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The Lions' Den

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“Remember,” Archie says, fidgeting with his gloves as the carriage rolls to a stop in front of Sir Henry Curtis’s stately home in the north of Kent, “Sir Henry will certainly like you, Daniel. Just… let me do the talking, all right?”

Daniel da Silva sighs heavily. “As you wish, my dear,” he says, just a little testily, and resigns himself to a fantastically awkward weekend of stilted small talk with Archie’s uncle. He shouldn’t have agreed to come, but apparently Sir Henry is a man in the know, or at least a man in the confidence of Sir Maurice Vaizey, Archie’s other uncle and Daniel’s employer. With Archie and Daniel working closely on a number of hush-hush cases for the government, Sir Henry apparently feels the need to vet Daniel as a partner (no doubt based on some not-so-savory tidbits about him shared by Sir Maurice). So when Archie had been summoned for a weekend with his uncle, recently returned from South Africa with his good friend Captain Good, Daniel’s name was conspicuously included on the invitation.

The one problem; neither Sir Maurice nor Sir Henry have any idea that Daniel and Archie’s relationship is anything other than that of colleagues and unlikely friends. The fact that Archie spends more nights in Daniel’s small flat than his own London townhouse, lazing about naked in Daniel’s bed and generally being a very welcome nuisance, well. That is something both Daniel and Archie are keen to keep to themselves.

Daniel isn’t worried terribly about his own behavior; he’s no doubt expected to play something of a dandy, but he can rein it in. He’s even brought some editing to work on - a cover story that he rather enjoys, especially when it can get him out of family gatherings with his lover and a man who is known as one of the greatest explorers of the century, not least because he can kill a man with any number of weapons, or none at all. (Archie takes after his famous uncle in that regard.)

As they enter the house and hand their coats to a waiting butler, Daniel takes in the sculptures lining the entryway, muscular men sitting, standing, and reclining on chaises with grapes in their hands. “I say, are these all Greek?”

“Yes,” Archie says, barely glancing at them. “A few are reproductions that the Captain had commissioned for Sir Henry. Others are ones he’s picked up on his travels.”

“Sir Henry greatly admires the aesthetics of the Greeks,” says a man coming down the hall. He doesn’t look a thing like Archie, with his ruddy blond hair and strapping shoulders. This man is lean and lithe, his hair a dark auburn that’s combed to one side. He’s wearing a riding jacket and fine, dark trousers. He’s handsome, or would have been twenty years ago. Now he’s edging toward stately, with a shine of silver in his hair. Daniel pegs him as Captain James Good, and has it confirmed a moment later.

“Captain,” Archie says, grinning widely as they clasp hands. “It’s wonderful to see you, sir.”

“You as well, my boy,” the Captain says, though Archie is on the other side of thirty now. “You’re looking healthier,” he adds, his keen eyes assessing Archie’s face, his steady stance, the strong grip he has on the Captain’s hand even with his missing fingers.

“Yes, well, it’s a wonder what some adventure can do for the soul,” Archie replies. “Speaking of adventure, this is my friend, Mr. Daniel da Silva.”

Daniel holds out a hand to shake and the Captain doesn’t hesitate in taking it. Daniel’s glad for that - some men feel as though the kind of man Daniel is can rub off on them, and not in the positive sense. “Thank you so much for the invitation, Captain Good,” he says. “I certainly jumped at the chance to see where Curtis grew up. The way he tells it, the halls are filled with antiquities that he can’t name to save his life.”

“We’re not all poets and art historians.” Archie rolls his eyes. “And sometimes a painting is just a painting.”

Daniel grins at him. “Philistine.”

“Sod off,” Archie says, laughing, and when Daniel looks up, Captain Good is watching them closely, his eyes narrowed. Daniel feels his skin run hot for a moment; for all the worry Archie’s had about Sir Henry finding out about them, it seems that Captain Good may be the one Daniel has to watch out for.

“I think I will, actually,” he replies, and turns to the Captain. “If someone can point me to my room, I’d like to get freshened up before dinner, and possibly get a few letters written.”

“Of course,” the Captain says, motioning to the butler to lead the way.

“See you at dinner, Curtis,” he says, sounding as nonchalant as possible and barely casting a glance in Archie’s direction.

Archie’s brow furrows in confusion, but he lets Daniel go without a word.

The upstairs rooms have more Greek antiquities, along with masks and small figures and weaponry from any number of foreign expeditions. Daniel’s room faces the street, and his few bags are already unpacked. Save, thank goodness, for the hidden side compartment of his trunk where Daniel keeps the tools of his trade - flashlight, lock picks, invisible ink - as well as a few more delicate items. He packed them in the hopes that he and Archie would find some time alone over the weekend to indulge in some baser pleasures, but with Captain Good’s sharp gaze still fresh in his mind, he thinks they both might have to do with their own hands while under this roof.

He pours some fresh water into a basin on the dresser to wash his hands and face, and that’s when he notices the design of the pitcher. It’s definitely Greek, and probably a reproduction if it’s in use in the house. It’s also definitely not a design fit for company, or at least any proper company. A number of curly-haired boys wrestle in different poses around the sides of the pitcher, and in more than one, their naked forms seem far closer to embrace than battle. Daniel looks at the wash basin, and in the bottom of the bowl is a scene even more explicit, with a bearded man holding a younger boy close on his naked lap.

Daniel isn’t sure what to make of it. Is it meant to shock him? Is it some strange acknowledgement of his homosexuality? Or is this just the set of pottery chosen for this room because it matches the blue and black of the curtains, and no one has noticed its meaning save for Daniel?

He puzzles over it for a moment before deciding an answer won’t come without more information about his host. He washes his hands with a sly grin and a nod to the men in the basin and gets to work on his correspondence.

*

Sir Henry Curtis is exactly what Daniel would have expected. That is, he’s tall and blond and strong, though his hair is noticeably absent on the top of his head. He’s slightly bombastic but generally good-hearted, intelligent without being too clever, and very, very English in the best and worst senses of the word. In short, he’s a good deal like Archie.

Daniel likes him immediately.

“Mr. da Silva,” Sir Henry says as they eat a meal of roast beef and small potatoes, “Archie tells me you’re a poet?” He asks this with all of the feigned interest of a man who has never read a book of poetry in his life. Daniel takes pity on him.

“Yes, a very minor one. But poetry is such drab dinner conversation, especially when I’m in the home of Sir Henry Curtis. Your nephew promised me some grand tales of your most recent voyage,” he says, only faking his own interest a little.

“Ah, well, this one was merely to secure some trade routes now that the end of the war has opened up the area to overland trade again,” Sir Henry explained. “Though I did get to spend some time with Jama, uncle of the Zulu king, and a friend from one of my previous visits.”

“And how was he?” Archie asks.

“Old,” Captain Good pipes up. “I would say it was the war, and that certainly didn’t help matters, but in all honesty, we’re all just getting damnably old.”

Sir Henry laughs, a booming, boisterous sound, and Daniel watches as Captain Good frowns back at him. “You’re just sore because Jama’s granddaughter told you you looked like an indlulamithi-dala.”

“I’m offended that Jama has a granddaughter, much less one who thinks I look like an old giraffe,” Captain Good replies archly, and Sir Henry laughs again. Captain Good looks put-upon, aside from the way his eyes are alight with mischief.

Daniel feels an inkling of an idea in the back of his mind, and he spends much of the meal barely holding up his end of the conversation as he watches Sir Henry and the Captain weave tales of Zulus and storms at sea and wonders of the East, Sir Henry leading and Captain Good jumping in with tidbits he’s forgotten, or anecdotes that make Sir Henry look foolish and charming in turn. It’s rather like watching an old married couple tell a story, with all the bickering and soft jabs he remembers from his youth, his parents arguing over some detail at the head of the table. Add in the lifelong companionship - no ladies allowed - and Sir Henry’s apparent penchant for pottery covered in buggery, and, well.

Daniel prides himself on his skills of observation. After all, that’s what Sir Maurice pays him for - information about secrets and lies and scandals. And what he’s observing now is a partnership that goes deeper than brothers-at-arms. Sir Henry and the Captain may very well be the best of friends, but they’re also intimate with each other in a way that Daniel is wholly familiar with, he thinks, glancing at Archie’s handsome face.

He wonders if it’s possible that Archie could have lived his whole life with these two men and missed something as large as this potential elephant in the room. He glances at Archie - good, kind Archie who spent his entire life not understanding his own desires until his chance encounter with Daniel - and thinks that yes, it’s entirely possible that he did. Maybe growing up with these two men made Archie think this kind of friendship was normal, was how it was supposed to be between men. If Archie never saw the passion that lay underneath it, well - Archie wasn’t one for recognizing passion, even when his own cock was involved.

But Daniel is convinced. Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good are lovers, and Archie has no earthly idea.

Oh, the irony.

*

Archie manages to catch Daniel in the hallway for a quick kiss goodnight. “I wish they’d put you in the adjoining room down the hall,” he murmurs, his lips buzzing against Daniel’s cheek.

“I’m glad they didn’t,” Daniel says and rolls his eyes when Archie looks wounded. “You would have snuck in and then spent most of the night jerking awake at every creak and groan of the floorboards, and you would have kept me up besides.”

Archie nods, sadly. “Too true. But I can’t fathom how I’ll sleep anyway, knowing you’re right across the hall and I can’t have you.”

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, isn’t that the saying?” Daniel tells him, though he’s thinking the same thing. It’s one thing for them to be apart when Archie has business at his townhouse, or Daniel is called away by Sir Maurice. But to be so close and yet so far will make the night interminably long. Daniel scans the hall and leans in to kiss Archie again. “Sweet dreams, my Viking,” he says, and closes himself in his room before his libido gets any terrible ideas. He can hear Archie’s low curse on the other side of the door and smiles.

*

Apparently, Archie is serious about not being able to sleep without him. It’s barely sunrise when there’s a loud knocking on his door. Daniel answers with his best withering glare to find Archie grinning slyly on the other side. “Fancy a morning stroll?” he asks, and while Daniel grumbles through his getting ready, by the time the sun is fully up, they’re on a walk down to the pond where Archie learned how to ice skate. They each had a thick slice of warm bread slathered in butter before they set out; Daniel thinks that, along with the cup of strong coffee he gulped down, makes the hour and the exercise almost tolerable.

“Almost tolerable,” Archie says, laughing. “From you, Daniel, I’ll take it as the highest possible praise one can get before seven in the morning.”

“Oh, there is definitely higher praise you can get before seven in the morning,” Daniel replies, “but in no way would it involve leaving my warm bed.” He winks, and Archie glances over his shoulder, then tugs at Daniel’s sleeve and pulls him along faster. “Archie, are we in a hurry to get somewhere?” Daniel asks, amused.

“Damn right we are,” Archie tells him, and as they go over a rise and down toward the pond, Archie pulls Daniel toward a copse of trees, then into it, then pushes him against one of the trees before leaning in close enough that their noses brush. “Last night was miserable,” he mutters, his eyes dark and heavy-lidded. Daniel curls one hand in the lapel of Archie’s jacket.

“Completely awful, I agree. But I thought this was too dangerous for our country visit?”

“I’m a Curtis,” Archie says with a twinkle in his eye. “Don’t you know we all live for danger? Besides,” he glances over his shoulder again, “you can’t see this spot from the house, I promise.”

“Oooh,” Daniel says, pulling Archie closer until they’re pressed together from thigh to chest, “what sort of trouble did young Archie get up to out here?”

“Nothing nearly as fantastic as this,” Archie replies, leaning in to kiss him hungrily, and Daniel almost hates how much he adores this earnest attention. But it doesn’t stop him from winding his arms around Archie’s neck and holding on, kissing him back with tongue and teeth. “Oh, fuck, Daniel,” Archie pants as Daniel grinds their hips together. He is clearly torn between leaning in to the friction and pulling away.

“Not what you had in mind?”

“Well, we do still have to be presentable at breakfast.”

“Mmm, well, I suppose it would be good form not to make the poor laundress have to deal with soiled clothing,” Daniel agrees, fingers nimbly opening Archie’s trousers. Archie keens a little as Daniel’s fingers dip inside. “Tell me what you want, Archie,” he murmurs, and Archie blinks down at him. “Do you want my hands? My mouth?”

Archie’s hips jerk. “Yes,” he breathes.

“Yes what?” Daniel whispers, and bites his lip to keep from laughing at Archie’s put-upon expression. Archie is far better at stating his feelings plainly than any Englishman has a right to be, but he’s woefully bad at stating his desires. Daniel’s been making him practice.

“Yes, I want you - your mouth,” Archie says, a faint blush blooming along his cheeks. “I want your gorgeous mouth on my cock,” he adds, unbidden, and Daniel must reward that kind of initiative.

“Luckily, there’s no place my mouth would rather be.” He slides to his knees gracefully, noting that Archie keeps his back to the house, his body shielding Daniel from anyone who may come this way, however remote the possibility. Archie is still terrified of being caught out by his uncle, and while Daniel’s intuition is almost certainly correct, he appreciates Archie’s caution. “Hold on to anything but my hair,” he admonishes as his long fingers stroke Archie’s impressive cock to his full length. Archie growls, annoyed - somehow Daniel’s hair is fascinating to him. “Fine - as long as it’s still presentable at breakfast,” he concedes.

The first time they did this, Daniel was running on adrenaline and terror and not a small amount of annoyance at the man he was sucking off, but even then Daniel enjoyed it, the way Archie’s body responded to his touch, the feeling of Archie’s big hand on the back of his neck. Now that they’ve been together for months Daniel simply adores going to his knees for Archie. Besides, the fact that Archie’s cock is a glorious thing - fat and long, with a generous dusting of curly hair at the base that Daniel loves to bury his face in - Archie is pleasantly vocal, though not too much, and willing to let Daniel decide how it will go, whether that means a slow, lazy afternoon where Daniel can make it last, or a sharp, fast encounter that leaves Daniel’s mouth buzzing and bruised.

Today, Daniel takes Archie in with little preamble, savoring the weight, the stretch of him, but knowing they can’t risk too much time even in their secluded spot. Archie’s hands are solid but gentle on his shoulders, and Daniel sets a rhythm that makes Archie shiver and gasp above him. Daniel can’t take all of Archie - though he’s been happily testing just how far he can take Archie’s frankly over-large cock down his throat - so he uses one hand to pull and tug, closing his eyes happily as he tastes the beginnings of Archie’s spunk on his tongue.

“God, Daniel,” Archie grits out, and Daniel can tell he’s close by the way his hands are less gentle in Daniel’s hair. “You’re so fucking beautiful like this.”

Daniel glances up and meets Archie’s eyes, sucking hard enough that his cheeks hollow, and he’s rewarded as Archie comes in his mouth without a warning, muffling a low groan against his sleeve.

When Daniel stands, his knees are damp through the fabric. He sighs. “At least they’re navy, so the wet won’t show. Whoever thought sex outside was a good idea?”

“It’s a bloody great idea,” Archie tells him with the certainty of a man who’s just had an orgasm. Daniel shakes his head fondly. “See, I’ll prove it to you,” he says, reaching for Daniel’s trousers. But then there’s a noise on their right and both men freeze as one of Sir Henry’s tenants strolls by on the rise of the hill, a half dozen sheep trailing behind him.

“Or maybe we should go back to the house,” Daniel murmurs sensibly, even though his own cock is pressing hard against his flies. Archie makes a noise of deep dissatisfaction that he won’t be able to make Daniel come, and Daniel adores Archie in that moment. “Come, now, you’ll just have to owe me one.”

“I’ll pay you back with interest,” Archie tells him, his eyes warm but serious.

Daniel looks to make sure the farmer is well out of view before kissing Archie lewdly. “Oh, and you know how my people love to collect.”

Archie looks at him wryly. “Which people, Jews or shameless inverts?”

“Oh, both, darling. I’m a double threat.”

*

That afternoon, with Archie and Sir Henry off for a stomp in the woods in search of grouse or hare, Daniel finds himself alone in the library. Ostensibly, he’s working on some editing for an up-and-coming poetess. In reality, he’s glancing at the walls, where paintings of exotic locales hang side-by-side with paintings of previous Curtis ancestors. Daniel finally gives up any pretense of work and stands up to walk around the room, noting which Curtis men have Archie’s blond hair, his broad shoulders. He finds a few that have Archie’s kind eyes, including one of a man standing alongside a young Sir Henry. The man is almost certainly Archie’s father - the resemblance is uncanny. Next to it is a painting of a young boy of no more than six, standing at attention with a wide smile and a small pheasant clutched in one hand, a beautiful brindled pointer sitting gently at his feet. It’s Archie, and Daniel’s chest aches with an emotion he scarcely knows what to do with.

He turns and walks to the far side of the library where Sir Henry seems to keep the majority of his collections from abroad. There’s a mask from the South Pacific, a Chinese bronze of a warrior, an Indian sword with gems embedded in the pommel. He turns a corner around a large display case and is suddenly faced with an enormous lion, its mouth open in a ferocious roar. Daniel takes a few quick steps back, his heart beating slightly too fast.

“He’s a beauty, isn’t he,” says a voice from over his shoulder, and Daniel turns to see Captain Good strolling toward him. “Sir Henry and I met him in East Africa nearly 20 years ago.”

“I hope from a good distance,” Daniel says, looking at the size of the lion’s teeth. His heartrate is mostly back to normal, but he’s still hesitant to move closer to the specimen, even if it’s as harmless as one of the paintings, stuffed with sand and mounted on a wooden base.

Captain Good lets out a derisive snort. “Now, where would the sport be in that? No, this one managed to find us when we were separated from our scouting party. We were taking a walk after dark, which was foolish, but Henry isn’t one to worry about dangers until they’re nearly upon him.”

Daniel wonders if taking a walk in the moonlight was all the Captain and Sir Henry were up to, separated from their party. He thinks about the walk that Archie had dragged him on just this morning, and how they’d scarcely lost sight of the house before Archie’s mouth was on his, hot and needful. When he looks up, the Captain is watching him. “Were you attacked?” he asks, trying to deflect the man’s too-keen gaze.

Captain Good’s expression turns darker. “We heard him before we saw him - or, I did. Henry’s the eyes of the pair of us, but I’m certainly the ears. I told him we should go back, or at least hold still and be quiet for a while, but he was more excited than scared by the prospect of coming face to face with a big cat.”

The word “idiot” is clearly implied at the end; Daniel represses a smile.

“The only weapons we had were my hunting knife and Henry’s pistol. Neither is a great help against a beast of this size,” he adds, nodding to the lion, who clearly would have outweighed both men put together. “In the end, Henry managed to wound it with a few shots, but it was still coming towards us. That’s when he took the knife from my hand and went to face the beast in hand-to-hand combat. Or hand-to-paw, as Archie liked to point out when he was younger.”

Daniel blinks at the Captain. Surely he can’t be understanding this correctly. “You’re saying Sir Henry killed this lion with a hunting knife and his bare hands?”

“Yes. You see,” Captain Good says, still looking at the specimen, “when a man is facing death, you get a glimpse of his true nature.”

“And Sir Henry’s true nature was to throw himself between you and the lions?”

“Just so.”

Daniel thinks of Archie in the cave, of how he faced down Daniel’s tormentor with a laugh. He thinks of the brute strength in Archie’s hands in that moment, the blank, black rage in his eyes. He can certainly imagine his Viking standing between himself and mortal danger without a second thought, and the idea makes Daniel shiver. “And doesn’t that make you feel angry at the damn bloody foolishness of a move like that?”

The Captain smiles ruefully. “Oh, most certainly. But it also makes me feel -” The Captain looks at him, a long, heavy sort of look, before he turns back to the lion. “Precious. Beloved. And wholly unworthy of that sort of sacrifice.”

“So what do you do?” he asks softly, amazed he can find his own voice, and more amazed that the Captain is sharing what amounts to a confession of Daniel’s suspicion.

The Captain smiles ruefully. “The only thing you can do, Mr. da Silva - you try to make yourself worthy.”

Daniel feels a knot in his chest as the Captain’s words sink in. Precious but unworthy - that is how he feels most mornings, waking in Archie’s arms, the morning sunlight seeping through the curtains and making Archie look like a golden god in his bed. Daniel knows he’s not worthy of the adoration that he catches on Archie’s face in those early mornings. He knows if he were a better man, he would end their relationship, would set Archie up with a good man of his own station and try to part on good terms, but Daniel’s not a good man. That’s rather the point.

“Come, Mr. da Silva,” the Captain says, gesturing to the doors that lead out to the patio. “Let’s ring for a spot of tea and you can tell me about some of your travels. I’m certain you have some stories to tell, as a writer?”

Daniel can’t quite tell, but he thinks the Captain may be teasing him, testing him. “Nothing as hair-raising as lions, or Boers for that matter, but don’t let the ink-stained fingers fool you - poets can certainly be vicious,” he replies, and the Captain laughs.

*

After their tete-a-tete in the library, Daniel finds Captain Good much more open and agreeable. They spend a few hours on the veranda, enjoying some strong African coffee that the Captain tells him they brought back from their recent voyage. Daniel talks about the coffee in the German cafes of his youth, “thick enough that the spoon would stick straight up,” he says, smiling at the memory.

Captain Good tells the story of a failed coffee plantation that Sir Henry had purchased a decade ago in Guatemala. The way he speaks, Daniel gets the idea that the plantation had been a loving, if ill-conceived, gift to the Captain. “If it was to work, we needed to be there more than once every fifteen months or so. In the end, we sold it to Francisco, our plantation manager, and Sir Henry learned he’s a far better merchant than he is a farmer.”

“What’s that?” Sir Henry booms, coming up the steps to the back patio with Archie on his heels. They’re both flushed and smiling, and Daniel can’t help the odd twist in his chest, looking at Archie’s happy face. He sees the Captain glance at him knowingly.

“Just telling Mr. da Silva about the Guatemalan experiment, Henry. I think we can all agree that studying soils and almanacs is not your strong suit,” the Captain says, his tone teasing.

“Studying anything is not my strong suit,” Sir Henry replies. “We’ll leave that up to you scholars, eh, Archie?”

Archie agrees with a hearty laugh, though Daniel notices some strain around his eyes. He holds Archie back for a moment as the older gentlemen head inside to prepare for dinner. “Everything all right?” he asks quietly, and Archie sighs.

“It’s fine, just that Sir Henry asked a number of questions about you, about our partnership. Telling him the truth seems impossible, but it was even harder than I’d imagined, saying things like ‘oh, Daniel, he’s a nice enough chap. Bit of an egghead, if you know what I mean’.” Archie grimaces and Daniel wishes he could reach out to cup his jaw, to kiss him and reassure him that Daniel doesn’t mind a whit about Archie’s gentle dissembling.

Instead he squeezes his arm, a friendly gesture that even the keenest-eyed maid would never mistake for desire. “It’s fine, Archie. I’ve been called quite a lot worse than ‘a nice enough chap’.”

“Yes, but you’re not a nice enough chap,” Archie bites out, and Daniel laughs as he stammers. “I - I mean, you are. You’re bloody marvelous and I just wish I could say so without worry that we’ll be discovered.”

“You worry too much.”

“You’re sure they don’t suspect anything?”

“I said you worry too much,” Daniel repeats, and shoos Archie upstairs to clean up and dress for dinner.

*

Daniel is excellent at lying, but as much as he would never admit it to Archie, he prefers putting his cards on the table when he feels off-balance. It usually leads to a much swifter resolution to conflict. So, in the few minutes before the bell is rung for dinner, Daniel quietly heads down the stairs and knocks on the door to Sir Henry’s study.

Unsurprisingly, the Captain is the one who ushers him in. “Sir Henry is still getting ready,” he says, eyeing Daniel curiously. “If you’d like to wait -”

Daniel had meant to talk to Archie’s uncle, but circumstances sometimes offer better solutions. The Captain and Daniel have a rapport, and Daniel is certain they have a tacit understanding of their roles in the lives (and bedrooms) of the Curtis men. “Actually,” he says, “maybe you could help me with a delicate matter?”

The Captain raises one dark eyebrow. “Well, that depends. Is it something illegal in nature?”

“Well,” Daniel says with dark humor, “unfortunately, yes. But in this case, it’s more of a family matter.”

“I may not be your man, then,” the Captain tells him, walking to the small bar and pouring two tumblers of brandy. “I’m afraid I don’t have any family to speak of.”

Daniel takes his glass of brandy and gives it a practiced sniff. “Now,” he says, turning the glass in his fingers. “I think we both know that’s untrue.” He looks around the study, at the photographs of Sir Henry and Captain Good taken across the globe, at the pictures of Archie on the wall, at the pair of matching wingback chairs in front of the fireplace. “You’re one of the more domestic men I’ve ever met, sir.”

Captain Good pauses with his glass halfway to his mouth. “Well, I’ve certainly never been called that before,” he says. “Can’t say I’d like to be called that again,” he adds pointedly, and his eyes are glinting in warning.

“Understood,” Daniel says, not wanting to anger a potential ally. “But the matter stands. You have a family - you helped raise Archie into the man he is today, the man -” he pauses to take a sip of brandy before facing down his own lion, “the man who I am privileged to know, and who I hold very dear.” It’s not an outright admission of fucking, but it’s certainly more than he’d ever intended to say aloud. Hell, he’s not even said as much to Archie. He probably should, if he makes it out of this room alive.

“What exactly are you asking me, Mr. da Silva?” the Captain says, his voice hard as steel.

“I’m saying that I’m sure you kept it from him for good reasons. That he was too young, or too bullheaded to understand as a youth. But Archie has made great strides in understanding the world in the past few years, and even greater ones in understanding himself. And he’s hurting, now, trying to being the man he thinks you want him to be instead of the man he is. I think if anyone in the world would understand that hurt and would want to spare him the misery of lying to the people he loves, it would be you and Sir Henry.”

Daniel finishes his brandy in one large gulp and places the glass on the desk. The Captain hasn’t moved an inch. If not for the way he’s blinking at Daniel in shock, Daniel wouldn’t know if he’d heard a word. Finally, after a long minute, he puts his own glass down and rubs at his temples. “Are you telling me that you think Archie doesn’t know about the nature of my relationship with his uncle?”

Daniel’s eyebrows go up. “No, sir, I’m telling you he absolutely does not know about the nature of your relationship, and that he’s sworn me to secrecy about our own for fear of losing Sir Henry, and you, and his entire inheritance.”

“But that’s - it’s nonsense. We aren’t demonstrative with each other, surely, but Henry and I never lied to Archie about our relationship, especially as he got older. For God’s sake, I sold my home and moved in here when Archie was fifteen! He never spoke of it to us, of course, but then again the Curtis men are rather old fashioned about propriety. I thought he’d just accepted it.”

It’s Daniel’s turn to blink in shock. “I don’t know if you’ve realized, but our Archie has the observational prowess of a boulder, at least when things don’t fit his black-and-white understanding of the world,” he mutters, and the Captain lets out a deep sigh.

“Well, this puts a different spin on things, certainly,” he says, just as Sir Henry opens the door.

“Ah, there you are,” he says, and the smile on his face as he looks at Captain Good makes Daniel wonder how any sane person could ever think they were merely friends. “Dinner is -

“- going to be a few minutes late,” the Captain interrupts. “Excuse us, Mr. da Silva. Sir Henry and I have to discuss an important family matter. Can you let the staff know we’ll be a few minutes?”

Daniel leaves a confused Sir Henry with the Captain. He feels lighter on his feet, but also mildly mortified - he knew being with Archie would lead to a comedy of manners at some point, but this is outside even Daniel’s excessive imagination.

*

Twenty minutes later, the Captain emerges without Sir Henry and goes to have a quiet word with the butler. The man looks perplexed and not a little put-out, but the Captain’s arch look brooks no argument, no matter that the staff officially work for Sir Henry and not Captain Good.

“Archie,” he says, once the butler has headed off to the kitchen with his orders, “your uncle would like to see you in the study. Sanders will bring you some trays in there, so the meal won’t get cold.”

“I’m sorry - is everything quite all right?” Archie asks, clearly thrown. The Curtis household is run like a tight ship - probably also the Captain’s doing - and not sitting down to a formal dinner, especially when company is present, must be nearly unheard of.

“It will be, I’m sure,” the Captain demures. “And don’t worry about Mr. da Silva; he and I will have a smaller meal in the parlor and see you both for cigars on the patio after.”

Archie looks at Daniel with real fear in his eyes. “Just go, it can’t be as bad as you’re imagining,” Daniel whispers, and Archie stands up and smoothes out his jacket.

“Well, gentlemen, I’ll just… be off,” he says awkwardly. He walks toward his uncle’s study like a man going to his own execution. Daniel would feel worse if he didn’t know what was on the other side of that door. As it is, he just sighs in relief.

“Well, that was quick,” he says to Captain Good.

The Captain knocks back his drink in one swallow. His cheeks are pinked, and Daniel thinks he’s probably had more than his usual share of alcohol this evening. Daniel holds back, out of a worry that Archie will need a sober ear later on. “We talked about waiting to speak to him until after a proper dinner, but Henry is the worst liar alive, at least when he’s actively trying to lie, and I didn’t want it all coming out in front of the staff.”

“They don’t know?” Daniel asks, honestly curious as to how that would work, given their living situation.

“Well, I assume they do, because it’s bloody fucking obvious, but Archie is living proof that assumptions are not always correct. Maybe the staff just assume we’re old school chums who spend all our time together seducing native maidens.”

“That’s rather the impression Quatermain gives in his books about the two of you,” Daniel reminds him.

“That’s rather the impression Quatermain was paid to provide,” the Captain says with a dark smile.

Daniel is impressed. “You bribed him?”

“We became patrons of the arts. There is a subtle difference.”

“Ah, the same difference that separates the mad from the eccentric,” Daniel nods, and the Captain raises his glass in the affirmative.

The footmen come up with trays for them, and they move to the parlor. The Captain quickly excuses them, and they look rather poleaxed, but do as they’re told and close the door. They spend a few silent moments on their meal before the Captain puts his fork down and quietly asks, “Do you think he’ll accept it, our relationship?”

Daniel leans back in his chair. He’s wondered the same thing all day, whether Archie will see this as the blessing it is, both for his uncle and for their own relationship, or if he’ll react like a child who thinks he’s been deceived for years by the people he loves most. “I think before the war, he wouldn’t have,” Daniel tells him honestly. “But he sees the world differently now. And he certainly sees himself differently, since he met me,” he adds, rather boldly.

“We should have brought him with us on our travels, Henry and I. I suggested it a few times, pulling him out of school for a year and taking him to India or the Caribbean, but Henry wanted Archie to have a normal childhood, and Sir Maurice would have thrown a fit about it. He worked his damnedest to get Archie into Oxford, even though the Curtis men are not, as they will tell you, scholars.” He shrugs and sighs. “But if we had, maybe he wouldn’t have been so blinded to the world, or to the kinds of people who inhabit it.”

“I don’t know, Captain - you’re talking about a man who had a, shall we say intimate companion in the army, whom he considered nothing but a good chum until the day he died. I think you have to give Archie some of the credit for being daft about this all on his own.”

“Good lord.” The Captain shakes his head. “How on earth do you put up with him, da Silva?”

Daniel leans his elbow on the table. “Well, he makes it up to me in other areas,” he says obliquely, and grins around a bit of roast duck as the Captain glowers at him. Daniel belatedly realizes he made that comment to the man who is ostensibly Archie’s second father; he’s saved from whatever cutting remark the Captain no doubt had on his tongue when the door opens and Sir Henry enters.

“Henry,” the Captain says, his attention swinging wholly away from Daniel. “Where is Archie? Is he -”

“He’s gone up to his room,” Sir Henry says, sitting down on the small sofa with a groan. “It went well, I think, but he needs some time to fully absorb it.”

Captain Good lets out a gusty breath. “I told you we’d be terrible fathers,” he says, and Sir Henry snorts.

“I think we did all right - he’s not a gambler or a drunkard or dead in a ditch -”

“And he’s not a womanizer. I mean, that’s certainly your upstanding influence,” Daniel cuts in with a sly smile, and Sir Henry throws his head back with a laugh.

“Oh, you’re just as terrible as Maurice kept going on about. Thank god for you, da Silva, otherwise my nephew would have spent his whole life in the dark.”

“As would I,” Daniel says without thinking, and both men pause, Captain Good’s eyebrow raised in surprise. “That is - I should go up to check on him,” Daniel stammers, getting up and tugging at the hem of his waistcoat. “Gentlemen,” he says, taking his leave as Sir Henry snorts in amusement behind him.

*

“Archie?” he says, knocking softly on the door to Archie’s room. When there’s no answer, he tries the knob, and lets himself in when it proves to be unlocked. He takes in the bare wood floor and the pastoral scenes on the wall, the bed draped in dark, manly colors. There’s a bookcase filled with volumes about travel and adventure, some well worn. On the bureau are trinkets from around the world, many of them the kinds of toys a young boy would adore. It’s Archie’s childhood bedroom, Daniel realizes with a smile. The room where he grew up and playacted and read about far-away lands that he didn’t get to see until he was a soldier. Everything in the room says ‘Archie’ to him in a way that makes Daniel feel warm and settled. The only thing missing is Archie himself.

“Archie?” he says again, looking into the closet. But no, Archie isn’t there. Daniel runs cold for a moment - has he fled the scene entirely, unable to deal with the bomb Sir Henry has just dropped on him? Has he decided that Daniel is to blame for the shaking of his foundations? But no - his trunk is in the corner, and his jacket is flung over the back of a chair. He probably went for a walk to clear his head, Daniel thinks as he heads across the hall to his own room.

But when he opens the door, Archie is there, sitting on the edge of Daniel’s bed, his elbows on his knees, his head hanging between them. He glances up when he hears the door, and Daniel’s breath catches at the lost look on his face. “Archie,” he says, unsure of what to say.

“I suppose you think I’m quite the moron,” he says with a bitter laugh. “After all the hand-wringing I did about Sir Henry finding out about my… predilections.”

Daniel closes the door with a click and locks it for good measure. No good having this interrupted by an over-eager upstairs maid. “I think you grew up with two great men who weren’t demonstrative with you or with each other. I think you believed what society would have you believe makes the most sense, with the least amount of fuss.”

“Well, I’m certainly not a fan of fuss,” he bites back, and Daniel walks to the bed and folds to his knees in front of Archie, taking his head in both hands.

“You’re a good man. You believe what people say; you see the best in them. That’s not a bad thing, Archie.”

“Maybe if I was a little less trusting, I’d be a little more wise about the world,” he says. “Like you. When did you figure it out? How long were you in this house before you knew exactly what Sir Henry and the Captain were?”

Daniel pushes Archie’s hair off his forehead. “About six hours,” he says, and Archie closes his eyes with a groan. “But you know that it’s nearly impossible to see the whole picture when you’re too close to it. All you see when you look at them are the men who took you out after your first fox, who taught you to ride and wrote you letters from far-off places and bought you new suits as you outgrew the old ones. Have you ever considered either of them having sex at all, with anyone?”

Archie’s face twists like he’s just tasted a lemon and Daniel laughs.

“Well, then, how could you ever have been expected to think they would be having sex with each -”

“Stop, let’s not talk about that,” Archie says a tad too loudly and Daniel shakes his head, smiling.

“Well, what should we talk about, my gorgeous - if slightly moronic - Viking?” He slides his hands down the back of Archie’s neck and Archie’s eyes flit to the door.

“They know about us, you know,” he murmurs thoughtfully. “Sir Henry said that he and the Captain - that they assumed we were together before we even arrived.”

“Mm-hmm,” Daniel agrees, and feels a warm jolt as Archie’s eyes find his, full of dark humor.

“How is it that everyone understood me before I did?”

“You were busy being handsome and virile and shooting Boers,” Daniel tells him with a handwave. He actually has plenty of ideas about why Archie was so slow to understand himself, yet so quick to accept it once he did; all of them point to the kind of genuinely guileless soul that make Archie so good, and makes Daniel so terrible for him. But he isn’t going to open those doors, not while he’s still selfishly keeping Archie close.

Archie is looking at him with a smile that means he knows Daniel is dissembling and he’s willing to let it go for the moment. “That did take up a good number of years,” he agrees. He glances at the door again. “Daniel, if we’ve been found out, do you think,” he starts, but cuts himself off by leaning in to press his mouth to Daniel’s throat.

“Ah, a bit of turnabout-is-fair-play in terms of making the Curtis men uncomfortable tonight?” he says, his pulse already speeding up as Archie’s tongue traces across his skin. “Want to make your uncle squirm a little, knowing you’re up here with me?”

“Want to make you squirm,” Archie says with some heat. “Besides, don’t I owe you from this morning?”

Daniel smirks, but he can’t help his body’s reaction to Archie’s hands, his mouth. “Always worried about keeping score,” he murmurs.

“Is that a no?” Archie asks, his lips buzzing against Daniel’s throat.

“No,” Daniel replies. He pulls to his feet and walks to the wardrobe where they’ve tucked his trunk. He grins down at it as Archie curses behind him.

“Damn it, da Silva, you -”

“- came prepared,” Daniel finishes for him, popping open the secret side panel of his case and tossing a small vial of oil at Archie. He catches it in his gloved bad hand, which is much more dexterous than Archie likes to admit. Daniel starts to work open the buttons on his shirt. “As you said, you owe me one, and you know exactly what I like.”

Archie’s eyes are wide and dark. “Can I -” he starts, standing up and reaching for Daniel.

“You can get your own bloody clothes off,” Daniel says, fond but impatient, his accent nearly slipping. It happens more around Archie than anyone in Daniel’s life save for his family - Daniel just can’t keep up his walls around Archie, not when Archie’s looking at him like that, all wide-eyed wonder mixed with burning desire. Daniel tugs his boots off and leaves them at the foot of the bed with his vest and shirt. He unbuttons his trousers more slowly than he’d like, just to watch the way Archie’s eyes focus on his fingers. “Archie, come on,” he says softly, and it takes no time for Archie to undress down to his skin and rise to his knees on the bed, meeting Daniel in the middle.

“My God,” Archie says, reverent, like they haven’t done this dozens of times before. Daniel kisses him before he has the chance to say something truly saccharine. The kiss turns deep and wet, and Daniel revels in the feeling of Archie’s big hands on him. He’s taken off the glove that covers his mangled hand, and Daniel sighs as he feels Archie’s two fingers trace up his spine. It was a hard-fought battle, getting Archie to realize that Daniel didn’t care a whit about scars, and while he enjoyed supple leather on his skin as much as the next man, it wouldn’t do as a substitute for warm skin.

Archie’s hand tangles in Daniel’s hair and he barely resists rolling his eyes. He wouldn’t call him predictable, mostly, but Archie would spend hours petting Daniel’s hair if he let him. (Someday, Daniel probably will let him, and that’s a terrifying thought.) He’s about to protest the grip Archie has on the back of his head when Archie leans forward and pushes Daniel off-balance, lowering them both until Daniel is splayed out on the duvet.

Archie trails kisses over Daniel’s chest, his tongue flicking against his nipple ring hard enough that Daniel gasps. Archie grins and does it again, and again. “You’re taking your fucking time, Curtis,” Daniel nearly snaps, and Archie latches his teeth onto the ring and tugs just sharply enough to make Daniel cry out. His eyes fly to the door of the bedroom, still firmly locked, at the same time as his cock jumps against Archie’s torso.

“I know exactly what you like, remember,” Archie rumbles, and rises to his elbow just long enough to pop the cap from the vial. He coats one finger, then another, and Daniel hisses as his fingers slide over Daniel’s balls, then behind them. Daniel bends one knee outward with barely any thought other than yes and more. Archie’s blunt fingers press at his hole as his mouth closes back around Daniel’s nipple. It’s an exquisite torture - the warm burn of Archie’s hand pushing inside in counterpoint to the sharp sting of Archie’s teeth on his flesh. Daniel thinks someday he might be able to come just from this, but Archie is impatient in the best of ways and as soon as he has two fingers snug inside Daniel’s arse, he’s bending down to suckle at the head of his cock. “Oh, yes,” Daniel says, his head rolling back. It’s his turn to bury his fingers in Archie’s hair.

Daniel can feel the current building in his spine, the edge of an orgasm dancing around like the tip of Archie’s tongue over the head of his cock. Archie’s fingers rock into him, a gentle, sweet slide that has Daniel writhing and panting, but not quite there. Archie has this nasty habit of being terribly fucking nice to Daniel in bed, and while sometimes that kindness is enough to undo him, right now it’s just making Daniel want to scream in frustration. “Wait, stop,” he grits out, and Archie pulls back fast, his brow furrowed in worry.

“Daniel, what -” he manages before Daniel is arching his back fast enough to buck Archie onto his side, then rolling them so he’s sitting astride Archie’s muscular hips. “And what do you think you’re doing?” Archie asks, his voice teasing.

Daniel slides his arse over the hard ridge of Archie’s cock, and Archie’s eyes go wide. “I’m collecting my interest,” Daniel tells him with a wink, and Archie groans.

“We shouldn’t - I don’t want to hurt you,” Archie pants, and Daniel sighs and reaches for the vial, more for Archie’s sake than his own.

“Oh, but there can be such exquisite pleasure in some kinds of pain, Archie,” he tells him, but he slicks up Archie’s cock anyway, the weight of it heavy and promising in his palm. He doesn’t use too much - just enough to keep Archie’s skin from catching on his as Daniel rises to his knees and sinks down onto Archie’s glorious cock; he can feel every inch of it sliding into him, a fullness he can never get from just Archie’s fingers.

Daniel rides him, slow and deep. It hurts, enough that Daniel’s breath catches every time Archie’s control slips a fraction and he pushes up to meet him. “Damn it, Daniel,” Archie growls, and while he sounds a little angry at Daniel for being pushy, Daniel thinks it more likely that he’s mad at himself for allowing himself to be pushed. But instead of stopping, Archie goes up on one elbow to get better leverage as he wraps his scarred hand around Daniel’s cock, his thumb and forefinger forming a tight ring that Daniel can fuck into.

“Oh,” Daniel exclaims, the sound coming out of him like he was punched.

“Is this what you want?” Archie says, a growl in his voice that means he’s still a little angry. He shoves his hips up with a fraction more force, his cock shifting with the angle so that he’s pressed hard against that spot inside Daniel that makes him want to cry, it feels so good.

“Yes,” Daniel manages, blinking hard to clear the wetness from his eyes. Daniel da Silva doesn’t beg - not any man, for any reason. But here, with Archie spread underneath him, his eyes dark with promise, Daniel wants like he hasn’t in a long time, and he worries that Archie won’t give it to him. “Yes, Archie, please,” he says, “please.”

Archie leans up enough to capture Daniel’s mouth in a kiss, his other hand still working over Daniel’s cock. “Anything,” Archie tells him, the words hot on Daniel’s sticky skin. “Anything.”

More,” Daniel tells him, not sure how to say what he wants.

But Archie rolls them over and pushes Daniel’s thighs back to his ears. “Like this?” He asks, and Daniel can’t even answer, just digs his nails into Archie’s arms and sobs as Archie pushes back into him slow but steady. Daniel keens when Archie’s all the way inside - it’s nearly too much, but when Archie moves, the sparks finally light up along Daniel’s spine. Archie’s leaning over him, close enough to kiss whenever he thrusts. “So beautiful like this,” he pants, his voice low in Daniel’s ear. “I’ll always give you whatever you need, always, always,” he says, and Daniel feels the jolt of ecstasy as his body clamps down around Archie’s cock.

“Oh, oh,” is all he can manage as he comes hard enough to paint his torso, a few pearly drops clinging to the coarse hair on Archie’s chest. He can’t breathe - he honestly can’t for a long moment, enough that when he finally manages, it’s a harsh, staccato sound that has Archie pushing his hair back and looking at him with that furrowed brow.

“Daniel, Daniel, should I -” he starts, pulling away enough that Daniel makes a grab for him.

“Don’t stop,” he says as sternly as he can manage through his heaving breaths. “I love having you inside me when you come, love keeping it inside me when you -”

“Daniel,” Archie hisses. “You can’t just say things like that.” But his hips are pistoning, fast and furious, and Daniel floats on a sea of warmth as Archie claims him, ravages him. When he comes, it’s with a full body shudder that leaves Daniel petting his shoulders, kissing his neck softly through the aftershocks.

They lie there for a few long moments, Daniel savoring the weight of Archie until he becomes more a burden than a blanket. He pushes at Archie’s shoulders and almost manages not to wince as Archie pulls out of him slowly. “All right?” Archie says, smiling but still worried. Daniel lets his eye roll do the talking his body can’t seem to manage, and Archie just laughs and kisses him. “All right, fine, you just wait right here,” he says, rolling to the side of the bed and getting up with a groan. He stumbles to the washbasin and picks up a towel, cleaning off his hands, then his chest and groin. Daniel rolls his head to the side to watch him. Even in such a state, the sight of Archie in all his naked glory makes Daniel’s cock twitch.

“Stop it, get over here,” he grumbles, and Archie re-wets the cloth and crawls onto the bed. He slides the cloth over Daniel’s chest, down to his cock, careful to be gentle. Daniel allows it, this pampering care, because he knows it makes Archie happy. For a man as dangerous as Archie Curtis, he seems to live for this sweet, slow afterglow.

Which is why it’s such a surprise that Archie leaves the washcloth draped over Daniel’s thigh as his fingers trail back behind Daniel’s balls, rubbing around Daniel’s sticky hole. “What was that about liking it inside you?” he asks almost conversationally, as he presses a finger back inside. Daniel gasps - part pleasure at the filthiness of it, part pain from the breach of his still-sore hole. Daniel can feel Archie’s finger sliding through the slickness he’d left there. Daniel shivers, the pleasure overtaking the discomfort in waves.

They’re not looking at each other. Daniel is looking at the lovely painted ceiling of the bedroom; Archie is looking at where his finger is pressed deep into Daniel’s arse.

“I do,” Daniel says. “I like it very much.”

“So do I,” Archie tells him quietly, like a secret.

“At home, I have a device that we could use, if you’d like to try,” Daniel tells him. “Something that would keep your come inside me, plug me up with it. Maybe we could take a morning stroll around the neighborhood,” he adds with a grin. He risks a glance at Archie’s face, and it’s scarlet.

“Well,” Archie says, clearing his throat. “you know I do enjoy a morning stroll.”

Daniel tosses his head back against the pillows and laughs. “That you do, my dear. That you do.”

*

Archie stays the night in Daniel’s room, because “sod it if Sir Henry doesn’t like it, he’s got no legs to stand on,” Archie tells him, and Daniel quite agrees.

In the morning, Daniel wakes to Archie’s golden head on his pillow, an arm flung heavy and safe over Daniel’s waist. He lies still for a long time, listening to the sounds of the house waking up. He wonders if Sir Henry and the Captain wake this way, decades of companionship making their sleep as easy as their waking hours together. He wonders how many nights they’ve had to spend apart - probably not many, the way they live in each other’s pockets.

Daniel has always hated the idea of being coupled, being domestic, thinking it would squeeze the life out him, would make him bitter, would chafe at his very core. But the Captain and Sir Henry are living proof that one can live an adventure as two people, that there are those who can share themselves and not lose themselves in the process. He wonders if he can do that, with Archie. He wonders if they have twenty years in them, or if Archie will someday want more than Daniel is able to give.

The idea is terrifying, and Daniel clamps his fingers around Archie’s arm like a vise. “Hmm?” Archie mumbles, and Daniel reluctantly lets go. Daniel’s heart is beating too fast, and he thinks you try to make yourself worthy, the Captain’s voice echoing in his ears.

“Archie,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Yes?” Archie leans in to kiss Daniel’s shoulder sweetly. Daniel’s hands are shaking.

“You know that you’re - that I’m. Very fond of you,” he says, cursing himself from here to bloody Timbuktu. When he looks over, Archie’s eyebrows are drawn up in surprise.

“Well, it had occurred to me, yes,” he says archly, looking down at their entwined bodies.

Daniel huffs in frustration. “No,” he says, “it’s… more than that. You know that, don’t you? That I feel -” He’s frozen on the words, and he’s generally very good at words.

Archie runs his thumb down the arch of Daniel’s nose, then over his cheek, then the rise of his lower lip. “I know how you feel,” he says warmly. He leans in to kiss Daniel on the mouth, a nearly chaste brush that still leaves Daniel’s lips tingling. “It’s actually rather obvious.”

Daniel feels his chest expand and expand, like it’s full of light. “Well,” he says with far less bite than he’d like, “I just wanted to make sure. After all, you’re not very good at noticing obvious things.”