Thursday, September 17, 2015

Paget Creek Chapter 2

Continued from Paget Creek Chapter 1

Paget Creek 
Chapter 2

Winthrop and for some reason, the damn housekeeper, rode up with him to show him the sheep.

Winthrop had led several, gleaming and young horses out of the well-stocked corral in front of the house. All the horses in the corral were youngsters, all of them fit, every last one of them in better nick than Flynn had ever seen a horse. Where he came from, a horse this good wasn’t used for chasing bloody sheep and walking out in all weathers. Winthrop led him into a tack room too, a scrubbed stone room at the back of the stables where clean, well kempt tack hung neatly on saddle trees, hooks and rails. There was enough harness in there for a cavalry regiment; Flynn looked at some of it without being able to help himself, thinking of the shed at home and the couple of nails banged into posts. There wasn’t even dust in this room. Everything – from the yard to the rails in the corral to the porch – was well kept. Clean. Pots of plants stood on the porch and yet there were only men in the house.

Only men, and every single damn one of them queer and entirely open about it as if it had never occurred to them there was need to be otherwise.

Flynn ruthlessly ignored the sweat that broke out across his back whenever that crossed his mind. The large, older black guy and the quiet one with glasses had gone to the same room last night; he was more or less certain of it, although he wouldn’t have considered or dared to look further. He had no idea if there were two beds or one bed in that room but the whole concept made him sweat. In this house. Where this morning the housekeeper had quite casually kissed Winthrop’s cheek as he said good morning and put his breakfast down in front of him, regardless of witnesses. There had been nothing to read about this in the backwater of the town library, certainly nothing in the school library. He’d gleaned one or two books in the college library in his very first visit within hours of arriving at the college; the first time he’d ever felt free in a library to discreetly search. He’d located the classics that only people like him would intimately know the names of and search furtively for in a detached manner that suggested only clinical interest. Forster. Radcliffe Hall. He’d read them cover to cover several times, but there was almost nothing in them that gave him any armour for this. Nothing gave any armour for this.

He’d never in his life seen a man touch another one like he had yesterday in that kitchen. Openly. Casually. Not even paying much attention to it.

He hadn’t got much sleep last night.

The housekeeper competently tacked up one of the horses- a quieter horse than the ones Winthrop had selected for himself and Flynn; Flynn saw that without difficulty – hooked one booted foot in the stirrup and mounted in one smooth pull with a casual expertise that suggested he did this every day. He was wearing blue jeans this morning, tight blue jeans that flared at his ankles and made his legs look still longer and more graceful as he moved, and they cupped his slim arse in a way that Flynn had to force his eyes to avoid, particularly the way it settled into the dark polished leather of the saddle. His hands were oddly delicate on the reins, delicate fingers that gathered up the horse without effort.

Winthrop addressed a calm, easy flow of one sided conversation their way that described the ranch as they rode. Flynn mostly let it wash over him, too much in his mind to have the space to process the words. This was a bloody station: there were pastures – there were always bloody pastures, one muddy field was like any other in the damn world, you could hate one as well as the other. The work was the same, and the bitterness of it swamped Flynn as he trailed them.

I swore I’d never fucking go back.

If the college halls didn’t close over the vacation, making it necessary to pay bed and board – and the only student work available in the town was bussing tables, Flynn had made an attempt at that and it hadn’t gone well – he’d have never been forced to come here. And to ride another fucking horse across more fucking muddy fields to handle stupid fucking sheep in the pouring rain as he’d been doing and hating all his damn life. He had no choice but to be here, but Winthrop could stuff his fancy horses and his civil chatter.

They eventually arrived at some stone barn with a large pen beside it, in which was grazing some of the mardiest, ugliest sheep Flynn had ever set eyes on. He wouldn’t have given this mangy bunch a second glance at a stock fair. Winthrop dismounted and Flynn dropped to the ground, tied the reins out of the way and put a hand on the pen rail to vault it. The nearest of the sheep gave him a wall eyed stare from beneath too much matted wool. Flynn put her between his knees and made a cursory check of her eyes, her teeth, rolled her over to check her hooves- the same damn stuff he’d done every fucking day at home and it was an effort to get the words out he was so angry.

“Foot rot. Scabbed. Scabby mouths. Wool blind. Whoever sold you this bunch, you were conned.”

Philip nodded appreciatively. “I see. What can we do about that?”

Flynn let the sheep go, spitting on the turf which got some of the bile out of his mouth.  “They’re a stupid fucking breed for this ground. Not enough bloody grazing up here for them, they’re too old to hack it. Shift them down off the hill, richer grazing, supplement them, drench ‘em, get some weight on ‘em and get ‘em gone. And then buy in a decent bloody herd.”

“What breed would you suggest?”

“Corries. Romney. Leicester.”  The same breeds he’d handled all his life. “Hardy, easy lambing, low maintenance, good meat weight. Crossbreed til you get what you need. Ram?”

“No, we don’t have one yet. I’ll be glad for your advice on that.”

Flynn put a hand to his belt automatically and scowled at being seen to do it as he realised he wasn’t carrying clippers. He’d carried clippers every day since he was four or five years old, no one on the station ever went anywhere without them and even as a little kid, forgetting them would earn you a hiding. Stock died in bushes or wire while you went the several hours home to get the clippers to free them. Winthrop said nothing but he took clippers from his saddle bag and held them out. Flynn grabbed them and scruffed the sheep again, upending her to get her matted fleece out of her already inflamed eyes, then to trim her hooves. Someone had poulticed her worst foot, the stain of something painted on were on all of her feet and the worst one up to her hock. All four feet were infected from the overgrown hoof and wet ground, but someone had done something about it.

The housekeeper had unpacked several bundles from his saddlebag and put them in the barn. Flynn let the sheep go when he was done, glancing up to the barn as the housekeeper emerged, pulling the door closed behind him. Crouched beyond him, at the corner by the stone wall, a boy in an old and battered cloth coat was watching them. Young, about Flynn’s own age. His hair was black and sleek, his eyes as dark as his hair, the bones of his face were unique – as powerfully marked as the bones of the Maori at home. Thinner, narrower than Maori features but the same dark skin. The same natural colours in his skin and his clothes, like the camouflage of a wild animal. His eyes met Flynn’s and Flynn felt a bolt go through him, something that stuck him to the spot.

“Ah, Jasper.” Winthrop said with that ridiculous civility of his. “Let me introduce Flynn to you. Flynn, Jasper.”

Jasper straightened up. He came slowly down the hill to join them, moving softly on the grass and pausing a few feet away from Winthrop like some wary animal. But he looked up, briefly but very definitely meeting Flynn’s eyes. Tall. Thin. The sleek hair must have been tied at the base of his neck, a few loose wisps blew around his jaw. The bolt shot through Flynn again a lot harder; he turned on his heel to avoid it and went to return the clippers to Philip’s saddle, thankful for the excuse to turn his back and have something valid to do.

“Jasper is nursing the sheep along, he’s extremely gifted with stock but I’ve been thinking we may be asking the impossible of him with this group.” Winthrop said serenely as if he was introducing people at a tea dance. “And it sounds as if you agree. Jasper, Flynn is very experienced in raising sheep on similar land, and is being kind enough to offer us his advice and expertise during his university breaks.”

No, he’s stuck here because he’s got no fucking choice and your fucking sheep at least mean there’s somewhere to go until the fucking halls reopen.

That bloody housekeeper was watching and from his eyes, he was amused.

 “So when are they bringing the sheep down?” Luath asked, pouring a large glass of milk from the fridge and downing it in several long swallows. He’d been mowing and the smell of fresh grass still hung around him. Getting dinner on the table had become a mundane routine that Paul had found himself doing almost in his sleep in the last month or two. Prepare food, get the evening laundry together and started, mop the floor and think about breakfast.... he jumped at the slammed door of the shed outside and looked around at the thud of boots running up the porch stairs, exasperatedly pointing the knife he was cutting vegetables with, fast before their newest resident could storm through the kitchen.

Hey. Boots. I told you. You tread mud in here and you’ll be the one scrubbing it. And don’t even bother trying it on me,” he added as Flynn’s mouth opened. “You’re not going to shock me with any bad language you can come up with, I’ve heard it all and worse, believe me.”

He got a death glare from under sandy hair, but Flynn turned away without a word and took his boots off, dropping them by the door. His shirt was sweat stained and his hair was damp, he looked hot and tired, and Paul pointed him at the bathroom.

“There’s a shower in there, we don’t tread muck through the house. Leave your clothes in the laundry room, I run everyone’s through in the evening.”

“No one’s going to do any fucking laundry for me.” Flynn said very shortly. Paul snorted.

“Don’t think I mean I’m going to wait on you. The machine never stops in this house so you put your stuff in with ours or it won’t get washed. Towels in the cupboard in there.”

He got a hard stare but Flynn went without another word and the bathroom door slammed behind him. Paul gave the door a narrow glance, finished the veg, shook them in oil and put them in the oven, and jogged upstairs, ignoring Luath’s rather quizzical stare at him. The room allocated to Flynn was a small one, and hardened to the car crash of Gerry’s room and Roger’s too if Luath took his eye off him, Paul was a little surprised to find it barely showing signs of occupancy. The bed was efficiently made, but there was nothing else at all but the backpack in a corner. Nothing unpacked, as if the occupant was at an airport or train station. The drawers in the dresser were empty. Paul knelt by the backpack and searched it rapidly for clean clothes. There was only one other pair of battered jeans inside, no more than a couple of shirts and to Paul’s eyes they were certainly clean but on the threadbare and small side for shoulders the size of the boy in the shower. A couple of books, both heavy academic texts, a notepad and pen, an old and well-worn sweatshirt and a couple of changes of underwear formed the entire rest of the backpack’s contents. All neatly, sharply folded, but it reminded Paul again why the kid was so lean for his height. Paul put what little there was away in the dresser drawer, laid the books on the nightstand, put the rucksack in the bottom drawer and took a change of clothes downstairs with him. The shower door was closed and the water running when he went into the bathroom, leaving the folded clothes and another towel ready on the chair.

Flynn had not attended breakfast. He’d accepted a couple of rolls on his way out of the door and gone directly to do the yard chores which appeared very familiar work for him. He’d got on with it with a sharp, competent efficiency that attacked rather than completed work. He’d had the same packed lunch given to him as the others had taken out with them this morning, and with that in mind, Paul served the flaked pastry steak pie directly from the oven onto plates instead of leaving it for people to help themselves, ensuring there was a decently large portion on Flynn’s plate that reflected both his age and the heavy physical work he’d been doing all day. Flynn himself emerged from the bathroom damp haired, wearing clean clothes but with an expression that radiated fury.

“You went through my stuff.”

“I brought you clean clothes.” Paul informed him. “You’re welcome. And I put the rest of your stuff in the drawer; you might as well look like you’re staying a few days.”

He got a speechless glower, a look that should have turned him to stone where he stood. The boy’s dark eyes pretty much burned when he was mad. Paul looked right back at him, raising his eyebrows slightly, aware that he was tipping one hip and doing what David would have flatly labelled as camping it up. After a minute the boy’s cheekbones started to burn hotly and he turned sharply on one heel, stalking away.

“I’ve got fucking studying to do, I can’t be buggered with this.”

He’d been studying since early afternoon; Paul had seen him take a book out into the pasture well away from any of them. Philip, taking his seat at the head of the table, apparently didn’t hear this. In exasperation, Paul heaped mashed potato onto the plate, added a fork and held the plate out to block his path, forcing Flynn to stop dead.

“Take that with you then and try being ‘buggered’ with that, you must be starving.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Liar.” Paul said flatly, not moving the plate. “Are you vegetarian? Any dietary needs you want to tell me about? Because I cooked that myself and it’s good.”

“It is.” Roger said placidly, digging in across the table. Gerry, giving Flynn a slightly wry look, glanced over to Philip and Philip smiled at him, going on eating his meal.

Finally Flynn took the plate. They all heard his heavy stomp up the stairs and the thud of his door slamming shut. Closing doors quietly didn’t appear to be in his repertoire.

“Do I get to eat in my room then?” Gerry inquired. Philip put a hand out to him, running it briefly down his back.

“Not under any circumstances.”

“I feel like I need to scrub the place down with bleach every time I hear that kid speak.” Luath said darkly. “Hasn’t his mother heard of soap?”

“I’d have got the business end of whatever cooking implement my grandmother had in reach if I’d shown anything like that attitude around her.” Paul told him. Roger grinned, digging deeper into steak pie.


“Oh really. And she was much the same with anyone in the boarding house, we had hardened old fishermen in that house that wouldn’t dare use that kind of language where she could hear them.”

“Mr O’Sullivan is a guest in our home.” Philip said mildly. “And he has a great deal of work to do. We’ll let him have some space to do it in.”

What exactly he was working on, Philip didn’t specify but Paul caught the inference; Philip was missing absolutely nothing about this boy, and he was asking them for their patience. He was an expert in stepping back and looking twice at what appeared to be visible on the surface of a difficult man, and reflecting on whether there was something more to see beneath it. It was a strategy Paul had worked on picking up from him, seeing its efficiency with every one of the men around the table, all of whom Paul loved.

If Mr O’Sullivan planned on being this difficult about mealtimes, there was going to need to be plenty of supplies kept obviously in sight in the pantry: Paul found himself making plans to accommodate that as he sat down to eat his own meal. A boy of Flynn’s age, working as hard as he worked, was going to be forced to compromise his pride by sneaking food at some point, and it was going to need to be made as easy for him to do as possible, because not even a foul mouthed, horribly tempered teenager deserved to work this hard and go hungry. It was such a pointed rebuff of them that it raised every hackle Paul had.


“So he gets up at more or less dawn – I’ve never yet managed to get up early enough to see him - goes out and works flat out, until he’s done – which is generally about lunchtime, not that he ever eats with us – and then he goes out into the pasture no matter what the weather, sticks his head in a book with a pen and pad in his other hand and doesn’t move again until it’s dark. And then he takes it all up to his room, shuts the door and I’ve seen the light under his door at two or three in the morning so he reads all night too.” Paul shook the skillet energetically to break up the butter. Jasper had laid a couple of trout fresh from the river on the grass, gutted and ready beside the small wood fire and they were still wet. Jasper himself was wet haired and his shirt was open and hanging loose and damp too. He seemed oblivious to the weather, he just became a part of it like a tree or a rock. In the same way he was kind of scentless, or just an equal clean part of the grass and water. Jasper was listening, crouched at a distance to watch. It was always hard to read his chiselled face, Jasper gave so little away, but aware he was ranting Paul stopped and smiled at him.

“Sorry. It’s getting up my nose slightly. You may have noticed. Mostly because I can’t figure out what to do. I’m usually better with stroppy, testosterone hyped bastards than this, but Mr O’Sullivan isn’t having any of it.”

They had moved the sheep. Or at least Flynn with Gerry and Philip had moved the sheep, and Gerry had commented in detail at dinner on sheep being stupider than cattle, too small and nippy to get ropes around or head off than their steers were, and being buggers to herd. This being a word that had played a strong part within David’s vocabulary, the household were inured to it but since Mr O’Sullivan’s advent it was being heard rather more often than usual, as were other words Flynn constantly filled the air with, and to Paul’s knowledge while Philip didn’t show the slightest concern about any obscenity Flynn produced, Gerry had had his mouth soaped out at least once so far. Gerry didn’t seem to hold this against Flynn. In fact Paul thought that he and Roger appeared remarkably accepting of Flynn in general. It wasn’t like them at all to be this calmly tolerant about anything, they were usually the first to vigorously refute anything they saw as objectionable behaviour, and not understanding why annoyed Paul even further, mostly since he could see that Philip did understand it and wasn’t explaining.

On the day the sheep were moved, Philip had brought a horse with them for Jasper’s use, which according to Gerry, Jasper had taken the bridle of, spent a moment stroking the nose of the large, placid cob, and then walked leading it and done his herding on foot the entire five miles to the pastures that Flynn had designated as the most sheep suitable, although he’d kept up with the horses without difficulty. There was no barn nearby, but Jasper had secured the roof on one of the elderly stone sheep shelters since Paul’s last visit and he appeared to be comfortably settled in this new pasture within sight of the riverbank and the woods. Whether he slept inside it or outside, Paul was unsure. His few belongings were inside the shelter, his blanket neatly folded there, but it was hard to tell if he used it merely as a rain-free storage area or as any kind of dwelling. Paul had added a pillow and another blanket to the pile in there when he arrived, and put a new couple of paperbacks by the one laying with the place carefully marked.

“You could come down to the house any time, you know?” Paul pointed out, not for the first time. “It’s not that far away, only a couple of miles across the river. You don’t have to come down when anyone else is there, it’s usually only me and Philip during the day and I have the kitchen to myself. I could make you a proper meal, you could get a hot shower. Instead of a cold river.”

Jasper gave him a brief smile that Paul read without difficulty as the river being infinitely preferable and leaned past him to drop the trout into the pan. It was the closest he’d ever come of his own accord and Paul let him take the pan, startled and pleased.

“I brought you a couple more books.” He said to say something light, watching Jasper’s long hands deftly shake the skillet. “The house is adrift in paperbacks, Roger discovered a second hand bookshop in Jackson and he and Gerry are coming home with armfuls of them. And Philip’s as bad as they about books are so he encourages them. Bear is going to need to build a new bookcase when he comes home for Christmas. Now he is in major trouble this weekend, Gerry phoned him last night and Theo answered the phone and explained Bear was grounded and would be back in contact in about a week. Something to do with Bear losing the power of speech over a question Theo wanted answered.” Paul paused for a moment, eyes on Jasper flipping trout onto plates. “I think Philip’s quite relieved. That’s always been Bear’s first line of defence to just stop talking if he doesn’t want to engage, he’s as stubborn as an ox and it’s a bad habit, and it sounds like Theo’s coming down on it like a ton of bricks. Not that I don’t think Theo doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing; he does. But they haven’t been together long and Bear is hard to be firm with. He and Gerry both have a really awful gift for sabotaging themselves if you let them, it’s very difficult to stand back and just hope.”

Jasper handed him a plate, not commenting, and not for the first time Paul wondered what Jasper was thinking. He’d never shown surprise over anything Paul said, and Paul saw no point in being disingenuous; Jasper was living on this land with them and the point of telling him about the family was to include him, to make them a familiar community to him, so there was no sense in being less than frank about the lifestyle the household lived by. Jasper didn’t strike him as someone who judged either.

The trout was perfectly cooked.

I don’t know why Flynn infuriates me this much.

Paul reflected on that as he gave Quint his head on the way home and the gelding delicately picked his way through the rushing water at the crossing place. The trees were all turning amber now; fall was well underway.

“Because he won’t let you feed him or look after him, or do anything else for him.” Philip had said with amusement when Paul growled to him in private while he was dusting the study. He put up with the dusting resignedly as a necessary evil since Paul refused to let him sit in dust and gloom, knowing how he disliked it. It was still hard to Paul to see the study returned to its usual order, when for months it had been their bedroom.

It was true. Paul had spoken to Philip about those too small shirts and whether it would be best just to slip new ones into his dresser, to which Philip had said mildly that if Flynn was unwilling to even take food from them then he would probably see clothes as several steps too far.

“This one is self-sufficient, Paul.”

That was an understatement. Flynn’s self-sufficiency was aggressive, almost threatening. It radiated, flatly, I hate you. I hate him. I hate here. I don’t want to be here. When they’d done nothing at all to warrant it, it was hard to take that constant, furious rejection.  

“You’ve got a plot for him.” Paul accused him. “I wish you’d share it.”

Philip smiled, leaning back in his chair to let Paul rub wood oil over the desk in front of him. “I do not ‘plot’. The boy merely knows sheep, works hard and needed somewhere to go.”

“Plot.” Paul buffed the oiled wood hard to bring up the shine and release some of his exasperation. He was currently grouchier than he ever remembered being. “And I wish you’d do something about his eating, I resent people starving in a house where I’m the one putting meals on the table. And the studying all night. And the swearing. And the ignoring the rest of us as if we’re particularly nasty people who go around eating other people’s grandmothers.”

Philip laughed and resumed his pen, accepting his papers back from Paul. “As I said. He will not allow you to do any looking after at all, and you really do not like it.”

“Flynn makes it clear that he can look after himself.”

“Exactly.” Philip agreed, returning to work.  An instant later he had dropped his pen and was across the room and out of the study door onto the porch before Paul had fully processed the shout from the yard. It was Roger’s voice, unusually panicky, and as Paul raced after Philip he saw the two horses pacing towards them from the gate. Roger was already on the ground and steadying Gerry in the other saddle who was white faced and shaking and cradling one arm across his chest with the other. Blood was visible on his shirt. Philip didn’t appear to be moving particularly quickly at all, certainly doing nothing so alarming as running, but he was there and putting Roger out of his way before Paul reached the top of the steps, turning Gerry towards him and lifting him down from the saddle. Paul changed direction and went for the kitchen first aid kit, dropping it on the kitchen table and checking how much cooled boiled water was standing in the kettle. Here, where the wait for proper medical care was hours rather than minutes, first aid had the same vital importance it had held in the boarding house where Paul had grown up and had helped his mother and grandmother to deal with plenty of fishing and boat injuries that ranged from crushed fingers, fishing hook injuries, rope burns where flesh was stripped to the bone and concussions, to broken bones and hypothermia in their kitchen. What you did in the first hours could make a much greater difference out here than it did in the city where the Emergency Room was ten minutes away. 

Philip was guiding Gerry towards the house. Roger visibly stopped himself from following and took the horses to the corral, still looking back over his shoulder. Paul came to the kitchen door, searching Gerry’s face and movement for all the clues he could while Philip steered him up the porch steps, but some part of him still saw the tall, square shouldered, sandy haired boy far beyond the gate in the pasture. Standing, giving away his hiding place in the long grass some way from the yard, watching them intently. Braced, like a fox.

Philip heeled out his own chair at the head of the table, sat down and took Gerry into his lap, calmly untangling Gerry’s reluctant arms from their huddle. Gerry squirmed against him, his voice rising in panic and his arms clenching tighter, “No, no don’t touch it, don’t touch-”

“Darling, what on earth do you think he’s going to do?” Paul put a towel down on the table in Philip’s reach. “Cut it off? I won’t let him, it would make a horrible mess.”

Unable to prevent Philip’s unhurried and much stronger hands from unfolding his arms, Gerry flinched hard as Philip peeled back an extremely ragged and well bloodied sleeve from his forearm and Paul took a fast, assessing look. A nasty gash; wide rather than deep and relatively clean. Bloody but bleeding sluggishly, not gushing. Messy, but superficial. Breathing out, Paul poured boiled water into a basin, added antiseptic and dipped a towel in it, wringing it out well before he passed it to Philip.

“I’ll call John.”

“No, not John!” Gerry’s voice rose even higher in panic. “You’re not calling John. He’ll want to stitch it or do something else horrible-”

“Ger I’m sorry but this is going to need stitching darling, it’s too wide for me to wrap.” Paul said with sympathy. Philip folded the towel, holding Gerry with one competent arm that had Gerry curled against his chest rather than restrained, and he covered the gash with the towel and held it there, raising Gerry’s arm in his hand to slow the last of the bleeding.

“Paul, call John and ask him to come over as soon as he can.”

It was the tone that no one in the household argued with. Or at least not for long. Gerry gave Philip a piteous look and any last shred of self-control seemed to go with it as Philip didn’t return it or respond. Tears began to fall and Gerry stopped struggling and turned his face into Philip’s shirt front.

“Roger, get me a glass of brandy from the study please.” Philip said over Gerry’s head. Roger, who was standing in the doorway and looked rather shaken himself, kicked off his boots and went without a word and returned a moment later with one of the cut glass crystal glasses with a couple of fingers of amber liquid inside it. Only Philip and Luath liked it; Gerry had a fair try at keeping his face buried as Philip released his arm for a moment to pick up the glass, but Philip nudged his head up and held the glass to his mouth, and tearfully but without argument Gerry took the couple of mouthfuls Philip fed him. He produced a shudder and a yuck sound at the first and coughed at the second, after which Philip held the glass out to Roger.

“Finish that off.” He drew the chair out beside him and Roger sat down in it, holding the glass between his hands with his shoulders hunched like an anxious owl.

“We were baling up old wire from the fences we changed out over by the mile pasture, Ger got snagged by a strand I was pulling and I didn’t realise he was caught in it until he yelled.” 

Paul made the phone call to the elderly local doctor who’d been serving the ranch and the other ranches in the area for the last thirty two years. Philip reached over for a handful of cotton, dipping it in the hot water and wringing it out one handed before he moved the towel and began to clean blood out of the gash. He looked over Gerry’s shoulder to Roger, raising his eyebrows slightly, and Roger coloured and hurriedly knocked back the contents of the glass, choking slightly on the fire of it which slid his glasses even further down his nose.

“John will be about an hour.” Paul said to Philip, putting the phone down. He was aware of Flynn in the doorway. Not exactly watching, not exactly in the kitchen, just near enough on the porch to see. His face was unreadable beyond the perpetual death ray scowl. His eyes…

That’s right sweetie. Men can do this, and they do it well.

Philip took another handful of cotton, covered the gash and wrapped the towel over it, then got up, simply scooping Gerry up in his arms, towel and all. He’d never seemed to find it difficult in all the time Paul had known him; Gerry was lightly built and until a few months ago Paul had seen Philip very often lifting a much taller, much older man with the same care and ease. It was a poignant reminder.

“I’ll keep Gerry with me. Roger, put the horses away and get a shower.”

“Yes sir.” Roger said subduedly. Philip took Gerry into the family room and Paul knew he was headed for his study. With him, Gerry would get through the next hour and the wait for John without working himself up into acute panic. Paul cleaned up the debris on the table, sat down in the chair next to Roger and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling until Roger leaned against him, accepting the hug.

“He’ll be fine.” Paul said into his hair, rubbing his shoulders to take some of the chill out of him since he looked and felt shivery. “It’s messy more than anything, he’ll need a few stitches to close it and there’ll hardly be a scar. Are you ok? Did you catch yourself getting the wire off him?”

“No, I just did it by yanking before I realised.” Roger sat back and rumpled his hands through his never very tidy hair, looking distraught. “I feel horrible, he was so nice about it but I should have been paying more attention,”

“Get the horses done and get under the shower, quick.” Paul advised. “Go on, love.”

Roger got up a little unsteadily. Philip was quite right, he needed to get moving and think about something else; Paul watched him strip the tack from the horse he usually rode as he put the kettle on, thinking Gerry and Roger both could use a cup of tea. He had to lean to see far enough out of the window to find the second horse. It wouldn’t have been unlike Roger to be so wrapped up in his own thoughts he turned one loose and forgot the other, especially if it had wandered off to another part of the corral, but Gerry’s horse was on the far side from Roger, being efficiently stripped of tack by Flynn. Who neither looked at Roger nor showed the slightest sign of being aware he was there, and took the tack away to the tack room without a backward glance. When he emerged, he strode back out towards the pasture and Paul watched until he once more sat down and disappeared into the long grass, hidden from view. Paul had been distracted enough not to hear the sound of the truck engine, nor the sound of the garage door closing, and it wasn’t until Luath dumped the bag of groceries on the table that he jumped and looked around, realising he was there.

“I can’t stand the way he handles the horses.” Luath said forebodingly, opening the fridge and starting to put groceries away.  “It’s like watching someone gas up a car.”

“Is he rough with them?” Paul pulled himself together, a little shocked since Flynn seemed so competent with stock of any kind. He had seemed efficient but not at all rough with the sheep and the sheep certainly weren’t afraid of him and neither were the horses. Luath shook his head, closing the fridge with his hip.

“No, it’s not that. It’s like he’s handling a truck.”

“Or a motorbike.”

“Yes. Exactly. I can’t stand it.” Luath accepted one of the mugs of tea from the group Paul was pouring, giving Paul a rather wry look over the top of it. “I think he’s grating on my nerves as much as he is yours, if it’s any consolation.”

“You might want to go check on Rog?” Paul said half to deflect having to answer that. Luath’s face changed and he put the mug down.


“Gerry got caught by wire, he’s cut his arm open. He’s ok,” Paul added quickly as Luath looked alarmed, “A couple of stitches and he’ll be fine, but Rog brought him back bleeding and he’s shaken up.”

“Thanks.” Luath headed out of the kitchen door into the yard, jogging steadily across to the corral where Roger, hanging a saddle and bridle on the fence rail, saw him, climbed over the rail and dropped down to bury himself in Luath’s opened arms.


 It was a rather nasty evening. John arrived and Paul brought what he needed into the study where Philip quashed hysteria with a firm hand and kept Gerry together while John stitched and dressed the cut. Luath, with an eye on Roger who was not enjoying what they were hearing or sensing from the study, went with him up to the tiny, under the eaves room at the front that Roger loved and which Luath had moved into with him about six months back, resigning himself to forever knocking his head on the low beams at intervals and sharing space with the piles of Roger’s books. They wouldn’t want to be disturbed again this evening. Gerry was in shock and good for nothing when John was finished with him. Since very few people were interested in dinner, Paul fed John at the table while Philip took Gerry upstairs where Paul knew he would help Gerry through a bath and to bed. He still hadn’t come back down when Flynn stalked through the kitchen about ten pm, moving too fast to be able to offer him any kind of meal. Which was of course his intent and about the last straw as far as Paul’s patience was concerned. Setting the bread for tomorrow’s breakfast and giving the floor the mop over it needed at the end of most days, Paul banged three cups of coffee on a tray with two plates of ham rolls and bilberry muffins and took it upstairs.

Philip was sitting in Gerry’s room. It was the parallel one to Roger’s at the other end of the house, equally small with the same view out over the front of the house and the same low ceiling, and Philip was on the bed itself beside Gerry, leaning back against the pillows with his legs stretched out and Gerry asleep with his head against Philip’s side. Philip had an arm around him, one hand lightly clasped around Gerry’s slight shoulder, and had been looking out at the dark beyond the window and the faint shapes of horses grazing in the corral. He glanced up and smiled as Paul softly opened the door, accepted the mug of coffee one handed not to disturb Gerry with a mouthed thanks, and Paul put one of the plates on the nightstand in his reach, knowing he would stay there a while longer yet. There had to be some comfort in this for him too. There were some subtle ways in which only Roger and Gerry and Bear and the many other brats who came regularly back to Philip could comfort him, and Paul often saw them do it, both consciously and purely instinctively, and sometimes even unwittingly as Gerry did now.

This would always have been a moment in which Paul would have gone to keep David company. He’d often sat with David late in the evening when Philip was occupied, most often with Gerry or Bear or Roger, or sometimes with a work call, and it was nights like this that brought it most sharply home to him. It was still only a few weeks. David’s presence was still powerful within the house, the chairs he liked, the habits Paul had formed around his needs and his comfort since the first day he came into this house and began to work here. The instinct was still strong to remember things through the day to tell him, especially when they were alone, knowing they would interest him or make him laugh. Things that David would have understood and explained to him, things they would have shared in together.

Pulling the door to behind him to protect them from the inevitable noise of six men sharing a landing together, Paul shut his mind to that ache, that sense of a vivid hole within the house, and instead took the tray to the middle door on the landing where the door was firmly closed on the rest of them. He tapped quietly. There was no answer as Paul fully expected. He opened the door anyway.

Flynn was sitting on the windowsill behind the bed, one knee raised and one elbow braced on it, his head ducked while he intently read from some heavy book on his lap. The window was open to its fullest extent beside him, and he was in his shirtsleeves despite the chill of an October evening. Wide shouldered, stooped over the book, Paul saw in an instant he hadn’t ignored the knock; he hadn’t even heard it. Very dark green eyes under sandy hair that needed cutting flashed up and gave him an intense, angry glare that said get out.

“Supper.” Paul told him, ignoring the glare and putting the plate on the dresser in his reach. “Gerry’s all right by the way. He’s got six stitches in his arm, but he’ll live.”

No response. This boy could have made his fortune playing poker. Paul held out the mug of coffee directly to him, half a challenge to see if he would be rude enough to ignore it, and after a moment of stalemate Flynn irritably took it from him.

“Why do you drink this muck? Do you know what caffeine does to you?”

“No? What does it do?” Paul took the last cup, sipping from it himself, interested to see if the boy would enlarge on his sudden loquacity. Flynn gave him a grim look, returning his gaze to his book.

“So what do you like to drink?” Paul pressed. Flynn turned the page as if he was swatting a fly that was annoying him.


“Whatever what?”

“Water. Juice.”

“Ah. Well with shoulders like those darling, I can see where all those vitamins have been going.” Paul said dryly.

That earned him a glance up from the book; a shocked one although Flynn hid it well. He looked about ten years younger when he was surprised like that, and Paul felt a flash of shame for doing it. This wasn’t David, who was an expert in the game and knew exactly how to play it. Flynn was still a kid, never mind the glower or the gangly body and the coltish legs he hadn’t fully grown into or the hair he didn’t look like he’d got the hang of keeping so it didn’t hang in his eyes and which Paul found his fingers twitching towards straightening.

It wouldn’t have been welcomed, and he didn’t try.

Roger was curled on his side with his head on one hand under the covers, lost in the book he had resting on the pillow. He often would have read all night given half the chance, reading to him was a drug and he was a wholehearted addict. He adored time spent with both of them together reading in bed, the warmth and the comfort of it, and tonight he had needed the distraction. He was very close to Gerry; Gerry’s distress was always infectious and as much as Roger knew that practically he could do nothing to help and that Gerry would do better left alone with Philip, it had been hard for him to walk away.

Luath closed the bedroom door softly behind him as he came in, reflecting on what he’d just overheard in the hallway, and without his attention on the low beams overhead, his attempt to climb into bed ended in a brisk crack across the forehead. With a growl, Luath sat down to rub the spot, the exact same spot he bumped on a regular basis, and Roger laid his book down and leaned across to rub his back with sympathy.

“Sorry. Deep breaths.”

This room was not really big enough for two of them, and the low beams and Luath’s height were a poor combination, but Roger loved this cubbyhole of a room with its exposed wood and the quirkiness of the deeply sloped ceiling and the cushioned window seat, this had been his room as long as he’d lived in the house and Luath had moved into it with him willingly and wouldn’t have considered asking him to move to one of the other more size friendly rooms in the house. The occasional knot on the head was something he dealt with as philosophically as possible. Regaining his breath, Luath crawled over Roger to climb back under the covers, settling back to rub the last of the smarting out of his forehead.

“Sorry for growling. That seems to have become the norm around here.”

Roger grinned, returning to his book. “No it hasn’t, Flynn’s just driving you crazy.”

“I was just listening to him snarl at Paul on the landing. He’s so rude. No one needs to be that rude. Or sullen. You’d think we got out of bed in the mornings just to tick him off.”

“Yeah, he’s having the same effect on Paul.”

There was an easy tolerance in Roger’s tone. He didn’t mind Flynn in the slightest. Luath had seen him cheerfully smile at the sullen teenager in the yard when they passed each other, oblivious to the fact the smile was never acknowledged or returned, or that the kid was stomping around the ranch like a particularly sulky thunderstorm. And Roger was an easy going man, slow to judge anyone, but he was no fool. He saw something in this boy that Luath couldn’t, and that in itself was nagging at Luath; he respected Roger’s judgement of character and there were very few people that Roger liked that Luath couldn’t make himself like too on the belief that anyone Roger took an interest in was by extension a person he cared about. But this kid…..

“I don’t know why.” He admitted to Roger in exasperation.

“Why what?”

“Why he's bothering me so much. I want to shake him or dunk his head in the washing machine for a few cycles.”

“But not swat him.” Roger pointed out as if that had some kind of relevancy. He
hadn’t looked up from his book but he sounded amused. “You don’t dislike him. He pulls all kinds of strong feelings out of you; you just don’t know what they are.”

Luath blinked on that, taken aback. Then he turned over on his side so they were face to face. Or at least he was facing Roger, who was facing his book. Roger placidly went on reading, oblivious, until Luath gently put a hand over the book to push it down.

“Tell me what you think?”

Roger put a hand over his, trying unsuccessfully to move it away from the line of text he was following since Luath was considerably stronger than he was.

“I know what I think. The problem is you haven’t figured out what you think and it’s bugging you.”

“So what should I think, in your estimation?”

“I’m not telling you.”

Luath gave him a stern look, the fierce, angry look he reserved especially for Roger, which had the exact same effect it always had on Roger of making him burst out laughing. Roger picked up his book again. Luath slid another finger inside the spine, lifting it far enough to snatch a kiss underneath, and after a moment Roger turned the book over to mark his place and rolled over to co-operate cheerfully.

It was their morning custom: Philip walked with Luath down the porch steps in a yard full of sunshine, crossing unhurriedly to where several young colts came to the fence at the sight of him and the cut apple in his hands, and Luath leaned on the fence beside him, rubbing the neck of the nearest of the colts while he explained the morning messages from the corporate he had been working with on Philip’s behalf. His first actions every morning once dressed was to take those messages, follow up what needed following up and to then make the morning summary for Philip’s attention: Philip took up barely half his time with the assistant work he handed over, and he was generous with it. Not handing over the more secretarial tasks while keeping the interesting or challenging ones for himself, but making a partnership out of it more equal than Luath knew his experience deserved, and ensuring in the process that Luath gained knowledge, experience and confidence that oddly enough Luath knew he wouldn’t have gained to anything like this depth and quality in a city working full time, as opposed to doing some light assistant work on an isolated ranch in between stock work, fencing and enjoying a great deal of time spent with Roger. Somehow without ever exactly mentioning it, Philip ensured that they had plenty of time and space as an autonomous couple as well as a part of the family household, which sometimes included steering the other members of the family discreetly away from them without their realising. It was tactful and it was deeply considerate and Luath appreciated it as much as he admired how subtly it was done.

When he finished this morning’s report, Philip said nothing for a while, then ran a hand down the nose of the colt crunching the last apple slice. Rain or shine, every day, Philip cut the apple pieces himself and came out here to hand feed the youngest horses.

“The best natured animal can be turned vicious by bad handling.” he said eventually, very mildly. “Behaviour is a habit.”

“You heard me bawl Flynn out this morning.” Luath said uncomfortably. It had been a rather short, sharp exchange; ‘bawling out’ was an exaggeration but a curt request not to swear at Paul about the offer of breakfast had definitely been included. As had the kid’s equally sharp reply, which had been largely obscenities.

Philip brushed off his hands of the last crumbs of apple.

“You can train a horse or a man out of bad habits if you take the time and patience to teach him how to trust you. If I have a bad tempered colt I move slowly, speak quietly, and plan for a lot of work in small steps, and I try to remember something David taught me about teaching being about keeping your student hungry to learn more.”

“Taught you from experience with him, or taught you himself?” Luath leaned on the fence beside him and Philip gave him a brief smile that understood what he meant.

“David taught me most of the things I find most worth knowing. What Flynn says or does isn’t important to us. Let that go. The important thing is him. Feeling safe, belonging, being rooted. When that’s right, he’ll sort out the rest for himself.”

Similar advice to Roger’s.  Philip seemed to have the same sympathy with the kid.

“How’s Gerry this morning?” Luath asked to change the subject. Philip watched one of the Shire foals dance a few steps, bucking for no apparent reason other than the fun of doing it.

“Rather sore, and rather more poor tempered. Not in the least happy that he’s not allowed to work today, and not willing to admit that that is pure contrariness on his part.”

“You do realise the answer is to ban him, totally, from ever doing any kind of work?” Luath said dryly. “You wouldn’t be able to stop him then. He’d be sneaking out at 2am to mow and muck out the corral on principle.”

“Which would be good for getting work done, but not so good for Gerald.” Philip agreed. “If I take on a colt with a bruised, sore mouth from bad handling, the very last thing I will do is try putting a bit near his mouth, Luthe. Or be surprised that there is kicking and snapping at the slightest sign he thinks I might be considering doing so. Anger is most usually nothing more than fear with a different coat on.”


Out in the meadow the following day, Flynn lay in the deepest part of the grass with his current book open and his notebook beside it. It was evening, the last hour of daylight and threatening to rain, the sky was greying overhead with clouds scudding as the wind rose, not that Flynn took much notice. He’d studied for so many years outside in all weathers, wind, snow, rain and hail, that it was more natural to do this alone in the open air than it was anywhere else. Except here it was quiet. At home, wherever you lay on their land it was all you heard, the racket of several thousand ewes and their lambs.

The others had been unsettled all day. He’d left before they ate breakfast but even from the yard it was impossible not to pick up odds and ends. He’d been aware of Gerry’s cries from the study last night – something as alien to him as it was painful to listen to, and to hear the others talk to him more soothingly than anyone would have been spoken to back home, particularly an adult male making that kind of a song and dance over a cut arm- that had been hard. And it had bothered him. A few times he’d found himself wanting to walk out onto the landing to listen, angry with himself that it was agitating him as so many things in this damn house agitated him.

Winthrop, cradling Gerry on his lap, he and that bloody housekeeper fussing over a minor cut on his arm.

On his lap.

And that bloody housekeeper in his room last night, his weight on one hip in a way that dragged the most harshly disciplined eye downwards, challenge in every curve of his body. The thought of it made Flynn have to change position, an involuntary physical bolt of reaction so hard that it was painful. And infuriating. Luath and Roger had ridden out together this morning, and Flynn had seen Winthrop take Gerry with him into the study. When he turned his horse out into the corral in the early afternoon, his work done, Flynn glimpsed them through the study window. Gerry curled up on the couch in the study, a book in his hand but his eyes on Winthrop who was working at his desk. His own obsession with them infuriated him, but he couldn’t stop looking. Or thinking about it.

Winthrop worked several hours a day there; doing what Flynn wasn’t sure and he was damn well not asking. This place didn’t work like any farm or sheep station he’d ever been on. The machinery in the barn wasn’t flash; he’d been in to have a scout around. You could tell a lot about a man and a place by the state of his barn. The barn at home and the kit in there was clean all right – his father was death on good machinery going rusty and what they had was well kept, well cleaned and kept in good order or else. This barn was equally well ordered. Floor swept. Kit clean, no rust, no damp. Tyres better maintained than his old man had ever seen the point in on their station. Not all of the stuff in Winthrop’s barn was new by any means – some of it must be turn of the century and some of it probably there for sentimental reasons which his dad wouldn’t have tolerated for a second. But Winthrop’s house was filled with pictures. Old books. Record keeping of a type no one at home saw the point in. Like the tack room, a room owned by a man to whom horses weren’t merely the means of getting from a to b over rough land. Like the time the bloke spent in the evening, or first thing in the morning, leaning over the rails of the corral or over the fence of the heavy horses in the end paddock, watching them, talking to them. Rubbing whatever great head was pushed in his direction for attention, like a woman nursing a baby.

And the house. The house was clean, not just scrubbed in the way his mother managed to keep the house on their station. Swish. Soft. From the carpets on the stairs to the quilts on the beds that his father and brothers would have sneered at. To the books lining the shelves. To the table manners and the way the delicate china dishes were set out on the table for meals that were something more than simply the stuffing down of sufficient food to keep a workforce moving. There was a quiet civility to the house, an atmosphere that covered the entire ranch.

And every damn one of them. From Gerry and to a lesser extent Paul, where it was in their voice, in their movements, in their language – never before in his life had Flynn heard a man say the word ‘darling’ to anyone, never mind make it a caress or a stab depending on his mood- to Roger and Luath, neither of whom looked in the slightest bit queer, particularly Luath who was as butch as a bloody bull. But he and Roger kissed each other on the mouth in passing without giving a damn for who was watching or what it did to them, casually while they squabbled over the last piece of toast or met up after a few hours apart. And Winthrop himself.  An educated man, the boss of this station, who rode like he’d been born to it – and Flynn struggled to keep his eyes off that and not stare – and took Gerry or Roger into his lap as though it was the most normal thing in the world for a bloke to do, or kissed that snarky bloody housekeeper good morning.


Paul, with his slim hips and his long legs, and his long eyelashes around his dark, crackling blue eyes that took no bull from anyone, and his black hair long on his collar. There were things about that bitch of a man that haunted Flynn at night, not unlike the silent boy with the deep, dark amber eyes and long, sleek hair who haunted the hillside by the sheep. Never speaking. Always watching.

The first spot of rain fell as he began to struggle to make out words in the last of the twilight, and he closed his books. It meant running the gauntlet of those men to get to his room, but once they went to sleep the house was silent and he could study as late as he wanted. It was something Winthrop seemed to positively encourage; the amount of ranch work he asked for daily was… negligible. Very little. No one here snarled about men with their heads stuffed in some trashy book when work needed doing. Most of them, particularly Roger, frequently had their heads stuck in a book themselves in their spare time. Flynn had never seen his father read anything other than their stock book. His brothers – Conn and Mick, the elder two and Shay, a year younger than Flynn – had read the bare minimum required for school and only ever under protest, Conn probably still read with a finger below the text and his lips moving. Only his mother had the occasional battered paperback which he supposed she read along with the bills and market slips, although he’d never seen her do it. Reading and writing was women’s work.

The rain was starting to fall in earnest as he reached the yard. Flynn tucked the books under his sweater and jogged towards the porch. He was up the steps before he recognised a slight figure curled in the far end of the swing, hugging his knees with one arm bare and the other bandaged, and sobbing. Quietly but distinctly and honestly, and it didn’t sound like a kid crying or even a woman crying. He’d never in his life seen or heard a bloke cry. It sent shockwaves through him, discomfort, alarm and an equally uncomfortably magnetic pull. He paused, looking for a moment at Gerry’s bent head and the total lack of self-consciousness in the older man. And then with a quick cast glance around to make sure there were no witnesses he sat down on the other end of the swing, leaning his elbows on his knees to look more closely at the other man’s face.

“…..Are you all right?”

It came out more gruffly than he’d intended, but Gerry shook his head in reply without hesitation. His usually soft eyes were wet, he was doing his best to control his breathing; the result was heartrending.

“Yeah, I could have asked a less obvious question, couldn’t I?” Flynn said more softly. “Is there anything I can do? Want to tell me about it?”

“Nothing sensible.” Gerry drew up his knees and hugged them. He was older than Flynn; at that moment he didn’t look it.

“I’ve got experience of not sensible.” Flynn said wryly, but gently. Gerry managed a shaky laugh, running the back of one hand over his face. He was shaking a little.

“Then you’ll fit right in here. Roger’s got himself in a bit of a mess. It wasn’t his fault what happened with the wire, he’d got no idea I’d been snagged when he yanked it, no one’s blaming him.”

“But he feels bad about it.”

“….Yeah.” Gerry took a long and shaky breath. “Yeah he does. So he was late home tonight- not just late, really late, which is pretty much he how makes it clear he’s gone off the wall, and he gave Luath all kinds of mouth when he did turn up, so he’s in a world of trouble. Which feels like my fault.”

Trouble? Seriously? Flynn had seen Winthrop sort out a couple of quarrels, one sniping session between Gerry and Roger and another dispute over what best to do with a stretch of choked river. He didn’t tolerate any backchat, Flynn had seen him just raise his eyebrows at Gerry and Gerry stop dead – the bloke commanded respect all right. And Flynn, unwillingly, had to admit he felt it. Winthrop commanded it by presence alone. But where his father would have bellowed, cuffed, dismissed, Winthrop didn’t even raise his voice.

“…Hardly. If that’s what Roger wanted to feel better.”

Guilt and expiation were subjects Flynn understood. Academically in books as well as from his own experience and observation. It was bizarre to actually talk about it to another man as if it was a normal concept instead of something in a class paper. Gerry even nodded as though to him that made complete sense.

“I know. I don’t think he reasoned it through like that.”

“….Maybe not consciously.” Flynn said reflectively. Gerry wiped his face again, sounding a little more together. Flynn doubted Gerry had the faintest idea how hard this conversation was to have.

“Well he got himself paddled.”

Gerry said it so matter of factly that it took a second for Flynn to realise what he’d said, and then his stomach flipped so hard at the word that he lost his breath. The idea of it was too shocking to process.


“No, Luath. Always used to be Philip; it would be if I pulled the whole late trick, but Luthe and Rog have been together for months now, and it was Luthe he mouthed off to.” Gerry ran another hand over his face and gave Flynn a brief and Flynn thought a shockingly compassionate look that went with a quick reach out to touch Flynn’s face. “Oh it’s all right, don’t worry. It’s not like Rog isn’t used to the concept; so am I come to that. But I think he’d pushed hard enough to make it serious, so probably majorly paddled, and I hate that. And yeah, I know Luath gets it, of course he does, but that doesn’t make much difference because communicating with dramatic gestures that scare everyone and have no consideration for how they affect other people is not how we do things, is it Gerald?”

Despite the confusion of the information Gerry had just so bluntly shared, Flynn smiled faintly at the extremely good imitation of Winthrop’s Boston accent, and Gerry smiled weakly in return.


Flynn’s father had used his belt no few times until Flynn and his brothers grew too large to manhandle and could successfully fight back, but more often the back of his hand or his fist. A sudden, smashing blow out of nowhere. The old man had an explosive temper and prided himself on a hard hand. His brothers had been caned a few times at school – Flynn never, largely because school was more interesting to him than anything that happened on the damn station, and in smaller part because his not getting into trouble pissed off Conn and Mick.

That huge, sculpted black guy paddled Roger.

A whole lot of unbidden images came with that thought, none of which were comfortable ones, and a whole lot of questions, none of which could be asked.

“Where is Winthrop?” Flynn forced himself to focus on Gerry and his needs, and once he pulled himself together and looked at the older man it wasn’t difficult. “You’re going to get cold out here, he doesn’t usually let you sit outside once its dark.”

“You don’t miss much, do you? Considering you pretend you’re never looking at anything we do and you don’t care either.” Gerry put one foot against the floor, rocking the swing gently. “He’s answering a work call. I kind of slipped out from the family room. Luath and Roger are upstairs in their room and Paul’s writing upstairs so I’m under the radar.”

“Better go on back then before you’re missed. You’ll still be shaken up from all the adrenaline in your system from yesterday. Your arm. Is it painful?”

“A bit.” Gerry admitted.

“Which is probably why everything feels like a nuclear blast to you tonight.” Flynn nodded at the house. “You’d do better to go in before you get cold.”

“Yeah.” Gerry unwound himself reluctantly, getting to his feet, and gave Flynn another brief, watery but sincere smile. “Thanks.”

In the kitchen, frozen with the milk jug in one hand and the fridge door in the other, Luath stopped eavesdropping hurriedly and ducked into the open pantry in the dark, far enough that Gerry headed through the kitchen towards the family room without seeing him. Once he was gone, Luath came back, closing the fridge very softly.

The New Zealander boy was still sitting on the swing, his books on his lap. It was a shock to realise he was capable of talking that gently to anyone, particularly one of their more fragile brats in a manner sensitive enough that even Luath, who had loved Gerry for a lot of years, approved of. Or that Gerry, who was a sharp judge of character and never took readily to even the nicest of strangers, had so willingly chosen Flynn to confide in.

It was another night of poor sleep.

Flynn tossed and turned for the hour or two after he put his books down. It was hard to focus on his work here, there were too many painful distractions, far too much information.

I just want to do the damn work and get out of here.

Three more days. Just three more days.

Until the Christmas vacation when he knew rationally he’d be forced to come back here again. This house was a peculiar torture to be in. 

He got up early, dressed and got through the kitchen and out before that bloody housekeeper started in on him about eating. It was becoming a private matter of pride to him. He might have to be here; he didn’t have to sit at their bloody table and eat their bloody food. He’d often spent days at a time working out on the station without going home, managing on sparse rations wasn’t new and he didn’t often notice hunger. He grabbed tack from the stable, headed for the corral and took the horse that Winthrop had allocated him, tying it to the barn wall and starting to tack it up.  

Maybe I can find another job by Christmas. There has to be something I can find in the city somewhere.

Yeah what can you do other than shunt sheep?

He was startled by a large, black hand jerking the bridle out of his hand and a deep voice, authoritative rather than angry.

"Stop.  We don’t do that here.  You handle this horse with care and respect or you can walk everywhere. It's your choice."

To talk to him this morning was harder work than to speak to any of rest of them and it was such a stupid thing to say that Flynn turned on him, feeling the simmering anger slip its leash gladly.

"It's a bloody horse."

"It's a living animal," Luath said it bluntly, and his dark eyes were fixed very steadily on Flynn’s in a way that was not usual in one man casually talking to another, and not comfortable, "And every animal on this ranch deserves and is going to get your respect."

Are you suggesting I go around bloody abusing animals?

Incensed, Flynn stared back at him. That was an accusation that had never been flung at him in his life. Wolf whistles from Mick and Conn he’d had a few times when they’d caught him talking to or paying too much attention to a horse, followed by ceaseless heckling about his new girlfriend on the station and in town, so bloody desperate he’ll feel up any mare with a nice bum, won’t ya mate? Things that had made his father and any other man in the vicinity snigger. Messing with, or even much noticing a horse was unmanly. Not done. Something Flynn had been forced to do quietly and out of sight if he did it at all. Not like bloody Winthrop nursing his horses like pets. That was a word of utter disgrace on the station. Pets. No animal had the right to life on the station that didn’t earn its keep.

Yeah and you never questioned that, did you?

Yes. He had. Again and again, which drove the old man mad, hating it, raging at it, the stupidity of it, the bull ignorance of it, because none of them had enough emotional intelligence to understand anything but what their father laid down as the law.

But to be challenged on it. Bluntly. As if he was doing something wrong...?

"It's a horse." He said with all the disdain he could muster, the one tone that pissed his father off like no other. The other man’s eyes changed. Instinctively Flynn dug his heels into the ground, set his shoulders and braced, prepared to withstand the smash across the face he fully expected and to return it with interest. He was taken unprepared by Luath swiping the saddle straight out of his hands with efficiency rather than aggression.

"You aren't riding today."


"Do you want the fucking work done or not?" Flynn demanded.

The big man’s expression was not a comfortable one. It wasn’t angry, it wasn’t even annoyed. It was far too comprehending, as if the guy thought he was behaving badly and understood it. This was the guy who’d actually taken a paddle to his…. Whatever the hell it was he and Roger were to each other.

"I don't give a damn about the work if it means rough handling of the animals. Go muck out the corral where you can be as rough as you want."

For one stupid moment Flynn stood there with no idea what to do.

Luath’s eyes were still penetrating and his voice gentled. Horribly.

"You need to take some time and calm down. Get some steam out from under your lid. Go walk or swim. You're not going near stock until you do."

He turned away and saddled the mare himself. Flynn stood behind him, rocked to the core and aware he was impotent in the face of the older man’s calm and was rapidly losing face because of it. In the end he swore and turned on his heel, spitting acid out of his mouth at the red dust of the yard as he stalked away towards the house. Luath’s voice behind him sounded amused rather than shocked, and even more bizarrely not in a derisory way.

"Yeah, you don’t scare me, brat."

Flynn stopped dead and turned around to stare at him, outraged. Luath went on saddling up the mare. Furious beyond bearing, Flynn ran up the steps of the porch. The kitchen had cleared, other than that wretched bloody housekeeper who called to him, probably about boots on his precious floor, but Flynn ignored him and went into the family room and around to the study.

Winthrop was at his desk, working. Flynn stalked as far as his desk, too angry to bother waiting for the man to look up.

“Do you want me to fucking work, or don’t you?”

Winthrop continued to write. Flynn clenched a fist and made a lunge forward to slam it hard on the desk. The noise was shocking in the quiet room, the crystal inkpot jumped and rattled. The man neither flinched, nor paused, nor even looked up. He merely continued to write. There was a long, horrible moment where to Flynn the gears of the world ground to a strident halt and there was nothing in the room but the sedate ticking of the clock in the hall and the scent of leather from the couch and the binding on the books on the shelves. He could hear his own ragged breathing. Then Winthrop replaced his pen on the desk and gave him a calm smile.

“Hello Flynn.”

“If you don’t fucking call off that fucking bastard from-” Flynn began, but Winthrop had spun his chair around and got to his feet, walking towards the door out onto the porch.

The only way to continue the conversation was to follow him.

Winthrop was the only one of them who wore boots in the house. Possibly that bloody housekeeper didn’t dare tell him off, but Winthrop’s riding boots were polished and immaculate and he walked slowly and quietly across the yard with his hands linked behind his back as if he was doing nothing more than enjoying the morning sunshine. He walked the entire length of the paddocks behind the stables, down along the wooden fence while Flynn initially continued to thunder, toning it down rapidly as he saw the horses startle away from him. Winthrop listened in silence, watching the horses as they walked. At the last paddock, as Flynn paused to draw breath, Winthrop said thoughtfully,

“What do you think of the foal, Flynn? He’s the first of my third generation cross. American bred Clysdales and my English Shires. Height, speed, strength, stamina. You wouldn’t think it, would you? Speed in these heavy horses? They’re like the battle chargers who took the medieval knights into the fields. Carry the weight of a man in full armour, hold their nerve and speed to charge against an enemy line and fight with those front hooves with all their weight behind it. These are my favourite horses on the ranch. All that power, all that force and will, and the gentlest tempers you’ll find in any horse here. They move with such care. Grace.”

The foal was still lightly built in the body compared to the long length of his legs; he hadn’t yet developed the massive frame of the other heavy horses grazing in the paddock. The feathering was already visible around his white hocks and he trailed his mother as she paced slowly across to Philip, ducking her great head over the fence to him. Philip rubbed her forehead, his voice soft with affection.

“This is Colwyn. Who has beautiful foals. And this little fellow is Harlech. See the nose? Good, large nares and the Roman nose, the convex profile. It’s exactly what you’re looking for in a draught horse. Sinus space, the oxygen capacity for sustained bursts of power.”

It wasn’t easy to shout at someone who was having a different conversation altogether. Flynn glared at him, pushing sweat soaked hair back out of his face.

“I said – the  …What?”

Philip opened the gate, not looking back but holding it open for him to follow.

“And this is Cardiff, and this gentleman here is Pembroke.”

Flynn followed him, warily, with no idea what game this man was playing but the massive, beautiful beasts were ….. all right, near impossible to resist. And there was no one else in sight to watch. No one but this man who had Pembroke’s massive jaw in his hand and was rubbing between his eyes as though it was a perfectly natural thing for a man to do. There was an abrupt, heavy shove between his shoulder blades. Flynn stumbled to regain his balance and turned to the huge, dark bay form of the one Philip had called Cardiff. His head barely reached the height of the animal’s back. 18 hands at least, with large black eyes that looked directly at Flynn and the huge nostrils flared as the gelding huffed at him, ruffling his hair.

He was enormous and tranquil, and Flynn put a hand up, unable to stop himself touching that massive neck. His hide was surprisingly soft. The heavy muscle was perceptible beneath that gleaming coat, rolling as Cardiff dipped his head. A few feet away he heard Winthrop move, and glancing over, he saw the man climb the fence rail to reach Pembroke’s back, sitting comfortably astride the broad back, and Winthrop nodded to him.

“Well come along then.”


It wasn’t as if he hadn’t ridden horses all his life – the beaten up, worn down and frequently fifth or sixth hand horses picked up at stock fairs for the rough life on the station. And he’d ridden bareback, gleaning information from the books on horsemanship he read when no one else was around, when he was miles out on the station alone where no one would see him experiment. His heart was thumping as he climbed the fence. You didn’t force a horse this size. There was no rein to pull on. Instead he clicked to Cardiff, holding out a hand and waiting, and the gelding paced slowly towards him, coming to stand where Flynn could reach his back.

“There is not a horse on this ranch that doesn’t like you, have you noticed that?” Philip commented, watching him mount. “Use your legs, Flynn. Legs and seat. You can’t rely on your hands bareback.”

He turned Pembroke – using nothing more than his voice and his legs, the man sat effortlessly as though his spine had been fused to the horse’s – and abruptly Pembroke broke into a direct canter at the fence, an abrupt burst of shocking speed that stole Flynn’s breath, and the massive feathered forefeet tucked and Pembroke launched and sailed into the air, clearing the fence with feet to spare. Winthrop turned him in the pasture, watching calmly.

“Legs. Give him a good run up.”

He was serious. Heart thundering, Flynn gently grasped the thick mane and Cardiff, who was already trotting to follow his paddock mate, gladly burst into a canter as Flynn squeezed his calves and gave him the signal. It was like an eruption, the power released in one clean, massive burst like a piston firing in a well-oiled machine. Six mighty strides, his hooves thundering on the turf and then he lifted. Flynn felt him bunch, felt the explosion of power in his haunches, the height and the flight of him and automatically stooped over his neck, balancing himself, becoming for a glorious instant a heart-firing part of that flight. And then as Cardiff hit the turf with surprising lightness considering his weight, Winthrop whistled to Pembroke and led the way at a trot out across the pasture.

They rode. Winthrop led the way through woods, along narrow tracks and out across open pastures where the heavy horses galloped at a speed that raced Flynn’s heart and blood. No horse he had ever touched in his life ran like these did. Winthrop said very little. Occasionally he pointed out some aspect of the horses in terms that told Flynn the man could have written any of the few books Flynn had managed to get his hands on in the school or town library. The urge to ask questions – a hundred questions – was a bloody hard one to swallow. And when they returned the horses to the paddock later, hours later, Winthrop dismounted to the fence rail, sent Pembroke ahead of him to graze with an affectionate smack to the massive rump, and strolled calmly towards the house without another word.


One day left to go. Just one.

The bus tomorrow would take him back to sanity, away from this unholy place. Silent and working alongside Luath, who was oddly neither making no jibes or references to yesterday at all and was just getting on with the job, doing a good one and more than doing his share, and minding his own business while he did it, Flynn braced on top of the ladder and tossed another rotten plank out of the barn roof. It was a hot day, and his hand was giving him gyp.  It was inevitable messing about on a bloody station, you got cuts and scratches and splinters galore and you got used to them, even when one was aggravating you like the bloody splinter cut in his palm.

The thought kept banging in his brain every time he saw the man. This was the bloke who had paddled Roger.

Who didn’t seem particularly put out about it. Roger had been his usual, placidly cheerful self as far as Flynn had seen him; he’d been stealing toast from under Luath’s arm this morning and Luath had chased him all over the kitchen to retrieve it. Flynn had passed through the kitchen hearing the shrieks, the giggles and the kiss that ended the battle. Luath had been as vigorously involved in and apparently enjoying the game as much as Roger. How the hell did you fit that kind of playfulness or softness with a guy capable of…. beating the same guy who was pinching his breakfast without the slightest sign of fear of him?

It didn’t fit. There was not a shape in his head that he could find that all that could be fitted within, it didn’t bloody work.

And the way Luath had spoken to him yesterday. Flynn cheerfully could have smashed a plank over his head for it. He and bloody Winthrop. Shouting, blows, fighting, any kind of aggression, Flynn could have met that and seen it off without problem. He was bloody bullet proof and there was nothing a man could do that could scare him.

Except look at him like that and speak to him quietly, with that bloody quiet authority that creeped the living hell out of him.

He was aware of Luath’s glances at him when he paused to drink water or get another tool, it made him angrier and he did his best to hide it, save that the work was making the damn hand bleed and throb like hell and at times he was forced to pause for a moment just to get it back to bearable. Which was pathetic. He was working on another plank when Luath reached across to stop him.

“Done something to your hand?”

Flynn didn’t bother answering him. He was startled by Luath’s tone. It was the same one from yesterday, a deep one that reminded him abruptly of his English teacher in high school. Sharp, authoritative, meaning to be obeyed.

Hey. Civilised people answer when they’re spoken to. Have you done something to that hand?”

“No.” Flynn said curtly. He landed several powerful blows of the hammer to the plank he was fixing in place and thank God, Luath shut up and carried on working until they were ready to move the ladders from the now fixed side of the roof around to the other side.

Flynn carried an armful of the new planks around, dumping them in the grass in easy reach, and as he straightened up, Luath’s long arm snaked directly across him and grasped his wrist, turning his palm up. Flynn yanked away with all his strength, furious, but Luath held his wrist for a moment, engulfed in a large, powerful hand that held on without effort, and Flynn saw his face as Luath saw his palm.

He was a strong guy, Luath. Big. Square. Every inch what Flynn would have thought of in the street as a mature, streetwise man. A proper man. And his face was horrified. So horrified that Flynn looked, startled, from him to the hand. It was a bit red, bloody splinters did that, but the way Luath was looking it might as well have turned black and be sloughing off.

“What’s that?” Luath demanded.

Flynn yanked again and this time succeeded in tearing his hand away. “Nothing. A splinter.”

“It’s still in there?”

Flynn carried on shifting the heavy tool box around, deliberately using the hand half to provoke the big man who was doing nothing now but stand and watch him, still looking more concerned than he’d ever seen a man look about anything so petty.

“Flynn. That’s infected. You need to get that seen to.”

“It’s just a splinter, I got it out.”

“That’s way past fixing itself, kid.” Luath gathered up planks, starting to shift them into the barn, and Flynn realised he was serious. He was actually starting to pack up. “We’re leaving this. Come on, let’s head home, let Paul take a look at it.”

It was too pathetic to engage with. Flynn ignored him, leaning the ladder against the wall. Luath was welcome to piss off home if he wanted to; he wasn’t quitting on a job that needed doing.

I didn’t raise any pikers on this station.

He heard Luath behind him even before Luath put an arm across the ladder to block his path.

Flynn. What are you trying to prove?” the man still looked concerned and his voice was gentler, serious and not at all mad. “You’re tough. I get it. You’re a big man. You’ve earned the respect, no question. Now come on down to the house before you lose some fingers.”

He put a hand on Flynn’s shoulder, a very firm one, urging him, and not sure what why, Flynn found himself allowing Luath to turn him towards the horses, hearing the older man’s voice behind him.

“Move, brat. Don’t confuse brave with stupid, you can’t work like this.”

In the yard at the house, Luath took his horse’s reins from him in the yard, tied both to the corral rail and steered him into the kitchen, giving him no chance to baulk. The housekeeper was sitting at the table peeling vegetables opposite to Roger who was reading, and he got up at the sight of them, shaking his hair back from his face.

“What happened?”

“Take a look at his hand.” Luath suggested.

The housekeeper took his hand without hesitation. He was a whole lot stronger than he looked, and his hands were sure and felt as delicate as they looked as they turned Flynn’s palm up. His blue eyes were intent on the wound, for a moment clinically detached, then fiery.

“Woah.” Roger said placidly, peering over his glasses. The housekeeper took a deep, annoyed breath that went with the glare he shot Flynn direct into his eyes, then he pulled out a chair at the table and put a hand on Flynn’s shoulder, pushing him down into it in a way that suggested he wasn’t co-operating with refusal.

Sit. How long has it been looking like that?”

“It’s not that bad.”

“It’s not good, is it?” Paul demanded, pouring hot water from the kettle into a bowl and dumping salt in after it. His annoyance was expressed in every move he made, from his eyes to the swish of the legs of his jeans as he walked. “How stupid is it to go around with that kind of a mess without a word or any attempt to do anything about it?”

“I washed-” Flynn began, and Paul talked right over him, banging the bowl down on the table.

“Irresponsible, pig headed obstinacy – put your hand in there and keep it there – is it some kind of test of manhood where you come from? Is gangrene some kind of badge of courage? Are you sure you got the whole splinter out, I can see you’ve been digging around in there.”

He searched the wound very gently, despite the fact he didn’t once stop nagging. Roger, sent upstairs to get painkillers, obviously paused by the study on his way back as Winthrop himself followed him into the kitchen. Flynn froze, not in the least comfortable with Winthrop observing this, the boss of this station, but Paul didn’t relinquish his hand, and Winthrop put Roger gently out of his way and came to stand behind Flynn, resting a hand on his shoulder to look down at the hand in the water.


The two of them were touching him as if he was any other member of this peculiar household. Paul, his hands in the water with Flynn’s, was working on the deepest part of the wound, eyes intent; more gently than Flynn had thought a man was capable of. It was fascinating to watch. And then Paul said softly,

“Got it. There it is.” And eased out a tiny fragment of wood. “That’s all of it.”

“Paul,” Winthrop said mildly, “fill that with antiseptic and wrap it, and I’ll drive Flynn down to the Jackson clinic.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Flynn drew his hand out of the water, away from Paul. Paul grabbed his wrist and put the hand straight back.

“Yes it is. Look at that mess and be sensible. Rog, there’s the cream in the first aid box.”

Roger took the box down, found the cream and handed it over. Flynn took it from Paul, getting up.

“I can do that myself. It’s fine, it’ll be ok. Thanks.”

“It is not ok,” Paul began very sharply, and Winthrop raised a hand to stop him.

“Flynn, I’ll have a word with you outside please.”

Yeah, I walked off a job and left it half done, I’ll go back and finish it now. This wasn’t my idea.

Flynn stalked after him, quite prepared to defend himself, but Winthrop walked a surprising distance. Not just to the porch or to the yard, but right out into the pasture.

The grass was deep out there. Soft and starting to roughen as fall drew in. Winthrop paused to wait for him, giving him a pleasant smile that Flynn didn’t understand in the slightest and which counterintuitively made him madder.

“Luath dragged me off the damn job, I’ll finish it now, it was more than half done anyway-”

“You are coming with me to Jackson now to have that hand properly dressed, and I don’t expect to debate any further with you about it.” Winthrop interrupted mildly, not paying the slightest attention. “Do you understand me, Flynn?”

That serene laying down of the law was gobsmackingly about the last straw. This guy could fuck his job. Fuck his weird household. Fuck the whole damn lot of them.

“Yeah well if you think you can fucking make me, good luck with that.” Flynn spat at him, and saw a curiously gentle smile come into the older man’s eyes. He was standing absolutely level, hands and arms relaxed, his eyes very steady.

“Believe me, young man, I can.”

“Fuck you.”

For some reason – with a whole pasture of space he could have done it with – instead of skirting the man and walking away, Flynn shoved directly past him, shoulder crashing into Winthrop’s. The movement was so fast he didn’t see it coming. A surprisingly strong and practiced hand caught his arm, a heel hooked behind his, the blue sky whirled and Flynn found himself on his back on the grass.

Not thrown. Not dropped.

Laid there. It was painless. Entirely painless, the man wasn’t out of breath in the slightest, his eyes were still peculiarly gentle and he was absolutely calm. Flynn stared at him, shocked. Then rolled up off the grass and went for his throat. The man simply took a step to the side and put his hands up, took Flynn’s arms and firmly laid him straight down again. He didn’t let go until Flynn was flat on his back. Not for the first time in his life Flynn saw red. Literally. A red mist came down over his eyes like it did in the sheds back home when men gathered to watch bare knuckle fights by the light of truck headlamps, and some stupid bastard was in front of him and there was, thank God, no longer any reason to keep himself on a leash. He lunged, several times he went for Winthrop with all his strength. To shove back at those hands with everything he had, and every time, competently, no matter what he did or how hard he came, those hands grasped gently and inexorably laid him down. He wasn’t the bigger of the two of them but he was stronger, Flynn was stunned by it, and he was practiced. So practiced that there was no effort involved for him.

Again, and again and again. Flynn lost count of how many times he went down, only that he was running out of breath and steam when Winthrop tipped him down just as gently, just as firmly, putting him on his back with a grasp that was ridiculous for his age, and this time Winthrop dropped to one knee with a forearm across his chest. His father would have put that arm across his throat. Winthrop’s arm wasn’t near enough his windpipe to be even an implied threat. Not pressing, not hurting. Just holding him down immovably where he was, his face directly above Flynn’s.

Still calm. As calm and as definite as those hands on his arms. There was no anger in it. No force at all. There was absolute certainty, there was warmth in his eyes as Flynn stared at him and Winthrop was looking directly down into his eyes in return. But Winthrop didn’t let him move. For what felt like an hour, Flynn gazed at the man’s grey eyes above his. Then Winthrop quietly straightened up and held a hand out to him.

“Get up, Flynn.”

Flynn slowly took it and Winthrop helped him to his feet. And walked with him, around the house towards the garage and the jeep.


The first thing that had caught his attention was the flashing of the red lights reflected in the black paint work. He had looked at them for a moment without recognition, as if some dark mirror filled all his vision with that rhythmic flashing. And then he’d gradually become aware of the cold surface against his cheek, the heavy weight of many arms and hands pressing hard down on his shoulders, the chill of metal against his wrists which were wrenched painfully behind him, the clamour of voices all around him. His face and his ribs and his knuckles were burning, not exactly with pain, not yet, but with the numb fire he was familiar with.

The ground was wet. He couldn’t lift his head, it had taken a moment to realise they had him pinned face down over the bonnet of a squad car, he was at the bottom of a pile of men, a lot of them, and a voice was exhorting him, to Jeez kid, just calm the heck down. When they realised he was no longer fighting, bit by bit the hands lifted away and the crowd moved back a little, and the men’s voices were somewhere between wry and slightly admiring. He’d heard that kind of dry, mistrustful admiration from men before. The red lights shone in the puddle just beyond the car in his line of sight and he had caught a glimpse of two paramedics kneeling over something on the ground.

Flynn tipped his head back against the blank, grey wall and stared at the bars ahead of him without really seeing them. The concrete floor underneath him was cold. It stank of disinfectant, the whole room was dark and chilled. He was alone in the cell; from the three, burly cops who’d kept their hands on him the whole way from the car to here, he had the feeling they didn’t dare put anyone else within his reach, and they hadn’t removed the cuffs until the last moment before they left the cell. Their wariness had spoken of experienced men’s suspicion and the kind of guarded care you gave some savage animal. The kind of animal his father would shoot in the same grim way he disposed of anything that didn’t earn its keep or justify its existence; anything that wasn’t right or cost more to fix than it was worth. Dogs too old to work. Deformed lambs. Lamed horses. Over-educated pussy sons.

Flynn shut his eyes, banging his head softly back against the brickwork, too nauseated to swear. Years of planning. Years of work. Years of telling himself there was something more to him than this. Gathering the cash, slowly, studying in the dark by torchlight as he lay in a sleeping bag out in the shelter of brush or a wall, sneaking into town when he could to hand in the essays he wrote and hid where no one could see or worse still read aloud to each other with howls of laughter. They hadn’t pulled that in a few years, not since he’d grown big enough to draw blood when he hit out. He’d heard that same kind of grim respect grow in his brothers’ voices that he’d seen in men’s faces in the car headlights-lit barns late at night in the last two years when he dressed after a fight, collected the money and not looked at the battered, bleeding man being helped off the floor. That he’d heard in the cops’ voice tonight.

That’s O’Sullivan’s lad. Bleedin’ nutter, no idea when he’s beaten. Won’t stop until one of you’s dead. He’d tear his own arm off to have something to hit you with.

Respect of a kind. But they still stepped away from him and none of them ever met his eyes. Once he was deported and returned to NZ with a criminal record that would ensure no University would ever take him and he’d do no job again in his life but minor labouring, they’d look at him the same way again. And the escape, the single, mighty, miraculous chance he’d fought for and struggled for and lived for and been so bloody lucky to find because the chance of it all coming together the way it had, had been so very slim….

Lost. Wasted. Blown irredeemably in a minute on one awful, stupid moment of fury and a bloke with a big mouth.

You stupid, stupid bastard. You’re no better than Conn or the rest of them. Fists not brains, nothing more than crude force and brutality when you scratch the surface, all that book learning changed nothing at all, and you’ll never be anything more than they are. Rough bastards shunting sheep all their lives, you’re good for nothing else. You can’t polish a turd. You fucking waste of breath, O’Sullivan. You’re your father’s fucking son, body and soul.

Did I kill him? Oh God, please don’t let me have killed him.

Slightly more than two months. That was all it had taken. Two months of the miracle of an academic world, a real one in the civility of a city, a safe and staid place where he was free to study, to order his time as he wanted and sit in lectures that stole his breath and made him wonder if he was really here. Because it was paradise. To direct his own time. To work and give everything he had to working in ways he’d only ever dreamed of being able to do with books and a pen, to spend hours a day in a library filled with books that challenged, and filled his mind, pushed him further and demanded to be read, to be around people who found this normal and expected him to do exactly this. To study, to learn, to be exactly what he’d wanted to be, with the power in his hands to work for the qualification and live all his life a professional, an educated man with a mind, a man who made a difference and had a career that left a mark on the world for the better – a life. A real, honest, true felt life instead of numb decades ahead of him of pushing sheep, the crudeness, the fights and shouting and coldness in that house, and living hand to mouth while turning slowly into his father.

Flynn gripped his hands in his hair, too sick to breathe.

You worked for that, you gave blood for that, all of it, and you threw it away. You never deserved it, and you deserve all you’ll get now. Oh please don’t let him be dead. I didn’t mean to hurt him.

….Yeah I did mean to hurt him. But I never meant to kill him.

The metal door at the end of the corridor was unlocked and opened, he was vaguely aware of men’s footsteps on the concrete. Someone had come in earlier. Pushed a mug of coffee through the hatch. Spoken to him. He hadn’t responded and they’d gone away. His watch confiscated along with his belt and everything in his pockets, he had no idea what time it was or how long he’d sat here other than that he was stiff with cold.   

The door clanked along its rails as it was unlocked and slid back.


Slowly, bleakly aware his teeth had bared instinctively like some cornered animal, Flynn looked up, bracing himself for what was coming. There were three men in the poorly lit doorway. Two of them were cops in uniform. The third was not in uniform. He was steel grey haired in a dark jacket over a crisp, white shirt collar, upright with a measured pace, and his voice was intensely quiet compared to the cops.


Flynn looked at him blankly with no idea what he could possibly be doing here of all places. Winthrop’s eyes were shockingly soft like his voice, he spoke ridiculously, inappropriately gently.

“Get up, Flynn.”

Too shocked to know what else to do but that phrase hit a powerful memory….Flynn stumbled to his feet and Winthrop put a hand on his shoulder as he came into reach, drawing him unhurriedly but quite purposefully over to him. It was not until he did that, until there was that strong feeling of standing with someone both older and infinitely more competent on his side, that Flynn realised how terrified he was. Winthrop must have felt him shaking but he didn’t comment on it. Merely steered him down the hallway, walking with him to some desk where he signed one paper and another was pushed towards Flynn along with his belongings in a clear plastic bag. The cops were quiet, respectful to Winthrop and not unkindly in their manner, but it passed in a blur of words and bright lights and uniforms, and then Winthrop guided him with a hand through his arm into sunlight on a city street and began to walk.

He walked unhurriedly, it was several blocks before Flynn managed to swallow and look around, and Winthrop kept a grasp on his arm and kept him moving towards a glass doorway when he would have baulked.

“Here, Flynn.”

It was a hotel. One of the discreet, highly expensive kinds and Philip barely paused at a desk where some uniformed man rapidly handed him a key and a note with a smile.

“Mr Winthrop.”

“I don’t-” Flynn began incoherently, starting to pull away. He was surprised at the strength of the hand on his arm. It didn’t release him in the slightest and without being quite sure how, Flynn found himself steered briskly into an elevator. It reminded him powerfully of that afternoon in the pasture. A calm face, steel grey compassionate eyes in the older man, and those hands without effort and absolute certainty that put him down on his back in the grass. Again, and again, and again. Without pain. Without anger, but with absolute control, containing him. Safely. It had felt….. indescribable.

“My days of dealing with student accommodation are over I’m afraid, and I don’t think your room will accommodate two.” Winthrop pushed silver buttons, his voice composed. “And the first thing you urgently need is a shower.”

He stank. Flynn glanced down at himself, silenced and horribly, shamefully aware of the reek of police station industrial disinfectant and the oil stains and blood on his shirt. On his hands. The elevator arrived with a soft ding and Winthrop’s hand on his arm took him across the hall to a door that he unlocked. There was a large room beyond it, two beds and a balcony overlooking the city, and a bathroom. Winthrop snapped the bathroom light on, indicating the pile of towels.

“Take your time, Flynn. Make it hot and soak your knuckles thoroughly, they’re full of grit.”

Not sure how or why he’d even noticed, for some reason Flynn stood there, dumbly looking at the bathroom and the glass shower door. Winthrop’s hand squeezed his shoulder, a deeply kind and comforting grasp that he had no right to, and he passed by to quietly turn the shower on in the glass cubicle.

“Flynn. Shower.”

“……Do you know?” Flynn said, not able to bear not knowing a moment longer or to keep any kind of dignity in his voice. “Did I kill him?”

“No.” Winthrop put a hand beneath the water, then took a towel from the pile and put it into his hands, turning him towards the shower. “No, you did not. The man will be all right.”

Winthrop left, pulling the door softly to behind him, and after a moment Flynn began to unbutton his shirt. Once he began to strip himself of those stinking, stained clothes he couldn’t do it fast enough. With the shower as hot as he could stand, he found himself not so much showering as scrubbing. Every inch of himself, with a force that academically he wryly comprehended. It wasn’t blood or grit he was trying to wash away.

When he finally stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his waist, his crumpled clothes were gone from their heap on the floor. A polo shirt, college sweater and pants were laid out over a chair by the marble wash stand. Brand new. The underwear with them was equally new.

“I’m afraid I was forced to dispose of your clothes, Flynn.” Winthrop’s voice said from the outer room, through the semi opened door. “They were stained beyond repair. Get dressed please.”

For what? It seemed to make no sense to ask. Numbly and with somewhat shattering relief to not have to put on those bloody rags or to have to think further about the ruin of his last decent pair of jeans, Flynn pulled the clothes on. They were a good fit. And they were soft; sore and stiff as he was, he was deeply aware of that. They were warm, loose and comfortable and the same college wear that half the kids in this city walked around in, things that no one would look twice at. He found a razor at the sink and shaved, aware of the reddening bruises across his face, and dragged a comb through his wet hair. When he was done, he caught a glance at himself in the bathroom mirror and other than the white, blank and bruised face, he looked- startlingly like any other student. Like someone’s kempt and decent kid.

Winthrop was reading a newspaper in an armchair by the window, and he folded it briskly, looking Flynn up and down with an acute eye, and then nodding.

“Good. Let’s go.”

He ushered Flynn with him, no further than the lobby and the restaurant there where Winthrop put a firm hand on his shoulder and took him directly to the table in the far corner that the waiter guided them to, putting him down into the chair opposite his. He ordered; Flynn didn’t hear what. But he drank the tea that was put in front of him, wrapping his hands around the glass for the warmth, and was vaguely aware of Winthrop doing nothing. Saying nothing. Just being there across the table, and it was an unaccusing silence. In an odd way it felt like it had on the morning when he had taken Flynn out riding with him on the massive, peaceful Shire horses. They sat there in silence for some time. Ate the soup and the toast brought to them that Winthrop ordered and that was bearable with the split lip and sore gum that Flynn hadn’t previously been aware of. The food, like the shower, was orienting. Deeply, primally stabilising in this weird, weird situation. Somewhere as he finished the soup, a thought managed to make it to the front of his head and Flynn pulled himself together enough to verbalise it.

“What about the police?”

“You are free on bail.” Winthrop went on eating soup as if this was a perfectly normal matter to discuss and he did it all the time with those well-spoken men who sat around the table in that immaculate house, all of them decent and well-bred individuals who reflected Winthrop’s manner in their own and didn’t assault people in car lots. “Don’t worry about it tonight. We shall speak to a few people and decide what happens next in the morning.”

“….Why are you here?” Flynn said it roughly, mostly because it was all he could think, and it was the most sincere and the most vulnerable thing to have to ask at all. Winthrop glanced at him and his grey eyes were unbearably kind, although his voice was firm.

“Because you need a friend with you. Finish your soup, Flynn.”

He took them back to the room when they were finished. And he quietly but firmly insisted until Flynn had eaten everything. In the room, the immaculate and expensively furnished room of a kind Flynn had read about but never seen, and which held all the calm, certain and cultured presence of Winthrop in it, Winthrop turned down one of the twin beds by the window and somehow, without believing he would ever sleep again, Flynn undressed and found himself accepting the painkillers and water Winthrop handed him. He didn’t remember being offered or handed food or drink or medication since he was a very small kid, it was an odd feeling. And then dropping face down on a warm, soft bed and more or less passing out there. He was aware at some point during the night, in the middle of vaguely horrible dreams, of a shout and of flailing out in a car lot where police car lights flashed in the puddles and hands gripped him painfully – and of a hand that took his shoulder, not painfully at all but firmly, and Winthrop’s voice, quiet and matter of fact. 

“Flynn, you’re safe. Go back to sleep now.”

And being so startled by it that the dream abandoned him in an instant.

“The assault was provoked,” Winthrop said mildly. “We have all read the police record of witness accounts. The victim was tormenting a Hispanic student in a manner to which several other students were objecting when Flynn intervened, and while I don’t for a moment condone Flynn’s actions, the victim is himself guilty of at least harassment of a particularly nasty kind, and witnesses confirm that he threw the first blow. Not Flynn.”

He was sitting in the chair in the Dean’s office as though he was perfectly comfortable there. His voice was modulated and relaxed and he spoke with the same authority that came within his manner and his clear confidence in dealing with a situation like this. This was his comfort zone and he was being spoken to with equal calm and respect from both the two police officers and the Dean who were occupying other chairs, while Flynn, too frozen to do much more than sit there, said more or less nothing at all.

“On those grounds, taking into account provocation and considering that the victim, while badly beaten, has no serious injuries, I am assuming this will go no further in police time than an official warning rather than a charge. Since Flynn could also press counter charges should he choose to do so on threats and intimidation made on the part of the victim to the other student.”

“The other party isn’t pressing charges.” The senior police officer confirmed to the Dean. “For which I think Mr O’Sullivan is very lucky.”

Luck was too mild a word. It was nothing short of miraculous. Flynn had entered this room certain he was about to be told that his scholarship was withdrawn and therefore his visa was void, and as soon as criminal charges had taken their course he would be deported. And he would wholly agree with them. Winthrop had received several faxes in the hotel room this morning brought up by the hotel reception staff, and had spent some minutes on the telephone to someone Flynn strongly suspected to be a lawyer, although on first name terms. Whoever he had spoken to appeared to already be in possession of all the facts, the conversation had included very little more than Winthrop listening, making noises of comprehension and then thanking the man for his advice. There had been another telephone call too, the name of which had sounded like Judge Carey when the receptionist put the call through, but whom Winthrop called Niall. It had been an experience in itself to share a room with the man this morning, not just to hear him making those calls and holding those conversations, but simply to watch him shave and dress, in a way completely foreign to Flynn and which grabbed his attention like a magnet. Nothing feminine about it at all, but with care and precision, and it formed a strong part of Winthrop’s presence; Flynn could see it.  

“So we can confirm that the terms of the scholarship are not likely to be breached.” Winthrop said now to the Dean, who nodded slowly.

“That will have to be confirmed by the board when this is put to them.”

“Of course.”

“With regard to Mr O’Sullivan’s visa, sir-“ The senior of the police officers began and Winthrop interrupted quietly.

“Mr O’Sullivan’s visa is not in question. Flynn is in my employ during his vacation time and he has a full time post available to him with me at any time, which includes a place of residence.”

“And that job will continue to be available should criminal charges be brought?” the police officer pressed. Winthrop gave him a polite nod.

“It will.”

The man was insane. Flynn couldn’t help glancing at him, rocked by the world so abruptly being stabilised beneath his feet again.

I will employ him.

With criminal charges.

And the answer had come without hesitation. At the very least, he would not be returning home. The relief of that was shattering.

“So,” Winthrop went on to the Dean, “Michael, I quite understand about the suspension and so does Flynn, we accept the consequences are fully deserved. Flynn has expressed to you his extreme regret for the incident and of course we shall wait for the board to discuss it. However if he maintains his work from home and submits it according to the deadlines by post, I don’t see why in the meantime this should impact upon his grades. It will of course mean considerable work on Flynn’s part to keep up, but I doubt that will be a problem to him since I understand from you he is an extremely promising student.”

The Dean looked down at the paperwork on the desk in front of him. He’d mentioned it once already, Flynn had been stunned to hear it.

“Professor Edwards has already been to me to argue - quite vociferously - on Flynn’s behalf this morning that a student of Flynn’s calibre should not be turned away over one incident. Albeit a grave one.”

“Which Flynn and I both take very seriously.” Winthrop agreed. “And we both give you our sincere word that there will not be another incident of this kind. Flynn?”

A mere day ago Flynn would have demanded furiously who Winthrop thought he was to say anything whatsoever on Flynn’s behalf. Now he nodded without hesitation, forcing himself to meet the Dean’s eyes despite the overwhelming shame of it.

“There will never be another incident again like this, sir.”

There was a slightly startled silence in the room for a moment after he said it, and Flynn realised rather belatedly that it had been perhaps a little… heated.

You’re walking around like a loaded gun. You don’t even know you’re doing it any more.

“Then Flynn will return home with me and we will await the board’s decision.” Winthrop rose to his feet, putting out a hand to Flynn and resting it on his shoulder which again gave Flynn that shocking sense of being drawn under his protection, of there being two of them stood together against the other men in the room.

“Michael, officers, thank you very much for your time and your help this morning.”

They walked together across the campus; a walk that should have been one of abject shame and yet Philip walked unhurriedly with Flynn who was aware that dressed in the University colours and one of the ubiquitous sweatshirts, tidy as Philip had ensured he was, no one cast the slightest second glance towards him. He might have been any kid here with a professor. With his father.

Flynn felt a rush of heat into his face at the thought of his own father knowing of this. The old man wouldn’t have come. He never left the station for anything, work came first, bread on the table came first, he’d heard it shouted at Conn or Shay if they were whingeing about being in trouble at school as they mostly always were: If you’re thick enough to get yourself into the shit then you can get yourself out of it, I’m not taking it for you. I didn’t raise any pikers or pussies on this station.

Flynn had never asked him for anything. On principle. It had been a matter of defiant pride that became something of a family joke in the end and won him the same grudging respect that he’d have got at home for smashing the living hell out of a drunk teenager and getting arrested for it. Conn and Mick would have found it funny. And funnier still that he should care. None of them would have flown straight out from another state to do everything in their power to save a foul mouthed kid they barely knew.

“Is there anything in your room that you need to collect?” Winthrop asked as they left the campus gates. Flynn took a breath, trying to clear his head enough to think.

“Yeah.” He heard the word with an inward wince, and fumbled for a word he’d learned at school and the two teachers, the only men who had insisted he’d used it when he spoke to them. Both of them had been good men, good to him and it seemed the strongest gesture he could make here to this man in the circumstances. “….Yes sir. Clothes. Books.”

“We’ll collect those now then, and ensure your rent is up to date through January-”

“It is.” Flynn said sharply. There might be damn all left over, but between the scholarship funding and what he managed to make in the evenings in a city where students got employed for little else but waiting tables, which was not a talent of his, he’d ensured he at least ran up no debts.

There wasn’t much in the tiny rented room but a bed, a single dresser and a stack of second hand books. Flynn packed in silence, aware of Winthrop tactfully looking out of the window on to the view of the garbage cans in the yard below. It fitted in the same rucksack he’d gotten off the plane with two months ago. He was damn lucky he wasn’t packing to leave permanently today, and it was entirely due to the man at the window. Flynn forced his voice to moderate, not able to look at him.

“……Mr Winthrop?”

“Philip, Flynn.” Winthrop turned back from the window and picked up the last two remaining books on the night stand. “Let’s go, we have a plane waiting.”

“How did you know, sir? Who told you?”

“Professor Edwards.” Winthrop said mildly. “He is an old friend of mine, and as the Dean explained, he is not at all keen to lose a promising student of his.”

Edwards, with thirty years of Clinical Psychology behind him, both teaching and clinical practice, had a sharp professional insight into this boy and a great deal of concern for him, and had abandoned a faculty dinner to make several hours of urgent phone calls on his behalf. He had done a fair bit of arguing himself too at the police desk before Philip arrived as back up and pushed a very tenuous claim to loco parentis as far as he could make it stretch. Edwards had left the police station before there was a risk of Flynn glimpsing him; he had felt Flynn had difficulty enough in trusting people around him and didn’t accept help easily, and he had no wish to damage his and Flynn’s so far slowly forming but positive relationship. The boy was, according to Edwards’ view, fiercely and intensely purposeful about his studies; it was rare in his year group, and he was one of the keenest students he’d encountered in years. There were other reasons why Flynn was so strongly on his radar but as far as Edwards was concerned, this boy was very well worth the trouble.

It was difficult to see how Flynn felt about Edwards’ involvement from his face. The child looked too shell-shocked to be taking in much, and Winthrop gently steered him towards the door.

“Come along.”

Flynn had only ever flown once before, the day he left New Zealand, and that had been like entering another world. He’d never been further than fifty miles from the station in his life before the day he took the coach to Dunedin. He didn’t know enough to question the quietness of the door the car took them to at the airport, or the uniformed man that led them through the building and out to what looked like a small, local plane. There were only six seats inside and apparently no other passengers. Winthrop took one, waiting until Flynn took the seat opposite him, stuffing the rucksack out of sight under the chair. They must have been very near the take-off deadline; the plane engines were already starting to rumble and the hatch was closing up behind them.

Alone together, it was the perfect time. Flynn had been waiting for this all day; he had been waiting for it since Winthrop first walked him out of the police station yesterday afternoon and the wait was killing him. He deserved it, he more than deserved it.

Why. How could you do such a thing. How could you be so stupid.

There should be threats. Warnings. Any sane man would be stating now, this is the one and only time, I will not employ a violent man on the ranch –

It would be a relief if he would just get on with it. Flynn glanced at his face, half wishing he would and half afraid it was about to start, and met a look so understanding that it made his chest jolt painfully.

“Don’t worry about the college, Flynn. The board is very unlikely to reach a different decision to the one we reached today, I suspect you have heard the last of all of this. By January, when you return, it will all be very much back to normal.”

It shouldn’t be. That was so many kinds of wrong Flynn had no way to express it. Winthrop shook his head at him.

“Try not to think about it now. You’ve had a long couple of days, you’re still in shock. We have some hours to Wyoming, try and sleep.”

It was long past dark when the plane landed somewhere there was only a double strip of landing lights and nothing else to be seen. Dazed, Flynn followed Winthrop down the steps and from the smell of the grass and the faint grey outlines of the mountains on the horizon knew they were on the ranch. He’d hated this place with a passion on first sight a few weeks ago. Now… he viewed it numbly with no idea what he felt. Winthrop put a hand on his shoulder, guiding him beyond the landing lights to a truck left with the keys in the ignition. The plane was already turning, beginning its take off, and it left the ground and disappeared into the night sky as Winthrop turned the truck engine over and drove it slowly over the bumpy grass towards some track only he could make out by the truck headlights.

He parked it in the open garage and got out, touching a box on the wall that made the garage door close softly behind them. The inner door opened into the hallway and Winthrop put a light on, indicating the kitchen.

“Flynn, are you hungry?”

“No.” Flynn swallowed and forced himself to add to the reflexive answer. “…Thank you sir.”

It was beyond humiliation to be in this house again. Where no doubt everyone else in the household knew exactly what had happened, exactly what he was capable of.

“Go and get some sleep then.” Winthrop said gently.

“……where, sir?” Flynn paused in the hallway, extremely unsure what to expect. Winthrop raised an eyebrow at him, bemused.

“In your room? I believe it’s still where you left it.”

Your room’. And it was. Made up, with the same quilt, the window half opened. Flynn dropped the rucksack softly under the bed and sprawled full length, staring at the ceiling.

He didn’t sleep. It wasn’t possible.

He stared at the ceiling instead. Stared until finally he heard the voices and the movement on the landing in the morning of the men in this household getting dressed. Going down to breakfast. He had a responsibility to join them; this was the time of day that he should report to Winthrop for work instructions and by God he owed the man work – the plane tickets alone, the hotel bill, bail – the thought of it sent him hot and cold with shame and self-disgust. He owed the man every damn thing he had and more. He knew what to expect in the kitchen, from the large shouldered, unimpressed Luath to the all too assessing blue eyes and sharp tongue of Paul, he could vividly imagine precisely how they would look at him, having confirmed what they’d suspected all along: a thug. Stupid, violent, out of control and recently bailed out from jail, entirely undeserving of Winthrop’s slightly insane philanthropy.

And he deserved it, because it was all true. After what Winthrop had done for him in the last 48 hours, if they tore him limb from limb in the kitchen he had every responsibility to turn up, stand there and take it.

Getting dressed was one of the hardest things he’d ever done in his life. Harder than leaving the note on the table for his mother and disappearing at 3am to hitchhike to the airport. Harder even than getting on the bus to come here and work another sodding sheep station and admit to that part of his past again because he had to somehow survive between semesters. He put on the least tight shouldered shirt, the least threadbare of the jeans and shaved, at least presenting himself looking near enough to respectable that he wouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb in a room full of men who didn’t bring dirt into the house and found basic grooming a norm instead of something soft that you only did if there was a girl involved.

His legs were shaking and he was in danger of being sick by the time he walked into the kitchen. Luath looked up, his face wasn’t readable and his dark eyes were saying something all right, but they weren’t accusing. Roger glanced up and smiled peaceably. Gerry twisted around to see him and waved at the waffles with his mouth full.

“Hi there. About time. You’d better get on with it or Luath will have stuffed himself with the lot.”

Paul said nothing at all, but he took a plate out of the oven where it had been keeping warm and put it in front of Flynn, and his hand brushed Flynn’s back, a touch that felt like fire as he passed to pour a cup of fruit juice and put that in his reach.

“You look exhausted hon. What time did you and Philip make it in last night?”

“Ger, I need you this morning, I’m going to shift the bullocks down to new grazing.” Luath passed the waffles to Flynn before Gerry had a chance to open his mouth to comment. “Rog, take a look at the horses and meet us down on the mile pasture.”

“I’m going into Jackson if there’s anything anyone needs?” Paul sat down at the table, pouring himself a glass of fruit juice and giving Flynn another searching look. “Darling, eat something. You look starved.”

This morning it would have choked him. Flynn got up abruptly, half aware that Paul was going to try to touch him again and getting out of reach before he could. What was it they said when they left the table? Their odd mannerisms, what at home would have been called poncy stuff? ‘Excuse me’? He didn’t remember it in time.

Winthrop’s study door was open. Flynn tapped at it, stomach tight, and Winthrop glanced up. He didn’t precisely smile but his face gentled visibly, in a way that made Flynn’s stomach tighten further and his throat clench at the same time.

“Flynn. Good morning. Are the others all eating still?”

Flynn nodded. Winthrop got up from his desk and came to the outside door that led from the study onto the porch. He trailed his fingers along the second desk stood at right angles to his as he did so, a kind of absent caress of the polished wood without looking before he opened the door and led the way outside. So this was it. Private lecture time.

Flynn followed him towards the corral, bracing himself. At least it was out of earshot of the others, and that was a generosity he didn’t deserve either. At the corral fence Winthrop leaned against the rail for a moment, looking at the grazing horses in front of them.

“What would you say to a patient of yours, if he was standing where you stand this morning, Flynn? What would you have him do?”

It was such an entirely unexpected question that Flynn stared at him.

“Because you know, don’t you?” Winthrop gave him a candid look, propped against the fence. “You’re not interested in theory, you’re interested in people. You believe in the power for change.”

Yes, he knew. But to apply that to himself….? For a start that involved challenging almost everything, the disgust, the shame, the rage itself, an unholy mess of a situation that was unresolvable. Winthrop had gone back to watching the horses, but put a hand out to his shoulder and gripped it.

Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts.
Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me...
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
It was such a peculiar thing to say – and so acute – that Flynn stared at him. Winthrop raised an eyebrow at him.

“Do you know that poet?”

Flynn shook his head silently, stomach twisted. Winthrop gave his shoulder another squeeze and let him go.

“I’ll find you the book. Flynn... as a training therapist you yourself will need to undergo therapy. Won’t you? Have you ever shared any of this with anyone? It’s as simple as telling it, isn’t it? You know that academically. You would help someone else to let this out. To trust you to hear and understand. The same way I heard you help Gerry trust you and tell you when he needed to. You have this in you. It’s why every horse I possess trusts you and is drawn to you, no matter what your temper or whether or not you ignore them.”

Flynn looked at him, agonised. No one had ever spoken to him like this. No man had ever shown any sign of knowing how to talk to him like this. Winthrop leaned on the fence beside him, speaking very gently.

“You are going to have to reach the decision for yourself to let it go. Be strong enough to seek for yourself the healing that you want for other people. How can you guide someone to do something you’re not willing to face yourself? Physician go and heal thyself. Let go of it, Flynn. Write it as a case study if you need to. Treatment goals. But go and look at it and look at it properly with your whole mind because I know there is so much more to you than just this one thing. There are saddle bags with food and water in the tack room, camping equipment in the barn, take whatever you want and any horse here you like. There’s enough of the ranch to be as alone as you want to be. Go where you like, for as long as you like. Take the time and do some serious thinking. If I can help you in any way, then you know where to find me.”

He said nothing else. Just walked unhurriedly back towards the house for breakfast.

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Oh boy, its so hard to see Flynn hurting so much! I love the instant attraction to Paul and Jasper. Great story! Love Falls Chances so much! <3