Chapter 1: Christmas Festivities 1939
Christmas Day 1939 - Button House
The Christmas festivities were in full swing, but the Captain had spent most of his day avoiding them.
Downstairs, he could hear laughing, cheering, music blasting from the record player. Despite it being their first Christmas in wartime, things were lively.
But everyone was cheery, likely rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed thanks to the drinks they'd acquired from previous visits to the nearest town.
The Captain, however, was sat in his office, his jacket lovingly hung over the back of his chair. His tie, tucked under a stiff collar, was looser than entirely appropriate.
In front of him, countless reports and communications to read and stamp and send back to London by lunchtime of the following day.
Captains didn't get a day off at Christmas, it seemed. Not during a war.
It would be worse for those ranking higher than him. They would be doing ten times the workload in half the time. The least the Captain could do was suck it up and get on with it. For King and Country, of course.
A soft knock landed on his door. Had it not been for the deathly silence in his office, the Captain would have missed it entirely.
The Captain stood.
"Come!" He called. The door opened, and the Captain's breath caught slightly.
In stepped his second command, Lieutenant William Havers and the Captain felt a shift in his worldview.
Things always seemed much better, much more stable, when his second was in his line of sight.
The familiarity, the camaraderie, the dare he say friendship that had blossomed from their service together soothed him at the end of each day, knowing that he at least had someone here that understood him.
Understood him mostly, he supposed.
It hadn't taken long for the Captain to realise that things had taken a turn.
He had known for most of his life that something was going on in his heart and his head when it came to men.
His teenage years and his early military service were fraught with deep feelings of longing for something that he knew he couldn't have.
Something that scared him deeply because of how deep that longing was.
In the few instances where he had been proven wrong, where there had been dalliances with other men, it had been after months away with no women in sight.
It had been a last resort. Something hushed, all rough hands and muffled noises in the dead of night.
There was no tenderness or feelings involved. Maybe the feeling of need or desire, but never the emotions that the Captain wanted to experience.
Other men had gotten antsy, had shamefully snuck into opposing dormitories, into bathrooms and abandoned cupboards in quiet corridors after lights out, and had sought out affection with fellow soldiers.
The Captain had been sought after once or twice in his younger years by desperate friends. He had never given any inkling that he felt like this all the time. How he yearned for it even when he wasn't surrounded by only men.
Doing so would be suicide, of course.
He would be turned in, taken far from Button House, from his men and from Havers, and given to the police to handle.
His medals and titles, honours and promotions, a lifetime of commitment to His Majesty's armed forces, would be stripped away.
And what was he really, without all of that? What would he have to show from his life?
If he wasn't jailed, if he took the route of medical intervention, then he would spend the rest of his days a shell of himself.
Shame would make even more of a home out of him, and the scandal would follow him for the rest of his life, wherever he went.
So the Captain hid, and he hid well. He kept a stiff upper lip, ever the traditional Brit. He was meticulous in his work, and he was prepared for everything.
No one could fault him. Not one man in the Button Eleven could fault his work ethic. He was dedicated and precise. And that came to his feelings, too.
But how Havers made the Captain want to change that.
With his air of confidence, his kindness, and the smile that lit up his face whenever it appeared. And it did appear often. Havers was a happy man. An extraordinarily happy one.
In only six weeks, the Captain had had his breath stolen from his lungs every time Havers walked into the room.
It was incredibly rude of Havers to do, but the Captain could hardly blame him. Not when the feeling of breathlessness was accompanied by the pleasant butterflies in his stomach.
They had spent many late nights together doing reports. And every second was precious to the Captain.
Every attempt at humour that he made was met with that smile, and the little twinkle of laughter in Havers' big brown eyes was enough to make anyone melt. The Captain understood how he was so well-liked.
"Good evening, Havers. At ease. How can I help you?" The Captain asked. "Shouldn't you be downstairs celebrating?"
"I noticed your absence, sir," Havers said. At those words, the Captain's worn heart stuttered in his chest. "I wanted to ask if you would join us."
"I - uhm - my apologies, Havers. I've got too many reports to finish by tomorrow. The war doesn't stop for Christmas, you know."
A flicker of something akin to disappointment flashed through Havers' eyes. His kind, lovely eyes. The colour of caramel. The Captain had made the mistake of looking into them on a sunny day one day.
His heart had skipped a beat.
It was something he'd read about but never experienced until Havers.
The guilt at seeing the disappointment immediately settled into the Captain's stomach, and he knew that his resolve would crumble within an instant should Havers press too much further.
"Are you sure, sir? Not even for an hour? I wouldn't mind helping with the reports once you're ready to leave. We could get through them fairly quickly if we work together."
"I couldn't ask you to do that, Havers." The Captain tried valiantly to remain strictly professional, though he knew that he would very much like to spend the afternoon with the Eleven.
"I'm your second, sir. It would be my pleasure." Havers insisted. "No one should be alone at Christmas."
The Captain couldn't help but let the corners of his lips turn upwards into a small smile hidden very well underneath his moustache.
"Very well, then, Havers. Lead the way."
Havers beamed, and the Captain's heart began to pound, as it often did when Havers smiled at him like that.
He followed Havers out of the room and downstairs towards the noise. He could hear it grow louder as they descended the stairs.
The Captain suddenly realised that he didn't have his jacket on. He'd left it on the back of his chair. And he was in a dreadful state of undress.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, the Captain stopped. He smoothed down his shirt, made sure that his shirt was still tucked in. His fingers found his tie and expertly began to retie the fabric.
Havers turned, noticing the lack of footsteps behind him, and when he saw the Captain fiddling with his uniform, he stepped closer, a fond smile on his face.
"Sir, if you're worried about seeming unprofessional, I would worry more about the state of some of the others."
Havers himself was jacket-less, tie-less, with his top two buttons pulled apart. His shirt was still tucked, his boots still lovingly polished, his trousers carefully treated at the end of the day to avoid getting wrinkles.
In short, he was still ridiculously handsome whether his uniform was complete or not.
"May I?" Havers asked, gesturing slightly to the Captain's tie.
The Captain was taken aback but nodded shakily. Havers moved even closer until the Captain could feel the heat of being close to another person. He was so warm he was worried that he would faint.
The lieutenant's fingers were gentle as they tugged apart the fabric and popped open the top button.
Havers left it alone then, knowing instinctively that anymore uniform alterations would prey on his superior's mind until he had safely retreated to the safety of his office again.
"There," Havers said softly. "You will be just as at ease as the rest of us now, sir. Here, you should put your tie in your pocket."
"Y-yes, of course. Excellent thinking as always, Havers." The Captain replied, taking the tie and feeling a tingle as his fingers brushed his second in command's.
Havers remained for just a moment before turning on his heel and carrying on towards the party.
Upon entering the room, some of the chatterings stopped, and the Eleven immediately stood to attention.
"At ease!" The Captain said. "No need for the formalities today. It is Christmas, after all."
Havers handed him a glass of port.
"Perhaps you should make a toast, Captain." He suggested.
"Yes, of course." The Captain agreed. He thought for a moment. "To the Button Eleven. May we continue to have a successful time here."
He raised his glass, watching as his officers mirrored and echoed him.
As everyone drank and returned to their festivities, Havers managed to draw his attention once again.
"My apologies for the strangers in the house, sir." He said. "They're from the local town. A few of us met them during our last visit and invited them. I ensured everyone put away any documents in their rooms. Every one of them has locked their door behind them. I made sure of it."
"Good work, Havers. Very good work." The Captain assured. "I wouldn't expect any different from you."
Pride settled into Havers' features.
"Thank you, sir."
The two of them remained next to the window in the main room, chatting about meaningless drivel, drinking glass after glass of port.
These moments where conversations came easy were the Captain's favourite moments in the day. He had grown very fond of the idle talks that he and the lieutenant shared while working.
Before the Captain realised, a nearby clock chimed 1900 hours.
He had been celebrating with his fellow soldiers for well over two hours by this point.
He and Havers had made a home out of the windowsill, their backs to the window and sat with only a few centimetres between them.
"Goodness, I can't believe how fast the time has flown!" The Captain remarked.
"Would you like to return to your paperwork now?" Havers asked.
"I should probably do so, yes." The Captain said reluctantly. "But you are under no obligations to lend your time and effort."
"I would like to lend it, Captain," Havers said. "I'm not the type to break my promises. After all, I did drag you down here to celebrate. It's only right that I help with reports."
"If you're sure, then I suppose we should get it finished quickly so that you can enjoy the rest of the day."
The two made their departure known, citing the piles of papers on the Captain's desk as the reason.
"I hope you don't mind, Captain, but I did bring some port with me," Havers said, holding up a bottle and two glasses as they entered the office. "Of course, I shan't drink any if you would prefer, but I thought it might make the work a little less tiresome."
"It would be a shame to see it go to waste." The Captain replied.
The two settled at the desk, where there were two chairs on opposing sides for both men to work. They worked well like this. It seemed very effective, having someone to make the load a little lighter.
"Just as a reminder, sir, the other nine are returning home over the weekend to see their loved ones." Havers said, pouring two drinks.
"Ah yes, I remember you telling me. Are you not also looking to return home?" The Captain asked, careful to keep a mildly curious tone to his voice.
He needed to hide his disappointment should Havers decide to return to Surrey.
"No, sir," Havers replied. "I shall be remaining here."
"Do you not miss your family?"
Havers was quiet for a moment, and the Captain feared he may have overstepped the mark.
"It's just my younger sister and me. Our parents caught polio some time ago. Both my sister and I had moved out by then, so we were fortunate to avoid it. It got to their lungs in the end. It was almost a relief when they passed on." Havers admitted.
"My sincerest apologies, William."
The Captain wasn't sure why he used the lieutenant's first name. He hadn't before, but it somehow seemed necessary now.
Somehow, referring to him as his last name felt wrong. It didn't describe the depth of his words, how truly sorry he was that his second had lost his parents in such a manner.
"It's quite alright, sir," Havers assured. "It happened many years ago now. My sister and I write as often as possible, but she has a husband and four little boys to take care of. I shouldn't interfere during such a busy time of year."
"Good Lord, four boys?" The Captain chuckled. "She must have her work cut out for her."
Havers laughed lightly and nodded. "They run rings about poor Louisa. I imagine it's payback for how we used to torment each other as children."
"Might I assume you have no woman and children of your own, then?" The Captain asked. “Since you cite your sister as your only family?”
Please, let the answer be no. If Havers has someone to return to, my heart shall be wracked with more shame than it already is.
How could I want after a man with a family?
How appalling of an individual would I be if I wished and prayed for something with a man that already has someone to return home to?
"Your assumption would be correct, sir. I haven't quite found someone to settle down with yet." Havers hesitantly replied. "What about you, Captain? Do you have a family back home?"
"Two older twin brothers. There’s four years between us. They're serving abroad in France, but I’m not very close with either of them. Michael is a lieutenant like you, and Alistair is a Colonel."
"No parents? No wife or children either?"
The Captain shook his head, took a sip of port and looked down at his papers again. He could feel the sting of the words in his heart.
Not having a partner wasn’t a choice. It was something he desperately wanted, but had assumed he’d never acquire by now.
"I've said something to offend you, haven't I, sir?" Havers asked quietly. The Captain looked up sharply to see his second looking guilty and genuinely remorseful. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Captain. It wasn't my intention."
"You didn't. Not at all." The Captain assured. "I just get a lot of pity now, having not settled down. I've been serving since I was eighteen. I have spent over half of my life in the services and never considered whether a companion in retirement would be a good idea. Children have never been my cup of tea, per se, but a life partner would have been nice."
"I'm sure it's not too late for you, Captain," Havers assured. "For either of us."
The two shared a soft smile.
"Under the circumstances of us sharing something so meaningful, I suppose an equal footing is required." The Captain said. "Not many people know this, and I hope no one should find out lest they get cheeky, but my name is Theodore. If you wish, you can call me that."
A twinkle in Havers' eyes signalled that he was moved by the admission of the Captain's name, thrilled to be trusted by his superior.
"I propose a toast of our own, sir," Havers said softly.
"What shall we toast to?"
"Would friendship be appropriate?"
The Captain nodded, forcing his features to remain neutral.
Oh, how I wish it could be so much more than that, Havers.
"To our friendship, then." Havers raised his glass.
"To our friendship." The Captain responded, gently tapping his glass against his lieutenant's.
They both sipped their drinks and smiled once they had finished drinking.
"Merry Christmas, William."
"Merry Christmas, Theodore."
Chapter 2: Christmas 1939
December 27th 1939
It had been a long day of paperwork, largely forgettable. Or it had been, until the evening.
When the sirens came at just after 2300 hours, the Captain and Havers bolted up instinctively, grabbing their jackets and hats. The Captain reached the door first, opening it and allowing Havers through before him.
Together, they banged on their fellow officers' doors as they passed through the corridors, yelling for everyone to hurry to the shelter. The Captain waited until every man had passed him at the top of the stairs before he shrugged on his jacket and followed them.
Havers was at the front door, holding it open and waiting for everyone else.
"Go! I'll bring up the rear!" Havers knew better than to argue, grabbing a portable lamp he'd found somewhere and taking off into the night. He would reach the shelter first, most likely. His long legs made him fast.
The Captain rummaged around in his pockets for the keys as he reached the bottom of the stairs and chased everyone outside.
He slammed the door shut behind him, digging out the silver key on a small key chain.
Havers turned as the Captain threw the keys to the front of the group. As avid cricket players, the Captain and Havers were well acquainted with each other's strengths as a bowler and a fielder respectively. The Eleven had played a handful of times during slow days, and it was one of the few times that the Captain felt like this little unit to feel like something secure.
Havers held the lamp light up slightly, eyes searching for the glinting metal, continued to run backways for a few feet and jumped, reaching up with his free hand to catch the keyring when he saw it. He turned again and carried on sprinting as soon as the keys were in his hand.
The distance to the Anderson seemed so much longer during an actual air raid than it did during drills, and the Captain grit his teeth as the sirens raged on.
For a moment, he saw people slowing up ahead, and then began to move again. The movement filled him with relief.
"Go on, you first." He murmured to Havers when he reached the shelter.
Havers listened, ducking into the shelter. The Captain followed, taking the keys, closing the door behind him and locking it tightly.
The Captain bounced his leg rhythmically as he listened to the sirens outside. This was the second night in a row that the air raids had happened, and the third time this month. Being in the country meant that raids were less frequent, especially at manor homes that had no relevance to German bombers.
The Captain had very few memories of sirens from his childhood and early teenage years. They'd happened a few times for them to be a distant memory. He did grow up during the Great War, after all.
The sirens now seemed a lot sharper and harsher. It had been going on for almost an hour. The Captain had been timing it with the stopwatch he used for his runs.
He kept an eye on his stopwatch now, his free hand occupied as he nervously picked at the skin around his thumbnail.
"Captain?" Havers asked quietly. The Captain looked up to see his second hunched over slightly. He was a little too tall to stand to full height in the Anderson shelter.
"Is everything alright, Havers?"
"Yes, I was just wondering if I could sit with you," Havers said. "You're far away from the rest of us. The others are nervous. I thought you might be too. I know I am. I've never been in an Anderson for more than twenty-five minutes before."
"Neither have I. At least not that I can remember." The Captain admitted. "Take a seat. The company would be appreciated."
Havers smiled in thanks and sat opposite the Captain. This shelter was longer than it was wide, meaning that their knees brushed if they moved too much.
The Captain pressed himself further back to avoid the touch.
He would be crossing a fine line if he didn't remain aware here. The others were able to see them, and it made him nervous.
The rest of the Button Eleven was sat firmly towards the opposite end, far away from the door. They were talking amongst themselves, trying hard to keep their mood light.
For once, the Captain was glad for their chatter and jokes. It gave him and Havers some privacy to talk quietly to one another without being heard.
Whoever had built this shelter had anticipated more personnel here.
The Captain had opted to stay beside the door, craning his neck as he listened for any hint of the sirens stopping.
"You should have some water," Havers said. It was then that the Captain realised that Havers had a water bottle with him. It had been the lieutenant's idea to stock the Anderson with a few bottles of water from their rations every week in case of an emergency.
"I'm quite alright, thank you."
"With all due respect, sir, it might make you a little less tense," Havers suggested. "At the very least, you'll stay hydrated. We can't have a captain with a hoarse voice once this raid is over, can we?"
The Captain allowed the corners of his lips to turn up, and he knew that Havers could see the appreciation in his eyes.
"Thank you, Havers." The Captain took the water from his lieutenant and drank deeply, handing it back when he was finished.
"How long has the stopwatch been going?"
The Captain glanced down. "Forty-eight minutes and fifty-three seconds."
"Feels like hours, doesn't it?" Havers asked. The Captain nodded, his knee continuing to bounce rapidly.
"It'll stop soon." The Captain said. "It has to. It'll just be a precaution in case there are any more planes that no one can spot."
"Things seem to be ramping up rather quickly, don't you think?" Havers asked. "This is the third one this month. They're getting longer each time."
"I'm glad I'm not the only one that's been counting." The Captain chuckled. "But at least we aren't in a city. There are sirens almost every night in some places."
"London is awful for them." Havers agreed. "My sister and her boys spent every night for a week in one of the tunnels near the Waterloo tube station last month."
"Every night for a week?!" The Captain gaped. "Goodness. How old are your nephews?"
"Archie is twelve, James is ten, Max is six, and Andrew is almost one."
The Captain winced. "Louisa must be having a hard time keeping the four of them calm, especially with a baby."
"When her letter came ... I don't think I've ever seen her handwriting so sloppy. She's barely slept a wink. It's hard for her with Marcus in the trenches."
"Marcus? Her husband?"
Havers pursed his lips and nodded. "Bit of a drinker, though of course he's had to give that up a bit now. He's a terrible role model. Louisa knows when it's going to get worse. She invites me to stay for a few nights to give him time to calm down. It protects the boys."
"That's awful." The Captain said. "I'm sorry, Havers."
Havers shrugged. "It is the way it is."
"He's never ... hurt her, though. Or the boys, right?"
Havers didn't answer. The silence was poignant until he finally took a breath and shifted his gaze to meet the Captain's eye.
"Only once that I know of. I left the room for two minutes to use the lavatory, and all hell broke loose. He hit Louisa. Archie and James, bless their hearts, tried to stop him from doing anything more. Marcus shoved them both into a wall. I walked in just in time to see it. Before I could blink, he had me pinned up against a wall with a hand around my throat. He'd been drinking. He forgot who I was and thought Louisa was having an affair. All my hours of combat training kicked in, and I managed to get him off me. With my sister's help, we shoved him into the shed, locked it behind him and left him there for the night to sober up."
"And Louisa is still married to him?"
"She swears he's lovely most of the time. It's just when he's been at the pub."
"How often does he go to the pub?"
"She won't tell me."
"Where is he serving?"
Havers looked at him in alarm and leaned forward. "Captain, you can't say anything."
"There must be something to do about it. His CO should know that he's a danger if he ever gets a hold of alcohol. It's a little rarer abroad, but it still happens sometimes. That sort of behaviour will translate to other soldiers. It could prove fatal."
"It will be fatal if he founds out I've said anything to anyone. He'll only get worse. Louisa would hate me. I don't even know why I said it in the first place."
"Don't regret it, Havers." The Captain said. "I'm glad you were honest. It must have been preying heavily on your mind."
Havers' brow wrinkled slightly, and he bit his lip, looking worried.
"Captain," Jeffreys called from the other end of the shelter. The Captain looked at him to find he was looking at the ceiling. "I think the sirens have stopped."
The Captain looked upwards too as if it would help him hear, and after a few seconds of silence, he noticed that the sirens had stopped.
His thumb instinctively pressed the button on the stopwatch, and he peered at the numbers.
"Here, sir, let me see. The light is a little better."
The Captain turned the stopwatch around, and Havers gently steadied it with a few fingers pressed against the bottom.
The Captain's heart pounded, seeing how close Havers' fingers were to his own, and held his breath.
"Fifty-six minutes and twenty seconds exactly," Havers said, letting go of the stopwatch. "How much longer was that than last night?"
"Just over thirty minutes." The Captain answered. "We should get back to the house."
He reached for the keys, still in the lock, and within a minute, he was closing it once again, straining to keep an eye on the officers as they began to traipse back to the house.
Havers was waiting for him. He had a faraway, distant look in his eyes.
"Are you alright, William?" The Captain asked. They were far enough back from the rest of the Eleven that it wasn't so unsuitable to use first names now.
Havers fell into step beside him, snapping out of his stupor.
"Just tired, sir," Havers answered.
For the first time since meeting each other, the silence that followed was thick and heavy with all the things that had been said and all the things the two of them wanted to say.
"I'm sorry for prying," The Captain said softly.
"It's quite alright, sir. I shared. I shouldn't have done." Havers replied. "It was unprofessional of me to be so familiar."
"We're friends, are we not?" The Captain asked. "You made that lovely toast to it on Christmas Day, after all."
Havers looked at him, the first hints of a smile gracing his face since before the sirens had started. The Captain couldn't help but smile back, wishing that they could stay trapped in nice moments like these.
He wished there weren't so many expectations, so many eyes watching all the time.
His office was the only place they could relax. And even then, the weight of his truth weighed heavily on his shoulders.
Despite Havers' kindness, and the endless amounts of warmth he gave to everyone, he would not be so kind and warm if the Captain were to tell him that truth.
It was improper to confess so openly anyway. It was something that should never be talked about, and certainly not to fellow soldiers. Never to anyone of a lower rank. Never to anyone.
It was best to keep these things hidden. If you wanted to guarantee your safety and your life, then then you collected your emotions, and you buried them so deeply until no one could find them.
Havers would hand him in in an instant, as was his moral and legal responsibility.
And the Captain was expected to do the same if anyone should become suspicious.
So he broke eye contact first, focusing on keeping one foot in front of the other. He couldn't afford to get distracted by the feelings fluttering around and making a home of his insides.
"Goodnight, sir," Havers said when they reached his room. He opened his mouth as if to say something else, and then promptly closed it and smiled instead before entering his room and leaving the Captain to walk back to his room alone.
Chapter 3: New Years 1939
New Year's Eve 1939
Havers almost tripped over himself on the last step, cursing violently, and he and the Captain immediately burst into giggles.
"I didn't know you could swear like that, William." The Captain said.
"Sorry, sir. My father and my uncle were sailors down in Bournemouth before we moved up to Surrey when I was in my teens." Havers explained. "I picked up a few things."
"It's quite impressive."
Havers' grin was uncharacteristically lopsided, and the Captain blamed it on the alcohol. They'd had far too many glasses tonight.
They were carrying two bottles of cheap cider between them, taking swigs every now and then as they made for the front door.
"It's unfortunate that Smith and Reed had to stay here instead of spending time with their families this weekend," Havers said.
"But at least you have someone to spend your days with other than me." The Captain said.
"I've quite enjoyed your company, sir," Havers said.
There was a hint of indignation in his voice like he was offended that the Captain thought there was anywhere else Havers would rather spend his time with. It warmed his heart to hear.
Over the last week since Christmas, the Captain and Havers had found themselves in the Captain's office every night until late, steadily making their way through bottles of port, making jokes and getting to know each other better.
Their work production hadn't been as high as the Captain would've liked. But he was enjoying it far too much to care, in truth. Havers seemed to be right in that work was always more bearable with a friend.
The two stepped outside, immediately being blasted by freezing winter air.
"That's very kind of you." The Captain smiled. "I enjoy your company too."
They both took deep swigs from their bottles, and the Captain winced as he hiccuped.
His body felt a little sluggish from the drink and the night wasn't as cold as he'd anticipated. Everything was pleasant.
The wind ran through some bushes and trees on the grounds, and the Captain could hear the sound of his and Havers' footsteps on the wet grass. He was glad for the sturdy grip on the soles of his shoes.
They made it halfway around the grounds, deciding to walk right into the field and around the boundary before something went wrong.
Havers stopped the Captain, a hand on his wrist.
"Sir, I hear something." He said.
The Captain strained his hearing, trying to focus on the sounds around him.
For a few seconds, all he could hear was the wind.
And then, something in the distance started growing louder. They both looked up, seeing some kind of dark shadow shoot through the air.
"A plane," Havers said. "There's more!" He pointed, and the Captain saw three more planes travelling.
There were barely visible against the night sky. But they were loud, and they blacked out stars as they passed.
"There aren't any authorised civvy planes from local airports are there, sir?"
The Captain shook his head. "None that I know of. Someone would've sent word. We're military personnel, we need to know if there are going to be planes flying over the base so we don't fear the worst. It's a safety measure."
"Do you think it's-"
A sharp, blaring noise cut through the air, and the two of them glanced at each other for only a moment before taking off in a run.
"Havers, I haven't got the keys!" The Captain said. "I need to go back and get them! Stay by the shelter, I'll get Smith and Reed!"
"They're on the other side of the house playing football in one of the old ballrooms. They won't hear you over the sirens. If they're smart, they'll go to the Morrison first."
"Why are they playing football inside the house?"
"It's too cold outside! I told them to stop, but the lights were still on when we passed that part of the house, so I assume they're still there."
"For Christ's sake! I'll have a word with them later!"
The Captain said through gritted teeth. The two of them began to near the shelter.
"Stay here! Stay low! I'll be back in a moment!"
He sped on, overtaking Havers and making it to the front door less than thirty seconds later.
His feet pounded on the hardwood floors as he ran up the stairs and around the corner to his office.
He fumbled with the keys to his office, pushed open the door and snatched up the shelter keys from his desk. The light was still off, and he kept it that way, using only the moonlight to locate what he needed.
He heard a noise, a loud series of crashes and bangs that were awfully too close for his liking.
The Captain locked his office door, took the stairs two at a time and braced himself for the sprint back to the shelter.
As the sight of Havers crouched by the entrance with his hands over his ears neared, the Captain piled on the speed. He could see the anxiety creeping into his lieutenant's face and felt a spike of fear go through him.
Havers was good at hiding when he was nervous or anxious. It helped keep the others in line in a crisis. He was a gift, keeping everyone calm. The Captain was grateful beyond measure to have him here at Button House.
Havers straightened when he saw the Captain, holding his hands out and unlocking the door faster than the Captain would've been able to with his shaky fingers.
He let Havers go in first, closed and locked the door behind him and went to turn and address Havers.
He realised a moment too late that something was blocking his path when his foot knocked it and his balance was thrown off kilter.
Havers turned on a lamp and faced the Captain. His eyes flashed with realisation at what was happening, and he darted forward at the last second to catch him.
The Captain clung to his second for a few moments, frozen in place out of pure shock.
When his brain rebooted, and he had the presence of mind to realise what had happened, he realised that Havers' arms were around his waist, and his legs were tangled beneath him.
"Are you alright, sir?" Havers asked quietly. The Captain nodded and gathered his feet beneath him.
Havers kept ahold of him until he was stood upright again, but neither of them backed away.
“You seem a little shaken. Are you sure you're okay, Theodore?"
The Captain swallowed. "Yes," He croaked. He cleared his throat, trying to force the words out a little more confidently this time. "Yes, I'm fine. A-are you? I heard something loud out here. I thought maybe you were hurt."
"It came from the village," Havers explained softly.
They were both still stood far too close together, only a few inches between their torsos, and neither had them had bothered to put any sense of respectable distance between them.
The Captain hoped neither of them would.
"But I'm okay." Havers finished.
"Good," The Captain nodded slightly, relieved that the initial fear had gone. "I'm ... I'm very glad you're okay, William."
"Me too," Havers said. "That is to say that I'm glad you're okay, too."
They both released a nervous chuckle and met each other's gaze properly for the first time.
They had avoided looking at each other for their entire exchange, both flustered and running high on adrenaline.
As soon as the Captain looked into his second in command's eyes, his mouth went dry.
There was nothing cloudy there anymore, no hint of the dregs of inebriation that had been there before the sirens started.
The Captain watched as Havers' eyes searched for something in his superior's face, almost as if he were weighing up the pros and cons of whatever was on the tip of his tongue.
The Captain saw it all, the uncertainty and the nerves, the clarity that came when he made a decision.
He was acutely aware when Havers leaned in slightly, and he didn't try to back away. He didn't try to do anything that he should've done.
"Tell me to stop," Havers whispered.
His eyelashes fanned across his cheeks as his gaze dropped to the Captain's mouth.
The Captain could feel the tightness in his chest from the nerves, and his head spun from the closeness.
Maybe it was the alcohol that made him bold enough to say what he said next. Or maybe, it was the delirium from whatever was so intoxicating about Havers.
Whatever it was, the Captain never wanted to go back to how they were before. He never wanted to be stiff and unassuming again.
"Why would I go and do a thing like that?" He muttered.
Havers' eyes slid upwards. In the lamplight, the Captain could see how dilated they were, and his breath hitched.
The brown was almost completely drowned out, so dark that he couldn't even tell if there was any brown left at all.
What are you waiting for, you coward?
He saw Havers' mouth turn up slightly as he chuckled, and the Captain could feel the breath against his face.
The Captain's eyes slowly fell closed as Havers inched ever closer, their noses bumping together and hands coming up to shakily seize each other's clothing as their lips finally met.
And suddenly, it was like everything made sense.
The sirens outside dimmed as white noise filled the Captain's ears, and he could feel one of Havers' hands slide around to the back of his neck to press them closer together, angling them both better to deepen the kiss.
He felt another hand gripping onto his shoulder and was vaguely aware of his hands clinging to the lapels of Havers' jacket.
For once, he didn't care about the state of his uniform, or Havers' for that matter.
It was his duty to make sure that all of his lower-ranking officers were meeting the standards of the armed forces no matter what work they were doing, but he had lost all decency at only one hit of the addiction that came with kissing Havers.
This was nothing like the desperation of months away from women. It didn't feel like shame or disgrace or sin. It felt like the exact opposite to everything he had been told about men like him.
It felt electric in the most amazing way, sending a happy, exciting spark of affection through every vein in his body.
At that moment, the Captain couldn't think of anywhere else he would rather be.
There was nowhere else that was half as important as being right there, in a cramped and awkward Anderson shelter in the middle of an air raid, with liquid courage flowing through him and his dearest companion in his arms, reciprocating that same affection.
Havers kissed him harder, sensing the urgency of the situation.
At any point, the sirens could stop, and they would be expected to make it back to the house quickly to regroup with Smith and Reed.
It was protocol to make sure every officer was accounted for in the aftermath of a raid.
Neither of them knew how much time they had, and neither of them wanted to stop. That much seemed true.
The Captain's head swam from dizziness, having spent far too long without breath, and he pulled himself away from Havers' mouth.
His heart swelled when he saw Havers chase after his lips, just as addicted as the Captain was. He huffed out a small laugh, putting a hand on Havers' chest to stop him.
"Sorry. I need to catch my breath." He whispered. Havers leaned forward, pressing his forehead to the Captain's. His eyes were still closed, and he was trembling. "Are you alright?"
"Fine, sir." Havers breathed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have ... I shouldn't have done that."
"No, no, it's okay." The Captain assured. "I should have stopped you before it ever went that far, but I rather wanted to see where it went."
Havers leaned back sharply, letting go of the Captain. His eyes snapped open, and he backed himself against the far wall, putting a few feet of distance between them.
There was panic in his eyes, and the Captain realised the fault in his words.
"No!" He said. "No, I didn't - I didn't mean it like that. I didn't stop you because I wanted proof or anything that you're ... you know. I had no suspicions before just now."
"Why didn't you stop me?" Havers asked. "Don't report me. Please, Captain, I'm begging you. It was the alcohol. I'm not thinking properly-"
"William, I'm not going to report you." The Captain insisted. "I wouldn't ever do something like that. Not to anyone. But especially not to you."
Havers seemed unsure for a moment, looking at him with a mixture of confusion and scepticism.
The Captain shook his head. "I'd go mad without you here. Some days I think you're the only one keeping me sane. And if I reported you, I'd be hypocritical. And cowardly, for that matter, giving in another man to save my own neck."
Havers' brow furrowed a little, trying to make sense of what the Captain was saying.
"You mean you're ..."
The Captain nodded.
The mood had shifted dramatically. The fear of being reported had sobered them up, and both were breathing heavily still.
They watched each other carefully for a few more moments, the tight fist of anxiety keeping them locked in place.
And then, one of them had moved, and it kicked things into motion again. Someone moved, and neither knew which, but before they knew it, they were meeting in the middle again, pulling each other close once more.
"We should stop." The Captain gasped into Havers' mouth. "What if-"
"Stop thinking so much." Havers interrupted. "The sirens won't stop for a while yet. We have time."
The Captain couldn't argue with that. He heard the words, 'We have time,' and all seemed better.
Of course, Havers was right. They had so much time to enjoy this. The raids fluctuated from twenty minutes to two hours, and all they had to do was listen for the sirens.
So when Havers kissed him again, the Captain didn't protest.
Chapter 4: Early 1940
"William," The Captain murmured, reluctantly lifting his head from where it was resting in the crook of Havers' neck.
Havers made a soft noise from beside him, arm tightening around his shoulders to keep him close.
"We should go back. The sirens have stopped."
"I'm far too tired to move." Havers yawned. "How long have we been here?"
The Captain looked at his stopwatch. "Just over two hours."
"Goodness," Havers said. "I suppose you're right."
They extracted themselves from each other, straightening their uniforms and slowly trekking back to the house.
The space between them carried the heaviness of what had happened during the evening.
Rushed, desperate kisses like they were dying men clinging to their wives before heading abroad to fight, turning into slow, tender endearments often only shared by people who knew each other in some deep way.
And slowly, the kisses had stopped, becoming sitting on the bench together, pressed against one another tightly.
It seemed once they had taken this plunge, they could no longer bear to be parted.
But now, the fear and the alcohol had worn off and they seemed to be unclear on what to do.
In hindsight, this had been a mistake and an oversight on both of their parts, something that had fizzled out as soon as it had begun.
They wouldn't talk about this, the Captain knew. They couldn't.
Not only was it already dangerous enough as it was, but this could affect everything they were doing at the house. They were here for a reason. Neither of them could afford to be distracted.
But how was the Captain supposed to carry on now?
How was he supposed to look Havers in the eye?
How could they both know that something wouldn't show in their faces when the others returned?
How could they be sure that Smith and Reed would not guess and report them immediately?
And the Captain found that he wanted Havers to say something first. He couldn't even begin to wrap his thoughts around everything. Havers would be much better than this, he knew.
"I'll go to check on Smith and Reed," Havers said upon entering the house.
"No, it's fine. I'll check. It's my responsibility." The Captain said.
"Sir, you're practically dead on your feet," Havers said. "You've been awake the entire raid. I can last another ten minutes before bed. You should go upstairs. The others will be back tomorrow, and you need to be at your best for them."
The Captain looked at him for a few moments, wishing he could find the words to say to his second in command.
If only he could make out his thoughts. But they were so tangled, muddled and jumbled that he didn't know what to believe anymore.
If it was so wrong to feel this way, then why had it been so easy, and why had it felt normal?
Why had it felt like his world had been in black and white before, and now it was in exploding, vibrant colour?
"William-" The Captain started quietly.
"Goodnight, Captain." Havers interrupted. "I shall see you in the morning."
He turned on his heel and walked away, leaving the Captain to stand motionless in shock for a few moments, unable to process what had just happened.
How wrong he was, he realised. Havers was likely as confused about everything as he was.
Havers so rarely referred to him as 'Captain' anymore that the word seemed alien now.
The Captain stared at his second in command's back as it retreated, understanding that this was a confirmation.
No, they would not talk about this.
February 18th 1940 - Button House
"May I join you on your rounds, Captain?" Havers asked one evening in mid-February. "I have some things I'd like to discuss with you regarding the security of the house."
"Of course, Lieutenant. Though I must warn you, it's chilly outside. Best to wrap up."
"I'll fetch my overcoat. I'll be back in a few moments."
Havers disappeared, and the Captain breathed a little easier. It was getting harder and harder for him to go on without addressing what had happened on New Year's Eve.
Though he and Havers had barely left each other's side, things had not felt entirely the same as before.
When Havers returned, it was with his coat on, and he was pulling leather gloves onto his hands.
The two exited the house and walked began the rounds.
"What security measures did you have concerns about?" The Captain asked.
"If truth be told, sir, I said that to have an excuse to join you out here," Havers admitted slowly.
The Captain looked at him in surprise. Havers seemed too good of a man to ever lie, at least not about something so trivial.
"You know you are always welcome to join me should you wish, Havers." The Captain said. "I appreciate the company. A fresh pair of eyes makes for better work."
Havers smiled, and the two continued in comfortable silence. Though, of course, the Captain wished he could think of something interesting to say
More than anything, he wished he knew how to express that he was sorry.
Sorry for allowing things to become so awkward and pained between them now. He cared for Havers deeply and wanted things to return to the way they had been before.
It didn't matter if Havers had retreated into himself. The Captain had too.
What did matter was that they weren't William and Theodore anymore. And the Captain missed it.
The Captain was content with never kissing Havers again if it just meant that he had his lieutenant in all his capacity again.
"I say, Havers," The Captain ventured, feeling sick to his stomach with nerves. "Might I ask you something?"
"Of course, sir."
"Have I done something to offend or upset you?"
Havers looked at him, frowning. "Not at all, Captain. Whyever would you think that?"
"Things have seemed a little odd in recent weeks. Nothing major. You're excelling in your job as always. But you seem more withdrawn. I wondered if there was anything I should know. Something that I could offer some support for."
Havers didn't answer for a few moments, looking out in front of him to the extensive gardens and fields surrounding them, barely illuminated by the moon.
"Everything is quite alright, sir," Havers said eventually. "I've just had a lot on my mind, is all. And with all of the work coming in, it's been bally hard to be anything more than tired. I apologise if I've not been myself. I know we had a bit of a routine around Christmas."
"No, no, please don't apologise! It's completely understandable. The work has been piling up recently." The Captain agreed. "I just wanted to be sure. What kind of a captain would I be if I didn't check in with all of my officers?"
Havers smiled, but it was polite, and with very little of the character Havers usually smiled with.
"I appreciate the care, sir." He said.
"How are Louisa and the boys? Have the air raids eased up?" The Captain asked.
"They're a little better now. Not as long. But they'll fluctuate often as time goes on, I assume." Havers replied. "Marcus has sent lots of letters home, saying how much he loves and misses them."
"That's nice of him."
They fell into silence again, and the Captain waited a few minutes before making another attempt at conversation.
"Was there any particular reason why you wanted to join me on the rounds tonight?" He asked.
"In truth, I have noticed that things have been different," Havers admitted after a brief pause. "As you said, it's been busy recently. I hoped maybe a breath of fresh air and a walk would help things to feel normal again."
"It is a nice night, despite the cold." The Captain said. "And I am feeling a lot better knowing that I haven't done something grievous. I would hate to offend you in any way."
"We could finish off our reports together tonight. It would be nice to get back to a routine." Havers said.
The Captain couldn't help the smile spread across his face, though he tried valiantly to suppress it.
"I agree." He said. "Shall we return to the house and go straight up to my office?"
February 28th 1940
Their routine had snapped back into place with ease, and things felt a little less tumultuous. The Captain found that his work seemed easier now, with Havers sat across the desk from him.
It felt like they'd been doing this for years and had been friends for even longer. It felt natural and instinctive by this point.
After a day of drills and training and endless amounts of paperwork, the only thing that they could count on was the evenings spent in the Captain's office. The one constant amid the crisis.
And even though the Captain wanted to talk about what had happened in the Anderson shelter, he knew that they were still fragile and walking on cracking ice.
It had been two months, and Havers hadn't brought it up either. Maybe he didn't remember, or maybe he didn't want to remember.
The Captain didn't blame him. He'd felt normal for the first time in his entire life when they'd kissed.
But Havers... he'd said he was ... was he even aware when he was sober?
The Captain mentally shook himself. He couldn't spend his entire life trying to predict what Havers was thinking. He'd tear himself apart trying to figure it out.
He focused and saw Havers frowning at him.
"Is everything alright?"
"Yes! Of course, why wouldn't it be?" The Captain responded.
"I don't know ... you just seemed off. You were staring off into space."
"Oh, I just have a few things to remember for tomorrow. I'm trying to figure out a priority list." The Captain lied.
Havers' eyes betrayed how much he thought it wasn't true, but he didn't push.
"Have you had any word from London?" He asked instead.
"Nothing today." The Captain sighed. "Nothing for quite a few days, actually. Things are quite rough over there, or so I've heard."
"People are still up and moving, though," Havers said. "The city may be covered in rubble, but the English are resilient. We always find a way to carry on. And Londoners are some of the most resilient."
"You certainly worded it better than I did." The Captain said. "I would have said stubborn. Londoners are very stubborn. And set in their routines."
Havers chuckled. "Yes, I suppose that's more like it. A lot of my mother's family are from London. Louisa moved there once she married. She definitely takes after that side of the family."
"And who do you take after?"
Havers paused, pondering. "I suppose my mother, in some ways. My father in others. But not anyone else. I'm a bit of a black sheep."
"You? A black sheep? Somehow I doubt that." The Captain said, putting his pen down and leaning back in his chair. "You get along so well with the others. You'd stick out like a sore thumb if you really were the odd one out."
"I think the forces are the only place I've ever fit in," Havers admitted. "Everyone has meet the same requirements and standards. Our personalities are the only things that are different. And I suppose you learn to love the things you'd usually hate about another person. You never know whether you'll wake up the next day with them still alive. I think that's why serving appealed to me so much when I first applied. The pure joy at seeing everyone alive and well is something you don't see in civvy life."
The Captain realised then how sad it was, all these years in the forces. Havers had served ten years, he'd said in a conversation weeks previously. The Captain had served for twenty-three. It had never seemed that long before. It had always felt like an achievement.
But it was heavy. Personnel that were already in active service when the war broke out had been desensitised to the hardships of the things they did for a long time.
And there would be many people fighting that were beginning to feel the same thing that Havers did. Just enjoying the simple sight of warmth and life in the bed beside and underneath you. Relief to know you had not been surrounded by the corpses of people you had learnt to trust with your life.
The Captain missed what it was like to not feel like that, he realised then. He adored being part of the forces. It made him feel accomplished and important, and selfless in his devotion to his country. But he wondered whether things would be different had he not gone into the military.
"Sir?" Havers asked.
"Sorry, Havers, my mind keeps running away with me tonight. It's very impolite of me."
"Not to worry, sir. It's a heavy topic to talk about at such a late time." Havers said. "I should probably return to my room now."
"Yes! Best to get a good night's sleep! The war doesn't stop for fatigue!" The Captain chuckled nervously. "I suppose it's light's out for me as well. I've got to be up early if I want to get a run in before morning briefing."
"You run?" Havers asked as they both stood and began to pack away their things a little. Best to make them a little more organised now, the Captain believed. It saved him a job tomorrow.
"Most days," The Captain confirmed. "It wakes me up, makes me feel energised and upbeat. And not to mention as fit and healthy as possible."
The two left the Captain's office, and he locked it behind him.
"Maybe you could join me sometime." The Captain suggested. "I-if you were interested in that sort of thing, of course. I understand if not-"
"No, no, I'd love to!" Havers assured. "I ran a lot before I joined the army. I used to do a lot of track events at school. They were my favourite tasks to do during games lessons."
"Mine too!" The Captain said excitedly.
"What time should we meet?" Havers asked. "0700 hours?"
"Wonderful," Havers said, smiling. "I'll see you in the morning, sir."
"See you in the morning, Havers."
The Captain watched Havers walk away for a few moments before walking in the opposite direction to his room, smiling like a fool.
Get a hold of yourself, Theodore, he chastised himself. It's just a run, nothing more.
Any time with William Havers, however, was something to look forward to, and the Captain would do anything to maximise that time.
It was unfathomable to him that there was someone who shared so many of his interests, who enabled his discussions and thoughts on them.
It seemed too good to be true, and yet here it was. If he pinched himself, this was still his reality.
And what a perfect reality it was.
Chapter 5: Early 1940
March 15th 1940
The Captain coughed and bent over, hands on his knees and panting.
"What time?" He gasped.
"Three minutes exactly," Havers said. "Here, have some water." He handed a bottle to the Captain, who gratefully took it and straightened so he could drink.
"Still not as fast as you yet." The Captain replied.
"There's only two seconds difference." Havers grinned, jotting down the Captain's time on the chat they had begun to keep each morning.
"Two seconds can be the difference between getting to cover in time and being shot." The Captain argued. "Or reaching the shelter before a bomb hits the ground."
"Well, I am taller, I do have a slight advantage." Havers tried to point out. "You'll catch up, sir."
"I should hope so." The Captain said, taking another drink, grateful for his breathing to be evening out. "Right. We should probably head inside to get ready for the day."
"We're doing drills today, aren't we?"
The Captain made a noise of approval as they reentered the house. There were thumps upstairs as the other occupiers began to wake up, and a sense of familiarity settled into his stomach. Something was comforting about the repetition of the morning routine.
"Endurance and shooting, I should think. It'd be good for you all to get some more practice should you be summoned abroad."
"I agree," Havers said. "Every possibility has to be considered. Though, I rather hope I never get summoned. My skills are of better use here."
The Captain looked over at him and, for a moment, contemplated the thought of Havers going away. In truth, he hoped for the same. No matter how much the Captain wished he had a service revolver, how much he wished he could be doing something out in the world, he was at Button House for a reason.
The logical part of the Captain said that it was the need for people here at home in case anything went wrong. The sentimental part of him believed he was meant to meet Havers.
Havers, who still wouldn't talk about what had happened on New Year's Eve.
The Captain couldn't bring himself to speak up. He was a higher ranking officer of His Majesty's Armed Forces, but the prospect of facing Havers and his feelings was far more terrifying than anything he'd done in his career.
The terror filled every vein and every organ in his body, suffocating him from the inside out.
It would come out at some point, he knew that. And when it finally did, it would be explosive. But the least he could do in the meantime was make sure that he kept himself in check, for appearance's sake.
It wouldn't do good for people to know there was something wrong, bubbling away under the surface between them for weeks and months on end.
He could continue hiding until the explosion happened. Let it leave a crater in his life when he and Havers were inevitably unfixable. He would rebuild from there, learn the lesson that came with it, and things would go back to normal.
"What time would you like me to assemble everyone?" Havers asked.
"Shall we say in an hour?" The Captain suggested. "Shower, breakfast, get the equipment lined up outside, and then we can start."
"I'll see where Jeffreys is, and when he has a free moment, the three of us can get the targets prepared. It'll be much easier as a three-man job." Havers said.
"Good thinking. Shall the three of us regroup in say half an hour? It's always good for us to prepare before we assemble the others."
"Of course, sir. Half an hour it is."
"Last lap! Come on, keep moving!" The Captain yelled, spotting the beginnings of the Eleven turning the corner into his line of sight.
"I might join them for this last lap, sir. If you don't mind." Havers said.
"Not at all, Havers. It might inspire them if they see you running too."
Havers huffed out a small chuckle, ducking his head slightly at the idea of being called an inspiration. He waited for Hughes and Smith to get close and then took off, falling into step beside them.
He made it look so easy to converse and bond with the others in the house. On nights where Havers didn't spend his evenings with the Captain, the Captain could hear raucous laughter from downstairs. It was no doubt a result of Havers.
The others never laughed as hard as they did when the lieutenant was around. He was a constant source of great joy in all of their lives.
The Captain would've been a little envious of anyone else. He had never been the best at navigating social engagements. But with Havers, he admired the quality.
The Captain didn't need to be perfect at being sociable with Havers because his presence was enough. The lieutenant's laughter and comforting existence put him at ease. He knew that he was always able to relax.
He let himself dwell on his thoughts for a while, thinking of New Year's Eve again. He had fought it as best he could since it happened. It was usually when he was trying to sleep when he thought of it most. It was much harder to avoid then. Some nights he managed, others he didn't.
They were safe for now. They both had far too much to lose. Their mutual part to play in the event ensured that neither would speak of it to anyone else.
If either did, they would be subjecting both to a lifetime of imprisonment, shame and dishonour. A life sentence of illness from forced medical intervention. It was a horror the Captain had avoided for decades. He would do anything to avoid it for a few decades more.
The sound of feet on gravel alerted him of people approaching, and his attention snapped towards the direction it was coming from.
Havers emerged at the front, rosy-cheeked and breathing heavily. Jeffreys followed, having managed to catch up and overtake Hughes and Smith.
Slowly, the others began to appear, until the Captain had the final officer in front of him again, and he stopped the watch.
"The time it took for every officer to be back where they started after three laps was twenty-five minutes and thirty-one seconds." The Captain said. "Lieutenant Havers and I can do one lap of the house in three minutes. Even if we slowed ourselves to breathe, we could still make three laps in under ten minutes. Three times a week, we'll be revisiting this drill to get the times down."
There were a few murmurs and looks of disappointment.
"The CO is right to revisit this," Havers said from his place at the Captain's shoulder. "It's incredibly important for all of us to keep ourselves fit and healthy. Anything could happen, and we can't have anyone falling behind should we need to vacate at any point."
"I suggest everyone goes inside for lunch. This afternoon, get any overdue paperwork or communications finished. If we get done at a reasonable time, we may even be able to fit in a game of cricket after dinner before it gets dark."
The disappointment disappeared after that, the prospect of doing something for fun being exciting for everyone.
People began to file back into the house, heading straight for the kitchen, and the Captain watched as Havers immediately joined them, shouldering Hughes good-naturedly and laughing when he made a joke.
It wasn't often he joined anyone for meals. He could see himself through the day with a sandwich, an apple or two and whatever leftovers were left for the taking on the counter after dinner.
Somehow, it felt like a breach of privacy to join them. Things would more than likely be awkward and tense, all of them uncertain as to whether they could joke with their CO joining them.
Things were easier this way, with the Captain being able to keep his eyes on paperwork instead of on Havers. He could be productive, and do what he was supposed to be at Button House to do.
There was a war raging out there, in the wide world that he was too far away to reach into. Things were isolated here. And while the Captain enjoyed that sometimes, there was always the sense of longing that came with feeling like he should be doing more.
"Captain?" Havers called, turning around just as he reached the kitchen. "Aren't you coming?"
"I'll grab a sandwich later on." The Captain said.
"Are you sure?"
"Quite. Thank you, though, Havers."
The Captain walked away, going straight to his office.
When he settled, looking over the papers on his desk and the pen in his hand, the Captain realised that there was nowhere he'd rather be than downstairs eating with his team.
His office was his space. It was one of only two places in this house that he could be wholly, entirely bare. The other being his bedroom of course. And even then, he fought hard to not tarnish his opinion of Havers by thinking of him late at night.
But for the first time, he wished he was anywhere but the same four walls that surrounded him now.
Chapter 6: Spring 1940
April 21st 1940
The Captain walked downstairs, aiming to grab some food from the kitchen before returning to his work. It had been a long day of drills again. A run this morning, three laps of the house with the Eleven as a whole, then shooting.
They'd done some hand to hand combat work, as well as attempting another three laps around the house with equipment on their back.
That last one had been Havers' suggestion. He'd been talking to his sister again. Her husband had had to do something similar recently, evacuating the trenches with as much equipment as possible due to the severity of bombs.
It was always safer to come back to reclaim the territory later with more reinforcements than it was to lose three hundred men in one night. That loss could've been detrimental.
The Captain was glad that Havers had suggested it. He had even taken part himself, wanting to push himself despite his creaking and cracking joints.
The Captain undid the cuffs of his shirt sleeves and pushed them up to his elbows. Crumbs and stains wouldn't do. He was supposed to set an example for his inferiors.
He could hear singing coming from the common room as he gathered a few things to make a sandwich. It took several seconds for it to become clear enough for the Captain to recognise, but when he did, his heart sank.
"Happy birthday to Havers, happy birthday to you!"
There were cheers and hurrahs and enough noise to think a whole battalion was packed wall to wall inside the common room.
The Captain hadn't even known it was Havers' birthday today. It had never come up. But the others all knew.
He fought to stop feeling so sorry for himself. If Havers didn't want to tell him something, he didn't have to. He owed the Captain nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
One drunken kiss in an Anderson shelter shouldn't be used as evidence of something.
It was time he enforced that thought.
They were both drunk, and scared, and far too high on adrenaline to think properly. Neither of them had agreed upon entering anything with each other. As far as either of them knew, the other didn't even remember.
It was best left that way.
The Captain was pulled out of his thoughts by a sharp feeling on the skin just below his thumb. He focused and realised that a four-inch-long gash was welling up with blood.
Dammit. He must've gotten a bit too close when slicing cheese.
He cursed under his breath and grabbed some thick kitchen paper to press to the wound before pulling away from the counter and leaving the kitchen.
He headed straight for the cupboard in the entryway that held various first aid kits.
His hands shook as he fumbled with drawers and zips, having to put down the already bloody kitchen paper to regain use of his hands again.
Thank the Lord I took left my jacket upstairs, the Captain thought.
He couldn't abide the idea of getting blood on it. Shirts, he could get blood out of, but the thick material of his jacket was much harder to work with.
"Evening, Havers." The Captain called over his shoulder, finally finding a pack of bandages and gauze. "Don't mind me. I'm not making a racket, am I?"
"No, sir, not at all," Havers replied, his voice closer now. "I was just about to come and find you. Are you okay? What are you looking for?"
"I have a small cut. I wasn't paying enough attention to what I was doing, nicked myself with a knife while making a sandwich."
"Let me see."
"That's not necessary, Havers." The Captain protested.
"Cripes, sir, that's not a small cut at all!" Havers gaped, finally standing beside the Captain.
"It's only because I haven't cleaned it yet. The blood makes it look worse than it is."
"Then you'll need antiseptic wipes and an extra pair of hands to help cover it properly."
Havers immediately began pulling packs from drawers, knowing which bags held which provisions.
"If you don't wrap it right, it can get infected. If the infection gets bad enough that it can't be treated with medicine, then they'll have to take more drastic measures. It can take time to relearn everyday things. Forgive me, sir, but you hardly need more work on your plate. You're dripping."
"What?" The Captain said, taken aback by the final sentence. Havers nodded to the Captain's hand.
"Your hand. It's dripping blood."
The Captain looked to find a few droplets of blood already on the floorboards, coming straight from his hand.
He cursed again, reached for the paper and pressed it to his hand again. "I'll have to wipe that up before it soaks into the floor."
"I'll do it once I'm finished with your hand."
"You don't have to. I'm more than capable."
"You need some time off." Havers insisted. "Right, into the kitchen. Grab a seat."
"Remind me, who's the captain here?"
"When it comes to medical issues, me," Havers answered, a hint of a laugh in his voice. "I was a volunteer in the St John's Ambulance Brigade for a few years before I joined the forces."
"Were you? I didn't know that!"
"I was thinking about being a doctor for a while. But my father always wanted me to follow in his footsteps. He was in the army as well. He was a Wing Commander in the RAF."
"Goodness. How come you didn't join the RAF if that's where your father went?" The Captain asked, taking a seat at the kitchen table. Havers pulled out another seat and sat beside him, facing the Captain and beginning to unpack everything he needed.
"I'm terrified of heights," Havers said.
The Captain tilted his head, trying to figure out if it was a joke. "Surely, you're not being serious."
Havers seemed invincible, an impenetrable force of bravery. Everything a respectable member of the forces should be.
"Oh but I am." Haves nodded, cutting some bandages with a pair of small scissors from one of the packs. "My father took us all on a holiday to Snowdonia when Louisa and I were children. He wanted to take us up Mount Snowdon itself, and I wouldn't have a moment of it. I collapsed right in the middle of the trail, burst into tears, and my mother had to carry me back down again while Father and Louisa carried on to the peak. We stood by this lovely lake and ate some of our picnic until I calmed down. That was the nice part of the day."
"How old were you?"
"Gosh, only about seven or eight," Havers said. "But the sight of being so high up seemed ever so scary. It stuck with me my whole life, and I get awfully shaky whenever I think about going abroad by plane. It has to be by boat, or I can't go at all. It's like I freeze up and can't breathe if I even consider it."
"It's that debilitating?"
Havers nodded and held out his hand. "If you don't mind passing me your hand, sir, I'll get it cleaned up now." The Captain put the paper aside, letting Havers take his hand and start wiping it with a small square of an antiseptic wipe.
He hissed slightly and heard Havers murmur an apology. The Captain gave himself a few moments to enjoy the feeling of Havers holding his hand, fingers gently cupping it. His pinky was pressed up against the pulse point in the Captain's wrist, and he was sure Havers would be able to feel it slowly picking up.
But his hand was warm, and fit just right, equal parts firm and gentle. It was Havers all over.
"What about you, sir?" Havers asked absently. "Any silly fears like me?"
"I'm deathly afraid of the dark." The Captain responded immediately.
"What brought that on?" Havers asked, glancing up into the Captain's eyes for a second, a small smile on his face.
"It was a childhood fear. But my brothers made it worse when I was about ten years old. They snuck into my room when my back was turned and I was playing, turned the lights off and plunged me into darkness. I screamed the house down, and they held the door shut, leaving me trapped in there until our parents came to help."
"Siblings are little terrors, aren't they? Here, hold this in place," Havers pressed the gauze against the Captain's skin and he used his free hand to keep it in place while Havers gathered the bandage. "Louisa is younger than me by three years, and she would always get away with everything."
"I would've loved a sister rather than two brothers." The Captain said wistfully. Havers grinned and shook his head.
"You wouldn't be saying that if you had one."
There were a few seconds of silence and the Captain watched in fascination as Havers deftly wrapped the bandage around his thumb, stretching it and expertly covering the entire cut a few times over.
"Happy birthday, by the way." He said when Havers was almost finished wrapping his thumb. "I would've organised something nice with the others if I'd known."
Havers delayed in finishing the task, looking up at the Captain. "You heard the singing?" The Captain paused before nodding slowly. "Was that what distracted you?"
The same response came.
"I should've asked before, but it never came up. And it would've been incredibly unprofessional. I didn't want to cross a boundary-"
"It's okay, sir." Havers interrupted. "I understand. I didn't want to put any pressure on you. That's why I didn't say anything. I know you're busy, and birthdays aren't that important in the grand scheme of things."
"I'll endeavour to make it up to you next year." The Captain promised. "I promise."
Havers smiled sadly. "The war might be over by that point, sir. What then?"
"Then we shall have to keep in contact." The Captain said. "If that's appropriate and ... agreeable for you?"
"It's more than agreeable, sir." Havers nodded. "When is your birthday, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Bonfire Night?" The Captain nodded. "You joined us last year when we had a few drinks in the common room. You never said anything!"
"It wasn't important. And being with you all was like a birthday celebration anyway. Even if you didn't know I share a birthday with the night we celebrate a failed coup by burning a recreation of the mastermind on a bonfire." The Captain shrugged, a small smile appearing.
Havers grinned. "Well, I'll endeavour to remember yours as well, sir." He finished wrapping up the Captain's thumb, tied it off and began to pack things away.
"Thank you, Havers." The Captain said.
"It was my pleasure, sir."
"Were you really coming to find me when you left the common room?" He asked after a pause.
"Of course. I was going to bring some cake up for you. Offer a drink, that sort of thing. Would you like to come and join us? We hardly see you anymore. Well, I do, I know. But it'd be nice for everyone else as well."
The Captain hesitated, unsure as to whether his presence would be too much of a burden.
He felt the weight of his existence so heavily, and he hated the idea of some of that weight being transferred onto other people. He would much rather carry it on his own.
But it was Havers' birthday, and the Captain looked at him, saw the small glimmer of hope in his eyes.
How could he say no to those eyes?
"Alright. Just one drink."
Chapter 7: Spring 1940
April 21st 1940
The Captain partially bumped into a wall as they rounded a corner on the first floor and murmured a string of curses.
"Who put that wall there?" He asked.
"Shhhhh," Havers snickered.
"Sorry," The Captain whispered. "Wait, why are we being quiet again?"
Havers stopped and frowned. "I don't know."
They looked at each other and immediately burst into laughter. Neither of them would say they were drunk. Not by any means. But their inhibitions were certainly lowered. Somehow everything seemed ten times funnier than it was.
"I have some port in my office." The Captain said. "Fancy a glass?"
"You read my mind." Havers brushed his hand through a house plant as he passed it, rustling the leaves and smiling. "This has been a nice birthday, sir. Thank you for coming to join us."
"I'm glad I did. I had a good time." The Captain fiddled with the key to his office. When they reached the familiar room, he slid it into the lock and turned it a little slower than he would've usually.
Why on earth did everything have to be so much harder when alcohol was involved?
The two stepped inside when he finally managed to get the door open, and Havers found the port and glasses that were left on the desk.
"When was the last time we had a drink together?"
"Weeks ago." The Captain dismissed, closing and locking the door behind him. "Maybe even months. I can't remember."
"I suppose there hasn't been enough time for a drink in the evening. Not with so much to do." Havers said absently, pouring out two drinks. "Let's have a toast!"
"To what?" The Captain asked.
Havers crossed the room and handed him a glass. "Hmm, you make one. You're good at toasts."
"It's your birthday. Shouldn't you make one?"
"Oh yeah! It's my birthday!" Havers laughed. "Um ... to making it to thirty-six! May I make it to thirty-seven."
The Captain grinned, tapping the rim of his glass to Havers'. They both drank deeply, only stopping when all was gone from their glasses.
The Captain spluttered when he was finished, wincing at the taste in his mouth. It was very reckless of him to allow such behaviour, but once or twice a year at birthdays and Christmas couldn't hurt, he supposed.
"Another one, Captain?" Havers asked.
"Go on, then."
By the time they'd finished their next drink, settled at their usual seats, the Captain could no longer prevent his longing.
"I don't think I've had this much fun in months." He admitted. "War isn't supposed to be fun, I know. But-"
"We learn to find joy in the little places." Havers finished. The Captain hummed in agreement.
"The past few months have been such a blur." He said. "I think New Year's Eve was the last time I remember enjoying myself." He risked glancing at Havers and saw the other man gripping his glass tightly, staring into it as if it held all the world's secrets. "Are you quite alright?" Havers didn't respond. "William?"
"Don't." Havers' voice cracked.
"Don't what? Call you William? You've not protested before. I've been calling you William for months." The Captain frowned. "Have I done something wrong?"
"No, Captain," Havers replied. "But I know what you're going to say."
"Enlighten me. If I'm entirely honest, even I have no idea what I was going to say."
Havers looked up at him finally. "You remember what happened on New Year's Eve, don't you?"
The Captain nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, but Havers stood before anything could come out.
"Where are you going?" He asked instead.
"To bed," Havers said.
The Captain stood, too, grabbing hold of Havers' wrist and pulling him back. Havers stumbled slightly, grabbing hold of the Captain's shoulder and his body weight crashing into his superior's.
The Captain held tight and stepped back to braced himself against the edge of his desk.
Havers' face was only inches from his, and he was trying valiantly to scramble away.
But the Captain stopped him, reaching up to tangle his fingers in the hair at the nape of the lieutenant's neck and pulling him forward.
Just like the first time, the world seemed to become nonexistent outside of the small bubble they found themselves in.
No longer high on adrenaline and fear for their safety, but suitably wavy and just drunk enough to no longer be scared of their feelings.
Havers responded automatically, clinging to the Captain like a dying man, like he would be summoned abroad in the morning and they would never see each other again.
That same December desperation permeated the room once again, and somehow the stakes seemed that much higher now.
They were inside the house now. Their fellow officers were separate to them, but only by hardwood flooring. This was the second time this had happened. How far would the alcohol excuse go this time?
The Captain chased those thoughts from his head, focusing on burning the memory of Havers in the here and now into his brain.
Who knew when they would get this opportunity again, and the Captain couldn't bear the thought that Havers could very well isolate himself after this.
It was a risk, trying again. But it was a risk he was willing to take.
Or, maybe that was the alcohol talking.
In any other circumstances, the Captain would've let Havers walk out and never address it again.
They would go their separate ways and let the longing go on forever, never finding out if it was truly reciprocated until it was far too late to do anything about it.
Inevitably, they pulled apart from air, gasping for breath and fingers gripping each other like talons.
Havers began to pull away further, trying to extract himself from the Captain's grip, and the Captain felt panic seep into his veins.
Don't leave me here now. You can't leave this room and pretend that this was nothing. I cannot bear another four months of silence.
If Havers were to go now, walk right out of this office and pretend like nothing had happened, the Captain didn't know how he'd pull himself together again.
One time was enough to be called an accident. A second time ... not so much. He was more confident now that Havers felt something similar for him.
Leaving now would break his heart. And the Captain didn't know how much more wear and tear his heart could take before it gave in completely.
"We cannot go on like this," Havers whispered, managing to pull away. The Captain sagged against the desk, feeling unsteady on his feet without something to anchor him. The desk he was leaning against didn't seem half as supportive as he needed it to be.
"What do you mean?" The Captain asked dazedly.
"I mean, we can't keep pretending this isn't something," Havers said. "Getting drunk and stumbling into situations like this, then never talking about it."
The Captain breathed out deeply in relief. "Good Lord, I thought you were going to say something completely different."
"What, that I was going to try and put a stop to this?" Havers asked. "I can't ... I can't do this now. But I promise you, we will sort this. I just ... need time to organise myself. It's not something we should talk about drunk."
"Well ... when you have them organised, you know where to find me." The Captain said slowly, wringing his hands together nervously.
Havers nodded. There were a few poignant seconds, filled with words left unsaid, and he eventually turned, reaching for the door.
The Captain swallowed hard, trying not to be too disappointed. He forced himself to stand properly and cross the room, each step away from Havers feeling heavy.
He stood by the window, gazing out and trying to seem unbothered.
"Yes?" The Captain asked, looking over his shoulder and seeing Havers still stood by the door, his hand on the doorknob.
"I need you to know that I ... I do care." He said. "There are too many scrambled thoughts in my head that are bound to come out wrong if we try this tonight. That's the only reason I can't do this now. Please don't think you've done something wrong."
Havers turned partially, his hand still on the doorknob but his face turned to the Captain.
For the first time, the Captain saw raw, unfiltered fright in Havers' eyes. Stress was written into the tautness of his shoulders, and the rare sense of panic seemed to fall from him in waves.
He's just as scared of how he feels as I am, the Captain thought. All this time, I thought I was the only one.
The Captain could feel that same fear in his chest. He was a lot better at hiding it, having had more experience. He wasn't used to not being the only person in the room feeling it.
So he forced a smile, trying to reassure Havers. "Come to find me when your thoughts are a little less scrambled." He said. "In truth, I could do with the time as well."
Havers looked at him for a few seconds, seemingly trying to figure something out.
"Okay," He said finally. "I - I suppose I'll see you tomorrow bright and early for our run."
The Captain nodded and then looked back out the window, letting his silence become a dismissal. He heard the door open and close as Havers left, and wondered what the hell he'd gotten himself into.
Chapter 8: Spring 1940
April 28th 1940
That was how long it took for them to talk about it.
Seven days after Havers' birthday, anxiety began to rise again until it finally blew up.
Havers had been suffering from a bad case of butterfingers for three days. Constantly dropping things, being generally clumsy, and just causing a troubling amount of caution around the house.
People had been on edge, ready and waiting for something he was carrying to drop, always meeting him in the middle so that there was a steadying hand to support things.
The Captain was pouring over a map with his fellow officers in the common room when a sudden crash came from behind them.
Everyone reacted, their attention dragged away from their work with a flash of surprise in their eyes.
As the Captain turned, he already suspected what had happened. His guess was soon confirmed when his eyes landed on Havers, who was sat on the floor, a look of confusion on his face, surrounded by smashed glass and puddles.
He’d gone to fetch some glasses of water and had clearly had another one of his clumsy moments.
He seemed slightly stunned, and his trousers were now covered in water stains, the material clinging to him in some places and flaring out normally in others.
The Captain forced himself not to look at the places where the fabric clung.
"Good Lord, Havers, what in the bally hell is going on with you at the minute?!" He asked.
"I-I don't know, sir," Havers said. He finally stood, brushed off any smashed glass clinging to his trousers. "My apologies. Would I be alright to change trousers once I've cleaned this up, Captain? I wouldn't want to continue working with an unsuitable uniform."
"Of course." The Captain replied. "Reed, Hughes, go and give Lieutenant Haves a hand getting the glass cleaned up, will you? There are brooms and other cleaning equipment in the kitchen. I suggest you hurry. We don't have the time to be mucking about today."
Hughes and Reed responded immediately, following Havers out of the room to search for the cleaning supplies, careful not to tread in the puddles or the piles of glass.
"Right," The Captain said, returning to the map. "Where were we?"
"Lieutenant Havers, could I have a word with you before you go off to dinner, please?" The Captain called. "The rest of you are dismissed."
The rest of the Button Eleven began to pack away for the day. It took a minute or two for the last of them to leave.
When they did, the Captain finally looked at Havers instead of at the door. There was a good ten feet between them, but it somehow felt like miles.
"What's going on with you?" He asked.
There was an accusatory tone in his voice that he didn't intend for there to be. He tried valiantly to force it down as he spoke again.
"You've been distant and not yourself for the past week. The clumsiness quickly followed. All of us are concerned."
"I'm sorry, Captain. I've had a lot on my mind." Havers said.
The Captain stayed quiet, uncertain as to how to address it. "I-is there anything that I should know? Something I can help you with?"
Havers' fingers twisted nervously together, and his eyes strayed from the Captain's face. "Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, I rather think you can help."
The Captain's heart stuttered in his chest for a few seconds and he realised why Havers seemed so unlike himself.
Had this whole week been Havers so preoccupied with organising his thoughts about the Captain that it had impacted his work this severely?
"Could I talk to you in your office? Or perhaps on a patrol of the grounds?" Havers asked.
"A patrol sounds like a good idea." The Captain said.
In the back of his mind, getting far away from the rest of the Eleven was a better solution than having a conversation in the Captain's office.
If they didn't hear someone coming up the stairs, so engrossed in each other, it could be fatal.
They had only ever gotten away with it before because the events in the house had lined up perfectly to give them privacy.
If they were out on the grounds, the wind could carry their voices up and away, and someone would call their attention.
Or they would see them approaching. They were about as safe as they'd ever be outside.
Havers led the way.
"I hope there's a good explanation as to why you've been so distracted lately." The Captain said as they passed by other officers as they flitted around the ground floor.
He was hyperaware of how important it was to maintain appearances around Havers. He had three hard and fast rules.
One: Always keep at least six feet away when they were standing together. Two feet if they were walking together where people could see.
Two: Never address him differently than he would any other officer. That meant a stern tone and a stiff upper lip.
Three: Keep his sentences short and to the point. He couldn't afford to talk too much, lest he looked overfamiliar.
The rules had kept him safe so far. They had kept his secret in years past when he had found himself besotted with some man or another.
The rules would work now. They had to. Havers had to be the same as everyone else. The Captain felt differently about him, but he had to be treated just the same as any other, just in case this was all a ruse. Just in case he was being tricked.
There was always the fear that this was an order from people higher up than the Captain.
Could his officers be keeping close tabs on him?
Could any of them be planted there to trip him up?
These were the fears he battled with most days, and they informed every part of his life, every part of his career.
His career was his life. What else did he have without it?
If he lost this ... there was no going back for him.
Certainly not to civilian life. Not to obscurity and pointlessness. Here, he was useful. Here, he was secure. He was safer in the forces than out in the world, despite the extra paranoia.
"It's a ridiculous reason, sir. Though, I hope you'll understand that it's rather important to me." Havers replied, opening the door and holding it open for the Captain to walk through first.
They stepped outside, closing the door firmly behind them, and some of the anxiety released.
"I can certainly be open-minded about it all, Havers. Whatever it is." The Captain said.
Their shoes crunched on the gravel, and the Captain kept his eyes firmly ahead of him as he walked.
If he could focus on the sound of his boots meeting the ground, the way his steps sounded as they transitioned from gravel to grass, then he could keep himself composed. He could remain detached.
This could not be allowed to continue, after all.
Havers would say it. He would make sure to let down the Captain gently, with that infinite kindness of his.
But it was the most practical thing, for them to not continue trying to hide this. They would only become a danger to each other.
When they were a little farther from the house, out in the field towards the Anderson shelter, Havers deemed it safe enough to dive into the conversation they both knew was coming.
"I care for you, Theodore." He spoke quietly as if they were still within earshot of their fellow officers.
Something about the tenderness that he said the Captain's name with made him feel warm, loved, wanted. He desired to always feel that, despite predicting where this was going.
He knew his heart was ready for breaking, and yet he allowed himself to plead silently with a divine figure he didn't even believe in to grant him mercy.
Just this time. This one time, he craved for things to be different.
"I care for you a great deal. And I - I don't quite know how to say everything I feel. It's been tearing me apart all week." Havers admitted.
"You can't do this, I'm presuming?" The Captain asked. "I understand if that's the case. It would be selfish and improper to try, given the job and the world we find ourselves in."
"What are you talking about?" Havers asked. "Where on earth have you gotten the notion that I didn't want this?"
The Captain stopped, looking at Havers in stunned silence. He fumbled for words, finally finding them after a good thirty seconds of incomplete phrases flitting around in his brain.
"W-well, anyone would assume, based on the reactions post ... recent events, that you were somehow unwanting or opposed to something of this nature."
Havers tilted his head, eyes displaying something akin to great affection. "Oh, Teddy, you become ever so odd when you're flustered. Odd in a very charming way, I might add."
"Odd?!" The Captain exclaimed. "I am not odd! And where on earth did the name 'Teddy' come from?!"
Havers laughed and carried on walking, trusting that the Captain would catch up. Knowing that he would always be there, their steps aligned exactly.
The trust and knowledge that Havers had in the Captain's movements were maddening at times.
Maddeningly attractive, more than anything.
No one knew him quite like this, he realised. No one dared test the boundaries or dared to try and get away with such improper actions like addressing a superior by a nickname or walking ahead with the confidence that they would follow.
It wasn't normal for a lieutenant to be so well acquainted with the way their captains worked. It wasn't normal for them to slot themselves into that routine so seamlessly, or for their strengths and flaws to fit each other so perfectly.
Where one faltered, the other was always there to reinforce them. And where one was strong, the other was the most significant backer of their success.
The Captain knew at that moment, as he watched Havers laugh and carry on with that confidence, that he'd follow Havers anywhere.
Whatever had ensured his existence over anyone else that could've come as his parents' third child, whether a divine figure or fate, he was sure that they had ensured Havers' presence in his life too.
What on earth had he been thinking, allowing himself to begin to accept losing Havers?
Whatever else had happened in this life of his, nothing was quite as spectacular as stumbling headfirst into whatever their situation was. They had always been destined for this.
They were stuck in the wrong time for such feelings.
But good Lord, the Captain would never give up the breathlessness that came with being around the lieutenant. Not for his career, not for promotions, not for anything.
The Captain followed, and when their steps aligned, he knew that things would not be so bleak as he expected.
Chapter 9: Spring 1940
28th April 1940
"What I was trying to say," Havers continued, knowing instinctively when the Captain was beside him again. "I don't know a lot of things when it comes to attraction or - or relationships . But I do know that I have a lot of strong feelings about you. I would like nothing more than to continue experiencing them alongside you. It wouldn't be very traditional. There are things that we'll have to adapt and change for our safety. But if you feel the same way, I see no reason why we shouldn't explore it. Husbands and wives feel these things about each other. Why can't we?"
The Captain listened intently. He agreed with everything Havers said. Somehow, he had dug around in both of their chests, intending only to find the truth in his own but managing to understand everything better than the Captain ever could.
His mind screamed at him whenever he had thoughts of Havers, whenever his heart fluttered, and his stomach became cavernous. All the reactions that he should have about women were instead transferred to the men he'd had experiences with before. Now, they all seemed to flood towards Havers, and a magnetic pull drew them together time and time again.
The Captain couldn't explain it, and he couldn't rationalise it. That was the part that scared him. He didn't understand why he was like this, why things were different for him.
He didn't understand the world around them, either, and why it was so wrong to feel this way. It felt like the easiest thing in the world for him. The only thing that had ever felt natural.
The Captain realised he probably should be saying all these things to Havers instead of just thinking them to himself, but found he didn't even know where to start.
"I'm not half as poetic as you, and I don't want you to think I'm unenthusiastic because of that." He started. "If truth be told, I have very little experience as well. But exploring whatever this is is something I would like very much."
They both looked at each other at the same moment, unable to bear hiding from each other's view any longer.
"You mean it?" Havers asked. The Captain nodded.
"I've spent months avoiding the truth. The only thing that concerns me is your safety."
" My safety?! I think we're both at risk here."
"Yes, but I care about you much more than I care about myself." The Captain said without thinking.
Havers looked away then, and the Captain could see the beginnings of redness creeping along his cheekbones. "Are you blushing?!"
"Not at all!" Havers dismissed, the redness deepening. The Captain laughed and gently nudged Havers with an elbow.
"I think it's endearing." He said simply.
"Do you?" Havers asked, glancing at him again.
The Captain nodded. "Though, I might be biased. I always find you endearing."
"You're full of compliments today, aren't you?" Havers asked.
"Is that an issue?" The Captain frowned with a note of worry in his voice. Havers chuckled and shook his head.
"Of course it isn't. It's very much appreciated." He replied. "I'm glad to know that you feel the same."
"I must admit, I've been doing my very best to hold back in recent weeks and months." The Captain said slowly.
"I didn't say anything. I didn't know how to begin talking about it. I didn't know if you remembered, or if you would expose me if I tried to bring it up."
"I told you in the Anderson that I wouldn't-"
"I know, sir, and I do trust you. But there is always that fear. I don't know what's going on inside your head. It seems cowardly, but I was quite scared of what you might say or do."
Havers' voice trembled slightly, and the Captain longed to reach out and grab his hand to reassure him. By now, they were over halfway back to the house, and while they were so open to outside view, they weren't safe. Anything could be misconstrued.
This was already such a tough situation to find themselves in.
"I understand." The Captain said. "I wish things were different. Easier. But if we apply ourselves, then I'm sure that it'll become a little more natural with time."
Havers smiled, looking back at the Captain.
And then, like a cliche out of a romantic film, the sun broke through the clouds from behind them. It was a rare occasion for a British April and seemed perfectly fitting for the moment.
The side of Havers that had turned to face the Captain again brightened, catching the corner of his eye and lighting the irises up. Flecks of gold and pools of caramel brown were suddenly free to be seen in all their beauty, leaving the Captain transfixed and breathless.
It seemed impossible that Havers could be interested in him. He was uncertain as to what he had to offer, what made him stand out. Did he stand out? Good Lord, he hoped not.
He'd spent far too long trying to blend in and become like everyone else. If he stuck out like a sore thumb this entire time, then it was all for nought. Luck would have been on his side, but he couldn't afford to keep sticking out much longer. Someone would notice if he wasn't careful.
The Captain's stomach was twisted in tight knots, feeling almost sick at the idea that someone could figure it out. But the thought was not for his own safety. For the first time in his life, he couldn't care less.
If Havers lost his position, and he was dishonourably discharged and sent home, what would become of him? Would his sister find out? Would his nephews? Would he still be allowed in their lives? Would Louisa want him there anymore?
If she didn't, and the war finished with Marcus still alive, he would find out. He could hurt Havers, hurt Louisa, hurt the boys without Havers there to lend Louisa a hand when the times got tough. It was especially hard for women with children to get through life if their marriages turned sour.
A seed of doubt planted itself in his heart, though he fought to banish it.
They would be careful. They would hide and be as normal as they had ever been.
The Captain and Havers, that was all. They could make sure that Havers and his family were kept safe. couldn't they?
"Teddy," Havers prompted gently. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," The Captain breathed, shaking himself out of his stupor. "Yes, I'm okay. Glad to be here with you."
Havers' lips turned upwards at the corners, a fond look in his eyes. "What shall we do when we get back to the house?"
The Captain took a deep breath, looked back to the looming house growing larger with each step. "I'm not sure."
"I could always go up to my room early. Tell the others that I'm feeling a little under the weather."
"Spend some time with them first. So they don't get suspicious." The Captain told him. "There's no reason why we can't go about our days as normal. That's how we keep ourselves safe."
"As long as I can see you for a few moments before I really do go to bed," Havers said. "Of course, only if that's alright with you."
"I'm a very busy man, but I think I could squeeze you in somewhere." The Captain said, grinning.
Havers chuckled. "You're getting the hang of flirting, that's for sure. I'll see you later on, then? Shall we say 2300 hours?"
"That sounds perfect."
Chapter 10: Summer 1940
May 31st 1940
The Captain breathed heavily as he slowly came to a stop.
"Two minutes fifty-two," Havers said, inspecting the numbers on the stopwatch. "Your times are getting lower, sir."
"I'm still not nearly as fast as I'd like." The Captain said.
"You're far too impatient." Havers grinned. He scribbled down the Captain's time on the sheet of paper they used. "What do you say to a cup of tea and some toast?"
"As long as you don't hog all the jam,"
"You drive a hard bargain, Captain."
The two shared a smile before they began to trek through the house, going straight to the kitchen.
The rest of the house was slowly waking up, much groggier than the Captain and Havers were.
"What's the plan for today, then?" Havers asked, filling the kettle with water, lighting the stove and placing the kettle on top of it.
"Well, I've got more paperwork than I know what to do with." The Captain sighed, immediately dividing up some bread for toast. "I suppose it's one of those days where everyone decides what needs doing the most."
"I think a few of the men were looking to go into a local village," Havers said, leaning back against the counter. The Captain finished placing the bread under the grill and looked at him.
In just a simple shirt, the few buttons at the top open and his sleeves rolled up, a pair of comfortable and loose trousers and his standard uniform boots, Havers still managed to look attractive.
His hair was tousled from the wind and falling in front of his forehead in some places. For a moment, the Captain could almost imagine a life like this after the war.
He could see them waking up early, going for a run together, having breakfast together, living life in tandem as a pair.
The Captain shook himself mentally, discouraging himself from thinking too far in the future. That was possibly the worst thing he could do. Things were going well between them. Late night chats over paperwork, chaste goodnight kisses on the cheek before bed, a whole slew of nervous compliments and shy looks.
They were both always worried about overstepping the mark. But for now, it was good.
"Oh? How come?"
"Primarily to use up some of their rations. It's been busy recently. They fancied getting out of the house for a while." Havers said. "And I think some of them have taken an interest in local ladies if truth be told."
"That doesn't surprise me." The Captain said. "I'll be sure to mention it in this morning's briefing. Will you be going with them?"
"I'm considering it, but I haven't made a final decision yet," Havers admitted. "It all depends on what time the others are leaving and if I get enough work done by then."
"I thought you only had a few reports from last night to look over? You're usually very organised."
"Well yes, it's only Hughes' report that I have to sign off, a few letters to respond to, and my report of the day to do. But I was thinking more along the lines of any documents that I could help you with."
"Havers, you shouldn't waste away your life taking up so much work." The Captain said. "Take the afternoon off, go have some fun."
Havers' lips turned up at the corners, and he opened his mouth to say something, but the whistling of the kettle on the hob interrupted him.
The two of them turned to their respective jobs. The Captain reached into the fridge to get the milk, turned to hand it to Havers and found the other man close by, holding the jam and two plates of toast out to him.
They grinned, swapped items and carried on.
Yes, a life like this after the war would be a life worth aiming towards, the Captain thought. As long as they remained safe here at Button House, then they could see the end of this dreaded business, retire somewhere nice, and live out their days in peaceful domesticity.
And the Captain, for one, was very much looking forward to it.
The Captain yawned, put his pen down and rubbed his eyes. His eyes flicked to the small clock on his desk. It was almost dinnertime, and most of the Eleven was still not back yet.
A few had made their appearance known by stomping through the house, their laughter booming through the corridors.
But there had been no sign of Havers yet. He'd become such a usual sight as the Captain worked that there was a noticeable difference in the atmosphere of his office.
A knock on the door made his head turn, and hope to fill his heart.
"Come!" He called, standing.
The door opened to reveal Smith. A very funny man, who'd been a shop assistant in Birmingham before the war. He was short, broad-shouldered, with a thick accent and light hair and eyes. He was probably only a handful of years younger than the Captain.
"At ease. What can I do for you?"
"I was asked to tell you we've come back in two groups with the rations. Lieutenant Havers wanted to make sure everyone was accounted for."
"Is that everything?"
"He also asked me to give you this." Smith held out a small envelope, and the Captain took it. "That's everything, sir."
"Very well. Thank you. You're dismissed. Please let the others know that they're relieved of their duties for the rest of the day."
"Of course, sir." Smith left, closing the door gently behind him, and the Captain felt a little more relaxed.
He absently fiddled with the envelope in his hands, looking down at his desk and wondering whether he even had the time to read it. Every minute was precious. There weren't enough in the day, and work was getting harder each day that the war dragged on.
It hadn't even been a year yet, and he was exhausted. He couldn't complain, not when he had a safe bed to sleep in at night and wasn't getting shot at every waking moment.
But managing the workload of a base, handling communications to and from London, keeping the officers around him safe and strong and healthy, making sure that everything they did here was to standard was beginning to take its toll.
The Captain thought back to how his father had been so cold and unfeeling when he'd returned from the Great War.
He could understand now why that was. The immense pressure to be perfect, to do everything right was daunting. Even after over a decade and a half of service, he was struggling to maintain the confidence a captain should have in his position.
The Eleven were here as part of a united front for England. There were many bases like Button House across the country. They were meant to keep watch over as much land as possible.
If Germany or their allies were to find their way to infiltrate the country somehow, having bases in hundreds of places meant they could discover it quicker. Locals knew where to find them. The superiors in London could be contacted with ease.
The war could be won months and years earlier if the right people were caught.
The Captain sighed, sat back at his desk and opened the letter. A few minutes break couldn't hurt. A headache began to pound behind his eyes, and the chance to read something other than War Office updates was appreciated.
The wax seal on the envelope came apart, and he easily slipped the paper out, unfolding it to reveal neat handwriting.
The War Office regrets to inform you that your brother Lieutenant Michael Everett has been killed in action in the performance of his duty for His Majesty's Armed Forces. Our condolences for your loss. Further details of his arrival home will be provided at a later date.
The Captain read it a second time.
Then a third.
By the fourth read, his hands were trembling. He placed the letter down, leaned back in his chair and stared at the space in front of him.
There was something hollow inside his chest, some kind of cavern that hadn't been there before.
He and Michael had never been close. He'd never been close with Alistair either. They'd joined the forces at eighteen, same as the Captain had. But the Captain had been fourteen when they'd left. The years they might have spent getting closer as more mature boys had left as soon as they'd signed up.
But the Captain's brothers were also twins after all, and that was a bond that couldn't be broken. Identical in every way. The only way to tell them apart was the isolated blemish they both had on opposite eyes. Alistair's was beside his left eye, Michael's beside his right.
It was so small, so difficult to spot sometimes that you'd never know it was there unless you were particularly observant or knowing of the brothers.
But Michael was still the Captain's brother. As such, he was still loved dearly.
The Captain was so engrossed in his thoughts that it took time before he realised there was more knocking at his door.
"Captain?" Someone called. A familiar voice that the Captain would recognise from a great distance. He could recognise it even when he was more grey than he was now, losing his hearing and body slowly giving in.
The Captain didn't trust his voice, so he stood and opened the door himself.
Havers was stood on the other side, a smile on his face. The recent good weather in England had given the whole unit a chance to spend more time outside. The Captain had been lenient, encouraging games of cricket at least three afternoons a week.
The sun had made Havers' freckles come out in full force, spread across his nose. The Captain found them fascinating, and he could never help but stop and stare.
Havers stood there on the other side of the door, and he realised almost immediately that something was wrong. The smile dropped and a small furrow appeared in between his brows.
"Captain, is everything okay?" He asked.
"I - I don't know."
"May I come in?"
The Captain moved back, and Havers immediately walked inside and closed the door, not turning away from the Captain for a moment, even to draw the deadbolt across.
He held his arms out, raising an eyebrow, and the Captain crumpled, stepping into his partner's embrace and allowing himself this small comfort of having Havers close.
Chapter 11: Summer 1940
May 31st 1940
Havers didn't say anything for several minutes, just holding the Captain close and waiting for the slight trembling in his body to cease.
"Is this about the telegram I asked Smith to give to you?" He murmured once the Captain had calmed.
"Yes," The Captain replied.
"If you don't mind my asking, what did it say?"
The Captain paused, unsure as to whether he could even say the words.
He pulled away, reached to pick up the telegram and gave it to Havers. His arm didn't quite feel like his own as it moved.
Havers watched him for a few moments before reading, searching for some kind of extra permission.
When the Captain didn't back down, he raised the telegram a bit closer to his face, glancing down and eyes scanning the page.
The Captain could tell when he finished reading, though his eyes stayed on the paper for several extra seconds.
Havers lowered the telegram and met the Captain's gaze again.
And there was that pity. The pity that came when someone in your family died, and people expected you to break at any moment.
It was as if no one paid attention to the reality of the Captain's relationship with his brothers. The letters would likely come from aunts and uncles at some point. They would be sending their condolences, and it would only bring the Captain distraction.
The whole situation meant that he couldn't even focus on grieving in his own way.
The Captain expected all these things from other people.
But not from Havers.
Havers was as unexpected as they came and had appeared out of nowhere, just like their slow and sweet romance.
Which made his pity so much harder to deal with. The Captain didn't want it. He couldn't handle it.
"Oh, Teddy, I'm so sorry."
The Captain took the telegram back, returning it to his desk and swapping it for his pipe. Once lit, he puffed a few times, finding comfort in the action.
"I ... I think I'm fine." He said. "I wasn't expecting it, that's all. I worry more about how Alistair is faring with the news."
"Is he still in France?"
"I assume so." The Captain replied. He perched on the longer part of his desk, only his side profile on show to Havers. "I can't imagine he'll be allowed to come home for a funeral. They need every possible man over there."
"Maybe you should write to him," Havers suggested. The Captain shook his head. "It might do you both a world of good."
"Trust me. I know my brothers. The last thing Alistair will want is for me to contact him. Especially when the wound is so fresh." The Captain said.
"It might be the last thing he wants , but it might be what he needs," Havers replied.
The Captain stayed quiet, puffing away on his pipe and trying to iron out his thoughts. He already had so much that he needed to do, and things would begin to pile up the more he sat and dwelled.
He was running out of time. Always running out of time.
"I'll have to think about it." The Captain said eventually.
"Can't you just accept my answer?!" The Captain snapped, looking to Havers. A bubble of anxiety rose in his chest. "This is my family. Not all of us have the luxury of a close relationship with our siblings. For some, it's more complex."
"I understand that, sir-"
"Do you?" The Captain asked. "Because it doesn't sound like you understand. It sounds like you're pushing."
Havers stayed quiet. For once, there was conflict written into every inch of him, and he seemed like he didn't know what to do or say.
One of the most loved things about Havers was that he always knew what to do in a crisis. He was calm and levelheaded, and kind.
Seeing that unsure atmosphere made the Captain's heart ache.
He sighed, put his pipe down and rubbed a hand over his face. He was tired and stressed.
"I'm sorry, William." The Captain said.
"No, no, you're right. I shouldn't have pushed," Havers said. He stepped back and began to turn, aiming for the door.
"Wait, don't go!" The Captain darted towards Havers, grabbing his wrist and holding on for dear life.
"It's probably for the best if I give you some space. I don't want to cause a problem." Havers said.
"I don't want you to go." The Captain said. "I don't want to be on my own."
Havers softened, and a bit of the usual warmth returned to him.
They both found it hard to find their footing, even though they both knew the truth. Some nights, they forgot that they didn't have to hide with each other.
It took hours to realise that they were safe, that they were partners. Or at least reaching that point.
It was hard to tell at times, with the uniqueness of their relationship. A lifetime of hiding made their instincts sharper than a sword's edge.
It was hard not to cut those they cared about most sometimes.
On the nights they forgot about their connection, hours would pass before they would remember that they weren't fantasising and tearing their desires apart, hoping for their feelings to be reciprocated. It took time to remember that they had spoken about it.
Sometimes it would be Havers that remembered first. He would reach out across the desk, fingers gently grazing the Captain's as he wrote.
The Captain would respond instinctively, looking up and smiling bashfully as he took Havers' hard and pressed a gentle kiss to the knuckles, watching as Havers' cheeks went red.
The Captain was a lot more subtle when he recalled first. It would take a few minutes for Havers to catch him stealing glances, give him that beautifully wide smile, and cheekily ask what the Captain was staring at.
He enjoyed playing the oblivious fool, pretending he didn't know how much he affected the Captain.
It was a game they played, except now they understood what the rules were. They were no longer playing chess with all the wrong pieces.
Instead of facing each other, clashing in the middle as they fought to process their sentiments, they were on the same side.
Now they were up against the world that rejected and scorned them. But they were together, against the real enemy. Surely that was what mattered now.
"Okay," Havers said gently. "I'll stay."
The Captain nodded slightly as a reassurance to himself that he'd heard right. Havers was staying.
He gently pulled Havers closer by the wrist. When the other man was close enough, the Captain was hesitant for only a moment before he leaned up and pressed a kiss to the corner of Havers' mouth.
They hadn't broached this yet. Even after their talk as they walked the grounds, they hadn't ventured past cautious and polite kisses on the cheek.
Both of them knew the attitudes surrounding courting. And though they were anything but traditional, the inherent romantic side of them both loved the conventional way of treating a partner.
If they had been different, if they had been a man and a woman, they would've had chaperones at most stages.
An older brother, a father, an uncle, maybe even a close male cousin.
They would've been observed closely for propriety. One would've walked the other home, maybe permitted a kiss on the hand on the first date.
That would've evolved into a kiss on the cheek the more dates they went on.
It was only after they'd been seeing one another for a few weeks, maybe even a month or two depending on their families, that they would've been allowed their first kiss.
That was the way things were done these days.
The Captain would've done it all right had they not been two men, had they not both been serving together in the middle of a world war.
He wished they could pursue their romance the same as everyone else.
He could picture them now, in another time, walking down the street together hand in hand.
He would offer Havers his jacket if it got chilly, stand on the front doorstep after walking him home and being permitted to lean in for a kiss.
He could picture Havers doing the same for him, both taking turns to be the gentleman and walk the other home.
But they were stuck here, in a locked and bolted office in the middle of the countryside, constantly terrified of the world outside these four walls.
This was no way to live, and yet they did it anyway.
Because what kind of humans were they, if they couldn't find the things or the people they loved and hold onto them?
So when the Captain leaned back after the small kiss, his heart fluttered instead of pounding when Havers moved slightly, chasing after the Captain.
Their foreheads gently came to lean against each other, hands coming to rest on shoulders or biceps. Anywhere they could reach to be sure that this was real.
What they had in front of them was yearning in physical form, always safe to reach out for in this office.
And when Havers gently shifted, tilting his face just enough for their lips to brush as they spoke.
The Captain shivered, tightening his grip on Havers' shoulders before sliding his hands down to tangle in Havers’ lapels.
His head began to swim with thoughts of how disrespectful it was to treat a uniform in such a way. He closed his eyes and pushed them away with some difficulty.
"May you what?" He replied quietly, a gentle teasing lilt in his voice. He wanted to hear it. Needed to.
This was the closest he would get to the traditions he so loved.
He remembered his parents telling him stories of how they'd met, how they'd gone out walking every single night for a week early into their courtship because of how well they'd gotten along.
The Captain's father had waited six months, forming a stable relationship with his eventual wife and all her immediate family before he'd dared to ask for permission to kiss her.
It had been raining, and he'd held an umbrella for them all the way home. The Captain's mother's hair had deflated, strands sticking to her forehead and a few splotches of rain on her light blue dress.
They’d shared their first kiss on the doorstep in the rain, and the rest had been history. Married until their deaths, adoring of each other until their last moments, despite the changes after the Great War.
The Captain wanted the romance that his parents had had. He had nothing else he could do the traditional way. He would never marry or start a family. But he could have this.
If there was a life after this one, and his parents were watching him now in shame, at least they would know that he'd tried to emulate them in some way. The thought filled him with solace.
Havers huffed out a gentle laugh, and the Captain felt the breath on his lips. His own breath was shaky and unsteady in anticipation. This would be the first time they had ever kissed while uninhibited by alcohol.
With his eyes still closed, he couldn't see Havers' reactions. He was almost too scared to see them, fearful of seeing his own desires reflected in Havers' eyes.
He wasn't ready to face them all yet. He still needed time to build up the courage to face the longing, the decades of emotion buried deep down into his chest cavity.
"May I kiss you?" Havers asked.
The Captain couldn't help but let the corners of his lips drift upwards. "Yes."
The Captain knew the moment Havers tilted forward even further.
Their noses bumped together, similar to how they had before in the Anderson shelter, and then an explosion of delight erupted as their mouths finally met.
Chapter 12: Summer 1940
May 31st 1940
It was popular to use the phrase 'on cloud nine,' when one was elated.
Many used it when they were deeply in love or overjoyed at an event in their lives.
The Captain would use it now to describe kissing Havers for the first time sober.
The alcohol had muted many things, making them more bearable for such an important milestone.
He was almost grateful for that. He knew what to expect, in a sense. He knew that there was an indescribable amount of emotion that overwhelmed him.
Like before, he did not feel shame. He should have.
Everyone said that this kind of behaviour was immoral and would corrupt the soul. The Captain had fought to ensure he had a few encounters, but not nearly as much as others.
He remembered shoving other soldiers out of his bed on numerous occasions, scowling at them with such vitriol that they couldn't help but scamper away with their tails tucked between their legs.
He had never reported them, of course, and he had allowed one or two to sneak in over the years when the desire got too much. He had never sought it out, though. He never allowed himself to dwell too much on it.
When he felt his mind slipping, he would run. He would spend time splitting his knuckles punching sandbags used for training fresh faces.
He would turn away from the other men while showering in communal spaces, never talking to them until they were fully clothed.
The Captain was well renowned with old army friends for hardly ever allowing any kind of behaviour to tempt him.
Pain, pressure, and routine kept him busy. Busyness kept him from giving in. He was safe as long as he was distracted with something to do.
This was the first time he was happy he'd allowed himself to feel temptation.
The Captain responded to Havers' kiss instinctively, enthusiastically and clumsily.
He wasn't good at this. But he wanted to be.
Havers held him close, a hand on the back of his neck and another on his lower back.
It took time before they finally pulled apart, both clinging to each other as a wave of dizziness crashed over them.
The grief that the telegram had brought was still prodding its thorns into the Captain's heart. But with Havers' presence, the thorns felt a little less sharp. He would grieve hard, despite his lack of connection to his brother.
But he would not be mourning alone. That was the important thing to remember. Now more than ever, he couldn't hide away in his office and let things stew.
"Are you alright, Teddy?" Havers muttered, retracting his hands from their previous positions and instead cradling the Captain's jaw tenderly. "You're shaking."
The Captain huffed out a laugh and flattened his palms against Havers' chest. He realised now that Havers was right. He was trembling all over, the nerves visible from a mile away. Betrayed by his own body, it seemed.
"Yes, William. I'm okay." He assured, smiling at Havers. "I'm happier than I have been in a long while."
Havers returned the smile, relief in his eyes and a flush in his cheeks.
"I'm glad, sir." He said. "I didn't think I was that good of a kisser."
"You are." The Captain said, maybe a little too quickly. Havers' smile slowly turned into a devious grin. "I mean ... uhm ... well, I - I don't think I've ever kissed anyone before. But I imagine if I had, you would've been the best yet. Not that I want to kiss anyone else. If anything, I'm glad that you were the first."
The Captain stumbled over his words, never finding it easy to iron out his thoughts enough to let them flow naturally.
Havers didn't seem frustrated, however. He watched and waited as the Captain stammered and stuttered, eyes twinkling and that smile still on his face as if he was happy to see the Captain so restless and spooked.
It was almost as if he enjoyed it, found it endearing and wanted the Captain to never stop doing it.
But the Captain found that hard to believe. It had annoyed people before when he'd let his nerves get the best of him. That was why he had learnt to hide everything, every emotion he ever felt.
Havers looked at him differently, however. He was endlessly patient.
Only when the Captain had resolutely finished, and nothing more came from his mouth, did Havers finally speak himself.
"You're the first person I've kissed as well," Havers admitted.
Havers nodded. "Why do you sound so surprised?"
"W-well, I ... you're so good at it, and I'm not, I have no idea what I'm doing." The Captain said.
"Well, it's not exactly the first time this has happened, is it?" Havers asked. "I remember how you kiss from the previous times. I - I think about it a lot. I've always wanted it to happen again. Perhaps I'm not a good kisser in comparison to others. I just know you. But that's what matters, I suppose. You're the only one I want to kiss."
The Captain opened his mouth to respond but found nothing there. The idea that Havers had, intentionally or not, remembered how he kissed in case there was a future time, to think about in case he never got to again made every part of him short circuit.
How was he supposed to react to something like that?
Of course, the Captain had never been able to rid himself of the memories either. They always resurfaced at inappropriate moments, like when he was trying to do a morning briefing or run a training session.
For some strange reason, the Captain knew he could identify Havers' presence beside him without looking. He could picture the lieutenant's face, his smile and his eyes and his voice, and know every movement it made when he spoke. The Captain could point him out in a crowd of identicals without hesitation.
There wasn't much in the Captain's life that he could remember as clearly as Havers. His childhood was a blur, his years in service a collection of snapshots connected by a piece of string. Some were blurry and unfocused, others clear. His promotions were among the clearest.
Havers shouldn't have been the most distinct. One lieutenant serving beneath him in a world war should not be on his mind so heavily. Many captains paid little attention to their inferior officers, treating them all as cattle and bodies for a purpose.
The vital work being conducted at Button House should've been at the forefront of the Captain's mind.
But Havers made the experience of being under as much pressure as a commanding officer less terrifying, lighting up every room he walked into and every nerve under the Captain's skin.
He was average to most. But extraordinary to the Captain.
"You need to stop being such a poet, William." The Captain said eventually. "It makes me speechless, and a captain should never be speechless."
Havers laughed, and the Captain wished he had a camera that could capture sound and video simultaneously. Such things weren't necessary on this base and were hard to get hold of nowadays, with all the factories producing only the things that mattered to the war effort. Ammunition, guns, trucks, tanks. Nothing like cameras.
Good Lord, if he did have one though, he would use all of his money on buying more film to capture that laugh. He would remember it in his sleep, the sound haunting him into the deepest slumber. But to have a record of it to always hold dear, to help him when he grew old, and his mind wasn't as sharp ...
Yes, a camera was necessary to the Captain.
"You're quite the romantic yourself, Captain," Havers replied, pressing a kiss to the Captain's forehead. When he pulled back, his eyes flicked back down to the Captain's lips, and the Captain knew what thoughts were running through his mind.
"You don't have to ask permission, William." The Captain said. "Any time you like, I will never complain."
Havers softened and leant forward with newfound confidence.
Tonight would not be a night for work, the Captain knew.
It was for more valuable things, such as enjoying Havers' company and making time for himself. Being buried under mounds of paperwork would only make him feel like he'd lost his way.
He was determined not to lose his way again, not when he had a shining light in front of him guiding the way to salvation. Caring for Havers was not a sin. It was the opposite. Their emotions were the steering wheel to a better life.
To turn away from the prospect of love was to turn away from everything that had been intended for them.
If the Captain was a religious man - which he often wasn't except in the face of his Roman Catholic parents that had long since passed away - he would've used his creator as justification.
Humans were surely meant for love if they had been made capable of feeling it so intensely. Platonic or romantic, wherever they could find love, they were made for this.
Loyalty born out of love had been the cause for war and ruin in some cases. The poets and the storytellers wrote of it, and it was always the saving grace.
Their feelings were most certainly a steering wheel out of a storm. It should've been daunting, sailing into something so unknown.
But with Havers by his side helping to steer, the Captain felt brave.
He was well on his way to feeling the love that the poets talked about for Havers. He didn't want to admit that yet, though.
For now, they would take it one day at a time and focus on the small stolen moments that made the hiding worth it. And though hiding such things hurt, Havers was worth it all and more.
Chapter 13: Summer 1940
August 21st 1940
From his office, the Captain could hear the rest of his unit laughing outside.
The summer heat was making it difficult to do much of anything these days. Swimming in the lake and playing cricket seemed to be the only things they consistently did.
His office door suddenly opened, and the Captain looked over to see Havers poking his head around the door.
"Afternoon, Havers." The Captain greeted.
"Afternoon, sir," Havers replied. "I'm sorry to interrupt. I came to ask if you were coming down for cricket?"
"I was just about to pack up for the day, actually!" Havers brightened, causing the Captain's heart to flutter. "I could get used to the routine of playing so often together."
"It'll be a shame when the colder weather comes, and we can't play much anymore." Havers agreed.
The Captain finished fiddling with some files, locked his desk drawers and walked towards Havers.
The lieutenant looked over his shoulder, slipped into the room and held a hand out for the Captain. Their hands met, and Havers pulled the Captain close, kissing him soundly.
This was what the Captain could get used to. The simple domesticity in which they operated, and the ease at which they found themselves. Finding their footing had been easy. The routine of greeting and saying farewell to each other with a kiss was normal now. The Captain always anticipated the lightheadedness that came with it.
They spent a few moments wrapped up in each other. This had been their first moment alone all day away from the prying eyes of their fellow officers.
"Goodness," Havers murmured when they parted, a smile on his face. "Are you sure you want to go down to cricket? You kiss like you'd rather we take this elsewhere."
The Captain laughed nervously, ducking his head to hide the red creeping into his cheeks. "It's best we don't tempt fate. They'll come looking sooner or later."
"I know," Havers said. "I'm only joking, Teddy."
The gentleness in his tone reassured the Captain. He was still hard to convince in terms of vulnerability some days. The prospect of things ever being more than hushed kisses inside his office thrilled him.
But when he thought of the future, he thought of a home, not risking such scandalous meetings in either of their bedrooms. Somehow, that thought made his stomach twist into knots.
Nerves, mainly, he was sure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what would change. He dreaded to think that he wasn't enough, that his inexperience would show, and Havers would not want him anymore.
Havers' new nickname for him, Teddy, was also a comfort. He had never explained how he'd stumbled across it. The Captain knew it was used for men named Edward on occasion. And he'd never met another Theodore to know whether or not it was the natural short for the name.
But somehow, from Havers' mouth, it felt right. Something secret, something safe, something for only them. To be whispered gently and said with affection.
"Let's go join the rabble, shall we?" Havers asked softly, distracting the Captain from his thoughts. "I have it on good authority that you and I are captaining two different teams today."
"Different teams?" The Captain asked, following Havers outside the office, locking the door behind him before they carried on down the corridor. "But we always play on the same team."
"I think the others are wising up to our tricks." Havers laughed. "We always win when we play together. They're trying to even the field, see who the stronger player is for the future of the games."
"Dammit." The Captain said. "I thought we might be able to get away with it for a little longer before we got caught."
"It should be a good game, though, sir," Havers said. "I can't predict an outcome."
"Neither can I." The Captain said. "Who will be the odd officer out? That's the real question. Reed can be quite impartial and passionate. If possible, we should keep him on a team rather than on his own."
"Johnson and Tyler, too," Havers added. "Though, it's best to keep them on a team together. They get far too competitive if they go against each other."
The Captain listened carefully. Havers knew the rest of the Eleven better than he could ever hope to. The way he described their unit was not only an example of how cricket worked smoothly. It helped the Captain to understand everyone's strengths, the people they worked with best, rivalries and weak points.
Keeping Johnson and Tyler together on patrols and documentation work ensured that they got their work done faster. They weren't occupied by the desire to prank or distract the other.
Making sure that Reed was never overlooking too many people at once kept accidents and shortsightedness from happening.
The success of the Button House Eleven was riding on the Captain's shoulders. And what kind of a CO would he be if he didn't take the time to know his officers? They all wanted this war to be over soon so they could return home to their families. They all craved to go back to normalcy, to a life outside the military if the forces had not been their lives before the war.
There was no fixed date at which the war would end. The last one had gone on for four years before ceasing. It had barely been over twenty years before this new one had struck up. This war had to be the last one. It had to be. The world would surely not survive another constant stream of years of its countries fighting one another.
But until the war was over, the Captain could at least try to make things a little more bearable. He could learn about his officers and tailor the work to their strengths and weaknesses. It wouldn't be such a burden then.
He and Havers stepped outside, walking straight to the field where the Eleven were setting up.
The Captain readjusted his grip on his bat as he stepped up to the stumps.
Directly opposite him was Havers, a relaxed and carefree smile on his face.
You only need to return to this stump once on this turn. That's all it would take to win, he thought to himself. At the stump in front of him, not far from Havers, Smith hunched, one leg in front of the other and ready to run.
The Captain watched as Havers ran forward. He prepared as the other man's arm circled and was ready when the ball left his hand.
The Captain waited as long as he could before bringing his bat back and swinging assuredly.
There was a connection between the bat and the ball. The Captain didn't stop to see how far it had sailed. He dropped his bat, sprinting for the stump opposite him.
Yelling broke out amongst the rest of the Eleven as the fielders fought to get the remaining two men out.
The Captain passed by Smith, and he barely had time to process Smith's grin before the other officer was behind him and the moment had passed.
He reached the opposing stump and managed to catch a glimpse of someone throwing something. The figure was too far away for him to be sure of who had managed to reach the ball, but the Captain turned and piled on the speed, desperate to reach his original space.
Those that he'd picked for his team were yelling, encouraging him, their eyes flicking between the Captain and the figure with the ball. He wouldn't have much time left, and the distance was closing. Not far left now.
He skidded to a stop, and just as he reached the stump and his team rushed forward to congratulate him, exploding pain hit the Captain in the back of the head.
He grunted, fingers immediately finding the spot and wincing as it throbbed. His eyes immediately welled up with tears out of pure shock, and he blinked them away.
The Captain turned. Havers had moved to catch the ball off a fielder, and his hands were covering his mouth in shock. He immediately crossed the distance between them, reaching out with a concerned look on his face.
"Captain, I - I'm so - "
"It's quite alright, Havers-"
"It was a complete accident. I was aiming for Tyler. I wasn't expecting you to get to the stumps in time! I'm so sorry!"
"Havers, it's okay." The Captain assured. "It was just a bit of a shock, that's all. It doesn't even hurt."
That last bit was a small lie to lessen the blow to Havers, who still looked mortified.
Jamieson, another officer who had been picked to oversee the game and be an impartial judge, joined the small gathering of men who stood around the Captain.
"Captain's in." He said. "Ball never hit the stump, so your team wins today, sir."
"Bally good game, all told." The Captain said. "Good work, everyone. Let's get packed up and head back, shall we?"
Later that night, the Captain yawned and stretched, glancing at the clock on his desk and debating whether or not it was too early to go to bed.
After a few minutes of deliberation, he stood, feeling a few clicks and cracks in his joints and back as he moved.
He'd had a headache ever since coming back from cricket, and he was surprised he'd managed to get anything done at all.
Once the Captain packed his things away and opened the door to leave, Havers appeared at the door. His hand was raised as if to knock. As befitting the time, he wasn't in uniform.
He was dressed in comfortable trousers, a soft white cotton shirt with three buttons at the top, all unbuttoned and the long sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Braces hung loosely by his hips and still clipped to his trousers.
"Evening, Captain," Havers said quietly. "My apologies. Have I caught you at a busy time?"
"No, not at all." The Captain replied. "I was just on my way to bed. I managed to finish early. What brings you here at this hour?"
"I was only coming to hand you my log for today. This week's reports need stamping and filing away."
He held out some files, and the Captain took them, putting them straight on his desk. He'd do them in the morning.
The Captain left his office, locked his door and faced Havers again.
"I wanted to apologise again for earlier on, sir," Havers said.
The Captain smiled and shook his head. "You don't have to keep apologising." He said. He took a few steps towards his room. "Walk with me?"
"Of course, sir." Havers fell into step beside him. "It was a nice stress relief, though."
"What? Hitting me in the head with a cricket ball?"
Havers laughed and gently nudged him with an elbow. "You know what I mean."
The Captain smiled, relishing in their easy joking manner.
They reached the Captain's room and stopped, lingering outside the door.
"Well, I suppose I'll say goodnight." The Captain said, unlocking the door with slightly shaky fingers.
The desire to reach out was mirrored in the lieutenant's eyes. The Captain found that he didn't quite want the night to end yet.
"Goodnight, sir," Havers replied, beginning to turn away and start back down the corridor.
"Wait!" Havers stopped, looking over his shoulder at the Captain. "I - I was wondering if perhaps you'd like to ..." The Captain looked at his bedroom door as if it could speak, and it held all the answers. "To sleep, I mean. I ... I don't - I didn't mean anything else. I understand if not-" He whispered, afraid of speaking any louder.
"Are you sure?" Havers whispered back.
The Captain took a shuddering breath and nodded shakily. The two of them quickly surveyed their surroundings, and Havers crossed the distance between them.
Wordlessly, the Captain pushed the door open, and the two of them disappeared inside, hearts hammering against their ribcages and fear prickling at their insides.
Chapter 14: Autumn 1940
August 21st 1940
The Captain's heart was racing as he stepped out of his ensuite bathroom, carrying his neatly folded uniform in one hand. He felt exposed now, being dressed like Havers, in the comfortable, casual clothes that he slept in. At least he didn't sleep in his underclothes like some of the other men did.
Havers smiled at him, still standing by the door, illuminated only by the Captain's bedside lamp.
Bless him , the Captain thought.
He hadn't stepped more than a foot inside until given the all-clear from the Captain. He likely felt the same sense of concern in this situation. They had been toeing the line of propriety for some time now. But daring to do this involved jumping over that line before they'd even taken much of a step.
The Captain placed his uniform on the small chest of drawers opposite his bed and wrung his hands together as he faced Havers again.
Havers smiled at him, and he felt some of the worry melt away.
"You didn't have to linger by the door, you know." He said softly, trying to dispel the tension.
"I didn't want to assume anything," Havers replied. "I thought it best to wait for another invite."
"What a gentleman." The Captain chuckled. "Well, I hope you take this as that invite to get comfortable."
Havers crouched down to unlace his boots, slide them off and place them neatly beside the door. He removed the braces attached to his trousers, placing them beside his shoes.
Fortunately, Button House had a variety of comfortable beds in its rooms.
The Captain had opted for a room with a slightly smaller bed than most of the other officers, feeling uncomfortable at the idea of sleeping on a large luxurious bed when so many officers abroad were on wooden or wireframed singles crammed together in the trenches like sardines.
Havers crossed the room to the Captain first, taking the Captain's hands in his own and gently tracing his knuckles.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?" He asked quietly. "I can leave at any point if you're worried."
The Captain shook his head. "I am worried, but I want you here. I've never been a coward, and I won't start being one now."
Havers cupped his jaw with one hand. "You wouldn't be a coward for not being ready yet. I think it's reasonable to have concerns. I would be anxious if you didn't care about getting caught. We'll be careful, I swear. We'll be up early for our run anyway. No one will know."
"I suppose something is working in our favour, then." The Captain said. "Thank goodness we decided to start running together. It gives us an excuse to be together alone before everyone else is awake, at least."
Havers smiled again, like he knew that such a small act would ease the Captain's worries. "I'll ask again. Would you like me to stay?"
"Yes." The Captain took the lead, trying to set an example, leading Havers by the hands to the bed.
Havers followed, and the two settled under the covers. The Captain leaned over to his bedside table and turned off the lamp, shifting slightly once it was off to get comfortable.
In the darkness, he couldn't see anything concrete of Havers, only a vague outline.
"Goodnight, Teddy," Havers mumbled into the darkness.
The Captain smiled, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks and feeling grateful that Havers couldn't see the drastic change in his facade.
Despite the initial nerves, sleeping beside each other seemed like the right decision. With time, they would get more relaxed. In time, this would be the new normal. It would just take some adjusting.
"Goodnight, Will." The Captain softly replied, still smiling even as he drifted off into sleep.
November 5th 1940
It became a regular occurrence, after that night, for Havers to sneak towards the Captain's room when the other officers had gone to bed.
Three or four nights a week, their routine would involve staying together throughout most of the night. Havers would wake up early in the morning before their run to sneak back to his own room. That way, if anyone were to leave their rooms in the night, they wouldn't catch Havers and the Captain coming from the same direction.
Gradually, they had also evolved into a new level of comfort.
This was one such morning, where the Captain woke to something moving beside him.
He blearily opened his eyes. It was still pitch black in the room, but there was a noticeable coldness at his back that hadn't been there before.
Havers was supposed to be there. The familiar arm that was usually looped around his waist and the warm chest behind him was gone. He'd grown far too used to having regular puffs of breath tickling the back of his neck as he fell asleep.
The Captain turned over. He could see Havers' outline on the edge of the bed, carefully shifting the covers to avoid making too much noise.
"Will?" He murmured.
"I've overslept a little. I need to get back to my room."
"What time is it?" The Captain turned on his lamp, wincing at the brightness as he pushed himself into a seated position.
"Almost half five," Havers replied. He sounded exhausted. Not using military time showed that. He likely wanted another hour or so of sleep before they got up for their run.
Havers stood, yawning, and crossed the room to pick up his shoes and braces. It was safer for him to wear them on his way to the Captain's room in case anyone saw him.
At least he seemed presentable and reasonably smart for a last-minute report before bed. That was their go-to excuse, anyway.
Havers would return to his room now with neither on. The shoes would make more noise on the floor, and the braces were too finicky to be attaching now.
"I wish we didn't have to sneak around like this." The Captain said. "I'm sorry. It's not right that you stay up so late and wake up so early to avoid being seen."
Havers looked over at him and smiled. It was tired, but full of affection regardless.
"I would rather we avoided the sneaking around too. But I don't mind it so much. I get to sleep beside you most nights of the week. That's enough to make the fuss worth it."
The Captain looked away, feeling his cheeks heat up. He heard Havers chuckle lowly.
"You can have more time in bed if you'd like," He said after a moment, looking back up at Havers. "Don't run this morning. You've been dealing with Johnson's bumbling mistakes for the last week. Plus your regular duties ..."
"I like running with you."
"But you need the sleep." The Captain insisted. "As your commanding officer-"
"Oh, playing the captain card, are we?" Havers laughed, crossing his arms with a teasing smile.
"I also say this as your partner. You need the extra time in bed," The Captain added. "We can't fight a war if we're tired. If an air raid happens and you sleep through the night because you're exhausted, it might be the one night something comes close enough to hit the house."
Havers made his way back to the bed, placing the shoes and braces down on the floor before kneeling on the mattress. He pulled the Captain close and kissed him softly.
"Thank you for the concern, Teddy, but I'm fairly confident none of you would leave me in the house during an air raid," Havers said softly.
"Perhaps not, but you understand my point, don't you?"
"Of course. Practical thinking, as usual. But keeping myself fit and healthy is also practical. I can't allow you to close those two seconds between us, after all."
The Captain laughed, kissed Havers again and pushed at his shoulders.
"Go back to your room, Will."
"Kicking me out of your bed in the middle of the night! In the bleak November cold! What a cruel lover you are!" Havers joked as he climbed off the bed and grabbed his belongings yet again.
The Captain couldn't help but continue to laugh.
"Don't be so dramatic. If it were my choice, we would never have to leave our bed."
The words slipped out of the Captain's mouth before his brain even had a chance to process the thought.
The two of them looked at each other in stunned silence for a few moments before Havers broke it.
"Our bed?" Havers said softly. "You're a lot more romantic than you think, you know."
"Sorry. I should've stopped and thought before I said something."
The Captain shrunk a little. He knew that not everyone was a fan of declarations or proud expressions.
A lot of officers he'd served with throughout his life expressed disdain for the way women 'begged' for romance from their men, seemed to crave even the slightest scrap of it. And once they had a crumb, they could never get enough.
The soldiers the Captain had known -usually the older ones disillusioned with married life after so long - didn't enjoy their wives' love letters any longer.
They were fanciful things for new enlistees in their late teens and twenties. They were for the newly married men with a child on the way or one just born.
The love declarations weren't for men in higher positions, with promotions and units under their belts, jobs to do and not enough hours in the day to do it.
"No," Havers said. "No, don't apologise. I didn't say it because it's a bad thing. I like it. I promise I like it."
"Y-you do?" The Captain asked uncertainly.
"I think it's ever so lovely to see a softer side to you," Havers admitted. "I won't tell the others about it, of course. Our little secret."
"Just another of many." The Captain joked half-heartedly. Secrets were no strangers to him anymore. What was one more upon his conscience?
"Don't fret so much. Try to enjoy another hour of sleep without me clinging to you," Havers suggested, a trace of tenderness in his voice. "I'll see you for our run."
The Captain smiled, grateful for the lieutenant's valiant attempt at making him feel better. "See you soon."
The Captain watched him unlock and open the door, giving the Captain one last smile before closing it.
The Captain decided against getting up and drawing the deadbolt across again. There was no point now. He turned off his lamp again, trying to settle and fall back to sleep.
The Captain's legs ached as he went through to the common room.
It had been an old banquet hall, back in the day, or so he'd been told. It was certainly big enough to host a large group of people.
He could almost imagine all the noble and royal folks that had stood in this room decades and centuries before. It was overwhelming at times.
The history that had happened in this house still lived. Maybe one day, a few decades into the future, the Button Eleven's work would be regarded in the same way. More stories to tell. Trips for young school children learning about the war.
A heritage site and a testament to how cruel the world could be sometimes. The Captain hoped the future would not be as foolish as to get involved with war again. It was a gruelling, tiresome business that benefitted no one, profiting off the backs of suffering.
He hoped his life of service would mean something to someone one day. As much as he loved the forces, being terrified of whether he'd live to see the next day was not something he enjoyed.
Grieving for a brother that had died hundreds of miles away was hard. Not being able to lean on the other brother through it made it even worse.
It had been a long day of drills. They'd spent almost the entire day outside, doing laps upon laps of the grounds, followed by endurance training and shooting practice.
The weather was getting colder, and soon they wouldn't be able to do all the things they would usually do.
But all the running and striding around yelling orders bogged him down now. Exhaustion filled his bones.
He was fully intending on checking on the rest of the soldiers before he went upstairs. They weren't in the kitchen. But he could hear them in the common room, all talking about something.
Making sure that they weren't intending on causing trouble was just as important as everything else they did here.
"Ah, Captain, you're finally here!" Smith greeted once he'd finally reached the common room. "We were hoping that you'd join us down in the village for a drink."
"What's the occasion?"
"It's Bonfire Night, sir!" Reed said, a hint of shock in his voice.
The Captain faltered for a moment, wondering how the date had managed to escape him.
Bonfire Night, and his birthday, of course. But only Havers knew about the latter.
"Goodness, I don't know how I forgot." The Captain tried to remain lighthearted as he spoke. Yet another year older. An anniversary of enlisting, too.
Forty-two years of age. Twenty four years of serving. More than half of his life in one place.
"Will you join us, sir?" Havers asked. He was standing in the middle of the group of officers, and the Captain looked at him, immediately picking up on the barely concealed hope in his eyes.
He knew that it was the Captain's birthday, and the Captain wouldn't have been surprised if going down to the village was Havers' idea. It was probably all a ploy to get the Captain to enjoy his birthday for once.
"Yes, of course." The Captain agreed. "I wouldn't want to miss any fireworks."
"I doubt there will be fireworks tonight, but I think one of the pubs has managed to get ahold of a few sparklers," Hughes said. "Some parents were going to try and get some pictures of the local children making fun shapes and spelling words with them, that sort of thing."
"Well, it sounds like a fantastic night, all told." The Captain said. "When are we going?"
"Right now, sir. We were only waiting for you." Havers said excitedly. He looked at his fellow officers. "Come on then, you lot. Get yourselves together. We should hurry to get a table before it gets busy."
The room erupted into an organised chaos, tidying up any lingering mess on the tables and filing them away into drawers and cabinets.
Within three minutes, the Eleven were closing the front door behind them, pulling on their overcoats to combat the November chill, and making a beeline for the village.
Chapter 15: Autumn 1940
November 5th 1940
The Captain shivered as he stepped outside into the beer garden of the pub. He was seriously regretting leaving his coat inside. It was stifling in there, with all the people gathered, but much colder outside.
Local children were making good use of the garden. Half of the space was home to more tables, the other a decent stretch of grass that the children were now running around on. Their delighted squeals and peals of laughter made the Captain smile as he took a seat.
The cheering from inside was almost deafening. From wall to wall, the space was packed, and the Eleven had received a warm welcome when they'd walked in.
The free round of drinks hadn't hurt either. It almost felt like a proper birthday celebration.
Hours after their arrival, everyone was suitably rosy-cheeked and happy. This was possibly the best birthday the Captain had ever had.
There was a loud cry suddenly, coming from just ahead of him. The Captain looked up. At the spot where the grass and the stone floor met, the children all gathered around something. He frowned, stood and made his way over cautiously.
"Everything okay over here?" He asked.
The children all looked at him, and a few of them moved out of the way, revealing a small child crying on the floor. His knee was bleeding.
"Goodness, what a scrape that is!" He said. "May I see?"
The child nodded, and the Captain crouched down, wincing at his clicking joints. He peered at the scrape, a wide tear through the fabric of the boy's trousers giving him a good view. He met the child's gaze. He couldn't have been more than seven or eight.
"What's your name?"
"Edward. But everyone calls me Eddie." The child sniffled.
"Nice to meet you, Eddie. Our names aren't too far apart, you know." The Captain said. "My name is Theodore. But my closest friends call me Teddy."
"Like a teddy bear?" Eddie asked, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. The Captain chuckled and nodded.
"I like that name. Can I call you Teddy?"
"Of course. But you mustn't tell any of the others that are dressed like me."
"Are you a soldier?"
"I am." The Captain answered. "This is what soldiers wear. Look." He gestured to his uniform in pride. "They don't know my first name. I've got to be Captain to them."
"Are you fighting in the war like my dad?"
The Captain's heart sunk a little. A child so young shouldn't know what war was.
"Yes. I'm stationed at Button House. Do you know where that is?" Eddie nodded. "I'm the captain of the unit. It's my responsibility to make sure the other ten officers stationed there with me are safe and do their jobs properly."
"Do you like your job?"
"I like it very much. It's quite hard sometimes, but very rewarding." The Captain told him. "How about we get your leg patched up? Is it okay if I help?"
Eddie nodded again. The Captain looked up at some of the other children.
"Could one of you run inside and ask the owners for their first aid kit?"
A boy and a girl ran inside, racing each other to see who could get there first.
"Are you an army doctor, too?" Eddie asked. "I want to be one. That's what my dad does."
The Captain smiled. "That's a brave job. I'm sure your father would be proud if you took after him. And you should be very proud of your father, too. I'm sure he does fantastic work. But no, I'm not a doctor. I just happen to have a little bit of knowledge about cuts and scrapes."
"How? Do they teach you that when you're a soldier?"
"No," The Captain shook his head. "But my second in command, he was a volunteer in the St John's Ambulance Brigade. I accidentally cut my thumb with a knife a few months ago. He helped me patch it up. Look, you can still see the scar."
The Captain showed his thumb to Eddie, who leaned closer and looked at the thin scar tissue in awe.
The Captain's idea of talking to him had worked in distracting him from his pain, and he only hoped it would work for long enough to get some gauze and a bandage around his knee.
The two children that had run inside returned a few moments later, carrying a tin of medical supplies with them. The Captain got Eddie to roll his trouser leg up and rifled through the first aid kit, looking for the same supplies Havers had grabbed with ease.
"What's your second in command's name? Is he your best friend? Is that why you picked him?" One of the other children asked.
"What are all of the soldiers' names?"
"What do you do all day at the house?"
"Are you protecting us from the Germans?"
"My second's name is Lieutenant Havers. I didn't know him before the war. He was assigned to me and the house, just like the rest of us. But yes, you could say he's become a dear friend." The Captain said, finding some rubbing alcohol and unscrewing it carefully. He glanced at Eddie. "This may hurt just a little."
He poured some onto Eddie's leg, and the boy grunted in pain, face screwed up as he tried not to make a fuss. The Captain smiled and praised the boy as he cut a strip of bandage with a small pair of scissors.
"There's Marks, Jeffreys, Johnson, Tyler and Reed. They're all Second Lieutenants and trained in specific areas. There's Privates Smith and Hughes. Me and Havers. And ... goodness, who are the other two? There's always one or two that escape my memory."
The Captain rattled the names off to himself under his breath again, trying to picture the faces of his officers.
"Jamieson and Williams." A voice said from behind them.
The Captain couldn't help the smile crossing his face. He spoke, not looking over his shoulder as he greeted the familiar voice. "Thank you, Havers. We were just talking about you."
"All good things, I hope," Havers said. "What are you all getting up to out here?"
"Young Eddie here has hurt his knee." The Captain explained, gently placing some gauze onto the boy's knee and beginning to wrap the bandage around it. "I was just passing a life lesson onto him."
"The lesson is that you never stop learning, of course. Here I am, forty-two and still learning new things every day." The Captain said. "There you go, Eddie. You handled that remarkably. Well done."
"Will I have a scar just like you?" Eddie asked as they stood.
"Quite possibly. Sometimes they can't be avoided." The Captain said. He could see Havers step up beside him out of the corner of his eye and immediately felt the urge to lean closer. Havers was always warm, and the Captain could've done with something to combat the cold.
"I hope I get one. Then I can show everyone at school and tell them my soldier friend fixed it." The Captain ruffled the boy's hair.
"What scar is this?" Havers asked. The Captain flushed slightly and showed him. Havers grinned as he inspected it. "Ah yes, almost forgot about that. It's healed up well, sir."
"All thanks to you." The Captain deflected. He looked back to the children. "Right then, I suggest you make good use out of your time. It'll be getting dark soon, and I imagine your parents will be taking you home before long."
There was a chorus of groans and complaints. Havers laughed.
"Come on now, run along. I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to -"
A loud noise sliced through the air, cutting off the remainder of Havers' sentence. The lieutenant sent a sharp glance towards the Captain, his spine instinctively straightening as he awaited orders.
Immediately, the Captain gathered the children closer as yelling came from inside the pub.
People began to stream into the beer garden, parents racing to collect their children.
"Where's your nearest Anderson?" The Captain asked one of the young barmaids as she appeared outside.
"Just down the road, in the field next to the church. We've never had to use the communal one before. A lot of us have Morrisons installed."
She pointed in the direction of the church, and the Captain stood up on a bench, pointing people towards the churchyard.
The rest of the Eleven appeared, and the Captain watched as their eyes landed firmly on him. Like Havers, their hours of training had prepared them for this. They knew to focus now, despite the drinks they'd had.
"I need all officers distributed amongst the crowd to make sure no one falls behind!" The Captain yelled. "Those of you who know where the Anderson is, stay close to our officers to help direct people. Let's move!"
"Captain," Havers handed the Captain's coat and hat to him. He must've been given them by one of the others.
The Captain put his hat on and hopped down from the table, using his free hand to grab Havers' elbow and lead him to the front of the group. The two of them didn’t even bother to pull their coats on. There wasn’t enough time to be fussing with clothes now.
Their feet pounded on both pavement and road as the group tore through the village, the Captain checking over his shoulder constantly to check on the people behind him.
They reached the Anderson quickly. With only thirty or so people at the pub that evening, they easily fit everyone inside. Realistically, it was built to accommodate at least half of this small village's small population.
The Captain waited at the door to the shelter, waiting for everyone to get inside, and then saw one last figure struggling to keep up with the masses streaming past him and Havers.
The sound of a plane began to roar in the distance, and the Captain's heart stopped as he realised the figure was Eddie, limping as he fought to keep up.
He'd fallen behind somehow. His jumper was torn, and there was mud all over his trousers that hadn't been there before. He'd slipped again. Probably because of his knee.
The Captain made a last-minute judgement.
He grabbed Havers’ shoulder. The lieutenant was already inside the Anderson, doing a headcount.
"Stay here with everyone. I'll be back in a moment." The Captain ordered him.
The Captain raced towards Eddie, reaching him quickly. He heaved the boy up into his arms with ease. When he turned towards the shelter once again, he realised that Havers had stepped outside. He'd taken the Captain's place at holding the door open against the sharp wind.
"Havers, get back inside!" The Captain yelled. The nearby plane they’d heard before soared over their heads, and Eddie began crying, clinging to the Captain tightly as the Captain sprinted as fast as he could with Eddie in his arms.
Havers stayed where he was, holding the door until the Captain had safely deposited Eddie inside.
Havers followed a moment later, slamming the door closed behind them.
Eddie stumbled over the feet of everyone that was sitting down, falling into his mother's arm halfway into the narrow room. Tears streamed down her face, and she held him tightly to her chest.
The Captain whirled around to Havers.
"You're supposed to listen to my orders. Why didn't you listen to me?"
"I wanted to be sure you both got to safety."
"I had it under control."
"But you might not have done."
"We do endurance training while carrying equipment for a reason, Havers. I'm more than prepared to carry a child."
"I wasn't going to risk the door closing behind me. You always tell us that once the door is closed, it has to stay that way until the sirens stop. " Havers said. "I didn't want the two of you to be locked out."
The Captain was breathing heavily. He was beyond maddened that Havers hadn't listened to him. In front of the entire village, he'd directly disobeyed a direct order.
It was different if Havers was teasing just between them. But did he have any idea how incompetent the Captain looked if his own second wouldn't obey?
More than anything, he was enraged that Havers didn't see why the Captain had ordered him to stay in the first place.
Havers was safe inside the shelter. He had left that safety, and with an actual plane having gone over the village, the Captain's brain was full of worry about what could've happened.
"You've never disobeyed my orders before, especially not during a crisis. Don't ever do it again. Next time, you take my orders without question, do you understand?" The Captain asked. "I make them for a reason. You could've put more than just yourself in danger tonight if that plane-"
There was a loud noise from outside, and the ground shook beneath them. The Anderson trembled but held, and multiple people yelled out in shock.
The Captain put a hand against the door to steady himself, looking up at the ceiling and waiting in silence for a few seconds.
"We'll talk about this in the morning." He said to Havers. "There'll be emergency blankets and such stored in here. They'll be in a crate at the other end, I imagine. A lot of rural civvy shelters have them. Get the others to start handing them out."
Havers obeyed without another word, and the Captain slumped into a seat, feeling bone-tired already.
A terrible way to end his birthday, but he didn't mind so much right now. Just as long as he could sit and rest for a little while.
The Captain woke to someone gently shaking him. A woman with dark eyes and light brown hair stood in front of him.
"I brought you this." She murmured, holding a blanket out to him. "Much warmer than just your uniform."
He took it and smiled tiredly.
"Thank you, ma'am. That's very kind of you."
"It's only right. You did a marvellous job tonight." She said. "I wanted to say thank you."
"For helping my boy." She said. "Edward. He said you bandaged his leg earlier while he was playing. And then you risked yourself to make sure he got in here. His hand slipped from mine in the rush. I couldn't reach around to grab him, the crowd was too strong. Then he fell in the mud at the start of the field and got pushed even further away from me. He's always falling over, silly boy."
"Boys are clumsy. It's something you come to expect, I suppose." The Captain chuckled.
"Do you have children?"
The Captain swallowed past the tight feeling in his throat and shook his head. "I'm the youngest of three boys, though. The state my brothers and I got into to drove my parents insane."
The woman smiled. "Could you thank your officer for me when he finally stops to take a breath? The one that held the door open? Please don't be too harsh on him for not following orders. We're all safe in here instead of out there. And that's thanks to you and your unit. We wouldn't have reacted so well if you hadn't been here. Everyone being safe is the most important thing, surely."
The Captain glanced towards the other end of the shelter. Havers was handing out water and chatting to the children who were too frightened to sleep. He looked exhausted.
He’d insisted on running that morning, and with all their drills throughout the day, it was no wonder that things were beginning to take their toll on him. The Captain wasn't so mad anymore, having had the space and time to calm down.
So he nodded to the woman, and she returned to Eddie, who was not too far away, curled up on the bench with a blanket covering him.
The sirens were still going off outside, and sometimes the Anderson would tremble slightly. But the noises were far away now, miles away at the nearest city.
In the morning, they would return to the house, and the Captain would allow the men to have the entire day off to recuperate.
He and Havers would bounce back, as they usually did, he was sure. The Eleven would likely spend most of the next day sleeping and dragging their feet around the house in fatigue.
Havers would come to his room, sleep off the day's events with him. Or he'd come to the Captain's office during the following day. They'd figure it out tomorrow.
But for now, the Captain focused on unrolling the blanket in his hands and burying as much of himself underneath it as he could.
He likely wouldn't fall asleep again, but it was worth a try if only to help him the aching distance between him and Havers for another few hours.
Chapter 16: Autumn 1940
November 6th 1940
The Captain oversaw the evacuation of the Anderson shelter in the early hours of the following morning. The Eleven dragged their feet in the direction of the house once they were permitted to leave.
"You may have until midday to catch up on sleep. At 1300 hours, I want everyone downstairs for the afternoon briefing. Dismissed." He'd told them.
The Captain pulled his coat on, shivering once again at the chill. He would surely be ill soon if he wasn't careful. It was yet another thing to worry about.
He watched Eddie's mother scoop him up in her arms, carrying him back in the direction of home, and she smiled at the Captain kindly. He smiled back, raising his hand in a small wave.
He felt Havers' presence lingering nearby, as he always did. He was forever aware of the other man.
Tonight was one time the Captain wished Havers wouldn't linger. He was too exhausted to have the conversation that they needed to have. And certainly not out in the open. It was far too dangerous.
But he turned towards his lieutenant anyway, following the unit. Havers fell into step beside him, and neither spoke, both waiting for the other to break the tension.
Neither of them did.
They got back to the house in silence, walked up the stairs in silence, and reached Havers' room.
"Goodnight, Captain," Havers said.
"Goodnight, Havers." The Captain replied, walking away back to his bedroom.
Throughout his bedtime routine, the Captain couldn't help but think of how he wanted Havers to be waiting for him. They'd had such a beautifully peaceful few months throughout their courtship. There had been very few arguments or times where they butted heads. And even then, it was always teasing. They didn't get angry at each other.
Or they hadn't. Until now, that was.
The Captain wished for the normalcy back. He could picture it now, how things would go.
Havers would smile, fatigue written into every inch of him, hissing quietly at the pain in his stiff muscles as he got comfortable in bed.
But he'd hold the Captain's back to his chest as they fell asleep, arm around his waist and legs tangled the way they always did, and all would be forgiven.
I could've lost him tonight.
That was all the Captain could think of, though.
Havers' life could be snatched away in the blink of an eye, and how would the Captain be expected to react?
Perhaps slightly saddened at the prospect of losing such a capable second.
But he was also expected to carry on as always. After all, this was war. And Havers was just a soldier. Soldiers died in wars. That was how it worked. They didn't get heroic ends. They went to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter, risking it all for their country.
They were mourned for at home as another victim to the situation the world found itself in. Heroism only happened in old propaganda movies. There were no heroes in war. Not really.
The Captain would've had to carry on if Havers had died, and he had miraculously survived the blast.
Captains weren't supposed to be friends with their subordinates. They weren't supposed to think of them fondly.
They certainly weren't supposed to fall in love with their second in command.
The uncomfortable truth that the Captain was facing was confronting the intensity of his feelings.
He had known that it would happen to them eventually, of course, falling in love.
But he had expected to notice it when it came. He'd thought he would feel it creeping up on him as time went on.
Instead, it hit him like a freight train. All at once, leaving him no time to breathe, making his entire being feel even more alive.
It was all-consuming and overwhelming and altogether too much for the Captain to deal with.
Maybe the signs had been there the entire time, and he just hadn't known where to look. That seemed far more likely.
Part of him desperately needed the time and space to figure it all out before he spoke to Havers.
But a larger part just wanted what they'd had twenty-four hours previously.
The Captain missed waking up together, whispering secrets and stories to each other in the darkness when they were still too groggy to think.
The Captain finished brushing his teeth, returned to the bedroom and silently lamented at the emptiness.
It was heavy. He wasn't sure if Havers would come here until they'd fixed things.
He debated going to Havers' room himself, then decided against it. They were both tired, and things were far too fresh. They'd been drinking.
Good Lord, why did all of their most intense moments have to happen when there was alcohol involved?
The Captain crawled into bed alone, turned off his bedside lamp and tried to distract himself from Havers long enough to fall asleep.
November 10th 1940
Five days after the Captain's birthday, his heart and head were in shambles. He was falling apart at the seams.
He was as focused as usual during the day but unable to keep his eyes off Havers.
He was fine until he was alone. And then the walls came crumbling down so spectacularly that it took his breath away.
Havers hadn't come to his office or his bedroom. Not even once.
The Captain was terrified that the men would start to notice soon.
It was all getting to be too much.
It was late when he finally decided to do something about it.
Lights out had only been half an hour previously, and he'd spent the entire time tossing and turning, unable to sleep.
The Captain climbed out of bed, his feet softly meeting the hardwood floor as he crept into the hallway.
The house had become almost freezing now that the weather was beginning to change.
The Captain grit his teeth at the slight draught blowing through the corridors as he made his way to Havers' room.
He was taking a risk being the one to initiate the contact. Havers often slept in the Captain's room because it didn't look suspicious.
But the Captain had no real reason to be creeping around near Havers' room late at night. There was no guarantee that he would answer to knocking or that his door would be open.
When he reached the familiar door, he steadied himself before raising his hand to knock lightly.
The nearest room was only a few feet away and belonged to Hughes. The Captain was desperate for him to be deep in sleep.
The Captain waited for a few seconds before softly tapping his knuckles against the wood again.
Another few seconds passed, and his heart sank. Reluctantly, he forced his feet to move, dragging the heaviness of his legs away.
And then there was a noise.
The Captain turned, seeing Havers poking his head around the doorframe.
A soft stream of light from his room spilt out into the corridor.
Havers was frowning, his hair was tousled, and two of the three buttons leading to the collar of his shirt were in the wrong holes.
But the Captain felt like he could finally breathe. Havers had answered the knocking. That was a good sign.
"Did you knock? Is something wrong?" Havers asked.
"No," The Captain said. "I - well, I mean, I did knock. And I - I suppose something is wrong, but I can leave it until the morning if you were sleeping-"
"I wasn't." Havers interrupted. "Sleeping, I mean. I was trying to, but I'm finding it difficult. You don't have to linger out there, sir. You can come inside. We won't have to whisper."
The Captain took the opportunity, taking the steps back towards Havers and ducking into the room with swift ease.
He heard the door close and the lock slide into place but was too busy looking around at Havers' room to start talking.
It was simple, of course. As simple as the other men's rooms.
But there was a shelf in one corner, filled with books yellowed with age and more dog-eared pages than smooth ones. Treasured books, then. Ones that Havers had owned for years and had reread and loved dearly.
A small writing desk was beneath the shelf, right next to a window. There was a pen and a few scraps of paper on it. Havers' familiar handwriting stretched across the page, looping and joining together perfectly.
His uniform was folded on the chest of drawers. It seemed Havers had the same method that the Captain had.
The covers on the bed was partially thrown back. One of the pillows had a slight indent, and the sheets were slightly wrinkled from where Havers had been lying down.
But the sheets were only disturbed on one side. Havers slept furthest from the door.
He was the opposite to the Captain, who preferred being closer to the door in case of an emergency.
Just like in the Captain's room, there was a lamp on the bedside table. That was the cause of the light that had appeared in the corridor when Havers had opened the door.
All in all, Havers' room was a space that was occupied. A room that was lived in. Proof of Havers' existence outside of a military context.
"What did you come here for, Theodore?"
The Captain frowned and turned. The words were stiff, and there was a trace of bitterness in the way Havers said his name.
He didn't like the way Havers called him Theodore. That wasn't right.
To Havers, he was Teddy. The nickname had come out of nowhere, slipping into Havers' vocabulary as easily as he took a breath. To hear 'Captain' or 'sir' anymore felt odd.
"I've gotten far too used to sleeping beside you." He said slowly. "I'm sick of ... whatever this is where we don't talk."
"I believe it's called a domestic. A tiff. A fight." Havers listed.
"If this is a fight, then we should both be discharged from the forces. We're awful at it." The Captain said.
"I thought we were doing quite a good job." Havers dismissed. "Five days is a long time to leave things."
"We left things four months after we kissed for the first time." The Captain pointed out.
"Didn't do a good job of beating that record, did we?" Havers laughed mirthlessly.
He stayed standing by the door, and the Captain felt the urge to close the distance. Was Havers waiting for him to make the first move?
"I didn't come here to exchange halfhearted jokes about the situation." The Captain said slowly.
"Then why did you come?"
"To explain myself." Havers raised an eyebrow, a gesture to go on. "I was worried. And scared. I asked you-"
"Ordered." Havers interrupted. "Call it what it was, Theodore. You didn't shy away from the word then. Please don't do it now."
The Captain clenched his jaw and took a breath, trying not to let the comment provoke him into a defensive rage. Havers was right. He hadn't shied away before.
"I ordered you to stay. If the door had slammed shut, I would've gone for the church. We weren't that far. We would've found somewhere safe to hole ourselves up in. If we hadn't made it in time, and that bomb had been closer, everyone in the shelter could’ve been seriously hurt. But I saw you, and my first thought was that you in danger could’ve been my last memory of you. I was so frightened that I’d lose you."
Havers watched him as he spoke but didn't respond. The Captain's hands shook. He wished he had something to hide it, to keep them busy.
"Don't just stand there. Please, Will, say something." The Captain implored.
Havers crossed the space, pulling the Captain close.
As they collided, they both breathed a sigh of relief, clinging to the other, pressed together completely.
"I barely had a moment to process what you said," Havers said softly. "When I turned around to look at you, you'd already gone. You have no idea how terrifying it was to not know what was happening. I had no idea Eddie had even fallen behind. So I reacted on instinct. I wasn't going to let you get locked out. All this time, I thought you were angry because I'd disobeyed an order. I didn't realise that you were just as afraid as I was."
"I mean, I wasn't happy that you'd chosen that moment to not listen. It didn't look fantastic in front of the village. But I wanted you safe, more than anything."
"Were you truly that worried about me?" Havers asked, leaning back. The Captain frowned.
"Of course I was. Why wouldn't I be?" He replied.
"I don't know, I just ... I assumed you were thinking more of Eddie."
Havers shrugged, suddenly looking ashamed, his head ducked as he looked to the side and refused to meet the Captain's gaze.
"They were two very different types of concern." The Captain said. He gently tilted Havers' face back towards his, trying to decipher what had made the lieutenant so bashful all of a sudden. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong," Havers murmured. "I'm just frustrated that we've been at odds with each other over a miscommunication. I'm sorry, I've been ridiculously bitter these past few days."
"It's all over and done, is it not? I'm sorry for worrying you. We understand each other now, though. We know how the other feels about it all. Don't we?"
Havers nodded, and he finally looked at the Captain.
"Will you stay here tonight?" He asked. "I'm rather sick of sleeping alone as well. I've missed having to be a portable radiator for you."
The Captain laughed as lightly and quietly as he could, still conscious of how late it was. "Yes, I'll stay."
Havers grinned, some life flooding back into him, and he pressed a flurry of kisses to the Captain's cheeks and lips before pulling him to the bed.
They settled together into their usual sleeping position once Havers turned the lamp off.
The Captain's back was pressed to Havers' chest, his body heat curling around the Captain and relieving him of his tension.
"Teddy," Havers whispered.
"I'm not sure we do know how the other feels, you know."
"What on earth do you mean?"
The Captain was about to break free of Havers' embrace and turn around, prepared to really fight now. How could Havers say something -
"I love you."
The Captain stopped himself, heart stuttering, and he struggled to remember how to breathe.
A few moments passed in stunned silence before Havers spoke again.
"You don't have to say it back, but -"
"I love you too." The Captain interrupted.
He was almost glad that Havers couldn't see his face currently.
The heat that had rushed to his face was making him feel a little dizzy, and he was sure there was an embarrassing amount of redness in his cheeks.
The Captain turned, pulling Havers' body even closer.
"So much so that I'd kiss you senseless if there weren't a risk of headbutting you right now."
Havers tried valiantly to muffle his laugh, and the two readjusted themselves to sleep facing each other.
Legs tangled, arms around each other, hands clinging to shirts, and faces buried wherever they could find contact.
The Captain wasn't sure where he'd gotten his fortune from, but he was glad for it.
He allowed himself to dwell, as he fell asleep, on the things that could be once the war was over.
A life like this with Havers, somewhere secret and safe where no one who knew them could find them, sounded like a dream that was almost in reach. Somewhere secluded where they no longer had to hide.
The Captain was sure that it was possible for them. They would win the war. He was hopeful for it.
And no matter how bleak the days might be, the man in the Captain's arms was worth fighting for.
Chapter 17: Winter 1940
December 1st 1940
The Captain stirred early and smiled when he felt Havers still at his back. It was rare he woke up first these days. Usually, it was Havers getting up to leave that woke him.
He breathed deeply, stretching as much as he dared and taking a few moments to appreciate what he had.
"Morning, love," Havers murmured, his breath tracing the back of the Captain's neck. The Captain shivered, despite the warmth surrounding him.
"Morning," The Captain replied. "Did I wake you?"
"No, I've been up for a while."
"And you stayed?"
"It's still early," Havers said. "I won't leave until the last possible moment if I can help it. I'm far too comfortable."
"That'll get you in trouble someday."
"It hasn't so far," Havers replied. He was quiet for a few seconds. "Once all of this is over, perhaps we could find somewhere to go. A nice little place where we could sleep beside each other and not have to worry about anyone seeing us."
Havers spoke like he was almost afraid of the words, and the Captain understood why he was nervous. Broaching the topic was daring.
If they had been a man and a woman, a proposal would've come weeks, perhaps even a month or two ago.
They would've naturally moved in together, found a home close to their families, started a family of their own.
But neither had ever been in such a situation before. The expectations were there, of course.
But the way society demanded families to come into existence was unfamiliar to them.
Ever since their teenage years, when they’d discovered this hidden part of themselves, they had never expected to have families.
Not without compromising an important part of who they were. Not without dread filling their stomachs at the idea of being with a woman.
Navigating their relationship and their future was something neither of them quite knew how to do successfully.
Each new step forward felt like walking a tightrope blindfolded. Each new step could be their last.
The Captain swallowed past the vertigo he felt.
"That sounds wonderful, Will." He said instead, smiling at the thought. It was comforting to know that he hadn't been the only one thinking it.
"It does? You mean it?" Havers leaned up on an elbow, and the Captain switched on the lamp and turned over to look at Havers.
"I've been thinking about it for a while." He admitted. "I just haven't known how to broach it. Especially after our little tiff the other week. I didn't want to drop such a bombshell of a thought when we were still reeling from it."
Havers rolled his eyes and leaned down to kiss the Captain soundly. "Make no mistake. I still would've said yes." He said, pulling away, a smile taking over his face.
He settled again beside the Captain. Their heads turned towards each other as they both laid on their backs.
It was rare they got these moments. Havers had to leave so early in the morning, and there were times where the Captain was so tired on an evening that he fell asleep before Havers arrived. There were mornings where not even the devil could wake him.
Entire nights where he couldn't recall enjoying the presence of someone else beside him.
It pained the Captain more than he cared to admit. He never wanted to forget how it felt to know Havers was there.
"I hate to change the subject," Havers said eventually. "But there's the matter of Christmas to talk about."
"I suppose some of the men will be wanting to go home if they can."
"Some do, some don't," Havers admitted. "Smith and Reed deserve it. They had to stay last year, do you remember? Their hometowns got bombed, and they couldn't go back."
"Yes, of course. I still think I let them off too lightly for playing football in one of the old ballrooms when that siren went off."
Havers laughed lightly. "I was wondering if perhaps I could go to London for a few days over the Christmas period. Marcus is being sent home from France, you see. His unit has been brought back, being spilt up and redeployed somewhere else. He'll be here over Christmas, though."
"Why is his unit being split up?"
"I'm not quite sure. Louisa either doesn't know much, or she's hiding things from me. But I can tell she's nervous. I must be there for her and the boys. I hope you can understand."
The Captain reached for one of Havers' hands, resting on the section of the duvet covering his stomach. He squeezed gently.
"Of course I understand."
December 12th 1940
"Put the reports away, Teddy!"
"Somehow, I don't believe you."
Havers' voice was coming from the ensuite bathroom, where he had his own toothbrush hidden in the small cupboard above the sink. It was one of the Captain's spares. A fresh one, of course. He always had a few extra of every toiletry in case of an emergency.
Some might say the Captain could be faulted for a few things, but his resourcefulness and practicality were not on the list.
The Captain was indeed still looking at reports and letters and documents and files, endless scraps of paperwork and maps in his lap.
He had a pair of reading glasses on. Small things, barely used, having been gathering dust in his drawer for the longest time.
He was a stubborn man and refused to believe that he could be struggling with his sight.
But he was prone to headaches and straining. And he did have to admit that the glasses helped a smidge.
Only a smidge, though, of course. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him. He was in peak performance.
The Captain couldn't help but smile in the direction of the bathroom, though he knew Havers couldn't see him.
It was a rare quiet day where their fellow officers were down in the local village, collecting rations, going to the pub and befriending the locals. It left Havers and the Captain with almost the whole day to themselves.
They were making good use of it, gaining the opportunity to wake up at a more reasonable time without having to separate from each other.
The Captain returned his gaze to the reports in his lap, flicking through the updates from the War Office.
Things were heating up in London again, it seemed. Contact had been lost with multiple units in Belgium. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of men, were now considered MIA. Missing In Action.
So many families would be getting telegrams now, informing them that their relatives were lost somewhere overseas.
They would know there was little hope of finding out where those relatives were. Search parties couldn't be organised with the shortage of personnel.
Germany was dominating the war zones across various countries, too. The Captain would be a fool not to admit how advanced their technology and strategy was.
Movement caught his eye, and before he had the chance to look up, Havers was carefully folding the files up and putting them on the chest of drawers.
"William, you know I can't avoid work for the entire day."
"Leave it until this afternoon, at least," Havers said, returning to the bed. "We can do it together. We'll be finished by dinnertime."
"So you're saying you don't even want to talk about our little project?" The Captain asked, taking his glasses off and putting them on his bedside table.
"It's been on the back burner for months," Havers said. "We can hardly research explosives when we don't have anything to look into."
"Well, we might be able to bring it to the forefront soon." The Captain said. "I got clearance for a prototype."
Havers looked at him, eyes searching for some trace of a joke. There was a few seconds of silence.
"You're pulling my leg. You can't be serious."
"We have the space. We've both put in more than enough hours into explosives construction and diffusion before the war. We have spotless records. London knows that we know what we're doing."
Havers was still silent for a couple more seconds before his face broke out into a smile, and he pulled the Captain close, babbling away excitedly about all the research that they could conduct.
"What type of bomb is it?"
"Well, it's not a bomb, but it is explosive." The Captain corrected. "There are a few technical difficulties. It's working, but it's not as effective as they'd like. It's a limpet mine. They think it'll help against the U-boats. They're sending prototypes out to different specialists all over the country. We're one of the few standard bases getting a look at it. They'll all come with instructions and will be rigged to give ample warning in case we trigger them."
"When will it be here?"
"Just after New Year. They're leaving it over the Christmas period to deal with more important matters. It's been too quiet at night for the last six weeks or so. There's the risk that the Germans might be planning something big to cripple us over the holidays."
"Oh, I can hardly wait that long! Is there anything in your files that we can look at that'll tell us more about the prototype?"
Havers’ eyes were full of life and excitement at the prospect of getting to follow through with his keen interest in explosives. He was fascinated with the way they worked.
He’d wanted to be an engineer as a child too, he’d shyly admitted one night. Some years before wanting to be a doctor.
Another dream stomped out by expectations of military life.
"Well, I don't know, do I? You took them away." The Captain teased.
"And you kept this little revelation to yourself," Havers replied. "I think that makes us even."
He leaned closer until their foreheads touched, clearly trying to rile the Captain up and make his resolve crumble.
"It was supposed to be your Christmas present." The Captain murmured. "Turns out I've never been quite good at resisting you."
"That makes two of us."
"Can the files wait a little longer?"
"They can, but I can't."
The Captain laughed, and Havers kissed him, and for longer than he cared to admit, he forgot there was even a war happening at all.
December 24th 1940
Things changed on Christmas Eve.
The Captain woke up in the morning to find himself facing Havers, both men wrapped around each other and Havers' face nestled in his neck.
Havers would be leaving for London today. And it seemed like both of them, in sleep, were a little more honest than they were awake.
Neither had admitted how much they would miss each other. Neither had dared to change the other’s minds on the matter.
The Captain didn't want to prevent Havers from seeing his family. With Marcus back in the country, Louisa would surely be nervous.
The holidays were a time where people drank quite a bit. If it had been any other time of year, perhaps she wouldn't have much cause to worry. Maybe fighting abroad would've changed something.
But Christmastime was the worst possible time for her to deal with her husband's antics.
Havers adored his sister and nephews. Anyone could see that.
He had shown the Captain pictures of them before, from birthdays and christenings and various holidays in years past.
There was a wonderful one from when the baby, Andrew, was born. It had been a long and difficult birth.
Havers had been the only one in the room with Louisa. Marcus had been celebrating the birth of his child by getting drunk at the pub. It was a miracle that both mother and child had made it through.
The picture showed Havers in a hospital chair the day after Louisa had given birth, surrounded by her older three boys, a bundle of blankets in Havers' arms.
He was showing them their new brother, a wide smile on his face. His hair was dishevelled, and he looked tired.
Havers had told the Captain that he'd barely had an hour's sleep.
After a gruelling thirty hours where Louisa's heart had almost failed twice, he had been so terrified of his sister's vitals dropping during the night that he'd insisted that he stay up to keep an eye on her.
None of the information had surprised the Captain. Havers was as selfless as they came.
The Captain was not so similar. A gutwrenchingly selfish part of him didn't want Havers to leave.
The telegrams and updates that had been sent from London were vague enough to get by the censors, but there was still a hint of dread in each one.
Factories were dangerous places to work in, work being threatened at every moment. Resources could be destroyed overnight. Many northern rural communities were finding it difficult.
Things were bad. The fighting wasn't going well abroad. They were losing too many men, and not enough were turning eighteen to replace them. Enlistees couldn't train fast enough.
There wasn't enough personnel to do all the jobs. There were already Colonels having to help army doctors, and engineers had to use rifles with only a few days of training. Each day saw more tragedies.
London families were suffering. Especially wives and mothers who had men fighting abroad. The capital was under constant threat.
Rations were strictly enforced, and people were scared. Children were spending more time sleeping in the Underground or communal Anderson shelters in their neighbourhoods than they did in their own homes.
Everyone was becoming so used to falling asleep to the sound of muffled crying and explosives that sleeping in their beds in silence seemed wrong.
The Captain didn't want Havers to go to London. Not at all.
He could feel it when Havers woke up. The other man stirred a little, tightened his grip on the Captain as if sensing the spike of anxiety going through him. If Havers was awake, he would leave to go back to his room soon.
And then they would be colleagues, nothing more. Havers would leave that evening, getting to London late enough that his nephews would be in bed already. Seeing him the following morning would be their biggest Christmas present.
"I have to go, love," Havers muttered.
The Captain screwed his face up, fighting the tears threatening to brew. It was ridiculous, getting emotional.
Havers would surely be fine. It would take more than some planes and sirens to keep him down.
"I know." He responded instead, trying to convince himself that everything was fine.
"I'll miss you too," Havers said, seeming to understand everything the Captain couldn't say.
The Captain watched helplessly, sat up against the headboard as Havers got up and began collecting the few things he always brought to the Captain's room at night.
"There's a present for you in the top drawer of your bedside table," Havers said. "Don't open it until tomorrow. Promise?"
The Captain nodded, not trusting his voice.
Havers softened, and he knelt on the bed, leant over and kissed the Captain firmly.
Kissing goodbye was always the challenge in the mornings, following through on when to stop.
If they could have it their way, things would escalate, and they'd never leave their bed.
The Captain's mind emptied as soon as Havers' lips were against his. When they left, and cold air replaced them, his stomach sank.
"See you for our run," The Captain said thickly, trying to smile. He wished he could say something profoundly more poetic.
But his rationale kicked in, and he knew it was best not to resort to sentimentality.
Don't tell him you love him. It will feel like too much of a permanent goodbye if you say it.
"I love you, too, Teddy." Havers grinned.
With that, he gathered himself and left, and the Captain forced himself to breathe.
One week, Theodore. Get your act together. If you work hard, then you won't even notice he's gone.
He'll be back before you know it.
Chapter 18: Christmas 1940
December 24th 1940
The Captain readjusted his stance, tightened his grip on his gun and pulled the trigger.
The recoil made him wince, though it was far less jolting than a regular gun.
The guns they were using for training were exactly that.
There were only four of the guns. The Captain had to organise groups for practice. Luckily, there were only six of them remaining on base over Christmas.
But it was his responsibility to make sure all of their skills were up to standard. If the Button Eleven were disbanded and redeployed somewhere else, then there was a chance everyone would have to know how to shoot with deadly accuracy.
The Captain hoped it would never come to that.
Over the last year, as he'd come to know his unit, he knew that all of them would struggle. None of them were fighters. All of them had either been drafted or had been trained in specialised areas before the war.
Johnson, Jeffreys and Tyler, for example, had spent years working as engineers.
Smith and Reed were often in communication rooms, working on connecting calls and translating Morse Code. They were both quite savvy when it came to technology. It impressed the Captain endlessly.
The Captain had been abroad. Havers, too. But none of the others had. And Havers had only been once, for a few weeks. He didn't enjoy talking about it, so the Captain didn't ask.
All in all, to send any of the Button Eleven abroad would be a disaster. They weren't trained for fighting.
And the Captain cared for them all. He had to be strict, but he wanted nothing more than for all of them to return home safe and sound after the war was over.
The guns they all practised with held blank rounds. They had a small stock of live ammunition, locked away somewhere only the Captain and Havers knew. It wasn't to be used unless there was a genuine emergency, and the guns were to be locked away separate from the ammunition at the end of their use.
The Captain wished he could have a service revolver to call his own. He'd had the chance to use them a few times. The first instance had been early in his career when he'd been sent to Ireland.
He'd been only eighteen. There'd been a guerilla war between Irish and British forces for two years, a fight for Irish independence. The Captain had survived just under a year of the fighting before it had ended in a stalemate.
He'd received his first promotion after returning home, and he still occasionally got a ringing in his left ear that felt eerily like a temporary hearing loss after a nearby explosion.
But as a captain, he wasn't issued with a service weapon, which he couldn't understand. Surely his rank showed that he was capable of handling firearms? With one, would it not show an act of faith in him? His responsibilities were something he took very seriously.
"Nice shot, sir," Hughes said from beside him.
The Captain focused on the target and saw the mark on the target indicating where his shot had ended. Not close enough to be perfect. But he supposed, to Hughes, it was impressive as a first shot of the day.
"Thank you, Private."
Hughes was the youngest member of the Eleven at only twenty-three years old. He looked younger. Maybe it was because everyone else was in their thirties or forties. Maybe, it was because the Captain was too used to how stress made a person change.
"Where'd you learn to shoot so well?"
"Lots of practice." The Captain said, aiming and pulling the trigger again. The next shot was closer, but still not right.
"Have you been abroad like Lieutenant Havers?"
"Yes. Ireland and Turkey for a little while. Egypt was my longest. I spent about three years stationed around the Suez Canal, both before and after the Anglo Egyptian Treaty was signed. I helped train up some of the armies over there, too. I came back in '37 for my promotion to captain. Haven't left England since."
"Wow. Impressive career then, sir." The Captain made a noise of agreement and heard Hughes make a shot of his own. "I think I'd quite like to go abroad, you know."
"Many young recruits do." The Captain answered. "It's possible you might see it. But trying to predict where you'll end up is like trying to predict the weather."
"Do you know where Lieutenant Havers has served?"
"No. Abroad somewhere, but he doesn't like talking about it." The Captain said, pulling the trigger again.
This time, it hit just above the centre, and he grit his teeth.
"He won't tell us either," Hughes said.
"Then it's best not to pry." The Captain replied. "Lieutenant Havers will tell you if he wants to."
"What do you two get up to all day? It seems like all you ever do is paperwork."
"Well, there's your answer."
"If I ever get promoted, sir, I think I should like to have a second like Havers."
"He certainly makes the job a little easier." The Captain admitted. "He's quite the asset to our unit."
"I agree, sir," Hughes said. He made two shots in a row, both much closer to the centre than before. "Did you two know each other before the war?"
The Captain frowned, beginning to get annoyed with the number of questions. He was certain that he'd never had so many questions as a private. But he tried to remember that Hughes hadn't aimed for this life. He likely wanted a regular career back home. Questions about military settings were natural for someone who hadn't grown up knowing this was where they'd end up.
"No, Hughes. We didn't. Why?"
"I thought all captains were the screaming in your face type. I had six weeks of basic training before I got sent here, and all the higher-ups treated everyone below them like scum. You're not like that at all, sir, if you don't mind my saying. You're a lot different to what I expected."
"What does this have to do with Lieutenant Havers?"
"I'll see you all soon! Write if you get too heartbroken without me here!"
The Captain looked back towards the house and saw Havers crossing the grounds, his coat and hat on, bag on his back, a scarf wrapped around his neck.
He was grinning at Tyler, who was laughing and raising a hand as a goodbye.
Havers' eyes moved, and he spotted the training going on nearby.
"Merry Christmas, everyone!" He called. "Don't push them too hard over the holidays, Captain!"
"Wouldn't dream of it, Havers!" The Captain called back. "Enjoy your Christmas!"
He watched for a few moments as Havers walked towards the gate and then returned his attention to the task at hand. He felt Hughes' eyes on him and did his best to forget the questions the other officer had been asking.
Christmas Day 1940
When the Captain woke up on Christmas morning, it took a few minutes for him to drag himself to a seated position. It was cold, and his bed was so warm. And it was Christmas. Could he not afford to lie in one day?
And then he remembered.
There's a Christmas present in the top drawer from Will .
The Captain scrambled for the lamp with one hand, opening the top drawer at the same time. He smiled at the brown paper packaging tied with string and gently unwrapped it. There was a small note attached to the string, and he raised it to look.
I know you would never buy this for yourself since you're too selfless to ever own something that someone else might need. So I have taken the liberty of buying it for you.
Merry Christmas, my love. I hope you get some good use out of this.
The Captain felt the heat in his cheeks as he blushed and raised the package, discarding the rest of the paper.
In his hands was a leatherbound book, and when the Captain flicked through the pages and found nothing but blank paper, he realised what it was for.
He remembered an offhand comment months ago, something small and insignificant at the time.
"Goodness, I wish I had something better than loose sheets of paper to put notes in."
Havers had listened regardless. The thought warmed his heart as he clutched the journal.
He couldn't think of anything meaningful to put into it, mind. But he would. Only the best things would go into it.
December 26th 1940
Havers' first letter appeared on Boxing Day, and the Captain tore at it as soon as Smith left his office.
I hope Christmas Day went well at the house. I arrived in London safely with no problems. The trains were a little busy, and many people were being extra kind and welcoming towards me. I think it was the uniform. People are grateful for anyone contributing to the war effort, I suppose.
You were right. London was quiet for most of November for a reason. I spent only an hour with my sister before the sirens went off. The boys thought I was a hallucination at first when I carried James and Max out of the house, one under each arm. Archie grabbed Andrew and all the baby provisions before Louisa even had a chance to get upstairs; bless him. He did ever so well, was so grownup about it all. I forget he's almost fourteen sometimes.
In any case, this letter is to inform you all that I'm safe and haven't gotten caught up in the casualties. I hope you don't mind me asking to let the others know I'm okay?
I shall be back by New Year's Day, I estimate. I cannot get back any earlier than that due to train cancellations. I hope this is acceptable. My sincerest apologies if not. I swear to make up for my absence upon my return.
Merry Christmas, sir,
It was an equal mix of polite and informal. The Captain felt a prickling of nerves when thinking of the censors and whether this had flagged their attention. Perhaps not, given that it had arrived at the house unedited.
Havers hadn't mentioned Marcus, though the Captain could understand why. Talking of another man's unit was sure to get noted. The Captain was sure Havers would mention everything when he returned.
There was a knock at his office door, interrupting his thoughts, and the Captain sighed.
"Come!" He called, putting the letter to one side and remaining seated at his desk. He picked up a pen and turned his attention to a nearby file, pretending to be doing work.
The door opened, and Hughes walked in.
"At ease," The Captain said. "What can I do for you?"
"Smith said that there was a letter with Havers' handwriting on it. They all wanted to know if he was safe. We know he returned home to London, and there was a lot of bombing there two nights ago."
"Yes, Lieutenant Havers is safe. Did the others send you up?" Hughes nodded. "Only for that?" Another nod. "Well, then. You can inform them of the good news. Dismissed."
Hughes seemed to hesitate but turned on his heel and did as he was told. The Captain frowned in the man's direction once the door was closed. Accompanied by the man's comments about the Captain and Havers a few days previously, Hughes' behaviour seemed out of the ordinary.
It was best to keep an eye on him. It was a reminder to keep his guard up. And perhaps to make sure he carried letters addressed to him personally by Havers hidden. This one might've gotten past the overworked and fatigued censors, but they might not look so innocent to those who knew the Captain and Havers well.
The Captain folded up Havers' letter, put it back in the envelope and tucked it into his trouser pocket. After he was sure it was safely hidden, he dragged a sheet of fresh paper from a drawer, picked up his pen and began to write his return letter to Havers.
Chapter 19: Winter 1941
New Year's Eve 1940
The parting over Christmas had been hard on them both, and the Captain couldn't help but pour over both letters that he received from his lieutenant. His most recent one was by far a favourite, having arrived only the day before.
Thank you for assuring the rest of the Eleven that I'm safe. And thank you for wishing my family and me a relaxing holiday period. I hope things have not been too busy at the house.
Things weren't so bad last year. Though I know things have escalated in only twelve months, I'm sure things can wait for an extra day or two. I would hate for the workload to pile up and for you to try and manage it all before I get back.
Such things should be a two-man job with the number of documents you're in charge of. I hope you'll leave some for my return.
It was short and sweet and to the point, the way that all their communications had to be.
It was almost lunchtime by now. There was still twenty-four hours to go, and the Captain was feeling the nerves bundling up in his stomach, poking at his insides and making it hard to concentrate. He'd become so reliant on Havers to be alongside him as he worked that his absence seemed to be having a profound effect on him now.
There were a few laughs from downstairs and voices calling to one another. So the Captain used it as an excuse to clamber up from his desk, planning on reprimanding whoever was making such noise.
Everyone had tasks they were meant to be completing. The Captain hardly had time to be telling his officers how to behave.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he looked to the end of the corridor and saw the rest of the Eleven gathered at the door, and the Captain's breath left his lungs immediately.
"Come on, you lot, let me in. I have unpacking to do and work to start."
"It's New Year, Havers. Give it a rest. Reporting to Cap can wait. He's neck-deep in documents. He won't come down for hours yet."
He's back early.
"Either way, it's freezing out here! Let me get myself settled, and I'll return to start the celebrations. You best have gotten some decent drink in from the village. I can't abide cheap stuff. It makes me ever so drowsy."
The Captain forced himself to breathe. There were some chuckles, and the group backed up, letting Havers step into the house and close the door behind him.
The Captain cleared his throat, and the Eleven finally realised he was standing nearby. Havers, being taller than a lot of the group, saw him first.
"Good afternoon, Captain!" He called.
"Afternoon, Lieutenant. You're back a day earlier than expected."
"Yes, Captain. There was a replacement for a cancelled train. I happened upon the information by accident and decided it was best to come back early. There's still work to be done, after all."
"Well, that's very responsible of you. I'm sure we all appreciate it. I assume your Christmas was enjoyable?"
"Very much so, sir."
"Good. Back to your duties, everyone. If you get finished within the next hour, you can have the rest of the afternoon off." The Captain said. "Might I have a word with you before you get unpacked, Havers?"
"Of course, sir." Havers nodded. "You heard the CO. Off you go."
The group dispersed, looking somewhat dejected at having their reunion halted, and the Captain waited patiently for Havers to join him by the stairs. They began walking upstairs together.
"I'm glad that you enjoyed your holiday. Lord knows you deserve it with all the hard work you've been doing."
"It got a little tiresome, if I'm honest, sir. My sister did her best to save up some of her rations to get enough vegetables for a larger meal. I know it's supposed to be good for you, but there are only so many roasted carrots you can eat before you lose your mind completely."
The Captain laughed lightly. "I can imagine. Would you mind stepping into my office while I go over a few things that need your attention after New Year is over?"
Havers agreed, and the two stepped into the Captain's office, closing the door behind them. Immediately, Havers dropped his bag and pulled the Captain close. The Captain wrinkled his nose at the smell of coal smoke fixed to the fabric of the lieutenant's overcoat as they clung to each other.
"I deliberately came back early to surprise you. Ignore how awful my clothes smell for a few moments and be happy to see me," Havers murmured.
"How did you know?"
Havers chuckled and leaned back only to look at the Captain's face. "Because I happen to know you better than you know yourself sometimes."
"You're joking, but I wouldn't be surprised if you were right." The Captain replied. "Did you really come back early as a surprise for me?"
"Of course. It's a New Years present."
"People don't give gifts at New Year."
"I do. But only for special people." Havers grinned. "Look, I can't spend too long catching up with you. The others expect me downstairs. Can I come to your bedroom tonight after the noise of my return has settled? 2300 hours as usual?"
The Captain nodded, and Havers pressed a quick, chaste kiss against his cheek before picking his bag up again and making for the door. The Captain turned away, always loathing the leaving.
"Oh, and Teddy?" Havers said.
The Captain looked at Havers, who was smiling at him, with a hand on the doorknob.
"I know I've only been gone a week, but you have no idea how much I've missed you. I'm really happy to be back with you."
"Now, why do you go and say something as sweet as that and then leave me alone for hours on end?" The Captain asked. "What awful manners you have."
"My apologies," Havers chuckled. He let go of the doorknob and decided to close the distance once more. "Would a kiss be sufficient reparations for the offence?"
The Captain pretended to ponder. "More than one might be needed, but you can certainly start now and finish later."
When Havers left less than two minutes later, the Captain spent longer than he'd cared to admit tracing his lips and feeling overheated thanks to the frenzy that he had found himself in.
Damn you, William Havers. Damn you to hell.
"Marcus was furious to see me," Havers admitted later that night when the two were curled up in bed, turned towards each other and clutching each other tightly. "He got home on Boxing Day. He had to bite his tongue in front of the children, but I could see it in his eyes."
"Did he try anything?" The Captain asked.
"No, he was as pleasant as he's capable of. He didn't drink at all. But I did hear him and Louisa arguing one night. I had to keep the boys distracted downstairs. Archie looked like he wanted to go up there and get in between them."
"He sounds like a brilliant young man."
"He's a treasure. Spitting image of me as a boy. He's even started learning to play the piano."
"You play?" The Captain asked.
"I could, once upon a time. But I've lost it a little since I joined the forces. It doesn't come as naturally as it used to."
"You'll have to play for me one day." The Captain said. "When we have that home of ours. We'll get a piano, and you can teach me."
Havers chuckled. "I should like that very much." He shifted slightly, and when he settled, he pulled back from the Captain slightly. "Teddy?"
"Goodness, already? We should get to sleep."
"But it's New Year's Eve."
The Captain took a few seconds to realise what Havers was hinting at, and he spluttered. Havers laughed, and the two found their way in the darkness, pressing a clumsy kiss to each other's lips. The two couldn't help but snicker quietly, trying valiantly to shush each other to avoid capture.
Downstairs, there were cheers and yells as the rest of the Eleven celebrated the start of a new year. Havers had been the last to return, and just in time for the biggest night of the year, it seemed.
The Captain was honoured that Havers would rather spend midnight with him rather than their unit.
"That was much better than a kiss in an Anderson shelter, don't you think?" He asked.
"Much better," Havers agreed. "I can't believe it was a year ago already."
"Feels like a lifetime away." The Captain added. "You've aged me, Will."
Havers snorted and held him tighter. "Oh, hush. You love me."
"Can't disagree with that."
January 4th 1941
Over the following few days, the Captain began to notice something different.
Havers spent only one night with him since getting back, and he didn't seem to come to the Captain's office as much as he used to. There was a sick feeling in his stomach as he allowed himself time to think about it.
When Havers finally came to the office half an hour before lights out, the Captain confronted him.
"You're hiding something from me." He asked once the deadbolt was drawn across the door.
Havers frowned as he turned. "What a welcome."
"What is it?"
Havers paused, and he took a few hesitant steps towards the Captain. "You must promise not to be angry at me. I was cornered. I didn't know what to do."
"Stop drawing it out. Just tell me!" Havers hesitated. " Will !"
"I technically may or may not be seeing someone back in London. I don't know how these things work."
The Captain recoiled. "You ... what do you mean?!"
"Louisa invited a friend over for Christmas dinner whose husband passed away overseas not long after being drafted," Havers admitted. "She's been dropping hints for a while in letters about this friend, but I didn't realise at the time. It was only when we were introduced at dinner that it occurred to me what was happening. I felt obliged to take her out."
"And you didn't protest?"
"What was I supposed to say?!"
"Anything! Anything other than agreeing to this!" The Captain gestured wildly towards the lieutenant.
"You promised you wouldn't be angry with me!"
"I promised no such thing! Be honest, Will, which one of us is the mistress here?"
"Teddy, hush! Someone might hear!" Havers stepped forward, intending to reach for the Captain's arm.
"No!" The Captain shrunk away. "You swore that we would make a life together . I didn't realise that included a woman on your arm. I didn't agree to that -"
"I know! I'm sorry, I didn't know what to do! I couldn't think of a reason to say no. It was an ambush! They all would've questioned it! Louisa and Marcus both think it's odd that I've never found a woman. It was only one date. A few drinks down at the pub. I walked her home, kissed her on the cheek, nothing more!"
"She'll think you're interested in her. She doesn't know that you're already with someone else. She doesn't know that you're - you're - inclined another way ."
The Captain knew he was acting petulant, letting his feelings get the best of him. He prided himself on his forward-thinking and practicality. Not this time, though. Not when it came to Havers.
"I'm going to fix it. I'll send her a letter saying that I can't maintain a relationship while on base. I wish I could've told you in a letter. But it would have been flagged by the censors. I only wrote you twice, but I was terrified that they'd read between the lines in the right places, that I'd return to find a stranger in your shoes because they'd dragged you away. I was afraid that I'd lost you forever."
The Captain swallowed hard, knowing that there was more logic and truth in Havers' words than there wasn't. He sighed, dragged his feet over to the window, pulling the curtains across for something to do.
When he was done, he remained looking at the fabric, not wanting to face the lieutenant right now.
Had he made a dreadful mistake in letting things progress this far? Should he not encourage Havers to strive towards a family after the war finished? He knew that he shouldn't encourage anything. Not really. Things should have remained strictly professional between them.
"Should you fix it?" He asked quietly.
"Whatever do you mean?"
"Is she not a nice girl? Louisa's friend?"
"On the contrary. Elise is a wonderful girl. Very kind, intelligent, funny. And hard to hate."
The Captain inhaled deeply, clenching his jaw and preparing himself for the words. There was an ache in his heart. The cavity that had once made a home out of his chest was beginning to rear its dark and fearful head once again.
"However, I know someone with those exact traits and more." Havers continued. "Someone who is already very dear to me. Who is more suitable for my tastes and who I would prefer to have as my life partner, should he still want me."
It was that that made the Captain's composure crumble for a few seconds. He was still hard to convince in the way of showing how he felt, still keeping his feelings locked tightly in his heart.
It took a sledgehammer to get to them most days. But Havers was always well equipped for the job, and he carried the weight for them both so well.
He felt arms around his waist, and that was it. He leant back into it, into the man behind him, and was comforted when a kiss snuck its way onto his cheek.
"He is every bit the brave man I wish I was. Meticulous in his work. Generous. Kind. Hardworking. A great leader. His name is Theodore, but I call him Teddy. He's ever so soft like a teddy bear, you see. You just have to get past the tough exterior."
The Captain couldn't help but laugh at that, feeling his face warm.
"Will you look at me now?"
The Captain turned in the loop of his second's arms. "You promise that that is the truth?"
"I swear," Havers replied. "I am promised to you. You know that, don't you?"
The Captain nodded. "I'm sorry that I doubted you."
Havers' hand cupped his superior's jaw. "Make it up to me, won't you?"
The Captain knew he was just teasing, of course. He had that cheeky lilt to his voice, that slight turn up of his lips on the left-hand side that was the warning sign of a smirk.
The Captain couldn't help but smile back, and he leant forward, pressing their lips together softly.
Havers relaxed, pulling him forward and deepening the kiss, reassured at his superior's readiness to forgive. He kissed the Captain slowly, lovingly, with great care.
On evenings like this, it felt like they were in another era completely. A safer one for men like them.
A knock on the disrupted them, and they pulled apart, fear visible in their eyes.
The Captain pushed Havers towards the desk, pointing at the papers scattered across it. As the Lieutenant took his seat and slid on a pair of reading glasses, the Captain crossed the room quickly and silently on his toes, able to avoid the creaky floorboards with ease.
He drew the deadbolt back in silence with ease and crossed the room towards the desk again as Havers passed the Captain's pipe to him. In only a few seconds, they had moved in tandem and were respectable as was expected.
The Captain called, "Come!" and within an instant, the door opened to reveal Hughes. The Captain' grit his teeth.
Always interrupting, always at the worst time. It seems to be Hughes' greatest achievement these days.
"At ease, Private." The Captain said. Hughes' stance relaxed. "What can I help you with at this hour?"
Chapter 20: Winter 1941
January 4th 1941
"Communications have come from HQ, sir," Hughes said. "My apologies for collecting it. I knew that Lieutenant Havers was with you, and the others were all busy with various tasks."
"Even Jeffreys?" Havers asked, looking up from the report he was currently 'working on'. The Captain took a puff of his pipe to distract himself for a moment.
Jeffreys was usually the main communicator between the lower-ranking officers and Havers, who in turn reported to the Captain only. He was awake at all hours and barely ever tired.
He was hardly ever too busy to pick up smaller tasks that Havers was sometimes unable to complete because of larger responsibilities.
"Yes, sir," Hughes said. "He was too busy writing a letter home. He asked me to collect it and bring it up here on his behalf. His mother is ill in hospital, you see. She doesn't have long left. He's very worried about her, he's in constant communication with her doctors."
"I wasn't aware of that." Havers mused, leaning back in his seat a little and adjusting the glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Come to think of it, he has been acting differently as of late. Have you noticed anything strange, Captain?"
The Captain looked back to Havers as he spoke. "I suppose there have been a few issues, now that you mention it." He trailed off. He paused for a moment, tearing his eyes from Havers with some difficulty. "Thank you, Private."
He held out his hand and Hughes crossed the room to pass a telegram to him.
"Please inform Lieutenant Jeffreys that either myself or Lieutenant Havers shall want to speak with him in the morning before the usual briefing."
Hughes turned on his heel and left, closing the door gently behind him. The Captain followed, locking the door once again.
It was only when it settled into its place that the Pavlovian response seemed to settle into the bones of the men remaining in the room. The Captain leaned back against it, his body feeling far too heavy for his liking.
The two of them waited for the sound of boots on hardwood floors to retreat before breaking the silence.
"That was awfully close," Havers whispered from across the room.
"It was, wasn't it?" The Captain whispered back, puffing on his pipe some more, eyes trained ahead of him.
Havers stood and meandered over to the Captain slowly as if to avoid spooking him. When he was standing in front of his superior, he gently tilted the Captain's face up towards his with a finger under the chin.
The Captain's eyes focused on Havers as the Lieutenant extracted the pipe from his mouth and put it into his own, having a brief turn himself.
It was awfully attractive.
"You should really stop wearing my glasses, you know." The Captain said, trying to distract himself. "Your eyes might start relying on them."
"They do help. Especially when it's late and the lights make my eyes strain." Havers said, taking them off and handing them back for the Captain to tuck into his pocket. "I get awful headaches."
"You should go to see-"
"They have enough of their plates without me complaining of headaches. I will not schedule a medical appointment just for that." Havers interrupted. The Captain sighed fondly.
His heart was still pounding from the stress of having Hughes so close to discovering them. If they had forgotten to lock the bolt, if Hughes had mistaken any noise for the Captain calling for him to enter, things could have ended very differently.
There was something in the back of his mind that made him feel like this was going to end badly. He and Havers would be pulled apart. Havers' bravery, his rank, his skills ... they would be noticed sooner or later. The numbers on the front lines would dwindle the longer the war went on, and they would need every fit and able man.
Though the Captain was no spring chicken, his knees and his back creaking and cracking more and more each day, he may even be called to fight, too.
The Eleven would get a new commanding officer, and if the Captain survived the war, he may return to Button House after his service to find the home to be nothing more than a house teeming with the dregs of what had once been.
The group may be split up and sent away. Some would die abroad or get injured, many would return not the same.
All that would be left to remember them was a manor house and the small faction of personnel who served beside them. That was if any of them survived.
The Captain would be taken away, he was sure of it. Every year, a new group of boys reached the age to enlist, and people needed to be on the front as quick as possible.
Havers might even get a promotion and be sent to a front somewhere as well.
Would they still have an excuse to write now that they were no longer working together? Would someone find it suspicious if they did?
And after the war ended and the dust settled ... what then? Would they be able to return to this? They would certainly not be the same. The Captain knew that. He had seen it before with his own father, who had become a different man after serving in the Great War.
A drinker, a shell of what he had once been. Nightmares most nights, the sudden bursts of anger. The sound of the Captain's mother crying in her room when she thought none of them could hear. That was what he remembered from his childhood. That was what war had done to his family.
And yet his father still wanted all of his sons to get involved with the same career. All of them had done it no questions asked. A strange desire, indeed.
The Captain couldn't bear to think of being like that with Havers. He did not want to subject them to a life of hiding. He didn't want to wake up screaming, frighten his love and be so afraid of his own mind that he could no longer cope with life outside of a battlefield.
It would be a death sentence for Havers, feeling like he must care for his captain through the terrors in his mind.
No, this could not go on.
"Teddy, what's going on? You've got that look in your eye again." Havers said, placing a gentle hand on the Captain's cheek.
"When you start to shut down."
"Shut down? What do you mean?"
"You try to rationalise all your feelings. It makes you push me away."
The Captain felt sick.
Havers was right. Shutting himself away again.
That was all he really did, wasn't it? He had to stop this. He had to allow Havers to have a chance, with someone who would give him more.
"I suppose it's because I am."
"Talk to me." Havers pulled him over to the desk, perching on the edge with the Captain in front of him, holding his superior's hands within his own. "What's got you into a twist?"
"You deserve more than this, Will." The Captain whispered. The words felt heavy, weighing down his tongue.
"I know very well what I deserve," Havers answered. "And that's you. It's the greatest honour to be cared for so deeply by you, to be allowed to care for you as well."
"But you have no future with me. We can't have a family. Not the one that people expect."
"Who cares what people expect? I'm a better uncle than I could ever be a father. I wouldn't know how to handle a child of my own. And what about that home we've been talking about? We could go somewhere near the sea. I could teach you how to avoid killing every houseplant known to man."
The Captain couldn't help but laugh at that. He'd always loved houseplants. His mother had been a real green thumb, it was one of the few positive memories he had from childhood. But he'd not inherited that same talent with plants, to his dismay.
"I think I'm a natural predator to them. They all seem to hate me."
"Impossible. I shall teach you everything my mother taught me about how to care for a garden." Havers insisted. "And you can teach me to cook more than whatever meagre things we get in ration packs. There is a life after war, after serving for so long. And I intend to live it to the fullest with you."
"These are the things you should teach your children." The Captain said. "Why do you wish to spend your life with me? Wouldn't you grow tired of never being able to hold my hand or kiss me in public without fear? We will never be like everyone else."
"What's got you thinking so morbidly tonight?" Havers asked. "You already have my apologies for the situation with Elise, but I promise-"
"I think you should continue stepping out with her, Will." The Captain blurted out. Havers went silent, eyes searching for some kind of lie in his face. "You should do all the things you're expected of. Marry her, have a family and a home."
"I don't want to do any of those things with her." Havers said.
"Because of everything I have already said and more!" The Captain said in exasperation, extracting his hands from Havers' and retreating to the window again.
The curtains were still drawn, and there was nothing interesting about the fabric. But now, it was a much-needed distraction from the inevitable heartbreak that this would cause.
"Why can't you just believe that you're enough for me?" Havers asked. "What part of my wanting you do you not understand?"
"A life with me is hardly a life."
"So you want me to ... I'm - I'm just supposed to walk out of here and pretend like you're not putting an end to everything we've been through? Does that mean nothing to you?!"
Havers raised his voice as loud as he dared, the anger barely concealed. It wasn't true anger. It was more frustration and sadness than anything else. The Captain knew that and tried valiantly not to bite back in response.
"It means everything!" He answered. "But I will not subject you to misery."
"I'm not miserable!"
"Not now." The Captain said. "But you will become dissatisfied, and you will resent me. And that ... that I can't bear. You love me, yes?"
"Then I won't watch you fall out of love with me."
"You're trying to predict the future as if you know for certain what's going to happen," Havers said. He stood, walked to the window and pressed himself against the Captain, looping his arms around the older man's shoulders and resting his head on the Captain's shoulder. "You're breaking my heart, Teddy."
"It's breaking mine, too." The Captain replied, placing a hand over Havers' joined ones. "But it's for the best."
Havers shook his head in disagreement, closing his eyes tightly, a final barrier against the tears threatening to spill. "It's not." He whispered. "Please. Don't do this."
"I've said what I've said, William. I can't take it back now. It would always be preying on our minds after this." The Captain's voice cracked as he spoke. "Though, I must assure you that this last year has been the happiest of my life. I never thought it was possible to love someone this much. I'm sorry to be saying all of this under such sad circumstances. But if I don't say it now, I fear I never will."
Havers hugged him more tightly for a moment, then pulled away to turn the Captain around and press one more kiss against his lips, memorising as much as he could.
The Captain could be stubborn, and if Havers ever managed to convince him that this was worth trying again, then it would be a long time in the future.
When they pulled apart, they leant their foreheads together, savouring every second. As soon as Havers left, that would be it. Unless there was a sudden, drastic change of mind at the last minute, then this would be their parting.
Would it be better or worse that they would work together all day every day?
They were only taking the romance aspect out of their lives. They would still see each other. Neither was going to the front anytime soon.
"I adore you," Havers said. "If your mind changes ... you must tell me. I will not marry Elise or continue anything with her, no matter how much you encourage me to. My heart will always be yours. If it's just the fatalist war attitude that's brought this on, I shall wait until the war is over for you."
"You've made your choice, and I am making mine." Havers interrupted. "I can't love another. Especially not a woman. So I will be just down the corridor in case you want to go back on your decision tonight. If your feelings for me change, if you're the one to fall out of love with me ... then we shall cross that bridge when we get to it. But I'm choosing to wait."
The Captain sniffled, nodded and stepped away. Havers was as stubborn as he was at times. It could lead them to bump heads and argue, but it was part of Havers, and the Captain loved it anyway. He knew he'd do the same if he were in Havers' position.
"It's late. We should both be heading to bed. You go first. I'll leave in ten minutes so as not to draw suspicion. You're dismissed, Lieutenant Havers."
Havers clenched his jaw, swallowing past the pain at not hearing his first name fall from the Captain's mouth. He nodded.
He turned and left, hands trembling as they fumbled with the lock. He managed to keep his facade together until he returned to his room. The Captain waited ten minutes, the most agonising of his life, until he believed it safe to leave.
It was only there, in the safety of a room that he could hardly call his own anymore after all the time it had been shared with another, that he allowed himself to weep for what was lost.
Chapter 21: Winter 1941
Okay, so from my research, I know that France surrendered in the summer of 1940 and the North Africa campaign began that same summer.
However, I've chosen to give Cap and Havers more time together in this fic to fully discover their feelings and develop their relationship. And to be honest, I genuinely thought the Africa campaign and France's surrender was later in the war than it actually was. I don't know why. My brain just assumed. So that one's on me for not taking that into account before I started writing.
For those two reasons, suspension of disbelief is a big player around timeline issues in this fic. But I hope y'all see this and know that *I* know I'm a bit of a dumbass. WW2 isn't really my niche when it comes to my historical nerdiness and I am not quite at the same level as the Idiots at historical accuracy.
Either way, hope y'all enjoy the healthy dose of heartbreak in this one.
January 31st 1941
January 1941 was the longest month of the Captain's life by far. He spent the first three days after he and Havers had parted ways barely leaving his office.
He slept at his desk, gave himself cricks in his neck, and eventually had to brave his bedroom, for his health's sake.
The prototype limpet mine came, and he and Havers had spent barely any time with it. Looking at it now left a bitter taste in both of their mouths.
But as January came to a close, the Captain knew they had to start looking at it, no matter how much it hurt.
Which is exactly how he was in this situation now.
It was late. He and Havers were sneaking out into the garden to find a spot to properly place the mine.
"Should it not be a little farther out into the field, Captain?" Havers asked quietly.
Captain. Not Teddy. Not even Theodore. Good Lord, I'd do anything for him to call me Theodore again. Even if it meant he was frustrated with me.
"It could be stumbled upon by accident if we put it any further out." The Captain said. "We need it close to the house but away from the others. We don't use the door that leads here. There's no reason to come to the garden. We do all of our work inside, run drills and play cricket in the field. Here is the perfect hiding place. No one would think to look."
Havers looked around them for a few seconds.
"We should mark our place first. If we do have to bury it in the case of an emergency evacuation order, we can't afford to lose our prime spot. It needs to be easy for us to get to without drawing attention but difficult for anyone to stumble across. Once that's decided, we can get to studying it. Perhaps we should also come up with something a little less conspicuous than calling it what it is."
"Like a name?" The Captain asked.
"Exactly, sir," Havers said. "Perhaps we should take time to think it over, then revisit it at a more appropriate moment."
"Good idea, Lieutenant." The Captain said. "Why don't you go back inside? It's late, and you should be getting some sleep. I'll handle things out here. You can give me your opinions when we're finished with everything else."
Havers left without hesitation, and the Captain unashamedly watched him leave.
We should be going back together.
Damn you, Theodore, you bastard. Letting a perfectly wonderful man like Havers pass you by should be a crime.
But what could he do when falling in love with Havers was a crime in the eyes of British law?
He turned away from Havers and took a breath to steady himself as he focused on his task.
February 4th 1941
The Captain watched as Havers helped Smith adjust his stance.
Another day, another shooting drill. The days were still bleak, and the Captain found he often woke up in a cold sweat at night, a hand immediately searching for Havers and finding only a mattress.
It was harder to maintain this than he thought it'd be.
His mind kept drawing parallels to the year before. They'd come full circle. They were barely talking, barely addressing the truth.
The Captain wanted nothing more than to fix it. But he knew it was no longer safe.
With Hughes' sudden keen interest and nosiness, he knew he'd made the right choice.
The Captain had noticed the private's behaviour around Havers. He was convinced that maybe he and Havers weren't the only ones with their particular ... deviation.
But he swallowed down the jealousy, the heartbreak and everything else that he felt for Havers.
It had been a grievous mistake getting involved with his lieutenant in the first place. He'd put them both at risk, no matter how happy they'd been in the past year.
He was supposed to be the more responsible one. Almost costing Havers his life and his reputation filled the Captain with nothing but guilt.
The Eleven remained outside running drills for another half an hour until the rain started, and everyone immediately began to pack the equipment away.
"Private Hughes, leave the guns for Lieutenant Havers and I, thank you!" The Captain called, looking up to see Hughes collecting the training revolvers from the other officers.
Hughes handed them over to the Captain wordlessly.
"Havers, would you mind taking these up to their rightful place? I'll help with the rest of the equipment."
Havers took the guns from the Captain, disappearing back towards the house.
"Smith, Tyler, you two stay, the rest of you head back inside and finish off your paperwork." The Captain ordered.
"What if we don't have any, sir?" Hughes asked.
"All paperwork is handed straight to me by Havers once it’s finished to be signed off and approved. In the last three days, I've only had Smith and Tyler's reports. I'm more aware of what happens on this base than any of you, Private. When I give you an order, it's for good reason." The Captain said, fiddling with one of the posts on a target.
He received no reply, and when he looked over his shoulder, he saw the majority of the officers making their way back to the house in a hurry.
Smith and Tyler stayed behind, quickly and effectively packing things away like they'd been doing it their whole lives. It was hard to imagine them not having done this forever.
The Captain would need to talk to Hughes eventually when the workload wasn't so heavy, and he was getting a regular nights' sleep again. He was far too tired to be doing much of anything outside signing papers and responding to telegrams these days.
Soon, he thought. I'll catch a break soon.
February 10th 1941
"So I drew up some blueprints for the mine," Havers said, unrolling the tube of paper in his hand.
He placed it on the table and used nearby items to pin the corners down.
Havers' detailing was immaculate. There were sharp lines and edges to the drawing, in-depth notes labelling each part. No mistakes, as per usual.
"I have more notes on the back, but my thoughts kept getting drawn to the time fuse. It allows divers to get in and out of stealth missions with ease."
"Is there a problem with it?" The Captain asked.
"Not at all. It's a marvellous idea. But I can't help but think what else could improve it. So I went through some of my old books about war machinery, and realised that an anti handling device would be the real kicker to make this successful."
"To prevent someone from tampering with it?"
"To prevent someone from removing it. If this mine is developed to the point where it can be used on larger ships and not on U-boats, it won't do to have them discovered and easily removed. They're called limpet mines for a reason. The animal namesake for this particular mine clings to naval transports. A traditional magnet on this explosive is all well and good, but something to make it stay would be even better. Anti handling devices aren't as common as you'd expect. Making them adds to production time. Time is a crucial currency in a war. But perhaps taking that extra time would make a drastic difference."
The Captain pondered the thought. "How would an anti handling device work?"
Havers flushed a little. "I'm afraid my knowledge isn't that extensive, sir. I never got far into any education in engineering. Most of the things I know are from books, not actual practical work."
"I'll suggest this device to my superiors." The Captain said. "They'll put their best people on it. Well done, Havers. You should be very proud, it's a brilliant idea."
Havers beamed, his features filling with pride.
The Captain couldn't help but smile a little too, a quick flash barely noticeable under his moustache.
But the two of them stayed looking at each other for perhaps a second too long before remembering that they were not supposed to look.
Immediately, they realised, and both glanced away.
"Should I leave the blueprints with you, sir?" Havers asked.
"They should be kept away from the mine. I've got it locked away safely. The blueprints with your notes are invaluable. If anyone should come looking-"
"They can't know how it works." Havers finished. "You're right. I'll keep these safe. Is that everything for tonight, sir?"
The Captain nodded. Havers lingered for just a moment, the air between them thick and heavy.
And then he turned on his heel and left, respecting the line in the sand that the Captain had drawn.
It's getting easier, the Captain assured himself.
Not by much, but it's becoming the new routine. Keep yourself in line for just a while longer, and maybe this will all go away. There may still be hope for you yet.
It was a terrible thought, a terrible want, for his feelings to not be his own.
But a life without them would be a safe one for him and Havers.
It was best for them both, this way.
The Captain had repeated the rationale to himself every day he existed without Havers beside him as he used to be.
It wasn't true yet. But the Captain had hopes that it might be one day.
The Captain did his best to ignore the larger part of him that knew the feelings would never really leave.
They would always be the skeleton in his closet, the loose floorboard under his bed and the false bottom in his trunk filled to the brim with personal mysteries, only ever thought about in the dead of night.
It was far too dangerous to even whisper his thoughts aloud.
Acting on them had been a suicide mission. The Captain wasn't sure how they'd never been discovered. He wasn't entirely sure Hughes hadn't figured them out.
The workload was beginning to lag a little now. The Captain had almost made his way through the stack of papers on his desk.
He would have to finish them within the next day or two if he wanted the sickness in his stomach every time he looked at Hughes to cease. He couldn't go on like this.
The Captain stared at the files, debating on whether to start immediately or after he'd had something to eat.
Now, you coward. Get it finished and get talking to Hughes.
The Captain sighed, took a seat, and pulled the stack towards him.
February 12th 1941
The Captain's stomach was in knots. During his morning briefing, all he could think of was how he could get Hughes away from his work for the day for long enough.
What was the best excuse?
How would he approach it?
Would he look as guilty as he felt?
Would he incriminate himself?
The door opened, and Havers walked in, carrying something.
"Communique for you, sir," Havers said, striding towards the Captain and holding out the paper. "From HQ. Marked urgent."
"Ah, finally! This'll be my requisition for a service revolver." The Captain said, taking it and opening the envelope.
As his eyes scanned over the words, he felt Havers' gaze on him, but it all slipped away as the communique's news settled.
"France has surrendered."
There were anxious murmurs amongst the Eleven, and the Captain felt his previous nausea only grow.
Things are getting worse. This war has no end in sight. How am I supposed to keep their morale up now?
"The Germans are coming."
The words fell from the Captain's mouth before he had the chance to bury all of his feelings down as he usually did.
The communique fell from his hands as he darted towards the window, immediately searching the skies.
"I ... don't think they'll be here just yet, sir."
There was a slight note of laughter in Havers' voice, and the Captain turned to look at him, fearful for a moment that his second was laughing at him.
He saw the slight hint of affection in Havers' eyes, and his mouth quirked at the left-hand side.
He relaxed a little.
He could handle the Eleven's rolling eyes and quips under their breaths. But the idea of Havers laughing at him rather than with him stung.
"What?" He asked, brain still running a million miles a minute. "Right!"
Things were all muddled with the news and the work he had to do.
He had to talk to Hughes, and deal with his ever-present feelings for Havers, who was still looking at him like that.
He couldn't think of what best to do. He wasn't trained on how to process something as big as this!
The news had come out of nowhere, and his mind was suddenly empty.
"May I suggest we initiate the emergency lockdown protocol, sir?" Havers asked, stepping towards the Captain.
Though he framed it as gentle advice, the Captain could see that Havers was prompting him, trying to help his brain kick back into gear.
"Yes!" The Captain agreed. "Yes, jolly good. No, nothing must fall into enemy hands!"
He looked back out the window, still searching for any hint of a plane.
How long had London known before they'd sent word?
The enemy could be almost upon them, and the Captain would have no time to prepare his officers at all.
Distantly, he heard Havers say, "You heard the CO. Get to your duties."
Footsteps and movement overtook the room for a few seconds. Once they were all gone, the Captain sensed Havers' presence join him by the window.
"Um ... exciting times, Havers." The Captain tried.
His attempt at small talk felt wrong and crooked and the exact opposite of what a conversation with Havers should be like.
"If they do invade, we may get a proper pop at Jerry!"
"Yes!" Havers took the hint, trying to engage with the kind of enthusiasm a keen and professional second in command should.
But his quick flash of a smile soon faded, and he looked out of the window, seeming nervous all of a sudden.
"About that, sir ..." He paused, and the Captain's heart clenched as if it knew something he didn't. "I know we do vital work here, sir, but I want to get involved in the fighting. I've put in for a transfer."
Those five words caused the Captain's world to crumble in an instant.
"You're leaving?" He heard himself say. It sounded wrong, distant and distorted and not his voice at all.
He heard himself respond without question, but not with the words he wanted.
You're not supposed to leave.
You're supposed to be just down the corridor in case the fatalist war attitude changes.
In case I need you.
In case you need me.
You're supposed to be working with the Eleven.
You're meant to be here with me.
Havers swallowed and finally met his eye. "There's talk of a North Africa front."
The Captain nodded and tried not to let his disappointment show on his face.
They were meant to have more time than this.
He thought they'd be summoned eventually, parted by a force greater than their love for each other.
He'd never imagined that Havers would voluntarily leave.
"Yes," He said, trying to fill the silence. "Yes, well I-I-I totally understand, of course. Carry on."
Havers' features seemed to change by the millisecond, too many complex emotions that the Captain couldn't understand showing themselves all at once.
The lieutenant lingered for longer than he was supposed to.
Always waiting just in case. The Captain knew what he waited for. And yet he didn’t give in.
His breath lodged in his throat, words filling his lungs, everything muddled and twisted up the wrong way.
Havers lingered. Upon seeing the lack of the response he craved, he was the first to look away, and muttered a, 'thank you,' before swiftly moving from the room.
The Captain stared at the space Havers had been in a moment before.
And despite his best efforts, he couldn't help but realise how much bigger that space would be if Havers' transfer was approved.
Chapter 22: Winter 1941
February 28th 1941
The days quickly blurred together. The only way the Captain could differentiate the days was by the reports he wrote and stamped each day. He barely remembered anything else.
He was aware of himself, his surroundings, and the things he was doing, but it felt smudged around the edges, smooth where they should be sharp. Almost like someone else was controlling him entirely.
But he was sat at his desk, scribbling away in the familiar leatherbound notebook that had been on his bedside table until quite recently.
If there was anything as important to write in the gift Havers had given the Captain had given him for Christmas, it was this.
I don't know if you will ever read this. Either I will be too cowardly to give it to you, or you will refuse to read it and discard it.
If you do read this letter, however, I want to take this opportunity to apologise for ending things, and for how hard I have made working at Button House. My only explanation is that I panicked. With Elise's arrival into your life and Hughes' sudden keen interest in you, I was fearful we were close to being discovered.
I thought I was condemning you by staying with you. It would be different if it were just me that he suspected, but I couldn't let you face a similar fate. I was so very wrong, Will.
If you read this letter instead of burning or discarding it as I deserve, I want you to know that my feelings for you never changed. There were so many nights I wanted to knock on your door and confess how much I adore you.
But as it stands, I can't even say the words aloud. Not in the safety of my office or my bedroom. I can't say it to the mirror or with my eyes closed. It's a great effort just to write them. My hands are shaking as I write, and the logical half of my brain is screaming at me to burn this page.
However, I can't do that. This letter is written on the first page of the notebook you gave me. It was important to me that only the most valuable information would be written here. And my feelings for you are the most valuable piece of information I will ever know.
I want you to know that I didn't ever come to you because I needed more time. I wanted to be confident and unashamed for you. You deserve that. I wanted us to have the chance to be free and safe. It seems now that we've run out of time for me to come to that point.
I hope that when your transfer inevitably gets approved - since there is always a need of good men on the front, and you are by far the best man I've ever known - that you will still think fondly of me.
I hope that you will stay safe. I hope that you stay alive and uninjured.
Most of all, I selfishly hope that you will one day return here to Button House, to home , so that we may see each other again. Perhaps to leave this claustrophobic home behind and create a new one altogether, as we talked about.
With all my love and adoration,
Always your Teddy.
The Captain put his pen to one side and took a shaky breath. He took a few moments to look at the paper in front of him before gently pulling it from his notebook, careful not to rip it any more than necessary.
Once it was separated from the rest of the book, the Captain stood folded up the paper and slid it into an envelope from his desk drawer. He licked and stuck the seal together, then scribbled Havers' first name on the front.
He stood, walked round to the front of the desk, aiming for the window. He tilted it slightly, using the natural light to help him check to make sure none of the ink had run and stained the envelope.
It was a dangerous thing to write Havers' first name rather than his rank and surname. His handwriting would be familiar to the rest of the Eleven if they saw it.
A knocking at his office door disturbed him. His stomach immediately dropped.
This could be Hughes, who he'd asked to see earlier that afternoon, or it could be someone else, looking for something completely meaningless.
The Captain hastily tucked the letter in between his shirt and jacket, trusting the thick material of his uniform to hide it.
"Come!" He turned and saw Havers enter, just closing the door behind him. "Ah, Havers! At ease, at ease. I was just thinking about you, actually."
Havers settled into a relaxed stance as the Captain continued.
"How's the emergency lockdown coming?"
"Very good, sir. Most items have been squared away, as per the order." Havers replied.
"Excellent!" The Captain said.
He took a few steps, trying to seem calm and composed instead of stuck in one place.
As his mouth opened to talk again, both he and Havers spoke at the same time.
"I've come to tell you that-"
Both paused, glanced at each other and chuckled, a hint of nerves evident.
"Sorry, you first, Lieutenant." The Captain said. There was a brief pause, where all the outcomes raced through the Captain's mind. Havers could be here for any number of reasons.
But once he'd addressed whatever he'd come to see the Captain for, the Captain could hand over the letter. He would do it. Now that it had been written, there was no possible way for him to ignore it.
"I'm afraid I'm leaving you, sir," Havers said. "At 1800 hours this evening."
For the first time, the Captain couldn't quite make out the emotions on Havers' face, and he found that he'd suddenly forgotten how to breathe.
Havers was leaving already? How desperate were things for a transfer to be approved already?
The Captain had requested transfers before, for various reasons. It could take weeks to get a response, maybe months, depending on what his superiors were dealing with in their offices.
"So soon?" The Captain asked. He forced himself to take a breath. "That would explain your new service revolver."
Havers looked down at it and grinned happily. It was something to be proud of, to be given a service weapon. He had every right to be happy about it.
Things felt all too real all of a sudden.
All this time, the Captain had assumed that it would take longer for the transfer to go through.
It proved to him that they had made such an awful decision in choosing to get so close to each other. He would not be so affected if he'd remained distant and indifferent, as he often tried to be.
War was not supposed to be the background role in a love story.
He and Havers would likely never get the long-awaited reunion, seeing each other along a train platform once the war was over and everyone returned home.
They wouldn't see each other and share a soft smile through the crowds. They would never have the chance to sprint towards each other and collide in the middle, relieved to still be alive to see each other again.
Havers might not survive North Africa. His life was now dedicated to the front lines. Everything he was back home in England would be left here, and he might not ever return the same.
The Captain swallowed past that fact, trying not to wince at the bitter taste it left in his mouth and tried to seem as stiff as usual.
"I don't suppose they sent one for me, did they?" The Captain asked, eyes glancing back down to the holster around Havers' waist.
"Only for front line personnel at this stage, sir," Havers replied.
"Of course." The Captain said, feeling ridiculous for even asking. What did he need a weapon for, really?
"It's North Africa, sir," Havers said. "I'll be able to have a proper swing at Fritz!"
Havers seemed excited, unable to conceal the joy in going.
The Captain felt sick to think that perhaps he'd had something to do with Havers putting in the transfer now. He remembered a conversation they'd had last year, where Havers had said he couldn't imagine fighting abroad.
And yet he readily accepted the challenge now.
Havers was selfless, and he was always taking on more work than he should, always wanting to contribute more.
It was why he'd taken such a keen interest with their limpet mine at first. What would happen to the blueprints? What would the Captain do with the mine? The idea of carrying on the project was nauseating now.
They were things to be considered later, he supposed. Right now, Havers' happiness had partially poked a hole in the tension, and the Captain couldn't bear to take that away from him.
"You make sure you give them a bloody nose!" He joked.
He and Havers both laughed, but the air became fraught with tension again. They could both sense the overarching fear radiating off each other.
For anyone else, perhaps it would have been good news, to be selected for the front.
The Captain didn't give himself a chance to think before he spoke again.
"I shall miss you, Havers."
Something in Havers' eyes changed first. The rest of his face followed as the smile faded. A glimmer of something was there that hadn't been there before, and the Captain couldn't help but panic.
The desire to plead for Havers to stay was there, but there was the knowledge that it was out of their hands now.
It was time to stop pretending that they weren't military men. The rules were different for them. Strict and harsh, all lines and boundaries. There was no room for affection and love in times like these, for men like them.
They always would've paid the price eventually, whether it was a year or ten in the future.
But how nice it would have been to have ten years with Will , the Captain thought.
"By which I mean, of course, that we shall miss you." He corrected, going against his nature to be completely honest. Havers' posture changed slightly again, and the moment was gone. "And I know the Button House Eleven will certainly miss your cover drive."
"Thank you, sir," Havers said, smiling. "Well, if that's all?"
He lingered, as he often did these days, for the Captain to say something.
Always waiting for something that could never come.
The Captain nodded minutely, and Havers turned to leave after a small hesitation.
When Havers reached for the door, his hand barely upon the knob and the wood only just opened, the Captain acted against his better judgement.
He couldn't give Havers what they both wanted.
But he could give them both some closure. To know that things had ended on good terms, with a hint of bittersweet longing under their skin, but good . He could give some tenderness for Havers to take with him, a fond memory that he could hold near to his heart if they never reunited.
"I say, Havers?"
Havers turned, and that damned look was back again. Indescribable and expressive all at once. A prayer, a silent plea for the Captain to change his mind, perhaps.
I shall be just down the corridor if your mind ever changes , Havers had said.
No longer. This moment was their last chance, and the Captain knew that Havers' sentimental side hoped that they would prevail against the strength of orders from the British Forces.
"It's a bally shame we won't get to finish the operation together." The Captain said, wishing that he could force himself to say something more poetic.
Havers smiled anyway, the first flicker of raw affection in his eyes for the first time in two months.
For a moment, the Captain thought he might stay. Act on that affection, and make this a departure to truly remember.
But Havers just continued smiling as he ducked out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Just like that, Havers had walked away as easily as he had walked into the Captain's life.
The Captain watched, took the letter from where it had been resting and simply looked at it for a few seconds. His eyes drifted up towards the door, debating whether or not he should do anything.
You wrote it to be read, Theodore. It would be a disgrace to waste the notebook he bought you. Cowardly too.
Deep down, he knew this, and yet he watched the spot where Havers had been standing and wished that he could follow.
The Captain watched from one of the upstairs rooms as Havers walked to the gate. It was almost spring, and while the sun was beginning to set, there was a lingering thread of daylight left.
Outside, the rest of the unit were packing away for the day.
The training weapons were being carried out of the field and placed in a pile on the border of the grass and gravel. The Captain would take them back to storage, as he usually did. The targets were being folded up, and everyone was suitably exhausted after a full day of training.
The Captain would be returning downstairs in a moment. He'd only retreated upstairs to get the letter he'd intended to give to Havers.
It was now or never, of course. The Captain would have no address or way of sending it to Havers otherwise, and it wouldn't get past the censors even if he did have the details of where he'd be in North Africa.
But he hadn't had time to grab the letter from the drawer of his desk. He'd heard yelled goodbyes, and he'd raced to one of the other rooms immediately, desperate to know how close he was to being out of time.
The lieutenant stopped, turned over one shoulder and looked up to the window as if he knew the Captain was there.
He raised his hand as a goodbye, and the Captain fought to stay where he was and not run after him.
He's gone, Theodore. Chasing after him now would not be appropriate, and the letter would only bring questions.
Though he was sure that Havers might not see his response, and his heart was breaking, the Captain raised his hand as well, a bittersweet smile turning the corners of his lips up.
They may be out of time now, but a small part of him retained the hope that Havers would return soon.
Havers turned away, and the Captain retreated from the window, taking a deep breath to steel himself.
With the exhale of a breath, he took a step.
When his foot landed on the floorboards, there was a noise.
It wasn't the usual creaking of the floorboards. Or the sounds that accompanied such an old house.
The world stopped for a second, dead silent as if holding its breath.
And then the yelling came.
The Captain turned back to the window, stepping closer to peer outside.
The other officers were gathered by the gate, some crouched and some standing. Someone was yelling. A few of them were standing a little further back, and the Captain couldn't see any of their faces to gauge what had happened.
And then someone stood up, and the Captain caught a brief glance at Havers' face.
He was on the ground, staring right above him, and the Captain couldn't tell if he was blinking. He couldn't see the lieutenant's chest, couldn't see if it was rising or falling.
The Captain backed away from the window, and it took a few seconds before he realised that he was running through the corridors, the sound of his feet on the floorboards dull and muted.
He reached the front door just as it opened, and Hughes stumbled in with Tyler and Reed gripping him by each arm.
"My office, I'll be with you shortly," The Captain ordered.
He moved around them, feeling the crunch of gravel under his boots as he carried on running.
He collapsed beside Havers, and the other man's eyes took a few seconds to register who he was.
It was only when that telltale tugging of his mouth on the left-hand side, the one that always preempted a cheeky smirk seemingly reserved only for the Captain, appeared that the Captain knew Havers realised he was there.
"Shh, Havers, don't go wasting all your energy." The Captain said. "Smith, go down to the village-"
"Johnson's already gone." Smith interrupted. "There's a doctor's office there. He's gone to find them."
Havers coughed slightly, and the Captain could hear the rattling of his breath as the lieutenant tried to hold on just a few moments longer.
"Where are you injured?" The Captain asked.
"His chest, sir." Marks said. "He'd opened his coat. He was patting the pockets of his jacket, trying to find something, I think."
The Captain opened Havers' coat just slightly and felt his face fall at the sight of the blood.
The green fabric beneath the coat was stained with blood, and there was a bullet hole in between the second and third buttons.
"You'll be alright, Havers." The Captain assured, looking him in the eyes. "I'm sure it feels like hell, but you've only got to hold on a little while."
Havers' hand loosely gripped the Captain's from where it was still on the thick overcoat.
The lieutenant smiled, and the Captain saw the same affection from earlier return to his eyes. There was a mix of fear and pain there too. He knew what was coming.
Johnson wouldn't be back in time. They all knew that. Havers was struggling to hold out much longer. Having done so for this long had exhausted him.
"I know what you're going to say, Havers, and I forbid it. You're not giving up before we've had a chance to help you."
"How do you know, Captain?" Havers asked weakly. "You can't read minds."
"You forget that we're friends, Havers, not just colleagues." The Captain said. "I know you better than you know yourself sometimes."
The mirroring of the words Havers had said when he'd arrived back at the house after Christmas was intentional, and the Captain knew that it would soothe Havers.
"Thank you, sir," Havers said. He blinked a few times, his grip tightening as much as he could make it.
Chapter 23: 1941
February 28th 1941
The Captain knew what that meant.
Thank you for loving me.
He clenched his jaw to fight the frenzied begging as Havers' grip loosened.
His hand didn't leave, but the strength was gone, and Havers' usually familiar hand felt alien.
The Captain was used to Havers grabbing hold of his hand any opportunity he got, so often that the Captain was sure that he knew the lieutenant's hand better than he knew his own.
But the thing that caught the Captain's attention the most was Havers' eyes.
William Havers died with his brown eyes open, still looking at the Captain as if committing his face to memory one last time.
They were glassy and unseeing, but they were Havers' eyes. And they were on the Captain, his choice for his precious last moment of life.
The Captain went completely numb.
The last thing he remembered was commanding everyone to go inside and seeing Johnson running towards the gates with someone in tow.
When he was next aware of himself, he was storming through the door of his office.
Tyler and Reed were standing either side of the chair where Hughes sat, all of them shifting uncomfortably, finding it hard to remain still.
"Did all of you see what happened?" The Captain asked, closing the door.
"Yes, sir," Tyler answered.
"Why did you two drag Hughes in?"
Tyler and Reed glanced at each other as the Captain walked around to his side of the desk.
Hughes' face was pale, and he was intently staring at one spot on the wood of the Captain's desk.
"Don't test my patience!" The Captain snapped. "My second, one of your fellow officers, has just been killed on base, and I have no idea how it happened. Do you have any idea the severity of the situation?!"
"The training rifles, sir ..." Tyler trailed off.
"What about them?"
"One of them was loaded."
The Captain stopped. That wasn't right. None of the training rifles could be loaded. No one else had access to the ammunition. He hadn't loaded one, and Havers had been packing when everyone was training, he couldn't have done.
"That's not possible." The Captain said. "Only Havers and I know the whereabouts-"
"I do, sir," Hughes said quietly.
"And how on earth would you know where the ammunition is stored?"
"I followed Havers," Hughes admitted. "When we were packing away a few weeks ago."
The Captain cast his mind back, trying to think of when Hughes possibly could've found a way to follow Havers.
And then he remembered. He'd caught Hughes handling the rifles like he was going to take them back to the house himself.
The Captain had told him to hand the guns over, and he'd thought the silence was heavy as everyone left. But he'd not suspected anything. He'd not considered that any of his officers would even think about sneaking around in such a manner.
"Tyler, Reed, I want one of you to go downstairs and inform the local doctor of everything you saw. The other needs to prepare a communique to send to London. I'll send it off later. Dismissed."
Tyler and Reed, thankfully, left without any hesitation, the door clicking softly behind them.
"Tell me everything, Hughes." The Captain said. He took a piece of paper from his desk and reached for a pen. "And don't spare on the details."
"I thought that Havers was hiding something, sir," Hughes said. "He wasn't telling anyone about where he'd served before the war. And he's been different."
"Different? In what way?"
"It's hard to explain, sir. After New Year, he didn't have the same spring in his step. He became snappy and restless whenever someone brought asked where he'd served before. He was defensive when we asked if he was okay. I - I thought that maybe he was hiding that he had military experience in another country."
The Captain looked up from the paper. "You suspected him of being a spy?"
Hughes nodded. "I followed him to where the guns are stored. I know you two have to do inventory checks to make sure nothing of importance goes missing. I know the ammunition is under a loose floorboard not far from the storage cupboard for the guns."
"And why would you immediately think to find out where the ammunition was?"
"Well ... I thought it'd come in handy just in case, sir," Hughes said.
"Just in case what?"
"Of an emergency. Havers might've turned on any of us. He might've tried to kill you."
"So you stole some of the ammunition?"
Hughes nodded. "Only when I found out that Havers was leaving. I thought maybe he was being recalled, that he'd been tasked with disposing of some of us. It was self-defence."
"Perceived self-defence, Private." The Captain corrected. "Lieutenant Havers posed no danger to us. He hid nothing. He didn't turn on any of us."
"But he was hiding something, sir," Hughes said. "I went into his room-"
"This is starting to sound like a confession." The Captain interrupted. "These are all offences that could get you dishonourably discharged. I am rather considering leaving you out to dry instead of vouching for you when I report this."
"I did them for the right reasons, sir," Hughes said with pride. "I wanted to check his room in case there was any proof in there. And I found something. Something you should've noticed if you don't mind my saying."
"And what was it that you found?" The Captain asked as he continued writing everything that Hughes was saying.
"A letter," Hughes said. "Addressed to someone who he calls 'Teddy'."
The Captain looked up, schooling his features into an unreadable mask. He stopped writing.
"What does this have to do with anything?"
"I think Havers was a homosexual, sir," Hughes told him. "If he's been hiding that, he can hide anything."
The Captain was quiet for a few seconds, mulling over what would be the appropriate reaction.
Talking to Hughes was becoming a game of chance and risk, and he was far too close to being discovered.
If Hughes found out that he was Teddy, then he could report the Captain. Havers was beyond the courts now.
Though the Captain could feel the grief barely quarantined just beside his heart, ready to rush him as soon as he was alone, he was glad that Havers was safe now.
He couldn't be hurt abroad, and he had been surrounded by a few of those who cared for him at home. He was beyond prosecution for something he couldn't control, his only crime ever being in love.
The Captain was still in danger, and he knew he needed to be careful.
"Do you still have this letter?" The Captain asked.
Hughes shook his head. "I left it where it was. Havers stopped just before the gate and was reaching for something in a pocket. That's why his coat fell open. I - I didn't know, Captain. I thought he was reaching for a gun. I thought he was going to take out as many of us as he could while we were caught off guard, but perhaps he was reaching for the letter. Perhaps there was someone else here at the house he intended to give the letter to."
The Captain finished writing and leant back in his chair. He took a few breaths, trying valiantly to curb his anger and his frustration and grief and longing, everything that came with hiding all of his life.
The best thing to do now was to direct Hughes away from the contents of the letter.
"You planned this."
A statement. There was no question about it. The Captain had no doubts in his mind that it was a well thought out and well-executed plan.
"I was trying-"
"It doesn't matter what you were trying to do." The Captain interrupted. "You should have come to me when you first had these suspicions. Pack your bags. You won't be here much longer."
" When I give you an order, you will follow it, Private!" The Captain yelled.
The sudden burst of anger came from a dark part of the Captain that wanted to wreak havoc on the world for letting Havers die.
Hughes flinched, the shock of seeing his superior so angry evident on his face.
He stood and walked out a moment later, leaving the Captain alone.
So frightfully alone.
This house had become a home of sorts since it had been converted into a base, and now it had never felt more strange.
There were footsteps downstairs. Lots of footsteps as the other officers traipsed through the house trying to process what had happened.
There would be no laughter tonight.
There would be no meal around the dinner table, games of cards in the old banquet hall, perhaps a few bottles of shandy passed around before bed.
Tonight would be a night of grieving. In years to come, this would be the night that they all remembered. This was when it all changed.
Without Havers, things could not be the same.
If he had left alive, then his absence would've only been bittersweet. Now it left a sour taste in all of their mouths. They had all watched the life drain out of their friend. There was no coming back from that.
The Captain had seen many men, good men, die before. In times of conflict, it was the way things worked.
But there was nothing quite like the aching cavern in his chest that stole his breath when he remembered those final few seconds.
The Captain looked around him, saw the memories like ghosts, figures of his imagination haunting him.
Stolen kisses, hushed laughter and millions of conversations held within this room. The floorboards and walls were weighted down so much with memories that the Captain wasn't sure how it hadn't collapsed around him.
He picked up one of the glasses on his desk. One of them had always been left for Havers when they decided to have a drink in the evenings.
He inspected the glass, feeling all the unwanted feelings rise, and despised the way his eyes filled with tears.
Without a moment's hesitation, the Captain threw the glass down on the floor with all of his strength, using the noise to muffle a sob.
He allowed himself a few seconds to fall apart, fragmented at every angle much like the glass at his feet.
And when those few seconds were up, he took his first shuddering breath, felt the sting in his lungs, and began to shove it all away again.
In the month of March, the Captain buried many things.
Himself in his work.
His faith in his officers.
His hope that he would find some peace in this life.
Hughes was sent off within days of The Event. Shipped back to London. The Captain had received a strongly worded telegram warning him that he should know better than to allow something like this happen.
The limpet mine was the last thing to be buried.
In the dead of night, the Captain went down to the garden, to the spot he'd chosen only a few weeks previously.
He spent some time quietly digging, and when he was sure that it was deep enough, he carefully deposited the mine into the hole.
This should've been a two-man job.
But there is only one of you now.
The Captain stared at the hole for some time, smoking his pipe and wondering if this was the end.
He took an envelope from its haven in front of his heart, staring at his familiar handwriting.
He'd already burned the blueprints, knowing exactly where they were kept.
All that was left to remember Havers was this.
The Captain put his pipe in his mouth. He didn't want to be rid of it yet. He wanted to hold on to Havers for a little while longer.
He tucked the letter away again and began to refill the hole.
It was mid-April by the time the Captain found out much more about Hughes. And even then, he'd had to enquire religiously on behalf of the other officers.
He knew they were desperate to find out whether Havers had gotten justice.
When the communique came, the Captain read it to the rest of the unit.
"To whom it may concern,
Private Alexander Hughes has been dishonourably discharged from His Majesty's Armed Forces. He will face prosecution within due time."
Short and to the point, exactly what the Captain expected.
Britain's infamous 'April showers' made his glum mood even more morose.
The files began to stack up, and the days had been blurring since February. The Captain's deadlines were coming up, and he was faced with the impending sense of doom.
Always running out of time. It felt like the only constant thought anymore.
The Captain retired upstairs early, as he often did.
This time, however, he knew something had to change.
He collected some paper and a pen from his office and wrote a letter, ready to be sent off in the morning.
With any luck - and a brother still serving abroad that could lend him a recommendation - the Captain would be complete Havers' wish to get involved in the fighting for him.