9. Joe says what he thinks at last - Book Two - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
The fire sunk low; the evening wore on. Outside the gathering storm beat against the heavy shutters; inside the firelight and the lamplight were warm, inviting. Heartened by their light Dex started to revive. Until he reached for the whisky bottle the same time Joe did, and brushed Joe’s hand.
He started to stammer inconsequential apologies. And then Joe, abruptly, entwined his fingers with his own. The shock knocked him sideways.
“Jeez, Joe, what -?”
“Something I should have done years ago,” Joe said clearly, and bent over and kissed him. Not violently; not intrusively. Not as though he took anything at all for granted.
Just kissed him.
His lips were softer than anything Dex could possibly imagine, and slightly parted.
Dex thought his heart was about to stop.
“Wha-? But Joe - you’re not - you don’t -“
One immensely strong hand caught his own at the wrist, pulling it inexorably downward to rest on Joe’s crotch. Under his captured and shocked fingers Joe’s dick was rigidly erect, pressing upwards against the soft fabric of his pants.
Dex uttered a small gasp that was practically a whimper. Joe’s pupils were dilated; his face looked transcendent in the firelight, like when he’d come back to base after lifting home a plane by his bare hands and sheer force of willpower from some death or glory mission over enemy territory.
“I don’t?” he murmured. “I’m not?”
“Please,” Joe murmured. “Please. Please, Dex. Oh God, I want you so much.”
His world was changing - being new-made around him by the second. Timidly, gently, guiltily his hand against Joe’s pants spread wide and started to stroke. Joe let out a long hissing sigh of satisfaction, and stretched his own hand out in turn.
“Oh - oh Jeez, Captain - oh. Oh. OH.”
Joe’s fingers were wriggling determinedly past the waistband of Dex’s pants. Uncontrollably, he thrust up to meet them. His naked flesh met Joe’s questing finger-tips. A small, fierce sound, almost a growl, came from deep within Joe’s throat as they connected. Dex gulped.
” I - oh - gosh - are you trying to say that - uh, you can’t possibly mean you - uh - want me - uh - That Way? Cap- ?”
There was a rumble of amusement from the body now pressed close - amazingly, wonderfully close - beside him on the chesterfield. The voice was low, rough, urgent. And warm with a depth of affection which set him ablaze.
“Get a grip, Dex. I didn’t think I was making myself obscure. But if I was, then I’m sorry.”
Soft lips and warm breath pressed against his left ear.
“Dex: I want you in every conceivable way. And I want you now.”
And this time the kiss was a ferocious capture of his lips, and Dex found within himself an almost equal ferocity, as he pulled Joe down upon him and his tongue darted up into Joe’s mouth. Joe, wriggling across to straddle him, pinned his thighs between his knees. He thrust up his hips to meet the sweet pressure of Joe’s dick against his own. Joe gave a small gasp, and slid his hand between their bodies, rubbing, stroking, caressing; even through the thick fabric of his pants making Dex feel as though he would die from sheer pleasure if it continued another second while simultaneously turning him inside out with longing for more.
It was Joe who broke away first.
“Too many clothes. Much too many clothes.”
He was tearing his shirt off as he spoke - not bothering to remove the cuff-links and leaving it half-buttoned as he ripped it over his head and tossed it recklessly aside.
But Dex - however much he wanted to seize whatever the next few minutes brought (and he couldn’t even imagine living past them, so frantically urgent his body felt, so fast and hard the thundering of his heart) - was still a man cursed with the mind of a born scientist. He had never been unable to ask “why”? Even, some tiny part of his brain acknowledged, when the fantasies of years of sleepless nights were coming true around him, and inquiry at this moment was both insane and counter-productive.
“Joe - please? What? Why - why now? Tell me, please. Talk to me. Please. Why? Why now?”
Joe turned to him; his expression so nakedly open that it struck Dex abruptly as far more intrusive for him to be looking at his face than at his bare torso with its fine dusting of dark-gold hair - and anyway, they’d swum together often enough on hot summer afternoons at the base, and heaven knew he’d cast enough - hopefully - unseen glances on those occasions so that shouldn’t be any news to him, whatever else the evening might reveal - but on the other hand somehow Joe’s body had just acquired a different quality now he knew he was in some bewildering sense licensed to look at him guilt-free and unashamed. And it wasn’t fair, because his arousal was now so intense he couldn’t think straight - and given what Joe had suddenly resumed doing with his fingers he was plainly determined to prevent Dex being able to think in coherent sentences any time soon -
“Joe - oh God - Joe - Jeez - Cap -” was the best he could manage. And then the right phrase - or was it the idiotically wrong one? By now he couldn’t tell - managed to escape his lips.
“Too much. Too much at once, Joe. Please? Slower?”
“What?” The green eyes widened - the fingers stopped their delicious wandering. “Don’t you want -?”
He practically choked - of course he wanted - how could Joe possibly be in any doubt about that -? But - did he not realise - ?
“You could go to jail,” he gasped out. It was the first thing that came into his head.
Joe put his head on one side; looked at him very steadily for a second or so. Then, deadpan, he said, “So you haven’t noticed how close I’ve been to strangling Polly, these last few months? And they’d certainly send me to the chair for that. So I’m supposed to think jail is a problem by comparison?”
And he raised a questioning, provocative eyebrow.
Uncontrollably, Dex giggled. He looked up at Joe, whose face was also alive with laughter. Which wasn’t fair; not at a moment like this. Because Dex needed to keep his head, and when Joe looked like that it was so very difficult -
He had tried to put reproof into his tone, and perhaps succeeded. The laughter left Joe’s face. He reached out an arm, put it around Dex’s shoulders and pulled him down close against his chest.
“Look,” he hissed in his ear, “if you were a life insurance business, what premium would you take on my life, then?”
The sudden question was a jolt. Every single mission Joe flew, at the back of Dex’s mind the black crows rose up and circled, however he tried to drive them back, tried to beat the bad-luck thoughts, however much he checked every nut, every line, every reservoir. However much he told himself that Cap was the best, the best in the business. There had always been one truth at the back of his mind - where he had made sure, for his own sanity, it stayed:
That still means he has to be lucky all the time. The bad guys only need to get lucky once.
But - he cursed himself for his stupidity now - it had never occurred to him that Joe was more than capable of doing the same simple equation.
Joe looked at him, and smiled. But the sadness which hung about his lips tore at Dex’s heart.
“Look, Dex. If you don’t think this is right, tell me. Tell me if you don’t want it - don’t want me. Whatever. But don’t try to put me off with arguments based on risk. Risk is where I live. Risk is what I breathe. I want you, and you aren’t going to put me off just by telling me that it’s too risky, that’s for sure. Please?”
There was a huge lump, like a stone in his throat. His voice was hoarse; he could barely choke the words out.
“Why didn’t you say so? Before? Before I - ?”
The rest of the sentence was lost in an uprush of guilt and fury.
Joe looked at him, his face a stricken mask.
“I’m sorry, Dex. For - for being an idiot. For - being a coward.”
There must have been some instinctive leaping denial in his expression, because Joe made an abrupt chopping gesture with the edge of one hand.
“No - don’t try to pretend I haven’t been, Dex. I ought to have been more honest - with myself, for one thing. And I wasn’t. And you’ve been hurt by it. And I’m so sorry. I should have and didn’t. Because I was scared.”
He dropped his voice.
“In fact; I’m scared now. Bloody terrified, in fact. And that’s not just because - well, not just for the obvious reason.”
The earlier tidal waves of passion and urgency had receded a little; they had left a space within which Dex could still listen, and think, and breathe. Joe’s hands were no longer stroking him, but clutching tightly at his shoulders as though he was drowning in deep water. His nails were biting deep; Dex would be bruised in the morning. But he’d die rather than interrupt Joe now; personal discomfort was an irrelevance. Joe’s eyes were wide, his brow furrowed with need, and concentration. As though he wanted to be absolutely certain that every syllable he uttered was the right one, beyond any possibility of misunderstanding.
As though, Dex thought, with a sudden shock which tingled along every nerve he possessed, this mattered more than anything he’d ever said to anyone before.
“I want you, Dex. But you’re not -” He traced a pattern across Dex’s back with one forefinger. “You’re not the sort of person I could fool around with. You’re too - honest for that. With you - it would have to mean something. And meaning something to anyone - that’s what’s always scared me. More than anything.”
The eyes were hooded now; almost troubled.
“The others -” One circling hand indicated, Dex gathered, Polly and all her ilk. He hoped God would forgive him the small meanness of his fierce upsurge of pleasure at Joe’s dismissive tone. “They don’t want honesty. They don’t want to know who I really am. It’s the Sky Captain they want. Some golden make-believe who’s larger than life, who takes a good photograph, and looks right on their arm - they don’t want anything that might spoil the picture. They don’t want - anything real. Or messy.”
Joe’s expression looked as though he was tasting something bitter, but he pressed on.
“And I’m OK with that. Because it means I don’t have to worry about them getting close. It’s all smoke and mirrors - shadows on the wall. Just gilt paint over plaster of Paris. And it’s fun for me, and they keep their illusions -“
He turned to Dex with his eyes wide open, and Dex’s heart turned over.
“That’s not a stunt I could ever pull with you, Dex, though. You know me. Through and through. You know what a screw-up I am.”
Unbidden, Dex’s hand strayed up to stroke Joe’s dishevelled hair. Joe relaxed his grasp enough to slump across Dex’s chest, settling his head against Dex’s collar-bone. Dex’s arms tightened around him in an effort at comfort.
“No. Never a screw-up.”
“No?” Joe’s voice sounded remote and bitter: more than ever Dex regretted his inquisitive streak.
“Do you remember my nightmares after Nanjing? Suppose I’d told Polly about those. If she’d listened at all, the headline would have been, “Heroes with Feet of Clay”. You, I discovered a bit later, had wandered round and quietly added extra soundproofing to my quarters. In case the men heard me screaming.”
Dex’s face flamed. He looked into the glowing embers of the fire.
“We were doing a lot of noisy work down on the shop-floor at the time. You needed your sleep. Extra sound-proofing was routine for anyone with sleeping quarters on the base.”
“I’m sure. And the tea?”
Dex knew his voice sounded nervous. “Tea?”
Joe’s voice was gentle. “All through the next few months, however early I woke, when I couldn’t stand trying to get back to sleep any more, and got up, I would find you doing something incredibly complicated at a workbench. And you’d always tell me that you’d just put the kettle on, and would I like a cup of tea?”
Dex tried and failed to say something. Before realising that the rules had changed, and actually he was no longer barred from speaking the truth. And that Joe’s ear was inches from his lips.
“I wanted to get in with you,” he breathed awkwardly. “When I heard you dreaming. I just wanted to get in with you. And hold you. Till dawn broke.”
“Oh God.” Joe’s tone was not, Dex thought, irreverent. “I wish you had. Oh God, Dex, I only wish you had.” There was a pause, and then, it seemed, Joe recovered a little of his normal insouciance.
“Not that the tea wasn’t very welcome too, you understand.”
But Dex could hear the note of desperation in Joe’s voice as he said it.
His arms tightened around Joe’s body. Nothing had taught him how to deal with this sort of thing. But instinct had to be worth something, surely. His hand went to Joe’s fly. He made his voice husky.
“And if I had? What would you have wanted? To take your mind off your dreams?”
And, without waiting for an answer, very slowly, with long, lingering and irrelevant strokes, he started to undo the buttons. Joe arched up against his hand. And gasped. And then his own hands stretched out and started frantically tearing at Dex’s clothes. His head was thrown back; Dex could trace the long outline of his jaw and throat silhouetted against the firelight.
“You, Dex. You. Without a stitch on. And hard for me. So hard.”
And the rough passion in his voice lit a dark fire within Dex’s body, rippling out from his groin, igniting his whole body with desire, and one single thought, so that he tore at Joe’s clothes as Joe in turn tore at his, and at last the whole mess was off and thrown God-knew-where about the bothy, and they were clawing at each other and kissing frantically in a tangled heap of limbs on the hearthrug, and Joe was wrong about what he’d said earlier, because he was golden, every inch of him was golden in the firelight, and it wasn’t thin gilding or make-believe either but solid to the core, and real, and true, and his - his own -
Joe’s whisper in his ear was thick, and urgent.
“Tell me, Dex. Tell me. How do you want it?”
Speech was out of the question. And in any event, how could he possibly answer a question like that? His body felt as though it was about to explode; as though any second now any decision of that sort would be made for him. He managed a half-strangled whimper which Joe decoded as a need to have him curl his tongue around his nipples, so that pure molten gold down his nerves and straight to his dick. His hips bucked upwards and he moaned uncontrollably. Joe’s head moved up a little from his chest, his eyes blazing with a fierce, feral light, his lips curled in a triumphant smile that had so much of a tiger’s snarl about it that a vague, faraway part of Dex’s brain thought perhaps he should be afraid, except that he couldn’t be afraid, not when it was Joe. And he must have answered that look, somehow, because the triumph in Joe’s eyes deepened, and his tongue came out and moistened his full lips, and then he turned, moving down his body with a sudden, whiplash fast movement, and Dex felt him take the head of his dick in his mouth, and he sobbed aloud.
“Yes- Oh, yes- “
He was throbbing with need, thrusting frantically into Joe’s mouth, his fingers caught in Joe’s hair, his whole being narrowed to a single point of driving urgency, caught in the paradox that he wanted this to go on forever, and he knew he would surely die if he didn’t come right now.
So abruptly that it almost hurt, Joe’s lips were gone from his dick.
“Wha-?” His protesting sound of bewilderment and frustration was cut short by Joe’s hand over his mouth; he could taste himself on Joe’s skin, salty and pungent.
“Ssh. I thought I heard -“
Joe’s body was tense against his. And then they both heard it. A small, tinkling crash - perhaps a plant-pot being knocked over? And a rapidly suppressed exclamation of annoyance from outside the bothy window.
A wave of shock and shame and deja-vu swept over him. But Joe’s arms were still round him, his lips buried close against the nape of his neck. And his hands were stroking in calming patterns down his body.
“Don’t worry, Dex. I put those shutters up myself. No-one can have seen anything through them. Don’t worry.”
Joe brushed his neck with the lightest of possible kisses, and then was skinning into pants and his heavy sweater, grabbed almost at random from the mess on the floor, and reaching for his gun. He checked it was loaded, and flicked the safety-catch with his thumb.
“I’ll deal with - whoever it is,” he said. “I’ll try and buy a bit of time. Dex - you try and clear up here a bit. In case I have to bring them in. Whoever it is. OK?”
He was gone. His body aching with longing and his nerves jangling with shock and fear and want, Dex began the herculean task of trying to make the bothy look as though two comrades-in-arms had been engaged in nothing more than a quiet evening’s reminiscence by the fireside, with perhaps the odd dram or two to warm them along the way.