Title: Men Who Listen
Rating R for smut
Word Count 1875
The bed was a warm nest, and Thomas held him close even as he said that they should both get up. And Thomas seemed inclined, Kit thought, to make the process more difficult. Dressing seemed to provide vulnerable moments which Kit had not anticipated. Thomas waited until Kit was putting on his shirt; until Kit was muffled in the folds of crumpled linen, arms in the air. In this foolish position he found himself embraced. It was different this way, he felt more exposed,even once he had pulled the shirt down properly. He was still standing half dressed, with his stockings pooled childishly, untied, around his feet.
“We are never going to get out of here if we--- oh.”
“There. Dost thou--”
“When I do it like this?”
The hands were sliding down over the swell of his arse, down the shivering bare backs of his legs; down to the thin skin and sinew of the knee and then back up, so slowly that he shivered. Kit shifted restlessly, giving them room to move between. The hands were large and warm. Last night Kit had examined them close, tasted and learned the calloused places. Thomas had a gentleman's callous at the base of the thumb and the forefinger. Horse leather rubbed there, and sword. Kit himself had one callous, hard as bone, halfway down the finger of his right hand. It ached in the cold of the schoolroom. It was where his pen rested of course. He supposed there was some meaning in that.
The hands drew him close and now the mouth, the mouth came, soft and slow on the points of Kit's hips, and the hollow places below the hem of the crumpled shirt. The sun, watery warm through the cracks in the shutter of the window, paled the gold in Thomas's hair. The image shone in the dark as Kit's eyes closed desperately. And Thomas had not done this last night, not this, but only with the hand. And here was Kit, half dressed and foolish, and the points of his hips, yes a kiss to each and oh now a kiss to the straining point between.
His head fell back. Far away down the hall he could hear the sound of knife on plate. Someone was eating, he could smell bacon and fried fish. Someone laughed, a chair scraped.
But here there were only small sounds, Thomas holding him, tipping the bowl of his pelvis to lap as a cat does, to drink as a man does. The sound of Kit's fingers in Thomas's hair, and the sound of Thomas in Kit's other hair. And Kit, with his fist in his his mouth, the half-moon marks of his own teeth bruising down. The sounds came out around the fist, as Thomas took him into the heat, as Thomas drew and drew.
And stopped. Stopped short.
“Dost like it Kit?” Thomas rubbed his cheek against the standing flesh, preening and blinking like a great cat.
Kit could hear the whine in his own voice, hear it break high as it had not done for years. He waited, his breath heaving, teeth against fist.
“None of that.” His voice was rough edged for all it was kind. “I would hear thee Kit. Let me hear thee.”
Thomas took the hand, moved his kissing there, over the small marks, licking at the place where the sore would come later.
And back down-- the tongue was just here now, coaxing Kit to push forward, holding his hips as he rocked helplessly back. And he could not could not be quiet now. His breath rasped in his throat and he shook his head in negation, too soon too soon. It was rising in him now, and he felt Thomas gather the shirt high just in time.
Thomas smiled up at Kit's disarray, stood and pulled Kit close.
“How now, master scholar?” he smoothed Kit's ruffled hair back.
“I think my brains have left me.” Kit said.
“Breakfast. Breakfast is the answer.” Thomas said.
Ten minutes later Kit was inclined to agree. Decently dressed, and with a clean face he rattled down the narrow backstairs after Thomas.
The shutters were open to the morning sun, but the windows here were glazed. The bench nearest the fire was both warm and sunlit. Light shone down onto a long trestle table, decently laid with plain linen. Kit could see a pewter plate heaped with bacon. Another sat nearby, with breaded fish. The plates were humble for this house. Least best, he supposed, was used for breakfast. There had been silver enough last night. Still the bread was fine manchet, white and soft. There was butter to go with it. Kit could see that the dairy-maid had patted it into an attractive shape, and stamped it with a W. And there were two pitchers, in easy reach, one of ale and one a white froth of this mornings milk.
Two men sat, backs to the fire. They were alike in their posture, their utter concentration on the food. The ate with focus so identical that Kit wanted to laugh. They were different in every other way.
The larger man was ordinary. Middle age, middle size, sloped shoulders and thinning brown hair. He had a prosperous belly pressed against the table edge, muscle gone soft with age. He bowed to Thomas from where he sat. His eyes smiled at Thomas, and passed on to Kit. They flickered back to Thomas again, and back to Kit. If pressed Kit would only have said the eyes were brown. They were not the near-black brown of Francis Walsingham. These were ordinary brown, the brown of a dried oak leaf. They might have belonged to a thousand ordinary Englishmen. But they rested on Kit with a sort of self-mockery. There was a sleepy stillness to the gaze. But it was the stillness of a sleepy cat. Kit would not make the mistake of thinking the mind behind them to be mean or slow. That would be a great mistake indeed.
The man had finished chewing.
“Robin Poley,” he said. “I do not think we've met.”
“No Sir, I think not.” Kit said. He had heard of Poley though, heard him mentioned somewhere. He rose from his bow and turned his attention to the second man.
Man in name only. He seemed to be even younger than Kit. His cheeks were round, still padded with the last of boyhood. His hair was dark and too fine to lie flat, his eyes a deep and startling blue. He smiled at Kit's smile, and set his cup onto the table. He had been drinking milk.
“I am Tommy Nashe,” he said. “Do try the fish. It is--”
But Kit never found out what Nashe thought of the fish. The word became a long indrawn breath with and a series of hacking desperate coughs. Nashe pushed back from the table, face averted, he coughed over and over until his breath was gone, and then Kit heard the whooping rasp as he forced the air in over his clenching throat, to hack again. He hunched his body down against the pain of it, and Kit could see how he pressed his hands in tight to support his abdomen.
Poley had been making some small jest to Thomas Walsingham, but they both fell silent, waiting for the terrible coughing to stop.
It did stop. It just seemed to take forever, as Kit counted his own easy breaths against it.
Nashe was pale even to the lips by the end, but he smiled at Kit anyway.
“Your pardon,” he said. “I have come from Marshalsea only lately. It has an unhealthy and vaporous atmosphere. No light. And I have taken a cough.”
Eating, Kit listened. Poley had collected Nashe from the prison and they had come to Scadbury directly late last night. They were to speak with Francis Walsingham at nine.
Kit had expected to see Francis Walsingham at breakfast. He had been dreading it actually. He felt that those dark eyes would know what Kit had wanted, how Thomas had stroked and suckled him, how he had twisted and panted and begged.
“No, you will not see him here.” Thomas said.” Uncle Francis breakfasts in the dark. He wakes at four most mornings. He says old men don't need to sleep.” Thomas said. “He favors hard bread, bitter wine, and he works at the same time. When I was a child I thought he drank ink. Sometimes I still think maybe he does.”
So they sat, the four of them, and ate. Little Tommy Nashe followed his milk with hippocras. Kit applied himself to the fish and bacon. Poley spread butter on bread. Thomas turned around to stretch his boots to the fire. And Kit listened to the three of them speak around him, feeling the rise and fall of their speech lodge in some pocket of remembering.
Poley was hearty and Kit could hear how he troubled himself to be friendly. . His big bland face was creased with lines of past amusements. He spoke of his own days at Cambridge, of the small and comical sins of his youth. He was ready to laugh at himself. It was an appealing quality in a man old enough to demand he respect due his age. But somehow listening, Kit thought of smooth things, of ice and mirrors, and sunlight on silver.
Listening, Kit realized that Thomas Walsingham's mood had darkened. He was biting into his bread with a decisive brevity that Kit knew for anger. Where it had come from Kit could not imagine.
At nine the clock spoke, and Poley and Nashe departed. Kit heard their footsteps diminishing as they wound away into the shadowed interior of the great house.
Thomas was spreading butter in a marked manner. Kit felt his insides roll. His mouth was dry.
“Did you see that?” Thomas asked.
“That boy. Nashe. He is only 15. His father is a churchman up North somewhere. Poor as shivering wrens, the lot of them. You will see him next year, with the other clever scholars, carrying water and washing chamber pots. He has been accepted as a sizer.”
“Was he imprisoned for debt?” Kit knew well enough the road from poverty to debt, but it felt unlikely somehow.
“No,” Thomas said. “He has done no wrong. He is an agent Kit. Men talk, in prison. Oh you hear them boast, 'Not me, I'll keep my lips shut.' Well. They talk well enough when put to question. Half the time you need not even rack them. Deprive a man of daylight and company and he will tell all, between blubbering for his mother. And he will keep on talking when he returns to the cell. We have men to listen, in prisons. And sickly boys too, have their uses. Uncle sent him.”
From far away again came the echo of the cough.