Chapter 1 - Not a Whisper by A.J. Hall
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.
W.H. Auden, Lullaby
After the first painful day or two following his being passed fit for active duty, Draco had learned not to enter the mess room unless accompanied by Neville.
It was true that the initial vocal hostility of his fellow combatants had muted into a less aggressive - though not more tolerable - silent exclusion. Now, with a couple of successful missions behind him, there was even the possibility that one or two of his side might even address a remark to him which was not a jibe, or manage to refrain from sliding their eyes sidelong to see whether he was yet flinching when tales of their successful exploits - the killings or maimings of those whom, for the most part, he had known from birth - were being gleefully, and somewhat too deliberately, recounted.
Nevertheless, it was not somewhere he would have chosen to go. That night, however, he had no alternative. Neville had not been at supper - had not, in fact, been seen since the scrambled, edgy debriefing on their return from the jaws of near disaster. Standing Orders and his private intentions marched side by side on this one: it was the primary duty of one team member to investigate thoroughly any unexplained absences of other team members at the earliest opportunity. Failure to find them following such an investigation - he realised suddenly - fell to be reported as Presumed Enemy Abduction.
That thought clawed at his gut. He conjured up an alternative picture in his head, hurriedly, in order to defeat the bad-luck demons. Neville would be sitting in the mess-room, talking to some ghastly ex-Gryffindor or Hufflepuff or something - probably he’d taken the hump about the things he’d said after the Death Eater attack they had so narrowly foiled that afternoon - perhaps he had been a bit harsh in the heat of the moment - but surely Neville couldn’t have thought he’d meant them - not brilliant timing, nonetheless, given his plans for the evening - no, maybe he was just locked in conversation with some god-awful bore - he was just the type not to have the common sense to invent a plausible engagement elsewhere -
A comforting thought that lasted him until he finally got round to poking his head into the - as he ascertained in the first five seconds - completely Neville-free mess room. The cool tones of the only other inhabitant of the room - a Ravenclaw he could dimly remember as having been in the dizzy heights of the fifth year when he had been a first former - demanded to know what he was after.
I’m based here. I’m fighting on your side. I’m entitled to be here.
At that last thought he encountered, automatically, a denial from deep within himself. He had grown up entitled - blood and bone he had known that. In this alien environment, however, he was owed nothing; could claim nothing by right. He was here on sufferance, and the arrogant Ravenclaw occupying the armchair next to the fire knew it.
“Have you seen Neville? He hasn’t been around since before supper. I’m checking.”
The other surveyed him in a leisurely way before responding.
“I’ve not seen him myself. But I’m surprised you’re bothering to look. I understand you met some of your old friends this afternoon. I’d have thought you’d have found their company much more congenial.”
Hot blood stirred, driving words furiously to his mouth, there to die unuttered. His mother’s warnings from the last time he had seen her choked the words back in time:
All I can do for you I have done. If you even want to survive, let alone still be lord of the Manor when this is over you’ll have to learn to keep your mouth shut at times when you will want to scream. And put up with things with a smile when you’d rather choke. Oh, and remember: don’t eat anything which you haven’t personally seen being served from the common pot, and check your wand every morning and your back always. Don’t imagine there’ll be anyone else willing to do it for you. There won’t.
He made his voice cool and unembarrassed, inwardly cursing his clear pale skin that he knew must be flushing betrayingly.
“I think the word you were looking for was former friends, you know. And for your information: no, I wouldn’t. Not even present company excepted on that one, actually. Well, as he’s obviously not here, I’d better carry on looking. Especially since it seems none of you lot can be arsed. Goodnight.”
He ducked out of the mess room before the Ravenclaw could say anything else. Outside, in the corridor, he was furious to find himself shaking with reaction. He ducked into the loos, and leaned heavily on one of the sinks, staring blindly into the mirror and swearing rhythmically under his breath until he could bring his body back under control.
The reflection of his own face swam suddenly into his consciousness. He looked at it dully, as though at a stranger he had little interest in becoming acquainted with. It was, indeed, not someone it was easy to recognise. The mirror was giving him a preview of what he might look like in middle age, with taut dry skin stretched over too-sharp bones, and huge purple shadows under exhausted, defeated eyes. Under the harsh fluorescent lighting his silver blond hair might just as well have been grey.
Not that I’m likely to live long enough to find out what that would really look like.
For a brief moment he toyed with a rough, exhilarating fantasy of letting everything go: of storming back into the mess-room, catching the Ravenclaw unawares, letting rip with everything he’d been taught. The last vestiges of a sense of the ridiculous brought him back to his senses, as it conjured up a vision of some improbable future cross-examination.
“So, Mr Malfoy, what did make you use Avada Kedavra on him?”
“Well, he accused me of being a Death Eater, you see.”
The flash of humour calmed, but did not warm him. Loneliness rose up in him as a physical ache, spreading along his arms inwards from his wrists, concentrating itself in a tearing emptiness beneath his rib-cage. So far as he knew, there were only two people in the whole world who cared if he lived or died - or at least, cared in the sense of preferring the former alternative. The first was at least the breadth of the country away, spinning webs of dispassionate intrigue to salvage what she could from the wreckage of their former lives, and the other -
Is either deliberately avoiding me or in the hands of the Dark Lord.
As, for the first time, he allowed the thought to become concrete, he shivered. He realised now just how much he had come to rely on Neville’s unexpected, undemonstrative acceptance of him; on his dry, deliberately delivered, pomposity-puncturing wit; on his steadfast refusal to take him any more seriously than he need do, all of which had been a flung lifeline to him in the early days when he had been on the point of drowning in his own angst.
Rather like you’re doing at the moment, in fact, you stupid bugger.
Damn. That tart inner reminder had even managed to sound Lancashire. It was more than time he took some drastic action to resolve this situation. Things had gone on long enough. He pushed himself up against the sink edge, and regarded himself severely in the mirror, inventorying his features this time with ruthless objectivity. He might have been ill, and none of them was getting enough sleep these days, but he was still his mother’s son and had the cheekbones to prove it.
There was one last place for him to check. If Neville was not in his room, then he was bloody well going straight to Command and insisting that they turn out on full alert instantly. If he was there, on the other hand -
“I’ve about had enough of this farting around,” he said aloud to his reflection. “Now or never. After all, what do I have to lose?”
The mirror, being Muggle-designed, kept its own counsel on that one. He gave it a sudden, doubting look, and then squared his shoulders and marched decisively out of the loos.
He had not been to Neville’s room before. The glass-sided, draughty covered passageway that lead from the main bulk of the expropriated hotel to the annexe where Neville was billeted was, fortunately, deserted. Unlike the over-fussiness of the main hotel, the annexe had been designed on starker lines: rough cast white-painted stone walls meeting dark polished beams and matching floorboards. Its simplicity soothed and reassured him. Guided by the invenio charm he found the right door in seconds, and tapped. The silence which greeted his knock suddenly caught at his throat.
No - please no - please -
His second knock produced a faint sound in response, little more than an exhalation, but deeply reassuring nonetheless. Without waiting for more invitation he used an unlocking charm - god, he needs someone to look after him, if I can go through this door like a hot knife through butter anyone can - and walked straight in.
He suppressed a shocked exclamation. Neville was sitting on the edge of the bed, his head resting on his drawn up knees, still wearing the mud-stained robes and heavy boots that he had been wearing all day. There was blood as well as mud on those robes, though not Neville’s own: the single Death Eater left standing after their counter-attack had caught Neville bodily and swung him round to act as a shield against Draco’s lunge towards him: a strategy which was proof enough against hexes hurled from a distance, but not against a marsh-reed Transfigured on the instant into a stiletto, and deftly thrust in under Neville’s armpit and up to the hilt between the ribs of his captor.
They had Apparated out from the bloody battlefield without pausing to check whether the stroke had been a fatal one, though Draco suspected that his late adversary’s chances of survival would be low unless the enemy policy on picking up badly wounded survivors had changed radically over the last couple of months.
And it looked as though Neville had been sitting in one position on his bed in the chill room ever since they had returned. He did not even look up at Draco’s arrival.
Draco paused. Before he had left the Dark Lord’s headquarters there had been rumours that the Torpere curse had finally been perfected. Unlike Imperius it did not allow one to control another’s will, but instead paralysed the victim’s ability to choose his own actions. It was easier than Imperius, though: the wizard choosing to use it could cast it and go rather than have to maintain the constant vigilance over the victim required by Imperius. Those affected by Torpere might be left to wander listless and irresolute until they fell victim to some attack that they were too apathetic to fend off. It was entirely possible that the dying Death Eater had managed to cast Torpere before they Disapparated.
If there was a counter-curse he had yet to hear of it. And he imagined that no-one at the base had yet even managed to cotton on to the existence of the curse itself yet. He shuddered, momentarily, at a vision of having to explain to someone like that bloody Ravenclaw that Neville was sitting around in his quarters, the victim of a previously unknown Dark curse. Obviously no-one would believe that he had had nothing to do with the casting of it.
No - no help can be expected from the good guys here.
He was going to have to sort this one out on his own. Somehow.
Obviously nothing was registering through Neville’s eyes and ears at the moment; his failure even to look up as Draco entered was sufficient proof of that.
So I’ll have to see whether any of the other senses are still working.
Draco went over to the bathroom and returned with a face-flannel soaked in warm water. He began to sponge off the worst of the mud and blood from Neville’s face and hands. Incongruously, he was suddenly reminded of watching one of the half-wild Kneazles who colonised the Manor outbuildings trying to encourage a semi-frozen and terrified kitten that had been attacked by a fox to move into shelter. That situation had finally been resolved by the adult Kneazle losing patience, spreading its claws and landing the kitten an exasperated swipe full across its sensitive nose. In sheer self-defence the kitten had been shocked into activity, and scurried away into some lair in the old stable block.
Well, at least that’s a strategy I can keep in reserve.
He finished what he could do with the flannel, and sat down on the bed next to Neville, reaching across to massage his shoulders with both hands.
Come on, you idiot. Come back to the land of the living. Anywhere else you were thinking of straying is my personal domain and I’ve just put up “Trespassers Will Be Hexed” signs, anyway.
“Come on,” he said firmly, “snap out of it.”
There was no discernable response. “Don’t be so ridiculous,” he continued after a pause long enough for an imagined answer. “By the way, you’ve made one hell of a mess of this duvet with all that mud and stuff. You can’t go pissing off the house-elves like that: that’s my prerogative. If you start doing it as well they’ll probably go on strike, and then where would we all be?”
The silence continued. Draco made an exasperated noise at the back of his throat, but continued talking doggedly.
“And for once, supper was vaguely edible. And you’ve gone and missed it.” His restlessly moving fingers bit deep into the tense shoulder muscles. Neville stirred under his touch, as though coming to life at last.
“Draco? What are you doing here?”
Thank god. Some reaction, at least. Maybe this isn’t a will-sapping Dark curse after all. Or maybe the guy who cast it just wasn’t up to reading the instruction book properly.
He made his voice very patient. “I’m rubbing your shoulders. If you don’t like it, I’ll stop.”
The voice was very hesitant. “No - I meant - look, I nearly got you killed this afternoon -“
“I know that. I said so at the time.”
“Um. Yes, I know. I heard. So did half the base, I expect. Er - I was there, you know. I meant - look, do you want me to go and tell Command that it isn’t working out?”
“Well - I mean - I thought - look, isn’t that why you’re here?”
“No, of course it bloody isn’t, you fucking imbecile. I mean - you nearly got us killed today - but, then, so far as I remember, I fucked up big style in spades last Monday - the previous Friday was probably about evens, all things considered - Thursday before that was on the whole not your finest hour - though, come to think of it, nether was the previous day mine - look, how about we say that if we do manage to get through to the end of this lot, and if we’re both still alive when we finally get round to totting up the potentially lethal fuck-ups we’ve each perpetrated, the one with the worst record gets to buy the beers, ok?”
Neville looked at him, hesitantly.
“So - if you aren’t coming to tell me you don’t want to work with me again, then why are you here?
Suddenly, at that bald question, his voice went back on him, and croaked in his suddenly dry throat.
I know exactly why I’m here. I’m just not certain if I can stand to tell you, now I’ve got myself here to do it.
Rubbish. Go for it.
He cleared his throat, deliberately. He took a deep breath.
Now or never. What do you have to lose, after all?
“I - ah - I - er - more or less was planning to seduce you this evening. Actually.”
The words dropped onto the evening air in the cold room like small, super-charged balls of lead. Neville suddenly moved forwards to sit on the edge of the bed, paused there, momentarily frozen, and then began to turn, inevitably, towards the sound of Draco’s voice. Caught in the full blaze of his startled, appalled gaze Draco appreciated, instantly, the moment when one small noise in the high Alps triggers an avalanche. In real time he watched the moment when a snow-covered hillside shudders, thinks, pauses - and then reaches the point of no return and goes tumbling down in heedless ruin to the valley below.
Neville’s voice was high and panicky sounding.
Oh fuck. I mean - oh, fuck, what else could I possibly mean? Oh fuck. The one halfway decent thing you ever had going for you round here. The one person among this bunch of arsy sanctimonious bastards who could stand to be with you without trying to kill you. The one person in all this base who cared if you lived or died. And that was the sound of your just blowing all of that. Oh, fuck!
Now apparently no longer under the control of his will at all, his voice rattled lightly, flippantly, unstoppably on.
“Well, of course, I meant: “Given sufficient encouragement,” for the seduction bit, of course.”
Neville audibly took a deep breath. “Of course. Naturally.”
One consolation: Neville’s voice, once he had recovered from the initial shock was calmer than he could have expected, given the circumstances. Perhaps he wouldn’t turn round and kill him instantly. Nevertheless -
If you had had the benefit of even two or three years grace either side of this bloody mess, then you’d have had nothing more to worry about than passing your NEWTS. You’d have probably been sitting at some desk in Hogwarts this very moment, working your way through practice papers. Like this, perhaps -
“Defence Against The Dark Arts - Practice Paper I
Candidates should assume that, if necessary, completely contrary to their training and hereditary inclinations, they are fighting on the side of Light.
You have just injudiciously made a pass at the one person you thought you could rely on, as a friend, to guard your back during the current near hopeless life and death struggle against the powers of ultimate evil. The passee has indicated that the pass concerned was neither
A) expected; nor
1) Pretend that it was all a huge bluff, designed to snap the passee out of a presumed Dark Curse having subtle, will-sapping effects that only you can detect;
2) Go back into the camp, and let rip with Avada Kedavra against anyone who irritates you - after all, how much do you have to lose now;
3) Go out and get completely wazz-arsed - after all, it will be much easier to deal with the disastrous aftermath of this ghastly situation once you contemplate it while you’re restraining the impulse to vomit unstoppably as a sledge-hammer pounds inexorably away inside your skull; or
4) Bury your head in your hands, muttering: “Oh fuck oh fuck oh god oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.” For some time to come, actually.
When he raised his head again Neville was still looking at him with an expression that could only be described as “gob-smacked”.
“But why would you want to seduce me?”
There was a truthful answer to that, of course. But not one which he could possibly express, especially after his earlier fiasco. Draco temporised.
“Well - er - um - there’s a war on. I thought that as a well-known nice guy you might be prevailed upon to make a possibly doomed warrior happy on what could easily be his last night on earth.”
Neville looked at him questioningly, for a moment, and then emitted a brief, infinitely reassuring “huff” of amusement.
Thank god. He’s going to be nice about it. Stupid of me to be afraid of anything else, actually. Oh shit though. Oh shit.
“Well, as approaches go that could be a lot worse. I was expecting you to say something like: ‘Given we’re most likely doomed, I thought you might not want to die a virgin.’ “
Draco gave an involuntary squawk of indignation. “Certainly not. Even if I did think you were, I’d be much too tactful to say anything like that.”
Neville regarded him steadily for some moments. “Draco,” he said eventually, “you do tact like You Know Who does flower-arranging.”
He flushed, hotly. “I think you’d be surprised.”
Neville shrugged. ” Oh well, I’ll bear that in mind next time we’re being attacked by a malignant but incredibly tasteful display themed around deadly nightshade and baby’s breath, then.”
Draco got to his feet. “Anyway,” he muttered, “I’d better be going. Trying to get an early night before our next brush with near-certain death.”
His hand was on the latch of the door when he heard the heavy sound of booted feet hitting the bare wooden floor behind him.
He spun on the spot. No-one had ever turned his name into a caress before. The flat, warm, elongated North Country vowels reached deep inside him, unlocking a complex of emotions which swept over him with the devastating force of a flash-flood in desert country.
Neville was right behind him as he turned, looking down into his eyes with an expression that made his heart stop, and then start racing again at twice normal speed. Something seemed to have happened to his knees; only the solid wood of the door against his back was keeping him upright.
Neville’s voice was low and husky.
“So,” he said, “would you consider this sufficient encouragement?”
His lips fastened over Draco’s. His right hand slid down over Draco’s back first to rest on, and then to claw passionately at, the curve of his buttock. The pressure of his hips drove Draco back against the door, and he crushed against him, pulling him into a hard, infinitely prolonged embrace, which, at last, left absolutely no room for any further misunderstanding.
The light, clipped voice was uncharacteristically hesitant.
“Would you - just do something for me?”
After what you’ve been doing with me for the last couple of hours? Anything. Only ask.
It was the ingrained caution of his race, however, which made him mutter, fake-sleepily,
“Just - hold me. That’s all. Just hold me.”
The request was shocking in its sheer simplicity, in what it revealed about the other’s state of mind.
You mean, you thought you had to ask?
His arms moved to encircle him, drawing him down, close, so the other’s cheek rested on his chest, just above his heart. The mop of infinitely fine, silky hair tickled unmercifully against his skin, but he was not proposing to complain. He had spent too many wakeful nights longing hopelessly for a moment like this to kick fate in the teeth for the sake of a passing irritation. The other’s breath stirred his chest hair as he spoke again, remotely and diffidently.
“You’re sure you’re ok with that?”
Something in the tone - perhaps the sheer hopelessness, the lack of expectation of deserving anything better - tore at his heart.
What have they been doing to you, love?
His free hand slid gently down the other’s brittle, emaciated body, stroking, soothing, caressing in ways that must have been inborn, because they certainly had not been learned.
Neither as giver nor recipient.
That thought took him suddenly back to last Christmas, to the cramped, ramshackle equipment-store at the back of the Caving Club, to the last time he had felt another’s naked body against his own. He could even recall how it had felt to bite back the words he had bitten back then, lying amid a tangle of sleeping bags and mildewed cushions on the rough, splintered wooden floor.
What the bloody hell does it matter, Roddy, whether you’re “really gay” or not? Why the hell do you have to put us both through all this, every bloody single time? Who are you trying to convince, anyway? Oh, god, I’m so bloody sick of all this. I know I can’t ever tell you just what’s going on, but can’t you see that something beyond your preoccupations and self-justifications is actually happening out there in the real world? What would you say if I broke the rules, and said “Look, when I came out tonight I was trying get just a few hours holiday away from the fact that most of my friends seem to be dying in that war that’s going on out there, that I’m not supposed to tell you is happening at all?”
Would you even listen to me if I said that, Roddy? Recently, you seem to be so immersed in your own hang-ups that you don’t even seem to see me at all, let alone recognise that I’ve been going through bloody hell daily.
Despairing of words (since so many of them were forbidden to him) he had simply reached out in a helpless need to be hugged, but Roddy had avoided his touch, shaking his head.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t get randy when I’m this stressed out.”
And at that, he recalled, he had dressed in a sheer blind fury, having to consciously check himself from Disapparating and breaking yet another rule (what would that matter, since he’s so obtuse anyway?), and stormed out into the snowy night.
And that was the end of that.
The bitterness of the memory twisted in his gut so abruptly that his reflexive jerky movement must have been palpable.
His hands were back, instantly, in circling, reassuring movement, but the other had twitched suddenly, anxiously, out of the circle of his grasp.
“Sssh. Sorry. Didn’t mean to. Just remembering something. Not - your fault. Nothing to do with you at all.”
The light voice was suddenly flat.
“Oh. Yes. I see. Memories.”
In the dimly-lit room the sound of quick, uneasy breathing was loud, but the shadowy figure next to him was rigid, turned on his left side, away from him.
He shifted his weight, slightly, and curled the crescent of his body close against the full length of the other’s back and legs, reaching round and across his body to hug him again. There was no resistance, though he thought he sensed surprise. He murmured into the soft hair,
There was a pause. The light, clipped voice began, slightly too quickly, as though afraid of what might be waiting to catch it if it hesitated.
“You want to know? Well - the last few weeks I was - in the Dark Lord’s headquarters - I wasn’t really sleeping all that much. So - I used to end up wanking a lot, just to stop myself thinking. And it did help - at least, eventually I’d get to sleep, and at least I wasn’t thinking too much while I was doing it. Well - “
There was a pause, and the cool voice almost, momentarily, breathed fragmentary amusement. “At least, not about the war. And the last night I was there - I knew I’d be given the test at dawn - kill or be killed - but I - worked hard on the problem and - dropped off to sleep eventually. And I dreamed then I was lying in bed, being held by someone - like this, really. Very like this. Being held by someone lying behind me. Anyway, it was too dark to see who it was even if I’d turned round, and he didn’t say anything, but it didn’t seem to matter much, in the dream. I had an idea who it might be, but that wasn’t really the point, somehow.”
There was a pause. The low voice resumed, after apparently waiting for some response he had not had.
“I knew - in the dream - we’d had sex a bit earlier, and I knew we’d probably have sex again later, but it wasn’t a sexy dream. Not like that. I wasn’t really turned on at all. The thing was, feeling so protected. It was - I suppose - sort of sweet.”
There was a trembling all through the frail body in front of him, as though the confidence was being torn out of him physically. He clutched him tighter and murmured:
“Oh? Well, they woke me up, of course. I’d otherwise have overslept, and been late for the Dark Lord’s orders. What you might call a fatal error.”
“Yes, I can imagine.”
Though he would rather not think too much about that part of the other’s life. Especially not after what had happened earlier that evening. In self-defence he made his voice dry, self-consciously ironical.
“But apart from that, what did you think of your dream?”
His voice stirred the fine-spun filaments of curled hair below the ear-lobe. The light voice was suddenly cold: the body stiff with injured dignity.
“Oh? Waking up from it, you know? When I realised where I was, and what I still had to do? How far away I ever was, and ever would be from having that sort of sweetness for real? That made it the worst dream I ever had, what else would you think?”
The question, he realised slightly too late, had, unwittingly been an intrusion; almost, a betrayal of trust. The other moved, decisively, away from him, towards the extreme edge of the bed.
“Anyway, I should be going.”
An exclamation of protest and defence formed itself, swelled, and was still-born before it reached his lips.
Now or never.
He moved, quickly, pinning the other’s narrow bony hips under his right leg. “Do you really have to? After all, your bed will be awfully cold by now.”
A pelting shower of small hail, driven before a stern north-easterly wind, hit the window on cue. It was supposed to be late spring, going on summer, but it seemed the Powers that Be had not bothered to mention it to Northumberland. The wind whistled down the corridors. Nevertheless, the excuse was transparent. Any idiot eleven-year old wizard could do a Calefacio charm, warming a bed in seconds far better than a hot-water bottle or Muggle electric blanket. Admittedly, his own dormitory mates had laughed themselves sick over the bed he’d set on fire in his second year - it had been the hoot of his contemporaries for years. Hopefully, he prayed, in Gryffindor only. The fragile, beautiful ghost besides him should never have heard of it.
Hopefully. All kept within our one big caring Gryffindor family. I don’t think. So let’s hear him sneer at me, then.
The other turned to face him, hesitantly. “Look - I’m knackered. I’m sorry, I want to - but I just don’t think I can, again - “
Suddenly, he understood, and laughed.
So. We always have to deal with the idiotic reputations of our respective houses, don’t we?
“Nor me neither. What the hell do you take me for?”
His hands reached out again into the dark and the void, to caress and embrace. “Stay with me. Please. I just want to hold you. To be with you.”
After all, we are at war, and either of us may be dead and cold by the time the sun sets tomorrow. Please let tonight be ours.
It seemed to be important to amplify. And if he was about to die, then perhaps a truth could not hurt. Too badly.
“I’ve - never spent the whole night with someone before. I’d like it to be you.”
The light voice suddenly sounded friendly and amused in the darkness. The warm body moved back into his arms, wrapping firmly, tightly against him.
“Really? You know, I’m desperately selfish. I expect I’m unspeakable to share a bed with.”
There was an unstoppable welling up of pleasure in him, fizzing like champagne bubbles.
“I wouldn’t be in the least surprised. After all, I couldn’t help but notice when we were sharing that cave that you snore like a Pekinese pup.”
There was an appalled pause, followed by an awful voice emerging in a muffled way from the lips pressed somewhere near the base of his neck.
“Yup. And talk in your sleep.”
The voice was slightly subdued.
He paused, momentarily.
“Well, the most notable occasion I remember, I gather you thought you were playing Seeker for the Woollongong Wanderers. And you were giving the umpire one hell of a lot of stick.”
“Ah.” There was an embarrassed silence. “And - ah - and?”
He grinned to himself in the darkness. “I told you that if you didn’t shut the fuck up, I’d sin-bin you to Antarctica for the rest of the season.”
There was a moment’s pause.
“Um. I gather I shut the fuck up, then?”
He hesitated, deliberately, and counted the pause for four heart-beats.
“You mean, you haven’t even noticed you’ve been missing three toes to frost-bite ever since, then?”
It was as well his arms were already around the other’s body. The fit of shaking giggles which overtook them rolled them both off the bed, and onto the floor. Once there, the uncarpeted floorboards beneath his bare flesh reminded him that he had been somewhere similar before. But the company was, he concluded, infinitely more satisfactory this time around. And reports that they were both too knackered had, it seemed, been grossly exaggerated.