I can't remember your name…but I know you love me
He groaned against the light stabbing at his eyes and squinted, making out vague shadows moving in his peripheral. His hands flew to his temples at a sudden sharp throbbing and he tried to sit up instinctively, but strong hands eased him back in to the calming softness of a comfortable bed.
"Easy now, Tintin," a concerned, masculine voice said softly somewhere near his shoulder.
Tintin. Tintin. He supposed that sounded familiar. He supposed that was his name. He supposed the voice belonged to the hands. Excellent deduction there, Tintin congratulated himself mildly. Why don't we add that we must've been hurt to have a sore head. What mind-boggling brilliance we have here.
He rested a hand over his eyes to block out the piercing light and felt the scratchiness of an improvised bandage wrapped around his head.
"What happened?" he wondered aloud; everything seemed a little foggy and slow.
There was a shuffle of movement beside him as his unknown companion and likely saviour moved closer.
"Oh, you know, the usual: our rare holiday became a near death situation, you scared the breath outta me by tumbling off a cliff with a stereotypical bad guy, I saved your life yet again, we're a few miles from town and, in turn, professional medical attention. You know, the usual harebrained scenario you manage to put us in, lad."
Tintin could tell, he wasn't sure how, that the light-hearted spiel was not to be taken as nonchalantly as it seemed it ought to. This man cared a lot about what happened to his person.
That's a nice feeling, Tintin thought to himself.
Perhaps it was in the tone. Perhaps it was in the way certain words were emphasised. Tintin wasn't sure, but he knew he was special.
"You saved my life."
It sounded even more amazing when Tintin voiced it.
So this was not out of the ordinary. His life was saved. A lot.
Great snakes, Tintin frowned, I'm not some sort of damsel in constant distress, am I?
"Well, thank you."
His companion chuckled, relief ringing in Tintin's ears pleasantly. "Aye, don't mention it. It's practically my job now anyhow, eh? But, uh, how are you feeling? Gave me a bit of a scare I'll admit, lad. You were out cold for a while there, everything in working order?"
Tintin's hand was peeled away from his face and he could feel gentle fingers checking the pulse jumping steadily in his wrist. The man's hand was warm and familiar, but the goosebumps chasing a shiver up his spine at the touch was unexpected.
He cracked his eyes open, adjusting to the light. Tintin had to see his face.
The man leant forward.
Tintin had the passing exhilarating anticipation he was about to be kissed, but instead their foreheads touched. His companion was too close to be anything but a blur of colours. He could taste their breath mingling and knew, knew, his skin was getting warm and his heart was beating louder.
The man was pulling away, saying something, but Tintin wasn't listening. Only hearing the rough lilt of an accent he loved but couldn't quite place in his patchy memory. It reminded him of the sea and adventures and treasure.
But then his face wasn't a mishmash of colours anymore. And Tintin stared.
He loved this man.
No, he loves this man.
The thought is natural.
He reached out and the man grabbed his hand without hesitation. Tintin smiled and his companion smiled back hugely.
"I'm glad you're alright, lad. Don't know what I'd do if…" he squeezed Tintin's hand before placing it down gently. "I don't want to jostle you around too much still, but we need to make a move while it's still light."
The man stood and looked around the area, the movement bringing their surroundings in to focus for Tintin. His comfortable bed was in fact a hastily strewn out sleeping bag and the bright light was the afternoon sun, dappled through tall, dry trees.
Tintin frowned. "Where are we?"
The man's intent gaze snapped back to him sharply. "…Africa."
"Of course, yes, Africa," Tintin said offhandedly, sitting up for a better look around.
He knew before his companion was kneeling in front of him, studying him closely, that he had blown his cover.
"I'm fine," he tried, the worried look facing him tying his stomach up in knots. "I've just forgotten a few things but I'm fine. Nothing to worr-"
"Blisterin' barnacles! We're in Australia!" Tintin had no time to comment on this revelation. "Specifically, the NT since you wanted to visit Uluru! What's your dog's name?"
Tintin held his tongue at his first thought, I've got a dog? However, his wide-eyed impersonation of a deer caught in headlights must have been tell enough.
The man leaned forward, his eyes desperate but his voice level, and Tintin's heart sank.
"Tintin, what's my name?"
There was no way he could answer that, despite how much Tintin fished around his memory for a suitable reply.
He couldn't remember.
Tintin could feel his eyes burning and he blinked hard, but he still couldn't remember.
"I can't-" he started, but even he could hear the moment his voice cracked.
His companion's eyes softened and he brushed a hand down Tintin's arm. "Listen to me, eh. Selfish at a time when you're hurting worse. Forgive a rusty sea dog, lad?"
Tintin smiled shakily. "Sorry."
The man sighed slightly and sat beside Tintin, an arm snug and safe around his shoulders. "No need for that, lad. I'm sure it'll all come back, but I'd feel a hellova lot happier if we got you back to town and had a doc see to this precious noggin of yours, eh?"
"I know you're important to me."
He felt his companion tense minutely.
"I can feel it."
The man was staring at a tree in the small clearing they sat in, but his attention was clearly riveted on their conversation.
"And I'm important to you," Tintin leaned in to the familiar safety and scent beside him, never surer of anything in his life despite his lack of memory. "I can tell."
This was where he belonged, beside this man doing…whatever it was they did to find themselves in such situations that were odd, sometimes dangerous and yet recurring.
Tintin's shoulders were given a quick squeeze and then the man was standing in front of him, flushed under his beard and looking anywhere except at him.
"I…we're friends, Tintin. Just…just friends, lad."
Tintin frowned, feeling embarrassed but mostly confused. Just…friends?
Why would this man lie to him so terribly when all the evidence was there? The feeling, the touching, the concern, the expression?
Tintin knew he was intelligent. He supposed it wasn't something you could just forget with a bump to the head.
Not a traditional type of smart. He noticed things.
Perceived things, gestures, details and asked questions in a way he knew most people probably didn't.
And so his companion, friend, was easy to read.
He was lying. But, Tintin realised, he was lying to himself.
How utterly stupid.
By the time his friend had rolled up the sleeping bag and Tintin had tried to stand up, much to his throbbing head and companion's dismay, they discovered he would need to be carried.
Apparently the phone Tintin usually had met an untimely death at the bottom of the cliff, along with the 'stereotypical bad guy' (his friend had not offered any further details about the reason for their current situation and, Tintin supposed, it no longer mattered – especially since he couldn't remember) and their hired motorbike was unaccounted for.
"I can't recall where I left it," his companion mumbled after Tintin asked how they had even travelled so far from town. "I was a bit preoccupied with your willingness to follow the chap over the cliff, to be perfectly honest."
There was nothing left for it – Tintin would carry their remaining backpack and his friend would piggyback him.
"You say so the moment you need a break, lad," his saviour and now transportation demanded, adjusting his grip under Tintin's knees more securely. "You feel woozy or dizzy or you need some water or-"
Tintin smiled and tightened his arms around his friend's neck reassuringly, warmed by the concern this sweet man didn't bother to hide. "Of course, you have my word."
They set off at a slow pace, and Tintin rested his head between his own arm and his friend's hair, making the effort to ignore the throbbing ache in his temples that came with each step. From this position he could see the care his companion took with his footing and wriggled his own feet as he realised something he figured he ought to have noticed quite a good deal sooner.
"I'm missing a shoe."
Tintin felt more than heard the huffed breath of a laugh. "I tried to find it, lad. My deepest apologies for your loss."
He laughed, taking a satisfied special note of the way his friend stumbled with a muffled curse at Tintin's puff of breath against his ear. "They were my favourite pair, I do believe. How inconvenient."
"I'm sure we can get you another, laddie."
And then they were travelling in companionable silence once more.
Tintin had plenty of time to think about things he couldn't remember and if they were important. Did he have family? What is it that he does for a living?
"What is my dog's name?"
"Not sure if I'm supposed to fill in the blanks for you, Tintin," his friend said, though not unkindly.
Tintin used the trick he had just learned and leaned forward so he was against his friend's ear. "Please?"
He waited, not moving until-
Tintin smiled at the name. "Snowy. Is he a clever dog?"
"Oh, aye, very. Wee bit big for his wee little boots, I wager, but he's a mighty helpful little bugger."
Tintin laughed slightly. Snowy sounded perfect.
"Now a'fore you worry about him, lad, we left him with Thompson and Thomson back in Marlinspike."
"Thomson and Thompson?"
His friend chuckled, hoisting Tintin up his back for a better hold again. "No, lad, Thompson and Thomson!"
"I don't quite understand," Tintin started but that only made the other man laugh harder.
"There is no description that can sum up those two, my dear boy. They are an experience to be reckoned with."
His friend was chuckling as they travelled, obviously recalling amusing incidents, but Tintin was warmed by the affectionate and natural way his friend spoke to him.
How could Tintin accept this man didn't belong to him?
He definitely did.
He just didn't realise yet.
"And what of me?" Tintin asked quietly, resting his chin on his friend's strong shoulder. "Am I a good person?"
"The best," his companion replied softly without hesitation, though he didn't elaborate. "But you must be a magnet for trouble, Tintin! Thunderin' typhoons! Not a month goes by that you don't drag me off on some hazardous to my health adventure!"
Tintin's heart skipped one dreadful beat. "I put you in danger? Often?"
"I didn't mean it like that, lad," he jostled Tintin's knees to emphasise his words. "Don't mind admitting I save you just as often as you save me. Never had so much fun in my life though. I have no regrets, Tintin."
Tintin gripped his friend's shoulders tightly. "None? No regrets at all?"
He wasn't sure what he was trying to ask and so he doubted his friend knew either.
"No," was his soft response. "None."
Hours later, with the sun hovering barely above the horizon of the red, dusty road stretching behind them, Tintin could see the dim lights before he could see the town.
He dropped his head back down to his friend's shoulder with a groan, trying to keep his fingers linked around his companion's neck but feeling his grip slip with every step.
"Nearly there, lad," his knees were hoisted up sharply, enough to keep him uncomfortable and awake. "It's not nap time yet."
Tintin felt his left arm drop, not able to right it as it swayed and hit his knee over and over again. It was too heavy. His eyelids were too heavy. His body was too heavy. He didn't know how his friend was still carrying him.
Their pace stopped suddenly.
"This isn't working," the man grumbled to himself, and valiantly tried to adjust Tintin on his back. "Blisterin'…we're nearly there, lad! You can't quit now!"
"Not quitting," Tintin managed, with a hint of fire. "Never quit."
"I should hope not," but his companion clearly wasn't listening too closely as he manoeuvred Tintin off of his back and in to his arms.
Tintin twisted slightly, unhappy with the backpack weighing his body down further awkwardly until he copped a glare.
"Thunderin' typhoons! Will you stop wrigglin' like a fresh caught fish, lad! This ain't exactly a walk in the park to begin with."
"I'm heavy," Tintin murmured, turning his head to look up at his friend, tired and confused and aching all over.
"Ha! Hardly," his companion replied gruffly. "You could stand to put a wee more meat on them bones but I've seen the way you scoff down food, lad."
"High metabolic rate," Tintin said vaguely, his feet bouncing against his friend's side as they moved. "I like food."
"Blisterin' barnacles, some people just have it all don't they," the man said, mostly to himself. "Looks, smarts, selflessness, high metabolic rate-"
"I suppose I do have it all," Tintin interjected, almost a whisper but he knew he was heard, "especially if I have you."
His friend didn't say anything for a long moment but Tintin was past feeling awkward.
"Why do you always save me?" Tintin interrupted again, his hand gripping one that carried him. "Why do you follow me everywhere?"
He didn't understand it and it choked his breath. Why would his friend say and do such things and then deny Tintin was his? Why?
It made his heart and head hurt thinking about it but he could think of nothing else. There was no explanation, no reason, and that confused him.
"Tintin," his friend started softly, and Tintin thought he sounded sad. "You've had a hard knock to the noggin and you're not talking sense. Just…let's get to town and-"
Tintin struggled against strong arms until he was free on his feet, finding strength in sudden anger he knew by the vile taste that he rarely felt.
"You're not listening!" he gasped with the effort of standing, his apparent ire keeping his friend hovering close and alert but not touching him. "I'm not stupid!"
"I know that!"
Tintin stepped backward unsteadily, shaking his head even now as his friend followed his movement without thought. Everything he did betrayed how he felt about Tintin.
"Why?" he asked, hating the desperation he could hear in his own voice. "Why do you do and say different things?"
"Lad, you're not making sense! Let's keep moving!"
He looked at his companion properly, his anger deflating with the worry he could see he was causing.
Tintin moved forward but lost his balance, ending up where he wanted to be anyway, his nose in a bristly beard and his body tucked in tight by strong arms against a warm chest.
He could stay like this, he thought to himself drowsily, he could stay like this for as long as he lived.
Even with the ache in his heart and the dull throbbing pain in his temples, this was where he belonged.
Tintin felt warm breath ruffle his hair and brush along his cheek.
"You're stubbornness is, on occasions, more vice than virtue, lad," but Tintin didn't think he sounded annoyed in the slightest. "I know what you're asking me, but I'll be damned if I tell you anything when you can't even remember my name."
Tintin smiled to himself before turning his head ever so slightly to press his lips against the corner of his friend's mouth, relishing the fast noisy intake of breath he received in response.
"No, I can't remember your name right now," he whispered, not moving away. "But you don't have to tell me anything. I already know you love me."
They stayed like that for a long moment, the sun finally setting and the air cooling with the darkening sky, until Tintin was lifted clear off the ground and back in to his friend's arms and they were heading toward town once more.
But Tintin didn't remember finally reaching the lights.
Or the ambulance ride to the hospital.
Or the hand that never let go of his.
Or the black that finally dragged him down from consciousness.
Tintin woke up groggily, and briefly wrestled with his panic when he quickly found he couldn't move his neck. He was in hospital, judging by the sterile cream walls he could see from his limited area of vision, though this did little to alleviate the sense of feeling trapped.
He wanted his friend, knew he must be close by, and felt the immediately physically calming relief of hearing familiar snores and rhythmic bursts of breath against his right hand.
Their safety properly accounted for, Tintin gingerly explored what seemed to be a neck brace with his other hand, wondering at its purpose – his memory hadn't been so affected that he couldn't remember that his head had been what was injured.
With nothing left to do or look at, and not wishing to wake his companion who was likely bone-weary from lugging Tintin across miles, he closed his eyes and tried to piece together all the missing chunks of his memory.
It was hard and disheartening, especially so when he didn't know what was missing.
Tintin's mind strayed anyway. He had the passing attractive thought that if he and his companion were holidaying together, perhaps they lived together.
The idea made him smile and he listened to the soft snores of the other man for a while, wondering what their daily life was like.
Maybe they drank tea over a shared newspaper of a morning, and Tintin could even imagine brushing toast crumbs from his friend's bristly beard, teasing him with a cheeky smile. And a quick, stolen kiss.
And he would sneak half a sausage to Snowy under the table while the other man wasn't looking.
Then, Tintin fancied, they would take Snowy for a walk to a nearby park with a small lake. They would sit on a bench with a thermos of warm soup and watch the ducks, and the dog would run around madly, sniffing trees and likely chasing a squirrel or two.
The simplicity and happiness of his daydream dissipated as Tintin wondered what he did for a living.
What was it that kept his interest? What was it that he did?
He couldn't imagine.
Tintin felt his friend stir beside him but selfishly kept his eyes closed under the pretence of being asleep, unsettled and wishing his memory would just come back.
He changed his mind almost immediately when he felt a brush of bristles and lips along the back of his hand, but tried not to move in the hopes of receiving more attention.
He wondered if he was starved of it, so intense was his desire for affection from this man, but Tintin couldn't believe that.
"You don't look right like that, lad," his friend's sleep-rough voice was quiet, thrown low so as not to wake him. "All still and made to not move. Doesn't look right on you."
Gentle fingers brushed down the side of his face and Tintin sighed, would've leaned in to the touch if he could.
"You asked the hard questions, Tintin," his companion continued softly, his voice much closer now. "Questions I didn't want to answer. Didn't think you'd ever ask. Tried not to hope so badly when you mayn't be thinking straight, but I promise I will tell you everything if you can just remember me."
Tintin couldn't stop his eyes slipping open, the intimacy of a barely felt kiss pressed to his forehead not something he wanted to miss.
But he hadn't thought far enough ahead as to what he would say when his friend moved and saw he was awake.
"Hello," Tintin said after quite a long awkward moment. "Good evening. Or is it morning? How long, exactly, have we been here?"
The other man, though flushed, remained in Tintin's field of vision. "O-overnight, it's about nine in the morn. The doc checked your noggin with some scans and tests. They reckon your amnesia is short-term, a response from your body to protect your brain from the fracture."
Tintin forgot how to breathe right for a second. "Fracture?"
He watched as his companion slipped out of his sight and heard him sit with a sigh.
"Aye. You've a small skull fracture. That's what your neck brace is for – to stop you from moving your head while you heal up."
Tintin was terrified. Not of the fracture, oh no.
He was to wear this torturous contraption for-
"How long," Tintin managed, he thought, rather calmly, "do I need to wear this brace for?"
"Oh," he could tell his friend was stalling, which didn't bode well. "Oh, well, the doc says you should be right without it after…two weeks or so."
"What?" Tintin exploded, already loathing the many imminent days ahead where he would stare at the ceiling, unable to move or look around. "Two wee- oh my god I'm going to go insane or die of boredom. Apologies in advance."
Tintin didn't know if he ought to be annoyed or not when his friend chuckled, and then guffawed loudly before he was grinning down at him.
"That was awfully melodramatic, lad," he chuckled again at the half-hearted glare Tintin shot him. "The good news is they've given you the all clear for us to fly home tomorrow, so long as we check in with your local doc when we arrive and every week."
"And, the bad news is you are to be on full rest 'n' recuperation for at least a month, and I won't take no for an answer."
Tintin frowned. "Pardon?"
"You'll stay at Marlinspike," his friend added with a small smile, "with me."
Well, Tintin thought, his mood greatly improved. Well.
That was hardly bad news.
Tintin stared at his reflection in the ornate bathroom mirror as he brushed his teeth slowly. He was still only allowed up and about to visit the facilities and to eat, and so dragged the brief reprieve out for as long as possible without raising his friend's concern.
He rinsed his mouth out with some difficulty, unable to bend down to the sink properly, and grimaced as he felt a trickle of water escape down his chin to soak the collar of his nightshirt.
He was almost a week in to the discomfort of wearing the damned neck brace, and Tintin thought it couldn't get any worse when he discovered he wanted to sleep on his stomach, which wasn't possible with the brace and made settling in for the night decidedly the most uncomfortable task he had the memory of ever suffering.
Yes, he had thought it couldn't get any worse.
Until, that is, Tintin discovered there was a patch of his neck he couldn't quite reach where the brace chafed against his skin and it itched.
Great snakes how it itched.
He had tried fitting his fingers between the brace and his skin, a pencil, a fork, the fire poker for god's sake, but it was impossible.
He was fairly certain it was slowly driving him round the bend.
Tintin gazed at his uncomfortable expression, meeting his own eyes in the mirror under a pained frown, trying to take his mind off his irritation.
His companion had said he had 'looks', but Tintin stared at his face critically in a way he wondered if he ever had before.
His hair – a shade of red-blond-orange Tintin was sure wasn't particularly common but as well not particularly sought after – was close cropped, and stuck up at the front in a way that he knew he would never be able to fix.
At least his eyebrows matched in colour.
He decided his face was too round, his creamy skin too freckly and prone to flush and burn, his nose too small, his mouth inexpressive and his chin too pointy.
Tintin leaned forward as much as he dared, palms against the edge of the sink to keep his balance, inspecting his reflection closely.
It was his eyes that stood out, he noticed.
Not-quite-blue and not-quite-green. Piercing, clear and bright. A window to everything he was thinking and feeling, if one knew how to read him.
He jumped, caught, when his friend's sudden call startled him.
"You alright in there, Tintin?"
"I'm fine. I'll be out in a moment."
"I'll ask Nestor to ready your bed, lad."
"Thank you," Tintin called back, listening with a smile at his friend's retreating footsteps.
He couldn't deny he was being well looked after.
Spoilt really, he admitted to himself. There was no way he could repay his friend and butler for their kindness, patience and hospitality. He knew he hadn't been easy company over the past few days.
Tintin glanced at his reflection one last time, poking his tongue at himself cheekily in a rare impulsive fit of childishness, before manoeuvring carefully out of the bathroom toward his own room.
Nestor had prepared a guest room for him on the first floor, which Tintin was thankful for as he doubted he could've managed the staircase each morning and night.
It looked like a study, really, with the full to bursting bookshelf that stretched across one wall of the room and a polished desk nestled under the window.
It was utterly delightful and homey with the glow of a lamp on the bedside table, and Tintin thought not for the first time how wonderful it would be to stay on at Marlinspike Hall permanently.
His host was waiting for him by the guest room entry, and straightened with a smile when Tintin appeared before him.
"Do you need anything else a'fore you turn in for the night, lad?" he asked, his eyes cataloguing Tintin in a way that made him feel his friend would notice if even a hair was out of place.
Tintin's head was rushed with thoughts that reminded him how he was, unsurprisingly, a hot-blooded young man, and he shook them away. Do I need anything else-
"No. No, thank you. I'm fi-"
He interrupted himself with a sharp breath as his friend leaned in to his personal space and sniffed suspiciously.
Tintin was petrified for a moment, irrationally concerned that his thoughts were somehow written across his forehead, or that his want could be sensed in the air, surrounding him with unmistakable truth.
But the other man merely narrowed his eyes and plucked at Tintin's sleeve. "You've changed but you haven't bathed."
Tintin wasn't quite sure what to say that wasn't some sort of lie.
"You haven't bathed since you've been here, have you, Tintin."
"I know. I'm so sorry! I must smell awful," he realised, feeling the embarrassed heat rise in his face. "It's just-"
The brace made everything difficult. Toileting was even a challenge when he couldn't see what he was doing, and he was more glad than he could say that his friend hadn't offered any assistance in that regard.
Tintin had made a marked effort, though, in keeping up his personal hygiene but he discovered he could do nothing more than sponge bathe, and that was an horrific ordeal in the chilly confines of Marlinspike's ground floor bathroom.
He had managed only his underarms on the very first night but couldn't bear to put his body through much more when his head throbbed with the cold, and prolonged standing and sitting made him dizzy.
Tintin loathed to burden his host for even more after his friend had done so much for him, and so he had…turned a blind eye to washing.
He hadn't really considered what would happen. Or, he felt his ears warm, that he would be none too pleasant on the nose to others.
"Oh," he whispered, knowing his cheeks were doing their darnedest best to match his hair. "This is humiliating."
His friend offered a soft chuckle. "You don't smell too bad, lad. Just…well…not too good neither, eh."
Tintin responded with a small self-depreciating laugh that twisted in to a sob he hoped the other man didn't notice. He hated this neck brace.
"Ah, look," his friend said awkwardly. "There's a bath in the main en suite upstairs. I can…"
Tintin chanced a glance at the man and was snared in that intense blue gaze.
"I can help you…if you want."
Tintin perched on the edge of the bath as his friend ran the water, more weary than he expected after their walk up the stairs.
It hadn't escaped his notice, nor his body's, that he was in prime position to perhaps urge along his relationship with the other man, but Tintin sighed.
He hadn't bet on his conscience dredging up his friend's desperate words…I promise I will tell you everything if you can just remember me.
To be perfectly honest, Tintin was sure his amnesia ought to have faded away by now. He remembered many things, of course – a rush of memories resurfaced after he was greeted with an overjoyed "whoa whoa" when they returned to Marlinspike days ago, and an excited blur of white was a tangle of limbs and licks in his arms.
Snowy had never strayed far from his side since Tintin had picked him up as a bedraggled and abandoned puppy years ago, and he wasn't quite able to stopper the emotions that surged up at the thought that he had forgotten his loyal dog.
Snowy, at least, didn't seem to harbour any ill feelings and quite happily lapped up Tintin's many soft words and infinite affection, as well realising somehow that he needed to treat his master gently for a while.
He knew even now that his dog was curled up on the end of his bed asleep and would rearrange himself around Tintin when he climbed in to the sheets later.
Tintin was fast distracted from his thoughts when his friend tipped something in to the running water and its delightful fragrance permeated the steamy air.
He couldn't hold in his laugh. "Is that…bubble bath?"
The other man grinned shamelessly, slanting the open bottle toward Tintin. "Aye! Found it in your get well soon gift basket from the Thom(p)sons. The label says-" he squinted at it "-Raspberry Mint. Bit weird of a combination, but smells grand, don'tcha think, lad?"
Tintin agreed, thrilled at the thought of slipping in to the warm scented water, already imagining how his body's niggling aches and grime would just melt away.
His friend turned the taps off and was busy fluffing up the water – building the bubbles, Tintin knew, despite it being several years and more since he'd treated himself to such a luxury.
Tintin wondered as well if the froth was added more for a layer of privacy than for enjoyment, as his companion had proved even more thoughtful than he could have asked for over the course of his enforced recuperation.
It made his heart jerk in his chest yet again.
How had he never expressed how he felt to his friend? Why would he let something so special slip away through his fingers by doing nothing?
Tintin didn't know, and didn't think he was quite as wonderful as the other man seemed to believe.
"Alright, lad," his friend straightened, flashing a self-satisfied smile at his work. "All ready?"
"Ah," said Tintin, and he was concerned that he had recently developed the habit of forgetting Quite Important Things.
Now for instance, he needed to get undressed.
A challenging and time-consuming task with the torturous brace, to be sure, but made all the more awkward with the presence of someone else.
"Could you…" Tintin hesitated, already feeling the heat of embarrassment crawl along his skin. "Please, could you turn around while I undress?"
"O-of course!" his host all but shouted, spinning on his heel immediately to afford privacy. "A billion blue blisterin' barnacles what do ya take me for, lad, some kind of…"
Tintin smiled to himself as his friend's grumbling trailed off, unbuttoning his nightshirt with blind fingers and shrugging to slip the material off his shoulders and to the floor, not bothered as to where it landed.
His shirt was the easy part.
He thought for a moment on how to proceed with his bottoms.
Supporting his weight on the edge of the bath awkwardly with one hand, Tintin slid his pyjama pants and underwear down his hips with his other and a bit of shimmying that he was enormously glad no one could see.
He had never felt so accomplished after undressing before, but now Tintin straightened and awarded himself a pleased smile through the mirror, and locked eyes with his friend's reflection.
Oh, Tintin thought faintly, there's a floor to ceiling mirror there. Fancy missing that.
To be fair, he had been achingly weary from the journey up the staircase, and didn't pay much attention before sitting down to push back the dizziness.
Still, quite the oversight for a reporter and circumstantial investigator, he added vaguely, gaze never leaving his friend's face.
Tintin thought he ought to feel embarrassed but the look on his companion's face sent a different sort of heat prickling up his spine. He watched as the other man's eyes travelled down and then back up, slowly, as if he were drinking in the sight, snagging on particular areas of Tintin's body.
Tintin recalled his earlier evaluation of his appearance with vicious clarity and immediately scrapped it. What he thought of his body and face was worth nothing compared to the way he was being looked at now. Was worth naught compared to how those intense blue eyes caressed and heated his skin as though he were the most beautiful person to exist.
Tintin found confidence where he didn't realise he had previously lacked and, rather than drag the moment in to something uncomfortable, he turned with care and stepped in to the bath, closing his eyes with a sigh as he relished the simple pleasure of the soothing water.
He lowered himself in to the warmth completely, pointedly not thinking about the angle of his body he was displaying to his friend lest he lose his grip on the edges of the bath.
It was divine.
Granted the brace didn't allow him to completely relax but the feeling, the scented water, the immersing heat all made up for it. He stretched his toes and melted against the tub, the torturous contraption making itself useful for once by hooking on the bath's lip to keep his head above water without effort.
"You'll get your neck brace wet resting like that."
Tintin didn't open his eyes at the voice just above him.
That teasing gruff voice that he knew so well.
He smiled. "Then maybe you should watch over me carefully so it doesn't get soaked, Captain."
There were hands on his face then, cupping his cheeks a shade too tightly, and he blinked to stare up in to wide blue eyes, surprised.
"What did you call me? What did you say, lad?"
Oh, Tintin thought as all the puzzle pieces shifted from an unidentifiable chaotic mess in to a neat, beautiful picture. Oh.
"Captain," he breathed.
Tintin gasped out a shocked laugh as the water sloshed around madly, bubbles escaping over the edge of the bath.
"Your clothes, Captain," he tried, but his friend – his lover – only pressed himself in to Tintin's arms further.
"I really, really don't care about my clothes right now, lad," he drew back slightly from their impromptu soaked embrace, his hands still on Tintin's face, and seemed entirely content to just look.
The Captain's weight, his knees locked against Tintin's hips, was barely anything in the water and Tintin couldn't believe he was greedy enough to want more. Felt he could never get enough and, rather than be stared at, he pulled the Captain closer for a proper taste.
Tintin opened his mouth against the Captain's and forgot how to breathe, didn't care to when he was wrapped up in the flavour of the other man. He tasted faintly of tobacco and of heady adventure and of something else that Tintin couldn't quite name, and he snuck his tongue in further with a quiet moan to reach it.
It was something that was purely the Captain and it was delicious.
He gripped strong shoulders and tasted and tasted until he needed air.
The Captain sucked in Tintin's bottom lip with a hint of teeth as he pulled away, breathing rough and heavy, his hands travelling down to grip hips.
"Oxygen," he murmured against Tintin's jaw with the ghost of a smile, access barred to his neck, "is not a precious commodity, lad…you don't need to preserve it."
Highly irritated that he couldn't slant his neck to move or bare in invitation, he settled for running his fingers over the Captain's drenched sweater until it had ridden up and he could finally touch warm skin.
"How could I possibly concern myself with air when I must explore every inch of you," Tintin let his fingers creep up along a hardened chest and smoothed his palms over as much skin as he could reach, delighting in the moan he elicited.
"Not before I fulfil my promise first."
Tintin only caught a glimpse of sparkling blue eyes as warning before two strong hands hoisted his hips up and out of the water, bringing him down to rest on the Captain's knees.
His own hands had shot out to grip the lip of the tub to steady himself and he shivered at the cool air against his hot skin, wide-eyed, as he stared at the other man.
"Do you know what a sight you make, lad?" the Captain smiled, teasing, as he trailed his fingers back and forth along Tintin's sides. "Won't you allow me this, if for a wee moment?"
Tintin had some idea as to how he must've looked. Almost his entire body was on display above the frothy water, his heated arousal refusing to be ignored as it jutted up proudly before the Captain, his legs all askew over his lover's forearms and the edge of the tub, rivulets of scented water still streaming across his stomach, his freckled skin flushed.
Apparently he made a pleasing sight, if the Captain's expression and wandering hands were anything to go by, but Tintin didn't care how he looked. He just wanted this man.
"Like what you see?" he offered cheekily, a jolt sparking through his body as those stormy blue eyes flashed.
"Love what I see," the Captain leaned forward, tantalisingly close, and Tintin couldn't help but gasp at the hot breath that ghosted over his sensitive throbbing flesh. "But, I do believe you were reminding me how much you remember me?"
"Yes," Tintin breathed, drawing out the sound longer than he meant to when his lover bent his head and placed a kiss on his hipbone, fingers grazing up his stomach to his chest.
"I'm all ears, lovely," Tintin felt the Captain smile against his skin, his thumbs flicking over his nipples before glancing down to frame his aching arousal, not quite touching.
Great snakes, Tintin wondered, he was supposed to think under the circumstances..?
"Captain Archibald Haddock," he began desperately, his stomach muscles trembling at the scratch of his lover's beard dragging across his skin toward where he ached for attention. "Retired captain of the Karaboudjan, president of the Society of Sober Sailors, author of 192 Scientific Insults for Seaworthy Landlubbers, last of the Haddocks, loves Loch Lomond whiskey, hates opera, noble and brave, heroic and good to a fault-haaaaaah!"
Tintin clutched the sides of the bath with white knuckles, bowing his back almost uncomfortably to see the Captain's lips engulf him in deep, wet heat.
"You're one to be flinging around accusations like that, lad," he raised his mouth for only the time it took to speak, his accent heavier and breaking Tintin's skin out in tingling goosebumps.
He could sense his body wanting to arch in to that amazing mouth for more contact, more delicious friction, but he couldn't bear to deny himself the visual stimulation – his ability to see the details, not just feeling what the Captain meant by telling him everything but watching it too.
The burning fingers that touched everywhere and set his blood on fire in their wake, telling Tintin that he belonged to him and that wouldn't change. Mine.
That warm mouth and tongue and lips that caressed, and teeth and beard that scraped, showing him the fuss and bluster that hid the gentleness and that wouldn't change.
Those blue eyes that were like the sea, stormy sometimes calm the next, but always keeping watch and making sure he was fine and there and that wouldn't change.
Tintin moaned, closing his eyes for a moment, wanting to reach out and hold and touch and feel even more but he couldn't and that was pure torment.
But he could occasionally display cunning to get what he wanted, and so threw down his winning card.
"Do you," he managed between fast and noisy pants for more air, "remember Tibet?"
The Captain took Tintin in deeper for a long moment, fluttering him on the edge of peaking pleasure, too breathless to make any noise, before squeezing his hips and halting his attentions completely.
"Doubt I'll ever forget that, Tintin," he answered quietly, his voice a jumble of emotions at the memories.
Tintin caught his breath at the break, not taking his eyes away from his lover's.
"I'll never let you go, Captain Archibald Haddock, so there's no point in asking me that ever again."
The Captain stared at him before strong hands were pulling Tintin to sit up carefully, chest to chest.
"We'll have to agree to disagree on this particular point, lovely," his lips grazed along Tintin's jawline as an arm wrapped around his waist securely, his other hand sliding slowly down Tintin's stomach to dip below his navel, "because there is no way I wouldn't use everything I have to make sure you are safe."
Tintin choked on his next breath, both at the firm fingers stroking him and the knowledge that it was as he feared. Why he had never acted on what he felt for the Captain.
Not that it could ever have made a difference because even if what was between them was never voiced, the Captain would still step in front of a bullet for him.
Would still follow him as he barrelled headlong in to danger and adventure.
Would still cut the rope to save him.
Would still love him.
Tintin's arms tightened around the Captain's still clothed shoulders and he rested his chin on that mess of dark hair, missing the delicious wet heat but savouring the closeness and the drag of that hand against his skin.
On every breath and moan he whispered the Captain's name and variations of it to make up for the days that he had forgotten. And was rewarded in kind with lips on him where ever they could reach and Tintin only realised later that he didn't once think about that patch on his neck that itched.
But then he moaned long and loud when the Captain moved his talented hand in a different way, just so, and Tintin's body tensed like a coiled spring and god, how he wished at that moment more than any other time that he could throw his head back just to somehow ease the building pressure.
But then it was too late to worry about such trivial things, especially when the Captain was breathing his name against his skin as he lost control of his body to blissful pleasure, his lover's name spilling from his lips over and over again as his hips jerked to a chaotic rhythm of their own design.
When Tintin's heart was no longer slamming against his ribcage he chuckled quietly, easing the tight hold around his lover's shoulders.
"That was rather counterproductive to the purpose of a bath."
The Captain laughed, a damp burst of breath against Tintin's collarbone. "The water's fine, lad…it's my clothes that didn't fare so well."
Tintin felt that blasted heat rush to his face, even as the Captain eased him back slightly to drag his sweater off and drop it with a loud slop over the edge of the bath.
He pulled Tintin close once more, settling their bodies so they lay chest to chest comfortably and Tintin could hear his smile.
"But that just means we can stay like this longer."
Tintin jumped from the car as soon as the Captain pulled up outside Marlinspike Hall, looking every which way because he could.
He looked down at the posies lining the path to the front door and the butterfly that floated past his nose and Snowy darting off behind a bush and a lizard retreating under a rock and the sun glinting off the bird bath and great snakes, how did he survive two weeks of not being able to just look around?
Tintin glanced over his shoulder at the Captain's hearty laugh, unconcerned and smiling himself, knowing he must paint the picture of a hyperactive puppy, chasing every detail that captured his attention.
"Laugh all you want, Captain," his smile didn't waver; couldn't. "Having that brace removed is bliss. Pure, irrevocable bliss."
"Oh aye, I don't doubt it," the man replied as they made their way up the welcoming pebbled path. "I honestly don't know how you managed to not go stir crazy, laddie. But mind you take care…the good doc said you still need to take it easy for a few weeks."
"Of course," Tintin hid his smile and slipped his elbow in to the crook of the Captain's, completely content.
He had realised days ago why he hadn't gone stir crazy, as the Captain said.
In the beginning it had been the other man reading stories and playing his records in the background as he told Tintin of his earlier days on the Karaboudjan.
That had been nice, admittedly, but it was the days that followed his reawakened memory that truly kept Tintin sane.
They didn't share a bath every night but there were cherished touches, fond embraces and snatched kisses as Tintin craved to have more and yet make up for their lost time.
He had tried telling the Captain how long he had loved him and why he hadn't told him, but the words never came.
Were always swallowed by a kiss or a hushed whisper of affection, or Tintin's own inability to express something indescribable with mere words.
"Welcome back, Master Haddock, Master Tintin."
Tintin looked up at Nestor's almost smile and bowed with exaggerated propriety, the twinkle in the older man's eyes always worth the effort of his rather immature disdain for stuffy manners.
"You look well, Master Tintin," Nestor added, taking the Captain's coat despite his protests of being 'ruddy well able to do that meself, old boy'.
Tintin stifled his laugh with a cough, handing his own coat to the butler with no fuss as well as a heartfelt thank you for all that the man had done for him.
"No trouble at all, sir," Nestor assured as he shut the door behind them and ushered them toward the living room. "Make yourselves comfortable. I will call you for dinner at seven."
Even after the butler had strode away unhurriedly and yet with clear purpose, the Captain stared after him with a frown.
"Always feel awkward about that old boy organising my meals and the mansion. It's not that I don't appreciate everything he does…he just needs to take more holidays."
Tintin steered them toward the sofa facing the comfortable fire roaring away pleasantly. "Maybe we should do something for him…an overseas trip perhaps? He hails from England, doesn't he?"
The Captain nodded emphatically as they sat, arms still linked. "A great idea! I'll organise it first thing tomorrow."
Tintin relaxed, rubbing at his finally bare neck without thought, though tensed in heady anticipation when his lover shifted closer, removing his hand gently.
"Did you think I didn't notice when you were trying to shove your fork down your brace, lad?" the Captain brushed a hand along Tintin's hairline, behind his ear and down his neck. "Thought you must've cracked for sure when I saw you with the poker though."
Tintin didn't dare speak when fingers were not quite ghosting over that damn patch of skin that had very nearly drove him insane under the brace.
The Captain was leaning close now, but bypassed his mouth, cheek and ear to breathe against Tintin's neck.
"It's a sailor's secret, Tintin," he murmured, sending spikes of heat along Tintin's bare skin, "that when you have no antiseptic, you need to use more natural remedies."
"There's medical alcohol in the bathroom cabinet," Tintin couldn't help but reply sensibly.
"I suppose we could use that," he drew away slightly, teasingly, before Tintin's hands rearranged themselves without explicit permission.
"Captain," he said quietly, his hands not letting his lover move away. "I swear to god, I will be regrettably tired tonight if you continue this torment."
He smiled at the huff of laugh he received before the Captain's mouth was on him, on that spot of his neck that had been so irritatingly unreachable before now.
Tintin's mouth fell open and his eyes slid closed and he knew he must look ridiculous, but he certainly didn't care when his lover's tongue swirled over his neck like that to ease the residual itch.
He heard his breath quicken noticeably, constantly surprised at the sounds that could be pulled from his mouth but delighting in the effect they always had on the Captain.
He arched his neck to the side, forgetting to take joy in the mere movement as the other man wasted little time in accepting his invitation, mouthing along Tintin's heating skin to an unexpectedly sensitive spot below his ear.
"Captain," Tintin moaned long and low, his hands pulling the other man closer still. "Stay by my side."
"Good luck ever trying to get me to move, lovely."
The burst of air against his damp skin sent a shiver up Tintin's spine.
"I mean it, Archie," his mouth tumbled around the nickname clumsily but it was barely noticeable under his earnest affection. "I need you always."
It was the closest Tintin could get to the words that seemed to stick in his throat and he hated that he couldn't voice everything he wanted to say, everything his lover deserved to hear.
It was too fragile and valuable to free in to the open, but the Captain seemed to understand.
"Then stay…at Marlinspike."
"With me," the Captain seemed to hesitate. "If you'll have this salty old sea dog."
Tintin still had his eyes closed and he was pressed between the sofa and the man he had been through thick and thin with. The man who had seen the worst and best of him. Had seen him fall and rise with determination. Had seen him shout and cry.
Had helped him back to his feet more times than he could count.
"I'll never stop looking for adventure," he said softly, twisting his hands in that blue anchor sweater. "And inadvertently stumbling in to trouble instead."
"That's okay, lad…you've rather given me a taste for it meself."
Tintin squeezed his eyes shut tighter, pushing back the burn of tears he couldn't explain.
"Can we share the paper over a cup of tea in the mornings?" he whispered.
The Captain laughed, pulling Tintin in to his arms, his blue eyes dancing as they looked at each other.
"I could think of nothing that I'd love to do more when I wake up, laddie."