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Wild Honey

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In summer I can taste the salt in the sea…

Bradley jogged down the track, keeping a careful watch on the ground just before his feet, because about the last thing he needed right now was an ankle injury or some such aggravation. But above the compacted brown dirt and the loose black stones, layers of green and blue and purple were a distraction in his peripheral vision: the grass of the island of Aysaar, then the water, green hills, and finally the mountains of Skye massive against the clear sky. It was pretty awesome.

Once he reached the lowest point of the track, Bradley fell back to an ambling pace, and drank some water while he considered the spectacular scenery. It was summer, and he was one of a handful of tourists here, two sea crossings away from the mainland. He felt completely lost. Or maybe abandoned. Or both. He wondered if you could be both at the same time…

The track swung round to follow the shoreline, and started climbing, so Bradley took a deep breath and started jogging again. Of course there were no gyms here, so he’d have to stay fit the old–fashioned way.

Just as he got to the top of the next low rise, he spotted a figure down on the stony beach ahead of him, bent double and apparently searching for something. Buried treasure? Perhaps the sea washed up flotsam here. Or he’d simply dropped something. Bradley considered the figure as he jogged along, though still keeping a wary eye on the track. All he could make out for sure were loose blue jeans and an old canvas rucksack. When the figure straightened up, he could see it was a man, and as the track swept closer, Bradley made out that the man was about his own age, late twenties, and he was dark–haired and pale–skinned, tall and slim. Handsome in an intriguing, long–faced kind of way.

The fellow stared back at him as Bradley jogged past, turning on the spot to watch with his mouth an oh as if he might say something, as if he might call out, ask for help. Bradley kept an eye on him and slowed a little, but in the end nothing was said. So Bradley lifted a hand in acknowledgement, and kept on his way.

He jogged in the mornings, and in the afternoons he went out for a walk, taking a ball with him to practice dribbling. That afternoon Bradley headed back the way he’d jogged in the morning, wanting to take in the view of Skye in the westering light. He deliberately didn’t look for that handsome man again, because the very last thing he needed or even wanted was any kind of personal entanglement. That would be the depths of foolishness right now.

He paced himself by silently singing along to the U2 songs that were colouring his life this year. Did I know you, did I know you even then? Before the clocks kept time, before the world was made… U2 were providing the bright and dark colours of his world, anyway, and buffering him against the dullness and the pain.

As the track started curving back inland, Bradley nudged the ball ahead – and it bounced up unexpectedly against a stone, and sailed off over the drop down to another stony beach below. Bradley stepped closer, keeping a cautious few inches away from the edge. The ball sat there taunting him. Well, at least it wasn’t in the sea. Bradley sighed. There was no direct way down so he’d have to go the long way round to retrieve it.

Except, of course, that’s when a dark–haired head appeared from under the cliff itself – from a cave, perhaps, unless Bradley was standing on a dangerous overhang – and looked up to discover the source of the ball. His mouth became an oh again. Then he put his head down bashfully, and went to pick up the ball in both hands. It took the fellow three attempts to throw it back up with the necessary height, and with a trajectory that meant Bradley didn’t have to lean out over the drop to reach it. But then, as soon as he saw that his third attempt would be successful, he smiled. The ball was hanging in the air, curving towards Bradley, and the man smiled brightly up at Bradley, all dark hair and cheekbones and virile stubble and uncomplicated delight. The moment held as Bradley smiled, too. The sun was shining and the man’s blue eyes met his own.

And then the ball thudded at his feet and rolled past – Bradley turned to make sure he didn’t lose it again – and by the time he turned back, the man had disappeared.

On the following afternoon, Bradley walked in the opposite direction entirely. He didn’t exactly drop dead of surprise, however, when the path wound round a corner of the woods before it straightened to run past a field – and he spied the dark–haired man crouched down, rummaging through the hummocks of grass. A treasure hunter, he must be. Surely the fellow didn’t keep losing things all over the place.

Bradley dribbled the ball along the path until he spied an opening – and he passed it with a nicely judged kick to the man – who straightened in surprise when it hit his feet, and stared at him, mouth an oh again. Perhaps he recognised Bradley from the newspapers, or thought he knew the face but couldn’t quite put it in context. Hopefully he hadn’t seen the latest reports. Or maybe Bradley hoped he had.

‘Hello!’ called Bradley across the twenty feet that separated them. ‘D’you want to help me practice passing?’

The fellow was just standing there, hands dangling from his wrists at his sides, the ball still sitting there at his feet. He was such a shy sort that he stammered. ‘I w–wouldn’t know how.’

‘Just kick it back to me. Doesn’t matter if you don’t aim it right. In fact, it’s better that you don’t, so I have to go after it, save it.’

‘I–I–I’ve never –’

‘Never kicked a football?!’ Bradley scrunched up his face. That was almost incomprehensible. He spread his arms. ‘Well, just give it a go. As I’ve often been told, any moron can do it!’

The man’s expression darkened like the sun had gone in, and after a moment he let fly with an enormous kick. Bradley had to go tearing off after the ball. And by the time he got back, of course, the man had gone.

Well, perhaps it was just as well. Bradley was meant to be lying low. He really hadn’t intended to admire anyone during this trip. It was the off–season.

The sky falls and you feel like it’s a beautiful day…

There was, of all things, a vegetarian café in Ruanish, the island’s one village. Bradley ate breakfast at the B&B, of course, but he quickly got into the habit of going to the café for lunch. It was the place he felt most at home, despite being an unrepentant carnivore. But it was run by a pair of lesbians, Sally and Ruby, and they seemed to have made themselves somewhere they could feel they belonged. Unless he was just projecting, and they hadn’t actually felt lost and abandoned when they first arrived on Aysaar. They’d play the U2 album over the sound system for him, but demurred when he asked for it every single time he ate there.

A couple of days after the botched attempt at conversation with the treasure hunter, Bradley was at the café, sitting at a table he already considered his, having just placed his order. When of course the dark–haired man walked in through the door. With a young woman, damn it, and it looked like they belonged together. Every move one made, the other anticipated. They were so comfortable together as to seem like two halves of a whole. Bradley smiled to himself ruefully. The man and woman settled at a table near the counter, which they seemed to consider as theirs, and they greeted Sally and Ruby with casual fond familiarity.

Then at last the man noticed Bradley. Stared at him blankly for a moment. Bradley was afraid he hadn’t even been remembered. But then the man suddenly smiled shyly, and put his head down. And Bradley’s heart warmed. After that, there was much gazing across the room, cautious on Bradley’s side, and bashful on the other. ‘Calum, don’t be staring at people,’ the woman said quietly. Calum, thought Bradley. The mild reprimand didn’t stop the fellow, but it did make him try to be a bit more subtle. Still, there could be any number of reasons why Calum would be staring, starting with the obvious.

Bradley never approached the fans. He absolutely never approached the fans. He was happy to talk or sign things or pose for photos with them when they approached him, but he never ever made the first move. ‘Hello,’ said Bradley, standing by their table. Calum gazed up at him, with his mouth an oh. ‘Um, so are you a Manchester Albion fan?’

‘Oh, that’s where I’ve seen you,’ the young woman responded. ‘You play for them, don’t you?’

‘Yeah.’ Bradley shrugged. ‘Well, I dunno at the moment. But, yeah.’ He held his hand out to her. ‘I’m Bradley James.’

‘Hi, I’m Nikki,’ she replied, shaking his hand. ‘This is my brother Calum. I don’t think he knows anything about footy.’

Brother, Bradley thought in relief. ‘Hello, Nikki. Hello, Calum,’ he said, offering his hand again.

Calum took it, but seemed to die of shyness as he did so. He had a good strong hand, a bit dry maybe; he shook firmly even as he turned his lowered head away further still. He murmured something that might have been, ‘Hello, Bradley.’

Nikki didn’t look much like Calum. She had long pale hair, and was a lot shorter than him, and she had this amazing air of serenity about her. But she elbowed her brother fondly, and teased, ‘Don’t mind Calum. I think he must have a bit of a crush or something. You’re the guy he’s seen around the island lately?’

‘Yes.’ Bradley shrugged. ‘I guess so.’

‘He likes pretty things.’

‘Nikki…!’ Calum protested in a strangled whisper.

Bradley stared down at them, wondering if he could be hearing right. If so, people were refreshingly direct on Aysaar.

Calum pivoted on his seat to whisper in Nikki’s ear. She grinned, and looked up at Bradley again. ‘Beautiful, apparently. Not pretty,’ she corrected herself.

‘Oh!’ said Bradley.

More whispering. From what Bradley could see, Calum’s face was a bit pink, but he simply seemed shy rather than totally mortified – which is what Bradley imagined he himself would have been, with a sister doing such an excellent job of hooking him up. Interesting…

Nikki chuckled at something Calum said, and shook her head. ‘Have you ever heard of bower birds?’ she asked Bradley. This was apparently her own question rather than her brother’s.

‘No, I haven’t.’

‘They collect all kinds of things for their nests, for decoration. They like blue things best, doesn’t matter what it is. Well, Calum here is a bit of a bower bird, and he loves blue.’ She indicated Bradley’s clothes: jeans and his favourite long–sleeved t–shirt. ‘You’re dressed for success today!’

At which point Bradley’s food arrived, and was put down on Nikki and Calum’s table with a knowing smile. ‘Oh. Uh, thank you, Sally,’ Bradley said. She brought his smoothie over from his regular table, too.

Nikki grinned. ‘I think you’d better join us.’

So he did.

That afternoon, when Bradley came out of the B&B with the ball in his hands, he saw that Calum just happened to be loitering down by the road. He smiled, and Calum dropped his head, shoved his hands into his jeans pockets – looked up from under his brow with a delightful grin. They set off down the lane shoulder–to–shoulder as if they had some common cause.

Bradley dribbled the ball along, and after a while directed it to intersect with Calum’s path in three more steps. When he reached it, the fellow nudged it back towards Bradley with the side of his foot, looking pleased with himself when he realised he’d got the angle and force pretty much spot on. ‘Good,’ said Bradley under his breath.

Bradley ended up jogging to and fro and around, orbiting Calum as he walked along, while they passed the ball back and forth. He even ended up showing off a bit, keeping the ball alive with his feet and his knees and his head for long minutes while Calum watched with an awed oh.

They didn’t talk much, but that was all right. They were comfortable together. Bradley hadn’t felt completely comfortable with anyone but his father for… for longer than he could even remember. He put those thoughts aside. Easily done, when Calum smiled at him with that delicious mouth and those clear blue eyes.

The treasure hunter suddenly crouched at one point, used his long fingers to prise something out of the dirt, and straightened up after a moment or two with some kind of pot shard in his hands. He showed it to Bradley with pride, before tucking it away in his canvas rucksack. ‘So, is that some kind of historical find?’ Bradley asked, feeling a bit clueless. ‘Are you an archaeologist…? Amateur or professional?’

Calum just shrugged, as if he didn’t have an answer for any of those questions. The two of them continued along the lane, before branching off onto a track Bradley hadn’t been down before.

Bradley dribbled the ball along, pondering his new friend. It had occurred to Bradley once or twice already that Calum might be a bit slow. But all he could say for certain was that Calum was excruciatingly shy. He wondered if that was the cause or the effect of the stammer. Perhaps Calum hadn’t had much schooling, and wasn’t used to a great deal of social interaction out here on the island. Perhaps he’d been allowed to grow wild.

His thoughts were interrupted by a nudge from Calum’s elbow as the fellow came to a halt. Bradley stopped beside him, wedging the ball safely under a foot, and he looked up. Calum had brought him to another view of Skye and beyond it the mainland. All greens and vivid blues and hazy purples, the shapes gentle in some places and harsh in others, the infinite sky encompassing everything from the microscopic detail of the shells at their feet to the enormity of the mountains. Bradley held out a hand to bring it down to a human scale; he could hide a mountain behind his palm. Nevertheless, he murmured, ‘Awesome.’ And he meant Calum’s thoughtfulness as well as the scenery.

While Calum gazed at the view, Bradley surreptitiously watched Calum. Allow a kid to grow wild in Manchester or London, and he’d go feral. Here, apparently, he grew sweet and shy. And beautiful. Considerate. But not stupid. Calum knew that the words pretty and beautiful meant different things, and he could decide which applied. Bradley’s heart warmed at the thought, at the memory. He didn’t need to agree with Calum in order to feel that he’d got the best of that decision.

‘It’s g–going to rain tonight,’ Calum observed after a while.

‘Is it?’ Bradley squinted up at the clear blue sky. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’ Those blue eyes turned confidently to his.

‘All right,’ said Bradley, unconvinced but unwilling to argue. They just looked at each other and occasionally at the view for a while after that. Awesome, Bradley thought with a surrendering kind of mental murmur, like the waves tumbling back into the sea through the rocks.

He was eating dinner at the B&B at about seven when he cocked his head at a distant pattering like a crowd walking on tiptoe. The crowd crept close and then suddenly they were drumming immediately overhead. Bradley grinned in delight. It was raining hard. His fellow tourists groaned in dismay.

I’m just trying to find a decent melody, a song that I can sing in my own company…

‘So, what brings you to the island?’ Nikki asked over lunch the next day.

Bradley looked at her for a long moment. Glanced at Calum and his clear blue eyes. Looked back at Nikki with her unexpected air of serene wisdom. He’d told everyone else who’d asked that he was simply on holiday, but there was no way Bradley was going to be anything other than honest with these two. Such a course felt both very scary and very safe, all at the same time. ‘There was a man I was seeing,’ he said.

‘Ah,’ said Nikki with knowing amusement, as if a lot of sad stories started that way, and she’d have thought everyone would’ve learned by now.

‘I thought it was the real thing. But he sold his story to the tabloids. With photos.’

‘Bastard.’

‘Yeah…’ Bradley sighed. If that had been all, he probably would have shrugged it off. ‘The club were unimpressed. They didn’t want me around while they decided how to handle it.’

‘But it’s the off–season, right? You’d have gone on holiday anyway.’

He grimaced. ‘I was heading for Spain with some of the other guys. The usual thing. But the club didn’t want anyone tracking me down. They told me to lie low.’

Nikki snorted. ‘Well, you picked a good place to hide.’

Bradley glanced at Calum. He was paying careful attention to the conversation, but perhaps didn’t understand all the ramifications.

Of course, Nikki was hard on the right trail. She narrowed her eyes. ‘When are you due back? Pre–season training and all that?’

‘July, maybe.’ He shrugged, and added with light irony, ‘It kinda depends on whether the club think I have another season in me, what with my niggling hamstring problem.’

‘You have a hamstring injury?’

‘No more than any other player.’

‘Bastards!’

‘Yeah.’ He found a wry smile from somewhere. It was nice to have someone feel outrage on his behalf.

‘Christ, I need a smoke,’ Nikki announced. ‘Ruby!’ she called. ‘We’ll just be outside.’

Calum and Bradley followed her to the bench just by the door, and they sat there in a line in the sunshine, with Calum in the middle. Nikki offered the smokes around; Bradley politely refused, and Calum did, too. Bradley squinted off into the distance, trying not to look at Calum’s long legs stretched out there beside him, crossed at the ankle.

‘Doesn’t make any sense,’ Nikki said once she’d lit up. ‘If you can’t be there to tell your side of the story, the papers are just gonna run with his. And that’s no good for anyone. The club should be backing you up, putting a positive spin on it. Well, you know. Telling the positive side of the story.’

‘I guess…’ He sighed. ‘I guess they don’t think there is a positive side.’

‘Why don’t you just talk to the papers yourself?’

‘It’s in my contract: I can’t talk to the media without the club’s permission.’

‘It’s discrimination! You should hire yourself a good lawyer.’

‘But they’d just argue that I’ve brought the club into disrepute. And as it stands, they’d be right.’

‘They’re deliberately not letting you build your own defence! Christ!’

Bradley had to laugh. She’d sussed it all out a hell of a lot quicker than he had.

‘Don’t you have an agent or manager to make them see sense?’

That got another laugh, though a more cynical one. ‘He told me to get lost, too. But seeing as he also told me to give serious thought as to whether I am actually gay, I really don’t know why I listened to him at all.’

Now Nikki was laughing, too. Ruefully. ‘You’re fucked, aren’t you?’

‘Pretty much.’ One way or another, the privileged life he’d known was gone, and Nikki saw that even more clearly than he did. But for some reason he and Nikki just kept chortling on, like mourners helplessly cracking up at a funeral.

Calum was looking from one to the other of them, mystified. Eventually he observed, ‘You seem pretty gay to me, Bradley.’

They sputtered into a startled silence. Nikki and Bradley stared at him for a long moment. But it was obvious he meant happy. Nikki snorted – and then the two of them were off again, cracking up so hard that Bradley ended up wiping tears from his eyes. ‘Thank you,’ Bradley said once they’d calmed down again. ‘Oh, that was good.’ It felt like he hadn’t laughed in months.

But Calum was still looking mystified, and even a bit hurt now, as if he suspected that the joke had been on him. Nikki patted him on the arm, looking at him thoughtfully. Then she considered Bradley for a moment, and sighed. ‘Bradley, would you excuse us?’

‘Sure,’ he said. And he got up and headed back inside. Oh god, they were going to have The Talk. While he was there. And maybe Bradley had been completely wrong about Calum, because it seemed now that he hadn’t even understood. Sally brought Bradley his lunch, and he thanked her, but he just sat there watching while Calum was brought up to speed, not feeling hungry at all.

Nikki lit another cigarette, and talked for a few moments; Bradley could only see the back of her head, and her hand as she gestured with the smoke curling away from her fingers. He could see Calum’s profile, though, as he looked towards her; Calum was frowning, taking it in. He asked something, and the brother and sister ended up conversing back and forth. Calum seemed all right with it.

And then it seemed as if something suddenly clicked within him. And Calum turned further round on the bench to look in through the window. To find Bradley. And he was gazing at him, they were gazing at each other. And apparently Calum was fascinated. Bradley felt a frisson go through him. If this hadn’t been consciously sexual for Calum before… well, it was now. Those clear blue eyes exploring him, seeking a way into him.

Nikki brought Calum back inside. And she ate her lunch while the two men sat there watching each other quietly, with Calum passing shy smiles to Bradley who deftly returned them. ‘You have to eat something, Calum,’ Nikki eventually said.

‘Not hungry,’ he responded.

She chuckled a little under her breath. ‘Bradley?’

‘I’m afraid I’m not hungry, either.’

A long moment while she considered them. ‘All right, all right… Why don’t you two go for a walk, then? Make the most of the sunshine.’ But as they stood she tapped the back of Calum’s hand. ‘Behave yourself,’ she advised.

‘I will,’ he softly replied. A solemn promise.

And then they were out in the dizzyingly fresh air.

Slow down my beating heart… slowly, slowly love…

Bradley was at Calum’s mercy. He’d been in a daze, and would never be able to retrace his steps. He’d be lost. When they stopped walking, they were on a headland reaching halfway up to the sky, with the blue sea a long way beneath them stretching out to the horizon. Calum folded down cross–legged on the grass, and reached a hand up to Bradley. ‘Sit with me. It’s comfortable here.’

And it was, with the grass so thick and springy it was as if they were on a mattress. No, he mustn’t think about mattresses right now. Bradley sat down. Looked out at the flat horizon for a while. Then he found himself lying back on the grass, closing his eyes. He’d had no intention of doing that, but there he was. And the grass dipped beside him, just as a mattress would, as Calum came to kneel at his side.

‘Bradley?’ Calum asked in a hushed voice.

‘Mmm?’

‘May I kiss you?’

‘Yes,’ he said, though he really hadn’t intended that, either.

His eyes flickered open for a moment as Calum bent over him, on all fours now with one hand leaning on the grass just by Bradley’s far shoulder. Those clear blue eyes all the way out to the horizon. That delicious mouth a pretty contrast to the manly stubble – those lips so close to his and getting closer still. Bradley shut his eyes again, let it happen. And it was sweet and wild, innocent and gorgeous.

And when the kiss was done, Calum lay back beside him, holding his hand but otherwise not touching. They stared up into the sky together.

‘Thank you,’ Bradley eventually said. ‘That was very nice.’

Calum turned his head to smile at him, obviously pleased with himself, delighted with Bradley, with the whole beautiful day.

And a while after that, Bradley murmured, ‘Perhaps we’d better get back now, yeah?’ And he reluctantly let Calum haul him up and lead the way back down to the village. Because Bradley figured he had some serious thinking to do.

It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away…

An evening of pondering, and he managed to get as far as figuring out that he needed to talk with Nikki; Bradley needed more information. And then he might call his father who – while overly bookish, often distracted, and occasionally inexplicably absent – had always been Bradley’s rock. He’d gotten that far, while half–listening to U2 in his room at the B&B, when there was a knock at the door and he was informed that he had a visitor.

Bradley knew what he’d find in the front hall. Calum standing there restlessly waiting for him, hands jammed into his jeans pockets. Calum waiting with intent. And the intensity on his handsome face when he saw Bradley, the blue eyes alight, the delicious mouth hungry… Bradley almost forgot his better instincts. Almost.

He gathered himself. All right. They had to talk. There was no way Bradley could go along with Calum’s wishes. Certainly not yet, maybe not ever. But it was only fair to give him a reason why. And he couldn’t talk here at the B&B. There were people in the restaurant and the lounge. And this was too large a matter to be confined in the tiny room he’d just left, all pinks and ruffles and florals. Apart from the fact that the bed would be there, and he’d feel compelled to use it. This sweet dark wild handsome man wanting him… It wouldn’t be right to deliberately make that any harder to resist.

‘Calum,’ Bradley said. ‘I need to talk with you. I’m going to walk you back home, all right?’

‘No,’ Calum replied. ‘I don’t want to go home.’

‘Please. Let’s talk outside, where we can be private.’

There was a flash of anger, which was soon damped down into simmering mutiny. But when Bradley simply led the way out the front door, Calum followed readily enough, carefully closing the door after himself. He had a handheld torch, and obligingly used it to light their way as they started off shoulder–to–shoulder down the road. He wasn’t happy, not at all, but he was going along with it.

Bradley set the pace, and he made it slow, he gave them plenty of time. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said fairly soon after they’d left the circle of the B&B’s lights. ‘I’m not ready yet, Calum. And maybe… maybe I’ll never be ready.’

Calum’s face scrunched into a miserable scowl. ‘I’m ready,’ he asserted.

‘Thank you,’ said Bradley, with a quiet sincerity that he hoped Calum would understand. ‘But can I ask… have you always liked guys?’

An uncomfortable rolling shrug. ‘I like you.’

‘Thank you. I like you, too, Calum.’

A quick glance, and a tiny smile, but Calum knew well enough this wasn’t a major concession.

Bradley asked, ‘Do you like girls, as well?’

‘Yeah, I–I w–wanted to marry Nikki. But th–then I found out she’s my sister. She was adopted, and I n–never knew her until –’ Calum ground to a verbal halt, and shook his head.

Bradley took this as calmly as he possibly could. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘What rotten luck.’

‘Yes.’

He wondered how much confusion had been caused, and whether he would ever dare ask Nikki for the whole story.

‘Bradley?’

‘Mmm?’ They were drawing near the gate that led to Nikki and Calum’s house; Calum had pointed it out to him on one of their walks.

‘May I kiss you again?’

They were standing by the gate now. And, oh god, Bradley was so very tempted. But it might undo everything, starting with his own resolve. And yet didn’t Calum deserve a kiss by now? He’d been surprisingly patient about being turned away. ‘Will you promise me,’ Bradley asked, ‘that it will just be a kiss, and you won’t ask me for anything more? Even if you can see I want it, too. You’ll just go on inside. And if you’re upset or unhappy about anything, you can talk to Nikki about it, can’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yes to all of that?’ he asked, with a wry smile for himself for labouring the point.

Calum was reluctantly smiling, too. ‘Yes to all of that.’ He knew that Bradley was being a bit too careful, and Calum was gonna indulge him. ‘So, may I…?’

‘Yes.’

Calum’s hands, his long fingers, lifted to cup Bradley’s face. And once more, Bradley just closed his eyes and let it happen. This time it was still sweet and wild, but also darker and a little more knowing, as if Calum had thought a lot about their first kiss that afternoon, thought a lot about what he wanted to do for their second kiss. It was beautiful.

They parted reluctantly, sharing their breath for a moment before each regaining his own two feet.

Calum was looking at him closely, gaze roving over Bradley’s face as if exploring. Treasure hunting. But as promised, he didn’t push for more, though he must realise by now that Bradley was pretty much a lost cause. Instead, he insisted, ‘You take the torch. Give it back tomorrow.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Bradley. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’

And he made himself turn and set off back down the lane. And Bradley knew, he knew that Calum followed quietly along about thirty feet behind to make sure he got safely home. He pretended not to notice, but he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face.

What you don’t know, you can feel it somehow…

The next morning, Bradley got up early and went for a jog in the tingling fresh air. He had breakfast, and took a shower. And then he headed for Nikki and Calum’s house. Calum opened the door, and instinctively smiled happily when he saw him. Bradley did, too. ‘Hello, Calum,’ he said. He handed over the torch.

‘Hello, Bradley.’ Calum wasn’t quite so shy any more. ‘Are you running now? Can I come, too? I’ll try to keep up.’

‘No, I came to talk with Nikki, if that’s all right.’

Calum nodded, though he seemed a bit disappointed. He stepped back, and let Bradley into the hall – which was filled with driftwood and pot shards and beautiful stones and empty sacks. Bradley looked around in surprise, connecting this with Calum’s rucksack and treasure hunting, but not getting much further. Then Calum led him through into the kitchen – blessedly free of flotsam – where Nikki sat at the table with a cup of tea. ‘Good morning, Nikki,’ said Bradley.

‘Good morning, Bradley James.’ Her eyes flicked from Bradley to Calum and back again. She seemed amused.

‘I was wondering if I could talk with you.’

She nodded. She knew what this was about. So she said, ‘Calum, you were just heading out, weren’t you?’

‘But I want to talk with Bradley, too.’

‘No, you head out, and let us have a talk, all right? Then we’ll all meet for lunch at Sally and Ruby’s.’

He was reluctant, but he said, ‘All right.’ He threw a resentful look at Nikki and a regretful look at Bradley before heading for the door.

As he got there, Nikki said, ‘Hey, Fir Apple.’

‘Yeah?’ he responded with a reluctant smile twitching his lovely lips.

‘If you’ll never leave me, I’ll never leave you.’

‘Not now nor ever,’ he promised. And he was gone.

Nikki fetched another cup, indicated Bradley should sit at the table, poured him some tea.

They both knew what this was about, so Bradley got right to the point. ‘What’s wrong with him?’

This seemed to both irritate and amuse her. ‘Nothing. Nothing. He’s just a bit different.’

‘Look, no one ever accused me of being overly smart, but –’

‘But,’ she finished for him, ‘you’re smart in ways he isn’t, aren’t you?’

‘I guess. And you’re saying that’s not because there’s anything wrong?’

She shrugged. After a while, she said, ‘He’s a bit of an innocent. Our mother was very protective of him. She sheltered him.’

‘I can see that,’ Bradley allowed.

‘The only real downside is that he has a bit of a temper. She never really taught him to govern that. Otherwise, he’s open and caring and trusting. All the things I’m not. I don’t see that as a bad thing for him.’

Bradley looked at Nikki, with her odd air of serenity. It was as if… as if she’d survived something awful, and was wiser for it. Even if that wisdom could only ever affect Nikki herself. And Calum. That was important: she could be wise for Calum. Bradley said, ‘He came to visit me last night. He wanted to… But I turned him down. I walked him back home.’

Her gaze searched him – not just his eyes but his face and the way he held himself. ‘Did he hurt you?’ she asked. ‘Is that why you’re here?’

He was startled, to say the least. ‘No. No, not at all. He got a bit angry, but he didn’t even say anything, let alone –’ Bradley stopped, took a breath. ‘Are you saying the temper is a real issue?’

‘Well… No, perhaps not. Not any more. Perhaps he’s learned something.’ She was thinking hard, frowning. ‘Maybe I’m too close to see it, but I guess he’s come a long way in the last couple of years. Sally and Ruby have helped. Other people on the island, who knew his father. Well, his stepfather.’

‘If you really think you’re not caring and trusting,’ Bradley offered, ‘maybe you’ve learned something from him, too, without realising.’

Nikki stared at him for long moments. Then she said, ‘Come outside. I need a smoke.’

He followed her out to the back garden, where she settled on a wooden bench and lit up a cigarette. There was a large shed out there, and an enormous vegetable garden, and then the land swept up into hills.

‘I know why you’re asking,’ Nikki eventually said.

Bradley came back to her, and sat himself down cross–legged on the grass. ‘Yes.’

‘You can go ahead. He’s not a child. Not in any sense.’

‘Even his innocence…’

‘It’s not the innocence of a child.’

‘No.’ Bradley frowned. He couldn’t have put it into words, and he wasn’t even sure he really grasped her exact meaning. But he knew she was right.

‘You don’t need my permission. But I appreciate you asking.’

‘Of course. I know I need his permission.’

She laughed a little under her breath. ‘Oh, I think he’s already given you that.’

And in that moment, Bradley knew that he would have sex with Calum MacLeod before the day was done.

But then Nikki said, ‘You make it clear to him first, all right? You make it clear that you’re just gonna shag him, and then you’ll leave, you’ll be off home before the summer’s done, and that’s that.’

‘Harsh,’ he muttered, with his heart gone cold.

‘He doesn’t think in terms of casual. So you give him fair warning.’

And then Bradley knew that he couldn’t.

Perhaps they would kiss again, Bradley thought as he slowly made his way to the café around midday. Perhaps he and Calum could indulge in some hugging. Cuddling, even. But he really mustn’t let this become something neither he nor Calum could handle. It made him as sad as anything in his life ever had, but it was a pure kind of sadness. The kind of sadness he associated with the truth.

Nikki and Calum were already there: Nikki sitting inside at their table talking with Ruby, and Calum waiting anxiously outside. His expression of relief on seeing Bradley was almost comical. He came down the road to meet Bradley – and Bradley was so much surer of himself now, that he could express his honest affection for this unexpected man. He took Calum’s hand in his, and they headed up to the café that way, linked together. The two of them linked together, for just this little while.

I was unconscious, half asleep, the water is warm till you discover how deep…

They walked back up to the headland where they’d kissed for the first time only the previous afternoon. It felt like a lifetime ago already. Bradley was in a daze again. At Calum’s mercy. He sat down on that mattress of thick springy grass, lay back under the infinite blue sky. He closed his eyes.

The mattress dipped as Calum lay down beside him. Bradley could sense him up on an elbow, leaning over him. Watching him. ‘Calum,’ he murmured. ‘Calum…’

‘Bradley…?’ Calum asked carefully.

‘Yes.’

A long still moment, and then Calum’s mouth on his, sweet and gentle. Calum kissing him, and pressing against him, his tall length stretched against Bradley’s side.

‘Yes,’ Bradley said again when Calum broke the kiss, though he really hadn’t meant to do this. He had meant not to do this.

Calum’s large hand slipping cool under the hem of Bradley’s t–shirt, sliding round his waist. Kissing him again. Bradley brought his arm up around Calum’s back, pressed him closer still.

‘Yes.’

Calum’s hand at his waistband, slowly deliberately unfastening Bradley’s jeans. Then Calum knelt up, wrestled Bradley’s jeans and trunks halfway down his thighs. Stopped and pulled back.

After a long moment, Bradley’s eyes flickered open, and he saw Calum kneeling there beside him, just staring down at what he’d revealed. Bradley’s cock was hard, and already leaking a little, and it didn’t mind the attention for it twitched a little and grew harder still. Calum gurgled a laugh. ‘All right?’ asked Bradley.

‘Yes,’ Calum replied, his eyes still on this newfound treasure.

‘Anything down there you didn’t expect?’

That got him a bright cheeky grin. ‘No.’ Then Calum knelt up, and undid his own jeans. Pushed the denim and his briefs down his thighs as well. Sat back on his heels.

Bradley took the opportunity to look. Calum was just as hard as he was, with his long thick cock standing proud from dark curls, his neat balls tucked in below. ‘Very nice,’ said Bradley appreciatively.

Calum smiled a bit shyly, and shifted forward onto all fours, seemed about to lay himself down on Bradley. But then he paused, and whispered, ‘What should I do?’

And Bradley wanted to do this properly, but of course he didn’t have any condoms with him – not even on the island, let alone with him now – so they would have to make do. He spat into his own hand, made more, spat again. Wiped it over Calum’s cock, making him whimper with surprise and need. ‘Lie on top of me,’ he murmured. ‘Legs either side of mine. Push yourself between my thighs.’

Calum’s mouth was an oh as he took in the instructions, but he shoved his own jeans lower and moved to comply readily enough.

‘Do you understand? Fuck my thighs – you can fuck between my thighs.’

Calum groaned, and pressed himself down. ‘Bradley…’

‘That’s it, Calum. That’s it, my d–d–’ He stuttered over the endearment, let it drop. ‘Now move when you want to. Thrust yourself just like you want to, you don’t have to worry about hurting me or anything.’

Calum tried a tentative stroke, and moaned in awe. Thrust again. Those clear blue eyes wild with warmth and inspiration. ‘Bradley…’

‘Yes, that’s it… that’s it, Calum…’ And Bradley closed his eyes, and let it happen.

He expected that Calum would simply thrust himself down until he was done, and would maybe be prepared to touch Bradley afterwards, to finish him with a hand job. But instead Calum stayed close, pressing against Bradley, rocking up and back, up and back, working both of them. Bradley was caught hard against that narrow belly, so sensitive now that he could swear he felt every single hair of that dark flame rising above Calum’s cock. Calum lying so close over him that every now and then his nipples brushed against Bradley’s chest, hard enough to be felt through their shirts. ‘Oh god…’ Bradley moaned.

‘Bradley… Bradley…’ Those delicious pink lips on his own, clumsy, not even kissing really but mouthing at him hungrily. ‘Beautiful Bradley…’

‘Oh god,’ Bradley groaned – abruptly unable to bear how fucking good this was – ‘Oh god, Calum! – shocked to find himself utterly losing it – and then he was coming, coming, coming – erupting between them like fucking Krakatoa – and then Calum crying out – quaking, moving heavy and helpless and so fucking beautiful over him – and they held on tight to each other and rode it out, clinging on and kissing –

Until finally they quieted, and Calum lay there on him, pressing him down into the grass, and it was done.

Eventually they drew apart, and hauled up their jeans, sorted themselves out. Calum was smiling, a big wide happy smile that just wouldn’t quit. Bradley’s mouth stretched exactly the same. He was stupidly happy. They were both the same in this moment, they were even: both of them bursting and overflowing with contentment, and not a rational thought to be had between them.

Bradley stayed sprawled there on the grass, but Calum went to fetch his rucksack. Came back to sit cross–legged at Bradley’s side. Produced a thermos, and poured them a cup of tea in the lid. They shared it back and forth between them. Sweet milky tea. Bradley had never tasted anything so damned delicious.

He reached up, and Calum obligingly leaned down a little so that Bradley could caress his face, rub a thumb–pad along a sharp cheekbone, shape his palm to the long stubbled jaw. ‘You’re a good man,’ Bradley murmured. ‘I think you’re the best man I’ve ever met.’

Calum pondered this, and became troubled. Bradley mourned the loss of that bright smile, but didn’t try to cajole him out of his changed mood. Eventually Calum said, ‘I’ve d–done bad things.’

‘We all have.’

‘No, really bad.’

Bradley considered this, and thought about what Calum might consider to be really bad. He asked, ‘Does Nikki know?’

‘Yes.’ Calum nodded emphatically. ‘She knows everything.’

‘And she’s forgiven you?’

‘Yes.’ Calum sighed.

‘That’s all right, then. I trust Nikki. I trust you.’

‘Bradley…’

‘You’re a good man,’ he repeated firmly. But then Bradley remembered that he himself hadn’t done the one thing Nikki had asked of him. Damn it. He was an utter moron. ‘Calum…’

‘Yes?’

He sat up, also cross–legged, so they were facing each other at the same level. ‘Look, Calum… you know I’ll have to go home again sometime soon, don’t you?’

Calum’s face lengthened and grew bleak. He turned his head to stare off at the horizon. ‘Yes,’ he eventually whispered.

‘I would very much like us to be together while I’m here. But come July, I’ll probably be back in Manchester.’

‘Yes…’

‘Will you be all right, do you think? Will you be able to say goodbye to me, and let things go back to how they were?’

Calum took a long time to think about this. Eventually he said, very quietly, ‘Couldn’t you stay here and live in the house with Nikki and me?’

‘No,’ Bradley said, gently but clearly. ‘No, I don’t think that could happen. My work is in Manchester, and my father lives in Devon. I couldn’t stay here.’

Calum sighed. But it seemed he wasn’t overly surprised by any of this. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I understand.’ And he poured them another cup of tea.

‘Will you be all right?’ Bradley asked again.

‘I suppose so.’

‘And things will be like they were before I came?’

Calum looked at him with a frown, and shook his head. Then he leaned a bit closer and said, very solemnly, ‘Things don’t work that way, Bradley. Things change. And we change with them.’

Despite himself, Bradley’s mouth twitched into a reluctant smile. Apparently Nikki wasn’t the only one around here possessed of an unexpected wisdom. ‘No, you’re right, of course. I’m sorry, Calum.’

‘That’s all right, Bradley.’ And Calum shifted round closer so that they were sitting next together. They shared the tea. Calum pressed his shoulder against Bradley’s. They shared a kiss. It was sweet, and eventually it was even happy again.

‘Is it likely,’ Bradley murmured, ‘that anyone will come by and see us?’

‘Not likely,’ Calum said after a moment’s consideration. ‘No, not likely.’

‘Good,’ said Bradley. And he started stripping off while Calum watched, until he lay back on the grass completely naked. The sunshine warmed him, but not half as much as Calum’s hungry gaze. ‘Would you undress, too?’ Bradley asked.

Calum didn’t need asking twice. He grinned, and tore his clothes off – almost literally. Lay down to stretch himself alongside Bradley and press himself close.

‘You’re very beautiful,’ said Bradley.

Calum shook his head in disbelief, as if Bradley were the slow one.

Bradley chuckled contentedly. ‘Now, let’s try that again, cock against cock. I do like a bit of frottage…’

‘What’s that?’ Calum asked, intrigued as if Bradley were proposing some kind of adventure.

‘I’ll show you,’ Bradley promised. ‘You kinda already worked it out for yourself, actually.’ And he found that he was considering this an adventure, too.

Afterwards, they walked slowly back to Calum’s house hand–in–hand, linked together. Both smiling like complete idiots. And Bradley was singing – quietly, but aloud. Serenading this man walking beside him. ‘You could go there if you please, wild honey… And if you go there, go with me, wild honey…’ Calum was pink with delight.

Nikki greeted them with fond amusement, and cooked them dinner. Then Bradley stayed the night with Calum in the spare room, where there was a double bed. Things had changed, indeed. But for once it seemed that they had changed for the better.

A man dreams one day to fly…

It had all seemed like a wonderful idea at the time.

Bradley had woken early, as the morning sun came pouring in through the curtains which were so flimsy as to be almost nonexistent. Calum was tucked in close behind him, still deeply asleep. And he was warm and gorgeous and in that moment Bradley wouldn’t have left him if the Man Albion owner had come begging on his knees, lucrative contracts in hand and promising him a first–team place on the England squad – but Bradley was full of joy and expansive energy, so he wriggled out of Calum’s encompassing embrace, and headed out for a run. And then it occurred to him that he needed supplies, so on an impulse as he was passing the B&B he jogged upstairs to fetch his keys, got in his hire car, and caught the first ferry over to Skye, crossed the bridge to the mainland. Threw some money around in various shops. Then got back in the car and headed for Aysaar.

It was only as the ferry was pulling into the jetty that he realised maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea after all. Calum was there waiting, just at the edge of the island, hunched over and arms wrapped around himself. And when he saw Bradley at the railing, lifting a hand to get his attention, Calum burst into tears. He waited, though, realising well enough that Bradley was expected to take his turn driving his car off the ferry. Bradley did so impatiently, then pulled up as near Calum as there was space to park. He got out, headed for him at speed, oblivious to the stares – and Calum met him halfway in a big crashing bear hug. And even in the midst of the pain and confusion, Bradley had to let out a laugh. They were overdoing the reunion as if they were in an airline commercial.

‘Calum, what is it? What’s the matter?’ Then something awful occurred to him. Maybe this wasn’t about Bradley James, Centre of the Known Universe. ‘Is it Nikki? Did something happen?’

‘N–no. No. They s–said you’d g–gone.’ If anything Calum was crying harder now. It must be the relief after a shock.

‘Who did? The people at the B&B?’

‘Y–y–yes.’

‘Bastards,’ Bradley muttered. They should have known to be clearer than that with Calum. He’d gone; he hadn’t gone. Bradley gently took Calum’s shoulders and stepped back a little so he could look at him directly. ‘I wouldn’t just leave like that. I wouldn’t. I’d tell you first.’ And the very thought chilled his heart. ‘I would make sure you knew. I’d make sure we said goodbye.’

‘Y–yes.’

‘I bet Nikki told you that, didn’t she? I bet she said I wouldn’t have just gone like that. Not gone forever.’

‘Yes.’ Calum smiled reluctantly.

‘Smart woman, your sister, you know.’

He nodded, and rubbed at his wet face with his sleeves.

‘I’m sorry, Calum,’ Bradley added quietly. ‘I should have thought. I’d have left you a note, sent you a message. But it was just a spur of the moment thing. I should have known better.’

Calum nodded again. He was all right, or he would be. He understood.

‘Come on. Get in the car, and I’ll take you home.’

Calum led Bradley and his shopping bags through to the kitchen, where Nikki shot Bradley an exasperated grimace before turning to her brother. ‘All right, Calum?’ she asked.

‘Yes. Y–you were right.’

She smiled at him, and made a pot of tea, while Calum sat at the table gradually calming down and Bradley sat beside him with his head lowered in penitence. When Nikki finally joined them with the pot of tea steaming just before her, Nikki finally addressed him. ‘So, what was so important, Bradley James?’

And in reply he rummaged in one of the bags, and pulled out a box of condoms. Left them sitting there on the table for all to see. Nikki took this in, and was abruptly struggling to suppress an amused smirk. Calum stared at the box blankly. Bradley finally announced, ‘I needed supplies.’

‘I see,’ said Nikki. ‘Are you planning on deflowering my brother?’

Bradley obstinately set his face for the space of a breath. But then figured she had a right to ask. ‘No. More like the other way round. Though,’ he added in a mutter, ‘that cherry got popped a long time ago.’

Nikki snorted.

By then Calum had picked up the box of condoms and was bothering over it with furrowed brow. He shot a glare in Bradley’s direction, though he wouldn’t raise his eyes to meet Bradley’s. ‘D–d–don’t you o–only need these wi–wi–with a girl?’ A confused appeal to Nikki: ‘D–does he want to shag a girl?’

‘No, Calum. He got them for you to use.’

Calum’s frown deepened, and he turned to Bradley. ‘W–w–why?’

Bradley surrendered to embarrassment and irritation for a moment. ‘Nikki – does he know nothing about safe sex?’

‘Never came up in conversation,’ she retorted. But there was a bit of bluster to it, as if she knew she could have foreseen this situation or something like it, and managed it better.

OK, thought Bradley. ‘Calum. There are… illnesses that can spread. When you have sex. When you do certain things. Not anything that you and I have done,’ he added quickly for the sake of reassurance.

Calum was just staring at him wide–eyed by now.

‘But if you use one of these, then you’re protected. These days, you have to be careful with anyone. Everyone.’

‘Not you,’ Calum protested. ‘You’re beautiful! You’re not ill.’

‘You can’t always tell.’

Calum looked him over, and suddenly his face fell. ‘You are ill?’

‘No. No, I’m fine. So far.’ He sighed, and met Calum’s earnest gaze. ‘It’s a matter of respect, d’you understand? I don’t expect you to take my word for it, that I’m… safe.’

‘I would, though.’

Bradley’s heart warmed, and he said softly, ‘I know. But I respect you too much to let you.’

And Nikki finally chipped in, and said, ‘You listen to him, Calum, and you do what he says. You should trust Bradley to know best about this.’

And Calum nodded slowly. So that was sorted.

Bradley put the bloody condoms back in their bag, and started distributing presents, desperate for any kind of distraction. A dark marine–green knitted Guernsey for Calum, and a teal one for Nikki. A fancy new hi–tech rucksack for Calum’s treasures, and a glass vase for Nikki that swirled from ruby at the base through dark purple to deep blue at the rim, with a tracery of silver bubbles running through it. A few other odds and ends. Some fancy delicatessen food. But it was the rucksack and the vase that held them each mesmerised.

Nikki broke the silence. She gestured at Calum’s gobsmacked oh of an expression. ‘I think he’s got a bit of a crush again, and not on you. You do realise that’s never gonna see the light of day, don’t you? Or get anywhere near a grain of dirt?’

Bradley shrugged. ‘I almost bought him two, so he’d have one to use and one to keep.’

She chuckled, apparently glad that he already knew enough about Calum to know that. Then she said, in the most stripped voice he’d ever heard from her, ‘No one’s ever given me anything so beautiful. Never anything that’s just beautiful. That isn’t practical.’

‘That’s all right,’ Bradley mumbled, looking elsewhere.

‘Thank you.’

‘Any time,’ he said. And he meant it. He liked Nikki, he really did. But it was the gratitude in Calum’s glowing blue eyes that meant the most to him.

And follows in the trail, the scatter of light…

They made the most of the long summer evening. Nikki sat on the wooden bench in the back garden, and read to them from a book of short stories. Calum sat cross–legged at a little distance, listening absolutely rapt, while Bradley lay back on the grass nearby, paying more attention to watching Calum. Afterwards, Nikki and Calum seemed to carefully weigh the story in silence for a while, before Nikki suggested, ‘Tell Bradley one of your stories about the island, Calum.’

But Calum glanced at Bradley and shook his head.

Nikki looked at him for a long moment. ‘Why not?’ she eventually asked. ‘Usually you don’t need any encouragement at all.’

‘I was trying to remember…’ he said, ‘there was a story about the Beltane festival. It’s not one my father told me. But every year the beautiful prince would come to the island to perform a fertility rite, and spill his seed upon the earth, and that would make everything abundant, and the people would be happy. But then one year he didn’t come, and all the land was laid waste.’

Bradley kept his gaze firmly on the darkening summer sky above him, and tried not to smile.

Nikki cleared her throat. ‘Oh yeah, sure. I know that one. It’s called Wishful Thinking.’

‘Isn’t there such a story?’ He sounded so sad about it.

Bradley rolled up onto his side. ‘Calum –’

‘Don’t you dare, Bradley James,’ Nikki said fiercely. ‘Don’t you dare say anything you don’t mean. Because around here, your words will bind you.’

‘All right, all right.’ He sighed, and caught Calum’s gaze. He let a smile twitch one corner of his lips. ‘Fertility rite, huh?’

Calum’s eyes sparked, and he pressed his mouth together as if trying to repress a grin.

‘You do know, don’t you?’ Bradley continued. ‘You and me together – we’re not fertile.’

The grin started bursting through. ‘Yes.’

‘Oh, thank god. I wouldn’t wanna be in that kind of story.’

‘No, it won’t be that kind of story,’ Calum slowly echoed. Then he delivered his punch line: ‘Because we’ve got condoms.’

Bradley stared at him for a long moment. Glanced at Nikki who was just as startled. They both looked back at Calum, who was grinning like he’d won the World Cup of Wickedness. And they all three burst into a storm of laughter.

Later, as Bradley and Calum climbed the stairs heading for the spare room, Calum asked, ‘Can you tell me a new story, Bradley? All the ones I know are about a man and a woman. Do you know any stories about two men being happy together forever?’

‘There aren’t many,’ Bradley cautiously replied.

‘That’s sad.’

‘Well, if we’re gonna be sad, let’s save that for later.’ Bradley closed the bedroom door behind them, and lifted his hands to start undoing the buttons on Calum’s shirt. ‘We can be happy for now, can’t we?’

‘Yes.’

‘We’ve got three weeks together yet. That’s almost forever.’

Calum smiled at him, kind of poignant. ‘Yes.’

‘I love it when you say that to me.’

‘Yes.’ Calum laughed. ‘Yes, Bradley. Yes!’

Bradley forgot about the stupid clothes, and followed his lover down onto the bed.

Touch me, take me to that other place…

The first time, they’d been too urgent for anything more than quick–and–dirty hand jobs. But then as they resurfaced from the daze afterwards, Bradley took Calum’s hand in his, and raised it to his lips for a kiss. They were lying on their sides, facing each other, and Calum was looking beautifully dopily content. Bradley turned his hand over and pressed a kiss to Calum’s palm. Then he asked, ‘Would you like to fuck me properly?’

Calum smiled. Of course he would. ‘Yes.’ After a moment, he asked, ‘Do you want me to, Bradley?’

‘Yes. Very much.’

‘Is that what the condoms are for?’

Bradley nodded. He closed his eyes for a moment. He hadn’t actually had to put these things into words for so long now – it had become a matter of demanding Fuck me! or Do it now, god damn you… – or, with someone who had experience, it had been a simple matter of Bradley shifting his hips in a certain provocative way. With anyone he’d been seeing for any amount of time, it had quickly become understood. This was different, in so many ways. Calum… was different. ‘Do you know,’ Bradley asked very quietly, ‘how one man fucks another?’ And he opened his eyes.

Calum was gazing back at him trustingly, those blue eyes aglow. He shook his head. No. But it seemed he was very keen to learn.

Bradley took that hand, and slowly shifted it down and around behind himself. Arched his back a little. Brought the knuckles of Calum’s hand to rest against his buttocks just over the right place. ‘You can fuck me here. Do you understand? You can put yourself inside me here.’

Calum thought about this, looking at him carefully. He didn’t move his hand away; he obviously wasn’t disgusted by the notion. Eventually he asked, ‘Will I hurt you?’

‘No,’ Bradley said with a reassuring smile. ‘No, you wouldn’t hurt me anyway. But we’ll use a condom and lubricant, and that’ll make it really easy.’

‘All right,’ Calum said, very hushed.

‘And you must promise me… if you ever do this with anyone else, you must always use a condom. All right?’

Disgruntlement darkened Calum’s face. ‘I don’t want to do anything with anyone else.’

‘I know, Calum. I know, my d–’ The endearment still wouldn’t quite come, though god knew he felt it. Then Bradley grinned. Left Calum’s hand where it was, and raised his own to stroke Calum’s stubbled cheek. ‘Wild honey,’ he called him. ‘You’re my wild honey.’

And Calum was smiling happily again. ‘You’re my beautiful prince.’

‘Well, you must promise me, wild honey, that if you ever do –’

‘All right – I promise!’ As if he couldn’t bear for Bradley to even say it again, to voice this awful idea that Calum might ever have sex with anyone else ever again.

‘Thank you.’ Bradley kissed him in gratitude, in praise. And then gasped into the kiss as Calum’s fingertips pushed between his buttocks to brush carefully against the tender flesh there. He moaned, and pressed himself further into Calum’s arms.

‘You really mean here?’ Calum confirmed.

‘Oh god, yes…’

‘And I really won’t hurt you?’

‘You won’t, no.’ Bradley grimaced. ‘I’ve done this before, you know. I’m sorry you’re not my first. It hurt a bit a few times, but then I got used to it. And now I… Well, now I love it.’

‘All right,’ said Calum, as if he’d just now decided to go ahead.

Bradley grinned. He thought that decision had actually been made a long time before. ‘All right.’

By the time they got Bradley lubed up and the condom rolled onto Calum – with full verbal instructions from Bradley, and with much reference to the illustrations that came in the box, so that Calum would know how from now on – they were both trembling with need. Bradley figured the easiest way to do this would be for Calum to spoon him, so he got them arranged. Both his and Calum’s hands on Calum’s cock, guiding it to the right angle, the head pressing against the right place. ‘All right?’ Bradley whispered.

‘Yes.’

‘Push up inside me, then. Don’t worry if you have to push hard at first. You won’t hurt me.’

‘Bradley…’ Calum moaned. And then he pushed. Tentatively.

‘That’s it, Calum. Harder than that. That’s it, my sweet wild honey…’

And suddenly he was in – and Bradley groaned in relief, in abandon – but Calum faltered in uncertainty, perhaps misinterpreting the groan, at least being scrupulously careful – so Bradley gathered himself and reached back to Calum’s hip to haul him closer still.

‘T–that’s it,’ Bradley stuttered out. ‘That’s it, Calum. Oh god…’

And then Calum was inside him properly, buried deep – and he managed three ragged thrusts before he came, a cry tearing from him as he pushed over on top of Bradley, and he was quaking and shoving hard, his feet scrambling for purchase as if he wanted to find a way of ramming all of himself inside his prince and making them one.

And then at last Calum quieted, and he carefully pulled away, stroked at Bradley with shaking soothing hands, murmuring, ‘All right? Are you all right? Bradley?’

‘Yes, my sweet. Never better.’

‘You didn’t –’

‘I’m sorry.’ He smiled. There simply hadn’t been the chance, it was all over so quickly. And Bradley honestly couldn’t care less about that right now. ‘Next time,’ he suggested.

Calum’s eyes glowed. ‘Next time,’ he promised.

And of course the next time would be Calum’s third orgasm for the evening, and Bradley figured they could probably make it last this time. ‘Long… and slow… and deep…’ he said, setting a mesmeric pace. Calum followed his lead, eager to make this work as Bradley wanted it to. Bradley found himself humming the song Kite to guide them both, a bar for each thrust, and then he slowed it down still further. Calum’s breath syncing with the rhythm as he lost himself in the pleasure. Bradley followed Calum, then – and the music took them back and forth, back and forth, with both of them leading and both of them following.

After a while Calum seemed to want to find his knees. He pushed Bradley over a bit, their legs interleaving, Calum’s forearm secure across Bradley’s hips lifting him up a little off the mattress. Calum mouthing across the width of his shoulder, gnawing at him gently, then not so gently. Bradley lifted his arm up and over, brought Calum close for a kiss. Singing, serenading, in a rhythmic murmur: ‘I’m not afraid to die, I’m not afraid to live… and when I’m flat on my back, I hope to feel like I did…

The pleasure was profound. But at last Bradley sought an end to it, wanting Calum to feel all that this could be. Bradley dropped his hand to his own cock, stroked it comprehensively once, and then began to follow the pattern that Calum was following. It wouldn’t take long. Not long at all. ‘There’s a kite blowing out of control on a breeze…

‘No,’ murmured Calum. ‘Bradley…’

‘Mmm?’

Calum leaned in to whisper against Bradley’s earlobe. ‘You want your hand? Or mine?’

That mesmeric rhythm continuing, like the ceaseless waves on the sea. ‘Yours, honey, of course… if you have one to spare.’

‘Yes.’

And Calum lowered that forearm from Bradley’s hips, pushed him over further – and with every long slow deep thrust of Calum’s, Bradley found himself driven down hard against Calum’s open palm and the ridges made by his fingers. ‘Oh god,’ he groaned. How was it even possible that an innocent like Calum could teach Bradley anything at all about sex? And yet… And yet…

‘Sing for me,’ Calum asked.

But he’d lost it, utterly lost it again, and all he could manage – knowing he’d be embarrassed about it afterwards, he’d laugh at himself about it – was a change in tunes, and a quavering, ‘Won’t you take me, take me please, wild honey…

‘Yes, Bradley, yes –’

‘Oh god,’ Bradley cried – and it was just so unbearably fucking good – and he was coming, sobbing, shaking with it –

– and Calum stilled as he felt the effects of Bradley’s orgasm around his own cock – and then Calum was roaring out wordlessly, and probably the whole damned island felt the earthquake they caused – and – and –

‘So beautiful,’ Bradley found himself murmuring afterwards, surfacing at last. ‘So very beautiful.’

‘Yes,’ said Calum. ‘Yes. My beautiful prince.’

Who’s to say what it is will break you…

‘Right,’ said Nikki one morning when Bradley had returned from his jog but Calum was still out treasure hunting. ‘Who’s on your side?’

Bradley looked up from his book. ‘Sorry – what?’

‘I’ve been thinking about your contract situation. The club thinks they hold all the cards, right? But there must be someone on your side. You must have some cards, too.’

He put the book down. ‘Well, you know, actually the only person on my side – except for you and Calum – is my father. And he has nothing to do with it at all.’

‘What about the other players? Surely they’d back you up.’

Bradley tilted his head, quibbling. ‘Actually, they probably want rid of me, too.’

‘What? All of them? I would’ve thought they’d be your mates.’

‘Well… you know…’ and he quoted: ‘professional sports is one of the last bastions of homophobia. The theory is that none of the players want a queer in the dressing room with them. This hasn’t really been put to the test yet.’

‘What the hell difference does it make? It’s not like you’re gonna be jumping them all at every opportunity. Are you? Or are you more worried about being gang–banged after every game?’

‘Not worried, no…’ He winked at her, and chuckled – but then he replied seriously. ‘Course not. But it’s… well, it’s a comfort zone. Not just dressing and undressing – everyone hangs around naked. There’s shared baths and showers, and massages, and injuries being dealt with. It can get kind of intimate, you know? Not in a good way. So there has to be a line that can’t be crossed. No one wants to lose that comfort. Not even me.’

Nikki snorted. ‘They could all just grow up and deal.’

‘Ah, now there’s a radical notion.’ He shrugged, and added, ‘It’s been suggested you’d never put a woman in the midst of all that and expect everyone to cope. So why would you put a gay man in there?’

‘But if you’re willing to take the risk… I mean, it’s not like they’re the ones at risk here.’

‘I dunno. I can be very charming. Not to mention highly persuasive.’

‘They must have known you were gay before this. You didn’t keep it secret all these years.’

‘Well, yeah, I pretty much had to.’

‘Oh.’ That set her back for the time it took her to drink half a cup of tea. Then she said, ‘You can’t be the only gay footballer in all of Britain.’

‘I’m guessing not.’ Of course, he knew not.

‘Well, this is the twenty–first century! They can’t just ignore the issue and hope it’ll go away. The club has to deal. Things will have to change sometime – so why not now? Why not because of you?’

And he found himself nodding. Because she was right. He’d almost gotten to the same place under his own steam. ‘I might call Ben. The captain. I know he – respects my skills. He wouldn’t want the club to let me go. Maybe he’d be on my side.’

‘Good. You should do that.’

‘He might not go for it, Nikki. There’s a lot of reasons he should keep his distance.’ And indeed his mobile phone had been notably silent in recent weeks.

‘Is he a decent kind of guy?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then he’ll have a lot of reasons for backing you up, too.’

So in the end, that’s what Bradley did. And Ben actually listened, and immediately promised to think it all through. But before he hung up, Ben got as far as saying, ‘It’s good that you called. We shouldn’t just let the club decide. I have to admit I was gonna let it go, Bradley, but we won’t. They need to take us into account. I’ll start making some calls.’

And Bradley thanked him as genuinely as he knew how to while not being totally pathetic.

Bradley didn’t see much of Calum that day, and when he did show up just before dinner, Calum didn’t have much to say for himself. He just smiled, and when Bradley quizzed him a bit, the smile turned delightfully mysterious and very few answers were forthcoming.

The mystery wasn’t solved until that evening when they were all out in the back garden. Calum handed Nikki a book, and said he had a new story for her to read to them. ‘Greek myths? Where did you get this?’ she asked curiously, considering the cover.

‘Sally and Ruby. Ruby helped me find it. There’s a bookmark where you should read.’

Nikki held it out to him. ‘Don’t you want to read it to us yourself, if you’ve gone to all this trouble?’

He shook his head. ‘No. I can’t read the names. Ruby helped me, but I couldn’t remember how to say them.’

She had a look at the place he’d marked, and shrugged. ‘Well, I might not get them right, either.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ he said, a bit impatiently. ‘Just read. Please.’

And so Nikki read out the story of the birth of a Greek god named Dionysus, the child of a mortal woman named Semele, and Zeus, the king of all the gods. Semele’s faith was strong but she needed proof that Zeus really was a god. While she was pregnant, Semele asked Zeus to appear to her in his real form. Zeus warned her of the consequences, but she wouldn’t change her mind. Eventually he agreed, and he appeared to her in a storm of lightning bolts. She died in the fire he caused, as he’d known she would. But Zeus rescued the baby which wasn’t yet ready to be born, and sewed him into his thigh for the rest of Dionysus’s gestation. After a few months, Dionysus was full grown, and Zeus birthed him by releasing him from his thigh. And Dionysus was always known for having two mothers and being twice born.

All three of them carefully weighed the story in silence for a while. Bradley stared up into the darkening purple summer sky. Eventually he rocked up onto one elbow. ‘Calum.’

‘Yes, Bradley?’ He sounded really quite innocent. But he wasn’t.

‘Calum, I’m getting a bit nervous about your ongoing desire to impregnate me.’

But Calum just chortled, and smiled at him a bit mysteriously again. Which did nothing to ease Bradley’s mind.

And love is not the easy thing…

Another week or so passed before Bradley found himself alone with Nikki again, knowing that Calum was busy elsewhere. Bradley made them a pot of tea, and took it out on a tray to the back garden, sat beside her on the bench. For a while they both contemplated the hills rising behind the house, catching the sunlight in all the shades of olive and dull gold. Eventually Bradley announced, ‘I don’t wanna stop seeing him. I wanna try to make this work.’

She sighed, as if she’d been expecting this. ‘You can’t. You know it could never really happen.’

‘Yeah,’ he admitted. ‘But, god, I wanna try.’

‘The two of you are from completely different worlds. He’s not the kinda boyfriend you’d wanna introduce to your footy mates, is he? You couldn’t take him to… I dunno, awards nights or whatever, as your date.’

Bradley shrugged a bit irritably. He didn’t want to agree with her, but he knew she was right.

‘Let it be, then.’ And then she added, with defensive anger, ‘You don’t know us. You don’t know what we’ve done.’

‘He told me, the first time. He said he’d done bad things.’

‘Did he tell you what exactly?’

‘No. I asked if you knew, and if you’d forgiven him, and he said yes, and I said I trusted you.’

Nikki’s face cracked in pain for a moment, and that strange serenity of hers was lost. ‘Maybe you shouldn’t.’

Bradley shrugged. ‘You’ve let me live here with you. I’ve been with you day in and day out. I trust you both.’

Really.’ She repeated: ‘Maybe you shouldn’t. He’s done the worst things you can imagine. It’s that temper of his. There were reasons. And it was only once, when I first came to the island. Things were difficult.’ She sighed, and conceded, ‘It probably won’t ever happen again.’

‘Do you trust him?’ And he thought she must, to share a house with him and to let him have his freedom.

‘I trust him with my life. With my –’

When she didn’t finish, he suggested, ‘Your heart? Your soul?’

Nikki nodded, just once, and then added, ‘My sanity.’

‘Then I trust him, too.’

‘Bradley –’

He got a bit exasperated. ‘Anyway, even if he’s really dangerous – which he isn’t – don’t you think I can take care of myself?’

She looked at him sceptically, but let it go.

After a while, Bradley said, ‘You’ve no idea – The contrast between him and – You don’t know what that means to me. His innocence. His good intentions. I don’t wanna walk away from that.’

‘You have to.’

‘Nikki –’

‘If you make a clean break of it, that’ll be better for him, don’t you think? Rather than dragging it on, and it not working. It’d get too messy that way. It would hurt him even worse. Better for you to just walk away.’

‘Oh god.’ He was reduced to the utter heartbreak of it all.

Which was when a shadow fell over them, and Calum was looming, and he was furious. ‘Don’t do that! Don’t treat me like a child!’

‘Calum –’ Nikki said.

‘Don’t go making decisions for me!’

Bradley lifted a hand towards him, but Calum wasn’t going to be easily placated. ‘I’m sorry,’ Bradley offered, feeling raw. ‘We’re just trying to work out what’s best.’

That long beautiful face contorted with frustration. One of those pale fingers stabbed through the air towards Bradley’s breastbone. He didn’t even flinch. Bradley trusted this man with his life, his heart, his soul, his sanity. Calum declared, ‘You know what’s best for me, Bradley James!’

And in the midst of it all, Bradley felt himself smile. Against the odds, he and Calum had created something very real. Bradley stood, and faced Calum honestly, openly. ‘It would be very difficult, you and me trying to be together. I’m in Manchester or travelling to away matches for ten, eleven months of the year. And you belong here on the island. How could we make that work?’

Calum watched him, his anger dwindling to sullenness. ‘Dunno.’

‘So which would be more painful? You tell me. Trying to make it work, and hurting each other for months and months until we finally realise it just won’t happen. Or ending it cleanly once I go home. Just dealing with it being what it is.’

‘What it is…?’

‘Something wonderful and precious. Like the best bit of treasure you ever found, like the best story you ever heard. But not ours. Not part of our real lives. Something separate from what we know.’

Even the sullenness had gone now, and Calum was as reduced as Bradley. ‘I don’t want it to end.’

‘I know. I don’t, either. But I think it has to.’ Bradley lifted a hand towards Calum, and this time Calum took it. Bradley stepped towards him, and they hugged, they held on tight. Calum was crying. ‘I’m sorry, my sweet. My sweet wild honey… I’m sorry.’ Truth be told, Bradley wept, too. But the sun shone warm on them.

And in those moments, Bradley rediscovered his courage.

Bradley called his father’s number in Devon, expecting to reach the answering machine.

But his father picked up the call. ‘Rupert James.’

‘Dad.’

‘Bradley! How are you? What’s happening with the club?’

‘I’ve met someone, Dad.’

A low groan. Bradley could almost hear the words – Oh, not another one, Bradley – floating through his father’s mind. Rupert asked, ‘What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into now?’

‘No trouble. But… he’s not the sort of someone people are going to approve of.’

‘Why not? Is he married? Too old? Too young?’

‘He’s my age – well, a few months younger – and he’s on the open market, Dad. Have some faith in me.’

‘What, then?’

‘He’s a bit… He’s a bit slow, that’s all.’

A long pause. Then Rupert said very cautiously, ‘I see.’

‘It took me a while to decide I wasn’t just taking advantage. He’s gorgeous, and he’s very trusting. His sister approves – Well, she approves of it being a holiday fling – I still have to convince her it’s more than that. But she’s…’

‘For god’s sake, she’s not slow as well, is she?’

‘No! No, she’s at least twice as intelligent as me.’

‘Wouldn’t be hard,’ Rupert muttered.

Bradley ignored him. ‘She’s not exactly your average punter on the street. It matters that she approves. It matters to Calum and me. But I don’t know who else is going to understand.’

‘Calum,’ his father repeated.

‘Yes. Calum MacLeod.’ Bradley took a breath. ‘I know you wanted other things for me. I know you wished I’d have a family of my own one day. But that’s not for me, Dad. And Calum is… everything you’d want the person in my life to be. He’s kind and funny and considerate and warm and open. And he likes stories, he tells these amazing stories about what’s happened on the island. And… he loves me.’

Rupert sighed. ‘I should hope so!’

‘He’s a good person, Dad.’

‘Well, that comes as somewhat of a relief, after your last liaison.’

‘Yes,’ he acknowledged. ‘I’m somewhat relieved, too.’

‘Bradley. I’ll look forward to meeting him. Bring him home when you can, all right?’

‘Thank you, Dad. Thank you.’ He left a silence. I really need you on this one, Bradley thought.

I’m there for you, he imagined his father replying. I’m always there for you.

Except – what if Rupert wasn’t actually thinking that at all? Bradley decided it was probably time for a reality check. ‘I really need you to be there for me on this, Dad. It’s one of those us against the whole world deals.’

‘Yes.’ There was a pause. Bradley imagined Rupert taking off his glasses and polishing them. ‘I love you, son. And it sounds as if Calum is a very easy person to love, too. I’ll be there for both of you.’ Of course the academic had to correct himself: ‘I am there for both of you.’

He felt the most perfect sense of relief. ‘Thank you, Dad. I love you, too.’

The heart is a bloom, shoots up through the stony ground…

One afternoon they all three went for a long walk, and then lazed around by one of the island’s rocky beaches. It was warm enough to seek the shade under the trees there.

They were silent for a while, but eventually Bradley said, ‘I’ve never really told you about my father, have I?’

Calum rolled onto his front and propped himself up on his elbows, waiting eagerly for the story. Nikki lit up a cigarette, and said, ‘Go on, then.’

‘I was born in Devon. My mother died the same day. And my father had adored her. I think that almost broke him. Sometimes I wonder how he can love me so much, given that I basically killed her – but he does.’

‘You’re part of her,’ said Calum, ‘and you’re still alive, so she is, too.’

‘Yes.’ Bradley smiled at him, and then continued. ‘My father lectured at the university in Bristol. I grew up there; he sold our home, and we lived on campus. I never really fit in. I guess he assumed the learning would rub off on me, but it never did. All told, I’ve been rather a disappointment to him. A brilliant straight academic doesn’t really want a dumb gay footballer for a son. But he’s always loved me, and he’s always been there for me.’

‘He sounds wonderful,’ Calum breathed.

‘You know, he actually really is. And when I told him about you, he thought you sounded pretty damned wonderful, too.’

Calum went pink with pleasure – but Nikki complained, ‘Bradley. Don’t go turning this into something it can’t be.’

Bradley sighed, and swivelled around to sit up cross–legged, facing them both. ‘I got a call from the club this morning,’ he announced. ‘They want me back. I have to be in Manchester on the second of July for training.’

Calum cried out in grief. ‘No!’

‘Come here, my sweet,’ said Bradley. And Calum crawled over, collapsed with his head on Bradley’s thigh. Bradley hung onto him, and they anchored each other there.

‘How long is that?’ Calum asked, muffled. ‘How long before you go?’

‘Another week. Six days,’ said Bradley. ‘Look. I don’t want this to end. Calum, I don’t want us to end, all right?’ When Nikki opened her mouth to protest, he cut her off. ‘No. I’ve tried to see sense, but I can’t.’

‘Bradley –’

‘I have stupid amounts of money. It’s ridiculous what they pay us. I bought a really nice flat in Manchester – but that’s doubled in price since then. I bought some nice clothes, but I never even got a flash car. My father’s never needed any real help. So it’s all invested, or sitting in bank accounts. What I’m trying to say is: We can do anything. All right? Any solution we can come up with, we can make happen.’

Nikki challenged him flatly: ‘So, retire already, and come live here on the island.’

Bradley nodded. ‘I’ve thought about that. But I don’t want to quit playing yet. Once I retire from playing, sure, we have more options. But I love the game, I really do – and I’m good at it, it’s probably the only thing in my life that I’m really good at – and I’m in one of the Top Five clubs with a chance of playing for England. I don’t want to give that up. Plus, they’re putting some faith in me. Maybe I owe it to the game to stay, and help change things. For the other gay players, you know?’

After a while, Nikki nodded once, as if to indicate she was listening.

‘It’ll only be a few more years. Maybe I can play until I’m thirty–five, if I’m lucky. Then we’ll see. I’ve thought about coaching, teaching. I’d like to work with kids. But I could do that anywhere.’

‘Even here,’ said Nikki. ‘On Skye or the Kyle of Lochalsh.’

‘Yes. So we just have to work out what to do in the meantime.’

Calum said, ‘You come here every summer. You be my beautiful prince every summer. You promise.’

‘Of course,’ Bradley agreed. ‘And maybe sometime we can all three go stay with my father. He just writes now. He’s got this wonderful old house by the coast in Devon, it used to belong to smugglers. You’d love it, Calum – well, I think you would. Maybe not as much as here, but there’s so much to explore – caves, fossils on the beach, all that kind of thing.’

Calum had twisted over to lie on his back now, looking up at Bradley, afire with the possibilities. Even Nikki seemed to be considering the matter anew.

‘Nikki, you talked about taking Calum to the mainland to visit museums. Well, wherever you decide to go, I could meet you for those trips. Or you could come to Manchester and stay with me – there’s heaps of museums and stuff there.’

‘I guess,’ she allowed.

‘We can phone each other. And if you want to get hooked up to the internet, we can email each other, too, send each other photos and things.’

Nikki shook her head. ‘You need a satellite dish out here.’

Stupid amounts of money, remember? If you want to do it, just go ahead, and send me the bill. Hell, I’ll just write you a cheque when we get back for whatever you think you’ll need.’

‘You can’t buy me, Bradley James.’ There was very little heat in her protest, though.

‘I know that. I’m just sharing. We’ll be family. If you’ll let me, Nikki. If I’m with Calum, then you and me, and my father, and Calum – the four of us will be family.’

She looked at him, her face tight and wary. ‘Maybe.’

Calum got up to kneel at Nikki’s feet. ‘Nikki, please. I want this. But you have to want it, too.’

‘Do I?’

‘You have to be happy for me. You have to share. We’ll be family. Just because I have a – a –’

‘Boyfriend?’ Bradley supplied.

Calum grinned at him. ‘Just because I have a boyfriend doesn’t mean I don’t have a sister.’

‘I know that.’ She sighed, and leaned close to him. ‘You know what, Fir Apple? I just have trouble believing this is all going to work out. But that’s my problem, isn’t it? No faith in human nature.’

And he whispered, ‘If this is a story about true love, then it’ll work out, no matter what. It’ll be fine.’

‘And if it’s not?’

Calum shrugged. ‘I want to try. I have faith. I have faith in Bradley.’

She pressed her forehead against his. Looked, for a moment, as if she might cry. But then she said. ‘All right. If you’ll never leave me, brother, I’ll never leave you.’

‘Not now nor ever,’ he promised.

And Bradley smiled.

I’m still standing, I’m still standing where you left me…
Are you still growing wild, with everything tame around you? …

‘I was very brave today,’ Calum announced, his sigh gusting emptily down the line. He and Bradley phoned each other almost every night, even if only for a few minutes. One day soon, Bradley hoped to have the technology sorted so they could use a web camera, too, and he could see this beautiful man and all his changeable smiles. For now they spoke the old–fashioned way.

‘You had to be brave? What happened?’ Bradley asked easily, trying not to betray his instinctive moment of panic.

‘Nikki took me to the doctor’s for those tests.’

‘Ah. They took some blood from you?’

‘Yes.’ And he confessed, ‘I don’t like needles.’

‘I don’t either,’ Bradley said. ‘I always have to close my eyes.’

Calum laughed. ‘You do not!’

‘I do, too. When you come here, you can ask my friend Ben. He’ll tell you. You were probably a lot braver than me.’ An amused and disbelieving snort resounded in Bradley’s ear, which made him smile. He was smiling a lot these days. ‘Did they say when you’d get the results?’

‘Maybe a week. I’ll ask Nikki.’

‘All right. I’ll get mine tomorrow. I got it done at the club, and they’re a bit quicker.’

‘And then… and then we won’t need to use condoms any more?’

‘That’s right. For as long as it’s just you and me, Calum, we’ll be safe.’

‘Forever, then.’

Bradley tried manfully not to tear up. ‘Forever. Yes.’

There was some scuffling on the other end, and then Calum’s voice sounded both very quiet and very loud. He must have been trying to muffle his words from Nikki. ‘And then… when I come inside you, Bradley…’ Calum chuckled a bit filthily. It was perfectly obvious he was thinking about fertility and planting his seed and so forth.

‘Calum MacLeod – for the last time, I am not having your baby.’ Bradley set his face obstinately for a moment, then conceded, ‘We’ll have to adopt.’

Calum gasped delightedly. ‘Really?’

‘Yes.’ Oh god, Bradley thought. Yes!

‘Nikki!’ Calum was yelling, not very far from the mouthpiece. Bradley grinned and held the phone away from his ear. He could still hear them both, clear as a bell. ‘Nikki! Bradley said we’re gonna adopt a baby of our own!’

‘Huh. Well, you tell him don’t say that – don’t ever say that if he doesn’t mean it.’

‘Bradley, Nikki says –’

‘I heard her, my sweet wild honey. And I do mean it.’

‘That’s wonderful. That’s like in a story.’

‘Yes. But don’t go looking for one just yet. A baby, I mean. We’d better wait until we’re living together, all right? Once my playing days are done.’

‘All right. I can wait.’

‘You’re very good. You’re very patient. Dad says I should try to learn that from you.’

‘Oh. Did he say what I should learn from you?’

Bradley chuckled wryly. ‘No. He’d probably say nothing at all.’

They were silent for a moment, and then Calum asked, ‘Sing for me…?’

So he did, as happily as he’d ever done anything in his entire life. ‘I could taste, I could taste you even then, and I would chase you down the wind… You could go there if you please, wild honey… And if you go there, go with me, wild honey…’

Calum crooned along with him quite tunelessly, and in those moments Aysaar didn’t seem very far away at all. ‘Goodnight, my prince,’ Calum murmured when they were done.

‘Goodnight, wild honey.’ And Bradley went to bed, and dreamed of the time to come when he’d no longer be lying there alone – and he must have already learned patience somehow, because life seemed pretty damned perfect just exactly as it was, dreams and waking and all.