They spent their days avoiding each other in close confines, perhaps too used to the narrow quarters of a ship, the constant company in the savage wilderness, but they never once considered moving away.
What would they have done in the cities of London or Manchester or Edinburgh, smothered with pitying looks from relatives and strangers who did not, who had no chance to understand?
So John Irving and Billy Gibson bought a house in the country, a small affair with creaky stairs and loose floorboards overlooking miles of dry land, braving the howling storms rolling in from across the ocean. They did not speak much before or during this acquisition. They did not have to discuss their choice to stay together, it seeming as natural to them as the morning cold, when they would lie under their blankets, back to back.
At night, their violent coupling was a mockery of domestic bliss. A beast with two backs, rutting only to chase the relief of a dreamless sleep. It could not be said that their minds were not with each other; indeed, they rather spent their thoughts dwelling together at the same place. A barebone tent shaking in the Arctic wind, a dark corner between crates and barrels below deck, a hellish vision of burning flesh and cloth.
Once in a while, when they were lying next to each other on their sturdy bed, built by John within a night and a day as if he was a man possessed, a man with a single focus, and they were breathing heavily, sweat cooling on naked skin, listening to each other's laboured coughs, Billy would think Irving deserved someone else. John would harbour similar thoughts, yet they were both kind enough to never utter them out loud.
What good was deserving in a world where you needed, where you either had or had not. Survival was rarely beautiful. They afforded each other any kindness they could spare, and this kindness mostly expressed itself through silence on these matters.
John did not say anything when Billy called out another’s name in the heated bliss of ecstasy, even though he shuddered at the memory of a silver glinting blade in the corner of his vision. What use was it to judge, now, at the end of vanity.
Maybe when this arrangement between them started, John could still see some other man’s face, gentle brown eyes looking on him with care and adoration. Back then he would have chased this spectre from his mind.
Now, he could not remember, white spots blurring out his memory like a snowstorm at times. This was for the best, he thought, holding Billy close for just a moment longer, for just another hour or so before they would have to face the rise of a new day.