“I’ve never seen anything like this before.” The words fall from Thomas’s lips in breathless wonder, as he takes in the room around him. Men like him — enjoying each other’s company. Men like him — dancing freely. It’s the happiest of parties. It feels more like it has to be a dream, but he can feel Chris beside him, warm and human, and he knows that somehow this is real.
He had no idea that anything like this existed. Maybe this is a world where he could be himself.
Chris asks him to dance and he finds himself smiling freely, leaning in and letting go, and until it all comes crashing down he feel free .
Richard is waiting across the street when Thomas gets out, and maybe the mystery of how that happened is now solved, though he can’t imagine why Richard would wait around for him after everything that he must now know.
“Was it you who got me out?” Thomas asks, as he walks up, and he is overwhelmed and still full of fear, but Richard’s reply is light, and it puts him at ease, somehow.
“No, a good fairy came down on a moonbeam.”
“How did you know where I’d gone?”
“The landlord told me,” Richard tell him. “Waited outside, followed you here, then I showed the sargent my card and that seemed to settle things.”
Thomas takes the card that Richard offers, and looks down, and, well, it all makes sense now. “The royal household -- they must have loved that.” He takes a breath and looks back up at Richard. “I’m afraid I’ve been a silly boy.”
That was how he had felt in that moment, at that party of sorts — like a boy, full of wonder.
“You just need to be a bit more circumspect in future, Mr. Barrow,” Richard is smiling, as he brings a finger to his own lips, then to Thomas’s own, and if Thomas’s eyes go wide and his mouth hangs open a little, he can’t help it.
Richard smiles, and tips his head towards the car. Thomas looks down at the card and back up.
Later he will feel he must have dreamed the whole thing up, but for now he feels the hope of some kind of new beginning and it feels so wonderfully real.
There might be places out there, somewhere, for him. There might be people who understand.
“So you’re off to London,” Thomas looks at Richard, taking him in -- his handsome face and easy smile. This might be the last time he ever sees him, and as much as he can’t wait for all of the royal mess to be done and over with, he doesn’t want to say goodbye to Richard.
Richard nods. “They’ll drop me off at the station.”
“Well I hope we can keep in touch. I feel I’ve finally found a friend,” Thomas tell him, with a small smile. A friend, who understands -- he can’t just let go of that. He can’t let go of that hope that things are changing for him.
“Is that what you’ve found, Mr. Barrow?” Richard raises his eyebrows, a mischievous smile on his handsome face. “A friend?”
Thomas smiles, shakes his head a bit, breathless, because how is he supposed to know how to respond to that? “Well…”
Can he really hope for more?
This can’t be his life.
Richard moves forward in a breath and he kisses him -- actually kisses him, right there, where anyone could walk up, like he can’t help himself.
So much for circumspect.
Thomas brings a hand up to cup his cheek, warm skin under his fingers. It’s only a moment before they’re interrupted, the words from another separating them like a flash.
“Her majesties are going.”
For a moment they just stand there, looking at each other, breathing in and out, and then Richard pulls something from one of his pockets and reaches forward, holding it out, and there’s nothing teasing in his expression now, just open earnestness.
“I want you to have this. It’s not much, but I’ve had it for years. It’ll remind you of me,” Richard presses the pendant into Thomas’s hand. “That’s the point, isn’t it? So you can think of me until we meet again.” His eyes are wide and his expression is hopeful, and Thomas feels utterly breathless.
He looks down at his hand, overwhelmed. “Thank you,” he manages to get out.
Richard smiles, eyes bright.
“Time to go.”
He gives a little nod, and Thomas watches after him, in wonder.
Maybe he can hope for more.
A year later he finds himself waiting at a train station, fidgeting with the pendant in his hand. He holds it as a reminder. A year of letters, back and forth, and Richard went from someone he hardly knew to someone very dear, but maybe that wasn’t quite the truth -- maybe he had been dear to him from the beginning.
“Thinking about someone?”
He looks up from his hand, and Richard is there, handsome and smiling and looking so happy to see him -- happier than surely anyone has ever looked to see Thomas Barrow. Thomas wants to throw his arms around him, but instead he smiles back, and puts the pendant in his pocket. “Hello,” He’s breathless, already, but he’s never been good at keeping his composure. He's never been good at hiding how he feels about anything. “Can’t quite believe you’re here.”
Richard touches his hand, briefly. “Believe it, Mr. Barrow.”
When they’re far enough away from anyone, Richard pulls him into the shadows and kisses him, and this time no one interrupts.