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Under One Small Star

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Thomas and Alistair took a taxi from King’s Cross train station and arrived in front of Whitehaven mansions shortly before four in the afternoon. The house was fairly modern and stood amidst similar looking houses at the edge of a park on Charterhouse Square and −as Alistair informed him− just north of the Museum of London.

A man in a porter’s uniform opened the door of their taxi and greeted Alistair. After that he took charge of their luggage.

“Perkins, this is my friend, Mr. Thomas Barrow. He will be staying in the apartment with me,” said Alistair to the elderly porter.

“Welcome to Whitehaven, Mr. Barrow,” the man said. He smiled at Thomas and nodded towards the building.

Thomas followed Alistair into the house. There was an elevator right in front of the entrance, but Alistair opted for the stairs instead.

“My apartment is on the second floor,” said Alistair, turning his head towards Thomas.

Thomas took that as explanation as to why the elevator wasn’t necessary. While walking up the winding staircase Thomas wanted to digress. But when they reached Alistair’s door, the porter was already there with their cases, taking the elevator with the luggage himself. Well, at least that was convenient, Thomas thought.

Alistair unlocked the door and Perkins brought the cases in. When Perkins walked back out Alistair thanked him and gave him some coins for his trouble.

Then it was their turn to cross the threshold.

The entrance hall was spacious and sparsely furnished. Thomas looked around and saw that there were six doors into the various rooms of the flat. The one right in front of the entrance was open and showed what seemed to be a drawing room.

“So, here we are,” said Alistair as he touched Thomas’ arm. Thomas delighted in the thought that between the walls of this flat they would be able to touch −and more− any time they liked. “You can put your coat there,” Alistair, said he as pointed at a door right next to the one they came through and started taking off his own. With their coats and hats deposited into the small closet, Alistair stood nervously in front of him. “Shall we?”

Alistair led the way to the open door in front of them. The room they entered was quite large and very bright, with three windows on the opposite side. There was a red velvet chesterfield and two armchairs in the middle of the room, with a dark brown coffee table between them. A bit further away stood a grand piano with what appeared to be a sweater draped over it. On the chesterfield were several pillows and a rather fuzzy blanket, and on the low table there were two empty bottles of wine, one of them overturned, and a half eaten pastry of some sort. This was the mess Alistair had alluded to on the train, Thomas realized, as Alistair very conspicuously tried to stand in front of the coffee table in a belated attempt to hide the items on it.

Thomas reached behind Alistair and picked up the bottle still standing upright. It was a 1915 Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

“Good stuff,” Thomas said with a smirk. Alistair opened his mouth to answer, but before he could get a word out, Thomas covered his lips with his own, drawing him closer by the waist with his free hand. Thomas let his tongue trace the shape of his lover’s lips before tasting him fully. A faint blush appeared on Alistair’s cheeks when they separated.

The drawing room opened to a dining room that seemed unused, unlike the kitchen that was hidden behind a door covered with the same tapestry as the dining room walls.

The kitchen looked very modern. Thomas could see several electric appliances they definitely didn’t have at Downton.

Thomas walked over to the kitchen counter and picked up one of the appliances. He remembered seeing an advertisement about an electric toaster with a built-in timer in the papers recently. For a toast that can’t burn. It wasn’t on the market for longer than a month.

Alistair noticed his interest and stepped closer.

“Isn’t technology fascinating?” he beamed. “I can’t help but want to buy every new invention, even if I don’t have much use for it, like the waffle iron there,” he said, pointing at the metal object further away. “Do you like waffles?”

“I do have a bit of a sweet tooth,” said Thomas, “a waffle won’t go amiss.”

“Wonderful,” smiled Alistair, sweet as a waffle himself, Thomas thought. “Shall we continue?” he asked, gently ushering Thomas back into the dining room.

On the way out Thomas’ eyes fell on the kitchen table. It had several empty plates and glasses on it as well as a few more bottles of wine.

The apartment also housed a small office that was mostly empty, except for an old mahogany table and a matching armchair. Then Alistair showed him the bedroom that would officially be his. The room was nice, but Thomas doubted he would be seeing much of it. It shared a bathroom with the master bedroom, where he and Alistair would spend their nights together. They walked through the bathroom. It housed a bath big enough for two men, Thomas mused. That should definitely be tested at a later date. Before walking out Thomas caught sight of a towel draped over half the mirror.

The master bedroom was spacious and after Alistair opened the drapes it also proved to be pleasantly bright. The room was dominated by a big bed and shelves upon shelves of books on the wall to the left. Books also littered the floor, together with several pieces of clothing strewn in a line from the door to the corridor to the bed. Alistair hastily picked up the clothes and deposited them on a pile of more clothes on the armchair in the corner of the room.

“I forgot about this,” he said in a weak voice, and looking at Thomas through his long pale eyelashes, he added, “I promise I can be tidy.”

Thomas hummed in acknowledgement and sat on the edge of the bed to test how soft it was. Anything had to be better than the narrow iron frame bed he had at Downton, but he was still surprised when the mattress gave way a bit more than he expected.

He felt amused by Alistair’s attempts to hide the clutter. Thomas was naturally tidy, but he could live with a few things lying around here and there.

“Oh I hope so, your lordship,” teased Thomas, pointedly raising his eyebrows at the three empty plates stacked one upon another on the bedside table.

“Yes, yes, terribly funny,” Alistair left the pile of clothes on the armchair and started picking up the books.

“Come here,” said Thomas, dropping the mocking tone, and extended his hand towards Alistair.

Alistair put the book he was holding back on the ground and took Thomas’ hand. He let himself be drawn closer to Thomas, slotting himself between Thomas' legs. His hands went to frame Thomas' face before he leaned down to kiss him. As the kiss grew more heated Alistair climbed into his lap, dipping the soft mattress further. Thomas' arms went around Alistair's slim waist.

Apart from the time he spent in London with the Crawleys during the few pre-war Seasons, Thomas didn't have many opportunities for dalliances with men in his life. It was not so surprising then, that he couldn't get enough of Alistair's pliant body now. He wanted to try all the things he fantasized about during the lonely nights in his little attic room, enjoy all the pleasures two men were able to experience together. Luckily for him Alistair was just as eager; and −as Thomas found out− very flexible.
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While Thomas was showering in the bathroom, Alistair did his best to put the bedroom to rights. He was embarrassed, but thankfully Thomas didn’t seem to mind. Alistair wasn’t in the best mood before going to Downton and doing anything as simple as pick up a plate and wash it felt like an impossible feat. He mostly just drank wine straight out of a bottle for at least three days before his trip up north, the memory of Thomas haunting him every waking moment in the anticipation of seeing the place so connected with his past. How was he to know he would not be coming back alone?

Alistair was determined to try and seem more put together from now on. It shouldn’t be too difficult, he pondered. With Thomas here his life would be very different. Even the tremors left him alone since their reunion. Perhaps they would go for good. The doctor said strong positive impressions might help, after all.

He managed to dispose of the pile of clothes on the armchair, take the dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the sink, adding in the plates from the kitchen table as well, and pick up the scattered books from the bedroom floor. He didn’t have time to put them in the right alphabetical order, but he could sort that out later. While Thomas unpacked his belongings, Alistair quickly tidied up the rest if the flat.

They went out for dinner that night. The restaurant was nothing high end, but it was very nice and the food was good. During their meal Thomas recounted what he had done since they were separated, adding detail to what Alistair already knew. There was a moment while Thomas spoke of his work at the Downton hospital that Alistair thought he was missing something important, but it passed as quickly as it appeared.

When it was his turn he told Thomas about his long stay at the Royal Victoria hospital in Netley, but left out the time he spent at the adjoining sanatorium afterwards. He stayed 5 months in the hospital itself, consumed by fever, his body fighting off infection while he was barely conscious. He had several skin grafts transferred to his shoulder and upper arm. It was a painful process and he often wished his body would just give up and never wake up again. How fortunate his wishes did not come true.

With that thought he slid forward in his chair slightly and let his knee touch Thomas’ under the table, drawing comfort from that small physical contact. Thomas raised his eyebrow at him but otherwise did not move.

During dessert –they had chocolate cake– Alistair told Thomas about the time he spent with his parents after being released from hospital. He was glad to be home, after all that happened, but his mother’s attempts to cheer him up and his father’s motivational speeches soon grated on him. He was miserable, in pain, and he thought he had lost the man he loved. Nothing his parents did could make that better.

“What did you do every day after you moved out?” asked Thomas.

“Oh I– l read a lot, mostly.” Alistair said. “And my mother still tried to get me to meet people in our new circles. Most scoffed at us anyways, as far as I could tell.” He also watched people from the drawing room windows. He started recognizing frequent visitors of the park in front of his house. He watched nannies and young mothers with prams, men and women having their rendezvous, old people feeding pigeons. It passed the time. Knowing it would make him sound even more pathetic, he decided not to mention the habit.

Being rather tired after the day on the train and subsequent unpacking −and tidying− they fell asleep quickly upon their return to the apartment. Their apartment.

Alistair felt safe and loved ensconced in Thomas’ embrace. There was nowhere he would rather be.
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Even though there was no wake up knock to be heard, Thomas –conditioned by years of having to get up early– woke while the sun was still nowhere to be seen. However, feeling warm and comfortable, he managed to fall asleep again easily.

The second time he woke up the sun was already up. The room was filled with light, they had not closed the curtains the previous evening. Still, Alistair did not stir.

Thomas propped up one hand under his head and watched his sleeping lover. Lying on his side like that, the scarring Alistair had suffered in the war was hidden from view. He had such a lovely face; Thomas was thankful that the blast Alistair was caught in didn’t damage it. He had seen men with terrible facial wounds both at the Front and later in the hospital. Maybe some of them had been beautiful too, before the war.

He thought of the day he saw Alistair for the first time. It was the the beginning of August and he was counting supplies to put into soldier’s small first aid kits while they were in the reserve trench.

“Corporal”

Thomas turned to see a young one-star lieutenant hesitantly looking at him from several steps away. His hand went up in a salute automatically.

The lieutenant had his cap under his arm and was smiling genially at Thomas. Thomas was amazed to see a face so handsome and delicate here amongst the squalor, mud and ruins. He seemed so out of place. Without thinking about it he looked the man up and down. He was of average height, and his fair hair was clearly mussed from the cap.

“I’m glad I found you,” the young officer said in a soft voice. He flashed him a rather nervous smile and continued, “I wanted to thank you for the other night.”

Thomas furrowed his brow. What did he do? He would remember that face if they had met before.

Possibly noticing his confusion the man clarified, “In the dugout,” he said. “It was a great comfort.”

This was the man whose hand he held that night while they hid from the onslaught of German artillery? How interesting he sought him out. Thomas would be embarrassed beyond belief to do that himself. It could also sent an entirely the wrong message.

“It’s alright,” said Thomas. What was he supposed to say to that?

“Do you smoke?” the lieutenant asked him.
The man took out a silver cigarette case, opened it and put the case forward to Thomas. “They’re Gold Flakes,” he informed him. Nice, Thomas thought. Then again, he wouldn’t expect a commissioned officer smoking any old rubbish.

“I do, thanks,” said Thomas as he took one; the man did the same.

“Pardon my manners, I haven’t even introduced myself,” said the man after they lit up their cigarettes and took a few drags. “I’m Alistair Rainsby.”

Lieutenant Rainsby moved the cigarette to his left hand and extended his right.

“Thomas Barrow,” said Thomas as he shook the offered hand, his own cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Rainsby smiled at him. Thomas wouldn’t be able to say when was the last time someone genuinely smiled at him. He let himself smile back and took a deep drag from his cigarette.

Thomas stroked his scarred hand along Alistair’s silk covered side and wondered what lay beneath the blue pyjama top. He should talk about it with Alistair sometime soon. He needn’t have him completely naked during sex, but still, it was strange to hide it from him. He briefly thought of unbuttoning the top of Alistair’s pyjamas, but with the way he was lying, he wouldn’t properly see the affected area anyways. Instead he reached up to tread his fingers through Alistair’s hair. Soft blond waves that Alistair meticulously styled every day now fell freely around his head on the pillow like a halo.

A smile made its way on Thomas’s face. In a soft bed with a content lover pressed to his side was definitely his favourite way to wake up.
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When Alistair opened his eyes the first thing he saw was Thomas’ face studying his. His dark hair escaped the strict confines of the brilliantine and fell into his eyes. Alistair liked this look on him, it made him look younger.

“Good morning,” drawled Alistair in voice thick with sleep. “Did you sleep well?”

“Oh terrible. Someone kept hogging the blanket all night,” answered Thomas in a mock contrite tone. Alistair grinned.

“How dreadful. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it up to you.” Alistair bit his lip in a manner he hoped was seductive and moved closer to Thomas, his hand going to rest on Thomas’ hip.

“Hmm, it won’t be easy,” murmured Thomas, his breath tickling Alistair’s ear. “Blanket hogging is a serious offense.” Alistair shivered as Thomas swiped his tongue along the edge of his ear. Thomas must have noticed his reaction because he continued the onslaught on his ear most relentlessly, sucking and licking the soft flesh until Alistair was fully hard. Thomas’ hand caressed his buttocks, squeezing and rubbing at him through the pyjamas. Alistair moaned as Thomas’ hand slipped beneath the waistband of his slacks.

Sex with Thomas was always fantastic. Alistair loved the feeling of being connected with him, the intimacy of the act. He tried not to feel jealous of those who had taught Thomas all about making a man lose his head to pleasure. His own experiences before meeting Thomas were rather chaste, the most he did was rub off together with his friend at university. He knew a few young officers that were in training with him decided to go to a prostitute, because they didn’t want to die without knowing the touch of a woman. And from what Alistair heard, brothels flourished behind the trench lines all throughout the war, with venereal diseases being the cause of as many casualties in one year as Trench Foot claimed during the whole war.

“Forgiven?” asked Alistair smiling lazily at Thomas as they lay in a sweaty tangle of limbs afterwards.

“For now.” Thomas punctuated each word with a kiss.

Alistair was the first to disappear to the bathroom afterwards. He draped a towel over half the mirror as he did every morning before looking at himself. He mastered the way of showing his good side to people, he didn’t even have to think about it now. And he always sat or walked with the other person on his right too. He was aware it was probably futile to do this around Thomas now that they lived together, but he could try.

He showered quickly and dressed. He only put on his pants and a big old sweater that reached to the middle of his thighs. It was bottle green and very soft and it was his favourite thing to wear around the flat.

Alistair prepared breakfast while Thomas washed up. He made eggs and sausages for the both of them and for Thomas he also prepared a waffle with jam on the side. He wanted their first morning together to be perfect.

Thomas came into the kitchen just as Alistair took the whistling kettle off the stove. He stood in the doorway for a while, watching Alistair pour the tea, then he sat down at the table, where the plates with food were already set. Alistair suddenly felt a bit silly, puttering around the kitchen dressed as he was used to while he lived on his own. His knees were probably too bony. Then again, Thomas seemed to have liked his knees when they were over his shoulders earlier, as he gave each one a little kiss.

“I used to eat here a lot, but we can use the dining room if you'll like.” said Alistair as he sat down at the small table.

Thomas waited to reply after he swallowed the forkful of eggs he started with. “I don't mind. It's quite cozy in here.” After a few more bites he said, “It's really good. I'm amazed you can cook. I mean, I have never so much as made tea myself.”

Alistair paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. “I'm glad you like it,” he said with a smile. “I sort of had to learn, when I wanted to live on my own. I would feel weird going out to eat by myself, and I didn't really want to go out anyways.”

“I can't imagine someone like Lady Mary or Lord Grantham cooking under any circumstances,” Thomas remarked.

“Will you think badly of me for doing so, then?”

“I couldn’t think badly of you for anything,” said Thomas, putting down his knife. He drew the back of his hand down Alistair’s cheek in a caress.

Alistair opened his mouth the speak, but thought better of it and smiled. He lowered his head back to his food, paying far more attention to the sausages than necessary.

They ate in a companionable silence for a bit. Alistair was touched by Thomas’ words, though he knew Thomas probably only meant them in jest.

Finishing his breakfast Alistair put the cutlery down and pushed his empty plate to the side. He sipped the last of his tea and watched Thomas spread the jam on the waffle. Only then did he notice that Thomas was not wearing the flesh coloured glove he had on before. When did he take it off? Now that Alistair thought about it, Thomas didn’t have it when they were in bed earlier. He had to be too overwhelmed by arousal to think twice about it. An easy thing to happen in bed with Thomas.

Thomas looked up from his plate and noticed where Alistair’s gaze pointed. Without missing a beat he held his hand in front of Alistair’s face and slowly turned it around.

Alistair could see the damage the sniper’s bullet had done. It did not heal well. Alistair tore his eyes away from the ragged wound to Thomas's face. Alistair did not like the look Thomas was giving him.

Springing up from his chair he started collecting his empty plate and cup.

“I’ll wash up,” he said and turned to the sink.

A short while later he heard Thomas get out of his seat. Instead of walking out of the kitchen, as Alistair thought he would do, Thomas walked up to him and embraced Alistair from behind. Alistair sucked in a breath in surprise. He turned off the water and quickly wiped his hands on his sweater before putting them over Thomas'.