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One Heart You Know to Be Fond

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He finds Francis in the great cabin, sitting under the glow of the lamps. He’s studying the maps, expressive eyebrows telling Blanky everything he needs to know about their odds of finding a route forward. They’ve not frozen in yet, but they will. Both of them know it’s only a matter of time.

There’s a glass of whisky next to Francis’s hand. Always is, these days.

Blanky doesn’t stand on ceremony; doesn’t stand at all, in fact. He closes the door and drops into the chair opposite Francis, waiting for him to speak.

Francis remains silent, merely quirking his eyebrow without looking up. It’s not often that Blanky manages to get past Jopson to pester the captain without an invitation. But Francis is stubborn enough when he’s not in his cups. By Blanky’s reckoning he’s had two or three glasses before this one, and there will be no moving him now.

Not yet, anyway. Blanky knows what he’s about.

The silence stretches between them, companionable enough as they wait each other out. One of them will crack and speak first, and Blanky’s damned if it’ll be him.

Finally Francis reaches over and drains his glass. When he sets it down, he pins Blanky with a look. “What are you doing here, Thomas?”

Blanky affects innocence. “Can’t pop in to visit my old friend?”

Those blue eyes narrow, bleary when they used to be as sharp and blue as the winter skies. “Don’t start with me. You’re here for a purpose.”

Of course he is. Blanky sits back and pulls out his pipe. He grins at Francis and sticks it between his teeth to dig in his pocket for his tobacco pouch. “And you’re morbing over the maps. There’s no point to it, Francis. We’ll freeze in where we freeze in, and the only one who can change a damned thing is Sir John.”

Francis’s mouth turns down at the man’s name, and he stands abruptly to go pour himself more whisky from the decanter.

Blanky gets his pipe lit. “I’d go easy there, friend.”

“I’ll not have a lecture from you,” grumbles Francis. “Lord knows I hear it often enough from Sir John.”

Blanky hums noncommittally. Loath as he is to admit it—he’s no great admirer of John Franklin—the man has a point where Francis’s drinking is concerned. “Doubt Sir John cares whether you can manage a decent cockstand.”

“And you do?” Francis turns back to him, an ugly sneer on his face. “We’ve not been at sea long enough for you to start missing Esther so badly.”

“Don’t be an arse,” Blanky tells him pleasantly. “My wife’s got nothing to do with it.”

Francis grunts and knocks back the glass with a surly look.

Blanky sighs. “Just finish the bottle then. I can wait.”

“If you came here to pick a fight I’ll call for Jopson,” Francis warns.

Blanky snorts at that. “No you won’t. He’d throw me out and pat your arse and go to bed and then you’d be bored out of your damned mind.”

“I’ve got a book,” mutters Francis darkly.

“What, The Lustful Turk or Fanny Hill?” Blanky grins as Francis’s scowl deepens. “Does Jopson know you read filth like that?”

“He’ll not be hearing it from you.” Francis points at him, a bit unsteady.

“Might do him a bit of good, come to think of it.” Blanky laughs at the revolted look blooming across Francis’s face. “Lad’s always been a bit uptight.”

“Don’t be dirty,” Francis snaps.

“You like it when I’m dirty.” Blanky slouches deliberately, spreading his legs a bit.

Sure enough, Francis glances downward. His color is high when he meets Blanky’s eyes again.

Blanky smirks. “Get on your knees.”

Francis hits the floor with an unseemly thump, the whisky glass dangling from his fingers. He looks at it, then at Blanky before he carefully sets it down.

“That’s better,” says Blanky with an approving nod. He puffs idly at his pipe while he looks Francis over. Command of Terror hasn’t suited him since James Ross left Erebus for love of land and Lady Ann. They were meant to be a set, the pair of them. First and second. Blanky had seen many times just how well they’d fit together, and how badly the lack of Ross has affected Francis. Seen too how badly Francis has needed a bit of warmth, a respite from the chill of too many dinners at Franklin’s table.

Two rejections, of a sort. One after the other. Blanky won’t speak of them here; he’s heard the sad song of Francis Crozier and Sophia Cracroft often enough that he has no interest in hearing it again. As for James Ross, well. It’s hard to fault a man for wanting a future with a bit of stability. Christ knows Blanky himself did the same and married a fine woman in spite of his own nature. That marriage has eluded Francis the same way the Passage eludes them now isn’t something Blanky would ever mention. He loves the man in front of him far too well.

“Come here,” he says, overcome with fondness. He wants to stroke that cornsilk hair and let that heavy head rest in his lap.

Francis shuffles closer on his knees like a supplicant; there’s always been something peculiarly Catholic about him in his vices. He likes to be made to kneel, does Francis. Well, Blanky can indulge that.

He watches Francis come closer until he can get his hands in his hair, and then he guides Francis’s head to his lap. For a moment he just leaves it like this: no pretense at anything but comfort. Francis’s eyes slide closed like a contented cat, and Blanky strokes his hair back off his forehead.

But Francis needs more than a bit of petting, so after a few indulgent minutes Blanky tells him, “Get your cock out.”

Francis grunts, refusing to open his eyes. When he finally does, it’s to glare up at Blanky. Francis has an intimidating glare; he’s been able to frighten the wits out of people since he was a midshipman.

It doesn’t have the same effect when it’s coming from around Blanky’s inseam.

“Go on,” he says easily. “You know I don’t care if it works.”

“Fuck you,” Francis mutters, dropping his gaze and reaching for his fly.

“Not unless you have a surprise for me in there.” Blanky laughs when Francis glares at him again.

Sure enough, he’s soft when he gets himself out. Blanky sighs, tracing a finger around the curve of his ear. “Pretty fat little thing,” he murmurs, just to watch the ear in question flush a bright red.

“Shut up.” Francis reaches down again.

“I didn’t tell you to touch it,” Blanky snaps.

Francis freezes.

“Now get mine out.” Blanky leans back and takes an indulgent drag on his pipe. “You haven’t had much to say tonight that wasn’t morbing or sniping, so let’s put that mouth to better use.”

Francis scowls the entire time he unbuttons Blanky’s fly; really, Blanky’s never had anyone look so unhappy to see his cock. It would be insulting if it weren’t for the way Francis’s fingers shake, ever so slightly. It might be the drink. Blanky knows it isn’t.

“You’re going to suck it for me,” Blanky tells him, breathing out and gazing down at Francis through the haze of smoke. “My cock still gets hard even if yours doesn’t, and it’s been a whole fucking year since I’ve felt a hot, wet mouth on it. Get to work, Francis. Let’s see if you’re as thirsty for my spend as you are for that whisky.”

Francis makes a soft, needy sound high in his throat and bends to his task. Blanky keeps his hand resting on the back of his head, combing idly through Francis’s hair as he relaxes into the delicious warmth of that mouth. He’s not lying about it being a long time, after all; tender feelings toward his wife and the magnitude of Francis’s heartache had kept him away until now.

But now that he’s back...Christ, he’d forgotten how sweetly Francis sucks cock. How deeply he savors it. Blanky takes another—slightly unsteady—pull off his pipe, looking down just to watch Francis’s head bobbing in his lap. If he were a younger man he’d likely pop off from the sight alone.

“There we are,” he says, giving Francis’s cheek a little pat. “That’s better now, isn’t it? Figured you needed this, locked up in here all alone as you are. Got to pull you out of your head sometimes, Francis. Sweet Frank. Put your lovely mouth to use, just like that.”

Francis has his eyes shut tightly. He huffs a breath through his nose and sinks deeper. Blanky has to stifle the noise that wants to escape his throat. Another peculiarity of Francis’s is that the more unaffected Blanky acts, the more desperate Francis gets to please him. Odd sort of game, but one Blanky enjoys. A leisurely suck and a smoke is hardly a burden, after all.

It becomes meditative, sitting here with the scent of tobacco lingering in the air and silence broken only by the wet slurping of Francis’s mouth. Blanky closes his eyes to better focus on the sensations. Lips, softened by spit, moving over his cock, and a firm hot tongue massaging the underside in rhythmic little squirms. If he were to thrust right now, Francis wouldn’t stop him. When he gets like this Francis would let Blanky fuck his throat raw. Had done, when they were both younger and reckless.

Now Blanky has some self-control. He keeps himself still and lets Francis nurse at him. Idleness has always brought out the worst in his sweet Frank; give him a job to do and he’s right as rain.

“Greedy little piglet,” Blanky says affectionately, breaking the silence. His pipe is nearly finished, so he takes another deep drag and blows it in Francis’s direction. “I’ve never seen a man as hungry for cock as you are. Just how did you think you’d last married to a woman, hm?”

It’s a risky thing to say, but Francis is far gone enough that he only manages a watery glare and gags himself on Blanky’s cock.

Christ,” Blanky hisses, and alright, he deserves that. “Fine, Jesus. Prickly bastard. If I get a few fingers in you will you cheer up?”

Francis pulls off then and bares his teeth in a clear threat. “You’re such a fucking arsehole,” he hisses.

Blanky grabs him round the back of the head and pulls him back onto his cock. Francis doesn’t resist, just makes a muffled noise that could be a protest but isn’t when Blanky grinds into his mouth.

“You love it,” Blanky growls. “So fucking greedy. I see your cock’s hard now, Frank. If you’re good I’ll let you touch it.”

Francis whines then, letting himself be used. Blanky isn’t gentle with him, although he could be rougher. Francis will feel it tomorrow. Might need a soothing cup of tea from saintly obliging Jopson, who won’t raise so much as an eyebrow about his captain’s fucked raw voice and shifting seat.

Because Blanky’s going to fuck him. Three, four—as many fingers as he can fit into Francis’s arse. He wants him too full to think, too full to complain. Too full to do anything but take it. “Gonna stuff you so full,” he pants as Francis gags around his cock. “You’ll feel it all day tomorrow. Every time you fucking move you’ll remember how well I used you.”

He can see Francis’s hips jerk, trying to hump thin air. If Blanky was feeling merciful, he’d slide his leg over, get it between Francis’s knees and let him rut against it. As it is, he doesn’t move except to set his pipe down. It’s finished now, he can devote all his attention to Francis. “Suck me harder, piglet. You want my seed down your greedy throat?”

Francis moans, bobbing his head faster. His tongue works Blanky’s cock better than any whore Blanky’s ever had; his hips jerk, making Francis gag, and Francis’s hands shoot up to his thighs, gripping them as he chokes himself again. And then again.

“Fuck,” Blanky breathes, a gut-punched, helpless sound, because Francis loves this.

Pale lashes flutter, and then those blue eyes are looking up at him, bright and eager. Francis stares up at Blanky and relaxes his throat. Takes him in to the root.

Well, Blanky’s just a man, after all. It’s over in seconds, bliss rolling from his spine down to his toes as Francis licks him clean as daintily as a kitten licking cream off a silver spoon. “Christ,” he pants. “I’d forgotten how you can suck a man’s soul out through his prick.”

“I can’t believe you called me a piglet,” says Francis, a bit breathlessly.

“I can’t believe you liked it.” Blanky grins.

It takes a minute, but finally Francis loses the war with himself and begins to chuckle. Soon he’s laughing out loud, tucking his face sweetly against Blanky’s thigh. “Bastard,” he says fondly.

Blanky chuckles himself. “You like it better that way.”

“Aye,” Francis agrees softly, and oh, the way he bites his lip when he looks up then, open and soft with desire.

“Come here,” says Blanky roughly, and grabs at Francis as soon as he’s within reach. It’s a dangerous thing, two grown men on one chair, but Blanky’s willing to risk a collapse if he can feel Francis’s arse clench under his hands as he hauls him into his lap. He kisses Francis messily, tasting himself and whisky, and whispers against his lips, “I’ll have you over this table, Frank. Watch your greedy arse suck up my fingers just like your mouth sucked up my cock.”

Francis kisses him again, hard enough to make their teeth clack. He won’t beg, not with words, but God, he craves it so eloquently with his body.

Blanky lets himself have one last, leisurely grope—Francis has a fantastic arse, after all—before he breaks the kiss. “Your prick’s digging into my thigh.”

Francis grinds down, eyes falling half closed. It’s a pretty sight, but it’s not what he needs.

“I didn’t come here to let you rut against me like a dog,” he says, pinching Francis’s arse hard enough to make him hiss. “Up you get. Trousers around your ankles.”

“We should take this to my berth,” Francis murmurs, eyes darting toward the door.

Blanky snorts. “Didn’t worry about being caught when you had my cock in your mouth, did you? Please. If I know Jopson, he’s guarding the door like a proper watchdog. You’ve a loyal one there.”

Francis squirms, clearly uncomfortable with the thought of his steward knowing what they’re up to in here. “Still,” he tries.

Blanky cracks him across the arse once, just to make him jump. “I’m not touching your useless cock, Frank, and if you want my fingers you’ll bend over the table like the naughty boy you are. What’s it to be?”

“Damn your eyes,” Francis mutters, and slips off Blanky’s lap. He pushes his trousers and smalls down and widens his stance, bending over the table as nicely as you please. When he catches Blanky looking, he arches his back coquettishly. “Does that suit you?”

“It does at that.” Blanky makes a show of putting his spent cock away, enjoying the way Francis’s eyes track the movement. Then he gets to his feet, kicking the chair back so he’s got room to work. “Where do you keep the grease?”

Francis huffs. “Second drawer beneath my bed.”

“Right.” Blanky’s already moving. It’s only a handful of steps to Francis’s berth, and the drawer beneath the bed does indeed contain a tin of grease, along with a few of those obscene novels Francis denied being so fond of earlier. Blanky grins at them and makes a note to swipe one if he ever has occasion for leisure time.

Francis looks like a filthy illustration when Blanky steps out of the berth; he’s bent over the table with his cheek pressed to the wood, eyes closed and legs spread. He opens his eyes at the sound of Blanky approaching, and for just a moment Blanky is struck by how very handsome Francis really is. It’s a beauty that grows on you the more time you spend in his company. Once you notice it, it never goes away. What should be an unremarkable face, pockmarked and gap-toothed, becomes something lovely once the soul behind it shines through.

“Christ, you’re a sight,” Blanky says roughly.

Francis grins, wiggling his arse. “Took your time looking through my things, I see.”

“Found your dirty books too,” Blanky tells him without shame. “Next time you get up your own arse I should read the naughty parts to you while you suck my cock.”

“You should,” Francis agrees softly.

Blanky snorts and sets the grease down on the table. “Filthy thing,” he murmurs, slipping his hand under Francis’s trailing shirttail to stroke a pale thigh. “I won’t leave you alone so long from now on, Frank.”

“I don’t need to be taken care of,” Francis grunts even as he slides his feet further apart.

“Yes, you do. And this is one thing Jopson can’t give you.” Blanky pushes the shirt up, exposing Francis’s freckled back. His skin gleams in the soft golden light, already goose pimpled with cold.

“Will you stop talking about Jopson?” Francis mutters, pillowing his head on his folded arms. “Get on with it.”

Blanky snorts and reaches for the grease. Just because of Francis’s cheek, he doesn’t bother to warm it before he presses his finger into that hot arse.

“Jesus!” Francis twists to glare at him.

Blanky gives him a pleasant smile. “Something wrong, Frank?” He curls his finger just so, searching for that spot that will make Francis melt.

And there it is; Francis’s face blooms with outrage and pleasure mingled as his whole body cants into the press of Blanky’s finger. “Damn you,” he breathes, closing his eyes.

Blanky merely chuckles, slipping another slick finger into him. “You're not very frightening like this, Captain,” he says in a low voice. “Not bent over your own command table with my fingers in your wet little cunny.”

Francis’s breath catches, and Blanky sees him grind his teeth.

“Ride my hand, piglet. Let’s see how greedy you can be.” Blanky crooks his fingers hard, grinning at the high, pitiful noise he draws from Francis.

“Christ, you’re awful,” Francis whimpers, but he’s already beginning to move. His hips sway, rocking into Blanky’s thrusting fingers as his face contorts. “So bloody awful...”

“What’s awful is how easily you toss out your dignity just for a deep fucking,” says Blanky, thrusting in harder just to watch Francis rise on his toes. “What would Fitzjames say if he could see you now?”

That gets him a snarl as Francis grinds back onto his hand. “Not him. Don’t you bring that one up here.”

“I’ll bring up whoever I like in here.” Blanky rubs deliberately against that spot that makes Francis tense and moan and swear. “And if I want to talk about James Fitzjames’s pretty mouth falling open in shock at the sight of you with my fingers stuffed up your arse and the poncy way he calls you ‘Frauncis,’ then I’ll bloody do it.”

Francis shudders, eyes closing tightly as if to block the image from his mind. His thighs are starting to shake, and Blanky knows if he keeps rubbing just there, it’ll be over before long. “Thomas...” he whines, “don’t do that to me...have mercy, for God’s sake.”

“I wonder if he’d like it, prissy thing like that,” Blanky muses. It’s cruel and he knows it, but he also knows that Francis enjoys the torment. “He’s got longer fingers than I do, that’s for certain.”

“I don’t want him,” Francis pants. “I want you.”

That latter is true enough, if the way Francis is riding his hand is any indication. Blanky isn’t so sure about the former. “Reckon I could persuade him to sit on the table and get his cock out. Give you something else to do with that mouth instead of lie to me while I fuck you.”

Francis curses at that, biting his cuff to stifle the moan that crawls out of his throat. Blanky could give him a third finger now, see if he can make him squeal, but he's already got Francis close from a few choice words. Seems a waste to use more grease when the supplies are limited. His wrist is beginning to ache; it’ll be a pleasant reminder tomorrow when he has to climb the rigging.

He decides to go in for the kill. “Wouldn’t you like that, piglet? A cock in your mouth and your cunny fucked hard, and after you’d be able to look across the command table at his smug little face and know he’s thinking of your sweet lips and your wet tongue.” He leans his weight against Francis’s back, moving from the shoulder to get some real power behind his thrusts. “All you’d have to do is lick your lips and he’d shut the hell up.”

There’s a soft, despairing moan beneath him, and Francis goes rigid as he climaxes. It lasts longer than Blanky expected, and from the amount of seed it’s been far too long since he’s had a decent crisis.

“Christ,” Francis breathes. For a moment his face is lax and open. Sated. Blanky resists the urge to trail fingers over his cheek, but it’s a near thing. “You’ve got the dirtiest mouth of any man I’ve ever met, do you know that?”

“Thought that’s why you kept me around.” Blanky pats Francis’s arse as he pulls his fingers out, keenly watching that pink hole gape. If they were younger, he’d get on his knees and eat that winking arse, push his tongue in until Francis was hard and babbling. But those days are long behind them. He goes for the basin in Francis’s berth instead, washing his hands and wetting a cloth so that poor Jopson won’t have to discover the vile mess they’ve left on the table.

Francis is holding his shirt up and away from his belly, cock soft against his thigh as he takes the cloth from Blanky with a crooked smile and a raised eyebrow. He wipes himself, then the table, and then lets his shirt fall to cover himself. His trousers still sit awkwardly around his ankles, bunched over the boots. They’ll need to be pressed.

“Well,” says Francis finally, breaking the mostly comfortable silence that had fallen between them, “feel free to do that again any time you like.” He spots the glass of whisky sitting abandoned on the floor and picks it up. “Lord knows this is a finer way to pass the evening than dinner aboard Erebus.” He throws back the glass in one smooth motion, throat working as he swallows. His eyes slide shut with pleasure and he smacks his lips once. Then he goes to the sideboard and refills it with a sly grin at Blanky. “Since we’ve proved that my cock still works,” he says, raising the glass in a toast.

Blanky forces himself to smile. There’s no point in having this conversation again tonight. It’ll only sour the pleasant atmosphere. “It does at that,” he agrees slowly.

“Care for a drink?” Francis asks brightly as he puts himself to rights; his trousers are wrinkled but fastened, even if he is still in his shirtsleeves.

“Nah. I’ve got to go up soon anyway.” The ice doesn’t care about men’s waking or sleeping; he’ll be keeping an eye on it at all hours now as the pack moves in.

Francis nods in concession to the nature of their work and takes a sip. “Then I’ll get your report tomorrow.”

“Try not to brood about it until then,” Blanky advises; already he can see the melancholy starting to settle over Francis again. “Lord knows one of us ought to sleep peacefully.”

Francis hums. “I suppose you’re right.” He flashes Blanky a tired smile. “You’re a better friend to me than I deserve, Thomas. You know that, don’t you?”

Blanky snorts. “Go to bed, you dirty old man. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Yes, sir.” Francis rolls his eyes. He raises the glass to his lips again as Blanky watches.

Jesus. Blanky turns and leaves the great cabin, stopping at his own cabin to dress for the weather on deck. Someday, he thinks grimly, that whisky is going to catch up to Francis. Drink always does. It drives men to mistakes they can’t make right. Blanky only hopes he’s there for it when Francis reaches that point. Someone will have to be there to pull his freckly arse through the worst of it.

Until then, these nights they share will have to do.

Blanky slips his hat on over his wig and heads up.