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Note: set during the novel H.M.S. Surprise, during Stephen's recuperation from his torture, after Jack has been imprisoned for debt.

by shalott

It was just as well, Stephen thought, picking at the coverlet after Bonden had settled him, that Jack had been nabbed. There had been something dangerous hovering unspoken in the air between them. A few more days, a little more strength restored to him, the accompany increase in privacy, and Jack might have done, said more than could be overlooked. Without the slightest intention or thought to consequences, of course; Stephen was mortally sure Jack had no real idea what he wanted and would have recoiled from an open suggestion in dismayed surprise.

But want it he clearly did, with or without understanding, and Stephen had no great reliance on his own willpower to preserve them both, not under the present circumstances. It was impossible to deny that he was very low.

Jack's voice, reading to him, all that bellowing power tamed to soft tones, so full of affection and raw worry; Jack's hand cupping the back of his head to give him a drink; the fiddle murmuring softly until all hours. He hungered for these things, they alone had given him any degree of real comfort. Not only in themselves, but because he need not feel beholden for their sake, for he could tell that by accepting them he was giving Jack comfort in turn.

How easy, indeed, it would be to allow Jack to press still more upon him. The chair at his bedside was no comfortable place to spend the night; what could be more natural than that Jack should stretch out beside him, now that a slight tossing in the night did not risk causing him pain. Were the night to turn cold, of course Jack would turn to him under the covers. Once gone so far, how easy for those big hands to slide carefully onto his body, hungry for reassurance, seeking every whole part of him that could be touched.

A thousand small steps to disaster, and not one of them could Stephen imagine himself refusing. And then should Jack not refrain -- should caress proceed to embrace, warmth and affection give birth to passion, it would be too late, for to break then would be to ruin all ease between them, and for his own part, Stephen would without hesitation prefer the risk of hanging to such a loss.

And Jack -- the deed done, the law violated, for him there would be no retreat. He was too lusty and too affectionate both. They might agree it could not become a practice; they might promise one another never again to indulge; what of it? The best of intentions would scarcely survive in the face of the close quarters where they so often found themselves and the terms of easy intimacy between them.

No; it would not do; it was better by far that this separation had come. Stephen knew he would recover quickly now, and by the time they saw one another again, there would be no easy avenue to lead them to catastrophe. Jack would clap him upon the shoulder, not spend the night at his bedside, and the deepest speech of their hearts would be expressed again only in the perfectly safe duet for violin and cello.

The room was quiet and still. Somewhere downstairs Bonden was quarrelling with the woman of the house. The chair by his bedside was empty. He reached to the table; the bottle of laudanum stood waiting.

= End =

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