To be out in it and to be touching it, to be somewhere that other people weren’t, the wilder the better, impervious to weather or temperature, it spoke to him at gut level. According to Jonah his parents used to comment that he had been like this since he was a toddler; it was how Jonah saw and knew about sights that other people mostly missed. Things he’d pointed out and shown to Dare many times that he loved and that filled him with energy and his delight in it. Schools of dolphins. Bird nests. Fox cubs playing. Badger sets. Quiet places where other people had never been. It was a lot of the reason why they were here of all places where the next nearest human being was several miles away, where they were surrounded by wild water and wetland, the exact magic Jonah most loved. And yet it was so damned hard to just leave him be.

Dare occupied himself by making the bed, tidying and cleaning, which in a cottage this size, even though he was obsessively thorough about it, took barely an hour. When his cell phone rang, he grabbed at it, already heading for the door before he saw the name on the screen and stopped.


“Hey, I meant to leave a message, I didn’t think you’d have this turned on.” His brother’s voice was deep and compassionate. “I just wanted to see how you two were doing and if there was anything you needed. How’s Jonah?”

“....Not good.” Dare pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down, leaning heavily on the scrubbed wooden table. “Still in a lot of pain, although he’s fractionally less withdrawn than he was at the hospital.”  

“He will come around now that it’s just the two of you.”

Ian had seen them in the hospital, he’d spent several nights with them when things were at their worst and he loved Jonah. He understood. It was tempting to give in to the small, quiet voice that wanted to pour out all the doubts, and the fact he’d had to lie up, down and sideways to the health team about where he intended to take Jonah. If the medics had realised it was a small cottage without electricity in the middle of nowhere with stairs, they probably would have refused to discharge him at all, they never would have understood. Rationally they were quite right. What kind of a man brought their barely mobile partner to a place like this?

The kind of man that knows Jonah.

“It is a true Jonah kind of place.” He said with cheer he didn’t feel.

“You mean without one single modern convenience, in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by water.” Ian said dryly. “Yeah, I know all about Jonah’s ‘kind of places’, I’ve camped with you two. Is there anything you need, like a roof or the discovery of fire? Anything I can do?”

“No, we’ve got it all in hand thanks.” Dare got up. “I need to go. Jonah’s outside, I want to keep an ear out for him.”

“Give him my love?” Ian said gently. “And try not to worry. Take care of yourself, you know where I am if you need me.”

There was an otter a few feet away from Jonah, pottering on the grass. Delighted since they were rare to see first hand – and exactly what Jonah would love - Dare stopped where he was, just out of sight at the corner of the house. Jonah was watching it intently, and he had made himself so still that the otter was treating him with the same lack of caution he was treating the fence post. Jonah had the gift of disappearing into the scenery when he was watching something wild. Seagulls and squirrels would take food from his hands, an otter apparently would explore the lawn and take no notice of him. After a minute Dare silently went inside, found his camera hung with his jacket and came back outside, crouching again on the grass to focus the lens and take the picture; first of the otter, and then with both the otter and Jonah in the frame. Jonah always teased him about keeping cameras around like other people kept their car keys. One of the nurses at the hospital had looked at him with outright shock when she caught him snapping a picture in the ICU of Jonah, semi conscious and attached to machines Dare didn’t even have names for. It was difficult to explain that if one’s career involved seeing life through a camera frame, one tended to need to see it that way in order to process it, and it had always struck Dare as strange that people only photographed the good times in their lives, when sometimes it was the difficult events in life that were the most pivotal, that you most needed to be able to look back on, if only to reassure yourself that they were over.

He didn’t go closer until the otter pattered back to the water’s edge and slipped in, swimming rapidly away in the murky water. Jonah’s eyes were alive and intent as he watched it go; Dare saw the real spark in them… but his hands were clenched again. Dare sat down on the bucket beside him, looking with him at the brown river running past, through the wet grass and the high reeds on the opposite bank. Not pretty in a conventional sense, but wildly beautiful in a lonely kind of way. There was utter silence out here. No cars, no voices.

“How are you doing? Are you warm enough?”

Jonah didn’t answer. Dare put a hand inside his blanket and inside the neck of his sweatshirt. He was warm. And rigid. Two hours away from the next dose of medication and he was still in serious pain. In years of watching Jonah sail, which was a career that brought more than its fair share of bumps, bruises and injuries, Dare had seen him with a broken collarbone, numerous broken fingers, cracked ribs, eight stitches in his scalp, and copious bumps and bruises, none of which had particularly slowed him up or stopped him sailing. He’d never seen this strained, set white look before the accident, and he hadn’t known Jonah’s mobile face could do it.  He pulled out his cell phone and got up, voice crisp as the operator service answered.

“I’d like the number for the local GP practice for Odham, Norfolk. The Broads villages. Thank you.”

Jonah looked up at him and Dare put a hand out to touch his face.

“Hello? I’d like an urgent home visit please.”

“I don’t need to see anybody.” Jonah said loudly. Dare didn’t pause.

“My partner was released from hospital in Bristol yesterday with a surgically repaired pelvis and a fractured femur, and the pain management plan we were given isn’t working out. Yes. It’s Eel Cottage beyond Odham Hall. Thank you.”

Apparently Odham Hall was known to the local GP practice who appeared to be more used to travelling to see their patients than most town GPs. Dare pocketed the phone.

“He’ll be here this afternoon, they can’t be specific about the time.”

“I don't need a doctor.”

“We do.” Dare said matter of factly. “I won’t believe you have to hurt this much.”

“Do you want me comatose on drugs?” Jonah demanded. “Is that what you want?”

Dare sat back down on the bucket beside him, getting hold of his hand and keeping hold when Jonah tried to pull away. “No, but we can’t just press a button and get a nurse to pop in and talk to us. We moved you a lot yesterday, you’re in different positions here than you were in the hospital and this is too much for you. I want it reviewing properly.”

Jonah shrugged, not looking at him. “I'm getting used to it, you can too.”

Trying to challenge him rationally didn’t help; it was ridiculous to expect him with the way he felt right now to be able to change to a more positive view point simply because he was argued with. Dare lifted their joined hands to kiss the back of Jonah’s, getting up and going back to the positive, definite voice he’d been working on all day.

“We're talking to this guy and seeing if he can help. He's coming over this afternoon.”

“I used to get a vote.” Jonah said coldly. “When did that stop?”

“When you turned that colour and the pain got this bad.” Dare picked up his empty cup. “Ready for more coffee?”

“I’m not talking to anybody.” Jonah warned.


I know you’re in there.  I feel your pain – every bump, every bruise, every break, as keenly as if it were my own.  I’m here, if only you’d talk to me.  You lived!  You could have given up so many times, yet you struggled for consciousness, for every breath.  I’m here.  We’ve got each other.  You’re my partner, my love, my soul mate.  I still have you.  I still have you. Damnit, come back to me.

I answer yes, sir, as he’d expect.  He looks a moment longer, assuring himself the message is delivered, then in the blink of an eye, he’s gone.  My thoughts turn inward again, a deep, dark pit I circle endlessly.  The pain is constant, never ending.  I lie where you put me, unable to move myself, or even turn over.  I yearn for you but don’t want to burden you.  Tears come, not the words.  We repeat this idiot dance and will do it all again forever.


The medic parked alongside the range rover shortly after one pm, Dare heard the engine and went out to meet him. He was a short, middle aged man who looked as if he’d once been a rugby player, with broad shoulders and a nose that had been broken and not well repaired at some point. His hand shake was short and to the point and he had a broad Norfolk accent.

“Tim Dunkley. And you’re not the one with the broken pelvis.”

“Adare Brody. No, that would be my partner.” Dare led the way up the path past the cottage. “He was released from the Bristol Royal Infirmary yesterday, we were in there almost five weeks following a sailing accident. He broke his pelvis in two places and fractured his femur near to the head, all three breaks were pinned. He’s still in a cast but the pain meds we were given on discharge aren’t touching him.”

“Just the two broken bones?” the man said shortly. They were approaching Jonah, who didn’t look towards them but Dare saw him stiffen.

“Closed head injury,” Dare said steadily, trying not to think about the hours of scans and the dread and waiting that had involved, “He was unconscious for a few days, but the scans were clear when they were repeated a week ago. And he was in cold and rough water for several hours before he was picked up, we were told his heart was strained.”

“That was the word they used? Strained?”

“Myocardial damage. They did a lot of tests and said his heart was enlarged, there was reduced efficiency, and that it would take a few months before we could establish what that was going to mean long term. The priority was the acute injuries.”

“Ok.” Dunkley was about to stick a hand out to Jonah, offering to shake, and then looked hard at Jonah and his whole face changed.

“Good God, you’re the yachter! Trevelyan.”

The change in his voice caught Jonah’s attention, he looked up and Dunkley snorted like a horse, with open admiration.

“I saw you win the Olympic silver, man. I stayed up half the night watching that race! It was bloody marvellous, I’ve never seen sailing like it. I’ve read every article I could lay my hands on about your yachts and designs, I read all about the specifications on your design for the Blue Swallow. You don’t have her here do you?”

He nodded hopefully towards the boat house belonging to the cottage, further down on the river bank. Jonah shook his head.

“She came apart during the race, there wasn’t enough left to salvage. The patent’s being approved for more to be built to her spec.”

“I’m sorry.” Dunkley said with real feeling, and he was the first person Dare had heard truly commiserate with Jonah about the loss of his yacht rather than the injuries, understanding as another sailor the significance of how that must feel to him. “She was a beautiful thing, looked like you could turn her on a sixpence. I’d love to see the design. Tim Dunkley, it’s a great pleasure to meet you. I sail whenever I can myself - nothing like the Swallow and it’s different here on the Broads to open oceans, but this is a bit of a special place. Have you sailed much around here?”

He couldn’t have done more to recommend himself to Jonah if he’d tried. Dare answered, sincerely grateful to the man.

“No, we’ve never been to the Broads before.”

“Believe me, there’s nowhere like it.” Dunkley stood his bag on top of the bucket and opened it, taking out a blood pressure cuff. “Once you’ve sailed here the bug bites. Try the Wroxham broad, that’s the best one for speed, but I like the backwaters around here just as much. I’ll want to see the packets of everything he’s taking please.”

Dare went inside to get them, and Dunkley wrapped the cuff around Jonah’s arm, crouching on the wet grass.

“What’s bothering you most?”

“Him.” Jonah said bluntly, nodding after Dare. Dunkley gave a short grunt of laughter, watching the dial.

“I think he got a mention in one of the interviews you did before last year’s Transatlantic race?”

“He takes the pictures for most of the articles.” Jonah shifted with great care in the chair as Dunkley let the cuff deflate.

“Well that’s high as a bloody kite. How long does your surgeon want that leg casted if it’s pinned?”

Jonah looked up to Dare for help as Dare came back, and Dare offered the boxes of pills to Dunkley.

“He was semi conscious and confused for a while with the head injury, and he was thrashing around. The surgeon wanted to keep the work stabilised. We talked about having it removed before we left the hospital, he had a brace on his pelvis which they took off and the physios thought we’d find it easier with the leg cast off too, but the surgeon was keen to try and keep it in place another ten days.”

“That’s a bit circumspect, the pin work should hold it and the physios were right. It’s bloody hard with a busted pelvis dragging a cast around like this outside a hospital.” Dunkley put the cuff away, considering. “What did he make of your pain levels?”

“That it would get easier, and to try to bear with the cast.”

“Well I’d like to talk to the man myself.” Dunkley said bluntly, “But I’d say you’ve got three choices here. One, carry on as you are and I’ll try adjusting the meds. Two, I’ll get you admitted to Norwich hospital where they can manage your pain and you won’t need to move around. Or three, we see whether the cast can come off. I’d say at this stage the priority is for you to get moving again and you can’t do that weighted down.”

“I’m not going back to any hospital.” Jonah said shortly. Dunkley got up, taking the pill packets with him.

“Options one or three then. Can I use your phone?”

Dare took him back to the kitchen and handed him the cell phone and the number he’d been keeping to hand since they left the ward.

“That’s the ward we were on, that’s the physio department. Can I make you some tea?”

“I’d love some.” Dunkley dumped his bag on the table and squinted at the phone, starting to dial. The conversation he had with Bristol hospital took some time and ranged between several people, and Dare’s respect for the man’s skills rose steadily as he listened; Dunkley had spoken to Jonah only for a few minutes but he hadn’t missed much.  

“That’s all very well and I’ve not seen the scans,” Dunkley said at one point to someone in Bristol, “But you’re talking about a possible two percent pay off in outcome. I’m talking about informed choices and the man’s entitled to make them.”

Dare put a mug of tea down on the table and Dunkley nodded thanks to him.

“Ok. Ok well we’ll do that. Yes. Thank you. Cautious surgeon.” he said dryly to Dare, handing over the phone, picking up the tea and following Dare back into the garden as Dare took the other mug out to Jonah. “Got his reputation to protect, especially with sports celebrities who may go talking to newspapers if things don’t heal right. And caution’s no bad thing, but cutters get fixated on the bit they’re repairing and forget it belongs to a person. I spoke to a few people,” he went on as Jonah glanced up. “Including the physiotherapist who was treating you and she’d seen the most recent scans. I’d advise you to talk to the surgeon himself and get his view, but there’ll be no significant difference in the outcome if you want rid of the casts now. I think you’d do better with pain and mood if you could get up and mobile, and I think it’s worth working out what your priorities are.”

“If you mean ‘do I realise this won’t get a lot better no matter what we do’, it’s ok. I do.” Jonah said flatly. “My heart’s buggered. They told me.”

“They talked to us about some of the long term options,” Dare began, and Jonah interrupted.

“No, be honest. They told us there are no long term options. This isn’t just a case of waiting out a broken bone, I am never going to fix, so there’s no point in worrying over how perfectly the bones heal. Let’s be bloody realistic.”

“It’s is a lot to deal with.” Dunkley said bluntly, and Dare appreciated the tone that was neither sympathetic nor uncaring. “But yes, I think comfort and function is more important. I’ll write you a prescription for transdermal patches, slow pain killer release through the skin like a nicotine patch. You can use the other meds to top up as needed. Where’s home? I’ll need to write to your GP.”

“We don’t have one, no fixed address. We travel around and mostly we rent accommodation wherever we’re staying.” Dare explained. “What about the cast if we wanted it off? We’re not keen to travel unless we’ve got no choice, yesterday’s trip was hard going.”

Dunkley snapped his bag shut and handed him the prescription.

“You’re in luck. You’re out in the sticks here so the local practices are set up and staffed to do minor procedures themselves. I can bring my team’s physiotherapist out with me and we can do it here. I do strongly advise that you talk to the surgeon first before you make a final decision. I’ve left a message for him to call me too.”

“Thank you.”

“Pleasure.” Dunkley stuck out a hand to Jonah again, who took it without looking at him. “I’ll call back tomorrow afternoon.”

Dare watched him get back in his car before he crouched down beside Jonah, leaning on the arm of his chair.

“What do you think?”

Jonah didn’t answer. Dare put a hand inside his blankets.

“You still warm enough? I’ll bring you another drink and I’ll go get this prescription. It shouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes, the village isn’t far. Do you need anything?”

Still no answer. Dare brought him water and another coffee, and a bottle, which he left discreetly on Jonah’s bucket table top, stooping to kiss him.

“I won’t be long love.”

Odham village looked as if it had escaped from a Christmas card. Dare got the prescription filled at a tiny Victorian Chemists in the high street where an elderly lady chatted as she served him. A small post office was attached to a coffee shop on the village green which was also on the river front, and which obviously made most of its living during the tourist season. Boats were tied up along the moorings and late season holiday makers were visible on the decks and in the cabins, going about their day. A delicatessen stood next to a small butchers shop, and several tourist tat shops which were catering for the small groups making the most of the late September sunshine, and a local was steering a small boat up river, standing in the prow with a bag of groceries at his feet. Dare glanced at his watch and bought chocolate, pate and fresh bread from the deli before he drove back up the lane out of the village and down the narrow track that led to the cottage. Jonah was sitting exactly as he had been when Dare left, hands around the coffee mug. Dare went down the garden to him, unwrapping the patches and reading through the guidelines.

“These look straight forward. One per forty eight hours. The village is pretty, they seem to have most essentials.”

Jonah looked down, watching Dare open his shirt and put the patch on his stomach. Dare tucked his shirt back in and stooped to lift him, taking a moment to let Jonah prepare.

“Come have some lunch.”

The bread was still warm, baked fresh that morning. Dare stood Jonah at the table in the kitchen, giving him a moment to get his balance.

“Take your coat off, hang it up and I’ll help you get comfortable on the sofa.”

Jonah didn’t move, and went on not moving while Dare sliced and spread the bread with pate.


No. He couldn’t have made it much clearer. Dare put the slices on a plate and put the pate away.

“Jonah. Coat.”

One handed Jonah yanked the zip free and shrugged, letting the coat drop on the floor with frank, bitter defiance. Dare licked butter off his fingers and picked up the wooden spoon from the counter.


He did this time see Jonah’s face change and look a lot less grim and a lot more apprehensive. He still took Jonah’s fingers and swatted his palm lightly but firmly, a brisk three times.

He saw Jonah rubbing his hand as he picked Jonah’s coat up, then Jonah’s breathing abruptly fractured as the walls came down and Dare put the spoon and coat down on the table to get hold of him as he started to cry. There was no lead-in to it, he just burst like a dam breaking. Jonah clung around his neck, sobbing so hard that he shook all over, and Dare hugged him, well aware this had nothing to do with a mild smart on his hand.

“I can’t do it.” Jonah choked out into his neck.

“Can’t do what?” Dare said against his ear. 

“Anything! You know what I was sitting out there thinking while you were gone?  If I fell I’d never get myself up again.”

“You’ve got a phone,” Dare said uselessly, knowing that wasn’t what Jonah meant. “I wouldn’t have been gone more than fifteen minutes at the most, I wouldn’t leave you any longer no matter what. I wouldn’t have left you at all if we didn’t need the prescription.”

“I’m fucking useless.” Jonah said quietly and passionately into his neck. Dare shook his head, holding Jonah tightly in the way that had always in the past made him feel safer.

No. This is going to get better, this is only temporary. You’re not going to stay as immobile as you are right now.”

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“I know.” Dare kissed him over and over again, holding him close. “I know. Now, today, you hurt and you’re mad and you hate it. So let's deal with now. You're taking the meds. You're moving around. You're resting. You're doing all the right things and we will get through this.”

“’Getting through’ isn’t living. The doctor called me a racer-”

He stopped, breathing very hard. The word had clearly hurt. Dare rubbed his back, keeping his voice quiet.

“You are. Of course you are, those are achievements no one can ever take away from you. Whatever happens, all that knowledge, all that skill, it's never going anywhere, is it? You are always going to be Jonah Trevelyan.”

Jonah didn’t answer. It was few seconds more before Dare realised something had changed, he wasn’t just sobbing; he was literally gasping for breath, panting, and his hands were starting to bite on Dare’s arms in panic.


“It’s ok.” Dare scooped him up and carried him through to the sitting room and the sofa where he sat down, helping Jonah lay flat with his head in Dare’s lap. “It’s ok. It’s all right, I’ve got you.”

Jonah’s eyes were terrified. Dare held him, stroking his head and face, keeping a hold on his own nerves by brute force.

“It’s ok. Deep breaths, come on. Slowly.”

It felt like several years that Jonah was panting, but it was probably nearer to thirty seconds before he began to breathe more normally and Dare relaxed his grip, aware that they were both trembling.

“It’s all right.” he said with all the confidence could muster. “This is the longest you’ve been awake in days, you’re tired and you hurt like hell and you’re very stressed out, you’re entitled to get in a state.”

Jonah clung to him when he tried to move and Dare hugged him, sliding out from underneath him.

“I’m coming right back. Let me get us something to eat and some tea and then we don’t have to move again.”


“That’s his heart.” Dunkley said bluntly. “It’s damaged, it’s not as efficient as it was and it’s not keeping oxygen levels up as easily. Under stress, he’s going to find he gets breathless. It’s only been a few weeks and there’s additional strain from pain, being tired and hauling the cast about. Give it some time and he’ll start to recognise what’s happening, then he won’t panic when he feels it.”

Time. There was that word again.

At least the cast was a solvable problem. Jonah had been scared enough last night to actually manage a few sentences in conversation about it, and his surgeon responded to their request for a call back around mid evening. While he wasn’t enthusiastic, when pressed the surgeon agreed that the cast was now precautionary rather than necessary. Dunkley came at lunchtime the next day with a soft eyed, spectacularly beautiful dark haired boy in his twenties, who triggered Dare’s gaydar on sight, smiled at Dare within seconds of arriving in a way that said yes, he fully appreciated their situation, and who approached Jonah with so much warmth that even Jonah took his eyes off the machinery Dunkley was unpacking.

“It’s a real pleasure to meet you! I’ve heard all about you and your yachts and your medals. My other half’s beside himself with jealousy I’m getting to meet you in person.”

“Four fifths of the villagers around here own boats.” Dunkley interjected. “This is Jamie, our practice physiotherapist who’s living in sin with the publican at The Swan in the village. I know he looks about twelve but he’s willing to do the rural work out here, and not many people are.”

“And Mick and I get to sail most weekends.” Jamie said easily. “Shall I make tea, Jonah? This will take a while and I’m sure you’d rather hold Dare’s hand than mine. Dare, you might want to get some clean clothes ready for him to change into? And things to wash with.”

So the locals were accustomed to openly gay couples around the place. That was good to know. Dunkley certainly didn’t look twice at Jonah hanging onto Dare while he started work with some power saw implement and Jamie made tea, brought it in with him and sat on the arm of the couch on Jonah’s other side, chattering cheerfully about tides and the pub and business in the winter, and periodically lending a hand to Dunkley without making a fuss about it. Both he and Dunkley acted as though removing this kind of cast was something they did every day, and about ten minutes later they eased the last section of it away from the livid marks of stitches over the closed incision along his thigh. Jamie helped Dare to wash the last remains of plaster of Paris and powder from Jonah’s skin, careful over the several abraded spots where the plaster had rubbed, and dressed him in loose boxers and sweat pants. Jamie then took Jonah’s arms before he had time to panic or realise and Dare moved to help him lift Jonah to his feet.

As soon as they had Jonah standing, Dare understood why; the sheer fear in Jonah’s face was awful, he obviously didn’t trust the repair, but as Jamie steadied him and then eased off his grasp leaving only Dare to steady him, Dare felt Jonah start to take his weight and test his balance.

“How painful?” Jamie asked. Jonah hesitated a moment, shifting his weight very carefully from foot to foot.

“’s there, but not terrible. That’s way better than with the cast on.”

“Not so much weight to carry.” Jamie moved behind Jonah, resting his hands on Jonah’s hips and studying them. “It is going to hurt, you’ve got weight pulling above and below on healing bones, but the pins are going to hold it steady. You’re standing nice and even too. Where are your crutches?”

“Here.” Dare collected them, handing them to Jonah one at a time, aware Jonah looked extremely nervous, but Jamie kept hold of him and Jonah moved initially very carefully and then with more confidence across the floor. It obviously wasn’t comfortable, but he neither went white nor dragged himself, and Dare watched with flooding, overwhelming relief.

“That’s so much better.”

“You’re doing a good job.” Jamie said to Jonah, rubbing his shoulders. “Little and often. Use the crutches to protect that leg, walk slowly and don’t overdo it. How long since the surgery?”

“Five weeks tomorrow.” Dare said without having to think about it. Jamie nodded.

“Then I’d like you to take it very quietly for at least another week. A little walking around the house and only with the crutches. Do you have a wheelchair?”

“The hospital gave us one.” Dare confirmed.

“Then use it if you go out anywhere, but start out with very short distances, you’re going to find sitting upright for any length of time quite uncomfortable at first. If you want to try sleeping on your side, put pillows between your knees, that’ll make it more comfortable. How are you managing the stairs?”

“We’re not,” Dare said. “I’m carrying him.”

“Then you mind your back.” Jamie said severely. “Before I need to work on you too for slipped discs. The only other thing I need to look at is the loo and how you’re managing in there. Jonah, come show me?”

He herded Jonah gently towards the kitchen and the small bathroom alongside it. It wasn’t by any means Jonah’s first experience in the past few weeks of physiotherapists insisting on supervising him in places Jonah seriously resented supervision; Dare winced for him and distracted himself with Dunkley as soon as Jonah was out of earshot.

“What do I need to watch for with his heart? I don’t want to scare him but I need to know, this is still very new to us.”

“Breathlessness.” Dunkley dusted the last of the powered cast from the couch with a few swipes of his hand. “Chest pain. You might see him go pale, or his lips or fingernails go blue; means there’s not enough oxygen in his system. Heart’s working harder than it can keep up with. That’s the cue to stop and rest.”

“He was upset and shouting when it happened.”

“Can happen with exertion of any kind. You’re going to find he doesn’t have the energy he had before this happened.”

“The cardiologist at the hospital mentioned that.” Dare said unwillingly. “They talked to us a lot about accepting things had changed and he wouldn’t be able to do what he used to do- ‘lifestyle adjustments’ was a phrase we heard a lot but they wouldn’t really take a guess at what they might look like. They were clear he was in no danger if he cut back enough on what he tried to do and didn’t overtax his heart, it isn’t a case of surgery and he’s got no cardiac disease.”

“No.” Dunkley said fairly gently. “I’d guess the heart muscle got starved of oxygen in the water and that did the damage.”

From both exposure in icy water and the sheer physical exertion of hours spent hanging grimly onto the wreckage of the yacht, resisting the battering of the storm. The Air Sea Rescue team had been staggered to pick up a still-living survivor, but Jonah was a born defeater of ridiculous odds. Dare nodded slowly, processing.

“They got him onto medication that’s supposed to help, but they were saying things like no mowing the lawn, no shovelling snow, no lifting anything heavy.”

Definitely no handling sails, ropes or yachts. Especially not for hours at a stretch in all weathers, soaked to the skin, with an open mind about falling into freezing water. Dunkley’s eyes were compassionate even if his tone was brusque.

“I read all about it; not that it was easy to miss. It was all over the national press. I’m sorry.”

Dare had got very used to saying a polite, automatic ‘thank you’ through the first couple of weeks in the hospital to all kinds of people. Sponsors. Other competitors. Journalists. The race organisers. People kept arriving with flowers and shocked expressions and talked about it in hushed, horrified voices.

“He took the Great Circle route,” he found himself saying instead. “There’s about five popular routes on the Transat and the Great Circle is the fastest, but it’s the hardest, the furthest north, there’s more fog, more ice, higher risk of head winds.”

Dunkley nodded, listening, and Dare leaned on the back of the sofa, looking down at his hands but not really seeing them. It seemed like years ago instead of just two months that they’d been at Plymouth in the final, frantically busy days of being ready to go, with Jonah alight with exhilaration, the way he always was pre- race.

“It started out a fast race too. High winds around 30-35 knots in the right direction so he wasn’t getting to sleep much. It’s when the wind goes down you get to eat and wash and get some sleep when you’re racing.....  he’s generally wet through, he’s eating out of packets and tins when he’s got time to eat, he’s sleeping in a sleeping bag behind the helm, it’s not a comfortable or luxurious thing, it’s hard; but if he hits a good wind he just has to forget sleep, get all the distance he can and make the most of it. That’s his idea of a fantastic run, the winds held for three days straight. Whenever he had time to get near the sat phone and talk to me he was high as a kite, they were all just flying down waves but that’s high concentration sailing...” he trailed off and Dunkley said nothing, waiting until Dare cleared his throat again.

“The record on the last race was eight days, eight hours, that was what he was out to beat. He always has a computer on board, and a sat phone and we were texting- we usually manage to stay in contact on and off around the clock. This year he was blogging too when he could, all the competitors were, the blogs were being published for some charity all the competitors were supporting – cancer research I think- and he’d got a tracker which showed his position – it reports back every four hours, all the yachts in the race had them and the website had the chart with the latest tracker positions, so I could see if he didn’t call me it was because he was working flat out and covering distance. He was running time calculations constantly, there were several French boats very near him, he knows the weather, he knows the winds, he calculates that kind of thing like he breathes... He was getting into the ice fields and the wind was still going strong when I last heard from him. Around eight pm. Then sometime around ten, the weather turned and it hit 40 knots, high waves. A yacht rolls in that, so the side deck’s completely submerged..... He was hours through the night swimming, literally, to reach and get the main sail down and the storm jib up and to keep her trimmed and afloat, and in that kind of wind you’re fighting for the survival of the boat. You have to keep the balance and the right sails up or the sail just flogs the boat, mast and sails to bits, and at night all you’ve got is a head torch... He’s always said there’s no time to be scared, you just have to dig in and do it. I knew from the radio reports that the weather was getting bad so I wasn’t surprised he wasn’t answering anything, and the tracker had him at two am when it did the four hourly check. At six am he just wasn’t there.”

And the hell of the panicked phone calls, the messages starting to fly, was like the memory of a nightmare.

“Does he remember what happened?” Dunkley said softly. Dare shook his head.

“He got hit with the boom as she started to break up, he remembered that much. That probably accounts for the head injury. Another yacht, some French guy, picked him up just after six when it got light, he saw the wreckage and realised Jone was hanging onto it. Apparently he was still conscious. Air Sea Rescue went out to get him and by the time they landed him at Bristol he was comatose.”

“That must have been hideous.”

“I’ve never been so scared in my life.” Dare confessed. “I’d got a flight booked out to Boston to meet him there – we were hoping I’d only get there a few hours ahead of him. I ended up driving from Plymouth to Bristol hospital to wait for him to be flown in.”

“Do you two have any family supporting you? Are they local?”
Dare shook his head. “My brother’s in London, he rings when he can but Jonah’s parents died years ago and mine are abroad. We’ve always been used to it just being the two of us.”

Jonah and Jamie were on their way back, the clinking of the crutches on the stone floors was hard to miss. Dunkley dropped a hand on Dare’s shoulder and squeezed as he walked past.


That used up most of Jonah’s energy for the rest of the day. However thankfully he was never easily bored. Used to sailing, he had always had the ability to sit for hours at a time with just the periodic adjustment of the sails or course to occupy him, and his eyes on the water, and he’d walk or sit and fish with the same ability just to be there, in that moment, anywhere outside. He sat by the riverside for several hours that afternoon with a book unopened on his lap, watching the passing cruise boats and the river go by, and Dare moved between sitting with him, and taking a hoe to the long overgrown fenced little herb and vegetable garden and hacking out the weeds. It was damp outside – not that Jonah would care – and misty, but not cold. On only one occasion did Jonah say anything; Dare was digging when he heard Jonah’s voice, quiet but in the ‘come here and look right now, this is important’ tone Dare recognised.


Dare dug the hoe into the earth and walked around the side of the cottage to him and the river bank. From down river, moving slowly and magisterially, her black sail taller and broader than a warehouse, an enormous and elderly wooden boat was sailing. The height and the size of her was breathtaking. There were a few people on her decks crewing her, and they nodded and smiled as they passed Jonah and Dare on the bank. Dare picked up his camera from the bucket table top next to Jonah and shot a few frames before he nodded back, aware that Jonah’s eyes had come alive again and were focused with real interest and a little awe.

We are in the right place. This is exactly what he needs.

“She’s a Norfolk wherry.” Jonah said when the massive sailing barge was disappearing slowly from view up river, as silently as she’d emerged, and just a faint trace of his usual excitement was there. “That’s the Albion. I’ve read about her, she was salvaged and restored, she used to be one of a hundred or more like her working on the broads. She must be over a hundred years old.”

Jonah would know the history; there wasn’t much about sailing vessels he didn’t want to know.

“Looks like one of the Thames barges.” Dare said reflectively.

“Same thing. Ish.” Jonah said briefly. His eyes were still on the disappearing sail.

He lay on the couch in front of the fire while Dare made a light afternoon tea type meal of sandwiches and mini quiche novelty things he’d found in the village deli. Jonah currently did better with snacking than being faced with meals. In fact it was encouraging him to do the exact opposite of what Dare had been harassing him to do for years, but Jonah hadn’t appeared to notice or comment. Dare was cutting sandwiches into chunks small enough that Jonah might pick up a couple without being put off by the amount when he heard a hiss and a curse from the sitting room and paused.

“Are you ok?”


It was snapped out. Dare went to the doorway and found Jonah easing himself back on the pillows. He’d obviously had a go at changing position and it hadn’t gone well; he looked white and heavy eyed, and Dare went to him, pushing his heavy and still limp hair back from his forehead.

“How are you doing? You look sore again.”

Jonah didn’t meet his eyes or answer. Dare waited, pointedly as it became apparent that Jonah didn’t intend answering, and saw Jonah’s mouth eventually twist in irritation that he hadn’t gone away.


“Hey.” Dare said gently. “It was a civil question, I'm not psychic.”

“It's obvious?” Jonah said sourly. Dare shook his head.

“That doesn't mean I'm going to quit asking and I don't appreciate the implication that I'm stupid.”

There was another few seconds silence before he heard a very quiet and rather muttered, “Sorry.”

“Thank you.” Dare said calmly, stepping back to help him up. “You can come stand in the kitchen corner and think about that.”

Jonah looked up at him as if he’d lost his mind. Dare picked up his crutches for him, waiting.

“Come on.”

“....I don't stand?” Jonah pointed out.

“Yes, you do.” Dare assured him. “You were walking this afternoon.”

Jonah glared at him for a moment, but he got up and Dare helped him get his balance and herded him into the kitchen, pointing out the corner by the sink which provided a convenient junction of two blank walls. Jonah balked, bracing himself on the crutches.

“I’m not standing there.”

“Yes, you are. We don’t talk to each other like that.” Dare said simply, doing nothing but standing behind him with a hand still on his shoulder. He didn’t push or put any pressure, but after a minute Jonah hissed and struck out with one crutch at the wall, one hard whack which nearly stole his balance and knocked the crutch from his hand.

“This is stupid-”

Dare grabbed him before he could fall, helped him get the crutch back in position, and moved around in front of Jonah, grabbing the wooden spoon from the counter. He saw Jonah’s eyes widen and gave him no time to protest.


The sharp tone got an instant response, Jonah automatically held up a hand and Dare took his fingers to steady him, giving him six quick, light swats across the palm, using the repetition to sting rather than putting any weight behind the spoon.

“Other hand.”

Jonah never had any idea of how plaintive he could look when he was in trouble; he looked outraged, tearful and thoroughly beaten up, and Dare spoke firmly before Jonah moved onto any of the other things he’d naturally resort to at moments like this.

“Other hand, Jonah.”

Jonah surrendered it, but he broke down into tears even before Dare swatted that palm as firmly as he had the other one.

“If I see you risk falling like that again, it’ll be twelve on each hand,” Dare promised him, turning him to face the corner.

It was less than two minutes that he left Jonah to stand there, sure that to Jonah every ten seconds felt like half an hour, and he was still crying. Fluently, which was hard to hear, but very different to the stifled swallowing and silent tears when he was in pain. It was the way he cried when he was in trouble, much more emotional than physical, and there was release in it; anger and frustration and probably more than Jonah was capable of naming or identifying. It was rare for him to be this upset over a few mild swats, but he had an awful lot under his cork right now. He hadn’t calmed down much when Dare gently patted his butt.

“Done with the mouth?”

He got a brief, jerked nod, and couldn’t resist a wry smile. That was Jonah. Always ready to concede as little as he thought he could get away with when he was mad.

“Pardon?” he said mildly, and Jonah glared at him, but unwillingly said it out loud, knowing he wouldn’t get another chance.

“....Yes sir.”

That was his usual and not ever so serious ‘be sorry for being mean to me you heartless bastard’ tone, and it was deeply reassuring to hear. Dare took his crutches away and picked him up to ensure no stomping on the way, and laid him back on the couch.  Leaving Jonah still gulping, he went into the kitchen for pain pills and water and brought both back to him, noticing Jonah’s prompt and obvious act that he not only wasn’t looking to see that pills were being offered, he didn’t want any anyway.

“Now.” Dare said when he still wouldn’t look. Jonah gave him another glare but took and swallowed the pills.

“Thank you.” Dare told him, sitting down on the side of the couch and wiping some of the tears from Jonah’s face with his fingers. He was still gulping a little but no longer crying, and Dare went to bring the sandwiches and tea to the table in front of the couch. He took a seat on the couch, very gently lifting Jonah’s legs over to rest on his lap and rubbing Jonah’s calves and around his knees.

“You're feeling less stiff. How are you doing?”

Jonah didn’t reply for a bit, although he hadn’t flinched in response to the rubbing.

“Just........ Ow.”

“Where’s worst?”

“All of it.”

Dare leaned over to pull the table and the plates into his easy reach.

“Eat something and I’ll give you a massage. Deal?”

He actually ate several of the little sandwiches, small enough to pick up and put straight in his mouth, and one of the quiche things before he lost interest. It was when he picked up his mug of tea that Dare noticed him resting the cup on his chest and using two hands to lift it with deliberate effort as if he was lifting something heavy, and after a minute he made an attempt to put the cup back. Dare took the mug from him with real concern.

“What’s the matter?”

“….It’s too heavy to hold.” Jonah sounded uncertain and Dare held it for him.

“Is it too full? I'll help, just finish it.”

“No… it’s ridiculous, it’s a cup, I can hold it, I hold cups all the time.” Jonah protested but Dare held the mug and after a minute of Jonah putting a hand over his to guide the mug, he let his arms drop back as though they were too heavy to keep up.

“........ I’m not sleepy.” he said after a minute, uncertainly, “but I feel like I weigh a ton. Everything. Like I’m going to break the couch I’m so heavy.”

There was careful not-panicking in his tone. Dare got up, worried himself but determined Jonah wouldn’t see.

“I’m not surprised you’re tired love. This is the first day you’ve stayed awake right through. Let’s get you to bed.”

Jonah put an arm around his neck as Dare picked him up but Dare could feel the effort it took him to move and help, and while he’d seen Jonah exhausted by just being undressed before, this time once Jonah was under the covers, he kept stirring, carefully trying to shift position and wincing at the pull on his still healing pelvis.

“....everything hurts.”

“Without the casts?”

“No, not there.” Jonah looked still more concerned and Dare could see it in his face. “My arms. And head. It feels like pulling.”

He was laying flat, which had to mean every muscle was relaxed and supported. Dare couldn’t see any way he was feeling a pull anywhere, but he helped Jonah pull pillows into a line along one side of his body and to put one between his knees, and very cautiously and with a few yelps, Jonah turned over onto them, half on his side, half on his front. It was his most usual sleeping position, very different from being stuck on his back as he had been with the cast, and Dare saw his relief. Coating his hands in talc, he lay back beside Jonah and massaged his neck and shoulders gently and unhurriedly, wanting Jonah to relax as much as possible. It seemed to help. Jonah lay still and Dare saw him shut his eyes with the faint beginnings of his cat-purring expression. It was barely minutes before he fell asleep, all in one go, like a switch being thrown. Dare felt him go limp.

He sat for a few minutes longer, still stroking Jonah’s shoulders, then pulled the covers closely over him and went very quietly downstairs, finding the phone and putting a call through to directory inquiries. Thankfully there was only one pub in the area called The Swan, and the phone was answered within a couple of rings by a cheerful voice.

“The Swan.”

“Hello, may I speak to Jamie please?” Dare said as politely as possible, and heard the voice at the other end of the line change.

“That’s Dare Brody at Eel Cottage isn’t it? This is Jamie, is Jonah ok?”

It was open and kind, and the relief of getting to speak to him was powerful. Dare pulled out a chair and sat down at the table, feeling guilty at his own success.

“........ No, not really. I’m so sorry to disturb you at home and out of hours, I really am, but-”

“You wouldn’t do it if you weren’t desperate.” Jamie finished for him, bluntly. “How bad? He’s not fallen has he?”

“No, no nothing like that.” Dare took a breath, trying to explain it. “He’s been better, way more comfortable and mobile out of the cast but this evening he couldn’t hold a cup of tea – said it was too heavy and that he felt heavy, like he was so heavy he was afraid of breaking the couch. He can’t get comfortable in bed either, even when he’s laying flat he said it was painful, like everything was pulling and out of place.”

“That’s muscle fatigue.” Jamie said promptly and reassuringly. “It’s nothing awful and I’m not surprised, he’s had a stressful few days. His body’s got a limited ability to keep itself properly oxygenated and recharged now, he’s going to burn out his energy quickly and need time to make more. More than just a good night’s sleep.”

“This is just tired?”

“More like exhaustion.” Jamie said gently. “You couldn’t wear your body out this much even if you did eight hours heavy mowing or a marathon, you’ve got normal oxygenation and for you your energy is like a credit card with no spend limit. His isn’t any more. Even when you lay flat your muscles still go on working supporting the weight of your joints and holding them in place. His don’t have enough energy left to do it, the cells are out of fuel. That’s why he can feel pulling. Have you got plenty of pillows?”

“We’ve got enough to start a shop,” Dare said wryly, “The physio at the hospital warned me to stock up.”

“I’ll show you how to do it tomorrow when I drop in, but for now use the soft ones to prop wherever he’s uncomfortable. Under knees, under shoulders and rest his arms on them, wrists supported so nothing’s hanging, support anywhere he feels a pull, and get him to drink a lot and rest. He’s over done things today. It’ll probably take him a few days to re charge.”

“There’s nothing else I can do?”

Jamie sounded sympathetic but he said it lightly. “You two are going to end up getting good at pacing yourselves. It’s going to be about learning where his limits are and staying inside of them. Stopping when he’s still got some energy left in the bank, and then getting enough rest to compensate for what he uses up day to day so he doesn’t reach this stage of burn out where he’s got nothing left, the cells are out of fuel and it’s going to take his body a few days to get the chemical building blocks out to them to construct more. It’s finding the balance between pushing himself enough to walk and get mobile and build up his stamina while still resting often enough and long enough. You’ll work it out in time.”

Work it out in time? Dare lay awake for some hours that night. Jonah wasn’t sleeping well, Dare could feel the tension in him and he often shifted slightly and then stirred with the pain of it, although he slept in far more natural positions with the cast gone. Other than rubbing his back or shoulders gently whenever he stirred which soothed him back into deeper sleep, there wasn’t much else to do. He’d done this for hour after hideous hour in the ICU at Bristol while Jonah struggled semi conscious with the last of the coma, periodically wrestling against the cast and the bed rails as if he was trying to fight his way to wakefulness. Or continuing the endless nightmare struggle he must have endured for those hours in the water. How the hell he had had the strength and resilience to fight on long enough to survive it still filled Dare with a mixture of fierce pride and thankfulness. That will was still in him, understandably battered and stomped down and exhausted now until it burned almost too dimly for either of them to see, but Jonah was just not a giving up kind of a man and given time, given the stability and support they would find a way through this together.

They would.

The night was broken down into it now familiar several short breaks, they drank tea, ate biscuits, renewed meds. About the longest patch of sleep they had was three and a half hours, near to morning, and when Dare woke the light was coming through the uncovered window, casting long fingers across the bed.

He pushed the blankets back and padded over chilly floorboards to the window which reached nearly to the floor. The morning outside was very still. The mild, damp weather of the last couple of days had changed abruptly overnight and the first white frost marked out the lower panes of the window in patterns and complicated swirls, froze the grass to bright white in the soft grey mist and lined the reeds. The sky promised a warmer, softer Autumn day to come once the sun rose, but right now beyond the river, the wide fields were all white, sharply delineated with the black, leafless trees and in the distance, a windmill with its sails stark against a dove grey sky. The river flowed slowly, black between the white banks. It was starkly and breathtakingly beautiful.

Jonah was awake; Dare heard the change in his breathing and the shift in the bed as he turned to look.

“It’s cold this morning.” Dare leaned to see further, the curve of the river stretching into the distance.


“There’s a frost. Come and look, the grass is white right up to the river

He heard Jonah’s rather bitter laugh. “Ha. Funny.”

He was laying on his back again, staring up at the ceiling. Dare waited, keeping his voice gentle but firm.

“Come on. You can do it, your crutches are right there.”

“Dare, I can hardly roll over. How exactly do you suggest I jump up and walk over to you?”

“Don’t jump anywhere. Get your crutches and try.”

“I have tried.”

“Now.” Dare clapped his hands and held them out, waiting.

He saw the look of fury Jonah gave him with eyes that were suspiciously bright and blurry because he hurt like hell first thing in the morning when he’d been still for a few hours and moving hurt, and despite the sleep he still looked exhausted and angry. Dare waited, hands out with the no nonsense expression Jonah knew well, and Jonah flung the blanket furiously out of his way and started the long, slow, painful struggle to get himself sitting up. He didn’t get anywhere for a moment, it was horribly like watching an overturned tortoise and Dare spoke softly, calmly.

“Use your hands, Jone. Take it slowly, slide over this way, get your legs over the side of the bed.”

“I can’t.” Jonah snarled at him. And yet he was still struggling to, he was still trying. Dare stood where he was, not bailing him out much as he very much wanted to and crispening his tone to prevent the snarl becoming a shout.

“Yes, you can. Move your legs towards me. Move them with your hands. Good. Further over. Now use your hands and slide yourself forward.”

Tears were actually running now. Mostly of sheer pain, it had been a shock to see in the physio sessions when they first started getting him on his feet and Dare had learned from the therapists that pain couldn’t always be the sign to stop. Jonah lowered his damaged leg slowly to the floor. The muscle wastage on it compared to the other was visible, it was clear he couldn’t move it much and his hips were stiff, his back was stiff. He reached over for the crutches like an old man, breathing hard.

“Good.” Dare said quietly. “That’s really good.”

It took Jonah several false tries to lever himself to his feet before he managed it, got his balance, and without the cast he did that better. Already he was better on his feet. Dare watched him make his slow, stiff way across the floor with that furious, wet face, and put his hands up around it to kiss Jonah as he reached him.

“Look. Isn’t it beautiful out there this morning?”

Jonah glanced out of the window with his face expressionless, not responding to the kiss. Two swans were gliding slowly down the river. Dare rubbed his hips gently where the aching was usually worst in the morning, aware that he was so tired it was hard for him to stand upright, he was hanging on the crutches.

“How about a bath?”

Wake up my love, there’s a beautiful frost on the ground.  Come look?  The look I got from you was equal parts of anger and astonishment that I would ask you to do something you clearly cannot do.  At least that is your understanding.  Mine is different, and I’m going to ignore you for now.  It’s the fear speaking, telling me you can’t, you won’t, and saying as much in tones you would never normally use when speaking to me.  This is almost not worth it, but you are going to come to the window and appreciate the damn frost.

Putting him on the sofa, Dare brought him the next round of medication and then lit the fire and the stove and opened the bathroom door wide to let the heat reach it. It was surprising how efficient the fire was and how warm the cottage stayed overnight. He spread a couple of folded towels at the bottom of the bath to pad it and ran it deep and hot, the cottage stove seemed very efficient at keeping water piping hot overnight too. He brought more towels back to Jonah, putting them in his reach.

“Undress on the couch, that’ll cut down on the standing time.”

“I’m fine here.”

“Undress.” Dare said firmly. Jonah glared at him.

“What the hell is wrong with you?  I’ve done more before breakfast today than I did all yesterday put together.”

“Undress please. Now.”

“I’m tired, I hurt. Would you like this in pictures?”

“The bath will help. Last chance Jonah.”

Jonah started to work on his t shirt, near to ripping it and the tears weren’t far away again. Mostly Dare thought, of sheer rage. He was limp and tired, even keeping his arms above his head to pull the shirt off was a struggle. Dare helped him get it over his head and steadied him as he got to his feet and pushed his shorts off, stepping out of them, aware that Jonah at this point would pass out before he asked for help. He wrapped a towel around Jonah’s shoulders and stood guard while Jonah got the crutches into position and slowly clinked across the floor to the bathroom, head down, avoiding his eye. Dare took them carefully as he reached the bath, put them out of the way and lifted Jonah in, lowering him down as gently as he could in the hot water.

He could feel Jonah breathing hard and clutching him despite himself, his fear of both the movement and anything new was tangible, and that too was very unJonah like. But at the touch of the water Dare felt him make an involuntary soft sound and it was of comfort, of pure sensory pleasure after weeks without showers, baths or anything but a bowl and flannel. He lay back in the water with Dare’s help, and Dare put a rolled up towel behind his head to lean on and gently wiped Jonah’s wet face with his hands.


Jonah wouldn’t look at him but he got a short, muttered, “…Yes.”

“I’ll sort out some breakfast. You relax for a while, let the pain meds kick in. I’m right out here, yell if you want me.”

He left the door open. Jonah shut his eyes, trying to shift his weight slightly in the water. The heat and the comfort of it was dreadfully disarming, and the shaft of pain that shot through at the movement pulled out a sound that was suspiciously near to a sob. Which was just great considering he was already acting like a five year old. The release did something to his temper, he wasn’t sure what, but the sweep of his arm sent water flying across the flag stoned floor, and somehow once he started it was hard to stop. He lost count of how many times he hit the water, viciously, only stopping when he was breathless and accidentally got a mouthful of water, and then he dissolved into tears. Fully, properly.

It was mostly anger. He knew it, and it was only a couple of moments that he cried before that was drained out too, and annoyingly once it was gone he felt a good deal better. The water was surprisingly comforting. He soaked a flannel, wrung it out and put it over his face, closing his eyes while he got his breath, and that felt… amazing too. He was tired. So tired that moving was an effort, but whatever medication the doctor had switched him to yesterday it was better. The aching was subsiding and it wasn’t nearly as fierce as it had been yesterday. And there was real pleasure too in being independently able to get himself properly clean. It took him a while but with the cloth and the soap he managed to get himself feeling more human than he’d felt in a while. Dare had put the radio on; jazz was playing quietly in the kitchen and it was something they both liked, both with old fashioned tastes in music. Jonah settled back and it wasn’t until he heard Dare’s voice that he realised he’d dozed off.

“Jone? Five more minutes, you’ll get cold.”

The water was starting to cool. Jonah called back from underneath his wash cloth still draped over his face.

“I’m ready now. Thanks.”

Dare must have noticed the pools of water on the floor – in fact on the walls, on the mirror, on every part of the bathroom, it was impossible to miss, and he couldn’t have missed hearing the explosion either. Jonah heard him come in, and the slight splash of his walking through the puddles.

“The bath might have a leak.” Jonah commented. “I’m not sure.”

“A leak.” Dare repeated. “I see. Maybe we need to keep an eye out for that.” He pulled the washcloth off Jonah’s face and Jonah gave him a sheepish grin from underneath it.

“Probably a good idea.”

“Either that or we've got really wet mice.” Dare stooped to kiss him and paused, slightly shocked as Jonah laughed. A real laugh. Dare moved the rest of the way and kissed him rather more thoroughly than he’d first intended, and reached past him to pull out the bath plug. The towels were warm, he must have had them around the stove, and he wrapped Jonah in several of them before he carried him through to the living room and the couch and helped him dry off and dress.  

They ate breakfast to the sounds of jazz in front of the fire, after which Dare took the plates and made Jonah lie flat on the couch, settling blankets around him.

“Lay there and work on taking a nap.”

“It’s about nine thirty am?” Jonah pointed out. Dare shrugged.

“What do we care?”

“It’s a ridiculous time to nap?”

“Try anyway.”

It was a ridiculous time too to be this tired. Jonah lay for a while watching the fire and found himself rather stubbornly fighting off the urge to let go and doze again. It was good to be rid of any lingering smell of disinfectant and hospital on his skin, his drying hair felt properly clean, there was comfort in it. The warmth of the blankets, lounging on a couch in a quiet room with no one but Dare anywhere around, in front of the fire. The smallness of the cottage in a way was oddly secure. He lay watching the jumping flames in the hearth and looking up at the red brick wall beyond. The open window with the few ancient trees starting to turn and show the first traces of yellow and orange in their leaves and the blue sky beyond.

Early afternoon Dare put the deckchair recliner for him down by the water and Jonah made his very slow way down the path with him. Dare put blankets under him and another one in reach once he was established in the chair, leaving him with a pillow, a thermos of coffee, a plate of sandwiches and his cell phone. It was good too – not in a bad way – to see him walk away. The peace, the solitude, it was a relief and Dare knew it. Dare had always understood it.

The garden was wild and overgrown wherever he looked, and had mostly returned to rough grass down to the river with boarding holding the bank in place. The big black wooden boat house was further along down a staithe – the little wooden landing stages for the boats that travelled the rivers and broads in their winding narrow network. At this time of year the river was starting to go quiet, the last few holiday makers of the season enjoying the autumn weather in the hired boats which passed by. Watching was painful. The Blue Swallow… she had moved like the bird of her name, swift and effortless and graceful, so responsive in his hands that she flew in front of the wind. And she had been grey and white and splintered as she smashed apart under him. His overriding image of that night was grey. Grey water, black sky, and the noise, the endless onslaught of noise and the pounding of water. A world away from the near silent sailing yachts that tacked slowly down the quiet, still river, gliding through the ribbon of water between the fields.

Two coots were floating slowly down the river near the bank. Further away a crested grebe looked directly at Jonah for a moment, pausing from its fishing, then as if embarrassed by the eye contact, dived beneath the water. It was gone for an impossibly long time, surfacing some distance away eventually with a small fish in its beak. Something in the reeds moved.

It was so brief that Jonah watched for a while not sure he had seen it. He stilled and waited, hopeful it might mean the return of the otter. Then there was another glimpse and he saw it. A black nose. Small, low, but not an otter. He didn’t move, fading into the landscape in the way he had learned to do as a child. Becoming part of it, being so still that he barely breathed.

It took almost half an hour for it to gain the courage to slink out from the reeds, but it wasn’t an otter and the birds picking for worms in the wet grass knew it; they flew straight off the ground when it moved, and when it finally emerged Jonah saw it was a very small, very thin and muddy black dog. It moved so low to the ground that its belly scraped along and it crept, dark eyes on him all the way, shivering all over. Jonah sat still, never looking towards it, and when it finally reached the plate of sandwiches and snatched one it flew back into the safety of the reeds as if the hounds of hell were after it. Once it was safely there, Jonah slowly picked up another of the ham sandwiches, shredding it slowly, then tossing the pieces across the grass nearer to the reeds.

The dog appeared again a moment later, darting out to snatch a piece and dashing back to hiding, but after the first few pieces it gradually grew bolder and began to stay on the grass, moving from titbit to titbit. Jonah threw the pieces slowly nearer and nearer, until he held one in his hand and extended it. The dog hesitated for a moment. Then it slid slowly closer and stretched out to take the sandwich, dashing away with it and wolfing it down. A chunk of ham was tossed gently past him to land on the grass and the dog swiftly went after it, darting further away to eat it.

“Who’s your friend?” Dare said softly. Jonah glanced back. Dare crouched down not to scare the dog, tossing a few more chunks of the ham to it. When the ham was done, Jonah picked up the plate with the last two sandwiches, holding it out. The dog crawled all the way up to him on her belly, the whites of her eyes showing, but this time it stood by him to eat and for the first time he got a better look at her. It was hard to tell her colour, at the moment she looked dark all over, thick with mud, but her ears were long – a spaniel, a cocker spaniel of some description, although she was small for a cocker.

“Hi baby.” Jonah said softly. Dare leaned over to hand him another piece of ham and Jonah fed it to the dog who went on shivering but licked his fingers. Slowly, gently, Jonah rubbed the side of her face and she flinched a little but leaned hard into it. Almost like she couldn’t help herself, desperate for the comfort. One very scared, very hungry little dog.  

“She’s starving isn’t she?” Dare said softly. “Poor thing, she’s so skinny.”

“She’s been somebody’s pet.” Moving very slowly, Jonah took one of the blankets off his legs and folded it, wrapping it around her. From the way the dog let him it was even more apparent; the girl was not stupid, she burrowed straight into the warmth and it was clear that at some time this dog had known about people and being wrapped. She let him pick her up and as soon as he enfolded her she went limp, helplessly trusting in them. Jonah passed her gently to Dare.

“You take her, I’ll follow you.”

It took him a moment to get himself to his feet, Dare had to help with his free arm, but they made their slow processional way with the dog into the cottage and Jonah stood in the kitchen watching Dare put their guest in the big stone sink, turning on the water. He was a born practical man, Dare. And a born carer. Anyone injured around the boat yards, people panicking and lost, animals, children – Dare would always step up without hesitation as if he just knew what to do, and whoever he came to help always relaxed in his hands and let him feeling that same trust in him that Jonah did. The dog seemed to have no hesitation in doing the same. She didn’t whimper as the sink filled, and Dare glanced over his shoulder to Jonah.

“Sit down. Pass me those towels.”

He had to rinse her no less than five times to get all the mud out. She was so passive in his hands it was as if she was plain grateful for the warmth. When he finally had her coat running clean he lifted her onto the wooden draining board and rubbed her down several times, drying her off as much as he could before he put her down on the floor. She was black. Shiny black with a single white patch on her chest, and a delicate little thing as well as skinny. She had the feet of a dancer. Dare filled a bowl with warm water and put it down for her and she drank for a long time before she shook herself, hard. Dare nodded to Jonah.

“You move back to the sofa. I’ll put some towels down by the fire and she can dry off there.”

The dog darted back with alarm as Jonah picked up his crutches and then slunk under the table. Dare took towels into the living room, laying them out on the hearth, then went to rinse out the sink, taking no notice of her. Jonah lay back on the sofa, putting the crutches down beside him and watching, and within a bare minute she looked around the door and followed him. She spent a moment examining the room, several times coming back to him and the hand he held out to her to brush her nose against it. And then she went to the heap of towels by the fire, raked them into a heap and turned around several times before dropping down onto them.

Dare came quietly to take the armchair across from Jonah, watching their guest, who lay with her chin on the floor, watching them with soft brown eyes.

“I’m going to need to go down into the village. She needs proper food. Chicken or something light, she hasn’t eaten properly in a long time. I’ll ask around while I’m there and put a note in the post office window, someone must be missing her. Are you ok for ten minutes? I’ll make it as quick as I can. Want to go to the bathroom first? Got your phone? Ok. Don’t get off the couch without me here. I don’t care what you think your reason is. Are we clear?”

 “Yes sir.”

“I won’t be long.”

Jonah heard the car pull away. It wasn’t until he felt Dare touch his shoulder that he even realised he’d fallen asleep. Dare had obviously been back a while. The dog on the hearth was fast asleep, her coat was dry and fluffy now and she was sporting a collar which she didn’t seem to mind about.

“Hey.” Dare passed Jonah a mug of tea and sat on the floor against the couch beside him to hand him his medication. “Sorry to wake you but this dose is due. You’re looking better since you had the patch on.”

Jonah gulped the pills back and washed them down with tea. Once he had never been keen to take painkillers for anything much. A broken pelvis knocked all that out of you in a hurry; you took everything, on time, gladly, if it would just make even a fraction of a difference.

“No one’s heard anything about a missing dog in the village,” Dare said with his eyes on the dog on the hearth. “From what the manager in the post office said, there’s no other houses for miles she could have come from. He did say they’ve had cases of abandoned dogs in the area. People on boating holidays bring the dogs and leave them when they go home. Can’t afford to feed them, think they’ll just go wild and fend for themselves. Or the dog gets lost from the boat and the owners give up and go home. I don’t think she’s got anywhere to go.”

“It’s not like we have either, is it?” Jonah said rather bleakly.

Dare leaned over to get his hand, lacing his fingers through Jonah’s.

“I put a lead on her to take her outside. We didn’t need it, she was back inside before I was. This lady knows which side her bread is buttered. I got biscuits for her. Chicken. Rice. And scotch eggs for us, the deli specialises in them apparently.”

You are playing in the far reaches of my consciousness, but I can’t see you.  There.  A dark shape, almost like a shadow, ducking in behind trees and bushes, among the reeds at the water’s edge.  Whatever you are, the birds fly away in alarm whenever you’re around.  I watch in silence as an hour goes by and you make your way closer.  Closer you move, silent, stalking me.  When you’re finally close enough, I hold out a hand and you’re gone. But a moment later comes a handshake.  It’s nice to meet you Poppet.

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015

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

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