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"By any other word"

Chapter Text

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.890-891


Tom stood sentry at the foot of the bed he shared with Carmen, fists planted on his hips. Wearing the armor from “The Hollow Crown”, helmet dangling loosely from one hand, he panted as he stared at her. He was hungry. Tom named each piece of armor as he removed it from his lean, muscular body before dropping them on the floor.

“Gorget,” he whispered. Thud. “Cuirass.” Thud. “Spaulder.” Thud.

Carmen lay before him, naked but for a crisp white sheet that clung to her. Reclining amidst a host of fluffy pillows, she returned his ravenous look with one of her own. In her hands was a single gauntlet, dented and bruised. Despite the damage, she could still discern the figures of a dragon and a unicorn, united in their assault upon a great hissing snake.

“Did you win?” She whispered, looking back up at him.

Tom stood there, still breathing heavily, wearing only a pair of starched white boxers. When he caught her eye, Tom licked his lips and slowly pushed the boxers down his legs. He crawled up the bed, pulling at her sheet as he did so by the time he had joined her, she was exposed to him. He took the gauntlet from her, then tenderly kissed Carmen’s hand.

“Not yet,” Tom said. He flung the gauntlet to the ground, where it immediately burst into green and red flames. Lowering himself onto Carmen, he rolled his hips into hers while with his hands he pushed her legs apart…

“Button.”

Tom’s voice was muffled, as he was under the covers and just a little hoarse from sleep. Curled up against Carmen, his head lay upon her bare stomach. He was cozy, and content.

“Button.” He yawned. “C’mon.”

“C’mon what?” She muttered, more to herself than to him.

“Button. Phone.”

“Who the fuck…” She cursed into her pillow. “What the…”

The phone continued to ring. Carmen continued to ignore it. When Tom nuzzled her stomach, the feeling of his beard against her skin tickled. She shivered in delight, and in hopeful anticipation.

Tom kissed her hip. “Answer the phone, and there will be more of where that came from.”

Carmen flung her arm in the direction of the sound, finding the surface of her nightstand from where the phone continued, to her great annoyance, to ring. Upon seeing the name of the caller, she sighed dramatically.

“Annie.”

“Carmen! Finally!”

“Do you know what time it is?”

“It’s midnight here.”

“Well, it’s six here.”

“Did I wake you?”

“YES.”

“Did you hear it?”

“Hear what?”

“You know…”

“Annie.” Carmen grit her teeth. “Did you really just call me in the middle of the night just to…”

“Didn’t you just say it was six there?”

“Did you really just call me in the middle of the actual night to ask if I had heard whatever screed in tribute to white feminism and false victimhood The Human Pool Noodle released in an attempt to focus the attention of the world on her?”

“It’s a really shitty song.”

“I figured.”

“I just wanted you to know.”

“I know. I love you.”

“I let Heidi stay up to hear it.”

“Why did you let your nine year old stay up until midnight to hear that?”

“All her little friends still listen to Tay—”

“Annie!”

“All her little friends still listen to The Human Pool Noodle.”

“Why?”

“They’re too young for Prince.”

“Nobody’s too young for Prince”

“Is Tom there?”

“Yes.”

“Did I wake him?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell him I’m sorry.”

“Sure.”

“What are you guys up to this weekend?”

“Bank holiday so I have Monday off, but Tom has tech rehearsals so he’s working.”

“Tell him to break a leg.”

“I will. Annie?”

“Yeah?”

“What did… what did Heidi think of the song?”

“Her exact words were ‘Mommy, this is poop. Can we listen to Ariana Grande?’”

“That’s my girl.”

Carmen disconnected then dropped her phone on the floor. She was about to hide her head under a pillow when Tom wiggled up alongside her. He rested his head in the crook of her neck.

“A screed in tribute to white feminism and false victimhood , eh?” Tom chuckled.

“Annie’s sorry for calling so early.”

Tom lifted his head to look at Carmen. “Why did she have to call about that?”

“She worries.” Carmen bit her lip.

“About me?” Tom joked.

“About me, you dope,” said Carmen lovingly. She pressed her lips to his forehead. “Okay, about you, too. But only the slightest amount.”

“Of course, Button.”

“She doesn’t like the idea of us being so far away. My name and yours, associated with you know who.” Carmen considered. “Again.”

“That’s sweet of her, you know.”

“She can’t help it.”

“Noted,” said Tom.

“She has that in common with your mom.”

“Those bloody pictures.” Tom pressed his face into her neck. “I will never stop feeling awful about last summer.”

“I know. I can tell.” Carmen sniffed. “You’re still smoking.” When Tom stilled, she looked down at him. “You’ll get no judgment from me, baby.”

“Alright, love.” He kissed her. “Thank you.”

“Just try to cut back, okay? Maybe after the play?” She looked thoughtful. “You don’t want it affecting your running.”

“It hasn’t!” Tom frowned. “My runs are fine.”

“Then I don’t want it affecting your performance, baby.”

Tom frowned. “You mean Hamlet?”

“No. Your performance in bed, Tom,” said Carmen, primly.

“Now wait…” Tom said, his cheeks getting pink.

“I mean, your endurance is still quite good but… hahahahahaha!” Carmen laughed when Tom began tickling her, his fingers tugging at the waist of her pajama bottoms.

“C’mere, Button, I want to show you something…” He murmured in her ear.

“What is it?” Carmen arched into him when he found her clit with his fingers.

Tom ground against her thigh and moaned in reply.

“Well, that’s not a cigarette,” said Carmen with a giggle. She reached for him, squeezing his cock over his boxers. “Pretty sure I can get it in my mouth, though.”

Chapter Text

When Tom reached the summit of Parliament Hill, he found himself quite alone at the top. It was quiet up there without the dog walkers and their dogs, hikers laden with backpacks, picnickers swinging baskets loaded for a lazy day of eating and drinking on the nearby lawns of Kenwood House. For once there were no tourists poring over the brass plaque that showed an outline of the skyline to the south, a key to the famous buildings like the Gherkin and the Shard, even the dome of St. Paul’s, that shimmered in the distance.

Taking off his gloves, Tom ran his fingers over the engravings from one end to the other. At the far right, he was surprised to see the silhouette of a man. Long-limbed and dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, running shoes of course, and a cap and windbreaker to protect him from the weather. Beneath the figure, his own name appeared: “Thomas ‘Tom’ Hiddleston, b. 1981, Westminster”.

Tom looked up from the plaque to find a line of photographers — professionals with long-range zoom lenses attached to cameras the sizes of their heads. They smiled, baring pointy teeth, and hissed.

It was then that Tom realized that he was no longer dressed for a run. Now he wore a full suit of armor. It was an ugly thing, dented and rusted. He could move easily, if a bit slowly. As the photographers advanced, their flashes going off, Tom looked about for a means of protecting and defending himself.

“Sporty!” From behind him Tom felt a strong gust of wind. A small dragon, no bigger than a horse, landed heavily on the grass. Riding atop it was Carmen, dressed for battle in armor that was as dented and damaged as Tom’s. She slid awkwardly down the dragon’s back, stumbling a bit as she ran to join Tom.

“Here.” She shoved a broadsword and a helmet at him. “You forgot these at home.”

Tom stuck the helmet on his head and grinned. “What would I do without you?”

Carmen produced her own helmet. It was shaped like the head of the dragon that had brought her to Tom. Putting it on, she unsheathed the scimitar that had been hanging from her left hip. She squinted at the photographers, then winked up at Tom.

“I hope we never have to find out.”

Tom was close to home, still running at a brisk pace after his customary morning run when he saw Carmen waiting for him in front of the little market near home. Insteading of slowing down he darted past her, nose in the air as he pretended not to see her standing there. When he looped around and passed her again, she caught him in his arms and fell against his chest, laughing.

“What, my darling, are you doing here?” Tom quickly kissed the tip of her nose.

“I wanted to make pancakes for breakfast,” said Carmen, simply. She jerked her thumb behind her, indicating the sliding glass stores of the shop. “They have, you know, ingredients in there.”

“Would you like some company?”

Carmen took his hand and started walking to the store. “If by company you mean a charming lackey to carry the groceries…”

Tom groaned, albeit goodnaturedly. “Lead the way, love.”

Once inside, Carmen’s grasp on his hand tightened. When Tom chuckled, she turned to smile at him.

“What?” Carmen looked around the produce aisle, her eyes lighting up when she spotted the blueberries.

Tom looked at their clasped hands. “Your hand looks so small , love.”

She dropped his hand, feigning disgust. “Not that again.”

Trailing after her, Tom made an apron of his jacket when Carmen shoved a pint of blueberries at him. “You were right. Your hands do look like Donald Trump’s.”

“That is the last time I ever show you my hands again!”

Carmen smiled at the man behind the fish counter, scowling again when she faced Tom next to the eggs. Picking up a carton, Carmen slipped it into a canvas tote bag before ducking down the aisle with the baking supplies. “Flour? Check. Baking powder? Check again. Salt and sugar?”

“We’ve got those,” offered Tom. “Is there anything else?”

Carmen nodded. “Milk, and butter.”

Carmen and Tom found the dairy case, where Tom picked up a plastic jug of organic skimmed milk.

“Skim, Tom?” Carmen frowned at a package of butter before dropping it into her bag. Tom gave her the blueberries to add. “I know we’re getting up there in years, but surely we can live a little and get whole?”

Tom nodded. “You’re right, darling.” Exchanging the skim for whole, he followed Carmen as she queued up at the till. Her lips quirked into a grin.

“I’m right? That’s not something I hear from you very often.”

“It’s just that, perhaps the whole milk will help increase the size of your tiny hands!”

Tom ducked, letting out a slight guffaw when Carmen tried to goose him. He closed his eyes when she, giggling despite herself, leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder while they continued to wait.

“Good run?” She whispered.

“Yes.” Tom whispered back. “No view from the hill, though.”

Carmen peered at their feet. “Tom, those shoes…”

He grunted. “Leave them. They’re broken in.”

“They’re broken, you mean.” She sighed. “What kind of girlfriend am I, letting you out of the house looking like a hobo.”

“A hobo?” Tom arched an eyebrow.

“Well, a handsome hobo, to be sure.” She smiled up at him. “With your lovely ginger hair.”

Tom’s cheeks went pink.

“And that beard,” Carmen murmured. “I don’t suppose I can get scritches now, can I?”

Tom looked around furtively. “Not here in public, darling. We’ll scandalize the other shoppers.”

Carmen snorted. “They should be so lucky. And I haven’t even gotten to your hands, with their fetching gloves.”

“You know, if you want a pair of your own, I think I’ve got a child size pair back in my office…” Tom smirked.

“Dick!” Carmen looked down again, her breath hitching. “Oh, Tom.”

“What’s wrong?” He peeked in the direction of her gaze, which seemed pointed at their feet.

“Those shorts…”

“What about them?”

“They draw attention straight to your knees.” Carmen nudged his leg with her own knee. “Your knees are blushing.”

Tom’s cheeks got rosier as he pressed his body to hers. “Would you like to see what else on me is blushing, love?”

Carmen nodded, her eyes sparkling under the fluorescent lights. “Yes, but just as long as it’s organic, just like everything else in the store.”

Chapter Text

If you can't be a ham and do Hamlet
They will not give a damn or a damlet
Just recite an occasional sonnet
And your lap'll have honey upon it
Cole Porter, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”


“Syrup?”

“No.”

“But it’s right there in your hand.”

“Yes.”

“Is there something wrong with the syrup?”

“No.”

“Is there something wrong with your hand?”

“No.”

“Is there something wrong with me?”

“No.”

“Is there something wrong with you?”

“‘Course not.”

“Car.”

“Tom.”

"Car."

“I was just thinking.”

“I thought we talked about you doing your own thinking.”

“Shuddup.”

“So you were saying? Or thinking rather?”

“The day we met.”

“Mmmmm.”

“Words were exchanged.”

“Thou art some fool, I am loath to beat thee.”

“O teach me how I should forget to think.”

“You were so…”

“What?”

“Heated.”

“Oh?”

“That little skirt…”

“It wasn’t so little.”

“That tight jumper.”

“Was it so tight?”

“YES.”

“Well. I do tend to put on weight in winter.”

“Delicious.”

“Me or the syrup?”

“You, madame.”

“Aw.”

“I know that you are delicious. However I cannot say if the syrup is delicious or not as you have not let me have it yet.”

“Patience.”

“What was it about that day?”

“It wasn’t the most auspicious of meetings.”

“I suppose you’re right but it’s not as if I had anything to compare it to.”

“Same here.”

“You were so…”

“What?”

“Words fail me. I cannot describe it.”

“Boo.”

“Maybe one day, when I sit down to write my memoirs…”

“Oh, yes. Tomsplaining: A Life in Words.”

“Minx!”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘bitch’”.

“No. That’s sexist. And besides, minx is sexier.”

“True.”

“Though if you don’t start pouring that syrup, I may be inspired to call you several terms of endearment.”

“Impatient.”

“Carmen, my call time is three o’clock.”

“It’s only nine o’clock now.”

“Madame.”

“Which gives us plenty of time to pour this syrup, have sex in gloriously sticky syrup sex sheets, clean ourselves, and launder the gloriously sticky syrup sex sheets before we go back to being normal.”

“Normal?”

“Okay, I mean boring.”

“Carmen, if I can say one thing about you and how I have come to adore you in these two and a half years, it is that I have never been bored.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Well, in that case, I promise not to get syrup in your hair like I did last time.”

“Thank you.”

“I mean, what would Ken think?”

“I pray we never find out.”

Chapter Text

When your baby is pleading for pleasure
Let her sample your Measure for Measure
Cole Porter, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”


Tom stood at the kitchen window, watching Carmen as she walked around the garden, scooping up the few dried leaves that had fallen to the ground. It was still summer in London, which made for temperate days that were occasionally sticky with humidity. Sometimes it rained, but it was never enough for any real relief. In-between weather, she called it, and so she sported a thin camisole with her usual leggings and ballet slippers.

When she caught Tom looking at her, she dropped the leaves into the paper bag she’d brought out with her before sucking in her stomach and making duck lips at him. When he laughed, she relaxed and laughed as well. She was still laughing when she came inside, when he kissed her on the lips and put his arm around her.

“Carmen?”

“Hmm?” She reached up to touch his jaw, gently scratching at his beard.

“I have something to show you,” he said, taking her by the hand. They went to the lounge, Tom setting Carmen down on the couch. Sitting at her feet, he clasped his hands in front of him.

“Please?”

She leaned in and grinned. “Please, what?”

“I think I’ve got it.”

“Tom, I don’t think I should…” Carmen shook her head. “It’s bad luck.”

“It isn’t.” He shook his head back, insistent. “It is not bad luck for you to see me recite this.”

“It may not be,” replied Carmen. “But I don’t want to jinx you.”

“Car, you’re not going to jinx me.” When she cupped his face with her hands, he turned his head slightly to kiss her right palm. “I’ve recited Shakespeare to you several times.” He smiled. “In bed.”

“Or to get me into bed, anyway,” replied Carmen. “Isn’t the play cursed?”

“That’s Macbeth you’re thinking of.”

“Right.”

“And it’s not as if I haven’t been rehearsing here at home these last weeks.” Tom took her hands in his and held them loosely, running his thumbs over her knuckles.

“Which is when I put on my noise-cancelling headphones,” smirked Carmen.

“Car,” said Tom. “Come on.”

“I’ll see you next week. Opening night.”

She looked at their hands. Their fingers now interlaced, she noticed how very pale his skin was next to hers.  The pink of his knuckles complemented the brilliance of the aquamarine that winked from her right hand.

“Do you know next week will be the first time you’ve seen me perform?” Tom asked.

Carmen nodded, then looked up at him. “Maybe I’m a little nervous,” she admitted.

“I’m not,” said Tom, simply. “Please?”

When Carmen nodded, he got to his feet and left the room. She called after him: “Where are you going?”

Tom returned, having gone to his study to retrieve his snow globe. He showed it to her. “Skull.”

“It’s perfect,” said Carmen.

Tom sat next to her, placing the globe carefully in her outstretched hands. He smiled at her, then his expression shifted. His eyes were soft as they looked at her, then the little glass dome. He took it back from Carmen, then opened his mouth to speak.

“Let me see. Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatia.” Tom’s voice was soft, his eyes flitting up at the end to look at Carmen’s face before continuing.

“A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times. And now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it.” There was the hint of a smile on his lips, the reverie of Hamlet showing on his face. A far off look in the eye, even as he focused on the object in his hands.

“Here hung those lips that I have kiss'd I know not how oft,” Tom whispered, his breath catching. The smile all but vanished from his face. “Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chap- fall'n? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come. Make her laugh at that.”

When Tom looked at Carmen’s face again, her face was wet with tears. He brushed them away as best he could, using one hand while the other still grasped the snow globe in his lap.

“Prithee, Horatia,” he whispered. “Tell me one thing…”

Carmen cut him off with a kiss, her full lips parting slightly when they met his. Tom could only sit back as she took the globe away from him, and crawled into his lap. Wrapping his arms around her, he slid his hands up her back, under her shirt so he could feel her bare skin. He clenched his fingers, which had the intended effect of Carmen then arching into him.

Tom was languid, nibbling at her bottom lip even as her tongue sought out his own. But he held her firmly, rubbing her back while she deepened the kiss. And when Carmen succeeded, licking just inside Tom’s lips before teasing his tongue with hers, he surrendered.

“Button,” he whispered. “Darling.” He kissed the crook of her neck. ”Carmen.”

“Hmm?”

“Nervous?” He whispered.

Carmen shook her head, then rubbed her cheek against his.

“So is Hamlet still a fuckboi, then?”

She rocked back with laughter, wiping fresh tears from her eyes as she did. “Asshole. We were having such a nice moment.”

“Answer the question.” When Carmen ran her fingers through his hair, he closed his eyes. “That feels good.”

Carmen traced patterns against his temple, and wrapped a few curls of his hair around her fingertips. “Yes,” she said. “He is. You are.”

When Tom growled at her, she kissed his jaw.

“But you're my fuckboi,” said Carmen earnestly. “My Hamlet.” She kissed his cheek. “My Tom.”

Chapter Text

Sometime on Monday morning, Carmen woke up to discover that she had the bed entirely to herself. When she rolled over to Tom’s side, she pressed her nose into his pillow to breathe him in. The scent of his cologne was faint, lingering on the soft cotton pillowcase after the man himself had gone. Taking his pillow with her, she rolled to the center of the bed. Stretched her arms over her head, and wiggled her hips while her legs swept under the covers.

Coffee , Carmen thought. Should I make it myself or go out? She looked out the window, saw the rain, and decided to stay home. A few more seconds with cuddling Tom’s pillow, then she crawled out to the foot of the bed. As she sat on the edge, she stretched her legs again. She looked down at her t-shirt — which said “If I Call You Darling, Will You Make Me Pancakes?” — and thought about putting on some leggings over her underpants before heading downstairs.

“Oh, darling, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

For there knelt Oakley, wearing nothing but a puka shell necklace and a pair of threadbare cargo shorts that hung off his skinny hips. Before Carmen could say anything he pounced, pushing her onto her back so he could straddle her. When she rolled her eyes at him, he laughed.

“You’re not going to need something so stupid as leggings for what I’m going to do to you.”

“What are you even doing here? This is a dream, right?” Carmen eyes softened.

Oakley shrugged. “Dunno. Missed you, I guess.”

“That’s so sweet…” She laughed when he scowled. “Yeah, it has been awhile since I’ve had need to see you.”

“Almost a year,” pouted Oakley. “I would have thought I’d see you a little even after you got back together with him .

“Jealous, Oak?” Carmen couldn’t disguise her glee.

Oakley let his hands trail through her hair, watching the black curls wind around his fingertips but said nothing.

“Oakley…” said Carmen.

“Say it again, love.” He leaned down to suck at the base of her neck. “Say my name.”

“No,” she purred, enjoying the game.

Oakley nipped at her jaw, insistent. He made Carmen gasp when he fumbled under her shirt and pinched her nipples with his fingers.

“You little brat,” hissed Oakley.

“Careful, Oakley,” Carmen admonished. “Your Loki is showing.”

“Ahem,” said a silken voice from the doorway. “His what is showing?”

For there stood Loki, dressed for business in a sharp black suit. His long hair was pulled into a neat ponytail, emphasizing high cheekbones that looked somehow sharper than usual in the morning light. He examined his freshly buffed fingernails, playing at being bored even if the hint of a bulge at the front of his trousers indicated more than a casual interest in the proceedings.

“Carmen’s being difficult,” pouted Oakley. When he huffed, it blew a few loose golden curls out of his eyes.

“Because she won’t say your name? Submit? To the likes of you?” Loki laughed. “Stupid mortal.”

Carmen pushed Oakley off her. He rolled away easily but insisted on slipping a hand around her back and under her shirt. The two of them watched Loki as he took Oakley’s place between her legs, kneeling on the floor in one smooth motion. He slipped a hand under her left leg, lifting it at the knee so he could kiss it. When he set her leg down, he quirked an eyebrow at her.

“Pancakes, Carmen?”

“Tom gave it to me,” she replied.

“Pancakes sound like a fine idea,” said Loki. “Though maybe stubborn girls such as yourself deserve a more modest repast.”

“How about I get pancakes?” Carmen spoke in a whisper. “While you spank me?”

“Clever girl.” Loki rewarded her with the tiniest of smiles.

Oakley kissed her cheek before growling in her ear. “Spanking and pancakes,” he said. “I like it.”

“Spancakes!” Carmen couldn’t help giggling.

“That, my dear, is a terrible pun.” Loki smiled anyway. “But a wonderful idea.” Getting to his feet, he offered Carmen his hands so he could pull her up.

“I should say so.” Oakley stifled a yawn, then kissed the top of Carmen’s head.

“Excellent.” Loki placed his hand on the small of her back, guiding Carmen to the door. “Let’s go downstairs and tell the others.”

“The others?” Carmen’s cheeks flushed.

“Yes,” said Loki. “We’ve been waiting.”

In the kitchen, Edward was putting a platter of freshly made French toast in the oven to warm. Jonathan Pine, dismayed at the decidedly basic coffee pot in Tom and Carmen’s kitchen, sat at the kitchen table preparing a breakfast tray for her.

Pine huffed. “I thought Tom would have invested in a proper machine by now.”

Edward started looking cupboards, saying “Ah!” when he found a small sauce pan. He set it on the counter next to a container of creme fraiche. “Well, you know how the Scots are. Frugal.”

“More like tight,” retorted Pine. He saw the pan in Edward’s hands. “Erm, I need that for frothing the milk.”

“Yes, but I need it now to do the eggs.” Edward indicated the creme fraiche on the counter. “Gordon Ramsay’s recipe is her favorite.”

Pine ignored the slight. “Next time, I’m in charge of the eggs.” He thought to himself, then turned his attention back to his arrangement: Greek yogurt in a glass pot, blueberries and raspberries in a small basket, and a packet of granola. “Just let me know when you’re done with the pot.”

“Sure,” said Edward, more to himself. “Now where are the potatoes…” He went into the pantry.

Oakley burst into the room, grinning madly. He shot a look at the tray in front of Pine. “Yogurt? Really?!”

“Where’s Carmen?” Pine folded a napkin before tucking it in next to the yogurt.

“In the lounge, waiting for you lot to hurry up!”

When Oakley joined him at the table, Pine looked askance at the young man’s bare chest.

“Jealous, Pine?” Oakley ran his hands down from his chest to his flat stomach. “Worked on this tan all summer.”

Pine scoffed. “That narrow excuse for a chest?”

Oakley stuck his nose in the air, running a hand through his curls. “How’s your hair coming in? Or is it going out like the tide?”

Pine was getting to his feet, ready to get in Oakley’s face, when Loki interrupted, sticking his head in the door. “These Midgardian kitchens are so small. However does Tom’s staff manage in this place?”

Edward returned, holding three potatoes in his hand. “Erm, I don’t think there’s a staff, Loki.”

Loki shook his head. “That will not do. How could he ask Carmen to move in and not have a staff?” His brow furrowed. “What about when they marry?”

The eyebrows of the others shot up. They began to talk over each other, Edward gesturing with the potatoes while Pine tried not to look upset. “Who’s getting married?” “When did Tom propose?” “Have they set a date?” “Is she pregnant?” “What’s going to happen to us?”

Loki raised his arms, though it didn’t really do anything to silence them. “She hasn’t said anything. But she has a ring.” He shot a reproachful look at Oakley. “Or did you miss that when you were pawing at her?”

Oakley shrugged. “It’s on her right hand, Lokes.”

“Don’t call me Lokes,” glowered Loki.

All of a sudden, there was a brief abrupt shriek from the lounge. Carmen. The sound brought them out of kitchen into the lounge, where they found a laughing Carmen, still only wearing her t-shirt and underpants, sprawled on the couch. Magnus Martinsson held her around the shoulders, his reserved demeanor nowhere to be found as he whispered in her ear. On the floor, Dr. Robert Laing grasped her knees and tried to look innocent.

“Figures,” said Oakley. “Mind her feet, yeah? They’re sensitive.”

“Oh yes, I remember.” Laing looked at Carmen’s face, noting with approval her flushed cheeks. “Just updating my records.”

James Conrad turned away from the bookshelves, where he and William Buxton had been judging the books in Tom’s collection. He graced Carmen with a smile before looking around the room, his expression now serious.

“Beloved Carmen. Gentleman,” he said, with a small bow. “And Oakley…” When Oakley flipped him off, Conrad chuckled. “I believe we have some business to attend to.”

“Business?” Carmen sat up, but did not leave Magnus’s lap. “What business?”

“Well,” said William. “It’s a pleasant business, love. It’s been a year since Tom ended his assignation with…”

“Don’t!” Edward interrupted, an incredulous look on her face. “I thought we agreed this was for the anniversary of, erm, the reintroduction of Tom and Carmen into each other’s lives.”

William looked chastened, but was immediately relieved when Carmen gave him a reassuring smile. “We just wanted to check in.”

“Check in?” Carmen bit her bottom lip, then looked at her lap. “I don’t know if I could handle all of you at once.”

“What?” Edward was flustered, by the suggestion and by how he aroused he became by the idea. “I mean, I was just making eggs.”

“What’s wrong, Ed?” Laing winked at Carmen. “You’ve never indulged in a bit of group sex?”

“No!” Edward was blushing furiously now.

“Well, maybe Ed will feel better if we form an orderly queue,” said Oakley, patiently.

Carmen could only laugh, burying her face into Magnus’s neck as she did. “Oh my god…”

“I like the queue idea,” said William, hopefully.

“Of course, you do,” said Loki, sniffing. “The English have always enjoyed a queue.”

“An orderly queue,” said Edward. He looked around the room. “But Henry isn’t here to enforce it, is he?”

“Not all of us are English,” said Magnus, his voice low and rough. It made Carmen shiver. “Swedish, remember?”

“Thank god Fitzgerald isn’t here to bray about America. Or Hank, for that matter,” said Conrad.

“GUYS.”

The men, variations of Tom crowded into Tom’s house (or at least the fascimile of it that lived in Carmen’s head), all turned and looked at Carmen who now stood on the couch. For someone who looked disheveled, dressed only in a t-shirt and knickers, she looked authoritative.

“I love you all,” she said. “But for the love of God…”

Loki cleared his throat.

“For the love of Loki, what are you even doing here?”

“Oh!” William brightened. He grabbed a folder out of Laing’s medical bag and handed it up to Carmen.

It was a heavy thing, orange leather that was despite its weight quite soft to the touch. On the front, stamped in gold, was this:

Hamlet

Prinz af Denmark

Magnus held out a hand, taking Carmen to the dining room table. It was set for the nine of them, with her seated at the head. He waited for her to look up at him.

“What is this?” She frowned at the folder. “Is it the play?’

“No,” called Edward, returning to the kitchen. “It’s notes.”

“Medical records,” continued Laing, taking the seat next to her.

“Background, psych profile.” Conrad stood opposite Magnus, behind Laing. “A full work-up.”

Carmen, still confused, shook her head. “But why? What is this file?”

“My lady.”

Carmen smiled when she saw him, standing at the far end of the table. The king, dressed casually (for him, anyway) in a red leather suit, pushed past the others and took Carmen’s hand.

“Apologies for my tardiness,” said Henry V, eyes shining. He saw the file on the table in front of her. “Have we begun yet?”

Loki shook his head. “Not yet, Highness.”

“It’s Hamlet, love,” said Magnus. “He’ll be here in a few days.”

“What do you mean here? In this house?” Carmen breathing quickened.

Magnus, Hal, and Conrad stepped back to give her a little room. Laing smile was reassuring.

“No, Carmen. In dreams. For when you have need of us.” He looked around the room at his colleagues. “Hamlet will be here on Thursday, after you see Tom. To join us.”

Carmen looked at Hal, who nodded. “Really?”

The king kissed her cheek, lingering a little so she could nuzzle his cheek. He whispered: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

Henry opened the folder, prompting Carmen to begin.

Chapter Text

I could not stay behind you: my desire,

More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth;

And not all love to see you, though so much

As might have drawn one to a longer voyage,

But jealousy what might befall your travel,

Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger,

Unguided and unfriended, often prove

Rough and unhospitable: my willing love,

The rather by these arguments of fear,

Set forth in your pursuit.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night , III.iii.1492 - 1501


 

Carmen’s eyes were on the verge of crossing, for she had been sitting at her desk for what felt like hours. The task at hand wasn’t especially taxing — just reading and marking up various white papers on the topic of weather futures but when her cell phone rang from its spot on her desk, she welcomed the opportunity for a break. Especially when she saw that it was Tom calling her.

“What are you doing?” Carmen asked.

“What do you mean, what am I doing?” Tom’s voice on the phone sounded upbeat, almost mirthful. “I’m calling you.”

“Dude.” Phone pressed to her ear, Carmen spun around in her chair. Getting to her feet, she walked over to the window and looked at down at the square below. She smirked. “Tom. Shouldn’t be you be, like, I don’t know, stretching?”

“I did a little yoga in my dressing room. Just now.”

“You have enough space for that?”

Across town, in that same dressing room, Tom pushed shut the door when he found it ajar before taking a seat at a small table where he’d set out a few things. His copy of the play, his spectacles, and a banana. “ Just enough.”

“What about warming up, then?” Moving away from the window, Carmen walked in circles on the carpeted floor.

“Vocal exercises, you mean?”

“Yeah.” She considered. “Like that one song from The Mikado . We had to do it all the time in middle school drama class.”

“‘To sit in solemn silence’, you mean?” Tom grinned.

“That’s right. It was my favorite,” Carmen replied. She paused. Oh fuck , she thought. He’s going to…

“Do some for me now,” said Tom.

“No!”

“Pleeeeeeeeaaaaassseeeee.” Though she could not see him, Tom batted his eyelashes for emphasis. “For meeeee.”

“So whiny.” Carmen tutted. “But I do like it when you beg.”

“I know,” said Tom playfully.

“Fine.” Carmen cleared her throat, and smiled. “To sit in solemn silence…”

“Wait.” Tom frowned at his reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall opposite him. “Where’s the accent?”

“Tom, I am not going to pretend to be an English man pretending to be a Japanese Lord High whatever whatever.”

“Carmen, this is Gilbert and Sullivan. Some attention to accuracy, please.”

“Says the guy who’s playing Hamlet wearing his own clothes from home.”

Tom peered at the black hoodie that was part of his costume, hanging next to the mirror. “It is a modern production, love. Less expensive, certainly less time consuming, than the usual medieval costumes.”

“You stole my hoodie!” She cried.

“Borrowing it, love,” Tom insisted. “I’m merely borrowing it.”

“Thief!” sniffed Carmen. “Now it’s going to smell all sexy and gross like you when I get it back.”

“How can I be sexy and gross, Carmen?” Tom chuckled. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yes it does.” Carmen flopped back down in her chair. “Sometimes I find your hotness offensive.”

“That makes even less sense,” retorted Tom. “Brat.”

Despite herself, Carmen shivered deliciously. “Don’t call me that,” she whispered.

Tom bit his lip. He whispered: "What's in a name? That which we call a Brat by any other word would smell just as sweet."

Carmen glowered at him in absentia . “Shuddup.”

“I love you, Car.”

“Yes,” said Carmen primly. “I know.”

Tom growled. “You are such a little…”

“So I’m all set for tonight,” said Carmen brightly. “I scheduled a fancy Uber and everything. The kind with the tinted windows for privacy.”

“Good,” said Tom. “Sure I can’t send Faisal to collect you?”

“That’s sweet, but I’m sure it’s better he’s with you.”

“It wouldn’t take him any time at all, love.”

“I know, but I don’t want him to make a round trip.”

“If you’re sure,” said Tom. “But if you change your mind, call or text him. You’ve got the number, right?”

“Of course, but I don’t think it will be necessary.” Carmen took a deep breath. “You should rest.”

“I will,” promised Tom. “What else are you up to?”

“Just looking at the dress I’m going to wear tonight.”

“Oh?” Tom mused. “Care to tell me about it?”

“Well, there are sleeves.” Carmen toyed with a pen on her desk. “And it has a skirt.”

“A short skirt?” Tom sounded hopeful.

“Sorry, love.” She shook her head. “Maybe next time, when I’m not going to be in a room with a bunch of fancy theater people like Sir Ken.”

“Would it make you feel better if he was wearing a very short skirt as well?”

“Actually,” replied Carmen with a smile. “It totally would.”

When it was almost time to go, Carmen closed the door to her office and changed, slipping on a dress she’d had for a while but was as yet unworn by her. A wrap dress in the darkest blue with a circle skirt that fell just above the knee, it had long sleeves and a v-neck just a touch too deep to wear around her fairly conservative office. It was slinky, though, and she liked the way the fabric brushed against her legs. How her knee would break through where the skirt appeared to split in two. Pulling on her trench coat, Carmen grabbed her purse and checked her phone before heading out.

In the elevator, she discovered a curious thing: there was no record of her Uber reservation. And when she tried to reserve another car, tinted windows or not, the wait was too long. Out on the street, there were a few taxis available but also there was traffic that seemingly had come to a standstill. Calling Faisal for a ride this late would do her no good — she’d miss the first two acts at least. Eyeing the entrance to the tube, Carmen crossed herself and composed a series of texts to Tom:

< uber lost my res >

< new car will take too long >

< too late to call faisal >

< tube will be fast and fine >

< xoxoxo C >

The trains were arriving almost on top of each other during the evening rush and while the station was crowded, Carmen was able to squeeze onto a train with minimal fuss. She idly checked her phone for any messages from Tom, frowning as the signal underground seemed to come and go as it pleased.

Passengers on the tube weren’t ones for eye contact, or any kind of interaction with strangers. Everybody had a phone or a tablet or even an old fashioned book to keep them occupied. Carmen loved to people-watch, however, so she tried not to get caught as she looked at everybody’s faces and wondered who they were and where they were going.

She liked the look of two young women, giggling and whispering to one another. They were pretty and cool and excited to be on the train, poring over a guidebook. All of a sudden they caught her looking at them, and so they stared right back.

Carmen didn’t know why she didn’t, couldn’t look away. At least not right then. She usually did when caught, turning her face away with an apologetic smile. But she froze, sensing something in their eyes that felt to her like recognition. She felt intuitively that they knew who she was, what she was. She wondered if she was right, or was she just being paranoid.

The littler of the two, who was all big round eyes and a great deal of red hair cut in a precise bob, mouthed “HI CARMEN” and gave a little wave. Her friend, whose olive skin and highlighted black hair reminded Carmen so much of her favorite aunt back in Chicago, waved too. They made no other move or gesture. The girls waited for a reply.

At that moment the train pulled into a station and the girls moved towards the door to exit. Turning back one last time from the platform to peek through the window, they saw Carmen and mouth the words “HELLO LADIES”.

When they jumped up and down, squealing to each other “Oh my GAWD” and “We have to tweet, like, RIGHT NOW”, Carmen laughed then took a seat just as the doors closed and the train moved on.

The encounter felt to Carmen like a sign of good things to come. It was going to be a great night.

The rest of the train ride was calm but Carmen felt her excitement mounting the closer she got. Fidgeting in the lift at the station, she couldn't get to the theater soon enough. Her watch indicated she had time, not a lot, but enough to get her ticket, maybe even change into the heels shoved in her coat pockets. Touch up the lipstick and…

“Carmen?”

“Yes?”

She turned around with a tentative smile, away from the theater and the cars pulling up to the curb and the people, to find a woman standing in front of her. She was close enough that Carmen could smell her perfume, close enough that this woman could reach out and touch Carmen’s arm. Which she did, albeit lightly.

“It really is you! This is so crazy!” She didn't seem to care when Carmen took a step back, her arm slipping free from the woman’s grasp. “I can’t believe it!”

Carmen already knew the answer but she asked the question anyway. “Have we met?”

The woman shook her head. “No but…” She leaned in. “I’m a fan. Of Tom, obviously,” she said, laughing and rolling her eyes. “But I love you too! I was so excited when you moved here to be with Tom. That’s so romantic!”

Carmen’s mouth felt dry. Swallowing didn't help it much but still she tried to reply after a shaky breath. “It wasn't because… I didn't, you know.”

“On your way inside? Of course!” The woman pouted. “I waited for Tom to arrive but I didn’t get any pictures, he arrived so quickly.” She shrugged. “Do you know if he’ll come out for pictures later?”

Carmen genuinely had no idea if he was.

“Oooh! As long as we’re here, can I get a selfie?” The woman produced a phone and held it up to Carmen’s face.

It was then that Carmen came back to herself, taking a step back and shaking her head. “No. No, thank you.”

The woman looked crestfallen but then perked up again. “Well, maybe after, ‘kay? I’ll be seeing you!” She watched Carmen walk away, smiling after her beloved idol’s beloved.

So close , she thought to herself. But surely meeting Carmen — that was surely a sign of good things to come.

Carmen tried to be objective. This was her rule, had always been her rule, when it came to Tom and his work. But knowing how good he was, how talented and hardworking, she was powerless to be anything but instantly spellbound, profoundly entranced, when the house lights dimmed and the night began.

Hamlet was never her favorite. She liked the plays well enough but for her the sonnets were the thing. When it was over, and the cast were taking their bows, and she was waiting for a member of the house staff to take her to Tom’s dressing room as promised, Carmen realized that the solution to her indifference to Shakespeare’s theatrical works was right there, as plain as the elegant nose on Tom’s lovely face.

He would simply have to perform, in turn, one by one, every single one of the bard’s plays. Just for her.

When she got to Tom’s dressing room, she was still so overwhelmed, so overcome, so in love that she could only rush right at him when he opened the door.

“You are adorable.” He stooped over, hands planted on the arms of the chair in which she sat, and pressed his lips to her forehead. He nuzzled her cheek. “Did you like it, Button?”

“It was beautiful,” she said, looking up at him. Carmen laughed when he planted a kiss on the tip of her nose. “I want to see it again.”

Tom nodded. “Maybe we can get you a spot with the sound crew during…”

“No no no,” said Carmen. “Private command performance. Every night.”

“I don’t know if you can afford the ticket, love,” joked Tom.

“What if I promise to make a donation to RADA? Something in the neighborhood of a million pounds? Hmm.”

Tom smiled at Carmen when she took a seat and crossed her legs. “Very generous.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “So… can I borrow a million pounds then?”

“Very funny,” said Tom.

Carmen watched him quietly as he changed, hanging up his costume with care before putting on his suit for the gala.

“I should be cross with you, you know.” Tom checked his reflection in the mirror, turning his face this way and then that as he ran his hand over his beard.

“Why’s that?” Still looking up at Tom, who stood over her, Carmen reached up and smoothed the front of his shirt. She did not meet his gaze when he looked down at her.

“Your texts, love. You missed your car.”

“It’s more like they missed me. And anyway, the tube was fine.” She nodded. “Crowded, of course, but it was fast.”

“You should have called Faisal, Carmen.” Tom met her gaze by crouching, then kneeling before her.

“It was too late for that,” she explained. “And I saw a couple of girls on the train. They, ah, seemed to recognize me, y’know?” She touched his lips. “Just sort of waved from afar.”

“Are you alright?” Tom was holding her hands now, kneading them slowly.

“Yeah. It was fine. I don’t think they took any unflattering pictures, which, you know, is the only thing I care about.” Carmen laughed.

“Good,” said Tom, getting back on his feet. “Shall we go?”

Carmen nodded. “Are you, gonna do autographs? There’s some people, I think at the stage door.” She bit her lip. “One lady in particular was looking forward to it.”

Tom frowned. “I thought you said the girls just waved at you.”

“Oh! No. They got off the train before I did. This was a different person. Just sort of saw me when I got out of the tube station.”

Carmen was digging around in her purse, looking for the lipstick she meant to reapply before the play. Before she went into the theater, before she was accosted. Just before. She didn’t notice Tom’s face as it stilled, an unreadable look on his face that hovered between anguish and anger.

“Who?”

“Oh, just some woman.” Carmen sounded casual. Too casual, to his ears. “She was so excited because, you know, she missed you arriving. She wanted a picture. But there I was. Close enough to touch, in fact.”

“Carmen.”

“She took my hand. No, that’s not right.” Carmen tugged one of her sleeves down. “She sort of grasped my arm. Asked for a selfie.”

“Carmen.”

“I’m glad she asked, Tom.” Carmen sounded thoughtful. “She was really nice about it when I said no.”

“Carmen, love.”

“What?” She looked up, her eyes now wet. Her bottom lip trembled, so her breathing was just a little shaky. “I’m not, I wasn’t scared. Just, you know, caught off guard.”

Tom grabbed her, holding her tightly to his chest while she simply breathed him in.

“I should have come out to meet you when you got here.”

“Are you kidding? People would have gone nuts. You would have made Faisal so mad.”

“Then Faisal should have met you at the station. On the platform.”

“It was just a few blocks. I was close to the theater.”

“And she got close to you.” Tom cupped her face in his hands, searching her eyes.

“It’s not the first time fans have gotten close.” She shrugged. “I mean, they haven’t ever approached me like that before, but I guess coming to the play…”

“They’ve approached us,” said Tom. “Not you by yourself. Fans waving at you at the tube is one thing. Fans getting close enough to touch you, look in your eyes.” He clenched his jaw, though only for a moment. “You should have taken a cab.”

“Expensive,” she murmured.

“I don’t care.”

“I would have been late.”

“Yes, well,” said Tom, leaning in to kiss her, so he could speak against her lips. “I would have done an encore performance, love. Just for you.” He pulled her into him, groaning with pleasure when he felt how warm and soft her body was.

“Would you have done the same for Faisal, then?” Carmen couldn’t help giggling.

Tom continued to kiss her, his hands sliding down gently from her jaw, along to her neck, down her arms and then around her waist. “No,” he moaned. “Decidedly not.”

“Baby,” Carmen moaned. “Oh Tom…”

He cut her off by licking, just inside her bottom lip, before sucking on it. When he stopped, straightening up, Carmen sighed.

“Okay,” she breathed. “We should probably get going.”

“No.” Tom’s tone was curt, crisp. The door to the dressing room was already shut so he wasted no more time in taking her hand before he took a seat. There Carmen stood, her breathing a little ragged. But her gaze was steady as she watched him, felt his finger trail down from the hollow of her throat down her chest. Just a little cleavage, but it was enough.

Tom sat up, so fast that he almost startled her, and brought her even closer. Standing between his legs, one hand resting on the small of her back while the other found its place on the back of her left thigh. Tom breathed her in, nose pressed into that naked valley between her breasts, while his eyes looked up to see her. The way her face was so dreamy, cheeks flushed and eyelids heavy. He closed his eyes and began to unwrap her.

The belt was the first to go, still attached to the front of the dress so that it swung forward with the weight of the buckle. He nuzzled her soft, round belly, the scratching of his beard against the flesh which made them laugh together.  And then he grew quiet again when he felt her hands in his hair so she could run her fingers through it.

He nipped at one breast through the sheer cup of her bra, soothing and sucking on the nipple until it peaked in his mouth. When Carmen pulled the bra up, he paid the same attention to the other. He rewarded her when she arched her back, moving even closer still by licking faster.

Tom was grateful to discover she wasn’t wearing stockings, that her legs were bare but for a thin layer of lotion that made her legs shimmer in the dim light of the room. The source of the light was a single lamp on the table, but it was enough for them to see.

Carmen moved her hands down, pushing Tom away by the shoulder. Smiling down at him, it was her turn to kneel between his spread legs. Run her hands up from the insides of his knees up to his waist where she made quick work of his fly. Rubbing him over the fabric with her right hand, she brought his cock out with her left and immediately wrapped her lips around its head.

“Oh fuck .” Tom had thought the happiness he felt after a successful opening night, the joy of performing for Carmen for the first time, was enough to relax him, relieve the tension of so much work and pressure and attention. And then she began to lick, swirling her tongue around the tip while her hand pumped up and down the shaft. As there was nothing to use as lube, she was careful. But then there was his hand in her hair, combing the loose curls and then tugging just slightly and just when he was about to pull her closer she released him to suck and lick along the shaft. Spat in her own palm, then resumed her ministrations.

The faint tick of a cheap clock on the wall told them they were in danger of being late. Missing entrances and speeches, toasts to one and all. Or it would have if they weren’t so intently focused on bringing each other pleasure. On being so close that nothing or no one could have parted them.

“Carmen.” Tom’s head fell back and he stared at the ceiling, unfocused and helpless. “Please.”

Reluctantly, Carmen released his cock from her lips. She licked at the tip before getting back to her feet. Tom reached for her hand so he could kiss her palm. He interlaced his fingers in hers, then guided her into his lap. She pulled her knickers to the side, found his erect cock, and slowly sank down upon it.

Carmen collapsed against Tom, grinding so her clit was rubbed as he rolled his hips. His arms wrapped around her, holding her hands so now they were clasped behind her back. Still dressed but now exposed to him and his covetous, adoring gaze.

She rocked with him, panting between kisses pressed to the hot skin of his flushed neck. It was then that Tom released her hands, and in relief she wrapped her arms around him. Carmen was almost fevered in the way she kissed him, sucking at his tongue and the very air that he breathed.

The air of a late London summer was already cold and dry so the only remedy was Carmen. Her body, and the way that she could love him with it. She was hot and wet and open and utterly his.

He pulled back, just a little to break the kiss. So he could rasp: “Baby… oh god, Carmen… please.” He squeezes his eyes shut and held on. Clenching so he could thrust up into her, going deeper and deeper, finding it harder to pull out as she tightened around him. An attempt to hold on, keep the connection while seeking friction even while it was so hard because it felt so good and he wanted to… Tom had to come.

When he felt himself begin to break, Carmen cried out. Her body involuntarily as she began to come herself, so Tom just held her tight. Swallowed her cries, kissed her deeply, kept loving her and then he fell over that beloved edge along with her. His eyes were shut as he rode the pleasure out, body shuddering until at last it was over and he began to laugh.

Carmen didn’t join him, but merely laid her head on his shoulder and hummed to herself.

“Oh,” he whispered.

“Is that Shakespeare, too?” She asked.

Tom squeezed her hips, an empty threat to tickle her when he knew her body was still so sensitive. “Madame, your impertinence is showing.”

“I’ll remember to put it away before the party.” She lifted her head to squint at the clock on the wall. “Okay, we should go before everybody figures out we were in here fucking.”

“It’s so coarse when you put it that way,” said Tom. He used his hands to push a few curls out of her eyes.

“Well, it’s not like I was going to tell people, tell Sir Ken that.” Carmen scowled. “Give me a little credit.”

“Well, how else do we explain our tardiness?”

“Dude, you’re Hamlet.” Carmen grinned. “You can make a later than expected entrance.”

“Dude,” drawled Tom, making her laugh. “I’m Hamlet so I need to be there on time so people won’t suspect we were in here shagging.”

“Fine.” Carmen relented good-naturedly. “Oh Tom.”

“Oh Carmen,” he replied. He tilted his head to the side, studying her face. “I’m glad you were here tonight.”

“So am I,” she said.

“But please love,” he said, eyes wide as he kissed her cheek. “For events like this? No more taking the tube if you can help it. Take a cab. Get the expensive Uber. Text Faisal. Okay?”

She nodded. “Yes.” She kissed his sweet lips. “I will.”