Tangible Schizophrenia


The Moon in the Window

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Groves/Pellew/Horatio, hinted Horatio/Archie, Groves/Norrington and Norrington/Sparrow.
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: Not mine, not intended to reap any kind of profit.
Notes: For the Potc Polyficathon for hazelhawthorne. PotC/Hornblower crossover, takes place sometime between Mutiny/Retribution and Loyalty/Duty.
Summary: A slashy ghost story in the Grand Old English tradition.


“It’s utter nonsense is what it is,” Pellew said, angrily cutting at his steak. He pared away the meat from the bone to show a sickly, wan red that put Horatio’s mind to bowls and bowls of rinsing water on the surgeon’s countertop. “Hang it, if they’d like to win the war then they’d best hold onto their officers, not throw them to the dogs. We’re shorthanded enough as it is.”

“I suppose it’s a matter of honor. If even one regulation is blatantly flouted, then the discipline of the whole fleet is at stake.” Horatio’s own steak and the vegetables that had come with it had long since lost their gentle, fragrant steam and now sat like variously-shaped lumps of lead on his plate. He had eaten a few bites of the potatoes when it had first arrived, but without the slightest bit of appetite and only until Pellew had plunged too far into the conversation to notice. Then he’d abandoned it without a second’s thought.

Perhaps not so far—he knew perfectly well that he was wasting a fine meal, and certainly a better one than he would be afforded in the next few months. He knew he should not be talking of honor when he himself was treating Pellew’s generosity with such unrepentant disregard, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to care. The world beyond the window at his side was rapidly darkening to the color of cannon-steel, dull and overbearing, and in the air was an insidious chill that sapped all his energy. He barely had enough to go about his duties without attracting the ship’s doctor’s suspicion, let alone muster up sufficient enthusiasm for socializing.

Pellew deserved better, considering all he’d done for Horatio. And Pellew of course had a sharper eye than the doctor, which he was now bending on Horatio. “That seems a strange sentiment from you, sir.” A slight smile tugged at his lips. “I couldn’t begin to number the myriad ways you’ve flouted Navy regulations. And all to the better, I might add, though it did cause its fair share of trouble afterward.”

“Such as the necessity of scapegoats,” Horatio replied, far more sharply than he’d intended.

In point of fact, he hadn’t at all been certain of what his intentions had been. He had barely been following Pellew’s righteously indignant relation of a current court-martial; his thoughts had been wandering and grey, somewhat like the foggy wisps outside the glass. The words had risen without being bidding, a hot flare that vanished as quickly and inexplicably as it had come.

He nearly put his hand to his forehead before he realized that Pellew was staring at him. Horatio flushed and stammered out an apology: “Sir, I—that was excessively rude of—”

“Are you feeling quite all right?” Pellew said in the same instant. His rich voice utterly drowned out Horatio’s wavering words. Horatio instantly assured him that that was not the problem—certainly he’d just got in from a long voyage, but nothing strenuous—but Pellew was unconvinced and leaned over the table, tilting the candle so he could inspect Horatio’s face. His eye flicked to Horatio’s plate. “Do eat up, Hornblower. You’re lankier every time I see you.”

Horatio forced himself to shape his mouth into a deprecating smile. “Thank you, sir, but this is so much richer than the officers’ mess that I’m afraid my stomach has forgotten how to coop. Besides, I have a meeting at Whitehall in an hour or so.”

“And damned if I know what idiot would call in an officer for a report at this hour. Perhaps the clerks have nothing better to do than sit up shaving their quills, but good Navy officers need their rest.” A pause followed Pellew’s first outburst, during which he leaned back and sighed, staring at Horatio. He pursed his lips and seemed on the verge of saying something—‘intimate’ was the absurd word that sprang to Horatio’s mind—but what eventually emerged was a segue back to the original topic of conversation. “As I was saying, the Admiralty has the damnedest habit of cannibalizing its most promising officers sometimes. This case reminds me of a famous one about a century back, involving a commodore stationed in Jamaica, which oddly enough happened at about the same time…”

It was a relief. Pellew could discourse to his heart’s content, and Horatio needed merely to nod and add in a fragment of conversation every so often to nudge Pellew back into the wind whenever his sails seemed to be drooping. He could do that much without having to think too closely on the distance that had opened between them, or on why he seemed not to mind it. Once upon a time Pellew’s opinion had meant more to him than nearly anyone else’s, but now it was all too easy to let it glide past him. It was almost necessary that it be so, or else the fragile layer of ice that was holding Horatio together might fracture.

At last they took their leave of each other, with Pellew taking one last chance to tsk at Horatio for the amount of food left untouched on his plate. Horatio pasted a smile on his face and ducked his head often, and relentlessly continued donning his greatcoat and scarf. “Again, thank you very much for the kindness, sir.”

“Hornblower.” Peremptory and firm, the word demanded attention. But when Horatio looked up, the expression he saw on Pellew’s face seemed almost…sad. A trick of the light, presumably, because the next moment Pellew was taking him lightly by the arm and giving him a friendly shake. “Do take care of yourself. You’re one man I’d not care to lose.”

“I know,” Horatio said, and once again he discerned an underlying sharpness in his voice. He started to apologize, then stopped himself, hoping that the bustle of the tavern would have covered up his slip. “Good evening, sir.”

“Good evening,” Pellew slowly replied, letting his hand slide from Horatio’s shoulder. Once that would have meant something else, something welcome, but now Horatio merely allowed the sensation to slip away. Pellew hesitated, then stepped aside to let Horatio pass.

* * *

By the time Horatio finished his business at the Admiralty’s offices, he had to admit that exhaustion was getting the better of him. Towards the end of his debriefing, which at times had been more like a stiff interrogation, his mind had begun to feel like an overkneaded salve, oozing and incoherent. And now every step awakened aches and bruises that had previously been content to lie quietly.

The halls were quite dark and deserted, which would have been an unnerving sight if Horatio had cared to pay much attention. It was very different from the crowded quarters of a ship, where no matter how late it was there was always an undercurrent of sound to provide company. The creaking of hemp and wood, the snores of the men, perhaps the slow sad chant of the watch keeping themselves awake, and always the possibility of a loud shout at the sign of the enemy…a loud, rattling cry that would be echoed through every corner of the ship…

Horatio stopped where he was and cocked his head, listening. He frowned—surely it was only his tired imagination playing tricks on him, but he heard someone shouting in the distance. Wild, hysterical shouting from a man, though he couldn’t make out the words. He looked around for anyone else, but it seemed that he was the only one left in this part of the building.

After a moment’s indecision, Horatio resettled his sword and strode off towards the cries. They were conveniently in the same direction as the exit, so he spared little worry about becoming lost in the narrow, crooked labyrinth of corridors.

The yelling grew louder and louder as he walked towards it, and it also seemed to grow more desperate. It had gained a bitter, sobbing note and what words Horatio could discern seemed to be mainly seaman’s curses. But there was something odd, something about the words that disturbed him, yet he couldn’t quite place it…

He rounded the last corner and suddenly a horrendous crack cut through the shouts. Horatio reflexively leaped forward, eyes sweeping the hall to determine what the danger was. He received slices of sight: dust puffing violently into the air, the figure of a person throwing themselves backwards, something falling from above them. Something heavy, said the same part of him that judged the weight of cannon-shot.

While all this went through his mind, he was already acting: his arm shot out and his hand closed on an arm. Horatio yanked hard backward, registering a moment later the other man’s surprised grunt, and suddenly there were two of them tumbling away from a great crash.

The man was of a height with him, though more broadly built; his shoulder knocked the breath out of Horatio when it collided with Horatio’s chest. He lost his hat when he stumbled and from beneath it flashed white-grey, so for a moment Horatio thought he’d saved one of the older retired captains who’d taken up a desk job. But no, the startled face that rose to look into his own was little older than him. It was only that the man’s hair seemed full of some kind of powder, which made Horatio sneeze a little as he stepped back. “Sir, are you—”

“Who the devil are you?” said the man, and once again there was that indefinable oddity in how he spoke. A strange accent—perhaps he’d been born in one of the colonies, for it was British and yet not.

Horatio took another step back and re-surveyed the situation: lying on the floor just behind the other man was a large wrought-iron corner support. The man himself was in…Horatio blinked, then looked again. It seemed to be Navy uniform, but it was…extraordinarily old-fashioned. “I might ask the same of you,” he warily replied.

In addition, the stranger was clearly in a state over some matter: his eyes were so thickly laced with red that the whites weren’t visible, the flesh beneath them was swollen and dark, and his clothes were in disarray as if he’d been brawling. He rocked back and forth on his feet, staring hard at Horatio, and then he muttered something about not having the time. Then he attempted to slam his way past Horatio, but Horatio got him around the waist and dragged him back. Almost too late, he saw a knee come up and threw himself aside to avoid it; he managed to snap his elbow into the man’s side so he also fell. The man swore violently and struck out at Horatio. “Damn you, I need to see them! They can’t—the court-martial’s got to hear what I have to say so—”

“What? Wait, wait—the offices are all closed! There’s no one here!” A blow clipped Horatio on the shoulder, but he ducked under the one that followed it and used his weight to pin down the other man. The next time the man hit at him, he seized the fist and forced it down to the ground in a way a bored Styles had once shown him. “There’s no one here! The court-martial ended this morning! The verdict’s in—what on earth…”

Because suddenly the stranger had gone limp beneath him, eyes wide and dark and drained of all hope. They looked like holes torn from a dying man’s last night. “What?” he said, so softly that Horatio barely heard him. “The verdict…oh, God…”

And then he started to cry. Silently, without any grimacing or flushing of the face. If not for the tears running down his cheeks, he might have been one of the dead. It was one of the most unnerving sights Horatio had ever seen.

He quickly got off, but the other man continued to simply lie there. Horatio stood up and paced uselessly around, hoping wildly that someone else would come along and help because he certainly had no idea as to what to say or what to do, but of course no one did. He chanced a glance at the stranger, then winced without quite knowing why and turned away. The thought passed through his mind to just leave, since he doubted the man would appreciate having an audience, but that would have been cruelly neglectful. And Horatio was—tried not to be that.

In the end he got awkwardly down beside the other man and touched his shoulder. When that received no response, Horatio gave him a short shake. “Ah, sir…”

“God, don’t call me that.” And then the man sat up and dropped his head in his hands, which was at least a reaction, if not a particularly helpful one.

“Then what should I call you?” Horatio asked. For a third time, some demon whetted his tongue far sharper than he cared for it to be. He flinched, sought for something to say. “I—”

“Theodore Groves.” Some raw pain twisted Groves’ mouth. “Lieutenant, I mean. Not deserve—God, I don’t—I did to him--”

Horatio hastily squeezed Groves’ shoulder to make him look at him. He tried to appear as harmless and friendly as he could. “Horatio Hornblower, also a Lieutenant. I—look, we can’t stay here. I’ve got lodgings—”

“Even if the court-martial’s over, there has to be someone I can speak to.” Groves abruptly shook off Horatio’s hand, then got to his feet. He turned a cold shoulder when Horatio quickly did the same. “I’ve got to tell them—”

“You won’t find them here,” Horatio said. He tried to remember what Pellew had said earlier, or even if he’d read about the case in the Gazette, but of course Horatio had been avoiding that publication since Kingston.

Groves seemed determined to do something, but obviously he was too emotional to think rightly. He twisted on his feet, one moment looking at Horatio and the next down the corridor, terror clawing at his features. He was in no shape to even chance the streets, in Horatio’s opinion; he’d be rolled into a gutter within the hour.

Pellew—Pellew had known the officer on trial in some way, and he was staying quite near. The hour was late, but if Horatio remembered correctly, that had never been an impediment to him. “Listen, Mr. Groves, you’ll have better luck if you try to track down some of the Peers. I don’t know where they’d be, but my c—my old captain is Commodore Pellew. He certainly would.”

Frowning, Groves at last looked straight at Horatio. “…Pellew?”

“This way,” Horatio said, pulling hard on Groves’ arm. He caught the other man off-guard and once he had Groves’ feet moving, he politely but firmly kept him moving.

It was hopeless to try and have a court-martial’s verdict overturned, and indeed Horatio had no intention of inflicting that sort of request on Pellew, but at the very least, Pellew could hear out Groves and offer him some comfort. Hopefully the walk to the inn would calm the man enough so that he’d be in a condition to hear advice.

He looked a fine enough officer in spite of all his oddities. He could doubtless salvage his own career no matter the circumstances, Horatio thought with some bitterness. But he flinched from examining that thought more closely, and instead directed Groves down the streets. “It’s only a little—Mr. Groves?”

The man had stopped, struck by something on the street. At first Horatio thought it was the full moon’s light, but then he stepped closer and he saw that the extreme paling of Groves’ face was due to whatever he had seen. But when Horatio looked down, all he saw was a scrap of newspaper.

“Nothing.” Groves suddenly shivered, so hard that his teeth rattled. He hunched his shoulders and stared blindly about himself, looking lost as…as some men Horatio had seen, when the war or the sea or something else had simply chewed up everything that they were and left only walking husks behind.

“Theodore,” Horatio suddenly, sharply said. He went on instinct.

The other man shook himself again, then smiled. It was an unpleasant smile, but it was one that a living man would give. “Sorry. I’m—this is a difficult time for me.”

Horatio lacked the words, so he only gestured further down the road. After a moment, Theodore slowly followed him.

* * *

Pellew was out, but the innkeeper kindly took Horatio’s message and then, when Horatio and Theodore were nearly through the door, called out that certainly it should be all right for Lieutenant Hornblower and his guest to wait on the commodore in his rooms. He was a discreet, seasoned old man so he gave no sign that this was actually—had actually been the standard arrangement. Nor did he react when Horatio took overlong to think it over before finally acquiescing. He was so exhausted he could barely remember how to get to his own lodgings, and Theodore also seemed as if he were on the verge of collapse.

Groves had been silent ever since his odd fit in the street, but once they’d been let into Pellew’s rooms, he made a diffident comment. “I should go. I—you’ve been too kind already, and this certainly isn’t your concern. I’m afraid I’ve lost my head…I see now that there’s nothing to be done at this point.”

“No,” Horatio found himself saying, when in reality he’d come to the same distasteful conclusion. He stopped, surprised at himself.

Theodore paused, looking hard at him, and a sudden warm sensation passed through Horatio. Then the other man turned away, walking over to the window so the moon dappled his figure. “You should hear the full circumstances before you make a decision. I’m sure they’d disgust you into changing your mind,” he said, bitterly resigned. “He was my captain, my leader, the man I most looked up to. He took me under his wing—and even into his bed, though I hardly deserved him. He protected me from the consequences, and what did I do? I let them offer him up as a sacrifice to propriety.”

Horatio seemed frozen in place, able to do nothing but listen. Every word Theodore spoke was soft as a feather, but they fell as heavily as weights, and each one beat a little harder on Horatio. They echoed, distorted to reverberate back. His hands were on the top of a cabinet and pressing down so that the blood squeezed out, leaving the flesh white as the shell of a dear, dear friend.

“I didn’t say a word. I could have—could have taken some of the blame—no, that wouldn’t have saved him.” Theodore laughed at himself. “I should have tried harder to find that damned…the one he was truly going to the scaffold for. I never meant that much…he was kind, that was all, and that was all I should have needed, but I was jealous, may I be damned forever for it. If I’d gotten a message out, they could have rescued him. But I let him be hung.”

“Did—did he ever blame you?” Horatio heard himself saying.

He felt more than saw Theodore turning around to look at him. He was sure his own failure was written all over his face, had been written there ever since Kingston and Pellew and Horatio had known, always known that Pellew would help him. He’d been prepared to take responsibility himself but deep down there’d been the knowledge that he would have aid, if aid were to be possible, and he should have known that—that—

It was a name. He could—he should remember it, no matter how much it hurt. The pain was deserved, anyway.


And as careful as Horatio had been, he’d never been certain. How much Pellew had known—he’d never said, unlike Archie who’d wormed each piece out of Horatio—how he felt about being shouldered aside, whether he understood that though the first experience was treasured, the lasting one was not necessarily the same. He’d never been anything but honorable towards Archie, and yet—when the time came to choose among them, it was Horatio once again.

“Which one?”

Startled, Horatio turned fully about to stare at Theodore, who’d stepped away from the window and up to him.

“My captain, or his…lover?” Theodore clarified. Then he shrugged. “It’s of no account. Neither of them did. That is the worst, I think. And you? What--”

“But they forgave you. That’s such a gift--I’m the one that blames them when it was my fault that my friend died in my place. And I was so blind,” Horatio said. His words came out a little ragged and his vision blurred; he put out his hands as if he could smooth both out again, but only ended up seizing Theodore’s arms for support. He felt like a fool, but he couldn’t stop himself and Theodore was not pushing him away, but pulling him towards the bed so he could collapse on a stranger’s shoulder and finally mourn.

* * *

A long, long time later, Horatio raised his head, but only enough to press his face into Theodore’s neck. He smelled salt and tar and gunpowder. The arms around him were warm, gripping unashamedly tight as Archie had whenever they’d had a moment, and to Horatio’s mingled surprise and disgust, he found that not all of himself was resigned to a lifetime of regret. He tried to pull away before Theodore found out that revolting detail, but the other man refused to let go.

“Horatio,” Theodore said. He sounded almost conversational. “I’m desperately thankful to you, and I would like—to show my appreciation in some way. But—there are several things you should know. Firstly, that bar you saved me from didn’t miss when it fell a hundred years ago. It…crushed my skull.”

Horatio stiffened, his reason struggling to reject the information. But after a short battle, it subsided; the night had been so strange, and so many details that he hadn’t realized he had noted fit into place…and he simply didn’t care. So much of him had cracked open in the last few minutes that he couldn’t go on as he had, and that included blanket disbelief.

“Secondly is that I think your…Commodore Pellew?...is the man standing in the doorway.” The last few words came out a little curtly, and Theodore’s hold tightened on Horatio. Then it loosened to let a suddenly chilled Horatio turn around, though Theodore didn’t entirely let go.

For that Horatio was relieved, because when he saw that it was indeed Pellew, he desperately needed the support. His eyes stayed for the barest second on Pellew’s face before it flitted wildly around the room. An excuse—a way to side-step—and then Horatio shook himself, making his gaze return to Pellew. No, that had been what he had done wrong before.

To his surprise, Pellew showed no sign of anger or revulsion. He actually looked as if he were in a great deal of pain, though when he noticed that Horatio had settled down, he made an effort to compose himself. “I came up a while ago, and I apologize for not making my presence known earlier, but I overheard—” and here showed his only flash of temper, though it was clearly at himself “—damn it all, Horatio, it was an untenable situation on all sides and I regret every day that I let those damned fools transfer both of you out of my command.”

“Archie and I?” Horatio said, staring. He felt quite numb, so he could hardly believe that he was still capable of speech. “Sir—”

“If you blame me for allowing his death to happen, I have to say you’d be well within your rights. But I must insist that he came to me with the idea of taking the blame upon himself. I was officer of the watch, but I was not the perpetrator—and damn it, that sounds like hairsplitting of the worst kind.” Pellew stalked all the way into the room and shut the door. He paced once around the room, irritably shedding great-coat and coat and sword as he did. Then he turned abruptly about and stopped before Horatio and Theodore. “Though it is the truth. And while I have many failings, I do not admit to sacrificing other men merely to satisfy personal grudges. I was…regretful that I couldn’t share in your happiness with Lieutenant Kennedy, but I never resented him for it.”

Horatio dropped his head, unable to take Pellew’s frank gaze, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Then he lifted his head again. “And I was the worst kind of man to ever suspect you of it.”

“No, I think there was my failure in acting so as to make you doubt my character,” Pellew said.

Apparently uncomfortable with the discussion, Theodore started to shift out from under Horatio, but Pellew’s sharp gaze snapped over to pin him in place.

“And if I remember right, you were lieutenant to Commodore James Norrington, the famed pirate-hunter?” He waited till a very pale Theodore nodded, then continued. “Well, sir, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Norrington was not hanged, but saved at the last moment in one of the most notorious jailbreaks in London history.”

“Truly?” Theodore stammered. When Pellew nodded, he sank back with an incredulous look of relief on his face. “Then…then my last message did get through…”

“You’ve since become one of London’s most notorious ghosts, though Horatio seems to find you uncommonly solid,” Pellew dryly remarked. He reached out and gently touched Theodore’s face; at first Theodore stiffened, but then he relaxed against Horatio and allowed it.

Horatio, however, was belatedly reviewing another of Pellew’s—Edward’s statements while a twisting uncertainty knotted up his gut. “S—Edward? Sh—sharing?”

“I never got around to that lesson, and I do sorely regret it. Horatio, I’ve lived a long time, seen many things, and I do not hold to the proposition that one must have a single loyalty, or that a single loyalty is somehow better than having several equal ones.” Edward hesitated. Then he got down on his knees and gruffly took one of Horatio’s hands in his own. “I would have been content with whatever part of you I received, even if that were held in common with someone else.”

* * *

It had been difficult enough for Horatio to make himself discard, one by one, all the reasons why he should not pursue an intimate relationship with another man. The threat of hanging, the threat of loss of any kind…even the threat of religion, though he’d rejected that even before he had joined the Navy. Old or new, rules left their mark. And then he’d had to understand how complicated it made everything, shading every gesture and word with additional meaning that could contravene so much besides the Navy rulebook. Single-minded focus had preserved him for so long, through so much, that he hardly could see his way to living differently. And yet it’d almost led to not only his downfall, but to those of the men he cared most about.

He couldn’t go on as before, he thought again. Archie—Archie had given him life, and Horatio would be more than a fool if he threw that away.

Theodore moved, pushing at Horatio as if he wanted to get up. “I should go. I think you…have much to discuss, and anyway, I’m not entirely certain how long I can—”

Horatio seized his hand, though he looked at Edward. “Stay. Stay and find out.”

“Are you—” Theodore started.

“No,” Horatio had to admit. He managed a small laugh. “Call it scientific inquiry?”

Edward looked searchingly over him, and then exchanged some glance with Theodore. They apparently reached an agreement, for the next thing Horatio knew he was being swallowed up in an achingly familiar kiss. His hands were lifting almost before he knew it, but he froze with them in the air. It’d been a very long time—he knew this and he didn’t. He remembered the fierce way Edward’s tongue would push into his mouth, the gentleness of his lips, but there was a new sensitivity in how they carefully pressed against each other.

Another pair of lips touched the back of Horatio’s neck and he shivered, startled nearly off the bed but Edward’s hands on his forearms pushed him back. Theodore slung an arm around Horatio’s waist and dragged them further onto the bed, lying back as he did. That caused Edward’s mouth to slide a little off Horatio’s and he grabbed for Edward’s shoulder, pulling him back. And then it was natural to push at Edward’s clothes, unpin folds and undo buttons.

Horatio groaned a little as his hip shifted to rub against Theodore’s rising erection; Theodore let out a low breath and abruptly twisted, pulling them up higher. His bootheel came up to catch Horatio in the leg, drawing out a hiss. “Sorry,” he muttered.

Pellew lifted off of Horatio and in a few swift motions, rid both Horatio and Theodore of their boots. Then he bent down again, taking full advantage of how Theodore was wrestling Horatio’s coat-collar away from his neck. Horatio moaned and frantically twisted till the damned coat was off, his fingers busily stumbling over each other on Pellew’s belt. Then he remembered Theodore, turned about to see if he was fine and was promptly snatched into a kiss.

When it ended, Horatio was desperately out of breath and off Theodore so the other man could wrestle with his clothing. Finally he got them off, revealing a well-made and deeply tanned body that dried out Horatio’s mouth. He tossed his clothes over his shoulder and crawled over to Horatio, whose hands shot out to run over Theodore’s chest and back…and went still.

“I miss him as well,” Theodore quietly said, and then he slid one hand down Horatio’s back to rub over Edward’s hands that had been relentlessly twisting Horatio out of his uniform. “It’s not a betrayal—it’s a new loyalty.”

“Right.” Horatio heard Edward’s tiny sigh of relief and turned around, threading his hands into Edward’s hair and pulling him down for a kiss. If it was perhaps harder than what either of them had been accustomed to before, Edward made no mention of it. Instead his hands resumed their task, and in short order Horatio was choking back cries as rope-roughened fingers danced over his skin.

He reached out, found Theodore’s bare knee and ran his hand up Theodore’s thigh till he found a hot prick that readily rose to fill his fingers. Edward had drifted downward to lap at Horatio’s nipple, hands cradling Horatio’s hips so he couldn’t shift restlessly around as he wished to, so Horatio took out his frustration on Theodore, who arched eagerly into it. Then he suddenly took Horatio and twisted him around so their pricks rubbed teasingly against each other; Horatio’s muscles ran to warm and loose and his limbs gently collapsed beneath him. He nuzzled to Theodore’s neck, absently pulling at Edward’s wrist. There was a sharp intake of breath by his ear, and when Horatio looked up, Edward and Theodore were…kissing. Horatio nearly swallowed his own tongue; something so beautiful could not be wrong.

Then he jerked, breath catching as slick fingers began probing between his thighs. They hesitated and Edward broke off the kiss to look concernedly at Horatio. “If you’d rather—”

“No.” If something was to be done, better do it thoroughly the first time. Indecision only let matters grow worse. “No, I want—yes.”

The fingers laid still against his legs a moment longer before drifting upward so Horatio fell trembling against Theodore. He mouthed mindlessly at Theodore’s throat and writhed, pressing their cocks together till Theodore had ceased being nervous and instead clutched at Horatio in equal abandon. And it was not awkward as Horatio had feared—oh, there were bumping limbs and accidental blows, but there were no endless negotiations over the rights to this and that, no bitterness about how much was taken and given. There was only the grace of warmth and comfort and love in the joining of their bodies.

* * *

“I had a feeling,” Theodore said, lifting his arm into the moonlight from the window. Dawn was burning off the cool silver light, and it seemed that he was slowly fading with it.

Edward cautiously reached out and ran his finger along Theodore’s arm, careful not to disturb the man sleeping between them. He felt slightly too much give in the flesh, and then near the end his finger sank half-way into Theodore’s wrist. He immediately withdrew, but the other man waved away his apology.

“No, that didn’t hurt. I’m merely…frightened that I won’t come back tomorrow morning. It’d odd; I want to come back, for once.” Theodore looked away and dropped his arm to brush the hair from Horatio’s face. “I’m still not finished here.”

“I don’t pretend to have had much experience in this sort of matter, but if you feel that strongly, I think you will return. And I have something to ask of you,” Edward said. A corner of the sheet had slipped from Horatio’s shoulder, leaving it bare and vulnerable, and he would have liked to pull it back but he wasn’t certain that his hand wouldn’t shake. One already lost, and this one had come so close to being the same…like Theodore, he had a good deal to keep him here. “If it turns out that you can—travel—go with Horatio.”

The look Theodore favored him with was much more perceptive than someone his age should have been capable of producing, which reassured Edward. “I imagine you’ve seen my record, if you knew enough to recognize me.”

“And I’ve been to your family seat, but that’s irrelevant. That is precisely why I’m asking you. I can’t—no matter how much I wish I could—do as much as I should.” Edward assumed he didn’t need to explain further.

After a moment, Theodore proved him right by nodding. Then the other man got off the bed and slowly collected his clothes, all the while fading faster and faster. He vanished completely just as he was picking up the last.

Edward by rights should have been pursuing a version of the same act, but he lingered on. For once, he could afford to take a turn on watch.