In 1607

We sail the open sea

For Glory

God

And Gold

And the

Virgina Company


Chapter One

Captain John Smith looked into the clear blue skies overhead and smiled. He held the wheel with his elbows as he rolled up his sleeves, warm even in the chilled January air. It felt good to be out on the open sea again. The salty, heady smell of the air, the blazing wild sun, the sense of adventure- What man with blood in his veins and a heartbeat in his chest could help being invigorated by such things?

As John reveled in the lonely freedom of sailing the ocean, one of the young settlers stumbled past him woozily. The youth leaned over the railing, looking as if he might be sick. A moment later, he was. John shook his head in pitying disgust at the sight. Alas, this was no battle ship, and many of these men were not sailors. To their credit, most of them were holding up now, after a month at sea. There was always the one lad, though, in every gang of new sailors: that one youth closer to boyhood than manhood, and not robust in either regard. On a battleship, those lads usually were the first to fall. John's mouth set into a grim line. Perhaps it was a good thing not to be sailing anything more dangerous than a settlement expedition, after all. He had seen far too much death, knew he would see more, but death at sea was somehow the more pitifully forlorn.

The young man slumped onto the deck after vomiting, looking nearly dead himself. He wondered how the rest of the men came by their vigor so easily? The sun was too bright, the air too cold, and the atmosphere was suffocatingly heavy with the sickening odor of the sea. Who could honestly endure this with no complaint whatsoever? Yet the rest of the men did, going about their duties with a bizarrely natural grace, or in the very least capable aptitude. Some even seemed to enjoy sailing! What sort of man could possibly, possibly enjoy this watery hell?

The young man glanced over at the captain, and sighed. He can, he thought wistfully. Captain John Smith: soldier, hero, adventurer, explorer. He doesn't see the world, he lives it. Look at him, he's right at home! It must be wonderful to be a man like that.

From the corners of his blue eyes, John caught the youth's admiring gaze, and he knew what the man must be thinking. Though he was glad to be appreciated, he knew too much admiration was a dangerous thing. It could lead a weak man to stop thinking for himself and become a doting follower, or despair a weaker man into a self-hating misery. It could also lead a strong man into violent jealousy, and hence cause an unnecessary competition to take place during crucial moments. Smith was a natural born leader, but he liked to have a sense of camaraderie with his mates. Being served by men that did not mind so much serving you was crucial when a crisis arose.

Smith marked the lad as a potential problem, but for the moment, gave him what he needed: a firm command to stir him from idleness and make him forget his sea-sickness. "On your feet, lad!" he called. "The journey is long, but not long enough to allow for lallygagging about the ship."

The youth was startled by the scolding, regardless of its mildness. He jumped to his feet, almost falling over the railing due to his lack of balance, and straightened the lopsided green cap atop his head. "Y-y-yes sir!" he shouted back, stumbling back to work.

Smith turned his eyes to the sky again, annoyed by the lad's overzealous obedience. That one was not very strong, and far too young; he looked little more than a child. Children were still used to having a parent to guide them, teach then, protect them. Those were fatal flaws that the heart of wilderness would not forgive. Even grown men were turned helpless and afraid when alienated from their normal world, it was no place whatever for a child.

John glanced over at the crew, spotted the youth giving him nervous glances. He wanted approval. John forced his gaze away. Men were picked out for their errors, never for their good work; that way, doing your job well would be taken for granted.

Such were the thoughts of the Captain. Personally, John felt sympathy towards the awkward youth, and found his admiration somewhat flattering. He seemed a nice boy, and now he was working diligently enough. It was a shame Smith would have to be so hard on him, but that was the way of things out here. Only the real men survived in the wild, and it was Smith's duty as a captain to make a man out of even that poor, fretful boy.


The task proved to be a larger one than John had initially suspected. The redheaded lad, 'Thomas' was his name, still wobbled on his fledgling sea legs, and he was constantly seasick. His blatant hero worship of Smith was becoming embarrassing, and he was also beginning to rely heavily on the older, more seaworthy of the settlers. He followed the men around like an anxious puppy, uncomfortably eager to please. He was also damnably clumsy.

Unfortunately, John was not the only one to take notice of the lad's glaring faults. The haughty Governor Ratcliffe nearly lost his lap dog when Thomas tripped over rope coils and bumped into him. Though Thomas apologized profusely, both the dog and his master were livid. Ratcliffe asked why a mere child was on board, and upon hearing there were other young ones on board, he retorted that only children got underfoot, hence Thomas was the only child to his eyes.

"That boy is a disgrace," Ratcliffe told John Smith later when they were discussing the course over maps in Ratcliffe's quarters. "I know you like to be lenient with your men, Smith, but I insist that you do something about him."

"I completely agree."

Ratcliffe opened his mouth to argue, then shut it. "You . . . do?"

"Wholeheartedly," a pensive Smith replied. He was still pouring over the maps, but he was solely contemplating the blundering young Thomas. "I'm afraid he simply isn't taking to the reality of being at sea. A lad like that needs a strong dose of it, to take it in all at once. It will happen sooner or later, but it would be best if I were the one that dealt the blow."

"I do hope you mean that literally."

John stood, exhaling. He hated being in agreement with the sadistic Ratcliffe over that poor lad, but there was nothing else to be done. "I do."

John hoped that Thomas would miraculously get himself together, and he gave him several last, stern warnings to try and save him from his fate. It pained him to see how very seriously the boy took the scoldings, and how hurt he looked at each biting word. His chastened blush also infuriated John, belonging more in a schoolroom than on a ship.

Thomas' uncertainty began to turn into depression. No matter how hard he tried, he always ended up not only being useless, but a downright nuisance. He could do nothing right. The men were kind enough to him, but even they could not fully cover all his mistakes. It was hopeless, he began to think, absolutely hopeless. All his dreams of adventure had been juvenile fancies, and he was a fool to have let them lead him here. He did not belong out here. This was a brave new world, for brave new men, and he apparently was not one of them.

John delayed taking action against the lad for a while, but finally an incident occurred to force his hand. The weather was starting to turn, and the seas were cold and rough. A man fell overboard due to Thomas' shoddy work with the ropes and his getting in the way. Thankfully, the other settler was pulled back up and was fine, but it had been an unacceptable mistake. Bad enough that Thomas' ineptitude endangered himself, John could not allow it to endanger everyone on board.

"That does it!" Smith snapped in exasperation, handing the wheel to his second and coming down to the crew. "You-" He pointed Thomas out, pretending he did not already know his name. "-come with me."

Thomas had a sense of what that meant, and hung back. "N-now, sir?"

"Yes, now! Come!" John grabbed him roughly by the wrist and dragged him. "Perhaps the cat-o-nine can cure your chronic incompetence."

Terrified by the idea of facing punishment, Thomas pulled out of Smith's grip on instinct. The captain whipped around to glare at him, and he took several paces backwards.

"I-it was an accident," the youth said meekly. "I never meant to-to … I'm sorry."

The men all held their breath, watching the scene unfold. One did not excuse themselves out of punishment, even simpletons knew that. There was murder burning in the Captain's blue eyes. No one would ever have dared argue with him, and here was this child, trying to defy himself out of being disciplined!

"It was an accident, sir," the man that had fallen piped up. He glanced at Thomas with more sympathy than he would have for a man at the gallows. "And no harm done, sir. I'm as spry as ever, isn't that right, fellows?"

There were murmurs of agreement. John was surprised the lad had so many friends, and felt himself the villain. However, now that he had met resistance, it was more important than ever to hold firm.

"Accidents are beyond human control, this was not," Smith told them. "No harm was done, but it very easily could have been. Your orders are to carry out your jobs capably, and anything less is disobedience."

He addressed the man that had fallen. "Now, if you would not have minded dying for this man's disobedience, I would gladly refrain from punishing him. Can you say that you would not have minded?"

The man gave Thomas an apologetic look, then told Captain Smith, "No sir, I don't believe I can say that."

Thomas wished he had been the one to go overboard, and half-considered jumping off at the very moment. Captain Smith turned on him then, his eyes narrowed. He had been in a mood for the past weeks, and today looked rather rough with a day-old stubble and his lank blond hair tied up off his face.

"And as for you," he said harshly, taking the youth by the wrist again. "There are two kinds of people that refuse to own their actions and face their due: cowardly men and impudent children. Now, tell me, which are you to protest in such a manner?"

Thomas hung his head in shame, his face burning with embarrassment. "I-I think . . . a little bit of both, sir."

John was a surprised at such an honest answer, and hesitated for a moment. He had treated scores of men of all ages in much harsher fashions than this, but for some reason, it was much harder with this one. He was not only young, he was . . . vulnerable. Yes, that was it. He was so very vulnerable.

Nonetheless, John pulled him along. If he did not rid the lad of that endearing vulnerability, the dangerous journey ahead would destroy him through it. Better that he suffer a little now, rather than face certain death later.

Thomas was near tears by the time they reached the cannon hold below deck. Though he did not disgrace himself by protesting further, he would have done almost anything to get out of it. It is a childish reaction, he thought, angry at himself. I know I fully deserve it. I know I've let myself, and the Captain, down horribly. I should be thrown off the ship, and yet I can scarcely bring myself to take a whipping.

John refused to look at him as he fetched the 'cat from where he kept it amongst the weapons. Thomas mistook this for disgust, but in actuality, Smith was only trying to avoid guilt. Hurting this boy, the idea bothered him much more than it should have.

"Off with your shirt, lad," Smith ordered, still not looking at him, "and bend slightly over that cannon."

"Yes sir."

John turned to watch him, finally. Thomas was blushing fiercely, his cheeks nearly the color of his hair. His fingers were trembling as they reached down to untie his tunic's belt, so much so that he could not unfasten it. John clicked his tongue in annoyance, marching over to him and deftly unfastening the knot. Thomas murmured a "thank you, sir", and removed the shirt. He was lean from the voyage, but not unhealthily so, despite his nausea. His thin arms were beginning to blossom into sinewy, tough muscles. His back looked incredibly fragile, though, when he leaned over the cannon. John's hand tightened on the 'cat's handle. The idea of the tautly braided leather whipping into that pale, shaking flesh also gave him nausea.

Most men would be at their best sailing under a man like John Smith, the youth thought. He was trembling all over, and he felt like crying, which only made him angrier at himself. Most men would be proud. And all I have done is make mistake after mistake. I wanted to be strong and brave and proud, but I . . . I simply can't get my bearing. I hate being at sea! I hate it!

John drew a breath, lifted the 'cat, and then lowered it. God, it was cruel! The boy was shaking so hard that his teeth were chattering, and his constant whimpered apologies were thick with nearly shed tears. He would scream, John knew he would, and the anticipation of the sound undid him.

"How old are you, lad?"

"Sixteen, sir." Thomas lifted his head, glanced over his shoulder, one hand on his hat to keep it from falling off. "I can take it as a man, sir. Truly, I can, sir."

"No, Thomas, I don't believe that you can," John said dryly.

Thomas opened his mouth to protest, then shut it quickly. He bowed his head again, staying in the same position. His hat began to slide off, and he reached up to keep it in place. Smith, however, snapped, "For God's sake, take the damn thing off."

Thomas removed it, holding it in his hand. He drew a breath, bracing himself, and began to wring the hat in both hands. I've never been whipped, not like this, he fretted. His glimpse at the cat-o-nine had given him a pang of fear, and he felt panicky, trapped. He had seen public whippings before, and he knew the sound of the cracking lash tearing through skin and muscle with a snap. Oh God.

Smith wanted to say something to him, but he refrained. What to do? The lad had to be punished, after all, somehow. How would he manage a lesser punishment without looking a soft-hearted fool?

"If you're going to sniffle and shake like a baby, then I suppose you must be punished like one," John growled at the youth. He took him by the wrist and led him to the back of the room. He hunted through various drawers until he found it: a plain black leather strap. To his irritation, Thomas flinched even at this juvenile implement, but John had no more sympathy to spare for the boy. He sat down on a tall barrel, and then pulled the lad over his knees.

John unfastened Thomas' breeches and yanked them down. He was pleased that at least the youth's buttocks did not look nearly so fragile as his back. His bottom was neatly trim, but had some boyish roundness to it. The strap would mark that remarkably smooth white skin, but the bruises would heal- eventually.

John was startled by a surge of lust that flared through him just then. He shifted the lad to the outer edge of his lap, lest he feel his damnable erection. The boy was warm and deliciously alive, his skin flushed beneath John's hand, which had rested itself on the small of the his back. A month at sea, and though John had seen many men naked since departing, he had not seen a body he really desired. This one, though, this errant boy …

John knew there was no fighting it, and so he took a moment to appraise Thomas. He let his hand curl slightly, so his fingertips pressed into the lad's fair flesh. With his tunic removed and his breeches fallen to his ankles, he was essentially naked. John no longer wanted to punish him so much at all, at least not as a Captain. What he wanted to do was smack the rounded curve of his buttocks until both cheeks were the color of his hair, then throw him to the floor and split them apart with his cock until the boy was screaming. Now those would be acceptable screams.

John cleared his throat, murmured a "right, then" to himself, and took up the strap. The blood was throbbing in his cock, mindlessly inappropriate. He wondered if Thomas would refuse him, if he propositioned him. Would it be wrong, to use him when he was so vulnerable from a fresh punishment? Would it be wrong to use his hero worship to seduce him?

John cut his moral dilemma short by beginning the much-reduced whipping. He slapped the strap across the youth's buttocks forcefully. The crack of it was like a gunshot in the quiet hold, and he heard Thomas gasp. A neat red stripe crossed the width of his buttocks, shortly joined by a second. John was aching with need, and heedlessly took the frustration out on the lad. Well, he had earned it, and then some.

Thomas squirmed, though this only thrust his buttocks out farther, to his detriment when the next blow landed. There was no escaping it, he knew, but his body fought the assault regardless. Strips of fire lit his skin, burrowing deep into the muscle. He was dimly aware of deserving it, but a sense of unfairness washed over him like a wave. He was not built to sail! God had made him incapable of it, and in His infinite cynicism, had destined him for this journey. Couldn't John see that? Had the man no mercy? Sympathy and comfort were a balm, but pity, self-inflicted or that of others, was a dagger. Sorrow overwhelmed Thomas, and he began to cry hysterically.

"Oh come now, lad," Smith groaned. The yowling sobs were simultaneously amusing, gratifying, and completely disturbing. "Take it like a man."

"I-I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry, sir," Thomas sniffled miserably. He was gripping his hat so tightly his knuckles were white, but his hands were still shaking. "I-I only- Aaow! Owww!"

Smith struck him again, but then paused. Those screams were just terrible. His temper was rising, but he was angrier at himself than Thomas. Of all the ridiculous- he thought, confused. The lad deserves it, doesn't he? Why the hell am I feeling guilty for doing my job?

"Thomas!" John roared down at him, emphasizing the name with a hefty whack. "Be a man, damn you!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Captain," bawled the lad. He buried his face in his hands, and hat. "I was never very good with pain, sir. I'm sorry, sir!"

"Hmph. Never good with pain," Smith muttered, shaking his head. "And what? Your father simply never disciplined you?"

"I-I never gave him much reason to," Thomas said, wiping his eyes with a fist like a little boy. "D-don't mind me, please, sir."

"But I do mind, Thomas," John said through gritted teeth. His heart was racing, pounding, and his erection was blazing with pain and need. Through the whole confusion, he still felt guilty, damn it!

"I know I'm pathetic, sir," Thomas whispered. He sniffled, lifted himself up a little to glance over his shoulder. "I know it. I'm sorry I'm . . . ruining your crew, sir."

John started to tell him this wasn't so, but he stopped himself just in time. The lad was a blight on the expedition, there was no denying it. With more experienced sailors, he most likely would have been named a Jonah and thrown in the ocean to drown.

"I'll be quiet," Thomas said, flattening himself over John's lap. "I will. Please, finish it, sir."

Smith resumed the punishment tentatively. Thomas was quiet, but he broke down into restrained sobs after six more whacks. Though he was sobbing softly, his shoulders shook violently, and his distress was quite apparent.

"That won't do at all," John said heatedly. "For the love of God, get up. Get up, lad."

He took the boy by the arm and lifted him to his feet gently. He crossed his legs as best he could, hiding his erection. At the same time, he managed a glance downward. Young though he may be, Thomas was mature enough where it mattered, John noted wryly. Thomas sheepishly pulled his breeches back up, and thoughtlessly put his hat back on his head. With his hands free, he covered his face with them.

John stood and looked down at the boy, who was sniffling and sobbing before him. He looked fragile again- I suppose he is, he thought. Just a lad, not even finished growing. The poor wretch, he's just gotten himself into more than he expected.

"Now, now." John reached out and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Let's have a stiff upper lip, hm?"

Thomas shook his head, bowing his head in shame as he continued crying. "I can't. I can't, I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I simply- I'm not strong enough, Captain Smith. I never should have come out here! I don't belong out here! I want to go home! I-I won't make it. I know I won't. I never-"

Smith cut him off with a smart slap to the cheek. Thomas yelped, clutching his face in shock.

"Don't you ever say those things, Thomas," the captain told him sternly. "Listen to me." He took him by both shoulders now, leaned his face down to meet the youth's eyes. "The ones that say that are the ones that don't make it. The ones that die! Do you want to die, then?"

It took Thomas a moment to find his tongue, staring into those hard, strict blue eyes of Smith's. "N-no, sir."

"Then never say such words again, not even to yourself," John told him earnestly. "Men who say things like that make their fears come true. They die from the fear of it. You must never let your fear control you."

"That's easy for you to say," murmured Thomas, still sniffling. He rubbed his bottom, trying to ease the burn, but the rasp of the rough fabric of his breeches set the bruises alight with pain. He caught John's eye, and winced at his expression. "I only meant that-that you're fearless, sir."

"Fearless! No man is fearless, lad," John said gently. "We survive by hiding our fear, but never ignoring it. We admit it, own it, and move past it. No one is too weak to do that, no one." He cupped the side of the boy's face in the palm of one hand, rough fingers cooling the red handprint the slap had left. "Not even you, lad."

Thomas stared up at him, surprised by the sudden compassion. For the first time, he realized that John was trying to protect him. The whipping had not been done for cruelty's sake, but to keep him from dooming himself. He was amazed that this strong, renowned man would bother with kindness towards a hopeless child such as himself, and gratitude overwhelmed him.

"C-Captain Smith, I . . . "

John exhaled, gave the lad a weary smile. His hand was rested on his shoulder, and he tightened his grip a bit. He thought he saw some reflection of his own desires in Thomas' boyish round eyes. They were blue, John noticed, but so dark as to look brown. The navy shade of the early night sky, before it pitched into black.

Thomas felt the odd spark of desire between them, and it confounded him. His face wrinkled in bafflement. The two were standing close, he looking up at his Captain with adoration, and John looking down at him with a warmth that went beyond friendship. In the silent, intimate little moment, Thomas found himself swept up by a surge of romance. It frightened him, feeling this way for a man, contemplating such a grotesque sin. Would it be grotesque, though? No, nothing could be, not with John, not with a man like him …

"Better now?" John asked. He knew it was time to distance himself from the boy, before he resorted to using him shamelessly. He always kept some kind of company out at sea, but he did not want to seduce this poor lost soul. He did not think the poor lost soul would even comprehend the implications of such usage, or its workings.

"N-not really, sir," Thomas said, sniffling one last time. He finished drying his eyes, and rubbed his backside again. His skin tingled with shock of the pain, and he could feel the warmth of the beating even through his breeches. "Mmph. God, does it hurt."

"Well, you'll survive it," Smith chuckled, giving the youth a pat on the back that nearly toppled him. "I'll give you a few moments to gather yourself."

"Yes sir."

"Then right back to work, understand?"

"Yes sir."

"Good lad."

John turned and headed for the stairs. Thomas took a step after him, then stopped. "Captain?"

"Yes?"

He had barely turned back around when the boy rushed into his arms. Their lips met in a desperate, inexperienced kiss. John's eyes widened in shock. I never would have thought the lad capable of such boldness! So, there is some bravery in him after all, reckless as it may be.

Thomas kissed the man, long and deeply. It was the first time since boarding the ship that he felt happy, safe, and wanted. The captain's arms wrapped around him, strong and comforting. His hands ran down his naked back, making him shiver, and then cupped his bottom. Thomas whimpered slightly at the resultant pain, and it brought him back to himself.

"Mmmm-oh. Ohhh, what-I-" he stammered, breaking out of the kiss. "My God!" he gasped, his face flushed bright red, the taste of John still moist on his thin lips. "My God, I-I'm so-"

"Shhh. No more apologizing," laughed John, shushing him by putting a finger to the youth's thin lips. He put some strictness into his voice for fun as he told the poor boy, "I think you've gone far past the point of that."

Thomas cringed, shrinking back in the man's arms. "Y-yes sir. I don't know what- I'm- I don't know what's the matter with me, sir!"

"I think I do." John knelt to pick up the youth's hat, which had flown off when he raced into the kiss. He dusted it off on his knee, placed it atop the boy's head. "You're young, scared, and lonely. Nothing unnatural about that."

"But-but-I . . . I . . . I kissed you." Thomas straightened his hat before it fell in his eyes. "I kissed you."

John could not stop a smile from tugging his lips. "Yes, you did indeed."

Thomas puzzled over it, licking his lips nervously. "I . . . don't understand," he said, hugging himself. "Men can't- I mean, we, I- What is the matter with me, sir?"

"Nothing, Thomas, nothing." John smoothed some of the lad's red hair off his face, tucking it beneath the cap. "It happens, lad. Out here, it doesn't count. Do you understand me?"

"I think so, but- is it wrong?" Thomas looked up at him, and smiled a little shyly. "It felt . . . It felt good. It felt right."

John tipped his face up by the chin. "Did it now?"

Thomas nodded. He hesitated, then leaned up to press his lips to John's. This caused the captain to burst into laughter. "That is quite a timid kiss after the first one."

Thomas blushed. John put an arm around his waist and pulled him close. There was no point in fighting it any more, especially since Thomas seemed to be perfectly suited to being a man's companion. At least, as such he would have the protection and mentoring he needed. Of all the young men Smith had occasionally taken under his wing during his adventures, he did not think he had ever truly liked one as much as Thomas.

John kissed him, lifting him up with an arm beneath his bottom. He brought him over to a tarp-covered stack of ammunition crates and sat him atop it. Thomas looked a bit nervous, but he was trusting, and not as hesitant as one might have expected. His slender hands, blistered but not yet calloused, reached out shyly but surely. He touched and explored like a child, but had John undressed with the skill and speed of any port whore.

Speaking of which …

"You're not a virgin, Thomas, are you?"

Thomas' mouth gaped unattractively. "Ah- no, sir. That is- I … I was that scared to be leaving home, you see, sir, and I thought … if I didn't make it, I should … that is … " Thomas blushed scarlet, licked his lips. "She says as how we're promised to marry when I have a home in the colony, so it's like as if she's a wife, and how it wasn't a sin. Was it? Is this?"

John snorted in amusement. "Would it stop you if it was, boy?"

Thomas had a hand on John's chest, just by his heartbeat. He looked up at him, smoothing his palm down his chest. Thin golden hairs tickled the sore skin of his palms, and a finger nudged accidentally at his nipple. He felt John shudder with lust, and found himself aroused to have caused such a reaction. Meantime, other reactions were making him somewhat doubt that even God himself could make him stop what had started.

"No, sir," Thomas whispered. "No, sir, it wouldn't."

John put an arm around him and drew him into a kiss so deep Thomas thought he would melt into him entirely. He grew more voracious in his lust, alien as the sensations were. All this time, he had felt so alone, and now he had someone finally this close to him- it was an irresistible comfort. He only wanted to be closer, no matter how hard they were pressed together, he wanted more. If it was a sin, this exotic pleasure, well he was already burning in a sense. Might as well go up in flames.

As if inspired by this decadent thought, Thomas reached down and opened John's breeches. His hands shook and his spine went weak when he felt the hardness of the man's erection, so close to his own. Odd, it was almost ludicrously odd, he thought, but that more appealing. Of course, he had found it odd his first time, with a girl, a month ago. The strange mystique of sex had not worn off the youth yet, and he was the more enticed for it.

For the second time, John slipped Thomas' breeches off. Thomas was shaking again, looking away shyly. Quite demure, all of a sudden, John noted dryly. He supposed religion gave the lad a kind of shame of his lust, and seeing it so obviously displayed as it was embarrassed him. John briefly laid a hand on his thigh for encouragement, his other hand thoughtfully bristling the patch of red hair above his cock. Embarrassment forgotten, Thomas threw his arms around John's neck, kissing him until they ran out of breath. John gave his bottom a pat when they pulled apart, and turned him over the crates. He ran his hands over the hot welts on Thomas' backside, no longer guilty for them. He felt that peculiar sense of pride one gets after having punished another man, and thought the scarlet marks quite erotic. He clenched the youth's buttocks in both hands, squeezing and parting them a bit, as Thomas gasped in painful rapture.

Smith was surprised with the lad's eagerness. He had thought he would have to be overly gentle, but Thomas invited roughness. He bucked into him like a stallion, once the initial shock of pain wore off. John always had a reserve of doubt when taking a man for their first time, and he was always relieved when they liked it.

The two ended up on the floor, a deal of time later, wrapped and tangled up in the tarp. Thomas was gasping for breath, but still kissing John's neck lovingly. John watched him with an amused smile, stroking his slender, naked frame.

"That was- That was . . . incredible," Thomas said, looking up at John dreamily. "I mean, I know it's wrong to take pleasure in . . . such things . . . but it was simply . . . incredible. I've never felt this, this . . . "

"Incredible?"

Thomas chuckled ruefully. "Yes."

"Nothing wrong with fulfilling your physical needs, Thomas," Smith told him. He nestled his face in the youth's bright red hair, kissing his head as he did. He breathed in the salty, sweaty scent of him. He even smelled young, John thought, less acrid and somehow lighter than the more mature men. "Mmm. Denying yourself anything out here only leads to madness."

"But, it's a sin, and-"

"I look at it this way, Thomas," John said. "If God wants his children to grow, he has to allow us to nurture ourselves. A child won't grow unless it's fed, will it?"

"Food is necessary-"

"-and so is sex." John kissed the boy's lips briefly. "Trust me."

"I do trust you, sir," Thomas smiled, resting his head on the man's chest.

"Good." John gave him a last, lingering kiss, and then eased him off himself. "Then, you'll trust that it is time to get back up on deck. In case you've forgotten, there is a ship to be sailed?"

"Yes sir," Thomas said, though he sounded a bit grudging. John began wiping him off with a moistened rag. "Sir, will we, er, be doing this again?"

"I certainly hope so," John said, cleaning himself up now. This was purely for hygiene's sake. Men could smell sex, always, and there were no secrets to be kept on a ship. "Thanks to our dear governor bringing along his 'attendant', I was left without a cabin boy. So." He took the lad by the shoulders, leaned his face down to meet his eyes at level. "If you are . . . lonely, let's say, you can come to my cabin. If you would like, that is."

Thomas kissed him, one of his sweet, earnest little kisses. "I would most certainly like to, Captain Smith."