‘Paul?’ the questioning voice was gruff with worry.
‘Yep, it’s me. Stay there, I’ll be up right away.’
Heavy footsteps in the hallway, the sound of a coat being unzipped, hung up. Footsteps on the stairs, a slow measured tread. The bedroom door opened, the man who had climbed the stairs walked in, his face weary, his whole demeanour, like his body, battered. Adam sat up, pushed the covers back, stood, walked towards his friend. The man who was more than his friend. ‘Hell, what happened, Paul? Why didn’t you call me?’
He held out a hand as if to touch the other on the face, but the man who had been his companion for the last thirty years took a step back, away from that outstretched hand as if to reject any attempt at physical contact.
‘I’m tired. And cold. I need a bath.’ The words were curt, short, as if the closeness that these two had shared was over. Had never existed. Adam watched as the dark-haired man went into their bathroom, and without looking, closed the door with finality.
It had happened. He had expected it, had known that this moment would come, sometime. The sound of running water, the slurring of clothes being removed, discarded, dropped onto the floor behind that closed door. A door that separated them now.
Adam listened, shoulders hunched, head bowed. He wanted to run, to leave this place with all its memories, its associations. But he had nowhere to go. And it was too late anyway now. He took a deep breath. He would try to face the future with courage, with composure even if his eyes were filling with tears. He would act as if nothing was untoward, as if tonight was like any other night, although he knew what had happened.
Downstairs, he poured two drinks; the usual, malt whisky in barrel shaped cut-glass tumblers, and then, determined, he carried them back into the bedroom. For one moment he paused, wondering if he actually dared enter the bathroom, knowing what he would see there. But, he had seen worse in the past, he was sure. He pushed the door open, suddenly realising that Paul had not locked it; Paul had wanted him to come in.
Steam filled the small room. Clothes, blood-stained and torn from events earlier in the night, were strewn across the floor. Paul Metcalfe, eyes closed, head back, lay there almost as if asleep in the hot water, his hands on the edges of the huge tub. A tub big enough for the two of them. But it seemed a long time since they had shared that warmth, that bliss, that closeness.
‘Whisky?’ he put the tumbler down within reach. The man in the bath, opened one bruised and swollen eye. Without a word he reached out and lifted the glass, his fingers also bloodied and cut, then drank the dark amber liquid in one swift gulp. Wordlessly he handed the glass back, closed his eyes and seemed to fall asleep again, in the soothing embrace of the water. ‘So, tell me about it. What happened this time?’ Adam Svenson pushed on regardless. That had become his motto recently. ..’push until it blows up in your face’. And it looked as if it would all blow up now, here, tonight. In this small bathroom that they had shared for so many years.
‘I don’t want to talk about it. Not now. Not ever in fact.’ Paul muttered. ‘It doesn’t matter. Really. I’ll be fine in a while. You know I will. I always am.’
‘Paul, I need to know. I have the right to know don’t I?’
Paul Metcalfe heaved himself upright, water sloshing over the sides of the tub onto the smooth slate floor. Wrapping his arms around his knees he hunched in imitation of his friend, earlier. ‘Adam, I said I’ll be fine. Let’s leave it at that shall we. Go back to bed. I’m tired. And sore.’
The pale-haired man put his glass down, untouched, untasted. Kneeling down he reached into the bath, picking up a sponge, and proceeded, without comment, to bathe his companion. Long smooth strokes down shoulders and arms to fingers that were, even now, beginning to heal.
With the sensitivity of experience he trickled the water down the unblemished back, across the smooth, unmarked skin at Paul’s throat. With delicate touches he wiped away the dried blood from the now healed eye and the once split lips. All in silence. The even, repetitive action pacified him as much as the man sitting there before him. It was all that he could do for Paul now; wash away the stains of the night. Little enough really, but it would not wash away the fear, the terror that his friend had still to face.
The man in the bath endured, without comment, the touch, the feel of water, the softness of the sponge and the fingertips stroking his skin, but as the calming ministrations continued the tightly bunched muscles in shoulders and back and neck began to ease. To loosen. And, eventually, he lay back and allowed the other man to continue his soothing caresses.
Neither man spoke. This moment of shared intimacy was the first for a while. And Paul, even as he lay there, still aching, still reliving his battle with Earth’s long-standing enemy earlier in the night, rejoiced in the touch of that slowly moving hand that seemed to wipe away all his pain.
Adam squeezed the sponge out and placed it in the sink, then handed his glass to the man. ‘Here. Drink this.’ Unmarked, flawless fingers reached for and held the glass, eyes without a trace of bruising stared back into his blue eyes.
‘I know. Look, you need to get out of there, and get to bed.’ Adam reached for a bath towel, ‘Stand up.’
Paul Metcalfe grunted with the residual pain as, with reluctance, he eased himself upright and stood, water streaming off his lithe, muscular body. Unblemished, unmarked, unscarred. As always. Eyes met. Thoughts exchanged. Adam Svenson, ageing, greying, crows feet becoming more noticeable at the corners of pale blue eyes, and now sidelined to non-operational duties. Paul Metcalfe, youthful despite the passing years. Always unaged, undying. Still fighting the Mysterons.
Adam looked at the man who he had loved for so many years and saw the regret in those dark eyes. Saw his friend look at him and saw horror in those dark eyes. Not only that Adam was aging but also the knowledge that one day, he, Paul, would be left alone, still young, still immortal while Adam, the one man he had truly and utterly loved, the man who had been his companion for so many years, grew older and died. Paul Metcalfe, now Colonel Scarlet, supreme commander of SPECTRUM, reached out to touch that face, the fine bone structure still evident, the pale skin just faintly creasing with age, the grey-blue eyes losing some of their youthful brightness.
‘Adam, ‘ he halted trying to find the words to say to this man who seemed so much older.
‘Paul, there’s no need. I know. I’ll… ‘ Svenson looked at him in resigned acceptance. ‘I’ll move into the other bedroom tonight. And then. Well. I’ll try to find somewhere else to live by the end of the week. And you can find someone……’
‘Adam.’ The voice, still so youthful, so elegant, whispered with clear distress.’ Adam, no.’ And the old man was suddenly held in a tight, desperate embrace, as if he was about to fall. Two heads close together, two bodies clinging to each other.
Paul, the bath towel sliding down to the floor, forgotten in his rush of overwhelming love for this man who had so misunderstood his reluctance. ‘Come to bed Adam. Please.’ The sheets were still warm from Adam’s body and the two men, as they had done countless times before, curled up, close, touching, caressing each other. Hands that had killed numerous enemies of the Earth, now gently stroked a face that was lined with more than care and worry, powerful limbs intertwined with arms that were weaker now, legs that were no longer able to run for miles, but as lips touched gently, hesitantly at first, as eyes met and they saw only enduring love, it was as if there were no years separating them anymore. And Paul, not with compassion or even with sympathy but with hunger, kissed the worn body that lay below him, kissed and caressed and cherished.
And afterwards, when passion and desire were spent, but love remained, they slept, secure and at peace in each other’s arms.
LtCdr. Nov. 2010