Here you'll find
This is a side-story to "Traces of Doubt" and contains a major SPOILER for its ending, so proceed at your own risk!
"Well done, Lindsey!"
He flashes a wide grin of thanks to the man who half-running past and giving him a thumbs up, then whirls around and continues on his way. No time to waste, he's in a hurry.
"You were in top form tonight, babe."
Dianne never gives praise unless it's truly deserved and Lindsey's heart skips a beat and his smile widens. Yes, he knows he's performed well tonight, but it's still great to hear it! There's no time to lose, though, so he rushes along the corridor to his dressing room.
Once there, he leans against the table for support while trying to do several things at once. Kick off the high-heeled shoes, of course they don't want to cooperate because there are those straps around his ankles. Slither out of the figure-hugging dress. Take off the earrings and somehow remove the fake eyelashes at the same time. But of course he gets entangled in the dress and has to sit down and start doing things one by one.
Clip-on nails. Earrings. Eyelashes. Dress. Padded underwear. Shoes. Makeup.
At last there's just Lindsey staring back from the mirror. Lindsey whose face has been scrubbed clean so that the few pale freckles sitting on that upright nose can be seen on fair skin, Lindsey who's nude save for the underpants and stockings, Lindsey who's slim and flat and leggy. It's time to get dressed now, he's got a date and he doesn't want to be late.
So he pulls on his tight miniskirt and top, steps into shoes that are only slightly lower than the ones he wears on stage, combs fingers through his hair. It's his pride, the hair, thick and orange-red and reaching down to the waist and below, and he smiles proudly as he tosses it over one shoulder.
One more look at his reflection, an approving grin at the pretty, red-haired thing with a perky face and spectacular legs. Yes, he looks good for his date. Better hurry.
Lindsey walks briskly out of 'Chez Maurice', the ever-fashionable restaurant famed for its drag shows and cuisine, and glances at the time. He doesn't want to make Hal wait. Hal is always punctual, comes spot on time and lets Lindsey know if there's the slightest delay or change of plans. He checks his comm; yes, Hal has left a message, they'll meet at ten when Lindsey is free.
He hurries to the agreed little café, settles down and waits. Orders a soft drink to pass the time.
Nearly three hours later he's still there, finally forced to believe that Hal isn't going to come after all. He's worried. There's been no call, no reply when he's tried to reach Hal. As he walks slowly home, his full lips pull into a concerned pout. What has happened?
"Just face it, Lin," Robbie says once again. "You've been fucked over."
Lindsey glowers at his friend over the half empty glass he's nursing in his hands, but Robbie just shrugs.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, Hal wouldn't do such a thing. But honestly, come on! How can you be so sure? How well do you actually know the guy? It's not as if you'd met that many times. You cannot know it for real."
Robbie is sprawled comfortably on Lindsey's sofa, arms crossed behind his head so that the thick, blond braid hangs over the armrest and almost down to the floor. He's barefoot and bare-chested, tight stretch trousers shimmering in the soft light.
It's late night, and even though the planetary timekeeping of Jainah ignores the comings and goings of the twin suns, the sky is now almost black and the lights of Trelissac city glimmer outside the high windows. The two aspiring drag artists haven't been performing tonight, and after the rehearsals they've holed themselves up in Lindsey's apartment, Robbie resolute to keep company to his best friend who seems to need it a lot these days.
Not even a couple of funny movies have been able to lift Lindsey's mood too much, but Robbie has tacitly made sure he's not drinking too much. Of course Lindsey wouldn't do that, and of course he's noticed what Robbie is doing, but it makes him feel warm inside to know that Robbie cares enough. At least somebody does.
"Maybe I cannot know it, but still I just do," Lindsey says stubbornly. "He's not like that. He wouldn't fuck me over."
"Come on, Lin!" Robbie groans. "Get real! You've met him, what, about ten times? You know next to nothing about him. A transport driver, coming to town every now and then... he might well have a steady partner, or a wife and a few kids, plus casual boyfriends and girlfriends everywhere he goes! I really think you ought to stop fretting about him."
"But I can't!" Lindsey insists. "Something must've happened. Hal wouldn't just drop me like that, not him. You don't know him, Robbie, but I do."
Robbie makes a face that Lindsey chooses not to see.
"Hal's special! For one thing, he's from off-planet and hasn't been on Jainah awfully long, so he simply couldn't have a string of others along the road. Besides, maybe I haven't been with him that long, but he's always so considerate and — and — treats me like I'm something special. Can't you see? It feels crazy to say something like this, but he's a real gentleman!"
"Okay. He's a gentleman from off-planet, and those never fuck anybody over. Right."
Robbie sits up and shakes his head. "Lin, you're my best friend, but I've got to say this anyway: sometimes, actually pretty often, you're far worse a girl than most girls I know."
"What do you mean by that?" Now Lindsey is outraged. "Look, I've spent whole days together with him, we've gone to parks and restaurants and malls, and I dare say I know him a great deal better than you seem to think!"
"I would understand a bit better if he were a real stud in bed," Robbie sneers. "But how was it again? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought you haven't even properly made out? Haven't even talked about sex, right?"
"I told you he's a gentleman!" Lindsey shoots back, indignant. "Not just somebody chasing my tail."
"I haven't noticed that that would've troubled you before," Robbie points out. "Lin, what the hell's the matter with you? You're behaving totally unlike yourself! All of a sudden you're all virginal, gushing about your oh so special Hal, and when he disappears without a word you're frantic! Surely you haven't fallen for the guy for real? I tell you what, let's go out one of these evenings and pick up somebody hot. You need to get laid."
"You're one to talk," Lindsey huffs. "Okay, it's a deal, provided that you won't try to find yet another Maurice-lookalike!"
At least Lindsey gets the tiny satisfaction of seeing his friend turn bright red. Robbie can't deny it. Ever since he developed a huge crush on their handsome, impressive boss, he's been getting increasingly picky with his dates. This isn't the first time when Lindsey gets the change to remark how funny it is that Robbie nowadays really seems to prefer the more mature type: well-dressed, well-mannered, of course dark-haired, perhaps even just a tad grayed. Robbie used to deny it vehemently, but by now he can't protest any more. The numbers speak for themselves.
"Lin," Robbie tries again, "maybe you've misunderstood something? Maybe he's just not interested any more?"
"He would've told me," Lindsey grumbles. "There was a message he'd left only a few hours earlier, saying that we'd meet that night at ten. He would've let me know he couldn't make it, but instead he just didn't show up! I tried to call him that night, and just guess how many times I've tried to reach him since? I've left messages, I've tried everything, but he doesn't reply. I think I'm entitled to be worried!"
"I think that for some reason he just doesn't want to keep in contact with you."
"No. Just... no. I can't believe that he'd do it just like that." Lindsey slumps in the armchair, a miserable bundle in a mini-length dress. He chews his lower lip. "Maybe there's been an accident. Or — he once said something that made me think he's involved with the rebels... maybe he can't see me anymore because they think he's somehow compromising them? Maybe 每"
"Lindsey Cavanagh!" Robbie throws his hands up in despair. "For fuck's sake, can't you get any more melodramatic? You know, a year ago I would've still bought that explanation, but not any more. Jainah is no more part of the Union, we're a free planet now, remember! Just accept it, Lin — you've been dumped."
"No! Something's happened to him, I'm sure of that. Hal wouldn't dump anyone just like that. Not Hal!"
Lindsey shakes his head, red hair spilling over his face to hide the eyes. He swallows, turns away, squeezes the glass tightly in both hands, and a sudden wave of regret and compassion washes over Robbie. He sighs.
"Lin, I'm sorry. Shouldn't talk like this when you're hurting." He pats the sofa. "Come over here, will you?"
"No," mutters an angry voice from the red shadow.
"Come on now!"
Robbie lurches forward across the space between the sofa and the armchair, grabs Lindsey's wrist and pulls him over. Lindsey curls up beside him, face still hidden behind his hair, and Robbie throws one arm around the slender figure.
He hugs Lin close and smiles as he thinks of all those times they've been out together. It would be easy to envy Lindsey the hunk-magnet, but the truth is that Robbie likes his best friend way too much to be jealous. In a way he's proud of the incredibly pretty Lindsey who cross-dresses 24/7 and has that gorgeous red mane and those endless legs he likes to show off. It must be foul weather indeed if Lindsey wears anything but the miniest of mini-length skirts. And even if guys are always falling over each other trying to hit on Lindsey, Robbie is not jealous. He gets enough attention himself and never has a problem getting the guy he fancies. Let Lin attract the prey, there's always quite a few guys among them who recover from their initial astonishment only to realize that the more obviously male Robbie would in fact be more to their tastes.
He feels a quick sting of regret but ignores it. Of course then there's the exception called Maurice Radysson. But everybody knows that the boss never gets involved with his employees, even if it is a public secret that he's been in love with more than just one of his stars. Thus Maurice is off-limits, he's a man Robbie mustn't even try to twist around his little finger, no matter how much he'd want to, and Robbie shakes the thought away.
Right now there's the question of Lindsey to concentrate on. Lindsey may say what he likes but Robbie is certain that this goddamn elusive Hal has fucked his friend over, and he's angry. No, scratch that, he's furious at the bastard who's dared to play his best friend, making him huddle into a heap like this and 每
"Lin, are you crying?"
"No I'm not!" The face remains obstinately hidden. Robbie respects Lin's privacy and doesn't try to dig him out, merely squeezes tighter. "And what do you care even if I was?"
"Hey, I said I'm sorry, all right?" Robbie's voice goes soft and low. "But look here, we both know there's not much you can do. You don't know where he lives, and if he doesn't call you or answer his comm, then you stand a pretty slim chance to reach him."
"I'm just so worried," Lin says, sounding teary. "He must've been in an accident or something. That's the only reason why he'd do something like this to me, never mind what you say."
Robbie can't help rolling his eyes but presses his chin on top of Lin's head just to make sure Lin doesn't see. He'd gladly say quite a few things but swallows most of them, because he doesn't want to hurt his friend any more.
Besides, he's puzzled. This is the first time when Lindsey behaves so silly. Usually he's quick enough to discard the guys, likes to find a new beau as soon as the novelty of the previous one has worn out, likes guys who drool all over him and doesn't hesitate to reward their attentions. But this is definitely different. No sex? No groping, even? Just a few kisses, holding hands, walking arm in arm, and Lin is completely head over ultra-high heels. This doesn't make any sense, but Robbie won't say it any more. He's said it, Lin hasn't taken it too well, so he decides to give up.
"Okay, honey, I guess you know it best," Robbie murmurs. "In any case, you know that — wha — what the fuck is that?"
The sound system has so far been playing music quietly in the background, but now it's emitting a most penetrating and persistent sound. They're both bolt upright on the sofa and just stare, but the wall screen remains blank.
"What's going on here?" Lindsey has gone pale. Before Robbie has time to say or do anything, the signal gives way to a voice.
"We regret having to use this power override option. The following is an urgent notice to everybody in Trelissac and its immediate vicinity: the planetary surveillance system has detected unidentified aircraft approaching major cities, including Trelissac. You are requested to switch off all lights, evacuate tall buildings immediately and seek shelter in underground facilities wherever available. Extensive power cuts are possible..."
Robbie has jumped on his feet and runs to the high windows, trying to peer at the murky sky. All he can see are the city lights that are beginning to go down here and there. Yes, windows are going black all over the city.
His head is spinning. This cannot be true. This can't be happening.
Lindsey is staring at him, eyes huge.
"What did you just say?" he whispers. "That we're a free planet? Well, if those are not hostile aircraft, then why are they headed towards the cities?"
"Let's discuss that later!" Robbie whirls around. "We need to get going, now! They said to evacuate tall buildings, and if Radysson Estates doesn't qualify for a tall building, then I don't know what does!"
But Lin is already on his feet, for once forgetting to pull the dress down even though it's hiked up so that most of his pert little ass, and underwear, can be seen.
"Let's go to the gym," he says frantically. "Quick, the stairs. Not the elevator, just in case the power goes off."
Robbie nods, he knows that if they get trapped inside the elevator, Lindsey will go crazy within minutes. They're not even halfway up the building, they'll reach the underground gym room in a few minutes
He grabs Lin's hand and they run out of the door, barely remembering to darken the apartment they leave behind.
The clothes on display look nice enough, but they scarcely get a second glance from Lindsey. His gaze skims half-heartedly over them and then he strolls on, heels clicking on shiny floor, a tiny purse clutched under one arm. Hundreds of other shoppers flow past him, some looking busy and determined, others relaxed and leisurely.
Lindsey is definitely one of the more leisurely crowd in this shopping arcade, but he's not going to buy anything. He's only here to pass the time. There's a show later tonight, now it's early afternoon and he's bored. Robbie is otherwise occupied with yet another tall, dark, handsomely grizzled guy wearing an immaculate business suit, Lindsey's other friends are working, and he doesn't want to be alone. So he's in town, where he's at least surrounded by people until it's time to go to 'Chez Maurice' and start getting ready for his performance.
Not that he's much in the mood for this, not really. It's been a few days since the surprise attack of the Ziroshel Union aircraft, and he's not the only one whose glance keeps flickering up at the slightest unusual sound. He doesn't look quite as ready to bolt as some others, but he's definitely feeling on edge.
Trelissac hasn't suffered much — in fact surprisingly little. Mostly it's just material damage, a few people have been injured, but that's all. Even the spaceport, the obvious target of the attack, is still fully operational. Lindsey and Robbie and quite a few others have heard the City Air Defense in action, but what they've seen has all come from the news broadcasts. They've been staring at the clips over and over again, cringing yet transfixed by the flashes of light and the distant explosions.
All in all, the city looks defiantly normal. People walk with heads held high, and if there are any Union sympathizers around, they sure know better than to air their opinions. Lindsey, for one, wouldn't hesitate to let such idiots hear a piece of his mind, should he encounter any. He's not argumentative by nature, on the contrary, but he'd probably feel better if he could vent a little.
If he's been upset about Hal prior to the attack, now he's nearly obsessed with the thought. He can't shake the feeling that something's terribly wrong, that something horrid must have happened, and the more he thinks about it the more certain he is that Hal is indeed one of the rebels who have fought for years against the Union. The former rebels are now holding the military bases of Jainah, and therefore Hal must be in there, too. The news say that the bases have suffered 'minor damage' during the attack. What does that mean? Is Hal still alive?
Lindsey cannot properly explain, even to himself, why he's so fixated on the man. Hal's earlier obvious infatuation and restrained behavior and then his mysterious disappearance are a combination that just won't leave Lindsey alone. Robbie cannot understand it but Lin can't really blame him. He's hard put to understand himself.
He stops and looks around in the arcade, trying to decide where to go and sit down. He's not hungry but he could definitely use a coffee, and there are too many places to choose from, including the several that serve just wonderful special coffees. Lindsey frowns, chews his lower lip, and for a moment it doesn't even register that his comm is alerting. Then he digs it from his purse and it just about to reply when it sinks home.
Hal. It's Hal calling — or at least Hal's comm.
Several people turn to look as he runs to a corner and huddles protectively around the thing he's clutching in both trembling hands.
"Hal? Hal, is that you?"
For a moment there's just silence. Lindsey closes his eyes and stops breathing in a desperate effort to close out everything else and focus on listening. Then he hears the voice, that familiar low voice, oddly hesitant.
"Yeah, it's me."
"Hal!" Relief and longing well up inside Lindsey, and for a moment he's sure he'll burst at the seams. "Oh my god, Hal, are you all right? What's happened? Where are you? Is everything okay?"
"There's nothing wrong with me," Hal says, still sounding reluctant, then his voice changes and is suddenly full of concern. "Lin, what is it? Are you crying?"
"No," Lin shakes his head and hiccups with laughter, but when he touches his face the fingers get wet. "No I'm not, oh Hal, I've been so worried! I thought there's been some accident when you didn't come after all, but, oh, thank goodness you're all right! I thought you're dead, or something..."
"Lin, please forgive me. It was really — I should've called, or left a message, or something." Now Hal is contrite. "I'm sorry for making you worry so much, I really am."
"It's all right, Hal, it's all right," Lindsey repeats over and again, tripping on words, clinging to the mantra, because it's dawning on him with frightening clarity that Hal hasn't said a word about coming to town. He feels like he's sinking, going cold inside, and he prays for the word that still doesn't come. What if Hal just hangs up now? What if he won't ask? Should he ask, plead, beg?
Lindsey leans against the pillar and presses his temple against it. Waits.
"Look, Lindsey, there's... we need to talk."
Lindsey's heart stops. He tries to speak but no words come out, he nods and then curses himself. As if Hal could see it.
"Sure," he whispers after swallowing several times. "Now?"
"No. No. We, uh, could we meet sometime?"
"Any time, Hal. When are you next coming to Trelissac?"
"In about one and a half weeks," Hal says and there's relief in his voice. "I'll let you know when I know exactly, okay?"
When Hal hangs up, Lindsey sags. He feels like an empty shell, nothing left inside to keep him upright, nothing to buoy him. He slips the comm back into the purse with numb fingers and turns to go. There's a show later tonight and he must start preparing. Must start getting ready. But...
No explanation. Not a single endearment. Not a hint of longing, no 'missed you'. Lindsey swallows the tears that are waiting to overwhelm him and heads towards the exit, chin defiantly high, never mind that his eyes probably glitter a little too much.
Lindsey jumps up for what must be the fiftieth time in less than half an hour, then goes to check the dinner he's got delivered some time ago. It's waiting and in perfect order, so he has no choice but to sit down once more. He's done enough hovering about, he's tired of it and besides, it doesn't make the time pass any more quickly.
He's on pins and needles. Hal has called earlier, a quick message to say he'll be coming by eight as agreed, and it's now about half past seven. Hal will come, he's promised to, that's what Lindsey keeps telling himself as he watches the seconds creep past. One by one they go, oh so slowly, so damned slowly, and 每
That was the door chiming. Lindsey is on his feet before the echo has properly faded.
Then he stops. The security system at the door has recognized Hal and let him in, but to Lindsey the man looks somehow different. He's tall and square and dark and angular all right, Lindsey's whole body aches for a kiss, but his legs won't move.
Hal looks at him and forces a smile. "Hi, Lin," he says.
"Hal." Lindsey swallows. "Oh Hal... please, do come in."
Isn't this the moment he's been waiting for? To see Hal and hug him, to drape himself all over the man and breathe in his scent? Yes, but something's holding him back. He doesn't know what exactly it is but it scares him, because it's something in Hal.
"Thanks." Hal places a bag by the wall, follows Lindsey to the living room and sits down, awkward and hesitant. He chooses an armchair, and Lindsey settles on the edge of the sofa since he can't sit next to Hal. He's completely at a loss. What's wrong? Something whispers to him that Hal has come to say goodbye, but he doesn't understand anything. What has happened? What is this?
The questions refuse to come out, though. They would only bring the end nearer.
"Lin..." Hal is practically squirming. "I'm sorry for disappearing the way I did, back then, but 每"
"You don't have to explain," Lindsey says. Hal shakes his head.
"But I do, Lin. Please listen." He laces his fingers together. The knuckles turn white and Lindsey looks at those big hands because Hal is pointedly not looking at him and he doesn't want to see it.
"I 每" Hal begins again, takes a deep breath, shifts uncomfortably. "Uh, remember that night when we were supposed to meet at 'Black & Silver', a few weeks ago?"
Lindsey could tell Hal exactly how long ago it was, almost to the hour, but he shuts up and just nods. Hal clears his throat.
"Well, I was off duty for a few hours that night, and because we'd agreed to meet only later, I went somewhere to pass the time. That is, a friend had given me a ticket to a show at — at 'Chez Maurice'."
Lindsey's eyes go wide. "You — so you were there? To see the show?"
"Yes. Yes I was." Hal's breathing hard but Lindsey smiles broadly.
"You came to see the show that night!" The very show where he'd done so well, and Hal had been there to see it! "That's so cool!"
Then he pauses and frowns. "But what happened then? You didn't come to 'Black & Silver'."
Hal shakes his head, still avoiding Lindsey's eyes.
"No. I — no. Lin, I'm sorry about that, I really am, but I just couldn't come, couldn't see you then. I'm sorry."
"Why?" Lindsey presses on. He's completely nonplussed. "I don't understand!"
"Lindsey!" Hal stands up abruptly and stalks to the high windows, shoulders squared. "Lin, the thing is that up until that evening I had thought that you're... that you're my girlfriend."
"What?" Lindsey gapes, bursts into laughter, but soon the chuckle sticks to his throat. "Hal, wha每 what do you mean?"
"Sure, laugh on," Hal says in a strangled voice, stubbornly staring out of the window. "I know I'm a bloody fool, but I really thought you're a girl."
Lindsey sits down and squeezes his hands between knees to stop the shaking. "I don't understand."
"Don't you?" Hal spins around, eyes blazing. "Don't you really? Just look at yourself — your hair, your face, your clothes. Especially your clothes. Those miniskirts and makeup. Can you really blame me for thinking you're a girl? Isn't that what you want, to fool guys into believing so?"
Lindsey just stares. That's all he can do, his head is so empty that all he can hear is the whistling in his ears. Hal huffs and turns away once more.
"Can you imagine how I felt when you strutted onto the stage and I discovered that my pretty girlfriend, my darling Lin, is really a guy — a drag artist? That you'd made a complete fool of me?"
Lindsey's whole face is numb, his lips don't want to move but he forces the words out. "Hal, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It never occurred to me that you might not realize, that... The way I dress, where I live, all that... I never imagined that you might not pick up the clues. I swear I didn't mean to deceive you!"
"Yeah, I guess you're just so used to dealing with people who've lived all their lives in Trelissac." Hal sounds tired. "I told you I'm from off-planet, didn't I? That I've only been here for a short time? That life is very much different where I come from?"
"I'm sorry, Hal, please forgive me!" Lindsey buries his face in hands. "I swear I didn't mean to fool anyone! All right, I always cross-dress, but that's the way I am! The way I want to be! I didn't come to think..."
"I do believe you," Hal says heavily. "I suppose anyone else could've put two and two together, and at least they would've known you're Maurice's employee when they heard that you live in Radysson Estates... but the fact is I had no clue. Anyway. That's why I didn't come to meet you then. I wasn't going to ever see you again, but in the end I had to come and talk things through. I felt so rotten, knowing that you'd no idea about why I'd vanished."
If only he could sit down and howl, Lindsey thinks dully. That might help at least some, to yell as long and as loud as he can. But Hal is there, looking at him.
"I appreciate that," he says with difficulty. "It's good that I know and get to apologize. I mean it. I haven't lied to you, not a single time, I swear it."
"Lindsey..." Hal bangs a fist against the wall. "Goddamnit, the worst part of it is that — that I'd grown to really care for you! I just can't stop thinking of you, missing you, wanting to hear your voice and to see you, although I know now that you're not who I thought you were!"
"But I am!" Lindsey jumps up, his temper flaring. "Hal, what did I just say? I haven't lied to you, ever! I'm me, this is who I am, and what you know of me is all true, except that I'm a guy and not a girl!"
"Oh, don't you get it by now, Lin? I'm not gay!"
Hal takes a step back and Lindsey stops, tries to get his breathing under control. "All right, so I may basically know you, but — but — for goodness' sake, you're not a girl!"
"So?" Lindsey shouts. "That hasn't prevented us from having a good time together, has it? Kissing me hasn't tasted bad, has it? Holding my hand and dancing with me hasn't made you feel sick, has it?"
"No," Hal admits hoarsely, deflated all of a sudden. He swallows, looks away. "I thought this'd be easier when I see you face to face, but even now I can't really believe it. I mean, you're so pretty... so 每"
Hal's hand rises as if in a daze and Lindsey hates himself but he can't help pressing into the gentle touch on his cheek.
"Tell me it's not true," Hal says quietly. "Tell me there's been some silly mistake, that 每"
"No!" Lindsey's jaw clenches as he stifles a sob. "Okay, there's been a mistake but not the one you want! I'm Lindsey Lionel Cavanagh, drag artist at 'Chez Maurice', I'm a guy, and — and I'm in love with you. And I do understand if you hate me now."
"If only," Hal murmurs, hand still cupping Lindsey's face. "If only I could."
His gaze is dreamy and Lindsey shakes his head, fighting the tears that threaten to well up.
"Goddamn it, Hal, stop that!" he shouts. "Yeah, I'm Lindsey, no, I'm not a girl. So stop looking at me like I was one!"
"I can't help it!" Hal almost bolts away. "Don't you think I've been trying? I've hardly thought of anything else! And still, last week when I was in Mabion and saw this lovely jacket in a shop, I..."
He swallows, turns, goes to the door. Lindsey just stands there mutely, gasping, refusing to believe that this is it now. This is the end.
Then Hal reemerges once more, holding a parcel in both hands.
"I couldn't help myself," he mutters. "I — I hope it fits."
Lindsey's hands shake so much that the parcel nearly falls on the floor before he manages to unwrap it. Inside it is something turquoise-green with a velvety sheen. He lifts it up, marvels the waist-long jacket with slightly puffed, three-quarter length sleeves and an intricate pattern of matching sequins meandering along the edges. It's beautiful, there's no way he could not try it on, and it's a perfect fit. Lindsey can feel the way it snugly matches his body like a glove, and he can see his reflection in the window. Against the dazzling color his red hair shines like a flame.
"It's beautiful," he says, and when Hal just looks at him with a hard-to-define expression on his face, Lindsey wraps his arms around the man's neck and kisses him. Squarely on the mouth. Never mind if Hal now hits him, he thinks, he's not going to be sorry for this kiss.
Lindsey closes his eyes when Hal's big hands descend on his waist. He expects to be shoved away, thrown to the wall, but instead the hold tightens and the kiss deepens.
It's so tempting to give in now, stop thinking and lose himself into the kiss, but that's when his pride kicks in.
"Hal!" He pushes the man away, keeps him at an arm's length and leans back because Hal is still holding him tight by the waist. "Didn't you say you're not gay? Then why are you kissing me? Does this perhaps mean you still can't believe? Well, I'm not going to let you deceive yourself any further!"
He struggles free and practically runs to the hall.
"Lin, what're you doing?" Hal follows him to the living-room door. "Lin?"
"Making sure you won't slip away too soon." Lindsey turns away from the door security panel. "It's locked now, so don't even try."
"But what are 每"
"Wait. Sit down and wait."
"Lindsey, I don't 每"
"I told you to wait!"
The bathroom door clicks shut. For a few moments Lindsey leans his back against it, heart beating so hard it hurts, panting. Then he steps closer to the mirror and looks at himself, really looks this time. Sees the face, pale skin and narrow nose, big green eyes and full mouth, the freckles and ample hair. And the makeup. And the large loop earrings.
No, if he's quite honest it's not at all inconceivable that someone would take him for a girl. Hasn't he always been happy to be pretty, just a little too pretty for a boy, with a face that goes so well with the female clothes he prefers to wear? But now it's bitten him in the ass, so he's going to make sure that there'll be no more doubts or what ifs on either side. That's why the earrings will have to go, as well as the other jewelry, and makeup, and clothes. Everything that's so far pulled wool over Hal's eyes must go.
It doesn't take long before Lindsey is looking at his naked self in the mirror. What he sees doesn't look too bad in his own eyes. A slender and fine-boned body, skin with an ivory tint to it, a few freckles scattered on the arms and shoulders. Wavy hair, luxurious as ever, reaching down in the back to tickle his buttocks. Eyebrows crunch into a frown, the mouth presses into a tight line, as he studies his reflection critically.
The underpants, tiny as they are, can stay on. They hardly leave anything to imagination anyway. Lindsey grabs the bathrobe and wraps it around his narrow shoulders, shivering. He's cold.
The carpet is soft under his bare feet. There's barely a sound as he pads out of the bathroom, touches the door panel in passing and takes a deep breath. Hal is still standing by the window and looking out, but when he sees Lindsey's reflection he turns, eyes going wide.
"Lin, what are you doing?"
"What must be done."
Lindsey walks slowly closer, fingers clutching the robe. Funny how difficult it is to keep his teeth from chattering, but the fact is that he's freezing inside. "I need to make you see me, not just something you've imagined."
"Lin!" Hal's face reddens and he turns away but Lindsey tosses the bathrobe on the floor and moves to face him.
"Look at me, Haldor," he demands, then more sharply: "Look at me!"
Hal looks. His dark gaze roams along the slim body, not very masculine and yet definitely not quite feminine either. Narrow hips, smoothly muscled thighs. Flat chest. Long-fingered hands, elegant for a man and but just a tad large for a woman. The bulge of the sex, covered but not really hidden by the minimalistic underwear Lindsey likes. Lindsey can easily follow that gaze as it takes in one detail after another and finally turns away, thoroughly embarrassed.
"Do you now believe?" he asks throatily.
Hal sighs; it's almost a moan.
"Yes," he whispers, "yes, I do believe now."
Lindsey has no idea what time it is, but he doesn't really care. He's cold but doesn't care about that, either. Quite frankly he doesn't much care about anything right now.
It's probably getting rather late because he's so tired, but that's not necessarily anything to go by. He's completely empty and drained and dull. How many hours has he been just sitting here, huddled inside his bathrobe on the sofa? How long since Hal stared at him blindly, with dilated eyes, then turned around and rushed away?
If you need me just call me any time, that's what Robbie has told him. Robbie is a friend, but Lindsey is not going to call him, not now, not yet. He needs to put himself together first, pick up the pieces and decide what this is and how the hell it has happened. He's aching inside because Hal is gone for good, and now he fully realizes that he's gone and fallen hard. For Haldor Leboyer who isn't even gay, Hal who's thought he's a girl, Hal who's now gone and probably hates Lindsey, or despises him, or both. Whatever.
He feels horrible. Drained, hopeless, utterly crushed. If only he could feel bad for himself, but no. He's betrayed Hal without meaning to, without even realizing it. He's disappointed Hal, let him down, and that's a feeling Lindsey is all too familiar with. All the friends he's made and the success he's had at 'Chez Maurice' pales in comparison to the knowledge that he's failed yet another person who means a lot to him.
Lindsey, pretty Lindsey, can't fight the nagging feeling that creeps back to haunt him. He's pushed the memories away, but at moments like this they see their chance to crawl out and he remembers his family. They've liked to watch drag shows as much as anyone on Jainah, but to have a son who wears makeup to school at twelve? To have a little brother who at fourteen declares that he'll be a drag queen? That's been too much of an embarrassment. Gay, well, that's nothing to get upset about — but the cross-dressing! Why did Lindsey have to make himself so conspicuous, as if it wasn't enough that he's pretty as a girl and had been growing his hair since well before he was ten? Why couldn't he be a bit more like the others?
Lindsey wishes he could cry, but it just won't happen. He's too hollow and sore for tears, so he pulls the bathrobe tighter and presses his closed eyes with the heels of his hands hard enough to see stars. Hal's words burn inside him. No change of clothes will turn him into what Hal wants, and that knowledge hurts. It hurts even worse to know that this whole mess is entirely his fault.
His head jerks up at the quiet chime. The door? Has Robbie been out and is now dying to tell the latest news to his friend? Well, Lindsey is not in the mood to listen! Irritably he unfolds himself from the sofa and goes to the door, but there his resentment dissolves into surprise.
Lindsey has seldom seen anything more bizarre. The man is dripping wet, droplets glisten on his clothes and water has made his short, coarse hair spiky. His face is wet as well, and there's a slowly growing puddle around his feet as he merely stands there, looking at Lindsey from beneath his dark eyebrows.
"I'm sorry, " he says hoarsely. "I 每"
"You've been outside?" Lindsey can't do anything except state the obvious. Hal sighs.
"Sitting in the park. On a bench." He rakes fingers through his hair, then shakes his hand and sprays tiny droplets around. "People were giving me odd looks."
Lindsey blinks. "You're crazy."
"Yes," Hal says. "I am."
"You'll get ill," Lindsey realizes, hugs the bathrobe tighter, tries to think. Never mind how he feels, he can't turn Hal out just like that. "Take a hot shower and put your clothes into the dryer."
"In a moment," Hal says and steps closer. "There's something else I need to do first."
His fingers are freezing cold and Lindsey shivers when they touch his cheek.
"Don't," he whispers.
"Please," Hal says. "I was going to go, but I had to do some thinking first and that's why I went to the park. It didn't rain when I went there, honestly it didn't, and I didn't notice when it started because I was thinking too hard. Anyway, Lin, I — it's totally crazy, I mean, I know that you're a boy, I know it now. I'm not imagining you as a girl, you were right, that was the only thing you could do to make me believe, doing — doing what you did. Before I left, I mean."
He's breathing harder, words tripping over each other in a rush. "But as I sat thinking, I realized that it hasn't mattered what you are. That we've had such a good time, such fun together, we've talked and you're right, I'm sorry for saying such things. I know you, the real you, it hasn't meant a thing whether you're a guy or a girl. I do care for you, Lin, I care for you so much. I'm sorry for hurting you the way I did. I want us to go on being friends. Please. It's been so wonderful and I don't want it to end just like that."
The torrent of words washes over Lindsey and at first he lets himself just float along, dizzy for sheer relief. Hal doesn't hate him after all. Hal still wants to be friends. Then something else begins to force its way through to the surface until he's shaking his head and grabbing Hal's arms tight, almost as tight as Hal is holding his.
"Listen to me," he says, and then louder: "Haldor!"
The man falls silent, looks questioning. "What is it?"
"I 每" Lindsey realizes that he doesn't in fact know what he's going to say and therefore has to fumble for each word. "Hal, I'm glad you don't hate me after all. I really am. But... I'm not sure if I can be friends with you, at least not quite yet. You see, I meant what I said earlier. I've fallen in love with you, and right now it hurts a bit too much to see you and know it's all been a mistake. I'm so goddamn sorry for it, nobody could be more sorry than I am, and — and I'd like to have some time to lick my wounds, Hal. I hope 每"
That's as far as he gets before muscular arms wrap around him and press him against a broad, wet chest.
"Lin..." The low murmur into his ear makes the hairs on his nape stand up. "I don't want you to hurt, Lin baby."
Welcome to Bizzarro Universe...
Queen Dianne's voice rings in Lindsey's ears as he closes his eyes and tries to breathe. Hal is holding him, tight but gentle, one arm around his shoulders, the fingers of the other hand splayed possessively on the back of his waist. Lindsey feels the warm breath on the side of his neck. He shakes himself and looks up.
"It hasn't mattered so far," Hal repeats quietly. "I'm not gay, but I think I've fallen in love with you anyway."
He bows down to kiss Lindsey, just like he's done a few times before, when they've been out together. Lindsey loves those kisses, because they are so gentle and yet so passionate. Hal never forces his way, it's as if he's always asking for permission to go further. Such a gentleman.
Is that perhaps the trick, the difference? That he's been treating Lindsey like he'd treat a girl? But that's a fruitless consideration because Hal is not gay, he's from off-planet where many things are very different, and that's the only way he'd have courted anyone. Besides, whatever the reason, the way he's holding Lindsey now and kissing him, it feels so good. At least he doesn't seem to have any problem kissing Lindsey in that way once again.
Lindsey blinks and looks at his own hand that is caressing Hal's face, looks at the man's smile, feels the heat in his own body.
Oh for heaven's sake.
"Hal." Lindsey braces himself. "If you're not gay, I'm assuming that you've never had sex with a guy, right?"
"Lin, please!" Hal flushes red but Lindsey stops him from turning his head away.
"No, Hal, this is important," he says firmly. "I'm in love with you, in the way that I'll be wanting to have sex with you at some point. And you're not making things any easier for me, if you insist on calling me baby and kissing me and holding me like this!"
He presses a finger on Hal's lips. "You say that you aren't gay, but you know what? There's something in the way you're holding me right now, something that makes me think we're not going to be just kissing and holding hands forever. And the longer we go on like this, the more broken I'm going to be if we one day find out that the sex part just doesn't work out after all. That's why I'd like to know, right now, if there's any chance we can make this work or not."
Hal is embarrassed beyond words, but Lindsey is not going to take no for an answer.
"You've had sex with a woman before, haven't you?" he presses on and gets a very reluctant nod. "Well, then you have at least something to compare this to."
"Lin..." Hal protests but follows anyway when Lindsey takes his hand and walks him to the bedroom. The shower can wait, Hal will be warm enough without one, he decides as he stops and turns to face the man.
"Hal, just relax." Lindsey's heart is hammering almost loud enough to drown his words as he licks his lips and lets the bathrobe fall into a heap on the floor. "Give me this one chance. I want to do it with you."
Lindsey likes quick, rough sex, being taken against a wall in a frenzy, partners who want him too badly to have time for undressing, but now he wants to be naked and in bed. No secrets, no distractions. Just him and Hal. His narrow fingers undo the fastenings on the man's clothes and push the already drying fabric away from broad shoulders, breath hitching as more and more of the muscular body and milk-coffee colored skin is revealed.
Hal just stands and waits while Lindsey undresses him, waiting for the permission to do something. His cock is thick and semi-hard as Lindsey pulls down his trousers and underwear to reveal it, it twitches in shame at being so exposed, and then Lindsey knows exactly what he's going to do.
Hal doesn't protest as he's led by the hand to the bed. Lindsey pushes him down on it and smiles down at him.
"You're handsome, Hal, did you know that?" he whispers and lets a hand roam along that strong body. Hal is trembling under his palm and Lindsey enjoys it. Never mind how embarrassed Hal is, he's actually enjoying this, and his erection is getting fuller by the moment.
Lindsey's hands rub the quivering belly, squeeze the bump of hipbone, then glide to Hal's thighs and feel the soft skin on the inside. So close they are, for a while just teasing, until Lindsey doesn't want to wait any more. He touches Hal's cock, fingertips ghosting along, weighs the man's balls on his cupped palm and hears the groan.
"You like my hair, don't you?" Lindsey purrs and lets the long red tresses sweep Hal's body from chest to stomach to thighs. Yes, he knows that it tickles. He repeats the motion and Hal claws the duvet, a slight sheen of sweat emerging on his face.
That cock. It's just too gorgeous and inviting not to be tasted, and he's been going to taste it all along. Now he bends closer and blows, grins to see it twitch, then very gently licks it.
The reaction surprises him. He's ready to bet that Hal has never had a blowjob before, and that makes Lindsey smirk, pleased. He's been told more than once that he gives wickedly good head, so he gives Hal a sample. And boy, does it make him go crazy... Lindsey almost pities Hal as he sees and feels and hears how the man responds to every little lick and poke and swirl of his tongue. No, most definitely nobody's ever done this to Haldor before.
The only problem now is that Lindsey himself is getting hornier by the moment. He closes his eyes and sucks harder, imagines how that thick veined thing would feel inside him. Gliding in and out, deeper with every thrust... he moans under his breath, Hal shudders underneath him, and suddenly Lindsey's mad, really mad. This may be the only time when he gets to have sex with Hal — and he's going to let the man have all the fun? No way!
Lindsey pulls back and squirms out of his tiny underwear, grabs the lube he knows to be under the pillow. Hal's eyes open to half-mast, they glitter as if with fever and his eyebrows knit as he watches Lindsey. Lindsey's eyes roll back as he flexes and lets a slippery finger glide in, prepares himself, tries to stay grounded enough to do what he's set out to do. Although what that is, he's not quite clear about it any more — to pleasure Hal? To show him what he'll be missing once he walks out of the door for good? To get fucked into the mattress?
Hal groans when Lindsey's lubed palm closes around his erect cock and strokes it, then just stops.
"Lin," he moans, reaches to grab Lindsey, kisses him with lips and tongue and teeth, holds him tight. He's so much stronger and heavier, but Lindsey knows what he wants and has no trouble squirming around in Hal's clutching arms so that he can rock his butt against the man. Yes, he knows what he wants and usually he also gets it. His hand is right where it's needed to guide Hal, he pushes back into the thick, blunt thing that twitches in his grip. It's big all right but not too big, this isn't Lindsey's first time and he's greedy, he wants it in, all of it, harder, and at every thrust he tells Hal so.
When Hal's fingers dig into his hips and the man collapses on top of him with a grunt, Lindsey can only moan into the pillow. He's exhausted, spent, ecstatic, incoherent, and totally devastated. Isn't he feeling good? Sure, never more satisfied, but at the same time he can't help thinking of this as a farewell. He refuses to sob, though. He's not going to spoil this by crying.
"Lin." Hal's hand is gentle but determined as it pushes between Lindsey's cheek and the pillow and turns his head. Lindsey blinks at the dark, questioning eyes so close to his own. "Did I — did I hurt you?"
"What? Oh... no, no, you didn't. Absolutely not!"
Lindsey turns, is about to throw his arms around Hal's neck but hesitates when the whole crazy situation again hits him with full force. Instead he rakes his fingers through rough, short, black hair that is still a little wet, though not just of rain any more. He wants to say something else too, but his throat goes tight.
"Lindsey," Hal whispers and pulls him close, lips tickling his ear. "Lin, this is — goddamnit, I wish I knew what to say!"
"You don't need to say anything, Hal," Lindsey manages under his breath.
"Yes I do. I want to — but I don't know how to say it."
"Wait," Lindsey says. He's tired and feels like crying, but he'll be damned if he does that now. "Please don't say it now, Hal, whatever it is. Let's — let's just have a shower now, okay?"
To his astonishment Hal merely nods, then crawls up from the bed and follows him into the bathroom.
He's even more astonished when he steps into the shower and feels the tall, solid body behind him. Lindsey tilts his head back, eyes closed, raises his face into the flow of hot water. Droplets bounce from the shoulders of the man standing so close to him and hit his fair skin, and he can't help leaning back against Hal, just a little.
Hands grip him gently by the waist. He feels the light, wet brush of lips on the tender skin just below his left ear. It makes him shiver, it makes his mind whirl, but now is not the time to ask anything. This is something Hal must sort out on his own, and whatever he decides, Lindsey will just have to accept.
"Lin," Hal says softly into the red mane that is getting wetter and heavier by the moment under the spray. "You're the most beautiful person I've ever met."
But maybe, just maybe Lindsey still dares hope for a miracle.