John laid aside his book to take in the view of Henry sitting at his feet on the hearthrug, sewing on a button. God, the simple luxury of doing nothing. He would have to stir himself soon to put supper together, fetch more wood and perform a dozen other domesticities they hadn’t bothered with the day before.
They had arrived at the cottage yesterday, the first night in almost three years that they had been alone with a door to lock. They’d been wild for each other. They’d had each other urgently against the door they’d barely managed to close, and then again on the floor, and finally once more on the bed, after which John cried mercy on his aged body.
“Hardly aged,” Henry had said breathlessly, climbing off him, cock softening at last. “I’ve never seen you so hale.”
It was true they were both well rested, only having been required to convalesce on the return journey from Baffin Bay. Henry’s life had hung by a thread for the first weeks of that voyage, but Mr Goodsir had fought for him tooth and nail, and had won. John had watched in wonder as strength returned to his beloved - a true miracle of medicine, Mr Goodsir had opined.
And now they were home, whole and together and with enough money to stay ashore for a good long while. A miracle indeed. John listened to the crackle of the fire and watched his miracle sewing with his strong, deft fingers.
“Did you ever finish the Xenophon?” he said idly, and Henry glanced up, biting the thread from the coat sleeve he was working on.
“I made a very good start,” he hedged. John smiled at him and Henry smiled back.
“I didn’t get very far,” he admitted, setting aside his mending. “The headaches, and the hauling…”
“All behind us now,” John said, and smoothing back a lock of hair from Henry’s forehead. And that not being enough, pressing a kiss there too.
Henry shifted up onto his knees, turning so that their mouths met. Henry loved to kiss; John had never had that with a lover before. That Henry wanted him was enough of a delight. That he wanted to kiss him and be tender with him was almost more than he could have imagined.
John had noticed Henry from the first moment of their first voyage together; impossible not to. He was so young and so vital, intelligent and inquisitive. John was well used to men catching his eye, and well used to ignoring that he’d been caught. But Henry was almost impossible to ignore, and seemed as drawn to John as John was to him, or at least to his company and his books. John fell for him hard and helplessly.
It had taken a deal of rum and Henry pushing for John to ever admit it. Ashore in some godforsaken harbour town and fighting for lodgings with half the damned British navy, Henry had insisted they take a room together. “Yours is the only company I want to keep,” he’d said. John hadn’t allowed himself to think too much about what Henry meant, until they were alone.
“John I know what the men say of you,” Henry had said, leaning against the door he had closed between them and everything else.
John knew what he meant, of course.
“That I’m a sodomite. Aye well, it’s true,” he had replied, emboldened by rum. “But I’ve never yet forced anyone, so you’ve nothing to fear from me. I’m as happy to talk of novels as I would be to...”
“Bed me?” Henry had said, crudely and cheekily, and startling a laugh from John.
“Aye, that,” he said.
“You’d want to...do that,” Henry said, eyes still fixed on John. "With me."
John made a helpless movement with his hands. “Yes, God help me,” he said. “But I’ll not touch a man who doesn’t want it.”
Henry gave him a long look from those light hazel eyes before he spoke again. “And how do you touch a man who does want it?” he’d asked.
John felt too weak with desire to move. Henry moved for them both and kissed him. His mouth was soft, and he opened it with a sigh. John sank against him, heart leaping with the unexpected tenderness. It hadn’t stayed tender for long, and in moments John had Henry firm against the wall, his tongue in his mouth and both hands on the arse he’d watched climb the rigging more times than he cared to recall. Henry had rocked against him, kisses hard and desperate, until he shuddered and gasped and thrust against John’s leg. John felt his climax like his own.
“Lord, John. I’ve never...” Henry had said, face dark pink.
“Let’s see what else you’ve never,” John said with a smile.
Henry got out of his clothes first, eager and unashamed of his body. John’s gaze feasted on Henry’s lean, compact body, unmarked and youthful, and cock still hard. What he would make of John, John didn’t know.
He let Henry discover for himself.
Henry’s nimble fingers, well used to untying difficult knots, made short work of John’s buttons. His hands stilled as he pushed John's shirt aside, revealing the gold ring fixed in his nipple.
"John," he said, surprised.
“Got that when I crossed the equator in the West Indies,” John said. It had been a fellow steward’s idea, this way to mark the line-crossing. A wild, handsome boy who had taught Bridgens all manner of things about himself, including what sent him gasping in bed.
Henry’s eyes were round as he looked at the ring glinting on John’s chest. He lifted his hand as if to touch it, but stopped.
John shrugged off his shirt and began on the rest. Henry might as well see the lot now. Unfastening trousers and drawers, he slid them off his hips to the floor. Then he straightened up and watched Henry's face.
Henry stared, throat working as he swallowed. “And that one?” he said hoarsely, after a moment. “The equator again?”
“No. This one is for pleasure,” John said, brushing a thumb briefly over the ring at the end of his cock.
Henry’s chest rose and fell but he didn’t speak, and made no move to touch.
John had thought the boy had changed his mind. Christ knew Henry’s first time with a man should be with someone as young and handsome as himself - not a great old bear of a man, tattooed and pierced like a heathen, with a furred chest and grey in his beard. It’d be enough to frighten anyone off.
“Will it hurt me?” Henry had said at last, dragging his eyes back to John’s.
John shook his head slowly, his cock beginning to fill at the implication of Henry’s question. “It’s meant for pleasure. For both,” he said. “I wouldn’t...I get no joy from causing pain.”
Henry let out a breath that was more of a moan.
“Please,” he’d said, throwing himself into John's arms and kissing him.
Henry had wanted to be fucked that night. John could still picture him in his mind’s eye, lying on the bed, head thrown back and kiss-reddened lips open. He'd been hard as iron as John eased into him, having used tongue and fingers to ready him. He’d come just as John had pushed the head of his cock into him - just as the ring dragged across the pleasure spot inside. John had stopped moving, fearful of hurting Henry as he clenched again and again around the cock inside him, but Henry had gasped out a plea for more; for harder and deeper.
“I want to feel it tomorrow like you’re still in me,” Henry had gasped. “All day. I want to remember. Don’t be gentle.”
John didn’t need asking twice. Thrusting his full length inside him, he’d fucked Henry till one of the legs of the the rickety bed gave way, then put him on his hands and knees on the floor and fucked him some more. Henry had come twice more that night - he was always fast to come and eager for more and barely needed touching to do it. And the effect of John’s piercing on Henry was more intense than for anyone he’d ever fucked before.
The idea that a night's fucking might sate the desire John had burned with so long was soon proved foolish. Every touch, every kiss made them both burn harder for each other. Every look and whispered word only deepened their desire.
Teasing and denial became part of their bedplay. Sometimes with touch, sometimes with words. And though John was strict about behaviour on board ship, it didn’t stop Henry slipping filthy notes between the pages of the books John lent him. Notes telling John the way he’d suck him, the way he’d tease the ring in his cock with his tongue and tug on the ring on his chest, how he’d slip a finger in him and stroke him till John lost his reason. John had to burn these - even when the notes turned from messages of lust to ones of love - but by Christ he remembered every single word.
He wondered if Henry did.
“You should begin the book again,” John said now, as Henry continued to kiss him lazily. Henry stopped with a little groan.
“I don’t know if I can face reading about that march after living through our own,” he said.
“I don’t know if I hold with you neglecting your reading this way,” John said with a low chuckle, and Henry grinned. With a quick movement, he straddled John.
“How about neglecting it this way?” he said, leaning forward to work on John’s shirt buttons.
John tugged him down for a kiss, feeling Henry harden against his stomach as he did. His own body reacted in kind, as it always did. But no. He lifted Henry off him, and put him back in his chair.
“I think we shall attend to your education this minute,” he said as Henry looked up at him playfully.
“Teach me then, Mr Bridgens,” he said, as though John were a schoolteacher. Very well then, he'd be taught. John reached for his book.
“Sit up and take this,” he said, and Henry did so. “Turn to the marked chapter.” Henry obeyed again, casting an expectant look at John. John nodded to him.
“Having got their kit and baggage together, they at once began their march through deep snow with several guides,” Henry began. “One of the guides was burly and handsome, with a great broad chest covered with hair, and a big, thick, hard…”
“Oh! So this is how it’s to be?” John said, snatching the book back from him and Henry laughed, his bright eyes crinkling. John grinned back. Well, if the lad wanted to play games...John could think of an enjoyable one.
He laid the book aside and took to undressing Henry instead. It was still a wonder, getting to do this - the freedom and privacy to touch. He sat back and admired Henry in the firelight, his lean, healthy body on show.
“Take the book,” he said in a low voice.
Henry looked at him, cheeks flushed. He took the book up, shifting in his seat and parting his legs.
“I believe I know a way to concentrate your mind,” John said with a small smile, kneeling down beside him. “Now begin again.”
Henry paused as he found his place, then began. “From this place they marched through deep snow over a flat country...ohh, oh, John,” he said, for John had stroked a hand up the soft skin of Henry’s inner thigh and then between his legs to cup him.
John took his hand away. Henry made a small sound of loss.
“You keep reading and I’ll keep touching,” John said. “But if you stop, I stop.”
Henry’s eyes went dark and he bit his lip. Nodding briefly he turned back to the book.
“The last of these marches was trying, with the north wind blowing in their teeth, d-drying up everything and benumbing the...ohhh...the men…”
John stroked Henry gently, feeling the surge of his cock growing in his hand. He loosened his grip, moving his hand slowly and tormentingly as Henry stumbled through the next paragraph.
”They spent the whole night in kindling fire; for-for there was fortunately no dearth of wood at the halting-place; only those...ah, only...only those who came late into…c-Christ. John…”
Henry brought his hips up involuntarily, thrusting hard into John’s fist. John took his hand away. Henry’s erection bobbed up against his stomach and he groaned with frustration. He was wickedly hard already, and John would have to go carefully if Henry was to finish the chapter.
Henry took a long shaky breath and turned back to the book.
John let the words of the familiar story wash over him as he tended to Henry. He switched from gentle strokes along his length to harder pressure just beneath the flushed head of his cock, and then just as Henry seemed as though he might spend, would change back to feather light strokes again. With his other hand he gently played with his balls and the place just behind them, making Henry squirm in his seat.
But he read stoically on, the sentences stumbling and disjointed, and punctuated with helpless moans that made John want to throw him onto his hands and knees and finish the job there and then. But Henry was so beautiful when he was overwhelmed, and John wanted to watch him struggle a little longer. Perhaps he'd make it a touch more difficult.
“Xenophon and his party, telling the sick folk that next day people would come for them, set off, and before they had...had…” Henry stuttered to a halt as John licked a lazy path up the length of him. John wondered if he asked the boy afterwards what the story was he’d have any idea. He licked again, feeling the iron hard cock jump in his hand. “B-before they had gone half a mile… half a...hah...Oh John, like that. Please, like that. I’m…”
John took his mouth away and squeezed Henry’s balls hard enough to stop his climax. Henry arched up against nothing, calling John a name that he could only have learned from the Marines, a light sheen of sweat on his chest and in the hollow of his throat. Unable to help it, John swept a thumb up over one of his nipples, sending him swearing again.
“You’ve only a page or so to go,” John said, as Henry looked at him dazedly.
“You’re a monster,” Henry breathed. But he began to read again.
The going was much harder for Henry now; John made sure of it. Henry could barely wring out more than half a sentence before descending into pained moans or pleas for relief, his cock jerking against the air whenever John took his hands away. He was wet as well as hard now, the early seed running down his length and giving lubrication to the light strokes and touches which John made sure were never quite enough. Almost, almost, but not. Henry was almost sobbing now, balls so high and tight they could barely be seen; nipples taut and cock dark and heavy with his arousal. He writhed in his chair, helpless and desperate.
“Let me come,” he begged. “I can’t, John...I…”
“Finish the page,” John said firmly.
Henry held up the book again with trembling hands.
“...he had heard that the headman was a priest of the s-sun, and...uhhh...so he could. Oh please…so he could fatten the…” Henry trailed off into incoherent sounds and broken off pleading. John could barely touch his cock now without it jerking in his hand and leaking copiously. They couldn't play much longer.
“Last sentence Henry,” he instructed and wrapped his fist tight around the agonised cock.
“The horses here were smaller,” Henry began hoarsely. “smaller than…” His hips were moving faster now, thrusting up into John’s hand. He tried again. “Smaller than the Persian horses. But...but much more. Oh, more, oh please, please…” Henry said, the sentence and his own desires becoming hopelessly tangled.
“Almost there,” John said softly, but Henry was beyond obeying.
“Oh please John, oh please my love, I need...oh let me...”
John let him, fastening his mouth to a nipple and bringing him off with a twist of his wrist. He heard the slap of the book hitting the floor as Henry cried out, thrusting up and up, his spend shooting up over his own chest in long white streaks. The climax went on and on, until he could only whimper. John drank in the sight of him until Henry opened his eyes and looked at him. Panting, he dragged John against him for a deep, hard kiss.
“Fuck me,” he said, eyes still dark as night and hair damp with sweat. “I need it.”
John didn’t need asking twice. He had Henry out of the chair and onto the hearth rug in the blink of an eye, only taking the time to wrench his trousers halfway down his thighs and release his own cock. Henry turned onto his hands and knees, working himself open with two fingers and his own spend. Fuck.
John spat on his own erection, neat and precise, and slicked himself up.
“Hurry,” Henry pleaded, spreading his legs and watching John over his shoulder.
John took hold of his hip and pressed the head of his cock against him. The ring pressed cold against Henry’s entrance and he gave a low moan of anticipation. John shuddered at the contact, the feel of Henry against him. He pressed forward, gently, slowly, the ring sliding against Henry’s hole, the friction sending bursts of heat through him. Once more he stroked his cock across Henry’s hole, before sinking into him.
He groaned as he pressed inwards, the ring tugging slightly from the tightness and sending sparks of intense pleasure along his length. Henry moaned too as the ring did its work, pressing against the place inside him which sent him wild. John leaned over him, nuzzling at the short hair at the nape of his neck.
“Hold me close,” Henry gasped.
John knew exactly what Henry wanted. He wrapped one brawny forearm around Henry’s neat waist and the other around his throat, and pulled him flush against his body. Henry groaned helplessly. John rolled his hips up, pushing his cock in deep. He stopped a moment, feeling Henry's body accepting him. Then Henry gave a small impatient whine and rocked back against him, and John crushed the boy closer to him and began to fuck him, hard. All Henry could do was hold on for dear life and take it, and oh Christ how the boy could take it.
“Please,” he said over and over, as John hammered into him. “Please.”
John took Henry’s cock in hand and felt the shudder that ran right through him at the touch. He pushed his hips forward, searching for friction. John felt his own orgasm building, heat gathering in his groin and his hips sped up, sending Henry incoherent again. Henry cried out brokenly, throat working against John's forearm, and then John felt the hot rush of Henry's second climax shoot across his hand. Barely letting him finish, John pushed him back to hands and knees and took him harder, harder till he finished with a shout, buried deep inside him.
He held onto Henry, steadying them both, waiting until Henry’s muscles stopped clenching around him and he could gently withdraw. Even so, Henry gave a sharp intake of breath as John eased out of him. John dropped a kiss at the base of his spine and rolled him onto his back on the rug.
“Let me tend to you,” he said softly, pressing a kiss to the damp hair on Henry's forehead. Henry was only able to nod, his eyes heavy already and limbs utterly relaxed. John fetched a wash cloth and warm water and cleaned him up, as gently as he had when Henry had been an invalid with tender bruises covering his whole body. No bruises now - or at least, perhaps a couple on his hips from the grip of John's fingers. John kissed the reddened skin there and Henry chuckled.
"You're a great brute," he said, sleepily and affectionately.
"You can get your own back soon enough," John said, and Henry reached up and hooked an arm around him, pulling him down for a kiss.
"Oh I plan to, Mr Bridgens," he said. "Just as soon as I've any strength. Help me up, would you."
John tugged him gently to his feet. "Are you hungry?" he said. Henry shook his head.
"Can we sleep, John?" he said, and John froze. All of a sudden he could have been back on that ice with the weals from the hauling straps burning across his shoulders, watching his beloved Henry - his heart and his soul - die in increments before his eyes. He shivered.
"What is it?" Henry asked, his face serious. "John. What did I say?"
"Nothing, I..." John hauled him in tight against his body, kissing him fiercely on the head.
"A black thought," Henry said, squeezing him tighter. "I have them too."
"Black as night. But come on my love. We can sleep," John said, and led Henry to their bed.