The workshop was hot, draughty and loud, filled with the same familiar smell of diesel, oil and metal that Adam carried faintly on his skin and clothes at times. The huge bay housed several projects and a fair number of technicians, several of whom looked up and smiled at Stuart as he passed them. The most familiar, Mick, jerked his head at the office door, unable to make his voice heard over the whine of the power tools. He and several others in the company green coveralls were working on the central project, Adam’s current pride and joy. It was named the MX3 but at present it was an unprepossessing hunk of metal. Stuart followed Mick’s directions and found Adam in the office, coveralls ripped open at the neck and his dark hair in his eyes as he leaned over his desk. Plans, blue prints and schematics littered the surface. All the serious paperwork was filed in the overflowing trays on the shelves: Adam had little to no interest in it and did it under protest. Several coffee mugs stood abandoned around the small room and a pot plant was dying from the fumes on the windowsill. All totally at odds with Adam’s obsessive neatness in his own home, like his filthy hands and oilstained clothes were at odds with his usually immaculate dress sense. Adam Rhys was nothing if not an enigma. Stuart leaned against the doorframe and waited fairly patiently while Adam scanned through his papers. When he finally straightened up he blinked at Stuart for a few seconds, then the smile kicked in and he glanced through the doorway for discretion’s sake before he came around the desk and hooked an arm over Stuart’s neck to kiss him.
“Hey. I won't be long.”
"No rush." Stuart wandered over to Adam's cluttered desk and picked up a model car from the debris. "I'll just sit here and time you. And make plans about what I do about a partner who works too hard and won't come home when the weekend started…" he glanced at his watch. "At least fifteen minutes ago."
Adam grinned, thinking over the work left for the shift. “Give me five minutes and I’ll be finished.”
He got one of Stuart's sweet smiles and Stuart sat down on the desk with the appearance of having all the time in the world. That was something Stuart Hutton specialised in. Not hassling. It was one of the multiple reasons Adam had been happy to move in with him. At the time it had felt like a huge risk. Now he could hardly remember what he'd been so worried about.
Mick Collins saw him come out of the office and fell back to conversational distance from the MX3 frame. “Are you going home?”
“If you’re okay.” Adam looked the model over, resisting the urge to check the work being done. “Once they’ve finished the rivets leave it and get the place tidied up, it’ll wait for Monday.”
“Have a filthy weekend.”
“And you.” Adam said sweetly. Mick, who had a nine week old baby at home and had forgotten what sleep was, gave him a polite bow and an obscenity. Stuart was slumped on the low office chairs, drinking coffee. Adam tousled his hair as he passed, folded the blueprints and began to pull his coveralls off.
“Have you eaten?”
Stuart hooked an arm over Adam's neck as they headed down the walkway that led out of the workshop. "Not going well?"
"We're behind the deadlines again." Adam glanced briefly back at the technicians still surrounding the MX3. "Still waiting for parts."
"There isn't much you can do about that, love. It's not like you can go over to Germany and get them, it isn't something you've got any control over."
"I know. But I keep ringing them up and harassing-"
"Ad." Stuart pulled Adam closer, making him keep walking and leave the MX3 behind. "Don't tell me but this and but that; that's not an argument, that's a polite way of not listening to me. However stressed you get, you can't control how other companies do business, or when they make deliveries."
"But if I don't hassle-"
Stuart's arm slipped from Adam's neck and swatted the seat of his overalls firmly. "You can't control everything. We keep talking about this. Now walk away and forget about it."
"Or what?" Adam said. His tone was a little tired, but Stuart heard the gleam of amusement. This aspect of their relationship was still very new to them, but in the last couple of weeks, Adam seemed more able to detach from what could be obsessive worrying about work. The amusement sounded a lot healthier to Stuart.
"You know what." he said firmly. "Behave."
"Why? It's so much more fun winding you up."
"Get in the car." Stuart swatted Adam again and Adam grinned at him, losing the tiredness from his face.
Stuart’s blue escort was parked in the staff carpark; he spent enough time at the Grania workshops to be recognised by most of the staff. Usually Adam jogged to and from work, knocking up an average of twenty five to thirty miles a week, which kept him sane through a week of meetings and workshop crises. It was about his one serious hobby.
The answer phone was flashing as they walked in, in mid call. Adam jogged across the kitchen and picked the receiver up, interrupting the recorded message. "Hello?"
Stuart paused in the doorway, keys in hand. Adam listened for a minute then rolled his eyes at Stuart. "Hello Maggie. Did Johnstones' get your transmission repaired all right? No, it doesn’t need parts.” Adam glanced at his watch. “I’ll have a look at it tomorrow, I can take it into the workshop if I need to.”
"You will not." Stuart commented, hooking the orange juice out of the fridge. Adam glared at him.
"Yes he's here Maggie- nice to talk to you."
“Shut up.” Adam handed the phone over with relief. "I'll be in the shower."
"So I'm cooking am I? Hi Mum."
"You're the one who's into food."
"I'll go with that." Stuart called after him. "You live off the coke and chocolate machine in the workshop; I’ve seen you at it. If Cadburys ever goes out of business you’ll starve.”
Adam's answer was in his native Welsh, which left Stuart in some doubt of whether it was agreement or swearing.
He chatted to his mother while he sorted out meat and vegetables. He tended to cook properly when they had the time: Adam left to his own devices, ate little at all and what he did eat tended to be pure junk. Between that and the running, he always looked to Stuart as though he could do with putting on half a stone. Adam was sprawled full length in the water when Stuart went through to him, a scotch in one hand, orange juice in the other. Adam accepted the juice without opening his eyes, shifting to lean against Stuart as he sat on the edge of the bath. Stuart had never been able to look at those powerful, muscular shoulders without touching. The hot water was relaxing him; his kneading hands produced something like a purr.
“What did she want?"
"Just a sociable chat. Did you get the third degree again?"
“In stereo. I said I’d have a look at her car tomorrow- I promised. We can take it up to the workshop, I’m probably going to have to.”
Stuart shook him gently. “You’re not interested in me at all, are you? You’re just turned on by the family cars.”
“If I could get your father’s Merc into bed…”
Stuart smiled but let his voice deepen very slightly.
"You are NOT going near the MX3 until Monday, Adam Rhys. Whether or not we go near the workshop, you leave it alone. Do you hear me?"
Adam opened his eyes and looked at him. They'd talked so much about this. Negotiated, discussed, written and rewritten, compared, agreed. It had been Adam who had asked, who had talked Stuart into considering it, but Stuart had wanted it thought through, planned, needed to be sure of what Adam needed from him and why. And it was still so new that every time they moved into the new ground, every time Stuart laid down the law, he saw the clash in Adam's eyes. A flash of rebellion and outrage.
He ran a hand gently over Adam's dark hair, not without sympathy, but this was what Adam wanted from him and he made himself sound firm. "Yes I DO mean it. And you WILL be in trouble if you don't listen. Now suppose you get out of there before you fall asleep and come and have something to eat?"
They were woken by the crash of the front door and a revoltingly cheerful shout.
“What time do you call this Adam Rhys?”
Adam groaned, rolled over and buried himself under the duvet. Stuart, who had more objections to being caught in his shorts, pulled some clothes on and went to let in Adam’s twin. A little smaller than Adam, her dark hair a little longer, without the strongly defined bone that jointed Adam’s leanness, apart from that there wasn’t much difference between them. Sara gave him an identical grin to Adam's and sat on the draining board like an elf in jeans to watch him make tea. Initially he had been startled at how often she was in the flat and how much Adam seemed to take that for granted, but Sara wasn't someone it was easy to be shy with.
“Haven’t you kicked him out of bed yet?”
“He isn’t a morning person. Be kind.” Stuart put the kettle on, filled three cups with as much caffeine as taste permitted and looked for what cupboards were within his reach. “Is there anything edible up there?”
Sara ducked her head under the cupboard door and searched. “None of the crap that Adam likes. My God have you actually got him eating cereal?”
“Adam!” Stuart raised his voice to penetrate the duvet. “Breakfast?”
“Uh. Biscuits. Cupboard over the sink.”
Stuart shook his head at Sara. “You see? Nutrition is something that happens to other people.”
Sara opened the biscuits. “Its incredible he stays that thin.”
“It's all the running he does.”
“Give me the coffee, I’ll get him out of bed.”
She would too, like a terrier digging out a rabbit. Stuart followed and watched her descend on her brother and kiss him, forcibly. Adam muttered something horrible in Welsh and dug in further under the bed clothes. “Piss off.”
“Have you got plans for the day?” Sara sat back against the bedhead. Stuart put coffee within reach of Adam’s shattered senses.
“Something about my mother’s car.”
“How’s your estate agent?”
“Gorgeous.” She smirked at him. Adam snaked a hand out for the coffee without opening his eyes.
“If you barge in here this early again, I’ll tell Ianto you’re living in sin and he’ll strangle you.”
“Ianto wouldn’t. Bryn might.” Sara grinned. “I don’t think Stephen could handle Bryn.”
“Your Stephen couldn’t handle anyone without a mobile phone. What the hell do you see in him?”
“I like nice bums, same as you.”
“You’re a coarse, cheap-“
She blew him a kiss. “Ianto rang last night actually. When were you meaning to go home for Christmas?”
Stuart raised his eyebrows at Adam. Adam shrugged evasively.
"Don't know yet."
“If you want a lift down, let me know. I’ll probably go on the twenty second.” Sara said cheerfully.
“I am not. Apart from the fact he’d hate it, Ianto would make his life hell, and Bryn probably wouldn’t let him sleep in the house.”
“It’s allright.” Adam gave Stuart a faint smile, picking up the apprehension. “The purity and chastity bit only applies to her.”
“Cut off farm, deepest, darkest Wales,” Sara said mildly, “No one’s told them Queen Victoria’s dead. Ianto went mad when I told him I wanted a job in Birmingham. He thinks women leave their homes only to go to their husbands.”
“Ianto’s your oldest brother?” Stuart queried. He was the one Adam mentioned most often, the one who Adam phoned the most often. Sara leaned across Adam to the dresser where his wallet and keys were dropped, and ferreted through his wallet until she found a small snapshot.
“That’s the complete set. Ianto on the end, Bryn against the gate, then me and Adam.”
“How many years between you and the others?” Stuart asked curiously. Adam spoke very little about his family, except Sara. Adam twisted the photo in his hand to see it.
“Fourteen years. Eighteen years between us and Iant, poor sod.”
“We were a bit of an afterthought. If not a downright accident.” Sara said dryly. “Not that anyone admits to it.”
“Are you going to get out of here and let me get dressed?” Adam demanded. “Going to hang around all day are you?”
“No, I’m just passing through. I’m meeting Stephen in town at twelve. Getting shy?”
“Worried about you having nothing better to do on a Saturday morning.” Adam dragged himself up and hunted through the cupboard for clothes. "Push off girl. Get a life."
"You're in a lovely mood then!" Sara settled back on the bed, quite unabashed. ""If Stuart doesn't mind-"
"Stuart's too polite to tell you to get knotted."
"Ad…" Stuart said, more in response to the tone than the words. He'd heard the twins tease the living daylights out of each other but it was always good natured. Adam sounded unusually sharp. Sara raised her eyes at Stuart.
"Three brothers I've got and you had to have the bad tempered one."
"Clear out will you?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd think I wasn't wanted. I'd better wait outside before he loses his temper Stuart." Sara winked and got up off the bed. Adam ignored her completely, slamming the wardrobe door to. Stuart jumped, a little surprised. Adam was actually a very level tempered person. If anything, too level tempered. If he had a problem he was far more likely to act out than say anything.
"What's the matter? I've never heard you snap at her before."
"Nothing." Adam said dismissively. Stuart watched him dress, looking at his back and the taut lines of his shoulder for only a few seconds before he made himself get up and intervene.
"No. Sit down and tell me."
"Oh don't you start!" Adam said impatiently. The surprise in Stuart's face must have registered. He flushed a little and looked down.
"Sorry. Maybe I didn't sleep well."
"We agreed we were going to talk rather than you walk away and wrestle with things on your own." Stuart said gently. Adam shrugged a little.
"So I snapped at her, it's not the end of the world."
They’d fallen into the habit of doing Adam’s daily run together on Saturday morning and driving out to a park where there was a long and easy carriage road. The entire route was a little over three miles and on mornings like this it was a pleasure to do. Sara had passed on, taking the noise and bustle with her and Adam' s flash of unexpected temper seemed to have passed. In the brightness of the morning sun, Stuart found himself taking less and less concern in it. They were at a difficult point: they were in new, emotionally intense and complicated ground in their relationship. They were both still feeling their way. It was bound to drag up new and unexpected feelings in both of them, there was no need to worry. Adam, beside him, ran with the ease of the well practiced and well trained; not something Stuart had the experience to emulate, but Adam was a good teacher and his technique was improving steadily. If painfully. Half an hour later, Stuart stumbled to a halt in the carpark, leaned on his knees and wheezed.
"You are KILLING me."
"You'll get used to it. You're fitter than you were." Adam fumbled the car open, not without sympathy, and found a bottle of water. Stuart grabbed at it thankfully. Adam smiled and leaned against the car to watch him drink, aware for the first time of a slight nagging feeling behind his eyes that warned of a headache.
"You're still a speed rather than stamina person. You need to work on pacing yourself."
"I'm just not a born runner. Not built for this."
"Rubbish." Adam said with cheer he didn't feel. It was an unusually bright day. The sunlight reflected off the paintwork, dazzling and blurring his vision. The clunk of Stuart dropping the water bottle onto the back seat seemed incredibly loud. Adam suddenly connected the sensations and the rising feeling in his stomach with a sick sense of horror.
Oh God, not here. No, not here.
No. No, don’t.
The rising sensation suddenly intensified, Adam’s eyes went hyper enough to see colours sharpen beyond bearing and reflect in trillions of dust particles, and as always, he felt the initial spasm that threw his head back and his arms up.
Stuart saw him crash backwards onto the gravel like a felled tree, head impacting hard. He dropped on his knees beside him, heart thumping with shock. Adam was rigid from head to foot, deathly white, and his lips were slowly turning blue. His eyes were closed. Stuart touched his forehead and felt the sweat standing out in visible drops, soaking Adam’s dark hair. He took a few deep breaths, trying to still his panic enough to think where he could find the nearest phone for an ambulance. Then twitching began in Adam’s legs, echoed slightly in his right arm. Not pronounced and at a space of two to three seconds, the jerking deep within his muscles. Stuart hesitated, his initial rush of panic slightly stilled. He'd heard of fits. He'd never actually seen one but- the fact remained, unshakeable if improbable. Adam appeared to be having a fit. Stuart got a trembling hand out and stroked his forehead. It didn’t seem to make things worse. His voice was harder to find. From what very little he could remember of first aid training at work, there was no need to panic. No need to call for help unless the fit went on more than a few minutes.
“It’s allright Ad. I’ve got you, you’re allright.”
Unless we get to four or five minutes there’s nothing to worry about. Calm down.
The twitching was dying out, coming further and further apart. Forty seconds. Stuart had a growing sense of unreality, sitting on gravel in a carpark, his head against the blue paintwork, with Adam unconscious on the ground.
“Are you-“ a man’s voice, shocked. Stuart looked up. Another dog owner, a black Labrador was straining at its lead. The man looked terrified.
“Do you want an ambulance?”
“He’s just having a fit.” Stuart made himself say with a calmness he didn’t feel. “He’ll be allright in a minute.”
“Are you sure?”
Not in the slightest.
The twitches had more or less stopped. Stuart looked down at Adam’s face, aware of his own heart pounding. Adam’s lips were blued and his face was turning a nasty grey. Then suddenly he took a deep breath and almost instantly his colour started to improve. Stuart looked up to the man with a little more confidence.
“Its over now, he’ll be allright. Thankyou.”
The man unwillingly moved on. Stuart stroked Adam’s face, trying to comfort without bothering him. One minute. Two. He hoped to God Adam was going to come around okay. He was breathing steadily, his colour almost normal. Stuart finally saw him stir, then his eyes opened.
“Hello.” Stuart said gently. Adam turned his face away from the light and made an incoherent sound that was clearly a warning to get off. Stuart waited, trying not to harass him.
What do I do? What did that just feel like?
He tried again, tentatively to touch Adam, but Adam's twitch away from him was instant and distressed, and hard enough to suggest he might hit out if Stuart persisted. It was hard to stand back. Stuart folded his arms and watched him roll over and sit up, eyes open but alarmingly dazed. He pushed up onto his feet and held onto the car for support, shaking.
“This is Abingdon Park.” Stuart said clearly, “We’re in the carpark. You’re allright Adam, I think you had a fit-”
"Duw.. sy 'ch? Ble 'r annwfn m?"
Adam's eyes were glazed. Stuart clenched his hands, struggling to stand still.
"Ad? It's me. It's Stuart. It's okay, I'm here."
Adam put his hands over his eyes and rubbed, hard. He was still pale, but getting steadier by the minute. Stuart watched him make his way across to the verge where he was sick, quietly and not very steadily. He followed, aware his own legs were shaking badly and he was chilled with shock. He hesitated a minute, then smoothed Adam's hair back and held his head, supporting him while he retched. It was a while before Adam straightened up, face very pale. Stuart stroked his forehead, unable to help himself.
“How do you feel?”
“Like hell.” Adam said thickly.
“It's Saturday." Stuart said, responding to the dazedness the only way he could think of. "You’re at Abingdon Park, in the carpark.”
That went in, Stuart saw him look around, then he looked down at Stuart with dawning coherence. “Are you allright?”
"I'm fine, it's you I'm worried about."
Adam got the car door open and collapsed into the passenger seat, not answering that. Stuart crouched in front of him and ran his hands gently over Adam's skull. No blood. He’d gone down hard enough to bruise though; Adam winced at his touch.
“Its allright. Just a headache, I need a couple of aspirin and a lie down.”
“Are you sure?”
"It's okay. This has happened before."
That was too much to take in. Stuart concentrated on the immediate problem and opened the dashboard for a packet of aspirin. Adam winced at the offered capsules.
“I can’t take pills.”
“There’s a bottle of water on the back seat.”
“I can’t swallow them.” Adam put his head back against the seat. “I’ve got things at home I can take.”
Again, ouch. Stuart started the car, still more unsettled at the thought of drugs at home he knew nothing about. And fits he knew nothing whatsoever about.
There was a small row of bottles in one of the kitchen cupboards- at the back of a cupboard stuffed with the old china and tea sets they'd inherited along with the partly furnished flat. Adam took down a bottle and bolted several spoonfuls, grimacing.
“I’m going to have to lie down, my head’s splitting.”
Stuart took the bottle from him and read the label. Paracetamol in suspension syrup.
"Will that be enough?"
"It's what usually works." Adam stumbled as far as the sofa. Stuart watched him collapse there, face down, still a horrible colour. He drew the curtains and took a blanket from the airing cupboard. Adam was already asleep when Stuart covered him over.
He woke to the faint sound of paper. A page turning. Adam kept his eyes closed, wary, but he’d slept the worst of it off. He felt tired and faintly sick, and when he moved he was aware of all the muscles he’d pulled, but the killing pain of the post–fit headache had passed. He risked opening his eyes and found Stuart full length on the hearthrug, reading. Incredibly calm. Adam felt a wave of tenderness for him, which amplified as Stuart glanced up. And sat up, soft eyes full of concern.
“Hey. How are you feeling?”
“A bit shaky.” Adam sat up, very carefully, temples throbbing. “That explains this morning... I’m always ratty as hell before a fit. I didn't realise. I’m so sorry cariad-"
“I need a little bit more than 'sorry'.” Stuart said lightly. “You scared the hell out of me. I had no idea what to do for you.”
“If its going to happen it’s usually first thing in the morning, and I know it’s going to happen.” Adam said half under his breath. “It doesn’t happen very often- I didn’t see the point in-“
In what? He took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead, pushing at the ache.
“It's maybe one in a couple of months. I missed breakfast, it’s my own fault.”
Stuart waited. Adam winced. "Say something."
"You have epilepsy?"
"Yes." Adam admitted. Stuart's eyes didn't waver.
"All my life. There have been good patches and bad patches- I haven't had a fit for ages."
Stuart nodded slowly. Adam flushed.
"Usually I know. I wake up in the morning knowing I'm going to have a fit and it isn't a problem. I thought I'd have time to warn you."
Or get you off the premises.
"You don't think it would have been a good idea to tell me about this and make sure I knew what to do for you?" Stuart suggested, "If not when we were dating then at LEAST when we moved in together? If this is a permanent condition-"
"I meant to. Really. I just didn't know how."
"You didn't think it was something I needed to know about?"
Adam felt his face start to burn and found his head ducking automatically.
"I'm sorry it scared you but it's my problem-"
"No, it isn't. Nothing that affects you is just 'your problem' any more." Stuart pointed out. "Not from the moment we started living together."
"What do you want me to say?" Adam said defensively. "You know we just fell desperately in love and everything's perfect? Well guess what? I crash to the floor, foam at the mouth and jerk around a lot once in a while."
The tone and expression held that tone of prickly aggressiveness that had always roused all of Stuart's protective instincts. Adam, getting very upset. He got up off the floor and sat beside Adam to get an arm round him, insisting when Adam stiffened away.
"Listen to me. You're going to have to get used to trusting me, love. Nothing you could have said or done would have made me feel any differently about you. Not when we met, not when we were dating. Anything that affects you we deal with together."
"It isn't a big deal!"
"So why didn't you tell me?" Stuart said calmly. "Adam? I need to know about this. It isn't something you can ignore. If I'd taken you to casualty today I'd have known nothing at all about what was wrong or why or even what you take for it. It's not exactly responsible to keep it a secret, it's not even that safe. And we can't keep secrets like this, it isn't right and it isn't possible."
Adam had gone scarlet. Stuart tightened his arm around Adam, trying to get him to look up. Adam took a single, very deep breath.
"I swear, I haven't lied to you about anything else. ANYTHING else."
"Adam I didn't mean that." Stuart said at once. "And I wouldn't think that."
He thought about it for a minute and then added more quietly, "Actually I probably ought to feel like that but I don't. It's okay. Just talk to me about it. Why didn't you want me to know?"
Adam took a few deep breaths. Stuart leaned back into the sofa, pulling Adam with him until he was forced to cuddle up. Sometimes he needed the physical reminder that he was safe, he was loved and his audience was fully on his side. Adam's strategies for dealing with emergencies tended to be to stop talking and to go away. Stuart had long since suspected that this kind of closeness to anyone was a new and hard experience for him and it was part of the very well hidden vulnerability Stuart saw in him. Adam LOOKED so unbreakable. Stuart stroked his back and waited, quite prepared to go on waiting for as long as it took. Gradually he felt Adam relax against him.
"I had a really bad patch when I was thirteen, fourteen. Really bad. I had a lot of fits at school. Sara spent most of that year beating up most of the rest of the kids in the valley for taking the mickey."
"How did your family cope?" Stuart asked softly. Adam shrugged.
"I've always had fits, right from a baby. Ianto and Bryn- they got very protective. All the time I was growing up there were things I couldn't do and things that weren't safe because I might have a fit. That year was terrible. Sara going off into town with her mates, which was a two mile walk to Brenith and then a bus ride- Ianto wouldn't let me go because chances were I'd have a fit and there'd be no one around who could help. Wasn't safe."
And that was a terrible age to be so restricted. Stuart went on stroking his back, trying to do nothing except listen well. Adam cleared his throat.
"They went mad when I said I wanted to go to University with Sara. Said I couldn't do it, I wouldn't be safe. They wanted me to stay and work on the farm with them. Took an almighty fight before they let me go. Sara helped. She and I worked out how I could live alone and be safe. It stopped ruling my life and it's been as though nothing's wrong with me the last couple of years. It's fine. It's under control. When I met you- the last few months were so good- I didn't want to drag it in with us."
And the memory must still be strong of children taunting, of being weaker, more dependent. Something he thought of as shameful, hated and secret. Stuart grasped onto that, starting to understand what he'd always seen in Adam: a need to control, to be in control of as much of his life as he could.