"Why me?" Riley demanded.
"Dale, come on out with me and I'll show you what your chores will be." Flynn went on, tossing a hat across.
"Ok." Flynn moved the arm, face impassive. "You were working normal speed?"
"Yes?" Dale said, still more confused.
"Calm-?" Dale broke off, exasperated. "Look. I work fast, I don't muck about. It was done right, it was done properly-"
"It was done at a pace that's based on nervous energy. You're going faster than is necessary or safe, it keeps you stressed, and you need to calm down." Flynn said mildly. "Throwing up while you work isn't normal and it isn't good. I make this job an hour and a half minimum, which means if you race through and get it done inside that time, you need to spend the remainder of the time resting to make up for it. I make that half an hour today. You can sit on the porch step; don't move until I tell you please."
Flynn took no notice, continuing to groom.
Resisting the urge to bare his teeth, Dale stalked towards the buckets and the taps.
There was no answer from Flynn; Dale heard nothing more for a moment, and then a faint but distinct thwack sound in the distance. He turned, shocked, and a second or two later there came another thwack – and another – and they continued in a slow, steady sequence, like a table tennis match being played far away. After two or three of those sounds another began to punctuate them; initially high pitched squeaks, yelps and protests, then just protests which were rapidly becoming tearful. Frozen on the step, Dale found himself listening intently. There were perhaps twenty of those slow thwacks, then silence again.
"I don't call it time wasted." Flynn indicated the kitchen table and opened the fridge, taking out the orange juice. Dale sat down, looking over his shoulder at the family room. There was no sign of Riley. Flynn put a glass in front of him and sat down, swallowing from his own glass. Dale looked at him and at the orange juice with a higher swell of the emotions he didn't recognise at all, except that they were overwhelming and he was near to shaking with them.
"You can go to hell." Dale informed him. Or at least his voice said it. He was aware of listening to himself with growing horror at the open provocation in his tone. It was like sitting in a car beside an insane driver with a death wish.
"We don't use that kind of language to each other." Flynn said matter of factly, moving the juice out of his reach and standing up. "Go outside, take a break, think about what it is you want to ask, and I'll-"
"Go to hell." Dale repeated louder, not moving.
There was no possibility of thinking coherently or of making speeches. Struggling for breath, mouth dropped open at the sheer, appalling sting of that paddle, Dale found himself squirming wildly across the man's lap and sounding suddenly more sincere than any board of directors had ever heard.
Eight. Nine. Ten. Flynn was in no hurry, the swats fell slowly but steadily, and the hand grasping his hip was immoveable. Dale's torso and head ducked and twisted, his legs appeared to have a life of their own and his ankles were currently crossing in an attempt to do anything at all to ease the intensity of the sting and contain it, but his backside wasn't moving an inch out of the way of that bloody paddle. For Pete's sake, he was a client. He was new to this. Any decent man would take that into account and let him off easily! Or at least more easily than this!
"You'd just said you'd stop the bullshit." Flynn's voice said near his ear. "Are we not done yet?"
"You've been playing us." Flynn's hand continued to rub, deeply comforting as it made its way over his spine. "You'd better regard this as a free confession, mate. Consider it a fifteen minute amnesty and tell me what's going on here."
"Riley said it was a mistake going through the motions." Dale said somewhat incoherently. Flynn nodded, apparently not struggling to follow what he meant.
"He said it never worked out well in the end."
"Riley's usually well worth listening to." Flynn agreed. "What made you feel that going through the motions was the right thing to do?"
"And you were the only one who could do it? Not much for delegating, are you?" Flynn wrapped an arm around his own knee, slouching comfortably in the sofa corner in a way that put their heads on one height. "What happens if you're not busy?"
"And the nerves get out of control and the anxiety takes over." Flynn said mildly. "It's a very common pattern, we see it a lot. There are several types of workaholicism, genuine workaholicism, and we see guys from every type. Actual, addictive behaviour."
"Except like drugs and drink you can't just quit work permanently." Dale said dryly. Flynn gave him a very brief, sideways smile. He didn't smile often, and the effect was surprising.
"If I'm not screwing around and sabotaging what you're trying to do." Dale said half under his breath.
"I'd think you don't often feel so scared or so cornered." Flynn said quietly. "You don't need to worry about it. We're more than capable of handling as much temper as you want to throw around."
It was said without reproach, and Dale would almost have suspected of being teased said that Flynn was straight faced. He got up and Dale followed, unable to resist putting his hands behind him and rubbing very tenderly. The initial smart was beginning to fade down a little but the whole thing radiated heat like a five bar fire.
It was a most bizarre thing to be asked to do but Flynn said it as simply as if it was a natural part of the daily routine, and it made a certain amount of sense. Dale moved somewhat self consciously into the corner Flynn indicated, a juncture of rough, grey stone wall, and put his hands by his sides. There was nothing whatever to look at but the grey, and the quiet of the family room soaked in like slow oil. Cool and hush and the slow, deep tick tick tick of the grandfather clock. And Riley's voice from some way off, out of sight.
"Not a word, Riley, you made your choice." Flynn said firmly, and there was nothing more said after that.
It was a good half an hour by the clock's quiet chimes before Flynn called to them from the kitchen. It was a novelty to be still and suddenly it wasn't difficult to be still – sore, calm, surprisingly peaceful, Dale found himself going over the conversation with Flynn in that study and was aware that he was taking it to heart. There was something about the big man-
Flynn said nothing but Dale saw and was touched by the strength of his hug and the kiss he dropped on Riley's cheek before he let go and pushed Riley gently at the table.
Dale followed towards the nearest of the paddocks in the shade of the barn, where Riley lay down on his stomach, picking up his sandwich to tear the crusts off with careful precision.
"I do that too." Riley said quietly. Dale looked up at him.
Dale passed the plate over and watched Riley commit delicate surgery on the sandwiches.
"And he settled?" Paul said curiously. Flynn nodded.
"No tears, but I wouldn't expect them, he hardly knows me." Flynn said quietly. "But that wasn't what I meant. He accepted it as perfectly natural and he calmed right down. Relaxed, shoulders down from around his ears, he opened up and talked to me."
That was true Paul, and only Paul could say it in that way. Uncritical, interested, courteously inviting more information if you cared to give it – Flynn gave him a faint smile that held a good deal of affection.
Paul waited, listening with interest.
"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck," Jasper said mildly, "Let's try what ducks like and see where we get to. You think he knows what he's doing?"
From the silence around the table, it was clear he was not.
There seemed no point in debating it when one was publicly hallucinating at intervals from a several month-old sleep debt. Dale got up, collecting the remainder of his cards while Riley sat up and gave Flynn a look of exasperation.
"Not in the least." Flynn said bluntly. "I meant exactly what I said this morning."
"Rotten." Riley said with heat but without much apparent bitterness, and got up, collecting the rest of the cards. He stooped over Jasper's chair, kissed his cheek without reservation, and moved directly onto Paul who had got up from his chair to head towards the kitchen and who gave him a hug.
"You I'll come and deal with in a minute when I've said goodnight to Dale." Flynn said without looking up from his book. Riley pulled a face at him and headed upstairs.
"Ok." Dale said honestly. "Better. I – got what I was asking for I suppose."
"No bullshit." Dale said half dryly. Flynn nodded, holding his gaze.