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HUNTED BY DEVILS

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TWENTY ONE

"I've got a bone to pick with you," said Kilroy grimly from the top of the stairs.

Leaning back against the front door, Griffin grimaced and slowly unfastened his topcoat. "I was afraid you might."

Five minutes later Kilroy was still going strong, having followed Griffin from bathroom to bedroom and into the kitchen. "Are you all right?" he suddenly broke off to say, in a completely different tone.

Beginning to laugh, Griffin sank onto a chair. "I'm buggered if I know right now. It's been an...eventful day."

"Yes." Tucking an arm around Griffin's chest, Kilroy hugged him hard, retaining the contact. "But at least it is over. With Annie's brother turning supergrass, Hawker and Terry will have to plead guilty. That should make the trial easier for you - and Josh."

"Yes," said Griffin flatly. He'd had enough publicity to last him a lifetime.

"I should have come to the station with you."

"Why? I don't need you to hold my hand," snapped Griffin, shrugging free to get to his feet.

"You never have. Perhaps I should have said, it would have been easier for me. I was worried about you. That's why I let rip the moment you appeared. This isn't the welcome home I had planned. Do you want to go out and celebrate?"

"God, no. I just want to get back to some kind of normality, without someone trailing after me the whole time." Pacing round the kitchen, Griffin paused. "Josh should be told that the gang are under arrest."

"All taken care of," said Kilroy, eyeing him worriedly.

Griffin spared him a look of disbelief but said nothing. Under the lights there was a diabolically feline cast to his eyes, a deadly grace to his prowling walk. Only the tail was missing; if present, it would have been lashing with sheer frustration at the prey who had got away.

"Do you want to talk?" asked Kilroy, after a few minutes of expecting to see electric sparks come off Griffin.

"About the meaning of life?" Exhaling sharply, Griffin waved an apologetic hand, before running it over his face and back through his hair.

"There's a meal in the oven, and a bottle of that claret you like. Let's eat, then have an early night. I didn't mean to bawl you out the moment you put your nose in the door," added Kilroy, taking out plates and cutlery when Griffin sat down.

"Going to save it, were you?"

"No, I've said enough," replied Kilroy, but something in his flattened voice penetrated Griffin's self-preoccupation.

"I asked Kevin to help me because I didn't want to worry you."

"Worry me!"

"Let's be realistic. If I'd told you about the reward and press conference you'd've gone into orbit. That smells good," added Griffin, getting up to investigate. One hand on Kilroy's waist as he leant past him to inhale, he looked up and saw the guarded unhappiness on Kilroy's face.

"I didn't mean to shut you out so completely," he said quietly as he straightened, "but I was afraid that if I didn't, you'd be marching down to the station with smelling salts at the ready in case it all got too much for me. It isn't that I don't appreciate having someone who worries about me, or that I don't take your ability to do your job seriously, but I've survived by myself for forty years. I'm not completely helpless. I need the freedom to make my own decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. But I should have come to you, not tried to use Kevin behind your back. I'm sorry for that."

Kilroy nudged the crisp cheese topping with the spoon he held. "I can be over-protective. Overcompensating, I suppose. It's always been a fault of mine, though I thought I'd come to terms with it by now. I know it drives you nuts, but I don't always see it in myself."

"I'll drop you a hint earlier next time," promised Griffin, returning Kilroy's faint smile. "Ours has hardly been a typical affair - if there's any such thing. You got over-protective, I'm locked in defence mode at the moment. It'll even out. It's strange, we stagger through life trying to throw off the burden of the past so we can inhabit some shiny new future and it can't be done."

"I've learnt that much," said Kilroy wryly. "Don't you believe in happy ever afters?"

"No. But that doesn't mean I'll mind if I'm proved wrong. I'm rambling," Griffin added with a brisk, unconvincing flippancy. "It's probably hunger. Let's eat before that gets cold."

Shooting him a sharp glance, recognising the tension lines around Griffin's mouth and eyes, Kilroy said nothing more on the subject.

oOo

His sleep troubled and broken, it was almost ten before Griffin came to, eyeing with drowsy surprise the loaded tray Kilroy was holding.

"What's with breakfast in bed? I'm not sick."

"Just marvel, and eat. I thought we could take the day off. I've booked a couple of horses for two o'clock. After that, I thought we could have a game of squash and a swim at your club. Oh, and I managed to get tickets for that concert you mentioned the other night - the Clapton gig at the Albert Hall. It's a blues night. Then a meal and home to bed."

"OK," said Griffin, because it required less effort than arguing, although he didn't care to be organised so thoroughly.

In the event, the day was just what he needed to regain his equilibrium. Over their meal they relived the combination of Buddy Guy and Clapton.

"I'll take you to see John Lee Hooker next time he's in London," promised Griffin, as they left the Vietnamese restaurant just before two in the morning.

"Only if you promise to try and get beyond Nina Simone," countered Kilroy, who had a passion for jazz and was sometimes to be seen playing tenor sax on his toothbrush in the bathroom mirror. "I'll try Courtney Pine first. Break you in gently."

Unlocking his car, Griffin nodded. "It's a deal." He mellowed to the point where he voluntarily mentioned Annie as they let themselves into the flat. "Is she all right?"

"I rang while you were changing before we went out. She's fine. Franklin obviously treated her with kid gloves - and John went with her. So everything seems all right between the love-birds. I feel embarrassed though. I could have sworn he was the one beating her up."

"You'll be safe enough, unless she finds out what you thought," said Griffin, shaking his head when Kilroy offered him a drink.

"Some of the partners want to sack her."

"I bet Paul's one of them."

"You'd be right. She's staying, of course. No-one's responsible for their relatives."

Reaching out, Griffin tugged him closer. "You don't have to convince me."

Kilroy absently kissed the top of his head, then sank down on the sofa next to him. "She blames herself for what happened. Technically it was a breach of security when John and Potts came into the agency to see her. Although you weren't a client of ours."

"Don't panic. I'm not about to sue," teased Griffin.

Kilroy went very still. "That bloody bastard!" he exploded.

"Calm down. Who?"

"Paul. That must have been the first thing he thought about when he realised what had happened. If I hadn't been so worried about you I'd've picked up on his hints immediately. I sometimes wonder if he's capable of thinking about anything but his cash flow."

"Probably not. He's a prick. Speaking of which, you've wined me and dined me. The least you can do is finish the night off by bedding me in style. The blues always make me horny."

Kilroy's eyes flickered, his tensing muscles confirming Griffin's suspicions. While he'd been too preoccupied to notice at first, it had begun to dawn on him that they only made love at his instigation, the experience less than satisfactory due to Kilroy's inhibitions about initiating anything.

"Or maybe not," Griffin added. "This must be off-putting." He raised his right hand, giving it a rueful look.

"Don't be ridiculous. You can't believe..."

"There's something wrong."

"Well, it's not that."

"Then it's obviously something else. Don't you want me?"

"You know it isn't that," said Kilroy irritably, but he wouldn't meet Griffin's eyes.

"Not without proof to the contrary, I don't. I do want you." Griffin watched him steady-eyed and unblinking.

Looking up, Kilroy was caught in that intense green gaze, arousal sparking along his nerve ends like static electricity.

Heavy-eyed, his pupils dilating, Griffin still said nothing, waiting.

He didn't have to wait long, although at first Kilroy was trembling so much he had difficulty coping with buttons and catches. Even when they were finally naked, residual anxiety made him needlessly cautious, until passion overtook nerves, Griffin's uninhibited and vocal encouragement the final reassurance, had he needed more by that time.

 

Sprawled wide, the echoes of Kilroy's possession still reverberating through him, Griffin finally managed a slightly dazed smile.

"That," he announced, in a voice drugged with pleasure, "was more like it."

"Yes, it was, wasn't it," agreed Kilroy, with no discernible attempt at modesty. Nuzzling salt-slick flesh, his fingers moved lightly over Griffin, relearning familiar territory as if it was quite new to him. "You set me up, didn't you?"

"Only partly. You just needed a reminder that I don't break. The rest was...natural talent. To put it bluntly, that was the best fuck we've ever had, if not of my life."

"Such eloquence," snorted Kilroy, before he kissed the lush mouth. Unhurried, his confidence was total.

"You're lucky I can talk at all."

Rooting through the pockets of his discarded jacket, Kilroy wiped away the excess oil seeping from Griffin's body. "The sofa arm wasn't quite the venue I had in mind, though. Your back must be aching."

"It probably won't be the only thing by morning," said Griffin realistically. Finally stirring, his forearms slid over Kilroy's shoulders. "Stop worrying and let me enjoy the after-shock in silence."

"Shouldn't that be glow?"

Flicking Kilroy's nose with the tip of his finger, Griffin shook his head as if despairing of him. "Just take me to bed."

"Sure you wouldn't like me to carry you?"

Griffin opened one eye. "You couldn't."

"Given that I'm not convinced I'll be able to stand up yet, you're probably right. We should have a shower first."

"Don't let me stop you, but I'm going to bed as I am."

"You talked me out of it," said Kilroy with gratitude.

oOo

Neither man was particularly talkative as they returned from visiting Annie the following day.

"She's serious about resigning, you know," said Griffin at last.

"Maybe she'll get over it once she's over the first shock. With John out of work and a mortgage to pay..."

"Her choice," Griffin reminded him, lighting a cigarette from the packet Collier had given him two days ago. Catching Kilroy's glance, he added, "Don't even think of saying it."

"I wasn't going to. You want to get back to your workshop, don't you."

"Was I that obvious?"

Parking the car, Kilroy twitched the cigarette packet from Griffin's hand and pointed to the rough sketch on the back.

"Ah. Well, you see, I've had the offer of a seasoned yew, and it's just what I want for a table for the sitting-room," explained Griffin, sounding defensive even to his own ears.

"Of course it is," soothed Kilroy understandingly, patting him on the arm.

Griffin gave him the finger, then grinned. "I have had enough of London for a while," he admitted. "Thanks to the papers splattering my picture all over the front page I'm attracting some very odd looks when I go out. I swear one assistant in Fortnum's thought I was one of the kidnappers."

"Maybe you should start tying your hair back again," suggested Kilroy, flicking the thick, unruly hair which grew well beyond the nape of Griffin's neck.

"Maybe," conceded Griffin, who had every intention of doing so.

"I suppose it's time I went back to work myself - if only to keep Paul in order. I presume you'll be staying at your flat," added Kilroy.

"That's what it's there for. Although I've nothing against commuting up to London for a few nights a week - provided you're prepared to commute the other way on the other nights."

Knowing how Griffin lost track of time in his workshop, Kilroy resigned himself to the inevitable with a good grace, having expected visiting rights at best.

"I expect I could manage that," he said with a nonchalance that deceived neither of them.

oOo

After three weeks Kilroy could imagine no other life. He wanted no other, beginning to realise how little he had known Griffin, he was enjoying his voyage of discovery. That the reverse was true did not occur to him. Kilroy's world was a golden place, despite the fact it was the wettest March for years. His mood of heady optimism even survived Griffin's virulent head cold, and the fact that where minor ailments were concerned Griffin was no believer in suffering in silence.

"It's this climate," he complained, not for the first time. "I never catch cold."

"Then this will be a new experience for you," said Kilroy cheerfully, as he tucked his shirt into the waistband of his slacks.

Griffin's air of dignified martyrdom was ruined by a sneeze of cataclysmic proportions.

"Well, at least that proves you don't wear dentures," remarked Kilroy, handing him a fresh handkerchief.

"Go away and leave me to die in peace."

"Misery's supposed to love company."

"Don't overdo the sympathy, will you."

"You've got a cold, not bubonic plague. You're moaning far too much to be really ill."

Indignant, Griffin sat a little straighter. "What's this then?"

"A cold. When it's anything serious you don't say a word. On the whole, I'd rather have you complaining."

Griffin grimaced, then fumbled for the handkerchief again as he sneezed three times in quick succession. "I suppose I have been going on a bit," he conceded thickly. "Only I hoped I could get started on Tom's screen."

"I thought you were stuck on what to have in the last panel?"

"I still am. What's that got to do with anything. I'll drive down to the workshop later and leave you in peace. As a nurse you've been a sad disappointment," Griffin remarked in disillusioned tones. "What's that smile for?" he added with suspicion.

"I was just thinking of when we first met. There was a wonderful elegance about you then. Now look at you."

"Thanks a bundle."

"Don't bare your teeth like that. Your eyes are watering too much for you to be able to do any decent work, stay in town. It's more fun to be miserable in company."

Griffin gave a reluctant grin. "With a bit of luck I'll be able to pass this on to you. God knows I've been breathing over you enough."

"Not me. Too much virtuous living. There's orange juice in the fridge and aspirins in the bathroom. Here, I got you this." Kilroy tossed a book at Griffin's side. "It might help make the world seem a brighter place."

Griffin eyed the lurid artwork with disdain. "I'm not interested in the occult."

"This isn't. Or not really. It's a mixture of comedy, fantasy, with a pinch of homespun philosophy. I know it sounds a horrible combination. Trust me. Do you want me to call a doctor?" added Kilroy, struck by how ill Griffin looked.

"What? Of course not. This red-eyed look will soon wear off. Go to work. I'll be all sweetness and light by tonight."

Kilroy looked sceptical.

Pretending not to notice, Griffin picked up the book.

oOo

Inhaling the heady fragrance of garlic and mixed herbs when he got home three days later, after an unscheduled trip to Amsterdam, Kilroy left his bag at the top of the stairs and headed hopefully for the kitchen. "You're cooking."

"Don't panic. All I had to do was put it in the oven," Griffin assured him, pouring Kilroy a glass of wine.

"I thought you were on your deathbed?" said Kilroy, raising his glass to toast him.

"I was, since when I recovered enough to go and buy everything Terry Prachett has ever written. I'm in love."

"He's married," said Kilroy promptly.

"How do you know? No, don't tell me. My passion is for Greebo - amongst others. The description of him reminded me of you in a lot of ways. Come to bed?" Griffin added, with nothing in his tone to warn of a change of subject. "It's been a long three days. And I can breathe through my nose now."

"Which just shows how talented you are. And I'd love to. Only...could we eat first? Greebo..." Kilroy paused. "No, you're the one more likely to be broadcasting a kind of greasy diabolic sexuality in the megawatt range. Or a butcher, unshowered version of you," he added with a grin.

Griffin dangled his wrist thoughtfully. "So you want butch, do you?"

"After dinner. A man's got to get his priorities right."

"That might be all you'll get. I may have gone off the boil by then. It'll be at least half an hour before everything is cooked," murmured Griffin persuasively, running his hands up and down Kilroy's flanks.

Kilroy just looked at him, and if it wasn't a broadcast in the Greebo range, it had a certain conviction.

"Maybe not," Griffin conceded, ruffling the hair at the nape of Kilroy's neck the wrong way before smoothing it again. "Tell me about Amsterdam before I forget my good resolutions and take advantage of your weakened state."

Kilroy's recital saw them safely through their meal. He was still chewing his last mouthful when Griffin got to his feet.

"Not on a full stomach! I'll get indigestion," Kilroy warned, when Griffin's hand closed around his wrist. "Besides, I've haven't had pudding." His protest was ruined by the speed with which he stretched out a hand to Griffin.

"You haven't washed up, either," Griffin pointed out sweetly, placing a bottle of washing-up liquid in his outstretched hand.

Kilroy eyed it without enthusiasm. "We need a dishwasher."

"True. I did suggest it. You turned the idea down," Griffin reminded him.

"I've changed my mind."

"That's good. But until it's installed, you're it," said Griffin, sauntering out of the kitchen.

While the speed of Kilroy's response was gratifying, it came as no surprise.

oOo

Unkinking his back as he straightened to switch off power from the mains, Griffin slipped down his face mask, smiling when he realised he had company. As usual, Kilroy was occupying the chair made twenty-three years ago, but tonight, rather than being sprawled in a comfortable slouch while wearing a look of interest, he wore a brooding scowl, palpable waves of anger emanating from him.

"Hello, you're back early," said Griffin.

"Obviously."

"You must have skated through your meeting faster than you anticipated."

"That's right."

Griffin concentrated on clearing up. "Is everything al right?" He could have kicked himself for his clumsiness the moment he voiced the query he had always found to be amongst the most aggravating.

"Terrific. D'you fancy a spot of nightclubbing - that casino you used to go to in Berkshire, for instance?"

It took Griffin a moment to place the reference. Aware that Kilroy could know of the club only through the surveillance his men had maintained on him early last autumn, Griffin's mouth thinned. He reminded himself that it was a positive sign that Kilroy was willing to refer to it.

"Why not?" he said evenly.

The evening was a disaster, the aura emanating from Kilroy causing total strangers to give him several feet leeway. Constantly on edge because he expected detonation at any moment, Griffin reached the stage where he wondered why he was bothering when every conversational foray was murdered at birth.

Leaving Kilroy losing heavily at the blackjack table, he headed for the bar. Only when he was about to order did Griffin remember that one of them had to be sober enough to drive the seventy miles home and Kilroy was already well over the limit. Unenthusiastically sipping a Perrier, he bought a packet of cigarettes and tried to ignore the gnawing ache where his little finger had been.

Watching the ebb and flow of people behind him in the glass over the bar, it dawned on Griffin how much his life had changed in the last few months, and for the better. The problem wasn't to fill the empty hours, but how to find enough of them to spend time with Kilroy. It did not occur to him to resent the degree to which he accommodated his work-schedule around the less flexible demands of Kilroy's work, because Griffin had taken his own freedom of movement for granted for years.

But something serious was worrying Kit. While he was far from being all sweetness and light, this suppressed savagery wasn't typical; what was in character was the fact Kit wasn't talking about it. Staring bleakly into his glass, Griffin knew the failure for that must be his. Perhaps his previously solitary lifestyle had given him too little practice at communicating, perhaps it was just a flaw in his personality. Whatever it was, he was failing. Theirs wasn't an equal partnership. Kit gave and he took, and it seemed the reverse wasn't under consideration.

"You should have said when you'd had enough," said Kilroy from behind Griffin's shoulder, having approached him from behind without attracting attention. He made an accusation of the remark.

Turning on the barstool, Griffin caught the stump of his little finger on the ornate metal decorating the lip of the bar. Whatever retort he had intended was lost in a sickening flare of pain.

"Yes," he managed. "Shall we go?"

"Why not? I've collected my winnings. My luck changed as soon as you left the table."

"Figures," muttered Griffin, before he stalked away.

A severe and elegant figure in a black Versace suit and white silk shirt, he was unconscious of the heads which turned his way as he progressed through the various rooms. Moving smoothly down the wide, ornate steps which led from the club, trying not to jar his hand more than necessary, Griffin welcomed the blessed darkness and relative quiet as he waited for one of the valets to retrieve his car. Even the cold was a welcome distraction.

"Here," said Kilroy, sliding Griffin's overcoat over his shoulders. "You're shivering."

"It's hardly surprising, there's heavy frost." Griffin slid into the car, his movements awkward as he tried to avoid jarring his hand. Leaving the engine idling, he lit a cigarette and stared through the windscreen rather than at Kilroy. He didn't want another argument.

"It's been a long evening. We could spend the night at the hotel down the road instead of going home," said Kilroy, who was exuding more whisky fumes than a distillery.

"Past your bedtime, is it?" enquired Griffin, tension ebbing from him as the pulsating surges of pain faded to a grumbling background nag.

"It was just a thought."

Griffin leant across him to retrieve and fasten his seat belt for him. Staring at the unsmiling profile, Kilroy recognised that Griffin was wearing the suit he had stated a preference for months ago. He fought against a maudlin rush of emotion.

"It's lucky they water the drinks back there," he offered, his manner as conciliatory as a small child guiltily trying to make amends without actually having to apologise.

"On the grounds you'd be unconscious, or puking up your guts otherwise?" said Griffin tartly, as he drove down the sweeping drive and paused before joining the main road.

"That's right. I didn't mean to drink so much. I've been lousy company. I didn't even notice what you're wearing until just now," Kilroy mourned. "And I love that outfit." He gave a bleary smile, without much hope that it would be well received. James didn't have any patience with drunk, despite his own occasional lapse.

"Save the charm," Griffin advised him, softening despite himself. "The best you can hope for is that you don't throw up in my car. You're going to have a terrible head in the morning after mixing your drinks like that."

"I think the hangover arrived early," said Kilroy with some pathos, his eyes closing.

"Then go to sleep. I'll wake you when we get home," Griffin promised him tolerantly.

"And will you put me to bed?" Kilroy's hand settled on Griffin's thigh.

Griffin sighed. "I have to. Don't worry about it. Just go to sleep."

oOo

Resigned to the fact he would never be told what had been bothering Kilroy, to Griffin's relief the next morning, apart from a hangover far milder than he deserved, Kilroy was almost himself again.

Griffin had learnt that attempts to get Kilroy to talk when he didn't want to only led to fierce spats and so he spent Saturday helping him to move furniture from the attic, after which neither of them had the energy for anything but a quiet evening.

Feeling inadequate and depressed by his inability to help Kilroy, Griffin spent much of the time staring into space, oblivious to the music he had put on, or when it finished.

After giving him several sideways glances, Kilroy abandoned his attempts to pretend nothing was wrong and sat doodling around the edges of the crossword he was supposed to be trying to complete.

Griffin got to his feet. "Coming to bed?"

"Sure."

Griffin's flat had only one bedroom, even if it was as large as many flats, and so at least one of Kilroy's doubts were resolved, even if he couldn't stop himself from worrying over the others.

oOo

"James?"

"Mmn?"

The light was flicked on, making Griffin squint. It was a moment before he could focus on Kilroy's half-puzzled, half-desperate face. When he recognised the expression he was abruptly fully awake. "What is it?" he asked quietly, one hand travelling in comforting swathes down the powerful back bent over him. "You can tell me. Let me help."

"I don't want to talk. I don't want to think at all. Just..." The hungry longing on his face said what he would not.

"By the time we're finished we'll have a job to remember our own names," Griffin promised him, keeping his voice light and pretending not to notice Kilroy's desperation because it was what Kilroy wanted. "Do you want to take over?"

"No. You."

"My pleasure."

Griffin took his time, lavishing all his expertise and the emotions he couldn't voice as he made love to Kilroy with a thoroughness which ensured they both slept until mid-morning.

 

Griffin started awake to find Kilroy sitting on the edge of the bed, holding out a mug of coffee to him.

"I thought we could walk down and get the papers before the Post Office shuts," said Kilroy, by way of a greeting.

"Sure," nodded Griffin, supposing it was a good sign that Kit wanted his company.

On automatic pilot, Griffin swallowed the too hot coffee and crawled out of bed, heading for the bathroom.

Because it was pelting down with rain, they took the car. As he emerged from the Post Office, the papers tucked to his chest to protect them from the weather, Kilroy slid into the car and dropped two packets of crisps into Griffin's lap.

"To stave off the dreaded pangs," he explained.

"Why don't we enjoy instant gratification and eat at the pub?" asked Griffin. "Though I don't know why they open the restaurant during the winter, they might have a river outside but it's hardly a tourist attraction."

"Probably for the benefit of slobs like us who can't be bothered to cook. Well, don't just sit there looking decorative - though you do - drive. I'm starving."

Griffin watched with appalled fascination as Kilroy set about proving as much, to the point where he ate two helpings of treacle pudding, before sitting back to study a couple of ducks struggling against the current, the river outside the window an unattractive shade of mud.

"I'm thinking about packing in the agency," Kilroy said, out of the blue.

Griffin forced himself not to react to that bombshell. "To do what?" he asked, setting down his coffee cup.

"I'll think of something."

"I'm sure you will. This is a bit sudden, isn't it? Are there problems with the cash flow?" Griffin added casually, having suspected as much for months. Kilroy's fierce pride had prevented him from offering to help. The obvious solution was rarely the best solution.

"No more than usual." Kilroy's expression assumed the stubborn, closed-in look Griffin had grown to hate.

"I thought you enjoyed the work for the most part."

"I do."

"I suppose you haven't had many interesting cases recently," pursued Griffin, struggling almost as hard as the ducks.

"Not many. If you've finished, shall we go home?"

When they were comfortably settled in the sitting-room, Griffin abandoned any pretence of reading the Sunday papers. Aware of the restless fidgeting next to him, he couldn't shake off the feeling that Kilroy both wanted and needed to talk. The trick was in persuading him to start. With seeming inconsequence Griffin steered the conversation through every possible permutation, finding each one a dead end.

"Is everything all right with your family?" he asked finally, having exhausted every other possibility.

He felt like a man who lit a sparkler only to find the world exploding in his face. But at least he'd got Kilroy talking. It didn't take long to realise why Michael Fallon was such a sore point, or why Kilroy, all bruised pride, wanted nothing more to do with the agency which he had built up and stamped with his own personality. While hunting in Archives for some useful material for a talk he was due to give a group of senior managers, he had come across the report of the senior partners at the time of his initial interview for a job with the agency.

"It made interesting reading. They didn't want a failed soldier with a streak of yellow down his back. They wanted a queer stupid enough to be out of the closet even less. All these years and they never fucking well wanted me! You know why I got in? Because Lessingham knew who my father was and pushed my appointment through. He obviously hoped some of the money would rub off! Christ!" Kilroy was pacing the room, as if finding its confines too small. He suddenly stopped dead, his back to Griffin.

"I've experienced a similar sort of thing myself," said Griffin after a moment, feeling his way with care. "Both positive and negative discrimination, because of who my father was."

Kilroy wheeled around. "My family might have their faults but at least they came by their money more or less honestly. Our situations are hardly comparable."

That snub, combined with the contempt Kilroy hadn't attempted to hide, tightened the muscles in Griffin's face. He swung his legs from the sofa and lent forward to retrieve and light a cigarette from the pack on the floor.

"No, I don't suppose they are," he allowed. "For one thing, I'm a bastard, while you, of course, are not."

In the silence which followed Kilroy's angry breathing was clearly audible.

Griffin had almost finished his cigarette by the time Kilroy's expression changed from blind fury to comprehension, then remorse.

"Shit, I didn't - " He sank onto the sofa beside Griffin and touched his arm. "You know that was just temper talking. You must know I don't believe that."

Griffin glanced at him. "Why shouldn't you. It's true. I've known it for years."

"That's no excuse for taking it out on you. You're the one person I know who accepts me for what I am. Everyone else looks past me to my father, or wants me to be something else. Straight, for one!"

Griffin stubbed out his cigarette with inordinate care, then lit another. "It hasn't occurred to you that there might be some room for improvement?"

Kilroy nudged Griffin's knee with his own. "The only bastard in this room is me. But I'm still selling my interest in the agency."

"It's your right, and nothing to do with me."

Kilroy looked sceptical. "When has that ever stopped you from voicing an opinion about anything?"

Griffin took that for an invitation and let him have it, knowing from experience that self-pity solved nothing. "You want my opinion, it's yours. Though I doubt if you'll like it. You were hired because you're your father's son. You feel used, humiliated, belittled. Tough! That's life. It happens all the time, and to better men than either of us. Get used to it. The only surprise is that it's never happened to you before. It's one of the penalties of having a famous father. You can't run away from it for ever, even if you have changed your name. Face up to it, accept it and get beyond it."

There was a short silence.

"Sez you," muttered Kilroy, rubbing the back of his neck in an embarrassed fashion. He loathed whingers.

"Is that going to be your excuse of making the same mistakes I've made? Believe me, they aren't worth repeating. It's thanks to you, not the Fallon fortune, or your father's influence, that the agency is the success it is. That it has the reputation it possesses. How many of the partners who were around eight years ago are still there? Lessingham apart, I bet most of them. Certainly enough to mean that if all they'd wanted was the injection of Fallon money you'd have been out on your ass years ago. You can't seriously imagine Lessingham would have let you take over if he hadn't been convinced you were the right man for the job? I've got to know half a dozen of the partners quite well over the last few months. You've only got to hear the way they talk about you to know they've got no complaints. I've seen the signs of discontent too many times not to be able to spot it.

"You claim everyone wants to change you. Who? Exactly," Griffin added immediately, before Kilroy could even open his mouth. "As for homphobia, it's open knowledge at the agency that you and I are lovers. I haven't noticed that causing anyone but Paul problems. And you aren't going to pretend his opinion counts for spit in the wind."

"That's not what I - "

"I haven't finished," said Griffin fiercely, rounding on him.

"Sorry," said Kilroy, with a wholly spurious meekness which Griffin was beyond noticing.

"Then there's the most important thing, the work itself. What you do best. Are you going to pretend it doesn't matter? Or to deny you've saved lives, not to mention mental stability with your expertise? Like it or not, you're good with people. They find it easy to trust you. To talk to you. Try and tell me your kind of expertise and dammit simple human kindness, is easy to find in one package. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and think about what you've already achieved, and the work you still have to do, instead of harping on about something that's years in the past. And what the fuck are you smiling at?" Griffin demanded belligerently.

Kilroy shook his head and pulled him into a fierce embrace before he kissed the angrily parted mouth, stealing away what little breath Griffin had left before releasing him.

"When you rebuild a bloke's ego you don't muck around, do you," he said wonderingly.

"Don't kid yourself," muttered Griffin, disconcerted by his own vehemence. "You over-reacted because your pride was bruised. Just because it smarts there's no reason to - "

"All right, all right. Don't start again," begged Kilroy. He cupped the side of Griffin's face, his thumb caressing the side of Griffin's mouth with a telling tenderness. "In all the months I've known you I thought I'd seen you in every possible mood. I knew you were a passionate bugger under that smooth exterior but..." He took pity on Griffin's embarrassment and changed tack. "Considering you haven't been to the agency that often you've picked up one hell of a lot."

"It's what I'm trained to do," shrugged Griffin, at something of a loss to explain his impassioned outburst.

Kilroy nodded and gave another irrepressible smile. "The training paid off. You're right. I was wallowing. But if made me so bloody mad. I didn't want to tell you because it's so...childish...to be so insecure."

Griffin stared at him in astonishment. "What's that got to do with anything? Since when have I wanted to live with Superman? Christ, if you trust me so little what - Never mind, it doesn't matter."

"Oh, yes it does. And I do. Trust you, I mean. You've just proved I was right to. You might supply an unorthodox elastoplast for war wounds but it works. By god it does. I feel ten feet tall. Have you finished lecturing me?"

"Why?"

"Because I'd like to kiss you again, properly. Only this time I intend to have you full attention. I'm sorry for being such a prat."

"Kit, you don't need to - "

Griffin committed the basic error of looking up and was lost even before Kilroy's mouth found his own.

oOo

While Griffin made a conscious effort to keep his end of the bargain and commute to London in the evenings, his good resolutions lasted exactly one week. Kilroy's involvement in his latest case had reassured Griffin that Kit had relegated recent events to their proper place. Seduced by a new consignment of wood, Griffin was soon lost to complex mental calculations.

Because he had recognised all the signs that morning, Kilroy left the agency early and arrived back at the workshop just after six in the evening. Propped in the doorway, he stood watching Griffin, who was studying length after length of what Kilroy was reliably informed was yew, looking uncharacteristically indecisive.

"What's the problem? Not got enough wood?" asked Kilroy, of the view there was enough for at least one ark.

"You can never have too much yew. Look at these knots."

"They're beautiful."

"They're a royal pain," said Griffin irritably, even as he stroked the knot in question. "But then that's the beauty of working with yew. While they look wonderful, too many knots in the wrong place results in a hole instead of a knot. So I'm trying to... You don't want to know. I've sent you to sleep once this week already."

"That was about grindstones. And I'm still none the wiser why you prefer ones from Japan. But wood... There's a faint chance I might understand what you're talking about with that."

"Mmn," said Griffin absently.

"Why don't you just cut it instead of standing here dithering?" asked Kilroy, ten minutes later. He had made himself comfortable in his usual seat. "You're not usually like this. Isn't your design for the table right?"

"My design is perfect. It's me. You've probably never been around at the point where I need to start a piece. It's the worst part," said Griffin, looking harried.

"In what way?"

"This is going to sound as pretentious as hell."

"I'm used to that," Kilroy assured him. He had spent hours in here, sometimes helping with simple tasks but most of the time content to watch Griffin work, intrigued by his commitment and concentration and astonished by the quality of the finished product, despite having seen most of the stages involved.

Griffin spared him a brief glance. "I need to channel my belief in what I'm about to create, so that I can make the commitment of the first cut. That's the vital one. The hardest one. It dictates everything. It's like starting an affair. One you know will matter and that you hope will last for ever."

Aware that he had only a tiny proportion of Griffin's attention and seduced by his voice and the movement of his hands as they absently caressed the wood, Kilroy wanted him with an intensity so great that it made him shake.

"I never thought I'd be reduced to envying a piece of wood," he said wryly.

"What was that?" His mind obviously elsewhere, Griffin did not look up from the length of wood he was studying, a frown in place.

"Tired of the missionary position? Test your physical fitness, stamina and versatility on the new, improved Kit Kilroy."

"In a minute."

A quarter of an hour later Griffin sighed, shook his head and looked up. His bewitching smile made the wait worthwhile. "Hello. You've had a hair cut."

"You don't like it," said Kilroy with resignation. It had seemed unlikely that Griffin would.

"I'll love it, in a couple of months. Why are you looking at me like that? Oh. Sorry. I'm a bit slow tonight," Griffin recognised, looking rueful.

"A bit. It's the first time I've ever been spurned in favour of a piece of wood."

"Have you been here long?" Griffin glanced at his watch and pulled a face. "I didn't realise how long I'd been... As I've lost the plot, I'll clear away. All right?"

"I'll let you know later. We could always christen one of those planks you've been fixated on. Wet its head. So to speak." Kilroy got to his feet in a hopeful manner.

"No, we couldn't. Damp is the last thing untreated wood needs. Anyway, think of the splinters we'd collect."

"Where's your spirit of adventure?"

"Different sex isn't necessarily better sex."

"The voice of experience?" asked Kilroy with interest.

"There was a time when I felt obliged to try out most things. Most of them worked. But then I was younger. Suppler. Even then I put my back out once. I damn nearly ruined myself with another position." Griffin was busy switching off power points and covering the heavy-duty jigsaw, before he replaced various hand tools and switched off the large dust extractor. "It was a long time ago now. Why don't you opt for something less energetic than acrobatics and go in for a fetish?"

"If I choose wood I might have a hope of getting your attention," grumbled Kilroy half-heartedly.

His face impassive, Griffin turned to him. "You want my attention, you have it. If you want games, we'll play games," he added, in a honeyed voice that was as seductive as silk sheets. His face came alive. "Any game you want, any position. Aerobics? Toys? Mind games? Or something even more basic? Would you like me to use you? Here? Now?"

Held by that unblinking gaze, Kilroy's breathing accelerated as Griffin padded across the room, his predatory stride heading inexorably in his direction. He was projecting a heady, if intimidating, sense of power, broadcasting his sexuality with the blinding intensity of a flare in the darkness. His body tightening, Kilroy searched the unsmiling face, mesmerized when he met that devouring gaze again. Griffin only inches away by this time, Kilroy was vaguely grateful for the support of the wall at his back.

"Alternatively," murmured Griffin in a different tone, "you may prefer to use me. I'm here to serve." He sank gracefully to his knees, his beautiful hands parting as he awaited Kilroy's pleasure.

"Bloody hell," croaked Kilroy, who was sporting an impressive erection by this time. "You didn't learn this from reading Terry Prachett."

The illusion of submission fled when Griffin grinned up at him, but he was as aroused as Kilroy. "Not quite. Hong Kong could teach Soho a thing or two. Well, what takes your fancy?"

"Both options. All of them. But maybe nothing too athletic for a few years."

"What happened to your spirit of adventure?" teased Griffin, as he stroked Kilroy's inner thigh. It began to quiver.

"You rotten... I must be a simple soul at heart. I don't need to gild the lily to enjoy myself with you. Or not yet anyway," Kilroy added realistically.

Griffin took the hand extended to him, rising with an ease Kilroy could only envy. "Have you ever made love up a ladder?" he asked, allowing himself to be led upstairs.

"No, and I plan on keeping my virginity. I've unleashed a monster."

"Yes, I can see the idea's worrying you."

Making it plain he needed no help, Kilroy began to undress him, taking his time. Finally naked, the brush of Kilroy's fingers against his shoulder was enough to make Griffin shiver with longing.

"That's better," whispered Kilroy, giving the bed a fond look. "Now, how do you feel about missionary men?"

"Love 'em," said Griffin promptly, as he unzipped Kilroy's fly.

 

Quiet together as they recovered their second wind, Griffin drifted, loving the sense of Kit within him.

"What was that?" he murmured, hearing Kilroy mutter something.

"And happily I have arrived at last Unto the wished haven of my bliss." Kilroy repeated his party piece, then looked expectant.

"Well, there's no need to sound so smug. Anyone would think you've never been here before. Hang on, where' that from?" asked Griffin, raising his head.

"Don't ask me. I read it somewhere."

"Which, knowing you, means anything from the back of a packet of cornflakes, to the Boy's Book of Knowledge."

"I've been saving it for the appropriate moment," said Kilroy, sounding very pleased with himself. "Ow! What was that for?" he complained, his bottom tingling from Griffin's slap.

"It comes from The Taming of the Shrew." Griffin managed to keep his face straight long enough to watch consternation dawn on Kilroy's.

"No..." A moment later Kilroy buried his face in the junction of Griffin's neck and shoulder, his laughter sending delicious ripples through Griffin. "I give up. I'll leave the quotations to you. I suppose you can think of something more appropriate."

"I have a noble cock..." said Griffin obligingly.

"No arguments about that. But shouldn't I be the one telling you that?"

"What I'm trying to indicate, although I'm obviously being too subtle, is that you've been resting on your laurels - and me - for far too long. You've got superb pelvic thrusts. How about demonstrating a few?"

"Like this?"

A soft sound escaped Griffin. "You wait," he gasped, cradling the side of Kilroy's face.

"Say please."

"Dream on." A wicked smile crossed Griffin's face.

"I can feel an insult hovering."

His eyes wide and innocent, Griffin kissed him on the chin and intoned:
"The way was long, the wind was cold,/The Minstrel was infirm and old;/
His withered cheek and tresses grey,/Seemed to have known a better day...
"

As he hoped, that provided the desired impetus.

 

"Follow that," mumbled Kilroy, blinking exhaustedly up at the ceiling.

"Not for a while." Griffin rubbed the top of his right leg, as if he needed to check it was still joined to his body.

"I meant that the evening can only go downhill from now on," explained Kilroy, heaving himself from the bed to fetch a damp flannel and a towel.

"Anticlimax is the word you want." Griffin was touched by the endearing concentration with which Kilroy cleaned and dried him.

Kilroy groaned and kissed him. "All right?"

Glimpsing a flicker of uncertainty, Griffin swallowed his flippant reply, given an insight into the tightrope of insecurity Kilroy still walked, thanks to the unorthodox start to their affair and his own failure to give Kit what he craved.

"Very," said Griffin, kissing Kilroy back and hoping that be would reassurance enough for now. "What's that noise?" he added moments later.

"My stomach rumbling. I'm starving. I don't suppose you remembered mundane details like buying food?"

"Funny you should say that."

"Don't you get hungry like normal people?"

"Stop complaining and pass me the phone. I'll ring that Indian restaurant in Langley and see if I can bribe them to deliver."

Kilroy listened to the call with disapproving admiration.

"I sometimes think you could sell the man in the moon green cheese."

"More like the corrupting influence of money. Speaking of which, I don't think I've got any." Griffin gave him a hopeful look."

"You need a secretary to organise you," grumbled Kilroy. He got up to investigate the contents of his wallet. "You've already missed a couple of meetings."

"I know. And I'm working on it. And an assistant, too."

Kilroy paused in the bathroom door. "Annie and John?"

"Can tell you're a trained investigator. How did you know?"

"I saw the love-light in your eyes that day we visited Annie and you saw the furniture John had made for her. You'll organise him whether he likes it or not."

"Given what he's achieved without training or proper equipment, he deserves a chance. I just want him to have that chance. I don't manage people."

"Have it your own way."

"I'd like to," said Griffin sadly. The hint wasted, he moved on. "To make up for the lack of food, the TV and video were delivered this morning - with a supply of video tapes, so we can laze in front of something while we eat." He eyed with surprise the trousers Kilroy tossed at him. "What are they for?"

"One of us has to dress for when the food arrives. You've been nominated."

"I don't need to dress to go to the front door."

"Given the temperature outside, I think you should. Oh, I'll go," sighed Kilroy, knowing full well that Griffin would have no qualms about going to the door naked.

 

His head propped on a cushion against Griffin's thigh, Kilroy stretched as the credits rolled and surreptitiously wiped his nose on the back of his hand.

"I wish Alan Rickman would haunt me," he said wistfully, using the remote control to switch off the television.

"Which one was he?" asked Griffin provocatively.

"Very amusing."

"Still, I can't say I'd mind comforting Juliet Stevenson. Though I draw the line at sharing my home with rats. Mice are bad enough."

"I keep forgetting you're used to what I'm told is the best of both worlds," Kilroy said colourlessly.

Griffin dropped a handkerchief on his chest. "Blow your nose. No, you keep it."

"About Juliet Stevenson," began Kilroy, before he thought the better of what he had been about to say.

"She's a marvellous actress."

"That isn't what I meant."

"No. You were wondering about women in general. If it's all right for you to lust wistfully after Alan Rickman, why can't I be allowed the same indulgence with the woman of my choice?" asked Griffin without heat, knowing what was worrying Kilroy.

"Nothing, I suppose. But at least I keep to the same gender. Men and women, they're...different." Becoming aware of a gentle shaking under his head, Kilroy sat up and discovered Griffin was convulsed with silent laughter.

"You know what I'm asking," Kilroy added, with a mixture of chagrin, amusement and a dogged need to know.

"Yes," said Griffin, sobering, "I do. And the answer is... I don't know."

"You might have lied," grumbled Kilroy, making himself comfortable again against the prop of Griffin's body.

"If anyone else had asked me I probably would have done. I won't make you a promise I can't guarantee I can keep. Who can predict how they'll feel in a week, or a year, or twenty years from now?"

Kilroy gave a pleased smiled as he absorbed the implication behind that statement but all he said was: "Did you remember to buy Casablanca?"