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a-plaiting of her hair

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After a long and varied career in the Royal Navy, it is with some surprise that Captain Francis Crozier now finds himself in the position of a lady’s maid.

His lady is very well known to him, and indeed, very dear to him, though she has not been presented at court. Nor is she out in society; in fact, beyond the four walls of this bedroom, she is completely unknown to the world. She does not appear at balls, or galas, or dinners. She is not seen strolling through Hyde Park under a lace parasol, along the shore of the Serpentine.

Still, Francis’ lady is beautiful, and ever so poised and graceful, ever so witty and accomplished and charming. She looks very well in her dress of a lovely blue-grey silk, the neckline sitting off her shoulders, low across the smooth plane of her chest. Her hair gleams in the low candlelight, set in soft, dark waves – but it is in this arena that Francis’ lady displays her one flaw – she is not patient, and she will not tolerate her maid’s blundering.

Francis has already laced up her stays, has already tied her petticoats around her trim waist, has already helped her into her gown, and buttoned up the bodice, his callused fingers unable to help themselves from caressing the bumps of her spine at the base of her neck. She is so very lovely, a sort of loveliness that Francis hardly dared to imagine before he met her. Even now, after so long together, his continued proximity to such beauty is still met with faint bewilderment, as if he has strayed into some wonderful dream, and is yet to wake.

Now that she is dressed, her hair must be arranged; she has a terribly important engagement to attend tonight and she must look her very best, she must look elegant and refined and terribly beautiful, so that all the ladies will envy her and all the gentlemen will want her – though no matter how much they want her, it is only her lady’s maid who is permitted to run his fingers along the delicate jut of her collarbone, or caress the short, soft hairs at the nape of her neck.

For too long, Francis has been trying – with his indelicate sailor’s hands – to arrange her hair in an elegant, fashionable way, all pretty curls in the front, swept up into a low bun at the back of her head. It is a trickier task than Francis expected – her hair is too soft, too silky to be coerced into place. It insists on slipping free, falling back against her neck with an irritating complacency.

“For goodness’ sake, Crozier,” she snaps, sending Francis a sharp glare in the mirror. “You’re arranging hair, not untangling old bits of rope. Do be gentle.”

“I’m sorry, my lady,” Francis mutters, a hint of annoyance colouring his speech. His fumbling is an act, of course, part of the game – but it is not wholly an act. He had rather thought he might be a dab hand at styling James’ hair, as he has spent more than enough time examining it and considering its qualities, though clearly not.

Now, faced with brushes and combs, hair pins and ribbons and delicate silk flowers, Francis must admit he is out of his depth.

He lets out a frustrated sigh and gives up on gathering James’ hair into a bun. He instead reaches for the hairbrush – he knows what to do with this, at least. He is aware of James drumming his fingers on the top of the dressing table – the staccato tap tap tap of his fingernails against the varnished wood – as he draws the brush slowly through his hair.

“I think it has been brushed within an inch of its life,” James eventually remarks. “Do get on with it.”

“I’m sorry,” Francis says, giving into temptation and running his fingers gently through James’ hair. Soft as silk, always. He has an urge to drop to his knees, to throw his arms around James, bury his face in his hair and fill his lungs with the sweet scent of him. “I’m trying my best, my lady.”

James laughs. “Is that what you’re calling it? Very well, try your best, and be quick about it. I shan’t be late.”

“No, my lady,” Francis agrees, furrowing his brow as he reaches for a hairpin, holding it between his teeth as he again attempts to gather up James’ hair, twisting it and shaping it into something acceptable, trying to will it to ignore gravity, and stay where it is put. It will not, alas, ignore gravity, must instead be pinned in place, and so Francis must wield this small metal hairpin, something closer to an instrument of torture in his unschooled eyes. It is with held breath that he drives it into James’ hair, hoping for it to twist and catch and hold, but instead he only manages in poking one sharp end into James’ scalp.

James hisses, jerking his head out of Francis’ reach, twisting around in his seat to slap the pin out of Francis’ hand.

“You clumsy fool,” James snaps. “What on earth are you trying to do?”

“I–” Francis begins, unsure whether he ought to pick up the fallen hairpin and try again, or leave it to James to do, or–

“You know, I have tried and tried,” James goes on. “I have been endlessly patient with you, but I am at my wits’ end, I really am. If you insist on failing at this like a delinquent schoolboy, then I must punish you like one.”

Francis blinks. “Excuse me?”

“Come here at once, across my lap.”

“I – what will you do?”

“I think that should be quite plain,” James says, reaching out to curl his fingers around the handle of the hairbrush on the dressing table. “If you can’t apply this effectively, perhaps I should put it to better use.”

Francis feels his face flush hotly, a strange rush of fear and excitement whirling in his stomach. He hesitates, glancing between the brush and James’ face, and it goes on long enough that James tuts and grabs at Francis’ wrist, pulling him forwards, so much so that he almost loses his footing, almost careens into James and the dressing table and sending everything flying.

He manages, however, to position himself across James’ lap with a semblance of grace, feeling faintly ridiculous, feeling James’ bony knees poking into his stomach, feeling the vast expanse of James’ skirts rustle and shift about him, like the susurration of dry autumn leaves in a breeze.

“That’s more like it,” James says, running a hand over Francis’ behind: a slow, considered caress that makes Francis want to squirm with impatience.

The hand leaves him then, and he hears the hairbrush being picked up, and all at once it is brought down against his arse – a sharp, stinging pain throbbing through him. He hisses, burying his face in the crook of his arm.

“I will not stand laxness in this house,” James says, his voice infuriatingly casual and even. The hairbrush comes down again, and again. “Is it your intention that I should leave the house in disarray?”

Another strike, and Francis realises he is being addressed. Everything seems rather hazy, suddenly. “No, my lady.”

“Do you wish for the other ladies to snigger, and talk about me behind my back?”

“N-no, my lady,” he manages, as the blows continue. He screws his eyes shut, grits his teeth. “Not at all.”

“Do you wish for me to be a laughing-stock?”

“No – ah – no,” Francis moans, grabbing two fistfuls of James’ skirts, for the pain has reached a level he did not expect. He had thought it would not be so bad, still being fully clothed – but he is wrong. It is a keen, throbbing sting, and he feels it throughout every inch of his body. Still, he does not utter the words that would put an end to it. He is ablaze with want and pain and humiliation and excitement – he feels quite alive.

“Then you must shape up, Crozier.”

“Yes, my lady,” he gasps. Another strike, another, another. “I will try, I will.”

He has lost track of how many blows it has been – doesn’t know why he tried to count them in the first place – and his discomfort reaches such a level that he almost asks James to stop. He needn’t speak the words, however, because James suddenly stills, the blows ceasing, the hairbrush clattering as it is set back upon the dressing table.

For a moment, the only noise is Francis trying to control his wild, gasping breaths.

“Crozier,” James says in a low voice, his hand stroking over Francis’ poor arse again. “If you can’t satisfy me with your attempts at arranging my hair, I think you really ought to satisfy me another way.”

“I don’t know what you mean, my lady,” Francis says, but he thinks that James can feel his erection against his leg, knows it for certain when James laughs.

“I think you do,” he says, his hand running into Francis’ hair, a smile clear in his voice. “I think you know all too well. Stand up.”

Francis gets to his feet, somehow, aware of how his face burns red and his arse stings and his prick strains ridiculously against the confines of his trousers. James looks him up and down and holds out a hand for Francis to help him to his feet. He leads Francis over to the bed, and Francis takes this opportunity to lean in for a kiss, but there is a hand on his chest suddenly, keeping him at a distance.

“Surely now is not the time to start taking liberties,” James says sternly. “Have I taught you nothing?”

Francis clenches his jaw, feeling frustration rush through him, not knowing how to avoid putting a foot wrong. “How would you like me to proceed, my lady?” He asks, not without a hint of sarcasm, and James raises an eyebrow at him but says nothing as he sits himself down on the bed, reclining back on his elbows, still managing to look graceful and ladylike as he does it – his skirts somewhat disguising the wanton splay of his legs.

“On your knees,” he says, and Francis can do nothing but obey.

He grabs at James’ skirts to start pushing them up and James arranges himself to help, propping one foot up against a bedpost and slinging the other leg over Francis’ shoulder, utterly shameless.

Here, between James’ thighs, Francis allows himself a moment of quiet tenderness, quite outside the confines of the game they are playing, turning his head to press a kiss to James’ knee. He kisses gently at the inside of James’ thigh, just happy to feel soft, warm skin against his lips. All he can smell is James’ soap, his perfume, registering it faintly on his tongue when he gives in to the urge to taste.

James seems to enjoy this because he hums happily, allows Francis’ lazy exploration, until eventually he jostles his knee to remind Francis what they’re about, telling him, in the gentlest way, to get on with it.

Francis shuffles closer, and he can’t see James’ face for all the skirts and petticoats piled up on his stomach, but he presses against James’ hole with the tip of his forefinger. “Is this what you want, my lady?”

“Yes,” James says, and for all the gruffness he is trying to put on, Francis can hear that he’s grinning. “I won’t ask twice.”

Francis has no intention of making him ask twice. He smiles, grabs at James’ arse with both hands so that he may lean in to apply his tongue. There is the rustle of fabric as James shifts off his elbows to lie flat against the sheets, his legs spreading wider as he does, a low, contented noise coming from him. For a moment there is silence, save for James’ sighs and the wet sound of Francis’ dexterous tongue plying around his hole.

“Oh yes,” James eventually sighs. “That’s it. What a clever tongue you have.”

“Thank you, my lady,” Francis says, though he must clear his throat before he can talk. His spit is everywhere; on his chin and James’ thighs and dripping onto the sheets.

He sets himself back to his task and James’ noises start to become more involved, more laboured, his hips rocking against Francis’ face.

“Here,” he eventually says, poking Francis in the shoulder with a bottle of oil, and Francis goes back to kissing James’ thighs as he slicks up his fingers, finding James easy and accommodating as he slips two of them inside, stroking at him slowly and firmly, in just the way that he knows James likes best.

James lets out a long exhale which turns into a soft moan, and with his free hand, Francis pushes the skirts up further to free James’ cock, which is hard and red and has been dribbling onto his chemise. Francis shifts slightly, lifting himself up so that he can get his mouth around it.

James cries out and grabs at his hair tightly, his arse clenching around Francis’ fingers.

“Oh god,” he chokes. “Have you done this for all your former mistresses?”

He is skirting disaster, perhaps, to allude to Miss Cracroft in even as broad a sense as this, but this is a game, and Francis knows it. He knows that she does not exist at all to James right now – that there is nobody else on earth in James’ mind – nobody except himself and Francis, the two of them together in their bedroom.

“No,” Francis says, and means it, his voice hoarse from swallowing James’ prick. “Only you. Only ever you.”

James moans again, his head flung back against the sheets, his long, white throat on display. “Now,” he croaks, “do it now.”

“If it pleases, my lady,” Francis says, withdrawing his fingers, wiping them on James’ already ruined chemise.

Yes,” James hisses, as Francis takes his time unbuttoning his trousers and greasing up his prick. “You must do it now, come on.”

Francis fights down a laugh and dares a glance up at James’ face to see him elated, his eyes sparkling with amusement, his cheeks flushed red with desire. His beauty has taken on a wild, impatient edge – he is beyond beauty, he is beyond words.

He takes his cock in his hand, lining it up with James’ hole. “Mustn’t keep her ladyship waiting,” he quips as he pushes inside, but he is scarcely fully seated when James sits up to slap him across the face.

The feeling of James’ body tight and hot around his cock, and the crack of pain on his cheek startles a moan out of him, and he gapes at James.

“I’ll not suffer your cheek, Crozier,” James says, wrapping a leg around Francis’ waist. “Now get on with it.”

The heel of James’ foot spurs Francis into motion and he wastes no time, planting his hands on James’ confined waist and pushes himself into the endless heat of James’ body.

James moans and tips his head back, his hands reaching up to grab at one of the pillows at the top of the bed. Francis watches him, poring over every inch of him, thinking that he may never be able to look away again.

 “Oh yes,” James sighs, when Francis has a proper rhythm going, driving into him at pace. “Thank heavens for that. We’ve finally found something you’re good at.”

He laughs, and Francis laughs, and suddenly he thinks that the thread of the game has been lost. He knows it to be so when James’ legs loosen around him as he shuffles up the bed, pulling himself off Francis’ cock, holding his arms out for him.

Francis doesn’t need to be told twice – he climbs up onto the bed, into James’ arms, pushing back into him. James’ hands are in his hair as he starts to fuck him again, and he presses his face to James’ neck, his wonderfully bare chest, and gives into the urge to kiss and nip at the skin there, because he knows that for all James complains about the marks he leaves, Francis knows that he loves them – knows this because he often catches James running an idle finger over them while he is reading in bed.

James is sighing in his ear – oh, Francis, and more and harder – and Francis is happy to oblige, starting to feel heat coiling low in his stomach as he drives in harder, heaving himself upright and slinging one of James’ legs over his shoulder for better leverage, for a better angle. He takes James’ cock in hand, stroking him roughly in time with the movement of his hips, and James hisses a low triumphant yes and Francis can feel his thighs tremble, his moans acquire a particular urgency which never fails to thrill Francis, his body tightens around Francis’ cock and he’s spilling over Francis’ hand, keening, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, still grasping at the pillow above his head.

“God,” Francis gasps, “God, James, sweet Jesus–”

He’s right on the brink, his hips driving wildly, feeling nothing but heat and pressure, and James, James -

“Yes,” James says urgently. “Come on, come for me, darling, come on–”

And Francis does, he must obey, spilling into James’ body, feeling the force of his pleasure and relief washing over him like an errant wave. He falls forwards, his hands planted either side of James’ heaving chest, and now, finally, James lifts his head to kiss his open, panting mouth, kisses him, cradles a hand at the back of his head and kisses him.

When he can no longer support himself on his arms, Francis pulls out carefully, not wanting to ruin the fine silk of James’ dress, pushing his skirts as out of the way as they can be. There will be a mess on the sheets, but Francis cannot bring himself to care – they are insignificant and inconsequential next to James and his finery. He retrieves a damp cloth and cleans himself off, then returns to the bed to clean James too, James who is watching him with a fond, amused smile, his cheeks still red, his hair an unruly mess, any semblance of a style now well and truly gone.

At last, at last, James has been cleaned up and Francis can see no reason why he shouldn’t sink into his arms. He rests his head on James’ chest, listening to the thudding of his heart. “Well,” he eventually says, as James’ hand comes to rest on the back of his head, stroking his hair.

“Well,” James agrees.

“Was that – how was that?” Francis asks, glancing up at him. “Is it what you wanted?”

James laughs. “Of course. You were perfect. You never put a foot wrong.” There is silence for a while, nothing but James stroking Francis’ hair, and Francis listening to his heart again. “And you?” James eventually asks. “Did you like it?”

Francis feels himself going rather red, and he smiles. “I should say so.”

He will be feeling it for a while, he expects – his cheek still faintly stings and there is a vague ache forming in his back and in his knees, not to mention the tenderness of his arse – James will have to inspect it for bruises later, and do what he can to soothe them – but for now he feels nothing but contentment, replete with pleasure and joy and love for the warm body next to him.

He lifts his head for a kiss, as slow and lazy as he likes. “You should have a proper lady’s maid,” he murmurs against James’ lips, sometime later. “Someone to do you up nice every day.”

James smiles. “I don’t think I could do this every day. I couldn’t sit still and be patient for that long. Hardly a proper lady.”

“Oh no,” Francis says at once, wrapping his arms around James and pulling him tightly to his chest, making James laugh. “You’re my lady. My dear, darling, beautiful lady.”

James tuts, batting his arm lightly. “You old flirt. Now shift yourself and help me out of this dress, so we can go to bed.”

And Francis, devoted to the last, does just that.