Unfinished Business

(Charlie Fairhead/Julian Chapman, NC-17, angst & romance, first time)

At the end of the day it is the adrenaline that carries him through, the electrical surge born of anger and frustration and the constant fear of his own failure, his own inadequacy. Adrenaline, caffeine and glucose, augmented by the strength and compassion of those around him and the courage of those who turn to him for help in their hour of need. These are the mainstays of his life, the crutch that keeps him on his feet from minute to frantic minute when the world around him is tearing itself apart.

One hour wears on into two, and two into four, and on through the night that seems endless to a dawn that is cold and redolent with the stench of suffering. Only then with the morning comes release - though not relief, as the agony of spirit gives way to baser discomforts, head and feet throbbing in mismatched rhythm, muscles much abused, screaming for a beneficent touch. The scent of death is on him, sickly sweet perfume of blood and disinfectant, sweat and human waste. It clings to his clothes and hair, fills his senses, and he wonders if he will ever be free of it.

Morning. His people have gone to their homes, hollow-eyed and heavy of heart. They have done a good job this night, as they always do, but it was not enough. It can never be enough. So many died; an incessant stream of bodies, tortured, twisted limbs. Man careless of his fellow man, symptom of the decay of the human condition. The early morning news will feed statistics to the muesli-munching masses and they will shake their heads and say 'how dreadful', then run to catch the bus, safe in the knowledge that such things always happen to 'someone else' - until the next time. They will go on with their lives, all except those few who will go home to mourn and wonder 'why?'.

Still blind to the outside world, the womb of his office beckons him. He welcomes the darkness, the solitude - however brief - and, leaning on the desk, bows his head and allows the silence to cocoon his abused soul. Slowly, cell by cell, he gathers the fragmented anger and resentment, centres it, exhales it in one long cleansing breath, feeling it flow away until only the familiar emptiness remains. He longs for some middle ground, some No Man's Land between the extremes of overwhelming emotion and the nothingness that encompasses him now. He envies the Joe Bloggs of the world whose lives go from day to day, blissfully mundane, even though he knows that for him such a life would be unbearable.


He hears the voice, the distant snick of the latch, and reality tilts around him. That voice... A dream? A nightmare? An echo of a past best forgotten? Turning, he looks into eyes the colour of a winter sky, a smile so fragile it might shatter at a single word. No dream then. No illusion.

"Julian." Doubt hovers on his lips, fragmenting the greeting. "What the hell are you doing here?"

A whisper of a laugh. "I could ask you the same question. Weren't you off duty an hour ago?"

"Something like that," he replies, and then a new fear courses through him, sharper and more keenly felt because this time it touches his own life. "You weren't involved in this?"

"No." And concern is vanquished in a single word. "At least, only as a spectator. I was on my way home from London, saw the crash, offered to help. I came in on one of the ambulances and Mike talked me into staying. So - here I am."

Here. At last.

A year has passed since his dramatic departure, a year in which Charlie has seen him on just two occasions, both empty meetings that had left him wanting more, yet at the same time resenting the need that betrays his weakness for what it is. "You should have let me know you were here," he lies, knowing the work would have been harder and the hours longer for the knowledge.

"I was in theatre," he explains, and a shadow crosses his face at remembered horrors.

"And now he's going home to bed!" Mike Barrett, face grey and drawn, pauses by the doorway, once-white coat slung over his shoulder. Charlie feels his pulse quicken: two knights in starched cotton armour, two new heroes in a crusade that is as old as time, and he feels the first stirrings of pride that he is counted amongst their friends.

Mike extends a hand in gratitude. "Thanks, Julian. The body count would have been much higher if you hadn't been on hand." And Julian glances away, the accolade sitting heavily on his shoulders. But Mike is already looking at Charlie, a softness in his brown eyes. Compassion and mercy. "Go home, man! The day shift can deal with what's left."

They watch him go, huge frame slack with fatigue, steps heavy. Too tired to stay, too tired to go: he will make it as far as his office where, an hour or two from now, a nurse will find him snoring across his desk, a half-consumed cup of hospital coffee in his hand. It has been a long night, for all of them.

"He's right, you know," Julian agrees. "We should go home." He flexes his muscles, rolls his head to ease a cramp in his neck. The movement is unconsciously sensual and Charlie feels his pulse step up a gear. "Mind if I call a taxi?"

Astonishment paints a smile onto Charlie's lips, softening the hard line of tension. "Don't tell me you left the Merc on the hard shoulder!" he wonders aloud.

"Good God, no!" and for a moment laughter wraps around them. "I was with an old college friend. Left him sitting in a traffic jam on the M32, I'm afraid, so I'm stranded here."

Had Charlie wished for just such an occurrence he doubted his prayers would have been answered. God and the fates are not that kind to overworked Clinical Nurse managers of the NHS variety. But happen it has, and he is not about the kick the gift horse in its grinning teeth. "I'll give you a lift home if you like," he offers, keeping his tone light, not wanting Julian to guess how important this is to him.

"I'll be taking you out of your way."

"Buy me breakfast and we'll call it quits. You'll wait forever for a taxi at this time of night." He mentally crosses his fingers, trying to disguise the hope in his eyes, the need to spend as much time as possible in this man's company.

"Well... If you're sure..."

And Charlie's heart soars at the words of acceptance, the note of shyness in the voice, and he grabs his coat and is out of the door before Julian can change his mind.

The dawn air is cold with a whisper of frost, a sharp breeze from the estuary sweeping the scents of autumn across the city, carrying with it the memories of childhood, of bonfires and conker fights, Harvest Festivals and hot cocoa sipped beside an open fire. Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness when love was something to cherish, not fear.

"It's a beautiful morning," Julian observes, head tipped back to scan the watercolour sky, and the softness of his voice sends ripples of pleasure through Charlie's senses to lift the mantle of exhaustion from his shoulders. No other voice has ever had the effect that Julian's has, just as no other eyes have looked at him with such tenderness and no other touch has burned so intensely.

"Yes, it is," he agrees, meaning more than just the weather, a bleak morning made glorious by this man's presence.

"How are you, Charlie? It's been so long."

Is it Charlie's imagination or is there a note of wistfulness in the question, regret for might-have-been's? "I'm fine," he answers, too quickly, too determined that the mask will not slip.

"You look tired."

"It's been a long night." The lie shivers between the onslaught, unconvincing even to his own ears.

"Yes, but - it's more than that, isn't it?" he persists, and for a moment Charlie wonders what rumours he has heard. Does he know about Ken? Has Ash said something? No. Ash knows that what was said - the depth of Ken's feelings and Charlie's regret that he could not return them - was said in confidence. And Ash is the only one who knows the whole truth.

"Let's just say Mark Calder was as big a pratt as any of the other so-called managers we've had... Did you know I resigned?"

Pausing in the act of fastening his seat belt, Julian looks up at him through heavy golden lashes and smiles his most indulgent smile. "You leave Holby? Now I know you're overworked."

"Overworked, underpaid and bloody unappreciated," he quips, then adds "But it's a nice uniform," and they laugh, and their laughter is the music that soothes the bitterness from his heart.

It takes twenty minutes to reach the well-maintained Victorian town house where Julian's flat is located. Charlie has been there before, though never socially, always wary of the circles in which Holby's former casualty consultant moves. But he has missed Julian's company this last year and it is the memory of that separation which drives him, on this occasion, to accept the offer of coffee.

The house is warm and inviting after the chill of dawn, a faint odour of beeswax and leather permeating the rooms. The drapes are still closed: leaving them untouched, Julian moves around lighting lamps that bring a soft golden glow to chase the shadows from the corners.

"Black or white?" he calls from the kitchen. Following, Charlie lounges in the doorway, enjoying the sight of him as he works, moving in the small space with elegant economy.

"White, please. Posh 'do' was it?" he asks, adding in answer to a raised eyebrow "The clothes. Not the sort of thing you wear for burger and chips at McDonalds." His gaze rakes the well-cut black evening clothes and silk shirt, that latter now far from the pristine white it must once have been.

"Oh, that... College reunion. I hadn't intended going, but Philip talked me into it when he heard I'd got the weekend off."

Philip? Charlie has met several of Julian's friends and cannot recall a Philip amongst them. He files the information away and accepts the mug and the plate of hot buttered toast that Julian offers. "I promised you breakfast," the consultant explains, carrying his own repast into the lounge.

"Thanks for stepping in like that," Charlie says as they sprawl in armchairs drawn close to the warmth of the 'living flame' gas fire. "It was good to have you back on the team - even if I didn't know you were there."

"It was good to be back." The affection in Julian's eyes reaches out to Charlie, enfolding him, as it has always done. "I've missed you."

"We missed you, too," Charlie concedes, deliberately misunderstanding him. The heat that rises to his face has nothing to do with the glow of the flames and his guilty gaze slips away.

It is the old story, the awakening of the fear that has been the foundation of every relationship since he was old enough to know that there are different forms of involvement, different degrees for friendship. The Sunday School indoctrination that allows him to go so far - and no further - in his quest for love. There have been women, but none to whom he could say, in all honesty, 'I love you'. Beautiful and transient, and therefore safe, the decorative masks behind which he hides his true need.

But Julian has no fears, no reasons to hide, and so he smiles and shakes his head, and murmurs "I meant you, Charlie, not the department. I missed you ... more than I ever would have thought possible. Saying goodbye to you was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

"I wanted you to stay," Charlie hears himself confess. "I needed you to stay."

"I hope - for the same reason I wanted to stay."

It would be easy to say 'yes', to take what is offered - what has always been his for the asking - but, as always, the bete noir that lurks in the dark places of his subconscious stands in his way, reminding him of the past, taunting him with the very real prospect that once he leaves this house he might never see Julian again. "Don't" he pleads.

A quizzical look. "Don't what?"

"The past is past, Julian. It doesn't matter what we did or didn't want at the time."

"I wanted to ... I still do ..." A hand stretches towards him: he draws away as far as the confines of the chair will allow. To be this close to Julian, to have so much offered so freely, is more than he can bear. "Charlie?"

"I came here for breakfast, that's all."

Throat and eyes sting with regret that he dare not show and he hides his longing behind a wall of brutality. "Whatever else you want isn't on offer. It never has been."

Julian flinches from the harsh words, yet stand his ground, chin lifted in defiance. "Not on offer - or not on offer to me?" he demands. "You see, people talk, Charlie - oh, not the people who care about you - but I hear things. Names. One in particular ..."

"Funny, I never saw you as someone who listens to gossip," he admonishes coldly. Cup and plate clatter together as he sets them aside. If he leaves now he can still be home before the early morning rush, and all of this will be just a memory. Yet, even as he starts to rise, Julian's persistence pins him back in his seat.

"Were you in love with him?"

Blood runs hot and cold in his veins as his anger flares. "Don't be bloody ridiculous!"

"From what I hear, he was very attractive - and very gay."

A sneer curls Charlie's lips. He has always known himself to be the object of locker room gossip, even speculation, and Ken Hodges - briefly the A&E's Clinical Nursing Specialist - had worn his heart on his sleeve, love overriding discretion... Everyone at Holby City knows that Ken was in love with Charlie Fairhead; everyone knows- or thinks they know - that Ken left because Charlie turned him down. Resentment is felt in some quarters: a promising career thrown away for nothing, they say, careless of Charlie's feelings.

"So, that automatically means I have to fall in love with him, does it? It may have escaped your notice, Julian, but I'm not gay."

"So you've always maintained." There is no malice in the words, only a simple statement of fact, however shallow. It is almost as if by repeating it over and over Charlie can allay his own fears, convince himself that it is true. This is the safety valve on his emotions, the guardian at the gate, keeping out all those who would claim his affections beyond the acceptable limits. He once read, somewhere, that reality is a majority decision: well in this he is a majority of one. If he refuses to believe in his illicit desires they will simply cease to exist.

"Are you saying you know different?" he asks.

"No. I'm saying I don't care what you are. I don't believe in labels, you know that. We can't in our profession, not if we're to remain impartial. We both know we have a moral and an ethical duty to take everyone on face value, not to judge them by who they are or what they do, and I have to extend that into my private life. I can't - split myself in two." He leans forward, his cornflower eyes blazing, and his hand comes to rest on the arm of Charlie's chair. He has beautiful hands, the fingers long and slender, the nails well tended but not primped and pampered like some corporate paper-pusher, and there is a legacy of Greek sunshine in the honey gold of his skin. "Tell me again that you don't want me," he insists, "and I'll believe you, and I'll never mention it again. Look me in the eye, Charlie. Make me believe."

And Charlie looks, forming the words in his mind. But he cannot force them past his lips. He cannot deny what his heart knows to be true, and so he looks away, barren breath falling from his lips on a fractured sigh.

Briefly, a hand touches his, wraps gentle pressure around his fingers, and a clam voice murmurs; "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Finally being honest - with both of us." He sits back and picks up his cup, and blue eyes smile at Charlie over the rim of gold-on-black, mild amusement lingering in their depths, as if he knows Charlie expects more. Expects it - and fears it.

The fear is real yet, strangely, not as acute as before. Trust in this man is an accepted constant in his life and always had been. Charlie knows there will be no pressure here, unlike the others who have staked a claim on him, and he is stunned by the generosity of the gift: uncomplicated, unconditional love.

Guilt nags at him, catching him unawares. Julian has given freely of his affections with no expectation of a response beyond the knowledge that he is wanted. What has Charlie given in return? His answer was not even a verbal confirmation, just a silence. Is the price so high? Or are his own feelings so shallow? In the past it has been easy to step back, say 'thanks - but no thanks' to the attentions of those who see him as something other than Charlie Fairhead, Clinical Nursing manager, colleague and friend. People like Ken ... Poor Ken, who thought he was asking for so little when, in reality, he was asking for the moon. Had Charlie really treated him fairly? If he was really honest with himself, hadn't he been aware of Ken's feelings all along? And what of Julian? Is he to be treated in the same way, cast aside now he has dared to lay bare his soul? Charlie closes his eyes as other memories are dragged to the surface and paraded before his conscience, images of all those times he has needed a kind word, a shoulder to cry on - a knight in shining armour - and Julian has been there for him. So, surely he deserves more than this.

Anticipation and curiosity lace his veins, spreading an unexpectedly comfortable warmth through his body. What would it be like? he wonders. He knows, professionally, the mechanics of the sexual acts between men and although he has seen the results when those acts are taken to the extreme, although the tenets of his youth are still uppermost in his mind, there is a part of him that longs to turn sterile knowledge into action, to take what his body has for so long craved.

"What happens now?" he hears himself ask, and is astonished at how calm he sounds.

Julian hesitates a moment, lapping butter from his fingers before he speaks. "That's not for me to decide."

"Meaning I should?"

"Meaning if anything happens it has to be because we both want it. I admit I would like, very much, to make love to you, Charlie, but I have no intention of forcing you into a situation you can't handle."

"That's good of you," Charlie snaps, burying sudden desire in the safety of sarcasm and thereby slamming shut the door that has opened between them. A shadow dances across the pale eyes and is as quickly gone, replaced by a knowing smile.

Somewhere in the distance a church clock strikes the hour. Charlie sighs. "It's getting late. I'd better be going."

"You're welcome to stay," Julian offers.

"In your bed ..."

"Or the spare. Or on the sofa, if you prefer. I told you, the choice is yours."

With easy grace Julian gathers the cups and plates, carrying them into the kitchen while Charlie watches, unmoving. His choice. But is Julian aware that this is more than just the decision to stay or go: it is the choice between the confines of a past that he hates and a future he fears. So much is at stake here. He needs more time …


A dozen questions are written in the blue eyes, a dozen excuses hover on Charlie's lips. Rising, he crosses the room. His nostrils twitch at the familiar scent, spice and sweat and hospital soap layered each on the other, warm and lingering. He can see the golden stubble on the angular jaw, the smudges of fatigue beneath his eyes, the brackets of tension that surround the beautiful mouth and desire flows like champagne through his veins. What fear could the future possibly hold in this man's arms?

"I'm on duty at eight," he murmurs.

Julian closes his eyes briefly, almost as if in pain, and a sigh escapes his lips. "Are you sure?"

"No," Charlie admits, "and I never will be - until I face this." A shy smile, a momentary tightening of his hand around Julian's, before he moves away. "Which is your room?"

"There, Charlie - " Julian starts to protest, but is silenced by the touch of Charlie's finger against his mouth. The touch becomes a caress that sends shivers of ecstasy through their nerve endings.

"Not now. Let's just - go to bed." Stepping around Julian, he moves into the bedroom. The room, like everything else about the man, is understated yet refined, a haven of cool blues and rich, dark wood, and he nods approval. "I always knew you had good taste."

"In possessions, maybe, but not in people. I always made mistakes - until now, I hope."

"I suppose we've both got our ghosts." Reaching up, Charlie loosens his tie, tosses it on a chair with one hand while the other unbuttons his shirt. "Maybe it's time we laid them to rest."

Fighting aside his self-consciousness he sheds his clothes, aware all the time of Julian's gaze raking his body with a mixture of amazement and hunger. Pausing only to draw a steadying breath he skims out of his briefs and steps naked into the ocean of blue that is Julian's bed, pulling the covers to his waist and propping his head on one hand, waiting.

"Are you planning on standing there all night?" he asks, then grins and checks himself. "Sorry, day."

He is unprepared when Julian sinks down on the edge of the bed, still fully clothed, and runs a distracted hand through his hair. "I'm sorry ..." The words come haltingly as his courage deserts him. "I just ... I didn't expect this. Sometimes you want something so much that ... when it's offered you can't ... You're afraid having won't match up to the expectations. You want it all to be so ... so special, but - what if it isn't?"

The uncertainty catches Charlie's attention. Once before Julian came to him riddled with insecurities, when he was in the process of applying for the post of Casualty Consultant. On that occasion Charlie had wanted to hold him, to reassure him with tenderness, not mere words, but the time and the place were wrong. Now, however, there is nothing in the way except his own conscience, and that he has placed firmly under lock and key for the duration of this encounter.

He sits up, sliding a hand across the bowed shoulders. "It can be - if you let it. It will be - if you want it ..." He rises to his knees behind Julian, wraps his arms around the slumped figure. "But I won't force you..."

The words hang in the air as he presses his lips to the golden hair. Slowly Julian lifts his hand to hold Charlie's in place over his heart, leaning back until his head rests against the bared flesh. Charlie can feel the steady pulse, the growing heat, the rasp of Julian's breath across his jaw. The sensations coalesce, reaching down inside him to ignite the flames of a deeper passion and his flesh swells, brushing against ivory silk. A soft sound of pleasure escapes his throat and he tightens his hold.

Julian turns his head and his lips skim Charlie's ear. "Maybe you should."

"Is that what you want? I thought this was meant to be an equal relationship."

"Is it a relationship?" Julian counters. He releases Charlie's hands and turns, piercing gaze searching for answers, for truth. He takes Charlie's face between his hands, asking permission with a look and, receiving it, draws him into a tender kiss. Lips blend, tongues entwine, the essence of all that they are absorbed. Feather light touches dust across bare skin and gentle strength enfolds him as the kiss deepens, becomes more intense, more demanding of response - a response which Charlie, strangely unafraid, is more than willing to make. His barriers are down now, restraint wiped out by the gentle assault on his defences. Arms around the silk-clad body, he allows himself to be turned and lowered to the mattress once more. His tongue duels with the succulent invader and a moan of delight is torn from his throat as those competent hands begin a thorough exploration of his body, face to chest, to flank and thigh and, finally, to graze the heated flesh of his groin.

"You don't ... play ... fair ..." Charlie gasps; "I want to see you ..." and impatiently reaches for pearl buttons. Fingers well-practiced in removing the clothes of even the most recalcitrant of patients find this an easy task as Julian leans back to watch. Charlie, mesmerised, strokes the ruined shirt from his shoulders, hands tracing the line of throat, the smooth expanse of chest, the curve of muscle and ridge of sinew. He caresses a nipple, wringing a sign of appreciation from his lover's lips: emboldened, he rolls the tiny nub delicately between thumb and forefinger, feeling it harden, the sensation finding its reflection in his own body.

Unexpectedly his hand is stayed, captured and carried to Julian's lips to be kissed and petted, sucked and nibbled, before Julian moves away, whispering "Let's play fair then ..." He unfastens his trousers, sliding them down and kicking them aside. The front of his black briefs bulges invitingly and a thread of panic weaves through Charlie's thoughts. This will not be the first time that he has touched another man, but that has always been in the impersonal, sterile atmosphere of the treatment room and he wonders if he will be able to reach beyond that, to find the pleasure in the act and to accept what is being offered.

The briefs, the last remnant of the physical barrier, are discarded and, just for a moment, Julian stands passively before him, tantalisingly out of reach. He is beautiful - but that is something Charlie has always known - his body lithe and strong, his legs graceful yet powerful, the whole encased in flawless skin that still retains the glow of a holiday tan, unbroken by even a ghost of swimwear. The image of the aloof consultant sunbathing nude on some Aegean beach makes Charlie smile, before other wonders claim his attention. Releasing his hold on time and reality he holds out a hand in invitation. Again the blue eyes ask Are you sure? and Charlie nods silently. Now or never ... and never can be a long and lonely time.

Julian's skin is warm velvet as it dusts against his own, settling scant inches away. "I never thought we'd get this far," he confesses, hand caressing Charlie's face.

"But you wanted to."

"Oh yes. You were the only one who ever really accepted me for what I am."

"I hope that doesn't mean you're here out of gratitude ..." Charlie states, straight-faced.

"No!" The cry of horror that his motives might be misunderstood turns quickly to laughter as he sees the teasing grin. Daringly, his arm encircles Charlie's waist, moving them together. "Bastard!" he snarls and seizes on the willing mouth in a kiss that abandons all pretence that this is something from which they can walk away.

Heat rises in Charlie's groin, is answered by the demanding nudge of Julian's erection, and sanity, too, slips away. Greedy now for sensation, his fingers curve around Julian's flank, feeling the play of muscle as the lean body flows around and over him. He is pressed into the mattress by his lover's greater weight, the breath forced from his lungs into the mouth that grinds against his own, robbing him of strength and resistance. Never has he been kissed like this, never, in all his days. It is as if Julian is searching for his immortal soul, hungry for more than mere physical release, and he can understand the need, finding its echo in the blood that pounds his ears, the breath that sears his throat, the sweat that slicks his skin. More than sex. More even than love.

But it is all happening so fast. Already he can feel the pulse in his groin take on a new beat, demanding a firmer touch, and his fingers dig into the beautifully toned buttocks, pressing Julian's body closer ... closer. Shaft chafes sensitive shaft and Julian cries out and tears his mouth from Charlie's.

"Too soon - " he gasps, the words negated by the slowly seductive rotation of his hips, and even as he says it Charlie thrusts upwards, legs wrapping over corded thighs, heel hard against the sweat-dampened cleft. He feels Julian's cock leap, the friction sending his body into overdrive, and he claws at the golden skin, muscles straining, wanting to seal himself to him for all time, take this man into himself and never let him escape again. His mind provides the image of their bodies joined and his anal muscles quiver in anticipation.

Yet it is already too late. Fire explodes in his head, his balls, and he is coming, wave after wave of scalding lava flooding his belly, and he feels the muscles beneath his hand flex ... clench .. spasm ... spreading new heat as a wounded moan falls from Julian's lips, reverberating back and forth between them as they rock together.

And then, as suddenly as it began, it is over. Annihilated by the sheer force of their orgasm they lay, unmoving, on the edge of consciousness, the only point of contact their entwined fingers. Sweat and semen, mingled evidence of their passion, chills on their skin in the early morning air. Boneless lazy, Charlie wipes at it with his free hand. It feels -strangely familiar, like all those times he has tended to his own needs and yet - not like it at all. Eyes hooded by heavy lids, he peers at the viscous concoction that glistens around his fingertips. Seed mingled with seed, life with life. Julian.

Movement beside him as his lover turns and smiles. "How do you feel?" he asks, then bows his head to trace delicate patterns on Charlie's shoulder with the tip of his tongue.

"Like I've just been - reborn," he whispers. "Does that make sense?"

"Perfectly." His kiss is gentle, merest touch on Charlie's ravaged mouth, but it is enough.

"We're a mess," Charlie observes, holding out his hand for inspection. A wicked gleam lights the blue eyes.

"We can shower later. For now ..." He captures Charlie's hand and guides it to his own mouth, lapping away the sticky substance finger buy finger. Some inner voice is reminding Charlie of the perils inherent in the exchange of bodily fluids these days, but he dismisses it. He knows his own system is clear and his trust in this man is absolute.

Julian works his way lower, kissing across the planes of Charlie's chest, his abdomen, to settle at last on the tender genitals. Like a great golden cat feeding on cream, the avid tongue strokes and circles, savouring his length, caressing his balls, licking and lapping until every trace is washed away. Then, and only then, does he take Charlie's flaccid sex into his mouth, nursing delicately, mindful of its heightened sensitivity. Tears sting Charlie's eyes. He thinks of all the women to whom he has made love, the Bazes and Karens and Trishes of his world, all willing to take and take, but never to give. Not one of them ever did this for him, concerned only with their own needs, their own gratification. Not one offered him this gift.

He lifts himself on one elbow to watch and his hand moves to the blond hair. Julian's eyes are closed, his face a concentrated mask of pleasure as it rises and falls, sucking him in to the hilt, withdrawing until only the tender crown is held between his reddened lips, plunging down again to bury his nose in the dark thatch of pubic curls. A hand slides beneath him, long fingers probing, reaching for his centre and he wants this, needs it, more than anything. This is his chance to belong and he spreads his legs, welcoming the touch, the insistent pressure that first penetrates then possesses, stinging pain that gives way to mind-wiping pleasure. he tangles his fingers in the pale strands, holding Julian's head in place as he thrusts upwards once ... twice ... three times, fucking that generous mouth again ... and again ... and -

- it is too much. The spirit may be willing, the hunger strong, but the flesh most definitely needs to rest.

"Julian - " He pushes the blond head away, slipping sideways to break the now painful contact. Glazed eyes turn to his face and the breath soughs rapidly from lips that tremble with the sudden loss. "Later." He opens his arms in greeting, enfolding Julian in a loving embrace that matches hip to hip, chest to chest.

"I thought you wanted - " Julian breathes, and there is regret in his voice, the fear that their moment is coming to an end and may never be repeated.

Charlie nuzzles a kiss through his hair. "I do, and we will - but if I don't get some sleep I won't be much use for anything. There's plenty of time."

"Is there?" Julian asks, and both understand that he means more than the here and now.

"Yes love. As much as you need." He bows his head to Julian's and the lips part readily in confirmation of the unspoken vow. Charlie wraps his tongue around its mate, aware of a new seasoning overlaying his lover's unique flavour, blushing as he realises that he is tasting his own essence.

Satisfied, Julian nestles closer, pillowing his head against Charlie's shoulder. It is a burden he is more than willing to bear, now, and for as long as Julian wants him.

Pulling the covers higher, he turns out the light. For a while they will sleep, waking as the day comes to a close to make love again, to talk and plan and share the secrets that have kept them lonely for so long. But for now he is content just to hold and be held, his senses filled with the uniqueness that is Julian. What more can he want?

"Charlie?" The voice is distant, heavy with approaching sleep.


A smile in the darkness. "Nothing. Just wanted to make sure you were still there."

"Oh? And where else would I go?" he asks. "Go to sleep, Julian. I'll still be here when you wake up." He dusts a kiss across the high forehead, reaches down to lace their hands together. His friend. His lover now. As for the future, well, that can take care of itself - with a little honesty and a nudge in the right direction.

As sleep reaches out to claim him he spares a last thought for Ken. Maybe he'll give him a call some time, try to explain that that problem was never with the love but with the lover, that the pain of losing Julian had been too great and too recent for him to allow anyone to get close again. And maybe, if he can make Ken understand, they might be friends again. He would like that.

Julian murmurs in his sleep, warm breath caressing Charlie's throat, and his cock twitches in response. He fights the urges of his body and instead rearranges his aching limbs more comfortably, surrendering himself to the stronger pull of sleep. His last thought, as the darkness closes in, is whether there will be time to go home for a fresh shirt before his next shift ...

The End