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“His face, that’s what I can’t stand,” said Francis. “Big… long face. Ought to be a law.”

James stopped, hand hovering mid-knock, outside the door to the great cabin.

“Not his fault, is it.” Another voice- Thomas Blanky, by the accent. “He didn’t pick it out of a catalogue.”

“If he could have, he’d have picked that one. Big long face for big long James bloody Fitzjames,” said Francis, and then there was a clattering sound of glass on glass. Pouring himself another drink, although it was evident that he had already had quite enough.

It had been a mistake to bypass Jopson. He'd get no sense out of Francis tonight. He'd signal tomorrow, or wait for the next command meeting. He turned to go.

"And those trousers," Francis continued. "Mincing about like a dockyard rent boy, flashing his wares at everyone."

Outside the door, James coloured. He stroked an anxious hand down his thigh. Alright, yes, his uniform trousers were of a somewhat… slimmer cut than was standard, but that was hardly a crime. And he did not mince.

"Not quite Navy pattern, are they," said Blanky in agreement. "You're too hard on him, Frank. Nowt wrong with having summat to look at in the ward room.”

“If he’d only confine himself to looking pretty instead of talking,” Francis moaned. “Or at least not talking such nonsense. The things he says, Tom, my God.”

“You’d piss your drawers if that man ever said owt sensible, if’n you didn’t propose on the spot,” said Blanky, chuckling.

“Oh, go soak your head,” Francis said. "Let me grumble about stupid pretty Fitzjames and his big stupid pretty face in peace."

Pretty. Francis thought he was pretty. It echoed in his head, drowning out whatever Blanky said in response. Stupid- not as stupid as Francis made him out to be, as he could walk and talk at the same time, but he was too old to have his head turned by a curmudgeonly lushington who couldn’t stand the sight of him calling something as inane as pretty. He ought to leave at once. Get some sleep.

“Wouldn’t be so lippy if somebody put him to decent use,” said Francis. “You’ve seen him. Gagging for it. Get him by the scruff of the neck with his big shiny brass buttons and-”

“Alright, my lad, I think that’s enough to be getting on with.” Another sound of glass on glass, and footsteps, moving closer to the door.

James started backwards, all but tripping over himself to get away before he was heard, or, worse, seen.

He hadn’t bothered to remove his slops before coming below, so it took no time at all to collect the marines he’d brought with him from the mess and head back out onto the ice. It took much longer than that for the heat that had bloomed in James’s cheeks at the sound of Francis’s voice- the rough burr of it when he’d said those things about James- to subside.