RR #35: Stripping Bare

Miles Sutherland, Carter (Gil) Gillespie

___________________________________________________

5th February, Rapatoka Island

But unless we start somewhere, we can kiss any future we have together goodbye right now….

Gil’s challenge rattled around in Miles brain. No, he wasn’t ready to kiss any future with the young man goodbye, not by a long shot. Gil wanted an explanation for his actions, his desertion, but where should he start? Usually his treasured memories, stored as vivid pictures and sounds, were too painful to put into words, but tonight Miles found his sentences formed easily, almost as if those experiences belonged to another person. Perhaps the cool onshore breeze and the gentle lapping of the wind-driven waves helped soothe his soul, or maybe it was just the calm presence of Gil, sitting beside him on the table overlooking the lagoon.

Taking a deep breath, he told Gil everything. It all spilled out, about how he met Darren at an island just like this when they were teenagers, how even though they lived in different countries, they virtually grew up together, meeting annually during shared family vacations, and corresponding via letters and then later emails, sharing every thought, every dream.

Gil winced when Miles described how he and Darren had their first sexual encounter together in a place just like Mystery Island. “No wonder you reacted when that Pierce woman gave us the last owner’s holiday brochure.” That feels like such a long time ago, Gil thought wearily. “The memories that provoked must have made coming here really difficult.” Oh, Miles, what did I do to you?

“Yeah, that’s why I refused at first.” Miles turned back to face Gil, “I wouldn’t have come at all… if it hadn’t been for you.” You always call me out for running away from things, Miles thought. The irony wasn’t lost on him. “Even though at that stage I wasn’t sure how you felt about me.” Miles paused before he added. “Not that I know any better now. I just wanted to be with you, but I got cold feet, ‘specially when I saw you kiss that policeman, and then Lyle was all over you like a rash….”

“Actually Lance kissed me, not the other way around,” Gil interrupted. “That Sheriff was a little…pushy? Nice arse but you have to be careful with coppers. They own handcuffs…” His attempt at levity was met with a smile. Gil was once more struck by how handsome Miles was when he smiled. On the surface he might appear a little rough round the edges–Gil had little difficulty in seeing Miles propping up an outback township bar–but beneath the rough exterior Gil saw an integrity and compassion that shone through.

Miles didn’t blame the cop for wanting to kiss Gil. He was finding it difficult to resist the urge now. As for the reference to ‘cuffs; he’d store that idea away for later. That’s if there was going to be a later for the two of them. “By the time I got here, though, even my petty jealousies paled into insignificance against the overwhelming feeling that Darren would appear any minute.” Miles reached out and took hold of Gil’s hand, the uninjured one. “I’m sorry.” As apologies and explanations went, it sounded terribly inadequate, but if he went into any more details, he’d probably end up a blubbering mess. Even now he was having a problem holding everything back. While Gil’s life had been in danger, he could concentrate on the young man’s health and well-being and forget about him as a person or as a lover, but now, looking at the hurt in Gil’s face, he couldn’t ignore him any more.

“I think you can forget Lance. If we were still at Haven Falls, I might have been tempted, but I doubt I’ll ever lay eyes on him again. But Lyle is special,” Gil paused wondering how best to explain how he felt about his transgendered friend. He wanted Miles to understand about Lyle but even though Miles was a doctor, and Gil trusted him implicitly, he would not break confidences. It was up to Lyle to reveal all, if he wanted to. “Miles, he’s a nice…a nice guy. I had my reasons there. Still do.” Gil grinned. “But… he’s not the one… We didn’t make any promises, honestly. I couldn’t, but I count him as a friend. I hope he still does the same with me, but that’s where it stops.”

The one…. Miles stiffened and released Gil’s hand, turning back to stare at the dark water. For Miles, there had only ever been one man, Darren. They might have enjoyed looking and wondering what it might be like having sex with other men, but that would always be as a threesome. In the end they hadn’t bothered because they were so wrapped up in each other; they didn’t have room for anyone else.

Gil’s soft voice continued. “I’m not unaware how I might seem to you… after all, Haven was a playground. I do promise you, I was careful, very careful. But I split with the only man I’d ever had a relationship with before I left home, and I was experimenting, footloose. Yet, I accused you of running away, and then realised I was doing the self same thing where Simon was concerned. The man was a pedantic bastard who used me. So… I guess I went a bit OTT.”

Realistically, Miles knew Gil had other lovers, but the mention of a name made the man seem real somehow. A growl threatened to roll out of Miles’ chest at the thought of anyone hurting Gil. “Maybe there was a degree of jealousy involved on my part. Wishing I could have that sort of relationship with other guys. Light hearted… fun.” Miles stood and walked a couple of steps towards the beach before turning back again. “To be frank, I haven’t really paid much attention to Lyle. All I saw was a pretty boy who took your eye. All I remember is that the kiss at the night club opening made me want to bash his head in. But, hey, that’s me.” Miles shrugged. “An over-intense possessive Aussie bastard. Flynn calls me Sad Max. The name probably fits.”

“Flynn has a strange brain. I think that head trauma didn’t help.” Gil smiled.

“Flynn gave me that nickname long before his fight with the little lamented undertaker!” Miles wiped his hands down the sides of his native skirt. “I suppose I owe you another apology for being jealous.” Shit, if only this sulu had pockets in it; he wanted to bury his hands away, hide them so Gil couldn’t see how much they were shaking. “I’ll back off. Sorry for coming on so strong.” Gil’s brows drew together at that.

“Have I given you the impression that… well, that your attentions aren’t welcome?” Gil was a little lost; it was as if Miles hadn’t been listening. “I was trying to explain that I might have come across as a bit shallow… I mean, I was playing the field. No one could blame you if you thought I just saw you as another quick shag… ”

“I wasn’t sure how you felt about me. You pushed me back a couple of minutes ago when I tried to kiss you.”

“Because I needed to tell you…” Gil took a deep breath and slowly let it out again. “Miles, I don’t feel that way about you. If you want to keep it casual, then fine. I thought maybe because of Darren, you know, you might not want….”

Miles interrupted him. “My problem was more that I felt guilty for feeling so strongly towards you. I felt like I was betraying him, his memory.” Miles stepped closer so he stood right in front of Gil. Their eyes were level, and even though no part of their bodies touched, heat seemed to join them together. He shook his head and shakily traced his finger along the edge of Gil’s jaw. “The trouble with me is that I don’t do casual. Sometimes wish I could.”

“I thought you couldn’t move past what happened. Darren said you needed to stop blaming yourself… but I saw all your photos. I wondered how the hell I could ever compare with him? You two were together for so long…”

“What photos?” Miles hand fell nervelessly at his side. “Oh, you mean all the ones on the mantle back at Haven Falls?” He gave a guilty start at Gil’s nod. After Darren’s death, Miles had spent ages staring at them, trying to supplant in his memory the image of his AIDS ravaged lover with Darren as he was before he became infected with HIV. How long would he be able to do that without the reminder? Miles sighed. The photos were probably lost now or packed away in some Federal agency store room. “Maybe it’s just as well they were left behind. I should move on.”

Miles stared into the dark behind Gil’s shoulder, almost as if he was searching for something. Conflicting emotions crossed the doctor’s face and Gil watched him warily, uncertain what conclusions the man was drawing behind those green eyes. At that moment, Gil was suddenly irrationally jealous of Darren. That a dead man could affect his chances with Miles left him feeling defenceless.

“Darren will always be a part of me, I can’t deny that. Hopefully, one day I’ll find a way to stop feeling guilty for being weak and needing him when I shouldn’t have.”

“What do you mean? How did your being weak cause a problem? You’re one of the strongest men I know.”

Miles sighed. He’d told the full story to Caroline, but he still hadn’t shared any of his past in Africa with Gil. The young man deserved to know the truth about the time they’d been taken hostage in Somalia. As he told his tale, Miles felt colder and colder. Maybe the air around him had cooled down as the night wore on, or more likely each revelation stripped away another layer of protection, leaving him more vulnerable.

Gil could see the obvious pain it caused Miles to remember and bare his soul. He didn’t interrupt and sat, listening as Miles described how they’d been held for ransom by warlords while working in Africa for an aid agency. He couldn’t help wincing as Miles recounted how he’d been flogged repeatedly. Gil resisted the urge to comfort, not wanting to distract or interrupt the flow. He had a feeling that Miles might break if he tried, and Gil needed to know what happened. Miles refused to meet his eyes, staring out to sea as if seeing the past while he haltingly described the fateful day when, after a particularly vicious session and against all their efforts to pretend they weren’t lovers, Miles turned to Darren for comfort. Their actions were detected and Darren had been dragged out and repeatedly raped by a succession of sadistic guards. It had been ages before he let Miles touch him, and by the time he did, they’d been released with the subsequent medical tests revealing Darren had contracted HIV.

No wonder Miles feels responsible, Gil realised. Various things dropped into place: the doctor’s constant apologies, his need to atone, his dominating personality. Although his self esteem was in his boots, he felt a survivor’s guilt, he was never-the-less attempting to exert his control over whatever situation he was in.  Gil began to wonder what he would be taking on if he pursued their relationship. Then he realised he didn’t care. Miles was Miles after all, the sum of what life had given him, and Gil wasn’t without his own baggage either. “We’re all products of our pasts,” he offered sympathetically.

Gil’s calm acceptance of the horrific truth made Miles appreciate the young man even more.  Miles sighed and shakily traced the other side of Gil’s jaw. “Yeah, but we should learn from what happened and move on.” The question is: can we? Can I?

“You ought to stop using that word then. Darren said that… in my…dream, whatever it was. He said you should stop blaming yourself, and you don’t have to take it like a man any more…”

“What word? Guilt?”

“Should. I should move on, I should stop feeling guilty, I should this, I should that. How you feel is how you feel, because the bottom line is, Miles, you are you. Stop apologising for that all the time.”

Miles snorted. Should? What if it’s: I shouldn’t want you so much right now that it hurts to be near you and not able to touch you? “I just hope I don’t forget the good times. I don’t want to remember Darren as he was in his last days. I want to remember him as he was in the photos I left back at Haven Falls, especially the one taken when we first met.”

“Don’t feel bad about forgetting them; they rushed us out of there too fast.” Gil watched Miles’ face. He looked wistful, a little lost. Once again Gil wanted so badly to reach out and offer comfort. “Would you do something for me? I would go, but it’s a long way back to my bedside…”

“What do you need?”

“That canvas bag of mine, the one in the locker? With all my stuff in.“

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