Editor's Note: This is an abridged section of jat sapphire's novel-in-progress, Beaucoup. In this AU novel, David Starsky's father, a merchant, has sent David to Boltwood, an English manor owned by the Hutchinsons, to learn proper English manners. The task of tutoring the young Mr. Starsky befalls the estate's eldest son, Kenneth. Kathleen is Kenneth's sister. Let's hope jat finishes this wonderful story soon! Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com
"Have you had toast?" Kathleen asked.
"He's had muffins," said Kenneth. "Four, I think. Don't encourage him." Starsky lifted his eyebrows but went on sipping tea.
"You, Kenneth? Have you had toast?"
"It's all yours, Kitten," he answered.
"Oh, good," she repeated with such innocent greed that the old nickname fit perfectly. She took the toast rack and the jam pots to the table and proceeded to heap jam on one slice and marmalade on the next. "What are you two doing this morning?"
"Not shooting, please," said Starsky.
"I tried to learn once," Kathleen said. "I couldn't hit anything, and the gun hurt my shoulder."
"I see we have much in common."
"Not so very much," Kenneth told him. "You didn't squeal like a piglet every time the gun went off."
"I didn't!" cried Kathleen, but Starsky was already laughing. She munched at her toast and brooded for about half a minute. Then she grinned mischievously. "I suppose you don't know how to dance," she said.
Starsky looked from her to her brother, suddenly sober. "I told her," Kenneth said. "Of course. She and my mother both know about the arrangement."
"Ah." Starsky's voice gave nothing away.
"Oh, Mr Starsky, you don't really mind my knowing, do you? Please say you don't. I won't tell anyone. I want to help."
When he turned to Kathleen, his mouth had relaxed its stern line and his eyes held humour. "You honour me."
Kenneth didn't speak, feeling that Kathleen was more likely to win their guest over. But he didn't like the thought.
When all three were finished with breakfast, they went to the drawing room, and Kenneth played the pianoforte while Kathleen showed Starsky the steps of the minuet, or attempted to do so. Kenneth called out directions and she murmured constantly, but they got into trouble over and over: they bumped into each other, stepped on each other's feet and lost track of the dance when Kenneth misplayed, and finally Kathleen began to giggle, then to laugh, and stopped dead in the middle of the floor, letting her hand drop, pulling Starsky's along with it.
"This is a disaster," said Kenneth.
"Oh," gasped Kathleen. "Oh my."
"Stop it, Kitten," but Kenneth was smiling too and Starsky was chuckling.
"Kenneth," she said after a while, "you have ten thumbs and I have two left feet! Poor David will never learn this way."
Her hand was still in Starsky's and he was smiling at her, and Kenneth lost all desire to laugh, a wave of emotion he couldn't even define sweeping through him, carrying him to his feet. "Call him," he said, "Mr Starsky."
And Starsky's face closed like a door. He let go Kathleen's hand and took a step away from her. His eyes were fixed on Kenneth and they looked as dark as smoke.
"Kenneth?" said Kathleen. "I, oh. Of course. Mr Starsky. I'm sorry, that was rude of me."
"Was it?" asked Starsky without looking at her.
"It was overfamiliar," Kenneth said. "She is unmarried and you are no relation."
"I'm certainly not."
"I just." Kathleen's hand twisted in the skirt of her dress, a gesture Kenneth had not seen her use for a long time. "I feel like I've known you longer. Than since yesterday. Please forgive me, Mr Starsky."
"I took no offence." He tilted his head, still looking at Kenneth. "Your brother was the one who . . . was disturbed."
Kenneth cleared his throat and spoke. "I'm sorry, Kitten. I know you meant no harm, but you really must not. Imagine what Mother would say!"
"I can't," she admitted, a little shakily. Then came over to the pianoforte and leaned against him until he put an arm around her. "Sorry," she said again, and he kissed the top of her head. "I only meant, I was only going to say . . . ."
"I should play. I can play a minuet in my sleep. You show him the steps."
"Good heavens," said Kenneth, at a loss. Strangely, the anger drained from him, leaving him feeling light, empty, as if a breath of air would move him—where?
After a moment of silence, Starsky began very slowly to smile. "I have danced in many places—and in many, men dance together. It's no stranger to me than this minuet. Nor are first names always such a great matter."
His dark eyes challenged—Kenneth responded as much to his guest's magnetism as to the implication that he was some provincial naif. "Then we'll dance." He moved away from the pianoforte bench and Kathleen sat on it. Then he went to meet Starsky in the centre of the room.
"Which of us will curtsey?" asked Starsky.
"I think you won't be excessively confused if we both bow."
Kathleen began to play. Kenneth bowed deeply and then waited for his partner to hold out his hand.
As in their first handshake, Kenneth was acutely aware of the texture of the skin he was touching, warm and dry and smooth. His fingers were firmly held. "Three paces forward," he reminded, and they began. Kenneth named each step and Kathleen played evenly below tempo; they moved smoothly, with only a few mistakes. At one point, his partner turned the wrong way and one foot struck Kenneth's leg, but they both recovered quickly. They completed the figure and stopped, facing each other once more.
When their hands separated, Kenneth could still feel the warmth and strength of that grip.
"You learn very quickly," he said. And then, deliberately, "David."
White teeth flashed as David Starsky bowed again.
"Stand still," said Kenneth through his teeth, the hissing consonants tickling David's chin. David rolled his eyes. For a few seconds he really was motionless; then he took a sighing breath and tilted his head to one side to try and get a glimpse of the mirror around Kenneth's head and shoulders. Then suddenly he could see the mirror perfectly because Kenneth had thrown his hands into the air and stepped away.
"It's hard enough to tie a cravat for someone else. I cannot do it at all if you will not hold still!"
"Then let me tie it myself," David offered reasonably.
"Oh, no, you will not." Kenneth advanced on him, ablaze with irritation and conviction. "Even for a mock dinner party, I am not going to spend one more evening looking at that hopeless mess around your neck!"
And suddenly, David could not have moved an inch if he had tried to do so. Nor was he trying. The warmth of Kenneth's body seemed to surround him, and the hands fiddling near his neck touched him like tickling feathers and jabbing pins, both at once. He closed his eyes and almost held his breath. His clothes were too tight. His hands ached to hang on to Kenneth somehow, but he clenched his fists until they ached physically instead.
"Lower your chin," said Kenneth, and was his voice usually so breathy and deep?
David was still frozen.
Kenneth's fingers touched David's face, rotated his head, and his eyelids snapped open even as his chin met the puffs of linen and sank into them. He was staring so far up under his eyebrows that the skin at the corners of his eyes stretched. Kenneth looked as astounded as David felt.
David raised his chin slowly, Kenneth's fingertips riding the movement, and they stared at each other.
They had completely forgotten that they were not alone in the room. David's valet, Potter, closed the wardrobe door, and both the younger men jumped as if the sound had been a thunderclap. Kenneth stepped one way and David the other.
Kenneth cleared his throat; David felt inexplicably better at the awkward sound. "That will do," said the blond, face turned toward the candelabra that edged his hair with yellow fire and his cheek with red.
David licked his lips, swallowed, and ordered Potter, "My box." But even when the jewel-case lay open before him, David could hardly force his eyes down to the glittering pins and rings lying there.
"One pin," said Kenneth, sounding recovered. "No more than two rings."
David chose the rings and slid them both onto the same finger—suitably austere, he thought. They didn't even have stones. Then he pulled out a pin almost without seeing it and moved to the mirror again to put it into his cravat. Kenneth stood behind him, looking over his shoulder. Their eyes met in the mirror, and David poked himself in the hand with the pin.
"Don't bleed on the cravat, for heaven's sake," said Kenneth.
David didn't reply. He finished placing the pin and half-turned, shaking down the cuffs of his coat. Kenneth reached out tentatively and brushed at one burgundy-coloured shoulder. "It's an unfashionable colour, but it becomes you," he said.
"Thank you," David answered, and then let his eyes slide slowly up Kenneth's blue coat, the lapel, the snowy linen, the long neck, to his face. "You're also . . . well suited." Kenneth's throat moved; he said nothing.
Potter closed the box with a snap, and David turned to him. "Don't wait for me," he said, as usual. He liked to get ready for bed by himself.
Kenneth wished he'd had the épergne put out on the table after all: the silver-plate centrepiece was newfangled and ugly, but it made an effective screen, and he would have been unable to keep stealing glances at the interaction between his sister and his pupil—his guest—his . . . . He was annoyed with himself. He trusted Kathleen to give David any guidance he needed and certainly to behave well herself. And, he reminded himself, he'd had plenty of opportunity to look at David before this little charade began.
It was a mistake to think of that. Remembering that moment of stillness when he'd tied David's cravat, he lost track of what he was saying to Miss Price, and had to stop and think and start again. She waited patiently for him, and he smiled at her, grateful that she would not tease or scold him for his lapse in attention, or ever ask him where his mind had been.
Still, it grew more and more difficult to think of anything else.
When the ladies were gone and the butler had left the port and biscuits on the table, David took what had been Mrs Hutchinson's seat and smiled at Kenneth, whose hand clenched on his napkin.
"Are we still practising? Or may we speak of anything?"
"We ought to practise," Kenneth said, knowing that David's first real dinner party was less than a week away, at the Mitchells'. He had been reading Punch and The Times to garner material for just such talk as would happen after dinner.
David's nose wrinkled, an expression Kenneth found impossibly endearing. "The papers are full of cartoons I do not recognise and political issues of which I have no opinion."
"What do you prefer to talk about?"
David smiled. Kenneth felt his pulse knock against his throat. "You've tutored me in dancing, card-playing, after-dinner conversation—"
"The last, I've merely prepared to do," said Kenneth, irrationally resisting the trend of the conversation toward, he thought, gratitude.
"—the use of extra eating utensils, the colours proper to an English gentleman's wardrobe, shooting, fishing—"
"That definitely cannot be counted," Kenneth objected. "You would not step foot out of the house to fish."
"You offered. I'm progressing, slowly I admit," and the glint of David's gaze under his dark lashes was mischievous, "to what you have not offered to teach me."
"What may that be?"
"Though I said I was not seeking a wife, surely that does not mean that I cannot even speak to the young people round me at balls and dinners. I've hesitated to practise with Kathleen, as she's—well, I'm fond of her, and she is young. So how can I learn the English manner of flirtation? Except from you?"
The words were bold, but David's face was a little flushed, Kenneth thought, and the dark eyes were downcast now, as David toyed with the stem of his wine glass. Waiting.
Kenneth felt a great stillness enclose them, as if time had stopped until he should answer—what, exactly? David could not mean what he seemed—what he might—Kenneth's mind was in turmoil; he stared, seeing every detail of shadow and glint, eye and lip and chin, mole and stubble and the muscular arm braced against the edge of the table. He was sure the image was imprinted on his eyes and almost closed them to confirm that it was so. Instead he took a deep breath.
He thought he'd seen recognition in David's eyes, when they stood before the mirror. He thought he'd seen desire. He thought he knew why David asked him to 'practise' flirtation. But if he were wrong, David's anger would be the least of the ruin he would face.
If he were right, he owed it to David to speak now, to return his light offer with acceptance as light-hearted, to ease into—whatever their friendship might become.
Still he swallowed helplessly and could find no words. Instead, he reached out and touched the hand that held the wineglass.
The glass rocked; Kenneth pulled back; David set it down and grabbed the retreating hand. Kenneth saw the difference in their skin tones and felt each fingertip against his skin.
"Oh, look up," David said, almost whispering. Not flirting, not at all.
Kenneth did, and ceased to be aware of the fire crackling or the flicker of the candles or the taste of wine lingering in his mouth. In David's night-coloured eyes he saw all the light he needed. They held and frightened him. His breathing quickened, but he only knew his own lips had parted by the widening of David's eyes.
He picked up David's hand and kissed the back of it as, on a few occasions, he had kissed a woman's, but never had he wanted the taste of anyone else's flesh as he did this. Never had he touched his tongue to anyone's skin, and never could he have imagined how it would feel to let the hand turn under his lips, cup his face, fingers moving in the tender place under his chin as he went on kissing the warm creases of the palm.
He lifted his face at last, still holding David's hand, which closed as if to hold the kiss tightly. And the look on David's face made Kenneth stand, take the last step between them and, as David rose, pull him close and hold him. David's arms circled him, tightened, and Kenneth tucked his hot face into David's neck.
About ten years ago, one night at school, he had left his dormitory at night as he was doing now. He'd put on his dressing gown and slippers (as quietly as he could, then, not to wake the other boys) and slid through the door (afraid to open it all the way, letting the heavy edge scrape his shoulder as he wriggled through) into a hallway as dark as pitch, not a line of candlelight under anyone's door or a ray of the moon from any window. Then the floors had been bare and chill and every step a purgatory. Now the rug gave silently under his feet, and he knew exactly where every small table and ornamental bench was.
At David's door he stopped, one hand flat against the wood, struck with apprehension. They'd made no assignation. He wasn't entirely sure how David would react. He thought about giving up, imagined himself walking back up the corridor, back to his room, back to bed. He would still be unable to sleep; his body would still buzz with longing and his mind whirl with frantic thoughts. No. He put his hand on the knob and turned it slowly.
David lay under a mound of bedclothes, his arms folded under his head—Kenneth caught just a glimpse before David turned and sat up. The fire had burned down and gave only a weak glow. Though the window curtains were shut, a silver blade of moonlight cut between them and lay across the end of the bed. David's night-shirt and the sheets glowed, but his face was invisible.
"Kenneth," he whispered, and there was no telling whether the word held surprise or gladness or dismay.
Kenneth closed the door as silently as he'd opened it. "David." He took a few steps closer to the bed, then stopped. "I couldn't sleep." He didn't whisper, though he kept his voice low. "I couldn't forget . . . .Did I wake you?"
"No, I was awake." David came to him; they stood in the same place as they had when Kenneth tied David's cravat. But now it was David who reached out, touched, and the relief was so great that Kenneth's knees almost gave way. He remembered that he'd been shaking uncontrollably that night at school, unable to do anything but shiver with cold and reaction from his trip to the study Nigel shared with another upper-school boy, and Nigel had been nearly as badly off. Now David held his arms, and he put his hands on the solid waist under the soft folds of cotton. They stood there in the dark until David suddenly shuddered. "It's cold," he murmured, and moved closer still.
"Just a moment." Kenneth held him off, fumbling, and then drew him close again, wrapping the ends of the dressing gown around them both. David's arms around him, David's body pressed against him, were as solid as the house itself. David's hair against his cheek, David's face against his neck, filled him with such tenderness that his throat grew tight and he could not have spoken for a moment, even if he had wanted to.
"I'm still cold," David mumbled against Kenneth's skin.
It was the most natural action in the world to rub his cheek against David's, and then to kiss the rough stubble there. "Then you must go back to bed," he breathed into David's ear, and felt him shiver for another reason, then step away. Kenneth shivered too.
David reached the bed first, got in, and then turned on his side and slid back to make room. Kenneth tossed his dressing gown into the shaft of moonlight and followed. They drew up the featherbed, blanket and coverlet, and warmth gathered around them as they leisurely stroked each other through their night-shirts. And then the strokes were faster, firmer, began to be urgent, and Kenneth's phallus filled as jabs of pleasure ran into it. He wasn't certain David felt the same arousal, and slid his hand down as far as he could reach, pulled up handfuls of cloth, and found the rough-haired calf. Moulding his hand to the shape of the limb, he searched over David's skin, moved his other hand in, half-sitting and then kneeling, the bedclothes tenting up and cold air whisking in. David said a quiet, protesting "Oh," but turned on his back, gathering the covers close on each side and then unbuttoning the neck of Kenneth's night-shirt and touching his neck and chest and shoulders.
"'License my roving hands,'" Kenneth said, mostly to himself.
But evidently David had read Donne's poetry as well as Ward and Lock's etiquette manual. His strong hands slid up to cup the sides of Kenneth's head, then to pull it down. "'And let them go,'" he quoted in return, "'before, behind, between, above, below.'" And kissed Kenneth's mouth. At first it was a tender meeting of lips, not so different from a kiss Kenneth might have given his sister, and then David rubbed his mouth back and forth against Kenneth's and lapped out his tongue like a cat. That made Kenneth chuckle, and as his lips twitched, David's relaxed, parted, and Kenneth found himself sucking and pressing in, meeting that playful tongue again, diving into this new sensation.
Kenneth forgot what he'd been doing with his hands and just held on until David pushed his head up. "Touch me," David said then, yearning in his voice, and Kenneth slid his hands up both legs to the excited flesh between them.
David's erection was thick and hot and slicker, somehow, than Kenneth expected. "You're—circumcised?" he blurted, and David answered with a soft laugh, pulling down on Kenneth's shoulders and arching his back to rub tantalisingly along Kenneth's torso and thighs, nipping his chin.
"Later," in a rough whisper, and Kenneth agreed, reaching again for the organ that moved so wonderfully in his hand. He rubbed a thumb over the scar, cupping the mass of the testicles in his other hand, rolling and fingering them, and David thrust his hips up again. Kenneth's hand slipped, of its own volition, underneath.
He felt in his palm and fingers how David's buttocks worked, muscles clenching as he pushed up and relaxing as he dropped down, and when Kenneth stroked and pushed his middle finger between the cheeks David gasped, arching higher, gripping the finger all the harder when Kenneth moved it.
"Yes," a sound Kenneth only heard because he saw the lips move, the teeth glint as they came together to hiss the consonant.
Still pumping, Kenneth pulled his other hand back to fondle the tensing thighs, the skin just behind David's heavy sac, and bent lower to see how David clenched his eyelids tighter shut, gasped air even harder through his open mouth, still wet from their kiss.
He groped again for the clenching muscle that guarded David's opening, tried to push a fingertip into it, but this time the movement David made was startled, flinching, and Kenneth drew back at once, petting both thighs and the belly that tensed and fluttered under his touch.
Kenneth dropped small kisses on the sweating face, apologetically at first, then fascinated by the variation in the little touches—soft, ruffled hair in an eyebrow, the hard bone of forehead, the soft hollow near the ear, then faster, here and there and every spot even tasting just a tiny bit different. He fed on the skin's salt, hungrier than he'd ever been for sweeter tastes.
"David," he whispered. Kissed again. "David."
David grew in his hand, throbbed, and Kenneth told him, speaking into his cheek, "Yes, good, yes, give this to me."
David lifted both legs and wrapped them around Kenneth's waist, arching his back higher than ever, hands clutching Kenneth's skull and his teeth bared, locked shut to mute the sound in his throat. With one grunting cry he spent himself into the stroking hand and the bunched-up cloth of the night-shirt, convulsing, pressing their bodies together.
When David relaxed, Kenneth pushed up onto his elbows, hands cupping David's shoulder blades, and thrust again and again into the cloth, semen and warm skin below him.
But suddenly he felt David pushing him away, hard, squirming out from under him and turning him on his side. He reached for his bed partner but could not catch hold, said "David," in dismay, but got no verbal reply. The bed continued to heave around him, David's hands to push and pull at his torso, his arms and legs; he didn't entirely realise what had happened until he found himself on his back and David entirely under the covers fiddling with the tangled skirts of his night-shirt. David's hands were on his bare thighs and hips. Then he felt a wet enclosure that made him cry "Oh!" in shock and then push his arm and flannel sleeve into his mouth, biting down hard to keep the sounds in. David licked him, suckled him, played with his foreskin and his testicles, until he lay twitching and leaking, moaning into his mouthful of wet cotton, unable to control the movements of his lower body. David pumped the shaft evenly and sucked the head rhythmically, until Kenneth . . . burst. Or felt as though he had, exploded like a firework, and afterward he had not enough energy to pull David into his arms.
So Kenneth was glad to feel the bed shift again, to see David's head appear on the pillow, and to feel one hand settle and stroke the side of his face.
"You've done this before," said Kenneth.
"My special sin," David answered.
Kenneth didn't ask for more detail. David's hand slid down to his throat and rested there. Then he lay down on his back again. "You?" he asked.
"A boy at school. We knew so little."
"These English schools," said David with as much humour as so low a tone could carry.
Still Kenneth explained. "The boy I fagged for used to threaten to make me suck him," he said, "but he never really did. So no, it wasn't the school."
Lazily, David put one arm and then the other under his head again. Even in the dark, Kenneth could not take his eyes off the man whose body he had just handled so intimately. "How," he asked in slow wonder, "am I going to resist you? How can I not want you all the time?"
David rolled over and lay against him. "Keep me warm, and don't ask such questions," he said, but his voice was rough and Kenneth understood that he was equally moved. They lay close and snug for a long while, but Kenneth kept almost dropping off, and he knew he could not afford to sleep there. At last he kissed David's slack face and slipped out the far side of the bed. David reached into the space where Kenneth had lain, rolled father into it, but didn't really wake.
Eventually Kenneth turned away, collected his dressing gown and slippers, and eased the door open—glanced once more at the bed—then left.
As he went down the hall, he realised he never had found out how David came to be circumcised.
To Be Continued