The Beach

If you’ve been reading this blog a little while, you might recognise this story as adapted from a Sunday Thinking 😉


Once upon a time, there was a beach, a beautiful stretch of sand composed of the erosion of thousands of years of life and the solid foundation of rock beneath its surface. The sea would visit it every day, in great blue waves that replenished the beach in life and sediment, yet took away with it shards and fragments to deposit elsewhere.

The beach was so very beautiful. Soft, golden sand that stretched on for mile upon untainted mile. Clean, crisp air that tasted of peace, and an ever-changing adornment of seaweed, shells, and pebbles to admire.

The beach loved two things in particular. One, the people that visited, leaving footprints and carved initials, and often their troubles there behind in the very sand. And two, the other animals, from paddling dog to cawing seagull, and every other creature in between. The beach lived a simple life, through the presence and enjoyment of others, happy to provide a place of rest and nourishment for all those who chose to visit.

One day when the sea visited, it was not in the usual turquoise and teal shades the beach had come to anticipate. Instead, the waves washed in black, churning up thick, sticky foam that left deposits across the beach’s surface and down into its very pores. And on those waves, those relentless black kisses coming in without stopping, was bleakness, in the form of bird, and turtle, and so many other creatures coated in a thick, black poison, that made them writhe and call out in distress.

The beach, helpless, could only watch, as those creatures suffered and struggled, and though the beach could not weep it wished it could, that its own tears might wash away the sadness of what was happening across its surface.

People came, good, kind people, dressed in shapeless suits entirely the wrong colour for the blackness around them, tirelessly carrying the other animals further up the beach and attempting to wash them clean. Some were lucky, and the beach listened to their indignant squawking as they were held down and rinsed free of their torment, given nourishment the beach was unable to provide itself, and eventually released. But others, so many others were not so lucky, their limbs stilling and their songs caught in their throats to never be heard again.

The people stayed for many days, and were joined by others, some who stared out solemnly to the sea and took photographs, made notes, talked in quiet, tense tones with their colleagues. Others tried to help the beach, to rid it of its blemishes, and though the beach was so very grateful, the black poison had seeped too far in. It would take the beach many, many years, and many kisses from the sea once the blackness had gone, to restore it to its former glory once again.

The beach is clean now, so very much later. Beautiful, pristine, a sanctuary for some and a home for many others. But the beach is careful now, cautious where it once wasn’t. Staring out to sea to brace for the day the blackness comes again.

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Snapping

He’s snapping. He’s snapping at Jordan, and he knows he’s snapping at Jordan, and worst of all, he knows exactly why he’s doing it. He knows what’s set him off doing it, like he’s known every other time it’s happened in the past.

But nothing. Not one part of it. None of this is in any way Jordan’s fault.

Joe’s internal, repetitive monologue lurches between you’re so obvious any idiot can see, and it’s all your fault anyway, and worst of all, what if this is it this time, at breakneck speed. He’s barely able to function for the continuous stream of words running through his head, and his lack of concentration has reared its ugly head in an unprecedented number of near misses on the drive to take Jordan back to school today.

Jordan isn’t oblivious either. Perhaps he’s not completely clued into why Joe’s shouting him down at every opportunity, or why when Joe’s not shouting there’s a deathly silence in the car that is so different to how they normally spend this ride back to college. But he keeps glancing over at him worriedly like he knows something is up.

Joe’s internal arguments continue spiraling round in his head, enough to make him dizzy.

If he can just acknowledge. If he can just admit—

But of course, he can’t get the words out, not even within the safe, private confines of his own head.

Does this ever get any easier?

Doug has left without a word before, made his own way back after their annual trip home for Thanksgiving, the three of them normally wedged in the car reminiscing about growing up. He’s disappeared into himself more times than Joe wants to remember, yet every single time he does remember, with absolute, total clarity. He can recall, down to the very last detail, the circumstances leading up to Doug needing a break from him. Every word they spoke to one another leading up to him needing to be gone

Joe remembers how he fought against it, and how he also tried not to fight it sometimes too; it’s a hell of a thing to have followed your best friend from high school across the country because you couldn’t bear the thought of him being gone. The implication of what that might mean. The terror that it might not be what Doug wants.

Joe remembers it all. He should do; he’s been torturing himself over Doug for what must be years now. Because the thing with Doug is. The thing about Doug. See, Doug—

Joe growls at himself, digging his fingernails hard into his palms and biting down on his cheek until he can taste blood.

What if his constant inability to speak to Doug means he’s given up for good this time? That he’ll get back to their shared apartment to find a note announcing enough is enough; that two men nearing thirty with stable jobs that mean they’ve more than enough money to be living on their own is stupid, and it’s time to do that? That Joe’s friendship isn’t worth all the hassle it brings, because he just can’t be honest with him? Joe’s heart pounds at the very thought, and he curses himself for it.

What if he never again gets to feel the heat of Doug near him, that he strains hard against leaning in to, like Doug is his own personal sun?

What if Doug never comes back, never gives Joe the chance to say the things he’s been meaning to say, rehearsing and not rehearsing over and over and over until they threaten to spill out of him anyway? Repeating them silently to himself as he is now, without acknowledging the reasons why he’s having to have these one-sided conversations in the first place. Because he’s too much of a coward to say them out loud.

What if gone really means gone this time? And there is no chance to be brave?

Joe’s slammed enough doors and kicked enough curbs today to try even Jordan’s patience. It’s Jordan grabbing his arm to shake him out of it—which Joe viciously wrenches away from—that opens up the vault. He should be spending time with his brother, enjoying the rare time alone with him and asking him questions about his final year, what he plans to do when he’s finished, if he’s happy in his life.

Instead he’s slamming the car door, stamping away from him, and taking far too long in the service station restroom to pretend to compose himself. And when he returns to the car, he can’t face Jordan, he can’t face climbing in, he just can’t face the memory and guilt avalanche that is slamming down on him from all sides.

He’s suffocating. And it’s all at his own doing.

Joe perches on the hood of the car, his back rigid and turned away from Jordan, unable to face him for fear of just how close he is to breaking down.

Because of course it’s Joe’s fault any of this is happening. If he’d just been honest for once. If he’d just told Doug. If he’d just… done something. Maybe he could have stopped him leaving like he did. Maybe he could have changed things, ended their Thanksgiving on a high note of possibility. Maybe Doug would have stayed, with him.

Jordan gives it all of a minute before Joe hears him swinging the door open and his boots hitting the gravel. The three paces it takes Jordan to come up beside him sound loud enough for each step to be another approaching avalanche that assaults Joe to trap him with his own worst enemy; himself.

Jordan stands, body right-angled to Joe’s shoulder as he continues to stare off into the distance. He’s perfectly still, and waiting, in that ever patient way only Jordan seems to have for the entire world. It’s annoying, frustrating, and right now it is in danger of breaking down Joe’s carefully and not so carefully constructed walls.

Maybe he’s finally going to have to stop running from this thing. Maybe he’s finally going to have to acknowledge the thing that’s been both inner glow and consuming flame in him for as long as he dares to remember.

“He’s gone,”

Joe’s whisper is tortured enough to bring fresh waves of tears running down his cheeks, with Joe resolutely not looking at Jordan at all, even though out of the corner of his eye he sees Jordan square his shoulders, and Joe knows he’ll expect him to speak.

It’s too late for Joe. Those words have opened that dam he’s been fighting to keep in place for so long.

“He’s gone, Jordan. He’s gone. Again. And I don’t know if… I don’t know if…”

“Hey. It’s Doug, okay? He’s used to your arguments. You’ve been arguing like this for years.”

“But what if this is the time he doesn’t?” Joe’s whisper drops lower, so low Jordan has to lean forward a little to hear it. And what he hears to accompany the whisper is a rasp in his throat, a soft choking as Joe fights back things he never wanted to let slip out.

“Joe,” Jordan tries, gently.

“He’s gone, Jordan,” and finally, he does break, in the only way Joe allows himself. Tears leaking down his stoic face that absolutely is not turned to seek comfort. Fists clenching and unclenching at his thigh, occasionally tight enough to bounce off there and leave bruises.

Jordan shuffles a little but holds his position. “He’ll have calmed down by the time he gets home.”

“But what if-”

“He’ll be there, Joe. You know he will.” Jordan’s voice grows worried, even though he tries to sound confident. He’s clearly confused by Joe’s reaction, and that just sets Joe off even more.

“You know what the worst part is?” Joe bites out bitterly, wiping an angry, rough hand over his face to snag away tears that just refuse to stop appearing. “What I said to him. Right before he went. I said… I said I didn’t even need him around, Jordan. I said that we didn’t… that I didn’t…”

Joe’s words are overtaken by a rapid gunfire of choked sobs, and now Jordan really is startled, hesitating as he reaches out a hand to rest on Joe’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. It doesn’t work.

“What if… what if he hitchhikes? Or has an accident? Or just doesn’t show up? What if the last thing he ever thinks is that…is that I… that he’s not…” Joe is broken. his eyes wide in horror as he clutches and unclutches at thin air.

“Hey,” Jordan tries, punctuating it with a reassuring pat. “We all say things we don’t mean. He’ll know you didn’t mean—”

“But what if he doesn’t? What if he doesn’t, Jordan? What if this time’s the time I—” And Joe is lost.

Jordan will probably be able to count the number of times Joe has fully broken down in front of him on one hand, and none of them will have been as messy as this. Not once has Joe ever literally turned into his arms, fingers digging tight into his sides, face soaking the shoulder of his shirt as Joe mumbles over and over about missing his chance, about this being the last time, about… so many incoherent things Jordan can probably barely make out.

All Jordan can do is try to hold on to Joe whilst he works through whatever it is he’s going through. And when the sobs die down, and all that’s left is a hacking, wrecked gasp, Jordan takes a tiny step back to give them both a little room to breathe.

“Joe. I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

“He’s gone, Jordan.”

The agony in Joe’s voice is too much for Jordan. It’s like being shredded, inside out. He winces, unsure of what the right thing is to say, or do. “Yeah, I know that Joe. And…not to sound cruel? This isn’t exactly the first time you guys have had an all-out fight like this. It’s… practically a Thanksgiving tradition for you guys.”

Jordan stops, swallowing roughly, the contemplating look he’s giving Joe morphing into one of understanding.

He keeps looking at Joe, hard. “You’ve never reacted like this before.”

And no, perhaps Joe hasn’t. Doug comes home with them for Thanksgiving because he’s an only child, his parents dead, and he’s been part of the furniture in their family home since they were about fifteen. Joe and Doug have always been the best of friends, but it’s always been a fiery relationship, ready to yell at each other at a moment’s notice one moment, then sit in the most comfortable silence it’s possible for two people who know each other that well to have with one another the next.

Joe’s been in love with Doug for almost half his life, always hiding it because he’s terrified of other people’s reactions, yet never able to tear himself away. Joking out of comments by mutual friends about how they already live together and finish each other’s sentences, leading to meaningless sex with strangers and not coming home until morning, with guilt surging in Joe’s gut so hard he can’t even meet Doug’s eyes.

The way Doug looks at him sometimes is part of the problem, because on those occasions it’s so easy for Joe to believe he wants him back. In fact, everyone comments about the way they sometimes lose themselves to staring at one another—even over that Thanksgiving dinner.

There’s a light of understanding flickering for Jordan, but he’s not quite there yet to connect the dots. Of course, Joe has nothing to say to help him with that either.

“Joe, what aren’t you telling me?”

To say Joe is not one for words would be an understatement. But for Joe, words aren’t even needed for him to be able to bare his soul. All he has to do is raise his eyes to Jordan’s, and open them. And it’s written as plain as anything there for Jordan to see. This isn’t just the fear of losing a lifelong friend. This is the fear of someone who is terrified they have lost their entire world.

Jigsaw pieces must slot into place in a puzzle Jordan didn’t even know he’s been seeing all this time. The looks, which he’s teased Joe about himself. The stares. The touching, the lingering, the way they move around each other with an air of inevitability. It’s all there, bright as the sun.

Joe’s eyes register Jordan’s understanding, and added to the nakedness of his admission there is now a pleading request to understand, to not judge. Which of course, in a million lifetimes, Jordan would not. Love finds its way in the most unexpected of ways, Joe knows that, and that after long, long years trying to hide it, love is never something to be controlled.

And that’s what this pain is. That’s the thing that’s driving Joe in circles all this time. Love, that he’s so afraid of having, yet terrified of being without. Fearful of what it means about him, yet too scared to try.

“I’ve never told him,” Joe mumbles, broken, defeated, shoulders slumping so far forward that by rights he should roll to the floor.

But Jordan holds him up. He seems to need a pause to school his thoughts and come up with a response that might do something to help Joe through this. He clears his throat. “He knows, Joe. Of course he knows.” But Joe’s stance doesn’t change at all.

Jordan tries again, softer. “It’s not like it’s something he doesn’t need to say to you either.”

Joe’s continuing his staring, this time laced with are you sure and don’t mess with me and please don’t just say things to make me feel better. Too much weight to put on his kid brother’s shoulders, but then Joe’s only selfish about this one, hidden thing. He thinks—he hopes.

Jordan squeezes Joe’s shoulder, ducks a little so they are at eye level. “He knows, Joe. And you’re gonna go home, and then you’ll tell him anyway, okay?”

Jordan holds his breath, and waits, never altering his gaze, never removing his hand from Joe’s shoulder.

Joe gives the smallest, tiniest of nods.

Solitary

It is only if you looked into the depths of the poorly lit pub that you would see him.

In the corner at the back of this near-empty establishment is a small alcove, or snug if you will, lined with weighty tomes, heavily-varnished oak panelling and thick, dusty green curtains.

He sits prone, legs outstretched on the old leather sofa with a well-thumbed book on his knee and a bookmark in his hand that he absentmindedly taps a rhythm with on the back of the sofa.

His head is turned toward the hearth and its fire that bathes everything in a pale yellow glow, but his eyes are unfocused, looking but not seeing through the flames.

On the table before him is the residual froth of coffee in a dark green mug, a chipped brown plate with a few crumbs and a smear of chocolate that suggest the presence (and now absence) of fudge cake, and a passport with a collection of both used and unused tickets and boarding passes.

To the side of the table is an overstuffed backpack that has seemingly disgorged its contents into a messy heap on the floor.

With an unconscious sigh he comes back to his surroundings and stretches, reaching for and then flexing his hand away from the habitual checking of his phone. He instead glances down at the heavy watch on his wrist, sees he still has another hour before he needs to leave for the train station, and slumps back down into his seat, arms folded across his chest.

More coffee? Beer?

He pats his stomach as though consulting its opinion, deciding that he will wait until he leaves and buy something for the journey instead. A nine hour overnight stint awaits, and idly he thinks about the unlikeliness of sleep.

Mentally recalling how many days it has been since he boarded his first plane, he is pleasantly in limbo in his travels. With only the barest of planning and no particular end point or destination in sight he feels… himself. Free. At peace.

Is it true you that find yourself when you leave your life behind?

Through the small window he can see an inky sky and not much else; this could be any town or city in any number of places. The point is, it is somewhere different. A temporary pause. A solitary breath.

Travelling is never without its moments, both good and bad. The unpleasant jolt of take-off, the jarring sound of brakes on tracks, the inevitable traffic. Sunsets over bridges, the thrill of having no clue where you are, unfathomable menus. Minor in detail but major in memories.

Essential to making this person who he is.

A short doze follows, and then he groans, wipes a palm slowly across his face as if to wake himself, and rolls forward. Time to repack. Looking around for any stray belongings, he smiles to himself, fully enjoying his sometimes-reclusive nature and this sense of pure autonomy.

Because, this is who he is. Currently, indefinitely, who knows? Maybe he’ll find the thing he’s always felt was missing, perhaps he already has it and needs to be away to recognise what it is, but either way, what does it matter? This is his story, his life.
He’d rather live it then let it live him.

(Originally posted on Inkiit)

A Childish Sulk

“Greg.”

No response.

Eric humphed under his breath; he hated it when Greg was sulking with him, whether he had provoked him or not.

Okay, so perhaps this time the sulking was well and truly earned. But that didn’t mean that Eric wouldn’t try and wheedle his way back into Greg’s good books. He didn’t enjoy being out of them even for a minute.

“Please, Greg?”

Greg’s posture remained stiff even as he hunched over the laptop at the table looking engrossed in whatever it was he was doing.

Eric stood behind him, hands half-reaching out to squeeze his shoulders then falling to his side a dozen times.

***

They’d been late leaving the motel they’d been staying in that morning, and that had entirely been Eric’s fault. Eric had made clear his disdain for mornings, and no amount of cajoling, prodding, or eventual shoving could force him to get moving to the timescale that Greg had in mind for their drive back home after a wedding of an old school friend that neither one of them had wanted to attend.

Eric had grumbled through a shower, deliberately taken his time getting dressed, which meant by the time they stopped at a diner to eat the parking lot was full, and when they finally got inside they had to wait for a table. Which led them to missing the breakfast special, and having to wait for a new pot of coffee, and deal with their waitress who was new, nervous, and spectacularly mixed up their order.

Technically not all of that had been Eric’s fault, but Eric was in a difficult mood. Which meant spending far too long deciding on the fridge magnet he wanted to take back home as a souvenir. Which also meant taking an even longer time choosing snacks for the long, long drive home.

Which resulted in them hitting the road a good three hours later than Greg had wanted to.

They’d hit traffic, construction work sprung up out of nowhere, and the usual peace Greg found in driving just seemed bleak and endless.

Eric insisted on several bathroom breaks, each one increasing the tension across Greg’s shoulders. For the last break Eric had taken so long, that Greg had stamped back into the service station in search of him, only to find Eric stood at the checkout with the clerk discussing the different scents of air freshener on display. Greg hadn’t said a word, just stood, watching until he had Eric’s attention. Greg turned abruptly on his heel the second he did.

Eric had trailed him back to the car the very picture of the reprimanded child.

The last straw for Greg had been in the grocery store he’d intended to be their last stop before home, so they could get home, and stay home, spend the rest of their few days off work doing more pleasant things than attending weddings. Every suggestion he’d made for dinner was met with a shrug or non-committal hum. Every ‘what do you think’ answered with ‘whatever you think, Greg’. Greg had glared, grabbed frozen pizza instead of the ingredients for Eric’s favorite meal that he’d been considering making, and bought twice as much beer as he’d been planning on.

The silence on the final leg of the journey was deafening. And when they’d pulled into their parking bay, Greg had leaped out the car not wanting to start an argument, leaving Eric to sit alone in the car for a few minutes before stumbling his way inside.

The silent treatment carried on for several hours, including through dinner, and every time Eric glanced in his direction, Greg’s eyes were firmly elsewhere. Which is why Eric was stood behind Greg now, looking for a way back into his affections.

He stepped closer to the back of Greg’s chair, placed a hand on Greg’s shoulder. Greg could have jerked his shoulder away in anger, but instead he just didn’t react at all to his touch. Comforted by that fact as much as he could be, Eric reached for Greg’s other shoulder. He began a slow massage, feeling Greg begin to unstiffen beneath his palms. Eric stepped so that he was flush with the chair back and without breaking contact, leaned down to place a kiss on the top of Greg’s head.

He trailed kisses all the way down his hairline and bare neck, into his collarbone. He stooped awkwardly, a gentle bite to Greg’s earlobe and a slightly firmer one to the gap behind Greg’s ear. He watched Greg’s Adam’s Apple bob at that and smiled; he knew Greg well enough to know just exactly where to touch him and what sort of response he could expect.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, breathing heavily against Greg’s ear. Greg swallowed once more, thickly, but then huffed, and pushed the chair back gently so that Eric had to move to the side.

Greg walked to the kitchen, bending to open the fridge door and inspecting its contents. Eric was there before he could though, slamming the door shut, straightening up his newly-purchased fridge magnet, and leaning into Greg’s back, sneaking his hands around his front and up underneath his shirt.

With slow fingers wandered upwards and circling Greg’s nipples, and moving with that same soothing circling he’d used on Greg’s shoulders moments before, he pressed a kiss between Greg’s shoulder blades, murmuring another, I’m sorry.

In a flash, Eric pushed Greg’s shirt up and over his head, smiling to himself at Greg’s intake of breath in surprise. His hands continued their work on Greg’s chest as he trailed kisses across Greg’s shoulder blades and down his back. Soft bites were followed by more kisses, until Greg let out a lengthy sigh and leaned his head back, hands coming up to ghost over Eric’s against his skin.

“You,” he said reproachfully.

Eric continued his kisses, asking, “Me what, Greg?”

“Are trouble,” Greg replied with a kind of resigned affection.

Eric smiled against his skin, sensing he was winning.

“Perhaps. I’m your trouble though,” he pointed out, and there was pride there in his voice as he softly bit down on Greg’s shoulder.

Greg laughed in response. “Yeah. My trouble, Eric.” and with that he spun Eric round so that he was facing him, arms looped low around his back to pull him close. “Gonna tell me what your deal was today?”

Eric ducked his head, bumping it against Greg’s chest. “I was pissy.”

“I know, Eric. I was there, remember?” Greg smiled, then pressed a kiss on the top of Eric’s head, clearly having forgiven him.

“I didn’t sleep well.”

“Makes two of us.”

“I know,” Eric nodded with a grumble. “But I did not want to get out of bed.”

“Even with that lumpy motel mattress, when our own bed back here was waiting and welcoming us home?”

Eric sighed, sweeping his hands over Greg’s back. “Maybe I wasn’t ready to come home yet.”

Greg straightened at that, cupping a hand to Eric’ jaw and pulling his face up to look at him.

“You didn’t want to come here?”

Eric felt Greg’s heart beating hard through his chest, and in that moment felt guilt. He quickly nuzzled into him to reassure Greg he was going nowhere.

“I didn’t say that. I said, I didn’t want to come home yet,” and Eric made sure to emphasize the ‘home’ part of his sentence.

Greg swallowed thickly. “So what did you want?”

Eric sighed, slumping a little in Greg’s arms. “The rollercoaster we drove past looked fun. You said. You said we should do more with our days off once in a while. It’s been a while,” he added petulantly.

“Wait a second,” Greg said, moving his hands to grip onto Eric’ waist, and dipping his head to make sure Eric would have to look at him. “You were pissy all day, because you wanted to go to an amusement park?”

Eric glanced up to catch Greg trying really, really hard to keep the smile from his face; probably because he knew it would only make Eric more sullen.

Eric ducked his head again, mumbling into Greg’s chest and holding on to him tightly.

The last residual tension in Greg’s body evaporated, and he rained smile-tinted kisses over Eric’s face and hair, laughing into it. Eric curled into himself more with Greg’s laughter, with continued muttering which just made Greg laugh all the more.

“Eric. You absolute child. Why didn’t you just say?”

Greg kissed him then, happy, and tender, and with difficulty because of the mile wide smile on his face.

Disposable

You thought I was disposable.

Monday morning. The first full week after the Christmas and New Year break, you late for work like every other driver out there, annoyed that other people might also have somewhere to go.

Me, also late for work, with probably the same Monday blues and concerns about the working day ahead as you do on this freezing, dark, dreary morning.

Your job, probably laden with responsibilities the same as mine.

Probably.

Such a dismissive word.

When you sped off early at the green light, you probably didn’t spare a thought for any last straggling traffic crossing your path.

When you turned the corner too fast, despite the iciness of the road, you probably thought it was fine.

When your car collided with my bike and sent me into a spiral down into the ditch, you probably thought it was okay not to stop. Because as this area was classed as ‘rural’ and this lane ‘country’, there was no one around to see.

Probably, you thought I’d be okay. If you thought of me at all.

They found my bike in the ditch on the opposite side of the road.

The back wheel resembled a distorted over-sized twenty pence piece, and the frame of my beautiful silver Cannondale bike was scuffed, scarred and bent. You drove slowly and nudged it into the ditch, front wheel still spinning, and went on your way.

Let me tell you about that ditch.

It was steeper than it looked in passing, and owing to the torrential rain over the previous nights, there were a good few inches of cold, standing water waiting for me at the bottom. Not to mention a collection of broken bottles, discarded cigarette ends and various other forms of litter that had clearly been tossed from many a car window along the way.

If the ditch wasn’t full of the detritus of lazy motorists and passersby, maybe I’d have had strength enough to keep my head raised above water, perhaps drag myself along, try to raise a call for help. If I hadn’t landed face down and your car hadn’t snapped my spine, perhaps I wouldn’t have drowned.

Do you know how long it was before the hyperthermia kicked in and took what little strength I had left? Do you know how long it takes to drown?

Not long.

Which is what you have left now. Not long.

For some reason, more than anything else, I am furious to find that the car in your drive is the same shade of silver as my beautiful bike. This feels like a final insult in some way.

I see you. Feet up on the sofa, hands around a mug of coffee to warm fingers after a long, cold day. It’s still January after all. At least you are warm. At least you’ll have that comfort when you die.

You sigh, yank your tie from your neck and carelessly discard it on the dining room table. You drain your coffee, set the mug down noisily and stand and stretch, before climbing the blue-carpeted stairs two at a time.

You start running a bath.

A quarter bottle of purple Radox goes in and thick, steamy bubbles form as you turn your back.

You don’t notice me in the mirror.

I watch, complete voyeur, as you strip and throw your clothes haphazardly into the laundry basket with the same care and attention as you disposed of your tie. And of me.

You would never have been my type. Were I still alive.

You sigh as you lower yourself into the bath and close your eyes, sinking beneath the soothing warm water.

When you try to raise your head, you find that you can’t. It is then that you open your eyes. It is then that you notice me.

This is probably going to be a painful death for you. I’m probably going to enjoy every moment I allow you to resurface and think you’ll be okay, before plunging you back in. Mostly, I’m going to enjoy watching the helpless terror in your eyes.

And you thought I was disposable.

(Originally posted on Inkiit and also in The Siren’s Call’s Death in all its glory)

A Wednesday Evening

Simon sinks down beside Cameron on the sofa as he’s done so many other Wednesday evenings, snatching up a handful of the immediately-offered crisps the moment he’s seated, and like Cameron doesn’t move his eyes from the TV. This is their favourite show; in fact, it’s what got them talking in the first place back when he’d first started working at the car services two years ago. Him in his pristine suit for his role as administrator sticking out like a sore thumb amongst all the casual jeans and t-shirts all around him, as Cameron welcomed him with an extended, grease-smeared hand to shake.

“Can you believe she did that?” Cameron says in exasperation, bending to grab the bottle of beer he’s got down on the floor by his feet, and giving Simon a quick flash of his back as his t-shirt rides up. He shouldn’t even notice, Simon tells himself, forcing his eyes elsewhere; Cameron’s couch is a wide two-seater but they’re wedged in close enough that for him to even see that glimpse of skin he’s had to turn his head for it, and Simon lies to himself that he’s even made that effort.

Instead he nods in agreement, forces his eyes on the screen and not to the way Cameron’s wriggling beside him. “Yeah. She never learns.”

“This is like the fifth season; I don’t know why I ever think she will,” Cameron groans, sinking a little further into the sofa, then nudges the bowl of crisps wedged between them against Simon’s thigh. “Take. I’ll eat them all if you don’t.”

“You said you didn’t get time for lunch today,” Simon points out.

“I hate MOT days,” Cameron says, grabbing another handful of crisps and shoving them in his mouth. “Especially when they try and argue about what’s wrong with their cars.”

“What about that guy demanding a service?”

“Jake dealt with him,” Cameron laughs, and Simon laughs with him, thinking of how any customer becomes tongue-tied and weak-kneed in Jake’s presence. He might be one of the best, most giving people Simon’s ever met in his life, but he certainly doesn’t look like it; a little under six feet but heavily built, solid muscle, with full sleeve tattoos on both arms and another up the side of his neck, and a scowl that morphs into a warm smile for anyone that knows him, but a glower for those that even think of pissing him off.

“I’d feel sorry for them, but—”

“Guy was a dick,” Cameron says with a dismissive wave, giving Simon the view of his own tattoos that once again he struggles to snatch his eyes away from. But then both their attentions become fixed on an unexpected reappearance of a character, and their conversation turns to improbable plotlines, rumours about the actors, and speculation about how the series finale might turn out.

“We’ve got what, three more episodes to go?” Cameron asks, and Simon nods in answer, his words too caught on the thought of the long stretches of Wednesday evenings of the hiatus that he won’t be spending with Cameron to say anything out loud.

He wants to suggest a rewatch, to have a reason to not interrupt their routine. Simon’s been sinking further into this crush he’s got on Cameron for months, and the thought of not having him to himself for a few hours each week makes his stomach drop. Then curse that he’s even entertaining the word crush.

It had crept up on him slowly, though, with Simon not even realising that his eyes lingered on Cameron in his overalls as he worked as often as they did, until one day Cameron had turned suddenly and caught him doing it, and he’d had to make up a poor excuse for why he was looking at him so hard. And then it was difficult not to notice: dirty-blond hair kept short at the back and a little longer on top, that he is forever making messy for tugging on when working on a difficult car; constant stubble that Simon can’t snatch his eyes from on the days when he’s left it to grow in a little more; mischievous eyes that are forever crinkled with how much he is always smiling; and the few hugs they’ve shared giving Simon the opportunity to feel the solid muscle of Cameron pressed up against his own.

“You okay there?” Cameron asks with a gentle nudge against his arm, calling Simon’s attention back from where his mind’s been wandering and leaving him begging his cheeks not to be raging with blush.

“Yeah,” he says awkwardly, once again attempting to focus on the screen, thankful when the ad break finishes and he has to pay attention. But then his mind is wandering again, this time to an even worse reality than their show’s hiatus, that he’s been excessively trying not to think about. Cameron’s talking of leaving, going to work with a garage nearer to his childhood home as his parents are getting older, and since he’s an only child feels the need to be closer to them, instead of the five hours away he currently lives.

Nothing is set in stone yet, of course, and Simon is talking about it in terms of a year or so from now, so he has time to prepare. Or get over this crush at least, Simon thinks, adamant that he’s not concentrating on the heat of Cameron’s shoulder pressed up against his own now they’ve finished that bowl of crisps and there’s nothing between them but a thin strip of cushion.

“You sure?” Cameron asks, and when Simon allows himself to look, it’s to see an expression full of concern. “You’ve been out of it since you got here.”

Simon is riddled with guilt, and furious with himself for being so transparent. He can’t tell Cameron that he’s been retreating into himself since mid-morning, since Becca, their post-woman, arrived and spent several minutes by Cameron’s side, laughing and joking, and quite possibly flirting. His stomach’s been off all day just thinking about it, and Simon is furious with himself for being jealous, and possessive—and now obvious—on top of that. So he pastes on what feels like a sickly smile, and nods back.

“Yeah, sorry. I had a few difficult conversations with a couple of suppliers today, and then the spreadsheet I was updating crashed and lost me an hour of work, and—”

“So your day’s been as shitty as mine then,” Cameron finishes for him with an affectionate smile. “You know what this means?”

“What?”

“More beer,” Cameron declares, leaping up and leaving Simon smiling after the thud of his footfall, running back to the sofa and throwing himself on to it just a few seconds later. “Did I miss anything?”

“Nothing,” Simon assures him, draining the bottle he was almost finished with to accept the freshly uncapped one and clinking it against Cameron’s own.

“How would you feel about maybe a marathon session when this is done?” Cameron asks then, nodding towards the screen. “If your theory about how they’re going to leave us hanging really happens, I’m gonna need to rewatch from the beginning. Thought maybe, if you want to, we could make a weekend of it or something.”

Simon’s heart is not hammering in excitement at the thought, nor is his stomach knotting with the idea that perhaps he’ll get to stay over for this marathon, stay wedged up next to Cameron on this very sofa for an extended period, and maybe—

“Hey,” Cameron says, and Simon jolts at the gentle bump of his fist against his knee. “What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing,” Simon denies, smiling harder in panic.

“Simon, c’mon—”

“It’s nothing,” he insists, nodding towards the TV. “We’re gonna miss it.”

Cameron stares at the side of his face for another moment and Simon pleads with himself not to look back at him, but then Cameron is relenting with a soft huff and turning to look as well. They sit in companionable silence until the next ad break, and then Simon doesn’t trust himself to be in the same room with no distraction, so makes excuses to use the bathroom. When he returns, Cameron has shrugged into a sweater, and as he sits back down Simon pleads with his body not to react to the way Cameron all but snuggles up beside him.

“Too cold for the heating, but I’m still cold,” Cameron tells him, and Simon nods, thinks of the other friends he sprawls out next to and up against and how those incidents don’t mean anything more than friendship and trust, fights not to read more into Cameron’s warmth against him than there is.

“Maybe it’s the workshop,” Simon suggests, “if you were out doing MOTs all morning with the wind blasting through—”

“Maybe,” Cameron agrees, but then the episode starts up again, and they both become thoroughly engrossed, yelling at the screen when a plot twist blows out any of the theories they’ve been discussing, and leaving them sank back in the sofa half in a daze.

It takes them a minute, but then they’re turning into one another a little as they always do when the episodes have finished, and they’re predicting what to expect next week, already looking on Cameron’s tablet at the fan theories posted. And by the time they’ve finished discussing the show, they’re so comfortably leaned together, that Simon doesn’t want to move. Not that he generally does anyway when he’s like this with Cameron.

“Didn’t you say you’ve got an early start tomorrow?” Cameron asks then, and Simon’s pulling back a little, stomach dropping for it already being time for him to go home.

“Only by a few minutes,” he says, but daren’t let himself stay. “A courier’s delivering some paperwork we needed signing.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“And you?”

“Well, I know I’ve got an engine tune up at nine. A panel to get sprayed and back into shape at eleven for an insurance claim. Two services that I know about, probably more—and whatever else we get in.”

“You day sounds a lot busier than mine already,” Simon smiles, turning a little more away.

“Just different busy to yours,” Cameron shrugs. “You don’t have to rush off.”

“You’ll want to get ready for tomorrow though,” Simon says before he can talk himself into staying longer and risk convincing himself into doing things he knows will be unwelcome. “Shower, and stuff.”

“And you saying I smell?”

“What? No,” Simon denies, turning back at the disgruntled tone of Cameron’s smile only to find him smiling at him.

“Simon,” Cameron says, reaching out to gently shove against his arm, “what’s with you tonight, huh? You’re… it’s like you’re only here in body.”

Simon is riddled with guilt, wishing away his feelings for Cameron so they can go back to being friends. Or that he can go back to only thinking of Cameron as a friend, he amends, yet again turning to Cameron with a false smile.

“I’m sorry—”

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Cameron says, smiling so gently at him, that Simon has to back away to stop himself leaning in to finally discover how that smile tastes. “I just… you’d tell me if anything was wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“I would.”

“I’d hate to think you didn’t trust me, or something. Or that you’d… I don’t know, have something on your mind and not feel like you can share it with me.”

“It’s not that,” Simon denies, “it’s not that at all.” Though it is, Simon knows it is, and he’s turning himself in circles trying to be something to Cameron without being what he wants to be to him.

“Then what is it?” Cameron asks softly, following Simon as he backs away, and squeezes his shoulder, his thumb swirling out in a gentle circle. Simon’s eyes dart to it automatically, then up at Cameron’s face, alarmed when he’s shifted a little closer and is staring back at him in expectation.

“Nothing.”

“Please, Simon,” he says. “What kind of a friend would I be, if I didn’t ask when I can see something’s up with you?”

Simon’s stomach drops at the word friend, his eyes falling to Cameron’s chest, because he can’t bring himself to look him in the eye.

“Hey—”

“I need to go,” Simon says, making to stand, but Cameron lightly drips on to his wrist asking him to keep where he is.

“I did something to upset you today, didn’t I?”

“What? No—”

“When I came to see you this afternoon you looked so pissed off with me, I thought I’d messed up on an order or something,” Cameron continues, and Simon is captivated by the feel of his fingers still gripping around his wrist.

“No—”

“And then I thought, I couldn’t have done. Because if I had, you’re never quiet about it when you tell me,” Camerons says, ducking until Simon can’t avoid looking back at him.

“You didn’t—”

“So what did I do?” Cameron asks, and he looks so contrite even though he’s done nothing wrong that Simon only just about stops himself from surging forward and pulling him into a hug.

“Nothing,” he says, shaking his head and determined that he’s going to go home and get rid of this crush on Cameron once and for all—if only he can work out how.

“Simon,” Cameron sighs, but he’s still smiling at him, and Simon feels lost as he teeters on the edge of the sofa, knowing he has to leave for both their sakes, but not quite able to. Cameron is so easy to be with, so undemanding, and such a good friend; Simon would hate to lose him over this.

“I should go,” Simon says, but his eyes are drawn to Cameron licking his lips, and though it’s an innocent gesture probably to chase away the saltiness of all the crisps they’ve eaten, Simon can’t help staring. Which is ridiculous, he tells himself in the next breath, alarmed for the way Cameron’s eyes grow wider as though he’s caught him doing it.

“Please tell me.”

“It’s nothing—”

“Please,” Cameron whispers, and Simon’s heart starts racing frantically as Cameron’s own eyes dart down to his mouth. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“You won’t want to hear it.”

“Try me.”

“You won’t,” Simon insists, but it doesn’t stop him from leaning a little closer to Cameron. And Cameron doesn’t make any move to pull back.

“Try me,” Cameron says again, and there’s challenge in his voice as well as nervousness, excitement, maybe even a little expectation. Simon’s eyes fall again to Cameron’s lips, and this time when he watches his tongue dart out to flick over them Simon convinces himself it’s deliberate.

He holds his breath, tells himself it’s worth it even if it does make things awkward between them; at least Cameron will then know why he has to stay away from him, and why they’ll have to start avoiding each other at work. He leans in, presses their lips together and demands to himself that he pulls back. But his fingers clearly don’t get the message for the way they automatically curl around the nape of Cameron’s neck, fingertips digging into the hair there as he ducks and angles in.

It’s only a few seconds, but then common sense decides to come calling, and Simon pulls back in alarm, horrified at what he’s done. This friendship has come to mean so much to him over the two years he’s known Cameron, and now he’s thrown it all away because he couldn’t keep his thoughts straight in his head.

Simon braces to be yelled at, shoved to the floor, even to receive a fist to his face, despite Cameron never having shown even an ounce of violence towards anyone in all the time he’s known him. He sucks in another breath, and tells himself he has to look him in the eye.

If there’s a way to describe the look on Cameron’s face that Simon can simplify, it’s startled. His mouth is gaping open a little, and his eyes wide and round, his fingers twitching as though to reach out to him, though Simon doesn’t know to do what. But then Simon watches as that gaped open mouth begins to turn up into a smile, and his eyes crinkle up in that way Simon’s never been able to look away from.

“Cameron, I—”

But Cameron’s not interested in what he has to say. He’s reaching out and grabbing Simon’s face, pulling him closer, and initiating a kiss that’s far more enthusiastic than the one he’s just given him. Cameron leans back against the sofa pulling him with him so they’re pressed together, and Simon’s just noticing the pleased little hums falling from his lips, and the way his thumb continually sweeps over his cheek, when he realises what’s happening. He pulls back with soft gasp and stares, watching Cameron’s brow furrow a little in protest, and his hands already reaching for him to come closer again.

“I—”

“Simon,” Cameron says, reaching out and taking his hand, which Simon offers up in a daze and watches mesmerised as his thumb continues to swirl over the back of it. “Simon, I—”

But Simon’s lost any sense of reason now, and he’s toppling forward, cupping Cameron’s jaw, and kissing him harder, his other hand down and wrapping around his waist, eyes closing as Cameron’s hands loop around his back to pull him closer still. It’s a sweet kiss, unloaded, though full of promise, and as they tentatively explore each other’s mouths Simon allows himself to sink further into it, all thought of the consequences of what’s happening disappearing with every hum falling from Cameron’s lips.

When he pulls back a little later, Cameron’s smile for him is that crinkly-eyed mischievous one that Simon thinks is probably the very reason for the beginning of this crush. Cameron reaches out to hold his hand again, either needing the anchor, or trying to anchor him; either way Simon stares at it, considers that he’s already home and sleeping, and this is one of those infuriating dreams he has to wake disappointed from.

“So,” Cameron begins to say, then doesn’t appear to want to add anything. Simon fears confessions about it being a mistake, a thanks but no thanks, and a hundred other things. But then Cameron is sitting back from where he’s been slumped against the sofa and is withdrawing his hand from Simon’s only to wrap him up in a hug. “Well, this is a little overdue.”

Simon goes to pull back to look at him with all the surprise he’s feeling, but Cameron just pulls him right back in, pressing a kiss to the side of his head. “Cameron, I—”

“I guess you’re the last one to realise I’ve been crushing on you for months,” Cameron laughs, pulling back, and to Simons astonishment, blushing. “Ever since we went to that barbecue at Jake’s.”

Simon thinks back, remembers the brown shorts and black t-shirt Cameron had been wearing vividly, as much as the open smiles, the easy conversation, and the beginnings of feelings that he’d denied having for a while. “I didn’t—”

“I don’t exactly broadcast my, uh, personal life at work,” Cameron continues. “But I’d have thought by now with all the time we’ve spent together, that you’d have noticed that I… well, if you didn’t notice how hard it is for me to keep my eyes off you, then at least you’d realise I was—that at least you’d realise I was into guys.”

“Becca,” Simon blurts out stupidly, though his mind is already going over moments in so many of their conversations, and a lot of things slot into place beginning to make sense.

“Becca,” Cameron repeats with a small shake of his head in confusion before his eyes widen again. “Becca. Our post lady?”

“Yes.”

“She’s… well, she’s beautiful. And married. And I can’t say I don’t find women attractive too sometimes, but she’s… she’s not who I’m interested in. Never have been.”

Simon replays seeing Cameron and Becca together earlier in the morning and views it from an entirely different perspective, feeling silly. “And you—”

“I’ve been thinking of only you for a solid six months now,” Cameron smiles, “probably longer if I think about it. I was kind of working up to you having a reason to being here longer, so I could maybe work up the courage to ask you out.”

“Marathon,” Simon blurts out with a brief glance towards the TV.

“Yeah,” Cameron says, ducking his head, and blushing. “I mean, I want that too. And I’m not gonna pretend I didn’t plan and replan how I’d ask you, or let myself get carried away with the idea of having an excuse for you to sleep over—”

“Cam—”

“But I’d really, really like it, if you’d let me take you out. Get drinks, dinner—anything you want.”

“I’d love that,” Simon tells him immediately for the hesitant look he’s giving him that’s saying he’s worried he might turn him down.

“You would?” Cameron asks, his smile growing even wider. Simon huffs under his breath then surges forward to kiss him again. Cameron sighs into it, thumbs sweeping in circles over his waist as he tugs him in. And this time when they pull apart they stay closer together, leaning in for repeated quick kisses and losing themselves to them until Simon’s phone beeps, and he’s groaning, pulling back, though still holding on to Cameron.

“My sister. Tara,” he says, quickly reading her message then shoving the phone back behind him in the cushions.

“Is she okay?”

“Wants me to babysit tomorrow so she can go to book club.”

“Sounds fun—”

“Cameron—”

“We’ve got some stuff to work out,” Cameron says with a soft smile, leaning in to kiss him then shaking his head in disbelief as though he doesn’t believe he’s doing it. “Like work, and… stuff.”

“Eloquent,” Simon teases, laughing even as Cameron leans in to kiss him again. Cameron wraps his arms around him and draws him closer, not pulling back until they’re both breathless.

“Like I was saying; I know we’ve got a lot to talk about,” Cameron says, reaching out to swirl his thumb over Simon’s bottom lip that feels as kiss-bruised as Cameron’s looks.

“We do,” Simon agrees, smiling back at him. “But?”

“But nothing,” Cameron says, lacing their fingers together and studying their hands for a second before looking back up at him with an even wider smile. “Friday. You free?”

“I am now,” Simon tells him. Cameron sighs, and looks back at him in triumph.

“Gonna let me take you on a date?”

This is not how Simon thought his evening would be ending. Not even close to anything he’d let his mind wander to. But Cameron’s staring back at him in nervous expectation, and Simon’s heart starts skipping at the sweetness of it. There’s only one way he intends on answering, and as he leans in to kiss him, Cameron hums in approval. Pulling him closer until they’re sinking deeper into the sofa cushions, and telling Simon he’s going home no time soon.

At The Bus Station

It’s been exactly eight days, seven hours, and thirteen minutes since Damien saw Elias last, and as he cranes his neck to look for his bus pulling in to the station, Damien is convinced he can feel the seconds ticking by adding extra tension to his stomach.

Not that he’s been counting all that time passing, of course, nor spent hours mournfully staring up at the ceiling of his room unable to concentrate on anything but the fact that Elias isn’t with him. And it’s not even that long really since Damien’s been able to call Elias his boyfriend; only nine months and seventeen days. But with Elias being away for the past eight days, seven hours, and fourteen minutes, does that somehow wipe hours off that total? Since time has stolen Elias from him for all those days, does he have to reduce the time he can proudly boast of being his?

Of course not, Damien grumbles under his breath, apologising to the woman stood beside him also waiting as he jostles her, who scowls at him briefly from behind wide-rimmed glasses, then softens her expression into a kinder smile.

“I hate bus stations,” she sighs, turning her gaze back to the gap between two buildings that everyone around them is focussing on, where in a few short minutes, traffic being willing, Elias’ bus is going to come screeching around the corner and change Damien’s own grimace into a smile. “It’s the anticipation. Every bus that comes in, you think is going to be the one you’re looking for. And then you’re disappointed when it isn’t.”

It’s a little too profound for this cold, Monday morning, though Damien thinks he’s not being too melodramatic when he declares to himself that all Mondays are cold. All mornings, every moment when he’s not got Elias with him; which makes him sound like a possessive bastard, he then chides himself, and nods in answer to the woman waiting with him.

“Yeah,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to, and shuffles in discomfort on the spot. He knows he set off far earlier than was necessary to meet Elias at the station, but the waiting there in his bedroom with nothing providing adequate distraction had him curling his fists into tight balls in the duvet one moment, then pacing the few metres of floor space there the next.

A bus appears then, the protest of its engine echoing around the bus station, making Damien’s blood surge until he sees it’s a local bus instead of a national one, and he’s sinking into disappointment all over again. That’s the seventh bus that’s taunted him with not being the one to deliver Elias to him, and though he knows it’s no one’s fault he’s cursing traffic jams, rude drivers that haven’t given way, and lane hoggers for delaying Elias getting back.

The bus isn’t even late yet, Damien sighs with a quick glance at the large clock suspended overhead to their side, glaring at the ticking of the seconds and not sure if he’s willing them to speed up to get Elias back to him, or pleading with them to stop, so this awful stretch of time without him doesn’t ache so much. Eight days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes might not sound all that much to anyone else, but to Damien, it’s like he’s been aware of every passing second.

The collective group anticipation of all those waiting for arrivals doesn’t help, Damien thinks, nudging a little closer to the woman stood beside him who he’s decided to name Chloe instead of profound woman, because she looks just like the librarian in his university library, even favours the same autumnal colours, apparently, in everything she wears. No; the air is thick with the tension of everybody waiting. He’s convinced he could bottle it, preserve it, then sell it to cinemas for films that are lacklustre, perk them up a little to get better reviews.

Damien’s housemate, Joanna, says he’s been like a tightly coiled spring all the time Elias has been gone, though she did admit she appreciated that his constant need to keep busy meant the bathroom’s never been so clean, and the kitchen cupboards never so meticulously organised. And it hasn’t helped at all seeing Joanna loved up in their lounge with her boyfriend; it’s been exactly like a serrated knife plunging into his gut every time the oaf has leaned in for a kiss.

Kevin’s not an oaf, Damien corrects himself, thinking of the smile he’s put on Joanna’s face ever since they’d stopped making eyes at each other from neighbouring tables in the local cafe half the university seems to go to. It’s just that he’s missing Elias so badly, that any unnecessary reminder that he’s gone is adding further greyness to his perpetual gloom without him.

Elias walked into his life around a year ago now, charging through the stiff door of the print shop where he works three days a week declaring it an outrage that his lecturer demanded a paper copy of his assignment when the entire world was now digital. He’d knocked into a stand of leaflets advertising their various services, nudged into a customer already waiting and sent the business cards they’d been inspecting at the counter scattering far and wide. Damian had looked up at the commotion and got stuck on the view of a cute, flustered student who he’d noticed around the campus a few times, and earned himself an embarrassed smile.

Damien swipes a thumb across his phone to see the same warm brown eyes smiling up at him from a face framed with thick curly hair, and unconsciously lets out a deep, longing sigh. Elias is cute, there’s no other way to put it, and he’s kind, gentle, clumsy as though everything in his path is either a target or an obstacle to get snagged to. He’s also a really good friend, as well as boyfriend; Damien’s excited to spend his time with Elias whatever they’re doing, even if it’s something as mundane as studying together on his couch.

What he’s going to do if Elias decides to change his mind about doing his masters at the same university next year, Damien doesn’t know, but he pushes the cruel concern about it to one side for another day, determined to enjoy every second of Elias’ company when he’s got him back with him and leave that conversation for another time. It’s now eight days, seven hours, and eighteen minutes since he saw Elias last, and he’s not going to ruin things by imagining all sorts of future possibilities, when the only future he’s currently interested in is the one that involves Elias stepping off that bus.

Another bus arrives, and then another, and a third in quick succession, and Damien’s mind decides to whisper things to him about potholes, careless drivers, buses veering off and down verges in the middle of nowhere, or crashing into the barrier of a motorway in a mangled heap. Should he call? Would Elias have kept his phone charged enough to let him know which hospital he’s been taken to? Would he even think to call him before anyone else; is Damien in his thoughts even half as much as Elias is in his?

Enough,” Damien announces in answer to his overactive imagination, then realises belatedly that he’s said it out loud. Chloe looks up at him in sympathy, and probably even amusement, and Damien has a new distraction; the creep of blush up his neck and cheeks that is bright enough to match Chloe’s coat. Damien stamps to get some feeling back into his legs for how long he’s been standing there in the cold, fantasises about walking hand in hand with Elias back to his house, tiptoeing around Elias’ housemates who are the reason they spend so much more time in Damien’s place than his.

What if he’s tired? What if the week-long field study he’s been on has exhausted him so much that all Elias wants to do is crawl into bed alone? What if he doesn’t want to see him at all? What if he’s got the location wrong, and the bus returning the group is dropping them off at the university instead of the bus station and Elias is waiting for him on this cold Monday morning growing increasingly annoyed with his absent-minded boyfriend for misreading his messages?

Messages, Damien thinks in a panic, frantically searching through their messages and slumping in relief that he’s got the place right. Then scrolls through to their latest messages, with Elias announcing they were setting off and what time they were due to arrive, and Damien’s heart gives a little pleased thud at the softness of his words. Can’t wait to see you either, he thinks, remembering not to say it out loud this time.

And then the private hire bus is pulling in around the corner, and Damien’s heart is thudding, sending blood rushing to his ears. He barrels forward with the rest of the crowd, each of them telling themselves they have the right to be first to welcome their passengers since they’ve been there the longest, then smiling at each other falsely as though they’re not thinking such things at all.

Chloe’s obviously not waiting for anyone on Elias’ bus, because as Damien’s stepped forward she has stayed in place, frowning down at her phone and probably wondering when her own person is going to arrive. But for Damien his eight days, seven hours, and twenty-one minutes is drawing to a close, as he searches through the passengers stood in the aisle on the bus pulling bags down from overhead storage, and tries to work out which one of them is Elias.

The doors open and passengers begin to step off, and Damien’s heart protests even louder for every stooped head he doesn’t recognise, every pair of legs not adorned with Elias’ favourite jeans. And then he’s there; slowly lifting his head to search the crowd for Damien, his face splitting into a smile, and he’s waving, gesturing with this thumbs towards the underside of the bus to say he’s got to pick up a bag.

Okay, Damien thinks, his heart beginning to settle, and warmth swirling its way through his gut, he’s fine now, he can see him. And in literal seconds he’ll be right there with him, and he can get him home, tuck him up, spend the day he’s taken off from everything else in only Elias’ company. Honestly, he can’t wait.

Damien watches Elias bend down to pull a bag out and loop it over the girl stood next to him, then retrieves another for a guy in front. And then he’s grabbing his own, hoisting it up and swinging it across his chest, adjusting it with a wriggle to get it comfortable, then turning and beaming at Damien.

Damien’s got about four hundred things he’s planning on telling him, several thousand clever sentences he’s rehearsed in clever greeting. But as Elias begins to pace towards him, Damien loses the ability to speak at all. The relief for seeing him has stolen the words from his tongue, and apparently, all he’s capable of doing is continuing to smile.

Elias comes to a stop in front of him, eyes flitting over his face as though to drink him in, relearn every one of his features as Damien knows he’s doing with him. And then he’s smiling even wider, closing the gap between them, pressing bodily against his chest and claiming a kiss that’s all relief, warmth, comfort, and want. Damien wraps his hands around his waist pulling Elias in tighter, splaying his fingers as wide as his gloves will allow, and for the first time in eight days, seven hours, and twenty-four minutes, feels that he can breathe deeply. He slots his fingers through Elias’ and squeezes, tugs until they’ve found a path through the still-gathered crowd, and proudly listens to all the details of Elias’ week away as he leads him home.

To Be Tethered

Dale is leaving Lee behind to do what he must; this is their last moment before he goes, full of promises for his return.

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😉

“Come ‘re,”

It’s not a hand Lee’s extending but a lifeline, or rather a tether, a reason to stay exactly where he is, dead centre of this room with its walls whispering memories and its floors echoing stories of a life lived here, that Dale won’t get to see again for a long few months.

Dale stumbles where he’s usually certain, raising his fingers unsteadily until his calloused hand closes around a cautious one, squeezing back with reassurance.

A light tug until military fatigues brush against denim jacket; a rush of longing has Dale swallowing with difficulty that Lee’s eyes fall with sorrow to see, as his other hand reaches out steadily, slides to secure lightly around Dale’s waist.

Lee drops his fingers, though his palm against Dale continues to anchor him there to the spot, to him, even more so when it is accompanied by a second reassuring circling to his other side.

“Breathe, Dale,”

There is teasing amusement whispering through Lee’s words, willing Dale to welcome this, revealing how very frightened he actually is that Dale might still turn away from him even now, after all this long while together. Fear, in whatever form it comes, is not something Dale ever wishes Lee to feel again; his palms raise up to press against Lee’s chest, then climb high in the tiny gap between them, loop around a neck that’s been worried at for the past half hour.

“It won’t be so long this time. It’s the last time. I promise,”

The reassurance Dale tries to convey with his voice shifts the focus of need between them; Dale needs a reason to belong, where Lee just needs reason, to know with sheer clarity that this is where Dale in fact wishes to belong.

Truly, there is nowhere he would rather be. Here, in this place that should feel small, repressive, restricting given all he has seen and done, but where Dale has grown, in heart, in understanding, in himself. Now, when he looks about him, he recognises home. Family. A kind of welcome that no other place in this world could offer him.

Lee is here. Lee is home. Lee has been Dale’s home for a long time now. Moral compass, not-quite immoral direction of desires, and so very much more.

Dale is a soldier, a serving soldier that knows overseas territories better than his own lands. He should never have let himself fall for Lee all those years ago, then shouldn’t have left him stranded without knowing for certain if he’d return to him. He never expected anything but a single carefree night of relief, but Lee has come to mean so much to him. His object of need, want, lust. And love: this is what they have become.

“The last time,” Dale repeats, squeezing his hands again, “then I’m coming home for good. To you. For you. For as long as you’ll have me and probably a whole lot longer than that besides,”

Lee’s throat catches on Dale’s words and leave him silenced, but he nods, through clenched jaw, brightened eye, and tightened smile, stepping a fragment closer until they breathe almost as one. That heat radiating back against him stirs Dale’s flesh in flickers and flutters. Home. Want. Stay. Belong. A million things he never thought he would feel and yet does, in every fibre of his being, that urge him to just quit right there and then, and stay.

At least they would, were the lure of honour, and duty, and saving a world that feels at times beyond saving not calling him, beckoning him to a life that he’d once thought would be all he’d ever want.

“I’ll be waiting. I’ll always be waiting,”

Lee takes his turn for bolstering words, blinding Dale with his smile of pride and passion. His need for Dale hasn’t wavered, but then neither has his understanding of Dale’s need to do his job. So while it’s clear here is where Lee wants him, and that he can’t wait for Dale’s final tour of duty to be over, Lee would never want him to doubt his unshakeable faith, trust, and belief in him.

A brush of lip against lip, a caress of jaw over jaw, and they fit, this perfect procrastination against doing what needs to be done.

It’s different now. Early on in what was them, Dale always felt there was a part of him missing when he left, but now whenever he goes, Lee is with him. His silent prayers of gentle encouragement and absent affection tethering Dale back to him. To home.

Still, despite their fit, their need, their knowing of one another, Lee still sometimes manages to surprise him. Like now, for instance; when Dale should be leaving for the army base and then to head wherever they are taking him this time, he is instead standing, dead centre in a softly lit living room in Lee’s arms, turning in the smallest of circles, listening to the oddly comforting crackle of a turntable on a shelf behind them.

Lee hums softly against his ear, brushing his lips there, shifting and pressing a smile into Dale’s temple at the way he shivers at that gentlest of touches. Hushed words whispered for only him to hear, lyrics as full of longing as Dale is himself.

“I will be back soon,” he promises again, to them both, as his lips glance along Lee’s neck sending out a shudder of his own. Lee grips a little harder as though he can hear the reluctant goodbye of Dale’s words, his subtlety of detaching from him.

“Sooner,” Lee’s whisper is one of seeking reassurance they both know he cannot give. Instead, Dale lifts his head, claims a demanding kiss that conveys hope, and love, and so many things that don’t require the words being spoken out loud.

Another moment, another circle; images of Lee standing here alone in this room after his departure has Dale slump with sorrow, yet gratefulness swoops in swiftly to lift him again with reminders of Lee’s mother and sister mere feet away, ready to give Lee comfort. And purpose. And belonging.

My family, Dale thinks, warmth washing through and soothing him. Granting him something to hold on to. Something to return to. Something to keep him tethered.

A final circle, a final kiss, a final smile. Dale slides his palm against Lee’s cheek and fixes him with a laden look, waiting for the tiny nod that he always gives him back.

A step away, an invisible pull, a wistful smile.

A shift in images, a swiftness of movement, and Lee’s smile fixes in Dale’s thoughts, even if he is no longer standing there in front of him.

He allows himself a moment to wallow, a second to breathe. A secret smile to himself, and then Dale is ready, turning to board the familiar Lockheed Galaxy, slinging his holdall up over his shoulder as his boots crunch in the dirt.

Grounded. Anchored. Tethered.

Ready to do what he must.

Stay

The dent of the mattress, the rustling of sheets. These aren’t the things that wake him, nor the cool air blasting in from the window creaked open in the middle of the night. It’s the wrapping of arms around his waist from behind, the sigh of home that’s breathed into his neck, and the soft kiss to the back of his ear, with the mumble of, I didn’t mean to wake you.

“Ross,” Adam says as he stretches against him, curling into his heat.

A hand squeezes firmer around his waist, then presses flat against his stomach, and Adam smiles as Ross nuzzles into his neck.

“I needed to see you.” Adam hears, and there’s heartbreak betraying the normal strength of Ross’ voice.

It’s hell. It’s been hell keeping away from him like he’s being forced into doing since they were caught together, and his family aren’t anywhere near as strict as Ross’. Adam can’t imagine what it must be like in Ross’ home at the moment, half-wants to turn over and check for bruises for the fury he saw in Ross’ dad’s eyes the last time they spoke.

“Wanna talk it out?” Adam asks, turning his head enough for Ross to kiss him at an awkward angle, sees him shake his head in silhouette against the outside light then lays back down, playing with Ross’ fingers already fighting falling back to sleep; that’s how comfortable Ross makes him.

“I just wanted this. I needed this. Just for a few hours. Can I stay?”

“Never need to ask me that. Never.”

He hears another sigh, but this one’s tinged with relief, and also longing, for a thing that’s currently an impossibility. Just a few more months has become their mantra, until when they’ll be away from here, and can be together out in the open.

“When this… hell, is over, Adam,” Ross says, referring to the separation they’re supposed to be enduring because of people who refuse to understand. There’s uncertainty there this time in his voice, a question he doesn’t finish, as though he fears he won’t like the answer to.

Adam raises up just enough to turn his head, finds Ross’ eyes in the poor light of the room, holds his gaze there for a moment, then nods. Leans in for another kiss before laying back down.

“Stay,” He whispers into the dark as he squeezes Ross’ hand. “When we’re gone from here, we’re gonna fall asleep like this every night, and wake up like it every morning. But until that happens, stay. Stay, with me.”

Ross nods against the back of his head for a moment, then lets out a yawn in reply.

Adam shuffles back further into the warmth of Ross’ arms, and they fall asleep in their temporary bubble away from prying eyes.

Coming Home

Debra had learned to hold on to her emotions. Keep them so tight to her chest that they festered there, sending cruel words spitting out her mouth that she could use to safely mask what she was really feeling.

Emily felt nothing but sadness every time she saw Debra reining her feelings in. She watched, helpless as Debra’s walls flew up and her words flew out, channelling the only emotion Debra allowed herself to feel, which wasn’t even an emotion at all: ‘doing the right thing’, because in as long as she’d known her, Emily had never known Debra to give in to something she wanted if there was the slightest hint it might upset someone else.

With Emily, though, it was an entirely different thing altogether, it was getter harder and harder, to the point where she didn’t want to hold onto what she was feeling at all. But where to start?

Emily put up her own walls too. She had to, to keep herself in check. She couldn’t watch Debra seem to gear up to reach out then withdraw just like she’d been burned, without these walls to fix a mask on. And if her own walls were up, her own feelings couldn’t leak out. Not too much, anyway; at least, she could hope they wouldn’t.

Emily made her feel things. Made her want things Debra had told herself she would never be entitled to have, or even to want; that she’d never had the right to. Things that, in the darkness of night, she’d reveal in secret to her dead parents, imagining the outcome in any number of ways. Rejection. Disgust. Dismissal. But never in acceptance, or happily ever after, or just simple happiness.

Emily knew that Debra would deny herself anything she truly wanted because she didn’t feel she deserved it. All Emily wanted was for Debra to be happy. She wished Debra would let her be one of the things that made her happy but told herself over and over how selfish that was. Debra deserved the best of everything, and she, Emily, she had nothing really to offer Debra.

She wanted Emily. All of her; her friendship, her trust, her time. And though she had to whisper it to herself because this was a volatile emotion that did its best to erupt every time she saw her, she also wanted her love. All the kinds of love that were possible.

Emily wanted Debra. Beyond anything. She’d never known want quite like she did until she’d met Debra, and from that moment on, she’d never known not to want. Debra’s friendship was something she cherished, and her trust too, even if she had to keep breaking and re-earning it until it was a patched and leaking thing, because on days when they felt too close it felt too difficult to have to hold back. Sometimes it was so hard to not blurt out the obvious. To not tell her why she was drawn to her, and why she always stuck around.

Debra looked at Emily, and she felt the rage that brewed within her still to peaceful quiet. She looked at Emily, and the jolt of desire that flooded through her was so violent, she didn’t know how she was still upright instead of drowning in it. She looked at Emily, and the love that burst in her just for seeing her animated her every thought and movement made her believe for a moment it was something she could have before doubt put it out again.

Emily looked at Debra, and she felt at home. She felt all the best and worst of emotions in Debra’s presence. Jealousy when anyone looked her way. Lust when she caught glimpses of Debra changing her clothes, or changing the coffee filter, or changing lane. Anytime, really.

When Emily wasn’t there, it was like all the lights had gone out. She withdrew into a hollow, grumpy shell that barked at anyone who would listen, wounded because Emily had left yet again.

When Emily left she felt as though she was missing a part of her, which she told herself was stupid. But she felt empty, and unsettled, and on edge, unable to focus or do anything with full certainty until she was back with Debra. It hurt her to leave, but what hurt her, even more, was that Debra never asked her to stay. If Emily thought for one moment that Debra felt even a fraction of what she felt, there would be nothing to ever keep her away.

Debra couldn’t work out what was more painful; when Emily left unexpectedly, with Debra having all kinds of things on the tip of her tongue that she was denied the chance of saying, or when she knew Emily was going and those same words refused to come to the surface.

Emily was always torn when she left. She could only make excuses to stay so long. She could only build up hope that this would be the time Debra would ask her to stay. She was always disappointed. Sometimes she left without even so much as a goodbye, and other times she made her intent to leave obvious, giving Debra time to tell her to stick around. She was disappointed and hurt every single time.

This particular time Emily was leaving, Debra knew the second she walked in.

On this occasion, Emily told Debra when she was leaving.

Emily had announced on arrival that she couldn’t stay long, that she had places to be and problems to fix. Debra’s heart pounded, and ached, and longed to be able to have Emily around for longer. For Emily to just stay.

When she’d first arrived, Emily had made it clear there was a timescale here. She had fought with herself, trying to stay away longer and longer, but it hadn’t worked. She’d talked herself into giving Debra yet another one more chance, to see if she’d ask her to stay. To see if any of the feelings Emily had for Debra, Debra would return. Debra looked tenser than usual, and Emily had the sinking feeling that really, Debra didn’t want her there at all.

In the end, it was Debra’s brother Howard that forced the issue, having come over for dinner and already there when Emily arrived. Why was it always Howard?

Howard dragged Debra outside to talk. It seemed that Howard didn’t want her around either, and although that hurt, it didn’t ache nearly as much as the thought of Debra sending her away.

Howard had rounded on Debra and demanded that she pull her head out of her ass before stomping and driving away. It took Debra several minutes to realize that Howard had even taken her car keys, and she was now alone with Emily and would be forced to talk.

Emily had long ago decided not to eavesdrop if she could help it, and so she heard the muffled yet raised voices of Howard and Debra outside, but wouldn’t let her ear strain to make out a single word. There was a crunch of gravel that indicated footsteps, and the slamming of a car door before she heard it being driven away. Emily felt herself crumple; Debra didn’t even want to say goodbye. Emily felt nothing but foolish; how could she have fallen so hard for someone that would never, ever be able to love her back?

Emily was stood where she and Howard had left her when Howard had dragged her outside to talk. Emily leaned against a long cabinet that doubled as a kitchen counter, arms crossed across her chest. She watched as Debra returned to the room and shut the door with her back, leaning against it in mirror to Emily.

Emily did her best not to look surprised when it was Debra, not Howard, who walked back in. She watched as Debra leaned back uncomfortably against the door in silence, tried hard to ignore the digging in her lower back from the counter she was leaning against.

Debra took in a long, shaky sigh, closing her eyes to the rejection and pain she saw dancing in her imagination.

Emily watched as a wave of emotions warred across Debra’s face, and she breathed out awkwardly, eyes shut. Emily’s heart beat loud; was Debra working herself up to ask Emily to leave for good this time?

“Stay.”

Emily heard Debra speak, but it took a moment for the word to sink in.

“Debra?”

Emily’s eyes flew up to Debra’s, doubting yet hoping that she’d heard that one, magical word that she’d been longing to hear for so long.

Debra opened her eyes then, walking slowly towards Emily.

Debra walked towards her slowly, and Emily began to fear she’d made another mistake. She was so sick of getting things wrong, of feeling things wrong, she couldn’t take it much longer if—

“Stay, Emily. Please. Can’t you just stay?”

Surely Debra didn’t mean what she thought she meant. Surely she meant something else entirely, and Emily was misunderstanding yet again.

“Do you still need my help with something?”

That’s all Debra could mean. She needed something from her.

“No, Emily. No help. I just need you. To stay. I need you.”

This was too much. Debra… Debra couldn’t need her. Not like she needed Debra. Not like she wanted Debra. It just couldn’t be possible.

Emily remained silent, watching Debra come ever closer to her.

Emily didn’t want to move for fear of breaking the moment, and so she watched in silence as Debra stepped closer, and closer.

Debra let out another shaky breath and reached her hand out, hesitantly threading her fingers through Emily’s. Emily startled at her touch, but when she jolted in response, Debra gripped harder and brought her other hand up to hold onto Emily’s shoulder. She leaned her full length against her until they breathed the same air.

Emily looked down with a gasp at their entwined fingers, felt the heat from Debra’s other palm radiating across her upper arm. That feeling of home flushed through her entire being as Debra leaned into her completely, in one solid, warm, grounding line.

“I need you, Emily.” Debra’s voice cracked and croaked, and her breath came out staggered as Emily’s eyes widened in understanding.

Finally, finally, Emily allowed herself to believe that what she wanted most was happening. And it was happening right now. Debra wanted her. Debra needed her. Just as much as she wanted and needed Debra.

“Please…” was Debra’s final plea as she rested her forehead against Emily’s, noses bumping as she dipped her chin so she could offer the lightest of kisses.

Emily closed her eyes at the feel of Debra leaning her head down, the soft touch of her lips as gentle as she’d ever imagined.

“Please, Emily. Stay with me.”

Home. Finally, Emily was home.