Actions

Work Header

can't remember what we came here for

Chapter Text

 


 


  

 

 

It's almost funny, really; John Silver, the one-legged whore. It's a title that barely fits anymore, seeing as those looking to fuck a man with one-and-a-half legs are in short supply, and John's ability to suck cock certainly went out the window for a while. Now, he's mostly got the hang of it, but it takes finagling with a pillow, and doesn't stay comfortable for long. He can't ride his customers the way he once did - his specialty, really, being pushy and bossy and calling the shots even with a cock up his arse.

Honestly, he's just lucky to have a woman Max as his Madam. John earned his keep, back when he was able to turn tricks, and he still earns his keep now, only with fewer customers and more ... well, chores .

John is also lucky he's as smart as he is good-looking. He can balance books and remember facts, numbers, faces, anything he's ever read. The rest of the workers all like him, respect him and sometimes come to him with their problems, when it isn't so bad as to go directly to Max.

Max even commissioned a boot to be made, one with a bottom that could slip into any shoe and give John the appearance of normalcy, should he desire it. It's fine for walking the floors during business hours, or the streets when he'd rather not have to deal with odd looks, but it has never been comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. Some nights he forgoes it entirely, hobbling around the brothel or using crutches.

This night, however, the brothel is loud and busy with patrons; a crew, recently returned, and flush with their prize. The rooms are almost all full, the main lobby packed nearly to bursting and stifling hot. John has his favored corner, near the back alley door, where he sits on his stool and goes over the books, half an eye on his numbers and half an eye on the crowd. The air of the room is heavy with bittersweet cigar smoke and bodies. He leaves the door ajar, and on nights like tonight, the breeze that wafts in is tangy with saltwater, and takes the edge off the stinking heat inside.

"You must try one of my girls sometime."

John glances up, marking his spot with his thumb. Max, dressed in a lovely burgundy number, is chatting to some man, tall with a dark blue knee-length coat and dark hair pulled back into a tiny queue. His voice is deep, and barely carries over the din; not like Max's distinct accent, which lilts commandingly across the room. John supposes the man she’s speaking to must be the captain of this crew - and he’s fairly certain this is the crew of Captain Flint. John has heard the tales, knows that most people would prefer to avoid him entirely, as his good side is practically nonexistent, and his temper is said to be legendary. This is the first time he’s seen the man, as he’s usually one to let his crew off on shore but then secret himself aboard his ship. Some men tell tales that he visits a house, in the interior of the island, where he meets with a witch to have his future hunts blessed by her. They say he’s anointed with the blood of infants.

"I've told you before," the man - Flint - starts, although part of his words are soon drowned out. "--not interested." He’s gazing disinterestedly around the room, as if he’d rather be anywhere than a hot, crowded brothel in Nassau. John can’t really say he blames him.

"Everyone's interested in something," Max insists, glancing up at Flint with a smirk. They're taking a circuit of the room, coming closer to John. Ever one to keep an ear for gossip, he turns back to his numbers, looking for all the world like a busy accountant. The corner he’s tucked himself into is partially in shadow, and unless Max comes looking for him, there’s no reason he should be spotted.

"And some people are not interested in anything," Flint argues, firm and final. John almost snorts out a laugh - those words are as false as any he's ever heard. Not every man is interested in fucking a woman, sure, but everyone has something. There was a man who used to visit, but only ever wanted to be held close in bed and sang to. There was a woman who had asked to be tied up and fed, a man who wanted to be pissed on, and John knows plenty of tales of men who have fucked animals, should the need arise.

Max hums noncommittally, but by then they are nearly at the back door, and John cannot risk looking up to read her face. Max most likely knows he's been listening - every whore worth their weight is always listening - but John isn't one to piss off customers for eavesdropping, especially when the customer is Captain Flint.

"Are you sure?" Max asks. John doesn't like her tone, not with how close they are to him. Flint doesn't make a sound other than one of frustration. When he glances from the corner of his eye, John can see all of Max, but only part of the captain.

"You know where to find me, should any of my crew get out of hand."

"Of course."

The man strides past John, smelling of the sea and dark rum and slipping out the back door. When John glances up, Max is looking right at him as one eyes a cache of gems.  

"No," he says, narrowing his eyes at her.

Max grins wolfishly and moves closer, until she is all-but towering over him. "That man is lonely, mon cher , and no matter his protestations, everyone has some need to be filled - preferably in a way that brings coin to our coffer."

" 'That man'  is renowned and feared pirate Captain Flint.” John hisses, pointing his quill as menacingly as he can. “He doesn't seem the sort that enjoys being seduced. And besides, have you forgotten?" He kicks out with his good leg, catching Max gently in the shin. "I'm not exactly a desirable catch, now am I?"

"Who is to say what is desirable and what is not?” Max shrugs. “You are more than your missing leg, Silver."

John scoffs and shoos her away.

 






Flint and his crew do not return for many weeks. In that time, John manages to suck one man's cock to the tune of excruciating leg pain that leaves him bedridden for days, while another man tries to use him for his stump. It is a nasty altercation, for the man is less than sober when he enters John’s room, but John has rules in place for exactly that purpose. Max allows everyone in her brothel to have rules, and holds clients accountable to them. Should someone be looking for something in particular, they go to directly to Max, and will then be guided to a suitable partner.

That night, John had expected to be fucked. He had not expected a man to grab him by the pinkish scar tissue, squeeze hard enough to hurt, and attempt to rub his cock against the gnarled flesh.

 



John had kicked him hard enough to knock a few teeth loose.

 


 

The brothel is small, but so is Nassau, and there are plenty of days where no crews come through and business is slow. On days like those, early in the afternoon, John makes the rounds. They have a few decorative plants, some of which grew of their own accord, like the ivy that clings to the wall and climbs along the stairwell. It’s managed to grow itself artfully, with coils of it having intertwined with the rafters, hanging down in vines. Near the base of the stairs the vine has blossomed fragrant, vibrant pink flowers. When the crowds of men come through their scent is masked, but on emptier days, or early quiet mornings, their sweet, delicate scent is enough to mask the lingering dregs of ale in cups and piss in the outside alleys.

They have a few smaller birds in cages, some of them gifts from patrons. It adds to the exotic air of the place, and John has taken it upon himself to deliver them food and fresh water every day. None of them are capable of talking, which is probably a godsend, but John can’t help imagining a bird like the ones he’s heard tale of, almost as long as a man’s arm and colors unimaginable.

Some mornings John takes a slow, purposeful walk to the beach, finds a more secluded area by a dock, and sits to soak his leg. It’s best to go before the fishermen have come in, or after the morning’s rush of selling. The seawater stings at first, but it’s cool, and eventually it dulls any aches to a numb throb.

Today John stares across the bay, at the handful of boats and larger ships, past them to the white-blue horizon line. He can’t say he understands the pull of men to the sea, other than the siren’s call of riches. John is as greedy as any man, and maybe, were he not down a limb, he’d try his hand at hunting - although, he is shit in a fight, knows nothing about ship maintenance, and can’t even cook to own life. Yet, he's good with numbers, so perhaps he could be a quartermaster. He thinks on it a while, fantasies and daydreams, idly swirling the stump of his leg in the water, until he returns to work.

 






When Flint returns, his crew is again in high spirits. There's a man who always comes to see one particular whore, Charlotte, who arrives before most of the others. He’s the crew’s most dependable spender by far.

"He's absolutely gone on me," Charlotte had told John once, as she braided his hair in the evening. "He's nice enough. Gentle. Could have worse, I suppose."

The crew that come in are happy to be parted with their coin, and the room is soon rowdy with drunk pirates, half of them trying to sing a song that John either doesn't know, or is being sung so badly there isn't a chance of recognizing it.

Tonight, John is in his same position by the back door, only with no ledger to distract him. He knows it's coming, but Max somehow manages to sneak up on him just the same.

"Have you met my book keeper?"

John glances away from watching Charlotte and her beau to catch Max and Flint coming towards him. Flint is certainly tall, with a short ginger beard and piercing green eyes. His cheeks are dotted with freckles, John notices, before he puts on his winning grin.

"John. John Silver." John and Max exchange a look. Her use of the term ‘book keeper’ was deliberate; John knows her game. John glances to Flint, feeling too-short sitting while Flint stands. "And you would be Flint, correct?"

"Yes," Flint says, nearly glaring at John, as if trying to find the angle. Smart man. "You sure he isn't one of your whores?" He asks, turning to Max with his lips thin. "He's certainly got the looks for it."

"I'm going to take that as a compliment," John snaps, churlish without meaning to be. He kicks out his stump, revealing the loose pant leg, folded and pinned to prevent it from dragging the floor. He grins at Flint with teeth. "However, it would appear I'm damaged goods."

"Men are shallow creatures. You should know this," Max smiles at Flint, speaking quickly as if afraid John's words will give offense. If Captain Flint takes offense at the sharp words of a whore, then he is not the man Nassau - the entire civilized world - believe him to be. "What Silver cannot earn me with his body, he saves me with his head."

Flint looks properly cowed, for an instant, before his expression grows blank. Max chooses that moment to excuse herself, some story on her lips about needing to check on something. Flint doesn't look away from John, his stare almost unnerving, as if measuring John’s worth - against what, John doesn’t know.

"So," John says, when it becomes clear that Flint won't be leaving. He cocks his head just so, sets the tone of his voice to one practiced and perfected. "Are you looking for someone? Something? I know everyone here, their tricks, their rules. I could find you someone suita--"

"I'm not interested." Flint interrupts, words firm but tone soft, like he's tired of saying it. John smiles.

"Everyone wants something." John insists. "A good fuck, a hot meal, a comfortable bed, pleasant company."

Flint rolls his eyes and shakes his head, not bothering to respond before turning and exiting out the back door.

"Lovely chat!" John calls after him. His voice is lost to the din of the crowd.

 

 

Chapter Text



 

A perk of having such a close relationship with Max is that John, when he likes, has access to hot baths.

His leg is the official reasoning behind it - hot water helps to keep infection at bay, constant cleaning and re-bandaging aids in avoiding inflammation, etc. The other girls sometimes give him a stony glare for it, and John does not begrudge them their jealousy. While they're stuck squatting over chamber pots with sponges, he gets to lounge in clean, freshly boiled water, sometimes spiked with aromatic oils, and with access to real soap.

John usually takes his baths in the mornings. The tub is tall but not very long, and sits in the corner of Max’s private room. He sits in the steaming water as Max either lounges in bed and regales him with stories, or is off doing business. There’s no shame between the two of them - Max has nothing John hasn’t seen before, and vice versa.

Today John’s leg is a mess, cramping and tingling without any position more comfortable than the next. John has the water as hot as he can stand it, his skin turning vivid pink and steam wafting into the air. He soaps up his hands and scrubs at his scalp, scratching hard.

"Do I need to call the doctor back?" Max asks. John cups water in his hands and rinses suds away from his eyes before blinking them open in time to catch her strolling into the room half-naked and holding up two dresses. He glances between one made from vivid, gaudy emerald material with silk accents, and a more understated ivory piece, matte with subtle embroidered swirls across the bodice.

"No." John sighs, and then gestures to the ivory. It will look gorgeous against her skin. "Wear your hair down with it," he suggests. Max tosses the emerald dress onto her bed and steps out of John's immediate sight. "I just... must have slept on it incorrectly. It gets angry from time to time." He shrugs, washing the last of the soap from his hair. Gingerly, teeth gritted, he takes his left thigh in hand and slowly lowers the stump of his leg into the water. It stings, so strong and sudden that John jerks and sloshes water up the side of the tub. He takes a few deep, quick breaths before he submerges the rest. He can almost see the water ripple around the throbbing flesh.

"Do not aggravate it," Max chides, voice floating from behind him. "You wear the boot too often and do not use your crutches often enough." When John chooses not to respond, Max gives a put-upon sigh. "Very well. If you will not talk of your well-being, we can talk of our new mutual friend."

"Captain Flint is not --"

"Did you crack him?" Max interrupts. "Did you discover what it is that will entice him?"

"Good Lord. I spoke perhaps one full sentence to the man and then he ran away. I learned he doesn't like talking about how much he isn't interested in fucking any of your whores. Why you continue to antagonize him--"

"Flint and I understand the necessity of our companionship. His crew needs my brothel, my brothel needs his crew. If it calls for one of us to take a good ribbing every now and then, we are both strong enough to survive it."

"A ribbing is one thing," John starts. "But I'm afraid if I continue to pry he'll put me in irons and sink me in the bay!"

"Pah. You have been listening to the girls' stories. Captain Flint is a man, and only a man. He is like any other man. Figure out what makes him tick."

"Christ. Don’t you have something to do, like fuck Eleanor?" John sinks lower into the tub, pulling his knee up to allow him to rest his ears below the water and close his eyes. When Max replies, the words sound like nothing more than humming tones.

He stays in the water until the steam has faded and his fingertips have pruned; until the breeze coming in from the adjacent balcony window leaves gooseflesh across his shoulders, and he has to drag himself out or risk pneumonia.

 

 


 

 

It isn’t always easy, fucking men. Men - pirates in particular - have an idea in their heads that they are entitled to certain things. Max holds court as best she can, and no one would dare cross her outright for fear of being banned from her establishment. Sometimes, when things get too out of hand, John has to step in.

It’s never been anything too violent, thankfully, for John is useless in a fight. He always has been, but losing a leg lost him what little advantages he once had. Where he used to be slight and faster than anyone looking to hit him, not he has no hope of outmaneuvering, and as such falls back on outsmarting his opponent more often than not.

When a member of Vane’s crew has one of the girls screaming behind closed doors, John has no qualms about coming in uninvited.

“Everything alright in here?” He asks, glancing between the man - bald with a mean face; Hamund? - and Emily, a new young thing with sweet eyes and straight honey-brown hair. Her eyes are wide and both her cheeks are flushed in the way that means they’ll be bruised by tonight. Hamund, clearly enraged by the interruption, rolls out of the bed and stomps up to John, lip curling.

“I paid yer bitch boss,” he says. “What this whore and I are doin’ ain't none of your business for another hour.”

“Ah, I see.” John, his palms sweaty, smiles. “Hamund, isn’t it? Firstly, I wouldn’t call Max a bitch. Poor form, you see, to speak that way of someone whose establishment you depend on in order to get fucked. Secondly, I’m not sure you understand the rules of a brothel. Allow me to explain: you pay for her services.” John gestures to Emily, who has sat up on her knees and looks ready to run at the first signal. “Here, you put your cock in something. But if you’re looking to fight, perhaps you can go get pissed at Guthrie’s tavern, get into a fight with O’Malley. If you’re going to be damaging the merchandise, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”

Hamund laughs. It sends a shiver down John’s spine - he’s been telling Max to hire someone, some muscle to deal with fuckers like this. One day, he won’t be able to talk his way out of trouble.

“Ah, but she likes it!” Hamund says, turning back to Emily, who flinches.

“Look, I can see you’re a bit thick.”

“Oi!”

“It’s alright. Days out at sea, the sun tends to bake men’s brains to mush. It isn’t your fault, I’m sure.”

“You fucking shit--”

It isn’t a surprise, when Hamund whips out his fist and punches him square across the jaw. John braces for it and as such doesn’t go down, although he still spits blood against the floorboards for the trouble.

“I wouldn’t have done that,” Emily hisses. John and Hamund both whip their heads around to look at her. “He’s Max’s favorite. Once word gets ‘round that you’ve hit him, you’ll never set foot in here again.”

Hamund, for the first time, doesn’t look so sure of himself. John wipes at the his mouth with the back of his hand and winks at Emily - she’s going to fit in just fine here, in time.

“She has a point,” John sighs, shrugging and turning to leave the room. “Hitting Emily was something that we may have forgiven, might have been worth a warning; maybe a fee. But my pretty face?” When he smiles, John hopes his teeth are flecked with blood. “I’m worth a hell of a lot more.”

 

 


 

 

 

When Max hears of it, John can’t help the joy that washes over him to watch her at work. She tears Hamund apart in the middle of the floor, voice sharp and threatening. She comes up to maybe his chest, but here, in a room of patrons and men who depend on her business, he can’t risk saying a word or raising a finger. Plenty of the men in the room are laughing at Hamund, softly at first and then outright as Max flings insults, and then makes it clear that Hamund was brought to heel by a woman and an invalid.

“You’ll never set foot in this brothel again,” Max tells him, smiling sweetly. “Have fun fucking goats, mon cher .”

A raucous cheer comes up at the end of Max’s speech, followed by a round of applause and whistles. John raises his voice with the rest, winking at Max when she sees him on the landing. Hamund follows her gaze and John feels cold all over, the noise of the room fading out as Hamund and he lock eyes. It’s impossible to hear what he says, but John understands the gist of it - from now on, John will ensure he and Hamund never cross paths again.

 


 

 

 

“You were amazing.”

“I did what was necessary,” Max sighs, sinking into the plush armchair in the corner of her room. John pours them both a glass of rum, handing over hers and perching himself on the arm of the chair. “Vane’s crew is a mess. They run wild, and he does nothing to contain them.”

“They say he’s still bitter over Eleanor,” John mutters, watching Max’s face. “They say Flint is her new favorite, that Vane doesn’t receive tips anymore.”

“They also say that Flint hides in the interior of the island with a witch,” Max says, rolling her eyes and taking a swig of rum. “Vane would not control his crew even if Eleanor were fucking him senseless. In fact, they would probably be worse." She takes another sip and smiles up at John, leaning into his side. "Thank you, my friend. I can sleep better at night knowing I have you to help keep animals like Hamund in line.”

“I’m happy to help,” John says. The rum is dark and pungent as he swirls it in the glass before taking a sip. He lets it settle on his tongue until it burns the corners of his eyes before he swallows. “You really need to find someone else, Max. I can only do so much. If he’d hit me any harder, you’d be down two whores instead of one customer.”

“We cannot all be Eleanor, with O’Malley at her beck and call. Tell me, who can I hire, hmm?”

John hums. They’re a tight-knit group at the brothel, but only because they have common goals and common pasts. Max is right, as always. To invite an unknown man into the mix would be dangerous at best; deadly at worst.

 

 


 

 

"What the hell happened to you?"

John didn’t know Flint’s crew had returned from their latest hunt, and so is shocked to hear Flint’s voice. He’d been absorbed in a novel, the day still early yet and the brothel quieter for it. Rather than sitting inside he'd opted to drag a chair out onto the front steps, reading in the sun while the staff swept and cleaned last night's mess. When he glances up, John sees Flint staring at the bruise, the split lip and the swollen patch of skin along John's jaw like it personally offends him.

"Oh, this?" John shrugs, closing his book and rolling his shoulders. "Perk of the job."

"I was under the impression that this was a brothel,” Flint starts. His eyes are narrow, his tone sardonic. “Not some cock-fighting ring."

"Sometimes, the two overlap."

"Who did this?" Flint makes a move, like he means to touch John's jaw, and then thinks better of it. John is struck by the aborted motion, by the fascination Flint is betraying with this conversation.

John quirks a brow. "It's been handled," he assures. He flicks his hand dismissively. "Ask your crew. Island gossip travels fast."

"One of Vane's men, I'd wager. They're animals." Well, no love lost between those two captains, apparently. “Was it about you?”

John stares blankly at Flint for a moment before he realizes what it is Flint is asking. “What?” John laughs, a short, shocked guffaw. “If you’re implying -- Christ, it wasn’t about me. It was about one of the girls.”

Flint’s face twists, like the idea in his head is distasteful.

“What, can’t imagine a cripple being the muscle of a brothel?” John sneers. “If you know of anyone better to hire, please, let me know. Name one man on this island that would step between another man and a whore he’s paid for, even as she screams for help.”

Flint doesn’t answer, the sour expression fading to one of something almost resembling contrition.

John sniffs, and opens his book. “That’s what I thought.”

 

 


 

 

Flint and his crew stay ashore for a solid week, restocking their hold and waiting for a tip from Miss Guthrie for their next hunt. Every whore in the brothel knows everything about every crew - it is a trick of the trade. Gossip is power for those who have no strength outright, and Max has always worked the whispers and information to its utmost. John no longer has the best success in working secrets out with bedroom magic, but he still has his winning smile and quick wits. It’s entirely too easy to outsmart any man into telling him exactly what he wants to know, whether or not John has a hand on their cock.

John knows that the men of Flint’s crew fear him - it is in no way questioned that Flint is ferocious in a fight, dirty and skilled with a blade - but practically none of them like him. He’s more of a figurehead than a true man, in their eyes. He is the one who calls their orders, the one whose wrath they incur should there be errors, but he is not a man . He is not one of them. His distance from them is not only emotional but physical; most every time the crew comes to port in Nassau, Flint disappears inland, coming back only a day or so before cast off.

Normally, Flint is practically never seen within the brothel. He is said to frequent Guthrie’s bar more often than anywhere else in town - but those visits are typically only for business.

“It ain’t natural,” a man is saying to Emily, face half-buried in her breasts. “What sort of pirate don’t fuck whores, don’t get drunk?” Emily, bless her, nods along and laughs.

That’s what John misses the least. Typically, getting fucked was the easiest part of it - John was good at tricking people into giving him what he wanted, at getting them to fuck him his way. But the placating touches, the business smile and the fake laughter had always made him a bit sick. There was nothing more boring, more painful, than sitting and listening to a half-imbecile drone on about the world, about his woes. It’s almost better now that he isn’t selling a fantasy, when sex is on the line. He pities Charlotte for it, for how even if she isn’t interested, she has to pretend to be; because Logan fancies that he loves her, and he won’t pay for her special anymore, if she breaks the illusion. Now, should John ever get a customer, it’s always quick and efficient, no playing games or pretending. Who wants to buy a fantasy with a one-legged whore? Some days, it almost makes losing the damn thing worthwhile.

 

 


 

 

 

“Your crew always returns in such high spirits.” John says to Flint, the next time they cross paths. Flint has only just broken up a fight between two of his men. He was brought to the brothel by one of Max’s boys with the express purpose of breaking them up. He has color high in his cheeks and his hair is a mess, and his face says he’s tired of everyone’s shit.. John grins. “Is it true, then, what they say?”

“What do they say?” Flint grunts, turning and walking away. He doesn’t slow his step, is perhaps moving at a faster gait to try and deter John from following.

“That you go to a witch.” John says, keeping at Flint’s elbow. The pace is excruciating, every step sending daggers up his thigh. John doesn't slow.  “That she bathes you in the blood of infants to bless your hunts at sea. Is that how you always make it back here, crew flush with coin and ready to fuck?”

Flint's steps don't falter. He doesn’t so much as twitch a brow, but the air around him changes and John bites his lip to keep from smirking.

“I thought Max said you were smart,” Flint quips. John, startled, laughs outright, barking and too-loud; it makes the bruise on his cheek ache, makes the split in his lip threaten to bleed again. This, for some reason, is what gets Flint to nearly stop, turning his head to regard John as he laughs. John watches Flint watch him from the corner of his eye for a long, heavy moment as the laughter subsides. “Fuck off,” Flint finally grunts, and leaves before John can say another word.

“Are you trying to piss him off?”

John turns, as much on his heel as he can, keeping a wince at bay with a winsome grin.

“Pardon me?”

“The captain.” A man, hair shorn short and taller than anyone John has ever met, is standing, hands on his hips and one brow raised. He tips his chin in the direction of the front door, where Flint has just left.

“Who?” John shifts his weight off his bad leg, frowning thoughtfully. “Oh, Flint! He and I are good friends.”

“Really,” the man deadpans, looking distinctly unimpressed. His arms are practically bulging with muscle, his skin is tan and shines with sweat - John wouldn’t mind a roll with him. He has a strangely kind face, but his eyes are hard as they stare.

“Truly.” John grins, fighting to keep from limping as he walks closer to the man and places a placating hand on his arm. “The closest of bosom friends, I assure you. I’ll be sure to tell him of your concern, mister --?”

“Bones,” he says, and peels John’s hand from him as if John is riddled with the plague. “Billy Bones. Be careful,” Billy hisses, not letting go of John’s hand. “Captain Flint is not a man to be taken lightly.”

John’s grin fades. The man is towering over him, suddenly too close for comfort. Although his words are cautionary, the unforgiving twist of his mouth and the way his eyes search - like they see through John as easily as glass - make the pit of John’s stomach grow heavy.

“Yes. Well.” With a yank, John frees his hand from Billy’s grasp, swaying precariously with the force of it. “Thank you for your… kind words.”

He doesn’t give the man another second of his attention, shoving past him and to the stairs. He can feel eyes on him all the way up to his room, like cold fingers tracing up his spine. It was never his intent to attract anyone’s attention but Flint’s - certainly not to attract the ire of men on his crew. He’s sure the entire brothel noticed the two of them talking. Word will make its way round, and soon everyone will be whispering about it, alongside the stories still circulating about his fight with Hamund. John grits his teeth and sits on his bed, yanking off the damn boot and rubbing irritably at his stump.

Chapter Text



 

 

"Excuse me, sorry, don't mean to interrupt, but -- would you by any chance be John Silver?"

John looks up, narrows his eyes and furrows his brows. The brothel is loud, crowded with a new slew of men from a recently docked crew. "Unless you know of another one-legged whore around here, I don't think that's a real question."

"...Ah. Of course. Yes. Well, sir, you see, I was wondering if you could help me with something. I'm--"

"I know who you are. You are Jack Rackham. Everyone on this damn island knows your name, so let's stop with the pretend pleasantries and get right down to whatever business you have in mind, shall we?"

Jack's face contorts, obviously thrown off in the middle of something practiced. Everything about Jack is carefully formed, from his words to the intricate sideburns and beard. Jack, everyone knows, is far too smart for his own good. It works well against most of the people on this shithole of an island, but then, John isn't most people. With a sigh, Jack slumps into the seat across the table, mouth twisted in a moue of distaste.

"Well they certainly aren't sugar-coating it when they talk about you, are they?” John snorts under his breath. He’s sure they aren’t. “Very well. You know who I am; then you know the crew I represent. I come on behalf of Mr. Hamund."

"Such a lovely man." The name sends shivers down John’s spine, but he fights to keep his expression neutrally displeased.

"I'm not here to discuss the merits of his actions.” Jack raises up both hands, palms out. “As I understand it, he was out of line. I may be his quartermaster, but it isn’t my job to apologize for him. What I am here to do is assuage the fears of my men. There's talk amongst my crew that Hamund was targeted because he works for Vane, and that since Vane has fallen out of favor with Miss Guthrie, his men are soon to fall out of favor in this establishment as well."

"Are you implying that my employer plays favorites with the captains? Max is not Miss Guthrie - she does not have the influence nor the manpower to decide who will and won’t be allowed into the brothel based solely on which captain they claim allegiance to. So long as the rest of your men understand the rules of fucking a whore, I should think there won't be any other issues. If you've come to assault the good name of my madam, I can make you an appointment to speak to her yourself."

John turns back to his ledger, hunches his shoulders to break Jack from his line of sight. Jack makes a soft noise.

"I meant no slight! I take no issue with her decision - Hamund can be a brute at times, and I commend the both of you on how you handled the situation. But the rest of my men - they don't understand, you see. It is no secret that Max and Eleanor are… close. They’re worried, and so I said I would come and speak on their behalf."

When he looks up, Jack’s face is contrite. Or, as contrite as Jack Rackham ever looks. John frowns. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rackham, but I fail to understand. You say you're here on their behalf, and I'm not entirely sure what it is you're trying to accomplish."

"Hamund tells me you were the one who found him.... mistreating the whore. He says you're the only form of security this brothel has. I can understand, it must be hard to find a man with strong enough moral character to protect the women here. What if - what if I can offer you someone to fill that position?"

"We've considered every able-bodied man on this island, Mr. Rackham. Unless you have someone secreted away that can be of aid to us, I don't think--"

“Anne Bonny."

John balks. It’s unprofessional to look so shocked, so openly confused, but he can’t keep from letting his mouth fall open. " Anne-- your little shadow, that Anne Bonny? The one who never smiles, never speaks except to cuss, and looks about as friendly as a cactus?"

"You must admit she'll look the part."

"It's one thing to look the part, Rackham, but you can't expect men to respect her on that alone. She's --"

"Lethal with a blade; ruthless; doesn't abide by the sort of men you're looking to keep from harming your women? Look, I won't promise you the impossible. Anne would be a match against anyone, man to man, but I don't think she'd last long should a handful of larger men get together. But so long as the incidents in this brothel remain isolated and singular in nature, I believe you will find her to be the perfect fit."

John is hard pressed to come up with a reason not to at least bring the idea to Max. They’re fresh out of options as it is, and he’d rather not risk losing teeth over stupid entitled pricks with mean streaks.

He says as much to Rackham, who seems appeased, leaning back in his chair like he owns the place. "Go, speak with your madam. Have her send out one of her boys to find me at our camp, and we can meet. I'll bring Anne along and we can all have a nice little interview, see what everyone thinks."

 

 


 

 

Max twists backwards in her chair and sits up straight. “Rackham wants to gift us Anne Bonny? The two of them are practically inseparable, and he is not a man who is known for his charity. What does he stand to gain from this deal?”

“Would that I knew. He’s offered to meet with you, to discuss it. Maybe he’ll be more forthcoming with you than with me.” John shrugs. He understands Max’s reticence, in the face of such an enticing offer. Anne Bonny is a woman well known but not well understood. Her presence on the island has always been like that of a loyal hound, following at Jack’s heels. John isn’t sure she’ll be so pleased with the arrangement, but he can’t help feeling a bit excited at the prospect; a brothel, protected by two women and a cripple? They’ll be practically famous. 

Max scoffs. “ Offered to meet with me. Where, on that slum of a beach? No. I will meet with him, but not there. You, on the other hand--”

John leans across the desk, shaking his head. “Max-”

“I cannot leave the girls here alone, mon cher . It would be foolish for both of us to go. You will have no trouble in that camp, I’m sure.” 

No troub -- I’m fairly certain Hamund wants to rip my head off my fucking shoulders for what I did!” Sensing an impasse, John lowers his voice to something simpering and pathetic. “You’d send me, a cripple, to hobble down to the beach and what - tell Jack you’re willing to meet, but that he has to come to you? Send one of your little urchin boys to do it.” 

“It is better that it comes from you, John. It sends a stronger message. You are my second-in-command here. When you walk into that camp, you will show those men that you are not afraid. You will remind them that if they ever want to get fucked by any of my whores again, they need to respect you as well as me.”

You will owe me.” John leans a hand on the desk to haul himself out of the chair, glaring at Max as he does. He hates it when she does this - when she’s clear-headed and logical to the benefit of herself. Were he still whole, John would think nothing of traipsing down to the beach to have a chat with Jack Rackham. As it is, he doesn’t have a choice. He’ll simply have to be… careful.

 


 

 

 

He gets plenty of stares as he walks through Vane’s camp. Normally, the men around the island ignore him, or look at him with the sort of intrigue that one gives a leper. Now, John can feel their eyes on him; he can feel their emotions, seething and ready to strike. There’s no such thing as walking tall and strong anymore for him, especially on the beach. The best he can do is compensate for the way his boot sinks ungainly into the sand, how he has to yank it out and put a swing into his next step to regain ground. He walks with purpose, back straight and fists clenched.

A few of the men whistle at him, but it isn’t something John hasn’t dealt with before. He grits his teeth and heads straight for Jack’s tent, happy to not find it guarded.

“Ah, my favorite one-legged whore.”

“And my least favorite quartermaster. What a pair we make.”

Inside the tent is dark and cool. It's mostly bare, only a pile of pillows and perhaps what may be a mattress underneath them, some tables with bottles, and the chair Jack is sitting in. John’s stump is already red-hot sore, but he switches his weight to his good leg and puts his arms akimbo.

“Oh, you wound me, Silver. As does your employer - where is she? I was sure I told you that she and I could discuss the particulars of our arrangement.”

John clucks his tongue and looks down his nose. “Come now, Jack. You know better than to expect Max to come down to your camp - especially not after what Hamund did. I’m here on her behalf. If you’d like, you can tell me everything here, now. If not, you can make an appointment to see her in her office.”

“It doesn’t bode well for our future partnership if she deigns me unworthy of a little walk.”

“You’re too smart to play stupid, Jack. You know she and I are the only ones protecting this business. You know how much we have to gain by finding someone to help keep our girls safe from men like yours. What we’re both wondering is what you have to gain by lending us your woman.”

“Can’t a man be of some help to an old friend?”

John levels Jack with a look.

 “Fine, Christ . Would you believe me if I said I’m not in it for the money? I know, hard to believe. It’s simpler even than that. Anne is going rather stir-crazy here in the camps. The men want to know they’re safe from further persecution. They don’t all like Anne, but they know she’s with me, with Vane, and they trust her enough for that. Men on other crews respect her for the company she keeps. Having her around your brothel will serve twofold. Think of it as a marriage of convenience. A marriage of convenience that nets me… say, ten percent of gross?”

John scoffs. “ One percent.”

“Eight.”

“Three.” 

“Five.”

“Fine.” John claps his hands together. Max will probably throw a fit, but if she wants to argue further, she can do it on her own time. “I’ll relay your all this to Max. But know that this will never come to fruition if you can’t bring your sorry ass - and Anne’s - up to the brothel for a face-to-face meeting. You’ll forgive us if we’re slightly … distrusting of men like you.”

Jack groans, rolls his eyes and waves a dismissive hand. “Alright. I’ll bring Anne by as soon as we’re able.”

John turns and opens the flap of the tent. He smiles back over his shoulder, bitter and sharp. “Pleasure doing business with you, Jack.”

 

 


 

 

 

The whole interaction takes minutes, but the walk back to the brothel is grueling, taxing John’s leg in ways he hadn’t anticipated. He’s been lax lately in making sure to wear the boot less. The effect of wearing it every day plus the way he’s compensating out here in the sand doesn’t help matters. Every step feels worse than the last, until he's sweating with it. He decides to take a longer route; a detour that allows him time to settle on the dock and cool his leg in the water.

Around him, men are busily unloading cargo and heading up to the storehouse to have it appraised. Most of the merchants and their crew know John and leave him be. Out in the bay, Vane’s Ranger is docked next to Hornigold’s ship, and behind them lies The Walrus. John chances a quick glance up and down the beach, but doesn’t see any of Flint’s men. They’re either here, or in Guthrie’s tavern, or in the brothel. He finds himself wondering where Flint is - if he’s inland, hiding out with the mysterious woman everyone talks about. The metal of his bootleg laid beside him catches the light and John is struck with a powerful urge to throw it into the ocean.

“Well, well, well. If it ain’t the brothel gimp.”

John freezes, grabs his boot with both hands and pulls it into his lap. There’s no point in trying to stand - he’d be left defenseless as he hobbled upright - but he can brandish the false leg as a weapon in a pinch.

He looks behind him. It’s Hamund, shaved head shiny in the sun, followed by a few other men that John doesn’t readily recognize, but can guess are from Vane’s crew. None of them look friendly or happy to see him. The four of them, like cats about to catch a rat, close in. John swallows.

“Hello gentlemen.” They aren’t entirely alone, and John doesn’t think they’ll do anything too terrible out in the open, but one can never tell with pirates. Plenty of the men around will turn a blind eye rather than risk the wrath of a powerful captain or his crew.

“Oh, we’s gentlemen now? What was it you called me, before? Thick?”

“It’s wasn’t personal,” John quips. The words come without his bidding, slipping from his lips before he can think. “It’s a safety hazard for men at sea. Prolonged exposure to the sun is known to cook the brains of plenty of men. I’m sure your friends are just as stupid as you - it’s probably how to convinced them to do whatever it is you have planned right now.”

“You--” Hamund races forward, grabbing John by the back of his shirt and yanking him up as if he weighs nothing. John flails, but eventually gets his good leg beneath him. Their faces are so close together that John can’t make out his features. All he knows is that Hamund’s breath reeks of rum. “Where th’ hell do you get off, talking to us like that?” He laughs, dark and dangerous, lowering his voice to make his next words into a whispered threat. “You ain’t got your fucking cunt of a boss out here to save your ass now.” John still has his boot, clutched between their bodies like a lifeline. If he can maneuver it right, he’ll be able to smash the bulk of it into Hamund’s prick. One down, but three more waiting for the chance to break John’s face. He can’t say he likes the odds.

“Now now,” he gasps, trying to catch is breath but not give away the way his heart is racing with fear. “I can see you’re still a bit testy. Have you tried venting your aggressions? I’ve heard your camp has a lovely dairy goat--”

Hamund snarls. John readies his boot, rams it upward. Hamund reels backward with a howl, dropping John to the dock, but it’s only a momentary reprieve before the others are on him, hits hammering into John’s stomach. He keeps his balance by a hair, wavering on his one leg and baring his teeth in a snarl. His hands fight for purchase, grabbing one of the men’s shirts as they fight. He barely has the chance to land more than a few glancing blows before one of them hits him hard enough to topple him. There's a sickening crack as his head bounces off the wood of the dock, and then it all goes black.

 

 


 

 

“For a cripple, your man sure has balls.”

John shifts, twitches, feels a feather-light touch across his forehead. Noises filter through the darkness, mingling in and out of comprehension.

“-- or he’s -- stupid.”

“He -- mixture of both. Thank you -- bringing -- home, gentlemen.”

“Might want -- to stay clear -- Vane’s camp for a while.”

He struggles to make sense of the voices, to take stock of his own body and the never-ending waves of pain. There's a clean floral scent, mixed with salt and something cloying and metallic. John is sure he can figure it out, if only the storm in his head would abate. Just as names are on the tip of his tongue, he feels himself sinking from the shallows into the dark deep, losing himself to sleep.

 

 


 

 

 

The light is too bright. Even the filtered reddish glow filtered through his eyelids is enough to make sharp daggers of pain slice through his skull like lightning. His eyelashes are clumped together; his whole jaw feels heavy and thick. He tries to roll over and gasps at the sensation along his ribs; the shriek of bones bruised a feeling that he knows too well.

"Shh. You had quite a day, mon chéri ."

John licks his lips and braces for impact as he opens his eyes, first in a squint and then blinking, quickly, to try and make sense of the swimming blurs and shapes. A dawn-grey beach is visible through the window in front of him. The air is cool with a sea breeze, carrying the cries of gulls and the voices of merchants below. Everything has a strange, glowing quality to the edges, blurry like seeing through smoke.

"You gave me opium," he slurs. Fuck Max. He hates being on opium.

"It has to be done. You know this. If I do not drug you, you will insist you are fine and drag yourself out of bed the moment it suits you."

"I can't--" he growls, ineffectually trying to grasp at coherent thoughts. "How the hell did I get here?"

"What do you remember?"

It isn't easy to roll over. It hurts everywhere, every inch of his body screaming at him to stay still. He doesn’t even try to bite back the loud groan as he moves, staring up at a ceiling he’s known most of his life. When he looks beside him, Max is sitting in one of the chairs from downstairs, still dressed in one of her sleeping gowns. She doesn't look happy, almost looks worried, which quells a bit of the burning anger in his belly.

"I went to see Jack, like you asked. We struck a deal. I decided--” John licks his lips. “Walking home was too far. So I sat on the dock, soaked my leg. Then -- then Hamund and some other men showed up."

"Let me guess," Max frowns at him. "You didn't have the sense to keep your mouth shut."

"It wasn't as if I had many options, Max! I’d taken off my boot, there were four of them -- what do you think I should’ve done? Called for help? Jumped into the water and swam home? I was at a distinct disadvantage--"

"So you believed it would be a good idea to make them angrier?" John closes his eyes as Max's voice rises. "Please, tell me when that has ever worked in your favor."

"I knew they wouldn't let me go," he sighs. "I might as well have gotten in a good hit or two.” He can remember the fight, falling, and then blackness. He opens his eyes, glances up at Max. “How did I get back here?”

“Captain Flint and his man Billy came across you. They said they found you just as the other men were drawing their swords." Max tells him. "You have made yourself some enemies today, John.  You're lucky to not be bleeding out on the docks right now."

“Captain--” A rush of embarrassed heat floods John’s body. He lets loose a sound of pain as his face goes shocked, moving bruised skin and cuts crusted with blood. He turns his head to stare at Max. “Did they… did they say anything?”

Max stands up and moves around the room. Following her with his eyes is exhausting; John breathes deep and stares at the ceiling instead. He can feel his heart in his throat. "Only that Billy thinks you brave, and Flint believes you to be an idiot.” Max returns bearing a cold wet cloth. “They managed to convince the shitheads that they were risking the entirety of their crew being barred from entering the brothel. Faced with that sort of blame, Hamund and his goons decided to let you go. They carried you home."

They sit in silence as she wipes at the brusies and scabs on John's face. Her fingers are gentle as she traces the edges of the cuts, picks free pieces of his hair that have been left stuck in blood. The gentle swipe of the cloth across his heated skin combined with the soothing breeze through the window is acting with the opium to pull him back into darkness. John floats in and out of awareness, lost to his thoughts.

Flint, of all people, risked potentially sparking a crew-wide revolt with one of the most feared captains on the island, just to, what --save him? He and Billy both, the two who perhaps have the least personal interest in the brothel. Had it been Logan, or Mr. Scott, then maybe John could make sense of it. This, however, leaves him panicked, on unsure footing, feeling like the bed beneath him is a ship capsizing in a storm.

Max switches from a wet cloth to some poultice and salve, rubbing gently at the raw skin on John’s cheeks. “You must have made some sort of positive impression on him.”

"He probably did it to keep himself and his crew in your good graces," John murmurs.

"Then he was successful," Max whispers. John, eyes closed and fading fast, thinks he feels a hand touch his. With what strength he can muster he squeezes back, resolved to never let go.

 

 


 

 

It takes a while for John to get back onto his feet. He stays in Max’s room, where she keeps a close eye on him and keeps him drugged to the gills.  A few of the girls slip in to check on him, none of them missing an opportunity to tear him a new one about the state of his face.

“It was your last worthy asset,” Idelle sighs. She’s one of the older girls, sharp and less kind than the others, but she and John get along anyway. He trusts her judgement almost as much as he trusts Max’s. John grins up at her, showing all of his teeth.

“At least they didn’t knock any of these lose.” He says. Idelle grins.

“Fuck that. Like you’d be sad to have to get a false one. Max would probably get you one plated in gold.”

Charlotte visits him too, tells him how word has gotten ‘round Flint’s camp that he and Billy rescued the prize whore from a near-death fight on the beach.

“It wasn’t so bad as all that,” John insists.

“Logan says they’re saying Hamund’s friends were getting ready to gut you,” Charlotte says. It looks like the words scare her to say. “I don’t think they meant only to rough you up. You know how they get, when they hold grudges.”

They. Men, pirates , not all terrible but most happy to slip into brutal nastiness when it suits them. Plenty of them don’t join up for the gold or the riches - they join because to them, it’s fun to hurt others. Vane’s men are worse than others when it comes to this. At the end of the day, John is nothing more than a crippled whore, and he knows better men have suffered worse at the hands of men like Hamund. He supposes he is lucky, even if he can’t figure out what he’s done to merit being so.

 

 


 

 

 

On days when the brothel feels too small, when he’s read every novel and there’s no new gossip to tell, he convinces Max to let him drag out an old, worn pouch from the wardrobe in his room. The leather is faded and cracked, but supple from years of use. Inside is a worn bit of cloth, wrapped around chess pieces.

It barely counts as a chess set. The pieces are all hand-carved from driftwood - mangled shapes that only approximate their true forms. Half the pieces made black by pitch; the rest were white, once, but the wash has faded and flakes off with the slightest touch. The black pieces get sticky in humid summer heat until they leave John’s fingertips stained. There isn’t even really a board, but rather a hand-stitched set of checkerboard cloth that does the job well enough. John doesn’t really enjoy playing it - it’s a slow game, and he’s never been a fan of slow. Lately, however, with his days bleeding together, he needs something to fill the time.

There isn’t anyone to play against.

He taught Max how to play, but she's busy enough as it is and never saw the game as anything other than a waste of time. Sometimes when he bathes he can convince her to sit with him and play a quick round, but that only works when he acts pathetic and appeals to her caring nature. None of the girls have taken a liking to it, either, so most often John ends up playing himself.

It's faster that way, anyway - no waiting for turns or having to explain the rules. It's just him and a metaphorical army, and that way, he always wins.

He's careful not to play it when the customers are around. The last thing he needs is a reputation for being bookish or elite. They don’t need another reason to distrust or dislike him, especially after Hamund. Instead, John plays it as he eats breakfast, as he helps fold laundry, or when he's tucked into the back and has finished his nightly accounts.

Really, he should have known it would only be so long before Max would use it against him.

"Logan owes for the last visit," he hears her saying, one morning when he's sprawled across one of the larger tables setting up his pieces. She’s allowing him downstairs, but only in the mornings before they’ve officially opened. By the time he realizes who she's talking to, and what it means, it's too late.

"You look like shit."

John snorts out a laugh. It hurts, but he won't let that show. He knows he looks a sight - his bruises have yet to fade from the deep violet patches, and his right eye is still swollen. Flint can’t see it, but there’s a knot on the back of his head from falling to the docks, and his ribs are still sore when he breathes too sharply or sits up too quickly.

"Thank you. I guess I have you to thank that I look like anything other than a corpse." He glances up at Flint through his lashes. Flint looks as impassive as always, eyes inscrutable but sharp. He glances away at John’s poor excuse for a heartfelt thanks, gaze finding the makeshift board and pieces.

Flint blinks. "Chess?"

John bites down on the urge to snarl, on how easy it would be to snap. The judgement is heavy in Flint’s voice - what, can’t abide a whore being smart enough to play? In the time it takes him to get the impulse under control, John has a new game in mind.

"I found it in the back," John shrugs. He looks up from placing the bishop in the middle of the board. Flint is looking at the board with an inscrutable look on his face. "It’s been unbearably boring, trapped in convalescence with Max as my warden. I'll confess I've never played it. It can't be so different from checkers, though, surely?"

Max snorts. It is a distinctly un-ladylike sound, but it fits the scene perfectly. John misses the days when they played off of each other in conquest of a customer.

She draws a hand down Flint’s arm to catch his attention. "I will go and draw up the sum your man owes. Wait here, hmm?"

Flint watches Max go the way a boy watches his mother leave him on the first day of school, following her with his eyes until she closes the door on her office.

"So. What brings you to our lovely abode so early?" John asks, turning back to the board.

"Max insists one of my men is late in payment, so she has decided I'm the one to play debt collector."

"Ah, some men have all the luck. I suppose it is your duty, as their captain, is it not? I'd offer to do the job myself, but..." John kicks out with his pinned pant leg. "Traversing the beach is a bit of a hassle anymore."

For a while, Flint stands in silence as John places all the black pieces on one side and the ones that pass for white on the other. He puts rooks besides knights, pawns behind kings. It's a lot of fun, actually, waiting for the proverbial knife to drop.

" Christ ." Flint reaches over John's shoulder, snagging the black king and swapping it with a pawn. "There's specific places these are meant to go, you know."

"Oh.” John turns to smile up at him. “So you know it then? I hadn't been able to find anyone learned enough to teach me, so I thought -- well, I've taught myself mostly everything else." John winks lewdly up at Flint, who barely suppresses a soft, exhausted groan like he's been punched in the stomach. He rolls his eyes with a flash of teeth as he curls his lip. John only grins brighter. "I could use some help, honestly."

Flint glances up to the balcony, then back to the board.

"I'll set it up for you," he sighs, settling into the seat across the table. "Until Max returns with the accounts."

Flint sits across from him, quickly busying himself with arranging the pieces correctly. John leans back into his chair to watch.

"It was Billy that spotted you."

John starts. "I doubt it was Billy alone that convinced Vane's men not to kill me,” he presses.

Flint is focused, head bent as he places each piece with precision. "I didn't feel like dealing with the fallout of your madam going up against Charles Vane."

"What a bloodbath we avoided. She has this whole island by the balls, you know." John winks. "In a fight between bruised pride and a man's needs, I'm sure you know which will win."

"...quite."

"Still,” John clears his throat. “I meant it. Thank you."

Around them the brothel is quiet. The air is thick with the truth of it - that if Flint and Billy hadn't found him, John would not be sitting here at all. He’d be dead, maybe in pieces on the beach. There would be all but a riot in the streets, chaos as Max used her not-inconsiderable influence to tear Vane and his crew to proverbial pieces. She would never do it herself outright - John doesn't doubt that she loves him, but to risk business has never been her style. It would be an easy boycott, reminding Vane and his men what they'd lost, before they answered for their transgressions. Eleanor Guthrie may be the money behind the island, but behind Max beats the island's heart.

"...you're welcome." Flint grunts. It must physically pain him to be forced to recognize an act of kindness. John decides to go easy on him, smiling and picking up a rook, before sliding it diagonally across the wrong color squares.

"So, how does this game work?"

 


 

 


Max takes her sweet time, and when she comes back down the stairs, John has worked Flint up into quite the tizzy. He's tried hard to balance playing stupid with being smart, a challenge he hasn't ever played quite like this before. He has to dumb himself down often for the sake of the men he works with, but he hasn't ever had to worry about looking so stupid that he'll chase a client away.

"But you're right there!" John whines, waving his king around. "I could take your queen and be done with it."

"Sure, you'd take my strongest piece. But, you would be leaving your most important one out in the open. Don't forget, every pawn I have is capable of being just as irritating. One of them is as likely to end the game as my queen."

"Fuck that." John puts down his king and hefts a handful of white pawns. "What if I have my queen knight all of these, hmm? She’s outfits each of them with a horse. Now they can go about in that stupid L-formation until they get sick with it."

"You can't just knight a pawn," Flint exclaims. His brow is a tightly furrowed ridge of disappointment, but his mouth is twisting like he's trying to keep a grin at bay.

"Why the fuck not?" John lets the pawns fall back to the table, most of them rolling away and scattering to the floor.

"Because those are the rules!"

Max chooses that instant to interrupt - and it is a choice, with her, never an accident - clearing her throat to announce herself.

"Excuse me, captain. I am sorry it took me so long."

John looks up, realizing the two of them were lost in their own world for - he glances at the way the light is slanted across the floor through the side door - Christ, nearly an hour. Flint looks just as shocked, and almost-- embarrassed? He won’t look at John, instead is staring up at Max, face a perfect blank mask.

"Here is the bill for Logan. Be sure he pays before you leave port again, or I will be forced to bar his entry until payment is made."

"Next time, you could save us both time and get one of your boys to do this."

As Flint stands, reaching out for the paper, John takes his flaking white knight and sidles it up against Flint's pitch-black king.

"Checkmate," he says, soft enough that Flint nearly misses it as he walks by. He double-takes, eyes going wide and mouth thinning out.

"You shit ."

"Don't take it so hard." Flint steps back as John hobbles to his feet. The crutch is unwieldy, but Max has insisted he use this down time to give his stump a rest from the boot. John smiles up at Flint like a cat with the cream. "It's probably beginner's luck."

They’re the only three people in the room, save the staff cleaning the floors and rounding up last night’s cups. Flint looks murderous; John finds he rather likes it. He shrugs, maneuvering around he and Max to get to the stairs.

"If you should ever want a rematch…” The temptation to look over his shoulder is great, but John knows that Flint isn’t stupid. He trails his hand along the bannister as he goes, feeling the chipped paint and the scrape of too-dry wood. There’s playing a game, and then there’s beating a dead horse. “Well, I'm not exactly going anywhere fast, am I?"

 

 


 

 

Silver catches Flint's eyes on him, every subsequent visit. The two of them barely chat, often getting into heated little scraps over nothing before Flint leaves. John would be lying if he didn't admit to finding Flint attractive - it wouldn't be the end of the world to have the man in his bed. But there's something about him, how closed off he is, how aware of the game between whores and their customers, that leaves John wary. Flint isn't some poor bastard with an itch to scratch. He seems about as interested in sex as Max is interested in becoming a nun. But John knows Flint is watching him, and it makes his skin hot with anticipation.

"I could start charging you," he says one night, poring over a ledger for the month. "At least then one of us could get something out of this."

 Flint doesn't say a word, but he also doesn't leave.

 

 


 

 


Day in, day out, for as long as he can remember, John has been smiling and listening, and hoping that someone, somewhere might break the monotony of his day by paying for his services.

Before, John felt powerful. True, it wasn't real power, but it was still something - an inkling of it, in men's eyes as they realized they had to have him, in the drop of their mouths as they slid inside him. Now, all he sees in their eyes is morbid curiosity and cruel mirth, their mouths twisted into disgusted sneers. Before, he had been alluring. Now, he's a freak. Still, he smiles. Still, he listens. Only now, it feels as if he's trapped in some cell, watching and waiting for something to come of it. It used to be when he felt like this, he would walk the town. With the boot, or even the crutches, it's all John can do to visit the beach on their slower days, and even that exhausts him.

His entire life is this brothel. The four walls, the stairs, his own bedroom, Max's bedroom. The gentle chirping of the birds and the smell of rum in the air; the long, low grunts and the high, pitchy wails and the stench of come and sweat. He has a burgeoning collection of books, ones he collects at market or that Max gifts to him. Some of them are small novels, fantastic in their ability to transport him away from the claustrophobic rancor of Nassau. Others are philosophical, forcing him to unwind puzzles of the written word that leave him feeling stuck in this backwater pissbucket, outnumbered and underwhelmed.

But with Flint -- Flint is a challenge in and of himself, in how John must work carefully, skillfully to find his way under the man's skin. John must be alluring not just in his looks, but in his words and how they’re spoken; what he does and how he goes about it. John can sense a kindred spirit in Flint. A man who sees himself above others, but also recognizes their presence as a necessary evil. John is not the sort to go out and ply a trade, or work a pirate ship, or escape to port royal and find honest work. Max will always provide for him, never let him suffer unduly or starve. But it's a gilded cage, complete with a tantalizing view of the world on the horizon, utterly unreachable and unbearably close.

When John finally looks up from his ledger, Flint is no longer seated at the table behind him. It’s a bit sad, to think that maybe this could have been the night, but then again, John is beginning to think Flint is an impossible nut to crack.

Around him the brothel is hot and loud. Max is somewhere upstairs, probably fucking Eleanor Guthrie. Logan, he’s fairly sure, is over in the corner with Charlotte. He can see some of Vane’s men by the door, warily drinking their rum as if afraid of repercussions. It’s too early to retire, and the thoughts spinning through John’s head aren’t the sort he feels like making sense of as he tries to fall asleep.

He slips towards back door, threading his way neatly through girls necking with potential customers in an attempt to seal the deal and head upstairs. He winks at Emily, who has some fucker’s face buried in her neck. She rolls her eyes and gives a breathy sigh, to the benefit of her man. John smirks to himself, steps over a load of sheets in the doorway, and breaks free of the lingering stench of sweat and ale.

Once outside, he pauses to breathe the clear, fresh air. It makes the sweat on his forehead prickle. It isn’t a cool night, but the difference between this and the atmosphere of the brothel is refreshing just the same. The island is alive around him - he can hear the calls of men from the beach, from the tavern across the way, from dogs barking in the night. He turns to survey the alley and finds Flint, leaning against a wall and staring up at the sky, cloudy but with pockets of clarity, filled to the brim with stars. There’s a storm coming, hanging over the town like a blanket, leaving everything muggy and muted. As far as John is aware, Flint and his crew set sail tomorrow. He would have said, if asked, that Flint should be aboard The Walrus .

Flint doesn’t seem to have noticed him. For a second, John is frozen by the picture in front of him, uneasy at the prospect of disturbing someone so volatile as Flint.

"It gets too hot in there," John finally says, announcing himself. Flint probably isn’t listening, and most likely doesn’t care. "Too loud. Can barely hear myself think."

John isn’t expecting Flint to turn, to look at him. He is struck by the look in his eyes, deep and shockingly open, haunted but with a flare of heat behind them. John barely has a chance to react before Flint steps closer, slow and deliberate movements until he has John backed against the cool wall of the brothel. He smells like bittersweet rum, leather and salt-soaked wood.

"Hello," John breathes, smiling a bit in an effort to break the tension.

Flint's fingers are cool, dry and rough with calluses as they come up and trace John's face. They find the edges of every bruise, the worst of the cuts, as if trying to seep the lingering aches away with a touch.

"Why?" Flint breathes. John frowns.  Flint looks pained, looks upset, and John has no idea what’s going on. Why , indeed. He thinks of Emily, of Max, of this entire brothel; he remembers Hamund’s face, the stink of his breath, and the weight of the boot in his hands.

"Just because I can't win doesn't mean I have to run away," John whispers. The air between them seems heavy with silence he’s loath to break. "So long as I keep getting up again, they can't beat me."

The words come without thought, from somewhere deep and uninhibited that John doesn't allow himself to visit often. The bruises will heal. The cuts will scar, or fade entirely. Word will get around, but no one will ever say that John Silver is a coward who ran from a fight. Last he heard, Hamund is still pissing blood. He won't forget. Neither will the girls, or Max. John will never be like Vane or Flint, but he can ensure that no one underestimates his courage.

"You're a fool," Flint says. The way he's looking to John's mouth says something else entirely. John licks his lips and tracks the way Flint's eyes go dark.

"You intervened," he reminds him. If John is the fool, then what does that make Flint? Between the two of them, he’s sure Flint has bigger questions to answer. "Why?"

Flint's hand has slid down, resting against the hollow of John's throat. With anyone else, it could be dangerous. With Flint, it is without a doubt dangerous, but John cannot find it in him to be scared of the touch. His thumb wipes at the dip beneath John’s collarbone before he sweeps his hand up and back, barely touching the still-sore knot at the back of John's head. Without meaning to, John feels his mouth open into soft, shallow panting breaths. Flint's lips twitch in a hint of a rakish smirk that goes straight to John's knees, so that he reaches out and grasps the lapels of Flint's coat to keep his balance. John’s thumbs rub at the worn, cracked seams of Flint’s coat. He cannot remember the last time he -- the last time that anyone was so slow, so gentle, so curious. It makes bravery flood his body like liquor, urging him to rise up, move to press his and Flint's mouths together. Flint startles; he jerks his head back scarce inches, but does not pull away entirely. John freezes, reads Flint's face carefully, and puts his hands to Flint's cheeks to better pull him close.

Their mouths touch for a breath before John opens to Flint, to the swipe of his tongue against John's lower lip. His breath is hot and behind his teeth lies the acrid burning taste of liquor. John moans, tangles his hands into Flint's hair and presses their bodies together. Flint cradles the back of John's head in one hand and slides the other down to John's hip; uses both to urge John against the cool, damp wall.

Needless to say, John has been kissed before. He has been kissed probably more times than most of the people in the world; kissed by more people than anyone, aside from other whores. This kiss, however, sends electricity flying to his fingertips and toes, makes his scalp tingle and go tight, the hairs on his arms stand up. Flint's mouth is hot and surprisingly soft against his own, pressing in and pulling back in a dance that has John leaning into him, opening up his mouth wider in an attempt to reel Flint in, to finally catch him. Flint’s tongue is a wicked thing, the hunger behind his teeth like the roll of storm clouds on the horizon. John feels drowned in this, pressed nearly flat against the wall as Flint urges their bodies together. The line of Flint’s body is a strung tight, whip-crack sharp but so warm, so alive . His beard is rough and dry against John’s mouth; the scrape of it against John's chin and lips sends heat dripping down his spine, makes him ache for another person in ways he cannot remember ever feeling.. John wants him in his bed so badly he aches . He wants Flint in his bed; he wants him now , in this alley; he wants Flint's cock in his mouth, in him .

Flint yanks away with a wet, filthy sound of their mouths parting. John makes a startled noise in his throat and sways forward, chasing Flint’s mouth and left off-balance as Flint moves farther back, extricating John's hands in the process. John’s mouth is suddenly dry; he licks his lips and tastes Flint - skin and liquor and smoke. For a moment Flint's face is lit by moonlight and the yellow light of the brothel spilling out the door behind John, highlighting the line of Flint’s cheeks, the shadows of his eyes and the wet sheen of his lips. His pupils are blown black, and his mouth is twisted like he feels nauseous; he definitely looks like a man about to run. Before John can stop him, Flint stumbles back, turns and leaves, abandoning John to the alley, which feels suddenly too-cold and reeks of moldy piss.

Chapter Text

 


 


  

 

 


The empty coldness of the alley is sinking into his stump by the time John rallies himself to head inside. His racing heart slows to something manageable - the ache of his prick, sweetly teased and then left, has faded to nothing.

Of course, it is only wishful thinking when he hopes to make it up to his room without having to speak to anyone. He takes the outer steps up to the balcony, not allowing himself to dwell on the idea that, should he look, he will see The Walrus docked, lanterns lit in the night.

He makes it to the landing before the whistles begin. At first he feels fear and a spike of adrenaline, fight-or-flight instincts racing to life. Then he hears the soft, coquettish giggles and cusses up a storm.

"Thank god I wasn't born to a family of sisters," he quips. "As it is, you fucks are only safe from me because you make good money."

"Aw, poor Silver. Really wanted to get fucked by the terrible Captain Flint, didn't you?"

"Fuck off Idelle. It isn't as if I have anyone else waiting in the wings, do I? Besides, I'm fairly sure Flint used to avoid this brothel like the plague was waiting between your legs. Don't be jealous I'm the only one that's managed to catch his eye."

"You're a one-legged whore, Silver. I don't think it'd be a challenge to catch the eye of a blind man."

A handful of other girls are huddled behind her, all of them placed just so; they had a perfect view of Flint and John. They all chime in, laughing or egging Idelle on in turns. John feels a mixture of frustration and reluctant fondness. He wouldn't trust many of these girls - he doesn't expect they trust him, either, if they're smart - but the camaraderie that comes with the business is one that isn't easily broken.  

He gives them all a tired, sour smile and pushes through the throng of them to get to his door.  

Goodnight , ladies,” he sing-songs. “I’m sure there are plenty of men downstairs who would love to see you.”  The girls all give half-hearted groans, but disperse readily enough, leaving John to his thoughts as he closes the door behind him. His room is dark, with only strips of moonlight through the shutters of his window to see by. It doesn’t matter. He knows this room with his eyes closed. He sits on the side of his bed and unbuckles the straps of his boot; it comes free with a slick pull - sweat has collected against the leather, making it suck to his skin. He hangs it by the foot, hooking it against the footboard to allow the sweat to drip out during the night and hopefully dry.

He strips off his shirt and pants. Around him he can feel the storm getting closer - the air is the sort that promises thunderstorms and leaves the hair on his arms standing up. The sheets are cold against his skin; he shivers, and remembers the feeling of Flint’s fingers against his collarbone; remembers the taste of his mouth.

John huffs and rolls into his pillows, shoving his face against them and willing the thoughts to fade. It’s merely the build-up, the fact that they’ve been dancing around each other for so long that has made it seem all the more amazing than it was. It was a kiss - only one in the fucking parade of them that John has known. It didn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t matter, anyway, with Flint gone to sea for who-knows-how-long. John doesn’t have the time for this, and yet it’s all he’s had time for lately. He’s already dreading the string of endless days before him, listlessly drifting about the brothel, nothing to punctuate his days without the challenge of Flint.

“Go the fuck to sleep,” he grunts at himself, and screws his eyes tightly shut.

 


 

 

 

The next day, it’s business as usual. John comes downstairs and steals a roll from the kitchen, gets a flagon of ale, and shares pieces of the roll with the birds. Charlotte comes downstairs after a while, ushering Logan out the door. On her way back upstairs she spots John and comes to sit with him.

“Already miss him?” John smirks. Charlotte scoffs but pulls a heavy pouch from under her skirts.

“If every man I fucked was half as foolish and paid half as well.”

“I’ll drink to that.” John says, reaching for the ale and hoisting it. Charlotte eyes him with concern.

“You’re on that early today.”

John shrugs and looks to the doorway. The not-inconsiderable list of things one could call John Silver does not include alcoholic , and he’s sure that isn’t about to change any time soon. But his head is aching, he’s in a foul mood, and he’d rather drink than not. Outside, there’s a group of rag-tag urchins scurrying in the streets, and some dog somewhere is barking, shrill and unceasing. The wind is picking up; the storm should be on them by afternoon, he thinks, watching the palm fronds jerk. In his hands the roll is quickly being broken down into crumbs.

“No one’s gonna say anything about it,” Charlotte says, soft. She smirks. “Already miss him?”

John sighs. He shakes his head and then reaches up to tie his hair back into a messy queue.  

“I’m just going stir-crazy,” he dismisses with a grin. “Couldn’t help hoping that maybe I could get a good fuck out of him before he left. He’s such a fucking riddle, making it so much more complicated than I expected.” 

“He sure isn’t a regular John.” She says. John rolls his eyes - for a while, it had been a popular joke to make at his expense, playing on his name.

“I suppose he isn’t.” John throws back the rest of the ale with a grimace, then stands and shoos Charlotte away. “Now, go give Max her share of what’s in that pouch before I have to report you.”

 


 

 

 

The storm batters the island, starting just after lunch. It isn’t a hurricane, but it’s nasty just the same, sending men scrambling up from the beach to the brothel and Eleanor’s tavern. It’s twice as crowded as it would normally be, even down a crew as the Walrus set sail this morning.

Everything is damp and wet, and beyond the noise of the crowd, John can hear the wind whistling and throwing the shutters back and forth. He does the ledger with a perfunctory focus, then heads upstairs and throws open the balcony doors to his room. The sky is dark as midnight, even at barely past one in the afternoon. He goes about the room and lights the few candles he has, although their flames flutter in the wind through the doors.

John drags a chair closer to the doors, far enough back that the stray drops of rain won’t hit him. Everything smells like damp earth, and sea water and piss and ale and sweat. He grabs a book - King Lear , dog-eared with the pages stained and ripped, and settles himself in for a long, slow night.

 


 



“Get up!”

John groans and reaches for the sheet to cover himself, only to have it yanked off.

“Fuck you,” he spits, sitting up and then clutching at his head when the vertigo hits in two throbbing pulses through his skull.

“Be happy I woke you.” Idelle says, tone prissy as she throws a shirt and pair of pants at him. “If you’re late to this meeting Max would have your ass.”

Shit.

John scrambles out of bed and races to get dressed, hopping about on one leg in his haste. Idelle snorts at him, and slams the door on her way out.

He isn’t sure what time it is, but he can’t imagine he has very long, if Idelle woke him. Rackham and Bonny will likely be here any minute, and he can’t imagine Max expects anyone but him to greet them.

He shoves his stump into the boot with perhaps more force than needed - it hurts, but he doesn’t have time to worry about it. He runs cursory fingers through his hair and then stumbles down the stairs, managing to affect an aloof stance, leaning against the bottom bannister, with just enough time to catch his breath before Anne and Jack walk in.

“Mr. Silver,” Jack greets. His voice is syrup sweet, his smile professional. Anne barely looks up from under the brim of her hat.

“Jack. Miss Bonny.”

That serves to get him a reaction. Her sharp eyes wink out, clearly angry, but John only smiles and gestures to the stairs.

“Shall we go up?”

 




Max, as always, looks lovely. A perfect mix between a rich whore and a dangerous queen - her dress is a luscious red color, not ostentatious but a step above her typical fare. Her hair is up, with tendrils of it artfully falling free as if by accident, with a resplendent necklace that slips tantalizingly into her breasts.

“Good morning,” she smiles, standing as they enter. John smiles to himself as Jack and Anne visibly still, unsure of themselves. “Come, sit.” Max points to the two chairs on the other side of her desk. John closes the door behind him and goes to sit on the stool next to Max’s chair, set back enough to keep him from being level with her, but placing him not on the same side as the two who have come to negotiate.

“Madam.” Jack sits, but Anne wavers. He glances up at her, obviously communicating without words. Everyone speaks of how long the two have known each other - that they are inseperable, have been through everything together, and as such as nearly mind readers when it comes to each other.

Anne sits with a huff and takes the brim of her hat in one hand, pulling it down over her face. John can feel the headache already.

“Very well.” Max throws John a sideways glance. John does a quick, subtle little shrugging gesture. Max makes the face he knows so well - a face that says, why us? , and then she turns back. “Shall we begin?”

 



It becomes immediately clear that Jack is prepared to do all the talking, while Anne sits back and glares. John watches as Max keeps trying to get her input, but Jack is quick to intervene and speak for her. Anne doesn’t seem to mind - she seems bored, like she’s here because Jack dragged her here, and John thinks that’s not the proper response for a woman they’re planning to put so much hope in.

“Mr. Rackham,” John interrupts. Max’s head whips around, throwing a look at him. John inclines his head, but doesn’t look away from Jack. “You’ve got plenty to say on this subject, as you’ve made abundantly clear. I was wondering, however, as to the interest of the concerned party. It’s all well and good how you feel about this arrangement, but I don’t exactly value your word over that of the woman whom we will be, in effect, hiring to protect our brothel. If she does not want to do this job, she should be free to say so. If she has concerns, or negotiations to make, she may say so. I am glad that you saw fit to necessitate this meeting, but perhaps it’s time for you to sit back and let her speak?”

Jack stares him. Max, beside him, is clearly displeased - she’s never liked it when John steps out like this, prefers to deal with business herself.

“...Darling?”

Anne barely moves, but John can see her looking at Jack from under her hat.

“Perhaps we could speak plainly, if you were to leave the room.”

All three of them turn to look at Max, who is looking between Anne and Jack. John, although he trusts Anne not to stab them all in Jack’s absence, isn’t sure this is necessarily the best idea. She seems reticent to speak, even with her closest - and perhaps only - ally, directly beside her. What’s to say she doesn’t march out on Jack’s heels the instant he leaves the room?

Jack glances between Anne and Max, then over to John, who shrugs.

“We won’t lock her in here,” John tries. “I’m fairly sure she could handle the two of us, anyway, should we try anything. A cripple and a madam are nothing, surely?”

Jack makes a sound like a laugh, but then stands. Anne looks up at him, startled - for an instant, John is certain she’s going to reach out for his hand. “I’ll be right outside,” He says. He reaches out and runs his hand along her shoulder, and then he leaves the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

 



“No one here is trying to convince you to do something you do not want to do,” Max insists. John stands back, willing himself to sink into the background and allow Max and Anne some form of privacy when there is, in reality, nothing like that to be found under this roof.

“We have asked you here because we believe you are exactly the sort of person we are looking for. I am certain you are not blind to the dangers of being a whore on this island. I am sure you are not blind to the nature of your captain’s men - specifically Hamund and his friends. You must understand the dangers inherent with trusting a job like what I am offering you to a man.”

Max glances back over her shoulder at John for an instant, before looking back to Anne. She stands up and rounds the desk, keeping her distance but lowering her voice. Max, for better or for worse, reads people as well as anyone John has ever met. She knows exactly how hard to push, how soft to be. John’s mouth gets him what he wants, but it’s just as likely to get him killed. With Max, she can do it all without anyone knowing that she’s trying.

“It would be that I trust John to do this, but he was not ever a very good fighter, even when he had both his legs. We need someone the girls can trust - someone I can trust - but someone that men will also fear. You are formidable. Everyone knows this. But you are also seen as Jack’s lapdog, as his loyal shadow. Here is a chance for you to be something of your own; to work for something of your own.”

“I am not trying to rend you apart. I am merely trying to protect the girls - something I am certain you can understand, perhaps even intimately; personally?”

From his seat on the stool, John can’t clearly see Anne’s face. She moves, perhaps looking at Max, perhaps readying one of the daggers on her belt.

“John,” Max says. John sits up straight. “Do you suppose we could be left alone, hm?”

“Max, I don’t--”

Please .”

It is a perfectly terrible idea. John knows this. But it is also a perfectly grand one, if Max can perhaps work some magic without him. He grunts and shoves up, gripping the edge of the desk as he hobbles around it. He glances back before he goes through the door, and already it looks as if Max and Anne have their heads leaned together like conspirators; close friends, sharing secrets. Max has taken Jack’s seat, dragged it closer, and her hand is dangerously close to landing on Anne’s thigh.

Christ , John thinks, and closes the door behind him.

 



John ushers Jack, who had been standing before the door as if eavesdropping, down the stairs and gets them both a cup of ale and a bowl of the day’s soup. It’s raining gently outside. A few girls are moving around, a few men drinking and laughing and grabbing at the girls’ skirts.

“Quite a place she runs.” Jack says. John knows he doesn’t mean this .

“She’s had to make it herself.” John takes a sip of the ale. “God help anyone who stands between her and her ambitions.”

“An ambitious woman,” Jack sighs, and glances out towards the Guthrie tavern. “Perhaps that is what makes Nassau so far from civilization; where else could you find a town run so that a group of men are so thoroughly owned by two women?”

John raises his cup. Jack raises his, and they clink the two together before falling into silence, waiting for word from upstairs.

 


 

 

When the women finally emerge, it is well past evening. Jack and John stand as one, glancing up to the doors through which Anne and Max exited. They come down the stairs and Max, John thinks, is almost smiling .

“A bargain has been struck,” Max assures them. Beside her, Anne looks just as taciturn as ever. “Anne will begin her work with us this next week.”

“And the terms?”

“As we discussed.”

“Welcome to our enterprise,” John grins. He knows better than to try and shake Anne’s hand. She glances between Max and Jack before stepping away from the stairs. He can see her hand brush Jack’s as she passes him; he turns as if a string has been pulled, a puppet at the puppeteer's command.  

“Good afternoon.” Jack nods to Max and John in turn. John glances between Jack, Anne and Max. When they’ve both left, Max sighs and seems to deflate ever so slightly.

“You got her to talk?”

“She is a woman of very few words.” Max sits, gestures to John to join her, and then signals for them to be brought ale and supper. “But I believe she will be a good fit for our little enterprise.”

“You believe she can be trusted?”

“Moreso than anyone with a cock. Present company excluded.”

Their ale arrives, and John waits as Max orders dinners for them both - in French, because she enjoys lording it over him.

“So she’ll, what, skulk about the place until we need her?”

“At first she will shadow you. Once she is comfortable with the place, with the girls, then she will have free rein.”

“Shadow me ? The last thing I need is her following me around.”

“Oh please. We both know you spend most of your day sitting anyway. You can introduce her to the girls, show her around. You know a positive word from you will go a long way towards welcoming her into our flock.”

John buries his groan into his ale, but knows that everything Max is saying is true - if Anne follows him around for a few days, not one of the girls will distrust her. If he swings this right, she’ll be part of their well-oiled machine in a few days.

“I hate it when you’re right,” he sighs.

 

 


 


The girls take to Anne surprisingly well. There’s an edge of distrust, at first, namely due to the fact that Anne refuses to take off her hat, and brandishes two daggers on her belt. However, most everyone is willing to take her silence for some form of shyness rather than rudeness, and she doesn’t get underfoot or insult anyone off the bat.

There’s a sort of instant camaraderie between women that John will never comprehend. He understands the principle of it, of course; to be anything but allies in a world where men will see you as nothing more than a hot fuck is the highest form of stupidity. Perhaps it is this that helps to break the ice so quickly between Anne and the girls.

She doesn’t ask stupid questions, which John appreciates. She doesn’t stay too close, and is willing to make circuits of the room while John works. A few of the girls corner her at one point, but Anne, while taciturn, doesn’t try anything. After a while the girls leave, anyway.

It doesn’t take long for word to get around that Anne is a new enforcer. John watches as clients glance around for her - there’s an air of caution about the brothel now that there hasn’t been before. Plenty of men speak ill of Anne: how she’s Jack’s pet; how she’s not a true woman; how much they’d like to get their hands on her and show her what’s what. But here, in Max’s brothel, they know to be afraid. The world Max has built within these four walls is not to be fucked with, especially in the aftermath of Hamund.

“You used to do this?” Anne asks one night. John doesn’t look up from his ledger. He shrugs.

“Technically I still do it.”

Anne scoffs. “How’d you stand it? How do they stand it?”

“Sometimes, it isn’t a choice. We can’t all be Jack Rackham’s shadow with two blades at our hip, now can we?”

It’s a bit harsh, but John doesn’t really care. Anne doesn’t say anything else, and after finishing her ale stalks up the stairs to the balcony, where she sits in the shadows for the rest of the night.

 

 


 

 

 

It’s a calm, hot day when the Walrus makes port again. John only hears about it because Logan is loud when he comes in; Charlotte plays up their reunion beautifully. Anne shoots John a look.

“He’s positively mad for her,” he whispers. Anne glances at the pair as if they’ve each just grown a second head. “Don’t ruin the fantasy. Logan pays well and we never have to worry about Charlotte while she’s with him. Understand?”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it.”

It isn’t long before more men march up from the beach, members of Flint’s crew and others that were enticed to follow. What was a quiet, slow day quickly roars to life, with drinks flowing and men laughing, loud and raucous. John situates himself in his favorite corner by the back door. Anne has her perch at the balcony, and so the night passes, uneventful.

 

That is, until Flint walks in.


He wasn’t sure what was going to say, the next time he and Flint crossed paths. He has been thinking about it on and off, in the hours of the day where there’s little else to fill his thoughts. Now, staring at him, his hair windswept and carrying the cool breeze of the sea, John figures there isn't any harm in acknowledging that things have changed. If this game gets sent back to the start, then John will be done with it. But if not….

He sits up at his stool, pushing the curtain open with his metal boot. When Flint glances his way, John is ready. He raises his brows, cocks his head, and waits.

At first, it isn't a sure thing. Flint seems to waver, standing almost comically mid-step and contemplating what to do. John smiles at him, parts his legs a half an inch more, and Flint steps towards him.

"Hello," John breathes, when he’s close enough to be heard. Just saying the word is enough to have him remembering the feeling of Flint's mouth on his own. He wants .

John reaches out and fingers at the buttons of his worn blue coat, not looking away. He feels bold and brave, for reasons that escape him. It’s a bit like the old games he used to play with customers, when there wasn’t anything to stop him from slinging himself across their laps and whispering in their ears. Flint hovers over him. There's something in his face, an uneasiness that John was not expecting.

"Would you like to..." John tilts his chin towards the stairway. Anticipation is bubbling in his belly, warm and heady. He reaches for Flint's belt, touches the pouch of coin hanging pregnant at his hip beneath his coat. Flint looks up towards the rooms. When he turns back to John, his expression has darkened. He reaches down and yanks John's hand away.

"I do not want to pay for you," he says. Between his words and the look on his face, John's entire body goes cold.

"Oh." He stands, pushing Flint back as he does. The anticipation goes sour in his belly. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Anne. He moves his hand in their signal - don’t worry. Stand down . "I see. Regrettably, we have rules here. It just so happens to be my profession that you pay for me." It feels like the kiss weeks ago was some sort of strange trial - an attempt by Flint to get something for free. It makes John angry, makes him feel a bit foolish for it.

"Wait!"

Flint is still holding his hand, the one John had used to reach for the pouch. John glances down at it, then sneers back up at Flint.

"I'm afraid you don't get special treatment. What you're asking for isn't free ."

"I didn't mean it that way," Flint hisses, insistent. John frowns at him, then raises his brows. Flint exhales heavily. John watches as Flint glances about, cheeks almost turning color under the dim candlelight. "I meant... I would not have you, like that, simply because I paid for you. I do not want you for a price." He growls, tilting to bring his face closer, making the words conspiratorial.

Against his better judgment, John feels a tingle straight down his spine; feels his stomach quiver.

"So that's it," John breathes, smiling hard enough to hurt his cheeks. He takes a step closer, closing the gap between their bodies. "All this time, and we've been gossiping over your scandalous preferences; maybe he fucks goats; maybe he's secretly a eunuch. But no -- you're just a romantic!"

"If you're going to mock me--" Flint starts, voice hard. John quickly moves his hands to Flint's chest, grabbing at his jacket. His wrist is still in Flint’s grasp.

"No, no no! I am doing nothing of the sort!" He puts his face closer to Flint's and lowers his voice.  "Am I laughing? Did I say I was adverse? Honestly, I find it rather... sweet."

" Sweet ," Flint echoes. He doesn’t sound pleased, or anything other than unimpressed, but his eyes are going half-lidded. John grins, waits until he feels Flint about to sway into him and then he lurches back out of reach.

" Un fortunately," he starts, glancing away from Flint and back to the rest of the room. "If Max were to find out I was fucking you, and not turning a profit--" He takes his hands back and shrugs.

"Fuck Max," Flint snarls, digging between his jacket and shirt and, before John can say anything else, marching off. For an instant, all John can picture is Flint pulling a pistol from beneath his coat and shooting Max on the spot. It would fit the image of Captain Flint that the world knows, that gossip spreads. However, John watches as Flint finds Max by the bar and hands over a handful of coins, to which Max responds by looking over at John and letting loose a loud laugh.

"Fuck Max indeed," John mutters.

Flint storms back over. Everything about him is tight, as if uncomfortable. "Do you have a room?" Flint asks, brusque and between his teeth.

“Of course.” John smiles and leads them out the back and up the outside flight of stairs, glad that Flint arrived during the rush. Most of the men in the brothel right now are too drunk or horny to notice the two of them sneaking out the back. It feels a bit illicit, sneaking a man like Flint up before anyone can see them. The stairs creak underfoot; the best choice for a one-legged man to live on the second story, and he's never quite mastered making it look graceful. What he has done is figured out how to make his steps look slow and deliberate, like he has all the time in the world and is simply choosing to go slowly. Flint doesn't say a word, merely follows behind, occasionally placing a hand on the small of John's back not as if to steady him, but with a trailing of his fingertips as if he can't resist reaching out.

When they are both safely behind closed doors, John makes to get Flint out of his clothes, but is stopped by Flint waving him away. He moves around John a takes a seat at the small table he has in the corner of his room, complete with two chairs and a bottle with two glasses.

"Do you have rules?" Flint asks, sitting down and pouring himself a drink.

"Uhm," John hedges, suddenly unsure of his footing. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. "Should I?"

"Not on my account," Flint smirks, taking a heavy swig. "But you mentioned--"

Oh .

John thinks about the teeth that he knocked free of the last bastard, of how he felt at the first touch of his grubby fingers to the stump. He remembers Anne is just outside his door, with an ear wide open.

"Leave my leg out of it," John starts, taking a deep breath and hoping he's understood. Flint's eyes go wide, but he nods and doesn’t say anything. "My balance anymore is practically gone. I can't ride, or do hands-and-knees for very long. I can suck your cock, but I need to be comfortable - pillows, certain positions. When I say no," John looks at Flint, locks their eyes. "I mean it."

Flint pours himself another glass without looking away. "Alright."

"And you?" John asks, moving to sit on the bench at the foot of the bed. He's tempted to remove the boot, but suddenly feels self-conscious and folds his hands into his lap instead. The room is overly warm, stuffy from the heat downstairs and smelling of candlewax. He wipes his sweaty palms against his thighs.

"Only one." Flint says. His tone is businesslike and brooks no argument; the sort of voice that shouldn’t have John imagining how he’ll sound when he’s been thoroughly fucked. "You aren't here because I've paid you to be - I paid Max because I have to. You do not have to fuck me, or kiss me, or do anything you don't want to. I don't own you. When you say no, it means no."

John nods, feeling something warm unfurling in his belly. Christ, but if the world knew that Captain Flint, feared and renowned pirate, were truly a soft man; too soft even to indulge in buying a whore for a quick fuck. The anticipation is returning, curling heat through his skin and making his heart race.

"Well. If you're through talking," John says, voice quite steady despite the shake of his fingers as he loosens the binding on his false leg and stands, letting it fall to the floor. "I'm thinking we should get on with this."

He barely starts to untie the laces on his shirt before Flint is upon him, kissing him with a hard, hungry edge as he palms John's hips and steers them to the bed. John has to lean into him, grab at Flint’s shoulders for balance, until his calf hits the edge of the mattress.

John has no idea what to expect, but he certainly isn't afraid. A bit nervous, a bit excited, but not afraid. Flint gets John on his back against the sheets before he stands back and makes short work of his breeches, smallclothes, tunic and coat. John pulls off his shirt and then wiggles to be free of his blasted pants.

"You are a sight," he breathes, glancing up. The words come partially by rote, and it’s the first time he’s laid with someone in so long - but Flint is certainly not bad looking. His skin is a mix of warm tan and cool, pale lines, his shoulders covered in a spattering of freckles. Flint levels John with a look, to which John can only reply by laughing. He quirks a brow. "What?"

"If you're going to be as conversational in bed as you are elsewhere, I may have to consider counter measures."

 John's stomach swoops to imagine it, but now isn't the time.

"You're the true chatty one," he complains nonsensically, reaching out with his hands to guide Flint between his legs, until the cut of his pelvis presses to the inside of John's thighs. Both of them gasp outright; John smirks and wraps his good leg around Flint's waist, holding him in place. Flint rolls his hips and his cock, dragged between their bodies, presses to the swell of John's ass.

"Oil?" Flint grunts. He looks almost angry. "Lotion?"

John sits up, sighing at the way the movement separates them. He reaches behind Flint to the small bedside table, grabbing a small pot and thrusting it into Flint's hand.

"Get comfortable," Flint orders. John smiles to himself and moves, spreading sideways across the width of the bed on his stomach, parting his thighs invitingly.

"Come on then," he cajoles, sinuously rolling his body against the sheets. It's been so long since he had someone in his bed whom he genuinely finds attractive, someone that he wants to fuck - it sends little thrills of pleasure through him just thinking about it. He can feel his cock leaking, can feel a throbbing deep in him that’s calling out to be settled.

For a while the room is silent. Outside is the sound of the street, downstairs the noise of the crowd, next door the muffled noise of sex. In this room, all John can hear is his own quickening breath and the slick sounds of Flint's hands. The air grows fragrant with the smell of the lubricant, verdant and herbal.

When the touch comes, Flint's hand is warm, his fingers swift and unyielding as he parts John's ass and slips the first knuckle in, smoothly, John bearing down with the movement.

"Fuck," Flint hisses. He stops his hand. "How long has it been since--"

"A while," John admits, sweat breaking out on his forehead as he rolls it against his forearms and tries to settle down on the familiar but wholly new sensation. There was a time when he kept himself loose and open, made sure to prepare himself every day in anticipation of a night of rough sex; a whore isn't always lucky enough to have a partner that cares whether or not it hurts. Lately - ever since his leg - he hasn't had anything like that, no routine, as it was practically pointless. Flint's finger within him doesn't hurt, but it isn't an easy feeling either.

"How long?" Flint nearly growls, his clean hand coming up to knead his knuckles into the muscles at the small of John's back. Flint clearly knows his way around this sort of thing. It's a bit of a magical touch, making John slink down the mattress just so, causing Flint's finger to slip further inside of him. John gasps, stills, breathes through his nose.

"A few months," he hedges, approximating a shrug of his shoulders.

"Christ."

John clenches his hands in the sheets. "With enough of that slick, it won't--"

"Shut up," Flint barks. John's mouth closes, sharp, almost biting at his own tongue. "What was my rule?"

John flushes, the reprimand making him feel like a child.

"I want to." He breathes. It's the truth, even as his body betrays him. "It has been a while, a long while, but that doesn't change the fact that I want it."

"Too bloody bad."

John balks, rising up onto his elbows to glare at Flint over his shoulder. It's a terribly awkward angle, made even more so by Flint still having one finger in him.

"Excuse me?"

"I'm not fucking you. Not tonight. I'm not--" Flint pauses, moves his finger experimentally, flicking his gaze between John's face and his ass. John shudders, the feeling less foreign now and fluttering around the edges with something resembling a memory of pleasure. "Not until you're ready."

John laughs, weak and breathy, shaking his head. He drops down and then presses his face against the sheets as Flint moves his finger again; slow, steady movements - not fully receding, not pressing in entirely. Small and gentle explorations, something that should make John impatient but seem perfect now, that start unwinding a knot of tension in his belly and leave him feeling boneless.

"This can feel good on its own." Flint continues. His other hand is nearly ticklish in its path up and down John's back. John nods his head and arches his back.

There’s barely a sense of time up in this room, but John is lost to the feeling until Flint adds a second finger, starting the slow and deliberate process again. The sounds of their breaths, the smell of their sweat and the slick, the sensation sparking through John's body, is all he knows. Occasionally there's a glimmer of something hot and startling that shoots through John like an arrow, lighting up his skin and making him jerk against the sheets, but overall he's not fully erect and less aroused than relaxed and comfortable.

When Flint slips in the third finger, John remembers that he isn't the only person with a need to fill.

"What about you?" He slurs, having fallen into the simple rhythm of Flint's fingers, undulating with them and gently shaking the bed in the process. Flint's fingers pause for a second before he continues, a bit faster.

"What about me?" Flint intones, repeating the question. John turns to lay with his cheek against the bed and smiles, willing his eyes open.

"Your cock," John says, blunt as he can manage. "You've had your fingers in my ass for days, but what are we doing for you?"

"All good things to those who wait." Flint is smiling, John can hear it in the smug lilt of his voice. All he can see from this angle is Flint’s torso, and the hint of red that extends from his neck down to his chest.

"Ha-ha," John breathes. He tries to sound flippant, but ends up breathy and wanton. Flint shifts behind him, pulling his fingers free in the process. John startles. "Hey--"

"Shh." Flint takes John by the shoulder and hauls him up, forces him to kneel on his only calf but lets him lean back against Flint's chest. His skin against John's is warm and damp with sweat. "Is this comfortable?"

John settles, adjusts the angle of his knee and the bend of his hips. "I can take it, for a time." John reaches back, bringing Flint's hand to his right hip. "If you can support me on that side--"

"Fine." Flint moves his hand, winding it down nearly to John's cock. It's the hand that had been in his ass; his fingers are still slick. Flint braces his arm against John's hip and thigh, creating a barrier for John to lean against. The muscle is firm and just feeling the tension makes John shiver. Flint’s other hand trails back to the line of slick, fingers dragging up the crease of his ass and back to the rim of his hole.

"Here--" John reaches back, finds Flint's cock and guides it between his legs. Flint’s copious fingering has left John’s thighs a slick mess, perfect for fucking. He tightens his thighs together.

Flint grunts and thrusts abortively, sinking his fingers in to the first knuckle. John gasps and moves. Flint's hand finds John's cock, and then it all comes together - the stuttered rhythm of their bodies, Flint thrusting and John riding the motion, moving both of Flint's hands in the process. It's nothing like being fucked, but it's good just the same. Flint's hand around his cock is warm and slick and deliciously tight. John doesn't try and keep the sounds at bay, partly from habit and partly from pure pleasure. He moans, let's himself sound a bit wanton, louder than he normally would. Let the other girls hear it - John fucking goddamn Silver is back in business.

He reaches out a hand for one of the bedposts as Flint begins to thrust harder, pressing his mouth against John's shoulder, the tendons of his neck. He's quiet, but for soft, guttural grunts and breaths through his nose. The drag of his cock hits the back of John’s balls, teases at the edge of where it could be.

"Christ," John groans, loud enough for them both. "This. This is good-- it's very good. Y- you're very good, God , but your cock-- " Inside him, Flint's fingers separate, almost scissoring, sending shivers up John's spine. He groans and pants, catching his breath. "Next time-" he pants, "-next time, you're putting your cock in me, or I sw- haaah - swear to God-- "

Flint thrusts against him roughly, the rhythm breaking as he sinks his teeth into John's shoulder and seems to hold on. John can feel Flint’s cock as he comes, as it tries to jerk in the confining pressure of his thighs. His come slicks down John’s inner thighs, warm and filthy. Flint's hand tightens around John’s cock, reflexive, and it's enough to have John shouting as he spills across Flint's fingers.

Loosened by orgasm, John's thighs come apart, the muscles quivering after holding tense for so long. His hand is sore as he lets go of the bedpost, and Flint flops himself against John's back until they both fall forward, John landing and creating a sizeable wet spot that, for a few moments at least, he can't seem to care one wit about.

" God ," he groans. Flint makes a similar sound, muffled against John's back, before he rolls off. John takes the chance to roll over, out of the dampness, putting space between their bodies for the first time in hours. The brothel isn't cold, not now in the middle of summer, but the air of the room brings goose pimples to John's flesh when he no longer has Flint's body to warm him, the sweat on his skin cooling rapidly.

It's been so long since he had good sex - it's been so long since he’s gotten as good as he’s paid to give; so long since his own pleasure had been put first. His entire body is one boneless mush of golden light and bliss. He's fairly sure he wouldn't be able to walk, even if he had two legs to do so. His heart is racing in his chest, and beside him Flint is breathing heavily. John turns his head and catches the redness of Flint’s face, spread down to his chest. His cock is limp in a wirey patch of ginger hair, and John doesn't mean to immediately think of how good it will feel to have that cock in him, but he does it just the same.

With a start, he realizes he spoke tonight as if there would be a repeat performance - is still thinking that way. It’s a dangerous thought for any whore to have. Repeat customers are good for business, but little else. Whores sell fantasies, and with that their bodies, but nothing more. But still - a man like Flint--

Flint begins to move beside him, even as John is still catching his breath. He rolls to his back and then sits up, bending over to reach his clothes. John watches his ass as he moves, fights the temptation to reach out and touch. His brain still feels like it’s leaked out of his ears.

Not interested? ” He finally says. It’s stupid. The minute the words are out of his mouth, John knows they were a mistake. Here, in this room, is not the time to anger a man like Flint.

Flint, however, doesn’t react outwardly. He doesn’t pause in pulling on his pants, his shirt, in undoing his hair and then fixing it again, looking as if nothing ever happened.

John imagines it, if word were to get to his crew. Pirates, as a whole, are more accepting of these sorts of trysts than the civilized world at large, but plenty would view the coupling of two men as something to be feared or reviled. Perhaps it was simply Flint’s fear - an inborn, trained response to his own attractions and preferences - that spurred him from John the night the Walrus left.

Flint turns, and John takes the opportunity to splay across the bed on his back.  He can still feel Flint’s come on his thighs, and the slick too. He tucks his hands behind his head and bends his good leg at the knee to display himself with a grin.

Flint tilts his head just so, grins and looks down at John like the most handsome madman he has ever seen. John swallows, grin falling away.

“Everyone’s interested in something,” Flint says, private and promising. “Isn’t that right, Mr. Silver?”

Laying there, covered in quickly-drying slick and watching Flint’s back as he leaves, John fully realizes what it is he’s done.

He realizes that he is, truly and utterly, fucked.

 

 


 


By the next day, every whore in the brothel knows about John and Flint. Max is quick to step in and remind them all that this is a secret that does not leave their inner circle. John, still yawning and bleary-eyed, is thankful to her for it.

"Well done mon cher ." Max smiles at him and hands him his share of Flint's payment. "I knew you would not let me down."

"I'll have you know it was no hardship," John mumbles sleepily, just to listen to her laugh.

Chapter Text

 


 


  

 

 

Summer in Nassau is the sharp crisp heat of the sun and thick, humid wind. It's the hot air rippling off of the roofs outside John's balcony window and the smell of the sea, almost palpable as he breathes it and it turns into sweat on the back of his neck.

Hot days spread out after Flint’s departure. It’s an effort to keep himself busy. John wanders the brothel and oversees the girls, feeds the birds, sometimes walks to the docks, checks the books and does his job. Anne continues to skulk about, but there aren’t any incidents; John finds himself almost hoping Hamund will show up - that someone will raise hell that he’ll have to deal with.

What before felt like monotonous, repetitive drivel now is painfully slow, made only worse by John's incessant fantasies; the nights are hot with the memory of Flint in his bed. John's fist sees more attention than in months; he can't keep his prick from hardening when he slips between the sheets.

It’s only after Flint leaves that John realizes it. He had been so unaware of his stump, only focused on the need simmering in his belly, the warmth of Flint's slick fingers and the girth of his cock between John's thighs.

For a long time after his leg was removed, John was in too much pain to even consider his cock. Then, after the pain had faded, it was disgust at his own body that kept his blood cool. He could no longer plant both feet against the mattress and slip his fingers deep, thrusting up towards the ceiling and gasping at his own touch. Every night he watched the girls at work was just another reminder of everything he would never again do so easily.

Now he falls into bed at night and can’t keep from grabbing his own prick should Max walk in and point a pistol at him. It was everything he had anticipated, and yet left him aching to see it again, to see it as he had imagined it; Flint's cock in his ass, fucking him until John can remember nothing but Flint's name and the word please .

 

 


 


When Max goes to market, he follows her just as an excuse to get outside. She is on a mission for fabric to have another dress made, and stops to speak with some of the vendors as if they are old friends. The tent tops are colorful swaths of cloth and the alleyway is loud with haggling and laughter and John steadies himself more than once against a merchant’s stall as he nearly gets run over by an errant urchin. He hangs back and looks at baubles and trinkets, feels the sun on his face and listens to shopkeepers and customers quarreling their bargains.

John has never had a taste for buying. He doesn't see the point. He has necessities, and clothing; a few necklaces, made from bits of twine and metal, and a few rings. But part of him has never liked the idea of having more than he can easily store into a bag should he ever have to leave.

Max doubles back for him. She takes John’s arm and together they walk back to the brothel, while she whispers in his ear about the newest dress she’s to have made. John has never had an eye for women’s dresses, but he has always had an eye for Max in a dress. She has exquisite if expensive taste, and has seen fit to spoil herself with clothing since her appointment as madam. Seeing as she has nowhere else to go and very little to do, John supposes such things can be forgiven. So he smiles and nods along as she describes her newest number: something loose and thin for the summer heat, made of fabric the color of the sea at dawn. John thinks it will look ravishing.

When they return to the brothel, Eleanor Guthrie is waiting at the bar. She’s leaned against it, calm and aloof like everyone in the room doesn’t know why she’s there. Max detaches herself from John and glides to meet her. She takes Eleanor’s hand and leads them up the stairs to her room. John glances at Anne who seems transfixed, staring at Max’s door as if waiting for it to burst into flames.

What passes between Eleanor and Max is hardly a secret. They've been coming together for as long as John can remember. They aren't the sort to sit together in the lobby, but Eleanor visits often enough, traipsing up to Max's room and locking the door behind her. It’s well known that Max no longer has customers. As madam, she doesn’t walk the floor in the hopes of catching men’s eyes. Even before she was a madam, it was that Max was all-but owned by Eleanor for her use exclusively.

It also isn't a secret that Eleanor and Vane had their own torrid moments, when both of them were younger. Some say she still fucks him when he comes ashore. Plenty of men think the only reason Vane and the Ranger are any good is because he had her favoritism for years. When Flint and his crew began to rise, plenty whispered that it was her waning regard for Vane that made it so.

John doesn’t trust Eleanor Guthrie. He can’t say he particularly dislikes her, or has a reason to distrust her, but he’s never been a man to doubt his gut feelings. There’s something flippant in her manner - something too reminiscent of the girl she used to be, in direct contrast with the steely leadership she holds over this island. It isn’t uncommon for John to overhear Mr. Scott and Eleanor heatedly arguing - he’s sure it takes Herculean efforts to keep a woman like her from making stupid mistakes. That isn’t to say that Eleanor isn’t smart; John is relatively sure she wouldn’t be where she is if she were as dumb as the pirates she keeps in line. Still, she’s always been good to Max. And Max, more than perhaps anyone John knows, is her own person first and always. He wouldn’t raise a word against Eleanor in front of Max, ever. But John has seen the way Max looks at her, and felt the way Max’s body tightens in anticipation just when she spots her at the bar. He has a feeling that for Eleanor, it isn’t the same.

 

 


 

 

The Guthrie woman leaves quietly in the night, but John is awake.

His wound had woken him, aching the way it always does before a storm. Outside, the air is humid and heavy with impending rain. He’s sitting on the landing when Eleanor leaves Max’s room, polishing his boot and deep inside his own head. He watches silently as she takes the stairs like someone who knows every creaky floorboard by memory. The birds below make sleepy, curious noises as she passes through, closing the door quietly and slipping out into the night.

Not long after she leaves, John hears a commotion from inside the room. With his ear trained he hears a soft, plaintive call as if whomever is inside is confused and half-asleep. When the door finally opens, Max walks out wrapped in a sheet. She looks lost, still flush with sex but lacking her usual luster and glow, smaller and weaker than she ever allows anyone to see.

"Max," John starts, standing and hopping towards her. His body thrums with anger, righteous and protective. She visibly startles to hear him, but her hair hangs in a long, tangled curtain, blocking her face from view. "You cannot let her--"

"Do not lecture me, Silver!" Max snaps, whipping her head around to glare at him, dagger sharp. Even in the dark her eyes are bright, defiant, and deadly. They stop him in his tracks. With a sigh, she sags forward against the banister, eyes screwed shut and fingers white-knuckled. "Not tonight."

John isn't one to push when someone insists otherwise, least of all when it comes to Max. He stands, one hand planted on the wall and the other still clutching at his boot. Max is strong - stronger than anyone John has ever met, stronger than anyone should have to be. But she is weak in the ways that many are. One smile from Eleanor and Max would give her anything, would forgive her anything. It makes John furious to see her reduced to this, all over a few kisses and fumbling fingers.

"She isn't worth it," he says, quietly but with a fierce edge. Max does not look at him, but when he turns to return to his room, there's nothing to hide the sound of a choked, broken sob.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Max usually holds at least one meeting a day. She gathers their not-inconsiderable brood into her room and informs them of any goings on, berates any low-earners and takes a moment to listen to any inquiries or worries. John has long since stopped listening to most of what she says, seeing as he's for all intents and purposes off the floor, so to speak. Still, it's good for the girls to all come together and it's good for Max to make herself seem simultaneously accessible and in control.

"Moira," Max points to a buxom girl in the back. A few of the other girls titter conspiratorially, glancing towards Moira as if she's about to get scolded. "The crew of the Goliath is returning; I hear they will make port either tomorrow or the next day, with favorable winds. I want you and Lillian prepared to receive your men, understood?"

John takes a drag of his cigar and leans back in his chair. He manages a quiet sigh and exhales the smoke out the open balcony door, watching it waft above the heads of the people below. He has half an ear on Max's reminders, on her reprimands and call for comments. Mostly, he's trying not to glance out at the bay.

"Finally, I have begun to hear whispers of a very important hunt."

John turns in his chair, biting down on the cigar between his teeth. Max has her hands pressed against the desk; she's leaned forward as if to entice secrets. The girls, of course, are falling for it. John isn't sure where this is coming from - Max has not often played up plying secrets from men of the crews when it comes to prizes. There’s no shortage of secrets hidden away under this roof most of them stored away for when they’re needed. Whatever she's heard must be worth a pretty sum.

"It may be nothing more than gossip now," Max says, shrugging in that coquettish way of hers. "But I would appreciate it if you all kept your ears open. Any news comes directly to me. Do not speak about this on the floor, do you understand?"

The girls all nod and make soft noises of assent. Max claps her hands and they disperse, quiet but for whispers amongst themselves. Idelle ushers the last of them out, glances back at John, and then closes the door.

"A hunt?" John taps his cigar ash out on the balcony. "What are you up to, Max?"

"Nothing," Max leans back in her chair. "I am merely keeping myself open to any possible leads that could help our business."

John laughs. "You are never simply doing nothing . Not a word comes out of your mouth that doesn't involve some sort of very advanced plan."

Max stands and walks towards him. "John, please. Do not worry over this." She takes him by the elbow and helps him up, and then walks him to the door. John feels his stomach go into knots. "Now, would you please inform Miss Bonny that we will be opening shortly?"

John allows himself to be lead out of the room. He glances around and finds Bonny downstairs, nursing ale and a plate of something. He takes the stairs slowly, limiting the amount of weight he bears on the boot.

John trusts Max. He wishes it weren't so, but he does - the things they've been through, he can't imagine anything but. He wouldn't be here if it weren't for her, and he knows she doesn't favor taking risks or being reckless. But for the first time that he can remember, he's worried. Worried about the thoughts swirling in Max's head, obvious in the way she never looked him in the eye just now; in the way she had gripped his elbow too-hard; in how she had ushered him out of her room, rather than invite him to stay for a drink and some gossip about the girls. He can't remember anything of note occurring in the brothel - certainly nothing has happened to Max, or any of the girls, especially since Anne has joined them. But then, John isn't in Max's pocket. He isn't with her everywhere she goes, isn't privy to everything she thinks or reads or says, or who she speaks to. Although they both live under the same roof, there are times when Max is inaccessible to John, as a friend and as a madam. Perhaps it was only childish folly to assume the two of them shared a deep and honest confidence. John has rarely ever saved her a secret of his own, but now he's left to wonder, has she done the same for him?

 

 


 


When Flint's crew returns this time, it is with considerably less spring in their step. Perhaps the prize was less than expected; perhaps something happened while they were at sea. Whatever it is, John knows that after a good night's fuck, one of the girls will know the answer. He resolves to speak with Charlotte in the morning and see what she’s found out.

The night is quieter than normal. Men peel off quickly; the mood of the brothel seems less inclined for raucous drinking and more interested in getting into a room and getting fucked.

He's seated by the back door when Flint comes in. The man appears at John's side like a ghost, startling him so badly he nearly shouts.

"Christ," he snaps. Flint doesn't even bother looking sheepish. There’s bruising about his face, scrapes, and his skin looks windswept and dry. The sea hasn’t been kind to him this time. John glares at him. "You very nearly killed me."

"Shut up," Flint says. He glances furtively around the brothel; John knows they’re all but invisible in this spot - and besides, no one would bother looking back at them when they have a lap full of whore.

He rolls his eyes. "Hello to you too, captain. I'm well, thank you for asking. Oh yes, I do accept your apology for startling me!"

"Are you going to sit there and complain all day," Flint starts, "or can we get on with this?"

John grumbles under his breath as he gets to his feet and ushers Flint out the back and up the stairs. How could he ever have thought the words 'Flint' and 'romantic' together?

 

 


 

 

The sex would nearly be perfunctory, if not for the fact that Flint seems incapable of being so. His base emotion seems to be some strange amalgamation of anger and confidence, a combination that should make him intolerable but only serves to make him more interesting. John can feel it practically radiating from his skin.

Together they head up the stairs, and this time no time is wasted with words. John walks to his bed, unbuckles his boot and grabs pillows and spreads them on the floor without prompting, happy to find Flint fully undressed when he's done.

"Sit," he commands, and Flint does. John notices a rash of scars, but doesn’t focus long as he glances downward. Flint’s cock is already rising; he's cut,  something that John was not expecting; the head is already peeking from the foreskin. John kneels on the pillows, bracing himself with his palms against Flint’s thighs. His leg hair, sparse and slightly red, is soft against his hands. He situates himself between Flint's knees, leaning in and inhaling the scent of skin. He reaches out and traces the underside of Flint’s cock with a fingernail. It jumps at the touch; Flint grunts softly. "Sorry,” John glances up at Flint, traipsing his fingers along Flint’s inner thigh. Flint seems to be clenching his teeth. “One quick rule. You may pull my hair, and you may thrust, but the minute you hold me down, we're through."

He doesn't wait for an answer, instead breathing deep through his nose and taking Flint as far as he can. Flint isn't overly large, but he certainly isn't small. Flint hisses and quickly fists his hands in John's hair but he sits still, only making small, hitched breathing noises and occasionally tightening his hold, pulling John’s hair just enough to send little sparks of pleasure through John's scalp. The power of it is heady and arousing, something John has dearly missed.

John bobs his mouth slowly up and down, experimenting with and becoming accustomed to the weight of Flint on his tongue and building saliva. He folds his lips carefully over his teeth and fists his hand around the base of whatever he can’t fit, giving tight, sharp pulls in counterpoints to his mouth. All he can smell is the ocean and blood and skin and sweat - a combination he should be inured to, but that seems to be doing something to him right now.

Above him, Flint is making soft, shocked sounds - breathy with harsh ends, like he’s fighting to keep something at bay. John looks up at Flint through his eyelashes. The light slanting into the room is bright with sunset warmth, vermilion streaks that make Flint's hair seem aflame and makes the flush of his skin glow. John can't help feeling a bit reverential, a bit worshipful, and he barely bites back a laugh at the thought; it makes Flint gasp and give a quick, aborted thrust of his hips. His prick gives a burst of precome and nearly touches the back of John's throat. John can feel the flutter as he pulls his head back to keep from choking, but tears are leaking from his eyes just the same. A few blinks clears them and sends them streaking down his cheeks. John is still recovering, getting back into the motion of working Flint’s cock with his tongue when Flint's fingers trace the tear tracks and his palm cups the push of his own cock in John's cheek. With a flick of his tongue, John has his cheek bulging under Flint's hand. He sucks, hollows his cheeks and Flint jerks, hands returning to John's hair.

It continues like that, John breathing through his nose with spit dripping down his chin. Flint’s fingers tighten in John’s hair and loosen, at times nearly stroking John’s scalp before they yank ever so slightly, enough to make John gasp and jerk.

John pulls off, sucking the tip of Flint’s cock back into his mouth as he moves, adjusts himself to balance on his good leg until he can rut against Flint's calf. He's still wearing his pants and he'll hear about it tomorrow when Max realizes he's ruined them, but he can't bring himself to care - not now, when he’s hard enough to ache with it.

He rolls his hips, gasps and swallows around Flint’s cock.

"Shit ." Flint hisses. John sucks him further in again and reaches with one hand to play at Flint's balls, cupping them in his hand as he thrusts hungrily into Flint's leg. Flint’s hips twitch at the touch. "You-- you enjoy this so much--?"

John hums. It isn't always this good - and normally, a client wouldn't care. But there was something about it, from the moment he realized it was Flint who had surprised him downstairs, that had a need coming to life inside him. His cock is aching, spurring him to thrust faster, until he's barely coherent enough to work Flint with his mouth.

He's panting and Flint's cock is pillowed on his tongue. Every hot exhale of breath across it makes it twitch and Flint makes soft, pained sounds like it's the best thing he's ever felt; like he’s seconds from begging for more. John screws his eyes shut, moves his tongue to play in the slit of Flint's cock. Flint grunts, curses unintelligibly under his breath and pulls again at John’s hair.

"Come on," Flint urges. First, John thinks he means it at him - a command to finish the job. But when Flint scratches his hands through John's scalp; when John feels Flint moving his calf to press it forward in counterpoint with John's harried thrusting, he realizes that Flint means it as a command for John to come. His words are low oaths under his breath. "Come on. Come on. "

"Oh ." John gasps, shocked by how good it feels to be essentially humping at Flint's leg. “Oh, oh Christ.” Flint's cock is bobbing against John's lips as he moves, and occasionally John can muster enough coherence to play at what he's supposed to be doing - he lips at the head, licks it, but can't keep it up for long. It leaves damp smears of precome across his face - his chin, his cheeks, his beard - that feel cool and tacky in the evening air.

One of Flint's hands untangles from John's hair. He places his palm against John's open mouth until John gets the message, sticks out his tongue and laves it over and over, wrist to fingertips. Flint strokes his other hand down from John's temple to the dip of skin at the top of his lips.

"May I?" Flint asks. His voice is quiet and broken by the way he’s breathing, and John nods.  As John focuses his attention on getting himself off, Flint takes his own cock in hand. He grits his teeth to the sound of Flint jacking himself, wet and filthy.

John shoves his hands into his own pants, barely touches his own prick before he comes, jerking and gasping and shouting into the side of Flint’s knee. His eyes screw shut tight at the pleasure. Almost instantaneously, he feels Flint's come as it streaks across his face, hot and dripping from the tip of his nose into his mustache. Some of it gets onto John’s lips, parted to catch his breath, but John can't find it in him to care.

"Jesus," he gasps, blinking his eyes open. His voice is rough in the way it always goes when he’s had someone’s cock in his throat. He feels limp, leaning against Flint’s legs to stay upright. Dazed, he stares up at Flint and catalogs the color of his cheeks, the way his irises are almost solid black. Flint blinks down at John, and his eyes go wide with something like wonder.

The come is cool on John's skin when Flint reaches out and thumbs some of it away, wiping it off on the bed sheets. John flicks his tongue to lick his lips and catches come on it. The bitterness dances on his tongue as he and Flint stare at each other, quiet but for their breathing. Flint’s mouth opens like he means to speak, closes and opens again like a fish. Finally, Flint looks away to the wall. John plants his hands on Flint’s knees and levers himself up. Out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he sees Flint’s hands, as if to steady John with a touch. He doesn’t.

John hobbles to his feet and moves to get a rag. He dips it in the bowl of water on the bedside table and wipes at his face before he throws it to Flint. It lands in his lap with a wet smack.

“Thank you.” Flint mutters. He cleans himself with the rag as if it’s insulted him - as if the come John just cleaned off his face wasn’t Flint’s. John rolls his eyes and throws him a smarmy grin.

His stump twinges as he walks past Flint on shaky legs, until he can flop ungainly down onto the bed on the other side. He strips out of his soiled pants, leans over and pulls a fresh pair from the dresser. Flint’s clothes are lying neatly folded on the table. John lays on his back and watches him rise, watches him dress. There’s a stiffness to Flint’s movements, like a soreness setting in. John’s insatiable curiosity begs to know the reason why, but he can’t imagine that Flint would be happy to be questioned.

He watches Flint arrange himself until he is neat, until he doesn’t look like John just sucked his brain through his prick - which, John is fairly certain he just did. Flint looks up as he buckles his belt, and his eye catches on John’s makeshift book shelf.

“You read?” Flint asks. John rolls onto his side and cocks his head onto his hand, elbow bent.

“I do believe when you first met you found me with my ledger.” He quips. “Or have you forgotten?”

“I didn’t mean -” Flint gestures to the books. His shirt is loose and billowing, with sleeves that drip past his hands. John smiles to himself. “I meant, you read for pleasure.”

“Oh.” John looks across the meager collection. “Yes, I suppose. I’ve read those over and over again to the point that their spines are fit to break. Not a lot of reading material to be found on this island.”

He has his favorites. Hamlet , and although he doesn’t quite understand it, Newton’s work is full of illustrations he rather enjoys. Plato’s The Cave has been one he pores over often, thinking of the pirates on this island, the men on boats at sea who fear them, and the country that threatens everything even from hundreds of miles away. Most when he first read them seemed leagues out of his comprehension, but when he lost his leg he found himself with ample time to read and re-read. What were once mysteries are now clear to him; ideas that once confused him are ones he now tries to reason with in his daily life. He isn’t so good as to call himself a philosopher, or to think he’d be welcome in some British salon, but he’s head and shoulders above most on this isle of sand and criminals.

Flint trails his fingers along the spines of them. He pauses at a few: Paradise Lost, Letters of a Portuguese Nun, The Honest Whore, King Lear, Leviathan . It’s a modest selection to be sure, mostly gifts from Max or ones that other girls have managed to wheedle from their men after a prize hunt. Laying here watching Flint inspect what little John has, the space between them feels more intimately charged now than it had mere minutes ago, when Flint’s cock was in his mouth. John can’t figure out if he likes it or not.

“We’re set to stay ashore at least a week,” Flint says. John jerks out of his reverie as Flint pulls back on his boots and shrugs into his blue coat. John already feels a thin sheen of sweat; he can’t imagine keeping a jacket on in this heat. “Resupply, ample time for the men to unwind.”

“I appreciate the update,” John drawls, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling. “But I’m not sure what that has to do with me.”

“If you’d like to get fucked before we leave, I’d suggest you make preparations.”

John’s quick reply dies in his throat, which goes dry with the promise in Flint’s voice. He turns his head in time to watch Flint leave, and although he’s still reeling from orgasm not ten minutes old, his prick certainly is interested in the proceedings. John groans and rolls to sit up, scrambling to find the pot of lubricant and lotion he keeps stashed in his bedside drawer.

One can only hope this is going to be a long week.



Chapter Text

 


 


  

 

 

 

“If you’d like to get fucked before we leave, I’d suggest you make preparations.” 

 


Jesus Christ. The bed is still warm where Flint was sitting - where John is now laying, knees bent and legs spread, slicked fingers gently circling the rim of his hole.

It's been long enough since he last did this that John has to force his body to relax. He has to relearn the sensation, teach his body to be receptive to this touch again. Now, he feels himself tightening against the pressure.

He has time, now, to slowly work back to familiarity. Sure enough, he can already feel a bit of give. He doesn't think he can work himself over the way Flint did - he doesn't have the patience.

John will never forget his first time being fucked as a whore. It was messy, too dry, and it hurt. The man had been a whale, all wiggling sweaty skin and noises akin to a rutting pig. John had been pinned beneath him, an unassuming bystander in the face of the man's need which was, at least, finished quickly.

When it was over, he swore he would never go through anything like it again. He stashed away his own pot of slick and made use of it in his own time. He spoke with Max and the experienced girls, and kept an eagle-eyed watch on them to learn how they did it - how they spoke, the way they moved, and how the men turned to putty in their capable hands.

The next time John took a man's coin and his cock, he did it his way. He slid serpentine into the lap of a man who had been eyeing him all night, not handsome but not a beast, with large hands and dimpled cheeks. They’d made small talk, exchanged the pleasantries and innuendo expected, and John had shifted minutely, in the way he had learned - that had sealed it. The man had practically carried John up the stairs and John had been fucked well that night - a bit rough, very perfunctory, but so, so much better.

After that, he knew what to do and how to get it done. Men who swore to the breasts and cunts of women came to know the way John could writhe; how he could ride a man's cock and have him see stars. John was in control. When he felt like it, he went to his knees. When it struck him, he could get any man to let him fuck them. It was a gift, truly, and one he never appreciated until it was gone.

Now, bearing down on two of his own fingers, his head is filled with memories. It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad, either. Hot nights lost to his own body, to fleeting moments of physical pleasure.

It feels good, but nothing, he's sure, will match the feeling of Flint’s cock.

 

 


 

 

"John.”

John.”

John rolls against his pillows and sits up slowly. He glances around, runs hands back through his hair. The door is open a crack and Charlotte has poked her head in - she’s whispering, as if afraid to wake anyone. He gestures groggily at her with his hand and she comes in, closing the door quietly behind her. When he glances out the window, John notices that the sun has yet to rise. He’s has only been asleep a few hours; the twinge in his wrist and the ache between his thighs have yet to fade. He levels Charlotte with a glare and flops back against the headboard.

"Please tell me you have a bloody good reason to wake me," he groans. His throat is still feels raw, reflected in the grit of his voice. Charlotte walks over and climbs up onto his bed, which surprises John enough to jerk him out of his half-asleep state. He and Charlotte are close, but they certainly have never been this friendly, at least without a good bellyful of liquor to get them there. "What is it?"

"I've just left Logan," she starts. Her hands twist at the folds of her skirt. The once-perfectly-curled gold ringlets of her hair have gone tangled and flat with sleep; her lips are smeared red and the kohl about her eyes has been smudged into her temples. "I didn't mean to, but somehow he ... he got to talking about Flint last night, and how the men have noticed he doesn't go to see the mysterious woman inland as often as he used to. They say he seems distracted, like he's thinking about other things, and I don't think it's going to be long before they all figure out where he's been going."

"So they'll find out Flint fucks a whore." John shrugs and yawns. He pets at his face with slick-tacky fingers and realizes belatedly that there might be stubborn come still crusted in his goatee and mustache. Well, it's certainly nothing Charlotte hasn't seen before. "There are worse things."

"Not to hear the way the men talk about you," she insists, ducking her head to meet his eye. "Hamund has plenty of men in other crews mad about you and Max. There's talk in Flint's crew about a man named Singleton; talk of voting Flint off the Walrus."

John frowns. He's never been popular outside of the brothel, certainly not since the incident with Hamund, but he hadn't thought that Hamund's opinion had infected any of the other crews. It had never crossed his mind to think of how his and Flint's arrangement might be affecting Flint. To imagine Flint's countenance outwardly changed by John is - well, laughable.

Whatever the Walrus crew perceives in Flint, true changes or not, John highly doubts himself as the cause.

To be a whore with a target on his back is certainly something he never envisioned for himself. It's bad news to be sure, but he won't waste time worrying about Flint being mutinied. The man has never been particularly popular with his crew, outside of the success of their hunts. John can't say he's surprised that someone has managed to stir up Flint's crew against him.

John takes Charlotte's hands in his own, squeezing once. "Charlotte. Thank you, but I don't think what you've heard is anything to be worried about. Should things escalate, I want you to come directly to me. But until then, don't risk Logan waking up without you." John throws her a wink and a grin. "I'm certain you can squeeze a few more pieces from him before he takes his leave."

Charlotte reaches out and smacks John's upper arm as she gets up. "Just... be careful, alright? The girls and I -- we haven't forgotten what you did."

A lump springs up unbidden in John's throat. He waves at her as she sees herself out, unable to speak. The light goes from grey to pink against the sheets as he takes slow and even breaths through his nose. His hands tighten into fists at his side, clenching the sheets beside his stump.

Fuck.

 

 


 

 

It sets a twinge in his wrist when he first begins fingering himself, the strain of the position so long disused it feels foreign. It isn't until his second night, when the tightness has faded into something easier to manage, that he brushes that space inside that has him seeing stars and panting.

The sensation is not inherently one of pleasure - it's nearly electric, zipping up his spine and making his entire body jerk. But it combined with a touch of his hand upon his prick is undoubtedly good, enough to have him moaning breathily into the pillows.

It's enough to have him forget himself, forget his leg, until he turns just so and fire shoots up his stump, sharp and unbearable.

He cries out, not in pleasure but in hot pain that leaves him breathless. It curls him up; he brings both hands protectively to his stump, one slick and the other damp with his own sweat. Throbbing waves of pain emanate from the very bone, making his arms shake and his teeth grind together.

"Fuck," he squeaks, squeezes his eyes shut and waits for the waves of agony to subside from white-crested breakers to soft ripples and finally, finally to nothing at all. John collapses back against the pillows, panting for breath. His erection has gone, leaving his cock damp and limp in the crook of his hip, arousal forgotten. Sweat beads across his skin; he shivers in the early morning air. There's a dull yet insistent echoing ring in his ears. Every part of him is inexorably exhausted - he barely has the wherewithal to pull the sheets over himself before he’s asleep.

 

 


 

 

"-fuck." Flint grunts. John moves onto shaking elbows to look back over his shoulder. Flint has his ass in two hands, cheeks spread; the look on his face is one of surprise. His brows are tight, but his eyes look bright as they stare. John can feel his prick, bobbing and occasionally smacking against the backs of John's thighs.

"I figured it would be expedient to see it done beforehand." John murmurs between heavy breaths. He smirks. "Since the last time you got your fingers in me, it took hours to see you satisfied with the result."

"You little shit."

"You seem rather fond of that endearment. Shall it be my pet name from now --?"

Flint's hand comes down on John's ass with a resounding smack. John, entirely caught off guard and impossibly aroused already, gives a broken shout and nearly face-plants into the sheets. When he recovers enough to glance back he sees Flint's eyes are wide, his nostrils flared. His hand hovers over John's ass, over the skin quickly turning red.

Flint opens his mouth, and then closes it with the sharp clack of teeth against teeth. From what John has witnessed, it is not in Flint's repertoire to be apologetic, or admit his faults, but John can see something like fear in his eyes.

"Again." John blurts. He has never understood the appeal of it before, but the sting still has his thighs shaking and his ears burning. The skin of his ass feels hot and vaguely tingles. It sends little sparks of pleasure deep into his gut. Flint, although he hesitates for an instant, does not need to be told again. He brings his hand down upon the other side of John’s ass. John moans and presses his face to the sheets.

"You talk too much." Flint murmurs. His slick fingers trail gently between John's ass cheeks down to the thin, sensitive skin behind his balls.

"Make me stop," John gasps. I would have you fuck me into incoherent babbling, he thinks, but can't get his mouth to form the words. Instead he presses his good knee to the bed and raises his hips. Flint makes a noise deep in his throat, and John feels the damp press of Flint's cock edging between his cheeks. "Yes," John pants, voice growing hoarse. "Come on."

The first press of the head of Flint’s cock against John's hole feels insurmountable. John takes a deep breath and bears down, gritting his teeth until he feels the first subtle pop. Then it becomes a slow, inexorable slide. Flint's hands are vices at John's hips, keeping the movement controlled until John feels the cut of Flint's hips against the swell of his ass.

It's a lot. John bites against his own forearm as he breathes through his nose; the sensation isn't painful, but it's almost too much after months of nothing. He can feel Flint behind him - more than that, he can feel the heat of Flint’s cock inside him. The shake of Flint’s body is clear in the quaking press of his thighs to the back of John's. Beyond the beating of his own heart in his ear he can hear Flint breathing, harsh and stuttered.

"Go." John grits out. Flint moves, pulling out slowly enough to send shivers up John's spine before he rolls back in, lighting up something inside of John that he had begun to think dormant and faded. “Ah.”

The first few thrusts are experimental, the two of them finding a way to fit together. Flint's hands never leave the jut of John's hips, almost helping to support him. As they get bolder, more comfortable, Flint yanks John back onto his cock, pushing the air from John's lungs in a rush.

"Harder." John breathes. He rolls his hips back into Flint's thrusts, grunting and gasping. Everything is too slow, soft enough to leave his thoughts rolling dangerously in his head. He needs to be fucked, goddamn it. Flint puts more force behind his thrusts - John skids up the bed with the first harder thrust, has to re-balance for it - but keeps a steady pace; inexorable, immovable, and infuriating.

It's far too controlled for John’s liking. He moves to brace himself better on his hands and bears down, clenching about Flint’s cock. Flint jerks and stutters three quick, sharp thrusts. It's perfect- the feeling of it lights John up from the inside out and makes his thoughts blissfully blank but for the mantra of more more more.

"C'mon then," John pants, and does it again. Flint curses and presses John's face into the pillows, using his other hand to steady John at his hips and set up a fast and punishing rhythm. John sighs and moans and presses his forehead to the pillows, feeling as if he's coming apart at the seams.

It's dark and John is panting into the pillows. Flint is a warm weight across his back, thrusting erratically with his mouth busing damp across John's shoulders. John is quivering head-to-toe with how good this feels, shaking with every motion of Flint's body into his. One of Flint's hands is locked onto his hips and the other winds into John’s hair, using it to yank him bodily up. John plants his hands to support himself and arches his back into it, until the angle has Flint lighting him up and John is incoherent with it, tears pricking his eyes and wordless moans passing between shaking lips.

There's a moment where John moves and his stump takes weight for a second, and he jerks and it hurts but then Flint slips his hand from John’s hips onto John's cock and it's enough to have him forgetting it.

They both are beyond words. John rocks back into Flint, the two of them coming together with riotous sound. Beneath them the bed is shaking and the headboard smacks against the wall. The air is filled with the sound of their sharp grunts and gasps and the creak of the bed frame against the staccato moans hitching from John's throat and the soft noises Flint is muffling into John's skin. The slap of their bodies together is filthy and makes John’s entire body burn, half from shame and half from how good it sounds, how it makes him ache with need.

It's so hurried, so frantic that John feels feverish with it, pressed to a cliff's edge and then left to dangle over it. Flint bites down at the junction of John's neck and shoulder and John wails, caught off guard. He jerks his head to look back at Flint, fully intending to give him an earful. He opens his mouth; Flint's hand in his hair holds him steady as their lips come together in a sloppy, biting kiss. His tongue is hot and wet in John's mouth, unrelenting as if searching for something of unimaginable import.

John whines and claws at the sheets with his hands. Flint bites into the meat of John's lower lip, and as he pulls away yanks John's lip with him. The angle is killing his neck, but what he really feels is the wrench of this, of Flint in him and the sting of Flint's teeth on his lips.

 

 


 

 

John has always enjoyed this part - the air after a good fucking that leaves a door ajar - one that he readily prys open further. The girls are well trained in unwinding secrets from the breasts of the men they sleep with, but John won’t insult Flint’s intelligence with something so roundabout as that.

John crosses his arms under his chin and looks at Flint, his face barely lit by the moonlight outside. It cools the redness of him, the heat, into something sharper but cold. He seems slowed, less frantic - John follows the way his breathing tapers down from gulping gasps to shallow, panting breaths into something nearly calm.

“So, feared pirate captain Flint. You should hear the stories they tell about you.”

Flint grunts, still sprawled on his back. His eyes narrow in a sideways glare. John chuckles.

“Not those stories,” he assures. “Ones of your terrible deeds. How you slaughter men at sea. How you once took an entire fleet of British man-of-war with a skeleton crew: six men and your swords.”

“If I were that good--” Flint groans and stretches. John watches his toes curl into the sheets, the way his muscles move beneath skin and freckles and scars. “I should think if I were that capable, I’d be rich beyond my dreams months ago, and I’d be ensconced on some island somewhere.”

John smiles into his forearm and tilts his head, approximating shaking it without lifting his chin. “No. No, I don’t suppose you’re that sort of pirate.”

Flint rolls onto his side and regards him blankly. “Hm? What sorts of pirates are there?”

“Oh, plenty.” John affects a very proper, tired London accent. “Ones like Hornigold, who like to see themselves as great military leaders, naval officers even outside Britain’s influence.” He rolls onto his back and waves out a hand, making a sweeping gesture up towards the ceiling. “Men like Rackham, who seek glory first and an everlasting mark on the world.” Beside him, Flint snorts. “Men like Vane, who only want freedom. But you…” John purses his lips, turns his head and stares hard at Flint. Flint stares back, almost daring John - to do what, he doesn't know. John grins and shrugs his shoulders. “I can’t say I understand what the fuck it is that you want.”

“I should think you have an inkling.” Flint growls. John gasps when he rolls them together, Flint’s hand warm and tight on John’s rapidly hardening prick.

 

 


 

 

It's a bad day. John has them. Everyone has them, he's certain, even the goddamn king of England.

He wakes up before the sun, jerking into wakefulness thanks to a sharp, throbbing pain in his stump that travels up into his hip. For an instant, still half dreaming, he reaches for a leg that no longer exists, groping at air for the time it takes for him to fully wake.

It’s instinct to inch to the edge of the bed. He moves slowly in hopes of not waking Flint, who seems a heavy sleeping bedfellow. John grabs at the pitcher of water left on the bedside table and pours some out onto the large flat basin he keeps for precisely this reason. He dips a rag in the water and wrings it nearly dry before he wraps it around the skin of his stump. The cool damp against the scar tissue feels good, but the pain is deeper, probably due to the fact that he's been walking about with his boot too often lately; that, combined with all the slightly-more-athletic sex he’s been having. He doesn't even have the luxury of his crutches now, having stored them downstairs many weeks ago when he was feeling about as good as he ever has.

It isn't ever easy, missing a leg, but it's John's life now, and sitting here he can’t help thinking he was over the worst of it. It’s easy to think he has it figured out, on the good days. Often he imagines himself through the pain, stronger than it, able to face it and bite it back. But there’s no optimism left in him when he’s faced with this - this pain that shakes him all over and leaves him feeling feverish and damp with sweat.

The room sways dangerously underneath him. A wave of nausea crests behind in his throat and down in his belly. John lurches, trying to stand, with the intent to go -- somewhere, to do something, but the minute he gets weight on his good leg the world goes black and everything falls out from under him, leaving him to the abyss.

 

 


 

 

John floats in and out of coherence. He recognizes voices for instants at a time, but the memory of them doesn’t last. There’s pain, bright flares of it like cannon fire, and then nothing.

 

 


 

 

He wakes up slowly.

First, he realizes he’s in his own bed. Second, he realizes it’s later in the day, the sun pouring into the room and the curtains blown by a warm sea breeze. Third, he realizes that he isn’t alone in the room. At first, he thinks it must be Max, or one of the girls. But when he rolls gingerly over, he spies Flint seated at the table, a book open in his hands and a jug of ale in front of him.

“What the fuck.” John groans. Belatedly, with a cursory pass of his hands down his body, John finds himself clothed - he’s fairly certain when he went to bed, he was about as naked as anyone could be. There's an uncomfortable sheen of sweat against his skin and an all-over ache he's come to associate with sickness.

“You nearly killed yourself,” Flint comments. “Came close to opening your skull on that table.”

“What-” John licks his lips. His fingertips feel fuzzy, his toes feel loose. Damn Max. “What are you--”

“You’re welcome, by the way. I seem to have a knack for--” Flint pauses. John is staring at the play of light along the far wall. “Do you remember anything?”

“Only waking up with my damn leg on fire.”

“Well, you fell. Made quite a racket, woke me up. Some girl came in - black hair, very curt, large breasts.” John snorts. Idelle . “She went and got Max, who fetched a doctor. You were unconscious and had somehow managed to get yourself a fever.”

“Opium?” John asks. Flint makes a low noise, almost something amused.

“Your madam insisted. Seems you’re a terrible patient if you’re given the choice of convalescence or freedom.”

Freedom. John smirks. Christ, what he wouldn’t give for real freedom - to not be tied to this brothel by his goddamn fucking leg; by the lack of it; by the pain it causes him every fucking hour of every fucking day.

"How the hell does a whore in the middle of Nassau end up losing a leg?"

"By being a sentimental idiot," John snaps. Flint appears at his side with a cup of water, springing to the front of John's mind how thirsty he is, how the skin of his lips is hot and dry. He cradles the cup to his mouth and takes greedy swallows until it's empty.

Flint watches him, standing over him with a veiled look. He scoffs and takes the cup back. "I can't imagine you have a sentimental bone in your body."

"Not anymore." John grunts, and then laughs, bitter and wavering. "They cut it off."

Flint stops moving, but John doesn't want look at him. The daylight has infused the room with warmth and a brightness that hurts his eyes. He stares at the door or closes his eyes to everything, until it feels as if his bed is a ship rocked at sea and he has to open them to get his bearings. Fuck, he hates opium.

Flint hasn’t asked, but already the words are pressing to his temple, to his lips and the tip of his tongue, fluttering like the birds in their cages downstairs when they get too excited. John bites his teeth together.

"What happened?" Flint asks. His voice is too soft, too inquisitive, weedling into the ache in John's chest and between the cracks forced wider by opium.

"The Spanish." he breathes, words torn from him. "The raid. We... we had time. Just enough to see Max and the girls off, some women, some children."

John can still remember the day, how it had dawned so gray and abnormally cold. He can remember the sails on the horizon, the boy charging into the brothel so out of breath he nearly fell over. He can remember the panic, the screaming, how Noonan had put his hand to work silencing the girls.

"Max... Max wasn't the madam. There was a man, Noonan. Old fuck, miserly, just in it for the money. If a girl got hit, and she complained, he'd say, next time charge ‘im for it .

"Max got all the girls together while I distracted Noonan. We knew... When the Spanish came, we knew what they would want. We knew that Noonan would let them. Eleanor ... Eleanor knew about secrets, tunnels to the fortress on the hill."

John pauses to breathe, to close his eyes and open them again. He doesn't know where Flint is. He doesn't care.

"The streets were chaos. I was ... I was looking for stragglers when the first boats made landfall. At first it was easy to blend in - most of the Spaniards weren't looking at the men. But when they found the brothel empty, no women on the streets, they were, understandably, suspicious. When Noonan found out, he knew... He knew that I knew and he wanted... but I didn't know. I knew who had taken them, I knew they were safe, but I didn't know where . When the Spanish made it up the beach, Noonan threw me to them. I guess he saw this as a way to profit, even when the entire town was being burnt down around us.”

This one knows where my women are, Noonan shouted. If you want to be fucked, you can ask him.

“I think the bastard thought they'd be better to him if he helped them. But he had nothing they needed. They shot him, right... right in the doorway. I knew I was next, but I had a plan. From there, the interrogation began. It was a lot of yelling, primarily in Spanish.” John lolls his head against the pillows until he can see Flint, standing by the foot of the bed. “I can speak a bit of Spanish, did I tell you?” He shrugs. “I thought if I were to show them that I spoke their mother tongue, I could get their confidence. Hell, I didn't care if they fucked me, so long as they let me live. But once they'd heard me, they insisted I was one of them and anything I kept from them would be considered treasonous. It didn't matter where I'd learned, how little I spoke. I had opened a door for them, through which they charged with reckless abandon."

"They asked me, kindly at first, if I knew where the women were. I knew even if I told them I'd be dead. I couldn't risk running - even if they didn't kill me, there was a real chance I'd lead them right to the girls. They had children, did I say that? They had children. I'm not a truly good man. I'm not a hero. But ... I couldn't, not with children.”

"Then one of their men came in and reported Eleanor was missing. The questions stopped. The torture was next."

John is terrible with pain. He always has been. He's good at hiding it, at working through it, as using it to move forward, but with torture... He would have told them anything, but what was there to tell them? Once they started, it was as if they didn't care about getting a real answer. The one who did it seemed like the sort of man who enjoyed himself too much, like the idea of cutting another person's skin was the highest form of entertainment for him. John had known he was doomed.

"It was simple at first. Beating me, trying to knock me into acquiescence. When that didn't work, they held me down. I don't remember much. Pain, of course.” John glanced down at his stump. “What I still feel now is just a shadow of what it was. I was already swallowing blood - I tasted it for days afterward. I screamed. God, I screamed. There wasn't anyone to hear me, but I screamed anyway. If I kept screaming, then I couldn't answer them. They started with my foot, with this tool - do you know it? Like a screw, it goes into your foot and --"

John can feel himself going pale at the memory, remembering the way his foot had bled and the sound of bone crunching between wood and metal. He feels a fleeting moment of nausea, a ghost pain in a foot that no longer exists.

"Then they worked on my leg.” John stares at the empty space of the bed. “Flayed the skin first, then they broke the bone."

"Soon enough, I was unconscious. I think they would have hacked me into a million pieces if Hornigold's men hadn't stormed the beach." John gave a dark chuckle. "I can't say I've ever been friendly with that man, but I'll never forget what he did."

“When it was all through, Max rose to madam without a second thought. I was welcomed back into the fold unanimously. She used my reputation with the girls, and it was brilliant.” Something bitter rises in John’s mouth like bile. He curls his lip. “I knew I was with her whether or not I wanted it, and ever since then I've been trapped in this fucking brothel. I don't have to worry about going hungry. I don't have to worry about anything. Do you know, when we get new girls, it's actually nice. I hate having to look at Idelle or Charlotte and know that they think I'm something great. When I look at Emily, she sees someone that isn't afraid to stand up to men like Hammund.” The room is spinning again, swirling and blurring with light. John closes his eyes and breathes, in-and-out. “When the others see me, all they see is what I lost to protect them.”

There’s a sound, like murmuring, but John can’t open his eyes and barely recognizes that he’s falling asleep - he fights it, as much as he can, but the pull of the opium, heavy like manacles, drags him under.

 

 


 

 

He wakes up to Flint sitting at the foot of his bed, reading one of John's books. John doesn't understand, doesn't remember.

"Wh- what are you doing here?"

"Reading." Flint states. John collapses back into the pillows and floats for a bit on the fading edges of opium.

"Why the fuck,” John groans, “am I still on opium?" He already knows the answer - can almost mouth along to the words as Flint says them.

"Max decided it was necessary."

"Fuck necessary, I --" John stops and lurches up, flinching and biting off curses when it pulls at his leg. He stares very hard at Flint and tries to force the loose, blurry edges of his vision to go clear. Memories flicker through his thoughts, dull and jumbled but clear enough. His face heats. "What the fuck are you still doing here? What the fuck happened?"

"You fell. You were unconscious.” Flint won’t even look up from the book in his lap. “Max called for a doctor, and I helped hold you down. You were feverish, your leg was inflamed, you were delusional."

"Why are you still here ."

"I was going to stay until you awoke. Max claimed she had business to attend to, and I won't feign disinterest in your collection of books--"

“You --” John interrupts. He swallows and licks his lips. “Tell me it was a dream. Tell me that I didn’t-”

Flint finally looks up. He has a hand where John's left foot could be. His face is red, dark and surprisingly angry, but his eyes are wide with something else.

"No." John jerks, recognizing the emotion. "Not you."

Flint's brow furrows. "What?"

"Don't look at me that way. Like every goddamned woman looked at me, when I was laying there - how they looked at me and said thank you like I was Jesus himself on the cross. Christ, the pity. We'll take care of you, they said. I had never heard anything so terrible in my life. Like what I'd done amounted to some debt that needed to be repaid. I never asked to be taken care of. I never asked to have my fucking leg ripped apart."

"John-"

"Don't call me that!" John shouts, heart in his throat. "Don't look at me that way! Not you, fuck, anyone but you. Fuck the opium! This isn't - you don't have the right to this." John clambers out of bed, realizing belatedly that his boot is gone. Max probably confiscated it, to remove the chance of irritating his leg further. He gropes the bed frame to keep his balance. "This is not yours!"

"What?"

"This.” John throws his arms out to his sides and then reaches for the bed frame when he stumbles. “You are not paying for this. You do not get to see me this way." His tongue feels heavy in his mouth but the words flow freely, unhindered and sharp. "I will not stand for pity, not from you. Not -- not you." John grits his teeth. "Stop - stop sitting there!" He shouts.

Flint looks as unimpressed as ever, but with a newfound steeliness to his jaw and glittering in his eyes.

"No."

A rush of frustration on the knife-edge of fury shakes John from head to toe. It brings a font of strength bubbling up into him that he uses to move across the room; he hops on one foot to the door and holds the handle for dear life, breathing ragged and quick.

"Get. The fuck. Out."

Flint closes the book, stands up and walks slowly over to John. There's an air of feral and dangerous about him, with a slink to his steps but that same damn look in his eyes that makes John sick. The room is spinning and swimming and shiny around the ends like a jewel refracting the light.

Flint comes close enough to touch - certainly close enough to kiss, his treacherous thoughts observe. John twists the doorknob and makes to throw the door open. Flint snaps his hand out and slams the door closed, and then leans against it just enough that John can't open it - not drugged to the tits like he is, balance shot to hell and still weak with feverish pain.

"You and I have rules." Flint hisses. His teeth are very white. John can't stop the hitch in his breath when Flint leans closer, like he means to -- "Tell me to stop."

John can hear his heart beating in his ears. His whole body is shaking with the strength this takes, with the fading fury that has taken him this far. He is so scared, undoubtedly vulnerable in ways he's never been - never allowed himself to be - and he can only blame so much on the opium.

Flint's hands trail slowly up John's side. They catch in the loose fabric of his shirt and send a quick, shaking shiver up John's back. One comes to the back of John’s head and cradles it like something delicate. John feels himself sag into the touch, closing his eyes and breathing heavily. The room is spinning.

"Tell me to stop." Flint repeats. His mouth is so close to John's ear he can feel his warm breath on the sensitive shell; he can smell it. In this moment, he can imagine nothing he wants more than what is coming. Flint's other hand is warm against John's forehead. He pushes hair back behind John's ear and then cradles his cheek; his palms are as sweaty as John's feel. John imagines he can hear Flint's heart racing - a spooked horse, just as his own is.

"Tell me to stop." Flint whispers against John's lips. God, John wouldn't stop him for every piece of gold on this damn island. And then, Flint kisses him.

John melts into it. He holds Flint like a shipwrecked sailor clings to a piece of detritus tossed in a storm; like an anchor to keep from floating away. His fingers wind into Flint's hair and he resolves never to let go. Flint's mouth is warm against his own, deceptively gentle and sweet. Their lips are chapped and catch at each other; John breaks to lick his own lips, to dampen and smooth them, but catches Flint's in the process. Flint's groan is nearly pained, the sound too-loud and rattling in John's chest.

I want you to fuck me, John thinks, but his head is so clouded the words turn to lead in his mouth. He rolls his hips to Flint's in the hope that the message will be clear, obvious as the hard line of his cock. He can feel Flint's answering arousal, and now he knows how it feels to have that in him, and it's all he wants.

John licks into Flint's mouth, swipes his tongue against Flint's and chases the taste of him.

Everything is too much, too bright and too warm and too fast, but John doesn't want to stop, not for anything. He ruts against Flint, pressed between the heat of his body and the cold wall. Flint hitches John's left leg up against his hips, opening John's stance and letting their pricks rub together through the dry chafe of their pants.

"God, you are--" he pants, words nonsensical. He licks at his lips and then trails small biting kisses up to Flint's ear. Flint laves his tongue against John's sweating neck in a path down his shoulder. "Fuck. I could -- I want--"

"What?"

Flint's voice is a croak against John's skin, broken and rasping. He presses three small, beard-ticklish kisses along John's collarbone and then raises his head. Flint's eyes are stormy, but wet and deep with something almost frightening. John swallows. He reaches up with gentle fingers and traces Flint's cheekbones, the arch of his brows. Everything is so dreamlike here, with Flint against him, the smell of him and the taste of him on John's tongue.

"I--"

There's a thunderous sound, warped by the opium so that John doesn't immediately realize what it is. It comes again - someone is pounding on the door to John's back.

"John, Max has the doctor back," a voice hisses. "So whatever you and your beau are up to --"

Charlotte, bless her fucking heart.

"Your beau." Flint echoes. John clamps a hand over Flint's mouth.

"Thank you, Charlotte." His voice is so changed, creaky and incriminating, that John feels heat in his ears just to hear it. He takes his hand away and glances at Flint. His palm is damp from Flint's lips. Flint stares back. Their chests are heaving. Sweat sparkles at Flint's temple and all John wants is to continue kissing him, to push the man into bed and have his way. The moment, however, is gone. What before was tense with heat is now stagnant and awkward, becalmed without a hint of a breeze.

They untangle themselves clinically. Flint lowers John's stump from around his waist and helps him get his balance, even lending his shoulder to see John to bed. Before John would have shrugged him off, but he doesn't see the point of it anymore. John sets himself down onto the bed as gingerly as he can, scooting up against the headboard while Flint stands there. John wants to say something - invite Flint to join him, hollow though the invitation may be with Max coming in. He wants to tease and bring back the power balance - wants to be in charge of the situation, to feel under his feet the obvious difference in their positions. 

Max and the doctor walk in not long after. Max glances at Flint and then to John. It's pointless to try and hide anything. Flint still has bright red marks up the side of his jaw, and his hair is a mess. John is sure he has his own share. There's nothing to be embarrassed of, truly, given that he's a whore and Flint pays to fuck him - that this entire thing happened, supposedly, on Flint's paid-for time. But perhaps this has always been about something else, and John has just been blind to it the whole time.

Max nods to Flint. Her earrings catch the light and dazzle. "Thank you, captain, for keeping an eye on him."

Flint doesn't say anything. He inclines his head, and John thinks maybe he catches a quick glance thrown back his way before Flint leaves, closing the door behind him with his hand lingering on the doorknob.

Chapter Text



 

John is beautiful; James can’t deny that, at least. Not effeminate, to be sure, with his goatee and beard, and the spread of muscle across his shoulders. He isn’t something exotic, as Max is; not something aristocratic like Miranda; not something soft, as Thomas was. He is something entirely his own. The sun against his skin - the way it plays through his hair spilled like pitch against the pillows. Although his face is wan, still sweaty with the exertion it took to stand and the pain he endured because of it, James has seen it flushed with arousal and split by a cheeky, shit-eating grin. He’s seen conviction and victory in his eyes, and now regret and fear. He heard the change in John’s tone as he recounted the loss of his leg - although fragmented and distorted by the opium, the emotions were clear enough.

Fuck it all. James takes one last lingering glance before he turns to leave, resolved to return tomorrow - or, at the very least, before they leave port. Every whore gives him a wide berth as he pushes through the doors of John’s rooms and takes the stairs. Whispers pass behind hands and playful coquettish smiles. Nausea bubbles up warm in James’ stomach and thick in his throat.

It was never meant to be this way. It was never meant to go like this, never meant to be anything more than a good fuck when James needed it, something he hadn’t seen satisfied since he left London.

For years he had convinced himself that what he had with Thomas would be soiled, should he ever lay with another man, and as the heat and passion faded from his and Miranda’s fucking, he resolved to never know such feelings again. It felt as if the last dregs of something vital had been taken from him, but simultaneously he was happy to see them gone. It made James an entirely different person from McGraw; allowed the line in the sand to become a wall, built of stone and impregnable.

When he had first met John Silver, James had been quick to dismiss him. Max had been angling to get him into her brothel ever since they first met; her games were transparent and pathetic. There was something sharp but pretty to him, something that made his true profession obvious, although Max had tried to veil it with talk of book keeping. The way he had smiled, the play of his chin and body, spoke to an intimate knowledge of the art of seduction.

Whores as a whole were an upsetting necessity in the world of piracy, and one James did not approve of personally. As a man in the British Navy, it had never been hard for him to find a pretty girl or boy to roll with, when he had the chance. After their arrival in Nassau, James had barely the time to see Miranda, let alone worry about fucking whores. The nature of whores - paying for something so personal as sex - rubbed James entirely the wrong way. Sex had never been so simple for him as the men whom he captained.

James had allowed himself to acknowledge John’s appeal, but the bitter snap in his voice and the way he spoke of interests had been exhausting. James was tired of pretending, tired of faking and lying and hiding. Tired of explaining how disinterested he was, how much nothing like that mattered.

But then it did matter.

It mattered when he saw the bruising on John’s cheek. It mattered when he found Hamund and those men about to gut John on the docks, and it mattered again when John whispered checkmate under his breath.

After Thomas and Miranda, James knew better than to question his or anyone else’s preferences. Sex was sex. So long as it didn’t come at the expense of others, it was something private and intimate and not anything of his business. It was only that he had counted himself out of such things for years, and couldn’t fathom to see himself pulled into it again. It was thoughts like those that had him staring at the sky the night John stumbled out into the alley. Thomas’ words, Miranda’s words - they  echoed in his head and James believed, for a stupid instant, that this was what he needed.

Kissing John had been beyond his expectations. It had brought something to life in him he had forgotten; something he had locked away and thought he had lost the key to. It was hot and slick and had a fire rising in him, one that wouldn’t be doused, not by seawater or time or distance. James had boarded the Walrus and felt like a young man of the Navy again, jerking himself off in the quiet of the night within his cabin, thankful for the privacy but ashamed just the same. Christ, John’s mouth - the feel of his body against James’, the warmth of him and the promise of his skin. He dreamt of it, woke hard and damp in his breeches with the fantasies that plagued him.

Still, he hadn’t ever fucked a whore. He understood why men did, but the idea was abhorrent. For most of his life it had never been a hardship to entice men and women to share his bed - he’d never had to resort to paying someone, and he wasn’t sure he could . Just the thought of it was enough to soften his prick. James had seen the way John looked at him, and imagined that, if offered, John would fuck him willingly. Not for free, of course, because a whore has to answer to someone, and James was sure no one would risk crossing Max. When they made landfall, James was decided. He would bring the idea to John, who would either approve or shut him down, and James would lock everything away again, throw away the key and sink the chest into the sea.

Then he fucked the heat of John’s thighs, and he knew there would be no containing this.

It was a warning; the feeling of John’s skin against his own; the noises he made and the arch of his back as James fingered him. It was a siren’s call, one James should have been strong enough to resist - but James was human, full of flaws, and soon he fell to vice again. If the heat of John’s thighs had been a warning, the warm engulfing damp of his mouth could be the entrance gates to Hell itself.

What truly sealed it was the way John had spent himself against James’ calf. The way his eyes had fluttered shut, eyelashes long and mouth open, so caught up in his own arousal he couldn’t finish the job. It had made something soft and delicate bloom in James’ heart, amidst the heat and the dark. Something that curled up pleased and warm when it saw the way James’ come looked on John’s face; something that ached to hold John close and sink inside him.

And the shelf of books - the soft thing had blossomed to see it, had twined treacherous vines about James’ heart, sharp with the press of thorns. James was lost to it then, and he should have run.

He’s running now, egging the horse as fast as it can go through the fading island light to Miranda’s home. It isn’t quite dark yet - the sun setting at his back, chasing the shadow of his horse in the dusty road. A few errant workers on the road nearly leap into the grasses to avoid him, but James isn’t aware of anything but the way his heart is racing and how he can’t keep from remembering the warmth of John’s lips against his own, the shuddering breath he took and the tightness of his fingers in James’ hair. The touch of John's lips against his own is a ghost-like sensation as James takes to the interior. There's risk inherent with feeling this way for a whore, but James can't help imagining that this is something entirely different than what Logan deludes himself with, or what Max tries to make with Eleanor. John and he are based in a harsh honesty he hasn't known for years, a camaraderie the likes of which he only knows with Miranda. He doesn't let himself cling to the sentiment that John may care for him, but he knows what they share is consensual and beyond the necessity of a whore and the coin in the pockets of the men they fuck.

James has not been a sentimental man for many years. He used to be, in a way, and he certainly was when he first met Thomas and Miranda. It was sentiment that softened him, that made him blind to the dangers of the world and it was sentiment that failed him - sentiment that had Thomas locked away, that saw he and Miranda exiled. James has not had much use for sentiment since donning the title of Captain Flint. It won't win him battles, or favor with his crew. Endurance in the face of adversity, being smarter and more ruthless than anyone else, those are things James has use for. Captain Flint has found a font of dark and hungry power within him, something bloody that thrives on the sea.

To feel so strongly about John burns in James’ throat like betrayal of the worst kind. What he knew with Thomas was singular; groundbreaking and life-defining.

He is not the same man he was when he met Thomas. He is not nearly so naive, so trusting or so happy. But he is still James McGraw beneath it all, and it's hard to balance the two in unfolding himself before John.

The emotions he finds himself embroiled in with John are nothing like those he knew with Thomas - darker, headier, less soft and intimate than sharp and hungry. Still, he can feel the need thrumming under his skin every time he boards the Walrus , an ache in his chest that begs to look behind him and back to the island.

James has not known a hunger like this in years - a hunger that has nothing to do with blood and vengeance. A hunger for touch, for a person; a hunger for skin and glances and the heat of another body next to his. His hands tighten into fists around the reins.

He spies Miranda's lights at a bend in the road. The windows glow with candle flames that dance like fireflies in the growing dusk. Beneath him, the horse spurs forward of its own accord. Perhaps it recognizes the need in James, answering it, or perhaps it knows how close they are to their destination. James hunches lower against the beast's neck, urges him faster. His own heart is racing to match the beat of hooves against the ground, hands trembling despite how tightly he grips the reins.

His thoughts fly unbidden back to John as he slows the horse to a trot, then a walk, and finally dismounts and leads the way to the makeshift barn. How John had looked when James left - the wan tint of his skin, dampened with feverish sweat, and the way his eyes had shifted so quickly from anger to fear.

 

 


 

 

 

James never feels more like a pirate, more like Captain Flint, than when he stands on the porch of Miranda's house and looks in. Tonight she's bustling, moving from one end of the room to the other, hair in a wispy bun and flour on her cheeks.

It's easy to watch her and imagine. It's easy to see this happy bubble and force himself outside of it, to keep the delineation between Flint and McGraw. When it gets harder is when he opens the door and lets himself in.

"You're back late," Miranda says. James watches her, listens to the bustle of her skirt and lets the air of this house sink into him. The interior is silent, only broken by the soft murmur of crickets and the wind in the trees. "Did something happen?"

James sighs. The end of his breath shudders, and judging by the way Miranda's eyes flash, she's heard it. He rolls his head about on his neck and reaches for her when she comes close. Her hands are so small in his, soft with the barest of calluses.

He brings his thumb up and smears the bit of flour across her skin.

"Baking today?"

Miranda hums. "I'm a regular cook now."

"Remember how badly we fared when we first came here? God, the smell lingered for months."

James can still remember opening the door and letting the thick smoke billow free. Men had stopped their carts in the road, fearing a fire. God, the way Miranda had laughed to tell them it was just her failures as a chef.

How far they’ve both come from who they used to be. James misses the intricate curls she used to wear, the coy smile she used to give him and the form she cut in her dresses. He misses the mischievous way she used to play, how little she cared for society’s rules but understood so much better than James or Thomas the dangers of breaking them. Underneath her eyes are soft blue smudges of exhaustion; her face is freckled from working in the sun, where it used to be smooth and pale. He knows he must look so very different from when they first met, and although to him Miranda will always be beautiful, it is impossible to ignore the changes this life in Nassau have wrought upon her.

He takes her hands and leads them both silently to the bedroom. The moonlight is all they have as they undress and slip into bed, but James knows her body so well as his own, even in the dark.

Neither of them fall asleep. Miranda sits up against the headboard, lights a candle and grabs a book from the bedside table. She settles the book in her lap, her hair falling in waves across her shoulders and breasts. James lays his head in her lap and she plays absently with the tips of his hair, twisting it between her fingers.

"Your thoughts are a tempest." she mutters. James smirks and shakes his head at her, at how she reads him so perfectly. She closes her book, places it by James’ head. "If left to them you should capsize. What is it?" Her touch is cold when she reaches to tuck back wisps of his hair and frames his temples against her palms.

"He --" Even that is enough to have him feeling sick, just the mention of John - the acknowledgement. Miranda is patient. Her eyes bore into his, her breathing is even and her touch grounding. "The wound became inflamed. He contracted a fever."

"Is he alright?" The back of Miranda's hand sweeps across James' forehead. He can smell her sweat and the faint sweetness that still clings to her, even years after her last bottle of perfume has gone dry. "It isn't contagious, is it?"

James shakes his head. "No. He's ... fine. His madam gave him opium to keep him from making it worse, to ensure he rested." He rolls to his side, nearly tucking his face against Miranda's belly. "The drug ... it loosened his tongue."

The idea of it, of who John is, takes form in James' head. It was simpler to think of the man in one word: a whore. But then; a smart whore. And now; a man, broken by the world and left to fester in a brothel. The evolution of character is rapidly growing more and more threatening, tipping and unsettling the scales of their relationship. James was prepared to miss John's mouth, the curve of his ass and the touch of his hands. He was not - is not - ready to face the allure of an entire man, the gnawing need to know him.

Whatever John feels, he feels it about Captain Flint.

To change the game so late and become James McGraw is unimaginable. For one, it's a cruel and twisted trick to play. For another, it merely opens the door to too many questions. It's easier with Flint to play the intermediary between John and James. What would John do with the knowledge that Captain Flint once loved a man, once was naive and foolish? What good would it do to bare his soul and come clean about his dreams for Nassau, to share his fears and hopes?

It hasn't made his and Miranda's relationship any stronger, to deal with the dichotomy. James knows he leaves less and less of Flint behind him with every time he comes ashore. He knows the darkness that haunts his eyes even as he kisses Miranda's forehead in greeting and listens to her read to him by candlelight. He knows how she watches him when she thinks he won't notice, as if waiting for a rabid dog to turn.

He doesn't doubt that she loves him. What they've been through is the sort of experience that has hardened the connection between them into something unbreakable and immortal. He does not doubt that he loves her. What Miranda is to him cannot ever be replaced or removed without ripping free cornerstones that would lead to ruin; a loss that would see his own demise swiftly follow.

The pain and agony of this, dulled only by the swift and dangerous bloody rages Flint allows him to slip into -- why would he choose to find this a second time, open himself up to such things again? Why would he choose to burden another soul with the horrors hidden in his heart?

All of this in his own mind, with nothing to say for the obvious: John Silver is a whore, well-trained in the art of bringing men back for second helpings. To assume that what James has tearing him up inside is anywhere near the thoughts John has about him on any given day is laughable. There were perfectly good reasons to not get involved with whores, and all of them flew out the window before James could remember to worry about them. Now, much too late, he finds them sour and unpleasant company.

"I have been a fool," James spits.

"No. Do not speak of yourself like that." Miranda's tone is sharp. James looks her in the eye and finds a spark of her old fire, the strength of her returning. "You know if Thomas were here he would agree. 'No shame' , James. God, that this would be the hardest lesson for you to learn. What you feel for him--"

"I do not feel anything." James interrupts. It makes his stomach twist; the words are sour on his tongue in Miranda's presence. Her eyes widen while her mouth thins.

"You cannot lie to me," she breathes. "You were never one to -- to roll mindlessly in the hay with anything that caught your eye. I have watched you. I have seen you, how your countenance changes to think of him - how the light comes into your eyes. He excites you.

"He... fulfills a need in you; a need I would never begrudge you.”

"You -" James licks his lips. "I think you would like him. He's brash, but there's something to him that reminds me of  --"

Of himself. Of Thomas. Of something entirely new, a facet that James would see brought to the light and polished until it gleamed.

There isn't time for feelings like these - not now, when they are so close to finishing this. The tension of the crew these past months is coming to a head, with Singleton leading it. James hasn't the time to worry about a whore in a brothel, but he finds every spare thought wanders back to him just the same. The distance that has slowly gaped open between himself and Miranda has made separation easier. This new-found thing with Silver, however, is quite the opposite.

"Perhaps one day I'll meet him," Miranda says. Her sad smile and the way she touches James' cheeks make his throat go tight.

 

 


 

 

"Are you going back?"

The morning sun slants through the windows, catching the wave of Miranda's hair and lighting it into something molten. She looks soft and sleep-rumpled, leaning against the table on her elbows. A teacup fits perfectly within her thin, delicate fingers; steam wafts off of it and caresses the curve of her cheeks. Memories spring up unbidden in the back of James' mind, bringing a wetness to his eye that he blinks away, scowling down at his hands.

"Where?" He asks. Miranda huffs and gets to her feet.

"Don't play stupid, James. It only makes you sound juvenile."

James breaks off another piece of bread and shoves it into his mouth to keep from answering. The grain of the table catches gently at the callused skin of his fingers. He follows the worn whirls of it as Miranda walks to the kitchen and puts her cup down. He cannot stay here. They’ll be at each other’s throats soon, and James can already feel the siren’s call of the Walrus and the sea.

"I can't imagine he wants to see me," he hedges. "If I understand him even half as well as I think I do, he isn't pleased with how our last... meeting went."

"So you're going to pretend it never happened? Sail off and leave him?"

"Christ, Miranda. He... We aren't ..."

"Does he know?"

James looks up at her, her hands in fists against her hips. It must be exhausting for her - James knows how he is, knows the bull-headed way he works. How she can bear to look at him, how she can still stand there and not sag beneath it all. Some days he wonders at the idea of them reversed. He finds himself yearning for domesticity, for a quiet life inland with no worries as to piracy and war and England. Sometimes he looks at Miranda in awe of her, of the rage in her that goes untold, bottled up and festered.

"No," James exhales. He feels a bit like a child admitting failure to his mother. Her face goes dark with something like disappointment, combined with exasperation.

"You should tell him."

"What?" James scoffs and pushes back from the table. Something protective bristles through him at the thought of sharing Thomas, of opening up that part of him to someone new. "Which part? That I-- I loved a man once and got him killed? That I got his wife sent into exile on a bloody island full of pirates? That I gave up who I once was and became something else entirely? That I can't look at him, can't kiss him, without remembering---"

Sharp pain stabs through James' heart just at the threat of saying Thomas' name. He stands up and slams both hands against the tabletop. It shakes under his hands, jangling the china together.

"He's a bloody whore, Miranda! It doesn't fucking matter what I think about him. He's fucking me because he-- He may be consenting, but it doesn't mean--" He growls in frustration. "It doesn't mean anything. My own shortcomings, my own demons, they are not his to listen to. What I do or don't feel, what he stirs up in me, none of that is his."

"Just as the story of how he lost his leg isn't yours?"

"It isn't the same!" James shouts.

"Isn't it?" Miranda shakes her head and her hair moves like waves in the wake of her indignance. "He bared something to you, and you left!"

"He was loose with opium; what he said was not given under the guise of confidence!"

"You said it yourself - he's choosing you, James. How long have you gone without that?"

You know exactly how long, James thinks. The words would be too easy to say, with the intent to cut deep. He takes a jarring breath in his mouth and huffs it out his nose. "I have you!" He chokes. "We have each other."

"Oh, James ."

James is shaking. From his head to his toes, he is shaking and unable to stop it. Miranda touches him and he feels it all cracking - the thin veneer, the walls and the dam. Everything feels as if it is leaking out even as he cups his palms and madly tries to hold it. As sand through his fingers it slips from his grasp. He turns and presses his face into the smooth dark expanse of her hair. She holds him through it as he shakes.

 

 


 

 

James does not return to the brothel.

He boards the Walrus and resolutely doesn’t look back. His mood is darker for it - the men give him a wide berth, scattering like startled gulls as he walks to the bow. He faces the horizon until they crest it, until Nassau is gone from sight. His hands are clasped behind his back, back Navy-stiff. His nails leave angry crescent-shaped marks in his palms. That night he drinks until the ache in his chest fades. He dreams of the noose, of Thomas’ soft smile, and chess pieces flaked in black, bits of white glowing underneath.

 

 


 

 

John wakes up and finds a small package on his bedside table. He rips the plain butcher’s paper aside and finds a book with a scrap of parchment folded neatly underneath it.

Canterbury Tales , it reads on the spine. It's more beautiful than any other book John owns.

The binding is hard and the color a soft, faded green that brings to mind spring and rolling hills. There’s delicate gold filigree accents and embossing; John runs the pad of his thumb reverently across it, back and forth, just to feel it. Not a single page is ripped or folded or stained. He picks it up with the care one imagines a newborn held with; he takes the parchment and unfolds it, revealing a short letter.

 

 

I give you this book not in the name of payment, but from one lover of the written word to another. I was tempted to give you something else, but decided that you needed a bit of levity in your library. May it see you through the doldrums.

- James

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 


 

 

 

 

John loses time to the warped, exhausting fervor of fever. He dreams of someone holding his hand; he dreams of the ocean laid out before him melting into the sky above. He wakes occasionally, aware of a cool wet cloth wiped across his forehead.

Once the fever finally breaks, Max confines him to bedrest.

He’s able at least to convince her that opium is unnecessary, but she takes his boot from him and locks it in her closet.

“Crutches.” She insists, tossing them onto his bed. John hisses as they jostle his stump. Max looks decidedly unapologetic. “Use them, for fuck’s sake.”

He glowers after her, but it’s useless to fight - and besides, for the first day, he barely has the energy to sit up, let alone argue being given back his boot.

The hours slip away like grains of sand in a glass. John watches the ceiling; the play of light across the walls as the day progresses. Most of his books he has read to the point of memorization - he has no patience to rehash old stories now. He listens to some poor merchant outside arguing over the validity of an art piece being sold. He hears children screaming with laughter, listens to the girls downstairs as they entice men and listens still as they come upstairs and get fucked. 

His meals are brought to him, sometimes by Max herself. He eats enough soup he fears it will start pouring from his ears. He picks at the stitching on his covers and pillowcases and sleeps until he feels he will go mad from it. It’s almost to the point that he’s forgotten what the world outside this room looks like, when he’s feeling particularly morose. 

When he finally has the energy to stand, he takes the opportunity to hobble about the room and stretch his legs - well, leg

The bookshelf gets reorganized, first by color because John is feeling arbitrary and impatient, and then again alphabetically when he’s rightfully and truly bored out of his skull.

All the while Flint’s gift sits on butcher paper, unread.

Max has the tub brought into his room on the second day of rest.

“You’re starting to stink.” She tells him, but without real bite.

“Everyone stinks in Nassau,” John grumbles, but he can’t deny the way it feels to wash himself with hot water and trade the stench of sickness and sweat for perfumed oils and lotions.

In the days that follow John takes more baths than he ever has. The skin around his stump is noticeably red and angry at first, but with a few doctor-prescribed salves and some fresh bandages, the swelling slowly dwindles down and the pain begins to fade.

He was chided by the doctor for being too rough, for not giving his wound the attention it needs. It was careless , he was told, to expect to be able to wear the boot day in and day out, and then go to bed with clients and not take care to keep it from being jostled. So now, here he is, sitting in a steaming tub of water and left to soak until his skin shrivels up.

There’s a knock at the door. John glances up from where he’d been staring off, perhaps looking at Flint’s gift and perhaps staring out the window to the palms swaying in the breeze.

“You mind if I come in?” Charlotte asks, once she’s already in the room and John’s answer is practically moot. It’s early enough that she won’t be missed downstairs, and Max has never been one to scold the girls for visiting him.

“I’d rather you than Idelle,” he sighs. Idelle has a bit of something harsh in her that always tends to snag at John like a cat’s claw caught in loose threads. He doesn’t want her in here right now, picking at things she shouldn’t and getting him riled up. Charlotte is far from soft, but she’s got an innate warmth to her that John has always liked - it’s probably what drew Logan to her as well. She’s always been kind to John and knows when to let silence sit, rather than try and fill a space with inane babble. It’s why they get on so well.

He rolls his head back against the rim of the tub and watches her close the door and drag over a chair. It’s warm enough outside that he has the balcony doors open, spilling in sea air and the sound of the town around them. Between the weather and the water, he’s turning red as one of Max’s opulent dresses.

“I’m cleaner than anyone on this damn island,” John grouses. He flicks his fingers against the water. “I’m cleaner than perhaps anyone else in the world, save the king of England himself.”

“If you're complaining about having access to a real bath, then please, trade places with me. I'd pay good money to watch you try and clean yourself proper with a chamber pot.”

“Fuck you,” John grouses. Charlotte hums and smacks him gently against the back of his head.

John is expecting it when she begins to play with his hair. Back when John first lost his leg and was bedridden for weeks, Charlotte had sat with him and brushed his hair, braided it intricately. Even through the opium haze, John can still remember how good it felt - a sweet, calming favor to try and distract him from the agony of his wounds. Now she draws it between her fingers for a while, methodically and gently working out any tangles. It sends sweet little shivers down John’s spine and makes him melt into the water. John has never gotten the hang of braiding his own hair; he can braid someone else's, but it always becomes a tangled mess when he tries to do it to himself.

“Here I was, worried you’d be killed in some crew scuffle. Turns out you’re just going to kill yourself with a fever.” Charlotte chides. John chuckles.

“I never saw myself going out in any sort of glorious manner,” he muses, heaving a dramatic sigh. “I’m much more of a romantic. Death by sickness - wasting away slowly in bed; I think that’s more my style.”

“Knowing your luck you’d expire with a man’s cock still up your ass.”

John snorts. “Well. I am a man dedicated to his work.”

The two of them break into soft, tired chuckles. John reaches to lower his stump slowly into the water. Every time he does this it hurts less and less, which is reassuring, in a way. It’s already looking more flesh-colored than furiously red, and today the water only stings for an instant.

“Everyone’s talking, you know.” Charlotte says. Behind him, Charlotte is working at his hair; she yanks gently at individual pieces, turning John’s head minutely as she does.

“About the fever?”

“About Flint.” She finishes with his hair and leans back, letting the air of the room come across the skin of John’s neck. John grumbles under his breath; he sighs and sinks deeper, until his chin is wet.

He’s never known real privacy while working as a whore, and he’s stupid to expect it now when he wants it most. The girls have at least been respectful enough - or fear Max enough - to ensure that word of he and Flint hasn’t left the brothel, but John knows that soon enough even that will taken from him. He doesn’t mind discussing clients - he’s done it before, and sometimes it’s all you can do to keep sane when you’re being fucked by a mass of pigs - but this is John’s first real client in so long; his first return client, too.

What little he knows of Flint - of James - feels very important, something better kept close to John's chest. Whether he means to or not, Flint is beginning to trust John; beginning to open up and allow for the unraveling of the knotted secrets inside.

That, and the fact that when John was drowning in opium, he managed to spill every fucking proverbial bean he had.

Shame burns hot in his throat just to think about it - how easily he opened up, everything he shared. He can’t even imagine the emotions that must have been so obvious; an open book for the entire world to read. It’s a wonder he didn’t break down crying. He’s never let the barrier down like that before. It’s what he hates so much about opium: give him a drop and John is likely to spill every secret he has to anyone within earshot.

Now, if Flint should ever return, will he be able to see John as anything other than a cripple? Will his vision of the whore before him be warped by the idea of a hero, someone who sacrificed to save others?

John isn’t a hero. The knowledge of what losing his leg accomplished doesn’t magically make it all better - not a day goes by that he wishes he hadn’t lost it, that he’d run from the brothel that day and not stayed behind. Now, there’s nothing but this brothel and Max, and the life he leads here because of her. Anywhere else, he’d be nothing but a cripple. He’d be on street corners begging.

You’ll mean something here, Max had promised him. So long as I am here, you will have a home.

John should be thankful - and he was, once, a long time ago. Now he’s tired and jaded and he wants more than anything else to be free of this island, free from this brothel.

Toss Flint into this mess, being who he is -- knowing more than he should -- and John feels as if the ground beneath him is slowly being swallowed by high tide.

What lies between John and Flint should be sex, pure and simple. Flint may be the sort of man who can’t abide buying a whore’s attention, but he’s still doing it just the same. John is willing, but could he say the two of them would be fucking if John weren’t a whore? He doubts it - he and Flint are so entirely at odds in station alone, and Flint is such a different man outside of this room, outside of the relative secrecy of this brothel.

Things should be simple. But now John can’t help thinking that they won’t be, not with secrets spilled between them and something hidden underneath Flint’s sharp, violent veneer.

John is sure there are leagues and fathoms of tangled threads to unwind within Flint; secrets to uncover like gold glittering under the sand. Yet, while it has always been in his nature to figure out puzzles and wheedle out stories, John can’t say he’s willing to risk becoming entangled himself, or enraging Flint by trying to dig too deeply.

Most of the pirate captains on this island are simple men - almost caricatures of their trade. Everyone knows Vane’s one driving motive is freedom, while Jack’s insistent need to prove himself and make his mark has seen him latched to Vane’s side like a limpet. Hornigold is just a washed-up has-been who is trying to find glory somewhere between the naval life and piracy, and seems ill-equipped for both, what with the way he’s settled up in that fort, looking down at Nassau as if he fancies himself her king. There’s a handful of other captains who do their job just fine, but won’t ever be remembered for it.

Flint seems simple, so far as most men know. He is a ruthless and very successful pirate who seemed to come out of nowhere; a captain that leads with an iron fist, accepted by many mostly thanks to his quartermaster but known to be cold and uncaring should it further his own needs. The men of his crew are lucky to sail with him, but rumors also say that to Flint, every single man is expendable. A double-edged sword, to be sure.

Then there’s the issue of the mysterious woman Flint keeps inland - possibly nothing more than a secret wife, kept apart from the admittedly uncouth town probably out of some sense of propriety or fear for her safety.

But there’s also the books, and the way Flint insists on rules between them, and how he asks - always asks; as if John’s opinion matters; as if Flint cares . John scrubs his hands across his face and exhales, long and slow and so fucking tired he feels it through every bone in his body.

“S’ he a good fuck?” Charlotte asks. John chortles wetly into his palm and cricks his neck to look back at her.

“If we compare him to the usual string of hapless cocks that wander through here?” John drawls, and shrugs lazily. “I’d say so.”

Charlotte grins at him and then gets to work undoing the braid. She cups her hands and begins scooping water up onto John’s head. Normally, he wouldn’t care to be coddled. But now, thoughts restless and leg still throbbing, he finds he rather likes the idea of having someone else deal with something as menial as washing his hair. The rhythmic pressure of her fingernails against his scalp feels undeniably good. He settles in against the rim of the tub, closes his eyes, and lets his thoughts turn fully to Flint.

 

 

 

 

Once Charlotte leaves, John hauls himself out of the tub, using the bed frame to steady himself. He grabs a towel and sits on his bed, drying off before the sea breeze can feel too cool against his skin. When that’s done, he applies the salve to his stump and re-bandages it. His fingers are deft at this now, so that they do it almost without him thinking. Still, it does take time to slowly, methodically wrap the bandages. He then swirls his hair up into a messy bun, slips on pants and foregoes a shirt.

The verdant green of Canterbury Tales catches John’s eye. It sits all-but-forgotten on his bedside table. He’s taken to brushing his fingers across it when he gets out of bed, settling his palm against it as he waits for the ache high up into his hips to subside. Sometimes he even throws the book angry glares whenever he gets the chance. He refuses to read it - he refuses to imagine Flint sitting and writing the note, signing his god-given name and not the title he takes for his crew.

Now John plucks the note from beneath the book to look closer at the surprisingly clean and small letters. James is written in a flourish of something nearly delicate. Flint writes like a gentleman - nothing like the pirate chicken scratch that John is used to seeing. It reminds him a bit of Eleanor's writing, properly taught; or Max's, something she trained her hand to do. Every letter is measured, flowing perfectly together. There's a pattern to his J's and an elegant but contained swoop to his S's. John can't help wondering where Flint learned to write this way, where he once lived and how, that neat and tidy handwriting was a worthwhile talent to pursue. There is a separation forming between Captain Flint and the man who signed this note.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of Captain Flint is not how many men he's killed, or even the woman he keeps hidden away. Perhaps the one thing everyone should be looking to learn is who Captain Flint was, before he became a pirate - what happened to James?

James. John rolls the name around in his thoughts, has let it settle on his tongue in the darkness at night as he falls asleep. He traces the smooth, dark lines with his fingers. Captain Flint is a killer, and a ruthless captain. James, it would seem, is the man who can't pay for a whore and wouldn't fuck one until he deemed them properly prepared. John is slowly realizing that while he thought he was taking Captain Flint to bed, he may have been taking James instead. Who John is and who Flint pretends not to be are perhaps more compatible than John ever imagined.

 


 

When John has just about had it with every book on his shelves, and can only bathe so many times to break the monotony, he decides to go looking for his chess set. He nearly manages to fall on his face as he tries to find it in Max’s room. She finds him one morning, balanced precariously as he digs through the topmost shelves of her shelf. She charges over and curses up a storm as she chases him out. John can’t stop laughing, and the entire brothel comes to practically a complete standstill as John leans against the balcony, wheezing with laughter.

“Do I need to hire someone specifically to keep an eye on you?” Max hisses.

“You could give me my damn leg back,” John gasps, hiccuping and wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. He’s going utterly and entirely stir-crazy, cramped up in his room with nothing to do and no one to see, except the same damn faces over and over again. The girls around him aren't making a secret of their stares and giggles. “But I’ll settle for having my chess set, please.”

Max allows him to play chess in bed, the cloth ‘board’ laid out in the spot where his left leg should be.

Even the slightest twitch threatens to topple every piece, but John moves slowly and by keeping the swath of cloth in the empty space of his leg, he manages to avoid disturbing the playing field too badly. He’s only just settled into a game when there’s a knock on the door frame.

“You up for a visitor?” Charlotte asks. John shakes his head down at the pieces.

“Charlotte, you aren’t exactly interrupting anyth--” John says, but then he looks up and - it’s Flint. Standing in the doorway. He looks much the same as the last time they met and John feels foolish for thinking that there would be something noticeably different now. His words die in his throat for a long, agonizing moment. “You’re not Charlotte,” he says, finally; stupidly.

Flint’s eyebrows move, his expression becoming comically bemused. “Not the last time I checked. Is that a problem?”

John swallows. “That... depends.”

“On what, exactly?”

“Why you’re here.”

John hadn’t even heard that the Walrus had made landfall, which — he’s been bedridden for so long, the world could have ended outside this brothel and he would have had no way of knowing, save the girls telling him. With a start, he realizes that since he was mostly delirious with fever, he doesn’t know exactly how long it’s been since Flint left. More than a week, of course, but past that, John finds he can’t be sure.

There’s something inherently uncomfortable about having to be seated in bed like a wasting invalid while Flint stands. It’s never been more apparent that John is a cripple - at least, to himself. He’s fairly certain it isn’t so easy for others to forget when they’re looking directly at him.

"I came to see how you're faring." Flint says.

"How kind of you. I'm grand." John mutters. "I can't remember what the world looks like outside of this room, but at least I've managed to convince Max that opium is off the table."

Opium. Mentioning it changes the bland look on Flint’s face, seems to focus him more singularly on John. John curses himself; he was — is — determined to keep such a subject off the table. He doesn’t need Flint asking about that, about the leg, about the pain or the ghostly sensations John sometimes still wakes up to. But he knows that look; it’s a look that promises questions if John isn’t quick enough to derail them. 

“Who’s winning?” Flint asks, and grins like he’s said something terribly funny. John feels nearly sick.

“Uhm.” There’s faint laughter from somewhere outside the room. He glances down at the board and the splay of pieces across the sheets. “Well, I think I’ve got myself on the ropes.” John grits his teeth together and adjusts his leg; he turns what could be a grimace of pain into a winning smile. "Care for a rematch?" He asks, attempting to play off his nerves as something coquettish. He gestures to the pieces. "It'll be the most exciting thing to happen around here in far too long."

Flint glances off, as if he has someone waiting for him outside this room. A breeze blows through the windows and it billows his long coat. He sighs, but then comes further in.

“You tricked me, last time.” Flint intones. He takes the chair and spins it neatly, dragging it over to the bed and sitting in it backwards with his arms folded across the back. He's practically smiling - a subtle twitch to his lips, a glimmer in his eye. “Hardly a fair match, when I was playing to teach.”

John shrugs and resets the board. The pieces balance precariously. “Easy for you to say now. You won’t have such a neat excuse when I beat you again.”

“Neither will you, should I win.” Flint says, and snatches up a black pawn.

 

 

 


The first game is slow to start. Both of them play cautiously; every move is calculated, mulled over. John takes his time to learn Flint’s tells and how he plays. He has a few little tics - fiddling with his mustache, spinning his rings absentmindedly - before now, John had never realized how many rings the man wears. His nails are short and there are bits of dirt and perhaps crusted blood underneath them. Still, he gives away nothing in the looks he throws to John or how his mouth twitches.

John hasn’t ever played anyone this way - hasn’t ever had such an even-sided match. He’s used to players who don’t know the game and make haphazard moves, sacrificing pieces by falling for simple traps. Flint is smarter than that, recognizes a ploy and knows to stay clear of it. Flint has the advantage; John is certain, even with what little he knows, that Flint has played this game before against better than whores.

When the initial wariness fades, John prods at Flint with more aggression, to which Flint responds with an almost palpable glee. The game escalates, growing nearly frenzied. It’s a rush to know that he doesn’t have to dumb down his strategy. He feels a need to win, but he also wants to see what Flint can do. He doesn’t want Flint to play easy. If either of them wins, John would have it be because they fought for it.

“I do hope you aren’t here for business, Captain.”

John starts, angry that he was so involved in the game as to not hear Max coming. He turns to look at her, standing in the doorway with her hands clasped demurely in front of her. She’s decidedly under dressed, almost plain in linen.

Flint scrambles to his feet as Max enters, looking them both over with a cool, knowing gaze.

“I’m sorry?” Flint asks. He’s standing almost at attention, arms folded behind his back and hands gripped tightly together. John follows the stiff line of his body, half an ear to Max’s words.

“Our friend here is in no shape for work, unfortunately. Strict doctor’s orders.”

John glowers; he hadn’t even planned to work Flint into bed today, but now that she’s said he can’t, it’s all he wants to do. Fuck a rousing game of chess - John could really go for a good hard fuck.

“I was only going to trounce good Captain Flint in chess,” John explains. He smiles thin-lipped up at her and throws her a wink. “No work today, Max. I promise.”

Max gives John a look that says she thinks every word out of his mouth is utter bullshit. John changes his smile from thin-lipped to blinding, and then sets to ignoring her.

Flint only settles back into the chair after she leaves the room. It takes a while for the rigidity in his posture to fade back into something more relaxed. 

John wins the first game. He does it quietly, eyes on Flint the whole time. Flint’s expression is unreadable as he watches his king topple. 

“Again?” John asks. Flint’s face breaks into a smirk that has the hairs rising on John’s arms.

“Alright,” he says, and resets his pieces.

 

 

 

 

“Who taught you?” Flint asks, halfway through their second game. He’s shed his long coat, draped it over the back of the chair. Underneath is a startlingly-clean white shirt with too-long sleeves.

John smirks and shrugs, capturing another of Flint’s pawns.

John has told clients everything, from painting himself as a poor, dirty orphan to claiming to be Blackbeard's bastard son. When the men he laid with needed a waif, John could be one. When they needed someone hardened by a life on Nassau, he could be that too. He is mercurial and slick as his tongue in the mouths of people he's kissed.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about Flint is that John has never had to be anything. Flint has never asked John to be anything - when John thinks back on their earlier meetings, he realizes with a sickening sensation that he has, for the most part, been painfully true to himself. He hasn't thought to wear a mask or play a role when Flint visits, as their trysts are usually so quick and were never centered on selling a lie. There's been very little time for pillow talk, and John hasn't actively tried to a uncover the secrets buried in Flint's head. Every meeting has been so candid, so different from the usual way of drawing in a client. There’s a level of honesty they’ve had between them from the start; combine that with the chess game; the talk of books; John's drugged confession -- perhaps he is more himself with Flint than he has ever been with anyone.

He is as skilled as any of the girls at playing the words in his mouth perfectly into waiting ears. Ever since he was young he has always been good at spinning tales. Here, weaving a character out of nothing is akin to wearing a costume to a masquerade: both necessary and, at times, fun.

“Well, you see, a grand master of chess came through on a frigate.” Flint stops mid-reach, hand hovering above his bishop. His shirt sleeves drag against the piece. “He saw undeniable talent in me, claimed me to be the most skilled player he’d ever had the joy of teaching.”

Flint looks decidedly unimpressed. John leans back in his chair and smiles. “Or perhaps it was the kind old man who befriended me, when I was but a waifish orphan. He invited me to his house every Sunday after church - I grew up in England, you know - and he would serve tea and teach me chess. He had long, bony fingers and he reeked of tobacco. Told me I was a natural talent.

“Or then again, maybe it was something I learned growing up as a lord’s son. We had a lovely estate out in the countryside. Land for miles, more trees than a hundred men could count in their lifetimes. It was terribly boring, but at least I had chess to play when my older siblings deemed me worthy of their time. But then, of course, our father fell to drink, started gambling -- well, I’m sure you know what happened to the fortune.”

“You tell those stories a lot?” Flint asks.

John shrugs. “Typically, when a man fucks a whore, he isn’t trying to get to know them. Why not embellish from time to time, make it more interesting for us both?”

The look Flint fixes John with is withering. John, without thinking to, breaks out into a quick bark of giddy laughter. 

“What,” he grins. “You don’t like that? What does it matter how I learned, or who did or didn’t teach me? Who gives a rat’s ass. What matters is that right now, I’m playing you in this brothel. I won the last round. I’ve won two games against you, actually, and no knowledge of how I learned to play is going to help you win.”

It isn’t fair that Flint knows so much about John’s past, and John knows practically nothing about Flint other than that he likes to take his time fingering whores, and he likes to read. He finds he is desperate to know more of Flint in an effort to balance the scales of their precarious relationship.

“What about you?” John asks. He leans across the table. “Who taught you to play? Dreaded pirate Captain Flint having the time and patience to learn and master chess; that’s a little bit more difficult to imagine than a whore with a penchant for whiling away his hours between lazy fucks with a little mental stimulation.”

What does it matter?” Flint echoes, raising a brow.

“Fine. How about this -” John slips his bishop diagonally up the board towards Flint.  “I'll tell you how I learned to play, if you tell me how you learned to play. It seems only fair that we exchange equal amounts of information - no more, no less.” Flint does not look impressed. John throws up his hands. “Look, I’ll even go first. Honest to God truth? I taught myself.”

Flint’s face softens. He looks down at the board for a while, letting silence spread thin between them.

“I should think there’s something more powerful in the truth,” he finally says, moving a pawn. “I’m much more impressed that you taught yourself so well.”

I didn’t learn to impress you, John thinks. It’s a bitter and jarring thought. He frowns down at the board, tracing the path Flint has taken and imagining reactions to John’s next move. He trails his fingers across multiple pieces.

“Who was there to play against?” Flint asks.

“Myself.” John mutters, and moves his knight. “But now that I’ve given you a free answer out of the kindness of my heart, you still need to tell me how it is that you learned to play.”

“I play with my quartermaster.” Flint says quickly. John shakes his head.

“And I play chess with a pirate captain, but that doesn't answer the question I asked.”

“I had a friend who taught me,” Flint snaps. He moves his piece with enough force to jostle the bed.

“A pirate friend?” John asks. This glimmer of something, this sign that John has managed to hit his mark, has him feeling reckless. He takes a deep breath, splays his hands against the sheets. “Did you manage to befriend a hostage on a prize ship?”

Flint rolls his eyes. “No.”

“Then who?” John presses. The game is forgotten between them. John moves, fingers almost touching Flint’s where they rest on the bed.

Flint’s eyes grow distant. “I learned before I came to piracy.”

John leans across the board, lowering his voice. “Back when you were still called James ?”

He feels cold all over just saying the name. Flint’s eyes narrow; John’s heart races in his chest. It is perhaps a low blow, but John has come too far to play nice now. He certainly isn’t going to fuck Flint’s secrets out of him - not any time soon, at any rate - so he has to take what chances he can get.

“I did not give you that name so that you could use it against me,” Flint hisses. It’s easy to forget when Flint is here that he is a man to be feared. He has never given John a reason to fear him - this is perhaps the closest they have ever gotten. His eyes are wild, his jaw muscles twitching.

John swallows down the bile-bitter fear that rises up in his throat and ignores it. He’s only seeing this behavior now because it’s defensive: Flint is trying to keep John from digging deeper, which means he’s doing this right.

“Back when you were - what, a naval officer?” John keeps his voice low, slow, and conspiratorial. “The way you carry yourself, your hands clasped just so; I suppose, too, it’s hard to shake the rules instilled by an upbringing in a society that valued standing when a woman entered the room. So, what, a lord’s son?”

Carpenter.” Flint spits, moving to stand. John hasn’t even yet absorbed what Flint has said, but he recognizes that he can’t let Flint leave -- not like this. Flint’s visits, however infrequent, are the only thing that brings a break to the monotony of John’s life. For Flint to march out in an offended huff now might remove the one colorful part left. John scrambles up, leaning forward and snatching at Flint’s shirt.

“Wait!” Flint is sun-warmed stone under John’s hands, unyielding and sharp. “I didn’t -- I wasn’t trying to use it against you.” He insists. His eyes scan Flint’s, layers of grey-green sharp with fear, brow furrowed with distrust. John licks his lips. “I’m only trying to know you.”

Flint’s lips curl up into a sneer. “Why? Hoping for a little extra coin in your pocket for the trouble?”

“Have we not made it clear from the start that that isn’t what this is?” John’s heart lurches. He throws out a hand, scattering chess pieces across the bed. “Every other whore would have charged you just for this game.”

John wonders suddenly why Flint is even here. John is just stuck here -- he has no option to leave this brothel. Would that he could walk out that door and board a ship and never look back. But Flint could. Flint does ; he steps aboard the deck of the Walrus and sails over the horizon line, but he comes back: he always comes back. Why.

“You always come back.” John breathes. Flint’s sneer fades, replaced with wide eyes. He looks down at John as if there’s something to be afraid of - as if John can hurt him, wants to hurt him. John remembers the look in Flint’s eyes as John told the story of his leg, and he wonders at the look in them now. His mouth works soundlessly; John glances down, remembers the sting of Flint’s teeth biting into his lips as Flint fucked him. He remembers waking twice from an fever-induced opium stupor to find Flint sitting, watching over him. “Why?”

John leans into Flint's body, into the warmth of him. Flint’s hands come up, help to keep John from toppling over. He could be pushing John away. He could be letting him fall and walking out the door. He isn’t.

There’s too much at play here that John can’t hold on to - whatever is brewing between himself and Flint is something John desperately needs the answer to. He hasn’t felt this way towards someone before; he hasn’t ever been so hungry to know a person. The bits and pieces of Flint that John has been able to see are intriguing to say the least, and to have his attention is a heady thing.

At his core John is a greedy man; someone who wants and does what he has to in order to have. How to do this -- how to have this -- is entirely out of his skill set. He can get Flint to lie with him, get Flint to fuck him, but how does he convince Flint to open up, and give John more?

John was certain only days ago that he would have been happy to never see Flint again. His mortification and shame has been so strong they made his eyes water. Now, he finds the idea of Flint leaving and never returning to be the farthest thing from what he wants. 

Flint is a manifestation of life outside this brothel - of the freedom, the danger, the opportunities. John is convinced that if he can work this properly, Flint may very well be his ticket out of here.

“Be careful, captain,” he breathes. He can feel the damp warmth of Flint’s breath on his cheeks. The way Flint looks at him - the way Flint is looking at him now - makes John feel hot all over. “Someone might get the idea you favor me.”

Flint’s fingers are cool and unyielding as he wrests John’s grip from his clothes. Losing his hold on Flint leaves John unbalanced. He falls to the side, catching himself with his palms against the bed. Chess pieces scatter, falling to the floor and rolling under the bed. There’s a telltale crunch; the sound of one of them breaking under the heel of Flint’s boot as he turns.

 


 

 

Flint hasn’t returned since he left without a word. John at least knows the Walrus has yet to leave port - he can see it, when he steps out onto the balcony on cool mornings.

It's as if Flint's leaving took the very air with him. However small the place was feeling before, it’s practically suffocating now. John is about ready to crawl out of his skin, thinking about the way it felt to look Flint in the eye and call him James - how it felt to look up and see Flint in the doorway, interested not in fucking him, but in sitting there and playing goddamn chess.

John convinces Max to let him sit on the upstairs landing one night. Even just a change of scenery that small makes more of a difference than he expected. The brothel is loud with laughter; just the sound of it has his spirits lifting. Nothing like the raucous sound of drunk, horny men to make you feel better.

Anne’s sitting beside him in the corner, polishing her blades. She does it so often that John is convinced it isn’t actually necessary, but rather a scare tactic. Brilliant, if he says so himself. He’s got a chair to sit in and another chair to put his stump up on, cushioned on a plush pillow. The stretch of weather lately has been hot and dry, lending itself well to keeping his bones from aching as they do when it’s humid. He’s not felt this good in a very long time.

“Hamund’s been lurking about,” Anne tells him, not looking up from her swords.

Fear lances through John’s spine. The sound of the brothel fades into a rushing of blood in his ears. “What do you mean?”

“Saw him today, lingering out in the alley like some sort of fucking dog. Think maybe he’s looking for you. He’s got a few men, too.”

“Oh, wonderful.” John groans. Below them, there’s a raucous sound followed by loud cheers. “What will it take for that imbecile to go away?”

Anne doesn’t answer.

“Have you gone to Max with this?”

It’s hard to read her under the brim of her hat, but John knows that Anne and Max haven’t been spending much time together - at least, that John knows of. She’s lingered within the brothel, up on the landing or down in the thick of it. The girls all know her, the patrons are starting to get used to her. Max has mostly entrusted Anne’s welfare to John, and so far John hasn’t seen a need to bring Max in. Now, though. Now, John is wondering if he needs to get himself a dagger like Anne’s.

“No,” she mutters. Frustration comes up into John’s belly.

“You should.” He insists. “She’ll take it better from you than from me.”

“Why?”

Anne’s laid-back, dismissive attitude is rubbing John the distinct wrong way. “Because you’re the-- the hired muscle! You’ve got less personal stake in this than I do. If I take this to Max, she’ll decide it means I’m to be locked in my room until Hamund finally comes to his senses or dies, and I can’t stand another day of bed rest. If you talk to her, she’ll take it as a serious threat.”

Anne stops polishing. “What the fuck’s she gonna do about it?” John can’t see her face, but there’s a mean, hard edge to her voice. “Can’t do much more than you have.”

“I don’t know.” John hisses. He’s got a headache already, not to mention how his heart is starting to race. “We could always kill him,” he mutters under his breath.

Part of him wishes he’d never done anything - wishes he’d ignored Emily’s cries, wishes that he hadn’t let Max make such a spectacle of Hamund. He wishes they could just let him back in, so that John could stop looking over his shoulder every time he steps outside. It’s fucking exhausting.

Another part of him wishes he could just leave ; walk out the door and never look back. A chuckle slips free under his breath just to picture it.  He rolls his head, trying to alleviate the tension carried between his shoulders.

“You know Hamund perhaps best out of any of us. What’s the chance that he just -- gets over this?”

Anne snorts and shakes her head. “Hamund? Not a chance in hell. That asshole ain’t never taken no before, leastways from a woman , and a brothel madam besides. Plus, he’s tried to kill you and he couldn’t. Can’t do looking weak compared to a fucking cripple. I don’t see him ever letting this go without a fight.”

John lets out a long, slow noise of anguish.

“Thank you for that,” he mumbles. Anne grunts and starts polishing again.

 


 

It takes some finagling, but John manages to get down the stairs without his boot. It’s a struggle, balancing with crutches, but he takes it slow and manages not to fall flat on his face. He goes downstairs during the morning - before Max can stop him - when he’s less likely to be seen.

Soft morning sunlight has the brothel looking ethereal, dust mites sparkling in the air and the birds making soft, sleepy sounds. Around him is the quiet bustle of the kitchen and the staff sweeping the floors and collecting cups. A few girls are wandering around, Max is upstairs in her office, and he hasn’t seen Anne come in.

He makes a quick circuit of the room to feed the birds and then he hobbles out the back door, pausing to slip a cigar from his pocket and light it on a passing, dwindling candle.

His good leg feels weak with disuse; he clenches the muscles of his calf experimentally. It burns, but not altogether unpleasantly. It reminds him of the way it used to feel when he would run as a child - when he would run until it hurt to breath, until the cool morning air burned in his throat.

This morning is already hot and dry as John stands in the alley and smokes, his crutches tucked in the doorway. He bites down hard on the cigar and inhales, holding the smoke in as long as he can. It’s warm and thick, letting him feel every inch of his lungs. He closes his eyes, feels the warmth of the sun on him. Behind his eyelids the world if red. His hands press back against the cat's-tongue texture of the wall, which catches at the dry skin of his palms.

There's a sound, off to the side of the alley. John flinches, almost coughs as the smoke snags in his lungs and he exhales a thick plume of it. He reaches up with one hand to grab the cigar and hold it while the other digs into the hole in his belt sash, sliding free a small blade.

It’s barely the length of one of his fingers, about as broad as two of them, with a worn-smooth wooden handle. It glints prettily as he holds it to the light. He found it in the kitchen - it isn’t anything like Anne’s daggers, but John’s sure when it comes time it’ll get the job done just the same.

After their talk, John realized he was a fool to think he could have other people fight his battle with Hamund forever. Eventually, Hamund is going to get John alone again. John has no delusions about beating Hamund hand-to-hand, but if he can get close enough, he can show Hamund at least that John Silver won’t go down without a fight.

He cups the blade in his palm and reclines back against the wall. It takes a lot of strength to keep from looking towards the source of the sound - if it is Hamund or one of his men, John can't risk losing what little advantage he might have. A fleeting thought occurs that he should've told someone where he was going, but it's too late now. He can't even hear any girls on the walkway above.

If whoever is coming can get their hands on him, John's as good as done for. He'll have a second or two of balance in his favor before his missing leg will be his downfall. The most he can hope for is to use the momentum to land a solid blow with the blade. He feels faint just imagining it - he's never been one for violence, irony that he lives in the middle an island full of it. But men like Hamund, John is realizing, are incapable of changing, incapable of taking no for an answer. Men like Hamund need a good sharp knife to their belly.

John's breathing picks up as he hears the footsteps growing closer. He can feel the blade nearly cutting into his skin.

A hand touches his shoulder and John moves into it, pinning the other body against the wall of the brothel. John has the little knife up against the damp skin of their throat before he even knows he's done it, heart racing and teeth gritted and bared.

"Jesus!" A man barks, and John nearly drops the knife.

He scrambles to withdraw, but Flint - and of course it was Flint, why wouldn’t it be - has John by the shoulders, arms twisted to keep him from getting any closer. It’s the perfect defensive posture to prevent him from being able to slit Flint's throat.

John's stomach shifts, falling and lurching.

"I'm--" He realizes his cigar was tossed to the ground in the scuffle and that it's still burning, ashes scattered and the sweet smoky scent heavy around them. It’s a fight to pull back from the feral edge he'd been so close to, back to the place he needs to be when he's just another whore - where he needs to be with Flint, moreso now than ever.

“I guess you’re feeling better then.” Flint deadpans. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

"Sorry," John exhales. He tries to smile, fighting for a witty, flippant tone. "Thought you were someone else."

"I should hope so," Flint grunts, slowly extricating himself. His eyes are wary, glancing between John's face and the blade in his hand. "Not least of which because that blade is barely fit to be peeling potatoes."

John balks, halfway to slipping the knife back into its hidden slit. He puts it to the light, tests the edge with his thumb. It scrapes gently against his skin.

"If that were properly sharpened, I'd be bleeding at the least."

John looks up in time to catch Flint wiping a perfunctory hand across his neck and checking for blood. This close, John can hear the stubble catching. His heart jumps.

He looks down at the blade and fiddles with it absently. "Well, I guess you're lucky then. Guess we're both lucky, since I don't imagine I'd like to have slit your throat."

"I can't say I'd like that, either." Flint says, with a twist to his mouth that may be a smile. John stares at him, long and intently enough that Flint snatches the blade away without John having a chance to stop him.

"Hey--!"

"It's a piece of junk," Flint dismisses. He throws it off into the distance. "It's pointless for you to carry it around.”

“I’d rather have had that than nothing .” John bristles. It wasn’t much, but it was something in his hand to steady him, an option where before he had nothing. He stares wistfully in the direction the knife was thrown, knowing it isn’t worth fetching. “I can’t exactly carry a bloody sword about with me.”

“Without proper training, you’re just as likely to hurt yourself as your target,” Flint says. He fixes John with a shrewd look. “Is it really so necessary as that?”

“Honestly, I’d rather not risk it.” John mumbles, petulant. “I’m quickly learning that Hamund holds a grudge. I can’t always expect you to swoop in and save me, now can I?”

John immediately bites at his own tongue, fighting to keep from contorting his face. He hadn’t meant to say that - he hadn’t meant to paint himself that way, nor paint Flint as some sort of white-knight savior.

His words seem to suck the adrenaline from between them. The air becomes heavy in John’s lungs - all he can think about is the opium; the way Flint’s voice had been so beseeching, his touch so sure as he’d held John to him and they’d kissed, feverish and hungry. He thinks about Flint’s book upstairs, and James signed so neatly. He thinks about how Flint visited him when John was still stuck in bed. He thinks about Flint’s lips on his and how he stood when Max entered the room. Flint seems to be realizing something as well - his hands are clenching at each other, spinning his rings around his fingers.

John rushes to play his words off as something else - something less honest and more seductive. He cannot afford to let these slip-ups continue. A man doesn’t pay a whore for sob-stories and fever-dreams. Flint was not drawn to John because he was weak - John drew Flint to him by having layers, and revealing himself to be stronger and smarter than he first appeared.

Quickly, before Flint can respond, John moves. He ducks his head and looks up at Flint through his lashes. Flint goes to put space between their bodies, but John takes hold of Flint's coat to keep them close. He curls his fingers in, brushes his thumbs against the soft shirt beneath, warm from Flint's skin.

“Speaking of--” He drops his voice to a purr. “What do you say we get you upstairs, hmm?”

There’s a moment where John is certain he has him. Flint’s eyes go half-mast; he licks his lips and John is ready to push up and press their mouths together, but then Flint straightens.

“No,” he says. It’s curt - final. John fights against the way the tone strikes him, makes him want to jerk away. “I was only passing through to get to the tavern. I have business with Miss Guthrie.”

Of course. What was he thinking -- that Flint was here to visit him , coming to the brothel first thing after making landfall?

John considers kissing Flint anyway; he imagines lingering, using his tongue and giving Flint a reason to return. It’s an utterly irrational thought that he quickly squashes. So what if Flint doesn't want to visit - so what if he has business, it doesn't matter . There isn't any good reason to be displeased by this news, nor to have ridiculous urges, or thoughts to the effect that kissing Flint will change anything.

"Oh." John sighs and quirks his lips, looks up at Flint and shrugs. "Alright. I'll see you later, then."

John drops Flint's coat. He trails his fingers down the fabric, touch lingering before he turns, one hand on the wall and three quick, ungainly hops to the door, where he grabs his crutches and retreats inside.

 


 


It isn’t yet evening when John comes upstairs, but he lights the candles anyway, so that he won’t have to get up again later. He hobbles over to his bookshelf, fingers trailing across the well-worn spines. He finds himself too embroiled in emotions for something like Hamlet, and so instead takes out Newton.

It’s decidedly less ostentatious than anything else John owns -- more a manuscript than any sort of well-decorated book. Mathematical Principles is written plainly across the white cover. It’s decidedly dry and dull, which is just the sort of thing John figures he needs right about now.

His crutches get placed gently across the table as he settles into the chair and flips through the pages, listening to the sound and stopping at random. He opens to Section XI. Of the motions of the bodies tending to each other with centripetal forces.

 

I have hitherto been treating of the attractions of bodies towards an immoveable center; though very probably there is no such thing existent in nature. For attractions are made towards bodies; and the actions of the bodies attracted and attracting, are always reciprocal and equal by law. 3. so that if there are two bodies, neither the attracted nor the attracting body is truly at rest, but both (by cor. 4 of the laws of motion) being as it were mutually attracted, revolve about a common centre of gravity.  

 

John isn’t expecting anyone, and so it’s a shock when he hears someone coming up the back entrance and down the balcony walkway.

He is just putting his book down and starting to stand when Flint comes in.

The breeze as the doors open and shut carries with it the smell of sweat and sweet rum. Flint reeks of it, and John wonders vaguely how sober the other man is. John’s never seen him truly drunk, and just looking at him now - how still he’s standing, the bright look in his eye - John is fairly sure he isn’t entirely wasted.

"Welcome back, Captain." John says, unsure. Flint looks stiff - hands held behind his back, coat closed. His mustache is firmly curled and John wonders, for a moment, if anything will have changed. He's resolute in his choice to ignore what passed between them - it's nothing more than a fever dream, unless he glances at the book on his table. It hasn’t come up yet, and John doesn’t think now is going to be the time Flint decides to discuss what John may have said when he was off his head with opium. There’s only one reason Flint is here now, and the sooner they can get to fucking, the sooner John can see Flint out before something happens again. “How was business at Miss Guthrie’s--?”

Flint comes upon him like a storm. John rides it out, attempts to temper the burning ferocity of his energy into something slower, but Flint isn’t having it. John ends up pressed to the wall - his bookshelf shakes with the force of it, and John is certain the girls that are eavesdropping outside are loving that.

Flint has his hands up under the cloth of John’s shirt, fingers tracing the contour of his ribs. John slips his good leg between Flint’s, feels the warmth of his cock in his breeches and smirks. “Miss me?” He gasps, flirty and lascivious. Flint groans and pulls back from kissing at John’s neck.

“I don’t have long,” Flint whispers. John feels his smirk fall away. Flint’s eyes are wide and wild, more sunken than John remembers them. His breath is heavy with liquor. Flint rolls his shoulders and his coat falls, heavy against the floor.

“Alright.” John says. He pulls Flint’s face to his and kisses him, draws Flint’s tongue into his mouth and sucks it, feels Flint nearly collapse against him. He tastes like rum, heady and bitter. Flint's hands work back under John’s shirt and pull it over his head. John raises his arms to facilitate this, throws his shirt somewhere while Flint brings his hands down John’s chest. His fingernails catch against John’s nipples and John arches into it, gasps and leans forward to capture Flint’s mouth again. Flint moans, bites at John’s lips and slips his hands down to cup John through his breeches. John breaks his mouth from Flint’s with a ragged gasp. He glances down at the worn freckled skin of Flint’s hand against the bulge of his cock in his pants, then watches as Flint takes his other hand and grabs at himself. He ruts up into his own touch; John looks away for a moment to see Flint’s face, eyes nearly rolled-back and mouth falling open. Arousal floods John like a tidal wave.

Bed -” he gasps. Flint makes a sound like a growl and John lets loose something like a squeak as he realizes Flint is lifting him. He wraps his good leg about Flint’s waist; Flint’s hands palm at John’s ass and heat spears through him. They tumble onto the bed, John pinning Flint to the mattress. The press of his naked skin against the grain of Flint's shirt sends shivers down John’s spine. He goes up onto his hands and Flint chases him, grabbing hold of John’s hair to pull him down and biting kisses along the arch of his throat and trailing his hands down to John’s ass. He insinuates a leg between John’s and John rolls his hips into it, Flint’s hands on his ass grinding them closer.

“Fuck me,” Flint breathes. His words are warm and damp against John’s skin, sending gooseflesh rising in their wake. John feels frozen by them, hovering above Flint. His arms begin to shake from the angle, and Flint still has his face hidden against John’s neck.

He blinks stupidly. “What?”

Flint’s tone is impatient, the words stilted. “I want you to fuck me.”

Honestly, John had never thought this would be on the table. To look at a man like Flint and - well, he made some assumptions, and this is certainly something Flint cannot afford to ever risk anyone finding out about. It’s one thing to fuck men, or to have your cock sucked by one. But if you want to be fucked; well, there’s not much of a chance of coming back from that.

“Uh.” John licks his lips and scrambles for footing. He’s fucked men before, he knows how to do this. “Have you -”

Yes.” Flint grits out. “If you’re just going to ask me stupid questions then -- are you going to fuck me or not?”

John almost says it’s your coin, before he remembers. Something heady strikes him in his chest, floods to his fingertips and down to his toes. Flint is here because he wants to be. John is here because, ostensibly, he wants to be. He doesn’t have to fuck Flint if he doesn’t want to, and that, it seems, has John’s cock jerking in his pants.

“When you ask so nicely, how can I refuse?” John mutters. He forgets for a moment that he can no longer easily sit back on his heels and pull his clothes off. Instead he has to roll off of Flint and sit up; he quickly if clumsily slips out of his pants, tossing them to the floor and then settling back against the pillows.

He catches sight of Flint mid-strip, naked from the waist down and arms crossed over his head as he pulls off his pristine white shirt. John spends a moment staring at Flint’s ass, then watches as the muscles of his back move under his creamy freckled skin and John finds he wants to set his teeth to them, to leave behind mouth-shaped marks. He moves, fits his thumbs over Flint's hips and nips at the arch of his neck, leaving bites down his skin to suck bruisingly against the wing of Flint's shoulder blade. Flint’s ass presses back against him and John grabs hold of it in both hands, fondling the curves that fit perfectly in the palm of his hand. Flint shivers under his lips. There's a soft, broken moan that slips free, and comes again louder as John puts his teeth to the swell where shoulder becomes arm. He leaves a trail of red marks, some with the angry sign of teeth and some that will bloom bruise-purple long after Flint leaves this brothel.

Flint grapples back, twisting until they're pressed chest to chest. His palms frame John’s stomach. It jumps under Flint's delicate touch, his fingers so close to the thatch of hair above John's cock. They thread through it, combing upward. John shivers, bites back a soft, whimpering sound. Their open mouths brush as Flint pushes John until he's laying down against the bed. John fumbles backwards, fighting to keep from smacking his stump as he goes. Flint throws one thigh over John as he settles, straddles him and sits against John's hips. John catches sight of Flint’s cock and can’t help but lick his lips. Flint smirks and grinds his ass down against John’s trapped erection. John gasps, thrusts abortively up into it.

He reaches blindly for the slick. He needs to be in Flint now, feel the warm heat of him. He holds up the slick between his fingers, pausing for a moment, unsure how to procede.

Flint makes a noise in his throat and snags the pot, rising up onto his knees. John’s mouth goes dry as Flint uncorks the lid and braces his weight forward. Red heat flushes down Flint’s chest. His cock is bobbing, precome beading at the head, which peeks almost coyly from the foreskin. John remembers how it felt to have that cock in his mouth; have Flint’s come warm and sticky on his lips.

Flint dips two fingers into the slick and then reaches behind himself, gaze distracted until he hits home. All at once he seems to sag back, eyes closing as he rocks experimentally. Now, Flint is seated back far enough that John’s cock can rise without hindrance. It stirs as he watches Flint finger himself. His body writhes, sinuous as he fucks his fingers.

John had a longer, drawn-out affair. As Flint slips in his third finger he grunts, and John is certain the way Flint’s brow creases isn’t entirely pleasure. He had thought maybe Flint had prepared himself earlier, but now he’s not so sure.

“Are you sure--” John starts. Flint’s eyes snap open, narrowed as if to dare John to finish that question. John swallows. He can feel his resolve failing as Flint arranges himself, the heat of him so close John is certain he can already feel it around his cock.

Flint's slick-covered hand closes around John’s cock, guiding it where Flint needs it. John feels his cock pulse at Flint's touch, feels the wet spread of precome against Flint’s fingers. He gives John a perfunctory stroke, spreading slick from his hand as well as the precome. It’s such a light touch that John shivers and feels the hairs on his arms stand up. He bites his lip and fights to keep from arching up into it.

“Stop asking.” Flint grunts, and seats himself. John’s breath comes out of him in a gasp, air punched from his lungs. Flint makes a soft noise, mouth falling open. Flint is breathtakingly tight, just slick enough but still - and warm , Christ. John has a thought, fleeting though it is, wondering how long it’s been since Flint was last fucked.

“Oh, shit.” John keens. His hands flail for purchase; he tangles them into his own hair, tugging hard enough to feel something tingle. It’s a counterpoint to the tight, slick heat. “Shit, are--” John bites his own tongue to keep from asking, knowing Flint will only get angrier for it. “Just, give me a second-”

He doesn’t realize he’s reaching out for Flint until he’s done it. His hand traces gently at the curve of his ribs, fingers sweeping down.

His touch seems to prompt Flint into movement; he shivers under John’s hand and exhales slowly through his nose. Before John can prepare himself Flint moves - small, experimental motions at first, barely lifting up and mostly rocking in John's lap.

Oh,” Flint moans. His hands tighten into fists against John’s chest as if he could take handfuls of John’s skin.

John’s hand slips from Flint’s skin to the sheets, tearing at them to fight the slow burn working through his body. Flint feels so perfect, so tight. John’s other hand buries deeper into his hair. It’s a torturously slow glide, Flint’s eyes falling closed as he rises, slowly, and then sits again, controlled.

The muscles of Flint’s thighs tighten with every move; John drags his hand from his hair down, over his own chest; he releases his hold on the sheets and brings both hands up to Flint’s knees.

John feels Flint's muscles moving under the skin; he clenches his hands against Flint's thighs and Flint groans.

Flint breathes out one shaky word; “Move.”

John keens and shakes his head against the pillow, thrusts up as best he can with such minimal leverage. He plants his good foot, ruts up as Flint moves down.

Flint gasps. He bows his head and John watches the muscles in his stomach ripple as he pushes up, knees braced under John’s hand until barely the head of John’s cock is inside of him. John whines and Flint jerks back down, clenching as he goes.

“Oh fuck.” John gasps. His hands flutter uselessly against Flint’s thighs. “Yes, yes, fuck.”

Flint’s cock is dripping, red and angry and bobbing against his stomach. John goes to stroke it and Flint smacks his hand away. John jerks, looks up at Flint and nearly misses that he still has John’s hand.

John props himself up as Flint pulls at his hand. He presses John’s fingers against the swell of his cock in Flint’s ass. He can feel Flint’s hole spread around him. It’s so slick, so hot. John groans, long and broken.

“You feel--” Flint gasps, words soft and lashes fluttering. Every hair on John’s body lifts, followed by a wave of goosebumps. There’s a glazed, lost look to Flint’s eyes as he starts to move faster, movements sharper, more hungry.

Flint’s hand falls away from John’s, coming back for balance against John’s chest. John moves both his hands and takes hold of Flint’s ass, squeezing it as Flint rolls his hips. Flint moans and John squeezes again, digs his nails gently into flesh. Flint’s face is rapturous, a flush to his cheeks and his lips damp. His hair is coming free of its queue, framing the curve of his cheekbones.

"Jesus," John gasps. "You--" Flint’s eyes open. He pauses, chest heaving for breath. John has to take a moment to breathe, fight the urge to fuck up into Flint and keep him moving. Flint’s eyes take a moment to focus on John’s face. They’re blown dark, wide but heavy-lidded with want. “You gave me shit -- how long has it been since someone last fucked you? You’re so tight.” John pulls at Flint, to get as deep as he can. Flint moans. Slick drips down John’s length - John reaches to touch it with his fingers. “You’re so wet. Flint--”

Flint goes rigid above him. John swallows as Flint’s eyes lose their fogginess. They close and he inhales, choppy and quick. He moves, slowly, rocking in John’s lap.

“Call me James.” Flint whispers.

It’s a shock, like cold water down his spine. But John is a professional, and he pushes the sensation aside. If this is what Flint wants, than he can oblige. He nods his head, pulls at Flint’s ass to encourage him to keep moving.

“Alright,” he says, soft. His heart clenches. “James.”

Flint stutters but slowly builds a rhythm under John’s hands. “You feel so good, James.” John moans. “How long has it been? God, look at you. Did you miss this?”

Yes.” Flint gasps. He makes a sound in his throat, reedy and cracked. He speeds up, slowly rising onto his knees. God, that John had thought Flint was showing weakness in asking to be fucked. Here on his back John is helpless to the onslaught, to being exactly what Flint needs and what he wants. John has no hope of slowing him, of controlling the rhythm. He is entirely at Flint’s mercy. It’s so much like John used to be - how he used to have all the power when he brought men back to this room. It strikes through him like a brand, this searing knowledge that in this moment, he knows Flint.

Flint is biting his lip to keep quiet, but the noises slip free just the same. They’re breathy and so beseeching, like Flint needs more. Barely a handful of thrusts in and Flint is gasping, color high in his cheeks. The green of his eyes seems darker but more vibrant, stormy with emotions John can't begin to name. There's something roiling in him, something that seems to delight in every twinge John is certain is sparking up his spine.

John has been fucked before with too little preparation. He's lucky at least that Flint allowed them plenty of slick, but John knows the feeling - borderline painful but with a sliver of something good, whenever that spot inside gets brushed against. It can almost be too much, the thin line between pleasure and pain, but here John wonders if Flint likes it. If he wants it this way, too rough and rushed and tight.

"You're insane," he breathes, but it sounds soft and awe-struck.

Flint's eyes focus on him, narrow, and then he bends at the waist and bites into John's lips. John comes up onto his elbows to meet him halfway, but is left to Flint’s onslaught - the hungry brush of his tongue against John's teeth, the warm smell of him, how he feels around John's cock. It’s nearly overwhelming.

Flint licks at John’s teeth once more and pulls away. John keens at the loss, falling back against the sheets. He can't keep from thrusting as Flint settles himself. Flint answers by setting up a punishing pace, one that might leave him aching even if they’d had hours of fingering. John feels something like sympathy bubble up in him, but a darker part of him thrills to imagine Flint back aboard the Walrus with a telltale limp to his step.

John glances between them and realizes that Flint's cock is now half-mast at best, bobbing weakly between their bodies with every move he makes. With a jolt, he realizes that Flint - he isn’t doing this to get himself off. A fiery hunger twists through John’s stomach. He is doing this for John. He’s putting on a bloody fucking show, and of course; John has done this himself, before, been athletic and changed the pace to get a client close. Fuck, John thinks.

John touches his fingers to Flint’s cock, which twitches. Flint grunts and bows his head, gasping out. It hardens under John’s hand, head dripping. John collects the precome on his palm to smooth the way as Flint’s motions fuck his cock into John’s fist. It’s hot and velvety smooth in John’s hand. Flint chokes out sounds, chin tucked to his chest as his rhythm on John’s cock falters. John wonders if Flint would let himself be fucked even after he’s come. Would it be too much, or is that exactly how he likes it? Flint allows only a few strokes before he grapples John’s hand away.

He raises his chin and John reaches for him, puts his precome-sticky fingers to the curve of Flint’s collarbone. They slide down, fingertips tracing thick raised scar tissue as Flint collects himself. He leans into John’s palms, arching like a cat under his touch. His chest rises under John’s hands as he breathes in, out, and in again.

Flint settles down against John's hips, fully seated, and rotates slowly, bearing down enough that John sees stars. He pauses to kiss John again, deep and filthy. John pants out shaking breaths, feels Flint's tongue touch his lips; tastes Flint's ragged rum-sweet breath in his mouth.

“Are you close?” Flint breathes. John nods his head, brushes his lips against the sweaty skin of Flint’s bearded cheek. Flint groans and John kisses along his cheek, bites against Flint’s jaw as far as he can reach.

The reprieve is short before Flint sits up, closes his eyes and sets to moving again, making sharp noises - almost pained - but John is too aware of his own cock, how close he is to coming. He ruts up against Flint, uses his core to move and tries hard to keep from hurting his stump. Flint's muscles tighten visibly as he writhes, his chest heaving with every breath. A good thrust has Flint tossing his head back, baring his throat. John draws his hands up and down Flint's torso, tracing the cut of his hips, the spaces between his ribs and then, quick and teasing, twists his fingers around both of Flint's nipples.

Flint jerks and shouts, curses flying from his lips.

Flint's eyes fly open. His irises are nearly black with lust, jaw slack and neck bared. He's almost shaking with the pace he's set, and John thumbs gently over his nipples again to feel the shiver, watch his eyes roll and his tongue flick out to wet his lips. His hair is falling free of its tie and framing his face, adding credence to the imagery of a wild, deranged man.

John wants to be able to roll them and fuck Flint into the mattress. He wants to be able to fuck Flint, take his time and slowly rip this man to pieces. He wants Flint incoherent, pleading John’s name and shaken apart by his touch.

With a few more heavy thrusts, John knows he's going to reach his climax. Flint seems to sense it and bears down, almost in a pattern.

Yes. Come on,” Flint grunts, breathy and gasping. “C’mon.”

John fights to hold onto this teetering expanse of pleasure, but too soon finds himself coming, deep and wet and warm up into Flint. His nails rake down Flint’s torso, down to his thighs where John clamps tight, holding Flint against his body as he ruts up into him.

James,” John chokes, drawn-out and ragged. “Oh, James, fuck.”

John comes up off the bed with the force of it, back bowing and drawing his body tight. Flint braces against him, is saying words that John can’t hear beyond the rush of blood in his ears and how the world is going white around the edges. He can feel it as he fills Flint, as the come slips out and touches hot against the skin of John’s groin. The pulses subside; John falls back against the sheets and pants at the ceiling and shivers and basks in the waves of pleasure.

He twitches, floats incoherent for an instant. He can’t remember the last time he came that hard - the last time he was left lost, unable to tell up from down, deaf to anything but the sounds of his own body. Everything rushes over him hot and racing; he can feel his heart pounding in his ears. He's only just opened his eyes - clenched tight enough that he blinks away bright spots - when Flint starts kissing him, just as hungry and wet as before. His lips are soft and his tongue is warm and eager, as if there’s something to be found in John’s mouth. It quickly turns sloppy - John, feeling the energy leak from him, gives back as best he can. He feels utterly exhausted, covered in sweat and burning from exertion. He can't imagine how Flint feels.

Slowly, with plenty of wincing, Flint sits up and begins to lever himself off. John tries to steady him. The head of John's cock slips free with a palpable pop and they both gasp - although, John doubts it's the same feeling for Flint as it is for him. A few stray drops of warm come land on John's thighs as Flint flops onto his side, reaching out and pulling John into him. John goes, lets Flint kiss him lazily. Flint sets his teeth to John's lips and John shivers, his cock already twitching at the thought of another round.

John reaches back and traces at Flint's ass, gently rubbing at his rim. Flint stills against him, kisses forgotten. John brings his fingers up and is happy to find them coated only in come and slick.

Flint is watching him. John smiles sleepily, but when he goes to put his hand down Flint grabs at John's wrist, pulling it back to his hole.

John's chest tightens as Flint stares at him, expression inscrutable. Flint makes an obvious movement, keeping John’s hand against Flint’s ass. He - John presses the tip of one finger into his hole; Flint's eyes close almost instantly. His hand moves to pet at John’s side, pulling to rock their bodies together as he makes soft, pleading sounds. John slips one finger slowly, leisurely into Flint's ass.

John manages to burrow one hand between their bodies and find Flint's cock, hot and hard. God, Flint hasn’t - John fists it, jacking a few times in quick succession. It’s fat and perfect in his hand, twitching and pulsing. Even with precome to slick the way, it's too dry for John to keep going. He lets go and brings up his hand to his own mouth, but then, struck by the idea, instead slips his fingers to Flint's.

Flint parts his lips at the first press of John's hand. His tongue slips out, licking damp and hot down to John's palm. It's a live-wire, a spark that jolts straight to John's still-soft cock, futile though it is. It’s sharp, so close to having just come, but it burns hopefully in the way John has found he likes. It makes John let loose a noise, shaking and drawn-out.

Flint echoes him, sound muffled around John’s fingers. He presses himself forward, cock rutting up into John’s belly in small, quick little thrusts. John moans and kisses at Flint's neck, needing to do something and unable to stand watching Flint's tongue as it dances over his hand.

Flint sucks John's thumb into his mouth, swirls his tongue against it and conjures images of how his lips would look wrapped around John's cock. It’s so easy to picture it; Flint with spit dripping down his beard, the way his eyelashes would flutter.

“Your mouth--” John breathes against Flint’s skin. He feels heady with lust. “You should suck my cock.”

Flint groans, John’s fingers nearly slipping from between his lips. John catches Flint’s lower lip and slips his fingertips along it. Flint flicks out his tongue and John slides his fingers back into the warm damp of Flint’s mouth.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Sucking my cock.” John rewards him with a particularly sharp thrust of his finger. Flint gives a muffled whine. “Christ.”

Finally, he wrenches his hand away.

A noise slips from Flint as John removes his hand, like he’s sad to lose the play of John’s fingers in his mouth. John can’t stand it - he moves and kisses Flint, hard and deep. He dips his tongue back, traces Flint’s teeth and kisses him as Flint writhes against him, hands clawing at John to pull him close.

Flint’s cock is smooth and hot in his hand; John breaks the kiss to look down, watching the precome that beads out when John fists it. It’s thick and sticky against John’s fingers. He pumps once, pulling down the foreskin and revealing the glistening, flushed head.

“God, your cock--” John dips to bite against Flint’s collarbone. “I can still taste your come, feel the weight of you on my tongue.”

He works a second finger into Flint’s ass; come slips hot around his knuckles as John scissors them. Flint groans and shifts back onto it.

A possessive monster rears its head suddenly; John can’t stop focusing on how he's finger-fucking Flint with nothing but his own come to slick the way. Flint is warm and pliant around his fingers because he fucked himself on John’s cock just minutes ago. John leans forward and sucks bruising kisses into Flint's sweat-salty neck, branding Flint with more marks. Flint whines and twists his neck under John’s mouth, opening up under him.

Flint's body is loose and pliant against his, mouth open and damp as he breathes against John's cheek. The air is heavy with the smell of sweat and slick and skin. They're both slow, tired from the fucking moments ago, but John can feel an energy in Flint that needs to be settled. He's moving like he wants to fuck faster into the curl of John's fist, making soft, choked sounds that twist up in John's stomach.

John loosens his grip on Flint’s cock and slows his hand, moving with Flint’s rutting rather than against it. Flint makes a frustrated noise and his fingers dig into John’s skin. John pulls back and presses their foreheads together. Flint’s freckles swim before John’s eyes. He makes a new rhythm, tight but slow, working to focus even as he fights away post-coital drowsiness.

Please -” Flint begs.

“Shh,” John murmurs. His lips brush the tip of Flint’s nose as he speaks. “You’re alright. I’ve got you.” Flint sags forward into him. Arousal burns through John’s body, useless - he can’t get hard again so soon, but God if he could.

He crooks his fingers until he finds the spot that has Flint gasping out a moan, twitching at once away from John’s finger and rolling back into it.

John.” Flint whines. John almost stops, the sound of his name in Flint’s voice - said that way - nearly bowling him over. Flint blindly kisses at John’s face, beard and lips catching at John’s cheeks and chin. “Fuck, John, don’t stop.”

John had no intention of stopping, hadn’t even realized his hand had gone still, but now --

Now, Flint shakes in John's arms as John gently probes, not pressing too hard in the way he knows first-hand can be overwhelming. Flint cries out; John punctuates every other stroke of Flint’s cock with it, listening to the tells of Flint’s breath and the way his muscles quiver. His voice is cracked and pitchy as he curses, whimpers.

Slowly, John works up the pace with his fist around Flint’s cock, thrusts his fingers harder up into Flint. His wrist is starting to ache but John can’t find it in him to care when Flint needs this.

“James,” John purrs. “Are you ready to come?” John kisses Flint’s lips, the corner of his mouth. Flint nods, gasps, pants against John’s mouth. John presses his fingers hard up into Flint and jacks furiously at his cock. “Come.”

Flint shouts, back bowing. Come shoots in stripes, hot up John’s bare belly, dripping onto John’s cock, slipping between his fingers and down to the sheets. His ass clenches and the ring of muscle flutters around John’s fingers, sending come spilling down John’s hand to his wrist. Flint throws his head back, lets out a hiss as John continues to pump at Flint’s cock, working him greedily until every last drop of come has been spilled. John glances down to look, playing his thumb over the slit of Flint’s cock, catching bead after bead of come.

Afterward, Flint seems to melt, body sinking into the mattress and turning his head into a heavy weight where his chin juts into John's neck. John busses his mouth absently against Flint's shoulder as Flint gives his final twitches, breaths coming slower. They feel stuck together from head to toe, sweaty damp skin and warm come holding them together.

John isn't entirely sure what just happened. The emotions are still swirling dark and heavy like a looming storm cloud above them. He finds himself wavering between wanting to dig deeper and wanting to back away. Where has this man been, mad for John to fuck him - to be called James - and hungry for this; for John’s fingers in his ass and the rough, sharp drive of John into him? Is this the alcohol talking? What happened at sea, between when they last saw each other? It pulls at him like a riptide, an unknown urge to know what's roiling away in Flint's head.

He slips his fingers free as gently as he can, but Flint still jerks at the sensation. Come slips free, chasing John’s fingers. John breathes a quieting sound. He fancies the idea of sitting up and grabbing a wet cloth; settling between Flint's thighs and cleaning him, rubbing some salve onto flesh that is no doubt raw and maybe bruised.

Flint didn't even want to be asked if he was alright while John fucked him; John can't imagine he'd like to be cared for now. Still, John steels himself; he’ll try.

Flint’s eyes are almost closed, his chest rising and falling in deep, steady breaths. John reaches for the cloth, taking care not to jostle him. He quickly dips it into the water and settles himself between Flint’s thighs. The other man seems oblivious to John’s movements until he feels the first touch of cool wet cloth to the crease of his groin.

John bites back a smirk when Flint’s eyes fly open - they look comically shocked, something close to fear; Flint’s muscles tense under John’s hands.

“Shh. It’s alright.” John soothes, leaning forward.

He trails the cloth down the skin where leg meets groin, over the soft, flaccid length of Flint’s cock. It twitches feebly at the touch. Flint’s expression softens; his eyes flutter closed; he turns his head away, cheek pressed to the pillow. His hair is a fan of red against the pillows. Night is coming; luckily John had lit the candles when he first came in. Here in the candlelight Flint looks ethereal, splayed pale and sex-flushed against John’s sheets.

John’s breath seems caught in his chest. He focuses on gently wiping the last of the come from Flint’s skin. He traces his fingers behind the cloth, feels the damp trails of water and swirls them into imaginary patterns. The rise and fall of Flint’s chest catches occasionally. John’s heart trips. He throws the cloth back onto the table and reaches for Flint’s face.

He takes Flint’s chin between his finger and thumb, turns his head back, waits until Flint’s eyes open and look up. They’re soft in the light, but John has seen enough eyes, has seen Flint enough, to know something is different.

This is at once the same man who just wrung a blinding orgasm from John and yet someone else entirely. John cannot imagine the man that he took to bed that first night so long ago to be the same as the man before him now, seemingly undone by the gentle touch of John cleaning him. John takes a deep, shoring breath and bends to kiss him. Flint takes him by the shoulders, hands strong and nails biting into skin. He hums against John’s mouth, tongue slipping between John’s lips.

John’s hands slip down the inside of Flint’s thighs, past Flint’s balls and to the damp further back. Flint jerks, a motion that shakes him from head to toe.

An idea strikes John suddenly, and once he thinks of it, he cannot ignore it. He kisses Flint a few more times - hard, quick presses of their lips together - and then sets to moving down Flint’s body. He kisses down Flint’s chest, taking the time to lave his tongue gently over each nipple in turn. Flint quivers under him, hands uselessly clawing against John’s shoulders.

“We’re going to get you cleaned up,” John breathes as he gets to the trail of hair down Flint’s belly. He can taste the remnants of bitter come on his skin.

Flint seems to realize what is coming. He parts his legs, inviting space for John between them. His hands find John’s hair and clench into it. He makes a shocked, wounded sound. John pauses with his mouth against the first swell of thigh muscle. There’s a small patch of skin below Flint’s ribs, raised with scar tissue. He traces it with his thumb as Flint’s breathing kicks up.

When Flint is quiet too long, John rises up until he can see his face. Flint’s mouth is parted, brows raised. John can see the marks he’s left across Flint’s neck, already darkening against his skin. He looks -- John has to kiss him again.

“Let me,” John whispers, biting at Flint’s lips. Emotions are bubbling up too quickly for him to make sense of them. All he knows is that he is aching to lick into Flint, taste his own come mixed with the musk of Flint’s skin.

Yes.” Flint finally gasps, and John plants his good leg to get his shoulders under Flint’s knees. He puts his hands to Flint’s ass, full handfuls of the flesh that he parts to get to Flint’s hole. Slowly, painstakingly, he lowers himself down to his belly. Flint pulls his knees up, and John still has to keep his weight on his arms, but -- he can make this work; he will make this work.

Flint’s hole is flushed pink, not so red as John had expected, slightly swollen to the touch and dripping with come and slick. John kisses down the the line of velvet-soft skin of Flint’s taint. Flint twitches under his mouth. He then kisses softly against Flint’s hole. It flutters against his lips, letting loose drops of come. John flicks out his tongue to catch them.

Flint lets loose a bitten-out sound, almost a howl. John can’t help but huff out a laugh - his heart is racing and his entire body is tight with need. Flint’s hands tightens in John’s hair, perhaps the equivalent of one of his unimpressed glares.

“Shh,” John soothes, still smiling. He says it with his lips up against Flint’s hole. He inhales through his nose and then blows, soft little breaths that bring gooseflesh to the skin of Flint’s ass, still held in John’s hands. Flint’s legs tighten over John’s shoulders. John licks his lips and kisses the furl, teases at the muscle with his tongue. He laps gently at the drops of his own come that are leaking down, bitter and laced with the earthy aftertaste of the slick.

Ah-- ” Flint breathes out above him, then lets loose slurred, bitten-off curses. John slowly makes to work his tongue in; Flint opens so easily for him that John groans, hunches his back and works further in. His legs across John’s shoulders start to relax, going boneless. Flint begins to bear down against his tongue and John hums, happy to feel Flint responding. John sucks kisses, dipping his tongue in and pulling it out, working to clean every inch of skin he can reach. Spit is building up against John’s cheeks and chin; he can feel it as he presses his face against Flint, the slide of saliva and come and slick. His hot breath has made the skin of Flint’s inner thighs damp.

When he pauses he pillows his head on Flint’s thigh and rubs his wet cheek against him, pressing against Flint’s hole with the pad of his thumb as he catches his breath. Flint looks down at him, expression blissful and lips bitten-red. His flush has spread down his chest, his eyes slowly blinking at John as John kisses at the soft skin at the crease of Flint’s thigh. He works slowly back again, slips his tongue in beside his fingers and then eases his fingers away.

He loses time to it, eyes closed and Flint all around him - tasting him, smelling him, touching him. Flint is a wreck . Choked sounds break through, sleepy, drawn-out and high-pitched. He can feel Flint melting into the bed, muscles going limp and his breathing deep with hiccuped edges. His hands, once clenching tight in John’s hair, have relaxed. Occasionally he pulls, holding John’s mouth to him, but he also gently scratches his fingernails against John’s scalp. John all-but purrs, toes curling into the sheets as he licks fully into Flint and catches the last drops of come and slick.

There’s nothing left but the taste of Flint’s skin, but still John favors continuing to pulling away. He slowly works Flint back, gradually working his tongue free and winding down until he’s just kissing wetly at Flint’s inner thighs. He rises up and collapses next to Flint, face-to-face.

When John moves to roll over, Flint's hand tightens on John’s arm. It's barely noticeable, but John is hyper-aware, especially of Flint; especially in this moment. He stops, leaving his and Flint's faces close. Flint's eyes are wide. The green is slowly returning, a softer hazel now without the torrid heat behind them. His eyelids are obviously feeling heavy and his face is still flushed. They blink sleepily at each other, hanging in a moment of soft, tired contemplation.

Candlelight has turned Flint’s hair to fire, his skin to white-gold spattered with ruby freckles. John catches the way he glances up and down, quick back and forth between John's eyes and his mouth.

John tilts his face forward, inexorably drawn in. Flint presses the side of his nose against John's. His inhale is stuttered, his exhale choppy. John feels his stomach flip, ungainly and hot. Their lips touch, lightly at first, then again, slow and wet and deep. There’s something hungry to it that has John slipping his tongue against Flint’s, needing to taste him. Flint groans when he dips his tongue into John’s mouth, perhaps tasting himself and John’s bitter come and the slick. John grins and licks at Flint’s teeth, letting him taste it fully on John’s tongue.

It’s familiar now - the way Flint kisses. John has never kissed someone so often that he becomes well-versed in them; he knows the best way to coax Flint’s tongue into his own mouth, how to get Flint to melt into him by kisses alone. Flint’s hand tightens on John’s hip and John brings his hands to Flint’s cheeks, come-smeared fingers and all.

He holds Flint’s head steady as he licks in, tangles his fingers in Flint’s hair as Flint presses harder against him as if he means to climb into John’s skin. They kiss and they kiss, barely breaking apart to gasp air and John not even minding how his lips start to feel sore. He’s sure his face is red with Flint’s beard having rubbed it raw. The idea strikes him, of how it would feel for Flint to suck him, and leave traces of chaffed skin behind from the press of his beard and mustache against the soft, sensitive skin of John’s inner thighs.

Exhaustion comes upon him, starting in his belly and spreading until his fingers feel like lead and his head is fogged.

Still he can’t bear the idea of stopping, can’t stand the distance between their mouths even as they breathe. It’s so engrossing he can’t stop to think about it, isn’t aware of anything but this need . He hitches his right leg over Flint’s thighs to hook them together, keep them pressed from groin to lips.

Slowly, the kiss becomes less coordinated. Their mouths brush aimlessly together, a mash of damp lips and tongues together. They breathe into each other. John closes his eyes, combs his fingers absently through Flint’s hair. With what little energy he can muster, he drags a sheet up over their bodies.

 

 

 

 

The room is dark when John jerks awake. The feeling that woke him seems to stop, but then begins again.

John had been dreaming - a pleasant dream, the sort where he still has two legs - that had slowly and sweetly segued into a sex dream. Even now he finds the images fading, already forgotten; but the sensation lighting up every part of him - that, it seems, is going nowhere.

John groans, gasps with recognition and scrambles blindly to grab ahold of the sheets. He throws them back and is met with Flint, hunched between John’s thighs with John’s cock in his mouth. He’s got one arm tucked under John’s bad leg, keeping his stump from pressing to the sheets as John moves, body twisting weakly through the sparks of pleasure. Flint’s dry, calloused hand takes what little of John’s cock won’t fit between his lips, jacking it in time with his mouth.

Christ.” John gasps. He blinks rapidly, taking the sheets in his hands and trying to make sense of this. “Good-- well, I guess it isn’t morning, is it --” Flint sucks hard and John’s words devolve into an incoherent mess of syllables.

There’s a noise like laughing, a humming feeling that goes through Flint’s mouth to John’s cock and has his toes curling; he can feel his dick twitch in Flint’s mouth, probably leaking precome. He reaches down and grabs Flint’s hair, hands tight but then loosening, smoothing through the strands as he breathes through his nose and fights to keep from fucking up into the damp heat.

God, is there no end to what John doesn’t know about Flint? The clever tricks of his tongue speak to experience that puts him at least at John’s level. It makes him choke to think of it - Flint, somewhere, taking another man’s cock in his mouth in a dirty alley, that damn stupid coat billowing out behind him. Does he do this aboard his ship, when he’s been at sea too long and tensions are high? Does he let someone fuck him - does he ride them as he did John, wanton and so fucking beautiful?

Or -- no. John’s stomach seizes up as he imagines Flint, young and proper, enamored with someone. Who taught him to do this? Who was the first to take their cock and slip it past Flint’s - then James ’ - lips? Who was Flint’s first fuck? Was he so sure of himself then, or did it take time and coaxing to make him so comfortable? Did he beg? Did he whine, and keen, and thrash?

John thinks of the mysterious woman waiting inland for Flint’s return, and wonders too at the idea that perhaps Flint has someone waiting aboard his ship. Is there a man, another pirate, with whom Flint is so close? A matelotage, perhaps; not so rare as to be unheard of but certainly not bragged about here on Nassau.

An angry red heat spears through him to imagine it - to think that James returns to his ship when he’s through with John, or perhaps heads inland to his woman, and fucks them just as he does John. Just as soon as he’s thought it, he fights to push it out of his mind. Thoughts like those have no business in a whore’s head, leastwise when they’re being fucked by a client.

He draws his fingers down Flint’s neck, trying to find the marks he knows are there, trying to ease the ache that’s settling into his chest; trying to focus on the warm, damp suck of Flint’s mouth and the press of his beard against the soft skin of John’s inner thighs.

John tries to stay still, tries to be polite, but after a minute Flint pulls off. The cool night air makes John gasp.

“What? Why’d you stop?” He demands, still sleep-addled and high with arousal. He clenches his hands around the back of Flint’s neck to try and keep him from moving away.

“You can fuck my mouth,” is all Flint says, voice gravel-rough, and then he sucks John back in.

John chokes, tightens his hands in Flint’s hair and rolls his hips. It’s deceptively hard to do with only one leg, but John makes it work. Flint makes a pleased sound and John groans.

“You’re so good at this,” he babbles. “Fuck, oh, James. Your mouth--”

John feels his cock jerk in Flint’s mouth, feels the tightening in his stomach. Judging by the feeling it’s impossible that Flint only just started; John was -- Flint has to have been working him over for long before John woke. He wishes he could remember the dream, remember how it started, but he can imagine Flint.

He can imagine Flint waking, kissing down John’s body, nosing at John’s balls and licking a hot stripe up his cock. He can imagine Flint’s hot breath against him, imagine him suckling gently just at the head. He can imagine Flint tracing his fingertips against John’s inner thighs, pulling at the foreskin of his cock, sucking marks into the surrounding skin. It’s so easy to picture it, Flint being gentle and slowly working his way towards waking John; starting soft and slow and building until the pleasure was too great to sleep through. It’s enough to make John shake, moaning loud and throaty. His good leg kicks out, a fire working through him as he pulls at Flint’s hair.

“I’m--” John’s mouth works soundlessly. “Jesus, I’m going to--”

Flint growls, presses forward with an exhale that John feels against the base of his cock, and within a few quick swallows John’s cock is pressing against the back of Flint’s throat.

Fuck! ” John shouts, and comes.

Flint pulls back, and John can feel the cool of Flint’s breath mingling with the sensation of John’s warm come and Flint’s saliva, slipping down his quickly-softening cock. He shivers, arching up weakly with residual aftershocks. Still, Flint doesn’t let him go - he suckles at the head of John’s cock until it feels decidedly like too much and John pulls again at Flint’s hair. Flint lets it go with a lewd sound, but licks hungrily down the shaft and John feels his entire body go hot. He can barely see him, but the wet noise of Flint’s tongue on his skin, the way he’s breathing heavily -- God, John is ready to keep him prisoner in this bed for the rest of their lives.

Flint rises to his knees only when John is entirely clean. John reaches blindly for him, pulling until he’s pinned under Flint’s weight. When he goes to find Flint’s cock, he finds it limp -- but damp.

“You--” John traces his fingers through the slick come at the head, gently rubs his thumb against it. Flint shivers and kisses up John’s throat. His lips are ticklish with the coarse sensation of his mustache and beard. John cups the back of Flint’s head, pulling his fingers through his hair. He arches under Flint’s mouth, sighs and hums. The image of Flint rutting one out against the sheets as he lay between John’s legs is something he won’t quickly forget. “You are truly something.” John breathes. Flint laughs, deep, soft and exhausted. John yawns, already being dragged under by the rush of orgasm.

“Give a whore a real run for their money,” John grunts, and falls asleep.

 

Chapter Text

He isn't expecting Flint to be there when he wakes up. He isn't. It simply isn't done - men don't stay sleeping with the whores they fucked the night before. John wouldn't really know what to do anyway, other than set up for another round.

The swath of empty bed beside him is cold and doesn't smell like anything, other than sweat. All of the candles have burned down into sad hardened puddles, but John's clothes are still on the floor and, at first glance, everything is where he left it.

John flops back against the sheets. They still feel cool against his skin; the air outside has yet to heat, although he can already feel the humidity.

He drags his fingertips teasingly down the length of his own body, absent bruises or marks. He knows that wherever Flint is right now that he, at least, has little purpling bites across his neck, most likely sore spots along his hips where John held him - probably even some along the meat of his thighs.

John's skin around his cock, down into the of soft inner thigh below, is gently chafed from Flint's beard and his pre-dawn wake-up call. John trails his fingers against it and shivers at the play of sensations - irritation and goosebumps of pleasure, mixing together into something low and hungry.

God, last night. John hasn't had a night like that in so long - actually, he isn't sure he's ever had a night like that. Not one so charged with unknowable things, unspoken words.

It feels ... not wrong, exactly, but - even as he clasps his erection and collects the precome at the tip, he feels a wash of sour guilt down into his belly. He should know better than to jack himself off to the memory of a client. Still, it isn't enough to turn his need away; he cock hardens rapidly and John gasps, twisting and making vain attempts to arch against the mattress.

He can't stop the flow of his thoughts in the early sunlight. He can't help remembering the way Flint looked, how his hair was as wild as his eyes - bright, sharp and hungry but with a dangerous inwardness. It's not exactly pleasant to realize when one has been used, but John doesn't allow himself to dwell on it - at least, not now. Not when he can keep this energy, every thought laced with something heady and erotic.  

The need to come is urgent. John closes his eyes and allows himself to pant, gasping for air. Every muscle in his body feels as if it is straining for release. He licks sloppily at his lips and his breathing gets an edge to it, choked groans catching in his throat. In his hand the way is slicked by his own wetness, collecting thickly in his palm. He tightens his grip and remembers how it felt to sink into Flint to the hilt, the sounds he made and how he moved.

It doesn't take long for him to come, hot and sticky between his fingers. John groans, long and low and drawn out. He wipes his hand against the sheets; they're due to be washed anyway, after last night.

He doesn't settle afterward - instead it's as if his orgasm has given him energy, rather than sapping it away.

When he's just about less than decent, John pokes his head out and flags down one of Max's little errand boys. He orders that his bed be stripped and clean sheets be brought up, as well as his bed made. Once, John made his own bed. Now, it's more hassle than it's worth.

He slips the boy a coin for his trouble, ruffles his hair, and then slowly descends down the stairs. He takes his time, cataloging the twinge in his leg as he hobbles. With the boot on it doesn't hurt nearly so badly as it once did, which John assumes can only mean good things. Perhaps the worst of this is behind him - at least for now. It’s still early enough that there isn't a rush of men downstairs. He notices some of the girls aren’t yet up - probably spending the morning with their clients. The rest of the girls are milling about but still clustered close together, chattering to themselves worse than the birds in their cages.

"What on earth has you ladies so excited this morning?" John asks, coming down the last few stairs. A few of the newer girls turn, looking sheepish. The rest finish what they're saying to each other before Emily turns and addresses John directly.

"Haven't you heard?" she asks. John gives her a withering look; would he ask if he already knew? She looks cowed for a moment before she regains her footing, although she seems afraid to look him in the eye. "Everyone's saying that Vane has lost his favor with the Guthries. They're saying that’s why he and his crew haven't left the beach; Vane isn't getting any tips anymore. They’re saying at this rate, they won't be leaving again for a long while."

John's blood runs cold. He pastes on a distracted smile and waves a dismissive hand.

"Ah, so the typical island gossip. I thought that someone had died, the way you lot are going on. Just don't let this keep you from your work," he admonishes. "I'm sure with no plans to go out hunting, Vane's men will be all the more eager to fuck." The girls all nod in unison - some laugh - before turning back to face each other. The talking builds in volume again, background noise to John's own racing thoughts.

He looks around and doesn't see Anne. Most likely with Vane and his crew, then, having to deal with the fallout. If they're talking about it so early at the brothel, that must mean the entire town will know before noon.

Fuck. John's hands clench into fists. He makes himself hobble over to the kitchen and take a roll. He rips it apart viciously and eats it quickly. The pain in his stump seems to flare - not unbearably, but enough so that he figures he should use at least one crutch getting around today.

He won’t be staying inside today. Max is still upstairs, perhaps dealing with this issue, perhaps doing nothing other than trying on dresses. John doesn’t care; all that matters is she isn’t here to tell him to stay put. He takes one of his crutches like a strange cane and slips out of the kitchen, walking down towards the beach but taking care not to go anywhere near Vane's camp.

 

 

 


 

 

 


If Vane and his men truly have lost the favor of the Guthries, then that means Hamund isn't going anywhere. He's going to fester like a sore, ever angrier and more bitter the longer he's cooped up. Panic and fear bubble up and tighten in John’s belly, almost nauseating.

Fuck. John presses his head back against the palm tree he’s leaning against. He pushes into the dry, rough bark until he can feel it nearly cutting into his scalp. He wants to scream with how he feels - so goddamned helpless; trapped and unable to do a thing about it.

John hasn’t ever been the sort to have lofty dreams, or goals, or ambitions, but he's also never been so forced under the thumb of another person before. He hasn’t always lived such a sheltered life, either - however sheltered the life of a whore can be - but it has always been his. Even the bad decisions, ones he now regrets, were his own. Now, he’s all but a prisoner. He can practically never leave the brothel anymore, even on days when his leg might agree to let him walk. His world is growing ever smaller by the day, and what does he have to show for it? He's seduced a captain, to no gain of his own. Round of applause for the world’s most successful whore.

John slaps a palm viciously against the hot dry sand under him, but it doesn't help. His emotions are still racing, deep and nauseating in his belly. Sunlight glares off the water of the bay; seagulls cry out and beyond that is the ever-present sound of the pirates. The ships out in the harbor seem to call to him, mocking in how close they are but how impossible to reach.

He can see the Walrus docked among them. His treacherous thoughts veer towards Flint, wondering where he is. It doesn't matter. He could be inland with his witch, or his wife, or the fucking king of England. None of that matters right now.

John won't be able to get what he needs from Flint. He knows this now - it is fact, cold and certain. Flint is too smart to fall for any tricks, and John doesn't know if he will ever be able to ingratiate himself to Flint well enough. Would that he could - that Flint were the sort to become utterly smitten by a whore and bring them aboard his ship. It would certainly be the easier choice.

John knows he can't offer much in any sort of manual labor. There's no way he could carry his own weight aboard a ship - he can barely walk as it is, and he's sure it won't be much better on the rolling seas. He can't cook, and he's got no knowledge of seafaring. But if he can find some way to make himself invaluable -- well, then that would be another story indeed.

He can imagine it now, although imagination is a dangerous thing for a cripple and a whore. He hasn't seen the other side of this ocean in so long his memory is only a mess of fog and dirt and hunger. It would be a lie say he lives a bad life here - plenty would be happy to live as he does, spoiled, fed, clean and well-fucked. But this, he has come to realize, is not what he wants. He is through with this brothel, walls ever closer and days running into each other in a blurred mass of boredom and repetition. It was one thing when he was whole and virile, when he walked the balcony and swung himself across the lap of a man and felt their breath hitch against his neck.

It isn't the same now. It's an unattractive, painful hobble on his good days; an unbearable searing agony and being bedridden on his worst. What is he anymore but a wounded bird in a gilded cage, gawked at for amusement but looked over in favor of others. Max keeps him here, without a worldly care, but this is not what he wants.

He is going to be free of this island, no matter what it takes. He can't count on Flint to get him there - he's never been able to count on anyone for much, and he won't start now, now that it's so vital.

He will make something of himself. He will take, and he will steal, and he will find somewhere outside of this brothel, free of this island, free of this life.

 

 


 


John turns to look at each girl in turn; Idelle looks disinterested, clearly eager to be elsewhere. Charlotte has a hard, wary look about her, like she doesn't trust John so far as she can throw him. Around them, the room of the brothel is smoky and loud, dark with spots of light from the candles. No one is looking their way, or listening to them. Max is in upstairs in her office; Anne never came in today. John knows it’s now or never.

"Ladies." John inclines his head mockingly. "The reason I've asked you both here isn't because you're my closest friends or because I trust you. The reason you're here is simply this: you're good at your job."

Idelle visibly preens. John bites back a sneer.

"You both understand how to handle things with discretion, and I know I can count on you two help me."

Were it any different - did he not have a target on his back with Hamund; were he not a cripple - he would be doing this himself. It's only a chance for more liability; more ways for this to go tits-up and blow up in his face. But as it is, he doesn't have the option of doing this himself. It burns in the back of his throat like bile to acknowledge it, but there's no getting around it either.

"You will, of course, be compensated for services rendered." Both girls' eyes light up at the mention of being paid, but Idelle's look is decidedly meaner than Charlotte's. "What I need is for you to bring me someone from Flint's crew." John rather wishes he could sit with his legs crossed, lean back in his chair and look powerful. As it is he’s got his bad leg stretched out, placed gingerly on another stool atop a pillow. "Someone who can get information and isn't too smart to give it up."

Idelle glances at him with undisguised interest; Charlotte looks more worried than anything else.

"What's wrong?" Idelle asks, sneering. "Your ass not tight enough to squeeze Flint's secrets free?"

John bites back a groan but allows himself an eye roll. Idelle never has had an issue with vulgarity for vulgarity's sake.

"If it were up to my sexual prowess, my dear, I'd have written an entire book about our lovely Captain friend. As it is, he's too cunning by half to fall for anything - at least, not yet. Time is of the essence, and I can tell something's brewing that we need to be on top of."

Idelle snorts. This time, John lets himself groan. How on Earth she still laughs at word play like that after so many years here is beyond him.

"If you could find it in you to be at least a little bit mature, Idelle,” John starts, feeling decidedly impatient, “it would be most appreciated."

"There's no shortage of men who aren't big fans of Flint right now." Charlotte interrupts. John turns his attention fully to her, happy to move on. "Logan’s been talking about it. It shouldn't be hard to find one and turn him your way."

"Perfect. I don't need anyone violent." John amends. The last thing he needs is to stoke some sort of rebellion. Besides, he’s looking for an easy job, not another Hamund. "I'm not trying to start a war or see Flint deposed. Just find me someone who knows what’s going on with Flint - with his crew, his hunts.” John smiles. It isn’t warm, or seductive, or gentle. “I'm sure I can find a way to wheedle what I need out of him."

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The day has been hot, sweltering and close in the way that demands being lazy. The heat has made the normal smells all the more pungent - the air is heavy with sweat and piss; even the relative shade of the brothel has done little to quell the stink. Cigar smoke is heavy, floating like a sweet, choking mist about the banister. The ledger is thick and weighty in John’s lap, fingers smeared with ink and numbers long since finished for the morning.

Max is out - John watched her leave and hasn’t seen her come back. He thinks maybe she has a date with Guthrie. He thinks, maybe, that he doesn’t care.

The day has John wishing he were drunk. He can’t remember the last time he let himself drink until his thoughts were slow, easy and stupidly happy. He never thought he’d miss it. Now, his leg is tingling but bearably so, and he’s only got eyes for Charlotte and Idelle as they move around the room. The other girls are busy working, spots of color sitting in laps or leading johns upstairs, giggling and batting their eyelashes.

He hasn’t seen Anne yet; word is that she’s still stuck on the beach with Vane and Jack and their men. There isn’t much to go on other than rumors at this point - not that John expects Eleanor to give a speech detailing her favorite and least favorite pirate crews. Still, it isn’t exactly a secret that Vane and Eleanor have a colorful past, and that they’ve seen very little of each other recently. Used to be everyone knew exactly where Vane was after returning from a hunt, and only an idiot would go looking for Miss Guthrie so close to his homecoming. Now, the Ranger’ s hunts are few and far between, the tents their men have assembled seeming to almost be permanent houses on the beach.

Most of the other captains operate just below the buzz of gossip, doing well enough to keep their ships and cargo welcome in the bay, but not pulling in prizes worthy of note. Vane’s prizes were never noteworthy, but the continued image of him as Eleanor’s favored captain certainly was. Flint, however, is a man who anymore seems to be making waves all on his own. His reputation exists beyond the borders of his work as a pirate captain - the secret of his inland wife; who he was before becoming a pirate.

The largest difference between Flint and Vane is, perhaps, their reputation with their crews. Vane’s crew is a mass of hard, mean men who see in Vane a man they want to be, something in them they wish to transform. The story of Vane’s past as a slave is fairly common knowledge, and his strength and fierce, almost feral anger in the wake of his history is something heady for men who haven’t ever known anything but being their own master. No one can be Vane, of course; no man who has always lived for himself, always known freedom, can know the strength it takes to become your own man after having been someone else’s property. Vane will never bend a knee because he knows the pain of kneeling, of whips and chains. His love of piracy is a love of freedom, of taking anything he wants because he he can; not for king, or country, or money, but simply to be free.

Flint’s mastery of his crew is one of respect mixed with fear; his past is almost entirely unknown - not so clear-cut as Vane’s - and yet it is one that can still demand respect even with nothing concrete. He is enough of the old world that pirates ran from that he can seem intimidating, set apart from the typical pirate rabble. It’s frightening to see a man with so much power. He is nearly a myth, even in his reality.

Gossip is Flint’s weapon, always being used to his advantage rather than against him. Stories, rumors, whispers. Men that are vehement in their assertion that once, Flint was a murderer who had to turn to piracy or risk being discovered and hung. Stories tell of his bloodthirsty violence, how he has taken entire ships just to burn them and slit the throats of the crew. John snorts at these - Flint doesn’t strike him as the kind of man who would waste a good ship. And, of course, there are always the stories of the witch who awaits him inland, anointing him with the blood of infants to ensure success in his hunts.

It would seem, however, that even a witch’s blessing is not enough to keep a captain like Flint from losing money. He hasn’t been unsuccessful in his hunts - every trip, John has heard, has been at least moderately fruitful in its prize hauls. Still, men are always willing to talk when their cock is wet, and every whore in the brothel has heard at least once of how Flint’s men are becoming tired of their leader. Who once was a man who inspired them to greatness, now seems to be washed-up, leading them towards prizes that barely pay more than the cost of capturing them; how of late he’s been pulling in prizes of less value; how he is perhaps starting to lose the favor of his crew.

There’s talk of a man named Singleton, who has begun to stir up animosity within the crew while building up his own presence as, perhaps, a replacement. John has never met the man and as such can’t draw many conclusions of his own, but none who meet him have ever described Singleton as clever or charismatic. Instead he is intimidating, with a similar ferocity to Vane, although less refined. He has something mean about him, John has heard, but also that he knows how to make men take note; how to make them fester with a purpose. For him to have gossip about him that’s already reaching the brothel doors means he isn’t something to be ignored. He has real traction - he could be a real problem, if things don’t turn around fast.

So, John has come to the conclusion that this is something he needs to get ahold of, quickly, before it spirals out of control. He can’t be sure yet whether he wants a controlling stake in the outcome, but he’s always believed it’s better to know more and do nothing, than know nothing and be on the outside of something important.

Part of him can’t stop worrying that he’s perhaps being too obvious. He doesn’t think Idelle will catch on, so long as he plays it down. She’s always ready to have her fingers in every available pie, so John just has to make sure his looks like a pile of shit. Charlotte, on the other hand, has always been too clever by half. He’s not afraid of her, per-say, but he doesn’t have complete control over her either. If anything should happen, he doesn’t need to be worrying about where her loyalties ultimately lie. Still, he can’t spend time counting chickens - he has to be present now, worried about now; the rest can come when it’s ready.

Idelle is making a sweep of the room, coming towards John counter-clockwise. He’d be a fool to miss the way she’s moving towards him, even as she smiles and flirts with a few of her regulars.

When she gets close enough, she hands him a heavy cup of ale. She leans into him and John is awash in her perfume, too pungent for his own liking. It tickles up his nose, along with strands of her hair.

"There," she says, knowing better than to point. "Over behind the table of drunk idiots losing their prize money with crap card hands." She leans in closer, giggles to put on a show. John takes a sip of ale, letting his gaze slowly walk the room. Charlotte is in Logan’s lap, smiling and curling his hair around her fingers. Still, she seems to sense his eyes on her and looks up, only for a moment, before she leans down and kisses at Logan’s neck. There’s a handful of men, rowdy with their cards; John can’t immediately recognize the crew they’re with. Tucked behind them at the bar is a man.

John snorts. "The one with the bald head?"

"Yep, he's the one.” Idelle shrugs, stealing John’s cup and taking a swig. “His name's Muldoon. He's well-liked on the crew far as I can tell, hasn't been verbal about which side of the so-called secession he's on.”

Secession is a bit of strong word, John thinks - and a bit too formal, when it comes down to it. Should whatever is going on with Flint and his crew and Singleton come to a head, it will not be something pleasant and left to a vote. If John knows anything about it, he knows it will be bloody.

John eyes the man up. While he’s sure he’s seen him around, he doesn’t readily recognize him. Still, that’s a good thing - it means Muldoon isn’t the sort to start fights or get in trouble; an invisible man is much easier to target.

“But...” John starts, crossing his arms, “What guarantee do I have that he isn’t going to bash my face in just for approaching him?”

Back in his golden days, John had a string of men he knew were safe to approach, and it wasn’t odd to have a man approach him. Now, John has to be careful. To be sure, not every man is Hamund - but then, not every man is Flint. He can’t risk this getting back to the crew, that John put his neck out going after Muldoon on a hunch. The wrong story makes the round and John will be out of the game before it begins.

That is a good question." Idelle murmurs, and pauses for dramatic effect.

John bites back a tired sigh as she trails her fingers through his hair; he takes back the tankard, the ledger balanced precariously on one knee. John may be very good at playing the game, but that doesn’t mean he always has the patience for it. Idelle in particular with her propensity for getting under his skin - he’d rather not have to deal with this at all.

She gives him a cat-that-got-the-cream smile. “And an easy answer: he's been looking at you all night." 

John quirks a brow. "Has he?"

"Well...” Idelle laughs again. “He has ever since he heard me talking you up to Charlotte."

John groans. "I do hope you haven't set the poor bastard's expectations too high."

"Well, that's for you two to work out, isn't it?"

Idelle walks away with a soft whispering whisk of her skirts. John slips a coin into her palm as she leaves, and then surveys the room between himself and his new man.

When he has a settled plan he sets to his feet, tucks the ledger and ale behind the counter and steps across the floor, headed to the table of raucous card men.

He peers first into the closest man's hand of cards, and then continues walking to face the other. He has no idea what game they're playing - is willing to bet, based on how drunk they are, that neither do they - but he leans down and whispers into one man's ear anyway, for sport. They both laugh good-naturedly.

"Would either of you men like a refill?" John asks, gesturing to their half-empty steins. They glance up, look into their cups as if surprised to find them empty, and then murmur their assent. John takes their glasses and walks across to the bar, making sure to pass in front of Muldoon as he goes. The other man's eyes are palpable as he stares. John smiles to himself.

As he walks back to the card players he catches Muldoon's gaze, only for a moment. The other man has a hard look to him, starting with the bald curve of his head, to his clean-shaven face and then into the tattoos poking up from the collar of his shirt. He seems short, but sitting down it's hard to tell. His ears don’t poke too prominently from the side of his head, although his nose isn’t exactly petite; he seems to have most of his teeth. At least, John thinks, he isn't hideous, which would just be the perfect touch on this entire operation. Still, John feels unduly rusty as he places down the two filled cups and collects his coin from the card players. It isn't so easy for him anymore as to throw one leg across a man's lap and settle there. He hasn't had to seduce someone so blatantly in a very long time, and he has a very particular game to play this time.

John returns to the bar, pocketing his coin and lounging against the faintly sticky wood. It's hard to pose carefree with the boot, but John has always been good at pretending. Muldoon looks up at him with a bit of a drunken wobble to his movements. He smiles, sharp but decidedly not mean. The look in his dark eyes may be hazy with drink, but John would know arousal in the face of any man.

“Enjoying yourself?” John asks, giving Muldoon a slow, lazy smile. The other man stares for a moment before he speaks.

“I've had better times in a brothel.” He mutters, half muffled into his drink.

“I'm sure you have,” John demures. He hasn't entirely settled on who or what he has to be. Muldoon doesn't look like the sort of man who wants to follow John to bed, but most men know how to hide those sorts of urges fairly well. Muldoon could be interested, he could want John to fuck off, or he could be constipated. Right now, John has no bloody clue.

John sidles closer, carefully watching for any tension in Muldoon’s posture, any sign that a quick escape may be necessary. They're tucked far enough back that it's not likely anyone is going to look this way, unless they make a real racket. If he wasn’t looking for John’s attention, he would have moved. If he is looking for John’s attention, he’s positioned himself perfectly to be ignored and remain unseen by his crew.

“So,” John drawls, putting an arm onto the bar and leaning his head against his fist, letting his hair fall from his shoulders and expose his neck. “Any chance you want to act on all that staring you've done tonight?”

Pirates, as a whole, are not the sort of men who blush and hem and haw; even less so the men who find themselves in this brothel. Still, John is certain he sees embarrassment across Muldoon’s features, just for a moment. His gaze tracks down John’s neck, further to the low-cut neckline of John’s white shirt. John moves, sitting up on a stool, bracing his foot and his boot on Muldoon's stool and bracketing him with his knees. Muldoon's hands come up immediately to John's knees, thumbs pressing into the sides; his palm presses right up against the cup of John's false leg, where leather straps meet skin.

“Looking wasn’t half bad.” Muldoon slurs, soft like he’s afraid of being overheard.

"There's more pleasure to be had here than just a look." John breathes, bending at the waist. Muldoon's hand slips from John's good knee up his thigh, touch warm and slightly damp. "If you’re going to keep looking at me like that--” John’s stomach feels sick with a vile wave of familiarity at the words. He pastes on a slick grin and shoulders on. “--then I’ll have to start charging you, and we both know there are better uses for that gold, don’t we?” Muldoon blinks, slow and charmed, looking at John’s mouth. “Why don't we take this upstairs?"

 

 


 

 

Muldoon is skinny but not wiry, with pockets of muscle but nothing developed - his stomach is flat most likely from a lack of food than from hard work. Still, there's something strong coiled in the bulge of his arms, and Silver has yet to palm an ass he hasn't liked.

They’re not even naked, Muldoon with his cock out from his pants and John fully clothed, the bedroom dim with curtains drawn but shards of light poking through the shutters and curtains. There’s a stack of coins on John’s bedside table, enough for the rest of the night. He has John pressed back against the pillows, rutting against him and letting John laze, not putting his leg in any danger of being hurt.

Muldoon is messy and enthusiastic, but not dangerously so. John doesn't have it in him to guide him with finesse; instead he lets Muldoon lead, moans when he knows he should and scrapes his nails across his bald scalp. His fingers ache for long hair to tangle in and pull - he groans at the loss of it, but Muldoon only takes it as encouragement.

John doesn't fancy being fucked today. It's more trouble than it's worth, really, and just -- not tonight. Besides, it will create anticipation in Muldoon, keep him coming back for the prize at the end of John’s hard work. John worms his hand between their bodies and finds Muldoon satisfyingly hard, and is happy to note he isn't extravagantly big; he'll have to take it up the ass eventually, whether he prefers to or not.

For now, John doesn't allow himself to think. He simply does . It doesn't matter how different this feels, now - this is his client, and he has a job to do here. It feels more cold and detached than it ever has before - this is his hand, expertly twisting on the upstroke and collecting precome as it drips at the head of Muldoon's cock . This is a practiced motion he is doing because he has to, because it furthers a plan . He can’t even be pleased with himself, doesn’t feel that little thrill when Muldoon’s breath catches or he jerks in John’s touch. Used to be this sort of thing made him feel proud. Used to be he felt powerful, holding a man in his hands like malleable putty.

He could be doing fucking maths for all the focus he has on what's going on right now. It's pure muscle memory; touch Muldoon, make soft and arousing noises, breathe wantonly in his ear and purr out filthy phrases.

Sure, he's had clients before where their pleasure came first, or when things were quick and succinct. But he hasn't had to do anything like that in so long. He can barely remember a night where he didn't find a way to work his own cock - his own pleasure - back into the proceedings. Now, he simply doesn't care. His prick is soft and his thoughts disinterested, besides planning what he has to do when Muldoon is finished.

Part of him is pleased that he still has it - whatever it is that made Muldoon follow him with his eyes, made him put his hands on John's skin and look up at him like he couldn't think of anything else but fucking him. John figures that maybe the man is just lonely, hasn't ever been chosen so pointedly. Maybe he's a man whose tastes run to things he's scared of - maybe he hasn't laid with another man before, hasn't ever been allowed to, and John is some sort of fantasy fulfillment. John grins to think of it. He hopes that's what this is, because his power over Muldoon would be twofold.

It isn't unbearable, though. It just feels more like a chore than he remembers it being - more than it was with---

John makes a show of licking his own hand, grinding against Muldoon as best he can as he does. Muldoon's eyes are rolling back into his head and John has, really, barely done anything. He smirks to himself and sets to work, dusting off his dirty talk as he does.

"Come on," John groans, and Muldoon echoes him. He's wound tight, almost shaking. John smiles.

"When's the last time someone jacked you off?" He mutters, twisting his wrist on the upstroke. "It must get awfully lonely out there." Muldoon grunts and thrusts up, making the bed creak beneath them. John rides it out. "Yeah, come on. You want to come, don't you? You deserve to come. God , your cock. It's so hard." John leans forward, smothering his grin against Muldoon's shoulder. He moans, a bit over-the-top, but Muldoon turns and mouths wetly at his neck, so he must be doing well. "Maybe some day you'll fuck me, hmm?" John breathes. He gasps, as if the idea is unbearably arousing. "God, you'd fill me up, wouldn't you?"

Muldoon lets out one long, drawn out sound as he comes. His cock softens in John's hand and he makes sure to wipe his palm clean against Muldoon's own pants, because like hell is John going to wash his sheets again. Muldoon gasps, panting, and flops back against the bed. His eyes are wide, staring at the ceiling like it has all the secrets of the universe. John swings indelicately to the side, careful of his leg.

There is something about the quiet that fills the air after sex that makes men pliable, soft and ready to be molded. Perhaps it is something unique to pirates, or maybe this is a trick practiced in brothels the world 'round. All John knows is, as the sweat cools on their bodies and their breathing steadies, he is formulating a plan to pluck what he needs straight from Muldoon's lips.

 

 


 

 

Muldoon sleeps for a while. It’s nice, really, to have time. John sits, listening to the world. He thinks about his plan, goes ahead as many steps as he can and then backtracks, making sure everything is air tight. He can’t risk a fuck up now - he’s about to make some powerful enemies if he isn’t careful.

John gets up to grab a book to pass the time, walks by Canterbury Tales and resolutely ignores it.

It’s probably an hour before Muldoon stirs. When he starts to groan, wriggle in the bed, John hops up, still in his boot, and pours them both mugs of ale.

"Thanks." Muldoon breathes, tired and clearly sex-loose. Poor lad. He really isn't bad - after this, John will have to set him up with one of the girls. It's clear he's been neglected. Muldoon takes a few heavy sips. John swirls his cup lazily and goes to open the doors to the balcony. It’s just late afternoon. Smoke is drifting between the treeline before the beach, the air scented with charred meat. A warm breeze blows in, freshening the room with the salty tang of ocean.

"I do love the smell of the ocean," John starts. He tries to sound soft, like he's musing to himself, but makes sure Muldoon can hear him over the din of the brothel and the streets below. "Of course, I'd like it better without the smell of piss."

John turns, looks down at his glass and then slowly, coyly, glances up at Muldoon. The other man has pulled himself upright but has pulled off his pants, sitting nearly cross-legged and entirely naked. "I suppose it's a bit old hat for you, isn't it?"

Muldoon looks, sadly enough, surprised - as if no one has ever asked him so simple a question. John smiles, fights to keep the surge of victory from his expression.

"It's... different." Muldoon offers. "It probably sounds strange but... the way it smells here, or when we're farther out at sea, or when the wind is high, or durin' a storm -- it's different."

"It must be so fresh," John gushes, stepping over to the bed. "Not so stagnant like it is here." He puts down his cup, still full, and reaches for Muldoon's face. He lets his face change, plays up an expression of contrition - I shouldn’t be talking about this, he lets his face say; I let it slip because you’re special, but I can’t let that happen again. "But,” John starts, leaning in to bite at Muldoon’s lips. You’re not here to listen to me talk.” The seeds are planted. John has bared a bit of himself, has opened up. Now, sex. It will be a cycle, nearly tiresome, but John has done this enough times. He knows the perfect pattern. He knows when to back off, when to push. So far, Muldoon doesn’t look to be any different. No difficulties, no wrinkles in the design. He gestures behind Muldoon, the bed a mess. "Pass me that pillow."

Muldoon, staring and dumbstruck, grabs blindly to his side. John takes the pillow he passes over and drops it to the floor before he kneels, as slow and seductive as he can manage.

It does the job. Muldoon's breath hitches, noticeably, and John can see his cock rising with interest. John smirks to himself, winks at Muldoon, and takes him down to the root.

 

 


 

 

Muldoon stays the night. They don’t get much sleep.

In the morning, there’s a mad scrabble for him to get his pants and shirt on. John lounges, stretches and displays himself, giving soft noises of dissent and reaching for him.

“Come now, do you have to go?” He pouts, going to his good knee and wrapping himself around the bed frame. Muldoon stops in his tracks, mouth open. John finally feels a thrill of power, something heady and deeply missed. “Did you have such a terrible time that you can’t wait to be rid of me?”

“Fuck,” Muldoon exhales, and then comes over and kisses him. He reaches right for John’s ass, hands cold. John jerks, forces himself to moan. “Ain’t that.” John reaches for Muldoon’s cock, plays with the strings of his pants. Muldoon makes a strangled noise and pulls away. “It’s Flint.”

Captain Flint?” John asks, recoiling. He lets fear cross his features. “You’re one of Flint’s men?” He asks, awestruck. “I’ve heard terrible tales about him.” John takes hold of Muldoon’s shirt. Muldoon’s face colors, perhaps with pride.

The words are on the tip of his tongue. John knows what he has to say, but his heart is quietly racing, sharp and cold in his chest. He licks his lips; Muldoon tracks the motion.

“Is he so bloodthirsty as they say?” John breathes. He lowers his voice to something cnspiratorial, even glancing towards the door as if to ward off eavesdroppers. “Is it true, about the witch?”

Muldoon smirks, shakes his head. “He’s worse than they say.” He breaks John’s hold on him, gropes for his boots. “Which is why I need to go, right now. If I’m late --”

“Go!” John urges, struggling to his feet. He pushes playfully at Muldoon as he does. “I wouldn’t want you being shredded to bloody pieces by Flint for being tardy.” He laughs, but sobers enough to look suitably scared. “And besides, I don’t need him blaming me for it.”

He pauses, watches while Muldoon puts on his boots. The curtains blow with warm, damp air. John breathes in, out.

“Are you going to sea soon?” Muldoon looks up, pressing his heel to the floor to secure his boot. John gives a small, shy smile. “Only, will I see you again?”

Muldoon colors again, eyes wide. Pefect. John lets his smile go a bit more sultry, promising plenty in trips to come. 

“Yes.” Muldoon breathes, quick, and then leaves.

 

 


 

 

Everything is quiet when John limps downstairs. He has his hair flipped up into a messy queue, out of his face but certainly not clean. He’s sweaty and stinks of sex, but he’s not ready to take a bath. He wants to be moving, thinking.

Most of the girls are still tucked away with their johns. A few are cleaning themselves in the shitty little closets, but John doesn’t mind them. He snags a piece of stale bread and goes around, whistling quietly under his breath at the birds in their cages. They take the crumbs from him with enthusiastic screeches, feathers colorful in the early morning light. He can hear the kitchen staff bustling, the beginnings of merchant noise in the street behind the brothel.

John goes into the back to grab the ledger, entering in his own payment from Muldoon and making a few notes. 

He doesn’t think it’s his ego talking when he thinks that he has Muldoon exactly where he wants him. The man was distinctly easy to impress. They didn’t talk very much, but John knows he has the foundation to go where he needs to. He can ask about Flint, he can ask about piracy and the ocean. He can play the part of a poor, unloved whore looking for someone to whisk them away from this squalid, harsh island.

If this goes well - if John is careful and watches his step - Muldoon will be putty in his hands. But John can’t expect him to be the key on his own. He has to keep his friends close, his enemies closer. He has to keep his eyes and ears open; be ready when opportunity arises.

Idelle appears at his elbow, makeup smeared across her face and a gentle hop to her step. Still, she’s smiling.

“Good night?” John asks, making his final marks. Idelle passes him some ale, which he’s grateful for. They tap their cups together, each taking a heady sip.

“It was fine.” Idelle murmurs, handing over the brothel’s share of the coin. John pockets it, makes another mark in the book. “I’m more interested in how your night went.”

John smirks. He shrugs coquettishly, looking over his shoulder.

“Productive,” he purrs, and closes the ledger.