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‘You look tired,’ Uma says to Ben, catching him in the corridor at the end of the council meeting. Fall in step with the king for a private word is a manoeuvre that most people try after most meetings, but Uma is particularly good at it. It helps that Ben actually wants to talk to her. 

‘I am tired,’ he admits. The meeting has dragged on, the way all such meetings do. Education was the issue on the table. The Board of Teachers is complaining about money ring-fenced for the existing school population being used to provide places for Villain Kids. But if he moves Villain Kids off the Isle without proper education and housing to receive them, he’ll just be setting up future problems. He was tempted to end the meeting on the spot and throw his own money at the problem, but he’s already done that more than once. Diminishing the Crown’s funds would diminish the Crown’s authority, and he likes the Crown’s authority the way it is. When it lets him demand rights for children in the face of a recalcitrant council, anyway. 

‘I’ll say to you what I’d say to anyone on the crew,’ Uma says. ‘You’re no good to anyone tired.’ 

Some of his advisors might have resented the implication that he counts as one of her crew. Ben is just happy to see how much she’s warmed to him. 

‘I’ll be glad of a break when this is over,’ he says. 

‘Gotta take breaks during,’ Uma says. ‘After it’s over it’ll be on to the next thing.’ 

‘I just want to get this done,’ he mutters. The memory of all those councillors looking Uma in the face and doing nothing but argue makes him feel a little sick. He tries to pull himself together. ‘I’m sorry, you shouldn’t be having to give me advice when I’m sure you’re twice as tired – ’

‘Yes, we all know that life on the Isle is tougher than life for you and you feel bad about it,’ Uma interrupts. ‘It’s very boring of you to keep bringing it up.’ 

‘I’m sorry,’ he says. 

‘Do all Auradonians apologise this much?’ Uma throws a glance back at the council chamber. ‘Guess I know they don’t…’

‘I’m – ‘ He bites back an apology on behalf of every council attendee who’s looked at Uma and failed to feel guilty. Uma flicks him an amused glance. 

‘You are sorry, aren’t you?’ she says. ‘You’re particularly sorry today. What’s going on?’ 

Her tone makes it clear that she won’t accept a stock answer, so he pauses to consider properly. 

‘I promised you a solution,’ he says, ‘but it’s happening very slowly.’ 

Uma laughs. ‘What, is there something you could be doing to make it go faster?’ she asks. ‘You holding out on us, your majesty?’ 

‘If there is,’ Ben promises her, ‘I’ll figure it out.’ 

‘Right,’ Uma says. ‘You’re going to go right back to that office of yours and figure it out.’ 

‘That’s the plan,’ Ben says, trying not to let his voice betray how daunting that prospect seems. 

‘And when are you next going to visit my ship?’ Uma asks more quietly. 

Ben gives her an expressive grimace. Don’t tantalise me .

His nights spent on the ship - with Uma, with Harry, with Gil, and with whichever other members of her crew Uma feels like inviting – are rewards for the end of a successful negotiation, not distractions during it. 

‘When I have time,’ he answers. 

‘What did I just say to you about breaks?’ Uma’s got one eyebrow raised. She looks like she’s weighing him up and finding him wanting. 

‘Uma, I just – ’ He shakes his head. ‘I wouldn’t feel right coming onto the ship with nothing to show for a month’s work. And I feel wrong just taking a day when this is so urgent.’ 

‘With nothing to show, huh?’ Uma’s eyes pin him down like a butterfly on a board. 

‘I promise I’m not working too hard,’ he says. ‘I haven’t scheduled any meetings for tomorrow afternoon, to begin with.’ He’s probably going to spend at least some of that time playing catch-up on paperwork, but he doesn’t mention that.

‘Hmm. Jay mentioned that you like to go riding down by the sea wall in the afternoons. Do you still do that?’ Ben knows Uma better than to think she'll drop an argument as easily as that, but she at least seems to have picked a different line of attack. 

‘Yes,’ he says. 

‘Are you planning to do that tomorrow?’ 

‘If I have the time.’ 

‘Do that tomorrow,’ Uma says, low, and something unknots in Ben’s spine at the sound of a voice telling him what to do . All day every day he tells other people what to do, and doesn’t enjoy it, and listens as they try to tell him what he should do, and dismisses most of it. When somebody he trusts gives him an instruction that isn’t terrible, he wants to obey it. 

‘Alright,’ he answers quietly. 

‘Do you want to know why?’ Uma asks. 

A million possible whys spring at once into Ben’s mind. Uma is good at setting his thoughts whirling with a single question. The thoughts whirl, but he doesn’t chase them. So many things are barely inside his control just now. Let this thing stay firmly outside, where he doesn’t have to worry about it. 

‘No,’ he answers. 

‘Good.’ She turns to go. 

‘Uma,’ he says. ‘Um – are you taking breaks?’ 

She smirks at him. ‘When I get back to my cabin,’ she says, ‘Harry will be waiting inside on his knees, and he won’t be getting off them until he’s made me forget every stupid thing every one of your councillors said. Bye.’ 

She strides off down the corridor, leaving him alone with the thought of living with Harry a room away instead of a strip of ocean. 

Probably he wouldn’t be able to cope. He can barely think his name without breaking out in a cold sweat. 

It started with Harry, because on the Lost Revenge Uma’s attention is like gold dust, and she wasn’t going to start spending it right away on the person whom they all saw as their jailor. Instead, she had Harry run reconnaissance for her. In a way, it was the most delicate negotiation of Ben’s life, trying to come to some kind of peace with Harry, knowing that Uma was hearing and evaluating each step and that he was negotiating with her by proxy too. It was a long time before she joined in with them herself. 

Not so long ago Ben hadn't even known that people made love in front of each other. He doubts he could explain to anyone – except perhaps Mal, Carlos, Evie and Jay – why he thinks doing so with Uma and Harry is a good idea. He can't justify the risk to his safety or his reputation. And yet somehow it feels worth it, for the way he’s coming to understand Harry and Uma, and for the way he’s coming to understand himself

Relations with Uma have certainly improved since the first day they met, when she tied him to the mast of her ship and rejected his offers out of hand. Maybe she’s only looking out for him because he’s her most useful ally, but it’s good to feel that he’s useful. He’s been worse things than useful. 

He hopes – he believes – that there’s genuine liking there as well. He’s just not sure he deserves it.

In his office, there’s work waiting for him: all the business of running a kingdom that hasn’t just stopped while he tries to liberate the Isle. It’s well after midnight when he climbs into bed, and longer still before the documents stop spinning around his head long enough for him to sleep.

He gets out of bed on the wrong side the next morning. He can’t seem to settle to the business of the day, and the tasks seem to get more complex the longer he thinks on them, clinging together in a tangled mass that refuses to sort itself into any order of priority. The prospect of the afternoon ride isn’t helping either. He thought he would look forward to it. Instead it’s making him fret. 

Do as Uma says makes perfect sense to him when he’s standing in front of her, but he knows it wouldn’t make sense to anybody in his court. He’s annoyed with her for pressing, annoyed with himself for accepting. What had he accepted, anyway? Why hadn’t he asked for more details before he decided how to allocate his time? Silly, stupid thing to do…

By the early afternoon he knows he’s spiralling, but just because he knows it doesn’t mean he can stop. You don’t deserve to go out riding sounds absurd, but you don’t have time to go out riding is near enough true, and comes to the same thing. Uma might leave you hanging just to play with you, the fear inside him whispers, and that would be mild compared to all the things she could do to hurt you. When he reminds himself that it’s been months since he was a prisoner Uma wanted to hurt, the fear shores itself up with why should she prioritise your emotional wellbeing when you’re the one who imprisoned her, and she’s as busy as you are right now, and maybe she’s forgotten. Anybody can forget. 

He’s angry with her for making him feel this way. Is she happy that her invitation is tying him in knots? What would his father, his advisers or anybody else say if they knew he was planning to put aside important matters of state to keep an impromptu meeting with a self-styled pirate queen? It takes an effort of will to remind himself that Uma doesn’t know what he’s thinking. There’s no reason to be angry with her over something that’s taking place entirely in his imagination. 

So now he doesn’t want to quarrel with Uma any more, but on the downside he’s absolutely convinced that he doesn’t deserve to go riding.

‘You haven’t turned over a page in the last ten minutes,’ Evie says. 

Ben jumps. He’d completely forgotten that she was in the room with him, poring over a list of the most urgent VK cases. 

‘Distracted,’ he says, giving his head a little shake. 

‘When you stop bouncing ideas off me, I know that’s a bad sign,’ she says. 

‘Needed to mull this over,’ he mutters. Evie tilts her head slowly and breathes out through her nose. Unimpressed. 

‘Will you please take a break?’ she says. 

‘You’ve been working just as hard as I have, and you’re not taking one.’ 

‘It’s easier for me,’ Evie says crisply. ‘I don’t have a conflict of interest.’ 

Ben’s stomach lurches. ‘Neither do I,’ he says quickly. ‘I want to make this work, I really do – ’

‘I know you do,’ Evie cuts him off. ‘Ben, everybody knows that. I meant that I don’t have someone I love disapproving of everything I’m doing here.’ She grimaces. ‘Well, I do, but she’s far away.’

‘I did plan to ride out and meet Uma,’ Ben says. 

‘Not to talk business?’ Evie asks sharply. 

‘No, just to…’ Ben trails off. Evie knows what’s between him and Uma. ‘Do you think I should go?’

‘Well, did you promise?’ 

‘You’re right.’ Ben stands abruptly. ‘It’s an engagement; it would be rude to break it without saying anything.’ A social rule; he clutches it like a lifeline. 

‘Get some fresh air,’ Evie said. She reaches out as he passes her on his way to the door, and he gives her his hand and lets her squeeze it. ‘Don’t think about any of this for a couple of hours. It won’t hurt. I promise.’

He dismisses the groom and saddles up his horse himself, then rides out onto the long lawn that leads down to the sea. The routine helps shake his brain out of the circuit it’s been running in all morning, but it does nothing to raise his mood. He still feels listless, cut off from the sunlit grass and the sound of the sea around him. One thing is clear: it’s very lucky that Evie and Uma between them forced him out of doors when they did. He obviously needs the break. 

He wonders where he’s going to get the energy to wrangle with the same problems tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that…

‘Don’t think about that,’ he tells himself out loud. ‘Just take it as it comes. You’ll fix it eventually, and then you’ll feel good about it. Other people have worse problems.’ 

He looks to the sea wall, wondering if Uma is planning to meet him herself. Maybe she’s going to send Harry for the afternoon, though he’s not sure he can cope right now with all the feelings Harry stirs up in him, deliberately and by accident. He tries to stop speculating. Uma asked him if he wanted to know the plan, and he told her no. It’s not for him to know what she’s planned. He trusts her. 

Maybe she’s forgotten, or was never planning anything. That’s alright too. His part was to go out riding, and he’s doing it. He gives his horse a touch with his riding crop and canters the last few hundred yards to the wall. 

The breeze freshens, carrying the rush of waves. Ben stands in his stirrups to look over the wall. It’s high tide; the breakers are foaming right up against the brickwork. The Lost Revenge will be riding high in its berth. She's docked in the wharf where Auradonian ships tie up on the rare occasions when they visit the Isle, outside the barrier. That was Uma's first condition of all, before she would even sit down at the negotiating table. At least her pirates are free to set sail now. 

He can’t see anybody waiting. 

Uma didn’t say he was going to meet someone. She said to ride. 

He turns his horse right and trots along the wall. About fifty yards along, there’s a wrought-iron gate, and through it a slipway leading down into the water. A couple of boats are drawn up on the grass inside the wall. Ben is just wondering whether to go through the gate and paddle his feet in the water when a figure flits out of the archway. 

The figure is wearing a balaclava. It grabs the bridle of his horse. Before Ben can do more than register that he’s been stopped, he feels hands grip his right leg. 

They were hiding in the boats, his mind supplies, as the hands yank him sideways. 

He’s being dragged off his horse. The animal gives a little side-step of surprise as Ben hits the dirt, all the breath going out of him. His mind is working fast; so fast that his body seems frustratingly slow by comparison, because it’s still coming to terms with its sudden change in position while internally he screams, 

You’re being attacked! Fight back! 

He’s felt this sudden panic once before in his life: on the Isle of the Lost, when he’d seen the person whom he now knows as Gil, coming towards him surrounded by friends whose expression had sent Ben’s heart racing and his feet stumbling back towards Evie and Carlos and Jay. But they’d laid hands on him almost before he could react, and next thing he knew there’d been sharp metal under his chin and a voice purring,

‘Well, well, well. Honoured to make your highness' acquaintance. The name’s Harry Hook.’ 

He could hardly believe what was happening then. He can hardly believe it now. Why now, why here, how here? And who would want to, who would dare…? He rolls onto his front and tries to rise, but there's weight pressing down on the back of his neck, and suddenly the world goes dark. Some kind of hood has been yanked over his head. 

He struggles for a moment, but then a thought occurs to him, so suddenly that he goes limp. At the same time, the ground disappears. He’s being hoisted up, by someone strong enough to lift him bodily and sling him over their shoulder. He finds himself balanced uncomfortably, the blood rushing to his head, but he can still think. 

He’s been pulled off his horse, but nobody’s hit him, or stabbed him, and his hands are still free. And he recognises this shoulder, because he’s been carried over it before. 

‘Gil?’ he says. 

‘Oh hey, you recognised me!’ Gil’s voice exclaims cheerfully. 

‘Gil!’ Ben says again. He can hear the tremor in his own voice. From melancholy to terror to relief in the space of a few seconds - is it any wander he sounds a little panicked? . 

‘We got you good, huh?’ Bonny’s voice says beside him. She slaps his shoulder, just the hard side of good-natured. ‘Don’t worry too much. We’re here to take you to the Revenge – probably.’ 

‘You looked terrifying in that mask, Bonny,’ says a third voice that he recognises as Gonzo. 

‘I know!’ she laughs. ‘I think I might wear it all the time, honestly.’

‘What do we do with the horse?’ Gonzo asks. 

‘Uma said to ride him back to the stables,’ Gil says, ‘and tell them that the king’s decided to visit us.’ 

‘Who’s going, though?’ Bonny says. There’s a pause. Gil stops walking. A faint shuffling, smacking sound suggests that they’re playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. 

‘I’m going to miss all the fun !’ Gonzo exclaims. 

‘Losers, weepers,’ Bonny says unsympathetically.

‘If you gallop you might make it back in time,’ Gil adds. 

He hears Gonzo muttering, and then the sound of his horse’s hooves receding. He's left alone with the breaking waves, the press of Gil's shoulder, and darkness. 

'Let's go!' Bonny says. Gil settles Ben more comfortably across his shoulder, and the two of them set off along the wall. 

They said they were taking him to the ship – probably . And he’s almost certain that they are. That probably was just Bonny playing with him, going along with the scare they’d decided to give him. Though Uma only has most of the Isle on-side. There’s still those who resent her or are out for themselves, and maybe one of those has got to Bonny or Gil…

His mind untwists itself out of those tight, defensive knots it was tied in, and is afraid. He lets himself feel it. He accepts it. 

With the hood over his head it's impossible to follow their progress, and Ben quickly gives up trying to guess if they're nearly there. He sets himself to prepare mentally for whatever's waiting for him at the end of their journey, and to endure the discomfort of being carried with a shoulder in his ribs for minutes that drag and blend together and become one endless drag of time… 

He becomes aware that the jolting of Gil's stride has stopped. They're standing still. He can hear the snap-snap-snap of fabric blowing in the breeze. 

‘Better not carry him up the gangplank,’ Bonny is saying. ‘You’re pretty top-heavy; you might…whoo- oops !’ Ben guesses she’s shoved Gil’s shoulder. He goes stumbling, and Ben feels his own weight shift alarmingly. Then Gil tips him forward. Everything is upside-down and back to front for a moment, and then he’s being set on his feet. He tries to find his balance. He can’t see a thing. Gil steps away, leaving him adrift. He can hear the sea somewhere to his left, but that’s his only clue as to where he is or which way he’s facing. He’s barely sure of the ground under his shoes. 

Then a voice speaks behind him, right into his ear. 

‘Well, well, well,’ it says. ‘In trouble again, your majesty?’ 

He feels the curve of Harry’s hook press against his neck, and feel suddenly, totally safe. 

Somebody rips the hood off his head, and he finds himself blinking in bright sunlight. That aspect of the barrier’s gone, at least. He’s looking up at the Lost Revenge, with plenty of crew members looking back at him, leaning over the rail or hanging from the rigging. He sees Mathilde, dressed all in purple, grinning broadly; Desiree, with her face painted in sunset stripes; Jonas, dangling right out over the water and pulling a face. They look fairly friendly, albeit the kind of friends who might start hazing you any moment. Ben takes a fraction of a step backwards to feel Harry at his back, and Harry gives a one-breath laugh and pushes him between the shoulders. 

‘Up you go!’ he says. Gil spreads his arms wide and bows to Ben as he steps onto the gangplank. Harry grips his collar all the way up, as much to keep him steady on his feet as anything else. He reaches the deck, and there’s Uma, sitting at a table where the light is good, quill pen in hand and papers spread out in front of her. 

‘Captain!’ Harry calls. ‘Our guest is here!’

Uma looks up. She doesn’t smile, but her eyes glow with satisfaction when she sees Ben. 

‘Welcome,’ she says, putting her pen aside. ‘We’re happy to see you.’ 

‘Your invitation was a bit unorthodox,’ Ben replies.

‘But you can’t deny it was efficient,’ Uma says. Her eyes move over him, giving him that look that struck him to the heart the first time he met her: the look that reduces him to an opportunity, to a situation to be handled. The crew have moved in around them. Whether they just want to listen or whether they’re intentionally cutting off the exit is unclear. Harry has propped an elbow on Ben’s shoulder and is lounging against him. Ben shivers, and Uma gives the barest flicker of a smile. 

‘I was saving this for after we’d arranged the schools,’ he says. 

‘You were being silly,’ Uma retorts. Ben feels the faint tremor of Harry’s laughter through his shoulder. ‘Do you want to go home?’

‘No,’ Ben admits. 

‘Good,’ Uma says. Her eyes rake him again. ‘I like those riding clothes you’re wearing. They flatter you. You’re a little overdressed for the Isle though.’ Her gaze sharpens. ‘Do you remember your safewords?’ 

‘Yes,’ Ben says. 

‘Try that again,’ Harry whispers helpfully. 

‘Yes, Uma,’ Ben corrects himself. 'Smooth, rough, high.' 

‘Good boy,’ Uma says. Her eyes shift to her crew. ‘Strip him.’ 

The bottom drops out of Ben’s stomach as laughter erupts from the pirates around him. Rough hands grab hold of him. Mathilde is in front of him, her one hand deftly undoing the buttons on his jacket. No sooner has she finished than it’s ripped from his shoulders by whoever’s behind him. His wrists are seized firmly as Mathilde starts on his shirt. Jonas is on his knees, unlacing Ben’s shoes. Then he grabs his belt. 

Ben looks over their heads. Uma has gone back to her writing, but Harry’s watching intently, leaning against the ship’s rail. Mathilde pulls Ben’s shirt open. Harry’s eyes flick down to his exposed chest and his mouth curls, and Ben feels a rush of heat over his skin, lessening the panic of being set upon so suddenly. He’s not being stripped naked at random. He’s being stripped for Harry’s pleasure. Ben lets Harry's gaze wrap him round like another pair of hands and hold him still for the crew. 

It’s Desiree holding his wrists. She giggles as she works his shirt off his arms and tosses it away. Jonas yanks his trousers down. 

‘He’s cute,’ Mathilde coos, chucking his chin. 

‘He is,’ Desiree agrees. Her hand slides over his left pectoral muscle and squeezes. Jonas gropes him through his boxers. Ben tosses his head back, and Harry sees; Harry sees everything that’s being done to him, sees him responding. Sensation flares through his nerves, and the way he can't fight it arouses him further. He wants to be helpless in front of Harry, so that Harry will see how he feels and mock him with those beautiful eyes. 

Jonas takes his boxers down, and the others all crow when the see how hard he is already. 

‘Having a good time?’ Gil asks. Coming from him it could be mockery or genuine delight. 

‘Tie him against the mast,’ Uma orders. Her eyes are on her work, and her pen is moving, but she must be attending closely to what’s going on. She’s pretending to ignore me because she knows I like it, he thinks. She’ll control every step of this. She’ll look after him. More tension melts out of his chest. He barely reacts as Gil and Jonas take him by the shoulders and pull him back solidly into the mast. Desiree is ready with the rope. 

‘Put his wrists up by his head.’ Harry pushes off the rail and comes sauntering towards them. ‘That way we can watch him flex when he struggles.’ He waggles his eyebrows at Desiree, who giggles and gives Ben’s bicep a squeeze. She pulls his right arm out to the side and a little behind him, following the curve of the mast, bends him at the elbow and starts to knot rope firmly around his wrist. 

‘You’re a lot stronger than I thought Auradon kids would be,’ Gil says. ‘You do look nice when you flex.’ 

‘Not as strong as you, though,’ Mathilde says, kissing Gil’s cheek. 

‘No,’ Gil agrees blithely. He pins Ben’s left wrist easily and starts tying it down. 

They tie him at wrists, waist and ankles, then step back to admire their handiwork. Ben tugs experimentally. He can barely get an inch of leverage. The air is cold on his bare skin, and he can’t do anything about it. Their eyes are watching him hungrily, and he can’t do anything about it. The whole question of the Isle is only half-fixed, and – right now – he can’t do anything about it. 

He relaxes into the ropes and lets them hold him. He lets the crew look at him. He waits. 

Harry moves slowly towards him. The look on his face makes Ben’s skin crawl, but he can’t look away. 

‘Doesn’t this feel a bit familiar?’ Harry asks conversationally, leaning into Ben’s space. 

‘Parts of it,’ Ben answers. It’s all very familiar, except that this time nobody hates him and he’s allowed to enjoy it. 

‘You were dressed a bit different,’ Harry agrees. He reaches out and tweaks Ben’s nipple, and the casual way he does it, as if he’s got every right, sets Ben gasping. Harry turns to Uma.

‘I suppose you’ve got all sorts of rules for what we can do with him, Captain,’ he says. 

'Hmm?' Uma looks up. 'Not especially.'

'Honourable treatment? Damaged goods?' Harry prompts. 

'Oh, that. That was a hostage situation. This is recreation. Do what you like. Have some fun.'

'Some fun!' Harry echoed with relish. 'You hear that, lads?' He looks to Ben. 'Who's going to protect you if the captain doesn't care, little king?' 

'You are,' Ben answers at once.

'Me?' Harry's voice goes so high it almost cracks. He glances round the crew. 'Am I noted for looking after people?' he asks. 

'Yes!' Gil shouts at once. That gets laughter from the others. Harry purses his lips and breathes out hard through his nose. He thrusts out an arm in Gil's direction: shut up. Ben can't help but laugh too, but it dies in his throat when Harry grabs him by the hair. 

He has perfect confidence that Harry won't take this too far, and that Uma wouldn't seriously let him anyway, but it's easy to imagine otherwise when Harry is looking at him the way he is now. He looks ready to eat Ben alive. 

‘I could hurt you,’ Harry croons. He leans in and speaks right into Ben's ear. ‘Oh, there’d be hell to pay, but I could.’ His left hand slides through Ben's hair; his right is trailing the hook up his side. ‘I could do anything I want to you.’ He presses his face into the side of Ben’s neck and kisses him. 

‘You want,’ Ben asks breathlessly, ‘to kiss me?’ In response, Harry fists his hand in Ben’s hair, jerks his head to the side and bites him hard. 

One of the many things Ben has learnt about himself in the months since their truce? He loves pain. 

He moans aloud, and the laughter of the crew goes straight to his groin. Harry's teeth are on the perfect spot, digging into the sensitive muscle where his neck meets his shoulder. The sensation lights up his spine and makes his toes curl. Harry chooses a fresh spot on his neck and bites down again. Ben’s skin sings. 

‘Oh, I want to do all kinds of things to you; I think you know that,’ Harry murmurs into his neck. ‘You enjoyed that the first time you were here, didn’t you? Watching us all with those fuck-me eyes, knowing captain’s orders said to leave you alone?’ 

‘I – I didn’t know,’ Ben says. ‘I didn’t mean to.’ 

‘Liar!’ Desiree calls. 

‘He’s a fucking tease,’ Jonas adds. 

‘Isn't he just?' Harry exclaims. 'Look at him!' He grabs Ben’s chin and holds him still for their examination. 

‘Ooh, that’s the look,’ Mathilde says. 

'And he says he doesn't know,' Harry says, patting Ben's cheek just a little too hard. 'Tell him how he looks.'

'Like you're begging for it,' Mathilde says. 

'He looks like he's only just heard what sex is and now he's curious,' Desiree adds. 

'Yep,' Mathilde says. 'And that makes us want to mess you up.'

'You've always looked at Harry like you were in love with him, even back when we kidnapped you for real,' Gil says. 'It was actually pretty brave of you, I thought.'

‘It was,' Harry concedes. Ben thinks Gil's last comment might have thrown him a little, but he recovers well. 'Those pretty eyes won’t save you now, though, and neither will the captain. Reckon the crew and me’ll torture you for a while, and then we’ll all enjoy you for a while. How does that sound?’ Ben makes to reply, but Harry’s hand clamps over his mouth before he can get a word out. ‘That was rhetorical, majesty,’ he says. ‘It’s not up to you.’ 

His eyes meet Ben’s, glittering with amusement. Ben stares back helplessly. Then he feels the bite of the hook on his skin. He can’t control himself. He cries out, the sound muffled by Harry's left hand. 

‘I get to hook you,’ Harry sings. He draws a burning line up Ben’s side. 'Oh, come on now, your majesty, this doesn't hurt nearly as much as it's going to.' He plants the hook in the centre of Ben's chest and starts another stroke. Ben sucks in his breath at the pain, but when he looks down there’s no blood, just angry red lines. This is how Harry gets him every time; he doesn't cross the boundaries, but he finds things Ben didn't realise were inside them and does those. Ben is blindsided, but there's also a part of him that's elated. For months Harry's been threatening him with this hook, and now he's made good on the threat. That's another fear Ben can cross off his list, another danger he's been brave enough to face. And he's going to be wearing these marks under his shirt for days. 

Harry scores a third line up his right flank to match the one on his left, and then glances round as Bonny comes walking over from Uma’s table. 

‘Captain thought maybe you could use these,’ she says, holding out a hand. She’s got a handful of the kind of clips Ben and Uma use to hold papers together. Harry’s smile lights up his face. 

‘Oh, we can use those, can’t we, princey?’ he says. 

‘I’m a king,’ Ben answers. 

‘So you are,’ Harry says. He nuzzles Ben’s cheek. His hand finds Ben’s nipple again and squeezes gently, coaxing it to harden. ‘And how does it feel being king now?’ 

‘It feels – so fucking good,’ Ben gasps. Harry stares at him, fake-shocked, genuinely delighted, like he always does when he manages to get Ben to curse. He takes his hand off Ben’s nipple and beckons, and Bonny hands him one of her clips. 

‘Good, eh?’ he echoes. He holds the clip open over Ben’s nipple. ‘How about now?’ 

‘Mmph!’ Ben clamps his mouth shut around a yell. The pain starts bad and gets worse and worse, which means that Harry’s letting the clip tighten very slowly, which means that he’s watching Ben’s reaction carefully to see if at any point he can’t take it. Harry’s doing whatever he wants to him, and what he wants is to take care of him. And none of this was Ben’s idea; it was Uma’s. Ben loves them both. He shuts his eyes and lets the pain brighten through him. 

‘How about now?’ Harry prompts him. 

‘It’s – ’ Words are getting harder to find. ‘It’s – ’

‘Hurts a wee bit?’ Harry suggests. He flicks the clip, and Ben yells again. ‘Should we let him have the other one, lads?’ 

‘Yes!’ he hears. 

‘Can I put it on him?’ Bonny asks eagerly. 

‘Go on, then,’ Harry says, shoving her affectionately forward. She doesn’t close the clamp as carefully as he did, and Ben groans through his teeth and drums his heels on the deck, eyes screwing shut as he tries to absorb the pain. 

‘Is he okay?’ Mathilde asks.

Ben forces his eyes open. Harry is watching him narrowly. 

‘S-smooth!’ he gasps, and sees relief flash across Harry’s face for a split-second before he covers it up with a smirk. 

‘He’s fine,’ he says, giving Mathilde’s cheek a little stroke. ‘He’s a slut for a little pain.’ 

‘If we’re using toys,’ Gil pipes up, ‘he had one of those riding sticks.’

‘Excellent idea, Gil. Hand it to me.’ 

It hadn’t even occurred to Ben to wonder what had happened to his riding crop in the fall, but now he feels his heart-rate kick up as Gil passes it into Harry’s hand. Harry swishes it up into the air and examines its length, so theatrical that Ben would laugh if he had the breath for it. 

‘You brought me this?’ Harry asks. ‘You are just asking for it.’ 

He touches the leather thong to Ben’s cheek and taps once, gently. 

‘Ugh, he’s pretty,’ Bonny groans. 

‘I want his mouth,’ Mathilde adds. 

‘Don’t we all,’ Harry agrees. He moves the crop to rest against Ben’s lower lip. ‘Don’t we all want that sweet mouth? And aren’t we all going to get what we want?’ 

‘Having fun?’ Uma is suddenly at the edge of the circle. It's a mark of how distracted Ben was that he didn't notice her approach. The whole crew subtly reorient themselves when she speaks, their attention going from him and Harry to her. Ben suspects that Harry was aware of her approach all the way across the deck. Whenever he's confronted with what the two of them have, he feels the same mix of emotions: joy that it exists, and envy that he's so barely a part of it. A king often doesn't know what to do and ends up pleasing no-one. Harry always seems to know what to do for Uma, and Uma wants him to do it. 

‘Hand that to me, Harry,’ she says. He surrenders the crop. ‘I think this might be the right moment to punish his majesty, since we’ve got a good tool handy.’ 

Ben’s thrown. That’s not what he’d expected her to say. 

‘Why – ’ he starts, and finds his mouth dry. He swallows and tries again. ‘Why am I being punished, Uma?’

‘You tell me,’ Uma flashes back, ‘since you seem so convinced you deserve it.’ 

The crew look curious. Harry glances between Ben and Uma, his expression cautious again. 

Ben hunts for words. Do the pirates even know the exact state of things in Auradon? ‘The negotiations are…going slower than expected,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry.’

Uma taps his cheek with the crop. ‘Tell them why that’s your fault,’ she says. 

‘Because…’ His stomach squirms at the thought of the back-and-forths, the endless circles, all the ways he hasn’t been stern or quick-thinking enough to move things forward. He doesn’t want to explain it to the others. Not when he’s feeling this vulnerable. Not ever. ‘Because I’m not the best of kings,’ he says. ‘I don’t…I should have a solution. I should come up with better ideas.’ 

‘How should you do that?’ Uma asks. 

‘If I knew how I would do it!’ he says – snaps, almost.

‘Hmm.’ Uma takes the crop away from his cheek and bends it thoughtfully in her hands. ‘Well. I could ask you how one becomes a better king overnight. I could question the existence of these better ideas, since I have to say I haven’t thought of any either. I could argue that maybe this isn’t actually your fault at all, but I doubt you’d listen to me.’ 

‘Of course I’d – ’ Ben protests, but she cuts across him. 

‘You’d fret.’ She says. ‘You’d listen, and you’d agree with everything I said, and then you’d carry right on fretting, just like Harry does when he feels bad.’ Harry gives a sputter of protest like that, but Uma silences him with a sideways glance. ‘So I’m just going to punish you and be done with it.’ 

He could argue, but he’s tired of arguing. He didn’t come here to argue. 

‘Yes, Uma,’ he says. 

‘And then we’ll be done with it,’ Uma repeats sternly, ‘and you’ll start fresh tomorrow and not worry any more. Do you promise?’ 

‘I promise,’ he says. It seems like far too generous a bargain, but it’s not up to him. 

‘Good.’ Uma says. She positions the crop at the top of his left thigh, finding her aim. ‘Twenty, I think. What do you say?’ 

‘Smooth,’ he answers, closing his eyes. He hears the crop whistle, and then the pain. 

It’s not the good pain. It’s too sudden, his thighs are too tender, she’s hitting too hard. But it’s not supposed to be good. It’s supposed to be instead of what he’s been putting himself through inside his own head. Uma handles the crop expertly. Her blows are equal in strength and evenly spaced. She lays them down his thigh in two columns of five, then pauses and rests the crop over her shoulder. 

‘Breathe,’ she orders. Ben finds he has tears standing in his eyes. Gil slips forward quietly and takes hold of his bound left hand. 

Uma changes sides and hits him again. Ben can feel himself start to slip. The pain feels like bad weather: he’ll be glad when it ends, but it’s completely outside his control to worry about. He sinks against the mast. The ropes take his weight. He’s aware of the crack of the crop, the sting of the blows, the warmth of Gil’s hand, the rush of the waves, all things that are happening, of equal importance, uncoupled from each other. 

He’s lost count of the blows, but after a while they stop coming, so he supposes Uma must have got to ten. 

'Ben?' she asks. 'Are you with us?' 

Speech is hard, he finds, but it's an easy question. Uma's good like that. 

‘Yes,’ he says. 

'What do you want to say?' she asks him. 

'I'm sorry.' The words come easier now. They're coming from somewhere deep and unfiltered. 'I'm sorry that this is taking so long. I'm sorry that it needs doing in the first place. I wanted it to be done already -' 

'So did I,' Uma says, 'but you've been punished now. And if I say it's enough, you're not going to show me the disrespect of contradicting me, are you?'

He's the king, and she's taking his power. He's the king, and he wants it gone. He'd stay in this daze at her feet forever if he could. 

'No, Uma,' he says. 'And I promise not to hurt myself about it any more, either. I'm doing my best.'

'I'd know what to do if you weren't,' Uma says, with the barest trace of a smile. She catches Harry's eye, and Harry smirks and waggles his hook. 'What do you want now?'

His head is clearer than it's been in a while, and he can see now how he's been punishing himself, thinking that everything good has to wait until it's been earned. And he's just promised Uma that he won't do that any more. He could say he's had enough, but it might be safer to err on the side of being greedy. 

‘I want more,' he says. 'Please.'

‘You heard his majesty, Harry,’ Uma says. She hands the crop back to Harry, and then her hand goes into his hair and caresses, just for a moment. Harry leans into the touch. Ben hopes that Harry is alright. He knows it's taxing for him to walk the line of violence for this long, especially with a former enemy. He hopes, but he doesn’t worry. It’s not his responsibility right now. 

Uma slips back out of the circle again, but she doesn't go back to her writing desk. Instead, she settles herself nearby, on the embellished driftwood throne her crew have built for her, and watches with interest as Harry takes control again. 

‘Turn him round,’ he orders. The pirates are good with their knots. They have Ben’s arms free in seconds. Jonas inspects his wrists, rubs some feeling back into his hands, then puts him with his face to the mast. Desiree ties his hands in front of him. Harry steps close and slips the crop between Ben’s legs, trailing the tip up the inside of his thigh. 

More, was it?’ he asks. He's got his mask back in place, and Ben loves him for it. He does so love to feel afraid. 

'Yes, please hit me,' he begs. 'Thank you, Harry, thank you.'

'Don't thank me yet,' Harry says. 'See how you like the bruises.' He draws the crop back and swings. 

It's nothing like the beating Uma delivered to his thighs. Harry aims for the big pads of muscle in Ben's shoulders, and warms him with lighter strokes until his skin is red and stinging before he swings hard. The rhythmic swish and crack of the crop is a hypnotic music in Ben's ears. The thud of impact goes right through him. It doesn't even feel like pain any more, it feels like pleasure. Every cut and sting across his shoulders reminds him that he can't escape. Every throb of nerves has him letting go more. Hope and fear have no urgency. What happens to his body is out of his hands. He floats free and lets himself be hurt. 

'Jesus Christ, how does he do it?' Jonas says incredulously. 

'M'fine,' Ben slurs. 'More.'

Harry moves the crop down to strike across his buttocks, and this pain is different. It's sexual. He feels the aftershocks of the blows in his perenium and anus. His cock rises. A new want comes into his mind: he wants to be bent over and fucked. Or he wants to be denied a fucking. He wants to want, and have Harry choose. 

He's making noise: big, rough cries that come from somewhere deep inside him, stronger than he knew he could make. And moans that he would be embarrassed to make ten miles out of earshot of anyone else, if he weren't so far out of control. And words. 

'Harry,' he calls, for no other reason than because it arouses him to let Harry know how desperate he is for him. 'Harry, Harry, Harry, oh –' 

'That's my name; what about it?' Harry sounds breathless. He's working hard for Ben. 

'Harry, please, please…'

'Damn, you want something else?' 

'Please hurt me!' Ben cries. 'Keep hurting me, hurt me, hurt me!' 

'I'll hurt you alright.' He can hear the snarl in Harry's voice, the faint laughter, the hint of incredulity. He slashes at the backs of Ben's thighs, and Ben knows he's hunting for his breaking point, for the depths of cruelty inside himself that Ben won't be able to face, but Ben can face anything right now. 

'Yes!' he gasps. The crop layers bruises on bruises. 'I want it. That! Harder. Yes.' And then he abandons words and lets his moans say all that's needed. He feels euphoric. Every blow drives him higher. He could take this forever. 

It's Harry who stops. 'I'm done,' he pants. He thrusts the crop at Jonas. 'I'm done.' He grabs Ben by the chin and turns his head towards him, and Ben sees that his hair is damp with sweat. He feels absurdly proud. 

Harry's eyes are searching Ben's face. He looks almost afraid. 

'Thank you,' Ben says. The words come out slurred. 'That was, so good, thank you…'

'Cut him down, Gil,' Harry orders roughly. Gil goes to work on the rope on Ben's wrists, and almost before his hands are free Harry is pulling him round, pressing his back to the mast and crushing their mouths together. 

'You,' he mutters, 'you crazy –' He pulls back, stares into Ben's face, shakes his head, goes for his mouth again. 'You're out of your mind, you're out of your damned mind.' Ben presses into the kiss with an eager gasp, and Harry's grip on his arms suddenly turns iron-hard. 

'I'm going to have you,' he says, and there's no performance in his voice at all; it's rough, urgent, naked. 'I'm going to have you right fucking now…' 

He pulls Ben away from the mast, twisting them round and getting his foot behind Ben's knees to break his balance. Ben goes down hard, flat on his back on the deck. Harry throws his hook aside and moves over him. Ben reaches for him, doubting he's going to get away with it; sure enough, Gil is there, grabbing his wrists and pinning them to the deck. Ben struggles just to feel the restraint. 

'Damn, forgot those,' Harry mutters, and pulls the clips off Ben's nipples. The ache of blood returning is almost as bad as when they went on in the first place. Ben grits his teeth and groans, and Harry stares. He slides his hand slowly up Ben's chest and closes it round his throat, then pauses, not for effect but for real. Ben can see him wandering what to do, what he dares do. 

Would he choke him? Ben doubts it, but the idea is beautiful. 

'Turn over,' Harry says quietly. He glances at the crew. 'Turn him over.'

Bonny crouches down and helps Gil roll Ben onto his front. They bring his knees up under him and put his face down onto the deck. Harry presses a hand into his shoulder, and the ache swells like a deep note of music. He must be badly bruised. Just that bit of pain is enough to set Ben's mind drifting once more. Harry's hand moves over his back, exploring how he's hurt him, hurting him again. Ben moans and lets himself go totally limp. 

Harry's many buckles jingle faintly as he unfastens them. He moves in close behind Ben, grabbing his hips, squeezing his ass hard. Ben forgets the boundaries and lets his imagination run wild. Maybe Harry's going to fuck him right this moment, no matter how much it hurts him or whether he wants it. The thought thrills him. And what does he know about where the boundaries are, anyway? Ask him not so long ago and he would have said nobody could enjoy being beaten with a crop. Maybe Harry will fuck him dry and maybe Ben will like it. 

'Hand me that,' Harry says brusquely. Ben can't see what that is and doesn't care, but the next thing he feels is Harry's hand between his thighs, dripping with oil. Ben makes a sound that's half sob. Harry being cruel to him feels so good that he always forgets it's even better when he's gentle. 

Harry's hand is so close to his balls. He's achingly hard. He hopes they never let him come. 

'Spread your legs,' Harry orders, pushing Ben's leg with his knee. His cock nudges up between Ben's thighs. 'Now back together. Tighter than that. Good boy.' 

He starts to move, his thrusts rocking Ben gently back and forth. Ben gives a shudder. This is almost better than having Harry inside him; he loves the idea that Harry can get pleasure from any part of him, and with so little effort. The oil is going to leave his thighs a mess, and that's good too. Everybody's eyes are on him, and Gil still has his hands firmly pinned. He aches almost everywhere from the blows of the crop. Harry gives a little grunt and tugs on his hips, adjusting the angle to his liking, and Ben shudders again. 

He feels a mile underwater, drifting freely. Sensations come and go like waves over rock, immersing him completely but doing no harm. He lets Harry use him. As far as he can want anything, he wants to be used. 

Harry's always quiet when he fucks. The only hint that he's close to climaxing is the way his hands tighten on Ben's hips. Then he gives a little twitch, and Ben feels warm wetness spilling against his skin. That sends Ben deeper still, right down to the very bottom: Harry gripping him tight, Harry getting off between his legs, Harry covering him in come so that anybody who looks will know what he's been used for. And everybody's looking. It's Ben who moans. Harry lets his breath go in a quiet sigh and relaxes his hold on Ben's hips. 

'Fuck, ' he whispers, then leans forward and touches Ben's shoulder. 'Where are you? Ben?' . 

A large part of him wants to say smooth. Keep going . He wants to let Gil come and take Harry’s place, and then Jonas, and then Bonny; he wants them to use his hands and mouth and behind until there’s nothing left of him. But he also knows that things look different on the surface than they do down here underwater. He has to take responsibility for the him he’s going to be tomorrow.

‘Rough,’ he whispers. 

‘Good boy,’ Uma says from her throne. 

Ben sighs, and Harry settles his hand warm and heavy on the back of his neck. 

'Give him a minute,' Uma instructs. 'Then get him up and bring him here.’ 

Gil lets go of his wrists and helps him sit, throwing an arm around his shoulders. He's got an uncanny knack for stepping in when Harry needs assistance. Ben knows he needs that arm around him right now, but it's clear that he wouldn't have got it from Harry. By the time he's sitting up and able to look round, Harry is already over by Uma. He goes straight onto his knees and puts his head in her lap. Ben quashes his concern. They're over there, and they'll call him when they want him. He's here, and his job is to let Gil take care of him.

'You alright?' Gil asks. He ruffles Ben's hair, affectionate but totally proprietary. Ben might as well be a puppy he's petting. 

'I'm, uh, dazed,' Ben answers. 

'That was a lot.' Mathilde kneels behind him and touches his back. 'Oh. Oh wow.'

'Is it bad?' Ben asks. 

'You are one giant bruise,' she says. 'You're not going to be able to lie down for a week.'

'He'll think of us every time it hurts,' Gil says. He fists his hand in Ben's hair, close to the scalp, and rocks his head gently back and forth. 'I think it'll be nice.'

'That…mm, that does sound nice,' Ben murmurs. Things are starting to come back into focus, including the existence of the future. And the idea of carrying this session around with him for the next little bit of the future. His bruises throb. He feels perfectly content. 

'Come here, Ben,' Uma calls. 

Ben gets gingerly to his knees. His head swims for a moment. He pauses, and Gil grips his left hand and elbow. Mathilde positions herself where he can grab her shoulder if he needs to. Between them they help him to his feet. Ben lets go of them, sways for a moment, and stands on his own. The crew cheer. 

Ben smiles in response. He knows they're making fun of him, but there's no malice in it. He must look comical, wobbling like a baby deer. He moves forward stiffly, approaching Uma on her makeshift wooden throne. Gil follows close behind him, ready to help him if he stumbles, or to restrain him if Uma orders. 

Harry is still on his knees beside her. He looks up at Ben like he doesn't want to meet his eyes, and Uma tsks and pushed his head back down onto her thigh. 

'You don't have to look at him if you don't want to,' she says. 'Just stay there. Tell me how you feel, Ben.'

'I'm good,' he says. 'I don't think I'm all the way back yet. Nothing quite feels real. But I'm…' He sighs. 'Calm. I feel happy.'

'Hear that?' Uma asks, tugging on Harry's hair. He nods without looking up. 'Good. You certainly look like you enjoyed yourself.' She stares at his hard cock, framed by twenty perfect lozenges of bruising on his upper thighs. 'Are you done, or do you want to come?' 

His cock jumps. 'Yes, if you like, Uma,' he answers. 

She giggles. 'You're cute when you're getting off,' she says, 'and you have been brave. Well, reckless. Gil, get his arms.' Gil obeys, grinning broadly. 'Bring him closer.' Gil pushes Ben forward a step, so that Uma can grab his cock without even leaning forward in her chair. 

'Oh!' Ben gives a jagged moan. He's barely got the emotional reserves left for this, but he'll do it, because he wants to come, and wants to let Uma show her power over him. It's hard to stay upright under the onslaught of sensation, but when he tries to double over Gil's there to hold him upright. With his arms pulled back behind him he's totally exposed. 

'Oh, hush,' Uma says. 'Don't make such a fuss; we all know you love this.' She looks at him sidelong, and her dispassionate expression gives way to a grin. 'Don't you love it, standing here naked while I play with your cock? Don't you love to have my crew watching you?' 

'Yes, I love it,' Ben gasps. 

'We love you, King Ben!' Desiree bellows. The others laugh. 

'I think you'd especially love it if Harry watched you, wouldn't you?' Uma says quietly. 

'Yes, yes I would…'

Harry looks up. He's got a shadow of his eat-you-up smile back on his face. Ben tries to smile back at him, but it's quickly lost in a grimace as Uma starts twisting her wrist over the head of his cock. 

'Oh, you do like that, don't you,' she says. 'You like it when he looks.'

'Yes, because he's so, he's so beautiful,' Ben pants. Harry looks away, tries to scoff, can't hide the way his smile softens for just a moment. Uma looks soft too, and doesn't try to hide it. 

'He is,' she agrees, and pets his hair with one hand as she strokes Ben's cock with the other. 

'Uma.' Ben shudders. 'Uma, I'm close -' 

'I know you are,' she says, and moves her hand faster. Ben realises she's not going to change a single thing. He's going to come right here, standing at her elbow with Gil pinning his arms. 

'Uma!' he protests. 

'Something wrong, pretty thing?' she asks. 'You know what to say if there's something wrong. I don't hear it. No? Alright then. Come for me.'

Ben explodes. He spurts uncontrollably, spattering Uma's hand and arm. Then he slumps back against Gil, and Uma releases him and examines her fingers. 

'My goodness,' she says. 

'Sorry – ' Ben starts. Uma looks at him sharply, and he corrects himself. 'Thank you.'

She makes a pleased sound. 'You're welcome, pretty thing. Now, what's the ship's rule for situations like this?' 

'Um,' Ben says. 'You'll have to remind me, please?' 

'If you spill it, you clean it up,' Uma says, holding out her hand. 

Gil lets go of Ben's arms, giving him the freedom to lean down, but Ben keeps his hands behind his back anyway. Maybe it's because he's embarrassed to be following this last order, and wants to do it beautifully to compensate. He bends over Uma's hand and gently licks his semen from her fingers. He meets her eyes as he does it, and she blinks a little. He wonders if he's doing that look that Mathilde and Desiree said he does. 

He reaches Uma's wrist, closes his lips over her skin and sucks gently, keeping his mouth soft and his teeth tucked away. Uma turns her hand a little at a time, letting him work over her skin until she's completely clean. Harry sits with his chin on her knee and watches almost dreamily. 

'Good boy,' Uma says at last. She takes her hand away and raises her voice. 'Alright, crew, show's over. Take half an hour, then back to work.'

'Half an hour?' Jonas protests. 'To recover from that?' 

Harry shoots to his feet. 

'You heard the captain!' he shouts. 'Complain again and you'll never recover from what I do to you.' He looks around. 'Where's my fucking hook?' 

'Here, Harry,' Mathilde says, running up with it. Jonas turns away, grumbling, and Desiree and Bonny follow him. Ben feels the mood shift. The scene is over. 

'Ben, Harry, my cabin,' Uma says. 'Gil…' she catches him by the elbow as he turns to go. 'Come see me at bedtime tonight, big boy,' she says. 'I'm pleased with you.' Gil lights up like a candle as she stands on tip-toe to kiss his cheek. Then she turns and gestures to Harry and Ben to go ahead of her into her cabin. 

Inside, Uma perches on the edge of the bed – her writing desk and chair are still on deck in the sunshine. Harry sprawls at her feet and leans back against her legs, and Ben settles himself cross-legged opposite them. 

'Is it fair to ask you now about the education plan,' Uma asks, 'or should it wait until tomorrow?'

'Ask me now,' Ben says. 'I feel calm. I'll focus.'

'You're not worried I'm going to try and entrap you into a better deal for me?' 

'Hah. Please do. But seriously, we're not signing anything now. If my subspace self turns out to be terrible at policy, I'll find out when I reread it in the morning.'

'Well alright then.' Uma chuckles. 'Do you want to put your clothes on?' 

'Not really,' Ben admits. Another little shiver goes through him at the memory of the last hour. 'I couldn't think straight today,' he says. 'Uma, thank you so much for doing this for me.'

'Thank Harry,' Uma says. 'He did most of the heavy lifting.'

'I know,' Ben says. 'Harry, thank you. You kept me so safe.'

'Always happy to dish out a bit of pain, princey,' Harry drawls. 

'Now, Harry, that's not what he thanked you for,' Uma says. 'What was it he said you did?' Harry tries to roll his eyes, but her hand slips into his hair and holds him still. 'Remind him, Ben; he doesn't always listen well.'

'He kept me safe,' Ben says tenderly. 

'You hear that, sweet thing?' Uma asks. 

'I've been good,' Harry protests. 'I don't deserve this.'

'Yes you do,' Ben says. 'Uma, you didn't take my compliment either. You told me to thank Harry.'

'Nice try, Ben,' Uma says, 'but no. You leave that alone. Harry's about your pay grade for now, I think.'

Ben acquiesces, though he knows he won't forget. 

'Are you going to stay on the ship tonight?' Uma asks. 

'I really can't,' Ben says. 'I'm not just being unkind to myself, I promise.'

'Pity,' Uma says. 'I could have sent you to Harry's bunk and had him give you a nice tender fucking to make up for how he treated you this afternoon. I'm sure you'd tell him all about how much you enjoyed it.'

'And how good he was at being gentle,' Ben agrees. Harry groans and goes to hide in Uma's lap again. 

'Oh, don't sulk, sweet thing,' Uma coos, stroking his hair. She flashes Ben a smile. 'We're far too busy to actually do it any time soon. What with all Ben's kingly responsibilities, I expect you're safe for…oh, at least a few weeks.'