Table of Contents: Book Four

2. On the eve of battle, Joe and Dex find that they don't know as much about each other as they thought they did. And misunderstandings cannot be allowed to remain unresolved, with death waiting on tomorrow's dawn - Book Four - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall

The touch was feather-light, as always. Nevertheless - as always - he flinched aside from that particular intimacy. Joe was close against him, his body curved around his, his breath soft against his cheek. Everything he had ever dreamed of.

Except that, even if asked, even if begged with love, he had at last realised there was a barrier that it would cost too much to surrender. Tonight he had expected things would be different. He had assumed if asked in this particular case - with love - his inner resistance would crumble.

In the last analysis, it transpired he had been wrong about that.

Always before Joe had taken the hint. Tonight - yes Dex should have known that tonight might be different.

They would both face the unshielded face of death on the morrow, in its separate guises.

It was not unreasonable that Joe would ask more that he had ever sought before.

Eat and drink for tomorrow you die

Eat, drink and - yes, well.

“Don’t do that,” Dex said, perhaps a little more irritably than he in truth meant. After all, tomorrow - was tomorrow. They might both be cold and dead and the sun might be setting over - that Empire upon which the sun never set. What did a little discomfort matter? But it wasn’t - wholly - a physical resistance.

“Do what?” The finger’s pressure was yet more intrusive. He could let matters progress - even, he knew, get pleasure from how events would turn out if he did. But at a price he was not minded to pay.

That. Joe - look - don’t -“

Momentarily the touch ceased. He knew too much to expect that was all.

“Did that bastard hurt you?”

Joe’s tone changed. Dex had never heard anything before like the sound of flat murderous hatred which infused his lover’s voice. To gain time he temporised.

“Who?”

Quibbling - as he should have known - was futile. Joe’s voice was low and savage.

“You know perfectly well who I mean. Did he hurt you?”

There was something he could have said, and it would have been perfectly true, too.

His first lover - and that description of the man, in itself, was bitterly ironic - had hurt him profoundly; in spirit, honour, self-respect; in anything that was worth anything. But he had, Dex thought drearily, been competent and moderately considerate as far as the physical side of things went. It was not precisely fair not to give a strictly honest answer to Joe’s question. And the man was dead, too.

“Not really,” he answered. Joe caught him fiercely and turned him over towards him in the bed.

Tell me.

He shrugged again. “No. Look, Joe , don’t. Please.”

Joe turned even further towards him, unexpectedly blinking back tears - there was no other way to interpret the shine on Joe’s eyes in the light of the bedside lamp.

“Dex, I’m sorry. I just want to make you happy. Truly. There’s no way I’d ask you to do anything you wouldn’t want. I just wondered -“

Joe’s arms stretched out to surround him; he wanted to snuggle in and be lost there forever. But the echoes of a failure - of a cowardly flinching - got between him and that so-feasible, so-accessible bliss.

“Leave me alone. Look, just go. OK? I’m who I am, and you - you deserve better, OK?”

He swung his legs to the floor; Joe turned to him, grabbing frantically at him, fighting off his resistance. The struggle was long and far from bloodless - the lamp was knocked flying and expired in a bang and a shower of blue sparks on the floor; it was a wonder no-one came running to find out who was attacking. Eventually, Joe had had to resort to wrestling him down and then lying half on top of him amid a heap of sheets and pillows.

“Look, you idiot,” Joe breathed half an inch from his face, holding his wrists spread wide apart, his knees pinning down Dex’s thighs, “you’re the best there is. I’ve never wanted anything but the best, and now I’ve got it. OK?”

Dex shrugged helplessly. From where he was positioned, Joe could decipher one level of acceptance of his proposition for himself. If he couldn’t see that there were others -

He could, it seemed. Abruptly the warm weight had vanished. In the tense night there was, momentarily, a waiting stillness. And then the note in Joe’s voice - previously so strained - changed to something lighter, amused; rather the tone in which a man, who has struggled in vain at a recalcitrant door for some time, finally notes that the handle is marked “push” and not “pull”, and upbraids himself for his own stupidity.

“I don’t have anything to prove with you, you know, Dex. Did you think I did? “

He pulled him into a long, leisurely, exploring kiss. His lips were barely an inch from his face when he spoke again.

“And when I said I wanted to do anything that would make you happy, anything was exactly what I meant. Does that change things, hm?”

And this time the direction of his guiding hands left no room to doubt his intention.

“Oh, yes,” Dex breathed. From out of the darkness came a small sound of satisfaction. And anticipation.