written September 18, 2005
Finch rubbed the towel over his hair one last time, basking in the heat from the stove. Electricity be hanged; the true mark of an advanced civilization was a hot bath on Saturday night, and a warm nightshirt and robe to dress in afterwards. He glanced at the still-full bath, now unappealingly cold, and decided to let it be till the morning; the week's tension had drained out of him as he soaked, leaving him relaxed and a little sleepy, and he had no desire to carry buckets out into the chill night to empty it. "Perhaps a few pages of my book before bed," he murmured, draping his damp towel over the back of one chair and pulling another closer to the stove, soft slippers making barely a whisper of sound against the floor.
He fetched a blanket and a glass of brandy along with his book, settling comfortably in the chair to read, quickly becoming engrossed. Sudden pounding on his door startled him into a flinch.
"Who is it?" he called.
"Finch! Finch, it's me, Stone. Open up!"
He sighed. So much for his peaceful evening. Regretfully, he stood and carried his book and glass to the table before moving toward the door, not wanting to stumble over them later.
"Yes, yes, I'm coming!" He opened the door, explaining, "I'll just be a minute, Marshal, I'll need to dress -- my God, what happened? Get inside, man, quickly!" Stone was dripping wet and shivering, the picture of misery. Finch fisted Stone's coat and pulled, slamming the door behind him as soon as Stone was safely inside, grimacing at the icy draft that came in with him. Young Chipper had told him that there would be a frost tonight, and it appeared that he had been correct. "Are you injured? Shall I fetch Katie?"
"No, I'm okay, I just need to g-get warm." Stone reached for the buttons on his coat but couldn't get a grip.
Finch caught his hands lightly, bending to examine them. "A little pale, but not waxen. That's very good -- no permanent damage." He let Stone's hands go but pressed gently against his wrists when Stone fumbled at the buttons again. "Just tell me what happened, I'll take care of this." He started stripping Stone down efficiently, dropping the sodden clothes in a pile to be dealt with later.
"My horse spooked on the trail near the river. Been along that trail a hundred times, never had any problem before." He sucked in a breath as icy cloth dragged across his hands, nodding absently at Finch's murmured apology. "I was thinking about something else, took me by surprise. I went off the horse and slid down the bank, straight into the water. I ain't hurt none --"
"No, just soaked and half-frozen," Finch retorted. He unbuttoned the top of Stone's union suit, peeling it off him to leave him bare to the waist, grabbing up the blanket he'd left in his chair and flipping it around Stone's shoulders. "Don't try to hold that," he cautioned. "I'll need to wrap your hands in a moment. Just stay still."
Stone nodded. "Anyways, I got out of the river right quick and headed back for town. I saw your light, figured you'd already have your stove going. Wasn't much looking forward to trying to get mine lit and warmed up."
"Not with those hands, no," Finch agreed absently, moving on to Stone's belt and worrying the swollen leather until it came free. "You'd surely have scalded them, putting them that close to a flame." He pushed the heavy trousers down past Stone's hips then glanced down and frowned. "Here, sit." He pushed Stone into the chair he'd been reading in and knelt to take his boots off, wincing at the bitten-back groan above his head. "I'm sorry -- "
"No, k-keep going, they have to c-come off."
Finch glanced up sharply and swore under his breath. "I'm a fool." He darted to the table and his half-full glass of brandy, then back to Stone. "Here." Finch held the glass to Stone's lips so he could sip some. "Better?"
"Some, yeah, thanks."
Finch patted him gently on the shoulder and returned to his crouch. "My father always said there was no better restorative for cold than a nip of brandy. Now, let's just get these off, shall we?" After few minutes of careful effort he had Stone's boots off, gently easing the socks off and checking each foot for frostbite. Like Stone's hands, they were pale but not yet waxen, and Finch breathed a sigh of relief. He tugged Stone's trousers the rest of the way off, then offered him another sip of brandy.
"Okay, time to get you back up, get rid of the rest of this, all right?"
Stone nodded, still shivering. Finch hooked his hands under Stone's armpits to lever him up, gasping in shock when icy hands slid past his gaping robe, only the thin fabric of his nightshirt protecting him.
"God, you're warm," Stone said.
"Yes, well, you're not. Steady, now." Stone obediently stood still while Finch peeled his union suit the rest of the way off, his skin rough with goose bumps all over. "Warm, something warm," Finch muttered, casting about hastily.
"Just pick something!"
Finch hastily untied his dressing gown and slipped it off, then stripped off his nightshirt.
"It's the warmest thing in the cabin," Finch explained briskly. He pulled the blanket off Stone's shoulders. "Arms up, please."
Scowling, Stone held his arms up enough for Finch to slide the nightshirt over them and his head, giving it a quick brush to settle it.
"There," he said cheerfully. "That's a good start, anyway." He wrapped the blanket around Stone's shoulders again. "Better?"
"Much. And what are you going to wear, or shouldn't I ask?" Stone said gruffly, his eyes flicking down and then back up.
"Oh, yes." Now that he mentioned it, Finch was feeling the chill a bit. He shrugged back into his robe, tying it snugly. "There we are. You just sit back down while I warm some cloths to wrap your hands and feet in."
Finch put water to heat on the stove and fetched the basin and a supply of cloths, along with a blanket for Stone's legs. As soon as the water was warm enough he filled the basin and soaked some cloth, carefully wrapping each hand and foot to warm it.
"There, that should take care of it. We'll just change those when they cool." Pleased with his work, Finch went to fetch another chair and dig another blanket out of the chest where he stored them, and his towel while he was at it. He put the chair and blanket comfortably near the stove and close to Stone, then took the towel and moved behind the other man, rubbing briskly at his hair to get the worst of the water out, trusting the warm air to take care of the rest. "There you go," he said cheerfully, tossing the towel toward the table.
"I feel like an idiot," Stone grumbled.
Finch looked down at him, startled, then moved around beside him to get a better look. Stone was already looking better, his color subtly shifting to something that suggested health rather than survival. The relief that flooded him caught him by surprise; the sight of Stone helpless had unnerved him more than he'd thought. "There's no need, Marshal. Anyone can take a fall. I'm just glad you got here so quickly, with no real damage done."
Stone squinted up at him. "Finch? I'm sitting here wearing nothing but your nightshirt, after you stripped me naked as the day I was born. Think maybe we're past the 'marshal' stage at this point?"
Finch's professional detachment vanished, and suddenly he was keenly aware that they were both nearly naked still, and that he'd touched Stone almost everywhere while removing his clothing. Heat curled through his belly as a few late-night fantasies came flooding back into his mind, and his gaze flicked over Stone's body, lingering briefly at his groin. He tore his gaze away and looked at Stone's face, flushing when he realized Stone had been watching him. He cleared his throat. "Yes, of course. Stone. Erm. More brandy?"
Stone leaned back, a thoughtful look in his eyes. "Yeah, thanks."
"Right, then." Finch scooped up the glass and moved back to the table where he'd left the bottle, tugging his robe decently closed and taking a few deep breaths to calm the rest of him. Composure restored, he refilled the glass and turned back, settling a pleasant look firmly on his face as he approached the back of Stone's chair. "Here we are." He held the glass to Stone's lips so he could take a sip.
"Thanks," Stone said easily when Finch took the glass away.
Finch murmured something nonsensical and dropped into his own chair, tugging his blanket across his bare legs and rolling the glass gently between his hands as he watched the lamplight play off the amber liquid. If he didn't get himself under better control, this night was going to be difficult. Stone would have to stay here, and keeping him as warm as possible meant sharing a bed with him.
He slanted a look at Stone, who was gazing almost sleepily at the small bookshelf a few feet away. Lamplight caught shadows and planes on his face, softening his craggy features even as it threw them into sharp relief. Finch wanted to trace the line of that nose, taste the line of that jaw... he shut his eyes, taking a deep breath.
A difficult night, indeed.
"Could I have another sip of that?" Stone asked quietly.
Finch blinked. "Yes, of course. And I should change those dressings, I wager." He stood, draping his blanket over the chair and moving to Stone's side to let him sip from the glass.
"My pleasure, Marsh-- Stone."
Stone's lips curved up as his eyes drifted shut.
Finch barely stopped himself from reaching out to touch Stone's mouth, forcing himself to pick up the basin and move over to the stove instead. "This will just take a minute," he assured Stone to cover his flustered reaction, pouring a bit of fresh hot water into the basin to warm the next set of cloths. Once he deemed them ready, he took a deep breath and moved back to Stone, reminding himself that he was giving aid to the injured. Any other thoughts were inappropriate.
He changed the dressings on Stone's feet first, pleased with how much improved they already looked. "We may only have to do this once more, to be safe, then a final dressing overnight. I think you'll be right as rain by the morning."
The ankle Finch was still cupping flexed slightly, tendons and bones moving against his skin and making him catch his breath slightly. "I'm glad to hear it," Stone said, huskily.
"Hands next, please," Finch said, not daring to look up.
Stone shrugged back his blanket, exposing his arms and hands for Finch. Finch kept his touch impersonal as he examined each one carefully after taking the wrappings off, making a pleased sound when each turned out to be recovering as well as Stone's feet, then wrapped them again in warm cloth. "There. You're doing just fine."
"That's good," Stone said, his voice still a little rough. "How about another sip of brandy before you sit down?"
"Yes, certainly." Finch carried the basin to his bath and poured half of it out, leaving room for fresher hot water for the next set of compresses, then returned and picked the glass up off the floor where he'd left it. He turned to Stone, breathing in deeply at the sight of him. He hadn't pulled the blanket back around him, and the nightshirt was open to the middle of Stone's chest, where curling hairs looked almost gold in the lamplight and heavy muscle banded his ribs. Grimly, he fought back the wave of desire. "I'm sorry, I should have buttoned that up for you," he said, admirably calmly under the circumstances.
"Nah, I don't like things up around my neck. This is good. Brandy?"
"Oh, yes." He took a breath and moved forward, holding the glass to Stone's lips.
"Thanks," Stone said when he took it away. "Listen, Finch, I'm sorry to be putting you out like this."
Finch frowned and tugged the blanket around Stone's shoulders again, bunching it together in front so it would stay. "Don't be ridiculous, you're not putting me out. All I was doing was reading a book. This is much more exciting."
"Playing nursemaid?" Stone asked sardonically.
"Practicing my medical skills. And helping a friend in need."
A smile ghosted across Stone's lips as he relented. "Okay. If you're sure."
"Of course I'm sure. Now sit quietly for a bit and let those compresses work."
"Yes, doctor." The smile was real this time.
Finch harrumphed cheerfully and went back to his own seat and blanket.
"So what book were you reading?" Stone asked.
"The Spirit of Modern Philosophy, by Mister Josiah Royce. It's quite good, really."
"Yeah? Read me some of that."
Finch blinked. "All right." He fetched the book from the table and settled back into his chair with it, opening to the page where he'd left off. "Ah, here we are. 'As to the general scope of our course, modern philosophy, our topic in what follows, is as wealthy and complex an evolution in its way as is the life which it depicts. What we call modern thought, in these matters, is a very recent affair, dating back only to the seventeenth century. Since then, however, philosophy has lived through several great periods, which for our purpose we may reduce to three.'" He glanced over at Stone, who looked intent.
Stone nodded at him. "Keep going, this sounds interesting."
Finch grinned happily. "It is." He cleared his throat."'The first period was one of what we may call naturalism, pure and simple.'" The subject matter and Stone's occasional commentary -- sometimes seeking clarification, sometimes expanding on something Mister Royce had said -- were equally engaging, and the minutes flew by.
"Finch, I hate to interrupt --"
Finch looked up enquiringly. "Marshal? Er, Stone?"
"The compresses are going cool."
"Good lord, I lost track of the time." Finch put aside book and blanket and took a few steps to where he'd left the basin, reaching over to the stove to grab the kettle full of still-warm water and pouring more into the basin, warming the cloths that were soaking. He turned back to Stone, kneeling easily in front of him again. "Here we are. Last time, if we're lucky."
Stone grumbled, clearly not liking the idea.
"You can't risk your feet and hands," Finch chided. "One night of being careful is worth it, if it saves you from risking permanent damage."
"I know, I know." Stone sighed. "Go ahead."
Finch grinned up at him. "Good man." He turned his attention back to the foot in his hand, carefully unwrapping the compress. "Excellent! Only a bit red still. Is it still numb at all?"
Stone shook his head. "Everything's a bit tingly, but nothing's numb anymore, that I can tell."
"Good, good. You're doing fine." Finch wrapped the fresh warm compresses around each foot. "I'm getting rather good at this, if I do say so myself. Now the hands, please."
Stone chuckled. "Glad to help you with your medical training there, Finch." He tossed back the blanket again.
Finch was prepared this time, and his hands were perfectly steady as he unwrapped and checked each hand, making sure there were no blisters or numb areas anywhere before he carefully re-wrapped them. He couldn't help but be aware of Stone; the blanket and the stove-warmed air had done their job, and the warm scent of him mixed with the scent of Finch's fresh nightshirt and blanket, creating a heady aroma that Finch happily breathed in to savor later. But he kept that separate from the job at hand, making sure no hint of his appreciation escaped.
"You smell good," Stone said quietly, breathing deeply.
Finch started, fingers closing around Stone's right wrist for a moment before he forced himself to let go. "I what? Oh. Oh, yes, I had a bath earlier tonight, it must be the soap."
"I guess. It's good. Clean."
"Yes." Finch turned away, busying himself with putting away the basin and used cloths and letting silence fill the cabin for a few minutes while he regained his composure.
"Sorry, Finch, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." Stone was sitting quietly, bandaged hands resting in his lap, face nearly expressionless, when Finch turned back to him.
"No, no, not at all," Finch said, one hand moving in an abortive gesture of dismissal. He took a deep breath. "You just caught me by surprise, that's all." He smiled wryly, daring more than he would have imagined. "I had just been thinking the same thing about you, actually."
A slow smile warmed Stone's entire face. "Yeah? Well. That's all right, then." The lamplight flickered heat into his eyes when he caught Finch's gaze.
Unless it wasn't the lamplight. Finch wondered madly what was showing in his own eyes, but whatever it was, Stone didn't seem to be at all bothered by it. "Yes," he agreed breathlessly. "It's all right."
Stone's smile deepened, drawing creases in his cheeks. "Why don't you read me some more of that Mister Royce's book." He shut his eyes and leaned back. "You've got a nice reading voice."
Finch stopped next to Stone's chair and pulled the blanket around him again, letting the backs of his hands brush Stone's skin this time. "Then I'll read more for you," he murmured.
Stone opened his eyes, and the heat in them had nothing to do with the lamplight.
Finch forced himself to sit down again and read some more, keeping his voice steady and light. After a few minutes he grew aware of Stone's burning gaze on the side of his face, and found himself wondering if the light made Stone want to lick him, the way he wanted to lick Stone. He put the book down and turned his head, meeting Stone's eyes squarely. "Are the compresses going cool?"
"As a matter of fact, they do seem to be, yes."
"Then I should probably check them."
"That would be good."
Silently, Finch went to the stove and picked up the cloths he'd left warming, then knelt in front of Stone again. He unwrapped Stone's left foot, cradling it in his hands once it was bare. "Pink and healthy," he murmured, stroking a finger lightly along the arch.
Stone caught his breath. "Finch..."
"Patience, my friend," Finch said, smiling up at him. "These need dressings to keep them safe overnight." He reached for the cloths and wrapped a final dressing around it, then repeated his actions on Stone's right foot. "Hands, please."
Stone extended his arms, letting the blanket fall back. Finch gently unwrapped and checked his left hand, pressing a kiss to the palm when it proved to be as healthy as Stone's feet. "Perfect," he murmured against the callused skin.
"Finch, you're killing me, here," Stone said, sounding breathless.
"Good," Finch said serenely, and re-wrapped the hand before moving on to the other, this time licking delicately at Stone's thumb in approval of its healthy state. After he'd wrapped it in its fresh dressing, he sat back on his heels and gazed up at Stone. "So."
"I take it we're done reading for the night," Stone said roughly.
Finch raised his eyebrows. "Well, if you'd rather..."
Stone grinned. "Don't you dare." His expression turned wistful, and he raised his hands helplessly. "I wish I could touch you," he said softly.
Impulsively, Finch leaned up and caught Stone's lips in a kiss, his hands sliding into Stone's hair. Finch was careful to keep it light, but Stone didn't hesitate, lips parting instantly at the teasing touch of Finch's tongue, flicking his own tongue back against Finch's. "Tell you what," he said when he pulled back, looking into darkened eyes. "Tomorrow, when I take those off you, you can touch me as much as you want."
Stone's eyes darkened even more as he breathed in sharply. He licked his lips. "I'm going to hold you to that," he warned.
"I'm counting on it." Finch took a deep breath and levered himself to his feet, using Stone's shoulders. He caught the disappointed flash in Stone's eyes and grinned. "I'm sorry -- appealing as the notion is, my knees won't thank me for staying on the floor much longer. Besides -- there's a perfectly serviceable bed over there, which will be toasty warm with both of us in it, and I'm sure we can think of some way to pass the time."
Stone's slow smile made an appearance again. "I reckon we can, at that."
Finch banked the stove and turned back to Stone, smiling wryly. "You're going to hate this next bit," he said.
Stone looked askance at him. "Why would... oh, no. No, Finch, no way."
Finch squared his shoulders and reached for Stone, catching him beneath his knees and around the shoulders, settling his top hand in Stone's armpit. "Yes, I'm afraid so. We need to keep you off your feet while they're still tender."
"I promise I won't tell anyone," Finch said exasperatedly. "Now come on, stop resisting. The sooner I do this, the sooner it's done."
Grumbling, Stone stopped pulling back against Finch, and Finch managed to heave him up.
"I'm a lot heavier than the ladies you usually do this with," Stone pointed out.
"Yes, you certainly are," Finch panted as he crossed the room. He deposited Stone as carefully as he could so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed. "Um."
Stone raised his eyebrows, still looking irritated. "What?"
"Do you prefer... that is to say... the nightshirt?" He gestured at Stone's chest, feeling somewhat awkward. These things usually just worked themselves out during an encounter, but with Stone's hands out of commission, he had no choice but to be blunt about it.
Relieved, Finch smiled and reached for him, surprised when Stone leaned away.
"But you first. You've already seen me, I want to see you."
"Oh. Well. That's fair enough." Finch untied his robe and slid out of it, draping it across the foot of the bed to cover his momentary urge to shield his growing arousal. If Stone wasn't already aware of it, he wasn't the investigator Finch knew him to be.
"Damn," Stone muttered. "I really wish I could touch you."
Finch caught himself preening a little under that admiring regard, his prick filling even more, and shook his head at himself. Vanity was an unseemly trait. Besides, there were more important things to do. He reached out and pulled Stone up and into him a bit, to take his weight while he tugged the nightshirt up. Stone seemed very willing to wrap his arms around Finch's waist and nuzzle his chest, and Finch had to force himself to keep doing what he was doing, and to ease Stone away from him when the shirt came up far enough to be pulled over his head.
Breathing heavily, they stared at each other, gazes roaming freely.
"Get the lamp and get in here," Stone finally growled, a course of events with which Finch fervently agreed.
"Lie back," he said, pulling the sheet away and waiting till Stone did so before he covered him with it. "I'll be right back." He went to blow out the lamp, pausing only long enough to retrieve his blanket and the one that had been over Stone's legs, leaving the slightly damp one over the chair to dry. He moved easily back to the bed in the darkness, flipping the blankets out over the bed and sliding in next to Stone.
He shifted onto his side, putting a hand on Stone's chest to stop him from doing likewise. "Let me do all the work this time, all right? Tomorrow, I promise, whatever you want. But for tonight, you should keep still as much as possible."
"You realize that what we're doing here isn't really all that conducive to my keeping still, right?"
Finch grinned. "Well, you don't have to keep perfectly still. But I don't want to have to explain to Katie how you rubbed your skin raw after we'd gotten you all thawed out."
"Right. Still it is." Stone moved his arm carefully out of the way, wrapping it around Finch's shoulders but not using his hand at all.
Finch kissed his collarbone in approval, then settled himself comfortably to start exploring Stone in earnest, sliding one thigh up over Stone's leg. He stroked over Stone's chest, mapping muscles and scars, the different textures of smooth skin and coarse hair. Stone's nipples hardened under his touch and Finch leaned in to taste the nearer one, wondering if Stone was especially sensitive there.
A soft laugh rumbled into the darkness. "Sorry, Finch -- I can feel it, but it doesn't do much for me, I'm afraid."
"Ah well. I'm sure there are other places," Stone said lightly, and licked the hollow of Stone's throat. That won him a gasp and he smiled, pleased with his discovery. "Such as that, apparently," he murmured, licking it again. He laughed softly when Stone swore. He kept moving, touching and tasting as much as he could reach of Stone's chest, venturing down under the blankets as far as Stone's navel before making his way back up again, paying extra attention to the sensitive spots he'd found on Stone's side and the base of his ribcage. "You have a beautiful body," he said quietly when he emerged from the blanket again, licking along Stone's collarbone and biting gently at the point of it.
Stone moaned softly. "I'm a lot of things, Finch, but beautiful isn't one of them."
"Your face, no," Finch agreed, leaning up to learn Stone's face with fingers and lips. "That's handsome, rugged, strong, kind." Each word was underscored with a touch of Finch's lips, a brush of his fingers. "But your body -- that is beautiful. Strong and hard, with your life mapped out on it for those with the eyes to see."
Finch smiled and brushed his nose against Stone's. "Like me."
Stone just grunted, but Finch could feel the heat rising in his cheeks.
He brushed kisses all over Stone's face, all the places that had so drawn him in the lamplight, loving the taste of him. Stone kissed any part of him that came in reach, growling when Finch moved too far away for too long. Finch's hips started rocking gently into Stone's thigh, the hard muscle and coarse hair delightfully stimulating. Stone groaned softly, licking Finch's chin.
Finch finally relented and caught Stone's mouth again, deeper this time. Stone opened easily to him, playing with his tongue and exploring Finch's moth in return. Finch could spend days doing just this, tasting Stone, breathing his breath, delighting in the sensation of their lips growing soft and bruised with kisses and gentle bites.
Stone drew away. "Finch," he said hoarsely. "Please."
Finch's hips stilled, and he cursed himself for not realizing he'd left Stone behind. He reached down, following the familiar line of Stone's abdomen to his prick, bobbing thick and heavy over his belly, the tip already wet. He wrapped his hand firmly around it and stroked, drawing a deep groan out of Stone. "Do you want this, or...?" Finch trailed off to let Stone decide, his hand still moving on the thick shaft.
"Anything. Anything is good," Stone said, his hips moving under Finch. "Just don't stop."
"All right, then. Let's try this together," Finch murmured. He took his hand off Stone, ignoring the disappointed sound that resulted. "No, sh, this will be better, I promise." Bracing himself, he shifted until he was on top of Stone, reaching down briefly to line their pricks up next to each other. Stone's hips jerked up, rubbing his arousal against Finch's. They both groaned.
"Oh, God. That's good. That's really really good." Stone was breathless, his voice a little strained.
"Oh, God, yes," Finch breathed, bracing himself and thrusting into Stone, their pricks rubbing against each other, growing slicker with each thrust. He quickly found a tempo that suited them both, met by Stone each time.
At last, with a grunt, Stone thrust up hard against him and held, his seed spilling out of him in jerks and wetting both their bellies. "Finch. God. Finch." His arms came up and slid along Finch's sides as Finch kept thrusting. "God, I wish I could touch you," Stone said, frustrated.
"Tomorrow," Finch gasped. "Touch me tomorrow." He dropped his head and caught Stone's mouth in a bruising kiss, thrusting hard into the slick channel they'd made of their groins and coming hard, his seed mixing with Stone's on their skin. He caught his breath and let himself collapse all the way onto Stone. "Jesus."
Strong arms wrapped around his back and squeezed. "Yeah."
They lay quietly for a few minutes, catching their breath and savoring the closeness between them. Eventually, Finch slid off to the side again and made himself reach outside their blankets and feel around for the nightshirt, discarded on the floor, using it to mop them up.
"I hope you're not expecting me to put that back on," Stone said.
Finch chuckled. "No. I think we'll keep each other quite warm enough."
"Yeah, you could be right," Stone said. Finch could hear the smile in his voice.
He was on the edge of sleep when a soft chuckle caught his attention. "Mmm?"
"I was just thinking -- if I'd know this was all it'd take, I'd've fallen into the river a long time ago."
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