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A Kiss on the Hand May Be Well More Than Continental

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“Lord Thomas Hamilton,” comes a confident voice at his left.

Thomas turns, and… “Ah,” is the best he can manage to voice. He was told to expect a sailor and thought uncouth manners and rough edges. This man—perfect posture, neat uniform, cool, assessing gaze—is… Not those things. 

He pulls his wits about him, though he cannot stop his eyes from taking in the full measure of the man before him. Several times over. “Are you the liaison sent by the Admiralty?”

“I am, my lord,” the man responds. And, as propriety dictates, he takes Thomas’s right hand in his and bends over it to kiss the back. It is a fleeting touch, in exact accord with all conventions of politesse.

Thomas feels its warmth on his skin all day.

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As his work with James has progressed over the last weeks, Thomas has abandoned many of society’s more tedious expectations of decorum when they are in his home. He flings aside his wigs and cravats as soon as they attain his study. He refers to various peers of the realm by an assortment of informal nicknames. There have even been a few evenings upon which he has, scandalously, removed his shoes in James’s presence.

James, however, is much slower to relinquish the social rules that accompany their stations. While he has been known to remove his coat on occasion, he refuses to make use of Thomas’s Christian name, despite repeated exhortation. He’ll not stay to supper on the grounds it isn’t proper without formal invitation. And he continues to kiss Thomas’s hand in greeting every time they meet.

That last doesn’t bother Thomas one bit.

He hopes that someday soon James will see fit to make himself comfortable in dress while indoors and that he’ll be granted the opportunity to be addressed simply as Thomas in that low, velvet voice. But if James insists upon continuing to press his lips to Thomas’s hand at the start of each day’s work, well. Thomas has been brought up gently. He would never be so impolite as to protest.

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James is gloriously wild when roused to sufficient passion. The ability to inspire this intemperate ferocity in him is one of Thomas’s chief delights and a source of great pride.

It remains true that James is still surprised whenever Thomas catches him up in a kiss across his desk. When James initiates their bedsport, he still approaches Thomas bashful and unsure. But with the clever application of Thomas’s fingers just so, or his mouth used judiciously, or the right carnal suggestions whispered in James’s ear, something shifts. Then James abandons all propriety to become a creature of unfettered desire, loud and greedy and absolutely enthralling.

It is a fact Thomas finds endlessly endearing that, despite this wildness, James still, unfailingly, greets Thomas with a kiss to his hand.

Of course, these too have changed along with the increased intimacy between them. In public, James is, as ever, the very soul of decorum. However, now that their evenings (and on occasion, their afternoons, and oh, that one decadent morning) end with them tangled together, naked, James has begun to use his hand kisses as a teasing ground to be explored.

He may let his mouth linger across Thomas’s knuckles. He may hum a feline purr into Thomas’s skin. He may lave his tongue across the back of Thomas’s hand. Or, as he is now, he may run his lips down Thomas’s hand to suck one or two or, oh, now three fingers into his warm, wet, welcoming mouth.

“James,” Thomas groans, “Your greeting is quite sufficient.”

James looks coyly up at him from under his lashes and arches one expressive brow. His teasing Should I stop, then? written plain across his lovely face. 

Thomas finds he is entirely incapable of doing anything other than pulling that wicked mouth up to his own.

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Once Thomas is locked away, no one shows him the social grace of kissing his hand in greeting.

By the time he is moved from madhouse to plantation, the custom of the day has changed. No one kisses hands in greeting any longer.

It seems to him yet another thing that has died along with James.

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The labor on the plantation is not easy, but Thomas can appreciate its honesty. He is at the very least glad to‘ve gained back the strength he lost, locked up in London. He cannot help but miss the days when his life was lived in well-appointed rooms full of quick-witted friends with beautiful manners. The bygone era when his voice mattered in the world and people kissed each other's hands on meeting. But Oglethorpe is happy enough to discuss books over supper, and after all, Thomas knows intimately how much worse things could be.

He rests his hoe in a furrow and straightens his aching back for a moment. The sensation of eyes on him makes him turn. And there....

Oh God.

No. It cannot be... He cannot be...

But it is. He is. Somehow, like some miraculous, mirage of a gift, James McGraw—long dead no longer—is walking toward him on this farm in the hot Savannah sun.

They are dreamlike and unsure together for only a moment, and then he is in James’s arms and James is in his, and they are clutching at each other and laughing and crying, and oh, he must be real, for he holds Thomas so hard and runs restless hands over Thomas, and he smells like James.

They kiss, and he tastes like James.

Thomas does not have words for this. They neither of them have words. Not just yet.

Instead, James reaches for Thomas’s hand and lifts it between their chests. He raises it to his mouth and kisses its back. Hello says James’s kiss, and How I’ve missed you and I love you and so much more besides. It says all the greetings of all the hand kisses that have come before. It begins a new chapter of the unfinished book of the two of them and promises a lifetime of greetings stretching out into the years ahead.