Francis Crozier isn't sure what's causing that blasted knot in the back of his neck, just between his shoulder blades, but one thing he knows for sure: it is driving him stark raving mad. From time to time a stinging pain will shoot up his neck, and the muscles connecting his head to his shoulders will demand that he move them; but which movement they require to ease the soreness, he is unable to find out. No amount of stretching his neck to either side, or aggressively circling his shoulders in all directions, is able to ease the tension.
He throws his head back, and kneads the area between his neck and shoulders. His exasperated sigh must have sounded quite frustrated, for James Fitzjames – sitting opposite him – pauses in his story, and looks over with a raised eyebrow.
“Are you quite all right, Francis?”
“Yes, yes,” Crozier mutters. “Pardon me, go on.”
Ever since the cursed Carnivale and his recovery, he has seen more of Fitzjames than at the beginning of their besetment at King William Land, to the point that they are now meeting daily.
James Fitzjames, his newly clear and observing mind has come to realize, is vulnerable: almost lost without Sir John, beneath that facade of the dandy braggart. And – who would have thought it – his stories of adventure in China and Mesopotamia prove to be a way to distract their mind from the expedition's predicament, if only for an hour or two before they retire for the night. Fitzjames' stories are even focusing less on himself now, and more on his comrades such as Doctor Stanley and Lieutenant Le Vesconte; and Crozier listens, every time a little more interested than he cares to admit. That is, until the pain in his shoulder area flares up again.
“Your shoulders?” Fitzjames gives him a concerned look.
Crozier groans. “It's returning every few days.” He rotates his shoulders forth and back, even though he knows by now that this doesn't help, but the urge to loosen the muscles is stronger than him. “Nothing I've done seems to work. I've adjusted my sleeping position, my writing position ...”
“Have you tried a hot water bottle? Heat to the area –”
“Yes, goddamn it.” Only two days ago, Jopson filled a copper flask with heated water, wrapped it in wool, and laid it upon his captain's upper back. “But it only works until the bloody thing is cold, which is perhaps an hour. And it won't do to heat water all the damn time – not when we need to save resources.”
Fitzjames nods. “A noble notion.”
“But?” Crozier sounds more aggressive than he means to. It's not Fitzjames' fault – there is no trace of mockery in his voice. It's all that goddamned sensation in his shoulders. He can't remember – was it always there, even when he was still under the influence of drink? His mind must have been too dulled to notice.
Fitzjames pauses a little longer before he responds. “But the captain's well-being is essential for the ship as a whole. You must not neglect yourself.”
Crozier takes a deep breath. As if this advice, however well-intentioned, actually contains useful information! He tries to not fling a frustrated reply at the younger man, who is really not such an arrogant prick at all. He merely means well, and deserves consideration and respect.
“So … any suggestions?”
“A massage,” is Fitzjames' prompt answer. “Have someone give your neck and shoulders a good, thorough kneading. It can work wonders.”
Crozier waves his hand, immediately dismissing that concept. “I'll not ask yet another thing of Jopson. Christ, James, you know what that poor lad went through in the past weeks, taking care of me!”
“I speak not of Jopson.” Fitzjames leans forward, closer to him; his voice turning to a conspirative whisper. “Some years ago I had the privilege to learn an ancient massage technique from a medicus in Tikrit. Let me demonstrate it to you, Francis.”
“You learned what?” Crozier lifts an eyebrow. He's not sure which is more preposterous – that Fitzjames would willingly manhandle him like a wrestler, or the fact that there are techniques to it . He scrutinizes Fitzjames' face for a sign that the younger captain is toying with him, but Fitzjames looks dead serious.
“Yes. There is actually an art to it. I can't say I've mastered it, not having had much opportunity to practice, but …” Fitzjames shrugs, his boyish grin feigning modesty, but his eyes twinkle with the excitement of confidence. Perhaps that is a good thing, that the braggart Fitzjames of two years ago is not yet entirely lost.
“And it works?”
“It might. Why don't you just let me show you? If you don't absolutely love it, we shall stop. Simply lie on your bunk, face down, and let me work your back and shoulders until we find out what brings relief.”
And so Francis Crozier finds himself in this – to a casual onlooker, most compromising – position on his sheets, clad only in his drawers and socks. The air in the cabin is icy, but Fitzjames has assured him it will be bearable shortly, if not warm. He is straddling Crozier's bottom – how does such an intimate arrangement come to him so easily? – and rubs his hands together with some olive oil.
Although Crozier cannot see him, he can hear the grin in the other man's voice just fine.
“Do what you must,” Crozier mumbles, still not entirely convinced that the massage will be worth the slight humiliation of lying half-naked beneath the still-dashing, still-young commander, in the full glory of his own aged, sagging flesh, scars and all. At least Jopson is in bed already, so no one will catch them like this. And at least the warm glow of the argand lamp will be kind to his freckled, pasty backside.
What business does he even have worrying about his appearance now? Even the young and handsome on either ship have long stopped looking like the hopeful heroes of May, 1845.
“Try to relax. Breathe in and out, slowly.” Fitzjames' hands are on his shoulders, and as he leans forward his pelvis shifts against Crozier's buttocks. A strange sensation, but Fitzjames does not seem to notice nor care as his hands start to work Crozier's shoulders and the area between them.
It isn't merely the artful massage that is touching him deeply, alternating between firmer and gentler strokes. It is the touch itself, Crozier realizes, that is foreign, almost new to him. When was the last time that another human being really touched him?
Of course Jopson shaves him regularly (and washed him too when he was going through withdrawal, Francis thinks vaguely, shamefully), but those touches are formal, sparse and always the same, as if regulated by some unwritten manual. Only the most necessary contact as a higher ranking officer may expect of another man.
The people, the common sailors, at least are at liberty to hug and wrestle and playfully ruffle their comrades' hair, activities unfit for anyone above the grade of a petty officer. It would not do for a lieutenant, or indeed a captain, to allow or even seek this sort of liberal contact.
Fitzjames' hands are warm, so unbelievably warm. Each of his firm strokes down Crozier's back leaves a trail of delightful heat in its wake. And he is vigorous – changing up his movements, pressing and squeezing in turn, and Crozier cannot suppress a low sigh. At this moment the pain and tension are gone, or at least becoming duller as he relaxes and gives in to the sensation of those determined hands.
“This good, Francis?” Fitzjames sounds a tad breathless – of course, he is working hard.
“Yes, thank you.” Crozier turns his head to the other side, pretending to give him better access to one shoulder, but in reality he tries to brush his face over the sheets as inconspicuously as possible to wipe away the wetness in one of his eyes. To be touched with such purpose and zeal creates an intensity that threatens to overwhelm him.
How can the sensation of living, breathing, warm human flesh so close to his own have such an effect? And why can he not remember the last time he sensed it, felt like this? Even though he had been close to Miss Cracroft in that cursed Platypus Pond, the memory pales in comparison to the present – the present consisting of himself and Fitzjames only, in the tiny cabin of HMS Terror.
“You're getting warmer. That's good.”
It's not surprising; the massage encourages the circulation of blood. A particularly hard grasp in the area between his neck and shoulders makes him groan, distracting him from further memories about Platypus Pond – not that he should be thinking about that , not when he allows James to be so intimately close to him!
Crozier sighs as Fitzjames continues to work him.
His touches become almost sensual, stroking in symmetry over Crozier's upper arms and then down his spine in slow, languid caresses. To do this, Fitzjames has to lean further forward, and Crozier feels his breath, hot and gentle on the nape of his neck.
“You're still really tense.” A chuckle, and a pat beneath his neck. “You've got one devil of a knot right there.” And then – Fitzjames shifts forward, wriggling a little as he changes position. For a brief moment Crozier thinks he can feel something hard pressing against his arse before Fitzjames kneels across his waist. Just a quick contact, gone in an instant, but he is certain he has not imagined it. Can it be?
Can it be that James Fitzjames, though he might not admit it even to himself, is just as desperate to feel the comforting touch of another human being? That he, hot-blooded and foolhardy as a much younger man, is seizing an opportunity for closeness while telling himself he's doing his captain-comrade a favour?
It's been two bloody years since they've left England. No – two and a half!
Fitzjames' touches become slower and less vigorous while losing nothing of their determination. He strokes Crozier's back and shoulders as if to commit their forms to his tactile memory, searching, tracing, feeling . As his fingers trail along Crozier's spine, they pause at the nape of his neck, fingertips lingering and brushing over the hair at the base of Crozier's head – another very brief but acutely perceptible moment. The touch is unexpected and almost galvanizing. Crozier exhales, and to his embarrassment it sounds like another sigh.
“Feels good, doesn't it?” Fitzjames' voice is a breathy whisper.
Crozier can only nod. All of Fitzjames' warmth and proximity has him in a spell that he must not break under any circumstances. He doesn't give a hoot about the commander's motivations – damn it, a little tempter in his mind whispers, if he really wants to seduce you, let him.
What do they have to lose? In any case he will lie here, locked between Fitzjames' thighs, and let his hot hands roam all over his bare skin, and enjoy the gratuitous massaging. The devil may care!
Now Fitzjames is firming up his grasp once more, kneading Crozier's shoulders and upper arms, gently pushing where he suspects tense muscles. His arms and back are now exquisitely warm, and he relishes the sensation of being so thoroughly relaxed, of that delectable warmth rushing into other parts of his body.
Mostly down to his loins; and soon, Francis Crozier rests on a cockstand. Although it is confined in his drawers and lies flat and flush against his belly, the sensation is blatant and uncomfortable.
“I'm glad,” comes Fitzjames' breathy reply, much closer than previously at Crozier's ear. Between massaging strokes, he now takes longer pauses and gives barely audible almost-sighs. Naturally, he must be tired after all this hard work.
Crozier's manhood is hard, throbbing like a shameful reminder of his physical weakness, trapped between his belly and the mattress; and he wonders whether he should contrive a way to get James out of the cabin politely before exposing his condition; or whether, perhaps – Fitzjames is hoping to witness it.
“Francis?” His voice is low, and his hot breath touches the sensitive skin of Crozier's ear, sending another arousing impulse straight to his cock.
“Turn around?” Now Fitzjames shifts back until he is kneeling further down on the bed, over Crozier's legs, so as to give him more space for the requested action. “Please?”
It is strange, the pleading tone. That's not how he knows Fitzjames – the commander who is used to giving orders and dominating a room with his presence and voice.
Oh, confound it! So what if the man sees his excited state? He's seen pricks before; he's got one of his own, and Crozier will be damned if he hasn't felt it poking him at least twice in the past few minutes! He understands, and so will Fitzjames. Crozier exhales and commences the careful manoeuver of turning around in the narrow bunk with James still astride his legs.
A quick glance down at himself confirms that he is indeed aching hard, his white cotton drawers emphasizing its bold outline. But then – James is, very visibly, similarly afflicted. Although the commander is still wearing his trousers, the bulge at their front is unmistakable, and Crozier glances up to look at him.
He expects to see a rakish grin, perhaps a cocky raised eyebrow, just as he imagines a man of Fitzjames' type would display as he sets out for an erotic conquest. But to his surprise, there is none of that.
Instead, Fitzjames is blushing deep red, and there is wetness glinting in his eyes. He looks down at himself, then back at Crozier, while massaging one hand half-heartedly and fidgeting with another. The look in Fitzjames' eyes takes Crozier aback – it is unlike any manner of James he has seen before. Stunned, he watches at Fitzjames' lashes flutter down, watches him avert his gaze. Could it be? James Fitzjames – insecure, ashamed?
“Francis …” His voice is strained. “Touch me, too. Please.”
It's a James completely unknown to him – a James that perhaps no one else has ever seen, overcome and vulnerable, and he has more or less chosen to reveal himself to Francis.
The realization hits Crozier both with a pleasant jerk in his abdomen that makes his cock twitch, and at the same time with an urge to hold him in his arms and to whisper comforting sweet nothings into his ear unto all eternity.
“My God”, he croaks, still astonished, and reaches out with a trembling arm. “Come here, James.”
When Crozier takes him into his arms, he notices Fitzjames is shaking. He sinks into the Terror captain's embrace first, then presses himself forcefully against him, burrowing his face against the hollow between Crozier's neck and shoulder with a pained, mewling sound. His fists bunch into the sheets to the sides of Crozier's head, and he can feel him breathing hard, his heart pounding – no, both their heartbeats against one another, and – more dulled but still acutely present – the same pulse further down in their pricks.
“Don't know …” James' voice, although muffled by Francis' shoulder and the bedding, is high-pitched. “Don't know what's goin' on with me … J- just let me …”
“Shh. It's all right,” Crozier whispers, running a hand up to Fitzjames' head, marveling at the softness of his locks. “It's all right. We - we've been needing this. It's … merely human …” His voice trails off as he realizes that the comforting effect has set in: Fitzjames relaxes gradually, and soon he feels heavy atop him.
Just as Crozier is about to adjust his position – Fitzjames may be slim but he is no lightweight – the younger man props himself up on his elbows, throws back his hair and inhales deeply. His cheeks are still flushed and with remnants of tears glistening on them, but he is looking at Francis now, no longer bashful. His eyes, dark and deep, fearlessly meet his gaze. Licking his lips, he carefully pushes his pelvis forward along Francis', reminding them both of their common need still unsatisfied.
Crozier gasps, and it turns into a groan as Fitzjames, encouraged, ruts against him once more with more urgency.
Their clothing provides a friction that is both delectable and frustrating. Francis' hand is still upon James' hair, and he runs his other along James' body, animating him in his movements. Fitzjames feels strong and brawny under his touch; even his arse – Crozier grabs it purposefully, mirroring his thrusts as far as he is able – is sturdy and taut, designed to support tall, straight legs. He curls his fingers into Fitzjames' hair, half pulling him down, half being crushed into a ravenous kiss.
“Ohh,” James is moaning into his mouth, and Francis is almost undone. It is only in the very last instant he can stop himself from spending into his drawers like an overexcited youngster. Fitzjames is eager, his tongue pushing forward against Crozier's, demanding and wet. He pulls back to gasp for breath, then he is back at it, angled slightly differently as if desperate to taste every possible spot of his lips.
Crozier knows he should slow down and draw out this moment – his last remnant of common sense tells him so. But when Fitzjames tears himself loose, and again kneels upright astride him, fumbling with his trouser buttons in a hurry, he follows Fitzjames' example, opening his drawers likewise. They stare at one another, panting, pricks finally out and proud and free.
James pounces right back onto him, pressing mouth and hips against Francis', and they kiss as before, interrupting only to catch their breath. Crozier bucks his pelvis up, all the better to feel Fitzjames align with him. Both their cocks are dripping with anticipation, silky hot and slick along one another.
“Oh God,” Crozier manages to utter when Fitzjames' mouth trails off his, kissing along his jaw and neck and ear; areas he hasn't known previously to be so sensitive. He wants to taste and feel him in return, but pinned down as he is beneath him he can only rut and grope desperately.
“So good,” James gasps, thrusting his hips across Francis', again and again. His face is right above him, eyes closed; mouth half open, panting. He is glowing pink, stray hairs sticking to his sweaty forehead, cravat loose – an image of liberated passion so beautiful that Crozier cannot believe that it is also his doing. He has never seen himself as capable of attracting such beauty, nevermind being deserving of it, but here he is – Fitzjames in fierce glory, trusting Francis with this expression of his intimacy. And Francis realizes he cannot last one second longer.
“I'm –” he pants, but his body acts sooner; thrusting up with the force of paroxysm, hard against James, and he groans. Lights flare up behind his squeezed-shut eyelids; and when he opens them, fluttering and breathless, he feels James pressing down onto him just as violently. James’ body is tensing, first with one, then another wave of release, his prick pulsating against Francis' still leaking one.
As the sensation ebbs away and his limbs turn heavier, Crozier's natural response is to close his eyes. The exhaustion is acute – he can't remember the last time he has spent this intensely. He feels jostled and gently pushed to the side – James lies down next to him, as far as the scarce space of the bunk allows, one leg flung over Crozier's thigh. He dips one lanky finger into the evidence of their passions spread over Crozier's belly, and grins at him.
It's the same confident smile he usually shows off, albeit now on a reddened, tired face. “Francis.”
“Hm?” Crozier rubs his eyes.
Fitzjames says his name again, but draws it out in a teasing manner so that it turns into Frauncis, which sounds absolutely ridiculous.
Francis blinks, props himself up on his elbows to better look at that devil who is all of a sudden his cheeky self again, and apparently happy to have the older man's attention. “Tell me we're doing this again.”
“Anytime.” Returning the self-assured spirit, Francis grins. “James.” Then again, mocking him gently, “ Jeames. ”
James drops his head, bursting into laughter, before he pushes Francis back down and assaults him with another kiss.