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The Days Still Left

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They're sitting side by side on the governor's desk - on it, mind, not at it - and looking through the window, out to sea.

Flint has his feet on the governor's chair, dusty old boots and all, because that's all the respect he can muster now for that particular office; there's only one man he'd bow to if he dared to call himself their governor, and he's been in the ground for years. Vane is swinging his legs beside him, bootheels drumming sporadically against the ornate woodwork, because he'd as soon put the blade of his sword to a governor's throat as pay respects to him; Flint thinks perhaps even a man like Vane could have come to esteem his Thomas, in time, but it's much too late now for perhaps.

Thomas is gone. And as long as Flint and Vane are still alive, England cannot have this place that is their home, nor Spain, nor any other nation. On this point they are agreed.

There is no governor in Nassau now because the two of them - with Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, Billy and John Silver, Madi and her people, even Teach and his fleet sailing out of Ocracoke - all pulled together to achieve it. Woodes Rogers is returning home to England as a direct result of this, in a sad and still somewhat feverish state of failure, taking what's left of his borrowed forces and Eleanor Guthrie with him. It's just as well, Flint thinks, as he watches the ships out there in the bay: Vane might have let Eleanor be, for old times' sake, but not all their men are so forgiving of her sins. Some of those who not so long ago signed their names to the ledger, and took the king's pardon, are now the bitterest of them all. They'd have hanged her, Flint thinks, perhaps just to assuage their own guilt. They might even have cheered, the way they resolutely did not cheer the hanging of Charles Vane.

There's a bottle of rum in Vane's hand. He takes a long swig from it, with his head thrown back in the dying light spilling in through the window, his face all shadows and the last gasp of sun like fire on his tanned skin. Flint watches his throat work as he swallows, watches the bright lines of scars where he hurriedly cut off the noose, then Vane passes him the bottle. Flint drinks after him, then he reaches back and deposits the rum on the tabletop, on top of the chart that's spread out there as if this is his cabin on the Walrus that's sitting out there in the bay and not the governor's sturdy if overly ornamented desk. He's been working there in the weeks that have passed since they sailed in and retook Nassau under their black banners. When the men call him Governor Flint, he scowls. He's no governor, he thinks - he's just the man they apparently trust to deliver them from Spain's oncoming wrath.

He stands, but only for a moment, just long enough for him to move the chair a few inches closer to the table and then settle himself down on it, in front of Vane. He runs his hands over Vane's clothed thighs, the worn leather relatively smooth under his palms, and Vane stops swinging his legs. He curls his fingers underneath Vane's belt and tugs at it, till it's undone. Vane fucking smirks, but he knows what Flint's about and he doesn't even pretend that he protests it: he slips down from the desk and he shoves his trousers down, all the way to the top of his boots. He pulls his shirt up and he tucks it in underneath his arms, casually exposing himself from armpits down to knees, then he leans back against the edge of the desk that, if he stays there very long, will leave a line across his cheeks almost like the application of a cane. Vane is still hedonist enough that he might let Flint do that to him, if he asked, but Flint's interests lie elsewhere.

His worn hands skim the tan lines at Vane's hips and move up to bracket his waist. Vane rests his palms at the edge of the table and he looks down at Flint, almost pensive except Vane isn't what you'd usually call a thinker - there's too much action in him for that to be. Vane watches him rub the lines of muscle by his hips with his thumbs. He watches him touch him, all callused fingers on smooth skin. This used to be almost tentative, but it's not any more; Flint's had time now to acclimatise.

"Are you going to fuck me or just sit there and look at me?" Vane asks, and Flint looks up at his still smirking face. He looks him in the eye, his brows raised, his hands lingering at Vane's slim waist.

"I would have thought that might appeal to your vanity," Flint says, and Vane's smirk expands into a genuine smile, albeit still a smug one.

"Are you telling me you like to watch?" he asks.

He's teasing him and Flint knows it, as moves his hands away and leans back in the chair. He rests his elbows on the chair's upholstered arms, his fingers interlaced over his chest, over his shirt that's hanging open at the neck. This shouldn't feel comfortable, or easy, or familiar, except it does. It almost does, at least. It's approaching that, one night at a time.

"I think the pertinent question is if I like to watch you," Flint says, and Vane snorts, apparently amused by that.

"So then that's no question at all," Vane replies, and honestly, Flint might call it cocky if it weren't completely true. It's not like it was with Thomas, not even close to it, but that's not the point of this. He might not love him, but that's not the point, either.

Vane reaches up and runs both hands over his own long hair, pulling it back behind his shoulders, and the way he moves stretches out the muscles in his arms and his chest and his abdomen in all the ways that he's correctly guessed Flint likes to see. He rubs the back of his neck with one hand and then he runs it around, over his bearded chin, over his throat, over his chest and then down lower. Flint's eyes don't follow - they stay locked with Vane's - but he can still see what he's doing when he wraps one hand around his cock and squeezes lazily.

"Is that it?" Flint asks, deadpan, raising his brows and jutting his chin as he rests his head back against the high back of the chair. "I expected more from the mighty Charles Vane."

Vane smiles. His eyes crinkle at the corners, teeth bared, as he stretches out one leg and nudges Flint's calf with the toe of his boot.

"I've barely started," he says.

Flint can honestly say he believes him.

---

Eleanor tried Vane in the night, when nobody was there to see, then pencilled in his execution for the day that followed.

Flint wasn't fooled for a second: he knew it was her that had done it, not the governor, though he didn't think Woodes Rogers incapable of reaching a similar decision were he in his right mind and not decidedly out of it. The fact of the matter was that Flint understood quite intimately how the delirium of fever might take hold in unsuspecting new arrivals to the island, such as the governor's fine party of English fighting men, and the governor himself was hardly immune to that. Flint had suffered it himself, years earlier, and had shivered in Miranda's bed till it was sweated out and done with. He recalls how he believed he saw Thomas in the room with him, and how he spoke to him like he was there. He doesn't recall the words he said while he tossed and turned, at least not all of them, but Miranda had barely been able to look at him for days.

The governor's men beat together the gibbet in the square from spare timber that might once have been destined for another kind of purpose - a barn door, a signpost, though Flint supposed Vane's body in the square would be a sign of sorts. People gathered to see with all their usual perverse curiosity. They came out from the houses and emptied from the taverns in the muted sun and Flint hung back in the shadows, hidden, watching. Billy was on the next corner, not far away, close enough to see it if he signalled. They'd engineered whispers through the town but they'd not had nearly enough time to prepare for this, not fully, which he knew was Eleanor's ultimate intent. For the moment, then, all that he could do was watch as they wheeled Vane out like justice spun to entertainment, or the other way around. It angered Flint, but seemed to roll off Vane. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen him look so calm.

Vane spoke. Vane spoke to the street and Flint felt sick with it, filled up with all the words Vane said till sickness became sadness became a kind of quiet, trembling rage with which he was intimately acquainted. He clenched his fists. He clenched his jaw. Vane saw him and he shook his head, the movement of it fractional but clear to him. And then, when the governor's men moved the cart that Vane was standing on, when he stepped out from it into empty air and the street fell fucking silent, that was when Flint moved.

He went for him, pushing through the crowd, and not one single person present tried to stop him - they stepped aside to make a path for him instead. He rushed to the gibbet and he hauled Vane up, grabbed his legs, pushed, straining, shouting, his throat raw, his teeth bared, and someone hacked at the rope with a dull-edged fucking sword till it finally, finally cut him down. Flint caught him, and he went down onto his knees with him, eyes searching his face, hands on his skin, not sure if he was dead or alive.

The people of Nassau held back the guards with a roar, who were too surprised to do much more than withdraw themselves to a safer distance, and Flint and Billy took the horse and cart that had just found itself used for the hanging to take Charles Vane away with them. Flint rode with him in the cart, cutting off the noose with his long knife and nicking his skin as he did so, when the uneven streets kicked them this way and that. Vane took a sharp, loud breath, with a heave of his chest, and no one followed.

They'd long missed the Walrus, Flint supposed, so they made their way back to Miranda's house and stretched Vane out in the bed once they arrived. Billy returned to town to secure their passage from the island, and Flint sat there in a chair by the bedroom window with his pistol resting on the ledge, just in case a rider happened by. He could hear Vane's harsh breath from across the room; in the relative quiet, he found it strangely reassuring. And when Billy returned and took the next watch, Flint lay down next to Vane, still clothed, and slept like he hadn't slept in weeks. He's still not sure how he found it in him to relax.

"You stupid shit," Vane said, when Flint woke, still stretched out on his back there as the sun was setting. Blood had burst in the whites of Vane's eyes and turned them a disconcerting mottled red, and his voice was a rasp though that was hardly surprising; there was a darkening bruise spread out under his chin from the yank of the noose, half hidden underneath his beard. There were scrapes and burns there from the rope, dried blood caked over his throat from Flint's knife and in the corners of his mouth from where it seemed he'd likely bitten his tongue. The short drop hadn't been nearly enough to break his neck and make it quick. Much longer, with no hope of rescue, and Flint knew he would have sent his men to pull down on Vane's legs and get it over with. There was a kind of mercy in that, he thought, weary but significant, but he was glad it hadn't come to that. Perhaps his plans didn't rest solely on Charles Vane's participation, but his sense was that what they had to do would be harder without him than with.

Vane was looking at him. He was closer than Flint had realised when Vane had still been lying there unconscious - he was right next to him, so close he could see the natural creases in his lips and the blue flecks in his eyes, with the back of Vane's hand resting warm against his own. He could smell the salt and the dirt and the blood on his skin and it came to him, suddenly, hotly, that he hadn't shared a bed with any other man in years. It made his throat and chest feel tight. It made his face feel warm, at the halfway point between shame and something else he didn't care to think about, but that was easily subsumed by irritation.

"This stupid shit saved your life," Flint pointed out, rather bluffly.

Vane very nearly smiled as he looked at him, though Flint had to admit it was more around his eyes than at his mouth.

"Remind me to thank you," he told him. "When I don't feel like I've just been fucking hanged."

Then he closed his eyes again, and Flint finally shifted, swung his feet from the bed and moved away. The notion of what else he might do escaped him then entirely.

When they left the house an hour or two later, Vane couldn't walk. He could barely hold himself upright when he left the bed so Flint draped Vane's arm around his shoulders, wrapped his own arm tight around Vane's waist, grabbed his belt and hauled him. Billy helped Flint get him up onto the horse and Flint rode for the coast in the moonlight with Vane draped pathetically against his back, his arms around his waist, his fingers tucked in underneath Flint's sword belt to keep him from falling and his rough cheek pressed against the back of his bare neck. When they got to the small fishing boat moored off the cliffs, they hauled Vane up on board and the two of them sat there, in the captain's cabin that they'd bought and paid for. Vane sat in the chair and Flint leaning by the edge of the desk with his coat cast off and sleeves rolled up, having taken to finally cleaning his wounds.

"Did you do that?" Vane asked, while Flint cleaned off the cuts at his throat with a cloth soaked in foul-smelling alcohol.

"This?" Flint dabbed a little ointment over the first of the cuts and made Vane hiss out loud. "Yes. You had a noose around your neck, if you recall. I'd think it made it rather hard to breathe."

"I've had better falls," Vane said, looking up at him, his head lolling back. "I've had more fun getting tied up than that, too." He lifted one hand, unsteadily, like it was difficult for him, and wrapped his fingers around Flint's wrist. Flint made a fist instinctively, then slowly uncurled his fingers as Vane's hung on.

"You should've left me there, you stupid fuck," Vane said, straightforwardly, and Flint gave a brief, unexpected chuff of laughter. He leaned back against the captain's table as Vane scowled at him.

"I mean it," Vane said, still holding his wrist.

"I know," Flint replied, and he tried to wipe the surprised smile back off his face. "That's why I laughed."

"I don't understand."

"It's you." Flint gestured at him with his free hand, the one not currently held by the wrist. "At the moment when I think I know you best, you try to let Woodes Rogers hang you. I honestly thought you'd outlive all of us."

"Fuck you." Vane tried to stand; he pushed back the chair and he made it to his feet but only for a second before his knees gave out almost completely. Flint caught him around the waist to sit him back down, careful and slow. Billy had stayed behind with the men to continue their campaign of agitation, so Flint was all the assistance that Vane had. It was not lost on Flint that not so long ago, they would both have almost rather killed each other than sit down in the same room.

Vane scowled after that as Flint went back to Vane's wounds, his throat and then the scrapes at his knuckles, the small nicks at his wrists, functional about it, not exactly gentle. Vane grumbled and Flint utterly ignored him. He ignored his protest as he tied back his hair with a stray piece of cloth to keep it out of his cuts. He ignored his complaints as he helped him to eat. And then he hauled him into the captain's hammock and let him sleep, after he'd polished off a cup of rum to dull the pain back down again.

The fishermen put them off in a boat not too far from Ocracoke, and Flint rowed it while Vane slumped in the bow and glared and muttered about what a damn fool plan this was. But the hanging of Charles Vane - albeit having been curtailed somewhat - was apparently exactly what it took to stir Teach into action. He covered the bruise at Vane's neck with one big hand, like he might have killed every last Englishman in Nassau himself had he the means, and then he ordered his men to make ready. They weren't forgiven, but Flint chose to view it as a sign that the three of them might have a common cause back on New Providence. As they talked, Flint tried not to think about that hand at Vane's neck, and how viscerally he'd reacted to it. He tried not to think about wanting to touch Vane like that himself. He tried to pretend he didn't know that Vane had noticed.

Flint and Vane shared Teach's small but empty sick bay on the way to join the fight. They shared Flint's cabin on the Walrus on their way home after. And, five weeks later, here they are, sitting in the governor's office in the governor's house in Nassau, as the sun sets. The cuts at Vane's neck have healed into scars, but other wounds are fresher and Flint's the one that tended Vane's, just as Vane has tended Flint's. The truth of it is, strange as it may be for him to think: these days, one's rarely seen without the other.

They won the battle. Soon, they'll see about the war.

---

By the time they retook Nassau, Vane could walk but he still couldn't fight, at least not to his usual vicious extent. The fact was, though, that his incapacity didn't matter - they didn't need him to fight, just to be there like a beacon with the bruise still purple-black around his neck and a bloodied knife held in his hand, just for the effect that had. It was Flint's blood, where he'd drawn the blade against his palm to wet it while Vane watched him. Vane called him a crazy fuck but poorly hid a smile and took the knife in spite of that. He looked terrifying when they made landfall, like he'd come back from the grave. Side by side with Captain Flint, revenants both, Vane was formidable.

And after the ensuing fight, when the English were done, when they'd signalled their surrender, Flint found Vane sitting on the tavern steps with the knife still in his hands. He tried to hand it back but Flint just waved him off, then he sat himself down there beside him. The blood on Vane's hands wasn't all Flint's. The blood on the knife wasn't all Flint's, either.

"So, what next?" Vane asked. He leaned and reached to rub a smudge of blood from Flint's left cheek with one bloody thumb, which only succeeded in making matters worse. Flint rubbed at the patch with the cuff of his own bloodied shirt. Then he glanced over his shoulder at the tavern.

"Now, we have a drink," Flint said. "I think we've earned it."

Vane looked at him sideways as he leaned there, his elbows pressed down to his knees, his hair all hanging forward. Vane studied him, his light eyes narrowed.

"A drink like the first time I met you?" he asked, carefully, deliberately, more careful then than Flint thought he'd ever seen him be, and Flint frowned before he could think to stop himself.

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Did you forget, or do you think I did?"

"Did you fall and hit your head?"

"I wasn't that drunk, for fuck's sake." Vane raised his brows at him meaningfully. "Neither were you, from what I remember."

Flint looked at him for a moment, his expression hard. He looked at him, knocked off kilter but still gauging his next strategy. Then he rubbed his face with both hands, rubbed his short-shorn hair, rubbed his bloodied beard, and sighed. He wasn't sure he had much strategy left in him.

"I'm too fucking tired to discuss this with you, Charles," he said, because the post-battle thrill had worn away by then and left him testy, and faintly maudlin. "I'm tired and I ache and I'm soaked in some poor bastard's blood, and you want to talk about a mistake I made a hundred fucking years ago."

"A mistake we made," Vane said. "Before I knew you were such a self-righteous fuck."

Flint shot him a sideways glance. "Before I knew you were such a self-centred prick."

Vane smiled, such carefree fucking mirth in his eyes at that moment, among the dead and dying, that it was almost irresistible. Of course, that had been exactly the problem that Flint had experienced back then, too, when he'd still been newly in from England, sitting in a tavern with a glass of rum he couldn't even nearly drown his sorrows in. That had been the problem when he'd found his way into a fight like he'd been spoiling for it, burst a man's nose like a bloody fountain and had one eye blackened in the process. He slumped back down at the table and found his drink had been upended, then someone else sat down and slid a fresh one to him, the glass grumbling against the rough wood of the tabletop. That someone was a young Charles Vane, not that he knew it then, not that he thought Vane had remembered after.

Flint had been bleeding from a cut just by his eyebrow, not that he'd noticed that at all, and Vane leaned over the table toward him to rub the blood away with the cuff of his own shirt. Vane was amused by him, by how angry he was, by how hard he'd fought, like he might've killed the two of them if their friends hadn't intervened to drag them away and out the door into the night.

"Who were they?" Flint asked, as he reached out to take the glass.

"Blackbeard's crew," Vane said. "My crew, too." He raised his glass. "But here's to you. Bastards had it coming."

So they'd drunk together for a while, long enough that Flint had lost all track of time. They'd drunk together and Vane had talked while he'd almost half-listened and then afterwards, they'd gone outside together, stumbled together, gone to take a piss in an alley together, except that last part hadn't quite come to fruition. Vane hit him straight across his already bruised cheekbone and Flint subsequently fought back because when and why would he not fight back, and they scuffled together stupidly because, after all, the men he'd fought and beaten there inside had been part of Vane's crew - Flint understood that even if they might have deserved it, honour still had to be satisfied and thus retaliation made. So, Vane shoved him up against the alley wall. Vane bared his teeth in a half-serious snarl. But they were drunk and Flint was full of a simmering mix of rage and rum and bile and Vane was pressed half-hard against him, his cock obvious against Flint's thigh. He'd blamed the rum first and foremost for what happened next, for a very long time. When he thought of it at all, that is.

When he took a fistful of the back of Vane's long hair and pulled him into a rough, hard kiss, it was almost like they were still in the midst of fighting. When Vane bit his lip and made him curse, that honestly just spurred them both on to more. Vane sucked hard at Flint's neck. Vane shoved his hand inside Flint's trousers. They rubbed themselves together, fingers in each other's hair, till they were a sticky, drunken, rum-soaked, come-soaked mess. Then Vane blew him a kiss and Flint barked out a laugh and he watched as Vane stumbled his way away.

The next night, Vane joined him at his table again, just like the night before but without the fighting prelude as Flint's face was already still swollen. He brought a bottle with him instead of just a glass and when they'd finished it together, quite some time later, they stood and went outside. Vane pulled him back into the alley and away from prying eyes, tugging at the front of his loose shirt, and he went down on his knees and he sucked Flint till he came. His mouth was hot around him, his tongue wet against him, his head bobbing, his fingers pressed hard to Flint's hips, and it frankly didn't take very long at all, not with the giddy-sick-spinning way that Flint felt at that moment, from the rum and the heat and the company. He thinks he let himself feel pleasure then so that he could hate himself for it afterwards, but at least he didn't close his eyes and imagine it was Thomas.

Vane got back to his feet when he was done, with not an insubstantial amount of help from Flint himself, then Vane pushed him up face-first against the wall, unbuckled his own belt, pulled out his cock. Vane pushed Flint's shirt up over his back and Flint let him, stupidly; Vane slid his hands over his skin to the curve of his arse, and Flint was thrilled by the idea of what he thought that Vane might do to him, but then fucking disgusted by that fact in turn. He wanted it, and he didn't want it, but all Vane did was press his cock up in between Flint's thighs and thrust. He rested his forehead down between Flint's shoulders, his breathing harsh, and he rocked his hips, he thrust against him, till he came in a thick, hot rush pushed up to the back of Flint's balls. It wasn't what Flint wanted, but he thought perhaps what he got instead might have been easier for him to live with. Honestly, it wasn't.

The next night, just as drunk as the night before or maybe even drunker, he took Vane up the stairs to his rented room. He bit Vane's neck, he sucked his wrists, he left a trail of bruises littering the inside of his thighs. Vane looked like a fucking debauched god with its lines carved into marble once he was lying naked in Flint's cheap, hired bed, and his skin had a tang like salt and sun and three-day-old rum. He sucked Vane's cock while he held his hips down hard, and then he turned him over and he tossed himself off with a half-hearted grimace onto the small of Vane's back. It was utterly ridiculous, he knew, but the way Vane turned and smiled like the cat that got the boozy fucking cream made it all just seem so simple. He wasn't Thomas. There was no need to pretend he was, or that this was anything except a moment's necessary release.

Two more nights like that followed, stripped bare and fumbling drunkenly, then Blackbeard's ship had set sail again. Flint hadn't seen him for the next five weeks and by the point that Vane returned, Flint had met Hal Gates and bargained his way into a captaincy, of which he would never quite let go henceforth. They'd never spoken of it again, till then, when Nassau was theirs. It seemed to Flint like a lifetime ago, or more than that.

"What do you want from me, Charles?" Flint asked then, sitting at his side in the aftermath, on the tavern steps. He was tired and bloody and several long years older, and he felt each and every one of them. They had not been easy years, after all.

"I'd say that's obvious, James," Vane replied, not quite sharply.

Flint huffed out a breath. "Why now?" he asked.

"Why not now?"

"Well, there's a very good chance we'll be dead within the fortnight."

"Then don't you think that makes my point for me?"

Flint frowned. "Why now?" he asked again.

Vane shrugged. "You never treated me like an equal before this," he said, almost like he believed that was an answer, and Flint turned his head to look at him.

"That's because I didn't think you were," he replied. "You know exactly what I've thought of you."

Vane drew one leg up onto the steps so he could turn to him, and fix him with a steady look.

"And now?" he asked.

Flint's mouth twisted. He nodded curtly. "I see your point," he said, and then he stood, and he held one hand out down to Vane. Vane took it and Flint pulled him up. For once, he didn't mind the proximity in which that left them, or the way the colour rose up in his cheeks, but then they turned and went inside.

It shouldn't have been easy to pick up where they'd left off all those years before.

It was.

---

They've been making plans.

Thus far, Flint's outlandish plans have seen them through, and so the others have put their trust in him. They know Spain will come in time, and in forces greater than they've faced before, and so they have been making plans. Vane has the fort. Teach commands the fleet. Flint is their man on land. They're willing to fight for this; that makes a difference.

Tonight, though, is not about plans. Plans, Flint thinks, can wait.

"I've barely started," Vane says, teasing, and Flint finds that he believes him. He believes that this belief in him is reasonable, knowing who and what he is. He believes he truly has the measure of Charles Vane now, after all these years: he is a man whose highest calling is the call of his own desires, but who was willing to give up his life to prove a point all the same. It was a point not just about himself and others like him, not just about the cowardice of the men who'd given up so freely the thing that he was dying for, but about the men who'd come to tear them down. They called themselves better, but in the end they're just the same.

In that moment, as Vane swung, Flint had finally understood him. The hedonist has a heart and he'd given it to a woman who'd chosen sides against him. They'd both loved and lost on their way home to Nassau; understanding that was a means to bridge the void between them. They're different, but they're still the same.

Vane strokes himself. He does it lazily, unhurriedly, his skin lit up bright in those last few moments of the day before the sun dips down past the horizon - he's burnished almost bronze by it, almost too bright. Vane has recovered his health in fits and starts since the day of the hanging and Flint has watched it happen, day by day; he's watched him frustrated and angry and flippant and wry through it by turns, but ultimately he's alive and growing back in strength. They've been starting their days with a fight that's as much to get their blood up as much as it is to mark Vane's progress, sometimes with bare fists and sometimes with a pair of blunt-edged swords, and sometimes with the real thing, their own swords since they liberated Vane's from the fort where the former governor had seen fit to abandon it. Flint's been winning daily, but Vane is catching up. One day soon, the fight will be much closer, and Flint thinks he'll enjoy that.

Vane strokes himself. Flint watches his face as he does it because he's already so familiar with the look of Vane's cock - he's made a study of it, the veins of it, the weight and the length and the angles of it, in all Vane's various stages of arousal. He's held it in his hands and in his mouth, stroked it, pressed his lips to it, at first because he was sure they would be dying soon and then because he found that he enjoyed it, even if he felt that he should not. Now, though, he's come to the point where his eyes on Vane's face while he strokes himself is a kind of thing that's possible without the shame that he once felt, because Vane truly has no shame. Flint wants to know his expressions. He wants to catalogue those, too.

"You're not watching," Vane says, colour in his cheeks beneath his tan.

"Yes, I am," Flint replies, Flint assures him, and Vane doesn't seem to know how to respond to that. Seeing Charles Vane flustered is quite something indeed.

As he goes on, Vane's shirt keeps slipping down until he pauses long enough to pull it off and throw it away across the room. As he goes on, the way he's leaning pushes at the desk with a scrape of its feet across the wooden floor, and so he hops back up on top of it, spreading his thighs out wide, but Flint doesn't look away from his face, not for a moment. He should be embarrassed, perhaps, watching him, knowing what he's been doing with Charles Vane is against the law across the seas in England, that it's what ultimately cost Thomas his life. Perhaps he should be embarrassed, but freedom from the bloody nation of those bloody laws is something that they've fought for, and many of their friends have died for. He will not be held down, not any longer.

Vane strokes himself, watching Flint watching him. Vane strokes himself but he's not playing to the watcher, not one bit, not anymore, and Flint knows it. He's stroking himself because it feels good and because he likes the way Flint's looking at him, at him, his face, his eyes, not his hand on his cock like he could be in that room with anyone at all. That's when Flint reaches forward and take Vane's wrist into his hand, and stops him moving.

"Come to bed," he says, and he stands, and Vane smiles that damned disarming smile as he comes back up to his feet himself, pulling up his trousers just high enough so he can lead the way bare-arsed into the bedroom that's located through the doors across the room. Vane has never had much in the way of shame or even modesty, but fortunately Flint has come to find that an endearing quality. Many other qualities in him aren't, and they conspire to make them argue, and they conspire to bring them to blows, but the truth of the matter is that now, tonight, there is no one on the island that Flint trusts more than Charles Vane. Considering the men and the women he knows, that's perhaps not the oddest notion he could conjure, but it's a strange kind of notion to him nonetheless. Six months ago, he hated Vane for all the things he did and didn't stand for, for the ruined plans, for the stubborn grudges. Now, he's following him to bed.

Once inside the bedroom, past its double doors, Vane strips. He hops as he pulls off his boots, almost tripping, laughing, then he drops his trousers and that's it, all that's left then is his bare skin. When he first met Vane, there was no immediate attraction, no sudden spark that couldn't be ignored, not like he'd felt with Thomas, not like he supposes Vane had felt with Eleanor, but there's more attraction there between them now than Flint feels he should find comfortable. Vane, however, is quite clearly comfortable. He doesn't care that Flint is still clothed and he's completely naked, or that a law made by a country with a king who'd like to hang him says they shouldn't lie together. He cares about how it feels when he stretches out face-down on the bed and shifts his hips to hump the fucking sheets, just for a moment. He cares about turning onto his back in an artless sprawl, propped up on his forearms, and raising his brows and tilting his chin to make it clear he expects Flint to follow him. In this moment, they are not the same but they have the same priorities. It is a happy confluence of ways, which Flint knows cannot last, but they can make the most of it.

Vane watches him undress. Flint does so deliberately, slowly, piece by piece, depositing his clothes on and around the chair by the dressing table where he supposes Eleanor once might have sat. Vane doesn't look much like his thoughts are filled with Eleanor when he looks at him now. He looks like he's thinking about the hour that might follow the sunset, about how much rum might be left in the bottle, about who might fuck whom, though he never seems to care much what the answer to that is. Flint makes that choice deliberately, and Vane just doesn't care.

Finally, Flint is naked. Finally, he runs his hands over his close-shorn hair, his bare feet on the bare wooden floor, and he looks at Vane there stroking himself. He swears Charles Vane would spend half of each day masturbating if he could, and the other half with a sword in his hand of a much more literal kind, but sometimes it's refreshing to know a man's mind without having to spend much time describing it. Vane is not so simple or straightforward in his motivations as some might like to think he is, as Flint once did. He has a kind of sharpness to his wits when they're not dulled by rum or something stronger, but that doesn't mean he's not a man of simple tastes.

"How do you want me?" Flint asks, abruptly, as he stands at the foot of the bed, and Vane frowns at him. Flint knows why, too: he's never intimated that Vane might have a voice in this before now, aside from the fact of his presence and participation. It's always been clear he's free to turn and take the path to Max's brothel, if he wants to, instead of doing any of the things they do behind closed doors.

"Are you serious?" Vane asks, and Flint nods. Vane pushes down to the foot of the bed and he pauses, then he stands in front of him. "Are you serious?" he asks again, his hands taking hold of Flint's upper arms, tightly, almost as if he means to shake him, and Flint nods again.

That night they retook Nassau, when they were good and drunk, they went back to the inn and found that same room that Flint had rented, the night that they'd first met. They turned the key in the lock and they went to bed and honestly, ten minutes later, they were both asleep there, side by side. The days and weeks and months and years had taken quite a toll on them.

The next morning, they were too damn stiff and sore to do much more than pull back on the clothes they'd taken off, though they hadn't even managed much of anything. Flint's right hip felt much like it was seizing up from some unknown blow that he couldn't recall and Vane still staggered awkwardly, so they shored each other up as they went out to find something to eat. The town was a mess from their own ships' guns and the English munitions, but they found people's spirits ran surprisingly high.

That night, when they'd all made their choices, stay or go, fight or flee, Flint's new bed was the governor's though he'd said he didn't want it. Vane did, on the other hand - when the others left for their ships in the bay or their rooms elsewhere in town, he stayed, and they drank, and they talked, until Flint told him that he needed sleep. He stood and he went to the bedroom doors. He opened them. He took off his shirt. He said, "Are you coming or not?" Vane definitely came.

"Are you serious?" Vane says, then he kisses him, roughly, all teeth and tongue and his fucking scratchy beard, his blunt nails at Flint's scalp, at the small of his back, one hand at the curve of his arse. Then he pulls back quickly. He smiles like a particularly self-satisfied shark, like he has an idea.

They didn't fuck that first night in the governor's bed - they fell asleep instead, just like the night of the hanging in Miranda's house. They fell asleep side by side, too close for rivals but close enough perhaps for something else instead. It was the morning when it happened, in the early sunlight through the open curtains. He had Charles Vane for the first time in ten years, slow and hot, face to face, with Vane's legs wrapped tight around his waist. He remembers Vane's hair spread haphazardly over the pillows. He remembers the halting, fumbling way he put the tip of his cock up to Vane's hole, then pushed inside in awkward fits and starts. He remembers the strain in his wrists and his arms, and his back and his neck, and the way that Vane groaned as he moved in him, like he didn't give a fuck who heard.

Vane takes him to bed and Flint knows what Vane will choose: if it's left to Vane, they'll just sleep at night, because in the morning he'll be sober. And, despite all odds, it seems he wants to remember the things they do when they're together. Flint finds he doesn't mind.

They lie down side by side in the governor's bed, and Flint blows out the candles. They leave the curtains open so if the sound of Spanish guns is not what wakes them, the bright morning sun will be.

The Spanish will come, and Flint knows that. Chances are, their days are numbered; but, whilever they don't know the count, those days might as well be infinite. Each one might as well be their last.

Flint chooses now to live accordingly.