Haytham looked up from the newspaper he was holding when he entered. Charles swallowed, barely suppressing a groan. He knew, just knew, from the sudden heat in his cheeks that he was flushing.
Damn it all!
Concern shadowed Haytham’s sharp gaze. “Are you feeling better Charles?” The soft edge to Haytham’s voice caused a brief flutter of hope in Charles, but his doubt crushed it.
Just the courtesy shown to an old friend.
Haytham nodded, the worry still lingering at the corners of his eyes. “Thomas?” This time there was no softness, but anger.
The change alarmed Charles for he did not understand why Haytham should be furious at Thomas; after all, it was Charles who had behaved outrageously, by becoming terribly drunk and kissing Haytham without permission.
Charles braced his socked feet against the carpet, struggling to focus past the steady ache in his head, “What time is it? Have I been out long?”
Haytham rose from the now tidy sofa and he paced to the edge of the kitchen, glancing back as he did, “Not long. Two hours I should say. Sit Charles. Thomas! Get in here now, with a glass of water and bread.”
Turning sharply, Haytham stalked to the lone armchair and sat. Determined not to upset Haytham any further Charles awkwardly sat on the sofa, eyes downcast.
“Charles, please look at me.”
There was no way he could ignore Haytham, Charles knew not how. He certainly couldn’t conceive disobeying a direct order.
Raising his eyes he looked at Haytham. Handsome as ever, the proper old-style English gentleman: dark hair neatly brushed, shirt and tie impeccable, trousers pressed, back straight, determination graven in his features. The only flaw in his composure was the air of worry and frustration that Charles could detect after knowing Haytham for so long, for living with his friend....now ex-friend… for a year.
Meeting Haytham’s gaze was hard, but Charles forced his worn nerves to do so. He could offer nothing else to the man he admired than an attempt, a show, of strength and character.
Haytham sighed, as if he could see through Charles’ guise. Of course he can, thought Charles sadly, yet with admiration underscoring his sentiment.
“Ah Charles, this is a mess.”
Charles frowned in confusion, however before Haytham could elaborate Thomas entered carrying a glass of water and a plate of buttered toast.
Haytham turned cool. “Ah, one out of two. We’re improving I see.”
“Hey, it’s better than nothing.”
Charles winced. Haytham was clearly not in the mood to be toyed with.
“I would suggest leaving Thomas, before I show you my full displeasure at discovering you abetting Charles in drinking himself senseless.”
Thomas shut his mouth so quickly that Charles heard the click, the danger inherent in Haytham’s tone penetrating even Thomas’ normally brash manner.
Yet Thomas still passed Charles an encouraging look before he fled to his own room. What on earth?
“Try a bite Charles.”
Charles nibbled at a piece of toast and fought the wave of nausea, finally managing to push it down and realising it actually felt good having something in his stomach. Sipping the water was equally refreshing past the initial heaving sensation.
Still picking at his toast Charles looked up and saw Haytham studying him. His friend smiled slightly, but Charles wasn’t sure how to respond.
He was terribly confused; why wasn’t Haytham remonstrating him for his behaviour? It was all very peculiar and with his crippling headache Charles was unable to discern the true meaning behind Haytham’s actions.
It didn’t matter, Charles knew he had to apologise. Therefore, he swallowed his current mouthful quickly. Straightening, Charles did his best to appear collected yet appropriately mortified. The last was the easiest as he was mortified.
“I am very sorry Haytham for my actions when you arrived. I would never do that under normal circumstances.”
Haytham actually seemed amused, “You wouldn’t kiss me under normal circumstances? Was it that terrible?”
Charles blinked, caught off-centre, “No…I, I mean that I wouldn’t… it wasn’t terrible sir…Haytham…that is…..”
Charles trailed off, Haytham’s relaxed attitude confounding him. Charles cursed his drunken behaviour, because now he was incapable of even speaking simple sentences.
At his silence Haytham turned serious again.
“It’s clear there has been a misunderstanding and I fear that I am partly to blame.”
Charles knew that had to be the drink talking, causing a hallucination. Haytham wrong? Rarely,if ever.
Haytham held up a hand and Charles subsided, watching anxiously. His day had become even stranger.
“May I ask what you thought I was going to do with Ziio?”
While Charles knew he would have to explain his behaviour, Haytham’s direct request still filled him with dread. How petty and jealous he would appear! And…oh, how pathetic. Charles wasn’t sure if Haytham’s pity would be consoling or agonising.
Apparently Haytham didn’t need any response from Charles to understand. Charles wondered when his friend had grown psychic.
“I thought as much.”
This was too much. Rubbing his temples to try and ease the dull pain, Charles whispered, “I thought you were going to stay with Ziio, that you and I…that you would not need me anymore.”
Haytham’s eyes were shockingly gentle as he leaned forward, capturing Charles with the intent gleam in them.
“Charles, I know perfectly well who planted these ridiculous seeds of doubt. I did think I was obvious in my actions, as you can read me so well…but…”
A small tinge of pleasure shot through Charles. It was good to know that Haytham felt that Charles knew him intimately – in a friendship way naturally.
Haytham reached out and almost carelessly ran his finger along the edge of Charles’ plate, collecting toast crumbs. “I invited you to live me and specifically stated that it wasn’t the same as suggesting the others to move in. For over a year I have confided in you and shared a surprising number of adventures.”
Haytham licked his finger and carefully eased the plate from Charles’ loose grip; rough, calloused hands, hardened from years of training from childhood with weapons, climbing and fighting enclosed Charles’hands. Charles swallowed, his stomach heaving now from confusion and gnawing hope. He was still capable of being satisfied that his own grip was scored from years of training as well, matching Haytham as a warrior.
Maintaining Haytham’s penetrating stare remained difficult, but not for the same reasons. Charles was beginning to comprehend that he did mean a lot to Haytham and maybe…just maybe…
“We attend every occasion together and have you not noticed how no one dare asks one of us without including the other?”
Charles blinked, Thomas’ earlier words coming back to haunt him. He should have listened.
Haytham smiled and this time it reached his eyes. “How long had you continuously talked about the Pomeranian until I suggested we begin researching into buying one or two?”
That knot in his chest was slowly unravelling and Charles licked his lips, suddenly anxious to speak, to set the record straight.
“I…I did not realise how significant all our interactions were, Haytham. I hoped, but didn’t consider myself worthy.”
“I would not waste my time with someone unworthy, Charles.”
That was true and Charles felt an idiot for missing what had been the obvious to all but him. Haytham stroked a thumb over the back of his and Charles shivered.
“I should have spoken however and I can only apologise. I know you sometimes have moments of…insecurity.” Charles smiled, it was a nice manner of saying, ‘flights of temper’, for he was given to see-sawing from happy to black moods, “Well, I shall speak clearly now. Charles, I am not leaving or casting you aside for anyone. In fact, I rather wish to keep you, if you would have me and vice-versa.”
It was what Charles so badly wanted to hear it took a minute for the reality to sink in, that this wasn’t one of his numerous daydream or hallucinations. When he fully grasped Haytham’s offer was sincere, Charles laughed, relief a big part of his outpouring of emotion.
Haytham thankfully understood and stood, guiding him to his feet. Just as he had so long ago when he had initiated him into the Order, he grasped Charles by his upper arms. “Charles? Do you accept?”
Charles suppressed his laughter and gathered his shattered wits, “Yes Haytham. If you’ll be mine too.”
Haytham chuckled, “Yes, then we have an accord.” Haytham pressed a kiss to his forehead, ducking to whisper into his ear, “Once you are fully recovered I promise I shall repay your kiss in kind.”
“I look forward to it.”
“About bloody time!” Thomas’ exasperated exclamation shattered their rather sappy interlude and Charles just rolled his eyes at his friend. He wasn’t angry, in fact he probably should apologise for doubting Thomas. The man had been right. It would result in an infuriatingly smug Thomas, but at least he had Haytham now.
= = =
Charles could never fully recall how the rest of the afternoon went, for as soon as the realisation sunk in that Haytham cared for him as a friend and a lover, he was happy like a bird soaring on spectacular wind currents.
He certainly did not have time or the faculties to pay much attention to Thomas’ smirks and ‘told you so’. Though to be fair, Charles acknowledged that Thomas had a right to be, not that he would tell Thomas, even if his unusual forbearance spoke otherwise.
His lingering headache added to his mixture detachment and euphoria. What Charles did remember was Haytham insisting he lie down on Thomas’ sofa; while he did, Haytham moved around the room, speaking softly into his mobile. Charles couldn’t discern what Haytham was saying, but he wasn’t bothered. Charles felt a renewed sense of certainty and while he knew he would always suffer bouts of unease and insecurity, for now he felt comforted by Haytham’s reassurances.
It was only when he and Haytham finally left to head home that Charles began recollecting the remaining day. Mostly because his headache finally eased enough so thinking wasn’t strenuous and also for the fact that hehad actually found the answer to his puzzle of where his shoes had vanished to; apparently Haytham had hidden them in case he decided to sneak out. Charles could hardly blame him, even as he wanted to groan in embarrassment.
Once back at the house Charles wanted simply to crawl onto the couch as he still felt pretty rough: physically and emotionally. Haytham had other ideas.
“Charles, take a shower. Don’t worry about your clothes; I’ll fetch some clean ones.”
Charles nodded ruefully; he did have a rather strong ah…’fragrance’ right then: courtesy of Thomas’ aftershave and too much drink.
“Okay. I’ll just grab some painkillers.”
Haytham frowned, “Not on an empty stomach. Shower first.” He smiled to ease the sting of his reprimand, squeezing Charles’ shoulder, “I’ll scrounge up some sandwiches for us.”
Charles would have preferred taking the painkillers now to rid the last fragments of the low-grade yet persistent ache in his temples, but he knew that Haytham was right. He also secretly enjoyed the new level of meaning to their interactions and was a little amused at Haytham’s sudden fussing.
“Fine, quicker I wash the better!”
Then, nervously, Charles leant forward and awkwardly wrapped his arms around Haytham, hugging his friend (boyfriend? That term sounded like they were teenagers, but lover wasn’t wholly correct…yet).
Haytham chuckled, “I hope Charles that’s the hangover causing you to treat me like glass.”
Charles yelped in surprise as Haytham slipped his arms around him and returned the favour but with far more vigour. The air was crushed out of his lungs, but Charles couldn’t care less. Breathless, Charles squeezed back just as hard then released Haytham before he kissed him again. Once with alcohol breath was enough. Charles wished to try when he wasn’t a mess.
Charles smiled at Haytham’s amusement, hurrying away. He wanted to get back as soon as possible. Haytham had promised to repay his earlier, admittedly rather sloppy, kiss in kind once he was fully himself. The first step towards that aim was that damn shower. Who knew then what would happen?
= = =
The shower had been refreshing, shocking him out of the remnants of his languor. The hot water had been a miracle on his sore muscles and Charles was very relaxed when he did exit the cubicle.
He grinned at the neatly folded pile of clothes Haytham had left on the counter: loose shirt, pants, trousers and socks.
Peering into the mirror now, his face was no longer pale or strained from the fears of only hours ago. Instead, a little colour had returned. Some pain still lingered in his eyes, the normally striking blue dulled, but Charles thought they would be back to normal after a serving of food and tablets.
This time, when he brushed his hair and attempted a shave he looked like the Charles of only this morning, before Ziio came…
Charles paused in buttoning up his shirt. Ziio. Why had she come to see Haytham? Charles frowned as he pushed the last button through the slit, had Haytham explained? He didn’t think so, but his memories of earlier were distorted so he would have to ask. Suddenly anxious again, and curious, Charles finished dressing as quickly as he could.
Checking his appearance one last time, Charles was pleased to see how much more human he appeared. Relieved, Charles hurried into the living room and grinned.
Haytham was causally attired as well, in his favourite blue shirt and loose cotton trousers. He was waiting for Charles on the sofa furthest from the door, two plates on the low table that was nestled in-between their two sofas, (two, to help accommodate their group of five).
Quickly darting over,Charles sat beside Haytham, leaving space between them. He saw Haytham’s raised brow, but before he could ask what he had done wrong Charles was dragged closer. Haytham released his grip and draped his right arm over Charles shoulders.
“I think that’s better don’t you Charles?”
“Yes, yes sir. I mean Haytham.”
Haytham laughed. Charles hoped fervently that Haytham would laugh more often and maybe he would. They had only acknowledged their feelings this very afternoon and already Haytham was more relaxed and not jovial, rather more generous with his smiles and laughter.
“I prepared your favourite Charles. Ham and cheese with butter on brown bread. I also added crisps; I know how you like munching on them when you do have a hangover.”
Charles eagerly retrieved his plate, missing the brief loss of warmth that Haytham’s arm across his shoulders and neck provided. He also fetched Haytham’s plate, loaded with the same, only with salami in the sandwich. Leaning back, Charles relaxed and hungrily ate, his appetite renewed by his doze in Thomas’ flat and a hot shower, and of course Haytham’s presence.
For a few minutes there was simply silence as both men devoured their food and relished each other’s company. Charles was acutely aware of Haytham, his arm, the line of his body pressing against his own frame, burning into his soul. Resting his plate on his lap, Charles used his right hand to eat with and with the same wariness he usually devoted to suspicious messages from leads, he held the plate with his left hand, allowing the back to brush Haytham’s knee.
Haytham tightened his hold on Charles and happy, Charles ran his fingers over his friend’s leg, lightly circling the edge of Haytham’s plate, also abandoned on Haytham’s lap. It was possibly his imagination that had Haytham inhaling sharply, but Charles thought not. Emboldened Charles polished off his sandwich and crisps, licking the salt off his fingers.
Glancing up mid-lick Charles paused. Haytham was staring at him, expression intense.
“Are you finished?”
Charles swallowed. Haytham’s voice was low and vibrated with a passion Charles hadn’t heard previously, it was different to the passion that Haytham displayed towards their moments of success or their interludes of fun and then Haytham only did so when John, William and Thomas were either absorbed with something else or gone.
Really, that ought to have been a clue. Oh well. Now though, the current in Haytham’s voice was…unknown to Haytham’s usual manner, yet reached right inside Charles, striking a chord within – unsettled, but not upsettingly so, Charles tried keeping his own voice even.
“Good.” Heat flared inside his belly and Charles purposefully flattened his left hand on his leg, lest it stray.
Haytham removed his arm from behind Charles and picked up both their plates, setting them on the table. Charles noticed that out of the three glasses one was full of water and next to them were a couple of pills on a small dish. Haytham must have prepared them for him. Charles grinned. It was definitely amusing having Haytham mother him, but pleasant as long as it wasn’t too stifling and Charles could return the favour.
Grabbing the glass full of water and the pills and swallowing in great relief, Charles watched dazed as Haytham followed the movement of his throat. That heat in his belly burned hotter.
However, Charles knew he wouldn’t have true peace until he discovered why Ziio had come. So, with great reluctance, he lowered his glass, completely empty - he had needed it – and twisting a little more so that their knees touched, Charles steeled himself. “Haytham…you asked me what you thought you were going to do with Ziio and while I don’t wish to revisit my foolish conjunctures…”
Haytham reached out, resting his hand on Charles’ neck, eyes sad yet soft, “Not foolish,” he murmured.
Charles cocked his head, happy with the warmth and weight of Haytham’s fingers and palm on him – real and not a dream, all his.
“Perhaps. Yet, what was Ziio doing here? Why did she come? Will she return?”
Haytham’s mouth thinned, “Ah, so many questions. I will answer them all. Yet to allay any remaining fears you may have Charles: Ziio came for two reasons, her people are in need of help and knowing the power we wield and having no other recourse, and she turned to our Order. The other reason ties in with your final, Ziio will be back, but not in any way that will have me re-uniting with her. That is not something either of us desires.”
“I don’t understand.”
Haytham inhaled and Charles stiffened, was it so was bad?
“The second reason I alluded to, Ziio understood I might not be willing to help as last time unfortunately did not yield much. So, she appealed to blood ties. Charles…I have a son.”
= = =