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The Pirate and The Prince

Chapter Text

When Frankie opened his eyes, everything was complete darkness. He tried to move, but his wrists were bound firmly behind his back. His mouth was dry, and he vaguely wondered how long he had been unconscious. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw that he was in a cell.

Slowly, his memories returned to him. The last thing that Frankie remembered was exploring the cove when he heard strange echoes. Then he was being pinned down, gagged, and knocked unconscious.

It was his own damn fault. Frankie had been warned never to stray too far from the palace. He and Ari, his twin sister, always had to be escorted by no less than two guards whenever they wanted to go down to the shore. How many times had he been warned never to wander alone?

Frankie tried to vomit, but his stomach was empty. He ended up gasping for air as the uncertainty of his fate hung like a knife above his neck. For a heart wrenching moment, he wondered if he would be executed. Then Frankie remembered that a Prince was worth more gold alive than dead. What could be gained from his death?

But pirates were not logical creatures. They were brutal beasts controlled by nothing but raw impulses like lust and greed. Frankie thought of the horror stories about raping and pillaging and murder that his nanny had told him, and he dry heaved once more.

He tried to find something to gauge where he was or who had captured him. All Frankie had discovered after ten minutes of crawling around his cell was that the space was void of any blood stains. Then he remembered how some pirates liked to watch their prisoners drown instead. It was cleaner to send him down to davy jones's locker.

Frankie slumped against the wall as he awaited his fate and cried. As tears fell, he sang an old song to calm himself:

"Take me, take me down to the shore

Where you'll find a new golden oar.

Row me, row me down to the sea

where you'll find our love can be free-"

Frankie stopped singing as the door burst open, and two men filed in. They were young, although covered with dirt and scars, and he could tell from their stature and ragged clothing that these were pirates. He wanted to curl up into a protective ball, but Frankie rose up onto his knees instead and stared his jailors straight in the eyes.

"Ay, the captain's right. Got ourselves an odd song bird. He's got chin whiskers like a man but lips that look softer than a women's. Wonder what he's got down below-"

"Shush! Caleb, you heard the Captain's orders. If we touch a pretty hair then he'll cut off our balls and feed them to the alligators. Here, songbird, eat up," they dropped a bucket full of questionable contents in front of him, "who knows when you'll eat again?"

They turned to leave and Frankie found his voice:  "Excuse me! I am the crowned prince of the county of Grande Fratelli. My people are descended from the ancient line of-"

"Oh, we know who ye are well enough. Grande scum," one spit into the bucket.

"Then you must know of the vast wealth that my family possesses. Queen Joan would offer to pay your weight in gold in order to have me safely returned. My sister would sing you praise if you-"

"Ain't interested in none o' that."

They slammed the door and left Frankie alone again in the dark. He kicked the bucket, and the slop spilled onto the floor. The pirates had turned down his offer for immeasurable gold without even a blink. If not ransom...then what did they want from him?

As the hours wore on, his pride started to slip away. Frankie was used to dining on lavish meals, and his stomach twisted in pain. He tried to lick the slop from the floor, but it had seeped into the floorboards. The men hadn't been thoughtful enough to leave him a means to relieve his bladder either. Frankie shuddered as he felt the urge make his knees shake, and he stained his clothes. He felt disgusting, but he wouldn't allow himself to cry because that was what they wanted.

He passed out on the floor. When he woke up, he was dizzy from dehydration and disoriented. The door creaked opened, and he saw black boots and silk stockings approach where he was laying. There was a hand in his hair, stroking it, and Frankie shuddered at the affection.

"How is my little princeling? My sailors tell me that you have done nothing but sleep and sing all day and night."

"As- as opposed to doing what? I've been bound and humiliated for a purpose that I can not determine" Frankie's voice cracked as he tried to lift his head up, "I can offer you nothing but the promise of gold or perhaps salvation."

"Salvation? What the fuck does that mean?" the man lifted Frankie by the roots of his hair.

"Do you not yearn to be sent to heaven? If-if I can not tempt you and your men with riches then what more could you want?" Frankie was shaking as the man held him firmly by his hair like a dog. His face was burning in humiliation at being treated so lowly.  

Frankie looked into those dark eyes, hoping to find compassion, but he saw nothing but his own pale face reflected back in the captain's irises. Frankie was certain that this was the captain despite his youth and scarless skin because there was an air to him that the other men had not possessed. Authority. Arrogance.

"Such naivety, princeling. Heaven? Did you ever hear about any great pirates going to heaven? No, there'll be none of this 'salvation' for Captain Rance. Give me hell- it'll mean I achieved something with my wretched life."

"Then what more could I offer you?"

"Oh, I know what you'll give me. Whether or not you'll offer it to me is another thing," Captain Rance's voice was low, and he used his free hand to run against Frankie's bottom lip. Frankie's eyes widened as he recalled stories of defiled maidens, and he wondered if this man would wanted to use him in the same way.

Frankie spit onto Captain Rance's face and narrowed his eyes in defiance.

Rance only wiped the spit from his cheek and laughed.

"Hmm, feisty. You have hot blood just like a pirate...I like that. I'm glad we got you and not that docile sister of yours. But it wouldn't be hard to break you, princeling. I've broken men stronger and older and smarter than you. I've watched them reduced to nothing but miserable piles of pathetic, pleading flesh....will that be necessary?"

"What do-do you want from me?"

"You'll find out your purpose soon enough. Shhh, don't tremble. We need you alive. But...but we also need you obedient. Will you obey me?"

"My only rulers are my Queen and god. I do not obey any others. Especially not low-blooded pirates."

"Great bunch of rulers you've picked! None of them have managed to save you yet," Rance snarled and pushed him back to the ground, "Perhaps a week more in the cell will change your mind? Might bring your majesty down a couple pegs and back down to us common folk."

Frankie froze at the thought of another week here. His whole body was sore from having his hands twisted behind his back, and he craved food and water. Captain Rance was walking away, and Frankie couldn't believe that he had already been reduced to begging with his captors.

"W-wait! Please, do you have no honor?" Captain Rance paused at his words, "My Nonna used to tell me that if you beat a pirate at hand to hand combat that they would let you go. I challenge you to a duel."

"A challenge? You think it's wise to challenge a pirate?"

"I've been dueling since I was a child. I could beat you. Easily."

Captain Rance smirked, "You really think you could take me in a fight?"

"I know that I could take you in a fight. If you play fair," Frankie was confident.

He could see the glimmer of interest in the Captain's eyes, and Frankie knew that he had hooked him. For a moment, Frankie felt his heart swell with hope. It was just like the stories where the noble prince would defeat the dastardly pirate and prove his worth.

"So if you win then we will return you to your family. But if I win...?" Captain Rance pulled a small pocket knife out of his pocket and toyed with it. Frankie, whose wrists ached, grew eager at the sight.

"What is it you want?"

"You know what I want."

"You- you will have my, uh, my obedience if you win. If you win," Frankie choked out the words in disgust as his cheeks burned with humiliation.

He hated lying. How could he ever owe allegiance to anything as baseless and vile as a pirate? Pirate were the scum of the earth. A prince was more likely to give his loyalty to the dirt than a pirate.

Captain Rance reached down and undid the bounds around his hands, and Frankie flexed his fingers in relief. He scampered to his feet only to stumble and find himself pressed far too close to the Captain for his liking.

Frankie pushed him away and leaned against the wall for a moment to try and steady himself : "How is it fair that I have to fight in this condition? If you were a gentleman than you would offer me a couple days of rest."

"I'm a pirate not a fucking gentleman. Consider yourself lucky I even gave you a deal instead of just starving you into obedience. Come, your majesty, I don't have all day to wait on you.

Frankie found his footing and tried to hide the beating of his heart as he walked up to the main deck behind Rance. His palms were sweaty as he observed the dirty, rugged men that surrounded them. Frankie was surprised to observe that the Captain was by far the youngest man here, and, instead of making Frankie confident, he felt as though he was walking into a trap. What had made these men swear their allegiance to a young man as cocky and arrogant as this?

"Cody, give Grande your sword. We're going to fight like 'gentlemen'," the crowd roared with raucous laughter as Frankie was thrown a weapon, "And we'll see who should kneel before the other. Like my sword, princeling?

"Who did you steal it from?," Frankie snarled as he observed how the golden handle was engraved with rubies and diamonds. The blade gleamed in the sun, and Frankie's expert eye could detect that this was a finely crafted weapon. Frankie bit his lip as he weighed all his disadvantages- poor health, weak weapon, and nerves- and he could see from Rance's easy stance that he already considered this fight over.

"Whenever you feel ready, princeling" Rance teased.

Frankie attacked his exposed left side, and Rance was barely able to stop his blows. Rance's eyes widened in disbelief as Frankie easily advanced on him. Frankie swiped his legs and sent the man sprawling to the floor as the crowd 'oh'ed in excitement.

Frankie pressed the tip of his sword to Rance's exposed throat, "I am the crowned prince. Not a 'prince-ling.' You shall refer to me by my proper title."

"Very well, crown-prince. We fight the best two out of three. I-I did not expect you to be so..."

"Strong? I warned you."

"And I won't fucking underestimate you again," Rance grumbled as he stood back to his feet and held up his sword.

He did not go easy on Frankie. Frankie, who didn't have the advantage of surprise, found himself falling onto the defensive. He took a step back as Rance cut a mark in his arm. This time it was the Captain who had a sword pressed to his throat. Rance smiled with childish glee as Frankie raised his hands in surrender.

"Last round," Frankie announced even as he felt blood dripping down his arm, "ready?"

"At your command, my mighty prince," Rance said with mock sweetness as he aimed a vicious blow at his chest that Frankie easily blocked.

They were dancing around each other, eyes locked, and Frankie had never felt so alive. The kiss of his sword against Rance's felt less like war and more like an intricate dance. The world behind them was distant to the intimate tango they were locked in. Every stroke felt satisfying, and Frankie never had to be afraid that Rance wasn't keeping up. They were equals.

Frankie could have gone forever, but exhaustion overtook the initial burst of adrenaline. He fell to the ground as Rance's sword knocked him off balance.

The crowds cheered their Captain's name as sharp metal pressed to Frankie's throat. He raised his hands in surrender, sword clanging to the ground, as he tried to catch his breathe.

"Pao. Victoria. I don't need the prince bleeding to death on my deck- take him to my bed chambers."

Chapter Text

The women filled a tub with boiling water and helped him take off his clothes. The one with dark hair giggled at the sight of him naked, but Frankie wasn't self conscious in front of serving wenches. Frankie, who was used to bathing everyday, was eager to scrub away the filth.

"You're our prince?" Victoria squealed as she wrapped a bandage over his wound. Frankie thought of dismissing her, but he could use the favor of the servants.

"Yes, I am...Would you like to see my royal cross?"

"C-could we, your majesty?"

Frankie nodded and motioned for them to bring him his clothes. He opened the top pocket and took out the necklace that had been bestowed to him at birth. Victoria and Pao gasped and admired the diamonds embedded on the golden cross, and the way his name had been carved into the back in elegant letters.

"I never go anywhere without it. There are only four in existence. My parents, my sister, and I all have one. Put it on me," Frankie commanded. He felt in his element. Victoria blushed, fingertips trembling, as she leaned over to clasp the necklace around him.

"Thank you," Frankie smiled at her and leaned in to kiss her cheek. He had no interest in sleeping with her, but he loved flirting. He might need her in the future.

"Seducing my servants? Git you two." Captain Rance growled, and the women scurried out the door after polite bows.

Frankie scratched at his bandages and observed Rance out of the corner of his eye. He had a haughtiness about him that came with youth and power, but there was more there than met the eye. He was also quite handsome when he stopped strutting, Frankie begrudgingly admitted.

"See something you like, songbird?"

"I was wondering if I could...uh -how should I put it?- if I could have some clothes. Mine are filthy and covered in blood and other bodily fluids."

Rance picked up Frankie's clothes, looked them over, and shrugged: "They're cleaner than most of the crew's."

"Yes, I know. But those are just pirates, and I am-"

"The princess of the fucking world. I know how special you imagine yourself to be just because of the blood in your veins. You look at all of us and see nothing but scum. I know. But guess what princess? It is on the good will of this fucking piece of scum that you still have that precious blood inside you. So get dressed."

Frankie had a lot of things he could have said to that, but he bit his tongue. No use in arguing with someone this thick headed. He stood up,water droplets falling down his toned stomach, and went to pick up his clothes. Frankie felt eyes on his bare backside.

"See something you like, captain?"

"Shut up. Here." A large shirt was thrown at him, and Frankie swallowed as he realized that this was Rance's shirt. Frankie started to say thank you, but he stopped himself. Rance had probably picked a shirt with lice on it, Frankie thought even though it smelled clean.

Frankie looked around the room, but there was only one bed. So he perched himself on the edge and pretended that he wasn't waiting for some sort of instruction. Frankie was probably going to be forced to sleep next to the ashy hearth.

"Do you want a formal invitation, princess? Get in."

Princess? Princeling? Songbird? If these nicknames were supposed to be grating then they were doing their job. Frankie gritted his teeth so to prevent himself from telling this pirate exactly what he thought of him. Sleeping in the same bed as Rance was the equivalent of sleeping in a sty for pigs. Yet, he had no choice, and it was warm beneath the covers.

"Sing me a song."

"What?"

"You heard me. You gave me your full obedience. And I want a song. So you will give it to me," Rance ordered as he kicked off his boots and lay a foot away from him.

The Grandes were renowned throughout the known world for their voices. It was said that his sister had been born singing instead of crying. Frankie didn't believe such ridiculous wive's tales but the lesser folk would crowd around the palace during the holiday's to hear them sing at the balcony. Kings and queens and dukes and earls would pay immeasurable amounts of gold for a single song.

"I don't sing on command," Frankie snapped. He couldn't believe that this was even being negotiated. This was ridiculous, and he hoped that no one would ever hear of how their crowned prince was being treated no better than a common mutt.

"You gave me your obedience, remember? Your full obedience. And I asked for a song. Or did you lie to me when you made that promise?"

"The Grande voice is renowned throughout the Kingdoms. It is a treasure. You think that I would really sing for someone like y-"

Rance rolled over and grabbed him by the throat, body pressed firmly against his, and stared him straight in the eye. Frankie shuddered at his touch.

"If it is a treasure then I have stolen it. You are mine, and you will do as I say. Sing," he growled. His hands were still wrapped tightly around Frankie's throat, and Frankie felt vulnerable. There was no one on this boat who would come to his rescue if he screamed, and he couldn't take Rance without a sword in his arms. Frankie looked at those arm muscles, bulging with strength, and he was sure that Rance could easily choke him to death. It didn't make sense to kill him over a simple song, but pirates were vile creatures that were prone to bouts of madness.

"What- what song do you want?"

Rance's hands were still around his neck, but they became less threatening and more possessive.  

"That one about that the sky and the diamonds. Do you know it?"

"Th-that's a lullaby. A lullaby for peasants! I've been trained by the church to sing prayers and odes and-"

"But I like it. Sing for me," Rance's voice was nothing but a whisper. For some reason, the soft words frightened him more than the screaming. Frankie just felt so tired, and if this crazy man wanted a lullaby then he would have a lullaby.

I hate you, Frankie thought.

"Hush, my dear, and don't you fret.

The sun comes back after it's set.

Hush, my dear, and don't you cry.

Mother will steal for you the sky.

Hush, my dear, and don't you bawl.

Stars are diamonds- free for all."

As Frankie sang, Rance's fingers left his throat and slipped higher so they were rubbing against his cheek. The feeling of those rough, calloused hands caressing his face was pleasant, but Frankie moved away as one brushed against his earlobe. Rance asked for him to sing it again, and Frankie did. The third time that Frankie sang, he cried silently. He remembered when he had first sung this song that he had been visiting some village and Ari was by his side. His heart ached for his sister. Did she think that he was dead? Were there men on sea and land searching for him?

"Again," Rance's voice, which had been fearsome minutes ago, sounded like a little boy's. He was looking up at Frankie with such a soft expression that Frankie couldn't recognize him. Frankie obliged not only because he had no choice but he was also curious. Why did a pirate like lullabies so much?

Rance's eyes became heavy as Frankie finished his song. Frankie, without being asked, sang it once more. The man's breathing became even, and he looked even younger in sleep. Frankie wondered if he should smother him, but he wasn't sure what the crew would do to him if he did. Besides, Frankie was a prince...not a murderer.

He fell asleep with thoughts of his family still weighing heavily on his mind, and his own fate uncertain.

---------------

Frankie couldn't find a free moment in the days that followed. Everybody wanted to touch him, look at his diamond cross, or listen to him sing a song. Men, with long shaggy beards and peg legs, would follow him around begging to hear just a single note. Anything would do. Frankie refused, and his heart hurt a little when an old man, Donny, apologized for asking him.

"I didn't mean to bother yee. No, sir, not me. I jus' wanted to hear a little song. I heard Victoria say yew sing for the Captain every night until he falls asleep."

"That's different. He won me- my voice. I lost to him in a duel," Frankie blushed when he realized how odd that sounded. After that, young men on the crew kept challenging him to fights in order to win a song. Caleb and Cody, in particular, begged him every morning to duel with them.

"Please, prince, sire. Please, your majesty. I'll give you a pair of my finest and cleanest underwear," Caleb put his hands together. Frankie struggled not to roll his eyes as he ran a hand through his dark hair. He had never been around so many coarse folk in his life, and he had to adjust to their way of speaking.  

"You called me 'scum' a couple nights ago. I owe you nothing nor do I want your...undergarments."

"I apologized for that already, sire. It’s just a expression. A sort of ‘figure of speech?’ Please," Caleb whined.

"Okay, okay. But just one fight. And don't tell anyone else I promised you that."

Frankie borrowed Cody's sword and defeated Caleb with only one well placed hit. For the rest of the morning, everyone on board begged him to battle them. Captain Rance, who noticed the commotion, came onto the deck and screamed at everyone to get back to work.

"'S not fair, Captain! You get to hear the crowned prince sing in your private bedchambers every night. I would sell my foot to the devil to hear dat," Caleb spat, bitter at losing, and everyone agreed.

"Is that what this is all about? Grande- come here. Sing the crew something merry so they shut the hell up," Rance commanded as he grabbed him by the arm to stand atop a crate. Frankie gave him a sharp look, and Rance released his tight hold on his arm. Frankie knew better than to disobey him when he was in one of his moods so he gave the crew a simple tune.

"Good?" Frankie finished.

"Good," Rance smiled and reached over to adjust his shirt, which was baggy on Frankie because he had been wearing Rance's clothing for the past couple of days. The rest of the crew watched them wearily and Cody mockingly whistled.

"Back to work! The useless lot of you. If you can't beat a prissy prince, whose hands are free from callouses, in a fight then you don't be deserving to hear no songs," he barked and went off to talk with Derrick- the ship's navigator.

Frankie had been doing investigating, and he had discovered from Victoria that the boat was on course for the Echoing Isles. The servants were just as confused as him as to why Frankie had not been sold for ransom, but Caleb and Cody, Rance's henchmen, only shook their heads when questioned.

-----------------

Frankie ate dinner with Rance in his private quarters, and he didn't want to admit that he liked his company. When they were alone, Rance became more soft spoken, and he was less likely to lash out. They avoided serious subjects at the start so Frankie would just amuse them with stories of palace life. Court politics had taught Frankie the art of pleasing, and he had always been skilled in keeping conversation flowing. Rance laughed at his jokes and was endlessly amused by every one of his stories.

“We’ve actually met before,” Rance admitted to him on the fifth night as they finished up their meal. Frankie looked up, surprised at the revelation, but unsure how they could have met before now.

“You mean you saw me singing on some balcony? Or I waved to you in my carriage?”

Rance shook his head and continued his story: “No, no we’ve met before. The first time, I was ten and you were fourteen. You were wearing a suit that was all white silk like some sort of angel. Every girl at the manor wanted to ask you for a dance-”

“Wait! Where was this and how did you get into a party? You must have been there serving the food or...?”

“No. I was invited. My father was a squire and owned substantial amounts of land-”

“You were part of the nobility? You? But you’re...” Frankie trailed off in surprise. He had never thought of Rance as having a past other than that of poverty. Yet, Rance could read, write, and do large sums better than any peasant could so it made some sense that he had been part of the upper class.

“...A pirate? People aren't born with their occupations, Grande. Anyways, I had been invited as only an afterthought. It was a pity invitation. My father had died serving overseas in the war, and my mother was sick. So they invited me to come in their place. I was so sure that if I just saw the prince and told him how my father had always been a loyal patriot that he would give me money to pay for a doctor. I had only one suit, and it was too small for me. I kept pulling down my pants all night to hide my ankles. But I believed. My mother had told me that ‘good little boys’ always got their rewards, and I was sure that the prince would help me. You were so handsome, and you looked just like a prince from a fairytale...”

“Did I help you?” Frankie asked after a long pause, and he couldn't remember what event that Rance was talking about. The parties after the war had ended, all full of flowing skirts and tables laden with food, blurred in his mind.

No. No, you told me that I was a very good little boy, who had a bright future ahead of him, and that with the grace of god my mother would recover. She died the next morning. I was forced to sell the estate to pay the bills and apprenticed to a sailor after that.”

It was silent in the cabin. Frankie tried to picture Rance as a young, shaking boy begging for his help, but he couldn’t. It was a ridiculous image. Frankie wondered if he should apologize, but he couldn't have known that Rance would lose everything. There had been hundreds of boys across the land whose fathers had never returned after the war or whose mothers had been sold into prostitution. There had been hundreds of girls that had asked for his hand in marriage in hopes of escaping the debts that would bring down their families. Rance had been like every other small child that had come to hold his hand and thought that his touch was magic.

“Would you like me to apologize? It seems you blame me for your lost faith in god and government.”

“You couldn't have done much the first time,” Rance said.

“The first time? When did we met again?,” Frankie pried, but Rance only picked up their plates and went off to take them to the kitchen. When Frankie asked more about his early life, Rance refused and asked him for a song instead.

Knowing a little bit more of where he had come from did humanize him a little, but Frankie could only only occupy his mind with finding an escape. He had dreams of liberation. If he could only get off this boat and reveal himself then Frankie was sure that he would be received warmly by the locals who loved him.

"Why did you tell me that story?"  Frankie asked the next night.

"Because I want you to understand how dangerous running away is.You think that you can just walk into town, be hailed a hero, and ride off to the palace? The common folk hate you and your family’s lavish lifestyle. If they knew who you were then they would kill you.”

“That’s a lie. The good people love the royalty.”

“They love you when life is easy, and they can happily sing along to your songs with a cup full of ale. But what happens when the taxes are high and the crops are low? What happens when there are too many famines and not enough coins to rub together to keep warm? Caleb is not the only one who mutters ‘Grande Scum’ below his breathe.”

“Lies,” he muttered.

Frankie was sick of talking. The more he talked with his captor the more he was reminded of how the boat was taking him farther away from home to gods-knows-where. At any moment, a storm could come and bury him below the frigid waters, and he would never see his family again. Rance just wanted to scare him away from escaping, but Frankie's allegiance was only to his country. He could never obey a pirate.  

 

Chapter Text

It was on the tenth night that Frankie picked up the courage to confront Rance. Frankie had enough of polite smiles, thinly veiled threats, and the constant uncertainty of what was to happen. Behind closed doors, the Captain wasn't nearly as fearsome as he appeared to be. When Frankie sang to him, he became pliant and sweet.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"You just did."

"Funny. Haven't heard that one before," Frankie snorted as he took off his pants and slipped under the covers. It wasn't like this was the first time that he had shared a bed with someone, he and Ari would bunk together all the time, but this felt different. More intimate. Zach responded to the intimacy with biting sarcasm, but Frankie could see behind the defense mechanism that there was a scared, little boy.

"Ask away, your highness. Have things here not been to your liking? I told Victoria that she had my permission to bear your royal children. Were you two picking out baby names this morning? Looked cozy."

"Hardly. I'm not making any bastard children, Rance. My only true marriage is to my country," Frankie said casually. He wondered if Rance had overheard the plans that he had made with Victoria. She had reluctantly agreed that -if given the opportunity- she would help Frankie escape.

"How would you even consummate a marriage to your country? Stick your prick in a sacred hole or suck the ambassador's balls?"

"You have such a fine way with words, Rance. Your eloquent use of language almost belies your crass dealer. They'd love you back at the palace court. You won any girl's heart with your poetry?" Frankie teased. In the back of his mind, he was amazed at how comfortable he had had become with his captor. If this had been the first night then he would have been afraid to throw such cutting remarks, but he had seen Rance fall asleep enough times to feel at ease.

Rance shrugged and seemed uninterested in the change of conversation: "Wenches need to be wooed, and I don't have any time for those games. I prefer the company of my crew. What was your question?"

"Touchy topic? Had your heart broken before?"

"Grande," he gave him a warning stare.

"Rance."

"The question."

"Alright, I’ve grown tired with being treated like a fragile toy that must be put on the highest shelf. You take me out at night, blow off the dust, and make me sing for you like a cheap trinket. Will you just talk to me like a human and tell me when you're going to let me go? All the pirates I've heard about are for 'Gold, Gin, and Good Women!' I can’t understand how I could fit into this life of debauchery. Hire yourself a painted whore to warm your beds and sing you songs because I am the prince of this land. Not your courtesan."

"Wrong. I don't want gold or gin or good women. Well, gold is alright, but it is not what I would die for."

"Then what do you want, Rance?"

"Glory," Rance said the words reverently. It rolled off his tongue like a prayer that he had been repeating to himself for years. Frankie idly played with necklace as he spoke with him, and found himself enjoying the lazy bantering. In the court, Frankie’s actions would have been scrutinized, but pirates cared not if he spoke out of turn.

“And what do I have to do with glory?”

“You’ll see soon enough. But I need your full obedience before I can tell you. What would happen if you ran away from me and spread my secrets?”

Frankie bit his lip in frustration. He just wanted to go to sleep in this bed of furs and blankets, but Frankie knew what he needed to do before then.

"What do you want for me to sing tonight, oh-glorious-one? Another lullaby? An ode to your ego?"

"Sing me your favorite song."

"My favorite...?" Frankie paused. Rance was looking up at him with a soft glimmer in his eyes that made Frankie uncomfortable, and he inched away from the pirate's gaze. Frankie considered singing his actual favorite, but he would rather sing something to mock his captor.

"There once was a pirate named Rance

who walked 'round his ship with no pants.

The men would all stare

for nothing was there

that would impress more than than mere ants"

"You're quite...clever, aren't you? One of the cleverest and funniest people that I've ever known" Rance genuinely laughed. Frankie's taunting poem hadn't given him the rise that he had wanted. Frankie only crossed his arms and turned away. It was silent, as Rance leaned over to blow out the candles, and the darkness was a welcome sight.

------------

When Frankie woke up alone and saw that the door had been locked, he was sure that today was the day that he would escape. He could hear the sounds of the harbor, and he knew that most of the crew would have left to go and get more supplies.

"I'm sorry" Victoria squeaked as she cracked open the lock. There were tears running down her pale face, and she was trembling.

"Don't apologize. When I get back to my throne, I will not forget this brave deed that you have done for me. Your good faith will be rewarded just as all these others will be punished," Frankie promised her. He wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Your majesty, please. I'm sorry. So, so sorry."

"Your fear for me is noble, but I have to try. A prince thinks of his people before himself, and I could not stay put with good conscious."

Victoria shook her head as Frankie slipped out of Rance's room and into the daylight. Frankie knew that there were flaws in his plan. The only part that had been fleshed out was convincing Victoria to use her keys to unlock Rance's door for him. The rest was up to fate. Frankie was lucky that there was no one on deck when he left, and he was able to slip out of the ship.

He uneasily walked down the cobble streets, and Frankie wasn't sure who would help him. Normal citizens didn't have the time or means to save him. Frankie couldn't even walk up to the authorities or high ranking nobles and reveal his identity because he wasn't sure how he would be received. Rance’s and Victoria’s words, which he had dismissed, echoed as a warning.

The Grande family, an old and honorable lineage, had many enemies. If Frankie revealed himself to the nobility then he may risk arrest as a political hostage. Ironically enough, he would have to rely on pirates, who obeyed no laws, to take him back to his palace.

So Frankie marched down to the first pub. He glanced over his shoulder, and he was nervous that he was being followed. Or maybe it was just his paranoia. He entered the dank hole where pirates and sailors gathered, and he felt himself shrink in fear.  Frankie was a naturally confident man, but he was intimidated at the sight of these men. They looked like they could break him and drink the marrow of his bones for breakfast.

Frankie sat down at a bar, feeling lost and unsure, and stared down at his hands. He hadn't expected to get this far. He had thought of freedom of such an abstract concept that it was hard to grasp what to do in reality. What now?

"Excuse me, sir. I couldn't help but notice you sitting here all alone. Are you in need of assistance?," a handsome man pulled up next to him, "My name is Michael."

"That depends- do you have a boat?"

"Yes, I do. And a crew too. Why, do you need something shipped?"

"And would- would you be willing to offer your services it if there was an emergency situation?" Frankie felt excitement. He was sure that he could reveal himself to such an earnest looking man. This could be his way home.

"Well, that depends on what that emergency is and how much gold you would be willing to pay to fix this problem of yours. You seem like such a nice man...what could it be that you're guilty of? It’s hard to see why the law would be after you."

"Not guilty. I'm- I. Uh, this is crazy, but I'm actually escaping from pirates. I was captured and taken from my home. I'll explain to you in more details what happened, but this is what you need to know; I'm the crowned prince. Frankie Grande."

The man snorted: "Yeah right, and I'm the Duke of Fuckery. I don't want any stories- just give me ten pieces of gold an' I'll help you."

"No! No, I'm telling the trueth. Here, I have proof of my birth right," Frankie babbled as he pulled the cross necklace engraved with his name out of his pocket and showed it to the other man. His eyes widened at the sight of the diamonds embedded in gold, and something flashed in his eyes as he reached forward to wrap his hands around Frankie’s necklace.

"Well, this changes everything. Here I thought that you were just some rich nobleman who was in a tough spot. Everyone,” the man rose to his feet and raised the cross in the air, “They told us the crowned prince was missing- but here he is.”

The men in the bar all looked up at them. Frankie felt the blood freeze in his veins under the cold gaze of the coarse folk. Their faces were murderous.

“If one of you will take me back to the palace then-then your bravery will be rewarded,” Frankie spoke, but there was no one here that looked like they wanted to help. Michael's arm was tight on his forearm as the crowd advanced. They were muttering words below their breath, and Frankie couldn’t understand why. How could they hate their crowned prince so much?

“We won’t be wanting none of your blood money, Grande scum,” a man in the back screamed and the crowd of fifteen slammed their beers down in agreement. They shouted suggestions as to do with him- torture and rape and hanging and burning- and Frankie struggled to get away. If he had a sword in his hand then he might have stood a chance, but he was outnumbered and unarmed.

"I wonder...what will Lord Cass say when we bring your your head to him? All his sons died in the war, and the Grande’s ain't got nothing for his pain but more taxes. Should we have him sing one more song for us before we silence the songbird for good?"

"W-what? What's going on? I thought that you wanted to help me! Let go of me! C-captain Rance will hear about this crime, and he will come to kill you. Rance will kill you! Do you understand!?"

The man wordlessly drew a dagger out from his pocket and pressed the tip to Frankie's throat. Frankie was shaking, as he saw his life flash before his eyes, and the sharp knife drew blood.

"Please!" he closed his eyes and waited for the fatal blow.

It never came.

There was a scream, and Michael lay on the ground with his hand over his face. Frankie could see that there was blood oozing through his fingertips. When he tried to run away, he was blocked by Caleb and Cody's swords.

"Rance! Thank you, oh god, thank god that you came. He-he was going to- to-" Frankie stuttered, unable to finish the thought, and he buried his face into Rance's chest. Frankie was still trembling as Rance pulled his strong arms around him. Ironically, Frankie's savior was exactly the man that he had been trying to escape in the first place.

“Grande is mine. But if anyone wants to challenge me for him then feel free. Oh, but before you draw your swords you might want to know that I have my whole crew outside those doors,” he announced. The men reluctantly backed away from them. One hissed at him, and Frankie clutched Rance tighter.

As Frankie was led away, he saw that the crew filed in, and Frankie knew what was to happen to those fifteen men. Rance nodded, and they all drew their swords.

"Come, let's get you to safety."

Frankie didn't even remember the walk back to the ship. He was so dazed. Then Rance was warming up a bath for him and whispering for him to get undressed. Frankie, still in a state of shock, couldn't unbutton his shirt. Rance knelt before him and undid it.

"You're not mad?" Frankie asked as he slipped into the steaming tub. He closed his eyes in relief at the sensation and tried to wash away everything that had happened. Rance was still on the ground, kneeling, and his eyes were shiny with tears. Frankie couldn't believe that this was the same man that that had just scarred another man's face without blinking and had ordered his crew to kill fifteen men without blinking.

"He hurt you, Frankie. That fucking bastard hurt you. Look, he left a cut on your neck," Rance said as he leaned forward to touch the small injury. Frankie felt his body respond pleasurably to the finger pressing against his skin, and he shivered with something akin to desire. His cheeks flushed as Rance cupped his face between his hands and continued to fawn over him.

"I'm fine. Just scared. I thought- I thought he was trustworthy."

"So did I. That's why I thought it was safe to let you go that far, but I should have known better."

"How did you know I had tried to esape?"

"Victoria. She told us of your plans the day before. I was the one who have her permission to unlock your door in the first place...in order to show you what many of the people think of the royalty," Rance explained.

Frankie responded by pushing away from his touch and hoping that he hadn't noticed how flustered that he was. He crossed his arms. Of course, that was why Victoria had seemed so heartbroken this morning. She had betrayed him...not saved him.

"Leave me," Frankie snapped as he processed this new information. Rance did as he had been told and backed away from him. He slipped into bed to wait for Frankie to join him. When Frankie did, he knew that Rance would still be awake. His captor was all messy hair, flushed cheeks, and wide eyes as if he was a boy waiting for his bedtime story and not a man who had just ordered the cold blooded murder of a bar full of men.

"You want a song," Frankie said dryly. It wasn't a question because he knew the answer. Rance, as always, was more vulnerable without his sword dangling from his hip, and he nodded eagerly. His eyes sparkled. How could Frankie stay mad at him? He had still saved Frankie's life, afterall.  

"Yes, I want you to sing-"

"Shhh. I'll sing you what I want. How does that sound, Rance?" Frankie raised a hand to Rance's face just like the other man had done to him before, and he allowed his fingertips to gently stroke his cheek. Rance inhaled sharply at his soft touch, and it gave Frankie some feeling of control over him. Even if it was only an illusion.

"That sounds nice..Frankie. I..." the younger man almost looked shy for a moment as Frankie's hands caressed his cheeks, "I want you to call me, Zach. When it's just- just the two of us."

"Okay, Zach. You have such a nice name. Zach Rance. The fearsome pirate- Zachary Rance who saved my life," Frankie praised as his fingertips grazed his earlobe, and his eyes fluttered in response as Frankie gently pulled them. Frankie, who had never seen a person so responsive to his mere touch, was intrigued. There was more to Rance- no, Zach, than he had first thought.

"The song."

"You'll know it. It's the classic love song that sailors used to sing to their wives before they left on a long journey that they weren't sure that they would return. It was my grandfather's favorite song...we sang it when he died. He loved it so much. Maybe- maybe you will too."

 

"Take me, take me down to the shore

Where you'll find a new golden oar.

Row me, row me down to the sea

where you'll find our love can be free.

Sail me, sail me over the moon

just me and you and our silver tune."

Chapter Text

"Why do you...do that? That thing where you put one of your hands over my blankets?" Frankie asked.

"Isn't that what pirates do? Hold onto their treasures? I'm only making sure no one tries to steal you away from me," Zach teased as he curled around him. His hands went to massaging Frankie's skin, and Frankie felt his whole body flush in response. His mother had always told him that everything required careful thought, but Frankie had fallen headfirst into this 'relationship.'

Two weeks had gone by out on the open water, and Frankie had found it odd how easily that he fit in. Ever since The Escape, Frankie had thought nothing of leaving the ship. Instead, he had spent his days practicing his sparring skills, lurking about the kitchens to get some food from Amber, and teaching those who were interested, such as Donny and Pao, how to read. His nights were spent snuggled below furs exchanging body heat with Zach, hands threaded in his hair, and singing to him like a lark.

"I- I don't understand. You are a pirate. No offense, but a pirate is the lowest ranking creature. He is lawless. He is ruthless. He- he's not like you are," Frankie finished weakly. All thoughts that made sense to him in the heat of day, evaporated in the cold night when his only warmth where the furs of Zach's bed and the other man's body curled around him.

"Oh, no fucking offense taken. Thank you for insulting my profession. But tell me- what do you think I am like, princess?"

"Besides being an insufferable prick? Well...you're different than any man I've ever met. Kind. Noble. You have integrity, values, and you’re so good to your crew. I often wonder why you do this. Why not just live a honest life? Be an honest sailor."

"In an 'honest life,' the food is bad, the wages are low and the work is hard. In piracy, there is plenty of loot, it's fun and easy and we are free and powerful. Who wouldn't want that? The worst that can happen is hanging. I sometimes think you like this life too...more than you want to admit," Zach laughed like this was all a joke. He tried to shift closer to Frankie, but Frankie felt his skin prickle at the feeling of Zach pressed so close to him. Zach kissed his neck -an apology- but Frankie shook his head.

"Don't. That goes too far."

"You don't... desire me?"

"I do. But the type of desires you speak of are forbidden for two people of our rank. It will not do for a prince and a pirate to lay together. I have, of course, had these thoughts before about other men...and I have acted upon some."

Zach sat up and gasped, "You've laid with men! You've kissed 'em and fucked 'em and let 'em fuck you."

"Shhh! Not so loud. Yes, when I was young and foolish."

"How many?"

"That doesn't matter-"

"A lot. You would tell me if the number was low. You've fucked the whole kingdom haven't you? I bet there was no stable boy safe from your pretty eyes and soft lips. All you had to do was sing them a raspy tune, and they'd be weak in the knees. Isn't that right?"

Frankie only pulled the blanket higher: "That's-that's not something you need to know. And how about you, oh captain of the seas, how many have you conquered?"

"Uh. Like, twenty or thirty wenches."

"Fifteen if I'm being generous, Zach. You come undone when I play with your ears. I think you've had wet dreams just from my goodnight song."

"Thirteen?"

"Five"

"Three. It was three, alright? I didn't force your number from you so enough with the countdown. Oh, laugh it up. I told you that women have never held my attention. Neither men. Not before..." you. It was an unspoken word, but Frankie could hear the thought echo. Their eyes meet, and Zach looked down in submission under Frankie's sharp gaze. Interesting.

"Enough of this talk. A song," Frankie decided. Zach melted, smile immediate, and he circled his hands around his waist and rested his head on Frankie's chest. Frankie, comfortable, sang a simple melody. Zach was reluctant to let him go, fingers wrapped possessively around him, but Frankie told him there would be no more songs that night.

Frankie was afraid of how fond the captain was growing of him. Zach had shown him a small chest, hidden beneath the floorboards, that was filled with half of his treasures (the rest buried elsewhere). Then he had demanded that Frankie choose a trinket. Frankie, who had grown up with diamond crowns on his head and suckling ruby pacifiers, wasn't impressed by the wealth. Still, he knew it was meaningful to Zach that he took something. So Frankie choose a piece of metal in the shape of a skull that hung from a silver chain. The eyes were tiny diamonds.

“I’m sorry that your cross was stolen. I know it was your birthright,” Zach said as he clasped the pendant around Frankie’s neck. Frankie smiled sadly as he thought of how he had been told that his birthright had been smashed to pieces in the chaos. When Zach had gone back to search the bar for it, he brought back a single diamond and said the rest had been stolen to be sold at the blackmarket.

“I won’t say it’s okay because my necklace was all I had left of my old life. The only thing that could prove my blood...But I value my life more than precious metals."

“Yes, you are far more valuable,” Zach agreed as he leaned back to admire the jewelery on Frankie. He took out a handheld mirror from his collection and handed it to Frankie.

Frankie scowled at his reflection for his skin had grown darker from the heat of the sun. He had agreed to dye his brown hair golden, as a disguise, and he barely recognized himself. His eyes, which used to be merry, were harder and his cheekbones sharper from the meager meals. Frankie hardly looked like a prince anymore with these clothes and skull necklace. Even his hands that held the mirror were becoming calloused. He looked almost like...

“What are you staring at? See something you like, captain?” Frankie snapped. It was known that Frankie was the only man in the world that could get away with screaming at Zach and live to tell the tale. All the rest would have earned themselves a beating. Frankie got a fond smile from Zach.

“I think I do,” Zach admitted. He shifted closer, fingertips resting lightly on Frankie’s leg, and Frankie didn't pull away from the touch. They were dancing around each other, like they were sparring, and Frankie wondered who would make the first move. The tension made him pause as Zach leaned forward, hunger in his eyes, just as the door slammed open.

"Captain! Captain, we- uh, should I give you two a minute?" Derrick gave them a knowing look.

"This better be good," Zach snarled as he let go of Frankie's leg and stood up to speak to his navigator. The two men spoke in hushed tones, pointing at the horizon, and Frankie watched as Zach became tense.

Frankie stood up and asked, "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Zach snapped, "Nothing is happening. I'm going to close this cabin door, and I don't want you to come out. Can you stay put for me?"

"I told you that I'm not a delicate damsel, Rance!"

"Yes, I know, but I don't want to risk it. Now, stay," Zach ordered. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he grabbed Derrick's sword and threw it at Frankie's feet. Frankie's eyes widened, grateful to be armed, but he narrowed them when the door was shut. Why did he need a weapon? 

Frankie's heart was pounding as he pressed his ear to the door and heard the crew shouting. Zach's voice boomed over the others. Frankie knew that there was some sort of danger, and he wished that he could see it for himself. There was nothing more terrifying than sitting and waiting for it to be over. So Frankie cracked the door open, which Zach hadn't had time to lock, and peaked below. He watched as Caleb raised a white flag above their ship, and Frankie could see another ship sailing closer. They did not have a white flag raised.

"We are on our way to the Echoing Isles, and we wish to go unharmed. We have no quarrel with you or your men so let us pass!" Zach bellowed. Frankie had a hard time maintaining visibility, but he could hear their voices clearly.

"Word has spread that you have a treasure finer than any in all the land. A treasure that men would die to obtain. They whisper in pubs and bars and dirty whorehouses that Captain Rance has stolen himself the crowned jewel. Is that true?"

"All lies. I have only common treasures- gold and silver."

"I ain't believe it til I see it!" The pirate captain of the other ship yelled back.

"There is nothing here! Haven't you heard that the prince is dead?"

"Then you won't mind if we go take a look!"

Frankie heard the clashing of swords, screaming, and the occasional bang of a pistol or musket going off as the pirates clambered on board. He felt his heart pounding as his sweaty palms tried to hold onto the handle of his weapon. Everything seemed to be happening at once.

The door banged open, and he was staring into the face of a man with rotting teeth who snarled, "Where’s he? Where yee hidden the prince?"

Frankie acted on animal instinct alone and slashed at the man's sword hand. The weapon clamored to the floor. Frankie pressed the tip of his sword to his throat, and the pirate raised his hands in surrender as he backed up into the wall.

"Do you know who I am?"

"Your one of Rance's filthy men. Ay, but you ain't gonna keep the prince hidden from me..."  

The man reached down to his pocket, the sun catching on the metal of his pistol as he raised it, and Frankie reacted in self defense. He heard the sickening slice of flesh, and the man fell to the floor. Frankie stood there, panting, as blood dripped from the tip of his sword onto the floor. He had just killed a man. If Frankie thought about it too long then he knew that he would go mad. Instead, he reached down and pried the pistol from his cold fingertips.

There was no time to process what had just happened as Frankie run away. Away from the room where a man lay with his throat slit open. Down the stairs. Onto the deck.

Frankie saw Zach and the captain of the other ship looked in a tight battle. Frankie watched, heart pounding, as Zach pushed the captain back. All the other men were either dead or engaged in fights of their own.

"Just tell me where he is," the captain pleaded.

"I already told you he's-" Zach looked up to see Frankie standing there in broad daylight in front of all the other pirates. The foreign captain took that second of hesitation to push Zach to the ground and press a sword to his exposed throat.

"Tell me where he is or forfeit your life!"

The world was slowing down in that moment as the man raised his hands above his head to strike a deadly blow, and every fiber in Frankie's being burned with rage. He felt every muscle in his arm contract as he raised the pistol and pressed the trigger. The gunshot rang in his ears.

The man fell down. Frankie dropped the gun, smoke still rising from the nozzle, and tried to comprehend what had just happened. Zach's arms around him were the only thing that kept Frankie from falling over.

----------------

There was nothing more soothing to his tumultuous mind then a bath, and Frankie sighed in relief at the feeling of the water against his skin. Frankie scrubbed his flesh with a bar of soap, but he became aware that no matter how hard he pressed that he still felt dirty. By the time Zach had come back inside, Frankie’s skin was a raw pink and the water cold.

Zach didn't say anything, but he boiled a pot of water over the fire and poured it in. Frankie pulled his legs closer to his body and hid his face in his knees. He gnashed his teeth as everything that had happened washed over him.

“Can I wash your hair?” Zach’s voice was low.

Frankie nodded. There was so much that he wanted to say in that moment, but there were no words to relieve him of this guilt. Frankie had killed a man whose back was turned to him. How could a prince murder another man in cold blood? Everything he knew to be true and good in this world was wrong. Frankie tried to reassure himself over and over again that he had reacted only in self defense, but that captain had had his back turned to him. A gentlemen would never fight as he had.  

“Frankie, you did the right thing. You saved my life,” Zach, as if he could sense his pain, reassured him. His fingers scrubbed at Frankie’s scalp, and Frankie groaned at the pleasurable feeling. Zach washed the soap out of his hair and then his finger slipped lower to massage Frankie’s shoulders.

Frankie opened his eyes and turned around as Zach’s fingers rubbed him. The pain was still there, simmering under his skin, but Frankie was burning with some other feeling. Zach was on his knees, looking at him as though he had hung the stars, and Frankie revealed under his worship. Frankie knew that he should feel ashamed for wanting to control him after everything that had happened today, but, in this moment, Frankie desired him.

“That’s right...I saved your life. We’re even now. But who would have thought that I would risk my life to save a lowly pirate?” Frankie murmured as he held Zach’s face with his finger. Zach blushed in response at the attention and moved in as though to kiss him.

Frankie stood, avoiding the kiss, and he allowed the water to drip down his muscular chest as he looked down at Zach. Zach whimpered at the rejection, and Frankie could see how tight his breeches were with desire.

Zach stood and looked at him with thinly veiled arousal as Frankie leaned back against the bed.

He leaned in to try and kiss him again, and Zach’s voice was a teasing whisper as he said, “Well, the prince has to protect his people.”

Frankie wound his fingers in Zach’s hair and held him an inch from his lips.

"Haven't you heard?" Frankie’s mockingly asked as he forced Zach down to his knees, "The prince is dead."

Zach made up what he lacked in experience with his eagerness as he kissed the head of his cock and then licked his length. Zach looked up at him with tears in his eyes as he struggled to take all of Frankie inside his mouth, and he slowly moved his head up and down. Frankie, hand still in Zach’s hair, made him speed up his pace. It had been too long since Frankie had lain with another man, and he knew he wouldn't last as long as usual. Not with the way that Zach’s lips were red and his cheeks flushed so beautifully as he sucked Frankie off.

“Frankie,” Zach pulled away and his voice was raspy, “Can you put on the necklace?”

Frankie nodded and reached over to bedside table. The necklace weighed heavily on him, and it felt less like a decoration and more like a chain. Frankie clasped one hand in Zach’s hair and the other around the skull as he came.

Even though Zach was kneeling before him, Frankie knew that he wasn't the one with the control. The prince was dead indeed.

Chapter Text

There was a dark stain on their cabin floor, and, although Frankie had scrubbed at it for hours, it remained. Zach and the rest of the crew had assured him that there was no stain, but Frankie suspected that they were lying to him. Or maybe the stain truly wasn’t there at all. Either way, whether he had imagined it or not, he felt his stomach turn every time he walked by the spot.  

Zach and the crew had spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the deck and interrogating the prisoners. He had agreed to let the survivors go under the condition that they spread word of the prince’s death. Frankie, who had watched the proceedings with indifference, felt compelled to add to the story.

“It was Captain Rance who killed him. Didn’t you?,” Frankie spoke up for the first time. Zach had turned around to stare at him, incredulously, but he smirked and altered his own tale. The prisoners were awed. Zach seemed pleased at the infamy the tale would earn him.

“Zachary Rance- the prince-slayer,” one of the survivors muttered below his breath as he was released.

Frankie shivered.

The crew members, who had overheard the nickname, prince-slayer, gleefully took to it. Zach had gone from pleased to annoyed in only a fortnight. He threatened to have the head of the next man who said it, but they continued on. Frankie only shook his head and asked if they could try and cover the stain.

Frankie still harbored a hope, small as it was, that Zach would complete his mission and return him home. He still leaned against the railings of the ship and stared out into the horizon and wondered if his sister was sharing the sunrise with him. His dreams were still full of palaces and golden crowns.

"There's a storm coming," Zach announced one morning as they laid together, "We're going to have to wait it out at the closest harbor and lose a week of travel."

"How much longer, Zach?"

Zach ran a hand through his hair, "Frankie, I promise once I finish my mission to return you home."

"I’m sick of your unfounded promises! How long will this mission take? Will you just tell me what you want from me? How have I not yet proved my loyalty to you when I saved your ungrateful life?" Frankie demanded, and he punctuated every question by waving his hand. Zach opened his mouth and then closed it as he sat up.

“If I told you the truth then you would...” Zach only shook his head and was silent as he dressed, which made Frankie's fists clench. Frankie was tired of being told to stay put, and he was tired of cages. There was no reason for him to be locked up anymore when there was no one in the world, besides his mother and sister, that could recognize him like this. The crew, who knew, seemed ready to carry this secret to the graves, and Frankie was almost unnerved by the loyalty that the crew held for Zach. He remembered how Victoria had so easily betrayed him for her captain, and Frankie grew curious as to how these band of rag abounds had come to join him.

“He saved my life. My mother sold me to the brothel at age sixteen to pay of my father’s gambling debts. I would have withered away in those opium dens if he had not taken me in,” Victoria explained.

“He gave me a home. I went from one orphanage to another, and there was nothing left for a miserable fool like me except the army. I would have been shot on some foreign battlefield otherwise,” Caleb explained.

Frankie talked to the crew, and he heard all their stories one by one. They were tales of ruin and revival as they were all brought together by ‘Captain Rance.’ Frankie’s image of Zach as nothing but a worthless pirate seemed to melt and shift and remold as he heard the different tales. Donny had broken down in tears as he recounted how he had been sentenced to life for a crime that he had not commit, but the court would not listen to his case against the wealthy patron that had accused him. Zach had saved him from the prisons.    

Frankie wondered at how quickly he had judged him. If a prince could be a murder and a pirate could be a savior then Frankie wasn't sure he understood anything about the world anymore.  

-------------------

In their cabin -for it was theirs now and not just Zach's- Zach would beg for Frankie’s forgiveness. He would get down on his knees and kiss every part of Frankie. Zach would look up at him, with flushed cheeks and bleary eyes, and nuzzle against Frankie’s leg until Frankie was hard. Frankie would hold him there, hands curled tight in hair, and not let him move.

"Tell me the truth, are you ever planning to let me go home?" Frankie asked as he climbed atop Zach and pinned his arms above his head.

Sex was only another game for them to play with each other, and Frankie liked to be the one who took control. If only for this moment. Zach sighed in contentment, loving the feeling of having his power taken away from him, and he looked up at Frankie with adoration.

"Not if you keep teasing me," Zach giggled as Frankie tied his wrists together with rope, and he moaned as Frankie ground his hips against him as punishment.

"How much did you plan?"Frankie asked as he sucked hickies onto Zach's neck. His lover, defenseless, revealed under his affection. Frankie could feel how excited Zach was under his breeches.

"Well, I told Victoria to unlock the door, and I tipped off Michael, who was openly against royalty, that there would be a wealthy patron stopping by at 12. And..." Zach trailed off, and Frankie looked up with interest. They hadn't gone over this.

"And?"

"Do you remember nothing of the day that you were captured? Why did you go down the the shore to begin with?"

"That was my fault. I was curious. The servants were talking the night before about an abandoned pirate's ship that was buried beneath the sand. Unless- unless you planted that rumor. Fuck, and you think that I'm the clever one?" Frankie grinned, impressed at Zach's cunning, and bit his lip to reprimand him. Frankie loved how dilated Zach's pupils would become, blown with desire, as Frankie rubbed against him. Frankie pulled down his pants, making a show of it, and then stripped off his shirt too until he was wearing nothing but his necklace. Then he slicked his fingers with oil and swirled them around them against his entrance.

Frankie fingered himself, slowly, as Zach watched but couldn't touch him: "So hard, aren't you? You like that, Captain, don't you? Been dreaming of fucking me since you were only ten and barely even knew how to touch yourself. Thinking about how the prince would look around your cock.”

"Frankie, please," the younger man breathlessly begged and strained against his restraints.

“And now you have me. All of me."

“Not all of you,” Zach said as he tried to lean up, eager to kiss Frankie, but that was the one thing Frankie would never give him. Frankie pushed him back with his free hand and raised his eyebrows in warning. Zach pouted.

“Behave,” Frankie commanded. Sex had never meant love to Frankie who was used to fucking and being fucked by men without a glimmer of a ‘future.’ The only reason that he had pushed away from Zach’s touches was his concern about the nature of pirates. But now Frankie knew that Zach wasn’t any different from other men.

“Looks so good, Frankie. You look so hot when  you touch yourself. Love it so much. God, I love yo- it so much. So much,” Zach moaned as he watched Frankie with half lidded eyes. Frankie pulled his fingers out, hard and ready for Zach, but he was still determined to make this pleasurable torture.

“You want a kiss? Is that what my mighty pirate wants?" Frankie leaned forward until he was just a breathe away from Zach’s lips. Zach, eyes wide and breathe bated, nodded eagerly, but Frankie moved away. Then he leaned down and, eyes still on Zach, kissed the tip of his cock. Frankie smirked.

“Frankie, don’t tease me like that. Oh,” Zach gasped as Frankie continued to press kisses up and down the length of him. Frankie’s kisses were soft and his lashes brushed against his pulsing erection, and then he pulled away just as a bead of precum trickled down Zach’s cock.

Then Frankie slicked Zach with oil, rubbing the precum down his shaft, as he licked his lips. Frankie rubbed his own entrance against the head, but he didn't press down. Zach was coming apart beneath him, with desperate whimpers, as Frankie slowly lowered himself down. Frankie grew still, adjusting to the feeling of Zach inside of him, and looked down at him with an innocent smile.

“F-frankie. Please. Oh god.  Frankie, pleasepleasepleaspleasplease. Please.”

“What is it, baby? You need something?” Frankie sing-songed as he traced a finger down Zach's shaking chest, “Want another lullaby?”

“F-fuck! Frankie, I need you to move. Oh god, it’s so fucking tight an-and I need you to move. Frankie,” Zach begged, and Frankie had never seen such a beautiful sight as the one before him. Frankie loved the feeling of control, and the fullness between his legs. Slowly, enjoying himself, Frankie fucked himself on Zach’s cock.

As he moved, he was aware of the skull necklace bouncing against his chest, and he clutched it with one hand. Frankie didn't want to admit how much he loved the way Zach’s gaze would grow darker at the sight of it against his skin.

“That’s my good little boy. You’ll wait for me to cum won’t you? You feel so good in me, Zach, but I need you to wait for me. Just like I’m always waiting for you. F-fuck, so nice,” Frankie closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling as he speed up his pace, “Mhm, love this....Ah, you feel so good. So good for me. Such a good boy.”

“I’m not gonna- Frankie, I’m gonna-” Zach bit his lip as Frankie slammed his hips down against him.

Zach!”

“S-sorry,” Zach helplessly moaned as his hips bucked, and he came inside Frankie.

Frankie snorted and gave him a reprimanding nipple tweak.

“Such a fucking baby who can’t even wait a couple minutes before cumming. What did I tell you? And you were being so good for me. Well, wait are you waiting for? I’m not going to get off on your flaccid dick so turn the fuck over and let me cum on your ass.”

Frankie flipped him over, Zach’s cum trickling down his own legs, but Frankie hadn't cum yet. Zach was still apologizing and Frankie almost wished that he had gagged him. Instead, he shoved Zach’s face into the pillow and told him to be quiet. Frankie had always been a bit of a selfish lover, as one would expect from someone raised in a palace, and he had wanted to finish first.

“The Prince-slayer knows how to use one sword but not the other. Lucky you’re so cute, baby,” Frankie slapped Zach’s ass. Hard. He heard his lover moan into the pillow, and Frankie knew that he enjoyed the punishments almost as much as the rewards. Frankie hit him harder this time until his flesh was flushed red like Frankie’s erect cock.

Frankie finally wrapped a hand around himself, and he came with the image of Zach exposed and vulnerable before him.

That was how they made love. They pulled each other's hair. Bit hickies into each other’s necks. Clawed their nails down each other’s back. Vicious. Passionate. Frankie could feel love in every raw movement and fuck and scratch, but he didn’t dare say the words.  

They both held on -afraid to let go- but when Zach sat up and tried to kiss him on the lips, Frankie kissed him on the forehead.

-------------------

They set down anchor at Gulfport at noon.

Frankie, accompanied by Caleb, went down to the stores to purchase new clothes. The rest of the crew had brought back with them new tools and trinkets and, of course, women. One of the ladies, who had red lips and golden hair, was hanging off of Zach's arm as they came back on board. Frankie averted his eyes as Zach leaned in and purposefully kissed her on the lips. Zach and Frankie weren't anything, of course, and they were both free to sleep with as many wenches as pleased them. Yet, the sight of the captain with someone else made Frankie feel sick. Why did he have to bring her back here?

When Zach opened up the door, he was alone. Frankie lay in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, as Zach collapsed on top of him. Frankie could smell the alcohol on his breathe as a warm pair of lips found his neck.

“Do you love me, Frankie?”

"Not now, Zach," Frankie pushed him away.

"Whhhhy not?" he slurred.

"I'm tired of being your captive princess while you are free to do as you please. I sing for you and stay put for you and sit pretty for you. I will not lie and say that I’m in love with you just to please you too. Just...just go to sleep," Frankie growled as tears warmed his cheeks. Zach grew still on top of him. Then he buried his face in Frankie's neck and his whole body went limp.

"You hate me, and you'll never love me because I'm just a dirty fucking pirate. You hate me. You'd have me executed if you could, and you'd laugh when they tied the string around my bloody throat," Zach wept, “So why do I love you so much?”

Frankie inhaled sharply at the drunken confession, but Zach was growing heavy atop him so Frankie pushed him off. Frankie pulled the covers over him, stroked his soft hair, and sang him a soft lullaby until Zach's breathing had evened out.

He lay awake with Zach's arms wrapped tightly around him, and he wasn't sure who he was. Who the hell was Frankie Grande? Only a month ago he would have easily assured himself that he was prince. But now Frankie wasn't sure what that meant. He felt alone, and he wondered if his country cared at all at his death. The newspapers still printed his name, but the image they used looked nothing like him anymore. The people at the shops had talked about it with an air of indifference. Frankie tossed and turned, and the skull necklace seemed to burn his skin as he lay by the side of the ‘prince-slayer.’

Frankie felt lost, unable to answer his own question, and he fell asleep with the feeling that a storm was approaching.

 

Chapter Text

The tension between him and Zach, which he thought would have ended after they had sex, only seemed to grow more tangible when they reached the shore. Every time that their eyes meet, Frankie shivered. Every time that their fingers brushed, Frankie bit his lip. Zach opened his mouth to tell him something only to shake his head. As close as they were physically, there was a secret that stopped their souls from merging. Frankie, against his better judgment, yearned to be one.  

“It’s a vile one- this storm. It’ll tear down the walls and flood the city streets and destroy the crops. Nothing will be the same after it’s come through,” Zach muttered as he leaned against the railing.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning,” Frankie gently sang as he settled by Zach’s side and stared up at the bloodred sky. They were pressed so close together this morning, but Frankie didn’t know what was going on behind that young face. Zach felt so far away from him.

Frankie nudged him, “We’ll survive. But if you’re worried...I have ways to take your mind off the dreary weather.”

“I don’t want a distraction, Frankie. I want something real.”

Frankie entangled their fingers and asked: “And what’s more real than ropes around your wrists and a hand pulling your hair?”

“Those are distractions. Games of make believe.”

Real? I don’t know what that means anymore, Rance. Being tied up may be just a game for you, but it is a grim reality for me. You have kept me in the dark for all your plans and somehow expect me to trust you- my captor. If you want more than you need to give me more.”

Zach pulled away, cheeks red, and told Frankie that he had errands to attend to. The words from yesterday -nothing but a slurred confession- echoed in Frankie’s mind as he watched Zach march proudly away.

You'd have me executed if you could, and you'd laugh when they tied the string around my bloody throat. So why do I love you so much?

They were only confessions made from intoxication, but Frankie was sure that drunken words were sober thoughts.  

Frankie was allowed off the boat any time he wanted as long as he was watched by Zach’s gaurd dogs- Caleb or Cody. So he spent the mornings browsing through different stores. As he entered a bookstore, Cody waiting for him outside, Frankie overheard a conversation between two women who were browsing the shelves.

“It’ll happen any day now?”

Shhh, keep your voice down. Yes, everyone agreed to meet tonight before the storm.”

“But is word spreading fast enough?”

“I told you- there will be as many as last time. The tides are changing now, and a new wave has begun. Did you not see the sky this morning? It’s an omen. It won’t be long before...” The women looked around her and, seeing Frankie at a bookshelf, stopped speaking. The two quickly left the store, and Frankie realized that he had been staring at the same page for ten minutes. He tried to concentrate and read the words before him, but his mind kept slipping away to all that he had overheard and overseen in the last couple days or so.

When Frankie had been out in public as a prince, he had only seen the adoring supporters that would wave at his carriage and cheer. Never before had he heard the whispers, which seemed to grow louder by the day, of dissent. Zach had not been lying when he said that the Grande name was not beloved by all.

“Cody, why...do you know why the people do not like the royalty?”

Cody glanced around: “Well, you must know that the war was not taken well. Taxes. A deep history of resentment and mistreatment.”

Frankie considered the words and shook his head. It was hard to imagine that his country, which he was supposed to rule one day, hated him. Frankie wondered why he had never been told this in the palace. He had always felt that everything they had done was just. They were good people afterall. Moral people.

“I don’t understand. The war was to protect our country from the invaders. The taxes to fix infrastructure and build new schools. Our hands our clean.”

Cody laughed, but his face grew serious as he realized that Frankie wasn't joking. He went silent.

Frankie raised the discussion with Zach when he got back to the ship. The air was heavy with unspoken words, and Frankie struggled to stand upright under the weight.

“Do you really want to know?” Zach said slowly and looked him straight in the eye as he cupped his face in his hands. He held Frankie so gently that Frankie almost couldn't feel his touch. Frankie’s gaze slipped to Zach’s lips, but he forced himself to look away. No, Frankie hardened himself, not until he knew.

Frankie swallowed and nodded.

“Okay. Then we’ll go tonight to the town square, and you’ll see. You've been in the dark for too long.”

“You’re going to show me the light?” Frankie tried to joke. Zach, who laughed at all of his jokes, only shook his head and sighed as he let go of him. The look that crossed his face made Frankie regret, if only for a moment, wanting to know the truth.

-------------------

The air was damp as Frankie followed behind Zach's footsteps. Frankie struggled to keep pace as he followed after Zach, and he noticed how they were both going at different paces. Zach was moving with purpose, but Frankie struggled to stop himself from trudging. Would he regret knowing?  Zach wouldn't tell him where they were going, but Frankie kept glancing around at the shadowy figures.

Zach cleared his throat and spoke for the first time since they had left the ship, "Don't worry. Without your birthright no one can recognize you. The prince they expect to see would have dark hair, white suit, and pale skin and be pulled by a carriage. You look like-"

"Don't fucking remind me what I look like, Rance," Frankie snapped as they turned a sharp corner. He felt less and less like himself every day. He could swear like the sailors, didn't flinch at the sight of rodents or insects, and amused himself by having spitting contests with the other boys. What kind of prince was he? Frankie knew how coarse he looked with dirt below his nails and the small, rusted dagger Zach had given him for self protection.

As they walked to the town square, Frankie looked around and felt his stomach churn in distaste. There were emancipated children, with hollowed eyes, holding out their hands to beg for coins. They rattled their cans at him and cried out for help. When Frankie clutched Zach's hand, the younger man seemed surprised.

"Why are you shaking?"

"D-don't you see them?" Frankie breathed as one child, with bony fingers, grabbed at Frankie's foot.

"Yes, but they are everywhere across the country: in every port, every city, every town, and every village. Haven't you seen them before?"

"N-no. Whose children are they?"

"No one's," Zach shrugged before changing his mind, "Everyone's. They are everyone's children, but they have been abandoned by their parents; humanity has left them to starve and wither away."

“It’s not right,” Frankie muttered to himself, and he couldn't look at their hollowed bodies.

Frankie was shaken by the time that they reached the town square. There had gathered a large crowd of people,  thousands and thousands stood about, all of them here for some common reason that Frankie could not determine. He tugged on Zach's hand, but Zach pressed a finger to his lip and pointed to the stage at the center of the square.

A man came to the top of the stage, and his eyes looked out into the crowd as if he was searching for something. When he spoke, his voice seemed to echo throughout the plaza.

"All across the country, they search for a lost prince. They search for him -alive or dead?- no one can truly know. But he will not be found. And do you know why?" the man started off slowly, "Because all our bones look the same once the the flesh has rotted away; there is no difference from a prince's corpse and a farmer's corpse. They both feed the fleas!"

The crowd broke into applause and cut him off with thunderous applause. Frankie jumped, and he had trouble processing what was happening here. The people in front of him seemed to swim in his vision, and it was only Zach's arm around him that prevented Frankie from falling over.

"Let me ask you this- what makes a prince a prince? Blood? Well, I have seen blood shed on the battlefields, and it wasn't the blood of any prince that was spilled. I have seen women weep and pray, for a war that nobody wanted, but their men never came back to their arms. I have seen children grow up crooked and hard, bent beneath the weight of their country, while this prince stood straight above them and burdened them with taxes. Blood? I have seen blood," the man's voice was drowned out by the cheering of the crowd.

Women, holding their skirts, cried out and little boys pumped their fists in the air. Frankie felt his world trembling as he saw all these people, hundred and thousands of hands, waving for his family's overthrowal. Frankie had read about revolutions before.

"I don't want to see this," Frankie whispered in Zach's ear, and he hid his face away. Yet, even with his face hidden, he could hear the people. The speaker continued.

"Let me ask you this- what makes a prince a prince? God? It is those same churches that grow rich and fat while the people starve. It is those same cloisters that drain the people of their money but never help the children on the streets. These institutions were made by men for men to justify our suffering. How can they rule us without our consent? How can they rule us without our consent? How can they rule us without our consent?'

The crowd echoed back the words.

"Where are the police?" Frankie cried.

"Over there," Zach pointed to men at the front of the crowd who stood cheering by the speaker. Their faces were all blurring together. Frankie pushed back, desperate to un-see and un-hear, but it was too late. The crowd was surging forward, and Frankie knew that it was futile to fight them.

"Do you see now?" Zach asked as he caught up to him.

Frankie looked at the sea of hands, and he could see what Zach had tried to warn him all those weeks ago. He could see what had been hidden from him behind the palace walls.

“I want to leave, please,” Frankie wasn't sure if Zach could hear him anymore because he had buried his face into Zach’s neck.

There were hands around him, guiding him away, and then there was a single drop of water. At first, Frankie thought that Zach had started crying, but then ten more drops hit him. The drops became a steady stream; the stream became a downpour; the downpour turned into a storm.

The storm was here.

 

Chapter Text

"Wake up, Frankie. Wake up."

Frankie awakened to the sounds of a steady rain pattering, and the ship shook uncertainly. The humidity permeated into the cabins, and Frankie felt overheated beneath their woolen blankets. 

"Wha'?"

"We need to leave. The storm’s getting stronger so we can’t stay on the ship. Come," Zach said. Frankie blinked wearily as Zach handed him his clothes to change. Last nights memories overwhelmed him as his clammy fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, and he felt so helpless after all that he had seen.

"I don't feel so well," Frankie muttered as he tried to walk, and the world shook beneath him. Frankie fell to the floor, grabbed the bucket besides their bed, and heaved. The sickness he had felt last night seemed to have taken his body.

Zach knelt besides him and kissed his forehead, "You're overheated. Come, you can sleep at the inn."

Zach helped button up the rest of his clothes and grabbed his hand. Frankie, if he had felt more like himself, might have objected, but now he only leaned against Zach. Everything seemed to be a confusing ocean of chaos and confusion as they left their cabin and stumbled to the inn. The streets were filled with mobs of people, their voices blurring into one giant wave of noise, and Frankie was drowning. He clung to Zach.

Everything was too warm, and Frankie felt like the water was burning his skin. Was it rain or sweat that poured down his face? He tried to focus on the world around him, but the faces of the crowds blurred into the face of his sister. She was drowning, her dress weighing her heavily into the waters, and she screamed for him to help her. But Frankie couldn't swim. The water rippled, and Ari's face changed into his mother's. This time Frankie realized the wave surrounding her wasn't water but a thousand hands that were tearing at her clothes and skin. Then the hands melted into blood, and Frankie tossed in his sleep.

"Ari...mother...please...Ari...mother...," Frankie said the names over and over as the fever visions took over.

Then there was something cold pressed against his forehead, and Frankie could feel the safety of Zach's arms. The nightmares dissolved into blissful nothingness that he floated in. Minutes or maybe hours later, Frankie was gently shaken.

"Wake up, dear, wake up.”

"Zach," Frankie gasped as he sat up. The sickness had passed, but he could still remember the nightmares. The light was too bright, and he squinted for a minute until he could see a pair of hands attached to a young women.

The women tapped her clipboard, "The man you're referring to left a couple minutes ago- to bring you breakfast no doubt. I'm sorry to disturb you, but I need to write down your name. The inn keeper wants everyone who is accounted for. We need to make sure all the dues are paid when the storm has passed. It’s a wild one...many things will be destroyed no doubt and some men may try to run from payment."

"My name...?"

"Yes, dear," she said as her fingers curled around the pencil.

"F-Frankie."

"Last name? There are a couple other Frankie's staying here tonight. Named by their mothers after that vile prince no doubt."

"Rance," he said as he stared at her small hands. Below here, there were a hundred more hands like hers, all of whom detested his last name, and would be eager to snatch his life away. While a single drop of water could drown no man, the sea was made up of millions of single droplets. Millions of hands.   

Frankie leaned forward from where he lay to press his forehead against the cool window. The fever dreams ebbed away at the shore of his mind.

"Frankie. I got us something to eat. You were recovering so I thought it would be okay to step away and get you some vitals. How are you feeling?" Zach crawled onto the bed and placed the tray besides them. Frankie relaxed without thinking as those hands wrapped around his waist. He could trust these hands. The tension was still there, but it was different now that they no longer had secrets between them. Zach’s eyes hid nothing from him.

"I lied about my last name just now to that lady...because I couldn't dare to tell her the truth. I am- I was a prince, but now I feel like I am less than a peasant. A peasant still has ties and a family and people who care for him. But what the hell do I have? Nothing."

"Not nothing," Zach said sharply as his fingertips curled around Frankie's necklace, "Besides, you are still a prince."

"Am I though? What is a farmer without a farm? A baker without an oven? Or a prince without a country?"

"What happened to your country? She's still here waiting for you to ascend the throne and make sweet, sweet love to her," Zach spoke softly into his ear. Frankie shivered at the sensual words and the feeling of the other man pressed so intimately around him. This time it was tears, not rain or sweat, that fell down his face.

"Stop playing innocent, Zach. I am no longer asleep. I can see that a great wave of change has started to swell across the land. I can see that the tides of time are turning against my family. Isn’t that what you were trying to show me? The days of royalty are numbered, and I am helpless to stop it."

Zach said nothing as the words hung heavily above them like a storm cloud, and Frankie took his silence as an agreement. Frankie felt as though he had woken up for the first time in his life, and he could see the world clearly. The inn shook with the force of the wind, but Frankie was safe inside.

"So what will you do?" Zach finally asked him.

“I- I’m not sure. All I know is that you saved my life by stealing me away. Now, I need you to help me save my family. And maybe it's foolish...but I trust you. I trust you even though you're a pirate. I trust you,” Frankie said and it  almost sounded like I love you. Almost.

For if Frankie was truly no longer a prince then there was nothing -no code of honor or duty- that bound Frankie anymore. He was free to seek a new identity. Zach took Frankie's fingers and curled them around the skull necklace, and Frankie knew what choice it was that Zach wanted him to make.

“And where does your loyalty lie?” Zach whispered as Frankie squeezed the necklace in response and felt his breath quicken at the feeling of Zach whispering in his ear.

“With you,” he promised. For once, it wasn't a lie.

Zach smirked and leaned down to suck a hickey into his neck. His hands were tight around him, and Frankie was aroused by the possessive behavior. He wanted Zach to take him like this, and he encouraged him by tenderly stroking his hair. Frankie, who was used to being rough, felt his chest clench at how gentle this was. Their touches were so soft and loving that it was painful. 

He could feel Zach grow hard against him as he tilted his neck back and allowed him to bruise his tender skin. Zach’s warm mouth lapping against his skin made it hard to think anymore. Frankie's life was shaking unsteadily right now, but Zach was his anchor.

“And who do you obey?,” Zach’s voice was husky as his fingers slowly slipped down until they were, softly, resting against Frankie’s clothed erection. Zach’s fingertips ran long, languid circles against Frankie. His cock twitched with desire at the sensation.

“Only you,” Frankie promised. He blushed, face growing warm at the admission, but he didn't avert his eyes.

Zach’s smile grew predatory and his eyes dilated at Frankie’s words. While Zach had been apologetic and submissive before, there was a hunger now that made Frankie bit his lip. Frankie spread his legs in consent and Zach continued to rub over the material of his pants in slow, sensual movements with the heel of his hand.

“Do you mean it, Frankie? Y-you want to be mine?” Zach’s voice quavered with vulnerability but that only made Frankie harder. Oh god, yes, he wanted Zach. He wanted him on top of him. Inside him. He had wanted to give himself to him for days now, but Frankie had been afraid. But if Frankie was no longer a prince then who was to say that this love was immoral? Who was Frankie to refuse?

“Wanted this for so long now,” Frankie said simply as he went to unbutton his shirt. Zach put the tray onto the table and then fetched oil. When he flipped Frankie over, Frankie closed his eyes and allowed himself to enjoy the sensation of being so completely dominated. In the back of his mind, there was still the prickling that demanded for him not to give himself so obscenely to a man of such a low rank. But Frankie silenced that voice.

“God, Frankie. I could worship your body for days. So fucking perfect. Perfect,” Zach praised as he pressed kisses down the arch of Frankie’s back. His fingers slowly teased Frankie’s entrance before sliding inside a digit.

“Zach,” he moaned as the other man, though not as experienced, easily found his prostate. Zach, sensing his eagerness, put in another finger. Frankie loved the feeling of being filled and stretched. He had always loved it, but he had never trusted his body to anyone so completely. With Zach, he didn't have to put up any pretenses. Frankie moaned, as those fingers sinfully twisted inside him and made his stomach clench. He repeated his lover’s name.

His cock was so hard, trapped between his stomach and the covers, that he was writhing beneath Zach when he withdrew his fingers.  Frankie was overcome with passion, and his breath came out in trembling whines as he felt Zach line up with his entrance. Zach had been inside him before but never like this. Frankie had never allowed himself to be taken from behind, like an animal, but now he craved the ferocity. Zach started off slowly, giving him time to adjust, and Frankie clenched around him.

“Harder, Zach. Please, I need to feel you inside me. It feels so good. So safe. So- fuck. Come on, baby, need you. God, need you. Need you,” Frankie clutched the sheets as Zach sped up. His hands were in Frankie’s hair, scratching down his back, and squeezing his ass. Frankie had never been fucked so completely. It was bliss.

Zach came inside him, and Frankie whined in protest as his pace slowed. Zach, seeing that he hadn't finished, reached around and stroked his cock once. Only once and Frankie came with Zach’s name on his lips.

They collapsed besides each other, sweaty and wrecked, and Zach leaned forward for a kiss. But Frankie held his head back and promised him tonight.

Frankie, the old one, had believed in fate. He would have thought that all that was meant to be would be. This new Frankie wasn't sure what he believed anymore. If there was no predestination then Frankie could choose what he wanted. But he didn't know what he wanted.

There was nothing more dangerous than a man without a mission, and Frankie could feel himself, surely but slowly, being swept up. Yet, there was one thing that still grounded him to reality and kept his sanity intact.

Frankie had to save his family.

-------------------

 

Chapter Text

Frankie was allowed to carry a sword by his hip, and he found that the crew respected him. When he walked towards them, they would give him a steady nod and speak to him as though he was one of their own. Frankie, who was used to being treated by them as an oddity, found it unnerving. No one except Zach called him a prince anymore.

Zach, after Frankie's confession, trusted him to be alone. Every time that he sent Frankie away, to pick something up or deliver a message, and Frankie returned to him, Zach couldn't hide his glee. In the bedroom Zach would show him his gratitude. He would go to his knees and kiss every part of Frankie. Almost every part.

While the crew below feasted, Frankie decided he needed to have a serious talk with his captain. He got Zach upstairs with a glass of wine and a promising wink.  

“Zach, no matter what has happened, I am still a man. A man whose family is now is danger. Promise me that you’ll do everything you can to save them. In return...I’ll give you my loyalty,” Frankie plead as he sat besides him on their bed. Zach looked up at him with tenderness as Frankie ran his hands through his hair. They had spent the day down at the docks surveying the damage that had been inflicted onto the boat. They wouldn't be able to pick up anchor for a fortnight. Frankie wondered if he could survive these weeks with the proverbial knife that he now knew hung over the head of his family.

“You already given your loyalty to me,” Zach pointed out. Frankie nodded as he reached over to pick up the golden chalice full of wine and poured it into Zach’s willing lips. Frankie leaned down and gently kissed him on the forehead. Some wine trickled from Zach’s lips, and Frankie leaned down to lick it away.

“A song then?”

“You’ll give that to me too.”

“A lifetime of songs,” Frankie waved his hands and took a sip of wine. Zach hummed and tapped his chin, considering the offer, and then shook his head.

“You’ll have to give me more than that.”

“Such a greedy pirate,” Frankie sighed and made a show of exasperation as Zach laughed at the dramatics. Frankie had only taken a couple sips, but he felt drunk from the loving way that Zach’s hand was resting on his thigh. Zach had shown him only kindness in spite of the circumstances.

Frankie grew serious as he leaned over and his breath ghosted over Zach’s lips, “I know what you want. A kiss. And I’ll give it you- if you promise to help me.”

“Of course I will try. Anything and everything for you, Frankie,” Zach whispered as his fingertips found their way up to cup Frankie’s face. Frankie covered Zach’s hands with his own and slowly nodded his consent. Zach closed the precious space between their lips, and Frankie had never felt any touch so perfect. When they broke apart, gasping for air, he was the one who leaned back in for another kiss. For a moment, Frankie was able to forget the revolution. For a moment, he was no one but a man in love. For a moment, he wanted to be right here forever.

Then he opened his eyes and sighed. If only it were all that simple.

“I’ll give you it all, Zach. My loyalty. My songs. My love. Everything. Please help me- help me save them.”

“I will do the best that I can, Frankie. I can’t promise you any more than that,” Zach said.

While he sounded sincere, Frankie didn't know what he could do. Was his best enough to save Frankie’s family? To save his mother? Grandparents? Sister? At the thought of his sweet sister, Frankie had to blink back tears. He turned away from the affection, crossed his arms, and found it hard to give his everything to Zach when he felt that he had so much to lose.

“Zach, the ‘royals’ are nothing but a symbol to you. A symbol that you despise, and I understand that’s how you feel about the institution. But- but they are my family. If I lost Ari...I couldn't live with myself knowing that I did nothing. Please, I beg you to help me save them.”

“I...want to help you. But we are now on the brink of creating something anew and in order for this country to have a rebirth...the old must first burn away,” Zach said slowly as he wrapped his arms around Frankie and pressed hot kisses into his skin. They made Frankie burn with desire, but he needed something more than futile promises.

“You killed the prince without taking his life. Didn't you? To kill a symbol is different than a man. Burn palaces and statues and monuments if you must, but spare my family,” Frankie broke down as he begged. He allowed himself to cry, nightmares flooding his mind, and Zach kept him afloat with his strong arms. He could still see the surging crowd, ready to make the streets run with rivers of blood, and he gasped for air.  

“There is one way...but I could risk losing you,” Zach mused, “Would you be willing to die to save them?”

“Men die everyday, Zach, for motives less than mine. I would sooner be killed trying to save my family then live with the shame that I did nothing.”

“Strong word. But you’re shaking.”

“I said I was willing to try, Zach. Not that I wasn't afraid. I am afraid. I could lose you. Or my family. Then what would I do? How could I live with that agonizing pain?” Frankie wiped his cheeks as Zach kissed his neck. The fear of death only made them cling more desperately to life. When they kissed again, Frankie kept his eyes half open. He wanted to memorize how he looked in this moment.

-------------------------

There was something freeing about walking down the streets without anyone waving or glancing at him. Frankie easily blended in, and he found that he enjoyed the anonymity. Zach gave him simple tasks to do, such as fetching fresh wine, and they gave him the chance to stretch his legs.

Frankie smirked as he remembered the argument from this morning. Caleb had declared that Zach was ‘whipped’ by Frankie and that might jeopardize the captain’s thinking. Zach had calmly responded by offering that Caleb get the ‘fuck off this boat if he didn't want to be here.’ That had been the end of it, and the rest of the crew had nodded in agreement and patted Frankie on the back.

Frankie entered the bar, which smelled like perfume and saltwater, averting his eyes at the sight of the scantily clad women who hung about in the corner. The men didn't spare him a glance, and Frankie was surprised at how invisible he had become. He asked to purchase a bottle, pulled out a gold coin, and the shopkeeper disappeared into the back.  

“Storm’s set the grand ol’ plan back, eh?”

“Not by much. The Whispering Isles didn't get hit by dat storm, and they’ll be eager to go der to der Winter Palace. Their mainland was flooded, and they’ll want to be away from all the people whose crops were destroyed n’ such...” the man grunted as he took another swig from his glass.

“Hope they take the princess with dem,” the second one laughed, “I'd like to get my hands on her, rip off her petticoats, and take her...”

Frankie grabbed the wine from the shopkeeper, payed him, and ran out. He couldn't listen to this talk anymore, and he felt his face heat up. There were some fates worse than death after all, and he couldn't imagine what the crowd would decide to do with his family. Frankie wiped his cheeks, hugging the bottle to his chest, and tried not to imagine the worst.

He believed that Zach would help him. He clung with everything he knew to the hope that Zach’s plan would work. If Frankie didn't have hope or belief or faith in some part of humanity than he would he be lost. He had nothing else to hold onto.

Frankie came back to the ship, and he knew that with the fine condition that they could set sail any day now. He walked down to where Zach was shouting orders, and he kissed him in greeting. None of the crew, who had already overheard their nighttime ‘songs,’ looked up in surprise. Homosexuality, Frankie realized, was not something pirates cared about much. Their minds were filled with gold and looting and adventure, and they could care less who Zach took to be his lover. Not that they didn't get some gentle ribbing for it.

“The Captain’s wife is back,” Cody shouted from atop the mast where he was tying the flag down. Frankie knew Cody was only brave enough to say those things from where Zach couldn’t reach him.

“You have a wife?” Frankie teased, “Could have told me.”

Mhm, didn't want to upset you,” Zach pulled him back for another kiss. Frankie giggled at how affectionate the other man was. Now that he had given Zach one kiss the other man wanted all of them.

“When are we setting sail?”

“Tommorow. Ay, the sooner we go...the sooner this will all be over. Then life will be all simple adventuring once more,” Zach’s voice dipped low as he stared at Frankie.

Frankie bit his lip and slipped into the kitchens. He gave the bottle to Pao who proudly read the label on her own. The kitchen staff ‘ohh’ed in wonder and demanded that he teach them how to read next. Frankie’s life had settled down a bit in the last couple weeks, but there was still a tension as it got closer and closer to the time that they needed to depart.

He couldn't sleep that night because there was adrenaline coursing through his veins. Even though his eyelids were heavy, they would snap open and stare into the darkness. Frankie tossed and turned in the dark until he accidentally awoke Zach. He apologized, but Zach only wrapped his hands around him and caressed him. With every gentle kiss and stroke, Frankie felt his breathing slowing.

“How about a song?” Frankie whispered gently. He had meant it in jest, but, to his surprise, Zach started to sing a familiar lullaby. It was the one that Frankie had sang for him after Zach had saved his life the first time. The song that had been Frankie’s grandfather’s favorite. Zach’s voice was a bit raspy and not as well trained as Frankie’s, but the coarseness was soothing.

I love you, Frankie thought as he fell asleep with the lullaby.

"Take me, take me down to the shore

Where you'll find a new golden oar.

Row me, row me down to the sea

where you'll find our love can be free.

Sail me, sail me over the moon

just me and you and our silver tune."

-------------------------

 

Chapter Text

Frankie awoke with a start to the sound of the wind howling and the ship trembling. He tried to hold onto his dream, but it was like trying to stop water from slipping through the cracks between one’s fingertips. There was no way to recapture a dream or put any of the bewildering absurdity into words. Frankie was left without an exact reason to to his uneasiness but a vague feeling that there was great darkness ahead.

The feeling of Zach wrapped around him, his lover’s breathe like the gentle rise and fall of the waves, soothed him. He was comforted by his sturdy presence in the darkness, and Frankie pressed grateful kisses against Zach’s soft skin. As his fingers traced circles into Zach’s arm, Frankie wondered at how mysterious that this man was to him. Frankie might have understood the immensity of the ocean better than Zach.

“You haven’t been sleeping much” Zach’s voice crashed through the peaceful stillness, “Do you want a song? Or maybe a kiss? I hate when you have nightmares”

Frankie sighed as he sat up and wiped his cheeks, “Some peace of mind might do. They’re not nightmares...no, nightmares I could sleep through. It’s just this- this uncertainty. My mind can’t sleep because it’s so busy trying to find a way...a way to escape. And when I close my eyes, my mind reminds me that their might not be- that I only have so much that I can do. And so I have these restless dreams that haunt me with the eerie crying of my unborn ideas and aborted plans. Madness. When will it end?”

Soon,” Zach promised as he sat up and pulled Frankie closer. In the pitch black of the cabin, the word seemed like a feeble light. Frankie tried to hold onto that hope, but it slipped away from him just like his dream had. He felt lost at sea as the great winds moved him closer and closer to- to what?

Frankie felt his faith wavering even with that holy word ‘soon’ glowing before him. Their plan seemed to be based on belief alone -belief that they would arrive on time and find a way inside the palace- and Frankie felt that his belief wasn't strong enough.

He turned around and placed his face to rest on Zach’s broad chest. Below, he could hear the steady beating of his heart.

“You know...I've never seen a heart before. But I've always taken the scientists word that it’s there. I don’t know how you plan to get us inside the palace unharmed, but I’m willing to take your word on it. And if that makes me a fool then so be it.”

“I would tell you everything...but I’m afraid that you’d hate me for hiding it away.”

Frankie snorted, “As if I could ever hate you for long. Anything you do that could help, any kindness, would only make me love you.”

“Love and hate. People see them as opposites...but they’re fucking closer than one would ever think. I will tell you because it’s better that there are no more secrets between us. Not anymore,” Zach muttered as he stood up.

Frankie listened as Zach loosened the floorboard to take out his treasure chest. His eyes wouldn't adjust to the dark so he awaited patiently.

“Here,” Zach pressed something cold into his hands as he sat back down besides him. Frankie’s fingers felt the shape of the metal, the familiar bumps of the jewels, and he shivered as he realized what it was. He felt the rivulets where his family name was engraved into the cross.

“It-it wasn't broken?”

“No, the heirloom has been here this whole time. Do you hate me now?,” Zach said as he lit the candle, the light filling up the room immediately, and brought it to them. In the glow, Zach’s skin almost appeared golden and there were flecks of mica in his warm eyes. In contrast, the precious metal’s from Frankie’s old necklace did not shine as bright. Instead, they seemed cold remainders of a life that no longer was his.  

“Of course not. You were only trying to protect me. But why- why didn't you tell me sooner?”

“I was selfish. I wanted you to wear my necklace instead. To choose to be with me. I was afraid that if I gave the heirloom to you then you would always be reminded that you are a prince and that I am-”

“The most noble man that I have ever met. Stronger and kinder than any other wealthy king or prince or emperor or czar. Yes, you are a pirate. How could I deny what you are? But that doesn't change the man you are to me.”

“But I stole you away.”

“If you had not than I would have died. How would I have heard the winds changing if I was locked inside the palace? How would I have known that the world was going to be drowned in a sea of blood? How would I understand that innocence would soon vanish beneath the blood-dimmed tide? I couldn't see that things were falling apart.”

Frankie ended his speech by moving himself into Zach’s lap and gently stroking his lover’s ear. Zach contentedly sighed at the affection. The candle was still there, illuminating their faces, and Frankie found that he would rather cradle Zach in his arms than his necklace. The diamonds and gold were nothing compared to this.

He threw the cross to the ground. Then he undid the skull necklace and threw it to the ground too. Frankie didn't need these symbols; he was neither a pirate nor a prince. Who needed lifeless jewelry when they had each other?

Frankie moved the candle to their bedside and concentrated on making love to Zach. He didn't know if they would have any more nights besides this one, but he would stretch this moment into eternity. Gently, he kissed Zach like this was to be their first and last time. They rocked against each other, growing hard with desire, as they tried to make every breathe count. Frankie had never loved someone so openly, so deeply, so completely.

“Only you,” Frankie breathed as he pulled back for air. He tried to hold onto this, fingers digging into Zach’s sides, but he could feel the candle growing dimmer as their kisses and touches grew more desperate. He could not hold on to a dream nor this love; the harder he tried the quicker it all fell between his fingertips.

“I love you, oh god,” Zach cried, “why do I love you so much?”

When Zach had asked him before, months before when Frankie had been a different man, Frankie had turned away. Now, he leaned forward.

“You are my song. My pirate. My first and my only love,” Frankie said. His voice shook as the room fell into darkness, but in the last sparks he saw how vulnerable Zach was as he gazed upon him.

They lay there against each other, no other word’s necessary, and the silence was it’s own song. It was the gentle beating of love that had flowed through them, and Frankie listened to the melody as it played on. Before, they had sung to show their love but now the quiet was it’s own music.

Frankie looked down at the floor and thought of the skull and cross necklaces lying side by side and which one he wanted to wear. Neither.

I don’t need that to tell me who I am, Frankie thought.

I know who I am, he decided.

He fell into blissful, dreamless sleep as they sailed into the darkness.

-----------------------

Chapter Text

They arrived on the Whispering Isles in the morning. There was an uncertainty that hung in the vague shape of the grey clouds. It could either rain or the sun could break out from where it was hidden. Either way, their task would have to happen tonight or not at all.

Frankie kept busy checking the inventory with Caleb, and the simple chores kept his mind away from the evening. In his pockets, the two necklaces weighed him down. They seemed to dig into his flesh, cut into his skin, and bite into him- Frankie liked the painful reminder.

“I got us cloaks,” Zach told him as he stared up at the uneasy sky. Frankie glanced up at the heavens with him, and, though he could see the glimmer of the sun, it seemed certain to him that the clouds would only get darker and darker until they flooded the earth,

They set off, Zach ordering the crew to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice, with two horses that Zach had bought at the trading post. Frankie rode easily, Zach struggling a little, but the palace was not far off. He could see the familiar towers piercing the sky.

The silence was heavy. Frankie had a thousand thoughts on his mind, but he decided to voice only the questions that could be answered. Anything to distract himself from the questions that could not.

“Zach, will the rain be our enemy tonight?”

“It might save our sorry ass. No one wants to go out in the rain. Not even mobs that are hungry for blood and chaos.”

“Delightful,” Frankie rolled his eyes.

“I try to keep things light. Anything to make you smile.”

“Hopefully my mother will find you just as charming as I do. Do you think- you think they will recognize me?

“You've been away for a couple months- not a decade! I just hope none of the servants will see you before it’s time. Tie your hood tighter,” Zach advised as they came closer to the silver gates. Frankie swallowed as he remembered all the winters that he had spent in this palace with his sister. He looked up at the endless windows and wondered if she was looking down.

Halt! Who goes there?” called a guard.

“The merchant, Zachary Rance, here with my cousin, Frankie Rance. I have come to, uh, seek council with the royal family.”

“And where are your papers?” the man sniffed, “We don’t let common riff-raff lurk about these ancient halls. If you don’t have documentation then be on your merry way.”

“Oh, we have something better than mere paper,” Frankie grinned as he pulled the birthright from his pocket for the guard to see, “News about the lost prince at last.”

“The lost- oh! Yes, yes you may both go in right away. Open the gates!” 

Frankie spurred his horse and it set off towards the stables where Zach followed behind.

They dismounted, gave their horses to the stable boy, and Frankie moved his hood to conceal his face. He kept the cross firmly in his hands, Zach’s fingertips brushing against the small of his back for guidance, and they set off for the front door.

The halls where filled with heirlooms and dusty antiquity. Royal faces sneered down at them from the walls as they were lead forward. Frankie stepped closer to Zach at the same time that Zach stepped closer to him so that they were pressed side by side. Zach took a deep breathe as if he was jumping into dangerous waters and, Frankie could see the fear swimming in his eyes. He slipped his pinkie around Zach’s.

In the throne room, his mother sat in her golden seat and besides her, where Frankie used to command, stood Ariana. Her hair was longer, an elegant curtain that fell against her soft skin, and Frankie thought of how vulnerable her exposed neck looked. Around them stood various members of the court, the nobility chattering and supping as if nothing was wrong.

“Um, greetings your highness,” Zach pulled his hood down and cleared his throat. For a man who commanded his ship with ease, Frankie could see how uncomfortable he looked in this grand hall.

A single sunbeam managed to pierce its way through the thick clouds and strike the stained glass windows.

“Who let you in?” His mother called down, “You two are not the type of men who I have sit around my table.”

“I-” Zach seemed uncertain so Frankie stepped forward.

“News of the prince,” he explained.

“We have heard ‘news’ from all over the land. Please, no more of this nonsense,” she waved them away and two guards stepped to escort them. Frankie broke away from their grip and pulled the birthright from his pocket. Ari, who hadn't been paying attention, gasped at the sight of the cross.

His mother rose, recognition striking her speechless, and reached for the jewelery: “Where-where did you get this?”

Frankie couldn’t say it here so he shook his head, “From the dead prince. Please, can I speak to you in private?”

His mother and sister waited until they were in an old bedroom before they hugged him and cried as he revealed his identity. Frankie comforted them, aware of the time ticking by, and told them briefly of the story of his capture. He could see his mother’s lips drawing in tightly, Zach’s death on her lips, but Frankie stopped her. He explained how Zach had also saved his life and opened his eyes to the world.

“Opened your eyes to what?” His mother said slowly.

"Do you trust me?"

Ari held Frankie's old birthright to her heart as she spoke: "We want to. But you have changed- your skin is darker, hands courser, and eyes wild. Y-you are my Frankie...yet not. I find trust is harder than it used to be. We both are wary."

His mother stayed silent as he paced back and forth. Frankie felt the blood rush to his face as he struggled to convey the imminent danger.

"The Frankie you know is dead! He died many months ago in a storm. But I know that there is a plan to take the palace at first light. Please, there is no time. I need you to trust me," he begged. He watched as his sister's face flickered between a thousand unnameable emotions.

His mother's eyes had hardened: "How can we trust someone that we don't know?"

"Then if you can't trust me...take this leap of faith."

Silence.

Words seemed to make everything less clear. Frankie could not put the invisible tide into a language that they would understand, but he had to try or risk losing them.

"I have seen clearly that the old world is coming to an end. Statues will fall. Palaces will burn. There is something larger than all of us coming so please- please come with me. We need to escape now or be caught by the end of an era. Our death is not necessary."

He reached out for them, but his mother took a step back instead. She grabbed Ari's hand just as Frankie tried to take it.

"Frankie, how have you forgotten that these walls are impenetrable? Has that pirate-"

"Zach."

"It doesn't matter what his worthless name is. He has corrupted you and made you forget your country and religion. He has shown you darkness and stained your mind with his ideas. Maybe you will think clearly in the morning."

"No! There will be no morning! We need to run or-"

"The Grande's never run. We will fight honorably. We have soldiers and guards who will protect us, and the only one who shall die by mornings light are traitors and scoundrels. Including that pirate of yours," his mother spoke in a calm voice as if she was explaining something simple to a child.

Frankie tried to open his mouth and find the perfect words to warn her but all that came out was a single cry of despair. It was a noise of incomprehensible anguish.

His mother swept out of the room, Ari by her side, and went to lock the door. His sister's eyes shone with tears and he knew that she could feel his pain even if she could not understand his words. Frankie had come so far, but he could not open their eyes to truth.

He rushed forward and grabbed her by the wrist. She looked at him and Frankie willed her to see that this was their last hope. He willed Ari to awaken from this forgetful slumber that the kingdom had fallen into; it would be too late in the morning. He thought, for a moment, that she could see it too, but then she was pulled away by their mother.

The door slammed shut.

Frankie banged on the door, "You would condemn your son!? You would condemn your daughter?! You have locked us both away in a golden sarcophagus!"

Frankie's hands were bruising, and the white door would soon be stained red as he beat against it with his fists. He pulled the sword from its sheath, but the wood was too thick for him to cut through. He slashed away anyways until the futility made him weak. He fell to his knees as he accepted the truth; there was no escape.

The minutes turned into hours, but there was no keeping track of time in this hell. Frankie placed his hands to his throat and tried not to think of death. No, his life would have been meaningless if he had not tried to save his family. Even if he had failed. He thought of Zach, who was locked in the dark dungeon, and he prayed that he would be set free by the revolutionaries. How ironic, Frankie thought with grim humor, that the same people who would kill his family would surely spare his lover.

Frankie had always romanticized these sort of scenes in novels where the hero would bravely meet death. Yet, Frankie did not feel brave. He cried, curling up on himself, like a coward. Frankie wanted to live. Oh, he wanted life more than anything else.

No, Frankie chastised himself, his life was not as important as the love he had for his family and Zach. In the end, he had died trying to save them all.

Frankie clasped his hands together on his knees, but the words wouldn't come to him. He took a deep breath and tried to find clarity in what would be his last moments.

"I did my best, Frankie spoke to the heavens, "please, give me a sign that it was enough."

The door opened.

"It was," Ari said softly with the key in her hand, "Come. The guards will be back any minute now."

They ran down the dark halls as the impending morning filled them with adrenaline. Frankie had the hood masking his identity, but Ari was easy to recognize with her flowing hair and white gown. They couldn't make it out like this.

"Wait. Close your eyes and trust me."

Ari closed her eyes as he pulled his sword from his sheathe. He held her famous locks by the roots and slashed. She took off her own birthright, crying silent tears, as everything but her underthings were ripped from her. Not even their own mother could recognize her now, Frankie thought as he once more took her hand. Hair was not as important as their life, but Frankie admired his sister's strength. They had both cast off their old identities. They had both chosen their fate.

"Ari, we need Zach- the captain. I can't leave him here."

"You love him. Don’t you?" she couldn't help teasing even under the circumstances.

"I do," Frankie answered immediately, "but even if I hadn't loved him...we need him to escape over the seas."

"But how about mother? Nonna?"

"It is too late. She has made her choice...and Nonna is too feeble to make it to the shore," he whispered as they crept down to the dungeons. The stairs where winding and long, and the air was thick with dust. Frankie covered his mouth so not to cough and squinted in the dim torchlight. It was empty except for a single cell where Zach lay slumped against the wall. A guard stood watch, drowsing off, and Frankie curled his hand around his sword as he hid behind a pillar. He raised the blade, ready to strike, when the sound of a horn awakened them both.

"They're here. 'Bout time," the man mumbled and unlocked Zach's prison door, "run now. It'll all be over soon enough an' then we can celebrate when the good people have taken back what's there's.They’re here!"

It was too late, Frankie thought as he watched from the shadows, the morning was here. The mobs had come. There was no escape.

The guard ran off and Zach was about to go with him when Frankie grabbed his hand.

"Frankie," Zach gasped and hugged him. There was no time left but Frankie felt the faintest stirrings of hope with those arms wrapped tightly around him.

Zach looked up to see Ari, her hair and clothes cropped short, and understood. He reached down, grabbed the soot from the ground, and told them to both cover their faces. Zach handed Ari his gun, which she struggled to hold, and instructed her on how to use it.  

They ran down the halls, the sound of screaming filling the court, as nobility were dragged from their bedroom chambers by guards to be executed. Frankie glimpsed his mother and grandmother at the center of the hall, still proudly standing, with guns pressed to the back of their necks. Ari and Frankie faltered, but there was nothing they could. They slipped by the chaos, unseen, and listened in horror as the fatal gunshots echoed in the hall.

They had made it outside into the courtyard as the drawbridge was lowered, and the crowds burst inside.

Zach went into the stables just as someone grabbed Ari by the ripped sleeves of her gown. Frankie recognized the guard from before.

The guard reached down to wipe the soot from her cheek and decided, "You’re the princess. Trying to make an escape, aren't you? Don’t worry, girly, I know what to do with you. Wat’chu doing with that gun there? Princess-”

A gunshot.

The guard fell to the ground. If Frankie hadn’t seen it for himself than he might have thought that he imagined it. Ari turned to look at him, clutching the gun to her heaving chest, as her innocence left from the nozzle of the gun in a cloud of smoke. There was nothing he could say, the man was dead, and the revolutionaries were flooding inside the gates. They had to leave now before anyone else realized that the princess had gone missing.  

Zach came back with the horses, and they mounted. Someone screamed Princess Ariana, but no one tried to stop them. They were searching for a girl with hair like a sheet of silk and skin pearly white- not a skinny girl covered in dirt and holding a shaking gun. Frankie spurred the horse, weaving through the sea of hands, and then they were riding out from the waves of chaos.

Frankie felt the tension tossing inside of him as the horse galloped towards freedom. The sight of the sun breaking the dark clouds and shining against the ocean waters made him hysterical. There were no tears left, but he let out a painful laugh at the sight.

"Look," Ari called and pointed behind them. Frankie whipped his head around, expecting to see guards chasing after them, but there was only the palace drenched in light.

Except it wasn't light, Frankie realized, but a fiery serpent crawling up the castle. The white walls turned black as it was consumed by the beast. Smoke rose from the ruins as though the fire monster had let out a sigh for man's' suffering.

All this time Frankie had thought it would end in a great wave but it had ended in fire. He turned his back to the destruction and looked towards the blue freedom before him instead.

They arrived on the boat just as the crew had started to pick up anchor. The crew members tried to gather around them and ask questions, but Zach told them that this was a story for another day.

"All this destruction. All this desolation," Ari mourned as she stared back into the impenetrable darkness, "all this death."

"Humans have darkness inside them, but we are also capable of goodness and love. Evil won't win so long as we don't let it. Don't despair," Frankie promised her as he pressed a kiss to her cheek. He stroked her hair, feeling with his fingers the uneven  strands, and held her hand. On his other side, Zach leaned into him too.

"Where are we going to go now? I-I only planned this far ahead," Zach confessed as he leaned against the rail and stared at the island of black smoke.

"Home," Frankie said simply and they both looked up at him in confusion.

"Where is that?" Ari asked somberly.

Instead of answering, Frankie took both of their hands and led them away from this railing. Out on the main deck, the world was nothing but the rising sun against the immense waters. The light promised a new beginning.

"Here," Frankie said as he pulled them both into a hug. Here he was prince of the open sky. Here he was ruler of the sea. Here there was no law to stop him from loving who he loved.

Zach swept him up into his arms just as Frankie tangled his legs around him. They were both covered in dirt and muck, equal to each other at long last, and they kissed with the warmth of the sun against them. This was the life that they had chosen for themselves, and they would let no one take this happiness from them.

Ari, still struggling with taking in everything that had happened in one night, started to sing, "Take me, take me down to the shore. Where you’ll find a new golden oar."

Frankie joined in the melody, "Row me, row me down to the sea. Where our love can be free."

Zach, still holding him, came in with his raspy voice, "Sail me, sail me over the moon. Just me and you and our silver tune."