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Archie was late, and Daniel was going to have to kill him, that was all there was to it. It wasn’t that he lacked for entertainment, or comfort, or anything at all in Archie’s flat, but an appointment was an appointment, and Archie was late. Daniel sat in his second best coat in his very favourite chair and fumed. Archie had promised him dinner after they’d both had a day of meetings, Daniel with his editors and Archie with some lawyer of his, and Daniel had been a mere half hour late, which Archie would have known he would be. There was simply no excuse for having left Daniel sitting in his flat for over an hour.

 

They always used to meet at Daniel’s rooms - “Awful room, da Silva.” “I like it!” - until one day after Daniel had bitten his mouth raw holding back noises he’d said, “You know, you have a whole floor and no landlady to accidentally scandalise,” and Archie had hummed in agreement boneless against his chest, far too well done to put two and two together.

 

“So why are we crammed into my three quarter size bed and turning you into a literal pillow biter when we could be in glorious well-heated comfort among acres of duck down?” Daniel asked, and Archie had just said, “You’re here,” as if that were an answer. Which, with Archie, it might well have been.

 

“I can come to you,” Daniel had said, voice catching halfway as he’d heard it, suddenly known the thing that had kept Archie Curtis traipsing across London, kept him showing up unexpectedly on Daniel’s doorstep, following him home after a day’s work. Archie had made a soft noise into Daniel’s chest, and that meant Archie knew it too.

 

“You don’t have to-” Daniel had started, and then tipped Archie’s face up so that he could see his eyes properly. “Damn it, Archie, you don’t have to be the one to... It's not like I'll stop... this if you don’t make me. I’ll come for you too.” Archie had made some token words of protest but he’d kissed Daniel like it was a bloodletting, like the last drop of something toxic finally leaving.

 

Daniel wasn’t green enough to think it was the last of it, of the fear. God knew Daniel still felt it. But Daniel had keys now, a shiny set that he kept in the inner pocket of his coat with keys to another five buildings, just in case, and they had plenty of use. Not least of all for those nights after cases when Daniel would inevitably have to shepherd Archie up the stairs to the tiny bathroom, where he could properly reprimand him while patching up his knuckles or nose or some other part of him Archie liked to throw between Daniel and a punch. “Are you going to lacerate me verbally after every physical attack?” Archie had asked him once, blanched out against the tile, and Daniel had given his hand a particularly vicious dab with the iodine and had promised to always, always do exactly that. He found himself breaking his stern vow to never make any promises more and more, these days, which frankly only made it all the more galling that Archie would break their appointment. He’d starched his collar.

 

There was a knock at the door and Daniel crossed to it, on the point of asking whether this was some kind of game Archie was playing, or, indeed some kind of game one would ask about with a good deal of eyebrow raising. But when he opened it there was Andrew Tierney, one of Sir Maurice’s least offensive agents. “Mr da Silva,” he said, which was at least half the reason Daniel didn’t hate the man. “Oh, I suppose you’re also here looking for Curtis. I’m taking it no luck?”

Daniel put a number of things together very quickly then put on one of his more professional smiles and said, “None at all. We were meant to be meeting at the club to go over some thing, he didn’t show so I came here, did a little-” he waved his fingers to imply that he’d picked the lock. He could have, though few other people could; he’d seen to that. “But nothing. How long has he been gone?”

 

Tierney came into the flat, which seemed a little presumptuous for a second until Daniel remembered that he nominally had as much right to be there as Daniel did. He was turning his hat over and over in his hands. A bad tell. “One of Curtis’ lawyers called his uncle, said he’d not shown up to some money meeting and did the old fellow know where he was. That rather put the wind up the old man, although he mostly showed it by getting into a frightful row with one of the secretaries. No one has seen Curtis all day, by all accounts.” He looked at Daniel for confirmation, who nodded. At least he didn’t have to make excuses this time: he’d headed home rather than here, which, now he came to think about it, was an increasingly rare occurrence.

 

“I saw him yesterday at the office,” Daniel said. “We’d arranged supper tonight at eight.” That came out a little worse that he would have liked, he was thinking about the way Archie had smiled in the small drab Whitehall corridor, pulling on his coat, eyes full of promise. Archie, who was missing. There was no two ways about it: Archie Curtis was not a man to miss an obligation, or to stand up an assignation. Least of all one with Daniel da Silva, who would have been the first to describe himself as unforgiving. “Any other leads? Anything... at all?”

 

Tierney shook his head, said, “I don’t suppose you can tell me much about what you were working on?”

 

“Not a thing,” Daniel said, pulling his mouth very rueful. “Although it did not seem like anything that would lead to a disappearance, I’ll say that much.”

 

“And there’s nothing here, I take it, no signs of a struggle?” Tierney asked, casting a look around the room. Daniel did a quick mental sweep of his own, but he didn’t think there was anything in here that could get them in hot water. The bedroom, on the other hand, had several rather incriminating pieces of clothing, including a silk dressing gown that Archie Curtis would never have worn in a thousand years and, god help him, several pages of Daniel’s latest attempts. He’d taken to working on them in the morning; Archie would make coffee; it was all appallingly domestic. They’d got - he’d allowed them to get - careless. “You check in the kitchen,” he said, fast, “I’ll take the bathroom, and the bedroom. More my department, don’t you know.” Tierney actually chuckled at that, a warm, shared, laughing with kind of laugh, and Daniel bumped him up a couple of places in his mental office standings.

 

There was nothing in the bathroom to provide a clue as to his good captain’s whereabouts, and the bedroom looked much the same as when he had left it. His robe was indeed still thrown over the armchair, and the stack of loose-leaf paper that would one day become poems were on his, that was to say, the right hand table by the bed. By Archie Curtis’ bed, with his name all over them, good as a signed confession. Daniel sat down on the edge of the bed, and there, in a quiet pool of lamplight, on the ever mussed sheets that smelled like Archie, let it actually sink in that Archie was... missing. Something had happened to him. Anything could have happened to him. He tried to breathe out the pain, but it still lanced through him, brutal with every new possibility his imagination conjured up. Daniel had absolutely no idea what he would do if something irreversible had happened, apart from to pack up every trace that he had ever been a part of Archie’s life, take his paper and clothes and hair oil, his spare reading glasses from beside the bed, take it all back to Bloomsbury and never tell anyone how his heart had been broken. He should probably do the first half of that now, just in case. It wouldn’t do either of them much good for Sir Maurice to stumble onto the thing now. But he couldn’t bear the thought of it, couldn’t bring himself to erase himself from Archie just yet, not when he would have to go back out there and act the concerned professional; there was only so much pragmatism he could muster at once.

 

He tucked the poems into a drawer just in case and then gave himself a very firm talking to. Captain Curtis, a Curtis and a Vaizey, war hero and survivor and damn berserker, was not just going to have been casually done away with. Anyone taking him would be wanting information of some description, and Archie would not have gone without a fight. There would have been a hell of scene, unless, of course, it was someone that Archie had trusted. Either way, there would be a trail, and Daniel would follow it to the fucking end, to whoever it was who had his Archie, and he would... Daniel was a little alarmed to find out that he didn’t know what he might do.

 

He ran his hand through his hair, found it already much run through, the way it only usually got if he allowed Archie free rein with it for a while, when Archie would take great delight in turning it every which way he could, the brat. What if he never. No, that wouldn’t do. That wouldn’t get him home. Daniel stood up, shook himself bodily and mentally, and went back out. Tierney was standing by the fire, which thankfully Daniel hadn’t lit, still turning his bowler hat over and over in his hands.

 

“Nothing out of the ordinary in here,” he said. “Unless you count a copy of the latest Jules Verne by the sink, which doesn’t seem much like Curtis.”

 

Daniel did not flinch. “That’s mine, well, that is to say, I lent it to him.” A little modernism sweet-coated in adventure. He waited for the comment, the surprise, but none came, and he couldn’t help himself. “Nothing to say about that?” he asked.

 

Now Tierney looked surprised. “No?” He gave Daniel an assessing look. “I know you’re friends, it’s hardly odd that you’d be trying to broaden his horizons, that’s just your style, and he could do with it.”

 

“People have trouble with the idea that we could manage such a thing as friendship,” Daniel said, dry as he dared. Tierney shrugged. “You work well together; that doesn’t happen if you’re not compatible. And, as for the rest: you know, I work best with Evans?”

 

Daniel considered this. Idris Evans was a complete scatterbrain, always late to everything, never properly dressed, loud, desk like an explosion in a printing mill, completely at odds with meticulous, restrained Andrew Tierney. “Oh,” he said.

 

Tierney smiled. “Plus I heard Curtis call you brave. He fairly yelled it in Sir Maurice’s face, actually.” Daniel hadn’t known Archie had done that, and his body received the information with another bone-wrenching jolt of pain. “He's a good man,” he said, and stopped before things got prosecutor worthy. “He's the only partner you've stayed with for more than a week,” Tierney said. Daniel let himself smile at that. “That too,” he allowed. “Right, well, you'd better report back to Sir Maurice, I'll speak to the doorman and join you.”

 

Archie’s doorman Jim was an excellent Spitalfields gentleman who had taken to Captain Curtis in a heartbeat and to Daniel’s supply of French cigarettes even quicker. He'd let them bleed their way up the service stairs more times than Daniel would have liked, and said little of Daniel’s coming back down them the next morning. Daniel had very carefully let slip some references to duty, missions and the like, and the old boy had told his nephew Joe that Captain Curtis was still working for king and country, even while wounded. Joe was a policeman, and Daniel had put on his best civil service face and jacket and had asked him some questions, got some answers, but most importantly a sense of deep, unswerving loyalty. They were safe from that quarter. Unfortunately even Jim, who knew all that occurred on his patch and his watch, could only provide Daniel with the time that Archie had left, which sounded exactly right to get him over to Fleet Street in plenty of time for his appointment.

 

“If he comes back, send a telegram to this number,” Daniel said, giving one of the more discreet Home Office ones. “Is the captain in some kind of trouble?” Jim asked, and Daniel, thinking of ten other things at once, said, “When isn’t he,” and then fled to Whitehall.

 

Daniel was roundly scolded by Sir Maurice - who spent the whole conversation pacing his office and sending various lackeys scurrying off in all directions - for “losing” his partner, for not coming straight to Whitehall, for probably encouraging reckless behaviour, for anything and everything Sir Maurice could think of. He only slipped once, called Archie his nephew with an awful guilt in his voice, and so Daniel had taken the verbal lacerations, had left out a few choicer comments of his own, and had taken his leave without throwing anything, because he knew what it was like to feel culpable. Moreover, he knew what it was like to care for Archie Curtis; ridiculous, wonderful, sunbeam Archie, and to fear his light lost forever.

 

Daniel wasted no time in getting in touch with as many of his contacts as he could think of, all along the scale of morality and legality. He was more than prepared to call in all of his favours for this. He had to get Archie back. The lawyers, of course, were closed by now, and could not be roused, but he could still make a start.

 

He sent runner and telegrams, made call after call, all the while trying not think about the way his life would be without Archie in it, although he knew. It would be like had been before, quite brilliant but quite cold, a glittering diamond of a thing, not the ember that it had become, made of the same stuff in the main, but glowing warm. He stopped and took himself home before his poetical side could get too far out of hand.

 

His flat was very cold, because the world was out to punish him for his metaphors. He got into bed, tried to talk himself into sleep, over and over, but in the end, sometime in the coldest, greyest hours between true night and rightful morning, he got up, went back to the office, and waited by the telephone.

 

The secretaries came in first, naturally, and Daniel tried to look less of a madman who had been staring at a damned telephone for the better part of the night, but there was really little he could do about that. He went to splash water on his face and it looked like that of a stranger: a soldier, an invalid, a scared man.

 

He took himself to his very favourite breakfast spot, retrieved a good coat from a club he’d left it at some months back, got a new buttonhole, made himself back into Daniel da Silva, who knew he was good at this. The lawyers that Archie had gone to meet were solid, stolid types who could do little more than confirm that Captain Curtis had been meant to meet with them the previous afternoon, but had not arrived or sent any word. They all agreed that this was all most unlike him. Daniel wore his best civil servant face the entire time, the one that always made Archie laugh and laugh, later on.

 

There was nothing much to do but leave, and then try and retrace Archie’s steps. He would have come along the river probably, and alighted by the bridge, because there was an occasional aestheticist lurking under Archie’s skin that London and the light on water and, admittedly, hard engineering, always brought out. So, up from Blackfriars, past its eponymous pub, which Daniel considered for a moment, then discounted. Archie wouldn’t have stopped there, but, he might have at the little bakery, the smell of fresh bread strong on the air, hard to resist and when he got closer there were sintra cakes in the window, tempting him in with the cinnamon scent of home.

 

There was a young woman behind the counter who smiled in a way that suggested that if the bread couldn’t lure you to buy it, she absolutely could.

 

Daniel grinned at her and said, “This is going to sound very strange, miss, but, I don’t suppose you were working yesterday, were you? I promise this is not going anywhere uncomfortable.”

 

She did not look convinced, and neither would Daniel have, not in lawyer district. “I was,” she said, in more guarded tones.

 

Daniel laughed, as brightly as he could, and fairly sashayed over to her. “My friend was telling me about a bakery he'd been to yesterday, raved about it, and I've quite forgotten the name. Careless of me, I know. I was hoping he’d been along this way. Tall gentleman, blond, looks like one of those drawings on a recruitment poster, leather gloves, tends to laugh with his shoulders.” It was a mere pencil sketch of a man Daniel knew intimately, vividly, and even that made him feel like he was being far too obvious, colouring outside of the lines. The lady’s smile burst back and Daniel knew, suddenly, that Archie had been here.

 

“Military man?” she said, and when Daniel nodded she went on, “Yes, then, he was here in the afternoon, bought some custard tarts. He was taking them for his sweetheart, I think. He asked me to make it up like that.” She indicated a box on the counter tied up with a bright blue ribbon. She tilted her head, confidentially, and Daniel stepped forward.  “He was very sweet about it. I think, well, maybe you know, but I thought, maybe his sweetheart is Portuguese too -  my husband is - and maybe he was...” she cut herself off with a rueful laugh but that was the thing about Archie, there was just something about him that made people want to mythologise.

 

Daniel swallowed the lump that had come into his throat, unbidden, at the knowledge that Archie had stopped here to buy Daniel dessert, had it wrapped for his sweetheart. “Was that all?” he asked.

 

The lady frowned. “Yes, that was it, I think he saw someone he knew out on the street while I was doing the bow, because he fairly ran out of the shop.”

 

Daniel looked back out onto the street, trying to work out what would have lit a fire under Archie. But then, it wouldn't be anything stationary or he wouldn't have run. Probably. Some of the secret part of secret agent was still a learning process for Archie. Daniel bought an iced bun, thanked the bakery woman, and wandered up and down the street a couple of times. When nothing obvious presented itself he took himself to the set of offices that looked the most irritating and then asked the secretary to let him see the man whose name was on the door.

 

“Do you have an appointment?” she said, bored stiff from her bun to her toes. Daniel assured her that he did. Several minutes of back and forth later, Daniel had agreed to wait in their lobby until things had been sorted out. It had a lovely vantage point, and a terribly comfortable arm chair. It was easier now that he was on a job, his mind could run more clearly. Archie was still, heaven knew he still worried about him when they were working but he had a mission, a focus, and it was harder for the fear to derail him. After an hour and a quarter he was sure that the secretary had quite given up on him, but that suited.

 

He watched a florist’s cart trundle down the street and something bright caught his eye and his attention. As it drew closer he could see it, a periwinkle blue ribbon caught on the spokes, and it could have been nothing but. Things so rarely were. He strolled back out onto the pavement and followed the cart down a side road, just a man going that way with a destination in mind.

 

The cart stopped and Daniel walked past, glimpsed a courtyard with men loading and unloading a slightly unlikely number of similar carts. Daniel frequented many a florist but he'd never seen one quite so bustling. And then all the luck that he'd clearly been owed through his life came home to roost, because he was just about past the archway when he saw a face that he knew.

 

Vincent Rawstrone had been the kingpin in a smuggling ring they'd been trying to crack a few months ago. They'd hardly begun when something had tipped the smugglers off and the whole organisation had disappeared into the London underworld like so much mist. It had been Archie’s first experience of a true bust, a case that just went south with no explanation or warning, no fight, no fix, just bad luck. Of course Archie would have gone off after him without calling for backup or waiting a moment. Daniel kept walking, doubled around and then made his way back.

 

He stopped a cart just as it was entering the yard and said, “I'm so sorry, I know this is probably terribly forward of me, but could I persuade me to spare me a bloom, my buttonhole is quite bare and I have, dash it, ten minutes before a very important lunch.” His buttonhole was actually crushed into the pocket of his coat, but he didn't think anyone in this neighbourhood would have noticed the finer details of his attire.

 

The driver got into a small, muttered debate with the man leading the horse in, which gave Daniel a chance to look into the courtyard properly with studied disinterest. It was clear that there were a lot of hired hands, disinterested men who were moving good place to place without question, not looking up from their task. But scattered throughout there were some much warier, more dangerous looking types, eyes sharp and everywhere, men who did not seem to be carrying anything but Daniel would put money on there being weapons held within easy reach.

 

The men on the cart looked like they were coming to a conclusion so Daniel said, brightly, “I don't know how much one pays for a single emergency flower. I have a shilling?” He held it out. The men's faces changed at once, and Daniel found suddenly that he could have the pick of the cart. They wouldn't have kept Archie here then, surrounded by men of easy loyalty.

 

He took his time choosing a flower, watching the flow of people. The sharp faced men, the ones who were so clearly a better class of trouble, seemed to drift back into the yard and then a couple more would detach themselves from the wall they had been leaning on and head out to somewhere else. He remembered that flash of blue ribbon on the cart wheel. You could easily fit a body in the back of one of these. He shook his head. Following one of them seemed foolhardy at best but what else could he do, Archie was undoubtedly running short of time. And he was good at it; years of practice both on and off the books had turned him into a connoisseur of the backstreet dash, of making oneself inconspicuous, all the, well, tricks of the trade.

 

The men were clearly trying to make it less obvious that they were guarding a particular house, which was an almost impressive level of planning. To someone who didn't see them return to the same place, a stream of constantly shifting men certainly was less conspicuous than having someone permanently posted on the front door. But once you were looking for a pattern one soon emerged. The subject of their careful attention was an innocuous terrace towards the end of the street. Daniel wouldn't have usually, but it was getting on for a whole day since anyone had seen Archie and he hadn't got into this game not to take risks.

 

He walked down the pavement at a steady speed and as he passed the house a sound came out of the small basement window that nearly stopped his blood, never mind his pace. It was the sound of Archie in pain.

 

Daniel took a breath, and then another, and then he didn't do any of the things he wanted. He walked to a telephone exchange, reported both the house and the florist yard to his superiors, requested assistance and then, just as carefully, started planning his break in. The sound he had heard - not the one that Archie made when punched, or kicked, but the one he made later on, one that spoke of a pain that would not subside, of something very bruised getting reawoken with a jolt or jar- replayed in his head.

 

The third door that he knocked on opened and he said, “Excuse me, I'm collecting for the -”

 

“No thank you,” the man said, as he shut the door in Daniel’s face. Daniel got more visibly frustrated as he worked his way down the row, standing at doors knocking longer and louder, waiting and waiting at each one. When he'd completed the whole street he waited for the inevitable shift change, wandered up to the door that he'd picked under the pretence of waiting at, and slipped in.

 

It was a bare house, narrow hall with peeling paper and no furniture to be seen. Daniel stood for a second with his back against the door, and realised he didn't have any more of a plan. He'd just needed to get to Archie. Then there was no time to consider that either, because just on the edge of hearing there was that sound again, low and pained.

 

Archie in pain.

 

There were stairs to Daniel’s right and he barrelled down them, and as he turned a corner there was a man coming upwards, and Daniel just... pushed. The man flew back, arms spiralling and legs kicking but gravity and momentum had him and he hit the floor with a truly awful crunching noise.

 

Daniel didn't look down when he stepped over him into a cellar room. He did a flash-fast appraisal but his eyes couldn't really focus on anything but the man in the centre of the room, head bowed and arms clearly bound behind him.

 

“Archie,” he gasped, a torn sound, and Archie, thank god, started to lift his head. Daniel was already almost at him when Archie said, “Daniel?”

 

Daniel fell to his knees, wrapped his arms tight around Archie and said, “Yes, dearest, it's me, I'm here, I have you, it's alright,” as Archie shook under his touch. Daniel held on.

 

“Daniel.” Archie said it like it was the name of an old god. Daniel felt tremblingly human, almost hurting with the sheer relief of it all, feeling as guilty as hell, unsure and unable to do anything except clutch at any part of Archie that was to hand. “You’re here,” Archie breathed, and Daniel tipped his face up with hands as gentle as he had ever made them, brushed a thumb along the the bruised line of his cheekbone. “I’ll always come for you,” he reminded him.

 

Archie leant into his touch, the pained lines of his face softening, and Daniel could only say, “Always, always,” like a vow, holding Archie as close to him as he could. He came back to himself in a cold rush, like a window had been opened in his mind. “Are you hurt?” he asked, urgently.

 

He felt Archie shake his head, felt the wince that made it a lie. “A little knocked about, and -damn it - they gave me something, to make me -damn it - slow.”


“Too alarming for your own good,” Daniel said, carefully tracing his fingers over the tender parts of Archie’s face, his shoulders, everywhere he’d so clearly been hit. If they’d drugged him Archie might not know that something was damaged. Archie tracked his movements with dazed eyes, but he was there, the lovely breath-stealing blue of them was not lost to Daniel forever. “Alright, my dear, I don’t think you’re too badly off, do you think you can walk?”

 

Archie grimaced. “Maybe. Not while I’m cuffed to this chair though.” Daniel made a distressed noise, couldn’t help it. Archie strained for him with his whole body. “I am so sorry,” he said. “I was, I was going to get back up, I promise, and I don’t know how they got the jump on me, I’m sorry, I’m so, I knew you’d worry.”

 

Daniel had no idea what to do with him. He said, “Worry is certainly one thing I did, yes.” He kissed the corners of Archie’s eyes for no reason he could fathom, and then straightened. “Let’s get you out of these cuffs, then, dearest, and be on our way.” Archie nodded, but it took him a second. “I’ll be right here,” Daniel promised, keeping a hand on Archie’s shoulder as he went around the chair. He remembered all too well what it had been like in that hellhole, to have Archie close and then vanish like the dream Daniel had feared him to be. “I take it you spotted Vincent Rawstrome,” he said, to keep Archie talking and his mind occupied while Daniel had to take his hand away to work on the lock of the cuffs.

 

“That bastard,” Archie said vehemently. “I shouldn’t have run after him, they probably made me before I had even got near that yard, but, dammit, I wasn’t going to let him get away again.”

 

“”Mmhmm,” Daniel said around a mouthful of lockpick. Archie made a small fond noise at that. “I... I was going to send a telegram, I had it drafted, and then they, I was in the back of a cart before I knew it with three brutes sitting on me.”

 

The cuffs around Archie's wrists were rusty as hell, and Daniel was relying on muscle memory to pick them. Archie's hands were shaking. Daniel’s own hands, somehow, were not. The pick slipped again and he cursed under his breath. Archie twisted his hands in the cuffs and Daniel was about to curse him too when he realised that Archie was reaching for him, to the best of his ability, trying to catch at Daniel's fingers, to soothe him.

Daniel swallowed hard. "And then?" he said, catching at Archie's questing fingers, tangling them together for just a moment.

 

Archie started to talk again, and Daniel waited until he could trust his hands again, and then got back to work. "A couple of thugs dragged me down here, wanted to know who I was, who I was working for," Archie was saying, voice still not quite up to speed. Who knew what awful backalley tranquiliser they'd given him. Daniel focused on the familiar feel of metal, the give and clicks that would tell him just where to push next. "They didn't really seem to know what they were doing, just knocked me around a little, but then when I didn't exactly fall at their feet they got... nastier." Something cold and awful dropped into Archie's voice on that last word, and Daniel took a deep breath in and finally got the damn lock open.

He wrenched himself to his feet, dashed back around the where Archie was cradling his hands in his lap, staring at them like they were sudden unexpected phantoms. "Archie?" Daniel said, incredibly carefully.

Archie didn't look up from his clenched fingers. "They said if I didn't talk soon they were going to take the rest of them."

Daniel couldn't follow for a second, couldn't make sense of Archie's deadened tone until, very awfully, he did. "Oh, darling," he said. He couldn't move with it;  the thought of some stranger seeing the one chink in his shining knight's armour and putting a crowbar to it. He reached out and pulled Archie into him, not moving either of them more than that. Archie stayed in his slump on the chair, let his head fall against Daniel, pressing in against Daniel's stomach.

 

Daniel ended up with a hand in Archie's hair, the other on his shoulder, and Archie felt small in a way that Daniel would have said impossible, before. The fine tremors that had wracked those perfect hands now wrecked Archie's body, the strong line of his shoulders made a mess.

 

Daniel said, "My Archie," carding his hand through Archie's hair and trying not to notice how fragile the bones of his skull felt. Archie clung on to him like the only true thing in a collapsing world, shaking and shaking, and Daniel did the only thing he could do. He stood firm.

Archie sniffed, hard, and said, "They left me here. To. God. Think on it. So that I would go out of my mind thinking about it. He said he'd get pruning shears."

"You should have talked," Daniel said fiercely. "Said anything, made something up, just fucking talked, Archie, they might've -"

"I was sending the telegram to you, I couldn't," Archie said in tones of great finality.

 

“We would have been fine, even if you'd -- Archie, your fingers. They could have done anything.”

 

Archie looked up, face tear-stained and completely perplexed. “Yes? But what could they possibly threaten me with that would be worth risking you?”

 

“Oh,” Daniel said. “Oh.” He looked down at Archie and, “Oh, you love me.”

 

Archie flinched and said, deeply miserably, “Sorry.”

 

“What?” Daniel said, still utterly floored. Archie looked embarrassed but terribly determined. “I know you didn't want complications or promises and that's what love is, really, isn't it. A promise.”

 

Daniel found movement again, somehow, bent down to cup Archie cheek, bloodied and dear. “I'm glad,” he said, whisper soft. “I'm so very glad.” He laid a kiss carefully where he had brushed his thumb. “All this would be a little embarrassing, otherwise, wouldn't it?”

 

Archie met Daniel’s eyes properly, and his own were painfully hopeful. “I suppose you did come down to a cellar for me.”

 

“That I did.”

 

Archie smiled then, and it felt like the first time Daniel had seen it, this incongruously sweet, unsure thing on such an upright military man. But now he could meet it, kiss it into certainty.

 

“My love,” he said against Archie’s mouth, “there aren't words for how I feel about you.”

 

Archie put his arms around Daniel, holding him close as they kissed, as Daniel found an open split on Archie’s bottom lip and tongued at it with a strange satisfaction. When they pulled apart Archie was aglow. “That you did,” he mimicked.

 

Daniel rubbed at the back of his neck. “Yes, well, we can talk about it when you're not drugged and bound in said cellar.” He held out his hand and Archie took it, stood slowly with a groan, using Daniel as his lever.

 

Archie shook out his limbs, and then enfolded Daniel in a brief, tight hug. “Now I’m ready,” he said.

 

Daniel felt like it had been so very long since he had been in Archie’s arms, much longer than a day, and it felt much better than it really should have any right to. Daniel felt the lightest of kisses brush his cheek as Archie pulled back.

"Wait," Archie said. "Should we just go? They'll know they've been made, if I'm gone. We could leave me here until we've got eyes on Vincent, and then-"

"No." Daniel said it as firmly as he had ever said anything. "I'm not leaving you here."

 

Archie looked like he was about to start some kind of nonsense. "I shan't. And anyway, I pushed someone down the stairs, there's not a lot we can do about that, and I won't have it be for nothing. So you're coming home with me and that's final."  

Archie smiled at something. “What?” Daniel asked but that only made Archie smile more,  say, “Ah, he can dish it out but not take it.”

 

“Well we both know that is deeply not true,” Daniel said, and Archie snorted. Daniel put his arm around Archie’s shoulders and said, “Come along, my viking, I can only do this for so long.”

 

He still didn't look at the body the foot of the stairs and didn't let Archie stop to check on it. Maybe the man would die because Daniel was too afraid to see if he'd killed him. Daniel remembered the noise that he’d made hitting the floor. It didn’t seem likely.

 

They somehow got Archie up the stairs, his poor drugged body leaden, Archie making noises of frustration every time a limb would refuse to respond to him. There wasn’t time to stop, or comfort, or prepare, so Daniel just kept them going until they burst out of the front door into incongruous sunshine.

 

Daniel took a breath and waited for someone to spot them, to rush them, but all that happened was a cab drawing up in front of them. The driver said, “Mr Vaizey?”

 

“Something like that,” Daniel said, and gestured for Archie to get in. The driver seemed very unperturbed by the actively bleeding man falling into the back of his cab and clicked on his horses.

He ended up taking them to a small doctor's surgery somewhere in one of those roads of shabby gentility that London could do so well, one foot in respectability. Archie stayed quiet throughout, leant onto Daniel sitting and walking, even as the doctor checked him over. Daniel was, for once in his life, not in the mood to argue. The city, their jobs, people and the world had continued while everything in Daniel’s world had been shifted one way and then the other.

 

Archie was the fault line, the fulcrum, he was the catalyst for all of this change and change again but he was also Archie, Daniel's Archie, a fixed point, and Daniel could lean on him and feel secured.

 

"There nothing too wrong with him," the doctor told Daniel. Archie made a small noise but the doctor continued to ignore him and address Daniel. "He'll need to keep a cold compress to that eye, and more antiseptic on those wrists. Other than that he can just sleep off his tranquilisers. Everything else just needs time and rest."  

 

"I'll do my best," Daniel said. Archie muttered something about not being a child, which Daniel rounded ignored, and soon they were in another cab, heading home. Daniel suddenly realised that he'd done this earlier, called it home, and Archie had smiled at him like he'd given him a gift.

 

He gave into the urge he’d been feeling a while, and put his head on Archie’s shoulder, London loud around them, Archie quiet and here. “Nearly home now, dear,” Daniel said, and became aware that he hadn’t spoken for a while. Archie looked ghastly in the light of the day, and Daniel had no idea what to do. So he talked. “It’s a little alarming that your uncle knew that I would have got you. And you know Tierney came to your place earlier -  yesterday I suppose - looking for you? I had to do some very fast thinking, which of course I -”

 

Archie put his hand on Daniel’s cheek with ruinous care and said, “Do you actually want to talk about it now? Or are you just talking because you’re worried about not talking?”

 

This was so very much why Daniel loved him. No one else would ever ask that, would even think it.

 

“Alright, fine, maybe I was a little concerned you might be concerned,” Daniel admitted.

 

Archie laughed, soft in the way that made his eyes crinkle at the edges. “Loath as I am to suggest that you usually talk a lot...”

 

Daniel made to elbow him in the ribs and then remembered the bruising that the doctor had uncovered. “If I did, you like it,” he said, as lightly as he could.

 

Archie kissed him with a smile, then put his head on Daniel’s shoulder for a few moments. “This is actually very nice,” he said. “I see why you do it all the time.”

 

“I do not,” Daniel lied. He liked to rest there while reading sometimes, or while Archie read which was almost better. Archie lifted his head to smile some more, such a glorious one that it almost blurred out the lines of pain on his face.

 

When they got back Joe, with no small sense of relief, let them up the back stairs again. Archie’s bruised face and Daniel’s expression probably did little to stop all of his ideas of adventures and tales of daring do.

 

“Time to put our respectable faces on?” Daniel asked, and Archie nodded and stood.

 

There were hardly ever neighbours in Archie’s hall, but they still stood apart, Archie clearly trying to stand properly. Daniel fingered the keys in his pocket as Archie let them both into the flat. Once the door was closed behind them Daniel felt himself relax and saw Archie do so too, to an almost comical degree.

 

Archie stepped back into Daniel’s space, pressed him against the door in a way that would have been familiar but the desire in Archie’s frame was a very different need. He took Daniel in his arms, breathing hard, and Daniel closed his eyes against it all.

 

Archie had his nose buried in Daniel’s hair, and he sounded wretched when he said, “I just kept thinking of you, waiting here, thinking that I’d let you down.” Archie was starting to tremble again, whatever reserves he had been running on running out.

 

Daniel soothed a hand down his back, over and over, said, “No, shh, darling, it’s alright, you didn’t, shh,” wishing he could somehow pull the hurt out of Archie with the sweep of his hand. “Come to bed,” he instructed.

 

Archie laughed, still pressed into Daniel as close as he could be. “That’s not how you usually say that.”

 

“This isn’t how we usually do this, either,” Daniel said. He shifted so that he could kiss the curve of Archie’s neck. “Come on, now.”

 

Archie let himself be led, let Daniel sit him on the edge of the bed and hardly managed an eyebrow raise when Daniel knelt before him to take his shoes off. Daniel gave him a quick dirty smile mostly for reassurance. The familiar impossible perfection of Archie’s body felt almost like a taunt. You could almost forget that it was a real thing of flesh and bone and all of those fallible, vulnerable things. Daniel had seen Archie broken, had seen bruises on his skin before, had put a few of his own there, but he had never felt like this, desperate and shattered by the need to protect.

 

Daniel could deflect like quite the champion though. He helped Archie off with his jacket and then stroked down Archie's arm, following the line of muscle under the thin cotton down to his wrist, still raw from a night in cuffs.

"I'll just get the-" he started but Archie grabbed for him with clumsy fingers, cleared his throat before saying, "No, please just. Just stay?"

 

Daniel watched as Archie Curtis looked away instead of looking scared. He reached out, brushed his Archie's hair away from his face. "Alright then, I'm here, lie down," he said. Archie went with that gorgeous willingness of his, lying back and pulling at Daniel until he went too. Daniel settled himself against Archie's side, not lying on him as he usually would in case that awoke any more bruises.

 

Archie sighed out, long and heartfelt. "Now what?" he asked.

"Now you sleep, my love," Daniel said.

 

Archie turned his head to kiss Daniel's temple. "Are you going to call me that a lot? I like it," he said, before Daniel could answer.  

 

Daniel shifted so that he could stroke a hand through Archie’s hair, grimy as it was. “Perhaps, then,” he allowed. “Seeing as though you like it.” Archie made a satisfied noise and Daniel felt him smile against Daniel’s skin.

Daniel felt Archie fall asleep, his body finally relaxing, warm and solid against Daniel’s. This body that Daniel loved. This man that Daniel loved. “Alright,” he said to himself. “Alright then.”

 

Daniel tried to talk himself down , breathed out slow and steady, matching himself to Archie’s rhythm. He knew, objectively, that he was exhausted, that his whole body was screaming out for rest, but his mind wouldn't allow it.

 

After a few infinities staring at the ceiling he turned carefully so that he could see Archie’s face: the strong sweep of his brow, the hint of mouth against the pillow, and the bruises starting to form along his cheekbone. Daniel had caressed and kissed there many times and now it was an angry red unmapped landscape, hills where there had been valleys. If he wasn't going to be asleep he could at least be useful. Daniel extracted himself from under Archie’s slump against him and went to get a flannel from the bathroom.

 

It felt like the tension he’d been fighting all day got closer to him every step that he took away from the bed, wolves at his heels. Daniel made it to the bathroom, managed to lock the door behind himself and then very carefully sat himself on the edge of the ridiculously luxurious bathtub before he fell, and was devoured.

 

What on earth was he to do?

 

Archie had been correct about promises, and entanglements, all that Daniel couldn’t afford in any area of his life. It was a quick way to end up dead, jailed, heartbroken or a terribly trite poet. But there was nothing for it now: there was nothing Daniel could do about loving Archie Curtis, and very little he wanted to, most of the time. And that was it, wasn’t it. He was so happy, mundane as that was, glorious and quite extraordinarily unexpected as that. His life was irrevocably changed, and by a thoughtless boy of a man.

 

He put his head in his hands, ground the heels of his hands into his eyes in an increasingly hopeless looking attempt not to cry. That was an unfair assessment of Archie, but a fairer truth was not much more comfort to Daniel; that Archie was reckless and brave, noble to an actual fault. That he was a spy without guile but with a determination to protect his partner whatever the cost. That he was a stranger to his own feelings half the time, and still sometimes paralysed by societal expectations and the weight of otherness that did not sit easily on a good, straightforward chap. In short, Archie was someone who it would be appallingly easy to lose, and Daniel could not, could not afford to lose him. Daniel had probably killed a man to avoid losing him.

 

And what good, really, would Daniel da Silva be at loving someone. He could do untold damage to Archie, Archie, who loved him. Daniel thought about Archie clasping his fingers to himself, cradling them to his chest, the blank awful terror in his eyes, and that was the fight lost, and the first sob into his hands came out wretched and gutted, the most ugly noise Daniel had ever heard himself make, and it bounced off the tiles and came back to him like it was mocking him. He’d tried to fix Archie in this very room so many times, all harsh with anger and hands not gentle enough on the inevitable battle scars on his warrior, heart turned over in his chest by something he hadn’t quite known was love, or had been too scared to admit was. But, fucking hell, it was, so very much was, the kind of love that Daniel had scoffed at and longed for. Love to Archie was a promise, and to Daniel, loss, and he couldn’t stop the tears now, or the awful heartbroken sounds that he was making.

 

There was a sudden, urgent knocking on the door and he heard Archie swearing when he found the door locked. “Daniel? Daniel, are you alright?”

 

Daniel thought about saying yes, but that felt like a lie too great even for him. “Go away,” he said very firmly.

 

“Shan’t,” Archie responded in the exact same tone.

 

“It’s alright,” Daniel asserted. “Just, it’s fine, Archie, leave it.” He could hear the way his voice was betraying him with every word. There was a moment of silence and then Archie said, all gorgeous cut glass vowels, “Oh, fuck you.” Daniel could have laughed. Archie sighed loud enough to be heard through the door. “Just let me in, Daniel,” he said.

 

Daniel assessed whether he would be able to stop crying in time. “No,” he said.


“I can and will break down this door,” Archie said.

 

“You wouldn’t.”

 

“You know that I would.” He would, and Daniel did know it. He breathed out, stood on shaky legs, and slid back the bolt of the door, determined to keep himself together. It was really to no avail: as soon as he saw Archie’s concerned, afraid face he crumbled again, throat closing up with that awful clawing emotion. Only now Archie was there, strong arms pulling him close.

 

“Oh, Daniel,” Archie said, as Daniel fell into his chest, a heaving mass of shakes and sobs. “Dearest one, what is it?”

 

Daniel clung on, the warmth of Archie’s skin bleeding through his shirt, and sniffed as hard as he could until he thought maybe if he opened his mouth a word might be able to make it past the tears. “You could have died,” was what his brain settled on to say, out of all of the morass of fear and pain and embarrassment. “And I don’t know if anyone would have even told me.”


Archie made a terrible noise, a surprised, concentrated burst of hurt. He lowered them both gently to the ground so that he was crouched in front of Daniel, holding him close to his chest.

"Oh good," Daniel sniffed. "Now we're on the floor." He couldn't seem to stop crying now that he'd started, could only subdue it for a few moments and then it would start up again, however hard he fought. Archie laughed into his hair, and his arms tightened around Daniel like Daniel's prickly ingratitude was something to be treasured. "I'm alright," he said softly.

"Through luck," Daniel said with some bite. He fisted Archie's shirt at the back where he was holding on for dear life. "There was a ribbon caught on a cartwheel from that bakery you'd been and-"

"Oh! They took the box of tarts from me, in the back of that damn cart, I bought them for you..."

"For me," Daniel repeated, gutted with it, and that seemed like the worst thing Archie had done, or said, and he burst back into horrible sodden tears.


"You would have found me one way or another," Archie said. He sounded so certain.

Daniel wiped his nose on Archie's shirt in retribution and said, "I'm sorry, I know I'm being rotten at this. I knew I would be."

"At what?" Archie asked, hand stroking down Daniel's back, all focused calm.

Daniel shifted, considered lifting his face out of Archie's neck and then thought better of it. "At loving you," he said.

“What nonsense,” Archie said, kissing the top of Daniel's head. “You've been doing wonderfully for, well, however long it's been.”

“A while,” Daniel admitted in response to the hopeful lilt in Archie’s voice. He had no real idea. Forever, maybe. It'd been less than a year, but it already seemed unthinkable that there'd ever been a time that he wasn't at least some way in love with shining Archie Curtis. He risked a look up at Archie's face, which was all horribly shadowed. Hell, what a mess. "Don't," he said, and had no idea what he was pleading for. Asking Archie not to be sad seemed perhaps a little much.  His brain settled for, "I don't mind."

Archie laughed and it had a sadness in it. "You're sobbing your guts out on my bathroom floor, Daniel, you don't exactly seem thrilled."

"Not because I love you!" Daniel took a moment. "I love you, by the way." His voice sounded very small." Very much."

Archie laughed again, eyes a soaring sky blue. "Did you figure out that you hadn't actually said it?" he said, resting his hands in the small of Daniel's back, all warm broad pressure.

"Well neither have you," Daniel pointed out, knowing it was churlish.

Archie said, "No, because you figured it out before I could tell you, in a typical manoeuvre." He actually looked a little cross about that. Daniel suddenly realised that Archie had probably never told anyone that he loved them before. He didn't even know if Archie would have said it to the men who had raised him, if he'd been too young to say it to his parents. Daniel reached up with all the care he could scrape from his shaken, protesting body and cupped Archie's cheek.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"I love you," Archie said.

Daniel had not been brought up in a perfect hothouse of English restraint. People told Daniel they loved him quite often, and he said it a lot, had heard it from lovers before. But.

 

"Oh," he said.

 

Archie kissed him, feather light, and said, “You are glad.” That quiet happiness that Daniel caught on his lover sometimes had settled over his face, and of course it was love, it was that lovely reflection of love like sunlight on the sea. Like a gift.

 

“You make me so happy,” Daniel breathed, in a manner that he might ordinarily be ashamed of. But nothing about this was ordinary, nothing at all. “And that’s why I’m so, well. That’s why. That scares me, and you know better than most that I am terrible at being afraid.” He had to kiss the protesting noise out of Archie’s mouth. “I love you, and I could lose you at any moment. And I love you, and I think I killed someone for you today, and I wish I regretted it more. I love you, and it keeps fucking changing me.” Daniel let the weird pain of that pass through him for a moment. “And you love me, even though it’s probably not going to make you as happy as you should be, because I’m rotten at the whole thing, I can’t even let you tell me you love me properly, and, fucking hell, please just shut me up.”

 

Daniel couldn’t move, even though by now the muscles in his legs were screaming at him, and he wanted desperately not to be this crumpled thing on the pristine tile of Archie’s bathroom. Archie, though, Archie could move, and did, pulling himself up onto the side of the bath where Daniel had first sat, and then pulling Daniel up to him with apparently very little effort. Daniel went into his lap with only a token bat of protest at his shoulder.

 

Archie frowned for a moment. “Thank you,” he said. “For saving me, today, and, that’s just it, Daniel, not just today, but, I don’t see why you act like your love is something shabby when, god, you save me every single day with it.” His face was so open: such a brave one, Daniel’s man.

 

Daniel swallowed hard. “Archie,” he said. “That is... That was remarkably well put.” He looped his arms around Archie’s neck, glorying in him, a perfect specimen caught and held all for Daniel’s attention, all for Daniel.

“Is the great Daniel da Silva lost for words?” Archie said, lit up with sudden, awful glee. “Lauded poet, who speaks like the man from a fable whose words fall out of his mouth like gems? My Daniel who can soliloquise while being quite thoroughly taken? By something I said?”

 

Daniel laughed, and clung, and the last of his misery, if not his fear, shook itself out of him with the laughter. He tried to wipe at his eyes surreptitiously but that proved a task even beyond his not inestimable powers of subterfuge, pressed as close as he was to Archie. Archie leant him back and very carefully used his own cuff to dry Daniel’s eyes, and then Daniel’s nose too, which was a very prosaic gesture of love in itself.

Daniel took the sleeve-covered hand in his, peeled back the cuff and kissed each one of Archie’s lovely fingers with all the reverence he had never managed to muster even in temple.

 

“I don’t know if that’s true,” he murmured, keeping his eyes fixed on Archie’s trembling index finger. “But I swear I’ll keep trying.” Because Archie made him brave, too, sometimes, even at his most scared. “I swear I’ll keep you safe. I swear I’ll try and keep you.” It came as easily as it ought, with someone like Archie, the kind of man to whom oaths had always been sworn, down the centuries until time had reached Daniel, heart in his mouth along with the taste of Archie’s skin, making something much more than a promise.

 

“It is true,” Archie insisted, sounding suspiciously choked up again. He closed his fingers around Daniel’s wrist, both of their hands still held to Daniel’s mouth. “I know that I can’t make any promises that you’ll believe but know that I will always fight for this. For us.”

 

“Of course I know that, you’ve been very forceful in your determination to do so,” Daniel reminded him. He didn’t mind, terribly. Archie kissed him, and, because it was Archie, who didn’t fight fair, it felt like a promise of forever. Daniel fought back with his very best weapon, made the kiss dirty, promised sin with every press of his lips to Archie’s, until they were breathing hard, and hard against each other. Archie gasped under Daniel’s mouth and said, “Fuck, I love you, come to bed with me?”

 

“I’d say we could just have at it right here but,” Daniel couldn’t stop grinning long enough to make it a seduction, “I want you inside me.”

 

Archie made a scrambled, incoherent noise and somehow got to his feet with Daniel still in his lap, or rather in his arms. Daniel flailed wildly for a moment then wrapped every limb around Archie’s broad torso as tightly as he could. “You really don’t have to take this whole viking thing so literally,” he remarked as they lumbered into Archie’s bedroom. “I should never have encouraged you. I should have stuck with dear, and you would have just had to be content with being very dear indeed.”

 

Archie dropped him on the bed.

 

All of the awful empty spaces that terror and worry had carved so brutally out of Daniel earlier felt quite filled with wild joy now, with a bubbling laughter that Daniel wanted to tip into Archie’s mouth like champagne. Adrenaline, probably. Archie, definitely. The bedroom that had seem so chasm-empty earlier was bright now, because it was their bedroom once more with Archie in the centre of it, grinning down at Daniel, looking for all the world like he was about to have a first place rosette pinned on him. He bent to kiss Daniel, but stopped halfway with a wince. Adrenaline, Daniel thought again, only this time with regret. “You’re hurt, that was foolish,” he said, partly to himself. He sat up and arranged the mountain of pillows into a suitable shape. “Come, recline, I can do the heavy lifting from here.”

 

Archie rolled his eyes but did as instructed. Daniel rewarded him by shucking off his own trousers and returning himself to Archie’s lap, and he knew that it was the right thing as soon as he was there, the two of them close enough to feel the rise and fall of the other’s breathing. Archie ran his hands down Daniel’s sides, over his bare thighs, eyes fluttering shut, clearly revelling in the sensation. Daniel waited until Archie’s hands stilled and then took his right one and kissed there too, just as carefully, just as worshipfully. “I missed these, earlier,” he said, letting his gaze flick up to catch Archie’s, and then drew Archie’s finger into his mouth. Archie bucked under him and said, “Christ,” all sharp, and Daniel sucked, and pulled off, never letting his eyes leave Archie’s.

 

Archie had turned flushed, eyes darkening to dusk colour, and he reached for where Daniel was already hard and straining. “If you were a woman I could be inside you right now,” he said, all rough need.

 

Daniel raised his eyebrows at him. “Sorry to disappoint. Maybe if you wished hard enough I would-”


“Oh hush,” Archie said, pulling Daniel down for a hard bite of a kiss, making Daniel’s blood roar in his veins. “I don’t want that, and I wouldn’t want you any different.”

 

“But I make your life so hard,” Daniel said, only half a tease. Archie’s hands were on his thighs again, hands so familiar that now Daniel startled at people touching him who had the full compliment of fingers. Archie said, “Ah, but if you didn’t you wouldn’t be my Daniel.”

 

“And I am,” Daniel said. He’d not known that in his bones, before. None of it had ever been like this before. He kissed Archie back into the pillows, Archie who could be kissed into pliancy or kissed into action, all of his strength for Daniel to use however he wished, the most unexpected and glorious of gifts. “Tell me you’ll never do anything that stupid again,” he bit out.

 

Archie said, with low, curling amusement, “What, compare you to a woman? No fear.”

 

“Don’t try and protect me at the cost of yourself,” Daniel said. He knew it was hopeless as soon as he’d said it. That was how Archie loved, and he couldn’t help it any more than Daniel could help this irrational need for Archie to give him a promise that they both knew was futile.

 

“You know I can’t do that.”

 

“You said you’d fight. Well, fight to come home to me,” Daniel said, the words trite, and useless and foolish.

 

Archie said them anyway, reaching up for Daniel, hands, inevitably, in his hair, and Daniel let himself be kissed, and kissed, and kissed until he was writhing in Archie’s lap, and it wasn’t like it went away, the need to have Archie there under his skin. It was frankly appalling how much he had to admit to being made love to, all the feelings entangled, love and sex, need and want, Archie and Daniel, mine and his. Archie was all Keats sentiment and Byronic intent.

 

“Oil,” he gasped out. Archie made a grumbling noise as Daniel broke the kiss to reach over to the drawer where Archie kept the oil despite Daniel’s repeated attempts to get him to just leave it on the table. Or under the pillow. “You can’t fuck me otherwise,” Daniel pointed out. Archie said, “I know,” in very petulant tones.

 

“I’ll take care of this, you, trousers,” Daniel commanded, pouring far too much oil over his fingers so that it dripped down his forearm. When he looked back at Archie he was staring, eyes all pupil, watching the oil track its way down Daniel’s skin. “Trousers,” Daniel said, knowing his voice was not as steady as it should be. It was quite something, to be looked upon like that.

 

He let himself get lost in the needs of his body, in the fine art of making muscles relax, in pleasure and slick fingers and building anticipation. He glanced down, saw the inviting expanse of Archie’s bare thighs beneath him, and lowered his weight back down with a grateful sigh. Archie had left his shirt on, and Daniel could not decide if he was glad or not. There were many marks beneath it. But Archie loved to feel them move together as much as Daniel did, usually, bared to one another, so he must have left it for a reason.

 

Archie took a deep breath like he was readying himself to take a shot. “I’m probably not going to last out long,” he said.

 

Daniel smiled at him. “Ah, love, neither will I.” Archie took another desperate breath. “My love,” Daniel said, experimentally, and Archie gasped and glared at him. “What a delightful development.” Daniel grinned and got his hand on Archie’s cock without looking. Archie swore viciously and happily at him and Daniel laughed, again, had somehow found himself laughing and happy, half naked and straddling a gentleman, and loved, so well loved.

 

He poured more oil, let it pool in the palm of one hand and used the fingers of the other to drag trails up Archie’s cock, watching the muscles in his stomach and thighs twitch, listening to Archie lose his breath over and over. He couldn’t wait any longer.

 

“Alright, then,” he said, lifting himself up, and Archie caught at his side with one hand and said, “Wait, are you, was that enough?”

 

It probably wasn’t, in all honestly, but the ache of waiting was becoming far more unbearable than any fleeting discomfort. “I’m ready,” Daniel said, getting them both into position. “I’m so good and ready,” letting Archie hold him open, “and you’re so good, god,” letting himself be taken, slow inch by inch, “you’re always so good.” It was always good with Archie, even from their most fumbling of beginnings, too many contenders for the fuck of Daniel’s life constantly superseding each other.

 

“I knew it was really all about the size of my prick,” Archie slurred out, all hazy, teasing loveliness. Daniel was absolutely going to fuck him until even that level of coherence was beyond him. He stilled them both, let their bodies get used to the feeling of being joined, revelling in the replete feeling of Archie, huge inside him. Then he moved without warning, almost savage with it, slamming himself back down, and Archie met him there, instantly on the same page, finishing the line with perfect rhythm.

 

“God,” Archie said, “god, fuck, Daniel.”

 

Daniel hissed, “That’s it, yes, be loud for me, come on.” Archie didn’t hold back, hands bruising hard, Daniel knew from experience, on Daniel’s hips, body wild and mouth open, red and wanting in his pale face, and all the while his attention was fixed on Daniel, caught and kept.

 

Just when Archie was getting truly wild Daniel tipped himself forwards, made all that movement into the slowest rock back and forth, and Archie looked even more undone by this gentleness than he had been by anything else. Archie put his hand on the back of Daniel’s neck, kissed him like he needed it more than air, said, “Please, Daniel, I can’t-”

 

“You can,” Daniel promised, “You truly can, just a little longer, come on, don’t leave me yet.”

 

“Give it the best of British,” Archie managed, fingers clenched rigid in Daniel’s hair. Daniel grinned and bent down to bite at Archie’s collarbone as a reward. He had such lovely skin for it: the aristocracy clearly made them for marking. But then Daniel was lost in a world of Archie, the way that he smelt, all husky and warm, and the shift of muscles, and his smile that was all the more devastating up close, where Daniel could taste it. There was still too much bruising, still too many reminders of pain, so Daniel closed his eyes and gave into pleasure instead.

 

“I’ll have mercy, then,” he said, low, in this, the most intimate of spaces. Archie whined. “Okay, then, my love.” As expected, that made Archie jolt inside him. “That’s it, keep going, Archie love.”

 

Daniel reached down to touch his own cock and his hand met Archie’s there. Archie tangled their fingers, clumsy but effective, and together they got Daniel to a shaking, plummeting brink, and Daniel said, “Right, my love, right, fuck, you can let go now.” Archie arched up impossibly, a force of nature, and Daniel let himself fall, everything spiralling, rushing pleasure and heat and Archie, coming too, shouting his name.


Daniel found himself with his head wedged in the space between the pillow, Archie’s shoulder and Archie’s neck. Many of his muscles were sure to start registering many complaints but he didn’t want to move.

 

“Stay,” he said, before Archie could attempt to rescue him. “Just. Stay a little.” It would make a mess, but Daniel couldn’t bring himself to care. Archie liked that too, although he couldn’t quite say it yet, but Daniel had watched him too many times not to have noticed his reaction to seeing the way they looked afterwards, Archie all over Daniel’s skin. There was so much primal in him, after all.

 

Archie was stroking his hands through Daniel’s hair again, a shared comfort, and their ragged breathing was all he could hear. “I love you,” Daniel said, quite accidentally.

 

“I love you,” Archie replied before Daniel could arbitrate any kind of rule about saying that kind of thing during or after sex. It was probably too late now. It was also very good to hear now. It didn’t sound like anything apart from what it was, a new fact to put into the world, a new piece to build a pearl around, another way in which things would always be different, with Archie.

 

Even when they fucked, they were people in love doing it, they would be people in love spying, and eating desserts, and waking up together and falling asleep together, even if no one else ever knew. They would know, and that, strangely, felt like enough. Daniel arranged them into a slightly better tangled heap of limbs, every part of him heavy with contentment and exertion.

 

“You owe me dinner,” he said, nuzzling into Archie’s neck. Archie put his arm over him like a safeguard.

 

“Well, I’ve got to have some kind of hold over you, make sure you stick around,” he said, voice entirely happy and warm. “I’ll pay up some day.”

 

Daniel laughed and kissed his laughing Archie, and said, “I trust you will.”