Chapter 1

Straker drove his Saab home, his mind tumbling over the events of the last few hours rather than concentrating on driving safely. But it was late, very late and he was tired, so it really wasn't his fault that he failed to see the large dog fox standing in the middle of the road until it was almost too late.

Damn. He spun the wheel and slammed on the brakes instinctively, foolishly, and the car swerved to one side, hitting the stone milepost that was, oh so conveniently positioned there. Just in the right place to catch his front wing and bring the car to a sudden sideways halt. There was a painfully explosive noise, and as he felt the side airbag thump into his head, just before he lost consciousness, he knew that he would have one hell of a headache tomorrow. Shit.

Twenty-four hours off work. Twenty-four hours. At least he hadn't broken anything, apart from the car. That was going to take time to repair. The SHADO workshop technicians were notorious for being meticulous when it came to doing repairs to his cars. They would go over every inch of it to ensure it was perfectly safe. And until they were completely satisfied he would have to make do with one of the spare cars. Damn. He hated driving those. And the headache was as bad as he had anticipated.

'My head hurts. Is there nothing stronger you can give me?' he muttered complainingly.

'Dr Schroeder says it's just a simple concussion. Stop complaining about it hurting or you know what will happen. You'll get ordered to take even longer off work, and to be honest I really don't think I could stand it. You are the world's worst patient, did you know?' Rachel looked over at him as he sat, restlessly on the sofa in their apartment. 'Look, you have nothing to do, apart from rest, so why don't you do just that. I'm off to work shortly. Stay there and read, or listen to some music or maybe work on that sonata you've been practising. Just don't go out or do anything strenuous. I've warned the detail next door to keep an eye on you.' She smirked at him as she went to get her briefcase and he frowned at her crossly.

'I don't like being an invalid.'

'Oh grow up Ed, you're not an invalid, you've just bumped your head. And it's your own fault anyway. Maybe next time you'll do the sensible thing and make sure you get driven home after a long shift. Hmm?' she looked at him, her eyebrows raised questioningly.

He stared almost angrily, then relaxed and smiled up at her. 'You're right, as always. How does it feel to be right again? Look, go to work. Keep an eye on things there for me please. I'll behave myself here.' 'Promise?' 'Promise, now come and give me a kiss before you go.'

She leaned over him and he pulled her down to sit on his lap. 'Do I not get more than a kiss?' he asked, his face buried in her hair.

'No,' she wriggled away, to sit beside him on the sofa. 'I'll be late for work, and you are supposed to be resting. So rest.' And she stood up, kissing him quickly before she moved out of his reach.

'Spoilsport,' she heard him mutter crossly as she closed the door behind her.

He heard her get in the lift, and then surreptitiously, not wanting to be seen, he went to the balcony and watched as she drove off to work. A whole day by himself with nothing to do. Ye Gods he'd go insane if he obeyed the doctor's rules and did nothing all day.

The thought of playing the piano was not enticing, neither was reading. But he didn't really know what he wanted to do. He sat down again, but then stood and paced the room, restless and uneasy. His head hurt, more than he thought it should do, but Rachel was right. If he complained about it to Schroeder, he'd end up in the MRI scanner and that was an experience he certainly didn't want to go through again. Not for a very long time. No, he'd keep quiet about the headache and maybe it would ease off. Maybe.

In the kitchen he looked around for something to eat, more from boredom than hunger. Fruit? A definite no. For some reason the thought of apples was nauseating all of a sudden. He didn't want coffee, or toast, or even the bagel she'd bought for him earlier this morning.

Ice-cream. That was what he wanted. It would soothe his headache surely. Even if it didn't, it wouldn't do any harm, would it? He raided the freezer, pulling out boxes and bags until he found what he was looking for. Excellent.

And soon he was back on the sofa, eating Honeycomb ice-cream straight from the tub, and finally licking the last remnants from the spoon before running his finger around the inside of the smooth white waxed cardboard to glean the last delightful golden crunchy scraps of frozen deliciousness.

He licked his finger with childish delight before putting the empty tub on the floor, and leaning back with a sigh of pleasure.

How long had it been since he had eaten ice-cream like that? Out of the tub? He remembered doing it as a child on those occasions when he went to the cinema, but that would have been before he became a teenager, probably before he went to high school even. When he was still a young child.

Childhood. Playing in the field behind the house, riding his bike to school, going fishing with his father; the taste of the ice-cream had brought memories back, happy memories, of times long past, long forgotten. And memories of his parents, his mother, neat and precise; even when she was gardening she looked smart. His father, upright, tall, slender. A soft voice but a strict man. And yet Ed had loved him, had admired his father, and yes, had feared him on occasions, but only when it was merited.

Damn his head hurt again. He winced and pressed his hands against his eyes. The bruise on the side of his head was tender, but that was not where it hurt most. The light was bright and seemed to be getting brighter and more penetrating, so he stood up, staggering a little and went to turn it off, before closing the curtains against the dull sunlight. Darkness. Much better.

He closed his eyes and fell asleep on the sofa, curled up like a child, murmuring to himself as he dreamed of ice-cream and fishing trips, cycling and playing in the long grass in the field.

But, gradually, slowly, this one turned dark, turned evil with memories of the past, memories of events that were long forgotten, but that were now resurfacing. He strove to wake, to free himself from the mental chains that tied him into this sleeping existence, but he was trapped.

No matter which way he turned, or what he did, he could not escape.

And he sobbed, silently, terrified beyond words, beyond sound, beyond tears, even, until….

The knock at the door woke him, and he lay there for a few seconds, trying to re-orientate himself, his heart pounding as if it would explode, his lungs gasping for air, sweat on his face.

Hell, that was a nightmare and a half. And his head was hurting even more if possible.

He sat up, shuddering, sweaty and still dragging deep breaths as if he couldn't draw enough air into his lungs. The door, again. He ignored it, needing to concentrate on simply bringing himself back into the real world, and putting the nightmare visions, of dark airless spaces with looming monsters surrounding him, back where it belonged. In his subconscious.

The door opened, and for one moment he held his breath in fear. A face peered round the doorframe.

'Alec? What are you doing here?' his breathing slowed, his heart rate eased up, his eyes relaxed.

'Rachel sent me to make sure you were behaving yourself. I was half expecting to find you doing reports or on the phone to Paul Foster. Did I wake you from a pleasant sleep?' Freeman had a glint of amusement in his eyes.

'Cut it out Alec. My head still hurts.' Straker was grumpy and not inclined to jest, especially as the nightmare still lingered there in the back of his mind, like a many-tentacled leviathan that had come out of hiding to torment him.

'Still hurts eh? Perhaps you'd better come in and have a scan on that thick skull of yours?'

'No!' the answer was a panicked response, and Ed was almost out of his seat before he realised how it must have sounded. 'Sorry Alec, I'm just tired. I'll be fine tomorrow. After a decent night's sleep. Look, I won't keep you, I'm sure there are plenty of things you need to be doing at HQ. Tell Rachel I'm resting will you. Thanks.'

It was a distinct and clear message to go away, and Alec Freeman, after one look at Ed Straker, sitting there looking almost child-like, scared and frightened, though frightened by what Alec had no idea, decided to risk all and ignore the warning.

'Coffee on? I'll get you a drink.' And he wandered through to the kitchen. Straker heard him rummage around opening cupboards and drawers. 'Ed? Where do you keep your coffee filters now? Rachel's re-organised this place and I can't find anything.' His plaintiff call drifted out into the living room.

'No idea, Alec,' Straker lied. 'I don't want coffee anyway. It'll only make this headache worse. I'll have something later. Look, I'm going to lie down for a couple of hours. Let yourself out will you.' And he went into the bedroom and closed the door, shutting Freeman out, both physically and mentally.

He undressed, dropping his clothes in a pile on the floor instead of hanging them neatly as was his usual practice, and then pulled a rarely worn pair of pyjamas out of the drawers.

Once in bed he lay still, curled on his side, hands close to his face, thinking. And then he pulled over a spare pillow from Rachel's side, and hugged it close to him, as a child would hug a favourite teddy bear. Comforted, warm and with the headache finally retreating into the distance, he fell deeply asleep.