[This picks up from the end of Chapter Thirty-Two of Hour of Need. Again, can be read as an epilogue to Cloak and Dagger, but the two aren't really connected, apart from the pairing.]
"Permission granted. And godspeed."
Fitzwilliam's team were out the door in seconds. Craddock turned to Tallis, but he had been dragged aside by an operative with a bundle of notes under his arm. Immediately he looked away, Craddock himself was approached by yet another messenger, bringing more updates concerning possible weaknesses in Dr Tremaine's skyfleet.
It was almost ten minutes before Craddock was given another moment to himself. Having dealt with an inquiring woman behind a telephone, he found himself, for once, not besieged by a flurry of information, caught in a curious lull in activity. He stalked over to the Big Board and leant with both hands against the edge, once more taking in the picture unfolding before him and trying to make sense of it all.
A hand on his arm successfully diverted his attention. Craddock readied himself for more updates on the war or Fitzwilliam's progress or Tremaine's attack, but instead he found Tallis at his side, his grip tight and his face rather pale.
"Thank Christ," Tallis murmured, "I thought I'd never get you alone. Come on."
He tugged once on Craddock's arm and let go, leaving the commander to follow him over to one of the many doors leading away from the planning room. Tallis opened it onto a tiny telegraph booth, hardly bigger than a closet, occupied by a single worn-out man and his headphones at a desk. The man turned about sharply, and scrambled to obey the unquestionable order in the way Tallis jerked his thumb over his shoulder. When the room was empty, Tallis nodded for Craddock to enter, then followed, shutting the door firmly behind them.
"Tremaine's plan is to wipe out every consciousness in Trinovant," he said without preamble. Craddock nodded. "So in essence," Tallis continued, "we can expect to drop dead at any moment, yes?"
"In essence," Craddock repeated calmly.
"Well, in that case –"
Without further ado, Tallis reached up and pulled Craddock down to his level, one rough hand on either side of his head. Their lips met – more or less – firmly, if a bit messily, as Craddock returned the kiss with as much enthusiasm as he could muster past the mild shock and the lingering stress of the proceedings beyond the door. His hands gripped Tallis' hips almost painfully tight, and Tallis' fingers curled in Craddock's hair, tugging just sharp enough to elicit a gasp.
Eventually, Tallis pushed hard against Craddock's chest, sending them both backwards into opposite walls. Still almost within arm's reach of each other, they leaned back, chests heaving. Tallis' eyes flitted about, keeping away from Craddock's face and focusing instead on his knees while in turn the magician's gaze seared straight through his eyes and into his heart.
Tallis nodded firmly a few times, swallowing. "Just –" he panted. "Just in case you'd forgotten."
Craddock leaned forward, reaching out grip the back of Tallis' neck. He kissed him hard, then tucked his forehead against the shorter man's temple, shutting his eyes and letting his breath out in a sigh.
Tallis nodded again, letting his eyes close for just a moment as they regained their breath.
Eventually, he cleared his throat.
"There's work to be done," he muttered, pulling away.
Without another word, Craddock reached for the door handle and left. Tallis followed almost immediately, and within seconds, both Commanders were once more engulfed by the gargantuan task of trying to avoid the ultimate failure.