The swallows are leaving the city.
Peculiar, the consistency of patterns like that, the ebb and tide of the seasons, familiar, in some ways, even here across the Atlantic. The swallows are leaving the city; the sugar maples in Washington Square Park have begun to turn, leaves bleeding scarlet, russet, and ochre; the students gather thickly on the benches and on the green in their jackets and sweaters, guarding against the cooling air. These aren’t Faraday’s changes to mark, isn’t his city to know, but he feels its circumvolutions nonetheless, its shifts and switches impossible to ignore. They will be felt and seen and heard, whether he likes it or not, for as long as he’s here.
Just two days more. His ship departs the day after tomorrow, Thursday. This time in two weeks, he’ll be in London, then back in Lidcote by October. Granger is expecting him; his patients are expecting him.
It should be funny, how long a summer seemed from the other side of it. He had felt like a school child waiting for vacation to come ‘round when he booked his passage, or a prisoner noting the end of his confinement. And yet—now—
“Henry?” Basil waves a hand in front of his face, drawing his attention. They’ve completed a second circuit around the park, are standing together on the corner as they’ve done so many times. “Did you hear me?” He smiles, not chastening him. “You were miles away.”
Already, he doesn’t add. Although, is there? There may be. Something sad in his eyes when he says it. Melancholic.
Most likely it was nothing. Or rather has nothing to do with him, some old grief come to call again. They’ve not discussed it, his impending departure. It seems a foregone conclusion he will go, and Basil’s not objected to it, not made any offers or invitations, and, for his own part, he’s had no occasion to ask if he might—and why would he—there’s no reason, of course, no reason at all for him to linger here, even after everything that’s happened. All the more rational, the more prudent, in fact, for him to return to England.
Basil’s still looking at him, expectant.
Faraday’s cheeks heat. “My apologies. I must have been woolgathering. What did you say?”
“I only asked if you’d like to go in. You look cold.” His brow creases, both concerned and solicitous, and there may not be an expression he associates more with Basil Anthony, pianist, songwriter, estranged son of a fallen first-tier capitalist, avowed New Yorker and socialist, and confirmed Good Samaritan. If he’s had occasion to look specifically at Faraday this way in recent weeks, well, that’s only bad luck for both of them. Although Faraday’s good luck, in the end, that he’d been there and been—well, remarkably kind. Generous. Very much more.
In truth, he can’t articulate it: everything Basil’s done for him. And if some mewling, helpless part of him wishes to loiter in his company a while longer, certainly it’s simply that. Simply gratitude.
“I’m quite well,” he reassures him. Dares to let their elbows touch as they take another turn. He’s seen others risk more in public here in the park and at the bar, The Pink Slipper, where Basil plays on Thursdays, but this is all he’ll allow himself, all he’ll implicate Basil in when this is his home. It exceeds what he would chance in London, were their positions reversed, if he had— “You were explaining this McCarthy character.”
Basil huffs out a breath. “It’s all a sham, really. An excuse. Another way to frighten people into complacency. They’re more interested in keeping their own citizens cowed than they are undermining the Soviets.”
“It doesn’t trouble you? The possibility of being called in and interrogated?” He remains, for his part, perplexed by Basil’s ideals. From his own perspective—not entirely the popular opinion after the war, he knows—it’s unquestionable that society relies upon certain inalterable structures. To dismantle them is folly, if not dangerous or outright destructive. He has said as much to Basil on multiple occasions and finds his rebuttals both curious and naïve at times, a younger man’s answers in the mouth of someone his own age.
Still, he enjoys talking with him, little as they agree.
He shrugs now, unconcerned. “I’m no one. There’s no reason for HUAC to question a broke piano-player and failed songwriter from Greenwich Village, and if they did, they’d have to arrest the entire neighborhood. Struggling artistic radicals are a dime a dozen here.” The self-deprecation in his voice has a familiar texture, crisp, like the autumn air and dying leaves.
I like your songs, Faraday can’t tell him. His opinion on music counts for exactly nothing, he’s aware, although he enjoys hearing Basil play, especially likes the melodies he coaxes from the piano in the early mornings, the songs Faraday’s gathered are his own compositions. Not that he could tell them from Bach or Broadway, if quizzed. But they possess a lachrymose quality he recognizes, and that seems particular to Basil’s music. “It may not always be a question of notoriety. Your Hollywood isn’t that deep,” he says instead, more sharply than he means to, then flinches.
But Basil, to both his relief and confusion, laughs.
It’s a pleasant sound; he’d discovered that in the early days of their acquaintance, when they’d mostly done just this, strolled around the park and talked. He had not expected to find anything resembling a friend when he arrived, thought if he desired any sort of intellectual stimulation, he would have to seek out a medical society or one of the universities. Instead, he had found it—and more, much more—sitting at the upright piano in the Bohemian watering hole down the street from his boarding house.
“It’s too late to do much about it, regardless, I’m afraid,” Basil’s saying. “My name is on the membership lists. If anyone wanted to report on me, they’d have enough evidence. But I’ll do my best not to get arrested.”
“Good.” Faraday eases his fists; he can’t say when he clenched them. "That's good."
He nudges him, gently. “We should go in. I have Café Society tonight.”
“Yes, of course.” They make their way across the square. Everything’s close here, or in truth, cramped. No need for long, lonely drives across green fields, even if there were any; the underground goes everywhere. Fading sunlight glints between the buildings, night falling faster in their shadows.
“You could come, you know,” Basil tells him, after a pause. He’s said so twice since Faraday recovered from his—episode. Whatever it was, it’s left him feeling wrung out. Empty. Frangible. “It’s a far better show than you got at The Pink Slipper.”
He shakes his head, as he has at each invitation. “I haven’t the proper clothes.” He left his tuxedo, bloodstains well scrubbed from the cuffs, in Lidcote. Hadn’t thought he would need it in America of all places. After all, there was no reason for him to be admitted to polite company, if it may still be called that, here.
Not that a nightclub qualifies as such, only that there are dress codes, requirements, and he won’t be found lacking.
Basil doesn’t press him. Seldom does, except where Faraday’s own wellbeing is concerned. Drink this, rest just one night more, you’re too tender. This last memory brings the blush back to his cheeks, but if Basil notices, he doesn’t let on. Only says: “As you like.” They step inside together, out of the cold.
When they’re halfway up the stairs, the feeling strikes him, as it has done of late: the dismal insufficiency of bumping elbows or brushing hands or walking side-by-side. The need to be near, to touch. Everything he’s been holding back publicly, where there are watching eyes and wagging tongues. He’s become well-acquainted with the itch in his fingers, the compulsion to tangle them in that dark hair, to feel Basil’s hands on him in turn. Had not anticipated it, wholly unique as it is in his experience, to this situation. To him.
Before it had seemed only reasonable, only right that what occurred—regrettably, always regrettably—between men of their inclination happen behind closed doors, if it must happen at all. It was a private indulgence, a capitulation to unfortunate desires, something to be dealt with as briefly as possible. As impersonally as possible, divorced from attachment, sentimentality. Before, that’s how it had been, the times he faltered, when he could endure it no longer, when he thought just this once and maybe it will stop if I and he found company, usually young, razor-eyed men who required nothing other than his shillings. Faraday had known where he stood with them, could take what he needed and leave them, forgotten. It hasn’t happened in years, and by the time he returned to Warwickshire and met Caroline, he had thought, had hoped—
He falls on Basil as soon as the lock turns, closing both hands in his shirt and dragging him nearer. It should humiliate Faraday, how he whines and clutches at him like a wanton, how desperately he kisses him, after less than a day’s separation, as needful and clinging as he was this morning when Basil left the bed. Instead, he’s only pleased by the way those long-fingered hands close around his waist, almost encircling it, by the stunning way his back hits the wall when Basil pushes him against it, not without urgency, by the way he deepens the kiss, openmouthed, eager, with a hint of teeth.
Faraday could never have guessed he could be so foolish for kissing of all things, had never particularly taken to it with women, despite his best efforts. Had never attempted it at all with men—but then, one doesn’t kiss prostitutes and back-alley liaisons, except out of some pathetic fantasy, and he never desired that. That Basil wanted to kiss him, had tried to kiss him that first night, startled him; the truth is few people ever really have. Wanted to or tried. He thought about it for weeks afterward, through all their encounters, how it might have been if he hadn’t turned his face. He found himself longing for it, unsure how to ask for something he’d refused, and even more so while Basil cared for him until the night his fever broke and it seemed he would see no other chances and had nothing else to lose.
Faraday curls his arms around his neck now as he did then, not needing so much to adjust for the slight difference in height between them, but wishing to feel the breadth of Basil’s shoulders, the strength there, trapping him against the wall. Goes practically weak-kneed at the prospect of being roughly handled. (Although Basil wouldn’t. Doesn’t.) Faraday arches against his chest, his lean stomach, his groin.
“H-Henry,” he gasps, eventually pulling away. Pupils dilated, lips swollen, skin flushed. Therefore: not disinterested, not rejecting him. Only, “I really do have to go to work.”
Faraday clears his throat, ducks his head against the treacherous way his face reddens, and wills himself to loosen his hold. He mustn’t, ought not— He straightens Basil’s collar. “Right. Yes.”
They have a quick, cold dinner together before Basil changes into his dinner jacket, an appallingly cheap piece of formalwear, although perhaps to be expected for a musician. (But if he had something that fit.) He’s slicked his hair nearly tame, too, although several strands fall loose around his face. Faraday brushes them back for him and kisses him goodbye, thoroughly, tasting mint and sodium bicarbonate, cradling his jaw in one hand. He feels rather like a mistress left behind in the flat, or even a wife as he gathers up the dishes to wash them. And that’s part of it, certainly. There’s nothing here for him, nothing substantial, nothing beyond this, Basil. His home, his work, his patients, that’s all back in England. He’s not needed here.
Some evenings since he recovered, he’s gone for a walk, as he often did when he first arrived in the city. Those weeks before, when he had just met Basil and then again after that night in the flat, during the rainstorm, when they had finally—he’d taken the train all over the islands, sometimes for hours, not disembarking, just traveling from one end of the line to the other, surreptitiously watching his fellow passengers, every sort. Tonight he doesn’t wander, instead settles on the shabby brocade sofa with one of Basil’s books in hand. The radio is on, as usual, although he doesn’t recognize the tune, sweet and crooning and lulling.
The book, a political treatise of some kind, doesn’t hold his attention. His thoughts turn, as they still inevitably do from time to time, to Hundreds.
He had believed its condition to be, while not ideal, manageable enough until the spring rains came. Then, the wet filled the walls and the ceilings buckled and the floors swelled until there was nothing to be done for it, no matter which contractor he called. None of them had the fortitude, the tenacity to take on the project. It’s been in shambles for years, Doc, one said, making excuses. Mrs. Ayres and the others were holding it together with pride and paste. It’s just its time and for the best. Deathtrap of a house.
Faraday didn’t hold with the superstitions about the place, of course—he never had—and no matter what Rod or Mrs. Ayres or Caroline said. It was only a house. A grand, imposing, beautiful house, a jewel and a masterpiece of its age, worthy of far better than the end they had given it, than he had given it, he, however improbably, as its final custodian. But nothing more than that. Not possessed by anything other than black mold and mice, both to an unfortunate degree.
There had been times after Caroline’s death—that is, he thought perhaps he may have felt something on occasion. But never to the extent that the Ayres family or young, impressionable Betty did, never so much that he feared for his life. Or his sanity. It was more of a whisper, the suggestion of a touch on the back of his neck, a shift of air pressure or a draft from a leaky window (Hundreds had those in spades). Nothing sinister or malevolent. Eerie at best. The effect, only, of age and neglect. Restored to its former glory, no one would have thought anything of the kind.
Or so he’d believed.
That had been before New York. Before his episode. Faraday does not know the origins of his illness, although exposure no doubt played a significant role. Dehydration. Exhaustion. Inadvisable quantities of gin. Unfamiliar pathogens in an unfamiliar place. A touch, possibly, of psychological distress in the wake of particular events, recent and distant. None of which explained the recurrence of the phenomena he witnessed at Hundreds here, thousands of miles away, removed from the house and its unfortunate family, the letter S scribbled on the walls of Basil’s flat, the incident with the picture frame—although surely just that, an accident, an unpleasant coincidence—and his own delusions, his memories magnified and plaguing him, relentless. Their faces, distended, accusing. Blood on silk sheets. On a pink party dress. Blonde ringlets.
Faraday doesn’t recall everything he said or did during that period, understands from Basil’s reactions then and now, the tentative way he asks if he’s feeling well, the look on his face sometimes, that it was by no means a routine fever, dispensed with via bedrest and broth and anti-inflammatories. Can’t explain that either. Only knows that he feels different in the aftermath of it. Brittle, yes, like the thinnest porcelain. Lighter, too, after a fashion, as one does following a much longer convalescence. And yet, the night after, the night he fell asleep on this couch, lumpy and rough as it is, he slept more soundly than he has in years.
It may, he acknowledges, have had something to do with Basil, with how he touched and held him in the bath before that—and yes, naturally, sex has a soporific effect on many people. Nothing remarkable about that, or how peaceful these nights since that have been, spent in his bed, how easy it’s been to reach for him. Despite the noise from the street outside and the neighbors on either side and the worn, threadbare quality of everything in the flat, he’s found rest more easily here than he ever did in his rooms above the surgery.
He drifts off now, slowly, these considerations shedding like flaking paint, the music tugging him towards comforting oblivion. Peace.
It’s been a mercy: not dreaming. Or, at least, not remembering.
Faraday wakes to a familiar, gentle touch on his brow and fingers carding through his hair. The sureness of Basil’s touch continues to fascinate him. His profession demands it, naturally, precision, a sense of delicacy, too, much the way his own does, but that stands in stark contrast to his hands. They should be a working man’s hands, broad and strong, and there is something of that in them, in the faint rasp of callouses from his time doing more menial labor, but they are, in fact, a musician’s hands, steady, sensitive, fine.
He turns his cheek without opening his eyes, seeking. Basil obliges him, cupping his face, stroking under his eye. It’s all Faraday can do not to nuzzle his palm in appreciation, can hardly countenance the impulse and yet, he would do, unrestrained. But Basil never seems to mind these mawkish indulgences, offers and accepts them readily, so he does mouth at his wrist, licking the narrow rill of his veins, tasting his skin above his shirt cuff, salt and soap and the lingering bite of cologne.
The expression on his face, when Faraday finally lifts his head, might best be described as warm, his eyes soft in the dim light. Not a conventionally handsome face, with its long nose and wide mouth and asymmetrical scattering of moles, but compelling, he’s thought so from the beginning, that first night when he’d scarcely been able to look away.
“Was it a good show?” Faraday asks. His hands spasm with the effort of not reaching for Basil’s belt immediately. He would not object to being pressed into the cushions of this dilapidated couch and had here. “It went well?”
Basil hums and sits next to him, balanced on the edge of the sofa, his hand settling on Faraday’s hip. “Well enough, I suppose. Pretty good crowd. The band did admirably.” He swallows, throat bobbing. “All the same, I think I rather missed you.” This last said with the gravity of a confession. His face indicates the same, brow puckered, mouth downturned, as though he’s wary of his reception.
Faraday sits up to kiss him, unsure how to respond otherwise. (He doesn’t think he knows what it means, in fact, to be missed.) He lets his hands wander over his back. Strange to think he ever denied himself this, resisted every impulse to map him as fully as he could, his individual architecture, the progression of trapezius, deltoid, teres minor and major, latissimus dorsi, and all the rest. Basil murmurs against his teeth as he embraces him, maybe an afterthought to what he’s said—I rather missed you and could that be true? or isn't it just something people say?—maybe some inarticulate response to Faraday’s caresses. How he nips at his lower lip requires less interpretation, thankfully.
What a relief it’d been to discover that he wanted this, too.
He does reach for Basil’s belt now, deftly undoes the buckle and then unfastens his trousers. He shivers slightly, and again when Faraday slips his hand inside his shorts to rub his cock, already partly erect.
“Henry,” he urges him between kisses. “Bed. Please.”
Faraday relents and moves to rise, grabbing his wrist and all but hauling him upright with him. Briefly grits his teeth at the sluggish way Basil’s moving, like they have time, like this could be a regular occurrence, when it’s nothing of the kind. But likely he’s only tired, and this seems to be his preferred pace regardless: slow and savoring. If Faraday pushes him onto the bed more forcefully than he means to—well, he can make up for it.
He can do better than that, perhaps, he muses, looking down at Basil, disheveled: shirt rucked up, wrinkled, showing a few inches of skin, hair tousled, eyes glittering, trousers undone, the flushed head of his cock peeking up from his shorts. And Faraday’s never… But he could. Wants to, mouth going dry at the thought. He climbs onto the bed after him, settles between his legs, and reaches to draw his erection out, feeling the weight of it in his hand, unlike his own. Longer, yes, although not much thicker, and circumcised. He strokes it, pleased by Basil’s answering moan.
This had been untravelled territory, too, until recently. He hadn’t thought it important before—a poor substitute, in fact—but he was eager, when his bandages came off, to touch Basil this way, to learn what made him twitch or arch his back or whine, as he so easily makes Faraday whine.
He bends down, still moving his hand over his cock, and gives the glans a short, experimental lick.
“Ah.” Basil jerks under him.
It isn’t a bad taste, not different, in fact, from any other skin. Vaguely saline, alkaline. He licks again, down the shaft this time, stopping at the tidy nest of curls at the base. He hasn’t measured, but he’d estimate it’s eight inches at a glance. More than he can comfortably fit without choking, unquestionably. Still, he’ll try. He curls his lips over his teeth, gingerly, and starts to take the head into his mouth.
Basil quakes under him and makes a high, choppy sound, not exactly a gasp. Pained? Faraday pulls away immediately, concerned. He doesn’t believe he did anything—
He has the back of his hand pressed against his mouth, stifling; his eyes crinkle at the corners, although there are tears, too, caught in his long eyelashes. And he was, Faraday understands all at once, the realization like swallowed lead, laughing. At this. At him.
Not the first time that’s happened to him—women, in the past—and therefore not wholly unexpected, although he never thought Basil would. That ugly blush is creeping down his neck, Faraday can feel it. Wishes he could hide it. And his face. Or else vanish completely. “My apologies,” he says, stiffly, seizing what dignity he can as he straightens. He’s forgotten himself, clearly. Of course. How could he have thought. How could he have wanted. “I know it’s—I’ve not—“
He should go. Moves to right his clothes, scrambling back.
“Oh. Oh, no, no. Faraday.” Basil sits up immediately, one hand on his wrist, the other going to his cheek, turning him to face him, encouraging him to meet his eyes. “Henry. I wasn’t. I wouldn’t.” As though the suggestion has hurt him, too, as though that’s possible. “It was perfectly good. Only, you see.” He smooths the pad of his thumb over Faraday’s upper lip, tracing the hairs there. “I’m not used to this. That’s all.”
And that hadn’t occurred to him, the sensation of it, how it might feel. He winces. “Ah. I can see how that would be unappealing.”
Basil shakes his head, frowning. He’s still running his thumb over Faraday’s mustache, and it’s peculiarly nice, that. Soothing. He doesn’t think that anyone else has ever touched it, not so purposefully, and the attention sends a thrill through him. He shivers.
“No, not unappealing. Not, er. Not at all,” Basil corrects him. Slowly. So that his meaning is clear. “You could keep going. If you’d like to. Although you needn’t, that is, if—“
By way of response, Faraday brings Basil’s thumb between his teeth. Bites it lightly, then laps the ball of it, quieting him.
The second attempt is less daunting for this, the look on his face, his parted lips, his darkened eyes, and Faraday takes his cock into his mouth thinking of that. He’s relieved to hear the husky sound Basil makes as he slides lower, mouth filling, cock heavy against his tongue, head nudging the back of his throat. He withdraws quickly, trying to avoid gagging, knowing that would be unpleasant for both of them, and also that Basil would insist he stop.
He doesn’t want to stop.
It’s inelegant, he’s sure, and sloppy, drool leaking from the corners of his mouth despite his best efforts, the increased salivation expected if inconvenient, but he does fall into a sort of rhythm, slowly bobbing his head, able to take a bit more as he goes on, throat relaxing. He stops once or twice, to lick at the meatus, tasting the first bitter drops of pre-ejaculate, and noses at the side of Basil’s cock, feeling him tremble in response, gratified by this, by his moans, by the breathy way he says his name, the one only he uses, the one Faraday offered him in the dark like a token.
He sucks him more enthusiastically for that, hollowing his cheeks and rumbling his pleasure, because it is, in a way, a unique kind of pleasure, the specific concentration of this, each reaction like wordless praise.
His jaw has begun to ache, and his own cock is growing uncomfortably hard in his trousers when Basil taps him once and then twice on the shoulder. “Faraday, oh fuck, Henry, you should, ah. Careful, I’m going to—“
He hasn’t decided whether he will pull back at this moment, has never given it any thought at all before tonight, in fact. The first spurt hits his tongue, hot, thick, the way he anticipated; it’s the second that catches him unaware, and he sputters, moving off, some landing on his cheeks and chin. He coughs wetly, sitting upright, dragging his hand over his mouth. Embarrassing, to be so untidy. Although there is, too, Basil’s expression, somewhat dazed, and the rosy flush on his chest, still heaving. It’s exceptional. Not unfamiliar in these past weeks, true, but he feels a certain degree of pride, now, in making him look that way, all on his own. And maybe that’s why Basil enjoys doing this for him, which he’s never grasped, the reward of that, the satisfaction in causing someone to fall apart like this.
He doesn’t allow Faraday to sit and bask in this accomplishment for long; taking in the mess they’ve made (and how must that look?), Basil drags him over and down, pulling him on top of him, and kisses, frenzied, at his face, licking him clean, also pecking at his brow, his forehead, the end of his nose, the corners of his mustache. Faraday sinks into this treatment, enjoying it, and also the way Basil’s hands move over the small of his back, his arse, the backs of his thighs, dwarfing them. He rocks against him, chasing friction against his hip. Whimpers into his kisses, starting to feel tender-mouthed. Not minding.
Basil pulls back, nuzzling his cheek. “What would you like, hm?” he’s asking, voice rough. “You marvel. What can I do for you?”
Faraday quivers at the praise, momentarily overcome, and almost says something nonsensical like, Ask me to stay. Please. He shakes his head, blinking back the excess of feeling. It’s nothing. Merely neurochemical.
“I could suck you off,” Basil suggests, nipping at his jaw, the underside of his chin. “Or you could fuck me. If you want.”
Faraday stills at the offer, made so casually, like it isn’t. Like he. Not that he hasn’t before—in the past, when he’d sought out company, and women, on occasion, mostly during the war. He shakes his head again, and Basil, perhaps feeling how he’s tensed, tightens his grip on him. “I don’t,” Faraday says. “I don’t know. What I want.” He likes this, though, the two of them sprawled together. Would contrive, if he could, to lie this way the rest of the night, whatever they do. Clings, despite himself, when Basil starts to move.
He pets him instead of whatever he meant to do, running a hand over the short hair at the back of his head, down the exposed nape of his neck, then between his scapulae, over his shirt. They’re still mostly dressed, both of them.
Even so, it startles Faraday when Basil idly slides a finger under one suspender and plucks it. More surprising: the twitch that runs through him at the sting and the noise he makes, too, small, plaintive, involuntary. Basil, hearing it, pauses. Then does it again on the other side—snap. Faraday jolts and squirms, seeking some pressure for his cock, which has suddenly and inexplicably begun to leak. His reaction should trouble him, but he can’t quite bring himself to care, not when Basil’s sending quivers through him like this. Harder, more, Faraday could demand, although he doesn’t. He tucks his face against his neck instead, concentrating on those sparks in rapid succession: snap—snap—snap. He groans; Basil chuckles. Not mocking, he determines.
Affectionate, some wretched part of him thinks, but no, not that either.
It almost disappoints him when Basil pulls his suspenders off his shoulders for him. “Lift up a bit?” he asks, and Faraday shifts onto his knees, obedient, while he undoes his trousers and tugs them down. He would have objected, once, to this, to feeling so exposed, but allows it now, unquestioning. “Okay.”
He isn’t certain what Basil has in mind as he settles back onto his chest. Even less so when he stretches to snag the K-Y off the bedside table and flicks open the cap. Although Faraday hasn’t made an exact study of Basil’s refractory period, he knows it’s too early for them to fuck. Nonetheless, he cants his hips, eager, at his touch, the way he squeezes his arse before letting one slick finger dip between his cheeks. He circles his rim, tracing the clench of muscle, once, twice, again, then slips the first joint inside, breaching him.
“You’re so good, you know,” Basil’s saying, kissing Faraday’s temple as he pushes inside him and withdraws, gentle, as ever, repeating the motion. His other hand moves over his back, under his shirt, stroking. “Like this. I don’t think you realize.”
It’s this as much as the push of a second finger inside him that makes his cock twitch. Faraday moans, face pressed against Basil’s neck as he fucks him, unhurried, with both digits and murmurs more praise. Beautiful and you feel fantastic, always do, and listen to you, look at you, his other hand drawing lazy circles across his skin, leaving twinges where the elastic hit. Although, not disagreeably.
Faraday ruts, more desperate now, against Basil’s hip, finding the groove there, chasing relief. “A-another, please, Basil,” he begs, not caring how it sounds, how broken his voice is, how raw, and the tears in his eyes and the humiliation of it, needing this so badly, but Basil obliges him, his ring finger stretching him wider, open, and he changes the angle of his thrusts, too, curling all three fingers against the bundle of nerves and tissue that makes him tremble, that makes color flare behind his eyelids. “Oh, oh.”
“So good, Henry,” Basil murmurs, encouraging him. “Let go for me?”
Faraday’s nearly bereft of nights like this, mornings like this: falling asleep nestled against another person, cozy, his arm thrown over Basil’s middle, head resting on his shoulder, the tickle of hair on his nose. But this isn’t life as normal. Rather, he should be waking up alone to the chill in his rooms, quiet save for the ticking radiator, and his schedule to keep. This is the anomaly, a departure, an intermission. It’s not something he ever thought he’d consider easy, let alone desirable. It takes him some time, still, to relax after they’ve cleaned up, and he lies awake longer than usual tonight, despite the heaviness in his limbs, his eyelids. Thinking. Regardless, sleep must overtake him, because he wakes to the mid-morning sunlight streaming through the windows.
He’ll remember these windows, this place, how many times he’s woken, blinking, surprised to find himself here.
And the man next to him, breathing deeply, inky lashes fanned against his cheek, the faintest lines around his eyes, his mouth, on his brow. Fewer than one might expect for someone who’s seen so much, who’s experienced the world as harshly as Basil has.
Tempting, too tempting, to reach over and touch his face, to trace the shadowed stubble over his jaw, to connect the moles on his cheek, idly, trying to make sense of the shapes formed. No reason to do any of that, of course, to try to memorize this face in particular. One doesn’t for a dalliance, a short affair, and it was only to satisfy a need to begin with, all of this the product of an inconvenience, a flaw in his character, a deficiency. It’s foolish, profoundly so, to mistake any of that for attachment. No reason, either, to feel resentful of the sunlight just now. No reason to wish it would stop or that closing his eyes helped. Some heavy, unseen force compresses his sternum, flattens his lungs, weighs him down. He sucks in a breath against it, shuddering.
Basil stirs beside him, turning onto his side, one hand finding Faraday’s waist and pulling him over, drawing the two of them flush. He’s not a morning person—artistic types, he’s gathered, generally are not—and he squints at him, bleary-eyed, his hair hanging over his face, obscuring it, before he kisses him, closemouthed, warm. Holding him like it’s commonplace, routine. “Hullo.”
“Good morning,” Faraday murmurs. Knowing he should pull away.
“Mm, it is, yes. And last night was—“
He ducks his head, remembering what a scene he’d made, his conduct unfortunate. It always is, however much he resolves to be otherwise; in the moment, it’s difficult to maintain composure. Another failing, certainly. And yet. “It was very good.”
When he looks up again, Basil’s watching him, expression unreadable. Concerned, perhaps, or puzzled. He doesn’t say anything, however, only touches his cheek. Eventually, he says. “It’s, ah. Your last day in New York.”
He’ll be glad, no doubt, to have his flat back. Faraday had considered finding a new boarding house when he was well again—his eviction from the last one had been ignoble, to say the least, and would have shamed his parents—but Basil encouraged him to stay here. But that is only the sort of person he is, he understands, the sort who would care for an ill ex-lover, an acquaintance, really, for a week, who would give up his bed and offer up his home. “True,” Faraday acknowledges. "My ship leaves tomorrow at midday.”
Basil lowers his gaze briefly. He dips his hand beneath Faraday’s undershirt, caressing the skin below his ribcage. “Is there anything—that is. I’ve the day free. If there were something you’d like? To do, I mean.”
Faraday blinks. They haven’t exactly gone around together, even in the Village; they tend to keep to the park and the bar when they leave the flat. He’s seen the city on his own in his wanderings, visited Central Park and the other places one hears about, finding them mostly loud and overcrowded and chaotic, everyone mixed in together on these cramped, overbuilt islands, shrieking children in hand-me-down clothes and poor students in patches intermixed with men in suits, ladies in the smartest new fashions, no recognizable boundary between them. Confusing, tenuous, in a way that rankles. Before he met Basil, he’d considered taking a train north or west, away from here, to see more of this wild country that Caroline thought preferable to Hundreds—and him.
But would it be different, if they?
Basil adds, “We needn’t. If you’d rather not. Only, if you’d like to.”
Part of him, whining, maudlin, unseemly, resists the idea of leaving the bed at all today, would suggest they make the most of the hours they have, determine if he might, at last, get his fill of this, of him. His mother’s voice almost immediately counters it, reminding him that only the infirm and the indolent stay in bed after six o’clock.
It’s well past six.
“I’m not much for touring,” Faraday admits, finally. Not relishing at all having to navigate the crush and the racket and the smell of exhaust. But something else might do. The beginning of an idea occurs to him. “What would you do if—if I weren’t here?” He grimaces at his own phrasing, the reminder. “Rather, if it were an ordinary day, just to yourself, what would you do?” He doesn’t have many leisure days of his own, and, from what he’s observed of Basil’s life, he doesn’t either. But perhaps if he sees more of it, he’ll be able to picture it back in Lidcote. And it might be, too, like it meant something, that he was here once.
It doesn’t mean a damn thing, he knows, but temporarily. Just for today. He could have that.
Basil’s looking at him now as he sometimes does, as though he’s said something remarkable or profoundly strange. “You want to—what? Go ‘round the neighborhood with me and run errands? Hand out labor pamphlets on the corner?”
He frowns, and Basil laughs. Although not—not at him, he’s nearly sure. He can tell the difference sometimes.
“Not pamphlets, specifically.”
More laughter. “Okay, no pamphlets.” He brushes at Faraday’s hair, still messy from sleep, and kisses him again. “Okay,” he repeats. “Sure.”
It’s a brisk, bright autumn day, the wind picking up between the skyscrapers, carrying the smell of cold water, but he follows Basil out into it all the same. They take a late breakfast at a nearby café. Soft, buttery, fresh pastries and the strongest coffee he’s ever tasted. The owner, Faraday gathers, knows Basil rather well and is sympathetic to the same causes; he comes out to chat, apron dusty with flour, accent impenetrable, hands and face ruddy, rough. Not so distinct from the same type back home, although the faces are different here, such a muddle of people from so many places. He holds himself away from the conversation, drinking his coffee, only watching, listening to snatches of their talk.
America, Anne Granger had remarked, surprised when he disclosed his choice. I would have thought the continent.
I’m curious, he explained, and the two of them, she and David, exchanged a significant look he’d come to recognize in recent months, but neither of them pressed him. They had only been glad he was getting away, taking some time for himself, as they put it. No doubt everyone in Lidcote was happy to see him gone a while; he doubts anyone has especially missed him.
He reaches for the slip of paper in his coat pocket, his ticket home, noting his cabin number, Second Class printed thickly down the side. Wrinkled, from where he’s crumpled it.
“All right?” Basil asks as they’re leaving.
Faraday shakes off his doldrums. Absurd, Warwickshire is his home. He should be looking forward to returning, should have missed it. “Quite,” he says. Forces a smile. Tries to relax his hands. “Lay on.”
The day proceeds in that fashion. Greenwich Village is, although not precisely a village (assuredly not an English one), a self-contained microcosm, the park bounded on all sides by houses, shops, the kind of places one sees everywhere, somehow both a piece of and distinguishable from the city beyond it. There is still the steady influx of students, chattering, rowdy, but others, too, sitting and talking on the stoops, greeting each other on the street, crossing the square. Older people. People who remember the war, although it seems a halfway forgotten thing here, best put out of mind. They pass a lively group of young men, skin unmarred, faces unconcerned, clothes bright. Basil squeezes his elbow after, and, as much as he knows he should pull away—no need for such a gesture, none at all—he doesn’t.
Mid-afternoon, they stop into a dry goods store owned by an immigrant family; as with many proprietors they’ve seen today, they greet Basil. This time loudly, exuberantly in a language he doesn’t recognize, Vassily!, something heavy and rolling and Eastern. Faraday startles when he answers in kind; he’s never heard Basil speak anything but his peculiar amalgam of Oxford and American English. He can’t pick out much from the flurry of speech, although he does catch the words doctor and Engleza and, realizing he’s been introduced or referred to in some way, offers a tentative nod and a hello, his face warming.
They smile back, wide, beaming. Another American oddity, one people seem to adopt wherever they’ve come from, whatever their homeland.
Faraday drifts away from the front, where they continue talking, enthusiastic, wondering if he might do better to wait outside. Feels a little like a ghost at the moment, haunting a world that no longer includes him. But, no, it never did. None of this belongs to him.
Before he can leave, however, he spots her: a young, scabby-kneed girl, no more than five or six, sitting on a stool in the corner, wearing a mended dress. She whines quietly, rubbing at her face. At a glance, she’s from the same stock as the owners, olive-skinned and black-haired and hook-nosed. Her right eye is inflamed, the sclera quite red, blood vessels broken, the skin around it stretched painfully tight, shiny pink. Faraday frowns and approaches her, hunkering down close, but not overly so. He is a stranger and a foreigner besides.
He’s never known what to do with children, save in a professional capacity. When they’re hurt or ill or injured, they make much more sense to him. Not at all that he prefers them to be so—hold her still—only that he can do something for them and so knows better how to speak to them. Does now, clucking gently at the girl. “Hello, there,” he murmurs and extends a cautious hand toward her face. He wishes he had his bag. “That looks uncomfortable. May I see?”
And if she doesn’t understand the individual words, she seems to grasp from his tone what he means and nods, hesitant, allowing him to press the affected area lightly, probing it with his fingertips.
“Look up, please,” he encourages, gesturing, demonstrating. “Good. Now down. Good. And this, does this hurt?”
She flinches at the increase in pressure but doesn’t cry.
“It’s all right,” Faraday assures her, withdrawing. “That’s very good. You’re rather brave, aren’t you?”
He returns to the adults at the front of the room. “Pardon me,” he says, clearing his throat to get their attention. They all turn toward him, surprised, but not unfriendly. To Basil, he adds, “Could you ask how long the little girl’s eye has been swollen?”
He gives him a considering look in response—curious, perhaps, more than anything—before he rattles off a sentence. Then waits, listening to the response. “Two weeks.” He glances at the shopkeepers before asking in an undertone, “Is it serious?”
“Somewhat,” Faraday allows. He learned early in his training not to overstate, to describe conditions as objectively as he could, but without too much jargon. Your average person will panic even at the plainest medical language, his teachers explained. “It’s an infection,” he says, looking at the girl’s family. They’re staring at him, the way people sometimes stare at doctors. Or maybe only because they don’t know what he’s saying. “She needs drops.” He reaches for the grocery pad and pen, scribbling on it, almost forgetting himself and signing it. “Any decent pharmacist should carry these. Twice a day for a week at least. Ten days at the outside.”
Basil relays this, too, rapid-fire.
Faraday takes in the people, the place, well-kept but not especially prosperous. Good odds the lot of them live above the shop. Not uncommon, here or anywhere. “Will they be able to afford it?” he asks.
“They ought to,” Basil says. He doesn’t translate the question for them. “They won’t take your money, even if they can’t. If you were thinking to… That would be charity, you understand.”
“Yes, I see.” A muscle spasms in his jaw. He recognizes the sentiment all too well. Nothing new under the sun. Is there a more destructive force than ridiculous human pride? To say, I’d rather destroy the things that matter than admit defeat, poverty, need? He's railed against it in the past, to Granger, others. So backward. But he nods, accepting it, as he has always had to accept his patients’ limitations, however much he knows they’ll harm them, their prejudices and negligences. There’s only so much that can be done, that he can do.
He meets Basil’s eyes, that now so-familiar hazel. Can’t countenance, exactly, how he’s watching him, studying him. Not with concern, not at the moment. Curiosity, yes, as before, but something else, unnamed, unknown, softening his expression.
And perhaps he can understand it, not wanting that. Pity. Charity. That isn’t, after all, what he wants either.
They make their way back to the flat in the early evening, having spent the afternoon in this meandering way, having eaten a simple dinner at another café, beer and cheap food and greasy tables and conversation. An ordinary day, all told. Nothing remarkable about it, or the park with its autumn colors and radiance dimming under the twilight, or this place. Any of it. Inconsequential. It hardly matters, either, that the time’s passed so freely, the way fine, blue-skied days always seem to, unfairly quick, parties dispersed and the crumpled ribbons on the lawn put away too soon. Not that it compares. It doesn’t.
Basil walks close to him as they return, their shoulders brushing, his hand, solicitous, at the small of Faraday’s back as he opens the door for him. Alone, they don’t meet in the eager, clutching way they did the day before. In fact, it’s less a kiss—although he does, tenderly, strangely hesitant—than it is an embrace, Basil drawing him in, arms enfolding him. Somehow not tightly enough. Harder, please, Faraday doesn’t plead. As hard as you can. They stay like that for an indeterminable period, his arms around Basil’s waist, Basil’s around his shoulders. Doing no more than that.
It’s unnecessary, of course. He doesn’t require it, to be held like this, to press his face against Basil’s shoulder, breathe in his smell, to have his hair stroked. He doesn’t need it and never has. Neither of his parents had been at all demonstrative, with him or one another, except in rare moments, on special days, and done well enough.
Eventually, Basil does let him go, and he reluctantly steps back, resisting the urge to scrub at his face, his eyes. He leaves his handkerchief in his pocket, untouched, neatly folded.
“I’ll make tea,” Basil suggests.
Faraday appreciates this, too, about him, another carryover from his upbringing, like the way he talks, the unique quality of his intonation, which still strikes him. Not quite the King’s English.
It would be foolish to say that, I wish I could keep listening to you talk.
They sit together in the kitchenette, drinking tea, speaking little. There’s no alcohol in the place, something Basil has said he needs to do from time to time, a remnant from his younger days, when he found putting down the bottle difficult. But that’s for the best, in its way, appealing as it might be to find some dullness this evening, some distance.
Nothing, it’s nothing. No need to press close again, to wrap around him, to tuck his chin over his shoulder while he rinses the teacups. No need to take his hand. No need.
They’ve finished the washing up, and Faraday is about to ask him if he might play something—that would be safe enough, surely, and it’s his last chance—when Basil crosses to the radio, to its perch on the windowsill. He stands, listening, for a moment, before increasing the volume, usually kept considerately low, quiet in a raucous city. A familiar song crackles through the speakers, one of those that made his patients weep at nights during the war, that made the nurses sigh, that they played at every dance, every bar, every farewell party. The kind people can’t seem to stop listening to, even years later, even here, where it seems they’d rather forget. He doesn’t recall the song’s name, has never had the knack for that, but he knows it, as recognizable as a heartbeat.
Faraday flinches when Basil reaches for him. Steps back. “I, ah. I don’t dance, I’m afraid.”
He hasn’t, since that night at the party. The memory of it, bright colors. Twirling skirts. She’d been wearing a peach dress. The other girl, Brenda, had been wearing flowers. The way they’d grabbed each other and laughed. When, before, she’d— It had been a mistake, that was all, to bring her. He should have known.
“Everyone dances,” Basil assures him, drawing him back in, back to this flat, this city, banishing the Warwickshire dance hall, one hand on his hip. “Trust me, I play at clubs. Everyone does. And I promise not to dip you.” Joking, he can see. His mouth quirks at the corner.
Faraday regards him, wary. It is only the two of them here, little chance for humiliation, and the look on his face is—denying him tonight, especially tonight, would be—
He steps haltingly into Basil’s arms, stumbling when he pulls him closer.
“Easy,” he says, winding Faraday’s arms around him in turn. “It’s only. Like that, yes. You can lead, it’s fine.”
He takes the first few steps, hesitant. It’s not the sort of thing that requires leading, precisely, the two of them swaying together to the music, turning in a slow rotation across the flat. He curls one hand around the back of Basil’s neck, rests the other on his waist, feeling the muscle shifting under his shirt. They’re not quite cheek-to-cheek, but too near to look at one another properly. Not so unlike when they’d held each other before, only with the music, too, winding between them. Love songs. Songs about heartache, lovers lost, last nights.
“See?” Basil says in his ear after they’ve found their rhythm, one melody blending into the next, and it grows easier, moving with him like this. “You’re better than you think.”
Faraday nods, not quite able to answer aloud, and blinks away extraneous moisture. He’s never been one to find art or music or literature affecting. He learned to appreciate them in the way one does, as is proper, as a gentleman might. His mother said. But he could never recognize the appeal on his own. Has thought, on occasion, that it might be easier if he were the type to read poetry, to quote Wordsworth, Milton, Shakespeare. Women sometimes seemed to expect it of him, something about his manner or his face. But poetry’s beyond him. Inaccessible. Still, there’s something in this, now, in these yearning voices. Both sweet and aching.
It’s I can’t be happy with you. Or, perhaps more so: my ship leaves tomorrow at midday. It’s confessions under the sheets, the oldest hurts, still festering, only recently cleaned, only with the help of the knife, dead tissue sliced away. It’s a waterlogged dream. Ashes in the kitchen sink. The steady breathing of a lover at dawn. He trembles, and Basil holds him closer, somehow, although it should be impossible, close as they already are.
They make another revolution, and it’s dark in the flat, the only light from the city outside, the chuff of breath between them, and Faraday tilts his forehead against Basil’s, shutting his eyes. The singer on the radio bids her lover farewell, lamenting.
It’s like a hand coming up his throat from the bleakest pit of him, grasping, clawing, choking him. Just ask me to stay, please. Please, just that, just want me to stay, just ask, please, please, please, please— “Fuck,” Faraday hisses and pushes away, out of his arms, shuddering.
“Henry?” Basil asks. Takes a step toward him.
“Don’t.” He puts up both hands, warning him off. “Don’t.”
Don’t call me that.
No one else will ever call him that.
He retreats, lungs working too hard for what they’re drawing in. “I’m fine. I only. I need some air.”
“I can—“ Come with you, he’ll offer.
“No, it’s. I’m perfectly well, truly.” Faraday makes an abortive gesture towards his face, wanting to reassure him, also just wanting to touch him, knowing he mustn’t. “It isn’t like before. I only—that is, I just need some air, that’s all. I’ll go for a walk around the block. Have a smoke. I shan’t be long.”
Basil’s looking at him with open worry now, as though he might protest, as though he might reach for him again, but it’s not that. This isn’t. Why should he? Finally, he nods. “Of course. I’ll see you after.”
Faraday makes himself take his time, realizing how it will look if he hurries, like something is amiss, like he’s— He pulls on his coat, his hat, and steps out. Leans against the door for a moment, pulse rabbiting, lungs straining, before making his way down the hall, the stairs, out of the building, and onto the street. Lets his feet carry him, not thinking of a particular direction or destination, simply needing to move. He pauses only to light a cigarette.
It’s a different city at night, he’s learned; it is, perhaps, most itself then, its famous lights and boulevards, although it feels darker on the street than looking down on it. He had, the night his fever broke, spent hours just watching the passersby and traffic. Felt like he understood the place better, an organism all its own, as complex as the human body, more so, with its own arteries and organs and neural pathways. London was like that, too. He hadn’t wanted that, hadn’t especially liked it any more than he enjoys this city in its confusion and distraction, the crowds and noise, but he had felt it. The possibility of it, its immensity.
It nonetheless had seemed small when compared to Hundreds, at the time. Everything had.
The house will likely not be standing when he returns; they made it sound a dire emergency in the spring, the possible damage to the nearby homes, the new builds interloping on the grounds, the need to move speedily, prevent an unplanned collapse, ad nauseam. He can sell the property to Babb. It will be painful, yes, to drive past the place so denuded, further disfigured, but he will still have his work. And he needn’t stay in Lidcote or Warwickshire. Find a post elsewhere—everyone needs doctors.
Need me, he could beg, has wished to beg of him. It’s been so much easier when people need him, when he has something to offer. But a Bohemian musician in Greenwich Village has no use for a country doctor and no room besides. It’s a tiny, rough flat, already full of memories, regrets, secondhand furniture. There’s no place for him, never mind the warm bed, the quality of the light in the morning, the sound of Basil at the piano, playing quietly, trying not to wake him.
He pauses, watching a couple on the street opposite, a man and a woman. They’re arguing; she’s pulling away, irate, spitting at him, calling him names. The man grabs for her arm but misses. It’s not Faraday’s concern, but he lingers, slowing his steps until they’re out of sight. At the end of the block, she gets into a cab alone. The man stands on the curb, shouting after her.
When it’s ended, the car pulling away, he shoves his hands in his pockets, lowers his head, and continues.
The night is more temperate than they’ve been, although the chill still creeps through his coat. He hadn’t packed anything for cold weather. Hadn’t supposed he’d need it. He wraps his arms around himself. It would be a simple matter to return to the flat. If Basil’s gone to bed, he can crawl in next to him, warm himself under the blankets, against him. That’s what he should be doing, should be letting him fuck him, as languid and savoring and drawn out as he pleases and maybe they could make the night go longer that way.
He lights another cigarette, keeps walking. Smokes it down to a nub. The neighborhood begins to change around him, no longer Greenwich Village as he recognizes it, looking rougher, more decrepit. Somewhere down an alley, glass breaks. A dog barks.
It’s only anxiety, of course. Apprehension over his departure. There’s been plenty to fray his nerves, these past months, this past year. Understandable. It could have happened to anyone, Granger told him before he left. Although it hadn’t happened to anyone, he had almost protested, it had happened to him. This has happened to him. Is happening. It would have been wiser, probably, to go somewhere more peaceful for his time away. The mountains. Clean, cold, fresh air. Solitude. Quiet. Without temptation of any kind. But he hadn’t wanted that. Hadn’t wished to be alone.
I’ve been thinking. Wondering. Whether it’s possible—would you say?—for a place to get into a person, he’d asked of Basil the night they sat on the fire escape and talked. The night he'd woken, clear-headed at last and found him half-sprawled across the bed, exhausted from nursing him.
I’d say anything can come to define us. A place, a person, a moment.
It surprises Faraday when he eventually comes to the water, the city ending and the dark, smooth expanse dividing him from the next cluster of lights, blurry, in the distance. Such an easy thing to forget: that this strange place is bounded by ocean and river. He stands, looking out over it, thinking again of the ticket in his pocket, the crinkle of paper, the ship he’ll board, in not so many hours, the same steamer that brought him here in June. He resented it then, too.
The sky has begun to gray.
In ten days, he’ll be back in England. Home.
He doesn’t bother to unclench his hands, lets his nails sink into his palms, lets his jaw pulse, feels the compression in his molars, squeezes his eyes shut.
“Fuck,” he whispers. The water, the city, uncaring. Not even a ripple. Louder. “Fuck.” Shouting, loud as he can, his throat tearing, eyes prickling: “Fuck.”
It’s nothing, has been nothing. He should never have given in to this in the first place. Only weak men do, his father told him so once, taking him aside. He knows better. And what is it, ultimately, just a warm body, just nerves and sensation, just the chemical pleasure of sex, common, altogether common. He can have that anywhere, can find a proper woman, even. A wife. Not. No reason to stand here, wavering in the dark, by the water, in this impossible city, a place he should be glad, relieved, grateful to leave behind. No one has asked him to stay here. And why would they?
Faraday puts a hand into his pocket, finding the slip of paper there. He’s taken to carrying it with him since he was asked to leave the boarding house. Even if he had nothing, he reasoned, as long as he could get home, it didn’t matter, however lost he might be. Little as he possesses, he has that, his ticket home.
The day has begun in earnest by the time he reaches the flat again, the neighborhood already going about its daily business—newspapers and milk and deliveries, shops rolling up their grates—bustling, as heedless of his presence as always. Faraday climbs the stairs slowly, legs dragging, heavy, head feeling the same. He stands at the door, regarding it. An ordinary wooden door. Not a latched gate. Not a golden threshold he’s barred from crossing. Nonetheless, he almost feels he should knock, ask to come in. Ask. Or beg. But he can hear the piano through the wood. Puts a tentative hand on the doorknob. It’s unlocked.
Faraday doesn’t recognize the music, something somber, quiet. When he closes the door, gently as he can, it clicking shut, the tune falters. Basil’s fingers stumbling over the keys. An uncharacteristically discordant note rings out before he stops playing. His shoulders rise and fall as he breathes, once and then again before he turns.
It’s dark yet in the flat, most of the curtains drawn, the room unlit except for the lamp by the couch, but it’s impossible to miss the rawness around his eyes, the expression on his face.
“Er—hello,” Faraday struggles. He hasn’t thought, particularly, of what he will say. Has never been good at this. It was easier with women, when there were platitudes, useful clichés, even if they never felt entirely right on his tongue, against his palate, even if they rang hollow, he could say them. He knew them. The sorts of things one says. There is nothing of the kind to say here. “I, ah. It’s early.”
Basil stares at him. “I’ve not slept,” he replies eventually. Voice hoarse.
“Oh.” He swallows. “Nor have I.”
“I thought,” he begins. Some warmth in his tone, anger, quick-flashing, bright. He stops. Shakes his head, as though to clear it. “I thought you might’ve gone. Without.” Hurt. That’s what it is.
Faraday hadn’t quite—hadn’t expected that.
And it’s never seemed an especially large flat, long and narrow, but the floor is vast just now. Much farther than he walked last night. Uncrossable.
“I didn’t,” Faraday tells him. Yes, indeed, that’s obvious. His cheeks heat. “I. That is, I’ve sold my ticket. For the ship.”
He can’t say what he expected for a response, but silence may be the most difficult to take. He blinks, then soldiers on.
“It’s not much, but I can find a room, afford a few weeks’ stay. Enough time to look for a position. A clinic or a practice that would want to take me on. One of your veterans’ hospitals, perhaps. I’ve a few connections. I should be able to parlay them into something.” He stops babbling with some effort.
“A position,” Basil echoes carefully. “Here?”
“Yes.” Faraday breathes. “But you needn’t concern yourself, of course. If necessary, I can wire for—I can buy another passage, if. It’s not. I don’t mean to impose. And as I said, I will find a boarding house. Today, if you prefer it.”
“I see.” His brow furrows as he takes this in. He still hasn’t moved, except to turn more completely on the bench, his expression inscrutable. “You’ve come for your things, then.”
“Yes. But also—” His hands close and open. Open and close. Involuntary. He can feel where he dug into his palms before, the tenderness there, over faint scar tissue. “I did wonder. If I might, if we might. I should like to.” He takes a ragged breath. “I should like to see you sometimes. If you’re amenable.”
Basil raises both eyebrows, eyes going wide before he lets out a clipped laugh.
Faraday shuts his eyes at that, waiting for what must follow.
Tell me to get out, tell me that wasn’t what this was, that it was temporary, that I’m wrong for still needing it.
Tell me I’m unwanted, that I’m a fool.
Tell me, goddammit.
Wood creaks. A heavy tread.
An astonishing thing, really, kissing. He’s surprised, too, by the way Basil seizes him, drawing him close. There’s no little heat in it either, his embrace fevered, hurried, even frantic when he’s usually more deliberate. For his part, Faraday allows himself to be grabbed, holds him back with equal determination, the question posed and yes, this, yes, thank fuck, and opens eagerly for him, licking back into his mouth, heedless of his own whimpers. He’s more concerned with Basil’s at the moment.
“I didn’t think,“ he’s saying, against Faraday’s cheek, under his ear, into his hair. “I thought you’d gone,” he repeats, leaning back to frown at him.
He clenches his hands in his shirt and drags him forward again. “No, I—I didn’t wish to.”
“You bastard,” he breathes, nipping at his lips. “Disappeared all night and I didn’t know where or when or if.”
“I’m sorry,” Faraday tells him. Meaning it. Recalling, yes, that he’s been hurt before, Basil has. Been left before, in the worst possible fashion. He wouldn’t have believed that this would matter in the same way, however, that he would— He caresses his cheek, hesitant, clumsy. “Truly, I am.”
He startles when Basil lifts him, hands hooking under his thighs and bringing him level without much effort, as though it’s nothing, as though he weighs nothing. The shift in perspective gives Faraday a brief moment of vertigo; he clutches him around his neck for balance, alarmed. His hat falls. He’s aware that Basil carried him during his illness, has hazy memories of the same, being hoisted out of the tub and tucked in like a child. But this is different, not least for the way he’s looking at him, eyes bright, hungry. He shivers.
“What’s to be done with you, hm?” Basil murmurs, studying him. Considering.
Faraday squeezes his legs around his waist, unresisting as he moves towards the bed. “Whatever you think best, of course,” he says, throat going dry. Anything you like.
He pauses, closing his eyes at that. Inhales. Exhales. “You really mean to stay here? In the city?”
He nods. “That doesn’t—that is, if—you needn’t—“
Whatever he means to stammer is lost when Basil kisses him. Hard. Almost bruising. Faraday could get lost in this easily, gladly. Often, if he might. He moans around his tongue. Unclasps his arms to shrug out of his coat and jacket, uncaring of the inevitable wrinkles. That accomplished, he busies himself with the buttons on Basil’s shirt, fingers quaking as he slides them free one by one, revealing undershirt and skin until he can’t reach any lower. Turns his attention back to his face, his mouth. Faraday can feel his groan in his own chest, vibrating against his lips when he digs his hands into his hair and pulls, not gently.
It’s disgraceful, he knows, to concern oneself with sex when good, hardworking people are going about their days. In the middle of the week, no less. Shameful. The worst kind of idleness. His cock throbs in his trousers when Basil tumbles him onto the bed, among the disordered sheets, and the air leaves his lungs, momentarily. Not the only reason he’s breathless when he climbs over him, straddling his thighs, dark hair falling around his face.
Faraday had thought once he would hate this, being the smaller and weaker of the two, knowing that he might be overpowered, but he feels nothing of the sort when Basil presses him against the mattress now, when he strips him of his shirt and undershirt, when he leans down to pin his wrists above his head with one hand, to kiss him again, languid, wet, indulgent. Faraday flexes both arms against his grip, bizarrely delighted when he finds he can’t break it, and again when Basil tightens his hold, just perceptibly, as though to remind him, No, you’ll stay right here until I decide otherwise. He recalls the night at the bar when he crowded him against the wall. The walls he’s crowded him against since. How much he’d wanted it then, this. How much it had plagued him after, still wanting it, when by all rights, he’d satisfied the urge, again and again. He writhes under him now, mumbling against his teeth, yes, as you like, yes, do what you will with me.
Basil releases him to sit up; he shrugs out of his collared shirt, exposing well-muscled arms, an impressive chest under thin white cotton. Too impressive not to touch—Faraday runs his hands up and over both, admiring, gripping, drawing his nails across the skin, applying pressure, leaving thin red lines. In response, he earns himself a bite under his jaw, more at his throat, his clavicle. He whines, squirming against Basil when he ducks his head to mouth at his nipples, teasing them to aching, licking them, dragging his teeth over pebbling skin.
“Please,” Faraday gasps before long. It’s always too much in some ways, always much more than he’s accustomed to having. Even before, when there had been—it had been distant, perfunctory. Only as much touching as strictly necessary. Never like this. “Please, I can’t.”
He relents, planting a final kiss against his chest before easing off, petting the crown of his head, letting him breathe. He’s singularly lovely in the morning light coming through the windows, how it illuminates his hair, his face, his eyes, looking almost golden. Faraday reaches up to cup his cheek.
“How did you happen, I wonder,” he says, musing.
Basil laughs softly. “I should ask you the same.”
“I’m not certain I know.”
“I'm not certain any of us do,” he suggests. Turns his face to kiss Faraday’s palm. “Feeling philosophical?”
“Not just now, perhaps.” He tilts his pelvis deliberately against Basil’s, indicating his interest.
“Mm, that I may be able to answer.” He moves to help him with his trousers, pulling them and his shorts free. Works out of the rest of his own clothing, all of it landing in a heap on the floor.
That first night, it was unbearable, being naked in his presence, being looked at, especially given the contrast between them. His attention had felt unkind, mocking even, a commentary on his own inadequacies, but he’s grown accustomed to it, the reverent way Basil draws a hand up his leg, the way he tastes his inner thigh, his lower belly, his navel. Faraday stops him when he bends to lick at his cock, however. “I’d rather we—if you don’t object. I. Want to feel you. Now, if at all possible.” His face turns scorching at the admission, but he’s too tired to withhold it, any of it.
He turns over while Basil retrieves the K-Y and a condom, his legs spread, cheek resting on the pillow, eyes closed, breathing as calmly as he can, although he still can’t quite manage to be calm about this. It’s always too long before Basil touches him again, the careful way he prepares him, thick fingers sliding in him, slicking him, not drawing it out this time, not tormenting him. Basil understanding how much he needs this, taking pity, or maybe needing it that much himself. There’s the sound of a packet being opened, the shifting of the mattress as he moves into place, the blunt head of his cock nudging him, before Basil pushes inside him, gradual but smooth. And revelatory, always, how his body opens for what should be an unwelcome intrusion, a violation, what is instead more welcome than he’d ever considered possible.
The stretch stings, of course, as it must, tears pricking his eyes, ever treacherous. Faraday can’t hold back a soft cry before he bottoms out, breathing through the pressure until he acclimates to it. Basil, patient, leans over him, chest warm against his back and kisses his scruff, his hair, his ear. A minute tremor runs through his thighs, on either side of Faraday’s, with the effort of not moving. “Good?” he asks.
“Y-yes. Yes. Yes.”
It feels like a loss, that first withdrawing, terribly empty, until he slides home, filling him again, rocking him slightly. And Faraday never has felt so full, not the way he does like this. There’s no room for him to hold any of it in, the whimpers and moans and whines he tries so much to keep swallowed. He had always thought it gauche before to be noisy in bed, disliked that quality in others. But he can’t help it now, no more than he can help the tears streaming down his face, soaking the pillow. He sobs against linen and cotton, feeling the pleasure build, hot, liquid, in the base of his spine when Basil increases his tempo, and he kisses him again, catching his cheek this time, as he covers Faraday’s hands with his own, lacing his fingers between his, squeezing, murmuring his name in his ear like a chant, Henry.
Before long, he coaxes him to kneel, still blanketing him, chest to back, curling solid, real, over him, grounding him. Faraday grabs for the bed’s headrest, steadying himself as Basil fucks into him, harder now, the sound of their skin connecting obscene in the quiet flat, Faraday’s cock bobbing freely against his stomach. He reaches down to pump himself, just this side of too tightly, although still gentler, slower than he would do alone, clutching the metal frame with his free hand as he groans, feeling the sensation between his cock and his arse approach its peak. From the way he’s shaking, the hitch in his breath, puffing against his ear, Basil is close, too.
“Oh,” Faraday gasps. And he wants— “When you. Ah. Could you?“
“What?” He eases his pace, mouthing at his neck, cradling his hips. “What do you need? Tell me.”
“When you finish,” he struggles. “Would you—come on me?”
Basil stops entirely, then, presses his face against Faraday’s shoulder, eyelashes quivering against his skin. “Fuck,” he says, breathing hard, shuddering. “That’s—yes. If you like. Christ, Henry. Of course.”
He turns over at his direction, settles on his back, arse twitching, and continues working his own cock, watching heavy-lidded, darting his tongue out to wet his lips, while Basil strips the condom off and braces himself over him. He leans down to catch Faraday’s mouth, kissing him, messy, as he strokes himself. The two of them falling into a rhythm, quick, until they both come, Basil first and him following with a soft wail, on his stomach. The fact of it undeniable, marking him, yes.
He drifts afterward, post-coital sedation hitting him more strongly than it normally does, sleeplessness, exhaustion no doubt playing a significant part in that. He’s cognizant, distantly, of Basil rolling away from him, then returning to clean him up, the swipe of wet terrycloth over his still-heated skin. Faraday goes willingly, happily when he gathers him in his arms afterward, glad to be warm again, falling in and out of sleep. “Thank you,” he mumbles, nuzzling at whatever’s in reach. His throat, he thinks.
“You're welcome. Rest now.”
He doesn’t mean to dream, lingering in that state between true sleep and wakefulness, but there are snatches: blurring images, memories, half-recollected conversations. Caroline’s face, the hard way she’d looked at him, like the snow outside, crusted over with ice. The type that might cut. Will I be next, Faraday?
A shadow falls across her face. Like someone standing next to her, over her. But he was across the room, he’s certain.
Will I be next?
Faraday startles awake, heartbeat stuttering, and draws in a breath as he opens his eyes, takes in his surroundings. The windows. The city outside, bright at midday. Basil, lying beside him, splayed on his stomach, dark hair pooling on the linens. He watches him for a long moment, tracking the constant expansion and contraction of his lungs, trying to time his own inhalations and exhalations to that, feeling them slow, then normalize. His pulse the same. He curls around Basil, pressing a kiss between his shoulder blades, tasting one mole and then another, before letting his cheek rest there. Feels some of the strain in his limbs let go. Basil shifts.
“Henry?” he asks, voice muzzy. “Are you all right? You’re shaking.”
“Yes, fine,” Faraday assures him. Tightening his arm around his waist. “It was only a dream.”