Alexos didn’t know for how long he stood in his place, his feet frozen to the floor, his cane loosely clasped in his left hand. His right hand still ached, was still sore and hard to unclench from the natural fist it had been forced into, and he was trying to focus on it, focus on the pain, the discomfort, the tension.
It was hard to do that, when his left hand felt so loose and relaxed, and when he was disgustedly aware of the wetness under the surface of his trousers, his cock soft and slick with it. He’d been sweating in his clothes all day, but not like this, not—
Sutton had smiled at him.
Not smirked at him. There had been nothing snarky, smug, or superior in the curve of his lips – it had been a gentle bow of their shape, his eyes soft, and when his lips had brushed over the backs of Alexos’ well-massaged knuckles, they’d been so warm, and softer than he could have imagined.
Alexos slowly inhaled, carefully filling his lungs.
When he stepped into his bedroom, he could hear the water running next door, and he unbuttoned his waistcoat, his shirt, hesitated in the fastenings of his trousers. Where did he go from here?
He didn’t have to wonder, in the end, had no time to think. Sutton stepped in from the bathroom and reached for him as though this were quite ordinary, pushing his shirt and vest from his shoulders before he dropped into a crouch at Alexos’ feet. Alexos’ head experienced such a sudden flush of blood that he actually felt light-headed, although he preferred that the blood should rush upward than downward.
He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. All he could do was step out of his shoes and socks when Sutton removed them, and although he gulped on nothing more than air and phlegm, he stepped out of his trousers and took off his under things, too.
Sutton’s gaze lingered on parts of Alexos’ body – the scarring from his leg braces worn too tight, minor at his ankles, more significant around his waist and his knees; another few scars at the back and sides of his neck; the way his right knee twisted slightly inward, the joint off-centre, the muscle of the thigh subtly lighter than that on his other leg; the light hair that dusted his belly, his chest.
Alexos’ cock was soft, stained with its own slick, but at Sutton’s gaze on his naked body, it stirred to attention.
His grip was so tight on his cane that he thought it might crumble in his palm.
Sutton met his gaze. There was no smile, nor a smirk, on his plump lips. His expression was neutral, betrayed no emotion at all except perhaps for expectation, and it occurred to Alexos that in all his life, he had never been naked in front of another man as he was naked in front of Sutton now – had Sutton been naked in front of men? Many of them?
Had he fucked them, been fucked? He’d named half a dozen ways to fuck Alexos, easily, off the top of his head, each time with the tone of one who knew precisely how to action that position, who had actioned it a hundred times before, for whom sex with men was not merely a salacious fantasy, a dark secret, but was—
Alexos swallowed to keep from licking his lips as Sutton moved to fold his clothes, setting his soiled underclothes and his trousers by the basin to scrub out – Alexos’ cheeks and the back of his neck burned hot with embarrassment, and he dropped his cane aside, limping into the bathroom where he could hide himself in the heavy mists made by the steam.
He said nothing as Sutton came back into the room, turning off the taps, and Alexos watched as he drew his fingers through the water, making the salts swirl in the mixture.
A part of Alexos almost dreamed, almost hoped, that Sutton would reach for him, that he would bend Alexos over the edge of the bath or shove him back onto the floor, fuck him against his will. Would Alexos be forgiven, if he came with Sutton’s cock piercing him open, so long as he protested in the process?
“Do you require assistance, sir, climbing in?” asked Sutton softly. He could speak in such a warm and gentle voice, so rich as it was, and Alexos wanted to drink it like wine. “I might steady your arm.”
“No,” said Alexos, and braced his hands on the edge of the bath to get in.
He couldn’t help the pained – and relieved – groan that escaped him as he sank into the hot water, falling in a little more clumsily than he intended and sending some of the water splashing against his chest, although he was lucky not to jar either of his legs in the process.
The water was hot, and the temperature was a soothing but stinging balm. It bit at his skin and sank into his flesh, and he felt the ache in his muscles deepen and then let off somewhat. When he lowered his hands into the water, his left hand felt as though it were almost ready to become just as liquid; his right hand was soothed, although his fingers remained stiff. He sank a little lower, feeling the water lap around his neck, and the momentary relief it offered the cricked and tired muscle there made him close his eyes and sigh.
“When I took my first leave from the war,” said Sutton, holding out soap and a flannel, that Alexos would take them, “I had been abroad eleven months. In all that time I had not truly experienced a hot bath – the closest I had come was lukewarm water left over from some dented, boiled kettle, and that only very rarely. This was not to say I or most of us were ever truly dry, for when it rained the rain stayed and settled, and even rotating between the trenches on the frontlines and further back, to the reserves or any of the support lines, even if for a moment I felt dry, I never felt clean, and I knew it would never be for long. When I came home my family hugged and kissed me, and dispatched me immediately to the bath waiting for me. I sank into it as best I could – being a large man, Mr Fox, I’m sure you understand I rarely sink into a bath as easily as others might – and felt the water on my every side. I felt it on the raw and blistered flesh of feet, where the skin peeled in places from my soles and between my toes, where I was always battling one infection or other, felt it kiss and bite at my grazes and small wounds, all my bruises, all my tired aches. For some few minutes I sank as deeply into that water as I could, like a newt or a frog with only his eyes peeking out, though for me it was my knees and my head. I wept with relief – cried until my eyes were dry, before I started scrubbing myself clean. I felt purified by it, and when I finally climbed out of the water, stained red and brown with the muck I’d carried with me, I felt born anew.”
Alexos, still holding the flannel and soap in his hands, stared at the way his own knees almost peeked out from the water, before he slowly began to scrub at his arms. He scrubbed his left side first, the bits he couldn’t well reach with his dominant hand, although it hurt even to hold the flannel, different as it was to the brushes he’d been cleaning with.
“You have a great many wounds from the war?” he heard himself ask, his voice a little more than a whisper. Sutton was making himself busy, folding things about the room, setting his pyjamas close at hand – Alexos had seen he’d put his towels to hang over the hot water pipe, that they would be warm.
“Nothing terribly extreme,” said Sutton. “A cut across my side, here, from a German bayonet, and above my elbow, here,” he gestured to the bottom half of his left forearm, “a bullet glanced off me. Not enough to really pierce me through, but enough to create a mess and a scar. I’m dappled all over with little wounds from shrapnel or grazes and what have you, but nothing that you’d think of as a war wound to look at them, I’m sure. Most of my lasting injuries, Mr Fox, were mental more than physical – I’m sure the same might be said of us all. Even men missing limbs, I’ve heard state that to be the case.”
“You were a medic.”
“You volunteered? To be a medic?”
“I did, sir.”
“I ask again, then: why?”
If Sutton was deterred by the way that Alexos was looking at him, keeping his gaze on Sutton and only Sutton as he filled the sink basin with water, he made no display of it, did not seem willing to admit to discomfort. He glanced back, meeting Alexos’ eyes, and simply answered.
“I already knew how to set a broken bone, how to dress and bandage a wound, how to break a fever. It was my belief that I might be of more use, training in nursing and basic field medicine before I enlisted, and I believe this was so.”
“But you were still on the frontlines?”
“Of course,” said Sutton. “What place on earth would be better to dress an open wound than a trench, drenched in mud and smelling the ghost of mustard gas, your hands stained with the blood and gore of three comrades just disassembled by a grenade blast, gunfire over your head, more explosions sounding in the distance?” Alexos felt slightly sick at the cool, distant tone that Sutton used, but when Sutton saw his face, he gave him a small smile. “Some men do assume that I approached field medicine in an attempt to shirk my duty, and flee any scene of active battle. I did not mean to imply you were one of them, Mr Fox.”
“I didn’t feel that you did,” said Alexos, and washed the flannel between his thighs, ran it over his cock, his belly, until he felt clean – until he stained the water with filth, no matter that he couldn’t see it. There was something about the idea of Sutton with a rifle in his hands, a bayonet ready, holding a pistol, holding a gun, that made parts of him clench and twist and coil. Sutton, rippling as he did with muscle, was a strong man, and there was something mouth-wateringly enticing at the idea only of the strength in his hands, but the idea of his holding a blade, a firearm, some other weapon? Alexos focused on the rough scrub of the flannel gripped in his hand. “People think I’m a veteran at times, assume it must be so, when they meet me. Ask me what regiment I was in, or make some reference to my service.”
He didn’t know why he was speaking so casually, why he was letting Sutton talk about the war – certainly didn’t understand why Sutton was talking about the war in the first place, but it meant they weren’t talking about sex, or Alexos’ cock, or the fact that Sutton had brought him off just by massaging his hand.
Sutton had said he’d do the other one.
“That bothers you?”
“Of course,” said Alexos. “They imagine they’re speaking to a hero, a gentleman who served in the heat of battle, was wounded by some German weapon. It disappoints them to learn I’m merely an invalid scholar – assuming I am allotted the opportunity to correct them, that the conversation does not move on too quickly, before I can.”
“Do you wish you had?” asked Sutton.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do you wish you had served?” asked Sutton a second time, and Alexos stared after him as he dipped into the bedroom, retrieving Alexos’ trousers and setting them into the sink. “Do you wish you had had the opportunity – would you trade your polio and your somnambulism, if it meant you would have had to go to war?”
“No,” said Alexos, without hesitation. He liked the way his answer seemed to give Sutton pause, the way Sutton’s brow furrowed just slightly, the way that Sutton gave him a sideways look that showed his surprise.
“No?” Sutton repeated.
“I am not disparaging your service, Sutton,” said Alexos. “Merely that I see no honour in war, and do not believe I would have felt proud to be a soldier. To be reduced to a pawn on Britain’s chessboard, and just as easily sacrificed.”
The rage that flashed in Sutton’s eyes made Alexos’ cock give a dangerous stir, and he set his jaw, setting himself to scrubbing at his shoulders with greater focus.
“I suppose it is quite easy, Mr Fox,” said Sutton coolly, “to make your measures of honour and sacrifice, when you were never made to serve on those battlefields yourself.”
“I expect that’s the case, Mr Sutton,” replied Alexos. “Mr Asquith and Mr Lloyd George were quite adept at doing so, in any case.”
“You aren’t a Liberal, I take it?”
“I’m not anything, Mr Sutton,” said Alexos. “Not a soldier, not a Liberal, not a Conservative. I give nothing in service to this country, and nor do I betray it. I’m not so much as a feather on any side of the scale.”
“Does that satisfy you?” was the response to that, a sort of bite to Sutton’s voice, and Alexos shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know, Mr Sutton. Do you think that it ought?”
“I think I might offer you a different kind of satisfaction,” said Sutton.
“Masterfully played,” muttered Alexos, and jumped when Sutton came to kneel at the side of his bath. Alexos’ mouth was dry, but he did not protest, did not pull away, as Sutton took his right hand from the water and held it in his own. “Did you do this at the Bisphams?”
“Massage the young master’s hand?”
“Are you seduced, sir?” asked Sutton softly.
Alexos held his tongue, and then moaned as Sutton slid his thumbs hard against his four fingers, gently forcing them to straighten out. His bathwater sloshed about him as he stiffened, knees drawing up, his other elbow pressing against the bath’s edge. His eyes closed tightly because he couldn’t bear to look at Sutton as he worked over his hand again, rubbing hard and pressing at every line of muscle and flesh just as he had on the other side, and mercifully, his cock was too recently spent to work itself fully to arousal again – it was half-hard in the water, felt sublime, but got no further.
“Do you like women, Mr Fox?” asked Sutton softly as his thumb slid over the heel of Alexos’ palm, and Alexos whimpered, the sound breathless and airy to his own ears. “Are you a bachelor because you could not stand to marry?”
Alexos squeezed his eyes more tightly shut, gasping, and Sutton kept working and how, how, could he be so merciless, so unwavering, so constant? Was this the way that Sutton fucked? Even after Alexos had come, would he keep fucking him, use him as though he were but a toy, until he sobbed?
It hurt. It hurt, felt tight, felt pressured and hard and painful, and then it felt like his own muscle and flesh were being turned to heated, fluid wonder, felt like bread kneaded into softness and warm from the baker’s own hand, and the relief was unbearable and like nothing he had ever known before. He was trying not to moan too loudly, trying not to cry out loudly enough that it should be heard in the corridor or in any of the other rooms, and Sutton kept going—
Until he stopped.
Alexos heaved in a gasp, feeling the tears that had been squeezed out once again onto his cheeks, and went limp in the water, shuddering, shaking. His cock was aching because it wanted to be hard, his balls drawn up tight in the water, and he couldn’t quite reach a real erection, not just yet. He felt raw and ripped open, like all of his flesh had been peeled back to reveal what was underneath.
“I could do that,” said Sutton in a slow, quiet voice that promised of things to come, “to every muscle in your body. Piece by piece, Mr Fox, I could work the tension out of your every line and fibre of flesh until you feel that relief, that sense of sudden jelly-like painlessness, almost all over.”
“Almost all over?” repeated Alexos, opening his eyes, and Sutton smiled at him with heavily lidded eyes.
“I can massage your muscles, sir, but not your bones and your scars – I have no doubt that I might palpate the painful flesh at your knees, your thighs, might relieve some pain, but there is a limit to what I might do. If my hands could cure polio, I would remain a medic today – and a popular one, I have no doubt.”
Alexos laughed, and felt another tear on his cheek, to his surprise: he wiped it away quite hard.
“Do you dislike women?” asked Sutton quietly. “Do you find you lack attraction to them, as you find you have to men?”
“It used to be,” said Alexos, “that at a function or party, women would see my cane and my retiring nature, and look past me to someone else. I’m not particularly handsome, after all – my features are exaggerated, I am thin and gangling, even before they notice my cane and signs of pain. But now, there are fewer men to choose from – and of those left of marriageable age, rather a few have worse scars and worse disabling injuries than I do. I might still be presentable, after all, if I might be subtly supported in a photograph, my cane hidden.”
Sutton considered this, looking thoughtful, his lips shifted pressed together and his expression focused, concentrated. It was a professional look, really quite appropriate and quite desirable in one’s butler – stern and solid, with an unshakable air to it. Alexos wondered if this was the sort of expression Sutton wore when fucking men, pinning them beneath him, and he swallowed around the thickness in his throat.
“What is it you fear?” asked Sutton.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Alexos in immediate reply, and Sutton leaned slightly back upon his heels, his wrists resting upon the edge of the bath. He hadn’t rolled up his sleeves to touch Alexos’ hand, and a few droplets of moisture were dampening the white cuffs of his shirt beneath his jacket, and the skin of his hands shone with the wetness where it hadn’t been entirely dried off, too. Alexos was struck, very quickly, with the wonder of what Sutton’s fingers would taste like, if he had them in his mouth, and he swallowed hard to keep from coughing or letting out a noise, the water shifting as he pressed his knees together.
“You fear your desire of men, or fear that they should desire you,” said Sutton. “What is it that scares you? You say you aren’t particularly handsome – is that it? That you think yourself unattractive, undesirable, because of the proportions of your eyes, your nose, your mouth, because of the scars on your body, because of the weakness in your legs?”
Alexos stared at him, struck dumb.
“Do you fear arrest, reprisal? To be discovered for what you are, and condemned to public humiliation, if not hard labour? Do you fear the intensity of your desires, that they should consume you, were you only to indulge them? Or, perhaps…” Sutton’s strong, meaty fingers curled around the edge of the bath, and Alexos stared at their shift and bend, at each of the knuckles, at the thickness of Sutton’s thumb, the muscles that twitched in his hands. “Is it other men that you fear, Mr Fox?” he asked in a quieter voice, a dangerous note to its tenor that made Alexos want to squirm. “Do you fear the strength of other men, and the strength of their desire? Do you fear, perhaps, how easily a man such as me could unman you, if it struck me to do so? How I might throw your cane aside and pin you as it pleases me, move and position you like a ragdoll and bounce you upon the thickness of my cock? Do you secretly desire, Mr Fox, to be impaled and fucked by a man who ignores your cries of pain and powerlessness, until you are made quite mad by the pleasure and the pain alike?”
Alexos barely felt able to breathe, and after a few moments of silence ticked by, Sutton looked demonstrably down to his cock in the water, his erection finally stirring back to life in the face of such painfully arousing threats.
“Mm,” hummed Sutton, and stood to his feet.
Alexos closed his eyes, thinking Sutton would draw away, but instead Sutton’s hands landed on his naked shoulders, his palms resting heavily on the naked part of Alexos’ upper back, and before Alexos could say a word, he squeezed.
Alexos’ whine was muted by the grit of his teeth, his hands striking out to grip on the edges of the bath and squeeze as Sutton’s strong thumbs traced lines down either side of his spine, as his fingers pressed into the muscle at the base of his neck. He felt Sutton’s fingers slide smoothly over the textured scar tissue at the base of his neck and the centre of his upper shoulders, felt the way he traced it. It was experimental, the way that Sutton moved his thumbs and his fingers, testing how thickly the scar tissue was laid, how deeply it went, and Alexos couldn’t help but be aware, even as Sutton took hold of every tangled knot under his flesh and untangled it with agonising ease, that Sutton was doing this wherever he moved his hands.
He sensed, he traced and explored and searched, beneath Alexos’ flesh and muscle to find where it was weak, to find where it was strong, to find where it was scarred and where it was healthy, and Alexos could feel the pressure change on his second and third passes over his shoulders, feel Sutton’s movements change.
He mapped Alexos’ body, not only based on its shape from the outside, but how it worked underneath. Sutton’s hands pressed and pushed and massaged, and found where Alexos’ bones were, how his muscles and fat and flesh were laid, all the better to work him over.
Alexos had to force his own thumb into his mouth, against his gritted teeth, to muffle the whines and moans he was letting out without actually biting down on his hand, and he felt it was merciful that Sutton didn’t speak as he kneaded his shoulders into the same perfect, painless wonder.
His hips twitched, jumping forward in the water against his will, the water sloshing about when he couldn’t control himself and moved too violently, some of it spattering over the side, no doubt dampening Sutton, too.
He couldn’t tell, exactly, this time, when it was that he came – there was a sudden release of pressure, but he felt as though that release happened twice or three times in the same few minutes, because Sutton’s hands kept working, so much that Alexos felt a few pops and movements in his back as pieces out of alignment were put into their rightful place, and it hurt, and it was sublime.
When Sutton finally finished, Alexos was limp, and Sutton curled his fingers in Alexos’ hair, lowering him back against the bath’s back.
“You’re not frightened of anything,” said Alexos softly, as Sutton’s fingers massaged his scalp, not pressing very deeply or very hard, but just running patterns over the flesh, under his hair.
“Do you think so?” asked Sutton.
“I must assume that to be the case,” said Alexos. “Either you fear nothing, or there is something in me so desirable you would weight it against any sensible fear – fear of arrest, of lost employment, of humiliation, of reprisal. That stretches the bounds of my imagination.”
“Don’t you find me desirable?” Alexos opened his eyes, but couldn’t turn his head to look at Sutton, to make out the expression on his face. “Is it so unthinkable, that a man should desire another?”
“It’s not unthinkable in the least that someone should desire you,” said Alexos. “But if you haven’t noticed, Sutton, you and I are made up of very different facets.”
“I should like to combine our facets,” said Sutton, curling his hand casually around the shape of Alexos’ throat, making him shudder, although he applied no pressure, didn’t even tease at choking. “Or at least, insert one of my facets into one of yours.”
Alexos didn’t mean to laugh. It tumbled out of his lips before he could even think about it.
“Let me get a jug,” said Sutton, withdrawing his hands. “I’ll wash your hair.”
That night, Alexos laid in the middle of his bed, his shoulders so loose and relax it almost didn’t feel believable, didn’t feel in line with reality, let alone the rest of his body – the light tension in the upper part of his neck, the tension and pain through his lower back, his waist, his legs, his arms, until it came again to the looseness in his hands.
He couldn’t decide whether he wanted Sutton to fuck him or massage his every inch – given a choice between one and the other, he didn’t know that he would ever be able to decide.
His sleep that night, mercifully, was quite dreamless, and yet when he woke, Sutton’s hands were what came first and foremost to his mind. He laid in bed, lax and impossibly rested, and thought of them for quite some time before he made to rise.