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The Arctic Flower

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It begins, seemingly innocently, with a flower.

Lady Silence gifts Harry with this. A tiny flower, dried and preserved in a sealskin bag. He cannot not decipher the meaning behind her gift, but it seems in earnest, and so he takes it.

Harry shows it, first, to Captain Fitzjames. The captain has taken an interest in Harry’s pursuits in natural philosophy since they sailed. Harry recollects, with a great deal of fondness, showing the captain – then Commander Fitzjames – several specimens he had dredged up in Baffin Bay.

“Terribly fascinating,” Fitzjames had said, and clapped Harry on the shoulder. The next day, he’d dragged Harry up on deck to show him a jellyfish he’d had the men pull from the water.

Harry likes Fitzjames.

When Fitzjames provides no wisdom on the species of flower, despite studying it closely, he makes an excuse to go to Terror to show it to Captain Crozier. He knows the captain something of an authority on arctic terrain, and on the Netsilik people, and wonders if the captain can shed some light on the matter.

Crozier is somewhat drunk, but in a strangely magnanimous mood. He agrees to look at the flower. He even sniffs at it, before handing it back.

“Not the faintest idea,” he says.

The flower remains a mystery.

******

James Fitzjames is asleep. This has become a rarer and rarer occurrence as of late. With Sir John’s death, and Francis’s sharp descent into abject despair, James finds rest elusive.

But James is sleeping. More than that, he is dreaming. And this is not one of his ragged nightmares, of blood in the snow, and screams, and a black coffin on the ice.

James is dreaming of something else. Heat. Light. Pleasure.

He is no longer in the frigid arctic night, but back in Zhenjiang on a summer morning. He lies not in his bunk on Erebus, but in a silk-sheeted bed the size of a captain’s berth. And he is not alone. A man lies with him; on him; in him.

He is on his back in that soft bed, bathed by sunshine, as Francis Crozier makes love to him.

James awakes on Erebus, sweating, desperate, with his cock hard as a poker against his belly. Without the merest whit, he pushes a hand under his nightshirt and scrabbles for his cock. He strokes himself in frantic, inelegant motions, biting back his moans, as without thinking he lets fantasy begin where the dream left off-

Francis, growling, as he fucks James with deep rolls of his hips, one hand supporting his weight while the other tugs at James’s prick at a brutal pace.

Francis. A cry from James, loud and shameless.

You feel so good, damn you, you lovely thing-

Words snarled in his ear, teeth grazing the lobe. In his imagination, he ruts like an animal against Francis’s grip; on Erebus, James whines and thrusts his hips up to meet his hand.

In Zhenjiang, the sun is blazing an aura around Francis, and there is nothing but heat. The heat of the sun, streaming through the open window. The heat of Francis’s body, as it meets James’s. The heat of Francis’s vivid blue gaze.

God, yes. God, Francis, yes-

It is cold on Erebus, but James cannot feel it. All he knows is desperate need.

So fucking beautiful-

James’s back arches off the bunk. He jerks at his cock with a heavy, vicious hand. He is panting, perhaps loud enough to be heard beyond his cabin. He doesn’t care – he can’t care.

Francis!

James comes all at once, spending inside his nightshirt with a soft cry. He floats on the ebbing tide of his climax for at least a minute, limp and yielding.

When he regains his senses, he makes several shocking realizations. Not since he was an adolescent has he frigged himself so desperately, and spurted all over himself without a care to how it will be cleaned up; rarely in his life has he had an intenser orgasm.

And never has he brought himself off thinking of Francis Crozier.

He lies in his bunk, covered in the evidence of a lurid fantasy of his First. This ought to horrify him. It doesn’t, or not as much as it should, anyway.

He doesn’t quite know what to do. He ought to clean himself up, and wash his nightshirt as best he can, to spare Bridgens the task.

His legs aren’t quite working, though, and his head spins.

Something else happens. His cock, which James would assume would now lie quiet and sated, having been so enthusiastically abused, twitches and begins to harden once more.

“Good Christ,” he hisses through his teeth. Then, to his prick: “You fucking traitor.”

******

On Terror, Francis Crozier is attempting to drink himself into a stupor. A difficult task – he has built up a quite frankly impressive tolerance in his years drowning his sorrows in whiskey. At the current moment, he is trying either to drink himself asleep, or to kill himself. Either will do.

The objectionable situation is a delicate one; or at least it deals with a most delicate instrument.

Ordinarily, enough whiskey will put that particular part of his body to sleep. Tonight, his prick is indifferent. It pushes insistently against his inseam, demanding attention.

He might’ve been pleased, in other circumstances. Any man of fifty should be delighted by such vigorous enthusiasm from his prick. The issue here is not only that his cock seems to want to be touched, but that it wants to be touched by a particular person.

That person is not Sophia.

Francis finishes his whiskey and pours himself more.

******

Morning comes – or the arctic winter’s semblance of it, for it is still dark – and James is in Erebus’s great cabin with his flies unbuttoned and his aching prick in his hand.

It is the only place on the ship where he can find some modicum of privacy. He considered, briefly, using the captain’s berth. But the idea of wanking in Sir John’s bunk with the ghost of the man watching in a very evangelical horror is too much.

He knows that the officers are assembled in the wardroom just outside. He is trying to be quiet, so they will be none the wiser that he is not merely consulting the charts in the great cabin. This is essential, he tells himself, so that he does not appear before them in a state of lewd disarray.

He is sitting across from the charts, his head thrown back, his eyes squeezed tight shut.

Tell me you like it, says Francis.

James pleasures himself in quick, hard strokes, imagining it’s Francis’s calloused hand on his cock instead.

So good – don’t stop. Francis!

The imaginary Captain Crozier gives a wicked smile that bares the gap between his teeth, and then he leans in to kiss James. That hot, scathing tongue slips into James’s mouth; James’s mouth actually opens and he wets his lips with his tongue, chasing the conjured kiss.

James mewls for Francis. Whether he does this aloud or not, he cannot tell.

Come for me, James. That’s it. Like that. Good boy.

“F-fuck-”

This time at least, James is ready with a handkerchief.

Five minutes later, when he is clean and as presentable as he can manage, he rises on coltish legs and joins the officers at breakfast in the wardroom.

******

Francis is near to waking from a deep sleep. He sleeps particularly deeply these days, but not restfully. Whiskey provides oblivion, but not peace.

He is not being granted peace this time, either, but for an entirely different reason. His dreams are livid, blistering fantasy. They are incoherent snippets of pleasure, but all connected by a single man.

Francis dreams only of James Fitzjames. James, kneeling before him in Terror’s great cabin, humming happily around Francis’s cock. The pair of them in the slops storage, fully clothed, desperately pulling each other off. Fitzjames’s smug smile, as if recounting that bloody Chinese sniper story, as bends his head to lick the head of Francis’s prick. Fitzjames shoving him bodily against the wardroom table with a searing kiss. James purring like a cat as he lies across Francis’s chest.

Best of all, the two of them lying in a bed in London, James’s back pressed firmly to Francis’s chest. Francis rutting his cock into the cleft of James’s arse as he reaches over James’s body to stroke him. Francis buries his face in James’s sweet-smelling hair as-

Francis, Francis, Francis. Francis!

Francis wakes with a grunt like a bear prodded.

In his dreams, Fitzjames brought him off countless times; here, his cock remains hard, leaking, and complaining of neglect. He stands firm, even though the stickiness in Francis’s drawers tells him that he has come at least once during the night.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” he says, and takes himself in hand. His grip is a poor substitute for the imagined nimble skillfulness of Fitzjames’s slender fingers, but he hopes it will do.

He imagines Fitzjames, in the bunk right there with him. James lying propped up on one elbow, his hand moving in slow, purposeful strokes on Francis’s cock.

How’s that? Do you like that?

He asks with a maddening self-assuredness. Of course Francis likes it. Francis moans and swears. At this, the conjured Fitzjames gives a crooked grin. He wets his lips with his tongue – delicious – and cocks a brow as he lowers his head.

And what about this, dear Francis?

He tongues the head of Francis’s cock, using his arm to pin Francis to the bunk. When Francis cries out and tangles his fingers in James’s long hair, the other man takes Francis in as far as he can.

Shaking, Francis lets go of himself long enough to spit in his palm before taking his hot, leaking cock in his hand again. The slickness and heat is nothing compared to what Fitzjames’s clever mouth could provide, but he needs this – needs to be able to pretend.

Yes, James, don’t stop-

James is making obscene, wet noises as he bobs up and down, and Francis bites down hard on his shirtsleeve to muffle his groans.

Sweet fucking Christ, you’re so good, I can’t – oh God!

In the lurid picture he has painted, he comes in Fitzjames’s mouth; in reality, he comes all over his nightshirt.

Poor Jopson.

After a moment, Francis sits up, wheezing like a man dying. He ought to feel shame that he has just pulled himself off with the sort of desperation he left behind as a boy; he ought to feel horror that it was only by thinking of James Fitzjames that he was able to satisfy himself.

But it was good – too good for him to complain of anything save the way his wrist complains with how hard he worked himself.

Francis wipes his hand on the soiled shirt, and then rubs his temples. His head has begun to ache. After a moment, however:

“What in God’s name-”

He is hardening again, his cock twitching to fullness against his thigh. And along with this, a drawl from the imagined Fitzjames:

My, my, Francis. Already up for a second round?

“Fuck.”

******

Breakfast is over, and most of the officers gone.

“All right, James?”

“Hnng.”

Le Vesconte leans over the table and catches sight of James’s condition. Then he grins. “Impressive,” he says. “Who’re you thinking of, to get that?”

“Dundy,” says James. It’s all he can manage. “Please.”

“Enjoy it, eh? Not all of us can achieve such a feat so easily. You’re a remarkable man, James Fitzjames.”

Le Vesconte picks up the last biscuit and takes it with him as he leaves the wardroom.

******

It’s Jopson who notices first. Midday, he brings Francis a cup of tea strengthened with whiskey.

“Sir,” he says, with such a delicate concern that he could be reminding Francis to wear two pairs of mittens out on the pack. “How long has your condition persisted?”

“You mean how long have I had a great bloody hard-on?”

Jopson winces. “I noticed it last night, sir, after you had retired. You were asleep. Has it not gone away?”

Jopson noticed it last night? When? was Francis hard all night?

“Obviously not.”

“Then shall I fetch Dr. McDonald?”

So another man can gawp at Francis’s prick? He’d rather die.

When Francis doesn’t agree, Jopson tries a new tactic. “I’ve heard, sir, that in such cases if it is not attended to, that a man’s parts can actually turn black and fall off-”

“Jesus, Mary, and the cuckolded Joseph, Jopson!”

“I think only of your health, sir.”

Good, loyal Jopson. With no embarrassment, he stares nervously at Francis’s groin, wearing no expression save one of worry. 

Were he any other man, Francis would surely send him scurrying from the room in a storm of curses. “Oh, for the love of God,” he says, and waves so violently it’s a wonder he doesn’t rend the air. “If it’s not gone by suppertime, you can call the doctor.”

******

Afternoon arrives. In sickbay, James has his trousers and his linens around his ankles. Dr. Stanley is peering at his prick with all his usual disdain. Such a humiliating experience ought to be enough to deflate James’s mood, but he has no such luck. His cock, blithely unaware of how it is being surveyed, stands tall and proud, insisting on attention.

“As you can see,” he tells Dr. Stanley. “This has become something of a problem.”

Arch as ever, Stanley agrees. “Of course. And you say that this has persisted for how long?”

“At least twelve hours. Perhaps longer.”

Stanley says nothing for some time, still staring at James’s cock with as close to a sneer as will preserve him from insubordination.

“And are you in pain?”

“No.”

“Discomfort?”

Discomfort? He’s been stiff for more than half a day! And worse than that the only modicum of relief he’s experienced has been at the imagined hands of Francis Rawdon Moira bloody Crozier!

He nods. Stanley says nothing for another minute, merely staring with crossed arms and pursed lips at James’s groin.

“How,” says James through his teeth, his patience now at an end, “do I get rid of it?”

“I should think that’s obvious.”

“Do you think I haven’t tried?”

“Then I’m at a loss, captain. Nothing seems to be the matter with you, physically. Any cases of priapism I’ve ever seen haven’t presented like this. There seems to be no detriment to your…member, and so it’s hardly a cause for concern.”

“Erm,” says Goodsir, from the corner. “Could it possibly be-”

“When you’ve a doctorate, Goodsir, then we’ll hear from you,” snaps Stanley.

“Of course,” says Goodsir, crestfallen.

******

“What a curious thing,” says Dr. McDonald.

Francis isn’t thrilled to hear his prick described as curious.

“I’ve seen a few cases of priapism, of course. Once, during my training, I saw a man whose erection had lasted more than two days. The flesh blackened, and began to rot.”

“Encouraging,” says Francis, attempting to hide how his mouth has gone dry. It’s not as if he uses his cock for much these days other than to piss, but that doesn’t mean he wants it to drop off.

 “This is unlike that entirely. In that case, the man was pained, and the blood flow restricted. Are you in pain, captain?”

“No – well, not like that. I’m – well, I’ve not felt anything like this since I was sixteen and even the sight of a woman’s ankle put me at attention.”

Not that Francis is thinking of women at all, now.

“I could attempt to let blood from the organ-”

“You’d like to lancet my-”

“Only a suggestion, sir.

“Any others?”

Dr. McDonald, ever the kindly man, merely raises his brows.

Francis growls. “I’ve tried it.”

“And the condition persists? Fascinating.”

At least Francis’s prick is now fascinating instead of curious.

“Tell me, captain. How long after you…achieved your climax did your condition return?”

Francis huffs. “I had no more than five minutes’ peace.”

A mercy – Dr. McDonald actually looks impressed. “Such a short refractory period for a man your age is – well, I’ve not heard of it. One might be pleased by this-”

“I’m not.” Francis might be, were he newly wed to Sophia, and attempting to satisfy a woman over twenty years younger than he. But it is not Sophia that his body wants; it is Fitzjames, and only Fitzjames.

McDonald isn’t finished. “One might be pleased, were the condition not unresponsive to attempts to…calm it.”

Silence hangs between them. Francis stares mutely at his prick. McDonald is gazing off into the icy air behind Francis’s head, obviously lost in thought.

“I’ll think on it, captain. If I have a solution, I’ll let you know.”

“That’s it?”

“Well,” says Dr. McDonald, with a gentle smile, “I don’t think you’re in mortal danger, sir.”

Francis grunts, unconvinced.

******

James is lying in his bunk, resolutely keeping his hand away from his prick, reading Butler’s translation of the Iliad, and wondering whether it’s possible to perish from lust, when there comes a tentative knock at his cabin door.

James looks down at how his prick appears to have pitched a tent in his bedsheets, and promptly drops the book over it, before calling:

“Come!”

He winces at this – would that he could obey his own command.

The door slides open to reveal the earnest and friendly face of John Bridgens, as he enters the room and shuts the door behind him.

“Ah, Bridgens,” says James. “What can I do for you?”

James’s attempt at humour gets a smile from his steward. “I was wondering, sir, what I could do for you.”

He could drag Francis Crozier to Erebus and strip him naked, for a start.

“Nothing,” says James, as he licks his lips at the idea.

“It’s just - are you well, sir?”

James is most certainly not. “Yes. Why?”

“You – well, sir, you’ve not looked yourself since yesterday, and I couldn’t help but notice that you paid Dr. Stanley a visit. Is there anything you need?”

Poor, motherly Bridgens, fussing like a bitch over an unruly pup.

“I’m quite well,” James lies. “But thank you for your concern.”

Bridgens doesn’t believe him, obviously. James wouldn’t either. But still, he inclines his head, bids James goodnight, and departs.

Bridgens likely understands a part of James’s frustration, even if neither he nor James will admit it. James has seen how Bridgens watches Terror’s captain of the foretop, with eyes full of light and a face open with adoration.

But given how Peglar positively beams every time he sees Bridgens, and how the former was among the first to come to berth on Erebus, Bridgens is in the enviable position of having his interest requited.

At the thought of Terror, James’s mind is drawn irresistibly to Francis. His prick twitches at the merest mention of the man.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” he says to his cock. “Won’t you give me a moment’s peace?”

Pressing insistently at the bedlinens, that part of his body answers no.

James tells himself what he does next is necessary, that he won’t sleep without it, and that the men need a well-rested commander. So he tosses Butler to the side and attends to that pressing need.

An idea has come to him, deliciously, as he recalls thinking that Bridgens could do him the favour of bringing Francis to him.

As James begins to work himself in lazy strokes, he thinks of it: the men, no longer ignorant of their commander’s desire for his First, but complicit and enthusiastic. A fantasy of James, waiting for his men to bring him his new prize.

Francis, spirited to Erebus like a new concubine brought to an emperor.

James stuffs his hand in his mouth and bites down on his knuckle to keep from groaning.

Jopson, bathing Francis in preparation for the latter being presented to the hungry Erebus captain. James imagines how the heat of the bathwater would pinken Francis’s pale skin, how a flush would be brought to that craggy face.

Muffled around his finger: “Fuck.”

Jopson shaving and perfuming Francis, before dressing him in finery and sending him to James. Oh, how all of James’s men want Francis, but it is to James that he belongs.

“Jesus God-”

They are not on Erebus, nor in England nor China nor Brazil, but in some fantastical place of old. James, the emperor waiting expectantly for the wonderful thing promised him, Francis brought before him.

What a fine figure you have, James remarks, as he looses the tie that holds Francis’s clothing to his frame. It falls aside, pooling around his feet.

Do I please you, sir? Francis’s voice, but words he would never say.

“Yes, you do, God damn you.”

You do. Let me show you how, my dear.

Francis, spread out on a bed of furs, as James pleasures him deep and fast. Francis cries out, though even in such a fanciful picture James cannot imagine him begging.

“God – fuck- yes-”

******

On Terror, Francis Crozier is having a fantasy far less extraordinary. He has settled for his own berth, and has not made himself ruler of a whole bloody empire.

He is panting as he lies on his back and fucks his own loose fist with hard snaps of his hips.

Don’t stop, you feel so good.

The imagined Fitzjames, who is bouncing up and down on Francis’s lap, whines.

Francis!

God, he doesn’t just want James to bring him off, he wants to make James feel good, too. He seizes James’s cock in one inelegant, pawing grasp, and tugs at it.

James positively shrieks at this, throwing back his head. His hands, planted on Francis’s chest, quiver. Francis would swear he can actually feel the phantom pricks of James’s nails on his skin.

Yes, Francis. Yes!

It is only when in Francis’s imagination that James spills across Francis’s belly that Francis is able to do the same.

After his breathing has returned to some semblance of normal, Francis rolls over and reaches for the glass of whiskey he has stashed next to his bunk. After he has downed its contents, he flops onto his belly and sleeps like a babe in arms.

******

“Did you know, Frank,” booms Blanky as he barges his way into the great cabin the next afternoon, “that there’s not one but two poor buggers ‘round here with great bloody cockstands stiffer’n Terror’s mainmast? Poor sods apparently can’t get ‘em to go down, neither.”

Francis, who is sitting and glowering at the sea charts, jumps half out of his skin. His face is flushed and his hair awry; Blanky wonders if he’s drunk.

“Shut your mouth, you idiot tyke,” he snaps.

Blanky is bright enough to know just why his humour irks Francis. He peers under the table, takes one look at Francis’s inseam, and breaks up into riotous laughter.

“It’s not funny.”

“It is. Never in my life have I seen a man angrier to have a hard-on! Is it true you’ve been salutin’ for two straight days?”

Poor Francis, red in the face and scowling.

“What’s the matter, eh, Frank? Don’t you do any of the ol’” – here Blanky breaks off to mime a rude gesture – “anymore? Hand’s not broken, is it?”

Francis’s blush turns magenta. He glowers at Blanky, who swaggers up to the table unbeckoned and sits down.

“So who’s the other one, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Lucky bastard.”

“Hardly,” says Francis. “So how did you know, anyway?”

“Went to have a headache sorted and heard that the good doctors were having a wee conference in sickbay. Stanley was over to gawp at Private Heather’s brains, again. McDonald mentioned that had a curious case, and Stanley said he had one, too.”

“Good Lord.”

“Aye. They had a right good gab over it. Didn’t mention names, mind. So I wonder who the other is?”

“Haven’t an idea.”

The two men are silent for a moment.

“Doesn’t the whiskey discourage it any?”

“Not so far.”

“Maybe we should try it again, eh?”

“A capital idea, that,” says Francis, and he pours both of them generous helpings.

******

James is going mad. He is sure of it.

He enters the third day of this sickness more desperate than before. He moves as if in a fever; distracted, listless, and hot as a stoked fire. His whole being cries out, you will die if he does not touch you.

It’s not possible. Surely not.

He thinks, in his insanity, that perhaps if he sees Francis, the real Francis, whiskey-plastered and surly Francis, his desires will abate. Perhaps the real man will chase the conjured one away.

At least this is what his rational mind tells him. A deeper urge, a visceral one, obeys an inexorable command: you must go to him.

Finding his way into his slops, pushing aside the concerns of Bridgens and Goodsir, James stumbles onto the pack and makes for Terror.

******

Francis is ill. He knows it, regardless of Dr. McDonald’s assurances to the contrary. There is no other explanation for the madness that has overtaken him. He knows one thing, and one thing only: that he must, at all costs, avoid Erebus. The lunacy that has consumed him will surely break through his last vestiges of control if he goes more than ten steps toward Fitzjames.

He wants Fitzjames more than he has ever wanted anything in his whole life. His yearning for Sophia is a flickering candle next to the bonfire blaze of his desire for James. He burns for the man, shamefully and undeniably.

He must not go to Erebus. Not until the sickness has passed.

******

“Captain Fitzjames? Captain Fitzjames!”

It’s the wide-eyed Jopson who spots him as he descends the ladder.

“Captain Crozier. Is he in his cabin?” James’s tone is rougher than Jopson deserves. Jopson is trying to divest James of his slops; James does not allow this, lest Jopson see how James’s prick strains eagerly at his trousers, like a hound against a leash.

“Yes, but-”

James brushes past him.

“But sir – Captain Fitzjames, he ordered to be left alone-”

 This from Jopson, who chases after him. When they reach the great cabin, Jopson is in a frenzy:

“You mustn’t – he’s unwell, sir.”

James ignores Jopson, throwing open the door to the great cabin and blustering over the threshold like a blizzard across the ice.

There sits Francis, drink in hand, flushed all the way to his ears. God be good, how much James wants him. He is half-dead with want, ready to be killed with it.

A growl from Francis: “What the hell are you doing here?”

James hasn’t thought of an excuse. He invents, wildly, hoping that Francis doesn’t hear the desperate note in his voice.

“Someone ought to see you.”

Francis cocks a brow. The tip of his tongue parts his lips. “See me?”

“Most of your men berth on my ship. Are they never to see their commander?”

Francis narrows his eyes. Perhaps Jopson is right – Francis does not look well. There is a wildness in him that James has never seen before. “And what would they do, having seen me?”

“Know you live, for one. You had three men lashed and then sent most of your crew from Terror. Now they see neither hide nor hair of you. Are they supposed to love such a man?”

Am I? This question goes unasked.

The answer James receives is a snort. Maddening. After a moment, he tries again:

“Well?”

A bark from Francis. “Well what, damn you?”

“Will you not come to Erebus?”

To me.

“No. I – no, I can’t. You don’t understand, James, I can’t. I’m unwell.” The use of James’s Christian name is nearly enough to give him pause. But it is James who is unwell, not Francis. Being piss-drunk and miserable is hardly worthy of claiming illness.

“Unwell? Unwell?” James’s implication hangs between them. “If anyone is unwell it’s me, and here I am, come to you-”

This stalls Francis. “You are unwell?”

“Your concern is touching, Francis, but I-”

“For once in your life, Fitzjames, will you not be silent and listen? You are unwell?” Francis’s voice is pressing. He rises to his feet and approaches. He is steadier than James suspected he would be.

“Yes, though it’s no business of yours.”

“And did you-” Francis begins, but he has caught sight of how James now stares at him, mouth open.

James has seen the jutting ridge of Francis’s prick, heavy, hard, and pressed in a thick line against his trousers.

Francis, to his credit, squares his jaw and draws himself up like a man at inspection. “Stare if you will, judge me if you want,” he says, steely in his resolve. “But I am indeed unwell. And I-”

Francis breaks off again, since James closes the distance between them and seizes him by the nape of the neck. He drags Francis into his body, hoping that the other man can feel his excitement through his clothing.

“As am I,” he says, rubbing himself up against Francis. “I am – for days I have needed – and you-”

Francis’s gaze blackens and James trembles when he realizes he is about to be kissed. The embrace is rough and unmannerly, all heat and desperation.

“Touch me, please, touch me, Francis,” says James, when Francis eases off only to let him breathe. He is begging – he can do nothing else. He shoves his hand between their bodies, pawing at Francis’s fly until he gets one hand into his linens, fondling Francis’s cock.

The groan this draws from Francis is a sweeter melody than any maestro’s magnum opus.

“Please. Please.”

Francis obeys, shoving one hand under the slops and rubbing his palm against the shaft of James’s cloth-covered prick. James makes a high, keening sound.

“James.”

A protestation, gently done. James continues to whine and press against Francis.

“Not – you’ll undo me, man. We mustn’t – not here,” he says. He is flushed a beautiful shade, his ears red as cherries. James nips at one, and Francis hisses. “The berth, the berth!”

The distance from where they have met to the berth might as well be a mile across the pack, for how James sighs to disentangle himself from Francis to follow the other man there.

Once the door is closed and locked James pounces on Francis like a cat on a mouse. He shoves him back, till the backs of his knees hit the bunk and he buckles. James does nothing but rip off his slops and drop to his knees, unbuttoning Francis’s fly and exposing the man’s cock to the cool air.

“James-”

James bows his head and with the barest of warnings, closes his mouth around Francis’s prick.

“Jesus God-”

Francis’s hand lands in James’s hair. This is good – this is what James has wanted for so long. He gets a hand down his own trousers, so that he may stroke himself in time with how he works Francis.

“God, that’s – oh, fuck, that’s good, how can you – God, James!”

The man is already nearly insensible. James curls one hand around the base of Francis’s cock, as he sucks what will fit in his mouth.

A groan, and James’s hair is pulled at the roots. Enough of this and James will come with his mouth full of Francis. James has never come from pleasuring a man with his mouth – the idea thrills him as much as it leaves him wanting.

“Fuck. Damn your mouth, you – God!”

There is nothing in James’s world save Francis. The sound of his voice, rasping out his pleasure. The taste of him on James’s tongue. The smell of him.

James moans, pulling faster at himself.

Before long Francis’s breath comes in great panting bursts, and James quickens his pace. Francis is close and James bobs up and down in eagerness – he so desperately wants to drive Francis over the edge.

Another plea: “James, stop. Oh, Christ, stop.”

Even in his madness, he cannot ignore the desperate note in Francis’s voice.

He pulls off, pleased by how Francis’s prick glistens wet and red in the lamplight. He casts his eyes skyward, to see Francis staring down at him. The man’s chest heaves, and he blushes fiercely.

“I’ll come in your mouth,” he warns.

James holds Francis’s cock in his hand, and drags his closed lips from base to tip. “And if I want you to?”

“I,” Francis begins, stammering through his confession, “I want to – damn it all to Hell and back - I want to touch you.”

James smiles. Francis’s hand remains in his hair as he rises to his feet. He brushes the backs of his fingers across Francis’s lips, watching them part. Pink and inviting, the colour of summer roses.

“I can’t tell you how much I want that,” says James.

“Then – for God’s sake, take all this off before I tear it off you.”

James grins. “If for nothing but the sake of my clothing, I obey.”

The time it takes the two of them to undress lets both back down from the edge. But the frantic need is far from extinguished, and as Francis sheds layers of fabric, James finds his excitement building.

The moment Francis is fully undressed, he shrinks toward the bed. His cheeks burn hot as a coal stove, and James sees it, then: shame.

Foolish – Francis is glorious. He is a creature acutely masculine; all heft and sinew and solid firmness. But a touch of delicacy, as when he steps forward James notices that Francis is freckled, delicate spots dusted over his shoulders and falling across his chest and belly, as if adorned with stardust.

James wants him. More than that, he wants to be wanted by him. And when he meets Francis’s eyes and finds the man watching him a dark gaze, he knows he is.

Madness, again, then.

Roughly, Francis seizes James in his arms and sits them down hard upon the bunk. Francis sits propped against the bulkhead, James straddling his lap. With a snarl, Francis takes James’s cock in hand, stroking him hard and fast.

James throws his head back. “Yes.”

Francis grins wickedly, but this gives way to a moan as James begins to stroke him in tandem.

The air around them is no longer arctic. It is as humid and as thick as a rainforest’s oppressive dampness.

It is not long and Francis begins to pant again. He is closer than James is, but James knows that if he sees Francis come, he will not be far behind.

“Fuck. Fuck. Goddamn fucking hell.” Francis seems capable of little but profanity. His prick is leaking, sweat beading on his chest. James licks the moisture from his skin. Salt. The sea. “You can’t understand – for days, I – I thought of nothing but this. Of you.”

James kisses him fiercely. “I do, I do, I do.”

“Oh, God-” Francis’s eyes roll back in his head, and James falls upon him again. It is while James is sucking that scornful tongue that Francis spills over their bodies. He moans so sweetly as James continues to frig his cock until he begins to soften.

For but a moment, Francis is still, and then he begins again his work on James.

“Is that good?” he asks, when James is writhing in his lap. One eyebrow is cocked. Playful.

It is good, so good. James is sticky, covered in Francis’s seed. He rocks back on the heels of his hands as he bucks his hips up to meet Francis’s powerful grasp. “Yes.”

“Tell me what you want.”

James would tell him anything, if it would mean Francis would go on touching him.

“Just – don’t stop, please.” Francis smooths his free hand over James’s back, pulling him close. His head lolls in the crook of Francis’s neck. “God, yes, please. Please, Francis!”

“You’re so good, hm? Beautiful. Come for me. That’s it. That’s it.”

To be praised like this is exquisite. James wishes that he could for the rest of his life listen to nothing but Francis sing these raptures. James is nearly sobbing when he obeys this command. Francis strokes him once, twice, a third time more, before releasing him.

They cling to each other for some time, like drowning men, until James begins to shiver. Then Francis lies down, James next to him, and the former draws the cold blankets over the both of them.

For the first time in days, James finds himself able to think clearly. The fire in him has dwindled, though still it burns.

Slightly awkwardly, he speaks to his bedmate.

“I ought to thank you.”

A grunt from Francis. “What for?”

For touching me so sweetly. For calling me beautiful.

“For attending to this…need.”

Another grunt. The sound travels all the way through James, pooling in his groin. “I seem to recall having a need of my own, Fitzjames.”

******

Thomas Jopson is a man who takes his duty very seriously. It is love and loyalty that ties him to his captain, and there is nothing in Heaven or on Earth that could move him from the opinion that Francis Crozier is a good and deserving man.

This is why Jopson has spent the entire evening and better part of the night staging various misdirections.

“Captain Crozier is not to be disturbed,” he sternly informs Irving, who is come to repeat his constant mantra of his concerns over stores, “save if it is an emergency.”

Irving grumbles, and goes away.

“I heard,” says Edward Little, an hour or so later, “that Captain Fitzjames was come aboard. Is there to be a command meeting tonight?”

Jopson tries not to flinch. “I think not. They were merely discussing some affairs of…well, I don’t know, but they didn’t say anything about a meeting.”

Little looks something other than sorrowful at that news, which Jopson counts as a victory.

“Jopson!” Thomas Blanky hails him, at a little after ten. “Is our fearless leader in?”

Jopson is standing before the great cabin door, bodily preventing Blanky from passing.

“He’s – he’s asleep, Mr. Blanky.”

From beyond the door, both of them are able to discern a low groan, followed by a plea. Two different voices.

“Asleep, eh?” There is a twinkle in Blanky’s eye.

“Asleep,” lies Jopson, weakly.

Blanky grins and then begins to whistle as he goes above for a smoke.

******

Francis rests not long, since his companion begins to writhe and chafe at him in a way most distracting.

“What,” he says through his teeth, “do you want, James?”

James smiles. So odd to see James smiling at him, as opposed to in mockery of him. “I should think that’s obvious.”

Francis makes a futile attempt to ignore James. But when the other man gets a leg over Francis and begins to rub himself against Francis’s side, he can disregard him no longer.

“You’re mad.”

A crooked grin shows all of James’s crooked teeth. The expression is charming. Francis wants to kiss that smirk from James’s lips, but resists this urge. “Oh, certainly.”

James is slowly, teasingly rutting his cock into Francis’s hip, and of his lean thighs lies over Francis’s prick. Francis was hard already; now he bites back a groan at the delightful friction.

Still smiling, James’s eyes drop to Francis’s mouth and then he kisses him quickly. A gesture meant to tantalize, not satisfy. When Francis moves to return the kiss, James pulls his head back and denies him.

Francis can bear it no longer. “What do you want, Fitzjames?”

For a moment, James is still. All the pretense, all the flirtation, falls away from his face as he speaks. “I want you to take me.”

“Take – take you? You mean-”

James licks his lips. “Yes.”

When the silence between them stretches long as a winter night, James speaks again.

“Unless you don’t want to-”

Francis has thought of this too often to deny that he wants to do this to James. With him.

“I want – yes, I want to, but I’ve never-” Francis can’t seem to finish a sentence. “I’ve never - I don’t know how to, James, I’ve never done it.”

James brightens. He elbows himself into a half-sitting position and begins to trace a pattern across Francis’s chest. His hair falls darkly over his shoulder. More than ever, there is a fey wildness about him that enchants Francis. In a sane moment, this thought would have angered him. Now, Francis is quite content to find James enchanting.

“That doesn’t surprise me. Would it bother you to know that I have?”

“I’d be a great fucking hypocrite if it did, wouldn’t I?” Francis’s tone is ungentle, which he regrets, but James doesn’t seem to take offense.

James smiles. “Then will you, my dear Francis?”

His dear Francis. How much Francis likes to hear that. “You’ll have to show me how.”

“First,” pronounces James, with an archness that normally sets Francis’s teeth on edge, “we shall need something with which to grease our way.”

Francis can feel himself flushing. “Jopson keeps a bottle of rapeseed oil for the clock.”

When Francis tries to rise, James pushes him back down before climbing over him and out of the bunk. “Allow me, captain.”

Naked and utterly shameless, James meanders out into the great cabin, as if retrieving a sea chart.

“In the top drawer below the bookshelf,” calls Francis, when James has been gone too long.

In a moment, James returns. Just the sight of him bared to the frigid air, his skin cream richness and his hair gleaming dark, is nearly enough to undo Francis.

“Budge up, will you? It’s damned freezing,” says James.

Heavily sarcastic: “Thank you for that, James. I’d quite forgotten the cold.”

But with James lying with him, Francis has indeed left cold behind.

Some shuffling, and they retake their initial positions.

“Well, Francis? What will you have? Do you want me on my hands and knees, or my back?” It is matter-of-factly said.

“I’d like to look at you.” Francis makes the next confession with his eyes lowered. “See you come.”

A low hum from James. When Francis dares to look at him, the man’s lips are parted, his tongue caught between his front teeth. “I’d like that, too.”

There is some more awkward shuffling, and Francis is eventually between James’s spread knees.

James is magnificent. The handsomest man in the Royal Navy, truly. He lies supine, inviting and open. He is all lovely paleness, save for the deep, dark pools of his eyes, the halo of mahogany hair, and the tiny beauty marks that dot his skin at random like ink drops on paper. Francis dips down to mouth one on James’s shoulder. He leaves a trail of kisses across James’s collarbone and then, descending, to his sternum.

Then, because Francis is curious, he flicks the tip of one of James’s nipples with the tip of his tongue.

James jolts as if struck. “Good Christ-”

When Francis sucks hard, scraping ever so slightly with his front teeth, James snatches up Francis’s hair in a tight fist and drags him up for a true kiss.

It is messy enough that James’s lips first land on Francis’s chin before he devours Francis’s mouth with his own.

“You brute,” he says, when he releases Francis. The complaint is too breathy to be true displeasure. “Do you mean to tease me, then?”

Francis smiles – suddenly cocksure – at James. “Tease you? I mean to ravish you, Fitzjames.”

James gasps at merely the suggestion. How intoxicating it is to watch someone so undone by nothing but the mention of Francis’s touch. Never in his life has he been wanted with such desperate fervor.

“Then you ought to begin,” says James, “by greasing up your fingers.”

“Ah. Right.”

Francis feels something of a fool as he sits back up to pour a generous amount of oil into his hand and spread it over his fingers. But with a glance back at James provides much-needed support – the man is obviously already excited.

Excited by the idea of Francis buggering him. Good God. Francis wonders that Sir John doesn’t rise from the dead, merely to expire from horror.

“You’ll have to ready me. One finger at a time.”

Francis nods, not sure what to say to that.

“Francis,” remarks James, drolly. “Are you aware you’re blushing like a maid at her first dance?”

Francis is sure he darkens even further.

“It’s rather charming.”

Don’t call me charming.”

James’s tone is bright and playful – flirtatious, even. “Why not? How very darling you look when you’re pink as a peony.”

To hush him, Francis traces one finger up, between James’s buttocks, to find that opening. James hums – happily, Francis notes – as Francis circles it with just the tip of his finger. Then, carefully, he pushes in, just to the knuckle.

James inhales sharply. Francis isn’t sure if the sound is pain or pleasure.

“Should I stop?”

“No,” says James. He’s thrown one hand across his eyes. “It’s what I want. It’s just been a while.”

“Slowly, then,” says Francis. “I won’t hurt you. I won’t.”

James lifts his hand and flashes a surprisingly tender smile Francis’s way. “You’d kill me, most like, if you stopped.”

Francis nods.

“Good God. Don’t look so grave, Francis! You’re not at a Sunday service, you’re-”

James breaks off with a gasp, because Francis has begun to move his finger, gently in and out. Francis smiles.

After a minute, Francis feels safe to add another finger. James doesn’t tense against this. His hips have begun to roll ever so slightly to meet Francis’s hand.

“Is this good?”

“Oh, yes. And if you crook your fingers towards yourself there’s a – Jesus fuck!

Francis can’t resist a grin. “Like that, do you?”

“Yes.” A hiss is all James manages.

By the time Francis has managed a third finger, James is sighing and groaning, clutching at the linens with white knuckles. Neither man has touched James’s leaking cock – yet – and Francis is having to fight the urge to rut like an animal against James’s leg.

“God, Francis. I need – you know what I need, don’t make me wait.”

Francis withdraws – James whines – and slicks up his cock with the remainder of the oil. With the added lubrication, even his own touch is divine.

“Are you re-”

“For fuck’s sake,” snarls James, half-wild. “If you don’t fuck me this very instant I’ll throw you on your back and – hnng.”

Francis makes a similar noise, because he has pushed into James. He nearly comes just from this; James’s body is tight, wet, and hotter than anything he can imagine.

He gives an experimental thrust and watches James’s eyes roll back in his head. He wonders if he can make the man actually weep, and so he takes his cock in one slick hand and begins to stroke James in synchrony with his thrusts.

It works. James cries out and to hush him, Francis drops down to kiss him, open-mouthed. James continues to mewl into Francis’s mouth.

“God. Don’t stop. Please.”

James’s pleas have become louder. Francis should care; he doesn’t. He groans and growls and when that is no longer enough:

“You feel so good. So good, James.”

James shudders, back arching, baring his slim, white throat. He’s holding Francis’s hips in two clawed hands, sure to leave bruises. Francis braces his left hand against the bulkhead, James’s cock heavy in his right palm.

“Lovely,” says Francis, watching through the haze of his own pleasure the effect his praise has upon James. He is loose with it, though doubtless he will regret this in a sober moment. “Beautiful, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes, for you. Always for you.”

Surely not – Fitzjames has always kept himself shined to perfection for the satisfaction of his vainglorious ego, not for the pleasure of Francis’s eye, surely?

Francis can’t dwell on the thought, too busy making a valiant attempt at fucking James right through the bunk.

“Tell me again,” James pants. “Please.”

This ought to irk Francis – of course James would wish for praise, self-satisfied prick that he is. It doesn’t. It excites him.

Francis grunts. He’s too far gone to be creative, so his praise is entirely genuine. “You pretty, pretty thing.”

James keens, eyes squeezed shut, scrabbling at Francis’s body with desperate hands.

“Pretty boy. Beautiful. Who would’ve thought you’re the loveliest with a man inside you, hm?”

“Oh, God.” James is nearly weeping, Francis half-mad with desire. His worry about hurting James has long since vanished into the night; he doubts he could fuck James any harder than the man wants it.

Francis encourages him on with what snippets of praise he can offer, becoming filthier and filthier, until he speaks more profanity than sense. All of it is received with obvious delight, as James squirms and writhes under his body.

Eventually, another breathy plea: “Tell me I’m good. Tell me, Francis.” James’s eyes are open now, all pretense stripped away. A naked look, full of desperate need.

“Such a good boy. You want to be good for me, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes, Francis. Yes. Since Greenhithe. Wanted you. Maddening thing you are. Wanted you to look at me. Notice me. Touch me. Fuck me.”

Is James lying? Francis doesn’t care. His rhythm is fast and hard, as close to his climax as James. He is trying to draw the moment out, but this is too much, far too much.

James can no longer speak; for minutes, he utters nothing but pleas, and Francis bends over his body, to kiss him everywhere he can reach. Each touch earns him a sigh or a moan or a cry, each one more delicious than the last.

“Francis. Francis, please.”

Francis loves to hear James say his name. “Come for me, then. Come for me. Good boy. Lovely boy.”

“Francis!”

“Yes, like that.”

With a cry, James does, spending across his own stomach. When his cock begins to soften, Francis lets go of it, gripping James’s thighs and rutting fast and eager into James’s body. After a moment, he follows his Second, lost to a wave of bliss.

After Francis has collapsed – James making room in the bunk for Francis to lie on his back – neither of them speaks for quite some time.

James makes an observation: “Good Lord. And you say you’ve never done that before?”

Francis actually laughs.

******

It has been an eventful night on Terror. So too is it on Erebus, for Harry Goodsir finds himself staring, past the petals of a tiny flower, at Lady Silence’s wide smile. Earlier today, she forced the flower into his hand and with a mix of Inuktitut and gesticulation, convinced him take a deep whiff of its perfume.

That was twelve hours previously; now, Harry is standing as far away from her as he can, attempting to explain as politely as possible that if she gets any closer, he may act in a way most ungentlemanly.

“Erm,” he says, as she begins to stalk ever closer. “I think you’d better stay there.”

An arch of a brow and a smile. Playful. Lovely.

“Akaut - akautsianngittunga.”

Her smile grows. “Takujunga.”

Both of them look down at what Harry is trying to hide.

“Oh, dear. Mamianaq.”

A wicked grin, now, as she plucks the flower from his grasp and flicks it aside. “Piugijara.”

“Oh,” squeaks Harry. “Oh.

******

James rises on one elbow and surveys the sleeping Francis. Such a strange thing, to see such a bitter creature at such innocent rest. Pale lashes fringe closed eyes, and rose-pink lips are parted with a silent breath. The furrowed brow is smoothed, the scowls erased. No babe could sleep more sweetly; difficult to believe that this is the dour Francis Crozier before him.

A poem comes to James, unbidden:

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

“‘I feel it,’” says James, quoting the poet, as he strokes a hand across Francis’s chest to feel the softness of his freckled skin, “‘and I am in agony.’ Agony no longer, eh?”

Deeply asleep, Francis does not answer. When James lies down and noses Francis’s neck, he feels himself pulled close.

******

When Francis wakes, he feels like a fire burned past its embers. Spent and cold. The persistent throb that has pained him for days is gone, but so is the man who had soothed it.

James is gone, and Francis is cold.

Francis rolls over and sobs like a child into a pillow that still smells like James’s hair.

******

Morning on Erebus, and an exhausted James receives Mr. Goodsir in the great cabin.

“I won’t be particularly conversational, I’m afraid,” he says, as in response to his offered hand Goodsir sits across from him. “Slept poorly.”

“I’ll be brief then, sir. I thought that you might be interested in this, however. I believe I’ve found the cause of your malady.”

James has found the cure of it, though, but he listens all the same.

“Do you remember the flower I showed you about a week ago?”

James does – somewhere in the incense haze of his heady desires, he remembers a bright-faced Goodsir presenting him with a tiny arctic flower.

“I had a chance to, er, converse with Silence about it and it turns out that it’s…well…”

When the implication grows large between them, James speaks.

“I see. Well, you needn’t worry on my account. I’m no longer suffering from those particular symptoms.”

Recognition blooms bright in Goodsir’s eyes. “But the only way to get rid of it is to - does that mean you and – never mind, sir.”

Drily, from James: “Never mind indeed.”

******

Weeks pass, and Francis stays on Terror.

He cannot bear the idea of seeing James again. What does the man think of him now? James finds him pathetic, surely, and worthy of all of the scorn Sir John heaped upon him. Unfit for command, and the worst kind of Second – now the worst kind of First.

Now James may add dirtiness to the long list of Francis’s flaws. For what kind of First allows himself to be so overcome for a man under his command? And to act upon these sinful desires?

For though the fever has passed, Francis still desires James. During the dark days, whiskey numbs him to his flesh’s ardent wants, but at night – then he is plagued with dreams. Vivid and glaring, his yearning is laid bare for him.

How then could he ever look James in the face, when by night he longs for nothing so much as to have James in his arms, skin-to-skin, beating heart against his breast?

Francis knows that surely James hates him now more than ever. He knows, too, that he deserves every drop of James’s vitriol.

But James could not hate Francis with more fervour than Francis despises himself.

******

He does not see Francis again, not for weeks. The man does not stir from Terror. From what James can glean from a close-lipped and miserable Edward Little, the outlook for Crozier is grim.

“Much to do on Terror, is all.” This is Little’s explanation. Both of them know it is a lie.

James loathes this – has he not earned some modicum of intimacy, of trust, for what has passed between them?

James imagines Francis drinking himself into oblivion, to chase away the shameful fact that he ever desired James Fitzjames, and that he was desired in turn. James is something shameful, then. Filthy.

When Francis will not come to him, James goes to him. What he finds on Terror astonishes him.

Francis, drunk, seething like the roiling sea. He is as near slovenly as Jopson will allow. Pathetic. Pitiable. James expects to hate him; he finds instead that he desires him now as strongly as he did when in the grip of his fever.

Fury, then, that Francis should be so distant. Before he can even ask what he is seeing, Francis snarls and curses James off his ship.

One plea from James, to the man whose bed he shared: “Francis-”

“Don’t ever call me ‘Francis’ again. You’ll call me what I’m due to be called.”

His anger reaches its bounds, and he steps forward to confront Francis.