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But Never Doubt I Love

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PART ONE

 

It was late that night after the bill had passed. Edward Drummond had had more than his fill of debating and arguing, his collar soaked through with sweat and his voice run hoarse from the effort of those damned corn laws. He stumped through the dark hallways alongside Robert Peel, both of them almost too exhausted to speak. As they broke into the cool night, they were mobbed by enthusiastic supporters. Cheers of ‘hurrah’ broke the still air. Drummond tried to smile in acknowledgement, but he was tired to the bone. And yet… A small, glowing spark of excitement had lit within him from Lord Paget’s letter. Alfred’s letter. Was it alright to call him Alfred? Drummond remembered the signature so well. Yours, Alfred. He slipped his hand into his pocket and gripped the letter tight, not wanting to let go of such a precious thing. It was proof; solid proof that perhaps his foolhardy thoughts had not been totally unrequited.

“Are you sure I can’t take you home?” Peel’s voice broke through Drummond’s train of thought.

“Oh - thank you sir, but I have an engagement.” The spark of excitement was growing steadily, smouldering away in his chest. He tried to use the word engagement nonchalantly, as if it were something he cared nothing for.

“Thank you for stopping me making a fool of myself over Bentinck.” Peel chuckled ruefully. “Thank you.” Drummond shook Peel’s hand jovially. But suddenly, something seemed wrong. Drummond turned to see the crowd suppressing a man flailing about with a gun. It fired once, twice, flying towards the sky, the bullets meant for Sir Robert, surely. Drummond threw himself and his prime minister to the ground. But the scuffle was over as quickly as it had started. The parliament guards had seized the offender and his gun. Sir Robert looked shocked; he was almost comical in his fright. And yet as Edward stood up, Peel laughed shakily and told him, “You look just like a goldfish, Drummond. Quite a picture.” Edward helped Sir Robert up and saw the guards wrestling the man away. Peel clapped him on the shoulder, his face still a little grey from shock.

“I… I did warn you, sir. I did not think it would be such an immediate reaction.” Drummond said. Peel smiled ruefully.

“Nor did I. Well - I suppose - it is late, and I best get back home. Are you quite alright for your engagement?” Drummond started. He had forgotten, in the shock of the man with the gun, just what the evening held for him. The spark bloomed back within him, so suddenly he felt his palms begin to sweat with anticipation.

“Yes sir, I think I will be quite alright.” He smiled so widely that the prime minister looked curious.

“Well then. Erm, have fun. And keep it quiet! We don’t want any more violence, you hear me?” Drummond grinned even more and waved Peel’s carriage off. He took a moment to breathe deeply, looking up at the stars. Thank you, Lord, for not killing me off just then. He laughed quietly to himself. His Holy and Gracious God might not appreciate what he was about to do. Drummond set off along the road, walking briskly and yet more briskly as he thought about who he would meet. Lord Alfred Paget. He wasn’t sure he had ever heard a more beautiful name. His footsteps echoed down the dark, near empty streets. Ciros was barely a ten minute walk from parliament at an amble, and judging from his fobwatch he had clocked in at only six. The things I do for love . He smiled, and then wondered, as he stepped past the threshold of the restaurant, whether it really was love. Could it be? Alfred didn’t seem to think that friendship was the right term for it. And yet… well. There was simply no word for it. Drummond nodded to the waiter and stepped into the candlelit room. There were very few patrons here now; the bill had taken a long time to pass, and dinnertime really ought to have been over. His stomach rumbled just thinking about it. But as his eyes found what they sought, his stomach decided it wasn’t terribly keen on food anyway. It did a sort of twisted backflip and ended up in a clenched position, waiting for those blue, blue eyes to come ever closer. Alfred’s face came closer into view, though he was barely aware of even walking. It was like bathing in a ray of sunshine, really, except that it didn’t hurt to look upon. It did not hurt at all. He smiled (as if he could have resisted), and cleared his throat. Alfred looked up from where he was sitting at the table, his fingers idly stroking a petal on the floral centerpiece. He looked so surprised that Edward couldn’t help but feel a little hurt. Had he really been so sure he wouldn’t come? Alfred made to get up but his thigh collided with the table on his way, resulting in an awkward sort of crouch.

“Drummond! I wasn’t sure you would come.” He adjusted his seat and stood up properly, clapping Edward’s hand between both of his own. “I am so very, very glad of it. Tell me; did the repeal pass?” Drummond bit his lip as Alfred released his hands and sat down. He followed suit, putting the napkin in his lap and looking back up to those bright blonde eyelashes framing what seemed to be the sky. The time passed, and Drummond could not say how long it was.

“Er… Drummond?” Alfred coughed amusedly.

“Yes?” Edward replied automatically, shocked out of his trance.

“The repeal? Did it pass?” He cursed his own stupidity.

“Oh! Yes. Yes, it did. Sorry, I’ve been out of sorts since I…” Since I got your letter. “Since there was this fool of a man who tried to shoot at Peel and I! Can you believe it?” Alfred frowned in concern.

Shot at you? But that sounds… Well, it sounds like a close shave.”

“Yes, yes… I suppose it was, really.” Alfred looked down at the flowers, then the candle, then back into Edward’s eyes.

“Well, I’m very glad you’re alive.” The men smiled at each other.

 

---

 

Shot at? Alfred’s mind was a jumble. After over an hour of waiting, he was really only there to wallow in his own misery. And then to find that Drummond’s very life had been in danger. He shuddered at the thought. The only steady thing seemed to be Drummond’s eyes. Brown, comforting, and for some reason always reminiscent of Beethoven. Not the booming Fifth Symphony, but a quieter, calmer piece. Nocturne , he decided. Definitely Nocturne. For their song was a sad one. Beautiful, but ultimately, Alfred had no clue where this sort of thing could ever go. But he had acted badly the other night, and he knew it. Clearing his throat, he made to apologise, but was interrupted by the waiter. He had brought them oysters and champagne without needing the reminder, recognizing them from the other night. Alfred smiled at him gratefully. He wasn’t sure he could have even remembered what they were going to order. After the champagne was poured, and the seafood laid out, he began his practiced speech.

“Drummond.” But he was interrupted.

“Edward, please.” A shy grin from beneath a curly mop of brown hair encouraged him.

“Oh, I, er, thank you, Drummo- Edward. Edward.” He smiled uncontrollably. The name was like the sweetest of chocolates on his tongue. “So. Edward.” Drummond - Edward! - laughed. “No! Shush! I need to say this. You know that. Edward.” But it was too late. His companion had dissolved into helpless laughter, and it seemed that any attempt to repeat his name would only further fuel the flame. Alfred couldn’t help himself. He bit his lip and reached across to touch Edward’s hand softly. It was barely a moment, a soft brush of skin on skin, before he retracted it, conscious of the public space they were in. Edward’s laughter ceased as he drew in a breath. Satisfied and smirking, Alfred continued.

“Edward. I invited you here to formally apologise. I know I oughtn’t to have told you how you should live. In fact, I think I would very much like what you proposed. But you know, I - I was only trying to… To stop things from getting out of hand.” Edward didn’t look terribly happy at the last comment, but Alfred held up his hand.

“Please - please, let me finish. You can’t know how badly I want things to - to get out of hand. All I want, every morning when I go to court, is to, to be with you. And I think that you know that.” He was avoiding Edward’s gaze now. It was almost shameful, feeling this much emotion for another human. Another man. “But it can’t be like that. It can’t be that simple. We can’t just, I don’t know, run off to Scotland when we feel like it. As much as I want to. We both have family, and duties, and careers, and I don’t want… Edward. I don’t want you to resent me for having to give up anything.” He peeked up from under his lashes cautiously. Edward was watching him with an intense sort of expression that he had worn that wonderful day by the water. It made Alfred quiver with anticipation, his hands shaking slightly. He did his best to return Edward’s gaze. The other man smiled slowly.

“Then - then you do care for me? As… I don’t know. Not friends?” The terror in Edward’s eyes was almost painful. Alfred couldn’t believe he even needed to say it. They hadn’t exactly been subtle, in court, in France, in Scotland… Of course I care for you. That had been what he meant to say. Instead, like a confounded idiot, he said, “I care for you more than you can know, Edward. I- I-” And then he shut himself up before he well and truly embarrassed himself. But Edward seemed positively thrilled.

“But, Alfred! I do know!” In the man’s excitement, their hands ended up intertwined over the table. As soon as they both realized, they dropped one another like they were scalded. Alfred glanced around furtively, only for his heart to drop into his stomach when he saw a waiter watching them with an ugly, suspicious look on his face. He looked back at Edward who looked about as terrified as he felt. Yet he still spoke.

“You know that I know. You know how I care for you, Alfred. There would be no point to this meeting if I wasn’t sure, if I wasn’t completely certain…” He lowered his voice to a point where it was nearly seductive in tone. “If I wasn’t completely certain that you are the one I am meant to be with.” Alfred smiled bemusedly.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the same. But the Lord cannot possibly mean for us to be together, can He? It is a sin. It’s illegal .” The word soured on his tongue.

“I don’t care. I will be with you, Alfred.” Edward’s eyes were so intense on his that he felt exposed, naked, stripped to his very soul. And it filled him simultaneously with such love and carnal desire that he couldn’t help but let out a long, ragged breath. He longed to reach across the table, seize Edward and kiss the living daylights out of him. Yet he couldn’t. Not here, and definitely not with that waiter watching. He threw caution to the wind without a second thought.

“Well. If you say so, Edward… Edward.” He smiled blissfully. It really was the only right choice. “Edward; I will be with you. As long as the merciful God above allows.” The two men simply gazed at each other, with that said. After a period of time - seconds? minutes? hours? - Alfred cleared his throat, and looked down at the food.

“The oysters! We really ought to try them before they get all warm. Oysters are so much better chilled, you know.”

“Ah yes, the… The oysters.” Edward looked like he was having a bit of trouble focussing. He downed his champagne quickly and seemed to come back to his senses; at least, enough to take an oyster from the tray and down it quickly. “Lovely,” he beamed. Alfred followed suit. They ate fairly quickly, interchangeably smiling uncontrollably and eating the shellfish. The champagne went right to Alfred’s head, making him dizzy and lightheaded, the whole world seeming to exist through a golden halo surrounding his dining partner. Edward insisted on paying as they left the restaurant, and Alfred wasn’t in much state to refuse. He simply looked on and admired his gallant… His gallant… Friend. Friend was a lame word for them, really. Sweetheart? Alfred decided that from this day forth it would be so. He, Alfred, had a sweetheart, Edward. And let it be known everywhere, from rolling hill to treetops to over the water…

 

---

 

Edward’s head couldn’t seem to stop replaying Alfred’s words. I will be with you. As long as the merciful God above allows. As long as the merciful God allows… Edward thought vaguely that it might have something to do with the alcohol they had both consumed, but right at that moment, he was quite sure God would allow them forever and a half. He felt invincible, and it was with a whoop that he took Alfred’s hand and took off running down the street outside the restaurant. It really was late now, and there was no one about to witness the two lads gallivanting like utter fools. Alfred’s hand in his was at once like the steadiest of ramparts to support him, and like a phoenix bearing him upwards on a tide of joy. They ran until they were out of breath, and Edward didn’t even know where they were anymore, and he found he didn’t care at all. On a whim, he pulled Alfred into a side alleyway and pushed him roughly against a wall. He seized the lapels of Alfred’s coat and held him there, their noses brushing, pressed up against one another. He looked into blue eyes turned dark with desire, and time seemed nearly to stop. It was almost too easy to break the distance, to lean forwards and slowly press his mouth to Alfred’s. He tasted like champagne and oysters and Heaven all in one. Edward found he could barely remember the kiss they had shared beside that Scottish lagoon for this one. That had been timid and shy; scared of unknowns and undetermined futures. This was bold and new and everything. With his lips, Edward moved against Alfred and felt that he was forging joy and bliss from scratch. The soft rasp of Alfred’s breathing against his mouth was almost too much for him. They kissed softly, slowly, deliberately, mouths moving with a newfound confidence. Edward slipped his hands around Alfred’s waist almost subconsciously. One of Alfred’s hands had somehow found its way into his hair, holding onto him for dear life, and the other was held fast onto his cravat. Edward carefully pushed his knee forwards, between Alfred’s legs, and was rewarded with a breathy moan. He broke away for breath, gasping, their foreheads pressed together. Their eyes met, and Edward laughed, half desperately and half amusedly.

“Well,” he mumbled. “That perhaps… escalated a little far.” Alfred grinned at him and leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth. He lingered there, kissing along to his cheek, his jawline, and further down to his neck. Edward gasped and clutched desperately as Alfred found some sort of very sensitive spot . He held onto Alfred’s forearms tightly, his mind reeling from the ever newer and more lovely range of pleasures. Alfred turned his kisses gentler soon, returning to his mouth for a chaste peck of the lips before sighing with pleasure and leaning his head onto Edward’s shoulder. The casual intimacy of the gesture was surprisingly quite as emotional as the kissing, Edward found. Emotions swelled within him almost impossible to hold, and he hugged Alfred tight to him, pressing his lips gently into his sweetheart’s hair. Sweetheart? But he wasn’t even really surprised at himself. Alfred had been a sweetheart, and more, to him… For too long.

“Why didn’t we do this earlier?” He laughed at how breathy his voice was.

“Hmm?” Alfred lifted his head and blinked blearily up at him.

“I think we should have done this much, much earlier.” Alfred smiled in comprehension.

“I think… As soon as we met.” Edward smiled.

“I might have been a little surprised. How about that day on the balcony?”

“Or the time in France…”

“Or the time in Scotland…”

Alfred laughed. “I think we did quite enough then!” Edward smiled but shook his head.

“On the contrary… Not nearly enough.” Alfred was close enough for Edward to feel him shiver. It was so tempting to throw caution to the wind, to simply have what they both wanted, to touch and never stop touching, right here in the dank alleyway. Edward had discovered today that it wasn’t Scotland he wanted or missed; it was simply Lord Alfred Paget. But it wasn’t the right place or time. Alfred looked up at Edward with such trusting, adoring eyes that Edward thought his heart might burst.

“Alfred… We’d really better get home, before anyone notices anything.” The disappointment on Alfred’s face must have been nearly as bad as Edward felt. “I don’t mean to stop this happening, Alfred. Quite on the contrary… I want to do it. Properly. Not hidden away in the dark. Somewhere we can both, well… enjoy the experience.” He was quite glad they were hidden away in the dark, actually. He was sure his face must have been as bright as a beetroot. Alfred nodded, grinning in a strange manner. It was anticipatory, and it made Edward long for the night when they could let all restraints go to come soon, so soon.

“I think I would be quite happy anywhere, with you. But you’re right. Unfortunately.” They smiled and broke apart, setting off back to the main road. They walked quickly, Alfred headed back to his house on Grosvenor Place and Edward to his apartment on Downing Street. A policeman was jogging towards them as they rounded a corner, however, and he stopped to talk to them.

“Gentlemen! You wouldn’t happen to have seen any sort of indecent behaviour around? Only we got some reports of a, erm, an immoral act being performed around here.” Edward gaped at him, dumbfounded. Someone saw us? And reported us? Alfred looked just as horrified.

“No need to worry!” The policeman assured them hastily, obviously thinking they were shocked at the idea of an immoral act. “We’ll catch ‘em right enough. We always do.” Edward shook his head slowly, still stunned.

“No… We haven’t seen anything suspicious tonight.” The policeman nodded, no suspicion on his heavily bristled face, and set off the way Alfred and Edward had come from. They gaped at each other for a second.

“You don’t think…”

“Who could have seen…?”

“We were that close to… to…” To prison, Edward didn’t need to say. Had they been caught together in that sort of performance, it would mean a labour camp for years. Careers and honour stripped, probably a headline in the papers. Without a word, they continued on their way, both of them deep in thought. The turnoff to the Palace, and Alfred's final destination, arrived much too soon. Alfred looked at him, then around them, and before Edward could think to stop him he had seized him and kissed him oh-so-briefly before taking off down the empty road. Edward looked after him with a smile blooming on his face, and adoration deep within his heart. Oh, Lord Alfred Paget. To himself he murmured, “In nothing thou art black save in thy deeds, And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.”

Chapter Text

Lord Alfred Paget woke to sunlight streaming through the window. The soft light brought into focus his coat from last night, thrown haphazardly as he had stumbled into bed. He could already feel the repercussions from his late night, but found he didn’t actually care. All that mattered was Drummond - Edward. He sighed and closed his eyes to daydream of his newfound sweetheart. His perfectly formed face - so strong and defined! - and his wonderful mouth that could surely do things Alfred would never dream of… Well. He could dream quite a lot, actually. He smirked to himself before throwing off his covers and bounding out of bed, stretching this way and that. He reordered his clothes, stroking the lapels of his coat that Edward had used to pull him closer. Alfred found he did not mind much being taken control of. It was, he supposed, to be the woman’s role in these sort of things. Well. Father did always say I was too feminine. Alfred dressed quickly in the bright red uniform of the Clerk Marshal, and set off for the Palace. He was abashed when he arrived to the Queen, as she had clearly been working awhile already. She smiled up at him from where she was doing the boxes.

“Good morning, Alfred.” He bowed low to her.

“Your Majesty.”

“You’re not normally a late riser, are you? Did you have a late night?” She asked the question casually but he was sure there was a spark of mischief in her eyes.

“Er - Yes, your Majesty,” he said awkwardly. To his surprise, she laughed, the sound like a wind chime.

“Well, I do hope you enjoyed yourself. I shall have to meet her someday if you did.” She smiled again at him and went back to her word. Alfred chose to remain silent, and the Queen, blissfully, did not press him further. They worked in silence for a time; Alfred’s duty was, as ever, to manage the accounts. It was not exactly thrilling work, but he was well enough used to it. Nearing dinnertime, a voice broke the silence. Sir Robert Peel entered the room, followed by (Alfred’s breath hitched noticeably) none other than Edward Drummond. It was a great struggle to keep the smile from rising to his face. He drank in the sight of Edward, and nearly forgot to stand up for their arrival. Edward’s brown eyes met his and they shared a glance full of emotion. But the Queen was speaking, and unfortunately for them, it was necessary they should listen.

“... heard the most horrible story! Shot at, Drummond? I am sorry.” Edward inclined his head.

“‘Twasn’t any harm done, your Majesty. All the same, we ought to be careful in the current political climate.” Victoria nodded.

“Yes, well, I am inclined to agree with you. I think Albert would, even more so.”

“Albert would what?” The prince emerged from the hall, looking expectantly at his wife.

“That we ought to take more care around guns. Drummond here was shot at!” The prince exclaimed and inquired similarly to Victoria. Edward bore it well, nodding and smiling and behaving perfectly respectably. Alfred couldn’t help but feel that they were like some absurd birds in a cage, forced to sing and dance by the demands of society.

“Now, for the important question.” Victoria looked very serious. “Did the repeal pass?” Robert’s face broke into a smile.

“Yes, your Majesty. Thank Goodness, it did.” Victoria and Albert looked most content. It was touching to see how they truly cared for their country.

“But that is wonderful news! Come, Sir Robert, Drummond, you must dine with us for dinner today in celebration!” Robert and Drummond nodded their approval. Alfred allowed himself to smile at the knowledge his sweetheart would be close for yet longer.

 

---

 

Edward sat at the dinner table in the Palace with some trepidation. It was wonderful, ever wonderful, to see Alfred’s face, and yet - it was ever worrying away at him that one or other of the palace servants might spot their constant gazes. It would probably take more than a palace servant’s suspicions to convince the Queen, and yet it was not worth risking. Dinner was wonderful; the Queen had quite taken to Scottish food, and demanded trout cooked over the fire. Edward had had his suspicions over such a primitive method, and yet the fish was delicious. As he finished his meal, he looked up at Alfred, and nearly let the food fall out of his mouth. It wasn’t even as if Alfred had been talking to him, or looking at him; Edward was just suddenly struck by the beauty of him. I will get to kiss him, and hold him, and… have him. The room seemed quite hot suddenly. He was sure he might be crucified for such thoughts at the Queen’s table. Alfred looked his way, his clear blue eyes amused at some remark the Duchess of Buccleuch had made. Edward quickly looked down at his plate. It would not do to be so distracted now. Alfred’s voice found its way into his ears, however.

“On the contrary, Duchess, I find The String of Pearls serial most entertaining. Gruesome it is, but thrilling also, don’t you think?” Edward grinned. The String of Pearls serial was being published to a great following in the papers. It presented the story of a murderous barber, who used clever contraptions to trap and bake his customers in pies. Edward had found it quite ridiculous.

“I simply do not think such ideas are suitable for public consumption!” Edward saw Victoria roll her eyes at the Prince when she thought no one was looking. He smiled sympathetically and cleared his throat.

“Well, let us put the topic aside if it is so upsetting for you, Duchess. It is no doubt time for Sir Robert and Mr. Drummond to return to parliament, ja?” Robert nodded agreeably, rising from the table as Victoria did. The whole table echoed her. She bid them goodbye and swept out, no doubt to return to her beloved boxes. Sir Robert beckoned to Drummond, who obeyed obediently.

“Now, Drummond, I expect parliament today will be nothing except pointless arguments. I was wondering if you might mind staying at the Palace for a while to have a look at the royal accounts with Lord Alfred here? They haven’t been covered outside of Palace staff for a while. No offence meant,” he smiled at Alfred, who had sauntered his way over at his name.

“None taken, Prime Minister.” Drummond was all too ready to jump at his chance of spending alone time with Alfred.

“So, Drummond? Does that sound all right?”

“Yes, sir. Though do send for me if you need me.” Robert nodded and departed with a swish of his coat. Edward and Alfred smiled at each other knowingly. This was simply wonderful, Edward decided. There was nothing in Romeo and Juliet about how exciting a forbidden love was; no one knew but them, and they knew everything.

“Well, Mr. Drummond. Shall we?” Alfred indicated the door with an elegant wave of his hand. Edward had to admire his grace in every movement. Not grace in a feminine way, but something of a gallant and noble air traced his movements.

“Yes, certainly.” As they departed, the Duchess nodded to them, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. But that is nothing new. She was constantly criticizing everyone for something; she couldn’t possibly know their secret while it was still so young. The grandly lit hallway greeted them, red carpet and uniformed people lining the walls. As they strode towards Alfred’s personal office, Edward became very aware of the slight pressures Alfred’s arm was applying to his. It wouldn’t look like anything except accidental brushing, he was sure; but it filled him with inexplicable joy.

 

---

 

Alfred opened the door for Edward and held it for him, making sure to accidentally brush his arm lightly as he passed. Edward sat down in the chair across his desk and watched him expectantly. Alfred wasn’t exactly sure what ought to happen now. They were, once again, alone… in a room with windows, that anyone could walk into at any time. He decided to grant himself one small moment of kindness, however. He drew close to Edward and ran his hand through his hair gently, dropping a kiss onto his forehead. Edward’s eyes closed as if in bliss and Alfred hesitated a beat longer before reluctantly pulling away and sitting at the other side of the desk. Edward was staring at him helplessly, looking like his brains had melted at the contact Alfred had initiated. Alfred smirked. It was really quite fun, having this level of control over another person; it had gone right to his head.

“So, erm… The accounts.” He shook his head to clear the thoughts of adoration, tragically, away. “I expect you’d like me to review them?” Drummond looked bemused at the idea.

“Oh, um… Yes, I suppose I had better.” Alfred shuffled his files around, looking for the monthly summaries, and presented them to Edward.

“So, this is the kitchen’s budget, and they went slightly over it here, for that ball we had… But I’ve accounted for that, erm, somewhere - oh yes! Here we are.” He waved the bit of paper at Edward triumphantly, only to realise the man was staring at him in a simply adorable besotted fashion.

“Edward. Edward!” It seemed to rouse him from his trance. “Look, we have to get this done, and you need to focus. You know I would like to be distracted just as badly as you, but the quicker we get this done, the more time we might have for… Well.” Alfred could feel the heat rising right to the tips of his ears. Edward giggled a most unmasculine giggle, and his face burned about as red as Alfred’s felt.

“All right then. The ball put you over budget? Did you account for it next month?” Alfred sighed, and turned to their work. They pored over the budgets and accounts for hours, going over every little detail. Alfred was very glad he was meticulous at accounts, for Edward was clearly a competent financial manager. They worked quickly, and so by the time they finished, Alfred estimated they might have half an hour to spare before the Prime Minister noticed Drummond was uncharacteristically amiss.

“You have a gift for finances,” Alfred stated as he packed away the account papers. Edward grinned.

“My family is a long line of bankers,” he admitted. “I’m breaking the mould by going into politics. But it seemed more interesting to me to deal with all sorts of issues in the country rather than their bank balances.” Alfred chuckled.

“I’ll admit, they do not exactly thrill me either. I was just glad to receive a court position.”

“Then… Do you have any idea of what would thrill you?” Edward looked at him intently. Alfred was a little taken aback. No one had ever asked him what he wanted to do with his life. It was a strange question.

“Um… Well, I suppose what I most enjoyed as a child were… No, it’s silly.” Alfred blushed. He wasn’t sure he wanted to expose himself so completely just yet. And yet, Edward’s eyes looked deep into his. He didn’t say anything, but his expression stated it all for him. It’s okay. You can tell me anything. I want to know. Alfred cleared his throat nervously.

“I enjoyed dancing lessons, if you must know. I always told Father I hated them, because it was what my brothers said before me. I knew it would only encourage him to think of me as weak if I told him.” Alfred felt he had said far too much. It was like laying naked in front of Edward’s eyes, except not in the good, desirable way… Rather, in the terribly exposed and vulnerable way.

“I should like to dance with you, again.” Edward said suddenly. “The servants’ dance was wonderful, but I think the true dance of romance is the waltz. I wish that… Well. I wish things were different.” Alfred smiled wistfully. He leaned back in his chair and felt a wave of relief that Edward had accepted his embarrassing childhood story so easily.

“As do I, Edward. As do I.” He slid his foot forwards underneath the table and touched Edward’s ankle lightly, causing his companion to jump in surprise. He grinned and rubbed his foot further up, towards Edward’s calf. He had never thought of a leg as particularly enticing, but watching Edward’s shock and sudden induced desire was enough to change his mind on almost any issue. He was jolted out of his reverie as the door opened and Brodie entered.

“Lord Paget, the Queen requests your presence in her quarters as early as is convenient.” The servant bowed and left again. Alfred sighed deeply, any thought of half an hour of making eyes and conversation with Edward gone.

“Well, I’d suppose I’d better go and see what she wants.” He and Edward rose from their chairs, and left the room to see a sweaty faced Brodie jogging back to them.

“Sorry, Lord Alfred, I forgot to say. She said, if Mr. Drummond was still here, to bring him as well.” He bowed once again and jogged away to wherever his next message was required. Alfred grinned at Edward, his spirits considerably lightened.

 

---

 

When Edward and Alfred found the Queen, they were most surprised to see her surrounded by small kittens of all varieties. More than ten of them surrounded her and the Prince as they laughed, stroking them and playing with their tiny paws. Alfred laughed delightedly, before remembering himself, clearing his throat awkwardly and bowing as Edward struggled to check his chuckles, following suit beside him.

“Ma’am. To what do I owe the pleasure?” He inquired politely.

“Oh, Alfred! There you are. I trust the accounts are finished if you are here?”

“Yes, your Majesty. All is in order.”

“Excellent. We have a number of new subjects in residence here, as you can see. We were on our ride this morning when we found a whole box of the little darlings! Abandoned, poor things.” Victoria picked up a tiny ginger kitten and held it to her cheek. “So soft and wonderful! I suppose cats aren’t really trainable animals, but I should like to keep them all the same.” She glanced hopefully at Albert, who was shaking his head in disbelief.

“‘Toria... You know how our children’s allergies might begin to play up. We cannot risk it, not after Vicky’s last episode of sickness.” The Queen nodded sadly in agreement at that.

“Yes, I suppose so. Oh well.” Alfred still wasn’t exactly sure what she had summoned him for.

“Um… Your Majesty?”

“Yes, Lord Alfred?”

“If you don’t mind me asking, why was I summoned?” The Queen laughed at him.

“Why, to see the kittens, of course! I think as many of the Palace ought to see them as can be made possible. They bring so much joy to the heart, do they not?” Alfred had to see her point.

“They do, ma’am. Most innocent and joyous.”

“Well, don’t just stand there. Come and pet the most innocent and joyous of beings.” Alfred and Edward made their way over to the tiny animals, and crouched down. A tiny tortoiseshell immediately pounced onto Alfred’s hand, fastening her miniature claws into his hand. He laughed at the faux attack. Suddenly Edward’s hand was there on his, pulling off the kitten. Brown eyes met blue.

“You don’t want to damage your hands, Lord Alfred. You might need them later for writing.” Alfred chuckled and petted the kitten now in Edward’s hands softly. She was mewing, a small, high-pitched sound, and struggling feebly against her constraints. When Edward’s attention was turned to Alfred, however, she seized the distraction to pull herself up his arm and around to his back.

“Ahh!” Edward lowered his back in a ridiculous sort of turtle position as the cat scrambled up onto his head. There she settled quite contentedly, curling up, nestled in his hair as if it were a magnificently soft mattress. Alfred tried to restrain his laughter, but Albert and Victoria were already giggling helplessly, and so he gave in. “Alfred! Help!” Edward pleaded, still crouched in order not to disturb the peaceful feline. “Don’t just sit there laughing! I beseech you!” But it was no use. Alfred was useless at the ridiculous sight of Edward accommodating the cat, and in the end it was Victoria who carefully plucked the kitten from Edward’s hair. Alfred fell onto his behind from laughter, and then it was Edward’s turn, for he had squashed a poor tabby cat’s tail. The offended kitten let out a yowl and took off for a nearby guard, clawing its way up the guard’s leg. He looked as if he didn’t quite know what to do, with all four nobles now struggling not to collapse in laughter, and a cat halfway up his thigh. He settled for trying to maintain a dignified expression, staring straight ahead. Alfred felt Edward’s head press against his shoulder as he shook with hilarity. It was this perfect tableau of happiness and kittens that Alfred dreamed of that night, soothing himself into a deep sleep. 

Chapter Text

After that distracting dinner and aftermath of kittens, Edward found that life went on much the same as usual. Parliament was hectic, with the Irish Coercion bill looking less and less likely by the hour. Sir Robert was not going to be Prime Minister for many days longer, Edward feared. But his work passed by in a flash, days empty of real thought and emotion, before his nights began. Every night for the past week, he and Alfred had dined out or seen a concert or show. Anything that would let them be together, and Edward would have claimed the opportunity. And yet they had not dared to do anything untoward since that night in the alleyway. They had been far too close to being caught for Edward’s liking, and so they had put that particular area on hold… However painful it was. Edward found himself staring or accidentally-not-accidentally brushing against Alfred very frequently - but then again, Alfred did it more, if it was possible. Edward would catch his sweetheart watching him with that same expression he’d had beside the lagoon; a euphoria, love, and desire all packed into one glance that he found it very difficult to resist. Edward could have spent months - no, years, decades - describing the perfect way that Alfred’s hair always was (apart from the way it had been deliciously messy after the two times they had kissed), his eyes like sapphires but with life and love and passion, his cupid’s bow of a mouth set like a ridiculous sign hanging there saying please kiss me now.

 

There had been a time he was almost too late to catch himself before kissing those lips. Two days ago now, he supposed, re-imagining the scene as he lay in bed ‘trying to go to sleep’. They had gone to see Tannhäuser, the newest Wagner opera. It was a beautiful story, it was true. But the moral of it was in the essence, ‘The Holy Grace of God is to the penitent given, who now enters into the joy of Heaven!’. At the line, which sounded wonderful sung in German, Edward and Alfred had exchanged glances. Alfred’s eyes had been nearly unbearably sad, sparkling with tears that would never and could never be shed. Edward had sat paralysed, staring into those forsaken eyes.

 

He swore he could see God himself in those eyes.

 

It was far finer and more sacred than any feeling he had ever had at church, with his back straightened by the stiff pews, and his will to stay awake draining out of him with every bloody hymn and sermon that passed. They had sat there in the opera-house, not needing to say anything, the music turned sour in the background as it drove the message into their heads. Edward knew if he and Alfred continued now, knowingly, deliberately, into their affair of sorts, that they would both be sinners. No matter if they committed what the Holy Bible called Sodomy, Edward had learned that homosexuality was Wrong with a capital W. He often wondered what on earth could be the matter with him, so taken was he with his newfound adventure. He had, admittedly, never paid much attention on Sundays. But he had never knowingly committed any major sins - never! He suspected Lord Alfred was much the same. The eyes of his own personal God had drawn him in and he leaned forward in his seat, forgetting about the scenery of society around them. Alfred had abruptly turned away before anything could happen, and gently shoved him back into his seat. Edward had been shocked at his own nerve and daring, before murmuring a gentle apology to his companion. And that was that.

 

But it was easy to wish, now, that he had simply leaned forwards and kissed Alfred with all fervour possible. In all honesty, he was beginning to worry for his own sanity. It shouldn’t be possible to be so besotted with any mere mortal, man or woman! He had learned all the diagrams and details of coitus, as any good English boy would, from his Father at the tender age of fourteen. And he had been not so much excited as scared by the great ordeal ahead of him… He had since confined it to the dusty back area of his brain he had never expected to use. His Father had said, “To love a woman is the greatest thing, the very greatest thing, that one can imagine.” Edward Drummond used to worry that he did not understand this.

 

But now, he understood. Very well indeed.

 

And that was the problem.

 

---

 

Alfred drew his knees to his chest, rolling onto his side. Moonlight streamed down over his duvet like a molten river, lighting up his room. He always did struggle to sleep when there was light in the room. But he would be lying to himself if he did not admit that the main reason for his sleep deprivation was none other than Edward Drummond. Ever since that kiss in the alleyway a week ago, Lord Alfred was beginning to become… frustrated. The only touches he and Drummond could ever share were tiny brushes of the hand, elbow, and leg. In fact, most nights he felt supremely out of balance, as the right half of his body would be tingling with desire while the left was rather put out to be missing out on the fun.

 

Alfred simply had to find a way to kiss his Edward again.

 

He began plotting, almost lazily, a method or means that would be absolutely foolproof, and allow them to meet regularly. They could try to sneak into one another’s rooms after their engagements… Alfred felt a shiver run through him at the implications of sharing a room . No. That would be too suspicious, every night. Was there perhaps a place they could rent for nights at a time, with no questions asked? A hotel? But the manager would get suspicious. They could switch hotels… And yet the cost would surely be too much to sustain for long. What they really needed was a private, preferably free, place where they would be sure to be undisturbed. And then it came to him.

 

There was a small, abandoned cottage on Duck Island, barely just outside the Palace perimeter. It had been for the Governer of Duck Island, when the post still existed - Queen Victoria had declared the position ‘highly unnecessary’ and had the poor man shipped back off to Cornwall.

 

And Duck Island Cottage would be perfect for what Alfred had in mind.

Chapter Text

Alfred surveyed the scene, breathless after his long trek through the gardens. The tiny cottage was nestled amongst the bush and shrub, the windows boarded over and the door sealed shut. He grinned. The cottage was technically on Palace grounds, which meant no vagabond or beggar would ever frequent the place. But it was never guarded.

 

St. James’s Park Lake shimmered in the soft sunlight as he made his way to the cottage, the path slightly overgrown but still easily walkable. It reminded him very much of a certain Scottish lagoon… But such daydreams could be had later. Indeed, should this place be what he thought it was, the daydreams could very well proceed even further tonight.

 

He stepped onto the tiny terrace, wondering at the little house. It was quite charming, he had to admit, despite its abandoned air. A little deck path connected the two main house areas, travelling over the water. He looked down to see several plump fat fish. We could even go fishing… He smiled to himself. There would be plenty of time to live out his fantasies in this place. He went to the main door, so elaborately carved it was difficult to believe they had left the cottage utterly without maintenance. An ugly plank was nailed across it, but it was brittle and rotten, and he soon pulled it away, trying the door and relieved to find it open.

 

Inside was dusty and almost eerie. Most of the furniture had been taken away, except for a large feather bed right in the centre of the room. Alfred sent a quick thanks to the Lord for the convenience; it really couldn’t get any better. Well, except for bedding. He might have to bring along sheets and quilts for them.

 

Though Alfred was quite sure they would be warm enough on their own.

 

---

 

Drummond set off down the Palace hallway, barely noticing as he passed the Princess Victoria seated on an absurd pony. The Queen had to know at once, and it had to be him. He knew logically that having rushed from Parliament so quickly, there was no way anyone else could have beaten him to it, but awful scenes were rushing through his mind of the Whigs laughing at him for his tardiness. Couldn’t even deliver a message to the Queen… Not fit to be a pageboy… It was ridiculous. But he couldn’t help it. Finally, finally, he burst into the Queen’s working room without even an introduction - only to find no one present, not even the boxes on the table yet. He snarled in frustration.

 

He had to tell her about Sir Robert Peel.

 

It wasn’t as though it was terribly surprising; the Irish Coercion had been unpopular from the start, and with Peel’s party turned against him, his chances had plummeted. They had been in the middle of one of those ugly Parliamentary arguments when Peel had suddenly stood up, bellowed his resignation and stormed out. Drummond had followed as fast as he could, but Peel was nowhere to be seen by the time he got out. And now, he knew, it was his duty to inform Her Majesty as quickly as possible. She didn’t deserve to find out by letter or pageboy. He frantically tried to think of where she could be.

 

Someone cleared their throat behind him, and he jumped, startled out of his thoughts. He whipped around to see Alfred advancing.

“Ah, Drummond, I heard you’d been racing around the Palace like a madman,” Alfred all but purred at him. Edward was so taken aback by the sudden change of mood that he could do nothing but gape. “What on God’s Earth could you possibly want so badly?” Blue eyes batted their lashes at him. Edward had never seen his sweetheart be so utterly, unabashedly wanton. But now was, unfortunately, not the time for this sort of play.

“I need to see the Queen,” he said in a low, urgent voice. He instantly regretted it when Alfred’s face dropped. “No - no - Alfred!” But Lord Alfred had turned away.

“She’s in the nursery. You oughtn’t go there. I’ll send someone to fetch her, if it’s that important.” A sulky tone was lacing his words. Drummond sighed and ran across the room before Alfred disappeared. He grabbed his arm and wheeled the man around to him forcefully.

“Wait,” he said, mirroring Alfred’s seductive tones from the past moment. “Don’t be angry. Please. I’m just… well. Peel just resigned.” Alfred wrenched his arm from Edward’s grasp, looking momentarily around for guards. Inwardly, Edward sighed. Must everything be overshadowed by the thought of surveillance? Alfred’s face grew less angry and more worried.

“But then… You’re out of a job?” Edward had tried very hard not to think about this point.

“For the time being… Yes.” Alfred looked at him, blue eyes flicking from one side of his face to the other.

“Well then. Let us find the Queen.” They set off, Edward more relaxed now. At the entrance to the nursery, they halted. It would be considered most inappropriate for either one of them to enter such a pure and feminine place. Instead, one of the nursemaids fetched the Queen for them, who looked a little put out at being dragged away.

“Is it very important, Drummond? Because I was just about to take Edward for his pony ride.” Edward bowed his head in acknowledgement to her.

“I’m afraid so, Majesty. It appears that… Sir Robert’s day has come. We will be in need of a new Prime Minister shortly.” Victoria gasped her disappointment.

“... I see. Well, it is not so shocking, I suppose. Yet nevertheless; a blow. Come, we will discuss this further. Fetch Lord Albert, will you, Skerrett?” The servant curtseyed meekly and ran to do as she was bid. Victoria set off down the corridor, and Edward followed. Alfred looked unsure of his role in things, but the Queen soon set him straight. “You too, Lord Alfred! Your advice is most welcome, and you have an interest in politics yourself, yes?” She halted and looked back at him. Alfred bowed gracefully.

“Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you.”

“Well, don’t dither there all day then. Come along!”

Soon, Victoria was seated in the working room and Alfred and Edward standing in front of her desk. Prince Albert hurried in, looking dishevelled and smelling distinctly of horse dung.

“You would not believe how much of an atrocious mess that animal has made,” he told his wife. “I do not know what Uncle Leopold was thinking… The wood will be completely ruined.” Victoria laughed her tinkling laugh.

“Never mind, Albert. I’m sure the floor will manage. We have more serious things to discuss.”

“Oh?” The Prince turned to see Drummond. “What is it, Mr. Drummond?” The Queen nodded at him from behind Albert’s back. Edward sighed.

“I’m afraid, Your Royal Highness, that Sir Robert Peel has resigned not an hour ago.” Drummond bowed his head respectfully. Everyone knew of the respect that Albert held for the Prime Minister.

“Oh…” Albert let out a great sigh and collapsed into a nearby chair, his hand on his chin. “Oh, I see. That is disappointing.” Victoria went to him and rubbed his shoulders comfortingly. Edward tried not to feel jealous of how simple the gesture was, and how absolutely he could never do that in public with his Alfred.

“Albert, my love,” she began. “Why don’t we go and play with the children. There is not much we can do, and even less point in moping about.” Albert nodded reluctantly, and stood up, making to leave before turning back to Drummond.

“But of course! You are out of a job, are you not, Drummond?” Edward inclined his head. “Oh, that will not do. Not a good man like yourself. Victoria?” The Queen seemed to consider the matter, her head to one side.

“I’m sure we’ll find you something, Drummond. Albert is right; you can’t go unemployed for long. Tell me, have you enjoyed your time in the Parliament?” Drummond nodded quickly.

“It has been most stimulating, ma’am. But I expect the new Prime Minister will be a Whig, and I cannot apply for the position of his secretary accordingly.” The Queen nodded.

“Yes, I suspect you are quite right. Well then.” She looked at him in scrutiny. “What would you say to a position in the House of Lords, Drummond?” Edward’s mouth fell open. What. It was unheard of for someone as young as he to gain such a position. He fell to one knee before the Queen, and looked up at her in disbelief. She was watching him amusedly.

“I would say… Yes. Your Majesty, I cannot thank you enough.” She smiled graciously at him.

“Well then. I shall put forth my recommendation. After all, the Tories are one man down.” Edward struggled to speak. His gratitude threatened to overwhelm him. He bowed deeply even from his kneeling position; he would gladly have kissed the Queen’s shoes just then.

“Thank you, ma’am. From the bottom of my heart.”

“Well, that is one good deed done to counter the bad. I do hope Sir Robert approves.” She and Albert swept from the room, no doubt to visit their children. Drummond waited until the door closed with a soft click , and turned to Alfred. The man was looking at him with such an expression of happiness and pride that Edward sprung to his feet, and before he knew it himself he had launched himself into Alfred’s arms, lifting up his feet like a child. He clutched him tight and laughed his sheer joy. This was it; the true beginning of his career. He pressed his nose into his sweetheart’s hair, inhaling the scent, like worn leather, the road in the pouring rain, the feeling of wood that had been worn down so much it felt like silk. He nuzzled into Alfred’s neck, made difficult by the layers of finery, wishing they could stay like this forever.

 

Apprently, Alfred’s legs did not think alike.

 

Edward felt Alfred begin to buckle underneath his weight a moment too late. He placed his feet on the floor once more as the usually so graceful man plopped down onto his backside, and just barely managed to regain his balance. He laughed at Alfred and pulled him up by his forearms, drawing him close again, fully intending for another embrace twice as long. But Alfred pulled away. Edward tried not to let this make his heart sink; and yet sink it did.

“There’s no one about,” he pleaded. He took Alfred’s hand, and Alfred did not drop it. Nor did he do anything else.

“Drummond. All right, all right! Edward!” He corrected at the look on Edward’s face. “Look. This is Buckingham Palace. You’ve just got a wonderful, wonderful appointment and I won’t ruin it for you!” Edward sighed. It was the same argument that had ruined their dinner.

“Not here, then. Where?” He demanded. Alfred’s face broke unexpectedly into a smile. Edward indicated somewhat aggressively for him to explain, reaching up to pet an astray golden hair back into place.

 

The door opened, and Edward’s heart nearly stopped.

 

---

 

The door opened, and Alfred took a quick step away, improvising on the spot.

“Perfectly fine, Drummond! Just a stumble!” He hoped it was good enough to explain Edward’s hand outstretched towards him. Edward looked gormless for a second and then snapped to attention, finally, and smiled at the Baroness Lezhen.

“My apologies, Lord Alfred. It appeared as though you might fall over for a moment there.” Edward’s eyes were shining with suppressed mirth through the lame excuse. Alfred barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Lehzen was looking austere and suspicious, but no more than usual. She nodded to them as they made slight bows in her direction.

“Has the Queen asked you to remain here for her?” She directed the question at Drummond.

“Oh, er… No, she hasn’t. We were just… leaving.” Drummond looked ridiculously worried and guilty. Alfred was going to have to teach him some better acting skills.

“Yes! Mr. Drummond here has just been told he will be appointed to the House of Lords. Forgive me for tarrying, Baroness; I merely wanted to congratulate my friend.” Alfred clapped Drummond on the shoulder in a clear display of platonic friendship. The Baroness looked somewhat appeased.

“Well done, Mr. Drummond. But I really must ask you to leave, unless you have any further business here.”

“I’ll escort you, Drummond,” announced Alfred, and swept out of the room before the Baroness could spot the flaws in Edward’s act. Said faulty actor was close behind him, catching up with those long legs of his very quickly. He looked as if he were about to begin speaking - and although Alfred couldn’t get enough of his deep, beautiful voice, he also didn’t want all the guards to hear Edward’s words.

“That was quick thinking -,” Drummond began.

“You will give your fiancée my regards, won’t you, Drummond? I must meet her one of these days, you talk of her so much.” Alfred prayed that his companion would catch on. It was far too risky to talk plainly in the open corridors.

“Oh… Yes. Yes, I shall.” Edward’s brow was furrowed in obvious confusion. Well, at least he was trying to play along.

“In fact, why not tonight? You’ve no engagements?”

“... No?” Drummond was sounding less and less sure, and more and more sulky.

“Then we must dine out! Here, I’ve got just the place.” Alfred pressed the piece of paper he had inscribed with such careful, loving words into Edward’s hand, stopping and looking at his sweetheart. He really was beautiful. The clear, high cheekbones, his eyes like an oaken parquet but currently bemused. As Alfred widened his eyes and looked very obviously at the letter, Drummond finally caught on.

“Oh, yes! Certainly. Sounds wonderful. I’ll meet you there at, say, four?”

“Very good. Until then.” He made a short, formal bow, and without a further glance back - but oh how he wanted to - he strode briskly down the corridor, away from his love.

Chapter Text

Dearest Edward,

I find we are in need of more privacy than we currently have. After dinner tonight, we can appear to travel home our separate ways; but we will really be meeting at Duck Island Cottage. It is abandoned yet not fallen into terrible disrepair yet. I think you’ll find it well suited to our needs. I don’t need to tell you I can barely wait to see you once more. Meet at the cottage, without fail.

Yours,

Alfred.

 

Edward traced the letters with his hand. Alfred’s calligraphy was really very good. But it was less the manner of the ink he was concerned with, and more the meaning behind them. Meet at the cottage, without fail. Well, he certainly would not fail his Alfred this time. He feared he had been terribly obvious when Lehzen interrupted them that morning.

 

He was rereading the letter for perhaps the twentieth time that day. Seeing as it would take at the least a few days to be appointed into the House of Lords, he was just sitting about at home. Perhaps a proper gentleman would have contacted his fiancee, and helped her with the wedding plans… He shook his head. He had been trying not to think about Florence, and hadn’t seen her for the last week, making excuses via letter about the terribly busy time at Parliament and how important it was that he make a good impression. He did like her. She was a wonderful friend, and witty, and accomplished, and he could see how she was objectively pretty. But he just didn’t want any of it. Any time she was with him, he felt sick, for all she would talk about was the wedding and how excited she was and strange ideas about a grand cake carved like a sculpture. But now was not the time to think of Florence. He was meeting Alfred in an hour. Looking at his watch, he decided just to go to Ciros early. It was of no use waiting around like a fool anyway.

 

Edward was (very) pleasantly surprised to see that Alfred had apparently had the same idea about arriving early. They beamed at one another over the candlelit table, and settled down to a most enjoyable dinner. Rather than oysters, they ordered and shared a great roast turkey, half of which was still staring at them when they were full. The dinner rolls were filled with a sweet cream butter, and a French-style onion soup with croutons preceded the whole affair. On the whole, Edward was very well-fed and happy by the end of it. Alfred’s eyes stayed on him almost the entire time, and Edward’s on him. They simply drank in the welcome sight of one another, passing casual remarks on politics or the weather to keep up appearances to anyone watching.

However, as the food disappeared, Edward found himself getting more and more nervous. Or perhaps excitement would be a more suitable word for what he was feeling. He couldn’t help but wonder what might happen when they met later. Well suited to our needs. What were their needs, exactly? Edward had never had any sort of… anything… with anyone. Ever. Alfred was his first kiss, his first real sweetheart, the first person he had really wanted to spend forever with. Edward didn’t know exactly what he ought to do when he met alone with someone like that.

Of course, he could think of many options.

The question was, would he be brave enough to attempt them?

 

As they left the restaurant, Edward brushed Alfred’s hand completely on purpose, and Alfred looked up at him with such an intense expression Edward thought he might spontaneously combust. They searched one another’s eyes, and parted. Edward’s heart was pounding in his chest. He made his way through the darkened streets, the sky a dark blue with yet a hint of pink at the edges. No passersby looked at him twice when he ducked into St James’s Lake Park. And once inside, there was no one. Only him, the trees with their branches reaching out to touch the sky, and the occasional squirrel startling and escaping away over the canopy of leaves. It was getting chilly now, the wind cutting through even his warm coat, and his ears burned. But no matter. He was getting close now. He followed the little path, looked up and - there it was. A tiny Palace over the water, looking for all the world like it was made for a man as beautiful as the one he was meeting. It wasn’t terribly grand, and the boards on the windows did detract from the appearance, but he couldn’t have imagined a more perfect spot. Closer, and closer, until he was right at the front door, the boards torn away by someone quite recently, and he entered.

If he had thought the view outside was nice, he had vastly underestimated the sort of beauty that could exist in this world.

Alfred had lit candles all around the room. The bed in the middle was complete with sheets and quilts, looking marvelously cosy. Several expensive-looking silk cushions had also been placed on the bed. But most wonderful of all was Alfred himself. He stood in the centre of the room in front of the bed, looking nervous with his hands twisting this way and that, his face just barely illuminated in the low light of the candles. He looked at Edward in the most vulnerable way he had ever seen. For a moment, Edward didn’t know what to do or say, so overwhelmed he was. But then he knew exactly what he must do.

“Oh, Alfred ,” he sighed, letting out some of the longing and frustration he had been feeling the past week. “This is just wonderful. You are wonderful. So, so wonderful.” He crossed the distance to Alfred in three long strides and they were pressed together once again. He wrapped his arms around the shorter man, resting his chin on Alfred’s head. He felt tears come to his eyes unbidden, and tried to blink them away, but they wouldn’t go. He could hear Alfred sniffling too. They clung to each other for a long time, not saying anything, but just breathing in one another. Alfred eventually drew back - not out of Edward’s arms, but just enough to see his face. They smiled as more tears ran down their cheeks, silent signs of their happiness shining in the candlelight. Edward pressed his lips to Alfred’s forehead, mumbling against his soft skin.

“I missed you, Alfred. You can’t know how I’ve missed you.” Alfred trembled in his arms.

“I know, my darling. I know.” Edward drew in his breath at the endearment. Alfred pulled back a little more and looked anxiously at him.

“I think I should like to have a darling. At least… a darling such as you,” Edward said. Alfred smiled slightly, his eyes welling up again at that. “Perhaps we should sit? I do hope to be here a while. If you are so willing.” Alfred nodded, his face lighting up. They broke apart a little, keeping an arm around the other, and maneuvered themselves side by side onto the bed, propped up against the cushions. As soon as they were sitting, Alfred moved in closer, his head moving to lie on Edward’s shoulder, his arm draped over Edward’s chest. Edward, not knowing at all how to best express his feelings, settled for running one hand through Alfred’s hair slowly, over and over. After a time, Alfred spoke.

“Do you like the place?”

“Like it? Alfred, it’s perfect. But why didn’t we just meet at my residence on Downing Street?” Alfred chuckled slightly.

“It might have attracted a bit much attention, don’t you think?” Edward had to admit he had a good point.

“I suppose. Well, this is wonderful anyhow.”

“I rather agree. Quite a splendid notion of mine.” Edward laughed softly.

“Have you any other splendid notions?” Edward asked carefully. He was still testing the waters, not sure what their meeting was, what it meant. “I only mean… Well. Alfred. I’ve never done this before.”

Alfred sat up a little straighter, and they shuffled around to lie their heads on the pillows gazing at one another. It was almost scarily intimate; Edward felt as though they were married.

“I’ve never done this before either,” said Alfred. His forehead was crinkled as though he was deep in thought. “I had… Similar feelings for a boy at school once. But nothing came of it. Nothing could ever come of it. And now I find myself immensely glad that is the case.”

He smiled shyly at Edward. He wanted the moment to last forever, but he knew he had to ask, for his own sake.

“Alfred… What are we? What is this? I want it, whatever you want, and probably more, but I had to ask.” He bit his lip nervously awaiting the answer.

Alfred looked thoughtful. He stroked Edward’s cheek with a thumb, making him tremble with delight.

“I think we are more than friends. But I, like you said, wouldn’t know what to call us. I do know that if you were a woman, I would have proposed to you long past by now. We’d probably be married.” Alfred said it almost casually, clearly trying to mask the emotions behind his speech.

Edward was not fooled. He knew how much it hurt to think of being married, when they never could; how by now, they might have a real future and come home to each other every night and have children and - no. It was too much to dream of. He was vaguely aware he had made a slightly choked sound.

“I think that I should have liked that very much indeed,” he eventually managed to get out. “But… Alfred. You must know that I intend to make the most of this while - while we can.”

Alfred nodded slowly.

“I know that. And I wanted to formally apologise for that first dinner. You must know I never intended to belittle our feelings. I just… I just want you to have the best possible life you can. You are going to be so successful, Edward.”

Edward warmed at his words. The candlelight flickered over Alfred’s cheek softly.

“I wanted to talk about that, actually.” Edward struggled with the right phrasing. “I know your intentions were good. But I really cannot continue with my engagement.”

He paused, waiting for an interruption. But Alfred remained silent. Edward could have sworn he saw a flash of joy in Alfred’s eyes. He continued his speech.

“Even if I did not have this, I really do care for Florence deeply. I would not like her to be cast away with someone who could never truly love her. It isn’t fair to her. She deserves real love, and a man that can give that to her.” Edward drew a breath. Alfred’s eyes were shining with tears anew.

“This is just like every one of my dreams,” Alfred breathed. “Except that the Queen gives us her blessing, and we leave forever to Scotland, and live happily ever after.” Edward laughed in bliss.

“Chance would be a fine thing.”

“I am truly not sure if I should stop you, Edward. You are right that it is not fair to her. But I also feel it is not fair to you.” Alfred reached across to place a hand on Edward’s jaw, tracing up to his cheekbone. It was really quite distracting.

“On the contrary, it is quite,” - Alfred’s fingers were tracing his lips softly - “erm, quite fair, I think. You see,” - they moved into his hair, running down to the base of his skull - “mmmph, I really do enjoy you, Alfred.” Alfred grinned.

“Do you really? I had no idea.”

Edward didn’t care that he was being made fun of. He only cared that Alfred’s hand had slipped underneath his jacket, across his chest. His breathing was becoming almost embarrassingly ragged.

“Alfred, I… I want you to know that I… I want nothing more than to… Be by your side. Always. Please, let’s just do this… Forever… As long as possible?”

Edward wasn’t sure if he was talking about the gentle neck kisses he was now being bestowed, or their budding more-than-friendship. Alfred pulled back slightly, his breath warming the hollow at the bottom of Edward’s neck.

“Do you know what, Edward… I think that sounds quite alright. Really quite amazing. Forever, yes,” and Edward was pleased to see that Alfred was quite as breathless as him. Feeling once again in control, he bent his neck down and oh-so-gently kissed Alfred. His hands slipped into his sweetheart’s golden hair, his body moving in closer of his own accord. Alfred seemed to roll away, but pulled Edward with him, so that he was pressed down on top of Alfred. The feeling of every inch of his body aligned with Alfred’s was simply heavenly. They kissed and kissed, not needing anything else but the reassurance of their love and affection. Edward experimented with tugging at Alfred’s lips with his teeth a little. The other man went limp as soon as he had, his eyes burning a clear message into Edward’s consciousness; do that again. He gently nipped Alfred’s lower lip again; he moaned with pleasure. Such a sound seemed too giddy to exist, and for a while Edward experimented with teasing as many of the sounds out of Alfred as he could. But Alfred had other ideas.

Edward had just leaned in for another gentle kiss when Alfred’s blue eyes turned blazing. Alfred seized his shoulders almost roughly, and pushed him off, onto his back. He climbed over so that their positions were reversed, leaned down and - oh.

Alfred had leaned in, his hands pinning down Edward’s shoulders, and begun to do something with his tongue in Edward’s mouth. Edward wasn’t even sure exactly what it was - only that it was causing all sorts of strange breathy moans to escape. He gasped into Alfred’s mouth desperately, his hands clinging to the man’s collar, unable to reciprocate but thoroughly enjoying himself. Eventually, Alfred’s frantic kisses slowed, became gentle, and at last he laid his head on Edward’s shoulder. Edward stared up at the ceiling, willing himself to get under control again. The effect that Alfred had on Edward - it was quite incredible. Well. It was everything . Edward understood now, why people went to such lengths to secure this. It had to be said: marriage would be highly worth it. To the right person.

 

---

 

Alfred lay on top of Edward, reveling in the way the taller man’s arms wrapped around him like a cocoon of safety. He loved being able to make Edward desperate and needy and out of control.

“Alfred?”

“Hmmm?”

“I only just realized…” Alfred could feel Edward’s voice rumble beneath his chest, so close were they.

“Yes?”

“Well. We’re still clothed for outdoors. I’ve even got my shoes on, look!” Alfred cast a glance down Edward’s legs, and sure enough, there was a muddy pair of shoes still on his feet. He stuck out his tongue at Edward and regretfully went to get up. He sat up, admiring the fine picture Edward made lying on the bed. Then he began to untie his sweetheart’s shoelaces, carefully taking the shoes off so as not to get too much loose mud on the covers. Then he turned back to Edward.

“... Darling?”

“Yes?” Edward looked highly anticipatory. Alfred swallowed nervously.

“Exactly… how much… are we going to disrobe? Tonight?” Edward blushed about as red as Alfred felt.

“Oh, I, um, erm… I only thought, we could at least take these silly jackets off. But I’m not sure. I’ve never exactly done anything.” Thank the Lord. Alfred didn’t think he could handle much more tonight.

“Neither have I.”

They both shuffled awkwardly. Alfred grinned to himself, and surprised himself with his own bravery by leaning forwards and slipping Edward’s coat jacket off. He loosened the bow-tie and undid the top collar of his shirt, which he had to admit would make it much easier to access Edward’s neck. He leaned forwards and pressed a kiss to Edward’s collarbone, then allowed the other man to shyly sit up a little to take off his own jacket. One of the sleeves got stuck on a cufflink and he laughed as Edward struggled to tug it off. At last the jacket was gone. They got properly under the covers and promptly commenced kissing again. Alfred found he quite enjoyed having Edward kiss all the way down his neck, softly at first and then harder. Harder and yet harder until Alfred could barely suppress his groans at the tingling sensation all over his body, and a dark mark was - according to Edward - forming in the affected region. It wasn’t until very late that night that they finally had the realization they should leave in order to have any time at all to sleep in their own beds.

Alfred groaned but tugged Edward out of bed, helping him back on with his jacket. They slipped their shoes on, extinguished the candles, and held each other one last time.

“We must do this every night,” Edward declared. “It is too fine a thing not to indulge oneself in.” Alfred laughed delightedly.

“It is much better than those damned operas. I thought I would never get to touch you again!” Edward smiled consolingly.

“I don’t care how much sleep I have to lose to visit with you every night here. It is worth the whole world to me.” Alfred smiled in bliss up at his sweetheart. Edward was prone to such beautiful sentiments; for all his logic and cleverness, emotions swept him so thoroughly Alfred was surprised that the rest of the world couldn’t read him so easily. He thought of whispering a passage he remembered from long ago, from his school days. He remembered thinking of it as he had felt such attractions to that boy, whose name he couldn’t even remember now. It seemed more fitting now that he had a willing party to recite it to. He stood with his hands on either side of Edward’s face, looked him deep in those molten eyes, and spoke.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.”

Chapter Text

Alfred could barely stand it each time Edward was in his presence the next day. The Queen, taking pity on him for his current unemployment, had invited him to the Palace in the meantime as a sort of temporary courtier. The Queen was busy meeting with some of the more powerful politicians, discussing who would be appointed the next Prime Minister. And so, Alfred found himself with not a lot to do. He tried reading The Iliad again; but it was not so interesting now that he had his own Patroclus to pine over. He went for a ride with Wilhelmina Coke, but she was quieter than usual and cast him strange sidelong glances. He got stuck with the Duchess of Buccleugh for an hour drinking tea, and finally excused himself, making some excuse about wanting to ask Baroness Lehzen a question on the finances. He had no such intention. He made his way to the little balcony full of so many memories, and lit a cigarette. It was still only mid-morning, and he was already bone-tired. There was nothing he wanted to do so much as sleep… Except, perhaps, tonight. He and Edward had promised fervently between kisses to meet every night without fail. Alfred did not intend to break his word. He leaned on the railing, staring out over the grey London sky. It was not terribly inspiring, and yet he felt inspired. Alfred had never imagined feeling so happy in all his life as he was last night; he played back the memories dreamily, smoking his way through four cigarettes as he remembered soft kisses, the slip and slide of the sheets, the way Edward’s hands cradled him like a delicate flower at one moment and gripped him tight with urgent desire the next. He imagined what they might do tonight. He was just wondering whether Edward would let him spend hours playing with his hair when someone appeared behind him, with a slight cough to announce their presence.

“Oh!” He whirled around, expecting his sweetheart. “Edwa-” It was not Edward. The Queen herself was standing in the doorway. He swept into a deep bow to hide his mistake.

“Your Majesty. My apologies; I was startled.”

“That is clear.” Victoria studied him as he stood up straight again. “What have you been doing here all this time?”

“Merely admiring the city-scape, ma’am. Very clearing for the mind to have some time alone.” She nodded, smiling slightly.

“Well, Lord Alfred, I was just passing by and saw your lonely figure here. It is nearly dinner-time now; you will join us?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” She made to leave, but turned around suddenly. “Oh! I’ve just remembered. Alfred, you do remember those beautiful little kittens?” He nodded in confusion. “Well, we’ve distributed some of them to the kitchens here, but I was wondering if Drummond might be able to take one or two. We really can’t have ten cats fighting it out in the Palace.”

Alfred had, quite literally, no idea what was going on.

“Pardon me for my slowness, but ma’am… How should I know if Drummond would take the kittens?” She laughed at him.

“Well, you are close friends, are you not? How do you judge his character? He could not say no to such helpless creatures, could he?” Her face was arranged in her usual Queenly smile, but her brow was furrowed slightly.

“Yes, ma’am. I am sure he would be most honoured.”

“Your Majesty!” Alfred groaned inwardly. Edward had appeared in the doorframe too.

“Good morning, Drummond. Say, what are you doing here?” Victoria smiled politely, looking from man to man. Edward looked flabbergasted at such an investigation.

“Oh… nothing, ma’am. I mean, I was only… I came to find Alfred here. Tell him it was time to get ready for dinner.” Alfred prayed the Queen would accept the excuse. She seemed to take it without question.

“Yes, a good idea. He seemed to think you might be partial to kittens.”

“... I’m sorry, ma’am?”

“The kittens we had the other day. Could you possibly take one or two? We have far too many.”

“I’ll have to ask the cooks, ma’am, but… yes. It should be possible.” Edward looked very confused. It was really quite adorable.

“Well then, I will see you two shortly.” She swept away, Alfred and Edward bowing as she left. Alfred let out a long breath.

“You really ought to be more careful, Drummond . Or at the very least, get better at making excuses.” Alfred grinned slyly at Edward, who let his lips curve into a small smile.

“Don’t tease me, Alfred.”

“I won’t… When you become less confused about every situation you encounter.” Edward smiled more broadly, clearly not taking it to heart.

“I fear that you are the most confusing of all.”

“Then I shall never stop teasing.” Alfred stepped towards Edward, ran a hand down the man’s arm to gently take his hand. “Never.”

“Excellent,” breathed Edward.

Next moment, a chambermaid hurrying past made them both jump and spring apart.

“Well. We had better go to lunch, Ed- Drummond.” Alfred hated how formal using Edward’s last name now seemed. But if anyone was listening, the use of his first name would appear most peculiar. And they carried on their way, always touching just by the edge of their sleeves.

 

---

 

Lunch at the Palace was usually a well-tasting but dull affair. Today, however, Edward found the food paled in importance next to the man sitting right next to him. He couldn’t even eat his stew, so taken was he with Alfred right next to him, sipping delicately. He found himself sitting with his spoon halfway to his mouth, watching Alfred’s lips move on the spoon and his tongue dart out to lick them after. Indeed, he had only had a few spoonfuls before the Queen decided she had had enough and the dish was taken away. When the very same thing happened with their second course of beef pudding, Edward realized he would not be getting very much lunch today.

“Is the food not to your satisfaction, Drummond?” The Prince had addressed him.

“No! No, I am merely not very hungry, sir. The food is wonderful as ever.” Albert looked slightly mollified; Edward knew how he was about wanting the best food, hygiene, and protection for those he cared about. He glanced at Alfred out of the corner of his eye, who was looking at his plate in an amused fashion. The light small talk continued between the others, and Alfred looked away. In an instant of courage, Edward sneaked his hand underneath the tablecloth, over towards Alfred, and - there. He ran his finger gently over Alfred’s thigh, trying not to look at the man or appear different in any way. Alfred’s breath hitched, but it was barely noticeable. He felt Alfred’s hand on his, not to push it away, but stroking along his fingertips one by one, exploring his palm, the touches feather light but very difficult to keep a straight face through. Alfred looked like he could barely contain a broad smile. Edward looked over to see the man gazing right at him. Oh, but he could get used to this. They smiled, and both jumped a little as Victoria suddenly addressed them.

“Lord Alfred, are you quite well? Perhaps it is that corner of the table! I fear you have some strange rash on your neck.” Edward had to do his best not to gasp in horror. But that was me… Last night… Alfred, however, had clearly not investigated or hidden the mark properly. I should have warned him. But Victoria seemed quite amused. “I do not think it will cause serious harm, so I should not worry. But you ought to be careful, Lord Alfred.” Alfred still had not spoken, and the Queen rose from the table before he had a chance to. She had a strange, twinkling look in her eye, and she pulled the Prince quickly after her, leaving the room without speaking to anyone. The courtiers now standing glanced amusedly at one another. Edward had, regrettably, had to take his hand away from Alfred with no tablecloth to disguise his affections. The Queen was never terribly subtle about taking her sacred alone time with the Prince. Edward exchanged a wistful glance with Alfred; they both knew what each other were thinking. Imagine if we could have that… But no. Instead, they had the Duchess of Buccleugh and Wilhelmina Coke asking for them to take a turn around the estate, and no valid excuse not to. The afternoon passed in a terribly slow fashion. Edward and Alfred ended up sitting in chairs opposite one another as Ms Coke played the piano, Chopin again , in a terribly repetitive manner. They had both decided to read the famous Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol. Edward found, although the book was certainly well narrated and intellectually stimulating, he could not for the life of him focus on the awful old man Scrooge for the sheer beauty sitting reading opposite him. Alfred appeared quite entranced, a finger held at the corner of his mouth. Edward would have liked to do nothing more than go to him and kiss his finger, then his mouth, and then certain other places… Though perhaps Alfred’s neck was still sore. The bruise Edward had left was quite visible, a great purpling spread tinged with red flecks. He knew it was a mark of their sin - but such a sweet, sweet sin. He felt unjustifiably proud of this great deed he had done. And then it was time for supper at long last. The Queen and Prince had finally rejoined them, both glowing and flushed, their hair a little askew. Edward felt a little jealous but did not resent them for it; after all, had he and Alfred been in their position, he doubted he would have been able to run a country for never being able to stop kissing his love.

“Shall we go to dinner, Drummond?” Alfred asked, putting away his book and advancing towards Edward.

“Unfortunately, I have an engagement. Here - would you mind putting this on the shelf for me?” Edward passed Alfred the book, trying to indicate by widening his eyes the message he had concealed within the cover. Alfred looked a little confused, but as he went to put it onto the shelf, Edward saw him take the slip of paper out. Satisfied, he made to leave the Palace, trading one last longing glance with Alfred before departing.

 

---

 

Edward was determinedly not nervous about what he was going to do now. He took a deep breath and walked into The London. He absolutely did not feel guilty in any way about this. Alfred would understand, after all. He sat at the table he had reserved, waiting for his companion. He imagined Alfred abandoned in the Palace, dining now, not having been able to read his letter yet. He must be more than a little confused about Edward’s mysterious engagement. Well. That was just the problem. My damned engagement. As he thought the words, he saw Florence approaching the table. He stood up quickly, bending to kiss her hand as tradition prescribed. They sat, and he smiled briefly at her.

“Good evening, Florence.” She was quite pretty, he supposed. She had blonde hair similar to Alfred’s; blue eyes too. But her face had none of the aura that Alfred’s did. The spark in his chest was sullenly nonexistent for her.

“Good evening, Edward. I trust you have been well? You have certainly been busy.” She smiled meekly at him.

“Yes, I - I have been.” It was time to tell her. He knew it. But somehow the words wouldn’t come to him.

“I know you probably won’t want to talk too much on our wedding arrangements at the table - but I had to ask you. Do you think a lace trim on my dress would be too extravagant? It’s on the veil, and I don’t want to be too lavish.” She was looking at him intently, as if her stupid question meant all the world. But, Edward reminded himself, while he was not capable of loving her, she was clearly capable of loving him. Her eyes tracked his every movement, just as Alfred’s did, but on her it was annoying. He sighed a long sigh.

“Florence…” You can do this, Edward. Alfred’s voice rang clear in his mind, and suddenly he was plenty brave enough, fortified by his love. “Florence. I am so very, very sorry. But I have been stringing you along all this time. I simply cannot bring myself to marry you, for I do not love you as I should. I care for you as a friend, Florence; you are one of my closest friends. And yet, I cannot be with you like this.” He was horrified to see tears welling in her eyes. When she spoke, her voice wavered a little.

“I wondered if this day might come. Well, I am only glad you realized it now. Consider the engagement off. I had better -”, she stifled a small sob, “- go. Goodnight, Edward.” And, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks, she half ran from the restaurant. Turning back for a second, she threw her small, bejewelled, golden ring at him. It clattered onto her plate noisily. Edward looked after her in shock. He did feel terrible for upsetting her, it was true. But not half as terrible as he should be. All he could think of, as he ate a hasty dinner by himself, picked up the ring, and began the trek to Duck Island Cottage, was the joy on Alfred’s face when he told him the news.

Chapter Text

The candles shimmered around Alfred in the darkness like low lying fairies. He paced around the room anxiously. Edward’s letter had not been particularly descriptive. He pulled it out and read it again.

 

Dear Alfred,

 

Firstly, I shall apologise for having to attend my engagement. I have something very important to do and I know you shall appreciate it afterwards.

 

Secondly, I reassure you that I will be there to-night. I should not be very long away from you, for which I am thankful.

 

Yours most affectionately,

 

Edward.

 

Alfred ran his hand over the last lines. Yours most affectionately, Edward. It was strange to think of how but a month ago they had confined themselves to subtle glances and speaking so elusively. He had known, for a while now, that his affections for Edward were not completely unrequited. But to have them returned so completely had been utterly beyond his wildest dreams. He sighed happily, a lovesick smile no doubt on his face as he stared at the blank ink scratched into the paper he held. It was at that moment that Edward burst in, his face flushed from the cold and panting from exertion. Alfred hastily tucked away the paper in his pocket and was greeted by a wall of cold and dripping wet coat as Edward swept him up in his arms. He laughed in surprise as his sweetheart lifted him from the floor and swung him around, cradling him like a little babe.

“You must be very strong,” Alfred said. It came out much lower than he had originally intended, sounding like a purr of seduction. Edward beamed at him like his very own personal sun. He was certainly in very good spirits tonight.

“Or my Alfred is simply too short to weigh much,” Edward teased him. Alfred felt his heart skip a beat at the phrase my Alfred . Edward walked to the bed and very gently deposited Alfred on it, stripping his coat off on the floor and shaking his shoes off. Alfred still had his dining jacket on, but he was sure Edward would not let it burden him much longer.

“But I… I am not so short. You are just so very tall.” Alfred could suddenly barely think coherently, let alone speak, as Edward gleefully bounded onto the bed and straddled him.

“Yes, of course, Alfred darling,” Edward murmured. The pressure across Alfred’s hips was wonderful and possessive at the same time. Edward leaned forward to kiss him, quickly turning their gently moving mouths to a more spirited activity, nipping Alfred’s lips and rubbing his tongue along the cavern of Alfred’s mouth gently. Alfred moaned with delight, giving up and letting himself be kissed rather than attempting to reciprocate the gesture. Edward pulled back after gentling the kiss a little, and fixed upon Alfred with his molten brown eyes, darkened with desire, the pupils dilated.

“Alfred. My Alfred. Always and forever, mine.” He blinked and focussed on Alfred so intently it appeared he was trying to convince himself that Alfred was really there. Alfred laid a hand gently on his cheek, sitting up a little.

“Yes, Edward. Always yours.” His voice stuck in his throat as he spoke, but nothing he had said in his life had ever felt truer. Edward smiled a little tearily at him, and leaned forwards to kiss his forehead gently.

“I’ve something wonderful to tell you, Alfred.” Alfred tipped his head inquiringly. “I’ve broken off my engagement at last. I’m free; free to be yours.” Edward looked joyous but also a little apprehensive. Alfred couldn’t blame him; when he’d first suggested the idea, Alfred had overreacted and nearly spoiled everything.

But what filled him now was nothing but pure joy. He knew he should feel bad, or sympathetic for the girl - what a husband she had missed out on - but he couldn’t bring himself to.

“Edward… I…” He was actually crying now. His voice cracked as he tried to speak, tears rolling more thickly now. Edward looked slightly alarmed.

“Alfred? Are you quite all right?”

“I… Oh, Edward… ” He wiped his tears away with his sleeve, trying to compose himself.

“Alfred?! Do you need medical attention?” Edward had grasped him on either side of the face, looking frantically into his eyes, clearly worried he was experiencing some kind of mental breakdown. Which, to be fair, he sort of was.

“No! I’m fine… I just…” He sniffled and cleared his throat properly. He could barely think past the adoration he felt for Edward. The love. He looked up into Edward’s eyes, no longer crying, trying to remain calm to say it properly.

“Edward, I am so, so happy to hear that. I am sorry for how I behaved at the restaurant, when in reality, this makes me happier than anything. You know I - I really…” Edward was looking at him with an intense expression, his hands still holding Alfred’s head, but gently, so gently. “I love you, Edward. Always.” He couldn’t have dragged his eyes away from Edward at that moment no matter if he had wanted to. Blue eyes met brown and a line of understanding seemed to pass between them.

“I love you too, Alfred. Forever.”

They looked at each other quite seriously, with passion and love and a promise. Each knew what this meant. They would never be parted, not truly.

“If you ever leave, Edward, I swear, I’ll always be waiting for you to come back to me,” Alfred said rather breathlessly. “I mean it. Always. Whatever may part us, whatever sickness may ail us, I will always be here. Well, not here. Here .” He took one of Edward’s hands and guided it to the other man’s chest, over his heart. He could feel it beating rather quickly. Edward took a deep breath, and spoke back.

“You know how I feel, Alfred. I would give up everything - everything - for you. I truly would. And were you a woman… Well. You are not. But I do not care, Alfred. You are my everything.” Alfred felt his eyes well up again and he pulled Edward down onto him with a disgruntled oof , needing to be near him, to feel their hearts beat together. He stroked the back of his love’s neck, murmuring softly into Edward’s shoulder, “I love you… I love you… For all time, Edward… I love you…”

 

---

 

Edward lay across from Alfred on the small bed, staring at his sleeping love. Alfred looked so peaceful like this, his face relaxed and happy, his arm still resting on Edward’s chest. Edward didn’t want to move for fear of waking him. They had barely moved since their declarations of love, wanting only to lie side by side and breathe in the other. Edward was close enough to feel Alfred’s breath gently warming his face. It had a faint scent of banana, and Edward vaguely wondered what elaborate dessert they had eaten at the palace that night.

He leaned further forwards, so that his nose was touching Alfred’s. He gently rubbed their noses together, remembering again that first kiss in Scotland. He brought his hand up to curve Alfred’s soft jawline, trailing away into his golden hair as soft and luscious as daisies in the springtime. He laid a gentle kiss on his beloved’s nose, and forehead, and both cheeks. He knew he might soon disturb Alfred from his slumber, but couldn’t bring himself to care. It was very late, well past midnight, and they would both have to retire to their own residences soon enough.

He shuffled his way down a little, so that he could lay his head on Alfred’s chest and listen to his heart. However, he got distracted by the rumpled white shirt separating him from the skin underneath… The hollow of Alfred’s neck was just visible where a button was undone. He traced lazy patterns over Alfred’s chest, working his way back up to the vulnerable patch of skin. He could feel Alfred stirring, and went to kiss his neck, softly this time so as not to worsen the mark. Edward kissed a little lower, mouth whispering over his love’s collarbone, and still a little lower, hitting the button before he could go any further.

He looked up to see Alfred watching him with sleepy but excited eyes. He twitched his eyebrows in a silent question. Alfred let out a little sigh and nodded rather eagerly. Edward grinned, his breathing speeding up noticeably. Too noticeably. Alfred chuckled and ran a hand through Edward’s hair, always looking at him with those loving, smouldering eyes.

Edward slowly ran his hands up Alfred’s stomach to the buttons on his shirt, eliciting a low moan of pleasure from his sweetheart. He carefully undid the first button, leaning forward to kiss the newly exposed skin. Then a second. And a third. Eventually all the buttons had been opened, and Alfred was gasping with desire while Edward kissed slowly, slowly all the way up his smooth, hairless chest. Alfred grabbed his chin and brought their mouths together, almost painful with the pressure he was applying, knotting his fingers in Edward’s hair. Edward moaned without meaning to, and again a second later as Alfred’s fingers slid down his chest, fumbling with his own shirt buttons frantically. He worked Alfred’s opened shirt off down his arms, struggling a little with the cuffs, as Alfred endeavoured without much success to do similarly.

Edward slipped out of his own shirt easily and paused for a moment to marvel at the sight before him. He could see more of Alfred now than he ever had in his life . He traced down Alfred’s shoulders, feeling his fingers tremble slightly with the sort of emotion he had only ever dreamed of.

“I love you,” breathed Alfred. “Edward, oh, I love you.” Edward smiled and leaned in to kiss him again, whispering every time they paused for breath his adorations.

“Alfred… Always mine. Forever… I love you… Nnnngh!” Alfred had brought his legs up to wrap about Edward’s hips. He looked quite as surprised as Edward at this turn of events.

“Oh… I’m sorry, I’ll just…”

“No.” Edward placed a hand firmly on Alfred’s leg, hitching it further up, and kissing him deeply again. They remained intertwined, feeling as one, for yet some hours more. It was only when the dull light of dawn began to light the windows that they realized just how late they had stayed. Alfred had slept for an hour or so, but Edward had not at all, and he was beginning to feel it.

Sadly, they donned their clothing once more, and walked hand in hand through the park until it was time to part.

Edward scanned the surrounding area, and brought Alfred in for one last, searing kiss to last them through the day. Each man departed feeling joyous, content, and sleep deprived in the most delicious of ways.

Chapter Text

And so it was, for several weeks. Edward was newly instated at the House of Lords, debating and arguing his way through the session with a renewed fervour on behalf of the Tories. He was too low down to truly express his opinions, but he aspired to be like Sir Robert Peel one day; able to follow his conscience even if it meant the loss of party-wide support. Alfred continued with his monotonous Palace duties, his day broken only when Edward would pop in on some errand or other. However, this was a much less frequent occurrence since he was no longer tied to the Prime Minister - now John Russell, a whig. The nights were the only time either of them felt truly alive, wrapped in one another, kissing and touching and talking and bonding on such a level they had never dreamed of.  

 

Edward stepped over the threshold of his small apartment after a particularly sleepless night, cursing when he heard the rattle of dishes from the kitchen that meant his maid, Martha, was busy preparing breakfast. He would have to manage on no sleep today. After his already late night, he was quite worn out. He tiptoed through the hallway and up the stairs, trying desperately not to be noticed by Martha. He heard a pause in her scrubbing and sighed. Not bothering to be subtle any longer, he walked to his room and changed into a fresh set of clothes, leaving the soiled ones on the floor. He went downstairs to the kitchen, greeting Martha as she pushed eggs around a frying-pan. She looked at him suspiciously. She was a plain-faced girl, with no sense of humour (Edward had found this out by exhaustive testing), and a great love for religion. Every night she would spend an hour praying by her bed; Edward couldn’t for the love of God think what for. But her cooking was decent enough, and after a hasty breakfast he set off for the Palace again.

 

He was just bowing to the Queen when the first sneezing fit occurred. He tried in vain to apologise for the rudeness even as he was overwhelmed.

“Your Majesty - I - I apolog - i - ah!” She laughed at him as he very ungraciously sneezed onto his sleeve.

“Drummond! I fear you are not quite well this morning.” He shook his head to clear it, beginning to feel somewhat like a pole that had stood up for too long.

“No, ma’am…” He paused to sniff and compose himself. “My apologies, your Majesty. I fear I might have insulted you dreadfully.” She smiled and waved him away. But the Prince Albert was suddenly there and caught his arm, muttering not to go near the children so soon after Vicky’s illness. Edward nodded fervently, and walked away in a daze.

 

The Palace did not seem so grand that day, nor the food so good. All the colours seemed to have faded out of the place. To add to all that, Edward couldn’t remember a time when it was so drafty. He couldn’t stop shivering, even with his jacket on, which normally sufficed to cause him to overheat dreadfully. He could barely keep his eyes open, listening to a performance of some Bach chamber music that the Queen had ordered. Even with Alfred sitting just around the little circle of chairs, clearly visible, Edward could not find it in him to resist the temptation to close his eyes. Dinner was an ordeal too; the soup was watery and bland, and the bread seemed like cardboard in his mouth as he chewed endlessly on it. Alfred was situated a few chairs away this time, and every time Edward looked at him, he would be peering at him in concern. Edward tried to smile.

To be fair, Alfred did not look quite so happy today either. He had dark circles beneath his eyes, which the Queen, for some reason, thought was very amusing, and kept pointing out. In addition to the bruised neck, Edward supposed it did look like Alfred had a new sweetheart. Well - he did. Just not in the way that anyone expected.

Another sneezing attack came on in the middle of a raspberry fool for dessert, which Edward was not particularly enjoying anyway, causing him to accidentally spray cream onto the Duchess of Buccleuch as he tried in vain to turn away and minimise the damage. The Queen thought it most amusing, however, and as such the whole table laughed. He grimaced and stuck through until the fool was finished, and his stomach churning. He wondered vaguely if there was something the matter with the cooking today, for he did not feel at all well. I just need to sleep, he decided.

 

---

 

Edward looked terrible today. Granted, Alfred had had very little sleep, but he wasn’t about to fall asleep into his already-sneezed-over dessert. The man was ashen-faced, not even aware enough of the constant stares Alfred was sending his way. It would have been annoying, if Alfred wasn’t so worried. Maybe he’s sick with guilt over his fiancee. Maybe he doesn’t want me anymore. Maybe he regrets our nights together… But it was ridiculous to simply arbitrarily think of possibilities that Alfred doubted very much were actually true. If Edward had not been sincere about loving him all this time, he was a very good actor. No. Alfred knew, and had known for a long time if he really thought about it, that they were deeply in love with each other.

Which meant that… Edward was sick of a physical cause. Alfred cornered him after lunch, when the others were going out for a ride around the gardens. Edward had made to go with them, but Alfred placed a gentle hand on his arm and steered him to the side of the hall.

“Edward…” He said the name softly so no one would hear. “You’re not well. Going for a ride would be a bad idea given your current state. Go home and get some rest; the Queen will easily excuse you.”

But Edward seemed determined to plough through his day no matter if he might die from exertion.

“I am fine, Lord Paget. Come; the Queen wants to ride.” Edward’s eyes were glassy and dull, not bright and blazing as they usually were for Alfred.

“Why are you being so stubborn?” Alfred asked.

“Why are you being such a nursemaid?” Edward retorted, striding off down the corridor, staggering slightly when he coughed heavily. Alfred rolled his eyes and sighed, catching up quickly to provide balance support.

“If you’re going to be ridiculous, at least take my arm so you don’t keel over.” Alfred tried to use that no-nonsense tone his mother had always taken when he was misbehaving. Edward reluctantly took it, looking mutinous. Alfred grinned and patted his arm in appreciation.

“There, that wasn’t so hard.”

They set off down the corridor, Edward struggling to walk without leaning too much on Alfred at first, then giving in and using his arm for support. Alfred was happy for any excuse to touch his love, but it was worrying how weak Edward was suddenly. Perhaps lack of sleep has hit him hard. Maybe they should not meet tonight, and instead get some decent sleep. Alfred didn’t like the idea, but then again, he didn’t like the idea of Edward collapsing in front of the whole court.

They finally made it outside to where the horses were gathered, guards and stable boys holding the creatures still enough for the noble lords and ladies to scramble on. Alfred murmured softly into Edward’s ear, “You are not well enough to ride, Edward. Let me explain this to the Queen.” But Edward shook his head, dragged his arm from Alfred’s, and tottered over to the nearest horse. Alfred stared at him in disbelief. He marched resolutely over to where the Queen and Prince were seated high on the finest mounts.

“Your Majesty; Your Royal Highness.” He bowed respectfully. “I have some concerns about Drummond riding today. It appears to me he may be ill, and in need of rest.” The Queen exchanged a strangely knowing look with Albert, her eyes sparkling.

“Well, he certainly seems to be managing, does he not?” She pointed, and Alfred turned to see that Edward had successfully mounted his horse, and was now trotting impatiently around the gravel area. He sighed.

“My apologies for disturbing you, ma’am.” He bowed again, and as he walked away he could hear the pair of royals giggling in a most undignified manner. He had great respect for the Queen, but at times like this, one might lose it somewhat.

He mounted the horse set for him - a beautiful chestnut mare - and followed the party as they set off, keeping right behind Edward’s black stallion. Edward looked around at him and rolled his eyes, muttering loud enough for all surrounding to hear, “Alfred, I am not in need of a nurse. Stop this hovering! ” And with that he broke into a canter and reached the head of the party, never overtaking the Queen but maintaining his distance from Alfred. Alfred was one part hurt and ten parts worried. He didn’t care that Ms. Coke and Lady Harriet were laughing at him behind their white gloved hands as he spurred on, cantering to join Edward at the front of the group.

“Edward!” He pleaded. Edward’s head snapped around to him, his eyes looking suddenly icy. Alfred went cold when he realized he had used the man’s first name, loud enough for the Queen herself to hear. He opened his mouth to speak again, to apologise, to correct himself, but Edward brought his horse to a sudden stop, letting the rest of the party overtake him, and following thereafter. Alfred let out a long, exasperated breath, and slowed his horse down to follow Edward again. But it was no sooner that he had done it than Edward sped up suddenly, clearly just as determined to stay away from Alfred’s nagging as Alfred was to talk to him. The ladies were in stitches on their horses soon enough, after several rounds of this strange cat and mouse game.

Edward was speeding ahead of Alfred again, turning to check on the man’s distance behind him, when Alfred saw it. A tree had fallen ahead on an angle, so that the trajectory of the Queen and Prince’s horses would manage to get underneath, but Edward was on the opposite side of the track and would surely not make it.

“Edward!” Alfred bellowed, not caring who heard him any more, the important thing was to tell Edward of the danger. “Look out!” All he managed to do was turn Edward’s head towards him for longer, prolonging the moment when he would see the tree. Alfred realized there was nothing he could do.

Time seemed to slow horribly as Edward’s head turned around, when he was mere metres and cantering at a speed that would not allow him to stop in time.

Edward yelled in shock and tried frantically to turn the horse away.

Hooves scrabbled over the leaf canopy and heart-stoppingly, they slipped.

Man and rider fell as one, Edward colliding as he slid over the ground with a sickening thump on the tree.

 

Alfred could not think, he could not breathe , he could not help himself from dismounting immediately, sprinting over and begging Edward to stay with him in front of everyone.

“Please, Ed- Drummond,” it hurt him so to have to use his last name at this time. “Oh God, Drummond… You’re all right, aren’t you? Please, please, God, Drummond…” His babbling went on and on, his mouth moving when all thoughts had stopped. People moved around him, murmuring worriedly, Albert demanding they take him back to the Palace immediately. Alfred did not care. He bent over his love, hands on either shoulder of his love, talking and talking and begging his stubborn, hell-bent Edward on being alive. Eventually he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He looked up through misty eyes - was he crying? - to see the Queen herself. Waves of panic were suddenly replaced with more waves of panic. Was she here to tell him to get away, to stop crying like a mother would over her babe, that he had no right to be so protective of his beloved Edward?

“Lord Alfred, we will need to take him back to the Palace for immediate attention. Will you take him on your horse?” Her eyes were compassionate and full of understanding. He nodded weakly, mounting by memory and no feeling, settling Edward in front of him.

The Prince Albert actually laid his hand on Alfred’s leg and muttered, “Be fast, Lord Alfred. We would not want to lose Drummond here.” Alfred nodded, and quickly took off, speeding up to a canter, one hand on the reins and his other arm holding Edward steady. He was a complete dead weight, flopping around in Alfred’s grasp. He could hear the others start to ride behind him. He sped up even more, worried that it might be his lack of speed that resulted in Edward’s tragic demise.

No. Don’t even think that. He couldn’t, or else he too would crumple and go limp and they would both fall. He remained steady through his panic, hooves thrumming beneath him. As soon as they reached the threshold he awkwardly slipped off the horse, catching Edward in his arms as he too fell from the horse and bearing the heavy burden of the taller man up the Palace steps. It was almost too much weight for him to carry but he could not afford to stop now. He only paused to ask the Baroness Lehzen where he might deposit Drummond, where an empty bed would be available to host the injured man. He entered the yellow room, as it was called, kept for the most important household guests - the only such quarters asides from the Queen’s on the ground floor - and carefully laid Edward, darling Edward, on the bed. He stripped off the man’s coat and boots, tenderly brushing his hair out of his face, and tucking him underneath the covers carefully. He laid a hand on his beloved’s cheek, savouring the moments before the doctor and everyone else would rush in, and spoke to him quietly.

“Come back to me, Edward. My darling, you are still warm, I can feel. If you can hear me now, you will know; you must come back. I will not allow you to be taken from me.”

This was all the time he was allowed as the riding party burst in, sweaty and asking after him, the doctor now in tow pushing Alfred away to examine Edward. It was all Alfred could do not to burst into tears at the unresponsive form lying on the bed.

He wondered if Edward would ever respond to him again.

Chapter Text

Alfred paced anxiously outside the door to the yellow room, unable to sit still and wait for the diagnosis. He had been torn away from his Edward when Sir James had arrived, and told to make himself busy. But he could barely bear to leave Edward’s side; waiting outside was about all he could manage. Miss Coke was seated by the door, watching him apprehensively. Alfred couldn’t bring himself to look at her.

Part of him knew just how obvious he was being. But for the most part, he just didn’t care. He paced up and down until his legs ached, but he couldn’t stop. Edward had still not been conscious when he had been forced to leave his side. His mind was thrumming with desperate worry and turmoil. His emotional and rational sides had been fighting it out brutally over the last hour.

Emotions: He’s dead.

Rational thoughts: No, he’s just unconscious.

Emotions: But what if he’s dead?!

Rational thoughts: That fall wouldn’t usually kill anyone. He was just unconscious.

Emotions: That sort of fall killed Harriet Sutherland’s husband.

Rational thoughts: Well, it’s possible. Just not likely.

Emotions: I’m going to cry in a hole forever.

Rational thoughts: Well, that’s just plain stupidity.

And on and on it went. After what must have been hours and hours but his watch mistakenly told him was 15 minutes, he collapsed in the chair next to Miss Coke and rested his head in his hands. The red of his eyelids made him think about blood, even though Edward had not spilt any.

Emotions: Should we trust Sir James? What if he kills him mistakenly?

Rational thoughts: Oh, shut up.

His thoughts were disturbed by Wilhelmina clearing her throat next to him. He sighed pointedly and raised his face from his hands.

“What?” His voice came out more venomous than he’d meant to. She looked a little hurt, so he grimaced and tried again. “I’m sorry, Wilhelmina. What is it?” He used her first name out of familiarity; they had known each other since early childhood.

“You mustn’t beat yourself up like this, Alfred. I’m sure he’ll be alright, and none of it was your fault. If anything, it was our fault for - for not taking your concerns seriously.” Her lip quivered slightly. He stared.

“No - no it wasn’t, don’t be absurd! I knew how he was, I should never have let him get on that horse. And I shouldn’t have called his name, it only distracted him and he might never have fallen if not for me - it wasn’t your fault.” He placed his hand on hers and squeezed it gently. “You weren’t to know.” She sniffed miserably and nodded.

“Well, it wasn’t yours, either. I shouldn’t say it with him injured… But he was awfully stubborn. Don’t you think?” Alfred laughed a little and next moment had choked back a sob. Why had he been so stubborn?

“There was something else I wanted to ask you,” Miss Coke went on. “You called him Edward. I’ve never heard anyone do that before.” She looked at him appraisingly. Oh, God above, please let her not know. Please let her not have understood.

“Well, we are, erm, great friends. I got carried away in my haste to stop him, I suppose.” She smiled in a knowing sort of fashion.

“Friends? Is that what you call it, Lord Alfred?” Her eyes met his and she suddenly looked very serious. Alfred’s heart seemed to drop right into his toes. No one could know. He had to ensure that.

“What is it that you want?” He begged her. “Tell me anything, and I shall give it to you, should it be within my means. Only please don’t tell anyone else. Please.” He felt his eyes well up with tears anew, and blinked them away angrily. But to his surprise, she was smiling more.

“I don’t want anything, Lord Alfred.” Alfred still did not understand. At his continually confused looks, she rolled her eyes. “I don’t bear any ill will to either of you. Why would I say anything?”

“Because… It is… It is a sin.” The word felt ugly in his mouth, completely wrong when he thought about how Edward made him feel. There must have been some sort of mistake when God created humanity, for no feeling that beautiful could truly be evil.

“That is one thing I do not understand,” admitted Wilhelmina. “I do not think either of you are evil. But it supposed to be an evil thing, isn’t it?” Alfred grimaced in acknowledgement.

“Indeed. I confess I am still not sure if it is truly right.” He bowed his head in shame at admitting this. In his panic he was confiding in her what he had not even told Edward. She looked a little confused.

“I thought perhaps you would clarify it for me. What you feel for him is… It is not friendship?” He thought about the question carefully. He did feel friendship for Edward, great friendship; but there was something else that made it worth more than anything in the world to him.

“It is not only friendship,” he corrected her.

“So… You are much like Achilles and Patroclus.” Wilhelmina studied him carefully. “Well, you have nothing to fear from me.” She smiled at him, and it was genuine, though she looked strangely pained to say the words. He smiled back, waves of gratitude for her rushing upon him.

“You cannot know how much this means to me, Wilhelmina.” He took her hand and kissed it. “Whatever you want that I can do, it is yours.” He meant it.

They both jumped to realize that Sir James had opened the door and was watching them. Alfred leapt to his feet and demanded, “How is he? Will he live?” His voice broke pathetically on the last syllable. Sir James eyed them with a curious, knowing glint in his eye.

“Yes, Lord Alfred, he will live. He came conscious, but fell asleep again from sheer exhaustion. You can go in and see him, if you wish, for all the good that it will do.” Alfred was already moving towards the door. He rushed in and fell next to the bed on his knees, gazing at his dear, sweet Edward, wishing for signs of life. He had been propped up on many fine pillows, his jacket removed, his left arm bandaged with a rod of wood to hold it steady. His face was pale and wan but he was breathing steadily in and out as he slept. Alfred let out a long, ragged sigh and sent a quick mental thanks to the Lord for keeping his love safe. He led his forehead rest onto the bed, weary with his constant state of fright.

Alfred could not stay by his love for longer than a few moments, however, as he felt gentle hands help him to his feet and guide him away. Wilhelmina looked strained too, blinking rapidly. Sir James looked at them with the air of knowing a great secret and then let out an “O-ho!”. Alfred and Wilhelmina stared. The exclamation was so ill-suited to the tension and fear they felt the room heavy with.

“How long has it been?” Sir James demanded jovially, moving forwards to clap Alfred on the shoulder.

“I’m afraid that I don’t quite know what you mean, sir…?” Alfred chanced a peek at Wilhelmina but she looked just as confused.

“Since you’ve been courting! Tell me, are you engaged yet?” Not for the first time that day, Alfred feared all was lost. But surely, James would not be looking so chuffed about him and Edward…

“Oh, Sir James! We were so sure no one could tell. Weren’t we, Alfred?” Wilhelmina elbowed him rather hard. Alfred nodded, trying not to let his utter confusion show.

“Well, you will make a splendid couple. I expect to be invited to the wedding,” Sir James said. Wilhelmina nodded, smiling a smile that did not reach her eyes. “Now, off with you! I have a patient to attend to. Don’t just wait outside, go and enjoy the fresh air. Drummond here will be quite alright, I assure you.”

Wilhelmina made to leave but Alfred was most definitely not finished.

“Wait! What exactly is wrong with him now, Sir James? He looks pale; perhaps a fever? And his arm is so bandaged, is it broken?” Alfred demanded, hoping the strain didn’t show too much in his voice.

“Aye, his arm is broken. It’ll take a few weeks to heal up. The fever may be a separate illness or simply due to shock; it is too early to tell. He has a sprained ankle as well, but all things considered, he is doing very well indeed. Now go!” Sir James barked impatiently.

Alfred bowed, muttering his thanks, and took his leave, his arm still in Wilhelmina’s. He dropped it as soon as they were out of the room. She sighed and took it up again. He looked sideways at her to see her frowning slightly.

“I’m so sorry, Alfred… I panicked.” Alfred took the time to think over the last conversation, the realization of what she had said sinking in.

“You… It’s going to be in the court circular, Wilhelmina. That we’re engaged. ” He said the word with a tone close to disgust, and instantly felt bad when she looked hurt.

“I’m sorry!” She gasped. “He was going to be suspicious otherwise! And this way, the others will no longer suspect… Well.” Alfred turned to her, halting in mid walk and making her stumble.

“The others suspect??

“No! They do not suspect, exactly, but they know that something is different about you, and about Edward. I do not think anyone has linked the two properly yet, so if we are seen to be engaged, it will be easier by far for your, erm, secret, to remain thus.” She did not appear convinced, though. Nor was Alfred. He leaned closer to her.

“We are not engaged, and I will never marry you. If it’s in the court circular, it certainly won’t be my problem to deal with.” He stalked away from her, fuming.

 

His heart still hurt from watching Edward fall, and he did not care to deal with any of the ladies or their court drama today. He settled instead for walking around the Palace gardens by himself for hours on end, until he ran into the Queen with her entourage. Wilhelmina tried desperately to catch his eye, but he resolutely refused to look at her. Victoria greeted him happily, and he followed the various formalities, joining their party as they toured the gardens. The Queen seemed quite keen on talking to him, and eventually brought up the ‘engagement’.

“I visited Sir James earlier. He told me of your engagement, Lord Alfred! Really, I am most pleased for yourself and Miss Coke here. Drummond seemed most surprised, though. I thought you might have told him as quickly as possible, seeing what great friends you are.” She studied him intently, her expression flickering slightly from the usual dignified smile she wore. Alfred did what he could to keep his expression level.

“Drummond is awake?” His voice cracked embarrassingly. He cursed himself inwardly.

“Oh yes, he woke not half an hour ago. You should visit him, Alfred. I know he would like it.” Alfred nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He has heard of my so called engagement. Thank you, Wilhelmina. How helpful you have been.

“But you have not responded to me on the subject of your engagement! How wonderful! You must be so happy. Wilhelmina tells me you have been acquainted since childhood.” Alfred nodded and smiled gracefully.

“Yes, we are so thrilled.” He shot a quick mental glare at Wilhelmina. Why did he have to perpetuate her silly lie? The Queen hummed in acknowledgement but did not question any further. His mind was still thrumming with thoughts of how angry Edward might be with him. He must surely know that Alfred had not abandoned him… Surely. They walked in silence to the Palace, where the Queen decided they would all visit ‘poor, lonely Drummond’ together. Alfred followed a pace behind down the corridor, suddenly dreading facing Edward. Would he be angry? Might he expose Alfred out of sheer rage? But that would not make sense, he reasoned with himself. For if he exposes me, then he would also have to expose himself, would he not? Still not terribly comforted, he followed with a fast beating heart as a guard opened the door to the yellow room for the Queen and her party.

 

---

 

Edward’s head ached terribly, and his ankle and arm were throbbing very uncomfortably. He felt cold all over but he was sweating, and it hurt to move his eyes from one side to the other. He lay quite still, praying for sleep to come to him and take away the pain. But it did not.

The worst pain was his racing mind. His mind was stuck on repeat of one particular moment that afternoon.

“I thought you would have been the first person Alfred would tell!” the other man exclaimed. “Engaged! To Miss Wilhelmina Coke. Isn’t it splendid?”

Edward had done his best to look happy for Alfred, his Alfred, his darling. But he feared he had failed miserably. In reality, he had no clue what was going on. Was Alfred really engaged? It must be some sort of plan, a scheme to better disguise their love. Edward knew how worried Alfred could get that they might be found out. But he surely didn’t think such a serious disguise was warranted. Edward had only just broken off his own engagement! He felt terribly indignant at the way Alfred had been so hypocritical. When he, Edward, had first mentioned his engagement, he could remember the way Alfred’s eyes seemed to shatter, his mouth curving down and causing Edward’s heart nearly to break. It was horrible , and Edward had almost cried when Alfred left that day, so worried was he that their relationship had been permanently fractured. Now everything was different, and yet he was still insecure of Alfred’s love for him. He wished he could just talk to Alfred alone, to sort everything out, and that the cursed thumping and rushing of blood in his head would leave him alone to be able to think clearly.

Guests were entering the room, and Edward tried to sit up a little straighter, causing a slight wave of nausea. It was the Queen herself, for the second time within an hour. She smiled at him kindly.

“Do not trouble yourself, Drummond! I have already told you, you need not sit up straight for me. Not while you are in such a condition as this. You need rest.” He nodded weakly and turned to see the other visitors. There was Lady Harriet Sutherland, the Duchess of Buccleuch, Miss Coke, and - his heart did a somersault, beating faster if that was possible - his very own Lord Alfred. The blonde man looked tortured, meeting Edward’s eyes with a pleading expression, his eyes turned wide and heavy. Edward dragged his gaze away, not sure of what his own face might be doing in response to that. Well. Alfred was sorry, at the very least. What did that mean? God only knows.

“Well, we merely wanted to show Lord Alfred here you were awake. He has been most silent and brooding, despite his happy news. We shall leave you now; my ladies and I have a dinner to attend.” And with that, Victoria swept from the room, taking the women in her wake. Sir James was not there at the moment; he was gone out to perform the daily check up that the Prince now insisted he do on the royal children.

It was just Alfred and Edward now.

Edward stared at his bandaged arm, refusing to even look at Alfred. He felt scared and ashamed. Scared that Alfred had already abandoned him; ashamed of how stubbornly he had continued to ride even after Alfred’s warnings. It was Alfred sniffing and clearing his throat slightly that made his eyes jump to the man, who, he was shaken to see, had tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Edward… You can’t know… How worried I was,” Alfred sniffled. “You were so - so stubborn! Why did you continue to ride? I was scared I might lose you forever. Don’t ever, ever, do that again.” Edward looked down again, his face scarlet with shame and guilt, and nodded. Alfred made a choked noise and practically flung himself at Edward, causing his ankle to jar horribly.

“I’m sorry! Oh, God, Edward, I’m sorry. Sir James just, just assumed , we were engaged, and then Wilhelmina said we were and then the Queen herself heard and I couldn’t deny it and now everything is all horribly mixed up and… You have to know I love you.” Alfred looked up from where he was collapsed on the bed next to Edward with his arms around his love’s neck, his blue eyes burning bright. “I love you always, Edward. I’ll find a way to end this stupid false engagement, you hear me?” Edward tried not to cry himself, his leg aching and his head pounding, but his heart full of relief.

“I hear you, Alfred. I love you, too.” And he clung to Alfred. “I’m sorry for being so stupid this morning… I never should have continued like that. I only, I hate being weak. I didn’t want you to think any less of me. And now… Well,” Edward chuckled slightly despite himself. “I think I have given you more than enough reason.”

Alfred shook his head frantically.

“No! Edward, my love, you are always forgiven. I will always forgive you. But you aren’t ever to put yourself in danger like that, do you hear me?” Edward nodded jerkily, his tears threatening to flow freely as Alfred’s were. Alfred leaned forwards and kissed him softly and all too briefly. Edward smiled at him and felt his heart lighten with the knowledge that at the very least, he was the beloved of this wonderful man.

Chapter Text

Edward remained at the Palace for the next two days, always in bed. His bruises were certainly starting to heal, but he was still a little feverish and coughing up all sorts. He was most frustrated with the situation, and any time Alfred went to visit, Edward would beseech him to carry him outdoors for some fresh air, to no avail. Alfred found it terribly difficult to continue with his Palace duties when Edward was waiting right there for him… The Queen kept on requesting that Alfred come and play cards with her, or play a duet with her; anything for an excuse to badger him about details of his ridiculous false engagement. He was dreading the day that Wilhelmina’s family heard the rumour. Once they had heard, everyone would know and there would be no stopping it. He was beginning to understand how helpless and terrified Edward must have felt when he was engaged to Florence.

It was not a good feeling.

He expressed his thoughts as such many times to Wilhelmina, but she was adamant that she had done right.

“You’ll thank me, years from now,” she said as they walked out one day, tossing her head smugly. “I know that this is the right thing to do. Both you and Drummond ought to marry, and then no one will suspect, don’t you see?”

Alfred remarked that people might suspect when they had no children, to which Wilhelmina had looked at him in confusion.

“But if we’re married, we’ll have children. Won’t we?” Alfred stared at her in alarm.

“Wilhelmina, you do understand… Exactly what that entails?” He could not believe he was hearing this. Did she really expect him to lie with her? It will never happen, he swore to himself. Never. I would die before betraying my Edward thus.

“Married people are gifted children from God,” she stated confidently. “Like the virgin Mary.”

Alfred couldn’t help himself at that. He laughed out loud at her.

“Children require more than that, Wilhelmina. And I will never have them.” At her curious look, he held up his hand. “No, look - please don’t ask me about it. Ask one of your female friends; Lady Harriet will know.” He shook his head slightly in disbelief at her lack of knowledge. He had always thought she was innocent as a babe… But not literally .

“But if we can’t have children, then we may as well not get married at all!” She exclaimed.

“Exactly,” snapped Alfred, his mood abruptly turning sour when he remembered that this mess was all her fault. “Look, Wilhelmina, can’t we just say this was all a mistake? There’s still time! We might be laughed at, but I have absolutely no intention of marrying you. The only other option is to break off the engagement in a few weeks or so. How will that look, with Edward removing himself from Florence so recently?”

Wilhelmina had looked suddenly terribly hurt.

“Is it really so awful, the thought of marrying me?” She snapped back at him and took off, walking so quickly she threw up gravel in the wake of her dress. He looked after her in confusion.

“Wilhelmina!” He yelled, jogging to catch up to her. “What are you saying? You know…” He looked around to ensure there was no one within earshot. “You know how I am,” he mumbled. She stopped suddenly in her tracks at that, so that he flew past her and had to turn back to face her.

“You expect me to be so understanding, and yet your own observational skills are sadly lacking!” She exclaimed. “Yes, I know how you are, Alfred. And you know how I am; I’m never going to find a man who actually wants to marry me! I just thought I could do a good thing for you and Edward with my life rather than be alone forever!” Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes full of tears. Alfred approached her cautiously, his hands held out in front of him as though taming a wild beast.

“Wilhelmina… I know you want to help. However, this ‘engagement’ has done anything but. It hurt Edward to hear of it. It will hurt me greatly to marry anyone but him, no matter how great a friend they may be. Can’t you see that?” Wilhelmina’s lip quivered but she bravely tried to speak through her tears.

“No, I can’t, Alfred. I’m sick of being second best. You can try and dispel the rumours if you want. I will be sticking to the plan. ” Alfred watched in disbelief as she stalked away.

Women are so damn emotional… A familiar voice rang in his head, and he hung his face in his hands. He trekked back to the Palace, thinking over what he could possibly say to change Wilhelmina’s mind. Perhaps he should just tell the Queen it was all a big mistake. He did like Victoria; she was always most kind to him, and he was sure if he explained everything to her, she would just laugh and think it the most hilarious story to tell at parties. (“A false engagement! Imagine how terrible poor Lord Alfred felt to come and tell me!”) Edward will know what to do, Alfred decided. He turned his steps towards the yellow room, praying and being reward that Sir James was not within. Edward was snoozing, his face adorably tilted to one side, his hair ruffled and unkempt, wearing his bedclothes now. Alfred shook him slightly, grasping his shoulder and sitting on the bed.

“Edward! Edward, my darling, wake up!” He laid a gentle hand on his love’s face and Edward stirred feebly, his eyes opening a fraction.

“Alf… Alfred,” he managed through a yawn. “Wassit? Tired…” But Alfred was not about to be dissuaded.

“I need your help, Edward,” he urged. “I think I ought to tell the Queen that the engagement was an awkward mistake. She’d think it was funny, don’t you think? Edward?” But Edward was watching him with unfocused eyes, his breathing raspy and shallow. Alfred sighed. It was unreasonable of him to expect Edward to think coherently after being disturbed. Edward’s eyes slowly shut and his breathing became heavy once more. Alfred laughed softly and gently leaned forward to lay a kiss on Edward’s dark brow.

“Sleep well, darling Edward,” he whispered into the man’s skin. He still felt too warm; Alfred was beginning to worry that while his injuries were healing, he may be sick on top of that. He left the yellow room quietly, trying not to make a very loud click of the door behind him.

Alfred turned to go, and jumped nearly out of his skin when no one other than Queen Victoria was present in front of him, Prince Albert by her side, a hand laid protectively on her shoulder.

“Your Majesty!” He swept into a bow instantly.

“Oh, get up, Lord Alfred,” she chided him. “It’s not as if the world will collapse should you fail to bow to me just this once!” Alfred got up and did his best to look dignified and most certainly not confused at the Queen’s words or worried at being caught outside Edward’s rooms.

“Your Queen is with child again!” Albert burst out. It appeared he had been waiting to give this news, the joy spreading across his face palpable in the air. Victoria laughed and patted her husband’s hand.

“He wants to tell everyone we come across,” she said. “To go through it all again! Pregnancy and childbirth! What an ordeal.” Alfred inclined his head, not that he had any knowledge at all in these particular areas. “Anyway, we were just going to visit Drummond here. How is he?”

“Fast asleep, ma’am, I’d not disturb him were I you.” Alfred said.

“Oh, bother. Well then, we had better be getting on. Would you care to join us for a walk, Lord Alfred?” Albert looked sideways at Victoria as she said this, appearing most put out at the wasted opportunity for some time alone.

“No thank you, ma’am, I have just been out. But there was something I wanted to discuss with you, er… Alone.” Alfred steeled himself to tell her the ugly truth. Well, not all of it. Just the false engagement part. Victoria peered at him closely, clearly intrigued.

“Whatever you have to say to me, you can say to Albert; he’ll only hear about it later anyway.” The Prince gave Alfred a tight smile of reassurance - at least, the smile was as reassuring as Albert could ever manage. Alfred took a deep breath, stared resolutely at the floor, and began.

“Certainly, ma’am. I would like to tell you… That the rumours surrounding Miss Coke and I’s engagement are false. It was, well, a sort of accident, truth be told.” He looked up from the floor to find curious faces watching him. Victoria looked like she might be getting into one of her tempers. He hastened to explain, looking her in the eye now. “Sir James, he just assumed that we were engaged and then Miss Coke went along with it and then I felt I had no choice to. And it’s really, well, it’s all just become blown out of proportion. I do apologize for deceiving you.” He bowed his head and waited for the blow to fall.

“Well, really! ” The Queen exclaimed. “I knew there was something wrong there! Oh, but don’t you see why poor Miss Coke agreed with Sir James, Alfred?” Alfred cocked his head. “She’s in love with you, you silly man!” Alfred could not help the shock that he felt showing on his face.

“... No, she’s surely… Surely not…” He mumbled in defense.

“I would assure you, she is,” the Prince said. “She is deep in love with someone here at the Palace, and I can see no better target than yourself.” Alfred gaped.

“Unless this engagement was designed to provoke jealousy into another man’s heart!” Victoria gasped. She had the air of watching a particularly dramatic play unfold. Alfred knew he must look like a clueless idiot, but he was having a bad time of keeping up.

“You know, that is an interesting theory, Victoria,” Albert said in his crisp German accent. “Well, thank you for informing us before matters got further out of hand, Lord Alfred. Good day to you.” He took Victoria’s hand and pulled her towards the grand Palace doors, laughing and catching her as she stumbled. Usually, Alfred was quite amenable to the married couple’s obliviousness - after all, they were so young, happy, and in love - but today it made him feel bitter as he walked away from his beloved, towards the piano where Wilhelmina would surely be. She deserved to know before it got on the court circular, at least.

 

---

 

Edward was dreaming of golden light, streaming through the windows, golden hair, a golden man come to visit him. Bright, pale, blue eyes enchanted his soul, murmuring soft words to him, and then they were gone. His dreams carried on, the man returning many times, to kiss him, hold him, look after him.

He came out of his wonderful stupor as the sun was setting beneath the trees through the frosted window. Immediately, he closed his eyes and tried to go back. He missed Alfred, and the room he was actually in was empty and eerie. Grand, yes, but somehow one needed a particular short, blonde Lord in order to appreciate the surroundings properly. He sighed heavily and coughed as his lungs were blocked by something. His throat felt quite swollen and heavy, and his mouth had a simply awful taste in it. He sat up, intending to look for water, and immediately felt so nauseous he had to sit down again. Just then, Sir James bustled in, with a jug of water and glasses, a towel over his arm.

“Drummond! You’re awake, good lad. Now, as you can probably tell, we’re fighting more than your riding injuries here.” Sir James’ voice seemed ear-splitting, so that Edward had to fight not to flinch at it. “You’ve caught the ’flu, it would seem. Not altogether surprising, considering your weakened system at the moment. This will take you a few weeks to recover from, I must tell you.” Edward’s eyes widened. Weeks? But I cannot go that long without Alfred! “Yes, I know, you must be eager to get back to your work.” A twinge of guilt pulled at Edward’s stomach, that this had not been his first thought. “But you need a long rest, and to build up your health again. Indeed, your fever is still present. It may yet worsen. Until it has broken, I fear you must do the very minimum possible to disturb yourself.” Edward nodded dully, trying to take it in. He had never truly been sick before, not in the way one might have to rest for weeks and weeks. Sir James looked hesitant before speaking again. “The Queen has assured me you may remain here as long as you wish. But if you feel you might be more comfortable at home, then now is the time to move you.” Edward nodded again, feeling slightly sick.

There were both sides to consider; at home, Alfred might be able to come and visit without the watch of the Palace guards. But he would be removed from the heart of the Palace; no one would visit him save for Alfred, surely, and Alfred would not be able to visit when he was at the Palace all day. And yet… Edward yearned for their nights together. It would be unbearable to stay here for weeks without those precious moments. And so it was decided.

 

Getting out of bed was uncomfortable enough, but Edward actually threw up several times on the way to Downing Street in the carriage. Luckily, Sir James had thought to bring a bucket, and Alfred too. His sweetheart watched him worriedly as he heaved. Edward wished he could be stronger, for surely his Alfred could not find him desirable in this state.

“He will need a new doctor,” Edward heard Sir James yell to Alfred over the retching and rattling. “The Prince has insisted most vehemently that I remain solely dedicated to the Palace, and his children.” Even through his discomfort, Edward could hear the sour edge in Sir James’ tone. He gathered the doctor did not like being ordered around like a Palace servant. “I have some recommendations, of course; here is a list. I would highly recommend one Dr. Gabriel Dubois; he has just moved here from France, and has won high praise around Paris.” Alfred nodded distractedly, taking the piece of paper Sir James had proffered. Edward heaved again, and Alfred looked as though he was about to reach out and rub his shoulder soothingly - but clearly thought better of it, leaning back and clenching his hands firmly as though to resist temptation.

 

It was late at night by the time Edward was settled into his own bed. Sir James bid him goodbye, and assured him that Dr. Dubois would call in the morning to check on him, but to send for him earlier if needed. Martha had fussed over him, offering beef tea and honey sweetened porridge if he needed, which he had waved away, trying desperately not to throw up again. Eventually the maid had retired to bed, leaving only him and Lord Alfred alone in his room. Alfred came to lie next to him on his bed, brushing his hair off his sweaty face, laying a cool damp towel on his brow, offering him water every other minute. Edward couldn’t speak, his throat was so tight, and he feared if anything came up his throat it would not be a sound. And so instead he tried to express his deep gratitude with his eyes, gazing up at Alfred with all the love and affection he felt in his heart. Alfred smiled and kissed his forehead, placing his head on his own shoulder and rocking him to sleep like a newborn babe. Edward closed his weary eyes and let himself fall asleep against his love’s soothing touch. The last thing he heard was Alfred whispering.

"Hear my soul speak; The very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service."

Chapter Text

Alfred was woken up by the sound of a door slamming, much, much too close. He was still draped against Edward’s - ever warmer - chest, and started when he realized there was a third person in the room, watching them. He pushed himself off of Edward much more roughly than he would have usually, scrambling to get out of the bed, to not be seen.

But it was too late.

Alfred, now pushing himself up to a standing position beside the bed, faced the intruder. This is it. We’re done for. And yet perhaps he could fight! If he could overpower the other man, make his fatal injury look like an accident, and then… But Alfred was not so far gone as to contemplate killing. Most unfortunately.

Instead, he straightened up and looked the newcomer right in the eye. A small, weedy, man, he looked to be around fifty years of age, with dark grey hair slicked back on his small head. He wore a very nicely trimmed dark red coat, which his limbs seemed to be drowning in somewhat.

“Oh, dair me, what do we ’ave ’ere!” The man exclaimed in a thick French accent. Alfred stared, not sure what to make of this development.

“Exactly who are you? And what are you doing here?” Alfred demanded, electing to ignore the compromising position he had been found in.

“Je suis Dr. Gabriel Dubois, at your service.” The man made a funny little bow and bobbed up again, leering at Alfred. “And you are…? A mollie?” Alfred frowned and was promptly even more confused. A mollie meant a lower class prostitute women… What had that to do with him?

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alfred declared. “I am Lord Alfred Paget, of the Queen’s service. I thank you for coming, Dr. Dubois. I, erm… I apologise for the strange position it must have looked I had. I was merely exhausted last night, and I must have fallen asleep… Just after Sir James left.” Alfred knew it was a weak excuse. But he had to try.

“No, you did not,” Dr. Dubois said, eyeing him shrewdly. “You’d want to be more careful, boy. Not everyone is like us.”

“... Like us?” Alfred echoed.

“Well, come now, you are one of us, oui? Un sodomite!” Alfred blanched before he could help himself. A sodomite? This man was a sodomite?

“No, sir! You are sadly mistaken. And I think that you need to leave now, Dr. Dubois. I am sure we will find someone else quite suitable for the post. Thank you.” Alfred made the dismissive tone very clear in his voice despite his wavering high pitch, not wanting this criminal to remain in the house one second longer.

“Lord Alfred… I am vairy sorry if I ’ave offended you.” The older man stepped forwards, looking suddenly less sure of himself. “I only meant… To see ze way you were with Mr. Drummond here. Surely you know what I am referring to!” When Alfred was only silent and held out his hand towards the door, Dr. Dubois sighed a long sigh. “Look, boy, I am like you. I, too, desire a man as one should desire a woman. Do you see now?”

Alfred felt petrified. Was this some strange kind of test? Or was this new doctor really afflicted in the same way as he and Edward? But he and Edward weren’t sodomites…

“I am not a sodomite,” Alfred burst out, his voice very high pitched and cracking. Dr. Dubois threw back his head and laughed.

“Do not worry, I feel sure you are on your way, my boy!” The newcomer clapped Alfred on his back and made his way over to Edward, opening his kit. Alfred let out a half laugh, half gasp at this exclamation. He watched Dr. Dubois take out his stethoscope and various other unrecognizable devices, laying them on the table next to Edward’s bed.

Alfred wasn’t quite sure what to think. He usually prided himself on his intuition in social contexts… But this man was unlike any he had met before. Alfred sat on the bed next to Edward, content that at least this doctor understood their relationship, and would not object to Alfred touching his love openly.

That was quite remarkable, now Alfred took the time to think it over. He laid his hand gently on Edward’s cheek, stroking his thumb ever so gently over his sweetheart’s closed eyelid, admiring how tranquil and peaceful he was as he slept.

“Out of ze way, if you please.” Dr. Dubois’ oily voice sounded next to him and Alfred retreated his hand, allowing the other man to place a stethoscope on Edward’s chest, his hand reaching down inside Edward’s shirt.

A strange feeling flared up within Alfred immediately. It was like nothing he had ever felt before.

He wanted to take that hand and rip it off of Edward, to break the fingers until they could not move, to lay his own hand there and make the patch of skin it brushed against now his very own, so that Edward would be his. It was paramount that Edward was absolutely Alfred’s. This doctor, whoever he was, was a strange and unclean man ( A sodomite!, Alfred’s mind helpfully reminded him). Alfred didn’t want him near his love, his pure and good Edward… And yet Dr. Dubois seemed quite professional and engaged in his examination. Despite his desperate urges to protect and love Edward, Alfred resisted the urge to send the doctor flying, and instead waited for his verdict.

“Well, ’e is not ideal,” Dr. Dubois said eventually. “Feverish and heightened pulse. Much as Sir James advised me, I would say, a few weeks bed rest should assist greatly.” Alfred sighed in relief to hear that things had not worsened. The older man eyed Alfred speculatively.

“I noticed zere was a maid, in ze kitchen. Would you like me to… send ’er away?” Alfred, for about the hundredth time that day, was confused.

“Send her away? I’m afraid I don’t quite grasp your meaning.” Dr. Dubois sighed and rolled his eyes dramatically.

“Oh, I will say it may be contagious, or some such. Zen, it will be only you, and ’im. And I will come to perform checks twice daily, of course.” Alfred gaped in astonishment. It would be… heavenly, enchanting, it would mean everything, to be quite alone in the house with Edward for weeks.

But he had his Palace duties, of course.

Not if he was sick, too, though… He eyed Dr. Dubois with renewed appreciation.

“You don’t think… Could you tell everyone I have fallen ill too? That way, I will be relieved of duties, and it will be hardly surprising to hear I have caught Edward’s fever from him. And then no one will question why I am not in my Palace quarters…”

“For why go back, when you could be with me.” Edward’s voice was less melodic than usual, raspiness hiding the velvet tones, but his eyes had the same twinkle as they opened and peered at Alfred. “An excellent idea, I say.”

“Edward! How long have you been awake?” Alfred demanded, smiling and taking his love’s hand eagerly.

“Oh, since all that commotion with the new doctor arriving,” Edward murmured sleepily. “Thought it best to leave dealing with him to you.”

“Thank you, dear,” Alfred chuckled. “Most thoughtful.”

“But you are better at dealing with people than I,” Edward told him solemnly, his big brown eyes looking for all the world like a cat wanting to be fed immediately.

“You are forgiven, Edward. Do not fear.” Alfred leaned forward and kissed Edward’s forehead, smoothing his hand over his sweetheart’s hair.

Both men startled when Dr. Dubois cleared his throat meaningfully.

“I theenk I shall be going now. I will tell your maid the both of you have taken ill, and that she should find lodgings elsewhere until you are cured.” Dr. Dubois said. “I will be back zis afternoon, to check on you, Drummond.” And with that, the funny little Frenchman left, closing the door quietly behind him.

Alfred and Edward both waited, hearing him talk to the maid; hearing the front door close, once, and then twice a time later. After a few minutes they were assuredly alone in the house once more. Alfred breathed out a long breath, and looked at Edward.

They both burst into laughter at the same time.

“What a ridiculous man!”

“His coat!”

“His indiscretion!”

“He told us was a sodomite!

They both wheezed helplessly.

“You… You said you weren’t a sodomite!” Edward guffawed at Alfred. Alfred’s chuckles died off as he contemplated his love.

“But… I’m not…” he mumbled.

“But… We both are, are we not?” Edward inquired. Good God, thought Alfred. Does no one except I know the finer points of intimacy? First Wilhelmina, and now his own dear Edward… Perhaps things such as this ought to be taught in school, at a relatively young age, to avoid all this confusion.

“Edward… You do know what sodomy is, don’t you? Buggery?”

“Yes, it’s in the Bible! To lie down with another man.” At Alfred’s incredulous look, Edward insisted further. “Well, we’ve slept in the same bed, haven’t we! Just tonight!”

Alfred couldn’t help it. He laughed again, bent over double. It was so bad that he fell off the bed altogether, rolling around on the floorboards, helpless with the hilarity of it all. When Edward’s face appeared over the top of the bed like a rabbit from a hole, he dissolved again, almost crying.

“You… That’s… That’s really not what lie down means in the Bible, Edward!” Alfred got out eventually. He sat up, wiping the tears from his eyes and clambering back on the bed. Edward held out his arms petulantly, looking rather put out to be out of the joke, and Alfred grinned, getting properly settled and lying stomach down, half on Edward and half on the bed, so that his face was pressed almost against his lover’s neck.

“What does it mean, then?” Edward muttered sulkily.

“I… Well. You know how a man and a woman lie with each other? On their marriage night?” Alfred tried to think of how best to describe it. He wasn’t even sure how he himself had found out, only that he had gotten an inkling and figured it out while at school.

“Yes? She loses her virgo intact. ” Edward stated promptly.

“Well, yes, but more than that… The man, um… Well. You do know this, don’t you?” Alfred found himself not wanting to go into too much detail, his face blushing bright red. It made him glad to be hiding underneath Edward’s chin like this.

“Yes, I know that, Alfred. The manhood goes inside the womanhood. Now carry on,” snapped Edward, though not very aggressively. Alfred was willing to bet if he looked at his love now, he might not be able to distinguish between his face and a tomato. A very beautiful tomato, though.

“Well, sodomy, or buggery, is like that. Except that… Well. It doesn’t exactly go inside the womanhood.” Alfred pushed his face into Edward’s shoulder, closing his eyes and hoping against hope that Edward would not require further explanation.

“... Oh. I see.” But his love still sounded confused. “But there’s nowhere for it to go?” Alfred sighed and laughed against Edward’s cotton sleeping shirt, the warmth beneath overheating his face even further.

“Well, there is. If you think about it.”

Edward gasped suddenly, his body jerking slightly. Alfred looked up in alarm, but Edward’s face was only full of shock.

“No! It doesn’t… It doesn’t… Oh, my God.” Edward looked more than slightly sick. Alfred quickly scrambled off the bed and grabbed the bucket in the corner, holding it for his love just in time. He rubbed Edward’s back sympathetically. When he was done retching, Alfred took the mess downstairs to the water closet and flushed it away, thanking the Lord that Downing Street at least had been upgraded to the new hygiene regiment.

“I am sorry, Alfred,” Edward said as he re-entered with the rinsed bucket. “I did not mean to react so poorly… I have just never heard of such a thing.” He scratched his head thoughtfully, looking dignified and intelligent even while sick. “Is this why it is considered so evil?” he inquired of Alfred.

“I believe so, my love,” Alfred replied. He couldn’t really think of anything else to say. Well, he could. But he didn’t want to say it.

“And… are we?” Edward asked, blushing very prettily. Alfred couldn’t help but go to him, sitting next to him and taking his chin with one hand.

“Are we what?” he queried.

“Are we going to… Be evil?” Edward met his eyes, looking for all the world like the fairy tale prince Alfred had always subconsciously longed for. Alfred heard his own breath hitch. He wasn’t even sure such a thing was actually possible, let alone if they could do it.

“I think…” He wanted to choose his words very carefully. “I think I would like to do anything with you, Edward. So long as you wanted it too.” Edward’s eyes turned molten, melting Alfred from head to toe within a heartbeat.

“I want everything , Alfred,” Edward said with such a low, intense voice that Alfred turned abruptly from melting to rather excited.

“Then you shall have it,” he breathed. He drew Edward’s chin to him, kissing the man deep and slow. As their lips melted together, he felt the now familiar emotion rise up within him. Part mischief, part happiness, but mostly complete adoration for the man in front of him.

“I love you,” he said, his lips moving against Edward’s. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” His sweetheart whispered it back to him as they kissed longer and longer, Edward lying back on the pillows and Alfred coming on top of him, feeling the delicious way Edward’s body moved underneath him in his excitement.

A tiny miaow startled them, their kiss breaking as they looked together for the source. A small brown tabby kitten was sat next to them on the sheets, her amber eyes watching them curiously. Alfred laughed in delight, as Edward groaned in exasperation.

“They’ve come looking for me! They usually do this late at night, or they hide beneath the bed. I’d thought cats were supposed to be useful creatures. This one just follows me around.” Edward sounded sulky to have their session disturbed, as Alfred put out his hand and petted the cat gently on the head, fondling her silky ears and rubbing her cheek with his fingers.

“But she’s gorgeous, Edward! What have you called her?” Edward ducked his head and blushed. Alfred was intrigued. “What? Tell me! Or else I’ll call her something horrible like the Duchess of Buccleuch and you’ll never be able to call her name properly again!” Edward snorted and relented.

“I called her… Tinderbox.” Edward looked up at Alfred almost shyly. “You do remember, don’t you?” Alfred smiled adoringly at his love and leaned forwards to kiss his nose.

“You are still well equipped,” Alfred admitted, smiling. “But… I fear I may not have been talking about your tinderbox.”

“Mmm, so I gathered at the time.” Edward grinned up at Alfred. Alfred pulled little Tinderbox closer, setting her on Edward’s chest, where she rolled over to display her little fluffy stomach. Alfred giggled and tickled her there, resulting in a ferocious chomp on his fingers which hurt about as much as a needle pricking his finger might have done. Edward watched him playing with the kitten, looking for all the world like he was the luckiest man alive.

Which of course was mistaken, for Alfred himself was the luckiest man ever to have been alive.

Chapter Text

“Kiss me… here,” Edward sighed. He was playing his favourite game with Alfred. He tapped his own cheekbone impatiently. Alfred smirked, leaned forwards and grazed his lips across Edward’s cheekbone. “Not like that, Alfred! Properly!”

They were basking in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the small windows in Edward’s small room. Dr. Dubois was likely to come back for a checkup soon, but until then, Edward was resolutely relaxing in the most thoroughly enjoyable manner.

Edward felt Alfred’s lips curve against his cheek, and suddenly the man was humming as he kissed, really kissed, Edward’s cheekbone. Edward felt him lick his way up the prominent line on his face, and felt a corresponding shudder and a moan that had most certainly not been voluntary. He took a moment to compose himself, leaning his head on Alfred’s shoulder, while his love gentled his kisses, turning them once again to barely there brushes of his mouth.

“Now,” Edward panted. “Kiss me here.” His chest was already bare, his shirt discarded long ago. His left arm was bandaged in an ugly way, but his right hand was quite free to instruct. He put it over his heart. Alfred didn’t smile so much as lay his desire bare on his face for Edward to see, his eyes looking up underneath long golden lashes as he bent to lay his mouth on Edward’s chest. Edward couldn’t quite think straight.

“Kiss me here, Alfred. Now.” His voice had become desperate with desire, he knew, but he couldn’t help himself as he smoothed his hand over his stomach in a clear indication. Alfred bit his lip as his eyes glowed up at Edward, kissing all the way down Edward’s chest to his stomach. He was making most apt use of his tongue, to which Edward could not help but lay his head back on the pillow and sigh in deepest satisfaction.

“Alfred,” he moaned. “I want you to k-kiss me. Here.” Hardly daring to breathe, Edward moved his hand lower, onto his right hipbone. He felt rather than heard the slight pause in Alfred’s kisses. And yet they were begun again with renewed fervour, his love scraping his teeth over the bone that jutted out from his white flannel pants. This was a little further down than Alfred had been before; Edward was always so careful to keep things above this particular line, in order that Alfred did not regret anything. Today, however… He had been thinking of Alfred’s matter-of-fact speech on buggery. He could not help but be rather fascinated by it. It was like a whole new world of possibilities had opened to him… Albeit illegal opportunities.

He could hear Alfred breathing very fast indeed, and feel his mouth hot and wet on his hip. He chanced a peek down, lifting his good hand to run through Alfred’s hair, messing it just the way he liked it.

“Edward?” Alfred’s voice seemed to catch. “Where would you like me to kiss you now?” Edward was not just imagining it; Alfred’s voice was unsteady, his eyes bright, and Edward couldn’t think properly anymore, his brain was a muddle.

“I… Oh, Alfred.” He took a deep breath. His crotch was feeling strained and… Well. There was a situation down there that needed to be managed. Managed or… taken care of. “Alfred. My Alfred. I think I would like you to kiss me… Here.” He took Alfred’s hand and moved it to the half-hard situation residing in his pants. The spark within him kindled into burning bliss as Alfred’s hand pressed forwards a little, he saw Alfred’s eyes widen and his mouth curve into an eager smile, it was like a dream come true, all for his beautiful, blessed angel, when-

“Boys? Are you quite decent? I am ’ere for a checkup!” Edward could have sworn he shrivelled instantly in his pants. His mouth fell open, the flame quenched by that smarmy little French voice before he could string two coherent thoughts together. Alfred raised his eyes to the ceiling in clear disbelief, sighing a long, ragged sigh of frustration. Then he looked back to Edward, their eyes meeting, and Alfred’s mouth turned into a sort of silent laugh. He huffed, and Edward bit his lip in order to stop himself from giggling like a little girl, and Alfred dropped his head onto Edward’s stomach.

“Later,” his sweetheart promised, kissing his stomach once more. “Now get that shirt on. It wouldn’t do for you to be indecent, now, would it?” Edward pouted as Alfred reached for his shirt on the floor, handing it to him. Edward pulled it on hastily as Alfred went to fetch the doctor. He flopped back onto the pillows, sending a quick prayer to the ceiling that the next time his angel was so inclined to such a thoroughly indecent activity, there would be no doctor, injury, or illness to stop them.

 

---

 

“There’s something fishy going on with Miss Coke, Alfred, and Drummond,” Victoria mused to her husband as they rode out that day. “First, Drummond breaks it off with his fiancee! Miss Coke is quite close to her, and says she is much traumatized. And now, this business with a false engagement. I simply must get to the bottom of it. Albert?” He looked thoughtful as he trotted his horse next to her.

“I think you are right, Liebes. There is something else going on.” He frowned deeply as though much disturbed by the proceedings.

“Oh, cheer up! I expect it is Drummond that has proposed to Lord Alfred.” She laughed at her own joke, expecting the Prince to follow suit, and turning to him in indignation when he didn’t. “I am being funny, Albert! Your Queen orders you to laugh!” Slowly his lips turned into a smile, which she supposed would do.

“It is not very funny, though, Victoria… I think you may be right.” She frowned at him.

“It was a joke , Albert. No, you know what I really think?” She had been working on this theory all last night while Albert had snored oblivious next to her. “I think that Drummond and Miss Coke are actually engaged! It all makes sense! Consider, he is arranged to be engaged to one of her friends. He must break it off, and then Miss Coke, not wanting to hurt her friend so badly after that, arranges a false engagement to throw everyone off! I expect we will hear wedding bells for them in a few months time.” She nodded, quite satisfied with herself. But now, Albert was laughing.

“Oh, ’Toria… You never fail to surprise me,” he said. “But I think your earlier theory had more credibility.” Victoria huffed at him, exasperated.

“You are being silly, Albert.” He put on a high pitched voice and mimicked her.

“You are being silly, Victoria.”

“Oh, that is it! I’ll race you back and win!” And she put on a sudden burst of speed, thrilling in leaving him behind her for at least a few moments.

 

---

 

Alfred sighed in frustration and paced through the tiny kitchens of Drummond’s apartment. Damn, damn, damn. They had been so close when that wretched little man had burst in. He had been working his nerve up to make such a move ever since that first night at the cottage, and then Edward, his sweet and innocent Edward, had made it first… And now he would have to wait and build up his courage again. But at least now he knew the feelings were mutual. He wanted nothing more than to bound back upstairs and kiss Edward in exactly the place he had asked for.

Except of course, it might have some slight effect on the pulse which Dr. Dubois was so carefully monitoring.

Alfred didn’t like being away from Edward. Not even just up the stairs. He especially didn’t like the fact that Dr. Dubois was like them just now, however handy it may come in future. He decided to creep up the stairs and listen - just in case, he assured himself. Just in case the self proclaimed sodomite was planning on delving into crime again. As he hovered by the door, he heard Edward’s voice, though the words were indistinguishable. He must have said something very funny, though, for Dr. Dubois’ rattling laughter was as loud as a cat howling, and not any more pleasant on the ear. Alfred could hear him packing up now, and so he returned to the kitchen on light feet. As the doctor bustled down the stairs, Alfred leaned against the kitchen table, waiting anxiously for the verdict.

“Well, ’is pulse is a little elevated. He needs to rest now. So, no funny business, or he may worsen.” The strange little man waggled his finger knowingly at Alfred, who sighed. Their visitor had put a stop to any thoughts of that right now. “If you need me, you ’ave my address. He still has a slight fever, but I think it should dissipate by morning. For now, ’e has taken some laudanum, and there is a bottle should he require more to sleep.” Alfred nodded and thanked him before showing him out. As soon as the door was closed he bolted upstairs to Edward and burst through the door, to find his love staring at him with drowsy, unfocused eyes.

“Edward? Are you quite alright?” He stepped forwards, hands hovering, not sure what to do.

“’m fine… Alfred! You are… the best,” he giggled. “The best man in the world. The best human. ” Alfred smiled uncertainly. Edward did not quite seem himself, but then, he had heard the effects of the opium contained in laudanum were very relaxing. Alfred moved forwards and gently tapped his sweetheart’s nose with his finger. Edward giggled again, sounding perfectly delighted.

“Tuck me in?” Big brown eyes looked up at Alfred longingly. Alfred smoothed down the sheets, tucking Edward in and kissing him on both cheeks before straightening up again.

“You sleep now, Edward. You hear me? You need rest. ” Edward merely nodded meekly and closed his eyes, following Alfred’s instructions exactly. He shivered slightly; the effects of that drug were uncanny to be able to drive Edward’s stubbornness from him.

Alfred wasn’t quite sure what to do now.

He left Edward’s room, heading for the kitchen again. He had not eaten since the morning, and it was surely dinnertime by now. Sure enough, the light outside the windows was fading. Alfred went to the kitchen in search of food. Where do they keep it, anyway? He had never actually been alone in a house without a servant to cook for him, and it was quite strange. He turned around, surveying the room, and his eyes fell upon a cupboard that looked rather promising. Sure enough, inside there were loaves of bread to one side, sacks of grains, many assortments of vegetables that Alfred was not so used to seeing in their raw state - and the distinct sound of two kittens. Alfred tried to spot them on the shelves, beyond the bottles of oil and strange bulbs. But the noise seem to be coming from below the floor. For a moment he was scared they might have gotten stuck underneath the musty boards. But as he looked down he realized he was standing on a trapdoor. There was a little hole by the handle which the kittens must have squeezed through somehow. He went to remove it and struggled a little - it really was quite heavy. How does the maid do this by herself every day? , he wondered as he wrestled it up, revealing a dark cellar with a step ladder guiding him down into the darkness. He went to fetch an oil lamp before climbing down into the dark. It was surprisingly cool. As his foot hit the ground, the source of the kittens’ scratching and mewling became apparent. A large slab of raw red meat was laying on a tray, the brown paper surrounding it clearly meant to have been a form of protection. Tinderbox and a friend were happily gnawing on the meat that was easily five times as large as they were, their little faces looking awfully morbid with blood covering their whiskers. Alfred felt his mouth curve involuntarily into a smile before he pulled the little creatures off after setting down the lantern, taking them back up the ladder and setting them on the floor there.

“Bad cats”, he murmured softly, stroking Tinderbox’s tiny fluffy head. “And who is this?” The second kitten was completely golden apart from her ears which turned nearly white. The red splotch across her mouth really was terribly obvious. Alfred found himself reminded of a certain heavenly night, that time after the corn laws were repealed. The night that Edward truly became his.

“I think you look like champagne,” he whispered to her, scratching underneath her chin. She lifted up her head obligingly, her eyes narrowing to slits. “Tinderbox and Champagne. What suitable names for our little darlings.” The cats trotted off happily to inspect a table leg, flopping over immediately as though exhausted by their excursion to the cellar. Alfred snorted and went back down to investigate the meat. It was well and truly spoiled by kitten slobber, little puncture marks all over it. He took the tray and dumped the bloody slab into the scraps bin located just by the kitchen door. Vaguely, Alfred wondered where the scraps went after their adventure into the bin.

And now, I must do something about dinner. His stomach was rumbling now. And yet, Alfred had no clue what one might cook. He should have realized, he thought rather desperately, that with the absence of Drummond’s servant girl, would come the absence of prepared food. He deliberated the matter for a moment, then slid the lid back on the trapdoor, electing instead of attempting to cook in his current frenzy of hunger to take a small loaf and begin ripping bits of it off.

It wasn’t terribly elegant, he knew, and he thought that in his creased and worn clothes he must look for all the world like a beggar. And yet, as he returned to Edward’s side, he found he did not care.

The only sight he needed was the one right in front of him.

Chapter Text

As Edward woke that morning, he became gradually aware of Alfred sleeping on him, curled up in a nest of warmth under the covers. His head ached a little, but on the whole, he felt much better than he had yesterday. He stroked through Alfred’s messy hair gently, thinking back to the days when he would only see it perfect and neat. They had spoken in metaphors then, too scared to tell the other how they truly felt.

And now everything had changed.

Edward wasn’t sure where they would end up now. It felt like a brief respite from the rush of life when he was with Alfred. Perhaps they could just continue forever, meeting in secret, staying close by one another, stealing opportunities when they could.

Edward’s heart simultaneously leapt and broke at the thought.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like this. He liked being able to carry on with his life as well as Alfred, his career and all his court friends not mutually exclusive with his love. But if he was realistic, he knew they wouldn’t be able to do this forever. He looked down at the man he loved with all his heart, and knew he would have to make a decision. They both would.

Just not quite yet.

It was easy to push the unwelcome thought away when he turned his mind to the days they had ahead of them now: alone, in the house, all the time they could want to themselves. Edward had a plan for the morning forming in his mind, and so he quietly extricated himself from Alfred’s embrace, sneaking downstairs cautiously. Dr. Dubois had insisted he stay in bed for another week, but he felt perfectly fine now. Edward was sure the doctor would insist he was unhealthy for a few weeks if he asked, and paid the fee; he wanted to maximize his time with Alfred.

He entered the kitchen, lit a fire in the stove - rather awkwardly with his cast - and set to work. Edward was unusual among gentlemen in knowing how to even do that, but he was quite adept at pancakes. He mixed the batter in a large bowl, thanking Martha inwardly for keeping the pantry well stocked and organized. He had just set to frying the first thin pancake in a wide pan when he felt arms snake around his waist from behind.

“I didn’t know you could cook,” Alfred mumbled, his speech somewhat distorted as he leaned his face against Edward’s back. “How did you learn?” Edward chuckled as Alfred’s hands dipped lower, settling on his hip.

“My family maidservant, Beth. She used to let me help, and I had rather a sweet tooth.” Edward recognized the bubbling of the batter as time to flip, and in a swift motion he had sent the pancake soaring straight up into the air, and caught it again. Alfred, who had pushed onto the tips of his toes to look over Edward’s shoulder, gasped in surprise.

“Oh, but you are good at this!” Edward shrugged, and turned to face his love as the pancake sizzled away.

“I had meant to bring it to you while you slept, so that you might be surprised,” he admitted. “But you have ruined my scheme with your desire to awaken.” Alfred laughed softly.

“I fear my heart knew when you were gone from my side.” Edward didn’t know what to say to that, so he took Alfred’s chin in his hand and kissed him softly.

“I would have been back soon,” Edward assured him. “Pancakes are really quite easy.” Alfred cast a sidelong look into the pan, at which point Edward realized that a slight burning smell was being emitted. He sighed, and turned to tip the pancake onto a plate.

“I’ll eat that one,” he told Alfred. “Beth always said, first one is for the cook.”

Alfred merely hugged him from the side and said nothing until the third pancake had been finished.

“I never spoke to our servants,” he said in a rush. “Not properly. They just didn’t seem…”

“Like people?” Edward suggested, understanding his love’s hesitation. “I know, Alfred. You were raised on a grand estate, and your lineage is long and noble. You must understand that for me, we only had three or four servants at once. My family are all bankers.” He pulled a face. Alfred grinned sympathetically.

“Nothing wrong with a good banker,” he quipped.

“What about a politician?” Edward looked at Alfred with mock-pleading eyes. “Is there anything wrong with me?” Alfred giggled and poked his stomach.

“Well, let’s think… You don’t eat enough… You don’t follow the doctor’s orders to remain in bed… And you’re altogether far too in love with me for your own good.” Alfred’s smiling eyes became deep and intense as he finished.

“I think that I am just as in love with you as I intend to be,” countered Edward. He flipped another pancake as he spoke. “That is; completely.” Alfred’s arms tightened around him, and the man laid his head on Edward’s shoulder.

“I love you, Edward Drummond,” he said softly.

“As I love you, Alfred Paget,” Edward replied, kissing his hair gently. “Now, come on, you can do this one. It should not be so difficult for such an accomplished noble as yourself, m’Lord.” Alfred laughed at that. Edward guided him through the process of pouring the batter in as thinly as possible - yet Alfred poured too fast, just as Edward did as a child, making the pancake unfortunately thick. Alfred seemed quite eager to learn, but worried about the hot stove, not wanting to touch the pan handle despite Edward assuring him it was perfectly cool. Edward tried to show him how to flip - with the result that the pancake flopped onto the floor, the raw batter spreading over the flagstone. Alfred sighed in despair, and Edward shrugged at him.

“Just like the most important part of riding a horse is learning to fall, the most important part of being a chef is… Well…” Edward found he didn’t have a sensible way of ending his sentence.

“To drop the food? I think not, Edward.” Alfred looked downcast. Edward, determined that Alfred’s first cooking experience would not put him off, brought the man against him in a close embrace and kissed him gently, bending down to reach, tipping Alfred’s face towards him.

“Remember I love you,” he said, breaking off for breath. “Always.”

“If you’re going to do this every time I make a mistake, I fear I shall never get anything done,” Alfred whispered conspiratorially to him. Edward grinned and kissed him again, gently but with all the love he held in his heart. It was several minutes before Alfred broke off, his eyes heavy with desire and affection.

“Is it later yet?” Edward whispered, his heart thumping. Alfred blushed.

“Later is whenever you want it to be,” he replied in a low, silken voice. Edward’s mouth went dry.

“Well, perhaps we should eat first. I don’t want you to be… hungry.” Their eyes locked and Edward found it difficult to turn his mind away from all the things they could be doing instead of eating. Alfred looked away first, grinning like mad, clearly looking forward to later.

“Then let us eat!” Alfred said. They sat down at the small dining table in the kitchen usually reserved for Martha. It really was very exciting having the roam of the house to himself, Edward decided. But not nearly as exciting as - he blushed at the thought - having the roam of Alfred.

 

---

 

Edward blushed, and Alfred smiled, wondering what was going on in that beautiful mind. He lifted the first bite of pancake to his mouth, and gazed in wonder at his love as it hit his tongue. He quickly shoved in another bite, and another.

“This is ’mazing,” he said thickly through his food. He swallowed with some difficulty before his next sentence. “Won’t you teach me again, love?” He laid his hand on Edward’s across the table. His sweetheart blushed again, very prettily.

“Of course, Alfred.” Edward’s smile across at him was all Alfred would ever need to keep him content, he thought. “There is a very good book you might like to read - I’m sure Martha will have it!” And with that, Edward jumped up and ran to the store cupboard, searching amongst the shelves and returning with a heavy-looking volume.

“There are books on how to cook?” Alfred exclaimed. Edward gave him a perplexed look. It wasn’t the first time this sort of disparity had occurred between them. Alfred had once commented on how very pessimistic Charles Dickens’ works were, to which Edward had seemed out of sorts. Another time, Edward had actually given money to a little girl selling papers on the corner, without even buying a paper, as they were on their way back on a particularly late night - well, early morning - back from their usual meeting place. Alfred had never spared the poor much thought before. He was not one of them, and his father had always been of the opinion that if you couldn’t make your way up in the world, you deserved to be down. It was one of those things it was merely easier not to think about.

“Of course, Alfred! Alfred?” Edward shook him and he came out of his reverie. “Here it is! Modern Cookery, for Private Families: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice. ” Alfred turned the pages with trepidation, wondering what on Earth one would write on how to cook things. The text was very small and condensed, so he had to squint to read it properly. A title caught his eye: Good Calf’s Head Soup (not expensive).

“Calf’s head soup! How strange!” He looked at Edward, who was watching him with amusement plain on his face.

“You have probably had calf’s head stock before, Alfred, many times at the Palace.” Alfred gasped.

“No… Not for the Queen! Calf’s head?” He couldn’t get over it. He read further on down the instructions.

Skim all the fat carefully from the stock; and heat five pints in a large clean saucepan, with the head cut into small thick slices or into inch-squares. Alfred balked.

“A head, cut into inch-squares! It seems perfectly barbaric. And yet women have the stomach to cook with this?” Edward threw back his head and laughed loudly.

“You’ll find women have the stomach for more than you might imagine.” Alfred grinned as his love spoke. Edward might be awfully innocent in terms of married relations, but this was one aspect of life where Alfred had no experience. It was almost refreshing. “I haven’t cooked with it myself, though. I much preferred sweet and simple recipes. Scones are another one of my proficiencies.” Edward winked at Alfred, who laughed, altogether quite charmed by the idea of Edward making scones. Alfred finished his now lukewarm pancakes while Edward cleaned up the mess Alfred had made with the half finished pancake on the floor. Alfred felt a little guilty, but he had never ever cleaned up food before. He wondered if there was a book on how to do that too. As Edward bent down, Alfred got a rather good view of his backside - even in the baggy sleeping clothes he was wearing. He could feel himself beginning to get excited, in the way he always did when he saw Edward.

It must be later by now.

When Edward had finished with the mess, Alfred got up from the bench and advanced slowly towards him.

“I think… If you so choose it, it is later now.” Edward’s brown eyes were as alive as Alfred had ever seen them, but there was a reluctance. “I mean - if you don’t want to, of course that’s - that’s fine too. I understand.” Alfred blushed scarlet and looked downwards hastily, worried he had overstepped and completely misunderstood all of Edward’s advances - oh God, were they even advances? - and now he had blown the whole thing…

“Alfred,” Edward practically croaked. “I want you. I want to. You must know that. I only… Well. We will have a visitor today. Twice. And I don’t want to feel under a time pressure.” Alfred’s insides uncurdled immediately, relief swamping him. Edward’s point was in fact very practical.

“I suppose you’re right,” Alfred murmured. “Well… We shall simply say later, then.”

“Later,” agreed Edward, his eyes warm and sparkling. “Only… Alfred?” The man’s voice sounded high and unsure.

“Yes, love?” Alfred adored being able to call him love and make Edward blush so beautifully.

“Well… What exactly are we agreeing on? Later?” Edward’s eyes were so worried and lovely Alfred could hardly bear it. “You’re more knowledgeable than me, and I just, I don’t know what you expect and what I should expect and… This must be much easier for a man and woman on their wedding night. Everything must be so clear.” Edward’s voice trembled a little.

“Edward! Darling… You don’t have to expect anything. I just thought. Well. We were, um, err, interrupted last time at a certain step. And if you - now you have a clear head - if you want to continue with that step, I would be most… Most agreeable. But we can talk about it as we go, you know.”

“I know, Alfred. I know you will be with me, and that is the most important thing to me.”

“I will be insisting you tell me what you like, and don’t like, as we, um, go,” Alfred warned him. “I want to make you happy, Edward.”

“Have no fear, Alfred. This is the happiest I have ever been.” Edward’s eyes sparkled as he said it. Alfred tackled him in a tight hug, pressing himself to his love.

“I love you, I love you, I love you, more than anything and more than anyone has ever loved anyone else,” he said. Edward chuckled softly.

“I think that you are mixing it up, for that is what I want to say.” Alfred huffed as Edward spoke, truly content just to feel Edward against him, confessions of love forthcoming.

“What shall we do all day, then?” Alfred queried, pulling back to look at Edward’s beautiful face.

“I think it is time you learnt how to cook, Lord Alfred,” Edward said through a grin. “Scones?”

“Sounds delightful,” Alfred chortled.

 

They spent the rest of the morning mixing and spreading and baking the scones, Edward covering his with an absurd amount of clotted cream, Alfred content to spread a little honey over his own. Soon they were both far too full to consider any more, and stared at the veritable mountain they had made in their enthusiasm. Alfred had only dropped one tray, he defended himself, and mixed up the sugar and salt another time so one batch were strange tough little biscuits, tasting much like over-concentrated seawater. Even the kittens would not go near them, contenting themselves instead with licks of batter from Edward and Alfred’s outstretched hands.

“I think we should never finish all of these,” Alfred remarked, the high tower of scones stacked near two foot in the air over the table. “I think if we gave them to all the poor of the world, they should never finish them, either.” Edward grinned.

“I despair to think what we shall do with them,” he agreed. “Perhaps we should send them to the Queen, as apology for our extended absence.” Alfred snorted with glee.

“No, surely not. I think we should send them specifically to the Duchess of Buccleuch, from a secret admirer. ” Alfred began laughing halfway through his own joke and Edward sooned joined in. Their mirth was interrupted, however, by a now-familiar knock and voice coming from the door.

“Bonjour, més cheris!” Dr. Dubert soared into the room, his arms outstretched in a strange birdlike fashion. “And ’ow are we today, Monsieur?” He observed the scones with a cocked eyebrow, and turned to Edward, pressing a hand against his forehead. Alfred prickled with discomfort as the oily little man laid his other hand on Edward’s shoulder.

“Much better, I see! Ze fever ’as nearly disappeared.” Edward smiled and Alfred relaxed a little, not having recognized his own tension until he was sure Edward was going to be healthy again. However, he stiffened just a moment later as the doctor seized Edward’s hand and dragged him from the chair in a bizarre kind of dance move, twirling around himself and making his coat flaps fly out dramatically. Edward looked most confused. “Zen you must both come with me tonight! Oh, I have ze most brilliant evening in store…” Alfred was not sure what the twirling could be a reference to, apart from going to see the ballet.

“Pardon, doctor, but what exactly…?” Edward voiced the question on Alfred’s mind.

“My boys! You are still boys, but tonight, you become men. And call me Gabriel, please.” It was the smarmy way that Gabriel smiled at Edward that made Alfred snap.

“Excuse me, but what are you talking about? We are both men. Gabriel .” Alfred crossed his arms, rising to his feet, trying to look intimidating. It was one of the few times he was actually taller than another man. Dr. Dubois narrowed his eyes as he spun around to face Alfred.

“Ah, you wait and see… It will be magnifique. You shall both enjoy yourselves immensely, I think. It is a place for people like us, to meet, to bond, to… pleasure, shall we say.” As he spoke, Gabriel spun back to face Edward. “You are both innocent of such relations. I can see these things on your pretty little face. It need be the case no longer.” Edward looked past Dr. Dubois at Alfred, his face displaying both confusion and apprehension. Alfred had an awful feeling he knew exactly what the doctor was suggesting, and he was having none of it.

“I think Edward should rest tonight,” he stated plainly. “And I hardly think such a disreputable place is suitable for us to visit.” He made no effort to mask the superior sneer in his voice. Dr. Dubois turned back to him, frowning slightly.

“I think you would find it most educational, my friend,” the smaller man said. “’Owever… If you do not wish to come… Perhaps anuzzer time. Edward, I do not think you need anuzzer checkup today. You may come to me if you find yourself in need of it.” Dr. Dubois shot Alfred a filthy look and swept out of the kitchen, his shoes tapping sharply on the floor.

“What on earth was that all about?” Edward demanded. Alfred sighed in frustration. “What kind of disreputable place?”

“He wants to take us to some place where undercover people like us meet to have, erm, relations.” Alfred simply could not be bothered beating around the bush. “I think he hopes to be akin to a teacher for us.” Edward’s face looked intrigued.

“A teacher? Surely he just wants to help us find a community? To find people like us?”

“These places are not so much about community as they are about pleasure, Edward.”

“How would you know? Have you been before?” Edward’s face was lit up with curiosity and Alfred sighed inwardly.

“No, I haven’t, but I can imagine.” He tried to put as much finality into his tone as possible, but Edward ploughed on.

“Well, I, for one, would like to see what sort of place he mentioned.” Alfred opened his mouth to argue, but big brown eyes met his and his mind melted in place.

“... I do not think you would enjoy it, Edward.”

“I think we should at least go and see it, Alfred.” They glared at each other before Alfred relented, never able to hold out against his love for long.

“Oh, all right! But not tonight.”

“Why not?” Alfred blushed.

“Well… I had some, er… Some other business in mind for tonight.” Edward blushed as Alfred spoke.

“Oh. Oh. Yes, let’s do that… business… instead.” Alfred was pleased Edward was agreeing with him on this, but the room also felt rather too hot for comfort. They shuffled awkwardly, each trying to think of something to say.

“I know! Why don’t you play with me?” Edward’s eyes shone before he realized his mistake and blushed even darker. “I meant - I meant play piano with me.” Alfred giggled and crossed the room to take Edward’s hands in his.

“I would love to play piano with you, my darling.”

 

Alfred adored playing the piano. He had learnt it ever since he was a tiny child, his older brothers teaching him what they knew and of course the weekly piano tutor they had too. Edward, it seemed, had not had quite such a thorough education. He was good enough to play at nearly half the speed Alfred was going while sight-reading, culminating in some truly atrocious rhythms. Yet despite their mismatched levels, it was the most fun Alfred had ever had while playing. He loved ‘accidentally’ brushing Edward’s hands and the sudden stop in the lower part after he would, or ‘forgetting’ that Edward was pedalling and nudging his love’s foot right off the pedal, laughing at Edward’s adorable indignation.

They managed to get through the whole of Schumann’s Bilder aus Osten simply because they both knew it quite well, at which point Edward gave up on playing, resting his head on Alfred’s shoulder and listening to Alfred play out his repertoire. The sun was fading through the curtains when a knock sounded on the door for the second time that day. Alfred stopped in the middle of Beethoven’s famous Quasi uni Fantasia , perplexed.

“Who is it?” He queried Edward, who had sat up suddenly.

“I have no clue!” Edward exclaimed. They looked at each other in confusion.

“Well, we had - erm - we had better get dressed.” They raced upstairs frantically, trying to be quiet so whoever was outside would not hear them. The newcomer was insistent, rapping on the door continuously, clearly not about to leave. Alfred paused when he realized that neither of them had seen one another undressed yet - and this moment was not going to be that time, he thought to himself. This was too rushed for the perfection he wanted for himself and Edward.

“You get into bed,” he hissed. “Not yet! Wait outside while I dress!” Edward stared and then backed out of the room. Alfred tugged his clothes on haphazardly, barely caring that they were crumpled and just wanting to resemble some vaguely decent form. He froze when he heard the front door open, and voices enter the house.

“Drummond!” A female voice called. “You are out of bed! The Palace was informed you are feeling better. I am sorry to call on you at such a time.” Alfred dropped his trousers so they fell down his legs, his hands beginning to shake. It was the Queen.

“Ah… Yes, much better, Your Majesty. I was only out to fetch some water… What brings you here, ma’am? May I be of service?” Alfred was still frozen to the spot as Edward’s voice sounded.

“Well, I wanted to have a conversation with you. Perhaps you would prefer to retire to your bed, though?” There was a pause in conversation and then the door opened. Alfred began moving as Edward entered, leaping into the cupboard frantically and closing the door. No one could know he was here, of all places. He heard the bed creaking slightly as Edward got in, and footsteps as the Queen and someone else - a lady in waiting? - entered and closed the door behind them.

“Now, Drummond, I am sorry about calling on you so indisposed. But there is something I wanted to ask you.” Alfred was incredibly nervous. His trousers were still at his knees, but he dared not pull them up for the noise. His hands were sweating profusely as he imagined Queen Victoria finding him with his trousers down hiding in Edward’s cupboard. It didn’t bear thinking about. And yet here I am.

“You may ask me anything, ma’am.”

“I wanted to ask… Well. I wanted to ask you about Albert.” Victoria’s voice trembled a little and Alfred was intrigued despite himself. What could the Queen need to ask Edward about concerning Albert?

“It’s just - well. He’s been off for the last few days, since you fell off your horse. And whenever I mention your name, he looks unhappy. I know I am overstepping my boundaries, Drummond, but I also know you are a good man. Have you done something to upset my husband?” Alfred could hear her voice shake with emotion. Whatever else was strange about her, she did love Albert very much.

“I’m afraid I have no clue why that could be, ma’am. So far as I remember, he has not spoken to me since my fall.” Edward sounded utterly bamboozled.

“Oh, I see. Well, that is a shame. Then I suppose I shall go.”

“I am sorry I couldn’t be of more assistance, ma’am.” Alfred accidentally lost his balance, stumbling in the cupboard and making a loud thumping noise as his elbow hit the side. He cursed inwardly, half fallen over, holding his position in some agony as he prayed that no one had noticed.

“Do you have anyone here, Drummond? I thought I heard something.” Alfred gnawed his lip anxiously. Just go away now, leave us, let me not be found, he prayed.

“Oh! That is probably just one of the cats you so kindly donated me, ma’am.” Alfred thanked the stars that Edward had managed to come up with a reasonable excuse.

“Oh, of course. Well, good day, Drummond. I do hope you recover your full health soon.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Good day.” The Queen left the room, but the second set of footsteps did not follow just yet.

“Where is Alfred?” Wilhelmina’s voice sounded. “He is not here, surely? You are not so foolhardy?” Alfred felt a great need to thump his head against the cupboard. Fate was particularly cruel today, it appeared.

“Of course not! He is at home.” Edward sounded almost as annoyed as Alfred.

“I went to visit him and they said he was not to be disturbed!”

“Because he’s not to be disturbed!” A tense pause ensued, followed by sharp angry footsteps leaving the room. As the door slammed, Alfred breathed out a sigh of relief. But he still waited until the front door was closed to push open the door of the cupboard and look at Edward, torn between a desire to laugh and the need to curse all women on the face of the earth. His love laughed rather a lot at the sight of him with his trousers down, but kissed him better after the humiliation Alfred had endured. It was rather nice, Alfred decided, to receive such a thorough reassurance as the one Edward gave him, kissing all over his face, his ears, his neck, his hands, up his arms, and starting to slip his hands up to Alfred’s half-buttoned shirt. Alfred tightened his grip on his love’s shoulders as Edward moved his mouth to Alfred’s ear, whispering.

“I think I should like to take you out to dinner, Alfred. My Alfred.” Alfred blushed and nodded fervently, nuzzling into Edward’s shoulder.

 

They both dressed - separately, of course - properly before leaving to Ciros. They ordered champagne and oysters again, as well as some more substantial food in the form of a wonderful meat pie. Alfred knew it was a very expensive restaurant, but with Edward looking deep in his eyes, the rich flavour of the food seeping over his tongue, the low lighting surrounding him like a blanket of peace and warmth, he felt it was worth it. Edward gripped his hand underneath the table when their meal was finished, tightly, and Alfred squeezed back, feeling he could not hold on tight enough. He was feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension at the fact that tonight would finally be the ominous later they had been speaking about.

He wanted to know Edward, to know all of him the way that married people did, but it didn’t stop him from being worried he might cock it all up. In the end, it was Edward’s arm in his as they left the restaurant - earlier than usual, to give them some time for certain other activities - that held him steady and stopped him from skyrocketing with desire and uncertainty. It was Edward’s eyes that looked deep into his as they closed the front door of Edward’s apartment behind them, barely bothering to be discreet for onlookers on the street, so wrapped up in each other they were. It was Edward’s mouth that whispered I love you as they embraced tightly out of the eye of the public. It was always Edward, everything was sweet and right and perfect with this man, and as they looked into each other’s eyes by the door, Alfred was suddenly certain that everything about this night was going to be perfect.

Chapter Text

Soft blue eyes sparkled out of the darkness at Edward, inviting him in. He went willingly, buoyant on good food and champagne, kissing his love with the sort of ease they had built up together. It was comforting, like a warm bath, familiar, like an old country road they knew together.

But tonight was going to be different.

It should have scared Edward, but it didn’t. His heart was excited, yes; slightly apprehensive about the mechanisms of their relations, yes; and oh so eager.

Alfred changed the kiss suddenly, in a direction the other man had never shown him before. He felt Alfred’s tongue push into his mouth, swirling patterns on the roof of it which drove Edward crazy. He could feel moans being elicited from the back of his throat, and tried desperately to kiss back, biting Alfred’s lip and tugging him closer. Alfred moaned too at that, seized Edward’s cravat and forced him back against the front door, pinning him there. Edward slid his hands into Alfred’s coat, rubbing against his chest, slipping one around his love’s neck and forcing him closer. The two men’s lips broke apart as they panted for breath, foreheads leant against each other.

“Bedroom?” Edward whispered, surprised by his own boldness. Alfred nodded once, as if he didn’t trust his body not to betray him with any more movement. Edward couldn’t resist bringing him in for one more kiss before seizing one arm in both his hands and all but dragging Alfred up the stairs. Alfred laughed at his enthusiasm, but followed rather quickly.

Once in the room, Edward shut the door, and turned to Alfred, unable to stop a grin from spreading across his face. He placed his hands on Alfred’s shoulders and pushed him back until he was forced to lie back on the bed, then sprang off and went around the room to light the candles he had left there earlier in preparation.

“You thought of this?” Alfred murmured in wonder. “I thought you were supposed to be the innocent one, my dear.”

“Candles are symbols of hope and purity, are they not?” Edward teased. He looked up as he finished lighting the last one to see an angel in his bed, dressed in formal wear he had borrowed from Edward which was therefore a little too big for him, his hair already beginning to get rumpled from Edward’s attentions. It was too much. Edward leapt forwards, straddling Alfred and pinning him to the bed.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” he chanted, caressing Alfred’s face, shoulders, chest, hands. “I will love you forever, and now - let me prove it to you.” Alfred’s eyes sparkled up at him with adoration plain as day.

“You don’t have to prove it to me,” he said in a half hearted sort of voice. It was almost as if his attention was more taken by the sight of Edward than their conversation at that moment. Edward leaned forwards so his lips were brushing against the other man’s.

“But I want to,” he all but growled. He felt Alfred shiver, and he thought it might have brought him more joy than anything ever had. Alfred sat up, pushing Edward up as well, and bit his own lip, bringing his hands up to slip Edward’s jacket off. Next came the cravat, soft hands brushing Edward’s neck as the silk was loosened. Alfred tossed it to the other side of the room, only looking away from his love to check it did not hit a candle. Then blue eyes were back on him and Edward was paralysed as Alfred took one of his suspenders and lightly pinged it against his chest in what was clearly a seductive manner.

If he wants to seduce me, it is working well, was all Edward could think.

Alfred tugged the suspenders off Edward’s shoulders so there was no obstacle to his shirt. Edward heard the other man make a sort of half moan half sigh, and suddenly his shirt had been ripped off, buttons popping, Alfred grinning up at him with a devilish glint in his eye.

“I’ve wanted to do that since the moment I first saw you,” Alfred whispered. Edward’s heart juddered frantically, and he scrabbled at Alfred’s clothing, not caring about dignity any more, just that Alfred’s skin must be against his own. Soon jacket, bowtie, and shirt were all removed, leaving both men only with undershirts. Edward shuffled down the bed so his head was on Alfred’s stomach, pushing the other man to lie down again, and began kissing his stomach, slowly and slowly upwards, pushing the shirt off as he went. It was lovely to hear the whimpering sounds he could make Alfred emit, as well as a gasp when Edward took one of Alfred’s nipples in his teeth, rolling it around with his tongue before testing out a little bite. Alfred moaned and grabbed Edward’s hair, pulling him up the bed to kiss him properly, mouths hungrily working as Edward finally removed Alfred’s undershirt. Alfred, however, was not as patient with Edward’s own garment, and ripped it again, pushing it off roughly. He suddenly made a rolling motion with his hips that forced Edward to fall onto his side and then his back as Alfred rolled on top, maneuvering so that Edward was suddenly pinned to the bed. Alfred kissed him desperately, moving his hips in a way that he never had, so that Edward was suddenly sure his love had been holding out on him this whole time.

His hips were sliding, rutting, against Edward, and there was nothing he could do to stop his own body from responding. Underneath his thick dress pants, he felt his cock spring to attention with the friction, and his hips began making jerky movements of their own.

“Alfred,” he gasped. “Alfred, I need, I need… I need you.” Alfred nodded fervently and slid his way down Edward’s chest, slowly, far too slowly. He gentled his kisses so that by the time he was kissing Edward’s lower stomach they were merely pecks, little presses of heat. Edward moaned with desire, bucking his hips up in desperation for contact.

“Shhh, shhh, hold on my darling,” Alfred murmured soothingly. “The longer this takes, the longer we have to enjoy ourselves.” Blue eyes shot him a look of longing and Edward quietened, leaning his head back against the pillow and enjoying the little kisses Alfred was giving him. When Alfred licked a long stripe along the top of his trousers, from hipbone to hipbone, he gasped, and shuddered violently, moving a hand to his love’s hair to hold onto him. Alfred looked back up, eyes suddenly questioning. His hand moved to Edward’s trouser button. Edward nodded. He had never been more sure of anything in his life. Alfred smiled slowly, a heated, possessive look that Edward had never seen before coming on his face. Edward loved it. Alfred took the button in one hand and gently popped it. He continued down the buttons and hooks, until finally, finally, the trousers were undone. Edward lifted up his backside so that Alfred could slip them off, working them off his feet and throwing the garment to the floor.

“Okay?” Alfred whispered into the silence.

“Okay,” Edward replied, barely daring to breathe. “Now you!” he demanded in a somewhat more petulant voice. Alfred laughed, restoring some of the air to the room.

“Now me,” he agreed. Edward grinned as his lover clambered back up over him, and worked underneath Alfred to disengage the buttons, his fingers trembling with excitement and fumbling altogether too much to be dignified.

“I… Hate… Buttons,” he declared as the last one finally came loose after an effort. Alfred grinned and kissed his cheek fondly, hampering Edward’s efforts to slide the trousers off of Alfred. But in the end, they ended up next to Edward’s pair on the floor too, and both men were dressed in only their drawers.

“But you… love… me,” Alfred teased him gently, kissing his other cheek.

“I do, Alfred. I really do,” Edward promised.

“I know. I love you too,” Alfred mumbled as he bumped his nose against Edward’s. Alfred let his body rest on Edward’s, and suddenly Edward could feel his partner’s excitement pressed against his leg.

“Oh, Alfred,” he groaned, beginning to move underneath his lover slowly. He ground up as Alfred ground down, each moving gently so as not to escalate things too quickly. A feeling hot as a furnace built up inside him, warming him from his heart and cock outwards. His brain, on the other hand, was quickly melting into uselessness. All he could do was grasp Alfred and move against him, gently, slowly.

“I love you,” Alfred said in a strained voice. “Edward, I love you, forever.” Edward was in no state to reply, but moved instead to kiss Alfred, rolling him onto his side so they were lying next to each other. This would make it easier to - oh.

Alfred was one step ahead of Edward and had moved his hand down to Edward’s stiffness.

“Ready?” Alfred whispered.

“You may… You may assume that,” Edward responded breathlessly. Alfred’s hand closed around his cock through the cotton and gently stroked. Edward felt his eyes roll back into his head and his hands dug into Alfred’s hips, clinging to any part of his lover they could.

“Off,” demanded Edward the first moment he could speak. “Off!” Alfred huffed in amusement and slowly moved down the bed again. He took the drawstrings of Edward’s drawers in his teeth , for God’s sake, this man would be the end of him, and pulled. Miraculously, they came loose. Alfred took a deep breath, and slid off the drawers, freeing Edward’s erection. Edward would have blushed and been most embarrassed if he hadn’t been so terribly aroused. He leaned into his love, holding Alfred’s hair against his stomach, stroking and clawing through it.

“You are so beautiful, love,” Alfred whispered. “I think tonight, I have uncovered your disguise. You are an angel!” Edward laughed breathlessly and drew Alfred’s head back so he could see his love’s face.

“Do you know, I was thinking the very same thing about you?” Edward said. Alfred’s eyes sparkled and his hands wandered over to Edward’s stomach. “Why are you still wearing those?” Edward questioned, pointing at Alfred’s drawers. Alfred blushed and reached down to remove them, revealing pale and perfect arse cheeks gleaming in the candlelight. Edward had waited forever to see this, and he now pulled Alfred upwards so he could run his hand lovingly over them, causing Alfred to gasp in delight.

“My angel,” he murmured into Alfred’s shoulder. He moved his hand to Alfred’s hip, further along until it came upon an obstacle. He looked down as he moved to caress Alfred’s erection, admiring his lover’s thickness and length. He had often wondered why exactly men were said to enjoy intimate activities so much; well, now he had his answer. There could be nothing better than this.

Alfred took Edward’s cock in hand too and they slowly fondled, stroking, slow and careful. Edward felt that feeling again, the irrepressible burning spreading through him like lava. It was changing everything, the way that he was, freeing him in ways he never could have imagined. It was almost too perfect just to lie here, slowly stroking his lover, looking deep into Alfred’s eyes and falling deeper and deeper in love.

The moment was not broken but advanced when Alfred descended again, a promise in his eyes.

“I would like to kiss you here… Without interruptions this time,” Alfred whispered. True to his word, he leaned forwards with one hand to steady Edward’s cock, and gently kissed the tip. Edward inhaled sharply. Alfred smiled and slowly licked his lips. He is the most wanton angel that ever there was, Edward thought to himself.

“Indeed I am,” Alfred murmured. Did I say that out loud? Edward wondered before his thoughts were interrupted by Alfred’s lips closing around the head of his cock, gently sucking, his tongue covering the sensitive tip.

Edward’s thoughts spiraled helplessly. He thought he might have died and gone to heaven, when he felt it get better. He opened his eyes to see Alfred’s mouth sliding further down his cock. He felt Alfred’s tongue lick along the bottom of his erection, and he couldn’t help but moan in bliss, jerking his hips minutely. Alfred brought his hands to Edward’s arse, and Edward groaned again as Alfred retracted and slid down his cock once more. He watched his lover’s perfect mouth tighten and loosen as he sucked up and down, up and down, pausing to savour the head every now and again, and Edward felt the feeling growing, growing, ever growing. It was less of a slow burn and more like wildfire chasing through his veins, so that when Alfred brought his hand forwards to cup Edward’s balls, he felt his hands clench into fists, and his hips jerk right forwards.

“Alfred - Alfred -” he gasped, and then he came, trying desperately not to gag his lover as he thrust into Alfred’s throat, the wildfire burning into an explosion which caused him to see white, a feeling of ecstasy flowing without bound within him, his body convulsing with bliss, and then relaxing into oblivion as he floated high on the clouds.

Heaven was the first coherent word he thought. Alfred was the next as he opened his eyes a fraction to see Alfred swallow with some difficulty, dropping Edward’s softening cock from his mouth and crawling up the bed to embrace his love.

“You are truly… Truly the most amazing… The most amazing being that ever has lived. You are beautiful, Edward, do you know that?” Edward sighed with happiness and pressed his head into Alfred’s shoulder as the other man pulled him on top to better cuddle him, stroking his back softly as Edward felt the ripples of his pleasure fade out by his fingertips. He nuzzled against Alfred’s chest happily, content to fall asleep like this - when he remembered.

“Alfred!” he gasped suddenly. “You have not - not - er…”

“Well…” Alfred looked sheepish. “I may have, erm, undertaken that myself just as you did.” Edward felt a smile spread across his own face at that idea. “I couldn’t resist you, my darling. I had to get my release as I watched you… You are so beautiful, Edward. My Edward.” Edward smiled, so helplessly in love with the man, and kissed his chest softly for want of a better place to kiss.

“You are the beautiful one,” Edward assured Alfred. Alfred smiled, and it seemed to Edward that all the stars in the world must be in those two blue eyes at that moment. Edward settled his head back against Alfred’s chest, and allowed himself to drift off to sleep, his whole body aching with contentment, his veins burnt out but in the sort of way that made Edward only want to do it all over again.

 

---

 

Alfred wanted to do it all over again. He watched Edward sleep, his eyes closed, slight whistles emitting from his mouth as he slept. His lover had been so beautiful, so entranced, so purely happy that Alfred was amazed they had not done this before. It was with this vague sense of indignation at the stupidity of his past self, but overwhelmingly a deep feeling of contentment, that Alfred too fell asleep.

 

Alfred woke to soft light streaming through the tiny window at the top of Edward’s bedroom wall. He felt wonderful. The world was peaceful, he had Edward in between his legs and - and Edward’s mouth was on his cock. He was already hard ( when did that happen? ) and as Edward’s tongue swirled around the base of his erection, he felt his hips begin to judder.

“Morning, love,” Edward hummed through a mouthful of Alfred’s cock. Alfred groaned at how Edward’s speaking seemed to vibrate through his erection, and gently thrust against the roof of Edward’s mouth, the sweet, sweet friction sending excitement coursing through his veins. He heard a strangled noise come from the back of his throat, and Edward seemed to take this as encouragement to keep going, speeding up his tongue licking all the way around Alfred’s cock.

“I love you,” the other man murmured, making that curious sensation again. “Forever mine. My Alfred.” Alfred made a choked noise as his emotions caught up with his arousal, feelings of love and adoration enhancing the already-overwhelming desire he felt.

This wasn’t going to last too long.

Alfred tried desperately not to thrust as his body became totally overwhelmed by his feelings, that familiar feeling of arousal flowing through him but multiplied tenfold by Edward, and failed, causing Edward to gag slightly.

“Sorry!” he gasped hastily. Edward only sucked more determinedly, copying Alfred from last night and sliding up and down Alfred’s burning erection. It was not long until Alfred came with a shout of exhilaration, arching his back, his cock thrusting deep into Edward’s throat. As he resurfaced from his beautiful, beautiful orgasm, he realized Edward was spluttering slightly, some milky white liquid slipping from the corner of his mouth. Alfred breathed out a sigh of pure happiness at the sight. I made that happen, he told himself with glee. As his afterglow burned bright within him, he saw Edward use his tongue to lick up the spilt semen from the corner of his mouth.

It was impossible for Alfred to get hard again right now - but if anything could have done it, that would. He watched his lover with all the adoration in the world, and Edward crawled up the bed to kiss him lazily. Alfred did his best to respond, but was sure his mouth was somewhat lagging in the kiss as his nerves still reverberated with his wonderful wake-up present.

“Good morning, Edward,” he murmured as he came back to himself. “That was… That was really quite wonderful,” he said.

“You are really quite wonderful,” Edward said, bringing a pause to the kiss. “And that - all of last night, it was… It was everything, Alfred. Heavenly. You… I don’t know how to thank you.”

“I think you just did,” noted Alfred amusedly. They both laughed, each revelling in the other’s tones. It was the closest Alfred had ever felt to Edward. They were truly one here, lying in the golden morning light, giggling gently, hands wandering over each other’s chests and shoulders.

“You are my everything,” Alfred whispered.

“As you are mine,” Edward replied, his eyes flicking to Alfred’s. They looked at each other for a moment before Alfred worked up the nerve to ask his question.

“Edward… Do you believe in God?”

“What sort of question is that…? We all go to church, do we not?” Edward looked confused but only vaguely so, the happiness that surrounded them both shining through on his face.

“I mean, really. Do you really believe that God is watching us right now?” Alfred watched his lover carefully.

“Well, if He is… I don’t see how he could think this is a sin.” Edward’s face was more serious now. “We are both so happy, and this is simply the most glorious moment of my life, Alfred. You are mine and I am yours and - well - if God will not accept that, then I think you shall be my God for now. You are all I need.” Alfred smiled, his eyes watering slightly.

“You should write the Bible for us, though,” Alfred stated mock-seriously. “You are far more eloquent than I.” Edward grinned and kissed Alfred’s forehead, stroking his ruffled hair back to expose the skin. “You are right, Edward. This happiness could never be a sin. And I should definitely be a God.” Edward laughed and hugged Alfred closer, causing Alfred’s heart to do a happy little jump.

It was no longer scary, Alfred realized. Touching Edward felt like touching a bed he had slept in since he was a child, for he knew him better than anything. But just because it was not scary did not mean it had no meaning. He knew every inch of his love’s body now, and it was everything to him, in the way that home was where you lived, in the way that a child belonged with their parents.

Edward was everything to him in the way that was right and true and good.

Alfred would happily keep on committing his so-called sins until the grave, for this kind of joy was the only thing he could ever truly value in his life again.

Chapter Text

“Albert, you really must tell me what on earth the matter is,” Victoria said suddenly. She and her husband were curled up on a rare and blissful late morning lie in. “You’ve been so different recently. Something is bothering you, I know it is.” Albert sighed slightly, avoiding her eyes.

“It is nothing, Liebes.” Victoria rolled her eyes in exasperation. Albert really was a terrible liar.

“I know that it is not. Why are you hiding this from me?” she demanded.

“It may not be in your best interests to know this, ’Toria. I do not even know if my suspicions have grounding in fact.” Albert sounded unusually disgruntled at this. Victoria laughed quietly.

“You are unsure of something? Well, in that case I simply must know.” But her husband shook his head.

“No, Victoria. In this case it is essential to wait for truth. I will try not to appear so distracted, though, for I think you have been feeling my absence more than intended.” Victoria nodded at that only slightly sulkily, and Albert smiled a little ruefully.

“Come on, then. Let us begin the day with a ride out!” She bounced out of bed, dragging her naked husband after with glee.

“Oh! I thought we would start with the sanitation commission…” But when Victoria turned to him, frowning, his eyes were sparkling with mirth.

“Don’t tease me, Albert!” He laughed and she hit him gently on the arm, glad that he was in high spirits again.

 

---

 

In a much less grandiose room, two men were also just waking to find a glorious day ahead of them to be filled with golden memories. Edward had slipped off to sleep after his impromptu waking of Alfred, and now found his love stirring sleepily again.

“Morning,” Alfred mumbled. Edward hadn’t realized that sleeping naked was something that people ever did and much less that it would be something he enjoyed, some part of him assuming that their nightclothes would end up back on them after the act.

What an act it had been.

Edward had thoroughly enjoyed their relations , for want of a better word. He felt almost reborn by the deed, the spark that kindled him whenever he was near Alfred finally fully satisfied. The word consummated had never made so much sense to him before. And finally, finally, finally, he was no longer innocent. It was strange how proud of it he was. If Alfred had not been the one to strip his innocence from him, he would have wanted to tell his love all about it immediately.

“Edward?” Alfred nuzzled further into him from where he lay nestled into Edward, half on top of him, half on the bed.

“Good morning, love,” Edward replied, kissing the top of his lover’s head gently. “Though I fear it may not actually be morning now.” Alfred groaned a little and clung tighter to Edward, clearly protesting the thought of getting up.

“I never want this to end,” Alfred murmured, his fingers stroking over Edward’s shoulders gently. Edward sighed happily, feeling quite the same.

“We can do it all over again tonight, you know,” he told Alfred. “And the night after… And the night after… Always.”

“I look forward to that,” Alfred said with some more of his usual eloquent tones, propping himself up on his elbows on the bed, shuffling off Edward. “Do you know, I’m rather hungry. Scones?” Edward nodded eagerly, and so after a quick greeting kiss which turned into perhaps a little longer of a greeting kiss than it should have, they pulled their soft cotton drawers and headed down to the kitchen to eat the scones from yesterday.

 

The day passed in a soft haze of bliss. They played with Champagne and Tinderbox; they played the piano and laughed as the kittens tried to join in, sounding awful, but having a lovely time of it; and they pleasured each other as often as they could. By late afternoon, Alfred was feeling quite spent, and honestly like it might be rather difficult if they were going to try it all again that afternoon. But he was infused with Edward. His love was all around him - he swore he could even smell Edward’s unique, heady scent on his own skin - and Alfred had never been happier. He’d thought that quite a lot recently. It is all Edward. And it was true. Edward made his life better in ways he had never thought possible. Alfred just hoped with desperation that his life would not plummet back suddenly to the dull monotony it had been before. He voiced his worry to Edward that afternoon as they sat eating some bread and butter, having tired of scones rather quickly, but neither having enough effort after their various exertions to cook anything more complex.

“You don’t think this is all too good to be true?” he said. Edward looked up, licking some stray butter from the top of his lip. God, he looked good when he did that.

“You mean, us? Today?” Alfred nodded. Edward looked thoughtful. “I think there is no reason we cannot do this forever, Alfred. It is not as if anyone suspects anything.” Alfred smiled weakly, not entirely reassured.

“Well, Wilhelmina knows. And the Prince and Queen themselves do not seem to be totally convinced with all these false engagement rumours going about.” Edward frowned.

“But no one could even think of such a thing! I could barely think of it even as I was falling in love with you,” he confessed. Alfred bit his lip to keep from smiling and cooing. Edward really was too adorable for words.

“Because you do not possess a mind that thinks these things over,” Alfred explained. “Some minds are always on the lookout for gossip, rumours, misdemeanours… I would bet that the Duchess of Buccleuch is one such woman.” Edward laughed.

“If she suspects, we are truly damned,” he admitted. “So it is a good thing we know she does not.”

“And how do you know that?” Alfred asked. Edward leaned forward to tap Alfred’s nose lovingly as he spoke.

“For if she did, she would no doubt have brought us some of that infamous cock-a-leekie soup to soothe our depraved minds.” Alfred laughed, tipping his head upwards suddenly to lick Edward’s finger on his nose. Edward cried out and jolted back in surprise as Alfred chortled all the more.

“You’re too easy to surprise!” Alfred scolded. “Have some foresight, my dear.”

“But is not that what I have you for?” Edward asked mock-solemnly, batting his eyelashes. Alfred hummed in agreement and bestowed a kiss upon both of his lover’s cheeks, causing Edward to blush beautifully.

The door chose that exact moment to swing open. Alfred rose to his feet expectantly.

“Ah, doctor, we were expecting you earlier - oh…” His voice fell away as he took in the disastrous situation suddenly unfolding.

Wilhelmina stood in the doorway, dressed up for a day at court, her hair perfectly curled and parted… And here Alfred was with Edward, both of them wearing only their drawers. The woman emitted a tiny squeak and gave Alfred a look of pure betrayal before slowly backing out of the kitchen. Alfred swore violently. This was really not what he needed right now. He and Edward exchanged looks and a hurried whispered conversation, resulting in the fact that Alfred ought to be the one to talk to her. He knew her better - but this did not mean the conversation he was about to undergo was something he was particularly looking forwards to. He peeked his head around the door to see Wilhelmina looking terribly awkward in the hallway, her head bowed and face flushed bright red.

“Wilhelmina?” he said softly. She jumped and looked up at him. “I am… I am sorry if you were startled.” She took a deep breath.

“Startled wouldn’t be the right word, Alfred. I don’t believe it.” She looked him right in the eyes as he properly exited the kitchen, closing the door behind him. “You are such a good man. How can you have abused yourself and Edward in such a way? It is not right. You know that.” Her eyes bored into him. Alfred took a deep breath, and gestured to the sitting room door.

“Perhaps we had better sit down. If you’ll just wait through there, I can get some, er, clothes on.” He dashed upstairs before she could reply, just long enough to throw on a flannel shirt and take a dressing gown so she would not be embarrassed to look on him. Then he came back down the stairs, into the sitting room, to find her sitting on Edward’s plush blue armchair. Alfred pushed away the vivid memory of earlier that afternoon when he had brought Edward to climax in that very chair in a rush of hands and lips and teeth.

“Alfred. I want you to explain to me exactly what is going on.” Wilhelmina was in no mood to be trifled with, it appeared.

“Well. Wilhelmina, I hate to say this, but it is not - it is not what it looks like. We have both been sick,” - there was his first outright lie - “and you will surely understand that we have slipped into the habit of not wearing formal attire all the time. I am not sure what you think it means, but whatever may have cause to offend you so, I assure you it is not the case.” Alfred met her eyes with his chin raised, determined to get away with his second lie. Yes, she was his childhood friend. But she would not keep their secret if she knew them to be criminals.

“Alfred, do not lie to me! You swore you would not… Well.” Wilhelmina looked terribly uncomfortable.

“Yes?” Alfred inquired as if about the weather.

“You swore you would not commit sodomy! Such acts cannot be done even outside of marriage, and for you and Edward that will never be!” She looked terrified to be standing up to him but equally determined. He sighed inwardly. This might be difficult.

“And I have not broken my word! I know we will not ever be married, and I cannot believe you think I would dirty Edward so. Such an act would be… Despicable.” It hurt to say it. He had to, but he felt as if his heart was ripping into pieces. The glorious morning, full of promises and commitment and love and most wonderful of all, sex , seemed altogether too long ago. But Wilhelmina looked slightly reassured.

“Oh… Alfred, I did not want to believe it. Swear to me, on God and all that is holy, that you are not lying.” She seized his hand and held it in both of her own. He looked at her and steeled himself mentally.

“I swear I am not lying, and I have not committed sodomy with Edward. Nor do I have any intentions of doing so,” he added at her raised eyebrows. But she looked satisfied well enough.

“Thank goodness. But why are you not yet back at the Palace?” Her face shone up at him so innocently, Alfred felt terrible for lying… But not terrible enough to confess.

“The doctor, erm, thought we ought to rest a little more before returning to our duties. But we are much better now as you can see; we should be back soon.” Alfred cursed inwardly. He had been putting off the thought of having to leave the safe haven of Edward’s home.

“Oh, I see.” She looked as if she were having an internal struggle before bursting out, “Alfred, do you think I’m pretty?” Alfred blinked, sure he could not have heard her right.

“Do I think you are… pretty?”

“Yes.” She looked pained.

“Wilhelmina, you are, oh, shall we say… Quite personable.” He smiled at her, wondering if she would remember, and was relieved when she giggled.

“Quite as personable as Florence?”

“Quite,” he smiled at her. She giggled again, before her expression turned serious once more. What is it now, Alfred thought exasperatedly.

“The thing is, Alfred, I meant to say sorry for the other day. When I threatened to expose you. I would never, ever, do that, perhaps not even if you had become a criminal. I don’t want you to be unhappy, I truly do not… But I just…” To Alfred’s horror there were tears sparkling in her eyes. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to her, which she gratefully took, wiping her eyes. “Oh, thank you. I was just - just jealous.” And with that, she began sobbing quietly, leaning against Alfred’s shoulder. “I want to redeem you, Alfred. This thing, whatever it is, with Edward… It will not last forever.” She hiccupped and did not seem to notice that Alfred had gone very tense, his hands clenching into fists. “You must know that,” she carried on. “You must. And, well, it is not part of God’s plan for you. I have prayed and prayed and come to the conclusion that all should be well if you and Edward are engaged to I and Florence once more, and -,” but Alfred could bear it no longer.

“No! Wilhelmina, I will not put myself through that. I would not put you through it either, for I could never truly love you. Such wonderful ladies as you and Florence, you deserve better!” he exclaimed. He looked at Wilhelmina, who suddenly seemed terribly close. He didn’t realize it was going to happen until it did - she pressed her tear-salted lips against his and he froze in alarm, feeling nothing except a strange fleshy sensation against his mouth. She moved her mouth against his as he sat rigid, trying to get some response from him. When it became clear that none was forthcoming, she broke the kiss and ran from the room, beginning to sob in earnest. Alfred heard the front door slam behind her, and still he sat in shock. He was beginning to get a strange crawling sensation in his face, and it felt oddly as though his lungs weren’t working.

It definitely was not in a good way.

All of a sudden, Edward was there by his side, and Alfred couldn’t remember how that had even happened, and his love was holding his face and asking what was wrong. He tried to speak, but all his words were oddly fuzzy. Eventually things came properly into focus again, and Alfred realized he was lying down on the couch with Edward crouched, hovering, beside him.

“I… She kissed me,” he mumbled. Edward stared at him in miscomprehension.

“Wilhelmina? She kissed you? Why?” But Alfred didn’t want to think about it.

“Dunno… Oh, Edward… I only want to kiss you. ” He looked up at Edward and felt awful, for her lips on his, it had contaminated him somehow. Would Edward blame him for it? He might feel Alfred was dirty, for Alfred certainly did.

“How dare she make you feel this way,” Edward whispered, his face contorting with rage. “I ought to go after her and…” Alfred shook his head frantically and pulled Edward closer.

“No, no, don’t leave me! Edward!” Edward sighed but gripped his love’s hand back.

“I’m sorry,” Alfred murmured, pushing his face into his shoulder in shame. “I didn’t realize what she was going to do… I’m sorry…” But Edward was combing through his hair soothingly, smiling reassuringly.

“It’s not your fault, my love,” he said in a soothing tone. “It’s going to be fine, yes?” But Alfred did not feel fine. It was silly, he knew, to get so worked up over a kiss that must have lasted for only a few seconds. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, he felt absolutely terrible about it. He reached his arms around Edward, pulling his lover down and hugging him tight.

“I love you,” he sniffled. “I love you, Edward.” Edward chuckled and petted his hair gently as he pulled out of the hug.

“I love you too, Alfred. Now come on, let’s go and take your mind off that silly girl. Shall we play the piano?” Alfred nodded weakly, taking Edward’s hand to get up.

“But first, perhaps we should get dressed. We have had altogether too many surprise visitors for my liking.” Alfred was pleased to hear his voice was relatively steady, his senses coming back somewhat.

“That is… That is probably a good idea,” Edward admitted.

 

And so it was that when Dr. Dubois came to visit - much later than usual, the sun had nearly set - they were both dressed properly. Alfred was teaching Edward the finer points of a particularly pleasant Schubert duet. They heard the door open and close, and Alfred turned away from the music, his hands brushing against Edward’s for an unnecessary but wonderful length of time.

“Doctor! We were beginning to wonder if you had not forgotten us,” Alfred greeted him.

“I ’ave not,” Dr. Dubois said curtly. “’Owever, I was wondering if you had perhaps changed your mind about a little outing… You are both dressed so well, we could go now, perchance?” Alfred glanced at Edward, who, like him, had clearly forgotten all about the strange invitation last night.

“Erm…” Alfred began hesitantly.

“Oh, come now! I know zat you will enjoy it,” the Frenchman said greasily. He waggled his finger knowingly at the pair of them. “You Eenglish are so wrapped up in your teeny lives! Try it. Try it!” He held out his arms like a great bird, clearly trying to be encouraging. Edward gave Alfred a curious expression. Oh no. Alfred had had great plans of a quiet night in (again), indulging himself in Edward (yet more), and insisting Edward teach him recipes (for the third time that day). He quickly widened his eyes, hoping to appeal to his love, but Edward had already turned away.

“What exactly is the establishment you mean to bring us to?” It was hopeless, Alfred knew. Edward was clearly intrigued by the whole affair.

“Ah, but why don’t you come and find out for yourself?” said Dr. Dubois sweetly. “You are quite well, after all, my dear Edward.” Alfred stiffened slightly at the term of endearment that he himself had been scared to say to his beloved at first. “If you come, I can keep the Queen in the dark of your good health… Perhaps another week at home would suit you, no?” Dr. Dubois bared his teeth in what was clearly meant to be a sign of encouragement. Now Edward turned to Alfred, employing those damned molten eyes on him, imploring him to go. Alfred huffed and rolled his eyes, but he knew when to give up.

“All right! If you’re really set on this…” Edward grinned broadly, leaning forwards to kiss him on both cheeks in glee.

“Excellent! We’ll just go and get our jackets and be with you, doctor,” Edward said. Dr. Dubois bowed his head in acknowledgement as the pair of them set off up the stairs. As they pulled on their jackets, Alfred whispered hurriedly to his love.

“Now, don’t stray too far from me, promise?” But Edward only gave him an exasperated look.

“I don’t need you to nanny me, Alfred. I seem to remember doing that for you just a few hours ago.” Alfred recoiled at the harsh comment, looking up at his love to see Edward looking defiant. “I am not a child!” his love insisted, looking for all the world like a petulant toddler. Alfred sighed.

“I know you’re not,” he began soothingly.

“No, really! You don’t have to be scared I’ll run off, or - or something!” Edward’s voice was growing louder. Alfred bit his lip anxiously.

“Edward! I know you’re not a child! I’m only… I’m only scared of what kind of people might be there,” Alfred admitted. But his sweetheart only raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, for how could Lord Alfred Paget mix with untitled society,” Edward muttered, leaving the room with a sweep of his coat. Alfred stood there with his mouth open, wondering just how the hell he had ruined their mood in a few moments.

“Edward!” he called, running out to the landing. But Edward was already downstairs, waiting with Dr. Dubois, looking impatient.

“Well, come on then!” Edward exclaimed, opening the front door and striding out. Dr. Dubois followed shortly after, and Alfred cursed as he had to hurry down the stairs to get to the door before it slammed shut on him. Outside, Dr. Dubois led the way, but Edward made sure to keep one pace ahead of Alfred. Alfred was too scared to grab his arm and force him to listen in public, so he kept his distance, his insides raging with worry. Edward had never really been angry at him before, not like this.

But, he admitted to himself, it wasn’t all bad. Edward made a fine picture looking all solemn and haughty, his cheekbones defined, his eyes narrowed. Just because his love was angry at him didn’t mean he couldn’t admire the view. When Edward flicked his eyes to see Alfred staring at him, he blushed slightly and looked straight ahead again determinedly. Alfred smiled to himself. For a grown man, Edward could be really quite childish sometimes.

 

They halted outside a dank alleyway that smelt primarily of mould and human waste. Alfred wrinkled his nose in disgust, wondering exactly where the entrance to this place was, and if the people inside would smell any better. Edward looked a little scared.

“Dr. Dubois…?” Edward began. The squat man squinted at him.

“Gabriel, please! Zis way… Keep quiet, we do not want to attract attention.” He set off down the alleyway, leaving Alfred and Edward standing awkwardly. Edward half glanced at Alfred, then marched determinedly off too, leaving Alfred with no choice but to follow, picking his way carefully so as not to step in the discoloured piles of muck.

His heart was thumping horribly now.

What if they were caught? It was, he realized now, not an unreasonable scenario. Surely the police would conduct raids on this sort of place from time to time. What happened if they were found there…

But Alfred’s morbid thoughts were swept away as Dr. Dubois looked around and quickly stepped through a large iron door. Edward bit his lip but refused to make eye contact with Alfred, stepping through too. Alfred took a deep breath and followed, expecting to see - well, something. Anything. It grew as Alfred’s eyes adjusted from pitch black to a clear large wooden shed - like a warehouse.

“Where are we?” demanded Alfred. He was tired of this. “Are you entirely sure we are not on a wild goose chase?” Dr. Dubois laughed, much to Alfred’s irritation.

“No wild geese, I promise you. Zis way, zis way!” He set off again, Alfred practically stomping along in his wake. Edward caught up to him and took his arm. Alfred would have been delighted at this contact a few minutes ago, but now it just made him bitter.

“What?” he snapped.

“Maybe you were right, Alfred. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” Edward whispered. Alfred rolled his eyes.

“Thanks to you, we’re here now.” He pulled his arm out of Edward’s, more infuriated with the dangerous position they had found themselves in than anything. They were completely at the mercy of Dr. Dubois, who they hardly knew. And yet - the man had stopped in front of a door. They could hear talking coming clearly from it. Alfred exchanged a nervous glance with Edward. He wasn’t sure what made him more nervous: the fact that there actually was such an establishment, or the thought they were going to go into it.

Suddenly his anger at Edward seemed terribly unfounded and unreasonable.

He took Edward’s hand in his own, squeezing it tight, and was most relieved when Edward squeezed back, smiling at him happily. Dr. Dubois cleared his throat impatiently.

“Are we quite ready to go in, my boys?” And without further ado, the little man threw open the door and waltzed in, Edward and Alfred following, still holding hands.

“Welcome… To ze Molly House!” Dr. Dubois exclaimed.

Well, it was not so different, after all. It was much like many taverns Alfred had visited before; it had chairs, tables, and a bar. But there were no serving girls for other men to ogle. No, there were men instead - boys in some instances. Alfred could see one who looked no more than twelve. But there were men of his age serving too. They were not wearing very much at all - one was only wearing very tightly fitting cotton drawers with suspenders, and bare feet too! Alfred couldn’t help his eyes from flicking to the obvious bulge in those drawers before glancing away, furious with himself, and looked up at Edward. His love’s mouth was hanging open; in shock, awe, or happiness, Alfred was not sure. Edward swung his head around to look at Alfred, his eyes wide.

“Why aren’t they wearing anything?” he hissed frantically. Alfred felt his mouth curve into a smile involuntarily.

“I think it is for us to look upon,” he said softly, trying not to laugh. Edward looked scandalised. Dr. Dubois smirked at them and seized Edward’s other hand, dragging them through the crowd of suited men to an empty table.

“Eet is not started yet,” Dr. Dubois muttered as they were seated. “I think you will appreciate it, once it does.” He winked specifically at Edward. Alfred realized that the Frenchman was still grasping Edward’s hand, while the other party was still staring at the serving men, clearly oblivious to the contact. Alfred felt a twinge of annoyance.

“Edward?” he tried, looking up at his love. To his relief, Edward looked down at him, extricating his hand from the doctor’s.

“Alfred?”

“How are you finding the, erm… the view?” Alfred asked, smiling. Edward grinned.

“Well, it is more to my taste than I thought…” Edward bent down to whisper into Alfred’s ear. “But nothing on what I have seen in my bed last night.” Alfred couldn’t help himself from blushing and smiling like a lovesick puppy up at Edward.

“Oho, so these are the new ones, Gabriel?” A booming voice sounded from above them, and Alfred jumped in shock before registering an altogether too familiar figure above him. He looked in shock at the man’s face, not daring to believe it, then glanced frantically back at Edward, who looked shell-shocked.

“Yes, my dear sir, zis is Lord A., and E. D. We find it easier to use acronyms ’ere, so as not to expose ourselves unnecessarily,” he explained to his oblivious audience. Alfred was still staring in disbelief at the man in front of them. Dr. Dubois seemed to catch on as the newcomer stared at Alfred and Edward that there was something going on. “... Is zere something I am not aware of? Love at first sight, perhaps?”

Alfred and Edward burst out laughing, giggling hysterically. It was too much to take in. For there in front of them, now also chortling along merrily, stood Sir Robert Peel.

Chapter Text

“Well, it is not so surprising to find you two here!” Sir Robert exclaimed, sitting down at their table. Edward frowned a little.

“But why is it not surprising? We were very surprised to see you, as you might have gathered,” Edward said in confusion.

“Well, once you’ve been here a while, you start to see things you might otherwise not have seen,” Sir Robert surmised rather grandly. “You begin to be able to recognize one of us.” Edward laughed at that, thinking he would very much like to learn this trick.

“How has your retirement been going?” Edward asked jovially, clapping Sir Robert on the shoulder. They had been close friends for years, and he was just realizing how much he had missed the man recently.

“Oh, alright… My children keep on coming to visit, worried I’m lonely.” Edward smiled sympathetically. Sir Robert’s wife had passed away at the young age of 37. “But if I’m honest, while Ellen was a great friend to me, when she was alive, this sort of thing was, erm, not possible.” Sir Robert looked sheepish at that. Edward suddenly remembered that Alfred was there, his lover’s hand tightening around his arm, and looked around to see him looking rather lost. Edward smiled reassuringly, pleased to have the upper hand in a conversation for once.

“I did not know you were, um…” Edward wasn’t quite sure what the right word to use was.

“Afflicted thus? Alas,” Peel chuckled. “The same as you, I take it.” Edward nodded slowly.

“What did you mean, about… recognizing men like us?” Alfred piped up suddenly. Peel nodded at him in acknowledgement.

“Lord A. Well, it is rather hard to tell when we are by ourselves; I would never have suspected you, for instance, had I never seen you giving Ed here the once-over.” Alfred looked shocked, and Edward felt very jealous of this Ed - before realizing Peel was referring to himself.

“You could tell? ” they both gasped at the same time. Peel and Dubois roared with laughter.

“Is it dark at night?” Dr. Dubois wheezed.

“Is the day long?” Sir Robert cackled. Edward and Alfred stared at each other in uncertainty. When their hysterics had passed, Sir Robert, still panting slightly, elaborated further.

“You stared at each other a lot. Still do, I take it. Whyever do you think I sent you off to France and Scotland?” he asked Edward. An epiphany seized him. He had thought it was odd to be sent on two trips so close together, when Sir Robert was preparing for the session so urgently…

“Oh,” he said weakly. “Well, I thank you, Sir Rob-”

“Hush! I’m Rob here, you see. Of course, most people know my face, but we try to keep it safe.”

“Sorry - Rob.” The name felt awfully informally and rude in Edward’s mouth, but he ploughed on. “I don’t think we ever would have gotten around to it if not for Scotland,” he admitted. Alfred smiled up at him and leaned his head on Edward’s shoulder.

“Ahhhh, young love,” Peel murmured wistfully. Edward blushed scarlet and ducked his head as Alfred retreated quickly, looking embarrassed.

“Don’t mind me! I just miss it, that’s all,” Sir Robert admitted.

“Miss it? So do you have a… A… A sweetheart?” Edward queried curiously. Sir Robert had never appeared to him to be lonely, but surely everyone needed their own Alfred to keep them sane.

“Not anymore,” sighed Sir Robert.

“Anymore? Who was it?” Edward leaned forwards in his excitement. “Do we know him?” The former prime minister laughed.

“You know him, all right. Not that anything scandalous happened. He was far too proper for that.” He spat the word proper as if it were a terrible insult.

“Oh, I am sorry, Sir - Rob.” And he truly was. What if Alfred had been too scared to meet him? They had nearly parted ways forever that argument at dinner. He would found it terribly hard to bear.

“No, no, now is not the time for sorrows! These nights are most entertaining,” Sir Robert exclaimed. Alfred sat up straighter in interest.

“What exactly happens here?” Edward’s love asked.

“You don’t mean to say you haven’t explained at all?” Sir Robert turned to Dr. Dubois. “Gab, it’s not true?” The little man looked mischievous as he shook his head. Sir Robert roared with laughter. “Well, you two have got some catching up to do then!” Edward shot a glance at Alfred, who was looking equally alarmed.

“Let’s see… It’ll begin like this for the first hour or so, just a regular night, and that way you can meet men here without having to stay for the other, erm, activities. We all have a bit of a drink and dance, and then - well.” He looked across at Dr. Dubois, clearly hoping to be saved from the explanation, but no rescue was forthcoming. “Well,” he repeated. “Some of the more, ah, serious couples - like you two, you understand - like to perform a… a ceremony of sorts.” Edward frowned, not understanding in the slightest.

“A ceremony?”

“Yes, well-” but Sir Robert was cut off by a loud announcement coming from the bar. A woman - Edward started in surprise - who looked to be a similar age of Sir Robert, dressed in a flowery frock, was yelling at the top of her voice.

“Boys! It’s time for a dance!” A general cheer went up around the room, and the tables were cleared. Alfred and Edward assisted with dragging the tables to the side, each looking at each other with slightly worried expressions. Edward was terribly aware that he was the reason Alfred was there.

But it seems that, for now, he needn’t worry.

Music started up, a fiddle, hurdy-gurdy and a drum that Edward did not recognize being played in one corner. It was loud, bold, reminding Edward terribly of the Ceilidh he and Alfred had enjoyed in Scotland. He glanced at Alfred to see the man gazing misty eyed at the musicians, clearly experiencing a similar flashback. Edward nudged his love and offered his hand, bowing slightly.

“May I have this dance, Lord A?” he requested in a silken voice. Alfred laughed and took his hand in the position usually meant for women; he curled his hand over top of Edward’s in a dainty grasp.

“You certainly may, Eddy . ” Edward couldn’t stop himself from snorting at that. Alfred grinned at him. All around them were men dancing, some in orderly formations, some in large groups, some only with each other. Edward drew Alfred close into him in a waltz position, slipping his hand around to Alfred’s lower back. The hand should properly be a little higher, he knew - but Alfred did not appear to mind. The blonde man looked up almost desperately at Edward, the expression that was almost familiar now; it was the same way Alfred had looked whenever Edward stood too close to him, or talked about his fiancee, in the days before. Edward looked down and thought he might spontaneously combust from happiness as they began to revolve and step, working their way around the room.

“You are quite good at the ladies’ dance, Alfred,” murmured Edward into his love’s ear. “Have you practiced it before? I confess I would not do such a good job in your place.” Alfred chuckled and brought his head up so that his cheek brushed Edward’s.

“My brothers needed practice,” Alfred muttered. “Oft my sisters were not willing, and I, being the youngest of the lot, got shunted into the woman’s place.” Edward chuckled softly, and they kept whirling. It was really quite pleasant, and made Edward understand the concept of dancing far better than he had before. At balls he had attended before, everything was awkward, and the ladies were too fluttery and shallow, their mothers watching them like hawks. Now, he felt great pride in holding Alfred steady and steering him past the other dancing pairs. They worked flawlessly together, like a slower and calmer version of a spinning top. It gave Edward an easy excuse to look into Alfred’s eyes. This is how it must feel to be free, Edward realized. This is what the rest of the world gets all of the time. He could feel his smile turning sad. Edward wondered if this persecution of people like him, like Alfred, would ever stop.

“What is wrong?” Alfred murmured, noticing Edward’s change of expression.

“I wish it could be like this all of the time,” Edward said softly, holding Alfred’s gaze, slowing their waltz to revolve slowly in the spot.

“We have this now; is it not enough?” Alfred replied.

“It is enough,” Edward conceded. “But it will not be enough this night, tomorrow evening, a week from now. I think freedom shall never truly be ours.” Alfred frowned and broke away from Edward’s gaze.

“’Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall,” Alfred quoted at him softly. “I have fallen, Edward. I have submitted entirely to you, and I do not think I can go back. Freedom is near impossible in this world of ours; but I think we have it in enough quantity to make do.”

“I want more, Alfred. I want everything.” Edward looked at Alfred until the man returned his gaze, somewhat reluctantly. He took a deep breath. “If you asked me to run away with you right now, I would. You know I would.” Alfred’s eyes widened slightly, and they stopped moving. Edward found he was gripping Alfred rather tightly.

“Edward… I would not ask you to make such a sacrifice.” Alfred’s eyes bored into his. “We have a balance now, do we not? Between our lives and each other?” Edward looked away, not trusting himself to speak. A strange feeling rose within him. It was almost like - like rejection, except it wasn’t, for he knew that Alfred loved him absolutely. But Edward wanted Alfred to be his entire life. He wanted everything from his love that they could never have here in London.

“I suppose,” he mumbled. He knew he sounded pathetic. But now was, perhaps, not the right time to have such a discussion. Alfred frowned at him but let it go, and they danced around the room again. Edward, not wanting to be subject to Alfred’s scrutiny, took time to study the men around them. There really was quite a mix. There were the upper class, like he and Alfred, wearing smart dinner jackets, fine silk cravats and bowties. But there were surely some working men here too, in suits, yes, but rough wool suits of brown and grey tones. Everywhere were friendly faces. It was beautiful within itself to see the separate classes mixing with one another, Edward surmised. Indeed, many of the men there were getting rather too friendly for Edward to look upon comfortably. They passed two men, one with a top hat and tails, the other in a worn and slightly ragged suit, engaging in a dance that was less dance and more animal rutting against one another. Edward looked at Alfred, terribly alarmed and forgetting his awkwardness. Alfred giggled, biting his lip adorably. Edward chanced another glance back at the couple, who were holding each other fiercely, their lips now locked in a passionate kiss. He couldn’t help but giggle too at the absurdity of it all. They had to hide so carefully their whole lives, and yet here, Edward couldn’t help but be shocked.

 

---

 

Alfred couldn’t stop thinking about what Edward had said. If you asked me to run away with you right now, I would. But Alfred hadn’t asked. You know I would. Alfred was not even sure if he wanted it, and that was what scared him. Edward was so beautiful, so passionate, so headstrong, and Alfred knew he would throw away his chance at a public life and a successful career all for his love. That was what Alfred loved so much about Edward, this crazy man of his.

But Alfred was not like that.

He was sensible, practical, and he could see their futures all laid out in a row ahead of him like clockwork. As they danced on and on, he felt they were prancing between doors, their feet taking them one time this way, the next a different way, along the webs of fate.

Here, struggling not to bump into the chairs pushed to the side of the room, was a future for them. Again here, as they passed Sir Robert dancing rather haphazardly with Dr. Dubois, was another. And another, and another, and so it went on, until Alfred felt suffocated with the choices that surrounded them. That was the problem with a place like this. Every man here would one day make the same choice, have a similar set of futures.

Alfred was not an idiot. He knew that the most likely future was that he and Edward would be dreadfully split somehow. His mind would have liked to be in denial about it, but ever since their close shave with the policeman after that wonderful night at Ciros, it had been only too obvious. Someone would find out eventually. Wilhelmina would tell, or Sir Robert, or Dr. Dubois, or the ever-expanding list of people who were currently keeping their mouths shut. And they would find a way to hush it up, or be sent to prison, and that would be the end of them.

But there were other futures, too. Perhaps if they were found out, someone would take them under their wing, look after them, offer them protection. The Queen swam to the forefront of Alfred’s mind. She had had so much sympathy with the Catholics; would she understand? Or would she try to redeem them like Wilhelmina? Not exactly like Wilhelmina, Alfred thought bitterly. Edward had still not kissed him since the incident and he was trying not to think about that fact.

Perhaps it really was possible to be redeemed. In which case, Alfred ought to add another possible destiny. Perhaps they would both find wives and live in mediocre content for the rest of their lives. It did not seem terribly appealing, though it was better than so many other lives.

The blackest future would be execution for one or both of them. The last execution had happened over ten years ago, but it was still possible, Alfred knew. The vision of Edward hanging from a rope, his limbs jerking and then lifeless, was an outcome that Alfred thought would lead to his own death one way or another. He tried not to dwell on that possibility.

There was another path, though. It shone like a golden trail, the path to heaven - or hell, depending on how you looked at it. They could run away. They could do it. Alfred could ask Edward, right now, and they could flee, to Scotland perhaps. They would live off the land and become nobodies in the midst of the country. But they would be together. Alfred felt a longing for that future open deep within him, as he knew Edward must feel.

But it is not practical, he told himself. Edward had prospects. Real prospects. Then what are you doing here? Why haven’t you let him go already? He had stumped himself. If he was really so worried about Edward’s prospects, surely he would have protected his love from going to a place which could so easily identify and dishonour him. Surely he would indeed cut ties with Edward altogether. But he had tried that, calling their beautiful kiss an indiscretion. That had not worked terribly well. Alfred had been so pained and heartbroken without Edward’s brown eyes to overwhelm him every day at the Palace that he had had to try again, and then everything had escalated, and he had not wanted to stop any of it.

Perhaps he should.

No no no no no, his mind chanted, thoroughly disconcerted. Alfred felt desperate. He could not breathe without Edward now, but soon they would have to go back to their normal lives during the day, and their meetings at night would be so short… But I love him.

There was the problem.

Alfred was desperately in love with Edward, and for all his practicality and logical thinking, his heart would not budge on this man. Alfred tightened his hold on Edward and leaned his chin onto the other man’s shoulder, slipping out of the traditional waltz stance and into a much closer hold. It was really just an embrace now as the two men hugged one another, still revolving on the spot in the pretense of a dance. Alfred took deep breaths, one after the other, trying in vain not to think too hard about what the future might hold for them.

However, there were some good distractions offered quickly. Alfred was dragged from his thoughts as he heard a loud moan coming from behind him. He pulled back slightly from Edward and looked over his shoulder to investigate the source. A door set in the wall was slightly ajar. Alfred almost daren’t looked inside, but Edward started forwards, and he had to follow, of course.

He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting to see, but it definitely was not - that.

As they peered around the entrance, all became clear. A small bed was central to the tiny, darkened room. A dark haired, well dressed young man was in the lap of another, both of their trousers pulled down, their hands busy at their cocks. The one on top had thrown his head back in obvious pleasure, letting out moans and sighs as his lover worked on him. Alfred whipped his head back to Edward’s gaze quickly, blinking several times. They retreated quickly, and Alfred closed the door quietly. He turned to Edward, blinking furiously, his mind not working terribly well.

“Well - I suppose - erm…” his mouth wasn’t working either, it appeared.

“They need a safe place?” Edward suggested.

“Yes,” Alfred agreed. “Yes. We are really rather fortunate in our circumstances, aren’t we?” Edward raised an eyebrow at him.

“Fortunate is relative. I would quite like to be married to you with a large family and a country estate,” Edward said lightly. Alfred’s heart seemed to squish into a little ball, love being replaced by the dull, hopeless feeling that had been threatening him the whole evening. Edward seemed to see his face fall, and hurried to make him smile again.

“Oh! - but my dear Alfred! You are quite right. Relative to these poor men, forced to make love hurriedly and in less than ideal circumstances… We are very lucky.” Alfred smiled weakly at his love. Edward did not seem convinced that he was alright, though, and bent down as if to look into his eyes.

Alfred didn’t know why he was so surprised when his love leaned forwards to kiss him gently, nor why it felt so odd. It didn’t feel wrong, entirely, just… strange. It was the first time Edward had kissed him since Wilhelmina had. He froze up similarly, unable to move his mouth. Edward pulled back uncertainly, looking worried and a little hurt.

“Are you alright?” Brown eyes held his.

“I just - I will be. Will you let me kiss you? Can you just sort of - sit there?” Edward nodded, looking a little confused but altogether obliging. Alfred took his love’s hands and kissed them, exploring each finger, leaning back against the door he had shut behind him. I can do this, he decided. He just had to ease himself back into it. He took Edward’s face between his hands and ran the pad of thumb smoothly over his cheekbone. Edward looked very content just to stand close and be adored. Alfred took a deep breath and leaned in to kiss Edward’s cheek.

To his utmost relief, he found it was not a jarring sensation as Edward’s earlier kiss had been.

Alfred kissed Edward’s cheek again, trailing down towards the corner of his love’s mouth. His heart was jumping as it usually did, but now it was nearly painful. He stopped, breathing deeply, his hands on Edward’s shoulders. Edward turned his head to try to kiss him again but he pulled back a little.

“Alfred? What is it? What’s wrong?” Edward asked, nothing but concern filling his face now. “It’s Wilhelmina, isn’t it?” Alfred nodded miserably.

“Oh, Edward, I just want to wipe it from my mind,” Alfred groaned. Edward sighed in sympathy.

“You may take all the time in the world you need to recover, my darling,” he promised, an adorably intent look on his face. Alfred smiled, leaning up to kiss his forehead.

“Thank you, my love.” They smiled at each other, Alfred having the familiar feeling of being bathed in love that Edward always gave him.

Their shining moment was interrupted somewhat as the door opened behind Alfred, pushing him roughly forwards into Edward. They toppled and fell, Alfred thumping on top of Edward, who let out a grunt of pain.

“Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” Alfred yelped, trying to get off of Edward. But arms had him pinned there, and he looked down at Edward to see the man smiling. Alfred grinned back, his apologies forgotten, suddenly appreciating the warmth of Edward’s body against his a deal more. He lifted a hand to Edward’s cheek tenderly.

“My apologies, gents,” a voice with a Northern accent spoke from behind them, making Alfred jump and look up in alarm. “Didn’t realize there was a queue!” One of the men from the bedroom, looking to be around the same age as Edward and Alfred, was standing over them. Alfred laughed awkwardly, pushing himself up from the floor and offering Edward a hand up. As they dusted themselves off, the man’s partner sauntered out of the room, looking distinctly dazed.

“Oh… hello,” he mumbled, throwing his arms around the first man. “Who are they?”

“I’m, er, Lord A. This is Ed.” It was most disconcerting talking in these code names. “And you are?”

“I’m Tom, and this here is Mac,” the non-dazed man said, sticking out his hand. Alfred took it gingerly, all too aware of what that hand had been doing a few minutes ago. “Is this your first time here?” Tom asked, seeming to sense Alfred’s hesitation. Alfred nodded. “Ah! Don’t worry then, I’ll fill you in. Mac? Mac!” His partner was blinking as if trying to stay awake, leaning heavily onto Tom. “Sorry about him, he gets like this afterwards.” Alfred smiled slightly, the man’s stupor reminding him a little of Edward’s similar dozy moods.

“Could you just let us know, if you please, exactly how, erm… well…” Tom cocked his head, and Edward looked down at him curiously. “How sexual is this place going to get?” Alfred blurted out, turning scarlet in the process, he was sure. Tom laughed, and Mac giggled faintly. Edward looked merely confused. Alfred was sure his love had not considered this aspect of the molly house, and had thought it would all just be drinking, dancing, and good fun.

“Depends on how long you stay, and which rooms you go to,” Tom explained after he had finished laughing. “This main bit is usually alright for a few hours yet. Couples, like me and Mac, or you and Ed here, can use the bedrooms, but it’s first in first served. Upstairs is different. They have, er… Ceremonies.” Alfred sighed, wishing everyone would stop using that particularly vague term.

“What kind of ceremonies? What exactly happens?” Alfred demanded. Tom exchanged a glance with Mac, who seemed to be reviving somewhat now.

“Come and sit down with us; we’ll put out a table. The, erm, logistics of this place can take some getting used to.” Tom grinned and led Mac by the hand over to a table still set up in a corner. Alfred and Edward followed, exchanging curious glances. Once they were seated, Alfred repeated his question.

“What happens in these ceremonies?” he asked. Tom grinned, looking mischievous.

“Well, you can get married, for starters,” he began.

“Married?!” Edward exclaimed. “But it’s not possible!” Tom chuckled darkly.

“Not possible by law. ” Edward looked scandalised.

“I help make the laws, thank you very much,” he stated primly. Alfred leaned over and ruffled his hair affectionately; he couldn’t help it. Indignant Edward was the sweetest Edward.

“Then why haven’t you decriminalised yourself yet?” Tom asked in a polite tone. Edward narrowed his eyes.

“I - Well, it’s not - you can’t just - well.” And then Alfred saw a gleam in his eyes. “I don’t suppose we could just… Oh my God.” He sat with his mouth open, staring at Tom. Alfred tried to catch his eye to no avail.

“We could just change the law,” Edward stated. “Just like… that.” He snapped his fingers, looking awestruck. Alfred rolled his eyes.

“Yes, except you’d get booted out of the House of Lords for even suggesting it, Edward. Don’t be ridiculous.” Edward turned to him with wide eyes.

“Some things are worth getting booted out over,” he began urgently. “Peel -”

“Peel was arguing about corn laws , not a matter of moral principle! Oh, don’t look like that, you know I don’t believe it,” Alfred hurried on as Edward bristled at the words moral principle. “Look, we’ll talk about this later. I, for one, am curious about these marriage ceremonies, whether or not they are legally binding.” He gave Edward a pointed look, and his sweetheart, bless him, looked sulky but did not retort. Alfred blinked at him gratefully and then turned back to Tom.

“So. We can get married?”

“Well, it’s more the bedding part,” Tom said matter-of-factly. “Some of us like to say the vows, but most men are quite eager to get to the sexual side of things.” Alfred heard Edward cough as he choked in surprise at the sudden turn of topic.

“So… It’s the consummation which is important? Sodomy, I presume?” Alfred tried to say the words without blushing but he could feel his face colouring in slowly. Tom grinned at him, clearly immune to the shame he and Edward were feeling.

“Yes, that part in particular. I wouldn’t recommend being in attendance there - they’re in that room over there, asides -,” Tom gestured to a white door Alfred had not noticed behind the bar “- as they end up not so much a viewing as a participation. Oh, people respect your privacy right enough if you ask, but your first time’s a bit of an eye-opener, eh, Mac?” Mac grinned and nodded at them. Alfred couldn’t think of what to say.

“I thought this was a place to… To find love,” Edward said tentatively from behind them. Alfred turned to smile adoringly at him. It was lovely to be able to be so open in public about his love for the man. Mac and Tom snorted at that, which made Edward frown a little.

“Not so much love as sex,” Mac said, speaking for the first time. He was Irish. “Though oft they become one another.” Edward looked downcast.

“Is this your first time, erm… Your first time in love, then, Ed?” Tom asked gently. Alfred took Edward’s hand underneath the table and squeezed it gently. Edward nodded, looking confused and almost ashamed. “Well, after this, you get a bit more experience, you get more comfortable with things like this. Not everyone likes it, mind. Some men will begin leaving soon, before it gets to be more like a pleasure-house than a tavern. But for many of us - well.” He looked helplessly from Alfred to Edward. “It’s the closest to marriage we’ll ever get, really. And at least here we can be free.” Alfred nodded slowly.

“As you can tell, we are new to this sort of thing. I didn’t even know that ‘this thing’ existed until a few months ago,” he admitted. Edward squeezed his hand where they were still interlinked. “And even recently, I would have passed terrible judgment on a sodomite!” He laughed to think of it. Edward went very red beside him. “Perhaps we’ll understand it in a month, or a year. And perhaps we won’t. But it is certainly an interesting and educational window we have opened, isn’t it, Edwa- Ed?” Edward looked surprised to be called out, and nodded intelligently.

“It does sound rather interesting, but I think we might be leaving now,” Edward said. Alfred nodded and they stood to go. Tom and Mac rose to shake their hands.

“Have a good night,” Tom said to them.

“You too - though you don’t need me to tell you that,” Alfred replied. Tom barked a laugh, and Alfred and Edward made their way across the crowded hall. Many men were still dancing, though just as many were now involved in some form of kissing, embracing, touching… It was definitely time for them to leave, Alfred thought. Just as they reached the main door, Dr. Dubois suddenly swept into view.

“Leaving so soon?” he implored, smiling jovially at Edward. Edward smiled and nodded.

“Thank you for bringing us, doctor, but we must be getting back. I do hope you will not miss us.” The little man smiled just a little too much.

“Next time, you must come to a marriage ceremony, they are most entertaining. And I know ’ow you would like to be wed,” he leered. Edward laughed uncomfortably, and Alfred tightened his grip on Edward’s hand.

“Goodbye, doctor,” Edward said firmly. They left the room quickly, closing the door behind them and making the trek back to the street in silence, the walk through the sludgy alleyway seeming quicker and more bearable this time. They did not speak during the walk back to the house, each judging it too risky to speak of such things where they could be overheard. They kept their heads down through the near-empty streets.

 

When they finally arrived home, Alfred turned to Edward in the darkened bedroom, smiling wearily, totally emotionally exhausted. Too much had happened that day. A few hours ago, he had had plans of seducing Edward again… And yet his lips felt strange in a way he couldn’t describe. It was like - like he did not want to dirty his love. Alfred knew it was silly and illogical and he knew everything would be better if he could just kiss Edward.

“Are you alright?” Edward asked gently. Alfred took two steps towards Edward and laid his head on his shoulder, snuggling into the man’s embrace as comforting arms folded around him.

“’M fine,” he said, trying not to let his voice waver. He pushed his face into the rough material of Edward’s overcoat, breathing in the wonderful scent that surrounded him.

“You’re not,” Edward remarked, rubbing his back soothingly.

“... No,” agreed Alfred, feeling tears start to well up. Edward pulled back and guided him to the bed, helping him to take his jacket, shirt and trousers off so that they were clad only in underclothes for sleeping. Once they were ready for bed, Alfred settled into his now-familiar position, snuggled on top of Edward.

“What’s wrong?” Edward’s voice rumbled through his chest. “Is is about that damned Wilhelmina?” Alfred sniffled.

“Not her fault,” he said. “It’s not her fault.”

“That is debatable.” Edward sounded slightly angry.

“Can I kiss you?” Alfred asked suddenly, trying even harder not to cry with the result that his voice cracked alarmingly.

“You can always kiss me,” Edward reassured him. Alfred propped himself up on his elbows, leaning over Edward. But the other man put his finger to Alfred’s lips gently. “But only if you are going to enjoy it.”

Alfred wasn’t quite sure how he had thought Edward to be naive for so long. Those soothing brown eyes looked at him with all the understanding in the world. Alfred sighed.

“I just… Edward. I need to get this feeling off my lips. I need to kiss you properly, and it will all be gone, I am sure of it. Please,” Alfred half-begged him. Thinking about it made his skin crawl again, and he couldn’t stand it. He wished again that the memories could just be gone. Edward nodded slightly, looking worried still. Alfred leaned forwards to kiss him, losing his nerve at the last minute and instead swerving up to kiss his nose. Edward giggled, making Alfred chuckle along with him.

“All of this seriousness is getting to you,” Edward whispered. Alfred’s chuckles faded as he grinned at the man he loved. And suddenly it was so simple.

He leaned down and pressed his lips lightly against Edward’s; a chaste peck, nothing more. Edward stayed very still, not even reaching his arms around Alfred. But Alfred had finally found his courage. He kissed Edward again, deeper this time, his love running straight from heart to head, his lips working on Edward’s stationary ones. He felt alive, his hands running over Edward’s chest, one settling in his hair.

“You can kiss back, idiot,” he whispered, breaking off for air.

“Oh!” Edward gasped and brought him back down again with much enthusiasm. They kissed and kissed and kissed and all the time Alfred felt wondrous, renewed, the horrible encounter earlier in the day forgotten.

“I love you, Edward,” he murmured as the kisses slowed.

“I love you too, Alfred. I love you…” Edward paused as if in thought, his lips against Alfred’s cheek as he whispered. “I love you so that when the green fields of summer are covered in snow, and we are buried deep in the ground, side by side, all of my love will seep through and melt a little patch with its warmth, so that we are evergreen and forever.”

Chapter Text

Three days later, Alfred was going mad. During the day, he and Edward would lay about, kissing, they would cook together, or rather, Edward would cook and Alfred would watch him at work, admiring the way the steam rumpled his hair, and they would play piano. By the evening, they were ready to go out with Dr. Dubois again, back to the molly house to dance together and talk with Mac and Tom. Sir Robert had not been there since the first night, though Dr. Dubois (who Alfred would never be able to call Gabriel) assured them this was usual for him.

“’E is not as keen on ze parties as I am,” the doctor told them, the fourth time they were making the walk to the molly house. “You Eenglish are far too respectable for your own good.” Edward laughed at that, but Alfred stayed resolutely silent.  That night was apparently Mac and Tom’s turn to ‘get married’, as they called it. Edward and Alfred watched as they were borne upstairs by a crowd of men, clothes being shed as they went. Alfred had to admit to being curious about the ceremonies… But not enough to attend one. Anyway, Edward would not let him. Edward would not let Alfred take his clothes off anymore, so scared he was of upsetting him. And Alfred was truly, madly, deeply, going mad. After that exhausting night with Wilhelmina and their first outing he had struggled to kiss Edward, he knew.

But he was fine now.

He had tried to tell Edward this, in no uncertain terms. But Edward, it seemed, thought that Alfred did not know his own state of mind.

That night, as they watched Mac and Tom laughing and struggling in the arms of their peers, Dr. Dubois had come up behind them, clapping a hand on their shoulders and sliding between them in that infuriatingly weasel-like manner of his.

“Ahhh, boys… You are curious, non ? You shall ’ave your turn someday.” Alfred had raised his eyebrows and Edward made an uncertain sort of humming sound. The doctor turned to Edward, chortling heartily. “You are too fine a man to deprive us, Eddy boy! I am sure your crowd will be twice as big as theirs.” Alfred looked across to see Edward snort in amusement. His fingers prickled uncomfortably, and he wiped them on his trousers in an effort to dispel the feeling.

They had left later than usual that night, Dr. Dubois introducing them to various men he knew there. Edward had been quite animated, laughing and talking, but Alfred had found it hard to drag his gaze off of Edward. He really just wanted to - to - well. He wanted to tear Edward’s clothes off and make him beg for mercy. That was all. Not much to ask, is it? Alfred implored of the Lord above. Alfred’s eyes traced the perfect curve of Edward’s backside, highlighted wonderfully by his tight trousers, as Edward shook hands with yet another man. Dr. Dubois clapped a hand onto Edward’s shoulder in a seemingly friendly way.

Alfred was beginning to have second thoughts on this choice of doctor.

“Ed,” he interrupted their conversation suddenly. “Ed, I’m tired. Can we retire home?” Edward looked around in surprise at Alfred.

“Ohhh, not so soon!” exclaimed Dr. Dubois, clapping another hand onto Edward’s other shoulder. Alfred felt a possessive heat crowd his torso.

“Please, Ed,” Alfred said, looking Edward straight in the eye. Edward narrowed his eyes, clearly asking what it was that was so important. Alfred tried to communicate that it was important by widening his eyes. Edward frowned slightly at him.

“You go home if you’re tired,” he said dismissively, turning back to his new, clearly more interesting, friends. It was the smug look on Dr. Dubois’ face that got to Alfred.

“Fine,” he snapped. He whipped around and stalked from the room, trying to keep the cold expression on his face as long as he could. As soon as he was outside he could feel his face crumple. He let out a long sigh and willed himself not to cry.

He wouldn’t usually have made such a fuss when Edward was clearly having fun - but that slimy doctor was getting on his nerves. Why did he choose them? His mind was in mourning, though it was perfectly logical. Edward was going to have a better time with Dr. Dubois than Alfred. How lovely.

Maybe he should go back in and swallow his pride. What if the Frenchman got Edward into something he wasn’t comfortable with? Edward was so impressionable and easy to persuade… But he is not a child , Alfred reminded himself. His love was quite capable of making his own decisions. A new horror seized him suddenly. What if he does not love me anymore? Frantically, Alfred traced back the last time they had declared their love. His mind blanked. Is that why he has been rejecting all of my advances? Does he no longer desire me? Alfred had thought he was practical, in control, but this showed him how sadly he was not. In the dark alley, he leaned against the wall, not caring for once what filth might cover it. He held his head in his hands and did his best not to cry.

 

---

 

Edward felt awful. He had tried to leave to follow Alfred a few minutes after he had brushed him off, not truly meaning to make his love suffer. He had only been angry that Alfred had been so demanding in front of everyone, and given him no space to think. But then Dr. Dubois had swept him into a dance and Edward found it hard to politely refuse. They took a few rounds of the room in an easy, gay kind of waltz, Edward looking every second for an excuse to distance himself. But the doctor kept on talking about all of the new people they had met, Carlisle and George and Harry and James and all of the others that Edward had forgotten, and in that moment he cursed himself for his awkwardness. Somewhere outside of that room, Alfred was sad and lonely, he just knew it.

But he treats you just like a child sometimes, his brain reminded him helpfully. Wanting to whisk him away like a toddler needing to be put to bed! It was really rather annoying sometimes. And so Edward’s pride held him there, dancing with the wrong man, knowing full well he would regret it later.

 

---

 

“Lord Alfred?” a voice spoke from the darkness. Alfred looked up quickly, instantly worried that someone was watching his movements, someone who knew his name - but it was only Sir Robert Peel. “Are you quite alright, man?” Alfred sighed.

“No, I cannot say that I am,” he replied sadly. “Edward is with Dr. Dubois inside.”

“Ah, I see,” Peel muttered. “Well. Gab does like to get his hands on whatever he can.” Alfred’s head snapped up at that.

“Whatever do you mean?” he cried. “Is Edward in danger with him?” Peel studied him for a moment.

“He would never do anything Edward expressly forbade,” he said gently. “However… He would try to do as much as he could.” Alfred sucked an inward breath.

“I must… I must go in,” he muttered. “I must fetch him at once.” He started towards the great rusty door, but Peel held him back by his arm. “Do not try and stop me, sir!” he exclaimed, wrenching his arm from Sir Robert’s grasp.

“Let me!” Peel said urgently. “But wait. There is something I must discuss with you first.” Alfred glared at him.

“Edward’s safety is all that matters!”

“Trust me, this matters,” Peel said in a low voice. Alfred shrank back, confused.

“Why can you not say this in front of Edward?” he asked, curious.

“Just - just let me explain, please.” Peel’s tone was adamant. Alfred nodded uncertainly. “Thank you, Lord Alfred. You just need to know, that so long as you and Edward continue on your path, you are not guaranteed safety. There are people at the Palace in particular that will not appreciate your… Your immorality.” Peel spat the last word almost aggressively.

“Thank you, Sir Robert, but we are quite aware of the situa-”

“You are not!” Peel exclaimed vehemently. “I apologise for this, Lord Alfred, but you are not aware of half of the situation. Please take my word for it. Whatever you have gotten away with until now, it must stop wherever you may be in the public eye. There is someone that I know that is very clever, very suspicious, and will stop at no lengths to stop this sort of thing from continuing.” Alfred took an unconscious step back, his mind reeling.

“Is this person... suspicious of us already?” he asked slowly.

“I do not know, but I would think so,” Peel advised.

“You must know this person quite well,” Alfred remarked. “You clearly feel you have a strong judge of their character. His character.” He looked Peel straight in the eyes, and was surprised to see a small smile on his face.

“Yes, Lord Alfred, you have hit the nail directly on the head. I know him better than most, that I will say.” A flash of wistful longing passed across Sir Robert’s face, almost too quickly for Alfred to catch. “Well. Knew him.”

“Oh. I am sorry, Sir Robert.” Peel inclined his head slightly.

“And now!” he said suddenly, causing Alfred to jump slightly. “I shall rush in to rescue your damsel in distress. I am sure Drummond will be most grateful for an excuse to get away from Gab, he can be rather overwhelming in large doses.” And Sir Robert vanished into the door, leaving Alfred to ponder over just who this mysterious someone was that Sir Robert was talking about. He must learn that knack that Peel had talked about, of being able to recognize that someone was like he and Edward on a glance. It must make everything a lot easier.

God, he hoped Dr. Dubois had not made advances on Edward while he had been sitting out here crying like a fool. Would Sir Robert really be able to persuade Edward to come outside? Alfred was sure that he had annoyed his love greatly with his unreasonable requests. He felt a great rush of love and affection towards Edward suddenly, tinged with sadness and desperation. Please come outside to me, love. Please.

 

---

 

The dancing had started off alright, but the evening was definitely headed towards the dangerous side of things. Edward felt more and more uncomfortable as couples around them ceased dancing and began kissing, moaning, rubbing against each other.

“I think I should depart, doctor,” he tried for the fifth time already.

“Agh! Nonsense! You always leave too early, Edward,” Dr. Dubois crooned to him. Edward had had enough of this. When he saw Sir Robert making his way across the room, he practically sagged with relief.

“Gab!” Sir Robert called, grinning jovially. “Sorry to cut it short, but I have to discuss something with Eddy here. Come on, lad.” Peel grabbed his arm and towed him through the crowd, leaving the short doctor behind. When they were out of the crowd Edward shook his arm free and muttered a quick “thank you” into Peel’s ear.

“You’ve got to tell Gab if you don’t want to dance next time, all right?” Sir Robert said.

“Yes, sir,” Edward replied automatically.

“Go and take Alfred home, won’t you? He’s like a lost puppy without you.”

“He’s still here?” Edward gasped, his spirits rising.

“Course he is!” Peel exclaimed. “You’ll look after him, won’t you, Drummond? He truly loves you, you know that?” Edward blushed and looked down at his feet.

“I know,” he muttered.

“Well, don’t be ashamed! Go on, you. Go and get him.” Sir Robert smiled at him. “Enjoy it while it lasts!” Edward nodded and set off to find Alfred. While it lasts? He pushed away the thought. Sir Robert did not know them. We will last forever.

 

---

 

Sir Robert watched Drummond walk quickly away. His heart stung with a slight jealousy and bitterness, but he pushed it away. Drummond deserves this. And he really did. Sir Robert had been terribly worried to hear of the young man’s engagement, so long ago, for he knew that Drummond would never find true happiness with the Marque’s daughter. He had seen the oh-so-subtle glances he always sent to Lord Alfred, and after Peel’s own experiences, he had wanted to encourage the two to find love while they still could. He stared at the bleak wall in front of him, sighed in frustration, and thought of the man he longed to be beside.

 

---

 

Prince Albert peered out of the thick Palace curtains of the nursery, careful not to let a chill in just in case Vicki should take ill again. His breath fogged up the window so that he could not tell the difference between the city smoke and the translucent condensation. He wondered, not for the first time, if Victoria ever noticed his absence late at night. They had not made love tonight, each too tired from their duties. But Albert really did love Victoria. She was fierce and passionate and everything he was not. She just did not understand him as some others did. Well; one person in particular. Albert pushed the thought away desperately. It is a sin I will never succumb to. But all his willpower could not stop him thinking of the man he longed to be beside.

 

---

 

Queen Victoria sighed in her luxurious bed. All the feather pillows in the world could not replace Albert’s presence. Did he think she was so oblivious she did not notice his absence? He always disappeared at this time of night when they had not had each other. She had followed him one time, to watch him silently as he gazed out the nursery window. She wondered what he thought about. He was everything to her, but she knew she did not understand him half as well as he understood her. Victoria could only hope he was not thinking about the Lady Lovelace, or some other woman. She would remain in bed, snuggled on her side, and think of the man she longed to be beside.

 

---

 

Wilhelmina could not sleep. She could not stop thinking about her rash movements a few days ago. She felt simply horrible. It was a beastly thing to have done, she knew. Lord Alfred did not love her. But something had to stop the madness in his soul. She did not know Drummond very well, but Alfred had been her friend since childhood, and she wished desperately for him to be happy. But happy in the normal, proper way. Wilhelmina was not an idiot. She knew that the two men had indulged themselves in the sins of the flesh that afternoon she had interrupted them. The guilt was written all over their faces, for goodness’ sake. Wilhelmina tried not to think about it, for she thought her heart might break with the injustice of it all. Ernest loved another; Alfred did not even love women. It was all too much. She sniffled as her thoughts strayed, always back to the man she had to apologise to, the man she longed to be beside.

 

---

 

Edward could not help but long to be beside Alfred the moment he saw him there, leaning against the alley wall, his head down. And so he crossed the cobblestones quickly, taking his love in his arms and embracing him tenderly.

“I am so sorry,” they both said at the same time. They both laughed into each other’s shoulders, clinging on tightly.

“I wish I had left,” Edward confessed, mumbling into Alfred’s ear. “I wished I had left with you about three seconds after you did.”

“I wished I had not asked you to, and that I did not storm out,” Alfred responded. “But I did not like the way Dr. Dubois was looking at you, Edward.” Edward huffed slightly.

“He is not a bad man,” he defended. “Not like that. He wants the best for us, Alfred, or he would have reported us already.” Alfred pulled back and looked him square in the eyes.

“Do you really believe that?” Edward cocked his head, confused.

“Yes…? He is a medical man, Alfred! He would never do us any harm.” Alfred looked slightly disbelieving, but shrugged it off.

“It does not matter. You are here, with me, now. Let us never take that for granted, Edward.” Bright blue eyes shone up at him and Edward could not help but lean down to kiss the perfect pink lips beneath. Alfred made a sound in the back of his throat and kissed back, hard. Edward tried to slow it down, you are not ready for this yet, my love, but Alfred was having none of it. When Edward tried to pull back, Alfred snarled in frustration.

“I am not a child, Edward,” he hissed. “I want everything. We have had everything. And I want it again. ” Edward tried not to let the fierce sound go straight to his crotch, but it was too late. Alfred’s mutinous expression changed to one of amusement as he felt Edward’s stiffness harden against his leg. “You want it too, I see,” he purred. Edward sighed and grinned back.

“... If you’re sure,” he muttered.

“I have never been surer of anything in my whole life,” Alfred whispered, laying his mouth on Edward’s collarbone. “Now come on, let’s go home. I want you, my darling.” They set off together, giggling helplessly, Edward doing his best to ignore his entirely unpresentable erection in his pants. It was torture walking the blocks back to Edward’s apartment. Only two streets in and Edward had to run, grabbing Alfred’s hand and pulling him along, laughing all the while, feeling free as a bird. Alfred held fast to Edward’s hand. Edward felt like water being coursed down a stream, flying, hurtling, but always to the same destination. Always to Alfred.

Chapter Text

Alfred pushed Edward down rather firmly onto the sheets. He had only managed to get Edward’s coat off before the man had whispered to go slowly. Alfred did not want to go slowly. He straddled his love, moving his hips gently, feeling Edward’s stiffness grow beneath him. Edward moaned and lay his head on the pillow, exposing his beautiful pale neck.

If that wasn’t an invitation, Alfred didn’t know what was.

He leaned forward to lick a long stripe from collarbone to ear before nibbling Edward’s earlobe gently, sucking and tugging on it amidst high-pitched keening sounds from his sweetheart. Oh, how he loved doing this to Edward. He moved his lips down, making sure to kiss and suck hard enough to leave a mark on Edward’s neck. Alfred needed to see that Edward was his, all his, and no one else’s.

“Oh, Alfred,” he heard Edward breathe. “You can make me see stars, you know.” Alfred grinned and kissed further down Edward’s neck, down to his collarbone, tugging on the damn cravat hopelessly. He was too absorbed in the task of kissing to remove it properly, and he groaned as it would not give. Gentle hands came up to brush his cheek, then untied the cravat and laid it aside. Alfred hummed with pleasure and leaned forwards to kiss the exposed skin, not bothering to nicely undo Edward’s shirt but rather ripping it off.

“You are all I want, forever and ever,” Alfred sighed, tasting Edward’s sweet skin. “I wish I could do this forever.”

“Me too,” Edward mumbled, looking rather incapacitated and unable to talk. Alfred grinned and continued working his way down the man’s chest, finally pulling Edward into a sitting position to remove his jacket, shirt, and undershirt.

“You are beautiful, Edward,” Alfred remarked, running a hand over his love’s flat, toned chest.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Edward grinned up at him.

“Then I shall behold you as much as I can,” Alfred replied. He took a moment to appreciate Edward’s flushed face and messy hair before leaning in to kiss that perfect mouth, tongues sliding, gasping against one another.

“Excellent,” Edward moaned, his hips beginning to move underneath Alfred.

“Oh - ohhhh…” Alfred groaned with him, the rhythm finding the exact right spot. “Edward, you are a… A saint.” Edward laughed breathily, his movements increasing in tempo. Alfred moved against him too, stripping off his own jacket and shirt quickly. Edward’s hands slid down his shoulders to his hands, taking them in his own.

***

“Alfred?” Edward stopped moving suddenly, looking rather serious. Alfred was a little disappointed at this turn of events but reluctantly stopped his hips from moving too.

“Yes, my love?”

“Would you like to… To get married?”

Alfred frowned slightly.

“You mean at the molly house?”

God, he really hoped not. If Edward wanted to do that, he might for his love, but he personally didn’t fancy getting quite so public with their intimate relations.

“No! No, I mean… I mean now.” Edward ducked as much as possible while lying down and blushed.

You look beautiful when you blush.

“Don’t, Alfred! I’ll only blush more!”

Alfred giggled, realizing too late he had spoken out loud.

“Now… how?” Alfred queried.

“Well… We can say our vows now.” Edward’s eyes looked wide and anxious. “And then, though the Church won’t recognize it, or anyone else for that matter… We will know. We will be married.”

Alfred blinked steadily at him, thinking. The fact was, if either of them were a woman, they would be married long since now. There was only one right answer. What about everything that could go wrong? He struggled not to think of all the different futures that could happen. Everything could go so wrong, so easily.

“What are you thinking?” Edward asked him gently.

Alfred smiled a little sadly.  “I’m thinking of everything that could go wrong,” he admitted. “I should very much like to be married to you, my darling. But I… I worry that we will not end up happily, you and I.” He forced himself to look into Edward’s eyes steadily. He looked pained.

“I only think - well. I know it may not be possible to do this forever.”

Alfred hated the little frown of sadness creasing his love’s brow, so he leaned forwards to kiss it away. Edward giggled and blushed again, before becoming serious once more.

“But I think that while we are able to be happy, we should be as happy as possible.”

Well.

Alfred could not argue with that.

“You are right, as always, my darling,” he said. “Edward… I truly adore you. And yes, let us be married, now and forever.”

Alfred could not have imagined a more perfect wedding, truly. He had never given much thought to being married, for obvious reasons. But here he was, half-naked, in Edward’s small bed, lying there with him. It was, by all respectable accounts, ridiculous. And yet Alfred found it to be the singular most wonderful thing that had happened to him yet. Edward smiled across at him from where they were lying side by side, leaned across to his side table, and produced - a small golden ring. Alfred gasped in sudden realization.

“You - I - you never! Is that…?”

“It was Florence’s. She threw it at me,” Edward admitted bashfully. “But you are the one that should always have had it.” Alfred’s heart skipped a beat as Edward took his hand with the ring poised.

“I, Edward Drummond, take thee, Alfred Paget,” Edward began.

“Alfred Henry Paget,” Alfred smiled at him. Edward nodded, his eyes shining in the candlelight.

“I, Edward Drummond, take thee, Alfred Henry Paget, to be my wedded Husband; to have and to hold from this day forward,” Edward sniffled slightly and Alfred put his hand to his love’s cheek, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to Our Own holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” Alfred giggled at the substituation of ‘Our Own’ for ‘God’s’; it seemed rather fitting. He took a deep breath and returned Edward’s deep, brown gaze, willing himself to speak clearly.

“I, Alfred Henry Paget, take thee, Edward Drummond, to be my wedded Husband; to have and to hold from this day forward; for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish,” and here he leant forwards to kiss Edward’s nose, he could not help it; he looked so angelically blissful, “till death do us part, according to Our Own holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” He sighed in great happiness as he finished. The words might not seem like much when one heard them said blandly in Church with some arranged marriage taking place, but when he spoke them for Edward, they meant everything. Edward squeezed Alfred’s hand and readied the ring. He took several deep breaths before speaking.

“With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow; In the name of us, together, forever.” Edward slipped the cool metal band onto Alfred’s finger and leant down to kiss it on his hand.

“I declare I may now kiss you,” Alfred purred, smirking, and pulled Edward in for a deep, passionate kiss that lasted for a rather long time. It was only broken by a small miaow and a little furry body butting against the back of Alfred’s head.

“Oh!” Alfred gasped, pulling away from Edward and propping himself up to see Tinderbox and Champagne perched happily on the side of the bed, looking very adorable and inquisitive to see the source of the moaning noises, no doubt.

“It appears we have some witnesses of our marriage,” Edward remarked somewhat breathlessly. Alfred felt warm breath and then soft kisses on the back of his neck.

“I’ll just take them outside; I do not want any distractions from you tonight,” Alfred said, reluctantly rising from the bed. He scooped up the tiny kittens, who struggled a little, and set them down outside, making sure to close the door as he re-entered. Edward was lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, an expression of pure content and disbelief on his face. Alfred smiled and went to his love, curling up on him as he so liked to do.

“Edward?” he asked tentatively.

“Yes?”

“Would you like to, ah… Try something?” Alfred was not sure if his love would agree to this. He truly would not mind if not but… But he would quite like it if he did.

“That depends,” Edward muttered, kissing his head fondly. “What is it?”

“Well,” Alfred began, taking a deep breath. “I rather thought we might lie together as a married couple ought to. If we are forgetting all about any consequences our actions might take, then… I think it would make me quite happy,” he admitted, leaning his head into Edward’s shoulder shyly.

“You mean…” Edward sounded uncertain but not opposed. “You mean that you should like me to take you?” Alfred desperately tried to restrain his smile at the way Edward said it, so innocent and yet in awe, as if he had never heard of the fact that Alfred desired him.

“Quite,” he mumbled into Edward’s chest. Edward paused, clearly thinking about it.

“Well, I should certainly have no objection,” he declared eventually. Alfred looked up into his love’s eyes.

“Are you quite sure?” he asked, trying to keep the excitement off his face.

“Quite sure,” smiled Edward down at him. Alfred wiggled in excitement, making Edward chuckle.

“I asked Tom about what we might need to do,” he explained in a rush, “and apparently some sort of oil makes it a good deal easier and less painful. And I took the liberty of looking in your cupboards - I hope you don’t mind, I am sorry - and I found some olive oil there. Shall I go and fetch it?” Alfred was babbling, he knew, but he didn’t care. He had craved Edward for so long and now he was going to experience something so wonderful and sacred that he could hardly sit still for anticipation.

“Less painful…? Will it hurt terribly for you, Alfred? I do not want to hurt you!” Edward looked worried, but Alfred brushed his lovely curly fringe aside, shaking his head.

“I think some pain is necessary for the pleasure,” he explained. “Though I believe some stretching is required beforehand, and then it should not hurt very much at all.” Edward looked confused but nodded along with Alfred.

“I will go and fetch the oil,” Edward said, hopping up to exit the room. Alfred, now on his own, felt his hands tremble with excitement. He could not sit still, and he ripped off his own trousers and drawers, pacing around the room naked before flopping down face first on the bed. He exhaled and tried to relax, feeling elated, excited, and terribly aroused at the same time.

***

 

---

 

Edward fumbled around the pantry, his heart thumping and his head so full of joy he thought it might burst. This is everything I have ever wanted, he thought quite honestly. Not that he had known he wanted it until quite recently. He found the olive oil among the dusty bottles and closed the pantry door quietly, making his way back upstairs. He entered the room, using his foot to keep the kittens at bay while closing the door.

And so it wasn’t until he was safely in the room until he saw Alfred lying spread-eagled on the bed, completely naked, the curve of his backside illuminated by the candles set about the bed. Edward felt his throat close up, his cock go right up, as a wave of arousal and a desire to possess like he had never felt before come upon him. Alfred looked around and smiled broadly at his no doubt idiotic, transfixed face.

“Come here,” Alfred said softly. Edward obeyed unthinkingly, sitting on the bed next to him, running his hand down Alfred’s back to his arse cheeks, not thinking, only feeling. He could feel Alfred shiver beneath his touch, the man leaning his head back into the pillow. Edward smiled and bent to kiss Alfred’s back gently. His love hummed softly with approval. Edward ran his hand further down Alfred’s arse, luxuriating in the silken feel of his lover’s skin. He set the oil bottle on the table beside the bed and climbed properly onto the bed, lying beside Alfred. Alfred shuffled so they were side by side, and reached a hand down to caress Edward’s cock gently. Edward let out a moan of satisfaction and slid a hand in between Alfred’s legs, looking for - ah. The little pucker there. Edward had nearly no idea what to do now. He looked at Alfred for advice, to see the man breathing fast, his eyes full of adoration and excitement.

“What do I do now, Alfred?” he asked.

“I think… I think you can try a finger inside,” Alfred said, his voice breathy and unsteady. “With the oil, that is.” Edward reached for the oil with his other hand, coating his hand with what he thought should be more than enough, some dripping onto the sheets. Edward grinned and leaned forwards to kiss Alfred as he gently pressed a finger into his crease, marvelling at the strange feel of it. He stopped about a knuckle in, oil still dripping from his hand, waiting for Alfred to tell him.

“Oh… Edward… It is quite… Quite strange,” Alfred said, his eyes closed, his limbs relaxed against the sheets. “It does not hurt, it only feels a little odd. I can take more,” he assured his partner. Edward smiled and pushed further in, as far as he could. Alfred made a strange gaspy noise and lay quite still. Edward could feel the muscles around his finger contracting and relaxing as Alfred breathed in and out. He began to move his finger slowly, in and out, and Alfred’s gasps continued, sounding less shocked and more pleasured now. Edward grinned as Alfred opened his eyes, seeing the darkened blue full of longing and arousal.

“Oh, Edward, that feels really rather heavenly,” Alfred moaned. Edward grinned and added a second finger. Alfred’s gasps turned to moans of pleasure, and Edward felt his cock harden with excitement and anticipation. He tried gently spreading his fingers inside of Alfred, and froze when Alfred let out a little squeak.

“Oh! Oh, God, Edward, do that again, I command it!” Alfred seemed incoherent. Edward leaned further into his love and spread his fingers further, finding a rhythm of in, out, spread, that had Alfred letting out little howls of pleasure.

“There is a particular spot, oh, Edward, you are, you are truly, my love, my husband, my everything, how I love you, I think you are magic, I, oh, oh, Edward… ” Alfred’s babbling was varying quiet and loud with Edward’s rhythm, and by the time he had inserted another finger, Alfred was keening long and loud, his body practically writhing against Edward’s in obvious ecstasy. Edward’s cock was getting some much needed friction from this movement, and he felt his arousal build within him as Alfred moved faster.

“Are you ready?” Edward whispered, feeling closer to a balloon than he ever had in his life. He thought he might simply soar up into the sky with happiness. Alfred turned his face into the hollow of Edward’s shoulder, and nodded. Edward poured some more oil onto his hands and used it to coat his hardened cock, aching with desire for his Alfred. His husband.

He took his fingers out of Alfred, causing the man to gasp a little with disappointment. He pushed his lover firmly against the bed, pinning his shoulders with his own hands before taking Alfred’s left hand in his, the one with the ring, and kissing it fervently. Alfred’s eyes were upon him, an expression of utter happiness and adoration blessing Edward.

Edward spread Alfred’s legs beneath him, and lined up his cock with Alfred’s arse, taking deep breaths. Alfred’s hand was gripping his tightly, his breathing speeding up. Edward looked up at Alfred and whispered, “I love you, Alfred.” Alfred smiled dreamily and tried to speak.

“I love you too, Edwa - oh!” Edward slid the head of his cock into Alfred’s arsehole, letting out a moan of pleasure. It was tight, tight, wonderful bliss, and surely everything in the world could not compare to this singular sensation. He watched Alfred carefully, restraining himself, not wanting to ruin it for his lover. Alfred’s expression, however, was one of pure ecstasy. So Edward slid right in, his whole body revelling in the sensation. He stayed there for a few moments, letting Alfred adjust to the feeling. He could feel the tight hot wetness around him alive and moving, contracting when Alfred’s breath hitched, and it was incredible. He took Alfred’s other hand in his, using it to pin down his lover.

Alfred looked into his eyes like a man who had never seen water and now came upon a lake.

“Edward, please, you can move ,” he gasped. Edward smiled and could not stop smiling at his love now, as he began to move, slowly at first. He could feel nothing but pleasure all throughout his body, and he could see nothing but Alfred as he thrust. Alfred let out a series of long, low moans, his hips trembling slightly. Edward began to thrust faster as his arousal built, his heart feeling as if it might burst sooner than his impending climax, Alfred’s noises beneath him doing everything to help along his feeling of bliss. They found a rhythm eventually, Alfred allowing him the best access as he angled his hips, their breath coming together in ragged gasps, Edward pounding into his love in no gentle manner - not that Alfred seemed to object. As Edward drew closer to climax, they both moaned and gasped with no thought to their volume, for they were so taken in themselves. Edward felt himself reach the blessed release of his climax just as Alfred let out a high pitched yell and then they were both coming, Alfred’s semen splattering onto their stomachs as Edward thrust deep within Alfred, his bliss peaking and settling in the most glorious way possible. He saw white, then black, then Alfred as they embraced, never minding the sticky mess between them, his cock slipping out of Alfred awkwardly. Edward held Alfred close, so close to him, feeling more at peace than he ever could have imagined. They did not speak but nuzzled into one another’s necks, needing warmth and comfort and love, a reassurance that they were both fully there. That was how Edward drifted off to sleep, his last thought of Alfred’s beautiful, flushed face and his tousled hair as they made love to one another.

Chapter Text

Dr. Dubois arrived in the morning the next day, insisting he perform an actual checkup of Edward. Alfred was confused as to quite why this was necessary but only watched as Edward was shuffled into his room by Dr. Dubois, the door closing behind them.

“Eet will not take very long!” the doctor had promised, baring his teeth at Alfred.

Alfred shivered slightly as he paced around the sitting room relentlessly. Should it be taking this long? He paced more furiously, wringing his hands. He did not like the thought of Dr. Dubois and Edward alone in a room together at all. Ever since they had met the strange little man, he had only had eyes for Edward. And it wasn’t like Edward was even sick anymore!

It must have been half an hour when Alfred finally decided that he could not just wait around anymore. He crept up the stairs, half intending to go inside, but when he heard the voices coming from Edward’s room, he knew the checkup was over. This was just conversation. He tried not to be angry, listening just at the door, trying to discern the words.

“... I’m not sure I follow, doctor.” It was Edward’s voice.

“Ahhh, Eddy,” Alfred bristled at the casual use of that name, “You need not be worried. I will not tell Lord A.”

Alfred’s heart seemed to stop. Tell me what? He leaned closer to the door.

“I tell him everything!” Edward’s insistent voice came.

“Not this, Edward. I want to see you alone.

That was it. Alfred could not simply stand here and listen to this anymore! He seized the door handle and wrenched it open, stepping through the frame and watching both men turn to him with a comical ‘O’ on their faces. Edward looked terribly guilty and relieved at the same time, while Dr. Dubois only appeared annoyed.

“Why do you want to see my Edward alone?” he demanded, looking straight at Dr. Dubois. He advanced upon him, backing the man against the opposite wall. He could feel the anger fueling through his veins, the need to protect his love making him almost lightheaded. “You need to back off. ” It felt terribly satisfying to put all his contempt into his voice, to square his shoulders and lean over the doctor for full effect.

“And if I do not?” the man said in a cool, clear voice, straightening himself and refusing to lean away from Alfred.

“I will make you ,” Alfred all but snarled.

The doctor laughed, actually laughed, in his face. “Oh, zis is very funny,” he chortled, not sounding amused in the least. “You theenk you can make me leave? I theenk, my lad, zat you are forgetting something.”

Alfred could not think through his fury, his hands curling involuntarily into fists. Only the gentle hand on his shoulder cut through his rage, calming him a little.

“Alfred, my love, do not do something you regret,” Edward pleaded behind him.

Alfred turned to look over his shoulder, his eyes meeting soothing brown ones. He sighed and nodded at Edward’s desperate look, stepping back when Edward pulled him. But he turned back to Dr. Dubois all the same.

“What exactly am I forgetting, pray tell?” He was quite pleased with the chill he managed to put into his voice.

“I can shatter your leetle domestic world,” Dr. Dubois said in an unusually low, serious voice. “Eet would not be very hard. Oh, Your Majesty, I will say… I saw a most disturbing act between Lord Alfred and Mr. Drummond occurring.”

The hand on Alfred’s shoulder gripped tightly while Alfred’s heart seemed to drop and shatter in his feet somewhere. No. No. No. It was all he could do to pull himself together and speak through the resounding THIS MUST NEVER HAPPEN alarm bells ringing in his head.

“Doctor… I. Please. Anything but that,” Alfred croaked.

Dr. Dubois grinned evilly, looking mightily pleased with himself.

“Ah, tut, tut, you should have thought of zat, non?”

“What do you want from us?” Edward demanded behind him, sounding petrified.

“What did I want is more appropriate… I think your Alfred knew what I wanted,” Dr. Dubois grinned at them slyly.

Alfred narrowed his eyes. “You want Edward. You can’t have him.”

Dr. Dubois let out a great sigh. “No. It appears not. Well, although I did my best, I will not be pushy .”

Alfred snorted at that, relieving some of the tension in the room.

“So you… you are not going to expose us? You will give up?” Edward tried timidly.

“Well, zat depends,” Dr. Dubois grinned at them.

“Depends on what?” Alfred demanded frantically.

“On whether you will recommend me to the Preence.”

“What?” Alfred and Edward said blankly at the same time.

“Why on earth-”

“Why the Prince-”

“Too many questions! Will you do it, or not? All you must do is to tell ’im ’ow good I am in passing. And do be sure to mention my name, won’t you?”

Alfred exchanged uncertain glances with Edward. He couldn’t imagine what the doctor could possibly want with the Prince… It surely could not be good. But there was only one right answer for now.

“Of course, we would be happy to do that for you. I shall mention it personally to Prince Albert when I next have the chance,” Alfred said in his best smooth courtier voice.

Dr. Dubois inclined his head in thanks. “Excellent. But be warned - I shall know if you do not do zis. I expect it to be done by tonight.”

Tonight? ” Alfred exclaimed. “But - but -”

“Yes, my boys, eet is back to ze Palace for you. Sick leave is over! Go on!” Dr. Dubois clapped his hands expectantly as Alfred and Edward stared at one another, horrorstruck. The doctor made a disgusted noise and left the room without bidding goodbye. They heard the front door slam behind him.

“Ohhhhhhh, Lord above,” Edward groaned, stumbling to the bed and sinking down onto it. “We must tell the Prince. It is the only way.”

“But what could he possibly want from the Prince?” Alfred asked shakily, sitting cross legged on the floor facing his lover.

Edward shook his head in confusion.

“You don’t think he has… Sinister intentions?” Alfred voiced the thought that had been nagging at him.

“Oh! Oh, no, he wouldn’t…” Edward did not sound convinced by his own words.

“He would, Edward. He tried to take you from me.” Alfred was appalled by the way his voice cracked as he said it. Edward grimaced at him apologetically, holding out his arms. Alfred smiled and rose to sit in Edward’s lap, his arms around his lover’s neck.

Edward wrapped his arms around Alfred’s midriff and buried his head in Alfred’s shoulder. “I will never leave you,” he promised. “You are my husband now. In all ways but that of law.” Alfred smiled happily as Edward bounced him slightly on his knee.

“Thank you, my husband.”

“That is alright, my husband.” Edward smirked as he repeated the sentiment.

“But God! Edward. What if he means to seduce Albert? Or…” A thought almost worse had hit Alfred. “What if he means to tell him about us?”

Edward’s eyes turned panicked as he looked up at Alfred.

“He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t!”

“Stop saying that, Edward, he most certainly would!” Alfred snapped. Edward looked hurt.

“He could have told about us a long time ago,” Edward began, but Alfred interrupted.

“Look, he didn’t have any reason to. And now for some reason, he has a use for us, and he means us to do his bidding!”

Edward sighed. And then suddenly an idea came to Alfred.

“Edward… What if we told about him ?” he gasped.

Edward’s face went through the whole range: shocked, interested, in denial, angry, and more angry.

“Then we become no better than he is! Alfred, that is a despicable thing to hold over anyone! Especially for us!” Edward exclaimed.

Alfred hung his head. “But if he exposes us… I fear all is lost.”

“Perhaps for you,” Edward snapped. “Perhaps for me, I value my husband more than my reputation.”

“You know I value you more than my public appearance!” Alfred insisted.

“Do I? It always seems like you view someone finding out about us akin to a calamity!” Edward half-yelled. He pushed Alfred off his lap, onto the bed.

“I… I just don’t want either of us to go to prison, ” Alfred said incredulously. He couldn’t believe they were even having this argument. “Do you want me to tell everyone?”

“No!” Edward cried. “No, I just wish you would not be so convinced that we would be split apart by such a thing.”

“But… we would be split apart,” Alfred said in confusion. Was this how Edward felt during their conversations? He felt he was missing the point entirely.

“Not if we left! To France, where homosexuality is legal! To Scotland, in the country, where no one would find us! We have options if you only look for them, Alfred.” Edward’s eyes were hard and blazing as they looked into his.

Alfred wasn’t quite sure how to feel. Of course, they could feasibly live a life in France or Scotland or anywhere in the remote countryside to be honest… But that seemed surreal, like a future that could never happen.

“Do you want to leave England?” he asked Edward quietly. His tone was such that it was not an invitation, merely a question.

“No. Yes! No. I do not know, ” Edward raged. “I only know I want to be with you forever.”

“I want to be with you too, Edward! But we both have lives here! Friends and lives and you have your career and-”

“Oh, be damned with my career! Sir Robert insists I would never be able to make any changes to the laws of immorality that force us into hiding anyway! What is the point if change will never come about?” Edward yelled, not bothering to keep his voice down at all. “I love you! I love you, Alfred, and I don’t care if the world knows it. Let them come at me!”

Alfred stared. He had never seen Edward like this, so entirely out of control, pacing around the room like a madman and running his hands through his hair.

“I care if the world knows,” he stated quietly. “I care because I do not want you to be forced from society, Edward. You would be bored to only live with me. We must have balance in our lives. It is time to go back to that balance, and I will recommend Dr. Dubois to the Prince, and-”

“And you would put His Royal Highness in danger just to save your own skin? Don’t pretend you are doing this for me, Lord Paget, ” Edward spat.

“But I am!” Alfred said indignantly, rising from his position on the bed and advancing towards Edward. “You may doubt anything else about me, Edward. But never doubt I love. I love you and all of my actions, all of my actions, go towards protecting you.” He crossed the room to hold Edward’s shoulders, forcing the man to face him. “I love you,” he said simply, and kissed Edward fiercely.

It was more of a battle than a kiss. Alfred could taste Edward’s salty tears as their lips fought to gain power, both gasping and holding each other tightly. As time went on, it became less frantic, mellowing to a deep, passionate kiss that had both of them trembling. Alfred lightened his kisses until they were almost chaste, and then pulled away. They rested their foreheads together, Alfred bringing his nose to bump Edward’s in a reminder of that first kiss by the lagoon. Edward chuckled breathily. Alfred brought a hand up to wipe his love’s tears away.

“I love you too,” Edward whispered.

“I know,” Alfred replied.

They stayed embracing, breathing in the other, for a few moments.

“I should go to the Palace now,” Alfred said, not making any move to leave.

“And I to government,” Edward admitted.

Still they stayed there.

Finally, when Alfred could stand the time pressure of Dr. Dubois’ request no more, he broke away, dressing quickly in clothes that would be acceptable for court - Edward’s clothes.

“Shall I see you tonight at the cottage?” Edward asked, watching his lover prepare.

“Of course, my darling,” Alfred smiled. Edward smiled back, though it did not reach his eyes.

“Be careful,” he whispered. Alfred nodded in agreement, pulling on his jacket, and before he could be tempted to stay any longer, he left.

As he walked to the Palace, he was already counting down the moments until he could see Edward again. The world was a terribly dull place without him.

 

---

 

“Lord Alfred, you are returned!” Prince Albert heard Victoria cry. “How marvelous! Fully recovered, I take it?”

Albert straightened up and turned to see Lord Alfred entering the ballroom, looking quite as well as he had ever done.

“Yes, Your Majesty. I will be able to return to all my usual duties,” Alfred said with a courteous bow.

“I am sorry that Sir James was needed at the Palace instead of attending to you and Drummond,” Albert said, advancing forwards to where Victoria and Alfred stood. “You understand that the health of our children must come first.”

“Of course, Your Royal Highness. I bear no ill will. In fact, I would highly recommend Dr. Dubois, who treated us in Sir James’ stead. I know how concerned you both are over the wellbeing of your children.” Alfred looked strained as he said it, his face contorting strangely as he said the doctor’s name. Albert was not convinced, but Victoria looked pleased enough.

“Perhaps we shall ask him in for an inspection,” she said thoughtfully to Albert. “It cannot hurt to have a second opinion, surely?” Victoria’s eyes looked into his, so trusting and vulnerable.

Albert smiled and nodded. “Whatever you wish for, my darling.” Victoria was right; it could not hurt.

“Thank you very much, ma’am, sir,” Alfred said, looking oddly relieved.

“What for?” Victoria asked, laughing.

“For - for your kind welcome,” Alfred said.

It sounded stiff even to Albert, who was not usually the best at reading people.

“You are welcome, Lord Alfred. For now you may leave us to work; I think Miss Coke and the other ladies are playing cards in one of the sitting rooms,” Victoria said. Albert could not help but admire the angle of her neck, the poise she held herself with, the way her eyes lit up and yet captivated. Lord Alfred bowed and left quickly. Albert advanced towards Victoria and wrapped his arms around her, lifting her up, her laugh the sweetest chime in all the world.

He did love her, truly.

Just that their marriage had not started out that way.

 

---

 

Wilhelmina sighed as the Duchess of Buccleuch won another trick, appearing to have an endless supply of diamonds. She fingered her own cards, pondering whether to give up entirely and concede defeat. From the look of Lady Harriet and Lady Emma, they were having second thoughts on the game as well.

“You are all blind fools,” crowed the Duchess. She held up her cards in victory. “You will never win against me!”

“I never back down from a challenge,” came an all-too-familiar voice. “Allow me to join you, ladies?” Lord Alfred smiled and bowed slightly to them.

Wilhelmina could not bring herself to look at him. She focussed on her cards, squinting as if she could not make out the numbers. All she could think of was that stupid, stupid kiss and how frozen he had been, and how she had ruined her and Alfred’s love story now… Perhaps he could have been redeemed, but she had torn his soul up and doomed it to Hell.

“Miss Coke?” Alfred shook her out of her horrorstruck reverie. Everyone was looking at her expectantly. “You have no objections to me playing?”

Wilhelmina met Alfred’s gaze and was surprised to see friendship there.

“Of course not, Lord Alfred,” she said quickly. “Come and sit here, next to me.”

Perhaps my love story is not lost after all!

 

---

 

Lord Alfred, it turned out, could not beat the Duchess. She was a wily old thing with entirely far too much experience on her side. But that was not the only thing going wrong.

Alfred had tried to convey to Wilhelmina that he was not angry with her, that he had forgiven her, when she finally looked at him - but she seemed to have taken it entirely the wrong way.

Whenever he played, she would remark on what an excellent play it was, even when he was throwing out his useless cards! Whenever he tried to make a joke, she would laugh long after the other ladies’ polite giggles had ceased. Whenever he so much as moved, her head would snap to him, and her large blue eyes would gaze adoringly at him.

It was all too much to take.

After three rounds in which Alfred had played accumulatively worse due to the unwanted attention, he suggested they instead view the Queen’s wondrous art collection. He had missed it, truthfully, though Edward more than made up for it.

As they walked through the hallways, Wilhelmina looped her arm through his, and smiled like the world had become Heaven. Alfred could bear it no longer.

When the other ladies had drawn away, Alfred hissed into her ear, “Wilhelmina, what are you doing?”

She looked at him with wide, almost hurt eyes. “What do you mean?” she said in an innocent voice.

Alfred sighed in frustration. “I am not, and never will be, engaged to you. You know that!”

Wilhelmina gasped and angry tears filled her eyes. She ripped her arm out of his and marched down the hallway, her arms folded.

“I cannot help you if you do not want to help yourself, Alfred!” she cried and began to run down the hallway, sobbing.

Alfred stared after her incredulously. The other ladies turned to watch Wilhelmina turn the corner and then looked back at him, their eyes wide and questioning.

“What have you done to my niece this time, hm?” the Duchess spoke, hobbling towards Alfred. “You have taunted her enough, sir. Why?” Her eyes were old and clever. Alfred had a feeling he was just as out of depth in the conversation as he had been in the card game.

“I do not taunt her,” he insisted. “She taunts herself. I have never given her any reason to think-”

“But what is wrong with her for a wife?” the Duchess interrupted him.

Alfred opened his mouth but no sound came out. His heart was hammering away as he desperately tried to think of an excuse.

“Lord Alfred, I would speak with you alone,” the Duchess said, taking his arm and steering him into a shadowy corner of the hall. “You are not concealing yourself well. I will not be the only one to have noticed. You must do better at lying or remove the cause.”

“I- I’m sure I don’t know what-”

“Bollocks! Do not lie to me!” She looked so fierce at that moment that Alfred took a step back, awkwardly bumping into the wall. “Must I spell it out for you?”

Alfred could only stare and keep his mouth clamped.

“Let it be this way, then. You have a forbidden love, my young man, a very forbidden love indeed. My own son had this particular affliction, so I know what I am dealing with, and do not pretend for a second that you are clueless in this matter. It brought him nothing but pain in the end. I do not want you to go the same way, and so I tell you, you must get better at concealing yourselves, or part ways forever.” Her eyes burned with the kind of intensity that Alfred had seen in the Queen’s when she was very angry over something concerning her children. “You can never love Wilhelmina, and she can never believe that you cannot. You must choose, and choose soon. You must know that you cannot continue like this forever.”

Alfred bit his lip, willing himself not to cry or gasp or do anything improper. He nodded once, then turned away, his feet carrying him quickly towards his quarters. It is too much for me, he thought despairingly. It is too much for anyone.

Chapter Text

Edward paced anxiously around the cottage. It was well past midnight, and well past any chance that Alfred would show up miraculously. But Edward would never give up hope. He felt sick. My love, my love, my love…

Truthfully, he had no clue why Alfred was not here. Had something urgent come up at the Palace? Was one of the Queen’s children ill again? Or… Had Alfred decided it was too risky?

Edward felt the bile rise up in his throat.

No. Surely not. Alfred had always taken the risk before, always been willing to stick his neck out for his love… But this time it seemed different. Now it seemed that every move they made was terribly important in the bigger picture, that tonight might set a precedent for how all the nights to come after would go.

Alfred was scared, Edward knew. He was always so scared of being caught. Perhaps he had lost his nerve tonight, or there was a new guard outside his door. It would not take much.

But I would not have let anything stop me from coming tonight… And there it was. Their relationship was all out of balance for that one small fact. Edward had made his choice a long time ago, and he had thought that last night was Alfred making a similar commitment to him.

He let out a small, choked noise that was definitely not him crying and continued his pacing, one hand over his mouth. He and Alfred had clearly not been making the same promise.

To have and to hold… Well, there wasn’t much chance of that happening if Alfred could not be bothered to come and meet Edward.

To love and to cherish… God, Edward loved Alfred. He cherished the very ground he stepped on. But he knew that his love was irrational, that the other man was not as perfect as Edward’s own skewed view of the world showed him. It does not matter. I love him! Edward would have sacrificed his entire life, gladly, for Alfred.

What hurt the most was that Alfred knew that. Alfred knew Edward would run away with him, Edward had told him, and his lack of action had resulted in the mess they had now. We cannot just continue as it was before, Edward thought hopelessly. Alfred has to make his choice.

 

It was another hour before Alfred finally arrived.

“Where have you been?” Edward demanded, half angrily, half with a dopey smile on his face as he rushed to embrace his love, to kiss his cheeks. “I have been waiting for hours, Alfred!”

Alfred looked immensely guilty. “I, er… I fell asleep,” he admitted, scratching the back of his neck. “I was only back a couple of hours when I returned to my chambers, and I was thinking on my bed, and then I just… fell asleep, I suppose. Until now.” He grimaced up at Edward, whose angry thoughts vanished on the spot.

“Oh, my love, you are here now,” he gushed. “That is all that matters!” And he threw himself at Alfred, tugging him over to the bed, kissing him enthusiastically.

“Wait! Wait, Edward, I must tell you,” Alfred laughed, pushing him off. “The Prince and Queen have decided to have Dr. Dubois over for an inspection of their children.”

Edward froze where he was, looking up at Alfred. “Alfred, are you quite sure that is safe?” he asked. “You saw how he was this morning…”

“You were the one who said he would never do any harm, that he is a medical man!” Alfred exclaimed, flushing red. Edward shook his head.

“I said that before he threatened to expose us, Alfred! It is safe to say I have changed my mind. Alfred, they are just children, if anything happens and it is our fault then-”

“Nothing will happen,” Alfred said reassuringly, stroking Edward’s hair. “We have nothing to worry about! The doctor will be in the royal pocket, just as he wished for, and we will be safe to do as we please.”

Edward looked doubtfully at his lover. “I was just thinking, before you arrived, that we cannot simply continue -”

Alfred cut him off by kissing him fiercely, pushing him to the bed and moaning into him, “No more talk, my love. I want you.”

Edward had already forgotten his train of thought, and so he offered no resistance to the delight that Alfred plunged him into.

 

---

 

Alfred shook Edward frantically. God, the man was fast asleep, as dead as a doornail, and they were both going to be caught and hung and quartered if anyone was suspicious -

“Wazzit?” Edward mumbled, blinking slowly and focussing on Alfred.

“Get up!” Alfred hissed. They were still in the cottage, and dawn had broken. “We must be gone soon!”

Edward grunted and sat up, rubbing his eyes. Alfred was satisfied that he would be able to remain awake and get himself to Parliament on his own, so he kissed his lover’s sleep-warmed lips gently ( oh, sleepy Edward was the best thing he had ever tasted ) and took his leave, trekking across the park and creeping back into his quarters. He thought he heard the creak of a footstep behind him in the Palace hallway - but when he turned around, no one was there.

I am imagining things, he told himself. Stop being so paranoid. He dressed quickly, tucking a pale blue bowtie into his collar, and set off to report to the Queen.

The morning was spent dealing with a complicated matter to do with the military - unfortunately, not the interesting battle strategy kind, but a financial kind. The Prince Albert wanted to replace the British military uniform with a more practical one, taking the feathers off the helmets and such like. Unfortunately, the setup costs of such an effort were large, and Alfred personally thought it would be easier to stick with the old ones, both economically and politically. Though the helmet design was not the most important thing in the world, Alfred was sure that the Tories and Whigs would have something to say if it were changed. But the Prince was adamant that a more practical design be implemented.

“Perhaps if we merged the two?” Victoria suggested, looking at her wit’s end after half an hour of Albert ranting about the impracticality of the feather for stealth missions. “Why not just remove the feather from the original helmet?”

“An excellent idea,” Alfred backed her up. He wanted this to end as much as she did.

“Perhaps… But what about the shape of them? They are so silly! They are wont to fall off at any moment!” Albert exclaimed.

Victoria and Alfred exchanged glances that said it all. The Prince will never back down on this , Alfred thought despairingly. But he was shaken from his helmet-induced misery as Edward entered the room.

Why isn’t he looking at me? Alfred thought. Those big brown eyes were darting anywhere except him, and Edward’s face seemed strange and tight. He bowed to first the Queen then Prince.

“Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness. I have been sent from Parliament to inform you of some strange goings-on last night,” Edward said formally, keeping such a tight mask on his face that even Alfred could not tell what he was thinking.

“Anything to distract us from helmets!” Victoria exclaimed, and Alfred laughed. Edward did not seem to find this funny.

“It is quite serious, ma’am, if you’ll beg my pardon.”

“Well then, Drummond, please do inform us,” Victoria said curiously.

“Last night, it appears that an underground establishment was discovered.” Edward sounded as though he were reciting it from a book, as if he had practiced it for the whole carriage ride here. “An establishment of a disreputable nature.”

“A brothel?” Victoria said. “Well, that is not so surprising, surely?”

Edward shook his head and carried on.

“Not exactly a brothel, ma’am. A meeting-place for men... of a certain kind.” Alfred’s heart seemed to stop, falling down past his feet into the Earth. Edward still did not look at him, and now Alfred knew why.

“Of a certain kind? Whatever do you mean?” Victoria demanded. Her husband’s face had turned to stone, his eyes like ice.

“Men who lie with other men, ’Toria. Sodomites. Homosexuals. Criminals.” Albert spat the words, his face contorting with rage.

Alfred could feel very well the shock and fear on his face, and prayed it would be construed for the right reasons. His eyes met Edward’s for a moment before he tore his gaze away from his love’s pained face, not wanting to give them away.

“Yes, sir. Precisely,” said Edward. “I have here a list of names of the more notable arrested men.” He held a scroll of parchment out towards the Queen, who reached for it. But the Prince got there first, seizing the paper.

“Thank you, Drummond, we shall inspect this later,” he said. Edward looked confused for a second and then nodded. Who is on that list… Alfred could not bear to think of it. Sir Robert Peel? Mac and Tom? Would they all be lost? And what if we had been there last night? It had been a close thing, that was for sure. Alfred repressed a shudder at how close they had been, once again, to being caught.

“As you wish, sir. Your Majesty, I came as soon as I could - John Russell, the Whig leader, will surely be visiting very soon to discuss the matter. I thought you would want to be informed straight away,” Edward said, looking somewhat anxious. He had clearly not asked permission or had orders to be here.

“You did very well, Drummond. Your loyalty will not be forgotten,” Victoria praised him. “I expect you would like to get back to work before you are missed?”

Edward nodded gratefully.

“Thank you, ma’am. Good day.” He bowed and backed out of the room respectfully.

Alfred caught his eye as the door closed and found a rather panicked and betrayed expression shooting his way. He would have liked to set off after Edward and interrogate him more on the matter, but it would appear far too suspicious. And suspicion was one thing they could not have now.

“I will read the list and take care of this, Victoria,” the Prince babbled, making for the door hastily. “Do not trouble yourself with it.”

Victoria did not look pleased at this.

“Albert, we will read it together and deal with it accordingly!” she exclaimed. “Why must you always try to shelter me so?”

Alfred began to feel distinctly awkward. The Queen and Prince had little arguments often, but he never liked to be caught in the middle of them.

“If you please, I shall excuse myself, ma’am. I need to go and check on-” Alfred was in the middle of constructing a hasty excuse when he was interrupted.

“No! Lord Alfred, you shall stay,” Victoria commanded. “This is a dire matter and the Prince and myself will need advice from those we can trust. It is not for two people alone, and certainly not for one.” She sent a death glare at Albert, who bowed his head in understanding.

“I am sorry, my love. You are right, we must deal with it together. I only want to read the list first so perhaps I can warn you if -”

“Oh, Albert, do not lie to me! Open it!” The Queen’s short figure was drawn up to full height, managing to look a lot taller than she actually was. Her eyes were blazing in a challenge.

Albert sighed. “Yes, Victoria,” he agreed in a tone of defeat. He smoothed out the parchment on the table, and cleared his throat to read it out.

Not Sir Robert Peel, not Mac, not Tom, Alfred prayed. Not Dr. Dubois, not his friends, not anyone we know…

 

---

 

Albert frantically scanned the list while clearing his throat totally unnecessarily. Not Peel, not Peel, not Peel… His eyes moved down from ‘Baker, Thomas’ to ‘West, Nathaniel’. And thank God, Peel was not on the list. He let out an involuntary sigh of relief.

Victoria huffed in impatience, and Albert started, having totally forgotten that he was not alone. He began to read the list out, the names droning by. He measured Alfred’s responses to each, his theory burning bright in his mind now, determined to prove himself right.

“Baker, Thomas,” he said. Lord Alfred did not twitch, but kept himself perfectly, perfectly still. Too still. Aha, thought Albert. He made a mental note to question Thomas Baker later. There would be time yet. He kept reading, name after name, until…

“Dubois, Gabriel,” he said, and then stared. “Isn’t that -”

“No!” Lord Alfred cried, the tremor apparent in his voice. “No! I mean - I don’t believe it!”

“Who is that?” Victoria inquired curiously, her eyes wide and uncomprehending.

“It is Drummond’s doctor; that one Lord Alfred here recommended to us just yesterday,” Albert explained, his eyes locked on Lord Alfred’s.

“Oh, how dreadful!” Victoria exclaimed. “Had he not been discovered, he would have been examining our children!”

That realization hit Albert like a tonne of bricks. His children, his very own Vicky, Bertie, and Alice, in danger from a sodomite.

“Oh, God,” he breathed. “We must be careful, more careful, in future…” Was nothing in his life safe anymore?

“My dearest, nothing happened,” Victoria soothed him, rubbing his arm soothingly. “Everything is fine, and we will be more careful in future.”

“My apologies, but may I be excused?” Lord Alfred said politely. When Albert studied him, he looked shaken, but not altogether surprised. Victoria nodded. It was quite customary when the royal family needed to show emotions for their court to vanish on the spot. Lord Alfred bowed and left the room.

“If he knew about that doctor…” Albert began, and Victoria turned to him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Lord Alfred did not know, or he would not have recommended him, Albert!”

“Oh, Liebes, do you really believe that?”

“What else ought I to believe, Albert?” Her eyes bored into his, and suddenly they were less soothing and more searching. “Why did you want to read the list alone so badly?” Albert frowned and acted confused.

“What do you mean? I only did not want to trouble you, Victoria.” His wife’s lips pursed.

“I am not blind, Albert. I do not know what else is going on, but you must tell me. Now. There are to be no secrets between us, or had you forgotten?” she asked insistently.

Albert sighed. I am sorry, my love, but there is a secret. There is always a secret. “I… I have some suspicions. I do not think that all the sodomites we knew were on this list.”

Victoria looked disbelieving. “You think we know more? Who, Albert?” She is not going to believe me, Albert thought.

“I think Lord Alfred and Mr. Drummond have been together. They are such close friends, and to spend so much time alone, in a house, with only a doctor who has committed the very same act! And now Lord Alfred was plotting to get this man into the Palace!” Albert watched his wife’s face closely. She bit her lip, clearly thinking. Her eyes changed from inquisitive, to suspicious, to doubtful, back to her usual matter-of-fact business expression.

“No, Albert. I will not believe it. Lord Alfred has been a great friend to me for many years. He is surely not a criminal,” she stated firmly.

“But these men do not find what they do criminal, Victoria! You do not understand!” Albert exclaimed desperately, willing her to understand his point.

“How do you know so much about sodomites, Albert?” she questioned him furiously. “Do not pretend to know more than me!”

Albert’s mouth fell open, and he closed it quickly. Victoria had never, ever come this close to his secret before. He knew she was just angry he was ‘pretending’ to understand how sodomites thought. Well, it is true, I am not a sodomite.

“I am sorry, ’Toria,” he said quietly, drawing her to him and pressing a kiss into her hair. “I am just upset, that is all. The children’s safety is everything to me.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I will talk to Lord Alfred about this man later today.”

“No!” Albert exclaimed. “I should do it.”

Albert! I am perfectly capable of doing that for myself!” Victoria pulled away from him, storming to the other side of the room.

“Please, Victoria, I will ask him for myself even if you do it first,” Albert pleaded. She studied him mutinously.

“Fine. Fine. Now let us get to work on the boxes.” Albert nodded in agreement and they settled down to work. He found it hard to concentrate; a certain face kept on worming it’s way into his mind. He remembered what Peel had once told him.

People like us get desperate. It is too much for anyone.

 

---

 

Edward stared out over London from the little balcony he and Alfred used to frequent. He would be missed at Parliament, he knew, but he had to speak to Alfred. His insides had been clenched all morning, ever since he had seen the list, copied it out for the Queen and Prince, written Dubois, Gabriel in his own ink.

He could not believe that Alfred would truly stoop so low as to turn in the man. But his love had been so desperate, and so scared… It was always in his eyes, the fear that they would be caught. Even when they were at Edward’s apartment, or at the cottage, if a sound was heard from outside, Alfred would stiffen. Edward understood how he felt, but he could simply not bring himself to care so much. If they were caught, well… At least it would spur Alfred into doing something. Like running away. Edward pushed the thought away; there was no use fantasizing over something so obviously not on Alfred’s agenda.

“I thought I might find you here,” came Alfred’s silken voice from behind him.

Edward whipped around and blurted out, “Did you do it, Alfred?”

“Pardon?” Alfred looked confused.

“Did you report Dr. Dubois?” he asked, trembling.

Alfred looked taken aback. “Of course not! How could you even think that?”

“You suggested it! When he threatened us! You said, we could report him…” Edward’s voice trailed off, and he rubbed at the burning in his eyes.

“Well, I assure you, I did not,” Alfred said firmly.

Edward studied him closely. “I don’t know whether to believe you,” he admitted softly. “If you could lie to the Prince and Queen, how can I trust that you will tell me the truth?”

And there it was. The thing that had been bothering him since yesterday. Alfred was a good man, Edward knew, but he was being driven to do things unbefitting of him. Like lying to his Monarch.

“I swear to you, Edward-”

“You swore to me that we would have and hold each other. To love and to cherish. I don’t see how it is going to happen if we carry on like this, Alfred.” Edward was terrified, but he met Alfred’s eyes, breathing deeply. Alfred looked like a deer caught in headlights, his expression frozen on disbelief.

“I… I don’t know what to say to you, Edward. Everything I do, I do for you. To keep us safe, ” Alfred insisted.

Edward snorted. He could not help it. “To keep us hidden, you mean.”

“That is safety!”

“It is not happiness, Alfred. It is not really living. We cannot do this forever, and I thought, that maybe, just maybe, we would be able to progress further.” Edward felt his hands tremble and clasped them together in front of him. His stomach felt like it was eating itself with fright. Please do not leave me, my love.

“Edward…” Alfred looked helpless. He looked resigned. He looked hopeless.

And that was when Edward knew the decision that Alfred had made.

“Don’t say it,” Edward bit out, his heart shattering into a million tiny pieces on repeat. “Do not say it.” He could not be here anymore, not with the man who he loved, who was his everything, who was his ruination. He dashed past Alfred, wiping the hot tears from his cheeks before anyone noticed. Because God forbid that he and Alfred be suspected for the crime of loving one another.

 

---

 

Alfred had never felt so much like a sinner as he did that day. Within the span of just two days, he had betrayed Queen and country, and he had lost the man he loved forever. He walked through his Palace duties in a daze, the accounts somehow getting done.

When he went out riding with Miss Coke, she had chattered away obliviously, apologising for her behaviour. He smiled and nodded at her, doing his best not to speak, lest his voice crack with grief. Thankfully, she did not ask him about Edward.

At dinner, thank God, Edward was not there. The Duchess had studied him closely, however, and he had caught an approving nod from her. Well. His position, station, public appearance was untarnished and out of danger now. It did not make him feel remotely better.

I am doing it for Edward’s career , he told himself. But he was lying. His mind could not stop replaying Edward’s look of utter despair as he had scrambled for words, for justification, for the excuses that he had been playing through their whole relationship. It would never be enough.

It was more claustrophobia from his chambers than any belief that Edward would go to the cottage that led him to sneak outside to their usual meeting place that night.

 

---

 

Sir Robert Peel had heard about the discovery of the molly house that evening when one of his former friends from government had informed him passing on the street. He had gawked at the man, stammered his surprise at such a terrible establishment, and hurried home.

I must see Albert tonight, he decided. He knew the Prince would not be happy to see him; he never was. But he must talk to him. It was only right that he give his advice on the matter, he assured himself. He had no selfish interest to see Prince Albert whatsoever.

But if he were to need some comfort, I should be more than happy to give it to him… Albert would not ask for comfort. He never asked for anything, no matter how happy Peel would be to give it to him.

As he set off late that night to the Palace, Peel wondered if this was really the right thing to do. Albert might simply refuse to see him; it would not be the first time, nor the last, Sir Robert suspected. But I have to try.

As he came up the Palace drive, he saw a dark-clad figure slip into the gardens surrounding the Palace. Peel stared. As he watched, he saw another, more familiar figure, follow. Albert?

He began to run towards the small opening into the bush, crashing through the trees after the two men. As he pushed through the shrubs and trees, he began to catch up to the rustling sound of the man in front of him.

However, it was not until they reached the St James lake that the figure stopped, and Peel paused behind him, watching.

Prince Albert was standing at the edge of the water, watching hidden amongst the large bushes as Lord Alfred stood by the little run-down cottage on the opposite side. Peel watched as Alfred entered the cottage, closing the door behind him with a click that carried over the water. The Prince moved to follow, but Peel cleared his throat to make his presence known.

“I wonder, Your Royal Highness, what you are doing out so late at night?” he could not keep the smile out of his voice. No matter how expressly Prince Albert forbade him to love him, Peel could not help himself. He would have kissed the ground that Albert stepped on if it would not entice some very awkward questions.

Albert jumped and spun around, his face full of shock.

“Sir Robert Peel?” he gasped, his crisp German accent breaking the still night air. “What - what are you doing here?”

“Following you,” Peel admitted with some chagrin. “I came to visit you tonight at the Palace, when I saw you and Lord Alfred disappearing in here. I could not help but be intrigued.” He looked into Albert’s eyes, and his heart simultaneously did a backflip and broke as he saw the hardened look of determination that the Prince always wore for him. Determination not to break to temptation.

“You should not be here,” Albert said, though he made no move to leave.

“Neither should you,” Robert observed, grinning. Albert’s mask slipped and he smiled a tiny smile for a fraction of a second before it disappeared.

“Sir Robert, I have reason to believe that Lord Alfred here has committed sodomy with your former secretary, Drummond,” Albert said matter-of-factly. Peel sighed.

“I do not know why you are telling me this, Albert,” he said plainly. “I would not say anything even if I knew about those two.”

“You would betray your sovereign?” Albert inquired, his eyes turning wide. Oh, no. Peel had always been unable to resist Albert’s questioning, especially when he turned charming. Albert advanced forwards, his mask falling again for longer this time. His eyes were full of betrayal and pleading - and some poorly hidden excitement. The Prince reached to touch Robert’s arm gently. Suddenly there was not enough air in the whole of the forest to breathe.

“I do not betray my friends,” Sir Robert insisted quietly.

Albert frowned and drew back. “This is a criminal matter, Sir Robert. I am quite aware now that sodomy is widespread in our city. You have heard, I am sure, of the discovery of this molly house?”

Peel inclined his head, not daring to speak.

“Surely… you do not know any of the men there?” Albert asked.

Peel could not bring himself to lie, so he stayed silent, his head bowing further. Albert let out a long breath in obvious dismay.

“Sir Robert, I am disappointed in you. Did I not tell you to disassociate yourself with these people? You have probably been to the same establishment, have you not? Do not lie to me!” Albert exclaimed, his voice rising. Peel stayed silent again, but brought his head up, meeting Albert’s eyes. “God, man!” the Prince yelled. “Do you have no shame?”

“No, Your Royal Highness, I am not ashamed of myself!” Peel shouted back. “I know what I am! I have come to terms with it! We are not all so lucky as to desire our wives!” His voice cracked in an ugly way on the word wives. He had always found it so hard not to resent the Queen for how she captivated Albert.

“Do not bring Victoria into this, Sir Robert,” Albert warned in a low, dangerous voice. “She would be ashamed of me for how I have acted already thus far.”

“Oh, I am so terribly sorry for you.” Peel was frustrated and done with holding back.

“Please, do not speak like that,” Albert begged in a much higher tone. “Sir Robert, I…”

“Call me Robert. God knows I have asked you enough times,” Sir Robert said brusquely.

“Robert. I am sorry. You know I am happy with Victoria now, but it does not keep part of my heart from hurting. It will always hurt. But I have to ignore it, I must carry on and resist it always, for the sake of all that is right and good!” Albert’s eyes gazed into his with the kind of emotion Robert had not seen there for a long time.

“I know you think that way, Albert. But resistance does not help with the temptation. And if one does not have a Victoria, as you do, it is nigh impossible to keep the feelings at bay,” Peel said softly. “But Albert…” He looked deep into the Prince’s eyes. “I do not wish to keep my feelings at bay.”

Albert made a soft noise in the back of his throat as Robert leaned in to kiss him. Albert’s lips were soft against his. It was years since they had last done this, and then it had only been a few times before Albert had decreed no more. A long dormant surge of affection rose in Peel’s chest, cut off abruptly as Albert pulled back, pushing Peel away so that he stumbled. Tears were running down the other man’s cheeks.

“I told you, no more of this!” he shouted hoarsely. “I cannot! I will not! I must not! How can you come here and try to confuse me so?” His voice jerked and wavered.

“I will not apologise for my feelings,” Robert rasped, feeling light-headed from the kiss. “I love you, Albert.”

The Prince let out a shriek of frustration, his face screwed up. “You will ruin me, Robert! I will never love you in return, never!” He kicked at a nearby log.

“Too late,” Peel murmured softly.

Albert let out a sigh of grief and flung himself into Peel’s arms, crying in earnest now. Sir Robert held him close, stroking his hair gently. I would give up everything for this, he thought.

“I hate myself for loving you,” Albert muttered. “And yet somehow, I can never resist you when you are close to me. I spend years telling myself no, and you change it in one second. You must truly be the devil,” he sniffled.

Robert laughed. “Not the devil, only a man,” he assured Albert. The man wiped his eyes and pulled away a little, just enough to see Peel’s face, still in his arms.

“Please tell me the truth, Sir Robert,” Albert all but begged. “Lord Alfred and Drummond. They have shared together, have they not?”

Peel groaned in frustration. “I told you, I will not betray my friends!”

“Which means that they are,” Albert concluded. Peel could not bring himself to outright lie and deny him. “Good God, is everyone so afflicted as us?”

Sir Robert laughed. “More so than you might think. But you must not expose them, they are so young, and all they have done is love one another. Albert, please.”

“They are older than me,” Albert observed. “And I have done my utmost to resist my own trial. Surely they could at least have not committed the, erm… the sins of the flesh.”

“I have told you, Albert, you desire women too! It is not the same for some of us, who only desire men.”

But Albert shook his head determinedly. “God does not create us to do this foul deed between men. Every man, even you, Sir Robert, has the ability to love and desire women. You have just not searched hard enough for it.”

Robert did his best to hide his frustration. Albert was so determined to be good and righteous that he could be exceedingly blind about the nature of the world.

“I have searched hard all my life, Albert. We are different, ” he tried again.

“I refuse to accept it, Sir Robert. Just as I refuse to accept criminals within the Palace!” Albert exclaimed. Oh, no… “They will not be harshly treated, for there is no real proof, and both of them are good and decent men in all other respects. But there must be some punishment. This Godless behaviour must not be accepted!”

Sir Robert let out a sigh, and pushed Albert away. “You are determined to be blind to human nature, Albert. You will cause these people to suffer needlessly, as if they could help themselves. I know you are a great believer in Right and Wrong, so let me tell you that I deem this Wrong ,” he said firmly.

Albert shook his head at Sir Robert, and pushed past him, walking back into the forest.

“If I find that Lord Alfred and Drummond have been warned by tomorrow, I may well find another well-known man to arrest for sodomy,” the Prince called back, and then he was gone.

Sir Robert threw his head back to gaze at the stars poking through the canopy of trees. Unbelievable, he thought to himself. Albert is unbelievably cruel. But he did not believe it. The Prince was doing what he thought he knew to be right. That was the problem with justice, he decided. Everyone in the world had their own set of rights and wrongs and they would never overlap enough for laws to be truly just.

The only question now was… Ought he to warn Alfred and Edward? But the Prince was not bluffing, when he said he would expose Sir Robert himself. Albert never deliberately deceived people. No. Peel decided he would not directly warn them, but rather, he would just… Encourage them to be careful, and be ready to make a run for it. They would have to run for it only after the Prince confronted them - and they must have no idea before the confrontation, or else Albert would know that Peel had warned them. This is going to be tricky…

 

---

 

Alfred had long since given up on Edward meeting him here tonight. He lay on the bed, staring at the old wooden ceiling in the dark, contemplating his actions today. What an idiot I have been was a phrase that kept recurring in his mind. But he doubted after their terrible row today if their relationship could ever be repaired… Even if he came to Edward and begged him to run away, would his love go with him? He could not be sure.

You could at least try, his emotional side spoke up. You have a chance for happiness, and you have not made the slightest attempt for it. But Alfred had been happy these last few weeks. They had been the best time of his entire life, despite the constant worry and sleep deprivation. Edward was everything to him. And you just gave it away.

He felt like crying, but would not give in. A strange sound came from outside - like a human cry. Alfred ignored it, assuming it was an owl. He was always so paranoid when it came to hiding himself and Edward. And yet he had never stopped to really think about the consequences, and if they were worth it.

After all, the worst thing that could have happened when they were together is that they were discovered and had to run away together.

It didn’t seem like such a terrible outcome, now that he thought about it. He had felt so attached to his life here, like it was an anchor that held him down, when he used to imagine running away. Yet now it seemed his life at the Palace was the thing tying him down, chaining him to the Earth while his hopes of being with Edward drifted off into the sky he longed to soar into.

Alfred was jerked out of his reverie suddenly when the cottage door opened. He jumped up, his hopes rising rapidly, Edward would be here and he could ask him to run away and all would be forgiven - but the bulky form of Sir Robert entered instead. Alfred stared.

“Sir Robert - I - you - what? Did Edward tell you where I was? How…?” he could not fathom what series of events led the former prime minister to be here.

“Let us not worry about what brought me here. Is Edward not here?” Sir Robert asked curiously. “I thought you were here to meet him…” Sir Robert’s voice trailed off and Alfred felt his face darken in shame.

“We, ah, we had an argument. I did not truly expect him to come tonight,” Alfred admitted. He hung his head.

“Oh, I see,” Sir Robert frowned. “Well, in that case, I must ask: are you two quite dedicated to one another?”

Alfred looked up at Sir Robert, all of the stress flooding his body. “I made the wrong decision, Sir Robert. I gave him up! I gave him up so we would not be discovered. And now I regret it, and I wish for nothing more than the chance to make a different choice.” He paused for breath, and continued in a small voice, “I do not think Edward will want me back.”

Sir Robert chuckled at that, and Alfred glared at him in hurt.

“Alfred, Edward will always want you back. Never doubt his love. I know I told you to be careful, and I thought this mess might occur,” Sir Robert said heavily. “I feel I should have done more to counsel you two. You are both so young and naive.”

Alfred swelled indignantly, but Peel waved him down.

“Oh, don’t get offended, but you are. Now, you must get Edward back,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I… It’s not that simple!” Alfred protested. You are making excuses not to try , his own mind pointed out as Sir Robert raised his eyebrows knowingly. Alfred sighed. “No, it can be made that simple,” he corrected himself. “I will go to him now! All I need do is ask him to run away, to beg, and perhaps he will come with me!”

Sir Robert looked somewhat hesitant about this plan.

“Wait, Alfred - perhaps wait until tomorrow. You do not want to be caught at the last moment, so please, take some time to plan this out properly,” Sir Robert begged.

Alfred could not help but feel there was something else going on he did not understand here.

“But - surely it will be easier to make our exit in the dead of night?” he queried.

“Allow me some time to help you,” Sir Robert stated firmly. “Tomorrow morning, I can have two horses saddled, with provisions, and waiting for you, along the path you traversed to this cottage. Meet me here then and you shall have your escape,” he said.

Alfred gaped. “You would truly do that for us? You may be convicted for helping us to get away!” he exclaimed. Sir Robert smiled almost wistfully.

“It is about time that someone’s love story went right,” he said softly.

Alfred felt his eyes well up with tears of gratitude. He abandoned all propriety and launched himself forwards to hug Sir Robert.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he muttered, releasing the man. They both blinked away tears and Sir Robert clapped Alfred on the shoulder. Alfred nodded once in understanding and then ran to the door, jogging all the way home. As the night air whipped past his face, he felt like crying with happiness and redemption.

I am going to get him back.

Chapter Text

Victoria was fed up with whatever Albert was keeping from her. He had snuck into bed very late tonight, clearly thinking she would fall asleep just like that, even when he had little bits of twig in his hair and his skin was cold from the outdoors.

Well, she would not fall for that.

When he had settled down beside her, she turned over to face him. He jerked his head up, clearly surprised.

“Good evening, husband,” she said in a cool voice. “I wonder where you have been?”

“Victoria! I did not think you would still be awake, it is so late…”

“Yes, Albert. It is late. Now tell me, where have you been ?” She could not keep the fire out of her voice.

“I was out for - for a walk. I was restless,” he explained.

“Quite a long walk. And why so late? Why did you not go earlier?” she questioned.

“I do not know, I just happened to feel like it now,” he muttered. “I wanted to be at one with nature, and one cannot control these urges, Victoria.”

“Are there any other urges you cannot control, Albert?” she said in a voice that was trembling with rage and fear. Albert was her steady foundation in life, and if he truly was meeting another woman like she suspected… She would be devastated. But it was better, always better, to know the truth. There must be no secrets between them.

“No!” Albert exclaimed. “No, nothing like that, ’Toria! If you really must know… I saw Lord Alfred leave the Palace from a window. I was curious as to what he was up to so late at night, so I followed.”

Well, that was not what Victoria had expected at all.

“So you were not… Not meeting another woman?” she asked hesitantly. Albert’s face broke out into a smile.

“Of course not, Liebes. I would never do such a thing to you,” he reassured her, pulling her in for a kiss. She softened and relaxed in his arms.

“But whatever did you see Lord Alfred doing? Why was he out?” she asked.

“Oh - I did not exactly see. But he entered the little cottage at the bottom of the lake. I think that he and Drummond must have been meeting there,” Albert said.

Victoria frowned in surprise. “Albert, you are quite serious about this theory, aren’t you?” She had not really considered it properly before.

“I am, ’Toria. I believe I am right. I will call them in tomorrow and discuss the matter. If they tell the truth and comply with the law from now on, their punishments will not be severe.”

“Well, that depends on how you would define severe. They both must be stripped of property and titles, and have some stretch in a labour camp or prison, at the bare minimum,” Victoria said, feeling awful even as she did. She really did like both men. They would never even be able to be presented at the Palace again.

“Yes, but we can reduce the length they serve a prison sentence if they are not terribly resistant about the whole thing,” Albert said complacently. “I shall talk to them tomorrow, and they can have one or two days to set their affairs in order. But they ought to be under some sort of guard.”

Victoria nodded, still in disbelief that they were actually doing it. “I will be with you, my love. I want to discuss their motives properly… They always seemed like such nice and decent men,” she murmured.

“I know, Victoria,” Albert said. “But temptation to Evil can manifest itself even in the best people.”

Victoria nodded and tried not to think about what she would be subjecting her friends to the next day.

Her sleep was fitful that night, with dreams of policemen and guards taking Albert away, saying he was a sinner, that even her very own husband had temptations.

 

---

 

Edward woke rather later than usual that morning, his sleep being disturbed by images of Alfred waiting longingly at the cottage for him. Martha had had to rap on his door to ask if he wanted breakfast after all, and he had jolted up, splashing water on his face, saying hello to the kittens and shovelling eggs into his mouth before dashing off to Parliament. But before he could even get in the door, the young page Brodie had interrupted him.

“Queen Victoria and Prince Albert request your presence in the Palace immediately, sir,” the lad said, bowing and indicating one of the royal carriages waiting in the street.

Edward frowned but got into the carriage. Perhaps they have questions about Parliament yesterday , his mind supplied, but he did not believe it. No, this was not about anything trivial. A carriage would not have been sent specifically to him, the most junior member of Parliament, if it had been.

This was to do with his crime.

His stomach curdled and his hands were sweaty with nerves as they pulled into the Palace. The sound of the door opening and the horses pawing at gravel seemed to be muffled as he walked up the steps slowly, slowly, putting off the moment he would have to face his sentence.

He was directed to the Queen’s public working room by Brodie, who he assumed had had instructions not to let him out of his sight. He took a deep breath, grimaced at the servant, who wore a tight and worried expression, and entered the room. The door handle was slippery in his sweaty palm.

The Queen and Prince stood together behind the large oaken desk, their faces stony and expressionless. Edward bowed to them each in turn.

“Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness. What can I do for you?” he asked politely, already knowing full well the answer.

“Please, summon Lord Alfred,” the Queen said to Brodie, not sparing Edward a single glance. The lad nodded and set off.

Edward knew his face must be betraying his fear by now. Perhaps Alfred was not so stupid as to try so hard to avoid this. It was truly terrifying, the royal family he had thought of as friends, turned against him immediately within a night. How did they find out? It did not matter. The damage was clearly done.

The silence was awful. It held there, like pendulous stormclouds, waiting to shatter and break over Edward.

They waited like that for a few minutes for Alfred, the Queen and Prince both staring directly ahead, neither of them meeting Edward’s eyes. He settled for looking meekly down at the floor.

If I co-operate, perhaps the sentence will be less severe… God, they should have run away. He had told Alfred, had he not? A fresh wave of indignation came over him at his lover’s behaviour. But it was too late to say I told you so, now. It was too late to save either of them.

The door opened and Edward looked over his shoulder to see his love enter in his usual jovial manner.

“Your Majesty! Oh, Your Royal Highness, and… Drummond… ah…” Alfred’s charming court facade slipped for a moment, but he recovered. “... How may I be of service?” He swept an elegant bow to the royal couple.

“You may begin by telling us the truth, Lord Alfred,” said Queen Victoria in an icy tone.

The smile slipped right off Alfred’s face this time, leaving only fear and confusion in its place.

“I… May I ask what exactly you are referring to, ma’am?” Edward could hear the little tremble in Alfred’s voice, and as angry as he was with the man, it killed to hear him so scared. Alfred’s eyes met his and they shared a terrified glance that said it all.

“I am referring to the precise nature of your relationship with Drummond here,” the Queen said.

“I am sure I don’t know what you are talking about-”

“Do not lie to me, Lord Alfred,” Victoria said in a dangerous voice. “I am perfectly aware that you do indeed know what I am talking about.”

Alfred seemed to deflate slightly, walking to stand next to Edward, his form no longer straight and proud but weak and turned inwards on himself.

“My apologies, ma’am. I… We do know what you refer to,” Alfred said in a tiny voice. Edward nodded tightly in agreement.

“Thank you for your albeit reluctant honesty, Lord Alfred. Now, tell us. What is the nature of your relationship?” The Prince spoke this time, his voice even harder than his wife’s.

“We… We… Um…” Alfred trailed off, clearly not knowing how to phrase it. Edward could see his love’s teeth gnawing at his lip, as he so often did when worried.

“Do not spare my feminine sensibilities, please,” Victoria interjected. Alfred looked at Edward pleadingly, clearly at a loss, and Edward frowned back, trying to think of how one might put it into polite conversation. He was very aware of the Queen’s impatience, and how important it was not to annoy her unnecessarily, but the words would not come to him.

“Oh, this is wasting time!” Prince Albert exclaimed. “Have you, or have you not, become sodomites?”

Edward watched as Alfred’s mouth fell open and no sound came out. It was, by all accounts, the worst case scenario. It became evident that Alfred was not going to answer. Edward steeled himself and gave a single nod, closing his eyes, not daring to look at Victoria and Albert’s disgusted faces.

“I suspected as much,” the Prince said in a quiet, disappointed tone. “I thought that both of you were true friends to us. It is not so much your own sin that hurts us, but that you would put our children in danger, Lord Alfred. It is completely unacceptable.”

Edward chanced a glance across at his love, who had his head bowed low. He watched as Alfred bit his lip so hard that it began bleeding.

“Your doctor - and, I suspect, friend - has been sentenced to life imprisonment, after it has been proved he committed the act of buggery with many, many other men. We would ask that you tell us the truth here, though indeed I do not know how we can continue to trust you, but still tell us please: have either of you committed this act at any other point in your lives? Have you had any other… partners, so to speak?” The Prince’s voice had none of its usual warmth. The Queen beside him was watching with sad eyes, her face slightly softer than his.

“No, sir,” Alfred and Edward said at the same time.

“Oh, thank God,” Victoria breathed, letting her mask slip a little. “What I do not understand is how two men so fine as yourselves did this. Why?” She looked honestly confused, searching their faces desperately. Edward was not sure whether or not to tell her the truth. His head was too confused, too worried, too frantic to think properly.

“Please, I want to know,” she said. “If I hear the truth in your voice, your sentences will be greatly reduced. We have no wish to punish you more than necessary.”

Edward bowed his head in understanding, and began.

“If you really must know, ma’am… It does not feel like a crime to us. I do not know why or how these feelings have come to us. But recently, I felt something… I fell in love with Alfred. I know I ought to have felt that way for Florence - or indeed any woman - instead, but… It is not something that we are able to suppress. I do not know how to apologise for it.” Edward took a deep breath after his monologue, seeing Alfred smile just a tiny smile out of the corner of his eye. The gesture gave him a slight relief from the anxiety gnawing on his stomach.

Victoria was watching him incredulously. “You truly believe that you love him, as a man loves a woman?” she asked.

“Yes,” breathed Edward almost defiantly.

Victoria frowned at him, looking into his eyes, clearly trying to find some trace of doubt. But the fact that Edward loved Alfred was one he had no doubt about.

“You are telling the truth,” she observed. “How very strange. I am sorry that these feelings have come unbidden to you both.”

“I am not,” said Alfred suddenly. “You must understand, ma’am, for I watched as you fell in love with Prince Albert. It is the best thing in one’s life to ever happen, is it not? To love wholly and truly?” Edward started in surprise, looking over at Alfred. The man looked scared but sure, his mouth set and determined. You are not denying our love… It filled Edward with more adoration than he could possibly express to hear Alfred voicing it, out loud, to the person with supreme power over their country.

Victoria dipped her head in agreement, still looking confused.

“You describe it true, Lord Alfred. I am afraid I… I do not understand how you can love Drummond here wholly and truly, when it is known to be a sin.”

“With due respect, ma’am, we knew many people from the molly house who thought precisely the same way as us,” Alfred stated calmly. Edward had to admire his nerve at speaking so truthfully about their love to the Queen herself.

“How can it be stopped, do you imagine?” Victoria asked. Her eyes were sparkling with interest now, rather than disgust or disappointment. Alfred glanced helplessly at Edward. It can’t be stopped was the truthful answer.

“One can always resist temptation, ’Toria,” Prince Albert said firmly. Victoria nodded thoughtfully.

“Although, if our love had been forbidden, Albert… I think I should have loved you anyway.”

“You understand us very well, ma’am. I know it is a sin by law; but the heart does not think like that. It only feels,” said Alfred softly.

Edward was taken by a sudden urge to seize him and kiss him desperately. Talking like that about their love with such tenderness… But such an action would not be appreciated in their current predicament.

“But it is still a sin,” the Prince said. “You are both most amenable and honest to us now, for which I thank you. I think that ten years sentence is quite merciful given that a life sentence is the usual term.”

Edward did his best not to balk, though he saw Alfred flinch slightly in his peripheral vision. Ten years? He would be thirty-nine in ten years. Well past any chance to reconstruct his career.

“And you must be stripped of all properties and titles. Drummond, you may never sit in Parliament again. Lord Alfred, from this day forth you will merely be Alfred Paget. Of course, this has not been ratified with Parliament, but it is merely formality,” Prince Albert said in a businesslike tone. “I ask that you consider deeply the sin you have committed. You must find it within yourselves to resist temptation, should it come your way a second time,” he said urgently.

Alfred and Edward nodded solemnly. Edward could not bring himself to really commit to this, however.

“Albert thinks you ought to be guarded for the next day while you wrap up any affairs, but I trust you know that any misbehaviour will double your sentence easily. Please do not betray my trust again,” Victoria said pleadingly.

Again they both nodded in silence.

“Then you may go. You will be escorted from your residences to a jailhouse tomorrow morning. You may ask for a trial, but please do not; it will not make this any easier.” Victoria’s eyes were mournful. “I wish I did not have to do this. I hope you will learn now.” And with that, they were dismissed. They bowed and backed out of the room respectfully, Edward closing the door behind them.

Once in the hallway, Edward turned to see Alfred let out a long, ragged breath and lean against the wall heavily. He wanted to go to him - but - but Alfred had made the decision to end them, not Edward.

He turned away and began striding as fast as he could down the hall, trying not to think about the fact that it was the last time he would walk this particular stretch, and probably the last time for years he would see Alfred.

 

---

 

Alfred leaned against the wall, sighing deeply. He heard Edward walk off quickly and looked up to see his love disappearing at quite a pace. He watched him go, the despair he felt increasing like a wall of doom over him. Ten years imprisonment… God, he should have asked Edward to run away. He should have gone to him last night. Sir Robert would be waiting in St James Lake Park with the horses all morning, wondering where they were-

If only they had the time to go to the park, and run away.

You have a whole day, spoke an extremely wise little voice in his mind.

Sir Robert had the horses. Right there. It was, what, twenty minutes walk, under half that if they ran.

You are unguarded.

They had an escape waiting for them.

It is time to follow your heart.

And with that, Alfred pushed himself off the wall, straightened up, and sprinted after Edward. He spared no effort, digging his heels right into the lush carpets, probably stretching his fine trousers.

“Edward! Edward! Wait!” he called frantically, dodging about corners, getting some very odd looks from the guards lining the hallways. “Edward!” he yelled, skidding around another corner to finally see the man ahead, glancing over his shoulder. But Edward turned away, hurt flashing on his face. Alfred growled and sped up.

“Edward, please, wait!” Alfred finally caught up to him, having to trot beside him to keep up with his long stride.

“What?” Edward spat. “We are done for, Alfred. You did this to us.” He made no effort to disguise the venom in his voice. But I have to try.

“I know, I know I did, but we can still go!” Alfred quieted his voice to a whisper in some effort to disguise his words from the guards.

“What are you talking about?” Edward hissed. “They’ll double our sentence, Alfred! You heard them!” Edward was not bothering to keep his voice down.

Damn it to hell, thought Alfred. He grabbed Edward’s arm and tugged on it, failing when the other man pulled it out of his grasp.

“Edward! Let’s just go, now! Please!” he half-yelled. Adrenaline pounded through his veins at the extremely public place he was saying this in. It didn’t feel bad like he thought it would. It felt… powerful .

“You chose wrongly, Alfred! We must deal with your poor decision now!” Edward exclaimed in frustration, waving his hands about in anger, walking even faster.

“I know I did! I realized that last night, and this morning, I was going to come to you, but then that happened and everything was ruined and - oh, Edward, you have to believe me!” Alfred cried desperately, jogging along beside his love. Please believe me, please believe me, please, my darling.

“Well of course you would say that now!” Edward said.

“I mean it, Edward,” Alfred said in a quieter voice, tugging on his arm again. They were passing the ball room now, where the three children of the royal household were playing with their nursemaids, laughing and cooing emanating from the open doorway. Edward stopped there, turning to face him.

“Do you really?” Edward asked in a low, urgent voice. His brown eyes watched Alfred intently. “Really, Alfred, do you really, truly mean it?”

Alfred felt the sweet glow of success kindle within him. Where there is hope, there is a way… He nodded eagerly. “Let me prove it to you,” he said.

“No, no, it is too late, we must not add to our sentences! It is ridiculous. We are over,” Edward said despairingly, his voice cracking, turning to leave again.

Alfred would not let his chance slip by this time. His entire being was screaming at him to do something, anything, that would convince his love.

He grabbed Edward by the shoulders, twisted him back so he was able to reach his face, pulled his love’s face down to a more appropriate level and kissed him ferociously, deeply, with all the love he had deep in his heart. Edward was frozen against him for a heartbeat before returning the kiss, grabbing Alfred’s waist and pulling him close. They clung to one another for a moment of bliss and certainty. Alfred could feel nothing but the joy radiating through his veins, on a high from the relief of the tension and uncertainty of the morning, all dissipating into his passion as he held Edward close.

They broke apart, and that was when Alfred remembered exactly where they were, and what had just happened.

Well, fuck.

But Alfred could not stop smiling. He drew back from Edward and surveyed the scene, assessing the damage. The children and nurses were staring at them blankly - oh, and there was Wilhelmina and the Duchess, looking petrified. He turned right around to see Queen Victoria and Prince Albert standing in the hallway a good way behind them, the looks on their faces turning from shock to fury. The guards lining the hallway, too, were staring, and one started forwards uncertainly then looked at his fellows for reassurance, evidently not quite sure what the protocol for such an act was.

It is too late to turn back now.

Alfred turned to Edward. “Run away with me?” he said, gazing into his love’s eyes. His voice had conviction, the absolute belief for the first time in his life that he was doing something completely right.

Edward grinned and grabbed his hand. “Yes please,” he said.

“Seize them!” came Prince Albert’s cry from down the hallway.

“No, really, run ,” Alfred laughed, and then they began to sprint on again, down the halls, their hands holding to one another firmly. Alfred felt his lover stumble momentarily on the thick carpets but he pulled him up again. He could not stop smiling for the life of him, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Edward had a similarly jubilant expression.

The guards were surprisingly reluctant to move at all; the ones they were running past now had not heard Albert’s first order, and only joined the throng of others in pursuit once they were well aware it was what they should be doing. It surely didn’t help that the Duchess of Buccleuch was giving them opposing orders to Albert’s.

“Get in here and take the children back to the nursery, you complete and utter fools! Do not waste your time on catching them!” Thank you, thank you, thank you Duchess, was all Alfred could think. Sure enough, half of the guards doubled back to follow her orders, leaving the others still in pursuit looking a little less sure of themselves.

Alfred ran as fast as he could, dragging behind Edward’s longer strides a little, but they stayed together; always together. He felt like a bird leaving its cage for the first time. He chanced a glance around to see Wilhelmina sticking her foot out of the ballroom door to trip a guard in pursuit completely over and laughed with glee, turning a corner and feeling like a man running to freedom.

Well. That was exactly what he was.

Edward’s hand was firm in his as they burst out the main doors of the Palace, taking the stone steps two at a time, the soldiers standing guard looking completely nonplussed.

“I love you!” he said between pants as they ran, and Edward giggled breathlessly.

“I love you too, Alfred,” came the reply, interspersed with heavy breaths from exertion.

As the sunlight spread over their forms, Alfred felt that he would never need anything but the feeling of Edward’s hand gripping on to his again. The golden rays lit up his vision and the feeling of freedom surged through him, drowning him, intoxicating him. He threw back his head and laughed gleefully even as he heard the shouts of the chase behind him.

But I can’t wait to go home… I’m on my way.

Chapter Text

Edward turned to run down the drive, but Alfred steered him towards the trees.

“Horses!” he said desperately. “No time… to… explain… trust me,” he gasped. Edward nodded and ran the same way without hesitation. Just before they reached the cover of the bush, Alfred heard two gunshots, and the smile fell off his face.

Do not fire! ” he heard Victoria screech angrily. “ I told you, do not fire! ” Another gunshot fired and Alfred heard the Queen yell with frustration, and then they were in the bush.

Alfred glanced over at Edward to check he was still alright and was rewarded with a wonderful picture of his grinning love running beside him, flushed with the exercise. They smiled at each other even as they had to beat their way past ivy and branches. Alfred wondered just how much farther the horses would be - and how on earth they might get out of the forest once they reached them. We are not out of the woods yet… Quite literally.

Finally, finally, Sir Robert’s face loomed out of the trees, and Edward looked so surprised that Alfred wanted to kiss him but there was no time and they mounted the horses quickly, ignoring Peel’s greeting.

“We have to go now!” Alfred called to Sir Robert as they urged the horses along the path, leaving the former prime minister looking rather confused. “Thank you!”

“Get off the path!” Edward shouted back, and then they were out of range. Edward fell back to let Alfred urge his horse forwards; the path here was not wide enough for two abreast. It was not ideal ground for riding over, but Alfred sped his horse to a gallop even so. If they were using guns, he had to get Edward away from there fast. He heard Edward match his speed behind him and glanced around to see his love looking marvelous, riding desperately, his cheeks flushed and muscles tensed up.

“I love you,” Edward called to him.

“I love you too,” Alfred said as he turned back to steer his mount down the path, reveling in the words on his tongue.

The horses reached the lake in no time, and they steered halfway around it, taking the turnoff leading towards London rather than towards the cottage, and urging their horses down it. The path was wider here and Edward caught up to be beside Alfred, their thighs occasionally brushing as the horses charged forwards side by side.

Eventually they broke out of the bush, onto the road leading past the government buildings. Everything seemed as normal; no soldiers running at them. Alfred slowed to a trot and Edward followed him.

“Better to blend in here,” Alfred said quietly to his love. Edward nodded, his face still blazing with excitement. They trotted as quickly as possible to a side street, trying to get out of a clear line of sight. They came to the Thames and crossed over Westminster bridge, quickly, but not appearing hurried.

“Oh, Alfred, we are really doing this,” Edward breathed as they got to the other side of the water and the foul smell passed.

Alfred glanced at him and nodded, smiling. “Where do you want to go?” Alfred asked, smiling slightly. “We have the whole world to explore.”

“If we go to France, we will not be arrested for our lifestyle,” Edward remarked almost casually, smiling too. “But I miss Scotland, Alfred.”

“Well then, Scotland it is. We are done with hiding now.” Alfred could not wipe the smile off his face.

“Alfred - first. We really ought to disguise ourselves before the soldiers catch up and spot us,” Edward said urgently. He ducked his horse into a side alley and Alfred followed. They dismounted into some rather deep and smelly mud. He made a face at this and suddenly found his chest covered in it. Edward was giggling, his hands covered in the stuff. Alfred gasped.

“You - you - this has silk lining, Edward!”

“You’ve got to lose it, Alfred. We must blend in - here, Robert has packed us plain jackets. Now make yourself dirty and smelly. We have to be unrecognizable. Silk lining is quite recognizable.”

This really was not part of Alfred’s plan.

But, he was in it deep now, and there was no point in doing this half-heartedly. He grabbed handfuls of mud and spread them over Edward’s face, rubbing it into his cheeks and laughing at the effect it made. Edward sullied Alfred’s perfect hair, for which Alfred was grateful he did not have to do it himself. Alfred pulled out handfuls of sovereigns he had stowed in his pockets that morning.

“What on earth -” Edward exclaimed at the sight of the coins.

“I was going to ask you to run away regardless of the pursuit, remember, Edward dear,” Alfred laughed. “I came quite prepared.” He shoved the coins into his horse’s bag and tied the drawstrings tight, pulling on the new, scratchy woollen jacket. There was a newsboy cap in the pocket of it, which Alfred pulled on, feeling an awful fool.

It did not help when Edward laughed at him. Alfred smiled evilly and pushed Edward over so that he was sitting on his bottom in the muddy alleyway. It was worth it even when Edward pulled him down, too, to see the look of indignation on his love’s face. But suddenly they could hear hooves clopping -

“Come, we’d best get back on the street and act… Well. Act poor, Alfred. For all they know, we are two poor lads hoping to find a way to make a living in Scotland. We ought to have different names, too-”

“Who goes there?” One of the Queen’s soldiers was approaching down the alleyway, looking suspicious. Alfred inclined his head respectfully, doffing his cap.

“Sir! We was jus’ restin’ our ’orses, wasn’ we, Alfie?” Edward said in what Alfred thought was a very good lower-class accent. Then he realized that he was supposed to be Alfie, and nodded dumbly. He didn’t think he could speak without his well-enunciated Queen’s English being recognized as out of place.

“From the West, are you?” the soldier said roughly, looking from one to the other. Edward nodded, an eyebrow raised.

“Tha’s right enough,” he said.

“Alright. Well, if you see a blonde gentleman and a dark haired gentleman, wearing fine clothes and running from the guards, you let us know.” And the soldier was gone.

Alfred breathed a sigh of relief and Edward sighed similarly, his casual confidence gone in a heartbeat.

“Oh, Edward, you have to teach me how to speak,” Alfred said in a rush. “I cannot keep on talking so obviously like this. How do I…?”

“That is for later,” Edward muttered. “Here.” He held out his hand and helped Alfred to mount. Not that he needed it, but it was terribly gallant of Edward to offer, after all.

“We need to get our story straight. We are cousins; I’ll be Eddy, and you be Alfie. Our name will be… Erm…”

“Edwards,” Alfred supplied, grinning.

“Eddy Edwards… has a nice ring to it,” Edward agreed, chuckling. “We have come from our family farm as it was failing last winter with the awful weather. We are moving to Scotland in hopes of fairer fortune, and we have some distant family there - let us say, the Robertson family, on my mother’s side. And they live in… in… in Dundee.” Alfred nodded, trying to commit it all to memory. “We plan to begin a new farm there.”

“Alright, that’s good enough for now - let’s be off,” Alfred said hastily, for Edward looked deep in thought about their cover story.

They set off into the street, trotting their (now muddied) horses leisurely over the cobblestones. They kept heading towards the North of London. Occasionally they would see a soldier dressed up in the red uniform, and a ridiculous helmet that Alfred had been arguing for, against the Prince ( why, he asked himself). But they spared Alfie and Eddy not a second glance, where surely Lord Alfred and Edward Drummond would have been chased down and arrested.

It was exhilarating. Alfred decided that he rather liked being lower class, and if it meant you didn’t have to talk to anyone as you passed them on the street and got to be as muddy as you liked, perhaps he would stay that way.

 

---

 

Sir Robert had jumped off the path just in time to see what looked like half the Palace garrison racing by in pursuit of the two escapees. He sent a quick prayer to the Lord that they would make it safely. Peel could not live with himself if they did not… And no doubt his conscience would beseech him to break them out of prison. No. They would make it.

When it appeared that no more men were in pursuit on the path, Sir Robert stepped back onto it, intending to go to the Palace and ask Albert exactly what had happened. But he did not have to go very far, for the Prince careened into him suddenly out of the bushes.

“Oh! Peel!” Albert gasped, stumbling. Sir Robert grasped his arms and righted the man.

“Thank you,” said Albert stiffly, backing out of Peel’s hold. “I… What are you doing here?”

“I was on my way to the Palace, when rather a troupe of men hurtled past!” Sir Robert exclaimed, hoping to sound perfectly jovial and not guilty at all.

It did not work. Albert could always read him.

“Ach, you are lying,” Albert said with a deep sigh. “You arranged to help them, do you deny it?” The Prince’s voice was full of disappointment.

“I do not,” Sir Robert said, drawing himself up. “They do not deserve prison, Albert. No more than you or I.”

That hit a nerve.

“They were sodomites , Robert!” said Albert indignantly. “I - We - never!”

Sir Robert looked at Albert sadly. “No, never. You would never have allowed it.”

“No. And rightly so,” Albert said firmly. “Goodbye, Sir Robert. I must ask that you do not come to the Palace again for anything other than an emergency.” And with that, he stalked away, back towards the Palace.

Robert put his head in his hands, massaging his forehead briefly. Something inside him knew it was the last time he would ever see Albert alone. Life is short and cruel, and then you die, he thought ruefully.

He did not see the rustle of a third person witnessing the scene as he left.

 

---

 

Victoria had tried to catch up to Albert after he hared off into the bush, but her skirts were not made for such exercise and she struggled with the hoop of her skirt-cage caught on a tree. Eventually it came loose and she walked on, knowing full well she would never catch up to the main pursuit. She could not stop feeling, more and more, that she hoped they made it. They had done an awful deed, she knew, and she was more than a little disgusted by it… But they were her friends, and they had spoken with such courage and conviction just a few short minutes ago.

If Albert were a woman… But the notion was ridiculous. She would never have fallen in love with a woman! She shook her head to clear it. Or if I were a man! But Albert could never fall in love with a man.

She heard voices and froze where she was, straining her ears.

“... They do not deserve prison, Albert. No more than you or I.” What does that mean? It sounded like…

“They were sodomites, Robert! I - we - never!” That was Albert’s voice! And the other man must be Sir Robert Peel. How strange!

Then the meaning of their words hit her.

Peel and Albert, not sodomites? Why would they ever consider the notion. ‘No more than you or I’ - that made it sound like… like…

“No, never. You would never have allowed it,” said Peel. Victoria tried not to throw up, her nausea definitely not caused by pregnancy this time. She heard Albert bid the other man goodbye, and could only lean against a tree for support, breathing heavily, until he came into view.

She looked at him, her mind reeling, her eyes filling with tears. How could you? The hurt and hypocrisy ripped through her like a jagged knife.

“You said there would be no secrets between us,” she whispered. Albert’s face was frozen in a mask of shock.

“The truth is often overrated,” Albert said in a scratchy voice, his eyes, too, beginning to well up.

Victoria stepped forwards and faced him front on, her chin drawn up and her eyes meeting his.

“I will never forgive you,” she stated calmly.

Then she walked away.

 

---

 

Edward was having the time of his life. His mind could not stop repeating that glorious moment when Alfred had kissed him, right there in front of everyone … He should have been angry for being exposed so badly, but he was honestly just elated and slightly turned on by the whole thing. Now, even as his legs ached from the sudden run and ride to escape, he had never felt better in his whole life.

They were actually doing it. They were really, truly, absolutely running away to be happy and live happily ever after.

They made it to the outskirts of London within a couple of hours. Often they would see soldiers, but rather than hide, they doffed their caps and prayed their dirty faces hid them. It worked amazingly well. Edward had never realized just how little attention you got paid if you looked poor.

Soon they approached one of the main exits of London, the road North looming beyond Aldersgate. It was a large orange-grey structure, heavily guarded today, Edward noted. He glanced across at Alfred to see his love with a worried expression. They will be checking for us.

Edward made to turn into a little side alley quickly, Alfred following him with only a little hesitation. There they dismounted.

“You must get rid of your gold,” Edward said to Alfred. “Not all - but no men such as we are pretending to be would have this much in their wildest dreams.”

Alfred did not look terribly happy about this. “But… If we only take as much as they would have… We shall be poor, Edward!”

“Better to be poor than imprisoned,” Edward said gently. “I think ten sovereigns would be the limit.”

Ten sovereigns? ” Alfred gasped indignantly. “But that is - that is not much at all!”

Edward nodded, grimacing. “The poor of this country do not have much, Alfred.”

Alfred looked shell-shocked, so Edward decided he must take charge. He rummaged through Alfred’s bag and pulled out handfuls of the coins. Like rats drawn to food, suddenly several scrawny boys appeared at the end of the alley, looking suspicious and interested. Edward looked at them, then set the riches on the ground, counting out just ten to keep and splitting it evenly between his and Alfred’s bags.

“Will we be able to live, are you sure?” Alfred asked worriedly. Edward nodded reassuringly, smiling at his love. You are so innocent sometimes.

“Now come on! Let us be off, and these urchins here can take the evidence off our hands,” he laughed. The boys down the end of the street hovered as they remounted, and when they exited Edward threw a glance back to see them sprinting towards the gold. He smiled a little. Alfred’s wealth will mean a lot more to them than it would to us.

Now, as they approached the guards, Edward felt much safer. He and Alfred made to lift their caps and ride by quickly, but a rather rotund man with a large drooping moustache stood in front of them, blocking the way. He peered at both of them scrutinizingly. Edward did his best to look merely confused.

“Names?” the soldier barked.

“Eddy Edwards, sir,” Edward said promptly. He looked over at Alfred, who looked caught out. Thinking quickly, he improvised, “an’ this ’ere is Alfie, me cousin. ’E’s mute, see.”

Now Alfred looked mutinous, but nodded dumbly at the soldier. The man looked suspicious.

“We’re looking for a couple of men on horses, like you are,” he said slowly. “You’re about the right age, and might I say, these are some damned fine horses for folk like you.”

Oh. Edward had completely forgotten that the two black horses Sir Robert had lent them were - asides from the mud spattering their legs - in fine condition. Too fine of a condition.

“We look after ’em right enough,” Edward said, though he felt his hopes begin to fail.

“That you do,” the guard mused. “Tell you what. No questions asked, you get passage through the gate - if I get one of these beauties.”  

Edward sighed. Alfred looked appalled, but could not speak his mind. Edward had heard of these gate-bargainings, where if you happened to have a soldier on duty that was greedy for money, you could lose all your worldly possessions.

“Isn’ there nothing else tha’ would give us passage, sir?” he asked hopefully, though he already knew the answer.

“Well, for that I might give you passage… To the jailhouse for a night or two.” The soldiers surrounding them laughed. Edward nodded in resignation and dismounted his horse, going to take the bag off the creature, but-

“I’d leave that there, if I were you, and be gone before I change my mind and demand the other beast too,” the soldier said, a greedy glint in his eye.

Edward bit his own tongue to stop an angry retort from slipping out, and got up on Alfred’s horse behind his lover. He wrapped his arms around the man, taking care not to seem too clingy in front of the soldiers.

“Move,” he muttered to Alfred, and the horse took off through the gates, the soldiers still laughing at their misfortune.

The road became a dirt one before long, the little houses and shacks next to it becoming less frequent and giving way to rolling fields.

“That dirty rotten little cheating scumbag!” Alfred exploded indignantly. “That was pure theft!”

Edward shifted his arms more tightly around Alfred, trying to soothe him.

“I know, my love,” he murmured. “But we are out of the city, no questions asked, and we can be free now. It is but a small price to pay.”

Alfred huffed exasperatedly. Edward said nothing but squeezed his arms tight for a moment around his love.

“I know you are right, but I have never felt so - so unsure of my future in my whole life,” Alfred admitted after a few minutes. “We do not have enough money to safeguard against anything. We have no friends who might help us out here. I am scared, Edward.”

Edward smiled ruefully as they rode on. “I am scared too,” he said softly. “But I am happier than anything to be with you. We can have this forever , Alfred.”

“Forever… Forever does sound rather nice,” Alfred said, chuckling.

And they rode on, poor and bedraggled, but happier than either of them had felt before. They were on their way home.

Chapter Text

Alfred plucked at his trousers; God, but they were tight. Edward had insisted the clingy leather look suited him, and he would just have to trust the man. They were on next; he waited with Robert, Albert and Wilhelmina in the wings of the stage, watching the singer-songwriter act before them. The kid was good, but the crowd was desperately in need of some hype and excitement.

Alfred had only been to one Pride before, and he had been a bit young to really appreciate it. Now, though… now he wished he had been earlier. He was drunk and high, not on any sort of substance, but from the aroma of excitement from the crowd. It was nearly tangible, that unique feeling of unity and happiness.

The plaid shirt singer finished her song to loud cheers from what was quite obviously a patch of her friends, bowed, grinning, and exited off the opposite wings. Victoria, Albert’s ex, bounced out on stage. She was more of an ally than part of the queer community, but her life and energy and endless support for the cause meant she was accepted to MC the stage part of London Pride.

“And now, I give you… The Nobles! ” The words were met with much applause. Alfred took a deep breath, grinned at his bandmates, and they ran out onto stage.

God, but the crowd was massive. Rainbows and eye-wateringly bright pride flags hung everywhere, the people themselves sporting all the range of fluoro colours that Alfred had ever seen. Alfred scanned the front row as he reached the mic for the one person that really, really mattered - and there he was.

Edward was all dressed in rainbow eighties gear; flare pants, shirt with poofy sleeves, tie dyed multiple times (Alfred had had to help him). And God, but did he look good. He grinned and shouted up at Alfred, the noise getting lost amongst the crowd, but the sentiment reaching Alfred all the same.

Alfred was distracted when Wilhelmina started up her bass line, Robert following with the drums shortly after. The familiar, almost crude starting tune started, and Alfred closed his eyes, leaning into the mic. The crowd seemed to disappear as he began singing.

I want to break free…

As the song was recognized, the crowd erupted in shouts of delight and sang along, almost overshadowing Albert as he came in on backing vocals.

I’ve fallen in love for the first time and this time I know it’s for real, Alfred belted, looking directly into Edward’s eyes. His love lit up and Alfred felt a warm flush of confidence come over him.

 

---

 

Alfred had no right to be so sexy. As he sang, his hips swayed deliciously, so that Edward was almost worried about the crowd being able to see him like this. This is all mine, he thought. And when Alfred’s eyes returned to his with almost every line he sang, he couldn’t stop smiling, even for the sweaty crowd surrounding him.

It’s strange but it’s true… Alfred beckoned to him seductively, and Edward wanted to go to him but - was that even allowed? Then he saw Victoria nodding at him from the barely-concealed wings of the stage. And suddenly, Florence next to him was giving him a leg up and…

There Edward was, no musical experience, feeling supremely awkward until Alfred seized him and twirled him around, the crowd below screaming its approval.

So baby can't you see

I've got to break free

I've got to break free

I want to break free, yeah

I want, I want, I want, I want to break free…

As Alfred and his band finished the song, he pulled Edward in for a kiss that felt more than warmed by the stage lights. It was an intense feeling, Alfred’s lips on his, begging for more and more as the crowd whistled, adrenalin racing in Edward’s veins. As he pulled away he smiled at Alfred, only to be pulled in for another searing kiss. Albert had to pull them apart that time, laughing good-naturedly and going afterwards to deposit a kiss on his boyfriend Robert’s cheek, earning both of them a blush. Edward hopped off the stage back into the crowd, Florence cooing at him and many people around them slapping him on the back.

The feeling of acceptance and the high of the kiss threatened to overwhelm him.

 

Later on, the club had thinned out to only a few late celebrators. Alfred had pulled Edward in for a slow dance when Thinking Out Loud had come on, tearing him away from their teasing friends.

Not that Edward minded particularly.

It was all he could ever have wanted, he mused, as he and Alfred revolved slowly on the spot. His hands were on his boyfriend’s waist, and Alfred’s hands were around his neck, one curling into his hair enough to make him shiver as they moved. Every place his body touched Alfred’s felt like fire - but not the destructive fire that passed so quickly. Perhaps more like eternal burning stars that filled him with life and joy and everything that he could ever need. He rested his chin on Alfred’s head - God, he loved their height difference. He loved everything about this man. It had only been a few months and yet he was so in love and so sure that they would spend their lives together always.

He knew it was a bit ridiculous to think like that.

Oh honey now…

But the slow beat of the music and the cinnamon-fragrance of Alfred’s hair (he must ask him what shampoo he used) made him feel invincible. His love’s hair, usually so bright golden, still had streaks of the rainbow hair chalk he had coloured in this morning for the man. Edward kissed the top of his head lightly, and Alfred made a light humming sound that Edward could feel through his chest.

“I love you, Alfred Paget,” Edward murmured softly.

Alfred gave a soft chuckle, the sound hitching with emotion.

“As I love you, Edward Drummond,” he replied.

As they held one another close, Edward could not have felt, at that moment, that there was anything else he could have wanted in the world.

 

---

 

“I had the strangest dream,” Edward muttered when he awoke fully.

His back ached a little; they were settled for their first night of their journey in the barn of the inn they had stayed at, all the rooms being full. He and Alfred had lain down fully clothed, snuggled into the hay, Alfred’s back to Edward’s front. Now it was dawn and the chill swept over Edward, making him snuggle closer to Alfred.

“Oh?” Alfred murmured sleepily.

Edward could not help but kiss the back of his lover’s neck, causing Alfred to shiver in happiness. “Yes, it was… It must have been the future. You were a wonderful singer, and you were wearing an outfit the devil would have been proud of,” Edward giggled.

Alfred rolled over in Edward’s arms to face him, looking puzzled.

“I had… I think I had the same dream,” he said, looking curiously at Edward. “There were colours everywhere, and we kissed in front of everyone, and everything was wonderful.”

Edward gaped.

“How can we have had the same dream?” he said in great confusion.

“I don’t know…” Alfred said in a thoughtful voice. “It was beautiful, though. We were dancing and holding one another after everyone else had gone, do you remember?”

“And no one chased us, or shouted at us… In fact, people seemed quite keen when we kissed in front of them,” Edward remembered, chuckling.

“Perhaps it is prophetic,” said Alfred hopefully. “Maybe in ten years, everything will become alright for people like us.”

Edward smiled and bent forwards to kiss Alfred gently, revelling in his sleep-warmed lips and skin as soft as a silk pillow.

“I don’t think it will happen in ten years,” Edward remarked, his lips still against Alfred’s. “Maybe in a century. Or two.”

“But do you think it could ever really be like that?” Alfred said, his eyes wide and his face flushed from kissing.

“You’re beautiful,” Edward told him happily. “And… I have no idea.”

“I hope that when that happens - if it happens - that the people there appreciate it properly,” Alfred said firmly. Edward nodded.

“I think being able to love who you want must be one of the greatest gifts on Earth,” he said.

Alfred smiled a little ruefully.

“We can always love who we want,” he said defensively. “But there is a choice for us; to choose each other, or to choose… Well. All other aspects of our lives.”

“You make it sound like you regret it,” Edward teased. He was, in fact, a little worried about this.

“Edward…” Alfred’s voice turned serious. “I do not regret anything. If I could turn back time, I would choose to run away with you as soon as possible.”

“The night before last?”

“When you first told me you would run away with me!”

“How about that first kiss?”

“Or when you lent me your tinderbox,” Alfred giggled happily. Edward brushed their noses together and they laid like that for a while, breathing in each other.

“If I could turn time forwards faster, I would take us to whatever time we just dreamed of,” Alfred said suddenly.

“That sounds glorious,” Edward said softly.

“One day, everyone shall be free to love and make no sacrifices for it,” Alfred said dreamily.

“One day,” Edward agreed. “Until then… We make do.”

“Do you remember that Shakespeare I quoted to you once?” Alfred said after a period of silence had fallen. Edward had nearly fallen asleep and jolted back to consciousness.

“Uhhhh… maybe? You’ve quoted quite a bit at me, you know,” Edward said, smiling. Alfred grinned back, the dawn light falling on his face and lighting it up like a miniature sun.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire…” Alfred began.

“Oh! Doubt that the sun doth move,” Edward carried on, remembering it quite clearly now.

“Doubt truth to be a liar,” Alfred half-whispered, his lips brushing on Edward’s now.

“But never doubt I love,” they finished together, leaning forwards to seal their words with a kiss.

 

END OF PART ONE

Chapter Text

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

 

The poor child I am bringing into the world, thought the girl desperately. What sort of life is this to look forward to? She huddled herself further into her blankets as the cold wind howled outside, the draft underneath the door never having been fixed. Surely the baby would not be far away now, she thought. Her belly was so swollen it was difficult to walk.

The girl had once had a name. But it was easily stripped away when her family cast her out. She had once had a love so bright in her heart it had devoured the rest of her life, and died in the process. Once she could see her future, and now there was only black, and doom, and tragedy no matter how she looked at it.

Still, the kindly farm woman brought her food each day, and she lived on and on and on.

 

---

 

It had been four weeks since they set off from London, two weeks since they had to sell their second horse for the money to survive, and an hour since Alfred had sprained his ankle.

He was very put out about this fact.

“Edward, I’m crippled!”

Edward smiled across at his love, whose eyes were wide and pleading.

“Oh, and I suppose you want me to take your arm or some other such ridiculous nonsense?” Edward teased.

“Well, you don’t have to…” Alfred pouted. But he was unable to maintain the expression as his lips curved upwards. Edward rolled his eyes and offered his arm for support.

“Ah, thank you, dear husband,” Alfred cooed.

“You will lose your hand entirely one of these days, dear husband,” muttered Edward without a hint of threat.

“If only you had the courage to carry out these threats, undoubtedly you could make off with my fortune and become a well-to-do widower,” Alfred grinned. Edward turned to look at him as they walked slowly forwards, admiring how even after weeks of travel that now-disheveled hair still shone bright, blue eyes sparkling merrily beneath his brow.

“You’ve caught me,” Edward admitted breathily. “I married you for the money.”

Alfred’s laughter could have made the sky hold its breath. Edward smiled to himself, his legs working on automatic. The journey had, as a whole… Well. It had gotten them there, at least. Though it had had its moments. A very close shave had occurred when a royal messenger had taken them unawares on the road, with their faces plain to see. They had been lucky, terribly lucky, that he did not recognize them and had barely spared the two ‘commoners’ a glance.

As they came over a little rise, they saw it, in the distance. Dundee.

“Oh, praise the good God above!” Alfred cried. Edward would have sniggered at his companion’s utter enthusiasm, but he felt too grateful for the journey being nearly over.

“Don’t you mean, praise the good man next to me, for he has carried me a fair way to this place?” Edward smiled.

“Oh, yes, you’re alright too, I suppose. For a mere mortal.”

They stopped a moment and surveyed the landscape. Ahead of them, a dusty road they had been walking for far too long. Around them, a sea of grassland flowed relentlessly, broken occasionally by small wind-beaten shrubs. A large golden plaque was planted before a row of humble cottages and villas started, reading ‘DUNDEE’ in large engraved letters.

“I have waited so long for this one sign, I think it might be the most beautiful sight in the world,” Edward remarked.

“It cannot be the most beautiful, for that spot is already taken,” Alfred said. Edward frowned in confusion and then got it.

“Oh, Alfred… We shall have to demote it to third most beautiful, and agree to disagree on first and second place.”

“I will only agree that you are the singular most beautiful thing to happen to the world. No more, no less.” Alfred’s chin jutted out stubbornly. How can you say that when you look like this every day…

“Come on then, my second-most-beautiful husband,” Edward laughed gaily. “Let’s find our home.” He propelled Alfred down the road carefully, making sure to offer enough support for his poor sprained ankle.

As they entered, dusty road and tiny farm cottages gave way to cobbled roads and large brick buildings. Chimney stacks pierced the sky from place to place. It was only when they came to the main street that Edward began to wonder what they ought to do now.

“Erm… Edward?” Alfred said tentatively.

“Yes?”

“What do we do now?”

“… I honestly haven’t the faintest clue.”

They looked at each other and grinned sheepishly.

“How will we make a living?” Edward pondered.

“Where are we going to live?” Alfred queried.

“We shall always have one another, and as long as that is true, we will find a way to keep on living,” Edward vowed. Alfred gave him a hard, blazing look, and seized the back of Edward’s head, dragging him in for a fierce kiss. Edward gasped in surprise and tried not to make any embarrassing throaty noises, stroking Alfred’s messy hair as he returned the affections.

“I love it when you talk like that,” Alfred admitted, breaking off. Edward grinned and bumped his love’s nose gently with his own.

“I love it when you kiss like that,” Edward teased.

“I’m not joking, Edward. I love you,” insisted Alfred. His eyes were wide.

“I know, Alfred. I love you, too,” Edward said more solemnly.

“Well, come on, then!” Alfred exclaimed, grabbing Edward’s hand and tugging him along the (thankfully) deserted road. “Let’s go and find our new life!”

 

---

 

Finding a new life was not as simple as it might seem. It appeared that two men with no references, qualifications or background checks were unlikely to be hired as anything with more responsibility than a jute picker. Similarly, the real estate firm in Dundee would not appreciate a grand deposit of two sovereigns for any livable house. They had essentially been kicked out of every shop they went into, and even Edward with his boundless optimism for everything including Alfred looked close to despair.

Alfred knew something had to be done, for it was now late afternoon, and it would be pointless to waste away their only remaining money by staying in an inn overnight. It was looking more and more like the only option. As he walked next to Edward along the main street, both were wrapped up in their own thoughts.

That was why they didn’t see the familiar face marching towards them.

“Lord Alfred! Mr. Drummond!” The loud exclamation startled them, and Alfred turned automatically to his name before realizing what it meant.

Someone has recognized us.

Edward sent him a panicked look, and they made to walk quickly away, but the man behind them had a hand on Alfred’s shoulder and so he had to stop.

“Is it really you? Lord Alfred?” Alfred could not place the voice, though it was surely one he knew. Reluctantly he turned to face the man.

A clean cut man, dressed in footman’s clothing – a servant. A Scottish servant…

“Scott?” Alfred said incredulously. The man had waited on him when Victoria had demanded the trip to Scotland, all those months ago. Of course, Alfred could really only remember the golden haze surrounding his first kiss with Edward… But Scott’s face was a distinctive one. He had had somewhat of a romance of his own, with Victoria’s chief dresser, Skerrett.

“It is you!” exclaimed Scott. His kilt swished around his hairy legs as he stepped closer to them. “Pardon me, Lord Alfred, but is everything quite alright?”

Alfred smiled mentally to himself. Yes, the sight of him subdued to the lower class must have come as a shock to the servant.

“Well… As a matter of fact, we’ve lost our positions -,” and then Alfred had the good sense to cut himself off. What would they tell him? All he would have to do would be ask a prominent Londoner who would surely know their story. It had to have been a massive scandal. And if he told Scott about the nature of their relationship, he may well turn them in to the authorities…

Alfred exchanged a worried glance with Edward.

“We’ve lost our positions due to an issue, which is of a somewhat sensitive nature,” Edward finished smoothly. Nicely done, thought Alfred. “We’re really just looking for a place to keep out of the way of everyone for a while.”

Scott gaped at them.

“You mean… You’re on the run. You’re on the run!” He seemed to be having some trouble processing this fact, running his hands anxiously through his hair, his jaw clenching and unclenching.

“Yes, and… Scott, we would highly appreciate it if you didn’t alert anyone to our whereabouts,” said Alfred gently. He hoped that would be enough. If it wasn’t… Well, they would have to journey to someplace more remote than Dundee, that was for certain.

“… I… Of course,” Scott agreed in a shaky voice. He didn’t sound terribly sure of himself. “If there’s anything I can do to help, anything at all, you only have to let me know!”

At this pronouncement, Alfred raised an eyebrow at Edward, who gave a slight nod. They needed all the help they could get at this point; the choice of whether or not to trust him was not much of a choice.

“Actually, Scott, there is something…” began Alfred. Scott nodded intently. “We are much in need of lodgings. Nothing too main street, obviously, we’re looking for just a cheap roof over our heads. Any places you know of? Somewhere out of the town, perhaps?”

“Aye, there’s many places, depending on how much you can pay. Some cheaper inns are out on the outer reaches of the town – but beyond that there’s any number of wee abandoned cottages. They’re a bit dingy, mind, but if you’re truly looking only for a roof… It’s free to squat in.”

Alfred breathed a sigh of relief. It was just the help they needed.

“Thank you, Scott,” Edward said in a tone of deep gratitude. “We won’t be around the township too much, so we won’t see you again, most likely.”

Scott nodded his acknowledgement. “I wish you luck, gentlemen. I hope you can return to your place in society in time.”

Alfred and Edward burst out laughing.

“Not much chance of that! But a kind thought, I am sure,” Alfred chortled. Then Scott smiled merrily and was on his way. As soon as he was out of earshot, Edward turned to Alfred.

“Can we trust him?” he demanded in a low voice.

“We have no choice,” Alfred said resignedly. “Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.”

Edward sighed and nodded. “Well. For now, shall we find ourselves a cottage?”

“That sounds wonderful, my dear husband,” Alfred smiled.

 

---

 

The girl raised her head yet again. It took so much effort, and it seemed so pointless. She was lying on the hay in her prison – her dungeon – her tiny shack. She had tried to remember songs to sing, to calm herself and soothe the baby’s kicking. She had tried to remember her French, to talk to herself in a new and exciting way, rather than keep the dull undertone of the last five months of her life.

Everything was so boring. It wasn’t enough that she had been cast out from her family, her home, and birth and raise a child by herself with no means… But she had to be bored while doing it too? Hopefully she could keep both herself and the baby alive.

Then life might get interesting.

Or not.

It was in the midst of this particularly depressing train of thought that the door burst open, sunlight streaming through, piercing her dimmed room and hurting her eyes. She curled up instinctively, protecting her stomach even though she knew it wouldn’t make any difference if the intruder was malicious. Please let it be the farm woman… She didn’t even know the farm woman’s name, just her large, rosy face, and the excellent shepherd’s pies she made.

It wasn’t the farm woman.

Two sets of heavy footsteps creaked ominously into the tiny room as the newcomers set their feet on the old wooden floors. They were panting heavily as if from exertion. The girl tentatively opened her eyes to see the men.

They were staring at her in obvious shock and interest. One was very tall, with brown, curly hair; the other was rather short, with messy blonde hair. The girl knew they were either here to take her home or their pleasure.

Even if her life was not worth living, she would defend it, and the new life living inside of her. She bared her teeth and hissed a feral snarl, hoping to at least put the attackers off. Her legs worked into action, pushing her up into a half crouch. Even though the door was blocked, she had to be ready to flee at the first moment possible.

But the men did not seem to retaliate in any way except fear. And… Was that concern clouding their eyes? But surely not. Concern could no longer be directed at her.

“Er… Hello,” said the brown haired man. His voice was strangely gentle for such a large person. “We aren’t going to hurt you, we promise; please don’t be scared.”

It had been so long since anyone had talked to her, let alone with that much kindness and reassurance, that the girl balked slightly. She couldn’t remember how she ought to respond, but she straightened out of her crouch, no longer only seeking escape.

“I’m Edward, and this is Alfred,” said the man. “Do you have a name?”

She shook her head mutely.

“… Oh. Okay. Well, erm…” He glanced to his companion. “Do you live here?” he asked finally, when it appeared that the blonde man wasn’t offering any support to the conversation.

The girl nodded.

“Lovely. Erm. Would you mind terribly if we stayed here with you? Just for the night? We haven’t anywhere else to go; it’s nearing sundown.”

The girl could feel her face twisting in confusion. Stay here? Why would they want to? Why would they need to? It was the most bizarre turn of events she could have imagined. Perhaps she was hallucinating.

But she noticed, for the first time that day, that she was not bored.

She gave a minute nod, and sat down heavily on her haystack bed again, observing the intruders closely. The baby kicked a little, and she put her hand protectively over her stomach. The men shuffled their feet, and looked at one another… They felt awkward, she realized. It had been too long since she had had more than one person in her presence. They were so difficult to read, these complicated emotions. Once you were out of practice.

She cleared her throat uneasily, and decided to test out her voice. “P-Please… Sit down anywhere,” she rasped. God, but she really was out of practice with all this socializing.

The men jumped at the sound of her voice, and made to sit down on the two tiny, fragile stools on the other side of the room.

“I’m going to sleep now,” she said, and lay down pointedly. She wasn’t going to sleep; it was the only way she could think of to extricate herself from this situation. She steadied her breathing and rested her hand over her belly, closing her eyes.

 

---

 

Edward stared at the shape covered by a dirty grey blanket. Staying with a pregnant woman – or perhaps girl would be the more suitable word – was not what he had envisioned for the night. Looking at Alfred, to say he looked like a stunned mullet would be to say the least. After they exchanged looks for a minute, both shrugged and took off their rucksacks, sitting awkwardly on the stool. The shack offered some protection against the cold, but Edward still shivered in his coat. He had the funny idea that the girl was not sleeping, but merely wanting to avoid contact.

But… Who was she? How had she become so heavily pregnant in this situation? Why didn’t she have a name? Edward’s curiosity was always going to get the better of him.

“Erm… Excuse me? Miss?” he called hesitantly. The shape shuffled over to lie so she was facing him, hazel eyes scrutinizing him from across the room.

“No one calls me miss,” she stated.

“Oh - sorry. What ought we to call you?”

She only blinked at him. “I don’t have a name. No one has called me anything for months.

Now Edward really was curious. “But… Surely you have a name, or at least, had a name long ago…”

The girl’s eye twitched slightly. She looked discontented at his statement.

“… Or, is there any name you like, that we can call you?” he tried to recover himself. He noticed Alfred ducking his head and smiling out of his peripheral vision.

“… What sort of name?” she asked curiously. Her eyes seemed to alight a little.

“Ooh! We can make suggestions!” Alfred exclaimed eagerly. The girl frowned a little at him, taking him in for a few seconds. Then she nodded slightly.

“I did have a name. But I truly cannot remember it. Suggestions would be welcome.” A small smile spread across her face.

Edward looked at Alfred, grinning. Alfred had made many ridiculous name suggestions both for their previously owned kittens, and future children (that were in their imaginations somehow mysteriously obtained). This was definitely his field of expertise.

“What is your date of birth?” Alfred asked eagerly.

“Erm… Why?”

“You’ll see! What is it?”

“The sixteenth of May.”

“You are... A Taurus! Your horoscope, that is. I think that is supposed to mean you have stamina and inner strength... What is a good name to represent that?” Alfred’s eyes grew distant. Edward resisted the urge to roll his. The girl merely looked confused. “Oh! What about Breanne? That means strong!”

How do you know this… Edward decided on further thought that he didn’t want to know. The girl considered it. She spoke the name aloud, trying it on her tongue. But it was a no; she shook her head.

“Okay. Okay! Not a strong name. I’ll just try to think of some suitable ones off the top of my head… Beth is very common, but you are not very common. Or perhaps Alexandrina, just like the given name of our Queen? She is very strong, and has birthed many children. It might give you courage!”

But at the mention of the Queen, the girl seemed to hunch in on herself and shook her head firmly. Alfred raised his eyebrows but nodded, clearly thinking some more. He didn’t think aloud as he had been doing but frowned intensely at the dingy corner of the cottage. And then, after long seconds had passed, he smiled brilliantly.

“May. For the month of your birth! Do you like it?” His eyes shone eagerly. The girl seemed interested, and said it aloud a few times. Then she nodded.

“It is a beautiful but simple name. May. May! Thank you, er, Albert…?”

Alfred smiled a little at being called that name. Edward felt a pang even thinking about the Prince, and how disappointed he had been the last time they had seen him.

“It’s Alfred,” he corrected her gently. “I am so glad you like it. May. So, May… What brings you to this corner of the country?”

At the question, the girl’s – May’s – eyes shut off. Her eye twitched again, more violently, and she bit her lip so hard it turned white underneath her teeth. Edward wasn’t sure why she was reacting so badly, but…

“May, please do not fear – we mean no harm, and you are under no obligation to answer our questions,” Edward said.

May nodded weakly and said nothing for a while. Alfred and Edward exchanged confused glances. Then, finally, she spoke.

“I am cold. There is firewood not far from here, if you go outside, find the stream and follow it downhill. Would you please fetch some? I have been too weak to leave the house for days.” Her voice was oddly formal, and hesitant, as if asking favours did not come so easily to her.

“Of course!” Edward jumped to his feet, eager to do anything both to help her and to get out of the awkward atmosphere of the room for a little while. Alfred got up too, but then paused.

“May, would you like one of us to stay behind, to look after you? What if someone else shows up?” Alfred asked gently.

May’s face screwed up in confusion. “Why do you care?” she asked, seeming genuinely not to understand. Alfred tilted his head slightly.

“Well… We should not like something bad to happen to you.”

“You have just met me, Alfred.”

“I – and Edward – have always been good people, and we wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to any poor girl in your position.”

A touch condescending, Edward thought, and May’s face reflected his thoughts exactly.

“I assure you, this poor girl can manage. I would like some time on my own, and as much firewood as possible. Go.” Her voice was shaky despite her confident words. Edward guessed she wasn’t much used to ordering someone else around. Alfred smiled and bowed slightly to her before leaving.

Edward whispered, “He doesn’t mean to put you down, May,” and then left before he could hear or see her response.

 

---

 

May. It felt strange to have a name again, to have people to call her by a name. It didn’t quite feel like her. Perhaps it would, in time. Her life had gone from empty and dull to sort of quite interesting in just the last hour; what could happen given an entire day with these men? It had been ages since she had had to judge anyone’s character, but given the lack of aggression they had showed her, even in response to her feral welcoming… She thought they must be kind.

The girl – May, she had to keep on reminding herself – got up, and waddled awkwardly over to the door. It felt like a small boulder had attached itself to her stomach, and she had to lean back to be able to balance at all. She held it open a crack and watched the retreating backs of Alfred and Edward. They were holding hands and laughing.

A strange feeling went through her.

She hadn’t seen very many people recently, it was true, but it was obvious enough that they were in love. That explained all the strange body language she had been unable to pick up entirely during their conversation. Had it been a man and woman, it would have been obvious.

What shall I think about that? She pondered. They had been so nice to her, given her a name and gone to collect firewood and not snapped back at her… It wasn’t as if she and her baby were going to be a traditional family anyway.

May knew exactly how it felt to be cast out of society for loving too much.

She tried to repress the memories, not her memories, Catherine’s memories, but it was all too much and-

 

I love you, Catherine, Tommy had said. His eyes sparkled blue and his skin ghostly white underneath the moon on the fields. They had met at midnight, as they always did, to talk, and maybe to kiss… But this time was different… This time her skin had pressed to his with the weight of a thousand words and all her love, and she had been so blissfully happy and free…

Weeks later, her blood hadn’t come. And it still hadn’t come a month after that. She felt the lump on her stomach, like a tumour, always growing, to betray her. She had told Tommy first. His panicked face had said it all.

He ran away. It was easy for him to do.

Catherine had told her father next. He had wept and wept, clutching Catherine close to his chest, trying to reassure her it would be alright beneath his sobs.

It wasn’t alright when her mother found out. She had chased Catherine out of the house, shouting that she must never return, even as she began to cry.

Catherine had thought she would relent after a few days. They were family. Family didn’t give up on you, no matter how hard you fell.

Catherine was wrong.

And so Catherine died, and the poor anonymous pregnant girl had found shelter in a nearby cottage, and felt herself doomed.

 

May could never become Catherine again. Her family would never accept her. As the sky began suddenly to pour with rain, her eyes welled with tears of grief she hadn’t allowed herself to shed, and she sobbed in time with the thunder.

 

---

 

“What a strange girl,” Alfred remarked as they set off. “I do wonder how she came to be here of all places?”

“Oh, use your head, Alfred! She is young, pregnant and clearly isolated. It is not hard for one to think of such a scenario that might fit her situation.”

Edward felt bad for snapping but Alfred could be quite oblivious. A silence fell as Alfred adopted a thinking face.

“Oh, I see. Well. It is quite convenient we never had that problem, I suppose,” Alfred grinned. Edward laughed gaily and took Alfred’s hand easily. They walked in silence for a while.

“Do you suppose we should find somewhere else to stay?” Edward asked hesitantly after a time. Alfred remained silent so long that Edward began to wonder if he had heard him.

“I don’t think we should leave her alone,” Alfred said very softly. “We know how it feels, to be cast out from a society that does not respect your choices.”

It was when Alfred started to get philosophical like this that Edward found him even more alluring. His crystal blue eyes were intent, his lips pursed in deep thought.

Edward grabbed his arm and swung him around roughly, bringing his love’s face close to his own so it was easy to lean forwards to kiss him.

“You,” he gasped, “are the most considerate, kind, and beautiful man in the entire world. In the universe.

Before Alfred could respond, he sought his lips again. He kissed him slowly at first, treasuring every moment and movement with his husband. Chaste kisses gave way to heated ones very soon, however, as Edward discovered that his body had ideas other than gathering firewood. Alfred’s teeth bit at his lip and he moaned with the pain and pleasure of it, his heart beating faster than he thought should be comfortable. Well, he wasn’t comfortable. He was very, very turned on.

And with that thought… He slid a hand around Alfred’s waist subtly, lowering it more and more until it rested on his love’s backside, allowing himself to indulge in the feel of it, smooth and beautiful and oh, God, but he could lose himself in his love all day… Alfred was making small choked noises from the back of his throat, clinging to Edward, his head on his shoulder and his lips pressed against Edward’s neck. Edward made an executive decision that they should be satisfied right now, and so he brought a hand around to the front of Alfred’s trousers. It began to rain, and all that Edward could think about was the breathy gasp that Alfred gave out as Edward’s hand wandered over the noticeable bulge in those trousers. He grinned as he held his turned-slightly-limp lover, lowering him down to the ground and unbuttoning his trousers slowly. Alfred threw his jacket to the side, beginning to work on Edward. Soon both their jackets were gone, and Edward pulled at Alfred’s drawers to expose his erect cock. He sighed in bliss at the sight, his own throbbing in response, and ran his hand down Alfred’s length. Alfred trembled in response, pulling Edward down onto his side, and rubbing his erection through his trousers. Edward moaned and momentarily forgot his quest to pleasure Alfred, his hips choosing instead to rut up against Alfred’s hand. But his brain reminded him that he had a wonderful, kind, two-way relationship with his lover, and so his hand began to move again. Alfred’s hands seized his shirt and pulled him close, kissing him as they moved against one another. The rain was really pouring down now. They were both completely soaked, Edward’s hair dripping and their kiss wet with rainwater. Edward still couldn’t bring himself to care. The wonderful, hot movement of their cocks, now rubbing against one another as Edward held them with his hand moving to and fro, would have warmed him even against the coldest of Arctic winds. Alfred’s moans became more and more desperate, and Edward felt the arousal burning within him as Alfred’s mouth juddered against his, the sounds and actions of his lover filling him with lust and love just as much as the hand on his erection. He began to move faster and felt himself begin to become lost in the feeling, everything fading away to Alfred and Alfred and Alfred and as they kissed clumsily Edward came, the white-hot ecstasy filling him with joy and love and more than he ever thought he could feel at once. He felt himself spilling over his own fingers, and then Alfred came with a shout after him, and he held his love close to him. The rain poured down, and all Edward could do was laugh with happiness and kiss Alfred gently after their lovemaking.

“I love you,” he whispered against Alfred’s pale cheek.

“I love you, too,” Alfred replied, the smile apparent in his voice. “Thank you, Edward, for that… That… Lovely distraction.”

“A distraction? Is that all I am?” Edward teased gently.

“Oh, you,” huffed Alfred. “Thank you for the sex, and the everlasting love. I really do love you.”

“I really do love you too,” Edward smiled, nothing but happiness in his heart.

“My shirt is all muddy, look,” Alfred complained. “I bet my jacket’s dirty too. And my hair is, as it always is these days, completely ruined.” He sighed in despair.

“Oh, my poor dear Alfred,” Edward sympathized. “It must be difficult to run away with the love of your life and have messy hair from the sex.”

Alfred had the good grace to laugh at that, before trying without luck to fix his hair.

 

---

 

Alfred hastily straightened his soggy jacket and ran his hands through his rumpled hair. He was sure something would give him away – not that anyone was really there to see and care. They would have to tell May eventually, since they had decided not to leave her, at least until after her baby was birthed. And they… Well, according to their plans, they wouldn’t really see anyone else. Even talking to Scott had been a risk that Alfred was trying not to think about.

“Come on, slowpoke!” Edward yelled from the next small rise. Alfred rolled his eyes and turned to pick up his slightly damp pile of firewood. Edward waited for him, carrying the three freshly caught fish they had somehow managed to catch tied on a string, and they walked together to the cottage door. Edward bumped open the door with his hip and they entered the little shack, Alfred setting the firewood down by the old crumbling fireplace. When he was quite done attempting to dust the splinters from his front – not helped by the damp increasing stickiness immensely – he sat down in front of the fire and started to stack it.

“Got your tinderbox?” he shot back at Edward, grinning, knowing the answer.

“Of course, I’m always very well-equipped,” Edward laughed.

Together they stacked, started and stoked the fire until it was a happy, crackling blaze. Edward used an ancient pan they had found on the side of the road some weeks ago to start the fish cooking. Alfred rummaged through their rucksacks to find the last of their cold food supply; a small loaf of bread, five strips of dried beef and a hunk of cheese that had become quite dry around the edges. It had been a harsh awakening for Alfred to eat such plain fare, but he was quite happy with it now.

A shuffle from behind alerted Edward and Alfred to May’s awakening. Alfred turned to see her tear-streaked face emerge from her grubby huddle of blankets. Beside him, Edward started forwards to her.

“May, are you quite alright?” Edward asked, leaning forwards to touch her arm.

She nodded resolutely. “I am fine, but thank you for asking. May I share the fire and food with you? Thank you very much for collecting the firewood. I have been too weak to walk there for weeks now.”

She was much more eloquent – like a completely different person, Alfred thought. Edward looked slightly taken aback too. Maybe she was just tired earlier.

“Of course; we should thank you very much for allowing us to share your lodgings,” Alfred replied politely.

May scoffed and waved her hand. “It is in truth much safer and easier with company for me to live.” Edward helped her to sit on the floor next to Alfred before seating himself.

“So,” May said, looking from one to the other expectantly. “Tell me your story!”

Alfred looked at Edward, grinning slightly. “Where to begin?” he mused.

“Perhaps we should start with the big one…” Edward grinned back, not looking too worried at all at admitting their sodomy to a near stranger. It was difficult to be in a bad mood with the roaring fire and the wonderful aroma of cooking fish.

“Yes. Well, May. You ought to know you are in the company of criminals. Edward and I… We are as husbands to one another. We love one another as a man ought to love a woman. Do you understand?” It was a nice way of putting it, Alfred thought, rather than to use the ugly word ‘sodomite’. Anyway, sodomy was only concerned with sexual acts. Which Alfred was definitely concerned with, but his and Edward’s relationship was so much more than that…

May didn’t look surprised. “I suspected as much,” she admitted. “You speak very proper English; are the both of you high-born? How on earth did you end up with so little, looking so happy?”

Edward threw back his head and laughed. “It’s a long story. We had better start right at the beginning; with our lovely Queen Victoria.”

May nodded excitedly and watched Edward with her near-black, intent eyes as he began to explain the beginnings of the rest of their lives.

 

When they were quite done, Alfred taking over the tale at various points, and smiling dreamily across the room at one another until May cleared her throat to remind them to carry on the story, the fish was cooked through.

“We ought to have gone to some sort of service today, rather than indulge in such sinful consumption,” May remarked casually as they dug into the fish using their hands. It tasted so wonderful that Alfred barely paused to process her words.

“What do you mean?” Edward said curiously. “Is it a Sunday?”

May looked from one to the other. “You have been travelling too long…” she said. “It is Christmas Eve today. Didn’t you know?”

“Oh, how splendid!” Edward exclaimed. Alfred’s mouth was full of fish, but he tried to smile his joy around the mouthful.

“There is a farmwoman nearby who brings me food every day – only her stale loaves, but it is how I survive,” May explained. “She bid me a ‘Merry Christmas’ today! She won’t be around tomorrow, on account of her celebrating with family.”

Alfred swallowed with some difficulty. “Merry Christmas, then! Here is to good company, good food, and a good future!”

They clinked plates together in place of glasses, and shoveled the last of the fish into their mouths while it was still hot.

“About that good future…” May began. “I do not know you, barely at all. But already you have brought me more happiness and acceptance than I have felt in months. I begin to wonder if you had intended on staying more than only a day?”

Edward glanced at Alfred. Alfred nodded, smiling. Edward smiled back and turned to May. “We would like to, yes. I hope you don’t think it is condescending – but I think you could use some help, both in your pregnancy and, erm, the baby afterwards. Anything we can do, we are at your service. All we want is to begin our life together, and be happy, and survive through this winter. I think you have much the same goal in mind.”

Nicely phrased, thought Alfred. He hoped May didn’t think they were being too presumptive. But her face lit up as he said it.

“Oh, that would be wonderful, you have no idea, how much that would mean to me… I have hated the thought of the ordeal I must go through, alone. I would very much like to have some support,” she said in a rush. Her eyes expressed their gratitude all on their own as she looked from one man to the other.

“Excellent,” said Alfred warmly. “Then let us enjoy our Christmas Eve!”

They broke bread and raised edible toasts all night, reveling in their futures suddenly intertwined and the atmosphere of hope in the room. The fire cast dark shadows behind each of them, flickering and wavering as if in the wind. Alfred grew sleepier and sleepier until his eyes closed of their own accord. His dreams were warm and hazy, slipping deeper and deeper into sleep and thinking of Edward and a tiny dark baby and drinking cocoa by the fire with his love…

 

---

 

The two men were both asleep where they sat, leaning against the walls of the small shack. May smiled sleepily and shuffled to her bed, lowering herself down on the hay. She was allowed a few minutes of peace before she felt a strange, dull pain deep in her swollen belly, close to her back. A kick? It doesn’t feel so much like a kick… The pain continued for a minute or so, relatively mild. Then it passed. Probably indigestion; I haven’t eaten cooked food in too long.

Twenty minutes later, the same pain again.

And again, perhaps less than twenty minutes later. This one was much worse.

Oh, fuck, was all she could think as she let out an involuntary groan of pain. The dozing men awakened quickly, leapt to their feet, and hurried over to where she was curled up. She felt liquid spread out slowly on her legs, and suddenly the pain became much more intense. Her back felt as though it were trying to separate from her ribcage.

“I – think – I’m having the baby early-” she managed to gasp, before curling up in pain once again. Once the contraction was finally over, she was able to register the total look of shock and helplessness on Edward and Alfred’s faces. It would have been funny, if her and her baby’s life didn’t depend on this exact moment.

“Towels, or rags, or whatever – hot water, if you can manage it – and I’ll get myself into position. I watched my mother prepare for this, once. One of you has to catch the baby, and I’ll bloody murder you if you drop it. Understood?”

Edward and Alfred blinked dumbly before nodding a little. Good enough, she decided and started to maneuver herself into a half-sitting position on her haystack. She sent a silent prayer to the Lord above for sending her two assistants. This would be a lot scarier, not to mention more dangerous, on her own.

Her contractions continued to come, and her back continued to ache horribly, until finally they were only a few minutes apart. She felt like she needed to push, and so she did. Alfred had decided to sit next to her, holding her arm firmly, while Edward crouched in front of her, rubbing her knee gently and looking terrified.

 

---

 

What would Wilhelmina say? It was all that Alfred could think of. She would be horrified, no doubt, that he, Alfred, had been given any measure of responsibility over the birth of a baby. Alfred had never done anything except wince at the Queen’s screams echoing throughout the Palace. By unspoken agreement, Edward had taken the lower position. He looked quite as petrified as Alfred felt. He held May’s arm firm, though, and moved his arm in what he hoped was a comforting way in circles over her back. Why are women considered the gentle, delicate sex? Surely this is the most unbearable torture imaginable… The grunts and growls May was emitting at this point was terrifying.

“Shouldn’t we get a doctor, or something?” Edward asked suddenly.

“No – doctor – stupid – doctor won’t see me,” May panted, then paused. “Family – problem,” she got out after a few seconds.

“Oh. Well, don’t worry, it’s going to be okay,” Edward promised her, smiling with some strength. Alfred was impressed by his nerve. Judging by May’s exasperated huff, however, she was not.

Stupid,” she muttered again under her breath. “Stupid stupid fucking stupid oh God let me live…” The profanities, curses, insults, and prayers continued for what seemed like hours as she began to push. She would cry out for at least ten consecutive seconds as she strained to get the baby out. Alfred truly didn’t know how she had the air in her lungs to do so. She panted and sobbed, raged at the stars, her life, her parents, someone called Tommy (though Alfred could probably guess his identity), and ground her teeth when it seemed her voice was too weak.

“I can see the head!” Edward yelped suddenly. Alfred tried not to think about his love looking literally up another person’s genitalia. This was more important than anyone’s pride or modesty. May yelled as she kept on pushing, and it must have advanced the baby along, because Edward was talking incoherently in an encouraging tone, watching with some fascination and trepidation.

“You’ve – got to help me look after it!” May shouted in a sudden burst of understandable speech. “It’s yours too! Don’t you dare abandon me to this like that fucking traitor Tommy – ARGGGGH,” she broke off with another cry of pain. Alfred looked wide-eyed to Edward, who nodded insistently. They couldn’t exactly argue with her now, anyway.

“Of course, of course,” he reassured her. Then it hit him. “Oh God, Edward! We’re having a baby!” Now that the baby had been assigned an appropriate place in his head, it was all too much. What if it DIES?! His inner voice was screaming at him suddenly, and the safe birth of this child became much more important. He began muttering constant encouragements to May, as Edward was doing, and felt his soul shake with anticipation and fear.

 

---

 

Edward watched the bloody, strange process with a feeling like apprehension. The tiny dark head of the baby was clearly visible amidst the great fleshy cavern that Edward tried his best to ignore. He was barely aware of the words leaving his mouth now, most of them at best a quarter formed. Everything depended on this baby’s safe arrival. Without knowing it, he and Alfred had, today, signed up to become parents. Wilhelmina would kill us if she knew, he found himself thinking suddenly. And with that slightly morbid and nostalgic thought, the baby began to slide out rather quickly. May let out one last bloodcurdling scream and Edward brought his hands up to help the tiny dark human as it was pushed out. It was slippery with blood and amniotic fluid, but he held true to his word not to drop it. Her.

“A girl,” he breathed. “A beautiful baby girl.” He looked down at her as her mouth opened and she screamed her fury at the world for existing. Her eyelids were tiny, her cheeks swollen so that she looked a little like a garden gnome, and her fingernails the size of a grain of rice. Edward looked at the baby, and felt that it had to be one of the most important days of his existence. When else would he help to start a whole new life?

“Joy,” May gasped from her slumped position. Her moans had stopped, not that Edward had noticed. “Her name is Joy.” Edward nodded, speechless, and brought the baby to May’s arms, keeping one hand on her tiny arm. Alfred breathed in suddenly, and when Edward’s eyes found his, they were full of tears.

“Our Joy,” May choked out. Alfred and Edward’s hands joined, their other hands helping to cradle the newborn. Tears of happiness streamed down all three adults’ cheeks as they watched the tiny babe scream her wrath upon that Christmas Eve. Outside, midnight chimed, and snow fell. The stars twinkled on, oblivious.

And so it was on Christmas.