He was admiring the stately plumage of a particularly magnificent macaw, of the sort that has a golden belly and cerulean feathers all over, when Stephen Maturin realized he did not know how long he’d been away from the Surprise.
This was not surprise-ing (ah, Jack would have loved that wit) as Stephen had been, for half a day at least, busily engaged in cataloguing every form of flora and fauna he could find upon this lush little isle. Jack had dropped him off and mentioned something or other about watering and replenishing their stores, but Stephen had not heard him, his attention being entirely captured by a very ugly iguana watching him from a nearby tree.
It was a fine island in its way. Idyllic and wonderfully warm, and flourishing with an abundance of natural life. Scarlet blossoms as large as the palm of Stephen’s hand. Beetles that shone as though jewels took wing before his eyes. Charming birds that had never seen a man, and walked right up to Stephen as if to say, I too am a naturalist. Let me observe you.
The island, the name of which Jack had failed to mention, was thickly forested with tropical vegetation, broken only by the white expanses of the beaches and several large, rocky cliffs that projected out into the sea. Stephen had wandered at will, naturalizing with the greatest contentment, and had paid no mind to the time.
The macaw let out a cheerful cry, leaping forth from the branch on which it had been sitting and soaring into the sky. Stephen bid it a fond farewell and saw, as he did so, that the sun was beginning to lower, and the sky had taken on a hue of orange and gold. Surely Jack will be expecting me home, Stephen thought, and, with the greatest reluctance, he began to make his way back towards the shore.
Some of his fondest memories- indeed, some of the happiest days of his life- occurred on islands such as this. He could not count the number of times that he and Jack, under pretense of following some lizard or another, had crept away from a landing party busily engaged in fishing or cricket and enjoyed a hurried, over-eager pawing amid the vegetation. Jack, in his passion, had once laid him out and taken him under a tree on some nameless isle in the West Indies. Stephen smiled to himself at the memory, recalling how he’d had Jack twice in a row on another occasion, in a sheltered place inland where they could be sure of privacy. It appealed to some secret, animal part of him, to make love to Jack in so wild a place, and in so uncivilized a manner. It was a wonder that Killick suspected nothing. Stephen must have come home to Surprise fair glowing with self-satisfaction, with Jack blushing red at the merest glance.
Stephen was just wondering if Jack had ever blushed so with any other lover when he found himself distracted by a pearlescent glow coming from the rocky part of the shore. He had just broken the tree line, where the jungle flora gave way to sun and sand, and farther down along the shore the beach gave way to several tremendous rock formations of weathered stone. These then built themselves up into a cliff, which Stephen knew encompassed the whole eastern portion of the island. The glow came from a natural inlet at the base of these rocks, and it was there that Stephen went.
The inlet gave way to a wide tunnel, and the tunnel sloped upwards to an interior cavern. Stephen was not blessed with height and had no need to stoop. Inside he found the source of the glow, a splendid array of phosphorescent fungi the likes of which he’d never seen before, and, delighted, he ventured further until the cavern opened out. Here he once again found sand, and more fungi, and a bit of light from a crack in the rock above. There Stephen sat cross-legged upon the sand and opened his sketchbook to record this most interesting find. He lit a cigar and smoked it idly as he worked, glancing up frequently at the nearest specimen. It was the sort of work to which he was best suited. Intellectual work, conducted alone and in darkness.
Stephen had been at it for several hours before he realized that it was night. This he only realized by the moonlight shining through the crack above him, quite dimmed by the glow of the fungi. Stephen closed his book and stood, feeling chagrined. He went back the way he’d come, entering the narrow part of the tunnel with his eyes squinted against the darkness, only to bump into a sopping wet Jack Aubrey, who was so startled at the sight of him that he struck his skull quite hard against the roof of the tunnel and collapsed into the sand, holding his head and moaning.
“Really, my dear,” said Stephen, kneeling in the sand and turning Jack’s head to the left and right, inspecting him for injury. “It is your own fault for creeping about like that. What on earth are you doing ashore?”
“I am ashore because you are ashore,” said Jack, with an air of great dignity, “and I’m afraid you are likely to remain ashore until the morning, now that you’ve gone and marooned yourself.”
“Marooned myself!” said Stephen, incredulous. He sidled past Jack with some difficulty and found the sloping tunnel to be brimming with seawater. “Good god! The sea has risen!”
“I have known it to do so on occasion.”
“Well, it will not do,” Stephen turned his back on the sea and pushed past Jack to the main body of the cavern. “I see you have swum in. Then it will be nothing at all for you to swim out again and fetch the launch or one of the cutters.”
Jack pushed himself to his feet- he had to stoop quite low in the tunnel to avoid bumping his head a second time- and began to sheepishly wring the seawater from his hair. “Stephen,” he said, “it can do you no good. You should have to swim out as well, and then what shall become of your papers? No, there is nothing for it but to wait for the recession of the tide.”
“And how long will that take?”
“Until morning, so the scholars tell us.”
“Do not be flippant with me,” said Stephen, hurling himself bodily upon the sand. “I have no wish to pass the night here, remarkable though this mycological marvel may be.”
“Well, you need not pass it alone,” said Jack, seating himself upon the sand beside Stephen’s head. He looked in fine high spirits, windswept and burnt from sun, and his sea-soaked uniform flattered what he called his ‘genteel figure’ in a most agreeable way. He did not look in the least upset by Stephen’s blunder; indeed, he seemed delighted by it, as though he could think of no finer way to pass the night than by spending it in Stephen’s company.
Stephen smiled a private little smile. No doubt Jack had considered at length how they might pass the time. He was a man of singular purpose and incredible focus- when he set his mind on a prize, he did not deviate from his course until it was won.
“I do not like your look,” said Jack, sounding a little hurt. He lay down on his back beside Stephen and gazed up at the crack in the rocks above, where the moon was just visible in the night sky. “Have I been found out so easily? Am I so shallow as all that?”
“Never in life,” said Stephen gently. “I did not smile to mock you, joy. I smiled because I was pleased.”
They lay there for some time, simply enjoying the pleasure of one another’s company. In time the cool night air crept through the crack in the roof and chilled them; Stephen set about lighting a fire with his flint and a few samples of brush while Jack sat with his legs crossed, leaning back upon his hands. There were several smooth, overripe mangoes in Stephen’s coat pockets- he had never quite outgrown his habit of hiding food away out of necessity- and they ate them together in companionable silence, admiring the mushrooms on the walls. It was a solitary activity, nothing that could not have been done alone, yet Stephen reflected on how such a little thing was made better by two. As a spy, he lived his life in isolation. The nature of Jack’s career meant that he, too, was isolated- there was no one with whom he could talk, but more so, there was no one with whom he could sit in silence.
He had his wife, of course. Sophia. Stephen considered her to be his dearest friend, apart from Jack. They had passed many a pleasant evening together, sitting by the fire much as he and Jack were doing now, eating toasted cheese instead of tropical fruits and discussing the mysteries of nautical men.
She had given him her blessing on one such occasion. Stephen would never forget it. The look in her eyes, and the affection in her voice when she told him that Jack was a man of beautiful passions, her words precisely. She had told him that if Jack must satisfy those passions at sea, she would rather he do so with a man she knew to love him, rather than some stranger who would treat his heart cruelly.
Take care of him, she had said. Take care of him, so that he may care for me, and I, in turn, will care for you.
“I wish I might have seen you out amongst the trees,” said Jack, working his fingers under the skin of a mango and splitting it apart. “In your native element, as it were. I do not pretend to understand your naturalizing but you do smile so when you do it.”
“I smile, acushla,” said Stephen, a little offended but cheerfully so. He licked the mango juice from his fingers, heedless of the dirt beneath his nails. “I smile quite regularly.”
“And you tell me that I do not know myself!” Jack laughed. His eyes were brilliant blue slits that shone in his sunburnt face. “You do not smile, not hardly ever. I would have you smile more.”
“You told me once that I had a very ill-looking smile indeed.”
“I did, and you do.”
“Then why you should wish to see it is beyond me.”
“Come now, old Stephen. I don’t ask you why you should wish to see some fish or ugly lizard or the like.”
“That is different. All God’s creatures have a beauty. Their beauty is in their rarity, or the complexity of their being, or their exceedingly good natures.”
“Well then,” said Jack cheerfully, as though he’d won some sort of argument. “There you have it. I could not have said it better. But you are so good with words, Stephen.”
The thought of a good night’s sleep in one another’s embrace, undisturbed by the fear of an early-morning discovery, was enticing enough to make them settle in for an early night without taking the opportunity to make love. Stephen kicked a little sand over the fire until it smoldered- if it grew cold during the night, they could rouse it- and stripped himself with no thought to modesty, spreading his coat and smallclothes over the sand. Jack did the same and they lay upon them, comfortably lying with Jack at Stephen’s back, embracing him from behind.
It was a cold night, but the cave walls sheltered them, and the heat of the fire still lingered in the interior of the cavern. Stephen’s hand found Jack’s broad, hairy forearm, holding it closed to his chest as Jack wrapped himself around Stephen’s person. Stephen was too sensible of his own scrawniness not to know that he made a poor pillow indeed, but he could not bring himself to care. It felt far too pleasant to be held by a man who knew him too well to accuse him of weakness, who embraced him but did not cosset him or treat him too sweetly.
Stephen thought, not for the first time, of how very mismatched they were as friends and brothers. Stephen’s hands were still sticky from fruit and charcoal, and when he shifted in Jack’s arms, his coat crunched beneath him, the pockets full of plants and scribblings. He was, no matter how he protested to the contrary, a landsman; an utterly terrestrial creature. Yet here beside him lay Jack, his skin damp with saltwater, his chest rising and falling in a graceful, rolling swell.
Stephen touched his fingertips to the back of Jack’s wrist. He brought Jack’s hand to his lips and kissed his fingers, and the curve of his thumb. If Stephen was an island, surrounded by dangerous shoals through which only the most skilled seamen may maneuver, then Jack was the fierce and frolicsome sea that cradled him.
“God bless and keep you, my dear,” he murmured. Jack shifted in his sleep behind him; Stephen smiled and closed his eyes, enjoying Jack’s embrace. “My joy. My own.”
Stephen slept soundly until a very late hour, when he became aware of Jack’s grip upon him tightening, and a familiar, slick hardness rubbing against him from behind.
It was a welcome sensation, far from unpleasant to wake up to. Jack mumbled indistinctly into Stephen’s hair and rocked himself against him more firmly, unaware of himself. Stephen, still half-asleep, blinked blearily up at him. Jack’s eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. His broad arms tugged Stephen closer as though stealing the blankets on a cold night. His dreams had stirred his prick to full hardness, and it nudged insistently at the small of Stephen’s back.
Stephen rubbed his sleepsore eyes with the heel of his hand and gave Jack a look of great affection. He found himself helplessly charmed by this display; Jack was asleep, and could no more harness his own dreams than he could control the rise and fall of the tide. Stephen found the innocence of the act utterly beguiling, and he could not refrain from stroking Jack’s hair. He heard a low rumble in Jack’s chest at the touch, and he tilted his face against Stephen’s palm. “Stephen,” he mumbled, the word slurred from sleep and pleasure. His eyes opened, half-lidded, and before he was fully aware of himself began to sleepily disentangle himself from Stephen’s person. “M’sorry,” he mumbled, his face coloring. “Didn’t mean . . . ain’t quite the thing, you know . . .”
“Hush now,” Stephen murmured, his fingertips just brushing the shell of Jack’s scarred ear. He drew him close and kissed his flushed cheeks and furrowed brow, eager to chase away his humiliation and replace it with the sleep-hazed ardor of moments before. “All is well, it is all right. Go on and take your pleasure. It is all welcome here.”
Jack made a small noise in the back of his throat. Stephen turned to accommodate him and Jack nestled himself up against him, grunting quietly as his prick rubbed up against the now-slick skin of Stephen’s lower back. His breath was hot and damp on Stephen’s neck. “You’ll indulge me this, Stephen?” It was almost a whimper. “Won’t you?”
Stephen groaned and reached behind him, guiding Jack’s prick between his legs. “Oh, for you I am all indulgences,” he murmured. “I am made of indulgences. Come here.”
Jack’s own slickness- for Jack was a big man and had always leaked copiously- eased the way nicely, and Stephen felt Jack’s whole body tremble as he thrust his prick between Stephen’s thighs. Stephen sighed as Jack took his pleasure, feeling lost to the sensation of being so thoroughly used. Each time Jack’s prick nudged the underside of his own he felt a shudder pass through him; he took his own prick in hand and frigged himself briskly, listening to Jack’s breath in his ear and relishing the desperate, clumsy thrusts of his prick between Stephen’s legs. Not long after he felt Jack grow tense, and his movements became crude and rough as he held Stephen in place and pleasured himself on him. Stephen squeezed his hand and murmured nonsensical encouragement to him, urging him on, and Jack spent himself hard between Stephen’s legs, making a mess of both their persons and the coats that lay on the sand beneath them.
At once Jack’s body fell slack; he slumped over with his full weight upon Stephen’s back and groaned in relief. The sensation of being so gently crushed sent Stephen spilling himself into his palm, his seed somewhat less copious but of equal thickness, and for a time they simply lay together in a daze, breathless, and coming back to themselves by degrees.
“I beg your pardon,” Jack said weakly, when the silence could no longer go on. He looked over at Stephen with something like shame in his eyes.
“Jack,” said Stephen, feeling oddly touched to see Jack so sweetly embarrassed. “It is nothing to be ashamed of. You have not been handled properly, I find. A healthy male such as yourself must be well attended-to, or else one risks an imbalance of the humors.”
“I do wish you would not say things like that, Stephen,” said Jack. He sat up and blearily swept his hair back from his forehead. He had undone his queue before falling asleep, and his hair was now a tousled mane curiously flattened on the side where he’d slept. The sight made Stephen feel quite weak with affection. “It makes me feel like . . . well, I mean to say . . .”
“Like a brute who cannot control himself?”
“My dear,” said Stephen, propping himself up upon his elbows. “I know perfectly well that you can control yourself, but there is not always a need. You know you may make free with my body as you please-”
“-and I am happy to indulge your attentions.”
“Indulge,” Jack muttered. “Indulge, indulge. I wish I had not said the word.”
He lay down upon his back, quite without modesty, and Stephen’s eye was caught by the sight of his prick laying soft against his thigh, still slick from their coupling. His mouth felt suddenly dry. He swallowed. “Why not?”
“It has connotations, don’t it?” Jack gestured helplessly in the air. “Indulge. As though you get nothing from it at all. From me. You do get something from it, Stephen?” he asked with sudden urgency, turning on his side to face him. “You do not feel pressed?”
“Jack, for all love,” Stephen stared. “Never in life. You know this.”
“I do, I do,” muttered Jack. He shifted uneasily, and Stephen saw goosebumps rise along his arms from the cold. “It is only the lateness of the hour. You know I ain’t in my right mind when I’ve just woke up.”
Stephen pulled him close, slipping neatly into his place in Jack’s arms. He wrapped his own around Jack and soothed his hands up and down his broad back, hoping to warm him. “I know you well,” he said kindly. He tucked his face up against Jack’s neck and kissed the soft places of his throat. “As you know me. Better than any man or woman has ever known me. And you know me to be an honest man when I tell you that the pleasure of your company is beyond even the pleasure of naturalizing.”
“Now you are being false,” said Jack, but he held Stephen close and stroked the short scruff of his hair. He nuzzled his nose into Stephen’s hair and breathed deeply, closing his eyes as though drawing comfort from the scent.
“Do you call me a liar, sir?” Stephen smiled against Jack’s neck. “Must we duel?”
Jack laughed and played at shoving Stephen off him, but there was no conviction in it, and Stephen only drew the full length of himself up against him and began to kiss his neck in earnest. “No, no, for all love. Not again, never again with that dirty business.”
“I’ll have you know I can shoot the head off a jack at forty paces.”
“How I wish you had named any other card,” Jack tipped his head back, the better to allow Stephen to kiss his jaw, his cheek, and finally his mouth. “Do you smoke it, Stephen?” he murmured against Stephen’s lips. “It is a play on words.”
“Yes, joy,” Stephen steadied his face with one hand and held him still, licking deeply into Jack’s mouth, making him moan. “You have a remarkable wit, matched only by your great titan of a prick.”
“My god, how you make a man feel wanted.”
“I am glad to hear it. I do want you, joy, as I want nothing and no one else,” Stephen left a lingering kiss on the corner of Jack’s mouth. “No man could accuse me of poetry, but I may tell you quite plainly that you are the star by which I sail.”
Jack let out a great, shuddering sigh at that, and his hands caressed Stephen’s back. “Stephen, you are over-tired,” he said, but he was no great deceiver and he could not hide the delight in his voice. “You have become sentimental, and you once told me that sentimentality was the great vice of the English.”
“And so it is, but it is far from the only English vice I have learned after years in your company,” said Stephen. An idea took hold of him then and he smiled, sitting up and looking down at Jack with a look of fond excitement. “You know . . . my dear, I do wish you had said . . . Had you been handled with more regularity, these nighttime emissions would not trouble you so.”
“Your soul to the Devil, Stephen . . .”
“Lie upon your belly for me, love. I’ll have you set to rights.”
Jack, eyes wide, scrambled to comply. Soon they had altered their positions entirely, with Stephen kneeling between his legs, stroking his hands up and down Jack’s back to comfort him, and Jack upon his belly, propped up on his knees and elbows, unsure of what to expect. Had Stephen sleeves to roll he would have rolled them; as it was, he simply rubbed his hands together briskly and got to work, smoothing the full flat of his palms down either side of Jack’s thighs as though soothing a nervous animal. “There now,” he murmured nonsensically. “There now. All is well. There are no safer hands than mine.”
“I know no hands but yours,” Jack laughed nervously. A blatant untruth, but one that nonetheless made Stephen’s heart thump in his breast. No hands but yours. Well, if that was how Jack was going to be, then Stephen would ensure his hands served him well.
“You must relax, joy,” he said gently, placing one hand between Jack’s shoulder blades and gently pressing him down, the better to angle him properly. His thumb, slicked with spit and Jack’s own emissions, rubbed gently at Jack’s entrance, coaxing him to open.
“Stephen,” Jack groaned, twisting up his hands in the coat beneath him as he pushed back against Stephen’s searching hand.
“My god,” Stephen murmured. His fingertips teased gently at Jack’s entrance, flirting with penetration but not achieving it. “I remember a time when you thought you would not take to sodomy . . . when the very notion was foreign to you . . .”
“Do not tease,” Jack buried his face in his hands. “Do not tease.”
“Never in life, joy. Forgive me,” Stephen leaned down and kissed the small of Jack’s back. “It is only that you make me feel like very much the great man, to have roused your ardor so.”
“You rouse it, soul, but you do not satisfy it.”
“My dear,” said Stephen, “I will show you the meaning of satisfaction.”
His hand was yet slick with his own seed, and it eased the way remarkably well as he rubbed lightly at Jack’s entrance, working it open with one finger. Jack’s sigh of pleasure encouraged him; he worked it in deeper, confident that if Jack felt any pain, he would make it known to Stephen at once. “Now, then . . .” he murmured quietly, almost to himself. “There, I have almost . . . ah, there you are . . .”
The pad of his finger found the smooth, soft spot within Jack that he had been searching for, and the effect was immediate and gratifying. Jack, who had been propped up on his elbows, all but collapsed; he fisted his hands in the coat beneath him and groaned, long and low between his teeth, as Stephen began to gently palpate the little nub with increasing firmness. “Stephen,” he gasped, his breath already stolen from him. “For all love . . .”
Stephen, with one hand thusly engaged, began with the other to search the pockets of his coat. In time he found a handkerchief, which he lay beneath Jack’s prick; it would be needed. Then he began to stroke him, gently at first, then with the sort of loving firmness that he knew Jack best enjoyed. Stephen was not so virile a man as Jack, nor did he wear his youth so well. He could not rise again so soon after spending. Jack’s prick, in contrast, was already a magnificent, dripping thing that felt very hard and heavy in the palm of Stephen’s hand. He milked it firmly, allowing for the occasional twist of the wrist in time with his internal massaging, and all the while he murmured in Jack’s ear of what a splendid prick he had, how much fine and excellent seed he was producing, how all unruly breeding studs ought to be managed in this way. Jack trembled and whined beneath him; his prick twitched in Stephen’s hand, and Stephen rubbed more firmly at that secret internal spot with the pad of his finger. “That’s it. That’s the way. Give it up now, there’s a good man.”
Jack spent himself with a strangled gasp, his hands clutching at the coat he lay on and digging into the sand beneath. It was a magnificent crescendo, and Stephen could feel his whole body singing with it, like a ‘cello still warm with the vibrations of a duet. “Beautiful,” he breathed, with complete sincerity. “What a precious creature you are, and how warm and thick your essence. I wonder,” he added, leaning forward to murmur this last against Jack’s good ear, “how it lingers upon the tongue.”
Jack buried his face in his coat and groaned something unintelligible. Stephen clicked his tongue quietly and continue to stroke Jack’s prick back into hardness. “Come now, I know you’ve more to give than that. I’ll have it out of you soon enough.”
He had worked another finger past Jack’s entrance now, and with surprising ease. It is as though he is hungry for it, Stephen thought privately, feeling very warm at the idea. What a wanton brat my captain can be, to be sure.
He had no intention of laying off until Jack had had all the pleasure he could manage, until he was quite sick with it, and Stephen, being a medical man, knew precisely how much pleasure Jack might take before he was ruined for all other activity for the rest of the night. Soon enough Jack’s third climax of the evening followed on quickly after the second, his whole body trembling with the effort as he stammered nonsensical supplications and pleas. It was audible this time, a thick, wet, messy spending, and Stephen smiled as he coaxed him through it. “My, but you were eager that time,” he said fondly, as Jack weakly attempted to catch his breath. “You have made a mess of my hand . . . how careless of you, my dear. There is simply no wringing it all out of you is there . . .”
It was a dangerous line to walk, for Jack could not bear being teased, but at this moment Jack reacted so beautifully, with breathless agreements of yes, yes, how careless of him, that Stephen could not help but continue. At last Jack let out a strangled sob, sounding weak and half-dead from pleasure, and he spent himself in a small, thin dribble, almost nothing at all. Stephen groaned in appreciation and leaned down to kiss the small of Jack’s back. He rolled the soft nub under his thumb just once more, enough to enjoy the twitching of Jack’s legs, before he eased his fingers out of him. “Shame to waste all that fine seed,” he murmured, his hands trailing down Jack’s thighs to sooth him. “I shall take care to drink it from the source next time.”
“Stephen,” Jack said hoarsely, in a broken voice, but Stephen had already lowered his head and taken Jack’s prick into his mouth from behind. Jack shouted and squirmed, feeling faint, but Stephen held him still and set about cleaning the dear thing with agonizing slowness, caressing it sweetly with his tongue while Jack lay still and endured.
“All better,” Stephen said quietly, when he was through. Jack’s entrance had been worked open quite thoroughly from hard use, and would not fully close, making for a most appealing sight. Stephen brushed his fingertip across it in gentle apology and reached beneath Jack to collect the handkerchief, setting it aside so that Jack might lie down. At once Jack collapsed, fatigued with pleasure and looking quite close to death, and Stephen, satisfied, moved to lie down beside him and stroke his sweat-damp hair back from his face. He lit a cigar and smoked it quietly, feeling pleasantly languid; there was little in life he found so satisfying as pleasing Jack.
“Was that too much?” he murmured. “I have not ruined you for sodomy entirely?”
Jack’s eyes had closed; they now opened, and looked at him with the utmost devotion. “Never in my life have I felt so thoroughly spent.”
“I am glad of it.”
Jack stirred weakly, trying to move, but gave up the effort at once. “Oh,” he breathed, his eyes falling closed again. “How I shall walk the quarterdeck tomorrow, I do not know . . .”
“Forgive me if I am unrepentant.”
“I feel that I may sleep a thousand years.”
“Or until morning,” Stephen whispered. He breathed a curl of smoke into the air.
“Or until morning.”
Stephen tapped out his cigar in the sand and turned towards Jack, opening his arms for him; this time it was Jack who lay with Stephen at his back, his arms around Jack’s broader form, and his head resting comfortably on a pillow of Jack’s hair. “Sleep, then,” he murmured, closing his eyes. “Sleep, and I will wake you in a thousand years.”