There were mornings when Thomas would wake up and forget where he was; forget that they’d made it home to England; forget that his life now wasn’t just some fevered dream of a dying man. He would wake from a dream choking and unable to tell if the curtains were real, if the bed was real, if the warmth of it all was real.
It was worst when he was sleeping alone, as sharing a house with Captain Crozier—with Francis, did not necessarily mean sharing a bed; Francis was not always home, or they had guests, or the maid was coming early. But more often than not, he would wake in a panic and be met by Francis pulling him close and holding him until the shaking and fear passed. This was one of those mornings.
His startling awake didn’t seem to have woken Francis, but it was comfort enough to nestle against him and feel his warmth. Winter had given way to spring, but Thomas still found himself chilled on even the warmest days.
Francis grunted and draped an arm over Thomas’s waist, perhaps not as soundly asleep as Thomas had assumed.
Thomas let out a long sigh, the anxiety and fear slowly starting to ease out of him.
The arm around his waist tightened. “’s everything all right?” Francis mumbled.
“Yes, I- I hope I didn’t wake you,” Thomas murmured.
Francis shook his head, blinking his eyes open slowly. “I was already starting to wake up.” He leaned in to kiss Thomas’s cheek. “Is everything all right?”
“Yes, just a nightmare, no worse than usual,” Thomas said, shifting so he could better see Francis’s face.
“All right.” Francis didn’t sound entirely convinced, but he didn’t press for which Thomas was quite grateful.
“I’ll be better in a little while,” Thomas continued. “Just let me lay here a bit longer.”
Francis hummed. “I have nothing pressing that needs my attention today, so we can lay in bed as long as we like.”
Getting to lay in bed and do nothing was something Thomas was wholly unaccustomed to, and he almost never did it if Francis wasn’t in bed with him to encourage him to be lazy. It wasn’t that he didn’t see the appeal to it. On the contrary, after a night of disturbed sleep, getting to lay in bed for a time was quite nice.
It was mostly habit at this point in his life that saw him a continued early riser. He had simply never lived a life that allowed for that sort of leisure. His life as a captain’s steward had been ensuring that he was always one step ahead in anticipating Francis’s needs, and even before that, there was always work to be done in the morning at home, which made sleeping in an impossibility, even when you were ill.
Lounging about in bed now required Thomas to silence the nagging part of his mind that kept telling him that he ought to be up and starting breakfast or making sure the fires were stoked or reinforcing the elbow of a jacket that was starting to wear thin. Silencing that voice was far easier when Francis was there to distract him.
Thomas was pulled out of his thoughts by the sensation of Francis’s hand sliding beneath the hem of his shirt and beginning to rub small circles into his back. Sighing contentedly, Thomas leaned forward to kiss Francis gently.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
Francis’s mouth quirked into a small smile, “And just what are you thanking me for?”
“Anything. Everything.” Thomas hadn’t had any one thing in mind when he’d spoken. “It all feels easier to handle when I wake up here with you.”
Francis hummed quietly in agreement, his hand stilling and coming to rest solidly in the small of Thomas’s back. “I quite agree. If necessity didn’t sometimes call for it, I’d have my bedroom turned into a guest room.”
Thomas laughed. “You’d make the master bedroom the guest room?”
“There’s an unwieldy amount of space,” Francis grumbled and Thomas laughed again.
“I suppose it is a touch bigger than your average officer’s berth.”
That pulled a chuckle out of Francis as well, “Yes, just a touch.” He paused. “You know, I have thought about perhaps finding somewhere smaller, not necessarily without two bedrooms, but I thought a small place out in the country might be better suited for us than a London townhouse.”
Thomas frowned. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that much change so soon,” he admitted quietly. “I’m still getting used to… to all this… I…”
He would go if Francis asked it of him, but he was still trying to get his legs under himself to just have a life in England again at all.
Francis was quick to assuage those worries, however. “We don’t have to do anything now, Thomas. It was a thought for the future.”
Thomas sagged in relief and Francis’s hand returned to rubbing soothing circles into his back.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Thomas muttered. Exhaustion was creeping up on him from having slept poorly.
“There’s no need for apologies,” Francis said. “We’ve built our life here together and I’ll not force you into anything you’re not ready for. It’s no easy thing to come back from what we’ve been through.”
Thomas’s breath hitched and he buried his face in Francis’s shoulder, feeling oddly overwhelmed by his words.
“Antarctica was hardly so bad, and you saw how I struggled on our return then too,” Francis continued and Thomas found himself drifting toward sleep again, lulled by Francis’s soft speech and the patterns his fingers were trancing on Thomas’s back.
If Francis said anything more, it was lost to Thomas’s ears. The last thing he felt, before sleep pulled him under again was a kiss pressed to the top of his head.