Sometimes Bill just can’t look him in the eye. It’s as if, if he meets that achingly sincere and open gaze one more time, he, or Jim will break apart under the intensity.
Jim loves him, of course. He couldn’t not. And Bill, in his deeper, quieter moments, will admit, if only to himself, that he loves Jim. In between the girls (and boys) of the typing pool and the Links Club. For all of that beauty, all of that sensation, there is love. Much good that’ll do them both.
The night before he’s due to ship out, Jim comes to see him. And, standing in the hallway of his elegant yet shambolic townhouse, Bill knows. Bill knows Jim knows. Jim knows that the person he loves most in the whole world is about to betray him.
‘Come in,’ Bill says. Jim lopes over the threshold and into the dimly lit hallway. ‘What brings you here on a dismal night like this?’
Jim walks into Bill’s living room without being asked. ‘Needed to see you.’
Bill swallows; watches as Jim pauses by the bay window, then reaches out a long fingered hand towards the whiskey decanter. ‘You don’t mind if I-?’
Jim pours a glass; the brittleness of the stopper against the decanter splinters the air. He doesn’t offer Bill one. Bill watches as Jim lifts the glass, fingers curled around its base. Jim drinks, throat lengthening as he swallows deeply. As ever, Bill is mesmerised by the physicality. Jim puts the glass back on the tray.
‘No. Thanks.’ Jim is struggling with something, it’s obvious. The carefully mannered exterior has its tells to someone who knows him as well as Bill. There’s a set to his jaw; a tendency to glance downwards, shield those dark, bruised, beautiful eyes from interrogation. All the training in the world can’t hide the signs from one who knows and loves. But Bill can’t ask. He doesn’t dare.
‘Are you all set?’ Bill knows better than to try to discuss specifics outside of The Circus, but he needs to know.
‘Yes.’ Jim lifts his gaze. Those eyes, Bill thinks. It was always those eyes. Bill forgets to breathe. In that moment, he’s sure. Jim knows. His desperately wounded stare speaks volumes. The ache in the air is almost tangible.
Bill can’t help himself. He closes the gap, a mere ten feet, between them. Pauses a foot away. ‘For Christ’s sake…be careful.’
Jim just looks at him. ‘And you.’
‘I m-mean it,’ Bill is stammering. He hasn’t stammered in years. ‘Please.’ He reaches out a hand that is trembling as badly as his voice. ‘Come back.’ His hand meets the ridged corduroy of the shoulder of Jim’s jacket. Bill can feel Jim stiffening under the touch.
‘I intend to.’
They stand, and time stands still. There’s so much to say, and yet no words to articulate it.
‘I should go.’ Jim moves to break the contact.
Bill shatters. He doesn’t think, he just moves. One hand either side of Jim’s head, he brings his lips to Jim’s forehead and breathes. Just breathes. I’m sorry.
Jim raises his own hands to clasp Bill’s. I forgive you.
There is no more time.