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Relative Bearing

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Chapter 14:

Will’s phone pinged quietly in the pocket of his jeans.

He shifted, taking care not to accidentally elbow the elderly woman to his right, and pulled out his phone to look at the message.

Victoria, 12:00pm:
How’s the trip?

Will raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t generally one to text.

“Fine,” he texted back. “Everything’s on time.”

When no response came immediately, he looked out the train’s window. They’d be nearing the station soon. And then, just a short walk to see Horatio.

And Archie.

His phone dinged again.

Victoria, 12:03pm:
How are you feeling about it?

Will stared at the blinking cursor on his phone. “It’ll be good to see Horatio again. He sounds happy,” he typed. He paused and pressed his lips together. “And it’ll be good to meet Archie,” he finished. He read it again, then hit send.

His phone dinged immediately.

Victoria, 12:04pm:
“Will, it’s me. You don’t need to pretend.”

Will huffed out an amused breath, then smiled faintly. “I’m not,” he typed back. “Talk later, almost at the station.” He pocketed the phone, then stared out the window as more buildings rolled into view.

He wasn’t pretending. Not really. Of course he’d hoped Horatio would take an interest in him the moment Horatio’d unpacked his model of the HMS Surprise into their sparse dorm room. But Horatio had fallen for someone else. It smarted a bit--more than a bit, if he was being honest with himself--but if that was the way it was going to be, then there was no use griping about it.

Especially when Horatio sounded so happy.

Horatio had always seemed rather . . . well, anxious, for lack of a better word. Moody, maybe. Regularly kicking himself for whatever new failings he’d come up with, and bristling at reminders that he needed food or sleep.

Certainly, he wasn’t like that all the time. When they were working on their miniature campaigns, or playing whist, or discussing the Worthington Chronicles, or starting on . . . well, any madcap adventure Horatio came up with, Horatio seemed less unhappy. And then he’d have that smile of his, the one that made him look so--

Well, that wasn’t important. The point was, that most of the time, he seemed rather . . . miserable, actually.

But then Horatio had met Archie, and something had . . . shifted somehow. Archie made him smile. Made him laugh. Made him sound more . . . at peace.

How could he begrudge Horatio that?

And of course he’d want to meet Archie.

Archie was important to Horatio, so he’d be important to him. End of story.

Will squirmed slightly in his seat. Well, mostly end of story. Of course he was curious. Horatio’d never shown interest in anyone before now. So what made Archie different?

Cathy had tried to convince him to look up Archie’s headshot on the RADA website ever since Victoria had told her the news. He’d told her it was far too invasive, and regardless, it didn’t matter what Archie looked like if Horatio was happy and well-treated. And Archie seemed an ideal partner: He’d spent their first date cleaning the pantry with Horatio, and was making sure Horatio ate regularly. And apparently he sang while doing chores around the house, and Horatio somehow didn’t object.

Clearly, Archie was what Horatio wanted, and they should all be supportive of that.

Cathy hadn’t found his case particularly convincing.

Although she had seemed impressed by the headshot, if the multiple exclamation marks in that text had been anything to go by . . .

The train screeched to a slow stop, shaking Will out of his reverie.

He pulled out his phone to text Horatio his ETA.

Just half an hour to go.

He blinked, slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, and stood up.

Time to go to meet Archie.

Chapter 15:

“Do you want me to--”

“Excuse me,” Horatio gulped, and sprinted into the toilets, the door slamming shut behind him.

Will stood there, blinking at the door, then sighed and tried to block the sound of Horatio’s retching from his ears. He limped over to the bench across the way from the toilets and sank down on the hard surface. He rubbed his stump to ease the ache. Perhaps this new prosthesis wasn’t quite fitted properly. He’d get it looked at when he went back home.

He leaned forward and stared at his hands. It seemed a little strange that they were so steady. Not shaking at all. Was that shock? Horatio had almost fallen to his death, right before his eyes. Shock would make sense.

He sighed. Archie’d had a good idea, listing ships. He’d have to remember that one . . . if Horatio wouldn’t mind it coming from him.

He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. Horatio had let Archie comfort him. Hold him.

And Archie had invited Will to do the same.

Horatio had let him.

The only time he’d had Horatio in his arms, and Horatio had been close to tears and vomiting. It didn’t seem fair somehow.

Well, nothing new there. If life were fair, the last four years would have gone rather differently.

Will huffed out a quiet laugh. He must be rattled if he sounded that bitter.

The point was, Archie looked out for Horatio. Archie had sat at the bottom of the stairs, drenched and shivering, to keep Horatio warm.

Archie . . . loved Horatio.

That was good. Horatio deserved to be loved like that.

Will smiled faintly. Horatio had chosen well.


Chapter 16:

Will watched from the car as Archie reached into his jeans’ pocket and drew out his keys. He flipped through them, then took a step toward the door and inserted the key in the lock, Horatio’s arm still wrapped tightly around him.

Horatio leaned in close to whisper, his lips almost brushing against Archie’s ear.

Will swallowed, then tried and failed to look away.

Archie unlocked the door, then turned to look at Horatio as he pushed it open. They stared at each other in heated silence, then Horatio nodded, took Archie’s hand, and followed him inside.

The door closed behind them.

Will stared up at the hallway, his mind surprisingly numb.

It must be the alcohol.

He sighed. Well, at least the Indy was comfortable. And Horatio would be back soon enough. He couldn’t blame them, especially after Archie’s dance. If he were Horatio, he’d certainly want to get Archie behind closed doors as soon as possible, and--

He blinked.

God, he must be drunker than he’d realized. He huffed out a quiet chuckle and shook his head. He’d kept his promise to himself not to fantasize about Horatio for the last year and a half. He wasn’t going to break it just because Horatio was getting off with Archie upstairs.

He pulled his eyes away from the door to Archie’s flat and glanced around the Indy for something else to think about.

His eyes fell on the gear stick.

He snorted. That wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind.

He sighed. He might as well switch to the front passenger seat before Horatio came back. The crisp night air would make a good change. It might help him sober up.

And it was getting too hot in the car.

He pushed open the door and took his time getting out. His coordination while pissed was always a little dodgy these days--damn leg--but getting to the front seat shouldn’t be a problem, provided he went slowly.

He closed the back door behind him and took the step necessary to reach the passenger side. He paused as his fingers closed around the handle.

Today should have been a disaster. The cable car was reason enough on its own, quite apart from Archie’s cottoning on to his feelings for Horatio.

But they’d had had a good evening, despite it all. Even Horatio. Horatio, who normally would nurse a failure like that for days if not weeks, had ended the evening laughing and smiling. And at a loud pub with music, no less.

And was now probably having his brains fucked out.

Will blinked.

He pulled his mind back to its previous track. How had Archie managed it? Was it his smile? Sense of humor? Lack of inhibitions? His comfort with touch? He’d probably touched Will more times than anyone else had in the last few months. Certainly the singing hadn’t hurt any. Even Horatio could appreciate it. And the dancing! How was anyone that . . . flexible? And, my God, the things that man could do with a mic stand--

Will’s hand fell forgotten at his side. That . . . was unexpected. Alcohol didn’t normally affect him like this.

Then again, he’d never met a person Horatio’d fallen in love with before. Probably skews the data.

Was this just what jealousy felt like? His sisters had assumed he’d want to chuck Archie into the Thames at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps jealousy just manifested differently for him.

He frowned. Funny, it didn’t feel like jealousy. And he didn’t want Archie and Horatio to separate.

He wanted--

He wanted--

An image flitted through his mind. He dismissed it immediately, closing it carefully behind several doors in his mind.

No. No, one unrequited love was more than enough. And Archie and Horatio were perfectly content as they were.

He must’ve just had too much to drink. That was all.

A quiet click interrupted the silence.

Will glanced up to the second floor. The door to Archie’s flat had opened.

Will pulled open the door to the Indy and sat down as quickly as he could, closing it behind him. His stomach twisted oddly. Perhaps it was from eating and drinking so late at night.

It felt more like guilt.

He glanced over one more time. Horatio was hurrying down the stairs, his shirt untucked and his hair pointing in every direction. And . . . was his belt slightly crooked?

Will swallowed. He turned to look at the dashboard and kept his eyes on it until Horatio had opened the door and sat down next to him.

Horatio cleared his throat. “I’m . . . er . . . sorry to have kept you waiting.”

Will shook his head. “No problem,” he said, his voice steady.

Horatio nodded. “Alright, then. Let’s go home.” He inserted the key in the Indy’s ignition and turned it on, then hesitated and glanced up toward Archie’s flat one more time.

Will followed his gaze.

If his heart was beating a little too quickly or his face was a little too flushed, or his eyes too dilated, or his trousers too tight, well, it’s not as though Horatio would notice.

Horatio cleared his throat after they’d been driving for a minute or two. “You’ve -- er -- you’ve met Archie, now.”

Will nodded as his face heated up again. “I see why you like him,” he said quietly.

Horatio risked a quick glance away from the road to grin at him. “I thought you two would get on. He likes you, too, you know.”

Will managed a faint smile back. “Glad to hear it.” He shifted, then looked out the window.

“And I’m glad you asked him to breakfast,” Horatio added. “It -- er -- well, it means a lot -- to me.”

Will nodded, then turned back to face Horatio, his eyebrow raised. “I wouldn’t’ve thought he’d need an invitation.”

Horatio sighed. “I’d already told him he could join us. He didn’t believe me. I suppose he thought he’d be in the way. He said something about not wanting to come between us. I told him that was impossible, of course, but he insisted we should have some time, just the two of us.”

Will nodded as a strange tightness pulled at his chest. He ignored it. He looked out the window again. “That’s why he’s not staying over at yours, then?”

A pause. “You knew he stays over?”

Will glanced up, then shrugged. “Unless you’ve started reading Donne or Shakespeare.”

Horatio frowned.

Will shrugged again. “They were on the nightstand. I figured Archie’d left them there. That you’d moved in together.”

Horatio turned bright red. “Oh -- er -- well -- that is -- we . . . spend half a week at mine, then half a week at his.”

Will nodded, and the tightness pulled a little more. “Makes sense.” He looked out the window again. Probably best to ask while not looking at him. He wet his lips and waited until he was sure he could get the words out smoothly. “Should I start looking for a new roommate, then?”

“What? No, I -- damn it, Will, that’s not what I--” Horatio swallowed and took a deep breath. “I still want to room with you.”

Will raised an eyebrow. “And not with him? Archie might have something to say about that.”

“No, that’s not--” Horatio sighed. “I was hoping we could avoid this whole discussion until July 26th.”

Will frowned. “What’s July 26th?”

“The day after Archie and I will have been together for two months.”

Will closed his eyes. “That’s a bit late notice to find a new roommate for the Fall term, Horatio.”

“What? No, Will, you’re not listening. Or . . . I’m not explaining it properly.” Horatio hesitated. “I’ve been . . . researching online. About the ideal point at which to ask one’s romantic partner to sign a lease with them. All the sites said to wait at least a month, but they had particular warnings about summer romances, for some reason. I figured waiting two months to ask Archie would be more than enough time. And I was going to ask if he’d move in . . . with us. If -- if you were interested in the idea, too, that is.”

Will jerked his head to look at Horatio. “But . . . dorm housing is limited to KCL students.”

“Of course. We’d find a new flat for the three of us.”

Will raised an eyebrow. “And the extra expense?”

“I’ve been making a tentative budget that I think would work for all of us. And, knowing Archie, he’d insist on paying more than his share.”

“Horatio--” Will sighed and forced himself not to pinch the bridge of his nose as his head started to throb. He really shouldn’t have had so much to drink. “--Are you sure Archie wouldn’t prefer some privacy? Couples usually do. People don’t live with their partner and their partner’s best friend.”

Horatio frowned. “Well, they should. It’s the logical solution. I like living with you, I like living with Archie, and you and Archie seem to be getting on well.” He paused, then grinned. “In fact, I thought I was going to have to forcibly pry you two apart to get you into the car.”

Will managed a faint smile as his head started to spin.

Horatio hesitated, then glanced over at Will, the smile falling over his face. “Unless . . . do you . . . not like Archie?”

“I do,” Will said quietly. More than I ought to, perhaps.

“Then . . . what is it, Will? Do you . . . do you not want to room together anymore?”

Of course he wanted to room with him. He’d stay by Horatio’s side as long as Horatio would let him.

Even though Victoria would say he was pouring salt in an open wound. And Cathy would start emailing him links to articles like “How to fall out of love with your best friend” again. And God knows how Anne or Elizabeth would react.

God knows how Archie would react.

Will managed a faint smile. “I’ll be your roommate for as long as you’ll have me.” He paused. “As long as Archie doesn’t mind.”

Horatio beamed. “Good. I’ll let you know what he says on July 26th.” He paused. “Oh, and Archie’s rather particular about the type of sugar he puts in his coffee, so we’ll need to start having that. And we discovered that he’s allergic to our soap; he breaks out in a rash, so I’ve switched to his soap. But, you and he do use the same toothpaste, so we can all share that and save a bit of money there, and--”

Will tried to force the corner of his lips to stop twitching with laughter. Of course Horatio’d already planned it all out. He wouldn’t be Horatio otherwise.

But what if this ended poorly? Or what if it never happened at all?

Will sighed internally. Another four weeks until he’d know. No point in worrying about it until then. Anything could happen.

He’d just have to wait.