When Biggles first joined the training squadron life was grim. Mortalities were high. The place was grey, even in summer, the only splash of colour coming from the flowers laid, stiffly and reluctantly, on each coffin as the body of another boy or broken man was removed. It had the overall effect of taking the edge off grief by making it almost a comic thing. Bright colours had no place in their ground- drudging lives.
His first posting was the same although attempts to brighten were made with garish record covers, old posters proclaiming lies and missed opportunities and some derelict streamers left over from a dance for Batty’s birthday. They were removed by someone, possibly Biggles himself, not long after Batty’s death.
The first lot of colours which Biggles felt he could like came with the dreaded kid cousin. One moment Algy is saving both their lives despite stuck guns, the next digging a garden. It gives Algy something to enjoy, to see good change in, since he refuses to see it in his own flying and can’t in others’ attitudes. The bright colours immediately bring back memories and superstition, glanced at but never acknowledged, is redeemed only when all of them return from the retribution raid unscathed.
From then on Biggles makes full use of Algy’s idiosyncrasies, even providing some indifferent seeds on his return from enforced, lonely, leave.
He shouldn’t miss a cousin like this; he had almost nothing to do with the family.
When they are transferred and relieved of duty, told to hang up uniform and go back to a life they never had, Biggles clings to his spot of colour. “I say, we’ll be rather at a loose end rattling around alone. Care to buddy up?”
Algy nods and offers half rent in his already available rooms. “Love to Biggles. So long as you don’t mind window- pots.” The touch of colour on his cheek makes Biggles want to create it again. The skin, chaffed, is now healing permanently and Biggles decides he finds colour on his rainbow- maker eminently pleasing.
Their rooms are colourful, Algy makes sure of it, growing various flowers around the windows and training a love-heart creeper to grow along the doorways, dripping leaves onto the carpet and driving the cleaning lady mad. She accepts the two men are dealing with the war in their own way, however, and is pleased that they still live a gentrified life - few women guests, few late nights or unreasonable mornings, few messes to clean up after a sleepless night.
If she had paid more attention she might have noted that frequently only one bed has been slept in all night, the other abandoned as one man or the other succumbs to nightmares and his friend comes to help. However she and Mrs. Braithwaite do not think about such things, living their lives according to how they have always lived them, two good- looking young men not-with-standing.
Four months after Biggles moved in, bringing a modest collection of India memorabilia and a need for another comfortable chair in front of the fire, they are sitting down to dinner once more. It has been a lovely day, bright blue sky and bright yellow sun. Biggles and Algy had separated that morning, Biggles to walk through to their nearby park and enjoy some time there before lunching at the RFC club and returning, with many an appreciative glance, early afternoon to their rooms.
Algy, in a fit of energy, had walked briskly, sun catching shifting colours in his hair, down the road and into an easily convinced taxi. He’d spent the morning flying, lunched at the aerodrome and caught up with some old friends there-a-bouts before getting a lift back with one of them into town, where he had looked in at some shops on his meander back home.
Biggles had spent much of the past week with a question running around in his head and he had managed to find an answer for it that afternoon, exchanging mutterings with Wilks about a much- depleted store of friends.
“This lamb is excellent” he began, “Good and pink, a lovely colour.”
Algy could but agree, mouth full of the excellent lamb. “You don’t often see it so well- looking, this time of year.” He tried, food swallowed.
Biggles smiled at him, hands stilling on cutlery. “No, you don’t. Did you have a good day, then?”
Algy had, indeed, had flown to several places they had often talked about, and shared with Biggles his joy, “I flew over the old training base, did a couple loops just to prove that they can be done.” Again the colour was touching Algy’s prominent cheek bones, this time caused by excitement, Biggles was sure.
“And no-one came to stop you?” He had to ask, had to keep the conversation going.
“If they did I was well away by then. I’d forgotten what fun a chase could be.” The implication was clear- a light- hearted game of tag as opposed to a deadly dog- fight.
Biggles nodded, not even tempted by the slight reminder of bad days now gone, if not forever then at least for now.
“So had I.” He admitted softly, bringing grey eyes to bear on a suddenly still Algy. There was a silence broken only with intrusion from the street below them before Biggles stood and retrieved a twist of paper from his pocket with a strange smile.
“Algy, I know it’s traditional to get flowers at a time like this but I’m too selfish.”
Of course Algy had known there was something between them - they shared rooms after all - but to suddenly have Biggles announcing it as though it were a foregone conclusion was rather unsettling, not to mention seemingly heavy-handed.
Never-the-less he carefully cupped the paper in one hand, opening it with the other and a practiced twist. Peering inside he saw small, flat, oval black seeds. “Sunflowers?” His quick glance confirmed with Biggles’ nod occurred even as he was standing and walking towards a small pot with a single shoot in it. Tenderly he placed the paper on the wet soil, to wait there until after dinner.
“I would have got you Yellow Tulips, but I couldn’t find any.” Biggles was looking as open and love-able as Algy had ever seen him and any thoughts of heavy- handed wooing were driven out of his head at the vulnerable face. If Biggles hadn’t been brought up so well, he would have been scuffing a toe into the floor boards now. As it was he managed to look a little defiant and a little lost, along with incredibly pleading.
Algy smiled, “I don’t pretend to be an expert on hidden meanings.” He began, still keeping the table between their standing bodies, “But I’m pretty sure I know those two - adoration and hopelessness.”
Biggles finally shifted, moving around the table determinedly, “Hopelessly in love.” He amended, with a touch of asperity. “And, of course, I love to watch you coax life out of things.”
Over more months, they had many a chance to bless the growing extent of their flowers - Biggles discovered they were an excellent addition to several of their preferred activities. Algy added they also gave the cleaner something to worry about other than the state of their beds - which one they had decided to sleep in that night.
There were other bonuses as well. Algy had a trick of gardening in a pair of old, almost too- tight pants he’d left over from school days. It was Biggles’ greatest delight and torment to point out missed weeds or disturbed seeds which needed another hand.
Of course, Algy would then decide whether Biggles was messy enough to warrant a wash as Algy himself needed, or whether instead he could be put to better use making them both cups of tea.
Over the years, more often than not Algy would receive more sunflower seeds along with some other particularly pertinent flower - Peony, Magnolia, Lilac, Holly, Aster - but never a red rose. Biggles had decreed it sounded too cheap, too over done. It was not something he wanted Algy to think, so he never did it.
In return, Biggles received many things. Some were useful - umbrella, headphones for a new radio set, new flying boots- but most were centered around the stamp collection Biggles had always harboured an interest in. In the regular donations to this growing album, each of Algy’s stamps were stored on various angles. Mainly upside- down but also side-ways, both left and right.
They were several months into their more relaxed years, spending much time with Ginger and Bertie, before Algy sent Biggles a letter with a simple penny- stamp on it, tilted to the right. Inside was a red tulip and a bachelor’s button. His reply came that night, and every day after in every moment they spent together.