8. In which the Omniscient Author realises at last that there is such a things as the Trade Descriptions Act, and that this is a slash novel - Book Three - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
Some charitable soul had lit a fire in his room while they had all been at dinner. There was a sofa piled with soft cushions in time-mellowed oriental fabrics pulled up next to it. Dutifully, Dex tried going over Charlie’s rough sketches, balancing a portable writing desk on his knee. His brain was too fuddled by strain and lack of sleep to make any sensible contributions: proper analysis would have to wait until morning.
Those deep glowing caverns in the heart of the aromatic wood fire caught and held his attention, so he could barely have said whether he slept or waked, dreamt or thought.
At length he bestirred himself, exchanged his long-worn clothes for pyjamas, shrugged on a borrowed dressing-gown and slippers, and headed for the bathroom at the far end of the passage.
A bath would be welcome after his exertions of the last twenty-four hours. Of course, he had had a hasty wash and brush up before dinner, in an attempt to render himself less unworthy of the panelled oak and the seventeenth-century silverware. Nonetheless, he had felt awkward and out of place while Franky - crisp in uniform - and her immaculately tuxedoed brother had swapped obscure quips over the turbot in the glow of the candles. If it hadn’t been for Joe - bruised, bloody and in pyjamas on the other side of the table, and no less mocking and unabashed for all of his current disadvantages - he’d have been tempted to run screaming into the inhospitable November night. It had, after all, been a relief when Franky, pleading the demands of duty, had insisted on heading off on the lonely drive back to Portland, and Charlie, claiming his stump was chafing, had retired to his quarters in the further wing of the big house.
Which still left the enigma of Joe, who had vanished somewhere after throwing on a coat and gumboots to see Franky to her car in the cold and misty dark. He dared not enquire about him for fear of attracting the wrong sort of attention - and, to say truth, because he was thoroughly intimidated by the glacial, impeccably trained serving staff who moved here and there about the place, anticipating one’s wants with a near-telepathy, and freezing one with waves of unspoken, palpable disdain.
At least the water, once he achieved the sanctity of the bathroom at the end of the passage, was boiling. He drifted deep into its embrace, suspended between sleep and wakefulness, only roused when he heard a noise between a knock and a scratch at the bathroom door.
His heart suddenly started pounding. With an enormous effort he conquered his voice enough to say, steadily,
“Sure, Joe. What do you want?”
There was a pause.
“Sorry to disturb your bath, but I have to talk to you. About the Legion, and how they’re going to cope. Given that as Charlie said earlier, as there seem to be plenty of people who want me dead it might be easier and simpler if I just decided to be dead until the band starts to play. But that has consequences, Dex. And you’re the only person I can trust to deal with them. Can we talk? Say, in about fifteen minutes? In your room?”
Idiotically, he nodded. And then, realising how stupid that was, behind a shut door, he said, in a calm, matter-of-fact voice dredged up from a place within himself he didn’t know he possessed,
“OK, Joe. See you later.”
He heard soft padding footsteps diminish down the passage, going away from him.
The hell with lousy British soap! It got everywhere and stung your eyes to streaming, so that anyone who didn’t know might think from looking at you - might think -
The hell with all of it!
Dex threw the loofah vindictively against the small opaque pane of the bathroom window.
The fire had fallen to ash and coals while he had soaked in the tub. Its dim red glow was the only light in the room as he pushed open the door. He groped his way to the four poster bed; he might as well be warm while he waited for Joe to come and lay down the law about what needed to be done next to save the world.
Which he would carry out. Of course. To the letter. As he always had, and hang the cost, and what he might ever have wanted - or hoped - or expected - for himself -
His body, rolling resentfully in between the fine linen sheets, hit something warm, solid, and very much alive. His instinctive gasp of shock was abruptly muffled against a bare shoulder as darting impertinent hands flickered anywhere and everywhere across his body; going before, behind, between. Soft lips and teasing tongue danced over his ear, caressing a lingering trail along his Adam’s apple and the hollow of his throat.
“Oh, Jeez!” Dex muttered, fighting his way up to coherence past the clamorous blood pounding in his ears. “Why didn’t you say? Something? When I was in the bath?”
Joe’s voice trembled with laughter almost to over-brimming in the soft, warm, scented dark.
“What could I say? Use that genius brain of yours, Dex. Say something? In a house with one cook, one housekeeper, a parlour-maid, a tweeny, and a scullery maid? All of them with two good ears apieceand minds filthier than an Algerian street drain?”
The note of arrogant possessiveness in the assured, familiar voice deepened.
“Besides - who says I mustn’t surprise you if I want to?”
And any response he might have been capable of making was overthrown by the teasing deftness of those invisible fingers, moving across his body, fidgeting at the entrance to his borrowed pyjamas, diving in and out between his body and his clothes. Despite himself, he let out a squeak of sheer pleasure.
“Oh, please. Yes. Yes, there. Right - there. Oh, Cap -“
Suddenly, the fingers were closing in a more determined assault on his clothes, and he found himself suddenly co-operating, frantically kicking at folds of confining fabric, freeing his body from like a swimmer kicking up from deep water from the tangling weeds that drifted treacherously beneath the surface.
And then he was naked, pressed tight against Joe’s body. Joe had one arm tight round his shoulders; his other hand was cupping his balls in a warm, assured palm, while his fingers flexed and rubbed and pressed, gentling and dividing, and Dex’s whole body arched up as the piercing sweetness tore through him, and his lips were forced hard against Joe’s shoulder, and his teeth bit uncontrollably into his flesh and it might all be perversion and un-American to boot, but just this second it felt like the most natural thing in the world, like he was flying, and he wanted it, he wanted it so much, and Joe wanted it too, he could feel that, wanted it desperately and nothing was going to stop them now -
“You know what I thought, when my crate was going down over the sea back there?” The rough, arrogant voice came from somewhere above his left ear. Dex shook his head, wordless.
“I thought, ‘But I can’t die now. There’s something I’ve still got to do.’ “
There was a fractional pause, and then that voice again, like honey mixed with rye whiskey. “Lie back, Dex. I want to bring you off. And I promise: when I do it’s going to be better than anything you ever felt before. Trust me on that. Call it a bargain I struck with my guardian angel.”
The laughter in Joe’s voice this time was reckless, abandoned; Dex could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rising. But oh God how he wanted this - if anyone interrupted them now he’d kill them with his bare hands - he couldn’t bear for this to go on unresolved for a moment longer.
“Yes,” he muttered. “Oh, yes. Please. Now, Joe. Please.”
He hardly needed to have said anything; almost before he had finished Joe’s mouth was warm and fierce again on the hollow of his throat, and then Joe’s lips were moving down his body with deliciously tantalising slowness; nibbling, nuzzling, circling his nipples with a languorously decadent tongue-tip, and the pleasure was almost unbearable, almost too much for his body to take, even though stopping was unthinkable too - so he couldn’t keep silent, even if Charlie did have legions of house servants with filthy minds lurking in the corridors - but then, if he did, they were lost, both of them, and it didn’t matter for him but Joe could never bear the slime which would be thrown at his golden reputation if this ever came out, whatever he thought now in the heat of the moment -
Dex choked his moan back with superhuman effort, muffling his mouth in the blanket, stifling it to the barest of choked whimpers. Joe made a protesting noise, and raised his head a fraction from Dex’s chest. His voice bore a freight of emotion Dex had not dreamt it could possess.
“Dex! Don’t spoil it, please. It doesn’t have to be in words - but - Dex - I want to hear you telling me you want this. It - matters to me, Dex. Believe me. It matters.”
Dex’s hand reached up, catching the back of Cap’s head, grasping at his hair, pulling him up to kiss him. Yes: it was clumsy, it was frantic, it was incompetent - jeez, what chances had he ever had to gain experience at this sort of thing? Lips banged on teeth and nose collided with nose. Belatedly, as Joe failed to restrain a gasp of discomfort, Dex remembered that he was manhandling an injured man, one who’d crashed his kite into the ungentle embrace of the English down-lands not forty-eight hours before.
“Oh, God, Cap, I’m so sorry -“
But whatever else his kiss wasn’t, it had been unequivocal. Joe was, despite his pain, responding with blazing passion, and something else; something Dex found almost incomprehensible, and which he was hard pressed to put a name to, though there were several which seemed almost appropriate.
Gratitude. Relief. Homecoming.
“Oh, God, I want you, Dex. I’ve wanted you for so long. Let me - “
There was a pricking behind Dex’s eyes, thankfully invisible in the sheltering dark. But he made his voice steady, firm, unequivocal.
“Then take me, Cap. Now. ‘Cause I can’t bear to wait any longer. And that’s God’s honest truth.”
There was the briefest of pauses. And then -
Joe ducked beneath the bedcovers to take Dex within his mouth, and Dex lost his last vestiges of discretion and moaned aloud.
His hips pushed upwards of their own accord, and his hands reached out in the darkness, one cupping round the back of Joe’s head, tangling his fingers in his hair, pulling him down on him, and the other sliding urgently across Joe’s chest. With a deft wriggle, his tongue and lips hell-bent on demonstrating to Dex throughout the manoeuvre just what pleasure meant (and his heart now was pounding so hard he spared a fraction of a thought for what would happen if his chest just exploded now, so why he hadn’t heard of more people perishing that way before?)Joe twisted his whole body through ninety degrees and raised his head momentarily to hiss his words into the bedroom dark.
“Dex - I want to feel your hand on me when you -“
It was an invitation to which he must respond.
His fingers reached out, fumbling in the darkness, closed around Joe’s dick, and started to stroke. And he had never known anything in his life which had the power to move him like the way Joe thrust up to his questing palm, or how Joe’s soft, broken, muffled moan reached into some place deep inside him, and pierced through every last barrier he had.
“Oh, Jeez,” Dex gasped, as his every muscle tensed and his body arched, rigid, for a split second before he abandoned himself totally and release swept through him in shuddering waves. His fingers bit deep as they clasped Joe’s shoulders as though he needed to cling on for dear life or risk being overwhelmed in the flood; swept away into the thundering darkness and lost forever.
“Yes!” Joe’s voice had a fierce note of exultation in it. And then, less certainly, “Good?”
The sudden note of diffidence in his voice evoked a spike of tenderness. Dex clutched at him, pulling him close. His tongue felt thick in his mouth; his body spent, but while he struggled to gather his thoughts so as to say something he found, miraculously, that his hands, at least, were still capable of communicating. Dex could feel Joe relax under his stroking fingers, and his hands wandered almost at will over Joe’s naked body, skimming over scars and tight bands of muscle, lingering suggestively where Joe’s sudden half gasps and indrawn breath suggested to Dex that they should. He smiled; a quiet, wholly private smile in the darkness. He might have limited experience at this sort of thing, but it was reassuring to realise that even in this strange new territory the experimental method still held validity. Hypothesise - test - record results - refine procedures - repeat -
“Good? Oh yes. But now -” he breathed, and kicked the bedcovers aside, wriggling down Joe’s body, feeling a sense of power he had never felt before as his mouth closed around Joe’s dick and he heard Joe’s breathing suddenly become a ragged, urgent panting. Joe’s hands on the back of his head forced him harder down on him, and he heard a broken off gasp as his lips pushed back Joe’s foreskin and then he started to do things with his tongue he’d never even dreamed of doing to anyone before, but from the sounds Joe was making and the frantic movements of his body beneath him they seemed to be the right things, so clearly the experimental method was working here, too -
“Oh my God, yes -!”
Joe came, abruptly, in a warm salty flood in his mouth, and Dex, caught unawares, spluttered and coughed frantically.
By the time he had recovered himself Joe had switched on the bedside light, and was looking down at him with a quizzical, half-contrite, half-amused expression on his face.
“Sorry about that, Dex. But then, I never claimed to be a gentleman.”
His arms were open, inviting, his eyes dancing. Dex, his limbs leaden, crawled gratefully into his embrace. Joe’s arms tightened around him, and somewhere at that moment fighting the waves of lassitude became too much of an effort. He rested his head on Joe’s chest, closed his eyes and let the warm darkness take him.
There was a hand, stroking his hair. There was a warm, even sound of breathing from inches above his head. There was - he reached out exploring fingers - the smooth muscularity of someone’s chest under his cheek.
“Mm? Expecting to wake up next to someone else, were you? Should I know about this?”
A flood of embarrassment swept hotly through him.
“I fell asleep?”
The stroking hand never faltered, nor did the familiar voice lose its amused note.
“Well, you know, it’s traditional.”
With a tremendous struggle he opened his eyes. The bedside light was on, and the fire was still glowing; he could hardly have slept that long, then. And Joe -
Dex pushed himself up on one elbow. He had watched the Captain’s face for years, now; seen him both victorious and all-but-beaten; seen him desperate, furious, triumphant, defensive, sulky, defiant, provocative and merely bored.
He had never seen - what he now saw in Joe’s face under the reflected lamplight. His kiss-swollen lips. His tumbled hair. His eyes - oh God, his eyes -
That was what I did?
Their eyes met, and then Joe was kissing him again, with a thoroughness that, Dex thought wildly and perhaps a little hysterically, suggested he’d been called upon to provide a complete relief map of his tongue and tonsils , and he was determined to ensure that no-one criticised him for inadequacy of the survey data.
“God,” Joe muttered as they pulled apart, “that gets harder to stop each time I start. Look, Dex, I could stay here all night but - I should be getting back to my own bed. Franky wasn’t joking about what the quack said, and you - you need your sleep - after all, there’s a plane you’ve got to rebuild in the morning -“
Involuntarily, he groaned. He had, in the events of the last few hours, forgotten the Warhawk.
“How bad is it? Really? No bullshit, Joe.” He tried not to let the scolding note creep into his voice. Joe made an airy gesture, but there was something about the lines of his face which belied his confidence.
“Well, nothing you can’t fix, Dex -“
Briefly, in a white-hot flash of anger, he wondered whether there was some rule of formal etiquette - obviously it wouldn’t be the kind of thing that made it to the pages of Emily Post, but surely it must have been dealt with somewhere, and research would find it - which dictated how shortly after hot, amazing and in all respects bone-dissolvingly ecstatic love-making it was OK to strangle one’s lover for being an inconsiderate ass-hole, with no respect whatsoever for the complexities of delicate engineering and a general attitude towards the workshop staff that “the impossible they do at once; miracles take a little longer”. And then a saving wave of humour swept over him.
“You cheapskate bastard,” he hissed. Joe’s head reared up from the pillow.
“Well -” He was really getting into this now; the fun of having pushed Joe off balance for once was getting into his blood. “Your girls all get dinner and a movie, but all I get is a spanner and instructions to sort out whatever lash-up you’ve put onto the fuel line this time - call that a date, Joe?”
And, belatedly, Joe was seeing the funny side too; they were in each other’s arms and giggling like teenagers. Until, abruptly, Joe caught Dex’s chin in one hand, tipping it up until he could look straight into Dex’s eyes. His voice was serious.
“Look, Dex: there is one other thing I need you to do. Beside fixing the kite.”
He’d been prepared for that; he’d worked it all out for himself in the bath, half a life-time ago. Suddenly sobered, he nodded.
“I know, Cap. The Legion.”
Joe’s eyes fixed on his with absolute concentration. “I need you to go back and find out what’s happening. Once they get rumours I’ve died the men could be trouble. And there’s the contract, too - You do know; you’re the only one I could trust to handle something like that, don’t you?”
He kissed him lightly on the forehead. “Don’t stay too long. I need you too much here. And watch after yourself. The bad guys will be after you, too. And I couldn’t bear - Travel incog, and travel fast. Davies can get you fake ID that should pass. I’d go in via the St Lawrence route if I were you - pretend to be Canadian if you think you can manage the accent. Find out what you can about what’s been happening over there. Unless you think there’s good reason not to, leave Sandy in charge. He hasn’t a lot of imagination, but he’s dead straight, and won’t be bullied in a hurry. Tell them I’m missing, but don’t be too specific about where I might have gone down. Just say you’re coming back to Europe to co-ordinate the search. After all, whatever they believe, they’ll know you won’t be likely to leave the last place I was seen alive without body parts and accounted-for wreckage. And a coroner’s report. In triplicate.”
Dex blinked; his vision was suddenly blurred. It wasn’t that the fact came as any surprise to him; just that it hadn’t occurred to him to realise that Joe knew it, too. Had, from the matter of fact way he said it, known it for some time, too.
Joe gave him a quick squeeze around his shoulders. “Anyway. Get your sleep out.” There was a faint thread of laughter in his voice, and in the crinkles around his eyes and mouth. “Don’t look so stricken, Dex, there’s a good boy. There’s at least forty-eight hours work for the two of us on that crate, and I spotted some more-than-adequately appointed mechanics’ quarters at the back of the hangar. We’ll manage, never fear.”
And with another kiss he was gone.
Dex stretched out in the great four-poster between the fine linen of the sheets; alone but, for the first time he could remember, no longer lonely. His skin still tingling with the feel of remembered caresses, he fell asleep to the sounds of owls hooting from the park outside.