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Just Once

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Andy Dalziel is a man who likes his own jokes.

No harm in that, but the fourth time he trots out his line about "Wieldy's hen night," Wield decides to go for a piss. A long one.

He's leaning on the sink and trying to remember exactly how many drinks he's had when Pete wanders in after him. "Wieldy. 'M so sorry."

"Eh?"

"That bastard. The one the twentieth century just . . . twenty-first century. Just passed him by." There's a bright flush to his cheeks; Wield wonders if it's the booze or sheer moral outrage.

Wield shrugs. "You should've heard what he said when I asked him to the - " He still doesn't know what to call it. Not wedding. Not ceremony. The contract signing? "When I invited him. 'All right,' he says, but with that look. You know, like he feels a joke coming on. And then he says, 'So long as nobody expects me to kiss the bride!'"

Pete, tilted against the door, shakes his head solemnly. "Christ, he can be a shit. Somebody should - I could talk to him for you."

"Didn't know you were feeling suicidal. Anyway, I think it bothers you more than me."

"You shouldn't have to - ."

"I'd have been sacked years ago if it wasn't for him. He looks out for me with the brass. You know that, Pete." Anyway, he'd rather cope with a hundred Dalziels than any of the mealy-mouthed little tossers who are politically correct to his face and tell their jokes behind his back.

Pete runs a hand through his hair, leaving it more mussed than before. He looks disappointed. Sometimes, for all his cleverness, he shows friendship the way little lads do--by getting into scraps for you.

Wield sets a hand on his shoulder for a moment. "Thanks, though. I'd be lying if I said he never got on my nerves."

"The day he stops getting on my nerves, I'll know I'm dead." He pauses, face squashed with the effort of thinking. He's a lot drunker than Wield has ever seen him. "Or worse, I've turned into him. A thinner him."

"Not a chance." The job changes everybody. And it's rubbed some of the shine off Pete, dented him a bit. But he's still silver to Dalziel's iron.

"Wieldy." Pete levers himself off the door and scrubs his hands over his face. "Can I ask you something? Not about Dalziel. Something else."

There aren't many kinds of questions where you ask permission beforehand. But when someone does, it's hard to say no. Wield nods.

"Did you - did you ever fancy me?"

Straight men always think that, Edwin says. If they know you're queer, they always imagine their arses--their flabby, probably pimply arses--are in danger.

But Pete's not like that. And Wield has to admit that for once, it's a fair question. "It was a long time ago," he says, which is the most useful half of the truth. "I would never have - "

"I want to kiss you."

"What? Have you gone daft?"

"I want," Pete says, slowly, "to kiss you."

Wield's had more than a few, and obviously so has Pete, but not enough that this could be some kind of alcoholic hallucination. "I love Edwin." His voice has gone squeaky with shock. "And you're straight." He rubs the palm of his left hand on his trousers, but he can't get rid of the feel of Pete's warm, thin shoulder.

"Yeah. And I love Ellie. But . . . " His hands flail around, like he's trying to shake the words out of the air. "I have never kissed a man. Never. Isn't that . . . isn't it stupid?"

And the straight men who don't panic, Edwin says, will want you to be their experiment.

He can't think of a thing to say.

"Just once," Pete says, coaxingly. "You've kissed a woman, haven't you?"

"Yeah, but - " Only when he was still trying to be straight.

"Well then. Fair's fair." Pete grins at his own brilliant argument. His eyes are bright even under the toilet's yellowish light, and one point of his collar has curled up.

"Stop asking me. Or I might." It was, he's fairly sure, meant to be a threat. It doesn't sound like one, and he's not surprised when Pete smiles.

"For Christ's sake, just kiss me."

And he does. He nudges Pete back against the door and kisses him, slowly. Very slowly, easing them both into it, urging Pete's mouth open, tasting and licking inside him, making it last. He's wanted to kiss Peter Pascoe for fourteen years, and Pete's likely figured that out by now. He leans into Pete's body, one hand on his face and one against the door, and he thinks he can feel every muscle, every bone, and the whole time he's trying to keep his memory open like a camera lens, so he'll never lose any of it.

It ends, though, and he steps away, because he has to. A good thing he's too old to get hard from just one kiss; that might've been more than Pete bargained for. He tries to calm his breathing down. Pete's breathing a little fast, too, and he doesn't look like he hated it, but he doesn't look like he's desperate for another one, either.

"Thank you," Pete says, and Wield wants to laugh, but he can't.

He's about to turn away, wash his hands or something--anything to finish this moment when the only things that could possibly happen are awful--when Pete grabs him and hugs him. Arms close around him, the way they weren't before. Wield locks his own arms around Pete's waist and shuts his eyes. It lasts a long time, longer than the kiss. Sometime in the middle, Wield stops fretting about how they can ever be friends after this. They can. They will.

He lets go first; that seems like a good idea. Pete smiles, like he knows what Wield was thinking, and like there wasn't any need for it. "We'd better get back," Wield says. "Andy'll be lonely."

"Might've had to buy his own drink, more like."

Wield laughs, more than it really deserves. He even feels like he could laugh at the Fat Man's jokes. In the back of his mind there's some guilt waiting for him, and some worry, but he's surprised to find that what he feels more than anything, right now, is happy. He opens his memory to that, too, and follows Pete out the door.