Stewart was out of the car. Gary crossed the distance between them quickly. Stewart, again, looked like he hadn’t slept. Gary hesitated before catching him in a hug. In Stewart’s touch, he recognized the relief he felt to be reunited after a night apart. Gary had missed Stewart with something close to physical pain, and it wasn’t just about the sex. He missed Stewart’s warmth. And the way Stewart molded his body to Gary’s when he finally let the tension he carried in his shoulders temporarily slip away. And their nonsense midnight conversations, conducted in whispers so quiet, neither of them had a clue what was being said most of the time. He had lain awake most of the night, remembering and thinking about getting up and driving south to turn up on Stewart’s doorstep.
Gary pulled back, hands on Stewart’s biceps, holding him in place.
“You came back,” Gary said.
“You have my wedding ring,” Stewart said, but he was smiling.
Gary slipped the ring off his pinky finger. A small band of yellow gold. The similarity in their ring sizes told Gary that Stewart hadn’t always been skinny. Gary had other evidence to support that theory. He’d never seen a grown man eat so little, never seen anyone get such bad cramps if they ate more than a saucer’s worth of food at dinner.
Stewart accepted the ring. He turned it over in his fingers as Gary watched, before slipping it onto his right hand. Not his left. Gary studied Stewart’s hands.
“You took off the other ring,” Gary said. When they met, Stewart was wearing rings on the fourth finger of each hand. His wedding ring on the left, and his civil partnership ring on the right.
“It was time,” Stewart said. “Time for the civil partnership ring to go into a drawer. And it’s not like I’m married anymore, is it?”
Gary didn’t know what to say. He put his fingers under Stewart’s chin. Gently, he tilted Stewart’s head back.
“Have you eaten?”
“Of course. I had to drive with Havana in the car. I had to eat.”
What a brilliant reason for breakfast, Gary thought. He kept his mouth shut. While Stewart went to get his daughter from the car, Gary told him there was food in the house if Stewart wanted to eat before they left. Stewart ignored him.
Once out of her car seat, Havana wandered around the car to Gary. She was a sweet thing, although all Gary knew about kids was how to wind them up and leave them for someone else to deal with. He could handle his nephew, Lucas’s, adventurous streak as long as the boy agreed to take it out on video games every few hours if they were alone together.
Havana was nothing like Lucas. She could be painfully quiet. Gary knew Stewart worried about that, but he suspected Havana was following Stewart’s lead. For all Stewart’s fears that, since Havana wasn’t his biological daughter, their relationship was fragile, Gary could see a mile off that Havana adored Stewart. She was just learning his behaviors. If Gary knew him better, he would tell Stewart that.
“How are you, little lady?” Gary asked.
Gary knew Stewart was watching. Evidently, it was to both their surprise when Havana stretched her arms out, reaching for Gary. Gary looked at Stewart warily as Havana laughed. Stewart shrugged. Gary lifted Havana, terrified at how tiny she was in his arms. He held her out, her legs swinging in midair and listened as she laughed. Stewart came to stand with them. Gary set Havana down. He got down to her level, a big task for a big guy.
“You doing good?” he asked.
“Saw Dad in my bedroom,” she said.
It took a second or two for Gary to work out what she meant. Stewart was Daddy; Archie had been Dad. He looked at Stewart, knowing Stewart regretted telling his daughter her dad could look over her as she slept, wearing an invisibility coat so Havana wouldn’t be able to see him. He saw the way Stewart shook his head. The meaning of the gesture wasn’t clear beyond don’t ask
. Gary got back to his full height and reached for Havana’s hand to lead them both into the house.
After a few minutes of reintroductions and hellos, Havana wandered off to play with the other kids. Stewart watched her for a few minutes before following Gary to the kitchen. Eleni handed Gary his clipboard. She could be cold at times, a behavior two nights earlier she claimed was because she had a crush on him, but Gary was pleased to see her try to smile at Stewart. Stewart smiled back, and Gary fought the urge to reach for him.
“We’re ready to start loading the van,” Eleni said.
They had agreed she would drive the van and Gary would follow in his Jeep with Stewart and Havana. His was the better car for the rugged terrain, more so than Stewart’s.
“Okay,” Gary said. He looked at Stewart, who was leaning against the island unit. Then he turned his attention back to Eleni. “Would you mind making a start?”
Eleni looked between Gary and Stewart. Gary didn’t care what she was reading into his request. He told her he would be down to help in half an hour and took Stewart to the bedroom upstairs he was sleeping in.
“You still hoping to set off before nine?” Stewart asked.
It was just after eight thirty. That had been Gary’s plan, but when he pulled Stewart in for a hug he was less sure there was a reason to rush. He squeezed and heard Stewart exhale. Gary knew what he wanted, but it wasn’t fair to ask for it. Not for a promise to date, and try to see if they could make something long-term work between them, and not for Gary’s immediate, pressing urge to take Stewart to bed. Stewart looked exhausted, and the way he melted against Gary’s bigger frame made Gary think he was looking for someone to hand over the reins to. As if he had done his bit by getting himself and Havana back to Gary, and wasn’t capable of much more.
Gary rubbed a big hand up and down Stewart’s back. Stewart settled his head against Gary’s chest. Gary felt the tension ease from the man’s neck and shoulders. It hadn’t taken Gary long to work out Stewart lived on nerves. Stewart sighed, and Gary eased back enough so he could tilt the man’s head. Stewart smiled. It looked good on him.
“I missed you,” Gary said.
Stewart answered with a kiss, going on his toes to close some of the height difference between them. Gary bent and took care of the rest. The kiss started as forcefully as their hug, but it turned sweet. Stewart moved so his arms were around Gary’s neck. Gary pushed his knee between Stewart’s legs. Gary thought he might be the only thing keeping Stewart upright.
“Thank you for coming back,” Gary whispered against Stewart’s lips when they broke their kiss.
Stewart’s eyes were closed. “It never crossed my mind not to.”
Stewart shook his head. When he opened his eyes, they shone with emotion, almost as if he was angry. “I don’t know what’s going to come of this, if anything will come of it. But I couldn’t get you out of my head last night.”
“Same,” Gary said. He half hoisted Stewart into his arms for another hug.