It is cold. It is cold deep in his bones, in a raw, primeval, way. He steps forward across the grass, the still air barely shifting against his skin. The cold tingles his nose, curls insidiously around his uncovered ears.
In deference to the cold, he slides chapped hands into his pockets. Fingers, chilled and chilling, pressed against his own thighs. He shivered slightly, blushing. Despite the discomforting directions his mind ran down, he kept his fingers there. The field in front of him opened up into absolute nothingness. There was nothing at all to see.
Like a dreamland, pristine, detached from reality, the full grass stretched under his feet to join the dull grey sky that stretched over his head. He knew there must be a horizon but where it was, he couldn’t see. Nothing to lean his hands on so he kept them against his sore, slightly abraded, thighs. The air felt like water against him, like it was pressing lightly on him from all sides, like it wasn’t ready, just yet, for him to be here.
It was very early, he supposed.
Unwilling – though he’d never admit it – to intrude, he turned his slight figure around, gaze coming to rest on the small cottage he’d vacated not half an hour earlier. It squatted in line with the rest of the still, defensive, landscape. Spreading itself across his field of vision in a grey mass. Everywhere he looked now he could sense it, could feel again the weight of what had happened.
His fingers twitched again and angrily he pulled them out, feeling a savage joy in their tingling. There wasn’t space in the landscape for sharp emotions, however, and he felt the anger settle into a dull ache next to his guilt. The grey sky appeared to dip, pause, dip again, and he raised a hand in wonder, numbing fingers touching his cheek, his forehead. It was drizzling. A seeping, silent, drizzle that got in under his collar and set raindrops glinting, caught in the stitches of his brown jumper.
With an almighty sigh he set off up the rise towards the cottage, heart starting to pound. Feeling absurdly young he snuck in, taking off his shoes and replacing them with slippers. Half holding his breath he crept gingerly down the tiny corridor, feeling rather like he had been set down in Mildeno. Gently, talking sternly to himself about displaying a stiff upper lip, he pushed open the door to the first bedroom, edging to the bed and lying on the very edge. Tentatively he reached out a hand and rested it on James’ shoulder, feeling one of the smaller butterfly troops that had taken up residence in his stomach halt, pause, then melt away until needed. Gradually, he made out the reassuring sounds of James sleeping, the sharp scent from the night before overlaid with the slightly musty, early-morning smell of a bedroom. Letting his senses steady him, Algy tried to breathe slowly and steadily, hand defrosting on James’ shoulder.
As the drizzle turned to a steady rain, whispering sibilantly against the window and the roof, James rolled under the blankets, hand searching for a way to rest on Algy. It tried sneaking out of the bedclothes but was withdrawn with a muttered oath. Algy watched with a growing lightness of heart as James turned his head, attempted – and failed – to blow his hair out of his eyes, and fixed him with a grey eye clearer and lighter than the vista attempting to enter their cottage. “you must be freezing. Stop being an unhelpful lump and get in.”
Algy must have paused for too long because James shifted impatiently, shoulder tugging at the bedclothes Algy sat on. “Don’t pout, it’s unbecoming” Algy smiled a bit at that. No-one could ever say James Bigglesworth was a suave man, especially in affairs of the heart, but then he didn’t have a lot of experience. Algy knew exactly how much, now, and smiled a bit as James cajoled him into bed. “You’re damp!” he ejaculated, apparently horrified. Algy tutted a bit in reply, unable to speak because James was curled against him, arm across his chest, lips curled in a satisfied smile, chin on Algy’s shoulder. Almost as if he wanted to do this again. As if he could read Algy’s mind, he fixed him with one suddenly sharp grey eye. “You’ll need to extend the lease today. Give it at least another week.” At Algy’s slack-jawed expression he softened, kissed his cheek chastely, and murmured something very shy about finding the whole experience rather spiffing.