Alec pauses when he puts his hand on the light switch just inside his bedroom door. Robert doesn’t notice him stopping and so walks bodily into him, catching his balance with a hand on Alec’s arm.
‘What the-- what’s wrong?’
Alec hesitates, then shakes his head firmly and flips the switch. The bedside lamp and light over the dressing table turn on. It’s hardly glaring illumination but the only person to see him less than fully dressed in perhaps the last thirty years has been his doctor who hasn’t ever seemed to be paying much attention. He’s not sure he’ll hold up under glaring scrutiny. ‘Nothing’s wrong.’
Robert doesn’t pull away from the inadvertent point of contact, instead seeming to use it as an excuse to re-establish the physical connection they had lost upon rising from the settee, crossing through into the hall, and then through to the bedroom.
His hand slides down the slope of Alec’s upper arm into the slight crook of his elbow, where his arm is still outstretched for the light switch. Robert’s hand rests in that soft space, warm and reassuring. Alec reaches across his own chest to cover Robert’s hand with his own, pressing briefly before stepping away and into the room.
‘The toilet is through there, if you need --’ he gestures. Not only his person, but now also his intimate space feels nakedly on display. Unless he counted the housekeeper -- paid, in part, to keep her own counsel -- not a single other soul has been in this room since Myerson moved from South Hampstead in ‘34. He’s lived here nearly two decades, survived the war with no serious thought to evacuation, and yet he cannot recall feeling more vulnerable than he does now. Robert is standing in the doorway taking in the sparse furnishing, the photograph of Alec’s parents on the dressing table, the snapshot of his three nieces at the seaside (taken by Alec this past summer in Hastings), the mezzotint of the reading room of the library at Christ Church, a panoramic view of the Aswan archipelago on the Nile.
‘May I come in?’ Robert asks, strangely formal, as if aware of Alec’s sudden discomfort.
Alec stands rather helplessly for a minute, looking around his own bedroom as though he hasn’t quite seen it like this before. ‘It’s just -- no-one else has been in here.’
‘No-one?’ Robert’s hands are warm on his upper arms, his body a comforting solidity behind Alec. Before he thinks about it, Alec lets himself lean back slightly, letting Robert take some of his weight. Robert hooks his chin over Alec’s shoulder, nuzzling at his ear. Alec doesn’t believe he’s ever been nuzzled before. Certainly not since Nurse Rachel had been sent away and Alec himself sent off to school.
‘No-one. The housekeeper comes twice a week and…’ Alec shakes his head. ‘...That’s all.’
‘I don’t believe it.’ Robert’s tone is a gentle tease.
‘Whether you believe it or not, it’s true.’
Robert’s hands press flat over the fronts of Alec’s shoulders, holding him close, and Alec feels a thrill he hasn’t felt in a long time run through him. ‘In that case, I’m honored. Or flattered. Perhaps both.’ Robert pauses for a minute, and adds with a slightly conscious laugh, ‘And a little intimidated.’
Alec smiles. ‘I would have thought you’d be reassured.’
‘I can’t possibly critique anything you do. I’ve absolutely no basis for comparison. The memories of my twenty-something-self hardly count!’
‘That’s not quite what I was thinking.’ Robert’s fingers are so quick undoing Alec’s top shirt buttons that Alec doesn’t catch up to what’s happened until he gasps at the press of Robert’s skin against his own. His hands fly up and catch Robert’s forearms almost before he can think. ‘I was thinking,’ Robert continues, his voice a low murmur in Alec’s ear, ‘that it sets rather a high bar.’
Alec shakes his head. ‘Not at all. Don’t tell anyone at my office but I’m actually rather easily pleased.’
‘Mmm.’ Robert continues to move his hands down the front of Alec’s shirt, deftly now. Alec realises that standing behind him, Robert can mirror the actions he uses to undress himself. It’s somehow even more intimate than if Robert were standing right in front of him, to feel the warmth of him pressed up against Alec’s back, to look down his own chest to the soft spread of his waist and see another man’s hands disrobing him with intent. There’s nothing to shield Alec from himself, in this moment, nothing to distract him from the act of being stripped naked for someone else to see. For Robert to see.
Robert pulls the tails of Alec’s shirt from his waistband, undoing the last button before he completes the circle by sliding his hands lightly back up Alec’s arms to his shoulders and pulling the shirt off entirely. Alec hears more than feels it drop to the wool of the rug with a soft displacement of air.
‘So tell me what would “easily please” you.’ Robert’s voice is soft against his ear again.
‘I approve of your performance so far; full marks.’
‘What, I’ve passed my performance review already? Cheeky, Sir Alec. A pencil-pusher in Whitehall might get suspicious.’
Alec turns in the circle of Robert’s arms and feels Robert’s palms settle familiarly against the worn cotton of his vest where it clings to the small of his back. He raises his hands and begins unbuttoning Robert’s own shirt in return.
It all seems rather too easy, though, and Alec pauses. He has instincts well-honed from many years that prompt him to be deeply suspicious of anything easy.
‘Something wrong?’ Robert’s hands cover his.
‘Not...wrong, precisely.’ He frowns at the backs of his hands, trying to put a finger on the source of his unease.
Robert sighs and squeezes his hands. ‘If you -- would prefer to give all this a miss, I would -- I realise your door locks are probably the best of their kind but --’ He glances around at the quiet walls and half-closed door.
‘I knew you suspected my housekeeper.’
Robert smiles but his eyes remain sober. ‘The risk is-- is--’
‘Certainly less than if either of us had a taste for houses of ill repute,’ Alec interrupts, intending ill repute to be a laugh line though neither of them actually laugh. He can feel the press of Robert’s body against his own and it’s starting to bring out a pleasant tingle in nerve endings he hasn’t thought about in many years. He rubs his thumb over Robert’s knuckles, then slips it over the curve of his wrist, under his loose cuff.
Robert stays silent for another moment then, with a silent huff of breath, Alec can almost feel him give in. He leans forward, pressing a tentative kiss to Alec’s jaw, just below his ear and Alec chuckles, caught off-guard. ‘Careful -- I was terribly ticklish as a boy.’
Robert finds he’s delighted by this disclosure, so homey and everyday. It makes him picture Alec as a youth, wrestling on the lawn with other boys. He hmms against the soft creases of Alec’s neck and continues his path down to Alec’s collarbone, pushing the fabric of Alec’s vest out of his way as he goes. His own shirt is still only half undone, but he’s more interested at the moment in uncovering Alec. His own clothes can wait, especially when he can feel the way Alec’s breath stutters as his own fingers find their way under Alec’s vest and he can slide his palms directly against warm skin, pulling Alec closer.
‘Here,’ he murmurs, ‘let’s get this off you,’ and it seems whatever had given Alec pause has been put firmly to one side because Alec doesn’t object. In fact -- hallelujah, it’s a miracle! -- Alec seems to have committed himself to this, to being here and doing this, with Robert, once and for all. He pulls away from Robert just far enough to reach down and yank the edge of his vest up and over his head and discard it on the floor before he reels Robert back in with firm hands at his waist and pulls him backwards across the carpet to the edge of the bed.
Robert finds himself neatly caught between Alec’s knees with Alec sitting on the edge of his bed, hands on Robert’s waist and-- ‘Are you actually grinning at me?’
Alec starts theatrically and pats at his own face. ‘Why, I do believe I am.’
‘Now what, exactly, do you find here that is humorous?’ Robert glances down at himself and mimes shock at the disarrangement of his clothes: his waistcoat hanging loose and his shirt half-unbuttoned and almost out of the waist of his trousers. Force of habit leads him to start tucking it back in.
‘Ah, ah, ah--’ Alec’s hands catch his wrists, pulling his hands gently away from his body. When Robert looks down at him, Alec’s smiling at him, not grinning now, and his gaze is steady despite the hectic flush on his face. ‘That isn’t quite fair, now, is it.’
‘Isn’t it?’ Robert wriggles one wrist free and smoothes it over Alec’s chest, delighting in the spring of greying chest hair under his palm. Alec’s skin is smooth, unmarked, with the pallor of those who spend most of their time indoors.
Alec takes a breath, looking down at Robert’s hand, and the corners of his mouth twitch for a minute, but he doesn’t speak. Robert hesitates. ‘I -- is this -- that room did have two beds, you know.’
‘What?’ Alec blinks.
Robert swallows. Brutal honesty has carried them this far. ‘If -- if I’m doing the wrong thing--’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, man--’ Alec mutters and then looks up at Robert squarely. ‘Are you planning to strike me? Knock a tooth out? Give me a black eye?’
‘Then I think you should probably consider that whatever you’re doing is more or less acceptable and proceed on that assumption.’
Robert would laugh, or make some awkward joke about Alec’s choice of words, except ... he finds he doesn’t want to. Instead, he slides a hand around the back of Alec’s neck and leans down to pull him into a kiss.
The kissing goes well, and somehow -- in the midst of it going well -- Robert manages to brace himself on Alec’s knee and lower himself down to kneel on the floorboards where he is much better positioned to keep on kissing without getting a cramp in his neck. Maybe, if they keep kissing, Robert thinks -- an activity he’s always rather prided himself at having mastered, at an early age, and improved with repetition thereafter -- he’ll be able to carry this off on instinct and memory rather than seizing upon the facts of the matter: his total lack of the physical... Well. Anything.
Alec has done this before, after all, and seems to have found in the experience something to recommend its repetition. Something, in fact, to hold dear enough that not just any minor civil servant with a reputation, discreet valet, or anonymous London dandy would do. Something that he’s protected from desecration until this moment -- when he’s chosen to put his next time in Robert’s clumsy hands.
Robert’s just going to have to trust that Alec is a better judge of character than Robert himself.
Alec pulls Robert in more firmly between his thighs and presses a line of kisses along Robert’s jaw on his way to Robert’s mouth. Instincts, Robert tells himself, trust your instincts and he drags his lips down from Alec’s mouth down the soft line of Alec’s throat, then down lower until he’s mouthing across Alec’s newly-exposed chest. The contours might be a bit different from what he’s accustomed to, but the physical structures (and his own bodily experience) promise much the same sensitive nerves in key places.
He finds himself reveling in the novelty of touch and taste. Alec is no sportsman, nor does he make his living through manual labor, his soft bulk a testament to largely sedentary life. And yet no one would mistake his curves for those of the female form -- his chest too flat, his nipples less pronounced, his hips narrower and of different proportion to the women Robert has seen naked. Alec’s body is disconcertingly similar to the one Robert sees in the mirror every day, and as he traces a path from one nipple to the next -- replacing lips with fingers and fingers with lips as Alec scrabbles for purchase against the cloth of Robert’s shirt -- he can feel a corresponding tug in himself as if their bodies are already intimately connected.
Alec had forgotten how quickly physical sensation of this kind drains away his ability to focus. Perhaps even more so after such a long drought. It’s all distracting in the best possible way, sending his nerves tingling and turning him into a mass of impulse rather than forethought. The impulse to nip at Robert’s bottom lip, then run his tongue over the bruise. The impulse to slide his hands up Robert’s biceps and dig his fingers into the flesh of Robert’s shoulders, pulling him closer. The impulse to slide his hands down Robert’s collarbone to the plaquet of his shirt front, fingers fumbling in the tiny space between them to get at Robert’s buttons.
He pushes Robert’s shirt off, then wrestles with the vest, Robert making approving noises but otherwise absorbed in a thorough exploration of Alec’s mouth. Not that Alec disapproves, but he’s feeling a distinct sensation of strain in his trousers and begins to wish, as he smooths appreciative hands up and over and down Robert’s back, then drags the backs of his hands up Robert’s now-unclothed chest -- such a wonderful, warm, intimate expanse at Alec’s disposal! -- that they could move activities in a more … downward trajectory.
To that end, he reaches down to undo the buckle of Robert’s belt. Perhaps Robert just needs a bit of encouragement to move things along. Robert starts in surprise, then overbalances, teeters for a moment, then sprawls back on the bedroom floor looking gratifyingly flushed. Perhaps even debauched if one took in the bulge at his groin outlined to great effect by the fine wool of his trousers.
Alec pauses, uncertain how to parse the expression on Robert’s face as he looks up from the floor -- is it momentary surprise or a deeper shock? He’s usually better at reading people than this, but Robert (and the moment) have him in something of a muddle. ‘I find,’ Alec says -- attempting to right the ship, as it were, with a light, conversational tone that instead comes out somewhat closer to breathless yearning -- ‘that a bit more disrobing is generally necessary for the full benefit of such intimacies.’ Although what does he know? Perhaps Robert and his sort do it fully clothed in darkness whenever possible.
‘I -- what?’ Robert stammers slightly, levering himself back into a sitting position.
‘Intimacies, my lord.’ Alec gestures between them, meaning to take in his own erection as well as Robert’s with the sweep of his hand. ‘Disrobing is rather a precondition thereof. For most of us.’ He reaches down for a hand and Robert puts his into it without any hesitance. Momentary surprise, then, rather than shock or dismay. Thank God.
Alec pulls Robert to his feet, an effort that takes rising from the bed himself to provide a suitable counterweight. Robert ends up staggering against him and Alec lets go of his hand to put his arms around Robert’s waist, to steady him. Robert drops his own arms loose around Alec’s neck as if they’ve done this a thousand times rather than never before.
He leans forward, pressing his forehead to Alec’s own. ‘I do really wish you wouldn’t call me that,’ Robert says, his voice steadier than his body which seems almost trembling against Alec’s hands.
‘Call you what?’
‘"My lord." I’ve never been that fond of it.’
‘What would you prefer?’ Alec is teasing now. He puts his hands back to Robert’s belt buckle, and this time Robert leans into rather than away from the touch, encouraging Alec at his work.
‘Robert.’ Alec pronounces it slowly, drawing out the leather from the buckle as he does so, then the belt from the trousers with a soft shhht of leather and wool. He drops the belt to the floor with a soft chink and then reaches back to fumble with buttons.
Robert trembles against him, so Alec says it again, steadily, evenly, sure to make it a statement rather than a question: ‘Robert.’
‘Yes. Like -- like that,’ Robert says and hides his face in Alec’s shoulder for a moment. Alec files away the question why for a later date. He has more important things to get on with at the moment. Such as pushing Robert’s trousers to the floor, then making quick work of his own. He yanks his trousers and pants off in a single divestment of cloth, not wanting to make a show of it.
‘Should I --?’ Robert hesitates, and Alec straightens to see Robert blushing, his own hands fluttering at his waist uncertainly.
‘Most definitely,’ Alec says, reaching out to tug Robert forward with a finger hooked into the elastic waistband of his paints. ‘And I plan to help you.’ He turns them around so it’s Robert whose knees are backed up to the mattress and nudges Robert backward against the quilt, a knee pressed gently between Robert’s thighs, just a bit of encouraging pressure. He feels Robert shiver as he acquiesces, knees folding, body collapsing backward across the mattress. Alec reaches down, once more catching the waistband of Robert’s pants, and pulls them down so that Robert’s cock can spring free amidst its thatch of light blond curls. He drops the pants on the floor beside their discarded trousers and then kneels between Robert’s knees, pushing them wider so he can lean down between them and press his face against the seam where Robert’s hip and thigh come together, breathing in the lingering scent of French-milled soap and musky, unmistakably male desire.
As Robert falls back against the mattress, he feels ridiculously exposed, ridiculous even. The way Alec looks at him: lustfully, eyes full of desire. He hasn’t been on display in this way for someone in years. He and Cora long ago stopped looking for novelty in each other’s bodies, and he hasn’t had anyone actually look at him since -- well, since an uncomfortably long time ago. He knows what impression he creates in daily life, works at it, actually, to maintain an impression of gentlemanly authority -- kindly but firm -- suitable for his position. But he is bitterly aware of not being the young man he once was and had many years ago stopped thinking of himself as physically desirable. Of himself as inspiring the kind of expression on Alec’s face as Alec kneels before him and pushes in between Robert’s thighs.
Everything in Robert’s groin seizes at the press of Alec’s lips to the groove of his hip, so close to his erection, Alec’s hands on the inside of his thighs, pushing them wider so that Alec can kneel between them and -- and do what he wants to do with Robert’s cock, with his balls, with, with --
Robert’s skin breaks out in gooseflesh at the sight, at the overwhelming sensation of being spread open and devoured. He realizes that although he had been the one to initiate this dance, Alec has now taken the lead, and Robert will gladly let him do so. He lifts his hands, then drops them again, twisting them in the quilt as if to anchor himself against the assault of Alec’s tongue and lips and teeth as he noses his way down one side of Robert’s cock, teases at the sensitive flesh between cock and balls, then licks a slick, warm path up the underside of Robert’s cock to the swollen head and -- fuck, Robert thinks, God, how had it come to feel so necessary, this man between his legs, this man’s mouth enveloping him.
He bites back a moan, then realizes as Alec’s fingers dig into the flesh of his legs that perhaps he doesn’t have to, and moans again, lifting his hands from the bedclothes to rest them, uncertainly on Alec’s head in unlikely benediction. Cora had never liked him to touch her head when she did this, and while he’s had some partners who allowed it he’s learned to be cautious. Alec pulls himself off Robert just enough to turn his head and press a wet and filthy kiss to Robert’s palm. ‘Go ahead, my lord,’ he smirks, then -- as if to make up for it -- ‘I’ve always respected a man willing to show me what he wants. So show me what you want, Robert.’
‘Fuck,’ Robert says, squeezing his eyes shut and wondering how soon would be too embarrassingly soon to reach his release. He feels already like the next touch of Alec’s lips to his cock could push him over the edge, and he’s not sure he wants this to be over so soon. Particularly since he’s uncertain what comes next. Will he be asked to leave? Should he even wait to be asked? Will it be acceptable to ask to meet again? Under what circumstances and how soon? Because at the moment departure of any kind feels like agony. He never wants to leave this little room, removed from the demands of the wider world, the complexities of his family, of his title, of his place in the world, the shadowy demands of Alec’s work, and the threat that this -- what they’re doing right now -- might pose to his, to both of their, futures.
‘All right?’ Alec’s voice is soft and Robert has to steel himself not to wriggle away from the warm breath on his skin. Every nerve ending is over-sensitized. ‘Robert? Are you all right?’
Alec is asking him a question, Robert has to remind himself, and he really should answer it. ‘Yes, yes, I just -- it hasn’t -- no-one’s -- done that -- in a long time.’
‘Their loss,’ Alec says before turning to press his lips into the crease of Robert’s hip again.
Robert presses his lips together against the hysterical giggle that threatens to escape at the idea that anyone would feel such a sentiment in relation to him.
‘Come -- up here,’ he says, against the ridiculous tears that are suddenly pricking against the corners of his eyes. He cups his fingers behind Alec’s head and urges him up onto the bed. ‘Up here where I can touch you.’ It comes out pathetically needy, but Alec doesn’t seem to mind and just braces himself on the edge of the bed so he can push to his feet.
‘Just as well,’ he remarks as Robert shifts on the bed, making room, and Alec stretches out beside him. ‘My knees get stiff, you know, and if I’d stayed down there much longer you mightn’t have gotten me up again.’
‘Mmm,’ Robert lets his lips turn up in a smile as he leans in for a kiss. ‘Don’t tempt me; I quite liked the look of you down there between my legs. Pushy. Demanding. I don’t get much of that, except from my valet.’
‘He’s quite a decent sort, but I certainly never thought of doing anything like this with him,’ Robert says, reaching down to fumble between them, homing to the heat that’s emanating from Alec’s groin.
Alec groans at the contact, thrusting into the touch even as Robert works out the geometry of holding someone else’s cock. Like everything else about this encounter, it’s both familiar and strange, a shifting mosaic of taste and touch, scent and sound, those things that appear to be universal to the act of sex between two people and those things for which his experience has left him unprepared. He hasn’t gripped any cock, for example, other than his own. Alec is shorter and thicker than Robert himself, the foreskin more generous at the tip. Robert lets his hands slide down between Alec’s legs -- Alec obligingly spreads himself open to the exploration with a sound that’s half sigh, half moan. Their shifting bodies on the bed bring Robert’s erection into contact with Alec’s hip and he thrusts, the friction feeling good, so good, an echo of the tug and squeeze of his hand on Alec, the motions he uses himself in the loneliness of an unshared bed. It’s an utterly new sensation, feeling tied together like this, as if by stroking Alec’s cock he’s somehow stroking his own, his body thinks yes, and this, with every twist of his wrist.
Alec is starting to tremble against him, finely, as if he has a fever. But he digs his fingers into Robert’s hair and buries his face into the hollow of Robert’s neck, so Robert keeps up with his rhythm -- pull, thrust, twist, pull -- and listens to their breathing twined together, panting into the pleasure that’s building between them. Pull, thrust, twist, pull --
And then there’s the shudder of orgasm drawn up from the root of Alec’s cock to the tip as he arches, almost silently, up from the bed, fingers digging like a vise into the base of Robert’s skull.
‘Yes, fuck, yes --’ Robert whispers, feeling triumphant, and then he’s jerking his own hips faster and even before he’s done working the last of Alec’s orgasm out through his fist, his own orgasm is spilling too, hot pleasure-pain, against the unyielding flesh and bone of Alec’s hip. ‘--Fuck,’ he gasps. ‘Fuck.’ Apparently all he is capable of saying, tonight, as he collapses back against the pillows.
His temple comes to rest against Alec’s, beside him, and they lay there together in silence, flush with the heat of orgasm, breath and heartbeats slowing, slowing, and muscles relaxing into the lassitude that follows release.
Out in Alec’s sitting room, the clock on the mantle chimes the hour. It’s long past midnight, trending toward dawn.
‘Too late to call for a cab,’ Alec observes, stifling a yawn. He doesn’t want to move, but his bladder will require it before long.
‘Mmm?’ Against his shoulder, Robert stirs, then turns to nuzzle Alec’s ear, pressing a drowsy kiss to Alec’s jawline.
‘Much too late,’ Alec repeats, ‘to call for a cab.’
There’s a beat of silence. Then: ‘It would only be polite of you to offer a friend the use of the sofa and a spare pillow,’ Robert says, sounding half-amused, half-wary, as if Alec might spring from the bed and demand Robert’s immediate departure. That’s a conversation for another day -- tomorrow, perhaps, and they can work out whys and wherefores and whens and hows. Perhaps over coffee and eggs -- or perhaps Robert is a dedicated tea-drinker? Alec is sure he has some PG Tips somewhere about.
‘Indeed,’ Alec agrees. He leans up on one elbow to press a kiss against Robert’s lips before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. ‘Only, my lord, it only seems fitting to give you the bed. Respect due to rank and all that.’
‘I hope with you in it?’ The question is almost plaintive and Robert pushes himself up on one elbow. Glancing back at him, Alec can see firmly repressed fear in the back of his dark eyes; the man seriously thinks there’s a possibility Alec won’t let him stay as long as he’s a mind to. When this evening had turned from an amusing game to something... more was a point Alec had missed but he’s too well-contented to worry about it.
‘Just need the washroom,’ Alec reassures him, pressing a palm to Robert’s thigh before standing up. ‘Don’t steal all the bedclothes while I’m gone.’