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***

James thinks of Thomas. He thinks: Thomas ought to know about this. Thomas would be interested in that. Thomas would enjoy this. Thomas would smile were he to hear about that. Thomas would appreciate the taste of this. Thomas would look well in that.

On occasion, however, James tries not to think of Thomas. One such occasion is when James is fucking Thomas' wife.

He is not altogether successful.

He thinks: Does Thomas know? Yes. Surely he must. Miranda has hinted at the nature of their marital relationship, and there is never any duplicity in her demeanour; she never acts as if they need to hide or lie or sneak about. She fucks him in their bed. It smells of Thomas.

He thinks: How does Thomas fuck her? Does Thomas fuck her? Perhaps not. Perhaps that's why always she's so eager, her body so ready for his.

He thinks: Thomas--

"James," she says. "Up here."

He looks up from what he was doing, which, he realises with some dismay, was not much. "My apologies," he murmurs, pressing a kiss to the crease of her hip.

"What is it you're thinking of?" she asks him. There is no admonition in her tone; only simple curiosity.

It does not occur to him to lie. "Thomas," he says.

"Interestingly enough," Thomas says from the doorway, "I was thinking of you, too."

James feels his whole body seize up, every tendon pulling tight, every breath suspended. He would like to move, to cover Miranda, to cover himself, but he cannot seem to do it. "My lord," he tries to say, but it seems his throat has joined his body's general mutiny. No sound is forthcoming.

He looks wildly over his shoulder. Thomas is there in his shirtsleeves, a glass of wine in his hand, the very slightest of smiles on his face. Even from across the room, James can see the heat in those blue eyes. He is not sure how it is that Thomas is so alight when he himself feels swallowed by darkness, but of course there is no darkness. Not here in this house. No, Christ, it's the middle of the afternoon and there he is, sprawled naked across the bed with Thomas' wife, the windows thrown open, sunlight pouring in.

He sits up. He tucks a stray lock of hair behind his ear. He tries again. "My lord--"

"Oh, I think we're well beyond that now," Thomas says, a hitch in his voice.

James feels that hitch like it's a marlinspike through his gut, but Miranda is still there -- thank God -- and she wraps an arm around his waist, anchoring him. "It's all right," she whispers, lips soft on the shell of his ear. She presses closer, her breasts warm and heavy against the line of his back. Her hand teases lower, and Thomas watches as it does so.

"Yes," Thomas says, when Miranda's hand stops moving, her fingers curled into the hair below his navel, nails sharp against his skin. James tries to breathe. Thomas lifts his wine glass. "It's more than all right," he says, leaning a shoulder against the doorframe. "I'll go if you wish, but please, don't stop on my account."

James makes an attempt at swallowing. He stares at Thomas. He stares at Miranda -- who is, he does not fail to notice, not remotely surprised by their guest. He stares at his own ankle. His erection is nearly painful, and he is not at all sure when it became so. He licks his lips. He watches Thomas do the same.

"Come," Miranda says softly, leaning back, repositioning herself on the pillows. "It really is all right." She smiles, then, that wicked twist of her lips which gets him every time. "You wouldn't want to keep a lady waiting."

He stares at her. He could say no. They won't try to keep him here. He could send Thomas away.

He says, "Of course not, ma'am," and offers her as much of a grin as he's capable.

But just as he starts to follow her down, Thomas interrupts again: "Come now, I won't be able to see anything that way."

So move closer, James thinks in a flash of irritation, but he's no idea where the words have come from and his mouth refuses to speak them.

"Patience, darling," Miranda calls out, and pulls James over top of her. He buries a groan in her neck as his cock slides between her closed legs, her thighs slick with desire. He tries to move, his body blindly searching out pleasure, but Miranda holds him fast. Mouth against his ear, she whispers, "Shall we? I know how you like to seem impressive. How concerned you are with what's said about you."

"Really." He wrenches himself out of her grasp and down, setting his mouth to her breast and drawing hard on her nipple. When she's arching beneath him, her nails digging into his shoulders, he moves his attention to her other breast. Gently, he licks at the nipple and then simply breathes on it, watching as the skin draws tight. Miranda, he can tell, is starting to get frustrated with him, and so he moves quickly, gives her teeth enough to make her cry out.

Miranda distracted, James lifts his head and looks over his shoulder at Thomas. "What is it that's said about me?"

Even from this vantage point, he can see Thomas's throat work as he swallows."Your mouth," he says. James is surprised -- or perhaps disappointed -- that his voice is steady. "I've heard it said you'll use your mouth."

James looks at Miranda, who is already moving, but Thomas coughs discreetly and James remembers his complaint: I won't be able to see anything. He changes course: he rolls to his back and guides Miranda up, up until her knees are on either side of his head, her hands braced against the headboard. James reaches for her, running his hands lightly over the curve of her hips, the smooth arch of her spine. A deep breath to reacquaint himself with the sea-salt scent of her, and then he scrapes his cheek across the skin of one damp inner thigh and then the other, mouthing at her cunt but not touching her, not really, not the way she wants, not until-- there. She forces the issue, and James finds he has no choice but to go ahead and lick her open. James hears one last noise of pleasure -- whose, he is not sure -- before she shifts, and then there is only blood in his ears and wet salt on his tongue, his mind adrift and his body working on instinct as Miranda rides his mouth.

Thomas says something James cannot make out, but Miranda relays the request: "Touch yourself," she says. "I've told him you touch yourself."

So he does. He bends his knee and reaches down to fist his cock. Shifting against the coverlet, he thinks: there now, my lord, are you enjoying the view? His grip is loose, the pleasure only meant to keep him ready for the moment Miranda comes and he can bury himself inside her clenching body as she falls apart. That is the usual order, at any rate, and judging by the moisture flooding his mouth, she's close. He keeps up the steady pressure of his tongue and strokes himself in time with the rhythm she's set up.

Soon, he thinks. Soon. But no; instead of finishing, she falters. Her hips jerk. It's not like her: she's graceful, and she knows what she wants, and they are hardly out of practice. When he opens his eyes, he finds her staring not at him, but into the mirror mounted above the headboard. James can't see what she can see, but he knows, and it hits him like a bolt of lightning to the mainmast: Thomas. Miranda is watching Thomas, and whatever she sees is enough to throw her off. Thomas must be-- what? where? Is he watching, or doing something more? How closely is he paying attention, and to what?

James drags his thumb over the head of his cock and above him, Miranda's hips stutter. James reaches up and feeds her a few fingers; she sucks them obligingly into her mouth, and lewdly, never taking her eyes from the mirror, hips still rolling. James spreads his legs and reaches down, but he doesn't make it past his balls before she's yanking at his hair and sliding away: Now, James, fuck me now, do it now.

He sits up and glances at Thomas, who has not moved, though he has abandoned the glass of wine. James says, "Well?"

"Well, what?"

"What have you heard about this?"

Miranda's hand closes on his wrist. Thomas says, "From behind," and James is gratified to hear, finally, something like tension in his voice.

He's behind Miranda in an instant, both of them on their knees, their bodies crushed together against the headboard as he pushes inside. A pause for breath, another for a shudder to roll through the both of them as he braces a hand against the wall. Miranda drops her head back to his shoulder with a sigh, her teeth scraping at the hinge of his jaw. It's a bad angle for kissing her but he tries it anyway, gasping open-mouthed against her skin as he finally begins to thrust, the fingers of his free hand sliding through the damp hair between her legs, rubbing at her clit while he fucks her.

He keeps fucking her as she comes, body clenching hot around him, and it's only when she gathers herself in the aftermath -- bears down, pushes back, laughs with the giddy pleasure of it all -- that James allows himself to let go, to kiss her temple, to open his eyes, to look in the mirror.

His gaze snaps straight to Thomas, whose hand is now wrapped around the doorjamb, his fingertips gone white with pressure. In the mirror, his face is distorted, distant, and yet James can see clearly how naked his longing is. His own longing unfurls inside him, and he stares into Thomas' eyes and fucks Miranda until desire tows him under.

It takes him quite some time to open his eyes, lift his head, glance at the doorway. Thomas is gone.

"Shit," he says, sitting down.

Miranda collapses to the bed and curls on her side, hair spread across the coverlet. She presses her foot against his calf.

"Is he--" He looks again at the empty doorway. "Should we--"

But Miranda only shakes her head. "Not yet."

***

He is no innocent. Twenty years at sea and none as an idiot: James is well aware of what goes on amongst the men. It isn't even so much that he's never indulged -- only that it never seemed an indulgence. Aboard a ship, it was only ever meaningless necessity, a pure biological function, urgent clumsy rutting in the dark between the cannons.

This is different. Kissing Thomas is nothing but indulgence, a gentle unfurling inside him, and it builds a different sort of urgency altogether.

Had you asked him yesterday, or even an hour ago, James would have denied that any part of him was soft. Thomas, however, seems bent on proving this theory wrong, and James discovers himself anew every time Thomas's finger skims over the silken skin behind his ear or the downy hair at the nape of his neck. On his back, on his neck, on his face, Thomas's hands are nothing like James's own, but neither are they anything like Miranda's. Kissing Thomas, James feels at sea, the pleasure ebbing, flowing, cresting.

And then he is no longer only kissing Thomas, and it no longer seems slow, or soft, and if James thought he would have preferred it be fast, he's no longer sure. He's no longer sure of anything about himself.

He manages to tear his mouth away and look round the room. It looks different. Miranda is gone. His back is to the wall, though he doesn't remember how he got there.

Mere inches away, Thomas is watching him. There is a careful, intense look in his eyes which James can hardly bear. Neither of them moves. The air feels thin.

Eventually, and in a voice he has trouble recognising, James says, "I must go."

The reaction is subtle, but James sees it: Thomas sags. His shoulders droop, his lips part. A shutter falls behind his eyes.

"No," James says, aching. If he'd thought Thomas's intensity was difficult to bear, his disappointment is infinitely worse. James shakes his head. "No," he says again. "I only mean-- oh, to hell with it," he mutters, and kisses him again. He does it his way, this time: hard, fast, mouth open and moving, his teeth pulling at Thomas' lips, his hands fisted in Thomas's jacket as he hauls him closer and turns, presses Thomas into the wall.

Thomas groans, pulls, twists. His once-polite hands are everywhere, yanking at James's hair, his shirt, his hip, and then there is a jolt of pleasure as James's cock rubs against his thigh. Thomas's cock-- "Christ," James says, and pulls away again. Both their chests are heaving, and the glint in Thomas's eyes has shifted. He is careful no longer. James needs to get the fuck out of there. He takes another step back, but it's like trying to walk through mud, his boots sunk deep and sticking.

"Wait," Thomas says, his hands up, fingers spread. "Stay. My father"--he takes a deep, ragged breath and moves away--"my father will be sending messages to his supporters, and we must do the same if we're to have any hope of countering him."

James swallows, nods, turns, reaches for the nearest cup of water. His hand is shaking.

*

His hands, he thinks, are still shaking a few days later when there is a knock at his door. Groggy, and perhaps a bit drunk, he frowns in its general direction. There are only two people who come to see him, and he's been avoiding both of them.

Another knock. James gets up, his chest in knots, and pulls the door open. Miranda. Is she the better option, or the worse? While he tries to puzzle it out, she breezes past him.

"I'm going to the country," she says, though James can tell by her tone that there is more information he really ought to be gleaning from that sentence.

"All right," he says.

She stares at him intently. Her brows lift.

"Alone?" he asks, and when she confirms: "For how long?"

"A few days."

"All right," he says again, rubbing at his knuckles.

"Yes," she says, careful, pointed. "It is."

James huffs and crosses to the window. He's sure there's something to see out there -- for once, it is not raining -- but damned if he can see it.

"He cares for you," she says quietly. "And you for him."

"And you for him," James snaps. "And I for you. So, what, he's watched me fuck you and now you want to watch me fuck him? Or--"

"Is that really what you think this is?" she snaps right back. "You know Thomas, you know me, and you think this is some game about who's fucking whom?"

"No!" He whirls, but one look at her blazing eyes and the anger -- if that is what it was -- leeches out of him and leaves him slumped against the window sill. "No. Of course not."

He watches as she moves closer, and when she steps into the cradle of his thighs, he tries to tug her closer still. She comes, but only just, her hands on his chest to keep some distance. "Don't shut us out." Her fingers play at the ties of his open shirt. "Talk to him. I will be back in a few days."

James drops his forehead to hers with a sigh.

"And James?" Her voice is amused. "Don't do anything I would not."

A scrap of unwilling laughter. He lifts his head, one eyebrow raised. "That hardly constrains me, madame."

"No," she says, kissing him. She nearly manages to be chaste about it. Nearly. "It does not."

*

"Lieutenant, may I offer you a ride home? My carriage will be here momentarily."

"Thank you, my lord." James is trying to come up with some excuse to say no when Thomas steps in smoothly.

"I'm sure the lieutenant appreciates your generosity, Peter, but I'm afraid I have need of him for a while longer."

Thomas's hand lands on his shoulder, and James has to repress every instinct he has to keep from reacting to the touch. He forces a wry smile to his face, forces his lips to form the required niceties as Peter leaves, and then he and Thomas are alone. Thomas still has his hand on James's shoulder. The silence, suddenly, seems really rather loud. James can hear his own throat click as he swallows.

Thomas pulls his hand away. "Brandy?" he offers, as if this were any other post-salon evening, the two of them in their shirtsleeves going over the events of the day.

"Please," James says, though it is not brandy he wants. He does not look, only listens as Thomas's shoes tap across the wooden floor. A clink of glassware, a splash of liquid. He thinks he can hear the linen of Thomas's shirt, rubbing against silk as he moves.

James has been picturing this moment since Miranda left his rooms: what he might do, say. How he might feel. In truth, he feels ridiculous. He feels like a boy again, on his first shore leave, a few coin in his pocket and a world of possibility before him. His heart is choking him. His fingertips are cold. Is Thomas going to kiss him again? Is he supposed to kiss Thomas? Talk to him, Miranda had said, but James cannot for the life of him think how. Perhaps the brandy will help.

It does not.

After a few more moments, Thomas says, "With Sutton on our side...." and he's off.

The only hint from Thomas that anything changed between them comes a few hours later, when James is readying to take his leave. His coat is on, his gloves. His hat is in his hand.

"James," Thomas says, and then goes silent. James waits, staring at Thomas's mouth, willing his lips to move. They do, eventually, but Thomas only bids him good night, and then James is outside.

*

The pounding wakes him up. His head, he thinks -- it is, after all, the usual culprit. But no; a few glasses of brandy hardly rate. Thunder? Outside, a storm rages, but even so: no.

The door. James fumbles around, trying to light a candle, and shouts "A MOMENT!" because he would very much like the pounding to stop. It does not. It continues, relentless, and when the candle is lit, James can see the door is shuddering under the blows.

He yanks it open to see Thomas, wig-free and soaking wet, his fist raised to continue his assault on James's door. James blinks, which is all the time Thomas requires to push into his quarters, already talking.

"I promised myself I would not ask you." Thomas paces the small room with his hands behind his back, dripping all the while. "That once I'd made my desires clear, I would let you come to me if you wished to do so. I didn't want you to think-- that is, I understand if your interests lie elsewhere, and I assure you, it will not diminish you in my regard, or--"

"Or impact our relationship?" James sets the candle down on his desk and leans against the wall, arms folded over his bare chest.

"Or impact our relationship. Of course it wouldn't. Or yours with Miranda. You see, I--"

"Thomas." James pushes away from the wall. He feels calm for the first time in days, certain.

"Yes?"

"Shut the fuck up," he says, and kisses him.

Thomas obliterates his calm in seconds, his hands sure on James's chest, his wet clothes hiding nothing, his mouth inexorable, a weapon against which James has no defence. They don't make it to the bed until it's over, until they have spilled into their joined hands, their breath ragged, their knees weak.

It is not altogether different from what he's known before: his back to a splintering wall, a hand on his prick, a mouth at his throat. And yet there is something uncharted spreading through his chest, and the strength of it threatens to break his ribcage open. And in the morning, Thomas is still in his bed.

James manages to extract himself and goes to the window. The sky is still pissing down rain but the storm has stopped, and James spends a while trying to decide if there is any point to gathering his thoughts. Not really: every thought is Thomas.

"James?"

He turns. Thomas is propped on one elbow, hair standing on end, sheets and coverlet twisted low on his hips. James wants to lick the centre line of his chest down, down, down. He wants to kiss him senseless. "My lord?"

Thomas rolls his eyes and falls to his back with an overdramatic sigh. "Come back to bed."

-FIN-