It was almost eleven by the time Hugo got back to Queen Street. Even so, he was surprised to find Theodore there, who in his single days would happily stay out until dawn. Hugo was secretly pleased.
Theodore was sat on the sofa in the corner with a cup of tea. Hugo pecked him on the cheek and asked how dinner with Art went. Theodore shrugged and said he didn’t learn anything relevant to the case. Hugo commiserated, but reassured Theodore that his own evening had been more productive. He embarked on a lengthy tale about his list of names and the three candidates for victims and how the lengthy process of whittling it down to Charles Parsons as the best candidate. But just as he was about to mention the signet ring he’d snatched, he faltered, realising that Theodore was being very quiet. Quiet for Theodore, at least. Hugo asked if he was feeling alright. Theodore insisted he was just tired.
Theodore had already eaten but sat with Hugo while he ate a bowl of soup. Then the two of them dressed for bed. As Hugo went to the bathroom, he received a rude reminder of the stench from the spare bedroom. He considered raising the topic of what to do with it with Theodore, but it didn’t seem the right time.
The evening ended as most evenings did, with the detectives sat up in bed, reading. Theodore liked to get through a few pages of a novel each night, to help him sleep, while Hugo used this time to read the paper or, as he did tonight, go over his notes on any active cases. It was a time Hugo cherished, when they could enjoy each other’s company in complete silence.
‘Hugo,’ said Theodore. There something in his tone that struck Hugo as unusual.
‘Are we married?’
Hugo was momentarily stumped by the question. It was obviously not intended to be literal but the subtext was lost on him. ‘What do you mean?’
Theodore frowned, as though not quite sure himself. ‘I mean, where is our relationship headed?’
A coldness passed through Hugo. ‘You’re unhappy?’
‘No!’ Theodore insisted. He put a hand on Hugo’s knee. ‘No, not at all. I love being with you. I love living with you. And God knows I love doing the detective thing. But I look around at our life now and I worry… it can’t last.’
‘Things change,’ Hugo shrugged. ‘And we’ll tackle the changes as they come. There’s no point worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.’
Normally a bit of pragmatism was enough to settle Theodore’s anxieties, but he still looked concerned. ‘We’ll never be married though.’
‘We can do a ceremony if you like. Invite some close friends, get dressed up…’
‘I don’t care about a wedding. That’s not the point.’
Hugo didn’t know what to say. He’d never known Theodore to worry about this sort of thing before.
‘Maybe it’s a good thing,’ said Theodore, his eyes focusing on something only he could see.
‘That we can’t be married. Why pretend our relationship is just like everyone else’s when we can invent our own rules?’
‘Don’t all relationships invent their own rules?’ said Hugo.
‘No. I mean…’ He scrunched up his face, struggling to find the right words. ‘I mean, just because we love each other doesn’t mean we can’t… love other people too…right?’
Hugo had no idea what Theodore was thinking. It scared him. ‘What are you suggesting?’
‘Nothing!’ said Theodore, urgently. ‘Nothing at all. That’s just a for instance. I’m not asking you to do anything. It’s just, we’ve never talked about our relationship. So. I just think it’s important to say that nothing is set in stone. We don’t have to be married if we don’t want to be. Right?’
‘What on earth is wrong with being married?’ was the first response that came to Hugo’s mind. He couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud, though, since Theodore clearly thought there was something wrong with it.
‘What exactly happened at your dinner with Arthur? Because it sounds very much like you’re asking my permission to sleep with him,’ was the second response. Again, Hugo thought better of voicing it.
‘I will do anything to make you happy. Anything. So long as you don’t leave me,’ was the third. But to speak that fear aloud would make it true.
So Hugo thought. And Theodore watched him with big, hopeful, frightened eyes.
‘I suppose,’ Hugo said, ‘you’re right.’
Theodore let go of his held breath in a gasp. ‘Oh, thank goodness! I was so nervous that you might misunderstand me. I needn’t have worried, obviously. Every day you remind me why I love you.’
Hugo smiled, trying to keep his mind blank, hoping that would keep his thoughts away from his face. Theodore was so good at reading faces. Hugo believed he was getting away with it, but there was a moment where it seemed Theodore was leaning in for a kiss only to change his mind very suddenly.
Hugo smiled at Theodore. Theodore smiled at Hugo.
They both returned to their reading, sitting in silence for the next fifteen minutes. Then Theodore asked if he could switch off the light. Hugo agreed.
The lights went out. The men laid down. Neither one closed their eyes.