They part company outside the pub, Scripps and Pos going one way, Irwin and Dakin the other. As they walk out into the car park, heading towards the bus stop, Tom stops Stuart with a hand on his arm. “Do you trust me, Stu?”, he says.
“Trust you? Yeah... Why?”
“Okay”. Tom pulls him back behind a hedge that blocks the sightline from the road. In a voice of pure seduction, he says, “Let’s find out how much… Kiss me”.
“What, here? Now?”
Tom puts his arms around him before replying, “No one can see us. And you like to play games, let’s play one where we’re on the same team”. Stuart is baffled. “Are you insane? Someone is around”. He points back into the car park. “That bloke over there is the so-called comedian, and he can very much see us”.
“I know”. Tom maintains an inscrutable smile.
He holds Tom off with his hands on his chest but can’t escape the lock of his arms as panic begins to rise. He protests, “So, you want to get us beaten up. I thought you weren’t ready to get arrested?”
“There’s two of us, and he’s drunk… It’s a calculated risk. I thought you trusted me”, Tom replies, his voice still steady, still measured.
“I do”, he glances around nervously. “But he’s about to get on his fucking motorbike—he’ll probably mow us down”.
‘Maybe, let’s see”, Tom’s eyes are focused on his mouth now, and Stu is as turned on as he is terrified. “Just kiss me, Stu—think of it as a leap of faith”. Stu looks incredulous but gives him a brief, chaste kiss. Tom rolls his eyes, pulls him sharply closer, and there’s an unfamiliar edge to his, “No. Like you mean it”.
Stuart is Lois Lane dangling from the Eiffel Tower—about to drop. But he shuts his eyes and lets go, deciding to trust Tom will catch him. He threads his hands into his hair and kisses him—a deep, tongue tangling, unmistakably sexual kiss. It’s not so easy to close his ears to the vicious, slurred insults being hurled at them, but he screws his eyes tight and dives more fiercely into Tom’s mouth. The fear is exhilarating—he concentrates on the warm sensations of Tom’s tongue and the cold of his hands on his back. The obscenities keep coming... along with another sound now... something straining endlessly to connect; a desperate whine of mechanical frustration to match those of outrage and disgust.
Once. Twice. Three times. Nothing happens. It keeps on not happening.
And Tom has begun laughing into their kiss in a way Stu finds wholly disconcerting. He extricates himself to say, “His bike’s not starting”. Freed from the kiss, Tom laughs out loud, “That’s because I’ve got his spark plugs in my pocket… and there’s our bus. We’d better run for it”.
Stuart runs and asks the driver to wait while Tom hobbles behind. They fall gasping and laughing onto the bus, Tom saying, “I told you revenge was best served cold”. Stuart throws himself onto the seat, hooting, “You are a wicked, wicked man”, and Tom, with faux pomposity, replies, “No, he had no business getting on a bike drunk, I was doing my civic duty. We wouldn’t want an accident, would we?” Stuart, is suddenly aware there are other people on the bus, so he leans as close as he can and whispers. “No, I mean you’re wicked. Jesus, that was a turn on”. Tom smiles at him and raises an eyebrow.
“Where’d you learn that trick?”, Stuart asks.
“My sister. She had me do it to a boyfriend’s bike so he couldn’t go home and our mum had to let him stay the night.”
Stuart laughs, “I like the sound of your sister”.
“She’s married to him now, so it worked”. Tom turns to gaze out of the window, but he’s got tight hold of Stuart’s hand hidden under the jacket he’s thrown on the seat. He loosens his grip only to begin an exquisitely gentle, circling of his thumb in Stuart’s palm, taking it down to stroke the sensitive skin of his inner wrist. He doesn’t speak or look at him—simply reminds him he’s there.
They don’t speak for the rest of the journey, except once Stu asks, “You okay?” when he catches Tom wincing and rubbing his leg. Tom shrugs—he isn’t going to be drawn on it. They focus instead on the singularity—the concentration of connection between their hands. They leave the bus and walk the rest of the way in silence—what could there possibly be to say? And, despite having been here so many times this week and knowing beyond doubt what’s coming, Stuart’s heart is pounding, palms sweating, mouth dry with anticipation. He’s still reeling from the heady rush of entirely letting go, falling and being held up, and the knowledge there is plenty more to learn about Tom Irwin.
Key already in the lock, Tom says, “Do you know how many times tonight I’ve wanted….?” And the door opens, and they’re on the other side, and Tom is grabbing him—slamming him against it with a force he has neither the desire nor strength to resist. He breaks free of the voracious kiss and laughs and finishes the sentence, “...to kiss me?” Tom, whose hand is fisted in his hair, twisting tight enough to hurt, replies, “No, give you a slap… and kiss you”.
Everything in him says, give in, give up, let it be. So, when Tom growls against his neck, “what do you want?”, in the last vestige of the chivalry that forces him to ask before he takes, all Stuart can gasp out is, “anything… anything you want”.
And he lets go again, feels himself falling—trusts he’ll be caught.
As they’re falling asleep, Stuart says into the darkness, “You deserve better than me”. He’s met only with the sound of steady breathing but, eventually, Tom says, “I don’t want better than you”.
“I need to be better, then. I’m trying, Tom, really”.
Tom says, “I know”, and reaches out a hand to find Stuart turned away from him. He sighs and turns and curls around him, tucking his knees into the back of Stuart’s, tangling up their feet. He presses his soft, sleepy cock against the warmth of him and reaches around to gently stroke Stuart’s. Earlier, he’d been rough and unforgiving and had walked the finest of lines between passion and cruelty. He doesn’t think he strayed over it—he hopes not. Stuart had said “yes” and “please” and “don’t stop”, he knows that, but still, sadness nags at him—that this outburst might be born of shock or fear is unbearable. He kisses the warm nape of his neck in wordless contrition, and Stuart sighs contentedly, no recrimination in the sound.
In the pub, when Stu had leaned against him as refuge against righteous anger, he’d struggled with his twin demons, desire and shame, breathed in the scent of his hair, and promised him “later”. And now later has passed into earlier, and they’re sated and melancholic, and he wonders how this boy, who makes him brave and wise and so much more than he thought he could be, doesn’t know he’s enough. He says, “Anyway, likewise. You deserve better than me.”
Stuart reaches back to grasp him by the hip and pull him closer. He says, “I don’t want better than you either.” Tom says, “I’m trying as well, Stu. I’m really trying”, punctuating his words with kisses from ear to neck to tip of sharp shoulder.
“I know”, says Stuart.
In unison, they say, “we’ve a long way to go”, which causes much hilarity and a shower of kisses.
In the morning, over coffee and toast and the papers, laughter and gossip about last night, and making plans for the rest of the weekend, Tom will look suddenly worried and ask if he hurt him. Stuart will savour the warm glow radiating over his backside and secretly press a fingertip into the tenderness of a small bruise—provenance unknown. He’ll say, “No, I’m fine; I liked it. I trust you”. But Tom will apologise until Stuart loses patience, and they’ll quarrel and make up and have sex. Tom will call it making love and Stuart will cringe and call him corny. Tom will say, “It may be corny but it’s true, and besides, I read your soppy letter, so you can shut up”. Whatever they call it, it will be gentle and languorous—Tom will be reassured he is not, in fact, a monster and Stuart will love him a little bit more than he did yesterday.
But, for now, we’ll leave them there, our two young men, giggling, in love—their futures all in the subjunctive.