tagGay MaleThe Pirate King Ch. 20

The Pirate King Ch. 20

bynakamook©

Wow guys, long time no see.

Thanks so much for the encouraging and heartfelt messages you sent during my long absence. Winter hit hard, and I'm trying to make enough money to pay my bills, etc, etc, life. I never forgot about you, or the Pirates. This story is my sanctuary, my practiced escapism. I could never just walk away and leave it go, not forever.

I hope this winter has treated you better than it has me. Remember, sunshine is only ever hours away. And in the meantime we have the moon, and the stars, and all the ways in which those things are infinite and reflections of our own desires and mythologies and still maintain their own truths. Remember all the things that are the moon; a myth, a story, a physical body that controls the seas. Distant, yet so close you can nearly reach out and touch it, so present that it affects our very day to day life. Warm enough to speak to on nights you are lonely. So cold that to visit it without protection would mean death. And yet we went anyway, we put on suits and rocketed through space and past death just because we wanted to go and visit our friend.

May you find someone who treats you like we treat the moon.

Peace, love, peace again. Rate and comment, feedback if you'd like, I love you and love to hear from you. Each and every one of your voices is special and powerful.


***

The Captain woke me that night with the force of his dreams.

It was not something that he meant to do. It was not something that he could have helped. If he could have, I believe that he would have kept his fear from disturbing me and taken it all for his own.

But he could not. And it was not his own, or at least it did not have to be for he was with me. And the universe understands these things and perhaps his body did as well, held the truth of our connection closer than his mind would allow and so when the nightmare came he reached out and grasped onto me, his hand landing on my forearm with a grip so tight it startled me from my slumber.

It had been a long time since I had been grabbed out of sleep. Still, my body had not forgotten what usually came from such touches and my eyes flew open, my hand coming up ready to defend or strike. The Captain, already half-awake and now faced with the sudden movement of my body, reacted accordingly and pulled away with a startled noise. I, recognizing the noise he made and, more importantly, recognizing the anxiety held within it, froze.

And that was where we finally came to rest; I, frozen in my moment of defense and the Captain, his moment of fear.

We laid there in the darkness, our pants swirling in the air above us and catching raggedly against each other. I could barely see him, could only hear him in his breathing, feel him in the way he didn't move, could see the faintest outline of the wild curls that sprung up whenever he tossed at night.

My heart beat. I anchored myself in the space we created and bade it continue.

The Captain was the first to speak. "Shit," he said. His outline slowly began degrading as he slipped toward the bed, his face dripping towards the covers. "Shit, shit, shit, my love, I didn't-"

This outline, those small sounds. They were not enough for me. I reached out and wrapped an arm around him, felt my skin slide across the smoothness of his chest until my fingers held his shoulder and I could pull him towards me. He fell into my arms, a gravity created as much by the negative we had been as the positive we were.

"My love," I whispered into his hair. His breath left his frame to crawl shakily through my ribs. I waited until I felt his chest again inflate in my grasp before I spoke again. "I'm right here."

I did not say it in full, but I knew he understood. Nothing can hurt you so long as I am with you. How many times had I told him that? How many ways had I promised those words? I said it and so it was true. Or it was true, and then I said it, but in the end all that mattered was that truth. And of that, I was certain.

He wrapped an arm around my shoulder, pulling me tighter still. I still could not see him but now I could feel him, could smell him, could touch him and was that not better than sight? A mirage you can see. An illusion you can witness. But this, this truth, it was all the senses I trusted and it sat so close to my being that I no longer could tell the difference between it and my name.

He said not a word, and I said nothing more. We simply held each other in the darkness, surrounded by the knowledge of our love, the protection of our sincerity, and we allowed these simple realities to cocoon us as we drifted back to sleep.

***

"How long until we reach the border?"

I glanced across the table as I put down the Captain's breakfast. He had the maps spread out across the surface, his annotated map of the border on the top. I saw he had marked out an approximate position for us that was nearly perfect.

Nearly. But still, it was close enough. I placed my finger just north of the spot, a few centimeters above the line he'd marked out. The border was curling North in these currents. "We should be there by tonight."

He took a deep breath as he looked at where my finger lie. I let him stare, not knowing what might be going through his mind but knowing that he would tell me when he felt it was time for me to know.

When his eyes left the map, the place they moved was me. I watched him trace his gaze up my booted feet, my worn breeches. The shirt he had chosen for me, half tucked in and splashed with flour. When they reached my face I felt his gaze tickle against the stubble I hadn't shaved yet that day, the scars I wore more easily than my clothing. The ones he never asked about, the ones that had stories he knew and ones that had stories I tried my best to forget. And when his eyes reached mine?

What else could we do? We both smiled.

"Eat your breakfast," I told him. He reached across the table to trace his hand down my arm. I caught his hand at the end of its path and squeezed it lightly before letting go.

I paused in the door and looked back, as much to see him again as to make sure that he was eating.

He was not eating. He was standing at the table, braced lightly against the solid wood. His chin was in his hand, a smile was on his face and a half-dreamy, half sharpened look in his eyes as he stared distractedly at my ass.

I shook my head, laughing softly to myself, and headed up to the deck.

I found Natch leaning on the deck railing, looking green and winded. I clapped him on the back and he groaned, collapsing down so that his face was in his arms.

"Good night?" I asked him.

"I'm never drinking again." I patted his shoulder and left him to deal with his hangover in peace.

Hamms welcomed me with a glint in his eye and a smile. "The ropes were missing you, lad." I got to work coiling and cataloging. I wanted everything in perfect shape for when we crossed the border.

"Should be smooth sailing," Hamms told me. "Weather just right for sailing."

I nodded my agreement. It would be just right, at least until we crossed into the North. After that there might be storms as Dreyfus pushed against my control.

I glanced up at the sky and frowned. I did not know how that would go. He was as much the sea as I, as Val, and I had no illusions of control over something so tenuous and mutable.

"And there's nothin' better than being at sea with - oh, what the gods?"

I looked up at the change in Hamms' voice. He was standing above me, shading his eyes to look over the horizon. "Lookout," he shouted. "East, South-East."

We waited as the call went up the sails, men relaying it until it reached the crow's nest.

My eyes were not as sharp as Hamms', but I already knew what it was that he saw. I should have seen it earlier, should have sensed what came for us from the east, but I had not been looking east. I had been looking North.

Why would I look east? East was old things that stayed dead and families that didn't try to kill you. East was comfort and safety and ships that held no consequence for men such as me.

And yet.

The sea whispered to me. I shivered at the cool touch of salt water at my spine, the knowledge it sent up my muscles and caused my stomach to drop just a bit, from surprise or excitement or the unknown of it all.

The shout went out above us. Knowledge from above, from below, crashing into my soul and making me sharper.

"What," Hamms asked, "the fuck is a ship doing so close to the border?"

I turned on my heel and went to get the Captain.

***

The Captain recognized the ship immediately. "Tobit," he told me as he snapped his eyeglass shut. "A friend."

I remembered the ship that he had parlayed with when I had first come aboard, so many months ago. A lifetime. "Do you have many of those?"

"Friends?" He shrugged. His eyes were tight on the approaching sails. I knew that he understood that if we could see them, they would have seen us. Yet he gave no orders. "There are many who dislike the current King. We help each other when we can."

I leaned back on the mast and watched this ship approach. "How often do you speak?"

"Only when necessary."

"So these men do not know that you have changed ships."

The Captain's eyes closed as his hand covered his face. "Oh, shit." Then he was gone, barking instructions at men who ran to make his words reality.

Tobit flew a plain black flag, as many unaffiliated pirates did, and so I assumed that he would chase us no matter who he thought we were. I was right - his sails went up as soon as he landed in a good wind, and the first cannonball landed not thirty yards from our ship.

He forced our hand. It was not a prescient move, but he did not understand who this ship contained. How could he have known? Or even guessed? And so he treated us as he would any other ship he might find and fired. He must have thought we had but one option, to turn to the wind and run, to trim our sails in the same currents he had found. The sea pushed us generally, and his fire more specifically. What chance did we have against both he and nature?

We could have killed them all. I could have made my seas be as they wished, my ships be where I wanted. We could have done whatever we so desired.

Attack was the better option. Running in this wind took us away from our direction, or at least not towards it. We would be moving parallel to the lines we were meant to cross. And so we should have fought, made them dead and then made our way to the places we should be. It would have been easy, so easy with the arms we had on board, the souls of our crew members. I could have taken the ship down all by myself, and I was not by myself. We could have destroyed their ship and left them afloat at the sea's mercy. And the sea had lost any sense of duty to them the moment they had begun firing on him.

But the Captain did not ask me to call up new winds, or for us to turn to them and prepare our own weapons. Instead he ordered the white flag flown and for us to turn tail, to keep distance between us so that they could not put holes in our hull.

I crossed my arms and leaned on a line on the stern, watching the ship chase. The wind was in both of our favor and we had the better ship. We could have easily outrun them.

The Captain walked up beside me, spyglass out. "I just need him to see me."

I watched him stand stark against the grey of the sea. "You could have flown your standard." Every captain had a flag they had made up for them. We carried it personal and intimate in our souls, our identities.

"Don't have one." The Captain frowned out over the sea. "Too close to a name, and I only got to captain after I lost mine." After he mutinied. After he tried to kill Dreyfus.

I should have guessed as much. Of course he didn't have a standard; how could he? And yet it was such a shocking thing, to hear a captain say they had no flag. To hear my Captain, this man who commanded with such ease my very soul, tell me he did not have what every other captain in the seas had a right to claim. I crossed my arms and leaned back against the riggings, letting that knowledge sink into my bones.

It did not feel right.

He looked over to me, eyes quick and brows tight. "What about yours? What does it look like?"

My standard. I let the rope bite into my back and felt the way the sea beat in my chest in time with my heart. "You know the flag Dreyfus flies as the King's?"

The Captain watched me. We bounced over swells, sending up spray. I breathed in the mist and felt myself becoming nothing but salt water and pressure.

"That was mine."

"Your personal standard? The one you created?" At my nod, the Captain shook his head. "You told me it was yours, I just didn't think..."

We stood in silence for a bit. The sea beneath the ship, on the ship, in my lungs, my hands, my mouth. A ship following us that I could not destroy.

"Oh," the Captain said. "Look, he's seen me." He waved and a small figure on the other ship began waving his arms wildly. "I'm going to let them get closer so that he knows it's me for real, that I'm not captured or something." He glanced over at me. "Is that going to be alright?"

Is it safe, he asked. Is it safe for them, is it safe for me, what can I expect from the sea in this maneuver? I recognized his question and sighed, letting some of the pressure from my body. I nodded as he walked past me, and he paused long enough to rest his hand on my hip, to press his lips to my cheek, and then he was gone to be the men's Captain and I was left standing at the stern, watching Tobit's ship approach and feeling the border sit so very, very close.

***

Tobit pulled his ship up beside us with an ease that spoke of expertise and practice. He spent the entire maneuver standing close to the rail, staring down our ship with five men standing at his shoulder.

I did not recognize him, or at least I did not from this distance. That put me more at ease than anything he could have done in action or in word.

I could identify the exact moment when he saw where the Captain stood, his long black cloak tapping at his ankles in the light breeze, his hair wild and exactly the type of control I longed for. It was the moment his shoulders dropped, when his hand left the sword hilt at his side. It was also the moment a large grin spread out over his wrinkled face, lifting the edges of a grey beard that stood out stark against his dark face and made his every expression look more animated than perhaps he intended. Thick grey eyebrows lifted in joy, mirrored by his hands, waving enthusiastically.

The Captain laughed, lifting his own hand in a greeting. "He's a good man," he told me as their ship drew near. "Excitable. Would do anything for a bottle of good wine. And don't let him start telling you stories or you'll be stuck all day, but. A good man." He then paused for a moment, looking back at me. "He is not a fan of the King."

A few days ago this might have been nothing but a proclamation of shared interests, proof that this man should be entertained. This day, I knew that it was something more. I nodded a quiet acknowledgment of this warning, eyes searching to see what this meant to him.

"He will say things," the Captain said. His eyes were as active as mine, busy inspecting every inch of my face as I waited for more information.

It soon became clear that this was all the Captain had intended to say. I shrugged. "People talk."

The Captain winced a bit. "Tobit talks a lot." That was all he was able to say, for their ship had arrived.

I watched closely as Tobit walked across the gangplank our men laid. You can learn a lot about a man by the way he enters a space.

The way Tobit walked onto our ship made me fear that we did not have enough space for him. It was not that he was a tall man - standing on our ship, surrounded by the Russian and Thron and Gret and yes, myself, he seemed particularly short. But height is only one of the ways that men carry their size. In every other regard he was large, larger than he had any right to be and yet that largeness sat on him so well it would have been strange to see him any other way. His large white beard rested on the top of a large round stomach, held in by a large golden belt adorned by an even larger golden belt buckle. He rested his hands there when not engaging them in massive shows of emotion punctuating a booming voice that carried across the sea and made my skin tickle.

The Captain told me that they had first met when Tobit had tried to chase down his ship, screaming curses into the wind and shooting cannonballs wildly.

It had been marked as one of the King's ships. The Captain had stolen it when he had fled after his coup had not gone as planned. It had not been part of the main fleet, but it still held the King's markings and it was those marks that Tobit saw the first time they met, and nothing else.

"He's an anarchist," the Captain told me after he left. "He says he's neutral, but gods all does he hate the King as an institution."

I did not know this as I first greeted Tobit. Nor would it have made any difference. The Captain had told me that he was a friend, and I was not the King. To me these things simply were.

"Gods," Tobit said before even saying hello. "And what the devil are you doing with a ship from the King's personal fleet?"

The Captain shot me a look. I shrugged. It was too good a ship to waste on a man who sailed under Dreyfus.

"Won't confuse yer friends at all, switching to a King's ship. Another King's ship. This, of all the King's ships. Gods. You know what this here ship has done?" He shook his head, beard following the motions a beat behind. "Do I want to know how you got yer hands on a thing like this?"

The smallest smile passed over the Captain's lips. "It was a gift."

"A gift? Lords and demis, from who?"

The smile was slightly larger this time. "A lover."

"Well." Tobit blinked a few times, but recovered well. "Well, you hold on to that one, lad. You hold on tight and don't do 'im any harm because I'd bet ye a ship of me own that he'd make twice the enemy." He shook his head again, eyes scanning the deck of the ship. "A lover," he muttered to himself. "All gods, a gift from a lover."

The Captain smiled lightly and extended an arm. "Would you like to finish this conversation below decks?"

Tobit's eyes twinkled at the suggestion. "Got that cook o' yers firing, eh?" His eyes snapped over to me. I met them steadily, taking in the steel that hid just behind the glint. "This yer new first mate, then? After Wicky did the runner."

The Captain merely raised a brow. "You heard about Wicky."

"Gods, lad. I've got things to tell you about Wicky." He tossed a hand in my direction. "Be a good lad and go fetch yer Captain some grub, yeah? I've got things I need to be tellin' him."

The Captain's eyes moved to me, his mouth already opening, but I shook my head and turned to go. I had things I wished to ask Cookie anyway.

"So many things, lad," Tobit was continuing as he headed below decks. His voice echoed out from the small hallway. "Glad I ran into ye, for I've got things to tell ye."

"Sailor." The Captain's hand landed lightly on my arm as I moved to follow them on my way to the kitchen. "You don't have to do as he asks."

I knew. I looked into the Captain's eyes and saw that he understood that. He smiled, a mischievous expression that sent my heart careening, and squeezed my arm.

"I won't let him say anything important until you get there." He gave me a quick kiss on my cheek and hurried off after Tobit, who was still shouting about the many important things about which he'd come to tell the Captain, as if our meeting was anything but chance.

Cookie already had two plates made up and was working on a third. I waved him off the third setting; I would not be eating with them. I was not hungry, it felt wrong to eat food I had no hand in preparing, and on top of that I no longer needed to abide by captain's rules. No hospitality, no false companionship, no need to talk to men I did not wish to speak to. No sharing plates with strangers simply for the politeness of it. I had to do nothing.

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