None So Blind
by Pun

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 their completion.

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.

"Aggressive?" 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.

The 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 received.

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 normal.

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."

The 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.

Jack 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.

Alone 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.

Despite 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 evening, doctor!"

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, we shall."

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 fingers.

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 jaunty beat.

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 himself understood.


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