The door to their living quarters slams shut, shaking the panes of glass against the window frame, as Catesby stalks off to meet Anne Vaux for the second time in almost as many days.
“Is there something there I should be worried about?” Guido asks, looking across the table at Thomas. He is surprised to find Thomas’s eyes already on him.
“I don’t think so,” Thomas says, glancing down as though startled to have been caught staring. “He’s concerned for his son, of course, which makes a welcome change. But Anne—” he shakes his head and says nothing further.
Guido supposes that that is as good a confirmation as he is going to get. “Good,” he growls, “I’d hate for this mission to be endangered by his feelings.”
The force with which he snarls the final word makes Thomas look up at him again, but there isn’t just surprise in his expression. He looks—intrigued, and something else Guido can’t name. Something covert, as though he is trying to suppress some unchecked emotion.
“You were married, weren’t you?” Thomas dares to ask, but the inflection in his voice sounds like he already knows the answer.
“Yes, I was, once.” He has long since grown used to the way his natural reluctance to open up is thrown into chaos whenever he is around Thomas. He has never allowed himself to examine too closely why that might be. “For a short time anyway.”
“Then you probably understand how he feels more than I do.”
“You were never married?” he asks, though he senses he already knows the answer.
“No, I—” Thomas looks away again. “I never... It was never something that happened for me.”
There is something there, between the words, that intrigues Guido.
He knows of Thomas’s education, the time he spent training to be a lawyer, and choosing instead to become a soldier. But for the all the stories he told, as they journeyed together through Spain in their return to England, he had never once mentioned anyone close to him beyond his rather extensive family. Guido himself knows all too well the life of a militant, but he suspects that there is more to Thomas’s lack of marital attachment than his choice to serve his country.
Taking a chance, he dares to stretch out his hand, placing it on the table between them—halfway to reaching out and touching Thomas.
Thomas eyes his hand for a long moment, as though suspicious of his intentions, or of submitting to them.
“It has been many years since I took un amante,” Guido confesses. He knows that Thomas will understand his meaning as clear as if he had used the word itself, but it is easier to hide behind their shared language than hear it spoken in their mother tongue.
Despite his cowardice, it is this that finally encourages Thomas to look up. His eyes, when they lock with Guido’s, convey no small amount of fear, and yet also that nameless warmth from earlier.
“The war is hardly conducive to romance, I suppose,” Thomas murmurs, although there is a kindling in his eyes which belies the words, indicating that it is not wholly his meaning.
“I suppose,” Guido echoes, in an act of concession, allowing Thomas a way out if he desires one.
Any further words are stolen from his tongue, as Thomas raises his hand from his lap and lays it outstretched, palm flat, on the table in front of Guido’s. He is so close that Guido could touch him if he unclenched his own fingers. Clearly, an escape is not what Thomas desires.
“Perhaps that’s not the only reason,” Thomas murmurs, and there’s only the barest hint of a question in his voice. He knows.
“Perhaps,” Guido agrees.
Thomas seems to have overcome his earlier fear; it is he who braves reaching across the scant space between their hands, brushing his outstretched fingers lightly across the backs of Guido’s.
“In all the time we’ve known each other, I never expected this of you,” Thomas confides quietly, his eyes following the path of his fingertips.
There is something behind the words that Guido determines to return to later, but he owes it to Thomas to reveal the truth of himself, not leave him doubting when he has already placed so much of his trust in Guido’s hands.
“Neither of us were born Catholic, nor raised as one,” he says. “I suppose in all of us there’s a part that develops from living, not from being taught.” Thomas looks up at him with understanding. “And yet, I confess, I never expected this of you either.”
“We fought on opposing sides, once,” Thomas says, “and yet we’re in opposition no more. It figures that religion is not the only thing we agree upon now.”
“A noble sentiment,” Guido agrees, but he can sense that there is still something that Thomas isn’t saying.
He uncurls his fist, turning his hand over slowly and tangling their fingers together. His hands are calloused and unused to softness—there is a reason he chose to become a soldier, after all—but Thomas does not seem to mind.
Thomas swallows, but braves looking Guido in the eye once more, tearing his eyes from their joined hands. “In all the time we’ve known each other, I’ve felt this way about you,” he finally admits. “Well, by the time we reached the Spanish coast anyway,” he amends with a warm smile. “Perhaps I concealed my regard a little too well.”
“Perhaps,” Guido concedes. “Although I, too, must be guilty of the same.”
“And do you suppose yielding to it will absolve our sins, or compound them?” Thomas whispers, a hint of fear in his voice.
Guido is quiet for a few moments, understanding the importance of choosing his words carefully at this juncture. He will not go down this path—no matter how much he may want it—if Thomas might regret it afterwards.
“I’ve spent almost half my life fighting for the cause,” he says eventually, “and in that time I’ve learnt that the right thing isn’t necessarily the absence of sin, but the courage to act for something you believe in.”
It seems to be the right thing to say. Thomas’s eyes burn into his, hotter than the fire in the grate behind him. His fingertips brush across Guido’s palm—leaving a blazing trail in their wake—to rest lightly against the thin skin of his wrist. Guido knows he will be able to feel the rush of blood beneath as his pulse quickens at the contact and the weight of Thomas’s gaze.
“Then it is the right thing.” There is no hesitation in Thomas’s voice—no trace of a question.
“I believe so,” Guido confirms, using Thomas’s confidence to bolster his own. He rises to his feet and slides the bolt across the door. “Catesby will be gone for a while yet?”
“From past experience, I would say so.”
He turns to Thomas once more, eyes heavy with intent, as the memory of the last evening they spent together springs to mind—how he had sat there, across the table, nursing his tankard and longing to reach for Thomas but unable to close the distance. They had spoken, of course; the sort of easy conversation that had developed over the year spent in each other’s company, but they hadn’t been properly alone, just the two of them, for any meaningful period of time since returning to England. It had been a relief to find that they could still connect like that, but it is even more of a relief now that they are able to be together in the way they have both been yearning for.
He moves back towards the table and Thomas rises to join him, his expression mirroring Guido’s own—hungry and wild. There is a softness in his eyes too, something that Guido is too terrified to put a name to. He surges forwards and presses Thomas against the wood, finally bringing their lips together.
Thomas is far easier to kiss than he expected, lips rough against his own. He does not yield so much as battle for dominance, and when Guido’s tongue slips into his mouth it is only because Thomas allows it.
When they pull apart for air, he takes the opportunity to kiss down the line of Thomas’s neck, rough lips on soft skin. Thomas moans, low and quiet, the sound reverberating against his lips. He presses his body closer against Guido’s, and suddenly they are stumbling backwards towards the fireplace, falling onto the rug laid across the hearth.
“Here?” Thomas gasps, on the edge of a laugh.
“Here,” Guido confirms in a desperate murmur, sliding a hand under Thomas’s shirt. The skin beneath his fingertips is raised with scars, so similar to his own.
He pulls the fabric up and off, allowing Thomas to lie back against the rug before he assaults his chest with wandering lips and hands. He has always considered his own body to be unsightly, marred by the evidence of past battles, but Thomas is beautiful like this; his scars a testament to his bravery. He sweeps the tip of his tongue across a couple of the widest ones—those that have been cut the deepest, must have hurt the most—following the line of them as if in worship.
He still feels a rush of nerves when Thomas pulls him up his body to remove his shirt, but there is no disgust in Thomas’s expression as his eyes rove across his skin. He looks like a man who has been searching for something his whole life and has finally found it.
There is a chill in the room, despite the fire roaring in the grate, but Guido can no longer feel it.
The next time they are left alone, Thomas’s hands are on him seconds after the door closes downstairs, the bolt to their quarters already in place.
“This is madness,” Thomas pants, mouthing along the line of Guido’s neck, up to his jaw. He is clearly not talking about doing this so soon after Catesby’s departure or he would not have instigated it. “To want you this much,” he clarifies, “when it has only been mere days since the last.”
Guido relishes the rough scratch of Thomas’s beard against his skin as he presses fervent kisses across the newly-exposed skin of his collarbone.
“What is madness,” he agrees, almost growling the words in his impatience, “is having to wait for him to leave, when you have been right there the whole time.”
Thomas laughs, low and warm, despite the fact that his desperation matches Guido’s own. Guido bites at the soft skin at the base of his throat in response, savouring Thomas’s open-mouthed moan.
He presses Thomas against the wall, pinning him there with his body and strong, searching hands.
They do not make it as far as the hearth this time.
Guido waits in the cold darkness of the undercroft, surrounded by their precious stocks of gunpowder. He checks the watch that Percy gave him occasionally, watching the hands tick towards their deliverance.
Catesby has been gone for a couple of hours when there is a knock at the door. Guido hauls himself from the barrel he is sitting on, muscles stiff from being in the same position for too long, and quickly approaches the heavy oak.
The knock sounds again. There is no shouting from beyond, though the rapping is insistent. Guido waits for the final sign.
A third knock. He unbolts the door swiftly and presses his gun to the visitor’s temple in the same movement. Had the intruder wished him harm, they would be dead before they even realised the door had been opened. As it is, the visitor only smiles and steps quickly over the threshold and into the room so that Guido can secure the door behind him.
“They’ve gone,” Thomas says, walking over to the barrels in the centre of the arches. He waits until Guido has taken up his seat again, before dropping to the one opposite him. “Catesby cannot be entreated to abandon the plot.”
Guido only nods in response. He knows he should tell Thomas to leave—to return to his position outside—but he cannot bring himself to do more than look at the man in front of him, treasuring the sight of his beloved face.
Thomas’s eyes drop to the ground, as though he is trying to avoid the scrutiny, but then he murmurs, “I don’t suppose it’s too late for us to forget all this, is it?” and Guido realises it’s in an attempt to hide his shame at the suggestion. “We could go, now. Run somewhere—anywhere. We have both found shelter on the continent before. It’s too dangerous here.”
“You could,” Guido says, and Thomas’s head snaps up to meet his gaze. “I’m willing to die for the cause. I’ve given too much to the fight not to be.” That is something that has not changed. “But you—”
“I’m willing too,” Thomas stresses, as though fearful of being thought of as a coward in Guido’s eyes. That itself is an impossibility; he knows that Thomas’s bravery equals his own, both on the battlefield and off it.
“I know,” Guido reassures him. He takes a steadying breath, reluctant to speak so openly, even though it is only Thomas in front of him. Thomas, who understands him like no one else could. It appears that Yorkshire hasn’t fully left him despite his years of absence. “What I mean is—I’m willing to die, but I’m not willing to continue without you.”
He can hear Thomas’s shaky exhale at the admission, see the way his chest shudders, and knows that it has been true for longer than he would care to admit.
It appears that Thomas shares the same concern. “And I’m not leaving here without you,” he stresses.
Guido’s mouth twitches in a sad smile. “Then return to your post,” he says, not unkindly. “If the mission is successful, we will be leaving together.”
“And if it isn’t?” Thomas asks, desperation gnawing its way into the words.
“Then you must keep yourself safe, and ride to Catesby.” Thomas is already shaking his head, ready to interrupt, so Guido continues, “You keep yourself alive, Thomas, promise me? Do not intercede if I am discovered.”
“Without you, we’ve as good as lost anyway.”
“I think we both know that Catesby isn’t about to just run away to the continent,” Guido points out. “He’ll make a stand, stir up the rebellion in the Midlands. You could. You could leave”—again Thomas’s mouth opens, ready to object—“or you could make that stand with him.”
He reaches out with his free hand, pressing his fingers against Thomas’s knee, so gentle as to barely be felt.
“Perhaps I’m a selfish man,” he says, with a bitter smile, “but I hope to see you again.” Thomas’s expression shows bewildered puzzlement. “If I’m captured, they’ll keep me alive. They’ll want a confession, and for my death to be a public deterrent. They’ll want the same for you.”
Luckily, understanding dawns in Thomas’s eyes; Guido isn’t sure he’d be able to speak the words himself. Thomas reaches out and lays a hand over his, clasping it tightly.
“You will see me again, then,” Thomas promises.
It is with reluctance that Guido withdraws his hand. Thomas allows it, a sad smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“You should go,” Guido says, but Thomas is already rising to his feet. He follows him to the door to unlock it once more.
Thomas catches his hand before it drops to his side. “Farewell, my love,” he murmurs.
“Farewell, Thomas.” I will see you again.
He opens the door but cannot allow himself to watch Thomas’s retreat—he must bolt it immediately behind him and focus on the mission.
When Wade’s men storm the undercroft, he has no thoughts beyond sending a quick prayer to the Heavens that Thomas has been able to escape.
The fight that ensues is brief. There is little point in trying to defend himself—he is grossly outnumbered with no hope of victory.
He is hauled to his knees by one of the men and the barrel of a gun is pressed to his forehead. He spits blood onto the ground.
“It would not be wise to kill me, I think.”
Through his blackened and bruised eyes he can blearily make out the menacing figure of Wade approaching.
“Do not pull that trigger,” Cecil’s man commands. “He must answer to the King.”
The gun is flipped and the butt connects with Guido’s skull, knocking him unconscious.
He knows his role. Tell the King nothing. Sneer. Do not give up the whereabouts of Catesby. It is easy. His mouth forms words, but there is nothing of importance to come from them.
In his head there is only a mantra of Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. It is the only thought that matters.
Eventually, the court tires of the lack of information. Two guards are commanded to remove him; heaving him from the floor and dragging him towards the cells.
Before the door closes behind them, he hears someone, likely Cecil, command Wade to storm Catesby’s estate in Warwickshire.
Return to me, he thinks desperately, afraid of the same hope.
He resists under interrogation for as long as he is able, but the names of his co-conspirators are too dear on his tongue for them to escape revelation for long—and one name in particular. As it tears from his throat on the sharp edge of a scream, the image of Thomas on a scaffold comes to him, and he sobs for a reason entirely beyond the pain. It is selfish, he knows, but he hopes Wade’s men have already located the fugitives, and it is not his words that have damned them.
The guards soon realise that he has nothing further to confess once they have broken him. They chain him to the wall of his cell and leave him alone to await trial. Only the occasional arrival of a bowl of food and water, and the early-morning changing of the guard breaks the oppressive silence. He waits there in the darkness, weak but healing, the cold of the stone floor seeping into his bones, unable to sleep despite his exhaustion.
Eventually, the monotony is broken by the sound of the heavy doors to the cells being opened, and the clanging of chains as new prisoners shuffle in.
His eyes snap open. For the noise to be this deafening, there must be at least half a dozen men. It is difficult to make out any of their faces in the dim light as they approach, yet he cannot prevent the rush of hope that surges within him at the thought that it is Catesby and his men. He is suddenly too terrified to pray that Thomas is among them. Part of him still wonders whether he may have been able to escape to the continent, despite the promise Thomas had made to him.
“Two to a cell,” one of the guards commands. “Any left, and they’ll have to share with the ones already here.”
Guido closes his eyes, refusing to watch the men as they pass the torchlight at the entrance to the cells. If Thomas is among them, he could not bear for him to be placed in a cell so close to him, yet be unable to touch.
A cell door opens; manacles are secured; the door is locked. The process is repeated in the cell next to him.
At last, the key to his cell is turned and the wrought iron creaks open.
“You, in here,” a guard directs, and one man shuffles forwards.
Heart pounding furiously in his chest, Guido opens his eyes.
Thomas is standing there in front of him, beaten and bruised, but alive. He fights to keep the recognition off his face, and sees Thomas doing the same, schooling his expression into one of neutrality before the guard turns to shackle him to the wall.
The position of the chain means that Thomas has to sit fairly close to him, but he manages to maintain a suitable distance between their bodies so as not to raise the guard’s suspicions. The manacle is secured around Thomas’s wrist and the guard leaves, oblivious to what has just transpired between the two inhabitants of the cell.
They remain still and silent, staring at the bars, until the final man is secured in the adjacent cell and the guards retreat to their post by the inner door.
In the gloomy light, Guido cannot see more than the outlines of the other men, but it does not matter. The only man of any significance is sat next to him.
He turns his head to find Thomas already smiling at him, soft and warm. It is quite possibly the most blessed sight Guido has ever laid eyes on, despite the dried blood caking Thomas’s temple from a gash at his hairline, and a purple-black bruise adorning his cheek.
Concern must show on his face, because Thomas reaches out with his free hand and places it gently on top of Guido’s chained one. His fingers brush against the harsh cold metal of the manacle, but Thomas is undeterred, stroking his thumb tenderly across Guido’s knuckles.
“I’m okay,” Thomas murmurs, careful to keep his voice low even though the men around them are making enough noise to drown out any sounds they might make.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Guido returns. “Though I don’t know whether to be less glad that you’re here.”
Thomas does not look at all distressed about the fact that he is. “I said I’d see you again. I’m a man of my word.”
“Are you—?” Thomas begins to ask, but Guido cuts him off before he can finish the question.
“Just flesh wounds,” he promises, thankful that the majority of them are hidden by his clothes. He does not want Thomas to see the evidence of his torture—of the marks that are soon to mar his own body. Guido would spare him that if he could.
They are silent for a few moments longer, before Guido dares to ask about Catesby. Thomas shakes his head, looking back out through the bars as he gives a quiet, hurried account of the attack at Holbeche House, and the demise of their leader.
“I knew little of it, once I was shot,” he whispers, voice breaking slightly on the word. Guido twists his hand under Thomas’s so that he can grip it with his own.
“Let me see?” he asks, glancing down at Thomas’s shoulder for the offending injury.
Thomas looks at him carefully, as though checking he is certain he wants to see the wound, then obliges, angling his body towards Guido.
He reaches out with his free hand, carefully moving the fabric of Thomas’s shirt aside and tracing the rim around the little pucker of swelled skin lightly with a fingertip. Thomas flinches but makes no move to withdraw. The blood around the wound has dried over the days of travel in returning to London, and Guido consoles himself that the shot must not have done too much damage if Thomas is still alive.
“I’m okay,” Thomas assures him again, even though his words are edged with the remnants of pain.
Guido nods and grunts gruffly in the affirmative, hoping to cover the unchecked emotion on his face. But Thomas knows him, and he knows he will have seen it and understood anyway.
“Is this all?” he asks, but then catches sight of Thomas’s face again and moves to brush his fingertips across Thomas’s temple, avoiding the gash above. “And this?”
“Just the butt of a gun,” Thomas says, in a manner that might sound reassuring to him, but isn’t to Guido. “And then there’s this,” he whispers, using the hand that isn’t clutching Guido’s to lift up the hem of his shirt.
Guido leans forwards, squinting in the dim light. He can just about make out a long, jagged line cut into Thomas’s side, just above his hip.
“Oh, my…” he murmurs, unable to give voice to an endearment, but meaning one anyway. He cannot bear to think of the torture that still lies ahead for Thomas, and the litany of fresh wounds to follow.
“It’s not deep,” Thomas assures him. “I can barely feel it.”
“I can,” Guido says, placing his hand on Thomas’s hip, careful not to touch the wound despite his words.
Thomas’s mouth twists wryly. Beneath his fingers, Guido can feel him shaking.
“You’re freezing,” he observes quietly, his hand cooling against Thomas’s skin.
“It’s cold outside,” Thomas points out, the soft smile still lingering on his lips. “It is November.”
“Here, let me—” Guido murmurs, shifting carefully so that his back is against the cold stone of the wall and Thomas is pressed to the warmth of his chest, safely ensconced between his thighs. If the movement pains Thomas, he says nothing, just relaxes against Guido and drops his head to rest on his shoulder.
He is thankful for the darkness shrouding them from their fellow prisoners, yet it is hard to forget where they are with the faint shadows of the cell bars falling against the floor.
“Close your eyes,” Guido whispers, his lips brushing the shell of Thomas’s ear. “Imagine we’re back in our rooms, by the fireplace.”
The hard stone beneath them is nothing like the welcoming warmth of the rug laid out on the hearth, yet the memory of their evening spent there together is far easier to recall now that Thomas is once more by his side.
“I wish we were there now,” Thomas breathes, echoing his thoughts. He lets out a contented sigh, his shivering slowly subsiding. “Are you thinking of it too?”
“Of course,” Guido says, his voice nothing more than a breath now, as the men around them are beginning to quieten in sleep.
To demonstrate the exact path his thoughts have taken, he lifts his unchained arm to wrap around Thomas, ghosting his fingers lightly across his stomach, trailing slowly down.
Thomas gasps in surprise, a sharp inhale that he cannot bite back.
“Hush, Thomas,” Guido whispers, lips lingering in his hair, “you’ve got to be quiet.”
Thomas nods against his shoulder, and although he trembles slightly when Guido’s hand slips under his breeches, he does not make a sound.
His grip is weak against Thomas’s hardening flesh—a consequence of the torture he has endured—but Thomas does not seem to mind, turning his head into the crook of Guido’s neck and pressing his mouth against his skin, barely a kiss but somehow far more intimate.
When Thomas comes, after long minutes, it is with a muffled sigh of Guido's name—the closest thing to a prayer he has heard outside of the confessional.
“Do you...?” Thomas murmurs after a moment, moving his head to rest against Guido’s shoulder once more. He shifts meaningfully against him, but Guido shakes his head gently. It’s not pleasure he desires—all he wants is to have relieved Thomas’s pain and to spend their last moments together.
“I want you to stay right where you are,” he breathes, dipping his head forwards to press his lips against the bared stretch of Thomas’s neck. He can feel his pulse racing beneath his touch. “Right there,” he affirms, teeth scratching lightly against Thomas’s skin.
Thomas groans quietly in approval. “I’m glad I’m here,” he whispers, clasping Guido’s hand with his own, “all things considered.”
“Me too,” Guido agrees, no matter how much it pains him. He hopes that Thomas can hear all the things he can’t say, but means anyway.
After a while, he can tell that Thomas is submitting to sleep, in the way his breathing levels out and then quickens again, and the slight quiver of his body as he fights to stay awake.
“Sleep,” he murmurs into Thomas’s ear. “I’ll wake you before first light.” Thomas relaxes against him in a gesture of complete and utter trust. “When the guards come for us, I’ll be there,” Guido promises into the silence, “by your side.”