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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.

Chapter Text

The Captain spent the next week resolutely sleeping alone in his own bed. At the apex of this lonesome, lonesome period, with his usual level of irritability raised by three or four notches, it was almost a relief when Thomas at last took the initiative that he was pathologically incapable of seizing, and wandered into his room for the night.

He hadn’t even noticed his presence until the next morning, either, when the sudden loss of warmth as Thomas attempted to remove himself had brought him into stinging wakefulness. 

Thomas had frozen next to him. 

His eyes still closed, the Captain had sniffed and rolled over onto his side, and, facing away from Thomas, he had waited with bated breath for him to leave.

Over the next month, this became a semi-regular (then a regular) occurrence, his nights with Thomas merging into his usual routine. On the few occasions when Thomas, for whatever reason, chose to be somewhere else, the Captain was left with a feeling of wrongness in his insides that wriggled unpleasantly beneath his skin.

The fact that Thomas’s presence was quickly becoming a necessity was… not something he wanted to think upon too closely. Yet, his growing need for the other man was inescapable. He felt as if he was losing his mind, slowly, by turns.

The brush of a hand over his epaulettes. Long fingers trailing down his chest. A wiry arm across his stomach. 

The curve of a tight-clad calf against the standard-issue green of his trousers. 

With each of these nightly actions on Thomas’s part, the Captain felt something building up inside him, coiling tighter and tighter. 

And, yet, he allowed it.

It was a state of affairs for which he had no explanation.

He could turn Thomas out at any moment. He knew that. Give him a good cuff ‘round the ear. Would probably do him some good, all in all. Teach him what happened when one overstepped the bounds. Yet, he didn’t. 

Instead, he continued to perform this lie. This act. He continued to pretend that he wasn’t a participant in this—, this thing that was occurring between them. He couldn’t put a name to it, but, even for him, it was impossible to deny that it was happening.

What was worse, though, infinitely, infinitely worse, was that it was beginning the creep out of the bedroom. The Captain found himself looking, and had quickly realised that he couldn’t stop himself now that he had started. 

It all began when Thomas was doing one of his poetry readings. 

The Captain had rolled his eyes, as was his wont. From the first verse, however, he’d found his attention suddenly arrested.

Not by the poetry.

Goodness, no.

By Thomas’s hands, of all things. The way he gestured with them, his long, dexterous fingers clenching and curling in the air. Watching him, the Captain had been struck by the memory of those hands touching him. 

Just that morning one had been spread out perilously low, just under his thick belt.

Feeling quite wild, he’d spent at least an hour, skin hot and tight, his toes curling with tightly held frustration, mentally pleading with Thomas to either move his hand away or to please god, move it down.

And yet, he was quite certain, even now, that if Thomas’s hand had moved those extra few inches, he would have been off the bed and out of his room quick enough to break the land speed record. Bad knees or not.

At what must have been the poem’s denouement, Thomas had turned to the side, and the Captain’s eyes had flicked, quite against his will, to Thomas’s backside.

He’d looked away quickly, suppressing the ‘good lord’ - how, in all these years, had he never noticed just how tight and fitting his breeches were - before it could leave his mouth. But the action had already been taken, the impulse ceded to, and there was no going back from such a thing.

Swallowing thickly, he’d forced himself to stand behind the couch until Thomas’s reading was done.

When silence once again filled the air, the Captain, voice tight, had said, “well, now that tosh is finally over with-”

Thomas gasped. “Tosh? Tosh? How dare you, sir.”

The Captain’s hand clenched around his swagger-stick, and he tilted his chin up. “Well, what else would I call it? Long-winded drivel?”

Thomas gasped again, and his hand flew up to his chest. He was getting more affronted by the second. The Captain’s lips - almost against his will - curled up at one corner.

Blessed familiar ground, he thought.

Thomas took a few enraged steps forward and circled the couch until he was quite perilously close. The Captain’s skin prickled, and, leaning away, he brought his swagger-stick up between them.

“What would you know of art, of—, of poetry?” Thomas said, with such a grand, condescending air about him that it made the Captain’s hackles rise. “You, sir, are nothing but a brute! An oaf of the highest order, with no taste or refinement whatsoever,” he finished, haughtily.

In the years following the Great War, he’d had well-thumbed copies of Owen and Sassoon permanently on the cupboard beside his bed. He’d never mention such a thing to Thomas, though.

The Captain sniffed. “Why, Thorne? Because I’m not some over-privileged, lounging upstart?”

“Yeah, you tell him,” Julian piped up from a nearby armchair, only half-interested. Nevertheless satisfied at the back-up, the Captain’s moustache twitched.

Thomas had begun to shake, just slightly, and his eyes were glistening at the corners. 

The Captain was beginning to think about backing down from the offensive - it was best not to push him too far, or he’d end up in the lake again - when Thomas, fists clenched at the end of those ridiculous flowing sleeves, ground out the words, “you uptight, overstuffed, pompous, block-headed -”

The Captain reeled back, feeling a fresh wave of irritation hit him. He gestured at Thomas with his swagger-stick. “You impertinent—, Why I should have you over my knee,” he said, the words leaving him before he quite realised the implications.

Thomas’s eyes widened, indignant, though his ears had reddened in a tell-tale manner. Teeth gritted, he took a step closer, bringing them almost nose to nose. “Not if I have y-”

“Guys, guys, would you stop, please,” Pat said, hands held up placatingly.

Thomas and the Captain stared at one another. 

The Captain narrowed his eyes, tilting his chin up stubbornly. A moment later, Thomas broke, and, as he turned away, the Captain wasn’t sure whether he felt disappointment or victory at the quickness of his surrender.

“Well, seen as no one here appreciates my talent, I shall be in the library.” Thomas’s voice was predictably tight with emotion. Before he left, he spared the Captain a haughty, parting look, and said, “good day, sir.”

Then, head held high, he strode off.

No stomach for the fight, that was his problem, the Captain thought. Give him a bit of difficulty and he wilted like a Willow in mid-November.

“Yes, that’s it. Retreat, Thorne. Retreat like the bally coward you are,” the Captain said to his back.

Thomas didn’t respond, exiting the room in silence.

The Captain tucked his swagger-stick beneath his arm and bounced back on his heels.

“Was that necessary, Cap,” Pat asked, as he sat back down.

“Well,” the Captain said gruffly, drawing the word out in his discomfort.

He stayed for a little while longer, standing stiffly behind the couch. Then, with the flimsy excuse that he had duties to attend to trailing behind him, he beat his own retreat.

That night, the Captain had almost expected that Thomas wouldn’t turn up. That perhaps that’d be the end of it all. 

When Thomas appeared almost an hour later than usual, he felt strangely relieved. He couldn’t quite contain a smile, his moustache twitching upwards as Thomas - elbows slightly more prone to digging in - settled himself down indifferently. 

The Captain found he could forgive the impertinence quite easily when Thomas slotted against him like that.

**

He had to speak to someone. Someone with experience of these sorts of things.

The Captain had spent a lot of time, recently, staring unseeingly up at the ceiling of his room, wondering, more than anything else, what on earth Thomas was getting out of this—, this—, this unspoken arrangement of theirs.

But the answer was quite beyond him, and, his need for advice growing day on day, he eventually cornered Pat in the kitchen.

He bounced nervously on his heels.

“Would you just,” Pat said, shifting in his seat. The Captain stilled. “You’ve been standing there for the last minute, staring at me, and honestly it’s a bit unnerving. Just, say what you need to say, Cap, eh?”

“Well,” the Captain said, turning to stare at the sink.

“Come on, mate.”

He looked back at Pat, at his kind, expectant face, and, as much as he possibly could, screwed his courage to the sticking place.

“Imagine, if you will, Patrick, two dogs,” Pat shot him a look. “Bear with me, please,” the Captain said, and Pat relented. 

“So. These two dogs. They’ve known one another for a very long time, though they’ve never been particularly close. Out of nowhere, the second dog begins to—, to,” the Captain huffed, and then, borrowing from something he’d heard Michael say, pressed on.

“The second dog begins to hang out with the first dog on a—, a more regular basis. He starts following the first dog around, and he goes with him into his, ah, his kennel at night. Now, the—, the first dog is finding that he,” the Captain cleared his throat. “He’s finding that his feelings towards the second dog have… developed,” he nodded stiffly, “as a result of all this new attention. But he’s still not sure of the other dog’s intentions, as it were.”

He looked at Pat, eyebrows raised expectantly.

Pat fixed his glasses. “Right, so,” he said, sounding unsure, “the one dog doesn’t know whether the other dog likes him or not?”

The Captain nodded. “What should he do, Patrick?”

Pat watched him, considering. “Is this from a movie or something? Has someone had Disney on?”

“Dis— What, oh, er, yes—, yes. Disney,” the Captain said, pronouncing the unfamiliar word carefully. “That’s it.”

“Right, well,” Pat paused, eyeing him. “He should just tell him how he feels, of course. I mean,” Pat’s mouth turned down at the corner, his thick moustache drooping, “honesty is the best policy, after all, and maybe if Carol’d told me about her and bloody Morris-”

“What if he can’t,” the Captain asked quickly, cutting Pat off before he could get going.

Pat’s frown deepened. “Then he either needs to find a way to tell him that can still be denied later, or he needs to wait the other guy out, and let him be the one who does the confessing,” he said, sounding a bit perturbed at the interruption.

“Hmm… war of attrition. I like the way you think,” the Captain said, placing his swagger-stick beneath his arm. “Yes. That could work.”

“Yeah,” Pat said, smiling in a slightly bewildered manner as he got up from his seat. “Food-Club today, you coming along?”

“Hm. Ah, yes, of course,” the Captain said, following him out of the room. “Lead on, Patrick.”

Yes, the Captain thought, with a certain amount of relief. It was a plan, which was more than he’d had up to now.

**

It didn’t take him long to put said plan into action.

That night, he allowed Thomas to do everything as usual. Then, about an hour or so later, feigning sleep, the Captain carefully reversed their positions so that Thomas was now on his back. 

He settled himself upon Thomas’s shoulder, face turned into his neck, and, avoiding the gunshot wound, the Captain placed his hand upon his breast. Thomas drew in a breath, chest rising, and, when he released it, a small, low noise left his throat.

Is he awake?

The Captain waited with bated breath to be thrown off, or to be pulled closer. He had no idea which outcome was most likely.

Opening one eye, he tried to peek a glance up at Thomas’s face. He couldn’t see anything from this angle, though. Well, anything other than the long, shapely line of his neck.

As his eyes traced down Thomas’s throat to where it disappeared under his dark green cravat, the Captain’s tongue poked out and gently swiped at his bottom lip. He closed his eyes, suddenly acutely embarrassed at his inability to control himself.

Sheer indulgence, he thought crossly.

Huffing through his nose, the Captain caught the faint scent of cologne, still clinging to Thomas’s skin even after the passing of two centuries. 

Distracted once more, he tilted his head a fraction, chasing the smell of cedarwood and bergamot without thought. The tip of his nose grazed against the skin of Thomas’s neck, pressing just below his jaw. In response to his surreptitious investigation, he felt Thomas shiver - very slightly - beneath his palm.

The Captain froze.

Then, his moustache twitched up into a smile.

Success on the first salvo, he thought, crowingly triumphant.

Chapter Text

“We’ve got catch-up, Cap. Just saying. So it doesn't really matter if I don’t make it on time,” Alison said, rounding the corner that led to the Television room.

“That’s beside the point. It starts at thirteen-hundred hours, Alison.”

That’s the problem with this modern lot, the Captain thought. No bally sense of punctuality.

Reaching the threshold of the Television room, the Captain stopped just past the doorway, arrested by the sight of Thomas pacing to-and-fro before him. Truth be told, he’d spent the past month avoiding being alone in Thomas’s presence during the daylight hours. Inexplicably, he felt as if he would be transgressing some invisible boundary - breaking with an unspoken contract - if he were to allow such a thing to pass.

Seeing him there, with only the thin buffer of Alison to expiate any tension, the Captain wanted to turn sharply on his heel and leave the documentary for another day. With a stubborn tilt of his chin, he ignored the sharp feeling in his chest and forced himself not to. 

To leave would have been ridiculous, and he couldn’t help but feel irrationally angry (with himself, with Thomas) that he had, even for a moment, considered doing so.

This must be known, which, being kept close,” Thomas muttered to himself, facing away, not yet aware of his presence. “Might move more grief to hide than hate to utter love.”1.

“Yeah, but we’ve got catch—, oh, alright Thomas,” Alison said, angling herself past the Captain so she could get into the room.

Thomas whipped around, hand falling from its contemplative position against his chin.

“Thorne,” the Captain said, tapping the end of his swagger-stick against the side of his thigh. “The Television is mine for the next two hours,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Breaking Enigma is on at thirteen-hundred. So out with you,” he swiped his swagger-stick in the direction of the door. “At the double.”

Alison pulled a face at him. “Or, you could stay. He’s got dibs on the TV, not the whole room.”

There was an awful spike of dread in his chest at the prospect.

“It’s fine, Alison. After eighty-odd years, one gets used to such uncouth behaviour,” Thomas said, heading for the door with a mournful air.

In an attempt to hide his relief, the Captain opted to stand next to the side-table which held the remote, eyebrows raised expectantly. He would not be distracted, he decided. Not even by the blurry figure of Thomas - as seen from the corner of his eye - standing just beyond the door, hand-wringing.

Back straight, he kept his expectant gaze firmly fixed upon Alison. She sighed, and then plucked up the remote, switching the television to the correct channel.

“Excellent. Thank you,” the Captain said, brusquely.

With no small measure of excitement, he settled down upon the sofa, eyes already firmly fixed to monochrome footage. “Ooh, that’s good,” he muttered to himself, as a Cruiser Mk. II rolled across the screen.

“May I speak with you,” Thomas said to Alison as the pair of them left the room, voices fading as they moved out of earshot.

The Captain, twisting around surreptitiously to watch them go, couldn’t help but frown at their closeness.

**

A few days later, the Captain was walking past the library when he heard Thomas and Alison talking quietly to one another. He stopped and quickly ducked out of sight.

Standing a few feet from the door, he strained his ears.

“I can’t take much more of this,” Thomas said, in a particularly dramatic manner. “I’m at a loss for what to do.”

“Have you tried, you know,” Alison said. 

The Captain considered poking his head through the wall to see what she was doing, but refrained, assessing that the risk of discovery was too high. 

“You jest, surely,” Thomas said. “You know how he is. Push him too far and he’s like to avoid me till the end of time, the stubborn old goat.”

Alison let out a frustrated noise. “If you don’t say something, Thomas, you’ll never know. You’ll be stuck in this limbo forever. Literally forever. What’s worse?”

Thomas sighed.

“You were never this reticent with me,” Alison said, before pausing for a moment. “Bloody wish you had been.”

“Alison,” Thomas said, half-scandalised, half-amused.

After a brief moment of silence, he began again, sounding suddenly serious once more. “Ah, ‘tis different between two fellows though, you understand. Why in my day-”

“Ooh, what’s going on,” Kitty said, appearing over the Captain’s right shoulder. 

He jerked upright. “Nothing, just—,” she looked at him expectantly, “just stretching the old quads, you know. Must keep in shape,” he said, bending one knee into a lunge in demonstration. He winced at the loud click.

She clasped her hands together and swayed from side-to-side, unheeding of his grimace. “Have you seen Alison?”

“Er—, upstairs, passed her on the landing a moment ago,” he said, quickly, as he awkwardly straightened his knee out.

“Thank you,” Kitty said, smiling in a manner that almost made him regret the lie.

He nodded stiffly, and she flounced off, voluminous skirts bouncing around her. He watched until she was out of view, and then went back to listening.

“... have to help me, of course,” Thomas said.

“As long as you’re sure you’re not doing that thing again. Y’know, you do have a habit of misinterpret-”

“I am not misinterpreting anything. I’ve narrated the events as they took place,” Thomas said. “I ask you, what other interpretation is there?”

“Alright, alright,” Alison said, relenting. “You’ll have to figure out how to get him out there and at the right time as well. My phone will be on a timer, so if you miss it, you miss it.”

“I’ll manage,” Thomas said.

“And if my phone gets lost—, well, there’ll be hell to pay, just so y’know.”

Feeling the conversation coming to a close, and fearing being caught eavesdropping, the Captain slipped away quietly.

What on earth are they up to, he thought to himself, entirely bewildered.

**

For the next few days, the Captain was on edge.

Pat, far too perceptive for his own good, clearly knew that something was wrong. He’d begun shooting him mildly concerned looks and had even, on one occasion, attempted to pull him aside for a ‘chat’, which the Captain had deftly avoided.

It all came to a head a week after he'd overheard Thomas and Alison in the library when Thomas, instead of climbing in with him as usual, walked around to his side of the bed and shook at his shoulder until, blinkingly, he was forced to open his eyes.

He thought about refusing, of course. Feigning sleep until Thomas gave up. He knew how stubborn Thomas could be, though, and he knew how ridiculous it would’ve been to lie there, seemingly insensible, but quite obviously wide awake.

“Come with me,” Thomas said quietly, gripping his arm and urging him up off the bed.

“What’s going on? Are there—, is the house under attack?” 

“There’s something I wish to show you,” Thomas said.

“What—, At this hour, Thorne? What’re you playing at man,” the Captain said. He rolled his swagger-stick nervously between his fingers. “Can’t it wait till tomorrow?”

There was suddenly nothing he wanted more than to sit down on his bed, and never leave his room again. Perhaps the plague victims had the right idea all along. Perhaps he should retire to the cellar and—, no.

No situation would ever be dire enough to merit that response.

“Everyone else is asleep,” Thomas said, eyebrows raised as if he was missing something obvious.

“Which is what I should be doing. Now, will you let go,” the Captain tried to shrug him off, but Thomas’s grip tightened in his jacket.

“Captain,” he said. “You don’t have to come with me, but know that if you don’t all of this,” his gaze flicked to the bed, and then back to him, “all of this will cease.”

The Captain’s throat constricted. “I—,” he croaked, but couldn’t seem to find any more words.

“I know you know of that to which I refer. Within this room you are as affectionate as any,” Thomas brought a hand up, and gently grazed a knuckle down his cheek. Caught between moving into the touch and jerking away, the Captain strenuously remained still. “But beyond—, We can’t keep carrying on like this, we—,” Thomas gave a shuddering sigh, and his hand dropped to his side.

The Captain thought, then, of loneliness, and he knew that he couldn’t bear to return to such a state. He felt quite wretched at the mere prospect.

“I’ll—,” the Captain cleared his throat. “Alright, let’s go then.”

Thomas nodded, smiling with an emotion that the Captain couldn’t quite place. 

Turning, Thomas led him out of his room, through the corridors, and into the grounds of Button House.

**

The Captain looked up. 

Just over half-full, the moon was still bright enough to give them light to walk by as Thomas led him along the outskirts of the forest. It wasn’t long before they arrived beside the lake. 

Thomas proffered out his hand, and, with great hesitation, the Captain took it. Using it to reel him in, he placed the Captain’s hand upon his shoulder.

The Captain raised a dubious eyebrow.

Taking up his other hand, Thomas repeated the action, and then they were nose to nose and the Captain couldn’t stop himself from swallowing convulsively.

Looking him directly in the eye with a note of challenge, Thomas smoothed his palms down to rest at the Captain’s waist.

He shivered. Whether at the intimacy of the moment or the chill in the air, he couldn’t parse.

“Move with me,” Thomas said, voice low and serious even as he chewed on his lip nervously. “Would you—, please?”

The Captain didn’t understand until, a moment later, music began to emanate from a point on their right. Glancing over, he saw the dull glow of Alison’s Telephone, the little device peeking up from the grass at the base of a large Oak.

That minx of a woman, the Captain thought, remembering the conversation he had overheard from outside the library.

Thomas, telegraphing his intentions, took a slow step backward. A second out of sync, the Captain nevertheless managed to follow his lead, and, as they moved across the short grass, their bodies inched closer, until Thomas’s head was right beside his own.

“‘Tis a most pleasant evening, is it not?” Thomas muttered into his ear, sending a warm thrill down his spine. 

Mhm,” the Captain said, not quite trusting his ability to speak in such a precarious situation.

Being so close to someone - to Thomas - was quite a heady feeling. It was similar to their nightly rendezvous, but also different in one large, unavoidable way. They were out in the open, and there was nothing to hide behind. 

For either of them.

He felt almost dizzy with it. Non-existent blood rushing to his non-existent head and making his cheeks and neck burn red. 

“Have you done this before?”

“Danced,” the Captain asked, bewildered.

“With another—, how would you say it—, with another chap,” Thomas said, with an ease that the Captain envied.

“I—, no.” The Captain swallowed. “No, I haven’t.”

He’d danced with a few women in his younger days. Always at the urging of others. Prodding comments that he would surrender before in a bid to save face. Those women, he’d spun them around the dancehall with a half-smile on his face, feeling disconnected and weary on the inside.

Thomas smiled. “Almost eighty years past your time, and yet there are still new experiences to be had. There’s something wondrous in that, I find.”

“Past my time? In my bally prime,” the Captain muttered tersely, and Thomas gave a low laugh.

It was true, though, he supposed, and all he could feel in response to that was a sudden sadness, accompanied by the knowledge that when he’d had his chance he’d let it (all of it) slip him by. An image of Lieutenant Havers was suddenly before him, his dear face as handsome as the last time he’d laid eyes upon him, and the Captain’s chest ached dully at the closely coveted memory.

He said none of this to Thomas, who continued to manoeuvre them both around with all the grace befitting a Romantic.

It’s too much, the Captain thought, pressing his lips together. Entirely too much.

He felt a sudden, unexpected kinship with Alison. 

He’d barely paid any attention whatsoever to Thomas’s attempts at courting her. Now, though, he found that he had a new appreciation for what the poor woman had gone through. 

Having Thomas Thorne’s attention. 

Well. 

It meant having the whole of his attention. He didn’t do things by halves. He wasn’t that sort of man, and the Captain could feel all of that focus, and all of that feeling, unadulterated, concentrated upon him, and him alone

Frankly, it made him want to lean down and hide his face in Thomas’s shoulder.

“What are we doing,” the Captain said, the words - barely above a whisper - left him on a breath.

Looking over Thomas’s shoulder, he could see the still surface of the lake. In the light of the half-moon, it had taken on the quality of burnished silver, and looked for all the world like a gigantic mirror. He may not be a poet but, he supposed, thinking briefly of Robin, one didn’t have to be to appreciate a sight such as that. It gave the whole world a quality of soothing unreality.

Quite unexpectedly, the Captain felt a sense of calmness steal over him, an inner-peace the likes of which he’d never experienced before, in life or in death. He felt curiously removed from the state of conflict that had ruled his existence for time immemorial.

In a word, he felt quiet.

He knew at that moment that he had to do something. Pulling back from Thomas until they were face-to-face, their noses brushing, he slid his hands from Thomas’s shoulders and up to his neck with a sharp breath. 

His phantom heart began to beat loudly in his ears.

Wonderingly, he cradled Thomas’s jaw in both hands, and, his thumbs stroking back-and-forth just below Thomas’s ears, he felt a small thrill run through him at the sensation of scraping stubble.

Hanging on the precipice, he had one final moment of hesitation.

Then, he tilted his chin up and kissed Thomas upon the lips.

The Captain’s world tilted around that glorious point of contact, and he felt something inside of him click into place.

This is—, this is right, the Captain thought, with a fragile yet building sense of euphoric wonder. Radiating out from a point at the centre of his chest, that feeling of rightness - of everything being as it should be, finally - enveloped his whole body, consuming him from head to foot.

Buffeted by emotion, he felt all at once as if he could laugh, laugh up at the sky, and as if he could cry out in heaving, destructive sobs.

Yet, he did neither. Instead, he simply abandoned himself to the feeling of Thomas’s mouth, smooth and soft, moving against his. If there was any part of him that still doubted whether Thomas returned his affections, it was entirely banished in the face of such an ardent display. 

When Thomas’s hands tightened at his waist, the Captain couldn’t help but revel in the sensation. He pulled Thomas closer, winding his fingers into his hair. 

Sliding an arm around his waist, Thomas groaned into his mouth, and the Captain’s breath stuttered in his throat. He felt something surge in him at the sound, something hot and desperate.

Thomas,” the Captain gasped, the word torn from his lungs.

Thomas moaned, and the Captain, fingers tightening in his hair, desperately chased the sound. As Thomas’s tongue stroked ever-so-slowly over his, the Captain, no longer able to control himself, began to pant.

“Please,” the Captain said, raw and incoherent, barely a whisper. Thomas slid one of his hands up the middle of the Captain’s back, and he arched into the firm, grounding touch. 

Unbidden, the thought of Thomas’s hands moving south down the planes of his back to grab roughly at his backside entered into the Captain’s mind. Lust suffused him, and the sensation of it was so powerful, so utterly overwhelming, that he tore his mouth from Thomas’s. 

Leaning down, gasping, he pressed his face into Thomas’s neck.

“Will you just—,” the Captain stopped. “I need-”

Thomas held him quietly, cradling the back of his neck, and the Captain released a shuddering sigh. Desperately pulling on reserves of composure, he pulled back, clearing his throat as he went.

He flicked a look at Thomas’s face and saw a knowing sort of understanding in his eyes.

Thomas, slightly breathless, hair askew, proffered his arm. “Fancy a turn about the garden?” 

After a surreal moment of consideration, the Captain tucked his arm neatly into the crook of Thomas’s elbow. “Lead on,” he said, clearing his throat.

There was still a roughness to his voice, and he saw Thomas’s eyes darken for a moment in response. The emotion passed quickly, though, and they began their turn. The nighttime air was refreshingly chill as they perambulated around the lake, winding along the outskirts of the forest. 

Eventually, arms still linked, they found their way back to the house.

"It was one of your lot that said 'discretion is the better part of valour', Thomas. Not mine," the Captain said, phasing through the front door.

"One of my lot? One of my lot? It was Shakespeare, man," Thomas said, exasperated. "Good god, you philistine-"

Hearing a loud, drawn-out snort, the Captain raised his hand for quiet. Thomas quirked an eyebrow, then peeked his head around the common room doorframe.

"'Tis just Robin," he said, turning back. The Captain hushed him. "What-"

"At least until we're out of earshot," the Captain said, quietly pleading.

Thomas paused, then silently offered his arm again. The Captain took it, relieved. Traversing the corridors, they once more picked up the thread of their conversation as they passed by the kitchen.

Just across the threshold of his room, the Captain stopped and turned around. “Surely a true gentleman would escort me to the door, and then take his leave?”

“Fie! What do you know of being a gentleman, sir,” Thomas said lightly, voice pitched low in deference to the Captain's nerves.

“A damn sight more than you, it would seem,” the Captain raised both eyebrows.

“Hmm,” Thomas's eyes twinkled. “You label me a rogue, do you. Well,” he took one of the Captain’s hands in his and raised it to his lips. “Perhaps I should act like one, then,” he said, placing a delicate kiss upon the back of his hand.

Lips still touching his skin, Thomas looked up at him with promise-filled eyes.

The Captain drew in an unsteady breath. He could feel the blush hot upon his cheeks and god help him if Thomas ever decided to take public advantage of his propensity to colour at even the slightest provocation. He would be done for, as sure as the French at Dunkirk.

Thomas reluctantly pulled away, back straightening as he stood. “Though,” he said, with a hint of amusement, “perhaps such things would be better saved for another time.”

There was a paradoxical flutter of commingled disappointment and relief in the Captain’s chest.

He wanted. 

Oh, how he wanted

And yet, he couldn’t help but hold on by a thread to the old ideas, to respectability and decorum, even as they became coarse and brittle in his hands. Feeling quite grateful that Thomas - in pulling back when he had - had allowed him to do so, the Captain cleared his throat, and nodded distractedly in the affirmative.

Thomas smiled. He led him by the hand to his bed, and the Captain trailed after him with ease. Perhaps such a thing should’ve been daunting in light of the night's activities, but he found there was a curious lack of trepidation within him.

In the darkness, the Captain laid himself down with careful efficiency. Thomas reclined beside him, limbs casually spread over the sheets as he languorously, effortlessly, drew the Captain into his embrace.

Chapter Text

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.

And again.

And again.

“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.

Julian snorted.

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.