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And I Burst Into Fire

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"You all right?" Sid begins, watching the flame lick at the underside of the kettle.

Sullivan nods, pushing himself upright on shaky arms. 

He's been subdued for the last few minutes, trembling slightly in a way that Sid suspects has nothing to do with the cold, and Sid thinks it's probably a good idea to keep him talking. 

"Bit shaken?"

"Yes." 

"Yeah, me too." Sid takes two flannels off the small stack of clean linen in the bottom cupboard. "Dunno what you did to me, but I feel like my legs are gonna give way."

"Sorry." 

"Don't be. I wasn't complaining."

The kettle starts to whistle and Sid wraps a tea towel around the handle, lifting it off the little camping stove he's got set up on the counter, and pouring some of the water into a bowl. He mixes some cold in with the hot, testing the temperature with one knuckle before dipping the first flannel into the bowl and wringing it out.

"Here you go," he says, holding it out for Sullivan.

Sullivan blanches, but takes it from him anyway. "Would you mind...?"

"Eh? Oh. No. 'Course not."

It seems vaguely ridiculous to Sid that Sullivan has chosen this moment to go shy on him. It's a bit late for modesty, although Sid must admit that there's never anything terribly glamorous about the clean-up operation after. 

So he makes a point of crossing to the other half of the caravan to wash himself off, undressing quickly, and rummaging through the drawer. He grabs a couple of pairs of fresh boxers, changing into one of them, then laying the other out on the table.

"You'll have to wear some of mine for tonight. Throw yours in the wash bag in the corner," he calls over his shoulder to Sullivan. 

"Thank you," comes the muttered reply. 

When he turns back, Sullivan is sitting on the edge of the bed in just his vest and borrowed shorts, looking unsure of what to do with himself. His suit is folded neatly on the bed beside him and Sid wanders over, picking it up and putting it on the settee before he moves Sullivan's shoes closer to the door. 

"Leaving them here so we don't trip over them in the morning."

Sullivan nods, a brief, jerky movement of his head. 

"Right, I could do with a cup of tea. D'you want one?"

"Mm."

Sid walks back over to the work surface, tossing both flannels into the bowl to soak, and rinsing off his hands. When he bends to retrieve two tin mugs from under the counter, he groans. 

"I'm not usually like this."

"Like what?"

"An old man. One night with you and I'm ready for the knacker's yard... I don't normally last two minutes, either, for the record. You can ask around - I've got a reputation to maintain." 

Sullivan's jaw is clenched, not in anger, but as though he is trying to prevent his teeth from chattering. "I'm not sure I want to hear." 

"I'm just saying, it's you getting me worked up. Might've been able to go the distance if I hadn't been imagining all the things I wanted to do to you for the past few weeks."

"Is that what you've been doing?"

"Among other things," Sid says with a smirk. But Sullivan is still uncomfortable - reticent - and Sid is no closer to working out how to put him at his ease. 

"So when did you know then, eh?" he forges on, picking up the kettle again. "That you fancied me?"

"Not long after we met."

"Yeah?" Sid asks, hoping the swell of pride he feels at Sullivan's confession doesn't spill over into his voice. "You mean you've been thinking about me all this time too, and you never said anything?" 

"What was I supposed to say?" 

"How about: 'get over here and give us a kiss'?"

"I'm not sure that would've gone down too well with my superiors. Or anyone else for that matter."

"Probably not." For all his flippancy, Sid can see he isn't making any progress, and he decides to change tack. "Have you always known you liked men?" 

"Since I was a teenager," Sullivan says, voice so low, Sid has to strain to hear him.

"As long as that?"

"There was a boy in my year in school, and in hindsight, I suppose I was quite taken with him."

Sid takes two teabags out of the canister, drops them into the cups and fills them with what's left in the kettle. "Only in hindsight?"

"I mistook my feelings towards him for admiration initially. He was very athletic, very popular. I wanted to be like him, in an odd sort of way."

Sid cocks his head, pursing his lips. "Makes sense."

"Then I started to think about him differently."

"Did he think of you like that?"

"I don't know. I never told him. I kept hoping it'd pass. It sounds stupid now, but I thought perhaps I'd develop an interest in girls the way all the other boys had, that I was just a late bloomer, but..." Sullivan trails off.

"But you never did," Sid finishes for him.

"No." 

Sid scoops the teabags out, pressing them against the side of the cups. 

"Can't help what you like," he says.

Sullivan lets out a hollow laugh, eyes downcast. "My father might disagree."

"Does he know?"

"About me?" Sullivan swallows, suppressing a little shiver. "God, no. He's probably still holding out hope that I'll marry."

"Take it he wouldn't be best pleased if he did find out?" Sid says, feeling his stomach twist with regret at the way he'd teased Sullivan about being a bachelor earlier.

"He'd probably report me to the authorities himself."

The unsettled feeling in Sid's stomach turns to nausea. He thinks he understands it now; Sullivan's quiet, sober mood. His reticence. He must be so steeped in shame - years of it, a lifetime of it - that he is disgusted with himself and what he's done. Perhaps he even regrets it, but that thought is too distressing to dwell on, so Sid doesn't.

Instead he adds a couple of spoonfuls of sugar to the tea, stirring it in, and taking a swig of his own.

"You and your dad still on speaking terms?" he asks quietly. 

"I speak to him when I have to."

"And how often's that?"

Sullivan shrugs. "He rings sometimes."

"Does he live round here?" 

"No. Back in London."

"So you don't see very much of him?"

"Why do you think I took this transfer?" 

Sid passes Sullivan his mug. It is too late to take back what's been done now. The best he can do is provide comfort, however cold it is, so he sits down beside Sullivan on the bed - so close their thighs are pressed together - and places a reassuring hand in the small of his back.

"That the only reason you came here? To get away from him?" 

"Well, it certainly wasn't for the scenery."

"Oh, I dunno. I've caught you enjoying the views a few times."

Sullivan looks across at him, confused, and Sid nods down towards his own bare chest. When Sullivan's confusion turns to exasperated distaste, Sid feels a wave of relief wash over him. 

"What?" Sid says, wrapping his arm around Sullivan the rest of the way and giving his hip a gentle squeeze. "Don't pretend you haven't been looking."

"I can hardly pretend now, can I?"

"Well, I'd have a hard time believing you if you did."

"I could still claim it was an error in judgment."

"Oh, charming!"

But Sullivan is fighting the beginnings of a smile, playing along, and it's going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay. 

Sid nudges him with his elbow. "Go on, drink up."

Sullivan takes a sip and frowns. "This is black."

"Yeah," says Sid. "Milk won't keep in this weather. It's all right in the window box outside in winter, but it goes off too fast in this heat."

"Haven't you got a fridge?" 

"Nope. No electricity out here, how would I have a fridge?"

Another couple of cautious sips, and Sullivan curls his lip. "There's sugar in it."

"That's right. Thought you could do with some."

"I don't take sugar." 

"You do tonight. Got to keep your strength up."

Sullivan chokes down another couple of mouthfuls before giving up. "Next time," he says, "we're meeting at my house."

"Oh yeah? And what makes you so sure I'd be interested in a next time?"

"Well- of course I didn't mean- you don't have to-"

Sid cuts him off with a kiss to the side of his mouth, taking the tea from his hand and setting the cup down on the sideboard alongside his own. 

"I'm joking. 'Course I'm interested."

"You were the sort of boy who pulled little girls' pigtails when you liked them, weren't you?"

"Funnily enough, I was," Sid grins. "Put a grasshopper down the back of Johnny Bowman's tee-shirt once 'cause I fancied him and I didn't know what to do about it."

"If you ever put an insect of any kind anywhere near me, I'll lock you in the cells overnight."

"Mm, but what'll you do to me while I'm in there? That's the question..." 

"You are incorrigible." 

"Yep." Sid leans in to steal another kiss. By the time he pulls back, Sullivan has stopped shaking completely. "You feeling a bit better now?"

Sullivan nods, sheepish. "Not quite sure what came over me-"

"'S'all right," Sid says. "You don't have to explain. Takes a lot out of you, all this."

"I suppose it does."

"They reckon one quick fumble uses up more energy than doing half an hour of sit-ups."

"Who on earth told you that?"

"One of the blokes down The Red Lion."

"Oh, and I'm sure he's a reliable source."

Sid sniffs. "Yeah, well, maybe not. But either way, I know which I'd prefer to be doing..."

"Hm," says Sullivan, apparently unable to argue with that logic. 

"Right." Sid slaps his knees, getting to his feet. "Think it's time you and me got some shut eye, or you're gonna be fit for nothing in the morning."

"Are you sure it's a good idea for me to stay?"

"Think it'd be rude to kick you out at this point."

"Don't you have to work tomorrow?"

"Lady F'll let me off if I tell her I've got a hangover," Sid lies, because now really isn't the time to send Sullivan into a second wave of panic over just how much Lady F knows about the situation. "C'mon, get in, lie down."

Sullivan does as he's told, swinging his legs up and pulling the eiderdown over himself with no further protests, and Sid wonders whether his impulse to follow orders is simply a remnant from his army days, or something all together more interesting. 

The flame in the oil lamp is burning low, and Sid cups the curve of the glass with his fingers, blowing it out in a single breath.

"All right, shift over," he says, feeling for the edge of the mattress in the dark and crawling into bed beside Sullivan. 

When he reaches for him, Sullivan makes a soft, surprised sound. "You can't possibly want-"

"I don't," says Sid, giving him a final peck on the cheek before flopping over onto his back, and tucking one arm up under the pillow beneath his head. "Or maybe I do, but it'll have to wait 'til morning. I'm not bleedin' Superman."

"I wasn't aware that was one of Superman's powers," Sullivan says dryly.

"Oh, it definitely is. Why d'you think Lois Lane sticks around for boring old Clark Kent from the newspaper office if he isn't going three times a night? She doesn't know he's Superman."

Sullivan swats at Sid's shoulder, starting to laugh despite himself. "I don't think they ever put that into print."

"Censors," Sid says, deadpan, as he pulls Sullivan against his side. "They cut out all the good bits when they bring it over here."

"Do they indeed?"

"Well-known fact."

"If it's so well-known, how come I've never heard about it?"

"Obviously you don't buy the annuals."

"You're an idiot."

"Maybe."

Sullivan's laughter slowly subsides and he tucks his head under Sid's chin. They lie together in the stillness of the night, breathing slowly, Sullivan's fingers tracing idle patterns through Sid's chest hair, until Sid feels himself starting to drift off. 

"Thank you," Sullivan says, suddenly serious, and Sid opens his eyes again. 

"What for?"

"For being so kind. You needn't have been." 

"Don't."

"I mean it. Most men wouldn't have shown such patience. I didn't expect you to-"

"Don't." Sid holds him tighter, squeezing his arm. "You're all right..."

"Mmm," Sullivan hums, possibly in agreement, or possibly because he's beginning to nod off himself. 

"Get some rest," Sid whispers, kissing his hair. 

Sullivan smells good - comforting - like botanical hair tonic, mixed with the underlying scent of fresh sweat. Sid inhales deeply, stroking Sullivan's shoulder with his thumb. Within seconds, he succumbs to his exhaustion, and falls asleep.