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Kindred Spirits

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Sometimes Alison took it upon herself to tidy something. Just a tiny section of the house in the grand scheme of things - there was still so much left to be renovated - but completing a job was completing a job, no matter how small, no matter how impulsively done, and she always sat back afterwards in satisfaction.

She was on her hands and knees, tackling a chipped and grimy and peeling stretch of skirting board that had been bothering her for days. At first her plan had been to attack it with some super glue and a wet wipe, but after the first touch the old wood had begun to flake and crumble under her fingers and she’d quickly realised the entire thing would need to come off. It barely took any prying to pull it free, and so she was shuffling systematically along on her knees removing it, occasionally mourning the soon to be bruised state of her kneecaps as they dug into the unforgiving floorboards. With a soft grunt she shifted her weight, one knee then the other; one knee then the other; one knee then the –

She made a strangled noise as she reached out to catch herself from toppling over, her hand smacking against the wall. The floorboard she had just rested her weight on had creaked and dipped dangerously, slipping out of place.   

“Oh my God. Jesus.” She put a hand to her chest and glared down at the offending floorboard, removing her knee. “Thanks for the jumpscare,” she said, even though she knew she wouldn’t have fallen further than the subfloor lying just beneath (she and Mike had paid extra attention to the type of flooring each room had after the Toby Nightingale Incident). She dropped the skirting she’d been holding to prod gingerly at the loose floorboard, now lying in the shallow hollow beneath it.

It was then she noticed, amongst the dust and detritus that had slipped through the cracks and become trapped beneath their feet, the envelope.

Alison abandoned her task and moved the loose floorboard out of the way, plucking the letter – for it was a letter, she could feel the thick press of folded paper inside – from where it had laid hidden.

From the hallways behind her she could hear the Captain humming to himself whilst he walked his dutiful rounds around the house. She sat down properly to examine the letter. Aged but not ancient, address-less, stamp-less, with a name written in neat cursive across the front. She tilted it toward the light but it didn’t illuminate anything about the content. She flipped it over and ran her thumb idly over the line of the envelope flap. She didn’t mean to break the seal, but the glue was old and came apart easily.

The letter sprang open.

“Oh fuck.”

“Alison?!”

The Captain’s footsteps grew loud and rapid as he approached, and Alison turned around awkwardly on her heels as his head appeared in the doorway.

“Hey Captain,” she said, trying to smooth the letter back closed to no avail with one hand and waving reassuringly at him with the other, “don’t worry, I’m fine - ”

“Well of course you are. Wasn’t concerned at all,” he said brusquely, but he untensed and lowered his brandished swagger stick, and Alison hid her smile as he came further into the room, clearing his throat and shifting her attention. “What do you have there?”

“What I was swearing at. More accurately I was swearing at myself for damaging it.” She gently held the letter up to indicate the broken seal. “Found it beneath a dodgy floorboard, reckon it must’ve slipped down there,”

The Captain stood next to her “A letter?”

“Yeah. There’s no address or anything though, look.”

She turned the letter around, and the Captain froze.

Alison blinked. She knew it was impossible, but she could’ve sworn he’d gone pale. She looked between him and the name on the paper. “D’you know them?”

The Captain swallowed and ignored her question. “Beneath the floorboards you say?” His voice was quiet and cracked uncharacteristically in the middle.

“Y-yeah. Captain,” she tried again, softly. He was still looking stricken at the letter, “d’you recognise the name?”

The Captain looked a moment longer, then tore his gaze away to the hole in the floor. That was the only way Alison could think to describe the action. “Yes,” he said.

“Oh,” said Alison, “so this is – this is from your time?”

The Captain was wringing his swagger stick round and round in his hands. “Yes.”

Alison suddenly felt silly sitting on the floor, so she got up, careful with the letter, and held it out toward him a little. She knew he couldn’t take it, but it felt like more his than hers. “I can open it, if you want? See what it says?”

The Captain turned to her then, to the letter, and his hands halted their tight turning on his swagger stick. He wavered. Opened his mouth. Closed it again. Almost said something, then with a resolute setting of his shoulders, and an unfathomable edge to his voice, changed his mind.

“Thank you Alison, but no. It should stay unread.”

Alison nodded, cradling the letter close to her chest. “Alright.” The Captain had moved to stare out of the window, so she spoke to his back. “I’ll put it somewhere safe, then. And… if you change your mind - just yell, yeah?”

The Captain made a vague nodding motion, but didn’t turn from the window, and Alison realised she would have to abandon her skirting board task for the day, and leave the Captain to his thoughts. She backed away to tuck the letter somewhere it wouldn’t get damaged, tracing the swooping pen marks of the name written upon it with the edge of her thumb as she walked.

 

 

At the edge of the Button House grounds, the ghost of Lieutenant William Havers had gasped awake with the breaking of an envelope seal.

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Havers was looking at a very different sky to the one he remembered last. And it was quiet. Quiet but for the chirping of birds and the rustle of the leaves on the trees above him.

Far above him, for he was lying on his back in the grass, breathing heavily, though the action felt a little…off. He could not quite place his finger on why.

Slowly he sat up, hands braced in the grass, his uniform bunching and creasing at his waist.

His uniform. Yes. He’d, he’d been –

His hand reached up gingerly toward the back of his head, and he startled to feel a small patch of it wet and uncomfortably spongy to the touch. He took his hand away. Tried very hard not to panic.

He thought he remembered the beginnings of pain before things had gone black. Something that would have hurt terribly if he had been conscious to feel it.

Havers stood, automatically moving to swipe the dirt and twigs from his uniform and realising that, peculiarly, none had stuck to him and, bizarrely, that was what was bothering him more than unfamiliar surroundings and the unexplained state of himself. If the mundane banality of loose foliage strands sticking to coarse fabric was disrupted, things were very wrong. He swallowed, and straightened his uniform. After a moment of deliberation, he started walking.

He’d been in Africa. He wasn’t anymore. Of his many questions, he could start by figuring out one; where in the world he was now.

Within a few paces he was approaching a fence, overgrown with brambles and nettles, and braced himself to clamber over it, lodging one foot and swinging his other leg over to the field beyond –

He tumbled back down to the side of the fence he should have just vacated with an uncomfortable lurch.

Gazing at the fence Lieutenant Havers quelled the panic that was rising despite his desperate attempts to keep a level head with an unstable breath. An action that, he finally realised, felt slightly hollow. He got to his feet; blamed the wound he knew to be marring the base of his skull but was ignoring for the sake of practicality for his impossible failed attempt to cross the fence line, and tried again. Slowly.

Again he fell back to the side he had just tried to leave.

He tried a third time. He dare not try a fourth. Instead he turned and ran in the other direction.

 

The ghosts were in the TV room, and the Captain was perched on the window ledge, staring down at his lap. Chewing the inside of his lip.

That letter. That Alison could gently cradle in her hands and the Captain could not so much as touch. That letter with his own name on the front in that hand. Penmanship he could never forget. He’d watched Lieutenant Havers fill in form after form across his desk, ink from his own pen dripping down onto abandoned pages.

He couldn’t read it. It wasn’t his to read. Havers had never given it to him; never written another when the original had gotten lost. If there was one thing the Captain understood intimately it was the sanctity of privacy.

But he’d seen the envelope’s broken seal when Alison had showed it to him, glimpsed the wad of paper inside, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that all he had left of Havers, save for a slightly grainy photograph taped to the ghost chart he snuck looks at when no-one would see him, was contained within that letter just a few rooms away, just out of reach. Even routine correspondence and reports – what the letter was most likely to contain, the Captain had concluded – were more than he’d had in a long, long time. And Alison would read it for him, if he changed his mind. He knew that she would.

A bark of laughter from the others, crammed on the sofa, made him look up, and he glanced idly out of the window at the grounds of Button House.

At Lieutenant Havers, walking across the gravel beneath him.

The Captain clenched his hands around the swagger stick held across his knees. Of course he would see him there, whilst he was thinking maudlin thoughts about an almost-opened letter. It was not the first time he had glimpsed a very different sort of ghost to himself wandering around Button House.

He rested his forehead against the glass and closed his eyes. When he opened them again Havers would be gone, he knew.

He opened his eyes. Havers was still there.

Havers was still there, and not only that, he was looking around himself, at the house, out at the woods, looking so very…lost. Scared. Confused.

The Captain never remembered William like that. Whenever he tricked himself into seeing him again he remembered his quiet surety and soft voice and soft eyes and soft smile. The Captain did not imagine him pale and distressed and alone.

The Captain stood from the windowsill in a violent motion, eyes wide, knuckles as white as death would allow them on his swagger stick, and the movement caught the attention of the figure outside on the ground.

Lieutenant Havers suddenly looked up, right at the window, right at the Captain, and took a step back.

The Captain couldn’t look away. He couldn’t allow himself to believe what he was seeing either. He couldn’t. So he quashed the damned hope within him, or he tried  to, like a good soldier, but it slipped out anyway, unbidden. The others were making a cacophony of noise at the TV screen behind him so they didn’t hear the whisper of ’Havers?’ that fell from his lips.

And then. And of course he couldn’t be sure – not from that distance, not through a pane of glass – but he swore Havers mouthed his name in return.

“Havers!”

The Captain barely saw the figures on the sofa jump with his sudden outburst; he was already running from the room. He flew through the doorway and down the stairs and stumbled right through Alison walking across the foyer and didn’t even pause to retch or listen to Alison’s apologies and then her questions as he passed right through the door to the outside and there was still that part of him. The part that knew the driveway had to be empty. It was not possible for it to be anything but.

But.

The Captain trailed to a stop just as another figure did. A figure in military uniform, with eyes as deep and dark as he remembered.

He heard the others - who of course had all followed him - fall silent behind him as they, too, caught sight of Lieutenant Havers.

Even though he had just shouted it, it took the Captain two attempts to get the name out there, just an arms length from touching.

“H-Havers.”

Haver’s voice, after so long, was a shock. “Captain.”

The Captain makes a wounded noise. Looked at the man in front of him, so like how he remembered but for a few streaks of blood just visible down the side of his neck he was pretending hard not to see and eyes just as wide as his own.

Even then, he could not shake the thought that he might have just finally lost it, lost himself to memory, stewing away inside his own head inside the inescapable house. He reached out, slowly, gently, with his swagger stick, and tapped it to Havers’ arm.

It made contact. A firm but soft little sound against the fabric of his jacket.

They both watched the small point of contact; the Captain, and a Lieutenant who was not just an intangible figment.

The Captain threw himself at Havers in the tightest hug he could manage.

Chapter Text

They’d never hugged before. Havers was tall enough that the Captain could press his cheek into his shoulder. He didn’t care at all about the sharp press of the jacket’s embellishments to his skin.

And then, with a jolt, the Captain remembered why they had never hugged before. Captains did not hug their Lieutenants. It was improper; they should have saluted and then maybe shaken hands, he should have rolled out one of the plethora of acceptable but meaningless pleasantries that’d been drilled into him he should not have forgotten himself and done the first thing – the only thing – that had come to mind.

Immediately he tried to rectify his mistake. Flooded with the ghostly remembrance of a flush he cleared his throat, told himself to unclench his hands from across Havers shoulders and tried to step away –

He was stopped by the tug of Havers’ hands curling tight in the fabric at his back. Holding on just as tightly as he had been.   

The Captain indulged himself a few moments longer.

The hands at his back loosened, and they released each other, moving to put a polite few steps between them.

“Sorry sir,” said Havers, and it moved the Captain just as much as it had the first time, to hear his voice, “that was dreadfully unprofessional of me.” He took a second to collect himself, then straightened up and saluted properly.

The Captain couldn’t respond. He was too busy fondly watching Lieutenant Havers exist right there in front of him. Until Havers glanced over toward the house and the Captain was reminded of their gaggle of onlookers. He put one more step between the two of them.

“I – who,” began Havers, wringing his hands and blinking bewildered at the crowd of misfits in the driveway before he looked back at the Captain. “I’m sorry but – I don’t suppose you know what the bally hell is going on, sir?” He finished with an uncertain chuckle and turned his head to take in his surroundings.

He turned his head, and the Captain’s mouth turned tight, his eyes growing sad. Because he could see the wound to the back of Haver’s head, wet with blood. At first glance he could almost skim over it, hidden within the dark of his hair, but the odd glistening gave it away, the dried dribbles of blood that had managed to just snake beneath his collar. Flecks spattered on the pale skin behind his ear.

It was confirmation of what the Captain knew had to be true. That Lieutenant Havers was dead. 

When Havers next spoke, there was an uncertain tremble beneath the calm of his voice. “When I awoke, I tried to cross a fence.”

“That wouldn’t have gone well,” the Captain said, and closed his eyes in silent mortification at himself. The first real thing he had managed to say was not at all the sort of thing he had wanted to say.            

Havers appeared thrown by his response, and the Captain realised there was a burden of explanation to be had.

“Havers,” he said. He couldn’t stop saying his name. “I - I’m afraid I have some news.” He couldn’t work out what to do with his swagger stick. Or his eyes for that matter, which he knew had been locked on Havers’ for too long. He should look somewhere else. “And,” he continued “– objectively – it’s, it’s not good.”

“…About the war?”

The Captain startled. Of course; Havers didn’t know.  

“Oh - no, heavens no! No we won of course!” he bounced on his heels as Havers relaxed, and his face broke out in a smile, “yes we really put Jerry in their place.” He awkwardly mimed bopping them on the head with his swagger stick and Havers, bless him, went along with it, pretending to bop imaginary enemies with his imaginary stick, and the Captain’s useless breaths hitched. He’d forgotten how Havers had always done that with him. They were an excellent pair at charades.

The small moment of routine had relaxed Havers. “Knew we could do it sir. You had everything under control,” he said quietly, and the Captain was almost, almost grateful for the sudden commotion behind them negating the need for a coherent response.

There was a distant exclamation of ’you cant throw!-'  from Alison, and then a thump as Humphrey’s head landed near their feet.

Understandably, Havers staggered back from the severed head. Humphrey looked mortified. “Hello,” he said, and then after a pause, “my name’s Humphrey. I’d shake your hand but, y’know,” he finished, somehow managing to shrug without shoulders.

Lieutenant Havers, after a second of processing that he was being addressed by a talking disembodied head, returned a 'Pleasure to meet you’ that only the Captain could tell was not as confident as it would sound usually.

"What’re they saying, Humphrey?!"

"Julian!!"

Humphrey looked as though he would prefer death to remove him from the situation. Again. “I’m so sorry to intrude. Truth be told I didn’t have much choice in the matter.”

Irritation had crept back just a little in the Captain – mostly at Julian - and he threw a shrewd glare back at the others. “Yes I can believe that. Leave the rabble alone for one moment and all goes to pot.”

Havers was looking down at Humphrey, without any of the usual smile to his face. His hand moved toward the back of his head, but didn’t quite make it before it was dropped again.

“That news,” he said, “I’m -” he hesitated slightly, then powered on through. “I’m dead, aren’t I.”

The words were a whisper when the Captain finally managed them. “I’m afraid so old chap.”

Havers clasped his hands behind his back and nodded. “Right.” He hung his head a little, mulling it over, until something occurred to him, and he looked up sharply, eyes roving over the Captain as he realised -

“Wait. If I am - Oh sir then that means you’re - ”

The Captain knew what he meant. He mustered a small smile and made a gesture that said: Well. Y'know.

It was then that Pat, bent at the waist as if it would somehow negate the effect of the garish colours of his neck scarf and of course, the arrow through his neck, and render him invisible, crept up to collect Humphrey’s head.

“Don’t mind me,” he cheerily whispered at normal volume, “just dropped something. Going now. Carry on like we’re not all here new friend.” He’d started to back away, Humphrey’s head in tow, but couldn’t resist an introduction. “I’m Pat by the way. Hello. The head is Humphrey.”

It was to Humphrey’s quiet grumble of the body’s ‘Humphrey’ too as Pat continued his retreat that everything started to set in for the Captain. The ghost of Lieutenant Havers was here, at Button House, for the foreseeable.

“Should we,” said Havers, gesturing toward the others, “go and do the introductions? I suppose we should, if I’m…here, now.”

He didn’t say it the last bit like a question, but he looked toward the Captain for confirmation, and the Captain nodded.        

An awkward shuffle ensued as they both started walking simultaneously, and then they fell into step together. Havers was walking, properly, a half step behind the Captain. And very close. The Captain cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you remember Button House, Havers -”

“How could I forget, sir.”

The Captain blinked. “Yes.” He’d forgotten what else he was going to say. “Well, er, I’m sorry for the unfortunate circumstances but...welcome back,” he finished sincerely.

They’d walked close enough to the other ghosts to be in earshot, and Pat picked up on the greeting. “Yes! Welcome! On behalf of me and my fellow ghosts -”

“Oh Pat maybe don’t drop the ‘g’ word on him just yet,” Alison winced, “does he even know he’s -” she caught herself speaking about the Lieutenant as if he was not there and blushed, moving to talk to him directly. “Sorry. Just do you know that you’re…d -”

“Deceased?” he politely cut in.

Alison sighed in relief. “Oh good,” she said. And then looked a little horrified. “Not good like – I don’t mean good that you’re…Pat d’y’wanna take back over?!” she finished, rather desperately.

“Of course!” Pat dropped Humphrey with his exclamation. Looked down at him at his feet, then carried on. “So I’m Pat, as you know, and you’re?...” he trailed off in a way that invited Havers to fill in the blank, but as the Lieutenant opened his mouth the Captain straightened, lifting his chin and intoning in the most important voice he could muster, “my second in command, Lieutenant Havers, of the Button House Eleven.” He swore he could see a slight flutter of recognition at the name cross Alison’s face.

Pat was a little bewildered at the Captain’s tone, but repeated “Lieutenant Havers,” with a nod. “There’s me and that’s Julian, and this is Kitty and Robin and Mary and Thomas and Lady B and -” he proceeded to point everyone out enthusiastically in turn, “- and there’s a whole rota of clubs on, so it’s not all doom and gloom! And I can give you the special Button House Arrival Tour and -”

“He won’t need a tour,” Fanny cut in curtly. “He’s been here before. With the Captain. Obviously.”

Pat turned crestfallen, and the Captain felt a little surge of affection as Havers rushed in to rectify the situation. “Oh well a refresher can’t hurt, can it? It has been…” he trailed off, turning to the Captain as he realised he did not know. “How many years has it been?”

The Captain chewed on his lip. “For me, seventy-five years.”

Havers looked at him long enough that the Captain had to remove his gaze to the safety of his feet. “Seventy-five years,” he heard him repeat quietly. “To me it was just yesterday.”

When he looked back up it was to find an awful sadness to his Lieutenants face, and the Captain, once again, couldn’t help himself. He had always been so useless at keeping himself in check around William. He put a reassuring hand to his elbow. Risked a small soothing squeeze of his fingers.

He jumped and dropped his hand when Alison spoke, just a bit too loudly. “Why don’t you give him the tour Captain? Catch up and everything.” She smiled extra wide and the Captain narrowed his eyes at her, cautious,. He was about to open his mouth in question when he heard Havers say “please,” beside him, and that was it; the thing that made the words die in the Captain’s throat. Havers really did look pleased at the suggestion. “Please do,” Havers repeated, “I imagine the place has changed a bit.”

“Less than you might think,” replied the Captain, “but, er,” he lifted his chin and twirled his swagger stick up beneath his arm, “I can certainly do the honours, if - if you’d like?”

Havers nodded toward the house. “Lead on sir.”

 

Chapter Text

The Captain still couldn’t quite believe it. As they walked the house he kept his head turned just a little, just enough, to keep the flash of Havers’ uniform in his peripheries. But yet again he’d always done that, hadn’t he.

They were unhurried as they went, side by side. There really wasn’t any need for a tour; the Captain had had more than a lifetime to memorise the placement of every whorl in the wood of every door and how many steps there were from the very furthermost edge of the grounds to the other. For Lieutenant Havers, his departure couldn’t have been much more than a few months ago. To his recollection.

Neither of them mentioned it.

It was quiet; none of the other ghosts, or indeed Alison, had followed them inside, and Mike had gone out hours before. More than that, as the Captain watched Havers blink a little owlishly in surprise at every empty space, he realised just how quiet it must be, if you hadn’t been stuck there for decades. Button House had always been bustling the first time the both of them had occupied it. Even when it wasn’t actually loud, or when the constant to and fro of bodies had momentarily ceased, the hallways silent at night, there was still an undercurrent of crackling energy about the place. There was a war on.

Everything was so very still, now. The Captain, whenever he allowed himself another glance up at Havers beside him, still felt electric.

He made sure to only walk them through open doors, even if it meant making more than one faltering misstep as he aborted his automatic move to phase straight through the walls. If doors were shut, he gestured toward them from the outside, pointing out whose room was whose. There was a flicker of surprise across Havers’ face as they peered through the open doorway at Mike and Alison’s room, and he took in the plethora of…stuff. Little things only living people would need: hairbrushes. Slippers. Wet crumpled towels.

“Alison’s…?” Havers seemed to struggle to find a tactful word, and fell short, “…alive?”

The Captain nodded. “She and Michael both, they inherited the house.”

“And they can see us? Even though we’re…not?”

“Only Alison can,” said the Captain, “so you’ll have to get used to Michael addressing the rafters whenever he tries to speak to you. It er,” he bounced on his feet, tried out a wry smile, because Havers was casting his eye over the half drunk mugs of tea and lone discarded socks again, a little bleakly, “can be rather amusing actually.”

To his relief, Havers huffed in agreement, and looked back at him. “I can imagine.” A moment longer in the room, and they left, walking down the corridor. “Do you know why it is only Alison we can communicate with?”

The Captain winced a bit at his shoes. “Ah. Um. Bit of an incident with a window…”

 

 

 

“Your office sir.”

The Captain closed his mouth, following Havers inside. He’d been about to point out his own room and move on quickly, but Havers had spoken over him. “Used to be,” he corrected.

The Lieutenant was looking about the room, at wallpaper which had never changed and empty spaces where things he remembered no longer were. He turned his face toward where they used to be a desk; a Britishly chipper war poster, and the Captain watched him do it. Watched how his own words registered. Watched Havers murmur "Yes. Yes of course. Used to be,” distantly as his shoulders drooped. Watched him see, really see the heavy patina of dust that settled in a place like Button House; Alison could take as many hoovers to the place as she liked and it’d all still be cloaked in a carpet of it. He saw Havers see the dense threading of cobwebs in the lofty coving that Alison couldn’t hope to reach. The windows that’d grown old and deteriorated right there in their frames, frosting themselves with wet mildew and the stain of black mould.

The wounds of time.

Havers took a couple of steadying steps backward, then stumbled further as he unintentionally passed through a chair, watching the way he moved through it with wide eyes, then slumping down, hard, onto the windowsill.

The Captain automatically reached for him, stepping forward hurriedly and outstretching his arm –

He stopped himself. Just an arm’s length away, his fingers hesitating in the air.

And then curling in on themselves. He dropped his hand back to his side and clenched it tight enough for phantom nails to bite phantom skin, before he placed it alongside the other on his swagger stick, where it couldn’t do any harm.

Havers’ posture was awful, flopped on an edge. He was gazing down at his knees a little panicked and – and the Captain understood the irony of the word - …haunted.

The Captain had known it was coming. The moment when their new reality truly sunk in. It’d happened to him, despite how desperately he’d tried to Keep Calm and Carry On.

And he’d tried very hard.

“Sorry,” Havers said suddenly, “I think I could do with a moment.”

The Captain nodded. “Perfectly understandable I assure you,” he said, a quiet whisper. He swallowed and shifted on his feet.

He couldn’t fix it. There was nothing at all he could do to stop the shock of his Lieutenant’s new reality. He desperately wanted to do the right thing and was aware from the other’s occasional jesting that he rarely got it right.

As much as he was…elated, to have Havers back, he’d have given anything, conversely, to have made it an impossibility. For him to have lived beyond his deployment to the North African front.  

“I could? -” he offered hesitantly, and gestured to the door, “if you would like a moment alone?”

“Don’t!” Havers said, lifting his head sharply, one hand clenching on his knee before he composed himself, and spoke a little gentler. “I’d actually rather you stay, if you would?”

The Captain looked at him, still wide-eyed from his small outburst, still flushed with the type of blush being a ghost allowed him, and could only nod.

“Thank you, sir.”

A moment passed.

“You’re doing remarkably well,” the Captain offered gently, bouncing on his feet and leaning in as close as he dared.

“Am I?”

“Oh yes. Julian was rather less composed,”

“He’s the one? -”

“Without trousers, yes,” the Captain said with a sigh. “You get used to it.”

“I hate to be rude but...can the same be said for Humphrey?” Havers glanced outside the window, “I must confess he threw me there for a bit,” he finished, and chuckled weakly.

“Alarmingly used to it. I dare say you’ll forget about him entirely.”

Havers was still sitting on the window. Mostly staring at his knees. The Captain spoke softly.

“Are you alright, William?”

Lieutenant Havers jumped when the Captain used his name. And then he smiled. They looked at each other until the Captain had to look away.

“I will be,” he said. He shook himself and stood, clasping his hands behind his back. “At the very least, I’ve got you to show me the ropes!”

The Captain swallowed. Standing had brought Havers closer. “That you do.” He stepped back, clearing his throat at his shoes. “I have had a trifle longer than you to get used to things,” he said, still with a smile, but his words downturned the edges of Havers mouth.

“Sir I – you implied earlier,” he stammered. Usually it was the Captain who couldn’t get his words out. “Have you really been here since you,” he swallowed, “since you died?”

The Captain twisted his swagger stick. “I have.”

“For seventy – five years.”

He nodded. Havers nodded back. “I’m sorry.”

The Captain made a meaningless noise, then muttered a 'shall we?', turning toward the door and gesturing for them to leave, but he hadn’t made it a step before Havers spoke again.

“I’m sorry to have left you Captain,” he said.

The Captain turned back. His swagger stick was clasped so tight in his hands it was pressing indents into his palm. The tips of his ears felt hot. For a long, long moment, the air was heavy and still.

“Come on,” he eventually said, in his Captain’s voice and instead of any of the thousands of other things he couldn’t allow himself to think of saying. Havers fell back into step beside him. Comforting flashes of khaki green in his eyeline. “On with the tour. There’s more than just the boiler to say hello to in the basement.”

Chapter Text

Gathered outside were the rest of the inhabitants of Button House, still standing in their huddle, watching the doorway the Captain and the new arrival of Lieutenant Havers had disappeared through in silence. Even Humphrey’s head, facing the wrong way at Pat’s feet, had rolled his eyes behind him as if that would help him see the house.

As one they turned back. And Julian, looking worryingly too gleeful, jerked his thumb over his shoulder and opened his mouth.

“So we are going to immediately gossip about that right?”

At once they all started squabbling in a mix of excitement and confusion and wild gesticulation – everyone but Alison, who couldn’t keep up with any one voice no matter how hard she strained, squinting as if that would help her hear better, and couldn’t get a word in edgeways no matter how many sentences she started. That was until she saw with some horror that everybody was making to go back into the house, and she ran to get in front of them and bar the doorway, arms spread wide.

“No! All of you; stay right here.”

“Oh come on!” Julian whined.

Kitty swished so her skirts rustled around her feet, “oh yes please let us in Alison! This is all so exciting!”

“Seriously, everyone, give them – give them a minute,” Alison said.

Because when the Captain had introduced the other ghost Alison had realised why ‘Havers’ had sounded so familiar. The day the bomb in the garden had gone off had been memorable for numerous reasons – not least, the bomb in the garden - but it had been one of the scant occasions where the Captain had volunteered anything about his life, and Alison – who always paid attention whenever the ghosts discussed something personal – paid extra attention to the Captain, and what he chose to share.        

Watching the way the Captain had clung to Lieutenant Havers, then the way he watched him like a starving man, she especially remembered how characteristically crisp and curt he’d been in the aftermath of the explosion, and how that had lasted until he thought nobody was looking. Then he’d sagged with the sadness that sometimes radiated off him, and that day, was so acute the very air ached with it.

The Captain and Lieutenant Havers deserved a few moments to themselves.

The ghosts, except for Pat, who sided with Alison, sidling closer and making his ‘now let’s everybody calm down’ gesture with his hands, burst into a racket of protestations Alison had to shout over.

“Guys guys guys guys - Julian do not take another step!”

Julian rolled his eyes at Alison’s sharp reprimand and accusing finger, turning on his heel like a toddler who hadn’t gotten his way. “Aww you’re no fun! This is THE most interesting thing that’s happened since…well since -”

“- You,” Thomas sighed, doe-eyed and adoring, just as Julian finished “- pushy pushy window.”         

Alison ignored Thomas and narrowed her eyes. “You swore that was an accident,”

“Your mistake for taking a politician at his word.”

“What I want to know,” interrupted Fanny crossly, “is what on earth the Lieutenant thinks he’s doing, disrupting our scheduled television time; showing up again, out of the blue -”

“Yes!” Alison seized on the again. “Of course, most of you would’ve been here. You remember him.”

There were nods and murmurs of agreement; a ‘nice chap’ wafted up from Humphrey at their feet. Mary nodded vigorously enough that she sent tiny sparks spiralling into the air above her.

“Yes, I remembers the tall one.”

“Me too!” said Kitty, inclining her head sweetly, “he and the Captain were always together.”

Julian raised his eyebrows to his hair as everybody but Kitty exchanged glances with each other. Pat, out of the kind of consideration that was hard-wired into him, tried not to jump to conclusions. “Well, Cap did introduce him as his Lieutenant, so -”

“That not be reason,” said Robin quietly, with a shake of his head. “You not here. Didn’t see Captain when other guy left.”

“All sads,” murmured Mary.

There was a quiet moment, and they gazed back at the house again. Alison repeated her request. “Yeah. So.” Her eyes moved to the spot the Captain and Lieutenant Havers had united on the driveway. “Give them a minute alright.”

They stood outside without complaint until Alison deemed it safe to let them in.

Chapter Text

When they made it back down to the common room, after the Captain had tried not to overwhelm Havers with his limited explanation of the television and the computer that folded, they found the others had congregated there in their usual tableau. It did not take a genius to work out Alison, ostensibly on her phone although the screen was dark, had told them not to crowd the Lieutenant, for though Julian and Robin were sat at the chess board they were picking squares at random and watching them regardless, and Fanny’s disdainful comments about the dust on the mantlepiece were half-hearted at best. The Captain appreciated the effort nonetheless. He too was having trouble keeping his eyes away. He couldn’t quite shake the panic that Havers would disappear again between one blink and the next.

“Me again!” Pat greeted them with a wave of both hands, “sorry if we were a bit much earlier -” he shot a guilty look Alison’s way before immediately brightening, “but we don’t often get new faces you see!”

“Well I don’t know about that,” said Julian, “I actually think this might be the most haunted house in the country, considering,” he gestured at everyone.

“Fair point,” agreed Mary tremulously.

“Maybe we can find out; that’d be a claim wouldn’t it! If only there was some way to check…” he turned to look at Alison hopefully.

“I am not visiting random houses and counting the amount of ghosts they have for all the broken mugs in the world, Julian.”

“Spoilsport.”

“We’re getting off topic!” interrupted Pat. If he hadn’t, the Captain had been about to. Watching the way Haver’s eyes bounced between everyone on their endless flow of tangents the Captain realised just how used to it he’d become over the years. If he himself didn’t feel like talking the others could be relied upon to keep the conversation going between themselves, so he could stand quietly in the background without notice.

Pat turned back to Havers. “So, the house as you remember?”

Havers looked about the room. “It is both much the same, and…frighteningly different.”

Pat pulled a face. “Yeah. It can be a bit…jarring, so to speak. Being dead.”

“You gets used to it,” said Robin gruffly.

Realising he’d rather blocked the Captain and Lieutenant Havers in the doorway Pat shuffled back, and they walked further into the room. Kitty bounced in place on her spot on the sofa, patting the empty cushion next to her excitedly. “Sit next to me sit next to me!”

“Delighted to,” Havers sat, and the Captain stood close to the arm of the sofa next to him, clutching his swagger stick tightly behind his back. If he were to move his foot just slightly, their shoes would touch. He stood straight and still.

“Kitty, isn’t it?” said Havers, and Kitty put her hands to her chest, thrilled to me remembered.

"Yes. Oh I knew we’d be friends!"

Any pretence at nonchalance from the group had been dropped, and they were all leaning in interestedly. Eight mouths opened in unison to ask simultaneous questions and the Captain braced himself on Havers' behalf.

Havers was spared the onslaught by the heavy juddering of the door opening and Mike thumping into the entryway, whistling to himself and knocking bunches of shopping bags against the walls. Fanny watched with disgust as he kicked off his boots. “Neanderthal,” she tutted.

“Yes?” said Robin.

Mike lumbered through the door. “Evening all,”

“It’s midday,” said Thomas disdainfully. Of course, Mike didn’t blink an eye, instead clocked the way Alison’s own were roving about the room. “Everybody here then?” he said, waving a fistful of shopping bags at the room with an awful rustling of plastic.

“Yeah,” said Alison, “erm actually, Mike, we’ve had a bit of a development here.”

“Development?”

“We were just welcoming a new arrival,” she said, and gestured to, what was to Mike, an empty sofa.

“New arrival?” muttered Mike, scrunching up his nose. Then his eyes grew wide and panicked. "New arrival?!” he clutched the shopping bags tighter, “somebody died here?!”

“Oh – oh no, Mike -” Alison tried, but Mike was already rambling.

“Probably should’ve sent me a text Alison. No wait  - called. Death of a person in our house seems like a call situation. Are the police here? Are we suspects?! Do we need alibis. ‘Cos I was definitely in Lidl and I can prove it 'cos there was a girl on checkout five who was flinging me my cheese rolls just too fast for me to pack - why do they do that by the way, I was trying to keep my milk and my yoghurts together and baked beans start hitting me in the face like whose next logical step from fridge items is cans and -”

“MIKE.”

He stopped at Alison’s hands on his biceps.

“Nobody died whilst you were at Lidl. Relax.”

“But,” Mike stammered, “new ghost?”

“New ghost,” began Thomas in his Poetic Voice, raising a hand aloft and looking off into the middle distance, “old……death,” he finished a bit lamely. Alison awkwardly repeated his phrasing.

“Oh,” said Mike, and let the shopping bags he’d clutched to his chest droop further. They did indeed look very  hurriedly packed.

Havers rose from the sofa and the Captain had to take a hasty step back as their shoes did collide with the movement. He couldn’t bring himself to take the further step back he knew he should.

“Apologies Alison,” said Havers, “but would you be able to convey my hello’s?”

Alison smiled at him. “He says hello,” she said to Mike.

“Oh,” Mike said again. And then – to the space above Alison’s head and loudly enough to make her wince – “HELLO.”

“Told you,” the Captain couldn’t help but murmur, and the tiny private look Havers sent him in response took him back to every other time he had ever said something, and been ignored by everyone but Havers. Who always sent him the quiet look that made his – now unbeating – heart clench.  

They all jumped as Mike continued with an “I’M MIKE.”

“Yes I think he’s worked that out,” Fanny said drily, and Alison had to hide a smirk. Her hands rubbed the top of Mike’s arms soothingly.

“Okay. How 'bout you go and put the turkey dinosaurs in the freezer and we’ll do intros properly later, yeah?” she said, spinning him around and shepherding him out of the door.

“Hang on,” said Thomas. He’d been frowning to himself ever since he’d spoken, “how are you here? If you died in…”

“I surmise North Africa,”

“You surmise?” said the Captain, fingers tensing on his swagger stick.

Havers ducked his head in acknowledgement. “I’m afraid I don’t entirely remember, sir, but I think it’s safe to say I was…” he gingerly gestured behind his ear, “…caught unawares,” he finished with a grimace.  

Pat was nodding sagely. After a moment he volunteered, with a gesture toward his neck, “arrow.”

Thomas put a fist to his mouth and exaggerated the tremble to his voice. “perished tragically in a duel.”

Julian sat forward, adjusting his lapel and his tie and resting his elbows on his knees so he could better use his hands. “Well now let me set the scene, though this would be a lot easier if I could draw diagrams: three g-”

“NO!” the Captain all but shouted, clearing his throat. For the first time since Havers had arrived, he found it easy to avoid his eye.

 

 

Later, once evening had fallen, the ghosts were huddled on one side of the room, crowded on the sofa. All except the Captain and Lieutenant Havers, who stood apart by the back wall, talking quietly.

The ghosts couldn’t hear their conversation, but they could see the way they were looking at each other, especially when one wasn’t looking back. They could see the small, quiet pauses in conversation that were laced with an unacknowledged longing, a yearning to say things they weren’t, and tenderness that bled through their every movement around each other.   

“Oh god,” sighed Julian, watching them from afar, “this is painful to look at. Were they always like this?”

“Oh yes,” Kitty piped up, “they stared at each other all the time. Like for a long, long time.”

Julian looked bleak. “For the love of my sanity kill me now.”

“But -”

“I know,” he whined, waving the comment away.

As they watched Humphrey’s body staggered through the back wall, arms flailing, and despite his best efforts Lieutenant Havers couldn’t help but jump. The ghosts on the sofa watched Humphrey’s body wander around placidly.

“We left Humphrey outside didn’t we,” said Thomas after a moment.

“Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Only the soft amber glow of the lamps lit the room. It was dark beyond the windows. Alison and Mike had drifted off to bed, Pat and the others too, with a round of goodnight’s to the Captain and especially the Lieutenant. It had taken Pat clearing his throat for the Captain to realise they’d all approached them, and he’d hastily looked away from Havers to the floor.

Now, it was just them. The Captain and Lieutenant Havers and the dark sweeping shadows that threw themselves across the walls and darkened the top corners of the ceiling to fathomless depths; them and the gentle gleam of lamplight bouncing off the wood of the piano and the arch of Havers’ cheekbone. Glinting in the shine of his eyes.

The Captain thought he’d remembered. He thought he’d committed everything about Havers to his memory perfectly. Certain things had faded for him over all the years at Button House, but not memories he dared cling on to. For better or for worse, he’d always been able to conjure Havers in his mind’s eye as if he’d seen the man just a few hours before.   

But having him right there, sitting across from him – they’d migrated to the sofa when the others had vacated it – his throat was tight with how wrong he had been. Memories did not compare. He’d forgotten how he looked when he tilted his head under the light brushstrokes of low light. How could the Captain have forgotten that.

They’d been reminiscing. Understandably, Havers still looked a little fragile, and the Captain was reluctant to bring up anything that might unintentionally sour the mood. He didn’t want to lose the slight curving smile to Havers’ lips, because he was busy doubly making sure he’d remember it this time.

So they stayed on stable ground, and neither of them minded.  

The Captain certainly did not mention the letter. The one he had almost forgotten. The one from that morning but also seemingly a lifetime – his lips twitched at the thought – ago.

The clock chimed. The hour was wrong of course, from where he and Julian had moved it, but the Captain had insisted the hands at least be replaced at an exact hour - had in fact shouted at Julian when he’d tried to leave it at a senseless number of minutes past until he’d fixed it – so the mournful tones of the clock reminded him of the lateness of the hour just the same. He should’ve gone to bed by now. He went up the same time every night and hated when for one reason or another he couldn’t, and his schedule was disrupted. Havers shifted on the sofa and the time didn’t matter to the Captain one jot.       

Havers’ blinks began to slow. His lashes spent longer and longer dusting his cheeks with every heavy closing of his eyes. His shoulders slumped. Absently he put a hand up to his eye and rubbed it in a surprisingly vulnerable gesture that made the Captain's redundant breaths hitch, until it dawned on him exactly what he was doing, or rather why, and he removed his hand with a couple of rapid blanks and a sleepily startled look at the Captain.

“I’m…tired,” he said in bewilderment, “I still need to sleep?”

“Truth be told none of us have ever tested the ‘need’ part,” said the Captain, “but yes. We sleep. We get tired,” he finished, gesturing mildly and with a private smile at Havers in evidence. To his surprise Havers flushed in embarrassment, and the Captain let his hand drop, and took in this other sight his memory had not done justice. Without quite meaning to he’d leaned forward in his seat, and he tried to lean back and restore an acceptable amount of distance between them without drawing attention to the fact he was moving away.

Havers stifled a yawn. “Sorry sir.”

“No no, you’ve er. You’ve had a long day.”

A slight pause fell, and then the Captain stood, Havers following suit. “We’ll find you a room. You’ll have to make do with the god-awful bedspreads I’m afraid. Lady Heather had hideous taste.”

 

 

The closest spare room was far from the Captain’s. The Captain walked Havers there. The door to it was shut, and the Captain grimaced; there was nothing he could do about it now. Havers looked a little hesitant at the prospect of passing through the door, but he was also a soldier, and bravely strode on through without comment, the Captain behind him.

Almost immediately the Captain berated himself for not wishing Havers goodnight in the hallway. They stood there, the Captain with his swagger stick behind his back and rocking a little on his heels, trying to get out the simple 'goodnight Lieutenant’ that was required of him and quash the rising tide of awkwardness that swelled the longer they stood in silence beside a truly hideous floral set of sheets.

The words died in his throat. They’d been together all day, not so much as a room’s span between them, and now that the Captain had him back - really  had him back, to lightly touch if he could find an excuse – walking away to his own room rebelled against every instinct he had. What if he walked away, and Havers’ wasn’t there when he woke up.

But it wasn’t his job to succumb to panic. It was his job to reassure his Lieutenant that, despite the shock of being dead, everything really was as alright as it could be. So he shoved his own feelings down (he was good at that. He’d had a lifetime and more of practice) and cleared his throat, putting on the bravest face he could manage. “Right then. I’d better let you get some rest.”

“I rather think it was me keeping you up.”

“Not at all,” said the Captain, leaving out the I could sit and listen to you for hours, getting drunk on the sound of your voice, Havers.

Then they were doing it again. Looking at each other. And then the floor. And then catching eyes again. They chuckled quietly, and the Captain took it as his cue to shuffle back toward the door. Just before he walked through he stopped, and found himself blurting out “I’m just in my room, if you, if you need m- anything," gesturing vaguely in the right direction with his swagger stick and belatedly cursing himself for doing so; Havers knew exactly where he would be, they had been there earlier.

But Havers only looked grateful. He opened his mouth, wavered, and then discarded whatever it was he was going to say. Instead he nodded, and with a final goodnight the Captain peeled himself away.

He stood just outside the door in the hallway, and closed his eyes tight for a moment. Then he made himself walk away.

 

 

 

It was dark. The Captain couldn’t really make out the canopy above him but he knew it was there. He couldn’t seem to close his eyes. Or stop gently rolling his swagger stick round and round up against his palms. Or chewing just gently on the inside of his lip. Couldn’t stop knowing that Havers was there. In the house. His presence a beacon in his chest.

Button House seemed so quiet. And his room so dark. And so cold. And the sheets he could not so much as rumple let alone snuggle into were bothering him, tonight. The chilled expanse of emptiness to his right.

Resolutely he stilled his hands and held his swagger stick still, closing his eyes with a furrow between his brows, and pushed away the image of Mike and Alison’s slippers tangled together in a heap by their bedside. Eventually, he slept.

Chapter Text

It was morning, and Lieutenant Havers was still at Button House. He hadn’t been entirely convinced he would be.   

But when he woke, it was unmistakably to a ceiling shot through with spider veins of cracked plaster, and weak light wending its way through the windows and illuminating the swirling dust motes in the air. When he shifted and reached for his wound, his fingers met it.  

Last night, once he’d been standing alone in a room both so like he remembered and not at all, the day once again threatened to overwhelm him. He’d sat down heavily on the bed, and realised after a second that the mattress hadn’t dipped with his weight; that he couldn’t smooth the wrinkles in the sheets. He’d given up reasoning how the bed could hold him at all as a lost cause. There were – predictably, Havers was beginning to realise – no protesting squeaks or twangs of the mattress as he shifted to lay down gingerly, because bizarrely, he really was tired.

Ghosts existed; he was one, and he was tired. From the silence of the house, the other inhabitants had already drifted off to sleep.

There’d been a brief moment when the Lieutenant had entertained the idea that he was experiencing some sort of incredibly vivid hallucination, or a dream his mind had produced as he suffered from the throes of concussion. That would certainly explain the location; glancing up at that window and seeing his Captain again.

He’d dismissed the thought. Mostly because he didn’t really believe it to be true. It felt - he felt – too real, and that was without the knowledge that he didn’t possess the imagination to conjure the other ghosts, or indeed Alison and Mike, nor any of the contraptions he didn’t recognise.

He hadn’t imagined the hug. He couldn’t have. Never once had they embraced each other, and whenever Havers had thought about it (and he had. He’d come so close to closing the distance so many times) it had been an abstract wish. Outside, he’d had the Captain solid beneath his hands, his head knocking against his own chin. That’d been real.              

His eyes had closed of their own accord as he laid there, and he smiled to himself sleepily. One of the ghosts he was sharing the quiet house with was the Captain. Havers had dogged his heels ever since they’d let go of each other out on the driveway, in case whatever force had brought him here would suddenly take him away.

He’d always hoped, so much, that they’d re-unite. That somehow they’d both make it unscathed, and they could carry on as they always had. With sadness he realised those two things - 'reunite’ and ‘unscathed’  - were not as exclusively connected as he once assumed.

Yet. Here he was, and here was the Captain; brandishing that swagger stick of his and looking at Havers with those eyes he remembered dearly.

It hurt to know the Captain was dead. It hurt far more than to know he himself was. Because he’d known the risks of going to the front. It had been he and himself against the enemy. But he’d never even fathomed that his Captain might not be okay. He just couldn’t imagine him any other way than moving and commanding and giving orders and being diligent about every scrap of paperwork and enjoying the rare games of cricket the Button House Eleven fit into their schedule far more than he thought he should be displaying as a superior officer and making Havers laugh at the way he tried to contain himself.

Havers shifted onto his side on the bed, aware he was on the cusp of sleep.

He’d been horribly, devastatingly wrong about making it unscathed. But not about the re-uniting. Before he drifted off, he thought that – if the war was always going to have claimed him – how lucky he was to have been given an afterlife with the Captain within reach.

 

 

Now it was morning, and he was faced with a closed door. He braced himself and stepped on through, the sensation barely noticeable. It was no wonder he’d witnessed everybody else walk through walls and objects without a second thought; if they’d been able to move as they pleased for as long as Robin he supposed things that used to be obstacles ceased to register.

There was movement below him and a slight hum of chatter, so he walked the corridors with a vague idea to join them until he ran into Alison, hastily coming the other way, clad in pyjamas too long for her and a stopwatch around her neck. She jumped and put a hand to her chest. 

“Oh! Sorry – not used to seeing anyone up here just yet. Hi! Good morning!”

“Good morning to you, Alison.”

Her hand dropped down to fiddle with the stopwatch, her eyes kind. “You doing okay? For what it’s worth, I did a lot more screaming. Robin found it hilarious,” she pouted.   

“Everyone’s very welcoming,” he said.

“You say that now but you haven’t really spoken to Fanny and I’d keep you away from Julian permanently if I could,” she said with a smile, “seriously though they’re lovely. Just take some getting used to.” She moved her hair from her face. “Hope you slept alright - sorry I just sort of left you to it last night, it’s just I um. I didn’t want to interrupt.”

Havers looked away out of the window, shuffling a little on his feet, and with a blink realised he could see the Captain outside, running. He smiled self-indulgently at the sight.

“The Captain?” Alison said, and he turned back. Despite not being able to see beyond the window she indicated outside as she posed her question, and Havers nodded, a little confused that she had known. “C’mon. We have another minute before he’s done,” she said, resuming walking, and Havers followed, understanding at once that she had known because it was routine, and her odd combination of pyjamas and stopwatch took on a new meaning.

“The stopwatch…”

Alison held it aloft. “Yeah. I time the lap. It’s always two - thirty but he likes to see the numbers.”

Havers was looking at her, touched. “You do that for him? Even though he’s…a ghost?” he questioned, and Alison paused for a moment, blinking up at him softly.

“It’s the least I can do really, isn’t it,” she said, “fill in a few crosswords and turn the TV to the right channel. Even when they are all being right pain in the arses.”

They started to descend the stairs on the way to the front door. “I’ve been trying to get the Captain to come up for something for his room – y’know like some decorations or something? Robin’s got a telescope,”

“Telescope?”

She smiled over her shoulder at him, hand on the banister, “he likes the moon. Hope you’re good at ritual chanting.”

A few steps from the bottom, whilst he was pondering Alison’s last remark, he caught sight of Pat coming their way, and he watched as Pat noticed him in turn, hesitated with a look toward the front door, and settled for a hearty wave of ‘good morning!’ instead of joining them, turning back on his heel. Hand still raised in an answering, and slightly confused, wave, Havers didn’t notice Alison stopping by the door –

And slid straight into her.

He wasn’t sure on the logistics of going pale and feeling nauseous as a ghost, but he managed it, shuddering and drawing himself away violently as Alison stumbled out apologies.

“Shit oh my god sorry! I forgot to say,”

“That’s quite alright,” he strangled out, putting a hand to his stomach.

“Sorry,” Alison said again, wincing. “I should’ve said we can’t touch – apparently it’s unpleasant when you pass through someone who’s alive,” she finished awkwardly.

Havers smiled reassuringly at her. “Just a little.”

Alison muttered one last 'sorry’. And then she looked between the door and her stopwatch and over at Havers, shifting on her feet. “But you guys can touch though,” she said, “ghosts can touch other ghosts. Just. Just saying. In case, oh I don’t know, any ghost wanted to maybe like hold h -”

The Captain burst through the front door and looked expectantly to Alison, who stopped talking abruptly in favour of stopping the stopwatch and telling him 'two-thirty.’ Havers saw the beginnings of an annoyed crinkle form between the Captain’s brows before his presence was noticed, and the Captain straightened, clutching his swagger stick to his chest, the crinkle disbanding immediately. “Ah Havers! Good morning. I was just um,” he cleared his throat and motioned behind him, “- quick lap, you know. Keep spry!”

“Looking quick sir,” Havers replied, and ducked his head a little closer than needed.

He got the desired reaction. The Captain looked pleased, the skin by his eyes creasing gently. Before, when they’d both been…alive, the tips of his ears had also flushed with a warm pink tinge.     

“Um. Right. Good.” The Captain stammered, and silence fell. Havers almost forgot about Alison standing between them until she stepped forward, though he did catch the slight drooping of her smile as she did so and took in how both he and the Captain jumped and stepped back. He removed his eyes to the floor and pondered it.

“Let’s go say hello,” said Alison, hovering her hands just behind their backs and ushering them gently in the right direction, “hopefully they’re all a bit calmer today Lieutenant.” The Captain nodded and pointed with his swagger stick.

“Yes this way - everybody’s through here.”

"I'm not!"

Havers had jumped a mile as Humphrey called out, and spun around to see his head lying forgotten in the corner. He’d walked right past him.  

He looked back at Alison and the Captain, walking away, then with a swallow approached Humphrey’s head.

“Apologies Humphrey, would you – would you like to come with us?”

Humphrey had been humming to himself and broke off, surprised, at the sound of Havers’ voice just behind him. “Oh! My. You’re still here,” he said wonderingly, and half to himself, “um - really?! I mean – yes, actually.” And then a little firmer. “Yes I would like to come with you, thanks for asking.”

So despite how weird it was to crouch and retrieve Humphrey’s severed head, Lieutenant Havers did just that, and followed the path Alison and the Captain had taken.

“Thank you mate,” said Humphrey, “genuinely. I can see why he likes you.”

Havers tripped over his own feet, almost losing his grip on Humphrey’s head, almost running into the Captain, who’d doubled back to him.

“Ah there you are,” said the Captain, lifting his chin, “I was just um – oh hello Humphrey.”

Humphrey sighed. “Yes, hello. Come on then you two. I’d lead the way but, y’know.”

“Quite,” said the Captain, a little pointlessly, and moved to walk beside him. If Havers hadn’t have been holding Humphrey’s head, the back of their hands would have brushed.

Chapter Text

Havers settled in. He realised quickly, and gratefully, that he was right about the routine. Though his sudden gaggle of housemates were usually reliably chaotic, there was some sort of structure to their days that Lieutenant Havers could get used to.

He was treated to another round of shouted – but calmer – hello’s from Mike, and a small arrow drawn to the figure of himself on the picture on the ghost chart after Pat had reminded Alison. He’d been surprised by the sight of the picture from so long ago, and touched that he’d been included in Alison’s scrawling hand. Next to the Captain.

He’d stopped jumping whenever Humphrey’s body unexpectedly appeared, clothes swishing by his calves as he perpetually sought out his head. The macabre sight of severed bone and skin and muscle stopped being quite so jarring after the third or fourth time he’d overhead Humphrey good naturedly shouting at the wayward part of himself from one room or another. The first time he’d laughed at their antics, he’d felt awfully tactless until Humphrey had stopped sighing after the body walking steadily away from him at the sound, and shared with him the sort of smile that said 'what can you do?’  

Sometimes, if he happened to stumble across the body by himself, he’d greet it regardless of the fact it didn’t have ears. It was only polite. And if he happened to know where the rest of Humphrey was residing (which turned out to really not be often at all; the Captain had been surprisingly right about how easily Havers would lose track of him) he’d re-unite the two of them, despite knowing the next time he saw him he’d be a ‘them’ again; Humphrey’s head and body once again apart. Even if it was only a matter of minutes since he’d re-acquainted them.    

He’d also been wary of finding himself on the receiving end of Lady Button’s shrill disapproval, nervous of the way she held her chin in the air and widened her eyes down her nose at anybody within earshot when she was rankled. That was, until he greeted her one afternoon as she was admiring the view of the house from outside. He’d taken her side eye but lack of displeased huff as a good sign and stood beside her, resting his arms behind his back. He looked up at the house.

“I understand Button House used to be yours?” he tried.

Fanny sniffed, clasping her hands in front of her. “That it did,” she nodded curtly, though there was pride in her voice, “before it fell into hands of disrepute and they let my beautiful house gather dust - dust! - and filled up with - with clutter and nonsense!"  her voice had risen, “there was no respect for its importance! Its grandeur!” 

Havers winced a little. His gentle opener had not gone as well as he’d expected. “Yes,” he agreed, once he’d determined she was done, “it is a shame. Button House does have such wonderful history.”

She looked at him with a frown, and he carried on under her intense gaze, hoping he wasn’t digging himself a hole.

“Well, the building is fifteenth century, is it not? Which is remarkable! And then you have the - ” he gestured before them, “impressive façade here. I believe I remember it dating closer to the sixteenth…”

He trailed off. Her eyebrows had risen and her mouth had dropped gently open.

“I, er, I read up on the house before we were stationed here.”

Lady Button looked at him. Just as Havers was considering making his excuses she broke into a quietly pleased smile, nodding at him approvingly, her posture dropping from its previously severe lines.

“Hm. Well. At least somebody  appreciates culture when he sees it,” she said, and Havers relaxed, relieved. After a moment of looking at him with pursed lips she huffed a huff that indicated great inconvenience to herself and put her hand on his arm, leading him away. “This way then, if you want to find the Captain.”

Havers had yet to get used to the sort of blushing he experienced as a ghost, and was awash with the feeling. “Oh I – I wasn’t -”

“You were in danger of trampling my begonias young man, pacing around and around the garden like that. He’ll be indoors at this time of day,” she sniffed, and punctuated her sentence with a definitive dismissive noise.

Havers had thanked her quietly.

 

 

Kitty took to him immediately. Regularly he was pulled aside and asked a thousand questions of no consequence: whether he preferred summer or winter ('or autumn or spring!’ Kitty was quick to tack on to her own question, thrumming with energy – ‘maybe he liked an in-between season like 'sum-umn' or 'wing', she was desperate to know, struggling through the awkward sounds of her own made up not-seasons), and his birthday, or – grossly important – his favourite colour.

Sitting opposite her, Lieutenant Havers hesitated thoughtfully over his answer, considering if-

“Green.”

Havers turned at the sound of the Captain’s quick interruption. He’d known the Captain was standing there, just behind his back - he’d been surprised and relieved to find that ghosts retained some semblance of feeling, and his skin had been alight with awareness of the Captain’s presence only a small distance away from his bare neck - but he hadn’t expected the Captain to interrupt.

Above him, he Captain was facing the window, and when Havers looked up at him in surprise started clearing his throat, lifting his chin and squinting a little, as if there was something terribly important to be seen beyond the window. His eyebrows moved in the way they did when he was trying to seem nonchalant, and the Lieutenant smiled to himself.

“You,” said the Captain, “you always said you liked green. To. To me.” His eyes shifted between looking out of the window and at Havers from the corner of his eye. He bounced up on his toes.

Havers caught his gaze, swallowing. He had said that. He’d said that because evening had descended, and they’d been sharing a rare drink at the end of the day, and when the Captain had asked him the very same question he’d said green because the Captain sitting across from him in his uniform was the only thing on his mind.

For the Captain, that was a throwaway answer during an idle conversation over seventy years ago. Havers clenched his hand in the fabric of his trousers over his knee and gazed up at the Captain as the pause went on, trying to find an appropriate response around the way his chest somehow managed to ache.

He didn’t manage it before Julian stood dramatically from the chair he’d been observing from and stormed abruptly from the room, hands in the air and with an emphatic yell of “Jesus Christ!”

Kitty, Havers, and the Captain blinked bewilderedly in his wake.

 

 

The worst part of Lieutenant Havers’ days was the same it had always been at Button House; saying goodnight. Trailing off at the latest possible hour he could appropriately swing to his own room, alone.  

Chapter Text

They’d been laughing. The Captain couldn’t remember what about.

He’d half convinced himself, in all the years since, that his memory had embellished itself with details he’d only imagined. He knew they’d had a drink or two – there’d been cause for celebration; a commendation from headquarters. The exact reason was the type of detail time had made lost to him.

His recollection started when they’d both been in his room, the Captain sitting up against the headboard, legs spread out before him; Havers perched sideways down by the footer, feet on the floor.

The Captain had never invited him to his private quarters before. They’d been trying to keep the noise of their conversation from disturbing anyone, or so they'd reasoned, with words to that effect.

It didn’t matter. What mattered was that it had been late and Havers had undone the buttons on his jacket as they talked about nothing, and the Captain recalled vividly his errant thought in the moment - that he’d never been more content.

Then suddenly, shockingly, Havers’ hand had been on his ankle. Just above his sock line. Tantalisingly light. His fingers had draped down the curve of his ankle to the soft top of his foot; his thumb brushing the taught line of his Achilles tendon. His hand, his skin, had felt so hot.

The Captain’s breath had caught. He’d stopped mid-sentence, the tail end of his word cut off by the tightness of his throat. He’d clenched either end of the swagger stick braced across his thighs very hard.

They’d looked at each other. Havers had looked as startled as the Captain was sure his own wide eyes betrayed, but he didn’t remove his hand. Instead he slowly, with a slight catch of skin, started to brush his thumb back and forth.

He’d slid his hand down to the Captain’s shoe, nimble fingers plucking at the laces until they were loose. Gently, lifting his other hand to cradle the very bottom of the Captain’s calf, he’d slipped the shoe off, and placed his foot down. Then he’d moved across and repeated the same process with the other shoe.

The Captain had not moved. There was pain in his neck from how tight his muscles were held. He’d long since gone numb sitting against the headboard; in fact he’d been about to move before, before…

His breaths had been low but erratic. He knew Havers could hear, and was blessedly not saying a word.

Once Havers had divested him of both shoes he'd put both of the Captain’s socked feet in his lap, pressed together, and curled his hands around the curve of the top of his ankles, thumbs wrapped round to run up the arches of the Captain’s feet. And he’d resumed talking as they were.

Somehow, the Captain had remembered to give answers. They’d spoken late into the night many times before, but it was different. Of course it was, because of the touch of Havers' hand.

When the clock had chimed the arrival of the next hour, Havers had placed the Captain's feet back on the bed and stood. There'd been a long pause. The Captain still stayed unmoving. And then Havers had left with a fervent goodnight , followed by the parting murmur of his name.

 

Now, Havers was in the room that’d unspokenly become his at Button House, and the Captain was in his, rolling his swagger stick in his hands absentmindedly and gazing up at where the faint moonlight framed the barest outline of the bed’s canopy.

It’d been easier to ignore the enormity of that memory when he’d only had the other ghosts to keep him busy, or Alison to talk to. When Havers hadn’t been right there when he turned or voice a room away.

The house was quiet. The nightly thunk of Alison missing her bedside table and blindly dropping her phone on the floor, followed by an indistinguishable curse, had long since passed. The Captain stopped rolling his swagger stick. He fantasised about what it would have been like, if he’d asked Havers to stay that night. What it would have been like if Havers had agreed.

He imagined the warmth of Haver’s eyes and the twinkle to his smile; the way he’d duck his head in consent. The quiet 'of course, sir’ the Captain wanted to hear. The door would be closed with a soft snick. And then with the louder clunk of the lock. Just in case someone needed him unexpectedly. What if someone needed him unexpectedly. What would he do what could he say to explain how we he-

The Captain crinkled his brow and pushed the thoughts away. Nobody would need him inside his own head.

…and then the louder clunk of the lock. And instead of going to bed alone like he had all his life the other side of the bed would be filled with Havers lying right there beside him. And Havers’ hand, William’s hand, in his mind, skated across the sheets until the Captain could feel the heat of it against the back of his own; could feel the tickle of fine hair against the light fuzz on his skin. In his mind, the Captain allowed himself to return the favour of simple touch, and held it.

Chapter Text

“Do something.”

Julian’s eye was twitching. He’d stood to make his point and was jabbing his thumb so aggressively at Alison that she leaned back automatically.

They’d cornered her. Kitty had not been entirely sure why, but one mention of ‘Alison’ and she was happy to go along with the plan. Everyone except the Captain and Lieutenant Havers had at first corralled Alison down to the most secret place they could collectively think of - the basement, but near immediately abandoned it for the safety of the bright lights the windows of Button House proper afforded, shuddering and making plans to next meet with the basement occupiers on such dates as the thirtieth of February. They were followed by happy mumbles of agreement and an 'I’ll put it in the diary!’ as they ascended the steps.   

They’d relocated to the library.

All amassed in front of Alison, Julian continued.

“I mean it! I physically cannot stand watching them moon over each other Any. More. I’m intervening.”

“No!” Alison panicked.

“Seconded,” chimed in Thomas with a dramatic flair of his arm, “I simply cannot work in these conditions! The very air is,” he wafted his hands by his face, “stifling the creative flow.”

Alison had automatically opened her mouth to object but frowned at him, confused. “But…isn’t this – objectively speaking - great inspiration? For y’know. Romantic poetry.”

Thomas’ eyes grew wide. He looked off into the middle distance as if re-examining his entire life and death.

“Can I just ask,” said Fanny irritably, "why nobody is more concerned with the why's and the how's and the what-for's of the Lieutenant even being here! We still haven’t solved the mystery!”

“Yes. Well,” said Mary, waving her away, “whys anyone of us ‘ere. ‘s relvent.”

Alison took a second. “Irrelevant,” she corrected gently.

“’at’s what I said,” said Mary, “and – and also, I dos agrees something needs be done Al’son.” She nodded earnestly, hands wringing timidly in front of her.

Alison looked anguished, picking at her nails.

“Right. That settles it. We’re taking matters into our own hands.”  Julian knocked Pat’s glasses askew with his firmly gesticulating hands. “If I could ironically lock them both into a closet together I would but it seems I’m settling for something far less fun and bashing some heads together to end our collective suffering.”

“Julian,” Alison said a bit desperately, “I’ll add another thirty quid to your Bet365 balance if you keep shtum,”

Robin lifted a hand, “er, why I no get thirty quid?”

Julian was shaking his head solemnly.

“Fifty!”

Fanny harrumphed and muttered I'd quite like fifty pounds' to a quiet chorus of indignant agreement.

Julian was unmoved.

“No Alison,” he began gravely, steepling his hands together before his chest. “There comes a time, as a politician,” - he briefly took a break to straighten his tie – “when you accept the bribe…and then do the thing anyway.”

“Very ethical,” Fanny said with a roll of her eyes.

Alison winced a little. “They’re not that bad,”

Pat was sitting, his glasses held in his lap, and sounded ever so slightly harrowed as he said, “You get to leave.”

Alison startled at the strangely morbid tone he sometimes adopted, and Pat looked up at her.

“Sorry,” he said with a scrunch of his nose, putting his glasses back on, “it is a bit maddening though Alison,” he continued sheepishly, “it’s like 'Will-They Won’t-They,' only -”

“Just the 'Won’t-They',” Thomas sighed.

Alison was rubbing her face, stressed, as Julian once again opened his mouth.

“I could resolve this whole thing by the end of the afternoon – bosh. I have a speech prepared! And you know I’m good at speeches. Always got reactions - loud ones,” he said proudly.

“Think the word you’re looking for is ‘objections’ mate,” said Pat.

Julian was deploying the thumb again. “It’s succinct. It’s to the point -”

“Those are synonyms,” said Thomas derisively, “you’re just redundantly repeating yourself -”

“- concise -”

Thomas rolled his eyes.

“It can actually be condensed down to just the one sentence!” he took a deep breath, “three words: just fuck alrea-”

"NO!”

Alison’s ears rang from how loudly they’d all exclaimed, and she lowered her hands from where she had instinctively moved to cover Kitty’s ears, only just remembering the futility of it at the last second. She pointed her finger sternly back at Julian. “You say anything like that and I’ll find a way to kill you again, am I clear?”

He huffed and rolled his eyes. “Er, I don’t see anybody with any better ideas?”

Mary piped up with a lift of her finger. “Wells…we can get some cake easy ‘nough, but I don’t knows how we’ll manage the gar’er,” she said, seriously worried.

Alison blinked as she worked out the suggestion. “Mary! We can’t just marry them without telling them!”

Mary lowered her finger and Robin turned to her with a huff at Alison, muttering an approving 'efficient’  to Mary’s suggestion.

“Maybe we can just….wait it out,” said Alison.

“If we waiting,” said Robin, “we wait loooooong time.”

“Yonks,” said Pat, the harrowed tinge coming back to his eyes.   

“They’re right Alison.”

Everybody looked at Fanny in surprise. She lifted her chin, a defensive trait Alison had noticed she and the Captain shared.

Fanny continued, “The Captain had trouble asking lieutenant Havers if he wanted to accompany him on patrols the other day, let alone…anything else.”

“Oh are we talking about the Captain?” Kitty chipped in sweetly. She leaned in and dropped her voice to a very bad whisper, “this makes so much more sense.”

Alison couldn’t help but smile at her. She looked back to Fanny, quietly relieved. Fanny sniffed. “Well. Things simply cannot continue on as they are. The Captain was an entire minute late to impressions club.”

Alison looked toward the door; an action she recognised as pointless due to the uselessness locked doors presented to ghosts, and dropped her voice to a much more hushed whisper than the others had bothered with. “Look, I don’t not agree with you but the situation requires tact -”

Julian spread his arms wide “that’s practically my middle name!”

Alison decided not to dignify that with a response. “We can’t just charge on in here,”

They really couldn't. Every look Havers and the Captain had ever given each other told her that they couldn't.

“Most of us know that,” said Pat, staring Julian down until he crossed his arms, a little abashed.

They looked at her. Alison nodded. “Okay. Alright. Let me – let me work on it. We can’t mess this up.” She ran a hand through her hair, muttering. “I wonder if I can make some kind of PowerPoint.”

Pat clapped his hands at her words. “Operation Matchmaker is a go!” he said, immediately distracting himself, “Ooh Matchmakers. I love an orange matchmaker at Christmas.”

“I was always a mint man myself,” Julian chimed in. Pat responded with a nod and a 'good choice, good choice. Though the REAL question is your go-to Quality street...”

“Oh oh oh!” said Robin, alighting on the word ‘matchmaker’, “I can make lights,” he wiggled both his fingers and eyebrows simultaneously, “romantic.”

“I suppose I can’t actually object to that,” said Alison, and gleefully the ghosts started filing out after an enthusiastic Robin.

“Julian!” she called, and he turned reluctantly. She mimed zipping her lips meaningfully.

"Wellllllll…”

She squinted her eyes and he huffed.

“FINE. Scouts honour.”

Pat lit up. “You were in the- !”

“Nope.”

Pat deflated.  

Chapter Text

Kitty burst into the common room, startling everyone attending music club from Pat’s lively rendition of Duran Duran’s Planet Earth.

The Captain and Havers brushed from the tips of their shoulders all the way down to their knees when they jumped at her appearance. The Captain had been tense enough before, squashed up on the sofa with Havers. Trying not to melt against the solid pseudo-warmth of him. He’d had to keep his elbows practically in his lap to stop them from knocking into the man.

He’d gone to take his usual standing position around the back of the sofa, where he could see most of the room and everyone else in his field of vision – most of all Havers hiking up his trousers at the knees and settling himself on the middle cushion – when he’d been stopped in his tracks by Havers’ quiet voice.

“There’s a spare space to sit here, sir?”

The Captain looked at those dark eyes, and then the empty space Havers had rested his hand on; the practically clipped nails.

“Kitty won’t mind if you take her spot in her absence, I’m sure,” Havers continued, and leaned the tiniest amount away as if to make more room in invitation. If the Captain was indulging himself, he’d say the small smile on his face was…hopeful.

“No,” said the Captain a little hoarsely, “I’m sure she won’t.” 

“Yes take a pew Cap, take a pew!” Pat said, rather enthusiastically, and all but pushed the Captain down in place. The Captain found himself flushing with the now familiar odd echo of heat and muttering apologies to Havers instinctively, for no other reason than they were suddenly very close and he didn’t know what else to say.

“There we go,” Pat finished, with a satisfied pat to the Captain’s shoulder, then clapped his hands once decisively. “Now that everyone’s sorted: music club! And I don’t want to spoil anything but I do have a bit of a ‘banger’ - as Alison and Mike would say - in mind for later…”

The Captain heard the words, but no matter how hard he tried to steadfastly focus his attention before him, his entire awareness was centred on Havers’ presence beside him, and on the fact that the tip of his swagger stick, held across his knees, crossed over into Havers' space.

 

Having well and truly de-railed music club, all attention was on Kitty, still effervescent with excitement. She’d almost tripped over her own incorporeal feet in her haste to stop, and was beaming so wide her eyes were squeezed shut to happy half-moons. She seemed to be trying to say something, but couldn’t quite get it out around the squeaks of excitement, or the excited bunching of her hands in her skirts.

“Deep breaths Kitty,” the Captain called out gently when it became clear she was going to need a bit of help, and ignored the way Havers turned to look at him seen from the corner of his eye. He waited until Kitty heeded his advice. “Now, what on earth has you so worked up?”

Kitty finally managed to calm down enough to regain the use of her words. “There’s going to be another wedding!” she said, and twirled in place.

The common room erupted in gasps and delighted chatter, and the Captain sat up straighter, his lip curling into a smile as he agreed heartily with Kitty’s ‘isn’t it marvellous?!’

“Wedding?” queried Havers.

“Yes!” Kitty all but screeched.

The Captain turned to him; their knees knocked; their faces were very close sitting like they were. “Yes. It’s what Alison and Michael use the house for, when they can.”

“The people, the dresses, the vows, the dresses, the dancing!” Kitty interjected, holding out her skirts and twirling herself about the room, through tables and the edge of the piano, “Alison said they’re going to do all of it here - oh I can hardly wait!”

“As long as there’s bridesmaids,” said Julian.

“For heaven’s sake,” Fanny sighed.

Havers turned to the group and the Captain had to close his eyes for a second once he was released from close scrutiny. “How wonderful,” said Havers, “I’ve always loved weddings!”

“Me too!” said Kitty. She’d made herself dizzy and staggered into Pat, who caught her and guided her to an armchair.

“Even despite…certain things…it was certainly fun to be involved last time!” Pat agreed, and Havers perked up more.

“We’re allowed to be present?”

“Present?” snorted Julian, and waved toward the Captain, “you can’t drag Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen over there away,”

The Captain straightened his spine and narrowed his eyes at him, thankful Havers had yet to see the Changing Rooms re-runs that dominated Wednesday lunchtimes.

After a second of confusion Havers shook it away and instead turned the full beam of his excitement on the Captain, and the Captain, the Captain just had to smile back.      

 

 

 

Alison was researching.

PowerPoint was hidden behind three windows stuffed with tabs. She’d gotten no further than picking the theme. Her nails between her teeth, she was grimly reading about what it had been like to be the Captain, when he’d been alive.

Unlike Julian, she’d wanted to approach the Captain carefully – she knew he had a habit of running skittishly or changing the subject or becoming brisk and defensive whenever anybody asked about his past beyond what he was willing to offer, and she really did not want that to happen. She did not want to hurt him. Just the opposite; she was trying to encourage him to be happy. To be himself.   

She’d not been alive when the Captain and Lieutenant Havers had been stationed at Button House, but just in the time since Havers had appeared on the grounds she’d noticed how the Captain softened in his presence. Even more so than he had over the few years she’d known him, or whenever she’d overheard him talking to Kitty. With Havers in the room, he looked like a man orbiting a treasure just out of reach. The problem was she was certain he didn’t know that Havers looked back at him the same.

 

She had only had a vague idea about the Captain’s time.

So she’d started googling.

She’d delved for the information she was after, and it had made her sadder and sadder to read it. She flicked through pages and understood the Captain’s reticence in a way she had not before.  

It made her think. About how impossible it must feel to unlearn all those years of hiding and denial.

She read about how the punishment for homosexuality was more severe for officers of rank. Read about how they would’ve court martialled him. Discharged him.

Alison ripped her nail with her teeth. She thought about just how much the Captain loved being…The Captain. She knew that a lot of the time, especially when they had first met, he used his role to distance himself - but not all of the time. Most of the time he took charge and made plans and kept things in check (or tried to) and revelled in it. He loved the intricacies of tactics and weaponry – you could tell, when you talked to him. Sometimes Alison did – came and flopped next to him on the sofa when he was watching one of his documentaries and asked him to explain something to him. It would take him a minute of rather abrupt answers, hesitantly watching how they were received, but when Alison nodded him on encouragingly and he got into his stride there was no stopping him.

She did her research, and read how they would’ve taken ‘The Captain’ from him. All those medals on his chest, and they could’ve taken them away, if they’d wanted to.         

She read that Her Majesty’s Armed Forces didn’t lift the ban on LGBTQ+ personnel until 2000.

She hadn’t known that. She read the words again, and thought about how late they’d come. So late. Too late.

Her fingers, damp from resting between her lips, swiped away a welling tear.

Mike walked into the kitchen as she sniffed, cradling a bowl full of cereal, and his brow immediately creased in concern.

“You okay?”

She looked up at him, subdued. “Yeah.”

“Mmmmmm well that’s a lie,” Mike said, and plonked himself down beside her at the kitchen table, raising his eyebrows at her screen. “That’s a lotta tabs,” he said, and took a long slurp from the milk quivering on his spoon.

“It’s a ghost thing, don’t worry,”

“’Ghost thing’ doesn’t equal ‘unimportant’ Alison.”

He looked at her expectantly. Alison sighed and leaned back in her chair, running a hand through her hair, shifting the long strands back from her forehead. “I’m trying to work out how to tell the Captain that he should go for it with Lieutenant Havers.”

“Oh,” Mike said with some gravity, then, “you didn’t tell me they liked each other?”

Alison blinked as she realised that no, she hadn’t. She looked at him, ever so slightly bewildered. “If I’m honest, I’d sort of forgotten I actually needed to tell someone that,” she scrunched her nose, “sorry Mike.”

He’d raised an eyebrow and stopped mid-crunch of his cereal. “That obvious?”

“Oh you have no idea,” she said, “hence why I’m – well I was – the idea was to -” she gestured at her screen, “ – help.” She swallowed. “But I don’t know where to start – with either of them. Things are so different now to what they’d known. Miles from perfect, but.”

“It’s still a massive leap,” said Mike.

Alison nodded, nicking the spoon from his fingers and taking a bite from his bowl before he nicked it straight back. She took a long look at her laptop screen, then shut it, rubbing at her face.

“Robin wants to make the lighting ‘romantic,’” she said affectionately, dropping her hands in her lap.

“Argh he’s gonna blow all my bloody fuses!” Mike said crossly and chewed his bite slightly more aggressively for a moment. “It couldn’t hurt though.” Another crunch of cereal. “Little nudges at first, right? Like when you dip your toes in a hot bath before dunking your bits straight in.”

Alison watched him fish around for a specific piece of cereal he wanted on his spoon, the metal clanking against their chipped crockery, a puzzled but bemused smile on her face.

Successful, he lifted the spoon, and was struck with an idea. “Maybe you could, y’know, ‘conveniently’ leave some appropriate playlists playing? Love songs by gay artists, that kinda thing – they’d never have heard of anything like that before right. And if Robin’s going ham on the lighting, then this will definitely help set the mood.”  

Alison blinked, surprised. “That’s not a bad idea, Mike.”

Mike looked proud of himself, his spoon still aloft. He’d dripped milk onto the table. “See. I’m not entirely incompetent.” He punctuated his point with a jab of his spoon and spilt his cereal down the front of his jumper. He looked down at the offending mess with a deep frown. “Oh.”

Alison tried not to laugh. She reached for the kitchen roll and her phone simultaneously, handing the first to Mike and opening Spotify on the other. She shuffled her chair closer to Mike’s until their shoulders were cramped together and held the phone between them.

“Okay let’s do this then.”

“I’m helping?”

“You’re helping.”

“Good. ‘Cos I shit you not, I know a song called ‘Can Ghosts Be Gay?’

Chapter Text

Robin didn’t quite blow all the fuses.

But he did trip all the switches.

It was Mike’s turn to go a bit insane down by the fuse box, his face illuminated only by the blue light of his phone screen, simply flicking them back on again and again to Alison’s texts of:

  • wifis back.
  • wifis gone.
  • just seen robin follow caphavers into tv room so prepare yourself

The basement ghosts, despite the fact their only audience couldn’t hear them, provided appropriate excited ‘eyys!’ and disappointed ‘ahhs’ as Mike restored power and Robin just as quickly cut it, often to a few tuts and mutterings of ‘oh isn’t that annoying?’

Eventually Mike, after a few increasingly pointed flicks of the switches, recorded an irate rant for Robin for Alison to deploy on his behalf and stomped back up the stairs, resolutely ignoring the click of another trip switch echoing in the cold stone of the basement.

There was also a setback with the PowerPoint.

Alison, caught up in preparations for the upcoming wedding, had taken to leaving her laptop standing open on various surfaces, the screen cluttered with internet searches and documents and spreadsheets and beneath it all, her PowerPoint. She did not have time for the update the laptop had decided it needed at the most inopportune moment, and so scheduled it for tomorrow. And tomorrow again. And when tomorrow came, tomorrow. That was until it stopped giving her the option for tomorrow and on the hour, every hour, she clicked ‘wait an hour’ instead of ‘restart now.’

Julian, having once again escaped the torment of being in the same room as the Captain and Lieutenant Havers, passed by the laptop as he roamed the house. The blue update prompt sat innocently onscreen. One glance at it confirmed a prime opportunity for mischief and Julian grinned, wiggling his fingers and leaning close enough for his dangling tie to phase through the table. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said, and painstakingly heaved the cursor over to the right. 

When Alison popped back, she threw a quick glance at the screen as she walked past. And then her face went white as she rapidly backed up, flicking her finger across the trackpad frantically as if it would somehow remove the blue screen and slowly buffering circle.

“No no no no no please don’t do this to me.”

She left clicked a few times, and tried right click for good measure, and when the three percent progress tracker didn’t immediately jump to one hundred her hands flew up to her face. “My tabs,” she said, faintly horrified, “I bookmarked NONE of those tabs.” Her hands slid up to curl tightly into her hair, “my PowerPoint!”

Julian, reading the few sheets of newspaper Alison had left open for him, heard the distant cry of “what do you mean ‘this will take a while?!’” and grinned.

 

 

Robin’s efforts having been strictly forbidden under threat of closing the curtains in front of his telescope for the night (and secondarily for the sake of Mike’s sanity), and any and all of Julian’s ideas – even his serious ones – resolutely vetoed, the others tried their hand at pushing the Captain and Lieutenant Havers in the right direction. Namely toward each other.

The problem was that the Captain appeared to be actively but obliviously thwarting their efforts, just by his own routine efforts to keep order. Whenever Pat tried to covertly arrange an activity for the two of them – ‘a turn about the grounds?’ – he’d receive a frown and an ‘it’s time for my rounds’ or ‘for “improv” club’ or to ‘watch the newest episode of that B-B-C drama with Michael and Alison’ until, defeated, Pat fiddled with his glasses and conceded that yes, the scant few minutes of conversation had made them horridly late. He couldn’t even bring himself to get minorly annoyed that it didn’t seem to matter to the Captain quite how late he and Havers - usually with a sincerely apologetic explanation that they’d quite lost track of time talking or some such - arrived.

Having been introduced to the wonders of online thesauruses and corralling Julian for the few minutes he was bored enough to humour him - and Alison when she hadn’t managed to round the corner fast enough - Thomas took Alison’s advice to utilise what he could of the atmosphere and composed such an ode he was convinced was enough to stir any man to grand gestures of love and affection, but which unfortunately became utterly incomprehensible after the first line. The Captain dismissed him irritably. Havers listened to the entire thing politely but later quietly confessed to Alison, a little worriedly, that he had not understood a word. Alison longed for her PowerPoint.

“Ah Captain,” Humphrey had tried when he’d seen familiar shoes enter his field of vision, “I was actually wondering whether you’ve got a minute? Because the thing is I really think you should know – Captain – Captain wait - Cap! - Oh he’s gone,” he sighed, as the shoes strode right past obliviously, their owner humming The Pirates of Penzance to himself.       

Mary panicked and fumbled over her words until she ran off. Fanny professed, loudly and frequently, that it was unladylike to be involved in ‘schemes’, but could usually be found in whatever room the latest attempt was taking place, ostensibly admiring one painting or another. 

It was only when they were all gathered in the kitchen, commiserating, when it became apparent that solely amongst them did Kitty have the knack. The Captain had come to join them, asking what on earth they were all doing.

“Just talking,” said Kitty, “Oh and I passed by Lieutenant Havers on the way here, he’s in the library. He’d love it if you went to keep him company.”

The Captain’s head had wandered in the direction of the library the second Kitty had mentioned it. “Ah. Yes,” he said, “thank you Kitty. I’ll just, um -” he pointed upward with his swagger stick “-check.” He went to stride off with a nod and Kitty called out behind him.

“Go have a walk around the garden! It’s a lovely day!”

The Captain faltered, but ultimately made an agreeing noise and disappeared with a quiet ‘yes. I suppose it is rather lovely.’ 

The rest of the ghosts, once he was gone, turned to her in disbelief. She sat idly, swinging her feet contentedly.

“How the flipping hell did you manage that?!” said Pat.

Kitty’s eyes sparkled. “I don’t know what you mean.” 

 

 

 

Alison had an armful of laptop and wedding booklets when she ran into Lieutenant Havers, barely keeping a hold on the mug she had precariously held between two fingers as she stopped just short of a collision.

“Oh I’m so sorry,” said Havers, reaching out his hands for the mug instinctively, “let me just take...that…” He shared a bashful glance with Alison. “Ah.” He dropped his hands.

“It’s the thought that counts,” said Alison, shifting her slowly slipping armful back up her chest, and – seeing the lieutenant was alone – forming an idea. “I was just gonna do some work with some music on,” she said as casually as she could, “if you wanna join me? I can go get your book?”

Havers dipped his head. “I’d be delighted.”

He waited whilst Alison fetched the book and arranged herself, and then Alison waited until she’d turned a few pages for him to deploy the playlist she and Mike had sat up all night cultivating. She pressed play.

She saw over the top of her laptop screen when Havers stiffened, and turned with such a look of naked shock to the phone that Alison had to look away and give him a moment. He looked at her worn ‘S’ button, her hand hovering unmoving over the keys. She chanced another look up through her lashes.

He was still staring at the phone, listening to the lyrics; one man softly proclaiming his love for another.  

“Alright lieutenant?” she asked softly.

Havers jumped and tore his gaze away to look at her, the automatic ‘perfectly’ falling from his lips a little weak. Alison smiled at him, then glanced at the wedding magazine resting to her right.

“I’m knee deep in wedding planning myself,” she said quietly, gesturing at her lap, “could do with a break – I can show you the pictures of the last one if you want?”

“Of course,” he said, and rose, faltering as another song started to play and sending another wide-eyed look at the phone Alison had picked up before he composed himself. Alison very carefully flicked through her gallery. She selected her favourite picture of Sam and Clare; newly married and glowing.

“Here we are – I’m not gonna lie the day was really starting to look like it was going to be a complete disaster, but it actually turned out just wonderfully. The two of them were so happy to finally be married.” She chanced a look up at him standing by her shoulder. His needless breaths had caught.

“I -” he said after a few moments, a little tremulously, “forgive me if my question is…ignorant, but,” he swallowed, “…to each other?”

Alison willed herself to seem casual. “Yep. Sam,” she pointed each of them out, “and Clare.” She put her phone down on the arm of her chair so he could see it better, and then took a deep breath. “I know things were different when you were alive Lieutenant, but it’s perfectly fine for two women to love each other. Or – or two men. Love is love,” she finished, her voice ever so slightly cracking.

She let him look at the photo for a long time.

“Thank you Alison,” he said, and it was just above a whisper.

 

 

She was far more furtive with the Captain. She did not ask, instead settling herself down in the room she’d found him in with a blanket and a book and started the music. She did not look up. But she could see him.

At first he lightly tapped his foot to the melody, until the man singing about his love called him a ‘he’ and he froze. Alison simply looked at the words on her page instead of reading them, her focus on the Captain in her peripheral vision.

Like Lieutenant Havers, the Captain looked at the phone, but not in shock. In fact Alison couldn’t work out what he was thinking at all. As covertly as he could manage the Captain flicked a look at Alison’s face she pretended not to see. And he swallowed. And he looked away. And then he looked back at the phone. He stayed that way for a long time. Alison still hadn’t worked out what the sentence she was looking at said.

After a while the Captain carefully turned away from it, but he didn’t leave. His foot did not continue to tap, but Alison could see how tightly he was holding his swagger stick behind his back. How his face was still unreadable.

She took a risk. She feigned a yawn which turned into a real one and stretched her arms above her head, the sleeves of her jumper falling to puddle at her elbows. “D’y’mind if I put that one on repeat?” she said, addressing him for the first time, “I know some people find that quite annoying.”

She waited.

“Not at all,” murmured the Captain.

He stayed for several more rounds of it before he quietly walked off.

 

 

The days had gotten shorter again, and the windows had all been turned to echoing mirrors by the darkness outside, so the Captain found himself unwillingly meeting his own eyes as he looked out of one.

He was on edge.

Over the last few days the others had become even more disruptive than usual; messing with the usual routine of clubs and events and seeking him out far more than he remembered them ever having done so – usually he was left rather to his own devices unless Kitty wanted him for something. Or, he reflected, that used to be the case. Before Alison and Michael.

The darkness outside made the hour feel later than it was; made the fire burning in the grate cosier. It was casting a sharp set of shadows across the room, the one of Alison curled up on her phone in a onesie reaching across the sofa and floorboards. Of course, the light passed right through the ghosts, even though all but the Captain were congregated close by the fireplace, quiet and soft and sleepily chatting.

All but the Captain, and Lieutenant Havers, who the Captain saw come to stand close beside him first in the glass’ reflection, and then from the corner of his eye.

“Winter already sir,” Havers said, with a nod out beyond their reflections, meeting his eyes in the window. The Captain took in the way he was standing fondly, and then turned to look at him properly.

“At ease, Lieutenant,” he said gently. 

Havers blinked, then chuckled bashfully and made the effort to relax his stance. “Sorry. Habit.”

He ducked his head to the Captain’s small smile. “I think it’s fair to say we’re off duty.”

Havers looked around at everyone lounging comfortably, the fire he knew to be warm even if he could not feel it, Alison taking another biscuit to dunk in her tea and quirking him a quick smile as she caught him looking.

“Yes,” he agreed, “it does seem to be the sort of night for relaxing. I might even be so bold as to -” His hand reached up, and he pulled his tie loose.

The Captain looked hastily back to the window, and realised it provided no sanctuary, as he could now see Havers undoing the buttons on his jacket, then shrugging it off as he continued to speak. “In other circumstance I’d offer you a drink,” he laid his jacket over the top of the piano, and it chose to accept it. “Even just tea. One of Alison’s biscuits.”

The Captain chose the moment Havers started rolling up his sleeves to look back at him, and was helpless to do anything but watch more slivers of skin emerge.

“Is it terribly uncouth of me to lean against this piano?” asked Havers, and all at once seemed to realise that his jacket was resting on it instead of lying in a crumpled heap beneath it and blinked. “Can I lean against this piano?”

The Captain had to clear his throat before he could muster a response. “It appears to vary by the moment.”

Tentatively Havers tried it, and found that leaning was apparently adjacent enough to sitting for it to be allowable. He pulled his tie free to rest as a long ribbon around his neck and popped the buttons of his collar.

The Captain had lifted his chin before the first button had been fully undone and removed his gaze to the cobweb dense top corner, ears phantomly burning, and there his gaze remained until he heard his name being softly called. His first name.

He looked back at William. Framed by the dark behind him and the firelight an amber spotlight glinting in his eyes. 

There was a long pause. Even though the Captain knew he should look away he didn’t, because Havers was holding his gaze.

“You know,” Havers begun, casually and gently and yet boldly all at once, as he took in the stiff rigidity of the Captain’s perfect posture, the pin neat uniform, “you don’t have to be The Captain all the time,” he finished, with another murmur of his name.

“It’s just us.”

His hands were in his lap; he clasped them tightly. 

“It’s just me.”

The Captain looked at him. Havers had spoken so softly the Captain’s ears were ringing with how hard he’d listened to the words. Then, stiffly, he considered the swagger stick grasped tightly in his hand, focussing on it as a separate object and not as an extension of himself for the first time in many, many years.

And he put it aside.

It made a dull rattle as it met the wood top of the piano and then rolled to rest on the wad of Havers’ jacket. The Captain’s hands felt strangely, vastly, empty, but also light in an untethered sort of way, and that was not unwelcome at all.

They shook just a little as he moved them to the buckle on his Sam Brown. Before then dismantling even just a tiny part of his uniform seemed unacceptably foreign to him. He was The Captain, and he didn’t need to be anything else but that. Before then.

He could see the creases and folds in Havers’ shirt in his peripheries as his fingers slipped over the metal of the buckle, so close to him. The Captain had moved closer to put down his swagger stick and hadn’t realised he hadn’t moved back. The knowledge suddenly made undoing one buckle very difficult.

And then he froze. Havers’ hands came up to hover, and then to gently rest, over his own.

“Let me help.”

The Captain’s phantom heart was thundering. He couldn’t look up. He nodded.

They removed his Sam Brown in silence. The buttons of his own jacket, also slid from his shoulders.

He had not removed that jacket since he’d died. He’d never even tried.

The Captain didn’t realise his hands had stalled until William’s snaked up alone to tug the knot of his tie loose, and then drifted down to his cuffs. The Captain had stilled; stopped his nonessential breathing. His hands hovered there between them as Havers slowly rolled up his sleeves for him, one and then the other.

And then. And then. Havers’ hands didn’t drop. They lingered there by his forearm.

The Captain looked at them. He looked and thought about how easy it would be to just twist his own palm up, entangle their fingers-

“Ali is it the green bin or the normal one today ‘cos I can never bloody remember and -”

“MIKE!”

Their hands dropped they looked away they stepped back a mile at Alison’s loud exclamation, startled. By the door Mike stood looking bewildered; Alison sat looking horrified with herself; Pat and Julian and Kitty and Fanny and Robin and Mary and Thomas cradling Humphrey’s head hurriedly turned away from their direction.

“Mike,” said Alison, at a much more acceptable volume, and with a desperately blustering tinge to her voice, “it’s just. Just good to see you. Sometimes I just need to…yell about it.” 

“Riiiiight.”  

She closed her eyes and sighed. “Green bin.”

Mike nodded, eyes darting about the room. “Alright,” he said, and backed away.

As he left the Captain caught eyes once again with Havers.

For a few moments, he was terrified.

Until tentatively, Havers chuckled, and the Captain wheezed an answering sigh of relief back, and they stood, silently but content, until their clothes resettled themselves between one blink and the next.

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Havers was awake.

He’d been awake for a while, long after everyone had split off their separate ways.

He was still thinking about the brush of the Captain’s skin against his own as he’d rolled up his shirtsleeves. He’d been warm. Or at least, they matched. He was still thinking about how – somehow – the sensation of his thundering heart had pounded between his ears as he’d looked at their hands so close between them, and thought about tangling them together.

There had been so many times before where he had ‘accidentally’ let their hands brush. Handing over documents or cups of tea or things well within the Captain’s reach that Havers handed him anyway. Sometimes, if the Captain had done something particularly endearing, then he’d give in just a little and take the liberty to unnecessarily press whatever it was entirely into his hand with both of his own. A few seconds of holding the Captain’s hand.   

Inevitably, Havers thought about the time he had forgotten himself, forgotten what was and wasn’t meant to be done, and had familiarly put his hand on the Captain’s ankle. He’d spent the entire time he was unpicking the laces hoping the Captain would let him do it.    

That’d been the night when, after he’d finally let the Captain be, he’d sat down at his writing desk.

Lieutenant Havers was awake, and thinking about how much he wished to be with the Captain still. Mike’s quite unintentional interruption hadn’t managed to shatter the quiet mood of the evening, and Havers did not want it to end.

He walked through his closed door before he could talk himself out of it. It’d been many years, rather since they’d first met, since the Captain had refused to see him. He started walking down a very familiar path through the hallways.   

A procession of picture frames, the thin pane of glass no longer reflecting his passage as he passed them, marked his progress through the house; how many doors he had left until he reached the one he was after. His steps had slowed by the time he’d reached a delicate watercolour of Button House. A set of pressed flowers later, almost, but not quite where he wanted to be, and they’d trailed to a stop. His fingers had twisted anxiously together; there was a thin line between his brows.  

Motionlessly, he stood in the dark.

Reminding himself that he was the thing that went bump in the night helped with the hallway gloom; the heavy fog of darkness from whence he came. It didn’t settle him. Not even the silver of vague moonlight dusting the frame of the door he’d been heading for helped.

His shoe made an overly loud scrape against the wood floor as he shifted his weight, suddenly nervous. The time had all at once occurred to him. How impolite it would be to drop by unannounced so late. The Captain was probably sleeping.

He was still standing there when Alison and Mike, eyes on mugs of drink filled to overflowing and in each other’s dressing gowns, came across him, sharing the hallway with him for a good few moments before Alison took a glance up and promptly jumped out of her skin.

She made a sound like someone had punched her, sloshing hot chocolate all over the side of her mug onto the floor as she bent double, her hand flying to her chest. Mike, startled by Alison startling, jolted hard enough that his phone flew from his hand and clattered to the floor, the blue light of the screen throwing an eerie glow on the old furnishings as it rolled.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” gasped Alison.

Havers was mortified.

Mike had laid a protective hand on Alison’s arm and looked around wildly until – out of breath – Alison waved him off. “It’s lieutenant Havers. It’s okay.”

She sniffed to compose herself and pulled together a smile as she straightened. “Cor, you could give Robin a run for his money. I almost pissed myself.”

“I think I did,” murmured Mike.

Havers winced. “Really I’m so sorry,” he matched their whisper.    

“Occupational hazard of living in a haunted house,” said Alison.

Mike nodded. “YEAH. IT’S FUCKING TERRIFYING,” he said, managing to hit the same tone he usually spoke to the ghosts in even in a whisper.

Alison was looking at Havers. “You alright? You’re not usually up.”

Havers floundered for an explanation as Mike checked 'he good?’ with Alison. She was looking at where he stood, in the dead of nowhere in the dead of night, and down to where his impulsive destination lay, eyes widening.

“Oh are you -” she hauled Mike out of the way to clear a path, making him stagger and slop yet more hot chocolate over the side of his mug, “going somewhere?!”

Havers slid his foot back, flushing and thankful for the dark. “Ah, actually, I – no.”

“Are you su -”

He took another step back. “Yes. Once again I’m-” he continued retreating, “I’m sorry to disturb you. Goodnight Alison; Mike.”

He went back to the safety of his room.

 

 

The next morning he went to find the Captain and couldn’t, so found himself wandering, head bowed to watch his feet and hands clasped behind his back.

He heard voices. One voice in particular. With a small smile he made his way to join them.

As he entered the room he saw the Captain enthusiastically brandishing his swagger stick in broad sweeping gestures and bouncing on his toes. Alison stood beside him; Mike beside her, and both of the latter appeared harried but determined, and were listening intently to the Captain. Or rather Alison was and then acting as a relay. They were standing over a table spread with all sorts. Stacks of books and folders the lieutenant had seen Alison carrying about and her personal computer (Havers still marvelled at that) balanced precariously on an edge, and several clipboards. The centrepiece appeared to be a rather crude drawing of the main rooms in Button House, dotted with little blocky yellow people. One of them was in white. Before he was spotted he saw how the Captain went to sweep one across the makeshift map absentmindedly and the stick pass straight through.

The Captain saw him first. He straightened right up and snatched back his swagger stick from over the table, taking a step back. “Ah. Good um. Good morning Havers.”

“Am I interrupting?” Havers said, hesitating on the threshold.

Alison shook her head and waved him in, “come on in, come on in,” she said, and Mike briefly looked up from his phone in surprise.  

Havers came close, taking in the amalgamation of wedding paraphernalia as Alison spoke.

“Sorry we’re a bit 'Action Stations' this morning; the bride and groom called - apparently they decided they were just too in love to wait and wanted to get married ASAP. Like ASAP ASAP. Like later this week ASAP.” She looked pleased but stressed, swiping at her flyaway hairs. “And we went -”

"’Yes god please whatever you want just don’t pull out 'cos we need your money,’” said Mike, looking up from where he was fiddling with his phone in the general right direction, "if you want fast we can do fast; we can do Don’t Tell the Bride levels of fast.”

The Captain made a stern and affronted noise at that, and Alison held up a placating hand to him whilst she turned to Mike, her voice hushed. “Oooh Mike no we. We don’t mention…” she widened her eyes and shook her head tightly.

Havers meanwhile had crept around the table to stand by the Captain, getting a better look at it even as the Captain seemed to be awkwardly trying to distance himself from it. No longer looking at it upside down Havers could properly take in all the organised lists written in Alison’s hurried hand. He looked up at the Captain.

“It’s a tall order,” he said, “but they might just get it together in time with your help.”

The Captain looked at the back wall. “My um. My help?”  

Havers nodded toward the table. “I know how you organise lists sir. Would recognise that bullet point system anywhere.”        

The Captain’s eyes darted to his and just as quickly away as he cleared his throat. “Just, you know, stepping in.”

Mike got a text. He scrolled through it quickly.

“Oh god they wanna know if we can accommodate birdcages,”

“Birdcages,” said Alison flatly.

“For the doves.”    

“Doves?” she said less flatly.

There was another text. Mike read it. “They wanna train one to deliver the ring apparently.”

Beside Havers the Captain muttered a "Good Lord" under his breath disdainfully, then seemed to catch himself with another look to Havers.

Alison looked pained. “Anyway we can sway them? Mike?”

He spent a second typing. Another ping of a message. He looked up. “Very insistent on the doves.”

Alison briefly closed her eyes. “Right. Doves. I suppose we already have a ghost pigeon so in for a penny.”

Havers blinked. “Excuse me, did you say ghost pigeon?!”

Alison was looking at what Mike was showing her on his phone. “Bloody hell these birdcages are huge!”

The Captain had initially shot the screen furtive glances, but had ended up craning his neck to see them properly. “And ghastly,” he added on.

Alison leaned away from the phone. “Where the hell are they gonna go?!”

They all frowned down at the simplistic central map; the little yellow figures.

Havers tried to be helpful. He reached over. “Some room could be made here, at the back?” he suggested.

The Captain was frowning down at the table and tapping his foot, and offhandedly dismissed his suggestion as he thought. “Not an option – that’ll ruin the flow, see - they’ve already got those ruddy great ornamental plinths,” he said it in a way that conveyed the rolling of his eyes “and if they’re really insisting on the tapestry we’re already going to have to work wonders with to make it look anything approaching palatable -” he stopped abruptly with a widening of his eyes and a stalwart refusal to look at Havers blinking at him in surprise.

“Ughhh,” said Alison. “I agree. When they said the key word was ‘extravagant’ they meant it.” She bit her nails then turned to the Captain. “So where do you think then?”

The Captain shifted. Cleared his throat a couple of times as Mike muttered 'okay so I can veto indoor fireworks' at his phone, and then pointed with his swagger stick. “Different room entirely. Birds are noisy and unpredictable creatures,”

“Tell me about it,” Alison grumbled.

The Captain continued. “You don’t really want to hear them during the uh. During the vows and such.”

Alison was nodding enthusiastically and picking up a sharpie, doodling small birds down on the paper where suggested. The Captain watched her do it with a lift of his chin.

“I had no idea you were so good at this sir,” said Havers with no small amount of delight.

The Captain looked at him from the corner of his eye for a long second. Then turned properly. “Well I. It wasn’t exactly a…skill…I needed in life.”

“How many balloons can a room hold?” interjected Mike.

“What?” said Alison.

“Approximately.”

Havers chuckled quietly at the three simultaneously wrinkled noses at the picture Mike turned upon the room. It was very pink.

The Captain looked over at him and Havers crossed his arms. “Go on, I’m fascinated now. Show me how it’s done.” He gestured down at all their clutter.

The Captain hesitated. Then he straightened his spine and turned importantly to Alison. “Alison. They are not going to want as many balloons as they think they want.”  

Havers stayed to watch them all. To watch the Captain, as he became palpably more invested in fixing everything just so. In a way it was almost like watching him in action again; planning and putting things together and berating Alison when she messed up the bullet point system. He was almost glad they were as caught up as they were, for he knew he was watching with an expression too fond for scrutiny.

And on his mind, as it had been since that afternoon with Alison, was Button House's first wedding. Was the quiet conversation he'd shared with her as she told him things he never thought he'd hear. He thought about it all, and watched the animated wave of the Captain's hand as he spoke. 

Chapter Text

It was the day before the wedding, and the surface of the kitchen table Alison was sat around was buried completely beneath a mound of hot pink paper ball decorations; a mountain of flat pre-assembled ones on one side of her and an even more perilously unstable mountain of completed ones on the other, rising above her head. Somehow, she’d been enlisted to put them all together and hadn’t gotten her protests in fast enough before she’d been abandoned to it. She was honestly starting to believe she might go blind from the glare of the fluorescent paper, and she’d gotten more papercuts in the last hour than she believed she’d ever had in her entire life before then. Her skin was sticky with glue.

The decoration she’d been working on came unstuck in her hands just as Lieutenant Havers wandered in, and she seized the opportunity for distraction immediately, dropping the paper to her meagre clearing of workspace before her. Or she tried to drop it. The glue kept it stuck to her hands even as she tried to shake it off and she sighed dejectedly. Havers looked on with a slight grimace as she finally freed herself.    

“Having a better morning than me?!” she asked, moving just enough as she said it to topple the pile of completed little spheres from their perches, and she flinched as they tumbled into her lap. She met Havers’ commiserating look and couldn’t help but smile at his chuckle even as she sat up to her neck in hot pink tissue paper.

“Please tell me you’re having a better morning than me.”

“That television truly is marvellous,” he said in answer, jabbing his thumb behind him, “I keep thinking how splendid it would have been to have during the war - especially when it was too cold to venture out for cricket! And it often got bally cold,” he finished, his eyes ever so slightly vague. Remembering.

Alison shifted to sit up – she did try to go slowly at first, but it didn’t matter. The decorations cascaded to the floor regardless – and sat forward to look at him considerately.

“You finding it alright being back here? I know you didn’t have much of a choice to be stuck with us all,” she said kindly, laughing.

“No, no, it’s – nice, actually.”

He looked around, moving to trail his fingers across the table top and not noticing as they slipped through the wood. “You know,” he said, “I missed the place actually. Truthfully I never really wanted to leave…” he was still looking away, a slightly distant quality to his voice as he spoke, “but war was everywhere. I saw so many others go and felt I had to do the same.”

Remembering the Captain’s daily cry on his run Alison echoed, “for King and Country?”

Havers turned to her in surprise at her understanding. “Yes. Exactly.”

After a moment’s pause Havers looked as if he wanted to say something, his mouth slightly parted and brows slightly creased together as he thought through his words. Alison waited.   

“Everyone else,” he began carefully, “they died here.”

It was half question, half statement, and Alison confirmed it with a nod.

“That’s why they cannot leave the grounds,” he said in the same tone, and again Alison nodded.

“Yeah.”

Havers mirrored her nod in confirmation, and then asked a real kind of question. “And is that…usual?”

Alison thought back upon the other ghosts that she’d encountered outside of Button House, unable to follow her home. How it made her heart clench sometimes to go, knowing she’d been the first person they’d spoken to since they had died. She swallowed.

“Yeah.”   

“I understood that to be the case.” He noticed his idle fingers slipping in and out of the table and moved them away. “So, then, I – I don’t understand, why I am not in Africa?”

It was a statement that sounded like a question. Soft. Confused.

“Please don’t misunderstand Alison, I am so very glad that I am not. It’s crossed my mind to be thankful – more than once – that I am here with um…” he looked off again, and then took a deep breath before meeting her eyes “…so many fellow ghosts for company,” he finished in a slightly different tone of voice. “If I’m to be candid, I may have been in Africa, but I felt like I belonged here,” Again he looked away, as if he couldn’t not help it, as if his head was being moved by another presence in that direction, “like I’d left most of myself, here.”

Alison froze. Her jolt caused the unmade pile of decorations to slip to the floor.

Shed forgotten. A new ghost; a wedding. It’d slipped her mind.

She’d been trying to find something to say, thinking of the day Havers had arrived -

And with Havers’ last sentence she suddenly remembered what she had found that morning.

She remembered the letter she’d carefully put away.

She remembered the Captain’s reaction when she’d showed it to him.

Her fingers tightened on the edge of the table and she stared up wide eyed at Havers, still looking away, as somebody entered the kitchen. They walked right through Havers and he shuddered as they deposited yet another box of pink paper honeycomb decorations on the table. Alison didn’t even flinch at the thud of it.

Havers recovered from his distaste and shook himself, stepping away from the table. “Sorry, I’m holding you up.”

“No,” said Alison, and it was strangled. “Actually I have to go, er, check something,” she said as she stood. She needed to be sure she was right.

Hardly had she blurted her goodbye before she was speed walking from the kitchen.

Because she had an idea who that letter was addressed to. And that maybe it had not slipped beneath the floorboards at all, but had been placed there.   

She heard Pat’s voice and steered herself toward it, hoping hard that the Captain was still following all the bustling workpeople and giving orders they couldn’t hear.

Pat seemed to be giving some sort of talk to everyone else.  

“- No no no that’s the genius of it you see! With an electric carving knife you can go the Big Freezer in the garage and instead of defrosting a whole beef joint you can just cut it in half first/-”

He was interrupted by his own affronted noise of discontent as Alison replaced him at the front of the room without preamble. Julian rolled his eyes and sighed. “What now! ‘Cos I see you’ve been doing oh so spectacularly at sorting out -”

“Operation Matchmaker,” Pat jumped in. Julian scowled but Alison cut off whatever he’d opened his mouth to say.

“Guys,” she said urgently, and hushed, “I’ve never asked because I didn’t want to breach his privacy but this is actually, genuinely, really, important right now so…what’s the Captain’s name?!”

They blinked at her.

“Y’what?” said Pat.

“Just his first name. I just really need to doubly be certain about something.”  

They continued to blink at her.

“Why the hell d’you think we know?!” said Julian, throwing up his hands. 

“Okay maybe not you Julian but most of you would’ve been here during the war, you must of heard it at some point.”

If anything, the silence grew more profound.  

“Guys? Anyone?”

There were a few quiet umms and errs under their breath, a muffled drone Alison couldn’t figure out the source of, but nothing more. Mary offered a shrug.

Alison’s mouth dropped. “How can none of you know?!”

In slight desperation she turned to Thomas, and actually tried batting her lashes a little. “What about you Thomas?!” 

From his perch on the edge of the armrest he looked flustered but also genuinely surprised. “Well I  don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.” With a lift of his chin he looked off dramatically, “I was reconciling with my new existence away from the mortal coil I had before dwelled.”

Pat frowned. “Thomas you’d died one hundred and twenty years ago.”

“TOO SOON,” Thomas snapped.

Alison ignored them. “Kitty?”

Kitty was fidgeting; fiddling with her hair and avoiding her eye. "Wellllll” she said, “it was actually rather boring, having all those soldiers here, and all in brown! Or green! No lovely red uniforms at all, and they did rather a lot of talking, so I didn’t really pay much attention.” She smiled.   

Alison made a last-ditch attempt. “Lady B?!”  

Fanny cleared her throat, made a plethora of faces, and she too begun fiddling with her hair. “…you see Alison they were moving my furniture all over and digging up my lovely garden…”

Abruptly Robin realised the muffled drone they could hear was coming from beneath the sofa, and he rolled out Humphrey’s head from where he’d gotten stuck.

"Finally,/” huffed Humphrey.

Alison stood in disbelief. “Are you telling me none of you know?!”

All at once they began making clamouring excuses, drowning out Humphrey’s raised voice as he tried to interject.

“Guys. I remember. It’s -”

Thomas shushed him. “Be quiet Humphrey, we’re trying to think here man!”

“But! -”

“Hush! I’ve almost got it…"

"Alison!”

Alison jumped. The Captain came striding toward her sternly, sweeping his swagger stick toward the kitchen, “why are you not putting those together!”

Alison floundered, but to her relief the Captain didn’t give her time to answer, continuing irately. “You’re miles behind schedule already!” he caught sight of more people moving around with wedding supplies and promptly continued off behind them, calling out over his shoulder. “Hop back to it Alison! Right away! They’re going to need that table.”

Alison was trying to work out the best course of action, making stuttering half-formed noises after the Captain, when she heard an almighty crash from outside and a few muffled curses.

“…Sorry, love,” came a shouted voice, “where was it you wanted these birdcages again?!”

Alison put her hands in her hair, looked toward where the Captain had gone, made a very stressed noise, and ran off toward the sound of another birdcage being dropped.

Chapter Text

It was not until the last preparations had been made that Alison found him.

The Captain was alone, quietly surveying the décor, set up and waiting. The very room holding its breath. He was turning in a slow circle and lightly fiddling with his swagger stick, face to the streamers across the ceiling. Alison stood by the door and watched him until he noticed her.

A smile twitched beneath his moustache. “If we all pull together and cross our fingers – somebody will er, have to cross Humphrey’s for him – this might just go off without a hitch.”

Alison couldn’t bring herself to say something jovial. Her mouth was tight around the words she’d mentally been preparing herself to say for hours.

The Captain noticed Alison’s odd mood. “Are you alright, Alison?” he asked, stilling his dancing fingers on his swagger stick and lowering it a little, eyebrows sliding into a doleful tilt of concern.    

She tried for a smile of reassurance and came further into the room; the Captain came to stand beside her as she perched on the windowsill. She fiddled with the bobbled fibres on her leggings.

Her heart was thundering. She was very aware that she was about to approach something directly that they collectively didn’t approach. She quietly prayed that the Captain didn’t run.

It threw him a little when she looked deep in his eyes for slightly too long, she could see. When she spoke, she tried to keep as calm as possible, as soft as possible, as gentle as she could be.

“That letter, Captain.”

A moment of absolute stillness before the words seeped in. Then the Captain took a sharp inhale of breath through his nose, and turned to the window.

There was a pause so thick Alison didn’t dare even move to finish removing the loose bobble she’d been nervously picking at from off her knee.

“What letter.”

It was half-hearted and they both knew it. A rebuttal for the sake of going through the motions of denial. 

Alison didn’t bother pretending differently. She carried on.

“It was for you, wasn’t it. From him. From Lieutenant Havers.”

The Captain didn’t move his gaze from the window. He was holding his swagger stick very tightly behind his back; his lips pressed just as tightly together.

Alison waited. Watching the Captain weigh up his options.

Until he loosened his hold on his swagger stick, letting it droop forlornly to the floor, and deflated, his shoulders and chin dropping, his eyes sliding shut.                                                                                                          

“Nobody else dots their I’s and crosses their T’s the way he does.”

Alison’s breath caught, the bobble snapping off between her fingers.

She’d known, of course. Bu the Captain had admitted it. Had admitted it and was still standing beside her. She was in a conversation that could shatter crumble collapse at any moment. She’d been let into a ticking timebomb of opportunity.

“I was speaking to him earlier y’know,” she began, “he was talking to me about when he – when he left.” The Captain had opened his eyes; was looking down to the bottom line of grout fixing the window to the windowsill. “And he said something very specific. That he felt he belonged, here. That he’d left most of himself, here.” She tapped the windowsill in front of the Captain, and swallowed.

“Captain.” She wished she could touch him, just a brush of supporting fingers against his elbow or the resting over his hand. “I - consider what it means. That he arrived with the opening of a letter he wrote you. Consider -” the Captain had stiffened; she forged on, making an effort to keep her voice steady and soothing and not rush before he bolted, “what bit of himself he left so permanently attached to Button House – to that letter - that it brought him back.”

The Captain said nothing, but his jaw worked and he blinked rapidly, his eyes having grown a little wide.

“I’d - I’d say that meant whatever that letter said – whatever Lieutenant Havers has to say – is very special indeed.”

She blinked then, shaking free the moisture that had crept to her eyes.

The Captain had closed his eyes again, screwing them shut. Alison swallowed and debated saying more, wondering if she’d be pushing too far, when without a word the Captain turned and left.

 

 

For a wedding so outlandish it was practically asking for things to go wrong, nothing did.

Or if the doves, despite how strategically placed, still caused slight havoc, it didn’t matter, for the couple had eyes only for each other.

And the Captain’s eyes, Alison noticed, were more or less entirely fixed on Havers.

A few times she watched as he made a little half step toward Havers, and then changed his mind. Alison willed him to do it.

"Come on, Captain.”

She uttered it aloud, crossing her fingers, as she watched. As she watched the Captain watching Havers become enamoured with the whole spectacle and enthuse kindly with Kitty, watching the Captain watch how he and Havers brushed each time they were close and how not one of them stepped away. He looked like a man on the brink of something.

 

 

 

The Captain had not slept a wink.

He was standing on the very edges of the dance floor, the fallen night thankfully muting the outlandish colour scheme to a hazy blue black, the spinning glitterball glinting slowly over every face. The wedding party danced, balloons at their feet and confetti like snow in their hair.

In any other circumstance the Captain would be so pleased with himself for how he and Alison had put the event together, more focussed on the newlyweds who had already abandoned their shoes in favour of dancing until the sun rose, and possibly beyond then. But he was not.

What he was doing was looking at Havers.

Standing across the floor, as out of the way as the Captain himself, Havers was looking fondly out at the crowd, swaying to the music and tapping his foot.

The Captain knew what he wanted to do, and terrifyingly he’d been on the verge of doing it since the music had begun. He was concentrating on standing in place, for if he rocked on his feet he wouldn’t be able to stop that momentum from turning into a step, and then another, across the dancefloor, and he was, quite frankly, petrified of what would happen next. Once he let what he wanted take control.

So he watched from across the room.

There was a presence at his elbow.

It was Robin.

He had no idea why it was Robin, standing there. No idea what to make of the way Robin was just looking at him. He tried not to shrink beneath his collar. Robin could have a very intense and searching and seeing gaze when he wanted.

“Go ask him.”

Robin had spoken abruptly. The Captain floundered.  

“I – A - what?”  

Robin’s expression didn’t change.

“Go ask him.” He nodded his head toward Havers, the man now gently sidestepping, “To -” he held up his arms in a parody of a waltz and swayed woodenly.

The Captain blustered, noises slipping from his throat.

“Captain,” Robin said, a little less gruffly, “he’ll say yes.”

Robin resumed his staring, his words without other meaning, and the Captain realised, with a truly awful kind of sinking feeling, a cold sickness spreading out over his long dead body, that cold churning of panic that racing of the heart the wet clamminess of hands he could not train himself out of that. They knew.

He looked up from Robin’s deep gaze in a panic and found the rest of his fellow ghosts had migrated closer, and one by one met his gaze. They knew.

All of them.

His hands trembled.

 

And then Fanny took hold of one of them.

He jumped, turning to look at her with wild eyes. She smiled at him. A small, soft thing, and squeezed his hand. Just the once. One reassuring press. She nodded her head over at Havers.

“Go on then,” she said, “don’t keep him waiting all night.”

The Captain swallowed hard against the tightness of his throat and tried to find something to say.

“Go on,” Fanny repeated, dropping his hand, and Julian cleared his throat. Hesitantly the Captain looked at him. Julian nodded, then turned to the others, ushering them toward the door.

“Come on,” he said, “we’ll have a look at the buffet table.”

Pat flashed him a grin and a thumbs up as they left. The Captain fought against the hot prickling of tears he would not give into at the gesture, at all of them. Who knew and were…encouraging him. Who didn’t think any less of him. Who had left to give him space, and not to abandon him.

He looked back up at Havers, tall enough to be seen clearly over the sea of bodies, and he made a decision.

Once again he regarded his swagger stick, and with certainty put it aside. He didn’t want one of his hands occupied. He set out across the dancefloor.

Havers caught his eye in surprise as he came closer, waiting for whatever the Captain wanted to say, even when the silence, the intense lock of their gazes stretched on. A neon strobe light passed across his face. The Captain opened his mouth and the H of Havers was almost out there when he said -

“William.”

His voice cracked.

“William,” he repeated, tentatively raising his hand, palm to the ceiling, between them, “may I...have this dance?”

In the moment the Captain’s words registered, the hands Havers was holding behind his back dropped with his sharp inhale, the slackening of his patiently waiting face to some naked, but unidentifiable emotion. The endless dark depths of his eyes swam with more than just the glimmer of the glitterball’s flickering light.      

The hand the Captain had outstretched began to droop as Havers stayed silent, but before the Captain could step away in dread Havers’ own hand darted out and grabbed it.

They both started at the shock of their skin together, properly, firmly. They were holding hands.    

Havers, his perpetually elegant Havers, stumbled and stuttered over his words. “I - yes. You may. Please. Yes.”

The Captain’s heart was doing a lot for something which had long stopped beating. The noise he made was involuntary, and he nodded his head stupidly until he realised that he was just standing there, his hand in William’s and a wall against William’s back meaning he, the Captain was going to have to lead the way; he was going to have to move.

He got a hold of his legs and turned, clearing his throat and gently tugging that hand in his to get him to follow and -

There was no need to pull. Havers was coming. Right along beside him. Almost stepping on his heels. Still staring at him with too much in his eyes for the Captain to try and decipher when he was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. The Captain was not sure Havers was aware of how hard he was squeezing his fingers, but he suspected he himself was squeezing back just as tightly.

The Captain lead them to a spot they would not be accidentally danced through, and realised a fatal flaw in his proposal.

“Ah, I er, I can’t - ” he ducked his head to the ground, “I’m afraid I’m not actually much of a dancer.” He watched his feet as Havers’ came closer, resting right there opposite his own.

“This is perfect,” said Havers.

It was perfect. And awkward. If it wasn’t for the firm grip Havers had on his hand the Captain would have died again with the feeling of getting what he had so often thought about all wrong; for messing things up. But for their firmly clasped hands.

After a moment Havers tentatively raised his free hand in increments, the Captain mirroring him instinctively, and then Havers’ hand met his waist, his fingers dusting over the fabric of his jacket. He conveyed his question, 'is this alright?’ with his eyes, and in answer the Captain put his own arm round Havers, holding him just a little tighter than he was being held and removing his gaze to the safety of the tip of Havers’ ear as he felt the hand at his side cling tight.

They swayed slightly to the music.

The Captain had been taught how to dance – no matter how good he actually was in practice, he theoretically knew the steps. And he knew Havers knew how to dance. Wonderfully. He’d seen him do it.

“When,” he said, and felt Havers look at him. He was unable to look back as he said things he’d been telling himself he couldn’t say for a lifetime and more. He was looking as close as he was able, which was Havers’ shoulder. He remembered what it was like to press his face there when they’d hugged. The day he’d gotten Havers back. “Whenever we were invited down to the village hall. And – And there were dances…”   

His voice faltered. He couldn’t. He couldn’t – shouldn’t, say it.

Pat’s thumbs up and Alison’s smile and Haver’s shoes against his own on the dancefloor, their hands entwined.

Be brave.

He met Havers’ eyes. Havers who was looking at him like every word was stardust. “I used to watch you swing girls around the room, and wish to be them.”  

They’d stopped swaying. Havers’ eyes were as round as saucers.  

“Whenever I could convince you to come,” he said, “I’d see you standing by the door, and wish it was you I was dancing with.”

They looked at each other, unmoving, until the Captain let out a short burst of a chuckle which was relief and joy and disbelief and joy, and Havers joined in, smiling the wide smile that made the Captain catch his breath each and every time.

A drunken party member staggered their way and they hastily stumbled away, still smiling, still laughing, and clutching at each other with no intention of ever letting go.

Chapter Text

Their hands were still entwined.

The Captain was looking down at them, resting between the two of them on his bed, Havers’ thumb brushing back and forth along where the Captain’s veins faintly showed through the back of his hand. No longer were they hanging onto each other as if it would be their one chance. Now they were enjoying that one hand held by another conveyed so much.   

They were in the Captain’s room, the music of the disco still thumping away below them, a distant but pleasant resonance along with the indistinguishable hum of voices and clinking glass and smashing glass followed by gasps and then laughs. The two of them were sitting up against the headboard, quiet and comfortable. Even with the night black outside the window, to the Captain, the unchanging room felt warmer. The space less empty. Havers’ shoes were on the bedspread, next to his own.

He was running the thumbnail on his other hand up and down the grain in his swagger stick absently. It’d reappeared quite startlingly in his hand when the Captain had eventually let go of Havers with one of them, down when they had been on the dancefloor. Havers, smiling, had insisted they at least attempted a small twirl of some sort, and then when the Captain’s swagger stick had positioned itself back in his hand and phased through a wedding guest, the crowd around them having grown, Havers indicated with a tilt of his head that they move somewhere quieter.

They’d settled shoulder to shoulder, and the Captain had to briefly remind himself he didn’t need to spring away. And if he wanted to sneak a few more glances at the side of Havers’ face than usual, that it was okay if Havers caught him at it.

They’d been quiet for a while. Downstairs, the DJ changed to a song everybody knew, and voices raised in a cheer.

“Forgive me,” begun the Captain, “but I -” Havers had turned to look at him, “I am unfamiliar with – with where to go from here?” He’d spoken quietly. He could feel himself blushing. Havers’ eyes were crinkled with his smile. Havers turned back to the room with a relaxed exhale, swinging his feet apart and together again so the sides of his shoes clacked together. A contented gesture.  

“They all call you ‘The Captain,’” he said after a moment, a curious observation.

“Yes, well.” said the Captain gruffly. And then, with a barely there nudge to Havers’ shoulder with his own, “you don’t have to.”

Havers beamed wider, and then said the Captain’s name aloud to the night air around his smile.

The Captain said his back.

A moth briefly landed on the glass outside the window, a pale yellow cream. It fluttered away. The Captain studied Havers for a moment. “you noticed.”

Havers ducked his head. “Of course, sir,” he said, “I must confess I actually find it rather charming.”

His eyes shifted to the Captain as he deliberated on something, and he inhaled with the slightest tremble to his unnecessary breath, even as his words were calm, and earnest.

“Like you.”

The Captain swallowed hard, and then found himself spluttering incomprehensibly. “I – thank you. You – you too, um. You’re very -  you always have been…”

He trailed off when he saw how touched Havers looked at his stuttering, and the Captain gathered his words. “I do mean that,” he said, his eyes on Havers’.

They looked away from each other, down at their laps. One of them squeezed the others hand.

“What else have you noticed?” the Captain asked, and Havers shrugged bashfully. The folds of fabric on the Captain’s jacket shifted with the movement.

“Your friendship with Lady Button,” he said, smiling as he thought “and with Pat – the two of you make a good team,”

“Not as good as you and I.”

Havers chuckled and acquiesced with a nod of his head. “Kitty is very sweet.”

The Captain made a sound of agreement just as Havers continued, “she looks up to you, you know.”

The Captain blinked, thrown, and managed a “…really?”

“You’re very good with her,” Havers said, and they lapsed back into silence as the Captain’s chest grew warm with pride.

A car crunched on the drive outside, the headlamps shining through the window and roving across the room, passing over their faces. In the light the Captain caught sight of the blood in Havers’ hair and neck and his mouth ticked down with the sadness that still struck him sometimes at the sight. He wanted to reach out and smooth it away.

Havers caught him looking and self-consciously touched his hair.

“Sorry,” said the Captain, then carefully, “do you remember any more about…?”

“No,” said Havers, “I don’t think there is anything else to remember. I wasn’t doing anything different. It was just another day.” A rush of cool air hit the Captain’s palm as Havers untangled their fingers, only to turn the Captain’s hand over in his and clasp it in both of his own, smoothing his thumb over the join between his palm and fingers. “A bullet was just meant for me, I suppose, and it was over before I’d even registered I’d been hit.”

He asked about the Captain’s death then, and the Captain told him. Havers shuffled closer on the bed.

“I wish I was with you,” he said.

Without meaning to the Captain thought of the day Havers had left. He thought about letters.  

“I wrote you a letter.”

Havers turned to him. The Captain looked up from their hands. “Before you - I didn’t know you were going to leave.” He couldn’t continue immediately, and he huffed, trying to shake away the ingrained mental stopper on saying what he wanted to aloud.

“In it, I told you…what you meant to me. Still mean to me.” He heard Havers’ breath catch. “I wasn’t even sure what I planned to do with it. Just that I - I needed to write it. I’d written and re-written it until I had to just put the blasted thing in the envelope.” His laugh was one short sound and it fell flat. “I took to carrying it around inside my jacket. Like a terrible sap.” His voice had sunk to a rasp.

“It seems we were of one mind,” whispered Havers. “When I heard my transfer request had been accepted – I didn’t expect it to be so quick, I thought we’d have…time - wrote you a letter.” He mirrored the Captain’s words. “I told you what you meant to me.”

“In the end, I couldn’t give it to you. In case…in case.” He swallowed; looked down at his lap, “even though I knew I should, that it would be the safest thing to do, I couldn’t bring myself to destroy it. Not that. So I – hid it instead. Under a -”

“Loose floorboard,” the Captain finished, and Havers’ head snapped up, his eyes wide. 

“Alison found it. She accidentally broke the seal. She – we – I – um, believe that’s what…brought you here.”  

Havers seemed to be processing, his bottom lip resting just beneath his teeth. “I’d – or I’ve, depending on how you look at it - attached myself to that letter? To here?”

The Captain cleared his throat. “Alison seems to think so.”

Havers looked a little nervous. “Ah. Well. In that case I believe I’ve rather shown my hand as to the strength of my regard for you.”

The Captain had to take a breath. “William.”

“Did you read it?”

The Captain shook his head.

“It’s a lot more articulate than I am proving to be at the moment.” Havers gave a short chuckle, still nervous.

“Likewise,” said the Captain, “I might have even attempted a metaphor, if I recall.” He recalled perfectly.

“I don’t suppose,” said Havers “– yours?”

“Erm. Blew up in Alison’s garden.”

Havers put a hand to his face to cover his astonished burst of laughter. “Oh dear. We’re a pair.”

“Quite.”

Havers had resumed the swinging of his feet, his left shoe coming into contact with the Captain’s right, and the Captain watches him with such fondness it felt as though his chest would cave in. And he realised, in that second, he had not said something important.

“William.” Havers cocked his head, and though the Captain hated to do it he had to untangle their hands as he shifted him and his creaky knees around enough to face him. His defunct heart was pounding in his ears again. “It’s come to my attention that I -” his voice cracked a little, his hands shook a lot, “that is to say I’ve not actually said that. I…" he could say it. He could. "love you.”

A muffled cheer from downstairs.

“I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to make that abundantly clear.”

William had gone still. His eyes wide. Then just when the Captain was considering bolting from the bed he raised his hand and put it softly to the Captain’s face. The Captain inhaled sharply.

“Don’t apologise.”

The Captain had put both hands to his swagger stick. Was holding it almost hard enough for it to splinter.

Havers moved his hand – not quite steady, the Captain could feel – down to cup the Captain’s jaw. Wet his lips a few times; choked on the first 'I-’ he tried to say.

Havers took back one of the Captain’s hands, squeezing it like he wanted to press his emotion through the Captain’s skin, into the very core of his being. “I love you too. Very, very, much.”

The Captain was crying. He felt a tear meet Havers thumb. The hot sting of his eyes. “I’m sure I’m not supposed to be shedding tears.”

Choked, Havers sniffed. “That makes two of us.”

His hand slipped a bit lower along the Captain’s face. His thumb rested near his mouth.

The Captain’s heart stopped for the second time as he realised what was about to happen. What the foreign but oh so welcome caress meant, what the way the tiniest flutter of Havers’ lashes to his lips and back meant. He panicked and then remembered he didn’t have to. He leaned into the hand on his face instead.     

Havers said his name again. Followed it with a whispered "may I…?”

The Captain put aside his swagger stick without a thought. He nodded and their foreheads softly bumped; he disturbed the neat sweep of Havers’ fringe with his own. He said 'yes’  against Havers’ lips.

He didn’t remember closing his eyes, but he had. His lips were against William’s and he didn’t have a split second to panic about how to proceed because then he was being kissed, and he kissed back. Because he could. Because it was okay. Because it was more than okay it was everything it was his hand twisted tightly in the fabric at Havers’ chest and another by his neck. It was both of Havers’ hands on his face.

They leaned back. They glanced around of instinct. But then they leaned back in.

Chapter Text

The Captain was awake and alert.

He had been for a while.

When he’d awoken, it’d been lazily, with a pleasant lingering heaviness to his eyelids. The fog of sleep took its time dispersing as he blinked over at the wall; the sun’s beam on the wallpaper sitting where it normally rested when he woke and promptly launched into his early morning routine. It took a few seconds to put that together. Another few to realise he was, as he continued to watch the near imperceptible creeping of the rising sun, uninclined to move.

His joints, as usual, had gone stiff. He prepared himself to shift and crack them all and suddenly – the last tendril of sleep evaporating instantly as his eyes grew wide and he aborted all movement – he realised what he’d been dimly aware of since he’d opened his eyes.

There was an arm around his middle.

He remembered then. The night before. What he’d actually said, rather than pretend he hadn’t even thought. He remembered holding hands. He remembered the brush of lips against his. He swallowed. If he flicked his eyes down, there was William’s hand resting haphazardly over his waist, limp with slumber.

It hadn’t been there originally. There had been an entirely respectable amount of distance between them. They must have migrated closer, been drawn nearer.

The Captain had looked back over at the wall and laid tense ever since, afraid to move in case he disturbed Havers, in case…in case his arm moved away. He was very aware of Havers’ presence just behind him; the strangeness of being held, if only lightly. As terrifying as it was wonderful.

The sun was higher when the arm around the Captain moved a little, when the fronts of Havers’ knees brushed against the back of the Captain’s calves as Havers instinctively wriggled as he awakened. The Captain jumped and stayed silent as he heard the change in Havers’ unnecessary breathing. The sudden shocked intake of breath and the quick removal of the arm that had been keeping him in place. Havers’ voice, sleep cracked, stuttering and gushing out apologies that ran into each other until half-way through his retreat he stopped, his arm hovering between them. Memory had caught up with him. The Captain watched the dropping of the sunlight. Birds were twittering beyond the window.

Havers returned his arm, though stiffly. Unsure. He too had gone a little tense. For a moment they lay there rigidly.

“Good morning si -” Havers said, then exchanged the‘sir’ for something a little more familiar.

“Good morning,” said the Captain. “William.”

A few more awkward seconds passed.

“Apologies,” said Havers, “it seems I’ve overslept.” Then as it occurred to him, “you didn’t go for your run.” 

The Captain was still looking at the wall.

“I…forwent it. For today. I didn’t want to…move.”

The arm around him relaxed even as the Captain stammered out more, “you can though I – you don’t have to, um, stay.” His cheeks were hot.

“I can assure you, I’m quite content where I am.”

The Captain moved then, turning over in increments until he was on his back, Havers’ arm let him move but stayed where it was. He met Havers’ eyes on the pillow beside him. Havers smiled. The Captain smiled back.

The room was utter quiet and contented stillness for a while whilst the Captain worked out what to say, when from downstairs came a sudden and almighty clamour; a scream, a chorus of shouts, a worrying clatter. They jumped with the noise and as Havers’ arm tightened instinctively around him the errant thought about how nice the feeling was passed through the Captain’s mind.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Havers said mildly.

“No.”

Another clatter. The Captain couldn’t help but look toward the door at the sound of commotion.

“Should we go see what’s going on?” said Havers.

Part of the Captain was itching to. He liked to know exactly what was going on and where everyone was and if they needed help, even if there could no longer be any real mortal danger.

But Havers’ hand was warm on his stomach. And no his head could not dent the pillow beside him but it was there. There was a cobweb against the skirting board that side of the room. Usually if the Captain looked across the empty side of the bed he could see it. Now there was William, one eyebrow slightly raised. Lying on his side as he was his hair slipped a little into his eyes.

“I think Patrick can handle things a little while.”

The noise from below increased even as he said it. He narrowed his eyes. And when Havers silently laughed beside him he knew because of the shake of his body against him and the tiny puffs of breath on his neck.

“Are you quite certain?” Havers teased, and although the Captain had to grit his teeth a little against the urge to go and take charge and put things to rights Havers was there, and gently teasing him. The Captain had not woken lazily since he was a child. They laid there a little longer.

 

 

 

Eventually the shrieking became concerning.

There was wedding detritus everywhere. As they descended the stairs the Captain’s eye twitched at all the mess and he muttered disdainfully about what an earth Alison and Michael allowed the guests to do even as nerves rose the closer they got to the source of the ruckus. He’d not seen any of his fellow ghosts since…the dancefloor. Outside the quiet of his room, everything suddenly felt a lot more terrifying.

He and Havers hesitated just before they stepped through the doorway, and were greeted to a scene of minor chaos.

One of the doves had escaped.

It was flapping about the room, away from the shouting and the ghost’s best efforts to herd it in the right direction. Mostly Pat’s best efforts. Kitty, Fanny and Thomas shrieked every time the dove took a turn for them, and Julian and Robin were gleefully enjoying the chaos. Mary was muttering ‘shoo!’ quietly but sincerely, a furrow to her brow, and Humphrey’s head was trying his best to assist Pat, even though the most he could do was move his eyes rather forcefully in the direction of the cage.

The dove took another rapid change of direction and fluttered toward the Captain and Havers at speed. They ducked instinctively as all eyes followed the progress of the dove and settled on them, voices fading to nothing.

The Captain flushed under the weight of their gazes as he straightened, drawing himself up to his full height and lifting his chin; bouncing forward on the tips of his toes and tucking his swagger stick beneath his armpit and using his Captain’s Voice as he asked “what the bally hell is going on!?”

“Captain!” Kitty cried, “one of the doves got out,” she said earnestly.

“Apparently without interference,” said Fanny, with a stern glare at Julian.

“We're trying to get it back in,” said Pat, “but um. If I’m honest it’s not going too well,” he grimaced.

The Captain was waiting, heart thrumming somewhere near his throat, for something other than normalcy.    

Havers, warm against his elbow beside him, cleared his throat. A tiny tell of answering uncertainty. “Well,” he said to Pat, “it certainly looks like you’ve organised a good team effort at the very least.”

Pat cheered, flushing and adjusting his glasses. “Merci buckets.”

Wings flapped and the dove returned, attempting to land on Havers’ shoulder and dropping straight through him with a surprised squawk. Havers shuddered with a grimace and staggered into the Captain. Maybe he reached for the Captain’s hand first to steady himself or maybe the Captain reached for his, but neither let go after the dove flew up to the rafters.

“FINALLY YOU FUCKS.”

They startled at Julian’s voice. The man was on his feet, already brandishing his thumb. “You have no idea what it’s been like to watch you two dance around each other!” Beside the Captain Havers’ breath caught as he realised what the Captain had last night; they’d all seen right through them. The Captain held his hand tighter.

Julian was still waving his hands dramatically. “Seriously, the amount of smutty jokes I’ve had to keep stoppered inside my head would kill a nun!” he exclaimed. “Actually,” he snorted in amusement, lowering his thumb and tugging on the lapels of his jacket, “quite a few of them involve a nun. Here - what do you call a nun with -”

Robin cut him off with a raised hand and a shake of his head. Julian pouted, and Robin kept up his stern frown for a few seconds longer before he grinned and murmured ‘later’ conspiratorially. Julian answered his grin.

“’Tis nice,” Mary piped up from where she had been sitting on the windowsill, nodding to their clasped hands. The Captain would have dropped his as soon as they had been noticed if it didn’t feel as though he needed to cling on tight. Mary’s whimsical smile then turned to concern and she pointed warningly at Havers, her voice as stern as it got as she said “don’t go getting sucked off now!”

Havers went pale and flushed red simultaneously. The Captain wheezed and spluttered and struggled to get his words out as fast as possible.

“MOVED ON, MOVED ON! She means move on to the afterlife she's -”  he had to let go of Havers’ hand in favour of bending double and bracing his hands on his knees, “she’s telling you to stick around that’s what she,” his voice died. He desperately wanted to sit down. 

Julian was making himself heard again. “HOW COME MARY GETS TO MAKE THE FIRST SMUTTY JOKE!” he exclaimed petulantly, pointing at her accusingly, “THAT’S NOT FAIR. I  MAKE THE SMUTTY JOKES!”

Pat deployed his placating hands, turning to reassure a slightly panicked looking lieutenant. “How about no smutty jokes,”  

“Seconded,” said Fanny primly.

“Er, that’s an infringement of my right to free speech!”

Thomas cocked his head with a doubtful look on his face.

Julian continued. “You can’t take my 'that’s what she-or-he said’s’ away from me! – they’re the only thing that makes being around couples tolerabl-”

He cut himself off with a slightly horrified expression. “Oh no.” He turned to the Captain and Havers, “this means we’re stuck with an entirely different kind of insufferable now you’re a couple making heart eyes at each other!”

The Captain clenched his hand around his swagger stick at the word ‘couple,’ for a moment thinking he really might lose control of his tangibility and sink through the floor –

When some shuffling from Havers and a brush of fingers against his own made him turn. He had to look slightly up when they were that close. Havers looked like he was putting active effort into ignoring their audience, but was also happy. Was also hopeful. Was also asking a question with his eyes. The Captain slipped their hands further together.

"Like that!” said Julian.

Both ducked their heads, but instead of springing apart they shuffled closer together.

“Oh hush,” chided Mary.

“Yes, do cease,” sighed Thomas, clasping his hands together over his heart, “’tis most wonderful.” His eyes lit up and he looked off dramatically. “Inspiration, it strikes! I feel a great poem – nay, and epic – stirring within. Two – three hundred verses in your honour-”

“No!” said the Captain, rather more forcefully than he’d intended, “quite er, unnecessary Thorne-”

“I think a 'we’re happy for you both’ will do just nicely,” said Pat.

“Hear, hear!” called Humphrey. Kitty clapped her hands with a beaming smile.

“Quite,” said Fanny, and the Captain met her eyes, hoping the sincere look shared between them achieved its usual job of exchanging the type of sentiment they rarely spoke aloud but was mutually understood. Havers took a look around the room, at the people in it, and whispered a slightly disbelieving ‘thank you.'

“Well. Yes.” said Julian, kicking his toe into the rug, “I think that’s a given.” He gave them a nod.

There was a few moments of silence.

“…But as a politician, I respect the art of a little thing called compromise, and so I’m proposing a motion for a modest allocation of ten to fifteen jokes-japes-and/or in-u-en-dos a day-”

He was drowned out by a chorus of groans loud enough to startle the dove, which resumed its panicked swooping. Hand in hand, the Captain and Lieutenant Havers ducked.

Chapter Text

Another section of skirting came away with a sharp jab of Alison’s palette knife and clattered to the floor. She was sitting in the eye of a small hurricane of wood and curling white flecks of paint and hoping a miracle occurred and the splinters stayed away. Finally she’d gotten around to finishing the job she’d started on the skirting board, now the room was empty again. She’d almost completed the full circuit of its perimeter, shuffling around to the last stretch left by the door. Armed with her palette knife scraper thingy, as Mike called it, she went back in to prize a particularly stubborn nail from the wall.

Two pairs of smart brown shoes came into her eyeline; so close that if she didn’t know better she’d say it was one four legged creature with a fondness for vintage military uniform, and she smiled to herself before she sat back on her heels and looked up.

The Captain and Lieutenant Havers were in the doorway, the Captain sporting the expression that had taken to gracing his face whenever he and Havers arrived in a room – a tumultuous mix of lingering fear, a slight lift if his chin that dared people to comment, but also pride, and blushing happiness. Havers was gazing at him fondly.

The warmth in Alison’s chest grew as she saw the gentle tangling of their fingertips. She’d seen it happen more than once, the way they would suddenly remember they could touch.

“Alison.” He had the air of reciting a rehearsed request. “About the um,” his eyes flickered over to a certain spot on the floor, a certain loose floorboard, then over at Havers, “we were wondering…”         

“If you would fetch it?” Havers finished, “the letter?”

Alison was already nodding and struggling to her feet even as he continued, half addressed her and half addressing the Captain, “it should finally go to intended recipient, I feel.”

Alison’s 'of course’  was simple for the necessity of keeping herself from becoming unexpectedly emotional. She shook the wood dust from her dungarees and lead them to her bedroom. As promised she’d kept it safe, and she slid it from a drawer she’d cleared specifically to house it.

It was more than its age that made her handle it like it was the most precious thing in the world. After a quick nod from Havers she slid the pages within out with a characteristic rasp of paper on paper, and respectfully averted her eyes as she very carefully spread the pages out flat on her bedspread so they could be read without her being there. Then she left them alone. She went back to finish her task.

 

 

Later, she walked back past her room, splinter throbbing in the tip of her finger. Through her open door she saw the Captain, perching on the side of the bed and looking down at the pages she’d spread earlier. His fingers would be brushing over the paper if of course they could. They caught eyes.

As much as Alison complained about being unable to find a moment of peace she knew that she was often the one who went to check on them. To talk. To know what was up. Sometimes, heaven forbid, she’d even encourage Thomas to recite some of his poetry.

She went into the room, sharing a mute but understanding look with the Captain, and sat down on the other side of the pages gingerly enough that she didn’t so much as cause them to slip with the dip of her denting the sheets. She was still cradling her splinter-injured hand in her lap, and the Captain shot her a quirk of his eyebrow that was meant to look reprimanding but was of course concerned.

“Splinter. I’ll live.”

Immediately she winced at her own faux pas, cursing her inability to help her own Freudian slips, and the Captain rolled his eyes good naturedly.

They fell quiet. She made a point not to read words that weren’t hers to read.

“What would you like me to do with these?” she rested her hand mere millimetres away from the paper.

“Do with?...”

She leaned in; dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “They don’t belong in a dusty old drawer in my room. They’re yours.”  

He swallowed and looked away from her, hovering his fingers once again over the lines of neat script. “Right,” he said a little hoarsely, and his fingers dipped just slightly through the surface of the paper before he retracted his hand. He huffed despondently. “Shame I can’t…” he patted the pocket over his heart, then cleared his throat a couple of times as if to negate the sentimentality of the action. Of course it did not.

Alison had set the envelope on the bedside table earlier. She considered it. “May I?” she asked before she touched the pages, then collected them back up, putting them back neatly in the envelope. She propped the letter against the lamp on the bedside table, both on display and utterly innocuous.

“How about here? Where you can see it?”

The Captain regarded the letter for a few long moments. “Yes.”

“I can get the pages out again whenever you guys want. Just ask.”

He nodded down at his knees, the swagger stick he was gently rolling. “Thank you, Alison.”

“Well,” she said, “it should be with you. Something to make this room a little more yours.”

She thought of the colourful little display she’d glimpsed through a shop window, and resolved herself to go back.

She stood, squeezing at the skin around her splinter, and made for the door.

“Alison.”

She turned expectantly.

“Wear gloves next time, for heaven’s sake. We can’t afford to be a man down due to perfectly preventable injury.”

She indulged him with a salute of understanding.  

Chapter Text

Alison cradled it in her hands. A tiny pride flag. A soft scrap of rainbow fabric waving from its pole, the whole thing no larger than the span of her hand. She’d gone back to the shop she’d seen for it, and as she approached the Captain’s room she held it anxiously, even as she took care not to crush it. She hoped she was not overstepping. But she had eventually gotten around to showing them both her PowerPoint. They understood the importance of the bright little flag. Alison ran her thumb over it as she walked – really, she could do only little things for her ghosts, but the little thing in her hands was such a big thing.

When she reached it she rapped on the door before she could lose her nerve and popped her head round in search of the Captain, and instead found Havers alone. He looked up from where he had been lost in thought and greeted her. “Alison.”

“Hey,” she said, and came further into the room, glancing at the letter she’d propped up and Havers had been looking at. He took a bashful step back.

“I um,” he scuffed his shoe soundlessly on the floor, his eyes drawn back to the letter. “Thank you,” he said, and Alison stayed quiet, waiting, in the resulting pause as he picked his words.

Havers looked between her and the envelope, and cleared his throat. Alison wondered if he’d picked that up from the Captain. “…I didn’t ever think it would see the light of day.” He spoke softly. Alison knew he meant more than the letter she’d unearthed.

He inhaled a little unsteadily, and his voice grew lighter. “Thank you for finding it.”

“Oh I didn’t really do any – it was an accident -”

“Regardless,” Havers insisted, “I would not even be here if you had not broken the seal.”

She laughed. “I really don’t think you can thank me for that. I’m just incredibly clumsy.”

“Whilst that may be,” he chuckled, “know I for one am incredibly grateful. We both are - ” Alison followed his gaze back to the letter, and even though she was looking at the neatly written name he said next it still startled her to hear someone call the Captain anything but The Captain - and so casually, so naturally - as Havers finished “– and I.”     

As if he had been summoned, the Captain phased through the wall, starting and then squinting his eyes a little in suspicion at the sight of the two of them there. “What’s going on? Is mischief afoot?” He raised his swagger stick – battle ready – and looked around himself.

Alison was suddenly awkward. She cradled the flag in both hands close to her chest. “No, there’s not – well actually there probably is, somewhere. I heard some ominous giggling on the way up here but um,” she was babbling a little bit, she knew, and so she swallowed, and cut to it. She held out the little flag.

“This is for you. Another thing for your room.” She glanced over at Havers at that. “Y’know. To decorate. Personalise.” The Captain was gazing at it mutely, and her arm drooped a little. “I mean - you don’t have to keep it. If you don’t want. But it’s yours.”

A second, and she moved over to set it down, her hair slipping over her shoulder as she tried to prop it up next to the only other item of the Captain’s in the room. The tip of the flag brushed over the aged paper. Despite her best efforts, the end of the flag pole slipped against the wood, resisting staying upright.

“A pen-pot.”

The Captain watched her. She thought she could sort of tell when the ghosts blushed, now. He spoke again, making half gestures with his swagger stick. “A – er – pen-pot would keep it flying.” He bounced in place.

Alison smiled wide enough that she did not mind that her hair got caught in her mouth. “Of course. See you’ve got possession of the braincell today,” she teased gently, and Havers followed with an ‘excellent idea, sir.’  She went into the hall, where a pen pot she and Mike filled with chewed and empty biros sat next to a half used stack of post it notes. She tipped them all out without a care for the mess she’d have to clear.

When she returned the Captain and Havers had crept closer together, and they watched as she carefully set down first the pot, and then propped the flag inside.

“There.”

The Captain nodded. Havers blinked with suspicious rapidity.

Giggling and the sounds of running feet from below. Mike shrieking “my TRIFLE!  

The Captain’s brow twitched into a frown, but – the smile still on her face - Alison waved him off. “I’ll get it.”

She turned to go. A little ways down the corridor, she threw a look over her shoulder. Through the open doorway, she could still see them. The Captain and Lieutenant Havers, looking at each other with all the love in the world.