It’s been a long time.
It’s been a very long time since they had the energy or inclination to do this, since last there was an air that wasn’t deadly cold around them, since last anything between them came easily, since last Haddock could trust that in the silence they understood each other.
A one night stopover in India before the flight back to Brussels, and Chang – who Haddock has found to be a friendly, gentle boy, graced with a deep-flowing empathy – has bid a polite, early goodnight to them and now they are here, in their room, twin beds feet and inches and miles apart, and Tintin looks tense as wire, twisting his fingers together distractedly.
Thin as wire too, or near as. They were bundled into winter clothing so long, deep in the shells required for survival, that Haddock can wince with surprise now, seeing how gaunt the boy looks, a slender frame with the lean muscle pared down to sinew; pounds of flesh so easily sacrificed.
Haddock himself has lost the suggestion of a soft-curved belly that lazy weeks were starting to grant him, has seen the definition of his arms and legs rise again, sharp geography around him changing the very contours of his body. But in some ways, and this is one of them, he can endure more than Tintin; he’s older, bigger, sturdier.
For all he ate his heart out, every time he walked away from the boy in the weeks past, he feels the weight of guilt again now - the regret for any, for every, second he might have led Tintin to think he wouldn’t give everything he had for him, not when it came down to it.
Tintin will not see it that way. Tintin never does. For this reason, Haddock knows he must try to forgive himself, or at least forget, because Tintin will blame himself for this guilt entirely, and thwart any recompense Haddock had hoped to make thereby.
Even Tintin is not perfect, and as for Haddock, Haddock perhaps is a better man than he ever believed he could be, come the test.
They tried their best for each other, out there, up there in the distant cold where no power either of them possessed seemed meaningful against the weight of snow and silence.
And yet, not so powerless, for they are here, together, now, living with their knowledge, good and bad – living, that is the point. Or maybe it is together, or maybe for Haddock the one has come to mean the other, absolutely and entirely.
He takes a step closer to Tintin; the boy is shaking, trembling as if the cold has pursued them, breathing fast as if he’s in pain, his eyes meeting Haddock’s, wide with emotion, with soundless pleading.
Whatever vocabulary Tintin has for love, he learnt it from Haddock, and Haddock sees now he did not teach enough; bashful himself of declarations, sure that all that could be intended could be shown and felt, he neglected to give them ways to approach this, except with touch.
Either we’re both saved or we die together.
Haddock closes his eyes for a moment, and takes a sharp breath, telling himself that they are here, that there is time, blessed time, to give them memories not shadowed with death.
The question is thin and tentative, and Haddock opens his eyes again, ready to reassure him, to speak, before he is cut off, grunting, as Tintin’s arms go round him so hard and so fast they take his breath away, Tintin gripping him so tight, so desperate, fingers digging into his back as if he were the last safe hold on a sheer cliff-face, and shaking, still shaking as Haddock’s arms rise in answer and, with a sigh he’s been a long time waiting for, he draws Tintin into him, breathing the scent of his hair, rocking the two of them together for a long moment.
“I missed you,” Tintin is saying softly. “Dear God, I missed you.”
Haddock bends his neck a little and kisses the soft skin under Tintin’s ear, the place that startled the boy so much when Haddock first showed it to him, that long night, months ago, when they first explored each other.
Tintin’s breathing is deeper now, calmer, but as the embrace continues, the edges turn ragged.
Haddock waits, kissing him; his mouth, the curve of his ears, the side of his jaw, the pulse point in his neck, until Tintin moans and pulls away to get his jumper and shirt off, flying back again to Haddock’s arms, breathless and flushed, his whole torso blushing.
“Lie down,” Haddock says gently, and proceeds to move his attention to Tintin’s nipples, already peaked with desire, licking one and rolling the other between finger and thumb as Tintin keens beneath him, his hips rocking now as if he cannot control them, his trousers tented, straining.
Oh, it has been a long time, such a long time, and Haddock cannot now think how he could breathe without this.
As Haddock licks a trail along his stomach, hands going to his fly, Tintin gasps something, and on the second breath Haddock suddenly hears that it is “Stop!”
At once he draws away, heart pounding now for all the wrong reasons – is the boy too tired? Too overwhelmed? Or do the bruises still visible on him from the rocks hurt more than is tolerable?
“Captain,” Tintin says, sitting up, holding out his hands. He is gazing at him with a tenderness Haddock can still never quite believe he is the recipient of.
Haddock comes and kneels on the floor by the bed, his head is level with Tintin’s knee and hands go into his hair, caressing him, soothing him, stroking him no doubt a little as Snowy is stroked, and if Haddock knew Tintin’s heart less well, that might offend him, but truly it is more than a kiss.
Tintin climbs off the bed, pulling off his trousers as he goes, and he is naked, kneeling side by side with Haddock, touching his face again, gentle fingers, calloused with cold and rope-burn, smoothing over his beard. “Let me look after you, Captain, for once.”
The hands are moving , unbuttoning his shirt, pushing it off his arms, as Tintin kisses him long and slow, muttering still “I missed you,” over and over, until Haddock starts to think the boy understands just how far away he’s journeyed, far further than the highest Himalaya.
Then Haddock’s trousers peel away, and somehow he’s sitting on the bed, Tintin kneeling between his legs, looking up at him with a strange, perfect mixture of trepidation and affection and sheer curiosity that makes him look more himself than he has in months.
For this reason, as much as any, Haddock doesn’t try to dissuade him as he has before.
He has always associated this act with subservience, with the exertion of control, the display of power, and whilst he has no shame opening his mouth for Tintin, gladly and freely, the idea of Tintin so used, like this, has always made him feel cruel, and not a little dirty.
But Tintin is smiling, Tintin is smiling like a sailor sighting home harbour, and his hands are certain enough, practised, and when his mouth comes – oh, the heat, the sweet wet heat and the softness of him, the eagerness in his eyes, the frankly wicked delight when he sees the effect he’s having – it does not feel like Haddock is taking anything at all.
And afterwards, Tintin looking slightly surprised, as any man might tasting that for the first time, wiping his hand across his lips and looking up, hopeful, Haddock can pull him in close and kiss him, open-mouthed and murmur, “That was amazing, thank you,” and find he means it completely.
Tintin rises across him, rolling with him properly onto the bed and tangling them together, and Haddock finds him with his hand and quickly – so quickly, evidently the act was more than pleasing on both sides – he is groaning and biting down on Haddock’s shoulder as he spills between them.
“I missed you too,” Haddock says softly, as they lie holding each other, one knot of themselves.
Tintin nods, regret clouding his face.
Haddock kisses his forehead. “Perhaps it isn’t easy, being in love with the ‘Great Heart’, but I’d be a fool if it made me love you less.”
Little words, such little words, so fragile.
Tintin bites his lip, eyes full of feeling, then kisses him, swift and almost violent, and Haddock thinks: Time, give him time, he’s young, he struggles with this.
And then Tintin’s mouth is pulling away, and he is whispering, soft but distinct, words and words and words, warm breath and affection and hope and trust, growing and growing between them, all the stronger for the testing.