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Circumspect

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Thomas Barrow still couldn't quite believe his luck. He'd always thought he was alone. Men of his kind were as rare as his luck. So it came as a shock when, while patiently waiting for Mr Ellis (funny, witty, spirited...handsome Mr Ellis), Thomas had found himself at the receiving end of not-so-subtle looks from a not-so-bad looking gentleman from across the pub.

The man couldn't stop looking at Thomas and Thomas found he couldn't stop looking back either. How long had it been? Too long, if you asked him.

That's undoubtedly why he took the man's -Chris'- offer, even though he knew he shouldn't. They were so obvious with their intensive stares and smiles (and nervous laughter on his end) that someone was bound to notice, even if the pub was bursting with activity and more than a few patrons were drunk past salvation already.

Because, seriously? Two blokes, two strangers, leaving together after barely there introductions? Who wouldn't find that odd, if not downright suspicious ?

But it had been so long and Chris was so very handsome and looking at Thomas in such a way that he was certain the shivers that ran down his spine had nothing to do with the chilly night air.

*~*

An hour later and Thomas was ready to admit that taking that risk with Chris was worth it. He had been dancing, drinking, laughing, and, man did it feel good, kissing Chris for that past hour, surrounded by dozens of men that were like him. Thomas wasn't much of a believer but, 'God bless the man who created this haven', he thought.

After years of loneliness, of keeping his true self in the darkest corner of his mind and heart, he was at last in a place were he could be himself and carefree, where he could enjoy himself and others at least for a little while. It was so freeing Thomas wasn't sure his heart could take it all, it was beating so fast !

*~*

All good things must come to an end, however, and Thomas Barrow's luck had never run high. He didn't understand at first why the music had stopped and the others weren't dancing and laughing anymore. He looked at Chris and saw his confusion reflected in his partner's eyes. Then, these same eyes suddenly widened with undisguised horror as they looked past Thomas' shoulder towards the entrance of the warehouse. Thomas' gaze followed and his heart dropped.

Policemen. Everywhere. They flooded Thomas' vision as they spread and started shouting at flabbergasted men.

Thomas was rooted to the spot, like everyone else really. As two policemen came on each side of him, calling him and the rest of them a pervert, it dawned on him : he couldn't be arrested ! Tonight had been his first time in this place. A place he hadn't even sought, he was brought there !! This wasn't his fault and he said as much to the policemen as they dragged him to the back of their vehicule.

He should have known better than to think they would give a damn.

*~*

Once at the police station they were all thrown out in a giant cell. The stench, a mix of sweat, vomit, piss, and God knew what else, was so powerful Thomas almost gagged and he had to cough until his nose got accustomed to it.
No one were willing to tell them what would happen to them now and Thomas tried not to think about the possibilities. He failed.

The noose ? A trial then the noose?

A semblance of trial then the noose, more like.

They had to keep appearances for the people and the journalists, but really, their fate was sealed the moment they were caught red-handed in that warehouse. There wasn't much for debate. They were degenerates in the eyes of God, and for them it was sufficient enough, never mind there wasn't any actual buggering going on.
He would be hanged within the next day probably and that would be the end of Thomas Barrow. Accomplished failure from the day he was born to the day he died.

He started violently when he felt a hand running soothing circles between his shoulderblades. It was Chris.

"Hey", the man whispered when Thomas looked at him. His brows were furrowed in concern but he was smiling in what Thomas assumed was supposed to be a reassuring manner. It wasn't working.

"What are you doing?", he whispered back and blimey, why did his voice have to shake so much? "You shouldn't be touching me, this is not --"

"What, proper ?", Chris interrupted. He gestured with the hand that wasn't on Thomas' back at their surroundings with a pointed look and a raised eyebrow.

Right. It didn't matter anymore.

Thomas hung his head in defeat.

*~*

None of them slept that night. Some men spent the long hours pacing, frantically muttering to themselves. Others cried, alone or in the comforting embrace of a partner.

And then there was Thomas, who kept to himself as best he could on the overcrowded bench, hunched over with his elbows on his knees and head in his hands. He was still as a statue and had been since his conversation with Chris earlier.

His mind was blank. He couldn't think about anything, he wouldn't let himself to. He was completely oblivious to his surroundings. The only thing he was remotely aware of was Chris' continued presence at his side. The man hadn't tried to talk to him again but he still stayed there, still offering comfort should Thomas ever needed some.

But Thomas didn't care about comfort anymore. Reassurance held no purpose now. What was the point of it when he would be swinging at the end of a rope in a matter of hours. Whether he spent his last moments on Earth in dispair or at peace, he would die anyway.

*~*

Thomas didn't know how many hours passed before he heard the telltale sound of a key turning in its lock and the heavy steel cell door sliding open.

His shoulders dropped as he sighed. ' This is it, then'.

"Thomas Barrow !!", barked the police officer.

'And I got to be the first to go. What an honour'.

As he stood, he felt his bad hand being squeezed gently. He didn't have to turn around to know who it was, but he did anyway if only to look at him one last time.

"See you on the other side", he said with a smile.

"Hurry up ! I haven't got all night !"

Thomas turned around then after one last smile to Chris who was watching him with wide eyes.

"Where to?", he asked calmly, voice unwavering.

"To the exit. You're free to go", came the unexpected reply.

So unexpected was it that Thomas stood there, staring dumbly at the policeman for an embarrassingly long amount of time.

Seeing that Thomas wasn't about to move anytime soon, the officer, with an exasperated sigh, pushed him out of the cell and towards the entrance hall. Thomas continued to walk, mecanically, one step after the other, until the first rays of morning suddenly hit his tired face.

It was a mess inside his head. Thoughts were battling each other for a chance to be at the forefront of his mind.
'What was going on? Am I free? Why? How ? What of the others?'

God...Chris.

Thomas almost turned back but stopped himself at the last second. It wouldn't achieve anything to go back. If anything, it would appear as if he's rubbing his new found freedom in Chris' face and he didn't want to cause the man more pain than he already did. He wasn't that person anymore.

A movement on the corner of his eye caught his attention and brought him back to the present.

"Oh.", he exhaled breathlessly when he realized who were hailing him from the other side of the street.

Richard.