This story is rated NC-17 (adults only). It includes explicit male/male sex. No particular warnings for this piece. If this is what you came for, scroll down. If it isn't, hit the Back button.
The Bare Word
"Will you accept my word now?" said the condemned man.
McCool had stood patiently while Hornblower forced himself to read the tender goodbye to his wife, the feverish poem that would accompany it. The man had asked only this, in exchange for his word not to make any speeches before he was hanged in the morning. His persuasive powers had intimidated even such a personage as Admiral Cornwallis, but he would have no other outlet for his eloquence for the brief remainder of his life.
"Yes," Hornblower said.
McCool faced death not just with courage but with grace; in the gloomy storage cabin which was now a condemned cell, he behaved as though he were a host and Hornblower his guest. Hornblower was fairly certain his own courage would fail if he knew he were to be hanged in the morning.
Of course, as he was not a fanatical nationalist, he was unlikely to find himself in such straits. But in the struggle of nations, if McCool's side were ascendent, then Hornblower, with no change in behavior, would be a traitor, a deserter, and McCool would be simply a patriot doing his duty.
He started to hand the papers back to McCool, then remembered his promise and put them in his letter case instead.
McCool was standing very close, even closer than could be explained by the cramped quarters. He put a hand on Hornblower's arm, his fingers cold through the shirtsleeve. "And perhaps you would wish me to offer another recompense for your troubles, in addition to my silence?"
That brought Hornblower's head up, brought heat mounting to his cheeks and horror and guilt churning into his stomach.
McCool swiftly withdrew his hand. "Ah. No, I see that I have misspoken. Let me begin again. Here am I, on my last night on this earth. Here are you, an Englishman and not over-handsome, and yet you have treated me with both honor and kindness. Might we not beguile these hours with a simple human pleasure?"
"I am to guard you to the gallows in the morning!" Hornblower said, shocked. "I've just brought you paper to write to your wife!"
"Then you may easily see why I might prefer to have something to take my mind off that matter."
"Your arguments make one's head spin," Hornblower said irritably.
McCool clearly had the advantage in words, but it was not words he brought to bear now, but simply his still-cold hands: on Hornblower's shoulders, down his arms and up again, over his nape and his ridiculous hair -- Hornblower's breath quickened, and they were close enough now that he could feel McCool's breath against his cheek. McCool touched his temples, his cheeks, his neck, his throat -- his throat --
Hornblower drew back, shuddering.
"I understand," McCool said. "My mind too tends in that direction. But consider. Death, everpresent and yet uncertain for every sailor, is for me now a certainty. I know his day and his hour. While there is hope, one must fight on with courage. But now that all hope is at an end, I find that all fear, too, has for the moment withdrawn." He took Hornblower's hand, pressed it between his own, drew it to touch him. "Tomorrow this body will be an object, of which you, my tenderhearted executioner, must dispose. Today it is the body of a living man, and as it lives, I wish it to live. This -- this is the pulse of a living heart, and this --"
"Yes," said Hornblower.
So. Into each other's arms, then, and down they went onto the thin dusty straw mattress, and Hornblower understood, for the first time, why the country people called this a tumble.
The long red hair was everywhere and got into everything. McCool was forever having to sweep it back over his shoulder with one bony-knuckled hand, a gesture that mixed masculine and feminine in a way Hornblower found inexplicably stirring.
With women, Hornblower had always felt a painful constraint, for courtship behavior felt as unnatural as though he were expected to mimic the mating dances of birds, and yet no other sort of interaction seemed possible. His relations with other men, though not notably free and happy, were easier precisely to the degree occasioned by the absence of that expectation. The sex urge, which of course he experienced with the same frequency as any young man, seemed impossible to connect with another human being; as soon imagine mating with a tree or a fish.
This, though -- this seemed not far removed from the horseplay of the midshipmen, motivated by the same combination of high spirits, excess energy, half-earnest striving for mastery. They had time, and space, and -- almost unthinkable in a ship of the line -- privacy. That McCool would be dead next day was a morbid thought from which his mind shied away, but it encouraged a kind of tenderness. It also, though this shamed him, made his fear of discovery less acute.
McCool had certain secret knowledge of the body -- of how pleasure could be found in the unlikeliest of places, of how a pinch or a bite could be as intensely pleasurable as a caress. He knew, also, how to administer a breathtaking squeeze at the tip of Hornblower's prick when such attentions threatened to have him spilling before they had well begun. The third time such corrective was necessary, however, he shook his head and murmured, "Youth and celibacy" -- fondly, as though Hornblower were not both a stranger and his executioner. "This, I see, calls for a change of tactics," and the next moment he was manipulating Hornblower's cock with the greatest expertise. Over the roaring in his ears, Hornblower heard enough to infer that McCool for some reason no longer wished him to delay his peak, which was as well, as it was far beyond his ability to do so. He gave himself over gratefully to the skill of McCool's freckled fingers and the imperfectly heard encouragements of his lilting voice.
In the aftermath, the usual sated lassitude -- the feeling, as after a fulsomely heavy meal, that more, far from being a pleasure, would quickly become a punishment -- warred with a sense of responsibility, for here was McCool, neglected. Hornblower reached for his cock, blushing, and McCool intercepted his hand, pressed it out flat on the strawtick (compelling Hornblower to lie back), and kissed him on the mouth.
This, by virtue first of its unexpectedness and then of its utter inexplicable sensuality, rendered him effectively mute for quite an extended period of time. After, he felt himself tamed like some mythical beast, neither restive nor reluctant but prepared to take his part in a new rhythm, expansive, slow, and sweet.
McCool, he discovered, was wiry and underfed, freckled even in places where he was hardly likely to see sun, at ease in his body. He was not spastically ticklish, as Hornblower himself was, but responded with low laughter to certain caresses -- to a mouth on the side of his neck, a hand high on his ribcage. When Hornblower, daring greatly, ran his fingertips over the top of McCool's thigh and let his thumb trail along the pale inside, McCool responded with a laugh that shaded huskily into something like a growl, throwing that leg over Hornblower's hip so that it made a cave, inside which Hornblower could take hold of his prick at last.
McCool corrected his grip once and then left him to it, guiding him with shifts of his hips and murmurs inarticulate but speaking. This time when he stopped Hornblower's hand, his panting breath told its own story so that Hornblower was less mortified.
A fine sheen of sweat had sprung up on McCool's skin, making him appear to glow. Hornblower licked whatever flesh came near his mouth as McCool turned them over again and brought their two cocks together, indicating by signs that Hornblower, whose fingers were the longer, should hold them near the base; then McCool, who was the more skillful, manipulated the sensitive crowns, slipping the skin up and down in unison with a dexterity wonderful to see and even more so to feel.
The pleasure was blinding, too intense, it seemed, to allow of any ending, and for a long moment Hornblower feared it would peak higher still and shade into pain, as when one scratched an itch -- and then McCool leaned across the gap between them and kissed him again, and all was sweet pulsation, merciful and shared.
After, they lay together in an exhausted stillness as pleasurable, in its own way, as the sharper joy that had preceded it.
"I attach no blame to you," McCool said softly at last. "Today you have given me dignity and pleasure, and tomorrow the third gift of a quick end. When a man goes to war, he hardly dares hope for so merciful a death." And he faded into sleep with his ruddy hair spread over the straw-tick like a girl's.
Hornblower paced the deck long into the night, reflecting on life's many ways of expanding the soul so that it might contain a greater remorse.
McCool had gotten his final speech after all.
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January 1, 2010