[I swear, one day I'll stop being obsessed with these two. One day. (Yeah, no. Not likely. *sigh*) Beware the brief spoilers for Moment of Truth and the rampant fluffy insanity.
This can be read as an epilogue to Cloak and Dagger, but I'm not expecting anyone to go and read that, and it definitely isn't necessary. There's only one, tiny point of continuity between the two pieces, and it's really not at all significant.]
Life as the head of one of the two most important intelligence services in Albion was never easy, but it had all somehow become a hundred times more complex, more demanding, more busy, more frustrating and, above all, more important, once war broke out. Commanders Craddock and Tallis saw each other increasingly often, combining reports and conclusions and plans and doubts, but it was always in a strictly professional context. They had already agreed not to exchange so much as a lascivious glance while at work, not only in an effort to hide their relationship from the wrath of the wider world, but also because the work they did was simply too important to allow for on-the-job distractions.
Unfortunately, this meant that the time in which distractions were allowed was restricted to the hours between about midnight and five o'clock in the morning, with variation of an hour or two depending on how desperate the situation in Gallia (or Muscovia, or the Low Countries, or Holmland, or Trinovant itself) became – hours that were generally sequestered away for such sundry necessities such as sleep.
On yet another such day – they seemed to stretch for eternities, sometimes – Craddock finally managed to leave Darnleigh House at forty-three minutes past two in the morning. He strode briskly across Grainger Square, keeping his head down against the cold. The Square was busier than most places had any right to be at such an hour, operatives darting to and fro between Darnleigh House and Lattimer Hall, or headed for Credence Lane, or the nearest train station, or Finley Moor, or any number of other destinations, clandestine or otherwise. Craddock paid them no heed, and they responded in kind, intent upon their tasks and in the knowledge that those of others were beyond their station or capabilities.
Not to mention that no one wanted to accost the Commander of the Magic Department when he looked as if he wanted to use his many talents to bring about a swift death either for himself or the next person to so much as glance in his general direction.
Craddock stopped in front of a townhouse on the side of Grainger Square – number eight, precisely halfway between Lattimer Hall and Darnleigh House. He ignored the fearful nod from the constable outside number nine and perfunctorily checked the spells he'd put up around the building, ensuring there had been no intruders in the last twenty-four hours. Finding nothing amiss, he pushed down on the handle and walked right in, not bothering with a key, the door having undergone a rigorous application of sophisticated security magic so that it would admit only two very specific people.
Ignoring the lure of coffee for the rather headier promise of sleep, Craddock forewent the light switch and hung his coat up by the door. He headed straight past the darkened kitchenette and into the bedroom at the back of the building, slinging off his jacket, tie and belt as he went and toeing out of his shoes in a tricky manoeuvre, perfected over the past months, which allowed him to remove both shoes and socks without stopping on his way to the dark, inviting shape of the large bed looming in the centre of the room. He didn't bother to change into his nightclothes, well-used to sleeping in trousers and shirt as he was, and instead slipped rather less gracefully than he would have liked between the sheets, immediately turning on his side and wrapping his arm around the warm, broad chest waiting beneath the blankets.
"Morning, Pompey," Tallis murmured sleepily as the other Commander buried his face in the back of his neck, breathing deeply and setting a long, tired kiss against his skin.
"Fitzwilliam's team have set up a base in Divodorum," said Craddock quietly, trying for businesslike and achieving something just short of a weary slur. Tallis nodded silently, and there was a brief moment of minute shifting as the two men better aligned their limbs, Craddock burying his feet between the mattress and Tallis' legs.
They were asleep within seconds.
A loud, incessant and very high-pitched whine woke them both at four-thirty. Tallis groaned, burying his face in his pillow and stealing Craddock's to fold over the back of his head, essentially sealing himself into a feathery, but entirely ineffectual, bubble. Craddock stretched painfully, his hands reaching up to the headboard and his toes curling almost a foot from the edge of the mattress, making him shiver. He muttered a few syllables of Achaean and the whining noise cut off abruptly.
Neither man allowed himself to fall back to sleep. With much yawning and stretching, and a string of muttered curses from Tallis, they forced themselves awake, the glare of the electric lights helping significantly to shock them into animation. Tallis padded into the washroom while Craddock made for the little kitchen, where he set the kettle boiling and pulled out two cups and a jar of coffee to which he had carefully applied a neat little spell using the Law of Amplification.
Tallis came out into the kitchen just as the kettle boiled, in trousers and socks, earning himself a fraction of an embrace – a quick press of Craddock's palm to his stomach, still surprisingly well-defined, if a little underfed in these stressful times. They swapped rooms, and when Craddock returned – relatively cleaner then before and fully-dressed – Tallis was pouring out two cups of coffee.
Before they could drink, Craddock wrapped one arm around Tallis' waist, draping the other over the shorter man's shoulder and around his neck, and leaned down to kiss him. Tallis responded with the same kind of half-awake enthusiasm for which they barely had time as it was, curling his fingers around Craddock's shoulder and neck and clinging to his black uniform. Their eyes closed gratefully and their lips were slack with sleep, neither man bothered enough to mention their respectively terrible breaths.
"I can't remember the last time I had a meal outside of Darnleigh House," Craddock whispered, rubbing his cheekbone lazily against Tallis' freshly-shaved jaw.
Tallis' breath hitched just slightly in something which sleepily tried to resemble a chuckle. "The food is so bad at work, I can hardly recall what a good meal even tastes like," he mumbled in return, turning his head into the junction between Craddock's neck and shoulder. They stood like that for a moment, twisted together, their arms in a tangle, before Tallis nudged at Craddock's jaw with the top of his head and pulled away.
"Come on," he slurred, pressing his mouth briefly to Craddock's thin lips. "Work to do. Nations to save."
Craddock sighed and disentangled himself. They reached for their cups, raised them in an ironic sort of half-salute, and simultaneously drained them in one swallow.
Tallis gasped, eyes wide, and Craddock's entire, thin frame convulsed in a shudder. They shook themselves, working their jaws and blinking hard, very suddenly wide awake.
"I will never get used to that," Craddock groaned. Tallis took their cups, dropping them in the sink.
"This war will be the death of us," he grumbled. "And a very slow, very demanding death it will be."
Craddock scrubbed his hands over his face and glanced at his watch with a sigh. Without another word, he kissed Tallis once more and headed for the door.
"Don't be late," he called, slinging his coat over his shoulders as Tallis made his way to the bedroom.
"Of course I won't be late," he growled defensively in return, "what do you take me for, Pompey?"
The only reply was the crisp shutting of the front door.