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All the rest of the ship has long gone dark. James is sure the only lamps left lit are the ones above himself and Francis in the captain’s cabin, illuminating the heaps of inventories and charts spread before them on the table. Francis had dismissed his steward some hours past with a weary “Nothing further, Jopson,” and for quite some time, the only sounds have been the shuffling of paper and their regular breathing.

James sighs. He moves his forearm from where it digs into the edge of the table and contemplates the dregs of his tea, nearly sighing again. The hour can be nothing other than inhumanly late. He puts aside the manifest before him, discreetly, and turns his head towards Francis.

A complaint, or at least a wry observation on the hour, is perched on his lips. It freezes there when he looks at Francis—really looks at him—and takes in the grim set of his jaw and the deeply furrowed brow. James cannot recall seeing him so outwardly troubled before—certainly never in view of the men, and rarely, if ever, in private. He licks his lips and reaches for different words.

“It will be a very close thing,” James says.

Francis looks up as though startled. “Close,” he repeats.

“Yes, I think so.”

There is a faraway look in Francis’s eye which James cannot catch, no matter how he stares. The kind that makes him look not so much as if he were thinking of being away from this place, but as if he were thinking of being nowhere whatsoever. James aches for him when he recognizes it. Not in sympathy—Francis has never asked that of him—but in understanding, even though the circumstances under which he had garnered it as expedition commander had been shorter and far less brutal.

Sir John, at least, had held God accountable for some—or perhaps most, James has to admit—of his men’s wellbeing. Francis keeps that responsibility for himself and saves none for God. How heavy it must weigh on him, James wonders, if the worry that twists his mouth downward now is only a fraction of what he feels. If it were within his power, he would take it away. Even if it was just for an instant—if all he could manage to grant him was a small reprieve—

Slowly, he pushes back his chair and rises. Francis’s gaze at last unsticks from the middle distance with his movement, watching James approach idly.

James sets a light hand on the back of his chair and presses a kiss to Francis’s receding hairline. When he draws back, Francis’s eyes are closed. They fly open again when James’s other hand joins his first, forearms flexing as he swings his legs over Francis’s lap. He lowers himself deliberately, savoring the feel of their bodies coming into gradual contact: his inner thighs clenching around Francis’s waist, their stomachs pressing together; the bulge of Francis’s cock settling next to his own. 

They have done this before. Usually with hands, admittedly; and always hurriedly. The need to minimize the risk of being discovered forever presses at the backs of their minds and urges them quicker. But the ship is abed, and mostly deserted besides. The creature has been neither seen nor heard from in weeks. There is nothing to disturb them here.

Francis’s throat clicks audibly as he swallows.  James cranes his neck down to look into his face: first at Francis’s lips, which have fallen open; and then upwards, to watch his blue eyes go dark. James keeps his gaze as he tightens his hands and thighs. Then he grinds down, once, into Francis’s hips. 

Francis draws in a sharp breath. James feels him growing hard as he holds himself there in his lap.  After a long moment—perhaps, James fancies, not born purely of hesitation—Francis manages a miniscule nod.

At that, James seals them together, finding that his cheek nestles quite comfortably against Francis’s temple. He makes himself wait long seconds before pushing into Francis again, experimentally. It takes him a few tries to get the angle right.  When he shoves his heel against the bottom rung of the chair, positioning his knee slightly higher, Francis’s breath hitches.

James closes his eyes.

He rocks himself against Francis. Through their clothes, their erections rub together, the friction delicious yet teasing; the fabric’s impediment guaranteed to drag out the inevitable moment of release.  James, in no way eager to be removed from Francis, is glad of it.  As slowly and firmly as he can make himself, he rocks again. 

They are both fully hard almost immediately, breathing grown heavy, the chilly cabin seeming warmer than it is. James tilts his lips down to Francis’s ear and sets the pace with his exhalations: in keeping with his movements, a measured in-and-out, even spaced despite the way they occasionally shudder. Francis falls into it easily. His hands rest at his waist, and then at his hips; but only for a moment—they slide to his ass quickly, hauling him closer, and stay there.

The squeaking protestations of the chair pick up slightly. Eyes closed, James sees nothing, but can hear the wool of their uniforms chafing; the clink of buttons. A wet sound that can only be Francis’s tongue as it unsticks from the roof of his mouth before darting out to lick his lips shoots straight to the pit of James’s stomach, right along to his cock, sending him to agonizing hardness, compounded by Francis’s reciprocal condition beneath him; against him.  

James aches for Francis in a very different way, now, as they rut together steadily, every moment of renewed pressure sending his thoughts scattering. If he could stay with Francis like this all night, he would—Christ, he is trying—and the only things he would know would be the man’s scent filling his nose; his warmth, and the creaking of the chair and the ship around them. Stripping all perception of anything else from Francis’s awareness, too.

No ice. No crews. No monster.

He squeezes his eyes shut tight and focuses on the way edges of the wooden chair carve deep into his palms, sure to leave marks, but lending him that much more control.  He tries not to think about his balls scraping against the inside of his smallclothes with the surety of a metronome, except instead of the tock of the needle, each apex is marked by Francis’s carefully parceled out exhalations, shallow and sudden, as though holding his breath between each.

Beneath him, Francis’s legs begin to shift, splaying his knees wider.  James’s rhythm stutters, and he finds himself incapable of containing the little laugh he lets out into his hair.  Francis makes no sound—perhaps is not capable of it—his hands merely traveling up, beneath his jacket; and then down again, coaxingly. Duly, James gathers himself, finding it even easier to slot back into the same pace as before.  It’s better now: fractionally more intense with their groins as closely aligned as possible, and he knows that they will both come like this.

Francis’s next exhale shudders out of him in pieces.

He longs to smooth down Francis’s hair, to touch him; but he cannot let go of the chair. The most he can do is slide his cheek down to press against Francis’s, a few strands of hair trapped between their skin, quickly losing himself as he strains his aching cock deep and hard against Francis’s, the pleasure pulsing through him too strong to allow him to last much longer.

When it nears, James knows his limit in a brief flash of clarity; counting down the strokes left and refusing to hasten it in the slightest by changing his pace; dreading the approaching release as much as his physical needs allow him to.  At the last second, he shifts his hand from the chair to Francis’s opposite shoulder, as much of a warning as he is capable, and comes with a long grunt that grates out of the very depths of his lungs. 

It tapers into something breathless—something very much like a whimper—that he is helpless and desireless to withhold. He wants Francis to know exactly what he has done to him as he collapses into shudders, body overtaken, conscious only of the sweet possession of climax running all the way out through his fingers and toes and scalp, warm and suspended—

--and, filtering in at the very edges of it, Francis’s labored breathing, and the barely perceptible whines which tinge each and every exhale. 

James allows himself hardly any time before forcing himself to catch a ragged breath. Gripping Francis’s shoulder, he steels himself to continue moving, his softening, overstimulated cock dragging over Francis’s still-hard one, gasping aloud at the first shock of it.  Against his chest Francis pants fast and desperate, his hands clenching and unclenching on his ass, so he builds himself by degrees back into the same excruciating pace, nearly but not quite painful.

The tautness goes out of Francis’s leg as his boot slips suddenly out along the floor. The other follows in short order, and James summons the last of the leverage left in his quaking knees to break his rhythm and push into Francis with all his strength, as long as he can.

“Oh,” Francis gasps, high as a bird’s call. “Oh—oh—” His hands clamp around his ass, squeezing; no doubt leaving ten dark bruises with his fingertips. With one last torturous grind, Francis goes rigid beneath James. The tension holds him for a long moment as he comes—long enough for James to rub his thumb twice across the seam of Francis’s jacket—then his hips give several small, helpless jerks, and it’s through him. He goes as boneless within his arms as though his spine had been cut out of him.

They tremble against one another. In the sudden silence, their harsh breaths sound unnaturally loud.  James eases off of Francis slightly.  Awareness filters back to him, narrowed still only to Francis’s body: his gasping, semi-parted lips; the sweat beading at his neck, the fact that he still hasn’t let go of him. Unsure of his own control, James pulls back and kisses Francis with lips that quaver, a mere feather-light pressure.  More firmly, he dips downward again, collecting Francis’s shudders beneath his lips, but only for a moment.  He would have tried again if Francis did not surge upward himself, his own kiss open and lingering.

James groans properly for the first time that night.  His tongue flicks against Francis’s lips, but to no avail—he can feel Francis smiling against him just before he breaks the kiss, one hand reaching up lazily from his waist to push aside the strands of hair that are stuck with sweat to James’s cheek.

“Can you stand?” Francis murmurs.

As he is currently clinging to Francis to keep himself upright, and highly conscious of the sweet but undeniable ache in his thighs, James says quite certainly, “No.”

“Good.” Francis slides his boots back along the floor to find their purchase again, taking a bit more of James’s weight. His hands roam down James’s front restlessly, navigating badly around buttons and collars before reaching around his ribs, thumbs digging into his shoulder blades.

Francis lets his forehead tip against James’s sternum. He breathes.