If this is an Arctic autumn, then Harry Goodsir is scared to imagine a Arctic winter.
In October of 1845, temperatures have already fallen below the freezing point, and the inside of the tent becomes icier every night their exploration squad hikes further into Devon Island, the large mass of land north of their ships' safe harbour at Beechey Island. The first nights he has fallen asleep easily, especially with a marine and a sailor in the same sleeping bag, keeping him warm between them, but all of a sudden, Captain Fitzjames has decided that Goodsir should share the officer's tent with him.
"It's pretty cold in there for me all alone." Fitzjames has laughed. "It's meant as a privilege, my own tent, but really, it's nothing like that. I could use someone to keep me warm, like the rest of you."
And of course, Goodsir is his friend and the next rank to an officer in their little sledging party, so it is the most reasonable thing that he should be sharing a tent with Commander Fitzjames.
It is night, and Goodsir is freezing. He breathes into his cold hands, but whatever little warmth it causes evaporates instantly. He regrets taking up Fitzjames' offer – here, he lies in a sleeping bag of his own next to the commander's, when before, he has been sharing a larger sack with two other men which was a much, much warmer arrangement. An officer, even if he shares a tent, now cannot share a sleeping bag, can he? Is Fitzjames really more comfortable like this?
The cold bites at his fingers and toes, creeps through every little gap and fiber of his clothing.
Curled up, he hugs himself, rubbing his sides, but his body is still shivering. He does not know how long he has been awake, and is ready to cry with frustration because this sleepless night will sap his valuable energy that he will need for another long hike tomorrow.
The fact that Fitzjames next to him is snoring like a sawmill is not helpful at all. The captain is only half in his sleeping bag, arms sprawled out as far as the cramped tent space allows. Perhaps it's the fur-lined coat that keeps him warm, a luxury Goodsir has not been able to afford. Perhaps later, he tells himself, when we're back in England, famous and celebrated …
Goodsir opens his sleeping bag a little so he can sit up and lean over the captain whose figure is barely discernible in the darkness. He brings his face closer to Fitzjames', wondering if he should dare impose upon him – even though they may be close friends in their rare moments alone, Fitzjames is still higher in rank.
Anyway: the captain is warm, and Goodsir, who is not, has an excuse. Half-stuck in his sleeping bag, Goodsir shuffles closer to Fitzjames. Careful not to wake him, he presses himself against the other man's body, laying an arm around the captain's chest, pressing his face against his side, smelling the faint scent of his sweat and musk.
He is startled when he feels the captain move, and then hears a familiar whisper. "Goodness, Goodsir! Is everything all right?"
Oh! He's awake. Goodsir quickly apologizes. "I'm sorry! It's just... I'm so cold." His voice sounds more whiny than he intends, and he can't stop a frustrated tear from rolling over his cheek. Fortunately Fitzjames cannot see it in the darkness of the tent.
"Oh, Harry, why didn't you say so?" The captain's voice is gentle, or perhaps it just sounds so because he's actually sleepy. "C'mon, I'll warm you. That's what they do here in the Arctic, I'm told." He hugs Goodsir, enclosing him in his strong, yet slender arms, and Goodsir holds his breath. Only in his imagination has he ever been so close to James. His face is pressed against the captain's chest, and he can feel the man's heartbeat and his slow, relaxed breath.
"Still cold?" he asks.
"Mm-hm." Goodsir nods, then remembers how dark it is. "Yes", he says, and before he can stop himself, his thoughts blurt out of him. "Sir, we need to get closer."
There is a pause. "Well, I suppose no one will notice", Fitzjames whispers, hugging Goodsir tightly. "You know … I have been needing this too."
Needing what? Is he hearing this correctly? But surely, Fitzjames is only talking of comfort, nothing more. Or is he?
Goodsir bites his lip. His hunger for warmth has become a more desperate, gnawing hunger for something else, something forbidden, a sensation that is familiar but he's never acted upon it, certainly never with a man. The captain's grip is warm and firm around his waist and shoulders, but he wants those hands elsewhere too. On his neck, his stomach, his behind, and everywhere else. Shyly, he whispers, "I read … that in the Arctic, they employ special methods to keep one another warm. Like … rubbing each other."
Fitzjames does not hesitate. "Of course. The last thing we need now is our expedition doctor turning into an ice sculpture! … Relax, you'll be warm in a moment." He opens Goodsir's sleeping bag further, then again embraces him and rubs Goodsir's back. But the position is awkward and Goodsir can't breathe easily with his face pressed so close to Fitzjames's body; so the captain eventually says, "Why don't you lie atop me, it's easier."
Goodsir wants to protest – he is afraid the other man will notice his growing arousal, but already Fitzjames has pulled Goodsir's sleeping bag aside and its owner on top of him, rubbing his back with large, warm hands. Goodsir is getting harder, his erection wedged tightly between the stomachs of them both. Oh no!
Fitzjames hesitates, and for a moment Goodsir thinks it's all over – he expects to be pushed down, and scolds himself for being so foolish to think that the captain might have the same indecent thoughts that he has. This was wrong, utterly wrong, he has allowed himself to be misled by his twisted imagination…!
But Fitzjames does not push him down; instead, he lets his hand wander to Goodsir's buttocks, slowly and still hesitating.
"Oh." Utterly surprised at first, Goodsir quickly realizes the situation and makes a sound that he hopes will further encourage Fitzjames to touch him, and he rubs himself a little against the captain, making his state and intentions unmistakably clear.
Yes, yes, yes! a triumphant voice in his mind cheers. He's finally getting warm, even his face feels flushed. Cold? What cold? It feels amazing. "Please", he moans.
Fitzjames grabs Goodsir's behind with two warm hands; squeezing and caressing him.
Then, with a low grunt, Fitzjames pulls Goodsir down from him, and presses himself against Goodsir's back. Lying side to side, like teaspoons in a drawer, Fitzjames now grinds his pelvis against Goodsir's back, and soon Goodsir lets out a surprised gasp: the captain's erection feels big and hard.
The captain's hands are all over him, then peeling away his own sleeping bag, and reaching into Goodsir's coat. Goodsir sighs at the arousing sensation of those hands on his skin, and the captain grinds harder, breathing fast and heavy onto Goodsir's nape.
Goodsir knows he is no longer in control of the situation, and usually a loss of control would scare him; but with James, his close friend, he can allow himself to surrender because he trusts him – it feels right, and oh so good.
Fitzjames is saying something, whispering into Goodsir's ear with a low, hoarse voice, but Goodsir cannot think clearly anymore. The captain's hand grabs Goodsir's erection, and he is unable to hold back a moan. He moves his own butt against the captain's groin. The urge for release becomes stronger.
Fitzjames's hand is efficient and experienced; he works Goodsir with fast, tight strokes, still grinding himself against the other man.
And Goodsir can't hold back longer. My God, he thinks, it feels so good, my God. He cries out, his seed spilling over the captain's hand.
Still breathing heavily, his mind in a foggy haze, he feels himself being pushed onto his back, and then James is over him and half-lying atop him, his erection grinding hard and hot against Goodsir's stomach.
He can barely see him in the darkness but he feels the warmth, hears the panting. Fitzjames has pulled Goodsir's jacket away, and his jumper and shirt all the way up to Goodsir's collarbone, exposing his torso with its soft skin and fuzzy chest hair; and surprisingly Goodsir doesn't feel cold.
Only moments later, the captain comes, too, squirting a few times all the way up to Goodsir's chest.
Exhausted, he lets himself fall next to the assistant surgeon and dozes off within minutes. Goodsir reaches for a handkerchief in his pockets and sleepily wipes his stomach. Pulling his sleeping bag all the way up, he feels satisfied and blissfully comfortable – and, most importantly, warm.