|01:03 pm - But in my arms till break of day Let the living creature lie|
This one has taken me a while to get close to what I wanted. I hope it works. Based, as usual, on the characters of Mary Renault's The Charioteer, these characters belong to her and I make no profit from them.
Laurie slid a glance towards Ralph. Tonight he was in a dinner jacket, now that he'd been de-mobbed, and he'd never been more beautiful, the black jacket setting off his tan face and ash-blond hair.
Poynter curved one corner of his mouth and said, "One must admit Pears can play Britten... like a fiddle."
Stella Tanner, the black-haired actress on Poynter's arm, tittered. "Naughty man."
Ralph laughed. "To be fair..." Ralph's face shut like a door as he stared at someone in the crowd that was moving toward the theatre exit.
"Fair is so much less entertaining, my dear boy," Poynter said, but his sharp eyes were assessing the look on Ralph's face.
Laurie followed the line of Ralph's gaze to an elderly man, back ramrod straight, dog-collared, white hair with still the slightest tint of gold in a few threads. He had stopped a few feet away. His mouth was a knife slash bracketed by deep lines on each side.
The man took one step closer to Ralph, staring into his face. "The name Lanyon on those filthy books... Shaming us yet again." His eyes raked Ralph up and down. "You should have died first." He brushed by Poynter as he marched through the four of them as though they weren't there.
"A bit exaggerated. I wouldn't say filthy. Perhaps a bit soiled..." Poynter lifted an eyebrow as he ostentatiously considered it. "Filthy might increase sales."
Laurie managed a chuckle. "He'll have to try harder for filthy then."
Ralph was staring straight ahead, looking through the crowd leaving the theatre as though they weren't there, the skin stretched tight over his cheeks.
"Wystan, I'm famished," Stella said, putting her red-taloned hand on Poynter's arm. She was gorgeous, Laurie had to admit, but a bit terrifying, not that anything terrified Poynter.
"You're always famished. My man will have hors d'ouevres out. We'd better move along. Some of my other writers are joining us and they'll eat everything in sight."
"Afraid I'll have to give it a pass tonight," Laurie said, feigning a lean on his cane. "Leg's playing up."
Ralph turned his head with a startled look. He said, "How long has that been going on?"
"Only a while. It's seized up a bit, so I shan't want to stand about on it."
"Naturally." Poynter's mouth twitched and Laurie was sure he'd pay for this favour. "Ralph had better see you get home. Can't have you laid up. There's that Masterson contract to negotiate."
Ralph was giving him a cool, appraising look, but he shook Poynter's hand and let Laurie precede him out the theatre doors. The stream of people were scattering like chattering quail. Poynter's friend gave them a last wave.
As they walked the two blocks to where Ralph had parked his black Riley, Laurie considered lying to Ralph and pretending his leg really did hurt, but Ralph would see through that, he was sure. Laurie settled with a sigh and Ralph tossed his cigarette-case and lighter onto the seat between them.
There was a moment's silence. "What's up, Spud?" Ralph asked, starting the car.
Laurie took two cigarettes out and lit them together, gaining himself a few seconds to put together an answer. Ralph took one and settled it in his mouth.
"I just didn't feel up to a night of making conversation with clients is all."
"Don't insult my intelligence."
"No. Well..." Laurie looked at the cigarette in his hand with a small, reminiscent smile. Please, Lanyon. "I suppose you seemed not quite yourself. I thought..."
"That you needed to play nursemaid. Really. Spud."
Laurie shrugged and took a deep drag on his cigarette. There was an instant of half-angry silence. Impatient with himself for letting it happen, Laurie said quickly, "I wasn't in the mood for it, Ralph. Neither were you. Let it go."
Ralph stared ahead and turned onto Edgeware Road, "Perhaps you're right, but I’m not in the mood for a night at home either."
Laurie rubbed his forehead with a thumb, working away the gathering tension. He and Ralph didn't quarrel often but now was a near thing. Why did he have to be so bloody close mouthed? "Where are we going?"
"A bungery." Ralph turned onto Old Quebec St. The road in front of the pub's bow windows was lined with cars and faint light silhouetted a slender boy lounging in front wrapped in wisps of fog. Laurie rubbed his forehead again. If this made Ralph feel better, so be it. He carefully didn't sigh.
A block further, they passed the line of cars and Ralph pulled over. Without a word, as Ralph came around the car, Laurie opened the door and waited on the kerb. Ralph pressed a hand into the small of his back. "Come along. It won't kill you."
"It's all right." Laurie managed a smile. "I don't mind."
Ralph made a skeptical grunting sound. The boy watching them was a shifting figure in the fog. Laurie nodded but made sure he didn't catch the boy's eye. Ralph pulled the door open. Smoke, laughter, music and light spilled out.
It was crowded. More than a few men were coatless, their shirts streaked with sweat from the close air and dancing. Men ogled them as Ralph pushed their way through to the bar. He held up two fingers and mouthed "gin and tonic" to the barman.
Ralph stared at the dancers as the barman sat the drinks in front of them. Laurie needed the drink and he downed half in one swallow. The smoke and noise was rapidly adding to his headache. Ralph tossed back his drink and took the cane out of Laurie's hand. He gave it to the barman. "Hang onto that for my friend," he said. He took Laurie firmly by the hand and led him to the floor before Laurie could stall.
Laurie sighed but didn't protest. When they danced at home, Ralph was quite good at leading without straining his leg, but the thought of people watching made him want to cringe.
A fair-haired omi-palone brushed against Ralph's arm and said, "You could do better, dearie." Ralph's raking glare made him flinch and hurriedly back between two other men.
Ralph shoved onto the floor between swaying couples and pulled Laurie into his arms. "It's not going to kill you," he repeated into Laurie's ear.
Someone leaned towards them and called out, "Oooh... Dolly," and Ralph nodded, smiling.
The music was loud to reach over the talk and laughter. Ralph seemed lost to it immediately, his eyes closed. Laurie leaned into Ralph's body and stroked the nape of his neck, struggling to relax. He pushed away the image of the other men watching them as he matched the rhythm of Ralph's movements. Ralph's hand pressed into his back guiding him and his cheek brushed Laurie's. Laurie let out a long breath, his shoulder's relaxed, he felt his body loosen and move. Melded, chest and thigh, they swayed together. Laurie's whole body blushed with pleasure, a coiling heat that began at his groin. The music pounded on but now he was inside it and the men around them were reduced to shadows.
Laurie felt Ralph's erection and the shudder of his chuckle. "Why did I bring us here?" Ralph said.
Laurie whispered into his ear. "Because you were in a mood, my dear. Had enough?"
"Yes. For God's sake, let's get out of here."
Ralph retrieved Laurie's cane and elbowed their way through the crowd to the door and onto the street. The door closed behind them shutting in the frantic noise.
Dense fog cut off the light from a street lamp. In a few steps, the door behind them was lost in the haze, the light from the bow windows nothing more than a faint smudge. They walked to the car alone in a lost world. Even the cars beside them were ghosts. Their footsteps echoed. Ralph guided him with a hand to his elbow.
"I'm fine," Laurie said, a bit impatiently.
"Can't see a thing in this soup. Car's just ahead."
Laurie frowned. It was very dark but he saw a movement. Or did he? He squinted.
"There's two," someone said.
A car passed in the street. Its lamps flashed over a figure in a dark jacket and brogues standing straight ahead of him.
A hand from behind grabbed his shoulder. "You ain't going nowhere." A light glared in his face. It went out. A low whistle.
"Rich fucking poofters."
Ralph pushed him against the car and turned. A fist thudded. Ralph grunted and there was another thud. Ralph had one by the collar. Shoved a fist into his belly.
A figure bowled into Laurie, shoved him hard against the car. The breath was knocked out of him. The figure turned, raised a hand to cosh the back of Ralph's head. Two handed, Laurie swung his cane hard into a side. A crunch and yell. A punch to his belly. He slammed to the ground hard on one knee, the wrong one. It was bad. A white-hot flash of pain. He yelled with it.
Ralph slammed one down on the hood of the car, drove a fist into a face, jammed an elbow into the stomach of one behind him. Through a red world of pain, Laurie lunged, grabbed the legs of the third, dumped him on his arse. Flailed a fist and connected. Laurie groaned. He tried to get to his feet -- dropped to his hands and knees, head hanging. He was dimly aware that Ralph kicked the figure in the head. Kicked again and it lay still on the pavement. Headlamps swept through the fog, shone on a shape running away and swept past.
Ralph's hand was his under his arm. Laurie was distantly aware of Ralph lifting him, asking if he were all right and he couldn't answer. Ralph opened the car door and eased him onto the seat. "Fucking cosh boys." Having settled him there, Ralph stood looking down at him for a moment. "I'll get you to a doctor."
Ralph's hand left a smear of blood on the door. There was a smacking sound and another groan. Laurie wondered vaguely which one Ralph had hit again.
By the time Ralph got around the car and behind the wheel, Laurie was able to say, "It's all right now."
Ralph was wrapping his hand in his handkerchief. "Bloody liar." He switched the ignition on.
That first flash of blinding pain had sunk to a red-hot throb. Laurie couldn't bear the thought of being mucked about by doctors, probed and prodded. "Ralph. Just... I just want to go home." He leaned his head back, closing his eyes.
For a few moments, Ralph was silent. He reached out a hand and laid it on his. "Spud."
Ralph said in his court-martial voice, "You should let me take you to the hospital. God knows what they did to that knee."
"No. All I need is some aspirins. Anyway, you can take a look. You'll know if anything has gone."
Ralph opened the throttle and in the light late-night traffic, he soon pulled up in front of their digs.
The pain had subsided. Laurie remembered it being worse than this in hospital.
Ralph was around the car and opening the door. He held out his hand. "Let me help you." It was an order. Obediently, Laurie took his hand and was hoisted out of the car. He was hurt and weary and it was wonderful to let Ralph handle everything. Ralph took Laurie's weight easily and half carried him inside. In the bedroom, he folded down the counterpane and settled Laurie in his place. Tossing aside his blood-smeared jacket, he sat down beside Laurie and said, "I'd better have a look at that leg."
He took off Laurie's shoe and boot and pushed up his trouser leg to gently manipulate the knee.
Closing his eyes, Laurie let the comfort of his touch ease away the pain. Later it would hurt again, but for now, it was better.
"Have a rest while I get you those aspirin."
With the pain finally ebbing away, Laurie took a deep breath at the sight of Ralph's face. He reached up and touched Ralph's rapidly blackening cheek, his eye puffed half closed, a bloody split in his lip. "My God, Ralph. Why didn't you tell me you were hurt?"
Ralph shrugged but his eyes were bleak. "It's nothing."
Laurie sat up on an elbow and grabbed Ralph's arm. "Stop it. Just. Stop." His eyes burned and he swallowed. "Why can't you ever... Damn it!"
Ralph's face was pale around the darkening bruises. "If I hadn't taken you there..."
"Bloody hell! Everything in the world isn't your fault! But I'm tired... I'm just tired of you closing me out."
Ralph looked away and said in a quiet voice, "There are places in me you don't want to go."
"Don't say that." Laurie put a hand on Ralph's cheek to turn his face. "I have nightmares of my own, remember. You don't run away from them."
They looked at each other. Ralph gripped him and pulled him close. "You don't need mine, too, love. You don't."
Laurie pulled him down so they lay pressed together, cheeks, chest, groin, legs. Arms wrapped tightly around each other and clinging. "I do. I need--all of you, Ralph. Not just the easy part."
Ralph's cheek was wet. "I can't. There's just too much. He hates me, you know."
Laurie's chest ached with it. He threaded his fingers into Ralph's hair. "I know, love," he whispered. "I know."