Smutty woke shivering, aware of a warm body pressed up behind him, but also a complete lack of blankets. Unwelcome memories threatened to rise, but he beat them back down again. He wasn’t sore. It hadn’t happened again. Good.
But where on Earth was he? The light was still on, and he gradually made sense of the unfamiliar surroundings. Oh yeah, the new boat. Home, although after only one night spent there, she didn’t feel that way just yet. Which meant all that business with Giles hadn’t been a dream after all. He turned slowly, carefully pulling away where they’d been stuck together with drying spunk, in an effort not to wake his companion. Giles’ face was soft in sleep. Much younger, none of that hurt and anger showing. The man was handsome; not that looks were all that important. It was what was inside that mattered – Starlight had taught him well.
Smutty smiled as his gaze explored Giles’ body. Hairy, powerful and broad across the shoulders, but not particularly in shape. There was a hint of softness around his middle, – perhaps the result of a desk job. Men with bodies like Giles needed to be out working the land or toiling away with machinery. He could do it, too. There’d been a brute energy to the way Giles moved last night that revealed what he was capable of.
Not that it should matter to him. He’d have to move on soon enough. Shame, though. It wasn’t often he met blokes who turned him on as much as Giles did, but who weren’t pushy arseholes he had to run a mile from.
It would have been good to snuggle up again, but he needed a piss and he couldn’t exactly leave the lights on all night. Not if he wanted any battery power tomorrow, and if he couldn’t get the engine going again he’d have a problem. Dealing without the electric lights would be fine, but he didn’t much fancy having to dip every drink of water out of his tank manually if the pump was down. Smutty yawned, pushed himself up and looked around for the spare sleeping bag. Giles stirred as the fabric settled over him, but his breathing settled back down to a slow rise and fall.
Candles. That was next on the list. There were some in his bag, surely? Smutty found one and melted the end so it would stick to the galley worktop. He’d have stuck it on a saucer, but he was seriously short of supplies – only having the single set of enamel camping plate, bowl and mug he’d brought with him. Grouch had left a lot of junk on the boat: coils of old rope, grimy engine bits and rotten wood, which might have been useful if he were a sculptor, but there was little in the way of everyday equipment. He was thankful the bloke had left him the Portapotti, but it would have been nice if he’d taken the time to empty and clean it first.
But once he had the candle burning and the electric light off, Freya felt like a much more welcoming place. There was nothing here that couldn’t be cleaned, tidied and fixed. Nothing that couldn’t be made into a home. One he couldn’t be forced off by some heartless landowner. No, she was going to be great. Smutty grinned, looking around the space and picturing her all done up the way he wanted. He could put stained glass in the portholes and a great big skylight in the roof to brighten her up.
The plans whirling through his head would keep him from sleeping, he knew. After braving the Portapotti and a quick cat’s lick of a wash with a flannel, he found his clothes from the night before and pulled them back on, adding a thick jumper and jacket, then let himself out onto the front deck. First light was touching the sky in the east, turning the canal a delicate peach in that direction. Smutty watched, entranced, as gossamer tendrils of mist rose off the water and hung in the air. Dewdrops glistened everywhere, as if the world had been strewn with jewels overnight. The first bird called, a fish splashed in the water, and the world began to wake.
It would be a beautiful place to stay, but it wasn’t his. Giles didn’t know how lucky he was.
Smutty turned back inside. Maybe he could sneak back under the sleeping bag without waking Giles. Maybe he could find a more pleasant way to wake him up.
Giles was sitting up in bed, glaring at him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, going out and leaving me asleep with a candle burning? Are you out of your mind?”
Smutty blinked and glanced at the candle, still upright and perfectly safe. He remembered Giles’ erratic behaviour the previous morning and decided to ignore his outburst. “Morning Giles. Pleasant dreams?” Using some of his precious electricity he ran the pump to fill a kettle, then set it on the stove. “Now, I don’t have any teatea, but I’m sure if you give it a chance, some ginseng will sort out your head.”
He looked over to see Giles rubbing his eyes savagely.
“You shouldn’t leave candles unattended,” Giles insisted, but his voice was calmer now, almost apologetic. “If you had any idea… It… it’s just, it’s a bit of a, uh, sore point with me. Some history.”
“Okay. Point noted for future reference.” Smutty paused, pondering his alternatives. “Do you know if there’s anywhere you can buy paraffin lanterns locally? I’m going to need something for light in the evenings.”
“But you’ve got electric lights.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have any way of charging the battery with a dead engine.”
“Oh. I see.”
Giles was quiet as Smutty made the tea, looking around the boat with a strange expression on his face. “Aren’t you having one?” he asked, as Smutty handed him the enamel mug.
Smutty shook his head. “Nah, I’m fine right now.” Actually, he was parched, but he didn’t want to make Giles feel guilty about monopolising the only mug. Smutty’s stomach rumbled. He had a voracious appetite, but didn’t fancy trying to eat a biscuit without anything to wash it down, plus Giles didn’t seem like the sort to appreciate rolling around in biscuit crumbs so it might put a stop to any more of the previous night’s activities.
Smutty sat back against the bulkhead and made himself comfy with a pillow. Giles scooted up next to him, awkwardly holding the sleeping bag over his lap in some kind of effort to hide his nakedness. Smutty grinned. “I saw it all last night, you know. I had it in my mouth.”
It was fun to watch Giles flush and stammer, then try to hide it by taking a sip of tea.
Giles’ face was a picture. “Jesus Christ! What is this stuff?”
“Korean ginseng and ginger. Excellent pick-me-up. Should put fire in your belly, and it’s reputed to stimulate the libido as well.” Smutty waggled his eyebrows suggestively and laughed as Giles’ face turned an even deeper shade of red. “Don’t worry, I’ll let you finish the cup before I molest you.”
Giles’ eyes widened and he took another tentative sip. “It’s vile. Oh God, not the idea of you molesting me, I mean, the tea is vile. I mean, Christ, I’m sorry. It’s good of you to make it for me but—”
“Giles, you’re babbling. Just calm down a minute and drink it, okay? It’ll help with the headache.”
Giles nodded and complied. He finished about half the mug, grimacing with every mouthful.
“How did you know I have a headache?”
“Besides the expression on your face and your foul temper yesterday morning before you’d had your dose of caffeine? Hmm, not sure, maybe it was the way you rubbed your temples like you’d confused a massage with an assault.”
Giles’ face softened, and Smutty took in the endearingly rumpled hair and the print of the pillow still marking his cheek. Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake up with someone like this every morning? Well, minus the shouty, grumpy part, of course. He reached out to smooth a curl of hair back from Giles’ brow. “How is the head today?”
Giles screwed his forehead up in thought. “Actually, it’s not as bad as usual.”
“See, that’ll be the ginseng.”
“More likely it’s the lack of a hangover,” Giles muttered, looking down into the mug before taking another sip. He wouldn’t meet Smutty’s gaze.
“Is that a regular problem?” Smutty asked, trying to keep his voice neutral, non-judgemental.
Giles sighed deeply. “It’s become so. Recently. Since Fabian left. Well, before, really, when everything was going sour.”
Smutty took Giles’ free hand and gently squeezed. “It won’t help you escape your problems, though, will it? It only ends up making them worse and taking your health with it.”
“Spare me the lecture,” Giles said, the bitterness in his voice surprising Smutty. “You don’t even drink, so don’t give me all that hippy nonsense.”
“You want to know why I don’t drink?” Smutty thought he did a fairly good job of keeping his voice calm despite the provocation.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, let me tell you why I don’t drink. I’m such a lightweight if I have so much as one unit of alcohol I’m absolutely smashed. Something I expect I inherited from my dad, but I guess I’ll never know for sure.” Smutty swallowed away the old pain of that thought and forced himself to carry on. “Anyway, some of the dodgier places I’ve travelled I’ve had guys spike my drinks. Usually I can taste it, but not always. Not if it’s hot and I’m parched and I down the thing before I realise.”
“Smutty, I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”
“No, wait, you should hear this because if we’re going to do anything again I owe it to you to tell you the risks.” Smutty’s palms broke out in a cold sweat. It wasn’t usually this bad, telling blokes, but Giles was different. Gods knew how the man would react. He could only hope for the best, though, so he steeled himself to go on. “It’s happened at least six times. I’m not going to say I was raped, because as far as I remember I went along with it every time—all except the alcohol part—but some of those bastards didn’t bother using protection and I was too wasted to insist. My last test came back negative, but I won’t be in the clear until my next test in July.”
Giles stared, open-mouthed.
Smutty let out a shuddering breath. Suddenly the boat felt too small, too crowded. He needed some fresh air to blow away the fog of Giles’ disapproval. He started to push himself up from the bed.
A hand closed around his wrist and held him tight.
Smutty glanced back to see Giles’ eyes clouded with anger.
“How can you just be so casual about it?”
“Believe me, I’m far from casual right now.” Smutty twisted his arm, trying to get free but Giles’ grip held fast. “For fuck’s sake, will you let go?”
Giles ignored him, his expression churlish. “But you’ve just let them off the hook. Those… those rapists.” The way he spat the last word out surprised Smutty. “Next thing I know, you’ll be saying some utter rubbish like you led them on and it was all your fault they took advantage of you.”
Smutty stared. He’d never had anyone react like this before. The wounded look in Giles’ eyes barely took the edge off his righteous anger. It was too much to deal with right now so he tried to make light of it. “Bloody hell, you make it sound like I’m some kind of defenceless maiden in a Victorian novel. I’m not Tess of the bloody d’Urbervilles, you know. I can stand up for myself. And for the record, I reckon I probably did lead them on, not that that’s any excuse for what they did.”
“You’re damn right it isn’t! Christ, Smutty, don’t talk about yourself like that.” Giles loosed his hold on Smutty’s wrist, only to fold him up in a crushing hug. “You’re not some cheap tart who had it coming.”
“I know that,” Smutty said, his words muffled by having his face pressed into Giles’ hairy chest. “And I hope you’re not calling Tess Durbyfield a cheap tart.” It was almost funny, having someone so starchy like Giles getting this possessive. He had an image of Giles in doublet and hose, fighting a duel to defend his honour. Smutty gave a wry smile, wondering how differently things might have turned out if he’d someone like Giles on his side earlier. Not that Giles would be the type to travel around, doing odd jobs in strange places and staying up all night partying under the moon. No, Giles was more the dinner party type—all polite conversation and meaningless chit-chat. Mind you, he found it hard to picture Giles in that kind of situation either—surely the man would end up drenched in irate partygoers’ drinks after putting his foot in it every time he opened his mouth.
Giles’ chest heaved. Smutty shifted his head to one side so that he could hear that powerful heartbeat and watch Giles’ face as he struggled with his emotions. “Look, this all happened ages ago so don’t get bent out of shape over it. I’ve been much more careful since that last time.” That time Smutty still didn’t want to think too closely about, as the state of his arse on waking, combined with the vague memories of the previous night, led him to believe there’d been more than one of them. “I only drink from bottles I’ve watched being opened and I don’t leave them unattended.” It was a bugger, though, having to be so vigilant all the time.
“You took a sip of my wine last night,” Giles pointed out.
“I’d been coughing. And anyway, I noticed straight away.”
Giles nodded but he didn’t look mollified. “You shouldn’t be so trusting. There are bad people out there.” His arms tightened again, and a hand came up to stroke Smutty’s hair. “You need someone to look out for you.”
“I do okay,” Smutty said, but his throat tightened painfully and the words weren’t as convincing as he’d intended.
“You deserve better than that.” Giles’ words were barely a whisper, but they seared themselves into Smutty’s consciousness.
They lay like that for a long while, Smutty tracing patterns through the hair on Giles’ chest while Giles’ own fingers played with his locks. Eventually, though, Giles shifted underneath him.
“I need to use your facilities.”
“Facilities?” Smutty grinned, then screwed up his nose as he remembered the current state of the Porta-potti. “Um, you might be better off pissing outside. That toilet’s seriously honking. I need to scrub it out today. Might even have to use hardcore chemicals if you’ve got any bleach in the house.”
Giles got up, walked over to the tiny wetroom and pulled back the curtain. “Jesus Christ! How can you live like this? That thing should be condemned.”
“I did warn you.”
“I think I’ll head back to the house instead. Have a proper shower too. You’re welcome to join me, if you want to.”
Giles sounded hesitant, and Smutty didn’t want to push his luck. “Nah, I’ll be fine here. Need to get on with cleaning the place out anyway. And there’s plenty to get going with on your garden too.”
Giles gave him a strange look that Smutty couldn’t interpret, and started to pull on his clothing. “Come up and borrow any cleaning stuff you need. The kitchen door’s always unlocked.”
“And you’re telling me I’m too trusting?”
But Giles didn’t rise to the bait—he finished dressing and came back to the bed for a quick, yet thorough, kiss, leaving Smutty half-hard and panting.
“I’ll come and find you later,” Giles said, his voice a low rumble.
Smutty watched him leave, anticipation thrilling through him. Giles had heard the worst and still wanted more. Maybe the bloke would even bring some supplies with him next time. And he wasn’t thinking about Domestos.
He sang to himself as he began clearing out the piles of junk.