The phone rings.
Once, twice, and then it’s picked up swiftly; it’s never been delayed before. The staff is always too damn good at their jobs.
“Halcyon Hotel, good evening.”
Adil clears his throat. “Good evening,” he says, already giddy at hearing the voice of someone familiar after all these long months. “May I please speak to Mr. Hamilton?”
There's a brief pause after he speaks, perhaps as Peggy registers who’s at the other end.
“…of course, putting you through,” she eventually says. “It’s good to hear your voice, Mr. Joshi.” He can practically hear her smiling at the other end.
“Likewise,” he says, gripping the receiver tightly in anticipation.
The last few rays of sunlight come pouring into the room as the phone rings; this time, though, there’s a healthy delay as Adil waits for the phone to be picked up. No doubt, he thinks, he’s probably too engrossed in his work to notice the ringing of the telephone. At this hour, he’s likely not even expecting a call. Certainly not from Adil.
“Toby Hamilton speaking.”
Despite himself, Adil’s heart begins to race. God, it’s been ages since he’s heard his voice, and already he’s longing for more.
“Good evening, Toby,” he says, fighting to keep his voice steady.
There’s a sharp inhale on the other side.
“…Adil?” he asks, the façade of propriety dropped in a heartbeat.
Adil grins so brightly it aches. “Yes, it’s really me.”
“God,” he says, and then laughs. “God, I can’t believe—” His voice has gone thick with emotion. “I've missed your voice so much.”
Adil ducks his head, biting his lips as he tries not to let the guilt blooming in his chest overtake him.
They’ve had a hard time adjusting ever since Adil got called off to training; the communication between them has slowed down as they awkwardly adjusted from seeing each other every day to never at all. They’ve done their best over these past six months, but the occasional heavily censored letter just doesn’t hit quite as close as being able to see his lover from across the bar or hold him close late at night. And he knows with his first deployment being so far from home, the distance will only grow more unbearable.
“Missed me, didn’t you?” he quips instead, knowing it will be easier than facing the reality of their separation head-on.
Toby snorts. “You hush,” he says thickly, as if close to tears. “Yes, I do, alright? I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.” Adil closes his eyes, though that’s not enough to stop the single traitorous tear that escapes. “So much it aches,” he whispers, holding the receiver as close as he can to his ear, as if that will bring him any closer to Toby.
“When are you leaving?” says Toby after a moment’s pause, his voice trembling ever so slightly.
“Tomorrow morning.” The springs of the cheap hotel mattress creak as he settles onto his bed. “We’re being sent to France. They’re hoping we’ll be able to help the resistance fighters over there.”
“You stay safe, now,” he says, though it sounds like I love you.
Adil sighs. “I can’t make any promises,” he says; there’s no guarantee of safety in war, after all. “But I’ll write to you.”
He knew it would be hard when he’d signed up last December, still plagued even after a year by the crimes he’d committed against his country, against his lover. Toby had tried to dissuade him, of course, claiming that it was under duress, that he had to stop blaming himself, God, the hotel needs you, I need you—but eventually he’d acquiesced when he realized his lover was dead-set on taking up arms, with only the condition that he’d write whenever he could. He knew it would be hard, and it still didn’t stop the pain of knowing just what he was burdening him with—the life of a fighting man’s lover, constantly looking to the door and flinching with every radio broadcast and newspaper article, praying every night for the safe delivery of each letter, hoping this one wouldn’t be the last. Except—he can’t do all that, can he? He doesn’t have the luxury of his female counterparts—or even some of the men with girlfriends on the front lines. This is a burden he’ll have to bear alone, one he’ll have to bottle up as he keeps calm and carries on as if his other half isn’t risking his life abroad.
And Adil hates himself for saddling him with the life of a lover on the home front. He hates that he can’t promise him safety, hates that he won’t have his arms to reassure him, hates that they’ll both be going to bed alone for months on end. But such is the life he’s chosen, and nothing’s fair in war.
“You’ll have to change the address,” says Toby, pulling him back to reality. “I’m moving out.”
“Work,” he says, and Adil can hear him grinning from across the receiver. “Very important duties. Top-secret, I’m afraid. Even I hardly know what I’m to do.”
Adil smiles. “Nothing you’re not suited for, I’m sure.”
“I still can’t believe they’re trusting me with something so important,” he says. “Really makes me want some—what did you call it, back when I was at the War Office?”
“Confidence in a glass?” Even now, Adil can recall that moment two years ago, when they’d first held hands and Adil first let himself feel that spark of hope that maybe the other man really did return his affections—the start of something beautiful, even if neither of them knew just how deeply they’d fall. “Might be a tad difficult now. Last I knew, Feldman was still having trouble sourcing lemons.”
Toby’s laughter was music to his ears. “Go on, then,” he says. “I still have to give you my new address…”
Adil scrambles for a pen and writes down the address on a sheet of hotel stationery. Apparently, he’s moving to a small village in the north of Buckinghamshire.
“That’s not too far from London,” he says, ripping the sheet off and laying it on top of his pack.
“Oh, God, don’t remind me,” says Toby. “You sound just like Mother. She’s always nagging me to come and visit every once in a while.” He huffs. “Ever since you and O’Hara left, and with Emma working all the time, I’ve been stuck here with naught but her for company. It’s driving me mad.”
“Well, both her sons are leaving, I can’t fault her.” A pause. “But do try to keep the madness at bay.”
“Promise you’ll write?”
“I promise,” he says, when all he wants to say is, I love you, too. “Good night.”
“Night. You take care now.”
The line clicks silent.
Adil sighs, setting the phone back on the hook and heading to his pack. This was it. The last he was to hear of Toby’s voice for a long while—however long this mission was to take. It could be weeks, months—a year or more.
And he hasn’t even figured out how in the world he is to write to Toby when he won’t even exist for all that time.
He rummages through his pack, looking for a safe pocket to stash the note in, and his fingers fall upon the rest of his provisions: the stationery, the neatly folded dinner suit, the wireless set, the pot of invisible ink, the numerous falsified receipts linking him to Oxford…
It’s going to be an interesting mission, however long it takes.