Everything was still and quiet, except for the repetitive ticking sound that echoed around the room.
The clock sat on top of the dresser in the corner of the room, and from his position in the bed Jack could just make out the time to be 6:30. It was the only indication it was the morning. No light made it through the heavy curtains behind which the windows were shut fast, not allowing a single peep of birdsong to grace Jack’s ears. The door was shut, the key turned.
Ordinarily, places so dark and close would trigger a sense of claustrophobia in him, a feeling of being caged in, trapped, forgotten. They reminded him too much of the time he was buried alive. But here, in bed with another man, it was necessary, vital even.
The year was 1948, and homosexuality was illegal.
Not just illegal, Jack mused bitterly, socially abhorrent.
A man would not only be prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ but he would lose everything - his job, his status, his family. And that was if he was lucky; Jack had heard many stories of assaults against men who’d been outed, a few had ended in tragedy.
He wrapped his arm tighter around his bedfellow at the thought.
Jack could take care of himself. Hell, he’d been doing it for one hundred odd years, he’d learnt a thing or two about self defence. And if that didn’t work, well then he’d always come back to life. He’d just pick himself up and move on; find a new town, get a new job, and start again.
But that was just him. No one else could do that.
Jack planted a soft kiss on top of the head resting on his bare chest, rogue mahogany curls tickling his nose. His fingers drifted lazily over the exposed skin of his lover’s back, connecting freckles and moles like constellations with the ease of familiarity. What he wouldn’t give to stay in this moment forever.
Jack had arrived in town a few months ago. He’d had to leave his previous home because he’d been there too long, people were becoming suspicious of his apparent reluctance to age. He skipped a few towns and ended up in a quiet little place the maps forgot.
It was quaint, but there were jobs in the offing so who was he to argue. He took up the role as a security guard for the local bank, his sturdy physique and presence of character making him the most suitable applicant. The work... wasn’t really work at all, all he had to do was stand there and it was enough to ward off trouble. It wasn’t difficult by any means, and Jack usually demanded far more challenge and excitement out of life, but he figured just this once he could make things a little easier on himself. He felt he deserved a break.
It also gave him the chance to meet people, to find friends amongst his coworkers to aid his pretence at a normal life. He met Susie, the cute receptionist who always blushed when she saw him. He met Frank, the family man whose wife and kids would visit at work every so often. He met Arthur, the generous manager who always made sure his employees left on time. And he met Stefan, the curly haired beauty who’d offered Jack his spare room to save him the travel from the next town over.
And it had all started from there.
Stefan was a shy little thing, and Jack took great delight in joking around to make him laugh. It was a sound he’d become instantly addicted to and would do anything to hear again. The laugh, accompanied by the rosy blush that made his cheeks glow... it made Jack weak in the knees.
It was clear to Jack that Stefan was just as enamoured of him. The way his face would light up every time Jack smiled at him, the way he would ensure their fingers brushed when he passed something over, the way his eyes would rake over Jack’s body when he thought the man wasn’t looking.
It took a little time for Jack to convince the man that what he was feeling was natural, that their love would not be ‘unholy’ or ‘disgusting’ as society had conditioned him to believe. He took it slowly, aware it was a lot to take in and adjust to, and gradually things became easier between the two, freer.
All of this, however comfortable they were with each other now, had to remain regretfully behind closed doors.
Jack’s heart ached with the burden of secrecy. It was worth it, of course, but Jack was a 51st Century man; where he was from you could shack up with just about anything and no one would bat an eye. Prejudice and judgment of your sexual inclinations were long outdated concepts. Love was something to be cherished and celebrated whoever, or indeed whatever, it was with.
Here in the dark ages of the 20th Century not even love amongst all humans was allowed. Hell, not even all types of humans were allowed.
He hated it.
Jack was a free and caring spirit who never reigned in his love and affection. He hated that he had to control himself in public, pretend they were nothing more than a lodger and his landlord, that they were strictly friends at the most.
Outside the safety of this room Jack couldn’t even touch Stefan, not in the way he wanted. He was limited to the occasional handshake or friendly pat on the shoulder. He couldn’t wrap his arms around him, couldn’t tease him with a pinch to the backside, most definitely couldn’t kiss him. They couldn’t even hold hands.
Jack hated having to flirt so shamelessly with the girls. He loved girls, don’t get him wrong, he loved everything, but he didn’t love flirting with girls instead of Stefan, who was sat ten feet away at his desk. He didn’t like the fact that he had to draw attention away from his true relationship, despised the subterfuge involved in covering his tracks.
He wanted to love and be loved in return without having to give a single fuck about what society thought about it.
“Don’t stop,” Stefan murmured against Jack’s chest.
Jack blinked and looked down. The hand tickling Stefan’s back had stilled and was now lying limp on the bed.
Stefan lifted his head to look at Jack, their noses inches apart. He reached up and gently smoothed the grooves between Jack’s brows with the pad of his thumb, “What are you thinking about?”
Jack’s face relaxed, putty in Stefan’s hands as he regarded the other man. His hazel eyes sparkled in the half light, looking beautiful even with the worried crinkle between them. His pouty red lips were puffy from sleep... and other things.
“You,” Jack answered, his voice husky.
A corner of Stefan’s mouth quirked up into a crooked smile, “What a coincidence, I was thinking about you too,”
Jack returned the smile, but Stefan still looked worried.
“What about me?”
“How perfect you are,” Jack answered, kissing the tip of Stefan’s freckled nose, “and about how much I’d love to show you off to everyone,”
Stefan sighed, smiling sadly. This wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation.
“Well, you’d only do it once before we were both carted off to prison,” his voice held no malice, only resignation.
“Don’t you ever get tired of hiding? Of living in the dark?” Jack asked, a quiet desperation lacing his tone.
“Of course,” Stefan agreed, “but if being with you in the dark is the only way to be with you at all then I’d gladly shut the sun out for good. You are all the light I need,”
Jack brought his hands up to cradle Stefan’s face before pressing their lips together, gently at first but then with more conviction - they’d have to get up soon, and go the entire day pretending not to love each other.
Stefan began to pull away first and Jack took his bottom lip between his teeth teasingly before letting him go. Stefan grinned, the blush Jack loved spreading like wildfire.
“One day, we’ll be able to do that in public,” Jack said, grinning back.
Stefan chuckled, “You say the daftest things sometimes,”
“No, but I mean it,” Jack continued, “in a few decades, we won’t have to live in the dark, all because people like us were brave enough to stand apart for what they believe in,”
Stefan considered him for a moment through stunned and questioning eyes, before he shook his head and laughed shakily.
“You’re mad, you are,” he pecked Jack on the cheek, “But that’s why I love you,”
He wriggled his way out of Jack’s strong arms and clambered out of bed, opening the drawers and retrieving some clothes.
Jack watched him wistfully. He knew it would be impossible for Stefan to truly comprehend an accepting society. They were living in a time where appearances and reputations were everything, one wrong step and your social status could plummet. He understood Stefan’s reluctance to hope, but it saddened him all the same.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Stefan said, clothes bundled in his arms.
Jack nodded absently, “Don’t use all the hot water,”
Stefan didn’t move, but his face lit up like a beacon, “Well, if... if we were both... I mean... we could save on the water bill if... if we...”
He trailed off but Jack got the message loud and clear, a dazzling grin splitting across his face, “I thought you’d never ask,”
Jack didn’t think it possible but Stefan blushed deeper. He rolled out of bed and headed to his room to grab some clothes, “I’ll meet you in there,”
As Jack collected his own clothes he made a concerned effort to push the negative thoughts away. No, he couldn’t properly express himself and yes, he was hiding a huge part of who he was, but so was Stefan. So were many many others. No, it wasn’t the most ideal life but he would take it, the nights they spent together more than made up for the days spent as friends.
He would add his contribution to the formation of a better, tolerant society, the first steps on the long to acceptance of his own time. And if it meant living in the dark with Stefan then so be it.
After all, he thought as he heard the water start to run next door, it wasn’t as if he was suffering.