"Another glass?" Laurence asks automatically. Tharkay looks at him inquiringly for a long moment before he sees Laurence realize the bottle of port he is offering is empty. Laurence had consumed substantially more than Tharkay at Captain Granby's subdued celebration earlier in the evening, being closer to the center of attention, while Tharkay had made his escape early. It wasn't truly his celebration; the looming tragedy restraining their cheers not his tragedy. "—Ah; I can have another brought."
"I doubt it would lower anyone's opinion of me to be slumped in the back of the carriage tomorrow, but still better not, I think," Tharkay says, setting his empty glass down beside their discarded settings from supper. Laurence's mouth turns into a slow frown. "Well, perhaps I'd lower your opinion of me. Even more reason to opt for moderation."
Laurence looks briefly surprised, but after a moment collects himself to a decent approximation of his usual manner. "I'm far from the only one who respects you and the work you've done; we'd all be fools otherwise. And I could hardly let a bit of overindulgence stain that impression when I'm the one who plied you with the drink."
Tharkay smiles warmly, against his better judgment. "Nevertheless," he says, after a moment, and Laurence sets the empty bottle aside. It occurs to Tharkay then, belatedly, that it has grown quite late, and if they've finished their bottle he has no call to remain in Laurence's room much longer. Indeed, it would have been polite to excuse himself long ago; Laurence looks worn, tired, his obviously borrowed dressing gown falling loose. But Tharkay still hasn't yet felt that his presence is unwelcome, and he is strangely reluctant to leave.
Laurence rises from the table carefully. Tharkay finds himself opening his mouth to speak, although even with his face warm from liquor, it's difficult to make the words pass his lips. Laurence has offered him far more respect than he is accustomed to, that much is true, and not solely as a result of his steady manners, but even his regard is surely not unconditional; if Tharkay pushes this further, it might be lost entirely. A loss of respect shouldn't be so much to handle for someone not accustomed to gaining much in the first place, but Tharkay finds himself dreading the possibility more than he likes to admit.
Still, he has the promise of an easy escape come his departure in the morning, and he won't likely have a better opportunity. "Perhaps I could beg a different indulgence from you?"
"Of course." The answer comes easily, only slightly curious, and Tharkay curses Laurence silently. The man seems sometimes an impossible enigma, alternately insightful and obtuse.
He closes the short space between them slowly, each step too hard to take, bringing him closer to making his meaning inescapably clear. He's a bare handful of feet away before he can see comprehension begin to dawn on Laurence's face. He reaches out, breaches the last barrier of distance to let his fingers rest lightly where the dressing gown falls away from Laurence's chest. Laurence's skin is pale under his dark hand, pale enough that he can see the flush rising as Laurence's jaw opens and tries to work, no sound coming out.
"Have I lowered your opinion of me yet?" Tharkay asks, dryly, not really expecting a response. "I could certainly lower myself further," he adds, his mouth twisting into a smile he doesn't quite understand but can't quite suppress as he drops down to his knees. "If you like."
Tharkay doesn't move further from there, his intent obvious to even Laurence, he's sure. There's a long silence, of the sort he's beginning to become accustomed to, as he waits for a response.
Finally, Laurence asks simply, "Why? If there anything about our acquaintance that would have implied to you that I—" he breaks off again, looking slightly desperate, as if Tharkay should be able to divine what he's trying to say without him having to form the words. Tharkay waits pointedly, eyebrows raised, for him to continue. "Tharkay. You are no longer strictly under my employ, and in any case were employed for services," he stumbles through the word, "of a decidedly intellectual quality, that no one else could possibly provide. Your skills are consistently far beyond any status you are willing to claim. I am honored to count you as a friend."
Tharkay has to make an effort to keep his expression calm and indifferent. "I'm pleased to hear that all, but I fail to see what immediate bearing it has on the current situation. Certainly, it's hardly a positive or negative response to my offer."
Laurence flusters further. "Good god, man, you don't need to debase yourself such to me."
"What if I like to? Think me perverse if you like," Tharkay adds, as disbelief crosses Laurence's face, "but I certainly don't offer because I believed you had any demand for it. On the contrary, I can only hope you do not both send me packing into the night and smear my name to the Admirality to ensure the difficulty of my return to England. Or, I suppose, simply have me hung."
Laurence's openly horrified expression says that he hadn't even considered that option. "I would never. After everything, I would hope you could believe my loyalty is not so fickle."
"Some would count such an approach as worthy of a change of heart," Tharkay says, amused. "Well, then?"
Laurence is quiet for a while again, perhaps this time truly considering what Tharkay has offered him instead of simply wondering at its source. "If it's what you would like," he says finally, slowly, as if he's measuring out his words one by one, "I certainly have no reason to refuse."
The relief that rushes through Tharkay is likely stronger than any he has ever felt. Fortunately, Laurence continues, and spares him the trouble of trying to respond gracefully. "But I'm ashamed to admit I'm not certain I can keep myself upright for much longer, so perhaps—" and he steps away, towards the bed pushed against the far wall.
"Certainly I'm not likely to complain of a counter offer not only better than expected, but better than I could have hoped," Tharkay responds, self-mocking, and rises to follow.
The cot is narrow, not meant for more than one person to recline on, and after some awkward arranging Laurence ends up sitting while Tharkay positions himself between his legs. The blush has not left Laurence's face since their conversation began, but he at least is not so hesitant now.
The knot of Laurence's dressing gown comes undone easily under his fingers. Laurence's accustomed prudishness means that even in their travels together Tharkay has rarely seen him bare, and certainly not so close or with such liberty to look; Laurence watches him looking, and the flush begins to creep down his chest again. "You truly—" he starts, and again breaks off without saying whatever it is that he means. He appears to have no desire to continue, either, and Tharkay saves him from the obligation eventually by taking him in hand.
Despite the unfamiliar nerves that still keep Tharkay's body tense, Laurence doesn't make any moves to complain, and it doesn't take much attention until he firms. Tharkay breathes deeply, the scent of Laurence's skin faint but present, and he manages to relax somewhat, although his unease is still not completely banished, and he finds himself inquiring again, absurd as it seems when they've come this far. "I know it's entirely counter to your nature to speak candidly about such things," he says, not quite able to keep the wry tone from his voice, "and I do appreciate your trust, but I'd rather know your thoughts, rather than acting entirely of my own accord." He looks up at Laurence's face once again.
"I—" Laurence begins, his voice queer, then takes a deep breath himself. "I will not deny that this is outside of my personal experience thus far; I haven't made a particular habit of, ah, consorting with others in such a manner. But please, be assured, I am certainly not doing this out of duress, or any sense of obligation; if I find anything to object to, I will mention it, and even if that turns out to be the case, know that I will not take it as a reflection upon your honor or competence."
Tharkay smiles despite himself. Exactly what manner of consorting Laurence is referring to would be entirely too much for him to manage to articulate, even if asked, he's sure. But it's a strong reassurance, nevertheless; although not as strong as the involuntary noise he makes when Tharkay bends down to take him in his mouth.
The pressure at the back of his throat makes a thrill go through Tharkay's body, settling in his own groin, and when he shifts his hand to press further down, the sounds Laurence makes are echoed deep in his own throat. He finds his free hand reaching to his own trousers to relieve some of the pressure, and cannot quite manage to feel ashamed at the move, even when he strokes himself in time.
It is at once too much and too little, the motions familiar and the pleasure easy. Laurence certainly doesn't complain, even after his stirring speech. He's a gratifying partner, keeping mostly quiet, no doubt in consideration of the other officers beyond the walls, but not entirely, gasps or moans escaping him as he clutches at Tharkay's clothed shoulders. Tharkay finds himself reaching his own limit far quicker than he would have imagined, even with the awkward angle of his hand. Laurence's stamina isn't much better, despite the apparently unusual situation for him, and Tharkay feels the welcome taste of bitter salt on his tongue too soon, even as his jaw is beginning to ache.
Tharkay coughs slightly and shifts away, his position uncomfortable to maintain for so long, and cannot help a smile at the flash of incredulity and the flush that crosses Laurence's face when he sees the state of Tharkay's trousers. He sits shoulder to shoulder with Laurence for a moment as they both catch their breath, and is bizarrely comforted by the fact that Laurence allows it.
"And now I must truly take my leave," Tharkay says after a few long minutes, rising and arranging himself. "We both have quite a lot to see to in the morning."
"That we do," Laurence says, abruptly somber even with his face still in high color. "I shall look forward to your safe return, and hope it sees us in a better state than when you left."
"Indeed," Tharkay responds evenly, and makes for the door.
"Tharkay," Laurence says, rising from the bed before he can reach the knob, prompting him to turn around again. Laurence just considers him for a long moment. "I am sorry to lose you," he says simply.
Tharkay is somehow the one without voice this time, and manages only a brief nod before making his escape.