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A Bureau Needs A Key

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"Goddamnit!"

"What's wrong?" Mike asked his wife as she stormed through the kitchen, checking if anyone else was present as she went.

"He's gonna be insufferable now," she replied as she dropped a letter down in front of him.

Mike moved aside his half eaten breakfast in order to study it.

"It's a key," he said, question in his voice as he upturned the envelope without bothering to actually read the letter.

"Yes, thank you Mike."

Alison sat down with a thud, teeth grinding as she internally debated the merit of honesty over the desire for an easy life.

"Ohhhh," Mike murmered as he finally read the letter, "It's our key."

"Yeah, some little bugger stole it." Ripping the note from her husbands hands, Alison reread the words in the vane hope that somehow they'd be different this time.


To whom it may concern,
I'm sorry to say, I think my brother may have taken this key from you.
Hope no trouble was caused in its absense.
Regretably,
Emma Nobel


"Noble my ass." Alison frowned as she studied the, surprisingly formal, writing.

"Not much explanation was there?" Mike asked, eating again now. "I mean, shouldn't she have promised us that her son would be punished, that he's seen the error of his was etc et-"

"Brother."

"What?"

"Brother, not son, did you even read it?"

"Yeahhhh," Mike protested slowly, drawing out the single syllable as long as possible. "Son, brother... I mean... Point still stands right? It's weird"

"The Captain's gonna have a field day with this you know." Alison said back. "He moaned for ages about opening the house up for tours, especially school children. Fanny too."

"One tour..." Mike pointed out, unhelpfully. "And it was just a favour to the headmaster."

"Yes, I know, his brother's a builder, we needed to make good impression. I told the Captain all of that, but still he and Fanny kept on and on about it. Said a bunch of screaming kids would wreck the place."

Mike scoffed as he pointed to the cracking plaster on the walls and the crumbling window frames.

"That they'd be loud and get in the way..."

Another scoff, this time aimed, with a nod of his head, at the ghost board.

"And that they'd take all of our stuff."

"It's just a key."

"Like that will matter," Alison argued back. "I'm just gonna put it back, hope no ones noticed it was missing."

"Put it back where?"

Alison slumped as she picked up the key to study it. "I don't know," she whined hopelessly. "Do you remember seeing it anywhere?"

"No."

Another extended whine.

"Alright, alright, we can figure this out. What rooms did the kids go in?"

"All of them Mike," Alison responded stone faced, "It was a tour."

"Our bedroom?" Mike asked, horrified.

"Mikeeeee-"

"Okay, Okay."

After sitting in silence and staring at the key for far longer than was helpful Alison threw herself upright with another groan, "This is useless, maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe this isn't like Fanny's dog, or or or, Kitty's statue -"

"Or the Captains bomb?"

"Or the Captains bloody bomb. Maybe no one even remembers this key. Maybe it wasn't important and it's just somethin-"

"Oh what a pretty pendant!" Kitty exclaimed, sweeping into the room and making Alison jump.

"Jesus Kitty, how long have you been there?"

"Not long," the ghost giggled innocently as Mike slowly rose from his seat.

"Am I good to go then? Nothing I can really do here?" Mike said cautiously.

Alison bounced in frustration, "Yes fine, go." She turned to Kitty again slowly. "It's a key Kitty, not a pendant."

"But it's so pretty."

"I suppose it is pretty ornate for a key," she said back, studying the metal in her hands for the first time. The key was old, she could tell that much, though, unfortunately, not old enough to predate all of the ghosts still in residence.

"It's got a lovely pattern on it, perhaps we could make it into a locket?"

The key did, in fact, have a very detailed and well crafted pattern etched into the head. The more Alison studied it, the less optimistic she was that this was a forgotten relic, care had obviously been taken to preserve it. She could only hope, now, that the key didn't belong to either Fanny or th-

"Oh, the Captain!" Kitty exclaimed.

Fear shot through Alison for a moment, hiding the key in her armpit as she frantically looked around for the one ghost she most definitely didn't want to appear.

"I knew I recognised it," Kitty continued.

"Of course," Alison muttered to herself, slumping in defeat as a feeling of dread started to build in her stomach.

"The Captain has a bureau with that same pattern. It's in his room. That's why he wanted that room after Lady Button passed away. I think it was his before, when he lived here durin-"

Kitty kept up her walking commentary as Alison begrudgingly dragged herself to the Captain's bedroom.


-x-


The Captain had returned to his room hours ago yet still he felt the restless pull of a sleep that continued to evade him. He was no stranger to this cycle, so often his mind screamed for unconsciousness even as it subsequently refused to give in to it.

Listening to the sounds of the house the Captain toyed with the idea of rejoining his companions. It would be easy, he supposed, to slink back into the crowd and lose himself amongst the bickering of his housemates. Yet he couldn't bring himself to stand.

His walk had helped to clear his frazzled mind, the conversation with Fanny that had preceeded it, even more so. He'd found reassurance, then, that he hadn't expected. So then, as he thought back over the events of the day he couldn't quite pin down the feelings that were weighing him down.

He'd always been used to loneliness, having lived a life full of longing and restraint, those feelings didn't die when he did. Then again, neither did the goodness he'd found for himself. For now, it seemed, he'd also let himself embrace the chaos of the house, the begrudging friendships he'd formed there and the caring they'd instilled in him. He thought about Alison, how she brought her own chaos to the ghosts existence but how she was, actually, rather well meaning and kind. They're really very lucky to have found her as their mediator to the real world, many others would not have been half as indulgent.

Indeed, he thought to himself as he stared up at the ceiling, nothing should have changed today to make him so morose. In the scheme of the last several years nothing had changed, nothing in his future looked any different. He was exactly where he was yesterday, exactly where he was supposed to be today and is on course for exactly where he would always have ended up tomorrow. Yet, he sighed, tilting his head towards the small, scant, furnishings of the room, mere props from a several lifetimes ago, he felt like his whole world had been upturned.

The Captain closed his eyes as he berated himself. 'You know exactly what's changed', the voice in his head demanded. He opened his eyes again, focusing back on the small item which had held his focus all day.

'Nothing to be done,' he reasoned to himself. 'Have to just pick yourself up, old chap, as you always do! Pick yourself up and keep moving forward.'

Yet, still he laid there in the silence, waiting for nothing at all.


-x-


"What's this?" Was the first thing out of the Captains mouth as he walked into his quarters. Having heard his exclamation as she was walking passed, Fanny entered the room shortly after him, her head raised curiously.

"Sorry," Alison replied, "Just a bit of a clean up. Doing the whole house."

"You've not touched my room I hope," Fanny said back, scandalised.

"Not yet, its on my to do list."

"Well you can cross it off at once!"

The Captain ignored the bickering as he examined the room, making sure everything was in its place. Fanny watched Alison watch the Captain as he moved about the room, assessing every detail of the familiar set up. His hands glided over surfaces he could no longer touch as he stepped across the floorboards he no longer made creak. Holding her breath Alison watched as he drew closer to the bureau in the corner of the room. 

She followed his movements pensively, holding her breath and pleading for things to go her way just this once. Eyes locked on the officer and breath held tight, she stood in silence, willing herself to appear small or, better yet invisible. Hoping against hope, right up until the moment he suddenly went rigid, standing to attention as his eyes landed on the key.

"What's this?" The Captain asked again, quieter now.

Of course he noticed, Alison thought with a roll of her eyes. "Oh that," she said as nonchalantly as she could manage. "I'm sorry, I didn't know where it went, I must have knocked it off while dusting."

"Knocked it off?" The Captain asked, seeming much more pensive than she'd assumed he'd be.

"Yes, must have dropped onto the floor or something, I found it again though. No need to panic."

"Where exactly did you find it?" Something in the Captain's voice made Fanny look up, she took a step closer to the man who had yet to move.

Lost in her own lie, Alison didn't notice the change as she answered his question. "Under the bureau, thats why I put it back up there. Assumed thats where I knocked it from? Patterns match."

Alison kept her voice and her posture as carefree as possible, she swung her arms in the general direction of the wayward key as the Captain spun to look at her. Alison held her breath again, waiting for the fall out. 

"Yes, quite..." The Captain said eventually, rolling on the balls of his feet as he propped his swagger stick under his arm.

"Okayyyy," Alison said, drawing out the word. She finally let out her breath, hesitating to take her eyes off of the Captain, even as relief mingled with a desperation to leave before he changed his mind. "Well, lots to do so I'm gonna go. All good here?"

"Yes, thank you Alison."

With a final nod Alison turned and all but sprinted from the room. For her part Fanny had stood as still as the Captain, she watched him for a moment as he stared towards the bureau, oblivious to her presense. He kept staring even as he finally began to move, not taking his eyes off of it even as he stepped back and sank down to sit on the bed.

"Are you Okay Captain?" Fanny asked after a moments deliberation.

Shocked from his stupor at the sound of his companions voice, the Captain turned his head slightly to glance at her, his eyes wider than she had ever seen them.

"Yes," he all but whispered. A cough. "Yes quite." He said finally, clutching his stick as he stood again to turn to her fully, in body at least, face still angled, as it was, towards the bureau.

"Captain?" Fanny said as softly as she knew how, which admittedly wasn't very, and it didn't at all come naturally. 

Slumping minutely, the Captain turned fully back to the key, seemingly at war with himself over whether or not to confide what was wrong. In an act far from her usual behavier, Fanny breached the distance between the two and sat herself down on the bed next to where the Captain had just been perched. She tried to smile encouragingly up at the soldier before her, but he was lost in his own thoughts and adamantly not looking in her direction.

Thinking back to the day of the Wedding Planners visit, Fanny remembered how surprisingly easy it had been for her to confide in the Captain, dispite his initial, preposterous, misunderstanding. If she was being perfectly honest with herself, she felt a certain kinship with the man, close as they were in their ideals. Stuffy and full of hot air, she'd once overheard Julian describe them.

"Captain," she said again, more confidently this time.

As he turned away from the bureau, once again, and twisted to look down at the Lady of the House, Fanny nodded to the space beside her on the bed and, to her surprise, the Captain took a seat.

"That's my key," he said unnecessarily, Fanny didn't comment. "I lost it a long time ago."

Fanny frowned at the object in question, perched innocently on the bureau, oblivious to the chaos it was causing.

"I can't say I remember it."

The Captain scoffed at that, Fanny letting out a snort of her own, whether it was at her attempt to break the ice, or at the Captains acceptance of it, she wasn't sure.

"No, I don't suppose you would," he responded, eyes raised back to blasted bit of metal. "Such a dispensable thing, really. Pointless to keep track of it."

"A bureau needs a key," Fanny argued, obviously knowing this was about more than the object itself but hoping the metaphor would still fit with whatever was troubling him.

"Yes," the Captain agreed, distracted.

"Captain," Fanny pressed slowly, exhaling before she continued. "I never thanked you," she said, straightening her own posture. She sensed that, in this instance, the best way forward may, perhaps, be with something of a side step.

"Whatever the devil for?" The Captain asked, spell seemingly broken at last as he looked at Fanny properly for the first time since they'd said a passing hello at the door minutes earlier.

"For your advice that day in the garden."

The Captain struggled to recall which day Fanny was referring to, he remembered many days spent lolling about in the garden, very few of which involved any form of advice, asked for or offered.

"When you told me to bury them," Fanny explained, "My feelings, that is. Misplaced as I told you they were."

"Ah yes, the day of the -"

Both sets of hands mimed a small explosion and Fanny found it within herself to smile.

"Well, as it turns out you were right."

"Hmm," the Captain murmered, nodding minutely, "Happens from time to time," he laughed, dropping his gaze to his lap.

"For me," Fanny expanded, serious. "You were right for me."

The Captain looked back at her with a raised brow and a question on his lips.

"What I had been struggling with. It was nothing. Ridiculous." She explained," It was a fever dream really, right to be buried because it was gone as quick as it appeared, thankfully."

Fanny studied the Captain to make sure he was following where she was going with this, not wanting to be too direct.

"For me, in that instance, it was right to bury it. Nothing good could have come from that particular passing fancy."

The Captain scoffed, turning back to the key as he took a deep breath in. 

"And in other instances?" He asked slowly, picking up on her attempt at subtlety.

"Well, perhaps, not everything needs to buried Captain. Maybe I can return the favour? Lend an ear? Perhaps even offer advice of my own. You know, I've been known to be right, a time or two, myself."

The Captain smiled at her then, a hollow and bitter thing, and Fanny was struck by just how much the younger ghost held back. How much emotion he kept locked inside, barricaded behind those eyes. 

"It was Michael," Fanny announced boldly, leaving no room for misinterpretation. "The fever dream."

Eyes widening somewhat comically, the Captain looked down his nose at the older ghost. "What?" He asked incredulously, adequately distracted at last. 

"Yes, well," she replied, embarrassed yes, but also a little smug at being able to ruffle him.

"Misplaced indeed," the Captain laughed.

"As I said..." Fanny agreed.

"You can do better," he added, conspiratorially, after a small pause.

Fanny scoffed as she bounced her hands in her lap and shrugged her shoulders, her muscles felt looser somehow than they had for a while. Both ghosts exhaled as they, once again, settled in to silence, the atmosphere no longer oppressive or stilted but instead calm and easy.

"I thought it to be stolen." The Captain said finally, not looking away.

Fanny threw her head up, "By those dastardly children?" She yelled.

"No, no," the Captain said, arms raised placatingly, "Many years ago."

"By someone important?" Fanny guessed next, voice considerably softer.

The Captain nodded imperceptibly, looking back to the key.

Unsure whether to continue to push or to back track to safer footing, Fanny ultimately stealed her nerve and pushed forward. "It's a nice thought," she offered, "That someone would be so desperate for a reminder of us that they'd steal a thing so inconsequential just so they could keep it as a memento."

"Indeed," the Captain said slowly, "A fever dream really."

Fanny smiled in sympathy, "A good dream," she argued. "We get so few of those, I'm sorry that this ones been broken."

The Captain turned his sad smile back to Fanny, nudging her shoulder softly with his own, "Thank you," he muttered, surprised at himself for allowing any of this to be brought to the surface, though less so that Fanny was the one to force it out of him. Perhaps he was simply too tired of fighting alone. 

She nodded in response, then allowed herself another look towards the object that had caused such turmoil. The two ghosts sat there for a time, neither knowing of any words left to say. This was breaking new ground for both of them and although they knew there was far more to cover, they also knew that now was not the time, the conversation already having taken its toll.


-x-


The first thing he became aware of was that he was no longer where he was supposed to be. He recognised his surroundings though, he knew this place. As he blinked his eyes open against the harsh light of day he stealed himself for the feeling of nausea that invariable followed a shift of location. Nausea in death had nowhere to progress to so he shifted to his knees and rested his head in his hands as he waited for the feeling to pass.

Opening his eyes again, he finally took in the room around him, a feeling bubbling in the pit of his stomach that he dare not give a name, though it felt an awful lot like hope.

"No I will not iron your underwear Mike, that's just weird!" He heard shouted through the walls. He didn't recognise the voice, but then he hardly thought he would, so long had it been since last he was here.

Sitting back on his heels, he looked around the room in awe, scared to believe that this was real, that he had finally made it back.

"Alison!"

Another new voice he ignored for now, instead he rose to his feet as he took in the details of the four walls surrounding him. He'd recognise this room anywhere. Time had changed it of course, it's a bedroom now for a start, a big four poster that had not been there the last time he was here. Nevertheless the room itself was still the same shape. The walls just as vast as they had been then, the ceiling just as high. The windows were as grand as memory promised and they let in just as much light, even as he battled desperately against it in order to look out at the grounds. Imagined tears sprang to his eyes as he saw the gardens that proved without a doubt, he was finally back. He turned sharply to scan the room for an object from his memory, finding it easily, he smiled as he squeezed the ghostly twin that sat nestled in his pocket.

Havers turned again, facing the door now, habit and manners compelling him to walk through the frame instead of the wall. Slowly he made his way out of his little sanctuary and into the house at large. He would return to this room, he promised himself, he'd come back and study every detail, marvel at every single thing he recognised from his life here all those years ago. He had time now.

Despite the earlier voices, Havers didn't see a soul as he walked down the first corrider he entered, nor did he meet anyone as he carried on down the second.

"No, look, if you send it there it will just get ignored."

A male voice this time, closer than before.

"Julian, I am not sending every national newspaper a letter asking them to print a better story about you."

"Why not? People love a good redemption arc."

"Redemption? And what, pray, have you done to redeem yourself?"

"Oi, that's enough out of you Thorne, no one likes a kiss ass."

"Thomas is right Julian, I'm sorry but this all happened a long time ago, no one cares anymore. Most people don't even know who you are."

"I didn't know who he was." Another new voice added, this time though, he could see the speaker. A young man walked away from the room where he assumed all the other voices were speaking from. The Lieutenant had to jump slightly out of the way when the man almost walked through him without noticing his presence, the new inhabitant then, he thought to himself, alive at the very least.

"What's it got to do with him?!" the first male voice whined loudly.

Aware that if they were all talking to the man who'd just brushed passed him then they were all alive too so wouldn't notice him anyway, Havers felt no need to rush to introudce himself. Instead, hoping to stay lost in his own nostalgia for a moment more, he turned the other way and ventured towards the room opposite.  

This room, just like the one he'd woken up in, was instantly recognisable despite the passing of time and the changing of inhabitants. It was now a living room of sorts, various chairs from all eras scattered about the vast, but otherwise baron, space. He moved across the floor instinctively, his eyes sweeping across the landscape in a desperate bid to take in as much as possible. As overwhelmed as the Lieutenant was, he also felt a sudden calm return to him, one he hadn't felt for a very long time. He was so close now. 

At the internal reminder of why he was here, Havers pinched his eyes shut, he rolled his shoulders and clenched his jaw in an effort to strengthen his resolve. Knowing he needed to move forward with the mission, that he could bask in memories later, Havers was just about to turn and make his way back towards the doorway when his solitude was interrupted.

"Hello..." The voice from before said, the first voice he'd heard after waking up. Havers turned to see a young lady stood in the doorway and he was instantly taken aback by how young she looked. Far too young to have died in this place. With clothing as modern as hers she must have died recently he thought, eyes pinched in sympathy.

"I'm sorry but what are you doing in my house?" Alison asked, looking at the young man before her. Alarmed, she took in his dated, olive drab uniform and a shuddering realisation began to form. "Oh dear," she murmered quietly as the intruder stood, equally as transfixed by her.

"Your house?" Havers asked, unsure quite what was happening, this voice had mentioned ironing before had it not, as if it were an act she was still able to perform. She was at least a similar age to the man who he passed before, could she be-"

"I'm sorry," Alison said politely, "But can I ask? Are you dead?"

Havers laughed out loud, a short and startled sound, before he lowered his head back down to face her. "Yes," he smiled, excited at the prospect of talking to someone alive, someone who, if they didn't already know the answers to his questions, might yet be able to find them out. "Yes, for some time now."

"Gosh," Alison breathed, once again in completely unchartered territory. "Umm, how long have you been here?"

"Just arrived, I'm sorry to invade your home."

Alison frowned in confusion, "Well at least the others haven't been keeping you a secret from me," she replied as questions of how and why filled her head.

"Others?" Havers asked, despite already assuming a house as big and rich in history as this would be home to any number of spirits.

"Yes they're ju-"

"Oh my..." Kitty's gasp cut off Alison's explanation.

"Hello," Havers said gently, recognising hers as the second voice he'd heard.

A wide smile broke out on Kitty's face, "You can see me?" She asked in awe.

"He's a ghost Kitty." Alison explained as several of the others appeared through the wall, no doubt lured by the squeals of the Georgian girl.

"What's going on?" Thomas asked first, instantly angry at the interloper who held Alison's gaze so transfixed.

"Who are you?" Julian asked at the same time.

"I used to stay here, a long time ago," Havers answered, "I meant to come back in life but," he shrugged, gesturing sadly to himself, "I never got the chance. I have a few questions, if you don't mind?"

"Yeah, so do we mate," Julian retorted, "Like, what are you doing here?"

"Julian," Alison scolded as Fanny entered the room.

"I know you," Lady Button said with a frown, chasing a memory she couldn't quite catch hold of.

"Yes, I was here, for a while, many years ago." 

"Yes, but how are you here now?" Julian asked again, waving his arms about in the way he was accustomed to.

"Will you shut up you silly man," Fanny barked at the MP, an image finally coming back to her. "You were here during the war?"

Shocked at her outburst, all eyes shot between Fanny and the newcomer.

"Yes," Havers said back with a smile, "Well one of them anyway."

"I'm sorry, whats your name?" Alison asked, needed to understand just what the hell was going on.

"Most people just called me Havers, whilst I resided here."

Alison inhaled then, that name rang a loud bell in her mind, though she couldn't place why.

Robin took this moment to bound into the the room with Pat and Mary, angry, at his heels, obviously in the middle of a conversation that Robin had just lost interest in. 

"Hey," he said immediately, "What he doin here?"

"Oh, hello," Pat said cheerfully as soon as he noticed the newcomer. Previous annoyance with Robin forgotten.

"I suppose the simplest explanation I can give is that I came in the post."

"You what?" Pat asked, speaking at the same time as Julians bemused "Say again?"

Eight sets of eyes stared at Havers incredulously.

"I believe you received a letter a day or so ago? I can never be sure how long it takes to reform after a transition, I suppose it depends on how long it takes for the energy to build back up."

Without a word, Alison bounced on the balls of her feet then turned and darted from the room.

"Well where the bloody hell is she going?" Julian asked, flapping his arms in annoyance.

"I'm sorry to have caused such a fuss," Havers said desperately as Alison marched back into the room and right up to him. She tore a piece of paper from an envelope and shoved it under his nose.

"Ah yes," he said with a smile. "That's my sisters penmanship."

Looking wistfully down at the letter in Alison's hands, Havers allowed himself to focus on the familiar cursive, blocking out the overwhelming feeling of being in over his head.

"How old is your sister?" Was the first thing a confused Alison thought to ask as the other ghosts scrambled to get a look at the mysterious letter.

Havers laughed, quiet and subdued, "She died I'm afraid, a little while ago now."

"Oh, so dead women can write and send letters now can they?"' Thomas asked sarcastically, giving up on seeing the letter that Alison seemed determined to keep hidden from them.

"She wrote that a very long time ago, not long after my possessions were returned to her. I imagine, though, a part of her didn't actually want to part with anything, whether it was truly mine or not."

"So how did it get here now?" Pat asked as he stepped forward to try and offer the stranger some semblance of reassurance.

"My neice," he answered, turning to the scout master gratefully. "It seems she finally got around to sorting through my sisters things."

"And when she found an unsent letter from however many decades ago she just decided to post it anyway? What possible point would there be to that?" Julian asked condescendingly.

"Emma must have explained its significance," Havers could only guess. "I suppose she assumed it was what I would have wanted and so decided it couldn't hurt."

Havers fidgeted on his feet, feeling somewhat like a fish out of water. He was painfully aware that he was under suspicion from every soul in the room but there was one set of eyes in particular that were piercing straight through him. Fanny continued to stare down the interloper like she was assessing him for danger, while the rest of the occupants had at least seemed to deem him harmless.

"So that explains how the letter ended up here," Thomas remarked, "It doesnt though, sir, explain how you did."

"Oh maybe he flew here?" Kitty offered with an adoring smile.

"Really Kitty," Fanny said offhandedly, "Ridiculous."

"Be you able to fly?" Mary asked seriously.

"Ghosts no fly." Robin said next.

"How do you know, have you met every ghost in existance?" Kitty asked back.

"I meet more than y-"

"Im sorry to interrupt," Havers said quickly, his spectral heart pounding in his ears as impatience finlly got the better of him. "There is a reason for my presence here."

There was no denying that feeling in his stomach now, he had hope for the first time in what felt like forever because most of these ghosts were older than him, if they've been here this whole time then surely they would know what had happened here, what had happened to him. The army man squared his shoulders and turned back to Fanny.

"I just had some questions if that's okay?"

"YOU have questions?" Fanny responded at the same time as Pat, who clapped his hands encouragingly and said a quick "Sure thing."

"Yes, I do, if one of you wouldn't mind answering them? I'm sorry old chap," he said to Pat as the scout master stepped forward to offer him his undivided attention. "I think you may be a bit after my time. But most of you were already here, yes? When my unit was stationed here?"

"Oh my God, Havers?!" Alison shouted, breaking the moment as she stuffed the letter messily into her jeans. "The Captains Lieutenant? You left for the front?"

A collection of gasps filled the air as Havers held his breath, the mention of his Captain caused his barely held in emotions to batter once more against the barriers he'd built within himself. His phantom heart pounded in his ears as Havers turned to the young woman.

"Yes," he exhaled, "You know the history of this place? The Captain? You know him?" He asked, suddenly just as scared of the answers as he was relieved to have finally found.

"Oh, Lieutenant," Alison said softly, forgetting for a moment that she couldn't touch him as she held her hand out in comfort, she managed to stop herself only centimeters from his arm. 

"Course she knows 'im!" Mary interrupted before Alison could continue.

Havers felt his composure break completely, eyes darting from one new face to the next, heart beating now as if it had never stopped. 

"He's here, Lieutenant," Alison offered then, "The Captains still here."

His legs buckling from beneath him, Havers fell into a crouch. His hands ran roughly through his hair until they lay clenched at the top of his head, his elbows dug into his knees and his face pressed against his forearms. "Here?" He whispered so quietly he hoped no one could here the plea in his voice.

"He died here Lieutenant Havers," Fanny added, "Also a long time ago. The Captains been here a very long while."

"Wher-" A sob broke free from between his lips as he rose back to standing, "Can I see him?"

"Of course!" Alison exclaimed, jumping to motion, "We can take you to him right now. Pat? Fanny? Where's the Captain?"

"I don't know," Pat answered. "I haven't seen him all day."

"Alas, neither have I," Thomas added, happy to help now that it was clear the mans focus was not Alison.

"Nor I," Kitty said apologetically.

"Me nei-"

"None of us have," Julian announced, cutting Mary off to save time, "In fact I haven't seen him since early yesterday."

"Has anyone seen him since yesterday?" Alison asked, that now familiar dread starting to pool. He'd missed his run this morning so Alison hadn't actually seen him since he'd discovered her in his room.

"Right," Fanny said after finally making a decision about the newcomer, "I saw the Captain yesterday morning, then he went for a walk around the grounds, did anyone see him upon his return?"

Havers looked between eight sets of shrugging shoulders and felt his stomach swoop dramatically, how could he be so close and yet still so far? After everyones murmers of 'nope', or 'not me', finally ceased Havers felt the ghost of liquid on his cheeks as he looked as imploringly as he could manage at the one ghost who seemed to know what was going on.

"Well," Fanny said with a clap of her hands, "We'd best go and find him then. Come on, chop, chop"


-x-


After a night of silent pondering, and very little actual sleep, the Captain decided enough was enough. He chose to forgo his morning run, not seeing the need for ritual today, even as he knew he'd scold himself for it later, whenever he managed to pull himself from this wretched despondency.

Walking slowly towards the front door of the building, the Captain was relieved to realise the rest of the house seemed to be sleeping soundly, reluctant as he was to enter into any sort of human interaction.

He wandered aimlessly for all of an hour before he decided to take himself further afield, the house would be waking up soon and he was still wary to get caught in conversation. Of course, with every extra moment he was removed from the rest of the group he would ultimately face more questions of why and where he's been. But that's a problem for later.

There always seem to be problems for later, the Captain thought, yet as far as he was concerned, that particular problem was not such a dire one.

He'd only just reaching the perimeter of the garden when he heard a gentle snore so he turned on his heel and moved closer to the sound.

"Who goes there?" He asked, voice firm.

The Captain drew nearer to the noise, though no figure appeared. He walked to the small hedgerow that bordered the grounds and peered down into the shrubbery.

"I say man!" He said when he located the source of the sound, "What the bally hell are you doing all the way out here?"

Humphrey, awoken from his slumber by the dulcit tones of the, seemingly aggravated, army officer, blinked up at the other man. "Hello Captain," he said as jovially as he could manage with branches literally passing through his face.

The Captain reached down to pick up the perpetually misplaced head of his companion, cursing his creaking knees even in death.

"How long have you been out here?"

"Oh you know, time's relative really."

"Not a bit of it old chap, how did you end up in the gardens? I'll tell you, you're bally lucky those hedges are so baron or I may not have noticed you at all."

"It was nothing really, an accident I'm sure. My own fault."

"Humphrey," the Captain scolded, placing the severed head down on a stone bench so he could frown down at him with his hands behind his back.

"It was stupid of me to venture so far really."

The Captain rolled his eyes and made a show of refocusing his stare.

"I'd managed to get back to my body," the Tudor eventually explained, "Thought I'd go for a bit of a stroll."

"And how did you lose it again? Another errant pigeon perhaps?"

"No," Humphrey laughed, "No wildlife this time."

"Well spit it out man," the Captain ordered after a few moments of silence, perhaps a tad boisterous, the last two days had verily shot his last nerves. 

"It was just a game they were playing," Humphrey said quickly, looked up at the Captain as much as he was able to from his position on the bench. "It was an accident, of that I am certain."

"Thomas didn't kick you again did he?"

"No, ah, Thomas didn't seem to be playing. He was around, just not paying attention, muttering to himself if I remember correctly." 

Just about at his limit for social interaction and still near drowning in his own melancholia the Captain squared his shoulders and said as forcefully as he could manage, "Humphrey, my good man, how were you thrown from your body?"

Humphrey couldn't help but snigger at the wording, flashes of an almost forgotten memory passing through his mind, he and his friends trying to tame an unbroken stallion in their youth. Stalling didn't work with the Captain though, all the other ghosts would get bored and wander off if you dawdled long enouth, but the Captain was like a dog with a bone, if he sensed dissidence amongst the troops he would not let up until he had been fully briefed.

"Well, Alison taught the girls a new game, I think she was bored of the 'hide and go seek'. Apparently it's called 'Tag, you are it!'" he explained, in lieu of fingers to emphasise his point he opted to underline the name by pronouncing each syllable slowly and clearly. "At least that's what they kept shouting anyway. It seemed to me the whole point of the game was to run after eachother until you got close enough to punch your opponent on the arm and shout in their face."

"What are these ridiculous customs nowadays," the Captain bemoaned. "What the devil happened to a good old game of 'Conkers', or 'Knocking down Ginger'?"

"I'm afraid I don't know what they are, Captain, but can I assume that they are no good for ghosts?"

"Well, quite," the Captain nodded, "So I suppose you became caught up in this game of 'Tag, you are it', and that is how your head became unstuck?"

"They just ran a bit too close that's all. I was jerked out of the way and my head, regretably, fell further than my body."

"And no one noticed to pick you up? You didn't call out?"

"Well, it's like I said, the game involved a lot of shouting." If he still had shoulders, Humphrey imagined he'd be shrugging them right about now.

"And when did all of this occur?"

"Oh I don't know, what day is it today?"

"Bally hell man, you've been out here more than a day?"

Humphrey laughed again at the Captains affronted look, though he seemed less zealous than usual.

"Are you alright Captain?" He asked.

"Me?" the greying man replied. "You were left in a hedge for god knows how many nights and you ask if I'm alright. Good lord man, you could have caught your dea-"

The Captains diatribe was cut off by a loud snort from Humphrey, who tried his best to wiggle his head up at the other man, but mostly just succeeded in fluttering his eyes.

"Yes, well," the Captain remarked back, taking a breath as he turned his head away.

Exhaling slowly the Captain sat down in the space beside Humphrey's head.

"I'm quite alright Humphrey."

"You're just not as," Humphrey paused to think of a word that wouldn't offend, "Animated... As usual."

"Bit of a day, yesterday, thats all. We all get them. I shall be fine!"

"Anything I can help you with? I'm a good listener."

"No thank you Humphrey." Without meaning to be rude the Captain really just wanted to be alone.

"Or I could just talk, if you needed some background noise, I'm a good talker too."

"That's quite alright," the Captain confirmed, "Just needed a bit of fresh air. Where would you like me to drop you off?"

"Oh," Humphrey said, suddenly finding himself being lifted back off of the cold stone, "We're going now."

The Captain carefully rested his companions head on one folded arm as he turned to face back towards the house.

"Ah Captain," the older ghost said, "Would you mind entirely if we went the other way?"

The house would be waking up by now, the ghosts and the living alike, if the Captain was craving solitude as Humphrey assumed he was, then if he took him back there he would surely be robbed of it.

"What on Earth for?" The Captain asked, eyebrows pinched as he looked down at the ghost cradled in his elbow.

"I just fancy a bit of a change of scenery," he replied, hoping the Captain didn't catch the bluff. "Besides, my body seems to have taken to wandering in the back garden, perhaps I'll be able to corner him... It... Me?"

The Captain snorted but abliged, turned sharply towards the back garden. It was rather beautiful back there he'd admit, now that Alison and Mike had cleared it up for the weddings. Still, the Captain couldn't help but wander if that wasn't the only reason Humphrey was requesting this particular location.

"Thank you," he said quietly, just in case.

Fortunately, Humphrey seemed to catch on to the other man's discomfort so pretended not to hear him, or at least chose not to respond, instead pointing out different new features that would compliment the space.

"Thank you, Captain," Humphrey said after he'd been placed down on his chosen bench and the Captain had started the journey back to the trees, if the Captain noticed his inflection on the word you, then he too chose to say nothing.


-x-


"This is ridiculous Fanny, we've covered the whole house." Pat all but whined.

"Well then, we'll split back up and cover the gardens." The Lady of the house replied, leaving no room for argument.

Fanny had searched in the company of Havers, she'd kept one eye out for their wayward companion and the other firmly fixed on the man walking two steps behind her. She was not a naive woman, nor a stupid one, she'd noticed the awkwardness between the Captain and his Lieutenant when they'd both been alive and stationed here. She'd seen the gazes that lasted a little too long, the small smiles from Havers after the Captain had looked away or the frowns from the older man after he'd dismissed his second in command. But, tempered as she was by deep-rooted social norms, she'd always assumed it was nothing but an old bond of friendship reformed after years apart.

Yet, as she got to know the Captain better, as she watched his interests peaked, not at the likes of Lady Heather or Alison, but at the Adams of the world, Fanny had begun to accept that there was more to the Captain than she had been willing to see. Watching him as he planned the first wedding here at the house, the silent pride in him at the knowledge of who exactly the wedding was for, well there was no pretending after that.

They'd all known pain in death, they wouldn't still be here otherwise, but the Captain seemed to have carried his own suffering in life as well, more so than the rest of them and Fanny could just about admit she felt a certain protectiveness over the other man because of it. Whether he was ready to admit anything out loud or not, the fact was she knew better now and she would be damned if she let anyone add to his grief.

Watching Havers now, she decided he wasn't a threat, not to the Captain. She'd watched him pinch his eyes nervously with every room they entered, only for his whole body to sag in disappointment when the room was empty. She saw the hope he could barely conceal even as he was quite obviously fighting with himself to temper his expectations. Fanny was not a gambling woman, Lord knows her husband did enough of that for the both of them, but if she were she would have no trouble betting this entire estate that whatever the Captain felt for Havers, the Lieutenant returned just as profoundly.

For his part, Havers had followed along dutifully behind Fanny. He tried to listen to her facts about each room they entered or passed through but he couldn't focus on anything other than the thought of finally seeing the Captain again. The man who had haunted his every waking thought whilst alive, and had indeed continued to do so in death. He had so many questions - how did he die? why was he still here? would he finally permit Havers to stay by his side forever? If he knew one thing, it was that walking away the first time had been the hardest thing he had ever had to do and he was certain that he could never do it again, despite the fact that ultimately, he no longer had much say in the matter.

"Ohhh," Kitty cried, "Can't we all search together? I do so want to be there when the Captain is found."

"Kitty, splitting up is the most effective way to search, we'll find him so much quicker." Pat answered, patting her shoulder encouragingly.

"Unless is not here." Robin said, straight faced to the point.

"Well where else would he be man?" Thomas argued back.

"Could have been sucked off." Mary suggested.

Havers choked on his next breath, eyes widening as he looked to Fanny, who just shook her head and huffed at the impropriety of it all.

"Mary!" Alison scolded, "It's 'moved on', Jesus, we've talked bout this." Alison smiled apologetically at Havers, who was still looking wide eyed and lost.

"Nonsense!" Fanny added afterwards, sensing that Alison's clarification may not have actually been that comforting to Havers, "The Captain is here somewhere and we will find him, now everyo-"

"No, now hang on," Julian interrupted, "Maybe he has been su-"

"MOVED ON!" Alison shouted over him.

"Don't be so stupid," Lady Button said impatiently, stepping forward again as if to restart the search.

"Well you saw him last," Thomas argued, "What, pray, was his frame of mind when you left him to his patrol?"

"He was as normal," Fanny defended.

"What the hell is normal?" Julian shot back.

"For the Captain?" Thomas snarked. "Not getting s-"

"He was prefectly fine when we parted ways." Fanny interrupted before this conversation could sink any lower into depravity.

"Well what were you doing beforehand?" Alison asked.

"Discussing your terrible attempts at cleaning his room," Fanny responded sarcastically, not prepared to betray the Captains secrets.

"Well what else did you talk about?" She urged, "What did you say to him?"

"I didn't say a thing to him you tempestuous little beast!"

"Fanny, I'm not having a go, we just need to know what frame of mind he was in so we can figure out what happened next."

"The Captain was as the Captain always is," Fanny said simply. She raised her hand to gently touch Havers shaking arm, drawing his flickering eyes back to her. "Come on, not a moment to lose."

Lady Button led Havers towards the gardens, no longer listening to the questions and complaints from the other spirits, all of whom had disobeyed her direct order and instead of splitting up had followed directly after her and the Lieutenant. Havers didn't notice the bickering though, didn't notice the theories spewing from the rest of the group, barely even noticed the feeling of Fanny's elbow brushing against his own with every other step. 

Finally succumbing to his own memory, the Lieutenant broke rank, slipping from Fanny's path he instead stepped onto a trail he'd travelled once before, though admittedly under far less desperate circumstances. Back then he'd been exhilarated, riding the high of his placement and knowing exactly what was waiting for him at the end of the path. Now he's walking the same route with only a desperate hope for what may lay ahead.


-x-


The Captain wandered habitually through the trees, his swagger stick pinned against his back behind folded arms. He remembered the first time he had entered those gardens, they had been flush with life and colour. A heaviness had followed him then, followed everyone really. The world had been at war after all. His unit hadn't been completed yet, still awaiting the arrival of his second in command. The rest of the squad had only been at the house for nearing a week, his original Lieutenant with them for only the first 2 days before he got pulled away to a safer post, friends in high places and all that. Though how he could possibly find a safer placement than a manor house surrounded by the great English countryside, he didn't know. A desk job at HQ perhaps, though the heart of London would hardly be safe with the enemy airborn.

He'd originally been told to expect Wilson's replacement within the week, but a telegram had reached him the day before telling him that the new Lieutenant was on his way. He hadn't yet been told who'd been selected for the post, the last he knew it was between two men. Lieutenant Paulson, newly promoted and with family backing, but a good soldier he was assured, or Lieutenant Havers... Havers, a man he'd known for a number of years by then. 

He had realised, of course, that perhaps it would be better to accept the younger soldier as his Lieutenant. Perhaps he could even help to shape his career from here on out. Offer him guidance and advice. Maybe he could even become something of a mentor to the young officer. That was what his ego had offered, anyway, as incentive for him to support the young mans request for the position.

Still, when the General had come to him to ask for his opinion, making clear from the start that it may not matter what he wanted, pushed as they were for good soldiers everywhere, he had barely even blinked before he'd said Havers name. He'd told the General that the two of them had trained together, that they'd worked well as a team and that there was already a trust there that might prove invaluable.

While all of this was true, he knew it was a bad idea. To be inviting temptation back into his life, to be actively surrounding himself with it day in and day out. Of course, it wasn't Havers fault that the Captain felt the way he did, he wasn't to know that the air was pulled from his lungs every time the younger man was near. That he could hardly concentrate when the distance between them was short enough for the Captain to feel even a hint of the other mans warmth. Besides, Havers, too, had put his name down for this position, it would have been unfair to deny him it just because the Captain couldn't control his emotions.

He'd do better, the Captain assured himself. If Havers was to take up the position at his side, he would be everything that Havers deserved in a superior officer, everything each of these men deserved. Stoic and fair and focused solely on the job at hand.

The Captain had walked away from the gardens, all those years ago, away from the house and its temporary inhabitants. He'd strolled through the grounds under the guise of checking the perimeter when really he'd been working himself up for whichever eventuality awaited him. He allowed himself to imagine it, both possibilities. Returning to his office to find either a familiar face or a stranger waiting there for their briefing. The disappointment that would follow the discovery of the stranger, or the trepidation that would come at the sight of a familiar smile.

The Captain hadn't kept track of how long he'd been walking, it was a Sunday after all. Though the war rested for no man, there had been little to be done at the manor that day. The base had been set up as much as was possible until the next supply drop. Everyone had been briefed up to date. The Captain had even run through all relevant safety drills during the downtime that followed the first Lieutenants departure.

He'd wandered far enough that the manor was no longer visible, even the sounds of the troops muted by distance. The Captain had stopped only when he couldn't continue, when his exploration had brought him out of the trees and up to the lake. Stood to attention on that stony shore, the Captain had settled with his back to the world, daydreaming as much as he dared allow himself to.

Thinking of the man who may or may not be waiting for him back at the base. Wondering if he could really stand to be around him every day, whether his resolve could truly stand it. He wondered if any of it really mattered anyway, he knew he would never act on his improper thoughts, not with Havers. His friend. A good man, a good soldier. Havers certainly could never return his inclinations, which in itself should be the end of the matter.

He pondered all of this and more as he looked down curiously at his own reflection, wondering above all else when he himself had stopped being able to tell when his inner voice was caught in a lie.

But, in truth, what had really kept him there, standing infront of the water for longer than was strictly appropriate, was not his own inner quarrel, nor was it the thought of Havers being there when he got back. No, what kept him there, he could admit to himself at least, was the thought of him not being there. Of a stranger being in the place he'd already carved out into the familiar shape of his old friend. An outcome that would have forced him to carry on without knowing if or when he would ever see the man again.

It was a cruel kind of torture, he had thought then, for the thing he wanted most to also be the thing he was forced to deny himself every day, not just through fear but, perhaps more tragically, through his own ingrained hatred of what that desire meant about him.

Gripped by meloncholy, the Captain had been about to force himself out of his stupor when he had heard the very sound that he had craved, just as much as he'd dreaded it.

"Hello Sir."

The Captain knew that voice.

Allowing himself a moment to breath, the Captain closed his eyes, even as his lips had fought to curve up into a relieved smile.

"Parden the intrusion sir," Havers had said then, oblivious to the whirlwind he'd created within the older man, "I was told I might find you here."

"Lieutenant," the Captain greeted warmly as he turned to face the other man.

"I apologise for not waiting back at the base, I rather thought it'd be good to get a feel of the place. When the lads said you were out here, I'm afraid I took the opportunity without thinking it through."

"Nonsense," the Captain said back, he raised his hand to wave off the Lieutenants concern, even as he fought back a small fantasy within himself that Havers may simply have been as desperate to see him as he was the younger man. "A fine idea. Did you take in much?"

"Not really, sir," he'd said as he'd stepped forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Captain, both turned then to look back out over the lake. "One of the privates, Johnson I believe, gave me directions straight to the lake."

"Perhaps then," the Captain had replied conspiratorially, "We should take the scenic root back to my office, show you the perimeter, as it were."

"Wise idea," Havers smiled, that same smile that had never failed to steal the air from the Captains lungs. 

"Shall we?" the Captain had said, heart pounding intensely as he had gestured with a wave of his arms towards the path.

"Of course," Havers responded, he own ribs aching with the force of rhythm beating behind them. He had dutifully started to move towards the path only to halt mere steps away, he had turned and waited, allowing the Captain to catch up to his side. "Lead on, sir."

Now, standing at the lake again, looking out over the water that no longer held his reflection, the Captain thought helplessly back to that day. Back to the possibilities that should have been layed out before them, if only the world had been different. If the war hadn't finished what prejudice and self hatred had started.

The Captain closed his eyes and allowed his mind to fly back through time, again, to those first few moments. To that captivating sound.

"Hello Sir." 

Two simple words that had set off a lifetime of longing and regret.


-x-


"Hello Sir."

The Captain closed his eyes at the memory of his Lieutenant, the ghost of a tear on his cheek as he thought back to Havers arrival at Button House.

"I'm sorry I've taken so long to return."

The Captain inhaled sharply as his eyes shot open. His memory of that long ago moment is perfected down to the last detail, so often has he practised each syllable spoken and each movement made. This is one of his most cherished memories. His mind does not veer off script. Not with this.

This was no memory.

The Captain jumped to attention, his head turning before his mind had fully processed what he might see before him. The Captain's body followed only moments later, heels turning to finally right his stance as he took in the sight of Havers standing there in front of him. He breathed in a laboured, desperate breath as his mind blanked on any words he might want to say.

Havers shuddered at the sight of his Captain, at long last stood, beautiful, and in full view. He took a miniscule step forward as his eyes shed ghostly tears of their own.

"I have been trying to get back to you... To here," he corrected desperately, quietly, unsure how far his honesty would be welcomed and entirely unwilling to push the Captain away now he finally had him within his reach. His fingers ached to reach out to the other man but he forced himself still, his still heart hammering in his rapidly swelling chest.

The Captain made no attempt at movement. His mind frantically trying to make sense of the world playing out if front of him like a mirage. His fingers cleanched into fists, his right hand white knuckled around his swagger stick as the Captain tried desperately to wake himself from whatever dream he had fallen into.

Havers continued to tremble as he took another step closer, smaller than the last, suddenly more nervous than he had ever been before.

"For so long, I've been trying. I'm sorry, Sir, that I missed so much." He said, hand raising helplessly of its own accord, as if to finally reach for the man still unmoving just meters away.

"Wha..." The Captain said brokenly, cutting himself off as he forced his mouth closed on an unnecessary inhale, struggling to keep his composure. "Ho... Why?" he managed to force out through frantic breaths. His chest fiercely rising and falling as if he still had the ability, or the need, to take air into his lungs.

He immediately kicked himself when Havers suddenly stopped his advance. With that one word from his Captains lips the Lieutenant was petrified of the rejection that may follow.

"I..." He said, choking back the sobs his spectral body couldn't fully realise. Havers exhaled as he rose his shoulders and arms in a dispirited intimation. "I missed you," he breathed, though whether it was loud enough for the Captain to hear, even over the small distance between them, he couldn't be sure.

He didn't hear, the Captain, too focused as he was on the sight of the younger man, stood before him like it's where he was always meant to be. All the ideas he'd had for this moment, should some miracle unfurl in order to bring it to fruition, everything, was gone from his mind as he took in the features of the man he had held himself back from for so long.

No more, for just as Havers shoulders slumped in defeat the Captain finally threw himself forward and pulled the smaller man into his arms. Duty and propiety be damned, the Captain wrapped his arms around Havers shoulders and buried his face into his neck. All of his doubts and fears were torn from him as he felt his Lieutenant's arms envelop his waist, clinging on just as hard and as desperate as he was, Havers face mirrored the Captains as his head all but disappeared into the older man's neck.

Oblivious and uncaring to the presense of Alison and the other ghosts, the two men allowed themselves to get lost in the embrace. Breathing in brokenly despite the futility of it, the two men inhaled in the essence of each other as both sets of clouded eyes squeezed close, allowing touch and smell and pressure to guide them.

"I missed you." Havers said again, loud and honest, despite not backing away from his position pushed as close to the Captain as was physically possible. "I've spent years missing you."

The Captain all but sobbed even as he smiled, not moving back even an inch as he spoke into the Lieutenant's shoulder. "I missed you too Havers, I always missed you. I quite believed I always would."

Havers sagged in relief. After all that had come before, finally he was where he was meant to be.


-x-


Alison broke from her trance as the two war men continued to cling to eachother like they might never let go.

"Okay," she said, still looking ahead but addressing the ghosts behind her, "Let's give them some privacy."

"What, no," Julian protested, dangerously close to a whine, "This is the most interesting thing to happen here in decades."

"None taken," Alison scoffed under her breath, choosing to otherwise ignore the snubbing of her arrival at Button House.

"So many questions." The MP continued obliviously. Barely concealing his glee at a scandal that, for once, did not involve him.

"No, Alison's right," Fanny said next, the first to move as she began to herd the other spectres away. "None of our business, nothing for us here."

"What!?" Mary protested as Alison moved to block her view.

"Oh but it's so lovely," Kitty swooned innocently, trying to keep her eyes on the pair, even as she was guided away by Pat.

"No, the ladies are right." The scout master said, flapping his arms in a 'get moving' gesture. "The Captain will come find us when he's ready."

"When he's ready for what?" Fanny asked incredulously, offended and outraged in equal measure. "You think he's going to invite us in to his most private of-"

"No, no, no. I just meant that IF there are any developments that Cap wants to share with us, he will do so in his own time."

"Develop-what?" Robin asked. "What he need tell us? We see for ourselves if Captain is happy."

"He's talking about the juicy details Robin." Julian answered lecherously, stringing out the words with a wave of his fingers.

"He most certainly is not," Fanny protested back, still pushing her reluctant companions away from the Captain and his friend.

The group slowly but surely withdrew, the din of their squabbles getting quieter as they got further away. The sound of a disgruntled Thomas, still waxing poetic about the romanticism of it all, even as he bemoaned how unfair it was to be happening to the soldier and not the bard, was chorused by an excitable Kitty wandering aloud of the possibility of a kiss.

"Why on Earth would it end with a kiss?" Fanny shushed her, not knowing how much the Captain would be comfortable with them knowing.

"Umm-"

Lady Button cut Julian off with a swift thwack to the stomach as their voices finally dampened to nothing, leaving only the two men still stood, entwined, by the shore of the lake. Slowly they relaxed their hold on one another and pulled away, only so far as they had to to create a slither of space between their bodies.

"I'm sorry," Havers said again, arms feeling empty as they awkwardly returned to his sides.

"Whatever for, man?" the Captain asked, still torn between awe and disbelief, his own hands clenched into fists at his side to stop him advancing again.

"Well in this instance," Havers smiled, "For them, for bringing them here. It was a rather public display."

"How are you here?" the Captain breathed back instead, after a moment of silence, completely uncaring about who saw what, still trying to refind the ground beneath his feet.

Havers exhaled breathlessly as his head turned briefly to the ground, struggling as he was to gain control of his misting eyes. "I carried something with me." He explained, looking back to his Captain in earnest. "Something very important. I died with it, you see, clutched in my hands."

The Captain's eyes remained glued on the other man, refusing to blink for fear of his no longer being there when he opened his eyes again. "You died with it?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it wasn't a very sudden death. It was an injury that didn't heal so I felt it coming for days beforehand and I clung to this particular object-"

"You're being very vague about this object, purposely so?"

"Yes, I suppose I am." 

Havers smiled up at the Captain and the older man breathed in sharply at the sight. A sight he had not seen for so many years, yet believed he had memorised perfectly. Now, standing face to face with the real thing, the Captain realised that his memory could never do the radiance of this man's smile justice. He dared to raise his hand, slowly, to brush his thumb against the corner of that smile.

Havers inhaled in his own sharp breath and squeezed his eyes shut at the touch, and the swell of emotion that followed it.

"It seems, even in death, I clung to it," he continued quickly, before he lost the ability to speak entirely. "For when they sent my belongings home to my sister... Well I went with them, as it were."

"Went with them?"

"Well, one moment I was lost amongst the bodies, dead and dying, on the battleground in Africa, then the next I was opening my eyes to my sisters living room in England." Havers forced a smile. There was so much he wanted to say and do, yet this moment felt so fragile and he was petrified of pushing too far. Though, as the Captain lowered his hand from Havers face once again the younger man closed his eyes against a swell of regret, also desperately afraid that they would  never progress further than where they currently stood. 

The explanation of his journey stalled as Havers eyes fell to his own feet, the Captain staring down at the younger man with hopeless abandon. Both men were momentarily fooled into believing their hearts once again beat beneath their ribs. Their chests continued to rise and fall with non existant breaths and their eyes still stung with tears that couldn't materialise. They fell back into silence as they each fought with themselves over how much they should share.

"Sir," Havers said desperately.

"Yes, Lieutenant," the Captain replied, angry with himself for putting up the barrier of ranks between them when all he wanted to do was ignore all that he was ever taught and pull the younger man into himself completely.

Havers flinched back inperceptibly and suddenly the Captain couldn't stand it any longer, all doubts muted by anguish. Before the younger man had the chance to back away any further, the Captain once again threw himself forward. Raising his hands to cup the Lieutenants cheeks, the Captain stared into the Havers eyes, searching for any hint of objection. Upon finding none he finally pushed his trembling lips againts Havers' own and exhaled into the kiss.

Havers gasped, instantly clutching onto the strip of leather across the Captain's chest in order to stop the other man should he even think of withdrawing. Slowly, he raised his other hand to run his fingers through the Captain's hair, gently holding the older mans head to ensure he couldn't remove his lips from Havers own.

The kiss was chaste, so much as a kiss can be after nine decades of pent up desire. Closed mouthed, but firm, the two men breathed, pressed together for far longer than either of them dared to time.

A small whine punctured the silence when habit forced the men apart to attempt breath and, as the Captain rested his forehead against Havers', he let his eyes remain closed, unsure of what he would see in the other mans expression should he open them.

"I'm sorry," he said, barely above a whisper. Irrationally afraid that he'd just pushed too far and ruined everything.

"I was rather hoping you woudn't be sorry," Havers whispered back, emotion thick in every word. "In fact, I was hoping you wouldn't mind doing it again."

The Captain felt a laugh bubble up from within. Years of repression and guilt and fear, washed away, for a moment at least, by the sound of awe in the Lieutenant's voice.

Without giving himself time to overthink it, the Captain gently pulled Havers in again, this time allowing himself to truely let go. 

Their mouths moved against each others effortlessly, as easy as if they had been doing this for years. Inhaling through his nose, the Captain held firmly onto Havers jaw as he moved his body more flush against him. Turning his head to the side to allow for a better angle, Havers clutched the Captains shoulders with one hand and the back of his head with the other, eagerly responding to every move he made. 

Havers didn't bother witholding the sounds of desperation and desire that had built up over the last 80 years, confident for the first time that he wouldn't scare the Captain off. The older man committed to memory every sound that Havers made, sliding his hands further around the Lieutenants neck as he felt the others tongue ease against his own. 

Eventually the kiss slowed down. Desperation subsiding slightly, the it moved from frantic to tender and both men allowed themselves to relax into the intimacy of it. The Captain happy to catalogue the new sounds this elicited from the man in his arms even as he struggled against his self-restraint to make noises of appreciaton of his own. Whatever he couldn't bring himself to vocalise though, Havers seemed to understand regardless, as he smiled into the pressure against his mouth.

"I love you." He said sincerely, barely moving back from the Captain as the kiss continued to slow. He followed the statement with another kiss, then another and another until they were both giddy with relief.

Eventually the Captain pulled away and inhaled, not sure whether he'd actualy heard the words he thought he did, or whether he'd simply dreamed them.

"I love you," Havers said again, as if in answer. 

His tongue seemingly stolen from him the Captain found himself once again unable to speak. Though he yearned to be able to return his Lieutenants easy confession, the barriers he'd built up around that part of himself were proving harder than he'd thought to entirely overcome. Tears stung the corners of his closed eyes as he pushed his forehead against Havers' and hoped against hope that he wasn't going to lose this. 

Havers smiled encouragingly, "It's ok," he said. "We have time now, we have all the time in the world."

"You'll stay?" The Captain asked, petrified at the thought of having to watch the Lieutenant walk away a second time.

"I stole your key." Havers said back, in lieu of an answer.

The Captain drew back, eyes pinched in a frown even as his lips moved to smile.

"My key?" 

"The night I left," he said, feeling the promise of a blush he no longer had the ability to fulfil. "I just wanted a piece of you with me."

"You stole my key?" The Captain asked again in disbelief. The stress of the last two days finally dissipating to nothing. He smiled openly now, picturing the key that lay atop his bureau. 'A bureau needs a key', Fanny had said. Perhaps there is a certain poetry to it after all. The bureau has it's key and the Captain has his Lieutenant.

"Yes, I'm afraid so." Havers answered finally, bolstered by the happiness in the Captain's eyes. "Devilish, I know. Lord knows I didn't need it to remember you by."

The Captain raised his eyebrows encouragingly and Havers was drawn to explain.

"I just wanted something real. Something I could take with me in case my memories got clouded, something I could hold on to to remind me of who I was, no matter what happpend over there." Havers brow furrowed as he searched for a better explanation. "Or I suppose," he tried again, "To remind me what I could be?"

Havers looked uncertain for the first time since the kiss so the Captain raised his hand back up to his cheeks. Brushing his thumb through the frown lines on Havers forehead, he whispered to the him that everything was okay now.

"I wanted it to remind me that no matter what I did out there, I was capable of humanity. Because I had loved you, you see, and devils are not capable of that sort of love."

"Good lord," the Captain breathed, as he continued to brush his thumb gently over the younger mans cheeks. Numb to everything else around him.

"I'm sorry," Havers said quietly, "I don't mean to push too far."

"Nonsense," The Captain said urgently. He pulled his Lieutenant back to him, kissing away the downturn of his lips. "You'll stay?" He asked, furious with himself for being unable to articulate his own feelings. He just hoped the plea in his voice would be enough.

"Yes, unless Alison sends the key back to my niece," Havers smiled. "I'd like to stay." He said seriously.

"My key-"

"Is my object, yes, I suppose I should apologise for that too? For taking what was yours and making it so solidly mine." Havers said, tilting his head up to face the Captain as his hands strokred the older mans neck.

"You absolutely should not!" He said, thinking back to his previous musings, the Captain decided to share what little he could. "The key is yours."

The Captain looked at the man he loved and smiled, carefree for the first time he could remember. It wouldn't last, he was well aware that the real world, or what little of it he was able to still exist in, and all of his deep rooted feelings would return to the foreground as soon as he and Havers left the sanctity of the lake. But for now, that didn't matter nearly as much as knowing that whatever came following his return to the house, Havers would be there with him. Whether he was stood next to him or wandering in his periphory, the fact was, from this moment forward, he would be there. Within reach. At all times.

"I'd hoped you'd taken it." The Captain admitted. "The key," he explained. "When I couldn't find it, the days following your departure, I allowed myself the fantasy that you'd taken it. That you were as desperate for a reminder of me as I was to keep something of you."

Havers smiled up at his Captain, utterly entranced.

"When it reappeared yesterday and Alison said she'd found it under the cabinet." A pause, "Well I must confess I was rather devastated." He said, eyebrows raised even though his eyes remained closed. "Then I found myself annoyed that I'd let it affect me at all because the truth is, deep down, I always believed it to be nothing but a fantasy of my own making."

"It wasn't a fantasy," Havers said softly, "It was as real as I am standing in front of you."

"Ah yes," the Captain smiled, squeezing the Lieutenants shoulders in his hands, as if to prove his point. "Though, I admit, I find myself scared to move, through fear that should I open my eyes you may not have been real after all. Just an invention of a lonely mind finally pushed to insanity."

"Did you manage to keep behind something of mine?" Havers asked simply, his hands not loosening as he gently tapped his head against the Captains in an attempt to get him to look at him.


"Afraid not," the Captain replied wistfully, "Not in a literal sense anyway."


After a gentle nudge the Captain explained, "This whole house reminded me of you, Havers. Every panel and stone is filled with memories. Every moment you spent here with me was as cherished as it was bittersweat I'm afraid, a certain sorrow and regret blanketing everything. I'm rather looking forward to seeing the old place with you by my side, see if anything looks different."

"Well," Havers said, brushing away any remnants of his own contrition. "Shall we?" He asked, right arm raised, gesturing in the direction of the old manor house he was only too happy to once again call home, if it meant he shared that home with the man he'd loved all these years.

"Indeed, old chap," the Captain smiled back, eyes open wide. He retrieved his swagger stick from his belt and placed it under his arm. "Lead on."