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Things Unsaid

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Sullivan usually enjoys paperwork. There’s something comforting about the set structure and logical rules of case reports. It all makes sense in a way that humans, in his experience, rarely do. Compared with taking witness statements or interviewing suspects, he finds it almost therapeutic, usually.

So why can’t he focus on it today?

With a sigh, he caps his pen and leans back in his chair. There’s a restlessness he can’t seem to shake humming in his bones, making him fidget with his cufflinks and bounce his heel against the floor.

He glances over at the clock on the wall, marking the passing seconds with its ever-ticking hands. For two hours and nineteen minutes, he's been at his desk, and not once has anyone stopped by to distract him. No bosses demanding work, no subordinates needing instructions, no bored colleagues wanting to chat. He couldn't ask for more ideal working conditions.

It’s driving him insane.

He glances at his ashtray, pushed to one side of the desk to make room for the files and papers he’s been working with. The thought of a smoke break is enticing, but he didn’t bring any cigarettes. Sullivan only smokes in company, and never at work, so he only keeps it there for Valentine. And perhaps, if he’s honest, for the reminder of Valentine. Over the past week, he’s looked at it more often than he would ever admit.

He's startled from his thoughts by a knock on the door and hastily uncaps his pen. "Yes?" he calls out, beginning to write the next line of his report.

There’s a soft click as the door opens, but he doesn’t bother to look up until a familiar voice asks, “Are you busy?”

Sullivan’s eyes widen, and his head snaps up to find Valentine leaning casually against the door frame. Honestly, the man seems to be fundamentally incapable of standing up straight. There are deep shadows under his eyes, and Sullivan can almost feel his friend’s exhaustion. Even so, something in his chest relaxes at the sight of him, comfortingly familiar and reassuringly alive.

He gestures to the papers spread over the desk in front of him. “I’m always busy”, he lies, “But come in anyway.”

Valentine grins, pushing himself upright and closing the door behind him. A moment later, he’s settled into the chair opposite Sullivan, leaning his elbows on the desk like he belongs there.

“Glad to see you back in one piece”, Sullivan says dryly, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

Valentine gives him a lopsided grin. “Glad to see you too. It’s good to be home.”

“I’m not sure I’d call Scotland Yard ‘home’. And this isn’t even your office.”

Valentine scoffs and shakes his head. “You know what I mean.”

Sullivan isn’t entirely sure he does. Rationally, he supposes the man just means he’s happy to be back in London, but there’s an ambiguity to the phrasing that itches at his mind. A small, rebellious part of his brain insists he would very much like Valentine to see his office, or perhaps even him, as home. He really doesn’t want to dwell on why that is.

Valentine leans forward, craning his neck to see what Sullivan has been writing. “Big case?” he asks, nodding at the paperwork.

Sullivan pulls himself up taller in his seat to look down his nose. “Special Branch doesn’t take small cases.”

Valentine snorts. “Yeah, no tailing gangs of armed robbers through the gutters for a week like the rest of us. He fishes a crumpled cigarette packet from his jacket pocket and lights one, leaning back in the chair as he takes a drag.

Eyes on his paperwork, Sullivan reaches out blindly and pushes the empty ashtray over to him. “It’s hardly the moment to complain about not getting big cases, when you’ve only just got back from a major national operation”, he remarks. “How did it go, by the way? Did you manage to track down the culprits?”

Valentine grimaces. “Cold, damp, and too many hours of surveillance, but we got the whole gang in the end. I need a hot bath and a decent meal, but I thought I’d drop by here first to let you know I’m still alive.” His voice sounds rough, like he’s spent the past week living on bad coffee and cigarettes, and Sullivan is annoyed with himself for how irrationally attractive he finds it.

He looks up – can’t help himself, and then immediately regrets it. Valentine has loosened his tie, and the top button of his shirt is undone and showing above the knot. Sullivan fiddles with his pen, forcefully suppressing the desire to fix it for him. To lean in so close, he might even be able to feel the man's breath as he adjusts the silk, sliding the knot higher. And then, perhaps, moves his hands up to…

Except that he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. It would be far too big a risk to even consider, especially in the middle of Scotland Yard. He knows any chance he had of a relationship like that was sacrificed when he started this career. It’s not as if he ever had much hope to begin with.

He drags his gaze away, willing the heat to fade from his skin as he stares at the half-written notes before him. The words seem to have lost their meaning, dry and colourless compared with the vivid images in his mind. Still, he forces himself to resume writing.

On the periphery of his vision, he's acutely aware of Valentine quietly watching him work, his head resting on one fist and the lines of his face softened into an expression Sullivan can't read. Every now and again, he brings his cigarette to his lips, and each time, Sullivan finds his mind wandering further and further from the case report in front of him.

“So, did you miss me?”

Startled from his daze, Sullivan looks up sharply. He raises his eyebrows, willing his heart to stop racing as he bites down the yes that wants to be said. “Why, did you miss me?” he counters instead.

“Yeah, I missed you.” Valentine huffs a smoky laugh. “I’ve been craving decent company all week.”

A smile flickers at the edge of Sullivan’s lips. “Good to know.” He returns his gaze to his papers, pretending to read through his notes. Keeping his voice carefully light and casual, he asks, “In that case, would you like to go for a drink with me later?”

“Actually…” Valentine leans forward across the desk. Sullivan snaps his gaze back up, his heart rate rocketing once more. “...I was wondering if you wanted to come to my place this evening. That way, we can talk for as long as we want to, without worrying about anyone listening in.”

It’s an enticing prospect. Sullivan leans forward, face so close to his friend’s that he can taste the smoke from his breath in the air. “Don’t you have a case report to write?” he asks, trying to ignore the dangerous warmth spreading through him.

Valentine leans back with a groan that shouldn’t send that kind of shiver up Sullivan’s spine. “Let me have one night off!” he grumbles. “I’ll get it done tomorrow.”

Sullivan raises an eyebrow and smirks. “I don’t suppose that will hurt. Very well then, I’ll see you tonight.”

“Good.” Valentine suppresses a grin, taking one last drag before reluctantly stubbing out his cigarette. “I’d better leave you to your big Special Branch case”, he says, standing up at last.

“Go and get some rest; I don't want you falling asleep in the middle of our conversation later.” Sullivan hesitates then, watching him head for the door. There are a thousand more things he wants to say, emotions far too raw and dangerous to express. They jostle for attention, the words crowding his throat, but he swallows them down before they can reach his tongue. Still, he finds he can’t just let the man walk away.

Twirling his pen between his fingers to calm himself, he calls out, “Oh, and Valentine?”

Valentine pauses, his hand on the handle, and looks back. “Yeah?”

A half-smile tugs irresistibly at Sullivan’s lips. “It’s good to have you home.”

Valentine’s grin is so blinding, he has to look away to avoid the intensity of his eyes.

He hears, rather than sees, the door open and close as Valentine leaves. Only then does he finally relax, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly as he turns his attention back to his neglected case report.

Valentine's familiar presence, distracting though it was, has soothed something in him. The restlessness of earlier has been replaced by a sense of rightness, as though the jumbled pieces of a jigsaw puzzle have been fitted neatly into place. Valentine is back where he belongs, and this evening, Sullivan plans to take across his best bottle of wine for them to drink while they enjoy each other’s company.

But for now, there’s paperwork to be done, and Sullivan is content to focus on that.