Antonio was sitting on a piling nursing his hangover when the cart pulled up alongside. Lost in morose reflections on how life buggered you and how pretty boys could be fucking ungrateful and how his new vessel was a huge steaming pile of shit, he scarcely looked up as the pony cart rattled to a stop in front of him.
"Oi! You there!"
Typical. Antonio spat into the murky water, glowering at the ripples he caused. Fucking Illyrians and their fucking pompous airs, like their fucking Duke Orsino and Orsino's new fucking brother-in-law, the faithless Sebas– He spat again. Fuck it all.
"You. Pirate fellow."
Antonio ignored him.
"I'm talking to you."
"Leave me the fuck alone."
"I have money for you."
His gaze shot up. A youngish snobby type wearing Orsino's colors sneered down a patrician nose at him, as if he smelled something bad. Well, he probably did smell bad – that stinking jail cell hadn’t done him any favors. "What's that about money?"
The young snob hopped down from the cart. "You sail with the tide, do you not?"
"What's it to you?"
"His Highness the Duke Orsino and his bride request you take a certain object off their hands when you sail, in return for a handsome sum."
Antonio scratched his beard and looked sideways at the fellow. Slight, pretty, just like– Aah, bugger that. "How handsome we talkin'?" The courtier pulled a large purse from his belt with a flourish and dangled it tantalizingly before him, slowly lowering it onto Antonio's palm. He hefted it gently, feeling coins shift inside. "Silver?"
"Gold." With a smirk the young man whipped the bag out of his grasp, slowly opening it for inspection. Antonio peered inside. Shiny, irresistible, tempting gold, and lots of it, too. "That handsome enough for you?"
"Hmm." He kept tight control of his voice, so as not to betray the excitement building within him. So much gold! He'd never seen that much together in one place – hell, he'd rarely seen that many coppers. "Orsino must be desperate, if he's askin' me for something. What's this 'object' and where does it have to go?"
"Here it is–" The young courtier leaned over and whipped away the moth-eaten blanket covering the cart's contents. There was a muffled protest and a bound, gagged and thoroughly disheveled person sat up, blinking at the light, twitching as the rope around his neck was tugged. "As for where it goes, the Duke doesn't care, as long as it's so far away it can't get back."
It took Antonio a moment, but he recognized the creature; it was that idiot Puritan who served as steward for the Duchess Olivia, Olivia! the bitch who stole my Seb– Antonio took a deep breath and arranged his face into neutrality. "This is, what'sisname, Alvino."
The bound man fumed behind his gag, yelping furiously as the liveried courtier ungently yanked it away. "–idiot! It's Malvolio, you cretin! My name is Malvolio, Malvolio, Malvol–"
"Oh, right. Malvolio the lunatic." Antonio nodded. "I remember now."
"You…you…pirate!" Malvolio sputtered. "I am not mad! It's a conspiracy! Why won't anyone believe me? They just want to get rid of–"
"Just ignore him," the courtier sighed, shoving the gag back in Malvolio's mouth. "He quiets down if you whip him enough."
"Why don't you just kill him?"
"The Duke's new wife doesn't want him dead, just gone. Ask me, she'd never know the difference. Here you go." The bag of gold arced through the air, right into Antonio's hand. "Either way, make sure he doesn't come back."
"Wait a minute! I haven't said I'll do it!"
"If I were you," said the young man, jumping into the cart and unceremoniously booting his bound cargo onto the dock, "I'd set sail and never look back. Just because the Duke let you go today doesn't mean he won't change his mind tomorrow." He picked up the reins, but leaned toward Antonio, his pretty mouth twisted with bitterness. "The Duke's an inconstant creature. I know; I was his favorite – 'Curio this,' 'Curio that,' 'Curio, I love you,' 'til that cunt Cesario showed up and ruined everything. Trust me: nothing's secure at Orsino's court. Go, and swiftly, too." With that final word he whipped the reins sharply. The pony whinnied and bolted.
Antonio stared open-mouthed as the cart pounded away down the dock. Gradually he became aware of the outraged noises coming from the ground. "Hold on, dog, or I'll whip the stuffing out of you," he growled, kicking the man as punctuation. The cries died down to a wretched moan. He thrust the bag of gold into his trousers, taking care to affix it carefully to the rope at his waist before bending down to haul the miserable creature to his feet. "I'm going to cut you loose, but don't try anything. Understand?"
Malvolio glared, but nodded mutely. The bonds came away with three flicks of Antonio's knife, and Malvolio spat out the gag, retching slightly as he did so. "I have never been so mistreated in my–"
Antonio stopped the clamor with a final kick to the shins. "Shut up," he rasped, placing the knife to Malvolio's chin, "or I'll save myself the trouble and feed you to the sharks."
Eyes wide with terror, Malvolio whimpered, sounding more like a cur than ever. Antonio pinched the bridge of his nose until it bruised, but his headache only got worse. This was shaping up to be a hell of a day.
Less than a day out at sea Antonio realized the scrappy crew he'd picked up wasn't worth the pittance he'd paid them. They were a mangy lot, drunkards and dimwits all, with an uncanny knack for loosing sails at exactly the wrong moment and missing the wind entirely. They were so dire a crew no amount of lashings or offers of rum would make them any better, so rather than waste the effort he merely cursed them soundly, and then cursed his old crew, who'd sailed away without him the moment he'd been caught by Orsino. Then he cursed Orsino, too, for good measure.
On top of that, the "object" he was transporting was the worst kind of landlubber, seasick and moaning, puking all over the storeroom beneath the stairs where he'd been locked. By the end of the third day the stench from the space was overwhelming, so Antonio dragged the creature out into the open air and ordered the crewman he liked the least to wash out the vomit and urine with which Malvolio had baptized the ship.
Once on deck Malvolio sank miserably against the railing and dry-heaved over the side. "Water, for God's sake," he croaked. "Please."
Antonio felt something stir within him that might have been pity, but he ignored it, though he dipped a ladle into the water barrel and handed it over. "You're pathetic." Malvolio did not argue the point, but merely gulped down the water and held out the ladle for more. When he was done with that he slid down the railing, puddling there in abject misery. That feeling that might've been pity came over Antonio once again, but when he thought about how much bother he was being put to, it evaporated. "I should just heave you over the side and be done with ye."
"Do it." Malvolio covered his eyes and started to shake. A softly muffled sound emerged from behind his hands.
Antonio narrowed his eyes. "Are you crying?" The huddled man merely continued to shake. "Oh, fer – stop that! Be a man!"
Red-rimmed eyes appeared over the filthy hands. "I'm not a man. I'm nothing. Kill me."
"Don't tempt me." Antonio rolled his eyes heavenward. "Look here. Nobody wants to die."
"I do. I have nothing to live for." Malvolio wiped a ratty sleeve across his eyes. "She rejected me. She imprisoned me. They conspired against me. All of them! My position, my honor – nothing! I have nothing." He blew his nose noisily in the filthiest handkerchief Antonio had ever laid eyes on. "Nothing to live for."
"You have revenge," Antonio said, sitting on a pile of rope his rotten crew had neglected to coil properly. "Revenge is a good enough reason to live."
"Is it? I thought so, but…" Malvolio shook his head. "But it's so futile."
"Not futile in the least. It's gotten me through quite a few bad times. Gives me hours of pleasure, it does, just thinkin' of how I can get revenge on those that've wronged me. Like that fucking Orsino." He leaned back against the mast. "Run him through the guts with my sword, I would, right after I make him watch me take his lady over and over again. And her brother, too–"
"Yes, yes," Malvolio said, sounding for the first time interested in something other than his own misery. "I'd be revenged on the whole lot of 'em! I'll make 'em dance on the gibbet, or whip 'em till they're raw! Maria, Feste, Toby, Olivia–"
"–Olivia, Orsino, Sebastian…"
"Yes, oh yesssss…"
Antonio sighed and stood. "Or maybe I'll just slit your throat and toss you overboard."
Malvolio began to cry again.
The fourth day, to end the stink, Antonio had the crewman he liked second least gather barrels of seawater and a scrap of lye soap to throw on Malvolio to clean him up a bit, then made the mortified Puritan sit on deck stark naked, mocked by all the crew, while his garments dried in the sun.
Malvolio huddled against the aft castle, the lank black hair on his head clinging to his neck in wet strips, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Antonio passed him again and again as he roamed the deck trying to bully some sense into his pathetic crew. He had to admit the man sat there with far more dignity than expected, despite wearing nothing but his long, skinny, nearly hairless skin. After an hour or so Malvolio stopped trying to cover his privates, which were also long and skinny, but instead stared straight ahead as if daring someone to comment. After that, the mockery stopped.
Antonio paused to consider his troublesome cargo. Without his black clothes the man was as white as a marlin's underbelly. Clearly Malvolio had never worked outside in the sun, never done a lick of real work his entire life. Next to the leathery, ruddy crew and Antonio himself, he looked like a shivering blue-white ghost.
These court types, Antonio reflected, annoyed. He pried his gaze away. Sebastian's skin had been white, too, white as milk. But Malvolio was bony, sharp, made of angles, whereas Sebastian…
When he hauled the boy from the sea he'd run his hands over that white, white skin in search of broken bones, and noted with surprise the almost feminine softness. The boy had lain senseless in his arms, rousing at last to cough up seawater. He'd been unlike anyone Antonio had ever touched before, rare and strange; how he'd wanted to touch that skin again, feel it against his own roughness! He'd craved that touch, and he'd been close, so close to having him…
Suddenly vexed, Antonio tossed aside the piece of badly-mended sail he'd been examining and directed his gaze at the naked man. Courtier or not, pale or not, he was nothing like Sebastian.
He grabbed the drying clothes from the deck and flung them angrily at Malvolio. "Put these on."
Malvolio caught them but said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow as he began to dress in silence.
Antonio curled his lip. "What now? Are you pouting like a girl?"
"I don't know what you mean," sniffed Malvolio.
"Watch yourself, Puritan," Antonio retorted, "or I'll run you through and throw you overboard."
Malvolio shrugged. "Go ahead."
Antonio stared at him, his hand itching on the hilt of his sword. Then he turned and strode away.
Six days out of Illyria the cook went down with scurvy.
"You're cooking," Antonio said to Malvolio.
"You're taking over the cooking," he repeated, continuing over the start of a protest. "You're useless otherwise."
"But I can't–"
"You're a steward. Cook." To prevent further discussion he grabbed the outraged man by one skinny arm and dragged him into the galley. "Here. Make something for dinner."
"Stewards do not cook. They manage!"
"Then you'd best 'manage' to make dinner, or I'll cook you and make you a meal for the sharks."
He left the fuming Malvolio below, slamming the hatch as he left.
The stew Malvolio concocted lacked seasoning. It also lacked character or even recognizable ingredients, and what mysterious ingredients there were swam in a thin grayish soup. Still, it also lacked the revolting lake of grease that accompanied every meal prepared by the former cook, and possibly it was slightly less lethal.
"Not terrible." Antonio wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and tossed his spoon into the bowl. "It's official. You're the cook." He belched loudly to emphasize his approval.
"Oh goody." Malvolio made a moue of disgust and folded his arms. "Fine. Here are my terms."
"If I have to cook for you, I demand to sit here at the table like a human being."
"What makes you think you're a human being?"
Malvolio stuck his nose in the air and sniffed like every bloody aristocrat Antonio had ever encountered. "No table, no food."
"No cooking, no living," Antonio replied, driving his dirk into the table for emphasis. "I'll kill you right now."
"An empty threat," Malvolio retorted. "You'll likely starve to death if you kill me." He drew himself up. "Allow me to reiterate: I cook, I sit at the table."
"'Reiterate' this, you pompous ass!" Antonio glared. Malvolio glared back. Antonio scowled. Malvolio sneered. Finally Antonio broke the silence. "'I sit at the table…Captain.'"
"What?" Malvolio shrugged. "Oh, what you will."
Damn the arrogant bastard! "Fine."
"Fine." A hint of triumph quirked Malvolio's lips. For a moment Antonio thought it might be worth starving to death for the satisfaction of cutting the villain's throat.
Malvolio picked up the dirty bowl. "Now then," he said, smooth as honey, "would you like some tea…Captain?"
Three weeks out of Illyria they put in at a small port on the island of Corcyra for supplies, but mostly so Antonio could look for better crewmen. He'd already keelhauled the bosun, thrown the dead cook overboard and threatened the worst of them with walking the plank, but they were incapable of improvement.
Strangely, Malvolio was still alive. His cooking hadn't gotten much better, but no one had died of it yet, and these days he was the only person on board Antonio spoke to without drawing his sword. Certainly the man irritated, often infuriated him, but most of the time they treated each other with nothing worse than indifference. And there were other times, specifically mealtimes, when they sat across the captain's table from each other and actually talked. It had been some time since there'd been anyone else on board capable of forming a complete sentence, and Antonio had to concede that eating with someone else (especially someone whose manners were better than a pig's) was preferable to eating alone.
When Sebastian was aboard, he'd been infatuated with the very concept of a sailor's life and with Antonio himself, staring in wide-eyed admiration as Antonio spun mostly apocryphal tales of sea monsters and loose women and stolen treasures. But Sebastian hadn't had much to say himself. He wasn't a man, he was a boy, with a boy's experiences. Besides the sad story of his lost sister, Sebastian had few stories of his own to share. He hadn't lived – he hadn't a clue what real life was about. So Antonio talked, and Sebastian listened. It was tiring always having to talk about oneself.
Malvolio, on the other hand, was happy to spew on and on about himself, his lost glory, his importance, his learning, his horribly undeserved fate. He had opinions, most of which were different from Antonio's. No worshipful admiration here, oh no! The two argued over everything, from the meals Malvolio cooked to the way Antonio captained the ship, to the best way to exact revenge on an enemy (Antonio favored a direct stab to the gut; Malvolio preferred subtle thrusts to the spirit). Despite all this, he was a fair dinner companion, certainly more entertaining than Sebastian had ever been. And so, while Antonio threatened that every night might be Malvolio's last, somehow he hadn't killed the fool by the time the ship tied up at Corcyra.
Antonio leapt onto the dock, savoring the feel of stable ground under his feet. There was a fuss behind him, and when he turned to see what it was, he discovered Malvolio picking his way delicately down the shaky ramp, while the rest of the crew shouted epithets at him. Antonio blinked; his new cook had dusted, washed and mended his horrible black suit until it had achieved a shabby dignity. He'd tied back his stringy black hair and apparently used a kitchen knife to scrape his beard until his face was clean.
"Ooh, yer pretty!" shouted the bosun's mate, an impressively stupid Turk. "Give us a kiss!" Clearly the idiot had been away from girls too long.
"Don't come back!" called the powder monkey, a spotty Dalmatian youth who'd already lost most of his teeth. "Y'er bad luck!"
"Shut up!" Antonio bellowed, and the idiots backed up from the railing. Damn, but he needed a new crew! He strode over to Malvolio and pulled him the last few steps down the ramp, nearly making him trip. "Where the hell d'you suppose you're going, a fucking tea party?"
Malvolio wrenched his arm away. "A true gentleman knows you can never tell whom you might meet on the street."
"They don't have 'streets' here, in case you hadn't noticed, just ruts in the mud. You won't meet anyone here who'll give a tinker's dam how you're dressed."
"Nevertheless," Malvolio continued, "just because you choose to wear clothing of smelly leather and frayed rope and doublets with rips that show off your manly muscles, it doesn't mean a truly civilized person such as myself would be caught dead–"
"–I'll show you 'caught dead,' Puritan," Antonio growled. "And who told you you could leave the ship, anyway?"
"I thought you were supposed to cast me ashore, far from Illyria," said Malvolio sarcastically. "Or isn't this far enough?"
"I think I'd rather kill you at sea."
"Oh, please," Malvolio scoffed. "If you expect to eat again, you need someone to buy food for you and those mangy thugs you call sailors. Clearly I cannot leave the choice of supplies to you."
"What's wrong with what I buy, you insufferable prig?"
"What's wrong? What's right, you might well ask! Have you never seen a vegetable? A nice turnip? Some onions, or–"
They argued the entire way to the market, where Antonio handed over his purse, Malvolio purchased supplies, and the two of them ate lunch at what passed for a tavern in this backwater town.
Malvolio was not put off the ship at Corcyra, nor at Ambracia nor Leucas, where Antonio finally rid himself of the last of his terrible crew. By Cephalonia the weather had turned quite warm, so he left his human cargo at the food stalls and went off to buy a new, lighter-weight shirt, as his old one had become quite ragged despite Malvolio's mending. After a brief debate with himself he purchased a shirt for Malvolio, too, a crisp white one that could not possibly be the cause of any annoyance. And then he bought a pair of leather breeches which would last longer than the threadbare ones the Puritan had been wearing for the last two months.
Malvolio accepted the shirt without comment, but complained loudly that the breeches were uncomfortable and strangled his privates. Antonio offered to strangle him. Malvolio sulked, but wore the breeches, though he tugged at the seat and the crotch theatrically whenever Antonio was nearby.
The new crew of seasoned sailors, having no prior knowledge of Malvolios's circumstances, accepted him as their fellow crewman. And why not? These days when Malvolio appeared on deck with his uncut hair tied back, his white shirt rolled up at the sleeves to reveal newly-tanned skin, his leather breeches fitting his narrow frame perfectly (no matter what he said), he made a convincing approximation of a shipmate, albeit an extraordinarily neat one. As this crew didn't jeer and torment him, he in turn treated them no worse than footmen.
Even Antonio had to admit that letting Malvolio do the shopping had vastly improved the quality of their meals. "You manage the galley well," he acknowledged one evening at dinner.
"How thrilling," Malvolio said drily. "Never mind that. Where are you planning on dropping me off the ship?"
"I haven't decided yet," Antonio muttered, focusing his entire attention on the last scrapings of an already well-scraped bowl. "You're lucky I haven't dropped you overboard."
"Well," said Malvolio, suddenly whisking out a map and unrolling it on the table, "I have a suggestion. We're nearly at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. If we turn left here–"
"You mean 'to port'–"
"If we turn left, you can leave me at Corinth and I can easily find passage."
"Passage? A passage where?"
"Why, to Illyria, of course," Malvolio replied, clearly implying Antonio was an idiot. "Where else do you think I'd go?"
"But why would you want to go back to that hellhole? I mean…" Antonio felt his face heat. "We barely got out of there alive – why would you want to return? You're not still pining for that woman!"
"Of course not. To exact revenge on her, on the Duchess Olivia and her minions. I thought you of all people would understand that."
"Of course I understand revenge, Puritan. I practically invented it. But why waste it on a woman?"
Malvolio barked with laughter. "Are you joking? She rejected me, she humiliated me, she tortured me, and why? All because I dared love her!"
"Then she wasn't worth your love, idiot." Antonio pulled the napkin from his neck, the one Malvolio insisted he use at mealtimes, and threw it on the table. "She was too young for you anyway."
"Too young? Ridiculous! I'm barely thirty-nine, and she was thirty-two."
"First of all, I know that's a lie, you're over forty, and she wasn't twenty-eight. But that's exactly my point. Let a man take a woman older than himself – then the baggage'll be grateful to you and won't give you moment's trouble. Well, 'til she gets old and saggy and you have to get rid of her."
"You really are a barbarian," said Malvolio, sitting back and regarding Antonio with disdain. "Handing out bits of 'pirate wisdom' about women when you can't even get one yourself."
Antonio shrugged. "Don't want one. Don't like 'em."
"Oho. Well. I'm not surprised, of course. It was that boy, wasn't it, the effeminate one."
"Don't talk about him."
"Sauce for the goose, sauce for the–" Malvolio caught Antonio's darkening expression and waved a hand airily. "I don't know what you see in them. Young boys are so…awful. Unformed. Unmanly. Spotty."
"Sebastian didn't have spots."
"I thought we weren't talking about him. Still, you're what, thirty-eight? Thirty-nine?"
"Thirty-five," Antonio gritted between his teeth. "What's your point?"
"Whatever your preferences, you're still alone, Captain. So don't give me advice about love." With that Malvolio swept the map off the table. "And I still want to disembark at Corinth." He turned and strode towards the galley.
"How're you going to pay for passage, eh?" Antonio called after him, but Malvolio had already shut the door. Antonio stared at the trifle Malvolio had made for dessert. He picked it up and flung it out the porthole.
The next morning, on a whim, Antonio decided to abandon the Greek coast. He turned right at Corinth and headed into the open waters toward Sicilia.
The seas were rough, and a sudden gale blew in. Though the ship weathered it well several of the men went down with fever, Malvolio among them. The crew immediately began to complain about the substitute cook's meals. Mutiny loomed. The ship's carpenter, who had once assisted a surgeon, drew Antonio down to the dank nook where Malvolio made his quarters. It was a source of some irritation to Antonio that more than once over the past four months he'd offered the man a berth with the rest of the crew, but Malvolio had steadfastly refused to take quarters that were beneath him.
As he'd been told, Malvolio was in a pitiful state, shaking with the ague, his skin burning with fever. "I've given 'im a powder, sir," said the carpenter, "and a poultice, too. But this place is damp, ye' see, and like as not he'll die." The man leaned closer and whispered. "I don't think the crew would like that, sir."
"Bugger the crew," Antonio groused. "All right. Hang a hammock in my quarters and move him. It's dry there, and warm."
The carpenter peered at him out of the corner of his eye but said nothing but "aye, cap'n," and went to do his bidding. Once moved into Antonio's quarters it seemed only natural that the sick man take the bunk while the captain made do with the hammock. For three days and nights Antonio nursed him with cold compresses and hot draughts of medicine, until Malvolio's complexion turned from gray pallor to his usual sallow.
They'd been blown off course toward the boot of Italy and by the time they anchored at Tarentum Malvolio had completely recovered his health and insufferable attitude. He returned to his duties, much to the relief of the crew, but somehow remained where he was now quartered. He also remained in the captain's bunk, the firmness of which he required for his posture. As for Antonio, he slept in the hammock, though it was slightly too short for his frame.
"Look here," Malvolio said as he and Antonio headed down the street into Tarentum to purchase supplies, "has it occurred to you to haul cargo instead of scavenging old wrecks and attacking smaller ships? We'd make more money that way."
"What's this 'we?'"
"Fine. If this is the way you want to remain, ignorant and penniless, with no future, so be it. But speaking as someone who has had the manage of a vast estate, who is schooled in mathematics and commerce, who knows–"
"Will you please shut up?"
"Will you please listen?"
Antonio knotted his fists in frustration. His head had begun to hurt. "All right! I'm listening! What is it?"
"Thank you. I spoke to a salt merchant back on the pier and agreed to deliver his cargo to Catania when we sail tomorrow."
"You what?" Antonio sputtered. "You've no right to mess in my business! I've killed men for less!"
"Of course you have. Anyway, he agreed to pay two hundred ducats." Antonio's mouth dropped open. "Two hundred more if we can have it there in a fortnight. I told him of course we can do it." A momentary expression of doubt crossed Malvolio's face. "We can do it, can't we?"
"Two hundred? And two hundred more?"
"I told you it's far more lucrative than piracy," Malvolio concluded smugly. He took a heavy purse from his pocket and poured out a few coins, which he handed to Antonio. "Buy yourself a new belt," he ordered. "You look disgraceful."
Antonio sat on a piling at the end of the dock nursing his headache, staring morosely into the murky water, trying to figure out how his life had gone so horribly off course.
Down the other end of the pier his newly-refitted ship waited, cargo holds filled with salt for Catania, silk for the Countess of Agrigento and a block of marble for the new palace going up in Reggio. The purse tied to his new silver-buckled belt contained a vast amount of gold, a sum that eclipsed that given him by Orsino. He had money. He had status. He had a good crew. He also had an annoying, bossy, opinionated cook-business manager-Puritan who now apparently was running his life.
Antonio pinched the bridge of his nose, but his headache remained. "Fucking Illyria."
The ship's new second gunner stood waiting, cap in hand. He was a fresh-faced lad, nice looking – almost pretty. Antonio waited to feel a familiar surge of lust, but nothing happened. Odd. "What is it?"
"Captain, we're ready to set sail. The first mate thought we should get an early–"
"Whoa, whoa, wait there. The first mate?"
Antonio scratched his beard. "The ship doesn't have a first mate, sailor."
"But, sir…of course it does," the sailor said, looking perplexed. "Malvolio's the first mate, sir."
"Yessir. I mean, isn't he? We, the men, we've always thought…" He swallowed noisily. "What I mean to say, sir, is, I know he does your cooking, but he's also in charge of the ship, isn't he, Captain? And he has the run of the ship, and he's quartered in your…" The boy blushed furiously. "That is, he must be your first mate…I mean, we all assumed…"
"Assumed…" Antonio said faintly, waving the sailor away. He got up in a daze and staggered towards his ship. That Malvolio! Oh, he was like a mate all right, a nagging, opinionated, intrusive mate. "Picks out my clothes," he muttered, coming abreast of the ship. "Corrects my manners, sets my course, chooses my business, cooks my meals, mends my shirts, orders me around, sleeps in my–"
He stopped dead with one foot on the ladder, his eyes opening wide.
Malvolio was rearranging the personal items on the captain's desk the way Antonio had told him never, ever to do again, don't even dust them, when the door slammed open. "For heaven's sake," Malvolio protested, "can't you come into a room without making such a–"
"Be quiet." Malvolio shut his mouth but sniffed haughtily. Antonio closed the door and moved across the small chamber until they were nearly nose to nose. "The thing is," he growled, "you are the most annoying person I have ever met in my life."
"Hah! Well, you're no–"
"Shut up! From the moment you came on board this ship you have done nothing but irritate me, with your changes and your cleaning and your 'eat this,' 'wear this,' 'do this,' 'don't do this.' You never give me a minute's peace! Whenever I'm talking–"
"You're the one who–"
"–you interrupt me. You've taken over my ship. You've taken over my business. You've taken over my life." Antonio's voice rose to a shout. "You've taken over my bed!"
"You invited me here!"
Antonio slammed his fist against the bulkhead beside Malvolio's head. "I didn't invite you to turn my whole life upside down! I never wanted a passenger! I never wanted a Puritan! I never wanted a first mate! And I never, ever wanted a fucking wife!"
"A wife?" Malvolio shouted back, his eyes wild. "Now I'm your wife? I. Am. Not. Your. Wife!"
"Aren't you? You cook, clean, run my 'house,' act like the crew are your servants, nag me, make me buy you things, order me around, annoy me, control my money, tell me what to wear, who to see, where to go, make all my decisions, give me no peace, distract me so much I don't even look at boys any more! – of course you're my wife, Malvolio!" His hands knotted in the front of Malvolio's shirt. "We do everything except fuck!"
"We–!" Malvolio closed his mouth.
A stunned silence fell between them.
Antonio released his hold on Malvolio's shirt and carefully smoothed the wrinkles.
Malvolio's breath hitched. He tugged on the crotch of his breeches.
"I see," said Malvolio evenly. "And what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm not entirely sure." Antonio cleared his throat. "Do, ah, do you have any ideas?"
"Of course," replied Malvolio. "For one thing, we're going to need a bigger bed."