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From Post Captain
: you may call me many things, but not an informer. I have said enough, more than enough.
Stephen's face was pale and set, a cold look bright in his eyes; Jack could hardly bear to meet them, and was glad of the low beam of the cabin that made him bend his head. Words stuck in his throat, and when the silence had lingered unforgivably Stephen turned to go; the movement turned away that too-penetrating look, and freed Jack's tongue. "Stephen," he said, and then of course he had to continue: he could not be making free of Stephen's name under the circumstances; yet he had no very clear notion of what to say that might best see him through, and so his apology was very disjointed, a blundering, "Thank you—so very sorry—I do withdraw; I wholly withdraw—so wretched of me—" and on and on, all the while a great thick lump closing his throat.
At last Stephen broke in upon him with an abrupt, almost disagreeable tone, seizing his wrist in one hand. "Enough, brother; more than enough. A word might have done; better, indeed, than this wild English volubility, this untimely flow of passion; your face is pale, I do not like this thready, elevated gallop here."
Jack gratefully stopped, and swallowed the glass of brandy brought at Stephen's call; Killick eyed them both and left the cabin quickly as he might. There were a thousand things to be done to head off the mutiny; the ship must be taken into action, as quick as could be managed; he would have to speak with Smithers about the marines at once. But for the moment, he sat breathing quietly, so very glad for the warm pressure of Stephen's fingers on his wrist.
Jack dropped his sixteen stone to the ground rather heavily, breathing through his open mouth; Stephen shook his head but for once forbore to comment, merely handing over his jug of water.
"Thankee, Stephen," Jack said, when he could once again speak. They were seated upon a promontory overlooking the bay where the Surprise
was anchored, her freshly-washed sails all hung loosely out to dry and billowing in a pretty fashion in the breeze. Most of the ship's light crew were ashore, putting up tents, and Brighid and George could be heard calling as they ran about the sailors. Fanny and Charlotte, too old for childish games, were sitting in the shade with Sophie.
Stephen had scattered crumbled bits of his sandwich upon the ground; shortly, when the disturbance of Jack's arrival had been forgotten, the small bright-eyed birds returned, studying the two of them with tilted heads between bites. Stephen had a notebook and his pencil, but these remained idle, and he instead sat quietly, watching the birds in silent enjoyment, fully aware of the luxury of time: no pressing mission, no naval orders, and a thousand moments that might without any severe consequence be lost.
They were leaning against a capacious tree trunk together, arms and shoulders just touching. "There is my purple-breasted finch," Stephen said, pointing, and Jack smiled at the little bird, gaudy amid the brown and grey, and at Stephen, who was studying it with almost a frown, murmuring to himself. There was a smudge of dirt on his cheek; Jack reached up to rub it away and found himself cupping Stephen's face in his hand, holding it still.
The birds scattered, indignantly.
brancher: A/M: anything with a lot of semicolons in it
(Inspired by a scene from early in Desolation Island
Stephen had reined in at the top of Portsdown Hill: below them the harbor and the Channel spread out, crowded with sails; above them the summer-heavy oak trees stirred and murmured with the air. Jack pulled up beside him, horse blowing a little resentfully at his burden, and they watched the great convoy slipping past.
Sunlight came slanting through a break in the cover; Stephen's face very pale, almost grey, in that brilliant light. He turned and with a visible effort smiled; Jack was sure for a moment that he would speak, would say something of great importance, but no: he said nothing, and turned back to the view. Weariness writ plainly in the stooped line of his back, and sorrow; Jack nudged his horse closer and lay his hand on Stephen's shoulder.
"Stephen," he said, softly, the lingering sense of premonition keeping him hushed; as if they were on the very cusp of some revelation. His first sensation when Stephen turned again and touched his mouth was a great relief: now at last they had come to it; only afterwards did the shocking intimacy strike him. Oddly scattered thoughts: Sophie had never done such a thing, would never want to; Stephen's fingers, the taste of leather and sweat; the horse putting his head down to crop at the grass; the card game was waiting for him at Craddock's, and there were the fish to buy for dinner.
Then no more room for other thoughts: Stephen was kissing him, and a sweet urgency rising. They interrupted to climb down, and stood for a moment awkwardly together, then either Stephen or he moved first, and they lay down on the soft mossy ground underneath the tree. "Jack, Jack, forgive me," Stephen said, hoarse; he sounded very near tears: Stephen, so very much the stoic; it hurt to hear the open pain in his voice.
"No, no," Jack said, kissing him; he pushed aside Stephen's hands and worked open the placket of his breeches, impatience mounting; then at last they were together, if clumsily, like boys in the midshipmen's berth, and Stephen gasped and shuddered so very quick that Jack found himself in the unaccustomed position of taking his pleasure second; he spilled almost at once after, but he was still pink with triumph and satisfaction as he sank limply down.
Stephen lay with his eyes shut, breathing in deep draughts; a little color in his face now, at least, though he lay still as though he would never move again; after a moment Jack sought his handkerchief and tidied them both. There was not very much to be done; they were grass-stained and disheveled beyond immediate repair. "I suppose I might as easily have fallen off the horse," Jack said, contemplating his breeches.
Stephen opened his eyes at this and gave a snort of creaking laughter. "More easily by far," he said, propping himself up. "I am very sorry, my dear; I fear I have brought you by the lee."
"Stuff," Jack said, "It is nothing of the sort; I suppose it might be awkward, was we to try such a caper aboard ship, but it cannot make much matter else. Oh, Lord, Stephen, I will be hellfire late," he said, looking at the lowering sun; he struggled up.
"Stay a moment," Stephen said, and brushed off the leaves and grass that clung to Jack's breeches; Jack did as much for him, the curve of leg and hip sparking warm thoughts: his hand lingered, until Stephen touched his cheek briefly and stepped away, back to the horses.
pun - a ficlet that includes a reference to the sloth and the theme Irish Blood, English heart.
The sloth was making uncomfortably vivid noises in Stephen's cabin, yet again: the fourth time this evening, perhaps. Jack glanced up from his map with a guilty look; a light still showed beneath the door, and on occasion he could hear the murmur of Stephen's voice, alternating between comforting words for the sloth and savage ones, uttered in a somewhat louder voice and intended to penetrate the door, for him.
He had not imagined the poor thing would take such a turn; Stephen was forever going on about the men pickling their livers, urging the disposal of the grog, wild notions: Jack privately considered it a queer Popish streak, and dismissed it more often than not, though in ordinary course he took Stephen's pronouncements in the area of physic as Gospel.
He sighed and bent to his calculations again; they could make Rio even before morning, but he had seen sunrise over the city bring astonished pleasure to the most bloody-minded of men; with a little work he had hopes of bringing the ship in at just the right moment to catch her in full glory.
brancher - sex on top the mast (Jack's boyhood carving presides...).
Stephen clung to the mast from necessity; Jack for the excuse to put an arm around his waist: he had not the least confidence in Stephen's ability to keep hold. The wind was blowing bitterly cold, also, and the warmth of Stephen's leg and shoulder pressed against his was welcome even with pea-jacket and oilcloth. He bent his head low to catch the words against the whistling noise of their passage; he had opened the secret orders this morning, now Stephen was expounding on them.
They were past the important details; Stephen was rambling on a little, occasionally peering out after a bird, and all the while below them the living noise and motion of the ship. A rolling wave swayed the mast about, not gently; he drew Stephen nearer still, and the monologue broke off abruptly as his fingers slid somehow through a gap in Stephen's disheveled clothing onto bare skin.
Stephen jerked, involuntarily; involuntarily Jack's grip tightened. His fingers shaped the curving edge of the hipbone, the rougher skin of a scar in the meat of the buttock. Stephen had lost his hold entirely, and his hands were scrabbling at Jack's chest in alarm, as if he meant to push free. "Stephen, for God's sake," Jack said, exasperated; as if there was any danger of such a thing.
Stephen closed his eyes and shuddered for a moment; then his hands moved again, with more purpose. Jack stared, taken aback, mute, helpless: if he let go, Stephen would fall, and he could not imagine anything to say. Then Stephen's cold hand was upon him: cold, but wet with spray, and clever, warming quickly.
Jack had not felt an instant's vertigo for twenty years; now he looked down at the deck, and it seemed to waver beneath him. The morning watch were about their work; all others gone below, out of the wind; no one gave them a glance. He closed his eyes and clung harder, Stephen's harsh breathing in his ears and a sudden thrill deep in his body, somehow becoming all of a piece with the flying movement of the ship. The final moment coming upon him: he buried his face in Stephen's neck and held on.
brancher - the bear suit.
Stephen laid his hand on Jack's forehead: a pronounced temperature, and also the occasional shiver running through the limp body, the hair still damp. "Dear God, Stephen, I thought I would never again feel clean," Jack had said, crawling into bed, eyes already closing, half-insensate. Exhaustion, certainly; infection, perhaps, from the thousand stings, the dogs biting at his legs; fever sure to set in.
Still: they were safe here, in his castle; the papers secure upon the table, food in their bellies; Jack's poor galled skin already recovering a touch of life and color after the endless hot bath and drying in the sun under the orange tree, fragrant blossoms falling occasionally and unremarked upon them. Stephen shook his head; tomorrow would see the issue, and decide the course of treatment.
He climbed into the bed beside Jack and propped himself up on pillows to read through the packet, but his own body was in revolt, eyes disobeying all orders to remain open. Jack murmured in his sleep, perhaps already edging towards delirium; his warm hand traveled onto Stephen's thigh.
Stephen laid aside the papers and snuffed the one candle. They lay in a cocoon of warm sheepskin, above and below, and Jack cuddled close.
brancher - Diana (not nec. triosmut).
aerye—Aubrey/Maturin: exasperation, loneliness, making choices?
The Hour from Side to Side
The cottage was very still: Jack sleeping in the next room, the fire gone out, barely a breath of wind outside even to stir the trees. Stephen sat slowly down at the table with his candle; he had meant to make tea, but he felt strangely worn, limbs heavy, though the fatigue was all in the mind. A long mindless time, gazing at the melting candle, stupidly, with sleep still an elusive thread far out of his hands.
At length he rose and went for his diary, and bringing it out wrote, "No possible good end, no happy one, do I foresee; Diana has barred the way. She makes herself my enemy and his, while she encourages our separate suits, she makes us enemies of one another; she lies between us. And indeed that alone might serve, if so wild a thought might be entertained; or would jealousy merely thrive all the more, a constant battle in the bed, an endless striving after any small mark of favoritism, one direction or another? A wretched griping miserly way to live, always unsure, always upon the edge of a knife; or are we close enough to live truly as matelots? Such as my purse and property are, they are open to him wholly, as his to me; but sharing a wife is a more tangled thing, not least because she has her own mind, unlike property, and may object to being handed about to satisfy our shifting whims.
"Nor can one easily imagine how such a thing might with any practicality be arranged so as to preserve reputation, what polite fiction used. There should certainly be smiles, shocked smiles, knowing looks, raised eyebrows; unless there were a marriage, but then no hope of preserving an equal footing. One thing to hold a possession jointly, another to be always lending to a friend; both possessor and borrower sure to grow resentful.
"A hypothetical paederasty not half so complex: our establishment simply going on as we have already made it, no complications, no difficulties, no great quarrels, though JA unreasonably mad after cleanliness, strict order, clearly an unconscious longing after the discipline to which he has been subjected all his life—thus we see the effect of reckless abuse of authority on the natural shape of character—with music of an evening, just as we like, and no necessary separation or abandonment. A crime, and a sin, perhaps; but no more mortal than the other, and less, far far less, than jealousy, that vile hot twisting knife in the bowels; if I could choose where to burn and for whom, would it not be the better choice?"
Setting down the pen he sighed and passed his hand over his face. A noise from the other room, and in a moment Jack came out yawning. "The wind has changed," he said, already busy with the kettle. "We will have rain before morning. Has you not slept, Stephen?"
"No," Stephen said, without thinking; he was abruptly and painfully conscious of the impropriety of the direction in which his thoughts had wandered, encoded or not; Jack was in nightshirt, barefoot and loose-haired, pink with sleep: a strangely appealing figure. He looked down at the pages and considered how best to tear out the fresh pages.
Jack set a cup into his hands and sat with him, looking at him anxiously, a hangdog sideways expression: sure he sensed the undercurrents, though he did not choose to put a name to them, did not care to see that there was a conflict, though he had been awkward and false in his conversation after they had parted from Diana at the party. "You are not tired, Stephen? Your eyes are red as poppies; will you not go to bed?"
Jack's hand was more than halfway across the table, as if it would have liked to rest upon his arm, to establish a physical connection; some impulse of inquiry moved, and Stephen put his hand directly upon it. Nothing, no stirring at all; only ordinary human touch, Jack's hand warm and hard with calluses, the soft yielding tracery of veins standing out upon the back. Jack stared down at it a moment, faintly puzzled look on his face, then he turned his hand over and clasped Stephen's gently.
With perfect surprise and almost a sensation of distance, Stephen felt his heart turn over; Jack's thumb rested very lightly upon the pulse of his wrist, and perhaps the sensation transmitted itself: Jack was seen to swallow, visibly; an embarrassed color crept into his cheeks, an uncertainty into his eyes, and he looked a question very plainly across the table.
"Yes, my dear," Stephen said. "Shall I join you?"
Jack turned as bright as a lobster, stammered, then stopped to collect his breath; very low and sweetly he said, "Yes, Stephen," and fled at once to his room, eyes wide, as if he did not entirely believe himself.
Very strangely the sense of connection did not vanish with the loss of touch; the feeling remained as if a telegraph ran between them, signals flying. Stephen drank his cup to the dregs and followed; bitterness and sorrow gone, and a steadily rising tide of excitement, of real desire. The diary lay still open and forgotten on the table; in the morning Stephen would smile over the pages, and put it away unmutilated.