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There's an inevitability to all of this, something soft-focus and lit like a film. Jim's collar is open, showing the slope and tantalising shadow of bones - George imagines his fingers on them, tips and nails skating across the skin and up to touch his neck, the front of his throat, to feel the pulse of him swallowing.

"Do you feel brave?" Jim says suddenly, slanting a sideways glance at George, and a fleeting grin. He cocks his head towards the sea, vast and black mere yards away from where they're walking. "Take a dip. I dare you."

"And walk home soaking wet?"

"You could take off your clothes."

George makes his English accent more pronounced when he replies, a clipped sort of caricature - a parody of affront to disguise the sudden rush of goosebumps he feels prickling hot along the bare flesh of his forearms. "I can assure you, you'll never see me swim naked in that sea."

"It's dark. I wouldn't see a thing anyway. More's the pity," Jim adds, not quite enough of an undertone for George to miss it. When George looks at him Jim's facing ahead, down, watching the loose sand sifting over his shoes as they walk, but he looks at George then and curls a little smile - not quite shy, not brazen either, but a curious hybrid of the two, a pendulum swing that seems to hover longer and longer at the certainty of something huge before rushing away again when he thinks better of it, or thinks too much.

Not this time, says an insistent little voice in George's head, and when the rhythm of their steps lines up and their knuckles brush against one another again he leans into it, and hears Jim's hitched breath at the slow slide of George's thumb across his fingers.

"Was that an invitation?" Jim murmurs, hushed and careful even though there's nobody else nearby, and George simply tells him, "Yes," because that's exactly what it is: an invitation, and a promise, and something like a hope.


Jim steals George's hand as gently as a cat burglar, thumb sliding soft along the lines of his palm and first two fingers coming to rest beside the spread of blue veins at his wrist. They press against the pale skin there, press carefully down against the bone beneath, and when words slip from George's mouth they feel clumsy and foreign, like sounds he's never made before.

"What are you doing?"

"Checking," Jim says softly. He's not looking at George's face but at the indentations of his own fingertips in the captive stretch of flesh.

"Checking my pulse."

"Yes."

"Well, then. What's the diagnosis, doctor? Am I sick?"

That makes him smile, a puckish little curl of the mouth and a breath let out through his nose like a silent escaping laugh. He looks at George then, eyes bright with it - amusement, questions, a halting sort of promise - and again his thumb slides down the length of George's sweating palm, tickling and tender.

"Some might say so." When his fingers move from George's wrist they leave white ghosts behind in the California tan, fleeting like the spots that dance in technicolor before rubbed eyes. George catches Jim's hand in his own before it can leave him entirely, fingers splayed to weave together and damp palms clinging; that smile floods Jim's face again, brighter than before, huge eyes crinkling at the corners, and when George tugs him by their clasped hands he follows wordlessly, long limbs unfolding as he stands and refolding when he slips to sit astride George's thighs, knees pressing into the cushions either side of him and their hands, still holding, trapped between the press of their chests.

"Your heart," Jim says. His mouth is a whisper away; George can feel his words more than he can hear them. "Gene Krupa couldn't beat like this."

"Yours," George murmurs, feeling the rapid flutter of it there against his knuckles. "May I kiss you?"

Jim's startled laughter touches his cheek, a breath as gentle as the trailing fingers moving down the front of George's throat to the hollow there and then lower to the first fastened button of his shirt. "My god, old man, if this is how they do it in England I can't see why you'd leave."

"That wasn't an answer."

"Ask me again."

"May I kiss you?"

Jim doesn't reply, not in words: instead he closes his eyes and pouts gently, ruining it moments later with laughter that's more motion than sound, shaking his shoulders and creasing the corners of his eyes. "Yes," he says, although he's hiding his smiling mouth behind his hand. He's nervous, he must be, despite all his posturing; his eyes when he opens them are rabbit-wide. When George reaches out to touch him, palm settling around the line of Jim's jaw, his smile wavers and he nuzzles closer, breathes more steadily, and says it again. "George. Yes."

It starts slow, not unsure but unsure of how to make it work, navigating the tilt of heads and bumping noses. Jim laughs again, a quiet breath warm against George's chin and lower lip, and George opens to him, drawing him closer with a hand stroked warm down his spine. Somewhere in the house a clock chimes two; by the musical tones of two-thirty, Jim's shirt is draping half off his shoulders and he's breathing open-mouthed against George's collarbone.

There have been other men, countless men, in London and New York and here in Los Angeles, some for mere minutes and some they managed to eke out into months. This is different, everything: Jim's eyes, relaxed now and laughing, bright; his hands, the slide of his fingers in George's hair and down the slope of his bared chest; the hard line of his cock standing up from his unbuttoned trousers, shining and smooth in George's grip; the beautiful, soft sounds of the struggling words trapped in the rags of his breath.

"George," he says when he comes, and, "god," with a chaser of shuddering gasps, mouth wet and warm against George's sweating neck. He shifts there in George's lap, head thrown back as though he's staring at something on the ceiling, a rising pink flush colouring the long white column of his throat. The urge to kiss him there is irresistible and George can feel against his lips, exactly as he imagined, the movement of Jim's throat as he swallows and then the vibrations of his breathless laughter.

"Alright, old man," Jim says, eyes bright and alive with mischief as he slides his arms around George's neck to kiss him again. "That's your living room. Now show me your bedroom."

Later, George - the old romantic fool he never thought he'd become - would remember this night as something huge and brilliant and thrilling and dangerous, an unlit fork in an uncertain road.

All he says at the time is, again, "Yes."