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Our Pain is the Same

Chapter Text

Silver stood aboard the Walrus, but he knew, he knew from the flames licking up the chimneys and rooftops of the port city that Captain James Flint’s rageful hand had reached out over their crew. The men were entranced by his cursed spell of blood and vengeance that was not even their own to behold. He knew the enchantment Flint’s power held over these men, who at the flick of his wrist would pillage and gut anyone standing in what he could make them all believe was their way of freedom.

He cursed himself and his damned lack of a left leg, his impotence to carry on and run to Flint and belay these raids. He waited, pacing restlessy across the deck. He purposefully put more weight on his metal boot. The pain grounded him in these moments of anxiety, wondering if any of those who were now considered his men would return, if Flint would return.

Night befell the shore and at long last, Flint threw himself over the side and onto the deck. Silver met him, standing as calmly as he could and pushing down his dark thoughts for when he and the Captain were in a more private setting.

“Is it done?” He inquired.

Flint looked down to his leg for a brief moment before catching Silver’s eyes and nodding.

“It is.”

Silver caught his gaze then ordered the crew to carry on with making arrangements to head out of port. He saw the blood on Flint’s face, his hands, his boots even in the darkness. Silver looked about and counted the crew members coming back aboard the ship with goods in tow.

“It looks like we’ve gotten a good haul out of it,” he said. He wondered what Flint hauled along with him, the silent, heavy burden he carried on his shoulders that nobody else cared to take notice of, not Billy, not Vane. But he did.

Upon hearing Flint’s gruff dismissal of a member losing what very much likely was just his footing, Silver stalked off behind him to the cabin.

Flint barely acknowledged Silver’s presence in his cabin and looked down to the papers across his desk.

“Are we under way,” Flint asked without looking up.

“Indeed we are,” Silver replied.

Flint looked up from his desk and across to Silver’s still standing frame. He was putting more weight on his boot than he should be, it appeared. He sniffed and raised his shorn head to meet Silver’s silent gaze.

“What, is there more you wished to inform me of?”

Silver took his response as his cue to move. He opted to walk past the chair across Flint and instead placed both hands atop the desk. His arms were taut, holding off more weight from his left boot.

“Fisher is staying aboard this ship,” he calmly and slowly stated. Flint’s eyes turned to slits before scoffing.

“Fisher, the man who lost his nerve?”

Silver nodded.

“No,” Flint shook his head resolutely and continued on. “We can’t stand to have incompetent men aboard this crew-”

“Oh really, now Captain, is that so?” Silver cut him off raising his voice and standing tall on both legs, doing his damndest to not falter in his stance.

Flint glanced down once again to Silver’s metal leg and ground out “That is not what I meant.”

“Then please, enlighten me,” Silver spat out. He felt his hands shake with anger and frustration from Flint’s utter dismissal, his completely blinding focus on this downward spiral of a bloody cause.

“This is war, every man must hold their position as if their very lives depend on it, as they very well do,” Flint spoke clearly, imploring to Silver that he hoped he conveyed is words properly. “We cannot lose focus on our goal.”

“And what might that goal be, Captain? To burn down every port that does not bow down to you?” Silver kept his stare steady awaiting a reply from a seething Flint. When none came he continued. “No man is perfect. Fisher is staying aboard this ship as we have no one else to keep this crew properly fed. If you wish to leave him stranded here with me during your bloody raids, then so be it-”

“Are you implying these raids are for nothing, Mr. Silver?” Flint raised his voice and stood before him, rage bubbling back to the surface.

“That is not what I meant,” Silver mirrored his prior statement and sighed. Flint raised his eyebrows waiting for him to continue. “This war, it is consuming you. You are losing your footing. We have burned more than enough ports to get this point across, that Flint must be feared and heeded to.”

“There will never be enough ports burned until every last one that goes against my warnings is answered to-”

“Then what? Are you going to burn the whole of the New World?” Silver shook his head in frustration at his Captain.

“You know nothing of war-” Flint began.

“Maybe not. But one thing I do know is pain and anguish,” he then grasped the armchair beside him, his knuckles turned white with tension. Flint glanced down to what was left of Silver’s left leg, swallowing before returning his hard gaze. “I know vengeance. I know the bloodthirst you wish to feed, but you will not find it quenched on these innocents.”

“You dare call them innocents!” Flint spat out with a feral growl. “They have hanged our kind in their squares as prizes, making a mockery of us. As if we are the ones who defaced their sham of a civilized world. To make us the monsters of their fucking story.”

Flint heaved in a breath, balls in fists at his sides and tightened his jaw. Silver waited in the silence taking deep breaths through his flared nostrils.

“I gave them a chance, John,” Flint quieted as he continued. “I gave them 11 bloody years of chances for what they took from...” Flint shook his head and closed his eyes before continuing. “For what they took.”

“Took from who? Me?” Silver stalked closer, the iron boot’s heel a hollow sound between them. “Because they didn’t fucking take my leg. My livelihood from me. They didn’t steal our gold.”

Flint turned his gaze away from Silver and looked out to the smoking remains of Bath, Carolina from the window of his cabin. If only he could trust this man. This liar, this thieving shit. This betrayer of his most guarded and already fragile trust.

A soft graze of skin touched the top of his shorn head. Flint’s breath caught before he flinched back at Silver’s sudden closeness.

“You are not a monster, James,” he whispered, hand hanging in the air still in place. He stumbled daringly closer to him and continued. “Not unless you let them make you one.”

Flint caught the bare, sheer emotion in Silver’s deep blue eyes at those words.

“I know your pain. I know it because it is the same I carry,” Silver continued. He slowly brought his hand back to lay on Flint’s cheek, slow enough to be stopped, and pressed a whisper of a caress there. His other hand came to rest on Flint’s shoulder for support. “Don’t let it contort you into the villain those british bastards so very much desire to lay blame for their dysfunction. They do not deserve it from you.”

Flint's breath caught in his chest at the feel of Silver’s hold on him then. Silver knew nothing of the truth, of what he truly was. A wretch, a vile thing that was not worthy of the love of those he cared for. Everything he touched burned in his hold. He was a flame that consumed all and left nothing behind but singed and charred remains.

But Silver’s words, wrapped in vulnerability. Could he believe them? He stood here instead, inserting himself into his life like a parasite. Taking hold of his life, questioning his purpose, his nature, the only thing he knew he could truly achieve — his own end.

“We have work to do before light comes about us, Mr. Silver,” Flint seethed into his face and pushed his arms away instead. “I suggest you leave and carry on with your duties before we arrive at the next port.”

Chapter Text

The Walrus chopped through the Caribbean sea toward Nassau in a manner that one would consider sublime, if it were not for Flint’s great unease at returning to that bloody island.

Nassau, bloody fucking Nassau, he thought as he lay down on his bed in the cabin. How much had he lost attempting to save that place? This piece of land in the middle of the ocean. How much blood had been poured over this fight for a free, civilized world?

Flint mirthlessly laughed to himself and sighed, placing his arms to rest atop the tangled black pit of his stomach. He posed as Miranda did in her casket. Calm, eyes closed and still.

What the fuck counted as civilization anymore? At first, all those years ago with Thomas, he believed the road to freedom, civility lay in pardons for those who had gone against the orders of the crown. With Miranda, James considered civility to be the opportunity to live how one wishes without scrutiny from England. But now, now he saw the problem. The real problem. The problem was that anyone believed in civility in the first place.

“Pardons,” he scoffed.

Being forced to choose between being painted as the outlaw, the monster of European society, or being degraded, humiliated and admitting to loving someone that Great Britain saw as excommunicable. Fucking pardons, bloody civilization. Flint was beginning to see it all as a sham. Forgiveness didn’t come to anyone. It was all a show of who could outmatch the other, who could outkill first. Who was more dangerous to this façade of civility.

James ran through the image of Miranda in his mind for the upteenth time. Her body, blood trailing out her temple, the slackening creases of her outraged face now losing their heated strength. Her eyes, those dead eyes still haunted him every single time he closed his own. His forehead creased at the image.

Flint took a deep breath in an attempt to soothe his nerves. There was work to do. He needed to focus. This war, soon, he would be able to end it, and Miranda would have her final say. And then, all of this. All of this seemingly unending misery from having to utilize his very existence as this menace of British society… all of this would be over. He could finally put it to rest.

Soon, he breathed in. Soon.

Flint’s thoughts were halted as the cabin door creaked open. He felt the quiet air shift to accommodate his new quartermaster.

He did not need his eyes to know Silver stood before him. That perfumed oil Silver put in his hair, orange blossom, cloves and cinnamon.

Ever since the very first time Flint paid him any attention, when Gates brought him for inspection as a possible new member of the crew. He smelled it then, his nose twitched as did his eyes. And then again in the gallows on that bloody night, when that rotten blue-eyed thief scattered away with the page to his long lost salvation from this mess. He remembered all too clearly that mix of spice and citrus invading his nose, and he had to — had to — bring a blade to that maddeningly gorgeous, pale throat. Any excuse to harm this disgustingly beautiful, selfish, spineless man. And last night, as Silver rested his roughened palm on his cheek and leaving behind an imprint of warmth there accompanied with those smells lately paired with gunpowder.

Those perfumed curls, that touch, his words.

Now joined by the light tapping of his iron boot as he slowly, quite possibly cautiously, walked closer. Another member of the symphony that announced Silver’s existence in Flint’s life. He always knew when Silver was within at most 10 feet of him.

“Your days of approaching unannounced are behind you,” Flint mused whilst his eyes remained closed.

“I reassigned Mr. Dobbs off the vanguard, as you asked,” Silver said. “And I told him his skill in the rig was too valuable to risk putting him in harm’s way.”

Flint quietly sighed to himself as his jaw twitched. Silver did have a point that some men were of better value alive than dead on these raids. And with the beginnings of an angry British navy catching wind of the attacks, it made sense to keep a fucking Mr. Dobbs alive and within the circle of more precious bodies aboard the Walrus.

“Thank you,” he mumbled out in response. Flint awaited for Silver to continue running his mouth, as he usually did. He did not have to wait long. “Well now that that’s sorted, there’s another replacement on the vanguard that we should discuss,” Silver said.

Flint humored his quartermaster and asked “Who’s that,” without so much as a twitch of interest.

Who? Joji? Fucking… what was his name… Fisher? So they could keep the crew well fed? What was next?

“You.”

Silence, save for the swinging of his bed and the lapping of the waves outside his window filled the cabin for a breath of time.

“Is that so,” Flint hummed out.

“I understand we faced colonial regulars out there last night.”

Flint, not bothered in the least by this very true fact whispered a… “So?”

“These raids were difficult enough when the element of surprise was in our favor,” Flint heard Silver shuffle, possibly to lean and take weight off his prosthetic. “But now, now it would seem your days of approaching unannounced may also be at an end.”

Fucking witty one-legged bastard, Flint thought before opening his eyes and taking in his quartermaster who was casually — almost comfortably, save for the slight grimace as his left leg shifted — leaning against his desk. That perfume wafted his way as a breeze came in through the window. He wondered — for a brief moment — when Silver last took respite from his boot, but pushed the thought aside. He silently watched with half opened lids as Silver continued.

“Every time you go ashore, there is a risk you don’t return.” Flint’s heart wrenched in agitation at Silver’s words. He sat up and gruffly threw his legs over the bedside and glared down at the floor as Silver went on. “A risk Nassau loses its most recognizable figure and a risk that would seem to be escalating,” Silver paused. “I am suggesting we take you out of harm’s way, as well.”

“We’re fighting a war to protect Nassau. A war in which our most effective weapon is the fear that we can instill in our enemies,” Flint resigned himself to this already. Could Silver not see that? He sighed heavily and continued. “We have succeeded in making Captain Flint the name of Grim Death to all of them.” Flint caught his gaze as he said those final words, as if portraying the lifelessness behind his eyes for Silver to understand. “The only way that we can ensure that that story continues—” that this fucking war ever ends for me, Flint thought —”is if he is the one telling it.”

“That story is telling itself and you know it,” Silver said with a raising of his eyebrows. Silver had no idea how well Flint knew himself. He was the story now. This was not a fictional character to portray anymore. “We’ve been assigned responsibility for raids we were nowhere near.” Flint watched how Silver’s eyebrows creased at his own telling of this news as if it were both a terrible yet glorious truth to hold. Flint’s nostrils flared as Silver raised his arm to his chest pointing to himself as he went on. “Jesus, I’ve been given credit for having been a part of some of them. They are so terrified of you that they’re terrified of me.”

Flint paused and took in Silver’s animatedly numinous stance before begrudgingly standing up himself and stalking to the window. He needed fresh air.

“You think that’s a reason to relent?” Flint asked as he looked out to the ocean beyond the window sill. Silver’s loud rebuttal did not soothe him in the least.

“Who said anything about relenting? I am talking about letting someone else stand in and play your role every now and again—”

Flint rolled his eyes and turned to face Silver. “Thank you for your concern,” he drolled out. “But I’ll decide when it is time to start altering our tactics.” Flint began pacing back to the window but stopped dead in his tracks at Silver’s next words.

“No, I’ll decide,” Silver paused. “This crew has spilled a great deal of blood to make your name what it is. It doesn’t belong to you. It’s a jointly held asset. Belonging to every man on this crew who sacrificed some part of himself to build it.”

Flint seethed. As if Silver was a part of this darkness that was Flint. This story was not a mask he got to wear any longer. It was what he had become. To accuse him of forcing men down into this dark path with him twisted the black hole of a knot in the pit of his gut.

“Those men have every right to leave this crew if they decide the burden of Flint is too much to bear,” he heatedly replied.

Silver looked to him with softened eyes, as if gauging his next words carefully.

“I understand this is all incredibly personal to you after the loss of Mrs. Barlow,” he quietly said.

Flint twitched at the name and shook his head.

“Now wait a minute—”

But Silver pressed on. “And I understand the burden of playing the role you can only play must be taking a toll even you cannot fully comprehend.”

Flint stalked closer, heat rising to the top of his shaven head and looked Silver squarely in the eye.

“Stop.” He held his breath as best he could. Silver’s eyes flitted to his mouth for a brief moment before meeting his steely gaze. “Now you have wormed your way into the heads of the men out there, and they’ve granted you authority over them because of it.” A morsel of hurt flicked across Silver’s face, and Flint felt his lips curl into a cruel smile despite being so close to his adversary. “But in my head, you are not welcome.”

Another breeze came through the window pushing through Silver’s locks.

Flint breathed in and turned away. His pants felt tight where heat had somehow gathered between his legs. He frowned tightly in agitation, confusion, maybe even frustration, and definitely disgust with himself for allowing Silver to invoke such a reaction from him. But at least his quartermaster would not bear witness to it.

As soon as he heard the clank of the boot against the wood and the rough slamming of the cabin door shut, Flint ran to his window seat and opened the glass as far as it could go. He took in heaps of air, hands fists against the frame leaning into it. His head hung between his shoulders allowing the air to catch beneath the collar of his chemise, it wormed its way down his spine, cooling his blushing skin. Another wave of air billowed against his front.

Flint grunted out in agitation and kicked the wooden board beneath the seat before clambering off to his writing desk. Focus, he told himself as he shook his head in an attempt to clear it. He kept his fist balled at his sides, not brave enough to dare fix his trousers. He shakily picked up the quill in front of him and stared at the list of needed provisions for when they made port in Nassau. Beside it lay the list of port towns in New England - some crossed out, some awaiting the stroke of his pen that marked their destruction.

±±±±±±±±

Silver begrudgingly left his captain’s cabin and slowly, painstakingly made his way down to Howell’s quarters belowdecks.

The pressure on what was left of his left leg was overwhelmingly painful. His tenuous conversation went as well as he had planned with Flint, but what else did he expect? He knew his captain would not listen to reason. He needed to find a way to make Flint see that keeping him safe, away from the vanguard, away from his fucking death wish was for the greater good of the cause.

He held back a wince as Howell opened the door with a concerned look.

“Come sit, Mr. Quartermaster,” Howell urged him in and pointed to the stool by his wooden table.

Silver immediately began unstrapping the boot, fingers tripping over themselves to take off the bloody contraption. He needed relief. Howell stood before him and looked down at the darkened wound on Silver’s stump with a deep frown as he took the boot and hung it on the wall. Silver restlessly fidgeted with his hands, keeping them away from his legs as much as possible. He recalled Flint’s gaze looking down at his boot and balled his hands into fists instead. He would not massage away the pain, not even in front of his doctor.

Howell sat down, eyes focused with a furrowed brow.

“It’s worse than I feared,” he said. “The wound should be far further along towards quietening itself.”

Silver knew, he knew this wound was faring far worse than it should be. But his reputation as a strong leader, a reliable and steadfast quartermaster for his men — even for his captain — was far more important at this point than a little bit of sharp, gnawing, nearly unbearable pain. He looked away from Howell’s uneasy gaze, unable to handle his prodding of the decaying tissue.

“It’s less than ideal. Have you been cleaning it as we discussed?”

Lord have mercy, the faintest touch of air on his wound was overwhelmingly agonizing. Silver panted and closed his eyes in an attempt to ground himself before answering.

“When I can,” he breathed out. When he felt it was absolutely necessary to have to look down at the empty space where his leg used to be, he thought. When he could not avoid the stench that crawled up to his nostrils and his boot required cleaning… He shook his head to clear it and pressed on. “It’s harder when we’re at sea.”

It’s harder with no bloody privacy, no corner of solitude on this crowded ship to force respite upon himself, despite his aversion to it all.

Howell looked up and met Silver’s eyes. He sighed, “I understand your aversion to being seen using the crutches.”

Silver flinched away from Howell’s touch on his knee and grabbed the rope above his head instead to tower over him. He was not an ingrate. He was not some bloody invalid who couldn’t bear a little pain. He had to rise above it, above these pestering hands, least of all these pitying looks.

“Well if you understand it,” he swallowed down a grunt as his sweaty palms gripped the rope. “I wish you’d stop hindering me about it.”

He pulled himself away from those hands at last and all too eagerly headed toward his leather and iron prison hanging on the wall. He clenched his teeth at Howell’s response.

“The boot was never intended for a wound this new.” Silver feigned ignorance and pulled the prosthetic off the wall. “Unless you remove some of the pressure, the wound will only continue to get more irritated.”

Silver shrugged. This physical pain was nothing compared to loss of a place amongst the walrus men, with Flint. Without this position aboard the crew, Silver was nothing, nothing but a one legged monster with no skills but those his mouth provided him. He could barely even fight with a sword. He couldn’t cook to save his life. He was useless without that boot to remind himself — to remind Flint — of what he gave up for this bloody war he never asked to be a part of.

“I’ll lean more on the ropes,” he compromised.

“With all your weight?” Howell was not amused at his response, not like Silver cared what Howell thought of him. Howell was the one who finished the job for Vane’s scoundrels, in his opinion. “On a moving deck?”

Silver held the boot in his grip and bent sat back down on the stool. He threw back an “I’ll manage” in Howell’s direction before leaning down and bracing himself for the pressure.

“If the decay progresses, I’ll have to remove more of your leg.”

Silver halted his movements, then. He glanced over to the table beside him. He still faintly remembered being held down by his crewmembers as Howell took in a heaving breath and swung down with the cleaver through his bone. The scream he shouted threw him out of his own body and into darkness until he awoke alone in his captain’s cabin… a washbasin with a damp cloth by his side.

He took in a deep breath and held it, looking down into the dark leather lining the inside of his boot and pressed his stump down into it with a yelp of pain. Awful, terrible bile-rising pain. Silver grimaced and breathed short panting breaths through his nose and at last stood up putting as much pressure as he could onto his right leg while holding onto the ropes. He pushed up with a hiss and pressed on out of the room without a single look back.

±±±±±±±±±±±

Flint shoved and pushed more than ushered a staggering Silver into his cabin. Miserable fucking quartermaster. Getting them into this bloody mess, being chased by Hornigold and the British crown, waving pardons or canons. Their choice of humiliation. Flint would not have it. He slammed and locked the door and glared at Silver with a clenching jaw.

“A bloody hunter,” Flint hissed.

Silver stumbled against the wooden desk as the Walrus rocked with the force of rolling waves splashing its sides. He grunted with the force of the fall on his leg.

“A fucking tempest. A tempest, Captain! Have you gone mad?”

“If my recollection is correct, just a few hours ago you were telling me to keep my distance from the bloody colonial regulars, were you not?”

Silver breathed heavily through his nose and kept his jaw shut. His eyes were inflamed with fear and rage at the position they were all in.

“Neither of us saw that ship approaching—”

“Of course not. That was the fucking. point. We never needed to see to Hallendale’s ship. In deep waters,” Flint ground out. He crowded Silver against the desk, they were so close together that his spittle flew and hit Silver’s face at his next words. “You got us into this fucking mess,” he ground out. “You and your goddamned preoccupation with what those fucking men think of you!”

I got us into this? What of you?!,” Silver roared back. “You and your, your bloodthirst. Your fucking preoccupation with—” Flint stayed his ground as Silver took in a heaving breath. “With fucking death. Have you gone blind to what your personal interests have done to everything around you? You are giving those men, no. choice. But to meet their deaths.”

Flint looked down and quietly replied. His feat stood steady as another wave crashed against the ship and rolled them both with it on the wooden flooring.

“Death is not certain, we may get past this tempest yet—”

“And you just took our one guaranteed chance of survival!” Silver threw his hands out either side of him in dismay, before dropping them like dead weights at his sides.

Flint scoffed.

“You really think Hornigold would give us a guarantee? That traitorous, spineless fucking rat of the British flag?”

“It would be better than going into a fucking ship killer,” Silver spat right back in his face. "Misleading those men to believe they have more to gain in that storm..."

Flint leaned in closer, their eyes centimeters apart. The heat from each other’s rage was permeable in the space between them. Their heaving chests rolled against each other like the tumultuous waves building outside the cabin walls, where the men moved in haste to ready the ship for the storm.

“Then why didn’t you stop me?” Flint whispered.

He held his gaze against Silver’s, catching the self-doubt, the shock at the question, as if Silver thought it to be a ludicrous one at first. Silver huffed out against Flint’s face and shoved at his shoulder with no success for space. He saw the sheen of sweat building across Silver’s forehead as he sneered down and continued. “This is your mess. And I am going to fucking clean it up the way I see fit. Into that tempest that these mostly capable men can see us through.”

Silver’s throat clicked as he tried to swallow. His breath got shorter and shorter, catching in his chest. He let Flint down. Again. Always fucking it up. He was surely going to lose his place here. Better off thrown into the sea with the rest of his missing limb if he couldn’t stand up for the men who chose him to speak for them.

He closed his eyes and bent his chin down. The pain in his leg rose up as a sharp wave rocked the ship. He buckled at the movement, but gasped out in a new pain as Flint grabbed him by fistfulls of his hair to keep him standing. His pulse quickened at the sudden contact, anxiety, frustration and a numinous, unnamed feeling rising to the surface.

“And take some fucking care of your—” Flint paused and breathed out in a husk before looking down to Silver’s boot. Silver’s eyes followed in understanding before flitting back to meet his. “You are to stay in this cabin while we course through this storm.”

He took in a breath, that smell — spices and citrus with an undertone of sweat and fear — filled his lungs. His breath caught in his throat. Flint shut his eyes, instead focusing on the shaking form of his quartermaster beneath his fingernails. Fear. He still had fear of him. He pulled Silver up an inch off the ground who released a groan from pain mixed with... something... and placed him to sit atop the desk.

Flint turned around and agitatedly grabbed a flask of fresh water, a bowl and a compress off the shelves behind the desk and placed it beside Silver on the table instead. He glared at Silver, whose breathing had calmed, but the absolute disbelief that his captain ordered him to stay inside instead of stand beside his men was written across his face.

"How can you possibly expect me to stay in here while you and our men face this monster out there?" He cursed out, blue eyes seething but staying in place and picking up the bowl and flask, obeying his captain's orders nonetheless.

Flint grunted and walked to the door in hurried steps. He looked over his shoulder to the floor beside Silver’s boot before he spoke.

“If you can’t take responsibility for these men, at least take some fucking responsibility for yourself.”

And with that, he stalked off into the howling winds and hollering men outside.

Chapter Text

Vane entered the Dutch Captain’s cabin, eyes set on their target for murder. A cowering man with a greying head of hair, a hand pointing a trembling gun in his general direction. A gunshot zoomed three feet to the left of his shoulder. He turned his head not bothered in the least, almost as if he expected the dutchman to miss.

Oh, he was terrified, Vane thought. Good.

The captain lowered his pistol in defeat, catching his breath as Vane stalked closer.

“You know who I am,” he husked out, hazel eyes steady, calm and cold as he continued. “What you cannot know, is where I come from.” Vane cracked his knuckles as he moved closer into the cabin. “What I once was.” The dutchman lowered his gaze. “If you knew that, I imagine you would have made different choices today,” Vane ground his teeth together at his words to this pathetic creature.

The Dutch captain shook as Vane gripped the pistol out of his hands and threw it to the ground with a thunk.

“N-nee,” he sputtered out. “Nee!”

Vane paid no attention to his pleas. There was no option of forgiveness for men like this. He pulled out a blade and brought it to the man’s bobbing throat while grabbing him by the back of his hair. Terror-filled eyes met his own glare for a split second. Vane growled as he shoved the dutchman forward out of the cabin and out onto the deck where his men slaughtered the slavers without pause.

The dutchman quivered and stopped against the blade at his throat. Men all around him, hacked to pieces. Heads thrown overboard, their other body parts following not shortly behind. Sweat fell into his eyes stinging them as he blinked away from the scene.

Was this to be his fate? He thought. Food for the fishes below? Nothing but flesh and bones left in a bloody pile floating out to sea?

Vane huffed and looked down to the growing stain of urine at the crotch of the dutchman’s trousers that began drip, drip, dripping onto the deck floor.

“Show me where you stowed them, like bloody animals,” he growled in the man’s ear, a hard tug to the back of his head.

The dutchman raised a shaking finger down to a hatch on the floor near the main mast and swallowed as Vane pushed him down toward it. Quickly, carelessly, Vane threw him down the stairs, slicing his shoulder with the blade in his grip as he fell to the murky ground below.

Darkness encased them. Vane’s heavy boots slowly thumped down the steps of the hold belowdecks. His nostrils flared at the gut wrenching stench that permeated from the floor. Filth and petulence, scat and vomit surrounded him and this cowering figure scrunched up near the central pillar. Heavy iron chains and unlocked shackles were scattered nearby. Not another soul was in sight within the hold. 

Vane watched with slitted eyes as the dutchman spewed out the remnants of his lunch all over his coat and sweat-soaked chemise. He stalked closer still, stopping only to pick up a heavy ball and chain that ran into his boot with the rocking of the ship. He looked down to the ball in his grip, and pulled the chain through the fingers of his other hand, catching the final link with his thumb. His head slowly raised, blood beginning to churn in his veins, coursing through his heart and out to his fingertips, to the very hairs on the top of his skull.

The dutchman clambered back behind him on his hands, he put one up in a show of pitying belayment.

“Genade,” he breathed out in a shaky breath. “Genade! Genade alsjeblieft!”

“I will show you no mercy!” Vane bellowed in his face as he pressed the heavy cold chain around the captain’s pulsing neck, then grabbed two more from beside his bent knee and wrapped them around the now choking dutchman’s wrists. “Cretins like you deserve the darkest of damnable deaths. You will not go down honorably with this ship, gezagvoerder— bloody captain you are.”

The dutchman was a bubbling mess of desperate cries and tears, shaking and slipping on his own vomit as Vane shoved him to stand and head up the stairs. Wails and the sounds of blood-curdling screams filled the air around them. Vane harkened a member of his crew to make way for him near the bow of the ship. The member's bloodied hands gripped the dutchman’s chained wrists while Vane wrapped the final links around his ankles.

The dutchman turned to Vane with his final attempt of belaying his doom, he shook his head, his eyes flitted between the sloshing surface of the water and Vane’s fiery glare.

Ik wist het niet!” He sobbed out with a shaking of his head.

Vane sneered as he pressed one hand on the back of the chain around the dutchman’s neck, the other over the bleeding gash on his shoulder. He smeared the man’s blood up his neck and over his face.

“It shouldn’t matter if you knew or not,” he ground out.

He gripped the iron chains tightly, lifting the dutchman off the floor. With a resounding grunt, Vane threw him over the deck with a loud thrashing splash into the ocean below.

±±±±

The rolling notes coming from the cello outside his privy door did little to calm Jack’s nerves at what his day may entail. If not this day, then tomorrow, or the next. He sighed and agitatedly turned to the next page of the Jamaica Courant, focusing unsuccessfully on the subject matter in ink.

He hummed along to Celeste’s rendition of a lovely baroque piece. New music from Italy that he had transported over last week along with some eggplants and tomatoes for the inland farmers to grow. However, if they sewed those seeds or chose to sell them for more gold, he was unsure. Nobody was doing as they were meant to do with his direction, it seemed.

The man with all the gold, enough to live 10 lifetimes comfortably. But for the life of him, Jack could not pay these freemen enough in coin to rebuild their own fucking fort. Their own defense against the outside forces who were sure enough to come in the near future, canons and guns blazing to retrieve what was...well if not rightfully, then at least legally — theirs.

A knock came to the privy door. With a small constipated groan Jack pressed his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose in thought. He breathed in and out, hoping whoever it was on the other side would up and leave.

Although given that few were allowed up in his bedchambers — Celeste the only one granted access who had not in fact laid with him — it was either a frustrated Max, an agitated Anne, or worse... an infuriated Captain Charles Vane.

Another round of knocks, more persistent this time, rained down on his privy door. Jack huffed and threw his news leaflet aside and ripped a paper from the wall to wipe himself. One last deep breath of potpourri, and Jack stood up to face the next mess.

Anne sat resigned on his fur-covered bed. Furs that Vane insisted be brought up to his bedroom to make himself feel more at home in the governor’s mansion.

Never mind the bloody Caribbean heat, Jack thought to himself.

He leaned against the door frame with a sigh. He looked to Celeste, thanking her and dismissing her surveying Anne’s disposition. As soon as Celeste left the room, Anne turned her head to Jack with a grimace.

“Fucking leeches down there,” she said. “You don’t care if they’re all gonna bleed you dry?”

Jack smiled with relief. At least this wasn’t about the bloody fort.

“What man wouldn’t, given the opportunity, purchase the adoration of the masses when the cost is so small?” He said while throwing on a light coat.

“The masses are costing you a hundred pound a day,” she remarked. He smirked as he responded.

“Well, then in about... 800 years you can say I told you so—” The smile dropped from his face as Anne quickly stood up in front of him.

“Why ain’t there anyone up at the fort?” Anne’s eyes were both urgent and concerned. Jack’s shoulders dropped while he ran a hand over his face.

“I’d like to thank you for allowing me to at least finish wiping before starting that song,” Jack retorted while fixing the coat over his lanky frame.

He looked anywhere but at Anne, evading the issue as best he could before his...most likely infuriated captain came home.

“It’s been two. weeks,” she said evenly. “What are you waiting for?”

Jack huffed and put his hands at his side in a placating manner, then fled the room while throwing a response over his shoulder.

“I’m working on it!”

Anne followed not far behind. “Are you?”

Jack hurried down the stairs, using his long legs to his advantage as he made space between himself and the little red devil at his back.

“I’m not fucking around, Jack,” she said while grabbing his shoulders as he stood at the foot of the stairwell. “I need to know.”

His face scrunched up before throwing back a retort and turning down more steps toward the busy salon. “Do you, or does your husband?” Jack said, eyes glaring at Anne.

She huffed and met his glare in return. “You know I hate it when you call her that.”

He smiled at the acknowledgement that he hurt her just a bit with his biting words.

“Yes, that’s why I call her that.” Bloody Max and her fucking... manipulations. Thieving away at his partner’s defenses. What next? Was she going to steal the gold, too?

“She’s got a right to be angry,” Anne said with a scowl. “Her share of the gold is sitting in that fort, along with mine—”

“And mine,” he nodded quickly eyes looking at her.

Did she think he had no stake in this mess? He was not a fucking idiot.

“Please, relay to it whom you must. Jack Rackham is not lazy. Jack Rackham is not stupid,” he paused and took a breath while staring her down. “Jack Rackham is not blind and Jack Rackham is not unaware that currently there are no men working on that fort. That said, on the list of people on this island who are most concerned with seeing that fort restored, there is everyone else, then there is one name...that’s way at the top of that list...” Jack looked to Anne with an expectant raising of his eyebrows, taunting her doubt in him.

“Jack Rackham,” they said in unison.

He nodded as if proud of her brain for working in tandem with his. Maybe she fucking would see reason again, he thought.

“Don’t treat me like I’m someone else,” Anne glowered with a tilt of her head at him. “I’m on your fucking side of this.” His eyes flicked away from hers while he pursed his lips and nodded as if humoring her. “Same as I’ve always been,” she implored.

Jack looked around at the men and women dressed in a ridiculous amount of extravagance. People who were just weeks ago fighting over the last bit of rum at the tavern, the final cuts of burlap to cover holes in their shabby clothing. All of them wining and dining as if they had not a care in the world, unaware of the dangers off the coasts of this island they called home.

“I just want to know what the plan is,” Anne said at last.

Across the room, he caught sight of long, plaited brown hair, a furious face with familiar hazel eyes that glared daggers at him.

Jack!”

The room suddenly quieted as a heavy tense silence filled the air. Jack could feel Vane’s anger from 15 meters away. He swallowed down his rising anxieties, then took in a deep breath mixed with a sigh of relief for his captain returning to shore safely, albeit angrily.

“You’re about to find out,” Jack said to Anne in a whisper.

His eyes widened as Charles hastily charged toward him, knuckles clenched at his sides. Anne pulled at his arm to follow her up the stairs to the bedchamber. They could steel themselves away for a brief moment before facing Charles’ temper.

“What the fuck did you do?” Anne ground out while she ran and reached for the door handle.

Jack went and stood behind the cherrywood desk in the corner of his room, then he turned around to face the wall while taking steadying breaths.

Vane threw the door open and slammed it shut after entering the chamber. He threw a glare at Anne, who lowered her gaze and crossed her arms over her chest, holding a blade handle in each palm...just in case. Jack nervously looked over his shoulder then back to the wall while leaning against his desk.

“Please, let me explain—” he said with shut eyes.

“What is there to explain?” Vane whipped out, chest heaving with adrenaline. “You couldn’t figure out how to repair the fort.” Charles cracked his knuckles and stepped closer to the desk. “So you lured me into capturing a ship full of slaves to do the job.”

Jack felt Vane’s gusts of breath from across the desk. He fidgeted with his hands before turning around, glancing at Anne then back to the floor.

“It was the first solid lead on a slaver we’ve had in weeks,” he calmly stated. “I needed someone who I could be certain would win her.”

“So you lied to me about it,” Vane growled out.

Jack felt more than heard the utter hurt and pain in his voice. It was a tangible betrayal. It hung in the room around them like a heavy chain on their chests.

“What the fuck made you think I would just hand them over to you. Knowing what you know of me.”

He could not breathe. Not for a minute while those terrible truthful words gutted his heart out. The price he paid for putting their shared goals into action.

“The three of us stood in this room,” Jack turned around with firm but open and vulnerable eyes, a hand up in a placating motion to Charles. “You, Flint and I. And we agreed that the fort’s restoration was critical to Nassau’s security—”

Vane scowled and pressed his knuckles further into the desk as he leaned over it into Jack’s face.

“We agreed you would hire men to restore it,” he said with a sarcastic nod before pushing off the desk.

“I tried that!—” Jack argued pleadingly.

“Then you’re going to need to try harder!”

“How!” he shouted, gasping while he continued. “I offered them exorbitant wages to do the work. Do you know what they say?”

Jack jerked his head. “’You can afford more, double that.’ Alright, I double that. It’s a deal, fuck it. You know what they say after I do that? ‘Well you can’t tell us what to do we are free men, we’ll work when we please.’ Would you like to take a guess at how that is going?”

Vane silently stood waiting for Jack to go on with his rant. His jaw clenched as he took a deep breath through his nostrils. Anne relaxed her grip on the blade handles and shuffled in place, head up and looking at Jack to continue.

“It’s five different crews,” he went on agitatedly, desperate to get his frustrations out. “It’s hundreds of men,” he heaved in a breath and raised his voice. “Untold thousands of wages and I swear to god that hole in the wall is bigger now than before we started.” Jack sat down with a huff in his embroidered chair.

“I stood there between you and him, Jack,” Vane said. “When Flint was ready to wage war against you, over the gold. I was the one who said you would manage it as well as anyone could.” Charles furrowed his brows and put a hand to cover the hole he felt in his chest before continuing. “For the good of this place. I was the one who said you could be trusted—”

Why?” Jack blurted out. “Why did you stand behind me? In that moment?” He looked up questioningly to Charles and saw those hazel eyes soften despite the leftover rage that lingered behind them. He sighed out and continued. “I’ll tell you why. Because you and I have been through enough shit for you to know that I would do the same for you, that I have done the same for you and would again without hesitation." Jack's jaw trembled with nerves as he continued on. "I made a commitment to you!” He felt his heartbeat quicken in fear and frustration all at once. “With you! To restore this place and make it strong again and I see no other way to have it done. And I will move heaven and earth to have. It. Done,” Jack said with a pounding of his fist on the table to emphasize his dedication to their cause.

He looked to Vane’s opened expression, the anger there moments ago having melted away, a sorrowness in its place.

“Because I refuse to let you down.” He lowered his chin and swallowed his guilt. His palms sweated on the cherrywood. Jack flipped them over, facing up on the table for Vane to see. “I knew this would be difficult for you, so I kept it from you.”

Charles resigned his gaze to stare at Anne’s new boots, unable to handle Jack’s confession head on.

“Please know that I meant no slight by it," Jack pleaded with a low tone. “No lack of respect,” he said with a lowered head. “Or friendship.” Vane’s half lidded eyes met his at his last words. “It’s quite the opposite.”

Anne watched the two captains capture each other’s gazes for seemingly endless moments. She gruffly coughed and left the room without a word.

Charles turned and watched Anne silently close the door behind her, then slowly settled his stare on Jack’s disposition. Jack’s eyes met his steadily, albeit anxiously despite having argued his point as strongly as he could.

“You didn’t let me down, Jack,” his gravelled tone wafted to Jack’s tinney ears. “But you betrayed my trust. You could have told me. I would have handled it, still.”

Jack roused himself out of his seat and kneeled beside Vane’s side, head leaning against his thigh in placation.

“I—” He set his eyes to his open palms folded in his lap. “I was afraid you wouldn’t listen to reason on this matter—”

Charles gripped a patch of hair on top of his head and pulled it back. “That is not your decision to make and you are well aware of that,” he said with raised eyebrows. “Fear or not, I make the choices here. That is what we agreed to. Together. All those years ago.”

Jack closed his eyes and swallowed. His hands fidgeted, but he stayed lax in his captain’s grip nonetheless.

“Look at me,” Vane said with another tug to his hair. Jack complied with a furrowed brow. “Do you trust me?”

Jack took a deep breath and leaned heavily against Charles’ leg, nodding.

“Of course I trust you,” he huffed and continued quietly. “I trusted you when we decided to buy the brothel. I trusted you when you said to listen to Silver’s tall tale of gold on that beach. I trusted you when you said to let Anne and Max be... even though we both know that was not something either of us wanted,” Jack said with a mirthless chuckle and a raised eyebrow. “Of course I trust you. But for god’s sake, Sir, why did you have to choose to stand by that monster and his war?”

Charles allowed Jack’s arms to circle his left calf, since it kept both of them grounded for once. He pet back the brown locks of hair atop his newly titled captain. He saw the blatant honesty in Jack’s brown eyes, but still... something gnawed away at him in such a way that needed answering before it festered into an irreparable wound between them.

“But why lie, Jack? Why lie to me?”

Jack held tighter to his leg and moved to sit higher on the balls of his feet while he faced Charles. He took a steadying breath that came out shakier than he hoped.

“Because if I let you down,” Jack rasped out. “I am nothing. I am but a lilting flower thrown to the wind. And Anne, with her husband, she has someone else to go to.” Charles quirked his mouth at the slight but let Jack have his restraints on the issue. “But me? I’m — I’m not needed if this fort does not get built, I’m useless to you in these coming days.” His lower lip trembled and Charles centered himself with a deep breath. “I need to be here for you, even when it hurts. Even if you may stop yourself from carrying on with this bloody fort business. Even if it is a terrible terrible price to pay for both of us.”

Charles heavily sighed. He closed his eyes for a moment while he breathed in and out.

For the good of this place, he told him. For the good of Nassau and freedom, they would do whatever was necessary. That was what they agreed to. Together. 

He tapped Jack’s shoulder and nodded for him to head toward the bed. Jack obediently followed behind, hands lax at his sides in waiting. A quirk of Vane's eyebrow had Jack bend his top half over the grey furs at the foot of the bed. He held himself up by his elbows, head bowed between his shoulders. Vane pressed his warm, heavy palm to the small of Jack’s back, a silent order him to lower his knees to the floor.

“You broke a rule, love,” Vane said evenly.

Jack pressed his palms together as his eyes closed. “I know.” He heard the slow slide of Vane’s belt slip out of the loops that held his trousers up. He shook his head and breathed out, “I— I’m so sorry.”

Vane wrapped the belt twice around his knuckles and huffed out through his nose while his palm fell from Jack’s back.

“Lower them.”

Jack quickly moved his hands to his own belt buckle and undid it, then smoothly pushed his pants and culottes down to pool on the floor around his knees. He placed his hands back in their position while he braced himself for what was to come.

“I’m not letting you count it out this time,” Vane warned as he stepped back to the side of his Jack. “You’re going to trust me to stop when I know you’ve had enough. Understood?”

Jack steeled himself and released a breath he was unaware was captive in his chest. He nodded.

“Yes, Sir.”

Charles shortly hummed and began. He lowered his arm first then huffed out as he raised the belt over his head. A hard snap fell on Jack’s pale buttocks, a red welt quickly came to the surface. Charles listened to Jack's sharp inhale before he raised the belt once more.

“What’s the rule, Jack? Hm?”

Another crack to his backside, harder this time and Jack grunted out in pain but held strong in his position.

Vane felt his pain, his own fears, the distrust and betrayal he carried on his journey home channel through the leather strap as it flew up and slapped down without pause this time.

Answer me.”

Jack felt tears well in his eyes, the pain in his backside a building burn that traveled up his spine and into his chest. 

“No secrets,” Jack whispered into the mattress.

“Louder,” another crack landed on his right flank and Jack yelped in surprise. “I need to hear you say it.”

“No secrets—ahh!” Jack spoke soundly and cried at the next strike hit the backside of his right thigh.

Again,” Charles ground out.

Wetness fell over the brims of his eyes and onto his long lashes as he blurted out, “No secrets, Sir.”

The falls became seemingly endless then as they down on his backside relentlessly. 

Vane grunted out, “Don’t stop.”

Jack wailed out, his chest opened up like a cavern at the blows to take them all in. The lashes built into a crescendo of sensation, pain, agony, hurt. And then, as he fell deeper still, he released his worries and anxieties of the past weeks away from Charles...these terrible heavy weights on his psyche, the guilt...whipped away with each blow, with every breath he took to confess the rule to the Captain of his mind, body, and heart.

No secrets, he thought. No secrets from him, not him.

Vane watched as Jack came apart and surrendered to his punishment — to their punishment, without hesitation. His chest heaved as he whipped out the final crack to Jack’s purpling backside, then threw his belt to the ground.

“No secrets, no secrets,” he sobbed out continuously as his head fell to grey fur blanket. He pressed his flushed cheek to it and filled his lungs with the scent of Vane. “No secrets, Sir, no secrets.”

Charles came and sat beside him. He watched the tears freely fall down his face while he whispered... seemingly to himself now... their rule. He gently wiped the wetness from Jack’s closed eyes. His soft touches brought him to the awareness that the punishment was over. Jack looked up with open vulnerability on his face, then sobbed out even harder. He moved his head down to touch Vane’s bent knee. Charles pulled him up and over to lay beside him on the mattress then, then brought the fur in one hand to rest over Jack’s shaking frame.

“There’s a good lad,” he softly spoke into Jack’s ear while he pet the side of his head. “You’re alright.” He kissed the top of Jack’s head. He wrapped an arm around his shoulders and rocked them soothingly as he continued to shush his crying. “No more pain, love. No more tears now, Jack, we’re all done with that.”

Jack took in a wet shaking breath and pressed an ear to Vane’s chest and listened to his strong heartbeat.

“Thank you, Charles,” he slurred out.

Vane rubbed his hand up and down Jack’s long flank and breathed in deeply atop his head.

“I need you, Jack,” he said. Jack looked up and sniffled, eyebrows furrowed in hazy confusion. “Just —” Vane swallowed and pressed a warm palm to Jack’s flushed face. “I need you to trust that. That I won’t stop needing you. War or not.”

Jack sighed out shakily and closed his eyes, surrendering to his Captain’s statement. He nodded and swallowed.

“Flint and his men,” he slowly said. “They should be here within the week. Repairs for the fort will be under way by then, yes?”

Charles huffed out and grimly nodded. “If he’s coming soon, the British won’t be far behind,” he grumbled out. “There were enough men on that slaver to get us well under way with repairs.”

Jack closed his eyes and nodded, yawning as he pushed his trousers down the rest of the way with his feet. Charles stretched out and rested his chin over Jack’s forehead.

“For now, we rest.”

Chapter Text

Flint stood alone. Alone on a ship lost in deep waters. A thick blackening fog encased his form atop the deck. Silent but for the haunting creaking of boards as the ship rocked, like a piece of driftwood without any true direction or purpose except to go where the whims of nature took it.

And then, the sounds of sloshing water and wet footsteps, followed by the muted gasp that left his mouth. She came aboard like a spectre from the sea below, and dragged her heavy waterlogged dress down to the lowest holds of the ship, eyes bloodshot yet focused on his own, as if to say “follow me.”

He found himself stepping down to what revealed itself to be Hallendale’s cabin, his only companion the decaying flesh of the late captain at his writing desk.

We all die alone, we all die. alone. alone. we all die alone. Written over and over and over again until the ink ran out from the quill.

The muffled sound of creaking floorboards drew him to venture deeper still below the ship’s hull. Into the darkness beneath. Cold and damp, black as pitch, empty. His eyes fervently darted, squinting for any purchase of a movement that would give way to Miranda’s being present here. But there was none. There was no Miranda here. There was no one. He was alone in this hole.

Alone. Alone. We all die...alo—

“Captain.”

Flint’s eyes flew open then immediately shut, averting the sun that shone over the giant Mr. Bones looming near him. He held onto the sides of the hammock he took to belowdecks with a sharp intake of breath. He opted to stay clear of his cabin and Silver within it, but somehow, he felt even more isolated out here amongst these men in their hammocks, swinging in tandem with the bolstering waves.

Billy stepped back while still looking down at him as he continued with a nervous sigh. “He’s closed the gap.”

Water sloshed against his boots as he threw himself out of the manta cloth and up out onto the main deck where water pelted the soaked wood. Billy shouted orders to his fellow crewmembers to get their hands on deck to meet the coming blows. Whether those blows were of canonfire or raging waves was another story yet to be told.

Fisher and Dobbs quickly made progress in pumping water out of the hulls and back to the ocean which began meeting the very side beams of the Walrus. The heavy shots and splashes of cannon balls nearing their starboard side had Flint standing on his toes to look out toward the British hunter closing in. He turned his head to the darkening clouds that began casting shadows overhead on the Walrus’s main mast.

“He’ll be withdrawing soon,” Flint said with a small furrowed brow and a gruff huff. “He’ll drive us into the storm, but he’ll want no part of it himself.” Fucking coward, he thought.

DeGroot hurried forward, arguing without success for the canvases to be pulled in before the worst of the storm took hold and crushed the masts to bits.

Flint’s nostrils flared as he glared at his ship’s master.

“If he sees us slow, if we show him the least sign of weakness, it’ll only encourage him to press on and finish the job,” he heatedly stated. There was no turning back from this storm now, none whatsoever. They were all in it. But, that voice in Silver’s head... telling him that he was the one to blame for their imminent deaths... Flint shook his head and turned to Billy. “Taking in the canvas will be a challenge.” Billy stood, waiting. “You’ll see to it that the men from the rig are ready when the time comes, yes?” Flint waited with an expectant stare for Billy’s final nod of agreement.

“I’ll pull more hands from below,” Billy said, eyes overlooking the men surrounding them. “We’ll need all the strength we can muster.”

He stalked off, relaying more orders to the crew.

Flint already had their agreeing howls from the rousing speech he gave not hours ago. They agreed to stay the course he chose to give. This was his mess to handle and he would do it head on, without pause. Flint shook his head and turned as he took his leave.

±±±±

Silver gripped tightly onto the rope above his head while looking over his shoulder to Billy’s tall frame nearing him.

“We should’ve taken the pardons,” he shook his head and gulped while taking in the heavy dark clouds encroaching upon the Walrus and its men. His eyes darted behind him in search of Flint, then cautiously pushed his back to the wall of the galley and stared at Billy’s contorted face as he continued. “Signed our names and swear to whomever or whatever the fuck one swears to on the occasion, accept the pardons, then? Go straight back to the account.”

Billy swallowed then turned away with a sigh as Silver heatedly continued.

“What the fuck would they do to us that they weren’t going to do anyway?”

Silver watched with bated breath as Billy turned back and shook his head in response.

“I don’t imagine Hornigold’s offer still stands,” he mused and shoved past him. “If that’s what you’re asking.”

Silver grumbled and quickly stood to follow behind Billy’s long footsteps over the lower deck. “No, I don’t imagine it does, either,” he ground out. He stood in front of Billy, effectively blocking his way to the rig.

“But a few hours ago, when the offer did stand?” Silver’s chest began to tighten while he leaned on his right leg for more support. “Then perhaps that should have been a conversation.”

Billy looked down, his palms clenched at his sides as he waited for Silver to continue.

“Accept the pardons with the full intent not to honor them than face what we. Now. Face.” He grimaced as a cold sweat trickled down his brow at the words. Better to run and hide than face certain death, he swallowed to himself in thought.

Billy pushed his tongue into his cheek while he watched his brothers pump more water off the side of the ship.

“The men, I understand,” Silver’s voice lowered conspiratorially as he stalked closer. “Flint had them exactly where he needed them,” he shook his head with imploring eyes up to Billy. “Angry, resentful, afraid. I understand why he would rather do battle with that storm than even consider surrendering to Hornigold.” A growing hollow in Silver’s chest began to heavily cave in as he sighed out and continued. “But he had me there, too. He had MeThere.” He swallowed around the growing knot of cold guilt in his throat. “And that was not supposed to happen.”

Billy’s eyebrows creased then. He licked his lips as his eyes flitted across Silver’s pained sallow face.

“I need to gather more men from below,” Billy cleared his throat and slowly shifted away.

Silver ground his teeth together as he turned his head down and nodded. His clammy fists clenched at his sides while he caught sight of water sloshing at his boots — iron and leather atop soaked wood. He huffed out short breaths through his flared nostrils and braced himself to walk down the steps of the ship to the lowest holds with the gun storage. If men were being taken from below, he would need to fill the spaces left behind in their wake.

±±±±

The waves were titans rolling over from their deep slumbers into roaring wakefulness in the blackening sea. Flint closed his eyes to slits at the sudden onslaught of rainwater pelting down on his face from above, meeting with the tumultuous rolling of the ocean below his feet. They had entered the storm with full force, now, and Hornigold and his bloody redcoats were still on their tails, the gap however larger now that the waves had become moving mountains of water. His hands gripped onto the drenched wood as he observed with quickly flitting eyes the hurried movements of the crew across the ship. A forceful wind pushed at the ship’s starboard side against a heaving wave. His hands gripped harder as he shouted out to his men to find purchase against the coming crash.

“Stay ready!” Flint bellowed.

His men clambered to their positions as a high standing wall of water crashed down over their heads. Flint’s eyes moved up despite the strong gale force winds at his face, and found purchase on Billy and the men standing over top near the main mast, awaiting orders to pull in the canvas when he deemed fit. These men, waiting on the brink of death, for his very words to save them from this terrible monster they faced.

He swallowed and snapped his head down to the man at the ship wheel who struggled to keep the Walrus’s course of action straight on into the strength of the storm.

DeGroot called out behind him, sopping wet in the storm and clutching to Silver’s ropes over his head.

“Captain! They’re standing by!”

Flint watched on as the British hunter stayed at the edge of the dark clouds, floating farther and farther away from him. A feral smile split across his drenched face at his statement. Fucking cowards, that’s right stand by, he thought. He had outlasted them, just as he had for the last decade. He held tight onto the wooden porch by his head at DeGroot’s next words.

“The rig won’t hold. We must break the sails before we lose the mast!”

He waited, chest heaving in measured breaths, counting out the seconds as Hornigold’s ship grew smaller yet. He snapped and bellowed orders over his shoulder to the crew.

“Take down the torts and the t'gallants now!” He shouted with DeGroot’s resounding “Now!” in tow.

The men immediately heaved at the heavy soaked ropes in their wrinkling palms, pulling the drenched and weighted canvases up to Billy and his men’s waiting grip above at the mast. The top sail above Billy’s head began creaking as the winds howled harsher, the two men high up not able to hear their captain’s orders.

“Billy!!!” Flint shouted as loud as he could. “Get those rolled up top!!!”

Billy relayed the orders to the two men near the crow’s nest, Dobbs and Fisher hauling and failing to pull the sail up.

“It’s stuck!” Fisher cried out panicking. “It’s not coming down!”

Flint heard the man’s screams as a distant muffled wailing as they found themselves swallowed whole by the tempest. This relentless beast. There was no sign of Hornigold’s ship now. Flint could hardly see more than 10 yards beyond the ship’s bow as the waves crashed around and over them all. It was as if the Walrus were but a mere toy boat for the gods to tinker with on their tumultuous waters.

With bent knees and a raised arm to guard his face from the winds and rain, Flint moved with haste to aid the man at the ship’s wheel who held it as steady as possible against the onslaught of titanic waves. He looked on as Billy ordered the men to cut loose the topsails near the crow’s nest.

A sudden calm filled the air. The winds quieted above them, the thrashing of the waves abruptly halted. Flint released the wheel from his hands and gripped onto Silver’s ropes overhead, and moved cautiously over the deck toward the stern. His eyes furrowed at the lack of wind in the sails, Billy and his men effectively pulled up one of the larger sails and tied it down.

A calm. An unsettling calm.

“Keep her steady!” DeGroot shouted the orders as Flint hurried over to the end of the ship and stared out into the deep darkness surrounding them.

The ocean growled, louder and louder still as a mountain of blackness and white foam rolled closer and closer to its prey. His heartbeat jackhammered in his chest.

The shipkiller. It had arrived.

“STOP DOWN!” He screamed at the top of his lungs.

Their end was soon approaching in a foaming rage, coursing through at full force to the starboard of their ship. It slammed with the force of a mighty blow that sent the entire crew flying. The ship turned nearly entirely on its side, its rudders grasping onto the ocean for dear life as they were swallowed, consumed by the sea’s icy cold claws over its sides.

Flint gasped out as man after man lost their grip on the ropes, the wood, the riggings and fell victim into the belly of the ocean floor, swallowed whole by the monstrous waves. The ship came to lay its port side to rest on the waves in placation, the masts accepting the kiss of death which the ocean presented to them. He lay on the floor of the deck with a solid grip of the ropes. His boots pressed against the bottom of the ship’s wheel to keep him steady on his side.

Degroot crawled forward along the rope and shouted out to him in desperation.

“Captain! We have to cut it loose!” Flint turned his flared eyes up at the top of their main mast, its sails caught the thrashing winds and waters, creaking and cracking, but it still desperately held onto the ship for dear life. “It’ll drive us into the sea! We must reduce the windage!” DeGroot gasped out against a mouthful of rainwater. “Or we’re dead,” he croaked out before another wave hit the ship and slammed his face to the floor.

Flint gripped tighter onto the rope above his head, his waterlogged boots found purchase atop the main deck as he scrambled to his feet. Another merciless wave crashed over the side of the ship and effectively slapped him down to the floor, his body slid across until he grasped for the rope once again. With a harsh grunt, Flint clambered on toward the main mast. The words from his dream haunted him then.

Alone, we die alone.

Flint looked resolutely on to the riggings then up above to the crow’s nest. He gripped at the hatchet in hand as he move to the forestay.

But we will not die today.

±±±±

Silver gasped out and grimaced in pain as the saline water reached the brim of his prosthesis. With a frustrated groan he opened his eyes and focused on wrapping another cork with cloth before hammering it into a bursting hole on the side of the ammunitions hold. He lay in the darkest, lowest parts of the ship, water pouring in from the unbearable pressure the Walrus was undergoing from the storm outside.

Survive, we need to survive, he desperately brought himself to focus with this mantra.

Muldoon stood behind him at a distance hurriedly hammering along in tandem to his blows. Another crack flexed and opened in front of his very eyes. Silver immediately stood then slipped on his boot in agony. He groaned out in pain and frustration.

“You don’t need to be doing this,” Muldoon called over his shoulder. “I can finish it.”

Silver avoided his worried look and stood up once again holding the ropes above his head, swallowing down the rising bile and panic in his throat as he pressed on to the fountaining hole nearby.

“I’m useless to them up top,” he said. Useless. A quartermaster that can’t stand on deck beside his captain in a moment of absolute crisis. Useless. “I’ve gotta do my part somehow.”

He focused instead on steadying the canvas and wooden peg into the hole nearby, hammer swinging up but stopping in its tracks at Muldoon’s words.

“You shouldn’t talk like that you know,” he said catching his breath. “We’ve got our share of useless fucks on this crew. You ain’t one.”

Silver found a small smile gracing his sweating face while he hollered back over his shoulder.

“This is the second time in the last few months where I’m facing certain death,” he gasped out as he effectively stoppered the hole before him. “And here you are again offering moral support.”  

“Does that mean we’re married?”

Silver felt a hotness collect up the back of his neck at Muldoon’s statement. He turned around just in time to see the smile falter on his face as he went back to hammering in at more leaks along the wall. Muldoon, such a good mate. He recalled his kind, concerned brown eyes looking up to him, arms and legs bound in tight ropes along with the other crewmembers on Vane’s ship as he was hauled away by the quartermaster and his hostile men to the cabin above.

He smiled back at him, brow furrowing once again in concentration at his task at hand. Survive.

A sudden rock of the ship sent them both falling against the side of the hold, Silver grunting out in pain. Muldoon came closer and offered his hand to steady him. Silver shoved away instead with a contorted face. He panted out with agitation at the attempt of support.

“Don’t,” he cut out.

Muldoon’s face contorted in anger.

“Fucking hell,” he cried out. the wood cracked out once again and an outpouring of seawater began to flush onto the ground around them. “What part of ‘let’s take care of you’ don’t you understand?!” His eyes searched over Silver’s face, struck with pain and anguish before curling in on itself toward the wall, mallet once again raised in his hand. Muldoon pressed on in a quieter voice. “If it wasn’t for you, we’d all be planted at the bottom of the Charlestown Bay. We got a debt for that.”

Silver stood and dropped his hand by his side, shoulders sagging at those bloody words. A debt, he scoffed in his mind.

“It ain’t right not to let us pay it!”

He shook his head resolutely, eyes turned back to the wall and swallowed down his discomfort. Nobody owed him anything. No debt to pay to a coward like himself. The one lantern in the hold swung angrily beside his head as he turned to look at Muldoon at last with a fervent shaking of his head, mouth turned down in disgust.

“All the the shit we’ve been through in the last few months,” he heaved against the raw feeling in his left knee and carried on. “You want to know what the most terrifying part of all of it’s been?” His voice grew quieter at the lilt of his tongue. He swallowed and looked to Muldoon with a solid stare. “We’ll take care of you.”

Muldoon scanned his face and nodded instead.

“I get it.”

Silver’s stomach churned at the response. Nobody fucking got it. Nobody was the one legged monster that he had become. Unable to help himself, to keep anyone out of harm’s way. Never in his life. Never. And why should that change now? Because he was chosen as quartermaster while he lay unconscious in a bed of his own cold stinking sweat?

“Do you?”

Muldoon nodded and kept his gaze steady.

“Of course I do,” Silver shook his head and laughed under his breath at Muldoon's response. “Look at me,” Muldoon pressed on. “I know what it’s like to be afraid. Of being the one ain’t strong enough to stick.” Silver caught the softening look in Muldoon’s eyes. He couldn’t stand that look. Not of pity, but of kindness. He didn’t deserve kindness. “They kept me down here in the lowest part of the ship. In a bloody tempest. Water pouring in all around us. And when Billy came in, picking up Fisher and Dobbs of all people to go aid in the rigs, left me here instead.” Muldoon’s face twitched as he sniffed and rested his arm over his shaven head before he continued. “And you know why? It’s ‘cause they’re afraid of letting the fucking molly boy have a stab at it.” 

Silver snarled at the phrase then vehemently shook his head. 

“Don’t — don’t call yourself that,” he gulped and met Muldoon’s raised brows. “It shouldn’t matter who you favor in that regard. A good crew man is a good crew man. No matter who he chooses to fuck or love.” 

“You’re missing the point, Silver,” he said with a sad smile and shake of his head. “I ain’t put off by it in the least. I still got a job to do. I’m doing my part. And they fucking need me, whether they like it or not. And we need you.”  

Silver mirthlessly laughed as he picked up the mallet and wrapped another block in cloth. 

“Whether I like it or not,” he snipped. 

Muldoon brought the palm resting over his head down to Silver’s shoulder then warmly kneaded the tension out of him. Silver looked up as he lightly panted in and out. He took in the tightness around his eyebrows, his mouth, but the silent imploring look he gave Silver... That they were not alone in this. In being outliers among the crew. In being wretches to many men. He slowly brought a trembling hand up to rest atop Muldoon’s, and pressed into the warmth there. Muldoon’s back dragged down the drenched wood and stopped when he sat beside Silver on the bench. 

“You need to see something,” he said in a hushed tone. The ship groaned around them, both their eyes raised to the shouts of Flint’s orders above them. He locked his gaze back to Muldoon’s sweating brow, a question in his eyes as he felt another hand cup his face. “A ship ain’t manned by any one person. We all work together.” Silver’s throat clicked as he swallowed around the tension in his chest. “We ain’t nothing without the other.” 

A calm filled the orlop gunroom then. Muldoon’s eyes flitted down to his mouth on a parting of breath before they lifted to meet his gaze. Silver’s breath caught in his chest, he furrowed his brows but did nothing to stop Muldoon from shifting closer still. He sat frozen in place, unable to move in this moment.

A loud crack and shove had both their bodies plastered against the wall. Water raged into the room without restraint. Holes upon holes in the sides of the ship opened. Silver heard a snap then watched a cannon roll across the floor near Muldoon’s stuck frame.

“Watch out!” He shouted. But not soon enough. Muldoon screeched and wailed as the heavy cannon crushed him to the wall.

“My fucking LEG!” He cried out at the top of his lungs. Silver cried out a “No!” in response to his screams. He pushed with all his might against the cannon’s wheels, but they would not budge as the pressure of the overflowing water kept them firmly in place, trapping Muldoon without mercy.

“Fucking hell get it off!” Muldoon screamed.

Silver took in a heaving breath and moved under the water to try and shove at the cannon once more without purchase. No, not him, not him too, Silver’s thoughts screamed at him to find a way to save Muldoon.

“Here, take my hand!” He bellowed. Muldoon took his arm in a firm grip as Silver pulled and pulled. But Muldoon could not move away. His leg scraped against the side of the wooden wall, his pain utterly forgotten in his attempts to pull Muldoon out. Muldoon sputtered out in agony, tears mixing in with the shockingly chilling saline water that surrounded their slight frames.

“Silver,” he cried.

Silver looked down and panted in terror. He tried once again without success to pull Muldoon out. The one lantern in the room fell victim to the crashing of the waves against the ship, the inner flame fizzling as it touched the water below. He took in a sharp gasp of breath and looked to the stairwell ahead.

“HELP!” He screamed. Somebody, anyone come please, don’t let him die. “HELP!” His body shook with the adrenaline coursing through his veins as he got up and marched forward to the top of the stairs before them, open palm slamming atop the metal grate. They were stuck. Oh fuck they were stuck the both of them. He pushed with both hands above his head against the grate, finding it solidly, stubbornly stuck in place, refusing to budge. He ground out in frustration and fear. Silver heard Muldoon’s panicked cries from behind.

“Help!” Muldoon screamed. “Helllllp!” Silver felt a sharp tight sob shoot out of his chest as he joined in at the top of his lungs

“Help! HEEEELLLP!”

But no one came. They were in hell, the two of them. Trapped in the deepest darkest lowest part of the ship.

Alone.

Chapter Text

A treacherous soaking darkness overtook the Walrus as the creaking masts groaned with the strain of the wind in the flapping and torn sails. Flint grasped onto the ropes above his head with one hand, soaked hatchet in the other as he trudged along the water-sloshed deck to the riggings keeping the main mast in place. 

He looked on with slitted eyes barely keeping the torrential downpour from inhibiting his vision to the crow’s nest above. A solitary devoted sailor clutched on for dear life to the net beside the crow’s nest. 

Alright, he fervently thought then swallowed. One life to lose in order to save the rest of us.

Flint gripped onto the railing at his side and threw down the hatchet blade to the rigging. Again and again, again and again until the heavy cables cut loose and flew up with the violent force of the winds, the nameless crewmember disappearing with the wind and water to his death.

Flint looked across the deck to the remaining crewmembers lying flat on their stomachs braving the storm as best they could. Their heads slowly began to raise as the ship came back to level groundings. 

Billy desperately clung over the crosstree of the main mast, head wrenched down in wonder of what Flint was bloody doing with a hatchet to the riggings. 

The sudden crack and whooshing of the top sails overhead gave way to the Walrus’s heavy leaning, righting its walty kneeling to the crashing waves surrounding the ship. Billy and his men looked on as the crow’s nest and their wailing Walrus brother blew away like a flimsy piece of driftwood out into the storm. Their feet stood steadier, still.

Billy grimaced, his eyes wild with shock, adrenaline coursing through his veins as he looked down to Flint once again and huffed out with a small gulp. Their captain had let yet another one of their own go. But the rest of them were afloat. For now.

±±±±

“Help!” Silver screamed out through the grating. “Help! Please, help us, please...” he continued on with his desperate pleas.

 Muldoon had since quieted, shaven head barely above the sloshing seawater in the dark hull. 

“They say the worst of it don’t last long.” 

Silver jerked his head to Muldoon’s calmed expression. He was covered in a cold sweat, left leg trembling with adrenaline and shock from the icy water surrounding his lower body. He clambered over to Muldoon, grabbing hold of his arm and gripping their fists together in a firm hold. Muldoon weakly, shakily smiled and went on. 

“What the water does to you—” Muldoon gasped for air and strengthened his grip in Silver’s. Silver gasped in shock at the cool skin of Muldoon’s hand. “Once it’s got you, it makes you cold,” Silver felt the hot tears pricking at the corners of his eyes at Muldoon’s words. “It makes you scared.” He shook his head, closing his eyes avoiding the open vulnerability in Muldoon’s. “It shows you things, bad things.” Muldoon gasped and strained to keep his neck above the water before releasing squeezing Silver’s hand. 

Silver peeled his eyes open and forced himself to watch his friend speak of his own impending death as though it were a natural turn of events. 

“Please,” he sobbed out. “Don’t talk like this. You can’t tal—” 

“But then it warms you,” Muldoon looked up, his head shaking violently but resolutely continued on. “And then it settles ya.” 

Silver could not hold back the sudden trembling of terror and desperation in his very being at Muldoon’s surrender. He sobbed out and pushed his empty fist against his forehead. I’m useless, fucking bloody fucking useless. He’s dying because I’m useless. 

“It shows you the places you’ve be—” Muldoon gasped in shock as more water broke through the flooding holes in the ship and washed over his skull. He blubbered and sputtered as Silver brought him back up to the surface with all his strength, gripping onto the ropes over his head and pulling. Muldoon choked out his next words. 

“The people you’ve loved.” Muldoon looked up longingly, devastatingly to Silver. Silver’s face broke down in a sob but he kept his focus on Muldoon. Muldoon and his final words. “They’re all there waitin’ for ya.” 

Muldoon smiled as tears fell down his wet salt-filled lashes. His ears filled with the freezing water now, his face becoming slowly enveloped in his watery grave soon approaching its final mark. Soon his head was covered, his arms outstretched in front of him as he spoke out in a hitched fearful gasp “Fuck!” 

“No!” Silver cried out, he frantically dove under the water to push against the locked out leaden cannon trapping Muldoon. He came up and gasped for air, face tight and shivering with fear and helplessness. Muldoon’s terror-stricken face staring up at him through the water. “God come on! Come on!” He grunted and screamed out at the top of his lungs as he used both arms to pull Muldoon back to the surface without success. “Come on! NO! No, you-you can’t go! You can’t go! Not you! Not— not you t-too!” 

Muldoon’s arms flailed for purchase onto anything solid above his head, the air quickly bursting out of his mouth on a silent unheard scream. He gripped onto Silver’s shoulder and thrashed his head back and forth against the bottom of the hull. His grip quickly lost its strength, palm opening and closing near Silver. 

“God No!” Silver bellowed in a wet panicked cry. He heaved in and out erratic short breaths, hands grasping onto Muldoon’s wrist, holding on for his own dear life at his one true friend. The one and only person who was left in this world who cared for him. Who loved him for him. “You can’t leave me! You can’t leave me here! Fuck!” 

The water stilled. An eery silence filled the dark room, save for Silver’s panted breaths. The water had stopped surging out around them, the ship’s axis brought back to center. Muldoon’s wrist went limp in his hold. “No!” He cried in a high pitched throaty wail as he took Muldoon’s hand and clung it to his chest, head bowing and kissing his pale, waxen knuckles. He shook his head back and forth as the tears flowed heavily down his face. “No no no no!” 

Fingers frozen as icicles suddenly fisted into his soaked shirt. Silver’s breath caught in his tight chest as he looked down. Muldoon’s brown eyes, those warm brown eyes, were now full of rage. He shoved the cannon away with both legs until it slammed into the opposite wall. He stood up, shoving away at Silver in the process, his back hitting the side of the hull. He took in a sharp gasp, mouth open and agape. 

“You’re bloody pathetic,” he spat out. Muldoon ground his teeth together before coughing up a storm of seawater from his lungs. “Can’t fucking save anybody, can you? Not strong enough, not brave enough.” Silver moved back against the hull and moved stubbed his fucking metal peg too hard against the floor, a pained and panicked gasp escaping his open mouth. 

“H-how—” 

“You let me die, John!” he roared at him. Those brown eyes, the same brown eyes as... “You left me to die and you fucking stood there.” 

Solomon Little. Pudgy, round, brown-eyed and straight-haired much-too-young-to-die Solomon Little, side of his head bashed in a gut-churning concave hole, stood before him with his fists curled in rage. He smirked in disgust, eyeing Silver up and down. 

“Now you can’t even stand.” 

Silver shook his head and closed his eyes shut, he gripped onto the rope above his head. This can’t be real, I’m dying.

Fuck, I can’t leave James up there,” he said with a tense thready whisper, eyes averting Solomon’s looming frame moving ever closer. Silver held onto the rope as he slid on the bottom of the hull’s floor, stumbling back up to climb to the stairwell nearby. A sudden sharp pain crackled through his left side. He groaned out in agony and fell to the water below. 

Solomon gripped him by the shirt strings and shook his slight frame. 

“He doesn’t need you,” he snarled out. “Why the fuck would he need a one-legged monster like you? A one-legged useless quartermaster who can’t even climb over the side for a tranship. A quartermaster who won’t speak up for his own. men’s. lives.” 

A shuddering sob broke out of Silver’s chest at the words. He shook his head and clambered to get back at the ropes above his head. 

“I-I Solly-” 

“A worthless son of a whore who wouldn’t even stop those murderous lads from turning him into a whore as well,” Solomon sneered in his face. “They still keeping you silent, John? Hm? Too scared to speak up for what’s right? Gonna let more of us die because of you?” Solomon pointed to Muldoon’s dead body beneath the water indignantly. 

Silver sat on the edge of the steps, his eyes full of sorrow as he stared at Muldoon, his eyes lifeless yet wide, mouth shut, arms floating out at his sides atop the gently rolling water. The tears had stopped in their tracks on his face. His chest hollowed out into a deep, dark, empty void. Water sloshed into his metal and leather boots, but he did not feel the sting of it this time. He stared on, hands lying limply on his lap. His breathing slowed, becalmed. 

He would die here, he thought. Let me die. Take me. I’m better off dead. I’m tired of being left to live alone. John swallowed and closed his eyes before breathing out through his nose. I’m ready this time. 

±±±±

The grate creaked and snapped open with a groan as Dooley quickly moved down the steps, breathing out a sigh of relief at seeing his quartermaster seemingly unharmed. He watched the back of Silver’s dripping head before turning to follow his gaze. 

Silver turned around with a loosely closed mouth, shoulders sagging. He swallowed and crossed his arms over his cold damp chest and met Dooley’s concerned disposition. 

Dooley opened and closed his mouth a few times in disbelief, but eventually shook his head and found his voice while focusing on Silver. 

“The men are staying up in mid quarters,” he swallowed. “Billy’s got us staying belowdecks to brave the rest of the storm.” 

Silver stared on in lowered his gaze, averting eye contact with either crew member. The dead and the alive. 

“Is the captain with Billy?” he asked. Dooley gulped and stammered but said nothing coherent. Silver looked up with a fiery glare. “Where is the captain?” 

Dooley shook his head signalling his not knowing, his eyes glanced over Silver’s shoulder to Muldoon’s bobbing corpse before flicking back down and taking hold of Silver’s elbow and arm. 

“Shit,” Silver cursed as they braved the steps up beyond the bilge together. 

Once up to mid deck, Silver’s widened eyes flicked across the room fervently searching for Flint. Men with bloodied foreheads and ripped shirts, groaning from their battered sides getting flung across the ship while on deck. But no. Flint. 

Billy stalked by ordering Dobbs to close the hatch. Silver panted out in anxiety, desperate to know where his captain was among the crew. 

“Where’s the captain?!” Silver watched as Billy slowly looked up through the grates above his hunched shoulders, sea and rain water drizzling down over their heads. Silver panicked and held onto the rope above his head as he made way to the stairs past Billy. 

“He’s gone mad, John!” Billy bellowed out and turned around to follow Silver. “He wants to keep the ship in this bloody tempest. Thinks Hornigold is still waiting for him on the other side of the wind.”

"So you left him up there to die alone?!"

Silver heaved out heavy panting breaths, his chest was on fire with the rage and terror flooding his veins. Billy ground his teeth together and looked away from Silver’s furious glare. 

“Grab Dooley. We’re going up there—” 

“Silver it’s too danger—” 

“I said we’re going up there. That is an order. As your elected Quartermaster,” Silver panted through his flared nostrils and stared down at Billy, even though he craned his neck to meet his downturned eyes. “Make it so, Billy.” 

Billy swallowed and moved, bellowing out for Dooley to come along. Silver turned and gripped the wet railings, the wind howling above his head, water splashing through the metal grate and plastering across his face. He closed his eyes and grunted while moving to push up and successfully open the hatch. 

±±±±

Flint grappled the helm with ripped palms, the saltwater biting into his soaked flesh as another wave of water crashed down from the portside. The tempest’s ravenous claws had taken them hostage as he drove them into the full force of its rage. 

He gasped while pulling on the rope circling his waist, keeping him enslaved to the wheel of the ship. The winds growled, but Flint stood bracing it nonetheless. 

I must make it through. I must show them that I am no coward. That I have no shame. I have no bloody shame, he gasped out as another wave threw him against the back of the Helm. I have no shame. No shame... No shame. 

The storm roared with such ferocity, seemingly furious with Flint, thrashing a solid arm of seawater over the portside once again. Flint failed to hold onto the helm, the wall of water pinning him down, drowning him out. He grasped onto the rope and prayed to an unseen deity that he would make it through. 

±±±±

Silver grasped onto Dooley’s shoulder as they moved up to the howling storm above, Billy in tow. The deck was swathed in its own miniature version of the violent sea, shallow waves lapping at the inner walls of the deck. He snapped his head in all directions in search of his captain and finally landed on Flint’s shorn ginger head by the helm. 

“There!” Silver yelled above the roaring winds and pointed over Dooley’s shoulder. Dooley and Billy immediately moved forward, Silver stumbling and leaning on his right leg for support, hands clutching the ropes above as his Walrus brothers neared Flint’s unconscious form. He diligently watched as the two men lifted their captain and moved back toward Silver and the open hatch. 

A crashing wave flew over the starboard side and slammed Billy and Dooley against the Helm’s spinning wheel, Flint’s arms falling limply at his sides barely grazing the deck floor. Silver held onto the metal railing and grunted while pushing forward against the winds. His hair was plastered to his face. He sputtered out while pushing it aside to better see Billy and Dooley rushing with Flint in their arms, moving as a wobbling yet steadfast four-legged, three-headed beast toward him. 

They reached the hatch and began their descent, Dooley holding firmly onto Flint’s legs, Billy bowing down as he entered mid quarters and heaved up Flint by his underarms, all soaked in rain and seawater, but breathing and very much alive. Silver anxiously glanced around the deck once more, checking for any members that may have been stuck or left unconscious as well. With no one else in sight, he clambered down, as well, huffing out and closing the hatch above him. 

Water ran down his face and hair in rivulets, dripping to the deck below. Silver eyed Dooley and Bones carefully place Flint on an empty stretcher. 

“Howell!” Silver called out. He panted and hobbled as quickly as he could over to Flint’s side. “Howell! Where’s the bloody doctor?!” 

Billy looked over his shoulder as Howell scurried forward with ripped ribbons of cloth in hand. He made room for the doctor to take in the captain’s physical account. Silver panted out watched as Howell looked Flint over. Dooley slowly pulled away. He went to gather with the rest of the crew pressed to the walls avoiding the downpour of rain from overhead. 

“Is he alright?” Silver asked in a strained voice. His eyebrows creased together at the sight of crimson blood dribbling out of Flint’s nose. 

Howell took a piece of cloth and coiled it into a small rolled compress before pressing it into Flint’s bleeding nostril. His hand pressed over Flint’s head as if to check for a temperature. He nodded while keeping his gaze on the captain’s slack features. 

“He may have banged his head quite hard in the storm, but he will survive,” he said firmly. Howell’s eyes flicked up to Silver’s tight face, watching the tension break over his body at his diagnosis. “He needs to be watched,” Howell continued. 

“I’ll—” Silver started then faltered. He closed his eyes and swallowed. He leaned against the cot as a fresh wave of sharp pain rose up through his leg and up his spine. 

“I’ll watch him,” Billy said eyeing Silver’s crouched frame then looking to Howell with a furrowed brow. 

“Let’s see to your disposition, Mr. Quartermaster,” Howell quietly coaxed Silver to take his open hand. 

Silver panted out in short breaths and shook his head with a grunt before peering through slitted eyelids to Howell and shortly nodding his assent. He leaned heavily on Howell as they hobbled to an empty keg for Silver to sit on. He scanned the room, his brothers had significantly diminished in number. Many were bleeding, but had strips of cloth they pressed against any cuts to stop the bleeding. He groaned then shouted out as Howell slipped his prosthetic off. The skin around his stump had become grey and pruning with an angry red surrounding the stitching scars. 

“It needs to air out again, it’s infected,” Howell grimaced as he looked up from his kneeling position. “Badly infected.”

Silver took in the gravely serious expression Howell gave him. He swallowed and turned away, instead focusing on his captain, seemingly laying down in a deep slumber, the slow yet even rising and falling of his chest soothing his own distress. Billy stood watch over him like a hawk, arms crossed over his chest. He raised his eyes and met Silver’s. They stared for long stretched out moments, a silent conversation between them. The shared knowledge that they had a duty to these men, to see them all through this storm.

And Flint? The only way he was still alive was because he made it so. No– because they made it so. Together.

Silver nodded and turned his gaze back to Howell. 

“Alright.” 

±±±±

Mr. Woodes Rogers stood on his calmly rolling deck, ship ported in Nassau. He watched with an even stare as two men came over the hold. 

“Captain Hornigold,” he said with a calculated smile. He turned his eyes to a man with small round glasses and tipped his head. “Mr. Dufresne.”  

Hornigold bowed his head and looked down to Rogers’ shining black navy boots before turning back to smile quietly.

“I have news to relay Sir, but first I’m sorry I must address a rumor I’ve heard since our arrival here,” he said. Woodes looked with upturned brows and waited for Hornigold to continue on. “A rumor most troubling that you’ve made a ... fugitive a part of your endeavor...” Hornigold’s mouth slackened as he caught site of Eleanor Guthrie gracefully moving and looking out over the forecastle and down at him with a smug smirk. 

Dufresne pushed out near silent gasp as Hornigold whispered a curse under his breath. 

“I would introduce you,” Woodes lightly stated. “But from what I understand you’re quite familiar with one another.” 

Hornigold’s face reddened. “Respectfully that woman is not to be trusted.” 

“I know,” Woodes confidently replied. “But, perhaps I don’t need to trust her.” He looked over Hornigold and Dufresne with a wary eye before continuing. “And, by way of context, I don’t much trust you either.” 

Hornigold’s eyes tightened at the slight, but he remained silent nonetheless. 

“Let’s assume you’ll both be a check on the other, and I’ll count myself fortunate.” 

Woodes caught sight of Dufresne’s fist wrapped around a dark cloth. 

“What news, captain?” he asked. 

Hornigold sighed out and puffed his chest at the change in subject. Dufresne looked over with his own smug smirk. 

“I engaged captain Flint, as promised,” Hornigold said. His cheeks brightened considerably and he stood taller while he spoke. “When he and his crew, declined my offer of pardons, I pressed my advantage and drove him batted into a tempest.” He smirked at Eleanor’s worried look overhead then focused back on Mr. Rogers. “When it subsided, we patrolled the area extensively, and recovered several pieces of fresh debris.”

Woodes’ head cocked at Hornigold’s account. 

“Debris? What kind of debris?” 

Hornigold’s smile widened as he nodded to Dufresne who unfurled the black sail of the Walrus for all to see. 

“The definitive kind,” he said gravely. “Captain Flint. Is dead.” 

Chapter Text

Jack simply would not deal with these bloody bumbling idiots losing a sack full of 500...Five. Hundred. Pieces of gold... He sat with his ankles crossed and sighed while Augustus Featherstone handled the latest monetary request from this idiotic pirate. A knock at the office door had Jack raising his head and Mr. Featherstone pausing his quill on the accounts log. 

Max walked in with pursed lips and surveyed the room before pausing on Jack. 

How delightful, the husband is here, he grumbled in his mind. 

“Mr. Featherstone, may we have the room for a moment, please?” She said in that lilting voice, tone really not so much a question as an expectation. 

Trying to run my post, is she now? He sighed but got up to look down at her instead. 

As soon as the room cleared, Jack went to lock the door and sat in his leather studded chair across from her at the desk. She pulled out a sack of gold and dropped it heavily on the wooden table. He eyed it incredulously... Is that... the bumbling idiot’s... oh lord. He rolled his eyes then furrowed his brows as Max held a small delicate black ball between her thumb and forefinger and delicately placed it beside the sack of gold. 

“These, are identical,” she said matter of factly.

Jack raised his eyebrow and bent over the desk as Max concluded her argument that the gold was much too bulky and heavy and it should all be exchanged into tiny black pearls that could be easily transported.

“Which of these would you rather have in your possession the day Spain or England arrives and sets its eyes on conquering that fort?” 

Jack warily eyed her and leaned back in his chair. He was not pleased with her idea. She... she outsmarted him. Why didn’t she say any of this before he sent Charles out for a bloody slaver? 

“Yeah...” he said and pointed at the gold sack. “I have that. So, I suppose what we ought to do is ensure that the fort is not conquerable, which as good fortune would have it is what I’m doing.” 

Max hummed and frowned with raised eyebrows and a nod to him. 

“You cannot truly believe that is possible,” she said. Jack was taken aback, but before he could respond Max carried on. “You know as well as I do that so long as that gold is sitting in the belly of that fort, we are doubly exposed.” Max raised her voice and gave him a sincerely frustrated glare. “Losing the fort guarantees the loss of the gold.” 

Jack shook his head and decided to play the clueless bastard she so obviously thought he was... well, maybe he was, but she didn’t need to have him admit that outright. 

“Excuse me, what are you suggesting?” 

She took in a deep breath and swayed in her standing position over him. 

“That we exchange it.” 

He scoffed breathlessly on an “ah” as she continued on. 

“As much of it as possible, find partners, and trade coin for commodities far easier to move and to protect.” Jack’s face dropped at her words, her plans, her actually strategically feasible plans... “If Nassau falls, we will have something to set aside to ensure our futures.” 

Jack looked up incredulously. “Our?” He said with a sneer. Our... “Who?” 

Max shuffled and looked down to the desktop before meeting his eyes once again with a softer gaze, as if to soften the blow she was about to give his ego. 

“Mine,” he rolled his eyes, but of course. “And Anne’s...” She shrugged. 

He swallowed and nodded petulantly. 

“Lovely, good old Jack gets buried beneath a pile of rubble while you two begin a well-funded life of leisure!”

This bloody bitch, he thought while he watched her lower her gaze and grimace. 

“I didn’t say that—” 

“It’s bad enough the only time I get to see her is when she comes here to relay something that you’re displeased with!” Jack got up huffing from his chair and rounded the desk to look down at Max. “Now we’re just accepting that we’re forcing her to choose between a looong future with you and a short one with me.” Jack shook his head and turned to look out the window at the busy street below. He stood no chance against this cunning fucking woman. “There’s no chance that she’ll even consider the latter!” He shrugged his shoulders in defeat. Why the fuck would she want him, when she had smarter and... well... curvier Max? 

“Of course she will choose you!” Max bellowed over her shoulder. Jack glanced at her with a saddened gaze. Could he believe her? For a second? After all she did? 

Max came and stood by him at the window. She chose her words carefully as she continued. 

“The fort. Is going. To fall,” she said. “Tomorrow. Next week. Some day!” 

Jack swallowed and turned away. He didn’t want to believe her words, no matter how very honest they sounded to him now. 

“And I do not believe for a moment that you are stupid enough to let yourself be buried beneath it when it does,” she stood before him by the window. Jack looked away and leaned against the cool glass. He wondered what Charles would think of this proposition... “It will pain her to let me go...” 

Jack looked at her with a furrowed brow. 

“What are you on about?” He asked, arms crossed over his chest. Anne couldn’t possibly be left behind like this. He wasn’t so stupid to think that she would stay in this fucking mess. 

Max brought her hands up as she fidgeted with her fingers, tapping them in her open palm. 

“What we have shared these past few months,” Max sighed. “It will be very hard...” She looked at Jack with a wary yet open gaze, her voice cracked at her next words. “But you...” Jack dropped his hands to his sides and stared back straight on. “Without you there is no her...” 

Max... showing weakness? This must be a serious matter, Jack thought. He leaned against the window but kept his eyes fixed on her. 

Max closed her eyes and sighed before opening them once again. 

“I am here in part to secure my own future, I will not apologize for that,” she said resolutely. “But that is not why I am asking you to cooperate with me. I am asking because though I know we have our differences, I know there is one thing we share...” Jack swallowed and looked down. “We both love her.” 

Did they both love her? Did she? 

“Let us at least make sure that her future is secure?” 

Jack pushed off the wall and took in Max’s stance. Palms open in placation, eyes wide and imploring. 

“Charles won’t like this,” he mumbled and sniffed. 

“Charles is a man of war and battle and bloodshed,” Max replied with a frown and crossed her arms. “Not of administration or accounts.” 

Jack tsked and rolled his shoulders. 

“You don’t fucking know him,” he said with a bitter face. “He’s, he’s... a genius in his own right. He sees what this place needs. As do I. As does... Flint. This place needs a fort. We need a fort. We need protection.” Jack rolled his lips and looked away. “As you said, the British... the Spanish, hell the bloody French could come here any day now for all we know... We need to be prepared.” 

Max huffed out a breath and looked him over before heading back toward the door. 

“Your fort will not stand for long, it will only take on more holes. More and more holes,” she snided. “Until there is nothing left, and hopefully, there will be nothing to take before they arrive. Hopefully, you will have changed your mind by then, and not let their dreams of war leading to a highly improbable peace get in the way of practicality... of reality.” 

And with that, Max opened the door. she paused and threw over her shoulder some parting words. 

“You do know that your captain’s old mentor has returned, yes?” Max said with a small lilt in her voice. “They are currently heading to your living quarters...” Max pursed her lips and left Jack to stew in his thoughts. 

He shuffled his feet and played with the lace fringe on his sleeves. Outside the men and women of Nassau walked leisurely about, not a care in the world. 

“Sweet Jesus, not now,” he griped to himself, eyes shut in frustration and nerves. He took in a shuddering breath to calm his anxieties before moving away from the window and out the room to meet Blackbeard and Charles... a deadlier pair than James and Charles if ever he saw one. 

±±±±

The men worked in tandem like a well oiled wheel, pickaxes over their shoulders heaved down to smash the limestone before them. 

Captain Charles Vane wiped the sweat off his brow with his cuffed wrists, bound in leather, and went to swing the axe once more. The sun beat down on his bare back, the scars from where the old logging master whipped and split his skin open raised and roughened. 

“Captain,” Mr. Scott crisply called to him. 

Vane stopped his movements and lifted his eyes. 

“I understand why you are doing this, and I understand why this troubles you.” Vane lowered his gaze and nodded. He twisted his wrists around in the cuffs and looked to Mr. Scott’s open palms. A slave, just like he had been...”But they do not understand.”

Vane looked around to the dark men around him, eyeing him warily, confused, as if they questioned a man like him working alongside them. How could they not understand? He was one of them, they were one of him. They were all the same... 

“In the interest of getting this done as ... quickly as possible,” Mr. Scott continued. “Perhaps it would be better if all our roles were more clearly defined. To avoid unnecessary and uncomfortable confusion.” 

Charles felt his heart drop at Mr. Scott’s words.

Skin.

It all came down to skin.

Never mind the brand engraved in his, marking him as property. Or the lash marks across his back, so similar to what many of them bore. His skin was not the same. He did not bring them to Nassau in shackles, but that did not make them his equal in their eyes. 

He nodded and dropped the heavy pickaxe to the ground below. Without a word he stalked off with his swords in hand toward one of the tents for respite. Charles laid the swords on a leather chair and stood before a wooden table. He braced his forearms on it and bowed his head down. 

Why does it have to be this way? He wondered. Why can’t we all choose our roles? Why can’t they see that they can choose to leave, just like I choose to help? 

Charles shook his head and huffed out through his nostrils. He eyed the wooden cup floating in a bowl of fresh water and scooped it out to quench his thirst. A sip was all he could handle for now. His knuckles cracked on the table top. His breath quickened in his chest. 

Why won’t they leave? Why won’t they choose to be free? Why do they fear me?

Vane picked up the cup and threw it across the tent, shattering a lamp that fell with the blow. He panted out breathlessly in helpless agitation then went to sit by the table.

A sharp metal blade came out by his neck. His breath stayed steady despite the quickening of his heartbeat as he looked down at the shining surface. 

“A man puts a dead thing in the ground, he expects it to stay there,” a deep voice rumbled from behind him. Vane eyed the blade and pulled his neck away from the sharp bite of it. “Sometimes, it comes back.” 

The blade pulled back and Vane stood up to grab for his nearest sword, his stance was ready for battle. Nobody took his life without his permission. 

A mountain of a man, a beard black as pitch, eyes a deep blue stood before him then. Teach. Edward Blackbeard Teach. Back to Nassau after nearly a decade away. Dead men do rise from the grave, it seemed. 

“I harbored such resentment toward you all those years ago when you turned your back on me,” he murmured. Vane lowered his sword but held the handle tight in his grip. “Though I sailed countless leagues with you, fought countless battles with you, taught countless lessons to you... but you left it all... for a girl.” 

The mountain roamed closer to him, and Vane’s fists were ready for a fight. Although what he was not prepared for was a warm embrace or the smile in his old mentor’s voice as he patted his back and said...

“Good to see you, old friend.” 

±±±±

Ahhh... lovely... he still sees me as the scrawny little man, Jack thought as Teach warily listened to his explanations of the defense strategy Flint and his Charles had set forth for Nassau. Jack looked to Vane who drew from his cherried tobacco and blew out a calming swirl of smoke across the table, silently nodding at him in approval of his explanation. 

“Why,” Teach asked him flatly. 

Jack’s fingers twitched against each other over the table top as he looked to Vane, whose focus was on Teach, steady and resolute. 

“I beg your pardon?” Jack replied. 

Teach set his glass of rum atop the table and settled into his chair, hands folded over his lap. 

“Why are you so determined to defend Nassau?” 

Jack mulled over the question for a brief moment and twitched his eyebrows as he answered, as if it were obvious to all... “Because Henry Avery set his camp here and said this is a place for free men, and because you sailed from here, made this place feared,” Jack met Teach’s eyes with a determined look and continued. “Because Henry Jennings, and Benjamin Hornigold and Sam Belamy gave Nassau life—” 

“And you think your name belongs on that list, yes I understand,” Teach said with a belittling quirk of his mouth. 

Jack restrained himself from bending over the table to correct this man, this man who dismissed his argument so quickly without a thought as to what it meant to have Nassau be free and strong. Strong for his Charles, for his Anne, for the men and women of this island who deserved freedom as well.

Jack felt a booted leg move up over his calf below the table. He saw Vane take in a deep pull of smoke, eyes fixed on his, calm and steady.

Two men came to stand by Captain Teach at the table inquiring about him taking on new crew members. 

Teach moved to eye the men carefully and scoffed at how soft Nassau had become. The two men heard his story of fighting for a spot among a reputable crew and left without a word. 

Jack pressed his leg back to Vane’s in response and sighed, shoulders slumping. Charles blew out the smoke through his nostrils, the heady scent of tobacco and cinnamon filled Jack’s lungs.

Teach shook his head and took a sip of rum, wetting his mouth and washing down the disappointment in what Nassau had become to him. 

“I had such hopes for this place when I heard the Guthries had gone,” he looked to Vane and Jack as he sighed. 

Vane rubbed over his calf one more time, ankle wrapping around his and tugging his leg closer to him beneath the table. Jack’s eyes fell to the glass of amber liquid before him. He couldn’t bring himself to drink away the disappointment in Teach’s voice. 

“You have taken away the one thing that made Nassau what it was,” he said agitatedly and turned to eye Jack with all his frustration. “You have given her prosperity.” 

Jack’s ankle moved ever closer to Charles’ chair leg as he breathed out. He never thought he would ever hear anyone speak of prosperity with such disdain. It was prosperity that would bring this place back to its glory days, wouldn’t it? Prosperity and freedom. Freedom and prosperity...

Charles put his tobacco down in the ashtray before him and waited for Teach to continue. 

“Strife is good,” Teach continued. “Strife is what makes a man strong.” His fist thumped on the table as his voice became heated and impassioned. “For if a man is capable of confronting death daily, functioning in the face of it, there’s no telling what else that man can do, and a man whose limits cannot be known...he’s a very hard man to defeat in battle...” 

Jack felt Vane’s leg press down firmly on the ground, unleashing his ankle at Teach’s words. Jack swallowed and raised his eyes to meet Blackbeard’s. 

“Now I look around me and see crews filled with men who have only won a prize through surrender,” he scoffed. “I see captains,” Teach glared at Jack with a look of disgust. “Who ought to have been deposed months ago, keep their office because their men are comfortable.”

Jack looked away and turned to Vane, whose own eyes were downturned to the table, his throat bobbing at Teach’s disappointment in both of them, it seemed. 

“I see decayeverywhere” Teach growled and shook his head. “Now I returned to go back on the account as I know it. I returned because in this place I believed I could find the men necessary to do so... and in particular one man.” 

Vane raised his head and met Teach head on. Jack rubbed his boot atop Charles’. 

“Whom I thought worthy of standing alongside me ahead of a terrible fleet,” Teach’s words seeped into Vane’s skull like smoke surrounding his psyche, encapsulating him. Teach glanced at Jack then scoffed once more before eyeing Vane. “I wonder if he’s still here...” 

A tense air washed over the three of them. One of the two men came back panting to Teach’s side. His face and arms were covered in blood and bruises, fresh cuts and sweat atop his brow. Teach stood up and smiled to him, rested a palm atop his shoulder, hummed and left. 

Charles looked away from his mentor’s new crew member and stared at his glass of rum. He took it in hand and swirled its contents as if to make his own miniature cyclone. Blackbeard never seemed to understand his true intentions...

“Well,” Jack broke the silence and Charles’ trance of self doubt. “I suppose it’s a good thing he didn’t attend our matelotage, then. He would’ve thrown me overboard right on the spot.” 

Charles moved his boot to rub Jack’s and smirked quietly before taking a swallow of rum. 

Jack’s mouth twitched in worry at Charles’ continued silence. While his captain was not a man of many words, when it came to matters such as these, it left Jack unsettled to see him becalmed. 

“You aren’t going to leave with him...” Jack lowered his voice and placed his crossed palms atop the table near Charles. “Are you?” 

Charles met his furrowed brow and pursed his lips. His eyes traveled down to Jack’s hands then up to his wrists, a small leather band wrapped around each one and clasped closed with gold fastenings, so similar to his own. A pair that portrayed their consented shackling to one another. That it was their choice to have their futures bound. 

He stood from the table and moved toward the stairwell. When he did not hear footsteps follow, Charles paused and looked over his shoulder, eyeing Jack with an expectant raise of his brow. 

Jack scrambled up from his seat and Charles, pleased with the response, continued on up to their bedchamber. 

Jack swallowed and looked to the table top, quickly picking up the ashtray and the bottle of rum before heading toward the stairs as well. 

±±±±

Charles pinned his wrists above the bed and ground further into his pliant body with a growl. Their chests were plastered together with their combined sweat. Jack threw his head back as a pleasant twinge of arousal traveled up his spine from Vane’s twisting of his hips. 

“Do you love me, Charles?” He moaned out the question.

His heart hammered in his chest as Vane groaned and nodded his head, placing his hands on either side of Jack’s head for more purchase. Jack held onto his shoulders, fingers trailing over the lash scars on his back. They always left him in awe. The strife. The strife that Charles had gone through to get where he is now. He didn’t need more strife in his life. 

Jack swallowed and closed his eyes as a deep whine grew in volume from his throat at Charles’ insistent and persistent thrusts. He couldn’t let him down. He couldn’t lose him and Anne. Not now. 

“Tell me you love me,” he said as he bared his neck and stared up to Vane. Vane’s face split into a feral growl, teeth bared and eyes slitted. 

“What, you think my actions don’t speak enough for me, Jack?” He spat out and smacked his still bruised buttocks. “Didn’t beat my forgiveness and love into you hard enough when I came home to you?” 

Jack yelped in surprise as Charles slapped his backside again for good measure and sped up his pace. He kept his arms above his head but met Vane’s glare head on. 

Please,” he said in a thready whisper. His eyes began to well with unshed tears. Oh good lord, when did I become so soft? He thought to himself and gulped. 

Vane slowed his ministrations and panted. His eyebrows twitched in confusion and agitation, the feral drive to keep going nearly overridden save for his concern for Jack. 

“What’s this about Jack? What are you all twisted over now?” 

Jack turned away with a quivering lower lip. Vane tugged on his hair to face him again, eyeing the tear tracks on his flustered face. 

“Tell me or do I need to grab the belt again?” Vane warned.

Jack sobbed out and quickly drew in a deep breath before speaking. 

“It’s falling apart,” he shakily said. “It’s all falling apart, this place. Flint hasn’t returned in nearly two weeks now. Shares of the gold keep getting misplaced by these bloody idiotic men about the island. It’s... Maybe he’s right.” 

Vane growled out in agitation then swallowed, he pulled out of Jack and rested beside him, bringing him close despite his frustration. 

“You’re getting yourself worked up over a bloody speech,” Vane said while rubbing circles into his back. “Teach hasn’t been here in near a decade and you think he knows what the bloody hell has been going on as soon as he returned? That he sees all the work we put into this place?”

Jack looked up with bleary eyes and sniffled. 

“He’s never seen the value of this place, Jack. That’s why he left in the first place, and why I stayed,” Vane held him close to his chest and squeezed tight. 

Jack blurted out more tears and sobbed heavier against Charles’ warm tan skin. He shook his head and wrapped his arms and long legs around him, holding him closer. 

“I... I have to tell you something,” Jack muffled into his breast. 

Vane hummed and sighed out a “what, Jack” waiting for him to continue. Jack froze in place instead, clinging to him. He pulled back and stared down at his husband with raised eyebrows, nostrils flared. 

“I’m waiting,” Vane rumbled. 

“You won’t like it. I don’t like it, but... it makes... It’s a logical step...” Jack said while shaking his head. 

Jack took in a cleansing breath and met his eyes then. He knew it would be best not to keep secrets from him any longer. He knew this was him keeping to their commitment to keeping Nassau strong and safe. 

“The gold... it won’t be safe in that fort,” he started. Vane moved up to sit on the bed, Jack’s limbs followed until he kicked his legs off. “There’s too much of it to be transported away if—” he gulped. “When our adversaries come to take it....The fort... It may not be the safest place...”

Vane growled and punched his fist against the wooden bed frame, then pressed his forehead against his hand. 

“What the fuck are you talking about?” He bellowed. Jack swallowed but kept his open eyes steady on Vane. “Are you going against my plans now? After all the shit you just put me through? Should they all just stop working on its repairs?” 

“No! Of course I’m not going against your plans, Sir,” Jack replied. 

He withdrew his hands and showed his open palms in a form of placation. He waited for Vane to take a deep breath before continuing. 

“The fort’s security is still critical, but so is the security of the cache...” Jack swallowed. “We could... make it...smaller in a sense,” Jack pinched his index and thumb fingers together and showed Vane with a small nod. 

Charles’ eyes slitted in confusion and wariness, but waited for him to continue. 

“We could exchange the gold for smaller, lighter goods of equal value. Make it easier to transport, move around if need be. Make it easier to...stow away, if you will.”

Charles scoffed and moved behind him for the ash tray. Jack moved to grab the matchbox at his side to relight Charles’ rolled tobacco. 

“What are we, fucking rats?” Charles said around the spliff and sucking in the sweet smoke as Jack held the lit match to the end. “Hiding treasure around the island?” 

Charles exhaled and closed his eyes with a furrowed brow. This could work... but Flint... he would not approve. Not that he wanted Flint’s approval... Fucking consort, he thought to himself.  

Jack blew out the match and stretched out onto his stomach with a groan. 

“Of course not,” he mumbled into the furs above his head. “But it does keep our goals more secure, doesn’t it? The fort gets rebuilt, made stronger. The cache becomes more mobile. And we...” Jack looked up stretched out his hand to rub against Vane’s bare thighs. “Don’t have to give anyone else the advantage of knowing...” 

Vane eyed him with a level gaze. He had a point. If Flint knew of a supposed cache exchange... that the gold was made easier to transport, he may try to leave with it. Take it for himself, do lord knows what with it. But something didn’t settle right with him...

“Why didn’t you tell me this idea of yours sooner?” Charles asked through a puff of smoke. He opened his thighs for Jack’s traveling hand to explore and leaned against the headboard. 

Jack hummed and shook his head quickly. He sighed out and twitched the corner of his mouth up in mild embarrassment.

“Well, because it wasn’t exactly my idea to begin with,” he said. 

Charles paused and twitched his eyebrow up in curiosity, then swallowed at the thought that others would be in the know if this came to fruition. 

“Who...” Charles asked. 

Jack sighed and brought his head to lay near the ‘v’ of Charles’ splayed thighs. 

“Her...Max,” he finally said. “It was her idea... She came up to me with it this afternoon. I hate to say it, but it makes good sense. It would keep...all of us secure... in our futures.” 

Charles looked down at Jack, his shoulders shrugging as his fingertips grazed over his semi erect hardness. Charles swallowed at Jack’s cool touch and stubbed out his tobacco roll before placing the ashtray at his bedside table. He knew it would be good to keep Max in their pockets...

“You trust her to keep her mouth shut over this?” Charles asked, tone serious and weighted while he pet the top of his head. 

Jack looked up, sniffled and nodded. “I...I do on this matter, yes.” 

Charles hummed and grinned before gripping the back of Jack’s head and pinning him to the bed once more, his hips hovering over Jack’s face. Jack gasped, eyes blown with arousal and transfixed on his leaking cockhead. 

“Alright,” Vane nodded his approval. The plan could go through. “I normally don’t mind your mouth running, love, but on this? You best keep quiet, as well. Understood?” Vane said in a gravelled, seductive whisper. 

He gripped the base of his cock and moved closer to Jack’s mouth. Jack looked up and nodded against his grasp, he wet his lips and smiled, hands balled into loose fists, slightly raised unsure of where to keep them. 

“Hands above your head, Jack. That’s a good lad,” Jack simpered happily at the praise as he obeyed. Vane growled with a toothy grin and pushed forward. “Now, open wide.” 

Chapter Text

Silver swallowed around the thick, dry, weighty lump of guilt trapped in his throat as his captain spoke of the vote to make him the crew’s new quartermaster. He closed his eyes as a dull throb of pain clouded his senses for long, bolstering moments.

How much had changed in just a few days. In just a few weeks. In a few months amongst these men... Amongst this man in particular.

It seemed that while Silver fell into his shock — most probably laudanum — induced slumber, Captain James Flint hadn’t slept a wink, if the circles under his eyes were anything to go by. Silver caught the small lilt of his lips, the gentle raising of his eyebrows, the soft look of…if not sympathy… then awe on James Flint’s face.

“It’s a funny thing. The more those men need you, the more you need them,” Flint said. Silver watched as his captain wet his lips and lowered his lids to half mast, green eyes smoldering as he stared at his parted mouth. “And it drives us to do the most unexpected things.”

Silver turned his head away after his captain looked to his leg then back with a small smile. The lump grew in his throat, grew and spread like a massive tumor throughout his chest.

He didn’t expect his life to be pitted against a crew of men he came to see as more than pawns. He didn’t expect to feel so… indebted ... He didn’t expect his deeply-embedded survival instinct to encapsulate a slew of pirates as well. But above all else, he did not expect to feel so twisted because of this fucking man...

"There's something you ought to know before we reach Nassau," tightly bound breaths escaped Silver’s chest as he spoke.

Silver watched Flint flick his gaze up with a soft raising of his eyebrows, eyed his soft footfalls as he walked closer to the window seat and waited patiently.

Silver’s breathing grew erratic the longer he waited to continue.

“About what we’ll likely face there.”

Was he really doing this? Was he really going to tell him of his lecherous betrayal?

Silver moved up on the seat to sit straighter. He bared a bit of his neck to Flint. He watched his gaze flare at the revealing of skin beneath his brown chemise.

“Before my misfortune at the hands of Vane’s lieutenant…” Silver took in a steadying breath that felt more like ice and fire whirring just beneath his ribcage. “Our friend, the scout you sent to oversee the Urca gold on that beach... confessed something to me.” Silver watched Flint’s eyes turn to slits for the briefest of moments. He watched his throat bob, his fists clench. “He told me that the news he brought us about the gold having been recovered…” He stared straight on as he spun this new web. “Was a lie.”

Silver pressed on as Flint looked down at the cabin floor. The words flew out of his mouth before he could stop them. Silver would have felt proud of his deception, of the construction of his grand scheme. But, as John observed the very moment the hope in Flint’s eyes pulled away like the ebb of the tide, and a foul, morbid disbelief flooded back in its place. He could not help but feel that cancerous guilt spread throughout his body, down to the tips of his long lost toes.

“A falsehood he perpetuated so that he could sell its location to another crew in exchange for a larger share of the prize…”

Flint couldn’t breathe.

His mind reeled back in time to when Silver was on that beach, collecting assent on his part. On that beach with no one else but Randall in tow. Silver had been alone to do as he pleased once he gathered enough men on Flint’s side…But why gather assent if he was only going to escape as soon as he had the chance?

He tore his gaze away from Silver’s falsened vulnerable stare, and instead bored an inflamed jagged glare into the window seat where Silver’s left foot would have lain — had it not been chopped off and thrown to the sea. Was Silver’s vulnerability truly a facade? It certainly seemed so. Especially now. After what he just said, never mind what he did… for the crew...for — for… him? Would anyone — nevermind John Silver — dare lose their livelihood for the greater cause?

No , Flint shook his head. It was a trickery. It was a falsehood, a means to an end just like all of his bloody actions thus far. This fucking thief .

“I’m sorry, I’m having a hard ti—” Flint’s breath caught in his chest. He stalked closer still to Silver and watched him pant, watched him put the back of his wrist against his sweating forehead, watched him bare more of his neck as he lay back down and closed his eyes.

The breeze from the opened window did nothing to sweep away the thickening tension between them, the swelling anger in his crushing heart.

“He lied to us all.”

You lied to us all, was more aligned with what Flint was truly saying. Silver gulped, paused, then nodded.

He had lied to them all. He just lied again to his face. And they both saw right through it, yet neither dared to admit this truth. It was as if either man reached out to so much as breathe on their fragile state, the dust surrounding them would never settle back. Instead, the entire world would collapse around them.

“And then he sold the information to another crew …” Silver noted the lack of a questioning tone in Flint’s deadly even voice. “So that they, could retrieve the gold…”

He moved his arms away and composed himself in as complacent a position as he could muster; one full leg and what was left of the other splayed open for Flint to see, his head tilted back just a bit more, eyes smoldering as best he could with that overwhelming guilt pressing up into his skull ready to burst through every orifice therein. He moved his gaze up and met Flint’s twitching face.

“Yes,” he breathed out with the barest of a lilt in his voice. As soon as the admittance left his throat, the weighty, charged blanket of tension clung to his chest, latched onto his guilt, and pinned him to the window seat. He closed his eyes and panted harder.

Flint despised the very movement of that breeze billowing across the tops of Silver’s shirt, through his hair, away from him and onto the rest of the room. Those angelic blue eyes...full of deceit. Full of treachery. No, he could not trust him. How could he have ever fucking thought he could ever fucking trust him?

“Who the fuck did he sell it to?”

Silver didn’t answer. Not right away. Not quickly enough.

Who ?!” Flint roared as he stood over him.

Silver’s voice wavered as he responded.

“Captain Rackham.”

Flint spun around on his heels and pushed his head into his hands with a “Jesus Christ” hissed out through his teeth.

“Jack has it,” he said with a distraught tone. Jack. Jack fucking Rackham. Jack fucking Rackham has no idea how to handle that kind of money. It’s probably burned a hole in his pocket big enough to hemorrhage half the cache onto the beach by now, Flint thought. “Jack Rackham,” Flint took a deep shuddering breath and balled his fists, “has the cache. In Nassau.”

His eyes honed in on Silver’s sharp nod and gulp.

Flint nodded, and looked away with a frenzied yet haggard expression on his face. He had a new plan now, a new mission. Nassau. We need to get back to Nassau, so I can murder this fucking traitor and get the gold back… Then fix the fort… Then I can… Then I can fix the fort…

He stammered silently to himself, and blinked away at the sudden hot prick of tears that slid down his cheeks. I can fix this.

“Fuck,” he breathed out. Flint pressed his thumb harshly down his face to wipe away the remnants of his tears. He looked to the cabin door and faintly heard the husky bellow of Charles Vane beyond it, ordering the Ranger men about. Flint’s chest heaved. He felt his shoulders bob up and down near his ears as he pushed in and out each harsh breath.

Charles Vane. His name drowned out the racing rumbling of images flowing through Flint’s mind and brought one in particular to a screeching halt: Charles Vane and Jack Rackham in Eleanor Guthrie’s tavern sitting side by side, laughing, smiling, conspiring . Charles Vane and Jack Rackham.

With a sharp whirl, Flint spun around and grabbed the metal cup off the stool and hurled it across the room at the door.

“Fuck!!!” He screamed. “Fuck!”

Silver cringed and curled in on himself at Flint’s abrupt violent outburst. He still feared Flint’s rage would clutch on and pin him down to his death. A new rush of dread crashed over him as he caught wind of Flint murmuring “Charles Vane” under his breath while charging at the cabin door.

“No!!!” Silver shouted. But Flint did not even flinch. Silver threw his legs over the side of the window seat. He tumbled to the floor, the still healing stitches on his stump nearly bursting open with the fall. A pained shriek flew out of his throat, “No — fuck! Captain!!!”

Flint paused with the doorknob in hand and looked down with a crazed snarl. John scrambled toward him on all fours. Goodness, when did I become such a pathetic wretch, John thought to himself. But he shook his head, shoved his thoughts back into the dark corners of his mind, and focused on keeping Flint as far away as possible from killing Vane while the two crews would watch on.

“You kill him, and all hell breaks loose on this ship,” John panted out through gritted teeth. He sat up on shaking arms, his legs stretched out behind him. A fresh pulse of sweat beaded out across his skin. He kept a vise grip of eye contact as Flint huffed out and cracked his knuckles.

He knows —”

Silver cut him off and pressed on. “ Yes ,” he wheezed out. Silver put his hand up in belayment when Flint turned to the door once again. “The only reason you are not hanging in Charlestown Square is because Vane was convinced otherwise !” He swallowed around a hurt groan. Lord, the pain . The pain was becoming too much...

Flint pinched his eyelids shut and held his breath. I really have no choice, do I? I have to stay the fucking course See this war through... Flint thought.   Alright, air punched out and traveled back in like a tornado into a vault. Vane lives. So long as he keeps his mouth shut.

Flint shook out of his stupefied state at Silver’s agonized moan. He caught sight of the trail of fresh blood on the floor from Silver having dragged his leg across it to in his attempt to belay him. Dark, seething anger bubbled to the surface at the sight of smeared crimson.

“Get the fuck up,” he spat out.

Flint gripped Silver under his arms and nearly threw him back onto the window seat. Silver’s yelp and howl rang in his ears, but he paid no heed to it. As soon as he laid Silver down, Flint shoved at his shoulders and pressed him to the cushions below. He brought his left knee up and dug it into Silver’s right hip joint. The heels of his palms dug into the joints of his shoulders, pulling a whimper from his new quartermaster. Flint felt droplets of sweat swell and fall off his forehead and down onto Silver’s petrified frame mere inches below.

Silver shivered uncontrollably as the hot beads of water landed on his own forehead.

“Your first task, as quartermaster,” Flint breathed out across Silver’s nose and lips. “Is to find out how much fucking gold is still left upon our return to Nassau.”

Silver took in a sharp inhale at the sudden closeness. He didn’t dare move his shoulders away from the aching pressure of Flint’s grip. He did his best to avert his attention from the growing pressure of that knee grinding into his hip, but he could only think of the aching skin surrounded by stitches in his stump... Trapped . He felt trapped .

Silver’s breathing picked up in a panic. “H-how? I can’t fucking walk—”

Flint pressed harder with hands and knee. John keened out.

“Figure it out,” Flint growled as he shoved off and ran a trembling hand through his hair. “You’re clever. Figure it the fuck out.”  

 

±±±±

 

Night befell Nassau Bay. A stifling heat pressed in on all sides of the two crews as they readied the Spanish warship for its anchorage.

Silver watched on as Billy and Vane’s new quartermaster — a wild-looking man with dreadlocks that ran down his muscular back and sharp eyes that pierced through anyone they laid on — barked orders to ready the launches for their departure onto the island. He caught sight of Captain Vane nonchalantly sauntering over to his quartermaster’s side, whisper in his ear, then stand closer to Billy as the wild man nodded and went to help lower the launches. Billy crossed his arms over his wide chest, but leaned down just enough for Silver to notice he was listening in to whatever Vane’s moving lips spouted out. Silver’s eyes thinned to slits. Something wasn’t right here.

The ship swayed with the mild Caribbean winds.

“Agh!”  

His left thigh cramped and gave a sudden twinge that ran up his spine and gripped onto the roots of hair on the back of his neck. He panted anxiously, frustratedly as the metal peg scraped along the wooden deck. The vibrations traveled up to his stitches encased within the leather lining of the peg. He bit his lower lip and held tightly to the railing with one hand, his other gripped the rough, unpolished handle of his new crutch. He did his best to stretch out what was left of his limb. The fresh wounds were still a long way from healing. But Silver — out of spite, out of anger, out of self pity — refused to let anyone see him out of the cabin without something resembling his former glory.            

Flint’s last words to him in the past four days still rang in his ears… “ Figure it out.” Figure it out. Figure it out. He would fucking figure it out . He was going to leave this godforsaken crew, go see to Max about getting his share of the gold, and get the hell out of dodge. Maybe he could catch a ship to Haiti, or maybe to Denmark…

Silver’s eyes caught sight of Flint standing near the bow of the warship, as far away from Vane as possible. As far away from him as possible, it seemed. Silver gasped when he pulled his peg back underneath him. His eyes widened when he saw what Flint had done to his head.

Four days. Four long, uncomfortably silent days left alone in the hollowed captain’s cabin. Four days without catching a single glance from Captain James Flint in his direction. Four days without seeing his red locks of hair curve around his chin or fall over into eyes which had always been the ever present shade of viridity. Silver leaned into the railing and turned to better see Flint’s state. He saw the angry red lacerations seemingly left from a much-too-close shave atop his head gone erratic.

And beneath these crusted over cuts lay a stoic disposition. A blank expression, deadened eyes, an unflinching steadiness with the final drop of the anchor below. His hands were behind his back. His feet stood apart in their black salt bitten boots. He was too calm. Too… unfazed by the past two weeks. Silver swallowed when he turned his gaze back up and found Flint staring back.

Dead eyes? No. Silver could sense the swirling dread beneath the surface of Flint, even from 10 meters away. And while it seemed that Flint was sending a clear message, to stay away... Silver found himself gritting his teeth and hobbling forward anyway.

Silver stopped in his tracks, unable to move. But not from the flash of gnawing pain in his leg and back. No, it was the look Flint gave him that threw up an invisible wall of stone between them. Those eyes went from cold as iron to hot as flames in a split second as soon as Silver moved along the railing... Stay the fuck away from me.

Silver halted. He stood down. But he did not tear his gaze from from Flint. He watched him pull away from the railing and focus his attention on Billy and Vane. The two pulled apart from one another to haul down separate launches in the process.

“Mr. Quartermaster, Sir.”

John’s shoulders hunched up around his ears at Dooley’s sudden approach. He took a deep breath and turned around, crutch and boot clumsily following behind. Dooley bowed his head and cast his eyes down to the floor between them and swallowed.

“Sorry, I uh, I didn’t mean ta startle yah,” he started.

Silver schooled his expression into one that feigned lightheartedness. He molded his mouth into a toothy grin and shook his head.

“No worries,” he said while patting Dooley’s shoulder. “And please, it’s still John. No need to bother with the ‘Sir’ or any of that nonsense.” Just John. I am just. John. I’m nobody’s fucking quartermaster, he thought to himself. He sighed and looked out to the boats hauled over the side. “Are we ready?”

Dooley returned the smile and nodded. “Aye we are.”

“Excellent, excellent. Say, could you tell me where Muldoon is? I’d like to see him off to shore with us.”

Dooley’s brow furrowed at the odd lilt in Silver’s voice, but he nodded and went to fetch Muldoon nonetheless.

Silver looked over the railing at the boats waiting to be filled just within reach. He heard the heavy footfalls and scented the deep cinnamon and tobacco smoke that always noted Vane’s presence. He felt his shoulders hunch up around his ears again, but this time he could not bring himself to relax enough to lower them.

“Apologies about the leg,” Vane rasped out. Silver watched his enormous hands — wolf paws, really — wrap over the railing beside his own, a lit tobacco roll sat between two of his thick fingers. Silver ripped his hand away from the railing and searched over Vane’s shoulders for Flint. God, don’t be so pathetic, he chastised himself. Vane’s smirk brought his attention back to this beast beside him. “I really did not intend for you to be changed so...drastically.” Was that… chagrin in his voice? Vane moved closer and whispered by his ear. “Guess you can’t exactly run to your share of the cache now, can you?”

Muscle-corded arms shot out between Silver and Vane then shoved at the Ranger’s captain with a heavy force.

“You,” Billy grimaced. “Stay the fuck away from our brother. Your lot’s done enough damage as it is.”

Silver’s chest began tightening at Billy’s words. These are not my brothers , he desperately thought. He huffed through his flared nostrils. Gripping onto the crutch handle, Silver dug his palms into the wood with enough force to splinter it. Dooley and Muldoon silently moved to either side of Silver, boxing him in beside the railing.

Vane stumbled back, but found his grounding on his two feet once again. He smirked mirthlessly and shook his head up at Billy, then eyed Silver with a sheepish grin.

“I was actually just apologizing to your new quartermaster,” Vane said with a head nod to Silver and raised palms at Billy. “But, understood.” Vane took a deep draw from his cigarette and blew the smoke out toward Billy’s stern expression. “We’ll keep our distance.”

Silver looked on with a blank expression of his own. Soon enough these men wouldn’t be his problem anymore. Billy was a truly capable man, liked well enough to be a good quartermaster in his own right. Hell, he already had a run at it. Silver sniffed then tilted his head to Muldoon.

“Where’s Flint?” he asked.

Muldoon turned and pointed over to the water below. “He preparin’ to leave with Joji in their own launch.”

“He’s leaving for the tavern?” Silver asked quietly.

Muldoon rubbed a hand over his bald head then shook it. “No, sounded like he said something ‘bout the old guv’na’s manor, ‘swhat I caught on to.”  

Silver’s brow furrowed in confusion. He pulled his gaze from Billy and Vane’s standoff to give Muldoon his full attention. Those brown eyes shined as soon as he made contact. Silver’s mouth twitched up. He scanned Muldoon’s uplifted expression and asked in a near silent whisper, “What’s at the governor’s manor?”

Muldoon shuffled just a smidgen closer and looked out to the flickering lights of Nassau Town. He smiled back at Silver.

“The Ranger crew keep saying something about Captain Rackham taking quarters there. Said they heard about it when we landed in Tortuga for respite a few days back…”

Silver swallowed around the sudden sick dread in his stomach. Jack.

A sudden splash below had all the men turn their attention over the railing. Flint and Joji picked up their respective set of oars and began rowing in haste toward the shore.

Billy’s strong arms planted themselves between Silver and Muldoon, effectively shoving Muldoon away.

“Where’s he going?” He asked. Vane came and stood beside him, eyes focused on the ship as he took another drag and filled his lungs with smoke.

Silver’s chest beat erratically under his blue coat. His eyes widened as soon as Vane caught them.

“He’s going to see Captain Rackham,” Silver’s voice wavered at the words. Vane stared back incredulously, until Silver’s message dawned on him.

Vane’s face scrunched in rage and an uncharacteristic mix of fear.

“Shit,” he hissed under his breath.  He threw the cigarette overboard and stomped out with an order to give him the next available launch.

Billy watched Vane hop over the railing with his own look of confusion before turning to Silver with a questioning expression.

Silver’s hands had become clammy and cold. The rocking of the ship seemed exaggerated as he leaned against the railing, shoulder running into Dooley. He shut his eyes to steady himself, but to no avail.

“Billy,” he croaked out. “Go with Vane — please. Just. Go with him. Quickly!”

Billy huffed and shut his jaw then turned to run after Vane and jump into the launch with him.

What have I done? Silver thought. Muldoon returned to his side with a concerned look in his eyes.

“Is your leg hurtin’ ya, Silver?” He asked.

Silver shook his head and panted between gulps of air.

“When we get to the beach, I need you to do something for me,” Silver bared his neck and tilted his head just the slightest bit, his growing hair cascaded down his right shoulder. He watched Muldoon’s eyes trail down his neck. “Keep an eye on Billy for me, will you?”

Muldoon nodded. “Of course, but... why? What’s goin’ on, Johnny?”

“Please, just — do this for me. Don’t ask questions that I cannot answer,” Silver closed his eyes again for a brief moment. Nothing but the rustling movement of Ranger and Walrus men taking their positions aboard launches filled the air. “One more thing,” Silver parted his lips. Muldoon swallowed and looked up. “Keep watch of Captain Flint,” Muldoon was close enough that Silver caught the shining glint in his eyes. The quiet, not so hidden hurt at the request. He nodded again.

Silver kept his eyes on Muldoon, assessing his devotion and finding no fault in it. He turned to Dooley then, and gripped onto the railing with both hands, crutch and boot secure.

“Time to make our departure, gentlemen.”

Chapter Text

Waves, black and tepid splashed along the beach where they docked. Vane dropped his oars and dashed out of the longboat. Billy followed not far behind. He eyed the deep set of Flint’s shoulders and Joji’s quick, focused gait ahead of him and Vane.

Follow Flint, go with Vane , Silver had ordered without a single explanation.

Billy fought the urge to question his newly elected quartermaster’s command, instead paying attention to his furrowed brows over wild blue eyes full of urgency and dread. Alright, he thought, he’d follow the fucking order for now, because that was what the crew needed him to do — to follow orders, to keep things as they should be. He didn’t have to like the man. Billy swallowed as he thought of thrown axes and splattered blood, of a limb thrown to the sea.

He wasn’t certain what this business was with following Flint, but if Vane’s grunt to “hurry the fuck up” was anything to go by, getting to the governor’s manor was a bloody high priority.

Vane grunted an order to his quartermaster to head to the fort and “inform a Mr. Featherstone of the Ranger’s arrival.” Billy swallowed and stayed focused on the task at hand instead.

They moved through the sandy, dusty streets like two hunters tracking a pack of wolves, its fire-headed leader haunched and focused ahead. Vane moved the slightest bit faster, palms gripping his cutlass past a group of running children as Flint made a hard left down an alley, Joji just behind his side.

Billy charged past Vane and pushed at his chest, silently stalling him before they entered the dark corridor. Vane’s nostrils flared as he glared on, painting a target on Flint’s back with his eyes before he attempted to shove against Billy’s hand. They stood there for a moment longer, until the darkness swallowed the tip of Joji’s katana.

“He might know we’re following,” Billy said by his side.

Vane keened forward again, chest puffed up, wrists twisting in their leather cuffs.

“He’s going to kill him, and what fucking good is that going to do?”

“It would do a lot of fucking good, as a matter of fact,” Billy started. “Get that fat purse false king off his throne of Spanish dollars, and then you get a good bloody reason to kill Flint for leaving the gold unprotected… sounds like a good way to start a partnership, don’t you think? Kill two problems in one fell swoop?”

Vane’s eyes turned to slits sharp as razors at Billy’s question. His incisors gleaned under the flames lining the entryway of the pitch black alley.

Billy’s brow pursed in confusion. Why did Jack fucking Rackham matter to Vane? To them? Wasn’t he Vane’s lost cause— The Ranger’s excommunicated quartermaster? Did he not steal from under everyone’s noses, then acted like the false charitable savior, sitting atop a mountain of gold which he never had to do the deadly, sacrificing acts of a laboring crew to get to?

“Who is Rackham to you?”

Vane growled and started at Billy, cutlass pulled out of his belt when a hoarse voice shouted behind them.

“Wait!”

Billy whipped his head back and looked down behind him. Muldoon heaved in breaths and braced himself on his knees, one hand raised.

Vane scoffed and moved forward toward where Flint and his man disappeared with nothing but their footprints in the ground.

“You end ‘im, you got the whole Walrus to contend with,” Muldoon wheezed and stepped forward, eyes on Billy.

Billy grit his jaw and swallowed thickly, eyes set on the alley way ahead, and the beacon atop the governor’s manor not far ahead. He watched Vane wrench out of his hold and charge down the alley, the glint of his sword unsheath the last spark of light.

“Come on, then,” Billy moved forward, a small glance at Muldoon before keeping focus on the dark ahead. “Have to catch up to the captain,” he warily eyed them both.

They traversed into the night, swords and daggers out in either hands, chasing after an unseen force whose eyes had seen darkness blacker than the cloak of death.

±±±±±

Flint walked with a resolute focus and a dead expression, the burning lamps above the Governor’s manor reflected in his eyes like the new flicker of rage he beheld. I want to see this city that you purchased with our misery burn, she had said. I want to see you hanged.

Fucking thief, he thought. Stole our freedom. He’ll pay. I’ll make him pay. I’ll make them all pay.

His strides picked up as he moved through the threshold and into a bustling crowd of drunken men and women, a harpsichord playing an overtly bright melody through the sounds of aimless chatter. Too many noises, he wanted to drown them out like the echo of that bullet. Joji came by his side and pointed up the stairwell in the corner where a tall lanky man with sharp sideburns and a smug smirk walked with a ginger haired shadow through a doorway at the top.

Flint tightened his jaw and took eerily calm steps through the crowd, his focus on the climb, although his limbs felt numb as he took each raising step closer to his marks. Joji came up with his own silent focus as they reached the just shut door. He graced Joji with a hard stare before he murmured “guard the door” and pushed into the dimly lit room.

He watched the redhead take off a worn hat to reveal a soft, angular face, eyes rolling as he went on about using the spoils he stole.

“Honestly, darling, it’s not too late to get a new chapeau, I am certain Chaz has no trouble with you splitting the share with us. He’d say I’m as much yours as I am his—”

Jack stood stock still, the coinpurse in his hand slipped from his grip and spilled onto the floor like a flood of gold about them, one single spanish dollar rolling and stopping with the stomping of Flint’s salt-bitten sole.

His face was void of blood, blank and cold as he slid his cutlass from his belt with a smooth slide. It was nothing but a faint twitch in his cheek that gave away the mask of grim death he bore with unusual ease.

In a flurry he struck toward his target, violent rage pulsing out of him like spitting magma from a turbulent hellfire. He was never ready for the two crossed blades against his pulsing neck. Two flaming eyes met his with the promise of death beneath their ferocity.

“Move another step and I’ll fucking end you,” she hissed.

Flint looked over her shoulder and caught Jack’s beady eyes and raised hands covered in ruffled fabric. He was a monster held back by the false king’s guard dog. He watched Jack take in their panting breaths, caught in a dance with blades pressed like promises beyond the dark veil he’d fallen behind. He dropped his sword with a clang, hands at his sides, steady.

Still.

Quick as lightning he grabbed for her dagger handles, a knee against her core, just one stab beneath the rib cage and he could—

They stopped in their tracks at the ruckus beyond the door.

“I’m going in there!”

Vane’s growling voice was unmistakable.

Flint eyed his opponent and moved to kick her but she was quicker, hands still on her blades as she took to standing behind him instead, pressing her elbows around his throat for good measure.

“Joji, step aside.”

Flint’s eyebrows furrowed at Billy’s calm and deep timbre, yet he kept his glare head on at Jack. Jack’s dark eyes skated from the door to the woman behind him with a small knitting of brows, the slightest hint of amusement on his face.

The door opened wide, Joji’s palm flat against it as he stepped in first and picked up his katana, at the ready. Flint watched closely as Billy bent his head just the slightest and stepped through, palms up in a sign of placation. And then came Vane.

Vane huffed through his nostrils, eyes set on Jack with a stern appraising gaze, up and down, as if to see if he had been injured at all. He quickly turned and faced Flint with his cutlass drawn, ready to plunge into him, but an invisible rope kept Vane back.

“Ahh, how wonderful of you all to join us.”

Flint eyed Jack with a distinct focus only found in the eyes of those who have held lively flesh that slipped to death in their wake.

“I see the Walrus and the Ranger crews have returned...home…Not that Captain Flint’s lovely, sharp greeting wasn’t an indication of it. I hear the Carolinas are quite toasty these days, or is charred a better word for it?—”

“Fuck you, Jack,” Billy hurled at him with a bitter tang.

“I’m only making light of my near assassination by bitter mongrel—”

Flint growled and moved to grab the woman’s blade handles with a stronger grip, but found himself held back by yet another blade at his gut. His snarl grew harsher still, glare matching Vane’s with a spitfire passion.

“He took my gold,” he puffed against the blades.

“You took my prize,” Vane retorted. His face got closer to still Flint’s, teeth bared as he continued, head nodding in Jack’s direction. “And you came after my hus—”

“It is our gold, Captain,” Billy pushed his palm between the two, separating them as best he could with a calm focus. “Isn’t that right? Our gold? For Nassau? Make us all princes of the New World. Isn’t that what you said?”

Flint looked up between him and Vane, then down at the blades still by his jugulars. He couldn’t look at Jack as he felt himself able to breathe openly, sure that it was his head nod that let him freely stand on his own. He looked to Joji with a head jerk then stared about the room in quick succession, assessing the situation before him. His knuckles cracked as he spoke.

“The New World holds nothing,” he started, eyes closing for the briefest of moments, the image of Miranda’s wide brown eyes flashing before his mind. He took a shuddering breath and rolled his jaw. “Not for people like us.” He glared at Jack, bile rising up his throat. He dressed too closely to the late Peter Ashe. Flint bitterly scoffed at him and continued. “Except maybe for you. I doubt you’ve ever picked up a sword in your fucking life. Doubt you’ve witnessed death so close it spatters across your lips so you can taste it.”

Jack’s throat bobbed while he quirked his brow. Flint watched his eyes move to Vane, focused intently for just long enough that Flint could make his move.

“Anne!” Jack blurted.

Flint felt more than saw Anne Bonny’s blade move to cradle atop his collarbones, another at his lower back. He stopped and couldn’t help the bubbling laughter that erupted from his chest.

“Won’t even fight for yourself, will you? Do you enjoy allowing everyone else do the dirty work for you, Captain? Do you find it honorable to leave yourself out of the full responsibility of your choices? The fuck kind of pirate captain are you?”

Jack eyed him carefully, appraising his trapped form, aware of all the blades in the room, then smirked, leaving Flint to scowl.

He side eyed Billy and Joji, both standing at the ready with grips tight on their swords, then looked to at the moving shadows beneath the doorframe. A pair of feet, it seemed, another crewman, but for which side?

“Jack,” Vane warned with a steely tilt in his husky voice.

Flint observed as Jack paused, then smiled as he freely moved across the room and picked up his fallen cutlass. Jack raised a hand in a show of placation and moved ever closer, sliding the blade back into Flint’s belt and patting it in place.

“I find your words don’t cut as sharply as Anne’s blades do,” Jack surmised. “And as for your questions as to what kind of pirate captain I am. I happen to be the pirate captain that outsmarted you, out prized you, and currently outmatches you.”

Flint’s glare turned cold as ice, haunted, stoney. Jack took a step back and fidgeted with the back of his head. Ten years he had spent looking for a way out of this. Ten years mourning the loss of Thomas together with her… He had spent ten years trying his best to protect her, to heed to Thomas’ words, to make their dream come true. He was the last one standing that could see it through. He had to see it through.

“You don’t even have a plan, beyond stuffing your pockets.” Flint said. “You don’t have a vision beyond your legacy.

“What’s your legacy so far, Flint?” Vane stalked closer, eyes slitted. He rolled his tongue behind his lower lip and jutted out his jaw. “You went to the Carolinas with a woman not one of us knew anything about, taking the governor’s daughter for an exchange. But what kind of exchange was it? She certainly wasn’t worth as much as the Urca’s treasure.”

Flint swallowed and caught sight of Billy’s relaxing stance, hand letting go of his cutlass handle, and Joji’s pinched face, unsure of what he had just heard. His heart lurched in his chest, panic rising to the surface. He had to strategize. Had to keep the dream alive. But he could not do that with his own men turning against him if they knew.

“Give us the room,” Flint said to his men with a glance that flickered like a flame threatened by the lapping waves ahead. When no one made to move, he turned his palms up and said it again with fervor. “The room.”

±±±±±

Jack and Anne shared a silent exchange that ended in her releasing Flint of his hold, but not before placing a thin trail of red across his chest, the faintest prickles of blood beading to the surface.

She took her hat off the desk beside Jack’s leaning form and whispered in his ear, “He better stand by you this time, Jack” she moved back and lowered her voice as she scowled in Vane’s direction, hat shading her face. “Shouldn’t have to pay your husband to keep his loyalty.”

She left without another word, shoulder slipping by Vane’s like the slide of sandpaper across wood, and exited the room, Flint’s burly giants right behind her.

Jack swallowed his twisting emotions and stared at the spilled coins across the wooden floor. He was unsure of what to make of Anne’s comments. He did what he did to prove his loyalty, to show that he could do what needed to be done for Nassau— to give them all the life they deserved. Isn’t that what love was about? Surely Anne could see that it would work out in their favor this time. That with their prosperity beneath them, they could keep their futures secure, the future of this nation of thieves would be founded on—

“You can’t stay here.”

Charles’ words snapped Jack out of his spiralling train of thought and back into the present situation. His hazel eyes roamed over Jack as he spoke, but he knew his words were meant for their murderous guest.

“You stay here longer than a few days, those redcoats will come straight to these shores looking to put our heads on pikes,” Vane continued while standing beside Jack, arms crossed over his chest. His fingertips played with the tip of his cutlass handle in waiting as he contemplated doing the honors of beheading Flint for the bloody colonials himself. “And since you blew our bloody fort to shambles, we don’t exactly have a strong defense for this place when they come looking to give us cannons instead of those bloody pardons you thought you could win us. As if we’d actually fucking take them. You ever think about that, Jim?”

Flint’s cheek twitched, his fingers tapped at his thighs while he cracked his neck with a twist.

Jack eyed them with mild suspicion, a raised eyebrow in skepticism at this new information. Captain James Flint, feared pirate of the Caribbean, going to England for pardons?

Vane scoffed and moved to the bed in the corner of the room, picking up a freshly rolled cigar from the table beside it and settling it between the corner of his smirking lips and lighting its end. He stoked its cherried end a few times with inhales of air, then blew out a cloud of sweet cinnamon and cloves.

“Guess it doesn’t really matter now, does it? We’ve started our war with them. Made our bed to rest in it together, so to speak,” Vane raised his eyebrows to Jack while he chuckled at Flint, goading him.

Flint sneered and side eyed Jack, hands curling to white-knuckled fists before returning his attention to Vane with a squared jaw.

“And you expect me to trust him with five million Spanish dollars?” Flint kicked at the pile of gold on the floor and sent it splashing beneath the desk, beside Jack’s shining leather boots. “You expect me to trust that he knows how to manage this kind of treasury with these kinds of men running about it? He won’t last a fortnight—”

“You won’t last another five minutes if you keep at it.”

Jack watched with mild amusement as Charles stared Flint down and blew twin puffs of smoke through his nostrils at once. He crossed his legs and watched Flint breathe short ins and outs. Vane took another deep inhale of his tobacco and blew it out the side of his mouth, cigar in hand pointed at Flint’s cut chest.

“If anyone knows how to think about the good of this fucking place, it's Jack. He's the only one of us that hasn't gone about tearing off heads blowing out fort walls." Jack swallowed around the lump of hope in his chest at Charles' words, holding onto them like the tethers they were. Vane kicked a few stray pieces of gold toward Jack and strode ever closer about Flint. "We should be thankful that... he, “ Jack watched Vane take another puff and blow his last word in Flint’s unflinching hardened face. There was something about the way he said it that had Jack’s ears perking at Vane’s next words, “had another plan in store. That the Urca found its way here, as intended in the first place.”

Flint’s expression went dead as a ghost, cold as stone at Vane’s words. “The gold needs protecting. Knowing how inexperienced… he is,” Flint said with venom. Jack rolled his eyes and went to sit behind his desk. “What good is it going to do for me and the fucking warship to leave this place unguarded?”

“Well that’s a problem with a simple solution,” Jack chimed in. Vane eyed his mildly mischievous glint and took a step forward to lean by the desk. “Leave the fucking warship here to guard the shores— Ah— ” Jack raised his hand to pause Flint’s immediate protestations, and looked up with a small grin. “I may have brought back a little more than gold from Florida.” He crossed his fingers over the desktop in front of him and continued. “The Walrus is restocked and refitted, at the ready in the harbor for you and your men.”

Charles ashed his cigar with a pleased nod and offered it to Jack. He bit his tongue to hold back his ferocious grin when Flint asked “and who the fuck is going to man the Man o War? You? ” Instead, he threw his hands in the air and shrugged.

“I haven’t got it in me to burn more than one colonial port town a year. I don’t know if I can say the same about the dreaded Pirate Captain James Flint. Grim Death himself,” Vane pushed up off the desk and sauntered over to his and Jack’s bed, running a hand over the dark grey furs atop it before catching Flint’s eyes. ”We’ve all got our roles to play. Might as well let the pieces land where they fall, eh?”  

Chapter Text

The night sky loomed over them like a black veil tattered with holes in the form of stars. John quietly grunted from the jabbing pain of his new crutch under his arm, then choked back a pained groan as his metal leg slid across the tacky sand. He grit his teeth and hobbled forward, Dooley at his side.

“You alright?”

John panted and rolled his jaw, eyes set on the brothel ahead. It felt like miles instead of meters away, the dim lights surrounding its doors blinking and flickering like two taunting, beady eyes. John leaned on his crutch for the briefest of moments before taking as dignified a step as he could without being whole.

“We’re nearly there, yes?” John braved a weary smile while sweat dripped from his clammy brow. He absolutely refused to focus on the constant pulse of blood in his raw stump, instead focused on Dooley’s concerned mug. John took a deep breath and swallowed his growing discontent. He could trust Muldoon to do his part, catch up to Billy and watch over Flint for him, yes? He could leave things in their care… “Well, come on then. Must keep going.”

±±±±±

Blades tapped and a hiss grew murderous beyond the wood of the Governor’s door. Muldoon looked up at the towering figures of brawn and raw guild with determination in his eyes, his one small dagger in his hands as he pressed forward again. Flint was beyond that door, without any of Silver’s eyes to see to him. Muldoon heard the deadly clank of heavy metal beyond the door right before Vane was lunging forward.

“I’m going in there!” Vane bellowed. He shoved past Muldoon as if he were a ragdoll instead of a member of the feared Walrus crew. Joji drew his katana and slit his eyes at his focal target, Vane.

Muldoon edged his way between Vane and Joji’s katana. Joji gave him a side eyed glance, eyebrow raised in mild incredulity and question...as if Captain Flint could ever be in danger. As if he could die. Muldoon was not in the business of testing Flint’s legends of immortality this evening, not with the orders he held. “S’posed to keep an eye on Flint, mate. Quartermastah’s orders.”  

±±±±±

Lanterns flickered about the brothel’s bustling courtyard, as men sat with laps full of breasts and rears, their beer-loosened lips pressed to ears that held memories waiting to be exchanged for black pearls and Spanish dollars.

Sweat clung to Silver like a melting waxy balm oozing through his pores amidst the humid air. He did his best not to pay attention to the eyes that tracked him. The last time he’d seen an invalid in here, it had been Randall, chained to his wrist and being led to the tavern via alleyway. He had seen such stares before and thought he knew them well. How very different it was to play the part of the sorry sod.  

“Let me grab you a chair Mr. Quartermaster,” Dooley said.

John panted tiredly, glancing and shifting away, unable to take Dooley’s concern… his pity .

Silver tried to swallow down the bile rising up his throat, face twinged in disgust— with himself, or with the eyes that followed him? He couldn’t tell the difference— and looked about the balconies, and caught onto the flow of a newly sewn gown. He dared a glance at Max’s face then bowed his head and shuffled about as best he could to seem nonchalant.

“You just wait here,” John swallowed and attempted a smile. “Find yourself a nice welcome home, yeah? You’ve earned it.”

He watched Dooley look down then up at the balcony, where Max walked down the steps in as quick a manner as she could manage without seeming urgent and attracting unwanted attention.

“You gonna be alright with her?” Dooley asked with a hand hovering in the air over his dagger handle.

John pressed against his palm and shook his head. “Go on, it’s alright,” his pain flared up as he shifted, betraying his attempts at cheer for the briefest of moments. Silver swallowed and smiled again. “Just attending to some business the, ah, captain...has me seeing to.”

Max came forward with a mild crease in her brow as she pressed down her skirt and took in John with a quickly appraising gaze, eyes straying for a pause longer on his peg than the rest of him.

John kept his eyes on the bottom fringe of her skirt as she and him moved forward, the throbbing in his leg spread up to his hip and down to long gone toes. Whispered slurs landed like globs of spittle on him as they walked through the busy courtyard.

“Wasn’t he the handsome Walrus cook? Such a shame.”  

“What happened to it?”

“Fuckin’ one legged creature.”

He halted and squared his jaw, head hung low as he fixated on that final phrase. Is this who he would become— who he was now?

“Follow me.”

Max’s firm words pressed into his thoughts and cleared his mind enough to continue onward with her stoic guidance. She led them through the bustling crowds and down a small hallway made known with the parting of a dark velveteen veil.

±±±±±

“Joji, step aside.”

Vane huff over Muldoon’s shoulder in response to Billy’s order. Muldoon felt Vane’s chest puff up as he beared down behind his slight frame. He grabbed his blade handle and grinned to himself at the small grunt Vane made when his elbow hit his gut as he readied himself to break the hovering wolves with raised hackles about the doorway.

“Silver wants ‘im alive,” Muldoon said. He looked up and watched the tension between Joji and Billy unfold like layers of leaves about a roast pig.

The three towering figures graced Muldoon with disturbingly similar glances of mild agitation and hesitant agreement.

He watched with bated breath as Joji pushed the door open and slipped inside first, his hand on his katana, at the ready. Next was Billy, who swallowed and paused before crossing the threshold. Muldoon went to step forward himself, except Vane shoved against his chest and pushed him back with his heavy calloused palm.

Muldoon scrambled forward to get inside, his eyes widened at the sight of Captain Flint, feared pirate of the West Indies, held back by two blades. Before he could take another step forward, the heavy wooden door shut in his face. He didn’t want his keen certainty to be true, but Billy had been the one to shut him out.

What was happening beyond that door that poor old Muldoon couldn’t be privy to?

±±±±±

As soon as the curtain slipped closed behind them, John fell onto a mahogany chest covered in silk cushions with a pained groan. His face contorted in agitation at himself for not being able to hold the facade as long as he wished to.

Max grimaced and moved closer, taking hold of his crutch before it clambered to the floor out of his shaking palms.

“What happened?” She sternly questioned. “Who did this to you?”

John ignored the cup of water offered and shook his head at her prodding questions. “How odd it is for you to ask such trivial questions, Madame,” he peered up at her and saw her upturned brow, the deep downturned bow of her lips. “The answers won’t give you leads to anything worth profiting from.”

Max swallowed her concern and uncreased her mask to something more alike to a blank faced doll. “I am assuming you have come for what you are owed, yes?”

He thought of that haunting penultimate warning Flint hissed at him…Where else would he wake up and matter? These men, they saw him for something more now than before his leg met those blades he vehemently denied. And again that feeling, the pressing feeling against his chest, around his skin pulled taut on him. He didn’t want to need them. He did not want this, he so desperately did not want this— not anymore. But where else could he go?

John laughed incredulously as he shook and fell back on weak elbows with a muted thud. “Does it—” he shivered with a deep chilling streak of numbness up his spine. “Does it grow back limbs?”

Silver’s panting quieted to a faint wheeze, yet his teeth chattered while his sweat burned like ice cicles pricking out his pores. The room grew darker as his lids grew heavier and heavier. He would allow sleep to take him hostage this time, if only for a while...

±±±±±

She stepped away with a grimace and took in the blood slowly dripping from the sleeve of his boot. She pulled back the curtain to hail one of the boys clearing a table nearby. She whispered gentle directions in his ear and waited with an interior of disturbed stones rolling in her gut.

Her eyes tracked the lad with a feline’s calm observation as Silver’s companion, the burly sailor they called Dooley, bent an ear to him. He pet his head while his face broke out in a show of mild awe. Max watched his lips move and arms motion in a show of axes thrown and balls tossed, then she closed the curtain with a confident trust in the ear of her little mockingbird boy to relay a new song.

Max turned back to Silver’s shivering form, covered in sweat and sallow skin. She couldn’t help but wonder...How much had changed in the mere weeks since Flint and his crew ventured to Charlestown? She had heard of the rumors, of its burning. Of a trial gone awry . Of Captain Charles Vane and Captain Flint destroying the city in tandem. But this had only been from a pamphlet one of her girls found on a man who had taken a merchant prize near the colonies…

And more so, the Spanish gold had only just arrived days ago, heaved into the fort, its subterranean jailrooms transformed into shimmering vaults guarded by Jack’s tony crewmembers of the Colonial Dawn.  Max had to take pause... if rivals such as Flint and Vane could come together and burn the pirate’s boogeyman, if she could build a captain and crew of her own making from the turning of bedsheets and gentle caresses, if she could find a reason to stay here and lay a foundation made from sand... how much more could change in the coming weeks?

She uncrossed her arms and took a deep breath, her black lashes pressing closed, curtaining away her doubts of this endeavor’s future. She unfurled herself and set eyes on her little bird filling Dooley’s mug with an extra helping of ale before coming back to take her outstretched palm beyond the veil.

The boy’s eyes widened in curiosity at Silver’s weary frame and looked up to her in wonder. “Ma’am it’s him! The quartermaster with bones made of iron! It’s what he said, Mr. Dooley, that his quartermaster’s got a leg—”

“Shhh,” she admonished with a press of her finger to his mouth. She felt her pupils flare at the title the boy gave him, but brushed the intense curiosity aside to pat his head of sandy blonde hair once and bend down to speak in a hushed tone. “He’s sleeping.”

He immediately quieted with an eager nod, “oh right” he whispered. “Must take an awful lot out of ya to walk with bones that heavy and strong, ain’t that right Ma’am?”

What changed so drastically that Mr. John Silver, the potato peeling cook of the Walrus crew, the silent partner of the biggest exchange this island had ever seen, the runner to freedom as she had once been…would have made him come back one leg shorter and one title longer, with a crew of men behind him?

“Yes, men with bones as heavy as his must rest from time to time,” she smiled softly and quirked her head to him, hand cupping her ear. “What did the man say about his trip, mon petit canari ?”

±±±±±

Muldoon stood by the door, and caught wisps of their heated conversations. The sounds of chuckles from a timbered voice he had never heard before filled his ear through the door.

“Fuck you, Jack…” Muldoon took pause. How did Billy know Jack Rackham by first name? Who was he to Billy?

Muldoon grew wary as the conversation moved to dark corners he had no candle in his understanding to light on. What was Flint talking about? How the New World held nothing for them? Didn’t he see how they were in Nassau? New. Providence. Island. This was the new world, their new world. It had been since Muldoon was a young lad, climbing up to the steps of the old Nassau Fort with the other young riggers of the old pirate crews.

Muldoon didn’t have time to shake his head hard enough as Jack’s response to Flint’s “What kind of pirate captain are you?” trickled into his ear.

I happen to be the pirate captain that outsmarted you, out prized you, and currently outmatches you.”

The last part of Rackham’s self flattery stuck with him like the fumes from a just blown out match.

“...Outmatches you…” But how? He had caught a glimpse of who was in the room. Two figures with his captain prior to their entry. And two Walrus men alongside Vane once the door had been closed… Muldoon couldn’t help but hold onto that enigmatic familiarity of Billy’s words...

±±±±±

He came to with a heavy warmth around his shoulders and a cool cloth to his forehead.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Quartermaster.”

Silver twisted his neck with a twinge to look up at Max’s pursed expression. He felt lighter despite the pressure on his chest, now made known to be the making of a tightly woven blue and grey coat. He looked down in shock when he moved his left leg to stretch it and a calm breeze from the upper window brushed past its cloth-wrapped flesh. Anxiety riled up immediately at the loss.

“Where is it?”

Max stayed silent and dipped the cloth into the bowl of freshwater at her side before gently pressing it to the nape of his neck. Silver growled in growing agitation, nerves catching fire beneath his skin.

“Where is my leg? I need it to walk. I-I need it to leave. I need to lea—”

He quieted as soon as she dropped the cloth with a huff and held his cleaned prosthetic in both hands beside him. He glared at her when she pulled it back as soon as he went to reach for it. His breathing hastened in bursts and small gusts while he sat up with a wince and glared at her with an outstretched arm.

“Madam,” he started with a tone punched through with a tremoring timbre. He swallowed and turned as best he could to face her head on, blue eyes shooting daggers that fell short of pressing deep. “If you would please. Give me back my—” He took a moment to shake his head clear and back to the present. “Please give it here. I would rather conduct our business with both feet on the ground.”

Max eyed him carefully without looking too long at the wound she dressed hours ago in his sleep. The sun had just started to rise, flickers of it coming through the window above, her shadow casting into John’s eyes and gracing him away from its beating rays. Her shoulders sagged just the slightest before she rolled them back into her perfect posture and set his leg down on the cushions beside him.

“Very well,” she began to get up, but Silver’s side-eyed glance of agitation and timor kept her seated. She looked at her hands, neatly folded in her lap, then picked up the ledger beside her small platter of breakfast. She roamed over the names of each ship and the numbers they held, the shares they were beholden to. She looked up to the unwritten and unnamed, the secret shareholders in this very room. “I am aware the Walrus’ numbers are still intact, yes?”

Silver bit his whitening lip until he was threatened with the taste of his own blood as he slid his iron peg back on and strapped it in place over his thigh. He gripped his quivering palms tight until they steadied, then rolled his pant leg until it lay even with its partner, nearly hollow in comparison. Numbers. He heard of numbers and men. Intact? They were intact. The men were intact, even if he wasn’t. John shook his head again and held focus.

John glanced up at her and sat with his legs bent at the knees over the chest beneath him. “Yes,” he nodded. “They are.”

Max nodded in tandem and picked up a dipped quil beside her and handed it to him, index finger pointed at a line for him to sign across. “The shares are in a cell beneath the fort,” she began. “They may go to the doors and request their shares if they so desire, however I do not believe they will have much time to spend their splendor on these shores.”

John looked over the notes and paused at her words. A mild dread creeped up his spine. Had his men not been able to stop Flint? Did Flint start a fight that ended all their chances at brighter futures?  He pushed the heavy coat to the side and looked her straight in the eyes. “And why is that?”

Max read him like an open book, just as she had been able to since the very beginning. Always able to see that a piece was missing from him that no one else paid close enough attention to to bother noticing his unfinished facade.

“Your men are still welcome, do not worry,” she said with a steady glance and a quirked smile, one she had used many a time in the past, but this one felt genuine. “Your captain has struck a deal with Vane and our mutual associate.” She turned her eyes to the page and watched Silver press the quill’s edge into it until the ink bled into a spreading black spot atop it. “To keep Nassau safe from any forces that may attempt to come after it, considering they burned down one of the most aggressive anti-piracy ports in the New World, your captain took it upon himself to wield the warning farther out.”

Silver paused a moment longer, picking up the quill and staring at its inked blank space, numbers scrolling down and about in neat script beside the ledger. He told himself repeatedly in his mind that this man was not his captain, not his captain at all. The men would be safe without him, wouldn’t they? This was his one job as a quartermaster, give the men their due and he could be free the burden… he could… he could walk away from it all… except… except those words kept permeating his sense of self... The more those men need you, the more you need them.

“Did you hear anything of Billy Bones? Is he back with the captain?”

Max nodded and managed nonchalance, hands staying still and calm around the ledger in her palms.

“He announced a new consort,” she began.

Silver felt her words wash over him. He schooled his expression like a stone hit by a wave and looked up as she carried on, her kohl-rimmed eyes steady and expectantly calm.

“The Ranger and the Colonial Dawn are joining the Walrus in defending Nassau against the threat of… as Mr. Bones put it… ‘easily agitated redcoats.’”

John twisted the quill’s end between his fingers, watching the white feather wave in the air between them, silently waiting for her to continue.

“He also announced the Walrus’ new quartermaster this morning on the beach,” she turned back to the ledger with a short intake of breath, bracing herself for his response to what she would say next. “He said you stood up for your brothers in a deadly time of capture from the colonists, that they had tried to take your life when you would not testify against Captain Flint.”

Silver swallowed and let the news turn in his mind over and over again, seeing all the gaps and holes in Billy’s conjured tale of supposed heroism. No tales of how he screamed that he did not want this life? No statements of warring crews at each other’s necks? He smirked mirthlessly and gripped harder around the quill and pressed it to the page again, signing his name with resolution.

“Well, that settles things then, doesn’t it?” He lightheartedly stated, a shine in his eyes like a newly lacquered veneer, almost false in its attempt of hope.

Max looked at his neat cursive. It was like signing over of his name to be set into a stone tablet atop an island of sand, pelted by oncoming waves. She blew to dry the ink and closed the book with a muted thud, then turned and traded the book for her plate of sliced fruits. Her brow quirked when she saw Silver had already taken his crutch and began walking out the door, the wool coat hanging over him in a loose manner, a size too big for his slight frame, but maybe he would fill it out in time.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” She pressed her fingers to the underside of the chest lid, cracking it open just the slightest.

Silver turned his ear just the slightest toward her, eyes unwilling to take the bait of her words. He sniffed and shrugged. “I came here to conduct business for my men, to make sure they are accounted for,” the words came easier than he thought they could. He chanced a glance over his shoulder and turned back with a tight grin. “I’m sure there are others who can find use in loose coins that I’m sure will slip out of the pockets of this wealthy new nation.”

And with that, John Silver looked forward, opening the dark curtain revealing himself to the quiet courtyard.

±±±±±

Muldoon listened to Billy’s speech on the beach with ever growing skepticism spiking through the tall tale he weaved of their new quartermaster. Billy hadn’t been there, holding his hand through the hacks. He hadn’t been there to see the hardened face of Captain Flint fall to reveal a sliver of disturbance and awe once he’d returned to the fucking warship. He hadn’t been there. He hadn’t been. He just hadn’t. Yet, he was the one who would tell the story.

Muldoon tried his best to not let his petty jealousies get in the way. Silver had trusted him to watch over things, not Billy. He had his role to do, as well. He had his role to be Silver’s eyes and ears beyond the ebbing confines of his healing form. They had work to do together, this new formation. They were the loosely joined strings pulled through the needle’s eye of John Silver’s will, Muldoon could see this revelation clearly now as they stood on this foundation of sand.

“And as for my fellow Walrus brothers,” Billy bellowed with a raised brow. Muldoon looked up inquisitively with a sigh in waiting for the final words. “It’s time for us to return to our floating home.”

±±±±±

 

Silver sighed and looked up at the Walrus while he stood between his two shadows, Muldoon and Dooley. 

"So that's it, then?" He mused.

The ship looked more like a floating prison than the conduit to freedom it had once been. He recalled a simpler time, when he had been more whole, when the world’s scathing marks on him weren’t so transparent by its merciless audience...

“Setbacks such as these,” he had told Randall, “they often go hand in hand with new and unexpected opportunities…”

He didn’t believe his own gospel anymore. At least not in this moment. But perhaps, John thought, there was a truth to hope in the darkness of days to come. 

John swallowed around the knot in his throat as he looked up to the ship and found Billy looking down the Jacob's ladder. "Muldoon," he said as he shifted his weight onto the knotted ropes tied to the ship's side. "Take my crutch, will you?" 

He felt eager palms wrap about the wood of the crutch and the sore muscles of his left shoulder, then braved a glance behind him. 

"'Course, Silver," he said with bright eyes and a nod of his head. "We'll take care of you."