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“Your latest haul is less than satisfactory, Captain.”

Flint scowls up at Eleanor towering over him. He’s heard it from his men already, and from Gates for the better part of a week. He doesn’t need it from her as well.

Eleanor slides the mug of ale away and slips into the chair opposite him. Quieter, she hisses, “What the fuck have you been doing for the last three months?”

Drowning in Thomas’ death. Seeking revenge to soothe the aching hole left by that same news. He had thought killing Alfred Hamilton would quiet the rage and despair, but it seems that particular abyss has no bottom these days.

“You know what I’ve been doing,” Flint slurs, sliding the mug back in front of him, keeping a fist around its handle just in case she tries to take it from him a second time. The drink is going to his head far sooner than he imagined, or he’s possibly been drinking longer than he remembers. 

“Yes, you've been chasing the Maria Aleyne. I’m fully fucking aware of that part, but you promised it would bring with its capture a sizable haul. At least one thousand pieces of eight worth of tobacco. You were mistaken. Now your men are unruly on account of their empty pockets, and once again, that seems to be of little concern to you. I have far less tolerance for their shit than I have for yours.”

Flint scoffs in disbelief, but does not meet her eyes. He wishes she would just let him alone so he might drown in his misery without an audience.

Eleanor stays. “I’m taking possession of the ship as part of your haul. As for payment, your men can collect their coin from the treasury at dawn.”

“That is hardly an even trade,” but Flint doesn’t believe his own argument.

In truth, he had planned to burn the Maria Aleyne to blackened embers in the bay this night. Let its wood and canvas and ropes mix with the sand and salt of the ocean. It would serve a better purpose there than in the hands of any of the men upon these shores. In this moment, he desperately wants to bury it along with his lost love, neither to be thought of again, because maybe then he might find some measure of peace.

Softer this time, Eleanor says, “Get your shit together, Captain.”

Even pissed as he is, Flint can recognize the concern in her tone. It’s not exactly pity, but it’s a near thing.

He looks away.

+

The Maria Aleyne is given to a former protege of Edward Blackbeard Teach called Charles Vane, and it's promptly renamed the Ranger.

“I don’t like it,” Gates is saying, finger and thumb running through his beard as he leans against the bar, ever observant while Flint buries himself in another drink. "Vane's young and arrogant and whether Miss Guthrie admits it or not, we all know he fucked Teach over to get into bed with her. Again." Flint knows all of this, of course, so he doesn't feel the need to add anything. He's also a little less than sober, but he has slept and eaten and visited with Miranda since his conversation with Eleanor a few days ago.

The wounds are still fresh though, so when he turns to see Vane's smug face as he closely follows Eleanor from her office, Flint wants to make him bleed for that alone.

James, let it go,” Gates warns with a hand on his bicep even as Gates' own weary and disapproving eyes are following Vane and Eleanor, too.  

“Captain Flint!” Vane shouts from across the room, a wolfish smile across his mouth.

All heads turn in his direction, and a heavy silence falls across the tavern. Vane's exactly the kind of person who thrives on an audience.

Sensing the shift in the room, Eleanor stops short, and Vane gets as close to her from behind as he can manage without her fist in his face. It's all the same though because his possessiveness is purposefully transparent.

“I wanted to thank you for the gift. I intend to break her in come morning—” he says, and while Vane’s words are about the Maria Aleyne, he is leering at Eleanor as he speaks. “I’ll take her out on her first voyage as a real woman, and see how she fares under a new captain— because what a prize she is.” He twirls one of Eleanor’s curls around his finger, and she reels around when she feels it, warning him with a glare.

Flint can do better than glare.

He only remembers the faint echo of Gates’ voice as he tears across the tavern, sword unsheathed before he can think of the consequences. Vane’s brash laughter is enough to keep Flint's attention grounded in the moment, on his instinct to suppress this threat by force.

Arrogantly, Vane keeps his own sword tucked away at his side when he yells, “Fuck, yes. I’ve waited months for this,” and rushes to meet Flint, turning over two chairs as he moves. Just before reaching him, Flint throws his own sword down with an off-key clank, because if Vane wants to do this without weapons, Flint is more than willing to accept the challenge. Bloodying Vane’s conceited face will be more than enough to satisfy him.

The two of them only manage to land a few blows, wailing fists cracking across flesh and bone, before the chaos of the room erupts into sweltering noise and blurred motion.

Gates and Joji haul Flint backward while that squirrelly fucker, Jack Rackham, appears from nowhere to talk Vane down from advancing. Vane only needs two hands placed across his chest to keep him still, while Flint struggles against his own suppressors forcibly restraining him. He isn’t nearly finished yet.

Standing on a table, Eleanor swears and threatens them all. "You will not treat this place as you do your own ships! Fuck off, all of you!"

Flint spits blood and smears it from the cut on his lip across his chin, but Vane’s left eye is already swelling and there are twin streams of blood dribbling from his nose, leaving Flint quite satisfied with what he was able to accomplish in such a short time.

“Flint! In my office!” Eleanor booms at him, livid and red faced.

Once Joji and Gates release him, Flint doesn’t waste time following directions, but he does shove at Vane as he passes.

Vane’s laughter is enough to send Flint back in his direction, but Eleanor shouts, “Charles, get the fuck out!” and shuts the door behind them. 

+

The door barely slams before Flint is yelling, “You gave him my ship. Of all the captains on this shithole of an island. Why him?

Eleanor douses a cloth in water from the porcelain pitcher on her desk and throws it at Flint's chest. He catches it, grunting at the impact.

“That ship belongs to me now, and your complaint has little to do with Charles. Any fool could see that.”

Fuck him. You think my crew have no discipline? Think of the animals Charles Vane will drag from the gutters to employ upon that ship, my fucking ship.”

“You will sit down, and then you will tell me what happened out there,” she demands, shifting the focus from Vane. "Or, I swear, the crew and ship still in your possession will be stripped from you as well."

Stubbornly, Flint looks away, wincing as he applies pressure to the cut with the cloth. Does she have the capacity to do as she says? Probably.

While he refuses to answer, Eleanor sits down in her chair and sighs. She leans across the table, elbows against its surface and hands folded as if she’s settling into difficult negotiations. “The men say you slit the throats of an unarmed merchant and his mistress secretly traveling from London to Charles Town aboard that ship. Targeting the Maria Aleyne was no accident. I think we can both agree upon that. Who were they to you?”

Exhausted and finally feeling the pain throbbing in his jaw, Flint slumps into the chair opposite the desk and throws the blooded cloth down on the desk’s surface, because although the rage has settled, he's still feeling petulant. Flint licks at the blood still welling on his lip and itches for his abandoned sword left on the floor of the tavern.

“The merchant I killed was someone from my past,” Flint offers vaguely.

Eleanor nods, and her features soften. Flint waits for her to demand details, and he isn’t sure if he’ll refuse her, or lie to her, or simply— tell her the truth. He’s leaning toward the latter without really understanding why. 

Gently, Eleanor asks, “Did it satisfy something in you to kill them?”

Flint flinches at how uncomfortable the question is, even coming from her.  Taking his time to answer, he says, “Not as much as I had hoped.” And his voice is barely above a whisper. “But I think I knew it wouldn’t help before I committed myself to it.”

Eleanor leans back in her own chair, satisfied enough with Flint’s admission to let her own guard down. “That ship is only rope and canvas and wooden planks,” Eleanor reminds him. She takes two silver mugs and a bottle of rum from behind her desk and pours them each a drink. “If killing those people made little difference, than the ship’s current possessor will mean even less. Giving it to him was not designed to upset you. In the long term, if this small concession placates Charles, then— we will both benefit from it.”

She's claiming it's strategic. Keep Vane busy and turn a profit at the same time and hope he keeps this crew under control so it doesn't end in the way it did with Blackbeard, but Flint is still left unsettled. There’s more here than she’s letting on.

Flint thinks he’s shared enough to warrant a personal question. “Why do you let that smug bastard touch you?”

Eleanor bites at the skin of her index finger and looks across the room at nothing.

“He’s in love with me,” she replies, as if it's the most obvious explanation, as if it explains anything at all.

He could press her on it, but he doesn’t. Maybe it’s his turn to nod and let her be for now.

There’s something resembling trust budding between them, and in the last year in particular, they've shared a delicate balance of give and take without excessive need for either. It’s only as much as either of them can bear, and that suits their mutual cause just fine.  

Flint respects what she is trying to accomplish in Nassau, and she has her reasons for making choices that he would not make for himself. They both have their reasons, and while they might not always agree, Flint will accept her as a partner if she will have him.

“Now,” she smiles, slipping back into her role as Trade Boss of Nassau. “About the Scarborough,” she says, and Flint cannot help leaning forward, slipping back into his role as the formidable captain of the Walrus just as easily.

He listens with purpose.