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riding lessons

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In the beginning Thomas posed the question to Edward with only the most utter, innocent, of curiosities. 

“What’s that?” Edward replied, initially, one foot still in the stirrup as he dismounted. Thomas was hovering by the wall, out of the way of the dark chestnut gelding that Edward was still half clinging to.

They’d barely gotten down the drive off of the main road when that particular look overtook Edward - a very somber look on his face where he grew very quiet and very still. To someone less familiar it might have appeared unloving, or hard, but Thomas knew he was only thinking deeply about something. In this case, he was thinking solely of the animal his brother had described to him in his letters; that same creature that Edward was now exclusively devoted to for the remainder of the summer. It proved to be good forethought, even though Thomas rolled his eyes out the coach window, smirking.

To Thomas there were only two breeds of horses: good and bad. This was based mostly on temperament as there were not many fine horses pulling cabs and milk carts up and down Marylebone street. Good horses were obedient, and gentle.

Tiger as Dick and Fred (and Neddie ) conspired to name him, was assuredly the bad breed. Something of an experiment between the three younger Little brothers, he was a mingling of the stock from the Northern farm: a mutt of heavy horse and Hackney or Trotters (Thomas did not really know the difference), and perhaps leftover war mount from his Grandfather’s prized Neapolitans.

Whatever that was officially, he was a bugger of a horse if Thomas ever saw one. Heavy in the hand, ornery, even Edward - patient to his fault - called him a right bastard on more than a dozen occasions since they came to the house in Lakeland.

It was why Edward insisted Thomas keep posted at a safe distance since the bloke was given to suddenly moving left or right, or backing up, and he didn’t want Thomas to end up crushed against a stable wall or, worse, kicked on accident.

“Does it hurt them?” Thomas repeated, a bit louder, to compensate from the distance between them and Edward’s distraction. Tiger stamped impatiently, tossing his head every time Edward tried to grab onto his bridal, leaning away just to give him a hard time. Thomas couldn’t fight a frown, watching Edward calmly wrestle with him till he finally got him still, muttering under his breath. Edward’s dark, excited eyes, glanced over to Thomas.

“The whip,” Thomas nodded at the thing tucked under Edward’s arm and a constant presence on his person since he began the grueling task of getting the animal to mind him. Edward rarely used it, but when he did it certainly garnered Tiger’s attention and twice that session in particular in the paddock he’d brought it out when Tiger refused to take Edward’s command to walk backwards.

“Hurt them?” Edward said, glancing down at it and then back up at Thomas with a puzzled expression.

“I’ve seen cabbies wear out their arm using whatever they can find,” Thomas explained. “I always felt for the poor creatures...seems miserable.”

Edward’s expression momentarily darkened, eyes stormy, and Thomas feared he might have slipped and said something particularly ignorant. Edward was decidedly not some half-drunk driver taking out his day’s frustrations on his poor nag and how stupid of him to draw such an obviously insulting parallel.


“I don’t mean to say that you beat him, Edward,” Thomas quickly attempted to amend. “I wouldn’t ever insinuate such a thing - you take such care with them - surely it is only because you have to - and with good reason -,”

“You know how they do it naturally?”

“N-naturally?” Thomas stuttered, his overwrought explanation coming to its end.

In a beat the cloudiness cleared away and, instead, to Thomas’ surprise Edward appeared infinitely amused.

“They bite each other, and kick - they’ll tear each other up if you let them. To teach each other their manners,” Edward went on to say, Tiger pulling a bit and Edward breaking eye contact with Tom to cluck at him. “So a little tap on the quarters to get his attention doesn’t do him any harm…and only when he ignores everything else, right? You little devil?”

Tiger’s ears twitched and he huffed, eye rolling moodily to his master. Thomas was quiet, feeling embarrassed for being so impertinent. Of course . Of course. He’d watched Edward training the horse up - doing the same things over and over at a mind-numbingly slow pace till they began to stick, and he was far more eager to dole out encouragement than anything else. What was  one or two little prods for a horse that was being headstrong. Edward allowed so much. Whenever Tiger minded him Edward met it with low, kind words of praise and a pat or a scratch on his withers, right where the horse liked best - sending shivers of delight down the animal.

It was clear that Edward was enamored with the horse and held nothing but love for him, no matter how repugnant it could be. Edward appreciated his spirit, and did not want to waste it entirely.  He reiterated this every night at supper, walking himself through the plans for the next day with Thomas nodding along, chewing.

Tiger certainly held his head high, not like the sad carriage horses Thomas saw in London. Dull-eyed fly-bitten things with their heads hanging low and depressed, enduring their jobs till they were allowed back into their quiet stalls till the sun came up again and the work began.

“You look ill, Tom,,” Edward commented, scrutinizing Thomas’ faraway look as he relinquished the horse to the young groom responsible for cleaning up and feeding him each evening.

“Has this little crop really got you so troubled?” he smirked, raising it so that it was at eye level. He went on, a bit too playfully for Thomas’ taste, twirling the crop in his hand.

It wasn’t even a whip , not… by proper description. Just a crop, as Edward said. A thin, leather bound stick with a small loop at one end and a bit of padding at the other for Edward’s grip. Thomas recognized it from lithographs of gentlemen in their hunting parties, and from the one or two, admittedly, foolish trips to the race track, but those were more crude.

“No -,” Thomas started, watching Edward move it so that it stretched between his gloved hands, bowing slightly with a supple give. With Tiger being led off, safely stowed in his box, it was only an accessory and a compliment to the rest of his getup - the jodhpurs and riding boots and frock coat (second or third best, compared to the one kept at the house in Herefordshire by Thomas’ measure).

Edward suddenly thwacked it against his palm lightly and Thomas unconsciously tensed at the motion but couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“What’s it?” Edward was saying. “You’re not scared of it are you?”

“Pardon you, Mr. Little,” Thomas said, his brows drawing and his shoulders straightening against the rough stable wall.

Edward grinned, taking a step closer - never forgetting to relish the broken-in softness of his favorite riding boots. How he had missed those boots - leather soft as velveteen, with the worn slope of the heel and buckle missing - each frigid trek to and from Erebus . He imagined quite a few things on those walks, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, the frost gathering on his whiskers and lashes. Fishing poles, and rough collie-dogs. Things that he could easily admit to his family with perfect understanding. Birthdays. Christmas dinners.

And other things, of course, some of which materialized in most interesting ways, and proved to be less admittable by virtue of their nature. He wouldn’t be telling anyone just how inspiring the arctic would be on a bored, cold man’s imagination when the chance of Thomas Jopson, soap-soft and warm and charming and eager just a length away.

“Hold out your hand,” Edward said, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

Thomas almost could not formulate a response, the notion so preposterous to him.

Edward used the silence as a means to gain another step, taking advantage of Tom’s trepidation to quickly close their distance. The main aisle of the stable was empty again, and it was only the two of them there with the farm’s faithful rat terrier snuffling about near the entrance, so he was not shy about bodying up to him a bit more than usual.  

Evening was falling, casting long slanting shadows of them on the floor, the merry Lakeland sun beginning her slow traverse to bed down under the horizon.

“Come on,” Edward insisted, beckoning with an open palm flat in front of Thomas. It was the same way he offered the bit to Tiger. “Give me your hand - I’ll show you. You can prove your courage.”

They were toe to toe now, Edward leaning in, Thomas continuing to frown at him, looking to the crop and then back up.

“You fancy yourself a shilling novel rogue,” he said primly, finally relinquishing his hand into Edward’s. Edward immediately pressed his thumb firmly into the center so that it bloomed open, smirking at the long fingers.

“So soft,” he admonished, most appreciative,  raising his dark eyebrow and glancing at Thomas. “Bit softer than a horse’s hindquarters - ,” He tightened his grip as Thomas tried to pull his hand away.
 

“Oh, come now,” he teased. “Have a little trust.”

The crop twirled just so in Edward’s other hand and Thomas watched it warily, anticipating. He knew his face was blotching.

“Well,” Thomas said, impatiently, but no sooner had the word left his mouth he felt the sting, a sudden tingly burst of nerves. His hand, yanked free from Edward’s, curled protectively into a fist against his chest.

Immediately he knew how unnecessary this was, seeing as Edward had not smacked his hand at all.

At the last possible second Edward deviated wildly off course, landing the blow just on the outside of Tom’s thigh where it thickened towards his hip. It was why, out of so much surprise, Thomas jumped nearly a foot off the ground, shoulder knocking back on the slats, and made a sound that he had never made in his entire life.

He clapped his other hand over his mouth, staring mortified at Edward, who in the same span of time, bent over double, hands on his knees, turning away to hide his expression.

There was a moment of horrifying silence from Thomas before he heard the sound of it sobbing out of Edward; a few speechless pulses where only his blood rushed in his ears and he could think of nothing else but the slash of sensation on his leg where the crop had smacked him. His blush crept successfully down his neck and disappeared under his collar, burning so much he felt he might break into a sweat.

Edward, it seemed, could barely breathe for laughing so hard.

He wiped at his eyes, stuttering while Thomas remained, stupefied, before him.  

“Oh, oh, Tommy -,” Edward wheezed. “Oh, Tommy,” he couldn’t stop the fit, holding his stomach and leaning back. “Oh, Tom, your face - darling Tom,” he coughed. “I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t - I apologize ,” his mouth formed the words but Tom saw how his eyes glittered with so much satisfaction at the prank when they landed on Thomas’ wide and uncomprehending ones.

Still laughing, Edward stepped forward again and immediately pulled Thomas into a hug, squeezing him hard, bundling him against his chest.

“Oh, Tom,” he said in Thomas’ ear. “Forgive me if it smarted,” he punctuated it with another enthusiastic squeeze of his arms around him, dropping a kiss to his shoulder. “I couldn’t spoil your hand,” he said, nasally, but somehow managing to find a shred of his usual composure. “It’s known no punishment in its life, and I wouldn’t dare to be the first - I couldn’t do that to you…”


Thomas knew he should find some protest, but he was paralyzed, like a cat gone stiff and tail puffed up. The little spot on his thigh, which could not be more than a hair’s width, felt enormous, and throbbed slightly where it was now pressing against Edward’s leg. His mouth was too dry to say anything.

He couldn’t prove Edward wrong; even as a child he was good and his body was unused to this sort of disturbance. He didn’t seek out rebellion the way other young people might have, especially those with his origins which in some ways allowed more deviousness than more respectable upbringings.

Unlike his peers, Thomas learned early that peevishness and flagrancy got one nowhere in a world given to cruelties. Rules and order were far more stable and friendly companions, and best followed. There was too much work, and responsibility, to occupy him otherwise. Not that he was perfect - even Thomas Jopson could be stubborn, and he had a red streak of temper at times, but it was never enough to bring scorn on him. Why look for trouble when enough naturally found one on its own? He was content to be obedient, and button himself close to authority when he could.

Other boys he knew did not shy from violence the way he did, but those were the same boys who wrought the schoolmaster’s ruler, which always turned Tom’s stomach awfully when he was forced to witness it. He did his best to appear unfazed to save the victim’s pride and equally his own hide, for wincing, and flinching was often reason enough to earn your own retribution.

It was entirely obvious to everyone that Thomas Jopson was pleasant, and courteous, and couldn’t solicit even a rap on the knuckles let alone a lashing such as the one that had punished Cornelius Hickey so long ago and lodged immovably in his memory forever. At that he couldn’t even cast his eyes, keeping them unfocused and blurring the background if he was forced to, for it was too unbearable. Just the sound was enough. He’d never forget that wet , fleshy sound towards the end for as long as he lived. To think he escaped correction during that devastating span on the shale still made him shake his head in dismay.

He’d been mad enough to earn it, at many junctures, but miraculously, they’d loved him through it.  

So it was even more of an abrupt and frightening shock to him when he did not feel repulsed, but, instead, a most genuine and crazed thrill entered him, like a splash of cold water, or a small electric spark.

The strike from Edward, so unexpected and harmless , had left him - indescribably -

“I’m sorry,” Edward repeated, softer, concerned by his silence, and the thought which Thomas could not find a voice for dropped off some cliff in his brain, evidenced only in the splotches on his cheeks. “Forgive me Tom, it was a terrible trick. I only wished to tease you - ,”

“It’s fine,” Thomas said tightly, trying to control the frenzied beat of his heart and his breath. “I know your modes, even the playful ones,” he forced himself to chuckle, bringing his numb tingling hands to Edward’s back, petting it softly, and hoping they did not shake the way he felt they were.

“You’re not vexed?” Edward asked, lifting his head to peer at him, now only earnest. His hands came up to frame Thomas’ face, thumbs skirting his jaw. He tilted his head, looking him up and down to be sure he was in one piece.

"Father gave me the strap once or twice - and I’m no stranger to bullying at Tim and Hale’s doing,” he went on, explaining what Thomas already knew from the stories about his older brothers. “I have a tolerance for horseplay, but I never wish to hurt you.”

“Not at all,” Thomas assured him, shaking his head as much as Edward’s hold would allow, drawing his hands to Edward’s chest, fussing with his coat to distraction. “I was only - it was surprising.” He grimaced.

“You may get me back, if you like,” Edward said, quirking an eyebrow at him and Thomas grabbed his wrists, trying to bow his head sheepishly.

“Never, never,” he laughed, some of the dangerous heat all over his body, concentrated on that one little place, finally dispersing. “It’s hardly a pain at all, Edward. I have already forgotten it.”

 

 


 

 

S uch a lie Thomas never told in all his life.

Or, more accurately, it was simply another lie in a compounding list he wrote regarding intimacies with Edward.

He learned very well on the ship what to say when needed.

Thomas didn’t set out to become a dishonest man, but their affair tested him in so many new and immediate ways and he’d long given up trying to reign them in or tally the marks against his character.

They were, mostly, harmless little white lies about where his mind was so preoccupied when he gained that far-off glassy stare in the middle of a task. Some were less harmless and more important. Ones about where he was - alibis and accounting-fors. Modest shrugging-offs of concern for the way he seemed stiff in the neck or slower in step. Minor inconveniences that were easily pointed to a poor night’s sleep on the pillow, or a missed rung on a ladder.

As Edward predicted, no one batted an eye.

It would not be fair, however, to say that it was all of his fault. For instance, the house in Keswick afforded them more privacy than nooks and crannies on a ship, or poorly swept canvas, when Thomas in that sickly haze stopped hating Edward long enough to let him hold him through sleep, waking in the morning loving him again, and falling out by nightfall like a miserable clock.

He blamed God, mostly, as there was no other force that could possibly be responsible for getting them here in the first place, nor creating someone as worthy and deserving of affection as Edward Little - and who was he in the face of that? He was well-schooled on his frailties now, and the all more impressive features of forgiveness.

As long as they were retired upstairs, or simply alone in the house - which was several times a day - they were free to explore a wide variety of pastoral activities.

It was a working farm, just as the estate in Herefordshire, but much more modest and with far less staff in the summering cottage where they stayed. To Thomas’ knowledge there was one incredibly old cook, a housekeeper who was not very far behind, and one or two sculleries who were so interchangeable in appearance they might have been the same person for all Thomas could prove, given how little he actually saw them.

Edward explained this all upfront when he propositioned they visit for a few months that the Keswick home was only fully employed when his parents or eldest brothers and their families deigned to visit, but this was rare nowadays and they’d be, for the most part, on their own. Over the years it served solely as a retreat for Edward, Dick and Fred when the whims struck, and this showed in the casual air of the place - the scent of tobacco smoke in the drawing rooms and yellowed dusty book pages and artifacts and trophies scattered on the walls and shelves in a haphazard, boyish way.

Knowing Mother Little to the modest extent that he now knew her, Thomas was certain she would have been in an uproar at the state of the rug in the foyer - mud-tracked and wine-stained from one too many drunken treks about the property by her three youngest sons, rifles slung over their shoulders or tackle boxes under their arms for a late night fishing excursion. He grimaced a bit, in all honesty, swiping his finger on the bannister and raising his eyebrows at the neat streak in the film of dust.

When they arrived the first thing Edward did was see Tiger, but the second was hunt for his lures. It was a spectacle watching him pulling the box out from a chest in the bedroom he claimed, giving a pleased ah-ha ! when he opened the lid and the tiers unfolded with a glassy tinkle, gazing down on them with satisfaction. He was proud to tell Thomas he’d made them all himself, keeping even the very first rudimentary attempts from his boyhood, claiming they were the lucky ones that snagged the biggest catch.

Pike , Edward said, shutting the case with a snap and fixing Thomas with a glint in his eye, tongue running over his lip.  Are ugly fish, and they love an ugly lure.

The third thing Edward did, in that very same bedroom, was push the door closed with his boot.

The fourth was open Thomas’ waistcoat, and then his trousers, and then, finally, his legs once he’d walked him back to the bed so that he fell upon it in a splay.

When Thomas initially protested that they should be more careful Edward told him, very frankly for someone with their cock rubbing against Thomas’ hip, nigh on top of his own, that the cook all but lost their hearing, and the housekeeper was content with her medicinal , and wouldn’t be roused till one of the little maids came creeping back in from the hayloft to be reprimanded.  

“I’d like to see you with hay in your hair -,” Edward then said, punctuating the statement with a searing kiss, dragging at Thomas’ hips. The thought did prove much more interesting to Thomas than his worries, which fell to the back of his mind in record speed. Edward’s face between his thighs certainly made it agreeable, but he bit the back of his wrist just in case.

Such leisure and lack of care was a new notion to Thomas, but Edward - more specifically,  fucking Edward - was the single most inspiring thing that Thomas had encountered in his thirty odd years. It occupied, in some lascivious shape, every thought he seemed to have. He was no stranger to how common acts, and meaningless gestures and statements and even objects such as furniture, all vibrated with unspoken promise.

It was like a hunger pang, sometimes, how much he wanted him. It made him itch, like he was still  -

He quickly closed his eyes on those thoughts, and remembered that he was in Keswick, of all places. Foreign as the arctic, but Edward was there, and if he wanted to he could reach out and take his hand.

There were only dope-eyed sheep around to see. Hares and foxes and dogs.

Thomas opened his eyes from where he was resting his head in his arms, watching Edward from the across the paddock where he waited at the gate till he was done putting Tiger through his paces, and finding himself feeling slighted.

 


 

 

Edward fell more than sat on the bed with a groan, bending over to begin the arduous task of taking off his boots while Thomas busied himself with removing his jacket, laying it neatly on the chair in the corner of the room. It was still odd to him to be well dressed, and, while Edward’s youngest brother was close to his size, he still swam slightly in his sack coats with his thinner build and longer limbs.

It was evening falling, and they’d spent all afternoon wandering over the grounds after tea, returning from the fields and barn with the promise of changing, and freshening up for supper in the parlor with their feet up. The night would pass for a few hours, over chess or books, or attempts to teach each other the card games they knew. Frequently it ended with Edward smoking till he dozed off and Thomas had to pull the pipe out of his mouth and leave him with one leg planted firmly on the floor and the other slung over the arm of the settee till he woke him when the housekeeper teetered in with her tray.

He was glad Edward chose the time to nap, as it allowed Thomas to rise and assist her, taking the heavy thing from her palsied hands with care and sending her back to the kitchen fire and her shawl.

Besides, Edward was a funny sleeper, and Thomas thought it amusing to look at him sprawled on the couch. Up top he was straight as arrow, one hand on his chest, but his legs seemed to have a mind of their own, crossing over each other and finding their way off the mattress halfway thru the night, especially if he got too warm and kicked it out from under the coverlets. Hardly like Tom, with his tidy way of doing everything, tucked up on his side with his arms around him, or flat on his back like a corpse.

“Tom,” he sighed, and Thomas had to smile to himself, finishing up untying the black neckerchief (his own) and laying it gently over the plaid sport coat, turning over his shoulder.

“Needing my assistance?” he chuckled, looking at Edward who had wormed his boot halfway off his leg before he gave up. Edward’s hair, grown out on holiday, was swept in that charming wave over his forehead that Thomas favored so much, making him look particularly sweet as he glanced up at Thomas, arms hanging over the edge of the bed.

“I’m spoiled for it now that you’re around,” he sighed once more, leaning back and sticking out his foot so that Thomas could kneel down on the carpet and help them off. “And bloody sore,” he muttered, rubbing a bit at his side and twisting his back. “Old muscles still getting stretched…”

“It is my duty, I suppose, Commander,” Thomas teased, grunting a bit, his hand gripping just under the back of Edward’s knee, nowhere close to circling around it for its sturdiness.

He knew it was not anything official (and oh, how Edward loathed to talk about promotions - particularly his own) or anything that Edward expected of him, but it made him happy to help him in these ways - doing up his tie in the morning, straightening his seams, helping his boots off. “And you should be more careful - and mind what the doctors told you - about taking a slow pace with things…”

It gave him great pleasure to be so close to him, to touch him, without any interruption and the knowledge that it that he could be responsible for Edward’s happiness, if only in these small tokens. It did not make up for all of it, the mistreatment or misunderstandings of the past, but it was a way to trade the weight of it for a different, kinder one.  

He wondered what it would be like if they could truly only have each other.

He did not expect to feel something suddenly come under his chin, and press - forcing him to lift his head.

“On the matter of duties,” Edward said lowly, and Thomas’ eyes blinked once and then widened as the tip of Edward’s crop pressed a bit more firmly just into that soft triangle on the underside of his jaw. “I know Thomas Jopson remembers that it is always in his best interest to answer honestly to an officer.”

Thomas did not know quite what to say. The night air outside stirred with the sound of night animals - frogs and birds - and the whirr blended with the soft crackle now filling his head. The light from the lamp on the bedside table cast Edward in a half shadow as he looked down on him, dark-eyed and calm in a way that made Thomas’ stomach clench. Thomas felt his head tilting slightly, but the rest of him remained completely still, still knelt there at his feet on the carpet.

“Eh?” Edward continued, still holding the crop under his chin, loop scraping on his chin. “What says him, then?”

“Of course,” Thomas said, not missing a beat. “I would never lie to you,” his brow knit slightly. “Though, I wonder what this mood is about,” he added, tacking on a light, incredulous, laugh for good measure. It died away as Edward regarded him, still moving the crop slightly, working it backwards and forwards as though Thomas were a cat and he was scratching his chin.

“I asked if I vexed you,” Edward continued, not needing to name the specific moment. Thomas’ eyes widened. “And you said you had already forgotten it.”


Thomas’ mouth parted a bit in surprise.

“Edward,” he began to say, reaching for him, his hand finding the suede-soft breeches stretched over his thigh.

Edward, pulled his leg back a bit, still looking down on him curiously.

“I have noticed your eye wandering to this little thing so much since,” Edward’s mouth settled into the barest trace of a frown. “I wonder if you think me a brute,” he murmured. “I know,” he began, but his lips pressed into a firm line again for a moment before continuing. “I did not demonstrate a fair side of me.”

“No,” Thomas insisted. “No - that isn’t it, not at all.”

The words cut off, Edward dragging the crop up so that his chin tipped more to the ceiling, closing his mouth effectively.

“You hardly meet my eye,” Edward continued, lower, to make him listen. “You defer more than usual. I see you worrying that spot.”

His eyes drifted down, and Thomas could see, though at the uncomfortable angle of his head, the fan of his dark lashes on his cheeks. He was speaking of that finger’s width bruise on his flank, the one that Thomas had, in fact, been impressed upon to touch and fidget with for some time. He wondered, color draining from his face, if Edward had spied upon him gazing at it in the mirror of his room’s vanity.

“If I harmed you, or hurt some feeling you have, I want you to tell me,” he said, sounding less like a Commander and more like Edward once more. “So I may properly ask your forgiveness, Tom - I do not mean to be rough with you -,”

“It’s,” Thomas blurted, throat bobbing again. His hand, still on Edward’s thigh, curled slightly when he tightened his fist. “I - I should apologize,” he stammered.

“What?”

Thomas closed his eyes meekly for a moment, then opened them. Edward forced his hand - there was no way he could live with himself if Edward believed he hated him in any way. Not again.


“I - ,” he knew he was blushing, and despised it. He wished he could find ways to speak of such things with more grace, but it eluded him. “You spoke right when you said that I am...unused to that sort of treatment,” he found himself saying. “So - I was quite surprised as I can’t remember a time I was ever struck, even in jest - except if Bobby was being too playful, or if I was swatted, on accident -”

“I knew it,” Edward said, and his free hand came to cover Thomas’. “I knew I’d gone too far…Forgive me Tom, please. I should know better, and you’re not all the way well yet either -”

“Let me finish,” Thomas said. He took a deep breath. “Blimey,” he laughed to himself, groaning slightly, eyes darting away for a moment. “I’m - I’m so sorry, Edward. You’ve landed yourself with someone like me. I’m so.” he screwed his eyes shut again. “I’m so weak,” he said. “Or addled, maybe.”

“When you landed that little blow, I realized it and was so stricken, but, more so I was...  excited by it,” his voice dropped to a mumble. Edward’s hold on the crop had all but wilted and he was able to bow his head, staring down at Edward’s knee, mouth trying to form the words that could somehow overcome how foolish he was.

“I am so jealous,” he murmured. “Of that horse ,” he shivered. “That… terrible annoying horse. All it does is misbehave - forces your attention on it. Can you imagine? To covet the life of an animal ,” he shook his head. “To have you strike me, to - I don’t know what entered my mind, but I was so pleased with it - keeping that mark. Proving something to myself... I thought perhaps I’ve deserved it -,”

“Not this again, Tommy,” Edward tried to interject, but the expression on Thomas’ face must have stalled him.

“That little punishment, from you, for thinking any of it at all, and keeping those feelings,” he did not know precisely what he was saying anymore, mouth moving on its own accord, loosed to admit the base thoughts he’d indulged privately for so long. They were so carnal, and so pleasurable, and he worried them smooth in his mind - tumbled in a river of fantasies that would have him flushed and panting. “For being...when I was cruel to you. Over there. Misunderstanding you, deliberately at times. Obstinate as that horse, and what blows you might have wanted to deal me then because you were suffering just as much, but were so patient ...I wanted you to do it again - an again.”

His forehead was all but touching Edward’s knee now, and a lengthy silence fell on the room broken only by the light toy of the wind easing in through the window.

“How cruel, to twist a man’s heart with such admissions,” Edward said, and Thomas looked up at him suddenly, his breath hitching. He felt the cold spike of fear cut right through him, but, somehow, when he dared to look up and meet the shameful rejection he knew would be waiting he did not find it. Edward’s face was not befitting the stern tone of his voice. His dark brow was heavy on his eyes, which were were dark as space, the lamplight bright as a moon within them, and they stared down on Thomas with great intention.

“What more does Tom Jopson have to confess?” he mused, hoarsely, leaning forward again, the crop springing back to life, and gently toying with the collar of his shirt, dragging at the little triangle of skin between the open top buttons and then prodding lightly at his neck. “He’s admitted his envy. Perhaps a bit of pride. He’s made a fair play at excusing himself for things he could not control...but I have not heard him denounce his gluttony,” Edward continued.

“Gluttony?” Thomas breathed out, looking at Edward who blinked.

“Thomas Jopson has a vulgar appetite,” Edward continued. “For most licentious acts.”

The little loop of the crop touched on Thomas’ bottom lip, traveling so far without him even noticing it.

“An innocent prank stirs him,” Edward went on. “And I have marked, with my own ears, how he will beg for more of me, though he is quite full...”

Thomas was buzzing and numb all the way to his feet.  His ears were barely believing what Edward was saying, and he said them as he said everything - with all his restraint, and candor - that made it all the more real despite how it could not be possible.

“He will need close scrutiny,” Edward supplied. “And discipline at his officer’s discretion...so he doesn’t forget his place.” Edward’s mouth split into a smile.

“That being he is most loved,” he murmured, voice so low and warming the bottom of Thomas’ belly like a shot of whiskey and making him feel just as drunk. “Far more than a horse . Which he needs desperate reminding of, at the least.”

Thomas felt the gasp slip out, the crop pressing now against his cheek, leather pliant, bending against his skin.

His hands unconsciously clenched again and he did not know where to place his eyes, that crazed mixture of embarrassment and complete and utter entrancement circling inside of him. This was some incredible game that Edward was now playing. It exploited what was obvious - Thomas’ longing for being at his beck and call, his tendency to hang on his words, his deep, rolling voice.

“Would he trust me to square those notions,” Edward asked, spinning the crop just so, sinking Thomas’ cheek with the end of it, right over that lovely dimple Edward was always kissing.

Thomas’ eyes fluttered and he looked at Edward, leaning forward, seeking more.


“Yes,” he managed to say, around the thing poking on the inside of his mouth. He could barely keep his tongue from worrying at the spot.

“Hardly proper address,” Edward said and Thomas flared with that strange urge - pawing at Edward’s hand where it was still holding his own. Had Edward brought it close to his face he would have bitten it gently, sucked on his fingers.

“Sir,” Thomas whispered, testing, and Edward made no move except to tap him lightly with the end of the crop on his hot cheek.


“That’s it,” he said, and his hand came from between Thomas’ to scoop the back of his head, fingers winding into his hair and Thomas could not help the noise that bleated out of him. He tightened his grip a bit, and Thomas found himself unable to do anything at all. “You shan’t make me remind you again,” he said, thumb rubbing at a tendon in his neck. 

“No, Sir,” he said, his dry lips sticking slightly around the words. He stared into Edward’s eyes, which now glittered back.

“Show me that stripe,” he said, releasing him. Thomas gathered himself for a moment and then using Edward’s knees as a balance, raised himself up. With shaking hands, and wobbling a bit, he pulled the tails of his shirt from the waistband of his trousers, quickly undoing the buttons to pull half the panel down to show Edward, breathing hard.

Edward’s hand reached out, soothing to his hot skin, and pulled him a bit closer so that he could trace over the line of it. It was a bright feathering yellow now, with only thin line of the former dark blue and purple in the center - a lightning streak against his otherwise very pale flesh, and Thomas tried not to jolt when he pressed on it. It was different when Edward did it.

Edward drew breath slowly in and out through his nose, and Thomas’ hand found his shoulder to keep him from tipping.

“You still bruise so easily, pet,” Edward murmured, palming the expanse of skin a bit rougher, squeezing at the fat on him. Thomas’ heart leapt into his throat and he swallowed it back down. “Darling Tom,” he said, his voice barely audible.


“I can bear it,” Thomas said, keeping his voice proper, and Edward tensed for a long moment before his  hand slid slowly over and around his hip, to cup his ass. “Whatever you
must give, Sir.”

“You make a knave of me with that wanton talk,” Edward replied, a little sharply. “I should not enjoy it so much…”

“I’ll talk however you wish,” Thomas said, hoping that Edward’s spell of more profound assertiveness wasn’t waning in favor of his usual attitudes. Edward - especially on this trip - acted on impulse as he pleased, but only in the most charming ways. It never failed Thomas to be wanted; he would grant him whatever permission he required.

But his hand never felt so sure of itself as it did now, taking his wrist as he stood, moving so that Thomas replaced him on the bed, belly down. Thomas heard him fit his foot back in his riding boot, stomping lightly on the heel, and he turned over his shoulder to look. He watched while Edward stripped to his waistcoat, dropping his frock coat on the same chair Thomas had laid his own garments earlier, and Thomas did not miss the way that he could see how he was filling out in his breeches and his body pulsed at the sight. Edward was so thick.

It made his mouth water.

The sun slipped even farther down in the bowl of the valley, by the lake, and through the billowing curtain at the window he could see the first of the stars salting the sky. Edward turned the lamp up slightly, and then stood at the edge of the mattress regarding him.

He used the crop to extend his reach, pushing the back of Thomas’ long untucked shirt up, rucking it over his trim waist, watching the muscles twitch and jump when he let the end of it drag lightly over the path of his spine to the edge of his trousers, simply stroking up and down.

Thomas bit off an anxious noise, not knowing what to do with himself. Edward withdrew into quiet, the leather skimming and tracing over the lower half of his back.

“How many do you think you have earned?” Edward said, the crop coming to a pause.

“I don’t know,” Thomas replied.

“How many has Tiger earned, you reckon, all and all -,” Edward posed. 

“I don’t know,” Thomas breathed, knowing that he knew - that Edward knew he knew. Thomas Jopson, with the keenest eyes and ears in all Her Majesty's Navy -

“Sir,” he huffed, in the aftermath of the tap Edward gave him. It was hardly anything, honestly. But all the same it coursed through every vein he had like it was molten, swelling him against his leg pinned to the mattress with a dull throb. Just the thought - the immediate replay of it caused him to bite his lip.

“I’m beginning to think you’re incorrigible,” Edward said, voice drawing him back. “You rather enjoy it, playing devil.”

Thomas squeezed his fists harder.

“O-of course not,” he said, met with another light flick somewhere lower.

“Don’t be contrary,” Edward chuckled. “Tell me, then, how many has Tiger earned this week? I know you’ve kept count. You’ve nothing better to do...”

“Ten,” Thomas said weakly. “Ten - or...eleven…”

“Eleven?” Edward marveled, his free hand resting now on his waist. “I would have thought more,” he grumbled to himself, and Thomas suddenly flashed a blinding smiled, opening his eye to look at him. It was Edward’s turn to blush.

“You are not so quick to punish him,” he said and Edward used his hand this time to pet at Thomas’ bared skin, watching as his eyes fluttered closed again, the beautiful straight bridge of his nose burying into the bed clothes. “What do you say to him?” Thomas asked, squirming slightly and lifting his hips to help Edward pull his trousers down.

“When?”


“When you’re scolding him,” Thomas said, voice sounding strained. "I cannot hear you from so far."

"What all do you think I'm saying," Edward posited. 

"Naughty boy," Thomas murmured. 

"Eh?" Edward's voice was gruff.

"Naughty boy," Thomas said, a bit louder. 

“Naughty boy,” Edward repeated, and the crop landed on the bare skin of Thomas’ ass and he ducked his head into the covers, lifting his hips again. “And don’t pull...”

Thomas dropped them down again, and did not let them lift the next time.

But the time after, he could not account for.

 


 

Edward took his cock in his hand, rubbing it against the softness of Thomas’ hole. Within the weeks of the holiday it had become so easy to fuck him, but it still felt like an immeasurable indulgence.

Like his first time he bit into a mango, or when he had smoked charas from a coconut shell on a stop in Jamaica .  Something to be savored, and ever preserved in his memory. 


Edward tensed for a moment, humming, his hand passing over the little red marks lashed on Thomas’ backside. More than eleven, but Thomas sounded so pretty when he begged, and Edward could not deny him anything.

“Finest mount in all of Cumbria,” he murmured, spreading Thomas a little, eyes drifting up to where Thomas’ back rose and fell, bunt red by his flush. Sweat plastered his hair to his skull and as Edward felt over the welts he took his thumb to ease the head of his cock inside knowing it must have burned, but not nearly as much as what Thomas had already endured up till then.

Thomas gasped only a little as he pushed his hips forward, the sound feathering into a moan, tightening down on Edward when he was fully in place.

“Spent already?” Edward asked his thumb drifting to where his rim was stretched around him. He could sense it in how relaxed he was. When Thomas didn’t answer Edward gripped his ass and Thomas’s head snapped up, back arching with a hiss.


“Y-yes,” he replied, pressing back with the new leverage the movement afforded him and groaning softly.


“I’ll have you do it again for me, catlap,” Edward drawled, fisting Thomas’ damp hair and pulling him back a bit more so that he was forced up on his elbows. “Without the aide, this time just on my cock, how you like...” 

Thomas felt like one raw nerve, and he tried to bow his head against Edward’s grip but it was so firm, tugging and petting at him.  Catlap . That wicked little nickname. Thomas had rolled his eyes the first time, Edward hovering above him in his narrow bunk, the two of them working against Terror's list so as not to roll off of it and fall to the floor, waking the entire deck. 

I drink more than tea, you know ... he whispered, Edward teasing at his neck. 

That's not why, he said, sucking harder than usual at his pulse and Thomas jolted. I call you catlap, he continued, kissing wetly down to Thomas' collarbone. Because you are white - he bit at Thomas' right nipple and Thomas immediately grabbed the back of his head, unable to stop him from trailing his tongue down his stomach. And thin... and sweet as milk -


Thomas' hand scraped at the back of Edward's scalp, Edward's breath was so hot against him he felt he might melt apart the instant his mouth touched him. 

And only good for spilling - 

“Go on,” Edward said, rolling his hips slowly, and Thomas fumbled with his cock, wincing at how sensitive it felt from being trapped against the wet flannel blanket and the coarse hair of his belly for so long.


“Edward,” he whimpered, and Edward ground against him, watching the way Thomas mouthed at the air silently. 


“Needing me?” Edward said and Thomas’ shaking hand dropped back to the coverlet. He nodded. "Greedy thing," Edward said. 

“I am,” he yelped, Edward letting go of his hair to take over the task of bringing him off,  the other hand squeezing his hip hard. He worked him and Thomas lost himself to it, each stroke sending a needling prickle over the rest of him. “I need you...”


“Look at me when you say it,” Edward said, his own voice fraying a bit. He pulled out, and Thomas whimpered, following him where he rolled over to the side, on his back and easing his sore thigh over his waist and settling himself down again. He clawed at Edward’s shoulders and his chest and Edward fisted his cock again, reaching around to feel where he met his lap, always fascinated by that place, and making Thomas blush for how lewd it was.


“Take me so well, Tommy,” he said. “Every time I ask...like you were made for it.”


Thomas couldn't reply, rocking gently into the circle of Edward’s hand and back against the new soreness blooming all over his bottom and thighs, breath panting out of him.

“Tell me," Edward said, a bit more urgently, and Thomas pawed over his knuckles. "How you looked at me. On Terror."

"I c-could tell," Thomas said."Through your coat, your trousers, seated at the table, how you would cover me. Inside me..."


Edward titled his head back against the pillow, fucking up into him hard and Thomas' vision blurred and he held himself steady on Edward’s chest, his backside burning where Edward clapped into it, nearly making him shout as he came, bending over so he was crouched over, hands on either side of Edward's head. 

"You rot me with love for you," Edward said, eyes opening, staring up at him, no telling what he saw. "Do you hear me?" He took Thomas' chin in his hand. "I'd have you stabled here - all mine."


Thomas saw how impassioned Edward was, and he leaned down, nuzzling his face into Edward's palm, and Edward clenched his jaw.


“Yours,” Thomas breathed, using his mouth to toy with the gold ring on Edward's first finger. 

Edward pulled it away to drag through his hair and pull him closer, till they were flush and he could wind his arms around him, tight  as a vice as he finished, hips fucking up and up and up till he was spent, Thomas breathing ragged. He pleaded, feebly, with him to stay inside for a bit longer, muscles all over him quaking too much to endure any other movement and because he did not want to lose the fullness of him just yet. 


“Tommy,” Edward said, holding him, legs tangling together. He kissed him, and Thomas forgot the sensation on his lower half entirely, licking into Edward’s mouth with a heavy tongue that barely obeyed him for what seemed an hour.

“What's this,” Edward hushed, and he was kissing gently on his cheek and Thomas blinked, realizing his eyes watered and one or two tears in his eyes that had slipped down without him noticing. He wiped his face, wriggling his hand from between their two bodies, sniffling slightly.


“You've ruined your chance at getting me on that bloody horse,” he croaked, his ass throbbing as Edward slipped out. Edward paused his nuzzling to laugh, his head rustling the pillow as he threw it back. It was funny enough, but Thomas had dropped all his pretense and gone full Westie on him. 

“Is that what this was?” he marveled and Thomas skimmed his nose along his jaw, burrowing into his warm neck, Edward shifting so he could tuck his hair behind his ear for him. "You only had to tell me you didn't didn't like horses..."


“I like them fine,” Thomas conceded, squinting, taking stock - perhaps in the morning he would feel it more, but now there was only how very warm and heavy Edward’s arms were over his back and how firm he was against him. "Slow ones."

“Hmmm,” Edward considered, chuckling. "Draft, then."


"Bloody hell," Thomas huffed, squirming though Edward squeezing him tighter. 


"Eighteen hands," Edward snickered, all teeth in his voice, Thomas trying to move his shoulder so his whiskers didn't tickle into his ear, but Edward always held him fast. 


"Make yourself useful," Thomas tutted. Edward was kissing him again and he could only slip a few words between them. "Bring me something from your liquor cabinet -or something sweet to eat," his head fell back against Edward's arm and he lost himself for a moment before Edward jerked back, Thomas smiling ruefully with half-lidded eyes and his mouth kiss-bitten. 

"You'll get another pinch somewhere it hurts more if you don't mind me," Thomas whispered, rolling off of him with a moan and flopping face down into the pillow. "I earned my carrot..."


Edward stared at him, smiling. 

"You command me in all the ways that count, Thomas," he drawled, and Thomas couldn't help the way his heart leaped a bit at the words. 


Edward sat up only to bend over and kiss the dip of Thomas' back, the dimples just below, as charming as the ones on his face. Thomas hummed gratefully, pointing his toes and then relaxing them. 


"We'll need another holiday altogether when we're through, pet," Edward yawned. "My back is done for..."


"Lie down, then," Thomas said and Edward saw he was nearly asleep. His mouth tugging into a half smile. He looked and saw there wasn't any broken skin anywhere, just red stripes that would bruise.

He rubbed Thomas' lovely smooth back, his shoulders, the fine bones of his neck and down again.


"Sir," Thomas sighed into the pillow, mellowing into perfect sweetness under his hands. 
"Come cover me, or I might freeze."