With thanks to my beta reader Roa1

Craig and Richard, One Year On

"Richard, are you awake?"

Richard dragged himself out of the dream he was having and replied a little grumpily,

"I am now."

"Great. Do you know what day it is?" asked Craig.

"A day when I could do with more sleep?"

"Aw come on," Craig persisted, "the date?"

"Craig, it's no good, I'm too tired to think. Later maybe," his friend replied, as he snuggled further under the bed clothes.

"I have something for you."

Richard sat up with an effort and glanced at the clock.

"For goodness sake Craig, it's 6 am. What are you playing at?"

Craig looked a little hurt,

"Do you really not know what day it is?"

Richard took pity on him,

"Of course I know, it's our first anniversary– a year since that night in the guest house. I wouldn't forget that, but I was hoping for a little more sleep before we started celebrating."

"I couldn't wait any longer. I've been wanting to give you this for days."

Richard watched as his friend took an envelope from his pocket and handed it over.

"What's this?"

"Open it and you'll find out."

Richard opened the envelope and his hands trembled a little as he realised what he was holding.

"What is it?" he said, playing for time.

"It's a list of apartments for rental," said Craig. "I know we agreed to continue living separately but I don't want to do that any more. I want to share my life with you. I think we should get a place that can be ours, rather than you moving in here with me or me moving into your flat. What you have in your hands are the specs for all the apartments nearby that we can afford. We've been together for a year, Richard, a year today. It's been the best year of my life, and we spend almost all our time together anyway, so I think it's high time we took the plunge and moved in together."

Richard looked at his lover's enthusiastic face and tried to fight down the panic that was rising within him. True he loved Craig more than he'd ever loved anyone in his life but he wasn't sure if he could live with another person all the time. He still needed to know he could get away and be by himself if he wanted to.

"You have a read through and let me know which ones you like best and then I'll tell you which ones I've picked out," said Craig, excitedly.

Richard stared at the papers in his hands, he felt as though he was in the grip of a nightmare, how was he going to break the news that he didn't think he could do this? Although he hadn't actually needed to get away for the last three months he still felt that he must be able to if he wanted.

"I'll fix us some food while you have a proper look through," his friend said, eagerly.

Richard was feeling more and more uncomfortable. He just didn't know what to do or say. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt his lover but he really didn't think he could go along with this. He fought against the urge to get up and run from Craig's apartment, back to Kaida Bray and his home - his sanctuary. How could he tell his friend how he felt when Craig was standing there grinning like a small boy and babbling on happily?

"I've been in touch with the agents and most of them said they'd be able to show us round the flats today. All we have to do is give them a ring and fix a time."

Craig walked into the kitchen whistling cheerfully. Richard tried to read through the specs but the words blurred and he started to feel as though he might be physically sick. He was still sitting staring unseeingly at the list when his lover returned with cups of coffee, tea and toast on a tray.

"So what do you think then, Richard?"

Richard sat in the bed feeling as though he was suffocating; he opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again, desperately trying to form a coherent sentence

"I…. I … I think… I don't think…..I….I can't do it," he finally got out. He leapt from the bed, pulled on his coat over his pyjamas and almost ran through the door, leaving his lover staring open mouthed after him.

As soon as the shock wore off Craig felt crushingly disappointed, he'd been really looking forward to surprising his lover and had been excitedly anticipating looking round the flats with him. He'd been so wrapped up in his own feelings that he'd missed the signs of distress in his friend and Richard's reaction had come as a complete bombshell. Now all his carefully laid plans for today were ruined and worse, he couldn't see any way forward. If his lover wasn't ready to take this step with him now, after a full year together, the chances were he never would be and Craig needed more than for them to continue living separately. Desperate for something to do to stop himself from thinking about the implications of that he started to pick up the papers that his friend had scattered in his flight but he couldn't deflect his mind from going over what had just happened. He could hardly believe that his lover had run out on him. Surely the thought of living together couldn't be that abhorrent to Richard, could it? Judging from the way his friend had left, in such a hurry, without even a backward glance, he supposed it must be. Craig had sensed the sheer panic that had assailed his lover as he'd fled and he wondered how he could possibly have got things so wrong. He'd honestly thought that Richard would be as pleased and excited as he himself was. They'd been together a year, a whole year and now it was over, and it was their anniversary, damn it! Craig had been so looking forward to sharing his dream with Richard. He'd pictured them sitting side by side on the bed looking through the specs, eagerly discussing the pros and cons of each flat and making plans for their future and now, in a few short minutes, it was over, their relationship in tatters. The enormity of what had happened washed over him and he lay down on the bed and thrust his head under the pillow trying to shut out the thought of an entire future of pain and emptiness that was staring him in the face now that Richard had gone. It was years since he'd cried but he couldn't stop himself this time.

Richard got to his car, climbed in and drove home as fast as he could. He raced up the stairs to his flat and hurried through the door. Once inside he held onto the door frame for support, breathing heavily as the panic began to subside. It took him some time to calm down but when he did he felt even worse. He'd just run out on Craig and he couldn't believe how much it hurt to contemplate life without him as his lover and best friend, but he couldn't see any way he could go back because of the way he felt about his privacy. Richard's need for space had caused problems in his previous relationships and, this time, he'd allowed himself to believe that Craig understood his feelings; he'd certainly seemed to - up until today. That had meant a great deal to Richard and the realisation that he'd been wrong made everything seem so much worse now. He could also sense Craig's distress and that wasn't helping his mood either. The knowledge that he was going to have to deal with his own feelings and cope with his friend's at the same time, coupled with the fact that he and Craig were going to have to find some way of working together, increased the despair that Richard felt. He lay down on the settee and tried unsuccessfully to hold back the scalding tears that came to his eyes and ran down his cheeks.

...

The mission was over at last, Tremayne opened the door and they left his office.

"Not so fast," Sharron said, as Craig and Richard started to stride away, "I have something to say to you both, my place would be best I think."

She led the way to her car and both men followed meekly. Richard climbed into the back seat and Craig started to walk round to the front.

"Oh no you don't," Sharron said, "both of you can sit in the back."

It was an awkward journey with both men looking anywhere but at each other. All three of them were relieved when they finally arrived at Sharron's.

"Out!" she said and marched into her home with the two men following in her wake.

As soon as they were indoors Sharron turned on them both.

"I don't know what's happened between you two but you have to sort it out. That was the most uncomfortable mission I've ever been on with the pair of you. If we are going to continue to work together then something has to change. I am not going through anything like that again ever," she said, angrily.

"It didn't compromise the mission. It all worked out all right," ventured Craig.

"Yes, we were professional about it, you have to admit," agreed Richard.

"For goodness sake, I acknowledge that you both did your jobs and managed to work together but you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. It's been a month now that the two of you have been like this and, if you think that I am going to carry on working with the pair of you under these conditions, you can think again. I am going out now and, if you haven't sorted things out by the time I get back, I'm going to Tremayne to request that I'm never again put into a situation like I was just in. I know you care about one another, and you don't seem to want to talk to me about what's going on, so maybe you should actually try talking to each other about it," she finished.

Both men watched as she stalked out of the door.

"What now?" asked Richard, after a long uncomfortable silence.

"Do I know?"

"I'm no good at this – I hate talking about feelings," admitted Richard.

"You think I don't know that already?" asked Craig. "Maybe if you weren't that way we wouldn't be in this mess."

"Well you aren't exactly forthcoming either are you?"

"Look this isn't getting us anywhere. Sharron's right, we do need to sort this out. I, for one, do not want Tremayne informed about this."

"Agreed," said Richard.

"So, we talk," Craig paused. "You first."

"What is there to say? I need my space, you should have known that, you backed me into a corner and I ran. I was hoping that you'd come to me and apologise when you realised how bad I was feeling. You must have known, must have felt how much I hurt and yet you didn't make any attempt to contact me to patch things up."

"How much you hurt? Couldn't you feel what I was going through? God, Richard, you walked out on me, you didn't even walk, you ran, you left me. I'd just offered to share my life and you didn't even have the decency to discuss it, to tell me how you felt, you just upped and left. And, for the record, I kinda thought that if there was apologising to do it would be you doing it not me. What did I do wrong? Why is it wrong for me to want to live with the person I love most in the world?"

"It isn't wrong. My running wasn't about what you wanted it was about me. I need space Craig; I need somewhere that is just for me. I thought you understood that, that's what hurt the most, the realisation that you didn't know how important it is for me to have somewhere where I can be on my own. It's hard enough for me to never be able to cut myself off completely mentally, without having my physical retreat taken away too. I really thought that you understood – you always respected my need to get away to my own flat when I wanted to, you never complained. That recognition was so important to me and I felt betrayed when I discovered that you obviously hadn't accepted it at all," Richard said.

"Richard, do you honestly think I don't know how it is for you? You're right; I don't fully understand why you feel the need to shut yourself off sometimes. How can I? Sure, I have a mental link with you but that doesn't mean I know how your mind works. But if you think I don't accept that you do need your own space sometimes then you couldn't be more wrong. I'll tell you what hurt me most –the lack of trust. You didn't trust me with your thoughts, your feelings and, more than that, you didn't trust me to want the best for us both. You should have known I would never put you in a position where you had to choose between that space you need so much and me, never."

"But you did. You gave me a list of places we could rent together. I know I was panicking too much to take in the details but I did notice the prices and there is no way we could have afforded to rent one of those apartments and keep Kaida Bray on too," Richard protested.

"Damn you Richard, do you think I hadn't thought of that? Did you even look beyond the first sheet of paper in that envelope I handed you?"

"No," his friend admitted," I was too busy getting into a state about what I was going to say to you."

"Well if you had trusted me you would have looked, or at the very least you would have told me how you felt. Because, Richard, also in that envelope was a list of apartments suitable for one person. I admit they were smaller than Kaida Bray but nevertheless they were big enough for you to use as your sanctuary. I went to a lot of trouble to make sure we could afford to rent a place together and still keep some separate personal space for you. I know how trapped you sometimes feel and I wanted so much to be with you that I thought it was the best compromise."

Richard's face showed his consternation as the meaning of his friend's words sank in.

"Oh, Craig I'm so sorry. I just panicked; I shouldn't have run like that. I know I should have talked to you about it but I couldn't think straight. I felt trapped and just had to get away."

He paused and briefly looked down at the floor before continuing.

"I'm truly sorry; I never meant to hurt you, you mean more to me than anyone ever has in my whole life. I really wish I hadn't done what I did. But, you have to take some responsibility for the situation we are in now - you knew I was hurting too, so why didn't you call me and explain?"

I agree it's my fault too. I know I should have tried to get in touch and not waited to hear from you and I admit that I thought it should be you who contacted me and not the other way round. But Richard, it wasn't just stubbornness. I didn't know what to do for the best. Whenever you'd felt the need to get away and be by yourself in the past you'd always told me before you left. It was always so clear that you wanted to be left alone until you were ready to re-engage and I understood that. I gave you the space you wanted and waited for you to contact me. I knew that there would probably always be occasions when you needed time alone but I believed that you would come back to me. You needed to know that you were the one in control in that situation and that I wouldn't badger you to come back until you were ready. How was I to know that this time was different and that you wanted me to call you? As well as that I was angry, furious in fact. I was cross with myself for just shoving the paperwork at you without telling you what I had in mind first. You were supposed to look through the stuff while I was in the kitchen and find the page about single apartments and be all pleased and surprised. I had no idea that you'd be so paralysed with fear you wouldn't even turn the page. When I came out of the kitchen I thought that you'd read through the whole lot and didn't like the idea of us having a place to share even if you still had a retreat for yourself. I was mad at you for running out without saying how you felt. And madder still that you didn't call me when you felt how much I hurt. I felt betrayed and lost and," his voice cracked, "so very lonely without you. Richard, I need you, it's hell to go to bed every night all alone, to wake up each morning without you there. My life is so empty now you're gone. I can't bear this; I don't want this pain any longer."

"I don't want to carry on this way either," said Richard. "I'd really like for us to try and put what happened behind us and start again. We can get over this, I know we can, we have to; our relationship is too important to throw away because of a stupid misunderstanding. Can you… will you….give it another go with me?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry, but I really don't know if I can put myself through any more. What happens the next time you feel trapped Richard? Will you up and run again? I know talking isn't easy for either of us but I need you to trust me enough to discuss how you feel and not just shut me out. Every day since you left I wanted to call you and try and sort things out and every day I stopped myself from picking up that phone. Do you know why? It's because I didn't know if I could stand to take that risk again, I still don't know, it hurt so much. Some nights I couldn't even bear to sleep in the bed, Richard. The thought of lying there without you was intolerable. Even if I was lucky enough to manage to sleep I knew I would wake up and reach out for you, momentarily forgetting everything that had happened, only to find myself alone again. I couldn't face it, so I'd lie awake on the couch instead, just longing to feel you by my side. No-one has ever hurt me like you did," he paused for a moment and then went on, "I cried Richard, I never cry, you know that. All the times I've been tortured, mentally, physically - whatever they put me through - I never cried, not once, but I cried when you left me Richard."

"I know", there was a pause as Richard looked down at the floor as he struggled to force words out, "I did too," he finally managed, his whisper barely audible.

His friend opened his mouth to speak but Richard stilled him,

"There's more….," he started to say, then words failed him.

Craig watched and waited patiently while Richard fought a titanic battle to make himself say what his friend needed to hear.

"Trust me," Craig said quietly, looking into his friend's eyes, and the words gave Richard the strength to fight his natural reticence.

"Being without you was the worst thing I've ever experienced. In the past whenever I've felt hurt or upset I've needed solitude. Being at home alone at Kaida Bray was such a comfort to me. But not this time, Craig, not this time. For the first time in my life I felt that things were just too tidy, it all seemed so soulless, like a show flat or something. I missed seeing your things lying around, I even scattered some stuff about to try and make the place looked like someone really lived there but it didn't help, nothing helped. It didn't feel like a sanctuary any more it just felt empty. I felt so lost, I couldn't even think. Nothing made any sense. I didn't want to live alone any more but I was terrified of us moving in together and having to give up my own space. I was so torn. I wanted to call you to tell you that, if you still wanted me, I was ready to move in with you. But, every time I thought about giving up any chance of privacy, I panicked and couldn't do it. I went over and over it in my mind but I just couldn't resolve the conflict. And I confess that my stubborn streak asserted itself at times and I thought that it ought to be you who made the first move and not me. Even so I needed you…..need you so much."

He walked over and took both Craig's hands in his. For a moment his friend seemed as though he was going to pull his hands away but he didn't.

"I can't promise I'll never run again," Richard went on. "Sometimes I get so wound up that I just have to escape but I will promise you, if I do cut and run, I'll call you the second I've calmed down. One thing we have proved is that we can talk like this if we have to. I know it isn't easy for either of us but we've managed it today. I suppose it might even get easier over time. Craig, I don't want us to be apart any longer. Let's try again – please."

Craig hesitated and his friend moved closer to him.

"Don't leave me," Richard begged.

"It was you who left me, remember?" Craig replied quietly, taking the sting out of the words by gently putting his arms around his friend. "Never do it again Richard, I love you too much to waste any more time on misunderstandings."

"You can't know how much I missed you," Richard whispered, as he leant forward and started to kiss Craig.

"I can and I do, I felt it too. We're linked remember? And you must know how much I've missed this," replied his lover, kissing him back.

"Then it's time we stopped talking and started making up for lost time," responded Richard, holding his friend tightly and drawing him further into the kiss.

Craig leant in closer, crushing Richard's lips with his own, at the same time stroking his fingers upwards through the hair at the nape of his friend's neck.

"I want you…. I want you right now," he murmured.

Richard moaned as his hands went to Craig's belt, his fingers working to release the clasp.

"Not here! Sharron could walk in at any moment," gasped his lover, fighting to stay in control of himself.

"Let's leave her a note to say thanks and explain where we are, then go back to your place. I'll call for a taxi, you write the note," said Richard, keeping a tight hold on Craig's hand as he picked up the telephone.

...

Craig smiled as he woke up in his bed the next morning and found Richard in his arms.

"My God, you feel so good," he said, "I love waking up with you."

"I wish I could turn the clock back and have you give me those lists again. It was a great idea of yours to rent two apartments and such a perfect compromise. I can hardly believe we wasted so much time before sorting things out. How stupid and stubborn we were," Richard replied. "I suppose most of the apartments will have been let by now," he continued, a little sadly.

"Stupid, stubborn but also scared of getting hurt more, and that's the reason I think we should continue as we are for a little while and think about moving in together when things are a bit less raw," responded his friend.

"Maybe you're right," said Richard, with a trace of disappointment in his voice. "It seems a bit ironic that now I'm keen on the idea you're holding back. You're my life, Craig, and nothing would make me happier than to live with you but I do understand why you want to wait. I know you were really hurt and I'm truly sorry for that."

"I know and I'm sorry too. I just need some time to get over what happened between us. I want us to live together very much but a part of me is so scared of more heartache that I can't help but hold back – just a little."

"It's all right I understand," Richard replied, stroking Craig's hair, "I can wait. As soon as you are ready to look around at places we can rent together let me know, I'll be ready this time."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"Did you really mean what you said before?" asked Craig.

"Which part?" asked Richard.

"The bit about how much I mean to you?"

"Of course I did, but I'm much better at showing you that than telling you," Richard replied, suiting the action to the word and rolling towards his lover, kissing him tenderly, then with increasing passion.

Craig grabbed his friend and rolled so that Richard was underneath him and returned the kiss with enthusiasm, his hands roaming over his lover's body, with bruising force.

Richard lay back, enjoying the feel of his lover's firm hands on his body. Then, as Craig shifted his weight slightly in the belief that his friend had accepted his domination, he flexed his hips and threw him off, rolling over on top of him and pinning him down with his body weight. There followed a brief tussle for supremacy before Craig finally capitulated and allowed Richard to take control.

Craig reflected that, while his friend was capable of making him feel more despair than he'd ever felt in his life, Richard could also make him happier than he would have believed possible. With this pleasant thought in his head he surrendered to the pure pleasure of making love with Richard.