The original Pax story, part 2

The fourth book in my series Pax Cymrica: The True History will be released on April 6. But did you know that the story of Jamie and Michael began as a much shorter affair? Back in 2011, I read a short story that would change my life. I contacted the author and she graciously replied, and we started emailing.

Now, this woman lives on the opposite side of the world from me, but she inspired me to dip my toes in m/m waters, and this was my first effort. Quite a lot of it is actually intact in the first book of the series, Just Playing – I just stretched it waaaay out into the slow burn of the century. Let’s just say that these young men got to work a hundred times harder for their HEA than they did to begin with.

For the curious among you, here is the second part of that story, continued from Hearts on Fire, March 29. The remaining part will be published on The Novel Approach (April 1).

 ***

Jamie held his breath. There was a flutter of curtains, and the vague shape of Michael appeared. Jamie’s heart lurched like a seasick puppy in his chest, but then Michael disappeared again. Was he coming down? Or rejecting him? Jamie almost whimpered aloud.

He had left the girl in a chaos of tears and accusations, half undressed. Running from her house, he had ended up here, like so many times before. Seeking out his friend, eager to pour his heart out and be comforted by his common sense and calmness. But this time he couldn’t. This time Jamie’s heart was full of something unmentionable. So why was he even here?

He went round the corner of the house in time to see the door open. Michael stepped out, only wearing a T-shirt and underwear. He closed the door behind him, crossed his arms and glanced at Jamie sulkily. Of course he was in a mood. He had no idea why Jamie hadn’t called. He had no idea what had happened on that sofa. And Jamie couldn’t tell him.

He faltered. What now? He took a step, stopped. Michael watched him, his dark eyes following his every move with an inscrutable look in them. Jamie bit his lip. He went up the steps and stood to face Michael. He felt as if he had to apologize for something, only he couldn’t think what. He put out a tentative hand and left it hanging in the air between them.

“I… missed you,” he swallowed, hating his voice, the tremble in it. Michael blinked. Jamie stepped closer, he must do something, must… He opened his arms, do or die now. A mirroring motion in Michael’s body, automatic, as if he couldn’t help himself. They hugged awkwardly, all elbows and shoulders. Then Jamie swayed slightly and their bodies touched more closely, heat flaring up at the contact. Michael responded by taking a step closer, his chin landing on Jamie’s shoulder, his hair tickling Jamie’s cheek. Jamie tightened his arms around his friend, dared to press closer. Their thighs touched, their chests. Michael circled Jamie’s body with his arms and they were one being.

Jamie closed his eyes and breathed in the sweet sleepy scent from Michael’s hair. He had come straight from his bed, bringing the warmth and intimacy with him out here into the cool summer night. He moved his head slightly, and they were pulled apart the fraction of an inch, making their cheeks touch again. Jamie breathed raggedly. Now or never. If he was ever to feel what it was like, he must do it now.

He drew back and turned to face Michael, his mouth so close, his eyes so deep and glittery…

He felt a tingling surge of lust sweep up through his legs and there was a flicker of weirdness in his groin. Shit, shit, shit. It was happening again.

Michael pulled away, and Jamie felt like he was being born: pushed out from the warm, dark womb into a place of cold and suffering. Michael had a weird expression on his face, and Jamie suddenly knew without a doubt that he had noticed.

“Fuck…” He felt his eyes widen in mortification. He had blown it. His heart was ripped out of its bony cage and flung on the ground between them, lying there, pulsing feebly, for Michael to see. Jamie had revealed everything, and shattered half a lifetime of closeness in one incredibly stupid moment.

He took a step back and turned away, hurried down the path. Michael’s voice was calling to him, but he closed his ears to it. There was the sound of feet on gravel and then Michael’s hand was grabbing Jamie’s collar.

“Let me go.”

“Wait, dammit! Ow…”

Jamie turned to see Michael bend down and grimace as he held his foot. No, I can’t stay and risk getting sucked in again. Jamie turned, and felt Michael’s hand grip his jacket from below. He fought, but Michael quickly stepped in front of him, crippling limp be damned, and blocked his escape. Those eyes…

“Please come upstairs.”

Only after a few seconds did Jamie understand. He froze, and his breath caught in his throat. He searched Michael’s face, so earnest.

“We’ll… have to be quiet, though. I mean…” Flustered, Michael hid his eyes with his hand. There was an eternity of silence, during which Jamie raced through a million thoughts and registered none. Then Michael touched his hand as if he was going to take it in his, but he didn’t. He just motioned towards the door, and Jamie followed, impossible not to.

They went up the stairs, and Jamie stepped through the door to Michael’s room, his arm in front of his body for protection, one hand caressing the other. Michael came in after him, closed the door. He hesitated with his hand on the key, as if he was about to turn it. Then he took his hand away without completing the motion.

“So how was it?”

“What?”

“The date.”

“Oh…” Jamie tried to compose his features, to gather his fraying wits. “Fine, I guess… why?”

“You don’t sound overwhelmed.”

Jamie shrugged. “As I said, it was okay. She tried to kiss me.” For some reason, he didn’t want to let on that he had kissed her back. That he had almost…

“Tried? You mean you didn’t let her?”

Jamie walked to Michael’s unmade bed and sat down, a hot blush searing his face. What kind of a guy was he, to reject the advances of a pretty girl like her? It was unheard of. Fumbling with his shoes in order not to look at his friend, he mumbled, “I don’t know how.”

Michael snorted a short laugh. “So?” At least he was smiling now. Not as distanced as he had been to begin with. Almost… happy? “You won’t know until you try.”

“I know…” Jamie sighed, leaned back against the wall and let his eyes wander around the room. His hands caressed the warm sheets without his even noticing, tracing the slender outline of its former inhabitant. “It’s just… I don’t want to make a fool of myself.” He was making this up as he went along, and it sounded good. He almost believed in it himself. “I wish I could, you know… practice a bit before…”

His voice trailed away and he fell silent. The air trembled with unspoken words. Michael breathed in, but didn’t say anything. Instead he came to sit beside Jamie on the bed, hugging himself in silence. The seconds went by.

“You know, best thing would be if we could practice on each other,” Jamie said with a contrived laugh. “That way we could both gain some proficiency without being laughed at!”

When he dared to look at Michael, his eyes were jet black. “I’d poke your eye out.”

Jamie was taken aback with the harshness of this remark. “S-sorry,” he stammered. “Didn’t mean to gross you out or anything…”

“No, wait, I just meant that… You know, with my nose.”

“Your nose?”

“It’s lethal,” Michael attempted to joke, but Jamie could tell that he was suddenly nervous. Did he guess the reality behind Jamie’s seemingly innocent words? “Because I don’t know how either, and my nose will be in the way, because I wouldn’t know where to… you know… it wouldn’t be pleasant. I’m not made for kissing.” He was babbling now, but didn’t seem able to check himself. “I guess that’s why I haven’t done it, it’s impossible…”

Jamie stopped him with an impatient gesture. “Let me be the judge of that.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Suddenly, it wasn’t a joke any longer. He had said it as if he meant it. He had said it as if he were planning to see it through. A shudder engulfed him where he sat, and he looked away, terrified. The silence was deepening, and he could hear Michael breathing, waiting for something, like the girl had waited, only for something else.

***

To be continued on The Novel Approach, April 1.

Pax playlists

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

Since the Pax series is above all about music, I thought I’d share some of the things I built Michael and Jamie’s world on.

Let’s start from the beginning, with Just Playing:

Swansea Till I Die
This one is sort of self explanatory, but yeah, Michael and Jamie’s classmates are kind of big on football, and Michael and Jamie… aren’t. Also, they live in Swansea. So: Swansea City FC chant!

Bye Bye Baby
The kind of thing everyone listened to back in ’75. What would have been on the radio.

Firth Of Fifth
What Michael and Jamie would listen to – kind of a different vibe than the Bay City Rollers, I’m sure you’ll agree. Also, on a more personal note, this was my first introduction to prog, and it was love at first hearing.

Hush
This was also on the radio – notably, when Jamie shows Michael a riff by getting behind him on the sofa, snaking his arms around him and playing on the guitar in Michael’s lap. Seminal event.

Nights In White Satin
The first thing Michael sings, during a camping trip that sets the ball rolling. If Jamie wasn’t hooked before, this seals it.

April’s Fool
So what does Michael’s voice sound like? A little bit like this. Not quite, but almost.

Seekers Who Are Lovers
For me, this is the song about falling in love. I’ve never heard it illustrated this well. It’s like you fall in love all over again while you’re listening.

I Want You
What the title says. Even as Michael and Jamie accept their feelings, things are complicated in Paradise. And angsty.

Next up, The Road Taken:

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Because the world insists that they can’t be together, and because Zeppelin would have been one of their musical inspirations – even if they didn’t actively listen to them. It was in the air.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Apparently, Jamie once played and sang this to Michael? I don’t know, I’m just the writer.

Hocus Pocus
Another example of what Michael and Jamie listened to at the time. Delightfully crazy music from the Netherlands. Songs like this give me hope for humanity.

Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra
Michael’s first taste of the harpsichord, and a contributing factor to his abandoning the bass. This is the music they overheard at the studio.

2112
The song they listened to in that farm house. It has changed many lives.

Let Your Body Decide
In the end, Michael and Jamie had to make a decision – to be together or not be together – and this song might have helped them if it had been around at the time.

And then we have Release:

Ring Out Solstice Bells
Midsummer at Stonehenge! Who better to encapsulate that vibe than Jethro Tull?

Tarot Woman
Annabelle enters the story. She has her own song, naturally.

Hurry On Sundown
Hawkwind played at Stonehenge, too. Maybe they played this old classic.

Wuthering Heights
Kate Bush would have been on the same Top of the Pops programme as Pax, but she was busy, so they just played this song and had a dance troupe perform to it.

Nature Boy
Jamie discovers a box of albums in the attic, and with it, a hidden side to his mother.

The Musical Box
This was in my headphones when I wrote the Albert Hall concert.

Finally, there’s Cutting Edge:

Want
You thought Michael was a sweet guy? Think again.

Mysterious Adventure
The kind of thing Ludo would compose.

Better By You, Better Than Me and Suicide Solution
The songs that landed Judas Priest and Black Sabbath in court. You see, I wasn’t making much up when I wrote that. In hindsight, it can be mystifying, but at the time, these songs were EVIL.

Hades
This is kind of what Ripped Maidenhead want to sound like.

Dansa i Neon
The song that plays on the car radio on the way to Arjeplog. No holds barred, take no prisoners bubble gum pop.

Screams Behind The Shadows
The Sepultura song that plays at Nathan’s place in the final chapter.