They say the first time one makes a mistake is an accident. The second, fourth, sixth times, however, matter. The way Jopson’s gaze lingers. His eyes are blue like porcelain; his gaze is just as fragile. Edward could break the eye contact to pieces. The slightest tremor of disapproval would be instantly noticed.
The problem is, he doesn’t disapprove of Jopson’s scrutiny. He’s intrigued by it. Pleased.
Gibson, when he attends him, keeps his eyes to the ground. Any steward would. Not Jopson.
Thomas Jopson, handpicked by their captain. An excellent fellow. Diligent. Sees to his duties promptly. He’s gracious, jaunty. But Edward knows men like him. Men who look their fill; who linger by the docks ogling officers, searching for quick coin, fast favours.
If he were off-duty…maybe, maybe. Jopson has a pretty face, a slim frame. Just his taste. But they serve on the same ship. Her Majesty’s. They cannot sully their assignment. Certain rules must be obeyed at sea.
Maybe Edward is mistaken, in any case. It’s wrong of him to accuse Jopson of such things. It’s his own hope; his fantasy. Jopson is honourable. Pure. Has an excellent reputation. Edward won’t take that away from him. Wouldn’t dream of it.
When he dreams, he dreams of London streets. Islington. The red-bricked house with the wisterias. The landlord who doesn’t ask questions. A shilling pressed into white-gloved hands. Third floor. A ready made bed. He would take Jopson there.
He imagines him yielding: not out of boredom, desperation, or lack of better company. Yielding for him. They’re strangers in this fantasy. All Jopson knows of him is their mutual want. His kisses are sweet like honeycomb. Edward takes him leisurely. He has the influence, the means to do so. Jopson’s hands above his head: Edward’s fist, clutching them. The flash of Jopson’s neck. His moans. His tightness.
The dream is too detailed to be safe, but it’s wrapped in silk. It’s unattainable. He wakes up in his narrow berth, aching, helpless. On a good night, he spends in his sleep. Most mornings, he waits until his desire recedes. He keeps waiting for it to go away entirely.
A year. It was summer when they sailed from Greenhithe; they spent the winter anchored by Beechey Island. Jopson uses the first wind of spring to hang laundry between the mizzenmast and the mainmast. The great white sheets are flapping about like the wings of a trapped seagull. Jopson dashes about, his shirtsleeves rolled up. That inch of bare skin foretells Edward’s ruin. He wants to strip him completely. Press a kiss to his wrists.
He doesn’t stop wanting him.
It’s September and he’s bold on wine, after the Erebites dined on Terror. He wonders if this is the night he will break. He’s in his dress uniform. The weight of the epaulettes is like angels sitting on his shoulders: don’t you dare.
He lingers in the passageway while Jopson clears the table. Watches him dart between the wardroom and the galley, burdened with dirty china and crystal glasses. He keeps sliding past Edward, first with a murmured apology, then he becomes more daring as the passageway empties: brushes past, not facing him, close enough that Edward can smell the soap on his skin. He grabs his hips. Jopson stills. Does not pull away.
Edward rubs the jut of bone there. His hands feel big and brutish on Jopson. He wants to be seen like that: crude, coarse; someone to be refused. He presses his groin to the curve of Jopson’s arse. He’s not hard. Not yet. “Is that what you want, then?”
He expects Jopson to deny it. Wants him to say: you misunderstood me.
“Yes, sir,” Jopson says. The glasses on the silver tray tremble. Edward measures their contents. They’re all drained. Jopson might have been expecting some drunk groping. Edward is not the kind of man who would do that.
“Come to me at midwatch’s first bell,” he says. “When I’m sober. I’ll be waiting in my cabin.”
“Very well, sir.”
Edward’s interest starts showing. He releases Jopson’s hips. Jopson stays near.
“If you don’t come,” Edward says, “there will be no consequences. I’ll leave you be and never mention this again.”
He can see Jopson’s profile. The smile that plays at his lips. “Understood, sir.”
“If you do come,” Edward presses, “there’s nothing to be earned. No payment. No favours.”
Jopson turns to face him. His gaze is as direct as ever; the appetite is clear in them. The pupils dilated. The flutter of his eyelashes. He parts his lips to speak, but Mr. Diggle is calling for him. Jopson gives Edward a parting look, a nod, and hurries away. His free arm is tucked behind his back. The tray is balanced on his fingertips. He’s exceptionally trained. It was never a mistake.
Edward splashes cold water to his face. He’s taken a walk on deck. Let the chill of the night rouse him. He washes thoroughly, same as he would any day.
He doubts Jopson will visit.
He half-wishes he wouldn’t.
Lust doesn’t give good advice. Jopson is bright: he might think over the offer, and decide it wouldn’t benefit him. There are too many risks. It’s not right.
But it’s only for a night.
Edward never promised anything more.
The dinner was good. It made him miss London. He wishes to finish with his usual dessert. Just a bite of self-indulgence so his head clears of hazy thoughts, and his ardour ceases to be a distraction. He’s a man: he must have his needs met, every so often, and rentboys are not presently available. He dearly loves to play with them. Always had.
He dresses in a dark sweater and waistcoat to match. Not strictly part of his uniform. He would never do this in navy clothes.
There’s a rasp on the door. His heart beats with it.
“Come in,” he calls, loud and clear, as if there were nothing to hide here.
Jopson enters, a candle in hand. The lamps are still burning: he must’ve thought of his way back. He stands, and waits for his orders. Edward sits down on the berth.
“Come hither,” he says, softer.
Jopson sets the candle down. The light fills the room. It’s strange, that light would be shining on this. Edward nearly tells him to extinguish it, but Jopson is undressing. He’s quick about it; efficient. The shoes, the socks, the trousers. He hangs his coat on Edward’s chair. The waistcoat is neatly folded.
Jopson is a curious man. Edward wonders what came first, his occupation’s required neatness or his tidy nature. Jopson is not here to discuss personal things like that.
He leaves his simple striped shirt on as he approaches Edward. It’s long enough to cover his dignity, but the line of his groin is unmistakable. How it presses against the cotton. Edward wants to ask, why me ? And how did you know ?
He offers his hand to help Jopson straddle his lap. Jopson smiles at him; squeezes his fingers. Edward thinks that maybe this is all Jopson needed to be this bold, to feel reassured: that Edward would offer his hand.
Edward wants to talk to him, but it doesn’t feel appropriate. Not when Jopson is unbuttoning Edward’s trousers. He’s not fully erect yet. He’s getting there.
Jopson handles him like he’s done this before; but of course. Spits in his palm, unashamed. Strokes him.
You could have chosen anybody, Edward thinks. Seduced them properly.
Then again: he didn’t even need to be seduced, did he?
He wants Jopson so much it pains him. Slips a finger under his shirt: laughs to find him wet and prepared.
“Meticulous,” he notes, voice so flat it could be just a remark, not a compliment. Jopson still glows to get it.
“I thought you would appreciate haste, sir,” he says.
“That’s correct,” Edward says, because saying you thought about me, about my needs would be ill-advised rambling. He penetrates him easily; Jopson bites his lips, eyebrows knitted, but doesn’t cry out. Edward watches his face and tries not to think about what he’s doing to him. Just to-night, he thinks. He said he wanted it. Consequences be damned. Be fast. Be quiet .
He’s relentless. It comes from a gentleness: he takes Jopson fast and rough because he doesn’t want to be selfish, to keep him around just for his pleasure, make a demand on his time, risk suspicion.
The noises are unmistakable.
He prays that the walls are thick enough. The way Jopson bounces in his lap, it takes willpower not to yell his pleasure. He keeps his hands on Jopson’s hips, keeps them from wandering. He fucks him promptly and thoroughly; spends within three minutes. He fights the force of his orgasm, which makes him want to clutch at Jopson, sob with relief. Kiss him.
He had what he wanted. They both have. He eases himself out swiftly, tucks himself away. Feels oddly empty. Jopson gets up on trembling feet. Fluid shines on his thighs. His cock is still erect. Edward reaches out, cups it in his hand.
“It’s all right, sir,” Jopson whispers.
It isn’t. Jopson is hot beneath his palm. It must be uncomfortable. He doesn’t deserve an undignified shuffle back to his quarters. A lonely wash by the basin. Edward strokes his cock, hears him whimper, and thinks, if he spends in it, he’ll just have to clean it.
He lifts the shirt wordlessly. Gets it out of the way. Bends forward, still sitting, and laps at Jopson’s length. Hears him whimper again. Smiles to himself, and takes him into his mouth. He really enjoyed when one of his rentboys did this to him. He hopes he remembers it well, so Jopson can relish it, too. Edward likes the taste and the weight of his cock, combs his fingers through the neat hair at the base.
This is not for him. His spent cock gives a twitch, but it’s dismissed for the sake of pleasuring Jopson. To hear him gasp, then taste his release. Watch him dress. Watch him leave.
“Goodnight, sir,” Jopson says. His face is flushed. It becomes him. He’s such a pretty thing.
Edward flops back in his berth, stares upward. Feels accomplished. Like he’s done well.
Last time, he thinks. Never again. Just something to remember.