Chapter Nine

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Alexos wasn’t sure quite how he came to be naked on the bed. Certainly, he understood the typical process, the removal of socks, of his trousers and underwear, all that usual wherewithal, but for all he knew, Sutton had vaporised what he’d been wearing with some sort of sorcerous power, because it was all lost to him.

All he was aware of now was himself back on the bed, Sutton on top of him with his hands either side of his waist, his mouth dragging down the side of Alexos’ neck, his tongue slipping down to dip and curl around the rim of his collarbones’ hollow. Sutton’s tongue was hot, dexterous, and skilful, leaving a streak of heat down Alexos’ chest as he mouthed further down, and Alexos couldn’t help the noise that eked out of his throat, breathless and full of want.

Alexos’ cock was so hard it ached, and Sutton gently pushed his thighs apart. His hands on Alexos’ skin were strong, full of weight, and his fingers played delicately over the muscle of his flesh, careful not to touch or press on scar or injured muscle. His hands were unspeakably warm, but far hotter than his touch was the weight of his gaze: Sutton was looking at Alexos’ cock as though he saw in its shaft’s curve and the wetness of his head a reflection of the divine, his lips open, his eyes focused in worshipful attendance.

Sutton was still fully dressed, his shirt cuffs still buttoned even, his collar, but Alexos was more than naked; his foreskin was drawn back, such that his cock was bared and brightly pink, glistening with a wet shine, and Alexos couldn’t help but clench his muscles so that his prick jumped and bobbed.

Alexos’ heart was pounding so heart he felt as though it were going to jump right out of his chest, perhaps that his veins would burst and that his whole body would be wrenched apart by the strain of it.

Harry leaned forward, tilted his head to the side and looked over the side of his cock, tracing the curve of his shift with his eyes. He wasn’t touching him just yet, pressing his hands a little harder against Alexos’ thighs, sliding further, up into the inner crease of his thighs. A little pearl of liquid came up from his cockhead, sliding down the shaft of his cock and over his balls, and he hissed.

“Sutton,” he whispered, “Sutton, Sutton, Sutton—”

“I believe you can probably call me Harry at this juncture, sir,” said Sutton.

Alexos opened his mouth to reply, but he didn’t get the chance to: Sutton opened his mouth and swallowed Alexos’ cock down whole, taking him right into his mouth, his throat, his lips encircling the base of Alexos’ cock, and Alexos almost screamed. It was sublime beyond measure, so overwhelming he thought it might kill him, the wet heat of Sutton’s mouth, the slide of his tongue against Alexos’ cock, and he didn’t mean to, didn’t want to, but he was coming.

Sutton swallowed it down, swallowed him down, and Alexos could feel the clench and pull of Sutton’s muscles around him, the tightening of the muscles at his throat, the push and press of his tongue, the tightening of his lips, and all of it, all of it so wet, so hot—

“Shh,” Sutton hushed him when he pulled away, and Alexos realised there were tears streaking his cheeks, dripping down off his jaw on each side, and Sutton wiped his cheeks with his handkerchief, the movement gentle and easy, and Alexos gasped in his next breaths, dizzy with sensation.

His cock was softening, spend stained on the sheets between them, but Sutton was laying kisses against the side of his neck, his hand curled around his other hip, and then he pulled delicately away from him.

“Harry?”

Sutton was already halfway across the room when the knock sounded on the door, and Alexos flinched, dragging at the sheets to cover himself, but Sutton had already opened the door a crack, and was saying, “He’s alright – I’m afraid he just fell getting out of his bath.”

“It was a hell of a shout,” said Felix, out-of-breath. “They heard it down in the kitchens.”

Alexos put his head in his hands, and called, “Sorry!”

“It’s alright, sir, I’m glad you’re not hurt!” Felix called back, and Sutton closed the door, turned to look at him, his hands on the wood, his eyebrows raised.

He looked playful, dangerously so, and Alexos stared at him, almost imagined a sort of halo around his dark hair, imagined that he was some angel – or perhaps, delectably, a demon – done to do him in.

“Your responsiveness is quite the enticement,” said Sutton mildly as he came forward, undoing the links of his shirt cuffs and setting them on the dresser. “Although we might want to work on your vocalisations – or at least, how loud you are about making them.”

“I’ve never had a mouth on my cock before,” said Alexos. “Apologies for enjoying it.”

“Your apology is accepted,” said Sutton, sitting on the edge of the bed, and Alexos leaned forward, leaning on his good hand as his other remained against his chest. He didn’t know if Sutton would make him put it back in the sling before bed. “I plan to inure you to some effects of my mouth, though not entirely.”

“Oh, really?” asked Alexos, and then felt his mouth fall open.

Quite delicately, Sutton was folding up the fabric of his shirt sleeves, folding them back bit by bit until he settled them up to his elbow. This was all well and good, and would have been painfully attractive in itself – with Sutton being such a big and muscular man, this showed in the fat, strong meat of his forearms, the thick hair dusting them, the dangerous strength of his wrists, even the slight pulse and movement of his tendons under the skin. They were hands that could kill a man quite easily, squeeze his neck, and it was impossible not to consider what he might do with them to a man’s cock, but—

Alexos wasn’t really thinking of any of that, in the moment.

Sutton’s arms, both of them, were covered in tattoos.

Alexos awkwardly shifted forward on the bed, taking Sutton’s great hand in his own, and he almost reverently pulled Sutton’s hand forward, examining his left arm. He’d seen tattoos before, of course – he remembered one older man laughing and scandalously showing a friend the hot air balloon tattooed on his ankle at a bar; naturally, he’d seen labourers and sailors in the city or in towns, but what Sutton had wasn’t a hastily tattooed name in a banner, nor the more elaborate but relatively simple sparrows and compasses that were usually tattooed on the visible parts of a man, on his hands or lower arms.

Sutton’s arm was wrapped all around with beautiful etchings: flowers of all kinds, growing out of what appeared to be a hedge behind them, and the tattoo artist had even made little holes and gaps in the hedge to show tiny bits of his flesh underneath, almost as if the hedge was a sleeve with its own tears.

He recognised a lily, an orchid, a carnation, a pansy, an African daisy. Each one of them was inked in such vibrant black ink, with delicate shadows and highlights inked underneath their petals and the upper part of their stems, that they seemed to pop up off the skin.

Even as Alexos touched them with his thumb, sliding his fingers up Sutton’s wrist, he almost couldn’t believe they weren’t all real, no matter that he was brushing past and underneath the hair on Sutton’s arm to do so.

“Would you like to see the other arm?” asked Sutton.

“You have more?”

Sutton pulled up his other sleeve, and Alexos laughed breathlessly, reaching out to touch these tattoos new – on this side, there was another hedge, but it was tattooed all over with criss-crossing brambles, showing blackberries in glistening black bundles, ready to pick; there were rosehips, plump sloe berries, and as if they’d landed on one of the leaves, some elder flower petals that looked so phenomenally real he almost couldn’t believe they didn’t come away when he brushed over them with his thumb. Everything was tattooed in shades of dark blue and black, but somehow, he almost imagined he could see the colour in them.

“Oh,” whispered Alexos, and shoved Sutton’s sleeve up further, making him laugh. Sutton put his hand out, palm up, and straightened his arm slightly to give Alexos the space to push up his sleeve. Tattooed on the inside of his elbow was a little dormouse, curled up with his paws and tail shifted up to clutch the fat, shiny rosehip against its chest. Sutton put out his other arm, pushing up his sleeve, and Alexos laughed at the way it was designed, like a head poking out from between the bushes. “A polecat?”

“A weasel,” said Sutton, and Alexos touched the weasel’s delicately inked muzzle and its shiny black nose, its beady black eyes, the strange rounded edges of its little ears.

Alexos looked from where he was holding Sutton’s wrist, his long fingers wrapped around the wonderful heat of him, up his shoulders, his chest, down to his belly. Sutton was a big man, fat, broad, tall – there was a lot of canvas on him for a tattoo artist to work with, and he could never have imagined he would find tattoos on his body.

He'd never seen a man with tattoos like this except in etchings for the circus or some other manner of freakshow.

“You have more?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Sutton.

“Where?”

“All over,” murmured Sutton. “I had no idea you’d be so entranced.”

“Well, I don’t get out much,” said Alexos. “When you reveal I can see more art than in a museum from the comfort of my own bed, and touch the canvas with my fingers, no less, a man is going to be entranced. I’ve never seen tattoos up close before – and never any so, so real-looking, so vibrant! Did they hurt?”

“Yes,” said Sutton, chuckling. “Don’t you know how a man is tattooed, Mr Fox?”

“Alex,” he said.

“Alexos,” said Sutton, and Alexos was surprised by the relief it gave him, chuckling, glancing down a moment.

“It used to be that tattoos were used to mark criminals and prisoners of war,” said Alexos. “A tattoo was a punishment, you see, a mark of shame – or used for bureaucratic purposes elsewhere, for example, to mark if a slave had paid his taxes, or that a criminal had served his sentence, or to mark a gladiator in service to the colosseum. These are just the various Greeks and Romans, of course – the Celts, the Picts, the Britons, they all had tattoos of themselves apart from body paint with woad, and the Thracians…”

Sutton was looking at him with an expression Alexos didn’t know what to make of, and he faltered, uncertain. Sutton smiled, his handsome cheeks warmly red.

“Please,” he said. “The Thracians?”

“Nobles wore tattoos,” said Alexos softly. “People of noble birth, rich people. Priests and priestesses, even. According to Herodotus, anyway, as much as the old bastard can be trusted.”

“They’re made with a machine,” said Sutton. “Most of mine were, anyway – it’s almost like the needle on a showing machine, operated by a small engine. The needle pierces the flesh, deposits ink beneath it, where it settles, insoluble, permanent.”

“All over?”

“My sleeves are completed,” said Sutton quietly. “My back. A good deal of my chest, some of my belly. My left leg is more finished than my right.”

“You got them in the army?”

“I started in the army,” said Sutton. “A lot of us got tattoos as a passing curiosity, when meeting circuses or travelling artists, but I became rather fascinated with the art, and I’m in contact with a few artists in London, Manchester. An old friend who lives in Paris. I enjoy the challenge and focus the pain brings, not to mention the art itself – and the response it gets from other men.”

“They’re beautiful,” said Alexos. “I never… I never imagined…”

“Did you imagine much of me?”

Alexos nodded dumbly.

Sutton kissed him.

It was really quite a tender kiss, slow and very gentle, Sutton’s lips warm against his own, and Alexos kissed him back. He expected Sutton to break away, for this to be a precursor, but it was no such thing. Sutton moved slowly on the bed, only breaking away from the kissing to scatter a few kisses and nibbles on Alexos’ jaw, his cheek, before beginning to kiss him again.

Sutton’s weight was a wonderful impression on the bed beside him, and with the softness of Alexos’ mattress, one that he’d picked out specifically so that he’d sink into it and wouldn’t move around too much in the night, assuming he didn’t sleepwalk, Sutton made a well in the surface and Alexos was naturally pulled in toward him. Alexos fell against Sutton’s chest, overwhelmed by the plushness of it, its heat under his hands and the lean of his body.

One of Sutton’s legs slid against his, but didn’t push between his thighs or hard against him: he let Alexos control that, so he could do it in a way that wouldn’t too much pressure on the joint of his knee, or put his newly sprained ankle in a difficult position.

Sutton was still kissing him, and Alexos’ head was spinning.

How long had they been kissing now? Five minutes? Ten?

Every moment made his lips more sensitive, blush filling them fat and full and bruised with kisses – he’d only ever read that in stolen romance novels, had never thought what it might really mean, to be kiss-bruised, and he didn’t think he ever wanted his lips to be unbruised again. Sutton’s tongue slid against his and Alexos whimpered into his mouth: Sutton’s laugh was rich and resonant, and Alexos wriggled at the way it vibrated through his mouth, made his lips tingle.

Sutton traced the tip of his tongue over Alexos’ lower lip, leaving a lighting trail of sensitivity in its wake, and then he mouthed over the side of Alexos’ jaw, down the side of his neck. He nipped and nibbled, catching his skin and tugging at it, and Alexos gasped, grabbed at him.

“Is this what Achilles did to Patroclus, do you think? When he bandaged his arm, as I’ve bandaged yours tonight, do you think he crossed his body with kisses as I plan to yours?”

“It’s hotly debated,” said Alexos breathlessly, moaning as Sutton kissed sloppily down the line of his sternum, making him arch his back no matter how it made his neck ache slightly. He couldn’t easily move his arm out of the way, but Sutton was careful not to jostle or jar it.

The thought almost made him want to sob. His cock was aching, blood flushing down between his legs and throbbing there, but as much as he strained, his cock wasn’t quite ready to work itself up to an erection again yet.

What might it have been like, meeting Sutton at nineteen, at twenty?

“Why should it be debated?” asked Sutton.

“Oh, well, some scholars think it was— it was Patroclus who took the, ah, the dominant role, so to speak. Most of the Athenians assumed it had to be a, ah, fuck, fuck, a pederastic relationship, but then they’d bicker over who was the erastes and eromenos, I can, can show you the different arguments, but you’ll have to make do with my translation, publishers hate to make the important parts readable in Eng— ah!”

Sutton had swiped his tongue over Alexos’ nipple and then sucked at it with his mouth, tugged on it with his teeth. It was an electrifying sensation, sent thrills through the whole of Alexos’ body that almost made him dizzy, but then, Sutton pulled back and put his lips into a little O, blowing cool air over it and making it stiffen like a fucking meringue, and crumbling Alexos’ ability to speak intelligently rather like a meringue as well.

He was meringue all over, which was excellent, as Sutton seemed keen to devour him.

“I can’t get, I can’t get hard again, you know, not for— for a while—”

“I’ve got a while,” said Sutton, and commenced on mouthing at the other nipple, making Alexos choke on air.

“Oughtn’t I… Oughtn’t I be, be reciprocating?”

“Mmm, no, I’m having a marvellous time like this,” said Sutton, taking the other nipple between his teeth and tugging hard, and Alexos went cross-eyed, heaving in a pained gasp.

“Is this ecstasy?”

“Not yet,” said Sutton confidently, and patted his chest. “But we’ll get you there.”

Helpless to do anything else, Alexos submitted himself to Sutton’s attentions, and it was some time before he slept.

* * *

Alexos slept that night all the way through, but that was no great surprise – Harry fetched him some codeine before he quite managed to fall asleep on top of wringing another orgasm out of him. It turned out that for periods of being bed-ridden, Alexos had a few standing trays for working and eating from his bed, including a broad tray desk.

Harry brought in his working materials from the library, too, the books he’d been reading and the notes and papers he’d been drafting of recent, but the codeine made it difficult to concentrate on his work.

By the early afternoon, Alexos was picking at a sandwich, not really eating it properly, and sitting back against the headboard and the stacked pillows there.

He had expected Alexos to be scandalised by the tattoos on his arms, had expected him to act upset or nervous about them, to think that to see tattoos on a man meant he was even more dangerous, but instead, instead… He had been enraptured. He had been almost worshipful as he’d pushed up Harry’s sleeves to better see the ink embedded in the skin, his fingers impossibly gentle as he’d traced each and every design.

He'd do that for the whole of Harry’s body, Harry had no doubt, with that same near-religious focus. He had seen men delighted by his tattoos before, even impressed by them, but never had he known another man to be so entirely awed.

Would he respond that way when he saw the rest of the tattoos on Harry’s body, on his chest, his back, the tattoos at the base of his crotch? Would he respond with the same sense of mystified wonder when he saw the bars pierced through Harry’s nipples, the two more at the head of his cock, the third at his cock’s base?

Men were often surprised by the sensation of the piercings, the weight and texture of the barbels where they pulled past the tight ring of their arses, moaned and came apart beneath him. Would Alexos be like that? Would Alexos beg for more, be utterly ruined by the foreign touch of metal and skin at once – better than that, would he respond as he had thus far to Harry’s tattoos, and grab and tug at Harry’s cock to examine it as though it were the finest and rarest art he’d ever laid eyes on?

The thought held a certain erotic quality.

Most thoughts did, where Alexos was concerned, the more Harry dwelled on them.

“Your uncle used to sit with me when I was sick with polio,” said Alexos.

“He was sick with it as a boy,” said Harry. He was tidying Alexos’ bedroom, picking up books, dusting behind and under them, and then setting them back into place. “He had an immunity, after – he looked after my youngest brothers when they were ill with it, too.”

“He put his desk in my sickroom,” said Alexos. “I was really quite pathetic – cried when I was left alone, and I really did prefer him to the poor nanny. He took such good care of me.”

“Do I remind you of my uncle?”

“Not particularly,” said Alexos. When drunk, he became rather less restrained, and more lugubrious, more openly chatty – he tended to speak more at length about his favourite subjects, to share a great deal of information or enthuse, or rant. It was all quite charming to observe and to listen to, and Harry enjoyed it.

He had yet to observe Alexos’ general responses to the morphine, although Brydon had said he only took it when pain was proving near impossible to manage, and that his sour mood was only ever soured further by the morphine’s heavy effects, that he tended to take his morphine and then retire immediately to bed for some days.

On the codeine, he was not of a very poor mood, and somewhat less talkative than his usual, but he was blunt, and quite direct. He was having difficulty concentrating, and it made him quick to get to the point.

“You’re quite a lot fatter than Reginald,” said Alexos. “More attractive, of course, and I’d never given it a great deal of thought, but I would wager your cock is a good deal bigger than his – not to mention, Reginald has only ever treated me with a paternal affection that I have returned in kind. I’ve not gathered that your intentions toward me are paternal.”

“By no means,” agreed Harry. “Although there’s many the young man who’s treated me as a stand-in for his father as I fuck him mindless.”

“Really?” asked Alexos, raising his eyebrows, and looking quite bemused. The dilation of his pupils made his eyes look very dark. “What a curious thought. A treatment for men with fathers rather unlike mine, I suppose.”

“You’re not wrong,” said Harry idly.

“Have you ever been on codeine, Henry?”

“No.”

“Do you prefer Harry or Henry?”

“Harry.”

“Harry. Drowsiness is amongst the effects – difficulty concentrating. I don’t normally take enough to feel nauseous, but the morphine does that to me something awful.

“Constipation?”

You,” said Alexos, pointing an accusing finger, “just want to give me an enema.”

Harry’s lips twitched. “Would you like an enema, sir?”

“Don’t call me sir unless you’re flirting, Harry.”

“Flirting or threatening?”

“Either. Both.”

“An enema can’t be either or both?”

“I don’t need an enema,” said Alexos. “No constipation on the codeine – when I’m on morphine, I might need the enema then, but I won’t be in any position to enjoy it.”

“Noted. Before you ask, I’ve not experienced morphine, either.”

“Good God, man,” said Alexos. “Have you experienced fucking anything?”

Harry started laughing, unable not to. “A few things, here and there – I gather there’s not a great overlap between our spheres of experience.”

“Oh, don’t flatter me,” muttered Alexos, and Harry watched the way his handsome head tipped back against the pillows. “Most of my experience amounts to staring at various walls and ceilings, getting angry with men a few thousand years dead, and wanking miserably.”

“I’ve wanked miserably,” said Harry.

“Not as miserably as me,” said Alexos. “Not that it’s a competition, Harry, but it is, and as it is, it’s one of the few competitions I’m a winner of. Won’t you come and embrace me?”

“Alright,” said Harry, and when he sat on the bed, Alexos laughed giddily, flushed pink, looked down at the mattress.

“I’m only being obnoxious,” he said softly. “For my sake, you really needn’t…”

Henry brushed their lips against one another, not deepening the kiss, and Alexos said softly, “A most uncommon betrothal, this is.”

“You’re due your next dose in a little while,” murmured Henry. “Would you like me to read to you for a while first?”

“That would be wonderful,” said Alexos breathlessly. “Will you stay with me, when I fall asleep?”

“Do you sleepwalk on the codeine? Can you, I mean?”

“Mmm,” said Alexos. “Not usually on the morphine, but on the codeine, I can. Harry?”

“Alexos.”

“I really won’t be this… this easy,” said Alexos softly. “Once I’m under no outside influences. Does that not trouble you? I can hardly promise I’ll become a man with no chemical dependencies a week from now – I have far too many agonies to promise you that. I’ll always be… inconsistent. Drunk, drugged, bitter, manic. I’m a man of unexpected extremes – I’m quite unlikable.”

“I’ve sat for some dozens of hours while needles have pierced my skin,” Harry pointed out softly, “and yet all of them are hidden in the course of my day. Do you really think yourself the only man of extremes between us?”

“Yours are charming. Mine are… undesirable.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Harry, and moved to sit beside him in the bed, taking up a book. Alexos was almost nervous to insinuate himself against Harry’s side, didn’t lean fully into him, but he did do so slightly, and Harry smiled at the shy, careful way he leaned in as Harry began to read.

“You must be mad,” Alexos mumbled drowsily when he took his next dose.

“Yes,” Harry agreed. “But no more than you.”

“Oh, much less than me,” said Alexos, waving his hand idly. “But mad, nonetheless.”

“As you say, sir,” said Harry, and smiled slightly as he came away.

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