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“You should not have done it, James.” 

“I donʼt agree,” says James, with some difficulty. 

“Oh, youʼve made that very plain.” Francis gives his hand a final, wringing twist and then withdraws. “What say you now?” 

James gives a wordless shout, his long bare body jerking upwards off the bed. He’s quite the picture, something Neoclassical: all straining muscle under pale and tight-pulled skin, an allegory of distress, of grief, of masculine battleground agony. His cock is pink and flushed with blood, leaking against his bony hip; pitiable, pathetic. 

Francis passes his hand over it, pressing the heated flesh against James’ fractionally cooler skin. James makes a noise like an animal, his aristocratic nostrils flared. 

They've been working at it for an hour, all told, though only the latter half has been this business of slow, exquisite torture: bringing James as close to the brink as he can bear and back again, over and over and over. The infraction was a minor one, a trifle, but Francis wants an apology, even if he must needs drag it forth from James by force. 

“One word and we can make an end,” says Francis calmly, though his heart is hammering behind his ribs. “You know which.”

“I shall not,” says James, through his teeth. 

His eyes are roving, wild, like a horse in full and frothing sweat, but there’s a back-room glint there, too; something of the gutter, of the narrow streets of Limehouse or the Isle of Dogs, an echo of the pliable and conniving catamite he no doubt made in his youth. He cants his head back and tosses his hair: a challenge. 

Francis means to rise to it. 

“Will you have this, then?” He probes lower, finds where James is twitching for him, half-open already, and impossibly warm. There’s no wetness save what James has made himself: the dripping clearness beading at his tip, the sweat from the creases of his hips, the backs of his knees. Francis could take him like this, slow and solicitous, bordering on painful. James would let him; he has before. 

“I think it might be just what you need,” says Francis conversationally. “A distraction.” He pushes against James’ entrance and bends to lick his straining prick, cat-like, daintily; drawing back to merely breathe across James’ skin, grinning when James whines. 

“Francis, please.

“Please what, James?” Francis lifts an eyebrow, pressing the tip of one finger into James’ quivering hole. He can do it without looking, these days. “Shall I bugger you? Is that what you need? Would that be enough, d’you think?”

“N-no.”

“No,” Francis agrees. “I think we can do better than that.”

 

They’d been at a soiree given by Lady Cavendish, some grand house in Belgravia, and a great swirl of people: girls in ivory taffeta and yellow gloves, dowagers in Flemish lace, captains of dragoons clinking in their spurs. Francis was overdressed and overwarm, holding a glass of punch he could not drink, finding his full-dress uniform too tight after a year of comfort and good food. But Ross was there, thank Christ, and Lady Ann, and on his other side was James: gleaming as he’d been at Greenhithe, though with a curtailed smile to hide his golden tooth, and a rigidity in his posture from the recurrent aching in his knees. 

“I say, Captain Crozier.” James’ voice came as a hot, wet breath in Francis’ ear. “How dashing you look tonight.” He smelled of burgundy, a glass of the stuff swilling in his white-gloved hand.

“Hush, James,” Francis hissed, wary of the crowd about them, the crush of strangers, the many ears poised to overhear. Ross and Ann were conversing with friends not two yards distant, Ann cooling herself with a paper fan, the draft setting her earrings at sway. 

“You could have had me like this, you know,” murmured James, fingering one of Francis’ epaulettes. “At one of those interminable dinners — over the fish course, perhaps the soup. Spread out on the cabin table with everybody watching. I would have thanked you for it.”

Francis’ blood, caught between his cock and his already-ruddy cheeks, made a compromise: his prick stiffened below his short jacket and he flushed like a virgin from his collar to the roots of his hair. He felt it, sharp as sunburn; saw it in the curling smirk that danced across James’ face. James leaned against him, plausibly; shoulder-to-shoulder, as two old almost-shipmates might be expected to behave. 

“You could have me now, in front of all these wretched people,” said James in an undertone. “On my knees, if you wanted me.” He glanced down, insouciant and insufferable, at the fall of Francis’ trousers. “Oh, and you do want me, don’t you, Francis?” 

And Francis could only watch, helpless, as James smiled and stood up straight again, his eyes greenish in the candlelight, entirely satisfied. 

 

“Your reckless fucking mouth,” says Francis, crawling up the length of James and putting a broad hand across the offending portion of his face, “will have you in a world of trouble one of these fine days.” 

James bucks his hips, seeking the friction of Francis’ fine wool trousers, but Francis holds himself aloft on elbows and knees. He’s been half-hard since Belgravia, beginning to be unbearable, but James must be seen to first. 

“I ought to muzzle you,” he growls, pleased to see James’ eyes go wide and black above his hand. “Like an untrained dog. Would you like that, James — to go about with a bit between your teeth, silencing that silver tongue? It would be nothing less that you deserve.”

In answer, James parts his lips and licks obscenely at Francis’ palm; when this elicits no response he sinks his teeth into the fleshy place at the base of Francis’ thumb. Francis draws back his hand at once and lands a stinging slap on James’ left cheek. He cries out, pinking up at once, all maidenly betrayal. Francis has to suppress a smile: James would have been a marvel on the stage.

“None of that,” says Francis sternly, taking up his part again. “You’re to behave.” 

He slides two fingers between James’ teeth, parting them carefully, relishing their scrape against his skin. James neither sucks nor bites, but yields: opening his mouth to Francis’ probing hand, watching him with narrowed, liquid eyes. 

Francis shoves his fingers deeper: stretching James’ thin lips, examining his teeth, finding where enamel gives way to porcelain and gold. “Perhaps I should have done it,” he says, almost to himself. “Had you on your knees — that pretty marble floor — and filled your mouth. Stoppered up any more prurient suggestions you might have cared to make.”

This is nonsense and he knows it, but James moans beneath him, the sound travelling as vibration into Francis’ wrist and arm. 

“What would you have preferred?” he says, leaning down to speak quietly into James’ ear. “My cock or my hand? Or perhaps we should have passed you round — I’m sure Ross would have obliged.”

James sobs, half-choking on Francis’ fingertips. Francis withdraws his hand, strokes James’ sweating face, kisses the still-pink spot below his cheekbone. 

“Come now,” he says. “One small word and your agony is over.” Francis lowers his hips to James’ at last, pressing the fullness of his weight on James’ damp and desperate prick. James clasps him tight with arms and knees, rocking up against him with a whimper.

Francis—” 

The word turns to a frustrated cry as Francis slips from his grasp and rolls smartly off him, reclining on a pillow at his side.

James’ cock is jerking quite unaided, and Francis watches in fascination as he goes rigid, knotting his hands in the sheets to keep from frigging himself to his release. His stomach twitches as though galvanised: an anatomical specimen pinned down and stuck with wires. He groans through gritted teeth and reaches for Francis’ arm, squeezing fit to snap the bones. 

Francis strokes his tangled hair, kisses the corner of his jaw, the furrows bracketing his mouth. “Dear heart,” he says to James’ collarbone. “What must you say?”

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can, my love.”

It’s always been so difficult for James. A charming weakness, really, like the way he fusses with his hair, or the particular way he takes his tea, or his propensity to walk firmly in the direction of danger. He will take advice, come around to Francis’ way of thinking, admit defeat; but he cannot apologise. His pride — the vanity of which he’s so ashamed — forbids it. Only in extremis, at the peaks and troughs of his emotional waves, will he come to Francis contrite, wanting absolution. 

Francis always gives it: how could he not? But it’s become a game between them, to prolong the moment of confession. To eke it out, and James’ conflicted pleasure, too. 

Francis nuzzles close to James, twines a leg between his thighs, strokes his heaving chest, his belly. 

“You’re doing so well,” he says. “You stubborn, lovely thing.”

James shivers at this, and his cock gives another fruitless twitch. “Francis.” Fat tears are brimming in James’ eyes, rendering them larger, glassy. Francis circles his head with one arm, thumbs clumsily at the nearest drops as they begin to fall.

“Wouldn’t you rather say it and have done?” Francis inches his hand closer, holds it just above James’ burning cock, feeling for its heat. “Don’t you want to be good?”

At this, James howls. “I—I'm—” he heaves a shuddering breath “—I’m… sorry, Francis. I’m sorry, I’m—”

And Francis’ hand is on him, and James hides his tear-streaked face in Francis’ neck, and at the first deft touch of Francis’ fingers he spends extravagantly across his chest. 

Francis holds him as he shakes, pulls him diligently through it, nips and kisses at his collarbones, muttering nonsense into the bitten skin. He smooths the hair back from James’ forehead and works his hand until James is quite wrung dry. 

“That’s my good boy, James. My darling — mo chailín. You did beautifully. So well.”

James curls against him, heedless of the mess, limpet-like once more. He’s sobbing gently, wetting the front of Francis’ shirt, and Francis holds him, rubbing circles into his back. 

At length James sniffs, tilts up his head and captures Francis’ mouth in an insistent kiss. When he draws away he’s smiling, though his voice when he speaks is still thick with tears. “Off with these,” he says, plucking at Francis’ waistband. “Come on, old man.” 

Between them they strip Francis of trousers and waistcoat and James rucks up the long tails of his shirt. He hooks a leg round Francis’ hips.

“Will you do as you promised?” he says darkly into Francis’ ear, rocking up against him so that Francis’ cock slides close beneath his own, still slick with spend.

“I made no promise,” says Francis. “I believe I asked.”

“You threatened,” murmurs James. “But you can take me, if you want me.”

“We need—” Francis reaches for the bedside cabinet, but James gives a petulant moan and draws him back again.

“Too far,” he says. “Too slow. Like this.” And he brings his thighs together, muscles tight, urging Francis closer with a hand in the small of his back. Francis groans, fucking into his warmth and wetness, putting his teeth into the place where James’ shoulder meets his neck. 

James, apparently recovered, is talking again; spinning a story. “Imagine we’re back in Belgravia,” he says, and Francis can hear him grin. “All those many eyes upon us — watching you fuck me in full uniform.”

Jesus, James.”

“They’d all see how well you do it — would remark upon it, I’m sure. How well you fill me. How you make me scream.” James is writhing against Francis like a wild thing, some slippery creature from the unseen depths come to torment him: unseelie, beautiful and strange.

“Perhaps you’d have me in a dress, hm? Low cut across the shoulders, so they can see what you’ve done — how you’ve marked me.” 

Francis puts his face against James’ collarbone, where purplish bruises are already beginning to form, kissing him there; licks the sweat from his skin, tastes the salt of half-dried tears.

He thinks of James’ weight against him in their gold-drenched navy blue, of the candlelight catching in his eyes; of his hair fanned on the pillow, of his head snapped sideways by the slap. That wicked mouth, the way it curls and snarls and flashes haughty teeth: the thought of it bisected by a horse’s metal bit, or a knotted cravat, or the press Francis’ thumb. 

Francis shudders into James and spends between his thighs, clutching at his back, panting against his throat. They cling together, soft and sticky, until James finds his lips again and licks them open, works his clever tongue inside. 

At last James rolls away, mopping at himself with a corner of the sheet. Francis is too weary to complain, even when James pulls his shirt over his head and cleans his softening cock with a handful of its sleeve. 

Francis shifts towards him, draws him close again. “Was that… suitable?” he says into his hair. “Was it what you wanted, James?”

James raises an elegant finger to his cheek. “Entirely suitable, my dear. But all I ever really want is you.”

“And a fine glass of burgundy,” says Francis, remembering the taste of him, the wine-smudged, slurred suggestion in his ear.

“Oh, of course,” says James, and he finds Francis’ hand where it rests, possessive, on the scar below his heart; draws it upwards to his face, plants a gentle kiss against his palm.

Francis canʼt resist: he exerts a careful pressure on Jamesʼ mouth, and feels him smile.