I took your body like a glass of sweet milk at bedtime.
And my eyelids let go at the hinges when I entered you. You were all I
and all of me was you —
my senses rhymed with your senses
entry november 15th | walter benton
The first thing that Captain Crozier’s steward brings to mind when Edward Little sees him in the late-in-the-day March sun as they’ve cast off from Greenhithe is chiaroscuro .
It’s a funny little Italian word, one he learned in Valletta on one of Britannia's many stops back and forth, that dances through his head like the zip of a violin bow down its scales. He’d rushed back to his writing desk after hearing it, feeling sun-sickened in his jacket and agitated because of all the socialization and fish that hadn’t settled, but all the more desperately trying to recount how to spell it when he wrote his letter home to Harriot before he forgot.
This all to say, Haberdash, that it endeavours to describe, as was told to me, that drama of the old master Caravaggio’s work…
When Edward is at liberty to begin drafting a new letter to his ‘Favorite Hat’ he will be certain to point out that Jopson does not remind him specifically of The Beheading of John the Baptist , as that is far too gruesome, but the simile stands.
It’s the same sort of light falling into the Great Cabin aboard Terror , the very swaying of the ship, that tilts the beams this way and that over his figure, that made the shocking luminosity and deep velvety shadows of the enormous, beautiful, grisly, painting in the dusty Oratory of St. John’s Cathedral come to life. It roused something rare in Edward to see it, so that the others assembled there with him - the other Britannia Officers and their wives and acquaintances and the Admiralty's Maltese consorts - all fell away with that primal, strange sensation.
Must be the dark hair , Edward thinks, listening to Hodgson’s voice winging like a pigeon over the Captain’s brogue and the clack of spoons and saucers. Next to him Irving is quivering at the opportunity to be quizzed or recite something or called to read some chart, and Little wishes he could reach out a hand and stay him - there isn’t any reason to jerk at the leash so soon.
Besides, such attitudinizing will not get far with a man like Crozier, never mind an alpha like him. Just being in the same room with such experience makes Edward feel wet behind his own ears.
He shifts in his chair, watching Jopson pouring tea, doling out cakes, silver tongs and other instruments winking between the midnight blue jacket sleeves he slips dauntlessly between, not missing a single beat nor step despite the rocking of the deck. Edward knows he was hand picked and there is no argument from him on that front; if one looked up a Captain’s Steward in Mr. Johnson’s dictionary he might see him etched in the margins as the picture perfect example. He is as much a testament to Crozier as himself. To their whole expedition, ultimately.
Graceful, unassuming but capable, and, as any self respecting Captain in her Majesty's Navy would require: an omega.
That rare, fastidious, breed that mystifies him. And Jopson is a lovely omega. Quite lovely, Edward thinks to himself, eyes straying to him every time he moves.
It blends - Jopson’s hair, deeply parted and worry-licked to perfection - into the dark cabinetry when he regrettably steps back, melting him within the sheen of walnut oil and fresh varnish that Edward can still smell hanging about. The dark hair falls across his forehead, and against his fair skin, carving his features and drawing the eye down along the shaved-sharp marble straightness of his nose. Against the blue white of the other walls it would seem all the more striking.
He is not the only to have noticed, and he hides a smirk into his cup. Perhaps it’s been a while since any of them have seen a sight so fine. Perhaps they’re all as secretly pleased at having the sort of good view that will last as long as the journey.
With the lot of them - Lieutenants, masters, purser, mates, Captain - all crowded into the room and posed so articulately for this initial consultation, the illuminator bearing down from overhead, it must appear to the steward like the curtain has just gone up on an over-staged play. One to which Jopson will be a perpetual audience henceforward.
Little cannot help but wonder, for the sake of his own pride, how they stack up against their predecessors so far - Crozier’s attending Officers in the Antarctic - or if the omega even cares enough to draw comparison. He knows that he served the Captain on the Ross excursion, making him (ironically) more experienced with both the inhospitable climates and the gloomy man seated before them. Crozier keeps one wrist on the table, adjusting his hold on his tea spoon now and again, listening to everyone’s rote first-day reports with a forced endurance. Perhaps Jopson has dutifully wiped his memory clean out of respect of that fact, just as they’ve scrubbed the ship of all traces of prior occupants to ready for the new ones.
There is no way to tell.
Unlike Little he’s keeping himself obediently occupied, and if he has made any initial impressions regarding them they do not show on his smooth, well-trained face.
“Feeling the bite yet, Edward?” Crozier growls, later, as they ready to take their walk. There’s a muffled clamor and rumble on the deck above, and the rest of the officers have dispersed in a jolly herd trundling up the companionway to their respective duties. They’ll dine early tonight and no doubt linger long after the plates are empty, the promise of champagne bubbling between them as they take the first real measurements of one another. No doubt they’ll be debuting their best stories and laughing around lesser failings at more flattering angles.
Jopson helps Crozier into his coat silently, and Edward spies on him over the Captain’s shoulder, purely with the interest of identifying him. Thomas Jopson, Marylebone, Middlesex, 27. Same age as Hattie. He smiles inwardly, struck with the odd notion of his sister, also an omega, and Jopson getting along if they were ever to meet.
It’s a queer thought, of course, but it would be funny to see Jopson sitting for tea instead of setting the table for it and subject to all of Dash’s wit.
“Not quite, Sir,” he replies, tucking his hands behind his back. “At the moment I feel more as though I am wearing an entire sheep for all this wool.”
Crozier barks a brusque Ha! tilting his neck as Jopson arranges his fur-lined collar.
“You will,” he lilts. “In due time, you will...and you’ll be mourning those summer linens,” he continues, grimacing while Jopson straightens his seams. “The cold is one thing, but this ship will seem a hotbox to rival your Santo Sao Paolo.. .”
“It will all be quite new,” Little says, twitching at the jab. “And worth the endeavour to sail under you, sir. I have much to learn that cannot be taught anywhere else.”
“No need for pandering,” Crozier grumbles, reaching out a hand to pat Little’s shoulder awkwardly. “I’ve seen your pedigree, and I intend to put it to good use,” his pale eyes roll to Edward’s and then flash away, turning over his shoulder. “Do you hear that Jopson?”
“Sir?” the steward pauses midway through retrieving the Captain’s hat, holding it as gingerly as a cake on a plate.
Crozier points a jabbing finger in his direction, still wry.
“I don’t want you to get spoiled on our Lieutenant’s tales of basking away on some Portuguese beach, do you hear me? I’ll not have you carried away.”
The steward’s eyes gleam as they glance at Little for just a moment longer than he expects before moving once more to the Captain’s face.
“I shall do my very best, sir,” he replies, in that unexpected finishing school tone of his, offering the cap which Crozier tucks under his arm.
Edward is not unfamiliar with the rapports that develop between Officers and their stewards, but theirs strikes him as a bit profound. Something to the effect of Jopson’s relentlessly straight shoulders supporting the ever-rounded ones of Crozier the way the stock keeps a collar up, or how Jopson is brought to heel so effortlessly. Edward finds most stewards to be stooping and a constant embarrassment to his own independence, but Jopson is bright-eyed and reeks of diligence.
On another steward, particularly an omega, it might be obnoxious, but on Jopson it merely rounds him out. His face betrays no awareness of his own effect, no obstinance either.
“I don’t think you know any other way to do things,” Crozier clips, regarding Little who has unconsciously squared himself up even more, still looking at Jopson. He means it to be respectful, a show that he is merely listening, but the Captain’s smile strains over the posture. “We do well looking to you for reminding, now and again,” he continues, nodding at Little who meets the older man’s beading eye.
He’s heard a few things about F.R.M. Crozier. That he is Irish, primarily, which gives itself away. That, thereby, he is partial to black moods; that his trust is not easily gained and he has a suspicious air and a keen nose for failure. There was a moment where Sir John had taken him aside and they’d had a rather steeped conversation regarding indulgence . Sir John, with his patient, jowly, face gripped in mortifying forbearance, paid numerous compliments to Edward’s character.
It is such a joy to be assisted by so much young energetic talent, you and our Graham especially - for you are the ones who truly make this outfit run. We happily give our trust to you, he insisted, his watery eyes peering into Little’s darker ones.
He smiled, forcing Edward to humbly agree.
The longer he stands there on Terror the more apparent it all becomes - a wincing around Crozier’s eyes as he takes in his executive officer. It’s trepidatious, or at worst resentful, like he regrets being caught in such a candid, cheerful moment earlier.
It is true - the arctic is nothing like Lisbon, or Malta, or the sweating air of Brazil.
Crozier is not like most Captains. He is not like most alphas. Edward is clearly not his ideal, but Edward is beginning to believe he does not have one.
Crozier’s eyes wander over him, sensing for weakness within the padding of Little’s coat and layers, tallying each and every day of his meager record and 18 months ashore to see where the scale might tip.
He feels a sudden pooling sensation in his gut like he is standing on a trap door watching Crozier toy with the lever.
He wishes to say something - anything - for it cannot begin like this. Were he a more charismatic person -
“I hate to interrupt, but you will miss your duties sirs,” Thomas Jopson interjects into the taught moment and they both seem to snap in unison. “Seeing you up above together will give the men a good feeling,” he continues, suddenly dimpling. He looks at them each in turn, and again he holds Edward’s eye. He puts his clever hands in front of him in a little clasp, surveying him up and down with a boldness that makes Edward’s brow furrow.
“We shall need any good feeling we can get,” Crozier replies, gruffly clearing his throat and adjusting his weight as he scowls ineffectively at his watch.
“It’s giving me a splendid one myself,” Jopson elaborates, tipping his head gently in their direction and the Captain’s jaw twitches. He shuts the watch with a snap and pockets it. He seems about to say something more but only shakes his head in dismay, mouth grim, and lets out a long sigh.
“You’re always a bolster, Jopson. I’ll be sure to seek you out before we’re forced in another meeting with that lisping little poodle,” he mutters, glancing at Edward who provides only a deferential bow of his head.
Edward watches the man make a move like he means to hitch something up, but his fist brushes uselessly on his coat as he pushes through the door of the great cabin, his hat tucked snugly into his armpit.
“You look very smart, Lieutenant,” Jopson says when the Captain has departed and Edward’s gaze goes to where he still stands dutifully aside. At this vantage Edward can see for the first time the true intelligence caught within the opalescent sparkle of his hazel eyes. “I do like that they’ve brought the old buttons back.”
He nods at Edward’s coat, his chest, and Edward looks dumbly down at them. By the time he looks back up, however, Jopson is gone. He’s vanished into his pantry like a dolphin slipping back below the wake.
It has been a long time since Edward has thought about Malta, or art, or that sort of warmth in any capacity.
“Edward, Jopson has collapsed.”
Little pauses in drawing the canvas cover over his knee and stares up at George where his spectrally pale face hangs in the doorway to the slop room. Slowly, Edward’s heel touches back to the floor.
“When?” he finds himself saying, knowing it’s a stupid question before it leaves his mouth. He’s just seen the man- or glimpsed him, rather - as he made his way to leave for Erebus, stepping out of his cramped berth to wind his muffler around his mouth. Jopson was single-minded in his task, carrying linens and another bowl back to the Captain’s berth.
They hadn’t acknowledged each other, but that of itself was not out of the ordinary. The omega has long kept himself tidily in his own spheres and rarely does he let it intersect with Edward’s outside of what is necessary.
“Just now,” George furthers, moving the door to the cramped cubby so that he may step in. It takes a bit of negotiating, the listing of the ship jamming the door on the rails and then sending it flying closed again as soon as George is no longer holding it open with an ominous slam.
Before Edward can probe further George leans back, listening near the seam as though he is concerned of an audience, and clears his throat.
“Apparently it is to do with his ...calendars,” George says, doing his best not to sound in any way timid though Edward immediately feels his ears grow hot.
“Was he seen?” Edward finds the words rushing out. His whole body tenses with the reply, jaw clicking and tongue curling awkwardly behind his teeth and then flattening to taste the air in his mouth as he inhales, as if he is trying wine.
It’s a useless gesture. He cannot smell it down here -
Yet. There it is. The little red voice nestled somewhere at the back of his brain, low, near the nape of his neck, provides its unsolicited opinion on the matter with a near languid psychic stretch that sends a rattle of sensations down his spine.
- but surely above it has been noticed, no doubt with the commotion it caused. How could it not? the voice posits, with a smirk, eyeing over George lazily. On further examination his second, his friend , he firmly reminds himself, bears only trace evidence of anything amiss which is promising but Edward finds the tells very easily. They stick out sorely after months of stress and cobbled respectability keeping them well at bay.
To an untrained eye he would merely appear as urgent as his errand necitates, but Hodgson, for all his romantic notions, is an officer, and an alpha, same as he. He does not fidget but stands remarkably still with Edward in the space they are sharing, his shoulders offset from their usual easy slope into something a bit more firm. Edward notices his fist curled by his leg - the muscle of which is quite shivering slightly.
Edward is aware at once that George is situated with a slight above ground advantage with the tilt of the deck. He is closer to the door. Edward flicks his eyes past his ear at it and George’s face turns slightly, gaze never leaving Edward’s face in the uneasy moment stretching between them.
The room is very small. Edward knows, the same way George does, that when it comes down to it he is the stronger of the two of them. It would not take much.
“McDonald,” George says, voice harsher than Edward has ever heard it and shaking him roughly back into the moment. “McDonald got to him quickly - it was as he was coming back out of the Captain’s berth and our good doctor was already set to meet him and go over the day’s regiment,” as George continues his words pick up their old cadence and with shared relief they both manage to unfurl, relaxing into duty and tamping down the brittle posturing they’ve both automatically assumed.
“They’ve got him cordoned in the Great Cabin,” George furthers, but a look twinges over his face that implies the obvious: that cannot remain an option for long.
“Who has caught on?” he whispers, ridiculously. No one can hear. Still, he messily does the math. Only a handful of men remain on board Terror barring the officers. They’re a scramble of betas and alphas -
“John, myself, Mr. Blanky -,”
Long in the tooth, the voice murmurs carelessly, swelling to overcome the otherwise haze of thoughts Edward is currently hosting. And mated … but the others...
“Edward,” George says, staring at him uncertainly.
“Yes” Edward says distantly, teeth grinding on the word like gristle. He flicks his eyes to George’s wide pale ones.
“I said,” George continues, slowing. “I am to visit Erebus instead of you.”
“Why for?” Edward says coarsely and to his horror George’s current excited flush begins to deepen, blood pooling in the center of his cheeks.
“As I said,” George says. “The doctors are…,” he trails off, wetting his lips. “It’s been requested. Due to the nature of this.”
Edward blinks, coming back to himself.
He’s bristled again and struggles to lower his hackles. This is George. George Hodgson , he says, mentally casting away the red cloud, chasing it back to its corner. Who docks the boy’s tails when they speak ill of their sweethearts and helps them write their puppy love letters -
“Of course,” Edward says on a sharp exhale. “Of course - yes. Right away. I’ll go back up… I -, here,” he begins hurriedly shucking the slops and tosses them onto the overturned crate they use to seat themselves on when doing up the laces and clumsy canvas sleeves.
“I don’t know what I was thinking right then,” he mutters, pawing over his hair and breathing out again.
“Quite alright,” George says calmly, mouth twisting into a funny shape. Edward’s motions stutter where he rights his jacket and coat. He turns to George who regards him, suddenly putting his hands behind his back. It unconsciously puts Edward at ease, a subliminal signal that he is not looking for any trouble. Edward is more grateful than he knows how to convey.
I loathe this , he wants to say. He’s always appreciated the hierarchy of the Navy for this particular reason, the way it mirrors his natural mentalities. There is always supposed someone to look to, to emulate, but he feels like a whelp staggering after his father and his older brothers; helplessly waiting till he slips and one of them puts him rightly in place to teach him better.
“How…,” Edward begins clumsily, face burning, finding that he cannot finish. His father taught him gentlemen, alphas worth their snuff, did not talk carelessly or crassly about such business. His father is not here.
“They’ve smothered it a bit,” George somehow reads his thoughts. “Some tonic. Smells awfully of creme de menthe -,” his nose wrinkles unconsciously. “But it is… bracing.”
“Can’t be helped,” Edward says softly. And then softer. “Poor man.”
“Very,” George willingly agrees. “Edward, so you know. It has got John a bit shaken up,” he adds, moving slightly out of the way to trade places at the door. “I’ve told him to remain with the men, and last I heard he was parsing through Isiah.” George looks uneasily at Edward. “Blanky had to scruff him quite badly, is what I mean.”
Edward does his absolute best not to envision it.
“Nothing to fret over,” Edward offers, reaching out to pat vaguely at George’s elbow. “I’m sure it will be over in no time, and John will forget it just as quickly, eh?”
“I also mean to ask,” George says just as Edward goes to wedge the door open. “That - well, what am I to report on it?”
“Whatever you think is best,” Edward says. The look on George’s face explains the failure; it’s the very last thing he had wished to hear. They stare at each other for a heedless moment and then Edward takes a deep breath, opens the door, and holds it for as long as he is able.
John is managing to hold court reasonably well, all things considered. He barely lifts his head from droning on about God’s instructions for obedience and devotion and sanctity of mind when Edward obtrudes into the scene, but it does not garner Edward’s concern. The person he wants stands at the back of the assembly and seems to be looking for him too.
Blanky regards him where he leans against the bulkhead with a slight bow of his head, the older alpha letting him have a sliver of deferential courtesy before he falls into a stilted step behind him. They retreat to the companionway, the hall seeming both impossibly narrow and also a yawning chasm of distance. Once there Edward can not stop staring at the door to the Great Cabin. He inhales -
“Gibson is with him,” Blanky says in a grunt, folding his arms across his chest. Edward is silent, looking back into Blanky’s fair, wiser eyes and trying not to seem so desperately out of depth. Edward nearly sleeps with the books of officer’s regulations under his pillow at night, but there is no chapter - not even a paragraph - to designate what you are to do as a temporary acting Captain beached in the middle of an ice field when a steward goes hot.
“It will be tricky, but we can manage.” Blanky says reasonably and Edward could sag with relief to hear we . “We’re lucky there are so few.”
Edward looks at Irving over the man’s shoulder and Blanky tracks it.
“Half of them wouldn’t even know where to stick it, even if they could,” he continues quietly, impassive, adjusting his arms and looking at Edward under his shaggy hair. “They might throw up some noise, but I can keep it in line.”
Edward scans the small audience still seated around, taking note of their postures.
“If I were you,” Blanky continues. “I would have a man or two follow Hodgson as escort. Thin out as much as we can.”
“Tozer?” Edward whispers. The sergeant is also an alpha; he’s never given Edward any trouble, but none of them have faced an opportunity for it.
“No,” Blanky replies stiffly, looking at the floor in thought. “He’s better to stay. He’s ranking. The others will follow his lead.”
Edward reluctantly agrees, calculating. Tozer, Blanky, himself. John, he considers, but he remembers George’s words - that he’d already been scruffed . He wouldn’t be breaking comportment any time soon, especially with the Blanky looming over them all and the good book in his hands. John would rather die than do such a thing. He’s certain to be mortified as it is...
“Chambers, Hartnell,” Blanky posits.
“They’re just boys,” Edward mutters. “Hardly a worry and hardly escort...”
“Aye, so better off they don’t see anything they don’t mean to, and Hodgson is good with them. Will put them at ease. You’re to send Chambers back tomorrow anyway,” Blanky counters and Edward is seized by the unnamed gravity of the situation all over and he grips control of himself as tightly as he can. “Send a mate if you’re worried - ,”
The words are cut off by a scuffle and a sudden bitten off noise coming from the Great Cabin, a low moan that grows into a keen stifled by Gibson’s insistent shushing.
“Hush, Tom. Easy, Thomas, I know…”
Edward can just hear it from this distance and the hair on the back of his neck stands on end under his collar.
“What of the Captain,” Edward rasps and Blanky slides his eyes over.
“Francis is in no state to trouble nor debate us,” he says and Edward is quizzical at that.
Neptune plows by their legs, heading for the door where he begins whining and scratching to get in, his head bent and nose pressed to the planked floor. A few moments later he backs off, pacing back up, crying. Blanky stares at Edward, his mouth a grim line Edward finds is in no way enlightening.
“Lieutenant,” McDonald emerges from the sick bay carrying a large vial and he gestures wordlessly at Blanky who turns away from Edward all together. Edward hears him barking to Georgie and to Thomas Hartnell and some Mr. So-and-so; he loses track of the names the moment McDonald begins ushering him up the narrow hall towards the Wardroom.
With every deliberate step he attempts to make following the physician the more unignorable it is.
He catches the spearmint George spoke of the closer he gets to the Great Cabin, searing on his overstimulated nose, cold and unpleasant on his palate. Too strong - headache inducing - but under that is something else he cannot ignore. Something that makes his mouth begin to water, that smells so warm -
For all his discipline, for all the talent he has for reining in this part of himself, for all the gnashing of his teeth now, the red wash is beginning to eat at the edges of his brain in a way he cannot amend - the pull to go to the omega stranded just beyond the door is stronger than any he’s ever felt in his life. Even when he was young, with no idea what to do with himself, addled off his first rut and shamefully pursuant of anything that even poorly replicated an omega. Even then.
Neptune is pawing harder at the door again, raking his claws on the bottom track, and gone to shrill whining.
No, he thinks, dully. Jopson is whining -
He’s starting to body Neptune out of the way - the dog lifts his head and growls, low and uncharacteristic, but slinks against the wall when Edward’s lip curls back -
“Lieutenant Little,” McDonald sounds, grasping for his arm, and Edward goes rigid. “You better come in here quickly, man,” McDonald rushes, Edward turning with him to duck into the Wardroom, the harried surgeon closing the door firmly behind him.
“Here,” he says, pulling a kerchief out of his pocket with a snap before he douses it in that harsh mint oil as soon as they are alone. He passes it over and Edward takes it in his dumb hands, holding it to his nose.
“Dab it up, in,” McDonald councils, looking very tired, and Edward does so, smudging the fabric in a stinging prickle on the inside of his nose, mind instantly clearing, the other thoughts falling away. The red voice beds down again, shrinking against the intrusion.
“That should help for now,” McDonald murmurs, dispelling his attempt to return it. “Keep it.”
“It’s like smelling salts,” Edward says, clearing his throat and fumbling to fold it into a messy square.
“Similar, yes. You should sit, though, it can make you feel numb.”
Edward does as he’s told.
“What is there to be done,” he sighs, sitting down heavily in what usually is George’s chair, swiping at the underside of his nose as gracefully as he can with another sniff. He looks up, now watering eyes landing on McDonald who sits as well, leveling his own gaze on the far wall with its pictures of birds and rubbing at his brow.
“I bow to your expertise,” Edward stresses. “As always.”
McDonald hums an empty laugh.
“It’s just as well,” Edward continues, attempting levity. “I’m glad not to have to go out into the cold.”
“I’m sorry to have hurried you back up, sir,” McDonald begins, a sigh threading through his voice that communicates he is anything but sorry about it. He glances purposefully at the thin panel between themselves and Jopson. There’s noise. He looks back to Edward, careful. “I examined him, but there is little time to weigh options at this point.”
“Can’t we purge him,” Edward says tentatively, trying to focus. His head is starting to pound with the strength of the oil.
“Aye, we could -,”
The cinch of discomfort in the pit of Edward’s stomach loosens just enough to allow him to catch his breath. There is a way out of this. His lungs are still crackling with the mint, and he longs for a drink of water. He tries to re-attune himself to the doctor’s words which circle about his head with little meaning.
“...there is a possibility, however, that it could be detrimental. I don’t think it would be wise.”
“Detrimental?” Edward repeats, coming back to attention. He reapplies the cloth to his nose, sniffing off the urge to sneeze or cough.
“Purging, in Jopson’s state, with say - a dover’s powder - could make an already precarious situation worse.”
“How?” Edward dabs at his nose again, his other hand twitching as he runs his fingers over each other distractedly. “Isn’t that usual protocol for it?”
“His fever is high enough as it is,” McDonald clarifies, clearly dumbing it down for him. He looks at Edward head on, as though he is trying to get Edward to catch on to something a more discerning man would already understand. “I don’t think we want to cook him alive, sir.”
“Of course not,” Edward says stiffly. “I would want no harm to come to any of us.” He looks at the table top, thumbing at a shallow scratch - barely perceptible, perhaps known only to himself.
It was made during their crossing of the Atlantic, a stormy bugger of a trip. He’d spent most of it trying to keep himself upright on the quarterdeck and soaked all the way to the bone, but it was all still an adventure at that time and he was as exhilarated with his occupation as he’d ever been.
He’d grinned when Jopson tripped and the edge of his tray had furrowed into the table, which was an inappropriate response but it made such a terrific sound. He’d laughed, attempting to keep his coffee in his own cup and reaching out to steady the steward as he regained his footing at the same time.
“ I’ve seen you stumble at last ,” he teased, but the words died when Jopson fixed him with an odd stare that quickly broke off when he drew himself away with more of a jerk than Edward anticipated.
“ No harm, Jopson - I’ll be glad to keep your secret, ” he said, as amiable as he could, but Jopson would not meet his eyes and made no further comment.
“ Pardon me , sir, ” he said cooly, collecting the tray and retreating out of the Wardroom entire.
“I don’t understand how this has come to pass,” Edward sighs heavily, still worrying at the nick.
“It is hard to believe Mr. Jopson let himself slip so,” McDonald agrees. “It only proves how far the man has been spread. In conversation with Mr. Gibson he revealed he noticed a change, but it was so subtle at the time he did not want to burden or embarass him with pointing it out. As any of us might, he measured it as exhaustion. Regardless, Jopson’s been neglecting himself and his own treatments. I’d say he simply forgot to take the suppressant, or put it off once he caught himself. For some restarting a tolerance to the dose can be as debilitating as the actual event.”
“So we cannot sweat it out of him,” Edward says, bringing up his hand to rub at his face. “Is he to suffer through it, then? The misery of it,” his face twinges with the thought. He’s heard of what it is like, and can sympathize to whatever degree he is able. Cramping, fever, but nothing could be worse than the sense of self being robbed from such a sensible and self-assured person. Reduced to nothing but that raw, ugly need till it is satisfied or finally wears itself out…
Jopson does not deserve the indignity.
“It would not abide,” McDonald says. Edward lifts his head. “It takes too long to wear it out and Jopson is indispensable.”
“What do you propose, then?”
McDonald folds his hands on top of the table, sliding forward on his elbows.
“Are you familiar, sir, with more traditional protocols for situations such as these.”
Edward blanches and McDonald adjusts his hands.
“I’d consider you an educated man, Lieutenant,” he says softly, nearly brotherly . “And a detailed man. So you would have done your reading when you were in school. You may have come across old mandates - from, say, your grandfather's time. Prior to even that.”
He tilts his head, eyes widening. Edward flounders, trying to coax the words that come out in a stumble.
“We were taught ,” he says slowly. “That we do not use such applications in this day,” he goes on. “We - our, modernity - has outgrown such practices -,”
“Yes, that is what they teach,” McDonald says.
Edward’s breath feels choked off by the sudden pounding of his own heart.
“I would not do that.” He rejects the very notion, shaking his head in clear dismissal. “No, that is not my place.”
“It is your place,” McDonald says, and then more firmly. “It is archaic, yes, but you are acting Captain. He said it himself. You are his proxy in all things.”
Edward is reduced to horrified silence, blood throbbing brutally in his ears.
“You would have me...have me villainize -,”
“You are a good man, Edward,” McDonald says fast, and then, more soothing. “And only the most upstanding kind of alpha. That is not in question here. Any of what’s been laid on you would have crumpled a weaker man but you have born it with something akin to miraculous decency. No soul, aboard this ship or not, would be able to make any accusation against your character.”
“What you ask,” Edward hisses, the first true tendrils of anger being stoked in his stomach. “What you are asking is beyond the extremes of common decency. The basest.”
McDonald sighs heavily.
“It was not so long ago, Lieutenant,” he tries. “That this was common practice. Not even a century before it would not be asked. It would be assumed. A steward was always of such presentation, and such duties implied to everyone. Especially in times of hardship it was a Captain’s responsibility as much as any other. What would be the alternative? A rougher alpha?”
Edward’s hand curls instinctively into a fist, his teeth clenching.
“You know there would be no comfort in that. A omega’s reputation in question, or tarnished. A Captain allowing debauchment under his watch. It would serve no one.”
“It does not serve me to defile a man who has no say in the matter -!”
“Further, that if we are to make it out of this maze, all of us, I would implore you to remember that Jopson is a man with whom I am in daily proximity. To put him in a position -,” Edward was stuttering in a fit of uncontrollable anger. “If he would grow to fear me as well as he dislikes me, I have no stomach for it!”
“Edward,” McDonald’s voice finally intrudes upon his tirade, however modest it is for a man like Edward Little. He is unbearably, damnably, hot in his clothes, his skin crawling and itching against every fiber.
“My good man,” McDonald whispers. “Sir, forgive me. Wholly. There is another aspect to this I did not - I did not realize the state of affairs so I failed to speak on it...”
Edward finds his head hanging, face buried in his own palm.
“I see now that I was very wrong. Edward, Jopson has been calling for you.
Edward feels the room lurch under him, but he is paralyzed.
“That is impossible,” he says dryly. “He despises me.”
“It is not,” McDonald answers, serious once more. “I would not speak falsely.”
The entire world, not only the room, tilts on a foreign axis.
“I was as surprised as you may find yourself,” McDonald explains. “I - I had my own expectations , but it is you .”
Crozier , Edward thinks dizzily. Indeed, one would expect.
“He is quite distraught over it and when I realize I, myself, was concerned that you would not act. Not unless I pressed you with the understanding of your position. That - were it to come to it - no one would betray you.”
Edward cannot speak, Blanky’s words now ringing in his head. Argue nor debate…
“It is a tribute, Lieutenant, to your demeanor, I should think. Not an insult.”
“For two years he has barely met my eye,” Edward murmurs, shaking his head. “He wishes to avoid me at every avenue…I,” he pauses, bewildered. “I believed him to think me a bore, if not worse.”
McDonald sighs, deeply.
“Those are matters which are outside my practice,” he says. “I can only deliver what I do know, and that is that he was very clear that it was you he wished for.”
“I have no right,” Edward nearly laughs it, but it comes out strangled. His hands are shaking now.
“I would put it this way, sir. If you care for Jopson to even a minor degree, and you wish to remain a decent man, you will see him through it.”
Edward wills himself to look up, his hand still half covering his mouth.
“Think of his embarrassment if it were to be anyone else. You are the one he trusts with it, for whatever reason that may be.”
They keep them separate for a while longer, leaving Edward in the Wardroom with the burden of newfound knowledge and his reluctant agreement to what follows.
They will move Jopson down below and, once he’s calmer, set Edward on him and let nature solve it .
The thought is exhausting, but he cannot afford to be.
“Have you seen it done,” Edward eks out, Blanky having replaced the doctor at the seat across from him at some point. “Something so unconscionable…what will Fitzjames say.”
“It is a first for me,” Blanky says, busily adjusting the strap on his knee. Edward scoffs. “Seein’ it done. I’ve heard stories, but I wouldn’t believe half of them.” He shrugs a shoulder.
“It’s always gone on, Lieutenant,” he continues, tugging on a bit of leather. “By bigger and better men than even Fitzjames, I’m sure.”
Edward’s stomach is a fist. What will he have to say to convince them they are wrong? That he cannot? He cannot - more important, he will not - find someone else. It cannot be him. No omega, let alone a sound one as lovely and quick as Thomas Jopson, would choose him. Jopson has front row seat to every misstep he’s made. It’s an insult to them both.
“You do it for Francis, as much as for Jopson. You do it for any of us.”
Edward balks at the complementary nature of the statement but they both quiet, listening intently as McDonald and Gibson start to negotiate Jopson down the companionway and Edward studies the closed door, frowning.
“Who do they have carrying him?” he finds himself asking aloud, his voice gravelly.
“A marine,” Blanky supplies, still stretching out his prosthetic, testing it.
The red, vicious, voice lifts its craven head unexpectedly, slitted eye opening to glare.
“You may go in now, Lieutenant. He’s calmed, and more comfortable,” McDonald says quietly, offering a slight smile that Edward knows is meant to somehow put him at ease but absolutely does not.
Edward can only wonder what he means by comfortable , but estimates he will know soon enough. He nods, swallowing tightly. Like sensing for a wound, the doctor places his hand kindly on his arm.
“You’ll find it quite cramped,” he says, matter of fact, as though this is all that Edward has been suffering over. “But there are pegs for your coat, you’ll see, and the rest of your things may be put in the bench just inside.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Edward manages, unable to meet the man’s eye now for the shame burning on his tingling face. Such care is doing nothing except make this business feel all the more salacious and unreal; a mockery of the usual order.
“I’ll bring a tray in a few hours -,” McDonald continues, gently, hand still on his arm. He reaches with his other hand into his pocket and pulls out a flask.
Hours , Edward reels.
“- and examine him again. Otherwise, no one is to come down on any business until I tell Mr. Blanky that it’s well.”
He sloshes it for Edward to hear and then gives it over.
“Much appreciated,” Edward replies, unsticking his tongue from the roof of his mouth. He unscrews the cap on the flask and takes a long shot of the spirit, chest burning after. He wipes his lips and then, after a moment of consideration, takes another swig. He should have shaved. Done something to be more presentable.
His beastly confidence dispersed as quickly as it arrived and he can only imagine that he will have to throw it all to instinct when he is actually confronting Jopson. The doctor’s hand drops away and he generously busies himself with the lantern sitting nearby while Edward steels himself before the door.
It’s narrow, and innocuous, truly. He’s walked past it without seeing it countless times.
On other ships Edward has seen it draped over with old rugs or canvas, in an effort to make it all the more unnoticeable, or simply repurposed into an additional closet. Still, the old names have stuck. Proofing drawer. Honey pantry. Sweet cupboard. On his first assignment as a midshipman it was called the bread warmer and it was not unheard of for a misbehaving boy to be shut up inside of it as punishment or a lewd joke.
In the end it is what it has always been: the place where Captains have their ways.
Edward turns back to the door, and the sliver of light underneath - a thin yellowed ribbon that spills on his boots when he chances to come near it.
“I have all confidence in you, Lieutenant,” McDonald says when Edward gives the flask back over.
Edward looks back through the door.
“I’ll lock you in,” the doctor says, quietly, behind him. “Don’t worry.”
Cherries. Overripe cherries. Sickeningly sweet, like at home, after his mother has had the girls pick the ones she wants and left the others to rot on the grass.
The scent of it does not hit Edward square on so much as curl around his body like mist rising from the floor, each short nervous breath he takes drawing it further in and enunciating another tone of it. Not only cherries - cherries gone soft and left to soak in almond liqueur or vanilla or brandy.
He finds himself staring at Jopson where he’s on his side in the narrow bunk built recessed into the wall, in nothing but what must be his nightshirt. He watches, paralyzed, as Thomas takes a deep breath, and then another, his fingers squeezing around the rope leashing him to a ring on the wall, peering at him all the while.
“Jopson,” Edward tries, but the word cracks unevenly in his mouth and he clears his throat as best he can before trying once more. “Jopson, I’ve come to see…” he trails away, unable to break his concentration from the way Jopson slowly draws his knee up so that his legs are stroking together, the hem of his shirt riding up along the slit in the side and falling so that more of his thigh is exposed.
“I’ve come to see if I might help,” Edward rasps, forcing himself to look at the floor. He swings his head, spies the pegs that McDonald spoke of and begins fumbling with his outer garments, Jopson’s scent seeming to cling harder to him with every second that ticks by.
“I’m sorry. I would assist you with that.”
Edward pauses, trips on a button and shakes his head. Jopson’s voice is a honeyish slur, dimmed down and slowed because of his heat and the calming ingredient the doctor gave him.
“It’s no issue,” Edward replies, coaxing his arms from his jacket sleeves and hanging it up. He turns, sitting to take off his boots, struggling with them.
“...I should assist you with that, as well,” Jopson repeats, softer still. Edward can feel the weight of his eyes on him, his heart throbbing.
“You’re in no shape,” Edward says, feigning mildness. He’s decided he will play as straight as he can. This way, he may be able to keep a hold of his wits. He clears his throat - Jopson makes a little spooked noise and Edward finally wills himself to look up, concerned.
Jopson hides his face against his arm, breathing heavily. The distance is short, and in the dim lamp light Edward can see that his pupils have grown so dark that they eat up all his eyes.
“Forgive me,” Edward says, lowering his voice. “It’s alright - I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Some of the tension bowing through Jopson’s body relaxes. His dark lashes flutter, struggling to remain open.
“It’s so hot,” he mumbles, shaking his head side to side in frustration, shivering so hard Edward can see it. “It’s so very hot…”
He clenches his fists again, squirming on the mattress, drawing his knees further up to his chest and lets out a little pant. Angling his head Edward can see the sweat breaking out, the ever errant strands of hair that cling to his forehead and his ears, the same ones he is always tucking. He opens his eyes again, rolling them to Edward plaintively.
“Does it hurt you? What would you -,” Edward struggles, standing up and taking the steps in his socked feet towards the little bunk. Thomas is crowded to one side so there is room for him to perch on the edge, but as he sits the leg of his trouser catches on a tacky spot already forming on the mattress and he looks away, chest hitching. He feels lightheaded, the two shots he had going to him quick.
“What would you have me do,” he asks again. “To help. I want to help,” he forces the words out. He means them.
But this is all so wrong.
He didn’t want to admit it. Not to himself, certainly never to Jopson, who does not deserve this treatment. Jopson who is, as McDonald says, and everyone knows, indispensable .
But for Edward it is such a personal manner, and it’s being forced out with a pry bar.
Thomas Jopson is Edward’s private summer.
A little citadel of calm and light and pretty shadows where he can hide and spare a few lonely seconds of his miserable days in a world at odds with everything he knows. One look at the omega, one little fluttering heartbeat of closeness, and he’s transported instantly to the sun-drenched gardens at Barrakka with its fountains and warm stone, the air full of shy scents - salt and cyclamen.
He knew many who would have taken a walk with him there, but he never asked them. The opportunity never seemed correct. It’s Edward’s worst feature, this dogged tendency to wait things out expecting improvement.
At its most innocent these mental jaunts resemble nothing more than stepping into a landscape and then stepping back out. At their most selfish it crystallizes when Thomas is forced to draw close to him because of some duty or another, carrying with him more than just stirring smells of rain-damp phlox and fresh mown hay.
Cherries - just at their peak, when they are soft but not gone off. Dark red and and satiny.
It is all he can think of at times, even in company where it should be the last thing on his mind. He cravenly imagines his mouth looking kiss bruised from them, the tips of his long lovely fingers stained, forgoing his cotton gloves. Edward would sit and watch his tongue dart out to chase a drop, those charming teeth work round the pit and then feed him another from his own hand.
He knows it is ugly letting his fixation live on, but Thomas has saved his life countless times never needing to know the improper reasons why.
By the same token he does not know how Edward would repay it if he were allowed to court him properly. For all his clumsiness he would put great thought into it; apply all his efforts and means. He will write to Harriot and ask for her very best advice.
She’ll suggest pinks from mother’s garden, cordials, concerts...
“You,” Jopson’s voice spears through his jumbled thoughts. “You,” he chants, panting again. Edward can only bear to look at him when he feels him start to move once more.
His leg slides over Edward’s lap, forcing his attention, and the other falls to the side, knee bent in a clear beckoning.
He strains at the rope.
“ Please ,” he whispers. “Mercy,” he stutters, eyes rolling up again.
Edward watches stupefied as Jopson’s back arches uselessly, his neck stretching at an awkward angle with how his arms are held up, but Edward can see the unblemished column of his throat and the scent rolls over him again. So sweet. Syrupy, like preserves. There are tears pouring down Jopson’s red face, his mouth open in heaving breaths.
“I’m sorry,” Jopson bleats. It’s so pitiful. Edward seethes with a false sense of seeing him hurt, or injured.
Poor omega… poor thing… poor darling…
Edward’s eyes widen, raking up and down his prone body. His hands stroke mindlessly over Jopson’s bare leg. There’s slick all over the inside of his thigh, and he instinctively curls his fingers and feels his blunt nails slide through. Jopson hisses and shudders and his hips buck up to follow -
When Edward comes back to himself he is throwing the rope aside and he has no idea how he got there. Jopson yelps at the blood rushing to his fingers but it does not stop him from letting them fall on Edward’s waistcoat and then climb to tangle them at the back of Edward’s neck, forcing them close.
He buries his face in the crook of Edward’s shoulder, hands clinging and clawing at his back. He rubs his cheek along his throat and neck, the little jut of his chin digging into his collarbone. When he moans, nosing at his jaw, it vibrates all through Edward and, with a final slip of the composure holding everything at bay, he gives.
A hum rumbles in Edward’s chest, his tongue dragging at the back of Thomas’ neck before he bends to breathe him in and scrape his teeth lightly over the precious spot where it joins to his shoulder and makes Thomas’ body kick and clench around him. He wants to lay his claim, but the molecule of sense he retains is enough to warn him off of it - for now. If he were in his rut… he doesn’t dwell on that.
He must retain at least a sliver, for Thomas’ sake. Edward has one foot on the ground, as it were, but Thomas is somewhere far away and Edward is the only thing keeping him tethered to the earth. The man that Edward has come to pettishly hold in his heart, who he recognizes every day for his decorum and aptitude and humility despite the desolate circumstances surrounding them, is nowhere to be found.
In its place is a pliant, shameless, little creature who rolled over and presented himself for Edward’s taking and only quieted his needsome cries when Edward’s prick was seated fully inside him. Just the memory of guiding his cock into Thomas’ desperate hole, of fucking into him so easily while Thomas sobbed a sound of relief is enough to force Edward to lift his head, staving off the temptation to properly sink his teeth in.
He leans back, pushing his hair away from his eyes, the other keeping Thomas’ shoulder pinned to the mattress. He looks down blearily, palming the cheek of Thomas’ ass to better see, knees nudging his thighs to splay wider. He stares at the place where his knot is beginning to swell at the base of his prick and his mouth falls open watching it grind it against the wet stretch of Thomas’ cunt, testing.
He can take it , the red voice says, a strange version of his own. Till he’s full. Till there’s none left to give him- so good, so sweet…
Edward lets his head bow forward with a groan, yanking Thomas back roughly by his hips. Thomas claws at the blanket in response, giving a punched out cry, and Edward reaches, pulling the omega’s arm back to use as leverage. Thomas bends with him, the subtle musculature of his torso shifting under his supple skin as he arches - it’s like poetry.
Edward can only draw himself ever more tightly against that lovely mind numbing heat. He presses in harder, urgency building, and Thomas moans nonsense, twisting back to look at him.
“More,” he says meekly, every thrust making his beautiful dark hair shake over his face. The omega bites down on a stuttering sound, voice pitching higher, the backs of his thighs starting to tense and quiver where they’re pushed against Edward’s. He rolls his face against the sheet senselessly and Edward can tell that he’s close. He can feel it in the way Thomas meets him again and again, looking for release - to feel completed. He tilts his hips down, angling naturally to help it along.
The base of his knot finally catches on Thomas’ rim and Thomas makes one shocked, wrecked, noise, and then goes silent, coming with a gush around his cock that drips onto the bedding, muscles in his arm seizing against Edward’s clutching hand. His captured fingers shake violently and curl halfway in before fanning out with little twitches, the rest of him wracked by the force. Sweat drips from his hair and mingles with tears blinking down his dazed face, the skin on his shoulders and chest bright red.
Edward let’s his arm slide from his hand, moving to grip Thomas’ hips till he can see the give of his flesh between his fingers, thumb fitting around the joints perfectly. He breathes hard, grinding his teeth while Thomas pulses around him. His knot is halfway in, pinching nearly uncomfortably and Edward shudders, panting.
Then, in one perfect little motion, Thomas shifts back and the rest of it disappears smoothly inside of him.
Edward’s aimless hand skates over Thomas’ slick back, stroking up and down stupidly, gasping when Thomas rocks, gently, against the fullness. It sends Edward’s eyes spotting.
“Oh Christ,” he sputters the muscles in his back tightening involuntarily. “Oh Holy Christ,” he chokes, and Thomas rolls his eye to him, catching his breath.
He looks sated, calm; this time it is Edward who is drowning.
Thomas lifts a quaking hand from the blankets and pads the tips of his fingers gently over Edward’s leg, trailing them up to the hot stretch of his stomach that he can reach. He strokes up, over his ribs, to his hair thatched chest, petting. His drowsy expression rests on Edward’s face all the while. It’s adoring .
“I can’t,” Edward says faintly at the sight of it, curling forward to answer the call of scenting him again instead. His hands drift down Thomas’ sides, over his stomach, cupping his limp cock which makes Thomas twitch and arch his back up into Edward’s chest. “If I - It might take - I shouldn’t -,” he pants, forehead the nape of Thomas’ neck. Thomas makes a little low sound, nearly mournful. He tips his head back, nuzzling at Edward’s face, his hair.
“Please,” he whispers, sounding half asleep. “It’s such good medicine,” he trails off, delirious, and Edward hides in the crook of his neck once more, bracing himself against the urge to come.
He shakes his head despondently at the slip of his Christian name.
He lifts his face; Thomas uses the opportunity to grace his mouth along whatever part of Edward he can get. His lips drag over Edward’s neck, over his hammering pulse, and Edward nearly shouts - he has to fist against the bulkhead to steady himself. Thomas takes a moment to lap at it, humming.
“Wait,” he sighs, wriggling. Edward looks at him, watches him wince as he pulls slightly away, Edward’s knot slipping free and his cock dragging heavily against his hole. He breathes raggedly at the loss of Thomas’ heat, and compulsively feels over the place, his fingers dipping in. Thomas hides his face in his arm, his blush spreading up to his ears and between the tense wings of his shoulder blades.
“Oh,” he moans weakly, and Edward mouths at his shoulder, pressing his own hot face against it. After a moment of catching his breath and letting Edward explore, Thomas slowly turns himself over on the little berth till he’s on his back, dark hair splayed on the rucked pile of his nightshirt.
“Here,” he murmurs, drawing Edward forward. Edward swallows, letting Thomas guide his prick back into him, tilting their foreheads together as he adjusts, opening up and taking his knot once more. His head falls back on the mattress again and he arches his neck instinctively, hands wandering over Edward’s chest and middle.
Edward can hardly keep himself upright and he knows at any moment none of his intentions will matter. He’s so consumed with the sensation that he does not register Thomas kissing him at first, but he is.
He lays shy kisses on Edward’s bottom lip, his chin, over and over, hands combing through his hair and tracing behind his ears. He nudges Edward’s nose with his own and nuzzles all over his face, dragging his smooth cheek on his whiskers.
“Alpha,” he pleads, squeezing his knees at Edward’s sides insistently and Edward suddenly pushes forward, licking into his mouth. He kisses him rough, folding Thomas back to push his knot as deep as it will go, hands slipping for purchase behind Thomas’ knee. Thomas gasps, winding his free leg around Edward’s thigh, foot scraping over the back of his calf and arches into it. “ Yes ,” he breathes, frantic, his nails suddenly scratching hard at the back of Edward’s scalp. Edward grinds heavily against him.
Mine, mine, mine, mine the voice growls with each kick of his hips - or perhaps he is speaking it. Thomas wails, clings, his scent wrapping itself around him and whiting out everything else in his head. He can see honey-colored light at the end of this bleak tunnel. If he survives this he will have Thomas married to him in all ways. He’ll have Thomas with Edward’s child on his lap, and bury himself in every happiness that they can conceive. Thomas will be so proud of him - to be his - and unashamed to need him -
Edward sees stunning, vivid, red, and bites down just above that tender forbidden spot as he comes.
Thomas narrows his eyes in distaste at the broth Edward is holding out to him.
“Come now,” Edward coaxes, and after a moment Thomas obediently leans forward to take some, only to tilt his head away so that Edward has to place his finger along his chin and tip it back up.
“You’re nearly finished,” he furthers, lifting an eyebrow, and at that Thomas takes his final sip and then relaxes, pushing his cheek into his Edward’s palm. It’s short lived; soon he’s huffing in annoyance, Edward pulling away to scrape up and swallow the last spoonful for himself.
“Very good, Mr. Jopson,” Edward praises, sucking on the spoon and showing him the empty bowl. Thomas preens from where he’s propped up in the corner of the berth watching Edward’s every move. Edward can feel him watching even when he leans to set the tray and the finished contents of their little shared meal on the bench and turns down the lamp once more.
When he turns back to Thomas he touches his face and forehead with the backs of his fingers. He’s still running hot, but not so much as before. It comes and goes, like a tide, but McDonald has said that they’re reaching the final cycles of it. He has no idea how long it has been. He wishes it were years. Perhaps when they emerge they will be in Hawaii.
“Better,” he confirms, petting Thomas’ hair gently into place. Jopson rubs his pretty mouth against the flat of Edward’s thumb as he cups his face, and strokes at his wrist when Edward worries at the bruise on his neck.
“Better,” Thomas says, hoarse, and Edward glances up to see his eyes a little more clear than they have been in quite some time. His smile, however, is dizzy.
He is heart wrenching in the fresh nightshirt McDonald delivered, and he smells soapy and divine from Edward helping him wash. With his kicked out legs and toes flexing against the opposite wall and the smudged shadows of their little cupboard he looks like a ragdoll. It is maddeningly adorable and everything Edward can do not to bundle him up and never let him out of his arms.
Edward had never dreamed - even in fantasy - that he’d see anyone looking so boyish and carefree in the heart of the darkest, longest winter of his life, but here it is before him.
He is exhausted, however. Edward has done his duty well, or so it would appear. He had to lean on Edward when Edward helped him off the bed to change the linens, his legs like a jelly , but he still had the wherewithal to tut at him for the way he did the corners.
“ You should see my drawers ,” Edward prodded, helping him back down, and Thomas looked at him slyly.
“ I have ,” he remarked, lifting his nose and Edward felt a chuckle tug loose. Thomas flicked his eyes away, sheepish suddenly. “ I’ve helped Billy with your laundry, here and there, ” he admitted, his voice barely able to rise above a whisper. “ You cannot keep anything folded .”
Wordlessly, Thomas moves forward, scooting so that he can lay his head against Edward’s chest and wind his arms around Edward’s waist in a loose loop, breathing deeply.
“You always smell of hot buttered rum,” Thomas practically purrs, nuzzling. “And toffees…” His toes curl.
Edward lets him, unsure if he should reciprocate, keeping his own hands politely to himself. Thomas furrows more against his shoulder and his shirt and Edward’s mouth twitches into a smile despite himself.
“I’m happy,” he says, after a moment of gathering his courage. “That I’ve been a comfort to you.” The words are halting and less impressive than he wanted them to be. “I hope it won’t make things difficult for you, later. If there is anything I can do to preserve your...your honor - should it ever be contested - .”
Thomas drags lines idly on the small of Edward’s back, giving him goose pimples. Suddenly he laughs, the noise tumbling from him in a lazy pirouette.
“Such a funny thing to say,” he replies, rucking up the hem of Edward’s own shirt so he can draw his pictures on his skin. Edward feels him move his finger this way and that. “You’ve put my honor in much jeopardy, Lieutenant Little...from the moment I laid eyes on you.”
Edward goes stiff.
“Begging your pardon,” he says weakly and then. “Jopson -,” he takes Thomas by the shoulders, forcing them to look at each other. “If there was something I have done to you, it was unwittingly.”
Thomas regards him with half lidded eyes.
“Before, if I...if I did or said something to offend you, I’m sorry for it. I’m only glad,” he swallows. “That you trusted me enough with this - even as acting Captain I -.”
“Sheepshank,” Thomas says, interrupting him. Edward balks.
The steward smirks.
“Sheepshank,” he repeats, voice low and heady. “What we poor lot call alpha officers we fancy. Fine knot, to be true, but it will shorten your career…,” he mimics the mechanics, pulling on invisible rope, and Edward feels horribly embarrassed.
Before he can pull away, however, Thomas leans up and kisses the corner of Edward’s stunned mouth, drawing close again, nearly climbing into his lap.
“Heaven help me,” he murmurs, hugging him. “I thought if I came any closer it would spell out the end. Do you understand?”
“No,” Edward says petulantly. His head is aching. For an omega who he’s just fucked nigh five times, Thomas has too much energy to put towards making him feel a fool. “I understand that you have acted as though you cannot be bothered with me. Till now,” he adds, cooly.
“I know,” Jopson says, kissing his ear sympathetically. “I know, my angel. You’ll have to forgive me,” he goes on. “ I can hardly think for loving you.”
Edward remains in astounded silence.
“When you walked on board in Greenhithe I swore I’d thought you up.”
“That cannot be true,” Edward says. Thomas smiles at him, blinking heavily.
“You ought to see yourself, sometime,” Thomas nudges, touching Edward’s chin coyly. “You are too handsome for your own good, and too darling. All I wanted was to be yours,” Jopson pauses. “But I would have died, had you rejected me.”
“Better to be safe,” Edward says. “And keep it to yourself.” Thomas nods.
“Nothing ever went wrong in my head,” he smiles, but it falters. “I didn’t want for it to be like this. You must think me so low, ” he whispers, touching Edward’s shoulders, rubbing down his arms. “I should think I’ll be regretting all of it when I’m in my right mind.” He grimaces, touching his forehead and Edward gently pulls his hand away, framing his face in his hands.
“When you are in your right mind,” he says, staring into Thomas’ glassy eyes. “I will remind you of all that you’ve said, so that I may hear it all once more. And tell you this as well: you have made me do mad things, Thomas, that I do not do usually,” his voice fell, dipping a bit with his own shyness. “So it is a good thing, I would think, that I wish to spend every day of my life with you hereafter.”
“I’m so glad,” Thomas says, on a breath he has been holding. Tears slip down and around his nose, sheening the bruised skin beneath his eyes. He is so tired, Edward can tell. It feels like a lifetime, but before these scarce hours both of them were nothing more than paddling through the motions, doing their best, and when they return the tremendous weight of it all will be waiting. But, for now, he’ll cherish the tenderness of Thomas’ face where he rests it on his shoulder again.
“Feel my heart, it’s racing,” he mumbles, bringing Edward’s hand to his breast. It thrums like a bird is caged behind his ribs. “I’m out of sorts aren’t I…”
“Shh,” Edward hushes into his hair. “I’ll sort you out.”
“I would be so lonely without you,” Thomas says brokenly, his hands falling all over Edward, fisting into his shirt. “Edward…”
Edward eases him gently, gently, back.
The trip back to England is strange, indeed.
Save for Crozier himself, well recovered in time to help them limp home when the thaw finally breaks open the leads, no one even dares to look at Jopson when in Edward’s presence, which is silly to him. He’s unpardonably beautiful, after all.
Like any fine thing he should be shown off, and written home about. If Edward had his way there’d be a grand portrait of him somewhere - some great commissioned piece depicting him as patron saint of lovelorn Lieutenants. It would be all doves and roses at his feet. Magnificent.
That aside, no one has anything to worry over. They have promised to keep things as they were before and both of them are silly enough to abide by it. It is not even as vexing as he thinks it would be. He finds most things, where Thomas is involved, to be tolerable even if they are difficult - especially once they’ve been spelled out to him.
Though their exit is sluggish save for the triumph of the passage herself, it gives him time to consider what exactly he will say when he appears on his parent’s doorstep with Thomas on his arm. Edward was never the one to do such reckless backwards things as bed captain’s stewards and then marry them, but there are first times for everything.
Edward tries to reason with him to decline; his family is quite bothersome and large and will meddle intolerably. Thomas assures him that he’s being very noble taking responsibility against such odds.
He supposes he will write to Harriot first and foremost.
He's certain Dash will find Thomas lovable in the same manner she finds middle c on her piano forte: with very little trouble.
By the time they are home his mother’s garden will be in its summer colors and he will have to ask after the dianthus and the tea roses. He stares at Thomas across the Wardroom, doing his best not to distract him by catching his eye.
Soon it will be cherry season.