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Kick the Ball Dead

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Thomas felt a little guilty about taking over the coach house for the night, which was ridiculous. It was his coach house, albeit mostly filled with Peter's things. The place didn't stop being Folly property just because Peter had installed a television. And reupholstered the sofa. And left his clothing all over the floor.

"Cuthbert is on the edge," muttered the television. "Ah. Wonderful defensive effort."

Thomas had actually checked with Peter and Lesley to make sure it would be all right to watch the Lions match up here while they were out. It was fine, they had said. Peter had even gone so far as to offer Thomas the contents of the refrigerator, which was why Thomas had a glass of Red Stripe instead of resorting to the Foster's which Frank had brought with him.

"...Took off out of the blocks, missed by Cooper in the back..."

That was probably the root of the problem, Thomas realized. The guilt had nothing to do with the coach house, and everything to do with his lingering association of depravity with the mere act of inviting Frank Caffrey home to watch rugby and have a couple drinks and maybe indulge in some light snogging.

"...Definitely out before he grounds the ball."

Thomas had hoped, from time to time, that nearly a century's worth of sodomy and other unnatural activities would rid him of an inconvenient sense of shame. But Thomas always tended to pull back from himself, in times of passion, and look at his actions with his schoolmasters' eyes. They were rarely kind.

"No try. But that just gives an indication of what the British and Irish Lions are capable of..."

Thomas sipped his drink and leaned a little more into Frank's solid warmth, trying to drag himself back into the present by the contact.

"What are you thinking so hard about?" asked Frank. "Using your mental powers to get the Lions into the goal?"

"No," said Thomas. "Just—"

But then play started again, and Thomas wasn't sure how he finished that sentence or if he finished it at all. The Reds had the ball, and the Lions were just standing there, get on him already, get—oh. Good play.

This was nothing to be guilty about, surely? There was rugby and reasonably decent beer and Frank's deep voice rising and falling as talked about something that wasn't rugby. Thomas could feel it settling him and waking him up, an anticipatory sort of peacefulness, and he relaxed into the sofa and swore under his breath when the Reds kept the ball.

Frank laughed and put his arm around Thomas' shoulder, tucking Thomas neatly into his side. Thomas took another drink and did not press his cheek against Frank's broad chest, because he had limits. It was important to remember his limits.

The Reds' jumper knocked the ball back towards his side, but then Tom Youngs came out of nowhere and snagged the ball, running for a good two seconds before going down in a tangled knot of players. Thomas found he was clenching a fist and released it. Yes, this was good. It was easy to sink into the rugby, let himself forget everything else.

"—And Isaac keeps complaining about unpaid overtime," said Frank, apparently continuing a story. "Says he doesn't see why he should have to clean mud off of his rifle in his own time. And I said, look, Isaac, do you want me to explain to the lieutenant why were fucking around in the Thames looking for a river monster? You knew what you were getting into when you took a Folly support mission."

"Quite right," murmured Thomas, letting it all wash over him in favor of concentrating on what the hell Hogg thought he was doing. He was going to get his face broken if he ran straight at half a dozen Reds like that. Oh. Oh! Damn good play.

"And he says no, actually, he didn't know what he was getting into when he became a reservist, and he's a bloody accountant and he doesn't want to tell his boss that he's late for work because he was up all night cleaning his bloody rifle. And I say that's not blood, Isaac, you were just complaining about mud. And Isaac says, it's just a figure of speech, don't get pedantic. And I say, well, you ought to watch your language."

Owen Farrell took the penalty kick at goal, and Thomas sat up, eyes fixed on the line of Farrell's jaw as he considered the position, considered the ball, considered the position again, and finally, finally took the kick. It was good, and Thomas felt a victorious shout pulled out of him as the Lions took the lead. He slumped back against Frank again, grinning.

"You're not listening to me at all, are you?" asked Frank.

"I am," said Thomas, trying to remember anything Frank had said. "Is Isaac the one with the awful moustache?"

Frank said nothing, and when Thomas glanced at him he found that Frank was smiling. "It's not that awful."

Thomas shrugged. "You know, when I was a boy soldiers were required to have moustaches? Quite a few people ignored the regulation, but one of my brothers used it as an excuse to grow the most terrible facial hair I'd ever seen. At least until I met your friend Isaac..." Thomas trailed off as play restarted. He set his beer down on the sidetable, distantly aware that he might spill it as the Reds passed the ball neatly down the line, evading the Lions' attempts to force a turnover.

Frank withdrew his arm from Thomas' shoulder and patted him on the thigh. "I should have known better than to talk to you during your rugby."

"Mhm?" Thomas twitched as the Reds performed another beautiful pass. "What did you say?"

"When are Peter and Lesley were getting back?" asked Frank.

Thomas tried to drag his attention away from the screen. "Quite late, I think. Oh, what was that? Come on, come on."

Frank chuckled, and got up. "Do you want another beer?"

"Hell," muttered Thomas, as the Reds made a push across the halfway line. No, it was all right, Hogg had it again. "Yes, thank you."

Frank cracked open his Foster's and poured another Red Stripe into Thomas' glass. Meanwhile the Lions gave up the ball, what on earth did they think they were doing? Thomas moved a little, making way for Frank to sit down, but Frank just stood there, taking a long drink from his can. Then he set it down and folded himself gingerly onto his knees in front of Thomas. Frank was careful not to obscure the television, but Thomas found his eyes drawn to him anyway.

"Now left, now right," murmured the television, as the players shouted unintelligibly in the background.

Thomas raised his eyebrows. "What are you doing down there?"

"Don't mind me," said Frank, now settling both hands on Thomas' thighs. "Just watch your rugby."

Frank didn't move any further, so Thomas followed instructions. He looked back at the screen just in time to see Monahan catch a bad kick from the Lions, taking the ball and pelting across the field, dodging all attempts to stop him until he was crossing the line, a Lions full-back hanging around his waist. "It's a try!" screeched the presenters, and Thomas took a vicious gulp of his beer and cursed the centres for letting Monahan break through.

The Reds celebrated, and Thomas realized that Frank had taken advantage of his preoccupation to push his legs obscenely wide, until Frank could fit his broad shoulders between them. Now Frank was running his hand up the inseam of Thomas' trousers, and Thomas quickly set down his beer before he dropped it.

"What's the score?" asked Frank.

"Seven to three, Reds," said Thomas. "Are you—"

"I'm not bothering you, am I?" The tips of Frank's fingers brushed the crotch of Thomas' trousers, and Thomas glared.

"Is this supposed to be a lesson?" asked Thomas. He hesitated, and then managed to force out what he knew he ought to say. "I do enjoy listening to you. I can turn off the game, if you really want to talk."

Frank smirked up at him, and Thomas actually reached for the remote. "No, no." Frank pushed it away from Thomas' hand. "I'm out of things to talk about. In fact, I want the game to stay on. I want you to ignore me completely while I swallow your cock. I want your eyes front and your hands at your sides, watching your telly and letting me take you."

Thomas drew in a shaky breath and spread his legs incrementally wider. "Whatever you like," he muttered. He didn't trust his voice beyond that. Light snogging? He should have set his expectations a little higher.

"Exactly." Frank shifted forward into the space Thomas was giving him, his fingers on Thomas' trouser button and the heel of his hand pressing lightly against the base of Thomas' cock. "Because you like it too, don't you?"

Thomas said nothing. He got at the remote at last and held it a moment, thinking that if he just turned the television off they could talk about this properly. Maybe move to a location with a bed, rather than just a well-used sofa. Thomas wasn't entirely sure what Peter had gotten up to on this sofa, and he did not want to know. Hopefully it had been cleaned. If nothing else, they should lock the door.

"Thomas?" said Frank, abruptly uncertain. "All right?"

Thomas nodded jerkily, turned up the volume and dropped the remote. He'd managed to miss another goal attempt, and the presenters were waxing ecstatic about Nick Frisby.

He missed a lot more as Frank unzipped his flies and eased Thomas' cock out of both pants and trousers with a minimum of fuss. Frank caught Thomas looking down at him and flicked a fingernail against Thomas' shaft until Thomas bit his lip and forced his eyes back up to the screen.

"Manu Tuilagi is off the field," said the presenters, and Thomas watched with fixed interest as someone handed the man a towel. "Tuilagi is off, and on for him is George North, who is positioning himself at outside center..."

Frank licked up Thomas' rapidly hardening cock and Thomas took a sip of his beer, trying not to choke. The jumper was lifted into the air, reaching for the ball. He passed the ball back to Youngs and Frank slid his mouth down again, wet and loud. Thomas breathed in and out and didn't react at all when the Lions sent the ball out of bounds on a wild kick.

"Some claret on the face for O'Donaghue," said the presenters. Thomas looked at O'Donaghue, his glazed eyes under the sheen of blood, and felt a twinge of sympathy for the opposing team. Then Frank swallowed around the head of Thomas' cock, and Thomas ground his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to keep quiet.

"You'll miss your game," said Frank, pulling back. "Eyes front, remember?"

Thomas pried his eyes open and tilted his chin up, trying to look as if he didn't care what Frank was doing down there. Frank chuckled and leaned back between Thomas' thighs.

"Short ball to nobody!" screeched the presenters. "They've kicked the ball dead! Oh, seven points go begging for the British and Irish Lions."

Thomas was pretty sure he would be angry about that if Frank wasn't curling his tongue around his cock. As it was, Thomas could barely remember that the game existed, let alone keep track of the plays. He'd never learned to multi-task properly. Or, he could multi-task in the sense that he could blow up a tank while getting shot at, though he'd prefer not to repeat that particular experience. But Thomas had never sat around watching television while chatting to his friends and playing on gamestations or whatever they were called. The closest thing to that kind of multi-tasking Thomas had ever done was to read while people tried to talk to him. That only succeeded because Thomas was perfectly willing to ignore the people.

Trying to watch rugby while someone was having sex with him was a lost cause. Thomas did not want to ignore anything Frank was doing.

Thomas tried to keep up the facade, at least. He kept his eyes on the screen, blindly following the red of the Lions' jerseys. He listened closely to the commentary, even as the words lost their meaning. He did not push rudely into Frank's mouth, and instead shivered and tensed as Frank slowly, god, so slowly bobbed his head, taking a little more of Thomas' cock into his mouth each time. The Reds kicked the ball forward, and Frank wrapped a hand around Thomas' hip. Cuthbert went down, pushing past the Red's twenty-two, and Frank made a satisfied humming noise. The Reds' coach started screaming at the referee and the players and the entire world, and Frank's mouth was going to kill Thomas, it absolutely was.

At some point Thomas realized that he didn't care what the score was. He didn't really care who won.

He could tell that was hyperbole even as he thought it. This was rugby, after all. But it felt like it was true, just then.

Even concentrating hard on looking straight at the television, Thomas found his gaze drifting down to the rhythm of Frank's head. One of his hands was reaching to brush through Frank's hair, and the other was reaching for the remote to turn the television off. Then Frank pulled back, his tongue just touching the head of Thomas' cock, and both of Thomas' hands clutched the sofa as his hips arched up, following Frank's mouth. Frank chuckled and pushed Thomas back down with one muscled forearm across his stomach. Frank kept it there as he lowered his head back down.

"Frank," said Thomas, and then forgot what else he was going to say when Frank took him in his mouth again, just kept repeating Frank's name as a gasp or a whisper. Pressure coiled in him, hot and desperate. Eventually he remembered that he was going to warn Frank that he was close, very very close and please don't stop, Frank

Frank patted Thomas on the side, reassuringly, and Thomas came, his vision going dim against the bright light of the television screen.

The door opened.

Frank froze, and Thomas, still blinking spots away, turned his head to find Peter in the doorway.

Thomas had been alive and aware of his sexuality long enough that he had several sequential reactions to being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, to use one completely inappropriate metaphor. First it was the complete terror of being expelled and having his parents told. Then it was the slightly lesser terror of being court-martialed, then the only marginally lesser terror of being arrested. But it was less than a second before Thomas remembered that he was not in school or the army, and that homosexuality wasn't even illegal anymore. Peter was a very enlightened young man who was probably more hip to the gay community than Thomas could ever hope to be. This was merely extremely unprofessional, and Peter would never ever let him live it down.

Funny how putting things in perspective didn't actually help much.

Luckily the sofa was angled with its back to the door, so that Frank was completely hidden from view. As long as Peter didn't get any closer.

"Hello, Peter," said Thomas, trying to sound casual and not as if he'd been caught in the middle of a sex act. "You're back early."

"Me and Lesley had to arrest two men who were fighting at the first bar we went to," said Peter.

"Lesley and I," corrected Thomas, automatically. "Anyone hurt?"

"Lesley and I are fine, the men have a few bruises." Peter shrugged. "Taking them to the nick and filling out all the paperwork sort of deadened the appeal of Friday night clubbing, though. I just came to get a few beers to take back to the house—we thought it'd be more peaceful."

"Oh," said Thomas, relieved. The fridge was in the left corner, still without a line of sight to the front of the sofa. Then he felt a little less relieved as Frank, apparently needing to do something with Thomas' come, started to swallow around Thomas' softening cock. "Good," said Thomas, maybe a little loudly to cover any noise Frank might be making, hopefully not strained at all. "I don't want to monopolize the coach house, but I was actually trying to do some private paperwork up here."

"Really?" Peter turned back from the fridge, two bottles of Red Stripe in each hand. "It looks like you're watching rugby and drinking my beer."

"I'm multi-tasking," said Thomas. "I can buy you some beer tomorrow, if you like."

Peter gave him a knowing (but hopefully not too knowing) look. "Well, good luck. We'll be at home for the rest of the night if you need anything."

"Mhm." Thomas bent his head, supposedly to look at his nonexistent paperwork but actually to meet Frank's extremely amused eyes. It wasn't until Peter shut the door behind him that Thomas allowed himself to slump back against the sofa.

Frank pulled back with a wet noise that explained why he hadn't done so earlier. "Think we got away with it?"

"I hope so," said Thomas. "That was... stressful."

Frank tucked Thomas back into his clothes, zipping his flies carefully. Thomas let him, trying to focus on calming down and not having a heart attack. When Frank was satisfied, he leaned for a kiss which Thomas happily gave. He was a little less happy when Frank deepened the kiss and stuck his tongue in Thomas' mouth. God, Thomas hated the taste of semen. Even his own, which should have been at least gratifying. But no, it was just disgusting. The lingering aftertaste of Foster's didn't help either.

Thomas nipped Frank's lip and pushed on his shoulders, and Frank backed up. Thomas didn't even have to say anything before Frank grabbed Thomas' beer and took a gulp, swishing it around his mouth in an unnecessarily showy manner. He even gargled for a moment while Thomas glared. Then he swallowed and kissed Thomas again, one hand on the back of Thomas' head, the other on the back of the sofa, looming over Thomas and blocking the rest of the room out until it was just the two of them. Slowly, carefully, Thomas began to relax.

"So," said Thomas, once this (much better) kiss had ended. "I take it the mood hasn't been ruined?"

"What was the score at the half?" asked Frank.

"What?" Thomas craned his neck to look at the television, and frowned when he realized that the game had given way to commentary. "We're at the half already?"

"Oh, you didn't notice?" Frank looked unbearably smug.

"This was a lesson," accused Thomas.

"No, no." Frank smoothed a hand down Thomas' shirt. "Call it a personal challenge."

"Despite my iron-clad self-control," said Thomas, "I can't say it was a challenge to seduce me."

"That's all down to my personal magnetism," said Frank. "How long do you think we have before Peter makes up an excuse to check up on you again?"

"Hmm." Thomas weighed the importance of locking the door against the inconvenience of getting up to do so. The scales were heavily weighted by the very obvious bulge in Frank's trousers, and Thomas' post-orgasm disinterest in moving for any reason at all. "I'm sure we have a little while. Not long enough to do anything complicated, but—" he ran his fingers along one of the wrinkles of Frank's jeans, and Frank shivered.

"I'm a simple man," said Frank. "Where do you want me, sir?"

"Don't call me that," said Thomas, because that kind of thing could get very complicated very fast, in his experience. "And get up here."

He urged Frank up onto the sofa, his knees on either side of Thomas' hips, his hands on the back of the sofa bracketing Thomas' shoulders, his face turned down over Thomas' own. Thomas arched up just to feel Frank push him back down, and then slipped one hand past Frank's open flies and into his pants. Frank groaned and kissed Thomas, rutting against his palm.

"Going to get a crick in my neck," Frank mumbled into Thomas' mouth. "And my knees will be shot. The things I do for you—"

"You're young, you'll heal," said Thomas. "Come on, come on, that's right—"

Frank kissed Thomas again, shoving into Thomas' mouth as roughly as he shoved into Thomas' hand. Thomas felt the sofa wobble dangerously and gloried in it, buried his free hand in Frank's short hair, and almost bit Frank's tongue when Lesley opened the door.

"Sorry," said Lesley. "Oh, god. Sorry."

Frank pulled away and pressed his face against the sofa, making a choking noise that Thomas realized much later had to be laughter.

The cycle of terror was much shorter the second time around. Especially since Thomas had absolutely no hope of concealing what was going on. He had to make the best of the situation as it stood.

"What do you want, Lesley?" asked Thomas.

"I, um." Lesley fidgeted, and Thomas was either annoyed or grateful that she was wearing her mask and he couldn't see her expression. "I thought I'd left something here, but now I think I didn't after all. Sorry."

"Quite all right," said Frank, still fighting for breath, still looking fixedly at the sofa.

"I think it would be best not to come back for at least ten more minutes," said Thomas. "If you wouldn't mind."

"Of course, I—Of course." Lesley began to retreat, then hesitated. "You could have locked the door, you know."

"Lesley—"

"And is that Frank Caffrey? I almost didn't recognize you."

"Wonderful to see you again," Frank told the sofa.

"Lesley—"

"We'll just be in the Folly if you need us," said Lesley, and finally shut the door.

Frank pried his cheek away from the sofa with a slight sticky noise. "You're still—"

"Shh," said Thomas, holding up a finger.

Through the thin walls of the coach house, they could hear Lesley shouting. "Peter, you were right!"

Thomas squeezed his eyes shut. "Bollocks."

"I think," said Frank, with a thin note of strain creeping into his voice, "that she only saw us kissing."

"That's bad enough," said Thomas, gloomily.

A tremor crept into Frank's thigh, and he shifted his weight to lean a little more on Thomas. "It'll be fine."

"Peter is going to ask a lot of very personal questions," said Thomas.

"You don't have to answer them." Frank shifted again, almost squirming.

"Lesley is going to accuse me of trading sexual favors for grenades," said Thomas. "She won't put it like that, but it's what it'll amount to."

"You only did that the once," said Frank. "Thomas—"

"I'll never be able to watch rugby without hearing them giggle in the background," said Thomas.

"Thomas," repeated Frank. "I'm trying to listen to you, but it's very difficult when you're holding my cock."

"What?" Thomas looked down. "Oh. I'm sorry, I'd forgotten."

"Really?" Frank made another one of those choking noises.

"Do you want me to, ah—" Thomas hesitated, trying to decide whether 'let go' or 'get you off' would be a more welcome end to that sentence.

"You think they'll really leave us alone?" Frank glanced up at the door.

"For at least a few minutes." Thomas licked his lips, self-consciously. "We might even have time for something complicated, if you like."

"That's all right." Frank started moving again, building up a rhythm as he thrust into the loose grip of Thomas' fingers. It was dry and had to be a little uncomfortable, but Frank still sighed in protest when Thomas briefly reclaimed his palm in order to lick it. Thomas grasped Frank's cock once again, and Frank jerked forward, lowering his forehead to rest against Thomas' so that Thomas could see nothing but him, hear nothing but Frank's sharp breaths, feel nothing but Frank shoving against Thomas' body until the sofa began to tip uneasily back again.

Fortunately Frank came before the sofa fell over, which would have definitely summoned Thomas' apprentices and probably the dreaded camera phone as well.

"I needed that," said Frank, from where he had collapsed against Thomas' shoulder. "Interruptions be damned."

"I should have locked the door," said Thomas. He absentmindedly licked at the semen on his wrist, then made a disgusted face. Then he licked it again.

"Don't do that," said Frank.

"It's just—"

"I know you like to be tidy, and I'm not arguing with you about it again." Frank pulled Thomas' handkerchief from his pocket and wiped off his wrist and dabbed at his shirt. "But I'm not watching you make that face, either."

"I like cleaning the handkerchiefs less," pointed out Thomas.

"You already have to clean your shirt," said Frank, glancing at where he'd left stains across the gray fabric. "I'll clean them for you, if you like."

Frank was making no move to put himself back together or even get up, which actually suited Thomas very well. It was harder to be worried with Frank covering him like a blanket. Like a solid, warm blanket that Lesley had seen him kissing on Peter's sofa. Actually, Thomas could worry under any circumstances.

Frank looked at Thomas' face, sighed, and rolled off of him. "Did this help or make it worse?" he asked as he zipped himself back up.

"Of course it made it worse," said Thomas. "I'll never live this down. What could it help with?"

"Your secret life of homosexual sin?" Frank shrugged when Thomas looked at him quizzically. "Your words, not mine."

"When did I say that?"

"Not an hour ago. When I asked what you were thinking about."

"Oh." Thomas bit his lip. "The rugby was on."

This made Frank grin. "You know, it wasn't a lesson. But distracting you from rugby was a lot of fun."

"It was worth the distraction," said Thomas. He'd finally out-grown blushing when he'd turned fifty, but it seemed to have returned now that he was back in his apparent forties. It was hard to begrudge it when it made Frank grin even wider.

"I don't know about the interruptions, though," said Thomas, and the mood finally popped. Thomas winced, wishing he could take the words back, but Frank's grin had disappeared completely.

"At least it's not a secret anymore," said Frank. "Does that help?"

Thomas turned that over. It took a lot of turning, because beyond the inevitability of Peter's curiosity and Lesley's suspicion, he wasn't really sure how they were going to react. They were so young.

"I didn't like having a secret life of homosexual sin," he finally decided. "But it might have been better than being teased."

Frank was quiet, and his face was very... sergeant-y, revealing neither approval nor distaste. Thomas had seen very similar looks from both sergeants and lovers of his acquaintance when he was being foolish.

"I'm not ashamed of you," said Thomas, trying in vain to catch Frank's eyes while Frank stared at a point three inches to the left of Thomas' ear. "It's just—" he trailed off, unable to define the 'just.' "I don't know," he muttered, at last. "I've never been very good at this."

"You know they'll only tease you if they think you'll react in a funny way," said Frank, still looking past Thomas' ear. "The way I see it, you can do two things. One, refuse to discuss it at all and say you'll keep out of the coach house in the future. Say it was an indiscretion and a mistake and you've told me as such."

"I've broken it off with you because Lesley saw us kissing?" asked Thomas. "That seems unlikely."

"Inspector Nightingale moves in mysterious ways," said Frank. "If they think you react that drastically, they won't want to bring it up in the future."

"Mhm." Thomas didn't like the idea of being seen as so heartless, but in all honesty it was probably how he would have reacted if left to himself. No, Peter, I do not want to chat about my boyfriend. There is no boyfriend. I'm sorry about what Lesley saw in the coach house, and I assure you that it won't occur again. May we redirect our attention to the matter at hand? Thank you. Let Peter and Lesley draw their own conclusions about what exactly 'won't occur again' entailed.

Frank's sergeant look intensified, his gaze migrating a further two inches beyond Thomas' head. Thomas suddenly realized that it was possible for this conversation to take a dark turn, if he wanted to lead it there. It was possible to get this very wrong.

He reached over and turned the television off. Frank started a little, like he'd forgotten that it was still playing in the background.

"You don't want to watch the game?" asked Frank.

"Not just now," said Thomas. "I'd like to hear about your second option."

Frank spoke in the same neutral tone as before. "You could invite me back to the Folly proper. We could have a drink in your room. Make proper and loud use of the bed. I'll give you a massive hickey, I think we'd both enjoy that. We'll come down the next morning with you looking suitably rumpled and me in yesterday's clothes and look them in the face and dare them to say a word."

Thomas was struck by that image, of Lesley and Peter staring at Frank as he tried to help dispose of the ridiculous amounts of breakfast that Molly insisted on producing. It took Thomas a moment to pull himself back into reality, and when he did he discovered that he was smiling. And Frank was finally looking him in the eyes and smiling back.

"You've given this some thought," said Thomas.

"Not really." Frank traced a finger around Thomas' collar-bone and up the line of his neck. "How many buttons would you be willing to leave undone?"

"Just one," said Thomas, firmly. He wouldn't be tricked into visible chest hair—he'd done it once in the seventies and never again.

Frank sighed and pressed three fingers against where Thomas' throat met his collarbone. "I'd put it here, then. So they'd know you could hide it, but you didn't feel bothered."

Thomas put his hand over Frank's. "I was going to ask you to stay over, you know."

"And sneak out the back way at five in the morning," said Frank.

Thomas winced. "I wouldn't have phrased it that way."

"I'm sure you would have come up with something diplomatic." Frank's fingers pressed hard against Thomas' skin for a moment, then he almost pulled away before Thomas could catch his hand.

"I'm not ashamed of you," said Thomas, more firmly this time. This was important.

"You've said." Frank still didn't look convinced.

"I just never thought I'd be able to introduce my co-workers to my—" Thomas stumbled a little, uncertain about the word, "—boyfriend."

"Oh, don't call me that," said Frank, but Thomas had the feeling that he'd said the right thing at last.

"What shall I call you, then?"

"I think lover would have a good effect," said Frank, thoughtfully. "If you call me your boytoy, Peter might choke on his toast."

They tried it in the morning, more or less as Frank had outlined. Frank came down to breakfast wearing only his boxers and an old silk robe of Thomas' that was too tight across the chest and too short in general. Thomas left the top two buttons of his shirt open, because Frank either had very bad aim or was just a touch manipulative. In any case, he'd put the bruise much too low.

Peter and Lesley were gratifyingly silent, just as Frank had predicted. Frank was wrong about Peter choking, though—Peter was much too busy staring to actually eat anything. It was Lesley who snorted some orange juice up her nose when Thomas casually slipped the 'boytoy' into conversation.

Thomas looked smugly at Frank as Lesley left to clean off her face. Mission accomplished, job well done. He could now live his open life of homosexual sin in peace.

"So," said Peter. "You are having the sofa cleaned, yeah?"

"He's already called a service," said Frank. His expression was stoic, but his eyes crinkled with laughter.

Thomas resigned himself to peace being a relative (and limited) commodity. He paged through the newspaper, looking for the sports scores.

"I left a couple Foster's in the fridge," said Frank. "You can have them, if you like."

"You actually drink that stuff?" asked Lesley, coming back in. Thomas was glad someone had taste.

"Here it is," said Thomas, finding the rugby scores at last. "Lions twenty-two, Reds twelve."

"You didn't know the score?" asked Peter. "I thought you were watching that game."

"'Watching,'" said Lesley, with finger-quotes in full force. No one had felt the need for visible punctuation when Thomas had been young. He looked to Frank for support, and found that the man was fully occupied with a extraordinary amount of black and white pudding.

"Good breakfast?" he asked Frank.

"Wonderful," said Frank, and smiled at Molly, who was delivering more eggs. "You have a great cook."

Molly smiled back, which seemed to stun Peter back into silence. Thankfully.

"You'll have to come over more often," murmured Thomas, and absorbed himself in the newspaper. Apparently he'd missed a very good game.

It had been worth it anyway, Thomas decided, as Frank reached over him for the salt and Lesley darted another glance at the 'hickey.' Interruptions and all.