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Jopson’s fingers, with their well-kept nails, are digging into Edward’s back. Even through the thick fabric of Edward’s uniform jacket he can feel how powerful the steward’s hands are, how very capable the muscles of his wrists and arms must be.

He feels guilty for having been unable to open Jopson up, properly and with the care he deserved; a feeling accompanied by a deep burn of shame at how good it feels that he didn’t, that when he breached Jopson it was with hardly more than spit and then a slow push in until he was inside. The absurdly tight heat sent immediate waves of pleasure through him, followed quickly by fear: something this good surely must have a formidable obverse.

But beneath him, Jopson seems not to be in pain. The steward’s eyes are in fact more lucid and bright than ever, above his proud nose, and the gentle curve of his mouth hanging slightly open in exertion, inside which a graceful pink tongue is visible, just out of reach—

Edward wishes dearly Jopson would close that mouth, not to mention those damn eyes. It’s too much, to have them constantly flicking back and forth, from his own gaze then over to where the Captain sits, hunched over, one hand on the table of the Great Cabin, one hand idly cupping himself through his trousers.  

“That’s right,” mumbles the Captain as Jopson looks to him, “look at you, oh, good Christ, to be young again…” 

After the exodus Terror had felt hollowed out, almost haunted. The few men left aboard wandered her passageways like ghosts— not to mention the rumors swirling of strange whispers, coming from the hold where the dead were stacked like so much spare lumber; and the Great Cabin like a dusty cloister, the gothic keep of a captain growing increasingly blatant in his perversions the closer he approached the point of no return. 

Edward had sought a silver lining: with such a limited population, there would be an equivalent decrease in duty, and surely as such he would be spared a few more hours of rest each day.

But somehow there was more work to be done than ever. Rations to be calculated, the sick list to be analyzed over and over for signs of debility, the ship to be shored up with increasingly frantic and futile attempts at holding back the encroaching ice.

And with such bustle but so few men aboard, it had been harder than ever for Edward to avoid Jopson, harder to lose him in the crowd of other dark-haired, light-eyed Englishmen. Not that Edward had been able to do such a thing in months if not years, of course— but he’d always been able to pretend, at least, before.  

Now without the heat of sixty-odd human bodies to bolster the struggling boiler, the ship’s lower deck was colder than ever, and in his berth at night Edward had clutched his thin blanket about him, dreamed urgently of a warm body against him, inside him, filling him up with the touch he craved.

It was just him and his Captain that evening in the Great Cabin, ledgers and pens and endless considerations of stores, rations, the neverending appetites of men.

Crozier, already flushed with drink when he welcomed Edward in, had drained one glass, then another, as they worked. By the time they’d reached the halfway point of the evening’s grim tasks, the third overfull glass had been poured by Jopson and then tipped down the Captain’s throat with terrible unconcern.

“You’ve got the face of a bloody pallbearer, Edward,” Crozier said, dropping the empty glass down onto the table. “No one’s died for weeks now, surely! What could it take to cheer you up?”

“I mean no disrespect, sir,” Edward said, and tried to school his face out of its natural resting state and into something brighter, but Crozier waved a hand dismissively. He hauled himself up from the table, assumed a position that, with the list of the ship and his impaired balance combined, was a queasy parody of a captain’s stance. 

Edward quickly sprang to his feet as well, standing at attention with his hands behind his back. From across the room he watched Jopson watch the Captain, the steward tense and ready to leap into action, as if expecting Crozier to topple over at any moment. 

“You’re about to have some fun, for once in your miserable little life, Lieutenant— ha, do you get it?” Crozier slurred, then shouted: “Jopson?”

“Yes, sir?” 

“Hands and knees,” Crozier said, pointing to the carpet. “Trousers down. Do it now. Edward here requires a restorative.” 

Edward watched with sick, sinking horror, as Jopson, his expression utterly indecipherable, hesitated the merest of moments before obeying. He pulled his wide-legged seaman’s trousers to his knees, revealing white thighs and the improbable vision of his bare arse, perfectly proportioned.

But no sooner had Jopson settled into his commanded position did the Captain change his mind. “No, no,” said Crozier, swaying where he stood. “Turn over. Your pretty face, that’s what he needs, the back of your head won’t do him any good.” He laughed, a phlegmatic cackle at a joke only he found the humor in. 

With some effort Edward dragged his eyes from Jopson, now supine, still and patiently waiting, back to Crozier, whose leer had loosened into something unsteadily contemplative. 

“You’ll feel better, Edward,” the Captain said. “Need you at your best.. these are… hard days…. hard days ahead…” He trailed off, eyes drifting unfocused, and for a moment Edward thought he would indeed fall over, and Jopson would leap up from the ground to usher him into his berth, and then this strange interlude would come to an end.

But Crozier quickly righted himself, blinked, narrowed his bleary eyes. “Get your prick out,” said the captain, pointing a wavering hand in the general direction of Edward’s trousers. 

“... Sir?”

“That’s an order, Lieutenant.” 

It was a ludicrous demand by a man in the throes of what had long ceased to be mere indulgence, had of late become a rancid sickness— but the fact remained: Edward was the First Lieutenant of HMS Terror, and Crozier was his Captain. 

As he undid his trousers with hands that seemed to not belong to him, Edward found himself thinking, suddenly and without warning, of the mad, defiant Cornelius Hickey.

If Hickey were here, he would have seen Crozier’s order for what it was: lunacy. He would have argued and spat and refused— and been punished again for it, surely, but at the very least he would have fought, in a way utterly foreign to Edward.

Indeed, it was as if Hickey were present, in a way: without the man’s insubordination and what followed, Crozier perhaps would never have discovered the deep pleasure he took in the overstepping of all reason, this deliberate flaunting of order and sense. 

In actuality of course the unruly caulker’s mate was likely busy stacking crates in the orlop under Irving’s watchful eye, and as such Edward had no recourse whatsoever. 

If his prick had not been cooperative, if he’d done as Crozier ordered but not been able to proceed further, then perhaps he would have been forgiven, not without a bit of cruel mockery from the Captain and silent judgement from Jopson, but still, the moment might have passed into memory.

But that would have been too much luck for Edward, who had used up all his life’s good fortune long ago, the very last of it when he’d stepped aboard Terror for the first time and seen that he was to be serving alongside one Thomas Jopson: a man whose mere profile, silhouetted by the light through the Great Cabin windows, was enough to send the oddest feeling spreading through Edward. 

So naturally the very sight of Jopson arranging himself on the rug had been enough to bring Edward shamefully quickly to a stiff, eager rise, impossible to hide once it was in view. 

“Get on with it, Edward,” snapped Crozier, as Edward hesitated, and then in a kinder tone, which was worse: “You’ll feel better once you do. A good fuck… s’what you need.”  

So now here he is: roughly fucking Crozier’s beautiful young steward, trying not to betray in his face nor his voice what this proximity has done to him— how the smell of Jopson’s soaped skin overwhelms him, how the perfect fall of his hair across his forehead, up close, begs even more cruelly to be touched.

Beneath Jopson’s rucked-up shirttails, pushed out of the way for Edward’s access, is his cock, lying stiff and red against the pale curve of his stomach. It is a microcosm of the man himself, a coy, velvety vision to marvel at, delicate but underlaid by a subtle strength. 

Edward wishes for nothing more than to take it into his hand, his mouth, take it into himself and keep it— but those were not his orders. 

If Edward were to close his eyes, perhaps he could pretend that the Captain is not devouring the scene whole with his soaked, predatory regard. He might pretend that they’re in Edward’s berth, and Jopson is astride Edward, the scene reversed and enhanced: sweet words spoken, gentle kisses pressed to cheeks and hands.

No— that feat of the imagination is far beyond him. His eyes remain open. It’s far too difficult to picture such things, such distant and impossible things, with the immediacy of Jopson’s hot clench around him, the ugly, animal sounds of flesh on flesh emerging from where they are joined, the emotionless admixture of their huffing breaths. 

Crozier slurs something, a long low drawl, his accent grown so heavy in his state Edward at first doesn’t parse it. 

It’s only belatedly, on a delay of a few seconds, that he realizes Crozier had said, “You’re taking him so good, lad,” and that was why Jopson had gasped, arched out beneath him, bootheels scrabbling on the rug, clutched Edward tighter. The praise had flown past Edward like a bullet on a battlefield, found its target with unerring aim. 

Edward bites his lip, begs of himself not to cry out, not to be so wretchedly obvious in the pleasure he’s taking from Jopson’s body, from this hungered-for closeness. For Jopson’s expression is horribly, artificially neutral, eyes still darting every few seconds from Edward’s face to Crozier, and Edward can only imagine what he is doing his utmost to hide: boredom, perhaps, or its wretched cousin, disgust. 

Meanwhile Crozier at the table is leaning heavily towards the scene, hungrily anticipating Edward’s finish, the finale of his grand plan. "There, right there, you're close, aren't you, now?" he grunts. 

And yes, Edward is close, has been for far too long, he is trembling punishingly on the verge, yet he cannot escape the fact that if this ends then it ends—  he will no longer have Jopson’s hands on him, nor those lips mere inches from his own, and might never again. 

But he must not disappoint. To strain the relationship between him and his Captain would be to put the entire expedition at risk— it would put Jopson at risk. The Captain might think Edward found him unsatisfactory, and punish him for it, and Edward cannot countenance that.  

A cry is wrenched from him, an involuntary concession to ecstasy. He feels his face redden, his eyes burn, as he spends inside Jopson, shuddering through his crisis until his knees go weak. 

Edward doesn’t know what to do next. Should he wait for an order? Should he sit back on his heels, clean himself up while Jopson takes his prick in hand and brings himself to a mechanical, efficient finish?

Should he bend down to take Jopson into his mouth, suck at him with relish, run his fingers through the dark hair curled at the base of his cock— should he taste Jopson’s spend on his tongue, then kiss it back into the man’s mouth— 

He cannot. It’s the Captain that Jopson does this in service of, the Captain he obeys; the Captain he got to his knees in a second for, as Edward watched. Surely if Edward had dared ask the same of him he would have made some excuse, found a consummately delicate way of delivering the blow of rejection.

When no order is forthcoming— and Jopson, presumably also waiting on word, makes no move of his own to separate— Edward must make the choice for himself. 

He removes himself awkwardly, puts some space between him and Jopson as the steward pulls his trousers back on, hiding away his still-hard prick and the soft dark hair of his calves and thighs. Edward averts his eyes, looking somewhere, anywhere else—

“Captain?” he croaks.

At some point between now and when Edward last looked, Crozier had slumped over onto the table, hand around his empty glass. He lies there now, dead to the world, and Jopson is up before Edward can say a word. His hands are at the Captain’s neck and face, checking for signs of life; there’s a groan and a mumble from Crozier, and something soft and reassuring from Jopson in return.

Then Jopson comes back to stand above Edward, where he still kneels on the rug, and extends a hand. 

Edward doesn’t want his pity; he cannot bear to be offered it, despite how much he longs to feel the warmth of that hand in his.   

So he gets to his feet under his own power, tugging down his uniform jacket, brushing off his trousers, enduring a jolt of stiff fabric against his still-sensitive prick.

Jopson looks down at him, the cant of the deck adding a good few inches to the ones he already has on Edward, and Edward feels very, very small. 

“My apologies, sir,” Jopson says, quietly, painfully politely, replacing his extended hand behind his back. Edward cannot be sure whether it’s an apology on behalf of the Captain, or for the role Jopson himself played in the proceedings, but it hardly matters.

Edward shakes his head, casual as they come. “No need,” he says. (Need, need, I need, I need, what I need is…) 

The Terror creaks. Outside the windows, in the vast dark, the wind howls. 

Edward knuckles his forehead at the comatose captain, nods to Jopson, and sees himself out, trading the lawless fiefdom of the Great Cabin for the dark passageway and then, at last, for his cold and empty berth.