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he who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence

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“The cheek of it,” the Captain muttered, lying flat on his back and staring balefully up at the cracked, off-white ceiling. Thomas sighed quietly, but the Captain ignored him. “My routine will be ruined. Honestly, there’s no respect, no respect whatsoever.”

He’d pleaded with Alison, of course, but she’d insisted. Michael’s parents needed a room on the Ground Floor, and his, apparently, was the most convenient. Something to do with it being most recently inhabited by a member of the living, she’d said.

He didn’t understand her logic, per se. While the other (occupied) Ground Floor rooms had fallen into slight disrepair, they weren't in such a state as to make them uninhabitable. But, these days, he tended to cede to her demands with minimal grumbling.

Well. 

To her face, at least. 

She had the power to take his documentaries away, after all, and he’d learned, to his chagrin, that she was not above exercising such power.

He huffed, wallowing in his dissatisfaction.

Thomas hadn’t been his first thought when it came to choosing who he would be imposing himself upon. He’d immediately ruled out all of the ladies, of course. To place himself in their quarters at such an hour would be beyond improper.

He’d quickly rejected the idea of sharing with Robin (sleeping in front of the fireplace like some sort of animal was not for him, thank you very much), or Humphrey (did the man even have quarters?). He’d even briefly considered Julian, before deciding that the neverending spew of innuendo would never be worth it. 

Pat had, of course, been a serious contender. Upon thinking about it, though, the Captain had concluded that a night passed in his presence would involve a constant stream of chit-chat that, though bearable - and occasionally welcomed - in the daylight hours, would be in-conducive to proper rest.

Which left him with either Thomas or the plague victims in the cellar.

When he had approached Thomas with his proposal, Thomas had turned back to the library window, and dismissively said, “surely one of the vacant rooms near the back of the house would be suitable for a night or two?”

To which the Captain had responded, “come now, you know the state they’re in. I’d be better off sleeping outside.”

Thomas had turned to him again and looked at him as if assessing how disruptive he would be. Then, seemingly coming to agreeable conclusions, he’d given an assenting nod, before turning back to the window with a sigh.

Shuffling about on the bed, Thomas turned over to face him, propping his head upon a balled fist. His eyes, usually bright, were dulled and glassy with the beginnings of sleep.

“Would you stop grousing, sir. ‘Tis one night,” Thomas raised his eyebrows. “Would you rather wander the grounds like some infernal spectre?” 

The Captain made a non-committal noise, his moustache twitching with displeasure. 

He closed his eyes though, and, shortly after, Thomas returned his head to his pillow with an exaggerated huff, and a quiet, “thank goodness for that.” 

Hours later, the Captain eased back into a dim sort of wakefulness. 

It was dark, his eyes were fuzzy, and, he noted absently, he felt strangely warm all over. There was something heavy upon him, too. It pressed him down in a manner that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Rather the opposite, in fact.

The Captain shifted about a bit, trying to return to his previous state of unconscious comfort. A deep, satisfied noise, halfway to being a purr, involuntarily left his throat. His cheeks probably would have coloured if he’d had the presence of mind for embarrassment. 

He hadn’t felt like this in years

There was more movement and the Captain registered, dimly, that he was not the source of it this time. His sluggish brain didn’t quite take in the implications of that fact until he felt a puff of air just below his left ear. 

It fanned across his skin, the tickling sensation travelling down his neck towards his stiff collar. The Captain turned his head, and, swallowing thickly, squinted. 

It was Thomas. 

Even in his current semi-conscious state, that much was clear. 

That thick, dark hair resting upon his shoulder, and that pale, long-fingered, delicate hand which lay upon his breast were quite unmistakable, even in the slowly encroaching greyness of the pre-dawn half-light.

Why is Thomas here? His mind sluggishly tried to grasp hold of the reason, but he couldn’t quite hold on to it.

If the Captain knew one thing, though, it was that he had no desire to move from his current position. 

In that spirit, he allowed his eyes to flutter shut, sinking gratefully into the not-oft-felt warmth that surrounded him.

**

When the Captain woke up the next morning to an empty bed, he felt unaccountably cold. Suppressing the urge to rub his hands up and down both arms, he brushed the feeling swiftly aside, got up, and got on with his day. 

He couldn’t escape the sense that everything was ever-so-slightly off-kilter, though. 

It began when he walked out of Thomas’s bedroom instead of his own and found himself on the wrong side of the house. It was as if the world had been flipped back-to-front when he wasn't looking, and his skin crawled with the wrongness of it. 

He fiddled with his tie as he walked down the corridor, but was stopped in his tracks by a sudden wailing cry. He smirked briefly, unable to suppress his amusement at the thought of Julian and his houseguests, before carrying on down the main staircase, and out into the gardens.

He’d made the right decision in switching rooms last night, clearly. He had no doubt that Michael’s parents would have provided enough of a disturbance to have made sleep a moot point. And, if nothing else, at least he didn’t have to worry about Thomas phasing through him in the middle of the night.

At that thought, the Captain abruptly came to a halt. He placed his swagger-stick under his arm and drew in a tremulous breath. 

Nothing about Thomas had been incorporeal last night. Nothing whatsoever. The memory of his solidity, of the weight of his body, of the sheer warmth of that contact—

The Captain, nonplussed, paused and shook his head. 

Thomas Thorne was, perhaps, the furthest from being army-material that any man could be. 

Frivolity was his watchword, turbulent emotions his guide, and some of his outbursts were, quite frankly, beyond the pale. Privately, the Captain had many a time thought that such extravagances would have gotten him killed on a battlefield, and these musings were only solidified by the actual manner of his death.

So, this sudden turn in his thoughts toward the particulars of his physique was, well—, quite strange on his part, he felt, to say the least.

He had held such… interests before, of course. Young Adam sprang to mind. 

He remembered the way his eyes had eagerly taken in that rough stubble, and those calloused hands. His ears, that rather lovely, deep colonial accent. 

Above all of that, though, he had admired the control he’d held, and the sheer precision with which he ran his operation. After Adam had left, the Captain had easily decided that the former elements of his fascination were an uncanny by-product of the latter, and, thus, were best ignored.

Such an explanation was not transferable to this new situation, however.

He fiddled about with his tie again, and, as he did so, took a quick, surreptitious look around. Thankfully, the gardens were blessedly empty at this time of day.

What kind of soldier are you, man? He gently berated himself. Getting distracted at the drop of a hat. Well, it simply won’t do. It won’t do!

After completing his daily traversal of the perimeter, the Captain re-entered the house. As he did, he saw Thomas coming down the main staircase. He caught his eyes for the briefest of moments, and felt the icy claws of panic seize at his chest. 

Looking away quickly, he made a beeline for the common room.

“Now, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, today’s Boxing Day,” Pat said, with just a bit too much verve. “Which would usually be spent on your back eating leftovers, but,” the Captain watched Thomas enter the room out of the corner of his eye. “We can’t do that, can we-”

“Obviously,” Robin grunted.

“Yes, thank you, Robin,” Pat smiled mildly, and pushed at his glasses. “So, I was thinking…”

Standing behind the couch at parade-rest, the Captain tried his damndest to concentrate on what Pat was saying. But it was no use. 

Thomas was standing beside him. Which, in itself, wasn't that unusual. How close he was standing was, though. 

Thomas’s elbow was brushing against his and, even through all the layers of his uniform, it felt much, much too intimate. As the Captain stood there, a borderline paralysis came over him. Fear coiled around his windpipe, restricting him to short, quick breaths.

Beside him, Thomas threw his head back, and a full-throated laugh poured forth from his throat. The Captain turned his head to look at him, and found his eyes inexorably, inexplicably drawn to his mouth. To the shapely curve of it. To the endearingly lopsided twist of lips as he smiled, and to the dimples that smile created in both of his cheeks. 

Quite out of nowhere, the Captain felt as if he needed to be sitting down, and almost gripped the back of the couch for support. He tightened both hands around his swagger-stick instead, and looked resolutely down at his feet.

“We can’t do that, man,” Thomas said to Julian, his laugh tapering off into a quiet, amused chuckle. He turned to the Captain expectantly.

“Mhm, yes,” the Captain said, licking at dry lips.

“See,” Thomas said, turning back to Julian. “Even the Captain agrees with me, you dotard-”

From there, the argument proceeded apace, but the Captain, distracted by Thomas leaning into him with his shoulder, found that he was incapable of following it.

His skin was positively buzzing with the contact, and he felt terrifyingly, overwhelmingly hyper-aware of not just Thomas’s every move, but of all the eyes in the room that were undoubtedly fixed upon him. 

Ready and waiting to puzzle out the previous night’s indiscretion, he had no doubt. 

Where would they see it, he wondered. In his shifting eyes? His tensed shoulders? His periodically clenching and unclenching hands?

He took two quick, surreptitious side-steps away from Thomas. Just far enough to re-establish some semblance of proper distance, but not so far as to alert suspicion.

To his relief, the feeling abated somewhat, and he began, slowly, to breathe again.

Their argument drawn to a close, Thomas spent the rest of Patrick’s resumed talk shooting little side-glances in his direction. The Captain made a point of ignoring him, staring resolutely ahead with a stern level of control that, he later reflected, was worthy of his rank.

**

For the rest of the day, the Captain’s mind was occupied with one thought. Michael’s family would be staying one more night. Painfully aware as he was of the suspicion backing out now would raise, he would be bunking with Thomas again.

At intervals, his stomach repeatedly underwent a strange, tumultuous motion, and, no matter how much he tried to suppress the ill-defined feeling, it proved uncontainable. 

No wonder I went for the Army over the Navy, he thought. This discombobulation is frankly unbearable.

That night, he hesitated upon the threshold of Thomas’s door. Gripped, quite suddenly, by an anxiety that had him on the brink of striding off and spending the night strolling the grounds instead. 

What stopped him of course was the knowledge that without rest, he would be open to attack, which, in turn, meant that he would be leaving the residents of this house open to attack. And that would never do.

Get a grip, man, he told himself, sternly. Once more unto the breach.

He sighed quietly to himself, and then strode resolutely through the door, and into the empty room.

Thomas wasn’t there. 

The Captain let out a sharp laugh, somewhere between relief and disappointment. 

He really should’ve known, should’ve guessed. Sometimes he forgot that not everyone had a schedule and stuck to it like clockwork, as he did. Thomas was very likely outside, strolling around the lake, or, perhaps, in one of the downstairs rooms, composing verses with which to harangue poor Alison.

The Captain shook his head and settled down flat on his back for the night. As his eyes began to drift shut, he couldn’t help but feel a stinging hint of regret.

Missing out on that presence, comforting despite it all, was

He gripped his swagger-stick tighter and forced his mind away from the thought. Over many, many years, he had found that there was absolutely no point in dwelling upon impossibilities.

He breathed steadily in and out through his nose and allowed sleep to take him.

**

Thomas returned to his room a few hours later, muttering softly. 

After a moment, he fell silent. 

He must have spotted me, the Captain thought, feeling restless despite himself. He’d spent the past few hours popping in and out of sleep like some sort of demented yo-yo. 

Desperate not to give himself away, he kept still despite the relentless itch beneath his skin. 

Thomas let out a shaky sigh and then clambered onto the bed. Once there, much to the Captain’s surprise, he didn’t stay on the other side. Instead, he moved in close, breaching the gulf of bed between them, and laid a heavy arm across his midriff. 

The Captain shivered at the feeling of warm breath tickling his cheek.

Settling against him fully, Thomas was a dead weight in more ways than one. Remarkably heavy for such a skinny fellow, the Captain thought. 

He swallowed thickly, tongue feeling inexplicably large and dry in his mouth. 

There was an all-too-familiar tremor, low in his gut. He ignored it. Banished the feeling through sheer, stubborn force of will.

After that, he slept with only a little difficulty.

**

It was morning, and the pale light of dawn bathed every inch of the room. 

He’s still here, the Captain thought, with sleep-tinged disbelief. 

He had been staring at the ceiling for some time, eyes tracing hairline cracks in the plaster as he tried, unsuccessfully, to reckon with the feeling of Thomas wrapped around him. 

It was quite hard to think though when he was this relaxed.

That itself should have been enough to make him tense up, spring into action, get out of this damned bed

But no. 

He just continued to lie there, limbs heavy and languid, surrendering to that warmth that, as Thomas’s hold tightened and he wriggled his legs - which had become entirely entwined with the Captain’s in the night -, was rapidly transforming into a deep, heavy heat.

It was intoxicating.

The Captain swallowed, a hot flush travelling across his chest and up his neck. He fought down the urge to reach up, undo a button, and tug at his tie. Such an action would be useless, anyway. 

But that knowledge didn’t do anything to make the dratted urge go away, though.

Thomas moved again, and, this time, his thigh came firmly into contact with—

This has to stop, the Captain thought, as all the air was sucked out of him. 

He brought a hand up, intending to wrap his arm around Thomas and roll them both until the other man was off him. Instead, he found his hand lingering upon the silk of Thomas’s waistcoat, and, god, he could feel how firm and solid he was through the soft material. 

With bated breath, the Captain smoothed his palm gently down the planes of his back, until he was practically holding Thomas in place against him, hand molded into the dip at the base of his spine.

One of Thomas’s slippered feet dragged up the inside of his calf in response, and the Captain let out a long, shaky breath. 

Gathering some semblance of willpower, he nudged at Thomas with his hand.

“Thorne,” he said.

Noticing that his voice was a bit hoarse, he cleared his throat. 

“Thorne,” he repeated, stronger this time.

Thomas muttered something under his breath, and, sliding a hand over his chest to curl upon his opposite shoulder, moved even further on top of him.

The sensation of being pressed down, and by someone who was so inescapably masculine

The Captain swallowed convulsively.

The hard, flat lines of Thomas’s lithe body, his narrow waist, the scratch of a shaved chin against his neck, and the deep, gravelly quality to the occasional muttered word that left his throat, all combined to leave the Captain helpless. 

He felt surrounded in a way that was, somehow, simultaneously pleasant and unpleasant all at once.

“Thorne, would you please just,” he stopped with a sharp intake of breath, shocked at the reedy quality in his voice. “Thorne!” His voice broke as he closed in upon a bark. 

Thomas jolted, and, with the sudden, sharp motion jerking his thigh upwards, the Captain was robbed entirely of the ability to string together coherent thoughts. Head tilting back, he clenched his teeth tightly against the noise that was crawling up his throat, desperate to get out. 

He screwed his eyes shut against the exquisite agony.

Curse the man, the Captain thought hysterically, as he worked at bringing himself back under control. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing to me.

Once he was able to speak again, words tumbled out of his mouth. “You have to let go, Thorne, you hear? I have—, I have to patrol the perimeter, make sure the enemy isn’t knocking down the door, you see, and—, and Alison. Yes, Alison. She’ll be expecting me for my morning-”

As if at the very mention of her name - and the Captain resolutely refused to allow himself to feel anything in response to that other than the appropriate relief - Thomas’s limbs began uncoiling, giving the Captain enough space to slip out from beneath him. 

When he was finally able to manoeuvre himself off the bed, his feet touching the ground, the Captain sighed with relief. Taking one last look over his shoulder at Thomas, who appeared to still be fast asleep, he fled the room.

He took a few moments in his own (now thankfully vacated) quarters. He needed to calm down. To regain his composure, as it were. 

Then, he went about his routine as usual.

It was only later on, during his morning run, that it occurred to him. 

As he hared towards the main door, about to shave a second or two off this time - he was, he was - the thought popped into his head. 

Thomas, conscious and willing, had initiated the whole situation. 

Last night he had gotten onto the bed, and, instead of leaving a few inches between them as propriety surely demanded, he had crossed the distance, and had placed himself, as Fanny would say, ‘pon him.

The Captain almost lost his footing at the realisation. 

What in the bally hell did that mean?  

He barrelled through the open door. 

Alison looked up from her stopwatch and gave him an odd look. “You’re a second late,” she said.

“Blast,” the Captain said. But he could tell that she could tell his heart wasn’t really in it.

She frowned, and he thought for a moment that she was going to question him, but, blessedly, she decided to let it go.

As she walked away, the Captain gripped his swagger-stick tightly. Thomas wanted to—, to—

He shook the thought off, annoyed at the ease with which he had been driven to distraction. 

It’s over now, anyway, the Captain reflected.

Michael’s family had set out upon their long journey home in the early hours, and order, or whatever passed for it, would soon be restored to Button House. Of that he was sure.