“Can I talk to you, Sir Humphrey?”
He was sitting in his office, trying to get through some last minute paperwork before going to see Ji- Hacker, Hacker no matter how much his mind kept trying to say otherwise. Ever since they’d slept together in a bed for the first time, ever since he’d woken up the morning after with the man watching him and a strange feeling in his chest that it took a long while to identify as happiness, his mind had started to get confused.
The sensible thing, yet again, would’ve been to stop. But he knew himself well enough to know that this was past the point of no return now, that the only way they were going to untangle themselves from each other was through either the ravages of time or a sudden catastrophe. He should’ve been somewhat worried at this fact, but instead he was merely resigned. As such he looked up at Bernard with notable irritation, not entirely appreciating a delay to his plans of ending up naked and in a bed within the next hour. “I’m a little busy at the moment, Bernard.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Bernard said, and shifted uncomfortably on his heels. He had once been so like a mouse, inclined to flee at every single bark, but time had somewhat strengthened his spine. It was yet another thing that he wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about, whether he should indulge in pride or annoyance. “But it is extremely important.”
He sighed, and glanced rather pointedly at his watch. Maybe if he skimped on a few less vital bits of paperwork he could still get to Jim’s- to Hacker’s flat in time. “Well, if you tell me quickly…”
Bernard yet again failed to take the hint, which he was quite cheerfully going to blame Hacker for. He glanced nervously all around the room, particularly at the door that connected them to the more general offices where the under-secretaries - on the whole an extremely ambitious and remarkably nosy lot - worked. “It’s important and private, sir.”
A part of him wanted to demand that Bernard spit it out here and now, damn what the news was or what implications it would have, but he restrained himself with another sigh and rose from his desk. He had started to care for the boy somewhere along the way, and he didn’t want to see him ruined over a casual bit of hearsay.
“Well, Bernard?” He asked, once he’d led them into the slightly more private side room. It was insane, but even as he peered at Bernard with some wariness he was wondering just how much it would take to tempt Jim - Hacker, Hacker - into this room; it would be tight for any sexual acts, but he had recently discovered a surprising new desire to contort himself. “What terrible faux pas requiring immediate attention have you committed? "
“It’s not any faux pas I’ve committed, sir, it's…” Bernard said hesitantly, still glancing at the door all the while. He was obviously dithering, just as usual. It was never one of his favourite traits even at the best of times, and now he found himself downright impatient with it. He drew himself up, and gave Bernard his very best glare until the man noticed and finally spat out the news in a sudden burst of panic. “Oh, I know about you and the Prime Minister!”
His first reaction was pure and blinding shock, soon followed by a heart thumping queasiness that almost had him doubling over. If he had been a lesser man he probably would’ve had to lean back against the wall for support; as it was, it took him quite some effort to lock his knees and maintain a cool expression.
Bernard had always been a lot more observant than ideal. He gave him a nervous look, obviously aware of just how much he’d shaken him. “Sir Humphrey?”
“You know about the strong and professional working relationship between the Prime Minister and I, Bernard?” He asked, making sure that his voice emerged perfectly icy and collected. So what if they both knew that he was shaken, that was no reason to fall apart entirely. Not when he had Jim’s career to think of too. “Or at least, I hope that’s what you meant.”
“N-no. Not exactly. I mean, well, uh…” Bernard gave him a downright miserable look. If this had been any other situation, and if he had been any other person, he would’ve probably taken pity on the poor boy. “Are you really going to make me say it?”
“If you’re going to attempt to jointly blackmail the head of the civil service and the most important politician in the country then I would certainly hope that you had a strong enough stomach to actually get the words out, Bernard,” he said, allowing his voice to become even icier. The truth of the matter was that he was disappointed by this, regarded it as a betrayal from a completely unexpected sector. He had known that Bernard had his own ambitions, you didn’t get that far in the civil service without having some of them, but somehow he had never quite thought they stretched that far.
“Attempt to-? I’m sorry, what?” Except, just for once, he seemed to have misjudged. Bernard didn’t leap immediately into an awkward blackmail attempt, or an equally awkward attempt to back out of an unfortunate conversation, but rather stared at him with an expression that could only be called appalled. “Humphrey, I wouldn’t ever attempt to blackmail either of you! I’m not you.”
Well, that was perhaps the most insulting reassurance that he’d ever received. He glared at Bernard pointedly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I mean, uh…”
“Thank you, Bernard, that’s quite enough,” he said after allowing a few long moments of stuttering. Perhaps he was going soft in his middle age, he was most certainly going soft if this entire business with Jim was anything to go by, but he didn’t want to torture a man who looked quite so sincere. “What were you intending to do, then?”
“To let you know that I’m on your side, primarily, although I seem to have buggered that up,” Bernard said somewhat miserably, the hangdog expression on his face so profound that he found himself narrowly biting back a totally inappropriate smile. “And, uh, to warn you.”
He focused in almost gratefully on that, absurdly glad to have a distraction from the disgustingly tender feelings that had apparently infected his chest. He tightened his arms around himself, made sure to give Bernard yet another piercing look. “To warn me about what, Bernard?”
“People from other departments talk around me quite a lot. I’m not sure why, perhaps they don’t think that I’m ruthless enough to use it.” Bernard lifted his shoulder in rueful shrug, and he experienced a brief and disorientating moment of savage fury at anybody who had ever dared to underestimate the man. “There have been a lot of whispers about you lately, and your relationship with the Prime Minister. People seem to think that your bark has become worse than your bite since you started working with him, that the scorpion’s sting has been blunted.”
“I see,” he said carefully. It wasn’t the worst news, the worst news would’ve been somebody actually having evidence of what laid between them, but it was also hardly positive. Power was in reputation, and if his reputation was blunted that was something to be concerned about. “And how much do they actually know?”
“I don’t think they know anything, Sir Humphrey,” Bernard said, again trying to be reassuring. It went a lot better than last time, even if he suspected that it was slightly less accurate. “They’ve only noticed how close you’ve been, they don’t know what goes on between you behind closed doors.”
He nodded, thoughtfully. They hadn’t been precisely careful, but he believed Bernard when he said that there were only suspicions as of yet. And perhaps not even particularly accurate suspicions. A lot of the civil service was still stuck firmly in the past, as they tended to recruit based on such values; most of them would probably look at him and Jim and see a far too close friendship, not the passion that actually existed. “And how much do you know, Bernard?”
“Er…” Bernard looked a little poleaxed at that question. To his credit he did try to resist for a long few moments, but crumpled like a paper towel when he sent another well aimed glare. “Everything.”
His heart had slowed, once he had been given actual facts, but it sped up again at that. For a long moment he was absurdly worried that Bernard knew that he had started to refer to Jim - damn it, Hacker - as Jim inside his head, that he knew about the tentative feelings - things he had dismissed as irrelevant for so very long - trying hard to blossom inside his chest. “I very much doubt that, Bernard, how on earth could you?”
Bernard, who had obviously been relaxing himself once it became clear that no immediate murders would be committed, started to look miserable again. “I, uh, may have seen the two of you together. Doing… Well, things. I didn’t tell anybody, and I won’t in the future, but it was kind of hard to forget.”
“I see.” He hesitated for a long moment, debating whether to tell Bernard to try and forget anyway, and then sighed. This was an unfortunate situation, but if Annie - Hacker’s wife - had discovered them and the world hadn’t fallen down then maybe Bernard wouldn’t do that much harm. Maybe it would be good to have an ally keeping an eye out for them, one who wasn’t hopelessly distracted by a mixture of heart and cock. “No worries, Bernard, we don’t need to discuss it any further. We can leave the matter there.”
“I’ve been mulling over what to do for ages, but I just thought…” Bernard hesitated for a moment more, and then unexpectedly drew himself up. When he met his eyes again his expression was firm, a determination there that’d he’d never seen before. “You’ve both been good to me, in your own ways. I wouldn’t like to see either of you brought down, not because of a mere relationship.”
“Thank you, Bernard,” He said, touched and for once not bothering to hide it. He didn’t bother to say that the relationship was no longer quite so mere, that was a worrying fact that he was happy to keep to himself. “I’ll keep that in mind.”