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Ian cleared the table, leaning against Danny’s shoulder as he lifted his plate. Danny tugged away from him. Ian laid his hand on his hair, feeling the tangles with his fingers.
Danny squirmed from underneath him. “Don’t do that.” His temper was in shreds, his face white with it. He could feel his heart thumping.
Ian licked his lips. Danny’s emotions had long associations. Hard and happy, they were tattooed into the palms of his hands. “Touchy,” he said, picking the plates up again, aware of his own erection as he moved towards the sink. He put them in and filled up with hot water.
Danny watched his back, wondering how long it was going to take the greasy little bastard to make a move. He got up and put his jacket on.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Ian said, smiling at him.
Danny zipped it violently. “You can stay here all fucking day for all I care.”
Ian’s smile broadened. He turned back to the sink.
The pans on the rack rattled as Danny slammed out the door.
John was waiting for him in the shed.
He hadn’t expected that. He didn’t even see him.
He was thrown against the tractor with a force that nearly broke his back.
John was dragging him back into an upright position only to bang him back against it again.
Danny made an ugly grunting sound as John dragged him up again. “Get up.” He pulled Danny up, pinning him, panting, against the machine. “Now you listen to me.”
Danny’s face was turned away, scrunched up with pain. John spoke in his ear, teeth bared, lips bloodless.
Ian slid in noiselessly through the open door and moved silently into the dark. He could hear Danny’s breathing, hoarse, rasping.
“I want to feel nothing in you, Danny. When you come back you better be pristine. You hear me?”
John punched him back again. “I asked, did you hear me?”
Ian could see Danny’s face now, white and sickly. Even his lips looked pale and pained. This was their ultimate intimacy, hidden from everyone. Ian squeezed himself through his pocket.
John pulled Danny’s head back by the hair.
“Yes.” Danny’s voice was thick. “I hear you.”
“I’ll kill you, Danny – that’s a promise.”
Ian saw Danny push himself upright, palms flat against the tractor, bracing himself. He dropped his head back exhaustedly. Ian watched him do it, could see it even from where he was, could feel it even though it wasn’t directed at him. He squeezed himself tighter, enviously, offering his soul to anyone who would listen. But he stayed where he was, only a fixed point in their distant orbit.
“You bloody heartless little thug…” John’s voice was low, pained.
Ian watched him hesitate, start to say something more, and then he bent forward, breathing the words into Danny’s mouth.
The kiss changed, grew. There were surreptitious fumblings which became feverish movements. John never stopped kissing him. It only lasted a couple of minutes. Danny made no noise, but Ian saw his hands clutch at nothing on the side of the tractor, saw the urgency of John’s movements, then it was over.
John pushed up off him. Ian waited in a pitch of excitement to see how he would finish it.
He didn’t. He stood back, watching Danny get dressed, obscuring Ian’s view. Danny moved slowly, pulling his trousers up, picking his jacket up off the floor. He put it back on. John dried his hand on a tissue, scrunching it into a ball and throwing it onto the floor with a savage energy. It was as if he had only skimmed the surface of his temper off to leave the heart of the fire still raging below. “I meant what I said.”
Danny just watched him, saying nothing.
“You come back here intact…” his voice changed, sounding just as violent as before, “or I’ll slit your fucking throat.”
“Alright.” Danny’s voice was hard, unexpected in that silence.
Ian saw John move forward to kiss him again and then slap him hard across the mouth. He heard Danny’s head bang on the door of the tractor. “Just to fucking remind you.” And he turned and went out.
Ian stood there a moment, aware of his own raging pulse. He watched Danny slide down the door and crumple on the step. He could see the flare of red on his face where John had slapped him. He took a breath and let it out slowly, then moved towards him out of the gloom.
Danny looked up. He was holding his ribs as if they ached.
“Been bad to you?” Ian wasn’t smiling.
“Why do you put up with it?”
“Why don’t you mind your own business?”
“You’re just a possession. Droit du seigneur.”
“Leave me alone.”
Ian came over to him, stood by his side. He began stroking his hair. Danny pulled away from him, but Ian simply followed. Danny lost the energy to struggle and lay still under his hand.
“I could love you.” Ian’s voice was rough with excitement. He felt his face burn.
“Leave me alone.” Danny pulled his head free again.
Ian followed relentlessly, letting his fingertips delve slightly into the red silk of his hair, rubbing it between finger and thumb, feeling the soft illusory heat of him against his skin. “I’ve always taken care of you. What’s he ever done?”
Ian felt the change in him, as if he was becoming unravelled. All his magnetism seemed to leave him. In that moment he became human, something vulnerable, weak.
Ian coaxed his head in against his leg. Danny lay there, cheek against his thigh, unresponsive. Ian wiped the warm tears with his hand. He could feel the fine stubble on Danny’s skin, the bone of his cheek. He stroked Danny’s hair, pressing him tight, encouraging him, murmuring to him.
Danny suddenly buried his face in his leg, wrapping his arms around it. Ian looked down at his head, held it gently in both hands, rubbed Danny’s shoulders.
He could feel himself aching with it, but his hands remained gentle, his voice soft, consoling.
Danny clung to him like a man drowning, desperately alone.
Ian’s hands soothed on.
The evening meal was strained.
It was obvious to Rab that Danny and John were not friendly.
Danny picked at his food a little and then left to get washed. John, perversely, ate everything in sight, even attempting two portions, much as he had done in the old days. But Rab saw that he couldn’t manage it any more. He pushed the second plateful away half?eaten.
Danny was ready promptly at twenty to eight. He obviously intended to arrive on the button.
“Take the Rover.” John threw him the keys.
Their eyes met momentarily then Danny went out the door.
Danny stood outside, watching the clear peppermint moon above his head. November always seemed to be like this, still and bitterly cold for a week or two, and then the winter gales started.
The buzzer sounded. He pushed in and went up the stairs. He had to knock for admission when he got there.
She opened the door and looked at him. He looked back, his face hard and unfriendly.
He began to wonder if she was going to let him in at all when she suddenly stood back. He went in and stood there. The hall was in darkness. She closed the door. He felt her pass him and the hall became light. She was holding open the living-room door. He went in.
The room was half?lit, very warm. The other sofa was still missing. She had moved the framed poster of the man and baby. The blinds were gone. Instead, thick velvet curtains hung there. They were drawn, making the room even darker, redder. She had placed a long, low table in the centre of the room. There were bottles and glasses on it, and what looked like an ice bucket.
She was wearing a red silk dress, very ostentatiously feminine. She looked like an advert for five star brandy. She came over for his jacket. He took it off and handed it to her.
She felt the residual heat of him as she took it out to the hall, the faint animal smell from it. He was wearing an old grey sweatshirt, jeans. Clean work clothes. She felt sure he’d done it deliberately. She smiled dryly to herself. He was wasting his time. He was the male equivalent of Marilyn Monroe: he’d look good in a potato sack.
He watched her come back into the room and felt sure she wasn’t wearing a bra. He looked away.
“What would you like to drink?”
“Nothing.” He didn’t look at her.
She stood there, trying not to be angry. “Be friendly,” she said, keeping her voice level.
This time he did look at her. “Why?”
She forced a smile. “Because it’s pointless being enemies.”
“You blackmailed me into coming here – that isn’t exactly friendly.”
“Would you have come if I hadn’t?”
He shook his head.
“Well then.” She smiled again, a little warmer this time. “What would you like to drink?”
He looked at the table, saw the rum, looked up at her. “Rum.”
His eyes had that same vindictive glint in them she’d seen before. She made up his drink, trying to ignore the feel of them on her. “Want anything in it?” she asked without looking up.
She shrugged and handed him the drink. She saw that he kept his hand well away from hers when he took it. She felt a spurt of irritation. “I’m not planning an assault, you know.”
Infuriatingly, he stared at her, saying nothing. She poured herself a whisky and drank it. She poured herself another and felt the warmth hit her stomach. She sat down beside him, curling her legs beneath her and looking at his profile. He looked dead ahead, like a surly schoolboy waiting for the lecture. “Why do you dislike me so much?”
“Why should I like you?”
That seemed unanswerable. She was silent a moment then tried again. “Look, we don’t need to be friends, but you could try to be civil.”
He turned and looked at her quite suddenly. He didn’t speak. Instead he took a long drink of rum. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “What do you want?”
She felt as if he’d pushed half a grapefruit in her face. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. She looked at her glass.
Danny drank the rest of his drink. He had to get this over with. He put his glass down.
She watched his hands, long, white. She saw the fine red?gold hair on his arms.
“You’re causing me a lot of grief. My brother doesn’t like this.” He could see her faint outrage at the words, and the faint interest, the sly, tell?me?more urge to hear all the dirty little details. “He doesn’t like me being here.”
She found her tongue quickly enough. “Are you saying he’s jealous?”
He could hear all the petty morality in it – and the hot, itchy crotch. “I’m saying that he doesn’t like me being here. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it. Then I’ll go. This has got to be the last time because…” Danny stopped, looking for the right way to phrase it and realised there wasn’t a right way. He knew it wasn’t going to work. She was used to getting everything her own way, just like her brother was. Nobody ever said no to them. She would no more understand than he had.
“I don’t want anything.” Her voice was frosty.
Danny wanted to slap her. He wanted to slap the lying, devious little bitch into next week. “You can’t just say it, can you? Think your tongue will shrivel up? Think I give a fuck what you want or why?”
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