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Under One Small Star

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Thomas took a long drag from his cigarette and let his arm fall around the upholstered back of the chesterfield. Alistair sat with his legs folded under him, playing with the hem of that baggy old sweater he liked to wear at home.

“I was quite badly off when I was in Netley. I could be lost to my surroundings for days at a time; and anything could startle me, really. Nowadays it doesn’t happen very often,” Alistair said, looking down on his hands as he spoke. “Usually it's just my hands. They shake sometimes, when I’m stressed or nervous. But most often it passes without much trouble.”

Thomas put his hand over both of Alistair's and gave them a slight squeeze. Alistair looked at him and smiled tightly.

“I didn't tell you before, because I thought I would be able to control it,” he said with a little helpless laugh. “I didn't want you to see me like that.”

Thomas lifted Alistair’s hand and brought it to his lips, slowly kissing his knuckles.

“But you will tell me when you feel it coming on next time. You don’t need to struggle through it alone anymore,” he said as he drew back, still holding Alistair’s hand in his. He didn't particularly want to see Alistair in that state again, but being there for him, holding him through it, was really the least he could do.

“I will,” Alistair said and inclined his head, his smile looking much more confident now. “Thank you.”

Thomas put the cigarette down into the ashtray on the coffee table and brought his hand to rest on Alistair’s cheek.

“Come here,” he said, and closed the space that separated them, drawing Alistair into a kiss. As usual, Alistair opened up to him immediately, meeting Thomas' tongue halfway with his own. They kissed deeply, slowly letting their lips slide together, knowing there was no need to hurry. Here in their abode they could do as they wanted –there was no danger of discovery, no one to interrupt them. Even though a month had already passed since Thomas came to stay here, the novelty of being able to have this any time he wanted had not yet worn off.

He broke the kiss only to lick a stripe up Alistair's ear, then took the soft lobe between his lips and sucked on it. Alistair was wonderfully sensitive and Thomas relished the delicious little moans he elicited from him with his ministrations. Releasing the lobe he peppered kisses along Alistair's jaw before claiming his lips again. In one swift motion Alistair lifted one knee over his lap to straddle him and put his arms around Thomas’ neck. Thomas responded by wrapping his hands tightly around Alistair's middle and gently biting down on his lover's lower lip.

“Aah,” Alistair breathed out and shivered. The noises Alistair made as Thomas grinded against him fuelled his building desire as effectively as if one poured petrol on a fire.

Feeling another man’s body pressed closely to his, entwined so intimately, exchanging heated kisses, it was pure pleasure. His hands slid down Alistair's sides to his pert bottom, pressing up against him at the same time. They could just rub against each other like this –it would be messy, but fun.

In the end they did just that. Alistair's trousers became discarded along the way, together with Thomas's white undershirt that they used to clean themselves up. Afterwards they laid together on the chesterfield, Alistair on top of him, idly stroking up and down Thomas' bare chest. From what Thomas remembered from their encounter during the war, Alistair barely had a spec of hair on his own chest and his nipples were small and pink. Alistair had made the sweetest noises when Thomas had teased them. He would like to get his lips on those sweet little buds again, but he doubted he would get the chance any time soon. Alistair was just as reluctant to fully undress now as he was a month ago at Downton and after the scene Thomas had witnessed the night before he thought it prudent not to push him on the subject.

“Thomas?” Alistair asked him with a curious lilt to his voice. He rested his chin on Thomas' breastbone.

Thomas hummed in response, prompting Alistair to ask whatever was on his mind. He felt contented and lazy at the moment, sleepy even. He drew his hand down Alistair's back, feeling the ridges of his spine.

“What would make you happy?” Alistair asked, momentarily pausing his mapping of Thomas' chest.

“I am happy.” Thomas said after a few beats. He didn't realize Alistair was still bothered about that comment. He was angry when he said that, perhaps unfairly so. In truth he had never felt more content than he did when he was with Alistair. His life now was neither glamorous nor particularly exciting as he might have desired when he was younger, but he was with the man he loved and truth be told, that was what he had sought after most of his adult life. And of course, as a bonus, he was enjoying a life of leisure, he was no longer in service, bowing and scraping to his so called betters. Before the war when he used to daydream about having a rich lover, he thought he would probably be taken on as his valet —and he had thought he would like that.

“I'm glad to hear that,” Alistair said and touched his hand to Thomas' cheek, his fingertips tracing the edge of his jaw. “What if I asked you to name three things that would make you even happier? There must be something.”

Thomas' brows drew together. What sort of thing did Alistair have in mind? Thomas doubted this was the time to ask him to take his top off. It might, however, be a good time to voice a couple of things he had wanted to talk to Alistair about but hadn't found an opportune moment to ask yet

“I would like for us to get a housemaid to come in a few times a week, sweep up, do the dishes and so on,” he said, choosing to open with this as he really was not ecstatic about playing at being a scullery maid for much longer. Cleaning up after oneself was different than doing so for someone else, but still –what was the point of being rich when you didn't take advantage of it.

“Oh,” Alistair looked mildly surprised, but nodded. “I didn't think it was necessary, but alright; if that's what you want.”

“It's not that you're not adorable flitting around the flat with a feather duster, but the broom is a tad much, for a man in your position,” said Thomas, one corner of his mouth tipping up.

Alistair laughed, “Alright then, we're getting a maid, I'll call the employment agency tomorrow.”

The second thing he named was nothing that pressed on his mind, but something that he thought he might like to do, “I've always enjoyed sports, we could go play tennis or something.” He never had much opportunity to engage in sporting activities, but he had always felt a natural affinity to it.

“Tennis?” Alistair repeated, “I've always been rubbish at sport, but I'll gladly accompany you to a tennis club. Seeing you in tennis whites will be a treat I'm sure.” He smiled at Thomas and planted a quick kiss on his clavicle.

Thomas was slightly disappointed by Alistair not even considering trying it out himself, but he would take it. It wasn't important. The third thing on the other hand––

“Anything else?” Alistair asked, once again threading his fingers through the soft hair on Thomas' chest.

“Fuck me, next time we have sex,” said Thomas and raised his head off the sofa to give Alistair a pointed look.

“You mean– Oh.” Alistair's cheeks pinked slightly and his hand stopped its exploration.

Thomas lifted an eyebrow. For being always eager to engage in any kind of sexual activity, Alistair's reactions when sex was mentioned amused him.

“Yes, I want you inside me,” added Thomas, enjoying the expression hiw words evoked on Alistair's fair face. Alistair had always automatically –and very enthusiastically– taken the receiving role and every time Thomas got swept up in the action to some very enjoyable results. But Thomas had not have a man inside of him for far too long and he missed the feeling. The last time had been in 1915 during his leave in Paris. The man hadn't been particularly handsome, but it had felt good.

“I'll do my best, then,” said Alistair and gave him a smile that Thomas could only describe as cheeky, he then he sat up and reached for the side table. “Cigarette?”

______________

 

Mary Bradford was a woman past her prime, but diligent and hard working. The agreement was for her to come three times a week and tidy the kitchen, bathroom and drawing room, to clean the floors and wash the dishes. The bedrooms were off limits which saved them from a need to pretend that both of the rooms were being occupied. She wasn't intrusive and didn’t natter while she worked, so Alistair decided he didn’t mind this addition to their lives.

Thomas' wish to occasionally reverse their positions during lovemaking wasn't unwelcome either. From the beginning of their relationship Alistair had expected Thomas to steer their bedroom adventures, for he was much more experienced than Alistair. When it came to the act itself Alistair felt more nervous than he was the first time they made love during the war, though once they started moving together that feeling dissipated, leaving only excitement and pleasure in its wake. Thomas turned out to be rather vocal while on the receiving end and didn’t last nearly as long as usual before he was spent. Even so Thomas urged him to continue –which Alistair enthusiastically honoured– and, overwhelmed with Thomas’ reaction, soon reached climax as well. All in all it was quite an exhilarating experience.

When they lay together afterwards, Alistair wrapped himself around Thomas’ back, planting gentle kisses to his neck.

“Now you’ve officially claimed both my firsts,” Alistair said, nuzzling into Thomas’ hair he breathed in the pleasant scent of his shampoo.

Thomas turned in his embrace, jostling Alistair from his comfortable position, surprise clearly written on his face. “In France when we —that was your first time?” he asked, “Why didn't you say?”

“I guess I wanted to seem a bit more worldly than I really was,” Alistair mused. He was twenty three at the time and felt the need to put on a bit of bravado; to him Thomas had seemed so self assured and the way he kissed and held Alistair had spoken of experience.

Thomas shook his head and leveled him with a look both fond and exasperated.

“If I had known I would have gone slower, taken more time with—” Alistair stopped him with a finger pressed to his lips.

“It was perfect. I wouldn't change a thing,” he said and replacing his finger with his lips he proceeded to tease Thomas with shallow kisses. When Thomas pressed him into the pillow minutes later Alistair let out a small and very undignified yelp.

 

***

A week later they were on their way to Queen's Club in West Kensington where Thomas would try his hand at tennis. He had attempted to persuade Alistair to give the sport a go too, but Alistair insisted that he would only be there to watch. He spoke the truth when he said that he was no good at activities of this kind. It wasn't that he lacked the agility, it was more a question of coordination. He still remembered the embarrassing experience of playing badminton with his school friends and missing the shuttlecock every single time. They had laughed at him for weeks afterwards.

They had made an appointment with a tennis coach named Mr. Hammond who met them at the club's entrance at eleven o'clock. First he showed them the grounds –there were three outdoor tennis courts and two indoor ones– and then Thomas went to change for his lesson. Mr. Hammond was friendly, he looked to be in his late twenties, he was tall, handsome and chiseled like an antique statue. Alistair took an immediate dislike to him.

Alistair took his seat on the tribune where several other people already sat; they paid him no attention. There were two older men in tennis whites, chatting amicably amongst themselves and not at all interested in what was going on below, and a small group of young women, girls really, who seemed to be watching the figures on the court with a great interest.

The coach started with explaining the rules of the game and the scoring system and then proceeded to show Thomas how to serve. Alistair did not like the way the man stood close to Thomas when showing him the correct grip. As they started playing Thomas seemed to be doing rather well, hitting the ball almost every time and managing to lend it in the designated area. He caught Alistair’s eyes a few times, but mostly concentrated on the game.

After several exchanges they had a short break during which the club's attendant brought them glasses of lemonade. Thomas shot Alistair a quick smile before his attention was back on what the curly haired coach was saying to him. Alistair was too far to overhear their conversation now as they stood on the other side of the court, but they seemed to be getting on very well.

Alistair supposed he should be glad that Thomas was having a good time, doing something he obviously enjoyed and even making friends; after all, he was used to be around a lot of people during his time at Downton. It was probably refreshing for him to speak with someone other than Alistair ––if only it could be someone less attractive though.

As they continued to play, Mr. Hammond gave Thomas tips on his game, commenting on his stance and his strokes. It really was quite lovely to watch Thomas, his movements were controlled and his aim true. But even so, it wasn't too long before Alistair started to get bored. Perhaps he should have brought a book with him, or maybe even stayed at home. There was no point in him being here, was there? He was just glad that he didn't let Thomas talk him into playing as well. He could do without making it even more pointedly obvious how much that muscular Adonis was better than him.

The girls on the tribune oohed and aahed as Mr. Hammond flexed his biceps, though one or two of them became interested in commenting on Thomas’ performance –and physique– as well. To have young girls talk like that seemed highly improper, though secretly he agreed with them that Thomas' pectorals showed very nicely under the white shirt he was wearing.

As the lesson wrapped up, Thomas went up to where Alistair was seated. He was smiling as he used a small towel to wipe the sweat he had worked up off his brows; his hair stuck to his forehead when he pulled the cloth away. Alistair quirked up his lips in return.

“Philip said we can have drinks in the club's bar, you could wait for us there,” said Thomas and gestured towards Mr. Hammond.

“Philip?”

Thomas nodded and continued, “We'll just take a shower and meet you there.”

Alistair replied with a forced close-lipped smile. They got on first name terms quickly —how lovely. And they they were going to shower together —even better. His mind conjured up images the Mr. Hammond's glistening naked body beckoning Thomas to join him under a warm spray of water, his other hand tracing the shape of his undoubtedly well developed abdominals. Maybe they'd wash each other's back.

Well now he was just being ridiculous; a stiff drink might actually do him good. He got up, waved at Thomas and left through the door towards the lobby.

The bar was fairly busy for this hour of the day with people in both sportswear and day dress. Alistair ordered a whiskey and soda and sat down at one of the empty tables. He took out his cigarette case and lighter and quickly lit one up. His drink was delivered promptly and he was halfway through it when he was joined by Thomas and Mr. Hammond.

“I was just telling Thomas that I don't believe it's the first time he's played tennis. He's just too good!” the man said cheerfully, giving Thomas a wide smile.

“I swear I haven't!”

“You must play some other sport though, don't you?” said Mr. Hammond, his eyes fixated on Thomas, “You have a very fine physique.”

Well now!

“I’ve always liked playing cricket, but now I see tennis has a lot to speak for it,” Thomas said, lifting one finely arched eyebrow towards the man.

Alistair took a swig of the whiskey and told himself to breathe.

__________

 

Thomas enjoyed his tennis lesson immensely. It felt good to do something physical again; it had been years since Downton played the village in cricket –before the war broke out. He wondered briefly if the tradition would continue now with so few men left to take part; not that it concerned him anymore.

The coach they engaged to show him the ropes was very handsome and very friendly; they were on first name basis even before they started the game. Thomas soon found out that Philip definitely liked the sound of his own voice, but since he showered Thomas with compliments on his performance he didn’t mind the constant chatter. It was only while they undressed after the game that Thomas noticed the other man giving him looks that could only be described as appraising. How interesting. Thomas couldn’t deny that kind of attention felt good –especially from a man like Philip– and once upon a time he would have definitely taken him up on it. Now though, he wished it was Alistair with him in the shower; carefree about his nakedness.

“The man who’s with you, he’s a friend?” Philip asked as they dressed.

Thomas’s hands stilled on the knot of his tie. “He is.”

“How nice of him to come watch you,” Philip said in a suspiciously light tone and shot him an amused look, “Must be a very good friend.”

Thomas inclined his head, one corner of his mouth turning up. That was one way of putting it, he thought. And truth be told, he was happy that Alistair came along with him even though he had no interest in the sport himself. It gave Thomas an opportunity to show off in front of him.

When they emerged from the changing room, Alistair was sitting in the club bar nursing what looked like whiskey and soda. It seemed a bit early for that, but he wasn’t going to begrudge him.

“I was just telling Thomas that I don't believe it's the first time he's played tennis. He's just too good!” Philip said with a big smile when they sat down.

“I swear I haven't!” Thomas exclaimed, bemused. He couldn’t help but preen under the praise.

“You must play some other sport though, don't you? You have a very fine physique,” Philip said, giving Thomas a pointed look. Thomas didn’t think he was particularly well built –he was getting soft around the middle, for one thing– but he wasn’t going to argue.

“I’ve always liked playing cricket,” he said instead; it was the only sport he had done in recent years too. “But now I see tennis has a lot to speak for it,” he added. He had a great time today and hoped he would be able to repeat it soon.

“Thomas,” Alistair said, his voice strained, “you said to tell you when––” His voice broke off. Thomas looked over at him in alarm. What was he–– “Oh.” It dawned on him what Alistair wanted to say; but what could have brought it on now? “Oh, yes, of course.” Was there anything that could have set him off? Thomas had not noticed anything, but he had concentrated on his conversation with Philip. No matter now.

“Sorry, Philip, urgent business I'm afraid,” Thomas said, getting up from his seat. “Got to go.” Alistair got up as well, unsteady on his feet.

Philip looked from Alistair to Thomas in surprise. “I hope I'll be seeing you here again, Thomas,” he managed to get out, baffled.

“Sure,” Thomas shot him a quick smile and followed Alistair who had already started to walk towards the door. They walked out of the club and, almost miraculously, Thomas managed to hail a taxi within seconds. Alistair sat ramrod straight in the cab, looking down on his hands.

They did not shake as Thomas had expected. How curious.

Thomas wished to reach over and touch him, but did not dare to do so in the back of a taxi. Fortunately the ride wasn’t long and soon they were taking off their shoes in the comfort of their home.

Alistair avoided all eye contact with him. He walked to the chesterfield in the drawing room and sat down. Thomas followed after him, sitting down on the sofa next to him he put his arm around Alistair's tense shoulders. They sat like that for several long minutes, unmoving apart from Thomas' fingers on Alistair's shoulder, when Alistair suddenly spoke, “It was wrong of me to alarm you. I’m sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“It passed quickly, I shouldn't have –you were enjoying yourself and I ruined it.” Alistair said and turned towards him. Alistair's tone didn't sit right with Thomas, just like the fact that Alistair would not meet his eyes.

“It's alright. I can always go back another time,” said Thomas.

Alistair bit his lip, “Right,” he said, “I'm sure Philip will be happy to see you.” That definitely sounded off. Was he ––was he jealous?

Thomas went over the events of the past two hours with this thought in mind. Could Alistair have pretended to be in distress so that they would leave? There was evidence to support that theory. He couldn't decide if he was insulted that Alistair would think him fickle enough to be swayed aside by a few appreciative comments by another man or amused that he had felt the need for the ruse to get Thomas away from perceived competition. In the end he settled for the latter; at least it showed Alistair didn't take his affections for granted. And anyways, it wasn’t like Thomas himself had never stooped to a bit of foul play to get the results he wanted –several incidents sprang to mind from the past year alone. He would let this one slide.

He made a noncommittal noise and drew Alistair closer, placing a kiss into his hair.

“I'm glad you're alright.”

The phone suddenly rang –the noise as piercing as it was unwelcome at this very moment. Alistair extracted himself from Thomas' embrace and went to pick it up.

Thomas was busy with his thoughts and didn't listen in on the conversation. About the only one who called was Lady Clarendon anyway. He was therefore thoroughly unsurprised when Alistair came back saying, “It was mother.”

“What did she want?” Thomas asked. Lady Clarendon usually phoned once a week to check on her son, and she was over the quota with this call. He took out his cigarettes and lit up before offering the pack to Alistair. Alistair took one and Thomas held out the lighter for him. Alistair smiled at him, having no problem to look into his eyes now. Thomas smirked.

“They will come to London next Friday, to have dinner with some friends. They want to come over for tea before that,” said Alistair with an exhale of smoke.

Oh bugger.