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nakamook

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63 Getting There!

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About nakamook

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  1. Chapter 5

    Morning watch bells woke me from a dream of warm arms and and icy commands. I groaned, stretching as best I could while not knocking myself from the ropes. I looked out over the deck - it was deserted in the early morning mist. The only other living being would be the watchman, up in the crows nest. I squinted up towards the top of the mast, trying to see who it was. The lad must have seen my movement, because a hand came up and waved. I waved back, although I couldn't tell who I was waving at. Then I settled myself in and enjoyed the song of the sunrise and peace of nothingness. Eventually, it dawned on me that everyone else must be at breakfast, which meant that I should be too. I sighed and pulled myself up, wishing I could stay up here forever. I looked down to the deck. It would take a long time and a stupid amount of effort to climb down like I had been doing, the land boy’s way. Of course, there was another way. A better way. I'd been avoiding it, because I didn't want these men to know me for what I was, but at this point it seemed foolish to hide my skills. Besides, my way was more fun, and I wanted the rush. Needed to clear my head, flush my body. I let go of the ropes. I was down at the deck in moments, letting my body weight do most of the work. It isn’t hard to get down from a height, really. You just have to fall. The tricky bit is not letting yourself fall too fast, controlling your momentum with checks and yanks to ropes, until you can force the unyielding ground to accept your body once more, trick it into holding you by rolling across its surface like a stone skipping across still water. I lost my balance at the very end, tumbling across the deck and coming to a stop on my ass somewhere near the barrel pit. But despite it, I couldn't stop smiling; for the first time in a long time, I had endorphins on my side for no other reason than joy. I heard a shout go up above me and looked up to the concerned face of the watchman. I laughed and waved, signalling that everything was alright. If I was lucky, he hadn't seen anything but the end of my descent. Perhaps he would think I had fallen. I stood and dusted myself off, moving towards the door to head below decks. Just as I reached it, it swung open and I was face to face with the Captain. This, this was what falling truly was. My stomach dropped out from beneath me, my limbs felt as if they were made of water. I put a hand on the door frame to steady myself, trying to keep my knees from buckling. I had hoped that distance might make this easier, that not sleeping in his chambers would lend me some sort of clarity when I saw him again, but the same war waged within me. I needed him. I couldn’t let him hurt me again. I couldn’t let myself hurt him. If my presence had a similar effect on him, he didn’t show it. His dark eyes took me in, noting the marks the press of the ropes had left on my body, the way my shirt had fallen from my shoulder. He paused there for a moment, and I wanted him to have a reaction, to show me what it meant to see my bare skin. Instead, his eyes continued unchanged. I pulled my shirt back onto my body only when he no longer was watching. “Finn told me you’d slept in the riggings.” “Yes.” I didn’t really know what else to say, but somehow found myself feeling guilt. This man hurt me, I reminded myself angrily. Intentions that were good or no, it had been hurtful and my anger was righteous. I had protected myself as I had needed to; I had nothing to feel guilty about. I remembered the first night I almost hadn’t come back, how upset the Captain had been. “I’m sorry,” I heard myself start, and was surprised to find that I was. But the Captain waved away my apology. “For what? For not coming back to my room to be tied up? Like a dog.” I thought there was something on his face at that, and I winced to hear my words used against him from his own mouth. “I just needed some space,” I said quietly. “I understand.” We stood there in silence. I found my eyes wandering his face, his body, looking for any sign that he might still care for me. Natch had said that he wanted me, wanted me so badly he was willing to put his crew in danger; I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. Maybe he wanted my body, maybe my hands on his, my conveniently transient soul. And yet, if he had only wanted me because I was going to leave, why not take me now? Why shut down so completely when he knew that I was going to be gone? When he knew he would put me on land. And that, I hardened again, my knees growing new strength beneath me. I straightened up and crossed my arms. His eyes dropped to my arms. “Oh,” he said. He sounded surprised, his voice knocked from its previously sterile state. “You’re injured.” I looked down at the red line Ichor had put on me yesterday. “It’s nothing,” I said truthfully. When I looked back up, I was surprised to see him reaching out to me, his hand hovering in the space between us, and I was surprised that my body didn’t pull away. It didn’t need to. He let his hand drop before it came anywhere near my skin. My heart sank, and I reprimanded it sternly. He wasn’t to touch me. He wasn’t to - “A decision has been made, about you. I just wanted you to hear it from me first.” He wasn’t looking at me, instead casting unfocused eyes off to the side. “You’re to be dropped off in two days time.” “You’ve chosen the island then.” I tried to keep my accusation from my throat. “Aye.” He sighed. “It’s nice, got a village and.” He stopped and brought his hands together before him. “You don’t want me with you.” There the accusation was; not even in tone, it manifested in words and leapt unbidden from my tongue. But he was quick to respond, his eyes flashing to my face. “You’re the one who pushed away. Is this not what you wanted? This is better for you, safer, to be far from me. I warned you, I told you this would happen, and you still -” We both stopped as the first of the men filtered past us. I stared at the man before me, dark curls falling into his face as he watched the ground between our feet. Did he think he was protecting me? In fairness, I had thought I was protecting myself to stay away from him, but somehow this felt worse. Somehow, this made me feel so guilty. I wanted to reach out and smooth the lines that passed between his eyes, press back the hair that fell between us until we were so close there was nothing, nothing but our bodies. I didn’t move. In a break between men passing, he spoke again. “I can’t.” He sounded so broken that I almost cried. How could one man break so beautifully? How could two words make me feel so terribly? It wasn’t my fault, I tried to tell myself, I hadn’t caused this, but I just wasn’t sure anymore. “I know,” I told him, as softly as I knew how. “I’m sorry.” “Aye.” He turned to go. “Me too.” I watched him leave, pushing against the flow of sailors coming up from breakfast. You can’t blame him, Natch had said, and as my eyes followed his shoulders in the sea of nobodies I found that I didn’t. My soul broke, then, the sea flooding from it to try and follow him, to rush forth and take him back but I knew it was too late. The Captain was gone. I cursed myself then, cursed my idiotic need for control and whatever thought had lead me to this point in my life. But there was nothing to do, and so I turned and was swept up in the rush of the sailors, letting their bodies bump up against me in ghosts of touches that I dreamed of, and tried to become a nobody too. Hams asked me if I was alright three times that morning. I wonder if it was because I has slowed down so much from the day before; I wonder if it was because the weight of everything I had done was crushing me as surely as if I were at the bottom of the ocean. When his hand touched my shoulder for the fourth time, I didn’t even jump. The gravity of it all wouldn’t allow me. The rope that was in my hand sunk to the deck. “My boy,” he told me quietly. “You’ve been at that rope for some time now.” “I don’t know what I’m doing, Hams.” He knew I wasn’t talking about the ropes. He patted me on the shoulder gently. “Aye, lad. Why don’t you head down to Cookie; I’m sure he could use your help.” I nodded, slow, and made my way below decks. I was halfway to the kitchen when I heard a voice call from the darkness. “Boy.” I turned and found Wicky, slouching in shadows. He was staring me down, perhaps trying to be intimidating, but I had already destroyed my world and there was nothing he could do to me. “If I see you with the Captain between now and when you disembark, I will kill you.” I thought about what to say to that. Better men than you have tried? Give it your best shot? I settled on the truth. “I’m already dead.” And it was true; the sea had filled my lungs, my heart had stopped, and when my body had begun again I had lost my name, my ship, my friends, and my life. What could this man do to me that compared? I turned my back on him and walked away. “Don’t turn your back on me, you arrogant fool.” Wicky followed me down the hall. “I meant what I said; I will kill you, cut that dick of yours right off. I won’t let you bring the Pirate King down on our -” He let loose a choked cry as I lifted him by the throat. Poor man; he could not have known the sea flowed through me with my breath. It was so hard to breath, so hard to drag air into my chest past the thick ocean that lined my lungs. He was small, insignificant, and I carried his weight easily in the face of everything else I bore. “You should not worry,” I told him, “about the Pirate King.” He was kicking, his limbs swinging freely in space, his hands scrabbling at mine. I held him tight. Behind his form, a man rounded the corner. I watched him stop, his jaw dropping at the sight of me holding the first mate aloft, the sounds of choking filling the hall. I met his eyes for only an instant before turning back to Wicky. Nobodies, all of them. I was only vaguely aware when took off at a dead run towards the deck. “Worry instead,” I told the man turning purple in my grasp, “about his ghost.” His eyes went big at that, or maybe they were popping from lack of oxygen. I could kill him, I realized. How easy it would be, to hold him tighter, then tighter still, to deny him breath as he had denied me my Captain. The sea pushed against my ears. The man skidded around the corner again, pointing. “Ghost,” I heard a voice call. I looked up to find the blonde hair of Natch. I scowled. He didn’t want to be anywhere near this. His eyes took in my form, still and dangerous, and the form I held in my hand. Wicky, too, was becoming quite still, his movements sluggish and slow. “Holy fuck.” He approached me slowly, as one might a stray dog. I tightened my grip on Wicky, causing him to jerk in my hand, and Natch froze. “Ghost, mate, put him down.” I didn’t see any reason to. I took in the red face of the first mate, the fear that spread through his body like a sickness. Then I turned my eyes back to Natch. “Please.” He looked like he might be sick. “Don’t kill him.” “Two days is long enough to take the ship,” I told him, still looking at Wicky. “I don’t need to go the any damn island.” It wasn’t the island I was upset about. I wasn’t thinking about what I was upset about - I was thinking about how soft Wicky felt in my hand, how fragile. My mouth tasted like salt, whipped up from the storm that brewed in my stomach. The ocean would care for me, I thought. The ocean would take Wicky’s body as a gift and it would be calmed, and I would feel better. Natch was still approaching, the idiot. “Think of the Captain,” he said quietly. “Think of what he would say.” The Captain. I took another look at Wicky. “He’ll find out anyway.” I squeezed. But Natch was at my side, his hand on mine. “Ghost,” he said quietly, guiding my hand to a place where Wicky’s feet could touch the floor. They bowed beneath him, unwilling to hold his weight. “Let him go.” I felt my face twist, felt my body shift through a million different versions of how this could go. Natch’s hand was warm on mine, and comforting. I felt his kindness calm the storm held in each, the pounding sea retreating up my wrist, returning to my chest. One by one my fingers peeled from Wicky’s neck. I stood there above the gasping first mate, Natch at my side. Then I turned and continued my way down the hall. “Natch,” I heard Wicky gasp behind me. “Control your fucking mutt.” I stopped still, my back to them, to listen. “Oh, Christ,” Natch replied. “You can’t control a dead man.” Natch might not know who I had been, I realized then, but he knew who I was better than anyone else in my life. I wiped my hands on my pants and walked the rest of the way to the kitchen. *** When I arrived, I found that Natch had followed me. “You can’t do stuff like that, Ghost.” “I thought you understood that you couldn’t control me.” I moved past the confused Cookie, finding the coil of rope more or less where I had left it. “I’m not telling you what to do, I’m asking - whoah.” Ropes tied and ready, I was midway through stripping. I turned and raised an angry brow at him. “Your back.” He pointed, as if I didn’t know what he was talking about. “What of it.” I couldn’t keep the edge from my voice. I didn’t want to talk of my scars, violent and painful, deep uneven ridges that lined the entirety of my shoulders all the way to my lower back. I didn’t care to explain how they had come about. It was an old life, a distant world. He backed off at my tone. “Nothing.” “How long until lunch, Cookie.” “Two hours, give or take.” “Good.” I stripped of my pants. Natch’s eyes bulged and he turned away. “I’m going for a swim.” Without waiting for a response, I climbed through the window and cast myself to the waves. Once in the water, I tied myself to the rope. I didn’t want to get lost from the ship, as much as I didn’t especially want to be on it. When I was secure, I ducked under the waves and deprived myself of breath. Before long, my lungs were burning. Then my limbs started twitching, my head throbbing with my heart. But I would not give my body what it wanted. Submit, I told myself. Give yourself to the ocean. Give yourself to fate. Control your body and nothing else. You can’t control anything else. You fucking idiot, stop trying to have control. My limbs relaxed, running out of fight. My brain reached a hazy point of semi-consciousness, floating there in the salt, and I let myself come undone. I lost my hands, then my feet. Then my torso. In time I was nothing but a soul, adrift in the uncaring sea. I gave my soul to fate, and then I was nothing. When I pulled myself up to the kitchen an hour or so later I found it deserted. I didn’t mind; it gave me the privacy I still needed. I was delicate from my time in the sea, and took my time washing and dressing. Cookie came in as I was coiling the last of the rope. He scowled to see me and tossed me a blade, which I caught. “You scared Natch somethin’ fierce.” I didn’t have anything to say to that. He should be scared. They all should be. It was not my fault they had not taken the time to learn this when they had first brought me aboard. “And there’s something afoot, some emergency meeting.” I shrugged. I had asked the sea to care for me; she either would or she would not. My fate was out of my hands. I did the chores that Cookie asked and was not bothered by this news. Soon, the first of the men began trickling. They looked excited, perhaps even relaxed. As I served them their soup they did not seem to notice my presence. I floated in a haze created by the comfort of the knowledge of my own lack of control. Then Wicky appeared in the doorway. Wicky did not eat with the men; usually one of his lackeys brought him his meals in his room, where he stayed squirreled up doing whatever it was that he did. To see him here should have signalled alarm. But he was a nobody, and I had the sea. I reached out for the bowl that he held. “Two days,” he told me raspily, “can not come soon enough.” He wore a cravat, but I could still see the bruising I had given him. It was already darkening. I felt myself smile. “Cookie,” he called. “Serve me. I won’t eat food touched by this savage.” Cookie moved, but I put a hand up to stop him. “I serve the food,” I told him quietly. The room had gone very still behind Wicky, all eyes pretending not to watch what was happening. I took the bowl from his hand and filled it, slow and deliberate. I placed the bowl on the counter. Familiar, I thought. How strange to do something so similar, and yet for it to feel so different. “What a difference a man makes,” I mused aloud. Wicky’s face clouded. In a parody of my previous motions, he reached out and took the bowl, then slowly turned it over and let the soup fall onto the counter. I watched it fall, felt it splash upon my person. I really need to launder this shirt, I thought. Then Wicky slammed the bowl down on the counter and stalked away. I sighed and began to clean the mess he had made. When I sat down that day with Natch and Finn, they both leaned in. “You can’t let him get to you,” Finn whispered. I frowned. “Wicky?” They nodded. “Why would he get to me?” He was a nobody; I had the sea. I took a bite of soup and enjoyed the taste, ignoring the look of concern that passed between the two men. In time, I became aware of a presence above me. I looked up to find Thron, his hands awkwardly filled with his bowl. I glanced at Natch. He shrugged. I signaled for the large man to speak. “Ah, yeah. I was just coming over to. I was meaning to say.” He took a deep breath. “I wanted to apologize for Ichor in practice yesterday. It’s my job to make sure things like that don’t happen; he won’t be invited back.” Oh. Ichor. I had almost forgotten about the attack; the wound barely throbbed, washed clean by the salt of the sea. I gestured for Thron to sit, and space was made for him. “There’s no need to apologize. I was distracted.” I lifted another spoonful to my mouth. “As for Ichor; if he comes back, he comes back.” “Yes, but.” I drew my gaze up to him and he swallowed. I must still have the sea in my eyes, I thought idly. I tried to blink it away, but soon gave up, instead watching Thron. I was surprised by the change in him since yesterday. This was new for me; I did not usually see men become aware of reasons to fear me. It was usually my policy to give them all the reasons they needed the first time we met. “Do what you will,” I finally said. “It’s your practice sessions.” He nodded, smiling at me. I pushed him a second piece of bread I had stolen from the kitchen when I was back there and went back to eating. “He probably won’t try to show up anyway, really. Training tonight will just as like be short, and under attended,” Thron said, sighing a little. Natch nodded. “That’s what happens when the men get a sniff of the rum.” Rum? I looked up, confused. “Are we heading to a rum port?” All three men looked at me. “Cor,” Finn said. “He is a pirate.” Natch must have kicked him under the table, because he jumped and cursed. The men must have been talking about me, I realized. “Aye,” Natch said. “The men realized how close our port is to where we’ll be dropping you off tomorrow’s tomorrow, and insisted that we stop.” I nodded. That made sense. Rum ports were sacred among the men, islands where Captains kept large stocks of the beloved liquid hidden away. That way, the men would always have a supply, and you could cut down on drinking on the ship. “Was that what the meeting was about today?” They looked uncomfortable. “Nay,” Finn told me. “T’were about you, I’m afraid.” I frowned and looked to Natch to further explain. But it was Thron who took up the mantle. “Cap was just letting us know where and when we’d be dropping you off. Took a little longer than it should have. Things got -” “Heated,” Natch finished. “Lots of men still want you dead.” I shrugged. Let them try. “Cap made this little speech, all offhand, like he didn’t care and such?” Thron continued. “But we know him, right, and he was pissed. Said you’d been injured and that wasn’t okay, because, how’d he put it Natch?” “A prisoner, just because he isn’t able to defend himself against more capable foes, should not be considered an easy target.” Natch raised his eyebrows at that but didn’t say anything more. “Said you had his full protection, by law of the sea.” Finn nodded, picking up the narrative. “Gods all, Wicky looked as if he was like to blow his top. His men had to calm him down.” “Did he say anything?” I asked, offhand. Finn frowned. “Say anything about what?” Natch was the only one who truly knew what I was talking about. “No. How could he? Cap had just called you an easy target; couldn’t exactly say he’d been taken down by you just minutes prior, not without losing major face.” “You took down Wicky?” Thron looked from man to man, trying to get some confirmation. He must have found it, because he leaned back and whistled. “That explains his actions.” I shrugged again. “His actions have always had the same explanation.” They all looked to me. “Fear,” I told them. “Besides, it matters not. I’ll be gone soon.” “Will you come back?” I looked up. They were all looking at me, staring very intently. Would I come back after being marooned, is that what they were asking? Did they want me to? I let my eyes meet Natch’s; I had offered to come back for him. They had discussed that I was a pirate; had they discussed this as well? Natch stared back steadily. “We’ll see.” They nodded, and I went back to my food. We’ll see. *** When I got back to the deck, the first thing I did was seek out Hams and thank him for his kindness. “There aren’t many who would take the time for a prisoner,” I told him. “If there’s anything I can do -” He smiled and patted me on the back. “Just coil your ropes, laddie.” As he walked away, I heard him snort. “Prisoner my ass.” I liked Hams. Wicky stalked the deck, his red cravat acting as a beacon for all. Men scattered to get out of his way. I felt almost guilty for bringing this on them, but in the end I was not in control of Wicky’s actions. I kept my head down and coiled my ropes, as instructed. I skipped out early to go and help Cookie prepare. “Not gonna jump out my window again?” he growled. I shrugged and set to work chopping ingredients. I served all the men in due order, then went and sat with Finn and Natch. I was surprised that Thron had joined us again, and had brought a friend from the training sessions, a fellow who went by the name of Gret. I nodded my acceptance and sat watching the door. The Captain should walk through it any minute, to get his dinner. I had things to say to him, I realized. Apologies to make. I ran through possibilities in my head, trying to find an acceptable order of words that would make him understand where I sat. Understand that the hurt I had felt was all my own creation. Gods all, that man made me feel like boy. A bumbling, idiotic, foolish boy. “He’s not coming, lad.” Finn pulled me from my pretend conversations. “He took his dinner in his room today.” “Not that he’ll eat it,” muttered Natch. I frowned at him. “Ghost, you made it. You think he could bring himself to eat anything you touched right now?” “What?” I looked around at them, found no eyes willing to meet mine. “What do you mean?” “Have you talked to him recently?” “Yes,” I answered Natch. “This morning.” “And?” I scowled. I didn’t want to remember that conversation. “He blames me. Wants me off his ship.” “Ghost…” It was a warning, and a fair one. I knew that what I had said was untrue. The men waited. “He has guilt,” I finally acquiesced. “He thinks he hurt me.” It was painful to say aloud. Natch put a hand on my arm. “You need to talk to him.” “I know.” “Gonna be hard,” Finn informed me. “He’s sequestered himself away in that room of his, won’t even entertain Wicky.” “At the rum port,” suggested Gret. “We all disembark there.” Natch shook his head. “Too public.” But Finn suddenly looked very worried. “Aye, lads, the rum port. D’you remember Cap before we came south?” Gret and Thron leaned back, faces suddenly serious. I sat up straight, concerned by their reactions. “You don’t think -” “A habit is a habit.” “And if he’s feeling this bad…” “Aye, but that was something else entirely. This shouldn’t even compare.” “Sorry,” I interrupted. “But Natch and I are lost.” Three sets of intense eyes turned to me. I could see calculations running in each, trying to decide how much to say. “Cap likes his drink,” Finn finally said. “Especially when -” “Cap,” Finn said forcefully, “likes his drink. That’s all there is to it.” The other two men met his eyes, then nodded. I looked to Natch, who only shrugged. I turned back to the others. “But this wasn’t a problem before?” I needed to understand what was happening. If they were worried about the Captain, if there was something that was wrong… “It’s worse when he’s upset,” Finn conceded. “Just be mindful, lad. Bad decisions have been made at the rum ports.” “Ships have been lost,” Thron said quietly. “I’ll be mindful,” I promised. Training that night was neither short nor poorly attended. Men who I had never met nor taken the time to know their faces showed up, forming a circle around me as I walked to gather my training blades. The enclosure set my teeth on edge, making me look for any ambush, but they all were simply watching me, silent. I gathered my supplies and moved towards Natch. “What’s going on,” I asked him quietly. He shook his head, his eyes on wrapping his hands. “Word got ‘round that you were training.” He stood and stretched. “Looks like more of the boys want some guidance.” I frowned. I hadn’t really been giving guidance, just trying to get these land boys to fight half decently so I could get some sort of a work out. Still, if there were more of them, maybe they wouldn’t tire as quickly… I made my way to my practice spot. “Alright,” I said, crouching low into a defensive guard. “Who’s first?” *** Ichor showed up about halfway through training. I put the kid I had in a headlock down upon the wooden planks and turned to meet him. We stood, mirrored, our shoulders squared. Thron was making his way through the group, no doubt to turn him away, but this man was no threat. I waved him off and he stood down, frowning. “Why are you here?” I asked Ichor. He shifted his feet, looking uncomfortable. “I want to be better.” He wrung his hands, not meeting my eyes. “I didn’t know… I mean, I thought I was…” I pointed vaguely at the men around him. “Check him for knives.” When he was cleared, I sparred with him, and threw him almost instantly. I could see his body tense when mine was on top of his, and eased off immediately. “Stop planting your feet; you’ll do better if you have more mobility.” I reached down to help him up. “Again?” He looked up at me, suspicion clear on his face. I waited. “Again,” he agreed. He took my hand and we began. *** The rum port turned out to be a nice little island, complete with sandy beaches and fresh water and not a soul for miles. “Why didn’t they just maroon me here,” I muttered to Natch as we rowed up to the beach. He laughed. “And have you drink all our rum?” Fair point. It took quite a few trips to get everyone over from the ship. Natch and I were on one of the last shuttles. By the time we reached the beach, the party was already in full swing. We were met by a grinning and ruddy-faced Finn, who pressed a tankard to each of our hands before spinning away, laughing. “Lightweight,” Natch accused softly, and I laughed. I nursed my tankard the whole night long. I could have drank much more and been alright, but I had been without alcohol for three years and didn’t want any surprises. Besides, I needed to watch the Captain. He sat by himself, a whole bottle of rum sequestered for his personal use. I watched him work his way through it, his body slumping further and further into the darkness as the bonfire flickered and leapt. “Natch,” I said quietly. My companion had been quite into the rum himself. He leaned against me at his name, humming happily. I was surprised to feel his warmth; Natch did not often touch others so intimately. I draped an arm over him gently, happy to see him feeling so safe around me. “Ghost,” he slurred. “You’ll come back for us, right?” I squeezed his shoulders and didn’t make any promises. When I looked up to the Captain again, he was staring right at me. I froze, my eyes locked with the Captain’s. He was arranged over a log, his legs spidering out before him, that black cloak of his making it seem as though he simply expanded into the universe. As I watched, he took another swig from his bottle, swaying slightly. Although it was hard to tell from here, the angle of the bottle as he moved it to his lips made it look like it was nearly empty. This couldn’t be good. The Captain pulled himself up, staggering dangerously close to the fire. The light of the blaze lit him like nothing I had ever seen, making his eyes shadows but his hair pure light. He was judgement, and I waited for it to come down on me. To my ears, it seemed the entire beach become silent but for him and I. I know that this wasn’t true; men were singing, the ocean responding, the fire crackling and sending sparks up to keep the stars company. But the Captain’s eyes held me. Nothing existed but for us. He lurched, making the last few steps towards me. Then, he pulled out a knife, and everything slammed back into reality. The knife was at Natch’s throat before either of us had time to react. It was a thin blade, sharp and refined, a perfect fit for the Captain. One false move could pierce Natch’s neck in an instant. He was frozen, his arms up, his eyes huge and glued to the sand beneath his feet. “Cap,” he whispered. The knife jerked and he stopped talking. The beach had truly fallen silent now. All eyes were on us. My eyes were on the Captain. He was swaying where he stood, his gaze unfocused, the knife held surprisingly steady. I could see a bit of blood gathering at the point. Natch’s breath was growing quick. “Captain,” I said quietly. His brows drew together, as if he were listening to something far away. I reached out and gently pushed his hand down, freeing Natch from the blade. He gasped and spun away, collapsing on the sand and scrabbling out of view. The Captain cast about, seeming confused. My hand still on his, I worked to remove the knife from his grasp. “Sir,” I let myself say, my voice low and intimate. At that word, he let me have the knife, his gaze traveling up to my face. “Oh,” he said, sounding surprised. “It’s you.” His body lurched, his knees giving out beneath him. “Oops,” he muttered as he dropped. “Fuck.” I went down with him, unwilling to have this man kneel before me. He ended up on his knees in the sand, still unsteady, my arms caught around his waist loosely to anchor him. I felt him sigh, all through his body. I felt him. His skin gave me chills. “It’s you,” he repeated. I nodded. “I’m here.” My voice was fragile, delicate like the way I felt, the way it was to be so close to him. I was here. I couldn’t be anywhere else. “I’m sorry,” I heard him slur. He lightly rested his face on my collarbone. I shushed him, pressing my lips to his temple. He had nothing to be sorry for. Nothing at all. I felt his hand travel up my arm, clumsily make it around my neck. I let it settle there, felt my breathing settle into his. He was perfect, this was perfect, and I was never going to let him go. “I’m sorry,” he whispered again. I tightened my grasp around his waist and he settled into my arms. Nothing had ever felt so comfortable as this. Nothing had ever felt so right. “Don’t go,” I heard his voice say, heard him plead, and my soul broke against him and reformed as something better, something altogether new and completely incredible and I knew that I would never be able to truly leave him again. I looked up and found a sea of eyes, judging and watching and waiting. “I’m taking him back to the ship,” I stated. I made my voice hard, tried to shield him with it. How had he become so fragile, gone from dangerous to in danger in such a flash? I wouldn’t let anything hurt him, I knew. I would keep him safe. “He needs water and rest.” “The hell you are.” Wicky stepped forward. He was flushed like the rest of them, from anger perhaps rather than the drink. His cravat was gone, the bruises I had given him clear and brutal. “Him in that state. You, as you are?” I tensed at the implication. Against my chest, the Captain squirmed, muttering something. I gently kissed the top of his head and he fell quiet. My eyes never left Wicky’s, and I could feel them filling up with all the things that had kept me alive, all the pieces that should scare a mortal soul. “Like hell I’m letting you take advantage of him,” he continued, seemingly unaware of the danger he was in. He took a step forward, a blade appearing in his hand. I still had the knife I had taken from the Captain. I raised it, then, showed it to Wicky. A warning. The air was thickening, something coming to a head that had been brewing for quite some time. I could finally kill this man, I thought. The ocean would have it’s offering. Then movement caught my attention. Thron had come up beside me, his big body lending weight to my threat, weight I might have lacked while carrying the Captain’s. On my other side, Natch appeared, small, maybe, but he carried the least amount of land of all these men. Perhaps that made him the most dangerous; perhaps that just made me trust him more. Other men began to move. I watched, dumbfounded, as man after man from the training group stood and leant their support to Natch and Thron and, I supposed, me. Wicky’s face grew dark, his eyes flicking from figure to figure. He could not have seen this coming; I had not seen this coming. The idiots, I thought. Aligning with a prisoner who throws them on their backs for exercise. Who can’t even get things right with their Captain, might have put them all in danger. Showing their allegiance like this, just before I was to leave. Drunk. Outnumbered. On land. I could have taken Wicky, maybe. I could have taken Wicky and his one or two dedicated lackeys. All of them, perhaps, if I had someone to watch the Captain. But this show of support was forcing the other men to pick sides, and it was in danger of becoming an all out mutiny. I couldn’t have that, not here, not now. Not with the Captain so delicate in my arms. I looked down at the knife in my hand. “Natch,” I said quietly. “Get them to stand down.” He did so immediately, sheathing his knife and turning to the others. I tossed the blade in my hand over to Wicky. “Keep hold of that,” I said casually, as if this show of force had not just occured, as if Wicky had not just learned that some men on his ship would fall behind me in a fight against him, as if I had not just commanded his men without words and without asking. “He’ll want it back when he’s sober.” “You don’t tell me what to do,” he snapped, but he picked up the knife all the same. “Natch, Finn,” I called. “We’re going back to the ship. Wicky will come with us.” I scooped up the Captain, holding him in the crook of my arms like a babe. He was light, so much lighter than I’d expected. He made a small noise against my chest. His arms were so loose around my neck, so weak. I held him tight. “He’ll bring whatever men he sees fit.” I turned to head back to the boats. “Ghost -” Thron said warningly, his eyes hard on Wicky. I paused in my path next to him. “This is for the Captain,” I told him quietly. “We need not fear Wicky; he is inconsequential. The Captain is what matters.” Thron nodded, but he didn’t look especially happy. In the end, Wicky brought four of his bigger goons. I brought Finn, Natch, and the Captain. All of them were drunk, and I was confident that if it came to it, I could dispatch every single one of them and still get the Captain back to the ship safely. But it wasn’t needed; the boat made it safely back to the ship. Wicky tried to say he should carry the Captain up to the deck. I leveled my gaze at him for just a moment, just long enough that he would understand how little I cared about his opinion, then I hooked the Captain to my chest and climbed up one-handed, as smoothly as I could. He was not doing so well, the Captain. Halfway to the ship he has stopped speaking coherently, just quietly babbled and tried to run his hands through my hair clumsily. I shushed him over and over, kissing his temple, and eventually he had calmed and simply rested heavy in my arms. I was worried about him, about how much he had drank. He still held the bottle clutched tight in his hand, wouldn’t let it go, would yell if we tried to pry it from his grasp. It was a constant reminder of how we had gotten to this point, the near-empty bottle clinking and catching on doorways and bodies as we moved through the ship. When we reached his room, I gently laid him down on his bed. He looked so beautiful, his hair spilling out over the covers. I watched him try to raise the bottle to his lips. “No,” I reprimanded quietly, pushing it away. He whimpered, but let me keep the liquor from him. I turned to Wicky. “I’m staying with him tonight.” “Like hell you are.” The first mate was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed, all four of his goons behind him. “The Captain needs his privacy.” “The Captain,” I said firmly, “needs to be watched. He could hurt himself.” Wicky scoffed. “This isn’t his first time doing this. He did fine without you, he’ll do fine when you’re gone. Come on, I’m locking you up.” I shrugged. They couldn’t keep me away, not really. I walked over to the window and opened it. “Fresh air,” I explained. Wicky rolled his eyes and hurried me along. Wicky took me to the cells. A week on the ship, and finally I was getting to sample the cell’s hospitality. One of the cages was opened for me. “You’ll stay here all of tomorrow,” he told me. “Then the next day, I’ll be rid of you. You’re bad for this crew, you’re bad for the Captain.” I let him walk around me as he would. Nothing would keep me from my Captain. As he tied up my arms and legs, I didn’t pay him much attention. When would these men learn that knots - The cold kiss of iron slammed against my arms. I gasped and looked down into Wicky’s smug face. “Cap said you weren’t to be in irons, but.” He shrugged, anger making him uglier than ever before. “Let’s see you untie this.” He laughed as he walked away, his goons smiling among themselves. “Wicky!” He didn’t turn. “Wicky!” I roared it. I let it tear loose from my chest, everything in my lungs becoming weaponized and dangerous. But he was gone. I stared down at the irons. I could do this, I told myself. My heart was pounding, my chest aching. It was nothing but irons. Two and a half years of my life spent in them, yes, but I was not there anymore. I was on a ship. I was with the sea. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could do this. Even in irons, I could do this. What were irons to me? I just needed a plan. I would get to the Captain, and I would take care of him. And then I would kill Wicky. And then I would - what? I would figure it out from there. For now, the Captain needed me. That was my first priority. There was a window at the end of the row of cells. If I could get myself out of the cage, I could reach the Captain through the outside of the ship. These men could not keep me from him. These men were nothing; I was the sea, and the Captain was the sky, and I would not be denied. I had carried him in my arms, I had touched him. I put that from my mind. It was more important than that. I imagined him, so drunk he couldn’t speak in that room. Upset. Alone. No. It was even more simple than that. He had asked me not to leave. I had to go back. I undid the knots that Wicky had left me in. I spent some time looking for rust on my irons, looking for weak spots, but where Wicky’s knots had been weak his choice in irons was strong. I gave up, wanting to scream. I could do this, I reminded myself. For the Captain, I could do this. I turned my attention to the door. Option one was picking the lock. I could do that, but it took time and tools, neither of which I had. Option two was hitting it until it gave. I took option two. Luckily, where my manacles had no rust, the door was riddled with it. My body weight carried me through the hinges on the fifth try. At that point, I suppose I could have looked for a key, or something else to release me from the last of my confinement. But I had already wasted enough time, and the Captain needed me, so I hurried to the window and began to climb towards the Captain. It was harder than I expected to make the climb while constrained, and I lost time that I needed. That the Captain needed. I almost fell twice, my grip slipping when I reached for something that I did not have the span to reach. When I finally reached the right window, I didn’t take the time to look inside and make sure it was empty, I just hauled my body inside. It was a small miracle that the room was unoccupied. I did a quick scan, listening and looking, but there was nothing but the sound of quiet murmuring outside the door. Wicky must have posted guards, the sanctimonious ass. There was nothing. I stopped, suddenly very concerned. Where the hell was the Captain? A small moan drew my attention to the bathroom, and I made my way across the room. Fuck, I thought. Fuck fuck fuck. He had to be okay, I had just gotten him back, he had to be okay... The Captain sat slumped against the wall, his shirt drenched in vomit. It looked like he’d tried to make it to the toilet, or maybe the bin, but had fallen and hit his head before he could. A bleeding cut on his forehead was testament to his struggle. He raised his hand feebly as he saw me enter the doorway. “Oh, shit,” I breathed. I was going to kill Wicky. I was going to destroy him, separate his soul from his body and rip each apart separately. I would bury him at sea with no silver and no way to guide him to the afterworld, and when his ghost came to haunt me I would do it to him again, and again. “Come on.” I kept my anger out of my voice, feeding it to the sea as a promise. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” I grabbed a damp cloth and a glass of drinking water, then slid myself between the wall and him. I don’t know that he recognized me, truly, but he seemed to relax in my arms all the same. I gently cleaned his face, then got him to down some liquid. The manacles made things awkward, but he hardly noticed in his drunken state, and it was best to go slowly anyway. Soon he was clean from the neck up. When it came time to take off his shirt, however, I found him reluctant. “No,” he muttered, pushing at me. At first I continued, thinking he just didn’t understand what was going on, but he was becoming agitated, almost afraid. “Please, no, I don’t want to, don’t make me. I’ll be better, I’m sorry.” He squirmed in my grasp, fighting me, his face twisted in an emotion that I didn't want to link with any action I would ever do, not to him. I stopped. “Okay,” I murmured. “Nothing you don’t want, okay.” I pressed my face to the top of his head and tried not to let his words sink to my stomach, didn’t let myself think about what they might mean. “I’m here. Nothing can hurt you.” That seemed to reach him. When he was settled, I gently extricated myself from his body. He made a small noise of protest, and I almost stayed, but I needed to find something. It felt invasive, to go through his drawers, but I found what I needed quickly and was soon back at his side. “Look,” I told him, bringing his hand to the shirt I had found. “I have a new shirt for you.” He felt the shirt, took it in. “Will you let me take this one off? It’s dirty.” After a time he nodded, and I slowly pulled at the bottom of his shirt until it come off over his head. I caught my breath at the sight of him there, even sour smelling as he was, at the feel of his bare skin against mine. I washed him gently, thoroughly, but quickly, keeping my fingers light and delicate. I wanted to grab him, to run my hands over every part of him that lay exposed, but I was careful to only touch what I needed to. I watched his face as I did, making sure I wasn’t upsetting him, but he seemed okay. When his skin was clean, I pulled the new shirt over his head, ending with my arms around his waist. He sighed and settled back against me. This was perfect. This would be perfect, I amended my thought, if only he were sober. I sighed, feeling him fall asleep against me. It wouldn’t do to have him asleep here, not in the cold bathroom. Not against me. I didn’t want him waking up confused and lost, to find himself wrapped in arms he might not actually want. I shook him awake gently and got him to drink more of his water. “Sailor,” he slurred, looking up at my face with eyes that made my heart want to burst. How could one man’s face be so perfect? It wasn’t fair to everyone else in the world. “When did you get here?” I smiled down at him and pressed the cup to his lips. My manacles rattled, and he looked down. “Your hands are stuck,” he told me, pulling away from the cup. I nodded. He collapsed against me again, his eyes fluttering closed. “That’s hot.” Despite everything, despite how much I hated what these irons meant to me, what they had done to me in the past, at his words I had to smile. When he finished his water I carried him to bed and left him there as I cleaned up the mess in bathroom as best I could. There were no more towels, so I sacrificed my shirt to the cause. When I returned to the bedroom, I found that he had tried to climb from the bed and was now kneeling on the ground, his head still on the covers. I sighed and lifted him back up. “Don’t leave me again,” he mumbled. “I’m right here,” I told him. “But now it’s time to sleep.” He nodded, curling up, and I tried not to smooth back his hair, I really did, but my hand moved on it’s own accord and he relaxed so immediately, so completely under my touch that I did it again. As his breathing settled, I sat back and looked across the room to the chair. To be fair to him, I really should sleep there. It would give him distance, and from there I would still be able to keep an eye on him. I looked down at the figure before me, crouched on the doorway of sleep. He was murmuring something again, and I reached out and let my hand rest on his shoulder. He settled instantly under my touch. I couldn’t leave him. Besides, it would be better to sleep on the bed. I would be able to feel any sort of movement that he made and would be able to react much more quickly. This was the safer option, I told myself. The window was still open, letting the cool night air into the room. I gently slid him under the covers, then settled myself next to him on top. That, I thought, would remove any ambiguity. We couldn’t touch on opposite sides of the sheets. Next to me, the Captain stirred. I stretched out my hand and let my fingers touch his palm. His hand immediately curled against mine. My stomach twisted, seeing just that small gesture of affection. I watched him for a long time, my hand in his, his face so serene, before drifting off to sleep myself. *** The Captain woke sometime in the night. He opened his eyes drowsily, feeling the familiar haze of rum swimming through his head, and expected to see the floor of some room, or perhaps the side of his toilet. The Captain was no stranger to drink; for a long time, it had been his only friend, his only confidant. The only place he didn’t have to think about what he was going back to until he had run, run so completely he had even lost his name. Instead of unforgiving wood floor, he found himself in his bed. He felt comfortable, foggily safe even. A warmth spread through his body, and he realized that he had even made it under his covers. How strange, he thought. How did this happen? He opened his eyes to further explore this anomaly and that’s when he understood that he was dreaming. Across from him was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. And he had seen this man before - had dreamed of him so many times, had watched him from across the ship and yearned, and needed, and tried to absorb without the luxury of touch. And now he was here, right here, so close the Captain could feel the air moving as it escaped his lungs. His face was so soft, his breathing so gentle as it pulsed through his bare chest that the Captain almost forgot to breathe himself. He traced the lines of this man’s body with his eyes and found his hands manacled, the irons making his shoulders set at the unnatural angle they were at, the only unnatural angle on his entire body. He followed the arms further and discovered that his hand was in his, their fingers gently entwined. This man, of all men, in his bed. In irons. Touching him. The Captain smiled. What could it be but a dream. Well. He was going to enjoy it. It was so rare that he got good dreams these days. He closed his eyes and fell back asleep.
  2. Chapter 4

    I wiped my face with the inside of my shirt as I moved down the hall. I felt good, at least for the first few steps. Then the full weight of my proclamation hit my body. I felt myself going down, right there in the hall. I traced my hand down the wall as my knees buckled beneath me. What was this, this sick ripping feeling passing through my stomach and bleeding into my soul, this sudden void inside my head, the way my lungs wouldn’t take air? I gasped, crouched there in the hall, somehow lower than the floor. Lower than the seabed. If this was control, I thought, I didn’t want it anymore. But the damage was already done. I didn’t make threats that I couldn’t keep, and I didn’t say things that I didn’t mean. The Captain would never touch me again. The loss was like a sledgehammer to my soul. I managed to drag myself into the kitchen. Cookie took one look at me and sat me down on a chair, fixing me up a hot bowl of porridge and draping a warm towel over my shoulders. I set down the bowl without touching a bite and set myself to chopping onions. I wanted something to do with my hands, and if tears came from my eyes then the onions were potent and I was not to blame. Ah, who was I to lie? I cried, there in the kitchen. There is no shame in that. I was a man of the sea. The sea is salty, and men like me are to blame. That was what Minnie always told me when I used to cry in her kitchen over a sunset, or the death of a seal pup I had been nursing. There is no shame in tears shed at sea, by men such as me, because we are the sea and we must return something to her. She expects as much. To do anything else would be sacrilege. You mustn't cry on land, though. The land is greedy and already steals so much that the sea has to offer. Those years I had spent on land, in the mines, I hadn’t shed a single tear. Not through all the horrors I had seen, not through all the pain they had put me through. I had guarded the sea jealously in my chest, and it drove my captors mad. A small victory, maybe, but you can survive on small victories. They can get you through. I had no taste for victory that day. Everything was loss, and I let myself lose the sea the same way. It wasn't just the Captain; it was the whole of it, the way my plan had fallen to shreds, the fact that I needed a plan at all, the fear that I might never be who I was meant to be again. The pain I had felt for years, with dirt under my feet where there should have been water, stale air where I should have found ocean breezes. The rage at the man who made it so. Who had made me a ghost, who had killed me and foolishly believed that would be enough to keep him safe. I had held it in for so long and it felt good to release. I was at sea again, Cookie was a friend, the pain was fresh and my soul was raw. Minnie had always taught me that a single tear in a bowl of soup was enough to bring a man to heel. If that was true, the soup we served to the men that night could have brought an army to its knees. The men must have been surprised to see me there, released again from the captivity they believed me to be under, but they were hungry and my presence in the kitchen meant they were fed faster so no one said anything. I was silent as I ladled out their soup, Cookie in the back making sure we had enough of everything. The crying had done me good; I felt empty, drained of anything I wanted to feel. This allowed me to begin steeling myself, visualizing my plans and trying to understand what would come next. How I would live without the Captain, who didn’t love me, who would use me so easily, who now would never do so again. Cookie left me be. There was quiet chatter through the room as the men ate, obviously hungry after pushing their ship to catch the British charter earlier. But there wasn’t the air of excitement that would usually come with a successful capture, and I watched them carefully as they spoke in hushed tones, turning talismen and crossing themselves when they thought the others weren’t looking. When all the men were served, I grabbed a bowl for myself and moved out into the mess to take my seat. I found Finn in the same place as at breakfast. Breakfast seemed so long ago, so much having happened in the interim. Without waiting for an invitation I settled myself next to him. There was a pause in the conversation as the men around me took in my bulk, my quiet blankness, the exhausted turn of my shoulders. The man across from me opened his mouth, perhaps thinking of saying something. I met his eyes steadily and he lowered his gaze, if only a little. It was enough for me at that moment, and I put him from my mind. Land boys, I thought. No threat to me. Slowly, as I spooned soup into my mouth, the conversation resumed. “I’m telling you,” Finn was saying to the small guy across from me. His eyes, in turn, were still on me, a hooded gaze that was taking in every part of my affect. “Weren’t natural. All them men, killed just like that. And before we even got there?” He drew back and shook his head, drawing the other man’s eyes from me. “You want me to be afraid of a ghost, Finn? No such thing.” “Then explain the ship.” A third man chimed in. “Aye, or the flag.” Finn leaned forward so far his shirt was in danger of falling into his soup. “Ghosts, boy. I’m telling you, t’were ghosts.” “Naught but one, I heard.” They tensed at my voice. Perhaps I sounded different than the morning; perhaps they simply hadn’t expected me to speak. Then Finn leaned forward, eyes big, and pointed to me. “Man knows what he’s speaking of.” The man across from me, the small one, grinned and leaned back. “Don’t encourage him, big guy.” “Twenty men dead, Natch. All left said they saw him, you can’t say that doesn’t strike true.” Finn turned and spat twice over his left arm, a very old and supposedly very potent guard against evil spirits. I took another bite of soup. “If it weren’t the ghost, then what could it have been?” The small man, whose name must have been Natch, smiled again, a sharp and not at all joyful expression. “The King, I ‘spose.” The whole table blanched. There was a second of complete and utter silence, and then they all spoke at once. “Not funny, boy.” “Cap hears you speakin’ like that, he’ll have you thrown off for sure.” “The King is in the north and he’ll remain there so long as we remain here.” “Aye, and by all the seas we will never return, I want to keep my head, thank you very much.” Natch just shrugged. “Cap won’t care much what I say or don’t. He’s got to be thinking the same thing after the flag went up. And besides, he’s got other things on his mind.” He chinned air at my form. I froze as all the eyes at the table turned towards me. I very quietly put my spoon back into my soup and met Natch’s eyes. I didn’t like where this was headed, knew from this morning that there were men not happy with the way the Captain had taken to me. Or, I revised my thought, had taken me. It was a more possessive thing than a caring one, and I felt my soul keen even as my body bristled. I wasn’t in the mood to fight this fight, not now. “I’m sorry?” I asked, in the least threatening voice I could muster. Finn still pulled away from me. “You are sleeping with the Captain, are you not?” he asked. His voice held something that I couldn’t yet identify, but I kept it close by in case it was dangerous. “Jake and Murr and Ichor saw you.” “I was,” I told him. “Some are saying that it was not your idea,” he continued quietly. My eyes darted up to his, surprised both at his directness and at the statement. Not my idea? Then who’s idea did that make it? The kid was leaning on his elbow and looking over at me, his eyes bright and light and hiding everything I wanted to learn. The air around us was taut with implications I didn’t think I was understanding. “They say he had you tied.” I looked to Finn. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Big guy,” the lad continued. He was quiet, so quiet, and yet there was something so loud about his voice. It carried over the din of the other men. “I just need to know. Did you say yes?” I immediately bristled, the implications crystallizing all at once. It felt like an attack on the Captain's character, after all the care he'd taken to ensure the opposite was true. Did these men know nothing of the man I loved? “You have so little faith in your Captain?” I snapped. I couldn’t keep the anger from my voice. Couldn’t keep the accusation from my eyes. I turned my gaze back to my soup and tried to stay what they wanted me, a prisoner, a nothing, but it was hard when the whole of the sea was pressing against the inside of my skin. “No," Natch said quietly. "It's just I have so little faith in men.” Those words dropped into my sea so quickly that I almost missed them. But I am not an idiot, not always, and the meaning slowly rippled out, expanding with the way he had said it, the quiet way he watched me. The gentle way he pretended he wasn’t just as hard as I had once been, as I had become again. I swallowed down soup and ocean and brought my eyes up to his. His was a younger face than I’d thought at first, clear blue eyes holding things I was no longer sure I wanted to understand. I nodded to show my recognition of his words, slowly draining myself of the anger and the salty waves I had let rise unchecked. I found myself giving him the truth. “I said yes.” I kept this moment between us as well as I could, my grey eyes locking with his brown. “But now it is over.” He watched me carefully, maybe looking for signs of me lying. Then I watched tension drain from his body, tension I hadn’t even noticed him holding. It was as if my words had reached out and pulled a small plug from his shoulders, allowing the thing he had been carrying within him to run out. His face returned to the boyish calm he had carried earlier. I don’t know that anyone else saw it; it was a subtle change in a gregarious person. “Good.” He smiled, a bright and careful symbol fading into relief. “Ah; that’s very good.” He explained it me later, after we’d become friends. He would have left the ship if I had told him that the Captain had taken me without consent. I’ve no room in my life for men like that, he’d said. Men who take without asking. Not anymore. All of those spaces have already been claimed. At that time, all I knew was he was hard, and bright, and knew how to hide the things that grew inside of him until he needed them. I respected that. I reached across the table to shake his hand. “Natch, right?” He nodded. “Didn’t catch your name, big guy.” I shook his hand and smiled soft. He smiled back into my silence. “This is what’s real, boys. Flesh and blood and large as life. Larger, even.” I let my smile fade and turned back to my soup. I wasn’t real, not truly. Not anymore. “You’re the only ghost here, aren’t you? Coming aboard with nothing, making your way through our rank. All silent and brooding.” One of the other men laughed. “Maybe, but at least if he attacks we’ll always be able to see him coming!” I met Natch’s eyes for only a moment more before dropping them back to my soup. Let them have their jokes. They had no reason to know they should fear my hands. Conversation soon turned back to the ship and the flag that had flown. “It’s the King’s, alright.” Natch ignored Finn’s attempts to shush him. “Or some version of it.” “Made up in blood,” one of the other men added. Natch nodded, face very serious. “The King wouldn’t like that. Waste of precious materials he’d rather drink up.” The man he was talking to looked like he wasn’t sure if he should believe him or not. I felt a smile tug at the corners of my mouth. Finn, a more serious expression on his face, spoke up. “Wouldn’t much like the survivors either. Or that we left the ship standing. He’s a cruel, cruel man, the king.” “I heard he once took a slave ship, and killed the entire crew and still sold the slaves at port.” “He killed a sea god, you know. Drank his blood. Made him immortal.” I ate quietly as they spun tales around me. If these men conflated the old King with the new, what was it to me? They probably thought there was only one king, had only ever been one. The illusion was carefully kept; it had to be. Power must pass quietly, or people might view the new king as weak. I took bite as another story that was a mix of the two men landed on my ears. The Pirate King is dead, I thought quietly. Long live the Pirate King. “He slept with a hundred harlots, just to father a son.” “Nonsense; you’re thinking of the sirens, boy.” “They say those that lay with him are condemned, that his semen contains the souls of the innocent he’s killed.” “Bullshit.” “No, Finn’s right. You mustn’t drink the Pirate King’s cum.” “As if you’d ever get the chance.” “If I did get the chance, I’d take it.” “To what? Sleep with the Pirate King?” “And you wouldn’t?” “What about the cursed semen? What if it were true?” “Christ, lad, then I’d spit!” Eventually they wore themselves out of gossip and campfire stories, and the men began to file from the mess to their respective evening duties. I began to gather various bowls and cups left strewn about, getting ready to help Cookie with the cleaning. “Hey, big guy.” I didn’t answer at first. Why would I? Who would want me in this place? When the voice called again, more insistent, I looked up to find Natch leaning in the door frame. “Since we didn’t get a fight today from the ship, couple of us guys were going to head to the deck and whack at each other. You in?” He smirked. “The guys are curious about the man that keeps the Captain’s interest. Figure this is the only way they can touch you without Cap right about killing them.” Keep the Captain’s interest. Not anymore, I thought. I looked down at the dishes in my hands. My muscles ached from my long swim and the battle I had stolen from these men; it would be foolish to go and make up the fight I had already single-handedly contained. “Yeah,” I heard myself say. “I’ll be up in moment.” He beamed, rapping on the doorframe. “Awesome. See you up there, Ghost.” He was gone before I processed what he’d decided to call me. “Cap will kill any of them if they hurt you,” Cookie said from behind me. I shrugged and handed off the dishes, apologizing for not helping. He looked aghast that I would even consider such a task my duty. Even so, only when all the dishes were stacked next to the sink did I head up to the deck. *** The sunset stretched thick and heavy across the sky as I emerged from the ship. I had never seen such a tangible sky, so close and physical. Reds bled into orange with a texture that I breathed in deeply, trying to cement them into my soul. I wanted to climb into the ropes and become one with the dripping colors, press myself up until I no longer existed as a body. Natch caught sight of my form and broke away from the moving figures on the deck. I didn’t pay them any attention; the sky was indistinguishable from the sea, and I was the sea, and I was trying to figure out if that then made me the sky. Natch noticed my concentration and traced it up to the highest reaches of the sails. “Ah,” he said. “You a ropes guy?” There was irony in that statement, maybe, or at least a double entendre, but I only heard the meaning that mattered to me then. I nodded. “We’ll get you back up there in no time.” He pulled me over to the sparring men, and I was given a wooden blade and set up against a mediocre fighter. I fought well, but not too well. If he had a good thrust I let it land; if he had a good block, I let it hold me at bay. There was no need for these men to see what I was capable of. This was temporary. I would only be with them until they dropped me off at their next stop, or decided to kill me. If they decided to kill me, it was important they did not expect me to be what I was. Besides, the sky was distracting. It shifted colors around me, holding my interest better than any of these men ever could. When they tired, we all made our way back below decks. Natch slid up to me, his grin flashing as sharp as any sword. “Impressive.” I shrugged. It wasn’t really. He caught me still staring up into the ropes. A sly grin crossed his face. “You want to go up?” I nodded. “Come on, then.” He led up me to the base of the rigging and we climbed to the sky. Night had come to pass while we were training, the first stars beginning to show. I moved through the ropes behind Natch, only letting myself move as fast as he did, trying to make my movements look like his. He climbed well, for one not born to it. I almost could believe he was born for the sea. But I was a child of the sea, and these men had nothing on me. I settled at his pace and my soul ached at being constrained. He stopped halfway up and fashioned himself a sort of hammock from the ropes. I watched him, leaning comfortably a bit away against the mast. I waited for him to speak, but he was quiet watching the stars appear. I appreciated his silence and turned my own gaze to the sky, finally feeling myself begin to relax. After a long time, he spoke. “You climb well.” I shrugged. He had seen nothing. “Where do you come from?” “The sea,” I told him truthfully. He smiled at that. We sat for a little longer in the creaking of the ship. Then he turned to me. “Where will you stay tonight.” “The Captain’s quarters, I suppose.” “I thought you said it was over.” I did not allow my face to change, did not allow my body to react. “I have nowhere else to stay.” I felt his eyes take in my body. I am neutral, I told myself. I washed him from me in the sea. I cried his salt from my soul. “If it’s too much, we could find an extra hammock in the barracks.” The thought of sleeping without the Captain filled me with panic. “No,” I quickly answered. Natch blinked. “No,” I repeated more slowly, more in control. I leaned back and closed my eyes. “Damn,” Natch said quietly. I heard him chuckle. “You’ve got it bad.” If someone had spoken to me like that three years ago, I would have taken their jaw from their face. But here, I felt powerless. And wasn’t it true? I simply scowled in the face of his words as he shook his head. “Well,” he said, stretching. “Let’s get you back.” *** When we reached the deck, he looked over to me. “You’ll come train with us tomorrow?” I shrugged. I was lost on this ship. I didn’t know where I would be tomorrow, let alone what I would be doing. “If I’m still here,” I finally confirmed. He laughed at that. “Okay. See you then, Ghost.” I stayed up on deck a little longer, watching the last threads of red light drift into the curtain of night sky. The darkness did little to relieve the heaviness that I was feeling. Going back in felt like a terrible idea; the only thing waiting for me was the Captain’s bed, and I had no intention of returning there. But where else could I go? I sighed and pulled myself up. There was nothing for it. I needed to sleep, and that was where I slept. I made my way to the Captain’s chambers. I was saved the indignity of knocking by Finn bustling from the door, leaving it ajar behind him as he rushed down the corridor. He caught sight of me and shook his head. “Cor, boy, avoid him if you can. Mood as sour as the sea in heat.” That did not bode well for me. I nodded my understanding and made the rest of my way down the hall. The room was ominously silent when I reached the entranceway. I slowly pushed open the door and entered. The Captain was sitting on the edge of the bed. His shirt was askew, and the sight of his body sent my heart careening wildly. I bid it stop, but when had my heart ever listened to my commands? It was his to control, I understood that by now. His head was in his hands, wild curls springing past his fingers and covering his face. Across from his body, the remains of his dinner were slowly sliding down his wall, adorned with the shards of a bowl or cup. It all pooled together at the junction of floor and paneling. In the scattered remains, I could recognize the soup I had made. I moved into the room. As I did the hinges on the door made a noise, or maybe it was my footfalls that betrayed me. Either way, he knew I was there and stood suddenly, spinning to see me. He took me in, eyes wild. I let him stare at me from the distance he kept. He looked beautiful, his chest heaving in surprise and perhaps the vestiges of the anger that had caused him to throw his dinner. “You came back.” He sounded so surprised, his voice light and breathless. My own breath hitched to hear it. “Where else would I have gone?” I found that my voice was much more calm than I’d expected. I was safe with him; I was where I belonged. He was the sunset I had just left, and I was the sea. I found the answer to the questions I had asked there in his eyes. “I thought…” He made a small gesture but seemed to not be able to finish the sentence. “Finn told me what you said at dinner.” I was silent. I had said a lot at dinner, for me. I made a note to be more careful what I said around Finn. “Then he said you left with the other men.” “I was sparring.” “It made it seem like. Because you didn’t want me anymore. You could have gone back with one of them, to their beds.” His eyes were so intense, his face trying to hold in such anger. To hear him say that, to hear him think I didn’t want him? It sent shock waves through my core. I wanted to kiss him so badly, then, to assure him that I would never go to another man’s bed, that he had me forever. The sensation so extreme that my hand flew to my lips to try and keep it in. We stood like that, me touching my lips wishing my hand was his mouth, wishing I didn’t want him so badly, him staring so intently I thought I might turn directly to smoke. Good, I thought. If he breathes me in, it doesn’t count as touching. I broke from my thoughts with a sharp breath. “Your dinner.” The path to the bathroom and the cloths that could clean the mess he had made was dangerously close to his body, but I set my eyes straight ahead and began to move my feet. “Leave it.” He put his hand out feebly towards me. “Finn will get it in the morning.” I emerged from the wash room, damp cloth in hand. “Hey, I said -” He stopped as I dodged his touch, staring at the space that should have held us. Slowly, he sat back down on the bed to watch me clean up the mess he had made. “If you didn’t like it, I could have made you something else.” “No, it was.” He watched me for a moment. “It was not the soup.” He sat there. I tried not to really look at him; I didn’t know what I would do. We were too close, too close... “You made it?” he asked. “Yes, with Cookie.” He returned his face to his palms. “It was not the soup.” I thought I heard him mutter, “Can I do nothing right?” but his voice was quiet and muffled by the fleshy bits of hands that should be on my body, holding me tight and making me feel unimaginable pleasure and I chose to focus on the soup and shards of pottery. When I finished, I made my retreat across the room to the chair that sat at the desk. I waited for him to speak. “It’s late,” came his voice. It was low and graveling and drew me towards him. I gripped the arms of the chair to help me to remain still. “Best go to sleep.” “Yes,” I agreed. I didn’t move towards the bed. He turned to me. He looked a little better than he had, comforted by my presence perhaps. He shouldn’t have been. And yet here I was, comforted by him, made so uncomfortable by him. I didn’t allow myself to look at him again. “Hey.” He spoke so softly. “Come to bed.” I would have sworn that he was begging but for the firmness in his voice. My body began to respond; I wanted to submit to him, wanted to give him everything that he wanted. I pressed myself against the chair and shook my head. “Sailor.” Sailor still, I thought a little unkindly. That’s a step up from prisoner at least. My frustration helped me to resist his insistent tone. “Come to bed.” Not the bed, I thought, panicked. The bed was his. If I went to bed, I would be lost to him. “I think I’ll sleep here tonight.” I heard him stand; he was coming over to me. My entire body tensed, I hadn't realized my body could tense further than it had, and yet... “I thought,” he murmured as he drew closer, “you said you would do whatever I asked.” “I did.” My eyes slowly raised to his. Dark curls blocked most of his gaze, and I thanked the gods of the sea and whatever other gods there might be for that, because I don’t think I could have resisted the look of need that he was giving me otherwise. As it stood, his gaze blocked and my need only half killing me with each breath, I was able to tell him, “But I also told you that I would never let you hurt me.” When I said that, something flashed over his face. Surprise? Anger? Regret? It was over too quickly for me to see it in full, but it was strong enough within him to cause him to draw back. There was a long stretch of time where perhaps each of us was waiting on the other to act. Then, he slowly collapsed, his muscles releasing the taut construction that had always graced his physique. It was as if he was becoming undone, all the strings that pulled him together becoming unknotted one by one. “Okay,” he said, in a voice so reserved I wasn’t even sure he’d said anything until he repeated it. “Okay.” He moved back towards the bed. “You’ll need to tie me up.” He froze, his entire body turning to ice. It wasn’t like the tension had returned, he just froze as he was. I don’t know why I said it, except that my whole body was tense and I was still so angry, and this would bring him closer to me and would also hurt him like he had hurt me. I could have taken pity on him, I suppose, could have let him just go to bed, but I still remembered the way I had felt earlier that day, the way he had told me so casually that he would use me. I needed to protect myself, I lied. I needed to be firm, needed to prove I still had some control. My mind conveniently forgot how much control had hurt me. “I’m still a prisoner.” “I’ll find rope,” he voiced after a pause so long I thought he must have thawed. He hadn’t. He moved through the room, popsicle limbs swinging on loose ropes, unhinged and uncomfortable to see, so I just stopped looking. Turning my gaze away didn’t make the pit in my stomach any smaller. Making it so I couldn’t see his body didn’t make my soul ache any less. And when he reached my side and knotted me to my chair, I made sure I didn’t look at his hands so close to mine. He stood, inspecting his work. Or maybe inspecting me. I finally looked up to his face, and saw that he had his hands in his hair, drawing his brows smooth with the force of his frustration. “Are you comfortable?” he asked. “More than I would be in your bed,” I answered, unkindly. But not untruthfully. His hands moved to cover his eyes. “Fuck,” I saw him mouth. No sound emerged from his throat. Then, he retreated to his bed, where despite my attempts to not look at him I watched him curl into a small ball and pull the covers over his chin. If he fell asleep that night, it wasn’t before me. *** We were awoken the next morning by a knock on the door. Finn had brought breakfast, and the day’s briefings. I watched the Captain rise from his bed, his hair gloriously ruffled, his pants disheveled. Sometime in the night he had shed his shirt. His bare chest caught the morning light through the window of his room, golden and warm. The sight proved too much for me. I untied myself and moved past the duo in the doorway as quickly as I could, taking pains not to touch my body to the Captain’s smaller one. “Sailor!” I heard him call after me as hurried off towards the kitchen. “SAILOR!” But I was gone. Cookie welcomed me into his kitchen and we prepared breakfast. The work settled my hands, anchored my soul to the convictions I had set. When the men came I sat with Natch and Finn, then went up to the deck and found work coiling ropes and cleaning the decks. Wicky wouldn’t allow me to touch anything else, and I was fine with that. This place wasn’t worth trying to get a foothold into, I figured. I would be gone before any of that mattered, in one way or another. Lunch was more of the same. I moved down before the others, helped Cookie prepare, then served the rest of the men as they came down from the deck and up from below. The chatter was the same. I sat down next to Finn. He turned to me, face twisted and turned to worry. “The Captain,” he started to say, his voice low. Then all noise stopped. I didn’t need to turn around to know what happened; the drop of temperature told me enough. The feeling of eyes on my shoulder, icy and hot at the same time. Silently, I stood and returned to the kitchen. It was my job to serve the men; he was one of the men. The room watched me make my way, then watched the Captain slowly follow me. I could track him by the pockets of silence he drew around him. When he reached the window, I turned. He looked magnificent, as always. I didn’t let myself get distracted by his bare chest, or by his soft lips. What were those things to me? I stared instead into his eyes, daring him to see him this time, to actually see me. I loved him, and he would not use that for his pleasure. I wrote that on my face and dared him to read it. When he met my eyes back with eyes so broken, so torn, filled with things held just at the cusp of spilling into mine, it was I who dropped my gaze. I moved through the kitchen, finding what was needed. Was he here to torture me, to try and wear me down? He had never come to the mess before, had never asked me to serve him like this. I would, of course. I would serve him however he wanted, my body told me, even as my brain screamed that this was another of his cruelties, that he had come to try and get me to crawl back to him. He held out a bowl. My hands took it from him, gently, carefully. My ladle filled it with soup. I could feel his eyes on me the whole time, watching me, waiting for something. I wouldn’t give it to him. I had borne greater torture than this and come out the other side intact. Whatever he held in his eyes, I didn’t fucking need it. He put his hands out to receive the bowl... Which I put down on the counter inches from his hand. “Your soup,” I told him. Then I raised my eyes to his and finished my gesture with a very soft and very hard, “sir.” If I had been watching his hands, I would have seen them turn white as he clenched them into fists. If I had been watching his face, I would have seen it fall, just a moment, before he was able to catch it. But I wasn’t. I was studiously watching the air just over his shoulder, ignoring his presence before me. I was busy lying to both of us and pretending that he had become nothing to me. It was not a very convincing lie. He reached out and took the bowl. He waited just a moment more, then he turned and made his way from the silent room. It was a small miracle in and of itself that I was able to wait until he was out of the door before collapsing behind the counter, the weight of everything he created inside of me sucking me down and pulling me in. “Oh, all the stars in the sky.” Cookie was beside me in an instant. “My boy, what have you done.” What had I done? I buried my face in my hands and listened to the gossip erupting in the vacuum the captain had left in his wake. “I saw the marks on your neck,” Cookie was continuing, “but I didn’t really think.” I could hear him shifting before me. “Have you fallen for him?” I didn’t respond. “For all the -” He took my hands from my face. “Boy, you listen to me. This can’t continue.” “I know,” I told him. “It’s dangerous.” “I know,” I told him again. “No, boy.” Cookie was practically vibrating. “You don’t. All due respect to you, but you truly don’t.” I looked up into his little pinched face as he took a deep breath. “The captain is nameless.” I think I scared him when I set my head back against the counter and laughed, the irony of fate driving itself through my gut like a knife. *** Cookie got me calmed down eventually. He sent me out into the mess, a fresh bowl of soup in my own hands, and told me to “go find yourself a nice named boy who isn’t destined to kill you.” It hadn’t seemed worth it to explain to Cookie that I wasn’t that person anymore. That I was now nameless too. He seemed invested in me being the person he wanted and besides, I hadn’t had much luck lately of convincing others that I was not the person they had created in their heads. “Holy shit,” Natch greeted me with. I put my bowl on the table and ignored him. “I’m sorry,” Finn said, leaning over to me. “I was going to warn you.” “I thought you said it was over,” Natch continued. “It is.” I tried to take a bite of my soup but found that it tasted like dust in my mouth. I couldn’t let him get to me like this, not when we were stuck on the same ship. I rolled the soup about in my mouth, feelings mounting. “That,” he said, pointing to the direction that the Captain had gone, “is not over.” I slammed my spoon on the table and stared him down. He stared back, unconcerned with the hard lines my body was suddenly making. Natch, I remembered too late, was not afraid of ghosts. Well, I thought dangerously, he had seemed worried about the king. We stayed that way, anger stewing through me like a storm. I could deal with storms. I could pick them apart, learn which bits of them were real and which of them were bluster. Where it was safe to sail. And this, this was bluster. I wasn’t mad at Natch. I was mad at the Captain, mad at the way I felt him pulling at me still even after he'd left. I was furious at the pain I felt, swirling around inside my gut. I moved my soup out of the way and put my head down on the table. Natch carefully reached out and put his hand on top of mine. “It is nothing,” I told them. “That isn’t true,” Natch told me quietly. “What happened?” “It doesn’t matter.” I didn't bother to lift my head, speaking to the table. “It’s over now.” “Yeah.” He patted my hand with his. “Of course it is.” Finn joined him, patting me on the back. “My boy, it’s best just to tell him. He might even be able to help.” These men had no right to question me. I stood and gathered my still-full dishes, feeling my bulk pull together harshly. I wasn’t hungry anyway. “There is nothing that can help this.” As I made my way into the kitchen, I heard Finn mutter, “Oh all bless, this is bad.” *** After lunch, it was back to the decks and more of the same work. It used to be that this was all I needed to be happy. It used to be that I could exist on nothing but salt spray and hard tack, with the occasional battle thrown in for variety. Yet here I was. Empty. Aching. Thinking of him. Back down for dinner I went. We prepared a different soup this time, Cookie and I. He joked with me and we chopped and prepped but I wasn’t in the mood. The food was served. The Captain came in, stopping conversation, and I served him. I had never stopped serving him. I wondered if he knew that in the moments I spent filling his bowl. We did not touch or exchange words. I placed the bowl just before him, as before, and he picked it up and left. “He’s tormenting me,” I told Cookie. He frowned and shook his head as I watched the Captain’s perfect body leave. I sat with Natch and Finn to eat. Some of the other men had begun to show hostility towards me, their eyes dark and piercing, or perhaps not landing anywhere near me at all. That was fine. The sooner I left this place, the better. In the evening I made my way back up to the deck and trained with Natch and the others; I fought as if I were asleep. These men could not claim my interest. At night the man who could tied me up and I pretended it wasn’t killing me. The days passed like that. I cooked, I trained, I tried to ignore how the Captain pulled at the parts of me that should have never been allowed to move. Natch and I become very close, often retreating in the evenings to the upper levels of the riggings. He seemed to sense that I needed space from the rest of the ship, a place to get away from it all. We’d push ourselves up against the sky and, when it didn’t break, let ourselves rest, wrapped in rough cords as makeshift hammocks. He climbed almost as quickly as I did, much faster than any of these other land boys. I told him that the second night we went up, my sign of thanks. He laughed and thanked me back by trying to shove me from the air. The third day I went up to the docks, the Captain came up too. I thought, for some stupid reason, that we’d made some unspoken agreement to not be in the same place at the same time. I certainly avoided places where he might be like the plague; he seemed to do the same to me, skirting the training club after hours and keeping off the deck, or at least the portions I was working, when he knew I was working. But that day I looked up to find him ducking from the doorway, blinking, his black cloak thrown carelessly over his shoulders doing nothing to cover the skin of his chest. I froze, my body arrested by the sight of him. I hadn’t seen him like this, caught by the sun and the wind and the sea, dressed as a Captain should be, since the first day my eyes had frozen on him, since the first day my body had demanded him with such intensity I had been propelled onto this ship. He was stunning, his hair spinning around his face and refracting the sun, absorbing the sun. He was a prism and a black hole all at once, and I felt myself unable to escape his influence. A hand landed on my elbow and I jumped. I looked down into the eyes of Hams, the old tar in charge of my work. “Lad,” he told me sincerely. “You’re staring.” I scowled and turned away, suddenly conscious of the way the rope hung limp in my hands. Through the day I redoubled my efforts, taking care to make every knot perfect and every coil precise, but between my jobs I stole glances and kept watch across the ship. The Captain moved through the ranks, patting a man here and laughing with another there, never coming anywhere close to me. I was glad for that, I supposed. He wandered through my thoughts all day, inescapable in my mind even when he was not not present in my field of view. Every time he touched another man, even in camaraderie, I flinched. Every time I heard his laughter and it was not for me, my soul curled up a little tighter. At one point, I turned a corner and there he was. I was holding four lengthy ropes, weighed down by the immensity of them. Their weight had finally managed to press him from my mind. To see him then was all the worse; it was a slap in the face, a cold blast I was no longer steeled for. At some point his shirt had become further askew, revealing part of his shoulder and collarbone to the relentless sparkle of the sun. Under its influence he was a brilliant force, and I reeled, breath catching in my throat, sweat freezing over my skin as goosebumps crawled with the memory of his touch. He took me in, sweaty and held down with ropes that were not his. I watched his eyes flick over every part of me and wanted him to like what he saw, even though I was so angry I could have called a thousand storms and ripped them apart with my own hands. I saw his hands clench so tight they turned white and wanted to cry out for forgiveness, even though I didn’t know what I was supposed to be forgiven for. Then the Captain dropped his eyes and stepped back. His lips pressed together in an emotion I did not recognize, or perhaps did not want to understand. He gestured for me to move where he had been standing, the space now large enough to pass without touching his body. I walked past him and pretended that his gravity did not weigh more than all the ropes in the world combined, trying not to imagine his eyes on my back as I moved across the deck. That night, after training (one man commented in my hearing that the Captain had been too distracted by me during his rounds today, and I threw him so hard for doubting his commander that he refused to spar me again. I had to let the next man throw me so it wouldn’t look like I had any consistency) and after my time in the ropes with Natch (“Do you want to talk about what happened today?” he asked me. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about and climbed ten feet above him so he could not ask me again), I returned to the Captain’s quarters to find an array of clothes laid out. “You are working,” the Captain told me. I stood in the doorway, unsure of how to continue. Of course I was working. What would the Captain have me do? And what did clothes have to do with it? “I thought. It seems that perhaps, your clothes would need to be changed.” He waved a hand at my form. “You’ve been sweating, I mean. And, you know.” I looked around me at the rows of shirts and breeches, then looked askance at him. He frowned, taking in the shirts himself. “I didn’t know your size.” I continued to look at him. He threw his hands into the air and disappeared into the washroom. By the time he emerged, I had all the clothing stacked in a single pile and had settled myself, still clad in my original clothes, in his desk chair. I didn’t need his false kindness. I didn’t need him to try and get me from my clothes. I sat, stubborn and angry, waiting for the ropes he would use not in the way we both craved. He stopped, taking in the careful pile and the even more careful way I didn’t look him in the eyes. Then he softly made his way over to me and wrapped ropes around my arms and legs. I was sweaty; he was right. I must have smelled badly, and I hoped that would keep him from wanting me, from making a move that would break the walls I had built up around my need for him. He hesitated as he walked behind me to get to my second hand, his head hovering over mind for just a beat too long. I felt my body pulling towards his, my neck stretching even as I fought to pull myself forward. But he came and knelt beside me, wrapping the rough rope over my wrist. He took longer than he ever had before. I watched his hands tremble, laying more rope than was strictly necessary. I let my eyes follow his hands, telling myself I was just curious about his intentions, that I didn’t want to watch his hand shake to be so close to me. When he had laid almost four inches of rope over my wrist, he finally finished the knot. He stared at it for a moment, as if considering his next move, then he gently rested his fingers over the rope. I drew in my breath and he flinched, but his fingers remained. To have his hand so close to my skin, only the rope keeping us from contact, it was torture. I knew what it would feel like to have those fingers against my arm, against my shoulder, my neck, my chest. I wondered if he was imagining the same things, staring down at the rough brown cords that separated our bodies. “Captain,” I said, unable to take it anymore. My voice sounded hoarse and quiet in the face of everything else that hung in the air. He didn’t move. “Captain,” I said again, my breath rushing from my lungs. They weren’t working right, my lungs. Nothing was working right. I didn’t know what I would do if he didn’t move soon. I wanted him so bad, to have him so damn close... He yanked his hand back like my voice had burned him. His head never came up, his eyes never looking to mine. Instead, he sat back on the ground and rested his face on his knees. I didn’t look at him, or at least I tried not to, but his pain drew me and I found myself watching him, wondering if I could salvage the pieces he had left. I could, I thought. I didn’t know if he would be able to on his own. I tried to not care, I tried so hard. He sat like that for so long I thought fish might begin to nest in his wreck, his skeleton becoming part of the new ocean floor. But he drew breath again, a sharp and welcome sound, drawing himself back up. In his motion he refused to look at me, keeping his head turned from my form. I watched him move back to the bed, watched his tight pants slide over the curve of his ass, his loose shirt barely containing his powerful shoulders. It was hot in the room, and the window was open to let in the breeze causing the shirt to ripple over his body, hiding and revealing his skin and muscles differently as nature decreed. I was nature, I thought. I was the sea. I could decree. I took a deep breath and held it, trying to control my thoughts. He stopped at the bed, and I saw him hesitate. But the room was hot, and he needed to sleep comfortably the same as I did. His hands moved to the bottom of his shirt, playing with the billowing fabric. Then he turned the motion into a decisive one and pulled the ends from his pants, crossing his arms to remove the shirt from his back. When he slipped it over his head, revealing those shoulders, that back, his muscled waist, all of it bare and perfect I must have made a noise because he froze, his arms extended above his body, trapped there in the fabric of his shirt. He lowered his them slowly, his head making the tiniest of moves towards me. I knew he must be looking back at me, eyes cast over those rippling shoulders in the dim of the room. My torso was pulled forward, my breath arrested in my lungs. Only the smallest bit of oxygen was able to pass my lips, sliding into the thick air pulled so thin, so tight by the sight of him standing there half naked, from the sound of his breathing, from the feel of his eyes. The air was too tight, I realized terrified. At any moment it was going to snap, snap and take me down. But the Captain didn’t let that happen. He sighed, a quiet sound that tremored through the room and through my body raising goosebumps. His arms raised again, his shirt sliding back over his head, perfect shoulders and spine and back and waist disappearing under white fabric. Then he turned, opening his mouth as if he were going to speak to me. I turned my head quickly and refused to look at him. It was too much, at that time, to see his face. I didn’t know what I would do, wasn’t in control of my body, my breath. I couldn’t face him, not right then. I heard him lie back down on the bed, the slats beneath him squeaking. When I dared to look up, he had settled with his back to me, hair splashed across his pillow. My heart beat faster as I traced the curves of his body with my eyes, the rise and fall of his back, the way his shirt had slipped up to reveal just a sliver of skin above his waist. Somehow, this was worse. I needed to move. I knew he wasn’t asleep yet; I knew his breaths better than I knew my own, could tell when he was excited, relaxed, could pinpoint the moment when he dropped into deep slumber. He was a light sleeper, and moving at all would often awaken him, but I had learned in the last two nights to time any nighttime wanderings or shifts I might have to cause him minimal disturbance. But tonight, I couldn’t wait. Where I was sitting was killing me; I couldn’t sleep like this, not while I could be watching him. How could I close my eyes when he was right there? I could barely get my body to blink, let alone fall asleep. My hands were already free, had been since I my heart first started careening. I needed my hands, needed some control from him. Now I reached down and unfastened my feet, finding myself free and able to move. He tensed at the sound of me standing. I looked over to him, suddenly realizing what I had done. I was free, and he was right there. I could go over to him, I thought. I could lay down beside him, gather him in my arms and pull him close to me, I could press my hands against his back and press my lips to his, or draw his fingers to my waist, or draw my lips to his waist and press them to his… I grabbed the chair and dragged it bodily across the room, not caring how much noise it made. I wanted to throw it, I wanted to punch the walls, I wanted to let the Captain fuck me and I had promised myself and him that I would not ever let him do that again, not ever let him use me like that. I tossed the chair into the fair corner with such velocity that it spun, toppling over on its side and clattering to the ground. I watched it fall, infuriated that even this chair would not do what I wanted. I wanted to rip it to pieces. I wanted to throw it from the window, except that it did not deserve the sea. I took a deep breath, crouching down and putting my head in my hands. This was not productive. This was nothing, this was a distraction. I tried to breath through all the things gathering in my lungs and found I almost succeeded. I accepted this as a victory and tried again. In time I had calmed down enough. The chair was where I had left it, toppled in the corner. As I righted it quietly, I dared to glance over towards the Captain. His still form froze my veins. He had curled up so tight his face now rested in his knees again, a mirror of the position he had taken at my side. I swallowed to see him there, my hand tight against the handle of the chair. I wondered for a moment if maybe I should apologize for my outburst. It felt like I should, felt like I had done something wrong, but I couldn’t find a way to voice what I was feeling, to lend words to the moment brewing in my gut so I just stayed silent, turning the chair into the corner and settling in for the night. *** When the Captain came for breakfast that morning, there was a murmur through the crew. He didn’t look like he’d slept at all, shadows haunting his eyes and a bow to his shoulders that I had never seen. I knew he carried the weight of whatever had happened the night before, that he had sucked the heaviness from the air and taken it all on himself to spare me. The crew only knew that he was bent under something he hadn’t been before. I hadn’t left the kitchen yet, waiting for him. I knew he would look bad, but I wasn’t prepared for this. The breath left my lungs as I looked at what I had wrought. Behind me, Cookie cursed under his breath. I took my time filling his bowl, taking in every part of him that I could. He didn’t look at me, instead staring off somewhere into nowhere. I wondered what he was thinking about, if he was thinking about anything. He looked so tired I thought he might be asleep. “You sleep at all last night?” I asked him quietly. For a moment his gaze snapped up to me angrily, and I blinked at the flash of pure ire in his eyes. Then they softened and he shook his head. I’m sorry, I thought. But those words had never left my mouth easily, and I wasn’t sure that it had been my fault. I remembered that he was still afraid from the King’s flag, and that he had a life outside of me. I was not his world, not like he was mine. I placed the bowl down before him. “Hold on,” I said. I rattled through the cabinets for a moment, looking for something. Sure enough, Cookie kept a jar of candied ginger just like Minnie did, right behind the dried cayenne. I grabbed a few and ignored the dirty look Cookie gave me. I knew that this was his personal stash for hangovers, but I didn’t really give a shit. The Captain had been waiting patiently as I searched, or maybe he was just too tired to move. I walked back to the counter and put the candied ginger down next to his bowl. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t think of anything to say. The ginger wasn’t going to give him his sleep back, or make him feel better after a night up. But it was a gesture of kindness, and I thought, hoped, that maybe that would be enough. He looked up at me, meeting my eyes. I tried to tell him everything I wanted him to know then, there in my gaze. I don’t know if he understood, but he nodded, reaching over to pick up the ginger from the counter. Late in the movement, I remembered that my hand still lay right next to the pieces. His trajectory was taking him dangerously to my skin. I snatched my hand back, hiding it behind the counter and away from his touch. He froze, staring at the space where my hand had been. Then he nodded again, much more slowly this time, grabbed the ginger and left. I hurried out of the kitchen and into the doorway to watch him make his way down the hall. He looked as though he was heading back to his room, his pace slow and his gait unsteady. I watched him as long as I could, then ducked back into the mess. I was suddenly aware of how many eyes were on me. Their Captain was off - only I could be to blame. There were a few whispers, and a few comments that were not pretending to be whispers. I ignored them all. I turned my shoulder into the combined gaze of the ship and made my way over to Finn. I sat down beside him noiselessly. Natch shot me a look, which I ignored. “He didn’t sleep last night,” I told Finn. “Will you go and take care of him for me?” “I’m his steward, not his babysitter,” he muttered. He was obviously frustrated by something, perhaps the fact that he hadn’t finished his own breakfast. I reached out and took the bowl from him, removing any chance at distractions. He stuttered at the sudden intrusion and found himself staring into my very clear and very cold eyes. “Finn.” I heard my voice turn dangerous and watched everyone around me respond, their spines straightening and their heads turning to listen. I let the ocean rise within me, let it lend its eternity to my command. “Go.” He stared at me, but I knew I didn’t have to say much more than that. He was a sailor, and I was the sea, and he would obey when I spoke. “Aye,” he finally said. I handed him back his bowl and he hurried from the room. I collapsed back into myself as he left, letting the sea return to my soul from my eyes and voice. I could call it when I needed it; these men did not need to know I could exist as a storm, when they were used to seeing me as a prisoner. Across from me, Natch leaned back and crossed his arms. I didn’t meet his eyes as I returned to the kitchen to grab myself my breakfast. *** That night at training I lashed out and landed a vicious hit on a boy named Ichor, a big black lad that claimed to be a son of the gods. He wasn’t, or if he was, it wasn’t any god I felt fear from. I had been so sure that he was going to block the attack that I was already planning my next move in my mind, ready to take the jar in my arm and move it through my body. Instead, I felt my arm extend, the wood blade making a nasty noise as it hit his flesh. He leapt back, holding his injured arm. “Easy, Ghost.” They’d all picked up the nickname that Natch had given me, saying it was because I moved so quietly and talked so little. The irony of my size and the perceived lack of stealth it gave me was not lost on them. The true irony of a nickname that mirrored my arch of fate was not lost on me. “Need all my limbs. Not exactly on the King’s medical, here.” I drew back, frustrated. Ichor was one of the most vocal proponents of the ‘evil King’ stories, the campfire tales that had him drinking blood and killing children for black magic and the like. He conflated the old King with the new, which was no fault of his really, but he seemed to pick the worst of both to cultivate some sort of demon-god version of the man that made me deeply uncomfortable. “Didn’t think you’d ever have much positive to say about the King, lad.” He blinked at me. “No. I mean. The old King.” That stopped me in my tracks. “The old king?” I repeated, dropping my guard slightly. I hadn’t expected him to know this. “Yeah.” He stood down, excited to share his insider knowledge. People were beginning to gather. Pirates can always sense when gossip is about to begin. “Isn’t exactly common knowledge, I suppose but. I’ll let you know a bit of a pirate secret.” He leaned in. “The throne has changed hands.” I tilted my head to imitate his lean. I wanted him to continue. I needed to know how much information had trickled down the ranks. He saw my lean and did not disappoint. “Aye, Ghost. You’re not supposed to know it, but it has.” “You don’t exactly throw a party when you overthrow a Pirate King,” chimed in a bystander. “Signals weakness. People might try their own luck,” added another. They knew much more than I had expected. I blinked out into the gathered crowd, genuinely surprised. “So, how do you know?” Ichor smiled, proud and boastful. “New flag, new policies. Taxes, medical, ratios -” One of the other men interrupted him, much less puffed up. “Honestly, it’s kind of hard to miss.” “Used to be only a tax of 10% on your take.” “And you got comprehensive healthcare.” “Aye, you could bill your care to the King and he would pay for it. Witch doctors, healers, modern medicine, he honored it all.” “I heard a man had a peg leg put in with jewels.” There were groans and jeers at this, causing the speaker to double down. “Jewels, boys, as big as eggs! And the King just asked that the man provide his own gems, and that he receive one of them when the man died.” “Were there ten of them?” “What’s that to do with anything?” “Ten percent, man. It’s everything to do with everything.” “But that doesn’t happen anymore?” I interrupted. Somehow, practice had stopped completely, each and every man trying to get a word into the conversation about the King. It always seemed to happen like that whenever a good conversation started up. This is why they haven’t become great fighters, I thought. Would rather stand around and gossip. “That’s right, boy.” “Why do you think we left?” “We left because we tried to kill the King.” “Hush, not so loud!” “It’s just the truth!” “Doesn’t mean we have to advertise it.” “Not like he’ll come down here, with Cap the way he is.” “Cap wouldn’t have had to do that, either, if the King hadn’t gone off the rails!” “Don’t be spoutin’ things you don’t understand, boy.” “Well, what else would you call askin’ 50% and giving nothin’ back!” That proclamation caused the entire congregation to dissolve into arguments. I blocked them out, folding away what I had learned. Cap the way he is, I thought. Did they mean nameless? A hand at my elbow made me jump. I looked down and found the smiling eyes of Natch. We wordlessly made our way to the rigging and climbed into the sky, where only the stars bickered and gossiped. “Is that true? What they said about the King?” “Aye.” He shifted in the ropes. “I wasn’t there, though.” “You weren’t?” The surprised me; the crew always talked like they had done everything all together. “Nope. They picked me up about two years back. That went down six months before I got on board.” “And they let you on? Just like that?” That was uncommon; pirate ships were secretive at best and impenetrable cliques at worst. He shifted again. “Didn’t have any other place to go.” We sat there, swinging and silent, until I couldn’t keep my questions under my skin. “They said, ‘Cap the way he is’.” “Aye,” said Natch. I looked at him, waiting. Eventually he sighed. “Cap’s nameless, Ghost.” I nodded. I knew this. Natch didn’t seem willing to continue, so I prompted him. “And that keeps the King away?” “Yeah.” He crossed his arms. “There’s this prophecy.” I nodded again. “I know it.” “You do?” He looked over, surprised for a moment, then leaned back into his supports. “Of course you do.” I frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Nothing, just.” He shook his head. “I just forget to not be surprised by you, is all.” I gave him a hard look for that, but he didn’t seem to notice, continuing to explain instead. “If you know the prophecy, you should understand why, so long as Cap remains nameless, the King will leave us alone.” “The nameless one will kill the Pirate King,” I sighed. I hated that fucking prophecy. For the moment, I put my own feelings aside and forged ahead. “The current king believes it so deeply that he won’t even come close to one who is nameless?” Natch shrugged. “Been working for us so far.” We lay there, watching the stars come out above us. I thought about what Natch had told me. To become willingly nameless, to give up so much of yourself just to protect yourself from a man. I imagined it, going from named to nameless. I had done it. I had done it violently, without choice. My name had been ripped from my lungs by the sea, and although I trusted it’s reasons, it had still hurt. “It’s terrible,” I told the sky quietly, “to live without a name.” “Not just a name,” Natch responded, although I hadn’t been talking to him, and I wasn’t sure I was talking about the Captain. “He can’t have anything that names him at all. No tattoos, no objects that he can hold onto.” He looked over at me. “No lovers.” I shifted, uncomfortable with the sudden sideways accusation. “It’s why a lot of the men don’t like you, you know. They’re afraid you could name him.” I looked away across the endless sea. As if he cared enough about me for that. Natch continued, ignoring my sudden change in demeanor. “He has to live as any man could, as a replaceable. In a way that he could be switched out, and it wouldn’t matter. That’s how it was explained to me, at least.” That explanation of namelessness had never made sense to me, but I held my tongue. “He must be very afraid of this man,” I said instead, “to give up all of that.” Beside me, I heard the ropes creak as Natch shifted. “You must not have met our King.” *** “I need a new place to sleep,” I told Cookie on my fourth morning as I slid in through the window. I hadn’t slept the night before, staring instead at the still form of the Captain on the bed. He had slept so fitfully, waking me each time I closed my eyes, his whimpers like daggers to my heart. It had taken everything I had to keep myself from leaping up and comforting him, to lie beside him and take him in my arms. He doesn’t care about you, I reminded myself. He is only scared of the King, and needs some form of comfort. He will take you if you offer it, because you are there. Then I called myself weak as my hands almost reduced the arms of the chair to sawdust. Cookie didn’t say anything at first, so shocked was he at seeing my large body appear from the outside rather than the doorway. But the Captain had still been sleeping when I had left, and I hadn’t wanted to leave the door unlocked on my way out. “This had seemed simpler,” I explained. “Scaling the outside of the ship seemed simpler.” I shrugged. I could pick locks, but it took time and I had wanted the exercise. Cookie sighed. “You’d best get used to the arrangements. Cap says that you’re to sleep in his room, and that’s law ‘round here.” And he set me to mincing garlic for that lunch’s stew. I stewed myself, angry at still being controlled. “Don’t work yourself to the bone, boy. The lads’ll be late.” I frowned up at Cookie, looking for an explanation. Being late for food was not something that usually happened on this ship. He just shrugged. “It’s a meetin’ day.” Ah. A ships meeting, usually weekly or bi-weekly. They would be next door, then, discussing goals and routes, grievances and matters of the ship. Matters like what to do with me. Despite Cookie’s words, I doubled my chopping speed. By the time the men filtered back into the mess hall, I had already finished prepping everything for breakfast and lunch, and had already started cleaning tools around the slightly bemused and concerned Cookie. I already knew it wouldn’t be good news for me. None of the sailors would look me in the eye; something must have happened. I ladled out their soup and tried to keep myself looking unaffected. I was doing a decent job of it until the Captain stepped forward, already in his cloak for a day on the deck. “Your face.” I couldn’t keep the concern from my voice, and found myself reaching reflexively towards the diagonal cut that slid across his previously immaculate chin. My stomach dropped to see him injured. I wanted to gather him up and keep him safe, to kill anyone who had touched him with steel, who had even dared to let that thought pass unhindered through their mind. He stopped my hand’s motion by pressing his bowl to it. I was thankful for that, amazed at my slip up. I had almost touched him; imagine it. But he seemed not to care, his body language nothing like the day before, or even hours before in the morning. “Breakfast, sailor.” He also wouldn’t look at me, but this was not the same shameful avoidance the other men had - this was cold. “Make it fast.” I took the bowl and filled it. The room watched us as I put the bowl on the counter, as our ritual demanded. He snatched it up and whipped from the room, cloak ends snapping from the force of his movements. I took a bowl of my own. My hands were shaking; I willed them to be still. In the time that the Captain had been coming to get his food from me, he had not ceased to have a terrible and immediate effect on me, but somehow this time had been worse. He had not even seen me, it had seemed. Not even registered my presence. Was I invisible to him? Was I truly the dead being I had always believed myself to be? I sat down with Finn and Natch. “I’m sorry about your fate, boy,” Finn told me. “My fate?” I parroted. And what was my fate, exactly? Was it to linger as a ghost after already being killed? Or was Finn referring to the part of my fate where I found my way here, only to realize it was a diversion from the only way to get to where I needed to be? That the man I loved could have been killed the same way I was? Or that the man I loved didn’t love me back? I searched the faces of the men before me for a clue, exhausted and pissed as fuck at fate. “We took a vote,” Natch explained, uncharacteristically quiet. “Ah.” So that was it. They had decided; the Captain had no more use of me. “Am I to die, then?” “What?” Both men’s heads snapped up. Finn looked genuinely shocked that I would say such a thing. “No, boy. Christ.” “Though half the ship did demand it.” “They demanded marooning on a deserted isle. That isn’t death, it’s just -” Finn shrugged. “Wicky’s half the ship,” I stated. “Aye,” Natch confirmed, although I had needed none. He was still so quiet. “We voted for you to stay. You can fight, and sail.” Natch leaned back and crossed his arms. “Not a popular opinion.” “And the Captain?” Silence. I didn’t bother to try to meet their eyes, staring down at my porridge. “What did the Captain vote.” “Ghost…” Natch sounded uncomfortable, or sad, or maybe both, but Finn rescued him. “Marooned,” he told me. “But he’s to pick the island.” The Captain would have me back on land. At that thought, all reason rushed from my body. I almost ran to the kitchen then and leapt then into the sea, swam for it, rather than let this man have control over me, let him hurt me in this way. I let him hurt me again, I thought. The coldness over the porridge suddenly made much more sense. He wants me off his ship, he wants me gone and over with, he never wanted me to begin with except perhaps my hands on his, my lips for his own, but what of my soul, what was my soul supposed to do without his, my breath was dying but Finn’s hand landed on my shoulder and somehow air entered my world again. I gasped. “Lad,” he said softly. “It was the best he could do in the face of it.” Face, I thought. I remembered the cut on the Captain’s. Now there was a place I could direct my pain, my growing rage, a way to make myself productive. I liked productivity. It helped me move forward. “Who hurt him?” “There was a disagreement,” Finn said quietly. “Some members thought that you were making him too soft.” “Human,” Natch said, and he meant named. “You make him too human, and that is dangerous for all of us.” “It’s a reasonable reaction to fear.” “It is not,” I told them. Natch reached out to me, but I pulled away. “Tell me who hurt him.” “Don’t do anything rash,” he murmured, but I was the sea at full moon, I was a monsoon that had been held too long, how many other ways could I find to say that I was everything crashing into the world and grinding it into sand and oblivion and rash was only a word that applied to actions that had consequences. Mine didn’t have consequences - mine had results. But Wicky saved me. How strange, to say that. He certainly didn’t mean to, and in fact probably meant to humiliate me, but he forced me to cool down a bit by striding into the hall and announcing that a ship had been sighted and he needed everyone up on deck. “Except you,” he’d snarled, and I’d had to stay put in the kitchen, taking out my anger on dirt and vegetables. The vessel turned out to be another pirate ship, seeking parlay with the Captain specifically. He headed over to their deck and spoke at length with their captain, disappearing below into quarters for privacy. The intimacy of the visit, being alone with each other in private spaces, meant they must have known each other. Otherwise fear of attack would have kept them above decks. Should I have been a Captain to keep his interest? I felt myself think. Should I have been a king, made him fear me as well? The thought was unkind and I felt bad immediately after it slipped through my brain. I thought about ghosting to discover what they were speaking of, but there was no guarantee how long the ships would spend in proximity, and I didn’t want to end up naked and marooned on a pirate ship. I’d made that mistake before. The Captain didn’t come to lunch. I told myself it had to do with the meeting he had just had, and nothing to do with the morning’s events. I returned to the decks and attacked my duties with a fervor that actually scared Hams. He ran out of tasks before the day was done and sent me back to Cookie, who refused to give me any knives and instead made me clean out the bins for rotted food. I didn’t wait to see if the Captain came to dinner. As soon as I had all the crew served, I made my way up to the decks and hid away in the riggings. Natch caught sight of me as the training group made their way to their usual spot. I sighed and made a land sailor’s descent, making it look like it took effort. There was more grumbling than usual as I landed my feet, but I paid it no attention as I grabbed practice knives and squared up. I was looking forward to pushing my muscles into becoming mush, even if it would take hours against these mediocre fighters. At least it was something. At least I could have some violence, some vague form of results. My third partner that evening was Ichor. I was only half paying attention, my eyes on the bow of the ship trying to decide where we were going, where they might dump me off like refuse, when I felt a very real cut land on my arm. I yanked back, surprised. There should be no knives at practice; the rules of sparring were all but sacred. Ichor palmed the small blade he’d used the land the strike. “You’re not so special, big boy,” he hissed. Ichor was one of Wicky’s men and had made no secret about it. “You want me dead,” I said evenly. I settled into a defensive stance and watched him, waiting to see what he would do next. I hoped he would strike again; I hoped he would give me a reason to kill him. Anger coursed through me, the sea threatening to rise as it had been all day, and I was sick of holding it back. “Just want you off my boat.” He took the time to spit. Arrogant, I thought. Arrogant and foolish and soon to be nothing but empty flesh. “Be glad,” he told me, his voice low and close. It pressed against me like dock slime, stagnant and clinging to my flesh, “that you’re under Cap’s protection. Else you’d be -” He didn’t get to finish his statement, because I already had him on the ground. He scrambled for his blade but it was no use, I had him pinned firmly against the wood of the deck. I pulled the blade out for him, ran it against his skin. I could have killed him, then. Would have in any other circumstance. But as much as I wanted to, as much as my body shivered to press the blade into his soft spots and twist, or pull, to spill his blood and make him watch me do it, I knew that would be the end. If I killed this man, this sailor who worked on this ship, the Captain’s ship, I would never, ever, have a chance to be with the Captain again. And I couldn’t do that. Wouldn’t do that. Even if the chance I had was so slight it was nothing, even if all I had was a dream, to kill it with this man, over this nobody, that would be the same as killing me. So I didn’t press the blade past his shivering, fearful skin, as much as I dreamed of it, as much as I let myself imagine my body finishing the motion. I held him there, letting him feel my want and how close I came, and only when he shook beneath me did I make myself back off. It was hard to get my body to listen, but I found a compromise, letting my anger become a blade and slipped that into his ribs in lieu of the physical one that I held back in my fist. It was not as satisfying, but it was a result, a victory, and I took it in my teeth and held it tight. But I wanted him to understand exactly what had happened here before I let him go. He needed to know where we stood. “I don’t need anyone’s protection,” I explained to him. I kept my voice low, quiet, occupying only the space between our bodies. When I had taken him down all practice had stopped, and there was now a ring of men around us, watching to see what would happen. But I wanted this to be between us. He whimpered as I twisted his hand in my hold. “I am the sea incarnate; there is nothing that can hurt me. I could have taken this ship a thousand times over, killed each and every one of you in your sleep. Make no mistake; I could have killed you all awake, could have pulled your souls from your bodies and left you nothing but the shells you deserve to be. I could have had you whenever I wanted; it is by my lack of interest only that you are still alive. You are boring; you bore me. You are nothing. I have no need for protection.” I sat up as I slid his knife into my belt, my interest already sliding from his frame. I watched the people around us, unwilling to interfere. “You, on the other hand.” I pushed off of him and stood. He stayed where he was, a whimpering sack on the deck, become the nothing I had taught him that he was. He ignored the hand that I extended towards him, calm and cold. The others around us began to whisper. I used my foot to nudge him. “Stand up, man. They’re watching.” He rolled over and stared at my hand outstretched towards him. He knew it wasn’t any kind of peace offering, but he also knew that he didn’t have a choice. In time, he reached up and took it. I yanked him to his feet, pulling him close enough that I could whisper into his ear. “Be glad you have the Captain’s protection,” I hissed. As I pushed him away I saw his face crease with fear. I felt nothing towards this man, this coward who had attacked me during training. He was nothing, already fading from my focus. “Or,” I finished, loosening my grip as I turned away. “Try harder next time.” He pushed away from me, and I let him go. The crowd parted to let him move back, putting as much space between him and I as he could without fully retreating. I picked up the practice knife I had dropped when I had taken his blade, twirling it so it sat properly in my hands for the first time in these men’s gaze. I saw faces shift as they recognized my show of skill, slight as it was. My eyes skimmed the gathered faces. I tried to make eye contact with as many as I could; most would not meet my gaze. “Anyone else?” I asked quietly. When there was no response, I let the storm that was inside of me rip out of my chest, let myself scream for the first time in months. “Anyone fucking else?” No one moved. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.” I stalked over to Natch, who had been watching the entire thing with a mixture of amusement and carefully hidden fear, tucked in the looseness of his limbs and the casual smile he so precisely held on his face. I didn’t want Natch to fear me. He was one of the few men on the ship who had no reason to fear me. He and the Captain and Cookie, and perhaps Finn. I scowled to see him hold himself so carefully at my approach, fingers unhindered in case he needed to go for a knife. I handed him Ichor’s. “Your fingers are looking for this.” Natch said nothing, but took the knife from my hand. But the sea demanded more, pounded against my chest relentlessly. “Spar with me.” “What? Hell no.” “Then make one of the others. I want to fucking fight.” I scanned the crowd behind us. Nobodies, I thought. Useless. “Who’s your best fighter?” “Ghost.” He looked like he wanted to laugh. “No one is going to fight you after that.” I stood there and waited. The sea crashed against my chest. I could taste the salt in my mouth. He sighed. “You have to promise not to hurt them.” I pointed to my arm, showed him the red line that Ichor had drawn. “Tell them not to hurt me.” Natch winced. “It’s sparring, Natch. I know how far to go and when to stop.” I walked away back to my spot, throwing over my shoulder for those around him to hear, “You’d do well to teach your men the same.” After a brief conference, in which there was much hand waving and harsh whispers and pointed glances, the put me against a man they called Thron. He was the one technically in charge of these practice sessions. I had never sparred him before because he was considered above my skill level. In the first two moves, I threw him to the ground. “Get up,” I told him. His lack of skill frustrated me; I wanted him to be better. “Your stance was too tight, and you carry your weight too high. Try it again.” “Who the fuck are you to -” I walked away before he finished the sentence. I was in no mood for this shit. If he wouldn’t fight me, someone else would. That day I fought every man that came to training, and some more than once. The ones that listened to me lasted longer. The ones that didn’t, didn’t. Around me, the men half-heartedly sparred and pretended to concentrate on their bouts, but all eyes were on me as I systematically wiped the floor with every single fighter they had available. It wasn’t enough. “Again,” I told Thron the fourth time I took him down. He had sucked up his ego and come back, settling his weight when he did. It made him almost a contender. “And watch your fucking footwork.” “Ghost,” he said panting, “I’m done. We’re all done. How are you not done?” I looked around me at the worn out men. I was not done - my muscles did not hurt as much as they could, as much as I needed them to. I felt frustration grow within me and did the only thing I could think of. I looked up at the rope above me, and leapt. When my hand caught I finally climbed like I was meant to. I heard the gasp go up behind me as I shot up into the air. I didn’t give a shit. I was done holding back, done pretending to be harmless for the sake of their feelings. Let them see what I could do. Let them understand who they were dealing with. I climbed until all I could feel was the press of the sky against my skin. Natch made it up a few minutes later, panting from trying to keep up with my pace. “What the fuck, Ghost,” he asked. I had nothing to say to that. I wasn’t in the mood to play guess who I used to be, look at what I can do. “You’ve been holding back on me.” “Are you surprised,” I snapped. He was taken aback. I think he expected my anger to be sated by the movements I had forced it to go through. But I had not forced my body to do anything; this had been the first time in a long time I had been what I was meant to be. “No,” he said softly, “I’m not.” I grumbled and settled back into the ropes. He let me be for a bit. “Are you afraid of me, Natch?” I don’t know if my question surprised him; he didn’t change his face if it did. “I don’t know,” he answered, and I could hear the honesty in his voice. “I don’t know what you are.” A ghost, I thought. A son of the sea. The ocean itself. “Another of the Captain’s whores,” I heard myself say, my voice bitter and petty, “ready to be thrown aside.” Natch raised an eyebrow at that. “You know that isn’t true.” I didn’t. I had no response. He sat quietly for a moment. “You know,” he finally said. “When I first got to the ship, I thought that Cap had brought me on as a whore.” “What?” I turned to him, surprised. He wasn’t looking at me, just staring up into the sky. This felt careful, somehow. It was pushing me from my own closely held anger. “Why?” He looked so peaceful swinging there, the wind tugging at his hair, or maybe his hair tugging at the wind. He had his eyes closed. A ghost of a smile graced his lips. “Probably because he bought me from a whore house.” “Natch,” I said. I looked him over, took in his young face, his graceful body. Bought, I thought. Not found at. Bought from. And two years ago… “How old are you?” “Eighteen, I think.” I tried to keep myself neutral, mirroring his body language. He didn’t need my sympathy; he’d gotten out alive, after all. “Sixteen is too young.” He smiled. “That’s what the Captain said too.” “But he never…” “No, no, he never laid a finger on me. Just bought me and brought me back to the ship. ‘You’re too young for this type of work, come kill people instead,’ or some other such nonsense.” He shrugged. “I tried to tell him I’d been doing it for ages, but that didn’t seem to make him feel better.” He looked over at me then, eyes wandering my face. I didn’t know what he was looking for, so I just let him look. “He never would. He doesn’t use people like that.” He used me, I thought. But that was different, so different that this, and I kept my frustration from my tongue. “Can I ask how you ended up there?” The smile that had been on his lips twisted. “Got dumped. Grew up a bit too much for my dear old Captain.” I didn’t know what to say to that, said so plainly in the air. I watched his words curl around the stars like smoke, watched them dissipate before I’d come up with any sort of coherent reaction. He had gone through something I couldn’t imagine. I had nothing to offer him, not in the form of words. But actions. Results. I could give him that. “What was his name,” I heard myself ask. Don’t do this, I thought. Don’t promise the boy something that you can’t deliver. You’re already stretched thin as it is, already off the plan you’ve made for yourself. But the sea inside of me demanded, and the question had already passed from my lips. He looked like he wouldn’t tell me for a moment. “Yarrick,” he said, the name sounding like dust coming from his lips. “Captain Yarrick.” Yarrick. “I knew a Yarrick,” I said. Natch went very still. “Spent some time in his cells.” His gaze snapped to me, then. Yarrick was a bounty boy, shuttling prisoners to and from colonies for better cash. He prefered guys that scored big, major pirates or murderers, rapists, the like. I could feel Natch sizing me up, and could also hear his relief that I hadn’t done work with the man. “Who paid your bounty?” “The crown.” “For what?” I thought about lying, but what was the point? This boy had just given me his honesty; he deserved as much back. “Piracy.” He blinked at me. First in surprise, that I hadn’t mentioned this before, and that they’d found me on a merchant ship; then I watched as the implications set in. I knew he’d be doing the math in his head; no petty pirate would be picked up by Yarrick. I shrugged away his gaze. “He lied to the authorities about who I was. I pissed him off plenty good while I was on his ship, I guess.” That was true. He’d probably saved my life, although he’d never known it and never would. He told them he’d picked me up in the east, back when the eastern pirates were the most vicious. Who cared about northern pirates, when the north was only populated with ghosts and then the King’s Fleets? He got a bigger bounty, and I got to stay undetected. If word had gotten back to the sea that a northerner had been sent to the mines… “You.” Now Natch was sitting up. “I remember you.” I was suddenly very uncomfortable with the way Natch’s gaze bored into my body. I frowned at him. “I don’t remember you.” “You had longer hair back then, and less scars. I thought it was you, when you ordered Finn like that, and when you fought down there.” He sucked in his breath. “It’s you, isn’t it?” I didn’t say anything. This had become something I hadn’t expected. “It was you.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I did, but I didn’t want to bring it up. “Three and a half years ago, on Yarrick’s ship. There was an escape.” His eyes were huge. “It’s fucking legendary, we talked about it for fucking year.” “I didn’t.” “You’re a legend, Ghost. Even to kids that weren’t there.” “I didn’t do anything,” I said truthfully. “You got Sneg out.” “Sneg,” I told him, “got themself out.” “But you were there.” I shrugged. I had been, and I had made a mistake, and I had gotten sent to the mines. It was not a good memory. “It was you.” “So what if it was.” “Fuck, Ghost.” He collapsed back into the ropes. “I can’t believe this.” He was making me uncomfortable with how much of a deal this had become. “You were like a fairy tale for us.” “I really didn’t do anything. I fucked up; Sneg almost got caught because of me.” “Not the way Sneg tells it.” I looked over to him. “You know Sneg?” I missed that funny kid; they’d had real promise. They were going to be on my fast list of people I wanted on my ship when I got one. He looked away. “No. I mean. I used to. You know.” I frowned and settled back into my makeshift hammock. I didn’t know, and I was frustrated by the whole thing. I hadn’t set out to become some sort of folk hero for abused kids, I’d just not wanted to get sold to the crown. I told Natch that, and he kind of shrugged it off as the way these things go. I supposed, as my legends go, this one wasn’t really that bad. It was strange to be confronted by one so real. This was not supposed to be a part of my life anymore. “Sneg,” he finally asked. “They doing okay?” “Aye.” I told him. “They are.” He smiled. I looked at him sitting there, his eyes tracking the last of our voices spreading through the night breezes. I tried to imagine him three years younger, a world less free, and I couldn’t do it. Tried to place him in those cells with me and found that it was impossible. Natch belonged here, his hair tugging back at the wind, his hands in the ropes. He was strong, I thought. A child from the sea, if not a son of the sea. The ocean would care for him, if I gave him the chance. I still had something to offer him, I reminded myself. An easier offer, now, that we both shared the same enemy. “I have plans to kill him,” I stated plainly. It was a fact of my life, one that I could share with little emotion. He turned to me, surprised, and I caught and held his gaze. “After I kill the man who killed me, I’m going to go find Yarrick and kill him.” I looked over to Natch’s suddenly stiff form. The anger that had flowed through me earlier still pulsed; it had never left me, would never leave me. It was the heartbeat that drove my life, always just under the surface. I let it’s rhythm set my conversation, let Natch hear it’s quiet drive. “I can hold off on that, if you’d like. Leave him for you.” I watched questions go to war on his face. He held them all in, pulled them back into his chest with the solemnity of years of practice, settling himself back to a graceful neutral. He was good at controlling his emotions, Natch was. Good at hiding things until he needed them. “No, Ghost. You’ve a better chance at reaching him, I think.” I nodded at that. Natch knew me, I thought. Better than anyone on this ship, perhaps. But I had one last thing to offer. “I could always come back and get you,” I said quietly. He turned to me, surprised again. “It won’t be any trouble. The wind will take me where I ask.” He frowned at that. “You make it sound like you’d have your own ship.” I shrugged and turned back to the night sky. He looked over to me. “You can’t seriously believe that you can just become a captain, like that.” “I’m already much, much more.” He stared me down, taking me in. I let him see me, all of me. The me that should be, the me that had been killed and rose from my watery grave, the me that had survived two and half years on land under the hands of brutal men and vicious work. I let the sea rise up within me, let it fill me until the beat of it was my entire being, my eardrums echoing with blood and whalesongs and the endless, relentless pounding of the tides, eternal and unforgiving. “Gods all,” he finally breathed. “Who are you?” “A ghost,” I told him, looking away and casting my gaze to the stars. “Nothing but a ghost.” *** We stayed up there longer than we usually did, past the night watch bell, past the velvet splash of the sky spilling over the whole of the world. Eventually, Natch shifted. “We should head down.” “I think I’m going to spend the night up here.” It would do good to clear my head, to spend time so close to the stars; I had missed their company, in the depths of the mines. Natch frowned. “But the Captain -” “Does not care where I sleep.” The words came out sharper than I meant, and I sighed to get the rest of my frustration from my lungs. My next words were only tired, a resignation of the facts. “He does not care for me at all.” Natch sat up. “How can you say that? After all that he’s done for you, everything that he’s risked…” “All that he’s done? He’d have me on land, Natch.” I heard the rawness in my voice, the pain so close to the surface and I closed my mouth tightly, crossing my hands over my chest in an attempt to get any other words in my heart to stay. “It was the best he could do,” he said quietly. I scoffed and turned away. “You would rather stay? Do you really want to be with him?” “Yes! Of course!” I had pulled myself up to glare at him for his insolent questions; now I settled back against the ropes. “I would do anything to stay at his side.” “Okay, okay. It’s just.” Natch mumbled the next bit, so I wasn’t sure I heard. “You don’t act like it.” “Excuse me.” “Sorry, Ghost.” Natch backed off for only a moment before doubling down. “It’s just that you’ve been the one spurning him, seems like.” I sat up fast, glaring at the small boy before me. But what was I to him? Natch wasn’t afraid of ghosts. He shrugged off my anger and settled back against the ropes, arms crossed against my eyes. “I have done nothing that wasn’t warranted,” I snapped at him. “He used me, he doesn’t care about me past the noises I make and the control he can show. I won’t let him hurt me again.” “What?” Natch reacted to that much more strongly than I’d expected. Maybe it’d been the pain leaking out of my voice, splashing its way over him. I’d wanted to keep this in, I reminded myself. Natch had enough on his plate. When I didn’t respond to his reaction, he prodded me. “What is that supposed to mean?” I didn’t want to admit to the unreasonable thoughts that ran through my head, didn’t want to share the parts of me that swirled angrily and painfully over themselves within my gut. But Natch was here, and it would be good to get this out. “He used me, Natch.” “What?” “I said,” I repeated a little louder, “the Captain used me.” Natch stared at me for a long moment, then leaned forward. “Tell me exactly what happened.” And I did, the whole story spilling from my mouth. Wicky, his words to me and his animosity. The Captain, how he had already chosen to not be with me. The way he had suddenly changed, the reasons he had given behind it. His commands to be loud, using my body to punish Wicky. How much that had hurt. How much it hurt, still, to think of him wanting only my skin and hands and not me. How I had ended it, telling him he was never to touch me again. When I finished the story, I looked morosely over to Natch and found him staring back at me, his mouth open slightly. “Yeah,” I said. “And now he comes to meals, and to the deck, to torment me with what I can not have, even after -” “You,” he interrupted, “fucking idiot.” I stared at him, my jaw dropping. “Excuse me?” But he ignored me. “He found a way to be with you, needed you that badly that he put his entire fucking crew in danger, and this is how you thank him?” “What the fuck -” But Natch was not letting me speak. “What he did with you that first night, that was outside of acting as the Captain. And he knew it. And Wicky knew it. And that should have been the end of it. Wicky is here to keep him in line, you know. Make sure we all stay safe, make sure he stays nameless. But he didn’t end it, did he? He did it again, did it loud and proud and that’s what you’re pissed about? He could have given up everything for you. Possibly the protection of being nameless, Ghost. For you. And he doesn’t care, didn’t care so much. That’s why he wanted Wicky to hear it, bet you a thousand kills. Not any power thing, not punishment. Proof of his decision to stand by you.” For you, Natch had said. By you. I looked away. “Which,” he continued, “the crew hates. So now he’s almost cost himself his ship, had to fight himself a crew member just to prove he hadn’t gone soft for you after you broke him so bad - ” A pit was opening in my stomach, sucking in all the anger I felt at the Captain and replacing it with a guilt so heavy I thought I might crash through the ropes. “- and in the meantime he’s been coming into the mess, asking your forgiveness, and you’ve been such a dick -” “Forgiveness? Forgiveness? That was supposed to be forgiveness, coming to my place of safety and tormenting me with his, his,” I stopped and buried my head in my hands. Of course it was. It always had been, and I’d always known it. “I gave my word,” I told Natch from behind my palms. “I can’t undo this.” “You have to.” “I can’t forgive him.” I was working through all of this in my head, trying to figure out what all this new information meant. “He still used me.” Natch watched me a long time before speaking again. “I think,” he told me, starting his descent, “that you will find that untrue.” He paused. “I know him well. Better than you, and don’t try to say that isn’t true. I’ve never seen him like this, so torn. You can’t be mad at him for keeping his crew safe, for being a good captain. Or for wanting you, despite all of that.” He was gone before I could come up with any more rebuttals. I sighed and settled into the ropes. There was no reason to go down, not before the conversation with Natch, and not after. Fuck everything. There was nothing to do about it now. Tonight, I chose which ropes contained me. Above my head, the stars sang, and I let the ocean rock me to sleep.
  3. Chapter 3

    I rushed into the mess, knowing it would be empty but hoping Cookie would still be there. “No food until,” he stopped and stared at me, naked from the waist down. “You should not be out like that.” “Dressing would have taken too much time.” I didn’t have time. I didn’t have anything, not self respect, not a soul, not anything. Endorphins were crashing down, leaving nothing to cover up the hole the Captain had ripped in my stomach earlier. I needed to do something, anything, to get myself back to normal, to return my body to the state it should be in. I should be strong. I should be everything. I should not be reduced to nothing by a man who I had only just met. On top of everything, I didn’t understand why what had just happened was bothering me so much. Not bothering me; killing me. Ripping up bits of my soul like sails with rot, rather than the sturdy canvas I knew I should be. It was just casual sex, I told myself angrily. Nothing new to me. I thought you were okay with being used, the Captain had said. I was, I really was. Hell, one time I had sailed a ship of gold into a siren’s channel just to hear her song. She had held me for as long as her children counted the loot, then tried to kill me. She had tried to kill me, and it hadn't hurt as much as this did. I tried to reign in my frustration. I was being unreasonable again. I had fun; I had more than fun. The Captain was incredible. I should be thankful, take the good where it could be found. It was a small miracle that he had even let me touch him again. Be thankful. I listened to myself think and felt the ocean rise within me. Anger leaked out of me like the sweat that glistened on my body. I had been weak, had allowed myself to become distracted from my goals, I had not stood for what I knew to be right. I remembered the Captain’s words the night before and echoed them to myself now: This doesn’t feel good. I leaned out the port hole in the kitchen. “What kind of ship is it?” “You’re naked.” “Ship, Cookie.” Cooks always know the gossip. “Word is, Indiaman. British make, or maybe French, hard to tell these days, but flies a Brit flag. Tough buggers, but then - hey, what do you think you’re doing?” I was leaning out the window, most of my bulk outside the ship, anchored only by my knees and a few fingers as I tried to catch a glimpse of the ship we were chasing down. An Indiaman meant fast, but heavily armed. We were on a schooner, which meant faster, so we’d be there soon enough. But what would we do when we caught her? We didn’t have half the weaponry the larger ship did, and with all probability what we had was for shit. I knew enough to guess what the captain meant to do, a maneuver called the twist. It involved spinning the boat around 180 degrees, faster than you really should, and hitting your opponent with a full side of cannon before they had time to react. I was well familiar with the move. Been on a boat or two that had pulled it successfully. Been on a boat or three that hadn’t. I knew it was risky. I leaned out a little farther and caught my first sight of the ship. We were bearing down on the Indiaman fast, her Union Jack snapping in the wind. Fucking Brits, real pricks about not surrendering. I pulled myself back into the port hole. “Big guy,” I told Cookie. “Probably 40 cannon. You guys usually chase that kind of stuff down?” He nodded. “It go okay?” He bristled. “The crew knows what they’re doing.” “Sure.” I had my reservations about a crew led by the Captain at this junction. I leaned my head out the window again. “What’s the ratio?” “Ratio?” “Yeah, Cookie, the kill ratio.” I felt bad when he jumped at the snap in my voice. I didn’t mean to be short with him. “Two of theirs for every one of ours. And we don’t strike first.” “Shit.” This could take hours. And We don’t strike first, what was that kumbayah shit? These were Brits, for gods sake. Threatening to kill two of them for each pirate they killed wasn’t going to do anything. I had a solution. It would make things go a lot smoother for both sides, save a lot of ammo. And it would probably bring the Captain back to me faster. I felt a shiver pass through me at that and hated myself. I was done with him. He didn’t care for me, would use my body and reject my soul. I couldn’t keep doing this to myself; I had seen what happened when captains tried to enter harbors that would have nothing to do with them. I would not rip myself apart on the shoals of his approach, just for some dream of fresh water. Or love. I shut that thought down so quickly it was almost as if I had not thought it. Almost. So I would not do this to bring the Captain back. This, I would do for myself. A special treat to bring myself back to myself. I turned to Cookie. “Can you keep a secret?” He gave me a look. “You’re going to have to. You got rope?” “This is a ship. We have rope.” “Good.” I grabbed the length he handed me and threw it from the window. I spooled it out until it drug in the water, then tied it off to the table bolted to the floor. “Do not,” I told Cookie, “cut this for any reason. Understand?” Cookie nodded. “Okay. I need knives.” “Not my knives,” he moaned. “Couldn’t you have gotten them from the Captain’s room?” I shrugged. I wasn’t going to explain my frustration with the Captain to Cookie. “Pirates are funny about their knives.” “And cooks aren’t?” “You’ll get them back.” I didn’t bother making any more arguments than that. Cookie knew my word was good. He groaned again but ended up handing over two of his sharpest blades. I wrapped up the larger one in cloth and twine, tying it to my waist. The smaller one I would hold between my teeth for easier access. I stripped off my shirt, folding it on the kitchen table. Automatically I went to tie my hair back and found it too short, the thin wisps gracing my scalp nothing like what I was used to. I scowled. Cookie caught the motion. “It’ll grow back.” “Yeah.” I couldn’t deal with that loss too, not right now. I leaned out the window again. We were almost on the Indiaman. I turned back to Cookie. “Remember -” “Don’t cut the rope, yeah.” He looked at me. “You know what you’re doing?” I did. I finally had a plan and I was going to stick to this one. “Are you going to ask me that every couple hours?” “If you keep acting like this. Absolutely.” I scowled deeper and leapt from the window. It hurts, to hit water from that height, but I’d had practice at making my body like a needle and I pierced the waves exactly how I needed to, slipping beneath the currents like the dolphins that often graced ships’ bows. The cold water shocked me, washed me clean of the sweat and the haze that had invaded my space ever since I’d first seen the Captain on the deck of this strange ship. I stayed down as long as I could, letting my lungs burn, feeling the ache of oxygen leaving my body until I couldn’t stand it anymore. When I came back up I was pleased to find I’d timed my jump exactly right and the Indiaman wasn’t too far away. I slipped the small blade between my teeth and used my powerful arms to propel myself through the water toward the larger ship. I reached the anchor with relatively little trouble. The Indiamen were well built, had to give credit to her Majesty and her engineers, and it threw up less wake than I was used to. I clambered up the anchor and into the belly of the ship. I knew that I would have to hurry to make it to the gun deck before the ships started trading blows. I stopped only long enough to grab what I needed from her kitchen. Brits. Won’t surrender to a pirate, but they’re terrible superstitious. *** Aboard the pirate schooner, the men waited with bated breath for the first salvo of cannon fire as they drew closer and closer to the merchant ship. These battles were always long, and could be bloody, especially when they enacted their tax of two dead combatants for every pirate killed. “Ready,” called their quartermaster. “Wait. Wait…” They needed to wait for the first provocation. It was part of their orders. But the roar of the cannons never came. *** Up on deck, the Captain stood with his first mate. “Something’s wrong.” “You should have been up here sooner,” Wicky grumbled again. The Captain snapped his spyglass closed. “You only came up when I did, Wicky.” He slowly turned his head and raised an eyebrow. “Enjoying the peaceful sounds of midday?” Wicky turned bright red. The Captain turned his attention back to the ship. “They should have attacked by now.” “I wasn’t even listening,” Wicky protested. The Captain didn’t respond. “Made me afraid to leave my room, you did.” But the Captain was focused on movement occurring on their quarry. “Look.” He snapped his spyglass back open. “The sails are coming down.” “Coming what?” “Down.” He watched the movement of the crew in his spyglass. “I think they’re surrendering?” Wicky shook his head. “Cap, they’re Brits.” “Aye.” The frowning man looked out through his instrument. “And we’ve only been chasing them less than an hour.” “Aye, Wicky. But look.” The two men watched the sails come down, slowing the ship to a pace which made their speed seem ridiculous. They would quickly pass them at this rate. The Captain snapped spyglass shut. There was no denying what was happening. “What made them decide to surrender now?” Wicky swallowed. “Captain.” “Do you think this is some sort of trick?” he murmured thoughtfully. “Should we be prepping for a boarding?” “Captain.” The Captain gave him his attention, brows pulled tight. But Wicky was just pointing, a slight tremor creeping up his arm. The British flag had come down with the sails. Running up the mast in its place was a white flag, crude dark designs bleeding against the bright sky. “Is that,” the Captain started, stopping just to stare. But his first mate didn’t need him to finish the sentence. “I think so.” The reverse skull and crossbones flapped across from them, black skull painted sloppily over a simply X. The Captain and first mate stared at it, shocked, as it peaked on the mast. “Fuck,” the Captain said, and turned to give his orders to the crew. *** It was a much easier swim on the way back, the ships veering closer and closer with each passing moment. They’d already come about, turning the ship around with the twist’s sharpness even though there’d been no real need. That was smart, I thought. It was always better to have more practice under your belt. That did mean, however, that I had to swim to the far side of the ship to get to the rope Cookie should be guarding. I found the rope right where I’d left it, thank all the gods the sea had ever birthed. I could have gotten into this ship the way I had the Indiaman, true, but my shirt was in the kitchen and my pants in the Captain’s room. It was a long way to move from the anchor block to this part of the ship fully naked. I hung from the rope and set my sights on Cookie’s window. But I wasn’t ready to head back to the ship yet; I needed to wash the adrenaline and blood from my body, become the person I was supposed to be. The sea felt good against my bare skin, and I wrapped myself in the rough threads and let the waves wash me clean of blood and flour, scrubbing my hair in the swell and chop. I stayed until I felt clean, until the ocean’s pull no longer felt like a judgement. Only when I was thoroughly scrubbed did I pull myself up the rope, hand over fist, and back through the window. Cookie looked up to my dripping face as I slithered over the metal frame. “Kicked a hornet’s nest, you did. Been people runnin’ and shouting for the past twenty minutes.” I shrugged the ocean from my back and tried to readjust to confinement. Cookie handed me a towel and I scrubbed dry. I begged clean water from him to wash the worst of the taste of sea from my body, returned his knives, and began to make my way back to the bedroom, shirt in hand. I paused in the doorway and looked back the the pinched cook unwrapping his knife. “Hey, Cookie?” He looked up. “Wash that before you use it.” “Aye, boy,” he said, eyes big. “I know.” *** I made it back to the Captain’s suite without running into anyone, which was a bit of a miracle. Cookie was right; the ship was a hive of activity. I could hear people shouting, running above my heads with an intensity that made me frown. Were they always like this, or did they not realize the ship had already surrendered? Once I was back in the Captain’s room, I grabbed up my breeches and pulled my shirt over my head. I saw no point in being cold, and it sounded like the Captain would be a while. I settled down in bed with one of his books. I was proud that I didn’t even jump when the Captain burst through the door. He took me in, lazily sprawled on his bed, not where he had left me, and raised an eyebrow. I had no time for his judgements, his assumptions I would listen to his words. “I got cold.” “I’ll take this over you running amok.” I was ready for him to come and try to control me again, in the way that he had. I had convinced myself that this was no different than the control that had been wielded over me by so many others, decided that his violence lay hidden somewhere under the surface. It lay in the daggers he dug into my soul when he laughed at my assumption that this could have been more; it lay in the way he smiled as he told me he would use me. I had been preparing myself ever since I had returned to his room to stand against his strange power, building walls to help me stay safe. So I was completely shocked when when ignored me completely and walked over to his swords. He tossed me a saber. “Know how to use this?” “Hold here,” I pointed at the hilt. “Pointy end.” He gave me a serious look. “Yes, I know how to use a sword. What’s going on?” “Nothing.” “Don’t give me that.” I got out of bed; he looked genuinely worried. “It’s got to be serious if you’re arming me.” “It’ll be fine. Just stay here.” He turned to go. Seeing he had no intention of explaining anything to me, I lunged for the door and managed to keep it shut. “No.” My bulk moved to block his path and I heard him sigh. “Explain.” “There might be an ambush. Nothing to worry about, just. The ship is acting strangely.” “Ours?” “No, the other.” “Oh.” I tilted my head. It shouldn’t be. The men that had been left had very strict instructions, and I would hate to have to kill anyone else. “Strangely how?” He made a bit of a face before the words left his mouth. “They surrendered.” “Isn’t that good?” “It would be, but.” I saw him hesitate, saw a moment pass before his eyes. I wanted to know that moment, to hold it, investigate, but it was gone before I could really get a glimpse. “There’s a flag.” He kissed me, and my body melted involuntarily into his. It was so perfect, the way he held me, and he caught me so by surprise that my defenses had not had time to be fully up. I was lost to him the moment he touched his hands to my hips, let alone his lips to mine. He took advantaged of my weakness and moved me aside. “I have to go; stay put, this is pirate’s business.” As he moved out the door, he stopped and looked at me, a moment of hesitation lost on my love-shocked form. I stood, still not recovered from the kiss, sword hanging loosely from my hand. He reached out and touched my wrist. I jumped. “Be careful,” he said, so softly I might have imagined it. Then he was gone. I put his words from my mind, along with the kiss. I couldn’t handle it. He was a distraction. I had washed him from my soul in the sea. But what had he said? A flag? I moved to the window and looked out. We were pulling up beside the Indiaman. Snapping up on her mast was the reverse skull and crossbones. The one I’d put up. It was a joke, really. A little calling card we’d always left when we’d taken ships like that. We’d called it our ghost flag, for our ghosted ships, but it didn’t actually mean anything. It was just a skull, and an X, and shitty ones at that. I shouldn’t have put it up, maybe, but it had felt so natural after the ease of everything else. Like riding a horse, except I didn’t ride horses. Like coiling a rope. Like tying a knot. Do it enough times, you just have to complete all the steps. It was nothing to get worked up about, just an inside joke from a past time in my life. I suppose inside jokes are a lot less funny from the outside. And maybe I had gone a bit over the top. Man, I thought a little sourly. They weren’t going to be happy when they realized I’d painted it in blood. *** It was hours before the captain came back. He looked weary, exhausted by something that wasn’t physical. I immediately put down the book, a treatsie on maritime law, and turned to sit on the edge of the bed. I had spent the last few hours practicing for this, preparing for his return. I knew, I knew the effect he had on me, knew that I was weak for him, and wasn’t going to slip again. And yet, the moment he walked through that door, his shoulders hunched and those thick brows so furrowed they nearly touched, all thoughts fled my mind but concern for him. “You okay?” He sat down at his desk and began writing furiously, filling a sheet of paper as I watched, then starting on another one. I watched him write harder and harder, until suddenly his nib broke, splashing ink everywhere. “Fuck!” He threw the papers across the room. “Hey!” Not knowing what I was going to do when I got there, I found myself moving towards him through the rustling air. I knelt beside the morose figure slumped in his chair, drawn inexplicably by his pain. A moth to flame, my flamable wings in danger of being consumed. “What is going on?” “Nothing. I told you, it’s fine, it’s fucking nothing.” “Yeah.” I put my hand on his arm and he pulled away. How quickly I’d forgotten everything I’d thought to myself in the hours he’d been gone. How easy it felt, to comfort him. “Really seems like nothing to me.” “You wouldn’t understand,” he finally said. That brought me right back. Nothing but a prisoner, he reminded me. The anger arose, but for some reason it only fed my attempts to console him. “Try me.” He scoffed. “I’m not a child.” I took his hand. “And I can tell you’re frightened by something.” “I’m not.” But he didn’t move his hand away. I sat there silently, waiting on him. His hand tightened for a moment in mine, then relaxed. He sighed. “Did you see the flag?” “Yes.” I waited for him to say something else, but he just stared straight ahead. “What about it?” I prompted. I expected to hear something about ghosts, some superstitious nonsense I could laugh at to make him feel better, or maybe about how it was made of blood, but what I did not expect to hear was; “It’s the banner of the King.” He said it so grimly, as if it were a death sentence. As if he had just proclaimed someone mortally wounded, their guts spilling over the operating table, and he was the one telling them they’d never make it back in. “The king?” I tried to keep my voice light, tried not to squeeze his hand too tight. “Which king?” I knew which fucking king. I couldn’t believe he’d done this, couldn’t believe - “The Pirate King. The King of the Sea.” He ran his free hand through his hair. “Never thought I’d see it this far south.” “The Pirate King.” I repeated the words slowly, tasted them in my mouth. It tasted like blood, and salt water, and my soul leaving my lips as I choked on the two mixed. He’d never expected to see his flag this far south; I hadn’t expected to hear that name. And now, twice in one day. Funny, I thought angrily, how fate works. “Cookie said you used to work under him.” “Not under, more with. He had a -” he shook his head. “It’s complicated. Pirate business. You wouldn’t understand.” “Try me,” I repeated angrily. To hear him say he worked with the King, that struck something within me. It landed on top of my frustration, vibrated there and grew as he still wouldn’t meet my gaze. I was frustrated with being left out of his ‘pirate business’, frustrated that he didn’t think I could keep up. At being nothing but a prisoner to this man who was my entire world, despite everything I was doing to keep that from being so. And I was pissed to hear about the theft of my flag. “I think you’ll find I understand more than you think,” I continued, letting my frustration spill into my tone more than I probably should have. He looked at me then, that same funny look he’d been giving me all day. “Okay,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry.” But I didn’t have time for this. “Pirate King. You worked under, with. Shouldn’t you be happy to see his flag?” “Ha.” It was that same dry laugh, tangling in his thick hair as it tried to escape his lips. “I kinda pissed him off.” “How?” “It’s complicated.” “Captain.” “I know, I know.” He pulled his arm over his eyes and smiled the ghost of smile. “I may have tried to overthrow him.” “You did what?” I could literally feel the shock rolling off my body. My first thought was relief, to find us on the same side so drastically of this man he called the King. I let that sit within me for all of a second before my second thought overwhelmed me, which was; oh gods, no. No, not you, killed the same way I was. Such a fate was unimaginable for anyone but my worst enemies, and here was this man, having come so close to sharing it with me. The thought shot hot fire of fear and anger through my very soul, made my blood rush to my ears and my fingertips tingle. I could not believe that he was alive, that I was here holding his hand. I squeezed his hand as gently as I could, given the circumstances. “It’s odd, though.” He ignored my outburst. “All the survivors of the ship said the same thing, that it was a ghost. Naked white flesh, grey eyes, ghost, ghost, ghost. No Pirate King.” I was still staring at him, taking in this man before me. Fate, I thought. No. Irony. “What makes it even odder is, I know this ghost they’re talking about. He was a legend in the north. More than a legend, he became this sort of. I don’t know, symbol. He’s supposed to mark his kills on his body, draws a line for each man killed in their blood.” He drew his hand down over his eyes. “I don’t know how they would know about him, really. Or why they would chose him, of all legends...” But I was still stuck, needed to make sure I got this right. “You mutinied against the Pirate King?” “And that’s the other thing, there were survivors at all. Recently, if the King raises his flag, no man survives.” He looked at me from under his fingers. “I thought you didn’t know who the Pirate King was.” “I don’t,” I lied, “but. He’s a king.” I swallowed. “You should be dead.” “Hence the concern of the flag.” I paused then, took in more of what he had said. “He kills entire ships?” “Massacres.” I felt a shiver of rage pass through my spine. The Captain put his hand on my shoulder, misunderstanding my shake. “Don’t worry, he should still be far in the north. He doesn’t often leave his empire. I think this was just.” He shrugged. “I don’t know, honestly. A ghost.” I pulled away from his hand. I didn’t need his false comfort. “Ghosts don’t exist,” I said quietly. If he noticed how I reacted to his touch, he didn’t show it. “That ghost does. They said he did in the North, and it looks like now he’s here. Because what he did to that ship, that happened. That’s real. Twenty men dead, just like that. And you should have seen the dead, most killed where they were standing, one man had his jaw just.” He stopped, shaking his head. I know, I wanted to tell him. I was there. You should have seen what they were trying to do to me. “I don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe it is the Pirate King, sea walking to come and get me.” I scoffed. As if the Pirate King could have done such a clean job of it. “They say he can.” He actually sounded serious. “They say he’s a son of the sea.” Then, more quietly. “I’ve seen the things he can do.” I looked up and realized that he was scared, truly frightened. I covered his hand with my other, trying to push my knowledge into him without having to say a word. “He can’t reach you here,” I told him. Not while I’m here, I added in my head. He stayed tense for a moment, holding his convictions tight. Then he relaxed. “No,” he sighed. “He can’t, unless he’s moved.” He pulled his hand from mine and picked up his quill to began to sharpen a new nib. “I have letters to write, allies to check in with. I need to make sure he’s still where I think he is. My friends help me make sure I never cross his path again.” “Good.” I turned to gather up his papers for him, holding them carefully so they wouldn’t smudge. He smiled as I handed them to him, and his smile undid me. It was the simplest of things. It always seemed to be with him, his hair, the way he moved his hand to pick up more ink, the way his lips curved to say thank you. The tightness of his pants. The drop of his stupid shirt. I wasn’t done with him. I knew it then, watching him sit there. I couldn’t be done with him, not the way he sat in my chest and pulled at my very soul. It would rip me apart if I walked away like this, if I enacted the walls I had been drilling into my body these last few hours. How could it not? I had nothing to hold onto, nothing of my own left. My heart had been stolen by the man who sat before me. My life had been stolen by a man thousands of miles away, unreachable now. My name was stolen by the sea. And my flag was stolen by the fucking pirate king. I wanted something of my own. Needed it. Even if it was just a moment, even if it couldn’t mean anything. He’d had his moment for him; I needed to have mine for me. Then, maybe, I could be free of him. I moved to the door and locked it. He frowned. “What are you doing?” “You promised,” I reminded him as I walked back towards the desk, my eyes taking in the man that had become my world, that I had decided to let be my world because without a world what is the point of living? I would rather have a world and live without, I realized, than never find such a place to belong at all. I thought all of that as I approached him, knowing this would be my last chance at entering his gravity. “You promised that we would finish what we had started.” “I did,” he agreed, a frown flashing behind his eyes. He could tell something was different. “And I’ve been waiting.” For hours, I thought. For years. For my entire life. I’ve been waiting for you for millennia, and this will be my moment. “Have you, now.” He moved to get up, but I put my hand on his chest and pushed him back into his chair. Not this time, I thought. Not the bed. The bed was his, he had made that very clear. I would have him right here. Besides, there was something I wanted to try, had been thinking about trying ever since he’d brought me to his room that first night. His brows slowly unknitted as I kissed him, deep, but they were quick to draw back together as I dropped to my knees in front of him. “Hey.” He captured my chin in his hand. “You don’t need to -” “Shut up,” I told him, my mouth chasing his thumb. His eyes widened slightly and he let me have it, and I slipped it over my tongue and grinned as he gasped. I felt his other hand creep into my hair, entwining with strands and pulling my eyes to his. “Okay,” he agreed softly. I smiled around his thumb and began to work on his breeches. There was no pretending through the thin fabric that he wasn’t enjoying was happening, and as I brushed my hand against the growing mound his hips jerked. I reached into his trousers and found my prize, pulled it into the light of day. We gasped together, the Captain and I, he at my touch, and I at being so close to something so fucking perfect, so unmistakably erotic. I’d been close to penises before, but never like this. Never one like this, so incredible and tempting. I imagined I could smell it, or maybe I could, a heady aroma that sent my head reeling and my mouth actually watering. I wanted him, needed him in a way I had never experienced before; it overwhelmed me, consumed me, and I knew the only way I could exorcise this demon that had been destroying my soul was by giving the Captain what he wanted, the way I wanted to. I carefully reached out and touched the head of his cock, and he shuddered, an entire body reaction to the gentlest of stimuli. I ran my finger along the length, base to tip, and watched his body shake, felt his hand tighten in my hair and my stomach tingled, my own cock hard and throbbing. It felt incredible to touch him, to let myself explore his body in even this most minor of ways. I waited until he had calmed down. “I’ve never done this before,” I warned him. I didn’t want him to get his hopes up; Cookie had said he’d been with many whores, and I knew they were trained in how to do this. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t -,” he started, but I wanted to do this, and he wanted me to do this, and so I leaned down and put my mouth around his cock. He gasped, his hand tightening around my hair. He tasted so good, the head of his cock warm and throbbing in my mouth. I never wanted to lift my head. I could feel the way his body reacted to me through his hand in his hair and the twitching inside my mouth. This, I thought, was where I could begin to control him truly. This was where he was mine. I experimented, moving deeper, then lifting and licking around the tip, trying to see what would get the strongest reaction. He cursed as I flicked my tongue at the base of the head, sliding my tongue under the lip that I found there, then gasped as I took him further in my mouth. I traced circles around the tip of his cock, watching his whole body twitch, and loved it even as I knew he wanted more. Wanted control. I could feel his hand on my head all the while, felt him want to press and pull with my motions. I wanted that too, but not yet. I teased him for a minute longer, finding the crease at the very tip of his cock and licking along the length of it to see what that would do. I explored him, lightly, at my pace, and was somewhat surprised to find that he let me do it. When I was ready, I lifted my head and met his eyes. They were half closed, his lips parted, and I couldn’t help but smile to see the effect I had had on this man. “Sir,” I said. I was ready to give him what he really wanted. What I had been hoping he would take. “Guide me.” I saw him swallow, watched his breathing increase in tempo. He put his hand back on my chin and I felt his hand shake. “Okay.” He ran his fingers over my lips, watched shuddering as I tried to catch them with my tongue. “But you need to tell me if I’m too much.” “I will,” I promised him. “But you won’t be.” “Open your mouth.” He gripped my head tighter, spreading his fingers across my head to give him control. He positioned me just above his cock. From this height, it looked massive, intimidating, but I trusted him. I opened my mouth and let him guide me down. He gasped as my tongue touched the head of his cock, then my mouth, sliding down as his hand pressed gently. I was concerned I couldn’t take all of him, knew that I couldn’t, but he stopped me before I got anywhere near uncomfortable, brought me back to the tip. Again and again he guided my head down, then up, his hand on my head firm and tender. With his other hand he brought my fingers to the base of his cock, placing them around the shaft. I pulled my hand from his, setting my own rhythm, slow and steady and deliberate. Somewhere above me I heard the Captain curse. He allowed the rhythm of my head to match the one I set with my hand. I took him like I needed to, because I did. It was a single minded action that drove me, a demand that existed in my being without him having to give it. I felt myself speeding up, pulling against his hand, wanting his cock deeper against my throat, needing more of him inside my body. He moaned, his hips moving against me. I almost gagged as he thrust inside my mouth, and it made me want him more, made me need even more of him, but his hand pulled me back and denied me. He didn’t mean anything by it, in fact probably meant kindness, but it was frustrating. I increased my pace and I heard him say something, but I wasn’t listening. My entire world was his cock, his hand, my mouth and tongue, the way those things came together to make a blossom of pleasure and perfect harmony of bliss. The pressure he kept on my head didn’t allow me to test myself, to see how much of him I could truly take, and I resigned myself to this, instead forcing him to increase the pace of my head by speeding up my hand, relishing how my fingers glided over his slick cock, tightening and loosening my grip as he moaned above me. He shouted something, pulling my head from my rhythm. I kept stroking him, didn’t want to let him stop me completely, but he slapped my hand away. I knelt there between his legs, staring up at the Captain. His chest was moving quickly, his head thrown back and his eyes closed. So he wouldn’t see, I thought, if I just… I leaned forward against his hand. He felt me and tightened his grasp, but at the end of my tether I was just close enough to reach his cock with my tongue. I opened my mouth and reached out, scraping the tip of his cock with the tip of my tongue. He cursed and ripped my head back. I saw stars, the suddenness of the pain and control in my scalp breathtaking, and the noise I made was nothing like anything I had ever voiced before, small and sensual and filled with desire. The Captain’s body reacted to it, his arm tensing and his hand jerking upwards, and because I was attached to the Captain’s hand I was jerked upwards as well. I found myself lifted just off my knees, my head tilted up to meet the Captain’s eyes. He stayed like that for a moment, his eyes pumping waves of anticipation and pleasure through my core. They were ragged, unfocused in their desire, staring down at me with an intensity that wasn’t directed but instead showered me with lust. I returned his look, knowing he was in control again, understanding he would have his way with me if he wanted. I wanted him to, I begged him with my eyes to take me. My head began to ache from the pressure his fingers exerted on my hair follicles, and I let slip a small noise with my breath. He immediately tightened his grip against me, pulling my head back at an awkward angle. I loved being held by him, loved letting him move me in this way, and I felt my breath come hard and fast. His other hand made its way to my chin, then slipped over my lips. I drew them into my mouth with my tongue, never letting go of his eyes with mine. Breath hissed from his lips in a string of curses, leaving his chest, his body, the muscles unwinding as he lowered me back down. His fingers hooked into my mouth and drew me forward towards him, leaving my mouth only when I reached his cock. He didn’t wait for me to be ready this time, just pushed me onto the erect form waiting and I was glad. I tried to return my hand to the base, but he grabbed my wrist and twisted my arm behind my back, pinning it there. I jumped at the sudden escalation, but he shoved my head back down, making me maintain the rhythm that he had chosen for me without the meddling interference of my hand. I knew what was expected of me and kept my other hand far away. The pace he chose was rougher, faster, but I loved it. Craved more. Warm waves were crashing against me from the pit of my stomach, driving me to do whatever it was that he wanted. Whatever he did, it wasn’t enough. Even in this state, he didn’t drive my head down as far as I wanted, didn’t let me take as much as him as I desired. I wanted him. All of him. His hand was pressing against my scalp, his cock was in my mouth, and I was where I wanted to be. When he yanked me up again suddenly, I wasn’t going to be denied. I slipped my free hand up from where it had been resting and continued the rhythm hoping he would let me go back down. But it was not to be. I was done with the Captain, because he was coming. I felt his entire body seize under my hand, his hips bucking up and his back arching. The hand on my head jerked back, pulling at my scalp with a gratifying intensity. My mouth fell open unbidden at the pain, just as thick warm cum splashed across my face and neck, landing partially on my exposed tongue. I took a moment to enjoy what had just occurred, to enjoy the taste of the Captain in my mouth, the commanding tug of his fingers laced through my hair, forcing my head to remain in place. Then I looked up to him. His eyes were closed, his head thrown back. He looked so peaceful that I almost let him be, but I wanted him to look at me. I wanted him to see what he’d created, the beauty he’d spread across my being. I pursed my lips and gently blew air over his semi-erect cock. He jerked, his entire body convulsing in on itself. I looked up at the face that now looked down at me, wide eyes taking in my craning neck, my body twisted to accommodate the hand he had trapped behind my back and the pressure from the hand he still had buried deep within my hair. His eyes traveled then to my open mouth, ending on the splashes of cum that ran from my lips over my chin, down my neck. “Shit,” he said, releasing me quickly and drawing his hands up, palms out, as if he were surrendering. “Holy fuck, I’m so sorry. I was trying not to -” He shut up as I wiped a bit of cum from my face with my finger and licked it up, smiling. “Fuck,” he breathed, staring down at my decorated face. “Who are you.” I licked his stomach and he shuddered. “Yours,” I reminded him. I stood up, kissing him on the way. He kissed me back, soft and confused and so sweet I almost believed he cared. But I had heard him earlier that day. I had to keep my plan, I told my endorphins and my racing heart. He told me who I could be with; now it was my turn. “But this is the last time I will ever let you touch me.” He pulled back. “What?” “I’ll be with Cookie if you need me.” “Wait! Fuck, your face!” But I had already unlocked the door and was moving down the hall. *** The door swung shut, leaving only the Captain in his quarters. He sat there alone, silent, staring at the space the man had just occupied for some time. His face was drawn together, stitches all pulled too tight in all the wrong places, his pants undone and limp dick hanging out. Suddenly, the man pulled his hands to his head. “Fuck,” he shouted. He drew his hair back, still staring at the door, as if willing it to open. The expression on his face was slowly changing from one of confusion to one of pain, the brows that were drawn together slowly drawing up, the lips that had been pursed dropping open in a gasp, only the smallest of breaths able to escape past. The door remained steadfastly shut. “Fuck,” he whispered. He folded in half on the chair. Perhaps he was borne down by the weight of something; perhaps he simply could no longer bear the sight of that wooden door, closed to him forever. He stayed that way for a very long time, silent except for his shattered breaths.
  4. Chapter 2

    I was out of practice at waking up in beds that were not mine. My years in the mines had taught me the importance of constant vigilance. I’d barely been able to sleep anyway, without the rocking of a ship, the gentle singing of the sea. How can you trust the land? It’s likely to drop out from under your feet at any moment. I’d never felt safe on solid ground; in prison mines, even less. Deep repose, the kind that steals your bearing from you and lets you rest your soul as well as body, was foreign to me. So when I woke, dazed and rested and not recognizing where I was, and found myself both bound and naked, I had an understandable moment of panic. Then I felt the ship creak beneath me, heard the ocean’s relentless whirl, and calmed. So long as I had the sea, nothing could harm me. I let myself exist in that space, my freedom singing through my veins like rushing channels. The sunlight was warm and I was not in chains; the ocean called my name and I could finally respond. I tried to sit up and bodily remembered the ropes around my wrists. This wasn’t a real problem; knots couldn’t hold me. But I found myself staring at these knots, as if they were something more. The Captain hadn’t wanted me to untie them. I sighed and leaned back in the bed. The Captain. I didn’t understand what had happened between us the night before. I understood that he was an attractive man; I understood that my body had, somewhat inexplicably, reacted to that. I could deal with that. People had told me for years that men could be beautiful in the same way that women were. I supposed I had just found someone who had convinced me. But no, it was more than that. Because he wasn’t beautiful like any woman I had ever seen, or like any man could ever be. He was the most incredible sight I had ever seen collapsed into the skin of a human being. This wasn’t an extension of something I knew; the way he made me feel was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Nothing about him was like anything I had ever known. Not the way his lips had felt on mine, when he had finally leaned down and kissed me. Not the way his hands had turned my skin to ice while lighting my soul on fire, threatening to make my entire body crack under the pressure. Not the way his mouth had felt, as his bit and kissed his way down to my… I closed my eyes and pressed them against my arm, refusing to look down at the fully erect cock that had risen between my legs. I couldn’t be turned on like this, not just by thinking about him so mildly. Had I not gotten enough last night? I was confused, so confused at how my body reacted to him. To the mere thought of him. He utterly bewildered me, in everything that he did. It was not just his touch, or his body, or his gentle way of being so rough that confounded me so. It was the way he could command me. It was the way I wanted to do nothing more than make him happy, than to give him pleasure. I looked up to my hands, still tied as a courtesy to this Captain. Why was I listening to him? He could ask me anything, and I would obey. I felt that in the very core of my being, but for some reason it didn’t frighten me at all. No - I felt nothing but excitement. I sighed. Fate would do what she would. I supposed it only made sense that after so much pain from fighting, the man who would accept my surrender would give me such pleasure. Not that he’d accepted it. That thought soured my mood instantly. His actions the night before had been so strange. Who was he to tell me what I deserved? Who I deserved? He didn’t know what I wanted; he didn’t know what I’d done. Well, I thought. That was hardly his fault. Still, he could have listened. I could have explained some things to him, if not all of it. I felt a ping of frustration at his lack of willingness to try. I leaned back, trying to push all of this from my mind. There was nothing to do about it now. Later, perhaps, I could try to talk some sense into him. For now, I laid and enjoyed the feeling of being at sea. In time, I had to get up. My body forced me - I really had to pee. I undid the knots the Captain had left me in. He was very good, and it took me a few moments, but soon I was on my way to the bathroom. I relieved myself, sighing contentedly. On the way back out the door, I caught sight of myself in the full mirror and did a double take. I examined my body closely in the polished silver. Rope burns scalded my wrists. Angry bite marks covered my sides, red proof of pain I didn’t remember being in. On my neck, a few dark marks bloomed, bite marks and blood bruises from a rough mouth. A hand print bruised each of my thighs, yellow well on it’s way to green, each finger distinct in it’s pattern and grip. I did a quick check for other damage, but I didn’t see anything. I didn’t bother to check my back. I didn’t like looking at it. Besides, I already knew what damage was there, and it wasn’t last night’s fault. All in all, it wasn’t bad. I’d certainly had worse nights, and those hadn’t had any joy to speak of. But if the Captain had seen this, after what he had said last night… I stopped. Thinking about the Captain garnered a myriad of complex emotions that I was not in the mood to deal with. I pulled myself from the mirror and stepped into my breeches, found my shirt where it had landed, then returned to my reflection to see what could be done. The sleeves could be pulled down to cover most of the damage on the arms, but there was no way to wear my collar that wasn’t obvious I was hiding something. In the end, I just left my neck exposed. I sat on the bed and wondered what to do next. If I were playing nice, I would lie back down and tie myself back up, but that was kind of pointless now that I had dressed myself; it was obvious I had been up and moving about. I could read, perhaps. The Captain had an impressive chest of books. My stomach grumbled. I hadn’t gotten dinner the night before, or breakfast yet. I looked at the door. It was stupid to go out and wander around the ship. It was literally asking for trouble. After all, as far as the men knew I was supposed to be in the cells. I was a prisoner. Who cared about the other men. The ship was filled with nobodies. There was only one man who could command my attention, and I was busy putting him from my mind. I unlocked the door and strode out into the hall. I figured the mess must be somewhere near the dinner hall they’d taken me to the night before, so I retraced the steps as best I could. The closer I got, the stronger the smell of cooking became, so I knew I had to be on the right track. Soon, I could hear chattering voices darting through the hall. I followed the mix of sensations to the doorway of a cafeteria. Enough eyes looked up as I ducked through the doorway that I caused a stir. Half of those eyes started and reached for blades; the other half blinked drowsily at the unrecognized face. That motion set of a ripple of similar reactions through the rest of the ranks, until the entire room was a silent bristle of suspicion and knives and half awake eyes. “Hello,” I said. “Is this where I could find some breakfast?” No one answered, so I took it upon myself to find out. I walked though the benches, stepping carefully around the gathered ranks until I reached the cook. “Could I get some food, please?” “Crew only,” he told me sourly. “I’ve been informed that my status is prisoner.” I didn’t believe it, but I knew better than to go against the rules with cooks. I leaned down on the counter and peered into the kitchen. Pots boiled over with delicious scents, roiling through the small space and almost overwhelming me with homesickness. The kitchen had always been my favorite place on any ship. “I don’t know if that counts for anything, but I’m very hungry.” “Prisoner, huh.” He looked me up and down. “Well, they did say you were big.” I shrugged and spread my hands. Didn’t really have much to say to that. “I already sent your food up with the Captain.” He turned to walk away. Uh-oh, I thought. That meant I probably didn’t have much time before a confrontation. I felt a tingle grow in my stomach and tried to kill it fast. “That’s odd, he sent me down for it.” I smiled as brightly as I could. The cook looked me over carefully. His eyes noted my overly bright smile, a gesture I was obviously unfamiliar with, then moved to my lopsided shirt and landed last on the love marks on my neck. His scowl grew. “You know what you’re doing?” My smile dropped. “I can handle myself.” He shook his head a little sadly. In the end, he hurrumphed and handed me a platter filled with bread and a delicious smelling porridge. I thanked him warmly, genuinely. I was hungry, and the food looked good. Then it was time for me to try and find a seat. I turned; all eyes were still on me, the room deathly silent. I picked a spot close to the door to make my attempt. “Is it alright if I join you?” I kept my voice genial and firm. The men looked like they’d rather say no, but people have a hard time refusing a direct request, and space ended up being found. The made me sit with my back to the door, however, which made me uncomfortable. The guy across from me leaned over. “They say you took down fifteen guys when you came from the other ship.” I shrugged. “The last time I heard it told it was twelve. When they settle on a number, you let me know.” To my left, a sailor chuckled. “It was ten at last count, actually. I’m Finn.” “A pleasure,” I replied. I didn’t offer a name, and he didn’t ask. We shook. “So where’d you stay last night?” Finn and the others leaned forward. “The cells,” I answered easily, my attention on my porridge. It was rich and filling, a hint maybe of… cinnamon? I glanced up at the cook, curious about where he’d gotten this particular recipe, but he was busy at his work, his pinched face red from the heat of the small kitchen. “Uh-huh.” Finn waggled his eyebrows, not bother to hide his inspection of my neck. “And how’d you find them?” “The cells?” I looked at him, feigning surprise. “Fine, I suppose. How does one ever find cells?” My casual answer put them off their questions for a little. I focused in on the porridge. I couldn’t tell if it tasted familiar in the face of everything so strange that was happening, an anchor that my brain was creating for me, or if I actually recognized the construction. Either way, it was delicious. Conversation flowed around me comfortingly, and I allowed myself to believe, just for a moment, that things could settle back to normal. Suddenly the little guy across from me looked up. He was a young kid, towheaded and sparkly eyed in a way that made me nervous. “Heard you had dinner with the Captain.” “Yes.” They all looked at me. There were a few whispers as those not caught up asked questions from those in the know. “You talk to him?” “Yes,” I said again. I wasn’t sure where the line was here, how much the Captain would want his crew to know. There were a few guys unabashedly pointing at the marks on my neck. I tried to look unconcerned. “Well?” Finn prompted. “How did you find him?” “Yes,” I heard a voice behind me ask. The room stiffened around me. “How did you find him.” It wasn’t a question so much an accusation. The voice was cold, dispassionate in its anger. Icy, it rolled over my shoulders like a frost, threatening my spine with a shiver. I quietly put my spoon down, the clank of metal on wood the only sound in the silent hall, and looked at Finn. “The Captain?” I stated, as easy and unconcerned as I could be. I did not care about the Captain, I told myself. I heard my own lie in my head, anger brewing in my veins like a storm, surprising me with it’s sudden ferocity. Who was this man, to come and tell me what I should feel, and what I should think, and who I should sleep with? Who was this man to deny me, me, a chance to speak my mind? Well, I thought. Let him hear me now. “Honestly,” I heard myself say, “I found him to be quite arrogant.” I felt the ripple move through the room again, felt the sailors pull back from me. The Captain’s eyes burned the back of my head. I didn’t care. Let him try to set water aflame. I picked my spoon back up to continue eating. The little guy across from me stared, aghast. “What are you doing,” he whispered. “Do you want to get killed?” “Arrogant would be the right term, yeah,” I continued, a little louder. “Thinks things can hold you when they clearly can’t. Knows what’s best for you, even if you say otherwise.” I turned and met the Captain’s eyes. “Tries to tell you how you’re supposed to feel.” “You,” he said, eyes aflame. “Come with me.” I took another bite of porridge. The room might not have been breathing, it was so still. “Come with me.” “My name,” I said to my bowl evenly, “is not you.” I heard Finn suck in his breath. The Captain could have screamed, then. Many men would have. Many captains, especially, would have screamed and threatened and tried to make me what they wanted. How many had already done just that? Maybe that’s what I was testing for, maybe that’s why I pushed. Maybe I wanted to see if he would try and make me submit, like so many in my life had before, an easy out for me to make my move and go. A quick exit from the strange vortex he put me in, just by existing. But he didn’t yell. I knew he wouldn’t, really. So perhaps what I really wanted, what I selfishly craved was the way my body reacted when he came right up behind me and pressed one hand to my neck and his lips to my ear. “Stand up,” he said, and I stood. “Walk.” It was all said in an even tone, in a dangerous tone, in a way that made my whole body shiver with it, anticipate what he would tell me to do next, and I hated it. I loved it. My body sang with the vibrations as I made my way before him through the door. He pushed me through the hallways with his presence, a mirror the the pulling he had done the night before. I opened the door to his room and walked in. I heard him lock it behind us, the soft click signalling things I didn’t want to hope for. “Get on your knees.” I did, shivers floating down my spine. The bed squeaked as he settled down behind me. I waited. “What am I going to do with you,” he finally asked. “You run away, you talk to me like that in front of my men -” “You didn’t give me a chance to talk to you alone,” I countered. “We could have had that conversation here, last night. Or this morning. Instead, you left me. Tied up, like a dog.” “Not like a dog, I thought -” I heard him sigh. “We went over this. You are a prisoner.” I made no attempt to correct him this time. Let him think what he wanted if he was so determined that this was what I should be. “If you want to talk, fine. Talk. Talk to me, instead of running and forcing a confrontation in front of my men.” “I tried that last night,” I reminded him. “You told me to be quiet.” “Oh, and you do whatever I tell you?” “Yes.” The word was so simple, so stark in its honesty, that it brought him to a stop. He breathed it in, held it in his lungs for a moment, and I almost thought that he would accept it. Then he exhaled forcefully. “No. You don’t. I told you to stay, and you ran.” I could hear the frustration in his voice. “Why are you toying with me like this?” “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to.” “Yes,” he said angrily. “You do.” “I really don’t.” I turned to look at him. Sitting there, leaning over like that, I could see his entire chest shadowed beneath his shirt. I ate him up with my eyes, feeling what it did to my body. “It just… happens.” His eyes were hard, so hard. I wanted the rest of him to be the same. “Well. Stop.” How could I tell him that I was helpless against him? That my body would do whatever it needed to to be with his? It was more than that - more than just bodies, but I wasn’t sure of that yet. At the time, all I knew was that I needed to press myself into him until I couldn’t tell where our separation began. “I want you,” I told him. “No.” His gaze broke from mine. “You don’t.” And that was to be the end of that, and I tried to make myself respect it, even as the frustration grew at being told who and what I wanted. His gaze had fallen on the rope I had left curled on the bed, perfectly coiled. He frowned. He grabbed at the rope, looking for tears or signs of breaks. “Who even untied you?” I shrugged. “I had to pee.” He was quiet for some time. When he finally moved, it was to crouch before me. The movement brought him to my eye height, searching my face like he had been since we’d met. I met his eyes steadily, willing him to understand that I was telling him the truth. “Does it bother you? To be tied?” “No.” It had been unkind, to say what I had. “Because if it does -” My words came out curter than I meant. “It doesn’t.” He looked surprised at my shortness, but I was tired of being not believed. He reached out and carefully tilted my head, looking at the sides of my neck, the dark bruises I hadn’t been able to hide. His inspection was quiet, and intense. I shivered beneath his touch and watched his face for any signs of what any of this meant to him. What I might mean. I tried to keep myself from feeling disappointment when I saw nothing but frustration, pinned between those eyebrows of his. “I didn’t even notice…” He trailed off, tipping my head this way and that. His gaze shifted to my chest, where he could see the top of a bite mark peeking out from my off-kilter shirt. “Shit” he finally sighed. “Alright, let’s get your shirt off.” I didn’t move. “I want to see what damage I did.” I ignored him, staring at the floor. “Listen. I’m not going to hurt you again, you don’t have to -” I jerked my head up. “Hurt me?” I couldn’t believe how dense he was. Was he truly concerned about that? He blinked. “Well, yeah. Isn’t that what you’re worried about?” “No.” I sighed. This boy would be the death of me. “Look at me.” He did, his eyes roving my arms, my chest, my face. I reached out and cupped his face in my hand. His eyes met mine, shocked and confused as I stared him down. “Do you really think you could hurt me?” “Yeah. I mean.” He pulled away. “Didn’t I?” “No.” “Take off your shirt.” I shook my head. I didn’t want him to see what he had done. I had a feeling it wouldn’t help my case. He grabbed my chin and made our eyes meet. “Take off your shirt.” Even through all of this, I still recognized his command. He stepped back as I pulled the fabric over my head, taking in the bruises, the bitemarks, the ropeburns. He frowned and came closer, inspecting them, his face dark and closed. “I’m sorry,” he told me again. “I didn’t realize; I should have been in control.” That reaction was exactly why I hadn’t wanted him to see. “Believe me when I say this is nothing.” He ignored me. “I shouldn’t have had sex with you, not at all.” I grabbed his hand again. He wouldn’t look at me. “I just told you. This is nothing.” It was frustrating to be ignored, to have my voice not even acknowledged. “I promise you,” he said as he stood, “it won’t happen again.” “Will you listen to me!” I stood up, erupted, propelled myself forward to where he was standing. He gasped and reached for the blade he wore at his side, but I had him pinned before he had a chance to fully draw it from its sheath. I pushed it back down, returning shining metal to dull leather, and pressed on the soft spots in his hand until he cursed in pain and released his grip. “I just told you,” I said quietly, pushing my leg between his. I wanted him, how I wanted him. He moaned quietly as I moved my body over his, sending spikes of pleasure through my brain. It was becoming hard to think. He was so close to me, and I to him. “It’s okay. If you want me, just take me.” I watched his lips part and I felt him becoming hard against me, felt him wanting me. I pulled his arms up over his head, holding his wrists with one hand as I traced my fingers down his arm. I let them rest for a moment on his neck, feeling his blood race beneath the pads of my fingertips. His eyes had drifted shut at some point, and I could feel his breathing quicken with each motion my body made. His chin lifted, moving his lips to just inches from mine. Those perfect lips were parted, quivering. I leaned down. “No,” he said against my lips. I froze, his command echoing through my body like ice. He dropped his head against my chest. “Fuck,” he whispered. Then, louder, “Fuck.” I moved away from him, letting his wrists drop, finding my shirt and redressing along the way, staring at the wreck of a being I had just crashed against. I had been so sure when I had made my move, had been so sure as I had done all of this. I had just wanted him, wanted him to want me, but looking at him there, standing hunched over and broken, I realized that this was killing him. I hated it. It hurt, to see him there like that. As he crumpled before me, I fell with him, a mirror to his descent, his body sliding down the wall and collapsing inward as if there was some weight pulling him in. My knees hit the ground, again, for him. Always for him. I had done wrong, to push him to this. I had been the one not listening. “Fuck,” I echoed him. Eventually he looked up, saw me watching him. “Stop,” he told me. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “Just. Stop.” He looked away. “Okay,” I said softly. “That,” he spat. “Stop doing that.” “I don’t -” “I said stop.” I stopped, my body shivering with the sound of his voice. He took a deep breath. “You can’t just come onto my ship, and do this to me.” I wasn’t so sure he was talking to me. “You can’t make me feel this way. It isn’t right. It can’t be.” “I’m sorry.” I tried to make my voice soft. I was afraid he might become nothing but broken planks. “I just wanted you.” He didn’t move, and my voice continued, “And I thought you wanted me.” He shifted. “Didn’t you?” I heard myself ask, my voice small, and I hated myself. “There are rules.” He wasn’t looking at me. “Rules about conduct and rules about how I can act. Control of myself and control of my ship.” “Who’s rules?” “Mine.” He took a deep breath, but he still wouldn’t turn my way. Wouldn’t lift his head. “I can’t do this, if I’m to be what I am. I gave up being a person when I agreed to be their captain. I gave up all of this, whenever I’m at sea.” “That’s -” “Personal attachments,” he interrupted, finally turning his gaze to me, “are dangerous. They lead to weakness. I need to be strong for them.” “Okay,” I conceded in the face of his glare. “Okay.” He searched my face for a long time, then took in the rest of me, let his eyes trace the outlines of my skin, the way my shirt slipped over my collarbones. Suddenly he squeezed his eyes shut and slammed his head against the wall, causing me to start forward, afraid he’d hurt himself. “You make it so hard,” he muttered. Then he was standing, and he was the Captain I had come to recognize, cold and even. But beneath his eyes I could see the storms raging, watched tempests play out against his soul. To see him like this, to know the pain I had put him in, it made my chest hurt even as I felt tingles shiver through my spine at his commands. “Get in the chair.” I moved quickly towards the desk chair he indicated as he walked towards me, trying to keep distance between our bodies. He grabbed the ropes from the bed and tied my wrists, taking great care not to touch my skin. When he finished, he stepped back and looked at me. I didn’t look at his face, didn’t want to know what was or wasn’t there. I heard him go across the room, heard him rustling as he searched for something. He returned and stood before me, just stood for some time. I gathered the pain in my chest and looked up. He held the manacles dangling in his hand. I felt my breath catch. I knew he would still have my warning in his ears, I knew he understood what this would mean. I rolled my eyes slowly up to his face and found it impassive. “I’m sending someone up to take you down to the cells. They’ll put you in irons down there anyway.” “I cannot guarantee the safety of your crew if that were to happen.” His voice lashed from his mouth. “Do not threaten my crew.” I lifted my chin and let him see the truth in my eyes, let him look for it himself. We stared each other down, the Captain’s dark eyes demanding, my grey eyes warning, storms roiling in each. “Fuck,” he finally said one last time before throwing the manacles on the bed and storming from the room. I wanted to scream. I waited only minutes before untying myself, throwing myself bodily from the chair he had confined me to. I paced around the room for a bit, but pacing is just another form of inaction and it did me no good. I would have to do something, or I was going to die from all the things that were crashing about inside of me. He didn’t want me. He couldn’t have me. I had hurt him. I needed to get my head on straight; needed to get to place where I could think. And on the ship, on any ship, there was really only one place for that. Where I felt like home. I took a breath and tried to calm down. I had to leave this room anyway. I knew he wasn’t coming back, and I wasn’t going to be put in a position where I would have to hurt someone he cared about. Caring about by proxy - that was a new one for me. I coiled the ropes again and left them on the chair, then headed back to the mess hall. The cook didn’t even look up when I walked in. “No food,” he said. “Leave.” I kept moving forward instead. The scents called to me, helped settle the hole that was growing in my stomach at the rejection I had just faced. They were familiar, too familiar to be coincidence, and I tried to convince myself of that as I moved forward. “I was looking for work, actually.” That got his attention. He scowled when he saw me. “Go away. I don’t have a death wish.” I smiled. “I’m still alive, aren’t I?” “Yeah, but I’m not as hot as you, so I won’t last as long when the Captain’s pissed.” I felt my smile sadden at that. “I’d really appreciate something to do with my hands,” I paused as I took a breath and took a chance, “Alan.” “Oh, now he thinks we’re on first name -” He froze, hands halfway through peeling a potato. “You are Alan,” I asked, moving into the kitchen. “Right?” The potato fell, but the knife remained. I watched it shake and stayed out of range. “Why are you here?” His voice barely reached me through the kitchen’s smoke. “It was your porridge,” I said, softly. The scents of the kitchen held me. I couldn’t leave, wouldn’t leave. “It tastes just like Minnie’s.” The knife lowered. “You know Minnie?” “Grew up in her kitchen.” “Scullery boy, eh?” I leaned on the counter, drinking in the scene, the pots around me, the arrangements of knives and tools that were almost the same but just a tad different. It grounded me, helped me to forget what had just happened. I anchored myself in soups and sauces, and threw away the pain I felt. “Something like that.” I knew that I shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be exposing myself to this man, and yet… “Min didn’t have need of scullery boys.” He had the same pots, I noticed. I wondered if they’d bought them together, or if they’d been a gift, or if they were just so similar they’d chosen the same set. “Taught me everything I know. About knives. About life. Being smart, and when to be dumb.” I shrugged, ignoring the knife still pointed vaguely in my direction. “Strategies of command.” “Scullery boys don’t need strategies of command,” he said warily. I smiled to hear his voice. They even talk the same, I thought. “Told me about her brother, too. And how he could never quite get their grandma’s soup right.” I blinked as the knife was raised back to my eye level. After an appropriate moment of threatening, the cook sighed and lowered the knife. “Minerva, eh?” He gestured me the rest of the way into the kitchen with the blade and handed me a potato. “How’s she doing?” “Haven’t seen her in some years, to be honest.” He grunted. “Yeah. Me either.” We worked on potatoes silently for a moment. A rhythm was set, the cook’s hands flying over the lumpy tubers and flicking skin expertly into the waste bin. I had to concentrate to keep up with his pace and not get cut in the process. It was good to think about something other than what I had just done, what had just happened, keeping my hands busy with a steady stream of methodological actions. I let my eyes wander the kitchen as I worked. “You have the same pots as her, you know.” He grunted. “It’s really nice to finally meet you, Alan.” He threw down his knife angrily. “I don’t go by that name anymore.” “I’m sorry.” “And you have some nerve, coming in here, calling me by a dead name.” I nodded. He watched me carefully, studying my face for any sign of trickery, but all I had were the last splashes of guilt, colored by a growing nostalgia. He grunted and threw me another root. “What do you call yourself, son?” I thought about that as I worked. There were a lot of answers to that question, and none of them were especially good. “It’s an easy enough question.” I sighed, coming up with an acceptable explanation. “My name is simmering. I need to keep it covered for a bit more, until it’s done.” “Cooking metaphor for the cook, I see, he can’t understand anything but what’s in the kitchen.” I smiled as he grabbed up another potato and set to it angrily. “I’ve got to call you something, so what’ll it be?” “Boy is fine.” “Good, easy. I like it. Well, here you shouldn’t call me Alan. Understand? Here, I’m Cookie.” “Because you’re so sweet?” He flashed me a scowl as he turned away from the table we were working at. He bustled around his kitchen for a bit, chopping this, spicing that, while I kept up the task of potato peeling. I took the time to think, to try and understand what was going on. And what was going on was, I had lost the Captain. I shouldn’t delude myself; I had never had him to begin with. What had happened the night before was nothing but a slip up, a mistake on his part. Probably due to keeping his dick in his pants for too long on the sea. He had rules, he had said. Gave it all up to be a Captain. I didn’t understand his reasons for it, but I would have to respect them. All I understood was that I could not have him. For some reason, rather than just disappointment, this thought filled me with the deepest, most bottomless sorrow which manifested in an almost physical pain. How had I let this happen, I thought to myself. How had I let this strange man have such a hold over me? I was the storms that ravaged the seas; I was the fifty foot swells that swallowed boats whole and swatted at navies like flies. I was untamable and uncaring and this man, this man had brought me to my knees. He wanted me, but wouldn’t touch me, and that somehow hurt more than anything I had been through yet. Any of the torture, any of the pain. I had come through all of that, and this was the thing that was ripping my soul to pieces? It just didn’t make sense. It wasn’t fair. I let myself wallow for a bit, but wallowing never did me much good and I’d never been one to indulge for long. And so, standing there with the potatoes, I came to a decision. In the end, it was simple. He would not touch me. The Captain had said that he would not, and a Captain should keep his word. If I let it, this could break me. For some strange reason, I cared that much. But I had rules too. I could not be broken, and so this would not break me. I would just have to continue, riding the ship until they dropped me off. And then I would continue some more, until I did what needed to be done. Simple. My body was resigning to never having him touch me again, and it hurt. I gasped in the face of it, feeling any hope flee as I realized just how much I was losing, how much I could have had. I put down my potato and my knife and tried to just breathe. It was simple, yes, but that didn’t make it easy. “Boy!” Cookie needed me, and I hung onto that like a lifeboat. He was tasting the soup he was preparing, the one that spat smells that had brought me so surely to him. He passed the spoon to me. “Really. What is it missing?” I sipped deep, letting the familiar tones flow over my tongue. Thank all the gods for distractions. There was a hint of something, something not quite right... “You added the onions first, to sweat?” “Yes, yes.” “And then the garlic?” “Of course, and then the -” “Lime.” He stopped. “Lime?” He looked around him, then scurried to various cabinets, opening and closing doors. “She adds lime,” he muttered, “it’s a fucking sailor’s recipe, grandma was a sailor, her father was a sailor, of course she fucking adds lime.” I peeled potatoes and watched him. I felt strangely at home here, or maybe not so strangely. I had gotten my start in a kitchen like this one, with a cook just like this, food so similar it was almost identical. How strange, I thought, that fate brought me to this ship, to this cook. No, not fate. That the Captain brought me here. I froze and looked down, the ice in my stomach that the soup had begun to melt threatening me again with violent force. “What can you tell me,” I managed to ask, “about the Captain.” Cookie turned and looked at me. “Nothing,” he said. “I like my body the way it is, intact, and not part of the soup I serve.” But cooks gossip, it’s in their blood. And I had to know, despite my better judgement. “Does he really not sleep with anyone?” The cook scoffed. “He sleeps with whores on the docks, goes the word. Disappears for hours, leaves Wicky in charge. That’s how he gets his information, some say. Fucks whores so good they’re loyal to him forever. Course, others say he’s just payin’ like the rest of us.” He bustled around me, not noticing how my face had gone so very still. “Wicky’s the first mate, hard ass. Slippery sort of fella. He won’t like you,” he told me flatly. “When we were still up north, Cap used to be more relaxed, but after all that business -” “You were up north?” I was ignoring how hearing that the Captain preferred whores over me stabbed at my gut. Whores were lovely people, I told myself. And it wasn’t like I had never paid for sex. This was an unreasonable reaction. “Aye, we used to run with the King’s Brigade.” “Privateers?” I frowned. “I understand it’s lucrative, but -” Cookie spat. “Fuck ‘em, not those scum floatin’ for a limp dicked toothless hack who has to have his son chew his food for him.” I blinked. This was definitely Minnie’s brother. “But you said the King.” “Aye, son, the true king. The King of the Sea. The Pirate King, him of a hundred names and a thousand lies.” I smiled at the poetry falling like rocks from Cookie’s lips. “Sounds like a fairy tale.” “Aye, boy. It was. Thousands of pirate fleets, all loyal to their king and master.” “Pirates aren’t loyal to anyone.” “Not anymore, they aren’t,” he muttered. He pointed over my shoulder with his ladle. “Incoming.” I turned and found the Captain barrelling past the door. At the sight of me in the kitchen, he stopped dead and came back until he filled the door frame, staring at me with those intense eyes. He held so much frustration pinned up between his brows that I didn’t know how he wasn’t falling over with the weight. I didn’t know what to say to him, so I just kept peeling potatoes. My stomach was doing flips at the sight of him, decked out in his jet black cloak, the skin of his chest suddenly seeming to have as many hues as his hair. How many terrifying things had I faced down, and this man was the thing that made me nervous? This man who would not have me. This man who would not break me. “I thought,” he finally said, walking towards me, “that I told you not to do this shit anymore.” “You also told me not to listen to you.” It was a weak argument and I knew it. He slammed his hand on the counter between us. Cookie jumped; I didn’t. “You don’t have to go around scaring Cookie for shit I’ve done,” I told him quietly. “Scare Cookie?” He laughed, a dry sound that got tangled up in his hair. “Fuck, do you even know what you did?” I pointed at the potatoes. “I needed something to do with my hands.” “You were supposed to be tied up, waiting to be taken to the cells. If one of my men had found you, do you know what they would have done? What I would have had to order them to do?” “As if they could touch me.” “Don’t you go doubting my men.” “What,” I said, putting down the potato in hand, “would you have had me do? Wait around to be taken to the cells? Be put back in irons?” “Yes! You should have stayed. In the room! Tied!” I couldn’t help myself. He could have had me; he could have me every night, but instead he had whores on the docks, and the bitterness made me spit, “I thought you didn’t want me tied up in your bed anymore.” “STOP,” he roared. He came around the counter, moving fast into the kitchen. “This isn’t a fucking game!” I saw the real anger in his eyes, saw the real fear in Cookie’s, and made a decision just as he reached out to grab me. As soon as I had him on the ground, I drug him behind the counter, out of view of the doorway. “Cookie,” I said, using my most calming voice, “go watch the door.” The cook whimpered as he heard the Captain sputter in the hold I had him in, watching him kick and fight. “Hey, Alan. Alan.” He looked at me, eyes wide with fright. “I’m not going to hurt him, I promise.” Cookie swallowed and nodded. He backed out of the kitchen with eyes so big I thought they would burst. The Captain was still fighting me, trying to push away the arm I had around his neck. I shushed him, burying my head in his hair, waiting for him to stop struggling. “You’re okay,” I told him again and again, “I’m not going to hurt you, you’re okay.” I didn’t love that this had been my course of action; to hold him down, so soon after pushing myself on him, it felt wrong. But I needed him to calm, needed Cookie to be alright. I held him and hoped he would forgive me, even as I loved the feeling of having him in my arms, and knew it would be the only way I could achieve it. Eventually his legs stopped their spastic scrabbling for purchase, his hands simply hanging on my muscled forearms. For the second time in as many hours, I could feel his heartbeat against my skin, pounding fast and hard. I waited until he hadn’t moved for a good minute, then shifted his head so I could look down at him. “You good?” When he nodded I slowly released the pressure from my hold. Even when he could move, he stayed wrapped in my arms, heart beating, hands on my arms. “Fuck,” he whispered. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I didn’t mean to touch you again.” He bucked against my arms and I let him pull away completely, watching him sit up in front of me. This distance between us immediately hurt, my body needing to be reminded again and again that it couldn’t reach out and have him. I hid my hands under my legs so they wouldn’t take their own actions. “I shouldn’t have pushed you,” I continued. “I’m usually better at planning, at knowing the consequences of my actions, but lately things haven’t been going so well.” I looked at the bowed shoulder in front of me. “Somehow it seems to get worse around you.” He scoffed. “I’m sorry,” I said again. The curls tilted back. “No, I should have had better control. You shouldn’t have needed to do this.” “I didn’t need to do anything. I just didn’t want Cookie scared.” He processed that, maybe even heard me this time. “I scared Cookie,” he repeated. I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. “But not you?” I let myself laugh, chuckling low and deep. “There is very little that scares me.” “You don’t know me.” I wanted to wrap my arms around his waist at the sorrow I heard in his voice, as loosely as I could, touching as little of him as I could manage. Just hold him, just be around him. But he was too far away, and I knew he didn’t want my touch, not any of it. I should have let him be, maybe. I should have just let him go. But I couldn’t. “I’d like to.” “I could hurt you.” He said it so seriously I laughed again. The sound made him turn to me, frowning, that brow furrowed so deeply. I met his eyes with a smile. “I’d never let you do that.” It was half a threat, half a promise, and I saw a shiver pass through him as the words reached him. “I know he’s here, cook,” we suddenly heard, “so stand aside!” I sighed and stood, expecting the Captain to do the same. Instead, he remained on the floor, head bowed. The three men at the door immediately caught sight of me. It was hard not to; I stand out in a space so small. One I recognized, the man called Finn. One of the others was the scandinavian I’d carted on my back the first day I’d arrived. The last was a thin brunette, his close cropped hair making his forehead look massive. “You,” he growled, pushing Cookie aside. He hit a table and cried out. I started forward, but the Captain grabbed by pant leg. I looked down at the shimmering shock he gave me and was met with a shaking head. I heeded him. I had to. “What have you done with the Captain, you scoundrel?” “Treated him better than you just treated Cookie,” I said flatly. His eyes narrowed. The Captain sighed. I watched this thin man take in my massive frame, all my scars. I was intimidating, when I wanted to be. I was whatever I wanted to be, whenever I wanted to be. But this man worked under the Captain, and wasn’t easily scared by men. I thought briefly about how he might react to ghosts. Suddenly, his eyes caught on the bruises on my neck. I watched them go wide. “You fucking slut,” he hissed, rushing towards me. I couldn’t hide the amazed gasp of laughter that accusation pushed from my throat. I readied myself to take this man down, feeling a sense of calm come over my being. “Who do you think you are, coming here and taking him like that? You think I couldn’t hear you fucking screaming all last night? My room is right next to his, I could hear all of your sick little moans, banging away at our -” As he rounded the corner, he tripped over the Captain’s strategically placed leg and went sprawling. “Oh, hey Wicky,” the Captain said drily. “Didn’t notice you there.” He stood, stepping carefully around his first mate’s limbs and gestured for me to follow. We moved into the mess where the other two sailors looked positively sick. “Cap,” the scandinavian one tried, “we’re here to take the -” “No need,” the Captain interrupted. “He’ll continue to stay with me.” “But -” “He can untie knots,” he explained, “so he needs constant supervision.” “Cap,” Finn’s voice entered the space very carefully, “we have irons.” The Captain rolled his gaze over to the sailor. He shrunk beneath the icy expanse. “Finn, are you questioning me?” He swallowed. “No, Cap.” “Good.” He turned to me. At the sight of his face, my skin shivered with anticipation of the orders I knew he would give, even as my brain tried to stop it. “Walk.” But something held me back, despite my shivering body. “Can I check on Cookie first?” I actually thought he might say no for a moment, so intense were his eyes. But he softened quickly, and sighed. “Of course. Go.” I made my way over to the stunned cook. “Hey. Are you okay?” Cookie groaned and rubbed his back where he’d taken the hit. “Told you he wouldn’t like you.” I smiled. “I had to leave him in your kitchen. Is that alright?” He glanced over towards the doorframe. “Has to be, doesn’t it?” “No, Cookie.” At the cold intensity in my voice, the cook looked back. “It doesn’t.” I was still amped from thinking I was going to have to fight Wicky; the last traces of my intensity must have still dripped from my face. Cookie watched them fall and I could see him thinking, could actually watch him putting pieces together. “Holy moses,” he breathed. He stared at me, a realization dawning on his face. I blinked in the face of it, not knowing quite what to expect. I’d told him enough that I really should have foreseen this, probably should have been preparing, but there had been a lot of other things on my mind. For a brief moment, I wondered if I had miscalculated. Then his face split into a massive smile. “It’s you.” He looked me up and down for a bit, then reached out and began shaking my hand wildly. “Well,” he said, grinning like an idiot. “They did say you were big.” I grinned back and pulled my hand away. The Captain was waiting. As we walked away, I heard Cookie muttering to himself, “On my ship. In my kitchen.” “Don’t smile,” the Captain said. “You just made a powerful enemy. Means you’re more than likely to be voted off at the next port, if they don’t agree to just maroon you before then.” I shrugged. As if the ocean frightened me. “There’s nowhere on the sea that you can go to hide from me,” I told him, a little giddy from our recent encounter. He gave me a funny look but didn’t say anything more. We got back to the bedroom and closed the door. He didn’t lock it this time, just settled down at his desk to work on some paperwork. I sat on the bed. “You brought me back here.” “Aye,” he said, scratching at his paper. “No ropes?” He shrugged. “What’s the point?” You like it, I thought. I didn’t say it. The Captain would not touch me again, and I knew it. It would be foolish to flirt. “So all that time,” he confirmed, putting down his quill, “you could have gotten out whenever you wanted.” “I told you. I was never a prisoner. And I would never let you hurt me.” Where before that had aroused a shiver, now his only reaction was a scoff. “What?” I kept my voice soft in the face of his denial. “You don’t believe me?” “No, it’s just.” He shrugged. “You don’t know what I’m capable of.” It was my turn to scoff. “What. Some bitemarks?” He looked away. “Look,” I said, lifting my shirt so he could see. He didn’t bring his gaze anywhere close to me, so I got up and walked over to him. I took his hand in mine, ignoring the small noise of protest he made. He needed to understand this, I told myself, pretending this had nothing to do with how my body ached to be near his. This was something he should know. Then I would let him be. “Feel. I’m alright. I promise you, you didn’t hurt me. This isn’t pain, not in the way you’re thinking. I would never let anyone hurt me, not even you.” His eyes traveled to mine at that. I held them steady. “I let you do this to me, whether you get that or not; I let you do this, because I enjoy it.” He tugged at my grip and I let him pull away, reluctantly, conscious of how long our skin had been in contact. “I understand why you can’t keep doing this. I don’t like it, but I understand it. And I’m sorry that I keep pushing you, that I pressured you to do more than you wanted.” “Not more than I wanted,” he corrected. “More than I should.” My stomach fluttered at that. I sat beside him, then, so close together and yet worlds apart for a long time. What I wouldn’t have given for our worlds to collide. Being so close to him was torture. I found that I couldn’t look over to him for fear of my heart stopping, my desire was so bad. The room was a desert, and he was an oasis, one from which I had been banned to drink and felt as if I were slowly dying. Fuck, I could smell him, a heady scent that set my teeth on edge with desire and made my skin prickle. It was torture, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So when he suddenly spoke, it was as if the heavens opened and rain poured upon my face. I gulped at his words. “I’m sorry for my first mate.” “Worse things have been said to me.” It wasn’t meant as a lie to make him feel better; the first mate’s words had been nothing. I looked up to him and realized that he hadn't been writing for some time; his quill was dry in his hand. “Especially,” he continued as he turned to look at me, “since he lied.” Confused, I met his gaze found his eyes burning so intensely that I involuntarily pulled back. “What?” He leaned on one arm, looking down at me. I shrunk under the ferocity of his inspection, yet felt my body inexplicably reacting, my skin flashing hot and cold, the flesh under my skin crawling with pleasure. “He said you screamed.” I didn’t understand how he could keep his voice so steady when he was so obviously boiling over. His hand reached out and touched me and I flinched at the cacophony of sensation that simple gesture brought. My breath was fast, my heartrate faster. He wrapped his hand around my chin and pulled, and I moved towards him because it was what he wanted, what I wanted. I felt his leg brush between mine and I gasped. “You were so quiet last night,” he whispered, moving his leg gently. He didn’t have to excite me; I had been hard since his first touch. His hand found its way to my hair, guiding my head against the side of his leg. I panted against him, confused and shocked and wanting him, as he whispered, “I want to hear you scream.” “Wait,” I managed, but the noise got lost in the creases of his body. I didn’t understand what was happening, but my body was singing with it and that was all I could really ask for. “Come to bed,” he ordered. He hooked his fingers around the base of my jaw and stood, pulling me up. “Wait,” I said again, but I didn’t mean it. I followed him as he walked backwards across the floor, our eyes locked. When he toppled into bed I fell on top of him. I was so confused, so lost by his sudden transformation. He had said he couldn’t have me; I had resigned myself to this. He guided my head into the crook of his neck and pressed against me and I forgot how to think. With him, when I was with him, there was only need. I knew that it was wrong, that I was wrong for him and therefore this was wrong for me, but I couldn’t help myself as he spidered his hand across my back. A moan escaped my lips as his body pushed against mine. “Louder,” he whispered. “I want to hear you.” Something managed to click in my foggy brain. I pulled back. “Wait, but your first mate. Isn’t he…” I saw the grin splashed across his face. “Yeah. He should be. Takes a nap right around this time every day.” “Hold on.” I pushed away from him, tried my best to escape the pull he had enacted on me. I had a sinking feeling in my gut that I didn’t love. “What is this about?” He bit my ear and I almost collapsed back down. “Stop,” I tried. “Wait… I thought you couldn’t…” It was hard to think full thoughts with what he was doing to my body. In the back of my head, I heard Cookie’s voice telling me how he commanded whores’ loyalty. I tried to push that thought away. “I’m the captain,” he told me huskily. “Exactly.” I shoved away from him completely. “What the fuck is going on here?” His eyes searched my face. “You want me, don’t you?” I didn’t know what to say. Of course I fucking wanted him. I watched a smile slid softly across his face, hungrily across his muscles. “Well, I want you too.” My stomach dropped like I had leapt from the highest mast. I wondered, briefly if he would catch me before I shattered on the ground. “This is the only way this can happen,” he was continuing. “I can’t have you, but the Captain can.” “What?” I was trying to pay attention, but it was hard with the way he was looking at me. “As the captain.” He was reaching for me now, his eyes hungry, his hands setting off fireworks against my skin, “it’s my job to mete out justice.” I was letting him touch me, trying to focus through the things he was doing to me. “What Wicky said to you. The things he said.” He was so close to me again, his breath brushing against my skin. Goosebumps shivered all the way to my bones. “That can’t stand. He needs to know his words have no effect, that I’m in charge.” This is about Wicky, I thought. This isn’t about him wanting me at all. If I were anyone else, he would still do this. I felt my body stiffen at the realization and was surprised at how much it hurt. I sat up to get away from him. “I’m a means to an end, then.” He laid where I had left him, dark hair spilling out over the sheets. I didn’t let myself look at him there, beautiful and perfect. “I was just going to flog him, but he’d have to approve that.” He spoke about it so casually, so flippantly, the words drifting up to me where I sat. I faced away from him. “Then I thought about assigning him to deck duty for a week. But this is better. ” He sat up and put his arms around my shoulders, pressed his lips to my ear. “Scream,” he whispered. “Shout. Do what you need to do. I want him to hear you.” His hands were at my waist, working on getting my pants loosened. “What better poetic justice is that?” “You’re using me to get to him.” I felt him smirk against my skin. “I thought you were okay with being used.” I didn’t say anything to that, just explored the strange depth of emotion that was opening up within me. “This is what you wanted,” he told me, and I wanted to cry as he pulled me onto the bed. It felt like he was ripping me in two. “Isn’t it?” Wasn’t it? I’d wanted him to touch me, and here he was, touching me. I’d wanted him to want me, and he wanted me. Wanted something from me, at least. Wasn’t that enough? “No,” I told him quietly, but my word was lost as my traitorous body pressed against him and he moaned. I hated myself, hated my insatiable flesh. I had wanted him, and here he wasn. Why wasn’t I happy? I didn’t understand yet that it wasn’t my body but my soul that yearned for him, and that nothing would be enough until he gave himself to me the way I had already given myself so foolishly and completely to him. At the time, however, all I knew was the crashing desire that gripped me as he took my body in his arms. “What do you need from me, Captain?” I heard myself ask, and hated how my body gave to him before his gentle hands. I gasped as he slid his hand into my pants, found my cock hard and erect in his grasp. “You,” he told me firmly, “call me sir.” I felt my body curl as he rubbed the top of my cock. “Yes, sir,” I managed raggedly, and he rewarded me with a bite to the soft spot between my neck and shoulder, and I collapsed fully into submission. “You need to tell me,” he said as he climbed on top of me, his voice shaky, “all the things that drive you nuts. I want to know everything, everything I can do to make you scream. You stoic, quiet man, I will make you mine, I will turn you into a quivering, moaning mess. Okay?” I nodded. “I asked, okay?” “Yes, sir,” I gasped, my mind numb with desire. I know he could feel what he was doing to me, how much I trembled above him, how hard I was under his hand. “And sailor,” he told me, grabbing my chin so hard it hurt. “Don’t you dare come until I tell you to.” I almost came just at that, at the order, at the way he grabbed me, but I managed to voice, “Yes sir,” so breathlessly that he laughed. He pushed me back, not giving me a chance to breathe before he was on top of me kissing me so fiercely I almost lost myself. Finally he let me be, taking a moment to take off his shirt. I cursed to see his beautiful bare skin in the daytime, a gift to my eyes that was cut short when he pulled my lips back to his. “What,” he asked me in between bites and kissed of my cheekbone and ear, “do you want me to do to you?” “Fuck,” I cursed as he hit a sweet spot, writhing in pleasure. There weren’t many other words in my head. “You want me to fuck you?” He bit my ear and I collapsed inward, nodding furiously. “Say it.” I tried, I really did, but he was licking my ear and the only thing coming from my lips were rapturous moans. “Say, please fuck me, sir.” “Please, sir,” I managed before I dissolved again at the touch of his fingers to my asshole. When had he gotten down there? “Sir, please, fuck.” “Good enough,” he murmured, his face in my hipbone. He was everywhere, everywhere at once, his fingers soothing as his lips ignited. I had a break, just for a moment, while he stripped of his pants. Then he was back, biting and kissing and naked. He pulled my pants the rest of the way off and stopped for moment. I thought he was just waiting, just teasing, but the moment went too long. I lifted my head and found him staring at the handmarks from last night. They stood out starkly, green-yellow against my scarred skin. It was the first time I had seen him lessen since he’d started this crusade against Wicky, and it broke my heart. “Hey,” I started. “Quiet.” He leaned down and kissed each bruise once, so gently I could barely feel his lips. He rested his head against my inner thigh for a moment, his eyes closed, his face still. Then he took a deep breath and looked down at me. “How ‘bout we try something a little different this time,” he asked me huskily. “Whatever you want,” I responded, quietly, careful of the emotion in his voice. “Whatever you want, sir,” he snapped back, and my core shivered as any parts of me gave to him yet again. He guided me through flipping over, put me on my knees and spread my legs. The jar of lube was right where he had left it the night before, and he grabbed it. “Sir,” I said breathily. He stopped, just about to press lube to my body. I wondered if he was worried. I wondered if he was annoyed. I didn’t care; I needed this. If he was going to use me, I was going to take advantage to the fullest. “Sir, please tie me up.” There was a moment, then he pressed his lubed fingers deep inside my ass and I cried out with pleasure, my hands becoming fists around the sheets on the bed. “Your wish,” he told me, biting the divot just above my ass where my spine ended, making me almost collapse as mind-numbing waves of sensation rolled up my body, “is my command.” He found rope and bound my hands and feet, kissing me all the while, enjoying himself, enjoying how long it took him. He knew I was dying for him. I begged him to hurry, but he would have none of it. He stopped between my two hands and took my chin in his fingers. “What’s wrong?” he asked, smirk hiding behind his eyes, cock dangerously close to my face. “Fuck, sir, I need you,” but I had only gotten halfway through my plea before he was gone. “Fuck,” I called, and he bit my ankle in reply. By the time he returned to kneel behind me I was shaking with anticipation. He kept me waiting, playing with me with lubed fingers, enjoying my moans and curses. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. “Please sir, I’m going to -” “Don’t you dare.” He reached around and pinched off the base of my cock, leaving it throbbing and painful with suppressed need. “Sir,” I begged, but he just kissed my lower back. “You can come when I’m inside of you.” He gave me another kiss. “Maybe.” At his words, I heard myself let loose a choked moan. His hand tightened around me as I did, and I knew I couldn’t last much longer. “Hurry, sir, please,” I begged. I felt him begin to rub the head of his cock against my hole, playing with me, keeping me just on the edge of where I wanted to be. I almost cried from it, might have cried actual tears. I was past the point of knowing what I was and was not doing, except what the Captain asked of me. “Ready?” he asked, and I must have nodded, or gave some other confirmation. I can’t remember anything but the pleasure, but the next thing I knew he was inside of me. How things can turn from anguish to euphoria in an instant. I called out, and he pushed in again, and again, but never as deep as he could, always pulling out before he reached his limits. It was killing me, to still be denied. I had started out on my hands and knees, but soon collapsed onto my forearms as I shook from the thrill and bliss of it all. I felt myself collapsing even further, felt my face pressing into the bed. My hands wrapped around the ropes, feeling the rough cords under my palms as a tether to reality. I turned so that I could look at my Captain, so he could see what he was doing to me. “Please, sir,” I asked him, “go deeper.” He responded by slowing down, by torturing me by making me wait between each thrust. I cried out to him again, my words gravely and loose and shaken. I don’t know how I made words at all, except that I needed to, that I needed him. “Please, oh god, sir.” “What?” he asked me. His voice was loose too, shaking loose from his core, but he held it better than I. “What do you want?” “Sir,” I panted. He pulled out and I gasped. As he pressed into me again, too slow, too deliberate, not at all as much as I needed, I told him what I wanted. And what I wanted was him, deep inside of me, as deep as he could go. I must have used the right words, that time, because he reacted. He gathered up a handful of the shirt I was still wearing, pulling it against my body, pulling as he pressed. He pressed himself against me, still slow and deliberate, but this time he didn’t stop. I heard myself make a sound, a half kind of a noise, still holding back, and as I did the Captain leaned down and whispered to me, “Scream.” And I did, curses pouring from my mouth unhindered. At the sound of my voice, he released his hand from the base of my cock. “Come,” he commanded, stroking my incredibly sensitive shaft, and somehow the word reached my ears just as his hips pressed against mine and he was fully inside of me. It felt so much deeper this way, somehow, and I came instantly, almost collapsing flat on the bed from the force of it. I cried out, wordlessly, a torrent of sounds to match the release I felt streaming from my core. If not for his strong arms holding me up, somehow keeping my hips where he needed them, it all would have been over then. Instead, he was able to keep riding me, his hips keeping a motion that made me moan and shout, the aftershocks of the incredible orgasm he had given me pushing me past the point of knowing what came out of my mouth. I could feel him inside of me, and I called out to him, told him I wanted him, begged him for more, and he gave it all to me, everything I wanted in that moment. And in that moment, all I wanted was his cock thrusting deep within me. In that moment, all I wanted was to be here, before him on my hands and knees, and I couldn’t begin to care what that meant. He was getting close, getting to where he needed to be, his hands tightening on my body, his rhythm growing faster, his answers to my pleas growing hoarser and more stunted. I could feel his desire in the way he gripped my hips and I responded, rocking back against him and calling for him, asking for more, always for more. Then, suddenly, there was a knock on the door. It startled him, I think, and he slammed into me with more force than he’d intended. “Fuck,” I screamed, but it was pleasure not pain. I turned my head into the bed. “Fuck off,” he roared at the door. Then he reached down and lifted my head from the cushion by my hair. “Loud,” he panted. “Come on, I need to hear you.” “People at the door.” “Fuck em.” The knock came again. “Fuck off,” he repeated, managing to sound even more pissed. He increased his rhythm, his hand still on my hair, and I couldn’t keep the sounds in my throat out of my mouth, didn’t even know they were coming from me, just knew I didn’t want him to stop, needed him not to stop. The person knocked a third time. “FUCK.” The Captain shoved himself from my body, causing me to crumple to the bed in a stunned stupor. He strode to the door, ripping it open to reveal three very frightened sailors. “What?” They gaped at him, naked, shiny with lube and sweat and my cum, and the braver of the three peered around him and found me, tied naked on the bed, gasping for air and dazed. “Talk,” the Captain demanded, and all three began to babble at once. He took a deep breath and held up his hand. There was silence. Then he pointed at the middle one. “You. Go.” “Ship, merchant. Been chasing her for the last 15 minutes.” “And no one came to tell me when she was first sighted because…” All three blanched. There was a long moment of silence. Then, the designated speaker swallowed. “You sounded busy,” he whispered. The Captain slammed the door in their faces. He was very still for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Fuck me,” he muttered. When he opened the door again, the men were all still standing there, wide eyed and shell shocked. “What kind of ship.” The man looked relieved to be on familiar territory. “Looks an Indiaman, Cap. British” He ran a hand through his hair. “Prep the cannonware, 12 on the side we’ll be approaching on and 7 on the other. Half salvos, and get the sails prepared. We’ll make a pass and then come about.” The men nodded. One of them, the same one that had let his eyes wander to me, slowly dropped his eyes to the Captain’s cock, still semi-hard even after the topical conversation. The Captain slammed the door in their faces again. “Fuck,” he said. He pushed his hair from his face, gathering clothes and weapons. “Sounded busy.” I moved to get up, but he pointed the sword that he had just acquired at me. “No. This is no place for you, and I’m not fucking done with you. You stay put. I’m finishing what I started when this is over.” Tingles ran down my spine as I nodded, mute in the face of that proclamation. He rushed out the door, pulling his breeches on as he went. At the last moment, he turned around and pointed at me. “Stay!” he shouted. I waited all of a minute before I untied myself and ran out the door.
  5. Chapter 1

    The ship getting taken by pirates was kind of fucking up my plan.I'd had a plan. Not a good one, but one that had been working for me. Hit a guard over the head. Check. Make my escape. Check. Pick the locks on the shackles they had on me, ditch the metal constraints in the river, and get down to town. Check, check and check. Get on a ship, use a fake name. Get hired as a sailor; I'm a big guy and they can always use more men. Get a job. Get a wage. Get out of the city. All of that, all a big check. Now the plan had been for me to get off the ship at the next port. To take the money and run, start again somewhere new. Somewhere where they didn't know my name. Not incredibly original, I know. But having a plan was important when things get tough. Having a purpose is sometimes the only thing that gets you through. And this plan was important. It was going to get me back to where I belong. It was going to let me kill the man who'd taken my life from me in the first place.So yeah, the pirates were throwing a bit of wrench into things. They'd pegged us for the merchant ship that we were, taken us in less than twenty minutes. It's important to be able to recognize skill when you see it, and I saw it in them. I watched them, mechanically unloading our cargo, our captain wringing his hands. I could have fought to save the cargo, I guess. I could have helped the captain, helped his Majesty. But neither of them had ever been much of a help to me. Besides, I wasn't interested in what they were doing with the merchandise; I wanted to know what they would do with us.We waited around, hands bound, some of us nervous and all of us alert. I watched the pirate crew move between our ships. We hadn't fired a volley, hadn't taken any of their crew. And, if I still knew anything about anything, and these were the southern pirates I thought they were, that should keep us safe. Around here, they were more prone to flights of mercy than the strategy of razed grounds. In the event of capture, this was supposed to translate into lighter prison sentences. I spat. Finally, the pirates sent a delegate over to explain what was going on. "Alright, you lot. Here's how this shakes down. We don't wanna have to hurt any of you, and we don't want any of you to hurt us. Part of not hurting you is not leaving you alone in the middle of the sea unarmed. We're not unreasonable, see, just trying to make our living. But, we can't leave you with the means to shoot us, either. See our dilemma?" And sure, I did, but I also saw something else. Someone else. He'd walked out onto the quarter deck of the ship across from us, an attractive thing in it's own right, a light little schooner that leapt through the water like it was dancing. The dip and pull of the ocean made the man hard to focus on, but once I'd seen him I wasn't going to let anything take him away from me. His red hair whipped wildly around, mirrored by his black cloak, by the sails and the ropes around him. He was an extension of the ship, and the ship an extension of the sea. In the midst of these southerners, surrounded by people I didn't spare a second glance, he demanded my attention. He looked like a pirate. He looked like a commander. A commander of men, a commander of fleets. Fuck, he looked like he could command the ocean and she would obey. He looked over at me, and for a moment our eyes met. Then the rolling of the sea took him from me. When the deck bobbed back into sight, he was gone. I searched about frantically trying to track him down, but it was futile, the deck empty of commanders and filled with nobodies. I thought about letting it pass, whatever had just occurred. It had been a strange moment, something so intoxicating, so demanding even at such a distance. What a feeling he had given me, in just that glimpse. I wanted it back. I never wanted to feel it again. I shook my head at myself. Whatever was happening, it didn't fit into my plan. I had a solid chance at making it to my destination, if I just stuck to what I had set out to do. A good shot at making it out of this alive, and then making it on to my real goal. Then again, since we'd been attacked we'd most likely be returning to port. Port was not a good place for me right now, with His Majesty's men and the bounty hunters swarming. By now they most likely had the wanted posters up, too. Besides, I wasn't returning to land. I wouldn't. I needed a new plan, and I needed it fast. But instead of thinking about what was going to happen, I found myself searching for the man I had just seen. I scanned the ship, ignoring the man in front of me. He was asking something, but he was short and demanded nothing of me so I just looked over the top of his head. The wild red hair was nowhere to be seen. The black cloak didn't flow. Then, suddenly, blissfully, I caught a glimpse. Just a glimpse, that's all it took. The plan had already been fucked. I didn't have another one ready to go. So when I saw the glimpse, when I caught sight of him for that moment, it was over. I was done. The man in front of me said something again, impatient, but he wasn't enough, certainly didn't command me and I pushed past him and headed toward the other ship.They hadn't learned yet, these men, that ropes can't keep me. They hadn't the time or the experience to know these things, and so they had tried knots instead of steel to keep me tied down. Good knots, sailors' knots, but there is no knot that can hold me, no rope that my fingers can't undo. These men might have learned to be sailors, but I had been born one. And so I left them in the dust. I heard them coming after me, the men, but I didn't care. I was on their boat faster than they could think to react, faster than they could even really understand what was going on. I move quickly for my size. But they caught on soon enough and I felt them pulling at my limbs, trying to stop my headlong plummet into their space. It might have worked, and I might have been escorted back to the merchant ship, but I caught a flash of black and a whip of red and bulled through the last of the men and then there he was. He turned just as I approached, my limbs dangling men, my shoulders turned to hooks for them to hang, my back even carrying one. But their extra weight was nothing, not compared to him. I stopped a few feet back, halted by his very presence. His hair was not red, not the way I'd thought it was. The light had lied to me, had played tricks on my mind, had danced through his thick curls and reflected colors that shouldn't exist. Even as I watched, it happened again, the sun picking up hues and pushing them to my eyes, blacks and browns and purples, indigos, royal colors, godly colors. Sunsets and nightscapes, all hidden in his curls. I wanted to watch his hair capture sunlight all day, but the kinks fell into his face, and I saw his thick eyebrows, the way they drew together and pinned frustration in place like a specimen to study, and then I saw the lines of his cheekbones soft and sharp and everything, and the sweep of his lips, his lips, his lips, frowning out at me, and staring out from all of it, controlling all this wonderful terrifying mystifying experience were his eyes, dark and deep and demanding, and I wanted him to demand of me. I wanted to be able to do everything that he asked. "What is this," he asked, not to me but to the men trying to hold me back. They must have said something, but all I saw were his eyes, his lips, the way his brow furrowed even more. "Well," he said, still not to me, but close enough that his voice rubbed against me and I wanted to press against it, just to be nearer to him, "he's here now." He looked at me then, looked me over, those eyes threatening to consume me. I wanted them to. I wanted them to light me on fire, wanted to turn to ash. At least then I couldn't feel the intensity of whatever it was I was feeling in that moment. At least then it would be over. "Bring him to dinner, I guess." He turned and walked away. The moment ended. Somehow I was still standing. "Dinner with the Captain," one of the men holding me said. "Lucky guy." I looked at him, wondering if I looked as shellshocked as I felt. I must have, I guess, because the man began to laugh. ***They tied me up for dinner. I was tired of being contained. I had worked hard to escape exactly this. They used rope again, just added extra knots, and maybe it was because they were sailors that they were confident or maybe because they didn't know me, but they thought they had me good. They didn't, but I wasn't going to run this time. I sat in my chair and waited for the man they called the Captain to arrive. My heart was racing, watching the door. What was happening to me? I'd never had a reaction like this before, not to anyone, not to anything. I'd navigated winter squalls in lifeboats. I'd killed men who wanted to kill me, and ones who didn't. I'd moved with fleets through channels as narrow as each ship was wide. I'd faced down mermaids and harpies, I'd killed a sea god and drank it's blood, I'd laughed in the face of prison guards and their whips. Hell, I'd faced down whole prison gangs. And that was on land. One pirate captain couldn't scare me.Then he walked through the door, and my heart leapt into my throat. He'd changed from before, or at least taken off his cloak. His shirt was carelessly unlaced down his front, baring more of his dark skin than I'd expected, his chest almost in negative to his white shirt, though what was a chest to me? His pants fit well, very well, and they showed off his hips, were tight through his ass, but I'd seen people's asses before, had seen men naked, so what was his ass to me? I swallowed and looked down at the table. "Well then," he started, rolling up his sleeves, and his forearms were muscled, and scarred, and I imagined them holding me, but what were his forearms to me and I didn't need to be held by anyone and I tried to look away, I really did. He took me in, frowning. What were lips that swept to me. What were eyes that demanded. "You're tied."I felt a strange thrill at the way he said that, at the way his eyes caught on my bindings. I shrugged, the best I could manage at the time. I didn't trust my voice. He looked to the men standing somewhere off to my left."He's big," the one said, while the other wheedled, "He took down like 12 of us earlier." The Captain sighed. He leaned on the table, one leg crossed over the other and frowned further. (What is a brow that furrows?) "Why did you board our ship?"Their ship? Every ship on the ocean belonged to me. I could have told him that, could have taken myself from this chair and shown him, but instead I felt myself shrugging. His eyes followed the motion of my massive shoulders without emotion."You need to answer truthfully before I can let you go." He took me in, took as much of me in as he could see, as much as wasn't hidden by the table. I was glad there were parts hidden by the table. "Come now, answer honestly."I shook my head. I couldn't explain. I couldn't say anything. And how do you tell someone that you boarded their ship, as he thought of it, that you came to them for them? How do you explain a pull so magnetic to someone in the center of it? "Fine." He threw up his hands. "Don't talk. We'll drop him off at the next port, I guess." The last part was addressed to the men behind me. He turned to leave. "No!" The word erupted from my mouth, as much a reaction to him leaving as a reaction to his decision. What was happening to me? No man could control me; I was the sea, I was the ocean incarnate, and no man should ever make me feel like this, should pull me physically from my seat as he left the room. He turned, and saw me pushing against my rope towards him. I watched him take it in, watched his eyes travel the parts of my body that fought to be released, caught the moment of hunger in his eyes and I sat back. I wasn't ready to deal with that, not yet. He blinked the hunger away."You want to stay?" He sounded completely unfazed, as if I had not just watched him visualize things I couldn't even begin to imagine. "Yes," I told him. "Why?"There was silence."Give me a reason." I didn't have one. Or maybe I did, but I wasn't ready to say it yet, so I just stared at him with eyes that I didn't ask to beg, but that did it anyway. What were eyes that begged to him, of course. He sighed. "I can't let you stay if you don't have a reason.""Please, sir," I said, and I saw that hunger again just for a moment, watched his body hitch in its usual smooth motions. I could use that, I thought. I wanted him to want me, found myself willing to do anything to feel his touch. I pressed up against the ropes, experimentally, carefully, controlled, and watched his eyes fall to my chest, my wrists, watched his hands tighten. "Let me stay."He stayed that way for a moment, then looked up and to my left. "Leave us," he commanded. I heard a door open and close, and then we were alone.My heart pounded."Do you know what you're doing?" he asked me. "No," I told him. I looked at the lines of his body, saw them move, knew how to make them move for me, wanted to make them move for me. "Yes," I amended, and finally finished with, "maybe.""What do you want." His voice sounded almost defeated. "Did someone send you?"I shook my head. I watched his dark curls fall into his face, wanted to brush them away. I wanted to touch his face, draw it closer to mine. I wanted to feel him close to me. I closed my eyes and tried to remember how to breathe. What was happening to me? What was this man doing?He drew closer, and I almost lost myself. "Tell me," he commanded, his voice cool and even, "what you want." "You," I answered, because he'd asked, because his eyes demanded, and my body tingled with the word and I watched his eyelids flutter. "To kill me? To lower my guard so you can attack?" He leaned on the table next to me, just around the corner, his tight pants out of sight, his open shirt terribly visible, and I didn't ask my body to press towards him, and I don't think he asked his body to shudder watching mine. "I wouldn't do that." I was helpless, in front of him. He should know that, seeing me. How could he not see that?"You couldn't, or you won't?""I couldn't. I don't know." He leaned across the table, leaned in so close I could feel his breath. I whimpered, grabbing the handles of the chair. "Tell me what you want.""You," I told him again, and leaned forward to kiss him. He leaned back and thought about that. "Please," I said, the rawness in my voice catching us both by surprise. I could feel myself giving up control, feel it melting in the face of desire. There was no plan. There was no back-up, no way out of this. There was only him. "Just one kiss." "I don't kiss prisoners," he told me, eyes on every inch of me showing but my face. "Please." I wanted to tell him that I wasn't a prisoner, not really. I couldn't be, not a ship that was really mine. Besides, I could get out any time I wanted, that I could have left a thousand times over, but I stayed in my ropes for him, for the way he looked at me in them, the way his eyes widened, but my body was pressing against them and his eyes were doing the thing and I couldn't find the words. He walked the rest of the way over to me. I couldn't imagine him drawn by me, and yet that's how he walked, like he didn't quite have a choice. I willed him closer. He rounded the edge of the table, and his eyes finally traveled past my stomach, further down my waist. I watched him take in my broad hips and muscled thighs. I watched his eyes catch on the bulge in my pants, watched him see how hard I was for him, from him, and watched him swallow. "Please, sir," I said, and arched towards him. I watched him jerk a bit at that, saw the way his hand clenched and unclenched, his eyes all over me and his body so close. "One kiss," he whispered, and he touched my face and I actually gasped from it, his fingers light after the weight of wanting so badly. They traced my cheek, my jawbone, and then he lifted my chin and brought his lips to mine. It couldn't have lasted as long as it felt, and it couldn't have been as short as I think it was. It felt like eternity. It felt like nothing. It wasn't enough. When he lifted away, my whole body tried to lift with him, to follow his command, but the ropes held me down. He left the place where I could reach and I let my teeth scrape against his lip, let myself try to pull him down just for a moment before he was gone. I stayed there, pressed up against my restraints, and he watched, hovering just out of reach, his hand on my face. "You," he said, and his voice was ragged, and I almost made a noise because the sound was so perfect, must have made a noise because his fingers dug into my chin, "you can't stay here tonight, can you." I shook my head."All tied up," his words caught as his eyes traveled the length of my body, his gaze trapped by the knots on my limbs. He cleared his throat. "Who knows what could happen. Someone could try to hurt you, or you could get out, try to hurt my crew. It would be irresponsible to leave you here." I nodded. "Alright, then." His voice had returned to normal. Cool, almost bored. But his hands shook as he untied my restraints. "I'll take you to a cell. Make sure you have everything you need."I was happy to be spending more time with him, happy that he would be escorting me. Happy for any amount of anything he would give me. But I have to say, at his words my heart sank. He finished untying my feet and went to move to my hands. In the motion, he suddenly found himself kneeling between my feet, hands over my lap. He paused, slowly looking up to meet my eyes. They were wide, seeing him there, a moment of pure panic and want. Gently, he placed a hand on my inner thigh. That single touch, the simplest of gestures, pushed all my air from my body in a rush, and I was left dizzy. I thought I saw the quickest of smiles before he removed his hand and turned his attention to freeing my arms. Soon, I could stand. We found, however, that the men who had tied me originally had decided the most secure method was tying the initial knot around my wrist itself, so that if I broke free of the chair, there would be rope still attached to me. We both looked down at these knots, leading out to lengths of thick twists, a leash for each wrist. We followed the lines and found the ends in the Captain's hands.I looked up and met his demanding eyes. He moved away, putting space between us. Then he turned and faced me. I waited, waited to see what he would ask of me. Suddenly, decisively, he tugged on the lines, putting pressure on my wrists. It wasn't enough to pull me forward, but forward I went, listening to the lines, listening to him, and my body tingled with it, rushed with it. He pulled again, and again I stepped forward, but just a step. I wanted to run to him, wanted to kiss him, wanted to do so much more that I didn't even know how to think about, but all he was asking of me was a step and so that's all I did. He watched me listen to him, his lips parted, his brow creased. I watched him back and silently begged him to pull me all the way in, each step another glowing pleasure wave crashing through my body starting at my wrists and ending up in places I didn't know what to do with. He stopped pulling me when I was too far away, not close enough to touch. "I think," he said, almost evenly, "that we had better keep these on." He held up the lines. His hands had not stopped trembling. "For security reasons."I nodded mutely. He pulled me in another step and I gasped. "Security," he repeated, and then he was off into the hallways and I was pulled behind him. I ached that we weren't going to be alone anymore, that we were going to be sharing space with others. He was going to take me to a cell, and we would be done, and then he would drop me off on some deserted island and I would die. I was in such despair that I didn't notice, at first, that we were not going down. Galleys are always down; you don't keep prisoners in the nice part of the ship. And we were headed into the seriously nice part of the ship. He pushed open and door. "You first." I walked in and blinked. This was no cell. "Easier to sleep and know you're not escaping if I lock you in with me." The Captain followed me into his quarters and locked the door behind us. I heard the lock click and felt my breath catch. He turned to me, slowly. There was a beat, and then he grabbed my face and we were kissing. His hand traveled down my neck, over my shirt, then it was under my shirt and I was gasping and biting and kissing him back and I wanted to touch him too, wanted to feel his skin against mine but his other hand held the two ropes, kept my hands behind my back, kept pulling. I stumbled back a step at the pressure, then another. He backed me up against the far wall, tugging at me with one hand and pushing at me with the other until my back hit the rough boards beside the bed. He stopped there for a moment, panting, looking me over. Then he smiled, kissed me again, and walked away. I tried to follow and found that he'd tied my hands to the bedpost while I wasn't paying attention. A wave of frustration mixed with pleasure washed over me as I hit the end of my tether, feeling the wash of denial that I was becoming all too familiar with. He watched me from the end of the bed, smiling slightly. It made me want him, made me want him even worse. I crumpled down to my knees. "Please, sir," I told him, my voice so low, so hoarse, "this is torture."The smile disappeared from his face so quickly it might not have been there at all. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll stop." He moved forward."No!" I quickly said. He stopped dead where he was, hand outstretched, halfway towards me. "I don't... I didn't mean..."He sat down on the bed. His eyes were searching, always searching. "Do you want me to stop?" "I don't know," I told him truthfully. "I've never done anything like this before." He closed his eyes and nodded. "I need to remember that," he murmured, and I'm not sure that he was talking to me. "It's just so hard when you're so." He waved a hand towards me. "You know?"I didn't know. He saw my confusion and came close, sat right next to me on the bed. He pushed his hands into my hair and put his mouth to my ear. "You make me want to do things to you," he whispered, and the intensity of it made me try to pull away but he had me by the hair, he held me tight, "that I haven't done with anyone in a long time. I want to do those things. I want to do those things bad." He bit my ear, and I let loose a noise that I had never made before, a mixture between a moan and a yelp and a gasp. "You make these noises, see? And these faces, and I -" I pushed my lips to his and let me kiss him. When he pulled me away, we were both panting. I could feel him watching me, feel his eyes take in the lines of my chin, the length of my neck, and I leaned my head back against his shoulder and gave these things to him, offered them up. I heard him suck in his breath, felt his hand tighten on my head. He turned and rested his lips on my cheek, his breath shuddering. "Oh, the things I could do to you," I heard him mutter, and it sent waves of excitement through my soul. Instead of doing anything, he pulled away. "But I can only do those things if you want to." He took a breath and said it again, gentler. "I will only do those things if you want to. Okay?"He backed off then, gave me space, but I didn't want space. "I want you."He frowned. "That's not really what I asked.""Please, sir," I said, and the way his body reacted to those two words sent waves of pleasure through my very core, "I want you."He stayed where he was, his eyes closed. Stayed that way for a good while. "Okay," he finally said. "Okay." He opened his eyes and came closer to me. "But you can say stop at any time.""Okay," I repeated. "And I'm going to leave you tied up." His eyes were wide. "For security reasons.""Okay," I said again, a little less evenly, and pretended that my body wasn't on fire. "Are you secure," he asked my neck, and I nodded. "Good. Stand up." I stood up. He didn't. For the second time tonight, I found myself tied with the Captain's face inches from my the most sensitive parts of my body. He traced the outline of the bulge with fingers that set my world ablaze. I wrapped my hands around the rope and gasped, trying to steady myself. He moved his fingers to my waistband, reaching around to find the laces. In doing so, he pressed his face up between my legs, and I closed my eyes in the face of it. "Open your eyes," he instructed me. I tried, and when I was finally able to look down, he was waiting there, smiling. "You doing okay?" I nodded, words beyond my capability. "Good. Then I want you to watch me." And then he carefully pulled down the waist of my pants to uncover my cock. He looked up to me, saw my wide eyes staring, watching as instructed, and smiled. Then he opened his mouth and took me inside of him. My entire body shuddered, and I had to look away, it was too much. When I finally was able to look again, he had stopped and was staring up at me. "Watch me," he told me firmly, commanded me, and I felt a second shudder threaten my body. I nodded. He took me again, and I gasped and gathered rope into my hands and tried not to cry out. He moved his mouth up and down, watching me watch him, seeing me react, digging his fingers into my hips in time with my gasps and hovering just over the head of my cock to hear me moan, to watch me squirm. Soon, he pulled away, moved his head up my body, biting my hipbone, then just below my ribs, making his way to standing, stroking my cock all the while.I lunged at him as soon as he was in range, kissing him as deeply as I could. He kissed me back for a little, indulging me, but all too quickly his hand was in my hair, pulling me back. I panted, trying to figure out which way was up. He took one look at my face and actually laughed at me. "You need a break," he said. He untied me from the bedpost and pushed me onto the bed. "Stay," he instructed. "I'll know if you move." I laid as still as I could, trying to breath, trying not to think too much about what was coming. "I want to switch your ropes with manacles. It's more comfortable," he said, and I turned and found that he was naked, and immediately looked away before I tore a hole in myself with desire. He sat down beside me and started undoing my ropes. "Wait," I told him, suddenly aware of what was going on. He was leaning down to kiss my wrist, and I almost lost the thread of what I had been thinking. It was important, very important, but it was getting confused in the sensation of his mouth on the soft underside of my arm. Then cool metal snapped around my wrist."No." I sat up straight. He pulled back and let me move away. I looked down at the metal band wrapped around my arm, looked over at the pirate captain holding the key. "I don't," I started, but I didn't know how to say what I needed to. "This isn't." "Okay," he said softly. He put out his hand, palm up. I hesitated, knowing how easy it would be for him to snap the other side closed. Then I put my hand in his. He unlocked the manacle and put it beside the bed. "Ropes," he said. I nodded, but I eyed the manacles beside the bed. He got up and silently put them away. He tied me back up, careful and gentle. I didn't know hands could be so gentle. He brushed my hair from my face and looked me over. "Good?" I was, I found. I had to be when I was near him, when his hands were on me. I nodded and leaned forward to kiss him. He let me get close, so close, inching away and making me follow until I was at the end of where I could move. Only there, only then, did he brush his lips against mine. He laughed at the noises I made, then dug a hand into my hair and at the same time grabbed the shaft of my cock. I cursed, and he kissed me, one hand rhythmic and the other steady, pulling, turning me into an arching moaning creature. "Keep your hips down," he murmured into my cheek, his mouth on his way to my neck, nipping and nibbling. I tried, but they kept lifting, lifting into his hand. The third time I did it, he moved his hand to my hip bones and slammed them back down to the bed. "Keep them down," he warned me, in a voice that sent shivers all through my body. I nodded, and he spidered his hand back to my cock and when it reached it he bit my collarbone and I cried out. He kept moving his mouth down, pulling the back of my head with it until his arm didn't reach, until his mouth hovered centimeters from the tip of the part of me that stood, quivering, twitching, all of me waiting. I knew I could lift my hips and it would reach. I knew I could bridge the gap. But I knew he didn't want me to. I waited. "Good," he told me, and smiled up at me, and I only had a second to smile back before he dropped down and licked the length of my shaft. I cursed, long and low and with my whole body. He was moving slow, torturing me, his tongue tracing circles around the most sensitive parts of my body. His fingers roved my hips, and my legs, and my stomach, pinching and tracing and pushing. He lifted his head as I cursed again, watching me squirm. Then he moved again, and took my balls in his mouth. Waves of it were rolling through my body. I felt myself reaching a height, knew what was coming next. "Please, sir," I tried to tell him. I don't know how I made any words out of the vibrating mess I had become. "I'm going to come."He looked up at me, took in my face. "No," he said simply, and took me back in his mouth. "God." I hid my face behind my arms, cursed and writhed, trying to hold back the waves of pleasure building behind my eyes, within his mouth, inside my core. "Please," I tried again. "Look at me." I shook my head. "Look at me," he commanded, and I did. I almost lost it then, seeing him there, his smiling face so close to areas that should be mine, that were now his. He kissed the top of my cock, once, then nodded. "Come."I let it go, gasping, and came all over his face. At the end of it, I lay, trembling, staring down at the pirate captain who knelt between my legs. He grinned up at me and crawled up my body, moved his way up so he was straddling me. When his face hovered just above mine, he put his fingers to my chin and pulled my lips to his. He tasted like pleasure and warmth, and I kissed him soft and was no longer so afraid that I was going to break. I felt his hand in my hair and I opened my eyes to find his searching my face. I let them rove, let them explore my lips, my ears, the scar across my nose. "Never done something like this before, huh," he finally said. "No." He still had cum on his face. My cum. What the fuck had just happened?"You're messy," I let him know. I thought about leaning forward and licking it off, what it would taste like. The thought caught me by surprise. I stared up at him, considering what an action like that would mean, how it would look, and suddenly found myself lifting towards his face tongue first.He gasped as I succeeded, as surprised as I was. I stayed where I was moved when he pushed me back, smiling slightly at the taste I'd gotten for myself. He pushed his hair back, and I saw his hands tremble. His eyes were roving over me, taking in everything. "Fuck," he finally said. "I'm gonna go get cleaned up. I'll be right back."He didn't tell me to be still this time, but I was. When he came back, he looked me over with this strange mixture of confusion and desire. Then, he leaned over and untied my hands. I immediately reached up and pulled him down, let my hands finally sink into his hair, let them brush against his cheek. I had been denied this so long, had been kept from knowing him in this way and there was so much I wanted to learn. He let me kiss and touch him for a while, then he pulled away. "Stop," he said raggedly. But he didn't command, it was just a word, so I reached out again and pulled him back to me, felt my hand slip down his chest, explore his stomach, reach around his back. I felt his breath catch as I neared his hip bones, as I passed them."Stop." He pushed at me forcefully. It wasn't enough to actually move me, but move I did. "What are you doing?" I didn't know. Dazed, I tried to find some semblance of breath in the lust-driven creature I had somehow become. My hand was still caught in his hair, the only link between our bodies. He made no move to disengage it, and so I left it there, only moving it down the the nape of his neck. He pressed into my fingers, and I saw that he was shaking. I let him anchor himself in my splayed palm. "I don't want to be done," I told him. I didn't realize it was true until the words came from my throat. He closed his eyes and bit his lip. His breath was fast. "I want to do more.""I don't want to overwhelm you," was his response. He didn't open his eyes. "You won't." He shook his head against my hand. "You won't, I promise." I was desperate for him, needed even more than he'd already given me. I moved my body closer to him, pulled his head towards me at the same time. "I'm strong," I told him, my lips on his, and his hand found it's way into my hair. His breath was ragged against my body. But he didn't come closer. "Fuck," he said quietly. "You make it hard, you make it so fucking hard." I didn't know what he meant by that, but I knew what I wanted. I reached down and traced my finger over his erect cock.My head was ripped back, his gasp a receding echo as he pulled my hair hard enough to move my entire body away from his. I could hear his breath panting from where he sat. His hand gripped my hair tight, and I didn't have a choice but to wait to see if I had made a mistake. Just as suddenly as he had pulled me away, he yanked my head towards his, and we kissed, hot and deep and passionate. When he shoved at me, I fell back against the bed, and he fell on top of me, consuming me, my lips, my chin, my neck, up to my ear. I was gasping, reaching to pull him closer, but he kept pushing my hands away, pinning them against the rough sheets. In time, he pushed himself up. He propped his forehead on mine, resting as he caught his breath, his heart pounding against my chest. My body was in a daze, wrapped in a cocoon of sensations that I didn't understand but wanted to never end. Only he could free me, I realized. I had to do what he wanted, would always do what he desired. It was all I wanted, and I ached with it.I waited to see what he would do with me, what decision he would come to. He moved his lips to my ear. "Stay on your back and spread your legs," he whispered to me, and I almost whimpered to hear it. "Be ready for me when I come back." I was waiting for him when he arrived, a jar of something in hand. I'd taken off my shirt while he was gone, a step we hadn't previously bothered with, and I don't think he'd been expecting it. He stopped and stared at me, free hand pushing back his hair, eyes demanding and dark. When he finally got into bed he settled between my legs, placing the jar on a side table in reach, and then he just looked at me. His eyes made me weak, weak in a way I had never been, and I felt like I should have been scared and yet I had never felt more safe. As his eyes explored me, so did his hands, sliding across muscles and skin, stopping at each and every scar they found as if marveling at my existance. He was a marvel. I was nothing but an afterthought. I pressed into his hands, guiding them down my stomach and over my hips. They ended up on my thighs, running up and down their scarred expanses. "I'm going," he said a little incredulously, "to fuck you." "Okay," I think I responded. It was hard to say anything in all the anticipation that was built up around my body. He ran his hand over my hipbones and I shuddered. "Are you scared?" "A little," I admitted. He lifted my leg up over his shoulder. "I need you," he told me, kissing my calf, biting my skin, "to relax." I could feel his breath shaking against my body, could feel how much he wanted this. His want drove the desire in my crazy, wrapped it up inside of me sparkling and hot. He kissed his way up my leg to my knee, leaving a trail of blossoming tingles behind. "It's going to be okay." I nodded, then gasped as my entire body shifted, the Captain pulling my hips up, his hands tight on my thighs. "Put your hands on the headboard," he instructed, and I did, "and don't you let go." He took a scoop from the jar, spread it on himself. I watched him. I couldn't take my eyes off his hand stroking his perfect cock, something I'd never wanted until tonight and now couldn't imagine living without. He moved his hand to me, his fingers gently spreading my ass, rimming my hole with lube. He paused, watching my eyes follow his every movement in anticipation, then pressed a finger inside of me. I gasped, lifting my hips, pressing against the pressure I hadn't realized I'd wanted so badly. He pulled it out and I let my breath out with it. "I don't want to see your hands anywhere but where I tell them." "Yes, sir," I said, my voice raspy, and felt him shudder. "Ready?" he asked, and I nodded, then he kissed my knee one last time and slowly pushed into me. I wanted to curse, or shout, or do something, but the intensity of it, the slowness, the pressure, it all took my breath away. I meant to look at his face, to watch him, but I just couldn't do it, couldn't pay attention to anything but what was happening inside of me. I heard him moan, though, heard him let slip a low noise that shot me through with pins and needles and fire, and I gripped the headboard as tight as I could so that I wouldn't cry out. He pressed into me again, but he was going so slow. It was torture, the feeling of wanting him deep inside of me, needing him there, and to have him move so slowly, so deliberately. I wanted him to move fast. I wanted him to move hard, as hard as he was, as hard as I was in danger of becoming again. "Fuck," I said, unable to contain it anymore. "Fuck fuck fuck."He stopped, asked me something about pain, but stopping was the opposite of what I wanted, and pain was the opposite of what was going on, and I didn't know how to express that to him so I let go of the headboard and wrapped him up. One of my arms went around his waist and the one around his head, and he gasped and we cursed into each others lips and I pressed him into my body, pulled us as close as we could get, as deep as he would go. He was shaking as he pushed me away. "Headboard," he reminded me. "Fuck," I groaned as I lay back down, but it turned into a moan as he moved inside of me. He tortured me like that for what felt like eternity, going as slow as possible, watching me squirm, and curse, and beg. In time even he couldn't handle it and he began to pick up speed, falling into a rhythm of moans and curses and fucks and please, sirs, until we became a blur of cock and curse and pleasure and I couldn't tell where one thing started and the other thing began. "Touch me," he cried out, and my hands lept from the headboard where they had been gripping, obeying, bone white. I grabbed him tight, wrapped him up like before and pressed him deep, and we cried out together as he came inside of me. We lay there for a moment, breathing, panting. Then he pushed himself to stare down at my body with that same mixture of confusion and desire he had on his face earlier. He gently pulled out and I gasped as his member slide from my sensitive body. He traced the gaping hole he had left. We both felt it close around his finger. He looked up at me. "Fuck," he said softly. He collapsed next to me, tracing my body with his fingers. My hands now free, I found his hand and entwined my fingers with his, pulling his fingers to my mouth. I kissed his hand, then his fingers, then gently bit the inside of his wrist."Fuck, do you want more?" he laughed. "I think I'll always want more of you," I told him, because it was true and because I was flooded with endorphins. He propped himself up on his elbow and watched me. I let him, because there was nothing to see but me, and I wanted him to see me. Eventually he leaned over and kissed me, softly, gently, and I let him do that too. "Hey," I asked him when he pulled away, "what's your name?""Fuck," he laughed. Then he thought a bit and said it again, and it didn't sound as humor filled. "Fuck." He pulled away. "Shit, I'm sorry.""For what?""For." He gestured vaguely. "This doesn't feel good." I laughed at that, endorphins still rushing through my system. "I thought it felt pretty good.""No, not like." He sighed and sat up. I followed his lead, pulling my bulk up after him. "I feel like I just used you, somehow."That got him a raised eyebrow. "Used me?" "Yeah, you know. I'm the captain.""And?""And the captain shouldn't be having sex with the prisoners." "I'm not a prisoner." I had never been a prisoner, could never be. But he misinterpreted my argument. "Technically, you still are. We have to take a vote, to see what we do with you. We're democratic." "Okay. So I'm a prisoner." I shrugged at him. "Yeah." He pointed at himself. "And I'm the captain.""You already said that." I smirked at him. "If you feel like you used me, that kind of implies that you wanted this all along, doesn't it?" I felt lazy. Felt drained and happy where I was. Safe. Safe enough, maybe, to needle this man a bit. "When exactly did you know you wanted to fuck me, Captain?"He looked away. "All I'm saying is, there's a power dynamic here. You could have. I don't know, felt like you had to do what I asked." He looked down at his pointing hand, still pressed to his chest. I wanted to laugh at him, at the statement he had just made. I was still caught up in what had just happened, trapped in a web of satiated desire and the false tranquility that came after. As if this man could have made me do a single thing I didn't want to do. As if anyone could. But he looked so concerned, so guilty, that all my laughter disappeared from my lungs. Instead, I found myself telling him the truth, a new habit I'd picked up in his presence that I wasn't very fond of. "I would have done what you asked," I told him quietly, "no matter who you were." He went very still. "If you were the first mate," and I took his hand in mine, "or a deckhand," and I grabbed his waist, "or a scullery boy." I lifted him into the air, and he squeaked. It was a ridiculous sound to come from the captain of these pirates, these big tough baddies, and I smiled softly at him and put him down on my lap facing me. He tried to push away, weakly, and I captured his hand and put it behind his back. When he tried with his other hand, I put it behind his back too, and was pleased to find I could hold both his wrists in one hand. With my free hand I smoothed back his hair, taking my turn now to search his face, to watch him think through options, think through scenarios of what I could do now that I had him. He pushed against my hand with his wrists, and I pushed back, let him know that he couldn't break free. At the realization he made a small noise and I couldn't help it, I had to kiss him. He looked dazed when I pulled away. "You're dangerous," he said. I couldn't not agree with that. "You make me dangerous." He searched my face one last time, then shook his head. "Let me go," he said, and I knew it was a command and did it. "We need to get cleaned up." I looked down at myself, his cum still dripping out of my ass. "I kind of like how I am." He closed his eyes for a second. "Let's go," he finally managed. He walked me to the washroom, keeping at my side the whole time. It was a private suite as part of his captain's quarters. I took it in, noting the mirror, the private toilet, the full basin of clean water set out for a nightly wash. I walked in, expecting him to leave, but he simply crossed his arms. I kept my back to the wall and moved forward. "A bit of privacy, perhaps?"He shook his head. "I'd rather you weren't out of my sight.""Why not? Afraid I'll come after you?" He frowned at me. "Afraid I'll find something something like this," I picked up a straight razor from its box, "and try to kill you?"It was meant as a joke. I thought I was dreaming, I think. It's the only explanation for how I'd been acting, for my careless words and even less careful actions. I was a planner; I planned. I knew what would happen when I picked up a knife. So I shouldn't have been so surprised when he grabbed a weapon of his own. "You don't need that," I said, watching him get ready to fight. He eyed me warily. "See?" I put down the razor, raised my hands in submission. My knees dropped to the floor for him, one after the other, an action I had never taken for any being before. He watched me submit. "I already told you," I reminded him quietly, "I'll do anything you ask." I saw the hunger glowing in his eyes.He slammed the door in my face. I stayed there for a moment, processing the moment of desire and lust I'd read on his body before he'd closed me in. Then I shrugged and got myself cleaned up. There was nothing I could do about that now.The Captain didn't look at me as I emerged from the bathroom, dripping and clean, just pushed past to clean himself. I didn't understand his sudden change in attitude, but I felt a twinge of concern that it had been brought on by something I had said. I settled myself in bed and hoped. He'd taken clothes with him into the wash room. He emerged in that same light shirt, same tight pants, and I was shocked by how much he still took my breath away. I had just seen him naked, had just watched him - I stopped my thoughts, swallowing hard. He caught my look and scowled. "I need to tie you back up," he said, all business, but my breath caught in my throat. "You're still a prisoner, and you just tried to attack me." "I didn't -""It was stupid to untie you in the first place." He wasn't looking at me, just gathering what he needed. I shrugged. He was in some sort of a mood. I leaned back and offered up my wrists. "Really," he continued, "You should be in the cells. You should be in irons."I sat right back up and pulled my wrists into my body. He was staring out the window, watching the night stars dip and pull against the fabric of the sky. "Put me in irons," I said, my voice as quiet and still as the darkness he watched, a completely different voice than the one he'd heard all night, "and I will never speak with you again." It was an odd threat, coming from my lips. But you should never threaten someone unless you plan to follow it through, and I would never kill this man, or hurt him in any way, so this was the threat that came. He turned to look at me, then, saw my face and, I think, saw that what I said was true. Or at least that I meant for it to be. "Okay," he said quietly. "Ropes." And he might have been doing it to make me more comfortable, but really, what was my comfort to him? I let him tie me. Knots couldn't hold me, but he didn't know that yet, and his knots were as good to me as instructions to follow. He made the motions mechanically, not looking at my body, not looking at my face that lay so close to his, but the shake of his hands gave him away. When he was finished, he sat back. I tugged gently against the ropes, settling to a more comfortable position. "Stop it," he asked me, his eyes closed. I stopped. "I'm sorry," I said. "I just needed to move." He nodded without letting his eyes open. He waited until he was sure I was done, then made his way to his side of the bed. Only then did he actually look over at me in full."Shit, your pants."I looked down at my still naked body. "Will it bother you?" I watched emotions go to war on his face. Eventually, practically or selfishness won out, and he let me be. He blew out the candle and sat on the edge of the bed. In the cover of darkness he spoke. "I'm sorry for the way that I acted tonight. I should have been more in control.""I don't know what you're apologizing for," I tried, but he cut me off with a firm, "Be quiet." I was glad I couldn't see his eyes. "You deserve to be treated better." I disagreed, didn't understand what he was talking about, but his instructions had been clear. I heard him get settled under the covers. "Now, go to sleep."He was asleep before the I could think to say anything else. I felt the ship lurch around me, comforting and known. Outside, the night sky held a thousand stars, and the sea was endless. I looked up at my bound hands, then at the sleeping man beside me. Things were not going according to plan. Not at fucking all.
  6. The Pirate King

    Two unnamed men - one sailor, one Captain. Two paths that brought them to this time, this place. This meeting. Will it be true love or does fate have something else in mind? After they have each endured so much pain and heartbreak, surely it is time for something to go right? The Sailor certainly thinks so. And when you’re the sea incarnate. Well. Things tend to go your way.
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