The past few months have been like no sort of courtship that Irwin might ever have imagined. They meet irregularly, sometimes for a meal, sometimes just a drink, in various places. He doesn't know if Dakin is deliberately choosing their rendezvous to be unpredictable to anyone who might care to notice, or not. He is quite sure, however, that Dakin is unprepared to admit to anyone – even Irwin, even himself – that there might be more between them than a long-ago infatuation and some present-day sex, however good the latter might be.
Dakin once accused him of being intellectually amoral, yet emotionally craven. It had been true, then. But now it is a Thursday night in January, during the long let-down from the holiday season (the day itself spent unwillingly with his parents), and he picks up his mobile and punches the number that he put into his address book but memorised anyway.
"What are you doing this weekend?"
The inevitable crackle as Dakin answers. "No definite plans, why?"
It has been a warm winter so far; rain and fog but no snow, not in London. Irwin wants to see snow, even though with his chair he knows it's not a particularly practical wish.
"Let's go to Edinburgh," he says. "Leave work early tomorrow afternoon, take the train up, back on Sunday. We'll find a nice hotel – two rooms if you'd rather."
There is silence on the other end of the line, and he wonders if he's pushed too hard. He does that, he knows, sometimes.
"I have a meeting with a client at three-thirty tomorrow," Dakin says finally.
"Never mind," Irwin says, overlapping Dakin's, "But I'll have my secretary reschedule."
They meet at King's Cross at a little before one. Irwin has managed to book them first-class seats together – sometimes his handicap is an advantage. He doubts it is his name that impresses the GNER ticket agent.
Once they are beyond the interminable stretch of metropolitan London, as the miles of barren earth roll past, Irwin talks in snatches about the history of the places they fly by, and Dakin listens. The clouds scud thick and grey-white but the air is clear.
Not until they are in the hotel – one room, after all – and have flung the covers from the bed to let the sweat cool from their bodies does Irwin see the first pale flakes against the darkness of the windowpane. He smiles and lets himself relax against Dakin, watching them.