It's 1918, and Matty returns home to the family farm from the trenches only to find his brother Arthur dying of an unknown illness. The local doctor thinks cancer, but Matty becomes convinced it's connected to the mysterious books his brother left strewn around the house.
Rob knows something other than just Arthur's death is bothering Matty. He's know him for years and been in love with him just as long. And when he finds something that looks like a gate, a glowing, terrifying doorway to the unknown, it all starts to fall in to place.
Matty's looking sicker and sicker in the same way Arthur did. What is Rob prepared to sacrifice to cure him?
The answer is in the esoteric books ... and with the mysterious Lin of the Frem, who lives beyond the gate to nowhere. It's taken Matty and Rob more than a decade to admit they have feelings for each other and they are determined that neither social expectations or magical illness will part them now.
“What just happened?” Matty asked again, as he dropped Rob’s hand to shut the outside door.
“I honestly have no idea,” Rob repeated. He took his coat off automatically and hung it on the hooks in the little scullery. “That was an elf, wasn’t it? Or a fairy?”
Matty coughed. “Erm. Yes. Or perhaps we’re both going mad?”
“At the same time? Unlikely.” Rob moved to the range and slid the kettle onto the hot plate. Matty was freezing. He always looked a bit peaky, in Rob’s opinion, but now he looked cramped over on himself, as if he was about to come apart.
“Come here,” he said. He reached out a hand to the other man and leaned back against the rail of the range as Matty took it, drawing Matty toward him. “Come here,” he repeated. Matty stepped close, chest to chest, and Rob wrapped his arms around him. Matty slid his arms round Rob’s waist, hands flat on his back. The range-rail was warm against his lower back and Matty’s hands were cooler on his shoulder blades.
“You’re freezing,” Rob said.
“Yes.” Matty shivered. “I can’t seem to get warm at all, these days.” He laid his head on Rob’s shoulder, hair damp against Rob’s neck, and Rob held him tighter, sliding a hand up to cradle the back of his head.
He’d wanted this for as long as he could remember. He knew himself tolerably well these days and he’d realised a while back -- in the middle of a bombardment at Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1915, in fact -- that Matty was the one he wanted. He’d been in Rob’s periphery for years, so long that Rob had failed to realise that, actually, he wasn’t at the periphery at all, he was at the centre of everything. He’d decided then and there that if he ever got out of the mud and got home, he’d make sure Matty knew he was at the centre and take what came.
Whatever was going on here, with Arthur dying and lights and elves and Matty looking peaked, Rob was going to sort it out and make sure Matty was all right. And if Matty wanted Rob around after that, then that was grand. If he didn’t ... well, Rob would cross that bridge when he came to it.
He wrapped his arms more tightly round Matty, leaned back against the range a little more, and spread his legs to take more of the other man’s weight.
After a little while, Matty stirred against him and said, “Rob,” his voice low and muffled by Rob’s collar. Rob pressed him even closer and Matty burrowed his nose, still not quite as warm as Rob’s skin, in against his neck, right above the top of his collarless shirt. His breath was much hotter than the rest of him, hotter than Rob’s skin.
Rob swallowed. He hadn’t meant this to be more than comfort, hadn’t meant to start anything. And now something was starting, all by itself.
“Matty?” he said, diffident question in his voice. Matty was hard against his hip and Rob was stiffening.
Matty gave a little sigh in response and drew back a bit to meet Rob’s eyes. Rob’s gaze dropped to Matty’s mouth. Matty smiled a small, secret smile. “Now?” he said. “We’re doing this now?”
“Looks like it. If you want?” Rob slid the hand still on the back of Matty’s head down and round to cup his jaw and run a thumb over his lips. They were full and soft, and he’d thought about doing this for years. Matty’s smile grew under his touch. Rob reached behind him with his other hand and dragged the kettle off the stove top.