Part Five … Year 5
“Great evening!” enthused the director of the City Gallery. “WEI always knows how to throw a party!” He leant in towards Quatre, who tried bravely not to flinch away. It was past 10 pm already, the function room was hot and crowded and noisy, and the man in front of him had already drunk far too many glasses of expensive wine. His hot breath smelled of canapés and alcohol, and his face had a ruddy circle high on each cheek. “And the gallery idea of yours – brilliant, brilliant! Ticket receipts have already increased, and this is traditionally a quiet month.”
“And how are people receiving the new art? The local exhibits?”
“I was surprised, I don’t mind telling you. I mean, we didn’t want a sudden swamping of stark blue canvases and sliced farm animals, now did we?” The man leered, and Quatre bit back a sigh. “But the quality has been excellent! Obviously there were works we would never have thought to show before.”
“That would have been a sad loss for the Gallery, of course?” Quatre prompted gently.
“Yes indeed!” The director waved the stick from out of a chewed smoked salmon roll, and nearly put out Quatre’s eye. “Isn’t that what I’ve been saying? My fellow directors are looking forward to next month’s submissions already, and maybe we’ll consider a rolling theme, or special occasion events …”
As the man swayed a little back towards the buffet table, Quatre took the opportunity to slip away. A couple of photographers peeled themselves away from a far wall and looked like they were making their eager way towards him; he wheeled quickly in another direction and backed up against one of the other WEI department managers. He turned gratefully to talk to him.
“It’s gone well, Winner,” the man said, lifting his glass in an imaginary toast to Quatre. His eyes flickered towards the confused photographers and he grinned. “Inspired idea, and very tabloid-friendly, eh?”
“You should know, Magnus, you’re in Promotions,” Quatre smiled in return. “Your lot spread us all over the papers and snap away at us for the glossies. It’s all for the benefit of WEI, of course.”
“Of course,” Magnus nodded. “But your lot had the idea in the first place! A new gallery area, solely for the showing of new, modern artists, with an open submissions policy and a regular turnover of exhibits. And free entrance for school parties and concessions! Excellent, I must say. Sounded like a few of your team were reluctant to go back to their old jobs in the corporation, after the success of your glamorous little plot to save the Gallery.”
“Maybe the coffee was better,” retorted Quatre, good-naturedly. “I hear the stuff in Promotions is so perilously close to the kitchens, you might have washed up in it a few times.”
Magnus raised an eyebrow, good-naturedly. “‘Stuff’, Mr Winner? Since when have you used the parlance of the common man at such a formal event? Guess the makeshift nature of your department is rubbing off on you. I hear you work the kids there way beyond homework time.”
Quatre tensed slightly, and didn’t answer. Magnus was wise enough to know he’d stepped
over a mark. “Sorry,” he apologised. “Didn’t mean to sound so trite. I’ve had the work experience kids in myself,
before now. Some of
‘em can’t count paperclips, but some have contributed well. I hear your guy is one of the better
“Sounds like Duo,” smiled Quatre, but his attention was a little distracted now.
Magnus waved the half-full glass at him. “You making the speech soon? Or looking for someone?”
Looking for someone… Quatre couldn’t remember when he hadn’t been doing that.
“Where is Duo?” he asked.
Duo had found the whole event intimidating. Fucking intimidating, as his school friends would have said. The hotel was the best and the biggest in town – hell, the damned foyer was larger than his apartment – but he’d never been in such a place in his life and didn’t quite know how to behave. The guy at the front door had looked a little suspicious when he said he didn’t have a coat to give up to him, but he’d produced his special invitation with a triumphant flourish and been respectfully waved through to the function rooms.
He’d been pleased to see Rashid at the door to the WEI event, but the big guy was on duty and hadn’t been allowed to stop and chat with him. He looked even larger in a formal suit and tie but still the same calm, stolid expression that served him so well in his work. Not so stolid around a pack of cards… mused Duo smugly to himself. With a rueful smile exchanged between the two of them, Duo had walked on in.
It had been like plunging into a bath of cold water, with the resulting shock! A very large, high-ceilinged, beautifully decorated ‘bath’, admittedly, with lights so bright he thought he ought to be confessing something, people milling everywhere with voices too loud and clothes too exclusive, and tables full of food and drink with no attendants to restrict the intake.
Ah… food! Duo had been happy at the buffet table for a while, eating stuff he wasn’t quite sure the name of, and sipping cautiously at a rich red-coloured fruit punch. He’d started to relax a little.
Around the far end of the table, there was a group of guys with smart suits and ridiculously bright, wide neckties, laughing and clapping and slapping other guys on the back, and generally braying their business all over the place. There was the clink of glasses being knocked together in mock toasts, and in real toasts. He recognised a few from the department he’d been working in .
“Duo!” One of the young executives called over to him. “Hey kid, you OK?”
Duo jumped when he heard his name called – he’d thought he was unnoticed, or at least he’d tried to be. “Yeah,” he called back and grinned. It was Rich, one of the guys in Marketing, also a trainee, though on the permanent staff. He was surrounded by half a dozen of the other guys in the department, and some others from accounts. Rich was a bit of a dork, but Duo quite liked him. He was one of the first trainees who’d been friendly to him during his work experience, and had nudged Duo along during the time he’d been at WEI so that he didn’t make a complete ass of himself. Shit, he was the only one Duo allowed to call him ‘kid’!
Duo gave his friend the thumbs up, but when Rick beckoned for him to come over and join the group, he shook his head. How long can I hover around here? he thought, feeling as much a dork as Rich. He brushed crumbs off his new red shirt and gripped the glass of punch in his hand even more tightly. He just didn’t feel very confident here; this was Quatre’s world. Like, he was happy enough with the guys, but this evening was something different.
He hadn’t seen Quatre since he first arrived. Their eyes had smiled welcome over the heads of a whole bunch of important looking people, Quatre shaking hand after hand in greeting them all. He didn’t get around to greeting Duo, but Duo guessed that was the way it was when you were the heir to the organisation that was hosting the whole shebang. You were the guy they wanted to see; you were in the front line.
Duo kicked one of his boots at the table leg. He felt young. He didn’t like it one miserable jot.
When the waiter passed with a tray of empty glasses, he followed him and slipped out of the room in his wake. They pattered down a corridor to the kitchen – the staff had seen him in the function room, so he assumed they’d think he was allowed to wander at will. He gazed around the large, clinically-bright room, apparently admiring the well-wiped counters and savouring the rich aroma of the cooked dishes, all the time smiling innocently at the staff as if he had as much right to be there as they did. It seemed to work, or else they were all too busy serving to care about one young man who wasn’t really getting in their way. Eventually, they’d all gone and he was left alone. He picked himself another plate of the first-round of sandwiches and snagged another glass of the vibrantly-coloured punch, then made his way out of the kitchen by another route.
I think I’ve done my duty now – I’ve had enough of the whole social thing. He decided to find the lobby again and sneak back home. He knew where the buses went from; worst came to the worst, he’d use the emergency money in his back pocket for a cab.
Then he found a corridor of much quieter, sober rooms, and he paused to look inside the first one – the door was ajar, and it was empty of guests. All he could hear from the rooms he’d left behind was the erratic hum of voices and the occasionally burst of laughter. He drew a breath and slipped into the quiet, warm room; it felt like some kind of sanctuary after the bright liveliness of the function. It was a kind of games room, he thought. There were chairs and small tables for drinks. One side was dominated by a full-sized billiards table, with a couple of felt-covered card tables at its side. The lamps were deliberately shaded in here, and everything seemed furnished with wood or dark fabrics. It created a light like a particularly luscious early summer sunset. There was still the lingering smell of cigar smoke and fine spirits, obviously from previous guests. Or so Duo imagined; it wasn’t like he’d been in any private games clubs in his short, not-yet-fully-adult life.
Whatever he thought of it, it was a comfortable, restful room. He sat down on one of the armchairs and ate his sandwiches slowly. The punch slid down very pleasantly, even more than the earlier glasses. He felt his body relax and sink down into the cushions; he considered kicking off his boots, but thought he ought to fight off the temptation. It was a damned pity, but he ought to watch his step here…
“Where have you been?” came a slow voice at his shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you to take some of the congratulations off my shoulders – after all, you had a hand in this scheme from the very beginning.”
“Fuck!” Duo lurched up in his seat, the empty plate and glass sliding off his knees and tumbling on to the floor. He bit back the expletive, but way too late. He snapped his head round to glare at the speaker. “Dammit, Quatre, you scared the hell out of me! Don’t creep up on me like that!”
Quatre’s face twisted briefly with concern, but then he relaxed and smiled. “Guilty conscience, Duo? You’ve been drinking too much punch, maybe?”
Duo looked up into his friend’s bright blue eyes then down at the glass on the floor. He bit his lip rather ruefully. “So OK, I had a glass or two. Someone gonna challenge me on that?”
“Maybe not,” admitted Quatre. “But anyone with half a brain would be tempted to.”
“And you,” said Duo, the lights over the billiard table sparkling their reflection in his eyes, “could most certainly be said to have that, right?”
“Right,” agreed Quatre. “At the very least a half, I should say.” His smile got broader. “And anyway, Rashid’s been watching you for the last hour back in the function room, and took great pleasure in telling me just how many glasses you’d had since you arrived.”
Duo remembered the times he’d looked across to the large man standing stolidly at the entrance to the room, and caught his eye. Every time it seemed that Rashid had studiously ignored him, and instead had fixed his gaze on any guests who were arriving, showing unnatural concentration as if they were rare insects worthy of dissection. And I felt sorry for the poor sap, always on duty, always working…
“He’s a stalker,” snapped Duo. “A sneak.”
“His job is to protect me. And you,” said Quatre, calmly.
Duo stood up, brushing the last crumbs off his shirt and snorted. “You think I’ll get violent or drunk and throw up on the carpet here? You think I’m just a kid who can’t take it?” He knew he sounded belligerent. Quatre’s hand landed gently on his shoulder as if to pacify him, and the two of them leant into each other a little.
Duo lifted his eyes and looked back at his friend – he’d barely seen this guy all evening! He knew there were press there, and government representatives who had responsibility for the issue of research grants and suchlike, and the management board of the Gallery itself. The whole event had been laid on to celebrate the first six months’ success of the new initiative at the City Gallery – and also the formal confirmation for the work to begin on the new, additional Winner Foundation wing. The ‘art challenge’ (as it was called in the press) had captured the imagination of artists and visitors alike, and was appropriately cute to have captured the eye of the media, too. Duo had overheard snippets of excited chatter about a link with other major galleries, and with art colleges.
Oh, and there’d been plenty of chatter about the cute Quatre Winner, too.
Quatre… His father had attended at an earlier stage of the evening, but it was Quatre who was in the forefront of the whole event.
Duo found his eyes running quickly over his friend. Quatre was wearing a grey coloured suit in a silk fabric that hung fluidly from his broad shoulders. It had obviously been made to measure for him; there was no way an off-the-peg garment would fit that well around his torso, and have pants that moulded against his hips like they moved with his skin. It was perfectly smart and yet had a style that befitted a handsome young man, rather than the more traditional suits his father wore. His shirt was a muted blue – a colour that suited him well – and he’d foregone his necktie. There was a glint of fine silver at his neck.
Duo realised with a jolt of pleasure that he was wearing the chain he’d bought him.
He realised that the sight of Quatre was a whole jolt of pleasure in itself. What was up with him tonight?
“So it’s going well?” he asked, his voice a little more contrite.
Quatre nodded. “Very well. And I meant it – that I want to share the congratulations with you.”
“And the grovelling… and the sucking up?” added Duo, and then he grinned.
“That as well,” said Quatre. He laughed, softly. Duo felt the usual warmth when he made Quatre laugh. “Plenty of that, of course. But that’s what I’m here for – to handle all that.” Obviously the evening had been a trial as well as a triumph; but Quatre Winner was very well equipped to deal with both with perfect poise.
Duo sighed, so softly that he didn’t think Quatre had noticed.
The blond man looked a little tired round the eyes, but there was a vibrancy to his body that showed how wired up he really was. Duo knew the look; he knew the excitement that was coursing through him. Quatre spent so many of his hours behaving just as he should, and facing up to the public’s expectations; he spent so many more in concerning himself with how others felt and what they were achieving. Exciting, yes – but exhausting, too.
“You need something for yourself,” Duo said, abruptly.
Quatre looked quizzical. Duo had the terrible feeling that he was acting like a dork now, too, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. So what was up with him tonight? He was suddenly afraid that someone would arrive at the door to the games room and move him on, or Quatre would be called away by one of his managers. Or maybe his friend would just give Duo that gentle smile of his, and turn away in embarrassment or boredom.
He suddenly felt awkward with Quatre. He’d known him for years. It was fucking ridiculous…
“You know,” persisted Duo. His voice sounded a little odd, even to his own ears. “You give too much away of yourself, all the time. You need things just for you – really special things. You deserve the best of everything.”
Quatre was taken aback at Duo’s very personal words. He raised an eyebrow as if to dismiss the comment, but inside he felt a rush of surprised pleasure. He took his hand from the other man’s shoulder but it hovered between them; he realised he didn’t know whether to withdraw it or touch Duo in some other way.
“Hey…” He could tell that Duo was embarrassed. He kicked his boots on the floor whenever he was disconcerted, and Quatre watched him doing it now as he spoke. “Sorry, Quatre, talking total crapola tonight. Don’t know what’s up with me. Guess you were right about the punch.”
Quatre caught a breath that bubbled dangerously in his throat and swallowed it back down. “It … hey, I’m not saying you’re drunk, OK? But… it can make you act differently…”
“Uh-huh. Or make things a lot clearer.” The words were only mumbled.
Quatre looked steadily at Duo, standing there, almost the same height as him. The younger man wore smart black pants, just a little too long and curling up on the top of his boots. The silver buckle of his belt caught a glint from the lights around them. His shirt was a deep russet colour, and unbuttoned a few inches, showing his throat and the top of his torso. Beads of sweat glimmered against the muscles there. The colour of the shirt complemented his colouring; his eyes shone the brighter in contrast against the darkness of its fabric.
Duo was flushed now, and he pushed impatiently at the hair that fell over his brow. Quatre watched him, unable to tear his eyes away. He was worried that he was staring, but he knew there wasn’t a hell of a lot he could do about it. He watched the way that Duo’s braid clung to his back, snagging on the cloth as the young man tossed his head to resettle it. The hair was the same brunette colour as always, thought Quatre, but then again it wasn’t. Tonight it caught the glow from the subdued lighting in the room – it seemed to show the colours of autumn; the shine of beech leaves; the richness of real chestnuts. Quatre chided himself for being so fanciful, but despite that he knew how it would feel, and he wanted to touch it; run it through his fingers.
Oh God, he thought, misery and frustration swamping him. Oh my God. I’ve known it for years, haven’t I? But I thought I could live with this. I thought we could just be friends. I never knew it would be this painful…
Meanwhile, standing only a foot away from the blond man, Duo was finding it difficult to breathe. He stared back into Quatre’s eyes and was worried he didn’t seem to be able to focus properly. Quatre seemed disturbed about something but all Duo could think about was the harsh beating of his own heart. The other man stood very close to him – or perhaps he, Duo, was overly sensitive to it. Quatre smelled good… Quatre’s smile was very nervous… and suddenly Duo wanted Quatre to reach out his strong, careful hands and put them on his shoulders again. There were words in his mouth asking to be released, but they were tangled up with the inexplicable urge to laugh and a desire to shout something out aloud. He didn’t know what he wanted to shout! Probably something about Quatre – something about the way he was making him feel. Something about the strange emotions that were suddenly swamping him … nah, he thought, don’t fool yourself, Maxwell! Such feelings had been brewing impatiently inside him for quite a while now. Hadn’t they?
“That weekend,” he said, suddenly. His voice sounded hoarse. “When we went walking…”
They’d never managed to repeat the adventure – never found the mutually convenient time. Quatre nodded, encouraging him to go on. Looked like he wanted to speak, but bit it back.
“All I wanted was to be with you. You know? All I wanted was to touch you.” He saw Quatre’s eyes widen suddenly with shock. Was that fear there, too? “I never said anything – didn’t know how to. What to say. It’s been … bugging me ever since.” Duo groaned to himself. What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m disturbing Quatre – fucking it all up … He shifted his gaze down, pretending he was searching for his spilled plate. ”Look, I don’t know where all this is coming from. It’s late … whatever. This isn’t really my scene, is it, I’m not really part of this stuff. It’s been a few months since I worked at WEI, and I was just a trainee there, a gofer, whatever. Nothing special. Things are all back to normal for me now. It was sort of kind of you to invite me to this, but it’s better if I just get lost –“
Quatre’s hand moved very suddenly, grabbing at his shoulder. “No!” he said, so sharply that Duo jumped. He couldn’t remember ever hearing Quatre speak that fiercely before.
“You mustn’t go,” the blond urged, though he dropped the tone of his voice. ”Nothing special?” He couldn’t be further from the truth… “Hell Duo, this whole business is only good because you’re here!”
Duo searched the other man’s eyes – he didn’t fully understand the expression there. He gave a nervous laugh. “I’m the comedy interlude, right –?“
Quatre shook his head, impatiently. “You’re acting like it! But that’s not what I mean, and you know it. Look at me, Duo – look at me, properly!”
He gripped at Duo’s shoulder; he guessed he was too rough, but it was suddenly desperately important that he didn’t lose this moment between them. Duo lifted wide blue eyes to him, moist with confusion, bright with … something new. There seemed to be a shiver running down his body. “You don’t have to bully me, Winner,” he groaned.
“Yes, I think I do,” Quatre growled back. “You can take it, you said; you said you didn’t want to be treated like a kid. So look me in the eye and be honest with me!” He watched the younger man flush with indignation, but stand his ground. Listen to me, though Quatre, his whole heart thudding through his veins. I didn’t know this would happen tonight – I’ve practised for this so many times, in my mind – I’ve dreamt of this so many nights. Now I don’t know what to say… Duo was almost staring him in the face, but Quatre could feel the trembling in the lean body in front of him, the vibration playing through the hand he had on Duo’s shoulder.
“Duo, you’re here because you contributed to the success of this scheme, and because we all want you to be here. And I –“ he drew a deeper breath because he knew he could hear his voice shaking. “I want you here – I want you here more… more than anyone else ever could.” All those years of public speaking coaching, he thought wryly. And now I stammer and dry up! But I just want him to listen to me… to believe me… to understand…
He started again. “That weekend, you said. You felt things that weekend that made you uneasy – unhappy…”
“No!” Duo interrupted, then looked shocked, as if the words had escaped involuntarily. “I mean – no, that wasn’t it, not unhappy.” Now the fierceness was in his eyes, as if he challenged Quatre to laugh at him. “I’m not as good with the speeches as you, Quatre. I don’t know how to say this…”
Quatre almost laughed aloud at the ridiculous image of them both as tongue-tied as each other. One man who was the master of celebrity interviews, and the other who had rarely been caught without a smart answer.
“So, if you weren’t unhappy with it…” he paused, struggling to find the right words. “Well, neither was I.” Master of understatement, he groaned to himself. “You say you don’t know where all your feelings tonight are coming from, but I think my own feelings are much the same – and I’ve had them for years now.”
Since I met you, came the thought, a huge relief flooding through him with the admission at last.
Duo’s eyes narrowed. “You mean maybe you’re the stalker, not Rashid?”
Quatre flushed. “Duo, I’m sorry. If you feel that way, it’s I who should get lost –“
Duo had immediately regretted his flip words, even as they tumbled out of his mouth. “No!” he rushed to reassure, and somewhere along the way he saw his hand settle firmly on Quatre’s arm. “Hell, Quatre, that was just one of my fucking bad jokes. It backfired on me. I’d never think of you that way. You’ve always been there for me – I’ve never known anyone like you!”
Quatre seemed to be grinding some words out from between his teeth. ’You’ve known so few, though …”
And then Duo did let the anger out. What was the guy going on about? “Don’t patronise me!” he snapped. “I’m not as fucking young as you think – haven’t had some kind of sheltered life. Not like you!”
It was a fair point, but never voiced between them before. Quatre had all the benefits and luxuries of his world – but never the freedom of Duo’s. The blond man opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again. His words were carefully measured, as if he tried to avoid anything provocative. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t fucking apologise, either!” Duo was still snapping. He shook his head impatiently, deliberately swallowing the sudden anger. “I mean that I’ll never know anyone like you. And that’s what I like; what I want. It’s been good – it’s all been good.“ Where were the words, for God’s sake? What was he really trying to say? “It’s always good, being with you. There’s no-one means so much – could mean so much.”
“I just don’t want you to miss out. On other friends – other experiences.” Quatre’s voice was uncharacteristically nervous. It gave Duo a burst of confidence.
“Ain’t gonna happen. How can I miss out? I can have everything I want with you. Already do.”
“You do?” Quatre paused, searching Duo’s expression.
“I do,” said Duo, firmly.
“So you say you’re not so young,” said Quatre, softly. “So you say...” He still sounded nervous, but his eyes were searching Duo’s face now. His other hand drifted almost imperceptibly around Duo’s waist; when it settled there, Duo felt the shudder run through them both.
“Yeah. So I say…” he murmured.
Quatre knew he should be evaluating this new feeling; this feeling that was barely under his control; this feeling that allowed Duo to step forward both physically and emotionally and provoke him in such a way. Dammit, he couldn’t have evaluated a glass of punch at that moment, his head was so full of astonished pleasure and anticipation! When Duo put up a hand to cup his cheek, he gasped aloud and his hand tightened round the younger man’s waist.
“I don’t … Duo, you shouldn’t joke about this …”
Duo’s laugh was very soft and mischievous – yet tentative, too. “I’m not. Keep up with me, man. I may be laughing, but it’s not at you – or this.”
Yeah, he thought, in some kind of awe. Never been less of a joker in my life.
He reached his other hand to Quatre’s face, too. The irrepressible joy was welling up again and his thumbs brushed the man’s jaw line, feeling the tight, smooth skin. Quatre’s lips opened slightly, and his tongue slipped out to moisten them. Duo felt the warmth from his breath; saw the dampness on his mouth.
He leant his head forward and kissed those lips.
Time stood still for a moment.
Quatre felt the lips touch him and went into slight shock. He still gripped at Duo, but now the hand he had on Duo’s shoulder slipped around the younger man’s neck and tugged him closer. Duo’s mouth tasted of damp fruit from the punch, and the lips yielded at the touch of Quatre’s tongue. How many has he kissed before? Has he kissed a man before? Quatre was almost ashamed of the desire that flared up and consumed him, at the same time as he worried about Duo. But he couldn’t resist it – didn’t want to! Duo felt hesitant but then confident against him. He slipped his tongue into Duo’s mouth and felt the other man’s tongue thrust back at him.
They clung more tightly. Duo tilted his head slightly to the side so that they fit together more easily. A soft moan escaped him. His hands seemed at a temporary loss as to where to settle, and one of them clenched too tightly into Quatre’s hair. His body pressed against Quatre’s, and one of his knees nudged gently between the other man’s thighs.
Quatre knew he was more aroused than he could ever remember being. He couldn’t believe how quickly he’d lost control! He couldn’t believe how vital this reality was, compared to his dreams of how one day he might caress Duo… Duo might let him… Duo might want even more from him.
His hands slipped across Duo’s shoulders, sliding gently along the silky fabric, feeling the shape of the other man’s muscles, the knots of tension at his neck. His tongue continued to explore Duo’s mouth, so very excited at the taste and possession of him, so very scared that he’d hurt or panic him –
But he was unable to stop, now.
They broke at last. Maybe it was just for air, maybe it was because there were a few discordant sounds out in the hallway that distracted them, as if some guests were passing by on their way elsewhere, or the staff were moving to and from the various functions that were being hosted in the hotel tonight.
Duo looked into Quatre’s face with nervousness. His lips still felt a little numb, and his heart raced. He wanted to touch the other man again – to reach his mouth back to that haven – to feel that slick tongue inside him, licking at him, Quatre’s mouth passing its hot, panting breath into him.
He had a hell of an erection, he knew it! Shit…
“If Rashid saw us now he’d tell us to get a room,” he joked, shakily.
Quatre’s eyes were half closed, the pupils very dark in amongst the soft blue. He looked like he was drifting somewhere, somewhere warm and delightful. Duo gazed at them, astonished; excited; fascinated by another view of the man he’d known for so long as a friend.
Then Quatre drew breath, opened his eyes fully and smiled. “I doubt Rashid would approve of us making out in a public hotel room, I’m sure you’re right.” The smile was slower than before, and very warm, and meant solely for Duo. “Anyway, I do have a room.”
“Here? Tonight?” Duo’s eyes narrowed.
“Yes. For when the event has finished, so that I don’t have to make my way back to the house. But I don’t mean … Duo, stop this, I don’t think you …”
“I’m not going to stop when it’s the best fucking thing I’ve
ever felt,” whispered Duo, and leaned back in to nip gently at Quatre’s
lips. The other man’s body shuddered
inside his clothes. Suddenly it was very
important to Duo that he touch that body – and also
inside the clothes. “Mom is helping with
the stocktake at the store tonight – she doesn’t
expect me back. I often stay out, round
Quatre moaned. Duo felt a ripple of hot excitement run through him at the sound; he wanted to hear Quatre make that sound again. And that was what Quatre wanted, too, wasn’t it? “I’ll … look, I could go to the room … we could both go there, y’know? We could … talk about it. Something. Be more private.”
Quatre’s eyes clouded, just for a second, and Duo felt a sick horror in the pit of his stomach. What the fuck had he been playing at…He pulled his hand away sharply. “Hey, I’m sorry. More crapola. I said you deserved the best, right? That’s never gonna be me, I’m just Duo, just …”
Quatre gazed at him in wonder. His own hand quivered gently, like a nerve was trapped somewhere. He reached out and grasped Duo’s wrist, holding off his retreat. “Stop that! You’re the best thing to me, Duo, the very best thing in my life! God, how could you ever think different? I should have told you, should have said before, but I was always so worried that it’d upset you; that you’d think I was abusing our friendship.” He let go of Duo’s wrist and put the hand to the chestnut-haired man’s face instead. He ran his fingers along the chin, watching how Duo’s head nuzzled up against his palm. “Believe me, I want to be somewhere private with you, Duo. I want to talk to you about it all … I just don’t know whether it’s right, tonight. Whether here is the right time or place.” How could he tell Duo how he wanted things to be good for him? Perfect for him? He wanted to spend time, slowly acclimatising the younger man to something more than friendship. He was terrified of frightening him; disgusting him; disappointing him.
He realised with a sudden shock that maybe he was the one who needed the acclimatisation. The feeling that churned inside him was suspiciously akin to fear.
“But you say you’ve been feeling this way for ages?” Duo’s soft voice broke in. His eyes were wide and fierce, demanding that Quatre pay attention to him.
Quatre nodded, not entirely trusting his speech. He touched at him, instead, feeling Duo’s face moving under his hands, the smile creasing, the jaw tightening, the hair brushing against his arm …
“So why the hesitation now? I bet the rooms are really special here. All those thick towels and iced water in jugs and individual soaps, and decent hot water for a long, long bath. Maybe we could get some more punch sent up.” Duo’s words were jocular, but Quatre heard the tremor in his voice. He was nervous – but he was eager, too. “But then you’ve got your speech to give, haven’t you? Can’t leave all those important guests without a Winner to nurse them.”
“To hell with the speech,” said Quatre, quite sharply.
Duo’s eyes glittered and his smile grew even broader. “No, Mr Winner – you’ve still got to do your duty.” He ran his hand down the front of Quatre’s shirt, stroking him beneath the silk fabric. His breath was getting shorter; Quatre could see the gleam of new sweat on his temples.
“I don’t want to wait to be with you.”
“No, I know. I feel the same way. But we can wait. This has been … this has been around for a while, right? It won’t run away just ‘cause we can’t get away from a corporate event. Um..” Duo’s tongue slipped out to moisten his lips and Quatre felt the blood rush away from his extremities. “How long before the speech?”
Quatre shook his head; impatient, disorientated. How long for what -? How the hell was he meant to know what time it was now -? Duo grasped his companion’s wrist and twisted it to look at the gold watch. “In ten minutes time. So you go and give your speech and I’ll slip up to the room and wait for you there.”
Quatre nodded, dumbly. He stared at the flush on Duo’s cheeks; the rise and fall of his chest under his vibrant shirt; the slim fingers ghosting over Quatre’s torso, as if unsure where they wanted to touch first. He fumbled in his jacket pocket and brought out a card key. Duo took it. They both stood for a second, breathing heavily.
“Just one card to the room?”
Quatre’s heart lurched inside him. “You – but you’ll be there, won’t you, when I’m done here? Look, if you want to leave here, after all, it’s OK –“
Duo laid a hand on his arm and squeezed gently. “I’ll be there to let you in.”
“Might be a while – the speech …”
“I’ll still be there.”
“ – congratulations – some other speeches, maybe –“
“Go,” said Duo, firmly. He pushed gently at Quatre, a strange motion that hovered equally between dismissal and caress. “For fuck’s sake, Quatre Winner, go! Then the sooner you’ll be back!”