Thirty-seven . . . thirty-eight . . . thirty-nine . . . forty. . . Dickon counted his steps as he walked. He had found that from Mary's door it was fifty steps to the stairs, and the stairs had thirty steps; once he reached the top of the stairs it was twelve steps to his rooms. He kept his hand trailing along the wall to his left as he walked, feeling the grooves and indentations of the wood paneling. Forty-nine . . . fifty . . . The tips of Dickon's shoes touched the base of the first step, and he started to ascend. Six . . . seven . . . eight . . . nine . . . ten . . . eleven . . . He moved slowly, if he moved too fast he'd loose count and get lost. He hated relying so much on Martha and his little brother and sister, so he came up with this method. Granted, he wasn't exactly used to counting all of his steps, and it was difficult at times, but he wanted to be somewhat independent. Twenty-eight . . . twenty-nine . . . thirty . . . He lifted his foot one more time just in case he had miscounted, and found it landed on the same level as his other foot. A grin spread across his face, then faded as he started to walk forward again and once again started counting. One . . . two . . . three . . . Once he reached twelve, he felt the surface on his right until his fingers found the door knob, then he entered his room.

Before he left for the war, Dickon's room was simple, but much more extravagant than his old room, which he had to share with his brothers and sisters. A four poster bed stood on the right, a chest of drawers at the foot. In front of the window there was a small desk, and the adjoining room was a kind of stuffy sitting room. Now, when Dickon entered his room, he saw the same thing he always saw: blackness. Though he expected his room stayed much the same as before.

He never bothered turning on any lights, because he didn't need them anyway, but as he walked farther into his room he heard a low crack of a fire. Dickon tilted his head toward the sound, "Is someone there?"


Dickon sighed in relief when he recognized the voice as Colin's. "'ave you been waitin' fer me?"

Again Colin answered, "Yes."

"Sorry. If I 'ad known you was waitin' I would 'a come sooner."


"Colin? What is it?"

Finally, he spoke. "Martha tells me you were in Mary's room." He spoke slowly but sharply, a frown marred his face, though Dickon could not see it. "You were there this entire time." It wasn't a question, but Dickon answered with a soft yes.

The sound of wood scraping against wood pierced the silence; Dickon's heart leaped in his chest at the sudden sound. Quick steps charged toward him, and he clumsily backed up, unsure of where in his room he was. Something grasped the collar of his shirt and a strong force pushed him against a solid surface. Dickon's hands flew up to the thing grabbing him, fingers feeling for recognition, and found it was hand. Hot breath blew on his ear and a low voice snarled, it was Colin.

"You are not to be alone with her," his voice dripped with malice. Dickon tried to pry Colin's fingers from his collar, but Colin only gripped tighter and pressed him harder against the wall. "Do you understand me?"

"I've been in th'a war, Colin," Dickon responded, trying to plant some fear in Colin, but it didn't work. Colin merely scoffed.

"Oh, I know, and you didn't hurt a fly. All those years training and you couldn't hit a thing," Colin snarled. "You're too nice, Dickon. That's your problem. You've always been too nice." He paused, "That's why you're so weak."

Dickon struggled to free himself, he pulled at Colin's fingers, but kept fumbling. Colin laughed. "She is mine."

"She does't belon' to you. She's free to choose who she wants."

Colin pushed Dickon against the wall again, then released him suddenly, causing Dickon to stumble and lean against the wall for support. He heard Colin's footsteps retreating, then respond in a cold voice, "And she'll choose me." The door shut, and once again it was silent.

Tentatively, Dickon felt in front of him with his foot, and after a while he found the chair that had been knocked over by Colin and righted it. He cursed himself silently for being so weak. Everything Colin had said was true. Though Dickon had been in the war, he hadn't actually hurt anyone. Training had built up his muscles and taught him obedience and loyalty, but it hadn't been able to build a lust for fighting. He never wanted to be in the war, and once he was there he wanted to get out of it. He was glad when his team had been left behind at the base for so long. He had thought that if they stayed there long enough the war would be over. But then they got the letter. They were shipped to the front lines. Even there, he hadn't fought. No one did.

Dickon growled and toppled the chair, cursing his weakness, his inability to stand up to Colin. He should have punched him, pushed him, kicked him, hurt him. Anything to prove he wasn't weak. Dickon sighed, and once again picked up the abused chair. It wouldn't do him any good to destroy the furniture. Or to mope and put himself down. Next time, he'd do something. Dickon promised that the next time Colin threatened him, and pushed him against a wall, he would fight back. If not for his sake, then for Mary's. If this was the new Colin, Dickon had to protect Mary from him.