Whilst on a short break from Shoreditch, staying at his uncle’s cottage in the Lake District, Dan Ashcroft questions his relatonship with Jones, reflects on his own past and is confronted about his sexuality.


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Length: words

Notes: There’s just one explicit sex scene about half-way through (I have to satisfy my own fantasies, ladies and gents) and some passionate kissing and touching towards the end, but it’s pretty much full of affectionate hurt/comforting and fluffiness and all that shizzle. You will notice that the plot is loosely based around the premise of ‘Withnail and I’. Don’t sue me.

CHEMISTRY by The Lizard

He watched Jones’ head as it lolled forward, slightly to the right, eyes closed, his chin edging down towards his chest. Every two minutes or so, Jones jerked his head back up, blinked open his eyes wide and stretched his back out, fighting against the tiredness that overwhelmed him. Then, as weariness fell across him again, his eyelids gently closed and his head tipped down, the motion of the train rocking him back to sleep.

Turning his attention to his polystyrene coffee cup, Dan Ashcroft picked at the rim and considered the age difference between himself and Jones. Ten years brought with it a whole wealth of different experiences and personal goals. He tried to think about the things he and Jones had in common, what actually bonded them together and panicked slightly when he couldn’t think of anything beyond the obvious. Did it matter? Should they have more on common than… well, just that?

Dan chewed the nail of his index finger and stared distractedly out of the window at the dark brown blur of passing winter countryside. He was very aware that Jones had the youthful advantage over him in looks and energy, but he liked to think he brought something to their relationship. He just wasn’t entirely sure what it was. Fear momentarily gripped him and flipped his stomach like a pancake. What if Jones began to lose interest in him? He might go off with somebody else; someone younger and better-looking and with more energy. Somebody who could keep up with him in the bedroom.

“Oi, you grumpy-faced sod,” Jones lifted a silver-booted foot and firmly jabbed a toe into Dan’s shin, “how much longer have we got to sit on this bloody train?”

Dan turned his head and gave Jones a weak smile. He pushed back the cuff of his jacket and checked his wrist-watch. “About another hour. Then we have to change to another train for the rest of the journey.”

“What!? Tell me you’re fucking joking!” Jones exhaled loudly and threw his head back on to the headrest, “I’m bored shitless!” He crossed his arms and slumped down in the seat, pouting like a child who had just dropped an ice-cream.

“Yeah, I know…” Dan scratched two fingernails against his chin stubble. He couldn’t think of anything else to say, nothing helpful to assuage Jones’ feelings of crushing tedium. He felt he should say more—after all, he wrote for a living, didn’t he? He usually had words pouring from his fingertips every single day; insightfully honed sentences bouncing around the inside of his skull. It’s just that sometimes he couldn’t get them to come out of his mouth. Maybe it was simply that there was nothing to say.

Dan silently berated himself for slipping into this anxiety routine at a time they were heading off to relax and rejuvenate. Not a holiday exactly; more of a temporary escape from the continuous round of bullshit and pose called Shoreditch. Pressures of work had been mounting on them both, arguments at the House of Jones had become more frequent; the routine familiarity of living together was becoming a dull, predictable repetition of eating, sleeping and fucking when either of them were not too tired. Some time away could only be good for them, Dan concluded.

Their destination was a small, tumble-down cottage in the Lake District. A familiar childhood holiday haunt, the cottage had been in the Ashcroft family for years, and was now in the hands of Dan’s Uncle Frank. From the little information he recalled from growing up, Dan’s uncle had been a shadowy figure. At family get-togethers, whether present or not, Frank was always discussed in hushed tones; facial tics and sharp movements of the head replacing words of apparent disapproval. Shush. Not in front of the children. He recalled once asking his father a question about Frank and then feeling absolutely terrified as he watched his father’s face flush a deep crimson, bracing himself for the smack to the legs that usually followed this change in his father’s complexion. He soon learned never to ask about Frank again.

Rumours amongst the family were that Frank and his father had fallen out over a woman. Brotherly rivalry had apparently torn them apart, irreconcilable. Yet Dan’s mother, ever the sole placating force within the family unit, kept in touch with Frank, albeit in secret from her husband, and it was through this clandestine connection that Dan had secured the cottage for their short getaway. Apparently Frank was happy to offer sanctuary to “his favourite nephew” and had insisted that Dan and his friend stay there for as long as they wished.

Dan considered that maybe Frank wasn’t such a monster, after all.

The wheels of the taxi churned through the wet mud along the dirt track that led to the cottage. Jones fidgeted and strained to see ahead of them through the windscreen, their route through pitch darkness and driving rain illuminated solely by the full beam of the car headlights. “Are we nearly there yet, Dan?” Jones enquired—a question he’d asked at least ten times since they left the train station. “Just another few minutes,” Dan had repeatedly replied in his most reassuring tone. In truth, Dan had no idea how much longer their journey would take. He only had vague memories of being driven along this track as a boy, in the Ashcroft family car, and he certainly wasn’t making a note of distance or landmarks then. He was too busy fighting with his younger sister, Claire, as their father’s arm reached round to the backseat, attempting to break apart their sibling bickering, warning them to be quiet lest they feel the back of his hand.

“There it is!” Jones exclaimed excitedly, grabbing Dan’s left knee and shaking it. Dan rubbed his weary eyes and exhaled in silent relief. A final lurch into a pot-hole and then a swing round to the left marked the end of their long journey. Dan pushed open the car door and stepped out into the gale, his shoulders hunched, wincing against the storm. Jones leapt across puddles, heading straight for the cottage, shielding his hair by pulling up his leopard-print jacket, conversely exposing his bare mid-drift to the elements. “I’ll get the bags, shall I?” Dan hollered after him, sarcastically. Jones cowered in the shelter of the doorway, pretending not to hear him, peering into the cottage through the pane of glass in the front door. Dan paid the taxi driver and the vehicle pulled away, leaving him standing in the soggy darkness, luggage at his feet. He fumbled with numb digits in his pockets for the cottage door keys, his hair plastered to his forehead, the wind sliding icy fingers down the neck of his coat. His patience was fast evaporating.

“Jones, will you come and get your fucking bag!” he yelled into the darkness. A voice replied, suddenly close by: “Alright Dan, keep your hair on, yeah?” Jones lifted his bag from the ground. Even in the dark, Dan knew Jones would be flashing one of his killer smiles. Devastating smiles that always dissipated the tension and made Dan melt inside.

They struggled against the wind to the front door, fighting the elements. The lock was a little stiff, the wood of the door warped slightly with age and damp. With a shove of Dan’s shoulder, the entrance opened and they stepped inside, closing the door behind them. Jones felt along the wall for a light-switch. Dropping his bag down and retrieving his lighter from his trouser pocket, Dan held it aloft and stepped cautiously through to the kitchen, seeking out an oil lamp or candles. Locating candle-sticks and a holder under the sink, he lit the wick and wedged the candle’s base into the holder, illuminating his path back to the lounge area. Jones and Dan stood in silence for a few moments, surveying their surroundings, casting shadows about the walls, shivering in the musty half-light.

“Bloody hell, Dan. Bit of a shit-hole, isn’t it?”

As Jones quickly discovered, the cottage offered very basic accommodation. There was no electricity and it was heated centrally by a wood-burning stove, which also served as a cooker. Dan wasn’t sure if the cottage had been used by anyone in his family for several years. The smell of must and the icy atmosphere suggested not. Dan made a short exploration of the room, momentarily lost in his own memories. Yellowing and dust-covered paperback books stacked in a small pile on the dining table, the titles of which Dan recalled from his own visits in the past. He’d read some of them twice. The same old family photographs and pictures hung on the walls. The same upholstery and wooden furniture now appeared worn and tatty.

His nostalgia was disturbed by a metallic clanging sound as Jones opened the small square door of the wood-burner and poked inside at the remains of the last fire. “We should try and get this going. It’s either that or we huddle around a cigarette.

After some cursing and several attempts to re-ignite the fuel, they managed to create a small fire that produced just enough heat to dry themselves off a little from the rain. Still shivering and seated in separate armchairs, Dan and Jones stretched out their weary legs and tried to absorb some of the feeble heat. The rain continued to lash down against the windows of the cottage. Dan’s eyelids felt heavy and he began to drift off.

Jones glanced at Dan, his eyes flashing, a suggestive smile dancing on his lips: “I know another way we could keep warm…” He sprang to his feet, picked up the candle-stick and offered an outstretched hand to Dan. Dan gave a gentle snort though his nose and grinned at the other man. Heaving his tired frame out of the chair, he took Jones’ hand and followed him. The wooden stairs creaked as they ascended towards the bedrooms. When they reached the top, Dan gestured with his head towards the larger room.

Once through the doorway, Jones placed the candlestick on a chest of drawers and turned to Dan, stretching up to kiss him, holding his jacket collar. He firmly pulled him backwards and they tumbled together on to the cold bed linen, laughing.

Dan sighed, lying back against the pillows, rubbing his face in his hands.

“I’m sorry, Jones. I’m just really tired.”

Jones slipped an arm under the bedcovers, reaching across Dan’s broad bare chest and nuzzled his face into his neck.

“It doesn’t matter, Dan.”

Dan sucked his stomach in a little as Jones pressed his lithe naked body against him.

“It matters to me.”

Jones placed his lips on Dan’s right shoulder, leaving a moist, tender kiss there.

“Shut up, grouchy arse.”

As Jones snuggled up against him and drifted off to sleep, Dan lay awake in the darkness, battling another bout of anxiety. After their long journey up to the cottage, he felt physically drained. He sometimes wondered how Jones kept going, seemingly boundless in energy. Eventually, after he had run his mind ragged, he fell asleep from mental exhaustion.

“What you going to do then, lad? Eh? Got any bright ideas?”

Dan slouched moodily in an armchair next to the fireplace, pretending to ignore his father’s contempt, watching the fire in the wood-burner. It was the summer holidays yet the Lake District still felt chilly, even in August.

Dan knew exactly what he wanted to do now he had finished school. He just didn’t think his parents would like it very much. He hung his head, picking at the arm of the chair, mumbling:

“I want to go to London. I want to be a journalist.”

Dan’s father flapped his newspaper and laughed at his son’s ambitions: “What do you want to go to London for? What’s wrong with Leeds? You and your stupid fancy ideas.”

Dan felt his throat tighten and flexed his fingers in annoyance. He felt it was typical of his father not to show any support. He knew Claire had always been his favourite. As hard as Dan tried, he’d never been able to gain his Dad’s approval.

As she set out some dinner plates on the kitchen table, Dan’s mother sensed another row brewing between the male members of her family: “Come on you two, let’s not have another scene. Dinner’s nearly ready.”

Claire glanced over at her brother then slipped another cassette into her Sorry Walkman, turning up the volume, and continued sketching out a storyboard for the movie that was playing in her head.

Dan’s father glanced down at his newspaper and declared: “You’ll amount to nowt, that’s what. You’re a bloody dead loss, you. You always will be.”

Despite his mother’s protestations, Dan leapt angrily out of the armchair, grabbed his coat and stormed out of the cottage. Choking back tears of frustration and cursing his father, he hid under a tree between the wood-shed and the boundary fence, angrily punching a fist against a wooden fence post. Sniffing and wiping his eyes, he fished in his pocket for his pen-knife, unsheathed the blade and pressed the point hard into the post, deeply scoring into it the letters “D-A-N.”

He ran his fingertips over the letters that had been carved twenty years ago into the wood of the fencepost. Although weathered by the elements, his name had remained there. Permanence.

Unable to sleep properly and still disconcerted about his inability to perform for Jones, Dan had risen early, slipped on a t-shirt and jeans and then went downstairs to make coffee. Pulling his coat tighter about him against the chilly morning mist, he decided to wander around outside the cottage, smoking, trying to clear his head.

“We need some wood, for the fire.”

Dan glanced up in the direction of the voice. Jones leant against the doorframe, looking far more handsome than he should for the early hour of the morning. “OK”, Dan replied, tossing away his cigarette stub and walked slowly towards the woodshed, his shoulders slouched and his hands in his pockets.

The door of the woodshed groaned as Dan heaved it open. A mixture of damp, logs and creosote filled his nostrils. A large pile of chopped logs lay under a plastic sheet covering. A wooden work-bench, made by his father, stood to the right.

Jones appeared by Dan’s side: “Thought I’d give you a hand.” Jones grinned and slipped a hand inside Dan’s coat, tickling circles across the wide expanse of his lower back, just above the waistband of his trousers.

Dan felt a sudden stirring in his groin, shivers of arousal cascading down his buttocks to his balls. He parted his lips, a wolfish grin through beard stubble, turned towards Jones and slid his own large hands about Jones’ shoulders. They pressed their mouths roughly together, their hot breath hanging in clouds above them, their tongues encircling in spontaneous passion.

Dan held Jones’ head in his hands, his fingers grasping through the blond highlights, forcing his kisses deeper and deeper into him, moving his mouth from his lips to his chin, growling into Jones’ neck. Jones broke the embrace and reached down to Dan’s belt, unfastening it, all the while giving Dan a devilish grin. He sank to the ground and knelt before Dan, who stepped back and leant against the wooden bench, spreading his legs while Jones tugged his jeans down to his knees, running his hands over the pale skin of Dan’s exposed thighs quivering in the mid-morning winter air.

Dan threw his head back, gasping in anticipation as Jones nuzzled into his groin and teasingly flicked the tip of his tongue across the head of his erect cock. Jones tongued him into his mouth, swallowing him whole. Dan gripped the bench and let out a loud moan as Jones slowly moved his mouth back and forth, sucking, pressing his fingernails into Dan’s quivering buttocks and thighs. Dan peered down at Jones then grabbed his scalp with both hands. Jones gazed up into Dan’s brown eyes, blinking in compliance, allowing him to grasp and twist handfuls of his hair, moving his head back and forth with increasing speed.

Dan thrust his cock vigorously into Jones’ mouth, groaning in exertion as Jones sucked harder, moaning along the length of him, causing waves of pleasure to course up Dan’s back. Dan’s mind span as he screwed his eyes up tight, twisting Jones’ hair tightly between his fingers. Leaning back, Dan let out a full-throated cry of gratification as his hips jutted forward and he came hard into Jones’ throat.

Dan gulped for air and blinked away the stars that filled his sight. He was suddenly aware of the volume of his cry, how it had echoed about the woodshed. Jones stood up and hitched Dan’s trousers back into place. He tenderly kissed Dan on the mouth, a mixture of saliva and spunk, brushing his hand against the side of his bristly face, smiling at him: “Alright?” Dan pushed back his tousled hair and grinned lazily back, nodding.

“Hold your arms out, you big carthorse.” Jones set about loading Dan’s arms with logs as he stood steady. Still dazed from the blow-job, Dan continued to grin stupidly, taking immense satisfaction in watching Jones bend down and pick up wood; glimpsing his taut mid-riff, flashes of his lower back, his tight little arse snuggled inside his trousers…

A sheep bleated in the distance. It dawned on Dan that they were completely alone and that nobody could hear them. They were about as far from Shoreditch as it was possible to get. While they were here, there was no reason to hide.

When Dan felt he could hold no more wood, they went back inside the cottage and stoked the fire… no, they really DID stoke the fire.

As he dozed in the crumpled bed-sheets, Jones thought he heard a noise. His eyelids parted slowly, blinking against the daylight that poured in through a gap in the chintz curtains. He rubbed his eyes and frowned slightly, concentrating his hearing. There it was again. What the fuck was that?

The noise was getting louder. Suddenly it was in the bedroom, close by. Bleary-eyed, he lifted his head to see Dan shuffling in, looking happy and handsomely disheveled. He was carrying a tray of breakfast items and… he was humming.

His humming was joined by a rattle of china teacups and plates as Dan perched on the edge of the bed and set out a breakfast for each of them. Jones propped himself up and leant against Dan, resting his hands on his broad shoulders, watching him pour coffee for two. Dan reached up and rubbed his hand, giving it a little squeeze.

Jones gave Dan a peck on the cheek, then fell back against the pillows, sighing in contentment.

“Alright, mate?”

Dan thought he heard somebody shout but the music pounded too loudly in his ears, almost deafening him.

He’d arrived in London a few months ago, not really knowing anyone outside of a few friends who’d also recently come down from up North. Sleeping on their floors and sofas, picking up bits of freelance writing work here and there, Dan had found London life tough but at least he was finally living out his dream. Tonight, he’d been sent by a new magazine called ‘Sugar Ape’ to cover the opening night of a club in East London. The magazine had published his review of a Supergrass single and the chief editor had asked him to produce more work for them. He hoped they might take him on permanently if he came up with the goods again.

The music was the most extraordinary thing Dan had ever heard, almost defying description. Attempting to do so, Dan came up with, “it’s as if a thousand squirrels banging miniature saucepans inside a dustbin were dropped through the roof of a greenhouse into a drum-kit played by a rabid baboon”. That would just about cover it.

He was making use of his free tab, trying to numb himself against the harsh beats and flailing limbs of speed-fuelled dancers. Dan sipped his beer and watched them in bafflement. So this was trendy East London? Everyone just looked… like idiots.

Dan heard the voice again and realised it was coming from the DJ booth. He’d found refuge by the booth in what appeared to be the only available space in the packed club. In mid beer-swig, he turned his head and raised his eyes to see the owner of the voice grinning down in his direction from the decks. Dan turned and looked over his shoulder, saw only brick wall and turned back, realising the DJ had been looking directly at him. The DJ looked wired, dressed in pink leopard-print and plastic tubing, shaggy blonde hair falling across his animated face. Dan gulped down his mouthful of beer and nodded back, returning his attention to the crowds who seemed to be moving as one homogenous mass to a track about… what was that sample? Something about ice-cream?

He pushed back his shaggy brown hair from his eyes and glanced up again at the DJ. He was yelling something unintelligible into a microphone, his voice sounding like a chipmunk on acid, punching a fist in the air before dropping in a bass-line so low that Dan thought his rectum would prolapse. The dancers went wild as the DJ held them captive, dance-floor hostages hypnotised by the pounding of his incessant techno rhythms.

Dan attempted to quickly side-step a wayward freak-dancer but was just a second too late and felt his lager bottle get knocked from his hand, showering his legs with the contents. He spat obscenities and glared back at the guy. Feeling a tap on his shoulder, he spun round to see the DJ leaning over and beckoning him to join him inside the booth. Dan momentarily paused but was elbowed again. To prevent further injury, he relented and slid into the booth next to the DJ, who smiled widely at him and span another sample into the ever-increasing cacophony of sounds.

He felt a sense of relief and lit up a cigarette, offering one to the DJ, who accepted in between holding his arms in the air above his head in a kind of victory stance. The DJ placed the unlit cigarette between his lips and leant towards Dan, wiggling his eyebrows at him for a light. Dan obliged and held his Zippo out, igniting the flame. The DJ clasped his hand, holding it steady, and fixed him in the eye, holding his gaze, the baby-blue eyes piercing something deep inside him.

Dan felt the world around them fade away a little, the music becoming muffled. He wasn’t sure if the crackling sound he’d just heard was coming from the needle on the DJ’s vinyl or not. Clicking the Zippo shut and flushing slightly, Dan quickly turned away, his breathing growing more rapid, drawing hard on his cigarette.

Dan had seen that look before. It had got him beaten-up in dark alleyways, back in Leeds.

“Jones!” The DJ nudged him, holding out the hand that wasn’t mixing music at that moment. Dan regained his composure and faced him, staring cautiously down at the open palm before him.

Jones continued to shout: “I finish my set in five minutes. Do you want a drink?” He smiled widely.

That smile. That devastating smile.

Dan knew he could walk away right now and stop this before it had a chance to begin.

Biting his bottom lip, Dan took a last drag of his cigarette. He tossed the stub to the floor and then clasped Jones’ hand in his own, grinning back, wolfishly: “Yeah. OK.”

The next morning, as they lay naked together, hung-over and sprawled across the double mattress, Jones asked Dan to move in with him.

They settled into a leisurely routine around the cottage for the next few days, both of them feeling totally relaxed and happy together. Dan secretly congratulated himself on his decision to get away from Shoreditch for a while. Any anxieties he had entertained were now completely forgotten.

They took afternoon strolls along country roads to the local village to fetch supplies. They spent an evening or two at the local pub, after which they staggered back to the cottage, laughing and fooling around like fox cubs. Other evenings were spent sitting in front of the wood-burner, drinking and smoking and talking until it was time for bed.

Their fucking became frequent and more vigorous. Full-throated, grunting, sweaty sex filled the cottage as both of them made loud noises of gratification. When they woke up, Jones took full advantage of Dan’s increasingly rare morning erections. The bedsprings groaned with the rhythmic thrust of their love-making. The cold, musty bedroom warmed up considerably as the heat and smell of their writhing, perspiring bodies clung to the air.

As Jones lay naked and face down in the twisted bed sheets, Dan smoked a cigarette and gently stroked a patch of soft downy hair in the small of Jones’ back. He lovingly admired Jones’ lean physique as he spread-eagled across his legs.

Dan snorted and smiled widely to himself. So, this was it. This was happiness.

Barefoot and clad in a t-shirt and underpants, Dan stretched sleepily in the kitchen, extended his arms above his head, yawned loudly and rubbed an armpit with one hand. The kettle whistled as its contents reached boiling point. Dan grabbed a tea towel and carefully wrapped it around the metal handle, lifting it from the gas hob and then tipped hot water into two large mugs. He searched around for a teaspoon, picking through the accumulated mess of dirty crockery and cutlery, but couldn’t find one. In the short time they had taken residency, they had made it feel just like home. Finally, Dan spotted a large dessert spoon nestling between two curry-covered plates. He attempted to prise it out gently with his fingers but it slipped from his grasp and clattered to the kitchen floor in a shower of Balti sauce. Dan tutted and squatted down on his haunches, groaning slightly with the physical effort, and then fished the spoon out of its resting place.

A loud rattle at the cottage door caused him to straighten up in alarm, probably a little more quickly than he would have liked. As he turned to see what caused the noise, his head span a little, the blood rushing to his temples.

“Hello? Anybody home?” A male voice enquired.

Thinking quickly, Dan darted into the lounge area and grabbed his jacket from the back of a chair, knotting the arms around his waist, fashioning a make-shift skirt that draped around his knees and exposed his rear.

Uncle Frank burst cheerily into the cottage, bright and breezy. Frank’s face was rosy-cheeked and tufted with dark bristles. His rotund body appeared to be fighting to get out of his very snug-fitting pin-striped, three-piece suit. He strode towards Dan, smiling broadly, a chubby hand outstretched before him.

“Hello, my dear boy! Goodness, haven’t you grown?” Dan self-consciously tugged the jacket tighter about his rear, and inched back against the table, extending his own hand with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment: “Uncle Frank! Hello! I… wasn’t…”

“Daniel, I do apologise for dropping in on you like this but I… oh!”

At that moment, Jones stumbled into the room, completely naked and bleary-eyed. He mumbled into his palms as he rubbed his face awake, asking if Dan had seen his light blue trousers.

Dan stared wide-eyed first at Jones and then at his uncle. Without missing a beat, Frank walked straight across to Jones and offered his hand again, eyeing the DJ’s physique: “Oh, good morning, young man! Did I rouse you from your slumber?”

Suddenly wide awake, Jones hastily cupped his own genitals and nodded in response, frozen like a rabbit in car headlights. He glanced across at Dan who silently jerked his head violently in the direction of the staircase.

Slowly backing towards the stairs, his hands still covering his genitals, Jones made his excuses and turned at the last moment, hurrying back upstairs.

Frank eyed Jones pert buttocks as he ascended the stairs and called out after him: “Please don’t let me stop you from getting dressed!” He turned back to the lounge and threw a knowing look at Dan, giving a lop-sided grin: “The poor boy looked like he was about to catch his death. I’m sure I saw goose-pimples.”

Dan flushed a deep crimson and cleared his throat, swallowing hard: “Would you mind making yourself comfortable while I go and… get some clothes on? We weren’t expecting—”

“Of course, Daniel! I’m sure I can make myself busy. Perhaps I’ll stoke the fire while you two straighten yourselves up.

Dan hastily shuffled across the room and climbed the stairs. Avoiding Jones gaze, he rushed into the bedroom and scooped up his discarded clothes from the floor, snatching other items from inside the wardrobe, emptying socks and underwear from the chest of drawers.

“I’ll be sleeping in the other bedroom from now on.”

“But… why—”

Dan avoided answering Jones’ question and left the room. Jones sighed and perched naked on the edge of the double bed, slowly brushing the palm of one hand across the rumpled sheets.

“What do you think of Sophie?”

Claire knew her parents didn’t approve of her and Dan smoking in the cottage, but she’d discovered that if they smoked while their Mum and Dad were out for a walk, and if they didn’t actually witness them smoking, they seemed to be fine about it. Of course, their mother would make a dramatic fuss of spraying air freshener over their heads upon her return but that was about all the grief they would get.

She drew hard on a cigarette and fixed her eyes on her brother’s scalp as he pored over a book. Dan always seemed to be absorbed in a private world, just lately. She sometimes wondered if he was taking drugs. They used to converse in a secret language that only they knew, baffling their parents and friends, taking delight in their private word-play. He’d become so secretive lately. Since traveling down to London for an interview for a journalism course, he’d returned a different person; sullen, brooding and uncommunicative. Their silly conversations had dried up completely.

Dan sniffed, unresponsive, absorbed by Will Self’s prose.

“She came round ours last Saturday, remember?”

Dan made a noise of vague acknowledgment and turned a page. Claire pressed on, undaunted by her brother’s indifference:

“She’s a nice girl, Dan. Why don’t you ask her out?”

Dan looked up, exhaled and glanced across at Claire. He narrowed his eyes and his gaze shifted to something over her shoulder, in the distance… something that apparently confused him….what was he looking at? Claire frowned and turned her body to see exactly what he was staring at.

Whilst her attention was elsewhere, Dan slyly reached across to her packet of Marlboro’s and quickly stole a cigarette, placing it on his lips in one swift well-practiced movement. Claire turned back, saw the cigarette in his mouth and sighed. She leant forward and proffered her lighter. Dan drew on the nicotine and inhaled gratefully, turning his attention back to his book.

After a minute or so of silent smoking, Claire spoke: “Maybe you don’t like girls.”

Dan remained mute, scratching his chin, not breaking his gaze from his book.

“It’s alright, Dan. It’s not like it’s a big deal.”

Dan placed the book face down on the table and leant back in his chair, stretching out his legs, tapping his cigarette ash on to the tiled floor. He shrugged nonchalantly and exhaled a cloud of blue smoke.

When Dan and Jones returned to the kitchen, they discovered that Frank had brought along copious bottles of vintage wine and a large hamper of luxury food. He insisted on making lunch for “his favourite nephew and his friend.” Placing a large white apron around his plump frame, he set about preparing a fresh goose for the oven. In a matter of moments, he had Dan and Jones dashing about the cottage under his direction, fetching and carrying ingredients and peeling piles of vegetables. Frank sang old sea shanties in a strong baritone, the saucy verses causing Jones to grin in enjoyment. It had been several days since he had heard anything musical and he appreciated Frank’s solo performance. Dan remained mute, keeping a watchful eye on Frank, cutting potatoes into chunks and dropping them into a large pan of salt water with a growing sense of unease. Jones placed a reassuring hand across his lower back but Dan stepped away, silently mouthing “Not now” at him, gesturing obliquely at Frank.

The lunch was large and delicious. Frank regaled them both with elaborate tales of his colourful past. Jones enthusiastically showed interest in his story-telling, beaming back at him as Frank commanded attention, waving his arms above the leftovers as if conducting an edible orchestra. Dan grinned and nodded politely, chipping in with an occasional observation of his own, which Frank seized upon with glee and wove into the next scandalous anecdote whilst re-filling their glasses with more red wine.

Frank broke from his latest story and gestured towards Dan: “But of course, Daniel, you would know all about this, as you are a fellow artiste!” Frank spoke of his admiration for Dan, and of how he had proved his father wrong by making a success of himself in London as a writer. Jones looked to Dan in a show of support, suddenly feeling very proud of his partner, thinking that perhaps he had misunderstood Dan’s relationship with his family. Perhaps Dan had been talking to them, after all?

Frank continued to shower Dan with enthusiastic praise: “I’ve been following your career closely, Daniel. There’s a deep ring of truth to your writing. Although I expect this has something to do with your thorough research methods.”

Jones leaned on the table and smiled at Dan, taking pleasure in hearing a member of Ashcroft’s own family speak highly of him. Claire rarely did anything but grumble about how useless Dan was.

Dan narrowed his eyes and drew again on his cigarette, exhaling his response: “Oh really? Thanks.”

Frank puffed up his chest and raised a glass of red wine as if saluting Dan’s achievements: “Yes indeed, I particularly enjoyed your article about… toilet trading with the builder. Very amusing.”

Jones frowned slightly, repeating Frank’s words in his head, trying to recall if Dan had told him about this.

Dan remained silent, tapping his fingers on the table. He cast a glance at Jones who was looking down at his plate, pushing a pea around seemingly deep in concentration. He had stopped smiling.

Frank continued: “You seem to have a….natural talent.”

Dan ground his back teeth together and extinguished his cigarette, pulverizing the stub into a china ashtray. He pushed back his hair and fixed Frank in the eye: “Ha! Those fools wouldn’t know natural talent if it came up and shat on their Wasp T-12s! It was mostly stuff I got off the internet, I just re-wrote it. I’m not wasting my fucking ball sweat on a bunch of ignorant bovines. Shall we have some coffee?”

He stood and walked briskly out to the kitchen, grabbing the kettle from the draining board, wrenching the cold tap on full blast and glaring out of the window.

Jones didn’t look up as Dan left the room, continuing to push the pea around his plate, his face expressionless. Frank threw him a sideways glance and sipped his wine, muttering under his breath:

“A very natural talent…”

A short while later, Dan returned to the table with fresh coffee and three cups. He had managed to calm down somewhat and relaxed a little as they drank. Jones seemed to have accepted Dan’s explanation of the Stray article and Frank appeared to have dropped the subject, moving on to another tale of debauchery in theatrical circles. After coffee, Frank ordered them to rest a while by the fireplace and furnished them with a further bottle of wine while he cleared the table and washed up. He was fastidious man and became quite alarmed at the accruing filth and debris in his kitchen.

Once the kitchen and dining area were spick and span, Frank returned to the lounge, rubbing his hands in an excitable manner: “Now, my boys! What would you say to several stimulating rounds of Scrabble?”

Jones eyed Dan, who gulped the remains of the contents of his glass and turned to Frank:

“We were sort of hoping to stay here and doze off for a while. Scrabble was never my thing.”

“Oh come, come now, Daniel! You’re our resident wordsmith! What say you two boys team up against me? It might add a certain frisson to proceedings! Let’s see if the two sturdy young fellows can’t beat an older man into submission with your verbosity!”

As Frank sought out the board game, Dan rolled his eyes and shrugged at Jones, mumbling under his breath as he slowly pushed himself out of the chair: “Well, he did just cook us that huge meal.”

Jones smiled and nodded in agreement, springing to his feet and switching on his natural enthusiastic manner. He bounced across to the dinner table and settled back down, whilst Frank set out the board and letter tiles. With a heavy thud, Dan slumped down onto another chair, his stomach heavy and his brain slightly dulled by alcohol. He felt that he could probably only just spell his own surname, let alone thrash Frank at Scrabble. He placed his half-full wine glass on the table and concentrated on focusing on the board before him.

Frank steamed ahead with an early lead, hitting double and triple word scores with ease. He teased Dan for not placing down words with more than four letters. Dan rubbed his eyes as the board began to blur. Jones furrowed his brow and did his best to look intelligent. The letter tiles “C X V K O C” sat before him on the small gray plastic stand. Dan snorted gently, spotting the word within. Jones sat back in his chair and scratched his head. Frank raised his eyebrows mischievously: “Does something amuse you, Daniel?” Dan barked a short laugh and automatically reached for his now empty glass. Frank placed his hands together in an arch and brought them to his chin, pursing his lips: “I think perhaps some more wine may help you concentrate?”

Dan grinned in gratitude and held out his glass as his uncle uncorked another bottle.

Everything seemed extremely relaxed and jovial as the game continued and the red wine kept flowing. Dan and Jones laughed hard and loudly as Frank told a seemingly endless stream of dirty jokes. Everyone became less and less concerned as to whether the words placed on the board were real or not. In fact, Dan began to enjoy making up new ones and creating his own definitions, making a mental note to use them in his next article for ‘sugaRAPE.’ He visualised himself at the next editorial meeting as the office gimps nodded at him, pretending to understand as he peppered his vocabulary with these made-up words. What a bunch of fucking Idiots.

With a flourish, Frank placed the word “QUEER” across the board, achieving a double word score and becoming very animated that he had managed to use the ‘Q’ tile. At his next turn, he put down the word “SODOM,” and in the next, “BUGGER,” hitting another triple letter square.

“Well now!” Frank chimed, counting up his score on a small notepad, “what have you boys got to say for yourselves?”

Dan fidgeted, by now quite inebriated, and struggled to decide exactly whether Frank’s question was asked in innocence and referred to their next hand, or whether he was probing into his friendship with Jones. Alcohol, coupled with the way Dan had noticed Frank was leering over Jones, persuaded him it was the latter.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dan asked warily, the sudden change in his manner alerting Jones’ attention.

Frank placed his pencil down on the notepad and calmly folded his arms, raising one eyebrow: “What is it, Daniel? Do you require a dictionary?”

Dan pointed his index finger unsteadily at Frank, slurring slightly: “You know exactly what I’m saying. Making your insinu… insinuations.”

Frank raised his palms placatingly and scoffed: “My dear, if this is about the current liaison between you and your friend here, I’m afraid that there’s no point in trying to continue this charade anymore.”

Dan pushed his chair sharply across the tiled floor, the legs making a loud grating sound. He paced about the room, glowering at Frank. Shaking, he hissed through gritted teeth: “I am NOT gay!”

Jones tensed and stared at Dan in confusion, his mouth slightly open.

Carefully lifting the Scrabble board, Frank slid the letter tiles back into the box and continued matter-of-factly: “It’s as clear as the bulge in your groin every time this handsome fellow looks in your direction. You’re queer, Daniel.”

Dan screwed up his face in disgust and balled his hands into fists, rigid with anger: “But I’m… I’m NOT like you!”

Frank responded, raising his voice slightly but continuing to tidy up the game: “Of course not, Daniel! There is one clear difference between us!”

Dan stopped pacing and looked at him, quizzically. Frank closed the Scrabble box, patting the lid and then lifted his gaze to meet Dan’s: “The difference is, dear boy, that YOU are a coward!”

Jones felt his stomach lurch and dropped his gaze to the floor. If he looked at the floor, he could avoid looking at Dan. If he looked at the floor, he could avoid Dan seeing in his face that he agreed with Frank’s accusation of cowardice.

Flexing his fists and cursing under his breath, Dan remained standing in the centre of the room. Slowed by the effects of the wine, his head ached as he considered his next move. Frank calmly sat at the table, smoking a cheroot.

Jones continued to hang his head and stared at the table surface. He wished somebody would say something, anything to make the large stone in his chest go away.

Gesturing towards Jones with his left hand, Frank blew smoke into the air as he spoke: “And well done on acquiring such an exquisite piece of rough.”

The DJ jerked his head up and expected to see another person in the room before he realised that Frank was referring to him. He resented being spoken about like some kind of trophy. He stood up from the chair and slouched across the room to an armchair by the fireplace, not daring to look at Dan, then formed a ball in the seat, drawing his knees up in the vain hope that he might be able to block this all out.

“Come on, we’re leaving,” Dan suddenly towered over him, hair falling about his eyes as he tapped him on the shoulder. Jones slowly raised his head and gazed up at Dan. He nodded slowly before reluctantly getting to his feet again and followed Dan upstairs to fetch his things.

The taxi arrived 20 minutes later. Frank remained at the dining table, nonchalantly smoking: “I recommend you keep your eyes on that young man, Daniel. He’s a pretty one and he’ll surely get bored of you soon.”

Dan shouldered on his coat and glanced about the cottage one last time. Frank’s words rang loudly in his head as he bit his lip and followed Jones out of the front door. Frank called out after him: “They all leave eventually, Daniel. They all do!”

Slamming the car door, Dan gave the driver their destination and sighed heavily, running a hand across his throat. As the taxi pulled away into the dusk, he took a final look at the cottage. It became smaller and smaller as the car made its way along the dirt track and met with the main road. He knew he would never go back there again.

Jones didn’t talk to him and shrugged off his attempts to touch him for the entire seven hour journey back to the House of Jones.

Much to Dan’s distress, Jones continued to ignore him once they’d returned to London. As he tossed and turned at night in self-imposed exile on the sofa, Uncle Frank’s warning continued to ricochet around Dan’s mind. On one particularly long, dark and sleepless night, Dan managed to convince himself that everything was over between himself and Jones, and that Frank was right. “This is it,” he kept telling himself, preparing for the moment Jones would ask him to leave, “this is the end.”

Three nights later, driven by a lack of sleep and frustrated by the Jones attitude, Dan decided he’d had enough. Jones’ techno-splat was a fraction too loud for ten o’clock in the morning and it had gone on that little bit too long. Confronting Jones, he encircled his fingers around the smaller man’s wrists and jerked the DJ’s hands from the decks. A deafening screech filled the room as the needle jumped and slid across the vinyl record. Jones shook himself free of Dan’s grip and yelled at him to “fuck off.”

“Oh, so you’re speaking to me now, are you?” Dan’s breathing grew more rapid as he prowled after Jones, following him to the centre of the lounge. Jones stood with his back to Dan, shaking his head: “You’re full of shit, Dan! You’re fucking deluded!”

“Hello Jones, how are you today?”

Jones span round to face him and jabbed the air between them with his finger: “You don’t do that! YOU don’t do that! That’s exactly something Dan Ashcroft does NOT do!”

Dan sighed. The Stray Article. He couldn’t leave with this misunderstanding still hanging over them. The least he could do is be honest with him before he left. He stepped towards Jones and tried to grab his arms with both hands, a desperate tone in his voice: “But Jones, listen to me! I HAD to do it! I’m not fucking proud of it!”

Jones spat back in an accusatory fashion: “… and you accepted money for it?” He pulled his hand away as if Dan were diseased. Dan let Jones go and sat heavily on the sofa, leaning forward, his face in his hands. “I needed the money for Claire’s camera.”

Jones strode around the room, as jittery as one of his regular coffee nights, scratching his head. “But… but that’s prostitution, Dan. Prostitution!

Dan glanced up at Jones, desperately: “But I NEEDED THE MONEY!” He stood up again and stepped towards Jones, one hand extended, trying to placate him. “Jones, please! Listen to me!”

“Why? What else have you done behind my fucking back? Have you done any more freelance wanking on the side? Am I some more fucking research?! Going to practice your gay fucking technique on me?” He shoved Dan away, moving behind his decks.

“Of course you fucking well aren’t research! For Christ’s sake, Jones! Who the hell do you think I am?”

“I don’t know! Definitely not who I thought you were!”

Dan moved again towards Jones, managing to grasp his upper arm this time: “I’m the same Dan you’ve always known! I’m the grumpy bastard from Leeds!”

Jones struggled but was not strong enough to get away from Dan: “Hiding your sexuality from your family! Sleeping on the sofa every time Claire stays over! Your Uncle was right! You’re a fucking coward, Dan!”

He lashed out at the larger man with his fists, trying to prise himself away. Dan protested: “Stop fucking hitting me!”

“Get the cunt off me then!”

“Not until you kiss me, you electro-wanker!”

“WHY? Am I going to get paid for it?”

Dan gritted his teeth and gave a growl of frustration and anger. He shook Jones’ arms away aggressively and turned sharply, slumping back on to the sofa, furiously rubbing his beard with both hands, his face darkened with anger, nostrils flaring.

He couldn’t live like this. What was the fucking point anymore?

He knew he could walk away from this right now and stop this before it all crashed down around him. There wasn’t going to be a happy ending.

Dan stood up sharply, grabbing his coat from the back of an armchair and searched the room for his cigarettes.

“That’s it, typical fucking Ashcroft! Pissing off whenever life gets too difficult! Well, you can fuck off for good this time!”

Dan remained unresponsive, avoiding Jones eye-line, as if he had completely shut down. He located his Marlboros, placed an unlit cigarette between his lips and slipped an arm into his coat, shrugging it over his shoulders.

Jones continued to scream at him as he made his way out of the room: “Why don’t you shack up with that fucking BUILDER? Maybe HE’LL put up with all your fucking lies and cowardice!”

With his back turned to Jones, Dan paused in the doorway to the kitchen. His face partially covered by locks of his shaggy dark hair, Dan half-glanced at Jones over his shoulder, his brown eyes like two deep pools of despair. He swallowed hard and gave Jones a weak smile, nodded and then turned away again, walking towards the front door.

Jones felt like he’d been hit by an invisible bus, the breath suddenly knocked from his body. He blanched.

“Dan, please….no!” He hurtled through the kitchen after Dan and pounded his fists into his broad shoulders. Dan grabbed at him, trying to push him away. Jones jumped in front of him and slammed himself against the front door before Dan could open it.

Wearily, Dan lifted a hand towards the door latch but let his hand fall limply by his side. He hung his head and stared down at the floor, sniffing. He muttered, the unlit cigarette still sitting on his lips, slightly bent out of shape in the tussle: “Let me go, Jones. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Dan…” Jones cautiously stepped forward, slipping his arms around the taller man, curling them up around him, drawing him close: “I don’t… I don’t know what to do.”

Dan sighed, feeling drained, his arms still dangling at his sides. Slowly, he removed the unlit cigarette from his mouth and tossed it to the floor. He brought his arms up and embraced the smaller man, pressing his face into his neck, his nicotine breath warming the hairs at the nape: “I know….I know….” He stroked Jones’ hair and gave him a bristly kiss him on the cheek. “I’ve got no more secrets, Jones. I can’t hurt you anymore.”

Jones melted even further into the embrace, whispering into Dan’s right ear: “Please stay. I need you here. “

Holding Jones with one arm, Dan placed the fingers of his other hand under Jones’ chin: “Hey, you silly tart. Look at me.” Jones obeyed, gazing up at him, eyes wide, questioning. Dan gently brushed a thumb against his cheek, kissing it softly: “I’m so sorry, Jones….so sorry…” Jones breathed out at the soft caresses, closing his eyes.

Dan continued to kiss Jones gently all over his face—his cheeks, his nose, his eyes, his forehead, then planted a deep, passionate kiss on his lips, pushing himself into Jones, grasping his head between his hands. Jones succumbed to this show of tenderness, responding to the kiss equally, drawing his hands up behind Dan’s head, playing with his hair.

Dan’s tongue found its way into Jones’ mouth, emitting a little moan as he deepened the kiss further, grinding his crotch into him. Jones wrapped his arms fully around Dan’s neck. Dan lifted Jones, who wrapped his legs around Dan’s waist as he carried him slowly back through to the lounge and towards Jones’ double bed.

He dropped Jones on to the bed and then wriggled out of his coat and shirt, tossing the clothing to one side, bare-chested, kicking off his shoes in the process. He climbed on to the mattress and stretched out alongside Jones. Curling into a foetal position, Jones buried himself in Dan, who responded by gently pulling Jones towards him, cradling him like a baby: “Please don’t leave me, Dan. Promise not to. Please!”

Dan frantically reassured him: “I won’t, I’m not going anywhere. Ssshh, come on now, little guy, ssshh, calm down…” Jones smothered Dan in kisses: “I’m sorry for being such a twat. I should have been better about your secret. I’m so sorry. Please Dan, forgive me. Please. “

Dan held the shivering, shaking body of Jones, stroking his back gently, returning his kisses: “There’s nothing to forgive.” Jones pulled away from Dan, scrutinising his face, his eyes intense: “You promise?” Dan returned Jones’ piercing stare: “Nothing.”

Dan grasped Jones’ head again and kissed him, flicking his tongue in and out of Jones’ mouth, teasing him, running his hands through his hair. He could feel Jones’ cock stiffening beneath the fabric of his jeans. Jones flashed one of his killer smiles. Dan’s stomach flipped, a warm glow enveloping his entire body.

Jones’ grin broadened as he straddled Dan and deliberately ground his hips downwards in a circular motion. Dan moaned in anticipation, roughly gripping the bottom of Jones’ skinny tee shirt and pushed it upwards, revealing Jones’ taut stomach. He leant down and kissed around Jones’ belly button, his beard stubble scratching against his soft skin. As Jones lifted his arms above his head and pulled off his t-shirt, ruffling his hair, Dan teased Jones’ nipples with his teeth, moving his tongue around them and sucking gently, breathing into his small patch of chest hair.

Dan bucked his hips as a surge of ecstasy bolted through his buttocks. Jones jolted as Dan’s crotch rose up, crashing into his own, gasping as Dan’s teeth encompassed his nipples once more. Dan moaned against Jones’ chest, moving his mouth up to Jones neck, nuzzling his chin.

Jones whispered: “I need you, Dan. Never leave me.”

Dan mumbled into Jones ear: “I know… I won’t.”


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