Actions

Work Header

Where a Firm Hand is Needed

Work Text:

All stewards must possess the skill of scheduling a favour with superiors. Tom knows not only the request he shall make, but the perfect time for it. At the eighth bell of dog watch he stands up from his chair tucked by Captain Crozier’s bedside. The captain is fast asleep after Dr. MacDonald’s visit. The sleeping tonic will wear off by three bells of the first watch;  Tom would usually use the time to get some rest himself, hunched over in his chair; save some strength for later, when his assistance is needed. But sleep can wait:  the urgency of his plea guides him through the deserted passageway to Lieutenant Little, who will be in his cabin occupied with his logbook at this hour, grateful for any interruption that saves him the effort of going through scribbled reports from Erebus.

Tom rights himself before he would enter. All his clothes are pressed and clean, and he finished patching the sweater just this morning: getting slack with his appearance and hygiene would be the equivalent of admitting defeat. As he cares for a recovering  captain, he has precious little time for himself, but a quick glance confirms his nails are immaculate (even though the skin of his hand is flaking and reddened; that is to be expected). He brushes his hair with his fingers, thinks of his comb wistfully (why did he not think of bringing it?), checks his chin: stubble prickles his skin, but it should not be more than a shadow. He represses a sigh and raises his hand to knock. He should be freshly shaved, and he should be wearing a jacket. Lieutenant Little will forgive the lapse, but he really shouldn’t.

“Yes?” the lieutenant calls, alarmed, then adds in a resolved grumble, “Come in.”

Tom slips inside soundlessly, slides the door shut. Attempts to hide his limp: being on his feet constantly this past week has not been kind to his injury, and the cold has only worsened it.

Little’s face brightens seeing him; Tom’s heart leaps, but he wills it still. He’s in no position to allow himself the joy of being noticed. This is an official meeting; Little has done nothing to invite intimacy. His gaze will often linger on Tom, that is true; he has noticed upon several occasions that Little seems somewhat drawn to him, and seeks out his company; he makes no attempt at polite chatter, but follows Tom around like a dog sniffing some hidden treat, too humble to ask for it.

“Mr. Jopson,” Little says, then his expression sours. “Is something wrong?”

“The captain fares reasonably well, sir; nothing to report there. I sought you out at my own behest.” Tom bows shortly and catches sight of something unexpected: Little’s forearm, resting atop the table—his shirtsleeves are rolled up. Tom’s throat feels tight as he straightens. He is aware that Little has a problem with ink-stained cuffs, but had no idea of the measures he’s taken to prevent future accidents. Black dots mark his pale skin, disappear in soft hair. His arms are strong and capable, much like the man himself. Tom meets his intent gaze, banishing the sight of exposed skin: but now he has to consider Little’s handsome face, the pout of his lips, his confused brows. He dearly wishes he would stop noticing Little’s attractiveness: it doesn’t serve either of them.

“How may I assist you?” Little asks; his warm voice is earnest, and Tom cannot help but feel fainter.

“I wish to be lashed, sir.”

Little’s mouth falls open, astounded. Maybe Tom should explain himself. He takes a step closer.

“I erred in my duties; I need a chance to repair myself.”

Little blinks in quick succession, then collects himself. He turns towards Tom fully, who averts his gaze. The sight of Little in naught but shirt, waistcoat, trousers and boots is too much to bear; even his neckerchief is loosened, although not undone, praise God.

“If mere errors necessitated such brutal punishment, we would all be waddling like Mr. Hickey. Unless you committed something heinous I don’t think you capable of—”

“Oh no, sir,” Tom interjects, lacing his hands behind his back. Flexes his fingers. “I have done nothing that could be considered criminal; but my mistakes shan’t be ignored, I think. Will you allow me to explain?”

“Please,” Little says, and gestures to his cot. It takes Tom a second to realise he’s been invited to sit; he would much rather remain standing, for that’s what’s proper: but he won’t refuse a friendly invitation, and his aching leg will thank him anyhow. He walks to the bed, adequately made, and sits primly. Little turns to him bodily again, but instead of turning his chair, he twists around in it, elbows leaning on the back post as he straddles the seat. Tom swallows. Doesn’t look at Little’s crotch. Not even a glance.

(He has sought the company of navy men before this expedition, but that had been on their invitation. A coin pressed to his palm. The mere fact that he considers  Lieutenant Little, cautious, conscientious, would expect something of the sort from him just shows how badly he needs to get his head straight.)

“You might find my blunders banal,” he says, addressing the floor, the only safe space for his eyes to cling. “I would too, if it weren’t for their timing, sir. Other times, I would be able to forgive myself an unswept corner, a blanket that hasn’t been aired, piled-up laundry, maybe even an unpolished table: but Captain Crozier’s comfort is paramount now. I cannot care for him and his surroundings the way I should. I nurse him to the best of my abilities, sir, but it means the neglecting of other duties, which accumulate steadily. As a result, his rooms are woefully unkempt.” He licks his lips. The next part is difficult to say; he glances up quickly, and finds reassurance in Little’s gaze, which is not judging. “I didn’t fluff up his pillow today, and neglected to change the case.” His voice breaks.

“I hardly think he noticed,” Little says, soothing.

Tom shakes his head. “That’s the worst of it, sir. He won’t know what is it that’s amiss: he’ll just feel the shabbiness of it without knowing it’s my fault alone. One cannot let a recovering patient wallow in filth: it makes them feel unworthy; a clean room is a clean mind, sir, that’s what I always say…” He trails off, too upset to carry on.

(His mother begged to air the room. He was busy scrubbing her chamberpot, asked for a moment of her patience. She got dizzy with the smell of vitriol, and fainted.)

“I wouldn’t say that the Captain is wallowing in filth,” Little says. “I’ve been to his cabin just yesterday, and found it cleaner than my own.”

Tom bites his lip. Refrains on making remarks about Mr. Gibson’s standards. (Refuses to look at Little’s bookshelf, which is in a very shabby state, and much upsetting.)

“He’s used to better, sir,” he says. “Deserves it too; that’s why I was handpicked; he relies on me, and I’m overworked and failing when he needs me the most, when the expedition entire relies on his recovery.”

Little frowns. Maybe Tom should’ve gone over to Erebus, requested Captain Fitzjames’ audience: he has heard that men have duty owning for dirty collars—Fitzjames would have a word or two knowing that Tom hasn't yet gotten around to cutting Crozier’s toenails.

“You don’t need to be lashed,” Little says, “for not fluffing his pillow.”

Little’s pillow is a sorry lump of feathers. It doesn’t look like Mr. Gibson has fluffed it ever. How could Tom ever hope to be understood?

“I don’t need it as punishment, sir,” he says. “I need it as a reminder, to help me recover; to train me out of a bad habit; like Mr. Hartnell, sir. You, too, were present; remember, he got lashed, and I know he won’t lapse again, I watched him and envied… yes, envied…” The sentence is unfinished. There is silence. He hears Little shift in his seat.

“Like spanking?” he asks carefully. Tom perks up eagerly, meets Little’s considering gaze: he’s been heard; Little knows his meaning.

“Exactly like spanking, sir!” he says, jumping up a little and shifting closer. The cabin is narrow: he could reach out to grab Little’s shoulder in gratitude; doesn’t. “I should be spanked; that’d be of great help,” he says with confidence.

“Can’t allow it,” Little says. There’s something strange in his gaze, the way it cages Tom in; possessive; but why would he— “I’m sorry, Mr. Jopson, but I’m afraid the remaining crew would not understand your reason: the same standards should be observed by all, and if an exemplary man such as yourself gets publicly repaired, they’d leave for Erebus directly.”

“It need not be public, sir,” Tom says, electing to ignore the flattery. “The effects would still be felt, I think.”

Little mulls it over. The set of his eyebrows is still perplexed, but his soft gaze darkens with wonder; his teeth worry his lips, briefly. (Tom could easily get a lashing if he lingered on it a moment longer and made an offer.)

“Do you want me to help?” Little asks finally, voice gone raspy. “Is that your meaning?”

Tom’s heart skips a beat. Silly thing; this is not personal; Little merely offers to help Tom see to his duty.

“If you would kindly oblige me, sir.”

There’s something final in the sound of Little’s chair sliding over the floor. Tom feels himself get unreasonably excited, at the worst possible moment. He must focus on his education alone, not the way Little’s lumbering frame fills the cabin. He’s of Tom’s height, but has a sailor’s build, wide shoulders, and a straight back. (He does not fix his shirtsleeves.)

“Please be seated next to me, sir,” Tom asks, scoots over. The cot creaks under Little’s weight. He radiates heat. He smells lovely.

(Tom has made a mistake.)

There’s no way to beg out of it. He must endure it with dignity, and hope that it still helps with repairing himself.

(His inclination towards burly, brooding men with dark hair and incredible eyelashes is incorrigible, and he wouldn’t wish to fix it anyway, not for the world; for there is no greater pleasure than the reward of the attention of such a man, which he does not deserve now. He should stop entertaining the thought of Little’s cock.)

(He’s observed the thickness of it before.)

“I will bend over your knees, sir,” he says with poise, “and I will ask you to strike my rear repeatedly and make me count the hits. I will advise you on the force necessary once we begin.”

Little is staring at him.

Tom clears his throat. “Right, then,” he says brightly, and—well. He just needs to lie over Little’s lap.

(He’s never even touched him before.)

He takes his time with it, as to not get overwhelmed. Positions himself so his crotch is out of harm’s way, so to speak, because his cock is filling steadily thanks to Little’s general proximity and the fact that Tom has had no man in his bed for over two years, which is quite unusual for him, but the moment he had laid eyes on Little he knew that no one else would do; and it helped rein him in, actually, to have an idol so unattainable—

Little splays a hand over Tom’s arse and pushes him closer. His cock presses against Little’s strong thigh, blissfully, regrettably, and Tom rushes to jut his bum and avoid further incidents.

Ten spanks, he decides. A quick succession of slaps; I’m not asking him to fondle my arse, after all; I should be able to remain in control.

“Do you need a cushion?” Little asks.

Tom is facing Little’s sad pillow. That’s more than enough. He politely declines, and spreads his legs a tad wider. He’s bracing himself on his forearms, taking in the scent of Little’s bedcover. (It smells of him; Tom is getting lightheaded.)

Strangely, unexpectedly, Little tugs at his sweater and shirt. They come untucked easily, but Little must feel him flinch, for he stops.

“Not as a boy, then?” he asks.

Tom gasps, shocked. The idea colours his cheeks, but he resists thinking of it. “I shall remain dressed, sir.”

Little caresses the small of his back in apology. “You must instruct me carefully,” he advises, “for I would do nothing to hurt or upset you; should I be too harsh or too forward, you must make me stop, Tom; do I have your word that you will make your preferences known?”

“You have my word, sir,” Tom says. He could swear he heard Little call him by his Christian name, but cannot reconcile why would he do it—unless to comfort him, now that he’s so exposed. It’s just like Little, to be so polite and considerate, even with a steward.

“The trousers remain until you wish them removed,” Little concludes and pats his bum fondly.

Tom is staring ahead. 

He did not expect to be coddled.

“They offer some padding to muffle the sounds, sir,” he explains, his mind racing. He’s missing something.

Little drops his voice, nearly purrs, “What if I want you to make sounds?” His hand comes down, harsh, to punctuate the sentence, slapping the fleshiest part of Tom’s bum and jolting his hips forward. His cock ruts against Little’s thigh.

“One,” he blurts out. Little must have felt the poke of his swelling cock, yet did not recoil.

They have entered a sexual arrangement, and Little consented.

Tom strains to retrace the events of his visit; did Little think that he just made a rather roundabout attempt to get his bum touched? 

(Do you want me to help? Is that your meaning?)

He gasps, and covers his mouth. Good Christ.

Little’s hand comes down. “I would love to hear you, Tom,”  he says. Tom’s flesh burns with the imprint of his palm; Little rubs the spot with his knuckles, soothing the pricking of pain, warming it most pleasantly.

“Please make me scream then, sir,” he says boldly; it is the most audacious and outrageous thing he can think of, sure to give Little pause if sensuality is not what he wants—but Little just grunts in approval, strikes down, and Tom moans, sliding forward in his lap.

This was not the plan.

He has no misgivings. Quite the opposite. Little is fondling his arse deftly, and Tom searches his memories to reconcile all of this, why Little would enter such an arrangement willingly, and it dawns on him—this is the treat; this is what Little smelled on him.

“Four!”

He’s been looking for permission.

“Five!”

Looking for an excuse.

Little targets his left buttock next, making it jiggle, and that’s another thing: Tom did not expect a spanking to be pleasurable in any way, but he feels like he should have known; for Edward’s big hands are on him, and this is what he wanted, always, and did he not wish, desperately, that he had the liberty to offer his arse—

He can only scream six.

“That’s it,” Little says, and adjusts him again, so he’s pressed closer. The roll of Tom’s hips is instinctive; he could fight it, but doesn’t want to, marvelling that he’s allowed to have this, rubbing his aching cock over Little’s leg, who’s always been so restrained. Little is a serious man, comely, decent; and it must have been his civility that attracted him to Tom, for they share a love of decorum, but a love of this also, a love that can only exist hidden, forbidden, but which blooms like a midnight flower until the scent is unmistakable.

“Seven,” Tom pants. 

Little strokes his rear; his touch is deliciously firm, solacing after the sharp hits; Tom chases the sensation then presses down, eyes squeezed shut and his cheeks flushed as his sensitive prick rubs against his rough trousers.

“You can hump my leg, it’s all right,” Little says. “Is that what you want, Tom? Grind your cock over me?”

Tom makes a strained sound. He should clarify his sexual habits at once. He should confess that he’s never been spanked for pleasure, and that his fantasies go beyond a bit of rutting; but he’s speechless with how divine it feels.

“Talk to me,” Little whispers, palming his arse; he won’t spank him again until Tom affirmed his assent, and he wants his hand, he needs it, he needs so much more—

“Trousers,” he forces out, then adds, “trousers, sir.”

That addition doesn’t help with clarification.

“Are they in the way?” Little asks him, and Tom nods eagerly, relieved to be understood.

“Yes, sir,” he manages between gasping breaths, “take them off now, sir, please—”

Little undoes his braces for him. Tom should help with the buttons, but he doesn’t want to move; he wants to remain in Little’s lap forever, like an indulged pet.

Little tugs off his trousers, takes a sharp inhale when Tom’s buttocks are revealed. (A point of pride, they are.)

“Are they much bruised, sir?” Tom asks.

“Reddened.” Little strokes him, breathes, “So pretty.”

Tom lifts his hips to offer him a better perspective, and in his squirming, his naked cock brushes over Little’s leg. He gasps at the sensation and shivers.

“Sit up,” Little orders.

He obeys, his arching prick swaying with the movement. Little watches him with his head tilted, eyes burning; how could Tom ever have mistaken his gaze as anything but lust?

“Yes,” Little says. “Show me how hard you are; do you want to see mine?”

“Yes, sir, please,” Tom begs. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He wants to stroke himself; wants to hold onto Little; touch him; bury his fingers into his hair, caress his whiskers, claim his generous lips.

When Little’s cock is revealed, it captures all of Tom’s attention.

It’s even thicker than he thought; wonderfully erect; swollen for him, standing up in greeting, recognising Tom’s desire and mirroring it. Little gives it a caress with a nonchalant ease that sends Tom’s blood rushing.

“On your hands and knees, if you will,” Little prompts and Tom all but leaps to comply; to show how good he is, how attentive and devoted, always at the beck and call of a superior. Little kneels behind him, pats his bum, then slaps it sharply.

“Eight,” Tom says, and can’t help smiling around the word; eight strikes, then nine, ten, all evidence of Little’s singular attention.

Little guides his cock to his handprints, smears himself over the tingling skin, says gently, “What am I to do with you? Have you learnt your lesson?”

“I may need to review it, sir,” Tom says, strained. Little makes a considerate sound, slaps his cock across Tom’s enkindled arse, making him whimper.

“Bright student like you are,” Little muses, “I bet you remember. Demonstrate, and you shall be rewarded.”

Tom breathes through his nose as he reaches back to spread himself open for inspection, knowing that Edward will find no fault, because he’s been good, maybe better than he gives himself credit for; he keeps everything neat and clean, he’s good at it.

Edward makes a choked-off sound, but when he speaks, his voice remains controlled; he puts on an air of authority just because he knows Tom likes it, and he only had to ask for it. “Remarkable; if only you were slicked up for me.”

“It could be arranged, sir.”

Edward grunts, climbs atop him. His weight is thrilling; it makes Tom sink into the mattress completely, until Edward grabs him and wrestles him to his back, so they’re chest to chest, limb to limb. Edward is looking at him intently, his curling hair falling over his face. He’s devastating; Tom reaches out to brush his locks aside, feel their softness. His hair is longer than it should be, but it becomes him, the elegant waves framing his face. His expression is that of open wonder. “I’d like to kiss you,” he says.

“Please kiss me, sir,” Tom breathes, splayed out under him, his sweater racked up and prick aching to be touched.

“Only if I kiss you,” Little says, “you must call me Edward.”

“Edward,” Tom repeats obediently. This is his reward: Edward’s lips on his, sugar-sweet but demanding; Tom smiles into the kiss and laughs, stunned, when Edward’s prick slides over his. Edward rolls his hips again as Tom brackets his torso with his thighs, invites him into a faster rhythm.

“You’re being so good to me,” Edward says.

“All I needed was a firm hand,” Tom says, innocent, then yelps, delighted, when Edward closes a fist around their joined cocks, honours him with a sharper cant of his hips. Tom has never been fucked like this: he enjoys every minute, not just the stirring sensation but Edward’s regard, so complete and absolute. Tom feels like they invented something new, just the both of them in secret, that nobody has ever had sex before them, and nobody ever kissed.

Edward lets go of him just to get his waistcoat undone, peel off sweater, shirt and undershirt, until Tom is naked completely. He doesn’t touch his own clothing: remains fully dressed as he sinks back on his elbows, only the front of his trousers dropped to reveal his glistening cock, rubbing over Tom’s.

“You feel exquisite,” Edward rasps into his ear, his breath hot, rugged. “I should be treating you for taking your beating so well, but you are my own boon, Tom. All wrapped up like a present.” He caresses his side, his touch ticklish; Tom twists under him, head lolling to the side. From the corner of his eye, he catches Edward’s fleeting, fond smile. “Have you noticed me undressing you with my gaze? You’re far lovelier than I ever imagined.” He pushes himself up to look Tom over, unashamed. Tom is aware that he has an appealing frame; he’s proud to keep himself athletic and neat, wants to boast of his grooming, wants Edward to notice, and he does, he did.

“It’s my joy to please you,” Tom confesses, revelling in Edward’s admiration. Edward thrusts forward again, the insistent nudge of his cock making Tom ever bolder: he responds with a thrust of his own, chasing the sensation.

Fuck,” Edward groans, drops back down; he’s pressed to Tom so closely he’s stealing his breath away as he laboriously rubs his cock over his, trapping their erections between their bodies. “You should be naked always.”

“If only that were feasible,” Tom pants, entertained by the idea of serving dinner in the nude; but if he served for Edward alone—

“Were you mine,” Edward says, “I’d keep you in my cabin naked, just so I could look at you—”

“Please do more than look,”  Tom says, claws at his back to pull him closer, his heels digging into Edward’s strong thighs. “Edward, please, keep me in your cabin and fuck me as often, as wildly as you wish!”

Edward all but growls, deep in his throat, and claims his lips in a clashing kiss. It’s like the silence he laboured under these past years has not just broken but splintered; like he cannot help the noises pouring out of him any more than he can help his passion. He turns them around, rolling to his back and thus making Tom straddle his hips. He looks up at Tom ardently, taking him all in as Tom starts moving, clasping their cocks in a fist.

“I wouldn’t steal you from your duties,” Edward says softly, seriously.

“But were I yours, you’d dictate my duties,” Tom reminds him. The drag of skin on skin is getting overwhelming: he licks his fingers deftly, grabs their cocks anew.

“Wouldn’t want to force you.”

“Force? Edward, you must know how dedicated I am to service; am I not dedicated?” He thrusts forward, rising and falling; riding Edward thus, he can feel the burn of his buttocks, and fills with gratitude.

“A most devoted fellow,” Edward manages, gripping his hips tighter. Tom hopes his skin will redden there as well; that he’ll have Edward’s marks as reminders of his own strength, that he has it in him to do his job properly. “Tell me, and say it honestly: are you devoted to me only?”

“In service like this, I’m yours alone,” Tom confesses; what a thrill it is, to say it, to offer his loyalty, even if Edward won’t take it; even if his bravery lasts a night only. But dear Edward leaps: sits up swiftly and throws Tom to his back, so fast the air is knocked out of his lungs, and Tom laughs, for nobody has ever wanted him like this.

(All he wants to be is wanted.)

“Will you let me do as I please?” Edward pleads, spreading Tom’s legs and pushing them up to his chest, folded near in half for Edward’s pleasure; how he regrets not having some oil with him, so he could offer himself, as Edward’s thickness makes lubrication necessary.

Tom briefly contemplates the petroleum burning in the lamp overhead, and says, “What would please you?”

“To taste you,” Edward says hotly, so Tom tears away his gaze from the light and looks only at Edward. “Oh, I’d swallow you up!”

Tom spreads his legs further in answer, holding his knees. Edward bows his head into his lap like a devout man preparing for prayer, his dark locks falling forward. He licks up the length of Tom’s pinkened cock, his eyelashes casting the most charming shadows over his cheeks. He sucks eagerly, and Tom is hazy with it; oh, he shall swoon; how could he ever expect his consciousness to process such pleasure?

Edward’s throat is tight and soft, his tongue keen; Tom needs to clasp his mouth so he won’t scream. He’s consumed by long-denied bliss; to think that he could’ve had Edward earlier, and wasted their precious time yearning!

But this is the perfect moment; for he is weak, wretched and rather miserable; he kept his calm and good spirits when the ships got icelocked, even when the creature ravaged their ranks, but control has been slipping through his fingers; he’s became clumsy with it, and it is unbearable, to be a steward with butterfingers, clutching at his slimy sanity.

Edward grounds him: the touch of his tongue is real; the lingering sting of his spanks, the hands pushing at Tom’s thighs. And what a sight! A look of concentration furrows his brows as he licks at Tom’s cock, the tip of his tongue teasing the underside, lapping all the way up, chasing it with his lips to swallow it, and moaning in pleasure when he manages. Tom feels delicate, like a treat indeed; even at his lowest, he has something to offer: himself, and a talent so far hidden from Edward. He rolls his lips, thrusting up into Edward’s mouth, who opens his eyes to look at him directly.

A lieutenant, pleasing him; sucking his cock with no sense of shame or humiliation. Edward doesn’t even try to hide how much it undoes him: he’s seeking friction on the mattress, humping it like a wild thing, still clad in uniform. Tom thinks of undressing him: a mundane task transformed into something else, for if he served Edward, he would serve him on his knees, and in the nude, yes, if it pleased him, and he’d warm his bed with his body, comb his hair with his fingers, feed him from his hands, and if he ever lapsed, Edward would spank him better, and if he did good, surely, if he did good, he would get Edward’s cock as reward.

He moans at the thought, pushes himself up to sit. His head swims. He grabs Edward’s hair (is he allowed?) and pulls him up to a kiss (he’s allowed) and Edward kneels (for him), grabs his cock to pull him off, and Tom mirrors the favour, clasping Edward’s prick. Like this, there’s no difference between them: their air is shared, their heartbeat, their pleasure. The idea is frightening, but pleasing all the same: if he ever made it to purser or boatswain, his desires would be unchanged; he could be captain of his own ship (that’s a laugh) and he’d want Edward Little, the man with the sad eyes and brightest of smiles, his clever Edward who treats him so well. He can trace his own salty tang on Edward’s lips: it makes sense, that their desire would taste like the sea.

Tom’s pulls are unfaltering as he savours Edward’s kiss, who whispers into his mouth, “That’s it, you’re doing so well; you’re perfect, perfect.” He nuzzles his face, his whiskers scratching Tom’s cheeks, who can’t help but smile at it, elated; then Edward licks into his ear, yanks on his cock and says, “Now be good and come for me.”

It wouldn’t be like Tom not to obey. His hot release spurts over Edward’s hand, his own stomach, but even at the height of climax, he doesn’t lax in his duties, pleasuring Edward steadily while his body trembles and his mouth falls slack; a soft sigh, a gasp; he falls against Edward’s shoulder, but keeps up the rhythm.

“You’re a wonder,” Edward says, breathless. “You’re everything I never dared to want.”

“But I’m yours now,” Tom whispers into his skin, not brave enough to look at him, his touch begging, keep me, keep me, keep me. Edward comes clasping him, and Tom doesn’t want him to ever let go. He squeezes his eyes shut, and melts into his warmth.

The bell sounds in the distance.

Duty is this: going against your own wishes when a greater purpose awaits. Tom entangles himself from Edward’s embrace reluctantly; but just as he would pull away, Edward gets hold of his arm.

“Let me,” he says. He tugs at his neckerchief, which comes undone easily. Tom watches with a delighted mortification as Edward applies the silk to Tom’s soaked belly. He nearly protests, but as if Edward could sense his reluctance, he looks up at him, “Want it to smell of you before I wash it; keep me company to-night.”

“Blimey,” Tom whispers.

Edward cleans him up well, even though he must feel drained from his own release; he tucks himself away almost as an afterthought, then dresses Tom, swatting his hand away when he would help. Tom lets himself be pampered; allows this for himself, relishing in every fleeting second, but finally Edward pulls on his socks and laces his shoes for him, kneeling.

He must take his leave; whatever duty awaits him, he will face it and excel; for he feels strong now, invigorated, even though his heart is heavy. He won’t carry it: he leaves it in Edward’s palm as his sweet lieutenant helps him up. They stand there in the low glow of the lamp burning too late, silent, lost in each other’s gaze. The air is chilly, but both of them are flushed, sweaty: there’s no denying what transpired, but Tom will keep his silence, if that’s what’s asked of him; wipe his memory spotless; never mention this again. (How he longs to hold on.)

“I must say goodbye,” he says, bowing his head; but Edward stops him from inclining further, tipping his chin up with his fingers. They lock gazes: Edward’s eyes are dark, pupils fat. There’s still hunger in them.

“If you find yourself in need of help again,” he says, “come to me for assistance.”

He kisses him, briefly; he lets Tom leave; but not before a fond pat on his bum, fitting his hand over the fingerprints that mark Tom his.