Daniel was absolutely giggling. Archie couldn’t even look at him, but that meant he had to look at his uncle. Sir Maurice liked to sit behind his desk and have the two of them stand, which did nothing to diminish the feeling that he’d been called into the headmaster's office to be taken to task.
“Da Silva,” Sir Maurice said, but to little avail. Daniel had apparently decided that the only way to have any traction with Sir Maurice was to have no fear at all, which seemed to Archie as tenuous as men who put their hands in the mouths of lions. But then what else should he expect from Daniel.
Daniel laughed, coughed, made a murmur that might have been apologetic and then said, “It’s just, well, I am a man who enjoys a little irony in his life. Yes, sir, I believe I can probably find it within myself to go to the queerer end of Paris and reconnoitre.” Archie glanced sideways at him, which was a terrible mistake because of course Daniel noted the glance, drew himself up to his Pose of Noble Suffering and said, “I shall struggle through. I shall put on the garb, which I will find from some other place than my own wardrobe, I shall -”
“- take Curtis, that is what you shall do.”
Daniel stopped with a shocked cough hiccough. “I... shall?” He gave Archie a tremendously obvious once over. He would do that sometimes, playing it up, hiding a truth in a dazzling layer of melodrama, flirting outrageously with Archie and laughing at his blushes. And Archie, mortifyingly, still blushed every time Daniel complimented his strength or his face or his attire that day, no matter what manner of thing they had been doing the night before or would do that day.
He said, “I rather think, well, all the men we think are involved have been a very certain type, I don’t think I’ll be particularly inconspicuous there, sir.”
Sir Maurice waved his hand. “Call yourself his bodyguard, his patron, I don’t much care, just make it work.” He gave Archie a very even look. “I’m told there are all kinds of poets, my boy.”
A month later Archie stood on the deck of the boat and watched the line of cliffs get swallowed by the maw where sea met sky.
“There’s no need to be quite so gloomy,” Daniel said from his leeward position behind Archie. “Honestly. You look like you’re fleeing to the Continent after a scandal and will never again know the sweet embrace of Britannia.”
“Perhaps that should be my cover story,” Archie said, not turning to him. “And I hardly think you can accuse me of melodrama when you used the phrase ‘sweet embrace of Britannia’ for no reason at all.”
Daniel moved a little closer, so that he was almost tucked into Archie’s side. “The art of discourse needs no reason,” he said. “Although I do prefer a more receptive audience.” There was a very telling pause in which neither of them said anything about how receptive either of them could be.
Archie knew full well Daniel’s reasons for talking like that. He did it when he was nervous, and when Archie was worried. The two had a deal of overlap. He did it because that was what comforted Daniel’s unfathomable brain, but it was also to make Archie smile. That was why Archie couldn’t turn to him, then there really would be a scandal.
“And we’re going to Paris,” Daniel said with a sigh. “Paris. Even you can’t fail to be moved by that, my most Anglo Saxon.”
Archie turned, leant back on the rail of the boat and took in Daniel, brushing his hair out of his dark, laughing eyes.. Something mysterious thing still moved through Archie every time he could make his - well, as much as, well, - Daniel light up like this. There was another feeling in his chest, also not unfamiliar for the season, an awful need for action whenever Daniel looked like he might be cold, as he did now. This was what came of refusing woolen scarves. There was no warmth in silk. “I have been to Paris before you know, my continental.”
Daniel tilted his head at the endearment. “Have you really,” he said. There was something strangely abortive about Daniel talking with his hands in his pockets, like a word was missing from every sentence, a dropped punctuation mark. He still managed to be the only thing worth paying any attention to. “And how did you find it?” Daniel asked.
“Very French,” Archie said, with feeling.
Daniel sighed in a terribly long suffering manner, but his mouth twitched in a way that Archie had come to consider his own, and also something of a triumph each and every time. “It does persist in that,” he said, amusement around the edges like gilt on an invitation.
Archie said, “I went with some university chums so I rather suspect it will be a very different trip this time.” He fiddled with a coat button.
Daniel made another not-gesture. “Don’t fret so,” he said.
“I am not built for undercover work, as you have pointed out on numerous occasions.”
Daniel laughed, said, “Ah, yes, this incredibly difficult case where we must pretend that I am a poet with a wish to see Paris and you are my wealthy lover. However will you manage that.”
That had been an... interesting meeting with Sir Maurice, an even more raucous one with their colleagues, and finally what had almost amounted to an argument with each other. Daniel had finally said, “All right, we shan’t say that we are lovers, but it will heavily implied. Mostly by me.” Archie had relented for the look on his face.
Archie sighed again, the strange kernel of unease in his chest refusing to shift, but he could try. “Maybe I will pretend to be the poet, then, and you can be the rich gentleman so taken with my words you’ve decided to spirit me away to Pa-ree.” He leant hard on the accent. “Just so that you feel you’ve had a challenge.”
Daniel let out another peal of laughter, bending over with the wind whipping his coat and hair around him like they were merry too.
“I feel like I could give that a go, how poetical are you feeling, my dearest?”
Archie stood up a little straighter. “The boy stood on the burning deck,” he declaimed flatly. “Whence all but he had fled-”
Daniel stopped him with a hand on his arm, bent double laughing and with a strangely fond curl to his mouth, and all but them had indeed fled the bite of the cold air off the sea, so Archie gave in and put his arms around his poet. “I do like you,” Daniel sighed. Archie didn’t really know what to say to that, so instead he said, “Convince me I’m going to like Paris.”
"Of course you'll like Paris," Daniel said. "Who doesn't like Paris."
A day later Archie was still unsure about Paris. He knew that he liked their hotel, a small strangely shaped place behind the Gard du Nord with plump mattresses and high windows. He did not much like the way that people jostled, and asked him things, and the way he couldn't work out what people meant. He felt bad about his schoolboy French, but good about watching Daniel speak the language like he'd been born to it, with a soft burr of an accent that everyone he conversed with became - quite rightly - quite enraptured with.
"What about the Tour Eiffel," Daniel asked, when Archie had tried to raise this at the bar they were nominally staking out. Archie did not like this bar at all. It was very loud, and very cosmopolitan, and very, well, whatever the polite word for a bar where people looked at Daniel. Where Daniel could look back. “Everyone has an opinion on it.”
“What’s yours?” Archie asked. There was another man looking at them from across the smoky room and he wasn’t ashamed to say that he was more than prepared to keep Daniel’s attention by whatever means necessary.
Daniel smiled, like maybe he was getting pleasure in the giving. “It’s a stupendously ugly thing, I’ll give its detractors that. But there’s something about the idea of it having been built to be temporary, a thing to be torn down, and now it is the structure that defines the city. I’m rather drawn to that.”
“Of course you are,” Archie said, and that made Daniel smile, move forward and rest his hand on Archie’s knee.
Archie shifted uncomfortably, not away from Daniel but not towards him either. That had been at the root of the disagreement that they’d had quietly in the office and then much more loudly at Archie’s flat, and Archie wasn’t sure that they had quite dug deep enough despite protracted poking.
Daniel frowned. Archie had been too over himself to see at first that he’d got into a fight with a wounded dog, that Daniel had been hurt somehow that Archie was so against them acting as lovers for a case. Voices had already been raised at that point, and Archie was no good at the finer points when his blood was up. But there had been a moment when he’d seen pain scream across Daniel’s face, seen Daniel wipe it clean with a push of anger, and it had sobered him entirely, sent him across the room to take Daniel’s hand and promise, foolish and true, that he would take Daniel’s arm in the street in a heartbeat if he could. That in another world Archie Curtis would happily cause a scandal by opening courting a locksmith’s son, a poet, working class and a wearer of velvet and vulgar apparel. Which had rather put pay to anything except mouths and bodies and a number of bite marks which still made Archie shiver to think of.
So he had stepped back from the fight despite a thousand years of Curtises screaming at him not to but that had left him here, still uncomfortable for reasons he couldn’t articulate.
Daniel hmmed for a second. “This still no good? You can always give that poet thing a shot. Or, perhaps you can be mildly disgraced lordling on the run from his past and I can be the charming expat you run into in a back alley. I offer to act as your tour guide, show the sights, you see where this is going, don’t you? I take you back to my dingy Parisian garret...” He made some extraordinarily suggestive eyebrows.
Archie tried to keep his attention on the room but it was becoming trickier by the minute. He wanted not to have to always be keeping an eye out for anyone who might be starting a clandestine meeting under the cover of smoke and indiscretion. He wanted to be able to just look at Daniel smiling up at him, throw his head back and laugh properly, not caring if that drew attention to them.
He said, “That seems like quite the elaborate fantasy to have come up with off the bat, my dear.” Daniel gave him a very prim look, crossing his legs and sipping his wine. “Oh, I see you don’t know what I could be talking about.”
“Not the faintest, I’ve never had an elaborate fantasy in my life,” Daniel said. Which was, of course, when Archie spotted one of their suspects. They drank watered down wine and kept an eye on things but if anything of interest happened that evening it happened to other people, so Daniel made friends with the man behind the bar and they talked loudly about their return.
The next day Daniel went off to a reading with yet more people who were friends of friends of muses of artistic rivals of friends, or some such. Archie was reprieved of this and spent the morning noting down the arrival and departure times of a certain set of small boats under an old pier.
They met back at a quiet cafe, which was definitely something Archie liked about Paris, and compared notes. A certain young American writer had been going up in the world, and not, Daniel was very sure on this point, on the strength of his work. Archie had asked, and had received a lot of words about the ‘trite end of modernism’ that made sense individually but not the way Daniel put them into sentences. He liked hearing them anyway. There was something about the way Daniel talked about his passions even when Archie couldn’t make head or tail of them that was engaging, charming even, and the damnedest thing about it was that Archie never felt in the slightest bit stupid listening to Daniel talk about things he didn’t understand. It was his very own gift.
“I’ve wrangled us an invitation to a club this evening,” Daniel said and Archie nodded, back on firmer ground. “Our Yankee friend has taken an unusual interest in it, or so the word is. Everyone is quite desperate to know if it’s going to be the new place to be.” He did the voice perfectly, so accurately that Archie could be back at a dinner in London with some likely fellows about town discussing a new club or suchlike. “Is it... Er? Is it a particular kind of club?” he asked. Daniel’s smile curled sharp like a lemon slice. “It’s a club for people like us, yes.”
He was buttering his croissant, a high point in Paris’s favour also, with a casual air, but Archie could tell that this was a test of some kind. It felt, somehow, like Daniel was still holding his breath, still waiting for Archie to disavow him here where there were no laws to force his hand, to make them a secret. Archie couldn’t stand it.
“Not poets, then,” he said. Daniel did not look up from his buttering. “No, dear, inverts,” he said.
“Oh, that’s a relief,” Archie said, waiting for his smile. Daniel did not give one. Archie took some of Paris’s points back away in revenge.
Daniel introduced Archie as his good friend, which apparently meant something very different in French because everyone laughed in a knowing manner. They made their way around various groups, plucking the useful information from a veritable ocean of gossip. Artistic types, Archie thought, and shook his head. It all seemed to confirm their initial suspicion, which probably meant another day of boat watching for the two of them. Archie was momentarily distracted by the thought of how nice that might be, to sit beside the water with Daniel, nothing more to do but talk and take notes. Which meant that he was caught by the group he’d been avoiding for the most part, the one made up of young men who had laughed the most pointedly.
“It’s so nice to have a gentleman in our midst,” said a young man with a mop of curls, putting his hand on Archie’s arm. “Are you terribly fond of the arts in general?”
Archie said, “Um, some of them?” which did not seem to dissuade the young man at all. Archie was very concerned he was going to start telling Archie about his work, which was what always seemed to happen with these chaps, and then Archie was going to have to feign interest in whichever movement the man was attached to and inevitably put his foot in it by declaring that he liked something terribly outre like songs with choruses or paintings that were of recognisable objects.
“He has a somewhat specialised area of interest,” Daniel said, insinuating himself between the two of them, removing the hand on Archie’s arm and replacing it with his own in one smooth movement.
One of the young man’s friends said, “Oh, dull, one of those muse come patron things,” and that seemed to instantly drop a cloud of disinterest over the whole group and they drifted off.
“I don’t know what you did, but thank you,” Archie said, fervently.
Daniel brushed something Archie couldn’t see off his sleeve. “Ah, so you don’t object to my playing at your lover if it allows to escape awkward advances,” he said.
“You’re not playing, and that’s not my objection,” Archie said. He knew he sounded hurt, couldn’t help it, and it made Daniel stop and look at him, just like Archie had stopped and looked at Daniel back in London. Back in the countryside. Like he had suddenly seen things as they were.
Here, now, in a dark club in Paris, with booths cast in shadows and wine that looked like oxblood, Daniel took his hand, and Archie was glad of the contact, as he always was. “Your objection, if I am correct, is to using our relationship - as you insist upon calling it - to facilitate our investigations, yes?”
“I call it that because it is one,” Archie started. “Good god man, you have your own closet in my flat.”
“You weren’t using it!”
“That’s hardly the - oh, blast. I could go on and on, the point is that it seems wrong to me.It’s-” he stopped. “You’ll think it’s foolish.”
“Perhaps, but tell me anyway?” Daniel said, his voice soft like the brush of a kiss in the middle of the night, a quiet, undemanding reassurance.
“It makes me feel sordid,” Archie said, not looking him in the eye. “It takes a thing that is special to me and makes it a tool. To use something I consider very dear just to open a door or stop a fellow looking twice. . I don’t care for that.”
Daniel said, “Dance with me?”
“What?” Archie said.
“I think I’ve been going about this very badly,” Daniel said. “Tried to square a circle by thinking. Or circle my most square viking. Whichever.”
“That’s not an explanation, you know,” Archie said.
All Daniel said to that was, “Just dance with me.”
There were other couples dancing to the low music of the band, who were playing with typical gallic nonchalance. Sometimes there would be a singer, and she would sing of heartbreak, or so her demeanor would suggest, between whiskeys. There were men, and women, and not men or women, holding each other close and swaying. It was the type of music made for that manner of dance, little more than an excuse to press together and pretend there was no one else in the world.
Archie felt like he should be embarrassed by it, but he was not. He couldn’t find a reason to be, apart when he looked for too long at a couple and saw some expression of intimacy he was not meant to, in every sense of an intimacy.
“Who is going to lead?” he asked.
Daniel tried, failed, tried again to hold back a laugh. “It’s not the Palace Ballroom, my dear.” Archie looked at him blankly. “They held tea dances there, my parents would go as a treat. I suppose I ought to have gone with a less common example. Anyway, we’re not going to waltz, no one has to lead and even if we were, this isn’t the venue for those kind of semantics.”
“No, it’s the place we’ve come to in order to ascertain if someone is using it as a staging post for smuggling,” Archie hissed.
He put one hand on Archie’s waist, like Archie had put his on younger shorter boys who were standing in for the young ladies he would eventually partner once school was done and the business of finding a wife began. Except for how he was here instead, drawing another man close and feeling his heart swell with the music.
“There you are, there’s nothing to it,” Daniel said. He laid his head on Archie’s shoulder. “Like I said, I have got this quite wrong. I thought if we acted more, if we had roles to play as some other lovers it would be better, easier for you somehow. But that’s not been the case at all. So now we are just ourselves, dancing because it pleases us to dance.”
It was pleasing to dance like this, nothing complicated in it, hardly any movement, really. It was pleasing to let Daniel guide him, to close his eyes and rest his head against the fall of Daniel’s hair, breathe in the familiar scent of him. “Is this how it would be if we had come to Paris for ourselves,” he asked.
“Very much like this,” Daniel said. “Or so I have imagined it.”
Archie swallowed. “I see.” Daniel clearly heard the emotion caught in his throat, for he moved his head to look up at Archie. “This is not a trick, simply who we are without having to hide. This is who we would be everywhere, and it is just circumstance that we are working somewhere that allows it.”
Archie felt raw with tenderness. “That is a very serious speech from a man who wouldn’t call himself my lover.”
“I’m dancing with you, aren’t I?” Daniel said.
“You’ve imagined us dancing in Paris, and in Paris I imagine us like this in our stockinged feet in my parlour,” Archie said, because one truth always deserved another.
Daniel laughed. “Good, then I have only to worry about all the jealous glances I’ve been receiving, rather than the inviting stares that you have?”
“They have been invitations to you,” Archie blustered. “Why would they be looking to me?” He had seen many people look at Daniel the way that he knew he looked at Daniel sometimes, like there was nothing else worth looking at in the world.
“Because you are beautiful, you ridiculous man,” Daniel said. He was looking up at Archie with withering scorn, the shadows creating his face differently at every turn and Archie knew every one intimately.
“You’re going about things all wrong again,” he said, brushing a lock of hair back from Daniel’s face. “Besides, you know better than any that you are the only man for me.”
“Ah, yes, well, first in and all that,” Daniel said, lips twitching.
Archie was drowned in fondness. There was nothing much else to do tonight but dance, he supposed, and Daniel could lead them quite well, as it turned out. Nothing else to be except themselves. Back at their hotel room Daniel lit candles, a dozen of them, and it felt like a dream, like stepping inside of a champagne bubble, bright with refracted joy.
“You were the loveliest thing in that room tonight, I do congratulate myself on being the one to take you home,” Daniel said, undoing Archie’s bow tie with aching slowness. He took out the collar studs next and they both got caught smiling at each other. Archie felt like his life was slowly filling with these tiny insignificant things that were now part of a story, linked together like beads on a necklace. That was what a life together was, he supposed. He couldn’t find anything to say, so he just undressed Daniel with all the care that he could, pressed him down onto that wonderful bed and tried to say it with his hands, not that they were much less clumsy than his words.
“May I?” Daniel said, and the care in his tone made Archie certain of what he was asking for. “You may,” he said. He found words again, somewhere between the gorgeous invasion of Daniel’s fingers and the rolling rhythm of Daniel’s hips, somewhere in the slow, slow first movements of Daniel inside him. “Thank you for this,” he said, which made Daniel groan. “Not like, well, yes, like that as it turns out,” Archie said, because saying it felt better than he had expected. Daniel gave him a look which said that this information would be put to good use later. “Thank you for listening. And for showing me what Paris could be. What it means to you.”
Daniel bent to kiss him, languid as his fucking, lush as it too. “You see it too, it was always a true, dear thing to me, also,” he said into Archie’s mouth, like a secret, and Archie fell in love with the city for that.