In the heat of the battle Jack Aubrey did not feel the sting of what Stephen later told him would have been a very small stiletto. He was bleeding from four places, a cutlass in one hand and an empty pistol in the other, clubbing and slashing away at the Frenchmen who were attempting to board the Sophie. Someone could have stabbed him with a two-handed broadsword and he would have either fallen over and died or roared and caved in the man's skull. At this point in the battle, those seemed to be the only possible options.
It was only after the battle that Jack began to feel the effects.
The boarders had been repelled, their own ship almost smashed to pieces before it managed to limp away. The Sophies were drunk on victory and also the celebratory tots of rum. Jack had been bandaged by Stephen and was standing at the rail, watching the French vessel disappear and wishing he could chase it. He could just imagine what the battle would be like, if the Sophie was in better repair and her men were hale and hearty. A warm flush spread over his cheeks as he considered it. The clash of steel against steel, the press of flesh against flesh. Taking the French captain in hand and forcing him to surrender. Using a knife to split his quite handsome shirt from collar to tail and ripping open—
Jack paused and realized that his thoughts had taken an inappropriate turn. And a turn, moreover, that was not consistent with his normal inappropriate thoughts. The flush had not dissipated, and he felt sweat prickling across his forehead despite the relatively cool day. His stomach was also a little upset and he could feel bile rising as the deck seemed to twist under him. It was as if he'd suddenly lost his sea-legs. It could be blood loss. It could be some unknown wound that Jack had not noticed at the first pass. As much as he might wish to go down to his bed and see if he could sleep it off, that was not the responsible thing to do. As a captain, he must ensure that he was in sound body and mind to do his duty.
Thus, with some reluctance, embarrassment, and the judicial placement of his hat across a certain area of his anatomy, Jack made his way back down to the sickbay.
Stephen looked very grave as he examined Jack's tongue. He pinched it between thumb and forefinger, looked at the underside, and frowned incrementally deeper.
"How do you feel?" asked Stephen.
"Aglbluhluh," said Jack.
Stephen thoughtfully released Jack's tongue.
"I feel very queer," said Jack.
"Could you be more specific?"
Jack blushed. "I would prefer not to be."
"Remember that I am your friend and your doctor," said Stephen. "I need to know everything in order to identify the illness."
"I feel," said Jack, and hesitated again. He looked meaningfully at the injured seamen, some of whom were occupied with their own injuries, but some of whom were attentively eavesdropping. Jack let his gaze linger on one particularly eager seaman, watching sweat glisten across his bared chest. Seamen. What a lovely word, there was just something about it. It felt so warm on the tongue—
Stephen prodded Jack off the crate on which he was sitting, and into the curtained area which served as Stephen’s office. Jack sat in the lone chair, winced, and adjusted himself as casually as he was able.
Stephen leaned in, his face very close. “Tell me, Jack.”
“Oh.” Jack couldn’t tear his eyes away from Stephen’s own. “I so desperately need a little jig.”
Stephen’s beautiful eyes were blank. “A jig?”
“Indulge in some basket-making,” tried Jack. “Get cockroaches, if nothing else.”
“What on earth does all of that mean?”
“Have congress, Stephen, I feel like I’m on fire.”
Light dawned at last. Stephen nodded solemnly. "I thought as much. I believe that you are feeling the effects of that dreaded French poison flèche de cupidon."
"I thought that was a myth," said Jack.
"As you can see, it is not." Stephen’s mouth puckered in a beautiful frown. "True, it is a rare poison, and its use much despised by decent folk. But the French are capable of any atrocity in this time of war. As, I find, are we when the need arises."
Jack slumped back. "Well, then. That's that. I'm done for."
"Joy, you are not done for," said Stephen. "The remedy is quite simple."
"I don't see that it can be," said Jack. "There aren't any women on board. There aren't, are there?" Even considering it caused a quiver of excitement in Jack, which, much to his dismay, presented itself quite visibly.
"Women are not the only option," said Stephen, and called for the surgeon's mate. "Go and find Lieutenant Dillon. Tell him to make haste and be here at once."
Jack couldn't think what Stephen meant. More options than women?
Lieutenant Dillon came quickly enough that Jack would have suspected a less honorable man of following his captain to the sickbay.
"The captain is incapacitated," said Stephen. "But I hope that it is temporary. I suppose you must take command of the ship in the meantime."
"Oh, yes," said Jack. "Direct the crew in repairs."
"Aye, aye sir," said Mr. Dillon.
"And," said Stephen, "send Mr. Marshall down here as soon as possible. Or—no. Send him to the captain's cabin, where we will meet him."
"Mr. Marshall?" said Jack. "Mr. Marshall is needed on deck."
"No," said Stephen. "Mr. Marshall is needed at your cabin. Immediately."
"I understand, Doctor," said Mr. Dillon. He gave Jack what Jack thought was a very knowing look, which Jack did not at all appreciate since it conveyed that Mr. Dillon knew what he thought Jack knew but which Jack did not know at all.
"Jack," said Stephen very gently after Mr. Dillon had left, "I am making an official medical exemption to the Articles of War."
"What?" said Jack. Stephen said nothing further, but Jack’s imagination soon supplied explanations in abundance. "With Mr. Marshall? My god, Stephen, I can't compel that kind of behavior from a man."
"Which is why I’ve sent for a man whom you shan’t have to compel.” Stephen patted Jack’s shoulder with one warm, long-fingered hand. "I realize you have difficulty imagining another man's attraction to you, but—"
"Mr. Marshall isn't that kind of man at all!" said Jack. "True, I heard rumors, but I've kept a close eye on him, and—"
"I don't think you've kept a very close eye," said Stephen. "An oblivious eye, perhaps."
"No," said Jack. "No, you shall have to come up with another remedy. I cannot and will not force one of my crew to be—" he coughed a little, both at the impropriety and at the images which the thought produced. "—to be intimate with me."
"We'll see," was all that Stephen would say on the matter. "Let's get you up and moving.”
Jack was soon lost in contemplation of what, exactly, they would see. He hardly noticed as Stephen helped him across the ship to his cabin.
William Marshall found himself consumed with anticipation, anxiety and a great deal of disbelief. His conversation with Lieutenant Dillon had been brief and quite blunt.
"The captain's gone and got himself stuck with a bloody frog's prick," Mr. Dillon had said. "And you've been nominated to keep him from dying, you understand me? This is a medical procedure. I don't approve, but I don't want Aubrey to die either so I'll turn a blind eye. With the understanding that there will be no impropriety."
"Of course not, sir," William had said, automatically, and made his way to the captain's cabin. Now, standing outside the door, he was finally beginning to realize what he’d been ordered to do.
"Don't just stand around outside," snapped Dr. Maturin. "Get in here. Shut the door after you."
William did so, fighting hard against the shaking in his hands. The captain was sitting on his cot, looking most unwell. His face was flushed and sweating, but it had a drawn quality, and his foot was tapping impatiently against the boards. His eyes were half-lidded and fixed on William. On William’s midriff to be precise, or perhaps a little lower.
"We require your assistance," said Dr. Maturin. "The captain has been poisoned by—"
William nodded along to the half-heard explanation as he stood to attention. He pinched the web of his left thumb and forefinger, not gently, certain that he was dreaming. But the pain did not seem to wake him.
"Stop," croaked the captain. "I can see that this will not work, Stephen."
"Oh?" said Dr. Maturin.
"Look at the man," said the captain. He stood up, wobbling a little, and reached out both hands to take William's shoulders. "I can see that this is not in your nature, and I could never ask this of an unwilling man. Not even a man with shoulders as broad and thick as yours, or a face so strong and manly, or—"
"Oh, dear." Dr. Maturin drew nearer, pried up one of the captain’s eyelids and tsked at what he saw there. "I fear that we may be entering a later stage of illness."
William shook himself from the paralysis of anxiety that had overtaken him, and gently pulled the captain's hands away, holding them in both of his. "It would be my honor," he said, "to help my captain in any way he might ask of me." It was difficult to say the words with the right conviction, without revealing how desperately he wanted to serve his captain in this way exactly. The captain was clearly fighting with himself, fighting not to take what William freely offered. But his indomitable spirit, his will to live, won over his doubts.
"Very well," said the captain. "But please, do not think of me as your commander in these intimate moments. I am a man in need of aid, and nothing more."
"Of course, sir," said William, and the captain winced. "I mean—yes, Jack." The name felt wrong in his mouth, as if he were committing an offense merely with that word.
William helped the captain back to his cot, holding his head gently as he laid down. William glanced briefly at Dr. Maturin to see if he would give them some privacy, but Dr. Maturin simply shook his head and produced a pot of salve.
"I'm afraid there's only one act that will answer," he said. "Although science has not yet discovered the reason why. You will—" and here was the first sign of emotion that William had seen on the doctor's face since entering the room— "You will be careful, will you not? I presume you have experience in such matters."
"I'll be careful as can be." William was too wary even now to confirm any rumors of his experience. "I will come directly to tell you once the act is completed."
"Oh, I'm not going anywhere." Dr. Maturin sat down at the captain's desk. "I would never allow a medical procedure to be performed on this ship without my observation."
William glanced at the captain, to see if he would object to this invasion of his privacy. There was nothing. The captain was staring, almost unseeing, at the upper deck, his hand stroking idly at the front of his trousers.
"My god, it's hot," said the captain.
"You may remove some of his clothing," said Dr. Maturin.
William set down the salve, took off his coat, and complied with the medical directive.
The captain's shoes were first, and then his trousers, those unreasonably tight trousers that had often plagued William's thoughts. The captain sighed with relief once his trouser-flap was loosened and his prick bobbed free, swollen and almost painful-looking in its glory. William would have stopped there, but the captain still looked over-heated, so he helped him off with his shirt as well, revealing the freckled skin and plump indulgence of flesh underneath. As he pulled the shirt over the captain's head, it caught at his hair and pulled it free of his pigtail. The golden hair fanned across the captain’s pillow, a halo for a debauched angel.
William bit his lip. Too much poetry as a child, his mother had always said so. He took a deep breath and tried to focus on his task, but he was foiled by the captain plucking at his sleeves.
"Off," said the captain.
"I don't think that's necessary." William darted a glance at the doctor, who was writing something at the desk. Making notes, perhaps.
"Skin contact might do some good," said Dr. Maturin. "And certainly it can do no harm. Go ahead."
William obeyed, unbuttoning his vest and stripping his shirt. The captain's eyes fell greedily on the revealed pale skin of his chest and his well-muscled arms, and William tried to remind himself that this must be the effect of the poison. Not the captain's own desire.
"All right, sir?" asked William.
"Carry on," said the captain, hoarse again.
William positioned the captain carefully for best access, drawing him down the cot until his hips were barely seated on the edge and his legs were propped over William's shoulders. William coated his fingers with an excess of salve.
"This will feel uncomfortable at first," he told the captain.
The captain only grunted in response. William began to massage at the captain's hole, making it ready to be breached.
The surreal nature of what he was doing struck him suddenly, and William was glad that the captain's stomach and thighs hid him from both the unnaturally amorous gaze of the captain and the penetrating stare of Dr. Maturin. But he pressed forward with his task and the tip of his finger, feeling the captain's flesh accept him. The captain gasped, and cautiously, slowly, with even more salve, William succeeded in entering the captain up to the second knuckle.
The captain gasped again, louder.
"How does that feel, sir?" asked William.
"I don't know," said the captain. "How's it supposed to feel?"
Dr. Maturin stirred in his chair. "There will be some little pain, perhaps, but you'll soon grow used to it. There may even be some pleasure, if Mr. Marshall knows what he's doing."
William frowned and crooked his finger to find that place that was the discovery of much 'experience' as Dr. Maturin would say. The captain made a strangled little noise that William knew he would hear in his dreams for years to come.
"It still feels strange," the captain said, when he'd recovered himself. "But not painful."
Encouraged, William quickly graduated to two fingers, rubbing at that spot and then spreading his fingers to stretch the captain. As the captain's grunts and gasps became fully-fledged moans, William sat up on his knees and took the captain's straining prick into his mouth.
It was as much for his own relief as it was for the captain's. The prick was a constant distraction in his task, as it was so fat and so engorged, and with a vein on its underside that William could almost count the captain's heartbeats in. In his mouth it proved an inspiration, rather than a distraction. It tasted of salt and musk and drove William to introduce a third finger, all rubbing at that spot until the captain's hips were jerking, driving his prick into the roof of William's mouth.
William was beginning to taste the bitter warning of the captain's completion when the captain tugged him off by the hair. William looked at him, uncomprehending, feeling spit and other fluids dry at the corners of his mouth.
"My god," said the captain, half wondering and half exasperated. "Stick it in me already."
There was a cough that almost sounded like a laugh, and William glanced at Dr. Maturin sitting bolt upright in his chair, hands folded primly in his lap.
"Go on," said the doctor. "That's what you're here for."
William closed his eyes and bit his cheek hard, just in case it was finally time for him to wake.
“Please,” mumbled the captain, his thumbs rubbing across William’s cheekbones. “Please don’t make me wait.”
“Of course not,” said William, as steadily as he could manage. He opened his trousers, slicked up his member, and stuck it in.
He thought for the first minute that he would die, and he knew it in the second and third. It was an act which he had imagined many times, guiltily and terribly conscious of every liberty he took with the captain in his mind. True, in his imagination there was less sweat and less grunting, and a few more declarations of admiration and devotion. But the tightness of the captain was more than any dream could match, and the blissful look of satisfaction on the captain's face was more than any man could ask for.
William hitched the captain's knees a little higher, curled his toes inside his shoes, and swore to himself that he would not be exhausted until he had done his duty.
"Harder," said the captain from between his teeth. "More."
William gritted his own teeth and endeavored to oblige, practically pounding the captain down into his cot. They would both have bruises tomorrow, especially, William thought, where the captain's heels dug into his spine, trying to pull him ever closer even when they were pressed buttock to pelvis, shortening his thrusts to short jabs in a quest to reach previously unknown depths of the human anatomy. After some minutes of this, the captain, with a look of revelation, put his hand on his own prick, jerking at it convulsively until he spilled over his chest. With a sigh of relief and perhaps a little disappointment, William allowed himself to follow, eyes squeezing shut with the force of it. He caught himself with his hands on the cot, panting as he hovered over the captain's heaving breast. It would be so easy to allow himself to collapse, press his cheek to warm and glistening flesh. Some last shred of propriety kept a breath of air between William and the captain’s chests, but it could not make him pull out when the captain’s arse was milking the last pulse of seed from William’s member.
This close, William was seized more than ever with the captain's impossible beauty. Jack—he felt finally that he could call him Jack, at least at this moment when his prick was softening inside the man's body—was still flushed, still sweating, but his face was at ease. His eyes were closed and his lips were red and puffy from where he had been biting at them. William was possessed with the desire to do something very foolish, such as kissing Jack, or licking up the spend from his chest, or running his fingers through his hair. It was fortunate that Dr. Maturin chose that moment to interrupt with a hand at William's elbow.
"I need to examine the captain," the doctor said, and William reluctantly allowed himself to be pried away.
As William buttoned his trousers, Dr. Maturin carefully inspected the captain's eyes, nose, mouth and arse. Finally he pronounced himself fully satisfied as to the captain's continued health.
"Quite an admirable performance," he told William. "Complete cure. I knew we could rely on you." He sounded almost kind, and it came to William that Dr. Maturin knew exactly what this meant to him, this brief moment of bliss to be followed by a loneliness even starker because he now knew what he was longing for.
"Happy to help, sir," said William. His heart was already beginning to sink. He forced a certain readiness to please. "Is that all?"
There was silence from the cot. Dr. Maturin peered again at its occupant. “Jack, Mr. Marshall would like to know if you’re quite satisfied.”
“Satisfied?” rumbled the captain. “Satisfied? My God, Stephen, I am dying.”
“You were dying,” corrected Dr. Maturin. “Now, through Mr. Marshall’s efforts, I am glad to say you are not.”
“I am so empty and so full,” said the captain abstractedly. “My skin is humming, look, there are goosebumps—“
William felt his face break into a smile. He tried to school it back to blankness, but it was a lost cause when the captain was waxing rhapsodic and William’s spunk was slowly leaking onto the captain’s sheets. He must simply hope that Dr. Maturin would keep such details to himself.
“I think you may go.” Dr. Maturin was fighting his own smile. “I will inform you if your services are needed again.”
“Of course.” William turned to the door, to pilot his body back to the decks while his heart and soul remained in this small room.
“You might put a shirt on first,” advised Dr. Maturin.
Once properly dressed and outside the captain’s cabin, William allowed himself to hover, just for a moment. Just to collect himself.
“Is it always like that, Stephen? It couldn’t be, could it?”
“I shouldn’t know, Joy. I suppose it might be the effect of the poison, but there must be some innate appeal.”
The captain hummed thoughtfully, the sound just audible through the wooden door. William pried himself away. There was work to be done, and the captain was not there to direct it. There must be all hands on deck.
His mind turned over that thoughtful hum, examining every aspect of it. William felt hope bloom in his chest.
Lieutenant Dillon gave William a suspicious look when William reported to him, but William was used to that. “Back with us?” he asked. “Is the captain well?”
William considered and discarded several responses. “Aye,” he said, at last. “Aye, he is.”
He hoped the captain would remain so. He hoped the captain had appreciated William’s service. He hoped the captain’s curiosity got the better of him, sooner rather than later.
Mr. Dillon shot another piercing look at William, and then huffed out a laugh. “All right, Mr. Marshall. Set a course to the nearest port, we’ll limp her into dock.”
William retrieved his sextant from its case and turned his face to the wind. Step by step, he regained his bearings.
Soon. He truly hoped it would be soon.