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“Not like you to come to me Wraysford.” Weir says, pouring whiskey into his mug. Stephen eyes the large chip in its rim, the beginnings of a crack spider-webbing across the side.

They are in Weir’s dug out this evening, Stephen had met the other captain at its threshold on his way out to find Stephen. Weir had blinked at him, started to say something about running out of whisky- like Stephen was ignorant still to why Weir came to him time and time again. Stephen had held up the almost full bottle he’d brought with him and Weir had had little choice but to let him come inside.

Weir pushes a second mug across the table to Stephen, liquid sloshing up over the rim slightly. Stephen catches it with his finger before it makes it down the mug’s side, brings it to his mouth. Weir watches him with dark eyes but looks away as soon as he realises Stephen’s noticed him. “I prefer it at yours.” He mutters, taking a large sip of his own drink.

“Tastes the same wherever.”

“I don’t mean the whisky Wraysford.” Weir snaps. “It’s just, it’s the atmosphere I suppose.” He adds quietly, boring holes into the tabletop. Stephen glances around the space Weir inhabits day to day and finds it bleak viewing. Every aspect of the trenches is bleak in truth but Weir’s dug out is bare. Stephen supposes it makes sense, he barely spends any time here after all. Weir’s personal items are neatly contained on a small rickety looking desk in the corner. Stephen can make out a small stack of books and letters, a little wooden box and a bottle of whiskey that’s not quite empty. Curiosity tugs at him, suddenly overwhelmed by a need to examine Weir’s possessions Stephen gets to his feet. Weir’s eyebrows knit together, then rise as Stephen starts towards the desk.

“Oh, what are you doing now?” Weir says and for a moment he almost manages to pull off exasperation and then, “Really, Wraysford.” Weir’s on his feet now too. Stephen laughs as it all falls into perspective.

“Listen, Weir you don’t have to feel-” Stephen stumbles then, the task of talking and walking with alcohol in his system proving too much as he knocks into the desk. A few letters and the wooden box topple to the floor. The box’s lid creaks open during its fall and photographs flutter to the ground between them. Weir makes a mad dash for them, on his knees trying to scoop them up before Stephen can blink. Stephen drops down to help him and Weir flinches. “No, don’t, I’ve-” He tries but Stephen is already gathering a pile up, glancing at them without being able to help himself as he goes. Charlie Chaplin, portrait of an older couple (Weir’s parents no doubt), Chaplin again and- oh.

Oh.

Stephen clenches the photograph between thumb and forefinger, stares. Weir snatches it from him fast enough that it tears, the corner remaining in Stephen’s grasp. Weir’s breathing is coming heavier, fast pants as he presses the photograph protectively to his chest. Weir blinks and there are tears in his eyes, his whole face white as a sheet. He opens his mouth, closes it. Then he’s gone.

Stephen gathers up the remaining photographs, notices there are a few more incriminating pictures (he places them at the bottom of the pile) and neatly stacks them back inside their box. He sits, back against the desk and lights up, thinks about the terrified look in Weir’s eyes that night Stephen had taken him to the woman and her daughter, Weir’s tight grip on his hand that lasted a moment longer than necessary when Stephen had returned from hospital, the naked curve of the man in the photograph’s hip.

Stephen chuckles drily on an exhale of smoke.

 


 

Michael Weir is avoiding him.

Stephen tries not to care when Weir never comes to his dug out the next day, or the next. By the third night with no sign of Weir, Stephen’s beginning to feel perturbed. He supposes he understands why one might feel awkward but honestly, they’re friends and it’s troublesome, really rather rude of Weir in fact to make Stephen waste his evenings waiting on the other captain like this.

Day four and he’s had enough. Stephen goes to the entrance to the tunnels when he gets a spare moment, only has to wait a minute or so before Weir’s ascending, head popping up out of the hole in the ground. Stephen fleetingly wonders if Weir’s going to duck back down again when he sees Stephen standing there, shadow looming over him. But Weir's too surprised to make a move though the frantic gleam that creeps into his eyes suggests he wishes he could. 

“Come round to have a drink later.” Stephen says, turns to leave.

“No thank you Captain Wraysford. I’m trying to cut back.” Weir calls after him. Stephen pauses, glances over his shoulder. Weir won’t meet his eye.

“Weir.” Stephen kneels in front of the hole, at eye level to the captain. Weir finally meets his gaze, doesn’t have much choice but to. Stephen places his palm lightly, just the barest touch of flesh, over Weir’s white knuckled hand. “Come have a drink.”

 


 

“It doesn’t mean anything, not a damn thing.” Weir slurs, slamming his mug down. “It’s just one photograph.” Stephen doesn't even look up from his cards. Shuffling and re-shuffling them, over and over. Those damned cards.

“More than one, if I recall correctly.” And he smirks, the bastard actually curls his lip like this is some big joke. Weir hears himself laugh, the echo of it bitter and disbelieving.

"Okay, more than one.” He concedes. “But still. It doesn’t, it doesn’t-” Weir tries to pour himself more whisky, liquid splashes at his skin and the table, anywhere but into the god damned mug. “Useless, bloody-” Stephen plucks the bottle from his hands and pours it for him, the drink behaving under Stephen’s steady guidance.

“It’s okay.” Weir blinks. “Tap a card.” Stephen says as he lays out a row of six across the table. Weir can’t think about cards, about fortunes and superstitions. He ignores them and leans forward.

“It’s- what? No it’s not.” He can feel his temper rising to combat Stephen’s coldness. Does he ever tire of it? Wouldn't that consistent cool tone and his ice veiled barbs get so absolutely exhausting for the man? Does nothing touch him? Weir likes to imagine if he were sober, if he were braver, if it weren't Stephen sitting across from him, he would ask. He would sate his bewildered curiosity.

But instead, all he can say is, “It is not okay in the slightest Wraysford.” Because it’s true, because it’s all that is ever true about everything, because it’s all those curiosities without explicitly stating them in turn.

“I don’t care Weir. Tap a card.”

“You don’t care?”

“Weir.” He doesn’t have to repeat himself a third time but Weir just looks at him unmoving. Finally Stephen takes Weir’s right hand, makes its trembling fingers tap a card in the middle. He lets go, leaning back satisfied and flips the card with the tip of his blade. Weir doesn’t look, finds he can’t bare to. Stephen makes a noise, a little hm that could mean everything under the sun or nothing at all.

“Not any of my business what you, that is to say, well. It’s not my business.” Stephen gathers the cards up into a stack, leaving Weir’s fortune untold.

“Oh so if I were to do this?” He presses a palm to Stephen’s cheek, cupping it and leans in so close that their noses brush. His heart is beating a loud thump thump thump in his ears and he can’t tell if it’s due to the fear or the proximity to Stephen’s very green eyes. “It’s not your business?” He manages to say, the words feeling absurdly heavy on his tongue. He can feel his eyes watering, threatening to spill over at any moment. Stephen, blast him, barely reacts. His lips part, head tilting to the side to look at him like he’s some- some- some...

Stephen’s skin is so warm beneath his palm.

“Do you want me?” It’s so blunt. That’s all Weir can think about for a moment. Almost clinical really. It’s the final push over the edge. Weir chokes on a sob, then buries his head in Stephen’s shoulder, unable to hold it all in anymore.

“Christ, I don’t know what I want.” Stephen lifts his head up, resting their foreheads together and kisses his shaking lips. Weir barely notices through the tears. “I can’t- I can’t, it’s too much Wraysford. Everything.”

“I know.” Stephen’s hands smooth round in circles on his back.

“Hold me, like you did before in the shell hole-” Stephen’s already holding him, he realises, but now he slides them from their chairs. He lies back on the ground, bringing Weir with him to rest his head against his chest. Just like before. “Never leave me. Stephen, please.”