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You can't stem the tide

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“Three months,” Thomas sighs, standing behind his desk. He leans on it without looking up, pressing his lips together into a tight line.

James says nothing, fully aware that everything will go a lot more smoothly if he allows Thomas a little space to process that they are about to say goodbye and not see each other for an unbearably long time. It isn’t exactly news that barged in at a moment’s notice, but they had both tried hard not to let grief over the future bleed into their lives, mostly ignoring his looming departure up until now, when it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge it.

“Three months,” Thomas repeats again, and James grimaces. “That’s—that is almost a hundred days.”

“I’m well aware,” James mutters, and for a moment he is almost tempted to ask him to come and say goodbye in the morning – they have decided, on James’ insistence and with Miranda’s support, that having James spend the night would be too much, just as it’d be too much to have Thomas get up before sunrise to have him come bid him farewell as they sail, as if he were his wife.

Thomas stares at him with an expression that James can’t decipher, then he clenches his jaw before circling around his desk to walk up to him and draw him into a tight embrace.

“I am going to be so bored,” he then laments, an hand running up and down James’ back. James rests his cheek against his shoulder, his fingers clasping onto his clothes as he tries to commit his scent to memory. “You have spoiled me, I have grown too used to proper debates. Whatever am I going to do, stuck with men who hardly possess the depth of a puddle?”

James snorts, appreciating the lighter tone even as his stomach is still tied in knots. “You should try making conversation with cranky sailors, my Lord.”

“A fair point.”

Silence falls, as they stand there clinging to each other, and James can only think of how much he will miss this. The Navy has been his whole world for so long that he has yet to grow used to the feeling of leaving a real home behind when he sails.

(That feeling is enough to make him consider going back to being a carpenter, truly. There are worse things than throwing one’s lifework down the drain, aren’t there?)

Thomas pulls back first, placing an hand on the side of his neck as he looks down on him and his lips twist into a slight, heartbreakingly sad smile.

“I am going to miss you dearly,” he says, no trace of humour in his voice this time.

James swallows, ignoring the wave pressing behind his eyes as he nods once. “I will miss you too, every day.” He probably will literally count them, praying that the whims of the sea won’t force him to spend even only a minute more than necessary away from home.

Thomas’ smile flickers before he leans forward, drawing him into a kiss, which James fails to fully enjoy, concerned as he is with the lump in his throat, the unshed tears in his eyes and how his hands tremble with anticipated effort at the thought of letting go.

“You know,” Thomas eventually says, frowning thoughtfully as he pulls back. “You will be gone for a long time, perhaps I ought to give you something to remember me by. We wouldn’t want you to forget me, now, would we?”

Before James can do anything about it, too disbelieving to react to his words at first, he is stepping away, leaving him to feel unreasonably cold, standing alone in the middle of the room. “Thomas—” he stammers, as Thomas moves to his desk. “I don’t need—how could I forget—” The frantic reassurances die in his throat when Thomas breaks into a satisfied smile, reaching for the statuette of a cock that he keeps on his desk, and that has been subject of teasing more than once – because only Thomas would literally keep a cock on his desk.

“Here,” Thomas says, somehow managing to keep up an appearance of solemnity as he hands over the statuette. “Please, accept this, as a token of my—of my affection.”

James can feel the corners of his mouth pushing upwards, and it’s only by a narrow margin that he manages to steady his voice enough to get out: “You—you want me to take your cock with me?”

That appears to be the last straw, because Thomas lets out a snort that turns into a full-blown laugh, and soon enough they are both doubled over, James laughing so hard that his stomach hurts and his eyes water – at least he now has a decent excuse to let go of all those tears.

They must have completely failed at being discreet enough not to be heard by the rest of the household, because Miranda soon walks in, looking at them with wide, disbelieving eyes, if with also a smile tugging at her lips – she gave them some privacy to say goodbye before James is to leave, she must not have expected for it to go in this direction.

“What on Earth are you two doing in here?” she asks, a note of amusement in her voice.

Thomas is wheezing, and his only answer is shaking the statuette in the air as if that were a decent explanation, whereas James eventually wipes away a few tears from his eyes, managing to straighten himself up and to break through his laughing fit enough to speak.

“Thomas wants—” he snorts. “He only wanted to give me his cock to remember him by.” He barely has the time to complete the sentence before he is laughing again, especially given that Thomas only laughs harder, red-faced and threatening to fall over.

“Oh my god,” Miranda laments, a wide grin plastered on her face as she shakes her head in amusement. “You two are absolutely ridiculous.”

(James cannot even begin to imagine how he is going to survive three whole months without this.)