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Kill or Cure

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John remembers the room.

His memories are a mixture of times and places that whirl together, like the currents of the river of whose policing he now recalls he was once responsible. He remembers the dirt of the Thames, the muddy banks that sucked at his boots till they were filthy and took him an hour to clean off properly once he returned home, and even then he'd still find flecks of it for days. It's like that with the room where he kept him, he thinks; just when he thinks he's rid of it, there it is again, flecks of dirt in the corners of his mind. He wishes it weren't so, but it is.

He told Lord Hervey about his syphilis. He didn't have to tell him but at the time he'd seemed so more than commonly obliging, pleasant even, not like the man they said he was at Whitehall, and he understood he didn't only want him to be that way for his lordship's sister's sake. When he went out to the hospital and saw the work they did there, he thought Daniel Hervey was a good man and so he told his secret when he asked him. He told him because he thought that he might help and because, to a degree, he trusted him.

In the room, after the hanging, after his death and his subsequent resurrection, when he knew neither his own name nor Hervey's, he thinks he remembered that day at the hospital. So when he felt Hervey's hands on his skin, it didn't feel wrong at all.

"Would you remove your shirt, Mr. Marlott?" Lord Hervey said.

It seemed such a reasonable request. They were in his lordship's private office, behind closed doors, and Daniel Hervey was, if not a physician, then at least a man who had for some time practiced medicine. He seemed capable and knowledgeable, at least twice as much as any battlefield surgeon he'd had the misfortune to cross paths with during the war on the continent, and while John understands that titles have never meant much as regards a man's true character, Lord Hervey seemed as fine and upstanding a peer of the realm as he had ever met. He'd met a few, and not always been impressed.

John took off his topcoat and folded it over the back of a nearby chair. He took off the jacket he was wearing underneath. He started to take off his waistcoat, but his hands shook over its smaller buttons and Hervey, with a good-natured smile, took over the task for him instead. John looked down and watched his lordship's fine hands opening his waistcoat. He looked away as he loosened and removed the cloth from at his neck and he clenched his jaw smartly as Hervey took two handfuls of his shirt and pulled it up from where he'd tucked its tails into his trousers. He lifted his arms and let him pull it off for him.

Hervey examined him. He tapped here and there, at his collarbones, his chest, and felt the glands in his neck underneath his jaw over John's two-day stubble that rasped what seemed very loudly against his lordship's bare fingers. He had John tilt his head this way and that, flex his arms, show him his hands, peered into his eyes and made his insides roil in an awkward, uneasy way he hadn't felt since the end of the war. He felt warmth start to rise in his cheeks and his chest and when Hervey ran his hands down to his waist in a way that felt more familiar than doctorly, to the place where his trousers fastened, he took a step away from him.

"What do you think?" he asked. He ducked his head and looked at him like that, like a contrite schoolboy or a soldier caught away from his post.

"I think this warrants a more thorough examination, Mr. Marlott," Hervey replied. "I'm afraid I must see the..." He turned his hands palms up with a conciliatory smile as if to indicate his apologies along with the necessity of what he was saying. "I must see the genitalia, you understand."

John nodded tightly. He supposed he did understand, or at least he presumed he did at the time; he'd been on the receiving end of much more scandalous-sounding requests while off at war, after all. So he set about unbuttoning his trousers, or he tried to, and he failed to, and so the good Lord Hervey stepped in to his rescue once again. He unbuttoned the fall and let it hang. He unbuttoned the waist and he pulled the trousers down around John's knees. And John stood there, stricken, his hands balled to fists at his sides, though not from anger.

He truly wasn't angry about the situation. He was mortified, because in his head was the last time he'd dropped trou, and it had not been in a medical context. It hadn't been a gentleman who'd examined him then. It had been a prostitute in Bordeaux, wispy and fair-haired, a lush face like an artist's model and nothing at all like Daniel Hervey. It had been a man who he'd spoken to in broken French he'd picked up throughout the war, just enough to make himself and his desires more or less understood. John wondered if Bordeaux was where he'd picked up this godforsaken sickness. He didn't know, of course, and had no way of knowing.

Hervey set his hands at John's hips and he flinched at the contact. "Are my hands cold?" Hervey asked, and he blew on them, smiling, rubbed them together, then set them back at John's hips again. Then he dropped into an easy crouch there in front of him and John pressed his nails into his palms. He could feel Hervey's breath against his manhood, then him taking it in hand, easing it out from his trousers, lifting it, examining it this way and that, easing back his foreskin to look at the head that lay underneath. Then he took John's balls in his other hand, cradled them like weighing fruit, squeezed them, while he was holding John's cock. He couldn't have failed to feel how John's manhood began to thicken with his close attention. John's cheeks burned with embarrassment. Then Hervey nodded, and he stood back up.

"That's quite natural, I assure you," Hervey said, with a flap of his hand at John's stiffening erection. "I would be quite concerned for your sexual health were you not aroused, in fact." Then he held out one arm to indicate his desk, and nodded faintly toward it. "If you would bend over, please. We must be thorough."

John shuffled awkwardly to the desk. He leaned down over the top of it, bare-arsed and red-faced with his cock bobbing in the air in front of him. Hervey ran his warm hands over John's bare back, thumbs firm against his spine, and down to the cleft of his arse. He parted his cheek and John's cock ached with how much he both wanted it and didn't want it, given the situation and his own condition. But Hervey's fingertips brushed over his exposed hole and he almost came right then and there. He'd not been touched like that in years. He could have never asked his wife to do so, after all.

Hervey leaned past him, to a vial on the desk full of something that looked like some kind of oil. As he leaned against him, John felt the front of his trousers press against his bare arse and he could have sworn he felt Hervey was hard himself, but maybe that reaction was natural, too. So he let his head hang, and he listened as Hervey pulled the stopper from the bottle then put the bottle back down on the desk with a clack of glass on wood. He felt him rub his slick fingers in between his cheeks, against his rim, and then past it. He felt him press his forefinger inside him, up his arse, and felt himself stretching around it. He put a second one in, and John's breath caught. His cock ached. His cock leaked, in fact, with a thick bead of wetness at the tip that gathered and gathered until it dripped onto the floor between his feet. And Hervey turned his hand and crooked his fingers, brushed them against a spot inside John's arse that made his insides spasm entirely against his will while his breath hitched hard. He couldn't help it; he leaned down lower against the desk and pushed back against Hervey's hand. He swore under his breath.

"I'm sorry, your lordship," he said, blushing furiously, utterly horrified by his own actions. "I didn't mean--"

"That's another perfectly natural reaction, Mr. Marlott," Hervey said, in his smooth, calming tone. "When the medical examination simulates so closely the act of sexual intercourse, it will stimulate the same responses. One must be prepared for that." He pressed his fingertips against that place inside John, firmly but not painfully. "I intend to stimulate you to climax, Mr. Marlott, in order to ascertain proper sexual function. Do you object?"

John shook his head tightly. He didn't object, though he did in fact object quite wildly, and then again he didn't. It didn't feel like any medical examination that he'd ever experienced. It didn't feel like any torrid fling in a continental brothel. Hervey was dressed, and casual, and rubbed slowly at that nub in John that made him bite his lip and rest his forehead down against the desk and breathe roughly, raggedly, while his head swam. He tried to stay still but his hips shifted of their own accord and Hervey didn't seem to mind it. It was natural, he reminded himself. Hervey was a medical man and he said it was so, so he let his hips shift. He let his hips rock. He let his back arch and his fingers splay on the desk's lacquered wooden top and he fucked himself on Daniel Hervey's hand until his balls began to tingle and his chest felt tight. He fucked himself on Daniel Hervey's fingers until he came in thick spurts all over the desk's panelled side, and it dripped down the wood toward the floor. His hole pulled tight around the fingers that were still there inside him, again and again, like his body wished them pushed in deeper, like his body wanted Hervey's cock, not his hand.

Hervey pulled his fingers back. He went across the room to wash his hands and John pushed himself back up to his feet. He worked his jaw, mouth opening and closing like a fish pulled from the river, until he felt like he could speak.

"Sorry," he said. He gestured at the desk when Hervey glanced back over his shoulder. "It's a bit of a mess."

Hervey smiled placidly. "That comes with the territory, Mr. Marlott," he replied, as he dried his hands, then he came back toward him. He eased up John's trousers. He buttoned them at his waist, with his still half-hard cock poking there obscenely through the gap left by the open flap. "You'll be pleased to hear I judge you're functioning quite correctly."

"And you, my lord?" John said, before he could think to stop himself.

Hervey glanced down at the front of his own trousers. He laughed amiably. "Yes, that's another hazard of the profession," he said, mildly. "I'm afraid the sexual stimulus does not simply work one way, though I assure you it was not my intention to enjoy the act."

John wanted to ask if he'd enjoyed it, though, in spite of intentions. He wanted to ask if he'd wanted to free his own cock and fuck him with it, bent over the desk and exposed as he'd been. Maybe that was what unmarried gentlemen such as Daniel Hervey did to pass the time with one another, he thought, but he bit back all his questions; he was a patient of sorts, after all, and one with a disease no one had managed to cure yet, not even with mercury. Chances were Hervey found touching him disgusting, despite what his cock said. Chances were he wouldn't have turned Hervey's head even if he hadn't been in sore need of a doctor.

Hervey helped him to dress, offered him some kind of medicine, and then saw him off again. Later, back in his rooms, John took himself in hand while he thought back over what he'd done. He shoved two fingers up there, slick with spit, and wondered what it might be like to have Lord Hervey put his cock in him.

He thinks that's what he remembered in the room, after, when Hervey smiled and put his hands on him. He thinks that's what he remembered when Hervey pressed his mouth to the scar at his throat that he'd put there, like a necklace where the stitches were, or the line down his chest where he knows he opened him up to see inside. He still doesn't know if he needed to, or if he just wanted to hold his dead heart in his hand before he made it beat again.

When Daniel Hervey kissed his mouth and told him what a beautiful creature he was, what a work of art, what a marvel, his head reeled but he believed he meant it. When Hervey fed him because his muscles required time to relearn how to move, when Hervey took a razor to his face and shaved him, brushed his hair, ran a damp cloth over his skin when he tried and failed to do it for himself, it seemed right even when it seemed entirely wrong. When Hervey helped him onto his hands and knees on the bed where he slept, when he slicked his hole and pushed inside him, he thought maybe they'd done that a hundred times before.

He remembers one bright morning, light streaming in through the windows, when managing to clean his own teeth seemed like a small miracle. He remembers Hervey taking the brush and dabbing the corners of his mouth with the corners of a cloth, and how his lordship threw one leg over his thighs like one might mount a horse and settled there on his lap. Daniel Hervey is not a small man, at least not much smaller than John is himself, but John recalls he didn't mind the bulk of him sitting there, a small smile on his face as he toyed with the open collar of John's shirt. He recalls how delighted he looked when John ran his unsteady hands over his thighs up to his hips. He recalls how delighted he sounded when John pressed his mouth to the smooth shaved skin just underneath his jaw.

John had only just got up, but that didn't stop them returning to bed. Hervey pulling off John's shirt felt familiar, though him taking off his own didn't seem quite the same. Hervey unbuttoning John's trousers felt familiar, though him stripping them both naked seemed very nearly new. John stretched out on his back and Hervey straddled his hips. John gasped as he felt Hervey oil his cock then push it up inside himself. Hervey rode him, slowly, until John seized him by the waist and tipped him down onto his back and that delighted him, too; he laughed out loud as John pushed into him with his hair hanging down, as John kissed him, as John fucked him, so hard that the bed scraped a line of limewashed plaster from the wall.

He remembers the room. He remembers Hervey's mouth and his cock and his bare skin on his, and his voice by his ear that told him how he was improving day by day. He remembers nights when Hervey slept beside him and how it felt to have him, free of constraint or embarrassment. If he hadn't been some blasted resurrectionist who'd made off with his corpse, if he hadn't let him go to the gallows in the first place, John might have stayed forever.

Now Hervey's name is on the slate for hanging. And John should let him hang but in the muddy waters of his memory, something stirs.

Daniel Hervey saved him once. Perhaps it's time he returned the favour.