None So Blind
Notes: Written for the Yuletide 2004 challenge. Thanks go to
Hafital and Nebt Het for beta.
"Or are you in the mood for something a bit more aggressive?"
Stephen asked with an intentional archness to his tone. In recent
months, ever since their chase with the Acheron, the expression
had sprung up between them as a code for the considerably less chaste
duets in which they indulged from time to time. Despite the long period
that had passed since their last coupling Jack did not fall upon him at
once as he might have in the past, as Stephen had perhaps hoped he
would. Instead, they played the piece through, giving Stephen's desire
time to mount as he savored the parallel manner in which the notes
slowly circled one another at the outset before joining in a more
frenzied passion. They played well, pushing the allegro to the limits
of their skill, and Stephen became warm, loosening his neck cloth upon
Rather than suggesting a repetition or a
second duet Stephen rose to replace his 'cello to its storage. He
turned from this task to find Jack very close behind him. His heart
quickened, and a delightful thrill ran through him from toes to crown.
Jack asked with a piratical gleam in his eyes, focused upon Stephen's
exposed throat; he pressed Stephen back against the wall, swooping
forward to adorn his neck with kisses.
"Yes, that was my general
intimation," Stephen remarked breathlessly, hands dropping to pluck at
Jack's buttons with the same quickness applied to the strings of his
instrument moments earlier. The small part of Stephen's mind that
remained detached marveled at his great celerity, and he had to stifle
a laugh when the phrase "not a moment to lose" sprang to mind.
amusement was brief, quickly giving way to intense pleasure as Jack's
hand opened his breeches and found its mark. Stephen reveled in the
feel of Jack's weathered palm and stronger grip on him, and he had to
apply all his will to remaining silent. He used the feel of Jack's hot
flesh in his own hand as an anchor, attempting to give equal to what he
Jack's breathing was harsh in his ear, and the
coarse growth of hair on his chin a stimulating irritant against
Stephen's neck as they rocked together in a hurried, symbiotic rhythm.
Such intensity could not last, and not much time had passed before they
cried out in release at roughly the same moment, clinging together in a
post-coital daze as their need eased and their breathing slowed to
Jack kissed Stephen's lips lightly, and his rough hand came up to
stroke some of the sweat on Stephen's brow.
His eyes full of a happy light Jack said, "Thank you, my love."
word 'love' caught Stephen up short, and he failed to hide his
surprise, recoiling from Jack's caress in shock. Though they expressed
friendly affection often enough outside the realm of their physical
relations, they rarely exchanged more than a few words in this more
intimate context, and never any declarations of this nature.
clearly sensed that he had misspoken; he colored and withdrew some
distance, rearranging his clothing with swift, jerky motions. Stephen
felt he should speak, but he saw no way to resolve the discord, and he
felt a prick of anger at Jack, that he had breeched what Stephen
believed an understanding between them.
Jack made a halting attempt at apology, "Stephen if I--if I've taken a
liberty please forgive me."
"No forgiveness is necessary," Stephen replied stiffly and fled.
in his cabin later that night Stephen wrote in his diary, "Why would JA
use such a turn of phrase? I scarcely believe my behavior has given
rise to the notion that I wish to be wooed like a woman. Sincerity is
the simplest explanation, though one that does not sit well with me. I
have a very dear affection for JA, but to term it love in the usual
romantic sense of the word would be ridiculous; ours is the strong bond
of a friendship between equals, there is none of the tender
protectiveness that arises in dealings with women. And yet, if not for
love what is the reason behind our continued indulgence in light of the
obvious dangers? I cannot impute JA's strong appetites, for I initiate
as often as he. My mind, an instrument of deception as often as reason,
offers up a host of righteous justifications: there is the healthful
advantage in maintaining a balance of the humors, all aboard benefit
from the captain having a clear mind not clouded by lust too long
denied, whatever the letter of the law our actions do no harm, et
cetera ad infinitum. I know the true reason to be the pleasure I myself
derive. I have no desire to relinquish this pleasure, but if there was
sincerity behind the remark, and I cannot return the sentiment, to
continue as we've been would be the grossest exploitation, and yet to
desist now would risk marring the friendship. I am at a loss."
Uncertainty led to inaction, and in the days that followed the Surprise's
doctor and her captain seemed to find their duties led them to opposite
ends of the ship. When he did catch sight of Jack, Stephen could not
help but remark the fierce unhappy look in his eyes and the
uncharacteristic stoop of his shoulders. Nor, despite his general
ignorance of naval matters, did he fail to notice the uncommon amount
of activity on board; large quantities of rope and sail, and twice the
usual amount of swabs and holystones seemed to trip him up wherever he
went. Stephen overheard one hand observe to his mate, "Whenever they
have a row it's the foremast jacks what suffer." Stephen found the
remark unjust. He did feel to be suffering a great deal; his days were
cast in a lonely gloom, and his nights spent struggling for sleep,
turning the problem hopelessly in his mind.
On the fifth day after the incident, a sail on the horizon proved to be
the Enterprise, a 24-gun French corvette that had been given to
Tom Pullings for his role in the taking of the Acheron,
and Stephen was obliged to accept an invitation to dinner in the great
cabin; he could hardly refuse to dine with his old friend and shipmate
without causing a true disturbance.
The meal was awkward and
halting at first; Tom clearly sensed something amiss, and he and the
other officers at the table fidgeted and looked about more than was
strictly polite, but the bottle and reminiscence soon did their work
and the usual toasts and uproarious laughter filled the room.
the free and easy air that had taken hold Jack avoided any direct
conversation with Stephen until, still chuckling at one of his feeble
puns, Jack happened to catch his eye, and with as sweet and open a
smile as ever you please he cried, "We must have some music this
The moment the words were spoken Jack
snapped his mouth shut and flushed redder than sea air and wine had
already rendered his complexion, but Stephen, careful to keep the inner
turmoil he felt hidden responded nearly without hesitation, "Of course,
Jack scarcely would have remarked if Stephen had
reneged and quietly withdrawn after seeing Tom over the side and away,
but the perverse desire that causes injured men to probe at their
wounds took hold of him, and he followed Jack back to his cabin and
prepared to play as he normally would, rosining his bow and flexing his
Jack caught his eye, tapped three times and broke into
their favorite Boccherini. The well-loved tune brought with it the
memory of scores of happy evenings spent together in this manner, and
Stephen felt much of his tension ease as his own heart joined the
The more melancholy second movement provoked no
sadness in him, instead a lightness took hold as his feelings seemed to
rise with the measured refrain of the 'cello. He gazed at Jack who had
closed his eyes, lost in the sweetness of the notes, and his heart
swelled with emotion so intense that tears welled in his eyes. The
feeling was one of extreme joy mingled with affection too strong to
bear any name but love. Stephen realized he'd felt it before, but
failed to name it as such because it was so contrary to his previous
experience with the emotion. For Stephen had never expected to be made
happy by love. His observance of human nature and his own had taught
him that love brought mostly pain. Selflessness, loyalty, courage, all
the nobler impulses which he associated with his friendship with Jack,
he had found absent in love prior till now, no matter what the poets
might say. Furthermore, there had been none of the usual
disillusionment when the ideal of the beloved failed to meet the
reality as the attachment had not been born of physical lust but rather
love had come first and desire second.
Stephen almost broke
off their duet to share his epiphany, but he feared his happiness was
too new and delicate to bear the harsh exposure of words. However, at
that instant, Jack's eyes flew open and looked into his with surprising
fervor; Jack nodded once slowly to the beat as if keeping time and then
closed his eyes again with a sigh and a hint of a smile. Stephen's joy
rose to even greater heights, and he poured all his sentiment into his
playing, letting his declaration find voice in the music, believing