Sirocco

by Calico

Hahaha. pirates. looooong-awaited pirates. await no more. =)


"First mate: report."

Josh handed over the parchment smartly, red seal unbroken. "No damage, Captain. All set to make for the Lost Isle."

Chris held the roll of thick, yellowed paper in his hand, excitement thrumming in his fingers. At last. "And the enemy?"

"All hastened to a watery grave, Captain."

"Good," Chris nodded, not bothering to turn his head and see the smoking remains of the enemy's ship sliding into the envelope of the waves -- if his First Mate said they'd done to Davy Jones, that was the case. "Very good. Have someone reload the cannons. You man the tiller. Take us due north, full speed, and await my instructions."

Josh strode away, and Chris watched him possessively and made a mental note to pick up more brown leather when they next hit a port -- those breeches were getting ragged with use, and Josh had bulked out considerably since they'd brought him on board.

Not enough to put him on a par with Joey, of course, Chris thought, gaze swinging back to his oldest friend, who'd declined the position of First Mate because he preferred to work his hands in the galley than deliver orders to the masses. Chris didn't mind -- Josh was a wiry fighter and faithful accomplice, but he didn't have the ground-roots capability that Joey used to subtly keep order on long journeys through rough seas.

Right now, Joey was passing rope hand over hand, laughing at something one of the other men had said. His hair was tied at the base of his neck, and for a moment Chris could almost taste the skin beneath against his tongue, heat-salted and musky with working in the hot sun. Joey could use some more breeches, too. There was a gash at the back of the pair he was wearing today, at mid-thigh, and brown skin shadowed promisingly beneath as he worked: all most distracting.

Josh raised a hand from the tiller, Chris nodded, and the cry went out to set sail once more. Ropes creaked and the deck seemed to melt momentarily beneath his feet as the sails took glorious hold. Chris ran his thumb up the inside edge of the scroll, cracking the wax seal cleanly and hearing the pirates' cheer as rich as butter, singing in his ears. The paper was thick, ragged at the edges, but smoother in the middle and -- he released a breath he hadn't realised he was holding -- the indigo ink was strong and clear.

Lost Isle. No idea what the real name was, but folklore had it that-- ah, fuck the folklore. He had the evidence in his hands! He rolled it up carefully, the weight blissfully satisfying. They were going to collect his legacy at last.

"Captain!" came the familiar voice of his cabin boy, and Chris looked up to see the blond ascending the stairs to his platform at break-neck speed.

"Calm down--" he began, as James almost collided with him, green eyes sizzling with excitement, babbling, deep voice almost shrill,

"Captain, Captain, is it true? They're all saying; they're all hollering about it, saying the Marquis had it on him all the time, and now we've taken him... Do we have the map? Are we going to the Lost Isle, Captain, are we? Tell me it's true--" and Chris had to lay a hand on the hilt of his sword to make the boy shut up.

James froze, apparently remembering his place, and clapped a hand over his mouth, mumbling an apology. Chris smiled and tilted the scroll, watching James' eyes widen again. "That's right," he contented himself with saying, then moved to join Josh at the tiller, signalling for his cabin boy to stick to his heels.

As if James would rather be anywhere else.

James was certainly one man whose clothes he wouldn't be replacing. Not while the fabric was still so soft under his hands, so pliable, so easy to discard when he couldn't sleep and deigned to let him into his bed...

"Sir, we're at three-five-one two-five-one on the regular map," Josh said, as he approached. His voice still had a slight inflection, only properly recognisable if you knew they'd picked him up in a sailor's yard on one of the southernmost coasts of Gaul. Chris would have made more effort to train it out of him if, well, if it hadn't coated every word from his First Mate's mouth in the sort of charm that made the Captain's blood race.

"Time to switch to this map, don't you think?" Chris said, savouring the crackle of the paper as it glided open in his hands. Josh's eyes gleamed, and he extended one bronze hand.

"May I?"

"We won't get there if you don't," Chris murmured, letting a trace of the pleasure he was feeling swell in his voice. "And after waiting this long, I intend to get there..."

James had evidently learnt his lesson, waiting quietly as he was, eyes following their every move. Josh took the map, reverence in the tilt of his fingers as he kept them carefully away from any of the fine, intricate detail. Chris watched his forehead crease as he studied, closely, teeth digging softly into his lower lip. "...I make it, Nor-nor-east," he said, eventually, and looked up for conformation.

Chris nodded. "If our island at two-five-two is the same as in her bottom corner, then yes, I figured so."

"The coastlines bear a suitably strong resemblance," Josh said, looking up and frowning at the horizon, eyes narrow against the mid-afternoon sun. "By my reckoning, if we continue North on this wind, we ought to find an outcrop in shallow water by nightfall." He glanced back down at the map, nodded once. "There," he said, fingertip describing a circle around a party of dots in the indigo waves. "By supper, we shall know if we are on the right path."

"Excellent," Chris said warmly, trying not to grin too widely. "James -- bring a tankard for the First Mate at once. The new ale. He deserves it."

"At once, " James said, heel of his hand thudding against his collarbone in Chris' personal salute, then beating a hasty retreat to the kitchens. Chris listened to the contentedly rowdy interaction of his crew, the sound diluted by the breeze up here, then clapped Josh on the shoulder, feeling the warm muscle flex against his hand.

"Excellent," he repeated, and Josh shot him a sideways glance, full of dark-blue amusement.

"You acquired the map, Sir," he said, brisk vowels lengthening into a more liquid sound, making Chris shiver beneath the sweltering glare of the overhead sun. "We never would have caught the Marquis under anyone else."

"That's true," Chris agreed, entertaining for a moment the notion of putting Johnny at the helm instead, taking this ocean-eyed foreigner down to his bunk and extolling liquid murmurs across the entire length of his skin, but contented himself with merely trailing his fingers down Josh's spine, enjoying the swirl of heat through his dark-dark-darkening eyes. Unique to this ship, he'd never felt this man was his for the taking.

Josh raised a hand that Chris was pleased to see was unsteady, and the rowdy deck below fell to a guttural almost-silence. "Maintain current speed; compensate as we round the bay," he called, then looked to Chris, inviting him to speak.

Chris dropped his hand from the small of Josh's back, reaching out to his pirates instead. "Glorious day," he proclaimed, finding Joey in the crowd, squinting up with one hand raised to his eyes; "Tonight, we draw ever closer to the Lost Isle--" A cheer went up. "--and so this evening, we feast to celebrate, from the best of from Marquis Louis de Orlando's table."

Fists flung up into the roar-split sky, and Chris turned to see James beaming from behind a tall tankard crowned with foam. "Captain."

Chris took it, cold metal blissful against his palm, and took the first deep pull of the Marquis' finest ale. "Excellent," he pronounced, and Josh laughed.

"A day of excellence."

Chris handed him the tankard and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. The liquid sang sweetly down to his stomach, burning cold and bright. "A day of excellence," he toasted, then knocked his hand smartly against his sternum, "Now, I must retire to my cabin, leaving your capable hands at the helm," and plucked the map back, rolling it swiftly. "Committed to memory?" he smiled.

Josh's gaze was hot to be on the receiving end of. "Of course."

Chris nodded, tucking it into his belt with slightly unsteady fingers, and turned back to James. "Lead the way."

The sailors gave another ragged cheer when he crossed the deck, and he caught site of Joey crawling up to the lookout post, that succulent tear in his trousers flapping in the breeze. Chris waved a hand at them all, then grinned to himself as the cheer turned to catcalls as they realised he was disappearing into his cabin with James holding the door. The image of Joey on the rigging was a tempting one-- but Joey had a job to do, while James was pretty and eager and tasted just right to celebrate with.

There was the added bonus that Joey rarely held doors open like it was truly his pleasure to do so. His private quarters, set just a few paces down the internal ship's corridor, had never felt so far away.

"Ale?" James asked, moving quickly over to the lamp to tease it up, bringing his own face into flame-burnished relief.

"You may have some," Chris said, graciously, and James poured a portion from the pitcher on the table, mouth still occupied with a grin of success. Chris watched him drink, fondly; James had borne the brunt of Chris' anger in the weeks while they were stalking the Marquis' ship, cowering at the lash of his temper and going days without a word of comfort followed by nights of curt, dispassionate relief. He more than many had reason to feel pleased with this outcome.

Chris moved closer, leaning one hand on the table and stroking the edge of his finger down James' cheek. James leaned into the touch, setting his drink down instantly and turning his head to nibble at Chris' palm. Chris grinned, resting his ass against the table, bringing his other hand up to James' waist. Such a warm, lithe body -- touches like this always made his cock push insistently against the tough fabric of his pants, and tonight, tonight they were celebrating.

"About time, hmm?" he murmured, as James started licking at his hand, tilting his head up to take two of Chris' fingers into his mouth, eyes closing in apparent ecstasy. Chris bit down on his own tongue, trying not to make a noise as the cunning wet heat of James' mouth tightened around his fingers, working them deeper until the top of his palm rested on the curve of James' lower lip.

Too long...

He pulled him closer, spreading his legs so James could stumble between them and be anchored there, then ducked his face to lick the clean lines of his throat and feel James' pulse batter happily against his tongue. He tasted of ocean spray and coconut oil, mesmerising.

James swallowed around his fingertips, and Chris jerked him abruptly closer to get some pressure against his cock. Fuck. It had been far too long-- he needed to get him naked, enjoy the wealth of his skin, creamy white and slippery soft because the sun never saw more than the tilt of his cheeks.

He drew his hand away, enjoying the plaintive sound James made, the helpless almost-protest at leaving his mouth free. He'd have never made first mate, not in a million moons. James couldn't give an order in his life -- but he took them, oh, exceptionally well.

"Get undressed," Chris said quietly, running his hand slowly up the front of James' chest, liking the way James pushed into him, hands gliding to flick the catches open to get the skin bare before Chris' fingers caught up.

Ah, skin at last -- and what skin. Suddenly, the loveless blowjobs in the pitch of the night seemed incredibly bad judgement on his part. He swiped his thumb over James' dark, tightly-risen nipples, pushing the dark fabric of his tunic aside, off one shoulder, then the other. James shivered under his touch, skin impossibly hot against the slow passes of Chris' hands.

Chris felt his hips start a subtle, base grind into the top of James' thigh, and thought again how much more profitable it would be for all concerned if the clothes were set aside. Luckily, reaching for Chris' clothes, eyes half-mast and determinedly purposeful, James seemed to be thinking the same thing.

Chris straightened from the table, skin tingling from the chaste brushes of James' fingertips, and walked them backwards until James's thighs hit the back of the bunk and Chris' shirt fell to his elbows.

"Up," Chris muttered, fingers working at his own pants, and James gave him a blissful grin and shifted fluidly back, hitching himself up onto the bunk and then wriggling out the rest of his clothes until he was naked and fingering himself and sweetly, earnestly available.

Chris pushed up onto the bunk, landing in a tangle of James' eager-desperate limbs, hot tongue instantly tracing a bright path against his throat. "Long time," James was muttering, biting at his lips, sucking his tongue into his mouth, slick hands roaming swiftly up into Chris' hair.

"Uh huh," Chris managed, phenomenally eloquent under the circumstances, crawling against him and bearing down and rubbing his cock into the warm-hot-firm haven of James' thigh.

It felt indescribably good to feel him again, to listen to the breathy sighs as he smoothed his hands down James' flanks, to hear his own sharp intake of breath when James ran unguarded nails down his back.

"Get, fuck. on top," Chris said, words hot and scattered in his throat, sliding sideways and grabbing James' ass, and then James was rolling on top, wriggling over him like a velvet-skinned octopus, flashes of his mouth setting random nerves singing high through Chris' racing blood.

Okay, it was time, it was past time, and James' plaintive little chant of "fuck me, fuck me" certainly wasn't going to prolong the delay. He slid his hands up the shallow curve of James' waist, almost stilling him, closing his eyes at the sight of his cock sticking up between James' impatiently rocking thighs.

Lord, give me strength. He took hold of James' hips, lifting and guiding and gritting his teeth to get the angle right, to make the almost painfully light brushes of the tip of his cock against James' damp skin into a set of purposeful nudges against a reluctant breach, then threw his head back with a low groan as James squared up and bore down and the sweet scalding tightness took him ungraciously inside.

His grip tightened, pulling James firmly down against him, pushing his dick endlessly up inside until the warm curve of his ass rested on Chris' pelvis. James was gasping over and over, eyes closed, pink lip caught between the cut of white teeth, chest gleaming in the light of the flames.

"Too fucking long," Chris cursed, words crumpling as James started moving, waves of friction sparking in a softly addictive tide.

"I know, I know," James was whispering, voice taut and broken, "but it's... okay... now," and then he was grinding down hard, tight demanding circles, and Chris' fingernails were going to tear out chunks if James made any sudden movements and oh so close so hot so--

"Ah," James cried, coming, gasping, and Chris inhaled sharply as the young man relaxed heavily onto him, then frowned, heart thudding in his brain, because James was relaxed, was slumped, and the tight grip on his cock simply didn't burn as bright any more.

"Ohh," James breathed, and wriggled sleepily, and ok, that was effective-- but still, the moment was past, and he did so hate having to climax on a downstroke.

He rolled them over smoothly and thrust in hard, experimenting, and James gasped, but that wasn't enough either. Biting his lip, he pulled out, watching the green eyes flicker open in glazed confusion.

"Captain?"

Oh, that patchy scratchy heavenly sinful voice. Enough to send him over the top, if he hadn't clamped down with discipline, determined now to do this right. "Don't worry," he said, hearing his own voice dry in his mouth. "But you made such a nice appetiser, I feel ready for something with a few more claws, now..."

James beamed with the praise, wriggling a little lasciviously under Chris' regard, then raised his eyebrows. "Right away?"

"Yes," Chris said, not sure if he was going to be able to stand, reaching for James' hand and hauling him to his feet. James staggered, slightly, blinking hard and rubbing a hand across his eyes. "As soon as possible."

James blinked again, then thrust a robe at him -- just a dark blue silk affair from a trader in Gaul -- and hurried to dress. "Of course," he agreed, then smiled when Chris waved away his tunic, "If you wish," and sashayed out of the room.

Chris put his hand against the cool wall, feeling the rock and swell of the sea beneath his ship. The dark silk skated against his skin in tormenting currents, while the ache in his balls was making his vision blur -- unless that was his imagination. He cupped them with one hand, warm and silky and tight in his palm, taking a deep breath of pleasure and then freezing again as the door cracked open and--

"You wanted to see me."

--and the word for him wasn't slave, because there wasn't an ounce of submission in his frankly perfect body, and anyway, Chris hadn't bought him. You don't buy exotic goods like this one.

You steal them.

Justin wasn't looking at him, though, and Chris wasn't going to let the tone get set by a minion, however exotic. "You may leave," he said to James, leaning back against his bunk. James fled, and a moment later Chris heard a swell of agreeable catcalls and wondered how much damage he'd done to the conspicuously milk-white skin.

Justin was dressed richly, as per Chris' orders. Take off the exploitative white cotton the Marquis had half-dressed him in and replace it with unremitting stimulation of fine black silk, ineffective against any breeze, betraying the faintest sheen of sweat. Thoughtfully, someone -- James, presumably -- had smudged a fine line of blackness around his eyes, which were currently shaded with equally dark lashes as Justin stared dispassionately at something a pace or two away from Chris' feet.

The effect was almost amorally exquisite.

Look at me, he was tempted to growl, but after this pulse-paced silence he felt it would be weak. Perhaps he should start to jerk off, something to suitably explicate the power dynamics -- his dick certainly liked the idea. He let his eyes glide the length of Justin's body, pleased at the fit of the decadent suit, tapered splits riding up each leg, the low spike of his neckline finishing just as the faint treasure trail began. Perhaps he should throw water on him, see how the silk glistened and clung.

He squared his shoulders a fraction of a second before Justin looked up, a jolt going through him as -- sweet jesus -- those tempestuous eyes snapped to focus on his face. "You wanted to see me," Justin repeated, voice hard and quiet and laced with acid.

Chris met his eyes, then did another slow once-over, this time for Justin's benefit. What had prompted him to speak just there-- ah. Unless it was a trick of the silk, Justin definitely had at least one interested bone in his body.

"Yes," Chris said, keeping his eyes on the shadowed terrain at Justin's crotch, pleased when Justin shifted his weight to the other foot and -- hopefully accidentally -- pulled the fabric tight against the side of his cock.

Definitely interested. Chris let the sleekest murmur of a smile claim his lips, just enough to let Justin know that nothing went unnoticed in here. "And?" Justin demanded, a little too loudly.

Chris flicked his gaze back up to Justin's face, eyes narrowing. "Don't speak out of turn."

"Don't order me around," Justin retorted, lifting his chin.

"Just because you're away from the Marquis doesn't mean you have any more rights," Chris snapped, even though that was a lie.

"Just because you killed him doesn't mean I owe you anything," Justin said, and Chris felt a flash of outraged admiration: this kid had balls.

"Actually, that's exactly what it means."

"So if I don't obey you, you'll kill me?" Justin's mouth was set, and Chris couldn't help but imagine resting the head of his cock against that beautiful lower lip, feel the flash of defiant tongue before burying his fists in Justin's unruly hair and pushing deep inside.

"I'm sure we wouldn't do anything so unoriginal," Chris purred, walking closer, although that was a lie too -- if Justin proved more trouble than he was worth, he'd be out the door, and there weren't any gutters for miles.

Justin's eyes hardened when Chris stroked a fingertip along the bare stretch of his collarbone. "So you're forcing me," he said, flatly, gaze tainted with panic.

Chris stroked the other collarbone, then let his finger glide down the middle of his chest. Justin shivered; "Something like that," Chris agreed, aching to get him naked, feel his muscles quiver under this scar-free skin. He'd had Josh check him over, verify the trauma level. Apparently, Justin had escaped one chapter of servitude unscathed.

"Don't think I'll enjoy it," Justin spat, and that was repressed anxiety if ever Chris'd seen it, and Josh's eyes had never flashed that blue -- although Josh had never looked upon him with unflinching hatred either, so perhaps it wasn't surprising.

Chris let a smirk take his mouth, plucking the three tiny metal snaps open across Justin's stomach, pushing the shirt off Justin's shoulders so that the silk slithered down to pool at the crook of his elbows with a whisper that made the hairs on the back of Chris' arms pay attention. "Don't imagine you get a choice," Chris said quietly, and the intensity of trying to stare him down was battering at his eyelids and twisting ribbons of tension around his spine.

"Don't flatter yourself," Justin said, and then Chris smirked wider and stroked a finger up the underside of Justin's cock, hot beneath the silk, making a shiver rearrange Justin's shoulders under toffee-velvet skin.

"Not so unaffected," he gloated, and Justin glared at him, molten vitriol. "Especially," Chris added, thoughtfully, "if I try this," and bent his head to lick one tiny dark nipple, and Justin inhaled sharply and pushed his chest harder against Chris' mouth, knees buckling almost the instant Chris slipped a hand onto his shoulder and pressed down hard.

The curls marked him out as foreign, which improved the price, but as Chris buried his hands in Arran-soft hair and angled Justin's mouth against his cock, he doubted the Marquis hadn't recognised the perks of such a style.

It didn't appear to have dented Justin's enthusiasm in this case, however. Chris heard his breath come immediately loud as the slick pink mouth started working at his dick, sliding over it with breathy little noises it was impossible not to enjoy, sucking and swallowing, licking like it was the first solid meal Justin had tasted in days.

Chris allowed his hips to start a slow glide, angling using his fists to let him see the length of his cock rubbing along Justin's tongue as much as possible. "Yes, I can really tell you hate this," he said, not letting him back for long enough to speak.

Justin rewarded him with a sickly thrill of teeth, and Chris twisted his fists warningly, cold sweat icing down his back. James would never try that-- but then, this creature was a far cry from any incarnation of James' green-eyed reverence, so perhaps it was to be expected.

He slid his hands down, stroking Justin's cheeks and feeling the surreally erotic slide of his cock moving behind their downy-soft curves, tracing the wet edges of his lips and shivering at the touch of his own fingers along with everything else.

So easy to finish it like this-- He pushed gently at Justin's jaw, easing back, closing his eyes briefly when Justin wouldn't back off because that tongue was wicked and could coax stars out of a stone, then gritting his teeth and pulling him back to his feet. He tried to catch his breath and was struck by the full force of wet-mouthed belligerence's scowl.

"Why'd you stop me?"

"Maybe I want to finish this some other way," Chris said, etting his voice go as low as it wanted, reaching for Justin's ass and stroking the curve, fingers ringing with the soapy texture of the silk.

His hands smoothed round up to the ribbon at Justin's waist. "What other way?" Justin demanded, and Chris raised an eyebrow and tugged the ribbon off gently, watching, satisfied, as the blackness slithered silently to the floor.

"Guess."

He was a truly stunning young man.

"Oh, I can guess," Justin said, cold, and folded his arms, then dropped them back to his sides. He seemed to be trying very hard not to notice his own erection.

Chris, feeling no such restraint, reached out and drew a light circle against the shiny plump head. "Yes, this must be such a chore for you," he murmured, watching Justin's eyes fall closed. He stroked his thumb lower, little swipes below the tight, hot crown, and Justin's teeth flashed grimace-white.

"I'm just giving you what you want," Justin said, but it was spoilt by the shudder in his voice, the way his hand was drifting up Chris' arm, tugging gently at his elbow.

Chris let go -- you don't get to take liberties like that until you've proved your worth elsewhere -- and let his fingers glide across Justin's hip instead. "You think I want a disagreeable cocktease? You must be a fool, as well. Undress me."

Justin actually growled, a mutter low in his throat, but moved to obey, jaw angled tightly, eyelashes stubbornly downcast.

"Open your eyes," Chris said, as Justin's warm fingers slid under the shoulders of his robe, pushing the material off so it fell down his back in a cascade of too-light sensation. He shook it irritably off his wrists, then grabbed Justin by the hips again, giving him a little shake because his eyes were still closed and this was directly ignoring him-- "I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you don't want this."

"I don't want this," Justin said easily.

"Look at me, I said," Chris said sharply, and Justin's dark eyes cracked open, resentful and hot, and then he blinked and focused on something behind Chris' head.

"I don't--"

"At me--"

"--oh fuck off," Justin hissed, jerking back, moving to shove him away--

"Stay your hand," Chris snarled, grabbing his wrist out the air and twisting it with practised strength, slamming him round into the wall. Justin was breathing raggedly, cheek turned against the dark red drape of the wall, arm twisted up brutally behind his back.

Chris tilted his head, simultaneously annoyed and awed at Justin's height, then smiled grimly and kicked his feet apart, bringing the curve of his ass to exactly where he wanted it. "You've got to learn to behave," he growled softly, scratching lightly down Justin's side, the inside of his fist luxurious with the grind of Justin's bones under their soft covering of golden skin.

"You have enough people behaving for you," Justin panted, silken gravel on his breath, and Chris bit down on his lip hard to stop himself snapping the young man's arm, satisfying himself with digging his nails into the sleek ridges of Justin's ribs. Justin cursed, arching back-- arching back towards him, and Chris thought oh, really and grinned and slid his hand down firmly, reaching between his legs to touch his balls and make him shudder.

Justin-- shuddered. His cheek slid back against the wall so his closed eyes were upturned, his teeth flashing in the firelight behind dark stained lips. Chris could feel his pulse in his balls, that same earlier panic gloriously upgraded.

"You want to behave, though," Chris told him, stirring his fingers backwards through the silky heat, and Justin's hips twitched into his hands, fucking practically presenting his ass while his face still told of defiance unto death.

Better hope he died quickly, then, Chris thought, as Justin spat out "Go ahead, flatter yourself," with such an undomesticated edge to his voice it made Chris wonder exactly where the Marquis had found this one.

"I've got other people to flatter me," Chris reminded him, grinding the vague words into a gloat by bringing his hand to Justin's mouth and forcing two fingers inside, pushing in and burning bright with the scrape of malevolent teeth. "Suck them."

Justin's tongue swirled around them once, swipe of exotic wet heat, then his mouth went stubbornly lax, no more suction, no more teeth. Chris gritted his own teeth and nudged at his arm, and Justin gasped angrily around his fingers. Success, Chris thought distantly, as Justin's teeth closed again, as he started sucking slowly, working his mouth until Chris wanted to forget about preparing him and just fuck him as tight and dry as he'd be right this instant.

His hips swayed in, and he let his cock slide up against Justin's ass, closing his eyes momentarily at the damp heat, and Justin exhaled and rubbed back against him, tiny jolts of debilitating friction, and sucked-bit-worshipped his fingers, like he knew exactly where they were going and wanted to hurry them on their way.

Yeah. He clearly doesn't want it, Chris thought dryly, pulling his fingers out and twisting his hips to find a counter rhythm to Justin's insistent little shoves. I should stop right now.

He took a short breath and stepped back, and Justin's ass arched up plaintively, legs still spread wide-- and Chris pressed Justin's wrist hard into his sweat-flushed back and wished he had an artist in here right now because this would make the most affecting portrait he'd seen all year.

"Get on with it," Justin ground out, and Chris grinned and reached down, stroking with wet fingers until Justin nudged back on him again;

"You want it, yet?" he asked silkily, pushing his finger in smoothly before Justin could answer--

--then adding another before Justin could get his breath back from cursing so colourfully. Sweet lord, he was hot. Justin's ass twisted down demandingly and he was making angry little noises in his throat that made Chris' stomach ache, sleek and depraved.

Another finger, just to feel them cramped together by tight muscle, the ache of trying to force them deeper inside against stiff resistance, and Justin bucked and gasped and-- well, really. How much was a man expected to endure?

He let go of Justin's wrist as he pushed inside, long hot summer unfolding around his cock, and Justin's palm slapped against the wall, bracing himself, cork-screwing his body firmly back onto Chris' dick.

This was... really... not going to take long.

He took a ragged breath and started moving his dick just slightly, resisting the unholy strength that was simmering in his hips to start slamming inside without giving Justin any time to get used to it, and then Justin was squirming like he had something deep inside he wanted Chris to scratch, and Chris' fingers dug hard into Justin's stomach, thinking the kid better fucking know what he was doing because he was asking for a lack of mercy Chris was about three seconds away from granting with all his strength.

He pulled back a bit, keeping Justin's ass in place with firm hands, then pushed solidly back in, faster than before.

Justin-- mewled. Fuck, Chris thought, going for a second slow thrust, and Justin did it again, a liquid whimper and a little shove back on his cock, like this would be exactly what Justin wanted if only it was deeper faster harder, but right now this was good too, good enough to make him whimper, because it hurt, because he was so tight, so he was definitely fucking mewling but wouldn't Chris like to make him sob--

Chris froze, heavy sweet ache at the base of his cock being clutched clutched squeezed by Justin's ass--

"Fucking stop moving," he growled, pulling out slightly, and he could feel the sweat on his back getting slicker as he fought the urge to just shoot right fucking now, and Justin growled right back at him and that almost did it as well, and then Justin said angrily,

"This feels so fucking good that if you pull out now I'm gonna garrotte you with your own compass," and Chris laughed breathlessly and then shuddered, because Justin seemed to think that 'stop moving' meant come to a complete standstill and then practically vibrate, and the only way Chris could make him hold still was to shove inside as far as he could and tighten his fists so hard that Justin couldn't move at all.

One moment to calm down, two moments to calm-- and still there were little thready shivers roving across his cock, and Justin was breathing faster, like the effort of not moving was making him harder-- and that was so fucking hot Chris almost chose to bring him off first before deciding that no, he liked Justin desperate, and his incrementally louder choked panting was one of the best things he'd heard all year.

That whimper was even better, though, as he pulled out a little further and flexed his fingers. He grinned faintly, realising he'd left little fingernail dents in the smooth stomach, and moved his hands down Justin's hips to the front of his thighs, feeling the light hair slightly rough against his palms. "A bit wider," he said quietly, pulling Justin's thighs apart and then pulling back towards him, making Justin's ass spread and rise for him, staring down at the strained point where his cock was disappearing into Justin's body.

One long, steady push, watching Justin rock back obscenely to take it, and then the crinkly darkness of hair came up against Justin's ass and Justin was making the choked noises almost constantly and the heat was shimmering before Chris' eyes--

Yes, that was the angle, that was perfect and he was gonna die if he didn't finish it right fucking now--

He gritted his teeth and stared hungrily at the back of Justin's neck, one arm sliding up and bracing hard round his stomach, giving him an anchor as he worked his dick in choppy little thrusts that made his knees quake with ghosted fire.

Justin moaned loudly and his hands fell to his forearms against the wall, head bowed, shoulders heaving, and Chris felt it rising fast, the supplication and the sweat and the unique awareness of fucking someone who'd hated him for the suggestion and now was keening with it, almost dropping to his hands and knees--

He came furiously, a maelstrom of sensation jerking unevenly through his body, stealing the last of his breath on a low, earnest groan. He tipped his head to Justin's shoulder, arms growing lax around him, panting as the world spun in incrementally slowing circles. Justin, he realised slowly, pulling out and feeling the thrum beneath his palms, hadn't finished.

"C'mere," he murmured, turning him gently away from the wall and walking with colt's legs to his bunk, crawling up and tugging him down on top of him, then rolling them over and grinding his hip across Justin's cock.

Justin swore viciously and thrust up, eyes closed, teeth glimmering tightly again. Interesting -- can't stand to look? or just won't last if he opens his eyes. Chris slid off him, supporting himself on one elbow, dipping his head to drag his smile against Justin's throat. One big hand came down on the back of his head, fingers threading his hair, holding him down. Chris grinned wider and sucked gently, sliding his hand down Justin's chest, and Justin's tortured moan buzzed against his tongue.

A slave with a stomach like this would fetch a high price even if the rest of the specimen was gap-toothed and wrinkle-loose, Chris thought distantly, feeling the muscle spring against his fingers, rub up into his palm. "Good boy," he whispered, dragging his teeth against the edge of his jaw, and Justin gave a hoarse breath of approval, pressing insistently closer.

Chris slid his hand between Justin's legs, finding the impossibly slippery entrance to his body and shoving three fingers slowly inside, enjoying the little helpless mumble escaping Justin's mouth, the twist of his hips, the thighs spreading profligately wide.

"Ah-hhh," Justin said, and Chris licked the corner of his mouth and thrust his fingers deeper into the slick heat and then kissed him, pushing his tongue into that disobedient mouth, tasting sweat and abstract wine and wondering who the hell'd been giving him wine, huh? and then Justin was sucking frantically on his tongue, taint of grapes rich and sultry and yeah, ok, who had given him wine and when could he reward them?

Justin bucked furiously back on his fingers, bruisingly hard and Chris bit his lip and bam, ok, we found the weakness and there was a whole lot more slickness between them.

Chris grinned, wiping his hand on the sheets, then reaching across Justin's panting body, steadying himself with one hand near the edge of the bed, grabbing James' cup off the table and bringing it to his mouth.

The head had melted down into a cool, clear effervescence that flowed like heaven over his dry tongue, hitting the pit of his stomach exactly right. He shifted back, and Justin had stopped panting, just watching him with half-closed eyes, and the black around them was smudged. He looked defiled -- and happy about it.

"No, don't finish it." Justin said, frowning, and shuffled against him, reaching for the tankard.

"Remember your place," Chris teased, sipping again to prove his point, and Justin's eyes flashed resentfully calculating before widening, seductive artifice. He was-- very practiced. A streak of ice curdled in Chirs' stomach.

"Please," Justin exhaled, immeasurably sexy and docile and so fucking unnatural--

"And," Chris interrupted, eyes narrowing, "remember you're under new authority now. None of the-- the false love." Not when you learned that for someone else. Someone with no taste, no less. Chris couldn't pretend to understand the attraction; where was the fun in breaking a creature like this? Especially when he stayed bitterly whole beneath, perfect body laced with surface fractures.

Justin was scowling. "Make up your mind," he snapped, familiar antagonism. The ice lingered, but melting. "What do you want."

"Tell me no lies," Chris said, a suggestion, strangely clumsy on his tongue.

Justin laughed, scornful and -- yes -- deeply bitter. "You're na´ve as well as stupid."

Chris almost hit him, a solid crunch of knuckles into the sublimely undefended ribs. "You're making your future darker by the second," he hissed, and Justin glared right back at him, furious centre-of-flame blue. "If we throw you off this ship, it's a long way to shore."

"Tell me the role and I'll play it," Justin snapped back, a steel layer of frustration cutting under his voice.

"I don't need you in a role."

"I'm on the ship -- I need a role." He opened his mouth as if to say something else, then shrugged. "I want a role."

"Just, we'll see how it goes," Chris said, trying not to let the exasperation show on his face.

"I'm one of your crew?" Justin demanded, and there was a lighter tone to his eyes.

"A...subsection," Chris said, and Justin raised an eyebrow.

"I could work," he suggested, and Chris shook his head, smiling back at him.

"I have all the workers I need." He let the smile broaden. "And -- I don't want you to ruin your hands. I have a vested interest in your hands..."

Justin's smile vanished. "Everyone says that."

Fuck. "The Marquis," Chris said neutrally, and Justin laughed.

"Yes, well, him too, but not how you think," he said, and Chris felt a surprisingly strong sense of relief. "He was saving me for a special occasion," Justin added, abruptly gleeful, and Chris wasn't sure if the words were threaded through with an element of gratitude or whether it was his imagination.

"Well, I put a lump of hot iron through his ship," Chris said airily, "but nothing about his life was special, so it's not surprising you arrived uncontaminated." Except for your brain.

Justin twisted against him, the world spinning as he rolled on top, pinning Chris' shoulders down and licking delicately at his cheek. "Yeah, I meant to thank you for that," he muttered, and Chris turned his head and caught his mouth and wondered if he was ever going to peel off all Justin's layers, and not caring all that much, really.

"Tell me no lies," Chris tried, again, mumbled through the wet glide of Justin's tongue, kissing back and trying not to fight the hold on his arms.

"Mmm hmm," Justin agreed, utterly unconvincing, and Chris was just busy giving a mental shrug and tilting his head the other way to get more access when the door burst open and the room filled with distant shouts and an explosion of panicked baritone cut up the air.

"...fucking boarded," Joey was yelling, and Chris almost choked and rolled off the bunk, throwing Justin to the floor and snatching up his pants and noticing distantly that the pitcher of ale had crunched into sharp slabs of irreplaceable wet pottery, while expensive foam soaked into priceless carpets.

"What the fuck," he demanded, shoving his feet into his boots and grabbing his scabbard, not bothering to buckle it on, just jerking out the blade in a fist that felt disconcertingly numb.

Joey's sword was dripping crimson. "Another ship," he hissed, spinning on his heel and ducking back out the door, and Chris looked wildly round the room and growled,

"Wait," and charged out the door, catching Joey's shoulder in the dark corridor and hauling him back. "Why didn't we see this ship?"

"Came out of nowhere, didn't they," Joey said, panting. "Fucking outcrop. We're on course-- and so were they."

"Warriors?"

"Rebels," Joey said; "flying the scull as well -- we're outnumbered," and then there was a ragged unseen yell and Chris tightened his grip on his sword.

"Let's even up the odds, then," he growled, unholy anger in his blood because how dare they, these rebels, these pirates, boarding his ship-- The light was momentarily disconcerting as he barrelled through the outer door, and then a sheet of pain iced down his side and he swiped out blindly and kicked at the body as it fell.

Outnumbered, yes, but not fatally so; he ducked to pull a dagger from his boot and shoved it in the throat of a man who jumped at him, barely registering the hot gush of blood over his hand as he wrenched it out again-- except to adjust his grip and notice that the cooling breeze had picked up strength.

Men were rushing at him. He looked round wildly, squaring up to Joey's back; "Josh," he directed, satisfied that Joey's barked agreement meant he'd been heard and understood. The first man's sword was easy to send flying; the others were more difficult, a warm spray of gore being what it was to the eyes. He could hear the grunts as Joey fought behind him, the two of them cutting a path towards where Josh was cornered, his teeth gleaming, his face streaked scarlet.

"Fall in," Chris shouted, shoving his sword into one man's back, slicing the dagger firmly across the base of another man's scull. His back slammed into the wall, the air full of Josh's panted greeting and the clash of metal and wet metal and bone.

"We can't keep this up," Josh managed, elbow shoving into Chris' chest when they'd dispatched the immediate threat and Chris was trying to get forwards to attack anyone else in foreign robes; "our losses aren't high, but it seems like there are more on their ship, and the losses will soar unless we move on from hand to hand."

"Sink them," Joey suggested, as Chris forced Josh's arm down and watched helplessly as Johnny was split open from shoulder to hip.

"We can't," he heard himself say; "they'll be manning our cannons if they've got any sense, and-- fuck," he growled, when Josh's hand landed on his shoulder again, rounding on him. "What?"

"Captain, we definitely can't sink them," Josh said, bleak-soft, and his face was pale behind the blood; Chris wheeled round to see what he was staring at, saw a black-green flag hoisting on the other ship's mainsail. Hostage.

"Fuck," Chris yelled, charging forward and hearing the scrape on wood as the other two careened after him, and four more faceless enemy found a fatal attraction to flashing steel. His ship was emptying as the other pirates spotted their own flag and retreated, and Chris cut the slow ones down from behind as he ran for the weak spot where his deck bumped the other ship.

Rope stung momentarily wet in his fist as he vaulted over the divide, shoving a man down into the black waves and looking around wildly as Joey hit the foreign deck beside him. "Josh's gonna find out who," Joey said, and Chris nodded even though he knew it was one of the two unarmed blondes, or else the sleek, slender, fire-eyed young man they'd picked up with the rice. Jacob?

"It doesn't matter who it is," Chris said, uneasy because this ship seemed almost empty, only a few unskilled stragglers lingering to protest their invasion. "What happened to being outnumbered?"

"You," came Josh's voice, warning him not to decapitate the body that jumped down behind him, a steadying hand skating over his shoulder, "certainly helped with that," and Chris glanced round long enough to exchange a fierce grin with his favourite gore-streaked Frenchman; "it's got to be James, and-- the Marquis' slave. The new one."

"Justin," Chris cursed, wanting to know how the fuck they grabbed both of them when his back was turned. This would teach him, not giving two domestics any lessons in hand to hand.

If he could get them back.

There was a choked cry to his left, and he checked quickly to see Joey tip a bloody body into the water. "Bad light," Joey muttered; "he almost got me," and Chris blinked and realised that yes, the horizon was glowing black beneath mauve, the evening approaching and here was neither boat with torchlight.

"Get-- get another three of our men," he told Joey, "and fall in behind us," and clapped Josh on the shoulder, neatly slicing open the wrist of the man whose sword was flashing up murderously close to Josh's chest. "Coming?"

"Coming," Josh agreed, kicking the body to the floor and breaking into a run, and the air was cold on the spilt blood on Chris' skin as they charged up the wide deck, blades forward, trying to stop their breathing eclipsing any telltale cries.

Below deck: It was warm. Chris shuddered, the reek of blood lifting off his clothes and into his lungs, his grip on his sword feeling sticky and awkward. They rounded a corner at a sprint and then staggered to a halt, reeling round as heavy feet pounded abruptly behind them, cutting down a two-man team. Fuck, Chris thought, pushing himself forwards again; that was too close.

They took another corner and ambushed James, backed into a doorway with two dead men and blood on his bare chest, a katana clutched in his fists and a gash in his shoulder. The sword came up fiercely when he saw them, then sank back to the ground, one hand prying off the hilt and pushing through his hair. His eyes were black.

"Fuck," Chris breathed, crossing to him, and James focused on him blearily.

"Captain," he said faintly, and then there were loud footsteps behind them and he wheeled round to see Josh almost kill Joey before jerking his arm back sharply and laughing, choked and brief.

Chris slipped his arm round James' waist, getting James' arm over his shoulder, feeling the hot shudders threading under too-pale skin as he helped him across the floor. Joey took one look and set his jaw, eyes furious. "I'll get him home," he said, voice low, and Chris nodded tightly and stepped back, hating his faceless enemies as James swayed. His shoulder looked pretty bad.

Joey slung him up cautiously into his arms, cradling his face against his chest, and James let out a low groan and clung. "I'm going to kill them," Josh muttered, and James nodded against Joey's chest.

"You two go back," Chris said, struck by the difference between the marks he'd made and the mess of his shoulder committed in a fraction of the time; "ok, four men left. I want someone in this room, make sure whoever left him here doesn't come back; Josh, Nicholas, you come with me and--"

There was movement in the corner. "Justin?" Josh demanded, sprinting over, and then there was a low bubbling cry and Josh emerged a moment later, glaring; "not Justin."

Not Justin. And-- there was no Justin. Chris looked around wildly, knowing they wouldn't have missed him, but c'mon, James was here, why would they separate them, why why why--

He set off running again, Josh grimly at his heels, one thought in the back of his head: if they've fucking hurt him--

He almost slipped down a dark ladder, scrabbling for purchase in the wall and then jumping clear and landing unsteadily, disconcerted by the gloom. What sort of crazy ship was this, all unlit and-- ok, so it was good battle technique, familiarity breeding success, but Chris was past appreciating rationale, and from the low curses behind him, the other men were thinking much the same.

Ahead, there was only darkness, a few doorways picked out as darker blocks in the black-grey. He'd sent Justin sprawling onto the floor in his haste to get up. Tactically, clearly bad idea to get lost in the dark -- better to duck into a lighter corridor like this one, taking him deeper into the ship. There'd been a flare of anger in Justin's eyes as he scrambled to his feet, hunched like a wounded animal. Betrayed? Or was that Chris' projection.

For the love of god: your ship isn't supposed to get invaded while you're bonding with your new crewman come sex slave.

He turned right, lifting his hand behind him to let Josh know he needed a man stationed here in case, then saw a glimmer of light ahead, felt a twisting fierce energy build in his gut. He wouldn't have hurt him, but the boy wasn't to know that, especially not with his unlit history --

-- another twist in the corridor, must be getting deeper because there was an actual flame capsule in an alcove and richer wooden panelling picked out clearly in crazily wobbling shadow --

-- and now he'd be questioning it, not knowing if Chris'd force him if he ever said no, and this saving him talk, the Marquis, what was that about? and fuck, ok, this had to be the door, there was no other place they could logically be.

"Captain?" came Josh's whisper, catching up and moving to flank him before the door, sword held across his body. Chris looked at him, an odd floating sensation catapulting through him, a familiar foreshadowing of the scarlet fury that was simmering in his stomach, just waiting for an outlet.

Josh's face was in shadow, just the edge of his jaw picked out in muted flame, a hitch of light glancing off his eyes. Absolutely still, he actually looked like rock -- except for the eyes, their heat, their violence. He'd brought Justin aboard; even checked up that James wasn't mistreating him. James, of all men.

"Ready," Chris breathed, closing his eyes momentarily and then kicking forwards hard, hearing the twin cracks as Josh's boot and his boot and the door met in a resounding collision and then they were yelling and the air was bright sun fire in their eyes and they'd burst into the room with swords raised and--

Fucking women?

Chris almost laughed, because they were looking for kidnappers and they'd ambushed the breeding stock? and only two of them at that, both reaching nervously for the ceiling, and then Josh actually did laugh, incredulously, and Chris glanced over, and then the world was coming to a shocky standstill and there was a blade at his throat, and he remembered, belatedly, that you might not wanna fight worker bees but really, the biggest mistake was if you crossed the queen.

Or, queens.

Fuck.

"Who the hell are you?" Josh was demanding, and Chris swallowed against the sharp edge and thought that really, they weren't in a particularly good position to be asking the questions. Josh, for all his chiselled prettiness, honestly could be a fool sometimes.

"That's not your concern," came one voice -- not from the person directly behind Chris with a tight fist in his hair. Chris swayed a little, testing her reflexes, and lost a little more hope. Fuck.

"What have you done with Justin?" Josh demanded, and Chris wanted to kiss him for the vehemence in his voice and beat him round the head for his timing.

"Justin?" asked the woman holding Chris, archly. "What would we want with him?"

They knew Justin's name. "I wouldn't want to speculate," Josh drawled, and he actually sounded scornful, scornful and exceptionally stupid, stupider than Chris had ever heard him, and something bright glimmered in the back of Chris' mind.

"What have you done with him?" he pitched in, lamely, holding his breath. The blade at his throat tightened, then relaxed minutely-- He stamped his foot down hard and rammed his whole body backwards, fists whipping up and smashing her arm away as they fell back, spinning round and holding the point of his sword to her throat with the abstract thuds in his ears showing that thank fucking god Josh had been thinking the same thing.

"Where is he?" Josh hissed, short of breath, and Chris kicked the wrist of the woman on the floor in front of him, hard, and her sword thudded back into the wall. She glared up at him, unblinking, not even looking at the danger looming by her cheek. Deliberately, he stepped forward onto her sword, then slid it painstakingly back on the grey carpet until it was out -- very out -- of her reach.

"Where's who?" asked the other woman, very sweetly.

Chris laughed shortly, glad for the distraction, the excuse to look away. The woman at his feet had an oddly forceful stare, disconcerting. "Okay, who are you?" The woman at Justin's feet had dirty-blonde hair pulled back against the base of her neck, and an intricate black tattoo curling across her collarbone and down beneath her top, indefinitely. Chris remembered the pain of the dragon on his ankle and wondered exactly who he was dealing with.

"Hmm," the first woman said, and Chris felt pressured to look back at her again, trying not to blink in face of her hard grey eyes. "What do you think, Dacey?" she asked, never looking away from Chris. She pushed her hair behind her ears, and he was almost not surprised to see the black lizard circling her wrist, tail twined up her middle finger. "Shall we tell them our names?"

"I suppose, we could... Dale," Dacey mused, and Chris wondered if it was a better idea to just kill them here. Although-- they'd met Justin, if not orchestrated the entire thing. On the strength of that, he couldn't kill them. Yet.

"Are those your real names?" Josh demanded, and Chris almost grimaced, because really, maybe the earlier stupidity hadn't been an act.

"It doesn't matter," Chris said; "We want Justin."

Dale tilted her head, then tutted, sorrowfully. "You're not exactly ingratiating yourselves right now..."

Josh swore softly, and Chris heard a sharp intake of Dacey's breath. "Don't you dare cut me you stupid little fucker," she hissed, and Chris thought again that this really wasn't how hostages were supposed to behave. Dacey had a hand against her throat, eyes dark with disgust.

"Give him back to us," Josh said, voice harsh, and Dale tutted again.

"That's really not the way to go around persuading her."

"We'll search the whole ship, galley to mainsail," Josh promised darkly, and Dacey actually laughed, while Dale shifted back idly until her shoulders were against the wall. She flexed her fingers, sending Chris a tough little smirk when his eyes darted to her sword to reassure himself it was still too far away to prove a threat, then kept his gaze, and stretched. Indolently.

"You hear that, Dale?" Dacey said, lightly.

"What's that."

"They're gonna search the whole ship."

"Galley to mainsail?" Dale asked, innocently, and Dacey smirked.

"That's what they said..."

"And what're they gonna find, d'you imagine?"

Dacey's smirk widened, and she glanced at the idly at the ceiling, then at her fingernails. "Weeeell," she mused, luxuriously, and Chris wondered if he could kill her, if killing one of them might scare the other into submission. "I imagine, nothing at all."

"Not even this precious Justin?" Dale pressed her lips together, then added, "We won't ask what he wants with such a young boy as that..." and that was it, Chris was going to kill her -- no one insults him like this and lives to see the sunrise--

"No," Dacey said sharply, and Chris glared at her, because she dared interrupt the path of his sword? and she smiled at him, helpfully. "No," she repeated, softly acidic. "You won't find Justin on this ship."

"Where, then?" Josh demanded, and Chris felt a shiver curl in the pit of his stomach; Josh sounded so angry. Like... well, thunder didn't cover it. Thunder sewn to a dragon with silken black thread; the sort of anger that can lurk in your throat until something clicks and you discover you've just put three generations to the sword.

"We have terms," Dale said, shrugging.

Dacey nodded sagely. "You might want to ask about those."

"I'll torch your ship," Josh growled, adding nastily, "after all, if he's not here, there's certainly nothing I'd want to save," and Dacey laughed softly, apparently undaunted, and Chris' estimation of her rose. Grudgingly.

"You are slow," she told him; "or hadn't you realised? the moment we die --"

"--either of us," Dale chipped in brightly, and Dacey nodded.

"--yeah, either of us, you'll have ruined your chances of ever finding your little slave." She raised her eyebrows, then repeated slowly, "Ev-er," shaping the word into a plaything as if Josh were a child and couldn't understand if she didn't break it down.

He was going to have to ask about their terms, Chris realised, wondering if separating them would prove any more successful, and then there was a distant shout from the corridor and a blond man stumbled doubled-over into the room, and Josh's knife was at his throat until Chris saw the heel of his hand thud into his chest and said sharply, "Josh, fall in," and the man wheezed and hauled himself up by the doorframe.

"Captain," he managed, and it was Nicholas, a thin red line skating his cheek, a darker patch spreading across his stomach. "We've-- another ship, been sighted," and Chris felt dry ice flow down his spine and Josh was saying,

"How? This is uncharted water!"

and then Dacey was chuckling and Chris heard himself bark, "How big? how close? do we have cannons?" before whipping round and dropping to one knee and growling right in Dacey's face, "do you realise you're in as much trouble as we are if this ship catches us? you're as good as dead, and they won't care about Justin any more than I care about you," while Nicholas was saying,

"We don't know. We can't tell -- it's dark, but we've got one cannon still functioning, so if we aim," and Dacey had stopped laughing but didn't look terribly impressed either, and Chris was ready to hit her with the hilt of his sword when she said absently,

"Well, that would be pretty amusing, huh, Dale?"

The silence rang in Chris' ears, undercut by his pulse, and he rose to his feet and turned slowly to stare at them until Dale said, "yeah," and then, after a moment's thought, "well, I'd laugh," and glanced over at Dacey, nodding agreement.

"What," Josh said, and the thunder was slicing under his words again, "do you mean by that?"

Dacey shrugged. "You're lucky it's dark, 'cause otherwise this would just be you people and irrevocable stupidity and that meshing thing again."

"It's our boat," Dale explained, and the tip of his sword was trembling an inch from her throat before Chris had even heard the words, and he was demanding

"Is that where Justin is?"

and she was nodding even as Josh said, "don't believe her" and set Dacey to chuckling again.

"Why?" Chris said, and cut Dale off with a sweep of his hand when she opened her mouth, glancing to Josh instead.

"Why should we trust them?" Josh said, neutrally. Good point. But then -- why would they lie?

"You?" Chris said, looking back at Dale.

"Why is Justin on the boat?"

Chris nodded.

"Insurance. So you'd listen to our terms."

"You're notorious for getting too attached to slaveboys," Dacey added, helpfully, and Chris thought that maybe they were hoping that whoever was on that boat would come to their aid rather than simply murder them, and either way it would be preferable to submitting to himself and Josh after all this argument, and that that would be a reason for them to lie.

Because he would much prefer to be agreeing with Josh, right now.

"We'll just move over to it, find out," Chris said, looking to Josh for conformation, hoping the apology for not agreeing to him outright was visible in his eyes. Josh looked away.

"Your boat will push waves over its bows -- even with you at the helm instead of your... tempestuous First Mate," Dale said, and smiled at him, brightly.

"Plus," Dacey added, leaning forward confidentially, "you don't really think we'd have put such a young man on an unmanned craft, do you?"

Fuck.

"We wouldn't want him to get bored," Dale said, pleasantly, and Chris felt an odd desire to smooth down the hairs on his arms.

"And of course, Adam has orders to sink the craft if a boat approaches without sending out the... appropriate signal beforehand," Dacey said. Chris swallowed.

"This... Adam, he'd drown as well," Josh said, and Dacey shot him a mean, triumphant little smile.

"Oh, we inspire great loyalty in our underlings," she murmured, and Josh bared his teeth at her and then froze, and looked to Chris, bleakly. Chris stared back at him, waiting. There was only one option he could see, because it wasn't worth the risk of calling their cards, but if Josh disagreed then maybe there was another way, maybe-- Josh's eyes were clear, a summer ocean at twilight, but grave as ink and almost totally unreadable.

Chris tried to keep his face as neutral as possible, wishing that they'd been better prepared, that he had Joey here to back up his decision, that Josh's eyes weren't so fiercely, sweetly bright. Seconds were rolling past, and he could hear the distant movement of men -- grimly, he hoped they were theirs.

In the doorway, Nicholas coughed. Josh blinked, still unreadable, then slowly touched the fingertips of his left hand to his right shoulder, his palm settling finally over his collarbone. It was Chris' decision.

He dropped to his knees and picked up Dale's sword, then rose again and handed it to Nicholas. "Bring them," he said curtly, words biting deeply into the air, and stepped over the broken door without a backwards glance. He heard an angry female hiss and suspected Josh had just dragged one of them off the floor, but didn't wait to find out. Right now, the women ought not to be a match for heavily armed sailors.

If they were, well, Chris' judgement would have failed him once too often.

The lamp in the corridor was flickering, ominously low. Chris speeded up, retracing his steps and glaring into the gloom, wishing he'd stopped to take a torch from the inner chamber. The light he'd come in by had long since melted into the blackness of an ebony sky reflected in docile waves; he drew his dagger again and let the tip trail the wall, the rough chime letting the others know where he was, establishing an anchor in the dark.

Silence, and he felt around cautiously, expecting to have to turn left and-- yes, here was the staircase, just a few rungs of a ladder and then the ghastly stink of blood telling him he'd found his way back to James' sanctuary.

He waited until he heard footsteps behind him before calling out softly in the gloom, relieved when he heard a quiet "Cap'n," in return.

"We have two hostages," he said, facing vaguely in the direction of the voice, then added irritably, "isn't there any material for a torch on this boat?"

There was a scratching sound, then a starburst of fire, and the room jumped alive long enough for Chris to step round the stinking bodies on the floor and beckon the man towards the doorway. One more corridor to fresh air, if his memory served-- "Josh," he called back, over his shoulder, listening for the scuffle of a restrained party climbing a ladder single file.

"Captain," Josh replied, and the accent was stronger in the dark, unless it was just Chris' other senses heightening as he tried to ignore the stench of blood -- like an extra presence in the dark, it felt thick enough to taste, and he needed his mind clear, remembering which room, which turning, which door.

"Call when you need light," he said, and the man coughed and called,

"There's only one more tab of gunpowder, so make it necessary, ok?"

"Ok," Josh said, voice rich, and Chris felt a grin tug at his own mouth to match the one he could feel in Josh's direction.

Chris drummed his fingers silently on the doorframe, counting out the bodies in his head, wondering if there was anything they could get to actually burn rather than just flare and dissipate, and then Josh was saying, "yeah, now" and Chris blinked in the few seconds of firelight, oddly mesmerised by the shadows it threw across Josh's face as he caught Chris' gaze and smiled.

"Let's go," Josh murmured, reaching him as the flare died, dragging Dale (or Dacey? Chris couldn't tell; the woman was eclipsed by Josh's body, in both senses) by one wrist. Neither woman spoke.

Chris nodded, then realised Josh couldn't see him in the dark and said, "One more corridor," and reached out, finding Josh's sleeve, lightly sliding his hand down to clasp his wrist. "This way. Careful of the bodies in the door."

He felt the breeze on his face a moment before the deck rang differently under his feet, and there was his ship, low-lit in swampy blackness. There was a group of men huddled by the place where the two boats touched, and Chris paused for a moment, grip tightening on his sword again, then saw one of them stand up and recognised Joey's silhouette.

Josh's hand slipped against his, warm and tight, then melted away. Chris strode to Joey, trying to clear his mind.

"We rounded up the rest of them," Joey said. "The other boat's hovering, but we didn't get a call from you so--"

"Justin's on it," Chris said quickly; "Probably. Unless these fine ladies are telling us lies," and Joey laughed and then stopped.

"Wait -- actual ladies?"

"Get me a torch," Chris barked, and one was passed forwards; "Satisfied, Joey?" He smirked at the expression on Joey's face, then leaned in closer. "Close your mouth," he said softly, resisting the urge to lick his ear because there were too many people present. "We aren't so many days sailed from land. You must be able to remember what a woman's like, or is your mind failing from the sun?"

"No, but there were twin Spanish boys at port," Joey said distractedly, "so I couldn't pass that up, and then we were raising anchor again, and these two are blonde-- sorry," he interrupted himself. "Let's go find your slave."

"Justin," Chris said, refusing to wonder why he didn't want him referred to as a slave any longer. "Right -- Get me a boat ready, and I want more light. What are our losses?"

Joey looked at the deck. "Several deaths, but few compared with how it looked early on. All of the wounded will live, probably. As for their crew..." He looked up, eyes fire-black, and waved a desultory hand at the silent men on the floor. "This is all that's left."

"Bodies?"

"We tossed them over the side," Joey said, shrugging helplessly. "Better to attract sharks than vultures."

"Funeral rights?"

"Not in full -- we wouldn't presume, Captain."

Chris took a deep breath. He'd station a man tonight, to sit up and recognise respect.

"How's James?" Josh asked, neutrally.

Joey smiled, faintly. "Definitely better. I put him in your quarters, Captain -- the Infirmary was full."

"Very well. Is there a boat ready for me to take across?" He smirked. "Preferably, one sturdy enough to resist the sharks."

"Oh, the sharks have easily enough to keep them busy," Joey said, his smile turning grim. He lowered his voice. "Captain, are you okay?"

"Let me fetch Justin and deal with these queen bees and work out how many of my crew I need to replace, and then I'll tell you," Chris said, keeping his voice even. "Is there anything worth looting here?"

"Not much gold," Joey said; "two chests, which we're having opened presently. The ship might be worth something, though."

"I don't want this ship," Chris said quietly, and then the shout came that the boat was ready to be lowered, and Josh touched his arm.

"I'm coming with you."

"I know. Right," he called, "I want these men to have all weapons removed, and left to clean up. Don't kill them, and give them torches-- there are at least five bodies I can think of," he added, directing his voice at a faceless man at his feet. "Below deck. Josh," he said, looking over, "bring those two. We have terms to discuss."

The men parted to let him through, and as he stepped back onto the Odyssey something loosened in his neck; home ground. His ship made it his terms, no matter what they said about loyal, self-sacrificial accomplices.

He strode across the deck to where the man was waiting with another two torches. "Captain," he said respectfully, ducking his head in lieu of a salute, and gestured with one of the torches. "The Arrow."

Chris nodded his thanks, stepping into the small boat with the familiar drizzle of adrenaline covering every inch of his skin. Like flying, this felt -- suspended over the water, the ocean a muttering void beneath them, and if you stretched out your arms then one palm would feel the underbelly of his ship while the other would sooner touch the heavens than the land. He extended his hand up to Dacey, helping her in, feeling the whipcord tension in the ropes that held the boat as she shook off his grasp and pushed past him to sit down. "We'll need both torches."

"Why?" Josh asked, as Dale moved to join Dacey on the far bench.

"Unless you want that little ship scuppered, you'll give us both torches," she said sharply, and Chris gritted his teeth.

"Very well." he said, calmly; they may as well get it over with. "And what do you want in return for giving back Justin?"

"We'll have your map for the Incacia island," Dacey said clearly, and Josh, climbing down, froze.

"That's the Lost Isle-- I only worked out its real name this evening, so how on earth do they know--"

"You can't have it," Chris said bluntly, feeling the bulk of paper against his skin.

"Well, yes, we can," Dacey retorted, taking a torch off Josh and waving it for emphasis. "Remember?"

"Uh, and our lives," Dale added quickly. "Please."

"At this rate, you'll have neither," Josh muttered, then glanced at Chris. "Oar?"

Chris nodded, taking it, leaning out towards the infinite black of the sea to let the two oarsmen pass him and take up their positions at the back of the boat. He raised a hand and the little boat was lowered swiftly into the sea, grabbed up immediately by the swell of the waves, filling his lungs with ocean spray. He felt the first tug of the oarsmen behind him, the smooth lurch away from the bulk of his ship, and glanced at Josh, oar stiff in his hands.

Josh nodded on the next stroke, and Chris dipped his oar into the black water, pulling back hard. The muscles in his back twinged, and he tried to relax them, trying to find his stride in the water. If he gave them the map-- but the alternative was equally unthinkable. What had Dale said, that he was notorious for getting too attached to slaveboys? If that sort of rumour was going around, he was going to have trouble making deals with all manner of people. If he could quash it now, just kill these two and send their ship home to spread the word...

"I don't know," he said to Dale, as soon as they'd established a rhythm. He felt Josh look at his sharply, and almost laughed; yes, Josh, why are we rowing out here at midnight if not to rescue him?

Water sleeked down his oar every time it raised, soaking his fists. He thought about the map, tucked securely inside his boot, arranged that any time he reached for it he could come up with a poniard instead. Because obviously, the culmination of a good chapter of his adult life ought to be guarded fiercely, only given up on pain of bloodshed.

He could feel the length of Josh's thigh, the shift in his legs as they strained and tugged to force the water aside. "Yes," he said, eventually, and it wasn't difficult, because they were in the middle of uncharted ocean and what on earth was he doing here if the decision hadn't already been made?

Josh relaxed slightly, unless it was his imagination.

"Yes to all the terms?" Dale sounded sceptical. On balance, Chris supposed that wasn't surprising.

"To all of them."

"That's not enough," Dacey said warily, then cleared her throat. "We want your promise."

Chris laughed, pulling a particularly vicious stroke. "I'm a pirate. My word's worth nothing."

"Both of you," Dacey added, as if he hadn't spoken. She folded her arms. "There's no need to sign in blood, because there's been enough spilt today already, but those men that died for you probably thought your word was worth something."

"They died because people were attacking them with big pieces of sharp metal," Chris said sharply; "your people," you manipulative harpy, "and they followed me because they thought they'd get rich."

"What, all of them?"

Chris felt Josh's thigh push into his, solid heat. "Most of them," he said. They were making good progress, splitting the water in a steady path. He wondered how close they had to be before the man on the boat became too wary and put a stake through the hold, and if the women realised how close they were getting.

"We'll take your word anyway," Dacey said. "If you're going to kill us, you'll kill us, so at least we can die knowing you were moral scum through and through."

"Look at who's talking," Josh murmured, and Chris sighed heavily.

"Very well. I give you my word that I won't kill you without due provocation."

"Not good enough," Dale said; "you won't kill us unless we try to kill you." Chris glared at her, and she shrugged. "Don't tell me you'd take your promise from someone if you could have mine."

"Unless you try to kill us, or Justin, or if your man out there does," Josh said, and Chris nodded.

"Agreed," he said, and they both laid aside their oars and saluted, Chris' palm feeling heavy on his collarbone, heavier for the faint knock of his heart.

Dacey smiled. "And, the map. Hand it over."

"Not until we get Justin," Josh said instantly, but Chris waved him down, untucking the map and smoothing it out across his knee.

"If we don't get Justin we'll kill them and take the map back," Chris said quietly, staring at the fine flickering lines on the page he'd waited, what, four years to get hold of? His mother would not be proud of this moment, that was certain. "Give it to them, please," he said to Josh, knowing he wouldn't be able to.

Josh picked it up by the edges, handing it over, making them potentially the richest women on the high seas. They craned their heads over it briefly, then carefully rolled it up, and Dale took a piece of fabric out her pocket and covered it, an innocuous white parcel in the dark. Didn't look like a legacy.

"Thankyou," Dacey said, looking up. "That will be very useful." Chris wished idly that her hair would set on fire. "You can leave us on this boat, hold us in the inner chamber while you fetch your... friend. We won't be back."

Dale waved the map, then tucked it into her belt. "We have other directions to go in, now."

"What about your ship?"

Dacey raised an eyebrow. "That stinking morgue?" she said, and Dale shuddered delicately.

"We've got Adam, we've got your map, we've got a three-man boat; it's totally comfortable enough to get home. Hand me your torch."

Dale handed it over, and Dacey twisted in her seat towards the little boat, now dangerously close, and lifted them both high above her head. "Three, two, one," she said, then shouted, "Adam, it's us," with Dale's voice fading away a moment later.

Josh's knee nudged harder into his own, and Chris almost laughed, because it was simplistic but foolproof and all the thoughts he'd been having about somehow working out their signal and how he was inadequate for not managing had melted clean away. He wondered about killing them now, then decided he'd wait until he'd found Justin, because if they'd harmed him-- well, if he was going to kill them, he might as well at least enjoy it.

The other ship -- well, boat -- was low in the water, with the bulk of quarters barely visible in the dark. Chris refused to consider it ominous; dark and unfamiliar, yes, and Justin was somewhere in its shadows, yes, but that didn't make it ominous. It made it a challenge. The Arrow bumped gently into its sleek wooden prow, then idled round so they could step aboard. His legs were shaking slightly. "Wait here," he told the men, after the others had climbed out. "We may need to leave in a hurry."

Well, that was unlikely. He gritted his teeth and followed the women down the corridor to two large doors, wryly aware that he merely wanted someone else to share his sense of urgency. He wiped his hands on his thighs, but his cuffs were damp and water was seeping down from them -- that's why his palms were damp, obviously.

He had no excuse for the knot in his throat.

"He's in there," Dale said, as Dacey pressed a key into his palm and walked past him, pushing into a brightly lit room.

"Adam," Chris heard her say cheerily, "look! The island Incacia! I told you they had it."

"If he's hurt, it's probably because you took so long to get here," Dale said pleasantly.

"If he's hurt, the deal's off," Chris heard himself tell them as he closed the door, harsher than he'd expected but he was worried now, ok? and it was their fault; all of it was their fault. Josh was already at the other door, fingers drumming against the wall, agitation on his breath.

Josh... definitely shared his sense of urgency. "They gave you the key?"

Chris moved him aside, pushed it into the lock, listened for the sweet click inside, then swung open the door.

"Oh," Josh said, loudly, and Chris nodded. Oh. Oh, fuck.

Justin was sprawled out on a low, dark bunk, his crumpled black silk thrown carelessly across his thighs. His skin gleamed golden. There was a bowl by his feet, and Chris picked it up suspiciously, finding a thick glimmering bronze silt collected beneath clear, spice-cloying oil.

Josh was already kneeling by Justin's head, sliding his fingers under Justin's neck, up into the curls, lifting him. Justin didn't move to help, eyes loosely closed, and Chris felt a swell of pure dark panic begin in his gut, surging up but he couldn't be couldn't be what had they done to him? and then Justin muttered, and Josh exhaled sharply, and Chris unfroze and went to help him sit up, and they all took deep breaths together until Chris thought he might just pass out from dizzy relief.

"What the hell happened to you?" Josh started asking, and Chris stroked Justin's back and leant into his shoulder and breathed in sterile spice and wanted to dunk him in the ocean until he smelled like a young man again. "Can you remember what happened to you? Did they hurt you? Can you remem--"

"Leave him alone," Chris said, and Josh looked at him sharply, then ducked his head.

"Sorry, Captain." His hand, Chris noticed, was high on Justin's waist. Maybe it hadn't been James putting the makeup around Justin's eyes. Maybe, when they got back, he'd better find out.

"We need to get back to the ship," he said, although it was oddly nice in this little room, even though it smelt wrong and the motion was too light beneath his feet. At least it wasn't home to bloodshed; the Odyssey was somewhat tainted, right now.

He reached down for the black silk, finding it damp and-- torn. His gaze jerked back to Justin, heart crunching, because was that why they couldn't wake him up right away? but there were no corresponding tears in his flesh, just endless glittering skin, and Chris turned his attention back to shaking out the silk because he didn't want to concentrate too closely on Justin's body right now.

Right. Clothing. He should get dressed. "Here," he said, unsure whether to help Justin into the trousers or to leave him to it, and settled for letting Josh take them and to look round for Justin's top himself. He sniffed the oil again before setting it gingerly on the floor, hoping it hadn't been used for anything more intimate than decoration -- but unless this Adam had a dick of steel, presumably he wouldn't want to stick glitter in a fucktoy.

There was no more black silk. He felt uneasy, like he couldn't quite breathe the sultry air. "Get him up -- we've got to get back," he said, then looked at Justin. "Can you walk?"

Justin threw an arm round Josh's shoulders, half-staggering against him. "Uh huh," Josh said, and Chris thought, you're answering for him, but didn't say anything. Justin's forehead tipped against Josh's shoulder, and Chris could feel the ghost of those curls brushing his neck along the line of where they nestled under Josh's jaw. Josh's arm slipped around Justin's waist, and Chris moved backwards to the door, hoping the boy wouldn't collapse, not sure who he'd kill first if he did.

"Thankyou for coming getting me," he heard, and only knew it wasn't imagination because he could see the shadow of those lips just a breath away from Josh's collarbone.

"Of course we did," Josh said, voice low and soothing, and Justin shook his head miserably.

"Thankyou," he insisted, "so glad you came... so glad... thankyou..."

"Justin," Josh said louder, urgent, like frustration.

"...not leaving me," Justin continued, apparently oblivious; "thankyou, so glad, so--"

"Fuck-- of course we-- sorry, Captain," Josh said, and Chris raised his eyebrows and then froze stock still as Josh's hand tilted up Justin's face, as Josh turned towards him and kissed his pink gleaming mouth with impossible tenderness, as Justin made a breathless sound in his throat and responded hungrily. Chris stared, their mouths gliding open, jaws working synchronously, flashes of dark wet movement and he was instantly aroused in an oddly dispassionate way, afraid to breathe for the third time in what felt like as many minutes.

He supposed, that was one way to quiet an hysterical boy.

Justin's hands slipped up round Josh's neck, and he was standing straight now, just a little shorter than Josh in his bare feet. Josh's hands were creeping into his hair, pushing curls flat against his head and tilting his face up, and Chris wasn't sure but maybe the light was glancing off moisture on Justin's cheeks; he really couldn't tell. Maybe it was the glitter that Chris couldn't wait to get rid of, smeared across his skin, clinging. Nothing he'd dressed a person in had ever clung like this.

"...you, thankyou," Justin was still muttering, but quieter, sleepier, and sort of folded inwards as Josh drew back, Josh's hands going round him instead, and Chris could see the trembling in the lines of Justin's back and thought abruptly, he can't go back there naked, and moved to take off his tunic.

Josh met Chris' eyes over the top of Justin's head, and he paused in unbuttoning the overshirt, startled by the thought that maybe Josh thought he was undressing because he wanted to fuck, then startled again by the discovery that he didn't.

"He'll freeze out there," he said, and heard his voice oddly strained, like he needed to cough. Josh's eyes were dark, dark blue. It was the dim light, of course. Of course. And the spices were getting to him, swimming through his brain -- had they drugged the air? Was that why Justin had been so difficult to rouse?

"Good thinking," Josh said slowly, and Chris nodded and finished shucking off his jacket, passing it over, watching the muscles in Josh's arms work as he unpried Justin and said quietly, "here, to keep you warm," and then, "shh, we're going back to the Odyssey, it won't be long," and then, quieter again, buttoning it up to the collar, "yeah, I know."

Chris pulled open the door, never so glad for cold sea air. It swept instantly under the thin cotton of his shirt, dissolving the uncomfortable swimming heat that had cloaked over his skin too much for comfort. He signalled to the men in the back the Arrow to get ready, then folded his arms, unwilling to look back.

"Captain," he heard Justin say quietly, and he nodded curt acknowledgement and strode back to the boat. He was pleased to see the boy, see he hadn't been hurt. He certainly hadn't grown any less appealing, either. But--

He stepped down into the Arrow, grabbing an unlit torch from beneath the seat and leaning forwards to light it off the oarsman's flame, then slotting it into the hole by the middle seat. His chest felt tight. Josh stepped carefully down next to him, gave him a tight little smile and tapped his shoulder.

"You're making the boat rock," he murmured, for his ears only, and Chris smirked despite himself and sat down. "You okay?" he asked, and helped Justin into the boat, guiding him between them.

"Yes," Justin said, and Chris felt glad he hadn't answered. He didn't know, anyway. He had a feeling he should have taken Dale or Dacey and interrogated them, found out the whys and the what the fucks-- but he was cold, and it was clouded so he didn't know how long until dawn but it certainly felt overdue, and he really didn't ever want to see them again.

"Take us back," he said, and the boat started moving. No moon, just the glossy broken tongues of their torchlight on water, the steamy spicy heat of Justin sitting between them. Chris could feel Josh's knuckles where his hand lay on Justin's hips, and Justin had his head on Josh's shoulder.

They'd won, sort of. He concentrated on the bulk of the Odyssey until he remembered what awaited him there, then stared at the firelight dabbling the water instead. It gave a peculiar sensation of not-moving, gliding on the spot. It wasn't that he wanted Justin to throw himself at his feet, or anything. It wasn't even that a little gratitude would be nice -- he knew the kid was exhausted, and he could hear his breathing evening out.

He-- needed to sleep, perhaps. And warm clothes. Incacia Island lay... East. That wasn't a lot to work with. He leaned slightly into Justin's warmth, then realised what he was doing and stopped, and then felt Josh's hand slide up Justin's side and onto Chris' shoulder, and Chris froze, then sighed and relaxed again.

Josh's thumb stroked up and down, just gently. They glided right in against the massive hulk of the two ships, to the point where they would be blocking the moon by now, if the moon had been visible. Chris leaned forwards and lifted the torch, searching the water for the ropes, then caught hold of them and looped the hooks into their places, listening for the suck as the Arrow was hauled directly up out the water.

Justin moaned softly, and Chris glanced at Josh, cautious, then blinked. Josh was watching him -- not Justin, whose head was definitely down, curls probably tickling where they brushed Josh's chin -- and Chris felt a glassy heat in his spine, and hoped Josh wouldn't start talking.

The accent would probably kill him right now.

A spill of light greeted them as they climbed back onto the main deck, and he reached back to haul Justin up, not meeting Josh's eye. The other ship was still dark, rigged fast to the Odyssey, and Chris told one of the oarsmen to go cut it free, with the message that Dacey and Dale were long gone.

Josh coughed, quietly. "Could we go inside? The sea air, it's too cold for him."

Chris pressed his lips together -- he himself was determinedly not shivering, but Justin made no secret of his own chill, rubbing his hands together and looking miserable; "Let's move to my quarters," Chris said, although he wasn't sure he wanted to.

Out here in the cold, he could function on iced-over thoughts, and puzzle dispassionately over why he felt so annoyed. As soon as his brain warmed up, he was afraid he was going to get answers.

James was asleep in a makeshift bed, curled up small. The spilt beer had been cleared up, Chris noticed, although the missing pitcher left a conspicuous space on his table. He wondered if it was a good idea to bring Justin back here.

"I'll fetch some chairs," Josh said, and James flinched in his bed, eyes flying open, hand shoving into the cushion as if groping for a sword.

Chris watched him realise, too slowly, that he was safe, that his body could relax. It was a good thing Dale and Dacey were far away. He nodded at James, wondering if he was pleased or annoyed that Justin could see the relieved adoration in James' eyes, then wondered why on earth he cared what Justin thought.

Justin was, in the end, only a slaveboy. Chris was well within his rights to sell him to the next merchant he saw. He wouldn't, but that was through choice, not necessity.

Josh returned with Joey behind him, carrying two chairs apiece. "Captain," Josh nodded, setting a chair down respectfully, then handing the other one to Justin, staring at the kid wordlessly for a moment before turning and taking his own seat between them.

Perhaps it was out of necessity, Chris thought flatly, as Josh tilted his chair in Justin's direction.

"Joey," he said, focusing only on him. "Losses."

"Eight men dead, nineteen injured."

That was-- they could recover from that. Okay. "Send word that a watch must be taken tonight, and that dawn must be observed for the next eight days," Chris said, not wanting to hear the names yet, not daring to name the man to take the watch in case he was one of those it was held for. James shifted in his bed, getting one foot on the floor and hissing softly; "Not now," Chris said quickly, and James shied back, then slowly slid the foot back out of view. "Josh, could you tell the... appropriate people? I'll make a ship-wide announcement later."

"Captain," Josh said, nodding and pushing back his chair. Chris watched him leave, trying to keep his face unreadable; he almost wished he'd made a move on Josh months ago, before they grew to be friends.

It wasn't that he'd never gone to bed with a friend -- look at Joey, for example, with his fierce dark eyes and his hair that went impossibly black when wet, and the curt bulk of his shoulders that didn't bruise easily, or tear when Chris raked his fingernails across his back. Just because he could converse with the man on equal terms didn't equate to bad sex.

With Josh, though?

Chris looked across at Joey, who was frowning slightly at Justin-- who was watching Chris, chin high, eyes impassive. Chris felt an urge to hit him, to insist on having his jacket back, to demand why Justin had to cause such a response in every man he met. "You want to speak?"

"I wouldn't speak out of turn," Justin said, sounding far too comfortable for Chris' comfort.

"Joey," Chris said shortly, looking away. He didn't have the energy to deal with Justin right now. "Those chests. What was in them?"

Joey frowned, then leant back in his chair. "Material, mostly. Not much silk, a little velvet -- mostly hides, some fur. A few gold chains, but we haven't tested them yet. They might be fake."

"No diamonds?"

"Only flawed," Joey said, and Chris smirked slightly.

"Why, don't we appear to be picking up flawed jewels recently," he said softly, almost sensing the anger on Justin's face. It felt... good, actually.

Joey's eyes sparkled. "Well, you can't win them all, Captain," he agreed, and Chris grinned.

"Have some of the hides made into new clothes," he said; "I'm sick of being distracted from my duties because you're not properly dressed."

Joey's grin widened, crooked and wicked. "As you wish, Captain."

"What about me?" Justin said, clearly.

Chris froze, then forced himself to relax. "Oh yes, of course, you're only half-dressed as well... ok, Joey, arrange for the boy to have something new."

Joey looked at Justin approvingly. "There isn't much silk..."

"He doesn't need much silk," Chris drawled, allowing himself to glance across at Justin, see the sultry outrage simmering in his eyes.

Justin folded his arms. "I want real clothes," he said.

Chris laughed shortly, abruptly nervous. The kid was challenging him directly? What the hell was going on that made him feel so confident? "Don't you dare speak out of turn," he said quietly, and Justin lifted his chin.

"Why can't I be dressed like the others?"

"Maybe you're not the man the others are," Chris said bluntly, and Justin exhaled slowly, shaking his head.

"You insist on thinking that-- What are you so afraid of that you have to put me down?"

"What are you so assured of that you think you have any rights whatsoever," Chris hissed back, and now Joey was just sitting there, watching them warily, eyes dark and cautious.

"Fine," Justin said, staring at the wall behind Chris' hip. The wall Chris had fucked him against, no less, all velvet cries and salt on his tongue. Scant hours ago, he thought, almost tasting it, feeling softly uneasy.

"I need some air," he said, standing up and glancing down at James -- asleep, thank god. The thought of James peering up at him with those wide green idolising eyes while Justin quite deliberately undermined him made his stomach grow cold.

Justin slid down in his chair, legs falling open, staring up at Chris with an insolent smile. Chris stepped round him deliberately, not looking at the shadowed crotch, the long sleek legs, the available thighs. When the door closed behind him, he paused, taking a few deep breaths before heading on outside and leaning against the closed door.

He was so close to doing something he'd regret.

"Captain?" he heard, and spun round, then forced himself to relax as Josh walked back. "I told the men."

"Right, right," Chris said, and pushed off from the door. Josh's eyes narrowed.

"What's wrong? It's a little cold for an evening stroll." He quirked an eyebrow. "Especially when you're underdressed."

"That kid's going out of his way to make me get rid of him."

Josh frowned. "Justin? That's -- that's ridiculous. He's scared, that's all."

"Scared."

"Yes. Can't you see it? Of all this, but particularly of you."

"He doesn't act scared," Chris said, and sighed. "Defiant, and argumentative, maybe. Cocktease, definitely."

Josh grinned. "Cocktease? Joey said you looked perfectly happy until he burst in waving bloodstained steel."

Chris let his mouth relax into a leer, poked his tongue briefly into the corner of his cheek. "Well, yeah," he said, like he was tasting the words -- or Justin -- on the edge of his mouth. "He only teased for a while. By the end, I had him begging."

Josh raised his eyebrows, giving him a playful once-over. "Tamed the exotic import -- I'm impressed," he murmured, sounding like nothing so much as an exotic import himself. "But seriously," he added, mouth calm, "think about it. The only thing Justin has over you is his pride. If you reduced him to wanting to get on his hands and knees--"

"Against the wall," Chris interjected, absently, not sure he liked where this was going.

"Against the wall," Josh corrected himself, smiling a little; "then it's no wonder he wants to try and redress the balance now by being a shameless little bastard." He sounded... affectionate. Chris felt slightly cold. "I mean, even I never made him beg. That's probably the first time that's happened to him."

"He said he wanted a role on the ship," Chris admitted.

"Well, then. He sounds like he's ready to start afresh, just as soon as you give him a chance."

"And I suppose, there are plenty of vacancies now," Chris said grimly, then felt his voice grow hard; "You never made him beg -- what did you do to him?"

"Excuse me?"

"You treat him--"

"I'm calming the kid down."

"You're acting like you want him for a husband," Chris shot back, a gut-deep coldness rising towards his throat. "In fact, it's not all acting, is it? You--"

"Don't be insane," Josh snapped, and Chris' hand slipped to the hilt of his sword before he realised it, his body recognising that tone of voice as enmity and therefore threat; "and don't run me through for disagreeing with you when you're talking nothing but unmitigated falsehood, either," he added, quieter, and Chris froze.

"Is that right," he said, watching his eyes. Josh was staring at his cheek, and Chris felt an unusual desire to rub the skin, check there was nothing amiss.

"Captain," Josh said, voice undercut with something brittle, and his gaze flicked up to meet Chris head on, "If I wanted a husband, it wouldn't be Justin I asked." He looked away again, focusing neutrally on the empty deck. "He's a kid, sir. If he doesn't feel he's got your attention, he tries to take it somehow. It's simpler to pretend..."

"Pretend?"

"Pretend that if someone offered you all the sights under the sky you'd still want to look at his... hair, his eyes," Josh said, with a little shrug. "It keeps him quiet."

"And where would you look?" Chris asked, feeling his voice tighten in his throat.

"Incacia Island," Josh said instantly, then raised his eyes to meet Chris' again, lips crooked and wry. "Under a tree on Incacia Island, Captain. James can bring us coconut halves and sweet cherry wine."

"Bring... us," Chris asked, and Josh licked his lips nervously, gaze flicking away again, knocking lightly off the lookout nest and then down to the deck behind Chris' feet.

"You should know, I have instructions to get there written down," he said, and Chris could hear his heart beating loud;

"Get to Incacia?" he demanded, grabbing hold of Josh's shoulder with one hand he could barely feel through the hiss of it all; "You have a second map?"

"Not exactly," Josh said, looking like he wanted to kick himself. Chris wanted to kiss him. "I made a note of the angles we'd have to take, the tacks and the landmarks more than actual co-ordinates."

"How detailed?"

Josh tilted his head, thoughtfully. "Not enough for me to put absolute trust in them," he said, then looked Chris straight in the eye; "It would be a risk. But -- we could try."

Chris stared back, and the deck was misting out of his vision, the sea roaring incredible volume in his ear and there was nothing else, nothing else at all--

He glanced at Josh's mouth, the clear definition in the dark, torchlight glancing off a faint film of moisture, and then back to Josh's eyes, steady, black-gold. He felt his jaw lift slightly, just a nudge of movement to put their mouths at complimentary angles, and Josh blinked and started to lean in and then Chris thought he heard a shout behind him and tightened his grip on Josh's shoulder and pulled back fast to look quickly around.

He swallowed, oddly diffident. Not that it should matter if anyone saw -- what was a few catcalls, after all? but apparently, something inside him thought it did.

He looked back at Josh, seeing him distant, staring at something behind his shoulder, and almost winced. What had it looked like, jerking back nervously, eyes alert for other men?

I want you, he started to reassure, except Josh was already speaking, clipped like his English back when Chris had first laid eyes on him.

"...wonder how far they've gone," he said, and Chris realised the moment was... passed? Fuck.

"There's no need to think on them," he said, wondering how to steer the conversation back. "I don't want to ever see them again."

"If we get to Incacia, we might," Josh said, and his eyes darkened, "Captain, if we see them again, does the promise not to take their lives still hold?"

Chris smiled, grimly. "I almost wish they had been lying," he said, then added, "so that we could kill them, not that Justin be harmed," because whatever Josh implied about coconut and patience, he had looked exceedingly relieved to retrieve the boy.

Josh shrugged slightly. "I was resigned already -- I knew they weren't lying. I knew it as soon as I'd said it." Chris raised his eyebrows, and Josh smirked wryly and glanced at the hand still clasping his shoulder; "If they were, you would have already killed them."

Chris laughed, slightly bitter. "Well, I was thinking almost exactly the same thing, so it's just lucky we were both right."

"Still," Josh said, and his voice had dropped and liquefied, making a buzz start swirling in Chris' stomach. "They only took a promise; we had our swords. There wasn't too much risk."

Chris swallowed, and slowly slid his hand down the coarse fabric of Josh's sleeve, wondering frantically why the bravery of battle wasn't affording him any strength in his knees right now; "Oh, I don't know," he said, and Josh's eyes were darkening again; "they were pretty safe," and the sway of the ship was suddenly working against him, making his stomach feel like tangled cotton; "you're the noblest fucking pirate I've ever met."

"Let me guess," Josh murmured, with a slow, devastating smile that made Chris feel like perhaps he'd never regain sensation in his knees again; "you don't look in the mirror often," and then he'd twisted out of Chris' grasp -- what? -- and settled his hands of Chris' shoulders instead -- oh -- and slowly, delicately, like every morsel of air between them had to be navigated with consummate skill, tilted his mouth directly against Chris' own.

About fucking time, Chris heard loudly, ocean voice in the back of his mind, and he held his breath, letting Josh kiss his mouth open, reeling with the fleeting glide of it, with the effort of keeping his hands by his sides.

It was -- slow. Very slow, tentative, conscious of the lookout man, light wet brushes of Josh's warm tongue into his mouth. The shivers were like an inch of cold swirling sand drifting across his skin, eddies of sensation, tightening at the slow drag of the tip of Josh's tongue around his own.

Chris sucked lightly and felt Josh smile against his mouth, tilting his head further, palms curving up the base of his neck. His fingers folded down and made a bank of heat across the top of his spine. Indescribably unsudden, Chris discovered he was aching to get closer, his mouth opening wider to the soft wet heat, his body moving smoothly from reeling with shivers to shivering with desire--

Josh bit down gently, making him inhale a lungful of salt-frosted air, and then drew back, gentle pressure of his palms moving them apart. Chris swallowed again, mouth ringing with the hottest gentle kiss he'd ever felt, brain trying to deal with blinking slowly and finding himself staring directly up into smoky dark eyes.

Chris saw Josh's answering smile even before he felt his own. "I'm cold," he said, hearing his voice insincere and coarse against the air, and Josh's smile widened into a grin, and he took Chris' hand between both of his and started walking backwards towards the Captain's quarters.

"We better take you somewhere warm, then," he said, and Chris laughed shortly and tangled Josh's fingers with his own.

"You accent kills me," he said, speeding their pace.

"I know," Josh said softly, and then muttered something that sounded suspiciously like genuine French, and Chris laughed again, somewhat more breathless, and then dropped Josh's hand to push into his quarters.

Now, there's a surprise.

James was asleep again, and Justin was wriggling in Joey's lap, thighs wide, ankles hooked round the legs of the chair to anchor them together as if Joey's hands in his hair wouldn't be enough. The room was full of the noisy shift of fabric, the slick sounds of frantic mouths and snatched breath-- it was a wonder James could sleep through it at all. Chris let the door snap shut, watched Justin's eyes flick open, wide, and the covert grind against Joey's crotch as he drew back abruptly and touched his mouth.

"Captain," he said softly, eyes glowing with earnest fear. Artifice like Chris hadn't seen in years, he thought, affectionately.

"You're still wearing my jacket," Chris said, keeping his face neutral. Josh appeared next to him, and Justin looked wildly between them and uncurled his arms from Joey's neck, leaning back as if he wanted to put distance between himself and the scene of the crime.

He wondered exactly how accidental it was that in leaning back he had to press harder into Joey's lap to keep balance, then remembered it was Justin: it wasn't accidental at all. "I'm so sorry, Captain, First Mate," Justin was saying, agony-soft, then his eyes honed in on Josh intently; "Josh..."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Joey said, mouth caught in an apologetic grimace, throwing an indignant glance at where Justin was shifting, apparently uncomfortably, against his crotch. His voice hardened. "I didn't realise he was off-limits."

"Oh, he's not," Chris said, lightly, and Justin looked back at him, incredulous.

"Not that I've noticed," Josh said.

"He's nothing special, after all," Chris murmured, and then he couldn't hold it anymore, had to let his mouth betray his amusement just a fraction.

Joey blinked, frowning, and then grinned slowly, behind Justin's head, sitting back into his chair and watching Justin expectantly. Justin looked shocked, outrage building in his eyes. "Nothing special," he started, and then Chris heard Josh's cut-off laughter, saw Justin's gaze flick warily between them. A slow smirk of realisation rose in his face. "Nothing special," he repeated, drawing it out suggestively, then replaced one of his arms round Joey's neck, fingers curling under where his hair was collected in a thin black tie.

"Not to us, certainly," Josh said politely, just the tiniest tilt of humour in his voice.

"Agreeable, but not worth dying for," Chris said, well aware he almost had, and watched the manipulative tips of Justin's fingers stroke tiny circles against the side of Joey's neck.

Joey smirked. "I wouldn't know," he said, then gave Justin a slow once over, "yet."

"Perhaps he could remind us, sometime," Josh said, lightly, and Chris glanced sideways at him, one eyebrow raising; Josh grinned, brief and blinding. "Simultaneously, perhaps," he added, and Chris felt the heat in his stomach start a race towards arousal once more.

"Perhaps tomorrow," Chris agreed mildly, then looked round as Joey got up, Justin's arm falling from across his shoulders. "You're leaving?"

"We'll give you two some time alone," Joey said, his brown hand gripping Justin's pale wrist hard, and then he tugged him abruptly closer, speaking almost into the kid's hair; "You might want to give the Captain back his jacket." Justin's eyes widened and, as Chris watched approvingly, Joey's other hand slid up his chest, thumbing open the buttons while Justin's breathing hitched and grew shallow. "There you go."

Joey released him, and Justin swayed slightly as he took off the jacket, the clean lines of his chest moving softly. "Captain," he said, holding it out, and Chris took it delicately, letting his gaze coast against Justin's stomach in all its taut-muscle glory.

"Thankyou," he said, then nodded to Joey.

Joey smiled politely, all teeth. "My pleasure," he said, saluting with one hand and guiding Justin to the door with the other; "Captain; First Mate," and then slapped Justin's ass hard and followed his startled hiss out the door.

"His quarters are right across the boat," Josh said, and Chris smiled.

"And the night air is very cold," he murmured, imagining the feverish urgency that would be in Justin's body by the time they hit Joey's rooms. "Joey will have a good evening."

"Do you want to go after him?" Josh asked, politely.

Chris laughed. "I think I have everything I need right here," he said, and Josh's mouth opened slightly, then spread into a dark smile.

"That's good to know," he said, hands sliding up Chris' arms, thumbs ghosting against his collarbones. Chris stepped backwards towards his bed, reeling with the concentrated glide of accented words, then side-stepped quickly as he clipped his heel against the edge of James' bed.

Josh laughed, catching arm, then glanced down, stepping deliberately round, pressing himself all up the side of Chris' body. He looked down at James, stroking a slow journey up and down Chris' spine. "He is truly beautiful."

Chris shivered, staring at Josh's throat, at the pulse he could see flickering gently beneath the skin. "Try him, sometime," he suggested, leaning in, licking it gently. He couldn't feel the pulse with his tongue, but the salt, dry and exquisite, more than made up for it. He bit down until Josh exhaled on a shudder, then drew back. "Wouldn't you like to try him?"

Josh looked longingly down at James' upturned face, the stretch of his body clearly visible beneath the sheets. "I wouldn't presume."

"He wouldn't approach you because he thought it might offend me," Chris said, lazily, and Josh looked at him, quirked an eyebrow.

"Is that right?"

Chris nodded, the flicker-flare of lightning starting in his stomach. "That's right."

Josh shifted his hips, trapping Chris against the edge of his bunk. He was... tall. And his mouth was open, just slightly, like anticipation. And he was French, which wouldn't matter at all if Chris was planning on keeping him quiet for the next few hours, but since he wasn't, this was also definitely a good thing. "And why wouldn't you approach me?" Josh asked deliberately, dropping his hands to either side of Chris' body, leaning in.

Chris smiled, lifting his face up to bite at Josh's lips, feeling warm hands sidle up beneath his shirt. "I suppose, I didn't want to presume."



back
tt calico

Author's ramble:

belated: for Dale and Dacey, if they're into the whole accepting-very-late-birthday-presents thing. ;)

thesaurus: the title means gale and blizard and tempest and things. and it seemed oddly appropriate. [former title: Presumption on the High Seas. see, aren't you glad it's different now?]

don't question me, boy.