Ralph grunted and mumbled.
"No reason for you to get up.” Laurie shoved off the covers and put his feet on the cold floor, which did a fair bit to wake him up. Ralph slid a hand across the bed and stroked Laurie's hip. Definitely, time to get up before they both got distracted. Laurie stood up, yawning. He wrapped his arms around his chest against the morning chill. Through the closed drapes, the sliver of sky was black.
Ralph reached out an arm to flick on a lamp and Laurie blinked. "No, I'm awake."
"Go back to sleep. I'm packed and I'll call a taxi." He reached for his underpants.
"Don't be foolish, Spud.” Ralph sat up.
Laurie paused a moment to admire what he was going to be missing while he was gone, the broad shoulders, muscular chest with a narrow strip of blond fur down the middle, and powerful arms. Blond hair that had a few grey hairs at the temples now, straight blue eyes, and heavy stubble across his chin. And then the rest of the show as Ralph tossed back the blanket and stood up. But he had dark circles under those eyes and had for the past few weeks. Something about the newest novel kept Ralph chain smoking over his typewriter and tossing crumpled pages away late every night.
"It was icy last night. I'll drive you.”
"You don't have to take me to the station. I can manage fine. I did while you were gone. I'm not an invalid.”
Ralph stopped with a white shirt in his hand and gave Laurie a long look. "Did you? And it wouldn't occur to you that I don't want you to need to manage without me? Perhaps I want to take you.”
Laurie sighed. “I didn't mean it like that.” He went to the bathroom where he'd laid out his clothes the night before, thinking he wouldn't have to rouse Ralph, as though that would happen. A heavy tweed coat help on the grubby train trip. He would have liked a hot bath, but there wasn't time and he'd want one when he reached the vicarage anyway. Please God, don't let Straike be a miser about the hot water. From the kitchen, Laurie could hear water running and the clatter of the tea kettle being put on to heat.
By the time Laurie was dressed and walked into the kitchen, Ralph was dressed too, tie neatly knotted and jacket hanging on the back of one of the chairs. He handed Laurie a cup of tea, a wispy ribbon of steam rising from it. Laurie took it and breathed in the fragrance before he took a sip. Bless the man. Ralph still wasn't a tea lover, but he could make quite a decent cup. “I don't like feeling as though I'm an invalid, Ralph, as though I need you to take care of me.”
Ralph raised an eyebrow. “You are no invalid, so why would you feel like one?”
This argument again. "Because you coddle me. If it weren't for this leg, would you insist on driving me to the station? Especially after not setting up half the night over your manuscript.”
”I think best at night, and anyway..." Ralph carefully placed his cup on the table. He held out his maimed hand, bare of the glove he still often wore when he went out. “If it weren't for this, would you have insisted on carving the chicken for our not-Christmas feast?”
Laurie had to smile. “Oh, that's a fine accusation since you wouldn't let me."
"True.” Ralph's lips turned up at the corners and the fine lines around his eyes crinkled. ”But you insisted before I wouldn't let you. Chickens are too hard to lay hands on right now to have you chop it to bits. And I'll drive you to the station, especially since it's because of me that you're going.”
Laurie took a final sip of the tea. Time to confess. Keeping secrets from Ralph had never worked well for them. "It isn't because of you."
"Nonsense. If I weren't here you wouldn't worry if old Straike showed up at your door.” Laurie gave what he hoped was an innocent shrug.
“What difference would that make? He would hardly be shocked to know you're here when we're sharing digs. He'd would be rather surprised if you weren't."
"He doesn't--” Ralph's eyes narrowed. “You told him whom you are sharing digs with."
"I told mother. Of course, she told him."
"Spud, if Straike ever runs into Jeepers, they'll compare stories. You'll catch one hell of a backwash. I told you not to let on. What purpose does it serve?"
"I wasn't going to lie about my life any more than I have to. There are enough lies the way things have to be, and it would be worse if they found out accidentally."
"But you didn't mind lying to me."
Laurie felt the heat of a blush in his cheeks. “I didn't lie. I just didn't tell you. It's not the same.” Would he ever outgrow blushing? At his age, it was beyond embarrassing.
Ralph sighed and ran a hand over his hair, still mussed from bed. “There's no time for this. Give me a minute, and I'll take you. There is no reason to pay for a taxi when I have a perfectly good and rather expensive automobile in front of the flat.”
Laurie didn't want to leave things at odds between them. They had argued more than enough recently with Ralph tired and irritable over whatever was wrong with his novel that he refused to discuss. Laurie put a hand on Ralph's sleeve. “Don't be mad with me, Ralph.” He brushed a kiss across Ralph's lips.
"I wish you hadn't taken the risk, Spud. The last thing I want is to ruin your life more than I have. But I'm not angry."
"I swear, if you're going to go on about ruining my life—which you haven't—I'll simply stay here. I could tell them I've caught a croup."
Ralph patted Laurie's hand and walked into the bedroom. “You're right. That's an old guilt and no point in holding onto it, love. I just don't want you to ever go through--” Ralph broke off for a moment. “You can't imagine what it would be like. And I don't want you to."
"I can imagine. I have a good idea how your father hurt you, but it's a chance I'll have take.” He chewed his lip as he waited for Ralph, who came out a couple of minutes later hair gleaming from the brush and chin smoothly shaved, and his maimed hand covered by a black leather glove. Ralph put his hand on the doorknob.
Laurie held the door closed with the flat of his hand. “Remember you said once that you need sunshine and fresh air for for wine and even more so for love. Well, you said it better, but I've thought about that so many times. And I can't live in the shadows, have us in the shadows. I can't tell them that I love you, but never to be able to mention you, say your name. Ralph, that would be a dark way to live.”
Ralph cradled Laurie's cheek in the palm of his hand for a moment, then laid a kiss on his mouth before opening the door. "Come along. You mustn't miss your train.”
Laurie sighed as Ralph took his case out of his hand. "You don't worry yourself ragged over that manuscript while I'm gone."