What I call my husband is unprintable. You’re welcome. I am
his sweetheart, and finally, finally—I answer to his call and his
naming the heartbeats | aimee nezhukumatathil
“I do see you my darling, I do,” Thomas said to the dog pawing plaintively at his trousers. “But we can’t have any right this second, can we? No, we have to practice our best manners and wait, yes.”
The fat little thing was performing his usual evening routine: waddling behind Thomas in a nervous back and forth, and crying excessively for the stew meat he could smell up on the stovetop.
“Don’t be a naughty baby,” Thomas scolded, earning another whine and yowl of frustration and a false yawn of white silly teeth. “You’ll get yours soon enough.” He chanced to look down and the dog winked his dark liquid eyes and then let out a squeak of annoyance, bobbed tail vibrating behind him at full speed till his rump began to wiggle impatiently with it.
He woofed, butting at Thomas’ ankles and sniffing excessively till he once again heaved himself up to scrape his paw on Thomas’ calf, squealing.
“Do you have something to say, hmm?” Thomas asked, raising his eyebrows and putting his hand on his hip as he stared down. The dog sat back, barked again, shrill and insistent, batting at him with his broad paws.
Somewhere, in the recesses of memory, there was a conversation wherein arguments were being made about dogs, in particular what sorts of dogs Thomas Jopson might allow into his house. Thomas Jopson, in all honesty, did not want a dog, but if he was at his wits end of suffering the debate any longer he might as well make his demands known. There would be boundaries. It could not be big, it could not be shaggy, and it could not leave black hair all over.
You forget, Mr. Little, he said, peering at him as he readied himself for bed one evening. I spent four years looking after a dog.
You wound me, Mr. Little had teased, coming up to rub at his shoulders. What a way to talk about your lover…
You and Neptune, then, and you can guess who was the more ungainly, Thomas snipped back, bending over out of his reach to pull on fresh socks.
Cocking spaniels, Mr. Little persisted, were the perfect compromise.
They’re handsome little dogs, Edward said, feeling the first edges of Thomas’ resistance giving way under his prepared speech. He had to commend him: Edward always did his research. Very sporting. I can flush pheasant just as easily as tell it to go lie on the rug and be quiet. They’re tame as they come and don’t get over two stone.
Two stone, indeed, Thomas thought now, four years on, with a wry inward smile. From the moment Edward brought the little blonde puppy home in a lady’s hat box that cold Christmas Eve he’d been too timid to even take it out of the house, those same dear fat paws made for fording banks and brush and brambles by whatever exacting breeding too delicate to place on the patchy snow. Whatever pheasant their baby flushed was in his dreams along with the long forgotten proper name they’d had on the registration papers.
“Goodness,” Thomas cooed softly at the pathetic display that continued on no matter what he did. He was only able to endure a few minutes more of the begging before he inevitably gave in with a hopeless shake of his head. How could he deny such a sweet, sad face?
He fished a morsel out of the gravy and bent down enough to let the dog ecstatically pull it from between fingers and take his treat under the kitchen table to scarf down while Thomas tutted at his own failings, turning back to the food.
It had been quite some time since he’d been stood beside a stove, but Mrs. Vale’s was very warm and comfortable seeing as she’d done the majority of the work for him before leaving. It was even a particular leisure to enjoy a cigarette and babysit the pot and the pastries in the warmer and kettle while snow pillowed on the eaves outside. There was a half-warm cup of tea on the scrubbed table beside him by the paper which had been properly thumbed through all afternoon, pages ruffling now and then from the slight draft where he’d opened the transom on the kitchen door.
Now and then he got a scent of snow - soapy and as undeniably English as himself.
There was a thump from the other room and Thomas rolled his eyes briefly. Something rattled, or rocked, and was hastened to be caught before it fell followed by a bitten off laugh of relief. Baby had emerged from under the table licking his muzzle daintily and blinking about, his tail wagging when Thomas’ eyes lit on him.
“What’s all that commotion, do you suppose?” he mused to the dog, and Baby tongued at his own pebbled nose, sliding to the floor in a silky-haired heap, satisfied for the moment. “Is that our Edward -,”
Thomas’ words were lost to a sudden series of barks echoing throughout the house.
“That’s it, ” Edward was goading. “ Do you want this? You want it? Get it handsome boy! ” A muffled snarl followed closely.
Sensing trouble, he stubbed out his cigarette and shook the paper back together, slippered feet scuffing on the baked tile floor. The only cure for the bullying of his furniture was distraction, and he thankfully had a great one at his disposal.
“Might I ask you to wash up?” Thomas called, righting his sleeves where he’d pushed them up to his elbows as he stole around the corner into the back parlor. Baby toddled past him, straight to Edward who lay on the carpet now, catching his breath, and began to bathe his face liberally to Edward’s delight and Cricket’s jealousy. The collie was half collapsed on top of him already, the old knotted rag hanging out of his mouth, but he squirmed to drape himself even more on Edward’s chest in an effort to steal back his coveted attention.
“ Edward ,” Thomas said, but Edward held up his finger to silence him and rolled up to his knees, pushing Cricket off and away with a clumsy twist.
“Who would like a biscuit? Who would like a little biscuit? Hmm?”
Activated by the word biscuit alone, the two dogs scrambled over each other, Cricket’s toy dropping forgotten to the rug as they hurried into place side by side next to the occasional table.
“Edward,” Thomas pled, but pleased with the view nonetheless. “Don’t rile them before dinner...”
Edward ignored him, crouching down and reaching over to pull a shortbread off of the plate from tea earlier that afternoon.
“What do I have? What does daddy have
?” Edward said cryptically, holding up the treat. Drool was already dripping off of Baby’s mouth, but otherwise they were behaving quite well. Even Cricket was managing to remain locked into place as Edward eyed them.
“Down,” he said steadily and the dogs slid to the floor. “Good boys,” he glowed. “Speak!”
They yapped in sync.
“Oh so clever,” he praised, words practically melting out of his mouth. He cracked the biscuit in half and distributed it, the dogs licking the pieces up in one swallow before they fell on him in a frenzy of grateful kisses.
“Like giving the sacrament,” Thomas sighed from the doorway.
“It is a bit,” Edward laughed, meeting their enthusiastic greetings as much as their turning and worming about could allow. Cricket gave some kind of long cat-like sound in reply and tried to put his paws upon his shoulders as Edward scruffed his ears, holding his long silly face in between his palms so he could make the sign of the cross over his narrow forehead.“I absolve you of eating my favorite mules and spitting rabbit fur lining all over the bedroom...”
“Alright, alright, give our chuck some room,” Thomas chided, close enough to shoo Baby out of the way so Cricket would follow. They took immediately to sniffing over every inch for some crumb left behind, Cricket’s tail swatting at their legs as Thomas drew upon the Commander, giving him a thorough once over where he was now half-sprawled out on the floor.
“You’re a sight, ” Thomas said with a smirk, and Edward looked down at himself in realization. “Supper is quite done if you are,” Thomas continued and Edward lifted his head, holding his arms out for Thomas to take and help heave him up.
“Am I?” Edward said, trying to bat Thomas’ hands away when he went to do up one of the buttons on his knit waistcoat that had come loose during his romping. As if to spite him he shook his hair out and mussed with the part to leave it even more unruly, falling over his forehead and eyes.
“If you’d rather, I’ll eat on my own so you may have all your privacy,” Thomas teased glancing at Cricket where he was trailing his nose along the edge of a cushion. Edward made a soft sound, taking his arms to hold him still so he could kiss him on each cheek and then his chin. “Do you have an appetite?” Thomas managed between them when they finally landed on his mouth.
“Yes,” Edward said, busy. “Though I might have dessert first -,”
“Cheat,” Thomas laughed, attempting to pry him off to no avail. “I’ve slaved over that stove for you. What with us all on our own,” he continued, softening a bit as Edward’s embrace reeled him in closer.
It was sly indeed, with all the staff dismissed at the weather’s heeding. The sky had rolled in gray and heavy and when snow began to come down mid-morning Mr. Jopson could only insist everyone go away early so they wouldn’t be stranded at the house if the snow piled up quickly. So the little maid was let off to her aunt’s, Mr. Garrett their groom and his two sons to their cottages down the road, and Mrs. Vale back into town where she would remain until tomorrow at the earliest, but leaving them well provisioned in their abandonment.
“ And ,” Thomas continued, prodding at his chest. “Mrs. Vale left us pudding and rum sauce, for our morale, and we cannot disappoint her, can we?” He looked knowingly at the man in front of him and Edward rolled his eyes, gathering Thomas as close as he would allow, dropping his face to his throat which made Thomas’ skin shiver and coaxed another laugh from him.
Thomas tilted his head in the afterward, playing very innocently. “Mr. Little? Was it not you who had me seek out the best cook in Ledbury or not?” he said expectantly, tugging on his hair to lift his head.
“Her rum sauce is very good.”
“Isn’t it just?” Thomas said, looking at him through his lashes. Edward came to rest a soft kiss just on his bottom lip as they stood there, the single lamp and fire in the grate making them all honey-gold. His mouth was warm and as always very sweet and curving with his own.
“With that sort of treat waiting,” he continued, Edward taking his turn at
into another kiss, this one a bit harder, palm fitting against his cheek before he drew away to watch Thomas’ eyes blink open. “One might not have it on their mind to go about kissing their servants - ,”
“Well,” Edward said simply, pecking him again out of habit. “That happens to be the only thing on my mind when you’re this pleased with yourself.”
“Go find a comb,” Thomas laughed against his mouth, unwinding himself from his embrace. Edward watched him till he was out of sight before giving a low whistle to Cricket who raced for the top floor ahead of him, half tripping up the staircase.
When Edward came down a bit later he looked so much more presentable and handsome that Thomas couldn’t help but want to undo it all over again, this time without the help of the dogs.
The thought dispersed quickly though, as he caught sight of what Edward was holding unexpectedly behind his back.
“What’s this?” he asked, his curiosity obvious.
“I thought of tucking it under your pillow when I returned home last,” Edward said as he came over to where Thomas was laying out their supper on the table. Cricket was at his heel, as always, bumping against his knees when Edward sat down on the sofa, for Edward was the true love of his life.
Their baby sat primly enthroned in his cushions on the armchair by the grate, licking his saucer of gravy clean where it rested between his paws, not even bothering to look up as Edward passed.
Thomas glanced up again, stirring sugar into Edward’s tea and his eyes lit on the slim package now fully on display in his hand.
“But I suppose I was waiting for a better moment,” he smiled.
“All the way from London-town?” Thomas sing-songed, dimpling. It was so rare, so infinitely precious, to have such time just the two of them that to think Edward sat on it so long till such an opportunity arose gave him a maddeningly warm sensation in his breast. Edward wagged it at him silently, easing down on the sofa and leaning back.
They traded - tea for the little parcel - and Edward watched over his cup while Thomas sat down in the unoccupied chair and began undoing the string.
“All wrapped up and everything,” he marveled, seeming most impressed as he pulled the tag free from the twine to show it to him.
“Now who could have come up with that name?”
“Shop girl,” he replied and Thomas gently undid the paper. It was a silly lie, to be sure, but he indulged it.
“That shop girl is getting very familiar,” Thomas countered, folding back a corner. “She’s going to start thinking you live with a tea cozy calling me -,” he stopped, grinning when the first sight of the volume was revealed. He might have guessed a book.
“That shop girl recommended it,” Edward said, taking another long sip, seeing Thomas’ eyes flashing giddily. “And, I have on good authority you are quite fond of being called honeysop...”
“Among other things, yes,” Edward nudged, leaning over to plop another cube of sugar into his tea. “Open it, sops , you’re keeping me in cruel suspense.”
Thomas went on, setting the packaging aside to look more closely at the copy of Bleak House - Mr. Dickens’ most recent novelization.
“Do you know I don’t miss waiting for the serials at all anymore. It’s much better to have it and devour it at once.” He cracked open the front cover, skimming his thumb down the straight edge of the pages, that ripe vinegary smell meeting him.
“You do devour them,” Edward chuckled, setting his saucer back down and settling in on his supper. Thomas was already flipping through the book, his smile widening, and Edward could not help but feel the pull to look at him.
Cricket begged at his wrist, but soon he realized he was not going to get anything except a soft swat out of Edward and put himself down on top of Thomas’ feet to warm them with a huff.
“Don’t stare at me so,” Thomas said, looking up from the dog who broke his concentration to catch Edward’s eye. “You know it makes it hard to think.”
Edward chewed and swallowed, moving his head towards the empty spot beside him.
“Come nearer then, and you may think all you wish.”
Thomas un-wedged his feet at the invitation, coming to sit and tuck his head on Edward’s shoulder as he ate. He was in a fresh shirt and Thomas could not help but rub his cheek against it, still flicking through the book.
“You aren’t going to eat?” Edward said, the sound rumbling into Thomas’ ear. “It’s nearly eight o’clock.”
“I will,” Thomas said impatiently. “I want to see the illustrations first…,” he trailed off, turning pages til he found the few.
“Doesn’t that spoil the story?” Edward commented, Thomas presenting a page to him. He cocked his eyebrow at it. He was not one for fiction, but Thomas would tell him of it anyway with a few embellishments and plenty of opinions to illuminate the work.
“It helps me get a picture for the people,” Thomas explained, closing the book with a snap and letting it fall on the cushion beside him when he was satisfied. “Not everything must always be orderly, Mr. Little,” he continued. “It adds a bit of thrill now and then.”
“Thrill?” Edward said, interest piqued. “To be sure, from the same man who scolded me about dessert first.”
Thomas only gave him a grin and then looked at his own plate which seemed to be very far off on the other side of the table and opted for dragging his fork towards him and chasing a bit of pastry and gravy off of Edward’s instead. Edward said nothing, halving portions with his own fork and knife and pushing them aside for Thomas to peck at as he liked.
“I forgot wine,” Thomas sighed suddenly, looking at the assemblage and when he made to get up Edward knocked his elbow against him softly.
“Ah-ah,” he said, eyes on his plate. “You are keeping me quite warm,” he returned to cutting into a potato. Thomas relented, winding his arm around him and worming it between Edward’s back and the back of the sofa so that he might do even more to that end.
“Much better,” Edward remarked when Thomas was well settled in. He fed him a bit more, Thomas leaning forward to take it from his fork and chasing the mess away with the pads of his fingers which he licked just to hear Edward patiently ask him if he’d ever met a napkin and wouldn’t he like to be introduced.
“I forgot to tell you, I’ve found a crack in the pantry,” he started as he dabbed his mouth then loosely folded the linen to toss on the table.
“Have you now? Seen it while pilfering sweets?” Edward said, ribbing him as he scraped at his plate.
“I do not steal sweets,” Thomas blinked. “They’re mine to take. I keep your grocery list.”
He tilted his head a bit against Edward’s arm, and Edward looked at him speculatively.
“Well, do you remember the draper who came about the curtains in the front room - his brother does mortar and I figured I would have him come round and have a look.”
“Least, I have it on his word, and he did such a fine job,” Thomas clarified. “Oh, and I’ve ironed your suit for Sunday. You mustn’t forget to take the cake to Lucy’s after service for the party. I’ll have it ready in the morning,” Thomas said, fussing with Edward’s suspender, watching his finger smooth and straighten the line on it over Edward’s back. “Pray you won’t have this much snow to get through...,” he rambled.
“I still don’t know how it fell upon me to sort out another man’s birthday cake,” Edward said selectively, his accusing look saying otherwise of his ignorance. “And have Bethy do it,” he added. “You should sleep in on Sunday.”
Thomas rolled his eyes.Their maid was a very good girl, but she had a bad habit of dropping things.
“Better yet have Cricket do it,” he replied, Cricket lifting his head at the sound of his name.
“Do you hear us talking about you?” Edward laughed and Cricket blinked then replaced his head upon his paws, staring at the mournfully.
“It’s important to Lucy you get along with him. She gets jealous of how friendly you are with Harriot and Emory. It’s a goodwill gesture, and one that will hold them over until Christmas at the least. You’re only miffed he takes your share - you’d eat half that cake yourself if you could.”
He snapped Edward’s brace playfully where’d wormed his hand under Edward’s waistcoat and Edward shot him a glare.
“Hattie has better taste in husbands,” he said, referring to the elder of his two closest sisters. Thomas refrained from observing that Harriot was generally better at everything to Edward’s mind because she was quite obviously his favorite and a bit spoiled for it. “Namely ones that do not rely on me for gestures ,” he furthered, piling the last bits of pastry onto his fork. “Anything else, or are you done playing clerk?”
“Post came yesterday from Richard with the usual weather report, and your mother,” Thomas replied, searching his memory. “I left them on your desk. You will need to firm up your thoughts on where you’d like to be for the summer as there’s a variety of options.”
Edward made a small displeasured sound.
“That’s half a year away.”
“It will be here sooner than you think,” Thomas tutted. “Social seasons always creep up.”
“It’s always a social season,” Edward said around a final mouthful and Thomas smirked, pressing his lips against his arm, his hand taking up a slow S motion over his back. “You decide. You’ll be making the arrangements.”
“We could have the children here again,” Thomas prompted, watching his finger tracing patterns between Edward’s shoulder blades. “And make calls, as we did last season...”
Edward nodded. That had worked out splendidly; having an extra pair of hands to help shuttle Edward’s nieces and nephews to and fro did not raise many eyebrows. Besides, he knew Thomas enjoyed them - his own upbringing being what it was, entertaining Fred’s three boys and girl was a new and sweeter vantage of childhood. One he might have wished for himself, if Thomas was capable of being so selfish.
There was also the fact that the two of them had mutually excluded the notion of having children of their own. Their situation was unspoken testimony.
“We can take them to the Hodgsons,” Edward sighed, getting that out of the way. “You know how George likes to host. Francis will naturally have us, which means Fitzjames will be about as well - what of John?”
Thomas cast his eyes down at Edward’s wrist. He had been on the verge of feeling very happy at seeing Francis before he was interrupted by other considerations.
“Oh, it slipped my mind,” he said softly, his hand drifting to rub at Edward’s neck and collar. Edward put his fork and knife on the plate, pushing it away with a dull sound. “He wrote while you were away, I didn’t open it.”
“You can, if you’d like,” Edward said softly. “I wish you would, Tommy. Sometime.”
“We shan’t forget Hale, either,” Thomas said, mentioning Edward’s aging older brother in lieu of answering. “He’s getting on now - and you haven’t seen him for over a year and a half. He’d probably like to see the children.”
“Only so you could see how he asks after you,” Edward said, ignoring Thomas’ attempts. He turned to him fully with his hands clasped together between his knees. “He’s not nearly as suspicious as you would think,” Edward ventured, knowing to tread with utmost caution about the subject. “He does care for you, and he considers you a friend. It’s only in his own way - as much as he can manage to understand -.”
Thomas took a short breath and Edward ceased his talking, reaching out to take Thomas’ hand, rubbing his thumb over his knuckles.
“Perhaps, if he should come to have a stay you can go and visit Bobby for a spell,” Edward offered, “Or I will find my way to him instead.”
“I’m sure either would please him,” Thomas said, withdrawing from Edward’s side to start collecting the dirty cutlery back onto the tray. He meant it to be lighthearted, truly, but the words were chilly as they left his mouth.
“I do not care to please him,” Edward said bitterly. “You know that pleasing you is all I wish -,”
“Edward,” he said, tamping down his own temper before they could begin such an old and ridiculous fight at such a late hour when he meant to be very content and not bothered. He flashed Edward a look over his shoulder as he stacked their plates. “Visiting Bobby is a wonderful idea, and I ought to anyway. "He turned back to the dishes. "I’m beginning to believe I was born and raised in Ledbury...”
“I wish you would leave that and stop acting as though you’re about to begin packing for it,” Edward said sullenly, with a coarse clear of his throat. Thomas caught himself and looked down with realization at the chore. He twisted round, and brought his hands to either side of Edward’s face. He kissed his forehead, trying to smooth the worried look away with his thumbs.
“Are you cross with me?” Thomas asked.
Edward shook his head.
“Wouldn’t you let me take those away for you?” He asked, nodding at the full tray, and Thomas kissed his forehead again. “ Just this once?”
“It can wait,” Thomas returned, and Edward’s nose found its way to his middle, his hands at his hips pulling so he was standing between his legs.
Thomas pet at the back of his head, padding his fingers over the thick scar under his hair, letting them sink into quiet. Edward made a muffled satisfied noise while Thomas scratched his scalp.
“Let’s forgo it,” Edward sighed, finally looking up at him, chin digging at the base of his ribs. “All of it. We’ll go to Malta for a year. I’ll show you my old haunts, and it’s much warmer there. You’ll like it.”
“What about the dogs?” Thomas said playfully, watching Edward’s hair swirl into place with the carding of his fingers. He was so enamored of Edward’s hair - his own had always been pin straight and thick as pitch which did not leave him very much to do with it, but Edward’s would wave and curl if you gave it a bit of patience and worked it through. It was much like Edward in that regard.
“We’ll bring them along. The women wear these great long veils,” Edward said, resting his cheek against Thomas’ stomach once more, steeping in the memory of it. “They look like sails in the wind. The sun is so strong you would hardly believe you’ve known the same one. It’s far better than Woolwich...”
“It cannot be all that bad,” Thomas said.
“I wish I were being cynical,” Edward sighed, leaning back. “I’ve told you - it’s making toward disaster,” he continued dryly, slumping further into the cushions and rubbing at his forehead. Thomas retrieved his box from the mantle and passed it to him without needing to be asked.
“Thank you pet,” Edward said as he took it, beginning the elaborate ritual of filling his pipe. Thomas’ own hands twitched for a cigarette, or something to hold. He sat back down on the sofa once more and picked up the book, inspecting it while Edward lit up, the two of them slipping into familiar quiet.
Edward’s arm stretched out over the back as he finished lighting and puffed away, seeming satisfied. He rolled his eyes to Thomas without moving his head, puffing with consideration before he spoke.
“I’ve had them turn the numbers every way I can conceive, but there’s no way the yard will manage to keep up in the future,” he said, picking up where he’d left off and Thomas closed the book, busying his hands with straightening Edward’s cuff while he talked. “It’s all calling for ironclads, and it would take a miracle to get them in shape for that demand… I’ve told them I’ve exhausted my allotment of those for one lifetime.”
Thomas’s brow furrowed in surprise.
“Do you think they’ll close it?”
“Eventually,” Edward said, shifting his shoulders pensively. He tipped his head back, gnawing at the stem of his pipe, smoke drifting towards the ceiling. He folded his arm across his middle, eyes drifting shut. “I think I’ll fall asleep,” he murmured.
“If I let you sleep there, you will get a terrible knot in your neck,” Thomas said, and he lifted his socked feet and put them in Edward’s empty lap, receiving a soft oof in response. “Can’t be having that.”
The other was too worn to contest, though his hand did come to rest on Thomas’ ankle, rubbing in slow circles.
“If it closes you should retire,” Thomas said in a voice he reserved for particular occasions such as these. “Remember what Doctor Goodsir has said , pigeon -”
“Thomas, you would go mad having me underfoot,” Edward before he could lay into that business. “My ulcer be damned,” he added, flushing though he kept his eyes closed.
“No madder than usual,” Thomas teased, flexing his foot appreciatively against the place where Edward’s thigh met his hip.
Edward cracked his eyes open and moved his hand up his calf, still rubbing.
“Are you happy here?”
“What?” Came the startled reply. Edward took his pipe from his mouth and wet his lips slightly.
“Are you happy here,” he repeated, gesturing at the room. “It’s an easy enough question, Tom.”
The wind blew strong outside, snow pattering on the window pane - Thomas hadn’t noticed it picking up again, but he could hear the wind more clearly now in the quiet.
“Why would you ever wonder that?” Thomas managed to say, hardening. He stared at Edward with disbelief. “It is an easy question, sir . The answer is yes, as it’s always been.”
Edward’s mouth twitched at the corner.
“I would not blame you if you were not. It must get so tedious,” he went on. The firelight played on his face, making it harder to read his temperament. “Looking after me. The whole spectacle of it. I go away, and I come back again tired and with a cold, usually, and you are here. I strongly believe most of the time that the equation should be reversed. It should be you going to London - you’re far better suited for it. You’ve always been more suited for it. You shouldn’t be looking after cracks in my pantry…” He turned his head away.
“I may resign any time I like,” Thomas reminded him. “I believe those were the terms agreed upon when you asked me to come and live with you.”
I ask you to come stay with me. Away from all that bad air -
He was worried over him. It was in a letter sent after a delirious lonely three months ashore, and tucked safely away inside the first Christmas Annual Edward had ever gotten him. Quite fervently. About his constitution, his health, his state of living, the state of politics. There were riots and strikes and outbreaks and all the general haze that accompanied working matters in London. His house was too big for only himself, and his brothers were married now and couldn’t be brought to heel so easily. He had to remain within reasonable distance of his family, anyway (for their peace or Edward’s he never would tell). He was seventh child and third of five sons, and there was no need nor rush for him to extend himself in any way except in those he liked. He’d couched it in all sorts of things.
Thomas wrote back the obvious in his teetering chicken scratch.
Would you be needing a manservant at Colwell Road, Commander Little? I offer my resume - please see my list of references attached -
From the minute he’d put his bag down in the foyer of Edward’s house he knew he would not be leaving. Edward had not known what to do with himself right away. It was Thomas who navigated them through every nook and cranny, asking where everything was, what he preferred, making all his notes.
“ Which room will be mine ?” he’d said at the end of the tour, meaning it to be a joke. It was a great convenience, after all, that in proper houses one’s valet kept his quarters so snugly beside his master's and that the purview of such rooms belonged to them alone.
To his dismay Edward’s face fell so quickly into heartbreak right before his eyes - like a rug was yanked out from under him. He looked so startled.
“ It’s all yours Tom -, ” he could barely make himself speak. “ Tom, it’s all yours - every room is yours -. ”
If from then on people believed Thomas held more than the keys to the wine cellar they kept it to politely to themselves.
“You may,” Edward said softly. “Any time you tire of it.”
“Did they speak to you about another assignment,” Thomas asked, abruptly, and Edward’s eyes widened, his pipe falling back into the palm of his hand.
“Another assignment?” Edward seemed baffled.
“Don’t mince with me,” Thomas said, his accent thickening. “They will close Woolwich, you say. Your time overseeing those operations will also close with it.”
“There are plenty of other shipyards in England,” Edward began but Thomas cut him off, squinted, trying to see him clearly in the snow-hushed dim.
“Do you want another commission?”
Edward was silent for a long moment.
“Have you asked?” Thomas pressed.
“ I have not asked,” Edward said firmly, gripping Thomas’ leg where it was still in his lap as though he sensed Thomas might bolt otherwise. “I have not. They offer it, but only as they offer it to anyone. You are picking this fight.”
“I am not,” Thomas clipped, knowing he very much was. “I want to get to the bottom of it.”
“There’s nothing to get to the bottom of, Thomas," Edward said with well-worn exasperation.
“You refuse?” Thomas’ face drifted into utter incredulity. “You will tell me, honestly, that John Irving does not write to you of it -,”
“I say I will consider it,” Edward confessed, and Thomas did not know quite what to make of such a statement once it was voiced.
Edward looked down at Thomas’ feet, and then curled over to dump his pipe out onto one of their plates, setting it aside with a clack. “If that’s what you’re afraid to see from John, Thomas, I assure you he has no interest in going back ever again. He did not even wish to go in the first place.”
“ I do consider it, sometimes,” Edward continued, settling into rubbing at Thomas’ toes with both hands as if he was warming them. “I - embolden myself to the idea that if I went away for longer it might rekindle - .”
“You cannot be serious,” Thomas said. “If you wanted to go again,” his cheeks were blotching. “It should have nothing to do with that .”
Edward stared at him with a hopeless expression, like Cricket when he found him with their slippers.
“Edward,” Thomas grit. “You will turn my hair grey,” he groaned, rubbing his forehead. “How many times would you like to make up with me tonight?”
“Tell me I’m a fool, and we’ll be done with it,” Edward said simply.
“You are a darling of a fool,” Thomas obeyed, taking a deep breath, his fingers digging into his temple. “Oh but you are such a fool,” he half laughed. “You needn’t go farther than Eastnor, Edward,” his voice cracked embarrassingly. “For me to miss you. You go as far as Hereford, or to the house in Keswick, God willing, and I shall have to take up needlepoint for all my usual tricks won’t do to keep me occupied - two weeks away is enough as it is.”
He crossed his arms firmly over his chest.
“I would have you properly retired,” Thomas went on, heart tripping with the pitiful admittance. “I would have you gain a stone and sit quiet and feeble in the garden so all I’d need to do is glance out the window and see you.”
“Feeble?” Edward questioned, his hand sliding up to fit over Thomas’ knee.
“Don’t test me on it,” Thomas said, brushing it off. “There is no telling what I would trade away.”
“Please come here,” Edward murmured.
Thomas looked stubbornly where Edward held out his hand for him.
“Come here, Thomas,” he beckoned with his fingers. “I have never wanted to kiss you more in all my life.”
“You like me when I am as excited as your dog,” Thomas said, dragging his legs from Edward’s lap and bringing himself closer. Edward watched his every move, taking his hand when he was close enough, though Thomas pulled it away and stared down at him. “Listen to me, or I’ll tell you every day till you grow ill of it: I am happy,” he said, gripping at Edward’s shoulders with a little shake. “I am so happy it may one day do me in at last.”
“Don’t speak of such things,” Edward whispered, taking his face in his hands.
“This house is very fine,” Thomas said, pushing him back and doing his best to glare. “Would you drop me back in West London, Edward Little?”
“Not tonight,” Edward said, against his mouth when Thomas let him closer. “I would not have my horses in this snow -,”
He caught Thomas’ hand just as it rose to swat at him and laughed, moving so that Thomas was forced flat on the sofa.
“Bully,” Thomas pretended to growl, arching slightly as Edward dropped his weight upon him, their hips driving together in a breathless shock he knew they both felt.
Edward reached over him and around to dig under Thomas’ head. He found the copy of Bleak House and tossed it carelessly to the floor with a thunk .
“Be careful with my book,” Thomas complained between the hot kisses he was now receiving at length. “Someone I love gave that to me.”
“I’ll buy you another, grouse,” Edward chuckled, looking down on him. He pushed Thomas’ hair back in a loose rake from his forehead and watched him wrinkle his nose. “Be sweet,” he hummed, taking his chin and having the audacity to fix him with all the disarming sensitivity of his stare. “I was content with all my lots, truly, Thomas. I believed myself to be very complacent before we met. Now I find I must rebel against anything that does not include you, including Her Majesty’s Navy. You needn’t worry.”
“Great chewing complacency,” Thomas quoted, peering at him from half-lidded eyes as he finally relaxed, letting Edward toy with his leg, dragging his hand along his thigh. He linked arms around Edward’s neck, smirking when Edward stalled his motions, puzzled.
“Whatever is that from?”
“Four years stuck in the Arctic to catch up on your reading and you don’t know your Aesop,” Thomas fleered, raising his chin a bit. “What a lackadaisical man have I,” he went on, Edward kissing his neck in earnest knowing it tickled him terribly and always made him squirm and laugh in that helpless manner that made Edward feel as though his heart might break open or apart.
“I was preoccupied,” Edward said when he was done bestowing a series of love bites, nosing at his jaw and nuzzling at his chest.
“Do you intend on having me on this couch? After all of that?” Thomas said, breathing a bit harder. He tracked him as he drifted lower and lower, his hands chasing after to light on Edward’s shoulders, curling at the nape of his neck.
“You’ve done your conspiring to get us alone,” Edward said from somewhere around his hip, his fingers already making quick work with the falls of his trousers. “So unless you’d like me to carry you to the kitchen and cover you in rum sauce…”
Thomas could only throw his head back in a desperate gasping sort of joy, fingers swirling through Edward’s hair.