A full night's rest was a thing that seemed to continually elude Francis. Even after a year since he, with a handful of what remained of his once centenary crew, had been rescued, adjusting to being back in England had not been as easy as Francis thought it should have been. When he was back on the ice, struggling to ensure the survival of his men, he would have given anything to make it back home again. To find some peace after what they had gone through. Cruelly, though, it seemed that even in the modest cottage he had purchased upon his retirement, just outside of London, peace was hard to obtain. If his thoughts of the horrors and the losses they had endured did not obstruct his rest, then the dreams did.
It happened more nights than it did not. Francis would either find himself once again pulling the sledges with his men, seemingly walking forever towards a destination, they could never seem to reach, no matter how many steps they took. His crew, one by one, would begin to drop finally giving in to the exhaustion that continually plagued them, never to get up again. Finally, he would be. Condemned never to join them but neither to reach salvation. Sometimes, though no less disturbingly, he would find himself staring down the maw of the creature, charging at him with the intention to snuff out what little life Francis had in him just as it had the bodies that lay in its wake. Though he would always find himself being thrust from sleep before it had the chance to tear him to pieces.
It was the latter of the two that was the cause of his restlessness this night. Though it was still dark out, Francis knew he would not be falling back to sleep anytime soon. Rising from the bed, careful not to disturb the occupant who lay beside him. Donning a dressing gown to protect against the late-night chill, Francis left the bedroom, relying on memory to guide him down the stairs and into the kitchen.
Learning early on, the best way to deal with these nightmares was through any means of distraction. Tonight, it would be through making a cup of tea to try and calm his nerves.
Usually, tea taken at night would have been enough to lull Francis into a state of sleepiness. Still, after a half-hour, since he finished the last drop in the cup, to his chagrin, he had to concede that, tonight, it was not to be no matter how much he might have wanted to sleep, dreams or no dreams. Frustrated, he made his way into the parlor in search of at least a more aggregable seating for his.
Sitting in one of the two armchairs placed in front of the fireplace, Francis gazed out the window that looked out into the garden. Its creation had been just one of many other attempts at distracting himself, something that he could focus on for a couple of hours during the day, but now with it being almost winter, he would have to find something else to take its place until the spring.
Before the expedition, he could never have imagined himself living anywhere other than London, but to his consternation, he found that the countryside appealed to his disposition as well as was an excuse to keep a distance between himself and English society that were so insatiable in their curiosity about the expedition. Francis had to concede it was for the best that he now stayed away. He never really fit in even when he tried to make himself agreeable such as attending admiralty balls. Presently even if he would have liked to return to London and entertain the masses with stories of endless ice and white bears, he simply could not. How could he? When the men, like John Irving, a good man cut down in the prime of his life by a murderous knave or ever-loyal Thomas Jopson, who had been awarded a posthumous lieutenancy from the Admiralty after a good harangue from Francis and several other survivors, could not. Despite that victory on Thomas's behalf, Francis still felt it was too little too late for the man who had served him faithfully for so many years. It was too little for all of the men who would never return from the artic. They all deserved so much more than frozen tomb were no loved ones or friends could come to mourn them, if Francis could have given his life to save theirs, he would have without a moment's hesitation.
It wasn't long before Francis was startled out of his deep contemplation by a hand being placed gently on his shoulder and a deep voice breaking the silence of the room.
"Trouble sleeping again?" A slight smile found its way to Francis's face. Dearest, James. No matter how much he might have wanted to stay in his melancholy, he could not, not when the man was near. Besides for rare trips that James would take into London for the social gatherings that Francis shunned, he rarely ever was not close by. After having James come back from the very brink of death and very rarely leaving his bedside on the voyage back to England, he and Francis found that their feelings for one another ran deeper than either friendship or brotherhood. So, under the guise of two bachelors, both survivors of the tragic expedition living together in order to share the cost of a home and other daily living expenses to the outside world, it was the proper setup. However, privately within their home, it was because the two simply could not live without each other and refused to.
Francis glanced up softly at the man who, at one point, he intensely but foolishly, despised. "Dreams again?" James questioned knowingly, having awoken many nights to Francis yelling in his sleep.
Francis Hummed lowly in response. "I'm sorry if I woke you," he said with a sigh while absently rubbing his right temple.
"If you woke me, it was because the bed had become cold from your absence James," said as he walked from behind the chair Francis was sitting in order to see his beloved's face. Getting down on his knees between the sitting man's legs, James grasped Francis' unoccupied hand within his own. "You know you can come to me anytime, day or night. You don't have to bear your troubles alone, like before."
Francis looked down at James. Before this beautiful, wonderful, complex man had entrusted the secret of his origins to him, Francis was very unlikely to share his personal feelings, his hopes, as well as his fears with anyone, let alone James Fitzjames. It was not just because he once thought the man as nothing but a pompous braggart, but because he learned from an early age the hard lesson that you couldn't trust, much less rely on most people. So, to save himself the disappointment, he built up a wall around himself that was comprised of an air of reservedness and brogue. It was a wall that very few could or would bother to get over. James not only proved himself to be one of those few shattered that wall and not only did not run away from what he saw, but time and time again offered Francis his confidence without even being asked.
Francis lifted his free hand from his head to gently cupping James face "There's no reason why both of us should miss out on sleep, I would have you get as much as you can."
James, nudging into Francis's touch, looked at him quizzically "you would want to be there for me in the aftermath of a bad dream, wouldn't you? James asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Of course," Francis murmured, knowing full well there is very he would deny James.
"Then let me in," James pleaded as he grasped Francis's hand more tightly. "Tell me what it is that troubles you so much as to drive you from our bed at night."
Steadying himself, Francis took a deep breath while searching James' eyes. The way he was looking at him, Francis couldn't help but fully surrender to the man kneeling before him.
"Do you remember that dream I told you about? The one where we are hauling the sledges and" Francis paused becoming overwhelmed by emotion, James gave him an almost pitying look which Francis hated though he knew if their positions were reversed, he would have done the
Calming himself, Francis continued, "and the crew just all seemed to drop around me."
"Oh, Francis," James sighed, his heart nearly breaking for him. He knew this dream very well, almost as well as he had had it himself as it seemed to haunt his lover's dreams often.
"I never told you the worse of it," Francis continued, tears coming to his eyes. "You were there as the rest of the crew fell. In the sledge, eventually, there was just you and I left. I kept walking, pulling the sledge with you in it. All the while, I keep pleading with you to hold on, just a little bit more. Weakly you try to reassure me, but eventually, you go quiet, and I don't hear you speak again."
James looked at Francis in shock, his mouth hanging agape. James knew all too well how upsetting these dreams could be having more than once begged Francis to hold him after having a particularly bad one. But this, it hurt him though he understood why Francis had kept this detail from him, more than that, James was more distressed that Francis had dealt with this precise detail on his own.
Placing his hand on top of the one cupping his cheek, he almost pleaded to the man sitting in front of him "feel me, know that I am here. I am alive because you saved me."
Francis shook his head "It was Sir James Ross and his search party that saved you."
"No, Francis!" James interrupted. "It was you. Always you. If you had not been there with me at my worse, I don't think I could have found the strength to hold on as long as I did if you were not there with me. Sir James may have rescued us from that miserable place and saw us home, but if you had not been with me, I would have died out there long before Sir James ever set eyes on that Island."
By this point, the tears that had threatened to spill over finally fell down Francis' face with James quickly reaching out to gently wipe them away. Closing his eyes, Francis relished in the feel of James' touch upon his skin, the smell of his hair, the sound of his breathing.
Shaking his head more forcefully while pulling away slightly from James' touch, "The men, I could not save them, I was their Captain, and I let them down."
"Listen to me, Francis!" James interrupted, "It was not your fault. You heard Dr. Goodsir's deposition at the court-martial. The men were suffering from a combination of scurvy and lead poisoning. There's nothing you could have done."
Francis knew James was right. What could he have done? That was a question that Francis doubted he would ever have an adequate answer for but one that would, no doubt, haunt him for the rest of his life.
Pulling James up from the floor, Francis then pulled him down towards him so that he was now sitting in his lap. Wrapping his arms around the taller man's waist that still, after all this time, felt too thin. Pulling him close, Francis trailed his hands up James back until they came to rest at the base of his skull. Curling James hair through his fingers, Francis pulled him even closer, leaning up to meet the other man's lips. Soft moans were released between the two of them as they shifted to get a stronger hold on each other, their breathing, quickening by the sudden desire to have one another.
Before he entirely gave into his desire for James' body, Francis slowly broke the kiss. While making love in front of the fireplace, preferably with a roaring fire in it, was a fantasy of Francis's that had yet to be fulfilled, tonight, James deserved to be worshiped in their bed. He deserved to always be comfortable, cared for, and pampered, and tonight Francis would give him all of that and more.
"Thank you," Francis whispered, still breathing deeply, trying to calm himself while leaning his forehead against James's.
James smiled softly at Francis. To the outside world, he might seem like an ill-tempered and gruff sort of a person, but if only they could see the real Francis. To James, he was kind and gentle, with a heart as big as the whole ocean, and his caring for those he loved ran just as profoundly. James could attest to that very well.
"Thank You, Francis. Thank you for letting me in, for allowing me to share the life with you that we have now."
As if reading Francis' thoughts, James rose off of Francis and reached his hand out to his seated lover. His hand was quickly taken, and silently they made their way out of the room and back upstairs.
As he was led by James back to their bedroom, Francis couldn't help but offer up thanks to the God he had scarcely spoken to since he was a child for what he had now. Even if he still believed he didn't deserve it, but for James, he would try to.