It had been a rough few days. The confrontation with his father. Auntie Claire’s return from the dead. The print shop burning down. On top of all that, the visit at the brothel. Diah, how embarrassing. He’d been incredibly grateful no one had asked many questions in the Arbroath mayhem that followed.
Mary. She’d been gentle enough with him.
He always assumed that when the opportunity arose, the rest would follow. All those feelings he heard the other lads joke about. What to do, how to act, where to touch. He assumed it would only take a naked body. And when finally faced with one, he panicked.
The pitiful look she gave him after a few minutes told him all he needed to know. He lay awake, staring at the ceiling all night with Mary snoring quietly next to him.
It wasn’t a malfunction. All his body parts were working - as a 16-year-old he was painfully aware of that. So what was it then? Was he not normal? Did he somehow do it wrong? Or maybe her?
He asked himself all these questions in the dark room of the busy brothel, interrupted only by the quiet sounds travelling through walls and floors. He asked them because he felt it necessary to be thorough in his examination of the night’s events, but he felt he knew the answer to all of them. No, he was normal. At least his body was. No, he did not do it wrong and neither did she.
He knew. If he was being honest, he knew what it took for his body to react. He knew what images flickered through his mind when Lallybroch was asleep and his hands wandered.
Never the full, round shapes he’d seen on Mary. Never a lassie’s soft, curving lines and cute giggle.
His brain supplied him with sharp edges and hard lines instead. With stubble and low-pitched voices. It showed him flashes of strong hands and coarse hair.
And sometimes, in these moments, he would look into a pair of dark eyes he knew all too well.
It had started earlier that same year. Uncle Jamie had sent Ian back to Lallybroch from Edinburgh and made Fergus accompany him. It took them several days of walking or hitching rides with passing carriages until they reached Broch Mordha. Days of conversations, sometimes awkward, sometimes flowing freely. Days of sleeping next to each other under the vast Scottish sky, huddled close for warmth. Days of accidental - and deliberate - touches.
There wasn’t a moment when he couldn’t smell or feel or see the older lad. Fergus’ presence was immediate and all-consuming and Ian felt like Icarus, flying too close to the sun.
At times, he had been sure Fergus noticed his shy glances or his body’s reaction to even the most innocent of touches (the brush of Fergus’ fingers against his when passing him an apple, the scratch of dark stubble against his hands when Fergus taught him how to shave, the gentle nudge of thigh against thigh on a pub bench). Fergus never said a word about it. But he never moved to stop his touches either and a teasing, lopsided grin took up residence on his face for hours at a time. It was exhilarating.
Other times Ian lay awake under the Scottish moon, acutely aware of the masculine presence beside him and didn’t know what to make of his confusing feelings. He felt disconnected from all logical thought. It was as if his body was acting on its own, supplying him with feelings not connected to his brain, making his thoughts wander on paths they weren’t supposed to visit, places forbidden and yet so, so alluring. Places he returned to again and again despite his best efforts to guide his thoughts to what was normal, what was expected of him. And he did try. But no matter how often he conjured up the images from the brothel, Mary’s small hands always turned into Fergus’ slender fingers, her high-pitched voice changed into his alluring accent, her fair hair darkened to his long curls. What was he doing?
What was he doing?
The question popped into his head again as they sat next to each other on a fallen tree near the fire, Auntie Claire and Uncle Jamie long retired, the flames burning low. They were on their way back to Lallybroch again.
The trunk was big, but Fergus was sitting very close, just barely touching, and Ian could feel his body heat radiating over his own skin. Fergus was telling a story about Paris but Ian’s ears were ringing with his own thoughts and he couldn’t hear half of it. The low glow of the embers cast moving shadows on Fergus’ face, illuminating its peaks and hiding its valleys, making him look like a creature out of a fairytale. Unreal, mischievous, beautiful.
Was it possible? Did he want Fergus like his uncle wanted his aunt, like his father wanted his mother?
He took in Fergus’ gesturing hands, the glint of his dark eyes. He let Fergus’ animated words and endearing accent wash over him. He caught a whiff of Fergus’ smell (earthy, like fire and sweat and roasted chestnuts) on the breeze, and his blood stirred.
Yes. He had to admit it to himself. Yes, he wanted. He needed. He felt.
And yet - Fergus might have been right next to him, but he was so far out of reach.
A hand on his own jolted Ian out of his mind and proved his last thought wrong.
“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?“ Fergus asked, and there was that smile again, as teasing as his words. Ian felt himself blush, and tried to pull his hand away, but Fergus wouldn’t let him. Instead, he leaned over, conspiratorially whispering in his ear.
“Don’t fight it, mon cher, I know you don’t want to.“