Will James have a Happy New Year? All Ye Faithful, final part, Part 12 below.
Thank you all for journeying with me. Merry reading and Merry Chirstmas!
(Find out what I’m wittering about by reading my intro post)
**Please note, All Ye Faithful is an LGBT romance, M/M to be precise, and contains some strong language and adult content, so may not be to everyone’s taste. If this is not your thing please scoot along to my All Publications, Short Fiction and Flash Fiction pages for other things that might be more to your taste**
All Ye Faithful – Part 12
If anything, the night was even colder than the last few. James was grateful for the bustling heat of Buck’s Bar. He nursed his half-drunk beer, ceaselessly scanning the crowded room. A man dressed as Elvis with an acoustic guitar sang Winter Wonderland on the small, festively-lit stage by the bar. The people gathered closest laughed, swayed and sung along.
James continued watching the door, trying not to shift too much in his seat, willing his still-sore muscles to relax. He was just about to admit defeat, finish his beer and leave, heart like a lead weight in his chest, when Leo stepped in. He was bundled in his worn, unsightly coat, a scarf the color of the sea wound round his neck. There were snowflakes caught in his hair and eyelashes, already melting in the heat of the room. His bruised mouth was uncharacteristically grim and James felt a renewed rush of guilt.
Leo’s green eyes scanned the bar as he began to unwind his scarf. His eyes landed on James and he froze. They stared at each other a long moment before Leo turned and strode back out into the night. James swore, abandoned his beer and hurried after him, wrestling his way through the throng of people. By the time he was out on the seafront, Leo was nowhere to be seen. James grumbled bitterly, looking this way and that amongst the crowds of people wandering through the softly-falling snow. His heart gave a jerk when he caught the sight of caramel-colored hair disappearing from view down some steps in the sea wall.
James hurried after him, calling his name, catching up just as he stepped off the stairs onto the snow-drifted sand.
“Are you not even going to give me the chance to apologize?”
Leo paused with his back to him. “At last count, Agent Solomon, the numbers revealed I owe you precisely dick. I mean, I can demand a recount, but I’m pretty confident of the result will be the same.”
“Do you always use sarcasm when you’re feeling vulnerable?” James said, taking a tentative step closer. “Or is that just with me?”
“Are you always this much of an asshole?” Leo said, turning flashing eyes on him.
“No. Not always,” James said softly, attempting a smile. When Leo didn’t move he dared to get a little closer. The snow-laden wind lifted the strands of hair that hung around his face, making them sway gently. His eyes were dull, his usually-mobile mouth set in unfriendly lines. James tasted guilt like copper on his tongue and fought the urge to touch him. “Let me buy you a drink?” he asked. “Maybe tip some numbers in my favor?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
James fought down despair. He forced himself to focus on Leo’s eyes and not the bitter tone of his words. He searched their green depths for the spark of hope he prayed he wasn’t just imagining. “Not kidding. No.”
Leo’s face creased up. “You can’t do this to me, James. You just can’t.”
“Do what?” James asked softly.
Leo made a noise and looked back over the sea. Elvis’s distant, echoing voice drifted to them on the wind, O Come All Ye Faithful, joyful and triumphant. Leo took a shuddering breath, blinked furiously. “You can’t pretend like it’s ok.” He looked at him. “It’s not ok, James.”
James swallowed heavily. His limbs felt heavy. “It’s not, is it?”
Leo shook his head. “I’ve been treated like shit my whole life. I’m pretty good at spotting it.”
James bit his tongue a moment and carefully schooled his voice. “I’m sorry, Leo. It doesn’t make it ok. But I want you to know I’m sorry.”
“Oh, I know you’re sorry,” Leo responded. “You’re a nice guy. Of course you’re sorry. That’s what makes it so much worse.”
Leo’s look was fierce. “You’re decent. A little repressed and a little anal. But a good guy.” Leo took a breath. “And still you thought the worst about me. You couldn’t believe – ”
“Leo – ” James started, feeling the words like a kick in the belly.
“It’s not you, James,” he interrupted. “It’s me. I’m the mess, I’m…” He shook his head angrily, turned his back. His shoulders shook in the misshapen coat. “I’m bad news.”
James hesitated then stepped up behind him. He put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. Leo stiffened. He didn’t turn. But James kept the hand there and when he didn’t shrug it off, he stepped closer and slowly eased the smaller man back into his arms. Leo didn’t resist. After a breathless moment, James felt him slump, but he didn’t remove his hands from his pockets and he didn’t lean against him.
They stood there for a long time. James made himself stay quiet. He made himself be grateful just to be holding him, to be able to smell him again, to be able to offer what reassurance he could with his arms if his words weren’t going to be enough.
“It’s my fault,” Leo murmured a long time later, his breath misting in the frigid air.
“What’s your fault?” he asked gently.
“Benson. Renny.” He choked. “Everything.”
James paused, tilting his head slightly to press his mouth against the fragrant hair. “And how’s that?” he murmured.
He felt the younger man take a long, shuddering breath. “I broke up with him.”
James paused, pulled back slowly. “You broke up with him?”
Leo nodded. “Ray was such a sweet guy to begin with, James. You gotta understand that. Fun. A little paranoid about people finding out…I think being gay in the army was hard. And what he told me about his parents was…” he felt more than saw him wince. “Yeah. They were…old-fashioned. But, you know. He was fun, to start with.” He paused. James heard him swallow. “But then he started to get weird.”
James felt him start to shiver and pressed himself closer, careful not to hold too tight. Leo paused, then lifted a gloved hand and laid it on James’s arm. His fingers tightened. James took the opportunity to wind his other arm around the smaller man’s waist. Leo glanced over his shoulder, then looked away again and continued.
“He wanted to see me but didn’t want to see me. He started turning up at my apartment drunk, like he had to get the courage up to come over. He flew off the handle for no reason. He would either not return my messages or would spend the whole afternoon getting on my case for not paying him enough attention. I had to end it.”
“So, what?” James asked softly. “You think he did all this to get back at you?”
“No,” Leo replied, shaking his head. “Not specifically. But to prove something to himself? Maybe.”
“You think you breaking up with him made him start up an affair with the boss’s wife and hatch and elaborate, murderous plan to take over the business?”
He felt Leo shrug. “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds a little ridiculous.”
“That’s because it is. It’s not your fault.”
Leo pulled away and James let him go, feeling the cold air rush between them. “You don’t know him,” he said softly. “He’s controlling. He’s defensive. He didn’t like it when I teased him. He really didn’t like it when I tried to take the lead in bed.” He touched his bruised lip unconsciously, froze then dropped his hand. “He also told me about his last ex…a guy from the army.” His eyes were far away and slightly frightened. “He was so mad whenever he spoke about him. So angry. Still.” He shook his head. “I should have known ending things would send him over some kind of edge.”
James stared into the swirling snow a moment. “My ex, Glen. He left me for a woman. His own ex, in fact.”
Leo’s brow creased slightly. “Oh?”
James nodded. “Yeah. We were happy, too. Really happy. I made him laugh. We owned a house, a dog,” James smiled crookedly. “Everything. But then he decided one day he really did want what his family had been telling him for years that he wanted. A ‘normal’ marriage. A family. He even took the dog. They’ve got a kid on the way now. ”
Leo examined his face carefully. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m just telling you…the stuff that makes up who a person really is…what drives them, what they want…half the time they don’t even know what it is themselves. The other half they’re usually fighting it. No one else stands a chance,” James sighed and met Leo’s questioning gaze with a frank look of his own. “You weren’t to know what he’d do.”
Leo chewed on the inside of his cheek. He stared out to sea again for a long moment then slowly turned. He took a step closer and James held his breath. He tilted his face to look up into James’s, green eyes flicking between his own.
“Did any psychotic killers attempt to throw your ex off a roof during your relationship?”
“Then I think I’m one up.”
“So this is a competition now?”
“If it is, I’m winning.” He looked away. “Or losing, depending on how you look at it.”
James let the cold wind sigh between them a moment, then reached into his pocket.
“I’ve got something for you.” Leo frowned at the piece of paper he held out. “Our Information Services turned up this letter on Benson’s hard drive. There were several versions of it. Looks like he’s been working on it for a few weeks. I’m not sure if this was his final version, but it was meant for you.”
“Me?” His frown deepened. “What was Benson writing to me for?”
“Read it and find out.”
Leo eyed the letter like it would bite. “I…don’t want to.”
“It’s important – ”
“Tell me what it’s about,” Leo cut in, looking at him hard.
James searched his face. “You have some idea then?”
“No,” Leo replied after a shaky pause.
James examined him a moment longer then drew a breath. “It looks like Benson knew your parents. A long time ago. He’s your half-brother’s step dad,” James watched the other’s face, a hard mask, though the eyes flickered. “He married your dad’s ex-wife not long after they broke up. Seems they were all in a band together, back in the 70s,” James added with a corner of a reassuring smile.
“I don’t understand,” Leo said in a small voice.
James glanced at the letter. “Benson says that your dad was a good man, but had a way of…leaving things behind. Through no real fault of his own. Your dad had been drinking, yes? The night of the car accident?”
Leo’s face went whiter than the snow that swirled in the air.
James continued hurriedly. “Sounds like Benson was fond of him, though sad about the pain he sometimes caused without meaning to.”
Leo’s eyes were wide, frosted with barely-contained feeling. His lips were pressed together. “Why would he tell me all this?” he forced out.
“He wanted to tell you that you have a job for life at Benson Industries,” James said, holding the letter out again. “He left strict instructions behind. Boon and Michaels now have joint management, and a contract that says your job is safe for as long as you need it.”
Leo’s gloved fingers took the piece of paper tentatively. It whipped about in the wind. He grabbed it firmly with both hands, skimmed it with a tight expression, then stuffed inside his coat. He swiped at his face with his sleeve, muttering.
“Did you know?”
Leo shook his head “No. At least…no, I didn’t know. There was something about the way he looked at me, when I first got hired,” his eyes were far away. “I couldn’t figure it out. But he gave me a job. I didn’t question it.” He frowned slightly. “I’ve had a couple of voicemails from Frank since last week. My brother. I haven’t listened to them.”
“He’ll be coming to town for the funeral,” James ventured. “You should get in touch. Benson probably told him everything.”
Leo raised his eyes to look at James, realization dawning on his face. “Benson wasn’t going to fire Ray because of Rachel. He was going to fire him because of me. Because of the way he treated me.”
“Benson cared about you,” James said, taking a step closer to him.
“Why didn’t he say anything?” Leo asked, staring into the swirling snow.
“My guess? He didn’t want the shareholders finding out about his rock’n’roll past.”
Leo didn’t look up. He carried on staring into the middle-distance, tiny, white flakes catching in his hair and melting on his lips. James looked at him for a long moment, then reached out and took his chin gently in his fingers. Being careful to avoid the bruises, he turned Leo’s face toward his own. After a moment, he finally focused on James, closed his mouth and swallowed.
“You’re beautiful, you know,” James murmured breathily.
Leo’s brow creased. “Hey?”
“I don’t think anyone’s ever made you understand that before.”
“James,” he said in a tight voice, but James cut him off by kissing him. Leo stiffened momentarily. But then, after a breathless pause, he began to respond. Hesitantly at first, almost guiltily. James could taste the coppery sharpness of the cut in his lip, the cigarette he’d just finished, the whisky he must have drunk before coming out. The kissed deepened. James breathed him in. Leo stepped closer, pressing into him and gripping his shoulders tight, before stepping back, shaking his head.
“No. No, I won’t do it again.”
Leo was pressing the back of his gloved hand to his mouth like he could wipe the kiss away. “Fall for you, you asshole.”
James’s chest fluttered. His blood raced warm under his skin and he smiled. “I promise I will never accuse you of murder again.”
“You think it’s funny?”
James felt cold chase away the warmth. He shook his head. “No. Sorry. It’s not funny. I just…” he ground his teeth, made himself speak. “I didn’t mistrust you, Leo. I realize that now. Not at any point did I think you did it. I just couldn’t trust myself around you. My instincts were all over the place. It…frightened me.” He made himself stay where he was, even though he wanted to touch him again so badly that it hurt. “I’ve never felt that way before. Not with Glen. Not with anyone.”
Leo dropped his hand. He looked James up and down, gaze finally returning to his face. “I didn’t plan on hurting anyone,” he said softly.
“You haven’t,” James insisted. “People have hurt you. Many people, by the sound of it. Including me. But I, for one, world like to try and make up what I can.”
Leo shook his head, like he didn’t want to believe. “What the hell are you still doing here, anyway?” he snapped. “They flew Torez outta here on Monday.”
“I had to give you the letter. And besides, I wanted to check out the live music you were telling me about,” he said, glancing back up toward the stairs.
“Try another one, James.”
James sighed. “I’m on suspension.”
Leo’s eyes narrowed. “Suspension?”
James gave another lop-sided smile. “Misconduct Review. I fraternized with a witness.”
“‘Fraternized?’” A corner of Leo’s mouth turned up. “That’s the dictionary definition, is it?”
“It’s the FBI’s definition,” James said with a shrug. “It’s not mine.”
“So what’s yours?” Leo asked softly, looking at him searchingly.
By way of an answer, he drew him closer with a hand on his arm. This time he came willingly. This time, after the barest hesitation, Leo kissed him, hungrily, deeply, his hands tilting James’s head down to his own, like he was afraid he’d pull away. James didn’t pull away until the need to breathe had his head spinning more than the kiss.
Leo laughed softly. It lit a fire in James’s belly to see his mouth reclaiming its smile. “This is wrong. I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m not that fucking stupid,” he said, but he was still smiling.
“Does it feel wrong?”
“You don’t even live here.”
James shrugged. “There’s a field office in Middletown. Only an hour away. I suspect I’ll be busted down to desk jockey after all this anyway.”
“And you’re ok with that?” Leo asked disbelievingly.
“I think I could be,” James murmured leaning in again, but Leo pulled back.
“No. You’d resent it. You’d resent me.”
“You know I’m only in the FBI cos Dad was, don’t you?”
“Oh, come on. You figured that out pretty much straight away.”
Leo looked at him suspiciously. “Did I?”
“Sure you did. You had me pegged by the end of that very first conversation.” James smiled. “You’d’ve made an amazing cop yourself.”
Leo snorted. “And have to wear a suit? And follow a bunch of stupid rules?”
“We don’t all wear suits,” James reasoned, reaching out a hand. “And we don’t all follow the rules either.”
Leo eyed the hand a long time then looked back up at his face. “Why?” he asked, his voice cracking slightly like he was making himself say it. “Why me?”
James dropped his hand but didn’t drop his eyes from the other’s intense, searching look. “You’re faithful to who you are. Who you really are. Even when it costs you.” Leo frowned and opened his mouth but James cut him off. “Things like Christmas day doesn’t just happen to me either. There’s something here, Leo. I want to find out what it is.”
Leo glanced back up toward the brightly-lit seafront. The wind picked up and brought the performer’s voice wafting toward them.
Well, it’s Christmas time pretty baby, and the snow is falling on the ground.
He went back to examining James for a long time, before a slow smile spread over his bruised mouth. “I think you may finally be being honest with me, James Solomon.”
James smiled back. “I can’t hide things from you. I’ve realized that now. But, more importantly, I’ve realized I don’t want to.”
Leo put his head on one side, a boyish light gathering strength in his eyes. “Ok James,” he said in a voice James had never heard him use before. “I’ll let you buy me that drink. But the jury’s still out, I’m warning you now.”
“I’m good with juries,” James said, leading the way back to the stairs. “I think they’ll come down on my side.”
“You’re very confident for a guy who’s just asked out a guy he had thrown in prison for 24 hours.”
“That was Gibson.”
Leo snorted. “You didn’t stop her.”
James turned on the steps and took Leo’s face in his hands. “Let me have those 24 hours,” he murmured. “Before you make up your mind.”
“That’s all you think it’ll take?”
“That’s all it took for you win me.”
“Yeah but that was Christmas day,” Leo said with a sardonic look. “People think and feel all sorts of dumb shit on Christmas day.”
“I’m still feeling it.”
A corner of Leo’s mouth turned up. “Ok, Agent Solomon. You’ve got one day. Make it good.”