They had never literally shared a cot before this voyage. They had shared a bed while on land plenty of times, even before there had been anything sexual between them, but a bed could bear far more weight then a cot. And as for anything else, Jack had learned long ago from the time he had snuck Sam Panda’s mother into the midshipman’s birth that performing any version of the act in anything that hung freely was an exceedingly difficult matter. He and Stephen had usually ended up either on a locker bench or on the floor, and they’d had so many encounters on the Surprise over the years that Jack didn’t think there was a single spot in its great cabin that hadn’t at some time had them rutting on top of it. After Stephen had bought the Surprise, he come to think of it as an odd way of marking that cabin as their own. Perhaps he could even call that bench by the great windows their marriage-bed. Which they were now far away from.
So they had always ended up in their separate cots, even when sharing a sleeping space, until after Stephen had recovered from the yellow jack. It had been an evening not too long after he had regained enough strength to travel the distance to the Bellona’s great cabin that he had fallen asleep on the bench, and when Jack had picked him up, he had found him surprisingly light, which he hadn’t liked at all. He hadn’t really given much thought on whether or why he should carry him to his own cot and climb in with him, waking him up in the process, but Stephen had made no protest, and several days later had come there of his own accord. He still spent a number of nights in his own cot, but it was not uncommon for him to share Jack’s in this manner.
This was enough of a comfort when their more illicit relations had stopped for the moment. They had not been completely celibate this voyage, but their last encounter had been a good number of days before Stephen had fallen ill.
It was hardly their first stretch of relative chastity. There had always been the worry of keeping people from knowing; that had hampered them greatly at times. And there had been other times when Stephen had proven strangely unwilling. Often then Jack had wondered if there was some grief he did not know about. Other times there was an obvious reason for Stephen to be grieving, but Stephen would not even let Jack see it, let alone offer comfort. Jack didn’t know which situation was more frustrating.
Neither seemed the case this time, however. They had kept themselves quiet and not worried in considerably less privacy then they had in the Bellona, and the ship’s crew were such that if by chance one of them did see something, they would be more likely then not to keep it to themselves. And after many years, Jack had finally grown able to tell when Stephen was particularly upset, and even with Diana having run off again he truly did not seem so now.
Besides, he knew both reasons for their refraining, and though both of them affected Stephen somewhat, they both lay with Jack.
The first was Sophie. Jack was feeling a guilt over her much greater then he had when his indiscretion with Amanda Smith in Halifax had followed him home to England. He had always done his level best to keep her from knowing, and he felt more cross then guilty that the one that had made her suspect was the one he actually hadn’t slept with, whom in fact he had done his best not to think about, even if he had not entirely succeeded, because those who had thought about her had caused trouble enough. What he felt guilty over was his behavior with regards to Mr. Hinksey.
He wished he hadn’t been jealous. He knew perfectly well he had absolutely no right to be. Even when he had been in the grips of terror at the beginning of the voyage, thinking that it was just possible he’d gotten Sophie angry enough with him that she’d overcome her dislike of sex and sleep with Mr. Hinksey (it had seemed to him far more likely then it actually was at the time), before Stephen had told him of Mr. Hinksey’s impending marriage, he had heartily wished that he could remind himself that any pair of horns Mr. Hinksey could give him was no more, indeed far less, then he deserved, and left it at that. But much as he despised his jealousy, he could not get rid of it.
Though that hadn’t been and still wasn’t his strongest fear. Even if Mr. Hinksey might never have been in his bed, he had certainly been in his chair, and Jack still found himself unsure if he had not taken a large part of Sophie’s heart. With time he could have accepted a simple sexual infidelity, but the idea of Sophie losing that constant affection that always remained between them, transferring her loving gaze to another man, never to look at him again with it, was far more then he could bear. And even with Mr. Hinksey’s marriage, there was still the chance that the damage had already been done, and after their parting quarrel was past repair.
He could tell himself, of course, that when it was losing her love he feared, she would never lose his, and so here he had less to feel guilty about. But there was no denying she had to share his heart with Stephen, and that had made him reluctant to touch the latter.
But even after that, there had been far graver thoughts on his mind quelling much of his desire, provoked by the existence of Duff, and the clear effect his behavior had on his ship.
He had tried to tell himself that one way or another, he was not like Duff. Whatever strange impulse of his heart or mind had made him desire Stephen had never made him desire any other man, certainly never any of the foremost jacks, and his activities with Stephen had never had any effect on ship’s discipline as far as he could see. Stephen being a warrant officer helped a good deal there. But lying there, Stephen’s head tucked into the crook of his neck, Jack could not assume so quickly such actions as theirs were safe.
And then there was still another thought on his mind besides all this, one that had been there since he had first donned his admiral’s uniform. While he had been circumnavigating the globe on the Surprise, the post list had done a good deal of moving, and he was getting near the top of it. He was not yet beset by flag sickness, thought that was not far off; but no, another seperate, perhaps deeper worries lay in his breast.
For he felt he could be doing a far better job as Commodore then he was, and he felt more isolated then ever. Hardly a good omen of what was to come. Also, he recalled Stephen once saying he liked few Admirals that he had met, that he believed the amount of power they had killed off their humanity. Stephen had never yet even hinted that such a terrible thing was happening to Jack, but Jack suspected he thought it.
And what would Stephen do, if he found himself with a Jack he could no longer love, and perhaps not even like? Certainly not stay.
Jack hoped this would not happen; if this isolation continued, he would need him terribly. He feared going mad without him. He was even grateful to the yellow jack, for bringing Stephen into his cot, to keep him company during these nights. He wanted, though he had not said so, for Stephen to stay there on a more permanent basis.
He took a good look at Stephen, and noted the contented expression of his face. Jack was reminded again how though Stephen had to have worries, he was momentarily, almost miraculously untouched by them. Jack was soothed by this, and wondered self-consciously how big a part he had played in bringing Stephen this peace.
As he thought this he moved his hands over Stephen’s back, until one of them came to rest on top of his neck. He moved it to the front of his neck, which was pressed into Jack’s nightshirt, and slid his fingers under the warm skin, feeling Stephen’s pulse, soft and steady, under them. In the past it had more often than not been the pulse of a broken man, but now it was one of a man made whole. Jack felt a new rush to his heart, dull yearning threatened to turn sharp.
Stephen made a sleepy noise and stirred. “Why aren’t you asleep, Jack?” When he lifted his head, Jack, on impulse, bent down to kiss his neck.
Stephen took this for an answer, and said, “Oh,” and drew his head level with Jack, moving his body as he did so and making the cot sway wildly. He was smiling, slightly curious. The taste of Stephen’s neck had stirred Jack’s desire further, and when Stephen suddenly leant down and kissed him, teasing his lips with his tongue, Jack felt his prick begin to stiffen against Stephen’s leg.
Stephen felt it likewise; he pulled away, and to Jack’s dismay his smile was gone. “Stephen, I’m sorry. If you don’t want it, if you can’t-that is to say, if you aren’t recovered enough...”
Stephen placed his finger on Jack’s mouth. Jack resisted the temptation to suck it in. “No, joy, I am recovered enough for this, and for things I do not think we could manage in this cot.”
Wordlessly the two of them climbed out and stood up. Jack took his blankets and spread them out on the floor, then looked up just in time to see Stephen, completely naked and quite aroused, place his shirt to the side.
He pulled at Jack’s shirt as Jack pressed him down into the blankets, and wrapped his hands in Jack’s hair as Jack sought his mouth, returning his kisses with a wonderful eagerness. Jack, not having realized how much he had missed this, moved his mouth downwards, tasting Stephen’s neck again, before making a slow downwards path, stopping to savor spots that wrung gasps from Stephen’s throat, drinking in his whimpers as he approached his destination.
“Jack, Jack please...” Stephen was almost beyound speech, as Jack moved his tongue up and down his length, but he was never one to tease for very long. He drew Stephen into his mouth and sucked vigorously, Stephen tangled his hands in Jack’s hair and clenched his body around his head, struggling not to make a sound.
Jack could not remember, before he had made love to Stephen, ever being able to feel so much pleasure merely by pleasing someone else while one’s own needs went unattended. Other nights he would have brought him to completion in this manner, but this night, as it happened, he found himself losing patience and pulled away.
Stephen pulled his head up to look at Jack. His eyes were very wide and darkened with passion. Jack felt his own locking with them as he whispered, “Stephen, I need you.”
“Have me.” He spread his legs as Jack reached for the nearest lantern.
He prepared Stephen quickly but thoroughly. He met his gaze again, watched his eyelids flutter and his lips part soundlessly as he pressed into him.
Stephen’s hands reached out; Jack pulled him into his arms. His legs locked around Jack and his hands tangled themselves into his hair again. Jack choked a moan back and began to thrust.
Stephen moved back on top of him, shuddering and thrusting, and holding Jack’s eyes until Jack changed his angle, then his eyes snapped shut and he gasped out Jack’s name again. Then he was practically thrashing, nearly yanking Jack’s hair out of his scalp, whispering incoherent pleas in mixed English and Catalan. Jack drove into him harder, bit lightly into Stephen’s exposed neck then buried his face into it to muffle the cries he could no longer hold back. He breathed in his scent, felt his pulse thrum wildly beneath his cheek, heard Stephen croon in Catalan near his ear, felt himself grow desperately close.
Then Stephen gasped Jack’s name once more and his hot seed splashed onto Jack’s belly. One more thrust and Jack was over the edge, biting into Stephen’s shoulder as he spent.
The two of them fell back on the blankets together, breathing hard. They kissed, attempted to disentangle themselves from each other, and Jack reached for his nightshirt to clean them as best he could. Then they glanced up at the cot hanging innocently above them.
“I believe it can hold both our normal weights.” Jack said softly. “You may continue to share it on occasion, if you like, in the future.”
Stephen smiled and said, “I should like that of all things. But how we are to get back up there tonight I cannot imagine.”
Jack considered his response to this, only to find Stephen asleep again after scarcely a minute, and himself quite exhausted, so instead he wrapped the blankets around them both, settled down with Stephen comfortably entwined, and soon slept.