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Man, Pretending

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They say that the test of absorbing fiction is the ability to suspend the disbelief of the audience. Conversely, perhaps the touchstone of creating a comfortable reality is the ability to suspend belief.

The problem is that I never quite got the hang of that. Words like 'touchstone' and 'belief' trip off my tongue without premeditation, figures of speech that anyone might use. Yet in the next second I'm visualising the Touchstone of Avignon, leaching deadly poison onto the skin of any but the pure in heart (unfit for these hands, then). I'm considering how we mostly say "I believe that..." as insurance against being proven wrong, as less than actual knowledge.

We cannot be accused of a lie if our belief is sincere. Isn't that how it goes?

I lied to Olivia from the day we met. What difference does it make that I was determinedly outside the fold in those days, that I thought I could still shut the door of the Council HQ behind me and not look back? Belief and knowledge were the same long before that. I can be inside her, diligently rogering away, whatever scruples I had usurped by a conscienceless, urgent, tyrannical prick, when I get a sudden mental flashback to the wide-eyed child, all butterfly hair-slides, fuzzy pigtails and gangly limbs., who always longed for fairy tales before bed - the more atmospheric the better, replete with monsters to be slain.

If she ever looks into my face at such moments she must wonder what that fleeting expression is. The "dammit, Rupert, what the hell are you doing, corrupting this sunny, unsuspecting girl, *all that's best of dark and bright*?" instant of shame and blame.

It's not as if I led her on, seducing her sugared youth with promises of spicy pleasures, of grown-up secrets. When she came to me first in early summer, she was more woman of the world than I was man: assured and poised in her beauty, bedded a score of times at twenty-six, a connoisseur of fine food and single malt Scotch. All the same, she knew nothing. She thought it was simply a matter of wanting: a hand on my knee, a word in my ear - God, words I hadn't heard in so long I nearly didn't understand.

This morning just before nine - I'm still in bed at that hour these days - she phoned unexpectedly: a stopover in LA for a night; was I free? And Buffy only the night before, tight with anger and imagined betrayal, telling me she planned to take the early bus to her father's house, her eyes daring me to ask her for the truth - as if I've a right to, or any interest in it any more. I shared a room, a conversation with him for her sake. I've no intention of sharing more. Welcome to adulthood, dearest girl.

Free? I suppose. Why not?

I should tell Olivia. Confess to her the real reason why I'm here. That whatever she heard - breakdown, sabbatical, alcohol, boredom - none of them fitted. That it was a matter of duty and destiny and a handful of other ridiculous, unmodish conceits. That it's my destiny to save the world, or at least to ride on the coat-tails of those that do. Then she would believe, absolve and admire me; take it all in her stride and me in her arms and *Christ*, I'll be seeing leprechauns next.

So, I tidy away the spell books and cook red meat. I put an excuse for beer in the fridge and apologies for wards - no visible traces - on the door. I hang a dartboard over the Merovingian Zodiac opposite the window and lose myself in the Seventies all day with a guitar for company, as if I can banish the years between, retaining only the selected highlights of 'normality'.

After dinner she leans casually against the tallest bookcase, runs her finger along the blank spines of Turner's 'Anatomie of Fiends in Seven Volumes'. She looks sideways at me and I shiver hard from apprehension and desire. The day I memorised the first volume I learned why it was that only other boys still had mothers. The night I had the second by heart, my father's Slayer came home alone, grim and bloody, not meeting my eyes. The third one lay abandoned on the floor as I broke her reserve and she broke what I fancied was my heart; and so on and so forth... and fifth, ad infinitum. Every piece of knowledge carries a memory: of taste, much of it bitter, of tissue-thin texture tearing under the hands, of the smell of burned bridges.

Liv's fingers have an altogether different knowledge: straightforward, earthly; the only mystery is that she wanted me at all. The first time, she took charge like all my women seem to. Each fastening became her obedient slave, rushing to be found undone, my body - mouth, limbs, belly, cock - learning again how to salute a mistress. Perhaps it's that helpless service of the flesh, not some fiction of courtly love, which is the origin of the term. Tonight she has me face-down on my bed before I can catch my breath, telling me to relax, splashing sandalwood oil over her hands, my skin, the sheets; she parts every vertebra with strong massaging strokes along my back. She hazarded a guess one night that the scars were made in London, when I ran with Ethan's gang. I gave a non-committal grunt which may, or may not, have served for assent. Besides, one or two of them were...

Before I get the chance, no, before I dare to open my mouth to ask her to wait, that I have something very important to say, she proceeds to instruct me in the essential priority of following my - our - basic instincts.

Enlightenment begins with the delicious greeting of skin on skin, her silky smooth chocolate thighs sliding against and over mine, cradling me below her then twisting with loose grace to lift me on top. I know a dozen tongues, human and demonic, but her voice, her tongue, communicates perfectly almost without any words at all. I hold the key to it, not in a dusty tome, but in my own body. The simplicity, the utter satisfaction of it, makes me smile.

Then comes the blissful fragmentation of reasoned thought, the willing surrender to overwhelming forces; the rush and push of blood where it's most needed , the fantastic, burning ache of being hard, nerves sparking, bursting for more sensation; eternity in a few seconds' wait for a woman's hands and mouth touching me once more, for ohh, slow, sensuous stroking and aah, quick, hungry sucking and... God, *right now*, wet, quenching sounds and breathless gasp of entry, the sensation of thrusting home again and again and hallelujah, she said leave the rubber off this time, bare-cock heavy-balled full-frontal full-contact dangerous sport and I never get enough of this, never could...

She lets me come soon and come hard. I shout loud enough to raise a blush, once I'm back to my right mind, and set her grinning with triumph and compassion. Her generosity stings me again, even though I'll be up for another round in a while - give her her due then, and more.

She deserves better than this: a man, pretending that he's truly here, could be hers in any way to call on, to rely on. In the morning, I decide; in the morning I will come clean. I will wake my sleeping conscience and give her wakeful nights and she will be... Safer? No. It didn't save Jenny. Wiser? Eating from the tree of knowledge equals expulsion from paradise, the end of innocence and peace. Prepared? That, at least.

In the morning, I'll tell her.

I wake late, nearly nine o'clock, having slept oddly well for Buffy being out of town, and I don't make it to the phone in time.