This story is an easter egg for the Hidden Places series. Tomas is often asked about two of the characters in his book Red Sunset, and whether they get their happy ending. Here it is…
The war was over. So why wasn’t he celebrating like everyone else? Alan Blackthorn sat back in his chair and took a long drink from his glass of beer. Around him, people were sitting in groups, talking. Men had their arms around their wives and girlfriends. Two men sat in the corner, kissing. Alan’s gaze lingered for a few moments before he forced himself to look away.
Someone at a couple of tables over said something that was apparently witty as a few moments over it was followed by laughter. He recognised it. Clare had been a part of his unit. She’d talked to him one evening about how badly she wanted this war to be over so she could get home to her wife and child.
He’d miss this. Not the bloodshed and killing, but the feeling of belonging to something bigger than just him. He’d fought alongside men and women who had started out as strangers and then grown to become friends, and more. They were family in all the ways that mattered. The last two years had been different to anything he’d experienced before. While Alan prided himself in being a team player, he hadn’t realised just how much these people had grown to mean to him.
Going back home after this, to the job he’d had before the war wasn’t going to be easy. Nor was life on Earth going to be the same ever again. It had been a shock to realise that the aliens they’d fought weren’t that much different to themselves. Both sides had fought to protect themselves over a misunderstanding that had quickly grown to be so much more. It had taken two men, one from each side, to lay down weapons and actually talk in the midst of a battle to begin the process of brokering an uneasy peace. Naturally their superiors hadn’t been particularly enamoured by the idea at first, but both sides had already lost too many people. To be honest, no one was even sure, in hindsight, who had fired the first shot.
“Mind if I join you?”
Alan looked up, ready to scowl at whoever had interrupted his thoughts but when he saw Roger, he felt a slow flush spread over his face instead. “Sure,” he said. “Want some help?”
“Thanks, but no.” Roger Lambert grinned at his former teammate. He leaned a wooden cane against the table once he was sitting down.
“You’ve got rid of the crutches,” Alan said, kicking himself for stating the obvious.
“Yeah, finally.” Roger grimaced. “Another couple of weeks and I should be able to lose this bloody thing too.” He’d been injured just before the last battle, and not in the line of duty but by some idiot driver who hadn’t been watching where he was going.
“That’s good,” Alan said. He took another swig of beer, his mouth suddenly dry. Meeting like this was something he’d wanted to avoid, despite how much he wanted to see Roger again. His feelings for his friend were complicated, to say the least, and he wasn’t sure they were returned.
Roger shrugged, his fingers tapping a rhythm on the table top. “You’re still not great about coming out and saying stuff, are you?” He took a deep breath. “Do you remember that night before the last time you went into space? We sat and watched the stars together. I wasn’t sure you’d come back…” His voice trailed back.
“I wasn’t sure either,” Alan admitted. Without thinking he reached across the table and clasped Roger’s hand in his own. “I thought about it while I was out there, you know.” He’d told himself he’d do this if he ever got back, if he ever got to see Roger again, but instead he’d hidden in this bar, and avoided him.
“Yeah, so did I.” Roger seemed nervous. He brushed a lock of hair back from his face, and met Alan’s gaze straight on, his dark eyes intense. “I’m still thinking about it.” He yanked his hand free, grabbed at his cane and shook his head. “Look, I’m sorry. You don’t need me here rabbiting on about the past. It’s gone and we have a future to build now. All of us do. I’ll leave you in peace with your thoughts.”
“You don’t have to leave, Roger,” Alan said quietly. He swallowed. This was ridiculous. He and Roger had known each other since this war had started. They’d fought alongside each other, saved each other’s lives more times than either of them could count.
Oh to hell with it. Who was he trying to fool? He knew what he wanted for his future. Not what. Who.
“You were one of the reasons I wanted to come home,” Alan continued. “There was something I should have done that last night, things I should have said.”
“You could say them now,” Roger told him. “Better that things are said than left unsaid.” He chuckled a little but it sounded choked. “The future’s what we make it, right?”
“Right.” Alan had never been good with this kind of thing. He still wasn’t sure what had made him lay down his weapons and talk to that alien. A lapse of sanity perhaps? Or maybe in the whole crazy situation, he’d actually found he still had some left. No one outside a select few knew he’d been the one everyone was talking about. He wanted it left that way. “I keep telling myself it can’t be harder than talking to that alien guy, right?”
“Right.” Roger blew out a breath. “I still can’t believe you did that.” He frowned. “And you’re procrastinating whatever the hell this is. I’m a patient guy but you’re driving me crazy here.”
“You could always say it first,” Alan said. “It’s kind of obvious it’s not just me―”
Roger leaned across the table, pulled Alan into his arms and kissed him. Hard.
He tasted good, better than Alan had imagined and he’d always prided himself on having a damn good imagination. Alan deepened the kiss, and moaned loudly.
When they finally came up for air, both men were breathing heavily. “Yes,” Alan whispered. “Very kind of obvious it’s not just me.” He got up from the table and held out his hand. “I wanted to do that that night, and I didn’t. What say we go find some stars and make up for lost time?”
Roger grinned. He took Alan’s hand and squeezed it. “Make our own future? Yeah, I’d like that,” he said. “A lot.”