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same bottle, same gun: two shots

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It was a gunshot that made Flint slow his horse to a stop.

The sound cracked through the night, carried over the rushing of the ocean this close to the beach. It was immediately followed by the sound of bursting glass.

His mare shifted her weight uneasily, ears flicking to and fro.

The bottle he was cradling in the crook of his arm was half empty at this point, but his mind was nothing if not attuned to the shifting currents of sudden dangers. Flint dropped the liquor and reached for the pistol tucked into his belt, staying low over his horse's neck and casting his eyes towards the water, whence the shot had sounded.

„No need. I'm not about to ambush you.“

A figure detached itself from the obscurity beneath a cluster of palm trees, shadows lean as the silhouette itself.

Eleanor Guthrie, Richard's daughter; slim and hard.

She first drew most men's eyes at for being both beautiful and rare, girls her age being in short supply in a place like Nassau.

She had first drawn Flint's eyes for the calculated way she placed her every finger, for the firm step of her boots. He knew that if he did not watch her, it would not stop her watching him, and he rather preferred to look burgeoning menace in the face.

For a second, words about girls and certain hours and dangers shifted half-formed on Flint's tongue. It was as ingrained a response as his reflex to rise whenever she entered the room while he was talking to her father, or her guardian that mostly ran Richard Guthrie's operations in Nassau these days. He had never had over-much to do with women, much less girls. Having done most of his growing-up in the distinctly masculine environment of the Royal Navy, he could never quite figure out where consideration for the fairer sex's struggles ended and unwelcome coddling began.

His fingers twitched for the spilled liquor.

„Truly a weight off my mind,“ Flint replied finally and he realised that the words were a little more slurred than intended when Eleanor's brows twitched upward.

„You're drunk,“ she stated plainly.

„Was on my way to.“ Flint shrugged regretfully at where he thought the bottle must have landed, somewhere in the shadow between his horse's hooves.

Eleanor followed his gaze and shifted the rifle from one arm to the other before she bent down. The surprisingly loud slosh of liquid inside the bottle announced a stroke of unexpected luck on his part.

„Still some left,“ she said and didn't take her eyes off Flint's face as she took a long swig. Her face scrunched up in surprise. "This isn't the piss pirates usually drink."

„It's unwise to steal from a thief,“ Flint remarked, ignoring her unspoken question. „We take it very personally.“

„Courier's fee,“ Eleanor returned evenly and handed the bottle back.

The moonlight washed out her hair from blonde to anonymous paleness. His mind shifted to another head of blonde hair he had seen today, when he -

Flint cut off that line of thought by resolutely upending the bottle over his mouth; the greater part landed in his mouth. He was aware of the girl's eyes on him, assessing and probing. Shrewd, this one.

In the moonlight, her pupils were stark and deep against her bright irises. It was like looking into the barrel of a gun; except a weapon did not usually look back and mark out all one's weaknesses.

Her lips parted to speak.

„What are you shooting at this time of night, anyway?“ Flint headed off her inquiry.

„Just bottles,“ she replied noncommitally and fondled the rifle's flash pan.

„Target practice at this hour?“

Eleanor looked up and his stomach twisted at her sudden smile. She held it blade-like between her lips, as if knowing it capable of cutting both ways.

„Celebrating,“ she said.

He snorted. „A little belated, isn't it? Hasn't it been weeks since you forced Edward Teach out of Nassau?“

„Oh, that's old news.“ Eleanor waved away his question as if swatting a bothersome insect. „Where have you been, Captain Flint? Have you been too busy having your heart eaten by a witch to hear that I broke that of Charles Vane?“

Flint blinked.

„Vane?“ he asked, unable to stop himself parroting her words dumbly. He slipped his thumb over the lip of the bottle, over and over, trying to fit this new information into his carefully-constructed understanding of the island's web of power.

He had seen the two of them, trading kisses like blows and spats like lover's caresses; in the tavern, the street, on the beach. His heart had clenched, that such rawness and libidinous strife was out in the open here, while back in London even the tender things he -

„Why would you do that?“ he asked and took another sip. The bottle was nearly empty and Flint's mare shifted impatiently beneath him. He absent-mindedly stroked her neck, feeling the grit of dust gather under his fingernails as he scratched that favourite spot right in front of her whithers. She gave a sigh, placated for a moment longer.

As he watched, Eleanor took a paper twist of gunpowder from the satchel tied to her belt to reload. Her eyes stayed focused on her task as she spoke.

„I outgrew him,“ she explained. After tearing open the paper with her mouth, she spat out the removed scrap with more force than the carefully even words. „I have not wrenched respect from the men on this goddamn island ounce by ounce, only to remain Teach's protegé's lover. That's one more man again in front of my name than when I was just Richard Guthrie's daughter."

Flint couldn't help but be surprised by the swift work of her hands. She had none of the rigorously drilled routine of a soldier, but her slender fingers were nimble and quick, as if the lesser weight of her bones allowed them to flit about without upsetting the air around them.

"And you think that by openly antagonising one of their own by celebrating discarding him you're going to endear yourself to those men?"

"I don't care if they like me," Eleanor said with a derisive curl to her lip. "All I need is for them to acknowledge that me being in a position of power and their paying me respect is in their best interest."

"England will call you a thieves' queen either way," Flint remarked with a gentleness that surprised himself. Truly, he had not drunk that much. "Whether or not you consider yourself above the pirates you deal with."

Eleanor narrowed her eyes at him. "Like you, then? I know what men say about you when they're in their cups and yell for the fourth refill; what they think about you and your books and your tyranny."

Flint felt the wind sneak its wily fingers past the hems of his clothes, through the spaces between his buttons. He felt suddenly exposed.

„And to prove your point to these men you presume to rule over, you sit in the dark by yourself and shoot bottles,“ Flint returned acerbically, knowing how quickly he was roused to combativeness and yet unable to deny himself the protection of that vice.

Eleanor didn't reply. She turned away and lifted the rifle to take aim. Flint could see the glint of glass, down on the moon-lit stretch of sand. It was a long shot, not made easier by the fitful ocean breeze. He noticed how she held herself, her lighter stature needing to brace more strongly against the recoil than a grown man.

For a moment, the world was suspended in anticipation.

Then the rifle cracked like the sudden breaking of a bone, her body moved fluidly with the force of it, and the bottle burst into a thousand glittering pieces. His mare twitched her ears, but she was a steadfast creature and merely shifted her weight to her hindquarters before settling again.

Eleanor turned to grin up at Flint while the smoke still hung in the air, and the thick coils of it gave her the look of a dragon, breathing menace from her nostrils.

"I'm preparing," she said. "By making sure that even alone in the dark, my sight remains sharp and my aim true.“

Flint's eyes flickered to the sparkling ruins strewn in the sand. „I see.“

„And what about you?“ she went on, briskly brushing her hands on her skirts. „What are you doing out here, at this hour? Is the devil done with you for the night?“

Flint was glad that the bottle truly was empty now, because it dropped from his hand again and rolled to rest in the shadows on the ground between them.

„So to speak,“ he brought out, aware of the tightness of his throat. He hoped the girl would merely attribute it to his state of half-complete inebriation.

Her brow furrowed again, eyes assessing him without shame or reserve. He dreaded what she was about to say when she opened her mouth, took a step forward - and tripped over the bottle, crying out as she toppled into the narrow ditch beside the road, legs akimbo.

Eleanor cursed heartily in her clinging bed of weeds and rocks. Flint's feet hit the ground more forcefully than usual, rum-heavy, when he heaved himself out of the saddle to pull the girl and her gun from the greenery. She hissed when she tried to put weight on her right foot.

„Oh, Avery's balls,“ she swore, looking for all the world as if she wanted to kick at her own ankle.

He was glad to have her attention diverted from his own reasons for riding to Nassau at this hour, even if he felt mild contrition over the way it had happened.

For a moment Flint swayed where he stood, assessing the state of his own knees – acceptably stable – and the distance to Nassau – a mere ten minutes' ride further east – before heaving a sigh.

„I'll take you back,“ he said and the expletives trailed off. He could see Eleanor's eyes flit to his horse, back to him; and in the moonlight he saw it, saw clear as day the calculation, the gulf between expediency and what could be seen, what must be seen –

„Captain, if you think that I will -“

„I will walk,“ Flint interrupted her objections. „You have just maneuvered yourself into a position of considerable power on this island, and now you have gone and cast aside a man the island admires and fears. It won't do for you to be seen sharing a horse with me like a wounded young girl.“

Eleanor stared up at him; a wounded young girl full of curses, with a rifle resting like a sleeping babe in her arm. Then she lowered her head, acquiescing.

It took a bit of maneuvering for them to arrange themselves, between her sprained foot and the rum humming beneath his skin, but they made it work. Flint's horse bore their clumsiness with naught more than a sigh that pushed her warm belly against Eleanor's calf and Flint's guiding hand.

„What's her name?“ Eleanor asked once they were underway, leaning forward to run a hand through the mare's mane. She sat in the saddle as someone might who knew well how to ride, but hadn't had the opportunity to do so for a time. Flint supposed her work did not lead her inland often. She sat astride like a man, skirts artlessly rucked up, gun tucked between saddle and thigh.

„Faustina,“ he replied and steadied his hand against the mare's whithers. He could feel his brows grow heavy as rain clouds above his eyes.

„That sounds Roman,“ Eleanor remarked, voice raised in an unspoken question.

Flint closed his eyes briefly before focusing on the path again.

„Wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius,“ he explained. „Despite her many affairs, she and her husband were devoted to one another. She was known as mater castrorum, 'mother of the camps,' for following him into war. She attempted to turn the army camp into a home.“

He could see the way the last sentence struck her, could see the sudden stillness in her hands on the reins. But he could scarce spare the attention to comment, because at long last, his mind irrevocably returned to his reason for being on his feet at this time of night in the first place.

Miranda had mentioned the new pastor in passing. Flint had been glad that she had found herself a new way to entertain herself, for he could see of course that the quiet life inland forced her into stagnation, made her long for the stimulation that had kept her keen and bright-eyed in London.

He was no great friend to the clergy himself, seeming to draw such different things from the salt-stained Bible he had inherited from his fisherman grandfather. Not that he cared much for God at all.

Tonight he had seen Pastor Lambrick for the first time. The late, warm afternoon shadows had gathered on Miranda's porch, and Flint had only seen him from behind as he slowed Faustina to a stop. And for a moment, the pastor's tall frame, the long-fingered hands and blond hair had sent Flint's thoughts in a direction he had not allowed them to go in a long while.

They had inched, irrationally, towards hope.

Then the pastor had turned. And no, the ears were wrong, the eyes and nose were wrong, the bearing was wrong; of course they were wrong, and Flint's eyes had stung with tears of shame that he could ever have thought him alike to Thomas Hamilton.

The pastor's eyes had widened at the sight of the dread pirate captain and he had crossed himself before hurrying to his own horse.

Thomas had always been full of faith, had quoted the Holy Book day and night, to urge complacent politicians to action and support his proposals, and to make Flint's ears burn as their bodies found union.

Flint had been unable to bear Miranda's conversation tonight. She had been animated, amorous even, stirred by whichever way she must have been merrily tearing the pastor's narrow opinions to shreds earlier. Flint had eventually made up an excuse of suddenly-recalled ship's business, grabbed the liquor he had brought to share with her - good liquor at that, straight from the captain's cabin of their latest haul -, and left. He had been determined to empty the bottle before reaching Nassau, so he could at least try to forget how cruelly he must have hurt Miranda with his unexplained gloom and obvious falsehoods.

Flint was grateful for Eleanor's contemplative silence as they made their way into town, past the shuddering lantern lights and illuminated windows. They rounded the tavern to the dark stables, avoiding the drunk bustle of the main entrance. All but two of the stalls were empty.

Faustina's hooves thudded to a dull stop and Flint caught the rustling, smacking sounds of frantic coupling somewhere in the dark hay loft above, quieting abruptly at their arrival.

His mind went unbidden to slick flesh. The thought twisted something inside him that he shoved resolutely away.

Eleanor rolled her eyes in distaste before she allowed Flint to help her off the horse, and for a moment he thought, irrationally, that she had read his mind, and felt his stomach drop.

No one here knew, he reminded himself quickly. No one could know. No one would care if they did.

„Should you be in need of a place to fuck,“ Eleanor said loudly, making sure her voice carried to the rafters, and picked up her rifle, „we have clean rooms at good prices. Else go to the brothel next door or some alleyway. I'll be sending someone along, so I suggest you find your purses or finish up quick.“ A tentative crackling of straw answered. „After I have left this stable,“ Eleanor added and exhaled in noisy exasperation.

Flint found his hands fidgeting aimlessly with the buckles of the bridle. Eleanor turned to face him.

„Come to my office when you're done here,“ she said with a nod towards the mare. „I have something to discuss with you.“

Flint snorted. „What makes you think I don't have other business to attend to?“

Her sole reply was a pointed glance at the entirety of him, mussed and half-drunk and leaning against his horse, fingers twitching for a bottle that had been mostly spilled on the road.

Eleanor turned and supported herself by leaning on her rifle as she went. He bit back the urge to tell her off, that a weapon was not a walking stick – but if it would not do for them to share a horse, it would be equally unacceptable for her to be seen on his arm as he helped her to her rooms.

When she had left, there was a hopeful rustle in the straw overhead.

„I advise you to stay very, very still,“ Flint said warningly. „Until I have stabled my horse.“

He took his sweet time, making sure to scratch Faustina's nose and give her a generous portion of oats. He even rubbed her down with straw, even though the sedate, rum-slowed pace of their walk had not made her sweat much. When Mr Scott arrived, Flint nodded a greeting and gestured curtly towards the hay loft before leaving.

Eleanor had propped the rifle up against the birdcage by her office door. She was sitting at her desk, her boots removed and the injured ankle resting on the tabletop. She waved for Flint to sit across from her, which he did, silently grateful to not have to remain upright anymore. He found the musty smell of her stockinged foot oddly endearing.

„You wanted to discuss something,“ he said as he settled back. Eleanor raised a bottle from her lap that she had clearly been drinking from while awaiting his arrival. She pushed it across the desk and watched as Flint took a heavy gulp.

„You were here,“ she began, eyes sharp as rum bottle shards on him. „When Governor Thompson's family had their throats slit in the street.“

Flint slammed the bottle down on the desk as he choked, trying to clear the liquor from his windpipe. Eleanor waited patiently.

„My father kept me well away from the Navy,“ she continued when she deemed his breath sufficiently restored. „Thought a little girl like me could not be trusted not to spill anything important about our business to England. Never mind that I was already fucking Charles and starting to chip away at Teach's alliances at that time; while Father was spending a sizable portion of his time holed up on Harbour Island.“

She looked up when Flint pulled the bottle from her grasp and snorted loudly.

„Doesn't matter whether they're men of commerce or carpenters,“ he said and drank, mouth pulled into a derisive sneer. „Fathers seem destined to be disappointments. If the man I called a father for the longest time is neither the one that sired nor the one that raised me, that speaks for itself. Fuck-ups, all of them.“

Eleanor's eyes grew round as pieces of eight at his revelation. Flint allowed himself to feel warmth at it, at having found a way to regain control of the situation by refusing to let her be the only one with surprises to share. Eleanor's astonishment, however, did not last long.

„I'll drink to that,“ she agreed and raised the bottle once he had handed it back. „To the fuck-ups that fucked us into existence.“

Flint closed his eyes at how desperately vulgar she was, but secretly he delighted in it. How tightly he had felt the bounds of his lowly station back in London; he could only imagine that she longed to stretch and shock beyond the confines of her sex just the same as he had been itching for brawls when his fellow officers had let their tongues get away from them.

„But I wasn't finished,“ Eleanor drew him back to the present. Her words started to blur sweetly into each other, scalding as boiling syrup. „I was going somewhere.“

„Go, then.“

Her brows drew together just so, but she simply took another swig and set the bottle down in front of her, hand wrapped tightly around its neck; as if to steady herself or to keep it from running away.

„Mr Scott was otherwise engaged, and I slipped away to see Charles.“ Eleanor's nose scrunched up on one side and Flint wondered idly how equanimous she really was towards their separation. The thought slipped away, untouched. „And on the way back, I saw you. In the street, not far from the beach. One of your men had raised his voice to you, and you ordered him to be flogged before the mast.“

Flint wished his mind weren't so thick with liquor, so that he could determine what it was about her telling of this story that disturbed him. With just a little more time, he might figure it out.

Always, always, if only he was given more time.

„He didn't know what was good for him and insulted you,“ Eleanor continued, unheeding of his thoughts going every which way. „Something about your low birth. You ran him through so fast I hardly even realized what had happened until he was dead.“

Flint could feel his temple twitching. "The Royal Navy is a harsh environment -"

"And so is Nassau," Eleanor cut him off. "I know what the Navy is like. It's not seeing you kill a man under your command that I want to talk about. It's what happened after."

He tried to keep his face carefully neutral, unwilling to give away his surprise. When he didn't offer comment, Eleanor continued.

"You gave some orders to your other men, I don't know what. And then, sword still unsheathed, you left, heading out of town. I followed you, all the way to that little stream that runs down to the beach from the south-west, not far from the blacksmith's."

Flint still hoped his expression gave away nothing, although with the amount of rum in his blood he wasn't sure how far he could trust his face. Eleanor, he had to admit, kept a perfectly even expression.

He still felt as if the story should have dragged some personal recollection from his head.

"You looked around a few times to make sure no one followed you," Eleanor said and her thumb flicked back and forth along the rim of the bottle, like a cat batting at a blade of grass. "But I was born on this island, I grew up here. There's not a leaf that would rustle nor a stone that would scatter to give me away. Believing yourself alone, you cleaned your blade and washed your hands. You made very certain your hands were clean," she stressed. "And then you set aside your sword and sat down to read."

Flint stared blankly at her. He could tell by the sudden stillness of her thumb that they had reached the point she had been maneuvering them towards since she had told him to come to her office, possibly much longer.

"You sat down on one of the large flat stones on the shallow western shore of the stream's bend. Then you pulled a book from your pocket - bound in red leather. And you simply sat there reading, one hand trailing in the water, as softly and peacefully as I have ever seen a human being outside of sleep or death."

Flint tried, but he was unable to keep his eyes from flinching away from her piercing gaze as she described the book. To give himself something better to do than be stripped to the bones by a fledgling schemer, he grabbed the bottle from her grasp. He felt its heft in his hand, reduced considerably by their joint efforts.

"Whatever it is you're trying to say," he said, wary and weary. "Get to it."

"Do you remember it?"

The bottle, half-way to his mouth, stopped.

The slow, turbid scrambling of his mind stopped.

Flint stopped.

He set the bottle down. His tired eyes caught Eleanor's.

"I thought so," she said, and there was grim satisfaction, but no triumph, in her voice.

Flint drained the bottle without drawing breath and set it down.

"What do you want from me?" he asked and God, suddenly he felt old, in a way that he never had before, with these sharp eyes upon him. The memory was supposed to be there, was supposed to have some sort of remarkable quality to it, but all he could find as he carded through his recollections was more of the same.

"How does one do it?" Flint looked up at the sudden change in her voice's pitch. "How does one quell the disrespect, the disbelief, the obsctruction, do whatever is necessary, and then... release it, as simply as one washes one's hands of blood?" Eleanor paused. Her upper lip had curled back in a snarl and her pupils were shot-out dark like bullet holes. "I don't believe them. I know that I'm right and that my word must be law. But it galls me. To know they feel themselves right, when they can't see what I can see, can't do what I can do. So how do you do it? To shed your skin and find peace, after. How do I go to that place, the way you do?"

Flint stared at her, this uncrowned fledgling dragon queen, with her schemes and ruthless loves and the men scattered in her wake like the train of a dress trailing over her old footprints, with her shiny sea glass eyes so incongruously full of hunger for answers. He thought about villains and Bible verses and long hours nursing a bottle in his dark cabin, with only the splinters of things he had broken keeping him company.

He realised that he did not have the answer she was waiting to receive.

When Flint didn't reply immediately, Eleanor's hands scrambled for the bottle, no matter that it was empty. Her injured foot shifted on the edge of the desk and she hissed, fingers convulsing around the bottleneck. Flint reached out and laid his hand over hers, encompassing the skin-warmed glass between them. He could hear their rings clinking against the glass, making it sing in staccato.

He caught her eye and willed her not to let go.

"You do it the same way you followed me to that stream," Flint said solemnly. "You do it knowing that the place I go is yours already, and that no rustling leaf or scattering stone shall give you away."

She did not let go.

They ended up finishing another bottle between them, raucous laughter and dissonant song wafting up from the tavern below. Before long, Flint helped Eleanor hobble over to the caged-off alcove sheltering her curtained bed. Small treasures lined the shelves and he could see a chest peeking out from underneath the bed; certainly goods that were too valuable to entrust to the warehouse. A hoard gathered in her cave from every corner of the world; gold-rimmed dishes, a headdress dripping with green gems, ivory carvings and thick bundles of silver-worked Egyptian cloth.

He knew he would have to find himself somewhere to sleep before long, but for the moment, the unexpected company he had found was too welcome to trade for thoughts he knew would come to him again in silence.

"And your mother," Eleanor demanded, as her fingers wove uselessly through the air. "If your father was as much of a fuck-up as mine, what was your mother like?"

"You think, given how I was handed from one incompetent father figure to the next, that my mother was much of a presence?"

Eleanor tapped her nails idly against the glass of the empty bottle she had been holding for at least ten minutes at this point. Thumb to little finger, pause, and back. She stared down at Flint's knee as if meaning to divine some great purpose from the creases in his breeches

"Seems like there's not much mother's love to spare between us," she admitted with a shrug. "Mine was killed during the Rosario raids. Love, but no time to give it. One of my earliest memories is of her telling my father that Nassau was no place for a little girl like me. Seems like it wasn't a place for grown women, either."

Flint frowned at a stuffed ferret that, incongruously, sat among a delicate ivory carving of a peacock and a table clock covered in entirely too much gold leaf to be borne by good taste. He wondered faintly if he should offer his condolences or something of the sort, but Eleanor continued before more than a pensive breath could escape through his teeth.

"Well, it's going to be different once I'm really running things around here." She cast her eyes up towards the ceiling. "It will be sustainable and independent and any captain that refuses to restrain his men from behaving like animals," she sounded about to spit but went on without pause, "any captain who can't accept this better future, will have to shape up or get the fuck out of my way. If I have to drag this goddamn island into a better future by its balls, I will."

Flint sat, feeling the room slowly revolve around him, and was still. For once, his unquiet hands seemed incapable of so much as a twitch. He could feel something throb in his temple, while his mind grasped at words that suddenly seemed inadequate.

Before he could piece together a response, a clank made them both look up.

A girl of Eleanor's age watched them from the door of the cage with suspicious, kohl-rimmed eyes. Her dress presented more than it covered.

"Eleanor," she said and cast a wary glance at the scene before her. "Weren't you supposed to come to bed? I won't hear your grumbling if you fail to rise for your meeting with Captain Naft and want to complain about it to me in the evening."

Flint did the best he could to pull himself upright against the closest shelf, tangling a hand in the curtains sheltering the bed as he rose. Whore or no, he had yet to encounter a woman whose presence did not compel him to rise at her arrival, and in his inebriated state he found no patience to decide whether or not to follow that impulse. The girl gave him a dismissive look.

"Captain Flint and I were discussing matters of business, Max," Eleanor said firmly. "And as you will find out, I sprained my ankle and will therefore remain right here in this very bed. You are more than welcome to join me, though."

And she leant back on one hand, shoulder tilting up at a rakish angle, and motioned for Max to come closer.

Max looked pointedly at Flint, whose grip on the shelf had gone white-knuckled. Eleanor followed her gaze.

"Captain," she sighed. "I'm sorry to throw you out like this, but will you let me offer you a room? I'm sure you don't want to row out to the Walrus at this hour."

"I'd appreciate that," Flint rasped.

Eleanor reached for the bundle of keys at her belt and handed one of them to Flint. It felt heavy in his moist hand.

"The chamber at the end of the corridor," she instructed. "It's small, but it doesn't border on any of the other guest rooms. I'm sure you'll appreciate the calm."

Flint merely nodded, passing Max on her way inside. He stopped by the door to the small alcove, fingers curling around the wrought iron bars.

"Thank you for the rum," he said by way of goodnight.

"Thank you for the ride," Eleanor replied, voice sounding just a little smothered, and when he turned his head he saw that Max was sitting, her back to Flint, astride Eleanor's lap, Eleanor's face half-buried in the dark ocean of her hair.

For a moment he froze, the world narrowing down to the soft, open kisses that Eleanor pressed to the other girl's neck; slim, gun-clever fingers burrowing shameless as claws between fabric and dark skin. Even over the music drifting through the window, he could make out the gentle wet sounds as their mouths slid together, drunk and hungry.

Max's robe had already slipped to reveal her slender back.

Flint wanted, irrationally, to cover her up again; to urge them to caution lest this fragile thing between them were inevitably dragged into the open and shattered and the shards used to slit their throats.

Then the night breeze carried through the window the rushing of the palm fronds, the careless lilting song below, the notes of a badly tuned accordeon. The wind reached between his ribs and cradled his heart with warm, salt-encrusted hands.

In this lawless, ruthless, achingly potent place a girl like Eleanor knew herself secure in giving in to this; a place that Flint had crossed the ocean again to reach, to be led unknowingly to a tenderness like hers in all its young, brash glory - unafraid of discovery because it did nothing to hide itself away. Three summers ago, he had secretly harboured the cruel, impossibly naive hope of carving a similar space out of this island for himself.

It was as if her claws had left scratches under his skin, sudden and strangely welcome for how new it felt. Not the making of a friend, for he wasn't sure if that word applied, not yet at least. Certainly not love, for no love he had ever felt had been remotely like this, and besides, young girls had never stirred him to lust. His own distrust of fathers saw him loath to even try and entertain the notion of paternal feelings.

He felt more like a roaming beast coming for the first time across one of its own kind.

Flint was struck by the sudden realisation of kinship.

Two shots; poured from the same bottle, fired from the same gun. Shaped by the different vessels that had received them; moving on different trajectories.

Then he blinked, and the world fell back into place before his eyes.

Eleanor sat, dragon-like, with her golden hair in her golden cage atop a tuneless band of thieves, surrounded by her treasures.

Flint could not fathom the extent of her affections for those around her, was puzzled by the way she had loved and hated Vane, was oddly comforted by his own starved ruthlessness and pride he saw mirrored in her restless tides; but he quietly wished that she would kiss Max another time or two for him, and left to lock himself in that quiet chamber in the corner at the end of the hall.