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A Pirate's Trade

Chapter Text

The maps were strewn around on top of the round, wooden table, their haphazard disarray an inclination that the captain was not pleased. In fact, the whole inside of the cabin was a mess. The few possessions the captain currently owned were either broken, or rolling around on the floor, back and forth with the sway of the stolen ship.

The vessel’s navigator stood just inside the main room of the cabin where the table and chairs took up half the space, even more so now that a few of the chairs were knocked over. He righted them as quietly as he could, apprehensive about interrupting his tetchy captain during such a private time. It was something that didn’t often bode well for the man relegated to the duty.

Inside the cabin, another smaller room provided privacy for the sleeping quarters. It contained only enough space for the bed and a narrow strip of foot room to maneuver around it. The wall separating the sleeping quarters was thin and did nothing to hide the activity going on behind it.

The navigator rubbed his hands together nervously as he listened to the hoarse cries and groans and the rhythmic thump of the bed against the wall. He was terrified of interrupting the mercurial captain while he was occupied with his catamite. Men who’d done so in the past were often met with a face full of lead. Unfortunately, it was a risk he would have to take since there were important developments regarding their unfortunate circumstances. He lifted a trembling hand and gently rapped on the door, breath stilling as the groans and thumps abruptly stopped. There was a pregnant pause, a colorful curse, and then the captain’s voice barked, “Oh, bugger me. What?”

The navigator cleared his throat and shifted from one foot to the other. “My apologies, Sir. The Catherine has lowered anchor. Captain Barton wishes to meet with you to discuss the terms of your agreement.”

He heard the captain's muffled voice grumble through the wall, followed by a shuffling sound and then the door swung open. The navigator quickly stepped back as the captain pushed through the threshold, clad only in a pair of brown trousers. His long hair, usually twisted into a rope, had unraveled and lay tangled over his shoulders. The navigator blushed profusely and tried his best not to stare at the angry red scratches marking up the sun-bronzed skin of man's chest and upper arms.

A quick glance behind him, he caught sight of the captain's young bedmate, naked as a jaybird and still sprawled across the bed with his slender legs drawn up, leaving nothing to the imagination. His dark hair was tousled, locks of chocolate brown hanging down over drowsy, half-lidded eyes. The navigator’s jaw dropped as the lad slid his hand down the length of his body and fondled his genitals and he had to force himself to look away from the lewd act taking place, seemingly for his benefit.

He jerked his attention back to his captain when he heard a soft growl and quickly stumbled out of his path as the man shouldered his way into the main room of the cabin. The captain’s face was sour as he slid on a linen shirt and irritably fumbled with the laces at his chest. “Damn that Barton. That scurvy son of a bitch best not have buggered up me ship.”

“He insists that the Shinigami is intact.”

The captain turned to him, nostrils flared and he clamped his lips shut in apology. “Intact doesn’t mean much, Hennesey.” He folded his arms across his chest and regarded his navigator with an arrogant tip of his chin. “How long have you been sailing with me?”

“Er...six months, Sir.”

“And you still have yet to learn the ways of a pirate.” The captain stepped closer and Hennesey’s heart thumped like a frightened jackrabbit. The man’s stunning face was still flushed a little, though whether in anger, or passion, he wasn’t certain.

He remained steadfast and looked his captain directly in the eyes despite his bladder threatening to empty itself and soak his trousers. “I - my apologies, Sir. I am trying to learn.”

“Then learn faster,” the captain snapped, scowling as he stepped around him. “A pirate’s word is as trustworthy as the Devil’s.” He stopped at the door and glanced over his shoulder. “Take heed, lad. Trust only your own eyes and ears.”

“Aye, Sir.”

The captain observed him silently for several moments before his gaze darted into the room behind him. “Stay here, boy. I’ll not be in the mood to be looking for ye when I return. Defy me and you’ll be sleeping on yer belly tonight.”

There was no response other than the sound of a body shifting over bedding and Hennesey knew better than to turn and look. The captain glanced back him and raised a brow. “Are ye coming, or do you need to change yer trousers?”

 


***




When Captain Maxwell stepped into the pub, he was met with a room full of rowdy pirates partaking in steins of ale, legs of pheasant, and an abundance of whores, both male and female, in various states of undress. He glanced to his left as a scuffle broke out, in the midst of a dishonest game, and watched as revolvers were yanked from the holsters on their belts.

He rubbed his ear at the crack of gunfire and stepped further inside, his nose wrinkling from the pungent smell of sulfur. He propped his fists on his hips and glanced around for the distinctive form of the pirate who had taken possession of his beloved Shinigami.

Bloody hell, he loathed pirates. Smelly, flea-ridden, uncivilized barbarians, the whole lot of them.

The thieving bastard wasn’t hard to find. Maxwell’s status as a feared, bloodthirsty cutthroat himself was second only to one. The most feared man in the region was currently lounging in the far corner of the pub, still as a statue with his men armed to the teeth and flanking him on either side. The rest of the pub’s occupants kept a wide space between themselves and Barton, terrified of invoking his wrath.

Maxwell approached cautiously, his empty hands raised in front of him. He stood before Barton who sat with his typical infuriating calmness while his men patted him down. Barton’s first mate stood elegantly poised at his right shoulder, though he was nearly as deadly as Barton himself.

Maxwell’s gaze followed the length of Chang’s arm to where his hand rested gently on the hilt of his sword, slung from a sheath attached to his hip. He never moved, never blinked, but the inky blackness of his eyes glittered in the torchlight with a keenness as sharp as his blade. Maxwell knew, as a personal witness, that that weapon could be drawn and slicing through a man’s neck before the poor bastard even realized what was happening.

Chang’s hand was loosely curled around the intricately-carved hilt, though his other hand was bent behind his back, at ease, but prepared for anything. Any wrong move on Maxwell’s part would no doubt result in the lightning quick removal of his head. And he much preferred it attached to his body.

He diverted his attention back to the captain. He was here for Barton, and his ship. The tall pirate was reclined in his chair, one long leg demurely crossed over the other, and the jeweled fingers of his hand lightly traced the rim of his stein. His silence was unnerving and Maxwell fidgeted uncharacteristically before the placid gaze. “Where is she?”

A tapered brow arched over Barton’s tranquil green eye and then the captain shrugged a broad shoulder as he lifted his stein to his lips. “Drink?”

Before he could even decline, Barton was ticking a finger towards a passing wench. He clenched his fists and snarled, “Where is me ship?”

“Your ship is fine. Where is my boy?”

“He’s here. With me men.”

“You will not have your ship until I have my boy and know he is safe and unharmed.” Maxwell hesitated, heart freezing like ice when the green eyes darkened with deadly threat. “He is unharmed, is he not?”

“Erm…aye - yes. He is whole.”

Barton’s brows lowered dangerously and his body tensed as he smelled blood in the air. “What has become of him?”

He really didn’t want to delve into the details of informing Barton that his catamite had been used as sport for his men. He valued his life far too much. If the little blond whore decided to spill the beans later on, he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

He schooled his features in a show of neutrality, much the way he did when he was attempting pull one over on someone, praying Barton would buy the bluff. “Nothing. He is well. How is me ship?”

Barton’s deceitfully soft voice was calm and smooth, but laced with the promise of violence. “I am not in the habit of repeating myself. Consider yourself fortunate this time. Stealing your ship was a small price for stealing my boy. The next time you cross me, I will not be so inclined to generosity.”

Maxwell lifted his chin, defiant, but not too defiant. “As you wish. I will refrain from touching anything that belongs to you.”

Barton drained his stein and set it down onto the table with a gentleness that would easily fool those who were not privy to the captain’s true nature. Maxwell knew better. He’d seen those hands snap bones in a man’s neck as though they were nothing more than twigs. “See to it that your men do as well.”

“Of course.”

“We will meet tonight at the docks. Sundown. Do not be late. I will return your ship provided my boy’s condition is to my satisfaction.”

“Right,” he spat and spun on his heel, his face flaming with humiliation and fury. He made it two steps from the table before -

“Maxwell.”

He tried not to glare as he looked over his shoulder, though he failed miserably. There was an amused twinkle in Barton’s eyes which only served to fuel his rage. “I think you forgot something.”

He flushed harder, outrage simmering beneath his skin as one of Barton’s men stepped forward with Maxwell’s pearl-handled pistol in his palm. He swiped it with more force than was necessary and turned to leave.

“Maxwell.”

He had to bite down on his tongue to keep the barrage of insults from escaping when the soft voice called to him again. He had no idea how Barton managed to sound so loud and authoritative over the din of a few dozen pirates who were three sheets to the wind. “What?”

This time, all traces of amusement were gone, replaced with icy promise in their wake. “The only reason you are not dead is because you’re a damned good pirate. You’ve always come through on our business deals before. Consider this your only warning. I’d hate to lose good competition, but I will not show mercy should you decide to cross me again.” Barton leaned forward and placed his palms on his knees, his eyes threatening slow and horrendously painful death. “If I see my boy is harmed, I will sink your ship right in front of you and then I will kill you.”

Maxwell swallowed his indignance and nodded. “As you wish.” He left then, shoving his way through the door and slamming it behind him. He sucked in deep lungfuls of cool and damp Irish air, trying to calm his nerves and his temper. His men who’d been anxiously waiting outside the pub, approached with caution.

“Captain. Are you  -”

He waved off their concern with a flick of his hand and snapped, “I’m fine! For the love of Christ, do not fuss over me, or I’ll throw ye worthless arses overboard.”

There was an empty bottle a few feet away, no doubt discarded by a drunken patron. With a snarl of rage, he kicked it and a surge of vindictive pleasure rushed through his veins as it shattered on impact. “Damn that Barton. I hate pirates!”

No matter that he was one himself. He hated pirates. Loathed them. They were nothing but a bunch of no-good, thieving, murdering lowlives. Worse than a mangy, filthy cur. He grumbled as he stormed back towards the pier where the ship he’d stolen was anchored. He despised that shoddy excuse for a vessel even more than he did pirates. “Get the boy ready. We trade at dusk.”

“Aye, Sir.”

He was just bloody relieved that he’d threatened his men with the plank if they so much as left a single scratch, or bruise on that little whore’s flesh. It could wind up being be the one thing that spared his sorry arse from untimely demise.

“I knew I should have gone to law school like me mum told me to.”

Chapter Text

Maxwell didn’t typically go to the bilge. That job was reserved for the low ranking sailors of his crew, but at the moment, it was where his insurance resided. The one whose welfare was of the utmost importance and he was paranoid enough to venture down to the lower level to check on the boy just to be sure he was presentable for his return back to Barton.

The blond catamite was being contained in a large crate that was used to transport exotic animals from the coasts of Africa and Australia. The boy was small enough to fit though he had to sit with his scrawny legs curled up beneath him. Sky blue eyes blinked blearily up at him from between the bars of the cage when the door was wrenched open, spilling bright light into the murky darkness.

Maxwell approached, the steady steps of his boots scuffing on the dusty floor. The boy, recognizing who he was, curled in on himself, wrapping slender arms around his filthy, bare legs. He was dressed in a ragged old linen shirt that was far too big on him. He looked more like a child than a man in his late teens. He was small, delicate, and stunningly beautiful. He was a prize without a doubt and it was no wonder Barton was willing to go to great lengths to get him back.

The boy had been spotted wandering through a marketplace in Turkey, sticking out like a sore thumb due to his more European features and coloring. Maxwell had mistaken him for a nobleman, or European royalty and gestured to his men to snatch the boy in the hopes of collecting a hefty ransom.

When they traced the boy’s lineage, they discovered that he was actually Persian and while he was nobility, he’d been disowned at the age of fifteen. Maxwell had been a little confused because the boy was well dressed in fine silks and decorated with jewels. Of course, they’d taken the jewels and silks and sold them when they docked in Greece a month later. They could not get a ransom out of him so he was given to the crew where his other…assets were put to good use.

Maxwell himself had not participated in making sport of the boy. He had his own catamite that awaited him in his cabin. His beautifully exotic boy whom he’d taken off the streets of Bangladesh after spending the night with him for the price of a few measly coins. Heero was a runaway, originally from Japan. How, or why he’d ended up in India selling his arse was beyond Maxwell, but he didn’t much care about the boy’s history. His Heero had been a whore out of necessity and was furiously independent. He did not take kindly to being relegated to a catamite. Maxwell worked hard on training him to accept his lot, but it was no easy task. The dark haired boy had fought him at every turn and shouted with rage when he was inevitably overpowered and pinned to the captain’s bed. He’d cursed vehemently in his native tongue when his thighs were wrenched open. He’d punched, scratched, and bit as he was buggered into the mattress. Eventually, he would tire and lay limp in resignation, tears dripping down his temples in impotent fury with his legs slung over Maxwell’s shoulders while the captain sought his own completion.

Over time, his struggles became less, inflicting only minimal damage and Maxwell had begun to reward his acquiescence by pleasuring him in return. Though he still fought initially, he began surrendering after only a few minutes and that provided Maxwell with the opportunity to explore the boy’s body and learn what his catamite responded to the most. The scratches he received now were given when the boy was in the throes of ecstasy.

He found Heero received more prostate stimulation while lying on his belly with Maxwell’s pillows stuffed beneath his pelvis. It was the sure fire way to reduce his boy to shaky breaths and whimpers, the quickest way to make him come. He loved watching those blue eyes roll back into the boy’s head as he was taken to dizzying heights of pleasure. Loved listening to the soft mewls and moans. Loved the erotic lilt in his voice as he repeatedly panted, “Hai…hai…”

The only way to keep a boy like that was to treat him good. There was no need to hurt and abuse. He’d cut the throats of pirates on more than one occasion when he’d seen them mistreating their catamites. If you treated them properly, the respect would come. Their loyalty was priceless and it was forever once you earned it. It was give and take both ways. He knew without a doubt that he would tear the whole world apart to get Heero back so he couldn’t blame Barton for doing the same.

He simply hadn’t known the boy was Barton’s. If he had, he would have steered clear. Once he and his men had conducted their business in Greece, they’d returned to port only to find the Shinigami gone. The mutilated bodies of his crew that had stayed behind to guard the ship, strewn across the blood splattered dock. Tacked to the decapitated head of his boatswain had been a note, scrawled in the elegant handwriting of a well-educated man, and Maxwell knew it was Barton himself who had written it.

You have taken something precious from me so I have taken something precious from you. If you wish the return of your ship, you will return my boy, unharmed, to me at the Newcastle port. Do not be a hero and do not mistake my generosity for weakness. If you attempt to deceive me, I will fire my cannons into your hull and sink my blade into your jugular. You have twenty five days to reach the coast of Ireland. Do not test my patience, or my temper.

Captain Trowa Barton, The Catherine.

Maxwell had done trades and dealt in business with him before. It irked him because Barton’s reputation as a ruthless cutthroat exceeded his own. Barton was the only one who was more feared on the high seas than he was. His thievery and cunning were unprecedented and legendary. He guarded his loot with a ferocity unmatched by any other pirate. His men, most notably Chang Wufei, were highly skilled in combat training, with Chang himself a former top spy and lieutenant in the army of the Ming Dynasty.

While most pirates took to the seas due to their backgrounds in poverty and possessed little to no education, pirates like Barton, Chang, and even Maxwell himself were extensively knowledgeable and highly educated. They had advantages that many of the other pirates didn’t because of their high intellects which made their pillages and their business dealings all the more successful. They knew strategy, knew how to plan their excursions well in advance, and executed them with the kind of finesse and cunning that was highly revered.

It wasn’t the pirates who did so out of necessity you had to worry about, though you still did to a certain extent. While those pirates were unpredictable, irrational, quick to respond without thinking about the consequences, their knee-jerk decisions often led to disaster. It was pirates like Barton and Chang who had chosen this life, for whatever reason, despite having other options available to them. They were quick, intelligent, charismatic, and terrifyingly dangerous when crossed.

As Maxwell stood looking down at the young man in the crate, he couldn’t help but feel suddenly terrible about his plight. He tried to imagine if Heero had been stolen from him and used as sport for a pirate’s crew and his body tensed in murderous fury. His fists clenched tightly, his nails digging into his palms so hard, they drew blood. The boy, sensing the anger and believing it was directed at him, scooted farther back with a soft whimper. Maxwell kicked himself for frightening him and squatted down to his level.

He kept his voice soft, soothing as he spoke to the boy, though it was not easy to school his tone into gentleness. It wasn’t something he was accustomed to. He had to use the voice he often used with Heero, the kind reminiscent of attempting to placate a wild, frightened animal.

“Hey, it’s okay. Just relax, boy. I ain’t going to hurt you, alright? You’re going to be returned to Barton tonight at sundown which is a few hours from now.” He watched as the boy’s eyes widened in surprise. Maxwell nodded, encouraged. “That’s right. But we need to get ya cleaned up and ready.” He paused, hesitant. What he said next didn’t come easily to his tongue. “I’m…sorry. About what happened. I didn’t know you were - didn’t know you were his.”

To his shock the boy spoke up. His English was choppy with a strong Persian accent, his voice raspy with dehydration and probably for another reason that Maxwell didn’t want to think about. “Why would it matter if I belonged to Captain Barton, or if I was just a random person on the street? Either way, I didn’t deserve what your men did to me.” The boy’s tone was almost authoritative and it reminded Maxwell that he’d once been nobility.

Maxwell leaned forward and wrapped his fingers around one of the bars. “Why were you disowned?”

The boy snorted and looked away. “Why should I tell you?”

Maxwell’s nerves rankled at this catamite, this whore, having the nerve to speak to him that way. But he remembered that he owed this boy, owed Barton for sparing his life for this faux pas and took a deep breath to cool his temper. It wouldn’t do to continue to mistreat him.

“I am just curious, is all. I do apologize for what happened. I have no excuse for that.”

The little shit had the actual nerve to look down the elegant slope of his nose at him. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

Maxwell shrugged and stood up. “Fine. Guess you won’t eat then.” He turned and stepped back towards the hatch, grabbing the first rung of the ladder that lead to the upper deck.

“Wait!”

He placed his foot back down onto the floor and looked at the boy over his shoulder. The blond was fidgeting nervously, picking at dirty fingernails and Maxwell realized he was probably accustomed to being clean and neatly groomed. If the jewels and silks he’d been wearing when he was snatched was any indication, Barton enjoyed decorating his catamite in the best of the best. In other words, the boy was spoiled rotten.

Maxwell approached the crate again. “What’s your name?”

The boy hesitated for only a moment. “Quatre.”

Fitting that such a beautiful creature have such a beautiful name. Maxwell nodded. “Of the prominent Alfayiz family. Your father is a Vali representative of Sultan Murad’s vilayet in the Eastern Saudi province.”

The boy dipped his head. “That’s correct.”

Maxwell propped his hands on his hips. “Now, what in the world could a fifteen year old boy do to anger his family so much that they would disown him?”

Quatre scoffed slightly and scratched at a scab on his knee. “The Valis were summoned to the Sultan’s palace and encouraged to bring their families. My father brought me because he wanted me to take his place as Vali someday.”

“Uh-huh.”

The boy’s dirty face was pained and he couldn’t meet Maxwell’s eyes. “The Prince’s nephew was there. Several years older than me. He - offered to show me around because he said he liked me.” Quatre’s expression contorted into one of revulsion when he said, “liked me”. “I followed him into an empty room and he began to fondle me.” He shrugged as if this was no big deal, but Maxwell knew he was only saving face. “Next thing I know, I’m naked on his lap and he’s inside me. The Sultan and my father were furious. They blamed me for seducing the Prince and I was thrown out with nothing but the clothes on my back. Banished from my home and my family.”

“I see.”

“I sold what I had on me to survive, but it wasn’t long before I had to take drastic measures just to eat.”

“You were a whore.”

Quatre’s bruised eyes glared up at him. “I had no choice.”

Maxwell held his hands up. “I’m not judging. How did you wind up in Barton’s possession?”

The boy shifted uncomfortably, blinking rapidly though whether it was to hold back tears, or there was dust in his eye, Maxwell had no idea. His voice was steady enough when he said, “I was attacked by a group of young men when I was sixteen. They were…they wanted to bed me, but didn’t want to, or couldn’t pay me.” Quatre pulled the loose collar of his shirt back over his shoulder. “They were going to take what they wanted anyway. Captain Barton rescued me. I’ve been his ever since.”

“And how do you feel about Captain Barton?”

The boy’s eyes were wide when he looked at Maxwell. “He’s my savior. My hero. He takes care of me -”

“He fucks you.”

Quatre looked away, his face sour. “That’s none of your business.”

Maxwell nodded, letting that one slide. “Alright, let’s get you cleaned up and into some decent clothes. Get some food and water into you so you don’t get blown away by a slight breeze. Can’t have Barton slicing me head off now.”

He unlocked the crate and pulled the door open, stepping back so as not to crowd the boy. He watched as the blond tentatively crawled out and stood on shaky legs. The shirt barely reached his upper thighs and he tugged on the hem in an attempt to cover himself properly.

Maxwell snorted. “Since when is a catamite worried about modesty?” Heero didn’t care one bit, often lounging around in Maxwell’s cabin naked as the day he was born.

Quatre’s face was decidedly angry when he looked at him. “I bare myself only for Captain Barton. My clothes were taken from me, remember? This was given to me after I was stripped and buggered by your crew.”

Maxwell winced at the reminder. “Aye. I’m sorry about that. That was a terrible move on my part. I know I can’t take it back, but if there’s anything I can do -”

“Just…get me some breeches and some water. A little food if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble.” Maxwell gestured towards the ladder. “After you.”

The boy hugged his shirt tighter around himself. “You go first.”

“Look, kid. I ain’t gonna molest ya, or nothin’, okay? I won’t even look. I promise.”

Quatre still hesitated and Maxwell felt his tumultuous patience beginning to unravel. “This is my ship and I’m the captain!” He studiously ignored the fact that it wasn’t actually his ship and pointed up at the hatch. “Now get your scrawny little arse up there.”

The boy huffed and pouted, but grabbed the rung all the same. He paused with his foot on the first step and looked over his shoulder. “Promise you won’t look?”

Maxwell rolled his eyes. “Cross me heart.”

“And your crew?”

“They will not touch you. If they do, I’ll lop their hands off meself. Happy?”

Quatre’s voice was droll as he continued on up the ladder. “Ecstatic.”

Maxwell followed him up, valiantly refraining from the temptation of looking up the boy’s shirt to check out his smooth, creamy arse, and silently applauded his self-control.

Chapter Text

From the moment of puberty, Quatre had been forced to deal with the dark nature of men. Thanks to his delicate, but curvy build, and his rather feminine face, he was a prime target for amorous men. At best, enduring the brushing of fingers against his skin, the groping and pawing of his groin and backside. At worst, whisked into dark corridors, whimpering in fear and humiliation from the hot breaths and growls against his neck as large hands delved into the waistband of his breeches. At the age of thirteen, he was pinned against a wall by one of his father's advisers. The man, old enough to be his grandfather, had humped against Quatre's clothed arse, whispering the darkest of perversions into his ears of all the things he wanted to do to the boy. Mercifully, he hadn't taken it any further, but the incident left Quatre shaken and terrified.

When he reported what happened to his father, Zayeed Alfyaiz slapped him and ordered him to stop tempting good men with his sinful wiles. 

Two weeks after he turned fifteen, Sultan Murad IV had summoned the Valis to the Palace in the Saudi Arabian capitol and Quatre was also expected to attend the summit with his father. Zayeed had made it perfectly clear that Quatre's ambitions for himself were worthless. He'd wanted to be a musician. Something that his father not only balked at, but laughed at and dismissed as preposterous. Quatre was being groomed to be the next Vali of the Eastern Saudi Province, a position in which he abhorred. He couldn't stomach the idea of spending the rest of his life in the staunch, stuffy, and haughty atmosphere of politics, but he was too powerless to do anything about it. 

So he went to the summit because he was fifteen and he'd had no choice. He was bored nearly to tears, but donned the mask he was forced to use when in the company of his father's friends and acquaintances. His manners were nothing if not impeccable. He smiled charmingly, bowed, and kissed hands like the good little heir he was and tried not to regurgitate the lamb he'd eaten for lunch.

Well into the afternoon, he realized he'd unwittingly caught the eye of Sayib, Prince Akhim's nephew. He was a handsome young man of about twenty and Quatre found, once he'd noticed the man's smoldering gaze directed at him, that he was equally fascinated in ways he had yet to truly understand. Confused by the jolt of heat that flared in his groin at the knowledge that this young man was looking at him in a way that he was fairly certain only lovers did. He felt an odd sense of giddiness and excitement and had to rearrange his washah as subtly as he could to cover the slight tent in his breeches. It was the pivotal moment when he realized exactly what he was. In his father's eyes, it was worse than being an infidel.

Even with the young girl who had been betrothed to him since the age of ten, he felt absolutely nothing towards her except for the fact that he cared about her welfare. Having been in contact with her on quite a few occasions because her father was a close family friend, he could honestly say he'd never felt even an inkling of arousal, nor joy at the prospect that she would one day be his wife. The thought of bedding her made him queasy despite her exceptional beauty. He'd known something was wrong with him when his male cousins had to reach down and adjust themselves whenever she came around and he found himself not responding in kind. Not even a hint of interest in his groin.

He'd had the suspicion when his fantasies centered around boys instead of girls, but it wasn't confirmed until he came face to face with raw lust wrapped up in one gorgeous black haired, brown eyed, olive skinned package. Intrigued, but terrified of the revelation, he stuck close to his father's side, even after the older man chided him for being so clingy.

"Quatre, why don't you go play with the other children," Zayeed admonished, pointing towards a group of kids that looked no older than eight. Insulted, Quatre tried hard not to glare as he stepped away, heading for the window instead of towards the hyperactive children that were hollering and jumping around despite their caregivers exasperatingly trying to calm them. He lingered awkwardly by the window, fidgeting with the tasseled drawbacks that held the silk and muslin drapes out of the way and attempted to talk his burgeoning erection down.

"You look lost."

He jumped three feet into the air and clamped a hand over his mouth to stop the startled screech that wanted to escape. He spun around, blinking shocked eyes up at the man who was responsible for his current predicament. The young prince chuckled, amused by his reaction and rested a steady hand on Quatre's shoulder. Quatre felt the warmth of that hand burn through his skin and had to force himself not to flinch at the touch.

"You're as jumpy as a cornered mouse," the prince said and Quatre's knees almost buckled at the sound of his voice. Like smooth honey and a hint of spice. "No need to fret, my friend. I won't bite." He leaned forward, his lips catching on the shell of Quatre's ear. "Hard."

Quatre reared back, his expression scandalous. "Your Highness, you mustn't speak that way." He glanced around, paranoid that his father was watching with those brown hawk eyes of his. He was pretty sure the prince was flirting with him and couldn't even begin to imagine the disapproval he would receive for inciting yet another man's lust. 

The prince's eyes gleamed, his amusement never faltering. "My grandfather is the Sultan. I can speak however I wish. I couldn't help but notice the way you looked back at me earlier."

Damn. "I'm...sorry about that, your Highness. I did not mean to offend."

"Don't be silly! I was looking at you first. I must say, you captured my attention. You do not blend in with the rest of us."

Quatre face was flaming. "I am...was the son of one of my father's concubines. She was French. She died giving birth to me." He looked away in shame, unsure why he was even telling the man this. "I was an accident. An abomination. The only reason I'm the heir to my father's position is because I'm the only male child."

The prince leaned against the wall beside him. "I see. Your father does not approve of you." It wasn't a question and Quatre snorted and shook his head.

"That's putting it lightly."

"For more reasons than the fact that your mother was a whore."

Quatre shot him a glare before he remembered who he was speaking to. "It's more to do with me, I suppose. I'm not fulfilling my duties in a satisfactory way." He really didn't want to get into how he wasn't "manly" enough for his father. Though he discovered the prince was actually easy to speak to. He'd already disclosed more information to him within the first few minutes than he had to people he'd known for years. 

"I understand. Judging by how flustered you are around me, I can only guess your father is also aware of your...preferences."

Quatre cringed, the action completely involuntary. He didn't want to admit that, but knew he already had. There was no use lying about it. The prince had already figured it out. He only hoped it wouldn't be used against him. He said nothing, knowing that his silence spoke volumes. To his surprise, the prince spoke for him, his tone hushed so as not to be overheard.

"You needn't fear anything from me. I also prefer males." He turned his gaze on Quatre, his eyes like warm, melted chocolate and Quatre was hypotized...and hopelessly aroused. "I find you exceptionally beautiful. I know you're Persian, but you must know that your colouring is quite exotic for this region. I have a feeling I am not the first man to be taken by your fair beauty."

Quatre coughed into this fist, his face burning. Indeed he was not, but unlike the previous encounters he'd had where he'd been subjected to attention he didn't want, this time, with this man, his mind and body craved those very same things. His cock was now fully hard and throbbing within the confines of his breeches. His body flared with heat, screaming to be touched. "I - I've never - I mean I've been touched, but not...not by anyone I've wanted -" He cut himself off, feeling like a bumbling fool. "I'm sorry."

"No need to apologize. I'm honestly not surprised that you have been accosted. I'm sorry that you had to endure that...Quatre, is it?"

Quatre nodded, his eyes wide as he stared up at the prince. "Y - yes, your Highness."

"Now, stop with the 'your Highness' nonsense," the prince scoffed. "Call me Sayib."

"Of course, your - Sayib." He blushed and looked down at his shoes, embarrassed and beyond flattered, especially when he heard Sayib's soft chuckle. 

"It's no wonder men are always trying to bed you. You are truly precious." 

Quatre's face couldn't have gotten any redder if he'd dipped it in crimson paint. "Stop."

Sayib smiled down at him. "Would you like the royal tour of the palace?"

Quatre looked up in surprise. "Are you sure? I would think -"

"This party is boring me to tears and I'm sure you feel the same. Nothing but a bunch of old stiffs." Sayib nudged his chin at the congregated Valis and various politicians gathered in a heated debate about the ongoing conflict with the Hebrews and Gentiles. Quatre searched for his father and found him in the midst of the argument. Perhaps he could step away for a bit. Knowing Zayeed, once he was immersed in a discussion about infidels, it would take hours before he even thought to check on his son to see how he was fairing.  

He chuckled and nodded in agreement. "Yes, that's true. Alright. Let's go."

 

***

 

He wasn't even sure how it happened, or what led up to it. His mind was too high in the clouds, his head dizzy as he was kissed breathless, to care much about the hows and the whys. All he could remember was Sayib ushering him into an empty suite, wrapping powerful arms around his waist, and sweeping him into a strong embrace. He clutched the man's biceps and whimpered as Sayib's tongue pushed its way into his mouth. Far too aroused to worry about the consequences of being caught, he lacked the mental wherewithal to protest when Sayib worked his mouth down his cheek, over his jaw, and suckled at the skin of his neck. The hands at the small of his back slid down, cupping handfuls of his buttocks and squeezing. The only thing on Quatre's mind was surrender. 

His brain was too hazy to keep up as he was stripped bare, watching in amazement when Sayib knelt before him and took his weeping erection into his mouth. He came embarrassingly quick, clutching Sayib's broad shoulders as the prince swallowed him down. Foggy with satiation and afterglow, he stumbled as he was pulled across the room by the hand. There was a chair in the corner of the bedroom and Sayib sat down on it, gently coaxing Quatre into his lap. He'd already fished his erection out of his breeches and it arched up over his belly, rubbing against Quatre's groin as the boy settled his bare bottom onto the prince's thighs. 

Quatre had no idea where the oil came from, assumed Sayib must have carried the vial in his trousers. He leaned forward when Sayib pulled his head down. He rested his cheek against the meaty shoulder and closed his eyes as arms held him securely against a solid chest. The fingers of Sayib's right hand skimmed down the crack of his arse and Quatre tipped his hips up to give the prince easier access. He knew what was going to happen. He was smart enough to put two and two together and oddly, he wasn't afraid. His cock began to swell again at the knowledge that he was about to get buggered and it was the final nail in the coffin that crushed any remaining doubts that he was a filthy sinner. 

Strangely enough, the acceptance of that only fed his arousal and he mewled against Sayib's shoulder, rubbing his cock on the man's belly. Sayib's finger found his opening and breached it. The very act of penetration made his body flare with heat. He muffled his moan, drooling on Sayib's shirt and pushing his hips back to get the digit deeper inside him. Sayib huffed a soft laugh into the back of his neck.

"Oh, you like that, don't you?" Quatre whimpered in response, pleasure skyrocketing as the prince's smooth voice rumbled against his ear. "I knew from the moment I laid eyes on you that you were made for this. Mmm, you sweet thing. I'm going to bugger you good."

Beyond words, Quatre nodded desperately, hips rocking against the thrusting hand. The finger disappeared and a moment later, the oiled tip of Sayib's cock pierced him. He bit down on the man's shoulder and squeezed his eyes shut as pain lanced up his backside.

"Ssh...just relax, baby. I got you. I promise it'll feel so good."

After what seemed like endless moments of agony, the sting subsided and Quatre panted against Sayib's shoulder, his muscles finally relaxing. Sayib gripped him tightly and pulled the boy up, then carefully lowered him back down, slowing building up a steady rhythm and Quatre was out of his mind over how incredible it felt. He lifted his head, grabbed hold of the back of the chair, and worked his hips over the cock inside him. It took everything he had not to scream as his body was taken to heights of pleasure that far exceeded his expectations. His bottom lip was bitten bloody in his struggle to stay quiet.

Sayib whispered delightfully filthy words into his sweaty skin. His hands clutched Quatre's sides, fingers digging into the flesh. He thrust frantically up into the boy's tight heat and growled into his soft neck, heated words of possession that brought Quatre closer to the brink. 

"You're so beautiful, baby. You feel so good. I should keep you for my own. Would you like that? I'll dress you in the finest silks and drape you in jewels. You'll warm my bed and spread your legs for me whenever I wish it. I'll bugger you every morning and every night. I'll make you scream my name."

"Oh, Sa - Sayib...I'm - I'm going to -"

"Let it go, baby. Come for me. I want to watch you come undone."

All the air in the room seemed to be sucked into a vacuum in a breathless moment of timeless infinity as Quatre's awareness shrunk down into a tiny point. His body convulsed, his cock spurting all over his belly and Sayib's shirt. Sayib held him tightly and groaned long and low, pressing his hips against Quatre's arse as he released his orgasm into the boy's body.

It would have been the perfect moment, basking in the mind-blowing abyss of sexual satisfaction. Would have been if not for the door swinging open, the metal knob banging against the adjacent wall. Quatre's world turned on its head as he was suddenly tipped off Sayib's lap. He landed on the hard floor on his back, disoriented, and stared up at his lover in confusion. But Sayib wasn't looking down at him with those warm, honey eyes. He was looking towards the door, his face twisted in an expression of panic. He cursed and hurriedly turned away, tucking his cock back into his breeches.

"Quatre!"

Icy dread shot through Quatre's body when he heard the murderous rage in his father's voice. His head rolled towards the door, eyes widening in shock as not only his father, but Prince Akhim stood in the threshold wearing twin expressions of outrage. He became aware of his current state too little too late. Stark naked and sprawled with his thighs still wide open. He shakily closed his legs and covered his groin with his hands, looking to Sayib, under the pretense that he would come to their defense. 

Instead, Sayib walked over to Prince Akhim, not sparing a single glance at Quatre, though he pointed at him with an accusing finger. "He seduced me, Father!"

"What?" Quatre sat up, equally outraged and more than a little hurt that his lover could so easily turn on him. "No! No, I didn't. He seduced me!" He scrambled up to his feet, indignant and went for his clothing, desperate to cover himself. There was an audience gathering outside the door and Quatre's body flushed with humiliation and shame. He looked to his father, imploring the man to believe him, but knew instantly that he was going to be blamed for this. Still, it couldn't hurt to try. "Father, please. I didn't - I mean, we both -"

"I should have known you would do something like this. You have always been a disappointment. I should have drowned you after you were born. I knew no good would come from the son of a whore!"

The tears were already stinging behind his eyes and Quatre desperately tried to stifle them, though his bottom lip still quivered. "Father -"

"I am not your Father. You are no son of mine. You are a whore just like your mother. You have brought shame upon our family for the last time, Quatre."

Quatre whimpered, his heart breaking. He stepped towards his father, his hand outstretched, pleading. "Father -"

"Do not touch me, filth! You disgust me! I never want to see you again. You are not my son and you are not a part of my family. Get out of my sight. If I see you again, I will kill you with my bare hands." 

Zayeed pushed through the rather sizable crowd that was now outside the door watching the scandal unfold, leaving his only son standing alone to face the wrath of the Sultan's family. Quatre clutched his clothes to his naked body and stared down at the floor, too ashamed to look anyone in the eye. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he squeaked out an apology to Prince Akhim. 

"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean -"

"You have committed one of the most sinful acts known to man and you have done so in our Palace. You have brought shame upon us all. You are an abomination. Devil! You have brought the Devil into our kingdom." Prince Akhim's voice was low, but laced with condemnation.

Quatre squeezed his eyes shut as he was damned before the rapt audience of the most influential people of the Ottoman Empire, trying his best not to collapse under the onslaught. 

"You will dress and you will leave and you will take your filthy, sinful ways with you. If you ever return, you will be executed on the spot." Prince Akhim spun on his heel and left the room, Sayib following behind him without a second glance at the boy he'd just betrayed. A moment later the door slammed closed and with it, Quatre's tenuous control crumbled around him. He dropped to his knees, buried his face into his hands, and wept.

 

***

 

Jerusalem, three months later...

 

The money that Quatre had gotten from selling the jewelry he'd been wearing on that fateful day had run out. When he could no longer pay for the room he'd rented, he was thrown out onto his arse. He slept in alleys, curling his body into chilled corners with his arms wrapped around himself for warmth and the rough cobblestone digging into his skin. When he could no longer afford food, he resorted to begging. He pleas for employment were consistently rejected. 

After going a week without food, he was accosted by a gentleman who appeared to be in his forties. He was not nobility, but he was also no peasant. He had a proposition: Pleasure him for the night and he would be paid generously for his services. Too weak with hunger to abide by his principles, Quatre accepted and followed the man to the room he'd rented for the occasion. Resigned to his fate, the need for survival overpowering shame, he stripped when he was ordered to and spread himself out on the bed.

He pressed his lips together to keep from crying out as he was roughly fingered and didn't put up a fight when the man pinned him down with his heavy body and pushed inside him. He remained limp with lassitude as he was buggered into the mattress. He kept his head turned to the side while the man rocked his body across the bed and growled and slobbered into his neck. He shivered in revulsion, his stomach churning queasily when the man's cock twitched and filled him with the evidence of his ardor. Afterwords, he was allowed to bathe and was given enough coins to feed himself for nearly a week. 

The second and third and subsequent times he subjected his body to the lust of men was not quite as difficult as the first. He learned to push the shame of his predicament to the back of his mind as he spread his legs for them, losing track of how many he'd given his body to. He obediently dropped to his knees and took them into his mouth and allowed them to reciprocate when they wanted to though it made his skin crawl. He knelt on all fours, bent himself over countless beds, and invited them to bugger him, each time losing more and more of himself to the degradation. He was hopelessly lost, his empty soul wandering the streets in search of the next man who would strip and plunder him for enough money to buy himself a meal.

His situation became almost a mundane part of his life, his purpose relegated to a lowly whore. Life continued on that way until several months later when he was grabbed while walking to the marketplace to purchase some fruit. The coins in his pocket jingled, the sound reminding him of what he'd had to do to get them. The remnants of his earlier customer's pleasure damp and sticky on the backs of his thighs. He found himself surrounded by four young men, perhaps only a year or so older than he. He pleaded with them to let him go, reluctantly offering them his money in exchange for his freedom. 

But it wasn't money they wanted. It was him. He shouted in shock and pain when a fist connected with his cheek, doubling over when another struck his sternum, knocking the wind out of him. Before he could recover from the blows, he was wrestled to the rough ground. He squirmed and shoved at the hands that tore at his clothing, begging them not do this. His arms were pinned above his head as his breeches were yanked down. He kicked at his attackers and hollered in rage when they gripped his legs, holding them up and out of the way. The fourth one crawled between Quatre's open thighs and fished his erection out of his breeches. Quatre turned his head away and squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to look into the face of his rapist. He gritted his teeth and accepted the inevitable, waiting to be violated.

Except it never happened. There was a shout, the sound of a scuffle and Quatre cracked his eyes opened to see two men taking on his attackers with astonishing brutality. He stared in frozen shock as an abundant amount of blood was spilled. Teeth were knocked out of mouths and he flinched as he heard the crack of bones being broken. One by one, his attackers succumbed to their injuries, collapsing in bloody heaps around him.

The fight, or rather, the slaughter seemed to go on forever, but in reality was probably less than a minute. When it was over, the silence in the alley was deafening. The scuff of a boot reached his ears and he blinked up into the most handsome face he'd ever seen. The man's brown hair cascaded over one eye and Quatre absurdly wondered if it was as silky as it looked. His one visible eye was a deep, soulful green and Quatre stared, mesmerized as the man reached a hand down to him. 

"Are you alright, boy?" He was soft spoken which was odd for someone so frighteningly violent. He nodded dumbly, speechless, and reached for the hand. The man's fingers gripped him tightly and pulled him to his feet as if he weighed nothing. Quatre marveled at the man's physical strength, his eyes taking in the wide set of shoulders, covered by a cream colored linen shirt. It was open in the front, revealing a muscular chest and abdomen. Quatre realized his jaw was hanging open and snapped it shut, flushing with embarrassment. 

"Yes. Yes, I'm fine. Thank you for that." He reached into his pocket, not wanting to give up his meal ticket, but knowing he owed them. He held out the coins, cheeks pinked that he didn't have more to offer them. The man's green eye glanced down at his hand and then back up, his gaze sharp with an intensity that made Quatre want to hightail it out of there. 

"I don't need, or want your money, boy."

"Oh. I'm sorry." His face burned as he tucked the coins back into his pocket. He only had one thing left to offer the man. "I'm afraid I don't have much else to give you in gratitude except -"

He was abruptly cut off, yelping as his arm was grabbed in a harsh grip. He was reeled into the man's strong chest and he gasped when a powerful arm clamped around his waist and held him tight. He could feel the vibration against his back when the man spoke to his friend and glanced over his shoulder at the other. A little shorter than the man holding him, strikingly handsome, obviously of Asian descent. He stood with his shoulders squared, his hand resting on the hilt of a long, curved sword that hung on his hip. His eyes were dark, cold and unfeeling and Quatre shivered when the inky gaze settled briefly on him.

"Find the others. I'm heading back to the Catherine."

"What about the pillage?"

"Get what you need. I have what I want."

Quatre did a double take at that, craning his neck in an attempt to look at the man, the man who still held him in an iron grip. His feet kicked uselessly as he was lifted a few inches off the ground and dragged out of the alley. He squawked indignantly as he was carried down the cobblestone sidewalks in plain view of everyone and tried to pry the arm from around his waist. Unfortunately, it was hard like steel and not going anywhere.

"Uh...hello? What do you think you're doing? Where are you taking me?"

The two men continued on with their conversation without missing a beat and Quatre sulked, insulted. He dangled limply, waving to a few people who were brazen enough to stare openly at his apparent abduction. Some were simply too afraid to look, keeping a wide swath between themselves and the two men who walked through the city like they owned the place. Others bowed to them in greeting when they passed, though Quatre picked up the trepidation in their voices.

"Nice to see you again, Captain Barton, Sir Chang. I hope your visit is going well."

Quatre froze as the puzzle pieces clicked inside his mind. Captain Barton. Chang. The Catherine. He realized with a sinking sense of fear and dread that he was being taken by the most feared pirates to sail the Seven Seas. He was being taken back to their ship, the notorious Catherine, which had sunk more ships than an ocean storm and an Imperial European fleet combined. Terrified, he squirmed and shouted, "Let me go!" He kicked Barton's shins and clawed at the arm around him, shrieking for help and begging to be released, knowing neither would happen. 

Barton's other hand gripped his chin, holding his head firmly. Quatre panted through his pursed mouth as his cheeks were squished by the fingers digging painfully into the soft flesh. 

"I'd advise you to behave yourself."

"Please, let me go."

"You are going back to the Catherine with me."

"No! I don't want to go! I - I get seasick," he added lamely.

Both pirates chuckled and Quatre flushed with embarrassment, his body drooping in resignation. He'd done the unthinkable. He'd caught the eye of the most vicious, deadly pirate alive. There was only one reason for his abduction. He was being relegated from a whore to a catamite. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. He tipped his head towards the sky, cursing his lot in life and wondering what he'd done to deserve this. Perhaps his father had been right all along.

Allah, why have you forsaken me?

Chapter Text

Quatre begged and pleaded for the entire walk back to the Catherine, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Nothing worked and he was growing increasingly desperate, especially as the distinct line of the ocean became visible.

"Please...I snore. Like a bear."

"Uh-huh."

"I mean, like - like a walrus."

"Walruses snore?"

"Yes! And...and I have cold feet. Ice cold."

"Okay."

"Please, Sir...Captain Barton. You don't want me. I chew with my mouth open and I have detestable manners."

"Somehow I doubt anyone who uses the word "detestable" is lacking in manners."

Damn. He tried again. "I'm a slob. I'll mess up your ship."

"No, you won't."

Quatre spotted the Catherine in all its majestic glory floating benignly beside the dock, getting closer with each step and he renewed his struggles as he was dragged up the ramp. "No! I don't want this. Please."

"I'm afraid you don't have a choice, boy."

Quatre groaned in frustration as he was carried onto the ship, recognizing the area near the front that was walled off to form the captain's cabin. Barton opened the door to the cabin and stepped inside, but Quatre grabbed hold of the frame, clinging for dear life. Barton tightened his grip, yanking hard, and Quatre hollered, losing his hold, his nails leaving tracks in the wood as he was pulled inside. He yelped as he was dumped unceremoniously onto the bed, immediately crawling off the side and making a break for the door a split second before Barton slammed it closed. He calmly grabbed the boy again and dropped him back on the bed. 

Quatre bounced against the mattress, already tiring from the struggle and his useless attempts to negotiate his way out of this. His eyes widened in fear, heart pounding when Barton reached into his wardrobe and pulled out a long chain with cuffs attached to each end.

Oh no! He's going to put me in chains!

Panicked, he screamed bloody murder, punching, kicking, and clawing as one end of the chain was clasped around his ankle. He growled like a rabid animal while Barton secured the other end of the cuff to the bed's foot frame. He hissed and spit through clenched teeth, trying in vain to free his ankle from the cuff. Barton stood off to the side with his arms crossed over his chest, watching him with an infuriatingly calm expression. After realizing he wasn't getting out of the chain, Quatre turned on the man with his last shreds of dignity.

"You bastard! How dare you! You have no right to keep me prisoner like this. I am not a slave. You let me go this instant!" In his enraged state, he momentarily forgot who he was speaking to and continued his verbal lashing until his head swung to the side from a sharp slap to his face. He dropped to the bed, stunned from the blow and blinked dizzily up at the pirate whose expression never once changed. When he spoke, his voice was still soft, low, but edged with power and authority and Quatre realized the man didn't need to shout in order to be listened to. Everything from his intense eyes, to his powerful body, right down to his stance and demeanor screamed dominance. Quatre shivered, fully understanding why this man incited terror and respect.

"Now, you listen to me, boy. You are here because I wish it. What you want is no longer relevant. You will obey me at all times. You will do as I tell you without argument. If you disobey me, you will be punished. If you are obedient, you will be rewarded. You have one purpose and one purpose only. To pleasure me however, whenever, and wherever I wish. You will be fed, bathed, and taken care of. Do as you're told and there will be no problems, but if you do not mind me, you will suffer the consequences."

Quatre's chin quivered as the gravity of his situation settled upon him like a dark, ominous cloud. "Why are you doing this? Why me?"

Barton stepped closer and Quatre held his breath as calloused fingers grasped his chin. Barton leaned down over him, so close his lips just barely brushed against the boy's. Quatre's mouth trembled beneath the hot breath that ghosted over his face. "You belong to me now. No one else is allowed to touch you. You will bare yourself for no one but me. You will not touch yourself in a pleasing manner unless I give you explicit permission. Do you understand?"

Quatre whimpered and nodded hesitantly, too frighted to speak. Tears spilled down over his temples as he stared up into the cold gaze of the captain, looking for any semblance of emotion, compassion, or humanity that he might be able to appeal to. To his despair, he saw none and he shifted his eyes away, unable to look into those frigid depths for very long. 

He'd thought being a whore had stripped him of his dignity, but this...this was much worse. As a whore, he'd had at least a wisp of control over his life. Now, he was nothing more than a pleasure slave. Stripped of what little of himself he had left, he had no autonomy, no say over his own body. He rolled onto his side, away from the captain and buried his face in the coverlet. The first sob bubbled out his chest and he was helpless to contain it. It was quickly followed by a second and third and soon, he was weeping brokenly, soaking the bed covers with his tears. 

He flinched when the captain's warm hand brushed his sweaty bangs away from his face. The touch was so gentle, so contrary to the violence that he'd witnessed those very same hands inflicting less than an hour ago. Those hands could easily tear him apart and he'd do well to remember that. It slid down his neck, over his shoulder and down the length of his arm, stroking along his side until it rested against his hip.

Barton's mouth brushed against the shell of his ear. "I don't want to hurt you, boy. But if you continue to fight me, I will have no other option. All you have to do is obey me. Do as I tell you and you will reap the rewards. Whether this is easy, or difficult for you will be your choice." 

Quatre said nothing, keeping his face pressed into the cotton bedding as Barton stepped away. He heard the door open and close, but didn't bother to move. There was no point, no escape. He was chained to the bed of the most dangerous man in the region. He was not getting out of this unless Barton himself allowed it and it didn't seem like that was happening any time soon.

He felt the cold, heavy weight of the steel cuff wrapped around his ankle, beginning to warm from his body heat. It felt like slavery, it felt like the end of the line. His eyes drifted closed, exhaustion finally overriding everything else. He likely had a long, harrowing night ahead of him. He'd do well to get his rest. He tucked his arms into his body, curling himself into a ball as much as the length of the chain allowed and succumbed to the bliss of unconsciousness.

 

***

 

He woke when he heard the cabin door open and then close gently. He remained still, feigning sleep in the hopes that he would be spared any unpleasantries. He piqued his ears, listening intently to the sounds of the captain's boots against the wooden boards, heard something being set down onto the table beside the bed. Then, the distinctive sound of clothing being removed. Unable to resist temptation, he cracked his lids open, taking note that it was now dark outside, no light spilling through the port holes that served as windows. The only light now was the glow from the lantern on the table. Quatre watched the captain through his lashes as he pulled his shirt off. His eyes took in the sight of the golden, muscular back, flexing with movement as he reached down to remove his breeches. 

Quatre squeezed his eyes shut when the globes of Barton's, rather glorious, arse were revealed. His breath became slightly labored and he discreetly squeezed his thighs together when his groin twitched with interest.

Oh, no. Not now. Please don't do this now. What have I ever done you? Haven't I always been good to you? Why must you betray me like this?

The silence in the room was unnerving and Quatre was having a hard time keeping still now that he was wide awake. He tried not to tense as the sound of bare feet scuffed across the floor, getting closer until the faint glow of light behind his eyes was blocked by the captain's shadow. He applauded his body for not jumping when warm fingers brushed his hair away from his face. He could feel Barton's breath against his cheek and forced himself to remain lax.

"I know you're awake, boy. It's time for you to eat."

Quatre cursed internally. How the hell does he know that? He blinked his eyes open, daring to look up into the captain's face and trying not to shrink back at the proximity. Barton's beautiful features were cast in shadow, those brilliant green eyes dark, but still illuminated by that intense gleam. After a breathless moment, Barton pulled up and reached for the tray on the table.

"Sit up."

Quatre obediently did and allowed the tray to be settled into his lap. At the sight of the food, his appetite returned with a vengeance and he blushed as his stomach gave a loud growl. He picked up a delicious looking french roll, surprised to see a pat of butter on the plate beside it. He glanced up at Barton with wide eyes. It had been a year since he'd had butter and his mouth watered in anticipation. He also gave a start when he finally realized Barton was stark naked, standing shameless before him with his arms at his sides, his shoulders squared, and proudly baring his goods.

And quite the goods they were, too. Quatre couldn't help but look down at the not-quite-flaccid cock, half hard and nestled in a bed of dark hair. He quickly looked away and back down at his plate, his face burning hot.

"Eat. You need your strength. You're too thin."

Need my strength for what? He wondered, though he knew the answer to that. He ate, slowly at first until his hunger decided he needed to take things up a notch. He scarfed down the food, trying not to moan at how good it was. The butter was delicious and the meal was so plentiful, Quatre was more full than he'd been in years. Now, with a proper amount of food in his stomach, he was able to think a little more clearly.

He was going to have to submit to Barton. He knew that much. Would it really be so bad? He glanced back up as he finished off the last of his meal to find the man staring at him with those gleaming green eyes and shivered as arousal zinged through his system. He was without a doubt, the most beautiful man Quatre had ever seen. But he was also a tyrant in his own right. 

Barton claimed he didn't want to hurt him, but could Quatre really believe that? Weren't pirates notorious liars? Hadn't he taken Quatre against his will and chained him to his bed? Quatre's instinctual attraction to the man was at war with the fact that he'd been forced into sexual servitude. Though his previous predicament wasn't all that different than this one. He'd still been forced to do things he didn't want in order to survive.

Barton stepped forward when Quatre was done and he held the tray up. "Thank you," he murmured timidly, beginning to shake now because he was fairly certain what would happen next. Would he simply be taken without regard to his own pleasure? It wouldn't be the first time a man had taken him for the sole purpose of his own pleasure. He blew out a soft breath and closed his eyes, mentally willing himself to just do as he was told. Barton had said he would reap the rewards if he did and he was curious as to what exactly those rewards would be. 

Barton set the tray back onto the table and turned to him, looking down at him with an unreadable expression. Quatre did his best not to cringe away from the gaze that seemed to look right through him. What he really felt like doing was hiding. Curling himself up and shutting out the world around him. He was scared. Scared he was going to be hurt, scared that he was helplessly aroused by the man's beauty and aura of dominance. He tucked his chin into his chest and waited for the verdict.

"Lie down."

Quatre's heart rate sped up, pumping and fluttering against his rib cage. Alright, here we go. Just don't fight him and hopefully this will go smoothly. He laid back down onto the bed, staring at the ceiling, trying hard not to hyperventilate as he waited for Barton's next move. He jumped only slightly as those calloused fingers opened his shirt, sliding the thin material down his arms and then out from under his back. He forced himself to keep his breathing steady when the hands worked at the fastenings of his breeches. Cool air brushed against his groin, then his legs as his pants were pulled down. They caught when they reached the cuff of his ankle chain, but Barton simply tore the remaining fabric the rest of the way off.

Quatre's bare chest heaved as Barton stood over him, taking in the curves and angles of his body, the smooth, pale skin. His breath hitched when Barton's knee dipped the mattress and then the pirate was climbing onto the bed. Quatre blinked and bit his lip as the captain's face lowered over his and forced his mouth to relax as his lips were taken in a deep kiss. They were swollen and tingly when Barton pulled away and Quatre reminded himself to stay still when he moved lower, kissing over his cheek and down his neck. He suckled at the boy's throat and the gentle sensation shot lightning bolts of pleasure straight to Quatre's groin. His cock hardened without his consent and he tried not to squirm as the lips continued to descend, sucking on a peaked nipple.

He bit down on a whimper, closing his eyes and trying to ignore how good it felt, but will little success. His belly was tickled as Barton's hair brushed over it, his mouth peppering kisses on the twitching abdomen. Quatre was gobsmacked, to be quite honest. He couldn't believe the most feared pirate of the high seas was actually treating him of all people with such gentleness. He never thought a man like him would have been capable of that. For all intents and purposes, Quatre should have been torn open and ravaged by now.

His breath stuttered when a hand wrapped around his inner thigh and pulled his leg to the side, exposing him in a heady, delicious way. Quatre's own hand flew up over his mouth to stifle his scream as the pirate's mouth descended on his groin. Barton suckled at the sensitive skin of his inner thigh, up over the apex where his leg and hip met. He kissed Quatre's hipbones and buried his face into the boy's groin and Quatre's mouth dropped open in unbridled pleasure when his cock was sucked into the man's mouth. 

An involuntary groan escaped between his lips and he sunk his teeth into his tongue in an attempt to stop any more that might want to slip out. He clutched fistfuls of the bedding, angry that his body was betraying him, but also too immersed in the incredible sensations to pay it much heed. His hips moved of their own accord, pushing into the wet suction around his cock. His balls drew up tight as rapture swirled between his legs, his climax coming fast and furious. He mewled when the pirate pulled off, resisting the temptation to grab his head and pull him back down to finish the job. Instead, Barton's mouth kissed and suckled his balls and Quatre gasped when those calloused hands shoved his knees up to his chest. 

He was so dizzy with arousal, he couldn't stop the moans this time when the captain's mouth traveled down and worked over his opening. Without even realizing what he was doing, Quatre grabbed the backs of his knees and pulled his legs up as high as he could. His head thrashed back and forth as Barton made love to his opening with lips and tongue. His chin quivered, murmuring nonsensically, overwhelmed with bliss, the likes of which he hadn't experienced since his encounter with Sayib. Somehow, this was even better. The knowledge of the danger he was in, knowing who he was with, skyrocketing the pleasure to unbearable levels. 

His hand scrabbled down, the tips of his fingers barely brushing the brown fringe of the pirate's hair and he realized through the haze in his mind that it really was as silky as it looked. His back bowed as his orgasm surged up, his muscles tensing and toes curling. He could distantly hear the jingle of the chain attached to his ankle and a warning flag flashed behind his eyes, reminding him that this was no simple tryst and instead of bringing him back to reality, it sent him over the edge. His body violently shook as his cock erupted, shooting ropes of come up his belly and chest and the pirate licked him through it until he was trembling with aftershocks and nearly weeping with hysteria.

He scarcely noticed the tears that leaked from his eyes, so out of it he was. His body went lax with satisfaction though his limbs still occasionally twitched. He didn't resist when he was rolled onto his stomach and Barton's weight settled against his back. He panted into the bedding as Barton kissed his shoulder blades, opening his thighs in submission when the pirate wedged his hips between them. His sated cock twitched against the mattress, his surrender sending jolts of interest into his groin.

"You're so beautiful," Barton husked against his damp skin and Quatre mewled, helpless to stop himself from rubbing his arse against the man's cock, begging for penetration. "I knew you were the right one. I knew it the first moment I laid eyes on you." He humped against the boy's arse and Quatre nodded deliriously against the bed, not even sure what he was agreeing to and wanting nothing more than to be buggered by this gorgeous, deadly man. Barton closed his teeth around Quatre's ear, biting down just enough to incite a little pain, but not hard enough to damage it. Barton whispered against his ear and Quatre could hear the tremble in his voice, his cock hardening again as he realized the effect he was having on this brutal man. "You're mine now. I will kill anyone who touches you," the pirate growled and pressed his cock into the throbbing place between the boy's legs that was craving to be taken. "You're being a very good boy. This is all you have to do. Just give yourself to me and only me and I will make you very happy. I will take care of you and I will make sure no one ever hurts you again."

This was the price he had to pay and he realized it wasn't that much of a price. To be cherished, protected, and dare he say it? Loved? Though, naive he might be, he wasn't so naive to think this man loved him, or was even capable of such an emotion. But to be treated so tenderly, so reverently was almost as good. The possessiveness only made his desire stronger and his body flared with lust and surrender. Tears dripped down over his nose onto the bed and he keened with need, desperately wanting this violent man to make love to him.

"What's your name?"

"Quatre."

"Such a beautiful name for such a beautiful creature. What do you want, Quatre?"

The words bubbled out from between his lips, unbidden, before he could stop them. "Take me." 

He whimpered when oiled fingers slipped into his opening, touching him in places that hadn't been touched in so long. Barton pressed hot, searing kisses along his back as he prepared his catamite for his cock, whispering words of dominance and possession into his skin.

"Who do you belong to?"

"I - ohhhhh....I belong to you."

"Only me?"

"Yes, ah, yes...only you."

He muffled his cries into the bedding when the pirate's thick cock pushed into his body and opened his legs as widely as he could. His cock, fully hard once again, rubbed deliciously against the blankets as he was rocked back and forth with the force of the captain's thrusts. He moaned in abandon, tiny yelps every time Barton's hips slapped against his arse, realizing the man fucked like he fought. With everything he had in him. Quatre could feel the sweat drip from the captain's forehead onto his back and roll down his sides, listened to the sweet sounds of his grunts, amazed that he'd given in so quickly. 

Father was right. I am a whore.

A shameless one at that. He'd never felt anything as delectable as being plundered by this man. Pleasure so exquisite, he was out of his mind with it. Within minutes, he was coming again, his eyes rolling back into his head as he spurted into the sheets. Barton groaned loudly when the contractions of Quatre's body squeezed his cock and thrust into the boy so hard, Quatre's eyes crossed from the pressure on his overstimulated prostate. He curled his fingers into the bedding, laying limply against the mattress while Barton roughly fucked him to his own completion and shivered when he pushed in so deeply, he couldn't tell where he ended and Barton began. The pirate gave a shout, his teeth sinking into Quatre's bony shoulder, pressing against the boy as he released his orgasm inside him. 

Quatre was barely cognizant as he was rolled onto his side and cleaned with a soft cloth. He whimpered with over sensitivity as Barton swiped the cloth between his legs then tossed it over his shoulder. He hummed as he was pulled into warm, strong arms, feeling the still damp skin of the captain's chest against his back. Barton curled his long, powerful body around him and Quatre couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so safe and protected. Ironic that the sense of security came from someone so notoriously dangerous. He may have felt just a hint of pride that this most dreaded pirate had chosen him as a lover of sorts.

But who knew? Maybe Barton had other lovers? Maybe even other catamites. And what would happen if Barton decided Quatre had overstayed his welcome? Would he be dropped off at the nearest port to once again fend for himself? There were still many uncertainties as to where this new journey in his life would lead and it frightened him. Despite the incredible sex and the security of being held in the pirate's arms as though he was something precious, all was still not well. He was still brought here against his will and chained to a bed. He really wasn't given much choice. Surrender, or be punished. He was going to have to remind himself that he was being forced into this no matter how beautifully Barton manipulated his body. He couldn't allow this man to manipulate his mind, too. 

 

***

 

As the days turned into weeks and burned slowly into months, winter settled upon Europe with a vengeance and the Catherine sailed south for warmer climates. Quatre could be fairly sure now that Barton had no other lovers, or catamites. Only him. Every time they docked, Quatre was always kept closely at his side, never allowed to stray more than a few feet away. He was required to attend the captain's business dealings, brought along during their pillages, and was paraded around in front of Barton's enemies like a prize. Quatre was mandated to keep himself in prime shape, clean, and beautiful at all times. Barton adorned him in high quality silks and enjoyed clasping jewels valuable enough to buy a small country around his neck and wrists. 

Quatre was also given rouges and waxy pigments for his cheeks and lips. Inside the captain's cabin, Barton had installed a vanity with a tiny stool for him to primp and pretty himself for his captain. Off the ship, he was held in a possessive arm and metaphorically dangled in front of the other pirates as something desirable, but not attainable. Any man who tried to touch him either lost their hands, or their lives. Quatre felt he should have been more disturbed by the amount of blood that was spilled over him, but became quite accustomed to it instead. 

On the ship, he was expected to pleasure his captain in all the ways in which Barton desired it. Quatre quickly became used to being grabbed in muscular arms and thrown to the bed, or pressed up against the wall, panting into the wood as he was buggered senseless. When Barton was especially tired, he would beckon the boy to ride his erection, watching with his hands laced behind his head as his pretty blond catamite worked his beautiful peach of an arse over his cock, his soft cries like music to the captain's ears. 

It didn't matter if it was morning, night, or during suppertime. Quatre's duty was to drop whatever he was doing and surrender to the man at Barton's discretion. Barton had removed the chain two months ago and Quatre was given free reign to roam the ship as he pleased. The crew was very respectful, knowing that even a lecherous glance at the boy would incite the captain's wrath. To Quatre's surpise, they warmed up to him pretty quickly, teaching him the basics of sailing and showing him the art of cartography. Quatre found he had quite the skill reading maps and making new ones during their journeys, thus impressing Barton even more. Quatre would often see him watching with amusement and a glimmer of respect when Quatre was studiously working with the navigator. There might have even been a hint of affection and maybe something else Quatre didn't have the courage to name yet. 

The one who took the longest to warm up to him was Chang Wufei, but Barton assured him that was just how he was and not to take it personally. Quatre learned that the Chinese warrior had been a soldier for the Ming dynasty, devastated by betrayal when the government slaughtered his entire clan, including his young wife. Quatre was heartbroken to hear that and always made sure to grace the stern and cold man with warm smiles and cheerful conversation, even if it was one-sided. It took almost six months, but Quatre was finally rewarded when a morning greeting resulted in a tiny smile and a nod of acknowledgement. 

As far as Captain Barton was concerned, he'd told Quatre one evening that when they were alone, he should call him "Trowa". Quatre paused in the midst of fucking himself on Barton's cock, his hips ceasing their sensuous rolling to look down at the captain with wide eyes.

"Really?"

"Only in this cabin. Outside of this cabin, you are to refer to me by my title."

"Trowa," Quatre tested the name on his lips. "It's beautiful."

Barton gripped the boy's waist tightly, squeezing the soft flesh between his fingers, agonized by Quatre's velvety heat, desperate for friction. "You think so?"

Quatre nodded enthusiastically. "Absolutely. I love it."

Barton graced him with a rare smile. "Glad to hear it. Now get moving," he ordered, punctuating the demand by thrusting up into the boy's body. Quatre yelped and resumed his bouncing, tipping his head back in ecstasy as the captain's cock touched him in all the right places. Barton surged up and pulled his catamite against him, folding him into his arms and roughly fucked up into him. He placed hot, nipping kisses over Quatre's neck, growling when the boy keened in pleasure and climaxed between them. 

That night, Quatre lay awake, gazing into the face of his captain, his finger gently stroking along a chisled cheekbone. It was strange how quickly he'd acclimated into this life, but so far, Captain Barton...Trowa, he reminded himself, had stayed true to his word. While he was treated like a commodity at times, he was also treated like a priceless treasure. The sex was nothing for him to thumb his nose at either. If anything, Trowa always made sure he experienced nothing short of mind-blowing pleasure and more often than not, saw to it that Quatre climaxed at least once, occasionally two, or three times.

Some things still frightened him. Lingering doubts about the permanency of his situation left him feeling uneasy. More so now because, as much as he hated to admit it, his feelings for the captain had become much stronger in recent months. Thoughts of something like love often crossing his mind and it terrified him to know he was becoming so attached, possibly even falling in love with him. He didn't dare ask the captain if he felt the same, but if Trowa eventually decided he didn't want him anymore, Quatre would be more crushed than he dared to admit. Most likely devastated. 

Still, either way, there was nothing he could do about it. In the peace of night though, he could look upon Trowa's sleeping face and allow himself to feel. A smile curled up the ends of his mouth and he leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to the tip of the pirate's nose.

"Thank you, Trowa. Thank you for saving me."

Chapter Text

On the morning of December 12th, 1698, the Catherine arrived at the Western Cape of South Africa. They docked at the thriving city of Cape Town, a bustling epicenter of locals, settlers, and travelers, filled to capacity with commerce and entertainment. After a month and a half at sea, their supplies were running low and Trowa, who had frequented the region several times, was looking forward to showing Quatre around.

He roused when there was a knock at the door, uncurling his body from around his catamite and rolling onto his back. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and blinked at the early morning sunlight streaming in through the port holes. 

"What it is, Wufei."

The man's voice, unusually soft as it always was when he spoke to his captain, murmured through the door. "Captain, we're here."

"Alright. Thank you."

He listened to his friend's foot steps as they walked away and turned back over, draping himself over the blond boy's back. Quatre mumbled in his sleep and twitched, but otherwise didn't wake. Trowa smiled softly and stroked a hand down his arm, relishing in the feel of soft, silky skin. He marveled at how well things had worked out with his catamite. It had been over three years since Trowa snatched him off the streets of Jerusalem after stopping an attack on the young man.

Quatre had adapted quite well to his situation, surrendering almost immediately after his capture. There had been a few instances that required Trowa to take the boy in hand when he saw fit to rebel, but they were few and far between. Trowa hadn't been thrilled about doling out punishment, especially when the boy broke down and wept, pleading apologies through trembling lips. He learned and that was what mattered. Quatre was highly rewarded when he behaved himself which was enough incentive to make him do so. Trowa hadn't needed to discipline him in over a year. 

Quatre's conditioning and training was an exhausting process of balancing the appropriate punishments when he misbehaved. If Trowa overreacted, it would not only be non-conducive to his goals, but could also potentially cause irrevocable harm to his catamite, something Trowa was vehemently against. There was no reason to abuse a catamite. Quatre's punishments were never permanently damaging and he was immediately rewarded when his behavior reflected his remorse. 

It was also extremely important to consistently and enthusiastically reward the boy when he did what he was supposed to do and even encouraged him to go above and beyond to please his captain. Quatre was given trinkets and privileges when he made Trowa happy and they prompted him to want to continue pleasing him. All in all, the endeavor was a complete success. Quatre was the perfect fit and it had gotten to the point where Trowa couldn't imagine life without the boy's sunny smile, his musical voice and pleasant chatter, his kindness, or his beautiful body.

While Quatre was required to stay in good shape, he was not allowed to build muscle beyond the minute amount needed to fill him out and keep him healthy. When Trowa first grabbed him in Jerusalem, the boy had been nothing but skin and bone. Now, with the proper amount of food given at regular intervals, Quatre's body, while remaining slim and petite, was now beautifully voluptuous with enough meat on him to curve out his hips and that adorable little arse of his. Unlike Trowa's firm muscles, hard beneath the stretch of skin browned by the sun, Quatre was soft and pale, just the way Trowa liked him. It reminded him of purity and innocence. 

Quatre had laughed one night when Trowa told him that after a rather vigorous bout of lovemaking. "I'm far from innocent."

"Innocence is not about what you've done, or how many people you've allowed to have you. It's about who you are, deep inside." Trowa gently tapped a finger against the boy's chest. "Despite everything you've been through, you still carry that purity within you. You have not allowed it to jade you, or harden you, like it has me. And I will not allow it to happen to you."

Trowa was under no illusions that he was a callous, brutal, and oftentimes cruel man. Abandoned to the streets of Novgorod at the age of seven, he'd learned to survive on his own. He'd had a brief stint with a group of Russian mercenaries when he was twelve. During the two years he was with them, he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse until late one night when he crept into their tents and slashed their throats while they slept. It was the first time he'd taken a human life and it changed him in ways he'd never imagined. It was the moment when he vowed never to be a victim again.

When he was fifteen, he'd joined up with a group of gypsies that were traveling across Europe. It was there that he'd met a young woman named Catherine who took him under her wing and nurtured him, educated him, and cared for him. She taught him to read, write, and speak several different languages. She taught him science and mathematics, impressed with how quickly he learned and excelled in his studies. She encouraged him to enroll in a University, convinced he would become an outstanding scholar. 

And he did. Enrolling at Oxford at the age of eighteen after blowing away every test they put in front of him, completely stumping even the most prestigious professors, and leaving his competition in the dust. He was touted as the brooding genius whose brilliance was unprecedented and Trowa quickly climbed to the top of his class. He majored in engineering, specializing in nautical science. His ship designs became the standard for upstanding craftsmanship and were the well-received staple of sailors across Europe. 

When he was twenty, he received word of an attack in Berlin where Catherine and her convoy were currently staying. A skirmish between the Germans and the Russians resulted in a bombing attack. Catherine, along with the thirty three gypsies in the convoy, which included young children, were killed.

That attack was the catalyst, the final snap of Trowa's tenuous string. He might have even said it was the pivotal moment that he lost his humanity. He'd definitely lost his faith in it. He was consumed by apathy and hate. His thirst for blood, which he thought he'd quelled, came back with a vengeance. He realized that, as he strode through the halls of the University, that he was a wolf in sheep's clothing, playing the part of the scholar surrounded by stuffy upperclassmen that he'd never been able to fit in with. 

He spent the following year drowning himself in drink and whores until his fateful encounter with Chang Wufei on Christmas Eve, 1694. During a gamble, he swindled the other man out of an enormous amount of gold coins. Furious, the Chinese nobleman and soldier confronted him in the alley behind the pub and drew his sword. The fight was brutal and bloody, but it quickly became apparent that they were an even match. Exhausted and drunk, they declared a stalemate and Trowa returned half of the man's bounty out of respect and principle. 

With their dubious truce, they decided it would be of equal advantage if they worked together instead of against each other. They became a powerful team, winning more money than they needed to survive with their combined cunning and intelligence. They were often challenged as they walked away from their gambles and their vicious and unmatched fighting skills became legendary. The kind of notoriety that was whispered among the patrons in every pub and tavern across Europe and Asia. Together, with the money they earned, and stole in some cases, they built the large, majestic ship whose reputation would go down infamy. Trowa named her in honor of the one person who'd ever shown him love. In the summer of 1695, the Catherine set sail on her maiden voyage. 

Their prominence soon became widely known, revered, and feared as they sailed from one continent to the next, pillaging, gambling, fighting, and killing. Within a few months, men were falling all over themselves to be accepted into the crew and Trowa and Wufei put each of them through an intense series of tasks and tests, choosing nothing less than the best and most strongest men. 

Trowa had taken on two prior catamites, but unfortunately, the boys were not good fits for him and they were handed off to other captains, those known to treat their catamites well. Cutthroat pirate he might have been, but Trowa refused to allow the suffering of innocents. 

He continued to search for the perfect boy to warm his bed and it seemed luck had been on his side that afternoon in Jerusalem when he'd eyed the blond young man from across the street. His eyes tracked the boy as he walked towards the marketplace, taking in the tattered clothes. It was obvious that the boy was homeless and Trowa was fairly certain that he'd been whoring himself for survival, if his beautiful face and that golden hair was any indication. Boys like that were rare and were typically either forced into sexual slavery, or reduced to selling their bodies because the consumer market for them was plentiful.

He watched as a group of young men grabbed the blond and yanked him into an alley and immediately knew the kid was in trouble. He glanced over at Wufei who'd been sharing a drink with him and pointed towards the alley where the boy had disappeared. 

"I'll be right back."

Wufei glanced at him sharply and narrowed his eyes. "What is it now?"

Trowa said nothing, only stood and strode away, crossing the street and heading to the alley where he could now hear shouting. He knew Wufei was right behind him without even turning to look. Over the two years they'd been working together, Wufei had become a close friend and confidant, loyal to a fault. 

Trowa had seen red when he spotted the boy sprawled out on the ground with his breeches clinging to one ankle and three of his attackers holding him down. The fourth was between the boy's legs, his trousers low around his hips and fully intent on buggery. But what had gotten to Trowa the most was how the young victim had stopped fighting and simply turned his head away in resignation. He knew instantly that the boy had been subjected to more than his fair share of cruelty. With strength driven by rage and deeply buried, but painful memories, he struck ruthlessly and violently, grabbing the rapist by the scruff of the neck and swinging his body against the stone wall, crushing the delicate bones in his face and cracking open his skull. 

He and Wufei went after the other three with equal brutality and Trowa once again savored the savage satisfaction of feeling bones break beneath his hands. Within moments, the ordeal was over and he turned his attention to the young victim, still on the ground and staring up at him with a mixture of fear and awe. 

Trowa was spellbound by the angelic face that looked at him as though he wasn't sure if he should thank Trowa, or run away. He apparently decided on the former and thanked him as Trowa helped him back onto his feet. Trowa was dismayed by how slight the boy was. He knew he was thin, but it was difficult to tell how thin beneath his baggy clothes. This was a boy who would no doubt wind up as someone's slave one day and the chances of him being mistreated were high. By the haunted look in the boy's eyes, it was pretty apparent that he'd already been mistreated. It was only a matter of time before this fair creature was damaged beyond repair and Trowa almost felt like grieving because what a loss that would be. 

Without considering if the boy was even an appropriate fit for him, his sudden need to make him his own overriding rational thought, he grabbed the kid's skinny arm and pulled him into his chest, clamping a solid arm around his middle to keep him from squirming away. 

It turned out to be one of the best decisions he'd ever made. Now, with the warm rays of sunlight lighting up the cabin and casting beams over his catamite's golden hair, making the locks glow like spun threads of gold, he knew he would do it all over again if given the chance. He pinched a yellow curl and tucked it behind the boy's almost elfish ear and watched long lashes flutter against creamy cheeks. This boy, man now as today was his eighteenth birthday, was his pride and joy. Though, he noted with a twinge of dread in his gut, that such a prized possession was also a liability. Quatre was his soft spot, his weakness, his Achilles' heel. And now his enemies knew that. They knew the sure fire way to hurt Trowa himself, was to go after his beloved catamite. 

But despite his fears, it was a risk that was well worth it. He would happily suffer a thousand lifetimes if it brought him moments like these. He lowered his face into the silky neck, inhaling the remnants of the perfume Quatre had swiped onto his pulse points the night before. It smelled vaguely of oranges and morning glories and reminded Trowa of lounging in a field of wildflowers during the heat of summer while he read the books Catherine bought him with her own hard-earned money. They had been the happiest times of his life up until now.

And as always, when in such close proximity of the boy, feeling the smooth, warm skin against his own, his groin perked with interest. His cock nudged against the soft cheeks of Quatre's arse, seeking the tiny opening and the promise of exquisite pleasure that lay within that tight, velvety heat. He reached down and grasped his now throbbing erection, rubbing the tip over the boy's entrance which was still lax and moist from the sex they'd had only hours ago. 

Quatre twitched in his sleep, a soft whimper reverberating through his back and against Trowa's chest as Trowa pressed his cock home. It slid smoothly inside the boy and he dropped his head to a slender arm, closing his teeth over a mouthful of sweet skin and biting down as his manhood was sucked into glorious rapture. Quatre was still not quite awake yet and only murmured softly when a firm hand gripped his thigh and lifted his leg into the air. Trowa pushed in until his balls rested against the boy's arse, then pulled out just as smoothly. He rolled his hips, his teeth clenching at the sinfully tight heat that enveloped and rippled over his cock and he crooked his arm around Quatre's thigh to hold it up and out of the way. 

Quatre was only half awake, but his breathing came a little faster now and when Trowa reached around him to cup his groin, he could feel the burgeoning erection hardening beneath his hand. He glanced down between them, growling as he watched the erotic slide of his cock disappear inside the boy's arse. Quatre was mewling now, waking incrementally with each thrust. He jolted awake, yelping when Trowa delivered a particularly hard thrust and tipped his head back with a filthy moan as the pace picked up and bounced his body over the rumpled bedding.

It was just one of the many things Trowa cherished about the boy. Quatre loved getting buggered. He loved it like he was made for it, his legs falling open at the slightest gesture that Trowa was ready to take him. Every inch of him screamed delicious submission and Trowa couldn't get enough of it, enough of him, and it was wonderful knowing Quatre felt the same. 

Trowa used the arm that wasn't holding the boy's leg up, sliding it beneath the tousled blond head. He turned Quatre's face towards him, his eyes drinking in the beauty of his delicate features and leaned down to give him a deep, dirty kiss. Quatre panted and moaned into his mouth, then let out a high pitched squeal as a perfectly angled thrust had him coming all over himself. Trowa hissed through his teeth, the searing contractions of the boy's arse squeezing him almost painfully and he drove in harder, fucking with wild abandon. He savored the sound of his hips slapping against Quatre's arse and his soft, shaky breaths. He dug himself in deep, rotating his pelvis and came with a roar, filling the boy with his pleasure. Huffing with exertion, he dipped his head and suckled on his catamite's neck, feeling the rapid pulse beneath the creamy skin.

They lay that way for several long moments until Quatre began to squirm restlessly in his arms. Trowa hissed as his cock slipped out and stroked a hand up the boy's side, loving the satiny feel of him. Quatre glanced at him over his shoulder, a smirk curling up one side of his mouth.

"Good morning."

Trowa kissed that smug smile away and slapped a pert arse cheek in admonishment. "Don't get cocky, boy."

Quatre laughed and looked down at himself. "I need a rag. I'm getting sticky."

Trowa reached over and grabbed the cloth on the bedside table. He wiped it over the boy's opening, cleaning his own come away and smirking when Quatre shivered at the stimulation. He handed him the rag and propped his head on his hand as he watched him clean off his belly and groin. 

Trowa pressed a kiss against a bony shoulder. "We're here."

"Are we?"

"Wufei informed me a short while ago. We'll have a busy day ahead of us."

"You said you were meeting with Captain Zechs of the Tallgeese?"

"Yes, but I also want to show you around Cape Town. I think you'll like it."

Quatre sat up and smiled down at him. "Or do you want to show Cape Town me?" He tossed the rag over the side of the bed and settled back down on his other side, facing Trowa. "I know you enjoy showing me off like I'm some accessory."

Trowa curled a possessive hand over the boy's hip, the tips of his fingers digging into the soft flesh of Quatre's arse. "Both. And you aren't just any accessory. The most beautiful, highly sought after accessory of the high seas."

"Flatterer." Quatre trailed a finger down the length of Trowa's chest and abdomen, sliding over thick, rippled muscles. He seemed deep in thought, almost troubled, and Trowa's brows drew down in concern. 

"Is something wrong, love?"

Quatre seemed to shake himself out of his reverie and turned bright, aqua eyes on him. He smiled and shook his head. "No. Not really. I was just...contemplating the course my life has taken."

"What's there to contemplate?"

The boy sighed and rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "I don't know. Once upon a time, I was Persian nobility. I was destined to be a Vali for the Eastern Saudi Province." He laughed, though it sounded bitter as he glanced over at Trowa. "I even had a fiance."

Trowa's eyes widened. "You did?" He'd known about the Vali, he knew that Quatre had been thrown into the streets by a scandal involving the Sultan's grandson, but he hadn't known about the betrothal. 

"Yes. A young girl, Belzia was her name. She was betrothed to me when we were ten." He shook his head and looked away. "I thought that was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I couldn't imagine her as my wife, much less bedding her. I knew there was something wrong with me when I didn't respond to her the way my cousins did."

"You don't fancy females."

Quatre's face seemed almost pained as he said, "No. Not even with the women, the other whores I've been in contact with...they do nothing for me."

Trowa shrugged a shoulder. "Well, that's okay."

"Is it?" Quatre turned his face back, his eyes decidedly misty. "Cause it seems like it's the worst crime imaginable to most people." He barked out a laugh, sounding almost self-deprecating. "The funny thing is...at least half the men I sold my body to were married. To women."

"That honestly doesn't surprise me."

"It doesn't?" Quatre curled his arm behind his head, his steady gaze back on the ceiling. "It's...strange. Most of the ones who I knew were married, there was an element of self-hatred that I could sense from them. Like they knew what they wanted was wrong, but they were helpless to stop wanting it."

"Such is the way of humanity, Quatre. Human desires are oftentimes very dark, but I don't think many of those desires are as bad as most people do."

"Of course you don't! You're a pirate," Quatre scoffed, then seemed to realize what he'd said. He glanced over, apology written all over his face. "I'm sorry."

Trowa was not bothered by the outburst. "It's the truth. Pirate morality is...well, it's the same as anyone else. We simply don't pretend we're purer than we are. I'm under no illusions that I lead a sinful life. I just don't bother to hide it."

Quatre nodded. "That's the difference, I think. You don't hide who and what you are. Some of those men, while they had wives, even while they hated that they desired me...they were some of my most passionate customers..." He trailed off as heat rose to his cheeks. 

Trowa immediately understood. "You enjoyed it."

Quatre blinked, his face flushing with shame and he turned his head towards the opposite wall. "Sometimes. Sometimes they were really good at it and they...they made me feel pleasure. Sometimes they even - they -"

"They made you come."

Quatre squeezed his eyes closed and covered his face with his hands. Trowa rolled him over and pulled him into the protection of his chest. He held the boy close, stroking his hands over his smooth back, and whispered reassurances into the blond curls. 

"Hey. There's nothing to be ashamed of. There's nothing wrong with feeling pleasure and enjoying sex. It's obvious that some of your customers wanted you to feel good, too. There's no shame in feeling good, Quatre. It's not a sin."

"It is, though," the boy whimpered into his chest, his tears soaking Trowa's skin. "I can only imagine what my father would think about all this. He - thought I was a whore when the prince took my virginity. If he knew the things I did, what I am now. I - I just can't help thinking...if I hadn't allowed the prince to seduce me, I'd still be at home."

"Yes. And you'd be miserable."

Quatre sniffled and nodded. "Yes, but I wouldn't be all the filthy things I am now."

"Quatre. Quatre, look at me." Trowa's voice was stern. It wasn't optional, it was a command. He waited for the boy's head to lift and gazed down into teary blue eyes. "Do you feel filthy when you're with me?"

"No...but -"

"But nothing. You're not filthy. You're human. As far as you being a whore, you did what you had to to survive. Anyone who faults you for that is a fool."

More tears rolled down the soft cheeks and Trowa wiped them away with his thumb. "I wish I could be strong like you."

"No," Trowa said, shutting that down instantly. "You do not want to be like me. Part of the reason I took you was because if you had continued on with the life you were living, you would have ended up like me and that is not acceptable."

"Why not?"

"Because when I first looked at you, I saw something precious. I saw a gentle and kind and generous human being and there are not enough of those in the world. There are far too many men like me and not enough men like you." He smiled and caressed the boy's cheek. "The world needs more men like you and I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to save you, preserve you just the way you are. To turn you into a hard, cruel man would be a deplorable crime."

Quatre wiped his eyes and blinked up at him. "What happened to you?"

Trowa shifted, a little uneasy. There was only one person he'd disclosed his past to and that was Wufei. But Quatre...Quatre was so special and for some reason, Trowa felt he deserved to know. "I was...abandoned by my family when I was seven. I don't remember much, but I vaguely recall my father saying he had more mouths than he could afford to feed. For several years, I fended for myself." He shook his head, an admonishing laugh on his lips. "I was more like a wild animal for a time. I barely spoke, didn't interact with people. I was...feral, you could almost say."

"I was taken in by a group of mercenaries when I was twelve. I believe I was twelve. I'm not really sure. I was with them for two years." He swallowed hard and looked up at the wall behind Quatre's back, unable to gaze into those innocent wide eyes while he explained the vile things that happened to him. "They hurt me. Beat me, molested me. Raped me."

He could hear Quatre's shaky gasp and he squeezed the boy tighter. "Oh, Trowa! I'm so sorry!"

Trowa nodded absently. "I killed them all. Slit their throats while they slept." Quatre wrapped slender arms around him and he was grateful for the comfort. "I was on my own again for another several years until I met Catherine."

Quatre's voice was hushed when he asked, "Was she your wife?"

Trowa chuckled and shook his head. "No. More like a big sister. She took me under her wing. She taught me to read and write, she taught me science and arithmetic. She taught me German, Italian, French, English, and Spanish. She spent what little money she earned peddling her healing potions to buy me books so that I could be educated. It turned out, I was actually a lot smarter than I'd thought I was. She was certainly impressed. She encouraged me to go to school, convinced I had a promising future."

"And did you?"

"I did. Enrolled at Oxford in the fall of 1691. Took the tests and blew them all out of the water. But...I never fit in. I didn't have a prestigious family, or a lot of money. I was resented because I was a nobody and yet I still managed to surpass my peers in every subject." Trowa snorted, the irony not lost on him. "I majored in nautical science."

"Ah," Quatre chuckled. "It all makes sense now. So what happened?"

"Two years later, I received word of an attack in Berlin. The ongoing conflict between the Russians and the Germans came to a head and Catherine and her convoy were killed in a bomb blast."

"Oh, no. Trowa, I'm - I'm so so sorry!"

Trowa shrugged, pushing the pain back down into the black mass inside his chest. "After that I - I realized that I didn't belong with these scholarly types. I suppose you could say I hit rock bottom. I spent a year drifting through Europe, drinking myself wretched, buggering whores, and gambling. Until I met Wufei."

Quatre smiled, his eyes dry now which put Trowa at ease. "And the rest is history."

Trowa laughed, throwing his head back as his shoulders shook with mirth. "Yes, you could say that. We beat each other bloody after I scammed him out of his money. When we grew tired and there was still no winner, we called a truce and I gave him half his money back. Meeting Wufei was one of those significant events in your life that you never forget."

"Kind of like when I met you."

Trowa gazed down at him and touched the boy's beautiful face. "I'd say that was the best event."

Quatre beamed at the compliment and Trowa's heart soared with feelings he was still trying to come to terms with. It was a mystery how this boy, this catamite had wormed his way into Trowa's heart, touching upon things he had believed were long dead and bringing the cold, black, and unfeeling parts of himself back to life. It also put not only himself, but Quatre and his crew at risk. The reason he'd been so successful as a pirate was because he'd learned to bury the parts of him that he'd deemed as weak. He'd smothered his empathy, compassion, and ability to love which resulted in a near complete lack of conscience. It was what made him so savage, so dangerous. And, at the time, he'd had nothing to lose.

Now, he had everything to lose. His beloved ship, his crew, his friend, and his precious catamite. His enemies knew now, that he was human and not the demon of the sea as he'd often been dubbed. And humans had weaknesses. They could be hurt. They were vulnerable. 

He had a choice to make. Give all this up, give up his catamite to ensure his reputation, remain an icy, ruthless man and wallow in his own dark pit of Hell. Or expose himself to danger, expose those he cared about to danger, but at the same time, actually have something to live for. 

Not easy choices. But the thought of losing Quatre was more than he could bear and he knew he'd already made his decision. He would just have to be extra careful and vigilant, especially in the company of other pirates. To show affection towards the boy would indicate that he actually cared about him which was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Quatre would just have to learn to accept that the manner in which he was treated in public was in no way how Trowa genuinely felt about him. Rather, it was for his protection. Quatre felt like an accessory at times, a piece of meat because that's how he was treated when he was taken off the ship, but it was a necessary evil and one that Trowa would unapologetically continue to do. It was the only way to keep his catamite safe.

He reached around the boy and delivered a sharp slap to his rump. "Get dressed. I believe a celebration is in order."

Quatre glanced curiously up at him. "For what?"

"It's your birthday, isn't it?"

The boy groaned, exasperated. "You're not going to spoil me rotten again like you did last year, are you?"

Trowa kissed the pouting mouth and grinned. "Absolutely. Get yourself all nice and pretty for me. I'm taking you out on the town."

Chapter Text

Trowa went back to the cabin after meeting with his crew to find his catamite sitting at the vanity, fluffing already fluffy blond curls. Quatre caught his gaze in the mirror and his face lit up in delight as it always did when Trowa returned. He stood up and turned around, holding his arms out to his sides.

"Am I sufficient?"

He was a vision, if Trowa was perfectly honest. The breeches he'd gotten the boy during a stop in Rome were snug around his slender frame. Long, supple leather boots cupped the length of his calves. His shirt was a deep plum colour, loosely flattering, opened at the collar with ruffled lapels and lace around his wrists. Wound about his delicate throat were necklaces of gold and nestled inside the elegant chains were small aquamarines and amethysts. They were among Trowa's favorite gems because they brought out Quatre’s colouring so beautifully, somehow enhancing the gold in his hair and the bright eyes that made Trowa think of summer skies. He'd required Quatre to grow his hair out and the luscious blond locks brushed the tops of his shoulders and curled fetchingly around his ears.

Bewitched, Trowa approached him and swept the boy up into his arms, burying his face between his neck and shoulder and inhaled the delicate notes of lavender and jasmine that clung to his sweet skin. A mournful groan rumbled from his throat, wanting nothing more than to strip Quatre naked and plunder him again, despite already doing so less than an hour ago.

"You look and smell good enough to eat," he husked against Quatre's neck, grinning when the boy's skin broke out in goosebumps. He smiled wider as Quatre's laugh echoed throughout the cabin and felt giddiness in his chest as he stroked his hands up and down the deliciously curved back. He groaned, not out loud, but deep within, knowing he'd essentially doomed himself. 

Christ Jesus. I love this boy. I'm so in love with him, it hurts.

He hadn't meant to fall for him. He didn't even think he was capable of loving anyone, but he knew without a doubt, that this feeling was exactly that. He was a pirate who'd done the unthinkable. He wasn't supposed to love. It wasn't in the pirate code. Love was a liability. Love was what lead to your downfall. Love was what destroyed you. 

But he knew, as he held this boy in his arms, inhaling his scent, and feeling Quatre nuzzle him in return, that he couldn't stop. He'd never be able to let this go, even at the risk of his own peril. And he realized as he pressed his face into the soft golden hair, that he didn't want to.

He jolted from his agonized musings when Quatre murmured against his chest. "Trowa? Are you alright?"

Trowa squeezed him tight, then let go and stepped back a pace, a reassuring smile on his lips. "Of course I am."

Quatre shot him a dubious look, but knew better than to argue. Instead, he grinned coyly. "Does that mean I'm presentable?"

"You are more than presentable. You are delectable. I am the luckiest cutthroat in the world."

The boy blushed, embarrassed, and it was so precious, Trowa wanted to drop to his knees and weep. Lord, have mercy. He's going to be the death of me. 

And that was more literal than he cared to admit. He'd been challenged for the boy already. Granted, it was only twice, but Quatre was desirable enough that men were willing to risk their lives for possession of him. Trowa may have been the most feared pirate alive, but he wasn't so obtuse, or egotistical to believe it would always be that way. It was only a matter of time before someone knocked him off of the throne he'd built from death and bones. There were always competitors, many of them with the potential to replace him.

He'd heard word recently of a new pirate who was steadily climbing to the top of the select list of notoriety. Someone whose record was very similar to what his own had been two years ago. If this new pirate continued on the way he was, he would soon reach Trowa's precarious status and possibly even surpass it. Trowa had yet to meet him, but the name Maxwell was spoken of often in the pubs and taverns they'd frequented. Someone who was almost as savage as he, if not, more so. His kills had reached several dozen already and he was an extremely successful pillager. From what Trowa could discern, Maxwell was highly intelligent, resourceful, cunning, and charismatic. Like the Catherine, sailors often turned their ships around and headed for safer waters when the Shinigami appeared on the horizon. 

Trowa had a feeling it wouldn't be long before he came face to face with Captain Maxwell. Until then, he had a business meeting with Captain Zechs of the Tallgeese. Zechs Merquise was a rather eccentric pirate, and so full of himself, Trowa had difficulty hiding his distaste around the man. Not that he bothered to hide it. Zechs had once been a German Prince, but no one mentioned that if they wanted to keep their tongue. No one but Trowa. As much as it pained the former monarch, he didn't dare challenge Trowa's provocations and mockery.

When Zechs took to the seas, he was disowned and removed from the hierarchy of the throne. He was bitter and he made no bones about it. But he'd done well for himself despite being cut off from the royal family. His tastes were ridiculously opulent, even more so than Trowa's. He was also infamously known for his harem of women and the man he'd enslaved for his own sexual purposes. Treize Khushrenada, once a top commander for the German army, had also been disgraced after a scandal was revealed about his sexual practices, namely that he'd allowed some of the men under his command to bugger him senseless. Zechs had returned to Germany long enough to convince the government not to execute the man, offering to take him off their hands instead. How he'd managed to pull that off, Trowa didn't know, nor did he want to. 

In a nutshell, Trowa had stolen a necklace from Zechs. One that held almost as much value as the Vatican. It had once been part of the collection of Crown jewels, taken by Zechs when he left Germany. And Zechs was nothing if not ridiculously careless, carrying much of his bounty with him instead of burying it. It had been almost too easy for someone like Trowa to swipe the loot from him and unlike Zechs, he was not so stupid as to keep it someplace where it could be stolen. Again.

Trowa personally didn't much care about the piece beyond what he could get for it. There was, of course, a bounty on his head, issued by Zechs himself for stealing it, but no one wanted to risk their neck trying to take it from him. And as beautiful as Quatre looked laying in Trowa's bed, naked but for the Crown jewels resting against his clavicle, Trowa knew it was a liability. He didn't want the German army after his arse for the rest of his life. Better to let Zechs deal with that. 

He was intent on selling the loot to the highest bidder and soon received word that Zechs, desperate to get the piece back, agreed to double Trowa's best offer. The exchange would be made here, in Cape Town. The money Trowa would receive in this deal would provide enough provisions, amenities, and luxuries to last a few decades. All in all, he could say he'd done quite well. 

He checked his timepiece, noting they had about two hours before the meeting. Enough time to grab a bite and do a little shopping. Trowa was looking forward to spoiling his catamite and he wondered, with a self-deprecating laugh, when he'd become such a love-sick fool. Not that the gesture didn't serve other purposes. Being able to decorate the boy with fine things ensured he maintained his reputation and status in the eyes of the other pirates. They were the unmistakable symbols of success.

He reached for Quatre, taking the boy's hand in his own, and fixed him with a stern look. "Now, remember, the way I treat you once we leave this ship -"

"In no way reflects how you really feel about me," Quatre recited in a droll tone. "Yes, I know. You prove to me how you really feel all the time. It's okay, Trowa. I understand it's necessary."

"Good." He reeled the boy in and kissed him breathless, savoring the hitch in Quatre's breath when he slapped his arse. "Now, you be on your best behavior."

Quatre's eyes gleamed with mischief. "I'll be a good boy."

 

***

 

Quatre was now adorned with a leather collar as he followed Trowa to the tavern where he would meet with Captain Zechs. Trowa had spotted it while they were shopping and purchased it off an elderly vendor who simpered and sucked up to Trowa like he was royalty. His wrinkly old hand reached out to pinch one of Quatre's cheeks, complimenting Trowa with a lecherous grin, his exquisite taste in catamites. Quatre did his best to remain silent and subservient while he listen to his captain and the vendor speak of him as though he wasn't even human. He forced his features into neutrality and kept his head low as he was roughly grabbed and held tightly against Trowa's side. 

He swallowed down his indignity when he was fondled right there in front of the vendor and the people walking past, reminding himself this was necessary to keep himself and Trowa safe. The more he was treated like an object, the more Trowa's enemies would reject the idea that Quatre meant anything more to him than an arse to fuck. Thanks to his three years of training, his was able to silence his outrage, something that would have been impossible before he met Trowa. He remained still, obedient as the collar was secured around his neck.

Though he had to admit, if only to himself, that the addition of the collar only increased the heady feelings of arousal he experienced when he submitted to his captain. His cock was beginning to harden beneath his breeches, resulting from the collar and Trowa's hand rubbing against his groin. He unconsciously squeezed his thighs together and despite his humiliation, he was tingling with the desire to be buggered again. He did well hiding it behind a mask of reluctant resignation and allowed himself to be half-dragged, half-carried from one vendor to the next. After an hour, Trowa had purchased quite a few, rather scandalous, garments for his catamite and Quatre found he couldn't complain about that. He was looking forward to trying them on when they got back to the Catherine.

It was sweltering hot and Quatre was sweating profusely by the time they reached the tavern. He swatted away the mosquitoes that were consistently drawn to him and tried not to glare at Trowa who seemed unaffected by the soupy heat and appeared not to be attracting the blood-sucking insects. Quatre swiped one off his neck when he felt the tell-tale sting of the bite and cursed under his breath. Wonderful. He was going to be spending the night furiously scratching the itchy little bumps that would no doubt cover his body. Say what you would about the Middle East, but at least bugs weren't a problem. 

Wufei met them at the entrance and he nodded at Trowa, completely ignoring Quatre which he was used to by now. He didn't take it personally. Aboard the Catherine, Wufei had developed a welcoming demeanor when in the company of his friend's catamite. Off the ship, Quatre was virtually invisible unless a fight broke out over him.

To his eternal exasperation, the inside of the tavern was even more stagnant and reeked of body odor, urine, a dizzying amount of perfume, and warm ale. His nose wrinkled at the stench and he stumbled a little as he was yanked forward, Trowa's grip on his arm almost bruising. He bit down on the urge to snap, 'Not so hard', and obediently followed as he was pulled further inside.

They stopped when they reached the back of the tavern and Quatre blinked through the haze of tobacco and peyote smoke to see the captain of the Tallgeese lounging languidly in an overstuffed armchair that stood against the wall. Impossibly long, elegant legs, clad in tight leather breeches were crossed, one over the other. Quatre's eyes traveled up the length of those limbs and took in the cream colored peasant blouse, even frillier than his own. Zechs had more rings on his hands than Quatre had ever seen and the gems glinted in the low light as the man flicked the ash from his hand-rolled cigarette. His hair was even more blond than Quatre's, bordering on white. It was long and silky looking, cascading over his broad shoulders. But it was the eyes that really demanded attention. Icy blue and sharp, they stared right through him as if he wasn't even there.

Kneeling beside him was the man whom Zechs had taken as a catamite of sorts. He was older than the captain by at least a few years. He was shirtless, his bottom half wrapped in what looked like a sarong of some kind, the colour a deep red. Sandals, similar to the kind Quatre's own people wore, were wound around his ankles and calves. He sat on his haunches with his head hanging low. Quatre got a bit of a look at his face beneath the short brown hair. He noticed the man's eyes were closed and wondered if he was actually sleeping. He remained motionless as Zechs placed a pale hand on top of the man's head.

Quatre had met Zechs once before, but that time, he'd brought a young woman with short black hair. She'd been similarly dressed as the former German commander. But instead of kneeling on the floor, she'd been in the captain's lap and her bare breasts were fondled and caressed during the entirety of the meeting. Come to think of it, Quatre recalled seeing her with her eyes closed, too, and assumed it was some strange preference of the captain's. 

He bit down on the yelp that wanted to escape when he was roughly yanked down and struggled to keep his balance as he was pulled into Trowa's lap, grabbing the table in front of him for support. Trowa's powerful arms closed around his waist and he resisted the urge to lean back against his chest. In public, it wasn't his place to do such a thing. He stared holes into the wooden grain of the table, his ears piqued as the two men greeted each other with reluctant amicability. He could sense Wufei standing behind his right shoulder as he always did, silently threatening.

"Good to see you again, Barton," said Zechs, though his voice sounded anything but pleased to see him. Quatre watched out of the corner of his eye as the regal captain stroked his catamite's hair. He'd been completely uninterested when Zechs had had the girl with him, not the least bit aroused by the sight of her breasts. This time, he was more curious. Trowa had told him that the man had once been a German commander. Someone of high status who'd lost it all for the simple, yet despicable crime of enjoying sodomy. 

Having been through the same thing, Quatre's heart went out to him, though if rumor was anything to go by, Treize was more than satisfied with his lot and Quatre got the sense that was true. Even with his head down and his eyes closed, there was an element of peace in his expression. Contentment. Also something Quatre could relate to. 

Unlike the rest of the world, pirates didn't give much heed to the concept of sin. They indulged in it shamelessly every day of their lives. Homosexuality was just one of those many pleasures and no one really batted an eye at it. The proof of that was when Trowa cupped a hand over his groin and he, well-trained that he was, didn't jump at the stimulation. Trowa leaned forward and Quatre could feel the rumble against his back as he spoke.

"Let's leave the niceties for another time, shall we? The money." Short and to the point was Trowa's way. Quatre chanced a glance up to see Zechs' eyes look down for just a moment in acknowledgement. He held out a hand to the man standing beside him who pulled a large satchel off his shoulder and silently handed it to him. Zechs grabbed the satchel and placed it on the table, then pushed it across the rough surface until it sat in front of Trowa and himself. He glanced into the opening and caught sight of shimmering gold.

"It's all there. Where's my necklace?"

Trowa's right arm uncurled itself from around Quatre's waist and held it up behind his back. Quatre could hear the slight jingle as Wufei produced the precious jewelry. A moment later, it was placed on the table and Quatre's eyes were drawn to it. Memories of wearing that very piece while he was buggered on Trowa's bed surfacing in his mind and he bit down on the sudden urge to smugly inform the former monarch of that delicious tidbit. 

Trowa didn't bother to push the loot across the table like Zechs did and the blond man scoffed and ticked a finger at the man beside him. Quatre watched long fingers wrap around the necklace and pull it away and felt almost mournful to see it go. 

"Your boy is very beautiful," Zechs murmured and Quatre's heart thumped as he was brought into the conversation, though he didn't dare look up. 

Trowa's arm tightened possessively around him. "Yes, I know."

Zechs grinned and leaned back, picking up his ale. His glacier blue eyes twinkled over the rim of the cup. "How much do you want for him?"

"He's not for sale," was Trowa's icy response.

"You'd fight for him?"

"You'll die if you try."

"Pity," Zechs chuckled. "He would make a stunning addition to my collection." He glanced down at Treize and tucked a finger beneath the man's chin, lifting his head up. Treize's eyes opened, looking almost dazed and Quatre realized the man was actually drugged. "He would look beautiful lying beneath my own boy."

"Only in your dreams, your Highness." Quatre could hear the mockery in Trowa's voice and wanted to laugh when Zechs' face hardened, all traces of playfulness wiped away. 

"Don't be too sure about that, Barton," Zechs hissed. He pointed a jeweled finger at Quatre. "Rumor has it this boy is held in much higher regard than you let on. That he's become your weakness. It would be a shame if something happened to him. Such a lovely little pup, he is."

But Trowa wasn't taking the bait. "Only men who have nothing better to do than imagine tall tales to pass the time because they're bitter about their miserable lives will spread rumors. You're not one of those men, are you?"

Zechs scoffed and waved his hand. "I am only repeating what I've heard in passing." He placed his stein on the table and leaned forward, clasping his hands together. "Speaking of which, there's word of a new pirate -"

"Yes, Maxwell. I've heard."

"Rising up the proverbial ladder, he is. Perhaps it is wise to watch out for that one. You might find yourself in stiff competition."

"I'll believe that when I see it. What's his story?"

Zechs shrugged and brushed a lock of hair off his shoulder. "No one really knows. They say he's from the New World, but his past is a mystery. He is quite savage, though. He's a known gift of finding a man's weakness and using it against him." Zechs' eyes briefly flitted to Quatre and his heart fluttered in his chest. It was unnerving news and he wasn't sure why Trowa hadn't told him about this Maxwell character sooner.

"Granted, that only applies to men who have weaknesses," said Trowa.

Zechs grinned, reminding Quatre of a shark. "Every man has a weakness. You are no exception, Barton."

Quatre sensed Trowa's smile even though he couldn't see it. "And what's yours, Prince?"

Zechs scowled at the honorific and leaned back in his chair. "As if I would tell you."

Quatre's breath caught as Trowa suddenly stood up. He placed Quatre on his feet, but kept a strong arm around him. He handed Wufei the satchel of gold and said, "You don't need to tell me, Merquise. I already know what it is." Quatre walked forward, trying not to stumble when Trowa guided him back the way they came and he breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of leaving. He just wanted to go back to the ship. He was inexplicably tired.

Zechs' voice drifted over the din of the tavern. "I highly doubt that."

Quatre blinked in surprise as he was handed to Wufei. He didn't struggle as the Chinese man's arms wrapped around him, but he glanced over his shoulder to see Trowa step towards the man who knelt at Zechs' feet. His eyes widened as Trowa grabbed a fistful of brown hair and tipped Treize's head back, lowering his face as if he was about to kiss him. 

Zechs instantly shot to his feet, reaching into his breeches for his weapon and Quatre shouted as he was suddenly thrown to the floor. From his sprawled position, he looked up to see Wufei holding his sword with a steady arm, the razor sharp tip pressed against Zechs' Adam's apple. Zechs was frozen in place, his arm extended towards Trowa, pointing a jewel handled pistol at his head. Trowa, for his part, had not drawn a weapon, but he gazed at Zechs with an eerily calm confidence, like he knew Zechs wasn't so foolish as to pull the trigger. 

"Put it away, Merquise, or I will bleed you like a pig." Wufei's voice was low, but laced with the threat of violence and Quatre shivered at the deadly promise in it. He struggled to breathe, but was almost afraid to, not knowing what was going to happen. He watched a tiny drop of blood roll down Zechs' throat as the tip of the blade pierced the skin. After a moment of tense stillness, Zechs dropped his arm and angrily shoved the gun back into his breeches. After another long pause, Wufei retracted his blade and smoothly slid it into the sheath on his hip.

Trowa smirked and stepped closer to Zechs who now refused to look at him. He leaned in and whispered against his ear, though his voice was loud enough for Quatre to hear what he said. 

"I found your weakness. Never forget that, your Highness." He stepped away and Quatre blinked up at him when he reached down to grab his arm and pull him to his feet. He was still in a state of shock, his heart jackrabbiting from the fear of seeing a gun aimed at Trowa's head. He wanted to turn around and smack him for being so reckless, but he knew he would only receive an even harder one for his troubles. He tried to quell the nausea in his belly as they stepped through the door, trying not to vomit up the lunch he'd eaten earlier. The relatively fresh air of the outdoors hit him in the face and he gasped, feeling lightheaded. 

"Tr - Captain Barton, please. I'm sorry, I need to rest for a moment." Quatre stumbled over to a large rock and leaned over it, his stomach beginning to heave. He vomited into the foliage growing behind it, coughing and sucking in lungfuls of tepid air. When the spasms subsided, he shakily sat down on the rock and lowered his head to his knees. He heard the sound of footsteps approaching, but didn't lift his head. 

"Are you alright?"

No. "Yes," he said, not wanting to worry him. It wasn't the place for that. "I'm alright. I just need a minute to get my bearings." Nothing more was said. Trowa and Wufei waited patiently while Quatre recovered and thankfully, after a few minutes, the nausea and dizziness subsided. He straightened up and blew out a breath. "Okay. I'm alright now." He glanced up at Trowa, his heart melting at the concern in his eyes.

"Are you sure?"

He nodded and stood up carefully, grateful when Trowa's arm hooked around him and held him securely. "Yes, I feel better. We can go now." The adrenaline was finally beginning to subside, too, which left him feeling weak, his limbs trembling with the after effects. The muggy heat didn't help, but they made it back to the ship without any further incident and Trowa immediately ordered him to go to the cabin and lie down. 

He obeyed, wanting nothing more than to do just that and flopped down onto the bed with a heavy sigh as soon as the door closed behind him. It wasn't the first time he'd seen Trowa demonstrate his prowess. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd seen Wufei draw his sword, but it was the first time he'd witnessed Trowa in immediate danger. He could have easily been shot and Quatre whimpered into the pillow when he remembered how close to death Trowa had been. 

Or, maybe he hadn't. Trowa didn't seem at all concerned so either he knew Zechs well enough to know the man was not that foolish, or he was overestimating him. The first option was the one Quatre decided to focus on because the second option terrified him. Trowa was smart, though. He knew what he was doing so perhaps Quatre was just overreacting. But it was the first time he'd been faced with the possibility that Trowa was vulnerable. That he could die at any time and Quatre didn't even want to think about that. The thought of losing Trowa made him ache with a sense of despair so profound, it left him feeling ice cold, which was strange given the heat inside the cabin.

Exhaustion was quickly setting in despite his attempts to fight it and his eyelids drooped. His thoughts began to slip together nonsensically, but he had just enough coherence to jot down a mental note to ask Trowa about this Captain Maxwell. Soon, even that faded along with his consciousness and he drifted off into an uneasy sleep where he was plagued by nightmares of Trowa kissing Zechs' catamite, Trowa getting his head blown off, of himself getting buggered over the table by Zechs.

He vaguely registered in his tumultuous sleep that it was hot. Too hot, which triggered dreams of being back home in the desert. He dreamed of the time he'd come down with Scarlet Fever, but instead of his nanny nursing him through it, it was Wufei for some unknown reason. The First Mate's face was grim, almost sad as he pressed cold compresses against Quatre's feverish brow and he kept whispering the same cryptic sentence over and over.

"This is the price for your sin."

Chapter Text

Wufei pulled Trowa aside while the rest of the crew sorted through the now abundant amount of supplies. There was more than enough food to last a few months, jugs of water, plenty of rum and ale, clothing, gun powder, and a few luxuries including the silk nightgowns and chemises in various shades of colours that Trowa had gotten for Quatre to wear when they were alone in the cabin. In addition to that, several pairs of lace-topped stockings, a few more necklaces, some jeweled hair pins, and two tins of rouge for Quatre's cheeks and lips. 

To say he was looking forward to walking into his cabin and seeing his catamite dressed in slinky négligée and jewels, his curls pinned up on top of his head, and his creamy cheeks and plump lips stained with rouge, would be an understatement. He was distinctly aware of the rising bulge in his breeches from the thought of ravishing the beautiful blond. Of mussing up that carefully styled hair, smearing the rouge across his face, and wrenching those delicate skirts up to plunder that sweet body beneath. 

He leaned against the railing of the main deck and crossed his arms over his chest. "What is it, Wufei."

Wufei glanced out towards the horizon. The sun was high in the sky and it would be hours before it set and the water out to the west was a deep, dark blue. Trowa waited patiently, watching the man's chest rise and fall beneath his silk waistcoat, catching a glimpse of the Manchu beneath. Trowa had no idea how he could wear so much clothing in this heat and not break a sweat. Wufei was indifferent to extremes in temperature, something he'd always admired. 

"You frightened him."

Trowa shot his friend a slightly amused grin. "Why, Fei. I do believe you're developing quite the soft spot for my boy."

Wufei scoffed and looked away. "He is...more than just beauty. He is a many great things."

"I know."

"Do you? I'm not so sure."

"What are you talking about?"

"You still treat him like he's a boy. Like the only thing he's good for is warming your bed. Do you know how intelligent he is?" 

Yes, Trowa did know. He wasn't sure where this was coming from. "You know I only treat him that way off the ship and you know why."

Wufei shook his head and leaned over the railing, watching the waves smack against the bow. "He has so much potential, Trowa. He's one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. He's also the kindest and he's demonstrated on more than one occasion that he has leadership skills. Don't relegate him to his appearance and his sex appeal. He could be an extremely valuable asset to this crew."

"Quatre is a catamite, not a sailor. Before I grabbed him, he'd never even been on a ship before."

Wufei turned on him, his eyes sharp. "Have you seen his maps? He not only accurately charted out the waters west of the New World, but he also corrected Quinze's mistakes. He's not just a catamite, Trowa. He's much more than that and I..." Wufei paused as Trowa's gaze darkened. "Forgive me for being so forward, I do not want to see such potential go to waste. He can still be your lover, but we could really use skills like his, and not only when it suits your fancy to indulge him." Wufei watched the incoming form of another ship, preparing to dock and breathed out a heavy sigh. "He's eighteen now, Trowa. He's a man. It is time you start treating him like one."

Trowa's hackles rose at his First Mate's commanding tone. His instinct was to lash out and reprimand Wufei for his insubordination. But he was the man Trowa trusted most in the world and the best friend he'd ever had besides Catherine. Wufei's arguments were always given with the utmost respect and Trowa's welfare was always his priority. Wufei was the only one who was allowed to challenge him. Still, Trowa's inbred stubbornness would not allow him to concede. 

"How did I frighten him? I did nothing threatening towards him." Wufei's face was incredulous and Trowa felt like he was missing something. "Or did I?"

Wufei let out a long sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I swear, you are the most dense man in the world sometimes. No, Quatre saw Zechs put a gun to your head."

Trowa still wasn't catching on. "And...what?" It certainly wasn't the first time he'd had a gun to his head.

"And that scared him, Trowa!" Wufei threw up his hands in exasperation. "He cares about you. I could even say he loves you -"

"Did he tell you that?"

"No! Damn, but are you blind? It's in his eyes every time he looks at you. He adores you."

Now, the puzzle was clicking into place. "So seeing me in danger...oh."

"Exactly. Look, I know you're just doing what you do. I know it's necessary sometimes, but you have to consider how something like that might affect him. How would you react if someone put a gun to his head?"

That was easy. Trowa would rip their head off and mount it to the Catherine's mast. He didn't say anything out loud, but Wufei already knew the answer to that. He nodded and turned back to the railing. 

"Just remember that next time. I'm not telling you to do anything different, but just try to keep his feelings in mind. Think about how it would affect you. Like you said, he's not a sailor. He's also no pirate. He's not ruthless and he does not like violence. Seeing someone he cares deeply about in danger -"

"I wasn't in danger."

"He didn't know that, Trowa! It doesn't matter. It terrified him. Just don't forget that he's there and he's watching. Do you want him to wind up like us?"

That was a definite no. If there was one thing he was determined to do, it was to keep Quatre the way he was. Sweet, gentle, loving. To turn him into himself, or Wufei would be criminal. 

But Wufei wasn't finished. "That's not to say he shouldn't learn to be more world weary. He needs to be tougher if he's going to be able to defend himself in the future. Teach him to fight. Or let me."

"No. He doesn't need to. I will protect him."

"Can you really say you'll always be there to protect him? What if something does happen to you? I know you're not foolish enough to believe you're infallible. What if something were to happen? What if he finds himself on his own? You can't keep him chained to your side forever. Do you want him to face the world defenseless as a newborn kitten? Or would you allow him to have a fighting chance?" Wufei stepped closer, his dark eyes earnest. "I care about him, too. I want to keep him safe. But we cannot be under any delusions that we will always be able to protect him. He's not a child. Give him a chance to be a man. Give him a chance to survive on his own."

Trowa sighed and turned away, leaning over the railing. "I don't like this."

"You don't have to. But we have to be realistic. It's more dangerous for him if he doesn't know how to protect himself."

"I will think about it. Alright?"

Wufei held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "That is all I ask."

"Anything else?"

Wufei glanced around, then shook his head. "No. I don't believe so. We did well. More than well. We're stocked for several months."

Trowa nodded, watching the approach of a ship, his eyes tracking the anchors as they dropped into the water. "Everyone accounted for?"

"Yes."

"Set the course for India then."

"Aye, Sir. Go see your boy. I think he needs some...reassurance." Trowa turned shocked eyes on his friend and they widened even more when the man winked one dark eye before he turned away, heading for the helm. Trowa glared at his retreating back as he heard him cackle and resisted the urge to throw something at him. 

He grabbed the items he'd purchased for his catamite and headed back towards the cabin, his groin already perking up with interest. Wufei did have a point though Trowa was reluctant to address it. It was better and safer for Quatre if he knew how to fight. It was difficult to reconcile in his mind. A catamite knowing how to fight? Unheard of. They had one purpose and one purpose only. Teaching Quatre how to fight, allowing him to have a more lucrative position as part of the crew muddied waters that Trowa wasn't sure he wanted muddied. If that happened, Quatre's status as a catamite would be in question. He would no longer be a possession and Trowa quite liked him as a possession.

Perhaps it was selfish of him, not allowing the boy to reach his full potential. The truth was, he didn't want to share any aspect of Quatre with anyone. Keeping him as a catamite ensured that everything about Quatre was his and Trowa was not keen on changing that. 

But Quatre also had wonderful things to offer the world and as tragic as it would be if he became hardened like Trowa and his men, it would also be tantamount to criminal to deprive the world of someone like Quatre. The boy had the potential to do great things, to become something great. Did Trowa really have the right to stifle that? 

He was still undecided and he knew it would probably take some time before he felt ready to permit such things. Until then, he had a stunningly beautiful catamite that was all his, only his. He opened the door to his cabin, ready for an entertaining night of watching the boy try on his new things, coupled with a great deal of delightful debauchery. 

Quatre was lying on the bed, seemingly asleep. His back was turned and Trowa closed the door quietly, not wanting to startle him awake. He much preferred to rouse the boy slowly and in more erotic ways. He raised a brow when he heard a slight whimper and set the purchases down onto the chair beside the wardrobe, under the assumption that Quatre was having a nightmare. 

He crawled onto the bed and draped his long body over the boy, instantly freezing when he realized something was wrong. Quatre was burning hot. The heat coming off his skin, permeating through Trowa's clothing was like fire and despite him nearly boiling with fever, his slender body trembled and shivered as if he was cold. Trowa's heart sunk into his belly as he turned him over, his eyes taking in the slight yellow tinge to Quatre's normally peachy skin. 

"Oh, bugger. No."

He leaped off the bed and threw the door open, startling his crew with his urgent strides as he made his way across the deck. He found Wufei still at the helm, conversing with the pilot. Wufei sensed his approach and turned, his eyes widening at the rare expression of terror in his captain's face.

"Trowa...what is it?"

Trowa gripped his elbow and began pulling his friend back towards the cabin. "Come with me."

"I'm coming, I'm coming." Wufei's voice dropped, speaking in a harsh whisper. "Don't panic the crew. What's the matter? Is it Quatre?"

Trowa didn't answer. His heart was pounding erratically. His blood pumped adrenaline throughout his body, dread settling in the pit of his stomach. He was fairly certain he knew what it was, but he needed Wufei to confirm, or deny it, hoping against hope it would be the latter.

He pulled his friend inside and shut the door, then reached over the bed and gripped Quatre's chin, turning his face towards Wufei. The boy murmured through chattering teeth but didn't wake. Trowa opened Quatre's shirt, groaning mournfully as the yellowed skin of his catamite's chest and belly were revealed. He dipped his head, closing his eyes for a moment before chancing a glance at his friend and his worst fears were confirmed when he saw Wufei's grim expression. Their eyes met, Trowa's begging him to tell him it wasn't what he thought it was and Wufei's dark with the truth. 

"Oh, Trowa. I'm sorry."

"Just...is it?"

Wufei nodded solemnly. "It's the Yellow Fever. I've seen it before. I had it as a child. I nearly died."

Trowa shook his head frantically, stubborn refusal settling deep into his bones. "He's not going to die. I won't let him."

"Trowa, you know I will help you. You shouldn't even be near him. You haven't had it -"

"I'm not leaving him."

"Trowa, don't be a fool! I've had it before. I will stay with him, but if you -"

"I've already been exposed. I'm not leaving him." He tucked an arm beneath the boy's head and gathered his shaking body into his arms, cradling him against his chest. "What do we do?"

"We keep him isolated, for one thing. He does not leave this room and no one else comes in here. We cannot risk exposing the rest of the ship."

Trowa tenderly brushed blond hair, limp with sickness, away from Quatre's yellow tinged forehead and pressed a kiss to the burning skin. "And then what?"

"The only thing we can do is keep him hydrated. Support his body with what it needs and try to keep him alive until it runs its course. We can use the ocean water to keep his fever under control and hope for the best. But, Trowa," Wufei rested a hand against his friend's shoulder. "The mortality rate -"

"I know what the mortality rate is," he snapped. "He's not going to be among them."

Wufei only nodded, knowing arguing wouldn't get them anywhere. The chances of Quatre surviving this were slim. He would burn, high and dry and his body would convulse from the fever. He would bleed, inside and out. If he succumbed, and chances were he would, it would most likely be due to hemorrhaging, or dehydration. All they could do was try to keep his body temperature as low as possible, give him enough water to keep him alive, and hope for the best. 

He didn't even want to think about the very likely probability that the boy would die and what that would do to Trowa. Even worse, Trowa had now been exposed. If he became ill, command of the Catherine fell to Wufei. He watched his captain, his friend, cradle Quatre with a tenderness he rarely saw and his heart broke for him, for them. He'd always known there was a human being behind that frigid, callous exterior. Who knew a lowly catamite would be the one to bring it out of him. 

He watched them for another moment, bittersweet warmth in his chest as Trowa lowered his head and buried his face into the boy's hair. He pressed his hand on the back of Trowa's head, a gesture of comfort, then stepped back and reached for the door.

"I'm going to get some sea water and fill the tub. It's cold enough that it should bring his fever down some. I'm also going to get a few jugs of fresh water. You are officially quarantined. Both of you. Only I will come in and out of this room for the next two weeks until we can be sure the virus hasn't spread." He nodded when Trowa looked up at him. "I will run the ship in the meantime until I am sure you are not ill. We cannot risk the crew."

"I know," said Trowa, looking back down at the boy in his arms. "He's cold."

"That's the fever. Covering him up will only make him retain heat. Get those clothes off of him and put them in -"

He was interrupted when Quatre suddenly heaved and Trowa rolled him onto his side with a curse, holding the boy's head over the edge of the bed while he vomited. 

"I'll get a few buckets. There's going to be a lot of vomiting. When you get his clothes off, put them in the corner over there." He pointed to the corner farthest from the door. "Everything he comes into contact with needs to be put there to keep it contained. They will have to be thrown overboard." Quatre's heaves subsided and Trowa rolled him back into his arms, using the lapel of the boy's shirt to wipe the spittle and bile from his lips. "He's going to bleed, Trowa. This is going to be a very difficult week and that's even if he survives -"

"He will survive."

Wufei paused, then nodded. "I'm going to start gathering the supplies we'll need. You need to eat and drink plenty of water yourself. And sleep when he does. You'll need your strength and energy when his fever spikes." He observed them for another long moment and realized this was love. Real love. Trowa had never said it, but this was it. He was willing to risk his own life for the boy. Wufei would have done the same for his wife, Meilan. This was love in its most purest, visceral form. "I will return shortly. Get him undressed. We're going to put him in the tub once I get it filled. Do not leave this room. Understood?"

It felt strange commanding his captain, but he supposed he'd better get used to it and quickly. He was in charge for the next two weeks and if Trowa and Quatre both died, he would become the Catherine's new captain. The only thing he could do was hope for a miracle and try to ignore the voice in his head that told him there was no such thing.

 

***

 

In the days that followed, Quatre continued to deteriorate. The weight he'd put on thanks to the hearty meals he'd eaten in the last three years melted away as his body cannibalized itself, starved for nutrients. Trowa and Wufei forced water down his throat and when he vomited it back up, they forced down more. On the fourth day, his skin was the colour of corncobs and blotchy with bloody bruises. It seemed even the most gentlest of touches would cause him to bruise. He'd vomited up all of his stomach acid and bile days ago, the strenuous heaving rupturing delicate blood vessels. The only thing left for him to vomit was the blood that filled his stomach cavity. 

When his fever spiked in the evenings, they dipped his body into the chilled sea water, their hearts hurting from the screams of pain as he was moved and then submersed in forty degree water. But it did the trick every time. He slept in small bursts, vomited, and slept again. Trowa and Wufei dozed during the quiet moments and worked tirelessly to nurse the boy back to health. 

Quatre's sickness gave Wufei a glimpse into what Trowa would have been like if hadn't had such a hard life and essentially what Wufei himself would have been like. They'd both been living for far too long depending on the survival of the fittest that they'd almost forgotten what it meant to be human. In a way, it was a gift. He had the privilege to observe his captain as someone who was soft, caring, and tender. Taking care of Quatre had gotten them both back in touch with their humanity and maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.

On the seventh day, he sat slouched in the chair by the wardrobe, his eyes half-lidded with exhaustion, and watched his captain doze on the bed. Trowa's face was lined and pale with stress, but soft as he got a brief reprieve. In his arms laid Quatre who was also sleeping at the moment. So far, they'd been able to keep him alive and it seemed as though they may have turned the curve. Quatre had not vomited in several hours and his temperature remained stable. He wasn't out of the woods yet, but Wufei felt an inkling of hope for the first time in a week. 

It wasn't unheard of for the sick person to appear to be improving, only to take a turn for the worse and wind up dying a few days later. Wufei was cautiously optimistic, but it would be several more days before he could be sure the boy was really recovering. 

Miraculously, Trowa still showed no signs of the disease and Wufei allowed himself to relax a little. The captain was exhausted, but not sick. In most cases, the exposed would have already begun showing symptoms. If another week went by without Trowa showing any signs of sickness, Wufei would be able to clear him. 

It was a grueling time for him, having to change clothes and wash every time he left the cabin. The constant cleaning and scrubbing he had to do himself to prevent the spread of the disease as he was the only one with known immunity. For extra precautions, he ordered the rest of the crew to keep a solid twenty five meter perimeter away from the captain's cabin. Everything that Quatre and Trowa had come into contact with on that first day that couldn't be washed was thrown overboard. 

If he managed to succeed in his endeavor, he would retire to his bunker at the end of the two weeks and sleep for a solid month. 

 

***

 

Despite the odds, Quatre's condition improved. He had yet to regain consciousness, but the fever finally began to subside by the tenth day. The yellowing of his skin and the nasty purple bruises began to fade and resemble more of his natural colour. The vomiting had ceased and he was holding water and broth down. His breathing, which had been shallow and laborious at the worst of the illness, was much stronger and steady and he slept longer and deeper the more he healed.

Early on the thirteenth day, Trowa woke, slowly at first, his subconscious mind registering a soft hand stroking his cheek. He pried sticky eyelids open and blinked at the most beautiful pair of blue eyes gazing tiredly at him. Trowa could see the still slightly yellow whites of his eyes, but they were clear, cognizant for the first time in two weeks. Awareness slammed down on top of him in an instant and he jerked his head off the pillow in surprise, his hands reaching out to cup the gaunt face of his catamite. Quatre smiled up at him and Trowa could have wept with relief. His mouth trembled as he pressed kisses all over the boy's face, murmuring declarations of love and admonishment against Quatre's skin.

"Oh, Mother Mary. You're alright. You're alright. You scared the life out of me," he said, kissing the boy's eyelids, the tip of his nose, his forehead, chin, and cheeks. "I thought I'd lost you. Don't you ever do that to me again."

Quatre's hands, weak from the sickness and lack of solid food, trembled as they clutched Trowa's forearms. He smiled and endured the attention, nodding slightly at the gentle berating. "I'm so sorry, Trowa. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." His voice was a bit croaky from misuse and he winced a little at how pathetic he sounded.

Trowa did weep then at the sound of his catamite's voice. Something he wasn't sure he'd ever hear again. It was like the sweetest music, like harps descending from Heaven and he buried his face in the boy's neck and unleashed the tsunami of emotions that had built up over the past two weeks. He let go of the paralyzing fear, the frustration, the exhaustion, and the hopelessness. Quatre summoned enough strength to stroke the back of Trowa's head, trying to comfort him as tears dripped onto his collar bone.

That was how Wufei found them. Quatre's eyes flitted over to the man as the door swung open and he smiled guiltily when the First Mate stepped in, looking almost as haggard as Trowa did. 

Wufei fixed the boy with a mock stern look and fisted his hands on his hips. "It's about time. So nice of you to join the land of the living again."

Quatre's cheeks flushed, feeling bad, but appreciating Wufei's attempts to lighten up the atmosphere. He chuckled weakly and shook his head. "How long have I been out?"

"Thirteen days," Trowa mumbled into his neck. 

Quatre gave a bit of a start at that. "Oh, Allah. I'm so sorry. I had no idea." He'd had no awareness, no concept of time, only bits and pieces of disorientation and agony. 

Wufei shook his head in amazement. "And Trowa, the big, dumb fool, never left your side the entire time. Not that I allowed it. I had you both quarantined in here the whole time so as not to expose the whole ship. I was certain he was going to come down with it as well, but he is healthy as a horse." He cocked his head at his friend. "Are you sure you've never had it?"

Trowa lifted his head up and shot Wufei a wry look. "I think I would have known if I'd had it. I've never had much more than a cold."

Quatre grinned and caressed his cheek. "Strong as an ox."

"And just as stubborn," said Wufei. "Well, it looks as though you're both in the clear now, though I'd recommend you staying in here for one more day." He gave them his most stern expression and Quatre tried not to laugh as he looked like a scolding father. "Trowa, continue giving him the broth and water for a few more days until I'm sure it's safe for him to eat solid food. His stomach still needs to heal and I'm not going to have him tearing it open and bleeding out because he put something too heavy in there too soon. In three, or four days, we'll start with something a little more solid. Bread with no crusts and cooked potatoes. We have to work him back up to a healthy diet very slowly. Understood?"

Trowa's mouth curled up slightly. "Aye, Captain Chang."

Wufei scoffed and Quatre did laugh then. "Don't even jest about that, Barton. You two have given me enough frights in the last two weeks than I've had in years."

"Oh, Fei. You'd make a fine captain."

Wufei lifted his chin. "You are the captain and it damned well better remain that way for a long time. I harbor no fantasies about taking your place."

Trowa's expression softened as he smiled at his friend. "I really am sorry, Wufei. And I appreciate everything you've done for him, for us. You truly are a wonderful friend and I don't know how I'll ever repay you."

"Neither do I," Quatre murmured.

"You can repay me by not getting sick again," Wufei sniffed. "Remember what I said. Quatre, you are to remain in this bed until you are steadily holding down solid food. I'm not going to have you overcome because you didn't follow my orders."

"I'll stay here."

"Good. I will let you know when I feel comfortable enough to let you up and about. And Trowa, you eat, then sleep. I'm going to do the same. I'll return this afternoon to check on you both. Are we clear on this?"

"Aye, Sir." Both captain and catamite ticked their fingers against their brows in a salute. Wufei waved a hand and shook his head as he reached for the door. His grumbles reached their ears as he left the cabin.

"Stupid lovesick fools. You're worse than children."

Chapter Text

It had been a year since Quatre was on the cusp of death from the "yellow plague". While he was fully recovered, he wasn't as virile as he'd been before he'd gotten sick. It took him six months to gain back the weight he'd lost and that was mostly due to Trowa practically force-feeding him foods that were rich and fatty. If there was one thing Trowa was good at, it was looting luxurious items which also included a wide variety of delectable foods. By far, his favorite were the little fruit pastries they'd picked up in Zurich.

It had taken nearly three months for Trowa to quit hovering over him like a worrisome shadow, afraid his catamite was going to keel over at any moment. Quatre had to exercise monumental self-restraint not to snap at the captain for nearly smothering him with attention. It was nice while he'd been recovering, but once he was as back to normal as he was going to get, he just wanted a little room to breathe. 

They'd reintroduced sex slowly, under the bullish orders of the First Mate. Wufei had staunchly declared that he was not going to be responsible for any injuries, or lapses in health due to their "nocturnal activities". The first time Trowa even dared touch him in any way that was remotely sexual had been two months after he was given the all clear. He'd kissed Quatre with brain-melting tenderness as his oiled fingers reduced the boy to a trembling, whimpering mess and huffed into his soft neck while his catamite brought him to completion with a warm hand around his cock. 

Steadily, they built up their sexual routine over the course of several months until they'd reached pre-disease status and once Trowa was certain Quatre would not succumb to exhaustion, or illness, he was as passionate as ever, if not more so. Quatre couldn't get enough of being pinned to the bed, moaning brokenly as the captain's cock touched him in all the right places. 

To his surprise, Trowa not only allowed him to resume his work with the navigator, but actually encouraged it. Even more amazing, Quatre found himself no longer being supervised when he was off doing some task, or another aboard the Catherine. Trowa would look over his work with a critical eye, praising him when he did good and providing constructive criticism when he felt the boy could do better. It was oddly similar to how he treated the rest of the crew and Quatre boggled at the feeling of almost being an equal. 

He'd also heard the arguments between Trowa and Wufei, the two men engaging in heated debates about Quatre's abilities and how much freedom he should be allowed off the ship. Trowa, in the beginning, was steadfast that Quatre was not permitted to be anything more than what he was, but Quatre noticed over time that Wufei began to wear down his resolve. He was excited at the prospect of learning how to fight, but a little frightened at the idea of being promoted as a member of the crew. He'd been a catamite for so long now, he wasn't sure if he knew how to be anything else. Wufei had a knack for reassuring and easing his insecurities, insisting that Quatre already was more than that as he had demonstrated on many occasions. 

After a few months of nagging and finagling, Trowa eventually gave in, but with strong reservations and strict conditions. Quatre was not allowed to carry a weapon until he was proficient at wielding it and he was still not allowed to go off on his own when they were off the ship. Both catamite and First Mate agreed and soon, Quatre was being woken up at first light by a fully dressed and immaculate fighting instructor. 

As the sun rose over the horizon, they would occupy the main deck before most of the crew was awake. Quatre was taught the most basic techniques of wushu and also how to load and fire a revolver. Wufei was surprisingly a very patient and hands on instructor, standing behind Quatre with his hands placed over the boy's while he taught him how to move, where to step, and how to swing, parry, and thrust. The styles that were used were not only deadly, but aesthetically pleasing, like an elegant dance. Quatre soon found himself looking forward to his lessons even though it was difficult to leave the warmth of Trowa's arms. 

It had really only been five months since he'd begun learning the art of fighting. Nowhere near proficient. He didn't know how long it would be before he was actually allowed to carry a weapon, but now he wished he had been able to carry one considering his current predicament. 

 

***

 

 

He had no idea what happened, or how he got separated from Trowa in that marketplace. The captain had gotten a little more lenient about letting him stray several feet away, especially if one of the vendors had something that caught his fancy. He'd spotted a beautiful bronze medallion, shaped like a crescent moon which hung from a brown leather cord. Etched into the metal was the Shakesperian quote, “Do not swear by the moon, for she changes constantly. Then your love would also change." Quatre instantly fell in love with it, knowing it would look breathtaking resting in the deep golden dip at the center of Trowa's chest. 

He pulled his tiny wool pouch out of his pocket containing a small amount of reales that were given to him as an allowance and was relieved that he'd had enough money to buy it. He thanked the vendor and stuffed the medallion into the pocket along with his empty pouch and turned to head back to wear he'd last seen his captain. Only Trowa wasn't there. He looked around frantically for him, panicking when there was no sign of him, Wufei, or the rest of the crew. 

He was walking back and forth through the marketplace, desperate for a glimpse of his captain when he was grabbed from behind. His shout was muffled by a hand clamping over his mouth. He punched at the arms holding him, feet kicking against his captor's shins, his screams for help smothered by the large hand. His pleading eyes briefly met visitors and vendors alike, only to have them turn away, not wanting to face retribution for interfering. In a last ditch effort to free himself, or at least be able to scream loud enough that Trowa might hear, he bit down into the soft flesh of his captor's palm, tasting the copper of blood.

The man cursed vehemently and pulled his hand away and Quatre used the opportunity to holler at the top of his lungs. Another man crossed in front of him, his unshaven face sprinkled with dirty blond hair, his lip curled up in a snarl.

"Shut that l'il urchin's bellyachin', for Christ's sake! 'E's givin' me a right headache." 

Quatre's head spun from a blow to his temple. It wasn't hard enough to knock him unconscious, but it stunned him enough to silence his screams. He hung limply in his captor's arms, blinking dazedly up at the man with the dirty blond beard. The hair on his head matched and looked like someone had taken a dull blade to it. It stuck up at odd, uneven angles and it would have been funny if Quatre's circumstances weren't so dire. 

Despite the almost comical haircut, the man's face was hard, brown and lined from spending years in the sun, though he couldn't have been more than thirty. There was a long, jagged scar that started at the side of his neck and curled up over his jaw and cheek, ending just below his left eye. Quatre guessed it was probably from a knife attack. The man sneered at him and shouldered a cloth sack and Quatre could hear the clink of coins and other items inside.

His energy was returning as his mind cleared from the strike to his head and he started struggling again. The man with the dirty blond hair pointed a finger smeared with dirt in his face. "Don' make me hit ye again, boy. So 'elp me, I will knock ye dumb."

The man holding him clamped his other hand over Quatre's mouth and hissed in his ear, "Bite me again, pup, and you'll regret it." Quatre was considering doing just that when his captor addressed the man with the scar. "You sure about this, Solo?"

The man shrugged and stuck a wooden pipe between his teeth, his speech slurred when he spoke. "S'what the cap'n said. The blond one. E's the only blond I see 'round here. Should get a hefty ransom for 'im. 'At necklace alone'd buy us an island."

"Then let's get out of here, before his family finds out we took him."

Quatre blinked in confusion. Family? Oh, Allah. They must think I'm nobility. He wiggled fruitlessly as he was carried through shady alleyways, his captors avoiding the main traffic of the marketplace. He realized with a sinking feeling in his gut that these men were pirates and as such, there was only one place they could be going. Terrified of being taken onto another ship, separated from Trowa, from the men he felt safe with and possibly never seeing them again, he fought like a wildcat, screaming, scratching, kicking. He bit down into the man's other palm and shouted when he pulled it away.

"Goddamnit! You little bastard!"

"Let me go! Let me go! I'm not nobility. I'm Capt -"

A deafening blow hit his temple again and this time, his protests and his thoughts faded away into darkness.

 

***

 

When he woke up, aside from the splitting headache that felt like he'd been kicked in the head, he found himself standing upright against something rounded, like a pillar of some kind. He groaned and tried to lift a hand to rub at his eyes and found he couldn't. Jolting into full awareness, he glanced down to find ropes crisscrossing over his chest and torso, all the way down to his legs. His arms were wrapped around the pillar, stretching behind him and a quick glance around revealed that he was on an unfamiliar ship, tied to its mast. A look over the railings determined that they'd already set sail. He craned his neck, straining his eyes for any hint of land and found none.

The sun was lowering on the other side of the horizon, indicating that he'd been out for several hours and his body drooped with dread. He had no idea where he was, whose ship he was on, how far out to sea they were, or if Trowa had even realized he'd been taken. Though by now, he must have, but it was anyone's guess if he even knew who'd taken him.

The distinct sound of boots approaching on the deck alerted him. The man with the dirty blond hair and the scar up the side of his face appeared from behind his right shoulder. Quatre wracked his brain trying to remember what the other man had called him. Sulu? Silo? Solo. That was it. He narrowed his eyes as Solo stepped up to him. The man's gaze was stony like flint and he chewed on the end of his pipe with surprisingly healthy looking teeth. Quatre wondered how his mouth wasn't full of splinters by now.

"How ye feelin', kid?" He reached up and brushed a tendril of blond hair away from Quatre's temple. "Ye got quite the nasty bruise there," he said with a gravelly voice. Quatre was able to place his accent as lower-class English. This was someone who probably lacked education and became a pirate out of necessity more than anything else. 

He flinched away and hissed, "Don't touch me," and flinched again when the man grabbed his face with his fingers, squeezing his cheeks together painfully. It reminded him of when Trowa had taken him and wondered if it was some kind of pirate habit. Solo leaned in close and he could smell the hint of tobacco on his breath.

"Ye best watch yerself, ye l'il brat. We don' have the time, or patience for spoil't l'il whelps, y'hear?"

Quatre glared at him, but bit down on his lip to silence the snarky comments that wanted to come out. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The only way he might have a way out of this was to reason with them. "Look, please just turn around and take me back to Turkey. I'm not what you think I am. I have nothing to give you."

Solo yanked the pipe out of his mouth and wiped spittle from his lips with his sleeve. "Ye were wearin' 'bout a thousand escudos worth of booty 'round yer neck, boy. Don' gimme that shite."

"Yes, because -"

"There ain't nothin' ye can say that's gonna convince me yer not the kid of some rich sheikh, or summat." He gave Quatre a lecherous look, his eyes travelling the length of the boy's body. "Or yer some kept boy, mayhap?"

That was a little closer to the truth. Okay, a lot closer. "Yes, that's what I am, but he's not nobil -"

"Either way, m'sure ye cost a pretty penny to someone. Someone who's got the means to pay up," Solo said, shrugging and chewing on the end of his pipe.

Well, yes. But Quatre didn't think Trowa was going to give these goons anything except a sliced throat. That is, if he ever caught up to them. He lifted his chin as Solo's eyes gleamed, trying not to show his trepidation at the hunger in his eyes. It was a look he'd seen far too often. 

"Ye better hope yer owner can foot the coin, whelp. Otherwise -"

"Solo, are you terrorizing our guest? Don't be so rude." Quatre turned his head at the deep, smooth, but amused sounding voice and narrowed his eyes at the man as he came closer. He was stunningly handsome. His black peasant's blouse was open down to his naval, revealing sun-kissed skin and a musculature that rivaled Trowa's. A long chestnut colored braid was draped over his right shoulder, the tip reaching his hipbone. He was cleaner than Solo, well-kempt, and beautiful. His gait was predatory, like a big cat, his violet eyes even more so. They were the eyes of someone intelligent, bookwise and streetwise. His aura reeked power and dominance and Quatre swallowed down the lump in his throat as his mind began to connect the dots.

"Welcome, lad," the man said. His accent was a strange mix of upper and lower class English. Quatre surmised he must have started out poor and somehow achieved good fortune. He said nothing as the man stopped in front of him. He knew, instantly and without a doubt that this was the captain. One side of the man's mouth curled up as he looked down at the boy and cocked his head. "My apologies for the bump on your head. T'was necessary to get you aboard the ship. Solo and Greenwich told me you were...uncooperative."

"Wouldn't you be if you were abducted off the street?" Quatre snarled before he could stop himself. He realized his error when the captain grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked on it. He yelped and tilted his head, trying to ease the strain on his scalp, breathing hard through his teeth. 

"Considering the position you're in, lad, I would think a little more respect is in order, hmm?" Quatre panted as the captain let go, wishing his hands were free so that he could massage his aching head. The captain smiled cheerfully. "Good. Glad we understand each other." He turned and gestured to another man who stepped forward with a bundle and strip of cloth in his hands. "I'll not be listenin' to your pleas, nor your lies, boy. We know you're nobility. It's all over you. Your mannerisms, your cleanliness. You stink of wealth and privilege." He pinched the boy's cheek painfully and stepped away to allow the man with the cloth to approach. 

Quatre knew right away what the intention was and tried to avoid being gagged by turning his head this way and that and then ultimately snapping his teeth at the man's hands whenever they got close. The captain watched this dodge game for a few moments before he rolled his eyes and grabbed the cloths. "Gimme that, you incompetent fool." He grabbed Quatre's face, digging his thumb and fingers into the hinges of his jaw. Quatre groaned with pain as his mouth was forced open and before he could do anything about it, the man shoved the wad of cloth into his mouth. He coughed and tried to spit it out, but the captain stepped behind him and secured the bundle by wrapping the strip of cloth around it and tying it at the back of his head. 

Quatre shot daggers at them with his eyes and huffed through the gag, already feeling his saliva glands kick in. It wouldn't be long until he was drooling like a literal idiot. The captain stepped back around and stood before the boy with his hands propped on his narrow hips. 

"Now, that's better, innit? And because I am a gentleman, I believe introductions are in order. I am Captain Duo Maxwell. Welcome aboard the Shinigami. She's a beauty, isn't she?" He made a grand sweeping gesture with his arm and looked back at Quatre, taking notice of the boy's shocked look and grinned like a shark. "You've heard of me, I see. Well, good news travels fast," he said with a chuckle. He pointed to the members of his crew who were milling about on the deck. "This is Solo. The stodgy man over there is Greenwich. I don't think you've formally met him. That dark fellow over there is my deckhand, Smith, and these other scary looking degenerates are...well, you don't really need to know everyone's name." He turned back to Quatre. "And yours?" Quatre's brows lowered over his eyes. "Oh, that's right. Cat's got your tongue."

He felt the first of the drool roll over his bottom lip and down his chin and tried in vain to suck it back in as Captain Maxwell turned away and clasped his hands behind his back. "Allow me to explain how this is going to go. We are approximately forty eight kilometers away from shore. Soon, we will drop anchor and wait for word on your family and whether, or not they agree to our demands. If our demands are met, we will return to shore to make the exchange." He swiveled on his heel and gave Quatre a dark look. "For your sake, you'd better hope they meet our demands."

Quatre swallowed hard and looked away. There was no way they were going to find his family, much less get a ransom out of them. His heart dropped into his stomach as the gravity of the situation settled onto him like an ominous cloud. He was going to die. They would not get their ransom and they would kill him. 

This is it. I'm dead. I'm so sorry, Trowa. I should have stayed close to you. I love you.

 

***

 

As expected, his family could not be located and the ransom was not paid. An attempt to find Quatre's "owner" also failed to come to fruition. When they untied him from the mast, he was sure they were going to kill him, or throw him overboard. Instead, Captain Maxwell waved his hand and said, "He's all yours, lads. Might as well get our money's worth." He walked away, disappearing into his cabin and Quatre realized that while he may not be dead, he would much rather be compared to what was about to happen. 

He was stripped naked and taken to the crews' quarters where he was deposited onto a bed. He fought initially, but soon gave in, his body going limp with lassitude. There was no point in fighting. There were simply too many of them. He endured the dozen, or so calloused hands that stroked, grabbed, and groped. He squeezed his eyes closed and retreated into the deep recesses of his mind as his legs were forced open. He endured the seemingly endless chain of buggery while they used his mouth and arse. It became a blur after the first few had their way with him and he quickly lost count of how many times he was taken. 

After a while, he was able to tune it out and turn his mind to more pleasant times, namely those peaceful moments of laying in Trowa's arms. The shared laughter, kisses, and touches. The exquisite lovemaking and he was thankful that those were his last lingering thoughts before he lost consciousness. He welcomed the bliss of darkness, no longer caring about the degrading words, the restraining hands, or the cocks that pillaged and plundered. 

He woke again sometime later. He had no idea how much later, though he could tell it was daytime if the light spilling in from a square hatch in the ceiling was any indication. His body was curled up in a confined space, sore and achy, especially between his legs and his skin was sticky and reeked of come.

At least they had the decency to give me a shirt, he thought bitterly, though it was huge on him and he had to keep yanking the collar back over his shoulders. He felt around blindly in the dark and discovered he was in a box, or crate of some kind. His fingers found the iron bars at the front. Allah, they bugger me and then put me in a cage as if I'm the animal. The irony was just too much.

He was mercifully left alone for a few nights. He was given meager amounts of food and water. Enough to keep him alive and they were usually given with a mocking, or lecherous remark as the pirate relegated to frequent the bilge came to feed him and take him out of the cage long enough for him to relieve himself. Every fortnight, he was taken back to the barracks, stripped out of his shirt, buggered, and then returned to the bilge and the somewhat familiarity of his cage. Despite the dark, lonely isolation, he learned to associate it with reprieve and peace. At least he wasn't being touched.

After what he thought was three, or four weeks, though he really lost track of time, he was taken out of the cage and brought back up on deck. He had to hold his arm over his eyes as the blinding sunlight hurt after being in the dark for so long. He timidly gripped the hem of his shirt, trying to keep a semblance of dignity despite the jeers and touches to his groin and backside. He obediently held his hands behind his back so that they could tie his wrists together and then he was manhandled off the ship and taken to an Inn where they would be staying while the crew of the Shinigami drank, looted, and had their fill of whores. 

He recognized the language of the locals, realizing they were somewhere in Greece. He was taken to a small room with one bed and his wrists were tied tightly to the iron bars of the headboard. The position forced his shirt up, exposing his groin and he stubbornly kept his knees up and his thighs squeezed together.

He was surprised when Maxwell arrived soon after with another boy, one he hadn't seen aboard the ship and wondered if he was a local whore, though by the looks of him, he was not Greek. Quatre picked out distinct Asian and European features. He was strikingly handsome with dark brown hair and shockingly sharp blue eyes. The boy didn't speak as he laid down beside Quatre and obediently held his arms over his head. Quatre watched, stunned, as Maxwell secured the boy's wrists to the headboard and then reached down and squeezed his groin. The boy whimpered and bit his lip, though from pleasure or fear, Quatre didn't know. Maxwell fondled him for another few moments, then straightened up and grinned at both of them. 

"You two make a pretty pair. I believe I'd fancy you putting on a little show later." He winked one indigo eye and turned on his heel, leaving the room and locking the door behind him. 

Quatre glanced over at the boy and saw that his eyes were closed. "Hey...psst. Hey, boy. Are you sleeping?"

"No."

"Where did you come from? Did he just take you?"

"No."

Quatre huffed. Well, he's talkative. "What's your name?"

"I'm not sure we should be talking to each other."

"Why not?"

The boy didn't answer and Quatre turned his head away, miffed. He twisted his hands, testing the give of the rope. It was tight, but maybe...if he worked at it hard enough, he could get free. He twisted them again, his wrists already heating up from the friction, and realized they were going to be raw and bloody by the time he got them out, if he got them out at all. He curled his fingers, searching for the knot, but couldn't get it at from the awkward angle.

"Don't bother."

Quatre turned his head and stared at the boy. "What?"

"It's no use. You'll never get free. Captain Maxwell's knots are legendary."

So he wasn't new. "How do you know that?"

"I've tried."

"Were you on the ship?"

"Yes. In his cabin."

Ah, that explained why Maxwell hadn't partaken in making sport of him. He had his own catamite to please him. "How long have you been with him?"

"I don't know. Two years maybe?"

"Hmmm. Well, I don't know about you, but I do not belong with your captain, or his crew. I have my own captain to get back to and I'm going to make sure I -"

"What captain?"

"Captain Barton of the Catherine." 

Heero's eyes popped open. His head turned, slowly, looking at Quatre for the first time. "Are you serious?"

"Yes. I was stolen from him in Turkey."

Heero cursed and turned his head away, staring at the door on the other side of the room. "That...complicates things."

"Is he going to kill me?"

"No. But he's not going to be happy when he finds out who you belong to. I'd be willing to bet your captain isn't either."

Damn, but if that wasn't an understatement. 

"Why didn't you tell Captain Maxwell who you were?"

"I tried! They wouldn't listen to me and then they gagged me so I couldn't!"

The boy let out a long sigh and closed his eyes again. "This isn't going to end well. Blood will be spilled over this."

Quatre's heart pumped harder with a rush of adrenaline at the possibility of violence, though he didn't know why it should come as a surprise. "You think so?"

"You don't?"

He'd hoped it wouldn't, but deep down he knew there was no other way. The two most dangerous pirates alive were going to have it out at some point. It was inevitable. He glanced back at the boy. "What's your name?"

"Heero."

"I'm Quatre. I'd say it's nice to meet you, but..."

"I know. Get your rest. You're likely going to need it."

Quatre's body was riddled with anxiety, not knowing how he was going to be able to sleep, but Heero was right. He blew out a sigh, closed his eyes, and tried to clear his mind.

Side by side, in the momentary peace of the tiny room of the Inn lay the catamites of the two most notorious, deadly men of the sea. The two captains would eventually meet. The chances of blood being spilled were more than significant. It was a certainty. One of them would die, but which one? Would this boy lying beside him become his enemy if it was Maxwell who succumbed? Was he already his enemy? Or would Quatre be forced to witness the death of his own beloved captain? There was always the possibility that they could inflict catastrophic injuries on each other and both perish. And then what? Where would that leave he and Heero?

It took a while for sleep to come, far too unsettled he was, but soon enough, exhaustion and the fact that he was on a real bed began to take precedence. He finally drifted off after a short, but heartfelt prayer.

Please, Allah. Don't let it come to that. I'll do anything you ask, but I beg of you. No more blood. No more death. Please...

Chapter Text

Quatre was jolted awake by a loud slam, followed by an even louder curse. He flailed in surprise, disoriented for a moment and couldn't figure out why his hands were bound above his head. He glanced to his left, seeing the boy lying next to him and his memory came flooding back. Heero was also wide awake, his head lifted off the pillow and his eyes glued to the still closed door.

"This is not good."

Quatre's heart thumped with fear, not knowing what was happening. "What's not good?"

"He's angry." Heero dropped his head back down and sighed. 

Quatre listened to the sound of stomping boots approaching, trying to calm his panicked breathing. "Angry about what?"

"Bloody Hell!" Maxwell shouted from just behind the door. There was another loud bang and then door rattled on its hinges from what Quatre assumed was a furious kick. "Fucking shite! That son of a whore!"

Both Quatre and Heero braced themselves as the door swung open, revealing a very red faced and enraged Captain Maxwell. Quatre glanced back at Heero, trying to gauge his reaction to guide his own, but the boy was just staring up at the ceiling now. Quatre decided his only option was to do the same. 

Maxwell strode over to the bed, purpose in every step and Quatre instinctively flinched. But instead of attacking them, Maxwell simply bent down and sucked Heero's flaccid cock into his mouth, breathing hard through his nose as he worked his mouth over it. Heero's breath hitched, his long dark eyelashes fluttering closed. Quatre could see his legs shaking slightly and heard a soft whimper escape his lips. He squeezed his thighs together as his own cock responded to the visual stimulation, noticing how Heero's began to grow and harden as it slid through the captain's lips. The boy's breaths became more labored, hips beginning to lift off the bed.

Quatre's face was flaming red. He turned his head away and faced the wall, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to block out the soft moans of pleasure and the distinct sucking sounds. His own cock throbbed with arousal and he begged it not to harden. I swear on everything that is holy, if you do this to me, I will never forgive you. He clenched his teeth in frustration and embarrassment when his cock had other plans and continued to swell, arching up over his belly. Feeling betrayed, he cracked his eyes open and glared at it. Well, that's just wonderful. Thank you very much. See if I do you any favors any time soon. His cock responded by drooling a little precome onto his belly.

He turned his head when there was movement in his peripheral vision. Maxwell leaned up over Heero and untied the ropes that bound his wrists. The boy brought them down and rubbed them, stretching and curling his fingers to resume the circulation. Quatre had long since lost feeling in his own hands and felt a surge of envy. Maxwell's eyes flickered to him and he briefly wondered if he might also be released. His hopes were dashed when he saw the gleam in the captain's eyes. Maxwell turned back to Heero and grinned. 

"Today you get the chance to be a man, lad." He pointed a ringed finger at Quatre. "Bugger him."

Quatre's eyes widened and his mouth gaped open. "What?"

"What?" Heero echoed the sentiment, his expression showing obvious shock.

"I don't repeat myself, boy, and I'm not in the mood for games." He looked back at Quatre, his eyes hard. "Glad you told me who you belonged to."

Quatre sputtered. "I tried! I -"

"Either way, it doesn't matter now," Maxwell waved his hand. "Your Master took me ship, the lowdown filthy cur. At first light, we set sail for Ireland."

"For what?"

"That's where your captain told us to meet him."

"How are we going to get there?" Heero asked.

"Don't question me, boy! I know what I'm doing. Now, you two are going to give me a little show to lift up me spirits. Bugger him."

Heero looked at Quatre, his face oozing guilt. Quatre nodded, his eyes softening with resignation, knowing the boy had no choice. "It's okay." He stared at Maxwell as he turned around and headed for the chair by the door, plopping down with his legs stretched out before him and his hand resting over his groin. He was unsettled that the captain would be watching, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. Just let it happen, Quatre. There's nothing else for it. Pretend he's not even there.

He gave Heero another nod and opened his legs. Heero hesitated, then timidly scooted over and settled between the blond's thighs, lowering his head over Quatre's groin. He pressed gentle kisses over his cock, which jumped and swelled again from the feathery stimulation. Quatre sucked in a sharp breath, biting down on an involuntary moan when his erection was pulled into the boy's mouth. He chanced a glance at Maxwell and saw that the man already had his cock out, his hand working slowly over the thick length as his hungry eyes drank in the two catamites on the bed. 

Quatre couldn't help but respond to the soft, wet suction and his hips lifted off the bed, rolling languidly from the pleasure. It was obvious Heero was good at it, but was he good at buggering? Had he ever done it before? Did he know what to do, or would he accidentally hurt him from lack of experience? 

Despite his anxiety, the moans slipped out before he could stop them. His eyes opened when something small dropped onto the bed and rolled down the indentation made by their weight, coming to rest against his arm. He felt the cold of glass and looked down to see a vial of oil, relieved that he wasn't going to be taken dry. He considered thanking the captain for thinking of that, even though he had no real reason to thank him for anything. He pressed his lips together as his upbringing raged war on his sense of indignity.

Heero swiped the oil and drizzled it over shaky fingers. Their eyes met and Quatre schooled his expression into reassurance, sensing the boy was afraid of hurting him, or doing this against his will. "It's okay. Go ahead," Quatre whispered and spread his thighs wider.

"Turn him so I can see," Maxwell murmured from his chair. Heero grabbed the blond's legs and dragged his lower body to the left so that the act of penetration was visible to the captain. Quatre winced as the movement and new position strained and stretched the muscles in his arms. Trowa was fond of tying his wrists to the headboard sometimes when they made love and it never failed to send Quatre into rapturous arousal. Now though, he felt more like a mouse cornered by a pit viper.

His breath hitched when Heero pressed two fingers inside him and immediately sought out his prostrate, almost as if in apology for forcing the blond into this. Quatre uttered a moan, unable to swallow it down in time. His back arched off the bed and his hips rolled and undulated, seeking the stimulation again. Heero pushed Quatre's shirt up over his chest and bent down to suckle on a nipple. The sensation sparked down his spine and into his groin and his hips gave another involuntary roll.

"Kiss him."

Heero lifted up at the command and took his mouth in a heated kiss and Quatre was unable to escape, or deny how good it all felt. His body responded to the exquisite stimulation, not caring what his mind and heart thought about it. He decided if he was going to have to do this, he might as well enjoy it. It seemed Heero was intent on making it as good for him as he could. 

Heero broke the kiss and nipped his way down to the blond's ear. "I'm sorry about this," he whispered. "I don't have a choice. Please forgive me."

"It's alright, I understand. I don't blame you."

"I'll try to make it good for you."

"You already are."

That earned him a smile and he was warmed to see it, thinking Heero should smile more often. Heero pulled his fingers out and coated his erection with the oil. He scooted up until his groin was pressed against Quatre's arse and hooked the blond's legs over his shoulders. Quatre could see the captain out of the corner of his eye, but refused to look at him, instead looking up at Heero as the boy guided his cock to his opening. 

It slid in rather easily and Quatre cursed Maxwell's crew for that, though he winced a little as it pushed through the still tender ring of muscles. He forced his body to relax, closing his eyes and thinking of Trowa. His beautiful face, the stormy green eyes, the curtain of brown silk that tumbled over his left eye. His powerful body and that sun-bronzed skin, smooth like Quatre's satin chemises. His fingers curled into his palms, wanting desperately to touch as Heero began a slow, steady rhythm.

Despite his current situation, it felt incredibly good and instead of tamping down on expressing his pleasure, he opened himself up and let go, moaning with every deep thrust. He peeked through his lashes and stared up at the boy above him. Heero's eyes were closed, his mouth opened in rapture. He panted shakily, occasional groans rumbling from his throat. Quatre found himself wanting to touch the boy, feel his soft skin, grab those straining biceps and hang on for dear life, especially when Heero picked up the pace, instinct and the exquisite heat of the blond beneath him driving him to fuck hard. Quatre's cock leaked precome onto his belly as the slap of skin echoed off the walls. He'd always loved that sound.

A scraping noise alerted his senses and he looked over to see Maxwell stand up from the chair and walk towards them. His heart pounded, not sure what the captain was going to do. He stared unblinkingly as Maxwell stopped beside the bed and leaned down, his face hovering a mere inch over Quatre's. 

"Does that feel good, lad? Does me boy feel good inside you?" He huffed out a soft laugh. "Look at how far you've fallen, little Prince. Once nobility, reduced to a lowly catamite and buggered by another catamite." Quatre's nerves rankled from the degrading, mocking words, but unfortunately they were punctuated by a hard thrust and he tipped his head back, moaning brokenly when the tip of Heero's cock touched the place inside that made his eyes cross and his toes curl. Maxwell laughed, his breath ghosting over Quatre's face. "I'm not a man who believes in destiny, but I believe you've finally found yours." His hand stroked sweaty blond bangs off the boy's forehead, a deep groan vibrating his lips. "You look beautiful when you're getting buggered. Especially by me boy. He doesn't get the chance to do this and I'm sure he appreciates the opportunity." He glanced up at Heero, "Don't you, my little whore?"

Heero made a choking sound and slammed his hips against Quatre's arse. He was too far gone now, the need to chase his orgasm the only priority. Maxwell stilled him with a hand on the boy's chest and Heero whimpered as he was denied the friction he desperately needed, though he obeyed nonetheless.

"Pull out for a moment."

Heero looked as if he were in pain, but slid his cock out from the hot clutch of the blond's arse. Quatre glanced down, noticing it was flushed a deep red, bordering on purple, and twitching uncontrollably with the need to get back inside his tight heat. Quatre blinked in surprise as Maxwell untied his wrists and ordered him to roll onto his belly. He did so, moaning a little as his cock rubbed against the wool of the coverlet. Maxwell retied his wrists behind his back then grabbed his thighs, wrenching them open, and stepped back. Quatre caught the gesture of his hand and then Heero was all over him again. Quatre felt the tip of the boy's cock questing between his cheeks, seeking the tiny opening. He pressed back inside with the most heartfelt sigh of relief Quatre had ever heard. 

While the discomfort of having his hands tied behind his back put a slight damper on things, the rough thrusts pushed his body across the bed which gave his previously untouched cock the stimulation it was craving. He mewled and moaned and drooled against the bed, feeling his balls draw up into his body with each push inside him.

Several minutes later, Heero jolted and froze, sucking in a harsh breath. Quatre craned his neck to look behind him and spotted Maxwell behind the boy, his trousers down around his thighs, and his fingers clenched into his catamite's hips.

He huffed when Heero suddenly dropped onto his back, knocking the wind out of him, then choked when the thrusting resumed, this time by Maxwell pushing into the boy on top of him. Heero bleated and whimpered and murmured against his ear, overwhelmed by the dual stimulation of buggering and being buggered. His hands curled into the bed covers on either side of Quatre's head. Every thrust of Maxwell's hips pushed Heero's cock deeper inside him. Combined with the scratchy wool rubbing against his cock, Quatre quickly rose to the apex of ecstasy and whimpered into the mattress as he was fucked through his orgasm. 

Agonizingly, the constant pressure on his prostate didn't stop until Heero and then Maxwell came and by then, Quatre was so overstimulated, tears were leaking from his crossed eyes and he was weeping brokenly into the bed as his cock pulsed and spurted again. Weaker, but somehow it lasted longer than the last one and he was mindless when the motion finally stopped. He panted and blinked away the spots in his bleary vision, reeling from sensory overload. The weight on his back finally lifted which made it much easier to breathe. He didn't move as the ropes around his wrists came loose and he was rolled onto his back again and dragged up the bed. His arms were limp and lifeless as they were lifted over his head and his wrists were once again secured to the iron bars of the headboard.

He dizzily turned his head and watched an equally disoriented Heero also being tied back up and absently wondered why the boy still needed to be bound after two years. Not that he was going to ask. Exhausted, he watched Maxwell reconnect his belts after shoving his cock back into his breeches, too tired to even care about the wet spot he was lying in. The captain stood over them, watching them with an unreadable look, then turned his back and headed for the door.

Quatre had enough wherewithal to inquire about what happened next. "What happens now?"

Maxwell glared at him and Quatre realized he'd stepped over the line. It wasn't his place to ask, but he was dying to know. The realization struck him that Trowa had found out who he was with and had stolen Maxwell's ship. That meant there was a chance that they could be reunited. His stomach twisted with anxiety as he waited to see if Maxwell would answer.

"We leave at first light," he repeated. "Ireland. That's where your master will meet us. Provided he hasn't destroyed, or decimated me ship, I'm going to assume there will be an exchange." Quatre's face lit up and Maxwell's darkened upon seeing it. "Do not hold your breath, boy. This will not be as easy as you think. Your stinking captain killed three of me men. He is lucky I do not kill you now just for that." He huffed, his chest expanding beneath the open collar of his shirt. "But I also want me Shinigami back in one piece. For your sake, you'd better pray it is, or I will choke the life out of you with me bare hands, right in front of him." He swung the door open without another word and disappeared through the threshold. Quatre flinched when it slammed closed and he heard the click of the lock. 

There was a soft snore beside him and he turned his head to see Heero sleeping like a babe, his mouth wide open. Despite the possibility of danger, even death on the horizon, he couldn't help but smile at the boy. He didn't know what his story was, or how he came to be in Maxwell's service, but he was deeply curious and intent on finding out the first chance he got. Heero had an odd look of brooding about him when he was awake. He was complacent, obedient, but those remarkable blue eyes shimmered with intelligence, resentment, rebellion. It seemed he hadn't acclimated himself into the life of a catamite as easily as Quatre had and maybe that was why Maxwell still saw fit to keep him tied up. Perhaps he still tried to escape at every opportunity.

Still, a blind man could see how much Heero had enjoyed getting buggered by his captain. If Quatre was any kind of observant, and he was, it was blatantly obvious that the boy had enjoyed it. It was interesting to watch the two of them interact and he was more determined than ever to hear their story.

For now though, it was time to rest. His eyelids once again grew heavy and drifted closed. He listened to the soft breaths of his companion, occasionally interspersed with a snore, allowing the sounds to lull him to sleep. His thoughts began to slip together, reality mixing in with things that only happen in dreams, becoming increasingly difficult to tell which was which. He slept uneasily, visions of swords and revolvers, his dreaming mind making the pops of gunfire and the shiiink of blades pulled from their sheaths sound terrifyingly real. There were screams of pain, the meaty thud of metal hitting flesh and he was suddenly thrust into a world where everything was red, including the sky. It was as if everything was submerged in blood. 

He could feel warm stickiness on his face, in his hair, gluing his clothing to his skin. He looked down to find himself still barefoot and clad in the too-large shirt. He stood in a puddle of what looked like blood, the life-giving liquid oozing between his toes, making his stomach clench and he swallowed down a rush of nausea. His bare legs were streaked with it. It was spattered over the linen shirt and on the skin of his exposed shoulder and chest. When he raised his hands, he could see them also coated and though he mentally willed himself not to do it, he reached up and rubbed them over his face, spreading the blood over his cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead. 

Distantly, he could hear cries for help, but could see nothing but a tumultuous sea of red. He realized with a sinking feeling of fear that he was aboard the Shinigami. Floating several knots away was the Catherine, close, but still out of reach. He strained his eyes, peering through the red-orange haze, looking for any sign of life on the ship and saw none. 

"Trowa?" He was startled to discover his voice did not carry, as if he was standing in an airless vacuum. It sounded disturbingly flat, muted, and he tried again, louder, only to experience the same. There was a roaring sound in the distance, too far away to be loud just yet and his eyes located a storm on the horizon, still many nautical miles away. 

He forced his feet to move, trying not to slip in the abundant amount of blood coating the deck. His legs felt heavy, but he wasn't sure why. The sound of crying became louder and he followed it, stepping around the main mast and reaching the helm where the agonized weeping seemed to be directly in front of him. He wondered why the voice of the person crying seemed to travel while his own did not. He reached the helm and squatted down when his ears told him it was coming from beneath the steering wheel. He peered into the murky, red darkness and saw a body curled up in the alcove under the wheel. He reached out cautiously with a trembling hand, his fingertips lightly brushing an equally bare and blood-streaked leg.

"Hey," he whispered and cursed as his voice still seemed to only be heard in his own ears. "Are you okay?"

The person lifted their head up and Quatre staggered back with a gasp, losing his balance. His arms flailed and pinwheeled, but gravity won out and he landed hard on his rump, soaking his backside in sticky blood. But he was far too shocked and horrified at the sight before him to notice. It was Heero who sat curled in a ball before him, but where his beautiful blue eyes once were, there were now only bloody sockets. The optic nerves, which still remained, swiveled around as if he was searching for the one who touched him. 

"Who's there?"

"It's...it's me, Quatre. Heero?" He reached out to touch the boy again only to have him flinch away and ask who was there again. "It's me, Quatre," he said in a louder voice, dismayed when it didn't travel through the air between them. 

"I don't know who you are, but...just...just leave me alone! Haven't you taken enough from me?"

"Heero, please! Can you hear me? It's Quatre!" His hand gripped the boy's shoulder, shaking him as if that would somehow make Heero hear him. 

The boy shrieked, his voice laden with terror. "Don't touch me!" Quatre's heart sunk as he buried his face into the small space between his knees again. 

There was a strange grinding sound behind him, becoming incrementally louder. He turned slowly, not knowing what he was going to be met with and was horrified to find Wufei trudging across the deck, his gait a clumsy shamble. Like Heero, his eyes were gone and he seemed unaware of Quatre. The grinding sound was from the tip of his katana dragging across the bloodied wooden boards behind him, leaving a thin trail through the crimson puddles for just a moment before it disappeared.

Quatre struggled to his feet, slipping a little before he gained his footing. He hurried to catch up with the first mate, reaching out a timid hand to grasp the pleated edge of his waistcoat. "Wufei?"

The man spun around and Quatre took an involuntary step back, staring at the rotating stumps of his optic nerves with morbid fascination. He was shocked when Wufei spoke, somehow knowing who had touched him without being able to see, or hear him. "Enough, Quatre. You've done enough." He turned his head, seeming to look around them. "Look what you've done. You've always been a disappointment. You've always been useless, but this time, you've gone too far. You filthy sinner. You no good, worthless whore!"

Quatre clapped a hand over his mouth, stunned when Wufei's visage transformed into his father, then the many nameless faces of his customers. It shifted again to Maxwell's face, Heero's, and then finally Trowa's. The same sightless eyes looked at him, but now seemed to actually see him despite the impossibilities. "Trowa? Trowa, what - what happened? What did I do?"

Trowa was silent for a long time, then his lips parted and he spoke with a strange monotone, shattering Quatre's heart with the cruelty of his words. "All this blood was spilled over you, Quatre. All of it. It's your fault. Because you were too stupid and foolish to stay beside me. This was for you. Are you happy? Are you proud? You've killed us all. You worthless little whore..."

He jolted, choking on saliva and sobs, and howled through trembling lips and chattering teeth. In his still dreaming mind, those whose deaths he was responsible for continued to damn him behind his closed eyes. His ears still heard the judgement in their voices, the cruel accusations, but coasting over the top of them, another sound began to break through the haze. Someone calling his name. He dimly registered that he was being touched. A hand? Or something more sinister, gripping his arm with the intent of keeping him from escaping his Hell. He bleated and slurred disjointed words and phrases and the hand on his arm clutched harder, shaking him now. The voice calling his name was louder, shouting, almost drowning out the sea of voices in his head.

"...atre...Quatre? Quatre!"

He sucked in a sharp breath and flailed, panicking when he couldn't move his arms. Still immersed in his dream, he believed it was a demon holding him down. His legs kicked desperately and his mouth opened wide, unleashing an ear piercing shriek. He jolted again when a stinging blow struck him across the face and he hollered in surprise. His eyes popped open and took in his surroundings, noting with confusion that there was no blood. No ship, no ocean of red and better still, no eyeless men staring back at him. Trembling and sweaty, he glanced around, disoriented, and jumped when the faces of Maxwell and Heero appeared in his line of sight, staring down at him, the former with derision and a little surprise, the latter with concern.

Reality rushed in like the waves at low tide and gradually, awareness came back. He breathed a sigh of relief, finally beginning to realize he'd only been dreaming, though he was still haunted by the images his mind sought to remind him of. He blinked owlish eyes as Maxwell straightened up and propped his hands on his hips.

"Damn, kid," he said and Quatre thought he heard a hint of awe in his voice. "I've seen some shite in me life. Hell, I've seen me men succumb to nightmares sometimes, but I think you've got them all beat by a long shot." He bent down again, his lips split wide in a grin. "That must've been some dream."

Quatre had no response to that, still trying to acclimate himself with the real world. He dipped his head in a vague nod and shifted his gaze to Heero whose eyes were swimming with questions. 

Are you okay?

He wasn't, but he wasn't about to tell them that. He nodded again and swallowed around a dry throat. His body still shook with the after affects of adrenaline as Maxwell untied him from the headboard and helped him to his feet. 

"Can you walk, kid, or are you overcome with the vapors?" There was a tinge of amusement in his voice that Quatre resented, not quite in the mood yet for humor. 

"Yes...yes, I can walk. I just - just need a minute to get my bearings." 

Maxwell shrugged and stepped away. "Suit yourself. Do not take long. Boy," he said, addressing Heero who stood at attention. "Look after him. Make sure he's not going to keel over. I'll be down the hall when you're ready." He pointed a finger at each in turn. "Do not take long," he repeated. "If I have to come back for you, I'll take you both over me knee." Heero nodded and with one final pointed look, Maxwell headed out the door.

Quatre listened to his retreating footsteps and blew out a breath, running his fingers through his sweaty hair. His body felt weak, useless, arms and legs heavy as if they were pinned down with lead weights. The mattress dipped beside him and he felt the warm press of Heero against his side, though he didn't turn to look at him. 

"Are you alright?"

He nodded. "Yes. Just a nightmare."

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

"It's nothing," he said, dismissing it with a wave of his hand. He wasn't even sure he was capable of explaining it. It was still haunting him, filling him with a sick sense of dread. It felt like an omen. A glimpse of the horrors that were yet to come. What did it mean? Were they all going to die? Would everyone die except him? Would this really become a massacre?

He hunched over, suddenly feeling ill, his body consumed with a flush of icy chill. He closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing, the rising rush of panic. His stomach finally gave in and he dropped to the floor on his hands and knees, vomiting onto the polished wood. He shuddered and heaved, weak, sweaty, and trembling, only minutely comforted by Heero's hand rubbing his back. The sickening wrench of his gut finally calmed, but he remained where he was, sucking in deep gulps of air and silently praying that his dream wasn't some sort of premonition.

He clearly remembered the words that lanced through his heart, now and in his dream, sharp as Wufei's sword, spoken in Trowa's voice.

It's your fault.

Chapter Text

At the end of the Inn's hallway was a small vestibule with a lacquered, upholstered armchair in the corner and a small mahogany table that stood beside it. It was dim. Only the soft, flickering light of a few candles illuminated the space. Captain Duo Maxwell settled down into the chair, wincing as it creaked beneath his weight, then leaned back and stretched his legs out before him. From his vantage point, he could see the door to the room that he and the catamites had occupied for the night. He rested his elbow on the curved wooden arm of the chair, propped his chin on his fist, and stared at the door as if he could will it to open with his mind.

He wasn't even sure what the hell he was thinking when he'd ordered his own catamite to bugger Barton's. He supposed it had something to do with his fury at Barton for stealing his ship. There was no better way to get back at the bastard than to degrade his bed warmer. 

Unfortunately, what they'd just done wasn't nearly as degrading as what the young man had suffered at the hands of his crew. He grimaced and shifted in the chair, immensely uncomfortable at the knowledge that he'd subjected the deadly man's catamite to unspeakable acts. Even if the blond pipsqueak didn't rat him out, he wasn't so stupid as to delude himself into believing Barton wouldn't be able to pick up the signs. Though, if he were honest, he didn't notice any outward repulsion when his own boy had touched him. The little whore even seemed to enjoy it.

He was objectively beautiful. There was no doubt about that. Duo would be lying if he said he wasn't aroused by the thought of taking him to bed. But the real treat was watching his Heero do the work. His lovely catamite, though reticent at first, appeared to have no qualms about taking the dominant position even though he hadn't in years. 

The concept of Heero buggering anyone wasn't new in Duo's mind. The boy had been a whore for a few years before Duo had taken it upon himself to force him into personal servitude. Heero revealed to him on more than one occasion that he'd also had female customers in addition to male ones. Buggering someone was not a foreign concept to the boy, but he'd been forbidden to do so since he'd become Duo's catamite. Once his hesitation had worn off and he was relatively sure that he wasn't about to be punished, he seemed rather eager for another chance and the obvious pleasure he'd gotten from it made watching it all the better.

"Hope you enjoyed it, boy. You may never have another opportunity," Duo muttered and scratched at his chin. It had been a few days since his face had seen a blade and the whiskers growing in made his skin itch. Unfortunately, his own blade was still aboard the Shinigami which was now in Barton's possession. He scowled and impatiently tapped his foot against the floor, still wanting blood despite the release of sex. That blade was the only thing he owned that had once belonged to his father.

If he had his way, he'd use it to slice Barton's and his little whore's throats open. 

That was, if he ever got his ship back. 

He pulled the letter out of his pocket and unfolded the parchment, clenching his teeth at the drops of blood splattered across it that had long since dried. He'd found the note stuck to his deckhand's decapitated forehead which had been mounted on the post of the dock where he'd last anchored his beloved Shinigami. The three men who had remained on board had been slaughtered. Dismembered. Their remains scattered over the dock in bloody pieces. And from what Duo had heard of Barton's crew, most notably his First Mate, he instantly knew the butchering of his crewmen had been the work of none other than Chang Wufei. 

That name was often spoken of in dark corners of pubs and taverns like a terrifying secret. With wide eyes set in grimy faces that blinked owlishly over the rims of steel steins in a mixture of awe and terror. As though just saying it too loudly would invoke the man himself, who had become a legend in his own right, to materialize and slice them in half. 

If Barton was the Demon of the Sea, Chang Wufei was weapon that he wielded. Duo knew that if he wanted to get to Barton, he would have to go through Chang which was virtually impossible. No man had successfully done so and lived to tell about it. 

Still, Duo had leverage. A bargaining chip that was occupying the room just down the hall. He hadn't missed the rumors that the young catamite was of significant importance to Barton. Word had spread among the vast population of pirates from the far western shores of Europe to the eastern coasts of Africa that the boy was far more treasured than any whore had a right to be. 

Captain Zechs Merquise of the Tallgeese had more or less confirmed as much during their last trade in Monaco. And while Duo was hard-pressed to trust the man's word at face value, the information had already spread like a plague. Considering Barton's reaction to Duo stealing the boy off the street, his actions were as damning as a contract written in blood. The blond catamite was Barton's weakness. His Achilles Heel. And fortunately for Duo, weeding out a man's vulnerability and exploiting it was his specialty. As long as he had the boy in his possession, Barton was at his mercy. 

Though he grudgingly admitted, even if only to himself, that Barton also possessed his weakness. Or at least one of them. He was deeply uncomfortable with the knowledge that he had more than one. As a pirate, that was never a good thing. His own catamite was as valuable to him as his ship, if not more so. He couldn't blame Barton for exacting revenge. He'd have done the same thing. 

He sighed and tipped his head back against the wall. He was tired. Catching forty winks on a hard wooden chair in an unfamiliar room was not conducive to a restful sleep. He'd allowed the two catamites the bed only because it was the best way to keep them bound. There was little else he could have tied them to. In all honesty, Duo could have taken the room next to theirs and actually slept on a bed. The boys were securely tethered. The door was locked and there were no windows with which to escape. 

But Duo was nothing if not religiously frugal. Why shell out the extra coin for another room? Money could better be spent on investments. His goal was to obtain wealth and fortune, not piss it away.

Not to say he didn't enjoy the occasional splurge. After all, if one wishes to gain and maintain respect, one must look the part. It also wouldn't do to have his catamite walking around in little more than rags. Heero's appearance reflected his own, especially on land. He was expected to keep himself clean and meticulously groomed. While he typically lounged around the cabin sans clothing, outside of it, he was usually clad in a long silk, or wool tunic depending on the climate. While the garments themselves were simple, they were dressed up with a variety of gold and silver jeweled belts cinched around his waist. Heero was permitted to wear breeches when it was cold, but Duo preferred him without them as they were an inconvenient obstacle when he felt the urge to bend the boy over the nearest surface and bugger him.

Even after two years, Heero still displayed rebellious behavior which was irritating at times and infuriating at others. Though he was much more docile than he had been in the beginning, there were times when he mouthed off and tried to test Duo's patience as if he had the absurd notion that he was free to do as he pleased. His punishments were swift and harsh and while they were somewhat effective, Duo was finding it difficult to completely break him. The stubborn streak inside Heero seemed unreachable, impenetrable, and immune to all forms of discipline. 

He thought he'd broken the boy once. He'd lost his temper after Heero managed to climb through a window and shimmy down a long drainage pipe during a three day stop in Athens. Duo had left him alone for a short while in the room of the Inn so that he could brief his crew on the supplies they needed for the next three months at sea. 

He returned to his room to find Heero gone. Only an open window and a warm breeze fluttering the muslin curtains were there to greet him. After a grueling hunt and chase, the boy was recaptured and Heero bore the painful brunt of his rage. It took weeks for his bruises to finally fade and close to three months before he stopped cowering whenever Duo approached him.

During that time, Duo was also forced to take Solo aside to give him yet another stern talking to about his perpetual habit of starting unnecessary fights with the men who frequented the taverns and brothels, especially when he was three sheets to the wind on ale. 

Duo himself wasn't a big partaker in the indulgence of spirits. An occasional stein here and there was the pinnacle of his desire for intoxication. His position and status required him to stay on his toes. Drowning himself in drink would wind up getting him a knife in the back and his head on a spike. Solo, on the other hand, consumed the stuff in unsettling quantities whenever it was within reach.

Meeting Solo had been one those events that often made a person feel as though some things happened for a reason. That there was a predetermined path that one must follow and if they subscribed to such a belief, it was a confirmation that they were on the right path. Duo wasn't such a person, but he'd be lying if he said he hadn't pondered the possibility once, or twice. 

He'd met the lad when he was fifteen. He could clearly remember the smell of the freshly baked bread that he carried as he walked down the cobblestone streets of London's epicenter of commerce. Sister Helen had given him a few shillings and sent him on his way to fetch the bread for their supper since the orphanage was running low on grain to make their own. In addition to the sweet, yeasty smell of bread, the distinct scent of rain lingered in the air and he increased his leisurely stride to a quicker paced one in the hopes that he and his bounty wouldn't get wet. He dodged through the alleys and took advantage of the shortcuts, familiar to him now after five years in the city.  

His attention was diverted by the sounds of what could only be described as a brawl. Intrigued and always up for a fight, he darted out from between two buildings and stopped short as he encountered five boys delivering one hell of a beating to another boy who appeared to be alone and defenseless. Duo couldn't get a clear view of the poor sap's face as he was surrounded on all sides, but he could hear him coughing and sputtering as one worn out boot after another drove into his midsection with painful precision. 

He couldn't help but pity the hapless victim. A fight was one thing. Five boys ganging on one was not something he considered honorable. Unfair advantages were not something to be proud of. He'd never fought with anyone who was smaller, or weaker than he was. And he'd certainly never ganged up on one single person. It was an unspoken rule in his mind. 

He set the bread down onto a stone ledge and retrieved his knife from the sheath that was hidden beneath his trousers. Sister Helen had taken it from him once while sternly lecturing him that there was no longer any need for such things. It took less than a day for Duo to find it and take it back, achieving nothing less than a stellar performance when asked if he'd taken it. Now, it never left his side. He gripped it in his right hand and crept up behind the closest boy who, like his friends, were oblivious to the newcomer. 

He took aim and without a second thought, plunged the blade into the hooligan's meaty shoulder and twisted it, watching with a satisfied thrill as the kid's back arched, his pubescent voice cracking and echoing off the stone walls of the buildings around them.

The fight that followed was a bit of a challenge, but nothing he hadn't dealt with before. The bullies were solid, a few of them rather stocky which gave them a slight advantage as far as the force of their punches. Unfortunately for them, they lacked agility and technique. They were not fast enough to dodge Duo's blows and the swipes of his knife. He took a few heavy hits, but avoided most of them and returned the attacks with the kind of strength and viciousness that had gotten him kicked out of the boys' home in the colonies. In the end, he victoriously wiped the blood from his split lip with his sleeve and shouted obscenities at their retreating backs as they limped away.

The lad who'd been attacked was still lying on the ground, hurt and bleeding, but staring up at him as if he were a guardian angel. Duo looked him over thoroughly and determined that while he would be sore for a while, he would ultimately survive. 

He didn't miss the way the boy's blue eyes, now a bit swollen and bruised, honed in on the loaf of bread that lay on the ledge. He wondered how long it had been since he'd eaten last and straightened up to retrieve it. He broke off a piece on the end and handed it to the kid, watching him devour it as though he hadn't eaten in a week. His own stomach clenched at the physical memory of being hungry himself and ached with sympathy as he took in the lad's dilapidated appearance. He was filthy, to put it lightly. He probably hadn't seen a bath in days, if not weeks. His hair was limp and oily with a layer of what looked like dust, or ash, but beneath that, it looked to be a dark, dirty blond. His eyes nearly glowed in contrast to the grime on his face and Duo made a logical guess that the boy was a street rat. Considering he'd been one himself once upon a time, it wasn't difficult to put two and two together. 

He didn't speak much, but when Duo asked him his name, he squeaked out a raspy, "Solo," and went back to his bread. Duo couldn't help but smile as he observed the peculiar way the boy ate. Instead of just eating the thing, he pulled pieces of the surrounding crust off and shoved them into his mouth until nothing but the doughy center remained. It was an unusual idiosyncrasy that not only amused him, but gave him the impression that there was a depth of character within the kid, a quirky personality that intrigued him.

Solo ended up trailing him home. Not beside him, but several paces behind like a timid dog and despite his better judgement about bringing home strays when there were already more than enough mouths to feed, he didn't shoo the boy off, but instead tried to get to know him a little better. Solo was reluctant to share his past, or the reason why he was in the situation he was in. Duo couldn't hold that against him. He was much the same way when he'd endured similar circumstances. 

His mother had wanted him to go to law school. She'd said it was imperative that he received a good education and make something of himself. He was a fast learner and surprised his mum with the speed and proficiency of someone who possessed high levels of natural intelligence. Sadly, she succumbed to Cholera when he was only eight. Never knowing his father and having no other family to look after him, he was shipped off to Boston to a boys' home where he'd had a difficult time fitting in. 

The resident boys did not help matters. They shunned him at first and then bullied him later. Two weeks before his ninth birthday, another boy had stolen money from the home's meager donations and deliberately put it into Duo's pocket. After a harsh and unjust punishment, Duo sought the culprit out and beat him to a bloody pulp, fracturing three of the boy's ribs, knocking out several teeth, and shattering his jaw bone. 

And that had been the straw that broke the camel's back. The colonies, still rather new and sparsely populated, were not equipped to handle "problem children" such as Duo and he was shipped off to London where established rigorous organizations were already in place to deal with kids like himself. Detention centers and military schools that often used long hours of hard labor, mental and emotional indoctrination, and severe physical discipline designed to make troubled young boys into "respectable" men. 

Only Duo never got there. Once the boat docked on the shores of England, he fled deep into the congested reaches of London and disappeared. For five years, he begged, scavenged, stole, and fought for survival. He was little more than feral when he'd picked the pocket of Father Maxwell, a lauded and respected but humble man of faith who, instead of siccing the authorities on the lad, bought him a meal and invited him to come stay at their orphanage. 

Duo initially refused, remembering the treatment he'd received at the hands of the boys' home. He kept his distance, but didn't stray too far. One simple act of kindness was enough to make him cautiously follow the man and his companion, a nun who Father Maxwell introduced as Sister Helen. They insisted there was no pressure to stay, but they were more than happy to give him food and a warm, dry, and safe place to sleep. For several weeks, he came around and without judgement, or invasive questions, they fed him warm meals before he took off again. He slept nearby, staying close enough to the place to keep an eye on it, but not so close to where they could snatch him and hold him against his will.

After a few months, he finally stepped foot inside the orphanage and was surprised to be welcomed with open arms and kind words. He was allowed to bathe and dine with the other children on roasted goose, cabbage, and fresh baked bread. With his belly pleasantly full, he went to sleep that night in a real bed, clean clothing, and warm blankets. 

When he encountered Solo five years later, he employed the same offerings without pressuring the boy to stay. And sure enough, as time went on, Solo began to frequent the front steps of the orphanage, looking for a meal. He was cautious at first as Duo had been, but after several weeks, he finally agreed to stay.

Duo learned that Solo was a runaway after a childhood's worth of beatings from his own father who was fond of the drink. He came from one of the many impoverished neighborhoods of lower class London and his accent reflected that. It took Duo some time to fully understand the lad when he spoke as so much of it was slang that he was unfamiliar with and once he got going, his words seemed an endless string of gibberish in his excitement. 

Solo, in essence, became the brother he never had. There wasn't anything Duo wouldn't do for him and when Alfred Greenwich and Thomas Smith joined their ranks, they were an unstoppable team. 

Father Maxwell and Sister Helen were nothing less than saints. Duo would've been hard-pressed to find one malicious bone in either of their bodies. They never had much, but they had enough to get by and most importantly, they had each other. Father Maxwell and Sister Helen always made sure the children had enough food in their bellies, even while they themselves went without at times. Sister Helen was also a stickler for making sure the children knew how to read, write, and were capable of solving basic arithmetic problems, but with Duo, recognizing his intelligence, went above and beyond to teach him a myriad of different subjects. She was deeply impressed with his ability to learn and retain knowledge and by the time he was seventeen, he had surpassed even her limits of education and showed no signs of stopping. She desperately wanted him to attend school, believing with all her heart that he was destined to be something great. 

It never happened. Duo's abject refusal to leave the orphanage to go to school was, in his mind, a waste of time when there were more productive and important things to do than sit behind a desk with a bunch of intellectual poofs who were far better at talking than they were at accomplishing anything. He, Solo, Greenwich, and Smith set out to find employment instead, insisting that the money they earned would better benefit the orphanage and the children who depended on it.

Unfortunately for them, such things were scarce, especially for a group of sixteen and seventeen year old former street rats. After repeated rejections for even such meager work like washing dishes and sweeping floors, they were tired, frustrated, and outraged with a deep sense of injustice. As a result, they turned to petty crime to make ends meet and swore a pact that they would never tell Father Maxwell and Sister Helen about their excursions, or where the money they brought back came from. Duo couldn't stomach the disappointment if they ever discovered what they did. Instead, they fabricated jobs that they had been hired to do. What they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. 

The four of them were highly successful and stealthy, not only never getting caught, but also never exposing themselves long enough for their victims to be able to identify them to the authorities. Despite the moral compass he had been raised with, Duo found that he rather enjoyed it. It gave him a rush unlike anything he'd ever experienced before and was surprised to find out that the other three felt the same. It was like falling off the wagon, dizzy with drink, without the subsequent hangover. 

And hangovers were something Duo was intimately familiar with considering Solo had developed a taste for the stuff. He lost count of how many times he'd been forced to nurse his friend through the morning afters while simultaneously scolding him for being such a lush.

"Are you trying to kill yourself? Is that it? Slow death by fermented poison? Are you trying to become your father?"

Which was a low blow, but Duo didn't know how else to get through to him. Nothing seemed to work and he'd long since resigned himself to the fact that Solo was going to do what Solo wanted to do. All he could do was be a good friend and hope he didn't bumble up in some monumental way.

In the fall of 1693, Duo, Solo, Smith, and Greenwich had taken to the streets in search of candidates to target. Duo had just zeroed in on his next victim and was in the process of subtly tailing him, waiting for just a split second of vulnerability, the opportune moment to strike. The man was so clean, he practically glowed and had obviously just come from the barber with a fresh shave. His clothing was immaculate, expensive, and perfectly tailored. His aura and demeanor reeked of old money and it rankled Duo's nerves that any one person should have so much while others were starving in the streets. That one could be born into such privilege and never know how it felt to struggle, scrimp, and survive. 

And Duo was determined to change that, one rich, pretentious bastard at a time. This man, who'd probably never had anyone raise a hand, or speak an ill word to him, was going to know real pain and it would knock him several pegs off of his pedestal where he and people like him believed they were untouchable.

His pursuit was interrupted by a commotion and he paused as a wave of something resembling shock rippled through the pedestrians around him. His ears caught the sound of gasps and outcries of horror and his stomach flipped over with a sickening drop when arms rose above the crowd of people to point at something in the sky behind him. He turned around and looked up, his heart ceasing to beat for several moments as thick clouds of smoke billowed over the tops of the buildings. The burning smell reached his nose almost immediately after and his keen senses quickly gauged the direction and distance, coming to the terrifying conclusion that it was located exactly where the orphanage stood. 

His goal forgotten, he tore off down the street, leaping over carts, barrels, baskets of fruits and vegetables, and other merchandise that littered the marketplace. Fueled by adrenaline and fear, he would often think back on that moment and wonder if his feet had ever touched the ground in his desperation to reach the orphanage in time. While his logical mind already knew the worst had happened, there was still a minute flicker of hope that he was wrong and he prayed for the first time since he'd watched his mother die from severe dehydration brought on by Cholera.

It was to no avail. There was no god. There was no justice. The world was cruel and unfair and that was all there was to it. Despite the best efforts of the authorities and good samaritans, the orphanage was a lost cause. It had happened so quickly and burned so hot, no one had time to get out. In all, Father Maxwell, Sister Helen, and all seventeen of the remaining children had perished. 

The other three boys caught up a short while later and stood beside him, staring at the charred, smoldering rubble with numb devastation. Duo's mind echoed with Sister Helen's last words to him before he'd left that morning and the heartfelt sentiment now felt like an omen. A precursor to something terrible. It made him feel as though he'd missed something crucial. That he hadn't read the writing on the wall. Because when anyone began to care for him, it always resulted in their untimely demise.

We are a family, Duo. All of us. As a family, we take care of each other and as a family, we can get through anything. You can get through anything. I have faith in you.

They never really found out what started the fire. Three days later, it was officially declared as a tragic accident. Now displaced with nowhere to go, Duo and his brothers settled for odd jobs and were paid in peanuts. The money they earned was never enough for a single man to adequately survive on. After the fire, Duo had vowed to give up crime as a means to feel cleansed from the sins that he believed destroyed the orphanage and everyone inside it. 

It didn't last very long. Survival instinct took precedence over morality and with his intelligence and quick wit, he'd organized the four of them with strategies in order to optimize their loot and in some cases, violence was a requisite. It wasn't long before they gained notoriety as one of London's most dangerous gangs and by early December of 1693, their group had grown to over a dozen young men. 

In the early days, Duo was challenged several times for leadership. Without fail, he maintained the position by invoking his trustworthiness to those beneath him with unmatched charisma and quickly and efficiently shutting down any attempts at rebellion, or betrayal with his infamous reputation of brutality. As a result, his gang was fiercely loyal, even willing to stick their own necks out and put themselves in harm's way to defend him. 

Solo remained his closest friend and ally and while he wasn't well read, despite Sister Helen's best efforts, and didn't possess Duo's intelligence and magnetic character, he was sharp as a whip in his own way. He knew the city like no one else. He had every street, walkway, alley, and shortcut memorized. Even when he was drunk as a skunk, he could rattle off the names of every location whenever a map was pushed in front of him and instantly knew the quickest way to get in, or out of any given situation. In that, he was a priceless asset and Duo took full advantage which always pleased the young man. As someone who'd been told he was worthless for half of his life, being treated as though he had something valuable to contribute meant the world to him.

During the following year, their group continued to grow and strengthen until Duo felt the need to enforce an official ranking system to keep things going smoothly. By his twentieth birthday, he had firmly established a hierarchy of lieutenants, sergeants, and expendable foot soldiers. 

In the spring of 1695, after celebrating a successful raid of London's prestigious financial district, he confessed to his lieutenants that he felt tied down. Limited and smothered within the confines of the country's borders. What his heart truly longed for was freedom. Pure freedom to come and go and do as he pleased. The authorities were getting closer to dismantling their stronghold and his spies had returned to him with whispers of military interference. And the last thing he wanted was to go head to head with the English army. 

At sea, they would have opportunities they'd never dreamed of before and a wide expanse of uncharted territory to explore. International waters were free game where the armies of the world held no power. There was no limit to what they could achieve. 

Solo clutched his stein and leaned across the table, nearly knocking over the lantern that stood in the center, and slurred, "Ye talkin' 'bout pirates, aye?"

Duo's eyes gleamed in the light from the oil lamp and the smile, the one they had all come to associate with brilliant but risky and dangerous schemes, confirmed what they'd already suspected. "Aye. That's precisely what I'm saying, old chap." He lifted his own cup of ale, rose from his chair, and held it up like a best man at a wedding reception. "I have a proposition for you, gentlemen. Join me at sea where the promise of freedom, independence, respect, and endless opportunities of fortunes await. No laws, no tyranny, no oppression. No more lower class, no more poverty, no more of being treated like filthy rats, like scum beneath the shoes of the pigs who rule over us. Now, we stand up, not only for ourselves, but for the downtrodden, the despised, the forgotten. Join me and I will see to it that all of your dreams come true. What say you, lads? Are you with me?"

He glanced from one man to the next, watching them process what they'd just been offered. These men, his men were the lost ones, society's rubbish and shame. They were dismissed, abhorred, and spat upon. Where they came from, they would never be anything, anyone, no matter how hard they tried. What Duo was offering them were opportunities and possibilities that had never been within their reach and never would be as long as they remained on land. A chance to become more than what the world thought of them. The chance to make a name for themselves and as long as Duo's blood pumped through his veins, he would stop at nothing to see to it that their names would go down in history.

Solo was the first to stand, his face a strange mix of apprehension and pride. He lifted his cup and tapped it against Duo's. "I don' know what the future holds, but I trust ye. More than I trust meself. Aye. I am with ye. Until me final breath, I am with ye."

Duo lifted his chin, his chest swelling with triumph, solidarity, and the knowledge that his dominion at sea was close at hand as one by one, the men rose to their feet and held their cups in the air. "Aye, Sir. We are with ye. We stand with ye until the end."

Chapter Text

Heero stood near the foot of the bed with his tunic in his hands, absently picking at the pilled blue fabric as he watched Quatre attempt to smooth his mussed hair in front of the mirror that was mounted on the wall above a small dresser. Not much was said since the blond had woken up from his nightmare and for some odd reason, he was refusing to look Heero in the eye.

Being a comforting presence was not something he was accustomed to. It wasn’t as if he’d had much practice, or any for that matter, especially not since he’d been taken on board the Shinigami. His heart went out to the boy, able to empathize and even sympathize with his plight, but he just wasn’t sure what to do about it. He didn’t want to smother Quatre, but he did want him to feel like he could trust him..

“Are you alright?” Quatre’s eyes met his own in the mirror and Heero was encouraged by the response. He watched the other boy fuss with his golden ringlets until they laid prettily about his head. “You know you can tell me anything, don’t you?”

“Do I?” Quatre’s voice was muted, but tinged with something resembling bitterness which surprised him even though it shouldn’t have considering what he’d done to him. Still, there was an urgent need to reach out to him.

“Quatre, you can trust me,” he insisted, trying to keep his voice as gentle and non-threatening as possible.

“I don’t -” He paused and shook his head, tucking a blond curl behind his ear. Heero got the sense that he was trying to organize his thoughts, but he was desperate to clear the air about what they’d done.

“I’m...sorry. About...all of this. About what I did to you. I understand if you don’t think you can trust me. I just want you to know that I -”

“It’s not you,” Quatre interrupted and turned away from the dresser. He was visibly unsettled and busied his hands by fiddling with the laces of his shirt. “I don’t blame you and I really didn’t mind it.” The corners of his mouth curled up just slightly and Heero was taken aback when he winked a turquoise eye at him. “You’re rather good at that.”

He flushed to the tips of his ears and rubbed his nose in an attempt to hide his grin. “You don’t have to tell me that. I haven’t done...well, it’s been a long time.”

“You fooled me,” Quatre said with a soft chuckle. “And I’m not just telling you that. I mean it,” he added, his eyes twinkling with sincerity and Heero, God help him, he believed him which probably wasn’t a good thing. This boy was technically the enemy, even if only by association. He was the catamite of his Master’s enemy. In any other situation, he’d be a rival, but with Quatre, he found he could harbor no ill will towards the boy.

It wasn’t the first time Heero had been acquainted with the catamite of another pirate captain. In his experience, he found some of them to be a great many number of things, but none of those traits ever represented anything he considered to be honorable. Vain, spoilt, vindictive, underhanded, insipid. They clung to their captains and simpered like pathetic weaklings while their kohl-lined eyes burned with threat anytime another catamite was nearby. They were fiercely possessive of their Masters and viciously hostile towards other catamites.

Heero unfortunately found that out the hard way after catching the eye of Captain Dekim Barton who ironically shared the same surname as the captain of the Catherine. Dekim had a young, dark haired catamite of his own, perhaps a year, or so younger than Heero himself. Like him, the boy was a mix of European and Asian ancestry, but he lacked Heero’s startling blue eyes. Blue eyes that Dekim was intensely fascinated by.

He supposed he should’ve been grateful that Captain Maxwell did not like to share. There were certainly plenty of other captains that had no qualms about passing their bed warmers around like the commodities they were. He was spared subjugation at Barton’s hands, but not before the man’s catamite plunged a small knife into Heero’s back during a fit of jealous rage. Thankfully, it missed his vital organs, but that excursion nearly cost Barton and his little whore their lives.

He wasn’t sure what had possessed Maxwell to order him to bed Trowa Barton’s catamite. Then again, Maxwell was notoriously unpredictable which was part of the reason he was so dangerous. Heero had seen him feign forgiveness for a minor infraction only to turn around and gut the poor bastard who foolishly let his guard down.

It was the first time he’d been with anyone besides Maxwell since he was taken off the streets of Bangladesh. He would never admit it, especially not to Maxwell, or Quatre, but he’d thoroughly enjoyed the experience. To bugger a pliant body, to not be the one spread out in supplication was empowering and he craved to do it again, though he knew that was unlikely to happen.

He was even more reluctant to admit how much he enjoyed sex with Maxwell. The undeniable fluttering of excitement in his belly every time he was hauled off to their cabin and thrown onto the bed. But he didn’t have to admit it. Maxwell knew. He knew because Heero was unable to control his body’s responses as he was dragged across the ship, catching the lecherous gazes of the crew, the dark laughs and lewd gestures of the men who were well aware of what happened when he was taken to Maxwell’s cabin. He was unable to stop himself from getting hard, even when he put up the pretense of resistance. Maxwell could clearly see his traitorous erection jutting up from between his thighs when he flipped up the skirt of his tunic. He could feel the stiff flesh against his belly and groin when he laid himself over the boy and pinned flailing arms against the mattress.

Heero never could smother the whimpers and moans when Maxwell’s cock touched the places deep inside him that rendered him helpless with pleasure. He never could refrain from tilting his hips up as his arse was bared, silently offering himself up for the taking.

He tried. Oh, he tried to resist, but he knew now that he’d been doomed right from the start. The first time Maxwell bedded him, he fought like a wildcat, punching, kicking, scratching, biting. He screamed in impotent fury as he was overpowered and then penetrated, weeping brokenly beneath the force of Maxwell’s jarring thrusts, grieving his freedom, his autonomy, and his humiliating degradation. He realized he’d been fooling himself all along. Resistance was futile. Always had been, always would be. The independence of his life on the streets, quickly becoming a distant memory.

Though, he wondered now if he’d simply been blind to the truth. As a whore, he did have the option of turning down a potential customer, but that also meant he might not eat that day. It seemed as though the two circumstances were not all that different when he stopped to really think about it. Maxwell, for his part, fed him, clothed him, and protected him and in return, Heero paid for those privileges with his body. He was still a whore. The only difference was his clientele.

And he loved the sex as much as he abhorred it. He’d spent the first year of his captivity despising himself and his body for its repeated betrayal. He hated Maxwell for knowing how to make him shamelessly beg like a bitch in heat, and he hated Maxwell for exploiting it at every opportunity.

Maxwell fucked in much the same way that he killed. With violent, blazing passion, wild and untamed. Everything from his beauty, his grace, his voice, mannerisms, demeanor, posture, and aura bled ardor and brutality that stoked the fires of carnal desire in man and woman alike. Heero had spent many a night tucked away in the corner of a seemingly endless string of dingy, seedy taverns where sin took precedence over morality. These were the places where men went to indulge in the acts that would surely buy them a one way ticket to eternal damnation. They came to drink, gamble, fight, and sate their wicked sexual appetites, the sort of vile perversions that they would never attempt with their God-fearing wives, in a place that did not judge, or condemn. There was no God there. They were the Devil’s domain, as unholy as it got.

He’d spent many a night in these dark, obscure places curled in on himself so as to avoid being fondled while he watched Maxwell tear open bodices and press his face between supple breasts, tugging tiny, peaked nipples into his mouth. He watched Maxwell’s hands, the same hands that had conquered his own body too many times to count, lift young women onto tables and delve beneath ruffled skirts and petticoats. He watched Maxwell penetrate them with his fingers and he watched the women tremble and moan when he buried his face between their creamy thighs.

But he never fucked them, no matter how much they begged him to. He would bring them to shaking, howling climaxes with fingers and mouth, but he never disrobed for them. His cock always remained inside his breeches, off limits to them and their wandering hands. Instead, he would turn away, leaving them panting and desperate to be taken by the next man waiting his turn .

He always came for Heero after that. Sometimes, he would wait until they returned to their room at whichever inn they were staying at and then Heero would find himself pinned against the wall the moment the door closed behind them. Maxwell usually didn’t have the patience to fully undress either of them and simply wrenched open the front of his breeches, hoisted his catamite up into his arms, and pushed his way inside after a quick and clumsy fingering, holding Heero’s arms above his head as he buggered him into the wall. He was especially ravenous on those nights, growling and biting the tender skin of Heero’s neck, thrusting roughly against the soft flesh of his arse and rasping the filthiest words Heero had ever heard into his ears.

Those were the nights that he could wait until they were behind closed doors. On the nights that he couldn’t, Heero would wind up flat on his back across a weathered wooden table in the middle of the tavern with his tunic rucked up around his chest and his legs draped over Maxwell’s shoulders. It took a long time for Heero to reach a point where he was no longer mortified by being buggered in front of a rapt audience. He remembered those early days when he would squeeze his eyes shut to avoid having to see the glittering, beady eyes of drunk and raucous patrons hungrily watching his sexual degradation from within the dark haze of the tavern.

If there was anything to be learned by being Maxwell’s catamite, it was not to fret about such things. Or perhaps now he was simply too jaded and disillusioned to feel shame at his predicament. Perhaps once you’ve been stripped and buggered over a table in a place where debauchery is a way of life, there’s really not much else to lose. He’d already kissed his dignity goodbye a long time ago. His status and position left little room for pride. It was absurd to be outraged over being treated like a toy when you knew that was what you were.

Of course, after his last escape attempt nearly a year ago, Maxwell still didn’t trust him even though Heero had been on his best behavior ever since. He still mouthed off on occasion, spoke out of turn, and expressed anger when he thought he was being treated unfairly, but most of the time he readily surrendered himself to Maxwell’s whims.

He’d learned a valuable, but painful lesson the day he tried to escape. In the beginning, his numerous attempts never invoked such fury because Maxwell expected as much. It wasn’t the escape itself that provoked his violent rage the previous year. It was because Maxwell had begun to trust him after months of good behavior and Heero had betrayed that trust. Normally, if one was foolish enough to betray Maxwell, he was lucky to still be breathing. Most men did not get a second chance at redemption and Maxwell had been adamant about reminding him of that for the entire duration of his punishment.

Heero was painfully aware that he was still alive only because he served a purpose. If he was of no benefit to Maxwell, he would be rotting at the bottom of the ocean. While he’d contemplated suicide at times, he knew it was something he would never actually do. He detested his position, but it was still better than being dead. And as perverse as it sounded even to him, he’d found a strange sort of value in what he was. Up until his captivity at Maxwell’s hands, he’d never felt a sense of belonging before. Not with his family, or anyone else.

The people he’d sold himself to, first on the streets of Japan and then later, India, were merely faceless entities who relegated his existence to what he had between his legs and the pleasure he could provide with his hands and mouth. Short, meaningless bursts of passion that dwindled and died once the ecstasy of their couplings reached its crescendo. After that, he ceased to exist beyond a few coins carelessly tossed in his direction as his patrons left with scarcely a glance at the obsolete toy that had served its purpose.

He had his regulars. Those who repeatedly sought his services and some he had to concede were not only attentive, but titillated by the prospect of pleasuring him. They caressed his skin with loving hands and soft kisses, whispering the most delightful of lies into the sensual grooves of his body. They sucked him into their mouths while stroking the most erotic of places inside him with skilled, knowing fingers, basking in the beauty of witnessing their pretty whore coming undone.

Those brief moments where he could pretend he was loved invoked an eagerness to please them in return, dropping to his knees to take cocks deep into his throat and parting fleshy thighs to lap and suckle at the delicate folds of vaginas damp with arousal. He brought the women to shuddering climaxes and then fucked them, hungrily mouthing their heaving breasts and savoring the clench of legs around his waist. The men would lie back on the bed and relish the exquisite, velvety heat of his body as he sunk down onto their cocks and the hypnotizing beauty of watching him bugger himself to a messy orgasm.

Yet it was always over as quickly as it began and he was left feeling dirty and deserted with the remnants of their pleasure drying on his skin. He learned not to take it personally, or at least he tried not to. It wasn’t easy to dismiss what little love he got when he had no one else to lean on, or confide in. It was a lonely, soul-killing way of life and while it gave him a purpose, it wasn’t a fulfilling one. Once the rapturous haze of sexual release wore off, he had only aching loneliness for company.

In all honesty, as much as he tried to tell himself that his current circumstance wasn’t all that different, deep down he knew it was. His purpose was the pleasure his body provided for Captain Maxwell, but it was more complicated than that. Now, he was worthy of keeping in contrast to the quick roll and a meager handful of coin for his trouble. Granted, he was treasured because of his sexual desirability, but in the end, it didn’t matter why he was treasured, only that he was treasured. After all, beggars couldn’t be choosers. He was valuable enough for one man to want to keep him at his side. He was valuable enough to be well kempt, draped in the finest fabrics and jewels. Valuable enough to be fed three square meals a day and even earn an occasional treat when Maxwell was especially pleased with him.

It wasn’t an ideal life by any means, but it was far better than the life he came from. He knew he was cherished because he was important enough for Maxwell to take great pleasure in doting on him. Heero was unequivocally bitter and resentful, but not so much that it clouded his ability to see when something ultimately benefited him. Maxwell had done him a favor. He, in a sense, saved Heero from a life that was slowly killing him. And when he thought about it that way, he was baffled by a troubling sense of guilt over the way he’d behaved on many occasions since he’d been taken aboard the Shinigami. He was petulant and ungrateful, unwilling to accept that he’d been looking a gift horse in the mouth all along.

“Heero? Are you alright?” He was startled by a soft, worried voice and shook himself out of his trance, feeling disoriented and strangely tired. He rubbed his eyes and looked up to see Quatre cautiously approaching. The blond paused, his steps faltering once Heero’s attention was focused on him and stood in the middle of the room with his fidgety hands tugging at the laces of his shirt.

This boy...no, not a boy. Man. They were both men now. This man who’d somehow ended up in the same situation that he was in, this man who wore his kindness and compassion on his sleeve for all the world to see, this man whom Heero had made love to just hours ago...this man understood. Quatre understood him in ways that no one else ever could. And Heero found that he was utterly incapable of regarding him as an enemy, despite the fact that he knew he should. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not after feeling Quatre’s lovely body beneath his own. Not after Quatre had willingly consented to buggary without harboring any resentment, or blame. Not after the unforgettable experience of being inside him and listening to his genuine whimpers and cries of pleasure. Not after he looked at the man a few feet away from him and saw not a rival, or enemy, but a beautiful human being who was worthy of dignity and respect.

He knew the likelihood of Quatre not surviving this situation and the prospect left him feeling winded by a profound sense of grief even though Quatre was still standing in front of him, healthy and whole. Heero had seen many people die, most at the hands of his Master and he’d reached a point where he was relatively indifferent to violence and bloodshed. For the most part, he felt no real emotion over it. It was simply the way of things.

But with Quatre, it was different. It wasn’t even the blond’s death that had him rattled, it was the idea, the dreadful anticipation of his death. If Heero were honest with himself, he knew he couldn’t stomach witnessing such an event. He would grieve. He’d known Quatre for less than a day and he was already mourning him.

Quatre took another step forward, only one, but his expression belayed his fear over Heero’s detachment and lack of response. Heero’s heart broke for him, not only for the crime of inciting such an emotion, but at the probability that this precious young life was going to be brutally cut short very soon.

And what happened after that was anyone’s guess. Once Captain Barton discovered that his catamite was dead, all hell would break loose. Of that Heero had no doubt. Would Maxwell also kill Barton, or would Barton kill Maxwell? And if Barton succeeded in avenging Quatre, what would become of Heero? Would he also be killed, or would he remain on board the Shinigami in the off chance that it wasn’t sunk, and become the catamite to her new captain? Would he be taken on board the Catherine and used as sport for the crew the way Quatre had on their ship? Would he be put in chains, taken to shore, and auctioned off to the highest bidder?

He didn’t know and for the first time in nearly a year, he felt genuine terror as he was faced with a volatile and uncertain future. Looking into Quatre’s eyes, he saw the same fear reflected in the turquoise depths. Fear, but also defeat and Heero’s heart throbbed in sympathy. Whatever was going to happen was essentially out of their hands. Beyond their control. The only thing they could do was wait and see what their respective Masters did and hope for the best. The silent communication and understanding that passed between them was inexplicable, strange, but powerfully intimate as though a bond had been formed. Whatever came their way, they were in this together.

Quatre was not his rival, or his enemy. Quatre was his ally, his brother, his friend and Heero realized with a jolt of surprise that he would do whatever it took to ensure he survived the days, weeks, and months to come.

He smiled. A tense, uneasy smile, but it was the least he could do for Quatre. In a few steps, he bridged the gap between them and took the boy’s wringing hands into his own. The physical contact solidified their pact, joining them in a contract of friendship, solidarity, and protection. He pressed a kiss to the back of Quatre’s hand and then leaned forward until their foreheads rested together.

“You’re going to survive this,” he assured the blond.

“How?”

“By any means necessary. I promise I will not let anything happen to you. I will do everything I can to get you back to Barton safely. You have my word.”

Quatre’s voice was a mere whisper, as if he was afraid someone might overhear. “You shouldn’t promise such things.”

Heero gathered him into his arms with a tenderness he never knew he was capable of. The sensations of warm flesh and the faint thump of Quatre’s heart against him were both comforting and stimulating. It triggered an instinct deep within him that existed to defend and protect at all costs. It was something he hadn’t felt since he’d left his home in Japan, but this time, his sense of duty was given of his own free will and not the result of indoctrination and forced training. Perhaps he’d been mistaken about his purpose all along. Perhaps this was his purpose. His opportunity to make his mark on the world before it was too late. Now, he had a direction, a drive, a mission and for the first time in his life, he was looking forward to whatever fate decided to throw at him.

Do your worst. I can take it. I will take it and when it’s all over, I will stand bloody and beaten, but not broken. You cannot take this man from the world. I will not allow it. This world needs him and I will see to it that he survives long enough to make it a better place. That is his mission and this, this is mine. You want him, you will have to go through me and I swear to you, I will not make it easy for you.

“You have my word,” he vowed, tangling his fingers into soft, silky curls and holding on tight. “And I never break my word.”

Chapter Text

The sound of slippers scuffing along the wooden plank boards alerted a dozing Duo to the approach of the catamites. He jerked awake with a snort and blinked drowsy eyes, taking in the gradual clearing visage of Heero who’d stopped a few feet away and was passively waiting for him to wake up and get off his arse.

He shifted his gaze to the blond standing timidly behind him and caught the subtle clutch of his fingers in the back of Heero’s tunic, holding on like a frightened child to his parent in a crowd of strangers. Duo’s lip curled with a rush of possessiveness and considered ordering the boy to let go before he thought better of it. He uttered a grunt at the stiffness of his muscles as he pulled himself up from the chair and gestured for them to follow with a swipe of his hand. Let the lad cling. He wasn’t a threat.

He met Solo at the entrance doors and briefly clasped his wrist. Solo offered him a somewhat meek nod, his watery blue eyes expressive with trepidation. Best friend, or not, Duo was a force to be reckoned with, especially when he was angry. Solo had learned long ago to tread lightly when the ice was thin.

“Are we ready?”

“Aye, Sir. She is not…she is not the best -”

“No matter, Solo. She will get us to Ireland. That is my only concern.”

“Aye, Sir,” Solo agreed and fell into step beside him, not bothering to spare the two catamites behind them even a glance as they made their way to the docks.

“What of the crew?” Duo asked.

“Disposed of,” Solo informed him. “Smith got ‘imself a right gash on ‘is arm, but t’is nothing dire. A few sutures should fix ‘im up quick.”

Duo let out a soft sigh of aggravation, but nodded nonetheless. “Very well.” He glanced over his shoulder, checking to make sure the boys were still behind them. They were. Heero was nothing if not tirelessly trained to stay a steady four feet behind him at all times and he knew better than to run. It didn’t look as though Barton’s lad was keen on testing the waters either which didn’t surprise him. The little whore was as obedient as a whipped dog. Duo absurdly wondered if he’d get the chance to learn Barton’s secret before the man’s lackey sliced his throat.

Chang himself was another force to be reckoned with. Duo still didn’t know for certain how he came to be in Barton’s company, but rumor had it they’d become friends after a gambit gone awry. Chang was a terrifying adversary, or so the legend went. Like Barton, Chang was often regarded as larger than life. Despite the disquiet of knowing he was soon going to come face to face with the two most dangerous men alive, Duo hoped the man himself was true to his lore.

It would not do to succumb to a lesser opponent.

A pirate’s honor was first and foremost, deemed more valuable than his life. It was preferable to die with honor, than to survive without it. He would fight to the death and if he was to meet his demise at Barton’s, or Chang’s hand, it would be as a worthy nemesis, not a coward.

He glanced behind him again and met the blue eyes of Barton’s catamite, a little surprised when he noticed the hard edge to them, a hint of rebelliousness and dare he say it? Strength. It was gone almost as quickly as it came and then the lad returned to staring at the back of Heero’s head as he shadowed the other boy step for step.

Duo’s gaze dropped down, taking in the hand that still clutched the back of Heero’s tunic and was even more surprised that his catamite had not yet shaken him off. Heero was intensely unfavorable to physical contact, tolerating Duo’s touches only because he was required to. The rare times when one of the crewmen, under the influence of rum, became overzealous and foolishly grabbed the boy, it had not gone over well.

Normally, his men knew better than to lay hands upon his catamite. There were times when they forgot themselves, or the weeks at sea with no sexual outlet took precedence in their minds, overriding rational thought. Heero’s soft, young skin, exotic beauty, and lovely scent was too much to resist for a wretched, drunken cutthroat who was more than happy to be castrated by his captain as long as he could reap the benefits beforehand. They just never expected Heero himself to retaliate.

But a captain must keep his men satisfied and relatively happy. Throw them a bone on occasion otherwise he might find himself gullet-deep in mutiny. When they docked, the crew was permitted to visit the brothels before performing their tasks as well as after. They typically didn’t stay on land for more than a few days as Duo much preferred the sea. And unless they were in good standing with the local authorities through bribes and trades, they ran the risk of capture, or death.

Before he’d known the blond lad was Barton’s catamite, he’d given him to his men knowing full well what was to become of him. He’d taken Heero to bed that night with the little whore’s cries ringing in his ears, mingled with the raucous cheers of his crew as they had their way with him. Mercifully, the whelp’s wailing didn’t last long and he was able to bugger his catamite in relative peace and afterwards, allowing the soothing sound of ocean waves crashing against Shinigami’s hull to lull him to sleep.

He hadn’t slept well that night and even less so since learning the boy’s true identity which in all honesty, had only been a day. It seemed like a lifetime ago and Duo wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t even sure what had been disrupting his normally restful sleep since the lad’s capture.

Heero was not present during the abduction as he’d been locked inside Duo’s room at the inn, but somehow he’d known and that suspicion was confirmed as he listened to the boy’s cries while pinned beneath his captain. It was difficult for either of them to feel pleasure with the sounds of rape in the background and neither of them managed to climax. Duo was troubled by the distant look in his catamite’s eyes and the softness of his cock, lax even when Duo employed all the best tricks that usually never failed to reduce Heero to mere whimpers and pleas for more.

It hadn’t worked that night and despite Duo’s need to fuck his frustration into the boy, he found it difficult to stay hard himself and eventually just gave up, rolling off Heero's limp body with an irritated huff and slinging an arm over his eyes. He fell asleep that way, no words said between them, though the silence was gravid, tense with condemnation.

But Duo’s misgivings weren’t quite enough to put an end to the boy’s torment and he wound up paying for it when all of the hard work he’d put into Heero’s training began to backfire. There wasn’t much Heero could actually do to him, but he objected in his own way. He no longer responded during sex, instead lying frigid and immobile like a dead fish which was infuriatingly effective in killing Duo's libido.

Duo found himself getting the cold shoulder. When he went for kisses, Heero turned his head away. The warmth that he’d displayed previously was gone and Duo quickly learned how much that bothered him. It was a thousand times worse than Heero's protests in the early days of his capture. At least then, he’d been responsive, vibrant. Alive. The flip side was what Duo imagined making love to a corpse was like and that simply would not do.

His first instinct was to punish, but surprisingly, it was Solo that changed his mind.

“He's not doing it to spite ye.”

Duo looked up from his cup of ale and glowered at his friend, already on his sixth rum of the evening. Solo’s eyes, soft with drink, but wise in their own right gazed solemnly at him from across the table. Duo scoffed and spun his stein between fidgety fingers. “I beg to differ.”

“He’s doing it because he’s got principles. Noble ones. He knows what is happening to that boy and he believes it’s wrong. Let ‘em have this. He feels for the lad,” Solo murmured, tapping his chest. “In ‘ere.”

“He’s never even met the kid. That’s what he’s there for. He’s a whore,” Duo muttered and leveled a suspicious eye on the strangely lucid man who by all rights should have been drooling on himself by now. “Why haven’t you made sport of him yet?”

Solo shrugged and leaned back, resting a booted foot on the table. He fingered the rim of his stein in silent contemplation and Duo waited patiently for his answer.

“I like ‘em better when they ain’t scared an’ helpless,” he finally said. It was so soft, Duo almost didn’t hear him and wondered if he was embarrassed. “He's a pretty lad, but -”

“But you’re not a rapist,” Duo finished for him, feeling lower than a cur. “You must think I’m a devil.”

“I do not,” Solo insisted, his eyes hard. “Yer a pirate and yer priorities are in the right place. Ye think of yer men and ye want what’s best for us."

Duo drummed his fingers on the table, wondering why that reassurance didn’t make him feel better. “He’s an innocent, that lad," he admitted and maybe that was why. He’d thrown an innocent young man to the wolves. Someone who’d done nothing to deserve it.

“And ye don’t hurt innocents,” Solo reminded him with a hint of sadness in his voice. Or was that disappointment? He pointed an unsteady finger at Duo, the first sign he’d seen that the man was less than sober. “That’s why ye feel guilty.”

But Duo wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Yet. “Who says I feel guilty?”

“Ye do,” Solo insisted with a decisive nod. “I can see it all over yer face. I know ye. I’ve known ye since we was wee laddies. Don’t think I don’t know guilt when I sees it.”

Duo’s mouth curled up in wry grin. “You’re not as dim as you pretend to be sometimes, you know that?”

Solo returned the grin, exposing a row of uneven teeth. “I’m an observer. Ye value me for me insight. Someone needs to be the voice of morality ‘round ‘ere.”

He tipped his head back with a loud bark of laughter. “Since when did you learn such big words?”

Solo’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. “T’is the benefit of bein’ friends with such a smart lad,” he said with a cheeky wink. He drained his cup and slammed it down, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “I’ve learned a lot from ye. I don’ think ye know how much I admire ye. Ye saved me life, me soul.”

Duo’s expression softened at the confession. “I don’t know about the soul part. I am fairly certain we are both damned.”

Solo shrugged, seemingly unbothered. “If there’s a God up there somewhere, He abandoned us long ago.”

“Perhaps it is us that abandoned Him.”

“Mayhap. T’is no matter. I’ll follow ye to the ends of the earth. God ain’t done nothin’ for me.”

 

***

 

Duo eyed their new ship from the edge of the dock, distaste written all over his face. The hijacked vessel was a Be’landre, one of the larger ones he’d seen, but still small in comparison to the Shinigami, a Sloop designed and built by an esteemed Dutch engineer and nautical professor who made his fortune selling his craft to pirates, unbeknownst to the University.

The Johannah was relatively well-kempt, sturdy and fully equipped to sail, already stocked which worked in their favor. Still, it would take some getting used to as they were all accustomed to more space at sea. It would have to do and so help him, if Barton sunk his Shinigami, heads were going to roll, starting with the little blond whelp that stood just off to his right.

“This is it?” Heero’s dubious voice carried across the coastal winds and Duo couldn’t suppress his insulted scowl to save his life.

“Mind your mouth, boy, or I’ll be slappin’ it into next week,” he growled, leveling a threatening glare on his catamite. “I’ll not be listenin’ to your sass, so bite your tongue before I take the paddle to ye.”

Heero cocked his head to the side, his expression one of guileless curiosity. “Did you know your accent changes when you’re angry?”

Duo bristled and pointed a finger at the ship. “Get yer arse up there and take your Siamese twin with ye before I whip ye both so hard, yer mothers will feel it in their graves!”

Heero backed down and Duo wasn’t sure if it was because he himself didn’t wish to get whipped, or if he was more concerned with the other boy being punished. Oddly enough, he found himself actually wanting to know how strong this bond between the two catamites was. Was it simply two young men in similar predicaments finding common ground, or did it go further than that? Were there genuine feelings between the two and how deep did those feelings go?

He observed their ascent up the ramp, his sharp eyes taking in the way Heero clasped the other’s hand and decided, maybe irrationally so, to see for himself. He stepped forward, quick strides of his long legs until he reached them and grasped the hem of the blond’s shirt, flipping it up and exposing his naked backside.

To his astonishment, Heero spun around, yanked the other boy behind him, and snarled at Duo like a mother bear protecting her cub. The shock lasted for only a moment before Duo, suddenly enraged, swung his arm and backhanded Heero across the face. He watched with a dark surge of vindication as his catamite reeled from the force, staggering on unsteady legs and then dropped to his knees, stunned from the blow.

The blond crouched down, placing hesitant hands on Heero’s back as the lad recovered. Duo stood over them both like an ominous shadow, shaking with fury. “Don’t you ever display aggressiveness towards me again, boy,” he growled, voice deep and laced with the threat of violence. “Unless you want to spend the next month in the bilge and covered in welts, I’d advise you to remember your place.”

Heero bowed his head in submission and with the other boy’s help, got his legs back under him. They walked the rest of the way up in subdued silence, the blond’s arm around Heero’s hunched shoulders. Duo remained where he was, still angry, but even more disturbed. Heero had never behaved that way before, not even in the early days of his capture.

It brought to mind the tales he'd told him during the warm summer nights of the previous year while sailing past the South of France, once Heero had finally, grudgingly, accepted his lot. Drowsy with afterglow, but unable to sleep, Heero unraveled the mystery of his past, whispering his confessions into the hollow of Duo’s throat while Duo stroked a hand up and down his sweat-dampened back, listening with rapt attention.

One of three sons born to a Japanese mother and English father, Heero and his brothers were groomed for the Tokugawa Shogunate, trained to serve the regional shoguns and their families. In essence, they were taught that their lives held no true meaning aside from their purpose of guarding the shoguns, acting as mere human shields when their warlord masters were in danger. Expendable tools to carry on centuries’ long conflict that had divided their lands with the spilt blood of the innocent.

The night before his initiation into the Minamoto Family’s guard was to take place, Heero went awol, sneaking out of his family home in the middle of the night and traveling on foot, then on horseback across the country until he reached the coast and escaped as a stowaway on an illegal merchant ship. He hadn’t known where he was going, nor did he much care. His only hope was to find a better life, a meaningful purpose. A place where he was more valuable than a body meant only to take bullet, or blade.

Of course, that endeavor turned out to be more difficult that he’d thought. His purpose was different, but no less dehumanizing. Bullets for buggery. Heero wasn’t sure which was worse until after eighteen grueling months of sexual degradation. On a fateful October night, he opened his legs for a beautiful man with indigo eyes, long chestnut hair, and a voice as smooth as velvet. He oozed seduction from every pore, made even the most humiliating slurs sound as if they were spoken by an angel.

He played Heero’s body like a finely tuned instrument, somehow instinctively knowing his most erogenous places and exploiting them with the shameless abandon of a man who already knew his soul was damned to the darkest pits of Hell and had nothing to lose. He made Heero weep with pleasure, forget his flagrant existence, even his very name as he was taken to heights of sensation he never knew were possible.

Later, Heero would realize the gravity of his mistake. That he’d allowed this man, who’d so generously offered him a goblet of sinfully expensive wine and a delectable wedge of German chocolate before taking him to bed, past the carefully erected walls he’d built around himself. He’d let his guard down, disregarded his own rule about accepting any tokens from his customers and was reminded the hard way of why he’d made that rule in the first place.

The wine was laced with an opiate, one that enhanced Heero’s arousal and pleasure, but also rendered him powerless against his subsequent abduction off the streets of Bangladesh, the place he’d tentatively come to call home.

By the time he was cognizant again, he was already aboard the Shinigami and nearly fifty knots out to sea. Trapped and enslaved by a man he’d soon come to learn was one of the most notorious pirates of the western world.

And the rest was, as they say, history.

 

***

 

Duo stood in the center of the ramp, watching with narrowed eyes as the catamites were separated and taken to their designated places. Heero to the captain’s cabin and the blond to the bilge. He tensed at the warm hand that closed over his shoulder, not in the mood for camaraderie, but making no move to shove the offender away.

“Ye alright, Cap’n?” Solo rasped into his ear, loud enough only for the ears of the man the words were intended for. When Duo didn’t answer, he offered an uneasy chuckle in an attempt to lighten the gloomy atmosphere. “I think ye knocked the lad silly.”

“Did you see what he did, Solo?” Duo asked, his eyes still trained on the bow where his catamite had disappeared only moments ago.

“Aye,” Solo answered solemnly, destroying Duo’s dim hope that no one had witnessed that indignity. “Lad needs to be taken in hand, he does. Reminded of ‘is place.”

Duo shook his head and continued his ascent up the ramp, Solo matching him stride for stride. “He’s never done anything like that before. What am I going to do with him?”

“Your boy cares for that lad. He -”

“There is no place for such nonsense,” Duo barked, stepping onto the bow and rolling up the billowed fabric of his sleeves. “I do not know what has gotten into him. He’s acting like a den mother to Barton’s little whore and that is unacceptable.” He flipped his braid over his shoulder and gave Solo a stern look. “Innocent, or not, that boy is the enemy and he will be treated as such. Is that understood?”

Solo hesitated and chewed his lip, a habit of his when he was nervous. “Ye goin’ to kill ‘im?”

“If Barton forces my hand. It’s up to him whether the lad lives, or dies.”

Solo nodded in defeat, at odds with the idea of slaughtering the boy, but knowing it was out of his hands. “Aye, Sir.”

Duo read the reticence clearly and lifted his chin. “You doubt me?”

“Of course not, Sir! I’ve never doubted ye.”

“Until now,” Duo surmised. “Do not insult my intelligence, Solo.”

“I mean no disrespect. I only wish there was a way to return him safely to his cap’n.”

Duo slammed the port closed and flipped the latch with a muttered, “The time for wishing ended the day we became men, Solo. The world is not fair. Best to be remembering that, savvy?” He straightened up, and puffed out his chest, drawing in a deep breath. “Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen, lads! We’re burning daylight so let’s not dally.”

Chapter Text

The pirate who went by the name of Greenwich, a bulky, bearded Englishman with a gruff voice and stony eyes, was the one responsible for taking Quatre to the bilge. Unfortunately, Quatre was stubbornly refusing to release Heero’s tunic and Greenwich was forced to pry white-knuckled fingers out of the blue cotton garment and when that failed, he had to squeeze the boy’s skinny wrist to get him to let go.

“Let go, ye little urchin,” he growled and dug his meaty fingers into the soft tendons of the blond’s wrist, inciting a yelp of pain. Quatre had no choice but to release his grip, his heart dropping into his belly as Heero was led away in the opposite direction. The Shinigami’s bilge was not a pleasant place to be and he was under no delusions that this ship’s bilge would be any better. He supposed he could count himself lucky that he’d never even seen the Catherine’s bilge, but the thought was not comforting given his current circumstances.

He tripped over his sandaled feet and wound up being half-dragged across the deck as Greenwich appeared to have little patience for dawdling. Quatre clenched his teeth from the pain of the iron grip clamped around his upper arm, but he knew better than to vocalize his objections.

Greenwich made him deeply uneasy and for good reason. He was the first to pin Quatre to that tiny bunk in the crew’s quarters. Quatre didn’t know whose bunk it was, but he quickly learned to associate that particular bed with terrible things. In the beginning, he fought even knowing he had no chance. When Greenwich, drunk on rum, leered down at him and slurred degrading filth into his face, Quatre couldn’t retaliate the way he wanted to because his arms were pinned above his head. Instead, he did the only thing he could do. He spit in Greenwich’s eye and called him a ‘pig’.

His insolence earned him a brain-rattling slap across his face, but at least he’d made his stance on the situation clear. After that, he tried to block it out as best he could. The hands that pressed his wrists against the lumpy mattress and stroked across his bared skin as his clothing, his only protection was stripped from his body along with the jewelry that had been gifted to him by Trowa.

He tried his best to ignore the lewd and mocking words, closed his eyes against the sea of hungry, ogling faces. Braced himself when his legs were parted and bit down hard into his tongue as he was penetrated. He held out for as long as he could, but the screams inevitably escaped. He screamed until his throat hurt and his voice shorted out and then, mercifully, his mind sought a place far away from his humiliating degradation.

He escaped to quiet nights in Trowa’s arms and lovemaking in the moonlight that streamed in through the port holes. To his perch in front of his vanity where he would twist locks of his hair around his fingers to enhance the curls and rub rouge into his cheeks while Trowa stood silently behind him, watching with riveted fascination. Those moments when Trowa would drape a new necklace around him with hands that had slaughtered so many, yet were capable of such loving gentleness.

He remembered the soft green eyes in the morning sunlight and the smooth, soothing timbre of Trowa's voice when he sang an old Russian lullaby taught to him by his beloved Catherine. It made Quatre’s heart ache to hear the sorrow in the mournful notes. It was one of the rare times Trowa allowed his vulnerability to show. Quatre would hold his lover’s head against his chest, tears slipping down his own cheeks, and stroked silky sable hair while Trowa released the pain and guilt he still harbored over her death.

“Trowa, you cannot blame yourself. It was not your fault.”

“I should have stayed. I never should have left. I could have protected her.”

“You only would have been killed right alongside her. And then I would be alone in the world. Perhaps still nothing but a filthy whore, selling his arse for stale crusts of bread.”

Trowa would caress his cheek, thumb brushing his tears away even while his own glistened in the candlelight. He would smile though it was slightly pained. “Maybe these things happen for a reason. I was given Catherine to protect and when I failed her, I was given you. Another chance to do things right.”

A playful smile. “So, I’m your new assignment from the Almighty?”

Another caress. “Call it what you will. I will die before I allow anything to happen to you.”

Unfortunately, it was a promise that wasn’t meant to be kept, though Quatre harbored no ill will towards his captain. What hurt the most was knowing that Trowa was no doubt blaming himself for this, despite the impossibility of predicting such a circumstance.

“Stop dragging ye feet, ya whelp,” Greenwich barked, yanking harder on Quatre’s arm. He stumbled again, but doubled down his efforts to keep up, jogging to match the man’s long-legged strides. His arm ached and he knew he would be nursing a large, hand-shaped bruise for the next week.

They reached the bilge and Greenwich released him in order to open the trap door. Quatre took the opportunity to massage the painful muscles as he stared down at the man who leaned over the opening in the deck, tempted to kick him into the hole. He restrained himself only because he knew the punishment for such an infraction would not be worth the momentary gratification.

Still, he mourned his missed chance as Greenwich leaned up and pointed down into the darkness. “Get in. Don’t make this harder on yerself.”

Quatre swallowed down the dread that rose up into his gullet as a wave of nausea. If he wasn’t claustrophobic before, he was now. He gingerly lowered himself down, feeling for the ladder’s rung with his foot and made his cautious descent into the murky bilge which smelled even worse than the Shinigami’s. Moldy, musty, and like something had died recently. He'd hoped Greenwich would not follow him down, but that hope was in vain.

“Well, look what we have here,” Greenwich drawled, tapping his hand against what looked to Quatre’s slowly adapting vision like a row of steel bars and he felt his newfound claustrophobia squeeze his chest in a vice like grip. He backed up, shaking his head when Greenwich swung the crate’s door open. The man bent down and stuck his head inside and Quatre was overcome with another urge to shove him the rest of the way in and lock the door behind him.

It really was a shame that he couldn’t swim to Ireland.

“Relatively clean,” Greenwich was saying. “Smells like a dead cur’s arse, but ain’t seeing no shite, or nothin’.” He pulled his head out of the cage and leered at Quatre. “Perfect size for a little beast like you.”

Quatre clamped his mouth shut against the protests, knowing it was no use and unwilling to expose his terror at the thought of being locked in a cage. The bilge was bad enough. Still, he could not get his feet to move forward which prompted Greenwich to huff in annoyance. The big man lumbered over to him and grabbed his arm again, dragging him towards the crate. “Come on, ye little bugger. ‘Ere’s a bottle of rum with me name on it an’ I ain’t gettin’ any younger.”

Greenwich reeled him in, pulling him against his massive chest as Quatre began to struggle, the fear of being locked up like an animal more than he could bear. He wrapped his fingers tightly around the edges of the crate, trying to use the meager strength he possessed to prevent from being pushed inside. He dug his heels into the floorboards, panic overriding all rational thought.

“Get in there, you little -” Greenwich spun him around, hooking a beefy arm around his waist. His aura seemed to shift, his demeanor changing from irritation to an eerie calm. Quatre froze in confusion, sensing the change, but uncertain of what it meant.

It was made clear a moment later when he felt the tip of Greenwich’s bulbous nose brush against the skin of his neck, dragging up the delicate column towards his ear. Quatre could hear the faint sniffing sounds as Greenwich breathed him in and shuddered in revulsion.

“Bloody hell, ye smell good enough to eat,” he rumbled against Quatre’s ear. “Can’t say ye will after spendin’ the night in ‘ere. Should get one more taste while the pickins still good, mayhap.”

There was nowhere to go. No viable options. A cage, or rape, likely both. The strength left his body, sucked out by unseen forces just as the air wooshed from his lungs as he was crushed against the man’s chest. Hopelessness enveloped him like a black cloak and he offered only token resistance, pressing against Greenwich with his hands.

“No. Please. I’ll go. I’ll go in.”

“What’s the rush, lad? I have ways to make ye relax.”

Quatre groaned in defeat, lassitude taking over. He didn’t fight when he was lifted on top of the crate and pushed until he laid on his back with his legs dangling off the edge. It was no use. It was going to happen and he’d learned in the last few weeks that it hurt less when he just accepted the inevitable.

He squeezed his eyes shut and relaxed his body, his mind already traveling to a faraway place. A place where Trowa smiled and sang to him, made him feel as if nothing bad could ever happen. He scarcely noticed when Greenwich flipped up his shirt and pushed wide hips between his thighs. The sting of penetration lasted for only a moment and then the rocking motion of the man’s thrusts began to translate to the sway of the Catherine drifting along the ocean’s swells.

He was dazed as he was pulled down from the crate and placed inside with surprising gentleness. Curling up in the far corner, he drew his knees up to his chest, trying to ignore the wetness of Greenwich’s climax between his legs that was rapidly cooling on his skin. He stared through the murky darkness, watching the door close with a loud clang and then Greenwich was bending down, peering at him through the bars with a seedy grin on his face.

“A pleasure, as always,” he drawled and then stepped away. Quatre listened to the scuff of his boots as he made his way to the ladder. He counted each step and waited for the trap door in the ceiling to close and seal him in complete darkness.

He released a calming breath, his only solace that he was finally alone. It would be a month before they reached the shores of Ireland. He could survive until then. He had to. For Trowa, he could do anything.

 

***

 

The following weeks were rather mundane. He would sleep in the bilge, in his small cage until morning when he was taken out to take care of his bodily needs, and then brought up to Maxwell’s cabin for a meal with Heero. Maxwell himself took his breakfast to the forecastle. It was well known among the crew that this time of day was reserved for the captain's solitude. It was where he did his brooding, his thinking, his reflection of his life and himself while he gazed out towards the horizon and its endless watery landscape.

It was where, and when, he felt most at peace and a few of the more novice men on board the ship had faced harsh punishments for disturbing him during this time. Unless it was dire, there were to be no interruptions.

Two weeks out to sea, Quatre finally found the courage to ask Heero about it. He fidgeted with the yeasty bread roll in his hands and cleared his throat, glancing up at the silently eating young man across from him.

“What does he do up there?”

Heero stopped chewing, stunned by the abruptness and directness of the question. He resumed a moment later and then swallowed the bite of sausage, dabbing at his mouth with a linen napkin and choosing his words carefully. “He’s...he’s reflecting, I suppose.”

“On what?”

Heero shrugged and took a sip of his tea. “I don’t know. His past, perhaps.”

That piqued Quatre’s interest. “What about it?”

“I don’t know. He’s never really told me about it. I guess he and Solo have known each other for years and they went through something terrible together. I don’t know what.”

Quatre hummed in acknowledgment and helped himself to more diced potatoes. “These are very good. Filling. I've developed quite the palate for potatoes. They don’t have these where I come from.”

“They don't have them where I come from either,” Heero said. “They are good when cooked right.”

“The cook back on the Catherine, Noventa, his name was. He can do magic with these things. He cooks them with these little green scallions, when they’re in season of course. And then he salts them and sprinkles them with rosemary.”

“That does sound good. I think Maxwell is trying to fatten me up. Do you see how much butter is in these?”

Quatre chuckled and sipped his own tea. “I confess I am partial to butter. The more the merrier, I always say.”

“We’ll see if you feel that way after gaining ten stones.”

“Trowa -" he began, then winced when he realized what he'd said, cursing under his breath for forgetting himself. "I mean, Captain Barton, would probably enjoy that.”

Heero glanced up at him sharply and Quatre flushed with embarrassment for his slip. “Trowa? That’s his given name?”

Quatre nodded and busied himself by wiping the grease off his fingers with his napkin. “Yes.”

“That’s a beautiful name.”

He smiled at the other man, relieved and flattered by the compliment. “I think so, too.”

“I didn’t know it. Maxwell always calls him Barton. He’s never mentioned his given name.”

“Captain Barton requests that I call him by his title in public.”

“But not in private.”

It wasn’t a question, but Quatre wasn’t unnerved by the observation, feeling oddly comfortable despite being surrounded by the enemy. “No. But, it’s not because I’m forced to.”

“You love him, don’t you?”

Quatre paused, now the one stunned. He wondered how much personal information he should disclose. Heero could very well tell Maxwell everything he said about Trowa and he was not about to give the pirate any leverage. On the other hand, he trusted Heero, almost as much as he trusted Trowa.

Still, it was too much information and too grave a circumstance to let his guard down. He was not willing to relay aspects of their relationship that could be detrimental to Trowa, or his ability to return to him, not even to the only friend he had in this place.

“No,” he said, as casually as he could, schooling his features into an expression of nonchalance. “No, I don’t. It simply makes him happy and when he’s happy, that fares well for me.” It hurt to say that, feeling as though he was betraying the man he loved, but it was necessary. Too much was at stake.

He had no idea if Heero believed him. The young man’s face was calculating, as if considering calling him out on it. He silently prayed for the subject to be dropped and was relieved when Heero seemed to let it go with a nod of acceptance.

“I suppose you could say the same for Maxwell and I,” he said. “A mutually beneficial agreement. Though, I don’t call him by his given name.” Heero informed him, giving Quatre the sense that that fact was important. “I’ve never called him by his given name.”

Quatre decided to go with it, glad the focus on his relationship with Trowa was now redirected towards Heero’s relationship with Maxwell. And perhaps, he might be able to wheedle some pertinent information of his own.

“That does not bother Captain Maxwell?”

“If it does, he’s never complained about it. He’s more concerned with buggery. I suspect I could call him Lucifer himself and he wouldn’t bat an eye.” Heero broke the stoic atmosphere with a soft chuckle. “I suspect he would enjoy that and demand I permanently address him as such.”

Quatre joined him in his laughter, the lightened mood doing wonders for his taxed psyche. “I am quite sure I wouldn’t want to test that theory.”

Heero’s shoulders shook with mirth, his head bowing down as his laughter grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go. It was catchy and soon, they were both snickering like a couple of kids entertained by a successful prank, wiping good humor tears from their eyes. “No, thank you. His ego is big enough for two Shinigami’s.” He sobered a moment later, glancing up at Quatre with damp, but suddenly serious eyes. “Do you think Captain Barton will sink it?”

Quatre blanched at the hushed, almost fearful whisper, not even wanting to think about that. His mind plagued him with visions of the dream he’d had two weeks ago, the possibility of such a reality something he was not prepared to address. But he knew he was going to have to. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I hope not.”

“You do?”

He was taken aback by the surprise in Heero’s voice, not sure where the doubt was coming from. “Of course I hope he doesn’t,” he said, more than a little offended that Heero apparently believed he wanted to see the Shinigami rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Heero leaned back and tipped his head down, seemingly meek now. Quatre wasn’t sure if he was responding to his tone of voice, or if he felt guilty for doubting him. “My apologies,” he murmured. “It was not my intention to upset you.”

“No, it’s alright. I’m sorry I snapped at you. But of course I do not want to see the Shinigami taken down. It’s just that...I don’t have any control over its fate either way, but I’d like to believe this will come to a peaceful resolution.”

“I don’t doubt that Captain Barton will sink her if anything happens to you. I wish I had some control over what happens. Maxwell won’t exactly be amicable if his ship is sunk.”

That was the real dilemma and something Quatre had been worrying about for a while now. It was Maxwell’s fault they were all in this situation. It was Maxwell’s fault his ship was taken. But if his ship was to meet its watery end at the bottom of the sea, it would be Heero and Quatre himself that would pay the price. It wasn’t uncommon for the pirate to take his frustration out on Heero, or one of his men. If his beloved ship was lost to him, there was no telling what Heero would have to endure at the man’s enraged hands.

And Quatre, well, he would no doubt find himself at the end of the plank, or with a severed throat. Neither of them sounding the least bit appealing.

“Is there really nothing we can do but wait for the inevitable?”

“I don’t know,” Heero conceded and then gave him a fierce look. “But I meant what I said before. I’m not going to let him kill you.”

“Heero,” Quatre sighed and leaned back in his chair, exasperated. “I don’t want you putting yourself at risk. I’d never be able live with myself if something happened to you. He could kill us both.”

But Heero shook his head, apparently confident that his own death at Maxwell's hands would not happen. “He won’t kill me. He -” He stopped himself there, pursing his lips together.

“He what?” Quatre pressed.

“Nothing,” Heero mumbled, his face twisting into a pained expression. “I hate him.”

“Do you? From what I gathered, he got you out of a bad situation.”

Heero snorted, though it lacked humor. “Yes, he did. And put me in another one.”

“He’s protected you, hasn’t he?”

“He stole my freedom,” he shouted, causing Quatre to jump back, startled. Softer, he continued, “He stole my agency, my control.”

“You must have had that before,” Quatre guessed, wondering what that must have been like. He’d never experienced such freedom and assumed that losing such a thing would be devastating.

To his surprise, Heero snorted again, bitter and almost petulant. “No. I ran away from my home in Japan the night before I was to be initiated into the Tokugawa Shogunate.”

“What’s that?”

“Barons. Warlords. There are three families that have divided and ruled the land for centuries. They’re called shoguns. The Tokugawa Shogunate are their warriors and guards. My brothers and I - we - we were raised to serve the shoguns. Protect them and their families from the rival bakufu. The conflict between the families has been going on for hundreds of years. The territory changes depending on which side wins the battle and then changes again after the next battle if a different shogun declares victory. I couldn’t stomach the idea of being nothing more than a body meant as a shield.”

“Of course you couldn’t. I can’t imagine anyone who could.”

“I left that night. It took me five days to reach the coast. Luckily there was an illegal trade ship preparing to depart for China. I traveled across the country until I reached India where I settled in Bangladesh.”

“Did you like it there?”

“As much as I could for someone forced to sell his arse to survive.”

Quatre flinched in sympathy for his friend and because it reminded him of his own experiences in Jerusalem. He reached across the table and rested his hand over Heero’s. “You did what you had to. Anyone who judges you for that is a fool and probably has his own sins to bear. You mustn’t blame yourself.”

“I thought - I thought it would be different. Once I left home. I thought that perhaps...I don’t know.”

“You thought you had a better chance of being someone you could be proud of and discovered it’s just as difficult everywhere else.”

“I was so stupid. Naïve. I had no plan, no idea where I was going, or what I was going to do once I got there.”

“It’s not your fault, Heero.”

The other man hesitated, then turned his hand over beneath Quatre’s, clutching the blond’s fingers with his own. “How did you...how did you end up with Barton?”

Quatre knew the question was coming, but it was no less harrowing to try to answer it. He took a sip of his tea, wetting his throat and giving himself a moment to collect his thoughts.

“I was nobility once. The son of a Vali to the Sultan, destined to become one myself. It wasn’t something I wanted, but I had little choice in the matter.”

“Sounds familiar,” Heero smiled.

Quatre returned it and squeezed his hand. “I was betrothed to a girl and didn’t want to be. I prefer men,” he confessed, blushing with embarrassment, surprised when Heero rested his other hand on top of their entwined ones.

“Does that shame you?”

“I’m afraid it is just the echoes of my upbringing. Men who love men are an abomination where I come from and being the only son, I was expected to continue the family line. I was required to attend a summit of the Valis, being one in the making myself. The Prince’s nephew...he seduced me.” Quatre stopped there and reached for his tea again, biding his time for what came next. It wasn’t easy to reveal this. The only other person he’d ever told was Trowa.

“We were caught and the Prince’s nephew turned on me. Accused me of seducing him. I was shamed in front of the entire kingdom, disowned by my father, and banned from ever stepping foot anywhere near there again, or they would kill me.”

“I am so sorry, Quatre.”

He glanced up into Heero’s sorrowful eyes, reflecting his own pain within them. The price had been too great, but it brought him to Trowa. The conflicting emotions of grief and love, loneliness and fulfillment often taking his breath away when he stopped long enough to think about it.

“I left on foot with only the clothes on my back and hitched many a wagon until I reached 'Ard Almiead. I tried to find work, but was rejected. It wasn’t until I was nearly a week starved that I allowed the first man to bed me.”

“You don’t have to continue, Quatre. I'll understand if you don’t.”

“It’s alright. I met Trowa a year and a half later after he rescued me from an attack and he took me with him onto his ship.”

“Willingly?”

Quatre’s mouth curled up into a wry grin and he shook his head. “No. Not at first. He chained me to his bed, by my ankle. I was terrified. I knew what he wanted from me, but I was a prisoner with nowhere to go.”

“We have that in common. Did he...did he rape you?”

“No...I don’t know. I didn’t struggle, or tell him to stop. In fact, I enjoyed it. He fed me and then seduced me is more what it felt like. I’d never had anyone make love to me like that before. He was so gentle, so adamant to pleasure me…” he trailed off, his voice cracking with emotion. “I miss him so much, Heero. I’m so frightened I’ll never see him again.”

“You will,” Heero insisted. “I promise you, you will. And you’re not going to die.”

“You can’t promise that.”

“I can and I have. End of story. Alright? No more arguing. Finish your breakfast.”

“Aye, Sir,” Quatre amended with a sniffle. He graced his friend with a toothy grin and ticked his fingers against his forehead in a mock salute which earned him a laugh. The mood once again lightened, he tucked back into his food with gusto.

Maxwell was a cutthroat. There was no doubt about that. But from what Quatre had observed in the last month, despite the man doing his best to hide it, he cared for his catamite. He may treasure his beloved ship, but it was Heero that mattered most to him. And though Heero claimed to hate him, Quatre got the sense there was more to it than that.

Heero begrudged the pirate his forced position, but Quatre had the inkling that Heero also respected him, even if that respect was reluctant. Like Quatre, he’d never been given much choice about anything in his life, but Maxwell cared where he had a feeling others had not, not even Heero's own family.

Heero never said it, but Quatre believed that if Maxwell met his demise at Trowa’s hand, he would mourn. Because despite his misgivings about his situation, he cared. He cared for the brash, bloodthirsty pirate. Perhaps even loved him in his own way. Maxwell was probably the first to ever love him in return.

And Quatre had no doubt that he did. While their relationship was far more contentious than his and Trowa’s, there was a love there that was plain to see if anyone cared to look deeply enough. Maxwell might listen to Heero. It was a possibility, no matter how insignificant of one it was and Quatre was determined to hope for the best.

To believe otherwise meant he had no faith in those he’d come to trust and that was unacceptable. In two weeks, they would reach the shores of Ireland and with any luck, an exchange would be made and no blood would be spilled. Maxwell would get his ship and Quatre would be returned to Trowa and then they would hopefully go their separate ways, at least for the time being.

Another conflict could arise sometime in the future. Such was the way of pirates, but that was a time and a place Quatre could not bring himself to be concerned about at the moment. Best to worry about the here and now. His only objective was to get back to Trowa, alive.

And he would do whatever it took to make that happen.

 

 

End of Part One...

Chapter Text

Trowa rang in the New Year staring out through his cabin’s porthole aboard the Catherine. The harbor was noisier than usual with the sounds of firing revolvers and raucous cheers. Some of Dungarvan’s local children had placed floating lanterns into the water, the reflective yellow glows bringing to mind fireflies skimming a mirrored surface.

He’d given the celebrations not much more than a mere acknowledgement. His gaze was focused elsewhere. Far away, into the distance where the mouth of the harbor opened up to the Atlantic. He watched and watched and waited, each incoming ship causing a flutter of anticipation in his belly which dropped away when he realized it wasn’t the one he was looking for.

Beside the Catherine, the Shinigami floated serenely along the much calmer waves of the harbor. There was a storm brewing in the distance, hundreds of knots out over the open water. Lightning flashed the sky in shades of coal before going black again. It was too far to be heard from where they were and was likely heading south.

“Unusual to see such storms this time of year, isn’t it?”

Wufei’s soft voice was his only warning that he was no longer alone, having never heard his footsteps approaching. Trowa acknowledged him with a slight turn of his head. Not enough to break his line of sight, still focused in on the seamless canvas of black outside the window. Only the occasional flash of lightning ruined the illusion that sky and water were one the same.

“I do hope you’re not going to start up with your superstitious nonsense again.”

“My superstitious nonsense has saved my neck, our necks, scores of times, in case you’ve forgotten,” Wufei informed him, a hint of amusement in his voice. He paused for a moment and Trowa knew what was coming next, had heard the same reassurance every day in recent weeks. “He will come, Trowa.”

He finally turned away and leaned against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. Wufei stood near the door, donned in his Qipao that was buttoned up to his throat, meticulously clean and lacking in wrinkles. He glanced down at his own rumpled shirt with its laces undone, the cream color stained slightly with old sweat. He felt like a peasant in the company of royalty.

“When was the last time you bathed?”

He scowled and stepped over to the table, leaning over it as he stared down at the map he’d had open since just before Christmas. In ink, he’d charted the course Maxwell was most likely to take and suppressed a shiver when he estimated the distance of the storm. With any luck, they would have missed the intersecting cross path on their northwestern journey and were merely skimming the edge of it. “It’s...been a few days."

“Why do you do that?”

He glanced up, raising a brow at his friend’s knowing expression. “Do what?”

“Why do you lie to me? I know it’s been more than a few days. I can smell you from here.”

“I’m a pirate. I’m supposed to stink.”

“Trowa Barton, for as long as I’ve known you, you have made a religion of bathing regularly.” Wufei’s face softened as he stepped closer. “You’ve got to stop torturing yourself.”

Trowa ducked his head, staring down at the map without actually seeing it, his mind on other matters. More precisely, on a single matter. One that had hair of gold and the face of an angel. “It’s my fault, Wufei.”

“Don’t be a fool. It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault but Maxwell’s.”

“Is it even his fault, though?” Trowa turned around and perched his backside on the edge of the table. “We’ve abducted people, too. He was only doing what pirates do. He didn’t know Quatre was mine.”

Wufei nodded solemnly and sat down beside him. “I suppose it’s quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Pirates, cutthroats, marauders, buccaneers, vagabonds,” he grinned when Trowa let out a huff of laughter. “Morality means nothing until the lack thereof affects us personally.”

Trowa shot him a lopsided smile. “Did Confucius say that, or did you come up with it all by yourself?”

Wufei bumped him with an elbow. “You forget I was a scholar once.”

“Yes. As was I,” he murmured, almost dreamily. Those days seemed like an eternity ago. Someone else’s life lived through his eyes for a brief moment in time. “There’s no going back, is there?”

“You’d like to? And here I thought the pirate’s life for you.”

“Yo ho ho,” Trowa amended with a chuckle. “I don’t know, Fei. I used to think it was. I was so angry back then. All I knew was that I didn’t belong there so I ran.”

“And now?”

“Now...now this life...this pirate's life,” he said, spitting the word ‘pirate’ as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. “Is what got Quatre taken. It could be what gets him killed if this goes awry.”

“You saved Quatre from a life of poverty and servitude,” Wufei reminded him.

“Did I?” Trowa shook his head. “Poverty, perhaps. But...he’s still a servant. I’ve not allowed him to reach his full potential because I was selfish. I realize that now. I believed I could keep him safe from harm and I was wrong. And now Quatre is paying the penance for that.”

“You know you’re the only one who can change that. When we get Quatre back -”

“If we get Quatre back -”

“No, when. Or have you given up on him already?”

Trowa gave him a sharp look. “Of course I haven’t.”

“Then you have to have faith that he will come back to us. Unharmed.”

He tipped his head back with a heavy sigh and then pushed up off the table, walking towards the window again. The storm had moved, south just as he’d predicted and the flashes were fainter now. “I just don’t think I can keep doing what I’m doing if I lose him.”

“And when we get him back safe and sound? What will you do then?”

Trowa’s head turned towards him slightly before he returned his gaze back to the window. “I’d like to say to Hell with all of this. When I get Quatre back, I’m not sure I want to take the risk of it happening again. I’m not so foolish to believe we’ll be as fortunate the next time.”

He turned away from the window and crossed into the bedroom area of the cabin, approaching the dressing table. The same table where he would watch Quatre pretty himself up for him. He picked up a ruby necklace, one of his favorites, and touched it tenderly, running his fingers along the stones. The blood red of the jewels always contrasted so beautifully against the backdrop of Quatre's creamy skin.

“I’d like to say I’d take him ashore. Give up this life of thievery and death and find a place in the countryside. Some place where he can have a flower garden like he’s always wanted.”

Wufei sensed the ‘but’ that wasn’t said and prompted him to continue. “But you won’t, will you?”

He turned to look at him over his shoulder and Wufei’s heart nearly broke when he saw the tears glistening in his eyes. “I’m not certain I can,” he confessed. “Why is that?”

“Because,” Wufei began and stood up, approaching his friend, the only real friend he’d ever had. He rested a hand on the other man’s shoulder and leaned in close, his own eyes boring into moist green ones. “It’s in your blood. You know it as well as I do, Trowa. I know you do. Pirating is as much a part of you as it is a part of me. This was what we were born for.”

Trowa sniffled and looked down at the necklace. “But why is that?”

“Because we don’t belong with them,” Wufei told him, nudging his chin towards the people celebrating on the docks. “We’re outcasts. We always have been. We’ve never fit in and we never will no matter how hard we try.”

He smiled and set the necklace back down. “I tried telling Catherine that once. She didn’t believe me.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“She always had faith in people. She never lost faith in me.” He shook his head, his voice cracking as he added, “Quatre reminds me so much of her. I failed her and I’ve failed him.”

“You haven’t. This was not your fault, Trowa. And we’ll get him back.” He hung his head for a moment and Wufei, despite the gravity of the situation, felt blessed to be someone this tortured man trusted enough to let his guard down. There were only two people on this earth he trusted that much. And the other...“We’ll get him back. But you’re no good to him like this. If you’re weakened, compromised, that could be deadly for Quatre.”

He lifted his head, his expression hardening, closer to resembling the ferocious pirate that everyone feared. He nodded a moment later, resolved, determination settling across his face. “You’re right," he said. "You’re right.”

“Of course I am. If all goes well, they could be arriving any day now. I’m certain Maxwell is eager to get his ship back.”

"I'm sure he is." He turned to Wufei, all business now. “Are you finished, then?”

“Yes. You needn't worry about that. Caprese is ready and awaits your order."

He nodded, satisfied. They’d rigged Maxwell's ship with handmade explosives in the event anything went wrong, or if Trowa was not pleased with Quatre’s condition. Caprese, his crewman remained aboard, prepared to light the gunpowder if it came to that. Half of the Catherine’s cannons were also aimed at the Shinigami. With such short range, half was all they needed. The other half would be pointed at whichever ship they arrived in.

It had been no easy feat navigating the Catherine with only half his crew, but he’d needed the other half to man the Shinigami for the journey to Ireland.

Trowa nodded again, pleased with their progress. Now all they had to do was wait. Wait and see how fair, or poor Quatre’s condition was, or if Maxwell tried to pull a fast one at the last moment. If that happened, he could kiss his beloved Shinigami goodbye.

An eye for an eye. It was the pirate’s way.

 

***

 

He followed Wufei’s advice and bathed. The warmed water felt incredible, relaxing muscles stiff and tense, cleansing the days of sweat and grime from his skin. If Quatre were here, Trowa would pull him in and hold him against his chest. Hold him close while they washed each other's hair and talked about things that weren’t pertinent, but for the sheer pleasure of hearing the other’s thoughts and dreams, listening to the comforting sound of their voices.

It was staggering how much he missed it, missed him. Quatre's silky skin, the warmth of his flesh, those golden curls and bright eyes. His melodic voice and his kisses given for no other reason than because he wanted to. His smile and gentle encouragement. His support and his strength, kindness and love. There was a hole inside his chest, a gaping maw of emptiness and despair.

He felt lost, flailing in a void with nothing to ground him, nothing to hold onto. Nothing to keep him from spiraling into the darkness. It was the same as when Catherine had died. When he’d tried to bury himself in drink, whores, and duels in the hopes that one would kill him and put an end to the agony.

It was Wufei that initially saved him, but it was Quatre that made his heart beat with life again. Made him feel as if his soul had not abandoned him. For the first time in five years, he felt human. Clear. Swept from the brink of oblivion by the unconditional love of a young man who’d had no reason to give it to him, but chose to anyway.

Why do you love me?

Because you are a man in need of love.

I am not worthy of your love.

Oh, Trowa. Yes, you are. If you were not, I would not be giving it to you.

Perhaps you are mistaken.

If I am, then so be it. I love you. And if you burn, I will happily burn right alongside you.

Even the crew was deeply affected by blond’s absence. They did their duties, but it was quieter now. The mood more somber. These men, his men, had accepted Quatre with open arms. He was one of them and his loss was a wound none of them could escape.

The water had turned cold so he pulled the cork in the bottom to allow it to drain into the harbor and dried himself off with a thick sheet of flannel. It was quite cool, but not frigid as Ireland had seen a rather tepid winter so far.

He’d not been on land much in the past month, going ashore only when it was required of him. He preferred the relative peace of the Catherine where he kept vigil over his stolen love and waited with increasing trepidation as one day bled into the next. He hadn’t prayed since before Catherine died. He didn't believe there was anyone there to listen and if there was, it wasn't someone he was on speaking terms with.

In the last two weeks, he’d begun to pray again. Though this time, it was not due to the wheedling of his adoptive sister, but willingly, begging any deity that might be listening to bring Quatre back to him safely.

He climbed into bed, lamenting the chill of the sheets and lack of warmth without Quatre's body heat. The silence of the cabin was deafening and damning. Sleep was difficult to achieve. The walls seems to come to life at night and condemn him for his failures and the sentiment was echoed by the sound of the waves rolling against the hull. Each whisper causing him to curl up tighter and tighter, surrounded by loneliness and shame.

It’s your fault. It’s your fault.

It’s your fault.

The only one that could give him absolution, free him from these chains was out there somewhere, in enemy hands. Alone to fend for himself. Something he might have been more capable of if only Trowa had allowed him to learn to fight sooner.

Wufei had been right all along. He was selfish in not wanting Quatre to have the skills required to defend himself. He hadn’t thought it was necessary and he’d found out the hard way that it was. If and when he got Quatre back, he vowed to teach him everything he knew. He had the best instructors in Trowa and Wufei and by the time they were finished with him, he would be as proficient as they were.

But Quatre was also smart. Probably smarter than he was, possibly even smarter than he and Wufei combined. He knew how to survive. He knew people, an instinctual gift to be able to connect with them, sympathize with them. Quatre’s strength did not come from muscles and brawn. It came from the brilliant mind he possessed as well as a heart of gold. Trowa knew with absolute certainty that he was doing everything he could to get along with his captors. That he was doing everything he could to get back to him.

“Just hold on, my sweetling,” he whispered into Quatre’s pillow as sleep finally began to overpower his will to fight it. “It will be alright. I promise you. Be strong as I know you can be, as I know you are. I will see you soon. I love you.”

On the cusp of unconsciousness, something he wouldn’t be sure ever happened in the morning, what felt like his love’s sweet caress brushed across his cheek. It was followed by a distinctively musical, but disembodied voice that curled around the shell of his ear like an angel’s kiss.

I love you, Trowa. Wait for me. I’m coming...

 

***

 

Morning was gray and misty with thick fog that obstructed Trowa’s view of the Atlantic, making it impossible to see any incoming ships. He was forced to shout over the foghorns that bellowed into the distance, warning approaching vessels to ease their sails and drop anchor.

He'd risen early, shaved, and joined Wufei for a breakfast of potatoes, dried salted pork, and freshly baked bread before following his first mate onto the deck for a practice duel.

“You’re getting soft around the edges, old friend,” Wufei challenged, leaping forward with a parry thrust after Trowa’s failed attempt at a coupé. “You fight like a wee lass.”

He huffed with exertion and sidestepped an attack aimed at his chest, spinning on the toe of his boot to intersect the next one. He redoubled his efforts and went for his opponent’s throat and jumped back when their swords collided with a loud clang. “You sound like the locals,” he countered with a smirk.

“And you sound like an old wandought fresh from the gutter and pissed with drink. Come now, old man. You can do better than this.”

Trowa dodged another lunge, the clank of swords reverberated up the length of his arm as he deflected the blow and wiped sweat from his brow with his sleeve. “Old man? You realize we’re the same age, do you not?”

“Then why am I dancing circles around you?”

“You don’t dance.”

“You’d do well to step it up a bit. You will not be able to help Quatre if you’re fighting like you just picked up a rapier for the first time. Do you want Maxwell to best you? You are the most notorious pirate alive. Act like it. Quatre’s life depends on it.”

Trowa’s body surged with heat at the reminder and he snarled as he charged his opponent. He caught the momentary wide-eyed look of surprise on Wufei’s face, though the other man quickly overcame the sudden change in Trowa’s demeanor. He was on full defense, deflecting the flurry of attacks in rapid fire sequence until it was he who was winded, panting with effort. He was disarmed soon after and stared into feral green eyes, his own pupils dilated with adrenaline as Trowa’s blade rested against his Adam’s apple.

“Very good. That’s much better.”

Trowa took a deep breath and dropped his arm, shaking himself out of his murderous haze. For a moment, Wufei had been Maxwell and the savageness with which he’d gone after his friend frightened him a little. “My apologies,” he murmured, stepping away to gather his bearings.

Wufei shook his head and retrieved his sword that had stuck tip-first into a deck board. “No need, Trowa. That’s what I was trying to accomplish. That is what’s required of you if you wish to get him, get all of us out of this alive.” He approached his friend and clasped a hand on his broad shoulder, feeling the tenseness of the muscles beneath the skin. “We need you to lead. We need you to be the leader and captain we know you are. Understand?”

He nodded and sheathed his blade, hooking it onto the side of his belt. Unsettled, he said, “For a moment, it wasn’t you. It was Maxwell. I could have killed you.”

“But you didn’t. And that’s what makes you so advantageous. Your ruthlessness is unmatched, but so is your self-discipline.”

He smiled. “I believe you have me bested when it comes to self-discipline.”

“Perhaps. But that’s why you need me here.”

“Are you saying you’re my conscience?”

Wufei shrugged, his mouth curling up on one side. “I am a man of many talents.”

“That you are.”

“Captain…”

He turned and regarded the sailor who’d addressed him. He was a young lad who went by the name of Niles Jensen, only a few years older than Quatre. Sadly, he'd lost three of his fingers in a knife fight the previous year. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it was Quatre who’d taken charge of the man’s injury and oversaw his recovery.

“What is it, Niles?”

“Sir, we are low on gunpowder. Franklin wishes to acquire more as soon as possible, but we may need to make a few trades.”

He nodded and gestured the man to follow him as he headed for the store room. “Very well.” Not surprising that most of it was gone considering it had been used up to make the explosives that now awaited possible detonation on Maxwell’s ship. “What do you suggest?”

“Well, the people of Dungarvan are quite partial to foreign delicacies, but I feel medicinals would work in our favor. With the new production of green houses, they will be able to grow herbs not indigenous to this climate. Seeds are a welcomed commodity.”

They reached the store room and Trowa looked over the inventory thoroughly. They had only two barrels of gunpowder left. He would not feel comfortable setting sail with less than five, or six. He pulled out several pouches of seeds from one the shelves and sifted through them for the best selection. Açai, Aloe, Astragalus, Black Cohosh, Bitter Orange, Clove, Dong Quai, Eucalyptus, and Opium Poppy.

He and Niles extracted ten seeds from each pouch and placed them in separate ones. “These should give them more than enough to cultivate for the community and barter with the nearby villages. In exchange, I want four barrels of powder as well as three bushels of potatoes, four sacks of wheat, and two sacks of barley."

“Aye, Sir.”

“Have Caprese acquire another set of knives with the farthings as well as a sharpening block. That should suffice our inventory. We also have the additional inventory that we took from the Shinigami so we are well-stocked to set sail once Quatre is returned to us.”

“Aye, Sir.”

Trowa dipped his head in acknowledgement. “Thank you, Niles. I trust you can acquire the requested items by sundown?”

“Aye, Sir. Consider it done.”

“As you were then, sailor,” he said and turned to leave.

“Captain?” He paused and glanced at the young man over his shoulder. “Do you believe we’ll get him back?”

He lifted his chin. “Do you doubt me?”

“No, Sir! Never.”

“Then trust that he will be returned.”

“Aye, Sir. My apologies,” Niles murmured with a blush.

“No need. Just have my supplies by sundown.”

“Aye, Sir.”

A misty rain had begun to fall, feeling like pinpricks of ice against his skin. He met Wufei on the deck and together they headed back to the cabin where he lit a small fire in the wood stove for them to warm themselves. He watched Wufei pour over the maps, some of which had been drawn by Quatre.

“Are you sure about this course?”

He snorted and picked up his cup of ale, bringing it to his lips. “When have I ever been unsure?”

Wufei pointed to an area a few hundred miles southeast of the new territories and shook his head. “If we sail this course, we’ll be crawling with Spaniards before we ever reach shore.”

“Come now, Fei. Where is your sense of adventure?”

“Adventure is one thing. This is suicide.”

“America is rich with resources -”

“And crawling with Spaniards,” Wufei reminded him.

Trowa’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “The colonists are Portuguese, Wufei. Not Spanish.”

“I’m not talking about the colonists and you know it. I’m talking about the Spanish Trade. And they are as territorial as rabid curs fighting over a carcass.”

Trowa lowered himself into a chair, his expression one of deep contemplation. Wufei watched him shrewdly, the distant look in his eyes, the way his fingers tapped against the side of his stein.

“What’s going on in that mind of yours, Barton?”

Trowa puffed out his cheeks and then sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, a surefire sign that he was concocting some harebrained scheme that would no doubt require Wufei to put his foot down and once again be the voice of reason. When the captain glanced up at him, he could see his intentions as clear as day and shook his head in denial. “Oh, no. Don’t you dare. Don’t you even think about it -”

“A successful endeavor would require a partnership, would it not?”

“Trowa, no. Absolutely not.”

“Allies are -”

“Allies? Allies? There are no allies among pirates, Trowa. You know that as well as I do.”

“Then perhaps it is time we establish some, don’t you think?”

“Trowa,” Wufei sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he slid into the chair across from his friend. “I’m telling you nothing good will come of this. The English steer clear of that region for a reason. They are not welcome there. You and I are not welcome there. Not to mention, that’s also the channel used for the Slave Trade. Do you want to expose Quatre to that?”

“Quatre would not be harmed -”

“Like he wasn’t harmed this time, right?” As soon as it slipped from his mouth, Wufei regretted it. He watched the pain twist Trowa’s face and felt terrible for his choice of words. But perhaps it was the only way to stop him from making a decision that could very well kill them all. “I’m sorry. That did not come out the way I’d intended, but...why are you doing this? The Caribbean does not belong to us. Neither do the southern colonies.”

Trowa leaned back, his lips pressed together in a straight line. He seemed to mull it over and then leaned across the table again. “Alright. What do you suggest?”

“If you want to go to the New World, the northern shores are much safer. The English settlers have already established communities there.”

“And resources will be more scarce. What about further inland?”

“There will be indigenous people. We would have to be cautious. Quatre can stay aboard the Catherine.”

“I don’t want him out of my sight once I get him back.”

“You don’t want him stolen by Indians, I’d wager either.”

“They are a primitive culture.”

“They know the land in ways we do not. For a “primitive culture” they are incredibly adept. They are smart, Trowa. You cannot underestimate them.” He reached across the table and placed his hand on top of his friend’s. “I know you are trying to distract yourself, but in the meantime, do not worry about this. You must focus on the here and now. They could arrive tonight, or tomorrow. We must be prepared.”

Trowa was quiet for a long time and Wufei didn’t press him. Finally, he spoke, his voice only a whisper, sounding like a frightened child. “I’m scared, Fei. I’ve never been so scared in my life. One wrong move and -” he broke off and looked away, unable to vocalize his worst fear.

Wufei squeezed his hand. “It will be alright. When they come, we’ll make the trade. Once Quatre is safely with us, we will relinquish the Shinigami to him.”

“And if he wants the Shinigami first?”

Wufei’s mouth quirked. “Since when has Captain Barton, the most feared pirate of the seas, ever been one to negotiate?”

Trowa’s lips curled up as he eyed his friend across the table. “Never.”

“Aye. And you won’t this time. You are in charge, not him. This will go your way, or the Shinigami will sink.” He leaned back and swiped his cup. “There are no other options. If he wants his ship, he’s going to have to play by the rules.”

Trowa smiled at him. “Thanks, Fei. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Probably gotten yourself killed by now,” he quipped, finishing off his tea with a casual shrug. “Now, you get some rest. Rise early and we’ll practice again.” He pointed his finger at his groaning friend. “Do not start with me. You’ve gotten rusty in the last month. You should thank me for keeping you on your toes.”

“I already thanked you.”

“Not for that.”

“Oh, for - fine. Thank you, Wufei.”

“That’s better,” he rose from his chair and patted Trowa’s head as he passed him on his way to the door. “Rest. They are coming. It won’t be long now. I can sense it.”

To his surprise, Trowa nodded. The room was thick with ominous tension, much like the fog that clung to the air. “I can, too.” He turned in the chair to face him, his eyes soft with gratitude. “Thank you, my friend.”

He lifted his chin in acknowledgement. “You are welcome. Now, rest. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He left the room, closing the door behind him, and headed to his own cabin to sleep. Once safe in his quarters, he let out a heavy breath in an effort to release the tension from his body. He didn’t want Trowa to know, but he’d been quite trepidatious himself. He raised his tired eyes to the ceiling and whispered into the silence of the night.

“Keep him safe, Nataku. Help me keep them both safe. Trowa must not suffer the same fate as I. Watch over him and Quatre as you have watched over me and help me bring them back to each other.” He closed his eyes, heart twisting painfully as he pictured his wife’s lovely face. Gone too soon, ripped from his life fighting in a senseless war. Fighting for him as he refused to back then.

“I didn’t fight for you, for us. But I will fight for them, in your name, by your grace. I love you, wife. Always remember how much I love you.”

Chapter Text

“Trowa, they’re here.”

The captain glanced up at his first mate and dipped his head in a nod of acknowledgement. On the outside, he appeared completely neutral, nonplussed, but he wasn’t fooling the other man. Wufei knew better. Could see the subtle, momentary dilation of his pupils and the minute stiffness of his posture. If Trowa had been an impulsive man, he would have stormed Maxwell’s pillaged ship, guns blazing to relinquish his lover from the clutches of his enemy.

Instead, he stood from the table and began rolling the maps he’d been looking over. For now, he no longer needed them. “Very well. Have Thomas meet with Captain Maxwell’s negotiator in twenty minutes. I wish to meet with Maxwell this afternoon to discuss the terms.”

"Aye, Sir,” Wufei said, ticking his fingers against his forehead before turning to leave the cabin.

“You will accompany me,” Trowa called to him.

“Of course,” was Wufei’s wry response. His fading voice was a familiar mix of amusement and exasperation. It didn’t really need to be said. Of course Wufei would be there. He always was. The Captain’s dark and sinister shadow, silent and deadly. Trowa knew he wouldn’t possess the status he did, nor would have been regarded with the same fear and reticence if not for the constant presence of his friend and partner.

If all went well, they would be making the exchange that evening. By tonight, he could have Quatre safe and sound back on the Catherine and ready to depart for the Americas.

But it was important not to get ahead of himself. Emotions dictating the situation could be disastrous. It was a struggle to keep himself under control. Until this exchange was over, he could not be Quatre’s lover. He had to be Captain Barton. It was necessary to treat this trade as if it were any other. It was the only way to ensure the outcome he desired.

Before now, it was never an issue. Bartering for goods, while he cherished his wealth, was not the same when the life and safety of someone he would die for was at the center of it all. It seemed an insult to Quatre to treat this like any other trade, regardless of the fact that he had no choice.

Quatre’s condition was also a defining factor. On principle, Trowa religiously treated their prisoners well. They were fed three times a day, allowed a little exercise, and were protected from sexual advances by his crew. It did not bode well to mistreat a prisoner and if and when the ransom was paid, making enemies by returning the hostages in a worsened state than they were taken in was not conducive to good business.

If Quatre was returned to him emaciated, covered in bruises, or other injuries. If he showed signs of being sullied by Maxwell, or his crew, there would be Hell to pay and vengeance would be swift, harsh, and darkly satisfying.

He had until sundown, several hours away though it seemed like an eternity. Tension coiled within his belly and made his shoulders ache. The most crucial trade of his life lay on the horizon. Pirate dealings were always a tossup. Men who were unpredictable and prone to violence at the drop of cocked hat brought variables to the table that no one could foresee. One erroneous move, a look taken the wrong way, and everything he’d prepared for could go down in flames.

And this time, the stakes were higher than ever.

 

***

 

Thomas returned forty minutes later. Trowa knew because he’d been routinely checking his pocket watch every other minute. So much that Wufei finally swiped it from his hand with a scowl and after a brief scuffle, danced away with the watch held high in victory. Trowa gave him a dark look, but relinquished the timepiece without further argument.

“You’re driving yourself mad, Trowa.” Wufei informed him, holding out a mug of warm ale which he hesitated to take. “Drink it. It will calm you.”

“I don’t want to be compromised.”

“One cup will not compromise you. You nearly made a saddle of my arse when you were three sheets to the wind.” He chuckled when Trowa barked out a laugh. “And I was sober.”

Trowa took the cup and stared down into the murky liquid. “You never did tell me what you were doing there that night.”

Wufei breathed in deeply through his nose. Trowa watched him stretch his back, his inky gaze distant towards the mouth of the bay. “Maybe someday I will.”

“Is it that personal?”

The first mate’s black eyes darted in his direction for a brief moment before he averted them again. “It is...not something I am proud of,” he murmured cryptically and said no more. Trowa nodded and let it drop. Wufei would tell him when he was ready and not a moment before.

Thomas returned soon after, panting as he climbed over the scuppers. Other than being winded, the young man seemed no worse for wear and Trowa waited patiently for him to catch his breath.

“Sir. Captain…Captain Maxwell has agreed to meet with you at the Blue Glyde tavern in one hour. He agreed to the terms and said his men will wait outside.”

“Thank you, Thomas. Go fetch some water before you collapse from thirst.”

“Aye. Thank you, Sir.” He scampered off towards the orlop, leaving Captain and First Mate alone on the deck once again.

“See?” Wufei folded his arms, mouth quirking in that contemptuous way. One that Trowa had become intimately familiar with, having been on the receiving end more than once. “Nothing to worry about.”

He snorted and shook his head. The wind had picked up with the rise of daylight. It disturbed the resting sails behind them, billowed the loose linen of his shirt, and caused goosebumps to ripple across his skin. The cool, salty air wafted beneath his nose, awakening his sea legs and igniting his longing for the choppy swells of the open water.

Being docked for so long felt like confinement. He was itching for the freedom of international waters. It was so close now, he could taste it.

“Haven’t you learned anything, Wufei?” He glanced at his friend and lifted a brow. “First lesson of a sailor. Never trust a pirate. Especially if you are one.”

 

***

 

Blue Glyde was exactly what Trowa expected it to be. An abject hole in the wall congested with men so filthy, they were nearly indiscernible from the brown, wooden planks of the tavern’s interior. Drunk and raucous, they bellowed their laughter while they drained their steins, gambled, and pawed at the serving wenches and whores who loitered and flirted with the men who had the most promise when it came to coin and pleasure.

It wasn’t unusual to witness at least some level of disrobing. Exposed breasts were as common as the routine brawl. Roughened, grimy hands would occasionally disappear beneath hitched skirts, or down the waistband of trousers.

Fornication and buggery were also not out of the realm of possibilities. With inhibitions compromised by fermented wheat, in a place where degenerates were the standard, it was no longer surprising to witness a coupling take place in a barely concealed corner of the establishment.

And right on cue, he watched with impassive eyes as a serving wench was seized and shoved down onto a table. Her tray, laden with fresh ale and rum clattered to the floor, the liquid puddling around the booted feet of the man responsible. The roughneck flipped the young woman’s skirt up and out of the way, exposing her genitals to the dark, triumphant eyes of those who came for sights such as this.

After a quick fumbling of belt and breeches, the lascivious and inebriated man pushed inside her, spurred on by the howls and cheers of the tavern’s occupants. The wench gave up any semblance of resistance and resigned herself to the violation, to the pulling and tugging of her bodice until her breasts sprung free and were cupped and squeezed in the man’s crude palms.

It was nothing new for the lasses. It was simply part of the job. If she was lucky, he would finish quickly. Lucky if she got a few shillings tossed her way for her troubles and then she would rearrange her dress back over her defiled body and continue on with her work.

“Captain? The usual?”

Wufei’s voice so close to his ear startled him and he forced his gaze away from the mesmerizing act of fucking, but not before he caught a hint of pleasure on the wench’s strained face. It was evident in the tremble of her lips and the flutter of her lashes. For some odd reason, it reminded him of his first coupling with Quatre. In the beginning, the fear and reluctance to enjoy the sensations and then the inevitable surrender to it.

Dismantling Quatre’s reticence had been one of the most breathtaking and profoundly satisfying experiences he’d had the privilege of witnessing. Fear turned to defeat turned to the kind of rapture that made one’s eyes roll back into their heads. Melted the coiled tension of muscles into liquid languidness and the tell tale body language of arching spines and the widening of thighs.

Quatre had been his since the very first night because Trowa was adept in the dialect of lovers. Fluent in the ways of passionate lovemaking. Whether male, or female, he kept them coming back for more.

It wasn’t the careful and gentle act of missionary sex upon the marriage bed, but the carnal and shameless sins of the flesh. Not in the repression of God-fearing folk fumbling in the darkness, but in the raw, iniquitous act of fucking in broad daylight. Of burying your face between your lover’s trembling thighs. Of pinning them to a wall and taking your pleasure with your fingers digging painfully into the soft flesh of their thighs as you hold them fast. When the frantic attempts to smother the sounds of ecstasy evaporates into desperate pleas for more.

He glanced back at the wench and observed the bend of her back and neck, the way her legs wrapped around the man who moved above her, and the reedy cries of delight now spilling unbidden from her open mouth. “Yes,” he intoned in a gravelly voice, feeling a sharp pang of arousal stir within his groin.

He’d not taken another lover since Quatre was abducted even though the temptation to relieve the pent-up tension was overpowering at times. He’d barely even taken himself in hand, consumed with guilt as though he’d forfeited his right to pleasure after his failure to protect his own.

The prospect that Quatre could be in his arms by nightfall made him weak in the knees. He turned to Wufei whose narrow-eyed expression told him he’d missed nothing and mentally cursed the man for being so intuitive. “Yes. The usual, Chang,” he said, sharper than he’d meant to.

Wufei’s head dipped low in acknowledgement and the humble realization that he was skirting deeply personal territory. In public, no less. He backed off, knowing that Trowa’s ire was easily provoked due to the situation at hand. He was tetchy and short-tempered and it was best not to agitate the shallow waters of his wrath. “Very well,” he intoned with hushed respect and began pushing through the throng of stumbling bodies towards the back of the tavern.

Trowa watched the mass of drunken men and scantily clad women part like the Red Sea once the patrons recognized their newly arrived guests. He watched Wufei dismiss the brush of dainty hands and the press of bosums the moment the lasses understood what they could potentially glean from seducing the crew of the Catherine with their feminine wiles.

In Wufei’s case, it was an attempt doomed to fail. He’d long since taken a vow of celibacy after the death of his beloved wife and he’d stayed true to her memory for as long as Trowa had known him. He tolerated the lecherous lifestyle of the corsair with haughty disdain and had informed Trowa on numerous occasions that debauchery was the weakness of man.

Trowa took it in stride and even teased him when the mood was prime for it. “That debauchery,” he reminded his friend, “Is the reason our species is even alive today.”

Wufei flipped his hand and turned his pointed nose into the air. “Evolutionary flaw,” he said with a repulsed curl of his lip. “Fornicating like filthy vermin without a thought to the kind of cruel world they are bringing their children into.”

“Be cautious with that “evolutionary” talk,” Trowa mused. “Are you certain you want to add “heretic” to your list of crimes?”

“Heresy is the least of my worries, Trowa. What right has man to dominate this earth? War, famine, thievery?”

Trowa shrugged his shoulders. He’d accepted the fact that man was inherently cruel a long time ago. It was simply the nature of things. “The drive to survive is a double-edged sword.”

“It’s greed,” Wufei snapped and then flushed at his outburst. He paused to drink his tea and collect his thoughts. Calmer, he said, “Greed is the malevolent seed that has been planted in every one of us. It’s the Devil’s seed. It drives man to steal, ravage, and kill for his own selfish gain. Greed does not belong in civilized society.”

“Greed goes hand in hand with ambition. Without ambition, there would be no civilized society.” Trowa leveled a quizzical look at his friend. “Since when do you believe in the Devil?”

Wufei snorted and finished off his tea. He was silent for several moments and Trowa patiently waited to see if he would answer.

“I don’t need to believe, Trowa. I see him every day. I’ve seen him every day since Meiran was taken from me. Since I’ve been old enough to understand the vile ways of man. My own…” he stopped there and pressed his lips together.

Trowa turned that last interrupted sentence over in his mind and debated whether it was wise to press the issue. He decided the best course of action was to approach it from a different direction. “Why did you decide to join me?”

“Because someone has to make sure you don’t do something foolish.” Trowa didn’t believe him and told him as much, surprised when the other man’s cheeks flushed a deep red. Wufei hesitated for a moment and then admitted the truth, or at least part of it in a muted whisper. “You were the first man I’d come across in a long time that was genuine. A man of integrity. I saw that right away. And...then the next thing I knew, you were my friend. I’m still not even sure how that happened.” He ran his finger along the rim of his teacup, his face belaying a trace of mortification. “I’ve never been good at making friends.”

Trowa had the uncanny sense that there was more, but he’d decided Wufei had exposed enough of his vulnerabilities for the time being. It wasn’t easy for a man who prided himself on strength and honor. Who always kept his cards close to his chest and his emotions under lock and key. Even six years later, Trowa had yet to learn what secrets drove his first mate to travel down this path and what kept him on it.

Wufei was a scholar, but then again, Trowa was as well to some extent. Tragedy was the catalyst that led him to his own path. Something he and Wufei had in common.

He squared his shoulders and strode through the center of the tavern, studiously ignoring the awed faces and whispers of the patrons. He gently removed the feminine hands that slid up his chest as he passed. He’d not bedded a whore in over three years. He wasn’t about to start now.

The men who’d been lounging at the far table against the wall scampered away at Wufei’s approach and it was now cleared for them. He sunk down into the chair that faced outward. A man who turned his back on cutthroats was a man doomed to have a knife plunged into it. The position also gave him the advantage of a clear view of the door. He wanted to know the moment Maxwell stepped inside.

His men flanked him with Wufei at his right shoulder as always. Steins of ale were set down in front of him. He grabbed one and immediately drained half, keeping his eyes trained on the door and paying no mind to the whores and serving wenches who desperately tried to catch his eye.

They didn’t have to wait long for Maxwell’s arrival. Trowa assumed the other pirate was just as eager to get this done as he was. Like Trowa, Maxwell’s visage was intimidating and alluring, drawing the eye with stunning beauty, yet invoking dread in the pit of the stomach with an aura of ruthlessness and violence.

As he entered the tavern, Trowa thoroughly looked him over. His keen gaze searched for any chinks in Maxwell’s armor from a subtle shift of his posture to hesitation in his steps. Anything that could be used to ruffle the man’s confidence. Maxwell carried himself like a predator. Someone certain of his rightful place in the world. His eyes immediately landed on the far table and narrowed and Trowa’s mouth quirked in amusement.

A pirate always knows…

He was alone as promised. Trowa leaned back into his chair, his thighs spreading in a languid show of dominance as he watched Maxwell’s approach with cold calculation.

The Shinigami captain was still young. A tenderfoot as the elders would say and as such, Trowa knew he was far more prone to cockiness and emotional outbursts which worked in his favor. He wasn’t disappointed when Maxwell proceeded to do just that, stopping abruptly a few feet from the table.

He didn’t miss the momentary clench of Maxwell’s fists, the fight to keep his anger in check. In the sudden subdued atmosphere of the tavern, he hissed through clenched teeth, “Where is she?”

Trowa traced the rim of his stein with an elegant finger and bided his time, knowing that making Maxwell wait for his response would get the other pirate’s ire up. Emotions did not bode well in situations such as this and for Trowa, that was advantageous. He calmly gestured at the cups of ale. “Drink?”

“Where is me ship?”

Down to business it was then. He leaned forward and grabbed the exchange by its horns. The only one who would be leaving this tavern rattled would be Maxwell. “Your ship is fine. Where is my boy?”

And there it was. A slight flicker of Maxwell’s eyes and the way he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Trowa’s heart skipped for just a moment and then he hardened his gaze, watching the bob of the other pirate’s Adam’s apple. “He is here, with me men.” This time, the aggression in his voice was softened around the edges.

“You will not have your ship until I have my boy and know he is safe and unharmed.” Maxwell faltered again and Trowa’s fury rose to a simmer. “He is unharmed, is he not?” The reaction was not what he was hoping for and his stuttered answer left Trowa instinctively reaching for the revolver on his belt. “What has become of him?”

He watched the man's expression closely. Noting the realization that he’d shown weakness and the attempt to gather his composure. Maxwell straightened his back and lifted his chin, the confidence returning to his voice. “Nothing. He is well. How is me ship?”

Trowa wasn’t convinced and the redundant question irritated him. “I am not in the habit of repeating myself,” he said, careful to keep his tone smooth and even. “Consider yourself lucky this time. Stealing your ship was a small price to pay for stealing my boy. The next time you cross me, I will not be inclined to be so generous.”

Feathers ruffled with indignance, Maxwell adopted a haughty expression and curled his lip. “Fine. I will refrain from touching anything that belongs to you.”

Trowa finished off his ale and set the cup back down onto the table with deceitful gentleness. “See that your men do as well.”

“Of course.”

“We will meet tonight at the docks. Sundown. Do not be late. I will return your ship provided my boy’s condition is to my satisfaction. And I wouldn’t try anything underhanded if I were you. Your Shinigami is loaded with explosives. One of my men remains on board to detonate should anything happen to my boy, or you and your crew attempt to attack us. Are we understood?”

Fury sparked within the depths of Maxwell’s eyes. His jaw clenched in an effort to tamp down on the urge to lash out. He took a long, deep breath through his nose and jerked his head in acknowledgement. “Right,” he growled and spun on his heel, shoving through the congregation of spectators who’d paused to watch the confrontation.

“Maxwell…”

The swish of the pirate’s braid stilled against his back as he halted. Maxwell turned, his expression irritated, but uneasy. Trowa smiled and gestured towards the man to his left. Carver, known for his deft hand in petty theft and pickpocketing stepped forward with Maxwell’s pearl handled pistol in his hands. “You forgot something.”

The hooded eyes widened for a brief moment before they darkened, narrowing into angry slits. Blood rushed into his stately face, staining the tanned skin red with humiliation. With two quick strides, he snatched his revolver from Carver’s hand, sneered at the bald man, and turned to leave.

“Maxwell…”

He stopped again, his head tipping back with impatient frustration. He turned and barked, “What?

Now was the time to lay everything out. Remind the arrogant marauder who was in charge of this arrangement and it most certainly was not Maxwell. “The only reason you are not dead is because you’re a damned good pirate. You’ve always come through on our business deals before. Consider this your only warning. I’d hate to lose good competition, but I will not show mercy should you decide to cross me again. If I see my boy is harmed, I will sink your ship right in front of your eyes and then I will kill you.”

Maxwell held his gaze in challenge and Trowa prepared for the possibility that he would be forced to prove his point in a more tactile manner. Instead, the other pirate lowered his eyes in a clear display of acquiescence. “As you wish.”

Trowa watched him leave and turned to Wufei once the door swung shut behind him. “I want the men prepared for the unexpected. I want sentries posted at each end of the docking platform. If anything suspicious happens, I want to know about it immediately. Make sure the guns are loaded and blades sharpened. I want everyone armed and ready within the hour.”

“Aye, Captain. Consider it done,” Wufei said, ticking his fingers at the crewmen who waited for the order. “You heard him. Get back to the Catherine and prepare the weapons. If this gets ugly, we must be ready to fight.”

After a dutiful salute, the three men left the tavern. Trowa and Wufei followed at a more sedate pace, knowing those they trusted with this task would get the job done.

Outside, the sun was finally beginning to break through the thick cloud cover. The first time they’d seen it since they docked a month ago. Bright rays of light filtered through the gray canvas like a sign from God.

“Perhaps there is hope after all,” Wufei mused, cupping his hand over his forehead as he gazed towards the sky.

“You’re quite the mystic these days.”

“I remember an old proverb my father used to recite to me as a boy. “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” It just occurred to me how true that is.”

“Are you telling me that you’re letting go of your anger?”

“I don’t know if that’s possible,” Wufei confessed. “But it’s something I hope to accomplish someday. There’s still something I need to do before I can.”

“And what’s that?”

“Kill Captain Zechs Merquise.”

Trowa stopped short, shock momentarily freezing him in place. “What did you say?”

Wufei shook his head and walked towards the pier. Trowa followed suit until they reached the ropes and leaned their elbows onto the thick, braided hemp. There was a long, disconcerting silence between them, broken only by the gentle lap of waves against the rock beneath their feet. Trowa glanced over at his friend and saw the pain, years worth of agony, clear as day on his face. The kind of pain that made one decay from the inside out. “What happened, Fei?”

Wufei let out a long breath and bit down on his lip as he prepared himself for the price of his confessions. “You remember what I told you about greed and sin?”

“Yes.”

“I am not...without my own sin, I’m afraid. This isn’t easy for me to say and I’ve never told another soul about this.”

“You know anything you tell me will be kept between us,” Trowa assured him.

Wufei nodded and curled his fingers around the ropes. “Merquise arrived in China on a routine trade about nine years ago. I was in town running errands for my father when he and his crew were there to do business with a local merchant. I was...intrigued by him. I’d never laid eyes on a foreigner before.” He dipped his chin down and closed his eyes. “He took a liking to me as well. I was newly wedded man. I’d only bedded my wife twice since our ceremony.”

“But I could not take my eyes off of him. He accosted me and told me to wait for him until he was finished with his arrangement.” He laughed, a self-deprecating bark. “I kept telling myself to go home. To forget about it. It was foolish and unfaithful and I knew I was making a terrible mistake.”

“But you stayed,” Trowa guessed.

He nodded once. “Yes. I couldn’t help it. I was fascinated by him and the possibilities of a night with him. So I stayed and he found me once he’d conducted his business. There were no inns, no place we could go with a bed. We walked until we reached the edge of town and found a secluded spot. I was so scared, Trowa, but I’d never felt so alive either. He made me feel things…” He broke off with a visible shudder.

“Wufei you can’t blame yourself for that. The heart wants what it wants.”

“It doesn’t end there. He told me he wanted to take me on board the Tallgeese. He told me the magic we made could happen every night if I wished it. I was so tempted, I almost said yes.” He wrapped his arms around himself, a defensive gesture. “But I had a duty to my wife and my family. I told him no and then I left. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done.”

“Where I’m from, nothing is more important than honor and duty. So much that I often felt as though I would die of boredom. The rigid and pious structure of lessons and discipline, of memorizing and reading and memorizing, it’s quite inept at killing a man’s adventurous heart. And I longed for something new. Unpredictable. But I also knew there was a chance that I would be nothing more than a whore to this man whom I’d only just met. And do you know what the worst part was?”

Trowa was fairly certain he did, but he waited for Wufei to tell him.

“The worst part was that I found myself asking, “Would that really be so bad?” A life relegated to a pirate’s whore. Good only for buggery. And I was seriously considering taking him up on his offer.”

“So what happened?”

Wufei’s face twisted with a pain that appeared almost physical. He seemed to curl in on himself and Trowa’s heart reached out in sympathy. With a broken voice, he relayed the events that followed that fateful day. “He found my family. My wife. He...he killed them all. Slaughtered them like animals. I returned from my work and found Meiran disrobed and face down in a puddle of her own blood. She’d been ravaged, her throat cut so deeply, she was nearly beheaded.”

“Oh, Fei. I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

“No one does. I never went to the authorities. What could they possibly do? They would never go against a pirate such as Merquise. They likely would have punished me.” Wufei’s eyes were visibly damp, but still, he refused to cry. “I buried them and I left. I had no choice. I spent the next three years tracking him down.”

“That’s what you were doing there that night,” Trowa surmised. “You were looking for him.”

“I’d had a lead that he would be there, but he never showed. Instead...you tried to swindle me out of my money,” Wufei recalled fondly, a small grin finally curling up the corners of his mouth.

Trowa mirrored it and said, “And the rest, as they say, is history.” He sobered quickly and added, “You should have told me, Fei. How many times have we met with him?”

“This is between he and I, Trowa. When I am ready, When I take my vengeance, I will do it alone and when the time is right.” He gazed at Trowa with somber eyes, begging for understanding. “You must respect that this is my fight and my fight alone.”

Trowa smiled sadly and clasped his shoulder. “Of course. But you know if you ever change your mind, I will be there.”

“You’re a good man, Trowa Barton. Always remember that. My respect does not come easy so believe me when I tell you that you have earned it.”

“And you have earned mine, my friend. You do what you have to. Sometimes a man’s battle is his own to fight.”

“Speaking of which, what are your plans for Maxwell?”

“Depends on him. Depends on Quatre’s condition. If he behaves himself and Quatre’s well being is to my satisfaction, he can set sail on the Shinigami at his discretion.”

“And if Quatre is not to your satisfaction?”

Trowa abruptly pulled away from the ropes and headed down the length of the pier to where the Catherine and Shinigami awaited their return. That was the burning question, wasn’t it? The “what if” that hovered in the air above them all like an ominous cloud. The trigger that would determine the outcome of this exchange. The difference between life and death. The knowledge that one half of this equation would not live to sail another day.

He glanced behind him and caught the inquisitive look on his friend’s face. Only one word came to mind.

Checkmate.

Chapter Text

The sun stayed out for the remainder of the afternoon with only a few clouds left behind. As it began to sink in the west, it painted the sky in bright hues of orange and pink and the temperatures dropped drastically. Trowa wrapped his cloak around his shoulders to ward off the chill and checked his watch. Six minutes.

He met Wufei on the main deck who was dressed in his own cloak of thick, black wool. “Are you ready for this?”

“I have to be.”

“Just remember to stay calm no matter what. You will not do Quatre any favors if you lose your temper.”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could not afford to be bested by his anger. This was life and death and only cool heads would prevail.

“Squared away?”

He dipped his head in a nod. “Squared away.” Together they disembarked from the Catherine with Black and Craven in tow, and headed towards the pier where the two separate docking platforms were joined.

He felt the heavy weight of his revolvers in their holsters, more aware of them now than he’d ever been before. He was flanked on both sides by his men which provided the strength he needed in this most trying of times and it worked to center and ground him. When he spotted Maxwell in the distance, he could see the same formation, but with the addition of a smaller figure being led by the arm.

His heart raced inside his chest and he fought down the giddy urge to run to him, sweep him into his arms and weep into the golden hair he’d missed so much. Instead, he kept a steady stride, his expression one of stoic determination and a trace of aggression.

Alright. Here we go…

The two groups stopped a good thirty meters away from each other. To Trowa’s right, the pier acted as a divider of sorts. Maxwell face was equally grim and his right hand twitched beside his hip. Trowa stayed his own, maintaining a frosty exterior, but he was keenly aware of that hand, ready to go for his own weapons should the need arise.

He gave Quatre a cursory once-over and saw nothing outwardly untoward. Encouraged, he shifted his focus back to Maxwell who lifted his chin in expectation. “Me ship?”

“My boy, first. That was the deal.”

The other pirate hesitated for just a moment, then nudged his chin at the man beside him whose painful-looking grip on Quatre’s arm made Trowa’s jaw harden in possessive fury. The man released him and Quatre didn’t wait for anyone to change their mind. He bolted across the deck and was seized by Trowa’s left arm. Trowa swept him to relative safety behind him and faced the danger up ahead. There was no time for happy reunions just yet.

Guns were drawn on Maxwell’s end which prompted Trowa and his crew to pull their own. He could feel Quatre’s hands fisted into the back of his cloak and heard the soft whispers of, “It’s okay. I’m okay. Let him take his ship. Please.”

“Don’t do anything foolish, Maxwell,” he warned, pointing the barrel of his revolver at the other pirate’s chest.

“We’ll lower our weapons when I have me ship. I’ve honored your request. Honor mine.”

“Tro - Captain, please, please, please. Let him have his ship.”

Trowa remained steadfast, eyes narrowed. His finger rested gently on the trigger. “I have your word that he is unharmed?”

Maxwell opened his mouth, but it was Quatre who responded. “I am. I’m alright. Let them go, please.”

He lowered his own gun, but warned his men to keep theirs trained on the other pirates. “Steady, lads. Keep your weapons at the ready.” To Maxwell, he gestured with a curling finger and said, “This way.” He grabbed Quatre in a protective arm and led him back to where the Catherine and Shinigami were docked. Wufei and his two other sailors followed, walking backwards with cautious steps, keeping their weapons aimed and ready to fire.

Maxwell and his men did the same as they advanced, but they maintained the thirty kilometer gap between them. Once Trowa reached the Shinigami, he gave his crewman the signal to disembark and watched as he climbed over the scuppers and came down the ramp. “Get back to the Catherine and prepare for departure. We leave at dawn.”

“Aye, Sir.”

He took Quatre over to the Catherine’s ramp and spoke in a tone that left no room for argument. “Get on board. Into the cabin and wait for me.” He was reluctant to let him go. His arms ached to hold and his mouth to kiss, but it was the safest place for Quatre until the Shinigami set sail.

The blond hesitated, fidgeting with the frayed end of the rope cinched around his waist. He was afraid to leave, terrified that blood would be spilled, but a look of warning from Trowa was enough to get him scurrying up the ramp where he was helped up by Thomas. He disappeared from sight just as Wufei, Carver, and Black stopped beside him, still eyeing Maxwell and his men like hawks.

“She’s all yours. The explosives are still loaded so be cautious. My cannons are pointed at her and will be until you are out of sight. I suggest you depart as quickly as possible.”

Maxwell nudged his chin at two of his men and they immediately went aboard to check for any signs of an impending ambush or any major damage. He and his first mate glared suspiciously at Trowa who held his hands up. “Look her over, but I assure you, she is unharmed and no one is waiting to attack you.”

When the tall, broad pirate whom Trowa could only think to describe of as “Mammoth”  leaned over the scuppers and shouted, “She’s all clear, Cap’n,” Maxwell headed up the ramp to see for himself, ordering his first mate to stay where he was.

Trowa and his men remained at the base of the Catherine’s ramp and waited until he climbed back down and addressed his man in a loud voice. “Go back to the Johannah and get the rest of the crew. I want the explosives cleared away and placed in the orlop. You have fifteen minutes to get your arses back here.”

“Aye, Sir.” With a salute, the first mate spun on his heel and walked back towards the other side of the pier.

Maxwell turned to Trowa and bent low at the waist, though he couldn’t be certain whether it was mocking, or genuine. Knowing what he did about Maxwell, he presumed it was the former. “Pleasure doing business with ye.”

“Remember what I said, Maxwell. Touch anything that is mine again and the next time, I will not be as kind.”

The other pirate’s lip curled just slightly and Trowa held his gaze, deadly promise churning the green depths of his eyes. At long last, Maxwell dipped his head in a curt nod and headed up the ramp, shouting the whole way up. “Alright, lads! Get all that gunpowder to the orlop. Smith, you stay here with me. Greenwich, get back to the Johannah and help the lads bring our supplies. I want this ship ready to sail in less than an hour.”

Trowa turned to Wufei. “Keep an eye on them until they’re out of sight. I do not think he’ll try anything, but we cannot be too sure.”

“Aye, Sir. Craven, take post on the bow, Black on the forecastle. Make sure the lads are ready to fire the cannons if they even dare to aim theirs at us.”

Trowa left them to it and climbed aboard, relatively unconcerned at this point. He had well enough of a read on Maxwell to know that he didn’t want trouble anymore than Trowa did. He simply wanted his Shinigami just as Trowa wanted Quatre back. Now that the deal had been made, he was certain nothing more would come of it and they could go their separate ways.

His crew did not need to seek permission to fire the Catherine’s cannons. They already had the order if and when it became necessary and he would know if Maxwell did decide to do something foolish because the lurch and boom of the explosions would be evident enough. Maxwell wasn’t stupid. All he wanted was to sail with his beloved Shinigami and his own arse intact.

Maxwell was not the one Trowa was worried about. His men saluted him as he climbed aboard and he gave them a rather rushed nod on his way to his cabin, to the one he was worried about. He stepped inside the warmth and privacy of his cabin and found Quatre sitting on the edge of the bed. He stood as Trowa closed the door behind him, but hesitated to make any further move.

And God help him, he still looked as beautiful as he did the day he’d been taken. He was slightly thinner, losing only a minuscule amount of the weight he’d gained back after he’d been sick, but he was paler. His hair was longer having not seen a cut now in nearly four months and it looked divine on him. The golden blond tresses tumbled over his forehead, the ends of his tousled curls a dozen centimeters below his chin now. He was dressed in a simple gray tunic, tied at the waist with rope and only reached the middle of his thighs.

On his feet were a simple pair of slippers, dingy, dirty, and worn out. His normally bright eyes were stormy with anxiety and ringed with dark circles. Trowa could only imagine how much sleep he’d lost. Lord knew he hadn’t slept well either.

“Come here,” he whispered, his heart skipping as Quatre came to him willingly. He folded his arms around him and buried his face in the tangled hair, inhaling the salt of sea air and Quatre’s unique scent. “Oh, Quat. I missed you.”

Quatre’s breath hitched and he wound his thin arms around Trowa’s back, fingers clenching into the thick fabric of his cloak. His voice was a bit shaky as he confessed, “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

He leaned back and cupped the cherubic face in his calloused palms. “Are you alright? Are you sure?”

Quatre’s hands closed over his own as tears weaved between their fingers. “I am. I’m alright.”

“Did they hurt you?”

The blond chewed his lip, eyes flitting to the side. He didn’t want to lie, but the last thing he wanted was retaliation.

“Quat? Answer me.”

“Noth - nothing permanent -”

“Did they touch you? Did they -”

“Trowa, please! Don’t -” But Trowa was already heading for the door again. Acting on pure instinct and his worst fears, he threw himself in front of it and shouted, “No!”

“Quatre -”

“Please. If you really care about me, you’ll let this go.”

“I cannot -”

“You have to. It was a mistake.”

“Rape is no mistake,” he growled. His body was on fire, the thirst for blood clouding out everything else aside from wrapping his vengeful hands around Maxwell’s neck. “Who did it? Was it Maxwell?”

“No! No, he never touched me, but -”

“Get out of my way, Quatre.”

“I’m not moving. If you want to get through, you’re going to have to move me because I’m not going to let you do this.”

He threw his hands up, rage making his limbs shake. “Why are you protecting them? They hurt you!”

“Because there is someone -” Quatre paused and ran a flustered hand through his hair. “There’s a boy. Maxwell’s boy.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“No. He’s - he’s my friend, Trowa. And I’m scared for him already. If you do this, what will happen to him?”

“That’s not my concern.”

“No, but I’m your concern and he is my concern. If you kill them, he will have nowhere to go. Trowa,” he reached a hand up, brushing the backs of his knuckles across a chiseled cheekbone. “He didn’t choose this life anymore than I did.”

Trowa’s face flushed as memories of Quatre’s captivity at his own hands came to be, was consumed with remorse for how he’d behaved. Did he really have any ground to stand on when he’d been no better? “I never should have taken you like that.”

“I don’t regret it. You saved me,” Quatre said with a tender smile and a shrug of his bony shoulders.

“I made you a slave.”

“I was already a slave. I’ve always been a slave. The difference is that now, I belong to someone I love and who loves me. And...I think it might be safe to say that you no longer see me as one.”

Trowa swallowed the lump in his throat and swept the boy into his arms. “I still had no right.”

“What’s done is done. I’m happy now. More than I’ve ever been, or could ever be in the Sultan’s court, or married to my betrothed.” He leaned up on his toes and brushed a soft kiss against Trowa’s ear. “And I still belong to you, no matter what. Because I want to...habibtaa.”

The epithet, spoken in such sweet reverence melted his fury like the wax of a lit candle. He leaned down and took Quatre’s mouth in a searing kiss, groaning in bliss as he finally got a proper taste of him. It was difficult to fathom such an overpowering attachment to another person. Desire that brought him to the brink of madness. Even his love for Catherine could not measure up to the loss he’d felt when he discovered Quatre had been taken from him.

And the joyous ache of reunion was made all the more gratifying after weeks of pining and the fear that he may never see Quatre again alive. It was like drinking from a cool well after days in the desert. The strength and vitality returned to his body, cleared the chaos of his mind, and made his heart beat with life again.

Like being resurrected from the dead, born again in God’s grace.

The desire, the desperate need to reclaim what was his took precedence. The knowledge that men who were not worthy had touched this beautiful creature, plundered him without a care for Quatre’s own wishes, fueled the burning need to erase their taint from his skin.

Quatre’s breathy whispers of affirmation were like music to his ears. So irrevocably synced to each other that they could anticipate what the other needed was a divine miracle. He tore away the tunic with rough hands and lifted Quatre onto the bed, immediately dropping to his knees onto the floor and burying his face between the trembling, splayed thighs. With reverence on his lips, he worshipped at the altar of his love.

He laved and suckled at the opening which relaxed beneath his attentions and he gently penetrated with his tongue, savoring the sharp cries of pleasure and the tangle of slender fingers in his hair. It didn’t take long to bring Quatre to a shuddering climax and he rose up while the blond was still incoherent, reaching over his prone body for the oil that waited on the small table beside the bed.

It had been weeks since he’d touched his cock other than to wash it and he sucked in a harsh breath, squeezing his fingers around the base to prevent ejaculation. He spread the oil evenly over his length and pushed his hips into the space between Quatre’s trembling legs.

Quatre was already delirious, beautifully languid with satiation from his orgasm, legs dangling limply over the edge of the bed. Trowa lifted one up and hooked it over his arm while he used his other hand to guide his cock towards his lover’s opening. Quatre’s back bowed in rapine submission as he was penetrated, an emphatic moan vibrating the column of his swan-like throat.

And Trowa...Trowa was besieged, bewitched, and blissfully broken by the rapture of being inside Quatre again. He grabbed the blond’s other leg, slung it over his opposite arm, leaned forward to brace his hands on the bed, and began the slow, supine rhythm of fucking.

He was almost afraid to open his eyes, terrified that if he did, he would find himself alone. He’d had far too many dreams that seemed so real. Dreams that told him his search was over, only to awaken and find that Quatre was not there.

It was the sensation of fingers digging into his biceps that forced him to crack his eyelids open and he nearly wept with a pang of unbridled joy, knowing that this time, he was not alone. This...this was no dream. He would not wake up in a cold, empty bed. Not this time.

He lowered himself down and sucked a peaked nipple into his mouth, cherishing the soft cry it invoked. Quatre was beside himself, tossing his head back and forth against the quilt as his mouth trembled and formed barely audible Arabian declarations of devotion, though Trowa recognized a few of the slurred sentiments and easily translated them. He buried his face in the silken neck and sucked bruising kisses into the porcelain throat. The vibrations of Quatre’s moans tickled his lips and spurred his hips to thrust harder, driving himself in deep as if he could push his whole body inside the warm cocoon of the sublime creature beneath him.

Quatre climaxed again, rather unexpectedly, writhing with a hoarse shout as he spurted across his belly and chest. Trowa withdrew with a soft growl and flipped him over, palming aside a supple buttock and pushing his torment back inside the clutching heat. He watched the erotic slide of his cock as it disappeared into Quatre’s body with ravenous gaze, memorizing the way the ring of muscle dragged out over his length before it was pulled back in upon reentry.

He leaned low over the boy’s sweaty back and mouthed hungrily at the bony shoulder blades, his ears picking up the faint whimpers of exhaustion, satisfaction, and likely overstimulation. He came after a dozen more thrusts, groaning his pleasure into the back of Quatre’s neck.

“Now you’re mine again,” he husked, stirring the blond curls at Quatre’s nape.

“I never stopped being yours,” was Quatre’s groggy reply, muffled slightly from the quilt beneath him.

He climbed onto the bed, pulling his love up with him. They rested their heads on the pillows as Trowa spooned him against his chest. He buried his face in Quatre’s hair, not wanting to address the subject so soon after sex, but he was itching to know. “Who was it?”

“Trowa -”

“Tell me.”

There was a heavy sigh. “I will tell you. Someday. When the time is right. But not now.”

“Quatre, please.”

“I will not put Heero at risk.”

“Heero.” He tested the name on his tongue. Foreign. Somewhere in the East. “That’s the boy,” he guessed.

“Yes. He was the only bright spot while I was with them.” Quatre rolled over and stared up into his eyes, his soft palm caressing Trowa’s cheek. “I understand what you must be feeling about this. But I want you to promise me that if you avenge me -”

“Not if, Quatre. When.”

“When you avenge me, you must do it when you’re clear-headed and not clouded by anger. And...there is one man I do not want you to touch. I want the honor of killing him myself.”

Trowa lifted his head and stared down at him, brows drawn low. “What did he do to you?”

“More than he should have. I’m sure he’s done the same to others and will do again. When I’m ready, his life is mine. I reserve that right.”

Trowa leaned down and kissed him, whispering against his lips. “Then you shall have it.”

“Thank you, Trowa.”

“But I will be present when that time comes. That is not negotiable.”

Quatre smiled, expecting as much. “Very well. That was already a given in my mind as I know how you are.” He stretched and then cocooned himself against Trowa’s chest, nuzzling like a nesting chipmunk. “I love you, Captain Trowa Barton. I just - I want you to know that I did what I had to do to get back to you. Some of those things…” he broke off and looked away, cheeks flushing with shame. “Some of those things I am not proud of.”

Trowa put an immediate stop to the guilt and self-blame, grasping the blond’s chin and turning his face back towards him. “Sometimes survival requires things we are not proud of. Don’t you ever believe you did anything wrong. You did not betray me. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I would want nothing less than what you did to ensure you came back to me.”

Tears rolled down the bridge of Quatre nose. “I confess...I was frightened of what you would think of me if...when you discovered…”

It broke his heart that Quatre would ever think he could reject him for such a thing and he pulled the boy into his arms, feeling the silent tears drip onto his bicep. “Don’t ever think that, Quatre. You are not sullied. Do you honestly believe if what you had to do before I found you didn’t make a difference, that this somehow would? Do you believe me sullied when I endured it years ago?”

“No,” Quatre sniffled. “Of course I don’t.”

“Then don’t ever think I see you that way. I’ve told you before. Your innocence does not come from what you’ve done, or what you've had to do.” He pulled back and tapped gently on the blond’s chest. “It’s who you are. In here. Understand?”

Quatre nodded and wiped his tears away, looking up at him with eyes that were wet, but considerably brighter now. “‘Ahabak, my Trowa.”

He smiled and pressed his thumb against the soft lips he loved so much. “Ya lyublyu tebya, my Quatre.”

 

***

 

Quatre leaned against the railing as he watched the Shinigami’s anchors rise up from the water which poured down from the rusted trident-shaped prongs and the seaweed that stuck to them. Trowa stood behind him with his warm hands closed around his shoulders, a source of comfort, safety, and belonging.

“Last chance to tell me,” Trowa whispered into his ear, causing the hair on his nape to stand on end.

He pulled the heavy cloak tighter around himself and shook his head. “It’s not the time. Let them go. We’ll see them again. Many times, I’m sure.”

Trowa’s arms folded around him and leaned back into the powerful chest. “How will you know it’s the right time?”

He watched the figures milling about the deck of the Shinigami, hoisting the sails and guiding the ship away from the port. Distantly, over the brisk winds, he could hear Maxwell’s voice shouting orders to his crew. “I’ll know.”

Of that, he was sure. Something...some instinct within him told him he would know when and where the time was right. And when that time came, he was going to slit Greenwich’s throat from ear to ear.

Greenwich had been the worst by far, even though Quatre was buggered by at least half the crew. Most of them had only taken him once. It was only a select handful that saw fit to ravage him repeatedly with Greenwich not only taking him the most often, but in the most brutal ways. He was almost certain Maxwell knew nothing about it. Once he’d called off the buggery after learning of Quatre’s identity, Greenwich continued to attack him at every opportunity, hidden where the captain’s eyes were not looking.

He often wondered how many other young men, and perhaps young women, had met the same treatment at his hands and how many were yet to come. Greenwich was a beast, a monster. Completely lacking in humanity. Greenwich did what he wanted and not even his captain, it seemed, was respected enough in his eyes to follow his orders.

He knew most of the men who’d buggered him were likely just desperate for a warm body and would not have done what they did to him if other options had been available. He understood the need for pirate captains to allow their men to bed whores whenever they went to shore. Weeks, even months at sea could try even the most piously rigid of men and when faced with such temptation, biology took precedence over morality.

Not that any of that excused what they’d done to him. He knew it would take time for the memories of those nights of being pinned down, stripped, and buggered against his will, to fade into something that didn’t take up so much of his thoughts. The nightmares were an inevitable side effect and it would likely be months, or even years before he finally stopped jumping at looming shadows.

But now he was safe, back home with Trowa and the men he’d come to trust. They were his family and there was no better place to heal from those wounds than being surrounded by those you knew would protect you. Now, when he woke in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and shook with terror, instead of finding himself alone in a cold and damp bilge, Trowa’s arms would shelter him.

“Are you alright, lyublyu?”

He shook himself out of his trance and squinted in the fading daylight as a figure appeared on the stern of the Shinigami, wrapped in a dark cloak that matched the midnight shade of his hair, both of which flapped in the chilled sea winds. He watched the figure lean over the railing and even in the dim of twilight and the ever-growing distance between the two ships, he knew it was Heero looking back at him.

“I’m alright, Trowa.”

“That’s him, isn’t it? The boy.”

“Yes. Yes, that’s Heero,” he answered and lifted his hand at the figure in a bid of farewell. His heart ached something fierce, already missing his comforting presence. “I hope he will be well.”

Trowa wrapped his arms and cloak around him, adding extra layers of warmth to his own, and pressed his lips against the crown of Quatre’s head. “You are a kind soul. I hope you never lose that. I fear that you will.”

“Why?”

“Once you kill, there is no going back, Quatre. It hardens you. It is not something I wish for you.”

“Even when it’s someone who deserves it?”

He nodded. “Yes. Even then. The taking of a life can sometimes awaken that darkness which lives inside every one of us. Even you, my sweet. It can make a man thirst for blood.”

“Is that what it did to you?”

“Yes.”

“But you are not a cold-blooded killer, Trowa.” Quatre turned in the circle of his lover’s arms and looked up into his handsome, wind-flushed face. “I know this because I see the love in you. The love you had for Catherine. The love you have for me and all of these men here. Such men who lack a heart do not care for anything, but their own gain. They will do everything to achieve that gain. You...you will do everything to protect those who matter to you. That is not possible in those with the blackest of hearts.”

Trowa gazed down into the face he’d come to associate with everything good, right, and pure in the world, and saw nothing but truth in the sky blue depths. But still, he could not accept it. “You give me too much credit.”

“I don’t give you enough,” Quatre assured him, a teasing lilt to his voice, to which Trowa couldn’t help but laugh. “You are a man of honor, Trowa. Don’t ever believe otherwise. Do you think Wufei would yield to your authority, or look upon you with the respect that he does if that were not true? Do you think, after everything you’ve told me, that I would be capable of loving you if that were not true?”

He smiled and stroked his thumb across a chilled cheek. “I suppose not. You are so wise for someone so young. You should have been an equal a long time ago.”

“If I were equal, I may not have learned the lessons that I have. I’m a firm believer that our experiences shape who we are. Perhaps if I’d always been treated as an equal, I would still be a silly child. Spoilt and unconcerned about those around me.”

“Is that a confession?”

Quatre blushed and glanced back towards the Shinigami. It was nearly completely dark now, but he could still see the faint shape of Heero’s figure and what he thought might have been an arm, waving back. He raised his own, nearly bouncing on the balls of his feet in his hope that Heero could see it.

It took only another ten minutes, or so before he could no longer see the figure. Too far for his eyes to see in the dark. He turned back to Trowa and hugged him tightly, pressing his cheek against the warmth of his chest. “Yes, I suppose it is. I was, you might say, a bit of a whelp as a child.”

Trowa’s voice was decidedly amused when he said, “Impossible.”

He chuckled and kissed the patch of bare skin that peeked through the laces of Trowa’s shirt. “I’m afraid not. I was...insufferable.”

“What changed?”

“I realized that I was not, and could never be, what my father wanted. The idea of spending the rest of my life in the stifling rigidity of religious court and politics. The thought of wedding a woman, of...of bedding her made me sick to my stomach. And then - then the Prince’s nephew seduced me and I found myself exiled. My outlook changed more than I’d realized at first.” He pulled his head back and smiled up at Trowa. “But those experiences have led me to become the man that I am now. Those experiences led me to you.”

“You truly are a wise one, my Quatre. Your insight astounds me and fills me with pride. I will never let anything else happen to you for as long as I live.”

“You cannot promise that. Neither can I. Nothing is etched in stone, Trowa. The only thing we can do is hold each other close and endure what life throws at us together. That’s all anyone can do.”

“Holding you close is something I will never tire of,” he said, bending down to steal a kiss.

“Will you two stop that. You’re making me seasick.”

Trowa threw his head back and laughed as Wufei joined them on the deck. “Love is in the air, my friend. Love is in the air.” He slapped a hand against Wufei’s back. “Best get used to it because I’m not stopping anytime soon.”

Wufei waved his hand with soft scowl, but Quatre knew by now that he wasn’t as boorish as he sometimes pretended to be. “Must you subject me to such nonsense?”

“Must you spoil our fun?”

“It’s why you hired me,” Wufei quipped, raising a kese of tea to his mouth. “It’s freezing out here.”

“It is,” Trowa agreed and tipped Quatre’s chin up. “Best to get you inside where it’s warm.”

“I’m fine. I will go when you do.” He glanced between captain and first mate. “How long are we staying?”

“Until dawn,” Trowa answered. “Then, my lyublyu, the Americas.”

Quatre’s eyes lit up, sparkling like crystalline pools in the torchlight. “The Americas?” His pretty mouth split wide in a grin of jubilance. “Oh, how exciting! I’ve been reading about the New World. I’ve always wanted to see it.”

“And see it you will,” Trowa assured him, charmed by his refreshing boyish eagerness. “In couple of months. By the time we get there, it will be just in time for spring.”

“We could use some of that knowledge to draw up some better maps. Rieker is not as well-read on the Americas as you are,” Wufei added.

“Of course. I would be happy to. I’ll be glad to be of some use again.”

“We must address his fighting skills as well,” Wufei said to Trowa who nodded solemnly. It wasn’t something he liked to think about, but it was something he’d accepted, especially after Quatre’s abduction. “He was near-proficient when he was taken. He may have lost some of those skills, but it has not been that long. He should get them back rather quickly and then we can continue improving his technique.”

“You will begin tomorrow morning after your duties,” Trowa informed him and then looked at Quatre to be sure he’d been listening.

Quatre nodded. “Yes, that would be good. I’m ready.”

Wufei rested a hand on the blond’s shoulder. “I will wake you once I am finished and we will begin exercises on the main deck.”

“Thank you, Wufei.”

“I’m glad to have you back safe and sound, Quatre. The lads have missed you greatly.”

Trowa gripped his first mate’s arm. “Thank you, friend. I do not know what I would do without you.”

“Your head would be on a spike, no doubt,” Wufei sniffed and turned away. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d prefer not to freeze to death out here.”

“We’d best get you inside as well.” Trowa pressed his palms against Quatre’s icy cheeks. “You are frozen, lyublyu.”

Quatre smiled up at him, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “Then warm me up.”

Chapter Text

Heero remained on the stern until long after the Catherine had become a mere speck in the distance. He wrapped his cloak tighter around himself to keep away the chill of the icy winds which blew in from the open water. Though he was pretty well protected from his place on the stern, the blustery cold managed to find their way through the empty hollows and open spaces.

He wasn’t quite ready to head inside yet, preferring to watch the fading lights from the shore until they were no longer visible. He pressed his lips together, feeling a pang of loss squeeze his chest like invisible hands wrapped around his lungs. Despite his intention to keep Quatre at arm’s length, the other man had somehow managed to break through his defenses with little effort.

It was good to have a friend. An ally. Someone he could really open up to and Quatre provided that in spades. Understanding, compassionate, loyal to those he cared about. The world needed more men like him, Heero mused. Men who were no doubt destined for great things.

A pirate’s life was not suited for the kind and gentle person Quatre was. At least that was what Heero had originally thought. He’d believed the young man would wind up dead long before he reached the age of thirty.

Now he wasn’t so sure about that. It wasn’t only the fact that the blond was the coveted lover of the most deadly pirate alive, but during Quatre’s time with them, he’d displayed an unbreakable inner strength that Heero admired. Even after those nights when Heero was forced to listen to the young man’s screams, Quatre always emerged the next day with that same defiant fire in his eyes.

He was a survivor, a fighter, and perhaps there was hope for him after all.

Heero wasn’t as certain about his own future. Quatre had insisted that Maxwell felt something for him, maybe even loved him in his own peculiar way. Heero had his doubts as he reached up and touched his cheek, still a little sore from the slap he’d received that morning after defying Maxwell’s orders to stay in the cabin while he attended to business.

He’d snuck out to see Quatre one last time, stealthily creeping across the decks and ducking behind barrels and partitions until he’d reached the bilge. He was surprised to find the trap door open and had knelt down and peered through the opening, shock rendering him frozen when he spotted his friend bent over the crate that was used to keep him contained.

His shirt was thrown up over his back and his slender fingers were clenched tightly around the wooden edges, but he made no sound as Greenwich took him. In his fury, Heero had seen red, wanted to gut the rapist pig and feed his intestines to the sharks. He knew Greenwich was among those who’d raped the boy during the first dozen nights of his capture, but it seemed the lumbering brute had never stopped even after the rest of the crew did.

Heero knew firsthand what Quatre was experiencing. He’d been forced into intercourse with that bastard on more than one occasion when the captain was not around and the pig was certain that he would get away with it.

So far he had gotten away with it. Heero never said anything to Maxwell, mainly because Greenwich threatened a mutiny if he dared speak a word, usually while he was buggering Heero with a meaty hand wrapped around his throat.

Heero could only imagine what life under Greenwich’s authority would be like and he much preferred Maxwell’s. It wasn’t that he didn’t think Maxwell could best him in a fight, but Heero didn’t want to take the risk of Greenwich winning that fight. He kept his mouth shut and endured the attacks in silence, much like he’d seen Quatre do that morning.

He was caught by Maxwell as he tried to sneak back to the cabin and was hauled the rest of the way where he was struck and berated for his insolence the moment the door was slammed shut. He never got to tell Quatre goodbye.

But at least Quatre was safe and sound, back where he belonged now. That was Heero’s only solace.

He felt his captain’s presence without even turning and kept his eyes on the tiny dots of light that marked the presence of land, gradually becoming fainter and fainter. Soon, he wouldn’t be able to see them at all. In less than an hour, they’d be surrounded on all sides by the endless, inky black expanse of the ocean at night.

There was something calming about sailing at night. It was so dark, so peaceful. Sometimes, he could hear the mournful tones of whale song in the distance and he would close his eyes and imagine himself swimming among them, gliding effortlessly through the blinding, cold abyss.

It was the only escape he had. From within the limitless freedom of his mind, he could flex his wings and fly anywhere he wanted, live any life he chose. Perhaps he could be captain of his own ship, or an explorer of the New World. The possibilities were endless.

No matter what the men in this world took from him, they could not take that away. His dreams were his and his alone and he guarded them fiercely.

Maxwell stopped directly behind him, but he remained still, waiting to see what he would say, or do. With Maxwell, one never knew. His moods changed as quickly as the weather. Amicable, even somewhat enjoyable one moment, the next brooding and vicious. Since he’d gotten his ship back, he’d been the former and Heero could only hope that his captain’s precarious grasp of good cheer would linger for the remainder of the night.

“What are you thinking about?”

The query was spoken against the back of Heero’s head. His back, which had become quite cold from the wind, now felt immersed in warmth with Maxwell’s body pressed against him. He took a deep breath through his nose, buying a little time to gather his thoughts.

“Quatre,” he answered finally.

“You’ve taken quite a liking to him, haven’t you?”

Heero instantly noticed the articulate manner in which he spoke and the tension drained from his body. When Maxwell was particularly relaxed, even happy, his accent took on the cadence and sophistication of a well-educated man. When angry, it shifted into something more reminiscent of the lower-class ghètos of London. “He is...he’s a good man.”

“No doubt,” Maxwell said, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Quite the beauty, too. I dare say, I think you enjoyed him.”

He bristled slightly, but quickly remembered himself. “That was not what I was speaking of. I admire his kindness, his strength. He was a good friend.”

“Barton did well for himself,” Maxwell agreed, folding Heero into his arms. “You miss him.”

“I do, but...he’s back where he belongs now. He’s safe. That’s what matters.”

“Was he not safe with us?”

Heero thought back to that morning, watching through the hole in the floor while that animal buggered the boy. In his mind, he could still hear those pained screams that haunted him during the first two weeks of Quatre’s capture. “When we first took him…” He stopped there and pressed his lips together, not even wanting to speak it aloud.

Fortunately, Maxwell was smart enough to put two and two together. He let out a long breath that somehow managed to convey his regret. “That was a mistake.”

“Was it?” Heero asked, knowing that he was skirting on thin ice, but he needed to address what had happened, if only for his own conscious. Wasn’t there an old saying that demons were best defeated when faced head-on? “Or did it only matter after we found out who he belonged to?” He turned in the circle of his captain’s arms and looked up into the stunningly handsome face, trying to find the answers he was searching for. “His life, his honor...did it mean nothing?”

Maxwell’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight as he stared down at his catamite, unreadable behind the wall he’d erected to conceal his emotions. “That is the way of things. In this world, your worth is wagered by what you can contribute.” He reached up and grasped a stray lock of dark hair, tucking it behind Heero’s ear. “How useful you are. That’s the way it’s always been.”

“And who says it must be that way? Who gets to decide this? That we are unworthy, that our lives are forfeit unless we have wealth, or skills, and if we don’t have those, we must pay the price with our bodies?”

“It is that way because it must be. In nature, if you are not strong, you perish.”

“Is that all I am to you?”

Maxwell reared back a little, eyes widening in surprise. “What?”

“Is that all I’m worth to you? Is that all I’m worth to the world? A body to bugger? A whore?”

“Is that what you think?”

“How can I not think that? It seems like the only time you acknowledge my existence is when you’re angry with me, or you’re buggering me.”

“Am I not good to you? Do I not keep you safe? Keep you warm and fed?”

“I want to earn my keep.”

“You do.”

“No.” Heero pushed himself out of Maxwell’s embrace and dragged his fingers through his hair. “I don’t want to earn it with my arse! I want to learn the art of sailing. I want to learn how to navigate. Did you know that Quatre contributes to the Catherine’s crew? He knows how to chart maps and he works with the navigator. He contributes with more than his body. Don’t you see?” He stepped closer to his captain and looked up at him with pleading eyes, begging him to understand. “To the crew, he’s...he’s not a toy. He’s a man.”

Maxwell gave him a quizzical look. “Are you not also a man?”

Feeling bold and in the mood to test the waters, he leaned his body against the other man and grazed his lips against the freshly-shaven chin. “I would think you’d know that better than anyone. I just wish you’d treat me as such once in awhile.”

He poked his tongue out and licked over the curve of Maxwell’s chin, dipping into the cleft at the center and he wasn’t disappointed when his captain responded. Maxwell gripped the hair at the back of his head, forcing Heero’s neck to bend, and took his mouth in a conquering kiss. Heero eagerly opened up with a sigh of surrender and allowed himself to be pillaged, curling his fingers into the fabric of Maxwell’s cloak until his knuckles turned white.

He was kissed until he felt light-headed and arousal thrummed through his veins like an intoxifying drug. When Maxwell finally lifted his head, he stared down at him with a slight curl to his swollen lips.

Heero blinked away the haze, a little unnerved by the smug grin and wondered what about any of this was so amusing. “What?”

Maxwell let out a soft laugh and then tugged on his arm. “Come on. You’ll catch your death in this cold.”

“Maybe I want that.”

He stopped abruptly and turned shocked eyes on his catamite. “Do you?”

Heero held his gaze for several moments while he tried to decide if he’d actually meant that. Finally, he shook his head and allowed himself to be pulled along. “No. Perhaps at one time I did.”

“Mmm? When was that?”

“Right after you brought me here. It lasted for several months.”

“Yet you did nothing. Why?”

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I suppose I was just waiting for something to change.”

“And did it?”

He gave his captain a dark look and touched the faint bruise on his cheek. “I’m not sure. You did hit me this morning.”

“I gave you an order and you disobeyed it.”

“I suppose nothing has changed then,” he conceded as they stepped inside the cabin. Maxwell already had the stove burning and the cabin’s interior was toasty warm, illuminated with over a dozen candles. During the Shinigami’s captivity, nothing had been stolen, or moved by the Catherine’s crew. Everything down to the smallest trinket was right where they’d left them.

He picked up a small, marble statue carved into the likeness of the Egyptian god, Anubis, and sat down on the edge of the bed. It felt cold in his hand as he ran his thumb over the sharp ridges of its jackal-like teeth. It was one of Maxwell’s favored treasures, stolen from a wealthy aristocrat in Rome. Heero had been dragged along on that raid which ended up with him being buggered into the nobleman’s four-poster bed.

That was one of the strangest experiences he’d ever had since he’d left home and it still gave him a little thrill whenever he thought about it. The nobleman had been bound to a chair in his own bedroom so that the Shinigami’s crew had the leisure of thoroughly going through his possessions to ensure they acquired the most valuable items.

Maxwell had swiped the statue off the mantle and looked it over with a critical eye, but instead of putting it into the sack with the rest of his stolen treasures, he’d stuffed it into the pocket of his breeches. He’d glanced at the enormous, elegant bed, biting his lip in contemplation and then pinned his catamite with a smoldering leer.

“Get on the bed.”

Heero was stunned by the order, his blood freezing like ice in his veins. His gaze flitted to their bound and gagged hostage before meeting Maxwell’s gaze. “What?”

“I’m going to fuck you in that bed.”

He hesitated, uneasiness making it difficult to move. His misgivings about being buggered in someone else’s bed, not to mention within full sight of the bed’s owner, rooting his feet to the floor. Was Maxwell seriously going to bed him in this stranger’s home?

Apparently so if the dark look he received was any indication. With one final glance at the hostage, he crawled onto the bed and laid down on his back, turning his head towards the wall as his cheeks flushed with shame. It was the first time they’d ever had sex with an audience and despite Heero’s discomfort with it, his cock was rock hard and tenting up the fabric of his tunic.

It turned out to be the most incredible sex he’d ever had and he reluctantly praised Maxwell for his insatiable appetite and unusual sense of adventure. Spread out across the bed with his legs hooked over the captain’s arms, Maxwell had fucked him into the cushiony softness of the luxurious mattress like a maiden deflowered on her wedding night. He’d moaned like a cheap whore, arching his back and pulling on the silk draperies that hung from the posts.

Sex that wasn’t confined to the privacy of Maxwell’s cabin brought out a new side of Heero that he’d never believed he was capable of. His face had burned with mortification, but he kept glancing over at the man tied to the chair to see if he was watching, his pleasure soaring every time their eyes met from across the room.

“What are you thinking about now?”

He blew out a breath and placed the statue on the little table beside the bed. “I was thinking about the day you took this.”

“Ah, yes,” Maxwell chuckled as he stripped out of his cloak. The deep plum color of his blouse looked majestic against his bronzed skin and Heero bit down on his tongue when he got a glimpse of the smooth, muscular chest displayed between the opened laces of his shirt. Maxwell may have been a right bastard at times, but his beauty was striking and undeniable. “That wasn’t the best part of that pillage,” he added, his tone softer, but gravelly from the erotic memory of debauchery.

Heero ducked his head as his cheeks flamed with heat. “That statue is hideous.”

“Yes, it is,” Maxwell mused. He pulled his shirt over his head and went to work on his belt. “That’s why I like it.”

“You like it because it’s ugly,” he deadpanned, watching his captain momentarily hop on one foot as he pulled his breeches off his leg and then did the same with the other. Bared in all his golden glory, like Michelangelo’s David in the flesh, he walked towards the bed and Heero’s breath hitched in anticipation of what was to come. No matter how many times he’d been taken by this man, his body still responded as if it was that very first night.

He was pushed back onto the bed with a hand on his chest and then Maxwell crawled on top of him until they laid chest to chest, groin to groin. He nuzzled his nose into Heero’s neck and kissed the tender skin over his catamite’s pulse point. “Ugliness can have its own unique beauty,” he rasped as he pushed Heero’s legs apart with his knees. “It reminds me that not everything is as it seems -” another kiss -”and that even the most magnificent among us can be grotesque.”

Heero sucked in a sharp breath when Maxwell’s cock brushed against the inside of his thigh. “Is - is this a self-reflection?”

He could feel Maxwell smile against his neck. “Perhaps. Or perhaps it is a reflection of life. Nature is beautiful, but also brutal. A heartless, merciless shrew who entices men with her allure before she ruthlessly cuts him down.”

“You refer to nature as the fairer sex when what you say sounds more like men.”

“Every man has a mother,” Maxwell whispered against his neck. “A significant feminine influence on his life. Nature is our creator, our mother. She made us what we are.”

“But God is male.”

“There is no God,” Maxwell spat and then pressed their mouths together, effectively dissolving Heero’s confusion at the vehemency of his response. He moaned softly and wrapped his arms around his captain’s neck, his hands fumbling for the braid that laid against Maxwell’s back. He pulled the tie loose and unraveled the long pleats of hair until they tumbled over his shoulders like a cascading waterfall.

“Mmm...Ca - Maxwell…” He tossed his head from side to side as his captain kissed a descending trail down his chest and belly, though he stiffened in shock when Maxwell’s mouth continued to work its way closer to his groin. “What are you doing?”

“You said you wanted to be treated like a man. So I’m treating you like a man,” Maxwell answered and then licked a long swath up the length of Heero’s cock until he reached the tip and then wrapped his lips around the head, suckling with a gentleness that nearly drove Heero mad.

“Oh, my G -” His eyes rolled back beneath his lids and his mouth dropped open in a silent scream as Maxwell took the entire length into his mouth. He’d never done this before. Never paid any attention to Heero’s cock except to stroke it during intercourse. The last time Heero had felt that pleasure had been with a female customer a few days before his abduction.

He remembered how good it felt, how skillful she was, and the way she drank him down until the sensitivity became overwhelming.

She’d been his last customer before being propositioned by Maxwell and he hadn’t known that pleasure since. He’d resigned himself to the likelihood that he might never experience it again, much less from a notorious pirate captain. He vaguely wondered if perhaps he was dreaming, but the rising waves of ecstasy and the coiling sensation tightening inside his groin assured him that this was no dream. His fingers trembled as he reached down and wrapped long tendrils of Maxwell’s hair around them, firmly reminding himself not to pull too hard.

He stared in awe at the head bobbing between his legs, unable to believe this fearsome pirate was voluntarily taking on the role that Heero always had. Maxwell’s eyes were closed, his expression one of deep concentration and Heero was certain he’d ever seen anything more beautiful in his life.

His orgasm rose up swift and powerful, like the spinning eye of a storm and his hips jutted off the bed, back arching like the taut string of a bow. “Oh - oh, Max - Captain...God, I’m - I’m co -” His cock spurted mid-warning and his attempts to push Maxwell off were unsuccessful as the other man had no apparent intention of doing so. He sucked hard enough to make Heero’s eyes involuntarily cross and took everything he gave, swallowing it all down until he lay limp and shaking.

When he had enough wherewithal to crack his eyes open, Maxwell was grinning down at him with a playful gleam in his eyes. “Do you feel like a man now?”

Heero grabbed his face and pulled him down to kiss that infuriating smugness away, groaning at the taste of himself on his captain’s tongue which pushed into his mouth with the sensual rhythm of fucking. It didn’t matter that he’d just climaxed. His body responded to the carnal promise, his spent cock twitching with life once again.

Maxwell pulled away and rolled him over onto his belly and he panted into the rumpled quilt as the cheeks of his ass were parted. He felt the hot, wet press of a tongue pushing past the ring of his opening and he lifted his hips for more, moaning brokenly with frustrating submission.

He was a prisoner of his own desires. He knew that and for the longest time, he’d despised himself for it. Despised Maxwell for all of the ways in which he knew how to pleasure him. His captain effortlessly rendered him powerless time and again with the skill of a lover who knew Heero’s body better than he did himself.

He’d had his share of terrible and proficient lovers, both the memorable and the forgettable, but he’d never had one that made him so shamelessly crave the sins of the flesh the way Maxwell did.

Die by the sword, or by my Master’s cock. So help me, I choose the latter and I’ll happily burn in eternal damnation for just one more night with this man.

The truth was, he’d be lost without Maxwell, but he was also beginning to believe that Maxwell would be lost without him as well, and perhaps just the simple act of entertaining that possibility made living with his own transgressions bearable.

He rubbed his newly-hardened cock against the mattress as Maxwell pressed two oiled fingers into his body and mewled when the tips of those fingers immediately caressed that place inside that left him mindless with need. Maxwell crooked his fingers, knowing just where to touch to reduce his catamite to putty in his hands, kissing the protruding knobs of Heero’s spine with a tenderness that ached to his core.

“How’s that, pet? Good?”

“Nnn - huh...yes...”

“Do you want me inside you, or is that not manly enough?”

Perhaps not, but Heero would be lying through his teeth if he said no. He deliriously nodded his acquiesce and Maxwell withdrew his hand, delivering a stinging slap to his arse. “Get on your knees.”

He eagerly pushed himself up onto all fours and waited, heart pounding, for the intense experience of initial penetration. He held his breath, but kept his muscles relaxed as the bulbous head of Maxwell’s cock pushed through and then released it once the other man’s balls were flush against him.

Maxwell’s fingers dug painfully into the flesh of his hips as he worked himself up to a moderate pace, grunting his pleasure into the heat of the room. Heero lowered himself to his elbows and sunk his teeth into the skin of his forearm, enduring each thrust with soft whimpers and breathless words of affirmation. The tip of Maxwell’s cock touched all the right places inside him with unerring precision, forcing away those troublesome thoughts that perpetually plagued his mind.

Even during their first coupling after he’d been taken aboard the Shinigami, he’d fought Maxwell with everything he had. Punching, kicking, scratching, and biting and then eventually shouting his rage into this very bed as he was flipped over and his arms wrenched behind his back. He’d cursed Maxwell to every demon and devil he could think of when the man’s cock slid home inside him, but it took only minutes before he was weeping with defeat and self-hatred into the mattress because it had felt so damned good.

It took a few months before he’d finally stopped fighting back. It was fruitless and he’d eventually reached the point where he knew he could no longer lie to himself about how much he enjoyed it. He’d remained conflicted. His principles, his sense of morality over how abhorrent it was, at war with his most carnal desires. Even more distressing were the feelings of warmth and contentment whenever Maxwell deigned to shower him with gifts and attention.

There was a sense of pride that he felt from the looks he received every time he was shown off like a trophy on this notorious pirate’s arm, or taken in a possessive hold. He’d always been desirable, but his allure seemed to increase by tenfold now since he’d been relegated to Maxwell’s whore. The fact that the fierce and beautiful captain of the Shinigami found him worthy enough to keep by his side sparked their curiosity and a compelling hunger to sample the goods.

He’d been fought over more than once and despite the brutality with which he’d witnessed Maxwell’s violence and thirst for blood, the possessiveness that drove him to such cruelty never failed to appeal to Heero’s ego. Not to mention invoking that primitive part of his brain which still operated on instinct and thrived in the face of male dominance.

Needless to say, every time Maxwell proved to the world that he was the only one privy to the wonders of Heero’s body, Heero was so desperate to be buggered that he wasn’t above prostrating himself for the chance to experience that dominance firsthand.

He was in a perpetual stalemate with himself over his need to be recognized as a man, and his primal instinct to bend to the will of another. It was what made him both love and hate his captain and he was beginning to wonder if this was what limbo felt like. A constant state of neither going forward, or back. Static and suspended inside the perimeters of an endless, spinning circle. And there was no escape. There never was.

“Mmm...you feel so good, pet,” Maxwell murmured, bending down to reverently kiss his catamite’s back. “My beautiful whore.”

Heero swallowed down a groan as the diminutive went right to his cock and tried to save face through his clenched teeth. “Don’t - ah - don’t call me that.”

“You don’t enjoy being my whore? Your body speaks the language of one.”

There was a hint of playful disappointment in Maxwell’s voice, but Heero’s retort was lost on his tongue as the spongy head of the other man’s cock struck his prostate with dizzying precision. He garbled out a half-hearted protest and dropped his head to the mattress. The subject could be discussed later. For now, the pet name spoken in Maxwell’s gravelly drawl did more to feed his pleasure than hinder it.

“That’s what I thought,” Maxwell said and then leaned up, grabbing Heero’s hips in a bruising grip and shoved into him with a forceful thrust. Heero choked out a broken cry and rolled his arse back, trying to get the direct stimulation where he needed it most.

“Are you going to come again, pet?”

“Oh G - uh-huh...oh, God!”

“Touch yourself. Let it go. I want to see you fall apart. You’re always so beautiful when you come undone.”

He reached beneath himself and wrapped trembling fingers around his erection, tugging hard and swiping his thumb across the head. His breathing increased with the rising crest of his orgasm and with a twist of his wrist and a perfectly timed thrust, he was spilling himself onto the bed with a hoarse shout.

Through the rushing sound of blood pumping through his ears, he distantly heard a loud groan, followed by an emphatic curse as Maxwell’s cock was squeezed by the contractions of his arse. His body was jarred by Maxwell’s rough fucking and his legs finally gave out beneath the force. He collapsed onto the bed, spent, and endured the brutal thrusts until Maxwell stiffened and let out a long, low groan that seemed to vibrate his entire body.

He huffed as Maxwell dropped down onto his back and pushed the air out of his lungs, though he remained still and passive despite the wetness of his climax beneath him. Maxwell panted into his neck, his labored breathing slowing with each passing minute.

“Whew! S’warm in here,” he murmured into Heero’s damp skin.

Heero smirked and said, “I wonder why.”

“Don’t get sassy with me, boy.” Maxwell lifted himself up and smacked Heero’s upturned arse cheek before he went over to the window. He cracked it open and stuck his head out with an exaggerated sigh. “Ah, that’s better.”

Heero snickered and then rolled over, sitting up to grab his tunic which he used to clean himself and wipe away the wet patch on the quilt. He tossed the soiled fabric onto a chair to be washed later and then climbed up towards the head of the bed, flopping down with his head on his pillow.

It was strange, but he’d missed this bed. When the Shinigami was first stolen, he’d been almost relieved by its absence. The symbol of his captivity, his prison which had been his source of oppression, no longer weighing him down.

The captain’s bed in the Johannah’s cabin was smaller, more rickety, and was sectioned off inside its own tiny little room. The table, chairs, stove, and other small pieces of furniture resided in the main room of the cabin. Heero preferred the more open, airy space of the Shinigami’s cabin and the bed he thought he’d never grieve, he found himself doing just that.

A draft from the window blew across his skin making him shiver and he turned the covers down to climb beneath. “It’s still cold out there.”

“It’s January in European waters,” Maxwell reminded him. “It’ll be cold until we get closer to our destination.” He pulled his head back inside and pushed the window closed.

“What is our destination?”

“Spain. Seville to be exact.”

Heero rolled onto his side and propped his head on his hand. “What’s in Seville?”

“Everything, my pet,” Maxwell said dreamily. “It’s a goldmine of wealth and fortune. The import ships returning from the New World are stocked with booty, the likes of which you cannot even begin to imagine. Gold, gems, food, tobacco…”

“What’s tobacco?”

“It’s a plant, my dear boy. Very revolutionary.” Maxwell came back to the bed and climbed under the covers, taking his catamite into his arms.

Contentment was always an alien feeling to Heero, yet it was something he seemed to be experiencing more frequently as time went on. For now, he was too tired and satiated to question it. He curled up within the warm embrace, pleasantly drowsy, and let the soothing vibration of Maxwell’s baritone, coupled with the familiar smells of the place he’d begun to associate as home, lull him into a light doze. “What’s it used for?”

“You smoke it. Apparently, it’s an enjoyable experience. Calming, from what I hear. I haven’t tried it yet.” He laughed, stirring the hair on Heero’s head. “The Indians have something called peyōtl. Devil’s Root, it’s called. It’s an opiate, but it comes from a cactus plant that only grows in the New World.”

Heero hummed in acknowledgement, but his mind was already beginning to drift. “Will we ever go to the New World?”

“Mayhap. Why? Would you like to see it?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Then you shall,” Maxwell promised, stroking Heero’s dark hair with a gentle hand. “Now go to sleep. It’s been a trying day for all of us.”

“Mmm…Duo?”

Maxwell froze, stunned into silence by the use of his given name. In the three years Heero had been in his possession, he’d never once spoken it aloud. He stared down into his catamite’s face, trying to find any sign of malice. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d displayed vindictiveness, but Heero’s eyes were closed and his expression was slack with impending sleep. “What?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?” He waited for a response, but didn’t get one. Heero’s breathing even out, a sure sign that he’d already drifted off. He stared at the sleeping face for a long time, confused by this sudden turnabout.

There was a chance Heero might not even remember what he’d said in the morning, but Maxwell couldn’t help but hope that perhaps it meant that he was finally beginning to accept his place.

This more passive change in his behavior seemed to coincide with the abduction of Barton’s whore. Perhaps what Heero had needed all along was someone who understood. A peer who was on similar footing. Someone with whom he could confide in and not feel inferior in the presence of. He tried to imagine himself in Heero’s place and winced when it finally dawned on him what life for Heero must have been like for the past few years.

Heero’s rebellion, though it had lessened over the last year, was his way of trying to retain some semblance of autonomy. Maxwell considered how important his own autonomy was to him and tried to imagine what it would feel like if that had been stripped from him.

He knew exactly how he would feel. Incompetent, emasculated...furious. He would have fought to the death to regain his freedom and independence and if he’d gone down, he would have taken his conqueror with him.

As he admired Heero’s sleeping face, he noticed how much the boy’s features had matured in just three years. Heero had just barely been an adult when he was taken, but now there was no question that the person in bed beside him was a man. Maxwell stroked a finger down his jawline, sharper now that it had been this time last year, and felt the slightly abrasive texture of a freshly shaven beard.

“I’ve been a right bastard to you, haven’t I?”

Heero mumbled something unintelligible, but didn’t wake, and Maxwell was struck by an epiphany so powerful, it nearly took his breath away.

He’d killed for Heero on several occasions. Of course he would kill to defend his property. That was a given. But it was the sudden realization that killing for him didn’t require any sacrifice on his part. What did require sacrifice was the fact that he would die for him.

To pay the ultimate price for the sake of someone else was something he’d never been willing to do before. When had that changed? At which point did his heart decide, without him even being aware of it, that the whore he’d taken into captivity for his own selfish enjoyment was someone he would gladly lay his life down for?

What in the nine bloody circles of Hell have you gotten yourself into, Maxwell?

Confused, he laid his head down onto his pillow and blinked at the wall behind Heero’s head, wracking his brain in a desperate attempt to figure out what had suddenly come over him. Unbidden, his mind’s eye conjured up a youthful face, so lovely and devoid of corruption, it could only be described as angelic.

Bloody son of a bitch...

It seemed as though the gentle, dulcet presence of that little blond harlot had affected them much more than he'd realized.

Chapter Text

“Quatre, what are you doing? If this were a real duel, I would have killed you three times over by now!”

Quatre wiped sweat from his brow and offered Wufei an apologetic smile. It was refreshingly cool on the main deck with the winds blowing in from the north, but the exertion of dueling practice made him feel hot and sticky beneath the linen fabric of his shirt. The brief rest allowed him a chance to catch his breath and enjoy the ocean breeze on his over-heated skin.

He was dreadfully out of shape.

“My apologies, Wufei. I suppose I must work harder to get back to where I was. Two months in the bilge doesn’t help an already piteous physique.”

Wufei’s eyes softened with sympathy, startling due to its rarity on a man whose expression was typically either twisted with the threat of violence, or dripping with condescension. The first mate’s long black hair was down, a pleasant change from the more formal twist he usually had it in. It whipped around his strikingly handsome face, making him look like a noble warrior just returned from battle and Quatre absurdly wished for a paintbrush and canvas to immortalize the stunning vision before him.

“It’s alright, Quatre. Perhaps I am pushing you too hard after everything you’ve been through.”

“I like it,” Quatre insisted. “If I want to get back to where I was, I’m going to need some discipline and a lot of hard work. I’m not opposed to that. Besides, it makes me feel useful.”

“You are useful.” Wufei sheathed his sword and stepped closer, placing a firm hand on the blond’s shoulder. “With your intelligence and natural gift for the art of cartography, you have been an invaluable asset to the success of the Catherine. I confess, even I underestimated you. I will never make that mistake again.”

Quatre blushed and ducked his head, beyond flattered that someone like Wufei would think so highly of him. “Thank you. I’m not sure I deserve the praise, but -”

“I would not have offered it if I believed you unworthy,” Wufei told him sternly as he stepped away. “You should know by now that respect is not something I give to just anyone.”

He smiled, still flushed to the tips of his ears. “Yes. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three years, it is that.”

“You’ve learned much more than that. Do not sell yourself short. As for dueling, you will not only recover the skills and endurance you once had, you will excel at them. By the time I am done with you, you will be one of the finest swordsman alive.” Wufei’s dark eyes had an uncharacteristic twinkle of humor as he turned back to Quatre. “Your skills will exceed even those of the captain.”

Quatre boggled at the revelation, certain that such a promise was misplaced. There was simply no way he could ever be as good as Trowa and to be as good as Wufei was impossible. “I think you have too much faith in me.”

Wufei lifted his chin. “You doubt my teaching skills?”

He shook his head frantically, having no intention of speaking ill of the first mate. “No! No, of course not. I -”

“Then trust me when I tell you, someday even you will give me a run for my money.” He turned back around and headed towards the companionway, lifting his hand in a beckoning gesture. “Come. Let’s get some water in you. After a brief rest, we’ll start again and then you may join the captain for breakfast.”

Quatre obediently followed, nodding a greeting to a few of the sailors who were now awake and milling about. The shift change was underway and the small handful of men who maintained the Catherine and her course during the night were heading down to the galley for a bite of supper before retiring to their quarters to sleep the much of the day away.

He accepted the cup of water and drank it down, relishing the cool liquid which eased his parched throat. His belly rumbled with hunger, but he knew better than to complain. Wufei insisted that a man with a full stomach was a careless one and a man who was not always prepared for anything was apt to find his head lopped off.

Feel that hunger when you fight me, Quatre. Use it to your advantage. Let it fuel the hunger to see the blood of your enemies spilled around your feet.

He’d never been a violent person, had never felt the desire to take the life of another. Until now. The hunger was so overpowering, it almost frightened him. Spurred on by a leering face, darkened and leathered by the sun and sprinkled with brown hair along the square jaw and upper lip. Triggered by eyes as blue as the sky, but icy like a glacier, lacking any trace of warmth, compassion, or humanity.

There was only one man whose blood he wanted spilled around his feet and he would make certain that the one spilling it would be himself. Not only on his own behalf, but for who knew how many others that had experienced humiliation and savagery at the hands of that monster.

Greenwich’s days were numbered. Quatre just had to make sure he was skilled enough to best him when the time came. It would be no easy feat. Greenwich was easily twice his size and possessed the strength of an ox. Quatre didn’t have a devil’s chance in Hell when it came to brute force. He would have to rely on speed and finesse if he wished to emerge from the other side victorious

And if he didn’t, he would make damned sure neither of them did.

He suspected Heero had also been subjected to Greenwich’s attentions, though the other man never said so. He didn’t need to. Quatre saw it whenever the burly pirate was nearby. It wasn’t something that was obvious and he doubted Heero even realized that the revulsion and trepidation was reflected in the ocean blue pools of his eyes.

Quatre didn’t dare ask him about it, unsure if it was even his place to say anything. Heero may have been the closest thing to a friend he’d had on that ship, but he was also beholden to Trowa’s adversary.

It was entirely possible that the next time they came face to face, Quatre would be staring into the eyes of his enemy.

Deception, greed, and betrayal were the lifeblood of a pirate. As abundant as the stores of rum and ale they were so fond of. They were vicious opportunists who would eagerly jump at the chance to gain the upper hand, even seize power from the men they’d killed for just a day before. Trust was an illusion and a sworn ally could turn on you in the blink of an eye.

Men who’d been friends since their youth often wound up staring each other down from opposite ends of a cocked revolver. It wasn’t uncommon for a man to fire cannon after cannon into the hull of his own brother’s ship and gleefully watch it disappear beneath the waves with the sound of the crew’s screams ringing in his ears.

If there was an advantage to be had, a pirate never hesitated to take it. It was an eat, or be eaten world. A world where the strongest, most ruthless men prevailed and the weak were crushed beneath their heels.

If Quatre ever hoped to survive such a world, he was going to have to learn to fight with the best of them. He could not rely on Trowa to protect him forever. At some point, he had to become his own man. And that time was now.

“If you keep staring at the wall like that, you’re going to burn a hole in it.”

Startled by the interruption of his thoughts, he glanced over to see Wufei leaning against a barrel of rum with an amused smile on his face. He sheepishly returned it and shook his head. “My apologies. I suppose I was just...somewhere else for a few moments.”

“That I can see. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

He chewed his lip as he considered it. He’d never really confided in anyone except Trowa, and Heero to some extent. “I’ve never wanted to kill before.”

“And now you do.”

It wasn’t a question. Wufei had already guessed it was true and there was no sense in lying. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”

“Quatre, we’ve all been where you are. We’ve all reached a point in our lives where the harm done to a man becomes too great to allow him to stay on the path of righteousness.”

He grinned. “Are you speaking from personal experience?”

Wufei’s face was neutral, almost bland, though Quatre suspected it was a mask used to hide something deeply painful. “Perhaps I once considered myself honorable.” He laughed softly, though it lacked any trace of humor. “I know I did. I was one of the most pious bastards around.”

“So what happened?” He blushed when he realized the forwardness of the question, and added, “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have asked you that.”

“It’s alright. Your curiosity is understandable. I will not go into detail, but I will just say that there was someone in my life once whom I nearly worshipped. He committed the ultimate act of betrayal.”

Quatre nodded, able to put the pieces together well enough. “He hurt you.”

“Among other things, yes. Despite being trained for combat in the army, I was a pacifist, a scholar at heart. I never once had the desire to kill a man. I suppose you could say I’ve taken the Devil’s way out. A man obsessed with vengeance is a man doomed to eternal damnation.” His eyes darted back up to Quatre, mournful as they observed him. “Trowa did not want this for you, but I insisted you learn. And now you also thirst for blood. Was I wrong?”

“No.” Quatre shook his head and set his empty cup down. “I could choose to live and let live, but I have not. If that makes me a man damned, then so be it.”

“You are good. I do not want you to become like these men. I do not want you to become like me.”

“It’s no longer your decision,” Quatre told him.

“Once you kill, there is no going back, Quatre.”

“Then I will look ahead and take whatever comes my way.”

“You’re talking about murder.”

His face tightened and it took everything he had not to spat his response. “I’m talking about an eye for an eye. I am no different than you in that respect.”

Wufei’s face was grim as he pushed away from the barrel. “That’s what frightens me.”

 

***

 

By the time they called it a day, the sun was halfway up in the east and beginning to warm the Catherine’s exposed upper decks. Quatre was sweating inside his shirt and panting with exertion, but invigorated by the exercises and cool, salty air. His under-used muscles were aching and fatigued, but he scarcely felt a thing thanks to the rush of the fight running through his veins.

He’d done much better during the second round and his cheeks flushed with flattery when Wufei praised his progress. His body had protested the vigorous movements, but he’d ignored them and pushed through it, determined to recover the strength and technique he’d had before he was taken off the streets of Turkey.

As much as he despised thinking about the man and as painful as the memories of suffering at Greenwich’s hands were, they powered his need to push himself to his limits. He allowed the fury to simmer in the pit of his belly, the anguish to drive his movements, and the subjugation to harden his resolve.

He would work himself to the bone every day if that was what it took to become stronger, more resilient, until that time came when he was ready to face the monster who’d so cruelly violated him. Not just for himself, but for those who’d suffered the same treatment. If he contributed nothing else to this world, he would settle for making sure Greenwich was no longer alive to harm anyone else.

He thanked Wufei when the other man handed him a cloth and used it to wipe the dampness from his face and neck. “That was better then?”

“Much,” Wufei said with a dip of his chin. “You surprised even me. Perhaps I worked you too hard too soon.”

“Don’t be silly! I wanted you to.”

“Quatre...I know that you are eager to become a good swordsman and you will. That I can promise you. But you cannot push yourself to exhaustion. Patience is key.”

“I know.” He smiled and picked up his sword to hand it back to Wufei, but stopped short in surprise when the first mate held his hand up.

“Keep it. It’s yours now.”

“Wufei, I can’t accept -”

“You can and you will. T’was my wife’s sword once and for the longest time, I could not bear to part with it. Now that I think about it, I suppose I was just waiting for the right person to come along who was worthy enough to wield it.”

Quatre’s eyes widened and he gaped like a fish, at a loss for words to express what an honor this was. “Wufei, I -”

“You needn’t say anything, Quatre. Just accept this sword and take care of it the way I know you will. Meiran would be proud to have someone such as yourself as its new owner.”

He wasn’t sure what came over him, or what prompted him to do what he did, but against his better judgment, he leaped towards Wufei and collided with his chest, knocking him back a few steps. His arms and legs wrapped around him as he blubbered into the other man's shoulder. “Thank you! Thank you, I - this is such an honor. I promise I will take good care of it.”

He realized too little too late that he was clinging to the first mate like a small child to its mother and he was certain Wufei would shove him off with a scathing order never to touch him again. To his surprise, arms closed about him, reluctantly at first, and then tightening as the fickle warrior became a little more comfortable with the intimate contact.

Wufei cleared his throat awkwardly and said, “It’s quite alright, Quatre. It was my pleasure to gift you with it, but please...in the future, could you refrain from attaching yourself to me like a starving squid?”

Quatre blushed to the roots of his hair and blurted out an embarrassed giggle, sliding down the front of Wufei’s body until his feet touched the deck again. “Sorry. I guess I got a little too excited.”

“Yes, I do seem to have that effect on people.”

He glanced up at the first mate and laughed when he saw the amused grin. Humor was not something Wufei displayed often. More often than not, it was subtle and not easily picked up upon, but when the mood struck him, it was something worth treasuring. He rubbed the back of his neck and smiled. “I’ll try to remember not to do that again.”

“I should hope so,” rumbled a deep voice behind him. Quatre’s back stiffened for a moment before he recognized the amusement in his captain’s tone. He leaned back into the warm chest as Trowa’s arm wrapped around him. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to steal my boy, Wufei.”

Quatre laughed as the first mate scowled. “Your humor is as dull as your swordsmanship, Trowa.”

The captain’s chest vibrated with a chuckle. “Now, no need to get personal. We all know how unpleasant you are before you’ve had your tea.”

Quatre mourned the embrace when Trowa released him, but thoroughly enjoyed the view when the captain stepped over to the railing, raising a hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he gazed over the water. “Quatre, come here.”

He reluctantly tore his eyes from the work of art that was his captain’s broad back and the mouth-watering swell of his arse encased in tight, black trousers. “What is it?”

Trowa answered with a swipe of his hand and Quatre went over to him, his body responding with a thrill when the larger man stepped behind him once again. It was difficult to focus on what he was being shown with the captain’s groin pressed into the cleft of his arse, but when he squinted against the glare of the sunlight reflecting off the waves, he saw a flash of something emerge from the water and then disappear again. “What is that?”

“Humpback whales,” Trowa whispered against his ear. “Listen.”

Quatre’s mouth dropped open in awe, transfixed by the mesmerizing sight before him. In the distance, an occasional large shape emerged from beneath the surface, silhouetted against the blinding orange backdrop of the light-reflected water before gracefully sinking back into the depths again. His ears picked up the sounds of their song, breathtakingly mournful tones carried across the sea breezes, making the fine hairs on his nape and arms stand on end.

In the three years he’d been at sea, he’d never had the privilege of witnessing such an event until now and tears prickled behind his eyes as the sheer beauty swept him away. For a breathless moment, he remembered what it was like to believe in God again. Surely mankind was not worthy of witnessing such magnificence, such uncorrupted purity.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he whispered, almost too afraid to speak aloud for fear of shattering a vision that seemed touched by the divine.

Trowa’s arms closed about him and he welcomed the warmth now that the winds were beginning to chill his skin through his sweat-dampened clothes. “Are you alright, love?”

I’m scared, Trowa. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m changing right before my very eyes and I fear it is not for the better. I’m not sure I know who I am anymore.

Wufei’s last words to him in the galley were still ringing in his ears and they left him feeling uneasy. Haunted. Was he really willing to sacrifice who he was, the goodness within him, the goodness that Trowa loved so much, for revenge? Was Greenwich worth the price of his soul? Did he really want to spend the rest of his days a bitter, jaded killer with no other goals than to obtain power and wealth and not caring whose life he destroyed to acquire them?

Was it possible that Greenwich had been like him once? Naive, untainted, good? Had he been hurt so irrevocably that he'd turned to darkness without sparing a thought for the person he'd once been? Would Quatre become a monster like he was?

Then again, no one in his entire nineteen years had shown him the tenderness and love he’d craved for so long the way Trowa had. No one had been more kind and generous than Wufei and the members of this crew. These men, roughshod, somewhat uncivilized, some of whom could not even read, had become the family he’d never had.

It seemed impossible, but...even the most deadly pirates alive were capable of love. And if that was true, then perhaps there was a chance that he would not abandon himself to the dark abyss of apathy and greed.

“I’m alright, Trowa.” He watched the whales for a moment longer and then turned and looked up into the green eyes of his captain, seeing the concern shining in the emerald depths and kicking himself for worrying him. “I’ve just a lot to think about.”

Trowa grasped his chin and tilted his head up for a kiss. The gesture was so achingly tender, Quatre wanted to weep with joy and sorrow, conflicted by the dueling emotions. He lost himself in the kiss until Trowa pulled away and gazed down at him with a mischievous expression. “You also need a bath. You’re making Dawson smell like roses in comparison.”

Quatre gave him a mock glare and swatted him on the arm. “Well, pardon me. Let’s see how good you smell after all that work.”

Trowa smiled and tucked a stray lock of hair behind Quatre’s ear. “You did well. I’m impressed.”

“How much did you see?”

“Enough.”

“I thought I would have to wake you up again. You were dead to the world when Wufei came to get me this morning.”

“I haven’t slept well the last two months.”

His belly twisted with guilt and he reached up to caress his captain’s cheek. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Quatre.”

“I strayed too far that day. I should have stayed closer. Turkey is crawling with pirates. I should have known better.”

Trowa grabbed his face in both hands and stared into his eyes with the kind of firmness that told Quatre there would be no argument. “Regardless, it was not your fault. Understood?”

He smiled and offered a nod of acquiescence, ticking his fingers against his brow. “Aye, Captain.”

“Whelp. C’mon. Breakfast is ready and you need to eat so you can get some meat on your bones.”

“Great! I’m starving. Wufei here is a slave-driver.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Of course you would,” Trowa mused, wrapping his arm around the blond and leading him back towards the cabin. “You want to join us?”

“No, thank you. I appreciate the offer, but it’s time for my morning reflection.”

“That Wufei,” Trowa said to Quatre in a conspiratorial whisper. “Always work and no play.”

Wufei’s voice carried across the deck as he said, “Well, someone has to pull the weight around here.”

Back in the cabin, Quatre immediately sat down and went to work on his food, devouring the hardtack bread and salted beef like a man who hadn’t eaten in weeks. Trowa laughed when he smiled up at him with his cheeks stuffed full of food. “You look like a rodent preparing for the winter.”

Quatre swallowed his mouthful and washed it down with tepid black tea. “You realize you just called your lover a rodent.”

“Lovingly, of course. An adorable rodent. The most beautiful rodent I’ve ever seen.”

He gave his captain a narrow-eyed look. “Is that supposed to gain my favor?”

“Are you saying it didn’t?”

He snorted and tore another bite off the hardtack with his teeth. “I could never stay angry with you.”

“That works well for me then, doesn’t it?”

“Cocky, too.”

“It’s part of my charm,” Trowa explained, pushing his plate to the side to make room for the map that was half-unrolled in front of him.

“Everything alright?”

“Yes.” He picked up his quill and dipped it into the inkwell before tapping the excess off and scribbling something onto the map. Quatre leaned over to try and read it though it was difficult to do upside down. “Titus has a crick in his leg so I’m changing the course to a more northwestern track.”

“Ah,” Quatre said and leaned back into his chair with his tea. Titus was the Catherine’s infamous storm predictor. The master gunner would often wake up and announce that the arthritis in his leg was giving him fits which usually meant a storm was approaching.

More often than not, he was correct so the crew had quickly learned to take the man’s often rum-fueled bellowing to heart.

“How much does that take us off the current course?”

“Approximately one hundred ten nautical miles, though the increased winds to the north will push the sails along faster.” Trowa drew a half circle around the place where he’d written in the changes and added, “We’re taking a fifty mile curve around the storm. We should be back on our original course in a few days.”

Quatre nodded and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “We’re stocked for a good four months so a few days off schedule won’t be a problem.”

“Best case scenario,” Trowa amended. “Worst case, it could slow us down to two weeks.”

He leaned forward and folded his hands on the table. “Tell me about the New World.”

Trowa looked up and tapped the end of his quill against his chin. “It’s...different. Sparse populations beyond the coastal cities though it is growing the further inland you go. Forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes as far as the eye can see. Wildlife is plentiful and so are the crops. Minerals are abundant and available to any who dares to venture into hostile territory to retrieve them, including silver and gold. So are gemstones. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires...every gem you can think of.”

“The trade must be incredible.”

“It is. The black market is thriving right now and there are rumors that even the crown is getting involved, paying pirates royally to bring them back many of the treasures that are harvested.”

“That’s not surprising,” Quatre mused. “If there’s something to gain, those with the capability to do so will take advantage of it.”

“There is also an active market for slaves in the New World.”

“You mentioned that before. In the south, yes?”

“Correct. The Spanish hold most of the power, but they typically stick to the southern half of the Americas and the Caribbean. The slave ships travel across the Atlantic, south of Hispaniola. There have been only a few slave ships to arrive on the northern shores, brought there by English merchants. For those who are not Spanish, or Portuguese, it is a very hostile place and the English and French know better than to venture down there. They take the treasures stolen from the Incas and Aztecs and bring them back to Spain, exchanging the wealth for their lives and freedom.”

“In other words, you may continue pirating as long as it benefits the monarchy.”

“Precisely. And if you’re caught hoarding the treasures for yourself…” Trowa drew a finger across the base of his throat and Quatre got the message easily enough.

“But do the English not do this?”

“Oh, they do. They’re simply more subtle about it.” Trowa chuckled and picked up a piece of salted beef. “Englishmen are the true gentlemen of the seas, but looks can be deceiving.”

“They’re better at hiding their savagery.”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of being shoddy at hiding. Spaniards simply do not care about perception. For what it’s worth, when you encounter a Spaniard, at least you know what his intentions are.”

“What about the French?”

“What about them?” Trowa asked with a shrug of his shoulders. “They are cowards who are only interested in looking out for their own arses. To them, there is no point in obtaining treasure if one cannot show it off. They are peacocks, excessively opulent and vain, but quite harmless in comparison.”

“So which do you prefer?”

“None. I am a Russian. Russian first, pirate second. I am not beholden to any monarchy.”

“Not even the Russian one?”

Trowa’s face was pinched as he rolled up the map and tied it off with a piece of string. “It did nothing for me, so why should I be?”

Quatre could empathize. Being the son of a Vali to the Sultan had done him no favors. “But...how did you get the name ‘Barton’?”

“Barton is the name I took after Catherine’s death. The name I had before that was Tsveteniye which translates to ‘Bloom’ in English.”

“What was your original name?”

Trowa’s face was tight and Quatre sensed that he was intruding on a part of the captain’s life that he’d rather soon forget. “I can’t remember.”

He knew that wasn’t true, but didn’t press the issue. The pain of being given up by his own family and sent out into the streets to fend for himself was too much for anyone to bear. His true name was Trowa’s secret to tell if and when he chose to tell it. “I’m sorry. If I’m being nosy, you can tell me. Sometimes I’m a little too curious for my own good.”

“It’s one of the things I like about you,” Trowa told him with a soft smile. “Your natural curiosity about the world around you is a refreshing change when you’ve been surrounded by jaded old scallywags for so many years.”

Quatre laughed, glad that someone appreciated it. “It used to get me in trouble with my father. I think I drove him mad with all my silly questions.”

“Your father is a fool.”

He nodded, sobering at the almost harsh tone in Trowa’s voice. “But I don’t regret what he did. Not now. Not after I found you.”

“I found you,” Trowa corrected.

“I still don’t know what you saw in me that day.”

“The same things I still do today,” Trowa said as he picked up his tea. “Though now, I can say that I do regret my approach. Three years ago, I was...in a very dark place. I cared for nothing and no one. Not even myself.” He looked up at Quatre and the blond’s breath hitched at the remorse in his eyes. “I had no right to take your freedom from you. Or your body.”

“My body I gave willingly,” Quatre assured him. “That was something I was accustomed to.”

“You gave it out of fear. You were given no choice to tell me no and you did what you had to do.”

He pressed his lips together as he remembered that first night, chained by the ankle to the same bed that stood only a few feet away. The same bed they’d made love in countless times since. Trowa was right. In the beginning, his surrender had been out of fear and the knowledge that there was no escape as they’d been miles out to sea already. He’d given his body willingly, but as a means of self-preservation.

“That may have been true in the beginning, but you earned my trust. After that, I gave myself to you because I wanted to. Now, I give it to you because I love you.”

Trowa stood up and rounded the table, sweeping the blond up into his arms. He buried his face in the juncture between Quatre’s neck and shoulder, murmuring a reverent, “I don’t expect to ever be forgiven for what I did, but I take now the love you give freely and I will cherish it for the rest of my days.”

He smiled and stroked the back of Trowa's head, loving the silky feel of his hair between his fingers. “And I will cherish you for the rest of mine. I forgave you a long time ago, Trowa. I love you. Don’t ever doubt that.”

“I would lay down my life for you,” Trowa whispered in a plaintive tone, clutching him tight against his chest. “Whatever you want, I will give it. If you want the world, you only need to say the words. Everything I have...everything I am, it is yours.”

He smiled and kissed the patch of exposed skin between the opened laces of his captain’s shirt. It was warm and smelled of leather and musk. “And that is how I know that this was meant to be.”