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Borrowed

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Andrew washes his own scarves. He says he doesn't trust a laundry with the silk, but Rex thinks he just can't afford it. Andrew's got three scarves, not of the best quality, but good enough for warmth in the Spitfire and a bit of dash on trips into town.

Rex knows all about Andrew's scarves, because he steals them. The first time, it was an impulse. He'd gone to Andrew's room, found he was out, and then noticed the scarf hanging over the back of a chair. It was crumpled from being worn under battledress, and that's why Rex took it. He'd got to the limit of playfully swapping his cap for Andrew's or finding excuses to wear Andrew's greatcoat. Someone was bound to notice.

The scarf was in his pocket before he had time to feel ashamed. When he got it back to his room . . . all he meant to do was keep it. But then he found that it smelt of Andrew.

Now he's got a system. He's got a duplicate scarf so that Andrew will always have three and Rex will always have one, and he exchanges scarves twice a week so that the scent of Andrew's Pears soap and sweat is always fresh.

He's never done anything wrong with the scarves he takes, not really. He doesn't wank with them or into them. He's not a pervert, or at least he's not that kind of pervert. He wouldn't do that even if they weren't destined to go back to Andrew's room to be washed and worn again. The scarves are a part of Andrew, and Andrew deserves better than that.

All Rex does is smell them and sometimes run his fingers over the silk, reverently, the way he would touch Andrew if he thought for a moment that Andrew would let him. Sometimes, when his nerves are wrought up, he'll drape a scarf over his face and pretend that Andrew is letting him, that Andrew is touching him back, that Andrew loves him. Sometimes he just lays the scarf on his pillow and falls asleep to the fantasy that Andrew is beside him.

Rex knows it's sordid. Worse than that, it's neurotic. He could be the punch line to a joke about a sad, sick little queer. But it's what he has of Andrew. And Andrew is safe from it, because he doesn't know.

The night before what Rex has promised Chief Inspector Foyle will be his last flight, he walks back from the officers' mess with Andrew. They're drunk. Rex has always tried not to get too drunk around Andrew, but tonight it was hard to say "this is the last one for me." It's hard, when last means last.

In the corridor Andrew leans on his arm and smiles at him, drunkenly, beautifully. Rex's mind goes topsy-turvy, like looking up-down at the world from the top of a loop. Not saying "I love you" seems suddenly like the most terrible mistake of Rex's life.

Even as he opens his mouth, he knows that it's no use. Even if Andrew loved him, which he certainly doesn't, it's too late. What Rex says instead is, "Let me have one of your scarves, Andrew, there's a good chap."

"What for?"

Rex doesn't say luck; he doesn't want Andrew to blame himself tomorrow. "No reason. I just fancy wearing it. I'll give it back."

"See that you do," Andrew says, laughing.

He gives Rex a clean one, of course. That's all right. At least it's one Andrew agreed to give. Rex would have felt uneasy wearing a stolen one.

He's sorry that he won't be able to give it back. But that's something he can feel sure Andrew will forgive him.