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i saw straight away that the lay was steep (but i fell for you honey as easy as falling asleep)

Chapter Text

Lieutenant McGraw awoke in an unfamiliar bed. Far larger than his own, and made up with down pillows and white linens, now painfully crumpled from sleep. A bed fit for a lord, James thought, stretching as silently as he could manage and turning to face the sleeping man beside him. The windows in these quarters — the master bedroom, he supposed — boasted clear eastern exposure, and the morning light streamed through to illuminate Thomas in a manner that James could only describe as heavenly.

His features were soft in sleep, although James thought them soft always. He contemplated Thomas’s eyelashes for the first time — unbelievably long and surprisingly dark — without his bright eyes capturing James’s full attention. He let his gaze fall on Thomas’s lips, parted slightly with every exhale. His hair, badly mussed, golden in the sun. Striking, James thought. Truly striking.

James could admit to his own faults, his temper being the first to come to mind, and the most likely to land him in unwarranted fistfights or, most recently, unceremonious outbursts over dinner. Still, he had not believed trepidation to have — ever — been among them, and as such, had been caught off guard by his initial, albeit brief, hesitations the previous night.

 

Their kisses had so consumed James’s thoughts that when they finally separated, he momentarily lost any awareness of his surroundings, and drew breath, clumsily. Thomas, one hand still cupping James’s cheek, let out a shaky laugh. Smiling, but his eyes were searching; James figured their target would be found in words he had not yet spoken.

A rustling behind James signaled that Miranda had stood and was moving towards the two of them — in all honestly, he was ashamed to admit he had forgotten her presence entirely. She placed a hand on Thomas’s shoulder, planted a light kiss on his cheek. “Goodnight, darling,” she whispered. Her expression was solemn and unreadable to James.

Thomas, who had thus far kept his eyes locked on James’s, turned to her as she spoke. “Goodnight, my love,” he said, returning Miranda’s gaze with a sheepish smile. “Will you accept my heartfelt apologies for a most unpleasant meal? I’m afraid you were saddled with the brunt of the personal injuries, and as I hope you know, not one of them was deserved.”

“Keep your apologies. I would hardly say there is a soul among us who was unscathed.” Her eyes flicked pointedly to James, who expected to feel fire behind the regard and instead perceived only a stern attention. To Thomas, however, she smiled before continuing — “He will be trouble along the way, but let us be thankful that his presence is no longer offending our home. Don’t allow him space in your thoughts tonight.”

“As you wish.” Thomas took her hand, dropping his own from James’s face in order to do so; with every passing moment, James became painfully aware of his proximity to the Hamiltons, the looming certitude of his intrusion on an intimate moment. But graciously, Miranda took her leave, pausing at the door only to add, without turning, “Goodnight, James.”

James’s voice caught in his throat; before he was able to find the words, she had gone.

Silence yawned between the two men, broken only by the steady ticking of the grandfather clock. James forced himself to take a seat, eyes fixed on his own hands as they fidgeted in his lap. He would not meet Thomas’s gaze.

 

Trepidation. James understood now, what he had not understood then, for how could he have known? He studied the steady breathing of Thomas’s sleeping form and allowed his thumb to brush across his cheek, wiping an invisible tear. How could he have trusted that there was not, and had never been, any cause for fear or doubt between the two of them?

Perhaps James truly was a coward of the most avoidant sort, that he had resigned himself to the possibility that Thomas had been toying with him for months, rather than confront his own desires. The man was married, for God’s sake, and James had found himself hopelessly entangled in the daunting intricacies of his and Miranda’s household. Perhaps he had been loathe to take such an intimate risk without the reassurance that his feelings would be returned. Thomas had always been the fearless one.

Nevertheless. When James felt the certainty of Thomas’s affections wash over him, it was as though the excruciating months of close quarters and suggestive glances and goddamn mind games were — had always been — a certainty as well.

 

“James.” That marked the third time he had said his name, the familiarity of which took on a newfound intimacy on Thomas’s lips that threatened to overwhelm James. He let out an incredulous sigh, recognizing how this must appear but still unable to meet Thomas’s eyes.

He was a fool to have thought Thomas Hamilton would’t take matters into his own hands. From the corner of his eye, James watched Thomas sink to his knees before him, did nothing as he cupped his chin and drew it up, could not help but behold him. Thomas’s stare was piercing, but the twinkle in his eye betrayed him — the man clearly could not contain his joy.

James grimaced, attempting to suppress his own smile as well. “Miranda,” he sighed. “Do you think she is disappointed?”

“Disappointed? Hardly.”

“Bitter, then.”

“No.”

“Surely she is not angry.”

Thomas’s laugh rang out clear. “James, how long have you known my lovely wife? She is an open book — I confess she tells me often enough that I am as well, perhaps that is why I am so quick to perceive it. Do you truly expect me to believe that you cannot see she has given us her blessing?”

“I only mean to say, it must be a great shock, that must be a great deal for one woman to manage.”

“It must be a great deal for one man to manage, I agree.”

James paused, attempting to parse Thomas’s reply. “I only meant—”

“I know what you meant. I don’t want to talk about Miranda.” Thomas’s voice was insistent, but his expression calm. (Stern, even. James found himself recalling Thomas, in defiance of his father, all clenched jaw and stalwart glare, particularly when Alfred Hamilton had addressed James directly — another lifetime, before the walls had come down.) He took James’s hands in his own, and James could feel their solid warmth radiate through him at every point of contact. “As I said, I can read my wife. With you, however, I regret that I am less sure of myself.”

“Now that is unexpected. Lord Thomas Hamilton, unsure of himself.”

Thomas furrowed his brow, but James knew he was amused. “And now you are mocking me. I should have known better than to fall for such a stubborn fool.”

“I believe I offered to have the Admiralty replace me with someone a bit more amenable, my lord,” James replied, baiting him with the long-abandoned honorific. Thomas rolled his eyes and intertwined their fingers, pleadingly. James sighed — the man was on his knees before him, he could only toy with him so far.

“Hm. Fall for me?”

Thomas, serious again. “You know I have.”

“I do.”

“And that is, you…” He started, stopped, tried again. “Believe me when I say that I understand the gravity of this, of all of it. I wish for you to make your thoughts known to me, whatever they might be. Whatever you need, I will give it. I can only imagine the uncertainty you must be feeling, and if it is time or distance—”

And he thought James a fool.

James silenced his last words with a kiss, pressing his lips softly against Thomas’s as naturally as breathing. The look on Thomas’s face when he pulled back — flushed cheeks and bright, inescapable eyes — would take some getting used to.

“No uncertainty,” he murmured.

“No?”

“I couldn’t begin to tell you how certain I am.” How certain I have been, James thought, since the day we were introduced. He spoke the truth, because it was Thomas, and he deserved to know it.

“And you’re not afraid,” Thomas breathed, running slow circles with his thumb over the flat of James’s palm.

“Not of this.”

 

“Did you sleep well, lieutenant?”

James flicked his eyes open, so lost in thought that he had failed to notice Thomas awaken. He let his hand fall from Thomas’s face. “Yes, my accommodations were most agreeable. Pass along my thanks to our generous host.” He winked at Thomas, who ducked his face against James’s shoulder, pressing his forehead to the bare skin. James fought back a laugh. Was this uncharacteristic shyness a common occurrence for Thomas, when waking up with someone new? James had rarely harbored such feelings after his past romantic encounters — which, he acknowledged, were few and far between. Nonetheless, he had never grasped the logic behind, after having bared yourself — body and soul — to another, having anything left to hide. If Thomas were a different man, James might have even been concerned about regrets, or shame. Be that as it may.

“Thomas.”

An answering hum came from James’s shoulder.

James sighed. “And how did you sleep?”

Thomas planted a kiss on his arm and looked up — positively beaming. “You know, I could not admire these fully in the dark. What a lovely dusting of freckles here,” he said by way of reply, tracing from James’s shoulder to his collarbone. “Oh yes, and here as well.” His fingers followed a path down James’s forearm. His freckles, yes. He could have expected as much. Thomas’s sweetness was infectious; James could now not help but wonder how much of Thomas he had yet to discover in the light of day.

 

“I cannot argue that it doesn’t look comfortable, certainly. But perhaps the word decadent would be more appropriate, my lord,” Studying the four-poster in the center of the room, James gave Thomas a playful grin. The two men found themselves alone at last, in the flickering lamplight of Thomas’s bedchamber. The impromptu presentation to Thomas’s salon, saved from utter catastrophe by the initiative of Lord Peter Ashe, nonetheless concluded with dismal prospects; and despite Ashe being the only taker, the deliberation that followed managed to drone on as though it involved a dozen men, rather than three and one very ardent woman. James had remained primarily a silent observer, offering his input on the Admiralty’s possible assets when relevant and attempting to parse Ashe’s strategic ideas with a clear head — a near insurmountable task, as his mind kept wandering to thoughts of Thomas, of their revelation only hours earlier; as his eyes kept meeting Thomas’s across the room and he was forced to look away or betray his own smile. It had been a long evening, made longer still by Miranda’s pointed glances in his direction. (However, when they finally retired after making inconclusive but cautiously optimistic headway — Thomas’s words — her hand found the small of James’s back as she guided him from the room, its steady presence offering him some reassurance.)

“Stop that at once,” Thomas murmured against his ear now, pressing one leg insistently between James’s own as his knees buckled against the side of said bed. “I finally have you in my chambers and your first inclination is to comment on the decor?”

“Finally? Oh, I see. The lord does understand urgency—” (Thomas pressed him down into the bedclothes, a sly smile crossing his face as he towered over him) “—when he was so deliberate in hashing out every infinitesimal detail with Lord Ashe—”

Thomas laughed. James knew he would never grow immune to the charm of such a laugh, and watched rapt as Thomas stood again, removing his cravat and jacket with indignation. “I believe I had wished my wife a good evening and was on the verge of escorting you, straight away, up the stairs and into my bed. You said yourself that it was best to head off my father’s efforts tonight while we still had time as our advantage!”

Sitting up, James drew Thomas back into his reach by the front of his shirt. “Did I? That sounds like the advice of a responsible lieutenant. What could he have been thinking,” he whispered low, kissing Thomas’s newly bared neck, reveling in the gasp he drew. “Lie back for me.”

Thomas raised an eyebrow, but did as James asked, propping himself on his elbows as James ran exploratory fingers over every inch of him that he could reach — his wrists, his shoulders, his hips. The candles on the nightstand burned low, but he was able to see enough of Thomas to take his breath away. He felt Thomas shiver under his touch as he unbuttoned his shirt, sliding a hand beneath and tracing the bare skin from his sternum to the waistline of his trousers; James couldn’t hide his grin as the teasing contact was answered with a shudder.

“Are you enjoying yourself, James?”

“Hmm. You are a marvel, perhaps you know.”

An answering laugh. “Is that so?”

Indescribable, was the word he had used the first time he had spoken with Miranda about her husband. James did not understand how, so many months later, it could still ring true.

“It is.”

Thomas tilted his head, curiosity in his eyes. “Have you ever been to bed with a man?’

“I have not.”

“Have you always known that you wished to?”

James answered honestly. “Always? No.”

“But of course.” Thomas always looked at James as though he were something precious, and the half-light only softened his gaze further. “All the same, you have for a long time.”

“Yes.”

“Are you nervous?”

Now it was James’s turn to laugh, as he slid one leg over Thomas’s hips to settle himself in his lap. He kissed him deeply, desperately, fire sparking in the pit of his stomach when Thomas responded in kind. Thomas’s roaming hands, his searing mouth on his own, drove James to a new kind of madness — from which he feared there would be no coming back. No, he could not possibly be nervous; he was only just now catching flame.

 

Getting out of that bed was a Herculean labor, one that James accomplished only after a failed first attempt — evidently, lords have little important business before noon-time, and though James had always thought himself to possess a strong will, he was helpless in the face of this most cherished temptation. He would remember, the next time, how tantalizing Thomas could be when resolved to have his way. Now, fully dressed, he watched Thomas give a languid stretch, linens slipping to bare his chest; the perfect picture of untroubled idleness.

“Satisfied with yourself, aren’t you?”

Thomas’s bright eyes gleamed. “I should think so, lieutenant. I should think you would be as well.”

James rolled his eyes, fondly, as he pulled his hair back with a ribbon. “The Admiralty is expecting me. I believe you are familiar with the navy’s position on the matter of punctuality.”

“You’ll take our carriage. We’ll have you there in no time at all.”

“That’s very kind, but for the sake of propriety, I should go on foot,” James replied, shifting where he stood as he finished straightening his hair and jacket. “I cannot imagine the comments my arrival, in the Hamiltons’ carriage, would provoke first thing in the morning.”

Finally sitting upright, Thomas gave a wry frown. “There is only so much concern one can have for modesty and decorum before it becomes prohibitive, James. I hardly believe any of your superiors would question my trusted liaison to the Admiralty departing from my residence and accepting my hospitality in transport.”

“Even so. I’d prefer the walk.” James sighed, making his way to Thomas’s door. “I’ll call on you this evening, or tomorrow at the latest. If you can talk Lord Ashe into joining us again, we will have our work cut out for us. And please, give Miranda my best.” He looked back at Thomas, who nodded, thoughtfully.

“Of course. Peter has assured me he will make time. We’ll start in earnest tonight. And James—” he called, as James turned to go.

“Yes?”

“You will take the carriage next time, won’t you? It’s rather important to me that you know — what’s mine is yours.”