Monday, February 8, 2010

Christmas Spirit Part 1

Title: Christmas Spirit Part 1
Authors: Rolf and Ranger
Characters: Matthew, Rolf, Val and Luke
Christmas in England....what could be nicer?



"Matthew."

Matthew stirred at the hand on his knee, blinked a few times and lifted his head. "Mmmhu?"

"Good morning."

Rolf was blue jawed, heavy eyed and his collar was open: he didn't look much more awake than Matthew felt, but he nodded at the window where a very murky attempt at daylight was starting.

"We're fifteen minutes out from Heathrow. Just coming in towards England now."

Matthew looked out the window, still seeing nothing but clouds or water, he couldn't tell which. He rubbed his face, trying to get rid of the half-dead feeling he'd had since two hours into the flight.

"Drink?"

"There's a bit left in the water bottle," Rolf said, pulling it out of the seat back in front of him.

Matthew accepted it, grimacing at the warmness but appreciating that he could once again swallow.

"What time is it?"

"Ten past eight. There was breakfast about an hour ago. And I won't repeat what you said to the stewardess who offered it."

Matthew pulled a face at Rolf and peered again out of the window. "Past eight? Don't these people do daylight?"

"Daylight yes, sunlight not always. Is that land we're actually seeing out there?" Rolf asked, spotting something between the clouds.

"I think so. It DOES actually exist."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching Ireland." the pilot said on cue over the intercom. "We are beginning our descent, please fasten your seatbelts and return your seats to the upright positions. I've spoken to the control tower at Heathrow, the temperature is 7 degrees centigrade in London and the weather is wet and cloudy with sleet forecast for the afternoon, so we have some classic English weather to welcome you with."

"What's 7 translate to, aside from obviously cold?" Matthew asked.

"I have no idea." Rolf admitted. "I know the daylight's shorter here than it is at home."

It took only a few minutes to pass over Ireland, it was alarming how quickly a country could slip away beneath the plane. Watching, Matthew saw a moment or two more of grey water below and then another green coast and dug Rolf in the ribs.

"This must be England."

"Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing," The pilot said via the intercom, and a moment later the plane turned, dipping one wing down and Matthew grabbed for Rolf's hand. "LOOK! That's a castle!"

Rolf looked with him at the wide, winding river through the city below and the enormous fortress and several other large, battlemented buildings easily visible from their size amongst the more modern buildings.

"That might be the Tower of London- or Windsor, I can't tell."

"They're HUGE," Matthew said, sitting up to try to get a better view. He kept watching, his hand creeping over to hold Rolf's as the plane settled gently onto the runway a few minutes later. It was a long and dreary taxi to the gate, with everyone rustling around anxious to get off the plane after the long flight. Rolf usually waited for the rush to pass before he got up, but even he didn't have the patience to wait. Standing up was an effort, though getting the bags down from the overhead wasn't. Matthew scowled at the passengers, half of which had turned on their various cell phones, several of them ringing almost immediately.

"You'd think they'd be separated from their oxygen supply since we left Atlanta."

"We're in no hurry." Rolf pulled down their bags and stepped out into the aisle, effectively blocking the stream of human traffic while he let Matthew out ahead of him. They were stiff and tired, and the walk through passport control and immigration seemed to take forever, before they were finally in the arrivals lounge with their suitcases. Rolf stretched until his shoulders cracked, and then glanced at his watch.

"Ok. I think we have showers, find somewhere to have breakfast, and then think about finding taxis into the city."

"Showers? In an airport?"

"Showers." Rolf said matter of factly, indicating a sign across the hall.

Matthew shrugged, following his partner into a large bathroom. He wasn't quite sure of bathing in public, but after the hot water started hitting his knotted shoulders he started to feel much better. Rolf emerged first, feeling far more human and able to handle whatever the day held. He did a few stretching exercises to work the cramped muscles back into wanting to function.

"You don't need to drain London of water on the first day," he said, tapping the shower door.

"Okay, okay." Matthew emerged a few minutes later fully dressed, his hair in disarray.

In front of the long line of sinks and mirrors, numerous business men in various stages of dress and dampness were shaving. Rolf joined them, leaving Matthew to sort through his own suitcase and find what he needed. Twenty minutes later, feeling distinctly more human, they took seats in a small restaurant that smelled strongly of coffee and read through the breakfast menu with interest and some bewilderment. There were carefully labelled American dishes on the menu, presumably to ease the culture shock, but there was a distinct lack of anything normal.

"You can have pudding for breakfast?" Matthew asked suspiciously.

"You might want to avoid that?" Rolf suggested tactfully. "Not sure what they call sausage we would either, but nothing ventured nothing gained - what'll you have?"

"Bacon should be normal. And a croissant. And grilled tomatoes. That'll make a blt without the l."

"Ok. I think I'll try bacon, fried bread and an egg." Rolf told the waiter who was standing patiently by the table. "Coffee for me please. Matt?"

"Water."

The waiter smiled at them and moved away and Rolf glanced at his watch. It was shortly after nine.

"What time did we say we'd meet up?" Matthew asked, seeing him look.

"Ten thirty. We've got plenty of time. It'll only take half an hour to get into the city itself."

"And are you going to tell me what this secret is yet?" Matthew added hopefully. Rolf smiled, but shook his head.

"Nope."

"Meanie," Matthew said without spite, turning his attention to the multitudes of people passing by the window in one of the main hallways of the airport. It was always fun to try to figure out where someone was heading and why by what they were wearing or carrying.

They were brought their breakfast and ate in peace, the restaurant fairly quiet as most of the business personnel had now moved on. Matthew rather tentatively stole a piece of fried bread from Rolf's plate and with extreme caution nibbled it as an experiment.

"It's a bit different from what Luke made at the cabin."

"He had a little more on his mind at the time than cooking I think," Rolf said. "Do you like it?"

"Yes, it tastes pretty good."

"I rather enjoyed it." Rolf swallowed the last of his coffee. "I think we're back to Luke's cooking from this afternoon unless we eat out. I don't know what security regulations we might have to follow."

"Yes, you kept warning me." Matthew grumbled.

"We're in Val's country, and the security team have veto over what we do and where we go." Rolf said mildly. "That's something we just have to go along with. It's not like we don't understand the reasons why."

"No," Matthew said, thinking back over their last visit when Val was being stalked by a madman. "We can still do a few things on our own though, right?"

"Well, we'll need to shop for their Christmas presents, so I think we
can get away at least for that," Rolf said with a twinkle in his eye.

Matthew grinned. "Sounds good. I haven't told Val we were coming,
just like you and Luke wanted, so are you GOING to tell me at all
what this big secret is that you and he have? Hmmm?"

"Oh, all right," Rolf said, watching Matthew's face turn to one of
surprise."

"What is it?"

"I'm going to join his dance team for his final show before
Christmas," Rolf said casually.

Matthew spluttered into his water. Rolf's straight face cracked and
he pulled out a handkerchief, pushing it at Matthew.

"We're going to get deported if you do that again!"

"You are SO not funny!" Matthew said, wiping his face. "Why won't
you tell me? I've kept the secret from Val, I can keep this one too!"

Rolf took back the handkerchief, pocketed it and got up, sorting
through his wallet to try and work out the English money before he
left a couple of notes by the bill on the table.

"You'll find out. What IS nineteen pounds fifty in our money anyway?"

"An expensive breakfast," Matthew said, getting up. He took the two
carry-ons while Rolf pulled the two larger suitcases along behind
him. They joined the throngs of people in the halls, finally finding
their way to the taxi area. The line was long but moved quickly.
When it was their turn, Matthew slid into the open door while Rolf
situated the luggage with the driver before getting in as well

"Ovington Square, Kensington please." Rolf said, pulling the door
shut.

The cab pulled out into the traffic, cutting across several lanes
before turning away from the airport. Matthew stayed glued to the
window, looking out at the passing scenery.

"Americans? How long you in town for?" the driver asked.

"A couple of weeks. The pilot said sleet was forecast today, heard
anything differently?" Rolf replied.

"Usual weather this time of year mate," the driver said
comfortably. "Not really the time of year for tourists."

They drove for some way, through under passes and around wide
roundabouts, roads packed with shops and past black iron railinged
parks. It was some time before they turned off the Brompton road and
a moment later the cab turned again, into a quiet and green leafed
square. Tall, white terraced houses loomed discreetly four and five
storeys above the street, around all four sides, with cars parked
outside the identical and Regency styled frontages. The road ran
around high, black, wrought iron railings, enclosing a park with
trees and paved areas amongst the grass.

"Is this where the studio is?" Matthew asked as they pulled to a stop.

"No studios that I know of," the driver said, getting out. Rolf and
Matthew got out and accepted the luggage.

"That looks like everything from the boot," the driver said, shutting
the lid to the trunk.

Matthew laughed. "That doesn't look like a boot."

The driver smiled as Rolf worked out the fare and a tip. Matthew
kept looking around, feeling rather like he was in a canyon with tall
walls.

"I don't see anyone around."

"You're not supposed to," Rolf said calmly, admiring the frontages as
he checked the numbers and approached one to ring the bell.

"It's anonymous. One of the most discreet areas of London. You'll
find the most amazing people hidden away in houses like these around
here."

There was no sound on the street of the bell ringing, but a moment
later the door opened, Matthew caught a brief glimpse of a couple of
builders in hard hats moving around in a room off the hall with a
concrete floor and the sound of a saw working, then Luke McNeil came
out onto the street in black jeans, boots and a tight black t shirt
as if it wasn't winter and just as he had been when Matthew last saw
him in the middle of a Virginian summer.

"Welcome. Welcome to London," Luke said, extending his hand to Rolf,
who took it and pulled him in for a brief hug. Matthew got the same
treatment.

"How are you doing?" Rolf asked, nodding at the house.

Luke grinned at him, stepping back and extending a hand. "Come and
see. It'll make a bit of a difference from sending you digital photos
and blueprints."

"You're helping Luke....?" Matthew trailed off, looking between the
two.

Rolf carried the cases past him in through the front door and Matthew
followed, while Luke shut the door behind him. They stood in a dusty,
stone flagged hallway, where a wide staircase led directly up in
front of them, and two arched doorways led off to either side. Both
were filled with workmen.

"Your bedroom is up the stairs, third floor," Luke said. "Let me get
one of those." He took one from Rolf and when Matthew protested,
Rolf took one from him and they climbed the two flights of steps to a
floor that looked more finished than those below.

"We've just got the finishing touches on the bathroom up here to go."

"You need to install an elevator," Matthew said, huffing a bit from
the climb with the suitcases.

Luke laughed, shaking his head as he opened a door off the hallway.

"These are listed buildings, and Val tells me forever about how many
calories he has to burn off. THIS part of the house, our apartment,
is pretty much done. Want to see?"

The door led off the fairly plain and still dusty tiled hallway into
a wood floored, well lit and wide apartment. The walls were cream
painted, and very recently painted too, judging by their brightness.
The room was open plan but led off around corners and out of sight,
around a grey marbled kitchen. A polished dining table and eight
chairs stood in one section. Walking around the corner, Matthew found
the room opened out into two, floor to ceiling windows overlooking
the garden square outside, a wide stone hearth and several
comfortable armchairs and sofas around a deep pile rug.

"This is an apartment?" Matthew asked, walking over to the windows.

"This is their home," Rolf said, looking around. "And a beautiful
one at that. The digital pics gave me the impressions, but didn't do
anything for the true feel of the room. The windows do work well in
here, letting in more light than the previous ones."

"Yes, it's made a huge difference to the feeling of clean and wide,
rather than the dark woods, small windows and dark walls that were
here before us."

"You were right about all the internal trappings." Luke said
easily. "Once we stripped out all the sixties and seventies re
vamping we found the original walls and frames underneath, much
better. Same with the hearth. The internal stairs worked just as
well, as you suggested."

"Internal stairs?" Matthew asked, baffled. Luke smiled at him.

"We wanted a private apartment within a house. The main stairs that
you came up access the ground floor - the offices there - and this
floor entrance, and the bodyguard's flat and the attics at the top,
but we wanted an internal staircase on this floor that ONLY led to
our rooms."

"So people don't have to go through your rooms to get to theirs
upstairs?" Matthew asked.

"Exactly."

"There are MORE floors above?"

"Yes, two more basically. It's five floors including the attics,"
Luke said.

"And you don't have an elevator."

"Give it up, Sport," Rolf said, laughing.

"You did get breakfast?" Luke asked. "Then we can take the full tour
if you'd like?"

"Yes, I'd like to see the rest," Rolf said, extending a hand to
Matthew.

Luke led them up the internal stairs which led off the wood floored,
open planned area. A landing opened off the stairs at the top, cream
carpeted and with four light wood doors.

"This is your room," Luke said, opening the door on a large,
comfortable and old styled bedroom, with windows that overlooked the
square at the front and the park. "Next door to you is the bathroom -
being an old house this doesn't do en suite, but it's a good size-
and then here's the study-"

The study was already filled with a computer, fax, two desks, phones
and looked as though it had already seen use. "And this," Luke went
on, opening the last door, "Is our room."

"They did an excellent job on the ceiling," Rolf said, checking out
the crown moulding around an indented ceiling.

"I love the recessed ceiling and the ceiling fans you suggested. It
makes a huge difference when I've got five minutes to rest on the
bed," Luke said.

"It's a huge room," Matthew chimed in, heading through another
archway. "Rolf! Look at the size of this bathroom!"

"The photos don't do it justice." Rolf said with approval following
him. "And you've got a wonderful view of the garden here too - did
you work out the security to a point you were happy with?"

"To the last decimal place." Luke said dryly. "We're wired, cameraed,
and there's a system of emergency locks on every floor. There IS a
concealed door on this floor to get through onto the main stairs so
the guards can access it or we can escape if we have to, but I hope
we'll never use it. The garden is walled, it's very private and we're
not the only security team working with a household on this street."

"It's wild." Matthew said with approval, going once more into the
large, comfortable bedroom that covered much of this side of the
house, with the two windows, the window seat and the king sized,
wooden framed bed. "Where's Val? Did he choose the decor or did you?"

Luke dropped an arm around his shoulders and gave him a hug, pulling
Matthew against him for a minute.

"He hasn't seen it yet."

"What?" Matthew asked in surprise. "He doesn't know he has a house?"

"Nope. It's going to be his Christmas present."

"So THAT is what you get stars with more money than third world
countries." Matthew said, shaking his head. "Houses."

Luke laughed. "No, it's what you get for yourself when you're tired
of living in hotel after hotel. So that's Val's surprise. What
about yours?"

"Huh?" Matthew asked blankly.

"The one you were asking about over breakfast," Rolf said smugly.

Luke grinned. "You see, this is where I need your help. Rolf's been
an amazing source of knowledge and support with the internal
constructions. We gutted the place and started again to make it what
we needed. And the decorators are now done, the bones of the place
are here. But."

"But what?" Matthew asked suspiciously, he eyes going between the two
men.

"This is going to be a home, not a hotel." Luke said rather
dryly. "Val and I aren't good at that, and we don't keep many
possessions because of travelling around. I need your help on what
ELSE is the necessity of life around here. Electrical equipments,
entertainment, that kind of thing. What I've missed and forgotten.
I'm told you're the household expert on that."

"You want ME to put in tvs and stereos and all that?

Rolf smiled. "Yes. We'll help do the finishing touches on that to
help make this house a home for Val and Luke. Not just electronics,
but games or puzzles, anything to help pass the time on a rainy day."

"You guys are SNEAKY," Matthew said, trying to scowl but smiling in
spite of himself. "When is Val coming home?"

"He's in Birmingham with Brad and Justin today." Luke led the way
back down to the lower floor of the appartment. "There's a couple of
interviews he's doing. They'll bring him here tomorrow evening -
Friday night - and I thought we'd have a private housewarming here
for him. You've got an appointment this afternoon and tomorrow with a
department store or two, they'll sort out whatever you recommend and
set it up for us."

"Are they still scheduled to finish up over the weekend?" Rolf asked.

"Today I hope. They're finishing the office shelves this morning, the
bathroom's being finished in the bodyguard's flat - come up and see
that - and an army of cleaners are coming tomorrow afternoon."

"That's wonderful. Matthew, why don't you look around the private
areas and start getting some ideas on what needs to go where. I'm
going to do the detail inspection to make sure Luke can release the
work crew without having to call them back. Want to start at the top
and work our way down then?" Rolf asked, turning to Luke.

"Let's do it."

"I can't believe you're giving Val a house." Matthew said blankly,
looking once more around the living area. "A house."

"Make a list." Rolf advised, "And don't go mad."

It took some time for Rolf and Luke to go over the house. By the time
they came back to the flat, Matthew had flopped into one of the deep
window seats overlooking the park and was deep in thought.

"Sorted?" Luke asked.

"I have some ideas," Matthew said vaguely. "When are we going to
eat?" he asked Rolf.

"Are you hungry already?" Rolf replied.

"Yes. Do they have any McDonald's around here?"

"Yes, of course -" Luke started, while Rolf replied as well. "We are
NOT eating at McDonalds. NO," he reiterated until Matthew subsided
with a pout. "We'll do lunch in a while. Did you get a list
together?"

"Yes, but I didn't write it down."

"Mr. McNeil? I needed you to take a look in the downstairs at the
shelves. Got a minute?"

"Sure. Excuse me a moment," he said to Rolf and Matthew, following
the contractor down the stairs.

"What do we need then?" Rolf asked, pulling a small pad and pen out
of his pocket. "And we're not going mad here, no matter what Luke
says. If you were going to spend a week here, what electrical kit
would you need?"

"Nothing," Matthew groused back, "You always say it's not necessary
and not 'needed' anyway."

Rolf gave him a rather thoughtful look, then began himself to walk
slowly through the main open plan area of the flat. He personally
agreed that electrical kit needed relegating to a position of limited
importance - but this was supposed to be a home. And Luke clearly had
a desire to make Val as happy here as possible.

"I think a tv is a no brainer." he commented aloud. "The computer is
upstairs in the office, but a dvd player would be good."

"Why did Luke choose me?" Matthew asked, following along behind
Rolf. "Val could have ANYthing. He could go into any store and
point and poof, it would be installed in here."

"I don't think that was the point." Rolf said mildly. "They don't
know about homes as such - Val left home very young and Luke went
into the army. I think Luke wanted your perspective not on giving Val
every latest gadget, but what would actually make him feel at home."

Matthew chewed on that for a few minutes as Rolf glanced around the
flat again. "So it would be like us putting together our house from
scratch. What would I like...."

"Yes," Rolf said, smiling. "What would THEY like. I think that's
where they'll need the help."

"Dvds." Matthew said, thinking aloud. "A few emergency ones. And
blank tapes for recording."

"Books." Rolf agreed, writing.

"Puzzles." Matthew perched on the arm of the sofa, looking at the
blank shelves. "Uhm - I never thought I'd say this.........."

"What?" Rolf looked up from the pad. Matthew pulled a face at him.

"Plants."

"Let me see those hands," Rolf said, dropping the paper and pen onto
the shelves. "The thumbs in particular."

Matthew laughed, hiding his hands behind his back, laughing still
more when Rolf dug him in the ribs until the hands were captured.
The laughter ended for both as they kissed and Rolf pulled Matthew to
him and wrapped his arms around him.

Distinctly cheered up, Matthew folded both arms around Rolf's
neck. "You'll have to choose those - what else is there?"

"A few board games, cards, that type of stuff. We could do some
puzzle books as well, such as crosswords, find a words -"

"Sudoku."

"I'm not sure if either of them are up for that but we can certainly
give them a choice. Okay, I think that covers the general area very
well. Want to check the kitchen?"

"We get to do that TOO?"

Rolf kept hold of Matthew's hand, leading him towards the
kitchen. "Hon, to be honest, I suspect that if we don't think of it,
they won't. They don't have a clue about how to kit a house or how to
live outside a hotel."

"You said Luke had been in the army-" Matthew protested as Rolf
opened a few drawers and cupboards. "And they have the cottage."

"The cottage they pack for and go for a few days at a time," Rolf
said without looking round. "I'd think Val's personal assistant plans
for that. And Luke may do very well with penknives and compasses, but
they can't live off rabbits and hedgehogs in London. Cutlery."

"Someone thought of a dinner service and saucepans." Matthew
reported, peering in cupboards. "Not tea towels though. I bet not
dishcloths either."

"Coffee maker, toaster, microwave, blender, mixer. Anything else?"

"Waffle maker," Matthew added, looking under the sink. "Dish
detergent. Dishwashing detergent. A mop bucket, though I doubt
either of them have ever done floors."

Rolf privately reflected on that for a moment, wondering whether Luke
and Val would simply reach for a cleaning firm.

"Vacuum." he added aloud. "Do they have bedspreads, pillows,
curtains?"

"I think the interior designer got all that. And towels I saw too.
Val will have any amount of bathroom stuff."

Rolf checked his list once more. "I think we're done. If we get this
delivered and put away we'll soon see what we've forgotten. Do you
want to change? we'll be out a few hours."

"No, I think I'm okay. Are we going to eat?"

"No, I'm going to starve you to death. That was always my plan,"
Rolf said with an evil laugh.

Matthew punched him in the arm. "I'd almost believe it except for
that horrible laugh."

"Go use the restroom and come downstairs. I need to get the final
payment details worked out with Luke," Rolf said, opening the door
and heading down the steps.

Luke was dusty and wearing a hard hat in the downstairs room which
was dusty and filled with workmen fitting floorboards. He smiled at
the sight of Rolf and left the group with which he had been looking
at plans.

"We just did the final electrical checks, it's all looking good. Are
you two set?"

"I think so." Rolf said, pocketing his list. "We'll see what we can
do for you."

"Take a cab to Harrods and give my name on the door," Luke said,
handing Rolf a card. "They're expecting you. You'll get anything you
want there, just make sure if you go into the food hall that you rope
Matthew to you first and confiscate his credit card."

"Confiscate what?" Matthew asked, coming into the room.

"Never mind. Cabs at the west corner?" Rolf asked Luke.

"Yes, there's usually one waiting there."

"Can we get you anything to eat?" Rolf asked, pulling back on
Matthew who was already trying to leave.

"No, thank you. I've got sandwich makings upstairs to get me
through. We'll do something a little better than that for dinner."

That raised a smile from Matthew, who dragged Rolf with him out onto
the pavement. It was a short walk to the cab, and a few minutes drive
to the green canopied street of Harrods windows. Matthew trailed Rolf
onto the pavement and followed him in through the door guarded by a
doorman in a maroon uniform who nodded to Rolf, accepted the card
Rolf showed him, and took them to hallway where a sign to another
uniformed member of staff rapidly brought a woman across to them,
smiling.
"You're here for Mr McNeil? Come into one of the rooms and lets see
how I can help."

"Thank you," Rolf said, following the woman down the hall and into
what appeared to be a cosy living room.

"I'm Courtney McElwin," she said, holding out a hand.

"Rolf Monet, my partner Matthew Mocoso," Rolf said as he shook hands
with her and Matthew did the same.

"We're in need of quite a bit of electronics, home goods and
cleaning supplies to fit out a home." Rolf said.

"So I hear." The woman showed them to a chair and took out a
telephone and an electric handset attached to a computer. "Lets start
with your list and we'll start bringing items for you to choose
from."

It took a while. Many of the items could be selected directly from
the computer and Rolf went briefly with a member of staff to look at
tvs and dvd centres while Matthew chose a set of dvds and books from
the range offered in the store.

"Can I get you something to eat or drink?" Courtney asked Matthew at
one point while Rolf was out of the room.

"A coke? Diet," Matthew said, salivating at the mention of food.

"I'll be right back," Courtney said, disappearing and returning a
moment later with a coke, glass of ice and an array of chocolates on
a silver tray.
Matthew accepted the glass and dove into the chocolates with gusto.
He was on his fifth flavor before Rolf got back, having just picked
out a few more DVDs that he was sure Val needed on the shelves.

"What do we have here?" Rolf asked, holding Matthew's face a moment
to wipe off some chocolate in the corner of his mouth.

"Chocolates, you should taste some of them!" Matthew replied, pulling
away from his partner.

"I see that and I think you've had enough. We need to get some lunch
I think."

"I'm happy with these." Matthew assured him. "Did you find a tv? I'm
up to nine dvds-"

"That's plenty." Rolf said firmly. "We're only looking at starting
them off, not turning them into Marc-acolytes. Lunch, come on."

"I'll be more than happy to show you to one of our private tea
rooms," Courtney said, getting up from the computer.

"Thank you, really, but I'd rather walk around if you don't mind? We
can meet you back here in say...an hour and a half?" Rolf asked,
looking at his watch.

"Whatever you'd like to do. The tea rooms are on the third floor to
the left. I'll continue working through some of your list and save
the more personal selections for you to decide from when you come
back.

"Sounds like a good plan. Come on Matthew."

Matthew stood up, waiting for Rolf to move ahead of him. When Rolf
waited pointedly, Matthew gave a last longing look at the chocolates
and headed out in front of his partner and out onto the actual store
floor after a short hallway.

"The food hall is on the ground floor," Rolf murmured, reaching for
Matthew's arm as it was crowded. "We might as well look around there
and find lunch while we look - over there."

Brightly coloured Victorian tiles led them into a large, halled
market with iced stalls laid out around the walls and on barrows down
the centre. Poultry, fish and sausages filled the iced barrows and
stalls, every imaginable fish and lobster mixed with shell fish and
game meats that Matthew had never heard of. Smoked salmon filled
another barrow.

Matthew peered into another barrow and pulled a face when he saw fish
staring back at him. "This is a department store, you'd THINK they'd
have the decency to put it into packages.

"Behave," Rolf said firmly, steering Matthew past the fish.

The next hall was as large, and as tiled and the barrows this time
were filled with fresh fruit of every description, nuts, biscuits and
liqueurs in boxes stacked around the walls. This hall led into
another which was filled with meats and pies and savoury foods,
including a huge barrow of cheeses, and from that led a hall filled
with cakes and sweets, and barrow after barrow, glassed, and stacked
with hand made chocolates of every shape and colour.

"Oh. My." Matthew said, slowing down to look at the various sweets.
He'd been in stores back home that had bulk food items, but they were
usually reserved for dry goods or cookies and wrapped candies. To be
able to go into a store and buy one of anything or everything was
almost more than he could handle.

"Lunch," Rolf said, putting his hand on Matthew's and pulling him
past the bins. "We've only got limited time at the moment," he said
when Matthew slowed down again.

Most of the barrows sold foods directly and there were no few
business people obviously buying their lunch. One or two of the
barrows sold only lunches and Matthew paused by one selling exotic
cakes.

"Sandwich first," Rolf said, pulling Matthew over to the next
barrow. "If you're still hungry after that, we'll consider one of
those cakes. Chicken and mayo, beef and horseradish, ham and
mustard."

"What's that?" Matthew asked, pointing to one labeled 'ploughmans'.

"Cheese, salad and pickles," the man behind the barrow said.

Rolf had picked up chicken sandwich for himself and quickly chose the
ham and mustard as being the least likely to be picked through by
Matthew and handed them over for payment, effectively cutting off the
grimace and response Matthew was going to make about cheese and
pickles.

"The English are weird." Matthew mumbled, accepting the sandwich in
its paper bag. "What's the matter with roast beef and swiss? Or
bologna?"

"They've never heard of bologna. Like they looked at us as if we'd
gone mad when we asked for a waffle iron." Rolf took a bite out of
the chicken sandwich, putting his shoulders against the wall as the
food halls lacked places to sit and most of the business community
were eating on the move as they shopped.

"Have they HEARD of seats for the common man, or is that reserved
only for Royalty?" Matthew said, opening his sandwich, pulling apart
the bread to make sure there wasn't anything disgusting hiding
beneath the bread.

"It's just busy. Be grateful or we'll buy salmon. And eat that, don't
commit surgery on it."

"Val better appreciate this." Matthew muttered, slamming the sandwich
back together and tasting it with deep suspicion.

*

It took most of the rest of the afternoon to organise all the
purchases- none of which they actually took away with them. Rolf
signed a paper saying they would accept delivery that afternoon and
one of the doormen downstairs whistled for a taxi for them, which
swept them back into the high white walls of Kensington. The house
was unlocked and full of workmen but the foreman who let them into
the flat explained that Luke was out.

"Thank you. We'll let ourselves in upstairs," Rolf said, heading up
the steps and away from the worst of the noise. When they'd made it
back into the living quarters and shut the door it was a little bit
quieter. "Want to lie down for a while? I'm not sure you can sleep
with all that going on, but it's worth a try."

"I'm not really sleepy," Matthew said, looking out the window again.

"No, but there really isn't much else to do and your body clock is
going to be way off. Get your book out of the bag and give it a try."

"They'll bring the stuff in a while." Matthew sat down on the window
seat overlooking the park, and hugged his knees. "That'll be the fun
part, putting it all away."

Rolf went over and put his arms around Matthew, letting his gaze
linger over the park like area to the back of the house. "Can you
believe we're really here?"

"It's weird." Matthew pulled until Rolf sat down on the windowsill
behind him and provided a back rest. "That fits with Val. He's weird
enough."

"Why do you say that?" Rolf asked, trying to tame Matthew's flyaway
hair.

Matthew tipped his head to look at Rolf. "Hello? Val?"

"He's not weird, sweetheart. He just didn't get a chance to grow-up
like the rest of us."

Matthew grunted, not sounding appeased.

"You did a good job today with the purchases. I'm sure he's going to
be quite pleased with everything."

"Be better if he was just here." Matthew muttered.

"And when he's here, you're going to be muttering it would be better
if he were off singing. Just think, we get to finish getting this
house ready and we all know about it and he doesn't have a clue. Can
you imagine the shock he's going to get tomorrow night?"

Matthew picked at the window frame, which was wood instead of normal
triple glazing. "What if he hates it? We chose it. What if we got it
wrong?"

Rolf pulled Matthew back, wrapping his arms tightly around his
partner. He kissed what he could of Matthew's neck and the side of
his face. "He's going to love it. It'll be his first house, his
first possessions that he can truly call his own. He doesn't have
anything to compare this to except hotels. You have absolutely
nothing to worry about."

"Just not sure how I'd feel about it." Matthew slid down a little to
lean harder against Rolf, wrapping his arms over the top of Rolf's
longer ones.

"Like I said before, he didn't grow up as we did. He probably hasn't
played a game like Scrabble or Monopoly since he was a very young
child. We've provided him a start with games and items we think they
need. As they get used to spending time here, they may elect to
change items. But Val certainly won't walk in and say he hates
having a silver toaster or a Monopoly game on the shelf."

Matthew didn't answer. Rolf sat for a while, watching the square over
Matthew's head until he became aware that Matthew had gone limp and
still. When he glanced down he found Matthew asleep, the two of them
still entangled to the point where it would be difficult to free
himself.

He silently thanked whoever had already put the cushion in and rested
his head against the window frame, allowing his own eyes to close for
a few minutes. He was already feeling the effects of jet lag, having
not rested fully on the plane ride in. Tomorrow was going to be
another busy day to get the flat into shape for the homecoming with
Val, and he was sure the small party would last into the night.

He was woken by a knock on the door what felt like a moment later and
jerked awake. The clock stood at nearly five pm. He shook Matthew
gently, untangling numbed arms, and went to open the door, catching
sight of the large, unmarked van below in the street.

The procession of boxes and unpacking took nearly three hours. Rolf
appropriated a stanley knife from the workmen downstairs and employed
himself ripping boxes and containers, aware of Matthew having the
time of his life placing objects and directing the five delivery men
who were installing and setting up equipment all over the flat. By
seven pm as the last item was tested and the last stamped flat
cardboard box was carried out to the van, there was a working DVD and
a huge plasma tv on the shelves in the alcove, in front of which was
now a thick sheepskin rug which Matthew was sprawled full length on.
Music was playing from the stereo, and books and dvds were lined on
the shelves above a closed cupboard which now contained a selection
of games and puzzles. The kitchen was equipped and cutlery and plate
racks stood beside a wine rack. Plants of various sizes lined the
flat, draping what had previously been clinically crisp and tidy
surfaces and turning it from the slightly too new looking show home
it had been three hours earlier. Several brightly coloured cushions
and a couple of fleece blankets draped the couches in the living
room.

Rolf pulled a selection of picture frames from the wrappers on the
table and stood a couple on the shelves and a couple more on the
mantelpiece over the hearth. They were empty at the moment, but if
they were there then Val and Luke would no doubt quickly fill them.

"Let's completely re-do OUR home," Matthew said from the rug, a very
satisfied grin on his face.

Rolf grinned back and came to sit on the rug beside him. "What's here
that we don't have?"

"That BIG tv," Matthew said, moving around so his head rested in
Rolf's lap. "And those movies. We don't own that many movies."

"No." Rolf said wryly. "Nor are we going to own that many."

"That was fun, being able to pick all the stuff out, and not even
have to worry about the cost."

Matthew glanced up as the door opened downstairs, then rolled to his
feet and went to open the main door. Luke was wearing a jacket and
carrying several carrier bags and grinned as he saw Matthew.

"Hi, Have fun?"

"Yes. I could shop at Harrods every day. They feed you chocolate."

"They feed you everything- " Luke stopped short, blinking at the
plants.

"Welcome home," Rolf said, coming up to stand behind Matthew and let
Luke get a full view of the room.

Luke walked in silence around the flat, taking in the furnishings.
After a few minutes he shook his head. "Wow. I thought it would be
tvs and gameboys- I had no idea what I hadn't even thought of."

Rolf hugged Matthew, quietly telling him "told you so" in his
ear. "We hope you like the choices we made. Please feel free to
return anything at all that isn't to your taste. They assured me at
Harrods it would be absolutely no problem."

"It's amazing." Luke said limply. "I would have had NO idea how to
make it look like this. We know hotels. I know that sounds pathetic
but - wow. Thank you."

"You're very welcome," Rolf said warmly. "We appreciate being a part
of this wonderful surprise for Daniel."

"I can't wait to see his face." Luke said, pausing in front of the
sheepskin rug. "Who thought of this? I'll never get Val up off it."

"Matthew. He lives on the floor at home and said it was a must."

"It IS. So soft, and perfect for stretching out to watch tv,"
Matthew added, smiling in spite of himself. "And it'll make up for
what Rolf filled the cleaning cupboards with."

Luke raised an eyebrow at Rolf who smiled.

"I didn't know what your plans were, but thought you needed the
basics."

Luke saw a little more in the expression than Matthew did. He led the
way across to the carrier bags he'd put down on the table and began
to unpack dinner. Rolf came to get out cutlery and plates and heard
Luke's voice, low and wry.

"There's things I haven't thought of at all, aren't there?"

"Did you go straight from home to the army and then into your current
role?" Rolf asked as he helped to unpack the containers.

"I was part of a regiment merger." Luke pulled another container lid
off and dropped a spoon in to its contents. "Government cuts when we
pulled out of Ireland. I took early retirement, went on leave and I
was still on leave when Val's father called me and offered me the
position of bodyguard. Val's father was the Colonel of my Regiment
when I served in Belfast, he knew me and he wanted someone he trusted
with Val. And I went from school to the army at seventeen. So I've
never really got the hang of civilian life at all."

"Matthew, come help, please," Rolf said, before returning to what he
was doing. "I think you'll take to civilian life like ducks to water
when you manage to work out how to stay here for stretches of time.
You'll find before you know it how many things need doing, even when
you don't have the time."

"At least you don't have a lawn to keep up with," Matthew said
expressively, poking in one of the containers. "What is this?"

"Chinese." Luke said, handing him a spoon. "You have Chinese food in
the states, I know this. Grab a plate-"

"Dish." Rolf took a couple of bowls down from the overhead cupboard
and tore off a few sheets of kitchen towel which was another of his
day's investments. Luke might be used to eating takeaway off office
furniture or off hotel trays but he was about to realise take away
containers in a house were a rather different matter.

"And eat in here please or the whole flat will reek of Chinese."

"Where is the broccoli?" Matthew asked, pouring one container into
the bowl provided for him by Rolf. The LOOK he got in return
reminded him of the conversation they'd had before leaving about not
picking apart every meal he ate, and he quietly carried the bowl over
to the table."

"There's something with vegetables here. A chicken dish," Luke said,
following Rolf's example and pouring it into another bowl. "And I
brought home a case of diet coke, and there's water and tea if you'd
like it."

"One coke." Rolf said on autopilot, decanting several of the other
dishes into bowls and carrying them across to the table. "Matt, that
looks to me like plain rice, that's egg rolls, that's duck."

And his tone made it very clear that any opinions Matthew cared to
offer on the subject needed to be polite. Luke, somewhat surprised
that they were sitting at the table for a takeaway, meekly took his
place and served himself from the dishes laid out.

"I took one of the set menus since I wasn't sure what you'd like."

"This looks like more than enough food and it smells wonderful," Rolf
said, serving himself some of the duck. "They do a nice spread. I
can't think of any of our favourite restaurants, if they serve set
menus or not. I know they have some appetizers set for two or more,
but not a whole meal. It's a great idea, actually."

"Really?" Luke paused, picking up a spring - or egg- roll, depending
on how you looked at it. "It's a very standard thing here. A group of
dishes, you just tell them how many people it's for and you help
yourself to a little of a lot of different things rather than eat
just one main dish. Val likes it, he loves picking at lots of
different flavours."

"Matthew and I enjoy that as well. Getting the choices without
enough leftovers for an army. Speaking of leftovers, I don't think
we purchased any storage bowls or the boxes of wraps you'll need. We
find it easier sometimes to fix a bigger meal and eat it for two
nights. That way, if we've got something going on where we need a
short dinner, we can still eat well without all the time involved.

"I'm going to need to make notes." Luke said wryly. "Maybe I need an
apprenticeship served somewhere for a week or two."

"In what?" Matthew asked, surprised. Rolf passed him the duck.

"Try that."

Matthew opened his mouth, then closed it and quietly put the bowl
down without taking any.

"In.....Living At Home 101," Luke replied. "I can cook when we're at
the cabin, but it's easy things like burgers or chicken, with some
casseroles thrown in. But we haven't tried cooking a real, sit down
meal where we have rows of spices and other options."

"I don't think we got any of those either, did we?" Matthew asked,
looking at Rolf.

Rolf privately thought they'd had a little more family training than
either Val or Luke had experienced. He split a piece of duck on his
plate and handed it to Matthew, which effectively ended the subject,
and sat back to enjoy his expression, making his own way through
prawns and noodles. A cell phone rang and Luke promptly got up,
heading across the lounge as he pulled the phone from his pocket.
They heard his voice warm as he moved out of earshot.

"Hey kitten. You're late, what happened?"

"And you won't yell at HIM about cell phones on at dinner," Matthew
muttered, viewing duck with deep suspicion.

"They have a lot to learn, brat. You must try a piece before you can
make faces and tell me you don't like it. "

"You said I shouldn't make faces," Matthew said, cutting the small
piece into an even smaller one.

"Exactly," Rolf replied, taking another bite of his eggroll.

"This QUACKED."

"I don't need to hear that either."

Matthew scowled, looking at the small piece of meat on his fork. "We
forgot a dog or a cat too," he said, wishing there was a reason to
drop the morsel on the floor.

Rolf ate, serenely oblivious to the scowl, and put a spare plate over
Luke's abandoned plate to keep the contents warm.

Matthew put his fork down. "I'm thirsty. Want a refill?" he asked,
pushing his chair back to stand up.

Rolf leaned over, stabbed the duck on his own fork and held it out.

"I'm asking for one bite. If you don't like it, I won't bother you
again about it."

"Promise?" Matthew asked with uncertainty.

"How many things now do you eat that you wouldn't touch when I met
you?" Rolf demanded.

"A few," Matthew granted.

Rolf held out his fork

Matthew accepted it and ever so slowly put it into his mouth. Rolf
took the fork back and had to look down at his plate to keep from
rolling his eyes at the look Matthew had on his face.

"Was that so bad?" he asked when he could keep a straight face.

Matthew swallowed it and went to get a glass of water. "It isn't
something I'd like again," he replied, sitting down. It hadn't
tasted so bad exactly, he just didn't like the idea of eating a
quacking duck.

Luke came back, folding his phone.

"Sorry. Val just left the studio, he's got another three or four
hours to do in the morning and he should be here around three o clock
tomorrow."

"Going to be a very busy day tomorrow, I think," Rolf said, putting
down his glass. "Do we need to find time to grocery shop or are you
having the home-coming catered?"

Luke sat down at the table, picking up his fork and uncovering his
plate.

"Diane's seeing to that - Val's PA. She tends to sort that kind of
thing out. She'll
be here in the morning."

Rolf decided he'd meet with Diane and sort that out hmself, as he was
more than convinced she'd get party fods and they'd still be left
with nothing in the refrigerator or pantry.

"Will she have some of those chocolates from Harrods?" Matthew asked,
picking through some of the vegetables on his plate.

"We can probably arrange for that if you'd like?" Luke smiled at him,
finishing his plateful. "Val's fond of those too and it is a party.
Can I get you two anything else?"

"No, thanks," Rolf replied, pushing back from the table. "I'm
absolutely stuffed."

"I'll make some coffee then." Luke got up, gathering the dishes
together.

Rolf got up as well, going through the bags to gather up the
leftovers, something he doubted Luke had ever done. "Matthew, you
can do the few dishes, please."

"Nooo, there's a dishwasher." Matthew said plaintively.

"We're going to need most of that space tomorrow. You've got service
for three, it won't take long."

"You wash, I'll dry?" Matthew slumped across the table, giving Rolf
his most plaintive 'I'm tired and jetlagged' look.

"I can take care of those later," Luke said as he finished pouring
the water into the coffee maker.

Matthew's relief was short lived. "Matthew can handle it," Rolf
said, giving his partner a very firm look.

Matthew didn't answer but he put his head down on his arms, not
moving while Luke pulled cups out of the cupboard in the kitchen and
Rolf continued clearing
the table.

"Would you prefer going directly to bed?" Rolf asked as he took the
last of the food containers off the table.

"No!" Matthew said indignantly, not lifting his head.

"I'm not going to repeat myself again."

"In a MINUTE."

Luke had just finished pouring two cups of coffee and felt the mood
change in the room. Leaning against the counter, he waited to see
what would happen.

"ExCUSE me?" Rolf asked sharply, turning his full attention to
Matthew.

"I will in a minutttttttttttttte..." Matthew said rather more
plaintively, still not moving.

Rolf walked over to Matthew, and without a word picked him up and
swatted him soundly. "Face the corner," he said, pointing.

Matthew gave him a look that should have either melted him where he
stood or turned him to stone, but put a hand automatically back over
the seat of his jeans and took a few hesitant steps, not at all sure
which corner. Almost all of them were furniture occupied. Rolf
stepped through the living room and moved a lamp from the corner and
stood waiting until Matthew stepped past him into the corner.

"You will stand there until you're ready to behave," Rolf said,
returning to the kitchen.

Matthew pulled a face at the safety of the wall, not at all impressed
with that pronouncement

Luke continued stirring coffee, trying not to too obviously watch the
exchange. Rolf put the plates in the sink and turned on the taps,
holding a hand under the water flow until it hit the right
temperature.

Rolf stopped the drain and squeezed some dish soap into the sink,
filling it up and letting the plates soak. He picked up his coffee
and took a sip.

"Do you have the stack of papers to sign off the work crews?" he
asked Luke, sparing a quick glance at his partner.

"Yes, upstairs in the study." Luke dug in the drawers until he found
a dish towel and reached for a plate to start washing.

"Matthew WILL take care of the dishes," Rolf said, stopping Luke from
taking a plate out. "They can wait just as long as he wants them
to. Get the papers, we'll go through and make the final notes so we
can direct the work crews out as quickly as possible."

Luke caught his eye and gave him a rather ironic salute and wink, put
the dish towel down on the side and headed upstairs. Matthew, still
facing the corner, appeared to be muttering to himself.

Rolf walked slowly into the living room, clearing his throat when he
heard some of the muttering. Glad that Matthew settled, he went back
to the kitchen table and wiped it down, drying it with a paper towel
so they could work there. He'd just settled back into his chair when
Luke reappeared with a bulging file folder.

"I think this is the lot." Luke cast Matthew a slightly sympathetic
look. In his experience Val would have been close to kicking the wall
by now: corners were something he'd only ever resorted to in extreme
circumstances and usually only as a means of delaying the inevitable.

"Suppose I go downstairs and clean up for a while-"

"Please don't be uncomfortable," Rolf said, pulling out a chair for
Luke. "He knows better than to behave like that. We're here as
friends, not just stiff houseguests that walk on eggshells."

"He's not going to kick the new wall in?" Luke asked, mostly kidding.

"Only if he wants to sleep on his stomach tonight," Rolf replied
drily, putting the file aside for the moment. "He knows he's there
to pull himself together, and it usually works. He can think or wait
quietly and come out with little to no harm done, or he can choose to
ignore the warning and things go downhill fast at that point."

"It isn't something we try very much." Luke said a little too
casually in a tone Rolf heard and understood. They'd had a little
time to talk like this at the cabin in the summer, save that at the
time Luke's mind had been thoroughly occupied with the stalker.

"You should think about trying it more. Now that you'll have your
space here, and can keep a corner free," Rolf said, smiling
ruefully, "It might help to settle tense situations before they
become unmanageable. It gives both of you time to settle and you'll
know pretty quickly if your partner is ready to calm down and try to
listen. If not, you might as well get the blow up done and gone
before you start into the meat of the conversation."

"Val isn't too good at calming down." Luke said wryly. "Boiling up,
yes. He doesn't really do delaying things either. The only times I
think I've ever tried that was in the early days when I had to plant
him somewhere out of my hair for two minutes before I throttled him.
Or kissed him. That was before we got involved." he added for Rolf's
benefit.

"It takes time to settle into a routine. Matthew didn't do corners
well either when we started. We...or rather I...kept at it until
Matthew learned to use that time to his advantage. We've headed off
quite a few problems using the corner, though there are still times I
think it's going to work and it doesn't."

"Maybe I need to re think the furniture arrangement." Luke said
dryly, glancing around. "Seems to me there's more than a few things I
haven't thought of."

Rolf caught his eye, aware of the layers within that comment, but
Luke gave him a faint smile and got up, going into the kitchen for
coffee, and Matthew very quietly huffed in the corner.

Rolf stood up and walked into the living room. "Are you ready to do
the dishes without a fuss?"

"Yeeeees....." Matthew sounded extremely uncertain about it, but it
was clearly a better option than continuing to stand here.

"Get them done then." Rolf followed his partner back into the
kitchen and settled down at the table again with the file, flipping
through it slowly and pulling out a page here and there.

Sighing heavily, Matthew went into the kitchen and started running
water into the sink.

The rest of the evening was short: Rolf and Luke were finishing the
paperwork when Matthew was done with the dishes, and seeing Matthew's
heavy eyes Rolf sent him upstairs to shower and get ready for bed,
and within twenty minutes excused himself to follow. The time gap
between the US time and UK time was considerable and the effects of
that gap were catching up fast. He left Luke still working through
the figures at the table.

"I'm not sleepy," Matthew said firmly from the window. "Just because
it gets dark so much earlier here doesn't mean it's time for bed."

"Yes, it does." Rolf took the towel from the rail and pulled Matthew
down onto the side of the high, wooden framed bed to dry his hair
more thoroughly. "How was the shower? You're probably the first to
try it."

"It was nice. Water pressure is really, really good," Matthew said,
near to purring with Rolf working on his hair. "Not like those
showers at Myrtle Beach where you feel like the salt and the sand
will never leave you."

"Well I didn't design that bathroom." Rolf folded the towel and ran a
hand through Matthew's hair to straighten it. "Teeth brushed?"

Matthew smiled cheekily up at his partner. "Good enough?"

"They'll do." Rolf kissed him and got up. "Bed, brat. I'm going to
take a shower."

"But I'm not sleeeeeeepy," Matthew said again, getting up to pull the
covers down. He slid in when Rolf looked at him, grabbing a book to
read while Rolf was busy.

When Rolf exited the bathroom fifteen minutes later, it was to find
the pages of the book gently ruffling in the breeze of Matthew's
snoring. He carefully pulled the book out and replaced Matthew's
nose with the proper bookmark before setting it aside and sliding
under the covers. His last conscious thought was that Luke certainly
didn't need help finding a most comfortable mattress.



*********************************



It was surprisingly quiet in this part of London. Rolf blinked at the
clock when he woke, startled at the bright sunshine outside, and
discovered that it was approaching ten am. Distinctly embarrassed he
slid out of bed, grabbed jeans and a t shirt and left Matthew still
soundly asleep as he padded down the stairs to the lower floor of the
apartment. Several cleaners were there, dusting and hoovering, and
Luke, drinking coffee, was standing in the kitchen reviewing a stack
of faxes. He smiled at Rolf and nodded at the coffee pot.

"It's hot. I thought you'd sleep in this morning, the jet lag always
kills us too."

"I didn't expect to sleep through the entire morning," Rolf said,
pouring himself a cup of coffee. "That extra insulation in the walls
definitely does its job, I don't think I heard a thing all night."

"Great isn't it?" Luke said appreciatively. "Val will love that too.
He gets pretty drained by the hotels never really being quiet, we get
the traffic and the people noises all the time. Can I get you some
breakfast?"

"Yes, I'm famished. I can just get a bowl of cereal if you've got
that. I'm pretty easy to please."

"There's pastries in the oven, still warm. Help yourself - if you
don't mind I have a team meeting I need to go take downstairs as
we're expecting Val back in London. We'll do a house search about mid
day and we'll start covering the house from then on. Are you and
Matthew ok taking care of yourselves until around three?"

"Of course. Is there anything you'd like help with in the meantime?"
Rolf asked, opening the oven to pull a few pastries out for himself.

"I think we're sorted thanks." Luke flicked through the faxes, on his
way to the door. "Diane's seeing to food- she'll arrive around three -
the cleaners will go through the house and we're straightening up
the last of the building site downstairs. Val's due around three
thirty."

"Just call my phone if there's anything you need," Rolf said,
settling down at the table after Luke left. He'd just finished his
second pastry when his partner walked into the room, his eyes barely
open. "Good morning."

"Mmph."

"I won't ask if you want coffee." Rolf said wryly, pushing out the
chair beside him. "Sleep well?"

"I didn't wake up."

"Have you yet?"

Matthew could barely summon the energy to glare at Rolf, choosing
instead to lay his head on his arms on the
tabletop. "Whatareyoueating?" he mumbled from beneath his arms.

"Danish." Rolf leaned over to the oven and took the plate out where
the last few were keeping warm. "Luke has gone to a security meeting,
they're gearing up for Val to be in the house. We're free to amuse
ourselves in London until three."

"I'm amused."

"You're not sleeping all morning." Rolf said firmly. "This is our
chance to do some touristing. What would you like to see?"

"Sugarplums dancing."

Rolf gave up. In this frame of mind trying to have a conversation
with Matthew was a waste of breath. He ate pastries, drank coffee and
waited until his partner came around of his own accord.

Finding that the table didn't provide nearly the comfort of the bed,
Matthew sat back and decided the pastries smelled pretty good. He
pulled one closer and worked for a minute to get the top layer loose
on one side to determine what was inside. When it didn't fight back,
he started eating, waking up as his stomach filled up.

Rolf finished his coffee and got up to wash the plate and cup,
looking down from the window into the courtyard garden below. It was
a secluded, walled little sun trap and several benches were in
amongst the planters and rockeries.

"What CAN we do today?" Matthew asked, wiping off the remains of the
fruit filling from his cheek.

Rolf snorted. "How long have you got? Castles, abbeys, churches,
tombs, walls, museums, shops, where do you want to start? Historical,
scientific, geographical? Dinosaurs or art?"

"We have time for a castle?" Matthew asked excitedly as he got up to
hand his plate to Rolf.

"We have time for a castle. The tower of London isn't too far from
here."

"Let's do that!"

"I'll leave a note for Luke." Rolf dried the dishes and put them back
in the cupboards and wiped off the table. "Put on something warm and
fit for running up and down stairs in, and I'll see if I can call a
cab."

"Okay," Matthew said, hopping up the stairs to get dressed. He
finally ended up running his head under the faucet to get his hair
tamed.

Rolf found trainers and a warm jacket and sat on the end of the bed
to wait. He would personally have preferred to go to the underground
and take the tube, something he would have loved to have seen in
action, but one of Luke's security requests had been to take cabs
from the house rather than walk to the station near by.

"Where are my shoes?" Matthew asked, coming out of the bathroom with
still damp hair.

"Probably where ever you put them last night." Rolf suggested.

"I don't KNOW where that is or I wouldn't have asked," Matthew said,
peering under the bed.

"Downstairs?" Rolf said patiently.

"I don't see them up here." Matthew headed back over to the stairs
and headed down, finally finding them over by the rug in front of the
tv. "There they are."

"Sorry." Rolf apologised to the cleaner who had moved to let them
past. "We're getting out of your way now."

Matthew led the way down the stairs to the ground floor rooms which
were being rapidly tidied from building site to a reception room and
an office, and Rolf knew, a conference room beyond the office where
Luke's meeting was currently in session. They went out through the
marbled hall, down the white front steps to the black cab waiting on
the door step and Rolf held the door, watching Matthew clamber in and
promptly pull down the flip-up seat behind the driver, taking his
place there.

"Tower of London please."

"Is the Tower near Harrods?"

"A couple of miles away. It's on the edge of the East End where the
Ripper murders were, and right on the banks of the Thames."

"Ripper murders?" Matthew asked, intrigued.

"Jack the Ripper? You must have heard of him."

"Yes, but I didn't know we were going to be right there. Do they
have plaques out to read or something?"

"I don't think so. There are walks at night where historians take you
to the places where the murders took place and tell you about them, I
think all the places or most of them are still there as they were."

"Can we do one of them? That would be awesome!"

"I don't see why not. Luke might not want Val to do it but no reason
why we couldn't." Rolf pulled the guide out of his pocket that he'd
read on the plane. "There are plenty of ghost walks too."

"Like what?" Matthew asked, a huge smile on his face for the rest of
the drive to the Tower.

"All sorts. Mostly around the old parts of London. They take you to
the places and buildings the stories are associated with and tell you
the stories as you walk."

"Is that the Tower?" Matthew asked as the cab pulled up and stopped.

"You can't exactly miss it, can you?" Rolf paid the driver and got
out onto the pavement which here was large and very worn slabs of
stone that tilted at all kinds of angles. The tower, covering most of
the immediate landscape, loomed in all directions in front of them.

Matthew slid out of the cab and slowly turned to look in all
directions.

"Is this ALL the Tower?" he asked when the cabbie had driven away.

"The whole thing. It's actually a lot of towers from what I
understand, not just the royal apartments." Rolf led the way on to a
bridge and towards an archway where he paid entrance for both of
them. The stonework was massive, stretching far above and to either
side of them.

"Do royals still live here?"

"I believe there are apartments here available for them, but I don't
think any are based here at the moment - there are palaces all over
London, most of the royals have their main 'home' in one of them."

"How do we get into the buildings?" Matthew asked, pulling on Rolf's
hand as he was taking far too much time to appreciate the
architecture for his liking.

"Some of them are open to the public and some are private." Rolf
paused by a fairly classic gift shop to their left which sold a
number of things with union jacks on. Matthew stared, open mouthed at
a large, middle aged man in a red uniform who gave him a friendly
smile as he passed.

"What was that?" Matthew asked Rolf quietly, stealing another glance
as they walked past him.

"I have no idea." Rolf said frankly, looking with some bafflement at
the man's white ruff. "But there's another one."

The second one wasn't in quite as ornate a costume as the first, but
you could tell they did the same thing. This one had a very large,
white fluffy beard and looked a little less out of place. Matthew
walked up to him, gave him a weak smile, then cleared his
throat. "Why are you dressed like that?"

The man's face lit up in a wider smile and he leaned a little closer
to Matthew, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "For my
sins lad. Don't let it worry you."

Rolf had to stop himself from laughing at the look on his partner's
face as he returned to his side. "What did he say?"

"I'm not doing ANYTHING wrong here," Matthew said, pulling on Rolf's
hand.

"I'm a Beefeater." the man said, trying not to laugh and meeting
Rolf's eye. "American are you? On holiday?"

Matthew blushed, dying to leave and wondering what in the world the
guy's diet had to do with why he was dressed that way.

"Yes, we are. What is a Beefeater responsible for?" Rolf asked,
putting an arm around his partner to keep him there.

"Yeoman warders. We've been guarding the tower here since 1485. Kings
Bodyguard, although we're mostly the warders and guides here now."
The man smiled at Matthew apologetically. "Sorry lad. That's the
British sense of humour. We're all over the tower here."

Matthew gave a nervous laugh, then recovered his voice and sense of
curiosity. "Why are you called a Beefeater?"

"Comes from the term 'buffetier'." the man said cheerfully. "French
word, buffetiers were guards in French palaces, protecting the King's
food."

"Are there pastierres to protect the baked goods?" Matthew asked with
a straight face.

The man laughed, a deep and ringing laugh that went with the enormous
white whiskers. "Not that I know of. The Beefeaters were here to
guard the prison here, and the tower, and we still take part in state
occasions. Most of us are ex service men."

"Are there any prisoners here now?" Matthew asked hopefully.

"Not now." The man nodded at the street ahead of them. "If you keep
walking that way you'll find the towers where the prisoners were
kept. From Sir Walter Raleigh to Queen Bess herself, the two little
princes, a lot of people were kept here and died here. Have a look at
tower green too, that's where a lot of people were executed in these
walls."

"That should keep us busy for the rest of the day. Thank you sir,
you've been a great help," Rolf said, shaking his hand.

The man touched his peculiar hat to them both, clasped his hands
behind his back and walked off whistling. Matthew watched him go and
then went where he had indicated, towing Rolf after him. A wooden
rail blocked off a flight of stone steps that led down to a little
stone landing place and a gated harbour against the wall where the
river washed against the steps.

"Can we go down there?" Matthew asked, as always intrigued by water.

"Not down to the water. Traitor's gate." Rolf read from the sign
above the wooden gate in the wall. "All the London palaces were
accessible by boat in medieval times, the Thames was like the
motorway. People landed here by boat from the river and this was the
gate for the prisoners."

"Where did they go from here?" he asked, looking around as he
imagined people coming up the steps in chains and
shackles.

"One of the towers." Rolf turned his guide around, looking at the
maps. "The most important prisoners were kept in a bit more comfort
than most - the rooms are open in the towers, let's go look?"


"Yes!" Matthew said, following Rolf towards one of the doors that
were open.

They spent several hours wandering between the towers, looking at the
huge stone rooms inside where in some there were still words and
symbols scratched on the walls by prisoners. Guns, suits of armour,
gunpowder and swords filled other towers, and in another tower again
they found the crown jewels, including the crowns under their glass
cases.

"Can you imagine wearing these things?" Matthew asked, trying to look
quickly at them.

"They must weigh a ton." Rolf paused in front of the queen mother's
crown with the Kohinoor diamond, huge and gleaming in the centre of
it. "Would you look at the size of that?"

"Yeah, it's pretty big," Matthew said, looking at one of the
Beefeaters in the corner.

"Priceless. Truly priceless." Rolf shook his head, tearing his eyes
away. "Never mind the history of it. these jewels are hundreds of
years old - you're hungry again aren't you?"

"Was the fifteen pounds I've lost walking around in here any hint?
Do they have food around here?"

"There's a tea room." Rolf led the way into the yard and across the
wide courtyard towards a tea room in the lower floor of one of the
castle buildings. "Tea and cake? That's about what they do here?"

"I can do cake for lunch," Matthew said happily, leading the way in
and up to the counter. He picked out three cakes and settled for a
pot of English breakfast tea, allowing Rolf to pay for it before
moving off to find a table. "The English have SOME things right,"
Matthew said, taking a bite of one of the cakes.

Rolf shook his head and poured himself tea. "We need to keep an eye
on the time. Luke wanted us back by three."

"That when the food will be available?" Matthew asked through a
mouthful of cake.

"No, gannet."

Matthew stuck out his tongue and continued eating, looking around at
the people sitting at the other tables. He could hear English being
spoken, but there were also several other languages and it made it
hard to follow anyone's conversation in particular.

Rolf sat glancing through the guide book while he ate, still
fascinated by the building around them. The atmosphere in the place
was heavy despite the sunshine in the courtyards outside, it was
difficult to imagine that they were in a room where people had been
eating and working and talking for over a thousand years.

"Do they have anything for dessert?" Matthew asked after his last
forkful of cake.

"You've had enough." Rolf said very firmly. "We're not touring on
your stomach. Come on, come and walk some of that off."

Matthew finished his cup of tea in two gulps and followed Rolf out of
the tea shop and back onto the cobble stoned street. He tried
waiting patiently as Rolf pointed out several architectural details
of the surrounding buildings. Matthew shivered in the light breeze
and decided to duck into a doorway he saw a couple of steps down the
street. He missed the plaque on the right side of the door as he was
momentarily blinded after having been in the sun. The stone floor
was darkened by time and blood from the many individuals who had died
there. As Matthew blinked to clear his eyes of the sun spots, the
hair on the back of his neck stood up and a cold chill slowly climbed
up his back. He turned quickly as a cold blast of air seemed to blow
down the stairs, catching something out of the corner of his eye. A
feeling of complete terror overwhelmed him and he turned quickly to
leave, having to fight with the doorknob in his haste to leave. He
finally yanked open the door and burst out into the sunshine,
breathing hard and searching quickly for his partner.

Rolf, still interested in what he was seeing, continued to walk,
oblivious.

Matthew finally spotted Rolf further down the street, jumping forward
when the door clicked shut behind him. He ran quickly, casting a few
furtive glances behind him, running into Rolf when his partner
stopped to read another plaque. Rolf took an involuntary step forward
and grabbed him to steady them both. "Careful- what? what's the
matter?"

Now that he was out of the building and next to his partner, what
happened earlier seemed quite silly. He took a steadying
breath. "Nothing. It was..nothing. You just stopped when I didn't
expect it."

"Okay........" Rolf looked at him, puzzled.

"What is this building anyway?" Matthew asked, sliding his hand into
Rolf's.

"The Bloody Tower." Rolf said, glancing up at the walls above
them. "One of the towers where prisoners were kept. There were
several murders supposed to have taken place here, including two
children."

Matthew couldn't suppress the shiver that overtook him again when
Rolf mentioned the name of the tower. His hand tightened on Rolf's
and he pulled, walking down the street. "I want to see what that
booth is for over there," Matthew said, pointing at a brightly
coloured tent a little further along the street.

Rolf glanced at his watch and unwillingly shook his head. "We need to
get moving. It'll take us half an hour to get to the house and Val's
due at three thirty. Come on, we'll find our way out and get a taxi."

Matthew didn't argue, the excitement of the morning somewhat tempered
by the spooky/sickening feeling he experienced in the building. It
was a long walk back to the sidewalk where they could catch a cab,
but the temperatures were mild rather than hot and Matthew felt a
little better by the end of it. The river was in sight from there,
and Matthew stood for a moment, looking at the wide brown Thames
rolling past with boats scattered on it while Rolf signalled to one
of the black cabs. Rolf glanced again at his watch as they got in.

"Just time to wash and change. I don't know who's coming to this
party - I've got a feeling Luke wants it extremely private."

"In case Val throws a fit because it wasn't what he wanted?" Matthew
asked, getting back into the jump seat.

Rolf smiled. "I think because he wants a party where Val feels
completely at home. I'm not sure how out they are to the crew and so
on, or how much they're friends rather than colleagues."

Matthew chewed on that for the drive home, thinking again how much
more comfortable he and Rolf seemed with life in general compared to
Val. He really hadn't put much thought into what they did as a
couple, versus what Val did for a living. The house seemed quiet, but
the front door was locked, and when Matthew knocked, a buzzer sounded
and a male voice said calmly from the speaker, "May I help you?"

"It's Matthew? And Rolf? We're staying here?" Matthew said shortly,
not appreciating the security measures.

"Come on in." The door buzzed and a moment later a lock was drawn
back and the door opened. A large man in jeans and a casual sweater
smiled at them, stepping back to let them in. "Luke's in the office,
he says to go on up and make yourselves comfortable, he'll be up in a
minute."

Matthew ignored the giant as best he could and headed up the three
flights to their bedroom, flopping down on the bed as soon as he'd
kicked his shoes off. "Are they ALWAYS going to act like this is a
fortress?"

"Yes." Rolf pulled off his jacket. "Are you going to shower? I think
I will."

"I don't know," Matthew replied, rolling onto his back. "I'll think
about it."

"Well be quick, we don't have long." Rolf headed for the shower,
pulling his shirt over his head.

Matthew stared at the ceiling for a few minutes before deciding that
Val would probably be well overdressed, the least that he could do
was be clean. He stripped and headed into the bathroom, getting
immediately into the shower where Rolf was.

"Hello," Rolf moved over to make room for him. "We definitely don't
have time for this."

"I don't think they'll go anywhere," Matthew tried, stepping over to
get some of the warmer water onto his skin.

"We still don't have time for this." Rolf kissed him briefly, shook
the last of the water from his hair and stepped out, grabbing one of
the monster towels from the rail. "Hurry up."

Matthew sighed and started soaping up, wondering what the evening
ahead held for him in the way of fun. He stepped out a few minutes
later, taking the towel that Rolf handed him and wishing his partner
wasn't such a fast dresser.

"I don't know what to wear," he grumbled, looking in the wardrobe
where the clothes he had brought were hanging. "Who knows what HE'll
wear. Probably half Gucci's latest collection."

"It doesn't matter what he wears," Rolf said as he brushed his hair
into place. "Just pick something and put it on. We don't want to
miss his homecoming."

"HE'll care."

"Well, that's his problem now, isn't it? How about this?" Rolf
asked, pulling out a dark blue button down shirt. "It should go nice
with khakis."

Matthew looked at him, pouting slightly and hugging the towel around
him.

"Hon, he's not going to take apart your clothing. I think, for
tonight at least, he's going to be too involved in thinking about himself, and his new home."

That wasn't the reassurance Matthew was hoping for. Scowling, he pulled on the khakis.

Rolf helped him into his shirt, then wrapped his arms around his partner when Matthew stepped away. "You look fabulous in anything you wear, and even better in everything you don't wear," Rolf said heatedly into Matthew's ear before nipping at it.

Matthew leaned against him, wrapping his arms tightly around Rolf. It was hard to explain the insecurity that the idea of Val could raise in him. It wasn't easy being alongside someone as good looking or as ideal in clothes as Val was- competition was flatly impossible

Rolf held him for a couple of minutes before releasing him. "Get some shoes on. We should be downstairs in a couple of minutes."

Matthew sat down to pull some slightly smarter shoes on than his trainers, ran a comb through his hair and followed Rolf down the stairs. Luke was waiting in the living room area and smiled at them, walking away from a rounded lady in a tailored pink suit.

"Hello, how was your morning?"

"We had a very nice time touring the Tower of London," Rolf said. "Met a couple of Beefeaters along the way as well."

Luke laughed. "All the time I've been in London and I've never actually gone there and seen one. Val's ten minutes out, the car just radioed to us. This is Diane, Val's personal assistant."

"Rolf Monet," Rolf said, shaking Diane's hand. "My partner, Matthew Mocoso."

"I've heard a lot about the two of you from Val," Diane said, smiling  at Matthew.

Matthew smiled back, taken in spite of himself by the warmth of her face. She looked both comfortable, efficient and young enough to be fun, which gelled with what he knew of her from Val. Diane took his arm, leading him towards the kitchen. "There's food laid out, more warming in the oven, there's plenty downstairs for the troops so don't worry about feeding them. Champagne AND coke in the bucket, and plenty of chocolate up there. I heard you had a taste for the Harrods own."

If Matthew's immediate inclination to like Diane wasn't enough, the food in the kitchen and the mention of chocolate would have done the job. "They kept bringing in trays with all the little fancy pieces on it," Matthew gushed, taking a handful of chips from one of the trays.

"I love the chocolate violets myself." Diane confided. "And now I'll push off," she added to Luke. "You're all set. Have a wonderful evening. Val's going to love this."

"Thank you for all your help," Luke said, taking her to the door. "It's going to be nice to have a more permanent place to work and live. Thank you," he said again, closing the door behind her.

"It's just us?" Rolf asked, pulling Matthew away from the kitchen with a light but extremely meaningful swat to the seat of the khakis.

"Yes, just us. I wanted Val to socialise as a friend, rather than as the star of the party. He does enough of that during long concert runs," Luke replied, smiling inwardly at the glare Matthew shot at Rolf after being ushered away from the food.

The radio buzzed in the kitchen and a disembodied voice said loudly, "Convoy turning into the street at point three. Stand by everyone, here he comes."


~ to be continued


9 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's been over a year- when will you update? :D I've been looking forward to the next part!

Anonymous said...

NeeD More!!!!!!!! I LOVE Luke and Val!

Lady in Red said...

Didn't Matt and Rolf meet Dianne in the suite in Stalker?

Anonymous said...

More Val and Luke stories please

Bear said...

To be continued when??? Love these guys.

Unknown said...

Hey! To Be Continued???????????? Love the story I wish to finish the Christmas party. Love your stories.

Anonymous said...

I am with everyone else. Continue when??? Please help us

Jay Ell said...

After rereading this as part of the Advent calendar, I'm rather hoping that the rest of this story might end up on the blog :) It was great to reconnect with these men.
JL-

dragonquest said...

I know you guys are busy with FCR but please don't forget about your other stories especially those with tbc that are almost 7 years waiting. Keep up the great work love reading all of the wonderful stories and getting lost in thier worlds.


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