When morning came, the Captain had to drag himself out of bed to go on his morning run. He cursed to himself quietly, and slipped from Thomas’s arms.
He’d never hated his routine as much as he did at that moment. Not even during the painful months that had followed his knee injury in ‘17, when he’d moved about in a way that’d more accurately be described as a ‘stagger’ than a ‘run’, as nurses glared balefully at him from high windows.
Routines are to be kept to, he told himself sternly, trudging towards the main door.
Before he could set off though, he was intercepted by Robin, who clapped him on the back. “Congratulations,” he said, mouth struggling around the word.
“What,” the Captain said, frowning.
Robin sniffed sharply, then laughed, crooked teeth on full show. “Finally got act together,” he said, then gave him another hard clap on the back before phasing through the nearest wall.
The Captain shook his head, bewildered.
When he returned to the house - two minutes thirty blast! - Thomas was waiting for him by the hall-clock, arms clasped nonchalantly behind his back. After reading his time off the stopwatch, Alison made herself scarce.
Even though the Captain could feel her curious eyes upon him - upon them - he found he was grateful for her discretion. He knew such reservation wasn’t natural for this new twenty-first-century lot, and the consideration had not gone unnoticed. As she passed, she directed a surreptitious thumbs-up at Thomas.
Then, she was gone.
He looked at Thomas, and, feeling awkward and unsure of himself, had to suppress the urge to straighten his tie. Thomas offered his arm and tilted his head towards the now-closed main door in invitation. Glancing around, the Captain saw no one. So he slipped his arm through Thomas’s, who, smiling, drew him in close to his side.
They strode out through the main door and spent a good portion of the morning perambulating around the gardens. It was some time before noon - sun high in the sky, birds joyfully twittering the first notes of spring - when they wound up in the forest, not too far from the boundary line.
They had been lightly arguing for at least half-an-hour.
“There’s a reason Joey enjoys all of the female attention,” Thomas said, raising his eyebrows.
“He’s a dimwit, man,” the Captain replied, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “No, the humour of Chandler is much more charming than the—, the depthless, empty-headed looks of Joey.”
Thomas laughed. “Aha, so you admit it-”
“I admit nothing,” the Captain said, indignantly. “There are more important things than mere surface. Humour, wit, charm, all important qualities, wouldn’t you say?”
Thomas stopped walking, forcing them both to a halt. He turned on his heel to look at him, and the motion forced his arm from Thomas’s. The Captain blinked, briefly bereft at the loss of contact.
Chewing at his bottom lip, Thomas’s eyes flickered down for a few seconds, before returning to the Captain’s face. “Of course, but that doesn’t mean the surface isn’t also quite—, quite exquisite.”
The Captain stared at him, feeling flustered.
He swallowed thickly.
“I—, well—, yes, but—,” Thomas thankfully darted forward and pressed a kiss to his lips, stopping his stammering, flustered attempt at speech in its tracks.
“You’re drawn to the dark, rakishly handsome fellow,” Thomas muttered into his mouth with the beginnings of a teasing smile. Guiding him backwards, one stumbling step after another, Thomas’s breath was hot against his lips as he said, “and who could blame you.”
He couldn’t think. Not with Thomas’s tongue sliding, wet and sensuous, against his own.
He lost himself entirely in the feeling of Thomas’s hands stroking up his sides, in light stubble scraping against his chin. There was a bump as his back came up against the trunk of a tree, and a muffled noise left his throat. He sagged with relief into the unexpected support.
Thomas’s words finally pierced his fogged mind, and the Captain laughed, feeling slightly dizzy as Thomas eagerly swallowed the sound. “You think too highly of yourself, Thomas,” he said. “I’ve always seen you as more of a Ross, myself. Always mooning after the girl, but never quite getting.”
“Never getting,” Thomas said, incredulous. “Never getting—, why you, sir—” He left the Captain’s lips, and began to press kisses down his neck. “I suppose you’re lucky you’re no lady, then.”
With a short gasp at the intimacy of the sensation, the Captain allowed his head to tilt back and rest against the tree behind him.
Irritation had made Thomas very thorough in his attentions and the Captain made a mental note that winding him up was a most enjoyable exercise.
Thomas sucked a hard, wet kiss just below his jaw, and the Captain let out a stuttering groan. An encouraging hand flew to the back of Thomas’s neck, holding him in place, whilst he clapped the other across his own mouth in a desperate attempt to muffle the sounds issuing forth against his will.
Slipping a leg in-between his, Thomas smoothed his hands down the Captain’s back until they rested just above his backside. The Captain’s breath halted in his throat as that thigh - gloriously firm from a life filled with horse-riding - pressed up against him.
Suddenly very aware of just how stiff he was, his trousers tight and uncomfortable, the Captain’s hand slipped from his mouth to clutch at Thomas’s back.
His eyes screwed shut, his mouth open, he felt the evidence of Thomas’s desire pushing urgently against his hip, even through Thomas’s breeches and all the layers of his uniform.
Thomas groaned, low and helplessly aroused, and, in that moment, all the Captain wanted was to hear that sound over and over again. Mouthing at the skin just above the Captain’s collar, he trailed a path up his throat.
He pressed his mouth against the Captain’s ear, breath hot as his tongue peeked out to lick at his lobe.
Then he moved his hips.
“Ah, ah, Thomas—,” the Captain panted.
Thomas pressed a series of slow, sucking kisses around his ear. His hips took up a steady rolling motion, and his hands found the Captain’s backside with a rough, urging grip.
Groaning deeply, the Captain bucked into the touch.
Thomas began to recite directly into his ear in a low, wrecked voice.
“My slack Muse sings of Leander’s eyes; Those cheeks and lips, exceeding his that leapt into the water for a kiss,” Thomas paused to press a gasping kiss into his skin.
“Oh, god,” the Captain gasped, most of his exasperation swamped by arousal.
“In his looks were all that men desire, a pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye, and such as knew he was a man, would say, “thou art made for amorous play.”1.
Barely catching a word, the Captain nevertheless shivered at the alluringly deep, provocative quality to his voice. He grabbed Thomas by the back of his neck, and drew him into a silencing kiss.
Hand moving to his belt, Thomas blindly undid the buckle with fumbling fingers. The Captain, lost to sensations like he’d never felt before, put up no protest as dexterous fingers hastily unthreaded it, and began to work at the buttons of his jacket.
He had just enough presence of mind to grab the strap attached to his belt, pull it over his head, and sling it to dangle precariously upon his opposite shoulder.
“Oh, god,” the words were wrung from the Captain’s tightening throat as Thomas’s hands reached his trousers.
His fingers, slipping buttons free, brushed tantalisingly through the thick material against stiff, sensitive flesh, and the Captain threw his head back, his hips jerking into the brief touch.
This is—, I—, we’re—, the Captain thought, feeling wanton and half-delirious.
Then Thomas slipped a hand into his trousers, and, as it wrapped around him, his mind momentarily went blank. As that hand began to move over him, clumsy, and tight, and perfect, the Captain knew he wasn’t going to last long.
It’d been so long since he had been touched in any capacity that he couldn't even remember how long since the last time, and never—, never had he been touched like this.
He could feel his peak approaching already like a steam-ship. Large, and looming, and unstoppable. Each agonising drag of Thomas’s palm, each swipe of a thumb over his head, took him closer.
Until it was all too much.
He looked up at the sky, eyes bleary, his throat constricting.
Clutching at Thomas’s shoulders, he came with a loud, drawn-out shout that startled the curiously perceptive birds from the trees about them, and made him endlessly thankful that this rendezvous hadn’t taken place within the house.
The Captain’s harsh breathing filled the air. He came down slowly, his entire body twitching with after-shocks. Thomas carefully removed his now clean hand from his trousers and cupped his cheek. He kissed him softly, and the Captain quivered at the tenderness held in that delicate pressing together of lips.
As Thomas pulled back his eyes flicked down, and the Captain saw them darken immeasurably. He followed his gaze and, looking at himself, found that he had been left thoroughly debauched.
His jacket was loose and open, his trousers were undone, and his braces were visible for the first time in a long, long time.
His tie was half-off, crooked and askew, and his Sam Browne was hanging on to the wrong shoulder by just the strap. At some point, the top three buttons of his shirt had been undone too, leaving his neck and part of his chest visible to Thomas’s surveying eyes.
Thomas trailed a finger down the newly exposed skin of his upper-chest and slipped a further two buttons free. Wrung-out, oversensitive, and feeling a tad exposed, he shivered at the contact.
Looking into Thomas’s face, down at his gently parted lips, the Captain saw the same desire that he had been afflicted with mere moments ago reflected at him. Alive to the fact that Thomas’s burgeoning arousal was still pressing hard and urgent against his hip, he shook off the limp bonelessness that had overcome him and reached for the fastenings of Thomas’s breeches. Getting his hand inside, the Captain curled it around him. He couldn't help but thrill at the feeling, at the weight of him.
He began to move his hand up and down, and, breathing harshly, Thomas lurched into him.
With a satisfaction made all the better by the pleasant haze of being post-completion, the Captain watched as Thomas, his mouth open, came undone in his arms. Trembling, he kissed the Captain as he came, gripping tightly at his shoulders.
They made it back to the house just after the hall-clock had chimed for thirteen-hundred hours. Not a hair was out of place on either of them.
No one seemed to notice the change in their relationship. Too absorbed with other matters, the Captain supposed. Well, apart from Alison, of course, but he'd accepted that she was in the know, as it were.
And perhaps Michael, as well.
In fact, the Captain had an inkling that Michael knew more about his personal affairs than he would strictly like. He’d noticed Alison shushing him a few times, just as he was on the brink of saying something in front of one of the others. He had made his peace with that rather more easily than he’d expected. After all, the man couldn’t even see him, so the usual threat of him knowing felt somewhat removed.
When he’d been a young man, the very thought of anyone being aware of such a thing about him had kept him up at night. Shivering, skin clammy with cold sweat, and an (awful horrible) squirming underneath his skin. His throat closing, clamping shut until he couldn’t breathe.
He remembered that feeling.
Would never forget it.
These days, things were different. Things had changed, and he had to remind himself of that, sometimes. Ninety years had passed, and time, which had undoubtedly altered the world around him, had worked its changes upon his person too. Watching Thomas mid-recitation, holding court at the centre of the common room, for the first time in his life or his death, the Captain accepted his own desire.
He allowed it to flow through his body unchecked, and, instead of the usual pain that came from pushing a part of himself deep, deep down, he felt something within him unlock.
He wanted Thomas. He wanted all of him.
“The god put Helle’s bracelet on his arm,” Thomas quoted, voice deeper than usual in, the Captain supposed, an attempt to imbue the words with all due gravitas. “And swore the sea should never do him harm, with his tresses play’d, and smiling wantonly his love betray’d.”
The Captain could feel a flush climbing up his neck. His eyes quickly darted around the others with an absent, helpless sort of paranoia - predictably, they didn’t seem to be paying much attention - before settling upon Thomas once more.
“He watch’d his arms, and as they open’d wide at every stroke, betwixt them he would slide, and steal a kiss, and then run out and dance, and as he turn’d cast many a lustful glance.”
Thomas fixed him with his gaze, a twinkle in his eye.
Damn the man, the Captain thought as he watched him, openly rapt. He wetted his dry lips with a swipe of his tongue.
“And threw him gaudy toys to please his eye, and dive into the water, and there pry upon his breast, his thighs, and every limb, and up again, and close beside him swim .”1.
Thomas stuttered to a stop.
The Captain drew a sharp breath in through his nose. Shoulders stiff, hands tightly clasped behind his back, he turned to stare at Julian. “Something to say, Julian?”
Julian looked up, his finger still hovering over Alison’s Telephone where it sat on the side-table, and smiled. “Me?” He said, moving his hand to his chest in a parody of surprise. “Well—, I was just thinking,” his eyes flicked to Thomas, “that was a bit more filthy than what you usually come out with. Not that I mind, I just didn’t know you had it in you. If you keep that up I might have to start paying more attention.”
Thomas let out an affronted gasp that was much less entertaining when he wasn’t the cause of it.
“What are you insinuating man,” the Captain said, automatically going on the offensive.
“Blimey,” Julian said, snorting again. “Didn’t know I was going to start an inquisition.” Then, snidely, he muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “of course you’d like that one.”
Unfortunately, the room was quite silent and, the Captain noticed, everyone was now paying attention to proceedings. They'd all heard Julian’s words, just as clearly as he had done.
He saw Thomas straighten indignantly in the corner of his eye.
“Julian,” Pat said, reproachfully.
“No, it’s fine,” the Captain lifted his chin obstinately. “Let him speak his nonsense,” he smiled tightly. “Doesn’t matter to me.”
“Oh, it doesn’t, does it?” Julian leaned forward in his chair, with a calculating narrow-eyed smile. “When did you start liking poetry, anyway. You’re usually as bored as me by now, mate.”
The Captain bristled slightly at the mocking emphasis on the last word.
“I never said I liked it—,” he saw Thomas’s shoulders slump out of the corner of his eye, “but, then—, then again, I never said I didn’t,” he shot a quick, anxious look in Thomas’s direction, but couldn’t discern anything of his mood in such a short glance. “And—, and, besides. That’s not even the point, is it, Julian.”
“What exactly is the point, then,” Julian pressed.
Good god, the man was like a shark sensing blood.
“Well—, it’s all this interrupting, of course. It’s not fair on Thomas. Terrible or not terrible,” he said, pointedly, “as it may be, he should be allowed to finish his reading. Isn’t that right, Patrick?” He said, looking down at the back of Pat’s head rather desperately.
Pat looked up at him, a bit surprised, but, after a moment, happily took up the baton. “Oh, you know me, I’m always arguing for more respect around here, Cap. In fact, I had an idea about just that the other day…”
The Captain straightened his shoulders and tried unsuccessfully to catch Thomas’s eye. Giving up after a moment, he turned back and was met by Julian’s beady, all-too-knowing gaze.
He spent the rest of the morning staring resolutely at his own feet.
“You didn’t like it,” Thomas mumbled into his neck, that night.
“I—, What—,” the Captain said hoarsely, on the brink of sleep.
“That poem,” he said, sounding just a bit miserable. “You didn't like it. I don’t know why I’m surprised, you never like-”
The Captain brought a hand up to stroke absently at the back of Thomas’s neck. “Of course I liked it, man. Just needed to put Julian off the scent, that’s all.”
“And, I suppose you like all of my self-composed pieces now, too,” he said, turning to sarcasm at a frankly impressive speed.
The Captain’s hand stilled. “Now, listen here,” he said, feeling the sweet promise of sleep slip away the longer this conversation went on. “Just because we’re—, well—,” he cleared his throat. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to start lying. In the main, I enjoy poetry about as much as you’d enjoy handling an Enfield No. 2 revolver.” He felt Thomas wince, his hand reaching up to grab at his wound, and the Captain immediately realised his mistake. “Ah, I’m sorry—, I didn’t mean-”
“It’s alright,” Thomas said, tightly.
They lapsed into a heavy silence.
The Captain inexplicably felt as if he’d stumbled into a minefield and snagged himself upon barbed-wire. Plotting an escape was paramount, and quickly, so he decided a change of subject was in order.
He cleared his throat again.
“So, how long have you, ah—, how long have you—,” he sighed, frustrated. “How long have you known, as it were,” the Captain said.
“Known,” Thomas asked, lifting his head to give him a confused look. “Known what?”
“You know, that you—,” the Captain tilted his chin down, and, raising his eyebrows, looked at their intertwined bodies significantly. “Ladies, as—, as well as chaps?”
Mouth quirking up, Thomas settled back against him and stretched languidly. The Captain was relieved that his distress seemed to have receded, somewhat. “I had wondered when that subject would arise.”
“Well,” the Captain said. He wouldn’t admit it, but he was quite curious as to the answer. “Eighty years—, You never so much as hinted. Or, well,” the Captain sniffed. “I somehow conspired not to notice.”
He knew that the latter option was the most likely. Too bally self-absorbed the lot of them, he thought.
Thomas pressed a kiss into his neck. “I've known for a long, long time,” he said, quietly. “It was easier—, or, well—, simpler I should say, for me to conceal such a thing than it was for you.” He paused for a moment, contemplating. “I had the option, and I chose in the most part to lavish my attention upon those fairer than ourselves, but, mostly in my youth, you understand, there were—, one or two fellows and—, I,” he paused again, worrying one of the Captain’s epaulettes between a thumb and forefinger as he struggled for words. “You are not the first I’ve been with in such a manner, Captain. This is no whim on my part, no passing fancy to be discarded. I'm—, I'm quite dedicated to romance, to eros, you see, and I've never been much good at drawing a distinction when it comes to gender, most especially where a muse is concerned,” he stopped, lapsing into silence.
The Captain relented, the seed of insecurity that had lain dormant in his stomach slowly unspooling at this new information. He turned his head to rest his cheek against Thomas’s hair and smiled as the dark curls tickled pleasantly at his chin.
After a moment of silence, Thomas said, “so, you did like the poem, then?”
The Captain shifted, leaning down, and, moustache twitching, he pressed a tender kiss against his forehead. Using a finger to tilt Thomas’s chin up, he looked into his eyes and said, “yes.”
Thomas pressed a kiss into his palm and then sank back down into his arms.
"Oh, Captain," Thomas whispered into the crook of his neck. “Oh, my Captain. You are—,” he struggled for a moment, and the Captain almost felt the little crease forming between his eyebrows. “You are the guiding light within,” he stopped, sighing with dissatisfaction.
The Captain again took to stroking at the back of Thomas’s neck, his thumb grazing through the soft hair at his nape, and it wasn’t long before they were both asleep.
“Captain. Captain. Captain,” the Captain winced as Fanny’s shrill voice pierced his subconscious. “Oh, for goodness sake.”
“Wha—,” the Captain blinked groggily, the cracked, off-white ceiling slowly swimming into existence before his eyes.
“Is he still not up, Fanny,” Pat’s voice drifted in, distant, but getting closer. “That’s not like him at all. And have you seen Thom—, oh. Oh, my,” Pat coughed. “Well, I must say, I weren’t expecting that.
“I swear, all that noise about my screaming, but when I actually want you to get up—, wake up you insensible cretin!”
The Captain jerked upright, and Thomas - signalling his alertness - flopped off his shoulder with an indignant noise. Unable to look at Pat or Fanny, the Captain stared dumbfoundedly ahead out of the window at his garden view instead.
Coward, he thought, with a detached sort of accusation.
Dread began to surge in his stomach and he thought for one terrible, terrible moment that he was going to vomit. Thomas placed a hand upon his shoulder, using it to lever himself up, and the moment grated by. At the firm, grounding touch, the Captain found that he was, quite paradoxically, glad that he was there.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion,” Thomas asked, still sounding half-asleep.
“Erm,” Pat laughed nervously. “It’s not all that serious, I suppose. It could wait. Couldn’t it, Fanny,” he said, urgingly.
“No, it absolutely could not,” she said, walking around to the end of the bed so that the Captain had no choice but to look at her. “There is some woman here,” her voice dripped with scorn as she pursed her lips, “from the National Heritage, apparently, and Alison is letting her go through the house. Do you understand me?”
Blinking, it took a moment for her words to register. “She’s letting her take things out of the house,” the Captain said, vaguely alarmed.
“Yes,” Fanny exclaimed emphatically.
“What does that matter,” Thomas said. “This place could certainly do with clearing out.”
Pat pushed his glasses up his nose, and shrugged. “That’s exactly what I said, but Lady B insisted that everyone needed to know about it, so.”
“Oh, but this is a disaster,” the Captain said, thinking of the boxes of paraphernalia from his old regiment that were still up in the attic.
This woman, whoever she was, probably had her hands all over them as they spoke. No, it wouldn’t do. He’d have to give Alison a piece of his mind.
He gestured with his swagger-stick at Thomas. “Up, at the double,” he said, already rising from the bed himself.
Thomas sighed at him, and, half-way between irritation and fondness, muttered a soft “fie” under his breath. He uncrossed his legs, and slipped from the bed.
“Well done for raising the alarm, Fanny,” the Captain said, as he headed for the corridor.
Fanny nodded, lips pursed.
Beginning to strategize on how best to approach Alison, the Captain physically felt the dread of the moment pass away into nothingness. Like a ripple in the wake of a stone skipping along the surface of an otherwise still lake.
Stopping just beyond the door, the Captain allowed Pat - who gave him a reassuring clap on the shoulder as he passed - and Fanny to precede him down the corridor. As Thomas crossed the threshold, the Captain swallowed. He held out his arm in invitation.
Thomas smiled and slipped his through the crook of the Captain’s elbow.
Before they set off, the Captain leaned in quickly and pressed a kiss to Thomas’s cheek. He muttered, “thank you for—,” being there with me, “thank you.”
He cleared his throat self-consciously.
Thomas squeezed at his arm affectionately. “Come on,” he said, nodding at the receding backs of their compatriots. “We’ve got some filching interloper to see off, apparently.”
“That we do,” the Captain couldn’t quite contain a short laugh.
As he walked through the corridors of Button House with Thomas upon his arm, he felt curiously light. It was as if for his whole existence up to that point he’d been forced to carry an ever-present weight, a rock of enormous proportions welded between his shoulder blades like he was some sort of modern Atlas, and only now - and by most unlikely means, he thought - had he been relieved of this cumbersome burden.
Bright sunlight streamed in through large windows. It washed over the Captain, warm and pleasant and right.
He turned to look at Thomas, and his eyes crinkled at the corners.