One: Good Friends
Magnus lurched along the dark and dusty street, laughing too hard to catch his breath. Little fragments of metal, even small nails, leapt up off the ground to join him while his concentration was less than perfect, and every dozen steps or so he had to hop for a moment, shaking one laden foot in the air, then the other, until he managed to reverse polarity and fling the junk away. Two steps later, it all came snuggling back. Hopping, whooping, he ignored the sleepy, angry shouts in ten languages coming at him from the windows, until he ran straight into an army checkpoint. That sobered him enough to show his hospital identification and bid the young soldiers a good night. His laughter was much softer when one of the soldiers asked him where the bar was that served so much beer so cheaply. He couldn't bring himself to be comfortable around them, not even when the armed men were Israelis and no threat to a new resident of their still-new nation. Still, the beer was good, the night was warm, and he was never going to let Charles live this one down.
No metal stirred in Magnus's wake as he walked more purposefully back to his tiny apartment. He did have control over this strange electricity that laced his flesh, that charged him like a magnet. It would have been impossible to work for him to work in the hospital if he picked up syringes, wrecked wheelchairs and upset delicate machines. His ward was psychiatric, but there were still plenty of physically ill patients there who would hardly be pleased to find their drip stands bending like palm trees in a highly specific hurricane. This was not to say that his abilities didn't come in handy for making little tasks easier, making sure the metal bedpans didn't spill their sloppy contents, and being absolutely sure that no patient was sneaking up behind him. Most of the patients were frighteningly passive, some were quite fond of him, but a few hated and feared him, probably for his unfortunately Germanic-looking fair hair and blue eyes. Magnus liked his job: it not only paid the rent, but gave him the opportunity to learn from the doctors and nurses, who didn't mind helping him sate his hunger for learning when he had been starved of it for so long. He did not earn the kind of money that could buy many extras, but Charles seemed to have a bottomless pit of cash, and it was not all that hard for him to argue down Magnus's refusal to let Charles pay for things. It had been a long, long time since Magnus had had fun, and his American friend was determined that he would enjoy himself to the full. And so he did.
This particular night, they had tried a bar near the docks, where Magnus had been before but Charles had not. After their usual pattern - beginning at political argument, progressing to philosophical argument, to fine examples slipping into drunken jokes, and then to cheerful drunkenness - had run its course, Charles had felt himself slighted by something or other Magnus had said, and picked a fight with a huge, heavily tattooed man of Russian extraction to prove his point. Every last person in the bar turned to encourage the entertainment, and soon Charles and the Russian had staked, respectively, 100 American dollars and the man's girlfriend. Both were placed on the bar, under Magnus's watchful eye (the money, anyway, the thrilled girl was hardly going to run away) and the fight started. Charles, with his uncanny ability to tell where the next punch would be coming from, and a spot of Oriental martial arts thrown in, beat the bigger man with minimal collateral damage to the bar and bystanders, and, to much cheering, walked upstairs with his arm around the giggling girlfriend. Magnus stayed at the bar, drained the rest of Charles's beer, smirked and waited.
"Magnus!" Charles's agonised semi-whisper cut across the room from the stairs to the close end of the bar. Cruelly, Magnus pretended not to hear for a moment before making his way across to his friend.
"Yes, Charles? How was the beautiful Sarah?"
"Magnus... she's, she's a man!"
"Yes, Charles, but how was she?"
Charles's eyes were so perfectly round in astonishment that, with his bald head, he looked just like Humpty Dumpty on his way down from the wall. Magnus started cackling with glee, then Charles's affronted masculinity turned to outrage and he leapt at his white- haired friend. Magnus knew Charles's instincts abandoned him when he was truly drunk or over-emotional, and he certainly was now. Magnus neatly sidestepped, and Charles ended up draped in a very undignified way over the end of the bar. Magnus seized his chance to wriggle through the crowd and flee, with Charles only a moment behind.
"But Charles! Didn't you see her moustache?" Magnus yelled over his shoulder at his furious friend.
"I thought it was just a womanly moustache! She was dark! The bar was dark!"
"Bastard! You didn't tell me!"
"Oh, you would have wanted her, I mean him, anyway!"
"You'll pay for this, Magnus!"
Magnus knew the shortcuts of Tel Aviv ten times better than Charles, and didn't find it hard to escape his furious friend, despite constant attacks of laughter and the very personal adoration of every small piece of iron in his immediate area. The American's yells faded into the night, and Magnus eventually made it home, still occasionally giggling as he thought about how to make Charles never, ever forget his night of glory with Sarah. Magnus unlocked his door with his body-electricity, while making the motion of turning his key in the lock in case the neighbours were watching. He was intensely surprised to feel someone inside his room and even more surprised when they attacked him. Magnus's reflexes suddenly seemed to slow, like underwater movements, and he was easily pinned to the wall.
"Charles!" Even in semi-darkness, that bald head over a young face was not hard to recognise. "How did you get in here?"
"The landlady kindly let me in, Magnus. I said you'd pay."
"You're talking about Sarah?"
"You know that. So, how to make you-"
"You broke into my room!" This revelation crashed onto Magnus like a heavy, salty wave of drunkenness. Charles was in Magnus's only private space, uninvited. "You're in my room!"
Charles looked startled, his reactions still not quite up to speed after all the beer that was now settling into his blood, and he looked downright shocked when Magnus felt something shift, like his head breaking the turbulent waters into harsh sunlight, and he lunged forward, at full speed again, hurling Charles away from him.
The battle was short and one-sided. Charles knew all kinds of fighting techniques, but they were for fun, not war; Magnus knew how to fight for his very life and, in some distorted way, that was what he was doing. Beating at Charles on ragged survival instinct, he was soon kneeling on his tormenter's arms, perched across the American's chest, as Charles kicked and struggled futilely, trying to twist out from underneath.
"Magnus...you're hurting me. I'm sorry, I'll go now, get off me. Get off, Magnus."
Magnus stared across the small room at the bookshelf he had made. His breath came in gasps.
"Magnus? Are you all right? Please, talk to me. I'm okay, I'm fine, are you all right?"
His emotions sloshed back into his body, almost painfully. Charles...Magnus hadn't killed him. He had so much needed to kill this person, to beat him into a harmless nothing and run for safety, to keep running from the danger. Charles was safe, not even hurt. Magnus had not killed his friend. A mighty sense of relief relaxed him into joy, a plain joy that Charles was alive, here with him, and so happily innocent that he didn't even know what he had done wrong. He shifted backwards, off Charles's arms, then rolled over sideways to lie on the floor next to his friend, his unhurt friend from a distant country.
"Magnus. What was-"
"It's all right. You're fine, I'm fine."
Charles stretched out his arms, recovering from the considerable force that had been exerted on them, and looked across at his friend, even more concerned.
"It's all right, didn't finish it, you're here, it's right." Magnus's command of English had all but deserted him, but he knew he was communicating when Charles's worried frown slipped into the same relieved smile. Magnus put his arm around his friend, to help him up, then they both had arms around each other, then their lips were together.
Charles was breathing hard, Magnus not so much, as all the friendship and trust of the past weeks suddenly rose into a different kind of intimacy. They kissed hard and deep. Charles was more than a little aggressive to cover his nervousness, but Magnus allowed this, coasting on the wave of pleasure in Charles's mere existence that had brought him here. This was life, this was what lay beyond survival. It was Charles's hands that first ventured away from the platonic hug beneath the kiss, wrapping his strong fingers in his friend's white hair and exploring the broad shoulders with rough prods and arousing caresses, confused between his partner's masculinity and his own sexual desire. Magnus leant forward into Charles's body, and slid a hand inside Charles's shirt, touching the warm skin and tough chest hair, then unbuttoning the well-cut but well-worn garment and tugging it away. Charles took the cue and pulled his friend's cheap shirt off over his head, breaking their passionate kisses for a moment.
A slightly sheepish - even suspicious - look began to steal over Charles's face as he lifted a hand away from Magnus to wipe his mouth of their saliva, remembering his nasty surprise earlier in the evening. Magnus refused to allow Charles to back off from their entanglement. He pushed Charles's hand away from his mouth, then pulled the two of them back down onto the floor, kissing him without respite. Charles didn't hesitate again, as the two men pushed their bodies together, in an intimacy they had never imagined.
Both men kept trying to take the lead, out of long habit with female partners, and so events progressed a lot faster than either intended. The shame or embarrassment that, only an hour ago, would have denied that their attraction could be at all sexual had evaporated, somehow, leaving behind two men's sweat pooling on the cracked linoleum floor. Magnus kissed Charles's throat and kneaded the tension in his back and buttocks; Charles closed his eyes in pleasure and found the sensitive places amongst Magnus's hard muscles. Neither was under any illusion as to the sex of their partner. Soon their remaining clothes had been kicked aside, and their skins stuck together with sweat, as Magnus took Charles's penis in his hand as he ground himself against Charles's leg. Still kissing, they both pushed against the other's shoulder. After momentary surprise at the resistance they found, each pushed again, and then again, Magnus trying to turn Charles around in his arms and Charles attempting the same manoeuvre on him. Magnus frowned, slightly, still holding Charles, but Charles's frown turned into spluttering laughter. He pulled away from their kiss, not letting go of his friend, but feeling the sexual excitement drain as he began to chuckle.
"Oh Magnus...you thought I was going to..."
"Well, you tried to make me be the one who..." Magnus was thoroughly indignant for a moment - this wasn't how this night was going to go - and then he relaxed against Charles.
"You idiot, don't go all huffy, I'm an idiot too...that question never comes up with women, does it? What goes where?"
"I thought I'd do..." Magnus's words ran out, and he too started laughing at the whole incongruous situation.
"What would Gabby do to me if we turned up tomorrow all post- coital? She'd kill us!"
"Oh yes, Gabrielle. You weren't so concerned about her before."
Charles held his hands up to deflect Magnus's sharp comment. "She's still supposed to be my patient at the hospital, but I'm on holiday. I'm with you...well, not exactly. Magnus, you're my good friend."
"And you are mine. Are you about to flee back to New York where this sort of thing never, ever happens?"
"Oh lord no! I mean, I don't think we're meant to be lovers."
"Sexual incompatibility. No wonder we are such good friends."
"Mm." Charles hadn't moved from where he lay, head on Magnus's hairy chest, arms around his friend's waist.
"Charles? Stay here tonight."
"Mm." Charles slid into a comfortable sleep.
Magnus smiled. Sex or no sex, this rush of happiness that had overtaken them tonight was a sign of better times, good friends, maybe lovers, a sign of a life that was more than desperation. He was safe here in Israel, dragging Charles off to bed, as safe as he'd ever be. And for now that was enough.