"There is nothing wrong with high standards!" Dale protested, "I just like to do things properly, I want to know how to do things properly."
"I was awake." Flynn took a robe off the back off his door. "Get yourself a sweater and come downstairs, let's not disturb the others."
He had a knack of saying the most ordinary things as orders, and Dale found himself moving to obey before he had fully processed the words. Flynn was waiting half way down the stairs for him and led the way into the kitchen, snapping on the light.
"Tea it is." Flynn filled the kettle and pulled out a chair at the table, sitting down. He looked at Dale for a moment before he pulled out the chair nearest and patted it firmly.
"Paul hates them too." Flynn interrupted, undistracted. "I'm surprised we got downstairs ahead of him."
"I don't 'hate' them, I just don't –" Dale forced himself not to flinch as another crack of thunder resounded above the house. Flynn dropped a hand on his shoulder to brace himself as he got up to pour tea.
"Don't like them much? Riley's storm crazed. If he wakes up he'll be out on the veranda to watch. David was the same apparently."
Flynn drank tea, apparently quite calm about it. "The river runs like stink too after a storm. David used to go down to watch. Fascinated by the speed of the water, he used to drive Philip spare. He had no sense of danger."
"Where?" Dale said awkwardly. Flynn waited for him, leading the way through the family room. The deep leather couches there were grouped around the big hearth away from the windows, and Flynn took the nearest, taking Dale's wrist to draw him down. And there he put an arm over Dale's shoulders, pulling him firmly off balance until he leaned into Flynn's solid frame.
"Riley if you set foot out there," Flynn said without looking round, "I'll have to come and get you. And if I have to come and get you I'm going to be fed up enough to make you sorry about it. Trust me."
"I can't believe you slept through it." Paul, belting his robe, came down stairs and gave Dale a sympathetic smile. "Woke you too, hon? What are you two drinking? Tea? Riley, I'm going to put the kettle on."
"Is Jas still asleep?" Riley demanded, following Paul into the kitchen. Dale heard the tap running and Paul's voice, sleepy but matter of fact.
"They've been introduced back in the last thirty years or so, spreading out from Yellowstone." Flynn got up to come with him into the kitchen. "They do no harm, there's good hunting in the woods and they're rather beautiful. Jas spotted a young pack coming on to our land last year and he spent a lot of time watching them."
"The wanderlust hits him some nights." Paul agreed, pouring tea and getting down a tin of cookies. "Elk, moose, he knows where a lot of the wild herds are around here. Dale, have a cookie. If you've got to be awake in this you might as well have some fun."
"No one moans at Jas for wandering off at night either." Riley said pointedly. "Although it's no safer for him than for anyone else."
"I know exactly where he's gone and when he'll be back because he told me," Paul said mildly, passing the tin on to him, "And you are not Jasper."
"You'd better make the most of it, he's actually feeding you sugar." Riley told Dale, taking a couple of cookies. Paul swatted the seat of his pyjamas, handing a mug across to Flynn.
"I don't see why we need to fuss about it." Riley said exasperatedly. "What does it matter? He fits here, it's not like we don't know what to do, why dress it all up in complicated language and worry about it?"
"Hardly." Riley said flatly. "I don't see a difference at all, I think it makes no odds. And Dale knows exactly what the lifestyle is at gut level, he's the one leading by the nose. You're not taking him anywhere he isn't already trying to take you. He just doesn't have the words for it and that's not his fault."
"What's fair to Dale is helping him." Riley said stubbornly. "And you are, and it works for him. You can see the difference. What do you want to do, sit him down and give him papers to read on discipline relationships and their implications? No one ever did that with me or with you either! You just had the gut instincts and you knew you belonged, we all did!"
He was right. Riley refused point-blank to take a client himself, Flynn would have agreed he had neither the interest nor the patience for the day-in day-out work – but he had sharp insight, and he'd proved himself right too many times for his point of view not to be taken very seriously.
"And if you do explain to him then he's going to have to get to Olympic gold standard in this too." Riley added, flippantly but with unfortunate accuracy.
"We make sponsors clearly aware that this might happen," Paul reminded him. "It isn't our decision to make or to worry about. Our part is to help Dale straighten himself out and support him in whatever decisions he then wants to take. Which is pretty much what Riley's saying."
"Paul's wandered off to the falls to figure out his new chapter, he told me at lunchtime." Riley threw up his cutters and caught them by the handle. "Can I have Dale then? It’s a mess and the hoppers are out in the woods, I'd like to get it fixed."
"Cool." Riley waited for Dale, giving him a cheerful grin. "I'll meet you in the corral in a few minutes."
"Who called a horse Nekkid?" Dale demanded, leading Hammer out of the corral. Riley grinned, attaching the wire bale to his saddle.
He mounted up and whistled to Shane, the dog immediately bounding away from the fence to follow them as they walked the horses through the yard past the house where Flynn was still working, and then out through the long meadows towards the aspen woods.
"You get cougars round here?"
"Did it do much damage?"
"And you don't carry a gun?" Dale demanded, shocked. Riley grinned.
He said it quite cheerfully and without embarrassment.
Dale gave him a brief smile, thinking that over. It was hard to understand from the world he'd occupied where people worked hours – and hours – and often worked individually carrying out their parts of a project. Truanting from a task to go and do something purely for fun…. He doubted he'd ever done that in his life.
That opened the gate to a hundred more questions that Riley probably would think were rude, personal and far too invasive. Dale wrestled for one of the politer ones amongst the most urgent.
He made things so unthreatening, so much easier to consider. Dale hesitated, sorely tempted, then shook his head.
"I'm ok." Dale said with more conviction. Flynn nodded, considering for a moment.