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Trembling Hands

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He doesn’t really mind this aspect of his job. It’s actually quite nice to get away from the hustle and bustle, hide away for an hour or so. He can take his time. And the Captain’s cabin is always a mite warmer than the rest of the ship.

Relishing that thought, Thomas finishes smoothing down the covers of Francis’s berth and moves to plump the single pillow. It still bears the imprint of where he had laid his head the night before. Thomas traces his fingers over it slowly. The pillow’s material is smooth from many months of use but the filling is a little lumpier than he would have liked. He reminds himself to source some new ones when they’re next in civilisation.

He carefully places it back down on the berth and gazes at it for a few moments. He swallows. He has a little ritual. He knows that it’s terribly risky and perhaps degenerate. But while at sea, he takes his pleasures where he can find them.

He looks over his shoulder a little anxiously. The cabin door is closed. There’s no sound of footsteps or voices outside.

With a quick, nervous breath, he leans forward and grazes his nose against the material. It’s only for a second or two, but the scent rushes up his nose like snuff. He’s memorised the smell like a song, but he breathes it in with renewed pleasure every time. Whiskey, his favoured tobacco, shaving soap. That is the scent of Francis’s pillow. And the man himself, Thomas happens to know. Given how close his duties take him to the Captain. It is exquisite torture. That closeness.

Thomas shaved him just that morning. He loves to rub the soap into his skin. Over the bristles of his face. He pretends he’s simply being thorough, but the raptures sent through him are close to indecent. Captain Crozier does not have the most prepossessing skin to the casual observer. But they had never experienced it like Thomas has. He’s run his fingertips over his pink, freshly shaven jaw and cheeks. It’s almost startlingly soft, smooth.

Thomas once teased that he must use cold cream nightly to keep such a lovely complexion. Francis had smiled and his eyes had crinkled. Like they always did when he was truly amused or pleased and not just pretending to smile. Thomas lives for those crinkles.

The ship groans softly in the ice and Thomas bolts upright with a start. His body tingles like he’s just plunged into cold water as a thrill of panic goes through him. From the thought of being caught. By someone looking for Francis. By Francis himself. But there is silence. And there is nobody close by.

He shivers and stands up. If he was caught, he doubts it would end in the way he sometimes daydreams. Those breathless fancies he has of being pushed against the Captain’s own bed, of softly protesting as strong, rough, purposeful hands touch and take him. An insistent, forceful mouth silencing his pretended demurrals, claiming his mouth. And swallowing him whole.

He sighs and turns his attention to tidying the rest of the cabin. Francis is not the tidiest sailor, but he’s not the most slatternly either. He does tend to leave his clothes in a heap if Thomas isn’t there to undress him. And he’s told him, begged him to call for him at any hour to aid him, but Francis just chuckles and says he’s not so old that he needs a minder.

Thomas’s cheeks are warm as he remembers. If he were a braver man, he would have implored his Captain and insisted that he make use of him no matter what he needed. But he fears betraying his ardency. He dreads seeing suspicion in those blue eyes. A sudden questioning of his steward’s intentions. He lives in fear of revealing his hand like a clumsy player of cards. 

But here, in the heart of the Captain’s sanctum, he gives himself leave to indulge himself. To dwell on the little things that cause his breath to catch in his throat and his pulse to quicken. Things that no one else would notice. The accidental brush of a finger against his wrist. Breath on his neck, incidental but close.

Francis has left some of his clothes in a heap on a chair by the door. Thomas shakes his head with a smile and goes to sort them. It’s usually handkerchiefs and socks that he hoards. Until his steward discovers them. He doesn’t really mind. Just as he doesn’t really mind anything his Captain asks of him. He’s nursed him through sickness, dressed and tended to him every day since they left England. He would continue to do so until they returned.

He is told by some that he should rue his position, should resent waiting on another man. Especially a man like Francis. A drunkard. An Irishman. A hothead who must surely be a terror to care for. Thomas smiles and shrugs at those people. Pities them for never wishing to care for someone more than themselves. And for never having the opportunity to see his master as the man he knew him to be. But it isn’t his place to correct them.

So, he smiles. And pities.

He shakes his head to himself as he rifles through the clothes. A jacket, a pair of trousers, many handkerchiefs of course, a few odd socks, an old hat. And—

Thomas hesitates. He has his master’s belongings piled up in his arms. He stares down past them to the last garment on the chair. A nightshirt. Francis’s nightshirt. It’s crumpled and crinkled. Beautifully white. Thomas takes a moment to admire his laundering work before dropping the things he’s holding into a pile on the floor. 

He picks up the nightshirt like it’s some sacred shroud. The Shroud of Turin. Francis’s bedclothes usually go straight into the tub. One of Sir John’s pedantic requests to avoid bodily fluids being transferred. Given how close bedclothes sat to the body and any possible… excretions.

Thomas is a little nauseated by that thought, so he redirects his focus to the garment in his hands. It feels soft, smooth. Just like the pillow. The arms are tangled and inside out. The collar is too. The buttons on it are perfectly straight, however.

Thomas’s work of course. He feels satisfied as he examines them. He likes sewing buttons. It lulls him into a strange sort of trance sometimes. And that calmness and strange presence of mind is rather rare on a ship of over fifty men. It’s also the only chance he gets to handle Francis’s clothes alone and for a prolonged period of time. He can sit there for an hour with them if he wishes. His work is never rushed.

He can turn the shirts over in his hands, touching under the arms and along the sleeves. He thinks about Francis’s skin against the material. The heat of it. The coldness of it, when he steps outside. The brackish tang of his sweat, the sweetness of his cologne. Sometimes he lifts it up to his face under the pretence of snapping off the thread with his teeth. But he’s tasting. And the scent tastes of salt and whiskey. 

Thomas knows that taste is on this nightshirt too. And it would be deep in the threads, deep in the material. It has been trapped under that pile of clothes all week, becoming heavy with Francis. And before that, it hugged his body tight every night, soaking in everything of him. Skin, hair, every limb and private place.

Thomas barely contains the shudder that goes through him and he looks sharply at the door. He isn’t supposed to lock it. But he’s never been interrupted before. And frankly, the risk is being rapidly overtaken by a burgeoning and almost startling rush of heat and want. He’s a young man so he’s used to moments of craving release and another person’s touch, but this sudden ambush of lust almost leaves him short of breath.

He lurches towards the door and jams the lock across. He freezes for a moment, listening for a sound of footsteps or voices. But there’s nothing. Of course. He doesn’t know why he expected the officers to come rushing in at the sound of him locking the door. But he is vigilant. And so he should be. Any man living on a ship should. Especially if they’re planning on doing what he is.

His body tingles. With an excitement physical and emotional. There is a fierce storm of sensations inside of him. The fear of being caught, the thrill of doing something so illicit, the feeling of being cocooned in Francis’s most private sphere. Where he keeps everything dearest to him and everything he wants within arm’s reach.

Thomas’s body roils. If only.

He holds the nightshirt out in front of him, untangles the arms, the collar. Shakes it out. Smooths the wrinkles and the creases. Dusts off the threads of loose cotton. Runs his fingertips down the perfect, straight line of the buttons. It’s spotless except for a tiny stain on the collar. It looks to him to be whiskey, which would be highly unsurprising.

He steps backwards until the backs of his legs hit the edge of the Captain’s berth. He sits on the edge, dropping the shirt next to him. Calmly, coolly, the way a good steward should always carry out his duties, he unbuttons his breeches. He also removes his shoes, because it wouldn’t do to deposit grit on the Captain’s bed.

He lies down rather gingerly. He’s never been in the Captain’s berth before. It isn’t as comfortable as he imagined it. But it’s soft enough. He lifts his hips and hooks his thumbs into the band of his breeches. He pulls them down to his knees and does the same to his underclothes.

He cranes his head up to look down at his own body. He knows he’s looking a little underfed after so many months at sea, and as the days become colder, he sees less and less sun. His thighs are snowy white. He can see every freckle dusted across his skin. His hips are like sharp, little hills jutting up. And between his legs, where there is a small tangle of dark hair that leads right up to his navel, his prick is stirring.

He unbuttons his shirt and hitches it up around his arms. His chest is rising and falling with rapid, excited breaths. He takes deeper gulps of air, breathing slowly like they were taught to if they ever had to abandon ship. Thomas doesn’t truly know how long one would survive in that water, breathing deeply or not. But it has its uses.

He notes as he slowly lowers his pelvis to the bed that his fingers are shaking. It feels to him like nothing could possibly be more obscene than pressing his bare bottom into the Captain’s bedcovers. It is utterly sordid. Rubbing himself where his master slept. And while his mind cringes at the intrusion, his body laps it up with covetous eagerness. It is... more erotic than anything he has done before.

He curls his fingers into the blankets to steady himself. His heart is beating so rapidly, it’s more like a hum than separate beats. It’s so wicked, so forbidden what he’s doing. And isn’t it just human nature to want what’s forbidden? Isn’t it to be expected that a young man who spends every waking moment touching and waiting on and caring for the man who he—

He breathes out heavily. Want is such an inadequate word. What he feels, intensified and magnified to dizzying heights in his current state, is so much fiercer, sharper, vital than simple want. It’s a need. An exigency. Like it’s something besides oxygen, food and water that he must have to sustain him.

Feeling slightly distressed by his thoughts, he distracts himself by trailing his fingers down to where Francis’s nightshirt is. He drags it up the front of him, lets it trail over where his prick is hardening, up the rough hair scattered across his chest and stomach, over his nipples, hardened by excitement and exposure.

He wraps it around his throat and his chin like it’s a scarf and covers his nose and mouth in it like a Uhlan cap. The sudden rush of it into his nostrils is completely overwhelming. It’s a rush of blood to the head. And a taut, strangled, needful sound leaves his throat. It’s muffled by the fabric and he’s thankful for it. He’s a little shaken hearing that sound leave him. It’s so removed from the traits he usually tries to project. Courtesy, diligence, restraint.

 “Oh God,” he groans into Francis’s shirt.

It’s just so drenched with him. It’s like his essence has been distilled into it. It’s musky with his body, the smell of being rubbed up against an overheated body under the covers at night. The smell of skin and sweat. His cock. That part is mostly Thomas’s imagination, but he’s taken with the thought.

He whimpers and his hand flies for his own cock. He grasps himself a little more roughly than he intends, and his hips buck up like they’re on strings. The pink head of his cock jabs up into the empty air above him. He watches blearily a bead of fluid trickle down the length of it. He gasps out, pushing his hips up as he rocks into the curl of his fist. He moves slowly. Almost more slowly than he can take. 

He has to lift the shirt off his face to take a breath. He drags it into his lungs as deeply as he can. His chest is shuddering with the effort of keeping himself under control. Of not rubbing himself raw and spending within seconds. The desire to do just that is intense. Almost wild. But he pleads with himself to go slow, to not waste these precious few moments of having Francis to himself.

He buries his mouth back into the nightshirt. Breathes it in like it’s his saving grace. He sees Francis’s body in his mind’s eye as clearly as a painting. He’s seen it in the flesh often enough. His fingers move over it every day. Adjusting buttons, smoothing sleeves, straightening seams. Under the pretence of tending to his duties, he can have that closeness with him. The intimacy, the touching. All behind a line that can never be crossed.

And how Thomas wants to cross it. How he wants to throw himself over it. For so long now, that he can’t even remember a time when he didn’t feel what he felt for Francis. He can’t remember the before. The before when all he felt was a sense of duty and an eagerness to serve. Not this gnawing, all-consuming yearning. Like hunger pains that never faded. Because he never got the sustenance he needed.

He opens his mouth and with the next breath, the material of the nightshirt is pulled taut over his mouth. His lips are wet. And they leave a wet patch on the nightshirt. He closes his eyes and it’s Francis’s lips that are pressed against his. It’s Francis’s smell in his nose and in his mouth. Francis’s tobacco, Francis’s breath, Francis’s hair, Francis’s skin.

He bucks his hips up again with a choked groan.

Francis’s cock. He’d nuzzle into it. He’d rub it over his mouth, over his jaw. He wants to breathe in the musk and the salt and the sweetness. He grasps himself tighter, pumps himself in clumsy bursts with his unsteady hand. In his mind’s eye, he sees Francis’s eyes on him. That crinkle that he covets. His Captain is so pleased with him. So ready for him.

Francis’s cock strains for attention. It’s leaking and impossibly hard. Thick. Girthy. Thomas wants it in his mouth so hungrily, so keenly that he should be ashamed. He should be utterly mortified at how needy he is and how willing he is to do anything his Captain asks of him. But he isn’t. Because Francis would never ask anything of him that he didn’t want to give. And he wants more than anything to pleasure him. To taste him, take his seed, swallow all of it down. Have it down his throat, on his lips and all over his jaw.

He moans again. It’s harsher and rawer. He pulls the shirt off of his mouth to gulp in air. It comes in vicious, desperate bursts. Deep breathing is not going to help him here. He throws his head back and drags it in. His hips are moving like pistons into the air above and he knows he’s not going to last. He’s so wet. Covered in sweat, in his own fluids. His mouth is sloppy with saliva and it’s dripping down his chin.

He tosses the shirt off of the bed and plunges his other hand down between his legs. He spreads them as best he can on the berth. His fingers are trembling almost uncontrollably, and he can barely get them down the inside of his thigh. He reaches his hand underneath him and touches his taint. That forbidden place he heard the men make obscene comments about during their ribaldry. He’s touched himself there a few times and every time it feels so sinful that it only makes him spend harder.

His fingers travel past it and he presses one fingertip into the tight ring of muscle between his buttocks. He has never gone further than just touching and testing, but even just teasing himself there feels breathlessly exciting and forbidden. Naughty and dirty and utterly luscious. Francis would touch him there. He’d look him in the eye as he pressed his thick fingers inside of him.

“Oh God.” Thomas tosses his head to the side with a sound of anguish.

Such a naughty boy, his Captain would say, his voice teasing and fond. So eager, so excited to be touched in such an indecent place.

“Please. Please!” Thomas whimpers. He has to move the hand from his hole, has to grip onto the blankets. He feels like he’s about to fall apart. “Francis! Oh!”

He manages to bite off the near piercing cry that comes from him. His eyes fly open, but he feels like he’s gone momentarily blind as his hips snap up and he spends. Though that feels like a ridiculously understated word. It feels more like a purging. A fucking exorcism. High-pitched, strained sounds spill from his lips. His seed spills and trembles and oozes onto his stomach.

The whiteness clears from his eyes. He is suddenly aware of his breathing, the ringing in his ears. He slowly lowers his body down to the bed. He loosens his fingers from where they are embedded in the covers. There is silence in the cabin. And the air suddenly feels cloyingly hot and heady.

Thomas stares at the ceiling for what feels like a long time. Though he’s not truly sure if it is. His hand is still loosely draped around his softened length. The hole between his buttocks is flexing and squeezing. It feels like he’s aching to be filled up. Like his body is ravenous for it.

Days upon days of longing for a man he is so close to and yet so unable to have in the way he wants has ridded him of any pretences. He no longer pretends to himself that he doesn’t want Francis Crozier’s cock buried inside of him. He no longer pretends that he doesn’t want to service him in every way he requires and give up his body to his pleasures.

He releases his prick and sits up blearily on the bed. He looks at the seed smeared across his stomach and Francis’s nightshirt laying like a fallen flag on the cabin floor. The flush of his arousal has departed, and he feels cold. 

Ignoring the mournful longing in the pit of his stomach, he slides his legs over the side of the bed and dresses himself. His mind is coming back down to earth with thoughts of chores he needs to finish and time he’s now lost. He feels a dull pricking behind his eyes. He swallows softly to soothe the ache in his throat.

The worst thing in the world, Francis had said. Being close. Close, but not there. Close, but not truly. Not in the way you want. And, sitting there surrounded by the personal belongings of the man he serves, Thomas thinks he knows what he means.