'Gavin! Nice to see you.'
'Are you free, Phil?'
'No, but I'm reasonable.'
Gavin gave a dismissive shake of the head. 'To quote Tobias, "Was that humour?"'
'Sorry, sweetheart. It's the traditional joke in the circumstances. What can I do for you?' Phil Maddox smiled a little as he surveyed the small man perched gingerly on his office armchair. Phil himself felt a certain unease in Gavin's presence which he could never quite shake off. He knew the man's full story, and it made him want to stare at his visitor.
But this morning, Gavin looked like any other student: a short leather jacket over his grey hoody, his thick, dark hair spilling over his face. His air of preoccupation was also much like the usual fresher, though, as Phil knew, this man was a lot less young than he appeared.
'I want you to do me a favour, and probably break all sorts of university rules.'
Phil raised his eyebrows. 'You what?'
'I want you to check the university records for an American exchange student called Billy... I don't know his surname.'
'This is important? Is this... y'know... Henry-type weirdness?'
Gavin chuckled. 'I don't think so. But there's something about that boy that troubles me.'
'So this is an official request from Enoch the Guardian.'
Gavin shook his head. 'He's retired. This is a favour for a friend.'
'Talking of which, I was asked to tell you from Andy and Matt that the presence of yourself and Max is required in Highgate next Wednesday evening, and the afternoon too if you can make it. There's a party you won't want to miss.'
Gavin perked up. 'Really? Why?'
'It's a welcome party. Fritzy's come to stay for a bit. He's doing some work in the City for the Royal Bank of Rothenia, which has bought one of the collapsing British banks. Fritzy's a prominent young director with British connections sent to assist the restructuring. He specially asked for you and Max to be there. He says he hasn't got enough friends his own age.'
'I'm not his own age.'
Phil put his head on its side. 'Be real, Gavin. You could never convince anyone you're much over eighteen. Max is almost exactly Fritz's age, and they were pretty friendly in Rothenia.'
Gavin smiled. 'When I saw the two of them together it was obvious that Max is Rothenian. There's something about the cheekbones. Yes, we'll be there, it's just... I hope this doesn't end up with us being introduced to society. Fritzy's got a talent for getting in the gossip columns and celebrity magazines.'
'No, no. He's here to work.'
'Yes, but he plays as hard as he works, and that's the problem. He's a social whirlwind.'
'It'll be fine. He'd never dream of coming near Stevenage. It's London he loves. He's the definitive West End boy. He's got a nice flat in a fashionable bit of Barnsbury. Ben's been over to see it. They had lunch yesterday.'
'So how're things with Prince Party-Boy?'
'Unchanged. He's as cheerful, open and free of commitment as ever.'
'I thought I read somewhere that he was still being talked of as the future husband of Rudi's cousin, the Princess Royal.'
'That one's been on and off for three years now. They keep having huge rows and simultaneous affairs with different people. The gossip columnists love them.'
'I can't imagine anyone not being happy with Fritz.'
'Me neither. But Princess Eleanor's an Elphberg, and they do have tempers... Okay, despite your distracting me with chit-chat, I am now in the student-record system. Billy you say? No Billy here. I'll try William... damn, it's a fashionable name nowadays, isn't it? Any idea which programme he's registered on? No? We'll do it the hard way then.'
Head down, Phil tapped away for a while, leaving Gavin to tuck his legs under himself on the chair and meditate.
After ten minutes, Phil raised his head. 'Here's your boy: William Henry Buchko, 5677 East Raleigh Avenue, Thomasville, NC. Registered junior year at Burnett University, NY. US national. Father an executive and mother a lawyer. Taking courses in marketing and business. Ah! There's a yellow tag.'
'What does that mean?'
'I really don't know. No detail, and I don't have access to those files. But from his grades he looks like a B student, and that only barely.'
Gavin sniffed. 'Not surprised.'
'Why do you say that?'
'I think there are other things he'd much rather do than study. He hit on me.'
Phil raised an eyebrow. 'And who can blame him, Gavin. You're quite something.'
Gavin laughed. '... "in a small way", as Henry used to add.' He turned serious. 'Billy is into sex. I think seduction is the big thing for him, the more vulnerable or the more difficult the target the better, as far as he's concerned. He has no conscience, and at the moment he's like a fox loose in a chicken run. He's going to do a lot of damage.'
'And you see yourself as the guard dog.'
'Old habits, Phil.'
Alasdair and Chris were engaged in yet another of their interminable dialogues. This time it was the structure of senior ranks in Starfleet. 'Chrissie, in the original series, there was a ranking commodore, but they've never used the rank again. S'always bloody admirals. Stupid really, cos when they made Kirk up from captain they jumped him to rear admiral. That caused all the problems, y'see. He wanted to be in the field but couldn't stay captain. Now if they'd made him commodore, he would have remained in the field, but still had seniority and could have commanded other captains.'
'Yeah, yeah. They should have asked you to script them, Alasdair.'
'But if I'm not mistaken, a commodore appears in the film The Voyage Home .'
Alasdair looked surprised. 'That right? We've got that DVD, haven't we... Who's that? We aren't expecting anyone.'
The doorbell had rung loudly. Casual visitors were rare at Alasdair and Chris's house. When Chris stumped downstairs to open the door, his breath caught in his throat.
'Well hi, Chrissie babe. Can I come in?'
'Yeah... yeah, sure,' Chris stuttered. 'What you doing round here, Billy?'
'You asked me to come by, remember? Last Saturday? Thought I might take you up on it.'
'Cuz I thought there was a connection.' Chris's heart began hammering.
'Wow... awright! Get my coat.'
'Aren't I coming in?'
'What? There's only Alasdair here. We could er... go for a drink or something?'
Chris called up the stairs to Alasdair that he was going out, but didn't pause to explain. Billy led the way to a Costa Coffee outlet on the main road.
He got a drink, flirted with an enchanted female barista - the one who customarily sneered at Chris - and smiled round him. 'Nice place. I like it here. So Chrissie, are you and Alasdair sharing a bed.'
Chris almost laughed. 'Come off it, mate. Nah... just housemates.'
'So who're you seeing, babe?'
Chris blushed. 'Well, no one.'
'What, a healthy guy like you? You're kidding me.'
Suddenly Chris became aware that a leg was pressed against his under the table and was beginning to rub. His cock thickened as his loose mouth sagged. This was it. A man was coming on to him.
Billy sipped his coffee and smiled over the top of the cup. Chris noticed a complex blue tattoo on the back of his left hand, a rainbow through clouds.
Billy's dark eyes seemed to smoulder into Chris's. The guy was sex on wheels. Chris had already decided he'd do anything that was asked of him, as Billy's shoeless foot connected with his groin and began massaging the erection beneath the jeans.
'Wanna fuck, baby?' Billy leaned across the table into Chris's face.
'No shit. But... I... I mean.'
'You've never done it, have you?'
'Yes... I mean, no, or a bit.'
Billy grinned. 'Which bit?'
Chris couldn't answer.
'Drink up Chris. Time to go.'
'What's wrong with your place?'
'He's a grown up. Will he want to join in?'
Chris dried up again. He wanted what was about to happen more than anything. Somehow, though, he felt he was betraying Alasdair. They were two virgins in alliance against the world of sexuality, but when one of them crossed the barrier, the alliance would be gone. And there was no way he could pretend that he and Billy were doing anything other than having sex.
As they were walking back to his house, Chris remembered an important thing. 'I .. er got no... stuff, y'know, rubbers.'
'They're not compulsory, baby, for what I have in mind.'
With a racing heart and a giddy feeling, Chris fumbled with the door keys and answered Alasdair's startled query abstractedly, as he led Billy into his room.
The man turned his back on the door which he closed behind him. He looked around the untidy room with apparent interest. He reached out and pulled Chris to him by a strong hand around the back of the neck. Before his crimson full lips closed on Chris's pale, scabbed ones, he said, 'Now this, Chris baby, is what they call a kiss.'
Gavin got lost twice on the campus looking for Brinkley House. When he found it, he had to ask a passing student to let him in past the security box.
He tapped on Rupert's door. There was a muffled reply and the door hastily opened. Rupert squinted at Gavin, struggling to disguise his evident disappointment.
Gavin asked if he could come in. Rupert indicated the study-bedroom's only chair. Gavin looked him over carefully as Rupert settled on the unmade bed. The preppy clothing of the public schoolboy was gone. He wore a tee and cut jeans which exposed a lot of his pale but shapely legs. His feet were bare and there was a large purple love-bite on his neck. He hadn't shaved and his left hand was bandaged. Despite thinking that Rupert's unbuttoning had rather improved his appearance, Gavin could not but notice that there had been changes. And the boy looked haunted.
'How're you, Rupert? Escaped the flu?'
'I had a runny nose, but otherwise I'm fine, well mostly.'
'I've been sleeping badly.'
'We've not seen much of you. You missed the St Trinians night.'
'I gather it was a hoot.'
'Billy tell you that?'
'I heard that you and he are an item.'
'Who told you?'
'You seem to have found your sexuality.'
Rupert brooded quietly, staring at Gavin. 'You're different.'
Gavin was surprised. 'What do you mean?'
'Initially I thought you were the shy, reclusive type. But it seems I was mistaken. A man who would come in here and quiz me so forcefully about my sex life has some nerve. Why do you want to know?'
'Believe me when I say that Billy is nothing but bad news.'
'I'm touched by your concern. However, to me the affair seems a very positive thing. I now know I am decidedly homosexual.'
'A pity you can't sleep then. Are you going to tell me what happened?'
'Why in God's name...?'
'You're not a happy man, Rupe. You've lost as well as gained something since I first met you.'
Rupert sagged. He put his head in his hands. 'He told me he loved me.'
Rupert nodded. 'That night after the meeting, when we went to the club. Eventually Miles left, and we were alone. Billy was so confident and wanted me so badly. I thought to myself, Rupert, this is maybe the best chance you'll have to find out which way you swing. So we went back to his room in hall. It lasted all night... it was amazing. When the sun came up he looked in my eyes and told me how beautiful I was, and how he loved me. It transformed my life.'
Catching the exalted expression on Rupert's face, Gavin decided there was indeed a beauty there, if you looked for it. 'But the euphoria didn't last.'
'He came round with Miles the next night and we had some drinks in the bar. But when we went back to his room, Miles came too.'
'He talked me into a threesome. Miles did me while he was doing Miles, then they swopped around. They had a lot of fun.'
'But not you.'
Rupert looked tragic. 'It didn't seem right after what had happened the previous night.'
'How did he talk you into it?'
'I have no idea. He seemed to make perfect sense, and of course I melt every time I look in those eyes of his. It seemed disloyal not to go along with him, but when Miles left and Billy was sleeping next to me, I... cried. I felt filthy. Yet when I talked to him in the morning and tried to make him see I was unhappy, he made me feel as if I was in the wrong for doubting his love.'
'So it's not over.'
'He comes most nights, sometimes on his own, and sometimes with Miles. But Miles came alone last night. He did this to me.' Rupert pointed at the bruise from the bite on his neck.
'You let him?'
'He's been up me so often, I felt I could hardly say no. Besides, he told me Billy would be along later, but he left at one, and there was no Billy.'
'And your hand?'
'This morning, Billy took me into a parlour in town and decided I had to have the same tattoo on my left hand as he did. He said it would always remind us of each other. He can talk me into anything.'
'You have to end this, Rupert. It's sick what he's doing to you.'
'But you know what he's like! He looks in your eyes, and it's as if you have no will of your own.'
As Gavin pondered this statement, his neck prickled again. He thought back to Billy's half-serious attempt on his virtue. He remembered the pressure and seductiveness of the man's undisguised sensuality, but he also remembered how his own mind had repelled the invasion. It was fortified by his unbreakable connection with Max, that was true, but something else had happened, something familiar. What was it?
Tommy Entwhistle rather liked high heels. It had taken a while and a lot of research to find an on-line supplier who made stilettos strong enough for cross-dressers. With his sister's help he had acquired the walk. Even in tight jeans and a sparkly off-the-shoulder top, with a bag swinging at his side, he knew he didn't look all that female, but being outdoors in female clothing answered a very deep need.
He waved and smiled at the sound of a wolf-whistle behind him. He stopped off to talk to a group of women sitting on a campus bench. They kissed him as he sashayed off towards his lecture. Stevie students accepted him with great good nature for the most part. Some, and not just the LGBT crowd, clearly liked him. Town, of course, was a different matter, and there had been two violent incidents that had made him cautious.
Nonetheless, his outward confidence was an act. Throughout his teens, he had only put on girl's clothes in the secrecy of his bedroom, or in the presence of Alison, his beloved big sister. The biggest thrill he had in his school years was the wearing of panties under his uniform. The day he had promenaded for the first time in a skirt and top had been in his third week at Stevie. Stepping out of his room that day had been like being reborn, the most powerful experience in his life. The stares he had expected, but the friendship he had not. For this, he loved Stevenage University.
However, Tommy was intelligent and sensitive behind the bravado. He had been accepted, certainly, yet he realised it was the acceptance of a character, an eccentric. Now in his third year, he was yearning for something else, but here his inner confusion bit down hard.
He knew by experience that sex for him worked equally well with men and women. There had been a boy in Year 11 who had fallen hard for him, and they had found ways to explore their feelings to their mutual satisfaction. It had not lasted, any more than two equally satisfying flings with girls in his sixth-form. Worryingly for his own image, he had let the last of them see him in female underwear, and her hostile reaction had shocked him.
His unapologetic cross-dressing had discouraged interest in him sexually at Stevie, though Chris still sniffed hopefully around. Tommy knew lots of women, but as friends. One or two perhaps wanted more, but he was possessed now by doubts about himself, and in any case was a long-time victim of a secret regret.
Tommy's true desire was unattainable. He had been fascinated with Max Jamroziak since his first year, but Max at that time was apparently straight and with a girlfriend. Regardless, Max had been a good and accepting friend to him. Then Max had shocked a lot of people by coming out, yet before Tommy could resolve his own doubts, Max had begun his doomed affair with Miles. Now he was back in Stevie with a cute kid whom Tommy could not resent. It was all so hopeless.
The lecture was by Phil Maddox on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tommy's dissertation topic, so it was not to be missed. Phil was a great lecturer, drawing comments and discussion out of the small group of third-years in ways that few others could. There was laughter and intellectual stimulation, and for a while Tommy was less preoccupied.
Afterwards he went off with a group of third-year girls to the Union, where they discussed Fitzgerald over cocktails. It was highly appropriate, as one of them observed.
After drinks and a very satisfying discussion, Tommy swayed on homewards. A familiar face caught his attention in the library forecourt, though the eyes glanced off his. But Tommy knew his duty to gay freshers, and was friendly. 'Hiya doll! Peter isn't it?'
'Er... yeah. Er... hi!'
'How's things doing, first-year LGBT insect?'
'Sorry?' The boy seemed very eager to be out of the conversation. That offended Tommy more than a little, though he had learned not to be too demanding of other people's tolerance over the years.
'Just being breezy and friendly. Since I'm clearly keeping you from something, though, forgive me if I just head on home.'
The boy flushed beetroot red. 'Sorry,' he said again, plaintively.
And, for some reason, Tommy snapped. 'I bloody well wish idiots like you would think before you open your fucking mouths. Now piss off, you transphobic little cunt!' After that unaccustomed angry outburst, he stalked off, tears in his eyes for some reason.
Peter stood open-mouthed and devastated, tears standing in his eyes too. He all but ran back to his hall. As he was fumbling for the keys to his room he became aware of a large presence behind him.
'Hey, guy! What's the problem? Can I help?' He turned to find a pair of dark eyes looking kindly at him, while two strong hands took and massaged his shoulders.
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