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The Gentleman's Guide to Scintillating Conversation

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Two blissful, blessed weeks of the sun and sand of Santorini.

(Two weeks of watching Percy emerge from the sea, wet and out of breath.)

Two torturous weeks without drinking.

(Two weeks of Percy telling him how proud he is.)

Two quite painful weeks of watching his burns heal and mourning his former looks.

(Two weeks of waiting for the privateers to fuck off so he could get Percy in bed already.)

Monty had never thought vacations could go on for too long. Though vacation was a slight misnomer – he, Percy and Felicity had all been strong-armed into performing errands in exchange for board and lodging. There had been plenty of beach-sitting, of course, but for the last fortnight he’d already developed some very choice sunburns from taking twice as long to move crates to the ship as the rest of the crew.

But their shipwork had finished yesterday, according to Scipio. All that could be done by the three nautically inept had been done. They still had to shop, to prepare food, to clean the house, all things Monty wouldn’t do without a fight (even if he lost almost immediately to Scipio’s glaring), but for the first time in many, many months, he could relax.

He’d rejoiced, at first, for the increased leisure time. Until the first day had been spent re-doing the exact things he’d used his free time for when it had been limited. Watching Percy swim. Thinking about Percy. Trying to not let sobriety get to him. Badgering Felicity until she was finally annoyed enough to give him a suggestion in the form of a book to his face.

Read,” she’d snapped, immediately picking up another book. How and why she brought so many down to the beach, Monty would never understand. “Maybe if you increase your vocabulary, listening to you complain will be slightly more interesting.”

“Absolutely not,” he muttered, brushing off the sand from the pages. She should thank him for that. “I’m not wasting an island trip studying.”

“No, you’re wasting it talking it to me, instead.”

“I would like to not waste this incredible and, dare I say, romantic opportunity,” he looked pointedly towards the sea, where Percy was too far out to distinguish from the crew members swimming with him. “But the object of my affections is regularly preoccupied.”

Felicity scrunched up her face. Monty barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He knew that accepting their relationship was already her giving more than he could ask, but that didn’t mean it stung any less when she reduced it to ‘acts of sodomy’. Perhaps she was too used to how Monty had previously spoken of his many paramours, but really, she should know by now that Percy was just… more. He always had been.

“Have you been getting on well?” At least she could stomach her way through a conversation about it. “Know that I ask for him, not you. I don’t entirely trust you to treat him correctly.”

Ah. That was why.

“As best friends do,” he answered, then sighed. “He comes to kiss me at my bedroom door every night. Then he leaves.”

“Hm.”

It was good enough that she wasn’t yelling at him to stop, to protect her good Christian ears from this madness, so he continued.

“That’s the most we’ve been able to do since we got here. Even if we’re upstairs, any noise from the kitchen scares him off.”

“Mmhm.

“So my only options are to get rid of the entire crew, all at once, or find a place to ourselves. That way I can finally make some progress-

“I understand,” Felicity snapped. “If you’re alone with Percy, you’ll be re-enacting several pages from Human Anatomy, and I’ll suffer for it. Unless…”

Monty mock-gasped.

“Felicity! You and your dirty thoughts. I was planning nothing of the sort.”

“If you find somewhere to be alone with Percy…” she said slowly, ignoring him intently, as if she were solving a puzzle. “Then that means you won’t be bothering me.”

“I’m really feeling the familial love, here.”

“You two could go exploring the island.”

Monty frowned, looking around, their vantage point giving an adequate summary of their section of Santorini. The features; the house, the beach, the road to town. The rest; trees. And bushes, he supposed, or hidden venomous animals, but mostly trees.

“I won’t be needing a machete for that, will I?”

“There’s a set of steps behind the house,” she explained, finally looking up from her book. “I’m not sure where the start is, but it goes from where the ship is docked, to some sort of building up on the hill. I think you’ll have luck there, if you can find it.”

“A building?”

“Completely run down. Abandoned. I can see cracks in the walls from a mile away.”

“Wonderful. Ghost houses were always my first choice for a date location.”

“Well, if you don’t have any other ideas,” Felicity turned around, making it clear she was ending their conversation. “Catastrophic Pestilences is quite riveting.”

 

 

Felicity was correct. He hadn’t noticed it from the ship ‘yard’ before, too preoccupied with picking splinters out of his hands. It was more of an isolated room, really, but it was there. Cream coloured, mottled and a large crack almost splitting the wall that he could see.

“I can see it,” Percy commented, smiling sympathetically at Monty’s frown. It probably would have been smarter to check the building, clear the path, or at least find the path before he’d brought him along. But Percy had been involuntarily elusive, already carted off by the crew to swim or perform for them by the time Monty woke up. Even now, he’d only managed to steal him away in the mid-afternoon, so Monty took what he could get.

He had to make the best of it. Monty turned to Percy and put the perfect amount of guile in his grin.

“Are you ready for an adventure?”

“With you?” Oh, he hadn’t seen that sort of boyish smile from him for a long time. “Always.”

Finding the path with Percy was unbearably nostalgic. Pushing apart bushes, scratching themselves on twigs, calling across the beach to each other as loudly as they could with no care for decorum. They were boys again, or even earlier than that, before they needed to be educated, before they thought anything was wrong with them.

It only served to remind Monty that he couldn’t pin down when he’d fallen in love with Percy, just as he couldn’t pin down when they’d begun to be friends.

It didn’t take immensely long to find the start of the pathway. The steps were cracked, some with grass growing in between and others missing entirely. It didn’t matter, Monty grabbing Percy’s hand and pulling him through, still laughing at one of Percy’s jokes that wouldn’t have been as funny if it wasn’t just them.

The walk up was a horrendous test of stamina. Half of the stairs were shaded by the forest, allowing them to catch their breath and temperature from the sun. At the midway point, it was taken so suddenly that Monty almost tripped on the stairs from the sun blinding him. Percy caught him, laughing madly.

“Look, there’s the house!”

Monty readjusted himself as he looked the way Percy was pointing. There was, indeed, a significantly more used path directly to the house crossing theirs, though it was clearly made by stepping feet more than stonemasons. They could see the beach proper from here, some little dark dots still staggering around. He could even find Felicity, dutifully posted under her reading tree.

“Well,” Monty muttered, out of breath. “Let’s use this one next time, shall we?”

Percy just laughed again, clearly more energetic than Monty was. He lead the rest of the way to the building, finally reaching it just as Monty’s legs were about to give out.

The door was wooden and more solid than the rest of the building would have them believe. Percy opened it carefully, the screeching noise quieter than most, but no less unbearable.

“Oh, wow.”

Monty followed Percy inside, closing the door behind him. A metallic clink sounded, and he turned to see a lock, rusty but nevertheless in place.

Perfect. Monty pulled at it, just to make sure it was stable. This was the exact type of alone he’d been looking for.

Especially since the building looked much, much better from the inside.

The dust was inescapable, and dry dirt caked the floor, but it was all forgiven by the cascades of lush, green plants stacked across the tiny room. Percy was walking through them, eyes sparkling, hand reaching out to touch every one of them.

Monty didn’t know if there was a roof, or if there ever had been. The top was open, sunlight drenching most of the room. There was shade at one corner and its two edges, cast by tree branches dense with the brightest, pinkest flowers he had ever seen.

“This place is incredible,” Percy voiced what Monty was thinking, though nothing could compare to the smile he gave while looking around the room. “What do you think this is? A greenhouse?”

“Those are made of glass, are they not? To, ah…” He watched Percy run a finger along the largest leaf of one of the plants, dew dripping down his hand. “Protect the plants.”

Percy shrugged.

“Plants look perfectly fine to me.”

Monty could see why Percy had become so quickly enamoured with the place. They’d never seen flora quite like this before, something wild and magical about them. Nothing like the perfectly trimmed hedges of London, or carefully placed rosebushes of Paris. And though there were plants in cracked pots and splintered gardening tools stacked in the corner, he had the feeling they were the first to enter this place in a very long time.

“You’re watching me rather intently.”

Monty snapped back to attention at Percy’s voice, his knowing smile. He’d hoped his staring at Percy running his hand through the flowers wouldn’t have been quite as obvious, but no matter.

“How can I not? The views are breathtaking.”

Percy only smiled wider at that, leaving the plants to walk back to Monty.

“Do you think we’re alone here?”

“…Yes?” Monty frowned slightly, confused. “There aren’t many places to hide.”

“No,” Percy said, rolling his eyes but still ending in that damned smile Monty couldn’t tear his eyes away from. “Let me rephrase. Do you think we’ll be alone here? With the crew asking me to go swimming and George following me around everywhere and us being sent on trips with Felicity, we… haven’t had much time together. To talk.”

Ah,” Monty grinned, pulling Percy to him with an arm around his waist. As if he hadn’t brought him here for exactly this purpose. “I see. I don’t believe anybody else will be climbing up that mountain of steps anytime soon. We can do as much talking as you’d like.”

“Yes, okay, well, also other things.” Percy fiddled with one of the buttons on Monty’s waistcoat as he spoke. “But I do mean talk. Really.”

Monty wasn’t sure what to reply with. He let his arm fall. Something about the way Percy said talk didn’t sound all that pleasant.

“We’re going to be leaving soon,” Percy continued. “A few weeks, at best. Have you thought about what we’re going to do?”

Monty’s heart sank. He’d been dreading this conversation.

“What do you mean by that?” Even now, he tried to delay it through feigning ignorance. Trying to buy time, buy excuses. This greenhouse didn’t have a roof, maybe he could just climb over the walls-

“You know what I mean.” Seriously, sometimes he thought Percy could read his mind. “Where are we going to live? London? Paris? The countryside? What are we going to do for money? I mean, it would be nice to be a music tutor, but that would probably mean living in the city. Which is more dangerous, for us. More chances for suspicion. If we go rural, farming isn’t the worst job. Better than coal mining.”

Monty only got sicker as Percy idly chatted on. He had thought this through as much as Monty had desperately avoided it. And as much as he didn’t want to admit it to himself, he knew why.

Percy had skills, things to rely on. But what did Monty have? His body was weak, and he had no trades to his name. His only asset, his charm, had burnt to a crisp along with the right half of his face.

“I was… I was going to go wherever the wind takes us, darling.” He smiled, attempting to pass his cowardice off as romanticism. Percy didn’t seem impressed by it.

“That’s your plan? To have no plan?”

“It’s worked out for us so far.”

“It’s worked out for you,” Percy snipped, stepping backwards. The lack of his touch felt cold. “You’ve felt perfectly fine going through life at your whim, but it’s not the same for me. My skin means I have half the options you do, if any of them.”

“That sort of attitude is why you were going to let yourself rot in an asylum for the rest of your life.” Stop talking. Stop talking now. “Perhaps I will have a job, where I have to stop people from walking all over you, just as I’ve always done.”

Percy didn’t reply to that, not for a while, because how could he? Monty swallowed, unable to do anything but watch the shock pass from his face. Probably adjusting to regret, realising that he should have left Monty behind a long time ago.

“Christ,” he said, quietly, before turning around, his attention back to the plants.

Monty turned as well, towards the entrance. He knew, probably better than anyone else, how Percy was feeling. Because he couldn’t fucking stand being around himself half the time, either. He didn’t know how Percy had lasted this long.

By god, I need a drink.

The door was locked. Which shouldn’t have been a problem, since he was the one who’d locked it, except that the lock was completely and hopelessly stuck.

Monty quickly remembered that, as pretty as this so-called greenhouse was, it was quite clearly falling to pieces.

The anger in him settled to juvenile frustration as his attempts to open the door ended with nothing but rust on his fingers. Then embarassment – Percy had been watching this whole thing, his grand defiant departure being blocked by nothing but two or three pieces of metal. Then everything else slowly melted away to deep, inexplicable shame.

“Can you not get it open?” Percy said. Monty had braced himself for bitterness, mockery in his voice, but he seemed genuinely concerned. It made him feel even worse.

“It’s…” He tugged on the lock fruitlessly a few more times. “It’s stuck.”

“Mm.”

Monty couldn’t bear to look behind him, but he could tell by the scrapes of the dirt that Percy had sat down against the wall. So, he wasn’t to help, which was fair, but it meant he’d purposefully left them in this room together.

He wouldn’t call it awkward. That described breakfasts with the father of the lady who’s bedroom he’d spent the previous night. This was something much worse, much more serious. The longer the silence went on, the more he thought about how absolutely idiotic the fight they’d just been in was, and how it was all completely his fault.

All of their arguments of this nature had been his fault, really. And yet, after every one of them, Percy was still kind to him, still wanting to fix it even if Monty had hurt him beyond compare. Had put his life on the line to save Monty’s, last time. Even now, he was easy to ridicule, a pathetic man who only ran away from his problems and couldn’t figure out how to undo a latch.

But he didn’t. Because he was Percy. Kind, gentle, polite Percy who deserved better than said pathetic man.

“I’m sorry.” The phrase, the authenticity, was unfamiliar on his tongue. He’d never felt more sober. “I shouldn’t speak to you like that. I don’t know why my first instinct is to say things that hurt. Especially to you.”

Monty wasn’t sure if Percy’s silence was from the shock at his apology.

“I have been thinking,” he continued, leaning his head on the door. “About that. About us. There’s been nothing to do on this island but think. And I find that the things I think… are never the things I say.

He pulled on the lock one more time, just for good measure, just to see if he could get away before he was forced to spill his heart completely. It didn’t budge.

“That has been true for quite a while. That night in Venice, where you asked me to run away with you. When you thought I rejected the proposal because all I wanted was to live effortlessly in luxury, I could have just told you why I was so hesitant, because it wasn’t that, it wasn’t that at all.” He finally let go of the handle, sighing heavily. “I cannot shut up, even when I need to. But when I absolutely need to speak, I can’t do that either. Out of my many faults, that’s quite a contender for the worst. It has ruined my life at every step.”

He heard the shifting sounds of Percy standing up.

“Well then, what are you thinking?”

Monty turned around, his heart jumping as he found Percy unexpectedly close.

“What am I thinking?”

“The thoughts you say you have, that you’re hiding. Can you tell them to me? What were you thinking when I asked you to run away with me?”

Monty’s silence showed his reluctance far more clearly than he wanted to. Percy bit his lip.

“If we’re going to do it, Monty, if we’re going to be us instead of just you and me, we need to trust each other. Can’t be storming out every time someone can’t buy garlic.”

Ah, yes. That disastrous trip they and Felicity had been sent on to buy food that would be eaten before the Eleftheria left. Partly to learn how to spend like a commoner, partly to learn of the horrid process called haggling. After all, they no longer had the sort of funds to throw at the first price that was given to them. How was he supposed to know how much that stupid little plant should cost? The crew didn’t speak to him during dinner that night, which he probably would have preferred at a time when he had gotten the garlic.

And… Percy was right. Living a completely new life meant making mistakes, real ones, ones that mattered far more than missing ingredients at the market or missing prepositions in Latin studies. Ones he couldn’t walk away from.

“I am…” He struggled with just beginning, even though it had been so well articulated in his head before. He would never have considered, or really, understood why Percy wanted to know his thoughts, before they came to Santorini. Even now, he’d been forced to. If he didn’t tell Percy, it would be over, their trust broken. But what he should tell Percy could end it just as badly.

He steeled himself and spoke slowly.

“I would die on my first day of manual labour. My only education lies in managing estates, of which I have none. I’ve lost my looks; I cannot even prostitute myself.” He leant his head back onto the doorframe, letting it land with a dull noise. “I am not just useless now. Nothing I have ever done has amounted to anything at all.”

Percy opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came. Monty sighed, closing his eyes.

“What if we fail, Percy? What if you fail, and the only reason was because I am the burden I always have been? After every sacrifice we make,” His scars ached. “I am the one to waste them.”

“So… what, then?” Percy said after silent consideration. “You want me to go by myself?”

“I want to be with you. I want you to be safe. I don’t know if those two things are compatible.”

“Well, what is ‘safe’? To go back to my aunt and uncle, beg them not to send me away? Lot of good that did me last time. If I’m by myself, there’s no guarantee I’ll get work in music, if at all. And even if I do, should I spend all my wage on a valet to care for my fits, or should I get to eat and just hope I never have one? We’re both working on dreams, it’s all we have.”

Monty opened his eyes at Percy’s unexpected poetry to see him smiling softly.

“There’s no safe option, Monty, but there’s a happy one. The one where you’re with me.”

He almost felt like crying at that, but he wasn’t at that stage of open emotional vulnerability quite yet. He instead leant his head on Percy’s chest, letting warm arms wrap around him.

“I don’t understand what I did to deserve you.”

“We agreed on you being a bit of a rake. But if you didn’t have that charming ability of being unable to shut your mouth, I’d be tied to a bed in a dark room right now, so there’s that.”

“Oh, you might still-” He cleared his throat to stop himself. See? He could learn to not be the most insensitive person alive. “Sorry.”

Percy laughed.

“I gave you that one, Monty. But I appreciate it.” He hummed in thought as his hands drifted to tangle themselves in Monty’s hair. “Can I ask you for one thing, though?”

“Of course, darling. Anything for you.”

“Will you tell me what you’re thinking when I ask? If, like you said, the words in your mouth are at odds with those your mind, then I want to know what you’re really thinking. Especially if we’re arguing.”

Monty thought over their conversation. It had drained hope from him and poured it back within the span of minutes. He could think of few times where he’d been so non-physically tired, all of them involving his father.

“What an utterly exhausting proposition,” he sighed, then continued quietly. “Yes. I… I will try.”

He felt Percy rest his chin on top of his head, a smile in his voice.

“Fantastic. So there’s a whole other side of Monty to discover. And I get it all to myself!”

 

 

Percy’s third try with the lock had freed them. His stupidly nimble, stupidly arousing fingers were far better at figuring out contraptions than he was. It made Monty remember what they originally came to the abandoned building for.

It turned out to be immensely suitable for their purposes. Any spare moment they had – which were a lot, mainly when Percy wasn’t swimming – they were in the greenhouse, Monty teaching Percy how to use his tongue.

He was getting considerably better at it every session. Even if they’d kissed before, Monty had been so overwhelmed by finally embracing the love of his life that he didn’t notice the complete lack of experience on Percy’s part. He needed to be told to put his hands on Monty’s waist, or on the back of his neck. To not breathe through his nose so hard that it tickled Monty’s cheek and caused him to break away with a decidedly non-romantic shriek.

Monty had never laughed so much while kissing someone. Never felt so light and warm and carefree.

Somehow, it still felt like they were best friends. That would never change.

And he was ready to get to the next step, which he’d never waited longer for in his life. It was worth it for Percy, but there was nothing else he desired more, especially after months of abstinence, especially after knowing what it was like to kiss him properly.

It was around the third or fourth time they were in the building, a particularly productive meeting with no fumbling or knocked teeth, when Monty braved a hand underneath Percy’s shirt.

He’d immediately broken off, gasping.

“Not here.”

Monty slowly slid his hand back, still pressing kisses to Percy’s jaw as he spoke.

“My room? I’m sure if we’re quiet-”

“No, no I mean… not yet.”

Monty stopped to pull back. Percy’s arms were still around him, so it wasn’t a… rejection. Hopefully.

“Is there something wrong?” With me?

“No, I… I-I just don’t want it to be here. So suddenly.” Percy cleared his throat, looking away. “You know I’m a virgin, Monty.”

“Well…” He had to stop himself from saying ‘obviously’. “I didn’t know. You never told me.”

“If I weren’t, I would have told you.” He grinned, nudging Monty’s leg with his foot. “Pay you back for all your grandiose amatory tellings, just once.”

“Regardless. Are you wanting to stay a virgin?”

“No.” His arms finally fell, if only so he could rub his hands together, clearly embarassed. “I just… it’s my first time. Um, I don’t want it to be so… so… spontaneous. Unplanned? Not in a greenhouse, at the very least.”

Monty hummed in thought, which only served to make Percy fidget more.

“I’m sorry, it’s stupid, I know-“

“Don’t say that, darling. Of course it isn’t. I am just… surprised, is all.” Memories of their first kisses were as resurgent as they were painful, even blissful if he cut out the conversations afterwards. He remembered how eager Percy was to remove their clothes, how hard he pressed himself onto him. To be honest, he hadn’t thought him a virgin then. “You seemed quite fine with an opera box. Or a street.”

“Ah,” Percy said, both understanding and ashamed. “I was desperate. No other word for it, really. In Paris, I thought it was the last year we’d ever have together. If that was the one night I could get what I really wanted, I had to take it. Whether or not it was a laugh to you shouldn’t have mattered. But it did. I can’t avoid that fact.”

“Oh.” Why was the world so cruel to the person who least deserved it? Why could his idiotic younger self do nothing but contribute? “And Venice?”

“I was all out of sorts that night. Thought we’d get murdered any second. And, Christ, Monty, you got kidnapped almost immediately after, too. Can you blame me?”

Monty laughed, but it took some effort.

“No. I really can’t.”

“But now we’re here. And it’s- it’s perfect. Beautiful, and romantic. I’m not grasping for straws anymore. We can make it special.” He seemed surprised at his own words, quickly looking down at his feet. Monty could just tell that his face was burning. “Sorry. I know I sound like some precious maiden’s diary entry.”

“Percy,” Monty stopped him by taking his hand, pulling their bodies together so Percy was forced to look at him. “If you desire to be treated as gently as that precious maiden’s daydreams, then that is what I will do. If it’s romance you want, romance you shall have. You deserve nothing less.”

“My lord,” Percy’s smile broke through his embarassment. “Am I to be courted?

Monty pressed his lips to Percy’s hand.

“My forté, darling.”

 

 

Planning was harder than he’d initally thought. Percy had given him ideas, expectations he was fully intending to exceed. Flowers? A bed of rose petals it was. Lighting? He’d study the sunset until he could use the exact half-hour. No drinks. …Yes. He’d promised.

But they came along with a condition.

Not while the crew is here. I don’t want to be sneaking around.

Nigh fucking impossible, apparently. If they were going to the pub, King George couldn’t go and Felicity wouldn’t, others milling around if they didn’t want to make the walk to town. If they went swimming, Percy was with them. And temporary errand boys that they were, there were no Sunday market trips to use either.

Greenhouse it was, for now. Desperately trying to hide his arousal every time Percy moaned against his lips.

They tended to talk just as much as they kissed. Sometimes Monty found Percy there before him, reading or playing his violin. Monty was fine to sit and watch, either way. Sometimes they simply sat together, legs entangled and bantering just as they did when they were growing up.

Sometimes, Monty got quiet, or snippy, at things he knew were stupid to get quiet and snippy about. Until Percy asked that ridiculously effective phrase, what are you thinking, Monty? More often than not, it unearthed something he had no idea had been affecting him. Pulled out the thorns in his side, one by one, leaving Percy with the same smile he’d have after perfecting a particularly difficult music piece.

It couldn’t be that simple, could it? Couldn’t have been that simple. Every time they’d stormed out on each other, every time they’d gotten into a row so bad he thought their friendship was dust, he could have just said what he already knew he was feeling. Ended up with everything he wanted, but years ago.

Though, he knew what had stopped his younger self. The fear that telling him would only make things worse.

For Paris; Of course it’s not a laugh, Percy. I’ve loved you for years. / Oh. I was just trying this out.

For Barcelona; Seeing your fit, not being able to do anything, was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through. I can’t lose you. / You selfish, useless git!

For Venice;  If we run away, I think I’ll be the death of both of us. / Yeah. You’ve proved that. I changed my mind.

But Percy had seen it all. Opened him and found the uselessness and vanity and all encompassing misery, then said I want you with me.

If Percy asked for his thoughts, that’s what he owed him.

 

 

After a few days of their greenhouse ventures, boxes had appeared in the room. Large, thick shipping crates stacked in the shade and stamped with Turkish they couldn’t read. The lock on the door had either fallen or been broken off, the carriers clearly having found it as hindering as Monty did.

“Doesn’t seem so abandoned anymore,” Percy commented with a frown on his face, running his hand over the curled lettering. “Are these for the ship? Why are they bringing them all the way up here?”

“I haven’t been given access to that information, I’m afraid.” Monty placed his hand on Percy’s back, watching his brow furrow. “Are you alright?”

“Well, like I said,” Percy backed away from Monty’s touch. “We might not be alone. It’s… it’s risky, now. To be here.”

He was being vague on purpose, as if he expected someone to be eavesdropping. Monty made an exaggerated check for any spies hanging in the inch-wide gap between the crates and the walls, smiling when he heard Percy laugh.

“What are you looking for?”

“Prying eyes. Perhaps they gouged one out and stuck it in this incredibly closed-off, tiny, sparse room so they could get their jollies watching us c-”

“Fine! Fine, I get it.” Percy said in mirth, but he kept his distance. Monty didn’t try to close it.

“I’d say the risk is about the same as when you come to kiss me goodnight.” At Percy’s non-commital shrug, he continued. “If you’re really worried, we’ll find somewhere else.”

Percy bit his lip, thinking.

“There isn’t anywhere else, is there?”

That made Monty’s heart ache. Out of the whole world, there really wasn’t.

 

 

“Cargo for the ship,” Monty grinned, hands on his hips. He stood in front of Percy, who was reading on the ground again. He’d been reluctant to kiss him ever since the boxes had appeared and, by God, he wasn’t going to let that be. Not when he’d waited so long already. “The Eleftheria has been hired to deliver. Brandy, fabric, olive oil, things like that. The road to the warehouse is on this hill, so they’re keeping them here until they make room in the stores. We’ll be expected to help move them to the ship soon enough.”

The sunlight cast perfectly across Percy’s smile.

“Oh? Pray tell, how did you come across this information?”

“Impressed by my investigative skills? You’ll be surprised that I have you to thank. With all this talking we’ve been doing, I’ve learnt a secret ability.” Monty leant down and winked. “I just asked.”

Percy giggled- a new sound Monty was trying his damned hardest to elicit more often – and stood up, leaving his book so he could take Monty’s hands in his. He didn’t quite, pulling them back at the last second.

“So, you’re sure that whoever delivered them…?”

“Came in the early morning without our notice, left a few days ago to never return. We’re splendid, darling.”

“Well,” Percy said softly, taking his hands and leaning in so close their noses touched. “I know it’s my fault, but I missed you.”

“After only a day?”

“I’d miss you after two minutes,” Percy confirmed with a smile. “I go to bed missing you. I wake up missing you. I really wish you’d swim with me, because I miss you then, too.”

“What was that about wanting me in your bed?” Monty replied before pressing a kiss to the side of Percy’s mouth, as it was preoccupied with laughing.

Despite his comment, the kisses this time were soft and slow and dryer than usual. Monty didn’t mind, he really didn’t. As much as he’d taught Percy how to kiss him, Percy had taught him to love it more than what it usually promised. To feel his hold and the sun’s warmth as much as he did his lips, to forget about the passage of time and the thought that any of this could be a sin.

Except, cruel world that it was, the door creaked open.

Percy stepped back, eyes wide, hand over his mouth like he thought he could hide the evidence. Monty stood in front of him, a gentlemanly smile already waiting to act like they were simply two men exploring the island, as curious youth were wont to do.

It fell. Scipio’s expression, his silence, told him he’d already seen too much for his lies to be effective.

Or heard.

Fine, then, Monty thought, readying excuses he’d garnered over the years – A game. A joke. He’d had something in his eye. I haven’t seen a woman who isn’t my sister for a month. You know how boys are at this age.

Echoes of pain brushed across his face, separate from his scars.

And if worst came to absolute worst… I forced myself upon him. Spare him at my expense, please.

“Monty,” Scipio finally said, nodding as if they were greeting each other at breakfast. That wasn’t quite what Monty expected, but the fact he hadn’t charged at them in a rage was a blessing he’d gladly count. “Percy.”

Percy was as pressed against the crates as he possibly could be, his body begging itself to run away, or hide, both impossible. Monty knew it was, because he’d been here before, in a small room with a man twice his size blocking the door, only able to hope that he’d make it out with all his teeth intact.

I have to fix this.

“Scipio.” Monty tried to steady his breathing, more out of panic than the exasperation of embracing. “Hallo. How do you find yourself here? We aren’t moving the crates until… sometime that is not at present.”

“I don’t know about you,” Scipio replied, his tone betraying no emotion. “But I’ve had a good amount of young men asking me about the ship cargo, thinking they were sly, and come up to them about to break open a wine crate. The looks on their faces are amusing.”

His eyes flicked to Percy’s expression. Monty wished he could hold his hand, calm the abject terror from his eyes. Scipio clearly didn’t think it was amusing either.

“But I see that’s not your… objective. I’ll be looking over the crates and-“

Scipio walked towards the cargo during his sentence. As soon as there was enough room between him and the door, Percy strode out, the sound of footsteps quickening as soon as he was out of sight.

“My apologies, but I must be leaving.” Monty flashed Scipio a grin, a little more strained than he would have liked, and ran after Percy before Scipio could say anything. Or break his neck, whatever the punishment for sodomy happened to be in his part of the world.

He caught up to Percy surprisingly quickly, though Monty was running and Percy was forcing himself to stay at a brisk pace. He could follow the line of thought, going too fast will attract more attention, but even from here he could see the crew at the beach, too many little shirtless figures to think that the house wasn’t empty.

“Percy!” He’d called it halfway down the steps, not expecting Percy to answer but not going to stop trying regardless. “Percy! Please, nothing happened-“

“I know,” Percy snapped over his shoulder. It was angry, but Monty knew better than that, knew that this was the type of fear that enveloped and clawed and didn’t go away for the rest of your life. “It’s fine, I’m fine.”

Somehow, it was a risk and a certainty at the same time, what he thought to do next. What he had to do.

“Then, what are you thinking?”

He was surprised at how well that stopped Percy, causing him to stumble over the last step. Monty shot out his arm to steady him, their hands eventually catching each other.

Monty wasn’t sure if the way Percy clutched onto him was involuntary, the instinctual need for touch overriding his fear of being seen. His eyes were still wide, flicking behind Monty to check that Scipio wasn’t following them, to the beach as if any of the crew would magically appear next to them, knowing everything and ready to retaliate.

“Percy,” Monty said softly, trying to catch his eye, force him to focus. “Percy, nothing is going to happen to you.”

Percy shook his head. His grip on Monty’s hand was almost painful, but Monty was glad it was there at all.

“He’s going to tell everybody.”

“Yes, Scipio, the great gossip.” Even just stopping Percy from running was doing wonders. Well, it was doing something. Slowing his breath, if slightly. Dilating his eyes, if slightly. “If he does, which is incredibly unlikely, and they’re angry, then it’s on me. I’m the sodomite who tricked his friend off the path of God. You’ll be pardoned.”

“Fucking hell,” Percy hissed, looking down. Monty’s stomach dropped. The feeling of saying the wrong thing was sickeningly familiar and had only worsened the longer he’d gone between them. “Do you think I want that?”

There wasn’t time to second guess, only to try again.

“I know you don’t, Percy. It’s our last resort. We can fight them off, we can run away, now if you wanted. But I can’t leave you like this. I need you to know that I will do anything to protect you. I need…” He stopped himself there, knew he shouldn’t make all those I statements right now. He watched Percy’s chest settle, watched his eyes relax, felt the grip on his hand stay just as painfully tight. He was still watching over Monty’s shoulder for Scipio.

Monty turned to look as well. The stairs were completely empty. He wondered if Scipio was really checking the boxes, or staying back to give them enough time to run away. He’d let them, that was the main thing. Something about their short conversation had told him that Scipio wasn’t one to worry about. All Monty had to do was convince Percy of the same.

“Let’s go inside,” Percy said, breathless. “Please.”

There wasn’t much more of a walk to the front door, but their slower pace made it all the more agonising. Percy led him inside, opening doors slowly and rounding the kitchen entryway to make sure no-one was there. Monty watched him with clenched teeth.

Once Percy seemed satisfied with their solitude, he started upstairs. The silence was unbearable. Monty tugged on his hand.

“What are you thinking, Percy?”

Monty wondered if this was how Percy felt, when he wouldn’t tell him anything. Even before they’d been on the tour, when Percy would find him drinking alone in the gardens. Or when they were boys, meeting in the morning covered in bruises and refusing to tell him where they came from.

Locked out by the person who was supposed to trust you, love you the most.

Percy looked at him, his eyes glazed over. Monty forced himself to hold his gaze. It was going to be different, from now on. They were going to be better.

“Wh… what do you mean?”

“Come on, darling, I’m not the only one with secrets.” His wry smile dropped when Percy didn’t answer. “You’re holding my hand quite tightly.”

Percy let go as if it had suddenly set aflame. Monty wondered if he’d even noticed he was holding it.

“Sorry,” he said quietly. He turned around, clearly wanting to make his way upstairs as if Monty hadn’t done anything at all.

He would have given up that easily, a month ago.

“You’re not going to make me repeat yourself, are you?”

As Percy turned back, brows furrowed, Monty continued.

“‘If we’re going to run away, Monty, we need to trust each other. Can’t be storming out every time somebody eats all the almond pastries.’ Or something to that effect, hm?”

Percy smiled weakly, more to show that he appreciated Monty was trying to cheer him up with a joke instead of actually enjoying it.

“You’re right. I act like all this blundering is just you-”

“It’s mostly me, darling.”

“Yes, well, that’s because this, this thing we’ve been doing. The talking. It’s hard. But you do it anyway, for me, and… I should be paying that back.”

“Oh good, I take pounds sterling.” He returned Percy’s small smile. “It’s hard, but it’s better, isn’t it?”

Percy nodded. He was still quiet, hesitant, so Monty asked again, gently.

“What are you thinking, Percy?”

Percy reached out his hand again. Monty took it. His hold was gentle, this time.

“…I like lads, Monty, no way around it. Of course I love you. But for the longest time, you just weren’t an option. I thought you weren’t. And I’d never even considered women unless I was forced to. So I’ve just been sitting around, playing my violin and letting men rub my shoulder for a little too long.”

Monty’s heart ached at that. The feeling was horribly mutual. All the loneliness, all the time wasted. Because of their- his blundering, as he’d said.

Percy took a slow, deliberate breath in before he started again.

“I had already resigned myself to a life of loneliness, you see, because even without the asylum, at the very best I would be married off to a woman I don’t care about, of a family who had reluctantly submitted her to have brown-skinned children, and sneaking off with young, manipulable boys on hunting trips until I died of a fit. But then, then you happened, and I’m completely euphoric, I really am, but I-” He swallowed, running his hand over his hair, stopping himself before he spiraled any further. He continued quietly. “It’s just another bloody thing to put my life on the line for, isn’t it?”

Percy avoided eye contact, his jaw clenched and shoulders tense. Monty pressed his lips together. He knew what he would have said to this, just a week ago. If I could find the dealer who had given you such a rotten hand in life, I would shove his own deck down his throat. But he needed to stop it, stop with his grand gestures and wishes for a better world that wouldn’t happen. He needed to face what was in front of him. Feel for and feel with. And, fuck, if he couldn’t do it for Percy, he couldn’t do it at all.

“You felt it?” He said in a low voice, if only for the excuse to step closer so that Percy could hear. “That fear. When you haven’t been caught, it’s all the excitement of secrecy and stealth. How could anything bad happen when you are so in love?”

Percy was listening to him intently, something about his saddened gaze telling Monty he was doing the right thing. Baring his soul so that Percy’s wouldn’t feel so alone.

“Then you are caught and suddenly, it is real. Painfully real. You remember why you were hiding in the first place. And then, perhaps just as strongly as you thought before that all the pain was worth it… it wasn’t.”

Monty realised his eye contact had drifted. On principle, he wanted to force it back, but he couldn’t. He didn’t know what to do if this was wrong. Didn’t know what to do if he had revealed his complete, innermost fears and nothing came of it.

“Yeah,” came Percy’s soft voice. “Yes, that’s exac- oh, god.”

Monty’s eyes snapped back to his, which were clearly blinking back tears. Percy laughed, just slightly, completely out of nerves.

“It’s ridiculous. I know that. I’ve spent my whole life like this. What’s the point in complaining?”

“Because I’m here to hear it.”

“Oh,” Percy breathed out like the entire world had melted off his back, then stepped down and fell into him, his head on his shoulder. “Monty.”

Monty wrapped his arms around him, far more awkwardly than he’d have liked due to the height difference.

“I’m scared,” Percy finally admitted, voice muffled. “I was acting so cavalier before. I have hope that we’re going to make it together, that doesn’t change. But I could do everything right, Monty, and still, one day, it could just… end.”

Monty didn’t reply. He remembered Percy’s fingers in his hair after Helena had drugged him, the way he was held better than any words. He pressed his lips to his temple, rubbed his hand over his neck, and hoped that it was enough.

“We should stop before anybody gets back,” Percy mumbled after a while, but didn’t remove himself from Monty’s shoulder. Monty took the initiative, pushing his upper arms to get him off, but still held him as if he were about to fall over.

“Sleep with me tonight, darling.” He paused, smiled, and tapped Percy on the lips. “Not like that.”

 

 

When they had come to the island and started splitting up rooms, Scipio had given expected preferential treatment to his crew. They’d gotten the spacious lodging with the balconies and curtains and elaborate storage chests, in a section of the house that could almost be a seperate building from the common rooms. He and Percy had been delegated to what he could only assume were butler’s chambers, small and dusty but otherwise well-kept. And they had one each, the trade-off they’d gotten while the crew members had to double up.

Monty had complained, loudly, about the predicament, an act he knew would only confirm to the crew that they wouldn’t be giving up their own rooms under any circumstances. And therefore ensuring he and Percy were only a hallway away from each other each night.

And that when the last crew member stopped banging around in the kitchen looking for hidden bottles of gin, that nobody would be able to hear the floorboards creaking as Monty snuck into Percy’s room.

Percy was still awake, just as wide-eyed as he’d been all those hours ago. He watched Monty lock the door, let him climb into his bed and press his chest against his back. Let him inelegently brush his fingers against Percy’s hairline, laughed at him for being so clumsy at comforting someone but relaxed into his hold all the same.

Monty kept his eyes open, even as the night passed into morning. Percy couldn’t sleep, he could tell as much from the way he forced his breathing to slow instead of rest doing it naturally. Monty’s worry spiked occasionally, wondering if Percy could be about to have a fit from all he’d been through. But that was alright, because Monty would still be there for that, too.

He knew he wasn’t just thinking of Scipio walking in on them. He thought back to the first conversation they’d had in the storage room, about planning to leave. They’d resolved the argument but the question had still been left unanswered, probably lying just as heavy on Percy’s mind. Another mistake to atone for added onto Monty’s already quite long list.

But he had to start somewhere.

“I think I might find work as a steward,” he said out loud, not even to Percy, in particular, just in case he didn’t want to answer.

Really?” Percy said, in such disbelief that Monty could hear the smile in his voice. At least he was smiling. “A steward?”

“What’s your issue with it?” Monty frowned, even if Percy couldn’t see. “My education lends itself to the profession. There’s a good wage for us. Not exactly a face-to-face job, either.”

“Well,” Percy turned around. The bed was too small for their noses not to touch. “I know they’re quite high up, but stewards are still servants.”

“And?”

“Monty Montague, taking orders. I’d buy a ticket to see that.”

“I’ve been doing quite fine being a lowly errand boy around here.”

“Not everybody will take as well to your whining as Scipio does.”

Monty blew cold air directly into Percy’s face, causing him to shriek and squirm away, almost falling off the bed if Monty wasn’t holding him. He giggled - really, that’s intoxicating – while readjusting himself so he was lying on Monty’s chest instead.

They settled like that, looking to the ceiling in silence. Percy’s breathing slowed to something normal, a fact Monty hoped he could say he helped with.

“Thank you,” Percy said, almost a sigh. “For everything.”

“Hold onto that, darling. I’m not done yet.”

 

 

They woke up late. Percy’s window faced East, so the fact they’d missed the sunrise was telling.

“Nobody came to wake us,” Monty commented, his first sentence of the day sounding like gravel.

“They might have,” Percy whispered, his voice much sweeter. “You locked the door, remember?”

“And we didn’t answer? They might think we’re dead.”

“Mm,” Percy replied by getting closer, nuzzling against Monty’s collarbone and causing his heart to skip. He didn’t have enough fingers to count how many times they’d woken up next to each other before, but never like this. He’d gladly trade sex if it meant this was what he got when they shared a bed. Maybe. “Means we can stay here, then.”

Percy’s bare thigh pressed against Monty’s in a way that was definitely unintentional. Monty shot up, clearing his throat. Percy had wanted a plan, he wasn’t going to ruin that with unwanted physical reactions.

“Can’t stay all day, darling, I have things to attend to.”

“Like what?”

“Eating. General survivability,” Monty replied while picking his breeches up from Percy’s floor. “I probably have to beg for money and go into town. For candles, or other such things that are well-suited to romance.”

“Oh.” Monty turned at Percy’s sigh. There was something soft in it, like he’d just come to a very private epiphany. “You’re really doing that? For me?”

It was moments like these, seeing him basked in sunlight, stray curls of hair stuck to his cheeks, where Monty realised the word beautiful had never applied to anyone but Percy. Or if it did, that there was a different, loftier word that the English hadn’t come up with yet, because nobody else had ever seen the edges of his eyes crinkle when he smiled. They wouldn’t have been able to look away long enough to write it down.

He couldn’t stop himself from smiling back.

“Of course I am.”

Percy sat up, cross legged and hands in his lap, and leant forward.

“You know, when you’re smiling- not smirking or planning something or trying to seduce someone… it’s nice. You look lovely, really.”

Monty blinked, not sure how to process his surprise. He had the feeling that was the first genuine compliment he’d been given for quite a while. If ever. At the very least, it was the first he believed. That Percy was looking at him with mussed hair and bleary eyes and the huge, scarred blight on his face and still found something to like.

He wanted to say something romantic, something charming or flirtatious. Only for you, darling. I could say the same. You should see what else my mouth can do.

“Th… thank you,” he settled on lamely. Percy smiled even wider. He went to kiss Monty, almost immediately recoiling after their lips touched, sticking his tongue out.

“Gross. That was a mistake.”

“You don’t exactly taste like peaches either.”

“When we room together,” Percy ignored him, climbing out of bed to get dressed. “We should grow mint on the windowsill. Some of the maids used to do that.”

The fact he’d said when and not if made Monty’s heart flutter, or some other equally trite expression of being both joyous and terrified.

Monty decided that neither of them wanted him to leave Percy’s room in just his shirt, so he made do with the clothes he’d left on the floor. He watched Percy dress while he did – really, he had to have something to tide him over – and helped him with his cravat when he got to it. Percy could do it perfectly fine himself, but Monty had used the excuse to get close to him for years. And now, when Monty’s fingers brushed against his neck, Percy would know it was on purpose.

“Are we going down for breakfast?” Percy asked him as his head craned upwards, more of a mumble than a question.

“It seems you dislike that idea.”

“I… don’t know who’ll be there.”

Monty hummed in thought as he finished tying off the cravat, smoothing down Percy’s waistcoat a little more slowly than he did when they were back home.

“I’ll go first, then.”

 

 

The house was quieter than they were used to. Monty could guess that their late waking hour meant they’d missed the crew leaving for the beach or town or odd jobs. Regardless, Percy was still nervous, trailing behind Monty as if he got any closer everybody would know they spent the night in the same room.

After a lot of gesturing on Monty’s part and confusion on Percy’s, they’d quietly agreed for Percy to eavesdrop around the corner of the kitchen entryway as Monty walked in. All of them used the kitchen more than the small parlour across the hall. More space, more light, no dying of Santorini heat in a dark rugged room. If anybody was in the house, they would be in there.

And indeed, Scipio was at the table, the person he most needed and least wanted to see. He didn’t look up - from what Monty could only guess was some sort of pamphlet - when he entered, much less spoke. Monty didn’t know if that was a good sign or not.

“A good morning to you, Scipio,” he greeted as he walked over to the cupboards. It was probably the politest thing he’d ever said to him. Scipio only made a gruff sound in return, which made Monty’s eye twitch. People have begged me to show such chivalry-

For Percy, he reminded himself as he cut bread to take for them. He’d been laughed at when the crew had found out he’d never done that before, but look, he even remembered not to put his thumb in the way of the knife this time.

“Are your papers interesting?” Monty despised small talk, but at least he was good at it, when he tried. “I’ve been finding myself quite idle. Perhaps I’d pick up something at your reccomendation.”

“Managed to get an old copy of Nouveau Mercure de galant,” Scipio replied, much to Monty’s relief. “More comedy than news, but it’s something.”

“Comedy? Is the Galant not a binding of art reviews?”

“Like I said. Hilarious how emotional your kind gets about these plays. Makes the sea battles seem tame.”

Wonderful. Normal conversation. If it weren’t for Percy, he’d have been glad to leave it at that. Content that Scipio would turn a blind eye in silence. But it wasn’t enough. Percy needed to know they were safe, that it wasn’t being held over their heads.

Monty breathed in.

“Now listen, Percy and I-”

“Nothing new to me,” Scipio interrupted, his tone empty. “No women out on the sea, crew gets lonely. I’ve walked into my fair share of cabins that were supposed to be locked.”

Monty clicked his tongue as he looked over his shoulder, doing his best to make it clear he was insulted.

“Don’t get it twisted, old chap. If every Duchess in Europe was at my feet begging for my hand, I would still choose him.”

Scipio grunted non-committally. Monty wasn’t sure if that was the end. What did he want to ask for? His protection? His blessing?

“I can respect that,” Scipio finally replied. “Most people don’t have that sort of conviction. You’ll need it. Don’t be worried about the crew, as long as when one of you free up your room to sleep with the other, one of them can have it. Bit sick of sharing.”

“Well, we haven’t yet-” He snapped quiet as he realised what he was going to admit to someone he certainly did not want to discuss such a topic with. Hopefully, eventually and with enough practice, his damned mouth would run at the same time as his brain.

Scipio grunted again, flipping his gazette around.

“Sorry for keeping you two apart.”

That was Monty’s cue to leave. He turned, breakfasts in hand, ready to be applauded on his communicative abilities by Percy and continue their intimacy out of eye’s and harm’s way.

“Monty.” His name interrupted his departure. He looked back to Scipio, who was staring directly at him for the first time since they’d started talking.

“Yes?”

“Have you ever heard of matelotage?

“Can’t say I have, no.”

“It’s not marriage,” he explained. “But for two pirates- for two men, it’s enough.”

Monty couldn’t stop the edges of his mouth from curling upwards. He’d never thought highly of marriage - like Percy, he’d expected some unlucky girl to be forced into his arms by his father’s least favourite accquaintance. But scenes of proposals and weddings and consummation ran through his thoughts, and suddenly, if they were with Percy, he had never desired anything more strongly in his life.

“I’ll be keeping that in mind.”

 

 

He found Percy nearer to the stairs than the kitchen entryway, as if he’d been trying to escape. Monty expected a smile when he walked closer, perhaps some swooning, but Percy’s mouth stayed downturned.

“I’ll admit, you’re a tad glummer than I thought you’d be.”

“Thank you, Monty.”

Monty was taken aback by the sudden gravity in his voice.

“Whatever for?”

Percy shrugged.

“That could have ended badly. Quite badly. But you charged in there like the front line of cavalry.”

“Anything for you, Percy,” he replied quietly. He offered the hand that wasn’t holding his plate of bread and apples. “I mean that. I really do.”

A smile slowly rested on Percy’s face as he took Monty’s hand, using it to pull them closer together.

He kissed him there, where anybody could see them.