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No infringement of the following characters and situations is intended.
Warning: Rated [MA] Mature Adults only. May contain strong sexual scenes, violence, coarse language, drug use, horror and adult themes.

Disclaimer: Written for fun and not for profit.
M/A M/M scenes.

A Lesson Learnt

India 1799. After the Siege of Seringapaptam.

William Lawford watched the game unfold in front of him. He wasn't sure what he was watching, whether it had a name. It seemed to be some sort of tag, like a game boys would play in the street, a rough and tumble game. But he'd followed enough to know that there were two teams and the strips of cloth tucked into the belts of one team, flying like tails behind them, had to be caught and snatched by the other team. Lawford watched with envy at the easy way the players ran and jostled with each other, grabbing hold, pulling, tugging, tripping each other up, completely uninhibited. There were shouts and yells, and laughter. Lawford wished he could be part of something so spontaneous as this, be one of the boys, one of the lads. But as an officer with a Public school background that would never do.

Since his return to the British Army from the perils of the Tippoo's cells, tyranny, and death, Lawford's mood had swung from immense relief to utter boredom. The headiness of the excitement of living on a knife-edge had gone, and worse the excitement and closeness of being with Richard Sharpe had gone. Sharpe was one of the boys, one of the lads, and it was Sharpe that Lawford now watched with envy, almost jealously, as he ran with complete abandon with his mates.

Sharpe had been made up to sergeant for his part in the Seige of Seringapatam, and if anything it had increased his popularity with the other soldiers. Lawford watched as Sharpe moved skillfully among the other players, dodging those trying to snatch at and claim his 'tail'. He moved fast, almost flirting with Tom Garrard who tried to grab at the cloth so tantalisingly hanging from Sharpe's belt. Lawford watched as Sharpe let Garrard get, oh, so close to him, then he swerved suddenly, teasingly, confusing Garrard, who didn't know which way to turn. Then they suddenly collided and fell together in a heap, scuffling and rolling like schoolboys, until Sharpe leapt up, and was off again, and safely away.

Without realising it, Lawford was moving closer and closer to the bare patch of earth the game was being played on in the cool of the evening. His eyes rested on only one player, he desperatly wanted Richard Sharpe's company again. He'd found being with Sharpe exasperating and intoxicating.

The game seemed to be reaching some sort of conclusion, slowing down. A sudden thought struck Lawford, he'd teach Sharpe cricket! They could play it together, partner each other at the crease. Almost as soon as he'd thought of it Lawford rejected the idea as totally foolish. Richard Sharpe would be as welcome on the cricket pitch as a bull in a china shop!

Lawford was awoken from this day-dream by the players starting to drift away, and by Richard Sharpe grinning at him as he walked across the scorched earth to where Lawford was standing. When Lawford thought about it, he was rather obvious, standing there in his bright red jacket, the only officer watching the men at play.

"Evening, Sir" said Sharpe, affably, sweat giving his skin an almost luminous quality, his lank blonde hair darkened by the dampness.

"Richard!" was just about all Lawford could say in greeting, Sharpe's closeness suddenly making him shy. Since their return from the Siege they had spent little time together. Raised voices made Sharpe turn and he lifted his hand to Tom Garrard, who had shouted something.

Fearing Sharpe would go, Lawford quickly asked "So, did you win?"

"Oh, aye, we won alright! The other team were slow!" grinned Sharpe. He looked back over his shoulder, at the lads walking back to the tents.

"Would you like a drink of something, you look very hot?" asked Lawford, "I thought we could....."he hesitated.

Sharpe hesitated too, with his reply, glancing over his shoulder again, and Lawford said tactfully, trying to hide his disappointment "You'll be wanting to get back with your friends?"

"Well, they're waiting for me, Sir, but thank you".

"Alright. Well I expect I'll see you parade tomorrow. Goodnight, Richard".

"G'night, Sir" said Sharpe politely, and he was gone, running to catch up with the others.

Much later, after the game had finished, a lot of heavy drinking had gone on and Private Tupman, in particular, had come in for some heavy criticism. "That game nearly killed me" he'd complained, to which the reply from nearly all his team mates had been ' Serve's you right, you fat bastard!". Tupman, a huge bear of a man, had looked hurt as he'd downed a mugful of ale, but it was true, he was overweight.

The following day, at parade, Lawford cast an eye over the men he'd seen the previous evening. Compared to their joyous shouts and wild enthusiasm, they seemed very subdued and clearly suffering from the excesses of drink. Sharpe, too, had an almost sullen look about him. Too much drink, thought Lawford, too little to do. The routine of the camp since the Siege had been unbarably tedious, drills, parades, inspections, patrols. As he stood there, Lawford tried to think of a reason to claim Sharpe's companionship. He longed for it. He was spending his free time with bores like Wellesley, or his aging uncle, or men like Captain Morris, who rather terrified him. Young Fitzgerald was dead, he could have been a friend, he'd been good company. As the parade continued and the voices droned on, Lawford mused on how he could spend more time with Sharpe.

The next few days continued in much the same way and eventually Lawford's duties as Officer of the Day came round, and he was required to stay with the men in his charge, while the other officers enjoyed some dinner arranged by Wellesely. Bored beyond belief, the Indian heat this evening heavy, Lawford browsed through the offical papers and lists on his desk, eventually picking up the punishment book. Glancing through he found most of the punishments were for drunkeness and other trivial matters. But then the scrawl next to one of the entries caught his eye. It was different to the others, a new one. He looked at it again and again. The letters were clumsy and badly formed, one looked like a D. The other sergeants initals or signatures were clear and bold. The Lawford realised and smiled. Of course! And it was here that Lawford found the solution to his problem.

Lawford took his time. He watched Sharpe carefully, noting how he dealt with the men in his charge, how he performed his duties, who his friends were, how often he got drunk. He noted too, that Tom Garrard had been made up to corporal. Eventually he called Sharpe to his tent, quite formally.

As Sharpe waited outside Lawford's tent, Captain Morris walked by "What are you hanging round here for?" he demanded.

"Waiting to see Mr Lawford, Sir" answered Sharpe.

Morris stood very close to him, glancing at the sergeant's stripes on Sharpe's sleeve. He sneered and said very quietly "Ambitious little toe-rag, aren't you?" He said it nastily. "Got rid of that half-cast bibbi, quick enough, didn't you? Mr Lawford more useful to you, is he?"

Sharpe said nothing, what could he say, and it was a relief when Lawford appeared out of his tent. "Ah, Sharpe" he greeted them both with a smile, and nodded to Morris. Morris said pleasantly enough "Ambitious fellow, your Mr Sharpe, a sergeant already! We'll have to watch him, William!". Morris gave a laugh and walked off. Lawford seemed pleased, taking Morris's remarks as a compliment. "He's right, Richard, you could do well for yourself. Well, come on in."

"So, how do you find being a sergeant, Richard?" he asked

"Fine, thank you, Sir" replied Sharpe. He enjoyed the extra responsibility and was looking forward to the time he could use it in battle. He had suddenly realised he had got ambition and his new promotion had brought with it a new enthusiasm for the army. They talked of this and that, and then Lawford produced the punishment book. He pointed and asked "Did you write that?"

Sharpe squinted down "Aye, I did , Sir" What was this? Was Lawford going to challenge the punishment? "Well, it won't do, Richard" said Lawford with conviction "It won't do at all!" Sharpe looked puzzled. Private Dawkins deserved to sew the tent back together again having slashed it with his bayonet in a mad rage. Sharpe said so.

Puzzled Lawford turned the book round to read the cause and punishment, before saying " No, not that. You're writing ,Richard, it's appalling! Anyway, you can't put D, your name Richard begins with an R".

And so Sharpe's writing lessons began. He'd never used a pen and ink before, just the stub of a pencil, and couldn't believe how difficult it was, and messy. That evening Lawford taught him the initial R, or at least tried to. Sharpe was a willing pupil, but bent two nibs by pressing too hard. The end result wasn't elegant and the letter looked stiff and black as though etched into the paper and not written. But Lawford didn't mind how long it took Sharpe to perfect his letters. For him, the longer the better!

Several days later Garrard said "His name's Gatley, and he can run like a hare!" He was clearly impressed. And worried.

"Why don't we get a new team member as well?" suggested Gittings "Tupman's too bloody fat, anyway!" Tupman started to protest, but Garrard cut in, praising Tupman's bulk.

"Put's the fear of God in the other team" he said " He's our secret weapon. They're all terrified he'll fall on 'em, and squash them flat!".

The lads were all laughing at this when Sharpe joined them, flopping down next to Tom on the grass. "You laughing at me?" he asked accusingly.

"Not us, Sarge" piped up Private Morgan "We're not that daft!" More laughter, and Sharpe laughed too, they were all geting used to his new rank, including himself.

Garrard told Sharpe about Gatley. He finished by saying "Doesn't matter though, Dick, you can mark him. He's not as fast as you. Anyway, we're playing tonight at 8 o'clock. Ok?".

Sharpe looked up. "Sorry lads, I can't. Not tonight". He glanced quickly at Garrard, and looked away.

"Busy?" asked Garrard innocently, but curiously. "Aye" Sharpe nodded, and left it at that.

That evening as Lawford waited for Sharpe, he wondered how best these lessons could proceed. Teaching someone to write wasn't as easy as he had imagined. Reading had been easier. How had he been taught? By using a copy book, he thought. No chance of finding anything like that here in India. What about a slate? Maybe, if he could locate one. But the copy book idea was good. He could make one. He arranged pen and ink on his table and found some clean paper in his leather writing case. He sat, and by the light of his oil lamp, carefully wrote the initials R and S in his elegant copperplate hand. He wrote them several times, leaving space beneath them for Sharpe to copy them. He became more absorbed, writing the initals again and again, changingthe size, adding a flourish, or swelling the strokes, emphasing the curves, he ended the S in a clockwise spiral, he started the R with a loop that continued into a bold curve and dipped into a flourish. He entwined the two letters, meshing them together. Then he wrote the full name, Richard Sharpe, again and again, totally absorbed in the beauty of the letters and of the name. On and on he went, with bold sweeping strokes, his pen gliding in elegance over the paper, until he realsied there was no space left. He looked at the paper in front of him, every part of it was taken up by the name and the initials. Suddenly aware of what he was doing, Lawford guiltily snatched up the paper. He couldn't bear to destroy it, or worse, let anyone see it. He salted the ink, and placed the page carefully in his writing case, hiding it beneath the other pages. He then put a clean sheet on the desk, ready and waiting for Sharpe when he came.

It was a few days later that Garrard asked Sharpe "Coming to the 'tavern?", as Sharpe shovelled more rice into his mouth. Unable to speak, Sharpe just shook his head. "Busy?" asked Tom. Sharpe nodded. Garrard went quiet, thoughtful. Then he said " You've been busy quite a bit lately. In the evenings". He gave Sharpe a very direct look.

"I have to see Mr Lawford" said Sharpe in explaination.

"You've been seeing quite a bit of him, too" said Garrard, almost as a challenge.

"He is my commanding officer" replied Sharpe.

"You don't have to go. You're not on duty" said Garrard. It was true and Sharpe couldn't say otherwise. He ended the conversation by getting up and walking away. He wasn't pleased with himself for doing it, but he felt a fool for the real reason he was spending the evening with Lawford. Tom would surely laugh at him if he knew why. Dick Sharpe trying to better himself! So far his promotion hadn't caused any problems with Tom and the others. If they knew about the reading and writing it might.

Lawford welcomed him with a smile. "Sit down, Richard, let's get started". Sharpe looked at the beautiful letters on the paper in front of him, impressed by Lawford's skill, despairing of ever being able to match it. They'd started with very simple strokes, but the elegant curves and flourishs were proving to be quite a challenge. Sharpe picked up the pen and dipped it into the ink. "Remember where to start?" enquired Lawford "That's it, the downward stroke, a gentle curve, and bring it round".

From somewhere Lawford had found a bench, and he slipped in alongside Sharpe as he wrote. The next part of the letter was a disaster, and Lawford reached out and touched Sharpe's hand. "You're gripping the pen too tightly, just relax. That's better, no need to grip it hard, you're not going to stab anyone with it!" They both smiled and laughed at the joke, and Sharpe continued to write."Take your time, resist the temptation to increase your speed, maintain a slow and steady rhythm. That's it, pull the point down slowly"

Lawford watched him as he started the R again, the downward stroke, the pen dipping into the ink, the clumsy swell of the diagonal curve. Lawford watched Sharpe as he concentrated so hard, watched as the tip of his tongue slipped out betwen his parted lips, as though that would help the letters to form, watched as the lamp light turned the straggly blonde hair to gold. When the R was finished, Sharpe was clearly pleased with his efforts and he turned with a happy smile on his face to find Lawford gazing at him. Sharpe's face was tantalisingly close, the lips still parted, the tip of the tongue still gently slid forward. Lawford couldn't help himself and he reached forward and kissed him. It wasn't the first time. During their time together in the Tippoo's army they had had one or two intimate moments. Nothing very much and by the time the attraction between them had grown stronger, the Siege had exploded in their faces, taking with it all opportunities except for survival.

Lawford pressed forward, his hands now in Sharpe's hair, he wanted to go deeper, to taste that moist tongue. Sharpe pulled back, disappointing Lawford dreadfully, before saying "Be best, if you closed the tent flap, Sir?" Relief, and desire, flooded through Lawford and he jumped up and tugged at the tent fastenings.

"Ah, William!" came a voice. It was Lawford's uncle. "Is that Sharpe I see? How's the learning coming along?" The spell was broken, and Lawford, desperately frustrated, ushered his uncle in to the tent. Lawford glanced at Sharpe sitting, waiting for him to return to the bench. Instead he picked up a bottle of wine, and fumbled with it, as Sharpe reached behind him and found some glasses.

Later that evening Tom Garrard was heard to say rather crossly "Watch where you're walking!" as Sharpe trod on him.

'Sorry" whispered Sharpe "Didn't see you there. Thought you were out drinking?"

"Ran out of money, didn't I?" said Garrard "and the others wanted to go to the brothel".

"Poor ol' Tom, eh?" said Sharpe flopping down onto his blankets. He pulled off his jacket and shirt. "God, it's bloody hot in this tent!"

"Sleep outside, then" suggested Tom.

Get bitten, then" said Sharpe "G'night" and he snuggled down into his blankets.

There was a silence for a while and then Garrard said quietly "Dick, you awake?"

"No" came the muffled reply.

There was a pause and Tom spoke again "Dick, I can't get to sleep". This was what thy always said to each other when they had no money for women and needed to satisfy the urge that seemed to plague soldiers more than other men. Garrard got no reply, so he tried again. "Dick, I can't sleep". This time he got a reply.

"Come on, then".

Garrard left his blankets and lay next to Sharpe, he smiled down at him and patted his backside. "Silly bugger" said Sharpe and he rolled onto his front. Tom slid on top of him, his arms wrapped tightly round. Sharpe could feel Tom's hardness pressing into him through his trousers. Tom moved faster and quicker, rubbing himself fiercely against Sharpe, who helped his friend by tightening his buttocks and pushing up. Eventually the movements ended in a shudder and Garrard slumped forward, squeezing Sharpe and thanking him by ruffling his already tousled hair. When he got his breath back, he rolled off, offering Sharpe the same favour.

"No, I'm alright. Go to sleep, eh?"

"You sure?" asked tom, it wasn't often that Sharpe turned him down.

"Yes, I'm sure. I'm a bit tired".

But Garrard didn't move way. He stayed where he was, looking at the marks of the lash on Sharpe's back. He still couldn't get used to them. He asked very quietly "You sleeping with Lawford?" Sharpe wasn't sure he'd heard right.

"What?" he muttered.

"Lawford, you sleeping with him?" repeated Tom. Sharpe's eyes were open now, he swallowed before he replied.

"No" he answered, quite truthfully. He and Lawford had never gone that far, no more had he and Tom. He felt Tom move away, heard him say "Good!", knew he'd gone back to his own blanket.

Several days later Richard Sharpe was violently sick. "Christ" he said " I think I'm dying".

Tom Garrard laughed "I think you're still drunk more like".

"No, I'm not" gasped Sharpe " It's those green things we ate last night, I've been poisoned".

Tupman spoke up "I ate those. They were great. I'm not ill".

As Sharpe sat holding his sides, feeling desperately unwell, a young Ensign approached him. Sergeant Sharpe?" he asked.

Sharpe nodded. "Here, Sir". He always felt ridiculas calling these young boys "sir". He didn' t bother to get up, risking the consequences, he felt sick again.

"Message from Mr Lawford, sergeant, you're to report to him now, instead of this evening", and having delivered the message the Ensign walked off.

Garrard gave Sharpe a look "Off you go, then" he said, nodding his head in the direction of the officers' tents. Sharpe buttoned his jacket, generally sorted himself out as best he could, picked up his musket, and presented himself to William Lawford.

It took only the briefest inspection for Lawford to see the state Sharpe was in, and he was very disappointed. "I thought we'd practise your letters" he said coldly "I have a dinner to attend this evening. However I'm not sure you are in any state for writing, are you?

If he expected an answer, he didn't get one, unless the look on Sharpe's face was enough. He looked dreadful, ashen faced, and now rather shame faced ,also. "Another night out drinking?" asked Lawford "Is this what you want? Bibbis', brothels, mates who don't give a damn for you? "Sharpe looked up at that. "Because that's what you've got, Richard, you'll go nowhere, except back to the rank and file for the rest of your life. You've got potential, you've proved that, but potential is no damn good if you haven't the courage to do something with it. You're a sergeant now, you need to demand respect, even from your friends".

Sharpe was surprised at the force behind Lawford's words, in truth, he was taken aback. "Sorry" he mumbled.

That utterance just spurred Lawford on. "You're sorry? You're sorry! You're selfish, Richard, you've no respect for yourself or anybody!" Sharpe was surprised at how how stung he was by the words. "Get out, and don't come back till you're properly sober" Lawford said quietly. He meant it, and Sharpe left.

"Didn't stay long, this time" remarked Garrard, as Sharpe propped his musket against the tent and sat down. Sharpe wasn't in the mood for this.

"Mind your own business" he told Tom.

"Oh, and what's my business then?" demanded Tom.

"What's it got to do with you?" asked Sharpe sourly.

"Nothing" said Garrard as he stepped closely to him, saying "But you're my mate, remember?" He paused "You've been different since the Siege.

Sharpe looked at him "Different? In what way?"

Tom shrugged his shoulders.

"It wasn't the Siege" said Sharpe eventually "It was the flogging".

"What d'you mean?" asked Garrard crouching infront of him. Sharpe didn't look, at him as he said "I didn't really think it was going to happen. Not until that gag of leather was shoved in my mouth. I don't know why, but when they did that, I knew they'd got me, that it was going to happen. I was so angry. That changed me." He looked at Garrard "I want to make something of myself Tom". To Garrard's ears he sounded desperate.

"What are you telling me this for? asked Tom.

"Because it's why I've been going to see Mr Lawford".

"You want to watch those officers, Dick, I'm not talking about Lawford, he's decent enough, but Morris isn't, he's trouble".

Sharpe allowed himself a small smile. "I know that. Give me your bayonet, Tom". Garrard handed him the bayonet, and in the dusty earth, Sharpe wrote R and S. He gave Tom a triumphant smile. "My initials" he told him "Now I can sign all the books properly!"

"Did Lawford show you?"

"Yeah. I can write them in pen and ink, too".

Garrard was clearly impressed. "Lawford says it will make me a better sergeant, if I can write a bit" Sharpe didn't mention all the reading he'd been doing too, enough that Tom should know he could now write his name. "I can write 'picklock' too" Sharpe told him.

Garrard was less impressed with that. "What for?" he asked.

"Mr Lawford showed me" said Sharpe, as though that was explination enough. He wrote it with his bayonet. "He showed me a trick, too, watch". With the bayonet point Sharpe got rid of the P and the last four letters. That left him with ICK, he put a D at the front. "That says DICK!"

"Give me the bayonet" said Garrard and above Sharpe's name he wrote his, TOM, in big bold strokes.

"What you two doing?" asked Private Tupman walking up.

"Writing our names" said Garrard grinning.

"Are you?" remarked Tupman " can you write mine?"

"Depends" said Garrard doubtfully "What is it?"

"Harry" said Tupman

Garrard looked at the names on the ground in front of him and started laughing. "It can't be!" he said "You're making it up!"

"No, I'm not " said Tupman "What's so funny?"

Tom pointed to himself, "Tom", then to Sharpe "Dick" and finally to Tupman "and Harry!"

They all had a good laugh about that. Then Sharpe got up. "I'll see you later, Tom, Mr Lawford's waiting for me".

The End.

Anon. March 1998.

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