His knuckles are turning white; his hands feel more like claws the longer he grips the railings. Sea spray bejewels his hair as he stares out at the water. Today, the sea is a toxic mix of green and blue and grey and "You left," Adrian mutters from behind him.
Casper wants to kick the iron railings. Not because Adrian found him, or because he's angry at Adrian (he isn't). He just wants to kick something, and goddamn if he knows why. "Only for a bit," Casper replies, licking salt from his lips. Adrian shrugs, and joins Casper at the railings – last night, Casper would have screamed at him for that, but now… now that seems like a lot of effort.
It had started in September. One evening, with the sun streaking pale orange in the blue sky, Adrian had dragged Casper outside. The receptionist looked oddly at them and a bell-boy almost ran over Casper's foot with a luggage cart. "What?" Casper hissed, dodging the wheels.
"I found it," Adrian laughed, suddenly bounding into the woods lining the hotel car park. With a sigh, Casper followed. After a few seconds of plants snapping and the forest crunching under their feet, they were in a clearing.
The clearing wasn't special. It was normal, and the brook running through it was normal, and the lazy clouds overhead were normal. "Adrian-" Casper started.
"I know. Hold on a second."
Casper held on for a second.
And then something was changing, like a chemical reaction or the tide going out. The air zinged with magic and electricity and promise. Adrian smiled shyly at Casper. "Feel it?" he asked, and Casper knew he wasn't talking about the air.
Casper trailed a hand in the bubbling water, touching the stones just under the surface. His asthma was playing up, but he didn't mind very much. Not with Adrian lying so close that they breathed in each other's breaths.
Cars rushed in the background. The natural sounds of the clearing barely drowned out the noise of the freeway. It was strange how something so close to the outside world could stay so hidden.
Though they both knew they had to go back to the hotel soon, it didn't matter for the moment. The fact that Adrian was still playing with his engagement ring, sliding the gold ring around the base of his finger, did matter. It mattered a lot.
"You OK?" Adrian asked.
Casper nodded absently, drying off a stone from the stream and slipping it into his coat pocket.
They left for Paris the next day. Courtney drove them to the airport in Adrian's Lexus; she and her assistant were taking the car on the ferry. "Safe journey," she said, handing Casper his carry-on luggage and passport. She'd sealed it up in a plastic along with his boarding pass, and gave Adrian an identical wallet.
"You're a star," Adrian said, without a hint of irony, and passionately kissed her goodbye.
The next moment, Adrian and Casper were standing alone in the middle of Heathrow Airport. Adrian smiled, flicking his blonde hair out of his face and lazily touching Casper's wrist. "C'mon," he said. "We should find our gate."
It so turned out that their gate was very close, and they had half an hour to spare. Adrian wanted pancakes and Casper needed caffeine, so they waited for a table at the Giraffe café and ordered breakfast. Neither of them spoke much, until, "I should tell her about this."
Casper speared a blueberry on his fork. "But you won't." It wasn't a question.
The blond considered this for a moment, stealing a sip of Casper's coffee. "I might," he mused.
"Lucky me," Casper murmured under his breath, and smushed the blueberry.
They'd been standing in the liquor section for over three minutes. The cashier, in her forest green apron, was peering around the olive oil at them, frowning curiously. Adrian shot her an icy look. Her auburn hair bobbed as she snapped back into place behind the till.
"Look, just tell me: what do you want?" Casper asked impatiently. He always said he could talk about alcohol for hours, but this was taking the piss.
Adrian shrugged moodily. "I don't know."
"Well, which do you prefer? Wine or spirits?" The floor was tiled with glazed terracotta tiles.
Adrian sighed. "You tell me."
"I don't fucking know! Why would I know? It's your preference." Casper wanted bourbon, but that wasn't the point.
"Tell me what you want me to say," Adrian snapped. His arms were crossed defensively across his chest. "I don't know! Have the fucking Pinot Gritio if you want it! Have bourbon if you don't!"
"But what do you want?" Casper tried, his nerves fraying like the bottoms of his jeans.
Adrian shrugged, and wandered off.
The new hotel room was cold. "I'm cold," Adrian whimpered, wriggling under the sheets until he was pressed against Casper's back. Casper's skin was smooth and luminous-white and swept up into sharp shoulder blades.
Casper moved away from Adrian. He was on the brink of falling off the bed, but he would rather that than be pressed against Adrian right then. With barely restrained tears, Adrian tried again, skin sliding on skin like waves of water. Casper didn't move. He'd decided that falling off the bed would not be graceful.
"Casper," Adrian whispered. "Please. I'm cold." Casper wasn't his real name. It was Jason.
"Should have thought of that before, shouldn't you?"
"What do you want me to say? I already told you I was sorry." Their room looked out to the sea front; they could see the grey dawn rising over a papier-mâché sea and seagulls wheeling in the air.
The clock read 5.15 in lime green letters. Adrian moved again and Casper tumbled out of bed. Neither of them said anything as Casper dressed and slammed the door shut, taking his dark overcoat with him.
There is a statue in Copenhagen harbour, mermaid staring out to sea. Her bronze body is stained turquoise in places, the essence of the sea distilled on her skin. Casper stares at it and Adrian stares at Casper.
"The Little Mermaid," Casper murmurs. The words are almost lost on the gusts of salty wind, but he knows that Adrian has heard him.
Adrian doesn't reply. Casper thinks about the Little Mermaid. He imagines her rescuing the prince, breathing life into him as the sea took them to the rocky shore. Then Casper things about Adrian, and how his very kiss seems to suck all the life out of Casper.
His hands are cold. They are clenched on the railing still, he realises, and puts them in his pocket. His fingers brush something smooth, rounded, at the bottom of his silk-lined pocket. With a grimace, he takes the stone from the stream out of his pocket.
It plinks when he drops into the sea, and Adrian turns to him. "C'mon. Lets go inside," he offers, reaching for Casper.
Casper doesn't move, and after a while Adrian shrugs and wanders off.