“And how was your day?” Alex asked as soon as Tom and Hal stepped into the house. Hal pushed through the door ahead of Tom and he jumped, surprised, and then pressed a hand to his forehead.
“Alex,” Hal said in that kind of exasperated tone of his.
Hal used that tone a lot, all the time, but Alex’s eyebrows rose anyway and she looked to Tom.
“Sorry,” she said.
Tom shrugged. They’d had an odd day and Hal was still off. And Tom thought that he understood Alex too. Alex was just bored, anyone could see that. Tom and Hal left for their jobs at the hotel and Alex just stayed there at the house alone all the time. It was no wonder she rushed to greet them when she heard them come up the walk. She needed something to do. Annie had had Eve and she’d liked keeping the house tidy, that kind of thing, but Alex was different. She didn’t care about the house and there was no one else here that needed caring.
Alex talked a lot about Lady Mary and Hal always dismissed it, but Tom listened. He didn’t think Alex would ever end up that much of a nutter, but he did worry about her. Alex sat at home and she stared at that list of unfinished business and he imagined it must be really frustrating, being dead but still here and not knowing why.
Sometimes Tom wondered if that ghost Kirby had been right when he said that werewolves couldn’t be ghosts. Sometimes he hoped that Kirby was right because it meant that if Tom ever died, he couldn’t get stuck here like Annie and Alex and Mary did, trying to figure out what he forgot to do while he was still alive.
He thought that was probably a strange thing to take comfort in.
When neither Tom nor Hal answered her question, Alex spoke again and her voice pulled Tom back into the moment.
“That good then?” she asked. She folded her arms across her chest.
“Um,” Tom said, high and long. He looked over at Hal.
“I need to change,” Hal said, though he’d already changed out of his suit before he left the hotel. He’d only been wearing those clothes for maybe an hour all day. Even so, Hal tossed his keys on the bar and then left Tom and Alex standing there in the hall.
Alex’s mouth was open a little as she eyed Tom.
“Okay,” she said. “Was it something I said?”
Tom frowned and shook his head, looked down the hall toward the stairs, then back at Alex.
“Nah, it’s not you,” Tom said.
Hal just didn’t want to talk about it yet. Tom had tried on the walk home from the hotel, not even about their day, just general talking, and Hal had been quiet then too, walking faster to get ahead of Tom if he could, grunting one word responses to Tom when he couldn’t.
Tom wasn’t sure he really wanted to talk about it either, about what they’d gotten up to at the hotel that day. He was pretty positive Hal wouldn’t want him to talk about it, but Alex looked dead bored and also there was part of Tom that really did need to talk about it to someone and who else was there but Alex? Alex had become the person that he talked to about things. He just wasn’t sure exactly how to go about starting it.
“So what’s with him then?” Alex pressed.
“Yeah,” Tom said. He decided that it was best just to rush right in. “About that, you know how Hal isn’t supposed to drink like squash or cordials or owt?“
“The Kia-Ora thing,” Alex agreed. “Yeah, I remember.”
“Yeah. Well, uh, the kitchen ordered in some Kia-Ora,” Tom started. It was weird telling this story just standing like this in the hall by the door. It was weird telling this story at all anyway – it was sort of weird that it had even happened – but this felt awkward, just standing here with his coat on and all. Tom fidgeted for a second. He looked past Alex. “Can we sit down?”
“Oh,” Alex said. Her face lit up a little. “Oh, this is going to be good, isn’t it? Was it the bucket of laughs that I always imagined it to be? Did he dance on the tables? Strip naked in the middle of the dining room?”
“No, not really laughs, I wouldn’t say.”
“Oh, wait,” Alex said, her tone changing then. “Did he – he didn’t try to kill someone, did he? That crusty old man in the wheelchair?”
“Erm,” Tom said. “No, he didn’t try to kill anyone neither.”
“Well, then what?” Alex pressed.
Tom took a deep breath. He glanced back toward the stairs, and then he made up his mind, nodded and got with the telling.
He found Hal leaning against the counter at the center of the hotel’s kitchen, his palms flat against the metal and his head hanging down, his back to the door. Hal looked up when Tom walked in, startled, but he relaxed a little when he saw that it was only Tom.
“You all right, Hal?” Tom asked. He set the dish he was carrying on the counter by the door.
Hal nodded, didn’t say anything else. He turned so that he was facing Tom, his back to the counter and his hands gripping the edges. He shut his eyes and nodded again.
Okay, that did not look all right. That looked like – “Are you thinking about killing people?” Tom asked.
Hal frowned and shook his head. “No,” he said.
“That’s good,” Tom nodded, but Hal’s eyes were still closed and he was still gripping the edge of the counter like – well, like exactly what he used to do at the caff when he was thinking about killing people, really.
And that was when Tom noticed the bottle on the counter beside Hal, nearly empty.
“Hold on,” Tom said.
Hal opened his eyes as Tom approached, but he didn’t move aside. He just stood there and watched as Tom reached past him and picked up the bottle.
“Did you drink this?” Tom asked.
“Yes,” Hal admitted.
“Why would you – Kia-Ora is on your list, Hal,” Tom pointed out. “Leo said – “
Hal shook his head. He leaned in toward Tom, eyebrows raised. “It’s fine. Really. I promise that it’s fine. Pearl and Leo overreacted, that’s all. Pearl was always overreacting to everything.”
Tom put the bottle to his lips, sipped the drink. It was sweet and tasted like oranges. Tom had had it before; he didn’t see the big deal. When Hal reached for the bottle, Tom handed it back to him, watched as Hal downed the remaining contents.
He didn’t try to stop Hal, didn’t really see the point when Hal had already drunk the rest, but when the bottle was empty, Tom took the bottle back from Hal’s hand. Hal released it reluctantly, then took a step forward, away from the counter and closer to Tom. Tom turned the bottle over in his hand, looked at the tropical blue label.
“What’s so great about it anyway?” Tom asked.
“It tastes like blood,” Hal breathed. He was close, closer than Hal usually chose to stand.
Tom shook his head. “You’re crazy, mate. Tastes like oranges.”
“With underlying tones of blood,” Hal added. The words caught and shook in his throat, the syllables shuddered, and Hal’s eyes fell shut again.
Tom frowned. He looked at the empty bottle in his hand, lifted it to his nose and sniffed it. Still just smelled like oranges to him.
Tom took a step away from Hal and Hal stepped forward again, moving with him, staying close.
“Um,” Tom said. He looked around the kitchen. “I have to get back out there. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes,” Hal said. “Yes, sorry, I’m fine.”
Hal reached out and touched the sleeve of Tom’s shirt as he spoke. Tom looked down at it, took another step away.
“Okay,” Tom said, though he wasn’t entirely sure that he believed Hal. He really did need to get back out there though. He’d only come into the kitchen to get more cream for Mrs. Walker’s tea. “Okay, good.”
Hal did seem sort of fine for a little while; odd, more odd than usual, but sort of fine. He seemed, well, friendly really. Kind of normal, actually, if you didn’t know that kind of normal wasn’t normal for Hal. Tom kept an eye on him, watched as he stood at the front desk and spoke to the guests. He was smiling at them a lot, more than Hal usually smiled. He was talking to them longer too. He laughed at their jokes and he looked like he really meant it and wasn’t just playing along because it was his job like how he usually looked. When Tom got busy and stopped watching Hal for a bit, twice he looked up to find that if there was no one around the desk then Hal was watching Tom instead, and when he caught Hal watching, Hal smiled again.
Tom didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but he hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t expected Kia-Ora to make Hal seem like some normal charming bloke.
A lady Tom recognized as staying on the third floor walked into the hotel then. Hal smiled at her as she passed the desk and she stopped and approached him. Of course she did. Any woman would stop with Hal smiling at them like that. They started talking, really talking, smiling and nodding and sometimes laughing. Hal looked like he was really getting on with her.
Hal must have complemented her – she was pretty, real sophisticated – because she shook her head as she laughed and then she reached out and touched Hal’s hand where it rested on the top of the desk. Hal froze, stared at the woman’s hand for a moment, and then he smiled warmly at her and moved as though to step out from behind the desk and closer to the woman. That was when Tom decided that it was probably time to intervene.
“Hal, mate, can I talk to you about something for a minute?” Tom asked. He stood close to the lady, his back straight and his hands folded behind him, official.
Hal smiled at her again and said, “If you’ll excuse me.”
Tom and Hal both watched as she walked into the dining room and then Tom turned to Hal.
”What were you doing?” Tom asked. He relaxed his back and brought his arms around to fold them across his chest instead as he blocked Hal’s way so that Hal was trapped behind the desk. “Were you chatting her up?”
“I was,” Hal admitted. He considered it and nodded. “Yes, I was a chatting her up a bit.”
Hal used to be rubbish at chatting up. Tom had seen it. Hal used to be rubbish with people. Now Hal was manager at a hotel and he was good at it, wore suits and talked to people all day long. He wasn’t awkward anymore like he was at the café. Most of the time he seemed confident, almost comfortable. He’d say it was the routine, that he was used to the routine, but Tom thought it was more than that. Most of the time Hal was in charge and he no longer needed Tom to intervene. He no longer seemed to need Tom to keep him safe.
That had bothered Tom at first. He’d missed the way things were at the café and he didn’t like how quickly Hal had seemed to change that dynamic, how quickly he’d assumed more responsibility and started bossing Tom around.
“Chatting her up so that you could kill her?” Tom asked. He might as well just get right out with it. Hal might get offended, but better Hal get offended than to come home and find another vampire in the basement. Better Hal be offended than end up with another death at the hotel and Hal tied up in that chair.
Vampires don’t reform, that’s what McNair always said, but if anyone could prove that wrong, Tom thought it had to be Hal. Tom needed it to be Hal, and Hal could be offended all he wanted in the mean time.
Hal’s brow was furrowed. Tom shrugged. “Well?”
“No,” Hal said. “No, I – I wasn’t planning to kill her. I wasn’t thinking – “ Hal stared down at the top of the desk, and then he said, “No, I had something else in mind first.”
“What?” Tom asked, then, “Wait, what do you mean, first?”
“Nothing,” Hal said. “I meant – I was just talking. That’s all.”
Tom nodded. “Good,” he said. “Good. Just because you drank that Kia-Ora, doesn’t mean I’m gonna let you chat up the guests and then go around killing them here in the hotel.”
Hal smiled at him then, like what he’d said was surprising or funny. It wasn’t that funny. Tom was serious, and if Hal hadn’t taken that drink, Hal would probably think it was pretty serious too.
“No,” Hal agreed, the smile still tugging at his mouth. “I don’t expect that you would.”
“I don’t want to have to put you back in the chair,” Tom said. He thought about it, and since Hal was already smiling at him anyway, Tom added, “Even if it’d mean I’d probably get your job.”
Hal’s smile stretched a little wider at that, and then he turned away from Tom, stared down at the open books on the desk, at the pens that he’d neatly arranged that morning. Tom relaxed a little, let his arms fall to his sides. When Hal looked up at him again, the smile was still there.
“I think I want to kiss you,” Hal said then, suddenly, like even he was surprised to realize it. The smile fell from his face then as he continued, “I think I’m going to.”
Tom felt his eyes go wide and he looked around the lobby of the hotel. He took a step back to look around the fish tank and into the dining room. There was no one in the dining room except the Captain and two guests waiting for the lift. Tom watched until the door to the lift shut with the guests inside and then he turned back to Hal.
Hal was closer. He looked like he’d been staring at Tom’s back as he bent to look around the tank, or maybe Tom’s bum. Tom squinted and Hal’s eyes shifted to Tom’s mouth.
“Okay, mate,” Tom said, moving fast now. He didn’t want to have to try to fight Hal off here in the middle of everything. He grabbed Hal by the shoulders, began to steer him out from behind the desk. “Let’s get you upstairs.”
“Upstairs, yes,” Hal agreed. Once Tom had him out from behind the desk, Hal pushed Tom’s hands from his arms, but he was moving now, out of the lobby and up the stairs in front of Tom, turning only to make sure that Tom was following him.
“Room 115 is empty,” Hal suggested. It was very helpful of him, really. When Tom had made the suggestion, he’d expected Hal to put up more of a fight.
They turned a corner on the first floor and found one of the hotel employees, Lizzy, leaving a room with a pile of folded bed sheets.
“Lizzy, go watch the desk, would ya?” Tom asked. “Hal’s feeling sick.”
“Oh no,” Lizzy said, genuinely concerned. She looked like she wanted to reach out and touch Hal’s shoulder, but she didn’t, held her hand back a space. She was a nice girl. Tom liked her. He liked all the others who worked at the hotel with them, really. “Of course. I’ll head down right now.”
“You’re good at this,” Hal said once Lizzy had left and Tom stopped and began unlocking the door to room 115.
Tom fiddled with the lock. Some of the doors in the hotel were tricky. They tried not to reserve these rooms. The guests complained and there was always someone running upstairs to help unlock doors.
“You see that, don’t you?” Hal asked.
Things had been better since Hal promoted Tom to assistant manager. Tom was trying not to let things get to him as much, and Hal seemed like he was trying too. He was treating Tom like more of an equal again, relying on him. They were getting on like they used to. Tom had missed it, getting on with Hal. He’d missed feeling like they were on the same side. How they’d been lately, it felt a little like getting his best mate back.
Hal continued. “You’re settling in here and you’re very good at it. You’re better with people than I am.”
Tom didn’t think that that was true, but he didn’t bother to contradict Hal.
“That’s probably because I don’t want to eat them,” Tom said, instead.
Hal was smiling again. “Yes,” Hal agreed. “That’s probably it.”
Tom pushed open the door to the room and then guided Hal inside.
Sometimes Tom thought the blood had changed Hal. It was just a little blood, Hal said. Not much at all, but Hal was different now, Kia-Ora and all aside. Tom just thought it was funny how a small amount of blood could change a vampire just like that. It wasn’t worse, this Hal, though he missed the more awkward Hal that he’d known before Cutler and the Old Ones. It wasn’t worse. He was just a little different; uptight still, yeah, and odd, but more confident too. Bossier, definitely.
Not now though. Not since Hal drank that Kia-Ora. Now Hal was still odd and still kinda strangely confident, but he seemed relaxed and happy and he was chatting up humans and Tom didn’t think he felt comfortable with that at all.
“I think you should stay in here for now,” Tom said. “You’re acting real funny. Leo put that drink on that list for a reason and I don’t reckon I believe you when you say you aren’t dangerous.”
Hal nodded and didn’t protest. “You’re good at this too,” he said.
“You don’t have to keep doing that,” Tom shrugged, uncomfortable with the complements. “I know now that Larry was wrong about me and about the wolf, Hal. You don’t have to keep making sure to say it all the time.”
Tom saw Hal’s jaw clench at that and he looked down at the floor. Tom thought for a moment that maybe he’d offended Hal or something.
“I’m not,” Hal said. “It has nothing to do with Larry. I’m saying it because it’s the truth.”
Tom shrugged again. “Well, thanks then.” If that’s what they were doing, then Tom thought that perhaps he should return the complement.
“You’re doing good too,” Tom said. “As manager, I mean. You’re good at it too.”
Hal smiled like it was funny. He shook his head, then looked away for a moment and when he looked back he said, “I really do think I might kiss you.”
“All right,” Tom said. “Calm down.”
But Hal seemed pretty calm already, really, and before Tom knew it Hal was reaching out and he felt Hal’s hand, cool on Tom’s skin as it curled around the back of Tom’s neck. Hal stepped in close, rested his forehead against Tom’s. Hal had never been much for touching. A hand-shake maybe, but it wasn’t like they even hugged, not ever, so this now, standing like this, it was kind of surprising and definitely strange.
“Erm,” Tom started. He pressed his hands to Hal’s chest, but he didn’t push Hal away.
“It would be safe, wouldn’t it?” Hal asked. “Kissing you right now? If I kissed you it would be safe.”
Tom listened to Hal, heard what he was saying. He’d just admitted it, hadn’t he? He probably was a bit of a danger like this and Tom was right to get him upstairs. Hal wasn’t safe, not now, not like this.
It had been months since Hal had asked anything of Tom. It had been months during which Hal told Tom what he should do, what he was doing wrong, what needed to be different. Now Hal was saying nice things, good things. Maybe that was the Kia-Ora, but Tom didn’t think that was all of it. Things had changed a little since Larry left; since Tom and Alex had stopped Lady Mary from staking Hal. Things had been less tense with them. And now Hal was asking for Tom’s help. Now Hal wanted Tom to help keep him safe again. Tom didn’t really see how kissing was going to do that, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like Hal was asking him for much and Tom didn’t reckon that he was going to make Hal ask twice.
Tom tilted his head, leaned in and kissed Hal on the lips, just like that. It was just a peck, really, nothing untoward at all, and Hal leaned in again right away and kissed Tom back, the same quick kiss on the mouth, only when Hal did it, he watched Tom’s face for a reaction, like he was testing him or something. Tom didn’t do anything, really, just shrugged and then nodded.
“Good?” Tom asked. “Did that help?”
“Yes,” Hal said, and then Hal kissed him again, only this time it was different. This time it wasn’t a peck. It was slow, like Hal wanted to make sure that they really felt it.
Tom felt it.
Tom had only ever kissed Allison before and that had been good and exciting, but rushed and weird and a little violent. Tom hadn’t wanted that with her, to rush into it, all excited after killing vampires. It hadn’t seemed right. He hardly knew her then.
Tom didn’t really know that this seemed right either, but this wasn’t Allison, it was just Hal and Hal wasn’t rushing it. He kissed Tom like they had hours, all the time in the world. Hal’s mouth was soft, but chapped and rough a little too, and his hands were holding Tom’s face and Tom hadn’t ever been kissed like this before, like it was really something to savor. With Allison it had felt like a sudden burst of emotion, of hormones or whatever, and they’d kissed each other fast and quick until Tom had slowed them down. This wasn’t like that. This wasn’t fast or desperate at all and Tom felt it spark inside him a little when Hal’s lips brushed against his again. He pulled away.
“I should get back downstairs,” Tom said. He pulled Hal’s hands away from his face and took a step back. “I should get back to work.”
Alex shifted on the couch, folded her knee up underneath her as she waited for Tom to continue. Tom cleared his throat and shrugged. He twisted his hands in the hem of his shirt.
“What, that’s it?” Alex asked. “You just went back to work and left Hal there?”
“Sort of,” Tom said. He didn’t really think it was appropriate to say anything more. “Hal wanted me to stay there a little while longer, and I did and I guess –“
Alex’s eyebrows shot up then and she leaned forward to get Tom’s attention, to get him to look her in the eye. “Wait, Tom, you and Hal didn’t – “ She squinted. “Tom, did you have sex?”
“What?” Tom repeated. “No! I wouldn’t even know what – no, I don’t think so. No.”
“You don’t think so,” Alex repeated.
“Erm,” Tom said. He wasn’t even sure how to describe what he and Hal had done after that. “It was just like – he, um, kissed me and stuff. That was mostly – I don’t know.” He thought his face was probably pretty red at this point. He felt a little hot. He looked away from Alex, stared down at his trainers.
“Huh,” Alex said. She leaned back against the couch. “So that’s it, then. Kia-Ora makes him…well, just sort of randy?” She waved a hand toward the stairs. “And then really grouchy later, apparently.”
Tom shrugged again. He thought it was probably more like it made Hal relaxed and a little unpredictable, and he thought that that was pretty dangerous. Alex was right too though.
Alex thought about this for a little while longer, and then she smiled and turned to Tom. She propped her elbow on the back of the couch and rested her head on her hand.
“So how was it? Kissing our Hal?”
“Um, I don’t know,” Tom said. “It was strange and I haven’t done a lot of it. I reckon he’s good at it. Kissing, I mean.”
Alex sighed. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I can’t say I haven’t thought about what that would be like.”
“Yeah,” Tom agreed, though he couldn’t say he’d really thought much about the possibility at all. Not ever.
He thought maybe it should have been Alex there. He thought maybe he should have rung the house as soon as it all started. Alex was just sitting here, after all, waiting for them to get home. She could have helped. She could have – but he didn’t think it would have been a good idea, really. It might have made everything even odder, having Alex there, what with the way that Alex ended up a ghost and how she still had some feelings for Hal and all despite that. If Hal had kissed Alex instead of Tom it might have complicated things, changed what they had here, and Tom didn’t think that any of them wanted that. Tom didn’t want that.
It’d been safer this way. It was good that it was Tom there. And he’d liked it, really. It had felt good kissing Hal and all. Tom hadn’t ever done anything like that and Hal knew that. He was nice about it. If anything, Tom thought it was probably good for them after all the fights and hard feelings. He thought maybe they’d needed it.
“You know he’s probably up there fretting that you’re upset with him,” Alex pointed out.
Tom shook his head. “I’m not upset,” Tom said. “I said it was okay. He knows I don’t mind.”
Alex smiled. “But it’s Hal,” she pointed out. “You’re sure that he knows?”
Tom shrugged, then thought about it some and said, “I’d better go talk to him, yeah.”
Alex nodded. “Good man,” she said. She continued to smile after him as he disappeared around the corner and up the stairs.
He found Hal standing in his room, his arms folded tight across his chest as he stared at the radio. Tom stopped and listened, but he didn’t hear anything.
“I reckon you forgot to turn it on,” Tom said.
Hal started and turned toward Tom, one eyebrow raised.
“The radio, I meant,” Tom clarified. He nodded toward the mantel. “It’s not turned on.”
“Right,” Hal agreed. “Yes, I – I was just thinking.”
“How are you feeling?” Tom asked.
“Good,” Hal said. “I mean, not as good as before, but – normal.” He shook his head. “Not normal.” He paused.
Tom waited, but Hal didn’t continue.
“Normal for you,” Tom suggested. “Which is not really normal at all, is it.”
“No,” Hal agreed, smiled even. “Tom, I –“
“It’s all right,” Tom said. “That’s what I came up here to tell ya. I know I said it before, but you were acting kind of funny still, so I thought I should come up here and say it once more.”
Hal shook his head. “We never have to speak of it again.”
“Yeah,” Tom agreed, and he knew Hal would say that. He knew Hal wouldn’t have wanted him to talk about it, but he’d had to say something. He leaned forward, his hands twisting into the front of his shirt again. “Um. I told Alex.”
Hal frowned. “What? Already? All of it?”
Tom shook his head. “Not all of it. I told her you kissed me and stuff. We didn’t get into specifics. Didn’t seem like the sort of thing you should talk about in the company of a lady.”
It didn’t matter. She’d probably guess the rest. Look at them standing there, awkward and stiff and – actually that really was pretty normal for Hal, wasn’t it.
Hal rubbed a hand across his face, shut his eyes for a moment.
“I’m not saying I think what we did was wrong or owt, or that I didn’t like it,” Tom clarified.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Hal said. “It was irresponsible of me to – I saw the Kia-Ora there and I had no intention of drinking it. I turned away from it and nearly left the kitchen entirely. I was at the door when I -“
“It’s all right,” Tom insisted.
Hal shook his head again and it was clear then that Alex was right. Hal had been up here fretting that he’d complicated things, that he’d ruined everything.
“I was just worried that you might hurt someone,” Tom said, with a shrug. “But you didn’t hurt anyone, did you?”
“It was reckless,” Hal insisted. “It was reckless, knowingly letting guard down like that. It might have ended differently. If you hadn’t been there I might have – “
“But I was there,” Tom said. “I was there and nothing happened. Nothing bad anyway.”
“Yes,” Hal agreed. “Yes, you were there.”
“I should get back to work,” Tom had said as he pulled away from Hal’s kiss. Hal’s eyes had been shut while they were kissing, but he opened them when Tom spoke, watched Tom’s mouth as Tom moved further away.
“What?” Hal asked after a moment. His eyebrows were drawn together, confused.
“Why don’t you kip down here for a while and I’ll come wake ya in a few hours, see if you’re back to your usual,” Tom reasoned.
“I don’t want to sleep,” Hal said. He shook his head, the confusion still clear on his face. “I thought we were – you weren’t enjoying the kissing?”
Tom shrugged. He took a step closer to the door. Hal took a step closer too.
“I don’t know,” Tom said. “It was nice, I guess.”
“Let me kiss you again, then,” Hal offered. He reached out and his fingers caught at Tom’s necktie, pulled it out from where it was tucked into Tom’s waistcoat. Hal’s fingers held onto the end of it, but he didn’t pull.
“I have to work, Hal. I can’t stay up here snogging when I’m supposed to be working,” Tom reasoned.
Hal thought about this and then his face lit up a little and he said, “You didn’t tell Lizzy where we were going. She thinks I’m sick, she’ll assume that you’re helping me, taking care of me. They’ll get on without us for a while.”
Tom shook his head. It was irresponsible. He was here to do a job. He was good at it, Hal’d said, and staying up here with Hal wasn’t being good at it.
Hal did pull a little at Tom’s tie then and Tom followed the tug without really thinking about it, took a step back toward Hal. Hal smiled. Tom looked down at Hal’s hand on his tie.
When they’d started the job at the hotel, Tom had had to admit to Hal and Alex that he didn’t know how to tie his tie. He told them about Cutler and the tie at the restaurant. Hal’s face had gone all funny for a minute when Tom told the story, but he’d stepped forward, helped Tom with his tie, did it up for him in the kitchen at the hotel. Later back at the house they stood together in front of the mirror in the bathroom while Hal showed Tom how it was done. He stood behind Tom, his hands around Tom’s arms as he went through the motions of tying the knot at Tom’s neck. Tom watched in the mirror. He watched the fabric of the tie lift and twist and pull all by itself while Tom stood there alone, as if it was happening by magic.
Eventually Tom got it and Hal stepped away from him, leaned against the wall and watched as he had Tom do it over and over on his own. When Tom got it right, Hal nodded and then reached out and loosened the tie, pulled at it and had Tom start over again.
Hal did that now. He took another step toward Tom and then he started to pull at the knot of Tom’s tie, loosened it around Tom’s neck.
“I can’t stay,” Tom said again, but he wasn’t really trying to leave either. Hal had probably noticed that.
“I need you to stay,” Hal reasoned, real close to Tom now and Tom knew that Hal might try to kiss him again at any moment. Tom felt himself get a little excited by that thought and he watched Hal as he spoke. Hal’s eyebrows rose and his head tipped forward a little as he made his next argument. “If you don’t stay, I’ll leave this room, and I don’t know what might happen.”
Tom swallowed. He thought that Hal was probably lying. He didn’t think Hal would leave here and put people in danger if he really thought he was dangerous. Hal had always seemed stronger than that to Tom, and Tom thought Hal was probably just saying it to get him to stay. He also thought that maybe he shouldn’t chance it, just in case.
“I guess you’re right,” Tom concluded. “I guess I better stay a bit longer then maybe.”
“Good,” Hal agreed.
“Are you going to kiss me again?” Tom asked.
“Do you want me to?” Hal asked.
“I don’t know,” Tom admitted with a shrug. He really didn’t know. If Hal kissed him again, he thought he might like it, but he also thought this entire thing was really weird and kind of awkward and as soon as he left this room he was going to get rid of all the Kia-Ora in the kitchen and make sure that no one ever ordered it again.
Hal still had his hands on Tom’s tie, and he tugged at it once more, not hard, just hard enough for Tom to feel it. Tom took another step forward, and Hal shut his eyes as Tom moved in. Hal’s lips parted a little and Tom wondered if maybe it was his turn again, if maybe he should be the one to kiss Hal this time. He stared at Hal’s mouth and he thought about whether he should do it, just move in and kiss Hal. He must have stood there too long though, not doing anything at all though, because eventually Hal opened his eyes, and then Hal was the one to start the kissing. He started it just like before, nice and slow and soft, and Tom really did like it. He liked how it felt, kissing Hal.
It was a little funny, Tom thought. Hal had never even so much as hugged Tom before, and now here they were kissing each other like it was all perfectly normal. Hal’s hands were on Tom’s face again. His thumbs slid back and forth across Tom’s jaw, and Tom liked the feel of that. When he felt Hal’s tongue touch his lip as they kissed, Tom started, but Hal’s hands held him close, and when Hal did it again, Tom let him, and he was pretty sure he liked that too.
When Hal eventually pulled away, it was just for a moment, and just so that he could speak.
“Tom,” he said. He was breathing a little heavy, and Tom heard him swallow. Tom opened his eyes, but it was hard to focus with their faces so close. Hal’s eyes were still shut and Tom watched as Hal’s tongue wet his lips. Tom wanted to kiss him again suddenly, and he did, pressed his mouth to Hal’s, felt Hal’s lips, a little wet now, on his own.
Hal pulled away again, but just for a second, just to finish what he’d been trying to say, “I’m going to kiss you again. This time open your mouth a little more with the kiss, all right?”
“All right,” Tom agreed. He barely had the word out before Hal’s mouth was back on his, and the kiss started just like before, but this time Tom tried to do what Hal had said, and he guessed he must be doing it right, because Hal made a noise low in his throat and Tom felt his fingers press tighter at the back of Tom’s neck. Soon Hal’s tongue was back, only this time it didn’t stop with just a light touch to Tom’s lip. This time Tom felt Hap lap a little into Tom’s mouth and it felt so new and so good that Tom felt his whole body jerk a little beneath Hal’s hands.
Since that felt so good to Tom, he thought maybe Hal would want him to do something like that too, so he tried it, licked a little into Hal’s mouth as he kissed him, and he felt Hal press closer and shudder a little against him. Tom held on to Hal’s sides, twisted his hands in Hal’s suit. Normally Hal would get upset with him, accuse him of trying to destroy the line of the jacket, but Hal didn’t care now. He didn’t seem to care about anything but kissing.
They kept at it for a while, mouths working against each other. When Tom licked into Hal’s mouth again, Hal sucked at Tom’s tongue, and Tom felt himself push his groin up against Hal in response.
He hadn’t meant to do that. He’d been ignoring his arousal, and he pulled away from Hal’s mouth, pulled his body away from Hal, as much as he could while Hal still held him close. Hal’s mouth looked red, a little puffy. Tom squeezed his eyes shut and let his head fall until his forehead rested on Hal’s shoulder.
“Sorry,” he said. “I just need a minute, that’s all.”
The sound of Hal’s breathing was loud in Tom’s ear, and after a moment of just standing there, Hal’s hands released Tom and then started to move Tom away from him.
“Sorry,” Tom said again. He thought that maybe this was it, that was all Hal had needed. He thought he’d have to leave now and go back to work with his dick all excited in his trousers. He’d have to go hide in the toilet and toss off if he expected to get anything done without embarrassing himself after this. He was already a little embarrassed just thinking about it.
Hal wasn’t saying anything, but when Tom looked up, he saw that Hal had removed his suit jacket and set it on the bed. He moved back toward Tom then, reached out and finished unknotting Tom’s tie. He dropped it to the floor and Tom stared at it there until Hal’s fingers touched his chin, turning Tom’s face back toward him.
Hal kissed him, and then he swallowed.
“I want you in my mouth,” Hal said. “I want to feel you hard between my lips.”
“What?” Tom asked, confused.
Hal was moving again, not away from Tom this time, but down onto his knees on the floor. Tom followed, unsure what else he was supposed to do. When he was down beside Hal, Hal laughed, a little surprised.
“What are you doing?” Hal asked.
“I don’t know,” Tom admitted. “I don’t know what you’re doing either or why we’re kneeling here on the floor. If you wanted to sit down, we could have just sat on the bed. It’d be more comfortable.”
Hal opened his mouth, and then he shook his head. He was still smiling. “Do you want to move to the bed?” Hal asked.
Tom shrugged. “It would be easier sitting, wouldn’t it? And anyway, I don’t know that I should try to get back to work just now like this,” Tom admitted. “It would be indecent. I was just thinking while you were taking off your jacket about how I was going to have to go toss off in the bogs. It’s embarrassing is what it is.”
Hal shook his head again. “Tom, I had no intention of leaving you to masturbate alone in the bathroom.”
“Well, what then?” Tom asked. “You’re suggesting we have a go of it here? In front of each other like?”
“No, I was suggesting – “ Hal started, but then he paused and instead asked, “Is that what you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” Tom said. He did want to, just a bit, but he didn’t think it was something that he should want to do. He thought he should really just go take care of it on his own.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed of,” Hal reasoned. “We’ve been through a lot already, you and I. This is nothing. A small comfort amongst friends. It’s hardly unusual.”
“Really?” Tom asked, a little doubtful. Granted, Tom hadn’t had many friends. Before Hal it had just been him and McNair. Hal was one of the only friends that Tom had ever had. Tom had watched some telly though and he’d seen enough films that he didn’t think what Hal was saying was entirely the truth. This didn’t seem that usual to Tom. He thought it was probably the Kia-Ora talking, a least a bit, but Hal was right about the other thing. They had been through a lot together and this didn’t seem like so much more when added to that. It didn’t seem like so much for Hal to ask.
And Tom really was ready to get off after all of the kissing they’d been doing. Maybe he would have thought different if not for that. He couldn’t say.
“Can we move off the floor though?” Tom asked. “I don’t think I wanna do it kneeling here on the floor.”
Hal pressed his lips together and then he nodded and moved to stand. Tom stood too and followed Hal to the bed. When Hal sat on the edge and looked up at Tom, Tom sat down beside him, then he leaned in and kissed Hal. He wondered if that was too bold, if they’d moved past that now or if Hal still wanted to kiss him at all, but Hal kissed back right away, reached up to touch his fingers to Tom’s face. They were still kissing when Hal’s hands found their way down Tom’s front, unbuttoning Tom’s waistcoat. He pushed it off Tom’s shoulders and then moving to pull at Tom’s belt.
“It’s okay, I can get it,” Tom said. He brushed Hal’s hands aside and unfastened his belt, then his trousers. He pushed them down his hips, underwear too, and then he sat back on the bed and leaned in to kiss Hal again. It was easier not to think about how strange it all was when he was kissing Hal. He didn’t have to focus, could touch himself without thinking about the fact that he was doing it in front of Hal, with Hal there watching. And he liked kissing. He liked kissing a lot and he’d never had an opportunity to do this much of it before. He didn’t think he’d ever get tired of kissing, not if it was like this.
Tom touched himself as they kissed and it felt good, great really, and he gasped a little into Hal’s mouth. Hal stopped kissing him then, leaned down and kissed Tom’s shoulder once before he pulled back a bit and just watched Tom. Hal’s eyes were kind of dark and his mouth was open just a little. It actually wasn’t as embarrassing as Tom thought it would be, touching himself like this while Hal watched. He even sort of liked the way Hal was looking at him, the way that Hal’s fingers curled at the edge of the bed, pressing into the mattress.
“Aren’t you going to get undressed too?” Tom asked. “You don’t have to be shy, Hal. Like you said, ain’t no big deal. And you know I seen it all before anyway, haven’t I?”
At first Hal didn’t acknowledge that Tom had even spoken, just kept watching Tom’s hand as it moved on his dick.
“Hal,” Tom said again. Hal did hear him that time and he quickly began to unfasten his trousers. He kept watching Tom as he went though, like maybe he just couldn’t tear his eyes away. Hal kept watching Tom even as he started to stroke himself, and when Tom leaned toward him again, Hal’s mouth met his in a kiss that was different than the rest, desperate and wet and sucking. Tom grunted a little into Hal’s mouth as he jerked up into his own hand. Tom didn’t do this often – and this, never – and it never took him long to finish when he was alone. He was close already and he leaned back, propped himself up on one elbow, his hand moving faster.
Hal leaned in and kissed him again and then he pulled back to watch Tom.
“Can I touch you, Tom?” Hal asked, but his head was turned away, looking down at Tom’s hand moving over himself, and Tom wasn’t sure he heard him right at first. Hal set his hand on Tom’s arm to still him and then turned and repeated the question.
“I guess,” Tom said. “No one ever – Yeah. Okay, yeah.”
Hal nodded and when Tom moved his hand, Hal moved in and replaced it with his own. Hal’s hand was cooler than Tom expected it to be and he shut his eyes and hissed a little, but then Hal’s fingers wrapped firm around him and Hal’s hand moved and it felt even better than Tom thought it might and he pressed up into it, eager.
Hal watched his hand move on Tom’s dick, and Tom watched too, propped up on his elbows as he pushed up through the ring of Hal’s hand.
He thought then as he thrust into Hal’s hand that there was no way this wasn’t going to change anything. He’d been stupid to think that it wouldn’t and all he could do now was hope that whatever it changed, the change was something good. He wasn’t sure he could take it if later they thought about this and it drove them apart. It was the last thing that Tom wanted.
“Hal,” Tom said, and Hal moved in immediately to kiss him, and Tom felt better then, sure that Hal wouldn’t let this drive them apart either.
“Do you want to touch me too?” Hal asked him. It was almost a whisper, Hal’s mouth pressed close to Tom’s ear.
Tom nodded and Hal released him, but not for long, just long enough to help Tom up into a better position on the bed, then to guide Tom’s hand to Hal’s dick. It felt a lot like his own, but different too, and Tom felt it twitch a little as he wrapped his hand around it. Hal’s eyes fluttered shut and Tom moved his hand again and watched as Hal’s mouth opened and then shut around a soundless moan.
It was over fast after that. It was too good, Hal’s hand on him and his hand on Hal. Hal was kissing him again, tongues sliding and mouths sucking, and it was too much, too much for Tom to hold on any longer. He pressed his face to Hal’s neck and shuddered as he spilled over Hal’s hand, moaned through his release.
Hal’s hand kept moving on him until Tom stopped shaking with it, and then Hal released him, his hand coming back to cover Tom’s own so that together they worked over Hal, faster and steadier than Tom had been able to manage before.
Tom had never done this at all before, but he’s forgotten that it had been a long time for Hal too. Fifty years, and when Hal cried out it sounded a lot like a sob to Tom’s ears. Hal curled in on himself, his back bent forward so that Tom couldn’t do anything but press his face to Hal’s back, hold him a little like that. Finally Hal released Tom’s hand and Tom let go of Hal and let his hand slide away. He wiped it on his own bare thigh.
“Did that help?” Tom asked, his face still pressed to Hal’s back. “Do you feel safer now?”
He felt Hal shake a little beneath him and then Hal straightened up and Tom followed, sitting back and looking over at Hal. Hal looked a little dazed and his eyes looked a little damp and red, but he seemed okay, and he nodded slowly before he spoke.
“Yes,” he said. He cleared his throat. “I think you’ve managed to help considerably.”
Hal stood there in front of the mantel in his bedroom, his body stiff and his hands fidgeting, his fingers clicking out that pattern that he did sometimes. Tom stood at the door and watched, listened when Hal spoke.
“It was reckless,” Hal said again. “It was irresponsible.”
Tom pulled at the front of his shirt. “It turned out all right in the end though, didn’t it,” he said. “You don’t have to beat yourself up over it.”
It was true that it wasn’t very responsible. It wasn’t being good at his job, disappearing for an hour to snog Hal in one of the guestrooms, but then Hal was Tom’s job too in a way. Helping Hal was part of Tom’s job, part of what he’d promised to do. Hal wouldn’t be working at the hotel at all if Tom wasn’t there to help him, and even though Hal seemed really sorry about it now, at the time Tom felt sure that staying had helped Hal.
When Tom was back downstairs afterward, everything seemed just as it had been when they’d left. Lizzy was at the desk and Captain Hatch was alone in the dining room. The hotel was quiet. It all seemed under control, just like Hal had said it would be. The only difference was that when Tom walked into the dining room, the Captain turned to stare at him, glared really, like he’d noticed that Tom and Hal had left, like he’d been thinking about how long they’d been gone. Almost like he knew and he was disgusted.
Tom had shifted, uncomfortable for a moment. He’d checked to make sure he’d adjusted his clothes properly before he’d come downstairs. His shirt was tucked into his trousers and his tie seemed right and proper, so it wasn’t that.
“Can I get you anything, Captain?” Tom asked eventually.
The Captain sneered, but he shook his head and went back to reading his newspaper. Tom didn’t think much of it after that, but he’d mentioned it to Hal as they’d walked back to the house later. Hal had dismissed it then, walked faster. Captain Hatch had moods, Hal said, everyone knew that, and sometimes he was downright nasty. It didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t personal.
Hal had been quiet when Tom went back to the room later in the day. Hal’s tie was still loose and his shirt was partially unbuttoned. Tom had brought Hal his clothes and he waited in the corridor while Hal changed. Hal didn’t say much at all on the walk home, but Tom had talked the whole way, just tried to make conversation.
Tom worried now, with Hal being all weird about it, that maybe he had been wrong to stay, that the staying and the snogging and the touching and stuff – Tom had hoped that it might bring them closer together, help get them past all the fighting they’d been doing lately. He thought it had been good, good for them even, but maybe Hal didn’t agree. Maybe that’s why he was so quiet and strange about it now.
“I should apologize,” Hal said.
Tom shrugged. “It’s all right, mate.” He’d said it so many times now that he was starting to lose count.
“No,” Hal shook his head. “No, I took advantage. I – “
“I didn’t mind it though,” Tom shrugged. “I don’t mind helping.”
“It can’t happen again,” Hal continued. “I can’t let myself – it won’t be helping if it happens again.”
Tom shrugged again. He knew that already. Hal didn’t have to say.
“I already told the kitchen no more Kia-Ora. They won’t order it again, so you don’t have to worry about that. And you don’t have to worry about taking advantage of me or whatever neither. I could have stopped you if I wanted to, but I didn’t, and I’m glad that I didn’t. I liked it. It felt good, doing that with you. I ain’t never – I thought it was nice.”
Hal’s eyebrows shot up then and he looked up at Tom and nodded. “I thought it was nice too,” Hal said. It was reassurance, but it sounded earnest too. “I liked it too.”
“Good,” Tom said. “Then we can just leave it at that, can’t we, and go on like normal?”
Hal was staring at him, eyebrows still raised. “You’re just – that’s it then? We’re just going to move on from this? It’s that easy?”
“Yeah,” Tom said. “I was helping you out. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. We don’t have to make a big deal out of it.” It was like what Hal had said in the hotel room.
Hal looked down, smiled and shook his head. “Tom, you’re – well, you’ve responded far better than Pearl.”
“Is that what happened with Pearl and Leo?” Tom asked. His hands paused in their twisting.
“No,” Hal said. “Not that. I was so focused then that it wouldn’t ever have occurred – No, it was – Pearl and I clashed sometimes. There are elements of the squash that taste so much to me like – well, you were there. It allows me to trick my body into thinking that I’ve consumed some small amount of blood, and I was feeling good and relaxed and perhaps my inhibitions were a bit lower than normal. I said things that I wouldn’t usually have said to her. We got into a fight over – this will sound stupid now, but it started was over some curtains that she wanted to hang in the windows. It was silly, but it escalated to other things. Leo was in the middle of it. Pearl and I didn’t speak to each other for a month. She blamed me for years. No, it definitely went differently this time.”
Tom took it all in and then nodded. “Glad we didn’t fight then,” he said. “I’m dead sick of fighting with you. I just want us to be best mates again, that’s all.”
Hal was looking at him funny again, like he was about to say something nice and surprising, something that would make Tom feel flustered and unsure about what he should say back. Hal didn’t say it though, whatever it was.
“Yes,” Hal agreed instead. “Yes, I want that too.”