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Dispatches from the Front

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Candles are arranged strategically about the room, their flickering light bathing the living room in a warm glow. Awaiting David’s return home is a vase holding half a dozen red roses and a chilling bottle of champagne. Mozart’s 21st piano concerto, one of their favourites, drifts out softly from the stereo. In the kitchen, the timer on the oven signals that dinner will be ready in eighteen minutes.

 

The telltale sound of David’s key in the door jolts Don into readiness and he hurries into the hallway to welcome him home, wiping suddenly sweaty hands on his trousers as he goes.

 

The evening marks the fifteenth anniversary of their first kiss. It was back during their second year at Oxford, they’d been at a party in Rudge’s room. He’d hung up some mistletoe over the door, even though it was a full month before Christmas, in an attempt to bring in more pussy (his words). Don had never asked if the plan was a success for Rudge but he and David had certainly got some use out of it.

 

Don tells himself it’s stupid to be nervous after they’ve been together for so long. His heart slams in his chest in response.

 

“Nice wine.” David smiles, pressing a bottle into his hands.

 

“Hello.”

 

Ever the gentleman, Don takes David’s briefcase and coat before gently framing David’s face in his hands and drawing him in for a soft kiss.

 

“Hello yourself.”

 

He smiles and shepherds his partner inside.

 

David takes in the roses, candlelight and music while Don pours them each a glass of champagne.

 

“Wow.”

 

“Happy anniversary, love. Dinner will only be a few minutes.”

 

They settle together on the sofa and, as if from nowhere, Windermere jumps onto David’s lap. Don smiles indulgently at the pair of them, Windermere’s purring joining the music as David scratches behind his ear.

 

“However, did I get so lucky?” David asks the cat.

 

Don slides an arm around him and touches their glasses together with a soft clink.

 

“Cheers. It’s me who’s lucky, love.”

 

It’s been a while since they spent a romantic evening together, David’s embarrassed by his plan of sharing a nice bottle of wine and ringing the Chinese takeaway. Not that he’s making any complaints, trust Don to plan the perfect evening without breaking a sweat.

 

Things are just starting to get interesting on the sofa with David’s lips following the line of Don’s throat and Don’s hands sliding inside David’s jumper to brush the soft skin of his sides (Windermere retreating to the back of the sofa in protest) when a furious thumping on the door shatters the little domestic paradise.

 

The journalist in Don is slightly disappointed that it doesn’t herald some terrible catastrophe but rather Dakin pounding at their front door with a face on him like a slapped arse. Actually, it’s probably the same thing.

 

There’s no time for philosophy on the subject, however, because Stu barrels into the house without waiting for an invitation, or even a hello, the second Don opens the door. There isn’t even time to get in a sarcastic comment before Dakin is storming down the hall ahead of him.

 

“Had a fight with Tom. I need somewhere to stay.” He announces to the house at large,

 

Flopping down into Don’s vacated seat on the sofa Dakin spares David a distracted smile. Windemere takes off like an indignant cloud.

 

Don rolls his eyes, not caring if Dakin notices. His and Irwin’s fights, though thankfully not common, are legendary for both their unpleasantness and length.

 

“What’s wrong with a hotel? London’s full of them I hear.”

 

“I need someone to talk to as well. Speaking of, Pos clear off for a few minutes would you?”

 

“Dakin!”

 

David merely raises his eyebrows in what Don has mentally dubbed his ‘are you for real, Dakin?’ face.

 

Filled with admiration for his partner’s composure though he is, Don has spent ages planning the evening, so he opts to yell rather than follow the good example.

 

“First of all no, David lives here and you don’t. Second of all, what the fuck? David’s your friend too!”

 

“Yes I know, but I need to talk to you and I can’t do it in front of Pos, he’s Tom’s friend.”

 

This is strange yet true and surprises nobody as much as David. When Dakin finally managed to get together with Irwin, he didn’t waste much time before reintroducing Tom to his oldest friends. David had been coolly polite to start with but found that once the roles of teacher and student had been stripped away (and once Tom stopped bullshitting, trying to shock and impress everyone and generally showing off), that the two of them actually had a lot in common and shared a dark sense of humour. Besides, they’ve all grown up a lot since school, and Tom isn’t excluded from this just because he was the teacher. Well, most of us have anyway, David thinks, glancing over at Dakin who’s sitting slumped and scowling, arms folded across his chest, every inch the petulant child.

 

“Don’t mind me. I ignore most of what you say anyway. The rest I don’t believe.” He pulls out his mobile to text Tom.

 

<< Dkns hr, n cs UR w rid. U k? >>

 

The response is almost immediate. Tom must’ve had the phone in his hand already.

 

<< thx. Ill be fine. >>

 

The absence of perfect spelling and punctuation is a sign in itself that he’s far from fine.

 

He glances up at Don, who is dropping hints that Dakin isn’t welcome, and Dakin who’s sulking like a twelve-year-old and refusing to take them.

 

<< dnr pspd NEwy. wnt me 2 cm ovr? >>

 

He turns the phone over in his hand a few times while he waits for a response.

 

<< please. >>

 

“No need for Dakin to start another fight.” David grabs the unopened bottle of wine. “I’m taking this over to Tom’s. I’ll see you later.”

 

He presses a kiss to Don’s cheek before he can argue and grabs his coat.

 

“We’ll pick this up when I get back.” He promises, with a loaded look towards Dakin. “When the house is less occupied.”

 

Don sighs heavily, the door isn’t even closed behind David before Dakin is mumbling about everyone always assuming it’s his fault. Or something, he isn’t really listening.

 

What Don really needs is a stiff drink before he can deal with this shit, but more than that he needs Dakin sober enough to drive home again if he’s going to salvage the evening. He contents himself with making tea and offering up a silent prayer that the dinner will keep.

 

The tea is made and Don is sat down and ready to listen before Dakin notices the romantic set up.

 

“What’s all this? Scrippsy, you sly dog, looks like you were planning on something this evening.”

 

It’s amazing how suddenly Stu seems to forget his own problems when an opportunity opens for teasing Scripps, a talent he hasn’t lost since the first year of school.

 

“It’s our anniversary actually, thanks for the gift by the way. Not that I’m not delighted to have you here instead.”

 

“Sorry.” He grins, not looking it. “I didn’t know.”

 

“You might apologise to David as well when he comes home.”

 

“I’ll make it up to you.”

 

“I’d rather you just told me your problem and cleared off.”

 

“Charming, so honoured to have you as my best mate.”

 

“I’m listening aren’t I?”

 

*

 

David only has to knock twice before Tom answers the door, pale-faced and eyes red-rimmed behind his glasses, although this is just as likely to indicate a lack of sleep as it is that he’s been crying.

 

It’s better not to ask.

 

Instead, David waves the bottle of wine in greeting. Tom’s answering smile is broad, but relieved rather than happy.

 

“Never fear, alcohol will sort out everything.”

 

David bustles upstairs and towards the kitchen. The only way with Tom, he has learned, is to take charge if there’s any hope of cheering him up.

 

Tom hovers in the kitchen doorway while David roots about in the drawers for a corkscrew.

 

“I’m so sorry about your dinner. You didn’t need to offer to come over.”

 

“That’s true. Glasses?”

 

He waits for Tom to set two wine glasses on the counter and pours a generous measure into each.

 

“…But it would have been a bit strange carrying on the romantic celebrations with Dakin sulking on the sofa. He interferes with the ambience, to say the least.”

 

“Christ. Sorry.”

 

“Anyway, this way I get to avoid the sulks and get brownie points for being a good friend.”

 

Tom’s lips twitch only the smallest amount as he sits down on the soft leather couch. It’s a start.

 

David loves their house in Kew (Dakin calls it an apartment, but as far as David’s concerned anything with three storeys is a fucking house) and stands for a moment in front of the large windows, drinking in the sights of the village at night like he always does when he comes over.

 

“I think it might be over.”

 

The almost whispered confession behind him breaks through his happy cloud of envious appreciation. David should be shocked, upset even, but it’s like this every time so he just holds in a sigh instead.

 

Tom looks like he’s barely holding it together and David understands he isn’t being intentionally melodramatic. He pushes down his frustration and takes a seat opposite his friend.

 

“Dakin seemed pretty upset.” He ventures.

 

“Yeah.” Tom rubs his eyes roughly under his glasses.

 

It seems a straightforward narrative isn’t likely to be forthcoming on its own.

 

“What did you fight about?” David prompts.

 

“God, I don’t even remember. Isn’t that stupid?”

 

“From what I hear that’s pretty standard couple fighting.”

 

Tom stands and starts pacing around the sitting room.

 

“I feel like he’s ashamed of me sometimes.”

 

“Did he say that?”

 

“No. I said it and he shouted at me that I was a paranoid dickhead with self-esteem issues.”

 

David frowns. “The patented Dakin self-confidence booster.”

 

 

*

 

“I asked him to come with me to a party. I’m such a bastard.”

 

“Somehow I doubt that he went off on one just because of that. Explain.”

 

“There’s an end of the tax-year celebrations thing every year, work people, networking, that sort of thing. There’s always decent food and an open bar, I wanted him to come with me, he said no. No apology or explanation, just no.”

 

“Maybe he’s not in the mood for an evening of pissed up city boys and tax lawyers. I can’t think of anyone except you who would be.”

 

“Maybe he needs to pull his head out of his arsehole.”

 

Don can feel a headache building. He blows out the candles and switches on the overhead light.

 

“Oh, Scrippsy, I’m hurt. I was enjoying the romantic atmosphere!”

 

“Just tell me what your problem with Tom is so I can get on with my life.”

 

Dakin picks at his shoelace and Don might almost think he was embarrassed if he didn’t believe the emotion to be beyond him.

 

“After some questioning, I found out that he refuses to come with me because at the last works do I flirted a bit with my secretary and a couple of the HR girls.”

 

Scripps stops in the middle of the room and stares open-mouthed.

 

Dakin looks sheepish for a few seconds.

 

“… And a bloke who’s with us on internship.”

 

“Are you joking?! You think he’s being unreasonable for not wanting to repeat the experience?”

 

“I was pissed! For fuck sake, it was only a bit of harmless drunken flirting. It’s not like I groped anyone or got off with someone in the coatroom. He acts like being in a relationship means you have to gouge your eyes out and shun anyone who’s even remotely attractive. Anyway, he didn’t make much of a deal about the bloke. It’s the girls that bother him. Hence the fight.”

 

“Dakin you spent the night flirting with people in front of him! People you spend every day with, of course it upset him. You’re lucky he didn’t kick your arse over it at the time.”

 

“That’s the thing though, if it bothered him so much, why didn’t he tell me? Instead, he was a bit quiet for a couple of days, now I think of it, but never said a word.”

 

Scripps pinches the bridge of his nose. Hard.

 

“Fuck.”

 

“Exactly. He’s got serious issues.”

 

“No, I mean ‘fuck I’m not getting my sofa back tonight’, am I?”

 

“Thanks, Scrippsy, you’re a real mate.”

 

“Of course you’re welcome. I just wish you’d chosen another night.”

 

He pours them each a glass of whiskey, it doesn’t look like Dakin will be leaving anytime soon and he needs it.

 

“Just one mind, in case you need to drive later.”

 

“I don’t want to go back till he’s calmed down.”

 

Don tries very hard not to roll his eyes; Dakin’s never been one for unflinching self-awareness.

 

“Aren’t you worried about him?”

 

“Nah, he’s with Posner now, braiding each other’s hair, or whatever. He’ll be alright.”

 

Don fixes his friend with one of his mum’s trademark looks. It’s not a trick he employs often but he knows its effects first hand. Sure enough, Dakin starts to squirm.

 

“You know, you may be alright with saying horrible things about your other-half but can you please not do it with mine?”

 

“As long as you promise never to say ‘other-half’ again.”

 

“Stu.”

 

He does at least apologise, although Scripps doubts he means it.

 

“Do you find it difficult? Posner being completely gay and you enjoying a bit of variety?”

 

Dakin never uses the word ‘bi’, preferring to speak in euphemisms about his sexuality. He once told Don that he thinks it’s gimmicky. Don makes a point of using it as much as possible, partly for the joy of needling Dakin, and partly because he genuinely thinks it’s a good descriptor for his own sexuality.

 

“I’ve never found being bisexual a problem. David definitely doesn’t care. I suspect because it’s all academic for me. Since we’ve been together I’m only really attracted to him. I might notice that someone’s attractive in passing but I never have an urge to do anything with that information.”

 

“Ugh. You’re disgusting. I thought journalists were all supposed to be sleazebags.”

 

Don ignores him. “I’ve certainly never flirted with anyone of either gender in front of David, I would consider it to be the height of rudeness! Anyone would, I think”

 

“You think it’d be nicer if I did it behind his back?”

 

“I don’t understand why not doing it at all seems to be missing from your list of viable options.”

 

“I’m just being myself, I’ve always been a flirt, it’s not news to him. It doesn’t mean anything. I thought he knew that.”

 

“It’s not like you don’t have previous form.” Don mutters into his glass.

 

Dakin shoots him a dark look.

 

“Not with him I don’t. I don’t sneak behind his back and I don’t want to. Surely that’s what matters!”

 

“And you said all this to him?”

 

“More or less.”

 

Dakin shrugs and drops his eyes to the whiskey swirling about in his glass.

 

“I might have lost my temper a bit. Can you blame me though? If I twisted my balls up in knots and decided he was going to leave me every time he swoons at Sean Bean on telly I’d have tons of people telling me I’m being a dick and instead all I get is ‘poor Tom’.”

 

Don entertains the idea of asking outright whether Dakin is, in fact, really that thick.

 

“It’s not the same because he isn’t spending hours with Sean every day when you’re not there. If he was, and he ignored you for the two of them to flirt across the bar at a party don’t tell me you wouldn’t have something to say about it!”

 

 

*

 

“He was flirting with the entire party?”

 

“Half of his office at any rate.”

 

David’s phone buzzes in his pocket.

 

“What’s the matter with him?”

 

“Maybe it’s me.”

 

He almost misses the soft response as he reads the text from Don.

 

<< Dakn a pillock >> David can’t help but agree.

 

“He does love you, you know.”

 

“He thinks I’m pathetic.”

 

“He doesn’t.”

 

Tom just nods sadly, his gaze focused on his shoes. David quickly taps out << T. v slf pT >> and sends it back.

 

“You know what he’s like when he’s in a temper, though. I mean, I know how you feel about him, or I think I do. But there’s no sense in denying that he can be a huge dick.”

 

Tom’s furtive giggle has a wet quality to it. David pours him some more wine.

 

“I’m sorry about that, by the way.”

 

“About Dakin?”

 

He doesn’t mean to laugh, really he doesn’t, but a loud bark escapes before he can stop it.

 

“Don’t be. I was well over that years ago. No, in the battle for a boyfriend I rather think I won the war. Drink up.”

 

Tom does as he’s told and dutifully drains half his glass. David doesn’t miss the way his hand trembles slightly on the stem. He leans across and tops it back up. Tom smiles his thanks.

 

“Do you think I’m selfish to stay with him?”

 

“Why would I think that?”

 

“I’m paranoid, apparently and insecure, I’m a self-delusional compulsive liar and I take everything too seriously, I lack self-confidence, I’m jealous and overly critical.”

 

Tom’s voice goes choked and he turns his face away.

 

“I just don’t know how he can be happy with that.” He says once he can speak again.

 

It’s difficult to know what to say, really, but David feels that it would be unfriendly to let it go unchallenged. He opens and closes his mouth a couple of times before he comes up with what he hopes is an acceptable response.

 

“I think that’s you being a bit hard on yourself.”

 

Tom chuckles, dry and bitter. “No, it’s a summary of some of the things we discussed.”

 

“Fuck. He really is being a cock.”

 

Tom runs his hand through his hair and starts pacing again.

 

“Don’t take it to heart, people say cruel things when they fight. It’s not like you couldn’t make an ogre of him by highlighting his every fault.”

 

For a moment it looks like Tom really is going to cry and David glances desperately around the room for a handy box of tissues, but Tom swallows and regains control of himself, although his voice is thick and he stumbles over his words when he speaks.

 

“He said my crippling self-loathing is the reason why I’m dissatisfied with every meaningful human relationship I’ve ever had, that he could do without having to deal with it every day. That that’s our problem, not him.”

 

David is aware that the rules of friendship preclude him voicing his real thoughts, namely ‘perhaps you’d be better off if your relationship really was over.’

 

“He’d break up with you if he wasn’t happy, Tom.”

 

The nod he receives is unconvinced.

 

“It’s not just that.” Tom looks more like he’s trying to push his hand through his skull than rub away a headache. “He’s not gay. Is it any wonder if he isn’t happy?”

 

“You think because he’s bisexual...” David waves his hand in response to Tom’s raised eyebrow “…or whatever he wants to call it, that he must be unable to settle down happily with you?”

 

“Maybe the problem is he’s not… satisfied.”

 

David only just stops a laugh from bubbling up.

 

“Tom, you’re talking shit!”

 

Irwin deflates, letting out another sigh and dropping into an armchair.

 

“You say it nicer than he does. Maybe we just want different things. It’s selfish of me to insist on us being exclusive. I know other people can have open relationships but I just can’t, I’ve never been able to, it’s not me. And he’s always been more into women. God, the first time he ever came on to me he told me he was straight.”

 

While he came on to you? Tom, do you realise how ridiculous that sounds?”

 

“The point is I get upset at him flirting with everything that moves but maybe it’s because I’m forcing something that’s not meant to be.”

 

“You’ve been together nearly a decade, don’t you think you’d have noticed by now?”

 

Tom shrugs with one shoulder, he looks too worn out to do anything more.

 

History, not histrionics Mrs Lintott had said. If nothing else, this was further proof that Irwin was the antithesis of everything she had ever been. ‘The Histrionic Historian’ would be a fitting name for his next series. David bites his tongue; Tom probably gets enough of that sort of advice from Dakin.

 

“You had a fight and it got a bit vicious. It’s happened before.”

 

Tom doesn’t even react to this. Under normal circumstances, he would likely regard it as a dig and get seriously offended. This David knows from experience, though thankfully the faux pas on that occasion had been Don’s.

 

“He’ll be sorry and come home with his tail between his legs as soon as he’s cooled off. It doesn’t mean it’s all over, or that you should split up because of some guilt complex. Trust me, it’ll be ok.”

 

Tom leans back in his chair with his eyes closed. David has no idea if his attempt at reassurance is helping, but he’s sure that their circular conversation is doing nothing to alleviate Tom’s stress.

 

Not that he blames him for being paranoid. David knows for a fact that Dakin repeatedly cheated during his one previous serious relationship with a beautiful but self-obsessed woman named Sally. He’s not sure how much, if anything, Tom knows about the details of Dakin and Sally’s relationship.

 

“We’ll have another drink and talk about something else.”

 

They end up raiding the pantry and Tom’s French cinema collection for wine and entertainment.

 

 

*

 

<< T v upst tks D bttr off w.o. hm >>

 

That David thinks that these messages are easy to understand is enough evidence for Don that school kids infect the mind with drivel. Although he has a sneaking suspicion that their text speak is better than David’s pidgin form.

 

“Sorry, don’t let me and my life crisis over here interfere with looking at your phone.”

 

Don sighs, he’s sure his headache will be a migraine by tomorrow.

 

“So big revelation: he’s insecure. You think you’re going to sort that by screaming insults at him?”

 

“No! It’s just frustrating, you know.”

 

“I’m sure.”

 

“You don’t get it, you don’t fight.”

 

“Just because we don’t have blazing rows and kick each other out of the house, doesn’t mean it’s always easy.”

 

Dakin scowls at him. “You mean Posner and his moods?”

 

“He doesn’t have ‘moods’ Dakin, he has clinical depression.”

 

“What do you call what happened last year then?”

 

“I call it a lucky escape. The doctor called it a nervous breakdown. It was not a mood. A mood is what you’re in now.”

 

“Whatever. The point is he doesn’t trust me. And if that’s because of my innate sexual appetites then he never will.”

 

“The point is you haven’t given him any reason to trust you. You’ve ridden roughshod over his feelings and now you’re sat here ruining my evening, wondering why it’s all blown up in your face.”

 

“Whose side is it you’re on exactly?”

 

“Yours, you twat. I’m spending my anniversary dissecting your fight. Neglecting my own relationship to stop you losing the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

 

“It’s not that bad.”

 

“David thinks it is.”

 

Dakin snatches the phone from his hand.

 

“What’s this supposed to say?”

 

Don translates.

 

“Jesus, you’d think someone who loves reading so much would have some mercy on the English language.”

 

“Stu!”

 

“Well, what am I supposed to do?”

 

“Go home and talk to him.”

 

“I tried that.”

 

“No, you tried shouting at him and detailing everything you find unattractive about him. Try telling him why you stay with him, what you like about him.”

 

“I don’t like that he doesn’t trust me.”

 

“So go and tell him why he should.”

 

“I tried that!”

 

Don counts up to ten in his head.

 

“Again, it works better if you don’t shout it at him.”

 

“I lose my temper. I know it isn't the way to solve things, I'm not stupid. That’s why I left. That’s why I’m here.”

 

“Yeah fine, look, he’s upset. He thinks you don’t really want to be with him. In his upset and naturally perverse state of mind – what? That’s why you like him I thought.”

 

Dakin’s death glare eases a little in acknowledgement.

 

“He’s got it into his head that you would be happier without him. Just… keep that in your head and sort that out before you fly off the handle.”

 

“He’s such a fucking idiot.”

 

“Don’t open with that.”

 

He knows Dakin isn’t such a cocky bastard as he comes across – it would hardly be possible. He's relying on Dakin being scared to shift him on his way home, it looks like it might be working.

 

“He knows you’re… oversexed, and flirty, fine. You know he’s insecure with a talent for forming odd conclusions. You need to take that into account when dealing with him.”

 

“I don’t know how he can think this stuff.”

 

“Same way he can think the Holocaust is a matter of perspective, I expect.”

 

“Ask Posner if he’s serious.”

 

<< Dakin wnts 2 no if ur Cres >>

 

The phone chirps in seconds.

 

<< Cress wtf? >>

 

“You two need to go on a fucking course.” Dakin snatches the phone again and retypes the message.

 

<< Tl hm iz bn d theem of d evNg >>

 

“Fuck.” Dakin grabs his scarf and gets to his feet.

 

“Good luck. And do us a favour and drop David back here, please.”

 

Don picks up his phone from where Dakin unceremoniously dropped it onto the sofa cushions and sends a message off to David:

 

<< Ncuming >>

 

<< LOL sndz lk u r sextg me >>

 

*

 

 

When Dakin gets home he finds Tom curled up on the sofa with his feet under a blanket, chatting to Posner in front of Manon des Sources. A handful of empty wine bottles litter the table in front of them.

 

David is the first to catch sight of Dakin hovering in the doorway and stands to go. Stu takes it as his cue.

 

“Hey.” He says to Tom, who smiles - thank Christ.

 

“Come on Pos, I’ll take you home.”

 

“Don’t worry about me, I think you’d be better off here.”

 

“I promised Scripps.”

 

“You can give me the taxi fare then, I’ve already called one.”

 

David spies the signs of a really serious Scripps talking to™ in the docile way Dakin obediently digs fifty quid out of his wallet with no more than a half-hearted roll of the eyes.

 

Tom mutes the telly.

 

“Bye, David and thanks. Enjoy the rest of your anniversary.”

 

In the cab, David sends off a message.

 

<< lft D grvlg. B thr n 10. Lts celbrte rst anvrsry in bd >>

 

 

*

 

“You and Pos have a nice time, then?”

 

“I wouldn’t put it like that.”

 

During his brief chat with Posner, Stu could feel Tom’s eyes fixed on him. Now they’re alone together Tom is looking everywhere but at him.

 

He takes advantage of this to edge closer to the sofa.

 

“It was their bloody anniversary for God’s sake.” Tom hisses once Stu’s within firing range.

 

“They have an anniversary every year. How often do you get a really good apology?”

 

“From you?”

 

Nodding, Stu sits down gingerly beside him as if he’s joining an unexploded landmine on the sofa, rather than his boyfriend. Finally, Tom turns his eyes to him and raises an eyebrow expectantly.

 

Stu takes a deep breath.

 

“I’m really sorry I was such a twat. I don’t want anyone but you and I’m sorry I made you feel like that wasn’t true.”

 

He was sort of expecting the apology to be the end of it, he’s been practising it all the way over, and he’s momentarily wrong-footed when Tom doesn’t show any sign of making up with him then and there, doesn’t move at all, in fact.

 

“You said you didn’t want my self-loathing in your life.”

 

“No, but I do want you.”

 

Stu sighs.

 

“I put up with it because you’re worth it. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, I just got upset and angry because I thought that you were accusing me of cheating on you and I’ve never, I swear, I don’t want to. I don’t want to lose you. I love you.”

 

Tom gives a small hiccoughing sob.

 

“Fuck, I’m sorry.” Stu breathes.

 

Gently, he raises a hand to stroke Tom’s face. When Tom doesn’t push him away Stu leans in and kisses him softly, whispering over and over against Tom’s lips that he doesn’t want anybody else.

 

*

 

“Dakin said he’d bring you home.”

 

Don takes David’s coat and kisses his cold cheek as soon as he’s in the door.

 

“I know, I insisted on getting a cab. Don’t worry, I robbed him blind.”

 

“Good-o. Ready to come upstairs for your present?”

 

“Oh, Don!” David clutches at his heart. “You’re such a romantic. Never have I been so artfully seduced.”

 

“I did get you a present you know.” Don chuckles, turning pink. “Not just… although you can have that as well.”

 

“Lead the way, my love.”

 

Upstairs the bedroom is lit with candles, the roses from earlier are scattered across the bed, dinner and a bottle of champagne are waiting on the trestle table and a wrapped present sits on the pillow.

 

David pulls Don in for a kiss before he goes and digs a present of his own out of his bedside drawer.

 

“Happy anniversary, my love, and may I take this opportunity to say that my taste in men has definitely improved over the years.”

 

 

*

 

David’s eating lunch in the staffroom the next day when his phone pings with a text from Tom.

 

<< So sorry about your dinner. Thanks for being a mate. Please thank Scripps for me. >>

 

<< it tnd ot ok thn/ >>

 

<< It sounds like you have lockjaw. >>

 

<< U o k? >>

 

<< Apology, then make-up sex last night… >>

<< Apology sex this morning, breakfast in bed and mention of a lunch date… >>

<< He even said the L word more than once. >>

 

<< shud he b tkng abt lsbins drng sx? >>

 

<< LOL >>

<< Scripps deserves a reward. What can we do? >>

 

<< dt wry he gt it >>

<< mb mor wn >>

 

<< You’re incomprehensible. Will call later. >>