A wooden bed frame creaked. Dale stirred in the dark, aware of someone passing very near to him and of blankets moving.
Riley didn't answer again, but the soft sound of their breathing was steady and nearby, deeply reassuring. Dale lay in the shelter of it, listening to the wind and the trees beyond the window, and sank back into sleep with the man behind the desk softly turning pages in a heavy ledger with a maroon binding, a silver and black fountain pen in his hand.
"I slept through most of it." Dale said honestly, flushing still darker on a rush of acute embarrassment as he realised what Flynn meant. "No thunder or lightening."
"It's fun when it's running fast."
"I'm going up to check for cast sheep." Jasper said from the doorway, leaning against the frame to finish buttoning his shirt. "Riley, come up with me and we'll do the west creeks and the north river. Paul's heading out to check on the foals."
"Put a t shirt on under your shirt," Riley advised, pausing in Dale's doorway as Dale finished dressing. "Layers. If you get one wet then you'll have the other to put back on, we'll be in and out of the river all day."
"Thanks." Dale took a t shirt from the dresser and began to pull his shirt off, and Riley paused, watching him.
"…..are you ok? Still bothered about last night?"
"Hey, we didn't laugh it off." Riley said apologetically, moving back into the hallway as Dale came out and following him down the stairs. "Really. It just is that we're used to Jas, and he is spooky, he's seen all kinds of things on the land and we're used to it. To us that's very different to sick, like you were when you first came."
"Think about it." Flynn gave him a brief look over Nekkid's back. "We dream in symbols. What were you telling yourself through those office dreams?"
"Ok." Flynn pulled himself up into the saddle and waited for Dale to mount up. "So what could you be using an image of David to tell yourself?"
"And they sell for meat and for wool?"
"What kind of land did you farm on at home?" Dale asked lightly, not sure if it was safe to ask, but Flynn grunted, apparently unconcerned by the question.
"You must have been livid." Dale said dryly. Flynn gave him one of his brief grins that lit his eyes and for a moment showed a good deal of humour.
Dale crouched, ready to help, but Flynn grabbed the animal by the head in a powerful and surprisingly gentle grip, hauled it bodily up the bank and rolled it onto its back, propping its head and upper back against his knees and rapidly starting to run the shears down the animal's shoulders. The sheer strength and the competency of his hands was staggering to watch, he did it as second nature as though he had been doing it all his life – which quite likely he had as a boy and a teenager in the shearing pens on his family's sheep station. Dale found himself fascinated, and not by the shearing. This was an educated, skilled man; a deeply unusual man. The sheer breadth of who Flynn was took Dale's breath away. It took Flynn barely two minutes; the fleece fell away in huge lumps, and the sheep seemed surprisingly chilled out about the whole business, letting Flynn roll it around with a benign expression and without struggling. It lurched to its feet when Flynn let it go, and Flynn pocketed the shears. Shane walked around it, and the sheep began to trot ahead of the dog up the bank.
Shane responded to his whistle and ran the sheep ahead of them down the river bank. Beyond the falls the river widened and became thickly littered with rocks rising up out of the water. Flynn led them on along the bank a way, and then drew Nekkid in, watching Shane chivvy the sheep without hesitation down the bank to a shallow spot of the water.
"There's a town that close?" Dale asked, surprised. "I thought Jasper went miles to buy food and vet supplies?"
"If you want to swim," Jasper said serenely, nodding down river, "You go swim. No one's stopping you."
"That's no fun, you're all watching." Riley grinned at him and tossed the water bottle across to Dale. Dale tucked it under one arm and caught the tree as it came into his reach, helping to haul it up the bank and out of the way before he collapsed down onto the grass, unscrewed the water bottle top and drank deeply from it. Flynn dropped down on the grass beside him and lay on his back, looking up at the sky. Jasper climbed up the bank and eased himself down on Dale's other side, taking the water bottle as Dale passed it to him.
"Yeah, just the stables and the yard work to do." Riley said, stretching out on the ground. "I ache all over. What time is it?"
"Sweet." Flynn caught the thermos Paul threw to him and began to unscrew it.
"Sugar," Paul tossed another packet to Jasper and Riley promptly went to sit with him, taking the other saddle bag with him. "Flynn: painkillers and anti inflammatories, take them and shut up. Dale, open those honey. You look frozen."
"There's the barn up on the tops-" Flynn began and ducked as Riley flicked cookie at him.
"No, we're not starting that today, it'll take days."
In the end they all four of them stripped to the skin, and they ate lying on the bank, drying out and warming up in the sun. Jasper watched Flynn shift his shoulders uncomfortably for a moment, then eased past Paul, patting Flynn's hip.
"Hey. Everyone's showering."
"Gerry's putting horses away." Ash returned the smile, holding up the shirt. "This is beyond in need of washing, I wondered if I could stick it through the laundry?"
"I can do that." Grateful for an excuse to do rather than talk, Dale headed into the kitchen ahead of him, into the small laundry room that opened off the side of the kitchen. The presence of an 'experienced' couple around the house threw him: Flynn, Paul, Jasper and Riley understood about his own inexperience and he knew they were uncritical. A 'real' Top around, who lived the lifestyle, got the concepts, and probably saw straight through him, was a little more than Dale felt able to handle. He'd been avoiding Ash still more than he avoided Gerry, who's perceptive eyes were just as nerve wracking.
"You're welcome." Dale would have headed back to the sanctuary of the family room but for Ash's indication towards a suitcase in the kitchen with several familiar papers balanced on top.
Ash grinned. "Not exactly keeping a finger on the pulse of the world. I don't get it, but Gerry does. He loves being cut off from everything, and he always seemed perfectly happy like that when he lived out here."
"I'm peripatetic most of the time, and I get by with the Bluetooth tech, a decent fax machine and a really good PA, but the PA isn't replaceable. Technology just doesn't have the organisational skills or initiative." Dale led the way into the kitchen where Ash leaned on the table.
"False economy." Dale said simply. "The number of projects I've gone into where the top layer of personnel are right but there's no second layer holding them up, and what you get is a bunch of highly trained, highly paid people wasting their time doing a lousy job on administration work to save costs on wages… The outlay is the fore runner to expansion. Get the administrators right and the top layer personnel are freed up to do what they're good at."
"When you're looking at expansion," Ash began, and paused as Paul came into the kitchen, heading towards the fridge which he opened without a glance back at them.
"And the future of the firm." Dale said simply. "That gets overlooked time and time again. It isn't about analysis of intangibles- it's never a pure mathematical gamble. It has to be a chess move. Your correlation matrix, the optimising algorithms, it still all goes to hell in a hand cart unless you've got a very clear read on the psycho-social aspects of the management, especially if you're looking at mergers or any kind of multi cultural co operation. That's the real difference in risk. I'll take a risk on paper any time if I know the management team are strong and have a real grip on the firm's strengths, weaknesses and exactly what the nature of the firm is."
"But when you're explaining this to an investor," Ash moved out of Paul's way as Paul put down the makings of dinner on the table and began to lay out vegetables. Dale shook his head.
"I didn't understand one word of that." Paul said calmly, peeling onions. "Dale, there's a sack of potatoes in the cold store by the garage, bring me enough for seven of us?"
"Sure." Dale jogged down the steps of the porch and Ash gave Paul a slightly apologetic smile.
"You've got no concept of the kind of knowledge he's got." Ash said with heartfelt sincerity. "Imagine if as a writer you met up with Dan Brown or John Grisham over the dinner table? The contemporary best in the field?"
"Most of them are work obsessed, and it isn't easy, but Dale's a bit different." Paul dug in the cupboard for a huge stock pot which he planted on the top of the stove. "I know Gerry eats dumplings. Do you?"
"What do you want doing with these?"
And in the final event for potato rinsing, going for the gold medal, it's Dale Aden-
"I'll do it." Dale said cheerfully, heading for the closet where the mop and bucket lived.
He could see the expression on Dale's face: not the one he expected which was Dale's usual I don't understand and it worries me look, but the detached one he remembered from Dale's first few days here which went with a sardonic and slightly amused eyebrow and said you Yanks are crazy.
"Ok, and how long have you been chewing on that one?" Flynn said dryly, tightening his arm. "Stop that, you're not going anywhere."
"You can do anything?" Flynn said when he didn't finish.
"Why?" Flynn interrupted. Dale shut his eyes and this time Flynn let him go when he pulled, watching him lean forward to bury his head in his hands.
The despair in his voice was painful. Flynn put a hand on his back, rubbing lightly and watching him.
"I don't know."
"Then figure it out." Flynn said ruthlessly. "Think. You're quite smart enough to do it."
Flynn didn't argue, accepting it as a fair comment. Dale stared at the ground for a moment more, then let his hands drop, head still down.
"The whole work habit thing is totally wrong!" Dale objected. Flynn grasped his shoulder before he could stand up.
Dale finally twisted out from under his hand and flung himself to his feet, heading down the steps towards the yard.
Flynn was already after him and heard his voice fracture. In Riley, this kind of storm away would have been temper, easily done, based in impulse and easily regretted. In Dale, it was the very end of his tether. He captured Dale in the yard and turned him around gently but forcibly, knowing Dale was crying and knowing he was doing everything he could to swallow it down and contain himself. Dale wouldn't look at him but he couldn't break Flynn's grasp on his arms either.
"Yes, this is another layer we were going to hit sooner or later." Flynn said calmly, going to switch the kettle on. "Don't worry about dinner for us, he isn't going to want to face anyone and we need to talk this through."
"Thanks." Pouring tea, Flynn paused as another thought occurred to him. "Paul? Feel like having a chat with Ash and seeing if you can persuade him and Gerry to stick around a little longer? I think there's a lot Ash could do to help if he's willing."
Calmly said, as though normal people flipped out like this all the time. Dale took the mug, fighting his self control into place with an effort.
"Which means what?" Flynn leaned both elbows on his knees with the purposeful expression to his face that Dale knew well. "Dale, don't tell me just enough to shut me up. You're not in this on your own. It's pretty plain from what you just told me that you're sitting on whatever you're worrying about until you can't control it any more before you'll tell me about it, and that's not acceptable."
The mug was taken out of his hand and plonked down on the table and Flynn yanked him off the arm of the couch and down onto the seat to face him in one clean pull.
"Who told you that?"
Yes, several managing directors came to mind. Dale continued to watch him, wondering where this was going.
He said nothing else, simply pulled Dale to his feet and around to his right side, unbuttoning Dale's jeans. Dale looked stupidly down at Flynn's hands, very shocked as Flynn tugged his jeans and underwear straight down to his ankles without ceremony and turned him over his lap with hands too strong and too experienced to argue with, even if Dale had had the presence of mind to try. Stupidly, with no idea how this had happened, Dale braced his toes against the floor, propping himself on his elbows on the couch as he felt his t shirt pushed up his back under the weight and warmth of Flynn's palm, and then a very sound swat fell across one bare cheek and Dale gripped the couch quickly, ducking his head and shutting his eyes tightly, trying not to yelp or squirm. The resolve didn't last very long. Swift and stinging, Flynn's palm slapped down again and again, covering every single inch of skin and it seemed to go on forever. Dale had no idea how long it was before he was twisting over Flynn's lap, his blazing backside involuntarily trying to get itself out of the way, but Flynn took no notice whatsoever. One hand on Dale's hip anchored him where he was. It hurt: there was absolutely no question of that, Dale was aware of himself trying to catch his breath in growing desperation as the fire grew and grew from hips down to the tops of his thighs, but it was a good deal more than just sensation. It was Flynn's disapproval; it was the matter of fact way he had acted; it was the always extremely impressive act of being so simply stripped, laid across his lap and spanked; that was what really went deep.
"Yes. Which you did, yesterday, when you told me about seeing David, and don't for one minute think that this cancels out that success."
"Which means what?"
"I'm a bloody useless excuse for a human being!" Dale said sharply. "I don't get it, I never have done, all I know is how to go through the motions at work and that scares the crap out of me-"
"Mhm." Flynn put Dale on his feet and Dale yelped as Flynn dressed him as efficiently as ten minutes ago he had stripped him. Flynn got up from the couch, took Dale's hand and led him across to the desk, pulling several books down from the shelf.
Very cautiously, Dale drew out the admiral's chair and took a seat at the desk, looking at the books Flynn was stacking in front of him. Flynn opened the upper desk drawer and took out a lined pad and a pen, both of which he set in front of Dale.
Pathological perfectionism is a maladaptive pattern of behaviours reflecting psychological, interpersonal, and achievement-related difficulties, including inappropriate levels of expectations and intangible goals. Categories include the external perfectionist whose expectations are based upon the environment, the social external perfectionist whose expectations are based upon others around him, and the most complex: the internal perfectionist, whose expectations relate entirely to themselves and reflect a form of complicated self regulation.
Outstanding achievements are often described by the internal perfectionist in terms of shame and imperfections rather than justified pride. Fragile self value tends to be entirely rooted in product based, uninterrupted success, and any mistake represents failure in all areas. They are more often driven to overachieve by fear of failure than by desire to achieve, and can feel undeserving of success, sometimes interpreting praise or good outcomes negatively as a spur to work still harder. The condition is often associated with difficulties with self esteem, and subjects can appear to be locked in a vicious circle of self-incrimination, depression and renewed determination to reach the impossible, each failure leading to more shame and self-loathing. They often demonstrate a rigid, moralistic set of expectations towards themselves.
Perfectionism is often seen in conjunction with depression, eating disorders, workaholicism, difficulties with personal relationships, high anxiety, and stress related physical disorders. All categories of pathologically perfectionist personalities also frequently reflect degrees of obsessive behaviour which can be severe. These are frequently attempts to control or anaesthetise against anxiety.
Perfectionist personalities tend to avoid disclosing information that they feel exposes an area of weakness, which can make successful therapy difficult.
Slowly, heart thumping, Dale took out the leather bound book, resting it between his hands. Without looking, he knew if he lifted it into the light it would be maroon.
"Sorry." Dale pushed his hair out of his eyes, still blinking. Flynn turned the pages over.
"That's the profile I fit." Dale said wryly, pulling himself upright. "Which was the point, wasn't it?"
Oh for God's sake Aden, why make this like pulling teeth? Meet the man half way.
"So a relatively minor problem cuts across and makes you demoralised about everything." Flynn said quietly. Dale nodded.
"If I'm honest – this all started this morning. I mean I know I've been wound up since this morning because we talked about the storm last night and –"
"And you remembered that I know you don't like thunder and lightning." Flynn said mildly. "You also know I don't think any the less of you for it? And there's things I'm afraid of?"
Flynn nodded slowly. "No. And I think unless you acknowledge that and work on it, you're going to take the same problems with you wherever you go. I told you from the start, this was going to be a long job."
"And I need to quit self destructing when I hit a set back." Dale said heavily.
Dale flushed still more hotly. Flynn dropped a hand on his knee, shaking it gently.
Flynn nodded, handing him the written sheets. "Keep those, you did a good job on them. We're nowhere near done with this conversation, but you're shattered. Go on up and get ready for bed."
"Hi." Dale said, glancing back towards the house. It was some way off: several paddocks away and horses grazed between it and them, eating the still dew-wet grass. "I thought you were working with Flynn with the babies this morning?"
"It's ok." Dale said, and meant it. Riley hadn't commented, but he was standing close and Dale felt the bump of Riley's shoulder against his as Riley dug his hands in his pockets. The shed was mostly done. Dale picked up the fork he had dropped, dug it into one of the old hay bales he was clearing out, and took a seat on the nearest one, watching the other two resume their buckets.
"You don't have to." Riley repeated, watching him with enough concern to make Dale feel guilty. He shook his head, holding Riley's eyes.
"He's death about anything he can call a paddy, I should have warned you." Riley said with sympathy. "I threw a cup through the kitchen window once – it was an accident!" he added indignantly to Gerry as Gerry drew breath. "Well mostly an accident, it really wasn't supposed to hit the window- and Paul made him go do the stables before he'd let Flynn in the house and in arms' reach of me. I think he thought Flynn was finally going to strangle me."
"We'd been bickering all afternoon and I kind of pushed it a little far," Riley said ruefully, "It happens."
"It does." Gerry gave Dale another of his shrewd looks that was not nearly as critical as Dale had expected. "That was what you got tanned for? You really don't look the tantrum throwing type."
Dale felt his ears get hot again but managed a shrug. This was friendly interest, camaraderie, and it encouraged him to try.
That produced a shout of laughter from both Gerry and Riley that startled him.
"Flynn said to ask about how lying went down?" Dale asked very hesitantly. Gerry made a sharp intake of breath between his teeth and Riley grinned.
"And there's very clear definitions on exactly what constitutes lying too." Riley added dryly. "Lying, fibbing, omission, lack of clarity, covering up, failure to disclose,"
"David used to say he was going to install a bent, back woods lawyer in the bunk house," Gerry said, grinning, "To sit and manufacture ways of blurring information that Philip couldn't argue with. Philip just used to tell him it made no odds, he was the only judge and jury on this ranch and he knew damn well when David had a guilty conscience."
"We'll be cutting the new hay before very much longer." Riley picked up a bale, starting the long walk with him to the corral and glancing once or twice towards him.
Dale looked across at him. Riley gave him a faint smile.
Dale managed a faint smile in response. Riley pulled the bale higher in his arms.