you play, Stephen?" Jack lowered the violin from his chin as the last
harmonies died away in the little cabin. It really was too small a space for
the proper reverberation of the sound, but one managed as best one could,
"What are you getting at, Jack? You know I play for the simple beauty of the
Art, as do all who share an ear and a skill at musical pursuit," Stephen
replied. "Why ask me this?"
"Well it seems to me that one may have more than one Art, and there are so
very many Arts from which to choose," Jack replied. "Why this, this wood and
catgut instrument," he reached over and plucked a string on Stephen's
'cello, "and not painting, or the dance, or...or for the love of God,
perhaps the search for the perfect fuck?"
"Always you look at things from such a refreshing perspective, my dear
Jack." Stephen's smile was wry. "I have played the 'cello for many years, I
suppose, and so have a chance to hone my skills in a manner of subtle inches
of gradation, and not the great hulking leaps over furlongs that a novice
"But there is a certain appeal to the adventure of learning an
entirely new Art, a skill which one has not yet enjoined into one's
repertoire, is there not?" Jack's eye glinted with a certain small danger,
the look of which Stephen had learned over long years to be wary. When Jack
had that gleam, adventure (sometimes misadventure) always followed closely
upon his heels.
"I am pleased, well and truly, with my current hobbies and pastimes, and my
legitimate occupation fills so many of my hours, that I am loath to
relinquish any more time to a new pursuit."
"You sir, are a stick then; I call you a stick!" Jack's voice carried with
it both humor and scorn, in equal measure. "I thought you perhaps one of
your phasmidae, and merely stick-like in appearance, but no!
You are indeed a little dead piece of wood, content to grow no more. Not
branch nor stem nor green shoot, but dry stick!"
"Now, that is hardly fair, Jack. You argue without reason. One need not grow
as the Bamboo; is not the Oak also a growing and changing thing, even over
centuries? Step in visible strides across leagues, and many will marvel at
your progress, true. However, the pausing along the path to examine the
details, that is what brings the Naturalist true joy." Stephen was one of
few men who could stand firm in the face of Jack's disapprobation, which
was, of course, why Jack loved him so.
"You are merely afraid to take a bold step, I warrant," Jack accused.
"I repeat my first question: What are you getting at, heart?"
Jack looked intently at the bow held in his hands, sighted down its length
for warp or true, and then said after a moment, "The search for the perfect
"AHAhahahaha!" Stephen was unable to contain his burst of mirth, though he
feared to offend his friend. "You wish to have me join you in an adventure
of brothels and whores, on our next port o'call? My stars, you're a daft and
dangerous influence on me."
"No," Jack replied, "you misconstrue my meaning, Stephen."
"Do I?" A silence fell between them, and thoughts played over Maturin's
face, like wind over the waves. Jack watched, intent.
The wave crested, the gust blew, and the white-cap bloomed and burst forth
in a frothy spray on the surface of Stephen's mind. His mouth formed a
little O of startlement.
To cover his anxiety, Jack bent to put away his violin, and Stephen did the
same with his own instrument. Jack straightened to flee the awkwardness, but
Stephen caught his hand.
"I think I could manage to undertake one additional hobby, if I might
do so alongside a dear companion." And he reached over to the front of
Jack's breeches, to begin their mutual tutelage in this new endeavour.
"I would not have you choose this under duress." Jack remained ramrod
vertical, and hesitant.
Stephen let go of the calloused hand, and raised both of his own to Jack's
bristly cheeks. Stroking the stubble with his fingertips, he looked into
Jack's eyes. "Not under duress, no." Reaching back behind Jack's neck with
his left, he ran his fingers up the nape, entwined them between the softer,
darker hairs there, and slowly, gently tugged free the ribbon that tied it
back. The thin red fabric hit the floor with a barely audible tap, drawing
attention to the silence between them.
Jack opened his mouth to say something, anything, to fill the air with
vibration and distraction, but Stephen's grasp on his skull tightened and
drew him in close. Their lips, suddenly cumbering each other, were the
sweetest pudding imaginable, and when Jack's mouth opened in gasp at the
pure joy of it, Stephen was quick to take advantage of the opening and
explore the uncharted territory within.
After a moment of the startling experience of being treated terra incognita,
Jack returned the favor of exploratory darting and dashing, a speedier and
more insistent tongue than the doctor's curiosity and analysis. His hands
rose to the small of Stephen's back, to the hollows there, so unlike a
woman's. A burning rose from the depths of his groin, suffusing his belly
and sending a shaft of what was nearly pain, deep up behind his breastbone.
He inhaled sharply, and drew back.
"It seems passion is not so neatly tied as one might suppose, to biological
continuation of the species," Stephen opined, eyes dark and breeches snug.
"I... am... I find myself... at a loss for words."
Jack merely swallowed and ground their hips together in a twisting motion,
making Stephen pant slightly, as he curled his fingers across the arch of
"It is interesting, how very different..." the doctor began.
"Shut up and fuck me, Stephen."