If he still had any sense in his head he would’ve taken almost getting caught as an excuse to stop this strange arrangement with Hacker, but apparently that was yet another thing that’d been stolen from him. Instead, if anything, he found himself pursuing Hacker with even more enthusiasm. Chasing him, insinuating himself into his life, scuttling after him like he was some kind of heartsick teenager instead of a grown man with a brain in his head. He had never had a relationship quite this passionate or irresistible before, and he found himself minding it so much less than he’d ever expected.
They still hadn’t managed to make it to a bed yet, and even that he wasn’t entirely against. Such as now, when he was sitting in the Prime Minister’s flat kissing the Prime Minister himself on his fancy settee. He hadn’t straddled a man in a good thirty years, but somehow Hacker had tempted him to new acts of daring yet again. He was currently sprawled across Hacker’s lap, feeding his tongue into his mouth with such absorption that he half feared that not even a constitutional crisis would drag him away.
As it turned out, not precisely mercifully, it didn’t take that to part them. It only took a rattle of a key in the door, and then it swinging open to reveal Annie Hacker - Hacker’s wife - standing on the other side with a look of mild shock. “Oh!”
For not the first time with Hacker, he found himself in a position that he’d never been in before. He froze, breaking away to stare at her in absolute horror. He had slept with married men before, most ministers were married men after all, but never had he been so careless as to let one of their wives walk in on them when they were midway through the act.
“Annie!” Hacker seemed equally embarrassed, but somehow a great deal less horrified at being discovered with his tongue in another man’s mouth. The man even kept his arms stubbornly around his waist, holding on as he desperately tried to wriggle his way off. “I thought that you were going to be out with B- your friend all night. Did something change?”
“He unexpectedly had to work late,” Annie said, remarkably calmly considering the situation. She was displaying none of the expected reactions: no tears, or anger, or screaming hysteria. Instead she merely calmly took off her coat, looking at them with curiosity instead of anger. “His selfish bosses changed their plans at the very last moment. Which seems dreadfully un-British, if you ask me.”
“Dear lady,” he said weakly, his mind still racing to get up to speed with this situation. He finally succeeded in wriggling out of Hacker’s arms, even if he had to make an undignified lunge sideways instead of sliding smoothly back, and settled down on the settee beside him with what limited dignity he could muster. “You really must allow me to apologise-”
Annie finished hanging up her coat, and turned her eyes upon him. Again she didn’t seem particularly angry, although she did look markedly unimpressed. “For what?”
That was yet another unexpected response, on top of what was becoming a mountain of unexpected responses. He narrowly stopped his jaw from dropping open, and vaguely attempted to square his shoulders instead. “Uh…”
“Annie…” Hacker said from besides him, a gently chiding warning in his voice.
“For the fact that you’ve been screwing my husband over, ruining his every single attempt at being a good minister and a good person besides, for years at this point?” Annie ignored him with aplomb, which was yet another thing he couldn’t really fault her for. They really did have an unfortunate amount of things in common, to tell truth. “Or specifically for the dirty trick you used to get him into bed in the first place?”
“Annie, we’ve discussed this,” Hacker said, remarkably patiently. Personally he felt rather less calm, personally he felt like screaming into the void until things became just a little less confusing. “Besides, I don’t think he’s apologising for either of those things. I think he’s apologising for getting me into bed in general.”
“Er,” he said, which was hardly the most profound speech that he’d ever given, and narrowly managed to gather himself again as they both looked over at him with mildly interested eyes. “Yes, thank you. What the Prime Minister suggested is, indeed, what I meant.”
“Ah, the least important thing,” Annie said wryly, and rolled her eyes in a most impressive way. He had no idea why she was so calm about this entire sordid situation, but he had to admit that he was rather starting to envy her. “I would’ve thought that my husband would’ve told you by now, but perhaps you just don’t listen to him when he’s not speaking about matters directly relevant to your job. We have a certain arrangement in place, have done for years.”
There were several responses he could’ve given to that, up to and including incredulous laughter at the thought of him and Hacker communicating in any appreciable way, but he decided to settle on the most pertinent question instead. “An arrangement?”
“A rather modern one, I suppose,” Hacker said, and when he glanced back at the man - feeling rather like he was taking his own life into his hands by doing something as foolish as looking away from Annie Hacker - he saw him looking at his wife with undeniably fond eyes. It was ridiculous, after all that’d passed between them, to feel his heart twist in his chest at that simple sign of affection and he tried his very best to ignore it. “We still love each other, but we’re not as attracted to each other as we once were.”
“Thus we’ve agreed to allow each other to take pleasure wherever else we please,” Annie finished for him, giving Hacker an equally fond but undeniably more exasperated look in return. “Our only rules are that we have to be honest with each other, and remain as safe as possible while looking elsewhere.”
They both looked at him, seeking his opinion on the matter. He was well aware that he should be spluttering at such a matter of fact arrangement, protesting on matters of national security and government reputation and chances of electability… But somehow, for once, his tongue simply wouldn’t curve around such cruel words. He cleared his throat awkwardly, and looked at Hacker as the far safer option. “It sounds like a reasonably dignified way of doing things.”
“It has been, up until now,” Annie said, as Hacker blinked at him in mild shock. The man almost looked pleased at his weakly given approval, which was a mistake that he would’ve thought he was long past making by now. “Though I must admit, I’ve never doubted my husband’s taste as much as I have these past few weeks.”
Hacker snapped his eyes from where he’d been staring at him almost warmly, in favour of glaring at his wife instead. “Annie!”
“Jim,” Annie said stubbornly in return, and crossed her arms with a most ferocious expression upon her face. “After all that he’s done to you…”
“Annie, after all that he’s done for me,” Hacker spoke over her, his tone firm. The two of them stared each other down for a long few moments, a silent struggle happening between them that he had absolutely no idea how to parse. All he could do was sit there awkwardly, at a probably justified but highly uncomfortable feeling loose end. “It’s complicated-”
“Evidently,” Annie said, with a low sigh, and finally looked over at him again. Her expression was resigned, though there was a slight glitter to her eyes that spoke passionately of how little she liked him. “Will you be staying for dinner?”
He perhaps should be getting more used to being utterly bamboozled, it seemed like an unfortunately regular thing around the couple Hacker, but somehow he was more on the back foot than he had been for years. He found himself glancing at Hacker slightly frantically, desperately seeking some kind of support. “I-”
“I’m cooking some spinach. I’m reliably informed, by multiple sources, that you hate spinach. I do hope they were telling me the truth.” Annie sniffed, still looking down her nose at him in a way so impressive that he genuinely thought that she should try to become a civil servant herself, and turned on her heel before he could formulate any kind of response. She swept off to the kitchen like a conquering queen, presumably set upon a mission of making the aforementioned spinach as unpalatable as possible.
A long moment of silence stretched in her wake, one that he wasn’t quite sure what to do with. If this had been some kind of struggle between them, and he was most certainly not discounting the possibility, then Hacker had won in most impressive style. He still felt somewhat at sea, unsure if he should lower his defences or attempt to wrap himself in even more armour.
He was not one to avoid seizing the bull by the horns however, no matter how big the bull or how sharp the horns. He eventually turned to Hacker again, and said the first mildly provocative thing that came to mind. “You told her about us.”
“You heard what she said, Humphrey. We have an arrangement,” Hacker informed him, sounding almost amused at his displeasure, and gave a long stretch. It was a classic move, one that he’d used on a few girls and had used on him by not a few boys in the past, and he genuinely wasn’t sure what to make of it. “I really don’t think that I got around to telling you about it, though, and for that I can only apologise.”
“Noted,” he said, a little sharply. Although to be perfectly honest he wasn’t entirely sure what he would’ve done had Hacker informed him of the arrangement from the very beginning. He probably wouldn’t have believed him, given how many men said they had arrangements and how many wives were completely ignorant of that fact. “Some may say that such an arrangement puts British security at great risk…”
Hacker gave him a somewhat flat look, seeing right through his attempt to gain back some ground. He really must be off his stride, if Hacker could see the games that he was playing. “Do you really mind?”
“No,” he said honestly, and barely bit back a wince the moment after. He had given too much away in that moment, revealed that he was willing to tolerate far too much just for one more chance to have Hacker’s foolish tongue in his mouth. “I think your dear lady wife minds, however. She quite obviously despises me.”
Hacker gave him another flat look, seeming actively unimpressed himself now. Strange, that that had started to be an undesirable thing instead of a necessary component of the job. “Can you blame her?”
“No, I suppose I can’t,” he admitted, and felt a certain roil in his stomach at handing away yet another potential advantage. He was supposed to be the great Humphrey Appleby, invincible in every possible way, and yet here he was slipping up at every single opportunity. If he had any sense in his head he really should just nip this entire thing in the bud, go back to being remote instead of letting every single one of his careful walls crumble. “I… I really can go, if that would be more comfortable for you. I would hate to be a cause of marital disharmony, Prime Minister.”
“No, stay,” Hacker said, rather too speedily, and then awkwardly cleared his throat. He seemed slightly surprised at his eagerness himself, but bravely kept going in the face of that shock anyway. “Eat an awkward dinner. Use some of your famous charm on her, until she hates you just a little less. And then, once we’re done with the washing up she’s no doubt going to foist on us…”
If Hacker thought that he was going to do the washing up without a fight, he was sorely mistaken. He let that comment go with some effort, restraining himself to only a heartfelt roll of his eyes instead. “What, we fuck here in the living room while your wife goes to bed just a door away?”
“Perhaps,” Hacker said, with remarkable composure in the face of his sarcasm. The man met his eyes, reached a slow and tentative hand out to trail up his arm and leave unfortunate shudders of sensation in its wake. “Or we go back to yours. Forget this night in each other, and allow Annie to invite her friend over.”
This was all insane, utterly mad in a way that he had never felt comfortable allowing himself to indulge in. The truly sensible option, and he knew this vividly, was to actually regard this - yet another interruption, yet another indication of how easily they could get caught - as a proper wake up call this time and shoot Hacker down before he started suggesting even more frenzied things. He had gone so long without properly considering his desires, surely the safest thing to do would be to go back to ignoring them now and save both him and his Prime Minister an unfortunate amount of pain.
But… Somehow, something about the way that Hacker was looking at him made that entire scenario an impossible proposition. He couldn’t possibly give this up just yet, not before he’d at least attempted to gain the upper hand.
“I’d like that,” he said cautiously instead, and allowed Hacker’s arm to close around him for half a moment before the man sensibly slid back and regained his feet. It hadn’t been an embrace, it’d just been a touch. Just as these past few weeks hadn’t been an affair of the heart at all, just of the body. “Oh, and Prime Minister?”
Hacker looked down at him curiously, a smile ticking up the edge of his mouth. Yet again he was struck by how handsome the man was in certain lights, an unfortunate realization that niggled at him in an appropriately unfortunate manner. “Mm?”
An apology had been on the very edge of his tongue, he wasn’t sure if for getting them into this situation in the first place or not getting them out of it as soon as possible. He turned it over in his mind for a moment, and then dismissed it with some effort. That would not give him the upper hand, and he had to at least try to pretend that that was the only reason he was still here. “I really did mean what I said earlier. It is an unexpectedly dignified arrangement.”
“That’s another almost compliment from you, Humphrey,” Hacker said tolerantly, and gave him a proper smile. Almost as if he was genuinely fond, almost as if he didn’t hate him. “You’ll have to be careful with those, lest you lose some dignity yourself.”
It was, he reflected grimly as Hacker sauntered for the kitchen, quite possibly a little too late for that.