Lunch ends and turns into a walk around the whole of the grounds which turns into dinner which turns into a bottle of mead stolen from the kitchens and shared on the front steps of Horatio’s dormitory. Horatio holds his drink well but he sounds, at present, more intoxicated than he is because he is passionately, loudly expounding on The Illiad.
“Because it changes Achilles’ entire character arc! That is why I care, oh sweet prince. That is why I care.”
“Well unfortunately Homer is not at present living to provide you with an answer.”
“Which is why I will only yield on this point to an argument so exquisitely defended that Homer himself descends from the heavens and corroborates it.”
Hamlet laughs mid-sip and sends himself into a coughing fit. Horatio’s hands fly to his back, thumping and rubbing soothing circles until Hamlet can breathe again. “There, there,” Horatio says, “we cannot have you perishing because you took some wine wrong, the whole of Denmark would demand my head.”
Hamlet finds himself thinking Well, I am wholly of Denmark and I certainly wouldn’t mind it, and it actually startles him how little time that took. He says instead, “You are out of danger for now, friend.”
“I shall be sure to stay on my toes, however.”
“Vigilance is a virtue.”
“Diligence, I believe you mean.”
“Oh, thought you I meant the heavenly virtues?”
“Aye, though apparently I was mistaken.”
“I’m fairly sure that’s something you invented from your own head this very moment.”
“Should that mean you love it any less?”
“Speak we of love?”
“Is there a point in speaking of anything else?”
“Well, if that is your thinking, what I was trying to speak of with regard to Achilles and Patroclus--”
“You cannot let this go, it seems!”
“Not seems, but is!”
“Is a bit silly.”
“No, seems a bit silly. Is crucial to a thorough reading of the text. Fear not, sweet prince, we’ll get you there yet.”
Hamlet takes another swing, successfully this time, and leans in close-- drunk on wine, yes, but also on good conversation. “Convince me, chief-most scholar of the British isles.”
Horatio takes the bottle from him and takes a long drink, then stands and takes Hamlet by the wrist. “Ask and ye shall receive.”
He sets out, pulling Hamlet along in tow, back across the courtyard and through the small alley between dormitories, across the campus to the library. Hamlet has no idea where this day, this night has taken him. It seems so strange that before today he’d never ranged freely about the school grounds with no purpose other than to have something to do that prolongs the conversation. But they had walked nearly the whole of the grounds in a single day. It felt as if it vanished in an instant.
Horatio heads around the back of the large building which houses the library and glances back at Hamlet. “You have not asked where I am leading you,” he says, over his shoulder.
“No, for it is surely into temptation.”
“And yet, not astray.”
“Well that is a small comfort.”
Horatio halts suddenly under a balcony one floor up and Hamlet walks right into his back. They both laugh and Hamlet steadies them easily. It takes him a second or two longer to take his hands off Horatio’s shoulders than anticipated.
“Finish the bottle,” Horatio says.
“Because,” he replies, turning to the wall and fussing with the ivy growing there. “We can’t take it with us when we climb. You’ll need both hands. Ha! There is it.”
Hamlet can see a bar of metal and discerns that there must be a ladder hidden against the wall beneath the foliage. Horatio finds a foothold and starts to climb. Hamlet drains what was last in the bottle and watches him scale the wall. Midway betwixt the ground the the balcony he pauses and wriggles and his robes fall off of him directly onto Hamlet’s up-tilted face. Hamlet’s helpless giggling as he flings them off and then a little short of breath for watching Horatio’s arse in tight breeches as he climbs. The ladder ends a foot or so under the balcony and on its left-- Horatio has to leap to get to it, which he does as if he has practice. Once on the ledge he swings over it, beckoning Hamlet up with enthusiastic waving.
Hamlet tosses the bottle down and follows him up. It’s a touch more athletic than he was expecting. Horatio did it so quickly, the spry little wall-climbing loon. He does his best not to appear winded when he reaches the landing. Horatio is crouched down, fiddling with the lock on the pair of glass doors.
“I... think I’ve fallen in with the wrong sort,” Hamlet says, leaning back against the wall and crossing his arms.
Horatio runs a hand through his hair to pull it away from his face, grinning and twisting a thin piece of metal into the lock. “Your judgement must be rather poor to fall in with vandals.”
“Tragically, I seem to place my trust in anyone with a good bottle of wine.”
“Well, that can’t be it. I do that as well and I’ve never fallen in with vandals,” he says as the lock gives a soft click and the door swings open.
“I wonder why that should be,” Hamlet says sardonically, and strides into the library.
“The grace of god, I would wager. I’m vigilant, I’ve been told, which is of course a virtue.”
Hamlet pins him with a look both fond and put out, which Horatio shrugs at, smirking. He shuts the doors behind them and walks into the shadows to their left. Hamlet follows. Horatio darts and turns through several sections of bookcases. Finally, he seems to find what he’s looking for. He takes one book down from the shelf and then bends at the knees to scan the shelf below for another. After a moment he makes a triumphant noise and plucks another book from its place.
With both books cradled into one elbow he trots to the nearest table, which is underneath a window spilling ample moonlight into the cavernous, empty library. Someone’s left a scrap of parchment on the table, and Horatio rips it into little shreds. Hamlet isn’t entirely certain he hasn’t inadvertently become a bit preoccupied with a lunatic. Flicking through the first book, he scans a few pages, then marks one with a scrap of paper. A few pages later he does the same, and closes the first book. He repeats those measures twice with the second book and takes a moment to raise his arms in the air as if victorious.
“Here. Convince you, my prince, I shall,” Horatio says, and pulls him in closer. “Here in the original Greek,” he points at the first page in the first book and lets forth a torrent of perfectly executed Greek as if it were his mother tongue. “This is Achilles mourning Patroclus. And here,” he flips to the second marked passage, again fluently reading it aloud, “that is Andromache mourning Hector. The same words here… and here, the same tone, the same inflection. The same language for friendly fellow soldiers as for husband and wife? For what reason should that be? Perhaps to prove that grief for any close companion is grief all the same-- and all humans feel it acutely in the midst of loss, but it remains that the relationships are equated. Both losses were felt with similar keen anguish. For whatever connection Achiles and Patroclus had, it cannot be downplayed to have meant less to Achiles than what Andromache felt she had with Hector.”
Hamlet considers that he does have a point. The evidence is present. “I cannot deny that what you say is true, Horatio.”
“And yet I wish for it not to be so.”
“Is it… terrible to believe that two men--”
“Oh. Oh, no,” Hamlet laughs. “It’s just that it’s so much more melancholy that way. If they really loved each other as you suggest-- if they were devoted to each other in more ways than the given… Patroclus’ death is not just upsetting, it is… excruciating.”
Horatio nods. “This is not a text that needs more tragedy. I can admit to that. But it deepens meaning where otherwise it would seem thin by comparison.”
“Seems,” Hamlet retorts, impish.
Horatio rolls his eyes and opens the next book. “But here, here’s the rub, look at this translation!” He points to the first bookmarked page in the second book. “And then here,” he flips the pages, “to the second. Different words. Deliberate erasure of tone, of meaning.”
Hamlet feels a real and sudden sadness that were Horatio to write this critique and hand it into a professor he would undoubtedly be ruined. “It’s a shame you could not claim this interpretation publically. It may be scandalous, but it remains very bright all the same.”
Horatio smiles and looks down. “I’m positive I’m not the first person to think it, nor will I be the last. But I thank you all the same. I do wish I could have convinced you though.”
“You did convince me. I only wish now I could ever read it without that sadness lingering around it.”
“For that, I am sorry.”
“Don’t be. I shall read it, feel the sadness,” Hamlet says, turning his back to the table and facing Horatio, “and then remember you, and feel a fondness I cannot account for. One shall balance the other.”
“I always wanted to be a part of such epic poetry.”
“Even as a child, yes. Kings and gods, truest love and deaths avenged.”
“Are you a bard?”
“No, not I. I have no stories yet to tell.”
“Time will bring them to you. And you shall be remembered for them, there is no doubt.”
“No doubt in you, sweet prince.”
“Aye, no doubt in me at all.”
They are quite close. Hamlet’s arm touches Horatio’s. In the moonlight spilling through the stained glass, the library is a hundred shades of blue. Hamlet finds himself leaning in, caught spellbound by Horatio’s deep, dark eyes. He tilts his face up, as he finds Horatio is a touch taller than he. But Horatio blinks and looks down, away. And that Hamlet takes as his cue to step back.
His fascination, it seems, is not returned in entirely the same fashion. It stings a touch, which Hamlet is quick to rebuke himself for.
He only met Horatio that very morning. It is… it is better this way. Not everything can be so immediate and reciprocal as with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Not all relationships must also lead to a bedroom. If Horatio is not inclined that way, Hamlet will have him any other way he likes.
Horatio looks back up at him with an expression quite open. He seems about to speak but Hamlet hears a noise, as if a far away door is unlocking and swinging open. He puts a hand over Horatio’s mouth and listens closely. Against his palm, he can feel his lips slide up at the corner.
“Hello?” Sounds a voice at the other end of the library. Hamlet and Horatio turn to each other with identical wide-eyed amusement. “Speak if you be spirit or living!”
Hamlet rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Horatio stifles laughter into Hamlet’s palm. They slip out, silently, as the man across the library beckons demons to announce themselves if they be by. Horatio takes the two books and slides them back into the shelves from whence they came, which Hamlet obstinately tries not to see the sweetness in.
The carefully open the glass the doors to the balcony and shut them with a faint click, allowing themselves a moment of soft laughter once the doors are closed. “Well, this is a fine predicament, young scholar. How shall we get ourselves down from here?”
“Well, I intend to fly,” Horatio remarks blithely.
Hamlet nods solemnly. “Well plotted, Icarus.”
“In earnest, I think it best just to drop.”
“How do you usually leave the library at these hours?”
“Out the back door. There are not regularly seekers of ghostly interference blocking it, as at present.”
Horatio swings one leg over the balcony’s railing and then the other. Hamlet does the same. In short order they’ve crouched down and let their feet dangle while only their hands still remain on the stone of the ledge.
“Until we meet again on the ground…” Horatio says, and lets go.
Hamlet realizes rather abruptly that while he may not have a fear of heights, it appears he may have a fear of falling. Horatio’s pained grunt as he hits the ground does not help. His options appear to be ‘fall’ or ‘stay here forever like a hanging plant’. So he lets go. He twists himself midair so as to avoid breaking his own neck, and he does manage that, the fall being significantly shorter than he’d thought.
It does hurt rather a lot, though. His shoulder takes most of the brunt of his weight and immediately he knows his upper arm will bruise with it. He groans as quietly as he can manage. Horatio rolls over from where he’s landed and pats his non-injured shoulder.
“There we are. Was that so awful?”
“In short: yes.”
“Astutely put, it was rather awful.”
Hamlet finds himself laughing more in the presence of Horatio than nearly all of other of his school fellows combined, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern included.
“You most assuredly set my spirits higher, Horatio.”
“Are they often low, m’lord?”
“I am finding perhaps they were lower than I thought them to be before I began keeping your company.”
Horatio’s smiles, sitting up. “Then you must continue to keep it. For your good health. And… and also the health of the Danish state.”
“Rightly so.” Hamlet pushes himself up with some difficulty.
Horatio is first to make it to his feet and he offers Hamlet his hand for ease of getting himself standing as well. He winces when his abused shoulder knocks into Horatio.
“You took quite the beating as you landed.”
“It seems a small price to pay.”
Hamlet shrugs. “If every day of this quality ended in a fall such as that, I’d fall a hundred times.”
Horatio seems to blush a bit, and Hamlet concludes that perhaps he must go easier on him with such blatant declarations of affection. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are far more effusive with each other, but perhaps Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are much more particular unto themselves than Hamlet has even realized. He does not have many friends, truly. He intends to make one of Horatio, and it will never happen if he sets about making him uneasy at every turn.
“Apologies if I am entirely too… demonstrative. I suspect Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may have altered my estimation of what friendly company looks and sounds like.”
Horatio shakes his head. “No, no. Do not alter your manner, Hamlet. I am ill at such affections, not having much practice with them.”
“Then we shall learn of each other at an unhurried pace. Does that agree with you?”
“I am glad of it.”
They take a step towards the direction from whence they originally came, but Horatio slips quite fully on the unseen bottle Hamlet had earlier tossed away. Luckily Hamlet catches him, though it twinges his arm to do so. Horatio laughs, gathered against his chest.
“Let’s get thee home and away from any future harm,” Hamlet says, willfully ignoring the effect the scent of Horatio’s hair seems to have on him.
“For the rest of this night, at least.”
“Aye, that is all we can hope for.”
“Truly,” Horatio says, leaning against him as they begin to walk. “Truly.”
Time spent with Horatio has a different quality than other time. It begins to feel like air at higher elevations. What would satisfy him with others must be doubled with Horatio just to keep breathing regularly; by its nature it makes him feel more inclined to light-headedness. And while that kind of air feels thinner, time with Horatio feels denser. It passes more quickly but contains so much.
Whole days elapse in a blink, yet he never falls behind in his work anymore. His professors have made quite a note of it. They incline their heads with fond smiles when they see him walking with Horatio in the corridors. Occasionally they halt the pair of them and pose them a philosophical question to see how they reason around it. They wheedle them into going to guest lectures of Very Distinguished Visiting Scholars and every so often sit with them in the back to make disparaging comments or exchange wry glances.
It is an entirely different Wittenberg than that he previously knew. He finds it richer, more vibrant; he’s so happy to discover what was already his favorite place in the world has even more to offer. He is, however, developing aches and pains of passing similarity to what his favorite jester Yorrick oft complained of in his later years, and he suspects the chairs of Wittenberg library are entirely to blame.
When he speaks of it, Horatio likes to bicker with him about how lamentable it is that he should try and pass off on defenseless library chairs the symptoms of what are clearly age and infirmity (which Hamlet is far gone in, due to being a shocking four years older than Horatio himself). Hamlet’s most common retort is that Horatio’s zealous defense of such clearly guilty parties is evidence of his warped perspective, and when they grow old together at Castle Elsinore (and such chairs are banned in Denmark), not only will he lament the perspective of his youth, but they shall also laugh together at how misguided he was then.
On Hamlet’s birthday, amid the height of spring, they bat around this aging argument as they lay out in the grass by the banks of the Elbe. Horatio has his head resting on Hamlet’s stomach and Hamlet can’t help himself fiddling with his hair. Sometimes (not too often but sometimes) when he wakes in the morning, he has the odd first thought of running his fingers through Horatio’s hair.
“They undoubtedly have a conspiracy. The chairs,” Hamlet says, a little tipsy.
Horatio laughs and slices into a pear with a small pocket blade, bringing the slice to his lips and then cutting one for Hamlet. “I’ll indulge your lunacy for a moment.”
“How good of you.”
“Yes, I’m the picture of charity.”
“Chair-ity,” Hamlet quips.
Horatio falls into a helpless fit of laughter, back arching as he coughs around the piece of pear he’s chewing. Hamlet’s stomach bobs up and down as he laughs as well, and Horatio fights against a wide smile to avoid spitting out pear. Hamlet wonders at the small intimacy of this, precisely because it doesn’t feel small.
“If you can’t out-strategize the inanimate chairs of Wittenberg,” Horatio finally says, smiling hugely, “I dare say Denmark will pay the price for it.”
Hamlet barks a somewhat offended laugh and a hand flies to his heart. “Your arrows cut deep, Horatio. Are you saying I will be an unfit monarch?”
Horatio turns onto his side but keeps his cheek to Hamlet’s mid-section. He sets the pocket blade off to the side. “I did not intend to wound, m’lord.”
“You wound me worse with formality, you know that.”
“You are due some small fraction of it. I… I make a religion of overstepping the ceremony due to you as it is already,” he says, frowning a little.
Hamlet runs fingers through his hair. “The halls of Elsinore are overrun with courtiers lining up to genuflect in my direction. Preferably if my mother or father are standing behind me. My appetite is quite sated in that respect.”
Horatio stays silent and, after a pause, nods. “Very well.”
Hamlet smiles and can’t quite seem to tear his gaze away from Horatio. He wants to, really. Wants to break the moment because the longer it stretches on the more keenly he feels the weight of it. It sits on his lungs and he can’t quite breathe from it. It’s Horatio who finally looks down and away. It is usually Horatio who does. And for all he’d wanted to stop before, it aches when they’re no longer connected in that moment.
As he had requested of Hamlet that first night they snuck into the library, he has been easy and slow with Horatio. The more time passes though the more he suspects that while Horatio may not be repelled by the love of men in literature, he may feel differently about it in the physical. Or mayhaps it is just that he does not want that from Hamlet. Yet Hamlet would know if he took a lover, female or male. He’s asked, he’s observed. Horatio lays hands to books and occasionally food with ardor, but it seems only two those receive such benefit. The question is a weighty pang inside his chest. It’s been starting to ache more and more that way with each similarly broken moment of eyes no longer meeting and company departed from. His heart is starting to ache from too long in an untenable position just as his shoulders and lower back have started doing. That ache has started spreading outward too.
But Hamlet figures that (for all the joking to the contrary) he is a fit and spry young man. He can withstand the aches and pains--physical and… less so-- in exchange for the reward of Horatio’s company. The alternative is not to be thought of. He will simply have to handle it, he tells himself. That’s the only solution.
And it really isn’t until he gets a letter from his mother several months later that Hamlet realizes how poorly he has misjudged this entire state of affairs. It’s so small a turn of phrase, but it triggers an avalanche in his mind.
“And my darling boy,” she writes, “how fare your companions Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? You have not mentioned them of late.”
And with a rather guilty sinking felt in his stomach, he realizes that she speaks the truth. He has, of late, spent all his days with Horatio and only a handful of nights with his other close friends. It brings him a measure of contrition to realize how long it has been since he took a meal with them, or sat with them while they attended to their studies. He has let an entire summer pass by without laying out in a field with them, without walking into town with them at night and singing drinking songs at their favorite tavern until they’re hoarse.
At first he had still seen them casually, in the evenings when he thought to visit (or some vigorous exertion was in order), but the last encounter of that type was months gone by. If he so spurned Horatio for even half that length of time, it would certainly distress both of them quite a bit. He sets down the letter and heads for Rosencrantz’s quarters.
It’s a short walk, only a floor away from his own, on the same side of the hall directly under his own, which makes him feel briefly all the more ashamed that he has not kept up in visiting. He doesn’t bother knocking, just strides inside. Guildenstern is at the chair in front of the window, lounging back and reading. He looks up and his face brightens with a smile.
“Hamlet! And what winds drove our goldfinch this way?”
Hamlet closes the door behind him and pulls the second chair across the room next to Guildenstern as he replies. “The winds of shame, I’m afraid.”
Guildenstern snaps his book shut and looks at Hamlet with glinting eyes. “Tell me everything.”
“Oh, I’ve nothing scandalous to report.”
Guildenstern frowns. “Then that was a very misleading opening parry, dear friend, and I’m rather disappointed.”
Hamlet chuckles. “Well then allow me this re-phrasing. It is scandalous to me the precise ‘nothing’ which I’ve only just realized I must report... which your company of late bears the name of, good friend.”
Guildenstern shakes his head fondly. “I could not hold the actions of a man as besotted as you are against him.”
Hamlet drops his head into his hands. “I know you would not, but it seems no real excuse to me. I… I may esteem someone quite higher than I-- well. But to abandon my comrades-- the first souls here ever to treat me with kindness and acceptance-- it should not be. I can only offer apologies.”
Guildenstern sets his book on the window sill and leans forward onto his knees, putting a hand over Hamlet’s. “It is a transgression forgiven before it even occurred. The very first day you met Horatio, Rosencrantz returned to me from the library and relayed that it was quite possible we may see less of you in the future. We have been at peace. It was no large matter.”
Hamlet exhales heavily and squeezes Guildenstern’s hand. “Thank you.”
Guildenstern shrugs. “Are you not happy though?”
“I… am, very.”
“Truly? You seem to hesitate.”
“My feelings are… my own. And yet I know that Horatio enjoys my company. He does not want, however, to enjoy it to quite the extent that you and Rosencrantz did.”
“That seems impossible to me.”
Hamlet grins. “Flatterer.”
Guildenstern leans back and puts both hands behind his head. “What need have I of flattery? I am the wronged party here!”
“You said all was forgiven!”
“The facts remain the facts,” he says, teasing.
“Very well, then.”
“Yes, very well, indeed. It is impossible that Horatio should not love you back.”
“He. He does. Love me. I believe him to, at any rate. Not that way, th--”
“Hamlet, he does! He must. Who could not?”
“Someone uninterested in my bed?”
Guildenstern barks out a laugh. “He is interested in yours. Trust me.”
“I spend all day with him, Gil. Day in and day out we are at each other’s sides. I would have seen it by now were it there to see. I may love…” he’s never phrased it thus out loud before and it feels foreign on his tongue, “...love him dearly, but I would know if he returned my ardor. We sit arm to arm every moment we are able, and eat with touching knees beneath the table at every meal. If it were there, it would have, by now, been revealed. I would worry I had invented it all in my head if not for that, to be sure, he seeks me out as often as I go in search of him. And not to be near him causes in me a kind of pang.”
“How deliciously excruciating.”
“That latter of that mark hits at the center of it. I love him quite enough to share his company in whatever way he wishes. But I’ve come to suppose he must care for me without a lover’s desire.”
“Your suppositions, I must inform you, are garbage, dear prince.”
Hamlet chuckles. “Our friendship is a privilege that I would not for the world wish to find myself bereft of. What it is will have to do.”
“That sort of arrangement never holds. It will not bear the weight of a heavy heart. Let alone two.”
“It will hold. I will hold it.”
“That is…” Guildenstern begins with some passion, then pauses on a curious expression. “That is your choice and I’ve no cause to interfere with what you decide. Have you spoken thus with Rosencrantz yet?”
Hamlet quirks an eyebrow at his abrupt about-face, but shakes his head.
“Ahhhh. Well. He is in the library at present, and he would do well to hear you say what I’ve just heard.”
“I thought it was a transgression already forgiven…” “
It is! But hearing it aloud is pleasant, he’ll enjoy it. And, I’d like for you to deliver him something from me.”
Hamlet shrugs. “What shall I give him?”
“This,” Guildenstern says, wickedly, and leans in to kiss him. Hamlet smiles into it and tilts his head. Guildenstern takes Hamlet’s face in both hands and sucks lightly on Hamlet’s bottom lip before pulling away. “Would you please deliver that to him? Post haste, if it please you.”
“It does,” Hamlet says, laughing.
“Most pleasing all around, it appears. Now off with you, I’ve this reading to finish before I can have any proper fun and I’m nearly finished.”
“At your service, good sir,” Hamlet says, and pecks him on the lips once more before he leaves.
Rosencrantz is easy to find once Hamlet gets to the library. Hamlet has but to turn a few corners on the second level, and there his friend stands, in one the aisles of the sciences section. Horatio has them all memorized, but that is why Hamlet generally sends Horatio to gather their materials for him while he stays at their preferred table. Rosencrantz is scanning the shelf just above his eye level when he hears Hamlet approaching and turns. He grins.
“Hamlet! And what forces may I thank for conspiring to bring us together at present?”
Hamlet slides in front of him and brackets his friend in with a hand on either side of the shelf behind him. “Ahh, that would be the goldfinch messenger service.”
Rosencrantz licks his lips and raises an eyebrow. “Are you a courrier now?”
“Our dear friend Guildenstern would like me to relay the following,” Hamlet says, and leans in to kiss him.
It feels like any other kiss they’ve shared, with accompanying chemistry, warm and easy. Hamlet is reminded of the sensation of slipping on a familiar, well worn coat. For consistency, he takes Rosencrantz’s face into his hands and mimics the kiss Guildenstern had given him. When he pulls away Rosencrantz is breathing heavily.
“I am sorry,” Hamlet says into the small space between them.
“You need not be for a kiss like that.”
Hamlet shakes his head and grins. “You two are so strikingly similar.”
“That’s a compliment.”
“I meant it as such.”
“And I meant that I’m sorry to have forsaken you of late.”
“Forsaken. Are you the crowned prince of melodrama as well?”
Hamlet gapes and puts up his hands, backing away while fighting a laugh. Rosencrantz pulls him back in with a quick looping of his fingers into the top of Hamlet’s breeches. “Even if you were I’d still have missed you, so I accept your apology.”
“Guildenstern made sure to impress upon me that there was not even anything for me to apologize about.”
“Well he is, ironically, more forgiving than I. And there we prove ourselves to be strikingly different instead.”
“Always ready with a twist.”
“Always ready with a kiss.” Rosencrantz counters, and leans in again.
Hamlet realizes as his heart rate quickens that he is a bit starved for touch. Rosencrantz’s lips now feel even better than he remembers. The heat of their bodies resting against one another is delicious. The brush of his fingers skimming along Hamlet’s ribs, even through cloth, is a revelation. Simple touches-- blunt fingertips at the nape of his neck and the flat weight of a palm on his shoulder blade-- are breathtaking. His blood is rushing downward and he can feel himself getting yet more sensitive with every touch.
He doesn’t realize he’s molded himself completely into Rosencrantz until they pull away for air, panting. “And shall I take that as your message back to Guildenstern?” Hamlet asks hoarsely.
Rosencrantz looks considering for a second but then shakes it away. “No. That was for you alone. But…” he takes Hamlet by the wrist and suddenly walks them away and down the aisle.
He takes several quick turns until they arrive in a badly lit alcove rather out of the way of the general foot traffic. Hamlet groans as Rosencrantz spins him and puts him with his back flat to the wall.
It can’t take him more than a few heartbeats to sink down to his knees and make quick work of Hamlet’s breeches. Hamlet registers that having Rosencrantz suck him off in the library has potential for such a certified disaster that it puts itself on par with battles such as Hastings and Sterling Bridge, but his body floods with such fiery pleasure when Rosencrantz takes him into his mouth that he can’t bear to voice it. And the longer he moves his mouth along the length of him, the less Hamlet can bring himself to stop this all.
His head falls back and he has to slap a hand over his mouth the stop himself from making all the ecstatic noises that his body wants him to make. As with all times Hamlet has to keep silent, this only intensifies his urge to cry out. His hand tightens and loosens erratically on Rosencrantz’s shoulder.
He tries to stand still but everything in him wants to move. Rosencrants pins his hips back into the stone wall and bobs his head more quickly. Hamlet threads fingers into his hair, not to guide but to feel. Once his head tips back down and he looks at Rosencrantz’s lips moving along his cock, it’s all he can do not to bite through his own bottom lip.
His orgasm is building rapidly, very close by. The promise of it feels hot and rich. The wet heat of Rosencrantz’s tongue and his gorgeous curly black hair are putting him closer to the edge every second.
His mouth is hanging open and he can’t help the soft, quiet noises now. He doesn’t hear footsteps nearby. He doesn’t register anything but the man on his knees in front of him. Until he looks up and locks eyes with Horatio.
He’s standing there with books in hand and his mouth hung open in complete shock. And Hamlet’s so close already he comes right then. It floods him and feels like it knocks the wind out of him, because he doubles forward, exhaling hard as Rosencrantz swallows his release down.
He can’t unlock eyes with Horatio though. He feels incandescent. His limbs and chest and skin feel abuzz with it.
Horatio is flushed a fetching pink. He turns sharply to the left and leaves.
Hamlet’s career as some sort of carrier pigeon bearing sexual favors is brief but fulfilling. It only goes on for a few more turns before its deemed stale and the three of them settle into a pattern much more closely resembling their original friendship.
Hamlet feels better for seeing them more often because he’s reminded how much he does, in fact, enjoy their company. Horatio is still his waking thought in the morning and his final one at night, but he fears that Guildenstern was right and that such an arrangement cannot hold forever. It hurts more often than it used to. To spend a few nights in easy arms that take him out of his own body for a while, that balances him.
Because being in his own body around Horatio is starting to border on maddening at times now. Hamlet shakes that particular thought away as Horatio shifts on the mattress and turns a page. They’re lying on Hamlet’s bed, feet facing opposite directions. Horatio is reading up on Aristotle and Hamlet is pretending not to be done with his own reading.
His eyes drag over the same words of the last page for the fifth time and when he next chances a glance up it is Horatio who is staring at him. He does this more often of late, ever since seeing Hamlet with Rosencrantz in the library. Hamlet tried to bring it up once, the day after it happened, but Horatio waved it away and would hear nothing of it.
Hamlet wondered at first if perhaps the visual had upset him because it was so graphic. But he was sure Horatio was not disgusted. They still spent all their time together in close quarters. They still bumped shoulders and knees companionably. But Horatio would look at him now with heavy eyes that seemed to question where his mouth would not dare. There was something that seemed tenuous between them. Something that boded of breaking. In Hamlet’s heart of hearts he hoped for jealousy, but could never think on it for too long.
And this interminable stage of unknowing and of tension Hamlet had endured for a fortnight, at least. He felt himself entirely at the edge of it. He snapped his book shut and put it to the side.
“Are you finished?” Horatio asked.
Hamlet rose to his knees and then fell gently onto his side next to Horatio so now both their feet were at the end of the bed. “That depends. Are you finished staring at me with a question sealed behind your lips?”
Horatio looked at a bit of a loss. Hamlet took his book from him and closed it, setting it on the table beside the bed. “I have not… I really could not say…”
“Answer me truly. Is this about seeing me-- seeing me with Rosencrantz? That day in the library?”
Horatio swallows and seems to struggle with what to say. “It is. But I. I wasn’t repelled. I wanted to tell you that before now, but I was at a loss as to how to even begin.”
Hamlet sighs heavily, relieved. “I had hoped that was the case.”
“You are still my dearest friend here. I would still swim oceans for you.”
“I would prefer you took a boat, as you’re quite a bad swimmer.”
Horatio laughs and his whole body relaxes. He shifts onto his side as well, head propped up in his palm. “As you wish, then.”
“I wish for any lingering strangeness between us to dissipate, if I might speak the truth.”
“Please,” Horatio says softly. “Please do.”
“It doesn’t bear thinking on for me to imagine us becoming less joined than we are at present. You are entirely too dear to me.”
“And you to me. It is hard to express.”
“Hard? For my Horatio, so quick of tongue?”
Horatio seems pained. “When it is affections I wish to describe, always. Yes.”
Hamlet tries not to let his breath catch. To let himself hope is to put yet more weight on the structure that can bear no more already. “Take every moment you need to find the words, I will attend you.”
Horatio looks on him softly and nods, smiling. “Thank you, sweet prince.”
At last it feels as though the air between them has cleared of tension. Hamlet runs his hand over his face. “Lord in heaven. And all over a silly game,” he mutters.
Horatio frowns. “Game?”
Hamlet hesitates. It is rather dangerously thin ice to skate on in continuing. Perhaps to explain it in context will help? Perhaps it will put them right back where they were moments ago. It takes a moment of deliberation but the same feeling that had pushed him to bring the matter up at all pushes him forward.
“It was. A game. As with most games with those two it got out of hand rather quickly.”
“And into mouth,” Horatio says, looking down to the duvet.
Hamlet’s jaw swings open on a stunned laugh. But he feels encouraged. “Yes. That is also how matter with those two tend to turn.”
“Well if that’s where it went, where did it even start from?” Horatio is looking curious now, which eases Hamlet. Curiosity is a facet of his friend he navigates well.
“Guildenstern bid me deliver a message to Rosencrantz in the library and when I asked what... all he gave me was a kiss.” Horatio blinks slowly a few times. Hamlet presses on. “So I brought him a kiss from Guildenstern and he pulled me into an alcove to return back… what you saw.”
Horatio looks bewildered and then his eyes roll upward to the ceiling. “Not one to be outdone, is he?”
Hamlet buries his face in pillow and laughs. “No,” he says when he raises back up. “Not our Rosencrantz.”
“So did you?”
Hamlet grins. “Did I what?” He knows perfectly well what.
“Did you return to Guildenstern and suck him off?”
Hamlet had no concept of what it would do to him to hear Horatio say it aloud. He has rather the feeling of the thin ice having cracked beneath his feet. He’s in deep water now. Horatio seems to have committed to this line of questioning. His gaze is firm, even if for some reason his hands seem to shake slightly. Hamlet feels it’s only fair to reply in turn.
“Yes. In his quarters that night.”
“And did the game end there?”
“So what message did he give you after that?”
Hamlet bites his lip. “He fucked me.”
Horatio pauses for a second. Then his resolve comes back. “How?”
“How?” Hamlet repeats, a little taken aback.
Hamlet can feel tension between them again, but this is different than before. It’s not awkward, particularly; Horatio is not accusatory. But it is heady. “How detailed shall I be?”
“As detailed as you like.”
“He stripped me and kneeled behind me while I stayed on my hands and knees.”
Horatio nods and his eyes look darker. “Did you like that?”
“As much as Rosencrantz’s mouth?”
“They’re different, of course, but I… all pleasure is favorable to me.”
Horatio tilts his head. “No matter who it comes from?”
Hamlet shakes his head. “Not between men and women, no. But it is better with some. If you have a camaraderie. If there’s affection.”
“I’m,” Horatio hesitates. “...of the same mind.”
Hamlet leans forward out of instinct and his hip bumps Horatio’s. His heart beat jumps. It takes only a split second to realize that Horatio is hard. He feels so instantly flushed with heat it makes him light headed. In moments, he is hard against Horatio too.
They meet eyes with matching heavy breaths. Hamlet grabs Horatio’s arm, needing something to anchor him. This is all almost too feverish a dream to be quite real. It keeps their hips together, though. And Hamlet feels drunk on arousal.
Horatio’s hips curve into his and Hamlet groans softly. Horatio’s arms come around him quick as lightening after that. Their legs tangle together and Hamlet grabs on to him too. Horatio turns and flips Hamlet underneath him, twining fingers into his blonde curls and bringing their faces close.
Hamlet thinks his heart might burst because Horatio may be truly about to kiss him. But he keeps their lips apart, even as his hips move against Hamlet’s. Hamlet cries out and lays his hands on Horatio’s backside, pulling him in. Horatio makes a noise which is so delicious Hamlet has to do it again.
“And did your game end there?” Horatio says, his voice almost a whine, moving his hips against Hamlet’s slowly and fervently.
Hamlet groans. “No. No, I fucked Rosencrantz the same.”
“On his hands and knees?”
Horatio’s head drops into the crook of Hamlet’s shoulder and his hot breath against Hamlet’s neck makes him buck his hips. It’s so hot they’re starting to sweat.
“Yes. And then he climbed on top of me and rode me until I came.”
Horatio moans against Hamlet’s ear and it nearly undoes him. “And did you ride Guildenstern just as hard?” He asks, grabbing Hamlet’s arse with the hand not tangled in his hair.
“And you came?”
“And did your game end there?”
And in the space of a breath Horatio is off of him and sitting at the other end of the bed. Hamlet makes a sound of lost confusion.
Horatio looks wrecked. His face is flushed and his shirt is all twisted up. His hair is mussed. Hamlet can’t ever remember him more beautiful.
“I don’t want to play games with you,” he says, miserably.
Hamlet sits up and reaches for him, but Horatio leans back and away, slipping onto his feet and off the bed. Hamlet realizes he is heading for the door and he’s off the bed as quick as he can manage.
He catches him right as his hand pulls on the handle. He slams the door shut and pins Horatio with his body weight. They stay like that for a silent minute, his front to Horatio’s back. Horatio being slightly taller puts Hamlet’s mouth at the nape of his neck.
“Are you jealous?” Hamlet feels too hopeful, and it’s terrifying.
Horatio doesn’t answer right away. “No,” he says, earnestly.
Hamlet feels his stomach drop.
“What they have with you is not what I want from you.”
“Sex, you mean?” Hamlet says, heart aching.
Horatio shakes his head. “No,” he says, his voice sounds thready. “I mean. I want. Devotion. Tenderness. Sincerity. If what you have with them is all you want out of--”
“How poorly must you understand me to not see that you have all of those already! I know not who upon this entire fragile globe has those from me if not yourself,” Hamlet says, hands tightening in Horatio’s shirt. “I have been holding back from you only this one part of myself for fear you could not desire me both as a friend and as a lover. Which is how I desire you, Horatio.”
Horatio takes his hand from off the doorknob and lays it on top of Hamlet’s. “When we first met, you were right to tread carefully...” he says, twisting in his arms and seeming still unsure, which sets Hamlet’s stomach turning. “But the more you give to me the more I crave.”
“As if increase of appetite grows ever more fierce by what it feeds on.”
“Yes,” Horatio says, putting hands on either side of Hamlet’s face.
Hamlet’s heart feels like it surges up because it will not be held down a second longer. “I know it well, Horatio. It is the very pith of how I feel about you.”
Horatio’s face is overtaken by a wide smile. “And will you seal that with a kiss?”
Hamlet falls into him like the dams have finally broken. And his lips finally on Horatio’s remind him of waves dashing themselves upon rocks. Even for all his strife before this moment there is something cyclical and inevitable in it. He can barely catch his breath.
Horatio’s lips are soft and his kiss is passionate. It is so absolutely different a sensation to any other, even though he knows it is just a kiss. Yet, a woman’s kiss, a man’s kiss, none of these were ever Horatio’s lips on his. The intimacy is all. The reality, the fact, of his consent to kiss him, that is the joy bubbling inside Hamlet’s chest. It spills out of his mouth in a soft laugh. And Horatio seems to know it for what it is, and grins as well.
Hamlet wraps his arms around Horatio’s waist and walks him backwards to the bed. He only intends to lay down in Horatio’s arms but he find himself being divested of his shirt in short order.
From there, their other garments come off quickly too and Hamlet is standing naked as Horatio. He takes the opportunity to look his fill. Though he knows in a removed way that Horatio is lithe and trim it is another matter entirely to experience him as lithe and trim and concretely accessible. It heightens everything about looking at him.
He runs a hand along his chest, reveling in the shiver it produces. He slips his hand down to palm his hip and tighten his grip.
“Lay down with me,” Hamlet says, rubbing his thumb back and forth on Horatio’s hip bone.
Hamlet settles himself on his back and Horatio considers for a heartbeat before he climbs over Hamlet and hovers there. He kisses him again, and comes slowly to lay on top of him.
Hamlet can’t quite parse which of all his feelings is the strongest. The smooth expanse of skin on skin. The heat of their mouth together. The sense of delighted completion inherent in just this, just kissing. Although with Horatio is it never “just.”
He wraps his arms around him and lets his hands wander everywhere. He hungers to know what Horatio’s ribs feel like, what his thighs feel like. When they come again to his arse, Horatio moans softly against Hamlet’s mouth. And Hamlet has been getting harder for some time now but that steals his breath momentarily and reminds him how badly he does want this.
He bends his knee and lets Horatio settle more properly astride him. Their cocks press side by side and Hamlet pulls them together more firmly. One hand tangles in Horatio’s dark hair and the other gently guides Horatio’s hips into a rhythm with his. It’s sharply perfect. Hamlet moans and Horatio’s hips push down more forcefully.
Hamlet licks Horatio’s mouth and Horatio opens up to him. The pressure from their moving hips is sending sparks all along Hamlet’s skin. He cries out every time Horatio thrusts down with intent. His legs splay wider to give him more room, which he takes for the invitation is it.
Grabbing Hamlet’s hips Horatio holds him in place and rubs their cocks together. Hamlet bucks and writhes underneath him, holding him close. Horatio’s eyes flutter closed on a groan but then they flick back open to stare down at their hips grinding together. Hamlet throws his head back and holds on as Horatio speeds up. He knows he’s begun speaking, a muttering litany of ‘yes’ and ‘more’ and ‘Horatio’ but it’s all a blur. It’s all so continuous. It feels as if this is all there ever was, really.
Horatio is moaning. His face is molded with the agony of so much sustained pleasure. Hamlet wants to hold him here in this instant forever. Overtaken with stimulation and ardor. But his groans are pleading too. Hamlet feels just how deeply he’s seeking this release. It’s so long overdue and they’re both so mindless for it. He can only kiss him again and reach between them.
With a hand around both their cocks Horatio’s movements slow and become more drawn out. Hamlet curses and whimpers against Horatio’s mouth. They thrust together, consumed by their search for the same sensation, until Hamlet reaches for his bedside table and grabs the bottle of oil he keeps there. Clumsily, he pops the cork and gets some into his hand before he sets it down and grasps them both again.
Horatio’s whole body tenses and then he curves down into Hamlet, hips working desperately. Hamlet is suddenly right at the edge. His whole body is alight with it. And then Horatio digs his nails into Hamlet’s shoulders and spill hot and wet between them. Hamlet’s back bows in a deep arch and shouts Horatio’s name as he trashes underneath him, mindless and euphoric with orgasm. It’s sharp and bright and it keeps washing over him, deep and hot, wave after wave. He can’t find his own mind inside that state. It takes him a long time to come down out of it.
And when he does, Horatio is collapsed on top of him, shaking in aftershocks. Hamlet kisses his sweaty forehead and pets his hair. They can’t move for a while. When they have their wits about them again, one look tells Hamlet Horatio is well exhausted, and it makes him so happy. It just sets a glow over him. He reaches for the cloth he keeps in the bedside table for just such occasions and gently cleans up between them as best he can.
Horatio rolls off of him but stays firm to his side. It’s silent until Horatio chuckles a little. Hamlet looks down at him.
“I… should really finish my reading.”
Hamlet shocks himself with how loudly he laughs. It echoes around the room. Horatio is laughing too.
“You should do no such thing. Idle here in felicity a while, with me. The work will be there in the morning.”
“As will you.”
“As will I,” Hamlet confirms.
Horatio tilts his head up and kisses him. “I never in all my philosophy dreamt… that this could be.”
Hamlet thinks on that. “A rare thing when the waking world out-dreams even sleep.”
Horatio smiles against Hamlet’s chest and lays a kiss there. “Now are bound two noble hearts,” he murmurs as he drifts off into sleep.
Hamlet follows not long after, feeling the truth of it in the way their bodies rest together, in their suddenly attuned and deeper breathing.