Gwyn Mabler is on secondment at The Kings of Ireland Hotel at Tara. He and his brother, Brân are in the process of buying the place and Gwyn is getting to grips with the everyday running by shadowing the current owner, Mal Reagan.
Gwyn’s an idiot, though. Mal made it clear from the start he’d like to get Gwyn in his bed and after a couple of weeks of pursuit, Gwyn gave in. Mal was hot and pushy and just the kind of dangerous to pique Gwyn’s interest. He honestly thought Mal knew he was trans.
Since that horrible night, Mal has had Gwyn ‘work-shadowing’ Chef in the deeply unhappy kitchen. He doesn’t want to go home and make a fuss that might cause the sale to fall through, but when a huge row breaks out over a flour delivery and Mal backhands Gwyn across the face, he finally decides enough is enough. With the help of Darren Starling, one of the line-cooks with whom he’s formed a tentative friendship, he leaves.
During the two-day journey home, from the middle of Ireland to Wales, they have plenty of time to exchange confidences. Could the delicate pull of attraction between them grow into something stronger? Is it safe for Gwyn to out himself to Darren? Will Darren want to go out with a trans guy? And how will his brother Brân take Gwyn’s arrival home with a stranger?
By the time they reached the bus stop, he was flagging. His face was on fire, one enormous, throbbing bruise, and he just wanted to shut his eyes and rest. He sank onto the seat inside the bus shelter out of the drizzle with relief, tilting his head back against the opaque polycarb panel behind him and closing his eyes.
“All right?” Darren asked, sitting down next to him.
“Hurts,” he said, briefly.
He felt, rather than saw Darren nod, shoulder pressed against his on the narrow seats. It was warm and comforting and nice to have someone to lean on, just a little bit.
“There should be a bus in about fifteen minutes,” Darren said, “but I’m never quite sure whether they’re reliable. If we miss this one, it’s four hours until the afternoon ones start again, so cross your fingers. Although we could hitch I suppose.”
Gwyn pulled a face without opening his eyes. “I’d rather not,” he said. “But better than hanging around here for four hours. I don’t think he’ll come after me. But he might.”
Darren was silent for a few minutes beside him, then he said very gently, “You know I’ll listen if you want to talk, don’t you? I know we’re not close friends; we haven’t known each other long. But I’m here.”
Gwyn bit his lip. He couldn’t answer. He’d cry if he did. He drew in a sharp little breath and Darren nudged him gently with his shoulder.
“It’s all right. Don’t worry about it. Let’s get on the bus and get down to Dublin. We can find somewhere to stay overnight and get the ferry in the morning. It’ll all look better when we’re farther away from here.”
Gwyn nodded carefully, eyes still shut and head tilted back. Projecting everything is fine, honestly, vibes as hard as he possibly could.
“Thanks, Darren,” he finally managed to find his voice to say. “Thank you.” He swallowed. “I wouldn’t have found it as easy to leave without you backing me up. I could have phoned my brother ...” he trailed off, “... but it’s complicated.” He swallowed again. “I just want to go home. I should probably have gone before, but ... like I say.”
Darren patted him on the knee. “Don’t worry about it now. Just rest. Have you taken any painkillers? I’ve got some, I think.”
Gwyn shook his head and then regretted the movement. “No, I haven’t. I didn’t think.”
“Here.” Darren began to root through the front pocket of his enormous rucksack. “I’ve got paracetamol and ibuprofen. Take two of each. That’ll help.”
Gwyn heard him rustling about and the sound of the pills popping out of their little foil nests. And then a water bottle being opened.
He had to open his eyes, he knew. He didn’t want to.. It was nice sitting here in the darkness, pretending the rest of the world didn’t exist for a bit.
It wasn’t too terrible though, opening them and seeing Darren looking at him cautiously. He was a nice-looking man. Smaller than Gwyn’s 5’11”, with brown eyes and heavy brows that were currently creased with concern. His black hair was buzzed down to half an inch all over -- Gwyn had noticed he’d cut it twice in the six weeks Gwyn had been at the hotel. Too hot in the kitchen otherwise, he’d told him.