There are always small things to be thankful for, and at the moment Raleigh is glad that it was only Osbourne present during the incident with the letter. He still shudders to remember the look on Stanhope's face, and it's the dread of encountering him again that slows his steps as he returns to the dugout.
He's hoping to avoid the captain entirely as he descends the steps, but it's either bad luck or some kind of stubborn intent on Stanhope's part that dictates otherwise. Raleigh knows he shouldn't be surprised by the whiskey in his hand, but it's still nothing he would expect from the boy that left home a few years back.
"Why have you come?" Stanhope asks as Raleigh tries—and fails—to slip past unnoticed. Maybe it would have been easier had someone else been there besides the two of them, Raleigh thinks.
"Trotter says I'm not—"
"That's not what I meant." Stanhope's eyes flash, reflecting the tiny light from the candle on the table. He gestures around them, referencing nothing specific, but Raleigh understands perfectly well what he means. "Here. Why?"
"What harm's a familiar face?" Raleigh answers carefully.
"Same as any, when it's looking at you from the bottom of some ditch with dead eyes and missing limbs."
Raleigh isn't sure how to respond to such a statement. No doubt it's true, and if the shiver that runs down his spine is the effect Stanhope had hoped for, then he's successful.
"You were a distraction enough at school, you know," Stanhope continues, his tone changing.
"I never meant to," Raleigh apologizes. He's wondered before if this might come up, but now all he can think is 'not here, not now.'
"You fool," Stanhope sighs, pushing away the tumbler of whiskey. He rises, taking a few steps towards Raleigh, and for a second Raleigh worries that he's about to receive a slap to the face—perhaps worse, though Stanhope was never one for boxing.
Instead, there's a hand that reaches out and settles on his neck, calloused fingers brushing along his collar. Raleigh's breath hitches—
Stanhope hesitates, then pulls away.
"We're at war, Jimmy. I can't."
"If we were someplace else?" Raleigh wonders, his imagination already supplying a garden party. The estate is gorgeous, and Stanhope is playing his role as host rather well, conversing easily with all of the guests.
There's plenty of women in lace dresses flitting about amongst the pink and yellow roses, and men in clean summer suits. The heat is rather unbearable, and despite the impropriety, Stanhope has discarded his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves to his elbows.
He laughs so gaily, though, that soon the others are following suit.
Madge is, of course, the center of attention. Raleigh overhears more than one person tell her she looks like an angel, and he takes the occasional opportunity to confirm the statement. He's proud of her, though he wishes she would quit casually introducing him to ladies (all of whom she takes care to mention are unengaged).
He has eyes for only one person today—as always—and it isn't one of Madge's girls.
Stanhope's eyes occasionally chance to meet Raleigh's, and Raleigh is certain he isn't imagining the glimmer of excitement he sees there. Nonetheless, Stanhope keeps his distance, leaving Raleigh to entertain a number of fantasies.
"Jimmy," Stanhope finally says. "A tour of the grounds, perhaps? I assume you'll come hunting with us sometime."
"I should say so," Raleigh agrees.
"Come along, then," Stanhope says, placing a hand on Raleigh's shoulder. He guides them away from the murmuring voices and the melodies of the string quartet, around the side of the house to a lane of shady trees. There's also a row of well-trimmed hedges, and it's through a gap that Stanhope drags Raleigh.
They're tall enough that when Stanhope pulls the two of them down in an embrace that's far more than friendly, they're at least shielded from any unfriendly eyes that could chance this way.
Raleigh sees no point in denying that this is what he's wanted all along, although part of him recognizes that would be a proper response to the situation.
"Oh, quit looking so shocked," Stanhope chides. His hands tighten around Raleigh's waist, and suddenly their positions are reversed—now it's Raleigh's white shirt in the mud.
That momentarily sets off alarm bells in Raleigh's mind. "Dennis, stop. They'll know."
Stanhope only laughs. "Are you not fond of rugby?"
"Yes," Raleigh admits, frowning. He likes to think he'd have the sense not to spoil someone's formal attire with a careless bit of sport, but Stanhope doesn't let him pursue that line of thought for long, distracting him with a wholly decent kiss.
It seems foolish now to be concerned about a spot of mud on a white shirt.
"We aren't someplace else," Stanhope says, breaking Raleigh out of his reverie. No amount of hope or regret can change that, Raleigh knows.
When Stanhope still leans forward and roughly kisses him, he's wholly unprepared, and he stumbles backward, grasping at Stanhope for support. Evidently Stanhope doesn't mind, continuing to have his way until they're both gasping for breath.
There's a sudden rattling of machine gun fire from somewhere that isn't near enough to warrant their immediate concern. Raleigh hasn't been here long, but he recognizes that bullets have a tendency to find one mark or another. Someone is likely shouting for a stretcher.
Stanhope's eyes are tightly closed, Raleigh notices.
His hands are still and firm where they're respectively entangled in Raleigh's hair and shirt collar. It makes Raleigh wonder why he's the one who's now rubbing comforting circles into Stanhope's back, when he's the one shaking like a leaf from head to toe.
A matter of control, he'd have thought, given any other situation. There's no control here, and it's a thought that's as terrifying as it is liberating.