It had been long enough since Thomas had slept with anyone - actually slept, rather than the more metaphorical meaning of the phrase - that he couldn't truthfully say he missed it. For various reasons, not least the nature of his job, it had never been something he’d been in the habit of anyhow.
It seemed like something that might become a habit, though, with Peter, and that was unexpected – although everything about this was unexpected, wasn’t it. Bother Tyburn for bringing all this up, anyway, she’d known Peter would selflessly volunteer, Thomas had seen the look in her eye. Although Thomas had allowed himself one or two doubts about exactly how selfless Peter had really been, after that first night – or rather during it. Thomas might have managed the self-control to not suggest any continuation of marital relations, beyond that, might have, but Peter had made it plain that as far as he was concerned, having made their bed they might as well mess up the sheets a little. Even Thomas’s particularly excruciating interview with the Commissioner, the following week, hadn’t been much bulwark against that.
And so it happened, now and again, that they fell asleep in the same bed, after. They’d never talked about it, but Thomas thought he might find it nearly as difficult to give up as the other, if it ever came to it, and he certainly didn’t want to talk to Peter about that. It was far too – it felt like more of a presumption than anything else; and that was ridiculous, of course. But so was this whole situation, and not talking about it was working, for the moment, and not breaking things that were working had been a guiding principle of Thomas’s life for the last seventy years or so. He wasn’t going to change it now.
On this particular night, they’d drifted off at an earlier hour than usual, and perhaps that was why he woke in the middle of the night when something brushed softly against his face – a hand. It startled him awake and sitting upright before his brain had time to remind him that it was only Peter. Peter was sitting up, too, silhouetted against the dim wash of light from behind the curtains; Thomas couldn’t make out his expression.
“Sorry,” Peter murmured. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
He sounded slightly hoarse, though Thomas hadn’t heard anything.
“Nightmare?” he asked anyway.
“Yeah,” said Peter, and Thomas wondered if he should ask what it had been about; he knew nightmares, but not waking up beside someone who could be safely told their contents. Besides, he remembered Peter’s hand on his face, the details surfacing; the trace of fingers along the bridge of his nose and down around the line of his jaw, feeling for the bones. He thought he might know, without asking.
“What do you need to do?” he asked instead. His own solution, when in the Folly, had always been paperwork; there was always enough of it. But it didn’t seem like quite the thing to suggest, under – under present circumstances.
“Do you mind if I talk at you for a bit?” Peter said. “Just – it’d get my mind off it. I don’t need intelligible answers. Just – listening.”
“I think I can do that,” Thomas told him, and reached out to draw him back down under the covers. When his thumb brushed the curve of Peter’s throat, he could feel Peter’s pulse, still fast; his stillness was tension, not sleepiness. “What are you going to talk at me about?”
“Um,” Peter said. “Let me think. Something I’ve been wondering about…oh; telomeres. Or, no, you don’t -”
“Tell me what telomeres are, Peter,” Thomas said, smiling in the darkness; this at least was something he did know, how to listen in the dark hours when you were abed with someone whose brain spilled over with more thoughts that they could contain. David had always had more thoughts than his mind had room for.
He hadn’t expected that to be something he’d smile over again.
Peter gave him a surprisingly lucid explanation, considering the late hour, but Thomas wasn’t sure how it related to anything until Peter went on “- and Abdul said he did wonder about yours but that the last time he thought about it, it was still too difficult to get them sequenced -”
“What?” Thomas said, startled – not awake, exactly, but somewhat more awake.
“It’d be a great advance for science, you know,” Peter said. “If we could figure out whether they got longer when you got younger again. Not that we could tell anybody about it.”
“That’s sort of the definition of great advances in science,” Thomas pointed out, “and as far as I can make out it still wouldn’t tell you anything about why.”
It was the only question he really had; he could live without knowing the precise mechanisms that had returned him to – healthy middle age, you couldn’t say he was young again. But why, why, why; there was a question. Of course, he wasn’t really sure he wanted to know the answer.
“Well…no,” Peter allowed. They were shoulder-to-shoulder, and Thomas had felt him relax, slowly, over the past few minutes, his mouth carrying his mind away from whatever the nightmare had been. “But we might be able to do a comparison, I don’t know. See if we could talk one of the Rivers into it, as well, or Isis or Oberon or someone else married to one of them. Someone else who – stopped getting older.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Oh, I know.” Peter shifted, settling; ready to sleep again, Thomas thought. Thomas himself was finding it hard to stay awake; when Peter rolled over and slung an arm across him, surprisingly possessive, he wasn’t motivated to do anything but shift a bit closer.
“Alright now?” he asked, just to check.
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Think so.” The arm slung across Thomas tightened for a brief instant, a silent sort of thanks. Thomas hoped Peter’s subconscious had done its worst for the night – and that his own didn’t decide to misbehave in sympathy.
Peter’s breathing slowed, and Thomas thought he might have actually gone back to sleep – he was slipping in and out of consciousness himself – when Peter spoke softly in his ear.
“I wonder sometimes,” Peter said, almost inaudible, “if it’s going to do anything to me. Getting married to you. Probably not the right question, though.”
Thomas wondered whether he should acknowledge hearing that, and decided – maybe not. He wasn’t equipped to have that conversation at two in the morning. Or possibly ever.
He’d almost drifted off again when Peter mumbled something else. “Because none of this makes any sense, all these oaths and things, or the food thing, it’s just words and…things…but they make shapes in our minds, don’t they? Magic we’re all doing together…”
Thomas was far too sleepy to parse that properly, and wasn’t sure it would make sense if he were awake, but he was starting to wish that Peter would stop talking; this hadn’t ever been a problem before.
“I’m so not going to remember any of this in the morning, which is a pity, I think I almost had something there…”
He had to fall asleep eventually. He sounded like he was on the edge of falling asleep.
“Wait,” Peter said suddenly. “You’re still awake, aren’t you.”
Thomas realized his breathing had sped up, and gave up the pretense entirely. “There’s this mysterious voice in my ear.”
Peter was silent for a few seconds, and then said, solemnly, “You should probably research that, it might be dangerous.”
Which Thomas considered quite earned him the pillow Thomas thumped him with a second later; then he wondered for a guilty moment if that had been the right thing to do, but Peter just made a muffled sort of laughing noise. “Okay, okay. Point taken.”
Thomas didn’t actually know if Peter had gotten any sleep after that, because five silent minutes was all it had taken for him to fall back asleep, and he’d not woken again before morning; but Peter was bright-eyed enough at breakfast, so he presumed so. He’d been out of bed when Thomas had woken, but that wasn’t particularly remarkable, on mornings where Thomas was in a position to observe such things.
“Sorry I went on so long, last night,” Peter said, after Thomas had sat down and poured a cup of tea. “I get a bit rambly sometimes, when…”
“I don’t mind,” Thomas told him, as he buttered his toast. “I did offer to listen.”
“But you’re not promising to refrain from pillow-related violence if I don’t shut up eventually?”
Peter grinned, broad and happy; whatever the nightmares had been, they were gone in the light of day. “Fair enough.”
Thomas smiled back, and that was what was really unexpected about this, this whole…affair, though that was entirely the wrong word. When it was just the two of them, when they weren’t trying to negotiate everyone around them, it was surprisingly – it was easy.
The really dangerous thing about being married to Peter, he decided, was that he might get used to it, after all.