It had been the longest day of Denis's life, not forgetting the day of the terrible battle at Seabring. Oscar Saint-Just was dead, his apparatus in tatters, every high-ranking member of StateSec was either under arrest or fleeing. The Capital Fleet was under Theisman's control, the last few restive commanders and their commissioners given a choice between accepting Theisman's authority or a summary trial. The news had spread across the planet, mostly by unofficial means: there had been some riots, and Theisman had ordered the civilian police to keep the peace, which they were doing with varied success, but the impromptu street parties so far seemed to be outnumbering the riots.
They were winning. Denis couldn't quite believe it, but it seemed to be true. Of course, that left the question of 'what next' looming vast and terrifying over them, but as he broke away from the habits of thought inculcated by years of secrecy and lies, he was beginning to realise that they could choose that for themselves. Without Saint-Just, without StateSec, the possibilities seemed endless. He scanned over the comms again: there were hundreds of new requests, but he judged them all non-urgent. Right now, anything less than blood running in the streets or ships firing on each other was non-urgent.
The door opened and he tensed, but it was Theisman, still combat-armoured, though he had taken the time to wipe most of Saint-Just's blood away sometime during the afternoon. He set the helmet down on the desk.
"Nothing you need to worry about." Denis stood up. His day had been less active than Theisman's, arguing and persuading and occasionally blackmailing all the people whose support they needed, but no less terrifying, and the residue of the adrenalin was still pumping through his body.
"Good." Theisman stood still, the combat armour making him seem twice his usual size. "I'd better get this off," he said finally, but it was another minute before he moved, beginning to release the catches holding the armour in place. Denis came over to help, though he still wasn't very good with the process, not working with the trained military smoothness that the Admiral managed. But when he finally stepped out of the last pieces of armour, Theisman swayed.
"This may have been a mistake," he muttered. "I think that armour was all that was keeping me up, this past hour."
Denis caught his arm and pulled him towards the desk chair. "I said you should have stopped earlier," he said. "Sit down--" His eye was caught by a brown stain on the grey ship-knits, and his voice rose in alarm. "Are you hurt?"
Theisman collapsed onto the chair and probed his side gingerly.
"What is the point of all that armour if you can get hurt under it?" Denis grumbled under his breath. "Let me see."
"Well," Theisman said, "without the armour, whatever did this would probably have cut me in half."
Denis flinched from that mental image. He tried to pull the shirt up to get a look, but it was sticking to the wound. "Damn. I think I'd better get a medic in here for this."
Theisman, who had closed his eyes and let his arm fall once Denis began to look, said, "Can we not? I thought I was done with people for the day. It doesn't feel that serious, really. I'm just tired."
Denis considered adopting his best The Commissioner Orders voice to get a medic in here anyway, but that rarely worked on Theisman, and besides, he wasn't a commissioner any more. And Theisman looked more than tired, wrung to his last drop by the tumultous day. Silently, he went to get the first aid kit.
When he returned, he discovered Theisman had removed the shirt by the efficient but painful method of simply yanking it off, starting the bleeding again. "Idiot," Denis said. "You're supposed to soak it off."
"It's fine. I just want to get this finished."
Recognising Theisman's casual approach to his own health, Denis merely gave a pointed sigh and began to clean the wound. It was large but shallow, a messy contusion. Denis pictured the force that must have come crashing into Theisman to cause it, and closed his eyes for a moment before setting to work. Theisman held very still, but Denis could tell from the tiny muscle-twitches on his side when he hurt him, and bit his lip in concentration. At last he was done.
"All right, there you go. Try not to do that again."
"With luck," Theisman said, "I won't have to. The war's over. All the wars are over." He turned to look at Denis, a strange smile quirking the corners of his mouth. "We did it. We actually did it. I never really believed we would."
"I thought you could do it."
"I know. It's ... what made this happen." He pushed himself to his feet shakily, then draped his arm around Denis's shoulders, leaning on him. "There are three--well, two things I want now. I am going to go and toast the Republic with you, and then I am going to go and sleep for as long as possible before there's another emergency. I don't expect it will be more than three or four hours."
With a sigh, Denis owned the truth of that. They stumbled wearily through to Theisman's small cabin adjoining the office and Theisman collapsed onto the austere sofa while Denis went to get a bottle of the best scotch available and two glasses.
"To the Republic," he said.
"The Republic," Theisman echoed, his strange smile widening. "And," he added, "to the best commissioner an officer could have."
Denis made a quick averting gesture half-automatically, but Theisman shook his head and draped his arm around his shoulders again, his expression unexpectedly earnest.
"Without you," he said, "I would probably have been dead a dozen times over, or too broken to serve, and this would only be a crazy dream. I know it's my name they're shouting in the streets tonight, but it should be yours."
"I don't want--" Denis began.
"I know you don't. Not that I do either, but--you were talking about going back to your legal practice, once this is over. But ... I got this far with you. I'm not sure how far I would get without you." His hand gripped Denis's shoulder.
Denis gazed at him, at this short stocky shirtless man, utterly unremarkable in every way, who could lead men into hellfire and create new worlds. He'd mentioned going back to his old civilian life not so much because it was what he wanted as because it was all he could imagine, just as once all he could imagine was doing his plain duty as a commissioner. But perhaps he could have more.
Misinterpreting his silence, Theisman said, "You don't have to decide right now, you must be as tired as I am. But I wanted you to know that--"
"I'll stay," Denis interrupted this sudden babble. "I want to see this through too. And--" he grinned suddenly "--I've got used to following you around now. It's hard to break old habits."
Returning the grin, Theisman embraced him. "Then I won't ask you to. After all, what would I do without you there to pull my nuts out of the fire and watch my back?"
"When I think of what happened at Paroa, it sometimes amazes me that you can get dressed in the morning without someone standing over you," Denis shot back.
Theisman laughed. "Oh, I can just picture it..."
Abruptly, Denis pictured it too. Their eyes met, and Denis realised that his hands were running over Theisman's bare skin. He exhaled slowly as the other long-suppressed reason he wanted to stay flooded his mind, then placed his hands deliberately flat on the broad muscle of Theisman's back.
"Yeah," Theisman murmured, "you should definitely stay."
Denis kissed him.
It was strange how familiar it felt, as if this wasn't the first time but the thousandth time, as if they'd been married for years. He knew how Theisman would move, and his careful gentleness was no surprise, nor the way he leaned in and pulled Denis close, and even the little pleased sound he made in the back of his throat seemed like it ought to be familiar.
Then he made a sound that was definitely not pleasure, and Denis pulled abruptly back and realised that he'd been pressing Theisman's bandaged side against the edge of the sofa. He began to apologise, but Theisman laughed.
"Don't worry, it's worth it. But I think this sofa may have been part of some StateSec plot, and I do have a bed right over there..."
"I thought you were going to sleep," Denis said, a little blankly.
"Oh, and you think I won't be able to do that if you come, is that right?" Theisman retorted with a grin. He pulled himself to his feet, drawing Denis with him. "Come on." A slight furrow in his forehead betrayed some lingering uncertainty, and Denis promptly wrapped an arm around him again, this time not hesitating to let their hips brush together. "Since I apparently need someone to supervise me getting dressed in the morning..."
"You need someone to supervise you getting undressed," Denis murmured as Theisman tried to kick off the soft slippers he'd worn under the armour, and nearly overbalanced. "Come here."
It was a new world, he thought, a world in which this was possible, with nothing more to be afraid of, no spying eyes to betray them. They would have more work to do in the morning, more work than they'd dreamed of, but with his arms around Tom, Denis felt suddenly confident that they could do it. Laughing, they rolled onto the bed.