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It Can Wait

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The thing Billy hates most about Flint and Silver is how much he doesn't hate them.

How much he, in fact, likes them. Like, likes them, likes them.

It’s fucking disturbing. And frankly annoying.

And he really wishes he could fucking stop.

But ever since he joined Flint’s crew, there’s been this... thing between the two of them. He’s not even sure Flint is aware of the thing as A Thing. Maybe he’s just cautious, maybe he doesn’t want anyone to see it, maybe he just doesn’t care about Billy enough, but there’s still something there, because Billy has felt it, waxing and waning like the tides, or maybe more like the moon. Something that feels like Flint’s regard for him is at least slightly more about aesthetics and maybe even desire than it really should be. And something that feels hot and twisted in Billy’s gut when Flint looks at him like that. When Flint looks at him at all, really.

Maybe it’s just Flint seeing Billy’s crush, or whatever this nonsense is, and dismissing it as a thing he is wholly unconcerned by. Which is exactly the right course of action and should leave Billy feeling relieved that he’s dodged a bullet — an angry, murderous, ginger bullet — but it doesn’t. Not anymore. Not since Flint and Silver have been so inseparable. Because now this situation just leaves Billy wondering what the fuck Flint sees in Silver that he didn’t see in him.

Fucking John Fucking Silver. How is it possible to be so annoyed by someone and yet find them working their way under your skin like a god damned splinter? Silver needs to be liked so much he’ll say whatever it is you want to hear, even if he’s going to have to go back on it in five minute’s time. The shit he's played on practically everyone, including Billy, including Flint , is grounds for death at most, deep mistrust at the very least, but most likely punishment and stripping of his office. Because his games should make him a bad quartermaster, and yet somehow the men still really fucking like him. And Billy understands that viscerally, even though he doesn’t understand it intellectually. Silver is likable. Really likeable. And it doesn't hurt that he's so damned pretty it could make a grown man weep.

But this need to be liked should make Silver a horrific romantic partner — though it’s not like Billy is suffering under any delusions that what Flint and Silver have is a romantic partnership. It’s a good working relationship, and from the rhythmic noises that emanate from the captain’s quarters late at night, it seems to be healthy in other ways, but romance? That’s a hard tale to swallow.

Whatever it is, it’s a solid enough bond to run a fucking tight ship, thank Neptune, but more than that would be folly, what with the way fortunes change faster than the wind in this life. At least they’re safe — every last man on this vessel has turned a blind eye to it because when Captain and Quartermaster combine forces there’s nothing the crew of the Walrus can’t do. And they all fucking know why.

But Silver, the bastard, has started to drive Billy utterly barmy, and the smirk on his face makes it clear he fucking knows exactly what he’s doing, too.

Not that Billy isn’t at least partially responsible for this mess, though only because he’s sticking to his principles.

It’s become a habit on the ship to not disturb the captain and his quartermaster once they’ve retired to the captain’s quarters of an evening. The problem is, there are still things that need to be done on a ship at sail long into the night, and both Flint and Silver fucking know it. But Billy isn’t willing to do their work for them. So, as it turns out, once they’ve shut themselves away for the night, Billy’s the only one of the crew that’s willing to report to them about something that needs their attention.

This hasn’t been a problem because for a good long while, he would knock on the door and wait until hailed inside, and by that time they’d both be dressed and at least five feet from one another, and the three of them could have a mostly tension-free conversation and Billy would studiously ignore any flushed faces or bruised skin or disheveled or bulging clothing that would indicate what they might have been doing before he’d opened the door.

And when he settled in his bunk later, he would definitely not imagine what those scenarios might have looked like had he walked in a minute or two sooner.

But recently there’s been a bit of unrest in the crew and the weather has been fickle and strange and his patience with waiting for answers has come to an end, so the amount of time he’s willing to allow between knocking and entering is growing shorter and shorter. Besides, he shouldn’t have to wait for them as if they’re his superiors, allowing him to report urgent messages to them. He should just be able to walk in and talk to them like an equal and get a quick response. It’s the principle of the thing, he tells himself. And it means he’s started seeing a bit more of the intimacy that Flint and Silver share, and it’s... unnerving.

Mostly because motherfucking John Silver seems to be relishing in the moments Billy catches him and Flint in less than stately and composed positions. Billy wishes he could wipe the glint-eyed little smirk off Silver’s face when he walks in on the two of them in bed, a blanket hastily thrown over exposed skin, or when they’re standing pressed together in an embrace, or even sometimes just sharing a quiet moment, the look between them charged and knowing. It’s not right that Silver seems to enjoy it, but Flint, damn him straight to hell, allows it — just fucking deadpans a question or rolls his eyes at Silver or waves Billy in like he’s resigned to his partner’s little peccadillo, and it just makes Billy’s skin crawl. Crawl in a way that needs attention late at night in his dark bunk, but absolutely doesn't need to be examined too closely in the light of day.  

And then comes the time when Billy walks in and Silver is sitting in Flint’s lap of all places, the two of them filling the captain’s chair, and Billy stops dead as they pull away from a kiss to look expectantly at him. His ears pulse hot and he shifts his footing, and then fucking Silver, the asshole , says, “By all means, Billy, join us.” And Billy’s had it.

“I’m not joining you. I’m trying to get you to do your god damned job, Silver. If you weren’t always in here snogging the life out of the fucking captain, we could run this ship—”

“He looks very much alive to me, doesn’t he?” Silver quips, giving Flint a fond grin that makes the corners of Flint’s mouth turn down to counteract the smile in his eyes. “Why don’t you join us, Billy? Come, have a seat. Some rum. I’ll give you a snog, if you like...”

It’s beyond enduring, the level of teasing Silver is able to get away with, right under the captain’s nose, even. Billy’s ire is up to his eyebrows, and he just fucking snaps. “Yeah, all right. I’ll take a snog. Come on.” And he strides right over to the captain’s chair, glaring daggers at Silver, willing him to repent his flippancy.

But he doesn’t.

Billy’s leaning on the arms of the chair, crowding into Silver’s space, the anger coming off him like heat, and Silver’s eyes go wide — so wide and dark and fathoms deep, full of surprise and pleasure and, most shockingly of all, desire. And then he’s wrapping his arms around Billy’s neck and is kissing him.

And not just any kiss. He could have proved his point with a soft press of his lips and a laugh, but no. This is a full-on lips and tongue and teeth sort of snog-and-a-half. A toe curling kiss that shoots a bolt of heat lightning directly to Billy’s groin and shocks a needy grunt out of him. And maybe it could have ended there. He could have pulled back and admitted defeat and walked away with a stiffy and very little dignity, but with the status quo maintained at least, except...

The hand on his wrist.

A hard grip, holding him in place. A clear message of the owner’s desire for him to stay with them. It’s a testament to Silver’s kissing ability that it takes Billy a good few seconds to recognize that if both of Silver’s hands are around his neck, then the one on his wrist is...

Flint’s.

A hot, sick shot of adrenaline streaks right through him, and the kiss turns sour in his mouth. He opens his eyes to assess the danger from Flint, who is no more than a few inches away, getting a front-row view of this little show, but Silver has a strong grip on his neck and isn’t letting up any time soon.

Billy squirms and tries to decide if the stiffness in his pants is still due to arousal or if it’s shifted to fear as he feels a fourth hand tugging his shirt out of his breeches and slipping under the fabric to press hotly against his back, bringing him closer to the two men in the chair. A hard ball of panic rises up his throat and threatens to choke him with the understanding that he’s outnumbered and nearly already overpowered by his captain and quartermaster, and there’s no certainty he won’t be made to pay dearly for this little stunt.

He’s already anticipating the pain of punishment when Flint’s smooth voice insinuates itself, sliding in like a dagger between ribs, saying, “John, love. Don’t be so greedy. You really ought to share...”

And then John is sighing and pulling back so that Flint’s face is fully revealed in the candlelight, fierce and flushed and focused with razor sharpness on Billy, who nearly gasps as Flint leans in to capture Billy’s mouth in a plundering kiss.

What the fuck is happening?

Billy’s eyes are jolted wide open and he catches a tiny glimpse of Silver’s face in the periphery — it’s wearing a look of both shock and approval. And the low groan of pleasure emanating from Silver’s throat is echoed by an exultant rumble from Flint, which causes Billy to swallow a whimper before it escapes.

No but, what the everloving fuck is actually happening?

Flint’s mouth is hot and demanding to the point of overwhelming, and Billy knows retreat isn’t an option if he wants to respect himself in the morning, so he gives as good as he gets — or nearly as good — pressing forward and crowding Flint into the corner of the chair. This gets him an approving squeeze of his nape from Silver and a low chuckle from Flint, who rakes his fingernails down Billy’s back as if the pain were meant as a reward. Billy gasps and Flint nips hard at his lower lip, which makes Billy bare his teeth and growl.

It surprises all of them how sexually aggressive Billy sounds, and in that moment — for possibly just a moment — the power shifts.

Billy jumps on his advantage. “Don’t play with me, you two. I’ve had e-fucking-nough. If you want me, ask. If not, I’m leaving to go mediate the dispute below decks.”

“We want you,” Silver says immediately, before a quick glance at Flint, eyebrows high and seeking approval. All Flint does is nod, but Billy’s bowels tighten and a flutter high in his chest makes him swallow hard. Silver continues hurriedly. “I’ll check below decks that everything’s all right and let Mr DeGroot know you’ll be needed in here the rest of the evening. Be right back. Captain?”

Flint gives Silver a quick kiss and both of them let go of Billy so he can back away to make room for Silver’s quick exit.

But then Billy’s left alone with his captain for the first time in months.

“You never liked me,” Flint says with an amused grimace as he shifts in his now very roomy seat.

“You know that’s not true.” Billy’s response is a hair too close to a snarl, and Flint looks up sharply, not in censure, but assessingly.

“Yes it is. I’m not talking about attraction. We’ve acknowledged and then ignored that since you came on my crew under Mr Gates. I never knew if he’d cautioned you to stay away or if your self-preservation instinct is admirably strong of its own accord, but either way it was for the best.”

“Because Silver’s a better match for you?” Billy is proud that only the barest hint of jealousy colors his question.

“No, God.” Billy’s words seem to surprise a laugh out of Flint, and it’s upsettingly good to see him in good humor. “Because I would have eaten you alive and kept myself so remote while doing it that I fear I would have done you real harm.”

The admission stops Billy’s breath. So many mournful or baleful looks from Flint, so many moments of pause that amounted to nothing, not to mention the bitterness that snuck into his speech at times, all of it clicks into place and leaves Billy awash with grief and bone-weary.

Leaning heavily back against the desk, he mutters, “I figured I wasn’t good enough for you.”

Flint’s look can only be interpreted as don’t you dare. “I assure you, it was quite the reverse.”

Billy scoffs and rolls his eyes. The stone of Flint’s face cracks into, not quite a smile, but something fond and soft and very nearly pretty. It gives Billy the courage to shift closer — he’s still leaning back on the desk, but now with the outside of their thighs pressed together.

After a moment and a glance up at Billy, Flint reaches out and rests his hand on Billy’s knee.

The contact is more welcome and grounding than Billy thought possible. It might be the first time ever that he hasn’t felt balanced on a knife’s edge when interacting with his captain. He leans into the burgeoning trust and it seems to support his weight — something he never thought possible before.

Of course then his stomach explodes in a shower of splinters like a cannonball through a ship’s hull because Flint takes Billy’s contented sigh as permission to run his palm up the inside of Billy’s thigh.

And now the edge of the knife he’s on is a whole other form of peril, but instead of anger he feels only excitement — through every part of him.

Flint stands and presses close to Billy’s side, hand inching up his thigh, mouth close enough to his ear he can feel Flint’s hot breath. “I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have Mr Silver’s need to be liked. Being wanted is enough for me. And I suspect that every time you’ve opened that door of an evening, you’ve found yourself wanting just a little bit more. Am I right?”

Biting down on a whimper, Billy nods, and Flint’s hand closes around the topmost part of Billy’s inner thigh, his knuckles brushing Billy’s sac just enough to frustrate the hell out of him. He huffs in protest and Flint chuckles deep in this throat — a sound that holds a promise and a threat at once.

The moment hangs between them, breathless and ripe, and is broken only by the door opening after a swift knock, followed by the rush of Silver sweeping in.

He pauses the second the door is closed, however, because Flint hasn’t moved a muscle, and Billy is pinned in place by his closeness and his grip.

“Oh. You’re still clothed. Do you need more time? I can come back...”

“No, John, I think this is the perfect time for you to take over. Billy’s ready for some attention to be paid to his cock, and something tells me you’d like to do the honors.”

“Right,” Silver says as he hurries over and assesses the situation — Billy’s stillness, Flint’s hand, the flush of their cheeks in the yellow glow of candlelight. “Right...” he says again, his voice having shifted from eager to intrigued.

Billy gives him a pleading look as Flint’s thumb starts to massage the tendon connected to his hip and Silver adds, “Unless that feels like a bait-and-switch? I don’t mind if you’d rather...” he gestures toward Flint while raising his eyebrows high, as if he could ever look innocent or altruistic.

“At this point, I don’t fucking care who, to be honest,” Billy says, trying to keep his temper. He knows Flint is enjoying pushing him to the limit of his endurance, and he has a contrarian’s desire to outlast him, but the longer he waits, the shorter his temper. “Just do something or let me get back to work.”

“No more work for you tonight, Billy Boy,” Silver says as he bats Flint’s hand away and starts undoing Billy’s breaches.

Flint stays close, invading Billy’s personal space in a way that feels less threatening and more arousing every moment. And Flint is watching intently, both Silver’s actions and Billy’s reactions. Silver seems unconcerned by the attention, however. No, he seems to revel in it, his motions becoming more theatrical as he goes. It would be endearing if Billy had a scrap of patience left. Flint clearly finds the whole thing amusing, which only makes Billy huff in annoyance and impatience.

“Hurry up, John. Don’t make the poor boy wait any longer than he has—”

Flint is interrupted by Billy’s moan as Silver’s callused fingers wrap around his hard cock. “Fuck. That’s... yes.”

“God, how long has it been, Bill? Haven’t even got my mouth yet, and you’re pulsing.”

Billy’s brain stutters. “Your...?” He hasn’t had a mouth on him since he’d paid for it, half a year ago. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope.” Silver’s grin is a characteristic combination of arrogant and eager to please.

“He’s good with his mouth, I guarantee it.” Flint murmurs in Billy’s ear, stroking a hand down the arm he’s braced behind himself.

“You’d know, I suppose,” Billy says, trying to keep his head with both Silver’s and Flint’s hands on him.

Flint’s smug smirk spreads to a full-on grin. “Yes.”

And the moment he speaks, Billy’s cock is engulfed by Silver’s eager mouth, and his brain whites out. No sound, no sight, just the exquisite pleasure of his cock sinking into slick heat again and again and again.

 

~~~

 

Turns out, Silver is exceedingly good with his mouth, and knows exactly where his fingers go, and has no qualms about kissing Flint with a dribble of spunk at the corner of his mouth — and Flint will fucking lick it. Also, Flint kisses like a starving man every fucking time, and his hands are big enough to wrap around any two cocks within reach, and his freckles go all the way down his body, but are more spare in places that don’t get any sun.

As he heads down to his hammock shortly before daylight, Billy tries not to think about the fact that his captain and quartermaster now know what he sounds like when he pleads for release, that they both have intimate knowledge of the size, shape, and taste of his cock, and that they think it’s hilarious that his sides are dangerously ticklish. Nor does he want to think about the fact that Flint’s bed is just barely big enough for two to sleep in, let alone three.

This won’t work. Not beyond the one night.

Except it keeps happening. Either one or the other of them finds a moment each day, usually by the time the sun sets, to invite Billy into the captain’s quarters at some point in the evening. After a week it’s more of a See you later than a We request your presence sort of thing, but Billy still ends up in his own hammock at some point before dawn so he’s not really on stable footing with the whole thing. He’s basically just waiting for the other shoe to drop — for either Silver or Flint to get bored of Billy, or of sharing, and to request things go back to just the two of them.

The thing about that eventuality is, Billy wouldn’t hold it against them. Three is a tricky number. They make it work with regard to command of the ship because their three different angles and agendas can balance each other out. But in bed, keeping three people happy requires a lot of maintenance. It helps that Flint truly seems content to just watch sometimes, but Silver’s fucking insatiable and gets bored the moment he feels he’s being ignored. He’ll only watch if the actors are doing what he tells them to, which works sometimes, but mutinies are as often as not likely to occur.

And then one night, after Silver spends the whole evening being a royal attention-seeking pain, wanting both of his bedfellows’ eyes and hands on him at nearly all times, after they’ve spent themselves making him happy and he’s just come back up from his dazed post-coital bliss, Flint kisses him on the temple and says, “All right, love. See you in the morning.”

And Silver just smiles sweetly at him, then kisses Billy goodnight, and hops out of the bed to head to the door.

Billy’s head is reverberating with a high-pitched whine as if someone blew his boatswain’s whistle in his skull. “Wait, what the fuck are you doing?”

Silver tosses his hair over his shoulder as he looks back at the two of them left in bed and says, “Giving you some cuddle time.”

“Who says I want cuddle time?”

“Your puppydog eyes every night when you leave the bed to go below deck,” Silver says, one eyebrow annoyingly high. “I haven’t slept below for too long, anyway. It’ll be good for the men to see me down there in the morning.”

“Unless they panic because they think you and the captain are on the outs. Then everyone will hate me, ” Billy says, his own voice touched by panic.

“I’ll show John some favor tomorrow, early, just to ease their minds.” Flint’s face is inscrutable, but he’s leaning heavily against Billy, with one arm thrown over his waist in a way that makes him disinclined to leave the comfort of his captain’s bed. Or his body.

Silver grins at them before heading out the door, and Billy idly wonders if Flint is a snorer and this was all a ruse for Silver to get some actual sleep.

Not that he bloody well cares. It’s been a dog’s age since Billy has slept — really simply slept — in bed with another person, and even just the novelty of Flint’s beard, shoulder, or thigh pressing casually against Billy as they fall asleep is enough to convert him to the idea. It feels fucking glorious to touch each other without the intent to arouse, just for the animal comfort of it.

The luxury of being close and safe and cozy — when has Billy ever had cause to use the word cozy? — proves addictive, however, and soon Silver is spending every other night below decks, until one night he mutinies and swears “to God and all the Devils below” that the three of them can fit in the bed all right. Just for one night.

It doesn’t work.

Well, sleeping doesn’t happen, so in that sense it was a failure, but the three of them enjoy their cuddle time together immensely, limbs tangled around each other, fingers idly combing through hair and trailing along skin as they talk about nothing — about memories of past lives, past campaigns, future battles, the lure of a distant peace — late into the night. At some point, at least two of them drift into a doze, though the next day Billy is certain that Flint never once closed his eyes, even after the candles guttered out hours before dawn.

It’s decided the three of them should spend the whole night together once a week, as a check-in, though Silver insists there should be no agenda for the talking they do in bed, and all conversations pertinent to the running of the ship must be finished before they are allowed to climb in.

No one argues with him about it.

But after the second night of nearly no sleep, when Billy heads out of the captain’s quarters to check in with DeGroot about the previous night’s watch, he gets a surprise he is definitely not awake enough for.

DeGroot is smirking broadly at him, rocking back and forth on his heels, hands clasped behind his back. Billy is instantly on his guard.

“What’s got up your ass?” Billy asks by way of greeting.

“I could ask you the same thing.” DeGroot’s smirk breaks into a huge grin and Billy can feel his whole face get hot.

“What the fuck does that mean?” Billy growls. Other crewmen edge away from the two of them as Billy crowds into DeGroot’s personal space, towering over him menacingly.

“You know right well what it means, Billy,” DeGroot’s voice is low and insinuating, but his grin has not left his face. “And I knew it ages ago.”

“What?” Billy just stares at him as if he’s turned into a fish.

“The men had a bet going as to which of them you’d kill — or at least seriously injure — first.”

“Who?” This is making less than no sense, and Billy’s anger is at the point where his hand is stealing to the hilt of his knife.

“The captain and his quartermaster. We can all feel the tension, Billy,” DeGroot’s voice holds a softness, a generosity that Billy would never have expected, and when he touches Billy’s elbow, he sheepishly lets go of his knife.

“So what’s got you in such a good mood, then? They’re both still very much alive and unharmed.”

“Because I bet that you’d fuck them, not kill them. Wasn’t sure which one, but they wanted me pick. I refused and said both. And now I’m cashing in!”

Billy is slackjawed for a good few seconds, then he scoffs as if he could deny DeGroot’s assertion. “You can’t cash in, no one will believe you.”

“Ah, but they all do. Every man on this ship noticed when Silver started sleeping below decks again, and many of them understood why. But I couldn’t get them to agree I’d won until there was a night that neither you nor the quartermaster slept in your hammocks. Some argued that first time was a fluke and couldn’t mean that I’d won, so I made them promise that if it happened again, every last one of them would owe me.” He starts swaying back and forth once more, supremely satisfied. “And this morning, well... I guess I should just say thank you.”

“If anyone mentions this to either Flint or Silver...”

“Never. On my honor.”

“And I don’t want to be getting questions — or God forbid requests for proof — from anyone, do you hear me?”

“Aye-aye, Mr Bones.” DeGroot leans in with a glint in his eye and adds, “But tell me and I’ll never say another word — was it good?”

Billy tries to scowl and fails. Then he shrugs and says, “More satisfying than I could have imagined.”

“Ah, so you’d been fantasizing, eh?”

“Shut the fuck up, Mr DeGroot.”

“Aye-aye Mr Bones,” he says with a wink. “No more, you have my word.”

And he moves on to talking about the morning’s work, just like that.

When they part a few minutes later, Billy heaves the biggest sigh of relief of his life and decides to never let Silver or Flint know about any of that nonsense.



~~



Little more than a month after John Silver had first invited Billy Bones into their bed, Captain James Flint took a short solo trip to land on a fact-finding mission. He would only be gone a day and a night and he refused to tell anyone the purpose of the trip.

He also refused to share with anyone — particularly not John or Billy — his reservations about leaving his two bed partners alone on the Walrus without him.

It wasn’t that he was jealous. He of all people had 1) no right and 2) no inclination, not this late in the game.

But this entire situation hadn’t been of his making and he felt as though he had less than no control over it, which caused him not a little pain.

John, the perceptive fucker that he is, had figured out that there was an unspoken — and for good reason unacted upon — attraction between Flint and Billy. And he, the meddlesome bastard that he is, had decided he wanted to see it. Enacted. Just to see what would happen. He called it a team building exercise of all things. Flint wanted to strangle him. And also kiss him. And then fuck the daylights out of him.

But that’s how it was with John.

And so, his lovely, infuriating quartermaster had taken every opportunity granted him to lure Billy into the fold. Flint had no willpower to dissuade him because Billy was beautiful in some of the ways that Thomas had been beautiful, and a part of him ached for his touch in ways that John could never have imagined, or for that matter, satisfied.

Of course John insisted he was doing this for Flint, but there are only so many ways a man can change, and John Silver is and always will be an opportunist who thinks of himself, if not first, then a very close second. And it was apparent to Flint, even as he was given more opportunities to become closer to Billy, that his quartermaster was also being drawn to his boatswain to a degree that could very easily threaten the integrity of the threesome.

Yes John enjoyed his close relationship with Flint. That was never a question. But what they had wasn’t necessarily strong enough for John to withstand the temptation of taking Billy for himself. Or vice versa. Billy didn’t have as much skin in this game yet, so what could it hurt him to abscond with the captain’s bedfellow’s heart? Or at least lead him by the prick to a different bed.

Flint couldn’t let himself care too much about it. He was too old for games, honestly. Too old for insecurities and manipulations and tearing his hair out over possibilities that were really eventualities if one took the long view like he did. He’d loved and lost more in his life than either of his boys could ever hope to. He was used to it by now. And whatever happened between any of their bodies wouldn’t change Flint’s standing with his crew or threaten the pursuit of his goals. And with no hard feelings about things, nothing should change for John or Billy onboard either.

They were both beautiful young men. They were clearly attracted to each other, and they were highly sexually compatible, if not particularly so temperamentally. It was inevitable that they would fall in with each other and at some point soon Flint would be unnecessary to the equation. John was a dear, and seemed to want to hold off the time when that would be the case, and had let Flint have his nights with Billy, for which he was supremely grateful. But then the nights when all three of them tried to sleep in Flint’s too-small bed were instituted, and the downward slide had begun.

And here was Flint, giving his boys ample opportunity to be alone together and realize that it’s better without the old dog between them. A night to be free of their captain and delight only in each other. Flint was tormented the whole first afternoon with all of the possibilities — all the positions. All the ways in which John and Billy would agree that it was preferable to be just the two of them from then on. But by the evening, he was resigned to his fate. This was where things had always been headed, and he would have been a fool not to see it and acknowledge it straight off.

Now it was only a matter of broaching the subject with his lovers, since he couldn’t imagine their loyalty to him allowing them to say something until it was beyond bearable. The last thing he wanted was to stretch this out — to postpone the inevitable any longer than necessary. If it was clear they’d enjoyed their captain-free night together, he’d let them go — free them from any responsibility with regard to him — and go about his business alone. He’d done it before, and he could do it again. Seeing them together would be painful at the start, but if there was anything he knew he could endure in this life, it was pain, and lots of it.

The first pale light of dawn was just thinking about breaching the horizon as he rowed back to the Walrus, settled in his mind and heart as to what he must do. He climbed aboard and spoke to the watch and then to DeGroot before heading with a hollow heart to his quarters.

Upon reaching the threshold he was arrested by the sight of his two lovers in his bed, naked and asleep and tangled up in each other. It was a truly lovely sight — sun-burnished limbs catching the first grey light in their curves, John’s dark hair a shadow on Billy’s chest, the tenderness of their embrace, the innocence of sleep on their faces. They looked perfect together. Something rose up in Flint’s throat and pushed salt water to the rims of his eyelids. Everything felt so right with the world in that moment, because in that moment they were still his. He dreaded the one that came next, but knew it needed to come.

He stood there, leaning against the doorframe, looking his last at yet another too-short chapter in his life, lamenting the fact that the truly happy ones were those that ended so quickly, and wondering if he could justify one last amorous moment with the two of them before addressing the situation.

He’d just decided even he couldn’t handle something so bittersweet and had started toward the bed when something — possibly simply his presence in the room — woke Billy.

He stirred and groaned and blinked before focusing on Flint, who was drawing breath to apologize for his intrusion. The moment his eyes cleared enough to recognize Flint, however, his sleep-soft face brightened into a fond smile, eyes full of joy to see him, arms stretching out for him.

“James,” he said in a voice Flint had never heard Billy take with him before. It wasn’t on the verge of some passion, be it anger or lust or fear. In fact, it was wholly the opposite. A voice so contented, so fulfilled, as if all he could ever want was right there in front of him.

Flint couldn’t speak. He couldn’t do anything but go to Billy, the promise of his embrace the only thing that mattered.

When he reached the bed, John was waking, still blurry at the edges but, as always, letting the light of his love shine through his face to welcome Flint to port. He didn’t speak — he didn’t need to, simply moved to make room between himself and Billy for Flint to occupy.

And he did, without hesitation, his gratitude washing away nearly all of his resolve to speak of the end of this arrangement. He knew his boys would scoff and protest and treat him royally, but he also knew his days were numbered and at some point they’d need to broach the subject of loss in one capacity or another.

But it was clear to him as his lovers nestled his body between theirs and sleepily welcomed him home, that this was not the beginning of the end. Not yet. Not even close.

Things weren’t perfect. A triangle could be very stable, but it took a lot of maintenance to keep it that way, and there would be trials ahead, more than even he could anticipate. But moments like these, though they couldn’t last, they could continue, and he would do everything in his power to keep the ones he loved safe and happy as long as he drew breath and could fight to make it so.