Bad Beer

by Sandi

He turns his head away as Luke moves around the bed, heading for the door. He can't look, not this time. This last time.

"See ya, Sarge..." False brightness in the words. More lies. Craig knows in his heart that he will never see Luke again.

There is no strength in him to answer, every nerve on fire, every bone aching, and so he stays as he is, staring at the window and the rich, deep blue of a winter sky.

The door closes. Gina remains. No, not 'Gina'. Not anymore. Not after what she has done.

"Why did you make me lie?" he asks. Now he can look at her and, just for a fleeting moment, he sees the flicker of regret in her eyes. Then it's gone, and she's looking back at him, cold, hard. Determined.

"They're married," she reminds him. "She's pregnant."

It's every reason in the world, and no reason at all.

He would laugh at her, if his ribs didn't hurt so much, and so he says instead "I reckon you just crossed the line." She blinks, a little of the colour draining from her face. He has her on the ropes now, and presses his advantage. She has hurt him, more than she will ever know. He's about due for a little payback. "I'm glad I won't be around to see this blow up in Kerry's face."

She says nothing - what is there to say? She knows, deep down, that he's right.

The last sound he hears, before he slips into oblivion, is the snick of the door latch as she leaves....


He came awake slowly, wondering how to reach the little man that was pounding away with a sledgehammer deep inside his head. This... was not good. Not good at all... His mouth felt like the bottom of a budgie cage - before they changed the sand sheet - and he was convinced someone had been rolling his eyeballs in the dust. As for the ache in his shoulder from sleeping with one arm pinned above his head, and the crick in his neck, and...

He gave up charting his battle scars and attempted, warily, to open his eyes. Not the best of ideas, under the circumstances, but he had things to do. There was somewhere he had to be...

The light in the room was not particularly bright, but it was enough to hurt his eyes and wrench a groan of protest from his lips. Maybe if he went back to sleep for a little while...

Something cool and wet touched his forehead, moved on to stroke across his cheeks - left first, then the right - then over the bridge of his nose and across his lips. It felt - wonderful, and he grunted in frustration as the sensation left him; sigh with relief as it returned once more, bolder strokes this time, retracing the route and extending it down his neck, making him shiver.

Somewhere, very far away, somebody laughed.

He tried again to open his eyes and this time, he succeeded, blinking away the protective tears that welled suddenly, struggling to focus. Then he was blinking again, trying in vain to make the image disappear. Trying to force himself awake and end the dream.

"Welcome back..." Luke's voice was low, gentle, with just a hint of a laugh hidden in it.


"I was starting to get worried. For a moment I thought you were..."

"Well, I'm not," Craig said hurriedly, fear rushing through him. Hadn't they done this already? He turned his head away - too quickly - and his stomach rolled.

"Easy... easy... " Luke soothed. Water splashed against metal and the blissful coolness returned once more, pressing against his forehead. It felt so good that Craig could not help but move towards it, welcoming the relief. Everywhere else it felt as if his skin was on fire, but his forehead was cool, and that felt - good. So good.

Lacking the strength to resist, he lay still and let Luke take care of him. This may be a dream, or a drug-induced hallucination, but he was prepared to go with it.

"Guess I'm not in Kansas anymore," he quipped, preferring the illusion of tasteful furnishings and a comfortable bed to the stark antiseptic reality of the hospital room.

"Kansas?" Luke sounded puzzled. Craig decided to save the explanations for another day.

"Doesn't matter. What... What're you doing here?"

"Taking care of you."

Craig liked the sound of that, even if it was only a dream.

"The doc wanted to send you to St Hugh's, but I managed to convince him you'd be better off here than laying around on a trolley in A&E. He promised to come back later to check up on you. He said the best thing was to let you sleep." He removed the cloth as he spoke and refreshed it in a bowl of water on the night stand before returning it to Craig's forehead. "I spoke to someone in reception, explained you were ill. They're letting us keep the room another night, so you can just relax and let 'Nurse Ashton' take care of you."

"Sounds... nice," Craig told him, but there was something nagging at the back of his mind, that told him Luke should be somewhere else. With someone else. Gina had arranged it. Luke was not supposed to be with him, he should be off playing happy families with... No, not quite. Not yet.

It was starting to come back to him. This was not the dream - this was the reality. The other, the beating, the hospital, the confrontation with Kerry... that had been the dream. He wasn't in hospital, he was in a hotel room. Luke's hotel room. Last night had been Luke's stag night, which meant...

"What the hell's going on, Luke?" he demanded, struggling to sit up. Luke, no longer smiling that delicious smile, pushed on his shoulders to keep him down.

"You're meant to be resting, Craig..."

"Not until you tell --" The wave of nausea caught him unawares. Halfway between sitting and lying, he clamped a hand to his mouth and threw Luke a wide-eyed, 'Oh-my-god' look of appeal as he felt his stomach muscles begin to contract and his mouth fill with bile.

Somehow, Luke was ready for him, holding the bowl for him as he retched, moving his free hand in slow circles over Craig's shoulders and murmuring words of comfort. It was embarrassing, yet at the same time it felt so good to have Luke hold him. He would give anything, even this indignity, to have Luke hold him like that for the rest of their days.

When it was over, and the dry heaves had settled down to mild muscular spasms, Luke plumped up the pillows and helped him to lean back, then he took the bowl away to empty and rinse, returned with a glass of water and a towel. Craig watched it all, frowning as he tried to unravel the mystery of Luke presence. He should be off celebrating, dancing with his bride and being congratulated by his friends - not here, taking care of a sad old queen with a hangover. But here he was, and Craig could not help but be grateful for that, given the way he was feeling. The last time his stomach had hurt this much was after Carl had brought home a curry from a take away that the Public Health people had closed down two days later.

Once Craig had been made comfortable again, his face wiped and mouth rinsed, and the sheets had been smoothed and tucked around him, Luke crossed the room, eased back the heavy drapes and opened the window, letting in a stream of cool, refreshing air. Until he felt the crisp breeze on his face, Craig had not realised how sour and stifling the air in the room had become.

"If I promise not to throw up again, will you tell me what's happening?" he asked softly.

Luke smiled - a little sadly, Craig thought - and came to sit on the side of the bed, taking Craig's hand in his. "How much do you remember about last night?"

"Not much," Craig admitted, "and what I do remember seems to be mixed up with some really strange dreams..."

"That'll be the beer."

"I didn't drink enough to have a hangover."

"True," Luke nodded, "but apparently the keg you were drinking from was bad. Matt Boyden spent the night in hospital, along with about a dozen others from the same pub. They're doing some tests to find out if it was just 'off', or if someone's been tampering with it."

"Great." So that accounted for the sickness and probably the headache. "But, I still don't understand what you're doing here. Last time I checked, you were meant to be getting married this morning"

Luke blushed, his gaze slipping away from Craig's, the way it always did when they touched on something he was not comfortable with. "I told you - I'm taking care of you. Isn't that what you're meant to do for someone you - love."

Had Craig not been tucked up in bed, he was sure his jaw would have hit the floor at the shy declaration. Instead, all he could do was stare, and stare... and whisper softly "What?"

Luke gave a little laugh, that fell short of the mark and turned into an odd huffing sound instead. "Don't sound so surprised. It's what you've wanted all along." Lifting Craig's hand from the bed, he held it between his own, rubbing the back of it with his thumbs. "I love you, Craig. I think I have done for a long time."

Craig hardly dared to breathe, terrified that to do so would break the spell and Luke would run away from this again. Yet - he had to know. They had been close to this moment before and Luke had chickened out, replacing words of love with those of anger and accusation. Craig needed to know where they were going this time, before he allowed himself to hope.

"What about Kerry?" he ventured. "This was meant to be your wedding day, Luke."

"I...couldn't go through with it. Not after - last night."

Last night... Craig could remember it all now, with perfect clarity. Luke, too drunk to go anywhere alone, Tony and the others preoccupied with humiliating Boyden, leaving him to make sure the bridegroom got back to his hotel and not on the night train to Scotland. Luke, in the hotel room, coming on to him, kissing him, his dark eyes full of promises Craig knew he should stop him from making. A second kiss, filled with a passion Craig would never have believed himself capable of and certainly had not expected from Luke. Stripping each other, fevered hands tearing at buttons and zippers, each desperate for the honesty of skin on skin, tumbling to the bed - the one where Craig now lay - holding and held, loving and loved. It had been everything Craig had ever wanted and Luke had been a willing, even generous, lover.


But what about now, in the cold light of a January afternoon? Had Luke made a conscious choice to be honest about his needs, or had he simply used his night with Craig as an excuse to avoid a situation he could not face? Had Craig been nothing more than the last stage in an experiment?

"Why not, Luke?" he asked.

"You need to ask?" Luke sounded - shocked by the question. Craig sighed.

"With you, yes. I wish I could look at you and know what you're thinking, but I can't. I'm sorry."

Silence threaded the long moments while Luke gazed at him and Craig wondered what wars were going on behind those eyes, what decisions he was, even now, struggling to make. At last, when Craig had all but given up on hearing the truth, he said calmly, "No. It's me should be sorry. I know I've hurt you and if I could take it all back, all the crap things I've said to you, then I would. But we both know I can't. All I can do is promise you I'll never do anything like that again. If we can - if you still want me - I'd like us to start over, right here, right now. No more lies, no more secrets."

"No more Kerry?" Craig asked, judging it to be a fair question under the circumstances.

Luke drew a deep, audible breath and his grip on Craig's fingers tightened. "I went to see her this morning - got one of the hotel staff to keep an eye on you - and, before you ask," he added quickly, not allowing Craig to interrupt, "I didn't leave her standing at the altar. I went to the flat. I knew she'd probably have her sister and Robbie there. And her dad..." He paused, looking suddenly nervous. Craig guessed the meeting with Kerry's father had not been a good one. "I told her I couldn't go through with the wedding. I couldn't be her husband."

"Did you tell her why?" Tears were forming in Luke's eyes now. Craig knew he was hurting, but he could not let up on him. Not yet. Not until he knew for sure.

"I told her I love her, but I could never be what she wanted me to be, because... because I'm gay. I don't think she really understood, even then. Not at first, anyway. So I told her... as much as I love her as a friend... I'm in love with someone else. A man... A very... very special man... who loves me, even though I don't deserve it. I tried not to say who - I didn't want them taking it out on you - but... she'd already guessed. I'm sorry, Craig. I've really screwed things up this time."

It was everything Craig had ever hoped to hear and, perhaps for the first time, he found it easy to believe that Luke was telling him the truth. At last, taking pity on him, he freed his hands from Luke's deathlike grip on them and held out his arms instead.

"No, not this time," he smiled. "I don't care if they come after me. I don't care if the whole world turns against me. You love me - that's all that matters."

Tears streaming down his cheeks, Luke shook his head. "You can't mean that..."

"Don't argue with me, Luke, just - come here..."

Smiling, crying, laughing, all at the same time, Luke climbed onto the bed and crawled into Craig's embrace. Wordlessly, they clung to each other as the seconds ticked into minutes. The future lay before them and Craig knew it was not going to be easy for either of them - Luke would be blamed for dumping Kerry and Craig would be ostracised for corrupting him in the first place - but he knew, somehow, they would get through it.

They had each made it this far on their own - the rest of it they would face together.