Everything is You

To be read after New Angels.
Finlay meets Luke in Edinburgh. They eat sugar, read books, watch musicals, and there is absolutely no angst whatsoever between them.

It’s the prettiest little house on the street: a detached cottage nestled snugly between two large beech trees at the end of Dryden Avenue. Already it’s attracted whispers. If it grabs attention, it should be because of its adorable paint job — a white house with pale blue outlining, brickwork and sills highlighted in ultramarine, reminiscent of a luxury coastal property. Ornamental sailboats decorate both bay windows. But beyond the uniform privet hedges, the front garden is wild and overgrown with grass and climbing ivy. The neighbors won’t like that, Finlay thinks to himself. He knows what Edinburgh folk are like, even if he hasn’t really been here before, in the village-esque locale of Juniper Green. It’s not his neighborhood. He doesn’t recognize anything or anyone, but at least he’s from this city. Luke isn’t. Luke is achingly lost and has been for months, stuck in a maddening limbo with no sense of purpose or agency.

Finlay approaches the blue front door cautiously, gazing up at the silver glinting number 43. It’s the number after the meaning of life. He wonders what that’s supposed to mean, when obviously it means nothing at all, because everything in this world is random.

No one else is around. He takes a deep breath before ringing the doorbell.

A merry chime. A happy little bell. The sound reminds him of home, even though he can never quite define where that is anymore — the east, the west, the north. Not the south — never there. This is a safe place, literally a safe house, because you can’t get much safer than these houses, surrounded by competitive neighbors’ prying eyes. Dealing with the more pressing matters of life and death, however, the occupants never took into account the power of tattle-telling whisperers.

The thick curtains are drawn. He should have expected silence. Overhead, he spots a camera. It’s discreet — installed in the dead of night, Finlay wonders, staring up at it, making eye contact with the men on the other side. It’s cold. It’s January. He’s gloveless, because he’s a foolhardy idiot. His fingers are nearly as blue as the door. He wants inside.

A side door unlatches. He gravitates toward the sound. A tall man in a dark baseball cap jerks his thumb at him. Finlay slinks down the narrow garden path like an alley-cat, passing the different colored bins, poised but unused. Another talking point among the neighbors.

As soon as the back door silently shuts, Mack rounds on him. “How the fuck did you find us?”

“Ye’re on a list,” Finlay answers bluntly. He dumps his bag on the kitchen floor beside the Aga and blows breath into his ice-cold hands. Although it’s warmer than outdoors, the heating’s switched off, and he wonders if Mack’s to blame. “I’ve been workin’ wi’ the local Antiro group, visitin’ every suspected hoose they’ve come up wi’. Yer neighbors have been spyin’ on ye. Ye’re freakin’ them oot.”

Mack stiffens. “Working with Antiro?”

“It’s the only way tae get information.” Finlay licks his cold, dry lips. “Can I get somethin’ tae drink?”

There’s a perfectly functional kettle on the gleaming kitchen counter. Mack ignores it in favor of the small camping stove set up in the middle of the thickly dark living room. A couple of mugs are scattered next to it, as well as plump cushions and fleecy blankets. Luke isn’t here.

“Ye need tae move oot o’ here,” Finlay warns, watching as Mack stokes the small flame. “The list is lang, but it only took me a coupla days tae visit each one.”

“How did they know? We haven’t been out. We aren’t even using the energy supply.”

With a wry twist to his lips, Finlay advises, “If ye’re gonna live in a big detached hoose in Edinburgh, ye’re gonnae need a well-kept garden. Neighbors talk. A dog-walker passes by here every day and swore he heard people inside. Wrote tae the cooncil worried it was squatters. Every questionable property is under Antiro’s radar.”

Mack glowers at the heated silver jug. His face is gaunter than when Finlay last saw him. “We need to get out of this fucking city. I’ve never known so many pathetic busybodies in my life.” Without asking Finlay what how he takes his tea, he dumps a weighty spoon of white sugar into his cup. Finlay puts out his hand when the long-life milk is pulled out. “I’ve seen that fucker with his Dalmatian. Snobby cunt. Asked myself where’s the other hundred.” He pours scalding water into a striped mug and then hands it to Finlay. “How did you know we’d be here?”

“You were the last on my list. I… I had a feelin’.” Finlay keeps it quiet, the thought that sometimes he wonders if he can sense Luke. And not just Luke, but the others, too. Like maybe they aren’t supposed to be torn apart like this. Maybe they’re always meant to find each other. Everywhere else he’d visited had stunk of weed and greeted him with brash graffiti. Luke is a man of comfort. He’s a prince, not a squatter, and by rights, he should be king.

“Where is he?” Finlay asks, drinking deeply. His eyes close. Steam softens the hard lines on his face. It’s blissful.

“Upstairs,” Mack answers. He’s frowning, calculating. Another move is risky, Finlay knows. If they keep flitting, they’ll eventually be caught in transit. Staying in one place is easier, but that makes them sitting ducks. “He doesn’t like the ground floor. Feels unsafe.”

Finlay inclines his head. Their only protection here is a dark blue blackout curtain hanging by the window. He doesn’t blame Luke.

“He’s been training. I’ve told him to keep it quiet. But… he’s scared.”

“I know.”

“He trains harder when he’s scared.”

“I know.”

“Is it really just the garden? That’s the only thing that’s… suspicious?” Mack asks, frowning, and Finlay nods.

“Obviously I’ll dae everythin’ I can tae get this address aff their list, but I’m no’ gonna be here forever. I need tae go back tae Lochkelvin sooner or later. Somethin’ else could trigger another inspection. Anyone can call the police, and they a’ have Antiro divisions.”

“I have a backup place in mind,” Mack divulges quietly. “But I need time. And I’m rapidly running out of options.”

“Ye need tae get oot o’ here. Ye’re no’ the only hoose wi’ a camera on yer front door.”

“I’m well aware. The good thing about this place is it’s angled from the rest. We’re shielded by the trees. But you’re right, I need to make arrangements… again…” Mack rubs a hand down his weary face. His eyes are heavy. “In the meantime, though,” he says, struck as if by revelation, “I want you to cut the grass.”

Finlay pulls his mug of tea away from his lips, startled. Hard manual labor hadn’t been on his card — ever. “Whit?”

“Cut the grass if it’ll shut them up.”

“But… they’ll see me.”

“Good,” Mack says, smiling indulgently. “Let them see how respectable we are, that we’re honored to take our role as their neighbors seriously.”

“And if they ask questions?”

Mack shoots him a strange, querying look. “Then, my dear boy, you lie.”

And that’s how Finlay finds himself outdoors, kicking at an ancient lawnmower to make it work.

Twenty minutes ago, he’d been shivering, his teeth chattering, rummaging around in a wooden shed glimmering with cobwebs in the corners — no spiders, just traps. The grass still glistened with frost, a peaceful kind of gray that reminded him of Rory’s eyes, a comparison for which he felt moderately embarrassed. He knows he’s in deep. But now he has a project to work on, to forget Lochkelvin and those he left behind, and he no longer feels the bite of the chilled air. Still, he doesn’t see how this will assuage the neighbors’ concerns. No one else mows their lawn in January. It’ll probably put the fear of God into them.

The motor whirs, the blades rotate. Grass begins to be chopped and collected. He pushes the machine around, wondering how old this thing is. He’s sure, back home — in his mother’s house — they have robot lawnmowers. At the very least, they have professional gardeners who visit every other day. Finlay supposes he’s never really thought about it. He just knows the gardens — plural — have always looked immaculate.

And now he’s the gardener.

He wonders if Mack’s trying to kill him, as he pushes the mower around the slippery grass, the blade rotating perilously close to his feet. Actual gardeners, he imagines, would have a fit, because all of this feels incredibly wrong. He’s not sure if the lawnmower has settings, how to adjust them, or if he’s on the correct one. With a burdensomely huge engine, the mower is heavy as fuck, and Finlay feels the muscles in his arms strain from the effort of pushing it around. Eventually, Finlay’s panting and the cold air is no longer cool enough for his lungs. This is tough work. He raises a forearm to his cheeks. His sleeve comes away damp. His face is red and he’s sweating like a cooked tomato.

At first, Finlay wonders if he’s hallucinating the faces in the house diagonally opposite. Three young children are lined up against the front window, watching him work, their faces pressed against the glass like creepy phantoms. A man comes out of the house, frowning at Finlay, as he opens the boot of his large saloon. A golden retriever bounds onto a tartan picnic blanket inside. The three children toddle obligingly like ducklings after a woman he presumes must be the mother, and they’re all staring at him. Every face is turned in his direction, watching him fail to mow a lawn in January.

Finlay makes sure to grin non-threateningly.

They quickly enter the car, and he watches the family drive off. He wonders if they’ll phone the authorities.

Still, he’s making surprisingly good progress. He’d estimate around eighty percent of the lawn has been cut, with only the very front left to do. He pushes the mower over to the front of the garden, closest to the privet hedges. His arms ache in a good way. It becomes meditative, and when he’s mowed every blade of grass that could have possibly needed a haircut, Finlay finds himself admiring his handiwork. It’s an act of sheer strength and machinery, the tools of mankind. Even though he still thinks Mack’s insane, Finlay thinks he’s never felt as manly as he does right now.

“Excuse me?”

An older man lingers by the gate — and sure enough, there’s a highly obedient Dalmatian by his side. It too seems to sneer at Finlay as it sits politely by its master’s boots.

“A’ right?”

The man squints at him, taking in Finlay’s enormously cheerful grin. “I can’t help but notice… Are you — do you live here?”

“Naw, I’m daein’ a favor for my—” Finlay quickly calculates “—great-grandpa. He’s in there.” He jerks his head in the direction of the house, then lowers his voice. “Hoosebound.”

It’s a lie that rolls off his tongue with stupendous ease, and Finlay watches with a small pearl of satisfaction as the nosy man pulls back slightly. Part of it, by design, is probably from Finlay’s accent. “Oh, I see.” With a kind of false obligation that embodies much of middle-class Edinburgh, the man adds, “I don’t suppose I could be of any assistance?”

Finlay increases the harshness of his syllables. “Ach, that’s awfy kind o’ ye, but he’s a cranky auld bugger nooadays — well up in his nineties, ye ken? He disnae dae well wi’ strangers.” He pauses. “Tell ye whit, though. He needs a few bits extra fae the shops, if ye’re up for it? I’ve got my hands full wi’ the garden…” He heaves an exaggerated groan, nursing his red palms. “If ye really want, I could grab ye a list…?”

The man looks like he’s regretting his offer to help. “Of course. I’d be delighted.”

It’s a masterstroke of luck, and Finlay knows you have to make your own luck to get anywhere in this world. He’s seen Mack’s supplies. Rations are scarce. Opportunities to leave are scarcer still.

The man is good on his word, because being whispered about disapprovingly around the local neighborhood would be an even worse fate. An hour later, Finlay’s digging around in the flowerbeds, clearing away soggy leaves, when the man delivers three full bags by the gate. As Finlay fishes for his wallet, the man shakes his head and says it’s no trouble.

“Such kindness!” Finlay beams at him. “My great-grandpa… ach, he’s a right tetchy yin, but even this might soften his stony heart.”

It’s the most excellent plan Finlay’s ever had. Free food, and the knowledge that one meddlesome neighbor has been chased away by the mythical terror of a crotchety old man.

Finlay finishes up scrabbling in the dirt. His hands are streaked with mud, his hair plastered to his scalp, but he can think of fewer times he’s been happier. The sweat is chilling beneath his thin shirt, his jacket shucked off long ago. The sun is shining brightly, warming up his frozen skin. He likes gardening, the repetitive motion of it, the zoning out, the getting on with it. As he gathers up a final handful of dead leaves, a collection of small white berries catches his eye. They’re in the middle of a tree trunk, a completely different plant species growing out of the bark — a spindly green plant with snow-colored berries. He thinks it looks beautiful. He tilts his head to the side, bemused by nature, that some plants rely on others to survive, and plucks one for safekeeping.

He strips off his shirt the instant he’s indoors and splashes tap water on his face, his neck, his hair. The cold snaps him awake. He wonders, daydreaming, if his milk-bottle Scottish skin will earn a tan from all his hard work. It was a good couple of hours he was out there, huffing and puffing, tending to the garden, trying to be seen by everyone. He hopes this gamble pays off. He hopes news of his reclusive old relative will spread far and wide, and that a wide berth has now been designated around the property by sympathetic neighbors.

“You came back.”

Luke’s voice shouldn’t shock him. It used to be soft, gentle, when he’d been a sensitive boy-prince secure in his royalty. It’s hard now, the voice of a commander, the voice of a man who expects better, and he wonders where the old Luke has gone.

Finlay leans against the kitchen sink, drying his chest with his shirt, his back to Luke. He wonders if Luke will be hot or cold with him. He can never quite tell his moods, though he knows nothing hurts like the cold. Luke can do cold too fucking well.

Water drips down his hair and down the slopes of his back, out of reach from his balled-up shirt — his hair is long now, too long; he hasn’t given a shit about his appearance since everything kicked off. No more ink, no more haircuts. There are deeper things than the shallow. Jessa seems to like it, though. Whenever they’re able to meet up, she’s always got her hands roaming in Finlay’s hair. It makes him feel like a petted cat. He wonders if the secret to life, the universe, and everything is to not give a fuck.

But he does give a fuck. He gives too much of a fuck about Luke especially, his fellow chief, the face of his judgment and his regrets, and so he turns to the boy who would be king and says, “The surprised tone isnae necessary.”

He never quite gets used to seeing Luke in ordinary clothes. Zip-up hoodies and tracksuit bottoms are for other people. He’s even wearing a pair of old running trainers, for God’s sake. It’s all wrong, like seeing a unicorn trapped and felled.

Luke stares hard at his face. There are several long seconds of silence where neither of them breathes. Eventually, Luke murmurs, “There’s dirt on your cheek.”


A drop of water slips past his shoulder and slides down his sternum. Luke traces it with his eyes, and Finlay’s convinced the water starts to boil on his skin. He rubs it away with a distracted flick of his hand.

The last time they’d seen each other, he’d feasted on Luke’s neck, ground his cock urgently against his hips, and watched as Jessa had fallen apart completely under them both. All while a dead man had lain in the corner. He’d never been so turned on. He’d never felt so alive.

He’d never been so repulsed, after.

“I better, uh,” Finlay says, turning back to the sink. Clean. He needs to be clean. His nails are caked with dirt, and apparently so is his face. Sometimes he casually glances at his hands and sees bright ruby red liquid slicking up his skin. He runs the tap fully, ignoring Luke, refusing to tarnish him any further, and scrubs his skin red-raw to be clean.

It’s torture. The whole thing is torture.

They eat on the sofa, and that’s wrong, too. Mack prepares dried beans, brown rice, and bagged vegetables in a pot over the campfire stove. He spoons the biggest portion for Luke. The meal is shared in silence, not even with the television switched on to distract. Despite the modest ingredients, it’s hearty and filling, and Finlay appreciates their accidental foray into veganism, even if he’s not sure Luke notices.

“I got custard,” Finlay says later, when they’re doing the dishes. “It’s powdered, so it’ll last.” It’s his favorite food, and the more he thinks of it, the hungrier he grows. It’s a craving, a temptation — sweet, sugary relief after such healthy, homely goodness. He deserves it. He’s been working ever so hard…

No one else is keen.

They read books at night. The house is well-stocked, though he doesn’t know whose it is. Finlay appreciates their collection of Broons annuals nevertheless. He used to get one every Christmas from Santa, when they lived in the west. As soon as they moved to the big house in Edinburgh, Santa never returned. Perhaps the house had been his parting gift. He reads the comic strips now, laughing at the familiar family’s tales in black and white line drawings. Home, home… He dreams of a home full of people he loves, of a family who cares. He dreams of laughter and merriment and love. He dreams of a simple life, sometimes, of a life that can be distilled into a selection of comic strips. He dreams of being seven again, when his mum was poor and he was happy.

Sometimes he thinks Danny’s got the right of it, that the only true art is illustrated. That the only true art is seen.

Luke must think so little of him as he stifles his snorts. He’s reading a proper book, big and fat with information, something about churches — always bloody churches. Finlay can’t think of anything duller, and yet, in all the time he’s known Luke, churches have been his sole obsession. Curious, he thinks, that a royal should be so attached to the idea of indiscriminate sanctuary.

In the corner, Mack gives a prodigious sneeze. He grabs one of the fleecy blankets and pulls it over himself. He breaks away from the plans he’s scribbling to blow his runny nose. He sounds like an underwater brass band. Luke glances across at Mack, concern heavy in his deep brown eyes, and says in a quiet voice, “Take my bed tonight.”

Mack shakes his head tiredly, rubbing watery eyes.

It seems like an argument they’ve had before.

That night, Mack sleeps on the sofa, bundled in blankets. Finlay ventures upstairs. There are three double bedrooms and two bathrooms, but Mack insists on guarding the ground floor for trespassers. He’s one man with the fate of a would-be king and a chaotic country on his shoulders. Luke wishes him goodnight, softly.

They sleep in separate rooms with a minimal goodbye. He wonders how many weapons are glinting in Luke’s bedroom. This room’s unusually shaped, with a ceiling that slopes at an odd angle and fuzzy carpet from decades ago. The bedding is clean, though, and he relishes it after a day of toil. Clean. He just wants to be clean and pure and shining with goodness forevermore. He’s seen darkness and corruption. He’s not built for that life. He rejects it.

He wakes to Luke in his bed. He’s asleep, his face peaceful, and Finlay thinks he’s never looked more beautiful. The bedside table contains the book on churches and a silver blade resting on top. Finlay swallows. One day they’ll get out of this together. One day the weapons won’t be necessary.

Finlay must drift off to sleep again, gazing at Luke’s handsome face, because when he next wakes up, Luke’s in the green velvet armchair across from the bed. He’s reading his book while twirling his knife between long, elegant fingers. His dark eyes snap up to meet Finlay’s.

“You aren’t going to give me away, are you?” It’s an imperious voice, its implication cruel, but its tone — and Finlay’s heart clenches — sounds factual. He knows Luke doesn’t have complete faith in him and maybe never will. It’s a song they keep singing, but Finlay’s done beating himself up. He’s tired. They both are. Luke can take him or leave him.


“You promise?”

Finlay doesn’t know how many demands for reassurance Luke has asked of him, how many second chances to prove himself he’s been gifted. He doesn’t know how many he’s given Luke. Maybe this dance only ends when the numbers match. “Of course.”

Luke glances at his nightstand, where a sprig of the plant he’d collected lies, and he nods down at it. “Why do you have mistletoe?”

Finlay reddens. He had no idea that’s what the plant is — it looks more delicate than other mistletoe, the plants he sometimes sees dotted around Lochkelvin. Nevertheless, he fires out with drawling arrogance, “It was cheaper than a ‘kiss me quick’ hat.”

At lunch, Luke sits closer to him. They eat toast spread with marmalade at the small wooden dining table. Finlay’s lips are sticky with sugar, and Luke watches him lick his fingers clean with polite interest, as though witnessing a newly discovered species interact with the world.

Mack pores over his notes, his nose dripping. A handkerchief is permanently stuffed inside his nostrils, and he complains bitterly about his bastarding cold.

“How long are you staying?” Luke asks him during another quiet afternoon of reading.

“A day or so. Then back tae Lochkelvin.”


Luke glances over at Mack. “Could you stay longer?” Finlay can see from the worry in his eyes that this is not something asked lightly.

“Longer?” Finlay echoes, and thinks. He’s not beholden to anyone, least of all the cunts leading Lochkelvin. Baxter can screw herself on a fucking icicle for all Finlay cares. He could drop out of school right now, since all his funding has dried to dust. He has exams, and it’ll be a pain in the arse to re-sit for the entry requirements if he ever wants to go to uni. But does he? He doesn’t know what he wants. He just knows someone wants him, now. “For how long?”

There’s the other chiefs, of course, and Jessa… He wants to see them all again, but he also wants to see them with Luke. And Luke never talks about them — Finlay had tried bringing them up, earlier, to make them real again in this lonely house, but Luke had warned him not to, had claimed it hurt him too much.

In a quiet voice, Luke reveals, “I don’t know if I can help Mack by myself.”

“You do not need to help me,” Mack interjects gruffly. “I assure you, I am quite self-sufficient.”

“You are ill. You need to rest, in warmth, in a bed.” Luke shakes his head. “You need to eat more, too, and stop serving it all to me. You do yourself no favors, Mack.”

“I do not care.”

“Then you do me no favors by refusing to get better.”

Mack doesn’t respond to this at first, chastised by failing at his professional duties. Luke knows everyone’s weak spots and each is a growing bullseye. Eventually, Mack mutters, “It’s just a cold. It’ll pass.”

But it’s not just a cold.

Finlay stays, and Mack deteriorates.

First comes the sneezing, the runny nose. Then comes the sore, scratchy throat and the inability to talk. They take turns nursing him, making vast pots of watery vegetable broth, wrapping blankets around Mack so he can sweat it out. Luke shoots Mack a severe glare whenever he tries to talk. Mack’s voice is too rough to even comprehend, and that’s a novelty for Finlay, who’s usually the one spoken about in such terms. He thinks he can just about make out a weak mutter of “bastarding headcold” — a downgrade, Finlay believes, from a straightforward cold.

Mack tries to chase them away in case he’s infectious. But stubbornly they remain by his side, attending to his needs. Only at night do he and Luke separate, drifting at first into their individual bedrooms before Luke somehow ends up in Finlay’s bed every night. The heating still hasn’t been switched on and the room is freezing cold. He’s shivering beneath blankets and hopes Mack is faring better.

One morning, Finlay catches Luke playing with the sprig of mistletoe, rotating it idly beneath long, spindly fingers. He wonders if it’d be smooth or weird to lean over and kiss Luke. He’s already overturned everything he knew about Luke when he sucked his cock and came against his body. Kissing shouldn’t be weirder.

“They say Baldur’s mother made everything in the world promise not to harm him,” Luke murmurs, gazing at the white berries, his thumb running along the blade of the stem. “But mistletoe didn’t. So Loki made an arrow out of it and had Baldur shot with it. He died, and the berries are his mother’s tears.”

It’s the least romantic thing Finlay’s ever heard, and he keeps his kisses to himself. “How d’ye know this stuff?” Finlay asks.

“I read. It’s all I do.”

“I’d make everythin’ in the world promise no’ tae hurt ye, includin’ the mistletoe,” Finlay declares righteously, and Luke ekes out a small smile.

New symptoms soon arrive. Mack’s face turns red and sweaty, strangely bloated, and he makes noises of complaint, his hand palming weakly at his stomach. Luke and Finlay glance at each other, uncertain. Mack spends most of the next hour in the downstairs toilet, throwing up and more.

“He needs medicine,” Finlay says, concerned. The noises Mack makes are more animal than man.

With a dark twist to his lips, Luke drawls, “What happens first: Mack gets better or we get caught?”

Finlay doesn’t bother to answer that. He won’t give way to pessimism. He feels enough fear as it is.

“When I was young and going through a phase of complaining about small maladies,” Luke murmurs, and Finlay knows it’s hard for him to release these well-guarded jewels from the past into the world, “my physician used to have a saying… Something about medicine being about entertaining the patient while nature cures the disease.”

“Voltaire,” Finlay says instantly, because of course.

“Quite.” Nevertheless, Luke rummages around in his suitcase, pulling out a medicinal pouch from a first-aid kit. Boxes of painkillers fall out, unopened. When Mack returns, with barely the strength to drag himself to the sofa, he mutters in his croaky wheeze that he’s reluctant to use them in case Luke falls ill. In stony silence, Luke hands him a glass of water and a pill and refuses to leave until Mack downs them.

He gets worse, even after the correct dosage and a steady regime of pills. Every day, Mack seems intent on vomiting up the little that remains in his guts, and hallucinations are a new addition. At one point, he sits bolt upright, with strength that neither Luke nor Finlay thought he still possessed. At first, Finlay doesn’t know what’s happening — he thinks Mack senses others in the house and fear zips through his nervous system. But Mack’s staring at the walls, frowning heavily at the edges, the corners, his eyes sharp and blurring, sharp and blurring, like a camera that can’t quite catch focus on its subject, as if something exists in the lines of the ceiling to mock him.

“Mack!” Luke snaps. “Mack!”

Slowly, Mack turns his head to his charge. His fearful expression calms. His head drops to the pillow and he falls fast asleep. The same thing happens five times in one night. Mack shivers constantly, and yet his forehead burns.

Finlay and Luke exchange tired looks. They meet later that night in bed, shattered, and share body heat from their nakedness. They haven’t shared anything else — it seems somewhat disrespectful to enjoy pleasure while Mack endures hours of endless torment. Even so, Finlay finds restraint difficult, Luke’s warm breath fanning at his throat, his plump lips resting by his shoulder, his thick dark cock jutting comfortably at his hip. It’s the middle of January, and the plummeting mercury on the kitchen wall thermometer has shown they’re in the middle of a viciously cold snap, but as Finlay gazes at Luke’s still, sleeping face, he finds he’s never felt hotter.

The sneezes stop. Mack’s cough returns — hoarse, painful barks. Finlay hopes Luke’s royal physician had been right, that nature and time alone can cure whatever ailment this is. They go to make more soup — it’s the only thing they can do. But they’ve already used up the last of the root vegetables. Finlay searches inside one of the suitcases and dons a disguise to make him look as ugly and ordinary as possible. He scrapes his dark hair back and shoves it under a beanie hat, then sticks fuzzy black strips of hair along the sloping sides of his face to give himself mutton chops. He pushes a bumpy prosthetic nose on top of his. Finlay’s always wanted to wear a disguise, and his reflection makes him look like a hard-life forty.

He leaves for the supermarket at night, though Luke doesn’t seem remotely happy about it, insisting he’ll be counting down the seconds on the mantelpiece clock. Finlay only has twenty quid left, but it turns out that might be too generous for a large all-night supermarket, because most of the shelves are already empty.

“‘Scuse me,” Finlay says to a busy sales assistant, looking bemused as he stands between rows of absolute nothing. He knows he shouldn’t force attention while wearing a disguise, but what he sees right now is stranger than his fake nose. “Where’s a’ the food?”

“New regulations. All Milton-endorsed products have been cleared out. We won’t be stocking them from now on.”

And there it is, that sense of horror, that sudden recollection, about how precipitous Luke’s life is. Everything they do — all of them — it’s for Luke. Even when it’s against Luke, it’s still about Luke. The safe house, the disguises, the secrecy, the support. The protests, the anger, the searching, the laws.

Everything is Luke.

“Everything is you,” Finlay murmurs, revelatory, through his disguise, as he stares at rows upon rows of empty shelves.

Everything is also a potential threat. Because if complete elimination is what they do to the things Luke’s family enjoyed, what the fuck would they do to Luke himself?

Finlay figures it’s a good thing loose veg isn’t branded so Luke’s family could never have promoted them, otherwise there’d be literally nothing in the shop left to buy. He stuffs his basket with as much veg as he can and leaves as fast as his feet are willing to carry him.

Luke’s shoulders drop with relief the instant Finlay comes through the side door. Together they make more soup, pouring in as much dried lentils and new veg as they can get away with. Luke sprinkles fresh parsley into the bubbling pot. While Mack sleeps, Finlay tells Luke about the shop; Luke answers him with grim-faced silence, setting a fresh glass of water and another painkiller on the small table beside Mack.

It’s the longest and deepest Mack sleeps — eighteen hours, straight through, and accompanied by the faintest flicker of hope from the chiefs. Is this it? Is the worst over? They don’t ever voice it for fear of jinxing it, but Finlay swears he can sense Luke asking.

When they go upstairs past midnight, Luke lingers by his bedroom door. “Do you want to come in?” Luke asks hesitantly, and Finlay knows that this is a big step for him. When they end up in the same bed, it’s because Luke wills it — he enters Finlay’s room at night, while Finlay’s sleeping, to take the comfort he wants. But this — this is asking, this is requesting, it’s Luke tossing away his agency in a violation of the natural order of things. It’s Luke shucking off his first-born, royal-sealed entitlement in a bid to do love affairs normally.

And so, out of curiosity, Finlay enters Luke’s bedroom. As he’d expected, every wall is decorated with shining, lethal metal. But in front of his bed is an ancient television set, and it’s switched on. The flickering picture catches in the gleam of the surrounding metal.

“I thought there wisnae any power?”

Luke’s dark eyes are heavy with sorrow. “I can’t not,” he whispers. “I need to see what’s happening.”

“Does Mack know…?”

“He turns a blind eye. But only to this. If I stuck the heating on, he’d have furious words to say to me — in his sleep, even. I promise you, I have tried.”

Finlay sits on the edge of Luke’s bed and wonders when news broadcasts took inspiration from North Korea. Luke watches all of it, transfixed. They sit in miserable, agitated silence for too long, until Finlay finds it in him to grab the remote control and change the channel.

“What?” Luke asks, astonished.

“It’s no’ daein’ ye any good.” He turns to the television guide, forcing his spiking anxiety to level out. “Mack slept maist o’ the day. That means he’s gettin’ better. We should be celebratin’.”

Celebrating?” The word sounds foreign on Luke’s tongue. For too long, joy has evaded him.

“Ye cannae live in a constant state o’ fear,” Finlay murmurs. “I wullnae let ye.”

Everything is you.

Luke shoots him a weird look as Finlay flicks to the weather for some actual factual information. As he’d figured, they’re in the midst of a cold snap, with the map of the UK turning frostbitten-blue and an amber warning flashing up for icy conditions. The number above Edinburgh is -5 degrees, and it could drop to -9 later in the week. Finlay feels it in his bones.

He watches Luke undress and admires his lean, muscled body. Long, graceful legs. Firm, athletic thighs. A really nice fucking arse. When he strips off his boxers, Luke climbs into bed and rests his head against the pillow. “Aren’t you coming?” he asks, and there’s an undercurrent in the coy, knowing slant of Luke’s dark eyes that stirs Finlay’s cock.

It happens easily. In the dark, against the flickering late-night television set, Finlay leans over to Luke, crawling across the bed, to kiss him thoroughly. Luke responds to him with languid sweetness before biting gently at his lower lip. Cold wind whistles outside and ice clings to the concealed glass windows, but they lie entwined in each other’s arms, gradually thawing.

“Why’ve ye got the mistletoe?” Finlay asks, noticing his plant on Luke’s nightstand.

“I wanted it,” Luke answers simply, and Finlay figures that’s okay then.

With a devilish grin, Finlay leans over and reaches for the sprig. He positions himself on Luke’s chest, dangling the plant above his face.

But Luke just bats it away with a roll of his eyes and murmurs, “I don’t need mistletoe to kiss you,” before kissing him soundly.

The next day, Mack’s awake. He’s talking. He’s still bundled up in copious layers of fleece, and used handkerchiefs still litter his vicinity, but his eyes are more alive than they have been in a week.

“You need to get back to school,” Mack insists through a sniff.

“I dinnae want tae.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion.”

“I’m no’ leavin’ until you get better. So the onus is on you.”

“I am better,” Mack says, though his nose is still bubbling and blocked, and his eyes remain heavy with fatigue. But he’s moving, walking around, talking. The hallucinations have stopped. He’s eating without vomiting. His skin has color. He can hold a pen and concentrate.

Luke doesn’t ask Finlay into his bedroom that night, so Finlay invites himself. He figures it’s only fair. For what it’s worth, Luke doesn’t complain and seems to approve of his initiative. They undress each other at the same time, tracing the delicate raised hair on their exposed arms and the chill of gooseflesh underneath. Their mouths are hot escapes from the deepening cold, and their kisses grow more urgent as they roll together in bed, blankets wrapped around them, knives around the wall.

When Finlay reaches for the diagonal sloping up his inner thigh, Luke pauses. “I haven’t… Not since…”


Luke nods. It’s the most he’s spoken of that night. His chest is rising and falling, rising and falling. So alive, his twin lungs directly beneath Finlay in a room glittering with knives.

This is trust. This is his faith in Finlay. This is Luke’s ultimate test to ensure it’s not misplaced.

“We don’t have to,” Finlay says magnanimously, pulling away, and Luke grips him in place to drag him closer.

Their kiss is hungry, horny. Hands clutch chests, stomachs, skin, cocks. Noses bump hard and it’s the best thing Finlay’s felt in so long. He licks long stripes up Luke’s neck, tasting salt and citrus, and feels Luke’s cock thicken significantly. It digs in needily to Finlay’s thigh when Finlay lavishes his earlobe. They grind against each other, a contrast of skin, and it’s messy, messier than anything involving Luke ought to be. Cold gives way to sweat and saliva. Luke’s hand pumps experimentally at his cock, and Finlay thinks those elegant, tentative fingers wrapped around him might be enough for him to come all over Luke’s stomach like a common, desperate whore.

He knows this is new to Luke. Luke’s not a filthy degenerate like the rest of them.

And yet…

When the clock strikes midnight, one, two… out comes the beast. Luke rolls on top of Finlay, crushing him in the best way. Their mouths snatch and bite at each other, and Luke’s hands yank at his hair. He groans, he moans, he writhes under Luke. Blood rushes between his ears. He licks Luke’s nipples until they stand to attention, he strokes Luke’s belly until Luke is the one squirming. As Finlay surges up against Luke’s firm chest, he wants to feel hot skin everywhere. He wants to bury himself deep in Luke’s throat — or the other way around, again, Finlay wouldn’t complain.

They barely make it any further. It catches them by surprise, an absence of contact the catalyst for their pleasure. Luke falls first, with one lick too many against his tongue, and his hips buck in startled ecstasy, his fingers steel clamps in Finlay’s hair. Finlay watches Luke’s face in an act of shared devotion, his dark damp skin bathed by the errant flicker of the television set, rendering Luke beautiful, digital, quivering. No one else sees this, no emotion is wasted as Finlay watches the spectrum flash across Luke’s face, and therein lies his power. Everything is you. Wrapped up in blankets in the dead of night, no one else pushes pleasure on a prince. No prince has his secret exploits broadcast. This is Finlay — it’s all Finlay — and as he traces a soft hand down his friend’s noble, solemn face, it’s the thought of successfully bringing peace to Luke that pushes him over the edge.

They drift in each other’s arms, covered in cum and too soft to move. Their bodies are licked with flame, impenetrable to the cold. They wake and sleep, wake and sleep, in an afterglow as velvet and heavy as snow. It’s cozy. It feels right. They snuggle, and pretend they don’t, and it’s the pretending that feels wrong.

At some point, Finlay wakes properly. The television’s still on, and he stares blearily at a blue summer sky so far removed from their existence that it’s painful. It looks Mediterranean. He wanders to the nearest sink to clean his happy, sated mess of a body, and sees red lines from the pillow across his face. The sound of the tap must wake Luke — he wakes at anything, Finlay knows — because he hears footsteps moving around the bedroom.

When he comes back, Luke’s tracing the raw edge of a large blade. It doesn’t freak out Finlay anymore. He knows it’s Luke’s way of meditating, of proving to himself that he’s safe.

“You hungry?” Finlay asks, because he’s always famished after coming. It must be stupid o’clock. It still doesn’t stop his stomach from growling with predatory need.

Luke gives a languid shrug. “I could eat.” He moves across to the sink and splashes water on himself. Finlay debates going downstairs to make something, or staying right here to continue watching a soaked Luke. There’s something effortlessly strong and manly about Luke, like he’s the way every good, fit man should look. Finlay can’t help but compare the definition of their bodies and feel like a broken reed in comparison.

He gives Luke his privacy.

When he tiptoes downstairs, Mack’s still sound asleep on the sofa, but his eyes spring open the instant Finlay steps into the living room.

“It’s just me,” Finlay whispers, feeling bad. Mack says nothing but gives a grunt of displeasure, his eyes on him as he pulls out a pot and stokes up the stove. He’s decided to make custard.

“Don’t fuck with him,” Mack mutters, his eyes on Finlay.

Finlay raises an eyebrow. It seems somewhat typical that Mack’s first decent breath in days is being used to tell him off.

“I was in the Army for the better part of two decades. You think I don’t know what sex smells like? You think I don’t know men high on their own fumes?”

Finlay gazes into the pot, stirring soy milk into the generous yellow powder, trying to keep his face from looking mortified.

“You better not fucking hurt him. Or I swear to you…”

The threat hangs. He has no doubt Mack could demolish him, even now, under the weather and beneath a pile of blankets.

“It was fine before, at New Year, after that night. I gave you leeway then, because you had that girl with you.” Finlay’s heart throbs at the unexpected mention of Jessa. “But this? Whatever you’re up to? Two men together? A man alone with him? If this is your way to manipulate him—”


“If this is your way to get back at him—”

No.” Something about the conviction in his voice silences Mack. “I love him.”

It’s pure, it’s simple, it’s reverent, and it’s real. He loves Luke, he always has, even when he sharpened the blade and twisted the knife.

Mack says no more thereafter. Finlay measures out two bowls of plain yellow custard, the thick sugary liquid pouring as easily as double cream, and Finlay thinks it’s the most childlike concoction anyone’s ever created. Mack speaks of men. Right now, Finlay’s reverted to being a happy seven-year-old.

Luke eyes the bowl with caution but they both eat the custard. Finlay dares not relay his conversation with Mack; he has a feeling Luke would laugh at every line, including the one where Finlay declared his love. Finlay’s no fool. He knows the board is tilted in Luke’s favor. He knows feelings are bigger than sex. He knows he’s fucked up once too much to demand entry into the innermost chamber of a prince’s heart.

They watch late-night television, and there’s a movie. It’s pure sunshine joy, a world away from frozen gray, iced Edinburgh, and it feels like an ultra-dose of vitamin D. The volume’s low but the subtitles are on, and Finlay can make out it’s an ABBA musical.

“I believe I attended the premiere of this,” Luke murmurs, eating custard in bed with the same refined diligence as soup at a diplomats’ ball. “I was very young. It must have been my first.”

In which case, Finlay’s surprised it’s being broadcast — some poor scheduler hasn’t done their research. But as they continue to submit themselves to the whims of this odd movie, Finlay thinks he wouldn’t complain if they suddenly took it off air — he’s never watched anything quite so ridiculous in all his life. The plot is incomprehensible and none of the actors can sing.

“There’s a lot o’ screamin’ in this film,” Finlay notes, grumbling. “How’s there so much screamin’? I dinnae think I’ve ever screamed in my nellie puff.”

It’s based in Greece, which seems to be the main star of the movie, and Finlay starts to feel a longing for a world he hasn’t truly explored.

“I’ve never been tae Greece,” he laments. Compared to his Lochkelvin peers, he’s barely been anywhere. He knows Rory’s traveled the continent with his father, primarily to the political European hot spots of Geneva and Brussels, and of course Luke’s family trips around the world had been famously, controversially extensive. Finlay’s mother had never particularly bothered. She sent him away to Scouts camp most summers — mainly to get rid of him, he knows now.

“It’s beautiful. Some of the islands are exquisite. This reminds me of being back there, sneaking olives from the grove, throwing them at Becca when nobody was looking. Running around, happy and free…” A smile plays on Luke’s lips as he loses himself to memory. “Perhaps, when all this is over, I’ll take you there.”

When all this is over… It’s the mantra they keep telling themselves, and Finlay can’t decide if it’s a chant of delusion, like words of affirmation to be repeated with tragic hope in the mirror.

“I’d like that,” Finlay says, and his leg brushes Luke’s.

Partway through the movie, there’s a scene that takes them both by surprise. By now, the custard has been devoured, and their bellies are bloated with sugar and thousands of sticky, addictive additives. Finlay places his empty bowl on top of Luke’s on the bedside table, and curls sleepily into Luke’s broad chest. They should turn off this daft movie and get some proper sleep, but at the same time, it’s all far too compelling.

ABBA is not quite his wheelhouse, musically speaking. However, had Finlay been pressed to the point of death to name his favorite ABBA song, he’d first acknowledge what a strange situation he’d encountered before sighing and admitting the melodic merits of Lay All Your Love on Me. So when it appears in the movie, he’s quietly thrilled.

It’s also the sexiest fucking slice of media he’s watched in ages, and he swears he doesn’t look away from the screen once. Swimsuits, bare chests, writhing in the sand, looks that scorch… As they sing about their possessive angsts and jealousies, Finlay doesn’t know if he wants to be the male lead or the female lead. Their bodies are insane, their chemistry is insane, and it’s all too much. He watches in wide-eyed, mesmerized astonishment, and briefly wonders what the age rating is for this movie, because he swears this is hotter than porn.

Beneath him, Luke is also still. Finlay’s suddenly transported to that summer when he forced Rory to watch The Dreamers, and then mashed their faces together because of the explicit sex scenes. He was young. His plans were desperate. Somehow it worked.

“She looks like Jessa,” Finlay murmurs, when the lead actress, grinning, crawls across sand on her hands and knees. She’s that glorious mix of innocence and deviance he’s only ever associated with Jessa, and he instantly wishes he could whisk her away somewhere tropical so they could recreate this scene and make love on a beach, because somehow this stupid movie has suddenly shifted that to the top of his priorities.

“Funny,” Luke answers instantly in a strange, half-strangled voice. “I was thinking he looks like you.”

“Whit? No way…” The actor’s body is a work of fucking art. His face is kinda smug at the start, and he wonders if that’s what Luke’s talking about, but then he becomes open and sincere, and the way he looks at her is much too raw, a puppy-dog pretending to be stronger than it is. Maybe that’s it. Maybe he looks at everyone too raw.

The two leads move in for a steamy kiss on the beach, and Finlay feels his neck crane. But because this movie makes no sense, a troupe of men emerge from the Mediterranean Sea to pull them apart, and then dance along a dock in flippers. Finlay curses the lot of them, unsatisfied.

“He’s called Sky,” Luke says later, when they can breathe again. “You said Sky was your favorite name.”

Finlay tries to remember how the hell Luke knows this — and then it hits him. The man at the apartment, the intruder. Finlay had said anything to that man back then, babbling. He’d even said custard had been his favorite food, and Finlay glances at their discarded bowls with unease. Luke’s never once spoken about the attack directly. He gazes into Luke’s deep brown eyes and says, hesitant, “You heard that?”

“I listened to every word you said that night. You took me by surprise.”

“Because Sky’s a rubbish name?” Finlay jokes.

“Because you risked your life for me.”

Finlay doesn’t say anything. When Luke’s fingers linger lightly along the ancient lines on Finlay’s forearm, he’s not sure he can.

The scars don’t itch anymore. They’re barely perceptible. But still, Finlay holds back his shiver.

The movie is saturated, color-graded with sunshine, cerulean sky and sea in every pixel. It’s like diving into summer. At some points, Luke even laughs — a pure, delicate sound rare enough that Finlay wishes he could scoop it in his palms and capture it in a lockbox. Finlay doesn’t know what’s happening to himself — he thinks he feels happy? Is it the sex with Luke, he wonders, or the gloopy custard, or is this cinematic masterpiece lightening the mood? The combination is enough to make him delirious, and when Dancing Queen starts to play, he thinks the answer to life, the universe and everything might be ABBA.

“When all this is over,” Finlay murmurs, as the credits roll and his heart defies gravity and he thinks he might be crying, “I’m gonna throw one hell o’ a fuckin’ party. And all o’ us — we’re gonna get so drunk, and make love, and dance on tables, and travel the whole world.”

“Just give me an island,” Luke says, indulging him. “A private island with my favorite people. That’s all I ask for.”

They switch off the television the instant a news bulletin comes back on. They brush their teeth, dreaming of picturesque Greek white villas and bacchanalian feasts under the summer sun. In bed, Finlay kisses the hollow of Luke’s throat before resting his head on Luke’s chest. Luke wraps his arms around him, and whispers, when Finlay is on the edge of sleep, “Did I ever tell you about the present I bought Jessa?”

“Mm,” Finlay mumbles, stirred into consciousness at the sound of the sassenach’s name. Luke doesn’t mention the others. He said to never mention them…

“I miss her dearly. And if you say you’re going soon… then tomorrow, I think we should use it.”

“Tomorrow,” Finlay agrees, not sure what he’s agreeing to, as he dreams of crawling seductively towards Jessa on a Greek beach, Rory and Danny and Luke watching them while wearing flippers.

But Mack’s finally on the mend. Tomorrow is a bright new day. His heart is lighter than when he arrived in this house.

It’s been difficult being back in Edinburgh, and when he returns to Lochkelvin to regale the chiefs with a summary of his time here, he’ll exaggerate the truth and conceal his burdens with the brash glibness that he knows Rory so easily sees through. He wants to protect them from Antiro that little bit longer, and so he’ll try his best to diminish Antiro’s omnipotence by minimizing their existence.

He just wants to party and have fun.

He just wants to lay all his love on everyone.

When all this is over…

When all this is over

The Lochkelvin series concludes in the next book, Old Devils. Sign up to my newsletter to find out when it’s released!