There was only one thing better than returning to Marlinspike after a long and eventful absence, Captain Haddock thought as he stepped out of the car -- namely, returning to Marlinspike knowing that both Bianca Castafiore and Jolyon Wagg were currently on the other side on the planet.
He took a deep, contented breath of fresh country air, and waved genially at Nestor, who'd appeared on top of the stairs. Really, this was perfect: a dictator overthrown, people's lives saved, coming home to some well-deserved peace and quiet, and no horrendous nuisances around to spoil it all.
Tintin smiled at him as they picked up their suitcases and made for the entrance, the Professor trailing behind them. "Happy to be home, Captain?"
"Indeed," said Haddock cheerfully. Heavens, but it was good to be back. All he needed now was a nice pipe and a glass of --
Blistering barnacles! How could he have forgotten?
With everything that had happened these last few weeks, there hadn't really been time to reflect upon the unpleasant truth. The Picaros' relationship with drink had somehow taken precedence over his own, and of course, the Captain didn't regret helping Alcazar cure his men of their addiction. The alternative would have meant certain death for several persons, and besides, those rascals had been downright drunkards. Not like him, who only appreciated a fine whisky now and then...
Had appreciated, a merciless little voice in his head corrected. As of now, the Haddockian hull would hold no more alcohol.
"Captain?" Tintin's worried eyes were looking into his own. "Are you all right?"
"What? Oh, certainly," said Haddock, shaking his head. Best not to bother the lad with this. "Absolutely spiffing," he muttered between gritted teeth as he followed Tintin to the door.
After they'd all been welcomed into the hall by Nestor (who looked relieved not only to see the three of them back in good shape, but also unaccompanied by spoiled brats, demanding divas or incompetent police officers), Professor Calculus declared the trip a success. "And mostly thanks to your cooperation, my dear Captain," he said, patting Haddock's arm encouragingly. "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you joining me in curing people of their deplorable addiction."
"Hah!" said Haddock glumly. "It's not as if I had much of a choice, you old poltroon!"
"Oh, I couldn't agree more," Calculus beamed. "Not a moment too soon. It does feel good to be rid of that sad habit, doesn't it? In fact," he continued with enthusiasm, "I think I'll spend some time in my laboratory now, working on some other solutions. I trust that I can rely upon you to test --"
Tintin intervened, placing a hand on Haddock's shoulder. "Why don't you and I go and relax a little in the sitting room, Captain?"
"Good idea," Haddock growled. "Nestor, will you fetch us -- no, wait..."
"Some mineral water, please," said Tintin smoothly, steering the Captain in the direction of the sitting room. "And take your time."
Once seated on one of the comfortable sofas, Haddock felt a bit better. After all, he could live without alcohol. He'd done so before -- granted, almost thirty years ago, but still. He had a lovely home, good friends, and money in the bank. He was a lucky man.
Glancing sideways at Tintin, who was seated next to him, eyes closed in thought, Haddock smiled to himself. A lucky man, indeed.
He started fumbling for his pipe and some tobacco. At least that old fool Calculus hadn't done anything about that -- yet.
Tintin opened his eyes as Haddock lit his pipe. "What are you thinking about, Captain?"
"Right now?" said Haddock, taking a deep and delicious draw. "I was thinking about how I should make sure I smoke all of this tobacco before Calculus does something to prevent me from enjoying it." He blew out the smoke with great relish. "You?"
Tintin gave a soft laugh. "I was thinking of what your abstinence is going to mean, in the grand scheme of things."
"Mean?" Haddock snorted. "It's going to mean a lot less fun for me, that's for sure."
"Perhaps," said Tintin. "But perhaps not. You have to admit, Captain, that your drinking sometimes caused us some trouble."
Haddock opened his mouth, but closed it again. Thundering typhoons, he wasn't going to argue with that. Not with the knowledge that there had been one or two times when Tintin had been in danger because he, Captain Archibald Haddock, had been a tad too appreciative of the bottle.
That was the one thing that had made him consider quitting, actually. If he'd somehow caused his own death by drinking, well, that probably wouldn't have been the worst way to go. But if something happened to Tintin...
Perhaps it was just as well that Calculus had taken the decision for him.
"Right," he said gruffly, patting the lad's knee. "But mark my words, there will be trouble nonetheless. There always is, where you are concerned."
Tintin smiled, placing his hand over the Captain's and lacing their fingers together. "I hope to stay out of it for a while; I've had enough trouble for the rest of my life."
"Don't say that," Haddock warned him. "It's the safest way to make sure something will happen, remember?"
"Mhmm," said Tintin. "Let's not talk about it, then."
Before Haddock could react, his pipe had been removed by Tintin's free hand, which immediately returned to caress the Captain's cheek. Haddock seized it and kissed the slender wrist. "Couldn't even wait till I'd finished my pipe?" he muttered, pulling Tintin closer.
Another laugh, a hot breath that drowned away all lingering thoughts of tobacco. "You're not the only one who's been suffering from abstinence, Captain."
"Don't remind me of it," said Haddock, shuddering. "That Visigoth of a general and his wife, and their gang of Picaros... Never heard about privacy, the lot of them."
"Unfortunately, no," Tintin admitted, freeing his hands so he could wrap both his arms around Haddock's neck. "Won't you remind me of what I've been missing?"
The kiss was warm and wild and familiar and exciting, just like always. It tasted of a thousand adventures and a myriad of countries, of dangers lived and battles fought, and friendship and companionship and love that was stronger than rum, more solid than cargo. Haddock let his hands roam free under Tintin's sweater, finding hot skin; Tintin moaned into his mouth and pressed closer, throwing a leg over Haddock's thigh. The memory of what he'd been without for more than a fortnight pulsating in his loins, the Captain groaned, pulling at Tintin's clothes...
The polite cough made them both freeze, looking up to see Nestor holding a tray with a bottle and two glasses on it. "Your mineral water, sirs," he said politely, his face impeccably blank.
"Ah," said Haddock sheepishly. Sure enough, he'd long suspected that Nestor knew -- because really, how could he not? -- but even the most patient of butlers would only tolerate so much indiscretion, and this was definitely indiscretion of the uppermost sort. "Yes. Thank you."
"Yes, thank you, Nestor," Tintin chimed in, craning his neck to look up. "I'm feeling a little thirsty."
After Nestor had given a polite nod and retreated, Tintin and Haddock looked at each other. Then they both grinned.
"I suppose you wouldn't mind if we continued this upstairs?" Haddock suggested.
"Not at all," said Tintin, helping himself to some mineral water. He took a sip, then gave the glass to Haddock. "But we should finish this first, or poor Nestor will have interrupted us for nothing."
"If it had at least been a decent glass of Loch Lomond..." the Captain grumbled.
"Well," said Tintin, a little archly. "There are certain disadvantages to alcohol that we've both experienced in the past. Do you remember the time..."
"All right, all right."
Haddock downed the glass of mineral water -- he was going to have to get used to it now, he supposed -- and grabbed Tintin's hand. "Let's go," he said, hauling them both up from the sofa.
Tintin raised his eyebrows, but followed willingly. "A lot less fun for you, was that what you said?" he asked as they mounted the great staircase.
The Captain snorted, but did not answer.
After all, he knew he could count on Tintin to prove him wrong.