This is a work of fiction, and as such takes place in idyllic universe wherein there are no nasty sexually transmitted diseases, so I guess you could call it an AU if you want to. Rated NC-17 for bad language and boy-on-boy action, and EF for 'extremely farfetched.'
Contains serious spoilers for the films "Buried on Sunday" and "Masterminds." It would probably help matters immensely if you've seen both films before you read this story, though I tried to put in enough of the respective backstories that it can stand on its own. Gus Knickel belongs to Paul Donovan, William Fleming, and Salter Street Films. Ollie belongs to Roger Christian, Floyd Byars, Alex Siskin, Chris Black, Sony & Columbia Tri-Star. Gack. Wish they were mine but they're not, and no disrespect or copyright infringement intended.
Soundtrack: Simon Collins: All That You Are. Cowboy Junkies: Sad To See The Season Go. Dream Academy: Life in a Northern Town. Great Big Sea: Consequence Free. Loreena McKennitt: Night Ride Across the Caucasus. Joan Osborne: St. Theresa, Righteous Love, If I Was Your Man, Baby Love, & His Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles. Toshi Reagon: Real Love, & Yes It Was. Rufus: Tell Me Something Good, & Stay. U2: Elevation. Dar Williams: Ocean. Thompson Twins: Lay Your Hands On Me
As usual, profuse thanks to my beta readers-- AuKestrel, Betty, Judi, and LaT-- those brave souls who manage to say 'hey, that didn't work very well' in such a way that a) it doesn't hurt and b) forces me to figure out just what exactly I'm trying to do and why it's not coming across right. We may not always agree, and maybe sometimes I don't take your advice, but I'd be lost without you guys. A big thank-you also to Sylvie Grenon for help with the passages in French. --Kellie
© 2001 Kellie Matthews
Wet. Ollie was fucking wet, and fucking muddy, and fucking mad, and his fucking crew was fucking gone, probably hauled off to fucking jail. And he was going to be facing the same fucking fate if he couldn't figure out a way to get his fucking arse back home without anyone being the wiser. The one bright spot in the whole debacle was that he had gotten out of the drains intact, with a duffle bag full of money and a briefcase of something he wasn't quite sure about but that had to be valuable, since Bentley had gone half crazy trying to retrieve it.
Where he'd failed, Ollie had succeeded through a combination of luck, ingenuity, basic physics, and being smart enough to stay out of sight until the law was gone. Still, he was very glad that the outflow was a storm sewer and not the . . . other kind. And after all his work Ollie figured he was entitled to the money, and whatever was in the satchel. He and his crew had done their jobs, they deserved to get paid for it. And if there was maybe a little extra left after he portioned out his crew's shares to their accounts like they'd planned, he'd just consider it a bonus from Bentley for having to do his job, not to mention everyone else's jobs, under dangerous conditions.
He grinned at the thought of the Paxton kid and the way he'd spiked Bentley's guns. So to speak. Neat, very neat. Clever kid, quick kid, kind of kid that thought rules were made to be broken. Maybe it had something to do with having a weird name. Ollie. Ozzie. Yeah. O names. Cool. He could have used someone like that working on his side. Someone more like himself. Duke had been worse than useless. "Colonel, my fucking arse," he said out loud. "In what? The fucking Stupid People's Army?" No, the only one Ollie'd had was Ferret. Loyal as hell. Damn good in a fight, but dumb as a post.
He stopped walking to rest for a minute, thinking about Ferret. The rest of his crew were all new hires, he didn't feel too bad about them, but he and Ferret had a long history. Ferret had been his right-hand man for a long time. 'Course, just because the place was crawling with cops didn't mean they'd gotten good old Ferret. He might not be smart but he was good at making himself scarce. And if they had got him, then his share of the cash would help pay for the barrister or solicitor or whatever the hell they called them here. He'd spent some time in a jail once. Never, ever, wanted to do that again, even if it wasn't in a third-world country this time.
Ollie sighed and started walking again, trying to ignore the way his favorite boots now squished with each step. Walking in soggy boots was giving him blisters. Felt like he had blisters up the top of his foot and down the bottom of the other fucking side. And on top of that his wet jeans had chafed his inner thighs before they'd dried. He limped on, the bag and the briefcase getting heavier with each step. He was starting to wonder how the fuck paper could weigh so much when he heard the sound of a car approaching from behind him. He dropped the duffle, turned around, stood up straight, and stuck out his thumb, trying his best to look harmless. It hadn't worked the last eight times, but he was an optimist by nature if not by trade. The car passed him without even slowing down.
He sagged, letting his arm fall to his side with a sigh. Funny, that. He had enough brass to buy a whole fleet of cars and he couldn't get a fucking ride. He put the briefcase down on the duffle bag and stretched, worked his toes in his boots, then sighed and picked everything up again. As he turned around he saw the car that had passed him sitting a hundred yards down the road, its brake lights glowing invitingly. The driver stuck a hand out the window and waved him forward. He grinned, and headed towards the stopped vehicle. Finally, damn it, something else was going right today.
He stopped by the driver's door and leaned down, to make sure he was really being offered a lift, and found himself staring. The first thing that registered was the face, like something. . . well. . . like a fucking 1940's matinee idol, complete with thick, dark hair, square jaw, pretty mouth, ruler-straight nose and gray. . . no. . . blue eyes. It was the kind of face that tended to make Ollie want to see what the owner looked like naked, and sweaty and . . . suddenly the second thing registered. The important thing. The black and white clerical collar beneath the face. Oh. . . fuckitall. Going to hell for those thoughts, Oliver MacIntosh, even if you hadn't already been headed there. A priest. Shit. That was all he needed. He was about to turn him down when it suddenly hit him. . . what better protection? If the cops were on the lookout for him they wouldn't expect him to be riding with a priest, of all things. The guy gave him a good long look up and down, then lifted amused-looking eyes to his face.
Ollie laughed, he couldn't help himself. "Bleedin' awful," he said, grinning.
"Come on, get in then." He gestured to the passenger seat.
"I'm a bit . . . ." Ollie began, eyeing the pristine upholstery, but stopped short, not sure how to describe his condition. At least it was only mud, not anything worse.
His rescuer smiled. "That's why God made vacuum cleaners. I'll pop the trunk for your things."
The car's boot opened with a little thunk, and Ollie nodded, his token protest made. He limped around to the back of the car and put the duffel bag in next to a big cardboard carton that had been sectioned into smaller squares. Each section held a tall green bottle, and he pulled one out just to see if it what it was what he thought it was. Discovering it was, he lifted his eyebrows, wondering what a priest needed with all that wine. Maybe the bloke had a really thirsty flock. He patted his bags possessively before slamming the lid and checking to make sure it latched. It was hard to let them out of his sight, but he didn't want it to look like he was too attached to them. Might make the fellow suspicious. Finally he limped around to the passenger side and got in, settling into the comfortable seat with a sigh.
"Ta for the lift. Saved my ar . . . skin," he said, remembering at the last minute not to use bad language in front of a priest.
"No problem. You're limping, are you hurt?"
Ollie shook his head. "Just blisters. Wet boots."
"Feel free to take them off."
Ollie hesitated for a second, then shrugged and went to work on his waterlogged buckles and straps.
"So, you're not from around here, are you?" the priest hazarded.
Ollie kept tugging at a strap, letting his bent head hide his smile. "What makes you say that?" he asked, knowing his accent was a dead giveaway: North Yorkshire with a dash of Soho from his mum.
"Well, I think it was the fashion statement," came the unexpected reply in a voice warm with good humor. "Not that I'm all that familiar with the denizens of this area, but from what I've seen there aren't too many people around here who dress like a refugee from either The Road Warrior or a BDSM club. I'm Gus, by the way."
Ollie sat up fast, eyes wide as he stared at the driver, who had his attention on the road, completely casual, as if he hadn't just made a completely outrageous statement. Gus flashed him a look, eyebrows lifted, and Ollie realized he was waiting for a reply and cleared his throat.
"Ollie," he offered thoughtlessly. Only after he'd said it did it occur to him maybe he ought to use a fake name. He must still be a bit rattled by the day's events. Yeah, that was it. He wasn't just a moron, and he certainly wasn't a bit distracted by a priest talking about kinky sex clubs. Not at all. Bloke was a priest, for god's sake. He took some comfort in the fact that at least he hadn't spilled his last name too.
"Pleased to meet you, Ollie," Gus said, for all the world as if they had just been introduced over afternoon tea.
"Likewise," Ollie said, not knowing what else to say.
* * *
The hitchhiker was the most interesting thing to happen to Gus all week. He'd gone to the ecumenical conference in a slightly desperate bid to get away from the increasingly difficult situation on Solomon Gundy for a few days, hoping that the conference would distract him enough that he could stop worrying about things just for a little while. No such luck. Nothing at the conference had been interesting enough to distract him, and he'd spent most of his time with his mind squarely focused on the things he was trying to forget. Didn't it just figure that as soon as he was on his way back, a distraction would present itself?
He'd almost passed the man, had actually done so, telling himself the guy looked like exactly the wrong sort of person to pick up hitching. But something about the Mad-Max's-little-brother-on-shore-leave look combined with the expensive leather satchel had presented a puzzle too good to resist. Even so, he hadn't actually made up his mind to give the guy a lift until he'd glanced in his rear-view mirror and seen the dejected slouch of the guy's shoulders as he tiredly hoisted his lumpy-looking duffle bag and satchel. That had, for some reason, pushed his 'need to help' button bigtime. Besides, what self-respecting serial killer would actually go out on the road looking like a serial killer? No, serial killers always looked like the boy next door. So technically the hitcher had more reason to fear Gus, with his disgustingly wholesome appearance, than Gus had to fear hitcher.
The smile the hitcher flashed when he'd realized Gus really was going to help him out had sealed it, even if it hadn't already been fated. That startling and magnetic flash of white in a face so dirty Gus couldn't even tell what race he was-- though his bright blue eyes and sharp features suggested he was Caucasian-- had been irresistible. The accent had further deepened the mystery. What was someone obviously from-- it sounded like Northern England, mostly-- doing hitchhiking on a Northern California back road where he'd be lucky if three cars passed him in an hour's time? Gus couldn't resist sounding him out a bit.
"So where're you headed?"
Ollie shot him a narrow look, as if wondering why he wanted to know, but finally answered noncommitally. "Far as I can get, north, or east, or both."
"In a stunning coincidence, I'm heading north-east myself," Gus said casually, trying to put him at ease and not seem as if he was prying.
"Funny that," Ollie said, studying him with disconcerting intensity. "You're not from here either, are you?"
Gus smiled. "My accent give me away?"
Ollie grinned back. "Nay, all you Yanks sound alike."
Though he knew that to an untrained ear there was probably little difference between his accent and the local one, Gus bristled a bit. "I'm not a Yank. I'm a Solomon Gundian."
"I bet they got a cure for that," Ollie said, flashing another smile. Clearly he had no idea what a Solomon Gundy was, let alone where.
Gus laughed. "So they do, so they do." He was quiet for a moment, thinking about what the cure entailed and why it was the last thing he wanted, and then to distract himself he glanced at Ollie again. "Well, aren't you going to ask?"
"Pushy bastard," Ollie grumbled, then half a moment later he looked embarrassed. "I mean, pushy s. . . ah never mind." He shook his head. "Right then, what's a Solomon Gundian?" he asked obediently.
Gus smiled. "Solomon Gundy is an island off the coast of Canada."
"So you're Canadian then?"
"Ah. . . not exactly. We're an independent republic." Sort of, he thought to himself. At least at the moment. Unfortunately not a self-sustaining one.
Ollie frowned for a moment, then his expression lightened. "Oh, I get it. The Solomon Islands, right?"
Gus shook his head. "No, though I often wish it were. It'd be a lot warmer, not to mention having more tourists. I'm sure you've never heard of us, unless you happened to hear about the little incident with the nuclear missiles we had a few years ago."
Ollie stared at him. "Missiles? The. . . " he made a descending whistle, ending with an imitation of an explosion, accompanied by a hand movement indicating something falling, ". . . kind?"
Gus chuckled. "Yeah, that kind. Our navy had a little. . . problem."
To his surprise Ollie grinned. "Sounds like fun."
Gus sighed. "That's what I thought, until a friend of mine got killed."
There was a short but profound silence in the car, then Ollie cleared his throat. "Fuck all, that's rough."
Gus nodded. It was a good way to put it. "Yes, it sure the hell was."
He caught Ollie's startled look at his casual profanity, and smiled. "You don't have to watch your language. I think I'm on intimate terms with most if not all of the words."
Ollie studied him for a moment, head cocked slightly, then nodded. "Ta, appreciate that. Haven't had reason not to, not since my mum passed on. It's a hard habit to break."
Gus chuckled. "I completely understand. I once used the word 'shit' in a sermon. I got a stern talking to from my Minister of the Interior."
"Your. . . what?" Ollie asked, clearly confused.
"Minister of the Interior." At Ollie's continued confusion Gus remembered that the man had no way of knowing who he was. God, he hated this part. "Sorry, I forgot to mention that I'm kind of the head of state on Solomon Gundy. They keep wanting to call me the Prime Minister but I told them I'm already a minister and they need to come up with something less confusing."
Ollie laughed. "Pull the other one, it's got bells on."
Gus grinned. "I'm not a lunatic, at least not yet, though I may end up there. Like grandfather, like grandson. No, honestly." He took a hand off the steering wheel and reached into his jacket pocket for his passport and ministerial identification. They were very nice. Zeda's nephew Clarence had done a lovely job with the embossing of the Official Seal onto the maroon leatherette covers. He passed them to Ollie. "Have a look."
Ollie took them cautiously, examined both, and shook his head. "Could be a forgery. Easy to do."
"Very true. But it's not. I really am the prime minister of Solomon Gundy. Of course, Solomon Gundy is smaller than the State of Rhode Island, and has a population of six-thousand and three souls, so that's not saying a hell of a lot."
Ollie relaxed visibly. "Six thousand?"
"No, can't forget them."
"Certainly not. Oh, and that's not counting Hamlet."
"Go on, you haven't got a pig named Hamlet!"
"I certainly do." Listening to Ollie, Gus was hard pressed not to start dropping his own aitches Ollie's inflections were confounding but internally consistent so Gus didn't think he was faking. During his two years at Oxford he'd gotten fairly good at identifying regional accents. Ollie seemed primarily to have the cadences and vocabulary of working-class Yorkshire, but just when Gus thought he had him pegged he'd come out with something that sounded like Eliza Doolittle and made him doubt his own conclusions. At the moment Ollie was considering Gus thoughtfully, and then he smiled and shook his head.
"Well, I suppose a pig's a useful sort of pet if you ever run out of food."
"True," Gus allowed.
Ollie laughed. "Not much of a pet if you can think of eating him."
"Well, one sometimes has to be practical." He fell silent again, reflecting bleakly that if things kept going on as they had been, he was going to end up eating Hamlet sooner rather than later. He sighed and rubbed at his forehead, feeling the beginnings of a tension headache. He felt his passenger's eyes on him, curious, but couldn't think of anything further to say, which was strange, because he was rarely at a loss for words. It was his curse and blessing. Finally he managed to come up with something to say and looked over at Ollie, and closed his mouth on his words.
The man was asleep. Leaning against the car door, body relaxed in a boneless sag, long-fingered hands lying open and slightly upcurled on his thighs. Gus stared at him a moment, his gaze tracking over the filthy but somehow still attractive face down the long tendon in his throat, across shoulders surprisingly well-muscled for someone as lean as Ollie was, and, on down to the substantial . . . he glanced away, automatically, as if he was worried Ollie might catch him looking, and hoooly shit, he was on the wrong side of the road.
Gus managed get the car around the curve that had snuck up on him while he was busy ogling Ollie's crotch, somehow doing so without waking his traveling companion. Taking his foot off the accelerator he sent a silent thanks to a God he still only half-believed in that there hadn't been any oncoming traffic. By the rosy-eyed Jesus, he could've killed them both. He hadn't stared at another man like that in . . . well, since Oxford. Maybe it was just nostalgia, the accent triggering old and rather fond memories. Yes. That must be it.
He drove for a while in silence, wondering if he ought to wake up Ollie and ask how far he wanted to go. Mileage wise. He shook himself. Stop it. The stress was affecting him more than he'd realized. The sun was getting low on the horizon to his left, and Gus was getting tired. He probably should have waited until morning to start for home, but after a week of the conference hadn't felt like waiting for the closing remarks, he'd just wanted out. He wondered if there was a McDonalds anywhere along this road where he could stop and get coffee so he could stay awake. Having someone sleeping next to him wasn't helping his fatigue. He probably should've stuck to the highway, but, used to the traffic in Solomon Gundy, he preferred back roads when he could find them. He'd have to get on the interstate soon enough.
After another hundred miles he'd passed signs for a bunch of ski areas that weren't open for the season yet and was beginning to wonder if he would have to pull over at a wide spot in the road to catch a nap when he spotted a faux-rustic sign announcing the presence, just ten miles to the west at the next junction, of a 'Kozy Kampground.' It boasted all the amenties: a snack bar, RV hookups, tent spaces, showers, and 'Kabins' for rent. The spelling made him wince, but the thought of stopping for the night was appealing. Ollie probably wouldn't mind a chance to clean up and get some rest in a horizontal position, and if he couldn't afford to share the cost of a 'kabin' that was all right, Gus wasn't completely broke. Yet.
Ollie slept through him pulling into the campground, nearly deserted this time of year, getting out and going up to the office-cum-snack bar to rent a cabin for the night. The old guy there had given him a 'clerical discount' which Gus had accepted without guilt. Every dollar he could save was a dollar he could spend back home where it was needed. However, when Gus got back into the car with two foot-long chili-dogs and a pair of bottled waters Ollie roused finally, sitting up, blinking in confusion.
"Where the fuck are we?" he asked, suddenly tense, looking around at the somewhat dilapidated campground surrounded by pines and a scattering of deciduous trees, their few remaining leaves bright in their fall coloring.
Gus handed Ollie both hot-dogs and got out his map, hard to see in the fading light. "Somewhere west of Reno, I think, not far from Lake Tahoe. I hope that's all right. You didn't say how far north-east you were going. I'd've kept going but I was falling asleep, and you looked like you . . . wouldn't mind."
Ollie looked taken aback, but after a minute he seemed to recover and he shrugged. "It's good. And I'm heading for the east coast, so if you fancy a rider, you have one." He looked at the hot dogs in his hands, and then back at Gus. "Your dinner?"
Gus grinned. "Our dinner. It was this, or corn chips with some sort of yellow goo on them that I'm not entirely sure wasn't an alien life-form."
Ollie chuckled. "The Yanks have some nerve saying our grub's bad."
"Amazing, isn't it? Give me a good ploughman's any day. Still, it's food, I think. Hang onto those for a minute, our cabin is just up the road, according to Mr. Miller at the office."
He started the car and drove slowly down the gravel road until the headlights picked out the post with the silhouette of a beaver on it. "That's it. The Beaver Den."
"Beaver Den?" Ollie asked incredulously.
"Yeah. Apparently in place of numbers he uses animals. I guess they get a lot of kids here."
Ollie snorted. "Oh, kids, aye. You know what that means in American, don't you? Beaver?"
Gus chuckled. "I do, actually. But I'm not sure Mr. Miller does."
They shared a laugh, then suddenly Ollie sobered. "Look, I can pay, you know. How much was it for the night, the grub and all?"
"Don't worry about it."
Ollie bristled. "I can bloody well pay my share. Have done since I was fourteen."
Gus saw the challenge gleaming in Ollie's gaze, read it in his lifted chin and clenched fists. Clearly it was a point of honor. Gus had learned the hard way the wisdom of knowing when to fold. He nodded. "All right then. Frankly, that's just as well, the treasury's not exactly flush. If my conference hadn't been paid for by a speaker's honorarium I'd still be at home."
Ollie stared at him a moment longer, then relaxed. "Times rough?"
Gus sighed. "Very. We're not exactly a self-sustaining economy yet. Not sure we ever will be," he said bleakly, giving in to pessimism for a moment. "But that's neither here nor there. The room was forty-five, the food came to nine."
Ollie nodded. "So, twenty-seven, plus some for petrol, make it forty? That fair?"
"More than fair."
Ollie put both hot-dogs on the dashboard and shifted in his seat, pushing his hips up so he could dig in his pocket more easily. Gus tried not to pay attention as he did so. Having already risked life and limb once ogling Ollie's crotch he wasn't going to do it again. Judging by his companion's quick temper, getting caught staring might well provoke mayhem. After a moment Ollie managed to get one long hand in and back out of his front pocket, emerging with a small roll of bills. He peeled off two twenties and handed them to Gus. It was warm and slightly damp, and smelled of. . . Ollie.
Gus swallowed. "Well then, shall we check out the cabin?" he asked with forced cheer, wondering what the hell was wrong with him. Granted, it had been nearly three years since Noelle had gotten fed up with life on an island with a man whose attention was more focused on governance than romance and gone back to Ottawa, but it wasn't like he didn't have regular dates with Rosie Palm and her five sisters.
Ollie opened his door, getting out as Gus did the same, then Ollie leaned back into the car and when he came back out he had the chili-dogs in his hands. He reached across the car to hand one to Gus, and then proceeded to down half of his own dog in a single bite. Gus set his jaw and headed for the cabin door, trying valiantly not to think about that. So the guy had a big mouth. So what? He unlocked the door and pushed it open, flicking on the lights. For forty-five dollars he hadn't been expecting much. It was just as well.
Ollie's voice came from just behind him, close enough to be startling. He didn't sound sarcastic. That said a lot. The one room-cabin was divided into a tiny kitchenette/dining area, and a sleeping area containing a single queen-sized bed which sagged visibly, a small table with two folding chairs, a 1950's vintage bed-table and lamp, and a wardrobe constructed of plywood painted a festive shade of institutional green. That was it. A small door led into a bathroom with a pedestal sink, toilet, and a shower barely large enough for a grown man. Apparently Ollie had an unusual definition of 'nice.' Gus continued into the room, and Ollie followed, heading immediately toward the bathroom, but stopping halfway there to look back at Gus.
"Sorry, you need to use the toilet before I shower?"
Gus shook his head. "I'm fine, go ahead."
Ollie nodded and stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind himself. Gus sat down at the small table, ate his lukewarm chili-dog and swigged his water, hearing the sound of the shower coming on. He sat for a moment, at a loss, then decided he should bring in his overnight bag. He went to the bathroom door and knocked.
"Oy!" Ollie responded, sounding startled.
"I'm going to get my bag, do you want me to bring yours in?"
"No!" Ollie said sharply. "Nothing in it I need," he said a moment later in a more normal tone.
"All right," Gus said, and headed out to the car to get his bag from the back seat. For a moment he thought about opening the trunk, his curiosity pricking at him, but he got himself under control. It was none of his business. None at all. Well, maybe a little since it was in his car, but . . . no. He resolutely locked the car and returned to the cabin.
The shower was still running. Not surprising. As dirty as Ollie had been it would take some doing to get clean. He set his bag on the floor next to the table and rummaged through it for the budget report Zeda had given him before he'd left home. He'd managed to avoid looking at it for a week now, but he had to face it before he got back. It was an eight day drive back to the island , which gave him that long in which to come up with a creative solution to their fiscal crisis.
He thought briefly of stopping at Reno to try his hand at gambling, but he'd never had much luck at either cards or love, and it was sheer lunacy to think he could win enough to dig the island out of its hole. No. He knew what the solution was, what it would have to be. He hated the thought of getting up in front of his people and telling them their grand experiment had failed. Hated it more that they would have to go to Ottawa, hat-in-hand, and ask to be taken back into the fold.
His people. God when had he started thinking of them like that? And how had he let things get to this point? He should have insisted four years ago that they dissolve their newly-formed republic and realign with Canada. Unfortunately between their enthusiasm and his own insane optimism he had somehow thought they could pull it off, and in so doing bring some meaning to Dexter's death. As always when he thought of Dexter he felt a jumble of contradictory emotions, chief among them a strangely deep sense of loss. In some ways he had connected more with Dexter than he had Noelle. He wondered to this day what would have happened had Dexter lived. He had a feeling that for all his ambiguous morality, Dexter would have managed to help him find a solution that worked, a way to make Solomon Gundy self-sustaining.
"And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, Gus old son," he whispered bitterly as the tension headache that had been lurking most of the day suddenly manifested its presence strongly. He sighed and put his forehead down against the stack of paper as if he could somehow absorb the answer directly through his skin. When none was forthcoming he dug his fingers into his scalp, rubbing hard at the aches.
"You all right?"
He sat up with a start, staring at Ollie who had emerged from the bathroom finally and was standing a few feet away, wearing nothing but a worn towel around his hips. Caucasian. Definitely. His fair skin was ruddy from the heat of the water and the scrubbing he'd given himself. His short hair had been toweled into a haphazard array of spikes, and appeared, from the driest parts, to be blond. He had a serious case of eight-thirty shadow going, too; far more than Gus did. Maybe he was trying to grow a beard. A well-trimmed goatee would look good on him. Anything would look good on him. Next-to-nothing looked even better.
He had a long body, almost thin, and the muscularity in his shoulders carried right on through the torso, the legs, with their light furring of brown. Long, narrow feet, with pink spots that were probably the blisters Ollie had mentioned earlier. The towel rode far enough below his navel that Gus' gaze was tempted by the faint trail of hair that arrowed down below it, widening, only to disappear frustratingly below white terrycloth. He could barely make out the gentle swell beneath the towel, and he found his fingers itching.
"Gus? You all right?" Ollie repeated.
Gus realized he was staring and he swallowed, clenching his fists against the impulse to tug the towel off. "Yeah. Sorry. Just . . . matters of state. Nothing you need to worry about."
Ollie studied him for a moment, then shrugged. "If you say. You look all in."
"Yeah. I'm tired." He looked at the budget again and shoved it away. "I wouldn't be able to read that if I tried tonight. I should just go to . . . ." It occurred to him suddenly that there was only one bed. And that was his own fault, since he had tried to save money by not mentioning Ollie's presence. Hell. Ollie's gaze followed his, and an odd expression crossed his face fleetingly, then he shook his head a little, like a dog shaking off water.
"Just give me a blanket and I'm good," he said. "I'm no stranger to dossing on the floor. If you want to use the shower just move my clothes off the bar until you're done. Happen they'll dry by morning."
Gus stared for long moments, then he shook his head. "No, certainly not."
Ollie looked at him. "No? Air's dry here, they'll be all right. If they're a little damp still it's no worse than today's been, and at least they're clean now."
"No, I meant you're not sleeping on the floor. I will."
"It's your room."
"You paid for half of it."
"Don't be a wanker. You got it, they'd never have given me one."
"It's not right," Gus said mulishly. "I'll take the floor."
"You won't. You paid for half too."
"I'm not letting you sleep on the floor."
"You and whose army?" Ollie demanded, bristling, fists clenched.
Gus stared. Ollie stared back. Suddenly a smile flashed over Ollie's face and he started to laugh.
"Right then, we can share. It's big enough for two. I promise not to molest you."
Gus felt a pang of disappointment and pushed it down. This wasn't a good idea. It was really not a good idea. But it was just for tonight, and he could certainly keep his hands to himself. He was a grown man, not a teenager. "All right," he said finally. "That's fair."
Ollie looked a little surprised: apparently he'd expected more resistance. Gus figured it would shock the hell out of him if he had any idea just what thoughts were going through Gus' head at the moment.
"You care which side?" Ollie asked after a moment, nodding toward the
Gus shook his head. "No, it doesn't matter."
Ollie nodded as Gus picked up his bag and went into the bathroom, closing the door and leaning against it with a tired sigh. All right. One night. He could do this. He glanced at the shower, thinking for a moment that a cold one might be a good idea, but he didn't feel like moving the black jeans and tank-shirt that were draped over the curtain bar, dripping. Ollie's boots stood neatly next to the shower, each containing a rolled-up towel. Gus figured they probably weren't salvageable, but it was a noble effort. They had to have cost a pretty penny.
As he unzipped to take care of his main reason for going into the bathroom, Gus suddenly realized that while Ollie had learned quite a bit about him, he still knew absolutely nothing about Ollie. Why had he looked like he'd spent the better part of the day working in a coal mine? What had brought him to be hitchhiking on a back road with two mysterious bags which apparently did not contain clothing, judging from the fact that Ollie had washed his clothes in the shower and come out in nothing but a towel.
Nothing but a towel. There were only two items of clothing on the rack. Jeans. Shirt. Oh, that realization was not going to make things any easier in the car tomorrow, knowing that only a single layer of fabric lay between Gus and skin. And the fact that Ollie was at that very moment lying in bed in nothing but a towel, or possibly not even that, was not going to help him get to sleep tonight. He looked down at his semi-interested cock, thought about making the world safe for hitchhikers, and decided it wasn't worth the risk. He knew how loud he got, and there was really no way Ollie would mistake that for anything else. No, he'd just have to suffer in silence. If they were still traveling together tomorrow night, they were getting two beds, even if it cost more.
He washed up and stripped down to his t-shirt and briefs, then thought about Ollie and dug in his bag for the sweats he'd worn to bed at the conference. Safer that way. He turned out the light and opened the door, thinking that it was his turn to ask a few questions, but a single glance at the bed told him that his companion was asleep already. He was lying on his left side near the edge of the bed, one bare shoulder and upper arm showing just a little above the edge of the bedspread he'd wrapped around himself.
For the first time Gus noticed the tattoo on his biceps. From this distance it looked like to two blurry blue-green triangles interlocking at the tips. Odd. He pulled back the blankets on his side of the bed and almost sat down, then remembered the light and went to turn it out. The room was very dark, and he cautiously made his way back to the bed and slide beneath the covers. For a long time he listened to Ollie's deep, even breathing, and smelled the clean, soapy scent of him until eventually he stopped noticing anything.
* * *
Ollie had gone to sleep cold, but woke up warm. Well, most of him was warm, except for one shoulder and his face, which were cold. They hadn't thought to put the heat on before going to bed, and the temperature inside the cabin had gotten pretty low during the night. His right arm, the one underneath him, was asleep and he shifted a little bit to try to get some blood flowing back into it. As he did, he realized that the reason he was warm was because his bedmate was pretty well wrapped around him, despite the fact that they were bundled in separate sets of covers. He'd taken the bedspread, leaving the blanket and sheet for Gus.
It was a strange feeling. Ollie hadn't slept with anyone in longer than he could remember. Just slept, that is, without having sex. It was kind of . . . nice. Not that he was planning on admitting that to anyone. He shifted again as the tingles in his arm and hand became pins and needles, flexing his fingers. Gus stirred a little, tightened his arm across Ollie's midriff, muttered something in his sleep and nuzzled the back of his neck in a way that sent a whole-body shiver through him.
He almost reached back to check out the man nestled up against him, but stopped with a silent curse. While he didn't have a lot of scruples, molesting a priest in his sleep was definitely over even his line. Time to get out of temptation's way. He carefully eased himself out from under Gus' arm and slid out of bed. He had to piss anyway. As he headed for the toilet he grinned over the idea of what Gus' reaction would have been if he'd woken up and found himself tucked around Ollie like a blanket.
After taking care of the call of nature, he grabbed his jeans off the shower rod, and swore softly. They were definitely not dry yet. Not even close. Fuck. A check of his shirt showed it was marginally drier than the jeans, but not a lot. Well, it wasn't like he had a lot of choice. Gritting his teeth he pulled his jeans on. The cold, damp fabric against his skin took care of any hint of lingering arousal. Following his jeans with his shirt, he was shivering in seconds. It would take a little while before his body generated enough heat to warm up his clothes.
He padded back out into the main cabin and turned on the fluorescent light over the kitchen sink, after which he was able to find the gas heater and crank it on. Once he was sure it had started to warm up he started poking around in the little kitchenette. He found dishes, glasses, pans, and finally in the third cabinet found a bottle of instant tea, half a box of sugar cubes, and a container of non-dairy dry creamer. That would have to do. He got out a pan and put water on to heat, then spooned tea and creamer powder into a mug, dropped in a half-dozen sugar cubes, and waited for the water to heat, curling his toes in a vain attempt to keep them off the cold linoleum. When the water finally boiled he poured it into his mug, stirred, and tasted. He made a face but kept drinking. Hot. Sweet. It would do. He really wanted a cigarette, but he'd lost his in the water, and couldn't face the cold walk to the office to see if they had any for sale.
Even with the warm drink he was still shivering, so he got the bedspread off the bed and wrapped it around himself, then he sat down at the table to wait for Gus to wake up. The bloke slept like the dead. Bored, Ollie picked up the thick sheaf of paper Gus had been banging his head against last night and started to look through it. Spreadsheet. Big fucking numbers. That made him curious, and he was good with numbers, even numbers like these. He kept looking at it, and after a few times through he began to realize what he had. It was a budget. And not Gus' household budget either. The sobering numbers brought home the fact that Gus had definitely not been joking about the whole 'PM of Salmon-whatever' thing. And they were in trouble. Big trouble. No wonder he'd looked knackered.
Out of habit, because he was used to doing everything on his jobs, from budgets to fixing engines, he started looking for a way out. Sometime later he was distracted by the creak of the bed and the rustle of covers, and he looked over to see Gus turn onto his back and stretch, then he turned his head to peer at Ollie.
"Morning?" he asked, clearly both a question and a greeting.
"Morning," Ollie confirmed. "Just coming on seven."
Gus made a noncommittal noise and stared at the ceiling for a moment longer, then he pushed himself first into a sitting position, then to his feet, picking up his bag from beside the bed. "I'm going to have a shower."
Ollie nodded as Gus disappeared into the toilet with his bag and closed the door. A moment later he heard the water come on. The lock on the door was the old-fashioned kind with a big keyhole. It took a lot of willpower not to go over and squint through it. He hoped God was paying attention to how good he was being, because it ought to be worth something. To distract himself he got up and heated more water, making himself another cup of fake tea, then figuring Gus might want one too, he made a second. He put both cups on the table and resumed his seat and his place in the budget.
A few minutes later the shower shut off, and a bit after that Gus emerged again, wearing the same olive twill slacks he'd had on last night, with a black t-shirt and a red plaid flannel shirt over his clerical collar. He spent a moment stuffing the sweats he'd worn to bed back into his bag, along with his shaving gear. Ollie ran a hand over his jaw, and figured there was no point in worrying about that. Besides, a beard might come in handy on the off chance anyone was looking for him. Gus zipped the bag and put it by the door, then came over to the table, yawning widely. Ollie picked up the second cup and extended it to him.
"Coffee? Tea?" he queried.
Ollie shook his head. "Not coffee. Not really tea either, to my mind."
Gus took the mug and sipped, shrugged, then continued drinking the sweet sludge without comment. After his fourth sip his gaze sharpened a little as he realized Ollie had the budget in front of him.
"God, you're not boring yourself to death with that, are you?"
Ollie shrugged. "Nothing else to do." He looked at the pages, then back at Gus. "You've got a real mess."
Gus sighed and sat down heavily on the other folding chair. "Tell me something I don't know."
"You'd be doing all right if it wasn't for the frigging interest payments. Fish almost bring in enough."
Gus nodded. "I know. Believe me, I know."
"You need a secondary industry."
Gus groaned. "Please. I can't deal with the budget until the caffeine has hit."
Ollie laughed. "Sorry. I've been up a while. You ready to go?"
Gus nodded. "Yeah. Maybe we can find a diner along the way. Dinner wore off a long time ago."
"It did that. Right then, have your budget back."
He stood, handed the sheaf of paper to Gus, and reluctantly put the bedspread back where it belonged. Going into the bathroom he picked up his boots and pulled the towels out. They were still slightly moist inside but at least not squishing any more. He sat on the can to put them on again, wincing as they rubbed the raw spots on his feet. Fucking pansy. Going soft. He snugged the boot's straps down, and went back out to the main room where Gus was just shoving the budget pages back into his bag.
"Ready when you are."
"Now's as good a time as any," Gus said, pulling his keys out of his pocket. "I paid last night so we don't even have to go wake up the manager."
Ollie followed him out of the cabin, and the cold morning air instantly stole every shred of warmth from him, seeming to cut right through his damp clothing as Gus unlocked his car door and tossed his bag in the back, then got in and finally leaned across to unlock the passenger door. Getting inside didn't help much. A shiver shook him, and he told himself firmly the car would warm up soon. It had to. Gus slid the key into the ignition, then paused, looking at him oddly. Ollie tried not to shiver again but he couldn't help it.
"Fuck. I'm an idiot, sorry. Hang on." Gus opened his door again and got out, opened the back door and unzipped his bag to rummage inside. After a moment he pulled out something blue and handed it to Ollie. "Here, put this on. Are your boots dry? What size shoe do you wear? I have a spare pair of sneakers."
Ollie shook out the fabric and found he was holding a thick blue cotton jumper. His face went hot. "Don't need this," he said, trying to give it back to Gus.
"Don't be ridiculous, it can't be more than forty degrees out here, and all you've got on is a fucking undershirt. And were your jeans even close to dry?"
He reached over and stuck two fingers under the waistband of Ollie's jeans, just an inch or so but it was enough to make Ollie suck in his breath in a gasp and stare at the other man in shock. As if suddenly aware of what he was doing Gus yanked his hand back, and his face got a little flushed, but he looked at Ollie, eyebrows lifted over intent blue-gray eyes.
"Isn't that uncomfortable?" he asked, his tone curious and oddly mild.
"I don't need charity," Ollie said, starting to get mad.
Gus rolled his eyes and sighed. "Learn a new song and get the stick out of your ass, Oliver. It's not fucking charity, it's my favorite fucking sweater. I'm just loaning it to you, not giving it to you, okay? Unless you've got a coat hiding back there?" Gus said, jerking a thumb toward the back end of the car.
"No," Ollie admitted quickly, rather than have to try to explain exactly what was in his bags.
"I didn't think so. So put the damned sweater on and stop being an idiot. Now, what about the boots? How bad are they? Still wet? Do they hurt?"
"They're fine," Ollie muttered, avoiding Gus' penetrating gaze. Those eyes could be disconcertingly direct.
"Fine, hunh?" Gus said in a voice that clearly expressed his disbelief. "How wet are they?"
"Just a little," Ollie said. God. He could lie to anyone, why not Gus? It had to be the damned collar.
Gus snorted. "Thought as much. Here." He tossed a pair of athletic socks into Ollie's lap. "Take the boots off. Wear those. Maybe the boots will finish drying before we find a place to stop for breakfast, and if they don't at least the socks will help cushion the blisters.
Ollie sat for a moment, stubbornly trying to think of a reason to refuse, but. . . he couldn't. As Gus rezipped his bag and got out of the back seat, he resignedly pulled the jumper on over his head. It was a little big, but soft and warm, and he knew the instant it went past his nose that Gus hadn't washed it since he'd last worn it. Not that it stank, it just smelled of. . . Gus. Who was getting back into the front seat, and looking at Ollie with an annoying little smirk lurking around the corners of his mouth.
"Thanks, Mum," Ollie said, trying hard to be annoying right back.
Gus laughed. "Wrong parent," he said, and started the car. "Boots, before we get going."
Ollie sighed. "You always this butch?" he asked as he struggled with a buckle, trying not to mash his nose into the glovebox as he worked at the stiffened leather. Suddenly Gus' hand slid between his knees and a moment later his seat slammed back about six inches on its tracks. "What the hell?"
"No. And you looked like you needed the extra room," Gus said smoothly, removing his hand from between Ollie's legs and putting it on the gearshift to move it into reverse.
Ollie swallowed hard, suddenly glad of the baggy sweater hiding his groin. "Uh, thanks."
"Any time," Gus said, an odd little smile curving his mouth.
If Ollie didn't know better. . . . but he did. On the other hand, what had Gus meant by "No?" No. . . he wasn't always this butch? The thoughts that filled his head with did nothing to ease the ache in his groin. He yanked viciously at the boot-buckle and it finally gave, and he managed to get that boot off. He pitched it into the back seat and went to work on the other one, trying not to hurt himself bending over.
* * *
They found a place to eat on the outskirts of Reno, a little mom-and-pop coffee shop with surprisingly good food. An hour later, fortified with food, coffee, and orange juice they got back on the road, and after driving a while in a comfortable, digestive silence, Gus' curiosity finally got the best of him.
"What do you do for a living?" he asked casually.
Ollie's gaze moved from the road to Gus. "I play in the dirt."
Gus glanced at him, not sure he'd heard right. "You what?"
Ollie grinned. "Play in the dirt. Started out in mines, but I've done a lot of other things. Construction, mining, drilling, oil rigs, the Suez Canal, and the Chunnel."
"The Chunnel? Really?"
Ollie nodded. "Yeah. Two years. I was a shift boss by the end of that gig."
"That must have been interesting."
Ollie shrugged. "Not really. Wet, dirty, and hard, like most jobs."
Determined to get more out of him, Gus pried a little harder. "Weren't you a bit young to have worked on the Canal?"
Ollie laughed. "Aye, a bit. Maintenance crew. One of my first jobs outside the country."
"So what are you doing in Northern California? Isn't that a long way from home?"
"I go where the work is. Bloke hired me to do a job, I did it."
Gus hadn't heard of any mining in the area where he'd been staying, at least not since the Gold Rush days, but then again it wasn't like he was an expert on California. Still, that didn't explain why Ollie had been hitching on a back road in the condition he'd been in when Gus picked him up. "So why were. . . ." he stopped, shook his head. There was prying and then there was prying. "Never mind. None of my business."
"Why was I hitching?" Ollie guessed.
"Yeah," Gus admitted. At least he hadn't actually asked.
"Happen the bloke what hired me didn't bother to get permission to do the . . . remodeling . . . he hired me for. There was a dust-up. I got while the getting was good."
Gus chuckled, imagining an irate spouse coming home to find her house in a shambles. "Sounds like a good plan to me, provided you already got paid."
"Oh, I got paid. No worries."
Ollie sounded just a touch smug. Gus wondered why, but left it alone. Money was a touchy enough subject even between friends, and by no means could they be categorized as such. "Where're you headed now?"
"Dunno. Don't have a job lined up."
"So you're going home, then?"
He looked at Gus blankly, and after a moment he shook his head. "Haven't got one, really. Home's wherever I am at the time."
Gus couldn't imagine that. He was so deeply tied to Solomon Gundy he knew he could never leave it permanently. He knew that all too well. He'd even tried, and had still ended up right back on the island. It was as if it were part of him, the earth his body, the sea his blood. He shook off that appallingly romantic metaphysical nonsense and looked at Ollie. "That sounds rather. . . . depressing."
Ollie thought about that and shrugged. "Nah. Just the way it is. No point getting all emotional about it."
That was something Gus just couldn't let rest. "But don't you miss having someplace that's yours, that you come back to after the traveling is done, after the job's finished, a place where you have connections?"
"Can't miss what you never had," Ollie said with an odd tone.
Gus looked at him sharply, wishing he weren't driving so he could observe Ollie's responses more closely. "Never? You're not married, then?"
Ollie snorted. "Not in this lifetime, mate."
"Too much traveling?"
Ollie chuckled. "No. Just don't fancy the right sort," he said cryptically.
Interesting comment. Could mean a couple of different things, one of which made him want to pry, which was probably a bad idea, considering some of the thoughts he'd been having, so he let it go and tried another tack.
"What about when you were growing up?"
Ollie's jaw tightened and he turned and looked out the passenger window. "That's a long time back. Don't remember."
Despite an obvious attempt to make it seem as if it didn't matter, Gus heard the pain in the other man's voice. He was well used to listening for that. He let a moment of quiet build between them, then he asked. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Ollie snorted rudely. "What, seal of the confessional and all that?"
Gus shook his head. "No, I hadn't meant it in that spirit, though of course anything you tell me would be kept in confidence. I simply thought it might be something you wanted to talk about."
"You thought wrong, guv," Ollie snapped, turning his head to stare out the passenger window.
Gus stifled a sigh. "All right. That's fine," he said gently.
After a few miles Ollie sighed. "Sorry. Just. . . the past is done, you know."
Gus nodded. "Yes. That it is."
"So, where is this Salmon place?"
Gus laughed. "Solomon, not Salmon. Solomon Gundy. It's almost as far east as you can get and still be in North America. It's off the Eastern Shore, up by Nova Scotia and Newfoundland."
"So you're a ways from home too?"
"That I am."
"What were you doing in California then? Trying to convince a software firm to relocate?"
Gus stared at him, startled, frowning thoughtfully. "You know, that's a good idea, wish I'd thought of it. Unfortunately, no, I was here for an ecumenical conference. They were holding it at a winery-cum-conference center north of San Francisco."
"Any good?" Ollie asked.
"Stultifying, actually," Gus said. "I was bored out of my mind. Or did you mean the wine? That was quite good. The highlight of the conference."
Ollie laughed. "That explains the case in the trunk"
"Yeah, I'm going to see if I can get it over the border duty-free on my diplomatic passport."
"And if you can't, then just tell them it's communion wine. They'll let it go."
Gus laughed. "You're devious. I like that in a person."
Ollie flashed him a devastatingly cocky grin. "You don't know the half of it. I'm curious about sommat, though."
"Your turn then, what?"
"Why are you driving? Wouldn't it make more sense to fly?"
"Flying is expensive, driving is cheaper."
Ollie nodded thoughtfully, then a moment later he frowned. "How many days is it?"
"Depends on how long you can make each leg. I was averaging about nine hours on the way here, and it was about seven days."
"And you spent the night in hotels along the road?"
"Usually. Once I slept in the car at a rest stop."
"That makes no sense. Between cost of fuel, food and hotels, and lost work-time, it'd be more cost-effective to fly."
The man was sharp. Gus grinned sheepishly. "All right, you caught me. I just needed a break, hoped that the drive might help me clear my head and think of some effective solutions."
Ollie studied him. "Has it?"
Gus sighed. "No. As you said, the interest payments on the bank loans are really killing us and we need a secondary industry, but so far I haven't found a solution. Noelle did her best, but she never came up with anything useful. We've made a few tentative contacts trying to attract investors, but it's hard to generate interest in a place like Solomon Gundy, hell, we don't even have much of a tourist industry. . . I just can't seem to work it out."
"There must be something." Ollie frowned thoughtfully. "You're on the eastern seaboard right? Lots of coal in that area. Has anyone ever done a geological survey?"
Gus sighed. "Yes. We have a few deposits, but probably not enough to make it worthwhile, especially not considering the environmental repercussions . . . no offense."
"If you're desperate, you're desperate."
"If I thought it would really be a long-term solution, I'd be on it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it's not."
Ollie shrugged. "You're the P.M., it's your call."
Gus nodded, his jaw set. "Yes, it is."
Conversation lagged after that, restricted to comments on passing scenery, and occasional questions about the advisability of rest stops until they got to Elko, Nevada a little after one and Gus spotted a K-Mart, and had an idea that required a stop there. He figured they could take a short break to eat in town as well. He pulled into the lot in front of the discount store and parked.
Ollie turned and looked at him, a resigned expression on his face. "End of the line?" he asked, reaching for the door handle.
Gus shook his head sharply. "No, not if you want to keep going," Gus said. "I just need to pick up a few things here."
Ollie relaxed visibly, a flash of relief chasing across his face. "Oh. Right. I'll just wait here then."
Gus didn't argue, since that would make his task substantially easier. He started to pull the keys from the ignition, then stopped. "You want the radio?"
Ollie shook his head. "No, thanks. This is good."
Gus nodded and headed into the store. He figured he was going to have a fight on his hands about this idea later, but he'd deal with that in due course. He made a quick trip around the store, first picking up some bottled waters and snacks, then he added a gym bag, a pair of jeans, several t-shirts, both long- and short-sleeved, a sweatshirt, a package of socks and after a moment, a three-pack of men's boxer-briefs, a compromise since he wasn't sure which Ollie would prefer, provided he would wear them at all. Next he picked up a pair of inexpensive running shoes, guessing the size from a comparison of his own feet with Ollie's. Finally he threw in a toothbrush, razor, sample-sizes of toothpaste, shampoo, and shaving cream, and a hairbrush.
On his way to the checkout stands he passed the pharmacy section where a display caught his eye. He stopped. It was a completely insane idea, but something-- complete wishful thinking-- made him pick up a box from that display, putting it self-consciously in the cart. He was relieved that the checker didn't bat an eyelash, though she looked at him a little oddly when he took his purchases to an empty checkstand and proceeded to rip off every tag and pack everything but the food and his impulse purchases into the gym bag. The rest he transferred to two separate bags, and finally he headed back to the car.
Ollie was leaning back in the seat, eyes closed, dozing in the afternoon sun. Gus wondered if he habitually slept this much or if he was making up for sleep lost on his remodeling job. For a moment Gus was reminded of Gerry, a beat-up yellow tomcat who lived in the church back home, and who slept in the sun wearing that same smugly content expression. Come to think of it, Ollie did look rather feline, and even had similar coloring. He looked up curiously when Gus opened the back door and set the new gym bag next to his own on the seat. The food went in the foot-well behind his own seat, and the final parcel he tucked discreetly into his bag.
"Find what you needed?" Ollie asked, stretching.
Gus nodded. "Yes, I think so."
He glanced at the new bag, and before he could ask, Gus started the car.
Ollie nodded. "I could eat."
"The clerk said there was a good place about five minutes from here, a bar and grill, with pool tables."
Ollie looked at him, startled. "You shoot?"
"I know my way around a stick," he said, grinning.
Ollie let out a surprised-sounding laugh and then coughed. "That. . . that's good. We can play."
"I'm game, but after lunch. I'm starving."
Ollie's bright gaze seemed to warm further and his smile turned into something that suddenly made Gus' impulse buys seem less ridiculous. "Me too."
Lunch was burgers and locally-brewed beer, and a spirited discussion of the superiority of their respective national brews. Afterward they played two games of eight-ball. Ollie won the first handily, and Gus took the second by the skin of his teeth. They both smoked too many cigarettes between the two of them. Gus had mostly quit, but when Ollie lit up the temptation licked at the back of his throat and he found himself sharing Ollie's pack, and buying another to replace the ones he'd used. By the time they left Elko they'd wasted far too much time and Gus knew it, but it felt so good to do something just for the sheer hell of it that he didn't even feel guilty. Or at least not too guilty. As they approached the car, Ollie stopped with his hands on the roof.
"Want me to drive?"
"You drive standard?"
Ollie grinned and winked. "I know my way around a stick."
The impact of the grin, the wink, and the words hit Gus between the thighs and he had to work hard not to gasp. He used getting his keys out of his pocket as an excuse to surreptitiously adjust himself, and unlocked the door before handing the keys across the car to Ollie. "Go for it then. It's a good idea. If we trade off we won't have to stop as often, we'll make better time."
"That's what I figured," Ollie said, taking the keys and unlocking the passenger door before coming around to the driver's side. "Got a map?"
Gus nodded, opening the door to lean in and get it out of the door pocket. Closing the door again, he fanned it out over the roof of the car and they both leaned in to study it. "We're here," Gus said, pointing. "And we're basically staying on I-80 until we get to Chicago. Think you can handle that?" Somehow Gus managed not to smile.
Ollie traced the route with a finger and grinned. "Oh, I think so."
"You're sure?" Gus teased.
Ollie's eyes lit with amusement, and this close Gus suddenly noticed golden flecks in them. Interesting color.
"You might be surprised at what I can handle," Ollie said with a cocky, almost challenging look.
If he'd been talking to a woman Gus would have said that was a deliberate innuendo, but with Ollie he just couldn't be sure. He was probably just talking about work. It was a bad idea to make assumptions, no matter how much he wanted to. Gus had to swallow before he could speak. "I'm . . . sure you can handle anything."
"I can," Ollie said bluntly. "And bloody damned well, too."
Still holding Gus' gaze, Ollie reached to open the door, the back of his hand brushing Gus' thigh as he did. All right. He wasn't imagining it. He was sure of it. Ollie was . . . flirting. Which put the ball in his court. It had been years since he'd done this sort of thing, he wasn't even sure he remembered how, and the rules had definitely changed since then.
Gus thought about all the potential repercussions, and took a step back, literally and figuratively, to let Ollie open the car door, and to remove himself from the danger zone. A flicker of disappointment passed across the other man's expressive face, but he just nodded briefly, opened the door, and slid into the driver's seat. Gus stood for a moment, then made his way around to the passenger side and got in. As Ollie adjusted his seat and the mirrors, Gus reached into the back seat and grabbed the budget out of his bag. Since he no longer had the excuse that he was driving, it was time to face it.
Ollie slid the key into the ignition, starting the car smoothly, but he didn't reach for the gearshift though, or take the emergency brake off. "Got any music?" he asked.
Gus nodded, reaching under his seat to pull out the tape case. "Take your pick."
Ollie opened it and started looking at titles. He shot an oblique look at Gus. "'The Wall?'" he asked in a derisive voice.
"You don't like Pink Floyd?" Gus asked, surprised. He thought everyone his age liked them.
"'Animals,' yeah. 'Dark Side,' 'Meddle,' 'Ummagumma.' But 'The Wall's' just a friggin' lot of whinging. What else have you got?"
He pawed some more as Gus tried not to feel offended. It was certainly normal for two people to have different tastes in music.
"Jesus Christ, Grateful Dead? You need a life. No Bowie? No Iggy? Wait, 'Aqualung.' Right, you redeemed yourself. Oh, hey, this one's brilliant."
He pulled a tape out and slid it into the player, and a moment later Thomas Dolby was being blinded by science as they pulled out into traffic. Gus grinned, watching Ollie tap his thumbs on the wheel in time to the music. The budget tried to slide off his lap as Ollie accelerated, and he rescued it, reminded once more that he really had to get at it. He sighed, uncapped his pen, flipped the budget open to the point where he'd stopped making notes in the margins, and started working.
The next time Gus noticed anything but numbers and stress, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner was on. He'd missed the tape changeover. Ollie was humming along, body moving lithely in his seat in time to the beat. Gus wondered if he'd be hearing howling from the driver's side when the tape hit track four. He could definitely imagine Ollie chiming in on the 'Ah-ooooh.' He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, and Ollie looked over at him.
"Secondary industry," he said.
Gus sighed. "I know, I know. But what? We need something fairly small, environmentally neutral, willing to train a workforce, but that still makes money? Talk about the impossible dream. Just give me a windmill, a donkey, and a lance."
"Software?" Ollie asked, ignoring his literary digression.
Gus shook his head. "We get cut off from outside communication on a regular basis, no software company would put up with that."
Ollie looked thoughtful. "You don't know unless you ask. You're an island, right?"
"So what do other islands do?"
"You haven't got any tourists?"
"A few, but not anywhere near enough. Most people who go to islands for vacations want sun and warm Gulf breezes, not cold Atlantic nor'easters and beaches that are more rocks than sand."
"Sounds like most of the beaches back home. You need a picturesque cottage industry. Maybe a theme park."
Gus moaned. "You're not helping."
Ollie chuckled. "Sorry. You know, there is one other thing they do on islands a lot. Doubt you'd approve, though."
"If you're thinking about prostitution I don't think we have sufficient. . . natural resources for it."
Ollie's gaze slid down him, back up, and he smirked. "Maybe, maybe not," he said with deliberate emphasis. "But it's not what I was thinking."
"Go on. I'm listening."
"Offshore financial centers, tax havens, that sort of thing."
Gus stared at him. Given his appearance, he wouldn't have thought Ollie would know the first thing about the intricacies of international finance, but clearly he did. 'Time to stop judging the book by its cover, Gus old son,' he thought. 'You've made that mistake one too many times.' "Offshore financial centers?" he asked. "Interesting thought. But it presupposes the presence of a bank, I'm afraid."
Ollie turned fast and stared at him long enough to make Gus a little nervous, but the road was straight and there was no other traffic, and somehow the car stayed in the correct lane.
"You haven't got a bank?" Ollie asked after a moment, clearly astonished, returning his regard to the road.
"We have a couple of branch banks on the island, one's Canadian, one's American."
"Jesus fucking Christ, no wonder you're in trouble." He shook his head, then flushed a little. "Sorry. I keep forgetting you're a priest."
"I told you not to worry about it, and besides, I'm not."
Ollie's eyes tracked down to his throat. "What, you just wear that for laughs, then?"
Gus grinned, shaking his head. "No, of course not. I'm an ordained Lutheran minister. We don't call ourselves priests."
"Oh." He smiled. "No wonder you said being called the Prime Minister was confusing."
"Exactly. And you clearly see my problem. No bank of our own, and the outside banks are the ones holding our mortgages."
Ollie shook his head. "You're well and truly fucked."
"Without benefit of lube or foreplay," Gus agreed morosely.
Ollie's head snapped around again, and their gazes locked for long second. Gus felt his face getting warm before Ollie looked back at the road.
"You're an odd kind of minister, guv," Ollie said.
"That's very true," Gus acknowledged.
Ollie was quiet for a moment and then asked another question, this time without looking at Gus. "So, do ministers have to be, what do they call it, celibate?"
If he'd needed proof that he hadn't been imagining Ollie's subtle overture earlier, he had it now. "No," Gus said. "We don't."
Ollie nodded, acknowledging his reply, but after a few moments it was obvious that was as far as he was going to go. Gus knew what he wanted to know, knew Ollie was waiting for him, but he couldn't quite bring himself to answer. He barely knew the man, and it had been a very long time, and he was too old to be having nearly-anonymous flings with passing mostly-strangers, even if they did turn him on a hell of a lot. Been there, done that, and the last time he'd given in to his baser desires it hadn't ended well. By the time she left, he and Noelle had been more strangers to each other than they had been the day they'd met.
He hadn't meant to do that, to push her away, but she had just been so . . . needy. Always asking for pieces of him, his time, his energy, his solutions. He got enough of that every day, from everyone, he needed something else in a partner. He needed someone who could share his burdens, not add to them. Sadly, the one thing he had enough of to give freely, she had never asked of him. No, he wasn't going to give in to the impulse this time. He'd had quite enough of that. A little ostentatiously he picked up his pen and the budget again. Ollie turned Warren Zevon up a notch as he sang about lawyers, guns and money. Too bad Gus had only gotten two out of three.
* * *
As they passed a green and white road sign that indicated they were nearing Laramie, Wyoming, Ollie looked at his watch, which, being a diver's watch, had survived its dunking just fine. It was coming up on eleven. He was tired, his shoulders were stiff, his right leg kept wanting to cramp up, and Gus had been asleep for about four hours. He figured it was as good a place to stop for the night as any. It was definitely the largest city they'd been through since they'd gotten to Salt Lake and made a quick trip through a Taco Bell. Rock Springs hadn't looked bad, but he hadn't been quite tired enough to want to stop then.
A generic-looking motel with a Vacancy light on the sign caught his eye and he took the next slip road, then backtracked up the frontage road to pull in and park next to the office. Quietly he opened the door and slid out of the driver's seat, stretching gratefully in the cool night air. He closed the door just enough to make the light go off and make sure that it didn't swing open again, then bumped it gently with a hip until it closed with a quiet click. He didn't want to wake Gus up yet.
Going around to the rear of the car he opened the boot, and rummaged in the big canvas bag, taking one bill from each of about ten different bundles. He didn't think they were sequential, he'd overheard Bentley's pet geek talking about that, but it never hurt to be careful. He checked the denominations, decided he had enough to pay for a room, plus some for incidentals tomorrow, and re-closed the bag and the lid, again quietly. He'd been incredibly lucky that Gus carried his luggage in the back seat of the car instead of the boot.
Inside the motel office a sleepy-looking kid gave him a ground floor room around the back with two beds, and asked where he was from. Ollie told him New Zealand, figuring the kid wouldn't know the difference, which he didn't. When asked for a credit card Ollie explained earnestly that New Zealand cards weren't any good in the States and couldn't he just pay in cash? After a few moments of bewilderment the kid finally agreed that would be all right and Ollie counted out the payment, pretending to be confused about the bill denominations. Sometimes people were so stupid it amazed him. He took the key, one of those plastic card things, and headed back out to the car.
When he started the car, the music Ollie had forgotten about blared back to life and Gus woke with a start, blinking sleepily. He looked around as Ollie pulled out of the parking place and headed for the back of the building.
"Where are we?"
Gus sat up straighter and looked at his watch. "Jesus! You should have stopped hours ago."
Ollie shrugged. "Didn't feel like it." He pulled into the spot in front of their room and killed the engine, then held up the key. "Got us a room. Sixty-three, with tax. That okay?"
"Yes, it's fine." Gus shifted, pushing a hand into his pocket, tightening his slacks across his groin.
Ollie managed to look away just before Gus got his wallet out. He'd made it clear he wasn't interested, even if it had also been more than clear that he was too familiar with a few of the details to be as naive as Ollie had expected from a man of the cloth. Of course, it wouldn't be surprising for Gus to have had a fling or two before committing to the collar. Ollie figured that faintly-debauched choir-boy look had to have drawn in a lot of attention from both sexes. Just because he wasn't required to be celibate didn't mean he wasn't. And there was always the possibility, remote as it was, that Gus didn't fancy him. There was no accounting for taste, as the Yanks liked to say. He took the money Gus handed him, shoved it into his own pocket and opened the door, getting out again, then ducking down to look across at Gus.
"Go on, I'll be right with you," Gus said, getting out, then opening the back door to lean across and grab both bags out of the back. Ollie had forgotten about the second one. He wondered briefly what Gus had bought that would take an entire new bag, but since he really wanted to get into the room and hit the loo, the thought was gone by the time Gus straightened and closed the door. Ollie locked the car and they headed into the room.
When Ollie emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later he stopped, puzzled. Gus was sitting on one of the two beds, he had his coat off, and was working on his shoes. One of the two bags was next to him on the bed, the other bag was sitting on the second bed. Ollie's gaze went to the bag, then back to Gus, and narrowed.
"What's this then?"
He could read tension in Gus' body as he spoke without looking up from his bootlaces, though his voice was calm and even.
"Just a few things I thought you might need."
"A few things?"
Gus nodded. A little flicker of anger licked at Ollie, but he controlled it. Over the years he'd learned to make sure of his facts before he got mad. He unzipped the bag. A quick inventory of contents brought a growl to his throat, and the flicker got hotter, heat burning in his face, in his clenched fists. "How many fuckin' times do I have to tell you I don't take handouts?" he asked, his voice low and rough.
"I don't see it as such."
Gus turned and looked at him, meeting his gaze steadily. "I understand that, but you're wrong."
"You paid for it. I didn't. Sounds like it to me."
"I simply thought . . . . " Gus began.
It didn't matter what Gus thought. Ollie knew if he listened any longer he was going to lose his temper, and that would be a bad thing. The last thing he needed was to have the hotel management calling the cops because he was screaming, and a part of him understood that Gus just didn't understand how deeply, viscerally important it was for him to be self-sufficient. He took three steps and reached for the door, shaking his head. "No. Fuck this. I'm out of here."
Gus looked shocked, and was on his feet in seconds, moving toward him. "You're leaving? For God's sake it's almost midnight! Where the hell are you going?"
Ollie yanked the door open. "Out. Just. . . out."
He stepped back out into the chilly night air. A moment later he heard Gus' voice.
"Wait. Take this."
Ollie turned back to see Gus standing barefoot on the cold cement outside the doorway, holding out a small plastic rectangle. Ollie hesitated.
"Please?" Gus said quietly.
Ollie nodded jerkily, and took the key-card. As he walked away he heard the door close behind him. He stopped, took a deep breath, let it out, unclenched his fists and kept going. About a half-mile down the road his blisters started to bother him, and he stopped in front of a low, windowless building encrusted with welcoming neon signs. He stepped inside cautiously; it was always good to be careful in strange pubs. About a dozen people, mostly older men in faded jeans, workshirts, and scuffed, pointy boots were clustered in threes and fours at the tables, drinking, smoking, and talking. No one paid him much attention.
The bar itself was empty and he chose a stool, lit a cigarette and asked for a beer. The bartender handed him a glass filled with something pale yellow that looked more like lemonade than beer. For a moment he thought the man must have made a mistake but the smell convinced him otherwise and he sipped cautiously. It was awful, but it felt good going down and after he'd started a second glass the flavor stopped mattering since the alcohol had pretty much numbed his tastebuds. Unfortunately it hadn't numbed his ears. There were definitely worse things than The Grateful Dead. He smiled a little, thinking he'd have to tell Gus that, then the smile died as he remembered why he was in the bar drinking bad beer to begin with.
Fucking hell. Not smart, Oliver McIntosh. Not at all. Like Gus had said, get the bleedin' stick out of your arse. The man had done him a favor. A bunch of favors. He'd gone the whole good Samaritan thing one better, picked Ollie up, no questions asked, offered to transport him all the way across America, let him borrow clothes, bought him a sodding toothbrush for god's sake, and here he was getting cheesed about it?
He'd ticked Gus off, and was likely out a ride now, in the middle of fucking nowhere. And on top of that, he'd probably hurt his feelings. Gus was a minister, for God's sake. They were used to helping people who needed help. It was what they did, all the time, for everyone. He hadn't meant anything by it, hadn't implied Ollie couldn't make it on his own. And hard as it was, if he looked it in the face he had to admit that he needed help. He might have more money than he'd ever seen in his entire misspent life, but without Gus he'd be back in California trying to get a lift.
Halfway through a third beer the fact that Gus had bought him undershorts began to seem funny instead of annoying, and he almost laughed out loud. Underwear. Christ. Ollie couldn't remember the last time he'd worn pants. And it meant that Gus must have noticed that he wasn't wearing any, and wasn't that an interesting thought? Confusing, but interesting. Suddenly decisive, he put down his beer, put a tip on the bar for the bartender and started back toward the motel.
Letting himself into the room quietly he found Gus asleep in bed, but he'd left the light on in the loo. An optimist. As if that hadn't already been clear. Ollie took 'his' bag into the toilet and used the new toothbrush. It felt good after three days without. Somewhat reluctantly he peeled off Gus' sweater, sniffing it more leisurely this time. Gus just smelled good, and the combination of Gus-smell and his own was frankly erotic. He shook himself and hooked the sweater onto the doorknob. He used the toilet and stripped down for bed, then hesitated. He normally slept nude, but Gus hadn't last night. And since Gus wasn't interested, maybe it would be a good idea to be a little more modest. He looked at the bag, and smiled wryly. Looked like the undershorts were going to get used after all.
He tore open the package and pulled on a pair. They were strange, sort of half briefs and half boxers, but comfortable, the cotton jersey gave easily when he moved, and they didn't bind anywhere. In fact they fit perfectly. He checked the label inside the jeans Gus had bought him. They were the right size. So were the trainers. The shirts were a size larger than he usually bought, but Gus seemed to prefer oversized shirts so that probably explained that. It appeared Gus had noticed quite a lot about him. Ollie didn't think he'd be able to walk into a store and buy the man clothes that fit without having him there to try them on. Though he could definitely imagine what the curves of Gus' backside would feel like in his palms.
The unaccustomed tension of fabric across his groin reminded him not to think about things like that and he snapped off the light and headed for bed. It wasn't as nice tonight, sleeping alone, but he was used to it. He rearranged the pillows to his liking and closed his eyes, only to have them snap open a few moments later. Was that a whimper? He listened hard, and yes, a few seconds later Gus did it again, and he heard the slide of fabric and the slight creaking of the bed as Gus shifted restlessly.
"No!" Gus said, a note of dismay in his voice. "Stop shooting!"
Shooting? Right, what the fuck? Ollie sat up.
"Is everybody all right?" Gus asked, tossing again.
Bad dream, Ollie realized. He slid out of bed, and went over to Gus, intending to shake him awake, then he remembered something he'd once heard about how it wasn't a good idea to startle someone who was having a nightmare. He sat down on the bed and cautiously put his hand on Gus shoulder, just a slight pressure, hoping to ease him awake. Gus suddenly grabbed him and pushed him down. Startled, Ollie tried to push him back, but Gus only held him harder.
"Oh Jesus, no! Bunsy! Bring me some of those shirts!" Gus pressed both hands against Ollie's chest. "You're going to be all right, Dexter."
Ollie tugged at Gus' hands, wondering what the hell he was dreaming. "Let go, I'm fine."
"Yes, you'll be fine," Gus said soothingly, like he was talking to a small child.
"Gus, wake up," Ollie said firmly. "Come on, then. Wake up."
He felt Gus startle, then tense. "What? Who . . ?" he asked, sleepily confused.
"It's Ollie. You 're dreaming."
"Aye. But you can go back to sleep, so long as you don't dream again."
"Mmm," Gus muttered, turning toward him, wrapping one arm and a thigh around Ollie. "'Kay."
Ollie rolled his eyes and waited a few minutes for Gus to get back to sleep, then he tried to ease himself away, only to have Gus protest and tighten his hold possessively. Not quite asleep enough. He waited a bit longer, tried again, with the same results. Gus was pretty determined he was staying. There was no way to get out of the bed without waking him up completely. Great. It was bad enough to have to sleep in the same room, let alone in the same friggin' bed. Feeling put upon, Ollie sighed and reached behind himself to pull the duvet up off the floor and got as comfortable as he could.
He wondered who Dexter was, and it hit him suddenly that maybe there was a reason why Gus wasn't interested. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before. Maybe he was just taken. That would also explain why he didn't seem to like sleeping alone. He found the idea slightly easier on his ego, even if he was still a little disappointed. Okay, more than a little disappointed. He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the big, warm body wrapped around his, to ignore the smell of him, the tickle of overlong hair against his neck. He might not have gone to university, but he could damned well read a fucking 'keep off' sign.
He woke to find it was daylight, and Gus was trying to cautiously disentangle himself. As soon as he opened his eyes the other man froze and they stared at each other. Ollie wasn't sure what his own expression looked like, but Gus looked curious and intent. Ollie cleared his throat.
"You were having a nightmare," he said, figuring he needed to explain his presence in Gus' bed first thing. "Came over to shake you out of it, and you wouldn't let go."
A flicker of something that might have been disappointment crossed Gus' face. "Oh. I should have warned you, I have nightmares fairly often. You should have just woken me up."
Ollie shrugged, trying hard for nonchalance. "One bed's as good as another." He stretched and looked away, then back. "Sorry for stomping off last night."
Gus shook his head. "No, it's all right. I understand. I shouldn't have done it."
"You were trying to help, I get that. But I'm not flat, Gus, I've plenty of dosh, I had to go off in a hurry and lost my gear, that's all. Happen I should've said, then you wouldn't've felt pressed to help me out."
Gus smiled tentatively. "I'm afraid that might not have made any difference. It's just what I do."
"Right. I figured that out."
"I should have asked. I just didn't want to embarrass you," Gus said after a moment.
Ollie grinned. "I'm hard to embarrass."
Gus grinned back. "I've noticed. I'm sorry if I disturbed you last night, though."
"I didn't mind. Can I ask you something?"
Gus' face went white, and he turned over, flopping down onto his back to stare at the ceiling. Ollie wished he could take back the question, but it was too late. After a moment Gus sucked in a deep breath, let it out, and without looking at Ollie, spoke.
"Dexter was a friend. Not someone I knew very long, though he had quite an impact on my life for someone I'd known such a short time. And if I hadn't been so goddamned cocky he might have continued to do so. Instead I pour a bottle of beer over his headstone every year, two days after celebrating Solomon Gundy's nationhood. He liked beer."
Ollie put two and two together, finally. "He was the one who bought it during the missile crisis?"
Gus nodded. "Yes."
"I'm sorry," Ollie offered awkwardly, not sure what to say.
"So am I." Gus said bleakly, then he abruptly sat up and got out of bed, going into the toilet and closing the door.
Ollie stared after him, wishing like hell he hadn't let his curiosity get the best of him. After a moment he got up, and took out the jeans and trainers Gus had bought for him, pulling on the jeans. He opened the package of socks and put a pair on Gus' bed to replace the ones he'd borrowed before pulling on a fresh pair. The trainers were flexible and comfortable over his blistered feet. He was just pulling on a long-sleeved t-shirt when Gus came out of the bathroom. His eyes and nose were a little red and his hair was a bit damp. Ollie pretended not to notice. Gus stopped when he saw Ollie dressing, and a tentative smile curved his mouth.
"Clothes fit okay?"
"Brilliantly. I'm impressed."
Gus's smile turned into a grin. "I do good work."
"You do. Even the trainers fit. And thank you. I'll be buying you breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a while."
"You don't . . . ." Gus stopped, shook his head, and looked at Ollie again. "That sounds fair to me."
Ollie chuckled. "You learn fast."
"I can," Gus acknowledged.
He turned away and pulled his sweatshirt off, dropping it on the bed. Ollie found himself staring at the wide, smooth-skinned shoulders, unable to look away as Gus slid his hands beneath his sweatpants and pushed them down until they fell around his ankles. He kicked them off nonchalantly, and stood there for a moment, stretching, in nothing but a pair of dark blue briefs. It took every scrap of willpower Ollie owned not to take the six steps that would put him close enough to rid Gus of those too. Gus rolled his shoulders, then picked up his trousers off the back of a chair, shook them out, and pulled them on.
Ollie closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. If Gus hadn't already made it clear he wasn't interested, Ollie would have interpreted that little display as a come-on. But he had, so he couldn't. Fuck. He turned away and busied himself folding up his black jeans and tank and stuffing them in one of the outer pockets on the bag, then headed to the toilet to use it himself. He studied himself in the mirror and decided to use one of the razors and the shave cream Gus had bought him to get rid of the almost-beard he had after three days of not shaving. By the time he finished Gus was fully dressed in yesterday's kit, sitting at the table with the stupid budget again. Ollie was starting to hate the sight of it, and he wasn't even affected by it.
"Put that bloody thing away and let's go find food. Taco Bell was a long time ago, and I could go for a nice cup of tea."
Gus nodded and shoved the papers into his bag and zipped it. "Sounds like a good idea, though I hope your concept of a nice cup of tea is adaptable because this is the United States, after all."
Ollie laughed as he picked up his bag. "It's amazing, isn't it? Starbucks on every fucking corner and not a decent cuppa to be had anywhere. But I've roughed it under worse conditions. I'm flexible."
One corner of Gus' mouth quirked upward as gaze slid over Ollie provocatively. "You look it."
Ollie stared at him. Gus stared back. After a moment Gus looked away and reached for the door. "Breakfast?" he asked, and stepped out into the bright morning.
Ollie stared at the empty doorway for a moment. What the fuck was that? Was that flirting? He couldn't think of anything else it could have been, and he started to grin. So, maybe Gus was the old fashioned kind. He wanted to get acquainted first. Didn't kiss on the first date, or even the second. Kiss. The thought of that mobile mouth under his sent a shiver through him. All right, then, he could wait. From what he could see, Gus looked like he was worth waiting for.
He heard a step outside the door and Gus stuck his head back into the room, eyebrows lifted. "You coming?"
Ollie nodded and grabbed his bag. "On my way."
Half an hour later over mediocre tea and good breakfast burritos smothered in a green-chile that made his eyelids sweat, Ollie started his get-to-know-you campaign.
"So. Ministers. Happen people talk to you all the time, about all kinds of stuff they need to talk to someone about?"
Gus nodded. "Yes. That's what I do."
"And you, who do you talk to?"
Gus lifted his eyes from his plate, startled. "What?"
"Who do you talk to when you need to talk?"
"I . . . myself, mostly," he said, his expression an odd combination of sheepish and sad.
"You ever talk to anyone about your friend? About what happened, about the island, and the problems, all that?"
"Not . . . really. No."
"You want to?"
Gus put down his fork and studied Ollie for a long moment. "Why?"
Ollie took a sip of his tea, then met Gus' gaze evenly. "Because if you want to talk to someone, I'm here, and I don't mind."
Gus looked slightly taken aback at Ollie's blunt honesty. "Why would you want to do that?"
"Fuck if I know," Ollie said, poking his burrito with a fork. "I kind of . . . like you. Strange, I know."
Gus chuckled suddenly. "I like you too."
Ollie smiled. "Brilliant. We're even then. You talk to me, I talk to you, it's good."
"So that means if I talk to you, you'll talk to me? You haven't yet. I don't even know your last name."
Ollie had been preparing for that question. He'd decided to use his real name, his birth name, that he hadn't used since he was a kid, since no one associated with Bentley knew it. "McIntosh. Oliver McIntosh. I don't know yours either."
Gus looked startled, then shook his head and grinned. "You know, this is embarrassing. I usually make it a point to find out someone's last name before sleeping with them."
Ollie snorted. "Well, you would. Sometimes you can't be choosy."
Gus laughed. "No, that's quite true. Augustus Knickel. And I'm pleased to meet you, Oliver."
They shook hands across the table solemnly. Ollie took a bite of his burrito and Gus sipped his tea, then sighed.
"It's a long story."
"We got nothing but time. Three or four more days, right?" Ollie pointed out.
"Right." Gus hesitated for a moment, then sighed. "Well, it all started when the Minister of Fisheries and Atmosphere sent a couple of people out to the island to tell us our fishing quota had been cut down to zero. I don't know if you know what that means . . . ."
"After looking at your budget, I do," Ollie interrupted. "It means eighty-five percent of your populace is out of work, and the island is dead."
Gus nodded, his jaw tight. "Exactly." He looked down at his plate, and laid his fork and knife across each other before looking up again. "Dexter Lexcannon was. . . one of the people who came out to deliver the bad news. He was a lawyer hired by the ministry."
Ollie caught the faint hesitation and wondered what it was Gus wasn't saying. He figured eventually he'd find out. Then it sank in just what Gus had said, and his eyebrows lifted in surprise. "He worked for the bad guys?"
Gus smiled a little. "Well, he was a lawyer."
Ollie snorted. "Right, then. Happen I'm not surprised to hear that." He looked at Gus' plate with its neatly crossed flatware, and pushed his own plate away. "Tell me the rest on the road. If you can drive and talk."
"Just don't ask me to chew gum, too," Gus said, standing up.
Gus talked and drove, and Ollie listened, and found himself bemused by the tale Gus spun, one that was by turns funny, maddening, and sad. By the time they pulled into a transport cafe near Grand Island, Nebraska to fuel the car, grab sandwiches at a Subway, and switch drivers before heading back to the dual motorway, Ollie had learned a great deal more about Gus. He had also come to realize that he had been selling the other man short. He was much more complex and a hell of a lot stronger than his matinee-idol looks implied. The nightmare was explained: Gus apparently relived his friend's death in his dreams on a regular basis. Also explained were the lines of stress around his eyes, and the premature gray streaking his hair. He'd been trying to keep the island going, virtually single-handedly, for over four years now.
While Gus got petrol, Ollie walked across to the food court, where he had his choice of several varieties of fast food. They'd already had burgers and Mexican on their trip so he opted for the sandwich shop and ordered. There was a national newspaper discarded on a table, so while he waited for the sandwiches he picked it up and glanced at it. A small headline halfway down on the left side caught his eye, "Hostage Drama Ends With Bang."
He turned to the page indicated under the story, and read the small article quickly. It confirmed his guess that the boy, Ozzie, had nicked some dynamite and blasting caps for his last stunt. He'd figured as much, and had worried that someone might have been hurt in the explosion. Explosives weren't something amateurs should muck about with.
He was relieved to read that no one had been seriously injured, particularly none of the children. The article mentioned that eighteen people had been arrested in connection with the incident. That had to include Bentley, Marvin, Duke and all the mercs, but it also meant at least four men had gotten out, other than himself, and he figured they were all from his crew because they'd probably been washed out like him and had sense enough to scarper. It might even mean Ferret had gotten out. That made him smile.
There was no mention that they were looking for others, and to his surprise there was no mention of any missing money. He wondered if they just had figured the money he had was still somewhere in the storm drains. If so, if they really weren't looking for him, or it, he might just get away with this. Except for one little problem. He sighed, wondering how the hell he was going to get himself and all that money across the border without a passport for himself or any sort of documentation for the cash. The clerk cleared his throat, and Ollie realized the food was ready. He put down the paper, picked up a couple of bags of crisps and paid for the lot, then headed back to the car. Gus was already in the passenger seat, so he handed the food over as he got into the driver's seat.
As he started the car he noticed that Gus had settled into a silent, troubled slouch, not even looking at his sandwich, just staring blankly out the window. Leaving the cafe, Ollie saw a sign for a state recreational area called "Mormon Island," indicating that it wasn't far north of where they were. In fact, he'd noticed when they pulled in that there was a forested area and a lake slightly north-east of the road, though he hadn't seen anything that looked like an island. Making an executive decision, he turned north instead of getting back on the interstate.
Taking the marked turn, they passed what looked to be a store made from a train car painted bright yellow, and followed the narrow, winding road most of the way to the lake until he found a spot with a picnic table that was far from any other visitors, though he could see a couple of small boats on the lake that had fishermen in them. He pulled over and set the brake. Gus finally looked up, puzzled, clearly just having noticed they weren't on the motorway.
"Is something wrong?"
Ollie shook his head. "Naught. Just thought it looked like a nice spot to eat lunch and maybe get out the car for a bit, walk about."
Gus frowned a little. "We'll lose time."
Ollie stared back at him blandly. "You in a hurry?"
"I. . . guess not, no," Gus said. He looked out of the car, then back at Ollie with a tentative smile. "Want to grab a couple of bottles of water?"
Ollie nodded and got out of the car, opening the rear door to reach behind the seat for two bottles of water from the stash there. Gus got out too, and stood for a moment, breathing deeply, turning in a circle, surveying their picnic site. It was a pretty place. The trees were mostly leafless, the few remaining leaves brilliant gold and bronze with a scatter red and maroon here and there. There was a hint of chill, and the air smelled damp from the nearby lake.
"Nice. Good thinking."
Ollie nodded, pleased that Gus' mind seemed to be off his worries for the moment. They walked over to the picnic table, crunching through a carpet of fallen leaves. Ollie took a seat on one of the benches and put the water down. Gus sat down across from him and handed him a sandwich and a bag of chips.
"What'd you get us?" Gus asked, starting to unwrap his own sandwich.
"Roast beef and cheddar. Enough to go on with, I thought."
Gus chuckled. "Believe me, much as I love fish, having it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can get wearing. This is a treat."
"Why would you eat it three meals a day?" Ollie asked, puzzled.
Gus smiled wryly. "Because it's what there is. Most of my people eat by the grace of the sea. How could I do otherwise?"
Ollie studied Gus for a moment. It wasn't the first time Gus had called the islanders 'his people.' For some reason that triggered a long-buried memory. He unwound the plastic seal from around the top of his bottle of water and took a sip, trying to figure out how to say what he wanted to say. "When I was younger my mum told me a lot of stories," he began, then stopped, fairly certain he was about to make a fool of himself.
Gus' eyes came to rest on his face, waiting and intent. "Yes?"
"It's naught, never mind."
"Oh no you don't. It's your turn to talk, and your mother's as good a place to start as any."
'Well, you're stuck now,' he thought to himself. "It was a long time ago, I might've misunderstood her. It probably makes no sense."
"Life rarely makes sense." Gus said succinctly.
Ollie sighed. "Right, then. Her favorite stories were about ancient times, and kings, and magic and the like. There was one story she told a lot, about a king who had a wound, and so long as it didn't heal, the land couldn't prosper."
Gus stopped with his sandwich halfway to his mouth, staring at Ollie intently. "The Fisher King."
Ollie nodded. "Aye, that's the one. Others too, though. Bran, and William Rufus, some others."
"Your mother sounds like an interesting woman."
"She was smart, went to university and all, but after she married my dad, well, they never lived any place that had a university so she couldn't teach. He was a miner, and had to live where the coal was."
"That must have been difficult for her," Gus said softly.
Ollie nodded. "It was. They had rows about it. She thought she could earn more than he did, and he'd not have to risk his health and life as a miner, but he wouldn't hear of her working."
"He sounds very traditional."
Ollie laughed a little. "That he was."
"So, go on. The Fisher King . . . ?" Gus prompted.
"I've likely got this wrong, it's been a while since I thought of it, but I think she said because the king and the land were one, the land suffered from the king's pain and a sacrifice had to be made to heal the land. Either the king himself would be sacrificed and a new king crowned, or someone else had to sacrifice himself in the king's place and then he and the land would both be healed."
Gus frowned. "Are you saying we need a human sacrifice to make Solomon Gundy prosper?"
Ollie shook his head hard. "No. Im thinking you already had one."
Gus, in the middle of a drink of water, choked, and stared at him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "What?"
"Your friend, Dexter. You said he seemed ready to die, even willing. You said you two had a kind of bond. You saved his life at the hanging, it struck me, what if he saved yours back?" As Gus continued to stare at him in silence, Ollie cleared his throat. "Told you it was naught."
"It's. . . interesting," Gus said weakly. "Strange." He was silent for a moment, then shook his head. "No, there's an obvious flaw in that theory. If Dexter was a willing sacrifice, why haven't we prospered?"
Ollie thought for a moment, staring at some initials carved into the wooden table, and finally looked up again. "Don't know really, only thing I can think is maybe it's because his sacrifice hasn't been acknowledged? You've been taking responsibility for his death, in a way, keeping yourself wounded."
Gus went white, and Ollie wished he'd kept his mouth shut. "I'm a bloody bugger, sorry. I told you, it's all just a lot of fucking crap. Dad always did say Mum was filling my head with useless rubbish."
"I. . . " Gus stopped, shook his head again, and stood up abruptly. "I need to clear my head. I'm going for a walk."
Ollie watched him go, half-tempted to go after him, but he figured he'd done enough damage. He had no idea where all that had come from. He hadn't thought of his mother's stories in nigh on twenty years. Why now? He looked at his sandwich and sighed, re-wrapping it. He did the same with Gus' so the flies wouldn't get at it, and then turned around and leaned back against the table, closing his eyes and letting the slanting autumn sunlight warm him, absently sipping his water now and then. After a few minutes he looked around, and saw Gus a ways off on the lakeshore, sitting with his arms around his knees, staring at the water. Ollie wondered if it made him feel at home, being close to water like that.
The car keys were on the table, and Ollie decided to take advantage of Gus' distraction to go replenish his cash supply. He could see Gus from where the car was, and he'd have plenty of forewarning if he started back. Opening the boot, he followed the same procedure as last time, taking bills from several different stacks to minimize the likelihood that someone could track him from the serial numbers, though now in the daylight it was obvious that the bills weren't sequential. He closed the bag and started to close the boot, then stopped and shot a glance at Gus, who was still motionless on the beach. He had time, finally, to check out the contents of the leather satchel.
He opened it and pulled out the still-slightly damp papers inside, again thankful that he and the satchel had ended up in a storm-drain not a real sewer. They needed to be spread out and dried, but that wasn't going to happen any time soon. He just hoped they didn't mold. As he flipped through the thick stack of identical pages, he noticed that each one started out with the words "Pay to the Bearer." By the time he got to the bottom of the stack his hands had started to shake a little.
"Bloody hell," he whispered. "Bloody fucking hell."
He should definitely have left the satchel behind for the cops to find. A piddly million in small bills was one thing, but a whole fucking satchel full of million-dollar bearer bonds was something else entirely. How could they not be after him now? For that matter, why weren't the rightful owners trumpeting far and wide that they were missing? There hadn't been a word about it in the article!
He started to count to see how many of them there were, then movement caught his eye and he saw Gus stand up. Quickly he replaced all the papers and closed the satchel, and the boot, and by the time Gus had returned he was back at the table, soaking up the sun again. Ollie heard the rustle of paper and plastic as Gus moved their food down onto the bench, then a few seconds later felt the picnic table give behind him. He left his eyes closed but was a bit puzzled. Was Gus lying on the table? They were both quiet for a little while and then finally Gus broke the silence, his voice quiet, but surprisingly close to Ollie's ear.
"You haven't eaten?"
Ollie opened his eyes and turned to look at Gus. God. He was indeed lying on the table. He'd taken off his flannel shirt and wore only a stretched out muscle jersey, and that fucking clerical collar-dickey. It looked simultaneously stupid and sexy. He had his eyes closed, just soaking up the light, and his hair threw shadows on the sleek line of his throat. The skin of his shoulders and chest, where Ollie could see it, was a beautiful honey-gold. He'd been out in the sun. He looked smooth as satin, smooth as caramel. Ollie's mouth watered and he had to swallow before he could speak. "Nah. Wasn't hungry."
Gus nodded amicably. "Sun feels good, doesn't it?"
Ollie nodded. "Yeah."
After a moment of silence, Gus drew a long breath and spoke again, turning his head to look at Ollie this time. "You know, if someone had told me a week ago that I'd be sitting at a picnic table at a wide-spot in the road in the middle of Nebraska talking about Arthurian myth and human sacrifice with a former miner from North Yorkshire, I definitely would not have believed them."
Ollie chuckled. "It does seem a bit whacked, doesn't it?" He sobered abruptly, remembering how Gus had reacted to his last comments. "Look I didn't mean to upset you. Mouth's running ahead of the brain."
Gus shook his head. "No, I'm glad you said something, because in at least one major way I think you're right."
Gus nodded. "I have been trying to take Dexter's death on myself, when really it was, I think, what he wanted. He'd been hinting at it the whole time he was there. If it hadn't happened the way it did, he would have found a way to make it happen some other way. It's just that it seemed so clearly my doing, at the time, my fault. I have to let it go. I have to let him go. Because if I don't, then, as Noelle said, 'Dexter died for nothing,' and that's just not right."
Ollie chanced a look at Gus. He seemed more relaxed than he had before. "Noelle?"
Tension came back, instantly. "She's. . . she was the. . . other person who came out from Ottawa. She worked with Dexter. She was supposed to help retrain the islanders, help them find jobs outside the fishing industry."
Speaking pauses there. Noelle meant something. Something more than an employment counselor. Something Gus didn't want to talk about. Okay. So. . . maybe Gus hadn't been flirting before. Fuck. Too good to be true, for sure. Ah well. Win some, lose some. Gus was still waiting for a response, so Ollie attempted one.
"Looking at your budget, I'd say she'd a ways to go," he ventured cautiously.
Gus sighed. "Yeah. And I'd warned her right from the start that it wouldn't be easy. To train someone for a new job presupposes the existence of new jobs to begin with."
Ollie smiled a little. "You need a . . . "
"Second industry," Gus finished with him, chuckling. "Yeah. I know. You know, I really liked your offshore idea, it's too bad we don't have our own bank."
"You could still go for the software company," Ollie reminded him.
Gus shook his head. "There's that little problem of having all outside contact cut off periodically."
"You're not looking at this right. You've got to play it as an asset," Ollie said. "Say it's a security feature. No one can get in to steal their product while it's under development if there's no outside link to get in through."
Gus stared at him, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. After a moment he shut his mouth and shook his head. "Fuck. Where have you been the last four years? I don't suppose you'd like to become an extremely underpaid consultant for the Republic of Solomon Gundy?"
Ollie laughed. "You can have the consult for free if you hand me that bag of crisps."
Gus opened the bag, got one out and offered it. "For that bit of advice, I'll feed them to you by hand, one by one."
Ollie leaned forward to take the offered snack with a grin and a snap, then grabbed the rest of the bag out of Gus' fingers. "I can feed myself."
"Yes, master," Gus said, getting off the table in a sinuous roll and going to his knees in the dry leaves on the ground at Ollie's feet. "Can your humble servant assist you in any other way?"
Ollie almost choked on his crisp, and had to fight the urge to tell Gus exactly what he could do for him from that position. Gus looked up at him, his eyes bright with humor.
"Too bad we don't have any grapes. I could peel you some."
Grapes were not what Ollie wanted peeled right now. "Never understood what was supposed so brilliant about that," he managed.
Gus' tongue stole out to moisten his lips. "Ever had one?"
"Ah, what?" Ollie asked, trying not to lean down and do the same.
"A peeled grape," Gus said patiently.
"They're sweeter without the skin."
"Doesn't sound as good."
Gus shook his head. "No, it's not. At least not to me. I like a little tartness with the sweet. I find the contrast. . . interesting."
They stared at each other. Out on the motorway a truck sounded its air-horn, the sound shockingly loud even from this distance, and Ollie shook himself. "How far are we going?" he asked a little hoarsely.
Gus lifted his eyebrows suggestively, looking altogether too wicked to be a fucking priest . . . minister . . . whatever . . . and Ollie hastily explained himself. "I mean, where do you want to stop for the night?"
He could almost swear he saw disappointment flicker in Gus' eyes as he got up and dusted leaf-confetti off his knees with a little sigh.
"I'm not sure. What's east of here? Omaha? Des Moines? Not sure what else."
"Want me to get the map?"
"Nah, let's just get back in the car and just drive until we get tired."
Ollie nodded. "You set the schedule, guv."
* * *
They reached the outskirts of Chicago a little after ten. Gus was starting to feel like his spine was permanently curved in the shape of the seat, and he'd resorted to doing butt-clenches to keep his ass from falling asleep. He made an executive decision.
"Why don't we stop here? We've killed over a thousand miles today, over nine-hundred yesterday. At this rate, it'll only take two more days to get to the island. I think it's time to stop and get a good night's sleep."
Ollie looked over at him. "Aye, my right foot's been asleep for nigh on two hundred miles."
"You should've said something!" Gus said, aghast.
Ollie shrugged. "Wasn't bothering me. I am hungry, though. Could we get some takeaway before we pack it in?"
"Think there's going to be anyplace open this time of night?"
Ollie laughed. "Well, there won't be a decent chippie, and I haven't got a clue where to find Indian or Chinese here, but this is America, land of the free, home of fast food and neon signs."
Gus did a momentary doubletake at his companion before he remembered from his days as a penniless undergrad that a chippie was not a prostitute, after which he chuckled. "Haute cuisine."
"Grub's grub," Ollie said. "Look. Vacancy sign, neon, just up from a McDonald's."
"Looks like fate to me."
Ollie nodded, took the exit, and headed for the restaurant's drive through. "You want anything?"
Gus was definitely hungry, but . . . McDonald's. . . he shook his head. "No, thanks."
"Your loss," Ollie said, rolling down his window as he pulled up to the order station.
It was the smell of fries that did it. As soon as the window came down, the smell came in, and Gus wasn't strong enough to resist that. As Ollie finished his order, having to repeat himself twice (apparently his accent was the cause of some consternation to the young woman taking the order), Gus leaned across him and added his own request. As he settled back into his seat he heard Ollie snicker.
"You have no willpower," he said, grinning.
"No, none," Gus agreed ruefully. "It's my biggest failing."
"Must make for some interesting sermons."
"I'm a great advocate of 'don't do as I do.' And I lecture myself frequently on the evils of hedonism."
"Ever convince yourself?" Ollie asked, looking genuinely curious.
Gus snorted. "No. Never."
"Glad to hear it," he said, pulling forward to the window to pay, and then handing the bag of food to Gus. "Here, you take care of this, I'll go get us a room."
"No, you got it last night, my turn this time." Ollie looked as if he was going to object, and Gus preempted it. "After all, fair is fair."
Ollie gave Gus a look that told him he was quite well aware he was being manipulated, and drove the half-block to the turn-in for the motel, pulled up next to the office, and drummed his thumbs on the steering wheel. Gus suppressed a grin, set the bag of food on the floor and got out. Ten minutes later he was back with a key. "It's around back, first floor. We had our choice of rooms, apparently it's been a slow night."
Ollie nodded, started the car, and drove around back, parking in front of their room. Ollie snagged both his own bag and Gus' from the back seat, leaving Gus to carry the food and unlock the door for him. After depositing the bags on the floor, Ollie looked around the room, then back at Gus.
"So why'd you pick this one?"
"It faces away from the street, so less noise, plus there's no one in any of the rooms around it, so we won't get woken up by the neighbors watching television or fighting."
"Or fucking," Ollie said, in a tone just a hair too casual.
Gus laughed. "Yeah. Nothing like that rhythmic thump of headboard against wall to really ruin a good night's sleep." He paused a moment, then couldn't resist adding more, mimicking Ollie's nonchalant tone. "Unless, of course, it's one's own headboard and wall."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ollie turn his head swiftly, knew he was being stared at. He couldn't keep the smile in, but he did manage not to turn his head. It was fun to be the one causing the double-take this time. He moved over to the small table and started taking food out of the bag. His own Big Mac, two cheeseburgers for Ollie, two large orders of fries-- chips-- two drinks. Good, it was all there. Ollie stopped staring at him and came over to the table, taking the seat where Gus had put his cheeseburgers. Gus sat down across from him and they started unwrapping food. Gus grabbed a half-dozen fries and put them all in his mouth at once, satisfying his most pressing craving. He closed his eyes with a sigh of pleasure as the anticipated flavors of salt, potato, and grease flooded his mouth.
"Good?" Ollie asked, sounding amused.
"Mmm," Gus informed him, swallowing. "Perfect. You have to wonder what they put in these things to make them so damned addictive." He grabbed his drink as the lingering saltiness made him want something to wash the food down with and he took a big swig, then grimaced. "Agh. This is awful. Their mix is off, it's all soda no syrup, and flat soda at that."
Ollie tried his, and nodded, wrinkling his nose. "Yeah, mine's the same. Oh well, there's always water."
Gus wrinkled his nose. "Have you ever had Chicago water?"
Ollie shook his head. "Bad?"
"That's putting it mildly. Oh, hang on, I know. Back in a minute." He dashed back outside and opened the trunk, leaning in to grab a bottle out of the case of wine, then on a whim, grabbed a second one. He glanced briefly at Ollie's bags, wondering idly what was in them. He was momentarily tempted to look, simply because Ollie had not mentioned them at all, and had clearly not wanted Gus to look at them the other night, but it seemed like a bad time to indulge his curiosity, since Ollie was waiting for him and he didn't really relish being caught snooping. He closed the trunk and checked that it latched, then went back into their room.
"Here we go," he said, holding up a bottle. "A 1995 Merlot. Full-bodied, and perfect with red meat, or so they assured me."
Ollie laughed out loud. "You're having me on!"
"I'm perfectly serious."
"That's much too good for this," he said, gesturing at his burger. "For starters, this is more gray than red and I'm not entirely sure it's meat. Look, if you really want a piss-up I'll go scout out an offy and get us some plonk."
"Plonk?" Gus asked, puzzled. That was one he hadn't encountered before.
Ollie pointed at the bottle. "Like that, only cheaper."
"No need to go out again, this is perfectly good."
"That'd be the problem, guv. You can't tell me you bought it to drink with fast food."
"No, I bought it to use for state dinners, communion, or emergencies, whichever came first."
"And which is this?"
"Pick up the food for a minute will you?" Gus asked, unbuttoning his cuffs.
Looking wary and confused, Ollie put all the food back in the bag and took it off the table. Gus stripped off his shirt and laid it over the table like a plaid flannel tablecloth. It covered the imitation wood-grain haphazardly and the sleeves hung over the edges, but it was enough for his purposes. He set the two bottles of wine on the table, and then snagged the bag from Ollie and put the food back on the table as well. Finally he stepped back and gestured at the table with a flourish. "There. Perfect. One official state dinner with an important financial consultant."
Ollie looked at him, narrow-eyed. "You're off your head."
Gus laughed. "Absolutely. Always have been. It runs in the family, you see."
"So was your mother or your father mad?"
"Well, I'm not sure really, they both died when I was young, so they hadn't had a chance to fully develop their oddness, but my grandfather certainly was. Maybe it skips a generation, like twins."
Ollie cocked his head a bit. "How old were you when your parents died?"
Gus shrugged. "I thought so at the time, but I got over it. I was confused for a while, because you know, when you're nine and people tell you your parents are lost at sea, you think they mean they're just lost. It took me a while to understand they weren't going to eventually find their way home."
"Lost at sea? What happened?"
"They were out fishing, got caught on the water in a storm. It's a fact of life on an island."
"But you had your granddad."
"I did. And at that age I didn't realize he was mad, I just thought he was fun."
Ollie nodded thoughtfully and poked idly at his wrapped cheeseburger. After a moment he spoke. "I know what that's like. Losing your kin."
Gus suddenly remembered Ollie's fierce insistence on paying his part. "I can bloody well pay my share. Have done since I was fourteen." There was something there. Something important. He was used to teasing out pain from the scantiest of details. "How old were you?" he asked.
"Older than you. Almost fifteen. Grown, mostly."
"How did it happen?"
"Car crash. It was foggy and raining and there was a pile-up on the road. They got caught between a lorry and a bus."
Gus reached to squeeze Gus' shoulder sympathetically. "I'm sorry. I understand."
Ollie nodded, and suddenly gestured at the bottles. "Have anything to open those with?"
Gus knew a diversionary tactic when he saw one, but he also knew Ollie wouldn't have done it if he hadn't needed to. He reached in his pocket, got out his Swiss Army knife and opened the corkscrew, reversing his grip to hand it to Ollie. "I do. You open one, I'll get the glasses."
He took their soda cups into the bathroom and emptied them down the drain and was about to rinse them out to put the wine in when he spotted the plastic-wrapped bathroom glasses. That seemed marginally more couth, so he tossed the cups and headed back to the table with two of the bathroom glasses.
Ollie snorted. "Love the fancy crystal. You throw an hell of a state dinner, Prime Minister Knickel."
"Oh, this is nothing," Gus said, holding out the glasses so Ollie could pour. "Wait 'till we get home, we'll have a real one, with fishcakes, lobster and beer. An official state clambake. We'll get Murdo to bring his fiddle and Sully can fire up his squeezebox. We know how to party."
To his surprise, Ollie smiled. "Sounds like a lark. I'm not too chuffed on the white-wine and cheese-cracker kind of parties." He waved a hand at the other chair. "Sit. Eat. Food's probably stone cold by now."
Gus took a seat across from him and they spent a few minutes eating lukewarm burgers and fries, washing the food down with generous gulps of red wine. Ollie refilled their glasses twice, and Gus was starting to feel relaxed and slightly flushed. He knew he ought to stop drinking when he heard himself asking: "So, what did you do after your parents died?"
He could have kicked himself for being insensitive, but Ollie seemed more relaxed too, and instead of clamming up he sipped at his wine and leaned back in his chair, quiet for a moment before speaking.
"The social worker wanted to put me in foster care. I had a mate what got put into that. They used to beat him bloody, and nobody cared. Not for me, so I took off, pawned Mum's wedding band to buy a fake ID and went to work in the mines. I was tall for my age, and already starting with this." He ran a hand across his stubbled jaw. "So they figured I was sixteen and just skinny. Lived in an abandoned car until I got enough brass for a flat with some other blokes. I did well enough."
"You had no relatives?"
Ollie's expression tightened. "None as would have me, so I'd no use for them neither." He tossed back the last inch of wine in his glass and reached for the second bottle, opening it with Gus' knife and pouring himself more. "That's all water under the bridge. . . let's get pissed."
Gus laughed and held out his glass. "Well, a little pissed. I don't want to drive hung over."
"Spoilsport," Ollie said, filling his glass. He closed the corkscrew into the knife and looked at it. "So, do these come with lobster crackers too, for your parties back home?"
"Not that I've found, damn it, though maybe I ought to write and suggest it. Maybe they'd pay me for the idea. Still, on the beach there are always rocks if you get desperate."
"Wait, wait, wait." Ollie paused with his glass halfway to his mouth. "Really on the beach? You cook on the beach?"
"Well, that's what a clambake is. You dig a hole, make a fire in it, fill it with seafood, and steam it for a few hours. It takes a while and it's thirsty work so it's a good excuse for lots of beer. What did you think, we carted all the stuff to the beach just to taste sand in our food?"
Ollie grinned and took a drink. "You never know with you colonials," he said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. "Happen that's your idea of salt or something."
"We are not colonials," Gus said with mock fierceness. "We're the free and mostly democratic republic of Solomon Gundy! Hear, hear! A toast!"
"To clambakes?" Ollie asked, raising one eyebrow. He spoiled the look a moment later by laughing.
"To clambakes, indeed. We were granted independence by England and the Netherlands in 1713, and we didn't accomplish it by shooting at the British from behind rocks."
Ollie pushed back his chair and stood, not even a hint of sway, and held his glass up. "To the free and mostly democratic republic of clambakes, Solomon Gundy," he proclaimed, and downed the rest of his glass.
Gus followed suit, standing too. "To Solomon Gundy!"
They looked at each other for a few moments.
"I don't suppose you'll toast the Queen, then," Ollie said thoughtfully.
Gus grabbed the wine and refilled their respective glasses. "Queen Wilhelmina or Elizabeth, I don't suppose we have to get picky here," Gus said. "A blanket toast, as it were, to cover all our bases."
Something in his words seemed to strike Ollie as absolutely hilarious and he started to snicker and then to laugh uncontrollably and then fell backwards onto the bed, somehow managing not to spill his wine, though that was getting iffier by the second.
Gus took the glass out of his hand. "I think that's enough for you, Mr. McIntosh."
That just made Ollie laugh harder. "You sound. . . . you sound like a librarian!"
Gus stared at him, stricken. "Oh Jesus, I did. I sounded just like Zeda! I'm doomed!"
"Who's Zeda?" Ollie asked, still chuckling.
"My Minister of the Interior. And the island librarian."
That started Ollie laughing again. Gus stared at him, lying loose and relaxed and happy on the bed, and every inappropriate urge he'd had over the last two days seemed to well up again, irresistible. After a moment Ollie stopped laughing, and stared back. Very slowly he started to smile, quite a different smile from before, not one of amusement. This one was hot, and fierce, and unless he was very much mistaken, an invitation. Gus put their glasses down and knelt on the foot of the bed, anticipation welling up inside him. He waited, Ollie looked at him, but didn't move, either toward or away from him. Gus understood suddenly. It was up to him. His game. His choice. Still, he couldn't assume.
"Yesterday when you said you 'just don't fancy the right sort,' what did you mean by that? What sort do you fancy?"
Ollie's gaze held his. "Let's just say I'm partial to gander, not goose."
That answered the question quite well. And the invitation was still there, in those hot blue eyes, in the half-smile, in the brief flicker of tongue across lips. He didn't actually think about it, didn't remember making the decision, but he was suddenly crawling up Ollie's sprawled body on all fours, coming to a halt straddling his narrow hips. He reached to take Ollie's face between his palms, feeling the prickle of stubble against his skin, and stared into his eyes, seeing the heat sparking in their blue, and that was all he needed in the way of encouragement. He leaned down, and sealed his mouth over the teasing curves of Ollie's lips.
His mouth was spicy and tannic from the wine, but Gus wanted to taste Ollie, not alcohol, so he went searching, letting one hand slide up into the bleached spikes of Ollie's hair, his fingers holding onto him, an anchor, as their tongues met in a sensual tangle of slick, hot muscle. He heard two distinct thumps and realized Ollie had kicked off his shoes, then Ollie's long arms slid around his back and pulled him down hard, his legs spread and knees tightened around Gus' hips. Oh no, no mixed signals now, no uncertainty. He wanted this as much as Gus did. Jesus, it had been aeons since he'd fucked a man. He'd forgotten how different it was, how good it felt.
He shifted on the bed, rolling his hips against Ollie's, feeling the heavy swell of hardening cock between his thighs, a little surprised by the sheer volume of it. God. For someone as lean as Ollie was, that was pretty impressive. He rolled again, reveling in the erotic heat of the moment, it had been so fucking long, and he was so fucking hot, and Ollie was just exactly what he needed. Ollie didn't want anything from him, didn't need anything from him but this. The roll became a thrust, and he heard himself moan, and the headboard hit the wall at the same time. Ollie started laughing into his mouth so hard that Gus had to pull back or risk getting bitten. Ollie grinned up at him.
"Fuck, now I know why you chose this room."
Gus had to laugh too. "It might have been in the back of my mind, yes."
Ollie groaned, shaking his head. "Christ, all the fucking time we wasted. We could have been doing this two days ago!" He reached up and threaded his fingers through Gus' hair, dragging him back down, flicking his long tongue across Gus' lower lip before catching it briefly in his teeth, then tilting his head and making it a real kiss, his tongue thrusting and withdrawing in blatant mimicry.
Gus felt himself pushed over onto his side, and one of Ollie's long-fingered hands was sliding up to tug his undershirt free of his waistband, and his other hand was sliding up under it to skim across his belly and up his chest, callused fingertips dragging across suddenly sensitized nipples. Gus gasped and bucked, and reached for Ollie's shirt to return the favor. A couple of tugs and the loose shirt was out and halfway up his chest, exposing the muscular belly and chest. Not workout muscles, but working muscles. Ollie used his body, a lot. Gus liked that, liked the surprisingly fine texture of the skin under his hands. Beautiful skin, warm and silky, with a faint scatter of hair around each small, flat nipple. He ducked his head and nuzzled one, licking.
Ollie squirmed under his tongue, making a little sound of encouragement, and Gus shifted from licking to sucking, drawing a soft sigh, then Ollie's hands left him and he was pulling away. Gus objected, not letting go, sucking harder, holding Ollie's shoulders and pushing him back onto the bed. He felt the hollow echo of Ollie's chuckle under his lips.
"Let up for a second here, Gus. Time to lose some clothes, much as I'd like to do you with that still on."
That got him to lift his head finally. "Hunh?"
Ollie hooked a finger in the collar that Gus had forgotten was still around his neck.
"You haven't got a clue how wicked this looks, do you? It's like. . . breaking all the rules."
Gus thought about it and grinned. "I could leave it on if you want."
Ollie's eyes closed, and he seemed to shiver. "No, not . . . not this time. I've got a feeling you look even more wicked without it. Been imagining you naked ever since your little strip-tease the other morning, and I want to see how close I got."
"Strip tease?" Gus asked, fingers working the fastening on the collar and pulling it off.
"Don't tell me you didn't know what you were doing. You took off that sweatshirt, then the sweatpants, stood there in nothing but your pants and stretched like some kind of big cat. I almost jumped you right then."
"Why didn't you?"
Ollie shook his head. "Wasn't sure enough. I'd never do that unless I was sure."
"And you're sure now?"
Ollie's gaze tracked down his body to his groin, where the evidence of his arousal was plain, then back up, and their eyes met. "Very. You want me, I want you, it's all good. Now strip."
Gus had his shirt halfway over his head before he even realized what he was doing, and he started laughing is he pulled it the rest of the way off. "You always this butch?" he asked, echoing Ollie's question of a couple of days earlier.
Ollie winked. "No. Just usually," he said before disappearing momentarily in the folds of his shirt.
"I have a feeling I'm in serious trouble here."
Ollie finished pulling off his shirt and dropped it beside the bed. "Nothing you can't handle."
As Gus reached to undo the button on his slacks, Ollie stopped him.
"I want to," he said, and his fingers were there, popping the button and easing the zipper down.
Though the slacks weren't normally tight, they'd gotten a little uncomfortable sometime in the last little bit, and Gus relaxed with a sigh as the fly opened, only to tense again as Ollie's fingers slid into the gap and stroked him through his shorts. After the third pass across his erection with only a thin layer of cotton knit between them, Gus grabbed Ollie's wrist.
"Don't! God, I can't, I'll come . . . ." he gasped.
Ollie's eyes met his, bright and curious. "Been a while?"
Ollie smiled sympathetically. "Know what that's like." He squeezed Gus' cock gently, then slipped his hand free and let Gus go.
Gus was about to slide out of his slacks when Ollie started popping the buttons on his jeans one by one and he had to stop and watch as bare skin came into view. He'd wondered all day if Ollie was wearing anything under them. Now he knew. And damn, only three buttons undone and he could already see the tip of Ollie's cock, half-hidden in its sheath of foreskin.
"Well fuck me," he breathed reverently, staring.
Ollie looked over at him, and grinned, though a bit of color washed across his angular cheekbones. "Like what you see?" he asked cockily.
Gus nodded, licking his lips, imagining how the heavy shaft would feel in his mouth, how it would taste, that tingling mix of salt and sweet and indefinable, how smoothly it would slide against his tongue. He shivered suddenly, and had to reach down and clamp a hand firmly around his own cock, pinching hard just beneath the head to force back the spasms that wanted to start just from fantasizing about what he wanted to do, before he'd even gotten to touch or taste for real.
"All right, that's enough," Ollie said, and he pushed Gus down onto his back. "Shoes first," he said, tugging the laces on Gus' boots loose and pushing them off. "There, hips up, now," he ordered, tugging at his trousers.
Gus lifted, Ollie pulled, and his slacks were removed and discarded on the floor, shortly followed by his briefs.
"Nice tackle there, guv," Ollie said, grinning.
Gus felt himself blushing, and would have protested if he hadn't seen the teasing light in Ollie's eyes. Noticing Ollie was still wearing his half-unbuttoned jeans, Gus tried to sit up to help him take them off, only to have Ollie push him back again, shaking his head.
"I can wait. You can't," he said and before Gus realized what he was going to do, his hand had closed around Gus' cock.
He couldn't help the half-frantic buck into that warm, tight grip, couldn't help closing his eyes and moaning.
"That's it," Ollie said against his ear, then his tongue was there, tracing the whorls, dipping inside in a peculiar penetration that echoed the same rhythm as squeeze and pull of his hand on Gus' cock. "That's it. Give over, let it go."
Ollie's other hand stole between his thighs, cupping his balls, rolling them gently, massaging. Gus dug his heels into the bed, shoving up into the hand on his cock that seemed to know exactly how he needed to be touched, exactly how much pressure to use, how to twist just a little at the top, and a spreading heat began to build in his groin, so sweet, so good. But. . . suddenly realizing he was the only one getting any, he struggled a little, pulling at Ollie's wrist. "Wait. . . " he gasped. "You. . . I want to . . . ."
"Later," Ollie said, and cut off any further protest by the simple expedient of putting his mouth on Gus' and sliding his tongue into his mouth.
Too far gone to protest any more, Gus sucked on the slick thrust of muscle in his mouth and let his hips echo the cadence of Ollie's hand on his cock. The tempo increased, the pace merciless, and he couldn't breathe, couldn't think. Ollie's mouth left his and he moaned a protest, even though it meant he could suck in air again, because he wouldn't mind suffocating if it meant having that mouth back on his, but then a hot flicker of that long, talented tongue across his straining cock stole every scrap of sanity from him. Ecstasy burst through him in rhythmic pulses as he came so hard he could feel it in his teeth.
When he could think again, he realized that Ollie's hand was still on him, stroking the base of his cock softly, his head pillowed on Gus' hip, just inches from the splashes of semen on his belly. Gus reached down and stroked Ollie's face, ran a finger over his lips, and sighed. Ollie looked up at him, a self-satisfied smile on his face.
"Feel better?" he asked.
Gus laughed, he couldn't help it. "Yeah," he managed.
"Good," Ollie said after a moment. "Right then, can I fuck you? Do you do that?"
Gus moaned and nodded, shuddering as the hand that was wrapped around his cock milked the last drops of semen from him, thumb rubbing it across the painfully sensitive tip. He gasped.
"Mmm," Ollie breathed in his ear. "Brilliant! It'd be a sorry waste of a perfect arse if you didn't. Turn over."
Gus turned over, spreading his thighs wide, waiting breathlessly for the first touch. Hands came to rest on his cheeks, spreading them gently, and then finally, a touch, right in the center, where he was most responsive. Not a firm, dry touch, but soft, and wet, a flutter of sensation against the sensitive orifice. It probed and flicked and teased, firming to dip inside, softening to lap.
"Oh, fuck. . . . " he moaned, realizing finally that Ollie was . . . licking him. No one had ever done that to him before. He'd done a lot, had a lot done to him, but never that. It felt amazing as that long tongue worked him, relaxing him more and more, until he barely even noticed when something firmer than tongue was pressed against him and eased inside just a little. He shifted his hips, trying to push himself onto that intrusion.
"More?" Ollie asked, nipping at the curve of his ass with hard teeth.
"Yeah," he agreed, almost a grunt.
The finger pressed deeper, but he was a little dry and he couldn't suppress a wince. Ollie swore. "Bloody hell. Need lube."
"In. . . in my duffel," Gus managed. "In the shopping bag."
There was a moment of silence, then a startled laugh. "Keep surprising me. Hang on."
Ollie's fingers left him and he tried not to whimper at the abandonment, but another nip silenced him, and he felt the bed shift as Ollie got up. He lay with his eyes closed, savoring the moment, humping the sheets languidly, as he heard the quick rasp of a zipper, then the rustle of a plastic bag and the hollow rattle of tube in cardboard. There was another rustle, cloth this time, the familiar sound of denim sliding off skin. Finally the bed gave again and the touch was back, cool and slick, and Ollie's long finger slid in deep and fast, breaching him almost uncomfortably. Almost.
He shuddered, breath hissing over his teeth, already wanting more. Ollie waited a few seconds for him to get used to the sensation, then slowly began to finger-fuck him, sliding it out, pressing in, out, in. Gus felt himself loosening, which was good, he needed to if he was going to take Ollie. He hadn't done this in years, and even then none of his lovers had come close to Ollie's dimensions. The idea of that inside him made him moan and buck against the mattress. Ollie chuckled.
"Greedy. Been a long time for this, too, hasn't it?"
Gus nodded, having lost the urge to talk, which was, he thought, a first. This time when Ollie slipped his finger all the way free and didn't put it right back in Gus did whimper. He couldn't help it. His cock was hardening again from the stimulation, amazing this soon.
"Open up," Ollie said against his ear, his voice a rough purr.
Gus knew what he wanted and automatically reached back to comply. He felt something cool and hard against his anus, and then a shocking gush of cold into his ass.
"Can't drill without spray," Ollie said, laughing at his startled yelp.
The cool-hard moved away, though the cold inside was still there, warming rapidly. He realized what Ollie had done when there was pressure against his anus and this time he eased two fingers into him, almost sloshing in the amount of lubricant inside him, pushing deep, pressing, searching . . . . Gus sobbed aloud as Ollie hooked his fingers, found his prostate and played there, tormenting him with shivering pulses of need, plumping his cock up to full erection between his belly and the mattress. "God, oh God. Fuck me, fuck me now."
"Not yet. You're way too good to mess up."
"Now!" Gus insisted.
"Oy! I'm doing this job, it's my call when to put the needle in. Settle down. Don't tell me you don't like this," he said, twisting his fingers a little.
Gus couldn't. It was good, it was wonderful, but it wasn't what he needed.
"What was that?" Ollie asked.
"Not. . . what I need," Gus panted.
"What do you need?" Ollie purred, a dangerous kind of feline.
"Your cock, now, damn it!"
"Pushy," Ollie teased, but Gus felt his weight shift on the bed and knew he'd won. He grinned as he felt Ollie's knees between his thighs. The long fingers gave one last stroke, then withdrew, only to be replaced immediately by the blunt, solid heat of Ollie's cock. He pushed in a little, withdrew, pushed in, withdrew. Even as prepared as he was, this was a lot. Gus felt the slight burn as his body stretched around that intrusion. He lifted, pushed back, and gasped as their combined movements worked together and Ollie slid in past the inner ring.
Gus clenched his teeth against the need to cry out and kept pushing, feeling the thick shaft slide deeper, deeper, ignoring the searing ache, savoring the fullness. God, he'd missed this. Why the hell hadn't he done this in forever? Nothing was better than this, being filled with hard male flesh.
"Oh, you beautiful fucker," Ollie growled, shoving himself deeper still. "Jesus, you're sweet."
He pulled back, changed the angle a little and plunged in again, deep. Did it again, and again. Slow. controlled. No, damn it. It felt so damned good, but he wanted more. He put his hands flat on the bed, got his knees under himself, and pushed up onto all fours. He heard a startled gasp from Ollie, then felt the hard, uncontrolled buck of cock up into him at this new angle, and it was perfect, just exactly right. He'd broken the smooth, steady rhythm, now, had broken Ollie's control; he could feel it in the pounding thrusts, in the drip of sweat on his back and the desperate clutch of hands on his hips.
His own erection protested the lack of friction and he shifted his weight so he could take himself in hand, stroking in an irregular pattern that matched, somehow, Ollie's fierce, quick plunges. He opened his eyes and stared down at himself, his own cock in his hand, stroking hard, fast, twisting, feeling that familiar pleasure more than matched inside him by an unfamiliar one, and just like that he was coming again. Somewhere in his own moans he heard one from Ollie, a long, low groan, and felt fingers dig hard into his skin, and knew he was coming too, his orgasm triggered by Gus'.
Gus collapsed down onto the bed, panting, felt Ollie a warm, solid weight against his back, also panting. A pleasant lassitude spread through him, stealing any ambition to do anything but lie there and maybe fall asleep. After a few moments, Ollie pushed himself up, and gently withdrew, and Gus protested sleepily, reaching back to find the nearest appendage, a thigh, as it turned out, and hold onto it.
"I'll be right back."
"Mmm," Gus said, and let go.
He heard water running in the bathroom, then some indefinable amount of time later the bed gave again under Ollie's weight and something warm and wet and a little rough was plied gently over his ass, and then Ollie's hand was on his hip.
Grumbling, Gus complied, and Ollie did his front side too. He did feel better once Ollie had finished. The come on his skin had been starting to dry and itch.
"Right then," Ollie said briskly. "Time to switch beds."
"Don't want to," Gus said mulishly.
"Suit yourself. But I'm going to," Ollie said, moving off the bed again.
"God, your brain really has gone on holiday, hasn't it? No wet spots."
Oh. Well, that made sense. He sat up as Ollie turned back the covers on the other bed, managed to find his feet. Between the wine and the sex, he felt better than he had in years. He took the two steps needed to reach his destination and slid into the bed, pulling a pillow into place under his head and closing his eyes with a contented sigh. He heard a soft chuckle and opened his eyes again to look over at Ollie where he was sitting on the other side of the bed, leaning on one arm, watching him.
"Are you laughing at me?" he asked.
"Not. . . exactly," Ollie said, a smile still haunting his mouth and eyes.
"You are. You're. . . being smug."
"I'm not!" Ollie protested, then he grinned. "All right, maybe a bit, but it's your fault. I never fucked anyone's brains out before."
Gus guffawed. "Is that what's all over the other bed?"
"Seems to be."
"That means I don't have to think for a while?"
"Not if you don't want to."
"Good," Gus said, and closed his eyes again.
"I'm not planning on thinking, either," Ollie said, and stretched out beside him.
Gus reached out and pulled him in closer. "That's good too."
He felt Ollie's hand come up to rest on his shoulder, and smiled, letting sleep come up around him like the blanket Ollie pulled over them.
Some time later, startled awake by a passing siren, Gus lay in the dark, heart pounding a little, and it was strange that for once it wasn't caused by the nightmare about Dexter. Usually when he woke up this way, that was why. Not tonight. Not last night, mostly. Not the night before. He frowned, realizing all too clearly what the common denominator was. Jesus. Pathetic. Maybe he ought to buy a teddy bear to sleep with, because he wasn't letting Hamlet on the bed, but apparently he needed company to keep the dreams away.
Except. . . that had never worked with Noelle. Her presence had done nothing to avert the nightmares. So what did that mean? He mentally shook himself. Why did it have to mean anything? Maybe he was just finally growing out of the dreams. Finally getting over it. Ollie's musings about the Fisher King had made him realize for the first time that he was, in essence, haunting himself. It wasn't Dexter's ghost, just . . . he smiled self-consciously, monsters from the id. His lips were dry, and when he licked them he realized his mouth was as well. He eased himself free of Ollie's heavy arm and went into the bathroom.
He pulled the door to, and turned on the light, found a glass, filled it, and then on a whim he turned in what he thought was the general direction of Solomon Gundy, and lifted his glass. "Thanks, Dexter," he whispered. "This grave shall have a living monument1. . . if I can somehow just pull it off."
He drained the glass and went to get his bag, digging through it to find the budget again, intending to take it into the bathroom to work on where the light wouldn't disturb Ollie. Before he found it he heard the rustle of sheets and looked up to find Ollie watching him, eyes gleaming in the faint light from the gap between the bathroom door and its frame.
"What's up?" Ollie asked.
"I am," Gus admitted. "I didn't mean to wake you. I just thought as long as I was up I'd try to get some work done."
Ollie sighed and shook his head. "Get back in bed. Working on that now isn't going to solve anything at the moment. It'll just give you a headache."
Gus sighed. "Yeah. You're right. I just can't help thinking that the answer's there, somewhere."
"The answer's somewhere, but it's not there. If it was there you'd have found it already."
"You know, you could get annoying," Gus said, only half joking.
"Could get? I must not be trying hard enough. I'm told it's one of my better qualities."
"One of them? What are the others?"
Ollie laughed. "I think you're pretty familiar with the main one at this point."
That made Gus laugh too. "That's a very . . . nice . . . quality. I'll admit." It occurred to him suddenly that he'd never really seen Ollie completely naked. By the time his jeans had come off, Gus had been past noticing. He felt compelled to remedy that, and he dropped his bag and reached to push the bathroom door open further. Ollie squinted in the sudden light, and looked surprised as Gus came over to the bed and slowly pulled the covers away.
Ollie was much as Gus remembered from after his shower the other day. Long, lean body, muscles that were there, but not obtrusive. The arching lines of his collarbones were as elegant as wings, and Gus found the slight concavity of his sternum somehow endearing. He looked like some kind of bird, a hawk, perhaps, all hollow bones and fierce strength. This time, though, there was nothing to keep his gaze from following the feathery trail of dark-honey hair that led downward from Ollie's navel to where it fanned out in a delta surrounding the heavy, and currently limp, length of his cock. At rest, the head was hidden in its sheath, almost coyly.
Imagination went to work again, and he licked his lips. This time he wasn't so needy. This time he could control himself, and actually get what he wanted. He sat down on the bed and put his hands on Ollie's hips, then leaned in, inhaling deeply as he ran his nose along the smooth expanse of skin between hip and thigh. Ollie gasped, and one hand slid into his hair, fingers stroking through it, catching briefly in the sleep-tangles, then soothing. Gus repeated the caress. Odd, he knew, but he just needed to do it, needed to lock that scent and the feel of Ollie's skin into his brain. He followed the same path with his tongue, imprinting flavor along with aroma and texture. He licked lower, taking short little laps along the line of demarcation between pubic hair and skin. Against his throat he felt Ollie's cock begin to thicken and lift, and he smiled in anticipation.
"Here, when I told you to get back in bed, it wasn't an order," Ollie said, shifting his hand off Gus' head and moving it so it was between his cock and Gus' skin. His tone of voice was odd, almost challenging.
Surprised, Gus lifted his head and looked up the lean torso to Ollie's face. His expression was unreadable, his eyes narrowed and assessing, as if he was waiting for something.
"If it had been an order, I wouldn't be here," Gus shot back without even stopping to think about it, feeling his lips curve in a smile he knew was more than a little artful. "Now move that hand."
Ollie shifted his hand a little, but not away. Rather his fingers curved around, stroked one slow stroke, rolling his foreskin back and forth over his cock. Gus caught his wrist and shook his head.
"Mine. Hands off."
Ollie laughed and let go. "Right, guv. This time."
Gus went back to his mission, moving up to find Ollie's mouth, startled by how familiar it felt under his, how known, when this was only their second real kiss. Silky mesh of lips, harsh prickle of stubble against stubble, slick, polished slide of tongue over teeth over tongue. That went on for a while, until the urge to go exploring grew too strong and he began the long trek downward. Throat. Taut tendon, tender hollow, hard ridge of collarbone. He followed that out to the point of Ollie's shoulder, bit there, gently, sucked. Ollie shivered, his hand curving around the back of Gus' head, fingers sifting through his hair, startlingly gentle. He seemed content this time to let Gus take the lead as he had done earlier, and that was . . . good. Gus liked the give and take of that.
As he started the return trip his mouth felt dry, and he reached for one of the glasses on the nightstand, took a sip of wine, then he immersed his fingers in the dark liquid, removed them and drew them down Ollie's chest, following their route with his tongue. Ollie made a little purring sound and arched a little, and Gus dipped his fingers again, this time circling small, flat nipples with wine-wet fingers, blowing across them until they tightened, and finally covering each in turn with his mouth, sucking the sharp tang of wine away until there was nothing but the sweetness of the flesh beneath.
Ollie was surprisingly quiet under his caresses. Gus tended to be noisy, and he had guessed Ollie would be too, but he wasn't. He wasn't still, though, he expressed his appreciation in strokes and caresses and encouraging movements and shifts. Gus followed each movement with his tongue, feeling the play of muscle under skin, almost hypnotized by his exploration. Everything felt right, except the place. This wasn't where they belonged. For this journey he wanted to be home, on Solomon Gundy, where he could spend hours investigating, tasting, testing, cataloguing; ensconced with Ollie on an old, worn quilt, the sea close enough to hear and smell and even taste-- that faint rime of salt on skin. Ollie should be lit with the golden glow of a kerosene lamp, not the harsh bluish tones of the motel bathroom fluorescent.
Romantic. He could take a step back, see that, and mentally shake his head in amusement. He was fucking another man in a cheap motel, and he wanted to dress it up. But it was more than that. There was something else here, something deeper. God, don't think that. That way lies madness. He lifted his head and drank the rest of the wine in three long gulps, letting the empty glass fall to the carpet. Under him, Ollie moved, stretched a little, then settled again, this time holding the other glass from the nightstand. Deliberately Ollie drank most of the wine from that glass, then tipped Gus' face up, dipped his own fingers into what was left and traced them across Gus' lips.
Maybe madness wasn't so bad. He sucked Ollie's fingers into his mouth, tonguing them, teasing, and that set off that ache in him again, the one that had held him captive before, the need to taste Ollie more intimately. He took the glass from Ollie's hand and poured the last of it onto his belly, dropped that glass beside the first, then bent to dip his tongue into his navel where it pooled, lapping it clean, chasing the scattered drops across his stomach and abdomen, down into the thick delta of pubic curls, pursuing them even there. He could feel the mounting tension in the body under his, and the heavy shaft between Ollie's thighs was no longer flaccid, but full and hard.
Gus could see the rise and fall of Ollie's breath in his stomach, see the beat of his heart in the faint movement of his erect cock. He reached, found, held. Ollie fit his palm and the curve of his fingers just right. It felt like he'd done this with Ollie a thousand times before. He tightened his fingers a little, shifted his hand, easing the foreskin back to expose more of the shaft. Licking his lips, Gus opened his mouth and leaned in. Slide of moist, silky heat. Bitter salt on his tongue, like swimming in the sea, familiar and profoundly right. Home. His mouth watered, and he swallowed, his tongue pushing against the intrusion in his mouth. Ollie jerked in response. Yes. Yes. There. Just like that.
He used his tongue like the instrument he knew it was. Licking into the source at the tip of Ollie's cock where the sea-taste welled fresh and warm, down to flicker just below the flange, where he could feel the racing throb of pulse close to the surface, swirling around, and down, and up again, letting his jaw loosen and tilting his head back so he could take him deeper. It was as good as he'd imagined. Better. The suppressed groans and rhythmic arching of hips under him broke the almost narcotic rhythm of his suckling, and he smiled, understanding the accolade inherent in the sounds. He soothed and sucked, tightening his hand, starting to stroke in cadence.
"Gus . . . !"
His name was gasped through clenched teeth, softening the final consonant to a hiss. He hummed his response, low and soft.
Buck. He was ready for it though, rode it, didn't falter.
"Close . . . . "
"Mmmhmm," Gus acknowledged, appreciating the warning, but not needing it.
He used his shoulders to push Ollie's thighs wider, slid his free hand down, skimming lightly over the rising tension of scrotum, then further, to stroke firmly over perineum, and finally to part his buttocks and ease a fingertip into the small opening there. Ollie's fingers dug into Gus' hair, bringing tears for a moment, then he shuddered, moaned, and came so hard the first spurt almost stung. The next few were softer, and he let them accumulate before he swallowed. When he did, Ollie gasped again, and his fingers clenched once more, before finally loosening to fall limply to the bed.
When he was sure Ollie was done, Gus gently eased his finger free and released his cock. Ollie barely twitched. Gus lifted his head, studying the sweating, panting figure splayed out beneath him, and grinned. That had been worth waiting for. He stretched out next to Ollie on the bed, soothed a hand down his shoulder. Ollie turned his head, eyes still closed, rubbed his cheek against Gus' hand, and sighed deeply. Gus recognized the signs of a man about to fall asleep. Smiling a little, he propped his chin on his fist and watched the other man's breathing deepen, watched his face relax even more.
Funny how comfortable he felt with Ollie. It was as if they'd been here before, done this before. He tried to tell himself that the feeling was misleading, illusory, even dangerous, but somehow he couldn't. He was aware that there was something important that Ollie was withholding from him. Over the years he'd learned well how to read people, how to know when there were things they weren't revealing, for whatever reason. Despite that, he would miss him when they had to part ways, and not just because Ollie was the first person he'd had sex with since Noelle had left. He just . . . liked him. On that thought he reached for the covers, pulled them up over them both, and closed his eyes.
* * *
Ollie was starting to like waking up with Gus wrapped around him. Probably not a good idea, but not something he could really help. He hadn't slept with anyone three nights running for a long, long time. Jesus. When he thought about exactly how long it had been it shocked him. It was back when he'd been sharing a flat with Davy Wingfield, when he'd been sixteen. The year it snowed. They'd started sharing a bed when they couldn't afford to pay for heat for a few weeks.
That had been when he'd first realized that he had absolutely no interest in women, but a great deal in men. Not an easy thing, considering the environment in which he lived and worked. Since that was long before he'd taken himself off to Manchester for a little worldly experience, he'd kept it to himself, learned to fake interest in girls, learned to ask out the shy ones who wouldn't let a bloke do anything more than a bit of snogging, which had been perfectly all right with him. He'd just closed his eyes and imagined a variety of leading men instead.
Funny, none of those imaginary leading men had come close to the reality of Gus. Ollie still couldn't quite believe his luck. He was starting to worry, waiting for the universe to figure out that things were going altogether too well. From the moment he'd fetched up in that drain next to a million in cash, right up through discovering that the good Samaritan who'd picked him up was not only drop-dead gorgeous, but he liked sex with men, and was the best lay Ollie'd ever had-- not that that was all that difficult. Still, it all felt suspiciously lucky. On the order of utterly and completely impossible.
Jesus. What if none of this was real? What if he'd been clocked on the head by something and was lying unconscious in a puddle of dirty water somewhere in a storm drain and all this was in his head? Cheery thought, that. He tried to think of a way to prove one thing or the other, and couldn't. Pinching himself wouldn't work, who was to say he couldn't imagine he felt pain?
He fretted about that for a bit, then finally gave up. If he was in a coma there wasn't anything he could do about it so he might as well enjoy the dream if that's what it was, or the reality, if it wasn't.
"You look troubled."
Gus' voice startled him and Ollie turned to look at his bed-mate, who was mussed, stubbled and sheet-creased and still just about the best-looking thing Ollie had ever seen in his lifetime. Caught by Gus' calm, concerned blue-gray gaze he found himself answering honestly. "I. . . a bit." It was so damned hard to lie to Gus.
He frowned, trying to figure out how to put it. "It's daft. I keep wondering if this is really happening. Can't prove it is, can't prove it's not. Hell, can't even prove I'm real. Maybe someone's dreaming me."
Gus smiled. "The nature of reality. There's an interesting question, one people have be asking at least as far back as Plato. Are we the shadows or the substance? Who knows? I don't."
"Now then, that's helpful," Ollie said, disgruntled.
Gus chuckled. "Sorry. Can you tell I started out reading philosophy at Oxford before I switched over to theology? Why do you think you're dreaming?"
Fuck. Ollie had talked himself into a corner. Now he was going to have to confess that he'd been wondering about dreams and reality and where Gus fit into that and where Ollie thought he fit and how stupid that sounded, to think of Gus as dreams made flesh. Or wait. He perked up. Maybe he didn't have to say any of that after all "Oxford? You were at Oxford?"
Gus grinned. "Two years. Balliol, on scholarship."
Ollie grinned back. "Well, that explains quite a lot."
Gus laughed at that. "True. Very true."
"Only two years?"
Gus' smile faded. "Had to come home when my grandfather got to where he couldn't manage on his own any more."
Ollie nodded, commiserating. "Rough luck."
Gus shrugged. "If I'd stayed I'd probably have become an insufferable prig."
"Prig?" Ollie snorted rudely. "I don't think you've got the constitution for it."
"Now I'm just insufferable."
Ollie laughed. "You're not insufferable. Not half. And didn't anyone ever teach you not to fish for compliments?"
"I'm sure someone did, but clearly it didn't take," Gus said with a grin, which turned into a yawn and a stretch.
The sheets slid and shifted, revealing a lot of naked skin. It hit Ollie suddenly that he was lying in bed with a naked Gus and they were talking. Just talking. Christ. Talk about daft. He thought about Gus last night, with the wine, and shivered a little with remembered pleasure. What a shock that had been. The entire experience had shown him a level of . . . sensuality . . . he'd never guessed at. The slow, unhurried sweetness of it was new to him. His own experiences had tended toward the practical.
Curiously he reached out and slid a hand down Gus' shoulder, letting his fingers trail over the firm arch of pectoral muscle until he found a nipple. Gus had gone still under his hand, his breathing slightly faster than before, but he didn't say anything as Ollie's callused fingers trailed a circle around the satiny flesh, feeling it pebble and rise. He chanced a look at Gus' face. His eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted, a faint upward curve to the corners. Looked like he liked it too. Ollie leaned over and put his tongue where his fingers had been. There was no wine left to try last night's experiment himself, but Gus tasted good without it. Tasted good, felt better.
He slid his fingers over Gus' other nipple, then followed the touch with his mouth, as before. Gus shifted a little, made a soft sound in his throat. A quick glance downward showed him the covers tenting over Gus' groin. Aye, he definitely liked it. Impatiently Ollie tugged the sheets out of his way. He wanted to see more, touch more, have more. His own cock hardened as he remembered how good it had felt last night, to be buried deep in the heat and closeness of Gus' body. He wanted that again. Wanted it now. He slid his hand down Gus' torso to his hip, rubbed the soft hollow there, teasing a little as he avoided the most obvious target and moved lower, to his thigh. Hooking a hand under Gus' knee, he lifted up and out. Gus let him, shifting a little, angling his bent leg outward, his smile more pronounced now, his eyes open, and smoky.
That look reminded him again of last night, and it came to him that maybe he ought to stop rushing things. After all, there was no reason, right? It was early yet, and they weren't on deadline. Hadn't he just been thinking about how good it had been last night, going slow? Leaning across Gus with most of his weight on one hand on the bed next to his hip, he used his other hand to stroke the back of Gus' calf, enjoying the curve of hard muscle there, the shift of soft hair under his palm.
Gus looked a little surprised. Ollie liked that, too. It was good to surprise people. He smiled and went back to licking nipples, alternating between them, this time letting his hand explore parts of Gus he'd not touched before. Calf. Ankle. Sole. Gus laughed at that one, a startled, explosive guffaw accompanied by a yank of his foot that told Ollie he'd found a ticklish spot. He backed off, went back to stroking and kneading Gus' leg.
Gus relaxed a little, but he shifted restlessly, his erection brushing Ollie's arm where it crossed his stomach. Ollie supposed it wasn't surprising that Gus was a little impatient this morning, and wondered briefly if Gus had gotten himself off after he'd fallen asleep on him last night. The idea of that made him a bit less patient himself, though he guessed Gus hadn't. If he had, he'd not be anxious now. Maybe sometime he could do that, and Ollie could watch. This time, though, he figured he owed Gus one, so he lifted his head and looked up at him.
"What's your pleasure, guv?"
Gus licked his lips and arched his hips again. "You."
Ollie felt his face going hot, and covered his embarrassment with a grin. "Goes without saying."
Gus chuckled. "God, I like you. But you know, it's Gus, not guv," he teased gently.
"Is it?" Ollie played along, pretending surprise. "Have trouble remembering that."
Gus's smile turned sly. "You remembered it just fine around three a.m."
More heat in his face. Fuck. Ollie decided maybe it was a good idea to shut Gus up. He went for Gus' mouth. Gus wrapped an arm around him and met him halfway. More than halfway. Gus' tongue sliding in, licking, flicking, teasing. Ollie opened his mouth and let Gus explore, and the way he went at it, it felt like he was trying to memorize him. Gus shifted under him, spreading his legs, and one of his hands came down on Ollie's bum as his knees snugged up around Ollie's hips.
Ollie eased down so they were touching from chest to hips, so their erections were lined up, and then he rolled his hips. Gus grunted into his mouth, and pushed on his backside again. Ollie repeated the movement, long, slow strokes against smooth belly and hard cock, setting up a leisurely rhythm. If that was what Gus wanted, that was all right. It all felt good. The times he got to touch skin other than his own were few and far between, and he was bloody well going to enjoy every last minute of the opportunity. He had no complaints at all. Well, unless Gus wanted to stop. He'd complain about that.
He didn't want to come too soon though, and he wanted to give Gus back some of that same languid pleasure he'd shown him last night, so when Gus started to move faster against him and pant into his mouth, and he felt his own need tightening his muscles, he pulled back a little, disengaging. Gus' hands caught at him, trying to pull him back.
"Don't stop," he said huskily.
"Not stopping," Ollie assured him, sliding down between Gus' spread thighs. God, even his cock was gorgeous. Not huge, not tiny. Just . . . right. He was erect, the paler foreskin retracted, revealing the flushed, shining head of his shaft. Grasping Gus' cock at the base, Ollie angled it away from his body, and went for a long, slow lick, starting low, and ending with a flutter across the tip. Gus arched, and his hands gripped the rumpled sheets. Ollie licked again, this time licking behind the glans, exposed now, where it was usually hidden. He knew how sensitive that area was. He wrapped his lips around the tip and teased the little spot on the underside just below the head with a hardened tongue-tip. Gus jerked and moaned.
Ollie soothed a thumb back and forth across the smooth arch of thigh and Gus settled a little until he started sucking and added another little flick along the underside to the mix. Gus' thighs tightened as he pushed up into the sensation with a dark, throaty sound, then suddenly his hands were on Ollie's shoulders, pulling at him. Ollie released him and let Gus pull him up and kiss him, hard, almost harshly. Tongue on tongue, hot, damp skin pressed together from chest to cock. He rocked against Gus' body, enjoying the hot press of male flesh against his own.
Gus spread his thighs wider, bringing his knees up so they were on either side of Ollie's waist, putting his hands on Ollie's bum again, urging him down. That finally got through, and Ollie realized what it was Gus wanted. He broke the kiss, lifting his head, breathing hard.
"You sure? Not sore?"
Gus shook his head. "Yeah, I'm sure, and no, I'm not sore."
Well, there was no misunderstanding that. Ollie, however, wasn't entirely sure how to work this. He knew how to fuck, just not . . . this way. It was clear, though, that it was what Gus wanted. And just as he was about to have to confess that he hadn't a clue how to do it face to face, Gus rolled them over and he was on top, and Jesus, of course. It was obvious. Ollie reached over to the night-table between the beds, groping for the lube, still amazed Gus had actually bought it. What the hell had the clerk thought? Gus caught his wrist and shook his head.
"Don't need it," he said huskily.
Ollie frowned. "Not a good idea."
"It's fine." Gus guided Ollie's hand around behind him, put it on his arse.
Cautiously Ollie moved his fingers into the warm crevice, traced a fingertip back and forth across the small opening there, before pressing inside. The slide was easy, hot and wet. Gus was right. Between the leftover lube, and the leftover Ollie, things ought to go just fine. And getting to fuck Gus twice in one night was just about enough to prove his coma theory, but he didn't care. He added another finger, and Gus sucked in a breath through his teeth, clenching reflexively around Ollie's fingers.
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask Gus again if he really wanted to do it again when Gus started to move, rocking back, forcing Ollie's fingers deeper. He gave a choked-off groan and his cock twitched, and that answered the question. He definitely wanted it. Ollie bent his knees to give Gus something to lean back against, and put a hand on Gus' hips, tugging him forward just a little as he slid his fingers free and grasped his own cock to position it. Gus tilted his hips forward, and smiled, his head falling back as he pushed himself down.
His cock went in smooth as a drill bit through clay. His hands tightened on Gus' hips, guiding him in a little circle. Gus took over the movement after a second, rocking on him, sometimes leaning forward to nip and lick at Ollie's chin, or mouth, or shoulder, sometimes leaning back to take him in with a soft grunt that was incredibly sexy. It felt so good, in that same slow, lazy way as last night's blow job. Ollie knew he could do this for a long time, for as long as Gus needed him to, so he just relaxed and let Gus have him, even though it felt strange to be doing the fucking. . . without doing the fucking.
The amazing thing about this position was that he could see the slack, blissed-out expression on Gus' face, the parted lips, the sweat-damp curls around his face, the eyes that were unfocused with pleasure and need. If that wasn't enough, there was also the strong, smooth expanse of shoulders and chest, the lean plane of belly, and even the hard length of leaking cock that thrust upwards from where their bodies were pressed tightly together. Usually all he got to see was back and bum. Face and cock was much better.
Ollie let one hand slide off Gus' hip and onto his cock, curving around it, starting to stroke, feeling the slide of skin over skin. He knew that, knew how it felt from both sides, knew it was all good. Gus jerked and grunted, leaning into his touch, and his arse clamped down on Ollie's cock in a way that left him gasping, his hips involuntarily bucking upward in an attempt to go impossibly deeper. Gus braced both hands on Ollie's shoulders, and started to go for it, fucking his hand, fucking his cock.
So much for thoughts of a nice, leisurely ride. This was a wild-west bronco show. Ollie concentrated on not losing Gus' rhythm and just let himself go, savoring the hard slam of firm buttocks against his hips, the slink and slither of cock in his grasp, and finally the gasping, groping mouth against his own as Gus shoved himself down one last time and with a shudder, came all over Ollie's belly and chest, the internal contractions of his orgasm milking Ollie into a matching, if less overtly messy, eruption.
Gus slumped forward onto Ollie's chest with a groan, pushing him down into the mattress, dislodging his cock in the process. Gus flinched, and then chuckled.
"Okay, now I'm sore," he said, sounding rueful.
Ollie laughed too, and not really knowing what else to do, put his arms around Gus and stroked his back. He was heavy, but not so much that Ollie wanted to move him. In fact, it felt good. All of it. The fucking, and the holding. He tried not to think about how short a time he'd have to enjoy it, and let post-orgasmic fatigue claim him.
Ollie woke fast, a rush of adrenalin sending him upright in bed with his heart in his throat as he heard three sharp raps at the door, followed by a woman's voice saying something he didn't quite catch. Fuck. The cops had caught up with him. Keys scraped and rattled, and, strangely, all Ollie could think about was Gus as the door swung open. What if they didn't believe he didn't know anything? Maybe Ollie could say he'd been holding him hostage, forcing him to drive? That wouldn't explain their current situation, though. What was it called when a hostage fell for their captor? Sweden Syndrome or something?
All those thoughts flashed through his head as the door opened. But though the woman who entered the room wore a uniform, it wasn't blue, and she had a rubbish bag in her hands, not a gun. He stared at the young black woman in the ugly pink uniform. She stared back, looking as startled as he felt. Right, then. The maid. They'd forgotten to put out the 'do not disturb' sign. Gus grumbled and muttered, reached for the covers Ollie had dislodged when he sat up, didn't find them, and pushed up on one elbow to look at Ollie sleepily.
"What's up?" he asked.
The maid's eyes flickered down to Gus, widened, came back to Ollie's face, and she put her hand over her mouth and giggled. He got the impression she was blushing. He started to blush, too, as she backed out of the room and closed the door. Gus had looked over his shoulder once he realized Ollie was staring, and he started to laugh, rolling onto his back and stretching.
"Well, I imagine that's going to be making the rounds here shortly. Good thing we're checking out today."
Check out. Damn. Ollie grabbed for his watch on the night stand, and read it. "Fuck, we've twenty-three minutes to checkout. We need to get a move on."
Gus nodded and sat up, pushing his fingers through his hair. "Yeah. Shower together? Save time."
Ollie dragged his gaze away from Gus' body and snorted. "We get in the shower together we won't be out in time for Christmas. You go first, make it short."
Gus laughed and nodded. "I can do that."
Ollie stared shamelessly as Gus sauntered, naked, across the room. God, what a body; all smooth and sleek. Made him feel positively scrawny, which he knew he really wasn't. As the shower came on he rolled out of bed and started gathering up the clothing they'd dropped haphazardly the night before, separating his things from Gus'. Five minutes later the shower shut off again. He was impressed. They might actually make check-out. He smiled. They weren't going any nine hundred miles today, he suspected. Speaking of which, he wondered where Gus was planning to go from here. He'd said they'd take I-80 to Chicago, but hadn't mentioned the rest of their route.
Gus came out, drying his hair. "All yours."
Ollie nodded and headed in for a quick scrub down, and somehow they managed to get checked out by eleven. The maid must've already had a chance to gossip, because the desk-clerk had been smirking in a way that put Ollie's back up, and Gus had suggested he go out to the car while he finished up. He'd gone, reluctantly, knowing that getting in a dust-up and having the cops called was something he really ought to avoid. He distracted himself by getting out the map. Looked like I-80 turned into I-90 and went up into New York, and after that he really wasn't sure where they were going. He tried to find Solomon Gundy on the map and couldn't. The map stopped at the border, but Gus had said it was near Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and he knew where those were.
Gus came out finally and got into the driver's seat, spending a moment buckling up and hunting his sunglasses before starting the car. They swung through the McDonald's drive-up for coffee and sausage-biscuits, and they ate as Gus steered them back onto the motorway. After a bit Ollie looked over at him.
"Naff little git, that clerk. Didn't you want to smack him?"
Gus shrugged. "Yes, but you know, I decided that there was no reason to let a 'naff little git' ruin my day."
Ollie thought about that and smiled a little. "Good point. Right, then. Where are we going from here? Stay on I-80 until it turns into I-90 and on up to New York?"
"Actually, no, there's a shorter route. Let me show you."
He pulled the car off to the side of the road as Ollie unfolded the map, then he leaned over, practically in Ollie's lap, to trace his finger across the map.
"We'll take 94 through a little bit of Indiana, then 196 up into Michigan and cross into Canada at the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron-Sarnia. From there we stay on 401 until we get into Quebec and it turns into 20, which we take until it hits Trans-Canada 184, and we follow that down to Trans-Canada 2. That goes all the way to the coast where we'll have to get a ferry."
Ollie stared at the map, calculating distances. Jesus. It wouldn't take any time at all to get to the border. Four hours, maybe four and a half. Apparently his abrupt wake-up that morning had been prophetic. He'd thought he had at least another day, maybe two, before he'd have to go off on his own. He hadn't counted on just four hours. Fuck. He should never have started things last night. That had been a huge mistake on his part. It would have been hard to part even before that, but now it really sucked. Now he wanted more, and as usual, he wasn't going to get it. He swallowed hard and looked up, found Gus staring at him, frowning faintly. Something flickered in Gus' gaze, then he looked away and straightened back into his own seat, his hands on the steering wheel and his gaze on the road ahead.
"That is to say, I'll do that. You don't have to, of course."
Gus' voice was even and mild, no hint of upset, but Ollie knew what he'd seen in those eyes. He wanted to hit something. Not Gus. A wall. A plate glass window. That clerk. Any of those things would work. Fuck it. He didn't want to do this. He wanted to stay with Gus all the way to the coast, and not just because now he'd have to find another way there. It was clear he didn't need to tell Gus they'd be parting soon. Gus knew. He knew. Ollie wasn't sure how, but he knew. Wordlessly Gus pulled back onto the road and they drove in silence for a good half-hour before Ollie finally managed to put himself together enough to speak. He figured he owed Gus at least part of the truth.
"Guess I'll have to ask you to leave me off in Lansing or Detroit, whichever you go through," he said quietly.
Gus glanced at him, clearly having expected that, but also curious. "Why? I thought you wanted to go all the way to the east coast."
"I did, but I can't cross the border. I've no identification. It all got left behind in California."
Gus sighed. "Why didn't you say something before? There's probably a British Embassy or Consulate in Chicago, we could've stopped to get you replacements."
Here it came. He wasn't looking forward to this, to seeing the open friendliness in Gus' expression replaced by disgust. He stared out the passenger window to avoid looking at Gus and seeing that change happen.
"Because I'd likely be arrested, if I did. That job in California? It wasn't exactly legal."
There was a momentary silence, then Gus spoke, his voice incredulous. "They arrest people for illegal remodeling?"
Ollie laughed. He couldn't help it. He'd forgotten he'd told Gus that. "In this case, aye, they do."
More silence. Finally Gus spoke again. "I think you'd better tell me a little more."
Not an unexpected request. Ollie sighed. "Aye. Well, I'd just finished up my last job, some sewage system expansions in Paris, and was looking for a new gig. My service takes a call from a fellow named Bentley, a Brit, though the job's in California. Tells me he heard that I'm good and he wants to hire me to do some work on a private school in California. He's putting in a new security system, and needs to punch through from part of the basement into an old storm drain system. He'll supply the equipment, and whatever crew I need, but it has to be done on a tight schedule so as not to disturb the school any more than needed. So I agree to meet with him."
"Seems reasonable so far."
"It was, then. And he seemed reasonable when we met, even if he was a right wanker. And he's got plans and geological surveys and maps, and it all looks well planned. It seems an easy job. Then I ask about the compensation, and that's when he starts to make me suspicious."
"Because he offered me a great lot of cash to do it. First off, no one pays that sort of brass for a day's work if it's on the up and up. Second, even if he was stupid enough to pay that much, he'd not do it in cash if he was honest. No one pays cash, especially not that much, for honest work. Cash is strictly under-the-table stuff."
"Mmm," Gus said, nodding. "I see."
Ollie nodded. "So I ask for time to think about it, and he says I can have twenty-four hours, but if I can't decide by then, it's off, because he's got a deadline and needs to find someone else. So I go off to think. I know it's not all kosher, I don't know why he needs to put a security system in a storm drain. That seems daft. But what do I know about security systems? And what possible problem could there be in drilling a hole under a school? It's not like it's a bank. I mean, the money was. . . well, let's just say it'd set me up good. Might even be able to take some time off. So I ask my foreman what he thinks, and he thinks it sounds all right. That should have warned me right there, because Ferret's a good bloke but not the keenest." Ollie sighed, and sipped at his lukewarm coffee, thinking he needed to phone the answering service and see if Ferret had checked in. That was always their fallback.
"Ferret?" Gus asked. "His name's Ferret?"
"Well, it's Edgar, really. But he's a little fellow, and fast, and bites like a son of a bitch when he gets mad, so everyone took to calling him Ferret and he liked it so it stuck."
"Makes sense. Keep going."
There was steel in that voice. No stopping now. Ollie nodded, and continued. "So I know sommat's off, but I keep coming back to the money he's offering. And his deadline's getting close. So. . . I figured, what the hell. Just once more, I'd do it."
"Just once more?" Gus asked, frowning.
Ollie laughed. "How'd you think I knew that cash meant it was a dodgy deal? I've done my share of shady stuff, but if I'd known exactly what Bentley was up to I'd not have taken the job. I'm not saying I didn't know there was something off about it, I did, and I took it anyway, so I've really no excuse."
"So, I take it once you got there you found out what was going on?"
"No, not at first. At first it seemed my job was exactly what he'd said. Drilling from a basement into a storm drain. But it was all the other stuff Bentley was doing that was the problem. And once I figured out what was going on, I still mostly went along. All I could see was the money by that point. I'm not proud of it. I was wrong, and I know it. I just pretended all the other stuff wasn't happening."
"What other stuff?" Gus asked, starting to sound annoyed.
"I'm getting there, just let me work up to it. This isn't easy."
Gus nodded and sighed. "All right. I'm listening."
"So, I fly out to California and meet the crew Bentley hired. Good workers, experienced, mostly from along the Appalachians. Lots of colliers out of work there, needing money bad. I didn't have a problem there, and I had Ferret along to help keep them in line. But Bentley also had these other guys, the 'security team.' I've worked in some bad areas, and I know mercenaries when I see them. So I'm wondering what he needs mercs for, but I don't ask, because I don't really want to know. I just want to do my job and get paid."
"Oliver," Gus said warningly. "What happened?"
Christ. No one but Gus had called him Oliver in a hundred years. This was the second time now. Funny how it made him sit right up. "Right, then. It was the kids. Bentley took over the school, held some of the kids hostage."
* * *
Gus wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it was definitely not that. "What?" he demanded, the car slowing as he took his foot off the gas and stared at Ollie.
The car behind them honked, and Gus turned his attention back to the road, speeding up again, changing lanes and taking the next exit. Ollie remained silent through the maneuvers, his body slouched and his gaze fixed firmly on something outside of the car. Pulling into the first parking lot he saw, Gus killed the engine and sat gazing blindly at the dashboard for a moment. God. He'd suspected Ollie was hiding something, but . . . this? He was having trouble wrapping his brain around the idea that the man he'd been starting to consider a friend, more than a friend, could possibly be involved in something so reprehensible.
"Kids? The man was holding a bunch of kids hostage? And you let him?"
Ollie refused to meet his gaze. "Aye. Well, by the time I figured out what was up I was already well in the middle of it. Once I figured it out, I did what I could, but I could've done more. Hell, I could've walked away. I didn't."
Gus couldn't get past the idea that children had been the targets of whatever scheme Ollie had been part of. "Jesus Christ, Ollie! Kids? I can't believe you'd be part of that. They could have been hurt!" He stopped, struck by the realization that he didn't know no one had been hurt. He'd just made that assumption based on his own liking for the man. He swallowed hard. "They weren't hurt, were they?"
Ollie's head snapped up and he stared at Gus. "No, they weren't. And I wouldn't've gotten into it if I'd known from the start. I'm no angel, but I've never done anything I knew could hurt someone."
Though his tone was angry, there was something else in his eyes, not anger, but Gus reacted to the anger because he was angry. "How do you know?" Gus snapped. "If your previous under the table deals have been as poorly researched as this one . . . ."
Ollie's gaze slid away from his. "I . . . don't, I suppose." He closed his eyes, shook his head, and suddenly he was fumbling with his seat belt, opening it, reaching for the door handle. Gus reached across and clamped a hand over his, pulling it back.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going? We're not finished."
To his surprise, Ollie didn't fight him, not really, though he gave a token pull against Gus' grip before settling into the seat, staring out the window.
"No. I suppose we're not. Go on, then."
Finally the look Gus had seen in Ollie's eyes moments earlier penetrated the anger, and he recognized it for what it was. Shame. That struck a deep, deep chord in Gus, and he suddenly found himself bereft of words, wondering where he would be now if after Dexter's death he had not found support and understanding from his friends and constituents, if they had, instead, treated him as he'd fully deserved for putting them all at risk. That acceptance and support had been why, despite his desperate desire to not be a leader, he'd accepted their call to stay on as defacto head of 'state.' He owed it to them, It was his duty, honor, and punishment, all in one.
"I can take hard words, guv," Ollie said quietly. "And you'd be in your rights to thrash me, but I don't go on well with silence."
Ollie's words startled Gus out of his ruminations and he gentled his grip on Ollie's wrist, soothing the finger marks out of his skin with gentle strokes. "Gus," he corrected. "Not 'guv.' I thought we got that straightened out last night. And I'm sorry. Christ, Oliver, I've got no right to be passing judgement on you. That's not my place. There's really only one person who can do that."
Ollie looked at him, frowning. "God?"
Gus smiled. "You'd expect me to say that, wouldn't you? No, the only person who can judge you is you. Even if I were tempted, all I have to do is remember that I once got a man killed by acting on impulse, and the temptation is gone." He snapped his fingers. "Just like that."
"If I judge me, I know I should've done something," Ollie said, his voice tight and almost hoarse. "Should've helped the lad muck up Bentley's plans. I didn't."
"We all make mistakes, Oliver. All of us. You made one. At least you admit it. That's more than most people do. You said no one was hurt?"
Ollie shook his head. "No, not other than a few bumps and bruises, according to the article I found yesterday. All the kids got away. There was this one lad I heard Bentley and the geek talking about, name of Ozzie. Guess he was the older brother of one of the hostages. He kept messing things up for them, and Colonel Plonker and his band of gormless pillocks couldn't find him so Bentley wanted me to go after him but I wouldn't. Then he got Ferret to do it. Never heard aught from Ferret after that, and it's clear the lad got away from him, since he proceeded to blow up the pool. That pretty well washed up the whole caper."
Gus blinked. "He blew up the pool?"
Ollie grinned a little. "Aye. That's how I ended up wet. Love to shake his hand and ask him how he did it. I've twenty years experience with blasting, and I'm not sure I could've set a charge that accurately without at least a set of blueprints. And that was after he rigged the boiler to blow, which I managed to fix after a fashion, because I didn't fancy being roasted. He also mucked with their computers, and set off the fire-suppression system, just brilliant. Clever bastard."
"How the hell did he manage to blow up the pool?" Gus asked, still stuck on that.
"He nicked some dynamite and caps from my stash. I noticed someone skulking about, figured it was him, but it never hit me he was pinching goodies. I thought he was just hiding out from the idiot mercs on his tail, so I let it go. After that I'm not sure what he did. By the time I washed up I was about half a mile away and didn't think it'd be smart to go back and gauge his work, not with the place crawling with police. I thought it best to make myself scarce, so that's what I did until they all cleared out, which wasn't too long before you picked me up."
Gus flashed back on that moment. Ollie limping along the road, filthy, obviously tired, carrying those bags. . . . "Ollie?"
"What's in the bags?"
Ollie sucked in a long breath, let it out, then looked at his hands, his expression melancholy. "Payroll. I've got to find a way to get it to them. Wasn't their fault Bentley was a sodding prat. If some of them got pinched, they'll need it to bail out, hire counsel, that kind of thing. Even if they didn't, they did their jobs, they should get paid."
"Payroll. You mean money? Cash?"
"That bag is full of money?" Gus said again, still not quite believing it.
"That's what I said."
"Ah. . . how much money?"
"Not sure, really. Around a million, I think."
The shock of that was very nearly electrical. "I'm carting a million dollars, US, in cash, in my fucking trunk?" he demanded, hoping he'd misunderstood.
"Aye." Ollie said, looking at him uncertainly.
Gus leaned his head back against the headrest and rubbed his forehead. "Lord Liftin' Lamplightin' Jesus." He sat for a moment, turning the ramifications over in his head. He felt the slow burn of humiliation course through him as he realized what an idiot he was. He'd been used. And he'd enjoyed it. Had thought there was something there, between them. Friendship. More. He wasn't sure. 'Fool me once,' he thought bitterly. "So, I suppose it would be stupid to ask why you didn't tell me about this earlier?"
Ollie looked at him, frowning slightly. "No, it's not stupid at all. I didn't tell you because thought it'd be best if you didn't know. That way you couldn't be held responsible in any way. You'd be able to say you didn't know and pass a polygraph. You're a good man, I didn't want to cause you trouble."
Gus knew his surprise at that response showed in his face, because Ollie's expression clouded.
"You don't think I was just. . . oh, aye. You do. Guess I can't blame you. Well, then, that's that, then, isn't it? If you'll pop the boot I'll get out of your hair. You can turn me in or not, as you like. I suppose I haven't much say in it."
Ollie was speaking fast, his face flushed and his jaw tight. He wasn't looking at Gus. He reached for the door handle again. Gus hit the child-proof lock button on the automatic lock panel. Ollie tried to open the door and it wouldn't open. He tried again, then he yanked at the handle fruitlessly, then shot a glare at Gus.
"Let me out or I'll break the sodding window."
"Oliver, stop. Please," Gus began.
"I said let me the fuck out!" Ollie snapped, pulling his fist back, his eyes rather wild.
Gus wasn't sure which would break worse, the window or Ollie's hand, so he unlocked the car. Ollie was out in a flash, and Gus followed him seconds later. Ollie was leaning on one arm against the car, his breathing so fast it could nearly be called panting. Gus moved around to where he stood and reached out automatically to touch, to offer comfort. Ollie shook off his hand and waved him away, straightening up with a shake of his head.
"I'm fine. Just don't like being locked up."
Gus thought his reaction was a little extreme for that, but he let it go. He didn't really have the right to pry, and there were other things that needed to be dealt with at the moment. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I shouldn't have locked the car. I just didn't want you to go before we had a chance to talk things out."
Ollie scowled. "There's naught to talk about. You think I used you. Well, you're right, I did. So, that's an end to it."
"No, it's not, and you didn't. Or, well, not entirely. And if I'm honest, I'd have to admit I've used you too. Isn't that what most human interactions are about? What can I do for you, what can you do for me?"
That uncertainty was back in Ollie's gaze. "Aye. Happen so. But you're still right steamed about the money."
Well, he was right about that. Gus sighed. "Ollie, you know you've got to give it back."
The dubious look vanished in a flash, replaced by mulish stubbornness. "No. I can't. I'd be a complete rotter if I did. Don't you understand? I may not've hired them but they were my crew and I'm responsible for them." He paused, thought for a moment, then looked back at Gus. "I could give up my share, but not theirs. It's not mine to give."
Gus sighed. The hell of it was that he could see both sides of this argument. There were good solid reasons to give the money back, but there were also good reasons to keep it. He leaned on the car and ran his fingers through his hair. Ollie's gaze tracked his movement, slid back to his face, and their gazes locked. Gus felt his heartbeat speed up. Stupid. In the middle of a fucking argument and he was thinking about sex? He had to get a hold on himself. Which was a really idiotic metaphor to use under the circumstances. Ollie glanced away after a moment, his color high and looking a little flustered. Gus resisted the urge to shake himself.
"All right," Gus said after a moment. "Let's take this one step at a time. We'll talk about the money later. Right now we need to address the problem of your identification."
Ollie's stared at him in obvious surprise. "We do?"
"Well, wouldn't you say that's a pretty pressing concern?"
"Aye, but . . . we?" Ollie regarded him in consternation. "You're not going to give me up to Old Bill, then?"
Gus scowled. "There's no call to be insulting."
"But you're. . . ." Ollie let his sentence trail off and shrugged.
"You're good. You're not supposed to help the bad guy."
Gus studied him for a moment. "Do you consider yourself a bad guy?"
"No, but . . . . I thought you'd think I was," Ollie replied, still looking perplexed.
"Let me think for myself, all right? Plenty of good men have done bad things. The difference between a good man and a bad one is that the bad one doesn't care when he does something bad, and the good one does. You've shown me you care. We may not agree on certain specifics, but I think there are some overarching sensibilities that we share. So, you need some sort of ID that will get you into Canada, right?"
Ollie nodded. "Aye. Passport, I think. Canada's technically part of the Commonwealth but they still want a passport."
Gus nodded. "Yes, I think you're right. Unfortunately, forging that would be a little more on the illegal side than I'm willing to risk." He sighed, and looked across at the traffic. In ten minutes he'd seen more cars than there were resident on Solomon Gundy. He would be glad to get home, get away from the overwhelming press of people. Home. Passport. "Jesus, of course!" he exclaimed.
"Of course?" Ollie asked, puzzled.
Gus grinned. "How would you like, at least temporarily, to become a citizen of Solomon Gundy?"
"You're off your head again, Gus. What are you going on about?"
"I'm not off my head. Well, I probably am, but that's beside the point. It just came to me that since I am, after all, head of state, and the ultimate authority over immigration and naturalization, if I want to make you a citizen, I can. Which means that Solomon Gundy can issue you a valid passport. We'll need to get passport photos, though, and find a place with a scanner and Internet access. We'll also have to put off crossing into Canada for a day or so while we wait for Zeda to courier the damned thing to us."
Ollie gaped at him. "You'd do that? For me?"
Gus smiled. "I would. Now, if you'll get back in the car, we can go hunt up a place to get a picture taken."
Leaving Ollie to make his decision, Gus walked back around to the driver's side and got into the car. And waited. And waited. Ollie was still standing next to the car. He had to resist the urge to open the window and prompt, as well as the urge to lean across to the other side so he could see Ollie's face and maybe get a clue about what was going on in his head. Finally the passenger door opened again, and Ollie eased his lanky frame back into the seat. He glanced at Gus briefly, but long enough for Gus to notice his eyes were suspiciously bright and his nose was a little red, then he cleared his throat.
"Don't quite know what to say," he said, his voice slightly husky.
"You don't have to say anything," Gus said, starting the car. "Keep your eyes open for travel agencies and photocopy shops, they often take passport photos."
Ollie nodded, and Gus pulled out of the parking lot.
* * *
Even after they'd gotten the photos, Ollie couldn't believe Gus was doing it. Maybe Gus wasn't joking about there being insanity in his family because there was no other word for it. They'd only just met, and Ollie was a criminal, and Gus was helping him, knowingly, willingly. It was just daft. But Ollie had decided it would be bad form to look in this particular horse's mouth so he was just thanking whatever lucky stars had come into alignment three days ago and dutifully watching out the windscreen for a copy shop. They'd found one, but it hadn't had a scanner so they were on the lookout for another.
"Hold on, there, a block up on the left. Is that one?"
Gus looked, and nodded. "Yeah. Good spotting."
He pulled into a parking place half a block away on the wrong side of the street and they got out and headed across, Ollie carrying the little pasteboard folder that held his photos. They weren't bad, as far as passport photos went, at least they pretty much looked like him, though he'd shaved that morning so it didn't quite capture the essential him. Gus held the door for him, which Ollie thought was amusing, and they walked into the place. It was big, bright, clean-looking, and had enough stuff to confuse Ollie, who didn't generally have a lot of call for photocopies. Gus glanced around, and grinned.
"There we are, flatbed scanner. Perfect. Come on."
He went to the desk and consulted with the attendant, a young woman who simpered at him rather revoltingly, then he thanked her and led Ollie over to a desk that held a computer and something that looked like a very small copier, and held out his hand. "Pictures please."
Ollie handed them over and Gus placed them on the glass of the copier-thing and closed the top, then sat down and did something with the mouse, clicked a few things, and the scanner lit up, a bar of light passing down the length and back again just like a copier. About a minute later he was looking at himself the computer screen.
"You're pretty handy with that," he said, nodding at the computer.
Gus sighed. "Had to learn it so I could teach it. I've been trying to get the island into the twentieth century sometime before we hit the twenty-first. Actually, they've picked it up pretty well. Even Sil can build a webpage these days."
"I keep telling you, software."
Gus grinned. "I heard you, I just can't do much about it at the moment. Now, let me just get into mail here so I can send this to Zeda with all the appropriate information."
A few more clicks brought up a new screen and Gus started typing, fingers flying, words appearing so fast that Ollie had a hard time reading over his shoulder. After an opening paragraph where Gus greeted the person he was sending the mail to, told her where he was, and told her he wanted her to have Clarence make up a passport on a rush order, he turned to look at Ollie, frowning a little.
"You think you ought to use another name?" Gus asked. "They might be looking for you."
"Aye, they probably would be." He thought about it for a moment, and grinned. "But they wouldn't be looking under my real name, since I wasn't using it."
"So your name's not McIntosh?"
"Actually, it is. It's just not Gillespie, which is what my ID was under. I've been using that name since I was fourteen."
Gus looked at him in surprise, a smile starting to curve his mouth. "You gave me your real name?"
Ollie suddenly felt embarrassed, and he didn't know why. He nodded. "Aye."
The smile turned into a pleased grin. "Thank you. So, is your first name really Oliver?"
"Aye. Oliver Innes McIntosh." Ollie said, still feeling warm.
"All right then, shall we go with that?"
He nodded. "It'll be strange to be myself again. Been a long time."
"Height, weight, eye and hair color?"
"Five-ten, eleven and a half stone, blue and ditchwater."
Gus chuckled, and recited as he typed. "Five-ten, one-sixty, blue, and . . ." He eyed Ollie's hair. "Blond."
"It's bleached." Ollie admitted.
"There it is," Gus said, straight-faced.
Ollie's jaw dropped. "Fuckin' hell. . . you didn't say that in public!"
"Yes I did. And it's blond. Dark blond, but blond. Birth date and place?"
Ollie decided he really needed to think up an appropriate retaliation, but at the moment he was blank so he just replied to the question instead. "February fifth, nineteen sixty, Richmond, Yorkshire."
"Hah! I knew it! You almost had me fooled a couple of times, but I was pretty sure it was Yorkshire."
"How'd you know that?"
"There was a guy from that aread who lived on my floor at Oxford. He always made me feel homesick-- you'll be surprised how much the locals sound like home to you. You sound a lot like he did, mostly. Though sometimes you get this. . . well . . . London thing going."
Ollie grinned. "That's my mum. I picked up a bit of her cant when I was a lad, and it stuck."
"That would explain it." He clicked the mouse, and sat back. "All right, sent. Now I just need to delete the files. . . ." more clicks, ". . . there we go, and find a phone and call Zeda, because I know she's going to want to argue and it will take a lot less time to do it over the phone."
"I thought you were in charge," Ollie said, teasing a little, because Gus clearly liked this woman, whoever she was, and respected her.
"Oh, no," Gus said solemnly. "Zeda's the real power behind the throne. I'm just a puppet."
Ollie tried to imagine anyone trying to control Gus, and couldn't. "I think I'd like to meet her."
"Well, hopefully you will, if I can get her to do this. But we'd better stop somewhere and buy you a suit, and you'll have to shave and make sure your nails are clean, and no swearing."
"She's pretty formidable?"
"You have no idea. When I was little I lived in terror of getting on her bad side. When I got older I figured out that she's all bark and no bite, but the bark is bad enough."
"When you were little?" Somehow Ollie had gotten the idea that the woman was Gus' age. "How old is she?"
Gus squinted thoughtfully. "Mmm... not sure. Somewhere between sixty and immortal. She pretty much raised me after my folks died, she and my grandfather, That was before he really went off his head, that didn't happen until I was at Oxford. I've always wondered . . . ." Gus lowered his voice confidentially. "I always wondered if they didn't have a discreet little affair going. But they were very proper and they always had me as an excuse to be around one another, so no one ever knew for sure."
Ollie revised his mental image of the woman considerably. "Sounds. . . interesting."
"She is. Now, a pay phone." He looked around the copy shop. "I don't see one here."
"There's always one at a gas bar, and we need to get petrol."
"Good thought. Get your pictures and let's head out."
Ollie nodded and retrieved his photos from the scanner, only to look around and find that Gus had gone up to the counter and was paying the charges. He scowled, and waited by the door for Gus to join him, then as they went out, he smacked Gus on the back of the head, not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to get his attention. "Stop fucking paying for my stuff."
Startled, Gus rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry. Habit. Being the only person on the island with much of a steady income I tend to do it a lot. I'll try to remember not to."
"Good. Because I really hate it, got that?"
Gus nodded, serious. "Got it." He looked around, squinted up at the sun that shone weakly through a gray haze of cloud cover and frowned a little. "Looks like we may get some weather. We should get going. I want to get to Port Huron before we stop. So, let's go get gas, I'll make my call, and we'll get on the road."
They found a petrol stop not far down the road, and Ollie made a point of getting out of the car fast so he could beat Gus to the pump and take care of that, and pay for it. Gus headed for the pay phone, giving Ollie a look that said he knew what he was doing, but it was tinged with amusement. As he fueled the car Ollie stole glances at the phone booth, wishing he could read lips as Gus spoke, sometimes frowning, sometimes laughing, sometimes gesticulating like he was leading a band. The pump shut off and Ollie went inside to pay, and when he came out Gus was in the driver's seat looking smug.
"She's agreed to do it. I told her to have the passport couriered to Port Huron, and that I'd call her later today with the address. But she says I have to bring you to meet her, so we'd better make sure we stop and buy you that suit."
"Never owned a suit, don't want to own a suit. Can't I borrow one?"
Gus snorted. "Oh, that'd make a good impression, you swimming in my suit. God, you've really never owned a suit? Lucky bastard."
Ollie grinned. "Not much call for one in my line of work. And I figure if I turn up my toes there probably won't be enough of me left to dress up, so no point."
Gus frowned. "What do you mean?"
Ollie shrugged. "When you work with big machines, explosives, and unstable surfaces, you're bound to buy it sooner or later, and most likely in a messy fashion."
"Jesus, Oliver," Gus gasped. "That's morbid."
"You need a new career."
"Too old to learn new tricks."
Gus's eyes sparked with challenge. "You're never too old to learn new tricks."
"Is that so?"
Ollie had a feeling Gus was going to try to prove that to him. He figured he'd have to try and resist. He hated being wrong. Though letting Gus try might be. . . interesting. The day got darker as they drove north, and it started raining near Grand Rapids. They stopped for lunch at a 'family restaurant' in Lansing. The food was good, hearty and tasty, but the sign wasn't kidding. They were the only people in the place without kids. Ollie's rebellious streak kicked in and found himself wanting to do something to shock all the families. Only Gus' stern look had kept him from leaning across the booth and planting one on him.
By the time they left the restaurant the rain had turned to snow; thick, heavy, wet flakes that stuck, but melted fast. Gus got into the boot and pulled out his coat, and Ollie dove into the car and grabbed his bag, pawing through until he found the sweatshirt Gus had bought him. He thought seriously about asking Gus to find another K-mart so he could buy a coat, too. The only thing that stopped him was that they'd managed to avoid talking about the money so far, and he wanted to keep it that way, and he figured if he had to dig into the bag in the back for funds that it would bring it up again. He was half surprised that Gus hadn't mentioned it when he'd gotten out his own coat.
As they drove on in the snow, Ollie found himself leaning forward, straining to see farther ahead. Gus seemed to take the weather in stride, Ollie supposed he was used to it, but he hadn't seen anything like it since he was sixteen.
"Jesus, it's only October. Does it always snow so early here?"
Gus looked at him and shrugged. "I don't know, I'm not from here, but probably. At least it's not an ice storm. God, what a snarl those are. You Brits are spoiled by living in a temperate zone."
"We get snow!" Ollie protested.
"What, once in a decade?"
"More than that, really, though I was sixteen the first time I saw more than a couple of inches on the ground all at once," Ollie admitted.
"What did I tell you? Once a decade. Anyway, this isn't sticking yet. It's not bad, you just have to be more careful."
"Glad you're driving."
Ollie glared at him. "Is that a comment on my driving?"
"In general no, but if you're not used to snow and it's snowing, yes."
"Oh. That's all right then."
Slightly mollified, Ollie settled back and tried to relax as they covered the last leg of the day's trip. He wasn't very successful. By the time they got to their destination about three hours later, he was hoping he'd never see snow again. His shoulders were like rocks and his hands hurt from clenching them. Gus had acted completely unfazed by any of it, even once the road started to slick up and they'd passed an articulated lorry folded back on its container like a pocket knife, but even he'd seemed relieved when they saw the exit sign for Port Huron.
They located a motel with a vacancy sign on, not easy, apparently a lot of people had decided to stop traveling for the day. The place they finally found was old and a bit rundown looking. Gus went in to get them a room, Ollie waited in the car, not wanting to get out until he absolutely had to. He wasn't dressed for the weather. Just having the engine off for the fifteen minutes it took for Gus to accomplish his mission let the cold start to seep into the car. He tucked his hands under his arms and mentally encouraged Gus to hurry. While he waited, he noticed that there was a pizza place right next door, which was going to be convenient when they wanted dinner. Finally Gus came back out and got back in the car, shivering and rubbing his ungloved hands together.
"Damn, it's that cold a cat wouldn't save her kittens. I should've left the car running. Anyway, all they had left was a single with a queen bed."
Ollie pretended to scowl. "One bed? I don't know about that," he said, as primly as he could manage.
Gus grinned. "Don't worry, I'll still respect you in the morning."
"That mean you respect me now?"
He meant it as a joke, but Gus' eyes locked with his, and a smoky heat sprang to life in their depths.
"That I do," he said, very quietly.
They stared at each other for a moment, then Gus cleared his throat, looked away, and started the car. "We're around in the back."
"You've a fixation with back doors," Ollie said, thinking about the last place they'd stayed.
Gus snickered. "Appropriately enough."
"Cheeky," Ollie retorted, which set Gus off even worse.
In between wheezes Gus managed to explain just exactly what that meant in North American English, which made Ollie laugh too. He was still chuckling as Gus pulled up by the rear entrance of the motel and handed him the key. "Here, since you don't have a coat you go open the door, I'll grab our stuff and bring it in."
Ollie nodded and dashed for the door, holding it while Gus got their stuff from the back seat and brought it inside. Their room was just inside the door, had a window that overlooked their parking place, and was barely warmer than outdoors. Shivering, Ollie found the thermostat and put it on a reasonable setting, grumbling about management trying to save money. The heater groaned and rattled as it tried to cope with the request, and Ollie decided it wasn't management after all, but rather the last tenant trying to get some sleep. He looked at Gus, who looked back at him ruefully.
"We could go look for something else. . . ." he began.
Ollie shook his head. "Nay, we're here, we're staying. Once it warms up it won't have to run so often to keep it warm. And once we go to bed we won't need it as warm."
"We won't?" Gus asked, amused again.
Ollie shot him a quelling look. "I just meant we'll be sharing body heat and under the duvet and all."
Gus grinned. "We could do that now," he said, toying with a button on his shirt.
Ollie's gaze was drawn to the fingers on that button, then he shook himself. "Christ, you're a randy bastard! Thought you said you were sore."
Gus opened the button, then the next one as well. "I am. But there are other ways to . . . keep warm."
True enough. Despite the chill, his body was definitely interested in exploring some of those other ways. Gus put a foot up on the vinyl-upholstered chair and started unlacing his boot. The action drew his jeans tight across his thigh and arse, and Ollie was sure that was quite deliberate.
The room wasn't large, he only had to move a foot or so to get within fondling range, so he did. He cupped his hand over the smooth, taut curve of buttock, then let it slide forward over the arch of thigh, finally coming to rest, fingers spread, over the solid bulge between Gus' thighs. Gus made a soft almost-grunt and straightened up, leaning back into Ollie, turning his head to brush their lips together for a moment before he bent again and unlaced the other boot.
This time when he straightened up, Ollie slid his arms around him, holding him in place, and ground his crotch against Gus' backside. Gus reached back, holding his hips, encouraging him for a moment, then he let go and turned in Ollie's arms, bringing a hand up to Ollie's chin to tip his head slightly, then sealing their mouths together for a long, slow, surprisingly soft kiss. They did that for a while, sucking, licking, languid and slick, then Gus pulled back with a groan, turning his head to breathe heavily against Ollie's neck as he spoke.
"God. I almost forgot. I need to call Zeda, give her the address here so she can get us the passport."
Reluctantly Ollie let him go. "All right then. Call. Fast."
Gus nodded and went over to sit down on the bed, since the phone was on the nightstand. Funny, no matter where they stayed, the phone was always on the nightstand. Ollie wondered if Yanks liked to make telephone calls in bed. Maybe they liked to call phone-sex hotlines. That would make sense. Gus was studying the directions on the card by the phone, and Ollie took advantage of the moment to take off his own shoes and a layer of shirt. He left his t-shirt on, it was too cold to take it off just yet.
Gus picked up the phone and dialed. Ollie stood for a moment, at a loss, then decided to save some time and get Gus' boots the rest of the way off. He knelt down next to him and picked up a foot, loosened the already untied laces, and pulled the left boot off as Gus started to talk. Ollie listened to Gus' half of the conversation as he picked up Gus' other foot.
"Zeda, whattaya at?" he asked, then chuckled at whatever the response was, nodding. "I know, I only do it because you always say that. I just called to let you know that we finally made it to Port Huron. It took a bit longer because it's snowing. No, they weren't too bad, they didn't get slick until we were about halfway here. Mmmhmm. No. Yes, four wheel drive would be nice, but Luba's not about to trade the truck back to me for some used AK-47's, so I have to make do. At least I didn't bring the motorcycle."
Sliding the right boot off, Ollie set both of them aside and looked up at Gus, who was staring off at nothing as he conversed. His gaze moved down to the mostly-unbuttoned shirt, came to rest on the spot that was really pretty much at eye level, and he grinned evilly. Convenient that Gus wasn't wearing a belt today. That would have made this a bit trickier. He put his hands casually on Gus' upper thighs, just resting there. Gus glanced down at him, smiled a little, and then looked away as he started talking again, and as he'd said, the dialect he slipped into so naturally did remind Ollie a bit of home.
"Is Bunsy staying to bed with the doctor as he ought or is he up and about? Aye, as I feared. You tell him to stay to bed or I'll make him chaperone the next community dance."
He chuckled, and Ollie went for the button on his jeans while he was laughing. It worked. Gus didn't seem to notice.
"All right then, I have the address here for you if you're ready," he said, picking up the little pad of hotel notepaper next to the phone.
Ollie decided he'd have to just go for the next stage. He found the zipper tab and started pulling it down. Gus sucked in a breath and dropped the notepad.
"What the fu . . .ummm. . . no, I'm sorry, Zeda, I didn't. . . no, something just startled me." He glared at Ollie and shook his head.
Ollie grinned back, winked, and kept going. Gus reached down with his free hand and tried to catch Ollie's hand. Ollie caught his wrist and moved his hand over to the notepad instead, all the while continuing to lower the zipper, slowly, not wanting to catch anything in it, since he had a strong suspicion after feeling him up a few minutes ago that Gus had gone commando today. As the zipper went down and the fly opened, he confirmed his hunch.
Gus cleared his throat and started reading the hotel's name and address off the pad. Or trying to. His voice kind of cut out a bit when Ollie eased his fingers into the fly and spread it wider, the back of his hand brushing the warm, silky length still half-hidden behind the fabric. He did it again, more deliberately, and Gus coughed at that, his hips arching up involuntarily, pushing his cock against Ollie's hand.
"What? No, I'm fine. I'm not coming . . . down with anything, no. Just a little tickle. Yes, that's right. We're in room 42, and I told them in the office that-- uhn . . . ."
Gus' conversation dead-ended in a sound somewhere between a moan and a grunt as Ollie leaned in and delicately flicked his tongue across the barely-exposed tip of Gus' cock, savoring the unique taste of him. He'd always loved this part. He went for another lick and Gus' free hand came down to clench into his hair and pull him away, shaking his head as he struggled to speak coherently.
"I . . . ah. . . that I'm expecting a package, and they should. . . um. . . notify me when it arrives. What? No!" He laughed a little stridently, then more softly. "No, Zeda, I give you my word of honor that there is definitely not a woman in this room." He looked at Ollie and winked.
Ollie started to laugh, and tried to keep it quiet, ending up a wheezing heap on the floor. He vaguely heard Gus finish his conversation and say goodbye, then Gus was beside him, looking like he wasn't entirely sure he knew whether he wanted to kiss him or strangle him.
"All right, you just proved it. You are a bad guy. Very bad."
Ollie widened his eyes innocently. "It was bad? I must need practice then." He reached for Gus, tugging on his jeans. "Just nip these down a bit more and I'll give it another go."
Gus leaned down to kiss him instead, which was more like laughing against each other's mouths than kissing, and that got much worse when Gus started to tickle him. They wrestled for a bit as Ollie tried to stop him, but Gus definitely had the weight advantage and seemed to know a few actual wrestling moves. Ollie ended up on his belly with Gus straddling his thighs, holding both wrists behind his back.
"I win," Gus said smugly.
Ollie twisted his head around to grin at him. "Nah, I do."
Gus studied him, frowning. "How'd you figure that?"
"Long as you've got to hold my wrists, you can't do anything else," Ollie pointed out.
"Is that so?" Gus asked silkily. "I could do this," he said, leaning down to lick Ollie's ear, and nip at the lobe. "Or this." He scraped his teeth along the column of his throat, making Ollie shiver and buck under him. "And this." He shifted his weight, and Ollie became excruciatingly aware of the solid thrust of Gus' cock against his backside as Gus rocked himself into the cleft between his buttocks.
He stilled, startled by the shiver of heat that sent through him. It made him uneasy so he tugged at his wrists in Gus' hands. "Let go."
"Mmmmwhy?" Gus hummed against his ear, licking in again, continuing his sensual undulation against Ollie's posterior. "I like it. Don't you like it?"
That was the problem. He did. And that bothered him. "I. . . um . . . ."
Gus chuckled. "Cat got your tongue?" He licked at the line of Ollie's jaw, nibbled on the back of his neck, and kept rocking. Ollie was getting turned on to the point that his cock was uncomfortably hard, trapped both in his jeans, and against the scant padding of the old carpeting. He lifted his hips, trying to relieve some of that pressure, which meant that Gus ground against his backside even harder, and he shivered again. Gus chuckled again, and licked along the edge of his t-shirt, then tugged at it with his teeth briefly before letting it go so he could speak.
"This'll be a lot more fun without clothes on," he murmured, one hand sliding up under the shirt from the hem, sliding his fingers under his jeans, cupping and rubbing one buttock. "Don't you think?"
The shock of Gus' warm hand on his body finally made Ollie realize that Gus had let go of his wrists. Jesus. He hadn't even noticed when it happened. Things were definitely getting a bit out of hand here. Determined to reassert himself, Ollie braced his hands, pushed back, and rolled. As he'd intended, Gus slid off and Ollie scrambled to his feet, breathing a bit heavily, relieved for more reasons than just getting the pressure off his cock. He stood looking down at Gus, feeling pleased with himself.
"Shouldn't've let go," he said, constitutionally unable to resist rubbing it in.
Gus rolled to his knees and looked up at Ollie with an evil grin. "What makes you think I did that accidentally?" he asked.
Ollie barely registered the smile and the words before both of Gus' hands were on him, giving him a hard, flat-palmed shove. Trying not to miss the bed as he went over, he twisted into the fall and ended up on his stomach. Before he could react, Gus was straddling him again, one hand wedging under his hips, tugging at fly buttons and the constriction across his groin eased noticeably even as the sensation of Gus' hand right there made him push hard against the bed. Gus chuckled, and his lips were on the back of his neck again as his hand slid inside the opened fly and cupped his bare cock. God, it felt marvelous, warm and strong, and firm.
"Better?" Gus purred, starting up that disconcerting rocking again.
It still felt good. It fired a strange ache inside him, tempted him to spread out and just let Gus do whatever he pleased, and . . . no. No, that had to stop. Now. He pushed up again, trying to get Gus off him, not even caring that it made Gus let go of him. Gus rolled off to one side and leaned on one elbow, studying him, faint frown lines between his brows. Ollie turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling, trying to get his breathing under control, purposely not looking at Gus.
Gus deliberately fastened up his jeans, moving to sit with his back against the wall at the head of the bed. Out of the corner of his eye Ollie saw Gus rest his elbows on his knees and look at his hands, loosely clasped between his knees, then look up again.
"You could've just told me," he said quietly. "I swing both ways, in several senses of the phrase, but I know not everyone does. I do take 'no' for an answer."
Well, that was plain enough, but for some reason it put his back up. "I didn't have a chance to say no," he shot back.
Gus kept on looking at him. Ollie could tell that, even though he wasn't looking at him. Finally he spoke again.
"Then say it now, tell me where the lines are. I promise you they won't be crossed."
Ollie had to look at him, had to see if the calm in his voice was reflected in his face, in his eyes. He turned his head and looked. Gus was gazing back at him, his face and eyes serious, but not angry. In fact, there was an odd bleakness in his gaze that made Ollie shiver a little, feeling the cold in the room for the first time since he'd knelt between Gus' knees. He turned onto his side and put his hand on Gus' thigh, seeking the warmth of him through the heavy denim. He traced the line of the inseam for an inch or so down toward his knee, then sighed.
"The lines are. . . a little blurry," he admitted.
He felt the muscles under his hand tighten, and Gus leaned his head back against the wall with a little thump.
"Thought I was through with slippery roads for the day," he said as he slid down the duvet until they were lying side-by-side again, and squeezed Ollie's shoulder. "I need more than that, Oliver. I need a roadmap. I need warning flashers. Otherwise we may end up in territory you don't want to explore and I'm not willing to risk that, risk you getting lost."
"Too late," Ollie said ruefully. "Too late a long time back, I think."
Gus studied him. "Is it really? You seem pretty found to me."
"Found? What's that mean?"
"That you know who you are. You're pretty damned secure in that, no matter what else is going on around you."
Ollie thought about that for a bit, and nodded. "Aye. I know who I am. I just sometimes wonder. . . who I could be."
Gus smiled. "Welcome to the club, Mr. McIntosh. Now that's a change, right? Maybe this is your opportunity to find out. Do new things. Stretch a little. Find out who else you are."
Ollie looked back at him, suddenly struck. "What about you? Are you found?"
A hint of that bleakness flashed in Gus' eyes again, but he looked away and it was gone when he looked back.
"Oh, I definitely know who I am. Augustus Knickel, head of state of the Republic of Solomon Gundy, not to mention God's representative on Earth for the people of Solomon Gundy."
Ollie shook his head. "That's what you are, not who you are. Who are you?"
Gus stared at him, frowning. "The same."
Ollie shook his head more vehemently. "No. Who. Not what. Who are you? Who is Augustus Knickel?"
Gus drew in a long breath, let it out, and turned to stare up at the ceiling, much a Ollie had done a few minutes earlier. "A man. Just that. No more, no less. A very tired man."
Gus closed his eyes, and visibly sagged into the bed. "Tired of coping. Tired of trying. Tired of being the only person who can get anything done. Tired of being looked up to. Tired of worrying. Just. . . tired."
Ollie nodded sympathetically. "Aye, you've all the drawbacks of being self-employed, but none of the benefits."
Gus laughed. "I never thought of it that way, but you're right. I need some employees."
"What about Zeda?"
"She does what she can and I'd be lost without her, but we can't afford to pay her to leave her job at the library. Hell, we can't afford to pay me, but they insisted, and Zeda gets around my refusal by just direct-depositing the money in my account."
"So, is that why you're always buying things for other people? Trickle-down economics, isn't that what they call it?"
Gus stared at him. "You're sharp, Ollie, old son. Very sharp. Yes, that's exactly it. They pay me, I don't want it, so I spend a lot of money buying things I don't need, and things for other people. What goes around comes around, as they say." He turned over and put his chin on his fist, staring at Ollie curiously. "But how did this get to be about me? We were talking about you. So. Does what just happened have anything to do with the fact that you don't like locked doors?"
Ollie blinked, trying to cope with the change of subject. "Locked doors?" he asked, at a loss.
"Mm. Earlier today when I locked the car door, you got a little edgy."
Car door. Right. "Oh, that." He laughed, a little embarrassed. "I did, didn't I? Sorry. But no, the one's got naught to do with the other. Locks. . . well, I spent a month and a half in a Saudi jail once. Lucky for me it was all rumor and they couldn't find any witness against me, and the oil company lawyers managed to get me out so long as they got me out of the country and I never went back again. Not that I was keen to do that at that point. In any case, it gave me an aversion for locks I don't control. Which makes it all the more daft that I chose to throw in with Bentley, doesn't it? Ought to have my head examined."
Gus looked horrified, ignoring his ironic comment. "Jesus, Ollie! A month and a half? What for?"
"I'd reported a co-worker to the boss because he wasn't following the safety regs. To get back at me he told a police informer that I was gay. Funny thing was, I am, but he couldn't have known that, he was just trying to make trouble for me, which he did."
Gus paled. "He put the muttawa on to you? Oliver, what did they do to you?"
Ollie sighed. He didn't want to get into that. "Doesn't matter. It was a long time ago, and I got out with all my parts intact so I'm happy."
He shook his head. "No. Enough. I was lucky compared to most of the poor buggers there, and I full well know it. If I give you my word it has nothing to do with anything happening in this room, will you leave it be?"
Gus looked like he was going to argue, but finally he sighed and nodded, then pulled him into a fierce, wordless hug, soothing a hand down his back. Considering what they'd just been talking about Ollie almost flinched from that, but managed not to. It wasn't like the old scars actually hurt, it was just the memory of pain. In the present, the hug felt nice, and Ollie wished he'd done the same for Gus when he'd said he was tired. He could see now that it would have been a good moment to do that, but he hadn't much acquaintance at that sort of thing. He'd been friends with Ferret for years, but they were more the shoulder-punching sort of chums. This sort of openness was out of his experience, though he was finding he liked it.
Thinking about his time in the Middle East suddenly brought something up to the surface of his mind. He said it without thinking.
Gus drew back a little to look at him. "What?"
Ollie sat up, starting to smile. "Jesus. Of course. That's it. Well, that's part of it, you still need a secondary industry, but I just realized how you can reduce your debt load. When the Arabs took over the Suez Canal, they did it by declaring it eminent domain. . . sort of like saying 'it's in our country, and possession is nine-tenths of the law, so therefore it belongs to us.' That's what you need to do on Solomon Gundy. Declare eminent domain and take over all the possessions to be public holdings of the state."
Gus stared at him. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and started to frown thoughtfully. "Eminent domain?"
Ollie nodded. "I'm not a lawyer so I can't tell you exactly how they got away with it, but they did, and I bet you could, too."
"Eminent domain," Gus repeated, frowning.
Ollie was quiet, waiting for Gus to process, to absorb. Finally, long moments later, a slow, blazing smile spread across his face.
"I can not believe I didn't think of that. Oliver McIntosh, you are brilliant. I'm going to have you declared a national hero."
Ollie rolled his eyes, embarrassed. "Oh, shut it, I'm no hero."
"Well, I suppose I ought to wait and see if it works before I make it official, but Jesus, Ollie, I've known you three and a half days now and already you've thought of things I haven't thought of in four years!
"Well, it's hard to think clearly when you're cagged."
"What, stress makes you stupid?"
"I didn't say that. In any case, it 's easy to come up with ideas when you don't personally know the people your outcome might affect, which is a luxury you don't have. Anyone could've done it."
"No, that's true about knowing the people, but not anyone would have come up with the eminent domain idea, so don't argue with me about not being brilliant."
"Not sure I can do that. It's not in my nature."
Gus chuckled. "No, I haven't known you long but I can see that's so."
The heater kicked on noisily, and they both looked at it and laughed, then Gus looked at the clock on the nightstand and for the first time since they'd thrown in together, reached for the television remote control. He shot an apologetic look at Ollie as he did. "Sorry, this'll just take a few minutes. I want to watch the news and see what the weather's supposed to do. If it doesn't let up tonight we may want to stay put tomorrow."
Ollie grinned. "I've no problem with that. Telly, or the staying put. Bed's a nice place to ride out a storm, and with the pizza place next door we won't want for food, so long as you like pizza."
Gus shook his head. "Love it, and it's one of the few food groups we haven't covered so far. We've had the hamburger group, the breakfast group, the Mexican group, the hero group, time for the pizza group."
He turned on the television, and settled back against the wall. Ollie settled back too, watching idly as the news segued from one story to another, not really listening. For some reason he kept thinking about Gus' problems on Solomon Gundy, still trying to figure options to get him out of trouble. Problem was, the eminent domain thing would only really solve part of the problem. He looked over at his bedmate.
"Hmm?" Gus responded absently, mostly focused on the news.
"What will you do if you can't work out the financial problems?"
Gus sighed. After a moment he turned the television off and looked over at him. "I'll have Zeda call Ottawa and tell them I've resigned from office and that Solomon Gundy wants to be repatriated. Then I'll probably go shoot myself."
"What?" Ollie asked, stunned.
"Sorry. Bad joke. Suicide is a sin. But if the island goes back to Canada I'll have to find some place that would give me political asylum, and that probably wouldn't be the U.S., not after . . . what happened. Nor would it be anywhere in the United Kingdom, because technically Canada is still part of U.K. In any case, I'd have to leave the island for good."
None of this was what Ollie had expected. He frowned. "Why?"
"Oh, just a couple of little reasons. High treason. Fomenting rebellion. Now back in the old days those were hanging offenses. Nowdays they'll just throw me in jail for the rest of my life." Gus laughed humorlessly. "Good thing I like having sex with men, isn't it?"
Ollie looked at him, still not quite sure whether Gus was serious or joking. "They wouldn't really, would they?"
"Honestly? I don't know. I've had no trouble going to or from Canada since Solomon Gundy declared its independence and frankly that surprises me. They would have every right to refuse me entry, even with a diplomatic passport. However, it could just be that they feel no pressing need to assert their authority, assuming that we can't hold out forever. Once I'm a citizen of Canada again, it will be much less problematic to assert themselves. I embarrassed some important people, and could well face charges. If it comes down to that I have no doubt that I'd be convicted, because by any definition I did commit high treason. There's an old saying, 'Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.'2 I suspect that's the principle operating at the moment. Let that one factor change and all bets are off."
"So you're saying that the only way to guarantee you won't go to jail, or have to leave the island for good is for Solomon Gundy to remain independent?"
"That's about the size of it, yeah." Gus sighed. "Kind of sucks."
Ollie nodded. "I'll say." He was silent for a while, mulling options. One in particular seemed to be increasingly obvious, a possible solution to both their problems, though a highly risky one. Ah well, nothing ventured. . . . . "I think they call this irony," he said.
Gus looked back at him, eyebrows lifted, his question unspoken.
"You're at risk for the lockup because you haven't got enough brass," Ollie continued nervously. "And I'm at risk because I've got too much. Can I have the keys to the car for half a tick? I've got sommat I need to show you."
"They're on the table," Gus said, clearly curious.
Ollie got up, pulled on his sweatshirt, shoved his feet into his shoes, and headed out to the car. Shivering as the snow collected in his hair he unlocked the trunk and got out both bags, hauling them awkwardly back into the room where Gus was waiting, watching him curiously. Shaking the snow off, he left the larger bag by the table, and took the leather satchel over to the bed. Sitting down he pulled out the contents, took a deep breath, then handed the stack to Gus.
"Happen these might be useful."
Gus looked at what he held. His eyes widened, and he started counting. He hadn't even gotten halfway through the stack when he stopped and carefully put them down on the bed.
This is. . . shit. This is a fuck of a lot of money. I thought you said you had around a million."
"The million's in the other bag."
"What?" Gus turned to look at the other bag, then back at Ollie. "There's more?"
"Aye. The big bag's full of cash, the satchel's full of bearer bonds. Found the satchel near where I washed up, Bentley dropped it. But I heard him say the ransom was just six million, so I've got no fucking clue where the bonds came from. I only picked up the bag because I knew Bentley wanted it, so I figured he oughtn't have it. Didn't even know what was in it until we stopped for lunch in Nebraska, when I got a look at them in the trunk. Just about wet myself when I realized what they were."
"Understandable. It seems a little strange, though, that someone who had a stack of million dollar bearer bonds in his possession would stage a kidnapping for a measly six million. Doesn't that strike you as odd?"
"Odd? Hell, it strikes me as completely daft. Maybe it was personal. He seems the sort to hold a grudge."
Gus nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe. Or they might be forgeries."
"They might. They look official enough to me, but what do I know? I suppose the whole stack might not be bonds, either. Could be just the top few."
"You haven't looked to see how many are there?"
"No, haven't had the chance." He looked at the stack, back at Gus. "Could do it now, I'll take half, you do half?"
Gus shook his head. "There's no reason to. You have to give it all back, you know that."
Ollie stared at him. "Well, there it is. I wondered when that was going to come up again." He shoved himself off the bed and paced the room, feeling confined suddenly. He stopped and looked at Gus, feeling his chin come up. "No. I'm not giving it back. Bentley'd just use it to get himself out of trouble, and I don't think he should be able to do that."
Gus looked at him, clearly troubled. "But it's not yours, either, Ollie. It's not right. You can't keep it."
"Look,"Ollie snarled. "I know it's not mine, and I've soot on my nose myself, I know I'm calling the kettle black here. Happen I don't deserve to get off scot-free either, but that's not the point. I don't even want the sodding stuff! More trouble than it's worth all around, but I'm not giving it back to Bentley."
"You don't have to give it to him. Send it to the cops, wherever it was this all came down."
"Aye, I could, but they'd just have to give it back to him. So why can't I give it to you, instead? Sort of like Robin Hood. Steal from the bad and give to the good."
"That might have worked in the thirteenth century, Ollie, but this is almost the twenty-first."
Ollie sat down on the bed next to him, staring at him challengingly. "What's that to say to aught? You need dosh, I have dosh, it's simple, two plus two."
"It's not that simple," Gus said stubbornly.
"It is that simple. I'm sitting here with a shitload of money I don't need, but fuck it all, Gus, you do. Take it and do something good with it."
"There is just no way I can do that, Oliver. It's not my money. It's not ethical."
"Sometimes ethical has to take a backseat to practical. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and you damned well know that."
Gus sighed. "Look, you're not going to change my mind, so don't give me any lip."
"You forget I'm the argumentative sort?" Ollie asked, scowling.
Gus looked at him, and, oddly, smiled. "Well then, if you feel compelled to give me lip, do it this way . . . ." He leaned forward and brushed his lips against Ollie's.
Ollie knew Gus was trying to win the argument by distracting him. It wasn't fair at all. He pulled back.
"Bastard," he said, turning his head, moving his mouth out of range.
Gus chuckled. "Yeah," he said and went for his ear instead.
Ollie shivered as a warm, wet tongue-tip slid around the inner contours of his ear, and was strongly tempted to sulk, but while he might be argumentative he wasn't stupid and after a few seconds he threaded his fingers into Gus' too-long hair and held him still while he brought his own mouth down on those tormenting lips, angling him so the kiss could become deeper, hotter, wetter. Gus' mouth was an entire category of sin all on its own. He'd gladly risk hell for it.
Gus' hands slid up under the hems of both his shirts, one stroking his back, the other moving up his front, skimming across a nipple. Ollie shivered, and Gus laughed softly into his mouth, doing it again, following it with a slow, sweet lick across his lower lip. Ollie tightened his fingers in Gus' hair and pulled him away.
"You don't play fair," he accused.
"Thought you said sometimes ethical has to take a backseat to practical," Gus said with a wink. "Desperate times." He went for another kiss, light, teasing.
Ollie pulled away. "You're not desperate. You came three times last night."
"So I did, amazing thought. Would you believe me if I said you make me desperate?"
Ollie laughed. "No, but it's a hell of a good line."
Gus chuckled, and went back to kissing him. The room had warmed up some, but it was still on the cool side, so having Gus' warmth pressed up against him felt nice. The warm lips on his, and warm tongue in his mouth were even nicer. The quiet of the room, the snow-muffled traffic noise from the street, the dim lighting, all gave a sense of intimacy that Ollie was aware was a little false, but he didn't care. He'd take what he could get.
They lay there kissing and touching for quite a long time, no sense of urgency pushing their caresses to a more frantic level. With his arms around Gus, his hands on his back, Ollie could feel the tension in him. Even here, with nothing to occupy him but the lazy spiral of desire, he was taut in a way that spoke of anxiety, not need. Without really thinking about it, he started to knead Gus' shoulders and back with his hands. Gus made a contented noise and ducked his head into the curve of his shoulder, sighing.
Ollie smiled, and kept working the knots. Within minutes Gus had relaxed against him, his hands lax, and the damp spot on his shoulder told Ollie he was asleep. For some reason he really didn't mind the fact that Gus was drooling on him. He should've guessed that the drive had taken its toll, even if Gus had seemed fine with it. Ollie was beginning to understand that the seeming calm with which Gus approached life hid the much more complex reactions he was really experiencing. He'd probably learned to do that as a minister, since his job was to stay calm in the face of whatever storms battered his flock.
It was clear that Gus had been dealing with crises too long on his own. That seemed very wrong. Gus was not a man meant to be alone, no matter how much he had been. His choice of profession, both of them, said he needed people. Why couldn't the people he needed see that? Why did they let him do it all alone? Perhaps more to the point, why didn't he ask for help?
As soon as he thought that, Ollie nearly laughed at the absurdity of the question. He knew the answer already. He and Gus had both learned to depend on themselves. Asking for help had never come easy to him, and likely it didn't to Gus either. They also had in common the little problem of not trusting anyone else to come through in a pinch.
Gus was the first person he could think of who had done that for him since his parents had died. Well, Ferret had tried, but that was on a different level. He'd never asked Ferret to do anything personal for him. Come to think of it, he'd not asked Gus either. Gus had simply done everything unasked. That was completely out of Ollie's experience. Of course, so was pretty much every aspect of Gus.
He was starting to get that 'this is a dream' feeling again. Except for the drool. That helped. He was pretty sure if he was fantasizing all this, he wouldn't have put that detail in. He'd also probably not have someone who kept harping on how he had to give the money back. It cheesed him a bit that he actually had the means to help Gus, but that Gus wouldn't take it. Gus needed money, he had money, the math was dead easy. Why couldn't Gus see that? He tried to think of some way he could make Gus take the money, and came up with naught. The best he could think of was to tell Gus he'd turn himself in to the police if Gus didn't take the money, but he knew damned well that Gus would call his bluff and he'd no intention of going to jail.
Gus didn't sleep long. Only about ten or fifteen minutes had passed when Ollie felt him stir, shifting his weight, and pressing his groin into Ollie's thigh in a slow curl, while his hands tugged blindly, pulling him closer. Ollie grinned and pushed back a little, against Gus' hip. Nice. Gus made an unintelligible sound, and rubbed his face against his shoulder, then pulled back a little, one hand coming up to investigate the wide damp spot on Ollie's shoulder.
"Jesus," Gus muttered, lifting his head to look up at Ollie in chagrin. "Sorry. That's disgusting."
Ollie shrugged. "It'll dry."
Gus chuckled. "So it will. Look, why don't you take it off, I'll go wash it out in the sink. It's not like you have clothes to spare."
"That an excuse to get me out of my shirt?" he asked, suppressing a smile.
"Well, not originally, but now that you mention it. . . ." Gus grinned.
Ollie let the smile free, and sat up so he could peel off his shirt. Cool air fingered his bare skin as soon as it was gone and he shivered, but then Gus' hands were on him and he didn't feel the cold any more. Just warm, callused fingers, and rough palms. Working hands. He'd bet Gus was the only prime minister in existence who could boast such a thing. That made him smile, and Gus reached up to touch a finger to his mouth.
Ollie shook his head. "Just wondering how many of your peers work a fishing boat to make ends meet."
Gus frowned a little, puzzled. "Most of them. That's what we do."
Ollie laughed. "Not those peers, Mr. Prime Minister."
"Oh. Those peers." Gus actually blushed. "I never really considered them to be peers."
"Very true," Ollie said. "Useless sodding bastards, the lot of them. Probably have to be told which end of the shovel to hold when they have those ground-breaking ceremonies." He looked at Gus critically. "You do know which is which, right?"
Gus laughed. "Trust me, I am intimately familiar with shovels. . . whether using them to shovel dirt or shit."
Ollie pretended shock. "Your minister of the interior would be getting out the soap."
"She would. But you won't," Gus said confidently.
Gus shook his head. "No."
"Because you don't like the taste any more than I do," Gus said as he slid his hand behind Ollie's neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
He was right, of course. Ollie liked the way he tasted without detergent. Enough to go looking for more, seeking it out, enjoying the smooth hardness of teeth, and the soft, slick warmth of tongue against his own. He let his hands seek out the last closed buttons on Gus' flannel shirt, opening it, pushing impatiently at it, wanting to feel skin. Gus pulled back and tugged and twisted until he was free of it, then he skinned out of his t-shirt as well. His fingers went to the fastening on his collar, then he stopped, and shot Ollie a wicked look, eyebrows lifted. Ollie laughed and nodded.
"Aye. Leave it."
Gus grinned and pulled him down for another kiss, rough hands moving down Ollie's back, sliding under his waistbands an inch or so, then back out again. Ollie settled over him, letting his legs fall to the outside of Gus', humping languidly against him as they kissed, enjoying the contact of bare chest against bare chest, where it wasn't covered by fabric. Ollie slid down a little and started licking his way down Gus' throat to his collarbone, avoiding teh collar, pausing there to nibble a little, wondering what it was about Gus that made him want to use his teeth. Gus didn't seem to mind. Nor did he mind when Ollie moved on and used his teeth lightly first on one erect nipple, then the other.
All the while Gus' hands were sliding over his skin, strong, and callused, and the slight catch of roughened skin as they moved on him made it all just a little more real. That, and the faint rasp of stubble on stubble, and the warm male smell of him. Gus kept kissing, kept caressing and stroking his back, his thighs, his hips, but after a little while Ollie became aware that he was just skimming past his backside with fleeting touches in passing between destinations.
Ollie rocked his hardening cock against Gus' hip and kept waiting for Gus to bring him in tight, but he didn't. It was as if he suddenly wasn't sure where to put his hands, like he was avoiding. . . . Fuck. That was exactly what he was doing. Daft bugger. Still kissing, Ollie grabbed one of Gus' hands and placed it solidly on his arse. Gus went still against him. Ollie sighed into his mouth, then pulled back, breaking the kiss.
"It's all right. I like it."
Gus regarded him critically. "You're sure?"
"I damned well think I'd know, don't you?"
"Ah, yeah. I . . . so, hands are all right, fingers are all right, but nothing more, right?"
"Can't we just play it by ear?"
Gus frowned. "No. I'm sorry, but no. I need to know what's all right so I don't trespass again."
Ollie growled. "For fuck's sake, Gus! It's all all right! Happen it's time I tried sommat new, so stop worrying about it."
Gus blinked, clearly surprised. "Something new?"
So much for hoping that one had slipped by under the radar. Ollie knew he was turning red, but he nodded. "Aye."
"Jesus, is that all? You've just never . . . ."
"Said so, didn't I?" Ollie interrupted. "So just shut it, right?"
Gus was quiet for a moment, but Ollie could tell from his expression that it wouldn't last, and sure enough a few minutes later he had that intent, curious look on his face again, and that sinful mouth was opening for something other than a kiss.
"Not ever? Not even once, just to see? What about fingers?"
Ollie sighed. He should've known Gus wouldn't be able to leave it alone. "Not before last night."
"Last. . . ."
Ollie could see Gus thinking back, remembering what they'd done, and could tell when Gus remembered the right thing because his eyes widened.
"Oh. I just assumed. . . that'll teach me. God, I'm sorry, Ollie, I didn't . . . ."
"Gus, enough," Ollie said firmly. "I liked it. Pretty much spunked my brains out on that one. Surprised me, though I don't know why it should've. I mean, other people like it. You like it."
"Yes, I do. I'd forgotten just how much. I can't believe it's been twenty years."
Ollie stared at him. "Twenty years? Thought you said you didn't have to be celibate."
Gus chuckled. "I haven't been. Just haven't been with anyone of the right. . . persuasion . . . since then. As I said, I swing both ways in several senses of the word. You?"
Ollie shook his head. "Tried it a couple of times. Just. . . no. Wasn't right. Blokes for me, all the way."
Gus absorbed that thoughtfully, then looked at him, frowning again. "But you never . . . oh, hell, just tell me to shut up, all right? It doesn't matter."
"Already told you that, doesn't seem to work," Ollie said, grinning. "Maybe this will . . . ." He leaned in to kiss Gus again before he could get offended. Their lips met briefly, then Gus pulled back a little.
"I resemble that remark," he muttered against Ollie's mouth, then his mouth captured Ollie's, his tongue slinking inside in a soft tease.
Ollie rubbed his cock into the hollow of Gus' hip. Felt good, but not good enough. He wanted more than just bare chests. He rolled away, slid off the bed and started tugging Gus' jeans off. Gus laughed and helped by lifting his hips and wiggling at the necessary moments, and Ollie got them off without much trouble. God. The man was really something. All sleek, smooth, sensual grace, like some sort of big cat, just pretending to be domesticated. Sprawled out with his legs slightly spread, Gus levered up on his elbows to look at Ollie on the floor, lifting his eyebrows.
Remembering a similarly vulnerable position from the previous night, Ollie couldn't resist the temptation, and he caught Gus by the knees and pulled him forward until his hips were right at the edge of the bed. As Gus caught his breath in surprise, Ollie came up from underneath so Gus' legs were draped over his shoulders, used his hands to expose his target and went in tongue first, gently, remembering that Gus had confessed to being sore. Gus jerked and shuddered at the first touch, hands fisting in the duvet. Oh yeah. He definitely liked it. Which was perfect, really, since he liked doing it.
"Fuuuuck. . . ." Gus moaned. "Oh sweet adorable . . . ."
Ollie pulled away for a moment, taken aback. "What did you call me?"
Gus panted for a moment, then lifted his head, craning a little to see Ollie. "Not you. Just an expression. I love that. Nobody ever did that for me before."
Ollie blinked. "Never?"
Gus rolled his head back and forth across the covers. "Never."
"Guess we're even then," Ollie said, grinning. Funny how something Gus took for granted Ollie didn't know, and vice versa. And thinking of things he didn't know. . . "I want to try."
Gus lifted his head and blinked at him. "What?"
"I want to try it." He looked around, spotted Gus' bag at the foot of the bed and slid out from under Gus so he could reach over to grab it. Putting it down on the bed next to a surprised Gus, he asked: "Where's the lube?"
Gus sat up. "Lube. . . you mean you want me to . . . ?"
His voice trailed off, and Ollie grinned. "Fuck me? Aye. That's right."
Gus swallowed hard. "You're sure?"
"I'm sure," he said firmly.
Gus regarded him steadily, and finally he smiled, shaking his head a little. "Jesus. I'm honored. I'm flattered. I've . . . got a severe case of performance anxiety."
Ollie laughed. "Bollocks."
Gus laughed too. "All right, would you believe a mild one? Look, I can't just do it on cue, and I can't do it with you down there, so get back up here."
"Give me a sec, got to take a piss. You can find the lube while I do."
Gus nodded and Ollie headed for the toilet to relieve himself. Finishing up, he washed his hands, and after a moment grabbed the little tube of hotel-supplied toothpaste and finger-brushed his teeth. He wasn't sure how fastidious Gus was, and he didn't want to take any chances on not getting kissed again. By the time he left the bathroom, Gus had the lube on the nightstand and the covers turned back, most of the lights off, and his bag and the bonds set neatly on top of the little bureau across the room. Gus himself was laid out on the white sheets, looking like something out of a skin rag, except he looked noticeably more self-conscious than those models ever seemed to be.
Ollie carefully didn't laugh as he skinned out of his jeans and socks, and joined Gus on the bed, pulling him close into a quiet, unhurried embrace. After a moment Gus turned and kissed him, then drew back, startled.
"Crest?" he asked, a little smile curving his mouth.
Ollie felt himself returning that smile. "Colgate. Better than soap, aye?"
Gus laughed and they kissed some more, and humped each other idly, two hard cocks nudging together, parting, stroking on hot, smooth skin. Finally one of Gus' hands settled on Ollie's bare bum, a firm and unhesitating presence. Ollie pushed back against it a little.
"Come on," he whispered into Gus' mouth. "Do it. Do me."
Gus' hand tightened a little. "How?"
"Christ, don't tell me you don't know how!" Ollie said, annoyed.
Gus laughed. "Of course I know how. I meant front or back."
"Oh." Ollie considered. "You've done it before, you tell me. Which is better, for a first time?'
"Both have their merits," Gus said after a moment's thought. "But I think it's a little easier to go back to front first time."
"Right then." Ollie rolled over.
Gus sighed. "Ollie, relax. We're not on a schedule, just let it happen. It's not a job, and it's not something to be gotten over with, at least I hope to God it's not. Just enjoy it. And if you don't enjoy something, tell me."
He trailed a hand down Ollie's back as he spoke, and followed it with his mouth after he'd finished speaking, dropping light, licking kisses down the length of his spine, then back up. Ollie squirmed a little under the hot, wet flick of supple muscle. He never would have thought that someone kissing and licking his back would be such a turn on. Each trip down his spine got closer to his arse, too, and he was nearly holding his breath by the third time, when Gus let his tongue dart into the top of the cleft there, his hands stroking lightly over his bum, and then just as he was sure Gus was going to go for it, he. . . stopped.
After a moment those rough fingers stroked back and forth across his lower back, just above his hip, then moved a little, did the same thing. Odd. Even odder, Gus suddenly sat up and snapped the bedside light to a brighter setting. Ollie looked awkwardly back over his shoulder to find Gus staring at his back, frowning. No, scowling. His fingers returned to stroke those same spots, moved higher to brush lightly across several more places, and oh, fucking bloody hell. Ollie knew what he was doing, now, what he was seeing. He hadn't realized they were still noticeable. He never even thought about them, and certainly never saw them. Gus looked up, met his gaze with shadowed eyes.
"Ollie. Those are scars."
He sighed and nodded. "Aye. It was a long time ago, Gus. Let it be."
He saw Gus' expression change as he put two and two together. Fingers stroked lightly again, a caress. "Whip?"
"Cane. They don't use whips. I was lucky. Could've been executed. A few scars is a much better deal."
"I. . . suppose that's true. But. . . ." his fingers touched first one of the faint lines, then another. "How many times?"
Ollie rolled over and started to sit up. "I said I don't want to talk about it and I meant it," he snapped, reaching down next to the bed for his jeans. Gus caught his arm and took his jeans away, dropping them back on the floor, and used his other hand to urge him back down onto his belly, leaning over to put his lips against the lowest scar, the one just above his arse, and it was like he had a line directly to Ollie's cock.
"Don't. I'm sorry. I just . . . Jesus, Ollie," he whispered.
All right, so irritation didn't work. He'd try something else. "Come on, Gus. My john thomas is getting confused and my knackers are turning blue, and not because it's cold in here."
There was a noticeable pause, then Gus laughed softly against his skin. "Sorry. I got distracted."
"I noticed that. So get to it."
"Ooh, 'sir.' I like . . . aaah!" Ollie's tease ended on a yelp as Gus nipped at his arse, and one of his hands slid up Ollie's thigh, two fingers dipping between them, pressing against the smooth expanse of skin between cock and ass. Little sparks of pleasure made him rock harder against the covers.
"Like that?" Gus asked, his voice a dark, seductive purr.
"Aye," Ollie whispered, surprised and pleased that he'd managed a coherent syllable.
"Mmm," Gus said as he continued his massage. "Wait until you feel it from the inside."
"At this rate, I never will," Ollie complained into the pillows.
"You know, I'm beginning to understand the temptation to gag one's partner," Gus said tartly, moving his hand away.
Ollie reached back, trying to find it. "Here now, didn't mean you should stop."
Gus lay down alongside Ollie and pulled him onto his side so they were facing one another, took Ollie's chin in his hand and held him still while his mouth came over his in a brief, hot kiss. Then he pulled back, staring into Ollie's eyes. "Oliver. Shut up. Please."
Ollie grinned. "Gus. Get a move on. Now."
Gus closed his eyes. Sighed. And ten seconds later Ollie found himself flat on his back with Gus sitting on his thighs, one hand wrapped tight around his aching cock, stripping it hard and fast, the other hand under his balls, cupping them, rolling them just right, and Ollie's hips were straining upward, trying to thrust but pinned by the weight on his thighs. Gasping, he reached for Gus' hands.
"Wait. . . stop . . . slow down!"
Gus let go of his balls and caught both wrists in his hand, grinning ferally. "Make up your mind, Ollie."
"All right. . . I've . . . got the picture. Stop."
"Why would I want to do that?" Gus asked silkily, slowing his caress to a leisurely stroke that was nearly as maddening as the fast-pace of a moment earlier.
"God!" Ollie gasped, fighting his body's natural urge to just let go. "Not like . . . this. Please?"
That did it. Gus finally stopped stroking Ollie's cock, and instead started stroking other places. The next few minutes were a blur of pleasure. There seemed to be no part of him left unkissed, unlicked, or unsucked. He discovered the strangest things nearly sent him over the edge, like Gus' tongue in his navel, his teeth on the seldom-touched skin where arm and torso met beneath his arm, and even the sound of the deep inhalation as Gus breathed his scent in.
Conscious thought stopped somewhere about the time that Gus pushed his thighs apart and his knees up, and a slick finger finally breached him, a smooth, hot burn of sensation moving in and out, until he was pushing back and spreading out and moaning in startled bliss. Wanting more, needing more, getting more-- two more fingers, deep, knowing just how and where to touch to keep him mindless, and he still wanted more, and he confessed that into the mouth that brushed his, against the teeth that caught his lip and tugged, almost hard enough to hurt, almost.
He got more, again. He got Gus kneeling between his thighs, something broad and blunt and ohgod . . . hot, pushing, opening him, a smooth, strong push, sharp flare of almost-pain, and then the deep, shocking slide of him all the way in. Gus paused there, both of them panting, shifted Ollie's thighs over his arms, and started to move, a sleek, slow rhythm, until the burn was gone and nothing but pleasure remained. Their sounds seemed to fill the room, harsh rasp of breathing, dark vocalizations of need and greed.
The rhythm stuttered, quickened, became a pounding drive, and the blissful intensity on Gus' face was almost as good as the feeling of him inside, almost as good as the broad, rough hand that wrapped around Ollie's cock and started to stroke, and didn't even get to finish before Ollie was arching and yelling, and coming harder than he'd ever come in his life. Gus growled, and laughed, and shoved hard into him, shuddering and gasping, .
As he started to recover, Ollie realized that the pounding he was hearing wasn't just his heart, but someone banging on the wall. Gus wiped a streak of come off his face and eased back, carefully disengaging. Ollie winced, wondering why it hurt now, looked at the wall, then back at Gus with a grin.
"Guess we've got neighbors this time."
Gus grinned. "Apparently so. But it's not even seven o'clock yet. If they were asleep this early, they deserve to be woken up."
Ollie snickered. "Says the man who just had a nap."
"Oh, aye," Ollie agreed, shifting a little uncomfortably, aware of his body in ways he'd never been before.
Gus eyed him with a faint frown. "You all right? That was probably a little rougher than it should've been. Sorry."
Ollie shook his head. "Happen I like rough. I'm fine. It's just. . . not used to it."
"Aye. Want a shower, though."
"Good idea. Long, and hot. One thing, though, first."
"I think we need to establish some ground rules."
Ollie tensed. "Such as?"
"Such as I don't tell you how to drive when you're behind the wheel, and you don't tell me how to drive when I am."
Ollie didn't pretend he didn't understand. "Goes both ways," he said. "I seem to remember someone telling me how to drive that first time. Sauce for the goose, eh, guv?"
Gus looked suprised for a moment, then sheepish, and he chuckled softy. "Sauce for both ganders, at any rate. All right, you've got me there. We'll both have to work on it. Come on, shower." He stood up, and held out a hand.
Ollie nodded and took it, letting Gus pull him to his feet, following him to the shower.
* * *
Waiting in line at the inspection plaza on the Blue Water Bridge, Gus kept stealing glances at Ollie, who looked somewhat less than cool.
"Ollie, relax. You're going to tip them off."
Ollie shot him a look that reminded him of a horse about to bolt. "Relax? I'm about to be arrested and you want me to relax?"
"You're not about to be arrested. You're with me, and I've got a diplomatic passport. I'll just say you work for me."
"Oh, right. And what exactly am I? Minister of Silly Walks?"
Gus chuckled. "No, but that's a good point, you need a title, in case they ask. What should you be . . . I know! You're the one with the money, you can be the Minister of Finance."
That drew a reluctant smile from his passenger. "Finance. Yeah. Makes sense. Still don't see how the hell you think you're getting all that money across the border, though. We should have hidden it."
"Just keep your mouth shut and trust me, it'll work."
Ollie opened his mouth, closed it, and after a moment he looked back at Gus, an odd expression in his eyes. "I . . . do."
Their gazes locked for a moment, until the car behind them honked and Gus realized the car ahead had moved and he hadn't. This was it. He pulled up to the booth, rolling the window down. The man at the window looked at the little screen that displayed the image of Gus' license plates, a little frown on his forehead.
"Diplomatic Corps? Interesting plates. That a fish on there? Where are you from?"
"Yes, yes, and Solomon Gundy," Gus said.
The frown deepened. "Where?"
"Solomon Gundy," Gus repeated patiently.
Still frowning, the guy turned to the other man sharing the small booth with him. "Hey, Dave, you ever hear of someplace called Solomon Gundy?"
The second man looked at the plates displayed on the screen, and nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think so. It's an island, on the Atlantic coast. Wasn't there some sort of incident there a few years back?"
Gus nodded. "That's right, old son, we're the ones who shot a missile at Canada's Wonderland."
The man leaned down. "That's it. I remember that. You guys are independent now?"
"Yeah, see?" He handed over both passports.
The first man chuckled. "Good job." He flipped open Gus' passport and read aloud. "'Augustus Knickel is a representative of the Republic of Solomon Gundy and should be accorded all the rights and privileges of a member of the international diplomatic community.' Very impressive." He looked at the cover. "Nice fish."
Gus grinned. "It's what we do."
"And what do you do for the Republic?"
"I'm the prime minister."
"Bet that's an interesting job. Good pay."
Gus snorted. "Yes, sometimes it can be, and no, not as such. We're not exactly Brunei."
That got a chuckle. "So, you're going back?"
"Carrying anything we should worry about?"
"Other than a case of merlot and seven-hundred and fifty million dollars? No."
Both the guards laughed, and the first one handed back both passports. "Okay, thanks. Drive carefully, the roads are a bit slick today."
"I'll do that. Thanks."
He put the car in gear and drove on through, waiting until they were well out of sight before he glanced over at Ollie and found him staring at him in clear disbelief.
"I can't fucking believe that just happened," Ollie managed after a moment.
Gus shrugged. "Told you I'd get you over the border. The rest of it's on your conscience."
"I haven't got one," Ollie said glibly.
Gus looked at him.
"Don't do that," Ollie snapped. "Watch the road."
Gus sighed and looked back at the road. After a few minutes Ollie sighed, too.
"All right. I do. You're right. Jesus, you don't even have to say a word to win an argument. Your flock must hate that."
Gus had to bite his lip to keep from smiling. "I'm sure they do."
"It's no good, you know. I can see that."
Gus laughed. "Sorry. I tried."
"I don't get you." Ollie said after a moment. "You'll buy a nuclear sub and hold the Canadian government hostage to get your fishing rights restored, but you won't let me give you money that would get you out of the hole you're in."
Back to this. He'd wondered how long it would take before Ollie started in on it again. It was somewhat amusing that just like half the couples Gus counseled, their main point of friction appeared to be money. This point though, was easy to explain. "That's exactly why I won't. I learned my lesson. Quick fixes don't work."
"I'm not saying it would. It's a short term solution, I know that, you know that. But you could use it as a temporary fix while you build yourself a proper way out. You wouldn't even have to use all of it. Just whatever you needed, then you could give it all back, as soon as you'd gotten things squared away and working."
"Right, but what if I can't?" Gus asked. "It's possible, you know. Not everything can be fixed. There's not a solution to everything."
Ollie was quiet for a moment, then he shook his head. "I never would have guessed you were a quitter," he said in a disappointed tone. "Never."
Gus blinked away the fog that obscured his vision for a moment. "I'm not," he said, his voice betraying more than he wanted it to. "I'm just out of time and options."
"You're not out of options, there's one staring you in the face."
God, the thought of all that money was . . . tempting. There was so much he could do with that. Even if he just borrowed it for a while . . . no. Too tempting. "Ollie, enough," he snapped. "I said no."
Ollie looked away, then back, intent. "All right. But it's there if you change your mind."
Gus didn't bother to answer that. Ollie let him. After half an hour, Gus pulled his tape case out from under the seat and chose one, sliding it into the cassette deck. As the opening notes of 'The Wall' came over the speakers, he saw Ollie's jaw tighten, but he didn't say anything, he just settled back into his seat, tipped his head back against the headrest, and closed his eyes. Gus didn't think he was sleeping.
The silence lasted until they got to Kingston and stopped for lunch. A cautious truce was declared over shepherd's pie at a pub crowded with students. They watched a local band hauling in equipment and setting up the stage for a show later that night, and started talking about bands they'd heard. After a while Gus noticed that one of the band guys, a stockily-built fellow with a growing-in mohawk and an earring, kept looking over at them. Staring actually, with a puzzled scowl on his face. Gus had started to wonder if there was some sort of secret sign that told the world they'd been humping like rabbits all night. Then he'd realized the guy wasnt staring at both of them, but at Ollie. Just Ollie.
Ollie must have noticed it too, and after he finished his meal and his beer he deliberately got up and went over to the stage. Gus followed him, concerned, and he was right to be, because Ollie got very in-your-face with Mohawk Man about the staring thing. They'd reached the clenched fists stage when Gus had cleared his throat, and called them gentlemen, which neither of them really were, but it had worked. Ollie had backed off a bit, and Mohawk Man had grudgingly confessed that was just struck by Ollie's resemblance to a friend of his. Hackles down, they bought each other beer, and Mohawk Man gave them a free CD before his bandmates dragged him off finish setting up.
They got back on the road, Ollie driving and telling Gus about his latest job, working on the Parisian sewers, and then he followed that story with a rather involved but still funny one about his year on the Trans-Siberian pipeline and by the time Gus finished laughing the residual awkwardness was gone. He was well aware that the argument wasn't over, just tabled, but was willing to let it be so. He liked Ollie, and wanted to spend their remaining time together doing things other than argue. There was little enough time left, after all. They'd be at the coast by the end of day tomorrow. Going their separate ways. Funny how much that thought sucked.
Startled, he looked at Ollie, and realized he hadn't heard a word he'd said in at least five minutes, maybe more. He saw in Ollie's face that he was aware of that, and smiled ruefully.
Ollie nodded. "Thought as much. Just thought you'd like to know we're nearly in Quebec now." He gestured toward the road, and Gus looked up to see the sign welcoming them to the province, in French. French made him think of Noelle. And thinking of Noelle made him remember. . . .
"Hell," he said under his breath. "Next place you see where I can make a phone call, pull over, all right?"
Ollie looked at him oddly, but nodded. "Sure. Problem?"
"No, not really. I just promised someone that I'd stop on my way home. She lives in Montreal."
"Ah. We're about an hour out, here, depending on traffic. Think she'll be home?"
"I don't know, but I told her I'd try."
Ollie nodded, and they stopped a few minutes later at a gas-bar where Ollie filled the tank while Gus went to use the phone. They were still 'friends' at Noelle's insistence. Her announcement that she was moving to Montreal had been post-scripted with the dreaded 'let's stay friends.' So they called one another now and then, and when he'd told her about the conference she'd asked him to stop by, offering to feed him dinner. Lonely and stressed, he'd accepted the invitation, though he knew it would be a little awkward to see her. Still, he had promised he'd at least try. He dialed, more than half hoping that Noelle wouldn't be home. Luck was against him, though. After three rings she answered.
Her voice was so familiar. That odd, thick nasality that he'd once found attractive almost grated now.
"Hello, Noelle. It's Gus."
"Gus! I've been thinking of you today. Where are you?"
"Riv. . . ." There was a short silence as she absorbed that. "Dieu! You're nearly here! You should have given me some warning!"
"I know, I'm sorry. I made better time than I expected. Look, I know it's short notice, if you'd rather not meet, that's all right. I understand." He prayed he didn't sound hopeful.
"Non, of course I want to see you! I promised you dinner, after all. Come and see me, we'll talk, we can order in."
Hearing the eagerness in her voice, he stifled the urge to back out. It wouldn't hurt to stop by, and with Ollie along things wouldn't get out of hand. If they ordered in it wouldn't even be any work for her. As he was thinking that she got a second call beep on her line, and she put him on hold for a moment, then came back to tell him she had to take the other call. He quickly got directions to her townhouse, said goodbye and hung up. As he got back in the car it occurred to him that he probably ought to have mentioned Ollie's presence. Too late now.
"All set?" Ollie asked.
"Yes. I've got directions."
Ollie nodded and pulled away from the pumps, heading for the road once more. "So, old friend?"
"Yes. Noelle Denoyer. She. . . I've mentioned her before. She came to the island with Dexter Lexcannon."
"The bird who was supposed to figure out the job situation, but never did, right?"
"Ah, yeah. Though she did try. There just wasn't much available."
"Mmm," Ollie said noncommittally.
Gus could have defended her further, but didn't. Frankly, he'd always been a little skeptical about that himself.
They found the townhouse without difficulty, and parked. Ollie looked at Gus, eyebrows lifted. "Well?"
Gus nodded. "Right then. Come on."
They got out of the car and went up to the door. His first inkling that this was going to be bad was when he caught a glimpse of flickering candles through the venetian blinds. His second was when Noelle answered his knock at the door barefoot, wearing a deep green velvet top and black velvet leggings. She knew he was tactile, knew that the velvet would entice him to touch. Or would have, under other circumstances. No, it didn't take a genius to figure out that she'd had more than dinner in mind. If he'd had half a brain he'd have figured that out long before this.
Smiling seductively, Noelle went up on her toes to kiss him in what would have been much more than a friendly kiss hello if he'd let it go there. Instead he returned it closed-mouthed, not relaxing into her embrace. She drew away, looking a little puzzled until her gaze went past him and her eyes widened. Gus glanced at Ollie, who was looking annoyingly amused, and cleared his throat.
"Noelle Denoyer, this is Oliver McIntosh, Ollie, Noelle. Ollie's ride-sharing to the coast with me."
Ollie smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Denoyer."
Her eyes narrowed and her lips thinned a little, then she smiled, insincerely. "Va t'foutre, M'sieur McIntosh."
Ollie's eyes widened, and he darted a look at Gus, then back, and his smile turned as insincere as hers was, and his eyes were bright and challenging. "Merci bien, mais j'aimerais plutôt 'foutre' avec lui," he said with a nod at Gus.
Noelle gasped, her jaw dropping, then she cleared her throat. "Désolé, je n'me suis pas rendu compte. . . ."
Ollie grinned. "Évidemment. Moi, je ne suis pas désolé."
Gus looked from one of them to the other, a little puzzled. "Hey, remember I only speak Russian."
Ollie nodded. "Sorry mate. Look, you two obviously have some catching up to do, and I haven't had a beer in three days. I saw a pub down the road, think I'll just nip off there for a bit."
He was off down the stairs before Gus realized what he'd said, striding away, his hands shoved into his pockets against the cold. Gus had a momentary thought that they really needed to get him a coat and some gloves. He stood for a moment, indecisive, wanting to go after him, but knowing it would make a scene. Damn it. He'd really been counting on Ollie to keep things on a neutral level. Now he was alone with her, and she had more than dinner on her mind. It didn't help to realize that under other circumstances, say if he'd stopped on the way out, instead of on the way back, he might have been perfectly willing to take her up on that offer. That didn't speak well of him.
"Gus? Are you going to stand there all night?" Noelle put one foot over the other, rubbing them against each other in a way he remembered quite well from cold nights on the island.
He looked at her. "What was that all about?"
She looked vaguely guilty. "Nothing. Just an exchange of pleasantries."
"Uh hunh," he said, patently disbelieving.
"Really, it was nothing, come inside. It's been too long. I'm glad you came."
He suppressed a sigh and stepped inside. The townhouse was open and modern, with vaulted ceilings, and pale rose-colored carpeting. Candles glimmered on the mantel of a fireplace, and below them the gas logs burned with artificial cheer. A big, gray leather couch was set up in front of the fire, flanked by pale wood and glass end tables. He immediately felt uncomfortable and out of place.
"What an odd man," she said, closing the door. "But then, you always did like to pick up strays."
Gus eyed her, amused. "You'd know."
She flushed a little. "Yes, after living with you, and seeing it first-hand," she said deliberately, ignoring his implication. "And speaking of strays and other lost causes, how are things on the island?"
He shrugged, trying for nonchalance. "Muddling along."
She regarded him narrowly. "That's not what I hear."
He tried not to let his surprise show. He hadn't realized she had a source on the island, though he supposed it made sense. She liked to stay informed. He wondered who it was. Definitely not Zeda, she'd never really cared for Noelle, and had liked her even less after she'd left him. Not Bunsy, Sil, Luba, or Mary. Dempster Millard, though... that was a possibility. "Well, Dempster always was something of an alarmist."
Her expression told him he'd gotten that one dead on target. She smiled, though.
"An alarmist, perhaps, but often an accurate one." She looked at him with an expression of concern. "Gus, I told you when I left that it wasn't going to work out. Why don't you just admit it, and ask Ottawa to take the island back? I'm sure it could be worked out."
"I'm sure it could, too, with us ending up even worse off than we started, and me in jail."
She rolled her eyes. "Now who's being alarmist? Why would they put you in jail?"
"Oh, a little thing called treason, maybe?" he asked, irritated by her casual attitude.
"I can't see why they'd bother. Can I take your coat?" she asked, deliberately changing the subject. "You look tired, did you come far today?"
He shrugged his coat into her tugging hands and shook his head. "No, just from eastern Michigan. Eight hours or so. A short day, compared to the last couple. It helps having someone to switch off with."
As she turned to put his coat in the closet he saw a flicker of a frown cross her face. "Switch off?" she asked, her back to him as she found a hanger.
"Ah." He was sure he wasn't imagining the look of relief on her face. "Come sit, I'll get you a drink. I only have white wine, I wasn't expecting you."
"That's all right. Actually, tea would be nice."
A flicker of annoyance lit her gaze. "Tea?"
"Or coffee. Instant is fine."
She wrinkled her nose. "I could make you an espresso."
He shook his head. "No, that's too much trouble. Tea's fine."
She sighed. "Tea it is."
He followed her into the kitchen and waited while she got out a mug and filled it with water, then located a box of tea-bags and dropped one into the mug, putting it in the microwave to heat. No tea-kettle, he noticed, that was probably too provincial for her, but she owned a personal espresso machine. That was so Noelle. A few minutes later, she had a glass of wine and he had his mug of tea and they were ensconced on her sofa which creaked annoyingly every time either of them moved more than a fraction of an inch.
"So, it looks like you're doing well for yourself," he said, waving his free hand at the room.
She smiled. "I am, very well. And I love it here, it's a wonderful place. I think you'd like it too."
"I've been here before. It's nice," he said equivocally.
"I knew you'd like it." She set down her glass of wine, and moved closer, the couch creaking. "Gus, I've been thinking a lot lately. When you called, it was like a sign."
He felt tension knot his shoulders. "A sign?"
"Oui. That I should talk to you. . . tell you."
He put down his cup and looked her in the eyes. "Tell me what?"
She started to speak, stopped, and sighed, then she had her arms around his neck and her mouth was soft and warm on his. His response was automatic, and he tasted the sharp tang of white wine on her lips, and her body felt familiar in his arms. Familiar, yet . . . wrong. Which was strange, because always before, even when they'd been ready to strangle each other, the sex had been good. Well, usually. Noelle had sometimes had a peculiarly distant demeanor that had made him wonder if she was fantasizing about someone else. Still, it was distinctly odd to realize that what he wanted wasn't her slim curves and scented warmth, but rather hard strength, the prickle of stubble against his lips, the bitter taste of tobacco. He wanted. . . Ollie.
Ollie, who was off somewhere being tactful, without a coat. Jesus. Gus didn't remember having seen a pub anyplace close. Ollie was out there in the cold. Or . . . fuck. He had the car keys. He might've gotten his things and taken off for good. Suddenly feeling a little panicked, he reached up to disengage Noelle's arms from around his neck, holding her hands in his as he drew back. "Noelle. Please, don't do this."
Her jaw lifted in a way he recognized as trouble. "Why not?"
"Because, we've been down this road, and it leads nowhere. There's no reason to do it again. You know we're not compatible."
"Non, I don't know that. We were good together."
"We were practically not speaking when you left," he reminded her.
"That was nothing. You know it wasn't you I couldn't deal with, it was that fucking island. I was going out of my mind, nothing to do, the same people all the time, the damned ocean."
"That fucking island is my home, Noelle, and those are my people."
She shook her head. "You're being stubborn. You could live anywhere, people do move, all the time. You could live here, with me. You could find a church, or even just let me take care of you, I make good money. If you'd just come to your senses and dump that place, you . . . ."
"That's enough," he snapped. "Isn't this where we left off three years ago? Nothing's changed, Noelle. You're not suited to live on the island, and I'm not suited to live anywhere else."
She sighed, shaking her head. "You'll come to your senses. You need to cut your losses."
Okay, that was enough. Keeping in touch over the phone had been easy enough, he'd just avoided controversial subjects, and so, apparently had she. But less than twenty minutes in person, and he was ready to do her bodily harm. "My senses are just fine, and what I need is help."
"What you need is a miracle," she said archly.
Abruptly Gus got to his feet. "You may be right, but what I don't need is this. I'm sorry but I think I should go."
Noelle was on her feet instantly, contrition on her face. "Gus, no. I'm sorry. Please, stay."
He shook his head. "No. Really, it's best that I go." As her expression turned stricken, he felt a flare of guilt. "Look, I'm sorry if I led you to think there might be a possibility of . . . anything. Sometimes it's difficult on the island, being alone, and I may have let that spill into our phone conversations."
She nodded. "It's lonely here, too, sometimes. And maybe I was doing a little wishful thinking. It's easy to forget the bad, and just remember the good. And we did have a lot of good."
He smiled, remembering. "Yes, we did." He pulled her close and hugged her, then let her go. "But we also learned every one of each other's buttons and how to push them."
She smiled ruefully. "Oui. Unfortunately."
Gus looked around. "So, my coat? I need to go see if I can find Ollie before he freezes. He hasn't got a coat."
She went to the closet and took it out. "That man, he's a strange one. I think he's. . . ." she stopped and shook her head. "Never mind."
"You think he's what?" Gus prompted.
She blushed. "Nothing, really."
She bit her lip. "Did you meet him at the conference?"
Gus chuckled. "No, I picked him up hitch-hiking."
"Gus! Dieu! That's so dangerous!"she gasped.
"Relax, he's fine. A bit of a character, but no more so than I am."
"Still, you should be careful. I think he's. . . . interested in you."
Gus stared at her in surprise. How the hell could she have figured that out in three minutes at the door? "What makes you say that?"
"Just a . . . feeling."
He eyed her thoughtfully for a moment. "Even if he is, why should that bother me?"
"Well, he might try something."
"And that would be a bad thing?"
She eyed him narrowly for a moment, then laughed. "Oh, you. I forget how much you love to play l'avocat du diable. Go on then, but take care. You know I worry about you."
"Thanks, but there's nothing to worry about." He took his coat from her and pulled it on, getting his gloves out of the pockets and donning them as well. "Good bye, Noelle."
She looked at him sadly. "It is, isn't it, this time?"
He nodded. "I think it's best."
"Don't be. Just go find someone more your style."
She smiled. "And what would that be?"
He looked around the foyer. "Someone who would rather have espresso than tea, and who doesn't smell like fish half the time?"
She smiled a little. "I never minded that."
He laughed. "Like hell you didn't. Be honest with yourself, Noelle, you'll be a lot happier."
"And you? Are you honest with yourself?"
He thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. "No. But do as I say, not as I do." He opened the front door, then kissed her on the forehead. "Goodbye. Be well. Invite me to your wedding, whenever it is."
She nodded as he stepped outside, and closed the door behind him. The click of the lock sliding home gave him an odd sense of relief. It was cold, with a brisk breeze blowing, and would have been dark if not for all the porch and parking lot lights. Seeing that the car was still parked in front of the townhouse, he looked hopefully for Ollie, but it was empty. He dug in his pocket for the keys as he reached the door, only to realize he didn't have them. Ollie had been driving, he had the keys. Damn. He trudged back up to Noelle's door to ask to use her phone to call for a taxi, but as he reached for the doorbell, an odd shape hanging from the knob caught his eye. His keys, carefully hooked around the knob by a piece of leather. He realized after a moment that it was the choker Ollie had been wearing that first day. The sense of relief he'd felt on seeing the car dissipated instantly. Fuck. He untied the knotted leather and tugged the keys free, went back to the car and got in.
Think. Where was he? Ollie had said he was going to a bar. Gus didn't remember seeing one, but that didn't mean anything, he hadn't been paying much attention at the time. He started the car and retraced their route. It didn't take him long to locate a bar-- an upscale sort of place, suited to the neighborhood. Not Ollie's sort of place at all, but Gus guessed he wouldn't have cared that much, as long as it was out of the cold. He parked and went in.
A quick survey told him Ollie wasn't there. Frowning, he went to the bar.
The bartender, a stocky woman with short dark hair, turned. "Oui?"
Crap. He'd studied Russian in his youth, in defiance of logic, what with Quebec being next door, and ever since had wished he'd studied French instead. Maybe it would have kept him from buying a Russian submarine. But he wasn't going to get into that vicious thought circle now. He had work to do. He put on what he hoped was an ingratiating smile.
"I'm looking for a man," he tried, hoping the barkeep was bilingual.
She chuckled. "You and me both," she said in accented English. "Any particular man?"
He grinned at her joke. "About my height, blond, English accent, no coat."
"Ah. Him. Oui, he was here. Two pints of Guinness. Good tipper. But he left."
Did he say where he was going?"
She shook her head. "Non. Sorry. I was busy, didn't see him go."
Gus wanted to swear, but didn't. He thought for a moment, trying to come up with a plan. "Look," he said finally. "If he comes back, tell him I'm waiting for him back at my friend's place, all right? And tell him to take a cab, it's cold out."
She nodded. "Certainment."
He took one last look around, tried the men's room just to be sure, and then went back to the car. He was about to get in when a thought occurred to him, and he went around to the back of the car to open the trunk. The duffel and the satchel were both still there. He sighed, relieved again. If Ollie'd taken off, he might have left the damned bearer bonds, but he'd have taken the duffel. He wanted to pay his crew. All right. That meant he was planning to come back. He closed the trunk and headed back to Noelle's.
Her house was dark now, and a knock at the door brought no response. He smiled a little. She'd gone out. Apparently she didn't plan to waste any time looking for someone else. Ah well. It was cold, but not miserably so. He'd just wait in the car, run the heater now and then. Ollie'd be back. He got back in the car, adjusted the seat all the way back and stretched out a little with a sigh, thinking. Ollie and Noelle. Night and day. Though, come to think of it, they were kind of built alike. . . both tall and thinnish, and Noelle was pretty flat-chested. In fact, reviewing his past girlfriends, he shook his head, smiling. Maybe he wasn't quite as bisexual as he'd always thought.
Still, in every other way, they were opposites. Where Noelle was clingy, Ollie was self-sufficient. Where she was pessimistic, he was optimistic; where she was unhelpful, he was. . . once again it hit him that Ollie had been more help in three days than anyone else has been in years. Ollie was smart, shrewd, reliable, had a core strength that had nothing to do with muscle mass and everything to do with self-assurance. Noelle didn't have that, and she'd relied on him to supply it. It would be very easy to get used to having Ollie around. Not that that was going to happen. Jesus. Now who was being clingy? Scowling, he settled into his seat, ducked his head so the street light didn't shine in his eyes, and waited.
A sudden flare of light brought him awake with an adrenalin rush, and he straightened, seeing someone leaning into the passenger side back seat, picking up Ollie's bag.
"Hey!" he said, unable to think coherently enough to manage anything more.
The other man jumped, tried to straighten, hit his head on the door, and swore. "Fuckin'. . . what the hell? Gus?"
Gus' heart started to slow a little. "Ollie?"
"Jesus Christ, you scared the piss out of me! What are you doing out here?"
"Well, we're even then, you scared the crap out of me. And I was waiting for you."
"Why out here? It's freezing!"
"I noticed," Gus said, rolling his sore shoulders and flexing stiff fingers. "I went to find you, couldn't, and figured I'd just come back here to wait for you, but by then Noelle had gone out."
Ollie blinked. "Out? Last I saw she looked like she was settling in for the night with you."
"Well, if you'd stuck around for longer than thirty seconds, you'd have known that I wasn't interested. Why the hell did you take off like that?"
Ollie snorted. "When a lady tells you to fuck off, it's polite to do so."
"When a lady does what?" Gus demanded, shocked.
"You heard me. Can't get much plainer than that."
"I'm sure you must've misunderstood her."
"Gus, I just spent six months working in the sewers of Paris. Believe me, I know how to say screw off in French."
"I don't know what to say. I had no idea. . . ."
Ollie grinned. "Yeah, got that. Mr. I-Only-Speak-Russian. Hang on, let me get rid of my taxi here."
He backed out of the car and went to the cab waiting a few feet behind the car. A few moments he was back, putting a big handled shopping bag into the seat next to his athletic bag, then closing the back door and settling into the front seat. "Come on, I got a motel room, let's go there, it's warmer."
Gus stared at him, trying to figure out what was different. Then it hit him. Coat. Hat. Gloves. "You went shopping?"
"Aye. Happen I was tired of freezing my arse off."
"Good idea. You got a room?"
"You always this dense when you first wake up? Yeah, I got a room. Thought you'd be. . . busy. So I got a room."
Gus frowned, a little offended that Ollie would think he'd be that rude. "Why?"
Ollie looked puzzled. "You said you swing both ways."
"I do, but not simultaneously. . . at least not without the consent of both partners. Noelle and I split up a long time ago."
"Sorry, didn't look very split up to me. Come on, start the car. It's cold."
Gus started the car, then turned to stare at him again. "It doesn't speak very highly of your assessment of my character that you think I'd do that."
Ollie frowned at him. "What?"
"You really think I'd dump you, alone, in the middle of a strange city, just so I could screw an old girlfriend?"
Ollie looked confused, almost lost. "Well. . . aye."
Gus was starting to get angry. "Really? Would you?"
"I . . . don't know. Haven't got any old girlfriends, or boyfriends, so it's a moot point."
"You haven't. . . give me a break, Ollie. You know exactly what you're doing. You're not a virgin."
"Of course not," Ollie said disdainfully. "But fucking isn't the same as having a . . . ." He paused, and that lost look flickered over his face again. "It's not the same," he finally repeated, a little uncertainly.
It took Gus a moment to realize what Ollie was really saying. He frowned. "Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask, happen I'll answer," Ollie said warily.
"What's the longest relationship you've ever had?"
Ollie thought for a moment. "A fortnight."
Gus wasn't sure how he managed not to stare in gape-mouthed astonishment. Years of being a priest stood him in good stead, helping him maintain an unruffled demeanor. "I see."
"What does that mean, 'I see'?"
"It means I shouldn't be pissed at you for assuming that I'm like everyone else you've slept with."
Ollie's eyes narrowed. "Don't do that."
"You're feeling sorry for me. Don't."
Damn. It was like Ollie could read his mind. "I'm not," he lied. "I just think there've been a lot of really stupid people in your life. So where's this motel?" he asked, changing the subject abruptly.
Ollie frowned a little, clearly not sure what to make of Gus' comment, then shrugged. "Turn right out of the parking lot and go straight for about three miles. The taxi driver recommended it."
Gus chuckled. "He probably gets a kickback."
"Maybe, but it's all right. Pretty classy."
"Yeah, in this area, I believe it." He pulled out and started down the road. "You've moved around a lot, haven't you?"
"Aye. I go where the work is."
"Do you ever want to stop moving?"
Ollie sighed and poked his finger at a fogged-up spot on his window. "Happen so."
Gus switched on the defroster. "Why haven't you, then?"
"No reason to stay anywhere. No family."
"There are other reasons to stay in one place."
"Never ran across any of them," Ollie said with a shrug. "I found out a long time ago that thinking about what I haven't got only makes it seem worse, so I've learned to just be happy with whatever I've got."
Gus was silent for a moment, contemplating that, then he smiled slowly. "You know, Oliver, there's something very profound about that."
"Profound or not, it's practical." Ollie said succinctly. "See, I forgot that when I took the job for Bentley. If I'd remembered, I wouldn't be in this mess." He paused a moment, then shot Gus an apologetic look. "Not that you're a mess."
Gus laughed. "No, you're absolutely right. I am a mess. And I'm sorry I subjected you to Noelle. Did she really tell you to fuck off?"
"Pretty much. She told me to go screw myself. Didn't expect me to understand her."
"And what did you say?"
"Told her no thanks, I'd rather screw you."
Gus chortled. "You did? Jesus! No wonder!"
"No wonder what?"
"Just before I left she told me to be careful, that she didn't trust you, thought you were after my ass."
Ollie grinned. "She's right."
"Thankfully. But I couldn't figure out how she knew that. Now I know."
"Sorry, I should've been more careful."
Gus shook his head. "No, she got what she deserved. And it just makes me even more glad I turned her down, so thanks."
"You're an odd one, Gus Knickel."
"So I am," he agreed complacently
He drove in silence for a few minutes. The lights were with them, and they covered the distance quickly. Gus nodded toward the first sign for accommodations that he came to.
"That the motel?"
"Aye. The room's on the third floor." He paused, looked at Gus, and grinned. "In the front."
Gus grinned back. "Not worried about neighbors?"
"Nah, got some spare socks if you get noisy."
"Me? I wasn't the one making all the noise."
"No, just half of it," Ollie shot back as Gus pulled into a place and parked, then looked at Ollie.
"Want to see just how quiet we can be?"
Ollie's gaze warmed. "Happen so."
Gus leaned across and kissed him, then pulled back. "Come on then, what are we waiting for?"
Ollie licked his lips and nodded, then unfastened his seat belt and opened his door. Gus was seconds behind him, retrieving his bag from the back, watching Ollie get his own bags. As they walked through the lobby to the elevator, he nodded curiously at the paper sack. "What'd you get?"
"Clothes. Needed a few things."
"Extra socks?" Gus asked, smirking.
Ollie grinned. "Aye."
As the elevator doors closed behind them, Gus was tempted to kiss him again, but refrained. He was wearing his collar, and he was in public, and those two things combined demanded a certain level of circumspection. The urge was strong, though. Oddly, he kept thinking about the nonchalant way Ollie had said 'a fortnight' when Gus had asked him about the length of his previous relationships. God. Even Gus had done better than that. Sure he'd had his share of one night stands, but he'd also had several reasonably long-term relationships. Certainly longer than two weeks.
Why would Ollie, who was smart, attractive, and extremely charismatic, not have had the same experiences? That puzzled him. It made him want. . . things he shouldn't want. He didn't have the time or energy to spare for a relationship, he had too much to do. And Ollie would be going his own way soon enough. They were a long day's drive from home, two if he could manage to stretch it out some. He was beginning to really dread getting home, for more reasons than he had already had. So, using Ollie's extremely practical philosophy, he should make the most of what time he had.
The elevator opened on their floor, and Ollie led the way to their room. It was a generic motel room, a small foyer with a bathroom on the left, and a closet, a bureau, a television, a table, and a bed. The low-wattage light in the foyer area lit the whole with a yellow-tinted glow. As soon as the door closed behind them, Gus dropped his bag and pushed Ollie up against the wall, taking his mouth in a kiss that was almost fierce. Ollie resisted for a moment, clearly startled, then he relaxed and returned the kiss. His bags smacked Gus in the backs of his thighs as Ollie tried to embrace him, then there were two soft thumps as he dropped the bags and tightened his arms around Gus. His mouth was hot, his lips slightly rough, chapped a little from the cold and dry air.
When they finally parted, they were both breathing hard, and a small bead of red welled on Ollie's lower lip, which he rubbed away with his thumb. Chagrined at his own roughness, Gus started to apologize, only to have Ollie shake his head and put a finger to his lips. Gus was confused for a moment, but Ollie looked amused, and lifted his eyebrows, clearly willing him to remember, and finally he did. Right. The challenge. Quiet. He hadn't meant they couldn't talk at all, but it would be interesting to try. Communication without words. He thought he could do that.
He moved his hands up the front of Ollie's coat, opening buttons, then pushing it off his shoulders to fall onto the floor. Ollie smiled, and did the same for him, went him one better by tugging Gus' sweater up and off once his coat was gone. Gus reciprocated, and in moments they'd managed to strip one another with ruthless efficiency. Gus snagged his overnight bag and dropped it next to the bed as Ollie yanked the covers back and they fell onto the bed together.
Gus let himself go, touching, stroking, kissing. All that wiry strength under his hands felt so damned good, so right. Ollie's hands were all over him, too, but he hardly felt them, he was so intent on burning the moment into his senses. A strange urgency suffused the quiet gasps and sighs that were the only sounds they allowed themselves. He groped beside the bed, unzipped his bag, and found the lube on top of his clothes where he'd left it, anticipating future need. Holding the cap in his teeth he unscrewed the tube and with his other hand prompted Ollie onto his stomach. He went, willingly, pillowing his head on his arms, spreading his thighs, and that open trust shook Gus, especially knowing how new this was to him.
The first finger in went easy, the second provoked a gasp, and Gus hesitated until Ollie pushed back against his fingers, setting a clear rhythm. Gus leaned down to kiss and lick the faint scars that latticed his back, letting his fingers follow the cadence Ollie had given him until Ollie was rocking against the bed, and panting, and he couldn't stand the separation a moment longer. Moving into place, he slid home in a long, smooth push that wrenched an actual moan from both of them, despite their resolve.
Gus wondered briefly, in an instant of too-coherent thought, if Ollie felt the same strange urgency he did, if this had gone from having sex to lovemaking. It had for him, he knew it. He tried not to know it, pushed the knowledge aside and buried himself in sensation, hilted in the tight clasp of Ollie's body, taking him with raw, primal thrusts. It was too much, too perfect. He was on the edge, so close, too close, and then he was over, pumping out his pleasure into Ollie's body, far too soon. It was nearly impossible to stay silent, but somehow he did, shuddering with the intensity of it.
When he could think again, he was instantly aware of the unresolved tension in the body beneath his own. He felt heat burn in his face. No. Damn it. He started to ease out, and Ollie reached back to try to keep him there. He kissed the back of Ollie's neck and rubbed his nose against his shoulder as he lifted his hand away and finished disengaging, then instantly slid his fingers into Ollie in place of his cock, three this time, an effortless push now, in the slick heat. Ollie shivered, and Gus pulled him up a little so he could work a hand beneath him and cup the hard length of his cock, then began again, remembering the rhythm Ollie needed, each push he made into his body echoed by a squeeze of his hand. After that, it took only moments before Ollie tensed, shuddered, a tiny, inarticulate noise trapped in his throat, and then Gus' hand filled with slick heat, and he felt the pulsing inside Ollie as he came.
Easing his fingers free, Gus rolled them onto their sides and wrapped his arms around Ollie, pulling him close. Ollie put his hands over Gus' and squeezed lightly, then sighed and yawned. Unable to resist that contagion, Gus yawned back, then chuckled a little. He thought about going to turn out the light, and get a wash cloth, then Ollie made a little murmur, nothing intelligible but clearly contented, and Gus abandoned both ideas and fumbled for the covers, dragging them up over them both, closing his eyes.
* * *
Ollie watched Gus covertly, stealing glances now and then as they waited on queue to board the ferry. Though last night had been, without a doubt, the best night of his life, today had come close to being one of the worst days. They'd started arguing, mildly, while eating the free 'continental breakfast' at the motel (which, in America, he discovered, meant gooey pastries and coffee), and they'd been snarling at each other off and on for most of the day. Ollie wanted Gus to take the money. Gus wouldn't. Gus was a stubborn son of a bitch. Ollie was too.
He'd also discovered that Gus had a sharp side to his tongue that Ollie hadn't had to deal with before, and it had taken him aback, though he thought he'd given as good as he'd gotten. They'd settled into a sullen silence, listening to whatever cassette came to Gus' hand each time the last one finished, so the quiet wouldn't be so noticeable. Finally it was their turn to drive aboard the ferry, and from the way Gus spoke to the man boarding them, it was clear they knew one another. The man looked curiously at Ollie in the driver's seat. Gus didn't introduce him. That bothered Ollie more than he wanted to admit. Once the car was aboard, Ollie set the brake and turned off the engine as Gus looked at him for the first time in a while.
"I'm going to go talk to Davey. I need to check on something."
Ollie nodded. "I'm going to go have a fag," he said. Gus had said he'd quit smoking years ago, so Ollie'd tried to be good and not smoke in the car, but sometimes the craving got bad, like now, and he'd go find somewhere else to indulge his vice. They both got out of the car and walked in opposite directions. Ollie stood at the bow, watching the water, smoking, and thinking.
Finally he looked back at the car. No Gus yet. He looked to where he'd thought Gus would be, and didn't see him. He kept looking, and eventually spotted him up in the wheelhouse, talking animatedly with someone there. It hit him suddenly, that Gus had said the population of the island was something like six-thousand. He likely knew every last one of them by name, and they all knew him. He was their mayor, their minister, their head of fucking state. Their. . . fucking head of state. No, they weren't going to take kindly to Ollie's presence. Gus bringing home a piece of tail might have gone over all right if said piece was female, but . . . he wasn't. And he wasn't stupid enough to think they'd be fine with the idea of Gus taking up with a man. He was as sure of that as he was sure the sun would rise tomorrow. And he liked Gus too damned much to do that to him.
He glanced up at the wheelhouse again. Two more people had joined him there, and Gus was smiling, laughing, talking. Ollie took one last drag on his cigarette and stubbed out the butt in a bucket of sand already littered with similar detritus, then he walked back to the car and got his kit out of the back seat, then unlocked the trunk. Checking the wheelhouse for any sign that Gus might be watching, he pulled out the big duffel, closed the trunk, then went back to the front and tucked the keys up in the sun visor. Picking up his bags, he walked back to where the last car was coming on, nodded pleasantly at the man minding the process, and stood for a moment at the start of the ramp that led onto the dock. He almost looked back one last time, but shook his head and walked down the ramp.
A query at the ferry office garnered him the location of the local bus station and the use of the telephone to call a taxi to take him there. As he waited for the car to arrive, the ferry blew three blasts on its airhorn, and he watched out the window as it left the dock on its way to Solomon Gundy. He closed his eyes briefly, and hoped Gus wouldn't be too angry, would use the money, and . . . remember him. That was quickly followed by a savage inner sneer about how ridiculous he was being. He could feel the middle-aged woman behind the counter watching him, and decided to wait outside. He'd have another cigarette and use the time to think about where he should go.
The wind on the quay was cold and damp, and he set down his bags so he could turn up his collar and get a cigarette out. He lit it, shook out the match, sucked in a lungful of smoke, and looked up to find someone leaning against the dock railing directly across from him, hands shoved into his coat pockets, shoulders hunched a bit against the cold, watching him as the wind blew his dark, curly, gray-streaked hair into a wild mess.
"Fuck." He dropped the cigarette.
Gus smiled. "Love to."
Ollie looked at the ferry, well on its way, then back at Gus. "You're supposed to be on the boat. They're going to be right steamed when they can't get your car off at the other side."
"I gave Davey the keys, he'll drive it off and park it," Gus said, studying him thoughtfully. His gaze dropped momentarily, cataloguing Ollie's possessions, then lifted. "You left the bonds in the car."
Ollie flushed, nodded, and looked away from those shrewd blue-gray eyes. "Aye. Meant you to have them."
Gus was silent for some time. Finally he spoke again. "Why?"
He scowled, looked up again. "We've been through this forty times at least, Gus. You know why."
Gus shook his head. "Not why did you leave the bonds. I know that. Why did you leave?"
There was a slight huskiness in his voice, and a raw vulnerability in his eyes that hurt to look at. Ollie scrubbed his fingers through his hair, thought about lying, but as usual with Gus, couldn't bring himself to. "I didn't want to be a liability," he admitted finally.
Gus blinked. "You what? What the hell does that mean? How would you be a liability?"
"Jesus, Gus. I'm on the lam from the law, and I'm a poof, and we're fucking. What more do you need? Your people find out any of those things, let alone all of them, and you're going to have a hell of a time digging out from that mess. And they will figure it out. About us, anyway. You said yourself it's a small place, and people in small places know everyone else's business. They'll run you off the island."
Gus stared at him, and started to shake his head, then he started laughing.
Ollie scowled. "What's funny?" he demanded irritably.
Still chuckling, Gus shook his head. "I'm not laughing at you, honestly. It's just. . . you have no idea how these people are. Jesus, I can't begin to tell you the lengths I've gone to trying to get them to kick me out once and for all, starting when I was a teenager. I set the library on fire once. I lost my virginity at seventeen to a guy from New York, an artist who came to the island to paint. I've gone through every vice you can name, alcohol, tobacco, women, men, gambling. . . all of them. And they've known about all of it, because as you say, people in small places know everyone else's business. And of course, some people were scandalized, but for the most part, they've just shaken their heads and coped. If they were going to toss me out on my ear they'd have done it long since. I finally just gave up trying. I'm afraid we're a pretty co-dependent lot."
Ollie studied him, trying to decide if Gus was spinning a yarn or not. If he was, he was damned good at it. He flashed again on their conversation by the lake in Nebraska. Fanciful or not, the idea of sacred kingship seemed to fit the situation. A king, no matter what he did, was still a king. However, there was a flaw in Gus' theory that was patently obvious to him. "Aye, that's as may be, but there's a big gap between what people will forgive in a seventeen-year-old, and what they'll forgive that same man twenty years down the road."
Gus took his hands out of his pockets and pushed away from the railing, moving to stand next to Ollie, uncomfortably close. In his experience people only got this close if they were going to hit you, or . . . kiss you.
"Is that right?" Gus asked, still seeming amused. "Really?"
"From what I've seen," Ollie said, not sure what he was getting at.
Gus smiled, a predatory smile unlike anything Ollie had yet seen on his face, and he leaned forward, taking Ollie's face between his palms, and planting a kiss on him. Ollie resisted at first, shocked, but Gus's hands dropped to his back, holding him close, and that sleek tongue sought out his, and everything else stopped mattering, everything but that mouth, those hands, the fact that Gus didn't seem to be mad at him, in fact, seemed to still want him. He kissed back, licking, sucking, hands sliding down Gus' back to cup his ass through the heavy wool of his coat, trying to feel him.
A bell jingled discordantly, and someone cleared their throat. Someone female. Ollie froze, mid-kiss.
"For pity's sake, Augustus Knickel, take it around the corner, you're blocking the door," the woman from inside the ferry office said tartly. "And your cab's coming up the quay, whoever you are."
Gus pulled back fractionally. "All right, Margery. Sorry."
The bell jangled again as she went back inside. Ollie stared at Gus, who was still so close he was mostly just a blur, in amazement. Gus pulled back a bit more, enough that Ollie could see him looking annoyingly smug.
"Margery's originally from the island, and she's known me since before I was born. Now, what was that you were saying?"
"I. . . ah . . . ." It took him a good fifteen seconds to remember. And he realized that Gus had just ably demonstrated the error of his assumption. "But I'm a criminal," he protested weakly.
"So am I. So's Sil. And Bunsy, and Meg, and Dougal, and Zeda, and pretty much everyone on the island when you get right down to it."
Ollie blinked, trying to process that, knowing there was a flaw there somewhere. Yes. That was it. "If you're a criminal why won't you take the money?"
Gus frowned. "That's not relevant."
"It sodding well is relevant."
Gus sighed and pushed away, looking at the cab waiting just a few yards away. "You going to take that?"
"I haven't decided yet. Tell me why you won't do it. Tell me a reason that makes sense."
"It's not mine."
"Nor was the island."
"That's . . . "
"Different?" Ollie asked, feeling a grin that was more a snarl twist his mouth. "How?"
"It's the principle involved."
"Fuck principle, Gus. You need it."
"Noelle told me what I need is a miracle, and she was right. Hell, lately I've even resorted to praying."
Ollie sighed in frustration and paced a bit, finally rounding on Gus once more. "You know, I heard a joke once, about a man who was stranded on his roof in a flood, and he was sure that God would save him . . . ." Ollie began.
"I'm familiar with it," Gus interrupted. "Believe me, I heard pretty much every clerical joke in existence over the last week or so. Tell me if this is the one-- the man's neighbor comes by in the rowboat, and the man tells him to go on, that he has faith that God will save him. Then the police come by in a power boat, and he waves them on, saying God will save him, and finally the army shows up in a helicopter and he refuses to go, saying God will save him. . . and finally the water rises too high and sweeps him away and he drowns. When he gets to heaven he asks God why he didn't save him, and God says 'I sent a rowboat, and a power boat, and a helicopter, what more did you want?'"
Ollie chuckled. "Aye, that's the one." He put his hand on Gus' shoulder and rubbed gently. "Happen that money's your rowboat, your power boat, or your helicopter?"
Gus opened his mouth, clearly about to protest, then he closed it again. He looked at the taxi, then back at Ollie. "Don't go."
"I have to go, unless you can give me a reason not to. I won't stay here and fight with you, Gus. I'm no expert, but even I know that's fucked up."
Gus sighed, ran his hands through his hair, and looked back at Ollie. "Yeah. I don't want to fight with you, Ollie, but you know, I don't think the money's my helicopter. I think you are. I . . . need you."
Ollie snorted. "Aye, you need me like you need a good swift kick in the pants."
"I need that, too. Damn it, Oliver, I'm serious here. I need you. Please."
"You need me?" Ollie asked combatively. "What for? Because I don't see it."
"I need you because you don't need me," Gus said after a moment, staring bleakly off across the water. "I know that's crazy. It's stupid. But it's true. And I need you because you're a doer, and you think of things like eminent domain, and offshore banking and software companies and built-in firewalls. And because you're honest with me, and you don't let me get away with crap, and I . . . like you. I like you a lot. And you're amazing in bed. Is that enough reasons?"
Ollie stared at him, struck speechless, until the taxi honked impatiently, breaking the tension of the moment. He sighed. "You're daft, you know that, don't you?"
Gus nodded solemnly. "It's more than likely."
Ollie shook his head. "Hang on." He walked to the taxi, digging in his pocket for money, and came out with a handful of twenties. He knew he didn't dare go dig in the duffel for something smaller, so he motioned for the driver to roll down his window and held one out. "Here. Give me ten minutes, all right? I need to settle sommat."
The driver looked at the American twenty-dollar bill in his hand and grinned. "Hell, for this you can have half an hour at least. Take your time."
Ollie nodded and returned to stand next to Gus, who had resumed his place at the railing, staring out at the gray, whitecapped expanse of the strait. He looked relaxed and contemplative until Ollie noted the tension in his hands on the railing, his knuckles almost white.
"That's a lot, what you said," he ventured carefully.
Gus flinched. "Jesus, I sounded like a damned three-year-old. Me-me-I-I-I. I'm sorry. I'm not usually . . ."
Ollie shook his head impatiently "Shut it, Knickel. I think you're allowed to be selfish now and then. I've spent most of my life doing it, you seem to have spent most of yours trying not to be. But I'm not entirely sure what you're asking, or offering. Could be a job. Could be friendship. Could be sex."
Gus looked at him, his gaze clear and candid. "Could be all of that."
Well. That was . . . unexpected. Uncertain what to say, Ollie cleared his throat, and sidestepped. "We've still got a shitload of problems to work out. For instance, the money."
Gus sighed. "You're right, we can't get anywhere without resolving that first. I don't want to use it, you know I don't. But you have a point . . . it is, forgive the word, a godsend. Can we . . . use it as an emergency backup plan? Try everything else first, and if we haven't needed it by this time next year, we give it all back, right?"
"Hang on, next year? You're thinking pretty far ahead there."
"Yes. When this whole thing started, I wasn't thinking any further ahead than a few days. That was a real problem. So, I'm learning to make long-term plans."
Long term plans? Christ. Long term plans. His stomach knotted and he looked at Gus, frowning. "I don't know that I can do that."
Gus nodded. "I understand that. I'm just letting you know that the opportunity . . . exists. I don't want to pressure you."
Ollie snorted at that and Gus smiled wryly.
"All right, yes, I do. But I won't. I'm going to go up the quay to the sandwich shop and get something warm while I wait for the next ferry. If you want to join me, I'd like that. If you want to come to the island, I'd like that too. You can decide not to decide now, and come back in a week, a month, a year. You can get in that taxi and never look back. But it's your call and you need to make it without me standing here watching you. Decisions made under duress are too easily regretted."
He put out his hand and Ollie automatically reached out to clasp it. Gus closed both of his hands around Ollie's. "If I don't see you again, take care," he said, and turned, walking away. After half a dozen steps he turned. "Don't sign up for any more shady deals, okay?" he called back.
Ollie smiled, and nodded. "I won't. Learned my lesson."
Gus smiled back, turned, and kept walking this time. Ollie took a hesitant step toward the taxi, stopped, looked out at the gray sky and gray sea to the east. He shivered. Picking up his bags he walked over to the passenger side of the taxi and put his hand on the rear door latch, was actually lifting it up when a pair of gulls battling over some choice piece of trash drew his gaze up the quay, and he knew, suddenly, what his decision had to be. He stepped back and rapped on the window. The driver rolled it down.
"Ta, mate, don't need a ride after all. Thanks for waiting."
Ollie nodded. "I'm sure."
"You only used half your time, you want change?"
"No, keep it. It was worth it to have the option."
"Thanks then. Have a good one," the driver said, without specifying one what.
Three minutes later Ollie was stepping out of the light rain that had begun to fall and into a small, warm room that smelled of chicken soup, chili, and bread. He spotted Gus sitting at the counter, his back to the door, hands wrapped around a steaming mug of something. For a few seconds he stood in the doorway, nearly frozen in place. He recognized the sensation, he'd felt it before, but rarely without a police escort. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and went to the counter, leaning the large duffel against the counter on the left of the stool next to Gus, and wedging the small bag between their stools before finally sitting down. Gus looked down, looked up, and the smile that lit his face hit Ollie in a way that told him he'd made the right decision. At least for the moment. Neither of them spoke for some time, they just grinned at each other daftly, until the counterman cleared his throat.
"You want something?"
"Tea, please," Ollie said without looking at him, finding his voice. "So, do I have to meet Zeda?" Ollie asked, trying to lighten the silence straining between them.
Gus blinked, looking puzzled. "I'm afraid so. Why?"
"Never met anyone's sort-of-mum before. Scares the bollocks off me."
"Jesus, I hope not!" Gus said, appalled. "Maybe you could just think of her as the Minister of the Interior instead?"
Ollie laughed. "Oh aye, that'll help," he said, deadpan.
"You should have bought that suit like I told you to."
Ollie cleared his throat and nudged his travel bag with a toe. "I. . . ah . . . ."
"You didn't," Gus said, sounding amused as the counterman set a mug of tea down in front of Ollie.
"Aye. In Montreal, same place I got the coat. Saw it, and thought of what you said. It'll be a bit wrinkled, though, had to sort of stuff it in there." He picked up the sugar dispenser and dumped some into the dark liquid, then stole the half-glass of milk from next to Gus' cup and added some of that to his own drink.
"I have an iron. I think. Somewhere. Or maybe that was Noelle's. Maybe we should buy one just to be sure."
"We'll do that right after I declare eminent domain and slash our debt burden by about seventy-percent."
"And you can start looking for companies to invite out to visit, as Minister of Economic Development."
"Actually, saw an article in the paper the other day about eco-tourism. Thought that might be right up your alley. The economy would get a shot from resort construction first, then from the tourists later."
"The hell with this Minister of Economic Development stuff, I'm just going to resign and let you run the country."
Ollie looked at him and shook his head. "You can't do that, you're the king. I'm just the knight-errant. You just have to remember that you had the sacrifice, now you need to let yourself heal."
Gus closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then opened them again. "I think . . . I might just be getting there."
Ollie smiled. "Right then. What's next on the agenda?"
Gus leaned a little closer and dropped his voice to a level barely discernible over the noise of something frying on the grill. "Before or after we get to the part with the old quilt and the kerosene lamp and the taste of sea-salt on your skin?"
Ollie choked on his tea, and had to wipe his coat and the counter with a handful of napkins from the tin dispenser. He knew his face was bright red, but he was determined not to let Gus get the best of him. "I suppose that during would be beyond the pale . . . ." he said with studied nonchalance.
"Is that another economic development scheme?" Gus asked, equally deadpan. "Pay-per-view cabinet meetings?"
"It's a thought," Ollie said musingly. "Though from what you've said, I'm not sure the Minister of the Interior would really be up for it."
Gus' eyes went wide, then he started to laugh. No, really, to giggle, there was no other word for it. He laughed until he was crying, wiping his eyes on the tea-stained napkins Ollie had used to mop his spill. He finally got himself under control by gulping several swallows of hot tea in a way that made Ollie wince, and drew a deep, shuddering breath.
"All right, what do I have to do to make you promise to never, ever, mention that to Zeda?"
Ollie grinned. There it was. His opening. "Take the fucking bearer bonds and use them, Robin."
Gus frowned. "Rob . . . oh. So, that would make you. . . Will Scarlett? Because you're for damned sure not Little John," he joked, then his smile faded and he studied Ollie solemnly for a moment, then finally he nodded. "All right. Like I said, let's try to do it without using them first, but if we really, honestly need them, we'll use them. I promise. No dramatics, no angst. You have my word on it, will that do?"
He put out his hand and Ollie took it. Gus' grip warm and firm, and familiar. "Aye. It'll do."
* * * Finis * * *
1William Shakespeare; Hamlet, scene v. act i.
2Sir John Harington, Epigrams, bk. iv, No. 5. Of Treason.