Silence Is Golden
There was something unusually subdued about these meetings: no welcoming words, no heartfelt smiles, no firm handshakes, no long hours spent in animated discussions, no exchange of private thoughts. The gentle, natural familiarity they usually felt was missing on these particular nights, when everything was quiet and hushed, when eyes did not dare to meet, hands seemed afraid even to brush, cheeks were flushed in heat and shame.
No word was spoken when the heavy door opened just enough to let the secret visitor in, a split second of eye contact before they both looked away. They never talked about this, no hidden sign or agreement indicated that this should be any different from their more appropriately shared evenings, and yet somehow they always knew which evenings were meant for talking, and which ones for this other thing that neither dared to name.
Their steps were painfully loud on the way to the bedroom, lit only by two candles. They were too ashamed to do this in bright light, and yet complete darkness would only serve to remind them even more of how despicable this was.
Shy eyes watched as trembling fingers started to remove their wearer's clothes, and only when the first inches of pale skin gleamed in the candlelight, only when both Archbishop and Secretary were cast aside with their heavy robes did the two men dare to come closer, hesitating once more, as if they had not done this dozens of times before, as if it shouldn't become easier over time. Only the protesting words of their first nights were missing, they had both long realised that they couldn't bring themselves to stop. But the guilt was still there, the shame, the desperation that touches could only delay, never heal.
A deep intake of breath, parted lips venturing the first shy smile when Cranmer finally looked at Cromwell, eyes asking for permission that was given in an almost invisible nod, an invitation, a pre-emptive gesture of forgiveness for an act that could not, should not be forgiven. Cranmer leant in ever so slowly, every night as awkward as the first, but only until that sinful, blissful moment when their lips met and left no room for doubts.
Hands slid under wide, white shirts, exploring and so soon remembering where to touch, where to caress and where to tweak to make a pulse quicken under soft skin, to coax the first moans from one mouth into another. They fumbled with too many buttons and ties of clothes that suddenly seemed needlessly complicated. Cromwell laughed a little, the smile breaking through the usual composure of his face, a bitter laugh as if he marvelled at how worldly and mean this felt, this almost childish struggle against mere fabric, but the smile turned into one of relief when the last piece of cloth touched the floor, when nothing was left between their chests and their groins as they embraced, lips meeting again, more securely this time, knowingly, pleadingly.
Cranmer's blue eyes were wide with a joy that was almost boyish in its brightness, and still he would not look at Cromwell, but he smiled as his face was covered with reverent kisses, he smiled as gentle, firm hands guided him down on the bed, as that warm, familiar body covered his. They still would have blushed had they ever paused for a moment, but shame was a meagre opponent for the sight of a desired body sweating in the candlelight, of a beloved face bestowing kisses on sensitised skin. The pleasure was so overwhelming it seemed anything but real and worldly and mean, a pleasure so ecstatic that, God forgive them, it had to be heavenly, for surely such bliss could never have been meant for this realm.
As they lay entangled in each other and in the sheets, fingertips drawing lines and forbidden words on tainted skin, lips refusing to part, loosely resting on each other even as they gasped for air - as they lay there, all was well for the shortest of moments. They looked at each other, eyes and hands whispering all these things that their lips could not, not even now. I love you, Thomas, and it couldn't, shouldn't feel so good just to think it, knowing that it was not the love between two friends, and not the love between man and wife, knowing that it was so much more, that it was everything, that it was too much for this world of flesh and sin and guilt.
So they merely gazed at each other in silence, smiling until the last ounce of pleasure washed out of their tired bodies and left them empty and cold, not sure whether to cling to each other or to flee this damnable embrace. Cranmer bit his bottom lip, flushed and swollen already from more welcome bites, but when he moved to sit up Cromwell's arms held him down, pulled him close again.
"Don't leave tonight," Cromwell whispered hoarsely - the first words either of them spoke that were more than the incoherent pleas of lust-riddled minds. Cranmer paused, for why would he return to his own cold bed? As if it would change anything to sneak out now, as if it would mean anything except having to bear the guilt alone without the comfort. So he settled back into welcoming arms and closed his eyes, and just for one night, like so often before, he refused to believe that sin could make a man so happy.