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The Spoken Wheel

Chapter Text

They captured the little two-masted ketch in the shipping lanes near San Salvador, where the ocean started to fade from crystal clear Caribbean perfection to something darker. The Penguin had been haunting the area for over a weak, scouting for targets in dangerous waters where pirate hunters and naval vessels could appear without notice. Sid stood at the helm when they spotted the ship, and relief washed over him when Captain Lemieux ordered an intercept course. He knew once they finished with their target, they could leave and retreat to friendlier waters.

The chase was short. By the time the ketch realized they were intercepting, it was too late for it to turn without taking the wind out of the sails. The ketch nearly capsized herself when the helmsman broached, turning too sharply for the wind and catching the sails out of position. Without the wind, the little ketch’s momentum died, and Sid could maneuver the Penguin close enough to let the men on the deck throw a few grappling hooks. They helped to right the ketch’s violent rocking as they pulled her in toward the Penguin.

“Stow the sails,” Sid called, and several men stumbled to obey. The unsteady merchant vessel was yanking against the Penguin, still suffering the consequences of her near-capsize. It wasn’t enough to harm the larger ship, but Sid had to grip the wheel tight to keep his feet. Putting away the Penguin’s sails would help, giving them enough stability to board the merchant ship.

“Good,” Mario praised, and Sid fought the urge to preen. “When they’ve got her tied up, lead the boarding party.”

Sid grinned over. “You sure?”

Mario’s returning smile looked exhausted. “Swordfights are for young men, kid. Go have your fun.

It had been like this for a while. Mario kept stepping back while pushing Sid forward, encouraging him to lead even though Sid had only been on board for a year and came from a military background. Most pirates held an instant distrust of the navy, but Sid had seemingly gotten a pass. From day one, Mario had regarded him as an ally, not the ensign he had been when he approached the pirate captain on shore leave to ask to join the crew. Mario had never even commented on his rank other than to smirk under his hat and say in French, “Young, aren’t you? For an officer.”

Sid had left his naval dress in port before he boarded the Penguin, in case the rest of the crew didn’t find it as amusing. Eventually, they all learned where he came from, but he’d still encountered little resistance to the notion that Mario was grooming him to take over.

When the deck settled enough to walk on, Sid eagerly let go of the wheel and moved to join the crew on the deck. The ketch was nearly close enough to board, and they had to prepare for a fight. They never knew how much resistance they would encounter when they captured a ship. Sometimes, it was almost too easy. The crew valued their lives more than their cargo and surrendered immediately. Other times, they came at the Penguin’s men with guns and knives and anything else at their disposal and fought like the pirates were coming to steal their babies from their cribs.

Sid drew his sword. He could see the men on the merchant ship still recovering from their hard swing, their near-capsize. Men were helping each other up, shouting to each other indistinctly. No one was at the wheel. Several of them were turning to realize the Penguin was looming. They were drawing swords, too.

“Weapons ready, boys,” Sid called, and he felt a moment of pride when the crew rallied with him, twenty plus men gathering at the rail, ready to go over.

“Are we in for a fight today?” Flower asked with a bright grin when he came up beside Sid. He liked hand-to-hand combat, always treated it like a grand opportunity.

“I think we might be, yeah.”

“Good. I need to stretch my legs.”

“Just do me a favor, and don’t get killed.”

“So bossy, little captain,” Flower teased.

Sid wrinkled his nose in feigned distaste at the tease, but the gap between the ships was closing. They were out of time for talk.

“Here we go,” Flower exclaimed.

They didn’t need gangplanks to board the smaller vessel. She was low enough and close enough they could simply jump across. Sid vaulted over the rail and onto the merchant ship, Flower right on his heels. A dozen merchants braced, swords at the ready. The big guy up front spoke to his men in a steady voice. They looked like they were planning to go down with a fight. Sid brought his sword up to lead the attack.

From behind, back on the Penguin, a voice cried out, “Wait!”

Sid froze. He didn’t dare turn back, turn his attention away from the merchants, but he recognized the voice. It was Gonch, one of the most experienced pirates aboard the Penguin. If he spoke, people listened. He didn’t normally come with them when they boarded ships anymore, reaching an age, like Mario, where he preferred to stay behind and leave the swordfights to young people.

“They’re not fighters,” Gonch said gruffly as he passed between his crewmen. He brushed Sid’s shoulder when he moved through to approach the foreign crew. He said something in his native Russian and turned back. “They’re steel merchants. They’re practically mailmen. They’re no threat. Stand down.”

Sid hesitated. “You’re sure?”

“They don’t even know how to use these swords. Only sell them.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they just told me, Sid. They’re Russian.”

“No, I meant before. Why did you come aboard?”

“They were praying,” Gonch said flatly. “The captain, he was praying for their souls. They thought they were about to die.”

Sid cast another look over the crew. The big guy at the front looked back at him with wary eyes. Sid sheathed his sword and the Penguin’s crew followed suit. Gonch was still talking to the merchants, hands up in a placating gesture. They slowly and warily dropped their swords to the deck.

“Well, that was disappointing,” Flower grumbled.

“Hey, nobody died.”

“A good day, I suppose,” Flower agreed with a morose shrug.

“Help Gonch get them tied up, eh? Maybe they’ll get unruly on you.”

“One can only hope,” Flower replied wistfully.

Sid chuckled as he turned to investigate their catch. The ship was small, barely fifty feet from bow to stern. There were a few little cannons, two on each side, nothing worth their time. Most of the cargo would be below decks. He moved across the deck to the cargo hold doors and flung them open, revealing stairs descending into the darkness. His boots made a loud thump against each stair when he started down them, hand on the hilt of his sword in case there were any more crewmen waiting in the wings.

Nothing moved in the cargo hold. It was dark, and Sid’s eyes took time to adjust while he scanned through the open space. He moved cautiously forward a few steps, wary of any surprise attacks.

A crack of angry Russian to his left made him jump and yank his sword out. He raised it toward the voice, ready for a fight, but what he saw made him stop. It was a young man, tall and thin and shirtless, in a cage. He was yelling at Sid from the middle of the cage, gesturing aggressively with his hands. It didn’t seem like he was planning to pause for a breath, let alone identify his visitor.

Sid studied the prisoner with a cocked head. He could feel a smile tugging at his mouth. He sheathed his sword while the prisoner snapped out a string of harsh syllables.

“Who the fuck is this guy?” Tanger asked, joining Sid in the hold.

“I have no idea,” Sid said, but he wanted to find out. He stepped closer to the cage while Tanger lost interest, off to explore the cargo in the hold. Sid’s eyes were getting used to the dark. He could see the man’s mop of unruly brown hair, his sneering mouth. The details of his face were becoming clearer, and Sid wasn’t finding anything unpleasant in them.

Sid walked right up to the cell while the prisoner snapped and snarled like a caged wolf. He was so angry his tendons were standing out in his neck, the veins in his biceps popping. Sid’s smile grew. It probably wasn’t helping the guy’s temper.

“Hi.”

The prisoner stopped. He jerked a little, obviously shocked by Sid’s genial greeting. The anger in his expression gave way to sharp, suspicious curiosity.

“I’m Sid.”

Tanger laughed from across the hold. “Quit flirting, Creature.”

Sid didn’t tear his eyes away from the prisoner. Now that he wasn’t yelling, he didn’t look so tough. He hunched his shoulders and rubbed a hand over his arm, looking uncertain. “Why are you in here?” he mused, not expecting the man to answer.

The prisoner’s eyes were dark and red rimmed and seemed almost to be pleading for something. He said something quietly and Sid leaned in.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian.”

The prisoner licked his bottom lip and darted a look around the underbelly of the ship. Sid could feel his face heat up watching the motion of the guy’s tongue. The prisoner hesitated a beat before he shuffled up close to the cell door. Sid didn’t back away. He allowed the prisoner to approach him. They locked eyes, so close it took Sid’s breath away.

“The, uh... The key,” Sid said, mostly to himself. He couldn’t think properly with the intensity of the prisoner’s eyes on him. He felt like he had to break eye contact to focus. “I’ll get the key. Hold on.”

Tanger snapped his head up. “Sid, for real, don’t release the prisoner. He could be a murderer.”

“He’s not,” Sid answered casually, like he could possibly know. He searched around the nearby barrels and tables before he found the key hanging on a hook on the wall. When he turned back with a successful smile, the prisoner was watching him intently.

Sid unlocked the door without hesitating, ignoring Tanger’s groan across the hold. He opened the door, offering freedom. The prisoner’s expression tightened warily for a moment when he looked at the other Penguin crewman in the hold, but he looked back at Sid and stepped out.

“Wow,” Sid said, grinning up at him. “You’re really tall.”

“Oh my god, Sid,” Tanger groaned. “That’s the worst line I’ve ever heard.”

Sid didn’t look away from the prisoner’s face. He watched his dark eyes flick up to study Tanger while he talked, frowning. When his eyes returned to Sid, they softened. He almost seemed like he might smile. “He doesn’t look like he minds.”

“Only because he can’t understand you,” Tanger shot back.

“That’s probably fair,” Sid conceded with a shrug and a sly grin at the prisoner. “So. What’s your name?”

Dark eyes scanned over his face curiously, uncomprehending.

Sid touched his chest. “Sid. I’m Sid.”

“Sid,” the guy repeated.

Sid reached out and put his hand on the prisoner’s chest. “You?”

The guy said something long and complex, which might have had a name in it. It was a jumble of meaningless syllables to Sid’s ears.

“Okay. So, we’ll have to wait for Gonch,” he muttered with another little shrug. “That’s alright. I’ll just get you to the Penguin, and we can talk to him when we cut loose.”

When Sid tried to pull away, the guy wrapped a hand around his forearm and stopped him. His eyes scanned Sid’s face like he would find a critical secret there. “Sid,” he said.

“It’s okay. You’re safe now. We’ll go back to my ship,” Sid assured. He pulled the hand off his arm and held it in his own. “Come on,” he pressed, pulling on him.

The guy fell hesitantly into step with him and remained near even when Sid let go of his hand to climb the steps.

The deck was calm. The crew of the merchant ship was crowded against the starboard railing, bound with rope while Flower guarded them.

“You found another one!” Flower called. “Bring him to the party. There’s plenty of rope.”

Sid chuckled. “I think I can handle him.”

Flower looked the guy up and down and laughed delightedly. “You dog! Get it, Sid. There’s a free cabin, courtesy of the captain here. I’ll keep an eye out so you can-”

“No.” Sid flushed hotly in his cheeks at the implication that he would take the prisoner for pleasure. “That’s not... He’s coming with us.”

Flower’s smile dropped. “What?”

“He was locked up in the hold, Flower. He’s not part of their crew.”

“Uh... Okay. What’s his name?”

“I’ll tell you when I figure it out. You seen Gonch?”

“Oh my god, Sid, please tell me he speaks some English.”

“Doesn’t seem like it.”

“And you want to-”

“Yes,” Sid replied firmly. The guy was tugging on him again, insisting on his attention. Several members of the merchant crew were glaring up at him. “We’re heading back to the Penguin. If you see Gonch, send him my way, okay?”

“Sure, Sid,” Flower said in a tone that said it wasn’t over. He would come later with relentless teasing or gentle prodding or both. Probably both.

Sid didn’t have to do much pushing to get the guy on board the Penguin. He climbed up and over the railing without hesitation with Sid on his heels, then stood on the deck of the Penguin and looked around with wide eyes.

“Nice, eh?”

The prisoner barely glanced at him before he went back to gawking at the Penguin. Sid couldn’t say much. He’d done the same, the first time he’d seen her. She was eighty-seven feet from bow to stern, large for a brigantine, but small enough to maneuver. She’d started her life as a Spanish explorer before being captured by pirates and repurposed. Her oiled oak decks gleamed gold where the sun touched the boards. Her twin masts reached for the sky, stretching up to accommodate unusually wide yards with billowing black sails. He’d fallen for her the minute he saw her, smitten enough to act on his longtime urge to leave the navy.

“Pretty,” the prisoner said, turning back with a shy smile. The smile changed his whole face, lit him up.

“So you do speak English,” Sid prodded.

The prisoner shrugged and shook his head.

“Only a couple words, then? Enough to pick up in port, I’m guessing.”

His dark eyes slid away from Sid’s face and back over the Penguin. He looked equally impressed on his second look.

Gonch climbed aboard, groaning his complaint about the lack of gangplanks, while the prisoner was investigating the cannons. They were twice the size of those on the ketch, gleaming black with fresh oil. “Flower says you’re taking Russian prisoners,” Gonch said with bemused curiosity in his voice.

Sid barked a laugh. “Right. As you can see, he’s bound and gagged, at my mercy.”

Gonch offered a bare smile, watching the prisoner run a hand down the sleek barrel of a cannon. “I ask about him, to the captain over there, when Flower say you take him.”

“Okay. And?”

“He says he’s traitor,” Gonch said. “He betrayed his crew.”

Sid looked doubtfully over the prisoner. “How?”

“Trying to leave. He try to get on ship to colonies before his contract is up.”

“Oh, well that doesn’t sound too bad,” Sid said with a shrug. After all, he’d done the same, sneaking away from his long term of service with the navy. “If he wants the colonies, we can probably drop him off when we swing around that way. As long as he pulls his weight while he’s here. He can sail, right?”

Gonch shrugged. “They say he’s on board two years, so hopefully. Hey, kid,” he called before switching to Russian to get the prisoner’s attention. The prisoner’s head snapped up at the language, like a deer staring down the shaft of an arrow. His eyes flicked to Sid, who tried to project reassuring vibes, while Gonch said a lot of stuff very quickly. He watched as the prisoner went from looking terrified to curious to shyly grinning and shaking Gonch’s hand, then he left them to their chat.

Sid organized the remainder of the raid on the merchant ketch and ensured that the new cargo was stored and balanced as they moved heavy steel weapons from the ketch to the Penguin. They hadn’t had much gold, but the swords were quality steel. They would fetch a good price in a friendly port.

When the last crate was stored beneath the decks of the Penguin, Sid checked the tie lines on all the cargo and returned to the deck. He counted heads and found most of the crew on board, apart from those guarding the ketch. When everything was ready to cut loose and sail, he trotted over to knock on Mario’s cabin door. His hand was raised when he heard raspy coughing from the other side. He hesitated, heart sinking, and rapped his knuckles against the door.

“Come,” Mario called, sounding hoarse. Sid opened the door and leaned in. He found Mario reclined in a chair, looking tired and drawn.

“We’re all finished here. Cargo is stored, the crew’s back on board except Flower and Tanger. They’re holding the captives. I’ll call them back when we cut loose.”

“Good,” Mario rasped. “Do that. Get us underway.”

“Do we have a heading?”

“Kingston.”

“You don’t want to give the order?”

“I am giving the order. I’m ordering you to take command,” Mario said with an amused twist of his lips that said he was laughing at Sid’s navy sensibilities.

“Sure. You got it.” Sid hesitated another second and closed the door. He took a second, drew in a breath, and turned on his heel. He called in Tanger and Flower, pleased to see them cut the captives loose before they returned. Then he ordered the crew to release the lines tying them to the little ketch and drop the sails. They did everything he asked without questioning and they were underway to Kingston.

**************

All told, it was half a day before Mario became aware of the addition to their crew. As the sun set, he joined the crew below decks for dinner and started at the sight of the new boy. “Who is this?”

Sid looked up guiltily and almost opened his mouth, but the prisoner beat him to it. He stood, held out his hand, and offered an eager smile. “Evgeni Malkin,” he said, the same jumble of syllables he'd thrown at Sid in the hold of the ketch, though moving a lot slower this time. Gonch must have told him to take it easy on them.

Mario took his hand in a firm grip. “That’s a mouthful. How long before they come with a nickname for you?”

“Geno,” Gonch offered with a shrug. “He said it’s what the English call him.”

“Hello, Geno. Very nice to meet you.”

“Hello. Le Magnifique.”

After a beat of shocked silence, the crew howled with laughter.

“Oh my god, you’re even famous in Russia,” Flower cackled.

Geno looked a little bashful at the laughter, but Mario’s dismissive wave told him to ignore them.

Sid leaned into Gonch as Mario took his seat across from Geno to continue speaking with him. “How does he know Mario?”

Gonch shrugged. “He likes pirates.”

“He likes pirates?”

“Are you so surprised, Ensign?”

“Don’t,” Sid said reflexively.

Gonch patted his shoulder in apology. “We all come from somewhere.”

Sid looked up and found the prisoner - Geno looking back at him. Geno smiled that shy, hesitant smile again. Sid smiled back.

The phrase echoed around in his mind as he went through the day’s final duties. He likes pirates. Maybe it didn’t mean what he wanted it to mean. But every time he looked at Geno, Geno looked back with that cute little grin.

He was on the deck checking the lines tying off the sails when he heard footsteps and turned. Geno’s face was lit by the moonlight. He smiled. Sid closed the gap between them, projecting a confidence he didn’t feel, and reached out to touch Geno’s chest. He paused, gathering his courage and letting Geno say no, and then leaned in.

Geno kissed him like he’d been waiting all day, like maybe he had hoped Sid would usher him into the captain’s cabin on the little ketch and pin him to the bed. The clear, unhesitant intent behind Geno’s kisses emboldened Sid, and he reached up to thread his fingers into Geno’s hair to anchor him in. He curled his other hand around Geno’s hip while Geno thrust his tongue across Sid’s with a slow sort of intensity. It was like he put everything into kissing, all his attention focused down on the movement of their mouths.

They kissed for a long time under the moon on the deserted deck while they grew bolder with each other. Geno touched him everywhere, curious fingers skimming over his shoulders and down his back. He let Sid push his fingers into that wild mane of thick hair, feeling how soft it was. After a while, Sid angled their hips to push them together, feeling Geno’s erection against his hip. He likes pirates, he thought with a grin and pulled back to look at him.

Geno licked his bottom lip and watched him with hot eyes. They couldn’t talk, but Sid was pretty sure he got the message loud and clear when Sid dropped his hand down to slide into Geno’s and tugged. Geno followed him without complaint down into the hold, past the bunks and hammocks where the crew rested. He guided Geno all the way back against the bow, at the furthest end of the ship, where they were shielded from any prying eyes by casks of rum.

Sid hardly got them into the enclave before Geno’s mouth found his again. Nothing in him hesitated anymore. He curled a hand around the back of Geno’s neck and scraped his teeth against his plush bottom lip, right where Geno kept running his tongue. He pushed and demanded and half expected Geno to fight him back, but he just kept submitting, bending to Sid’s whims. It was devastating.

Sid pushed his hands into Geno’s trousers and curled them around the globes of his ass. Geno responded by choking a moan that he quickly tried to muffle on Sid’s tongue.

Geno went with it when Sid pulled him down to the floor and when he encouraged Geno to swing a leg over his thighs to grind their hips together. Sid’s hands shook when he worked the laces on Geno’s trousers and pushed them down, but Geno didn’t seem unsure at all. He grabbed one of Sid’s hands and sucked on two of his fingers, unsubtly communicating what he wanted. Sid was happy to oblige, even when Geno got pretty loud with a couple of fingers in him. Nobody yelled across the hold, so Sid could only assume they slept through it. He wasn’t sure he would stop, even if someone protested.

He clung to the assumption that no one noticed their tryst while he slept peacefully in his hammock. Geno was in the one next to him, having barely made it there before exhaustion pulled him down to sleep. Sid continued assuming no one noticed until he woke up and shuffled out to the deck the next morning and was greeted with the howls and jeers of his crewmates. He refused to cringe on his way up to the quarterdeck, where Mario was hiding a smirk at the wheel.

“Good night?”

Sid let out the breath he had held while hoping Mario was oblivious to the cause of the ruckus. It was a silly hope. He grinned sheepishly. “Uh, yeah. Sorry. Maybe things got a little out of hand.”

“Relax. This isn’t the navy. Do what you want. Just expect them to give you hell for it.”

Sid turned to look as Geno appeared on the deck, wearing a borrowed shirt that was too large for him and a pair of ratty-looking boots.

“Should I take this as a sign that he’s staying?” Mario asked.

Sid watched Geno speaking to Gonch. Gonch gestured to the sails and started on a lecture he’d given many times to many new crewmen, the beginning of the tutorial on how to operate the Penguin. Geno looked intent and interested, peering around with keen eyes. “Yeah. I think he’s staying.”

Chapter Text

The light from the port-side window was just beginning to signal the rising sun when Sid cracked his eyes open. He allowed himself to wake slowly, taking stock of his surroundings, feeling the gentle sway of the ship. The sea felt calm, a good sign for the day to come. Fondness bloomed in his chest as he realized there was an arm slung across his lower back and breath ruffling his hair. Geno became a squid in his sleep, tangling Sid up in long limbs to pull him close.

Sid moved experimentally, shifting to push up and away from the arm. Nothing happened, no noise of protest or move to stop him, so he continued to carefully climb out of bed. He padded across the cabin to gather his clothes and looked back at the bed while he slid on his breeches.

Geno looked dead to the world with his jaw slack and his head halfway off the pillow, but he adjusted his hand into the empty space next to him, grasping at nothing. Sid frowned watching Geno reach for him. He knew better than to wake him up. If he did that, the promising morning would turn dark with a surly Russian stomping around the deck. Instead of walking back to the bed, Sid pulled on his boots and reached for his coat. With one last glance back, he opened his cabin door and stepped out into the pale light.

The rising sun painted the Eastern sky with ribbons of pink and orange, splashing hues across the dark ocean surface. Most of the crew was still asleep in the hold, waiting to be roused by the skeleton night crew when they traded shifts. Sid shrugged into his coat as he walked and turned toward the staircase up to the quarterdeck.

Muzz stood alert at the wheel. His sharp eyes scanned the lightening horizon. Unless they spent the night in pirate-friendly waters shallow enough to anchor, Muzz took over steering the ship when the sun went down. It was a big job for someone so new to the crew, barely two years aboard, but it suited him. He had a knack for predicting the weather, for knowing when to turn into the waves and when it was time to wake the crew. More than that, Muzz contributed an easy-going happiness to lift crew morale. Even after a long night standing guard, he greeted Sid with a sunny attitude. “Morning. Is it that time already?”

“Sure is,” Sid replied. “Anything to report?”

Another thing Sid really liked about Muzz was that he came from the navy, as Sid himself did, which meant he didn’t smirk when Sid threw military sensibility at him. Asked to report the unusual, Muzz simply shook his head. “Free and clear, Captain.”

“Good,” Sid said as Muzz relinquished the wheel, and Sid slid his hand onto the wood to take over.

“I’ll go wake the men.”

Sid nodded and Muzz retreated down the steps to the deck. Alone, Sid took his place looking out over the full length of his vessel. The deck stretched out, bare and gleaming, narrowing to a point at the bow. The twin masts stretched up above him, sails tucked tight against the yards where they’d been stowed for the night. Nothing moved. The only sounds were the soft lap of the waves and the creak of wood.

Sid turned his eyes from the ship to the sea, which appeared predictably calm. Nothing on the horizon looked dangerous. The few clouds in the sky hung wispy and unthreatening. He breathed in deep and let it out slow, filing his lungs with fresh salt air. Years of hardship and struggle, storms and battles taught him to appreciate these moments when they came, the blessed moments of peace in a violent life.

The moment ended with boots on the deck, the first few crewmen dragging up out of the hold. He heard Jake long before he saw him, his high-pitched laugh as he spoke excitedly to someone. Must be Sheary, Sid thought. Nobody else had the energy for Jake in the morning. Sure enough, they both appeared, young faces lit up with smiles. They weren’t used to it, yet, being pirates. Not like some of the older crewmen who trudged up onto the deck and bent to their morning duties without a thought. Jake and Sheary took up their positions still laughing, working as a team to ready the ship for the day.

The crew made their way up in ones and twos and fell into their positions to check ropes and cargo. Tanger straggled up, one of the last to appear, but he did it with an extra dinted tin cup of coffee for Sid.

“We’re almost out,” Tanger greeted as he handed the cup over. Sid enjoyed coffee. Tanger survived on it. The idea of running out sent a shudder up Sid’s back.

“We’ll make port soon.”

Tanger nodded and leaned a hip against the rail to drink his coffee. He trusted, after all the years serving under him, that Sid would take care of it. Even after everything. Tanger’s trust in his captain might have taken a hit, but he knew Sid would go get his coffee beans. It was something, and Sid found himself clinging to the little somethings with Tanger.

They fell apart after they lost Flower. Flower had been a staple of Penguin life since before Sid’s time aboard. Peaceful mornings had once been accompanied by cheerful whistling and a wicked smile and pranks. So many fucking pranks. When Sid came aboard, Flower was one of the first people he gravitated to, one of his first friends. They had remained close for years, until the end.

Flower got arrested ashore in a British colony and they gave him a choice: sail for the queen or die. Thankfully, Flower wasn’t a proud man. He rigged the sails with the HMS Golden Knight, probably smiling away, while everyone on the Penguin grew used to tripping over the spots where he used to be. When they ate together as a crew, Sid still sat with an empty seat on his side, a chair left open for Flower. In eight months of his absence, nobody had been bold enough to take it.

Sid could never tell if Tanger blamed him for what happened, which stung. Tanger had to know Sid would have ever have let Flower go without a fight. He would have done anything, fought anybody. He simply wasn’t there to stop it. Still, Tanger remained distant long after the initial grieving period. He stayed quiet while the ship recovered. Though he eventually started talking to Sid again, they never returned to normal.

Tanger sipped his coffee and squinted out over the water, his eyes smoldering darkly like old coals. He was thinking hard about something. Sid would once have teased him about it.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing,” Tanger said unconvincingly, eyes never wavering from the horizon, but he also didn’t move away.

“It’s Alex’s birthday soon, right?” Sid asked, referring to Tanger’s young son, who lived with his mother in the family’s home outside of Kingston.

That took some of the rigidity out of Tanger’s frown. “Yes. He’s growing like a weed. You know he wants a pony for his birthday?”

Sid chuckled. “We can probably get him a pony. The Spaniards are always shipping herds.”

“Kat would kill me, c’mon. It’s bad enough I leave her alone months at a time to deal with the little gremlin.”

“A pirate’s life, eh?”

“Yeah,” Tanger said with a wan smile. “I’m not sure it’s exactly what she signed up for.”

“We can drop you off, let you go for a long visit.”

Tanger shook his head. His faded smile dropped away into memory. “I can’t. She needs me,” he said, gesturing out to the Penguin. He said it like he was chained to the deck, like he would love to get away if he could.

Sid grimaced. “Tanger-”

“I should help Phil oil the cannons before the sun gets too high,” Tanger interrupted, pushing away from the rail. “It’s been weeks. They’ll rust if we don’t.”

It had been a week, Sid knew, but he let Tanger retreat. It was part of their new reality, a dance of almost talking and running away. Maybe they would work it out, but Sid’s hope was waning. Maybe they would remain off balance until, one day, Tanger went ashore in port and never returned.

Sid finished his coffee and called for the man responsible for arranging the sails. “Big Rig.”

Oleksiak popped up from where he was kneeling on the deck, stretching his long body to the sky. He loped up the stairs from the deck with his long legs to approach Sid like a huge, happy puppy. “What’ll be this morning?” he drawled.

“Half sails, I think. We’re in no rush, and it’ll give Sully the time to calculate a route for us.”

“Captain’s got a heading, eh?” Oleksiak asked with an easy smile.

“An idea, anyway.”

“Half sails, coming right up.” Oleksiak stepped away, but he didn’t head back down toward the main deck. He went to the port-side rail and swung smoothly onto ratline, a trestle of ropes leading up to the main mast’s top yard. He would release the gaff sail first to give the Penguin some stability before he dropped each of the three sets of mains and moved on to the foremast.

The sails were down and the sun lifted well off the horizon by the time Geno appeared, taking the steps two at a time to join him at the helm. “Morning,” Sid called.

Geno swooped in and kissed his cheek. “You don’t wake me,” he said, pouting a little, but he didn’t sound genuinely upset.

“No need,” Sid replied, curving a hand over Geno’s hip. “The seas are calm. You could use the sleep.”

Geno kissed him again, this time on the lips. “You best captain. Take best care.”

Sid shook his head at him and didn’t fight his grin hard enough to hide. Geno knew if anyone else slept in on board, Sid would be down in the hold with a bucket of warm seawater to get them up. His indulgence of Geno had nothing to do with being captain.

“Where’s Pierre?” Geno asked, pulling back from Sid’s touch to look around.

Sid’s contentment faded into irritation. “I have no idea. I hope somebody ate him.”

Geno tisked at him, stepped away, and held up an arm with sharp whistle. From the topsails, a large, blue parrot glided down and landed on his forearm. “Hi pretty bird,” Geno cooed, scratching Pierre under the chin.

Sid huffed and rolled his eyes. “That thing is a nuisance. Remind me why you bought it?”

“I don’t buy, Sid,” Geno said, eyes bright with mischief. “I’m pirate. When I ever buy?”

“Yes, darling. You’re a credit to the profession.”

Geno only glared to fight his laugh. “And I take him for you.”

“Great. Thanks.”

“So he can protect you,” Geno continued as he stepped over to Sid and scooted Pierre onto the captain’s shoulder.

“Protect me from what?” Sid asked, side-eyeing the bird on his shoulder. “Not getting shit on while I’m crossing the deck?”

“Bird have good eyes,” Geno said, scratching Pierre behind the head. “And can talk. Pierre, pretty bird.”

“Pretty bird,” Pierre echoed before he busied himself picking at Sid’s ear.

Sid jerked away from the sharp beak worrying at his earlobe. “That would be great, if he ever said anything useful. Or talked to anyone but you.”

“You just don’t tell him he’s pretty. Say, Sid. Say pretty bird.”

“I’m not actually a huge fan of blue,” Sid deadpanned.

Geno shook his head and reached to take Pierre back onto his hand. The bird gratefully shuffled on and grabbed his fingers to balance. “You such pretty bird,” Geno assured.

“Pretty bird,” Pierre agreed.

“Sid come around. You see.”

“Sid’s right here,” Sid said dryly.

“You hungry, pretty bird? Want breakfast?”

“Breakfast,” Pierre said. Geno pulled a handful of nuts out of his pocket, and Pierre reached out for one of the macadamias.

Geno turned to face out over the deck. He leaned his elbows on the railing with Pierre perched on his forearm. Sid spared an appreciative glance downward, never one to pass up an opportunity for a long look at Geno’s ass. Geno had forgone his jacket, opting for a loose linen shirt and the tightest trousers he owned, which was saying something. He shifted his weight onto one foot and Sid licked his lips. He felt certain Geno was doing it on purpose, coming out half-dressed to flash his ass in Sid’s face. Maybe it was revenge for not staying in bed. Maybe it was temptation to return. He could probably convince Geno to go back to their cabin either way.

Sid dragged his eyes up before he let that line of thought get away from him. Not that they couldn’t have slipped away, but they would have endured some serious chirping for it. He looked out across the sea, saw nothing, and his gaze drifted back to Geno.

Geno scanned the deck sharply. When wasn’t busy seducing Sid or adopting useless birds, he was the ship’s quartermaster, as close to a second in command as pirates got. It was his business to know how the ship was running, to ensure that everyone pulled their weight. Sid watched him look across the deck, monitoring each position, until he found something out of place. Geno observed as one of their newest additions struggled with a tangled fishing net.

“Jarry,” Geno called across the deck, and the kid looked up with terror in his eyes. “Use oil on knots.”

“Oil?” Jarry asked hesitantly.

“Sure, I bet there’s plenty in the captain’s cabin,” Reaves laughed from his place beside Jarry, sharpening a spear used for hauling in large fish. The big man looked up fearlessly at Geno while Jarry’s eyes grew round and apprehensive. “Should we dip into your stash, Geno?”

Reaves wasn’t wrong. They did have oil in their cabin, a sweet, expensive kind from the Orient. It smelled heavenly and tasted faintly of honey. Sid made sure to keep it in good supply.

“That not oil for fish nets,” Geno teased. “Is for... other things. Maybe someday you get to use, find out.”

“What makes you think I don’t already know, G?” Reaves asked, cocky smile stretching out even wider across his roguish face.

“Psh, you virgin. Everybody know that.”

A number of crewmen laughed with Reaves on that one. Even Sid knew it was ridiculous. Reaves was a charmer, popular with every woman in every port they went to. Hell, he’d probably have half the guys, too, if he were inclined.

Jarry looked mortified at the whole situation. Geno took pity on him and changed the subject back. “Whale oil, from lamp. Only little bit. Rub on the knot, work in, and then,” he made a hand gesture to symbolize the knot coming loose. Jarry nodded and scrambled up to go in search of oil while Reaves returned to his hook.

Geno looked back at Sid with a semi-affectionate eye roll. “Every year, I think rookies get little bit dumber.”

“Be nice,” Sid said. “He’s learning. He’ll get there.”

“I’m always nice,” Geno huffed, and he turned to watch Jarry returning to his net with a bottle of lamp oil. He did exactly as Geno told him, poured a drop of oil out carefully on the knot. He worked it in with patient fingers and the knot came loose. Sid didn’t miss Geno’s proud expression. He watched Jarry hold the net up in celebration to Geno, who gave him a thumbs-up.

Geno turned to lean back against the railing and face Sid. Pierre, done with his breakfast, spread his wings and flapped away.

“You’re good with them, the kids. They look up to you.”

“Yes, I have lots good things to teach. Like I teach you.”

Sid snorted. “You taught me, huh?”

Geno smirked and looked him up and down. “Sure. Start very first day. Teach you kiss, teach you touch, teach you-”

“How to finger you until you cry?” Sid asked, keeping his voice as bland and level as he could.

Geno blushed and threw half a nutshell at him. “Can’t believe we do that,” he mumbled.

Sid shrugged. “We were young. You were hot. Besides, I stole you. If I didn’t make you mine, what kind of pirate am I?”

“Right, of course,” Geno agreed solemnly before his grin broke through. “Maybe I would go fuck Kuni instead and he be captain now.”

Sid laughed openly at that. “You figure you’re the reason I’m captain?”

“Sure. I’m good luck. Make you Mario’s favorite, so all crew vote for you when he retire.”

“Hate to break it to you, pal, but I was his favorite way before you showed up.”

“You say,” Geno teased, and Sid made a face at him. Geno knew Sid was practically the former captain’s oldest child.

Geno’s smirk settled into a relaxed curve of his lips, and Sid took the opportunity to float an idea. Geno was feeling good, silly and well-rested. Maybe it wouldn’t be a hard sell. “I want to make port within a week, if we can. Our supplies will run low otherwise.”

“Supplies are fine,” Geno said, because he knew better than anyone. It was part of his job to know.

“We’re nearly out of coffee,” Sid pressed. “And the boys need to feel dry land. We’ve been out three weeks.”

“Not so long. Is good, be out here. You never want land before.”

It wasn’t exactly true. When Geno joined the crew, the Penguin made land less frequently. But that was largely out of necessity. With Mario planning to end his run, he was on a tear to make sure the crew was set up for the future. He spent months tutoring Sid on how to take over. Then when he retired, Sid was a young captain, not established in the pirate community, and he had a lot to prove. He was always pushing, always driving for more. For the first years of Geno’s tenure on board, he drove the crew to the brink of exhaustion.

Over the years, that attitude changed. Sid grew content. Satisfied. He proved what he set out to prove and became more interested in enjoying the ride. The routine of his life as captain became something he enjoyed far more than the adventure he could chase pursuing a dangerous catch.

The Penguin had enjoyed the greatest successes under his reign since he’d settled, but he knew what it meant. Once a pirate lost their edge, their wildness, the end was near. As much as he loved the life, he would be forced to leave it or risk his entire crew and his ship.

Geno studied Sid’s face and pushed away from the railing. He pulled Sid back from the wheel to get his full concentration. “Hey. You okay?”

Geno could always tell when something was wrong, and something had been wrong for a while. “Yeah,” Sid said, holding off the talk for another day. “I’m good.”

“Want me to ask Sully about course? We go to Nassau?”

Sid nodded. Apparently, he had worried Geno enough to get his way without incurring any more fight.

“Okay. We be most careful, stay only two days. Then we go out and hunt for whale.”

“No. We’re not whaling. Why do we need a fucking whale? We can steal oil.”

“Is fun. You know this word? Maybe I can for once teach you English.”

Geno poked him in the side and Sid could feel his tight expression come loose like Jarry’s net. “Go talk to Sully.”

“Aye, Captain.” Geno winked at his glare and practically danced away.

****************

Sully’s navigation got them to Nassau a full day shy of the week Sid asked for, but as usual, the old sailing master refused to take credit. “It was a good wind,” Sully said when Sid praised his route as New Providence Island came into view.

A good wind didn’t cut them through San Juan to catch a current, which gave them an additional two knots. That was pure experience and impeccable instinct. Sid clapped his shoulder appreciatively. “You’re an artist, Sully.”

“Nah. Just an old man,” Sully said wryly. They watched the island, a green dot in the distance, draw nearer. “You coming ashore this time?”

Sid cut a glance up at the helm. Geno, standing with one hand on the wheel, met his eyes for a beat before his gaze returned to the sea. “We’ll see,” Sid said softly.

“Sid,” Tanger called from the capstan, gesturing for him. He had some papers in his hand and made a note on one after he got Sid’s attention.

“Duty calls,” Sid said.

“If you do come ashore, come get a drink with me at Stella’s.”

“The whorehouse?” Sid asked incredulously with another glance at Geno. “I’m not sure I’d survive to explain that.”

Sully barked a laugh and let him walk away to meet Tanger.

Tanger started in immediately without looking up from his papers. “I’ve been through the supplies. Almost everything is okay, but we could use a few more barrels for water.”

“Okay. Sure. Pick ‘em up.”

“Geno and I went over everything else. Obviously coffee.”

“Obviously,” Sid said fondly.

“I’ll give the crew the night off when we land, but then I’ll get them to work carrying supplies back.”

Sid shook his head. “Tanger, it’s okay. We’re in no rush. Take your time. Let them have a break.”

Tanger gave him a long, incredulous look. Sid’s stomach turned uncomfortably at the doubt in that look. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just not in a rush. Not everything has to be hurried. We can afford to chill out, have a rum, enjoy life.”

Tanger’s expression tightened into something even more skeptical. “Since when? I thought you were on a mission to conquer the seven seas.”

Sid chuckled at that and made Tanger respond with a forgiving grin of his own. It felt good to get something from him but a grim frown and businesslike attitude.

“Alright, Captain. Your call. I’ll have a rum and relax. I’ll have one for you, too.”

“That’s the spirit,” Sid said. “Go ahead and start rounding the men up when you can. I’ll put the fear of god in them about curfew before you go.”

The way Tanger huffed when he walked away left Sid in some serious doubt about his ability to intimidate the crew. He turned to trot up the stairs to the quarterdeck and approached Geno at the wheel.

“Anything?”

Geno looked around, gestured at the open sea with his hand, and shrugged. “Only what you see.”

“Good. Maybe we’ll actually get a nice relaxing shore leave this time. Have dinner. Something that’s not salted fish. Take a walk on the beach.”

Geno fidgeted and made a non-committal noise. Sid touched his hip with a fond smile. He knew already what was coming, knew why Geno looked worried when he glanced at him.

The men were buzzing with excitement by the time Geno pulled the Penguin into the Bay of Nassau. The bay was easily large enough to hold fifteen pirate vessels, but only three were tied in the water. Sid noticed The Canuck, a small and inoffensive ship with a friendly enough crew. The second he barely knew, but the third got his back up.

Geno swore, seeing it. “The Flyer.”

“I see that.”

“You sure about Nassau? We can turn, go to Havana. Havana nice.”

“Havana is another week. Besides, Nassau is safe. It’s a haven. Giroux is harmless here. Just...” Sid twitched and scratched the back of his neck. “We’ll avoid him.”

Geno’s frown reflected his feelings about the matter. He deftly steered the Penguin to the other side of the bay, as far from the Flyer as he could manage, before he called for the anchor.

Sid watched the men cheerfully drop anchor and start to bunch up below the quarterdeck. Sid moved to the top of the stairs while Tanger gathered up stragglers. He could practically see their energy vibrating the air around them.

“Most of you know, but some of you are new,” Sid called, and someone punched Jarry teasingly in the shoulder because he was the newest. “Nassau is safe because we make it safe. We keep the peace. Nassau will be good to you if you treat her right. That means no stabbing, no shooting, no killing any other pirates from any other vessels. Yes, Tanger, even the Flyer.”

Tanger fought a smirk behind a fake pout.

“What you do on shore will fall to me to punish, and trust me, you don’t want that. Because I’ll delegate it to Geno.”

Murmurs of actual worry rippled through the crew. Jarry darted a half-terrified look at Geno. Tanger lost the battle with that smirk and hid a laugh in his hand. He knew the kind of punishments Geno would hand out, and it was nothing more than peeling potatoes and chopping cabbage while he cooked and drank with them. Still, the illusion of threat was effective enough Sid kept using it. At least the kids were intimidated.

Sid took a final look at the subdued faces of his crew. “Forty-eight hours, boys. We drop sail after that whether you’re on the deck or not.” His message delivered, he offered a contrasting smile. “Enjoy.”

The crew cheered and broke to ready the longboats. Geno slid close to push his fingers between Sid’s at his side, tangling their hands together. “They all be gone soon.”

“Yeah. That’s the idea,” Sid said, grinning like he hadn’t known Geno for twelve years, like he didn’t know what Geno was asking for.

“Not so often we get the ship empty.”

“It’s not often we make shore, either. You sure you don’t want to get your feet on solid ground?”

Geno ducked in to nuzzle against his neck. “On shore, we get a room. Neighbors. Here... I can make you scream.”

Sid licked his lips and leaned into Geno.

“Nobody hears.”

Sid didn’t particularly care if anyone heard him, but the resulting chirping was relentless and largely directed at Geno, so he tried to hold his tongue when the men were on board.

“You beg for me, scream for me.”

Sid shivered and kept his back straight and tried not to show how affected he was. It was a silly game. Geno already knew he had won. Sid could tell from the way he leaned in closer and brushed his lips against the shell of Sid’s ear, pressing the full length of his body close.

“I wait in our cabin,” Geno said very softly against his ear. “Naked. Understand if you want dry land instead.”

Geno breezed away and the sudden loss of contact left Sid leaning into nothing but open air. He glared weakly at Geno’s retreating shoulders as he trotted down the stairs from the quarterdeck to the main deck and turned to disappear into the cabin.

One long boat was already down in the water, ready for men to board. It would take both to get the entire crew to shore. If Sid wanted to touch dry land this trip, he’d need to go in one of them. He did like to get off the ship occasionally, walk more than fifty feet in a straight line. But it was always like this. Geno never wanted to leave. He used to cajole and plead with Sid not to go, pulling on his hand and begging in what little English he knew until Sid stayed with him. As time wore on and he learned more language, he also learned how easy it could be to convince Sid with something other than words.

Sid leaned on the railing and watched Jake and Sheary ready the second boat. Jake turned and saw him, came trotting up. “You coming, Captain?”

The last time Sid won the day and convinced Geno to go to town with him, Geno spent the entire time sweating and looking around like an escaped convict. He jumped at every sound. He nearly ran his sword through a teenager who bumped into him in a crowd. Nothing Sid could do would settle him. So Sid gave up. Other than the few ports Geno felt comfortable in, Sid let him stay on the ship. He sometimes went ashore himself, if he felt the urge, but going alone came with its own pitfalls. He always returned to find Geno sullen and insecure, lashing out about Sid’s imagined interest in the whores on land when he only wanted to sink his toes into some sand and have a drink or two.

He long ago decided sand and drinks weren’t worth hurting Geno like that.

Sid shook his head. “Not this time, Jakey. Go have fun.”

Jake grinned and sped back to Sheary to help him get the boat down. The first boat was already away, filled with chatting crewmen. Everybody was happy and singing and full of joy. Sid stayed and soaked in the energy for a while longer, until everybody was in their boats and off toward the beach.

With the boats away, the ship was plunged into quiet. The waves lapped against the sides. The mast creaked softly in the wind. Sid took his time walking down the steps, his boots thumping against the wood. He turned at the bottom toward the cabin beneath the helm and shouldered through the heavy door.

The bed in their cabin wasn’t immediately visible from the door. It was backed against the port side, tucked into an enclave with a curtain to close it off from the rest of the room. Geno had the curtain shut when Sid walked in. Sid took in the sight of Geno’s boots thrown down in the middle of the floor, his trousers pooled a few feet away. His jacket was slung over a chair and his shirt hung from a lamp hook. Sid shrugged out of his own jacket and gathered Geno’s. He hung both on the rack by the door. He put both sets of boots beneath the rack.

“What are you doing?” Geno’s voice called from beyond the curtain.

“Tidying your mess.”

“Supposed to be sexy,” Geno pouted. Sid grinned and unbuttoned his shirt as he turned toward the bed. He pulled back the curtain and his breath caught. Geno was rested back against the hull, turned sideways in the bed so his feet were facing Sid. He had his knees pulled up and an oiled hand around his cock, his face flushed with desire.

“Now that,” Sid said as he crawled onto the bed, “is very sexy.”

Geno grinned and moved his hand up and down slowly, showing off more than jerking off. “You must really want this if you give up time in Nassau. Want my dick?”

“You know I do,” Sid said as he trailed a hand up Geno’s thigh.

“Want it in you?”

Sid licked his lips. “Yes.”

“More than anything?”

Sid caught his hand on the upstroke, stilled it, and got Geno to look in his eyes. “More than anything.”

The lingering doubt faded from Geno’s eyes. He surged up to kiss Sid, distracting him as he bowled him over to tug his shirt off his shoulders. “I make you feel so good.”

Sid had absolutely no doubt about that. He helped get his shirt the rest of the way off and pulled Geno down on top of him. The bulk of Geno’s body sprawled over him felt perfect, particularly the solid thigh tucked between his legs where he could hitch his hips up against it and get some pressure against his dick while they kissed.

Geno laughed and pulled away enough to take the pressure off his groin. “Bad boy. We go slow,” he said, tapping a fingertip against the tip of Sid’s nose. His admonishing was tempered by a big, sweet smile, but Sid already knew he wasn’t going to get his way if he pushed.

“We’ve got all night,” Sid reasoned, though Geno was already moving on, opting to kiss down his bare chest instead of engaging with his protests. “I’ll go again, if you want. I’m good for it.”

Geno shook his head, lips tracing over Sid’s nipple with the motion. “You definitely come two time. But not fast. Slow.”

Sid could have pouted, but it would only get Geno laughing at him some more. So he caved and sank back into his pillow, which earned him a pat on the ribcage, a small acknowledgement of his obedience to Geno’s whims. “You’re training me better than your bird,” he groused with fondness pulling at his lips and crinkling the corners of his eyes when he looked down at Geno.

“Shh,” Geno soothed, the hand over his ribs rubbing in small circles. “Relax.”

Sid did and Geno’s hands trailed down to his breeches.

“Lift,” Geno ordered, and he pulled Sid’s breeches off when he obeyed. He pulled them all the way down Sid’s legs and tossed them.

“Hey, G,” Sid complained about the clothes on the floor.

“They not go anywhere,” Geno said. “We pick up later.”

Sid really preferred everything in its place, but he couldn’t worry too long about it. Not when Geno ran his hands up Sid’s thighs and buried his face in Sid’s crotch.

“I think maybe I suck you a little, before we get start.”

“Sucking my dick isn’t a start?”

Geno clapped a hand on the outside of his thigh and Sid’s breath hitched. “So difficult today. Maybe need tie you down, huh?”

Sid licked his lips at the thought, but shook his head. “I’ll be good.”

It was exactly the right thing to say. Geno nuzzled up against the base of his dick and flicked his tongue out to taste him. “Okay. You be good, I suck dick.”

“Sounds like a really good deal,” Sid said as he resisted the urge to bury his hand in Geno’s hair and pull him in. His dick was straining for attention already and Geno was just looking at it, casually interested.

Sid clenched his hands at his sides when Geno leaned up to take him into his mouth. They sucked each other off enough it was a familiar feeling. It was the most efficient way to fuck each other with barely any time to spare. But it was never unappreciated, the wet heat of Geno’s mouth around his cock.

Of course, Geno wasn’t really going for it. He was lazily bobbing his head and pulling back to lick delicately at Sid, like he was enjoying a stick of sugar cane. There wasn’t enough pressure to get Sid off or do much more than tease, and that was entirely the point. Sid had to lay there, patient, and take it.

He was panting by the time Geno pulled up, eyes shining with mischief. “Give oil,” he ordered, nodding to the bottle hung in by a leather thong on the bedpost. Sid reached for it and handed it down.

Geno tugged the cork out of the bottle and poured some oil over his fingers. He set the bottle down by Sid, who scrambled for the cork before it could spill. He was just putting it back in when Geno suddenly sucked him all the way down. Sid gasped and flopped back against his pillow. “G...”

Geno gave him a few good seconds with just the right amount of pressure before he backed off again, long before Sid could get close to coming. He had the nerve to chuckle at Sid’s frustrated sound. “Don’t worry. I give you good.”

“You say that, but-” he sucked in a breath when Geno touched the tip of his finger to Sid’s hole.

“What?” Geno asked, feigning innocence so sweetly, like he wasn’t circling his finger and pressing inside.

It was enough so Sid no longer felt like he was being teased. The pressure of Geno’s finger inside him added sparks of new sensation when Geno returned to blowing him. He pressed back against the pillow and enjoyed the ride, especially when Geno added another finger. He reached to brush his fingers through Geno’s hair and down to feel the flex of his wrist where he worked Sid open.

Sid was so busy enjoying it, he was taken off guard when Geno pressed a third finger in. He almost never did that before fucking, eager to get his dick inside the tightest heat possible. He usually only did it when he was looking to get Sid off spectacularly.

Geno stopped teasing with his mouth, too, and confirmed the theory. He was done playing. He wanted Sid to come, and Sid was more than happy to oblige. He threaded his fingers back into Geno’s hair and felt his thighs start to tremble as his climax neared like an oncoming wave.

Sid lost himself in pleasure for a while before the wave crested. Geno fingered him relentlessly while he came, sending shock after shock through him until it was too much. Geno pulled back before he had to tell him to stop and grinned when he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“See? I tell you.”

Floating on a calm sea of post-orgasm high, Sid grinned dopily. “Told me what?”

Geno crawled up between his legs and pushed his hard dick against the cut of Sid’s left hip. “I make you loud.”

Sid wasn’t aware he was making a lot of noise, but he wasn’t exactly mindful of his reactions either. He pulled Geno into a lazy kiss. He could feel Geno holding back his urgency, trying to be patient. Sid pushed on him while they kissed. He kept pushing until Geno was on his back on the bed and straddled his hips. “My turn.”

Geno grinned as Sid reached for the oil. He poured some into his hand and reached behind him to slick Geno up, then lowered himself onto Geno’s dick. Geno’s expression morphed into one of awe. Sid knew the feeling. More often than not, given the opportunity, he was the one entering Geno, spreading his long legs to crawl between them. It worked for them, particularly for Sid who loved getting Geno under him.

Having Geno under him the other way was nearly as satisfying. He could see the play of emotions across Geno’s face while he got seated and took a moment to breathe. Geno was looking at him like he couldn’t believe this was happening, even though they’d been doing it for years.

Sid reached down for Geno’s hands and placed them on his hips. He was being bossy again, but Geno’s play at taking control seemed to be over. He certainly didn’t lodge a complaint when Sid rocked his hips and started a slow rhythm of riding him.

Geno’s stamina was pretty amazing, and Sid took it slow. He had a goal in mind. He usually achieved his goals. He rode Geno lazily for a long time until the sensations started to turn from good to great. His dick took a renewed interest in proceedings. Geno noticed and shook off his dazed expression to take Sid in hand.

“Okay,” Sid panted when Geno’s hand was starting to feel just this side of too good. “Switch.”

Geno moved as soon as Sid pulled off him, perfectly aware of where he needed to go. Sid was long past any shred of modesty, if he ever had it to begin with. He wanted what felt best, and in this situation, he wanted to put his shoulders down, his ass in the air, and have Geno pound him into the mattress. He presented himself without shame and Geno slid back in immediately.

Geno gripped his hips hard and went for it, driving into Sid with sharp thrusts. Sid braced with one hand and reached for his cock with the other. It wouldn’t take much of this to get the job done.

He came the second time with his face pressed half into a pillow and tears leaking out of the corners of his tightly-shut eyes. Geno lost his rhythm with a gut-checked sound. Sid could relate. He was feeling Sid’s orgasm from inside, the pulse of it against his dick. Sid knew how intense that felt. Geno reached to push Sid’s knees down, so he was lying flat. Geno practically laid down on him. He nuzzled into the back of Sid’s neck and murmured in Russian as he fucked him slow, staving off the inevitable for just a couple more minutes.

Geno came with shudder and stilled against Sid’s back. His hand crept up to cover Sid’s, sliding their fingers together. He was still in Russian mode, but Sid understood enough to make him smile. Geno was a sap when it came to sex, no matter how big a game he talked beforehand. He always liked to cuddle afterward, always said sweet things even if he didn’t want Sid to understand them.

Before it could get uncomfortable having Geno on top of him, he moved. He pulled out and collapsed beside Sid with a groan. When Sid looked at him, he smiled, big and satisfied and cocky, like he knew he’d done a great job. Sid couldn’t exactly argue the point.

It never took long for Geno to pass out after he came. Sid stayed on his stomach, smirking at Geno’s useless attempts to stay awake with him. Geno was on his side facing him, and his eyelids looked heavy even as he leaned in to steal a kiss. When he returned to his pillow, Sid stroked down his cheek. Geno leaned into the touch and closed his eyes contentedly. They didn’t open again.

Sid remained, satisfied to rest for a while. He felt pleasantly sore, as he always was when they got a rare opportunity for a good, long fuck. He wondered, not for the first time, if maybe that was part of Geno’s reasoning for never wanting to leave the ship, giving them a chance to go wild. Maybe it was all about the sex for him. Maybe he didn’t hate land so much as he loved fucking Sid. It was a hopeful thought, all things considered, but probably not realistic.

Sid dozed contentedly for a long stretch of time before he finally pushed himself out of bed and went to clean up. He scrubbed his skin at the basin across the cabin with a small flannel and a bar of lye soap. When he was clean, he hung the flannel and lifted the basin. He didn’t bother dressing before he walked out of the cabin. Nobody was around to balk at his naked stroll.

He dumped the water over the port side railing and into the bay. The ship had drifted on her anchor while they were tucked away in their cabin, and the port side faced Nassau. Sid sat the basin down on the deck and leaned on the railing to look out at the lights of the city, all the lamps from the houses and taverns and whorehouses. It was a buzzing place, busy even at night. It was nothing like where he came from, a tiny, sleepy town on the coast of the new world. There, people doused their lamps once evening chores were done and huddled inside against the cold.

Sid mused sometimes about what it would be like to go back. For twelve years, he had lived in a tropical climate, and he had grown accustomed to the heat and humidity. Still, there was a charm to the snow, the long winter. He wondered if Geno would agree. Geno also came from a cold climate, but he didn’t speak of it fondly. He barely spoke of it at all.

Sid wondered what it would be like, curling near a fire with Geno. When it snowed, maybe they would be stuck for days indoors with nothing to do but be together. He imagined Geno waking slowly in his arms in their cabin by the sea. With no helm to attend, Sid could stay and wait for him all morning, watch him blink the sleep out of his eyes and turn a sweet smile toward him.

They would fish, probably, in their land life. There’s no way either of them would live forever without sailing, so they would go out in a small boat. They would fill their nets and return to shore, sell the day’s catch to the fishmonger and go home. Geno would cook while Sid distracted him with touches and kisses. Maybe they would be happy. Maybe Geno would love that life, the safe routine of it.

But he could also imagine Geno growing sullen as the days of snow wore on, frowning out at the frosty waters of the Northern ocean. He imagined Geno growing to hate it, maybe growing to hate him, too-

Geno’s hand skimmed over his hip and broke his reverie. His lips brushed Sid’s shoulder. “Let me call boats,” he said seriously.

“What? No. And... how?”

Geno hooked his chin over Sid’s shoulder and sighed. “I keep you here. You want to go. Sorry.”

“No, that’s not... I would much rather stay here in bed with you than go ashore, trust me.”

“That why you stand here, look at town?” Geno nuzzled his hair and kissed his temple. “Let me get boats back. Then you go out. I stay here, keep ship safe.”

“What are you going to do, G? Swim in and drag a boat back?” Sid laughed.

“Maybe. If you want. It’s not so far.”

“Don’t be silly. I don’t need to go to Nassau.”

Geno settled into troubled silence against his back.

“Really. I wasn’t even thinking about that.”

“You look very sad,” Geno said pensively. “What you think about?”

“Just...” Sid pulled in a breath. He had been working up the courage for months. “I just keep thinking.”

Geno’s arms wound around him like he was afraid Sid might jump overboard.

“You hate dry land.”

Geno made an agreeing noise. “Is good for pirate, yes?”

“Yeah. It’s good for pirates. It’s been good. Really, really good. But I can’t help but think... What’s next, you know?”

“Next? Like... Next port? Probably, like, Kingston.”

“No, not the next port. The last port. What happens when this is all over?”

Geno’s arms loosened. He stepped back. “Over? What is over?”

Sid turned to catch his wrist and stop him from freaking out, something he was clearly well on his way to. He got a grip on Geno before his eyes caught on the horizon over the starboard rail. His heart dropped through the deck into the sea. “Shit. Is that...”

Geno whipped around. “The Capital,” he confirmed.

She was still far away, but they knew her well enough to know her shape from a distance. She was just close enough they could make out her hulking frame and her famous red sails. Captained by a former member of the Russian navy so beloved by his country they granted him a ship of his own, the Capital was the most successful pirate-hunting ship in the sea. There was only one target she had ever pursued and lost: the Penguin.

“We have to get boats back,” Geno said, voice sharp with urgency. “Pierre can maybe go?”

“That fucking thing will just confuse them. I’ll go.”

Geno stopped him with a hand on his chest. “No. Sid, if Ovi finds you in Nassau-”

“Ovi can’t get to Nassau. The Capital can’t enter the bay. They have to stay out of range of the port cannons. They’ll stop short.”

“You sure?”

Sid nodded like he was certain. “G... I have to go get the men. We need to get out of here now, before she can get positioned to hem us in.”

Geno’s face was full of worry, but he gave in. “Be careful, Sid. Anything happen, just come back.”

Sid pulled him in and kissed him. “I’ll be back,” he said more confidently than he felt. And then he pulled away and stepped toward the port side railing.

“Wait, clothes?”

“No. I want to be fast. I’ll find something on shore,” he said as he climbed up the rail. With a last glance back, eyes scanning over Geno’s worried eyes and the looming threat on the horizon, he dove.

The swim took a long time. Without clothes to weigh him down, Sid cut through the water with efficient speed, but it still took much longer than he would like. He arrived on shore with his arms shaking from exertion and thankfully managed to find a deserted, residential part of town to sneak into. He stole a pair of breeches and a linen shirt off a line in someone’s yard and made for the town center.

He found his master gunner, Phil, straight away at a table outside Vincent’s Tavern with a bottle of island beer in his hand and a pretty, dark-haired girl under his arm, which gave him pause. She was dressed in a soft, long skirt and cotton top, and she smiled sweetly when Phil looked at her. There was no way she was a prostitute, with that kind of open adoration on her face for nothing but a client. She had to be his sweetie. On another night, Sid would be full of questions about her. Had Phil been dating her long? How did they meet? The Penguin docked in Nassau often enough, but Phil had never mentioned her.

Phil looked away from the girl and his eyes found Sid. His smile dropped away. “Captain?”

“We have a problem,” Sid said. He cut an apologetic look at the girl as he closed the distance between them. “Ovi is here, coming in fast. No way here’s here for anyone but us. We have to get out.” he explained, trying not to notice as the girl’s eyes grew wide and worried.

Phil looked grim but otherwise unfazed. He was hard to shake, which made him excellent at his job and aided Sid’s immediate needs. He stood up with a firm nod. “What do you need me to do?”

“Go start gathering people. We’ll collect them here and then head back to the Penguin. We need to make ready to sail before the Capital can cut off our route.”

“Yeah, I got it. I’ll get as many as I can find. But Sid... How the hell are we going to get past them? Those cannons...”

“I’m working on it. Just get the men.”

“Why can’t you just stay?” the girl blurted. Sid looked back at her as Phil pulled on her arm to shush her. “We have defenses here,” she continued as she resisted Phil’s attempts to silence her. “We protect pirates. That’s the whole point of Nassau.”

“They’ll block our exit, if we let them get positioned,” Phil explained quickly just as Sid was opening his mouth to say the same. “They won’t be able to come in, but they’ll keep us from leaving. If we don’t go now, we don’t go at all.”

“Then don’t go at all. Phil...” she pleaded, eyes wide and getting wet. “Please.”

“Hey,” Sid said to Phil. “Get her home first. Gather the men here. If you don’t show up on board... I get it.”

Phil looked stunned, just standing there staring at him.

“Seen Tanger?”

Phil pointed at another tavern across the square. “Last time I saw him, he was holding down the bar in there,” he replied shakily.

“Thanks,” he said, and he clapped Phil on the shoulder before moving on with an apologetic grimace to the girl. He wished he could have at least caught her name, but there was no time. He trotted across the town square and toward the tavern.

Sid entered the tavern and found it quieter than most, more subdued. He found Tanger, as promised, sitting at the bar with a cup of rum. Sid rushed up to him and Tanger nearly fell over.

“What are you doing here? You stayed on the ship with... Why are you barefoot?”

“Ovi found us,” Sid said, and Tanger went quiet. “We need to go. Now. Can you-”

“Yeah,” Tanger said, slapping a coin down on the bar. “Let’s go.”

Sid quickly found Tanger to be drunker than Phil. He stumbled before they reach the door, and Sid had to grab him to steady him on his feet.

“What are we going to do?” Tanger asked, his French accent much more pronounced with the liquor in his veins.

“We’re going to get the crew back on board and make for open water.”

“Oh, so we’re going to sail right past the thirty-six cannons on the Capital?” Tanger asked sarcastically while leaning across Sid’s shoulders to walk down the steps of the tavern entrance.

“Eighteen. They’ll only be able to fire from one side.”

“Eighteen is a lot of holes, Sid.”

Sid fucking knew that, so he didn’t offer a response. He prodded Tanger into walking straight again when they reached the bottom of the stairs, urging him across the square. “Well, as my boatswain, it’s going to be your job to keep her going with those eighteen holes.”

Tanger barked a harsh laugh. “No one could do that. If we get hit that hard, we’re dead.”

“One problem at a time,” Sid muttered as he got Tanger situated outside Vincent’s. He gestured to the wench serving patrons. “I need as much coffee as you can pour in him. Strong, please. And I’ll be bringing more. Tanger, pay her. And don’t go anywhere.”

“Sure. Staying right here. Wait for you to come back and get me killed.”

“Hey, I haven’t gotten you killed yet, so give me some credit.”

Tanger gave him a doubtful look before it softened into something resembling trust. “I’m staying. Go get everyone.”

Sid left Tanger slumped over the table while the wench went to get his coffee. He trotted toward Stella’s, the busiest brothel in town, and rushed inside. The madam at the door arched an eyebrow at him, and he put on his most charming grin. “Hi. I’m looking for an older man, half grey, pretty tall.”

Stella, a dark-skinned woman with a beautiful, silk scarf tied loosely around her head, didn’t look impressed. “This isn’t that kind of place,” she said dismissively. “You want Roland, down the road. He can get you any kind of man you want. We only have girls.”

“Oh, no. I meant a specific man, not a preference. Has he been in?”

“No,” she obviously lied.

“Right. Mind if I just-”

“Well if it isn’t Sidney Crosby,” a gratingly familiar voice said behind him. Sid clenched his teeth, annoyed before he turned around to see Claude Giroux, the captain of the Flyer, smirking under his orange beard. “I didn’t think you left that ship of yours anymore. I was starting to think you were avoiding me.”

Sid took a measured breath and let it out. “I’m not looking for a fight today, man.”

Giroux smirked. “That sounds about right. Captain Cheapshot doesn’t want a fair fight.”

Everything Sid wanted to say ran through his mind. Instead of those things, he said, “Look, we’ve got a much bigger problem. The Capital is coming in fast. She’s going to cut off the entrance to the bay. If you’re smart, you’ll get your men and get out now.”

“We can handle the Capital, thanks,” Giroux said, unfazed. “Besides, all we have to do is wait her out here. Not exactly a hardship,” he continued, eyes following a busty brunette across the floor of the brothel.

“Do what you want,” Sid returned, eyes drifting toward the stairs. “I have to-”

Sid started for the stairs and Giroux stopped him with a hand on his chest. Sid tensed.

“You don’t want to do this,” he said low, pleading for a peaceful resolution.

“And you don’t want to be here. Stella’s isn’t exactly your kind of place, eh? Maybe go find somewhere else.”

“I will as soon as I find my men. Now move.”

Giroux stepped closer with a hard expression.

“The code-”

“I can’t shoot you or stab you or drown you, fair enough. But there’s nothing in the rules saying I can’t hurt you. So take this as your final, generous offer and leave.”

Sid clenched his fists. He hated fistfights and usually left them to other people. But fists were all he had, and he figured he could at least land a couple good blows.

“Sid?”

Sid turned with a huge sigh of relief and found Oleksiak’s hulking frame. “Hey, Big Rig.”

“Is there a problem?” Oleksiak asked, eyes on Giroux.

Giroux sized the big man up and dropped his hand from Sid’s chest. He backed up a few steps. “Nope. No problem. Sid was just getting his men and leaving, right?”

Sid’s jaw twitched. “Right.”

Giroux was still smirking in his retreat. Sid’s stomach roiled, but he had bigger issues. He turned to Oleksiak with a grateful smile.

“Thanks, that was getting ugly. Is Sully here?”

“Yeah, he’s upstairs. Why?”

“Go knock on his door. Anyone else in here, too. Get them all outside. We have to go. Meet at Vincent’s Tavern. Find Tanger there.”

Oleksiak looked like he had a million questions, but he thankfully went to fulfill Sid’s orders, darting up the stairs.

“Thanks,” Sid said to the unamused madam before he ducked out the door.

By the time he ran through a couple more establishments, the majority of his crew was filling up tables at Vincent’s while the wench weaved around filling cups with strong, black brew. The less drunk among them were making sure the most drunk got caffeinated. Sid hurried up and clapped his hands together for attention.

“Alright, listen up. We’re-”

He turned at movement in the corner of his eye. Phil had Reaves draped across his shoulder, puffing as he half-carried the very drunk, very large man toward them. Jake darted out to help get Reaves into a chair. Phil straightened with a grimace and a hand on his back, but offered a bare grin to Sid. He wasn’t going anywhere, wasn’t staying ashore. He was with them. The whole crew was assembled.

Sid felt a swell of pride at his crew, at Phil’s loyalty, before he returned to the matter of getting them back on the Penguin and escaping. “Right... As most of you know, the Capital is coming in to block our exit out of the bay. If we get hemmed in here, we’re in some real trouble. She’ll have to slow down as she approaches, which gives us a chance. We have one small window to get the Penguin ready and get out of here, but we have to make it fast. We’re going to-”

A cannon shot erupted above them and the men jumped. Sid’s heart jolted into a rapid staccato even as time seemed to slow. Three more cannons fired, much too close to be coming from a ship. Sid forced his reluctant gaze up to the towers on either side of Nassau’s town center. The port cannons had smoke curling up from where they launched their shots. He could barely make out men preparing to reload. They were shooting out into the bay.

Sid tried to draw a breath but it hitched. His ears rang while the men shouted. He needed to move. He had to move. He wrestled his feet back under his control and bolted away from his crew. The cobblestones were hard and unforgiving against his bare feet, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was getting past the lights, out of the town, and back into the water because he knew what the cannon-fire meant.

The cannons wouldn’t be firing at a pirate vessel. They were firing because of something else.

“Sid!” Phil called behind him, but Sid was pulling away from him. He could hear boots on the ground behind him, members of his crew following his lead. They wouldn’t catch him. Not the way he was running, not as desperate as he was. He sprinted past the taverns and whorehouses into the paths between the huts the islanders lived in. He couldn’t see the water yet. He needed to get to the water. He pushed his legs past momentary weakness and sprinted until cobblestones turned to dirt, which finally gave way to sand as he reached the beach.

The moon was high and full, but there was another light in the bay, a red and orange light illuminating black sails: a fire licking up the masts of his fucking ship. He stumbled, his headlong flight momentarily halted at the sight. His ship was burning in the dark while he stood helplessly on land.

Gleaming in the light from the fire, he saw red sails. The Capital was pulling away from the ruins of the Penguin, floating out of range of Nassau’s port cannons as they fired another volley at her. The Capital fired a parting shot, not at shore, but at the Penguin. They fired their stern mortars and rocked the burning ship hard.

“Ah Jesus,” Phil gasped as he came to a stop beside him. “How the fuck did he... This was supposed to be safe.”

Sid watched his ship burn while his heart pounded in his ears. He couldn’t pull air into his lungs enough to answer Phil. Surely Geno jumped. Surely, he wasn’t still on board when the Capital drew near.

Except Sid could see that the mainsails were down. He could see where the flames were licking the bottom of them, starting to crawl up. The mainsails were furled when he left the ship, which meant Geno had lowered them. He was doing something to counter the Capital when he realized she wasn’t slowing at the mouth of the bay, which meant he stayed.

Geno was on board when the Capital closed in.

Sid forced his feet to move toward the water. Phil tugged at his arm before he could get more than his toes in the surf. “Sid, wait.”

Men were yelling, saying something about the ship. Sid broke free of Phil’s grasp. The water was up to his calves. He was nearly able to dive in and start swimming when Tanger grabbed him hard.

“Stop it,” Tanger hissed. “How are you going to help, swimming out there alone? We’re getting the boats.”

“Let me go!” Sid ordered, and when the order failed, he swung an elbow into Tanger’s ribs. “Tanger, let go! Geno is out there! He’s still on the Penguin.”

“Like I said, we’re getting the boats,” Tanger said calmly. “Geno can swim for a few minutes while we get out to him.”

The Penguin’s main mast cracked loud enough to hear from shore and keeled over. Sid’s stomach turned.

More men were appearing, getting into the longboats. They were going out to the Penguin. Tanger was right. Geno probably made it. He probably got out. He was probably swimming toward shore now, cursing and thoroughly annoyed. They would haul him into one of the boats and bring him back, and Sid would spend days calming him down while he snapped and lashed out at everything.

The boats went out filled with men. Tanger stayed with Sid on shore. “They’ll get him,” Tanger said, and he sounded so confident. “They’ll bring him back.”

But the boats went out and came back, and all they brought was the goddamn bird.

“We found the poor thing exhausted, flying around the ship,” Knuckles said, Pierre clinging to his arm as he disembarked the boat. Pierre flapped over to sit on a driftwood perch near Sid.

“Did you find Geno?” Tanger called.

The whole crew of both boats froze, and Sid’s heart did the same. Finally, Horny spoke up with an apologetic grimace. “No, no one was on board.”

“No... No body?” Tanger asked.

Horny shook his head. “Nothing.”

Sid’s knees were going to give out if he didn’t sit. He stumbled to the driftwood log where Pierre perched. Tanger followed him, sat beside him.

“It’s okay,” Tanger insisted as he squeezed Sid’s arm. “This could be good. He wasn’t on board when they started the fire. That’s good.”

Or it could mean Geno got injured and went overboard and drowned. It could mean he died alone, waiting for Sid to come back.

“Sid, there’s no reason to think he’s dead. Geno’s smart. He would have jumped as soon as the Capital approached.”

“Then where is he?” Sid snapped. “He would have made it to shore by now. Where is he?”

Tanger didn’t have an answer to that. His forehead creased with worry when he looked out over the water, but he tried to mask it when he looked back at Sid. “He’ll show up. And when he does, we’ll chirp him forever for swimming so slow. You’ll see. In a few minutes, he’ll be-”

“Help!”

Sid jumped at the cry, loud and shrill and very close to his ear. He turned away from Tanger to look at the bird who made the noise. Pierre bobbed up and down wildly, what Geno termed ‘dancing.’

“Sid! Help!”

Sid’s blood ran cold. The damn bird only repeated Geno. He was echoing Geno’s last words.

“Help! Help! Sid!”

Tanger threw sand at Pierre and wrapped an arm around Sid. “Shh, it’s doesn’t mean anything. The bird is an idiot, you know that.”

The bird was an idiot. But he repeated Geno. Those words were Geno’s. Geno died screaming for him, begging him to help. Tears built up and spilled over onto his cheeks and he curled in on himself, twisting away from a pain he couldn’t escape.

Tanger rubbed his back in gentle circles and shooed the rest of the men away. Sid hardly noticed as they shuffle away down the beach, some busying themselves with the longboats while others turned back toward town. Tanger pulled on him until Sid was tucked up against his side, hugged him close, and wove fingers into his hair. He rocked Sid gently and made soothing noises until his own sobs silenced them.

Sid felt tight, like a weatherworn sail nearing the end, about to rip away from the yard in a stiff wind. And he wanted to tear. He wanted to not be able to handle this, to end up a lunatic. Any moment, he felt he would break and it would be over, but the moments kept coming. Tanger kept holding him, weeping, and Sid kept processing everything just fine.

He didn’t break. He burned. Instead of madness, Sid’s belly lit with fury.

“Ovi did this.”

“Yeah, Sid. I know. I’m so sorry.”

Sid straightened up and wiped the tears off his face. The Penguin was wrecked, still smoldering and without a main mast. But there were three other ships in the bay.

“I want to kill him,” Sid said flatly.

“I know. Sid... I know.”

“No,” Sid said, jumping to his feet. “I mean it. I want to go after him.”

Tanger watched him pace toward the water and back. “Sid... The Penguin’s mast is... She’s not going anywhere.”

“Then we don’t take the Penguin.”

Tanger’s eyes traveled out to the bay and widened. “You mean...”

“I don’t know when we’ll get another chance. We could hunt him for years and never see the Capital again. I want to go after her. Catch her. Kill him. If we go now-”

“If we go now, we’ll all be killed. We’re not ready. You’re not thinking straight. Half the men are still drunk- Hell, I’m still drunk. Besides, there’s only one ship out there that would catch the Capital, and Giroux would never let you near her.”

“Let?” Sid said, eyebrow arched.

Tanger straightened with actual fear in his eyes. “Sid... You’re talking about... stealing from a pirate. That’s against the code.”

“The code,” Sid repeated bitterly, because the code hadn’t done anything for him. The code hadn’t saved Geno, saved the Penguin. “Get the men together. Take half back to the Penguin. Assuming the hold is still intact, have them gather up all the powder, shot, and oil we’ve got and get it on deck.”

“The deck is still on fire.”

“Douse it. I’ll take the rest to the Flyer.”

“You’ll never get her going before Giroux catches you. You’ll never get the sails dow-”

“Tanger,” Sid snapped. He ducked his head and pulled in a breath “There isn’t time to argue. We need to act. If you’re right, we never make it out of the bay and Giroux will call for my neck in a noose. I can live with that. But I can’t live knowing I stood by and let Ovi burn my ship and kill Geno without doing anything. I need you on my side. Please. Help me.”

Tanger finally rose from the log and nodded, subdued. “I’ll gather the men.”

Sid watched him walk away. He sighed and wandered over to a few scattered, jagged rocks. He found one he could lift, barely, and hauled it up. He hefted it over to the nearest longboat pulled up on the beach, a boat belonging to one of the other ships in the bay, and dropped the rock carelessly onto the hull. He heard the wood crack under the pressure, but he did it twice more to be certain before he moved on to the next boat.

“Hey Cap,” Phil said, approaching slow and easy, like they were having a perfectly normal evening. “What are you doing there?”

“Making sure nobody can follow us. We need to break all the hulls but the Penguin’s boats. If they have to swim, it’ll give us time to get underway.”

“So it’s true. Tanger’s not just drunk. We’re stealing a ship.”

“Sure are.”

Phil watched him lift the rock once more and drop it. He shrugged. “Cool,” he said, and he walked away to get another rock for himself.

With the boats disabled, Sid handpicked the half of his crew he needed to get the Flyer going and directed the rest of them into a boat with Tanger to get back to the Penguin.

“Have everything ready to go when we pull alongside. We won’t have much time to do this.”

Tanger looked at him like he had already gone too far, but he had no idea how far Sid was willing to go to get Ovechkin’s blood on his hands. This would be their breaking point, he was sure. If they survived this, if Tanger saw what Sid was going to do to Ovechkin, their cracked friendship would shatter.

Sid was surprised by his own willingness to let the friendship go, to lose everything, for revenge. Because when it was all said and done, he would go back to an empty cabin. He would never wake up under a sprawl of limbs again. He wanted Ovechkin to know that pain, to feel that loss. He turned away from Tanger and helped the men push the longboat into the water.

Before they got more than ten feet from shore, a flash of blue cut through the night. Pierre landed on the bow of the boat. Sid frowned, but Pierre stayed quiet, so he ignored him.

“What’s the plan, Captain?” Oleksiak asked as he manned an oar.

“As soon as you start dropping sails, somebody on shore is going to tell Giroux what’s happening. It’ll start a timer. We have to get out of the bay before Giroux can get his crew back to the Flyer. Which means-”

“You need the sails dropped as fast as possible.”

“Yeah.”

“No problem, Captain. I gotcha. I’ll have the sails full before Giroux knows what hit him.”

“Good. There’s one snag, though. We’re going to have to stop by the Penguin.”

Oleksiak frowned. “If we stow the sails, then unfurl them again...”

“They’ll catch up. Yeah. So I want to stop her with the sails down.”

“Well...” Oleksiak mused. A crease formed between his eyebrows as he thought. “You could drop anchor as we get in close, but you’d have to cut it loose after.”

“Will the sails hold for that?”

Oleksiak looked up at the Flyer, and his apprehensive expression turned determined. “They’ll hold. I’ll make sure they hold.”

They reached the Flyer shortly after. As expected, it was empty. Nassau was supposed to be safe. There was no reason for anyone to guard the ship. Sid climbed up onto the deck with Jake and Sheary. The kids lowered the lines to pull the longboat up while Sid acquainted himself with the ship. She was smaller than the Penguin, lighter and faster. Sid counted only eight cannons aboard, compared to the Penguin’s twenty. If they had the time, they could move a few over, make the Flyer ready for a fight, but the clock would start to tick as soon as Oleksiak scaled the main mast and lowered the topsail.

Sid climbed the stairs up to the quarter deck and stopped at the top, the wind taken out of him. He wasn’t supposed to be on the Flyer. He should have been on board the Penguin, still in bed with Geno. He never should have left Geno alone on their ship.

Ovechkin forced him into action, forced him to leave Geno alone and exposed. He found his strength in anger again, scaled the final step, and strode up to the wheel. He touched the worn places on the wheel where Claude Giroux had placed his hands for years while his crew buzzed around below him on the deck.

The ship looked small and shallow compared to the Penguin. He knew that meant she was fast enough to speed after the Capital, but it also made her feel less secure. But he only had to put up with her for a while. Just long enough to hunt Ovechkin down, to get his hands on whatever Ovechkin loved and break it in front of him.

What would Geno think of his revenge plot? Usually, Sid was the one calming down Geno’s outrage, soothing his anger. When Sid lost his temper, Geno usually just thought it was hot. But Sid didn’t think Geno would approve of taking the whole crew along with his furious plan, risking their lives to make Ovechkin pay.

“Sid?” Jake asked hesitantly. Sid looked over and found him hovering at the top of the stairs. “The longboat is secure. Should we...”

Sid nodded. “We’ll pull the anchor first, then Big Rig can drop the sails.”

He helped the men reel the anchor in, a heavy job even on a small ship. Then he nodded at Oleksiak.

“Give me mains first. If we can’t drop the foresails until we’re clear of the bay, it’s fine.”

“Oh, we’ll drop the foresails,” Oleksiak said, and he was gone, scaling the ratline.

Sid returned to the wheel.

The mainsails were down before he heard shouting from shore, indistinct and angry voices. He didn’t look. He turned the wheel and the wind gave him enough push to get moving, sluggishly at first. Thankfully, the wind was on his side. The Penguin was on the other side of the bay, intentionally resting as far away from the Flyer as Geno could park her. He aimed that direction, gripped the wheel tight, and hoped Giroux’s crew weren’t strong swimmers.

By the time Sid maneuvered the Flyer close enough to his ailing ship to drop the anchor, they were moving at a good clip. Jake hovered by the anchor release on the deck, looking worried. Sid nodded at him. “Drop anchor and brace,” Sid called.

Jake took a steadying breath and released the anchor. The chain started to run, her huge links clunking off the side of the deck. Jake lunged for a hold on the rail. Sid gripped hard onto the wheel. Above him, Oleksiak was inside the crow’s nest, hunkered down to keep from going over.

The anchor caught and threw Sid forward. The stern swung hard over toward the Penguin. The anchor stuttered across the sea floor a few times before it caught, jerking Sid around while he clung desperately to the wheel. He could barely see the crew on the Penguin throwing out hooks to reel the Flyer in and bind the ships together. The sails caught the wind and yanked the Flyer forward again while the crew on the Penguin pulled her in.

The Flyer still jerked under his feet once she was lashed to the Penguin, yanking against the ropes with sails full of wind. Sid let go of the wheel and made an unsteady journey down the stairs to get to the Penguin. He tried not to look too long at her cracked mast, her burn scars, the tatters of her sails.

Tanger was already organizing the transport of barrels and ammunition from the Penguin to the Flyer, hurriedly instructing the crew in systematized lines while they all tried to keep their footing. The Flyer was doing a number on the Penguin’s stability, thrashing like a swordfish on a hook.

Sid hopped the railing onto his ship. The deck crunched under his feet and turned his stomach. The wet and charred wood warped under his boots. He clapped a hand on Tanger’s shoulder. “Good, keep them going. I just have to grab something.”

Tanger nodded as Sid strode for his cabin. He shouldered through the still smoking door into a mess. The Capital’s attack must have rocked the Penguin nearly to capsizing, because everything was scattered across the floor. Their wardrobe was turned over on its face. He pushed it up to access it, then changed from the stolen clothes into his own things, put on his boots, and snatched up his hat.

Geno’s belt was still hung next to his on the hook by the door. Sid paused, fingers resting on his own belt buckle. Geno’s sword and pistols were still hung there. If Geno didn’t make it back into the cabin and get his weapons, what did that mean? The Capital wasn’t exactly sneaking up on them. How could Geno not have had time to come back to the cabin?

Sid put on his own belt and made his way back to the Flyer with his sword bumping against his thigh. He paused one final second on the deck of the Penguin, looking her over, and then jumped the rail and strode back onto the Flyer. “Cut her loose,” he ordered to the nearest men.

The Flyer rocked like a wild horse lunging against its rider. Sid moved with the motion of the ship as he made his way back to the helm. He gripped onto the wheel just in time, because the Flyer jerked hard when the ropes tying her to the Penguin cut loose. “All hands brace. Jake, cut the anchor. Catch every bit of wind you can give me, boys. We’re going hunting.”

The ship gave one last giant lurch when Jake released the chain and let it drop into the sea. The Flyer rocked back and forth, but she also jumped forward. The sails strained and the masts groaned, but she held together. He steered them out of the Bay of Nassau and into the open sea. In the far distance, lit by the full moon, he could just see the Capital on the horizon. With any luck, they would catch her by noon.

When the supplies were stowed and tied and he’d ensured the men knew their positions, Tanger climbed up to the quarterdeck to lean on the rail by the wheel. “You do have a plan, right?”

“Why did you agree to this if you didn’t think I had a plan?”

“Because you asked. And that fuck-face killed Geno and I want to see him suffer for it. But you’re talking about taking our crew up against, basically, a military vessel. Ovi’s crew... They’re not merchants. They know what they’re doing.”

“So do I,” Sid said low.

“Two years as a cabin boy for the French navy doesn’t make you a military mastermind. How the hell are you going to sink a ship twice the size of the Flyer with nothing more than a few barrels of powder and whale oil?”

“I have a plan,” Sid assured him.

Tanger studied him. “No, you don’t. You have part of a plan. If you had a plan, you’d tell me.”

“Fine, I have part of a plan. But that’s better. It’s strategy. Plans change. Best to be flexible.”

“What’s the part of the plan?”

“First, we catch up with the Capital.”

“If that’s seriously as far as you’ve gotten, let me off.”

Sid glared. “The plan’s not going anywhere if we don’t catch her.”

“Okay, okay. Fine. So we catch her and then...?”

Sid scratched the back of his neck. It was a tick, something he had always done when he was irritated, but he couldn’t help it. Geno would know what to do to settle him, would either chirp him or soothe him, depending on the situation. Geno would know.

“Sid?”

“Right, yeah. Sorry. We can’t take her one on one. So we’ve got to even the fight-”

“Help!”

Tanger jumped when Pierre screeched next to him on the railing. “Christ,” he snapped, swatting at the parrot. “Why is that thing here?”

“Dunno, he followed us,” Sid said as Pierre settled on the other side of the railing, away from Tanger.

“Help! Sid! Sid!”

“Should I shoot him?”

“No,” Sid said immediately, though his insides were twisting up again with the reminder that Geno was gone. “Geno lov- Leave him be.”

“Nyet!”

Sid’s brow creased. Why would Geno be speaking Russian unless... Surely, Ovechkin didn’t come aboard himself to kill Geno.

“Sid! Sid!”

Hope could be very dangerous sometimes, he knew. Hope, when it contradicted reality, could lead men to madness. Still, Sid turned his head to look at the parrot, and something unbearably painful inside him eased with hope. Pierre was bobbing as hard as he could, looking a little frantic.

“Sid!” Tanger snapped, clearly having tried a few times. Sid jerked and turned back to him.

“Yeah, sorry. What?”

“You were telling me the plan? To sink the Capital.”

Sid stared at him. Pierre continued his refrain, squawking the same few words. “Help! Sid!”

“Sid?”

Sid took a breath. “I’m not going to sink her.”

Tanger’s jaw fell slack. “You’ll get us all killed. We can’t take her, Sid. She’s a fucking frigate.”

Sid looked back at Pierre. Pierre flapped wildly, or as wildly as he could when he was clearly spent of energy. He was desperately trying to get his message across.

“Please tell me your plan is not to try to capture a frigate.”

“I can tell you that, if you want,” Sid replied. He held up a hand against Tanger’s response. “Look, it’s a good plan. I think it’ll work. And if it doesn’t, the Flyer is fast enough to get away. I won’t just get us killed.”

Tanger paused and then settled with his hip against the railing. “Okay. So tell me.”

Sid side-eyed Pierre again. Pierre gave a half flap of his wings and bobbed once. “The way I see it, the Capital’s got one big advantage,” Sid said, tearing his eyes from the bird. “Firepower. As long as she can reach us with her cannons, it’s only going to take one solid volley to take us down.”

“And you think you can neutralize her cannons?”

“I think we can run her out of shot without ever taking a direct hit.”

“How do you think we’re going to manage that?”

“The Capital is heading straight for Cat Island, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“She is. At this clip, she’ll get there around midday. That’s when we strike. Several of the men will scour this ship for every rum bottle they can find, and they’ll spend all night filling them with oil. When we get to Cat Island, a small team will go overboard with all the filled bottles. We’ll make for shore and get set up at various points along the cliffs, where they overhang the deeper water on the North side.”

Tanger was staring at him with a tight expression, a combination of confused and unimpressed.

“We’ll each have a flint and strips of cloth. We’ll pull the corks, push the clothes down in the bottles, and wait.”

Tanger’s eyebrows shot up. “Wait for what?”

“For Reavesy to bring us the Capital. I’ll hand the wheel over to Phil when I go ashore, but the bulk of it will be on Reaves. He’ll direct the men to fire whatever it takes to get the Capital to turn around. Once he’s got their attention, he’ll drop barrels of powder, wicked up to explode right in Ovi’s face. He’ll piss ‘em off so bad, they’ll follow the Flyer anywhere.”

“And you’ll lead them right into a trap,” Tanger said.

“Exactly. There’s a turn where the Flyer can dip in between the rocks. It’ll look like she’s making her escape. That’s when Ovi will fuck up. He’ll follow her in instead of risking losing her, and then we’ll have a good two hundred feet to attack.”

“Two hundred feet isn’t much.”

“It’s enough. When we see her coming, we throw everything we’ve got. We aim for the sails and set them ablaze, give them a taste of their own fucking medicine. She’ll get out of the rocks and free of Cat Island, but she’ll be adrift without sails.”

“Why aren’t we just going for the deck, then? Make them abandon ship when she’s on fire.”

“No,” Sid said immediately, gut twisting at the idea. “No, we can’t do that.”

“Why? Getting them off the Capital seems more useful than killing her sails. Then we’ll just have to, what, sail around her until she spends her cannon shot?”

“We can’t set the deck on fire, Tanger.”

“Give me one good reason why not.”

“Because if Geno’s alive, we could kill him.”

“Oh, Sid. Honey.”

“Stop it. I’m not delusional. They might have captured him.”

“That’s not really like Ovi,” Tanger said gently. “I’ve never heard of him capturing a pirate alive before.”

Sid knew that. He had all the same information as Tanger, plus something else. “Pierre... He’s saying help,” Sid said.

Tanger shook his head perplexedly.

“Geno wouldn’t have thought I could reach him in time to help if he was about to be killed. He told Pierre to get help, so he must have thought I could do something.”

“Sid...”

“I know. It’s not exactly solid evidence. But if there’s even the slightest chance he’s alive, Tanger... I can’t sink the Capital.”

Tanger frowned at him for a long time before he ducked his head and sighed. “Okay.”

“Yeah? Just like that?”

“Call it stupid optimism,” Tanger said with a wry grin that dropped away when he continued. “I want him to be alive, too.”

“Thank you. Having you on my side, it means a lot.”

Tanger nodded solemnly and pushed away from the rail. “Of course, Sid. I’ll get the men to gathering bottles.”

Sid watched him go before he turned to Pierre. The parrot was still awake, barely. His eyelids were drooping, but they popped open when he saw Sid looking. “Hey,” Sid said, feeling extremely foolish. “Uh... Geno says you understand a lot more than you say.”

Pierre shook to puff his feathers out. It looked remarkably like the bird version of a casual shrug.

“So... Uh, he’s alive, isn’t he?”

Pierre bobbed up and down twice. “Help.”

Sid swallowed. It wasn’t much to go on. It wasn’t much to attach his hope to. But it was something. He clung tight to that hope as they sailed into the night, chasing distant red sails.

*********************

They reached Cat Island just before noon with the Capital within striking distance. A final push and they would be able to catch her with a long nine shot from the bow. Sid relinquished the wheel to Phil as they approached the island.

“Cap, are you sure about this?” Phil asked. “I could go instead.”

Sid thought back to the wide-eyed girl on Nassau, worried about Phil. “No. I want you manning the wheel. Like we discussed, you hit hard and then get out. Don’t engage. Just get Reavesy close enough to piss Ovi off.”

“Roger fucking that. I’m not going near that beast. Good luck.”

“You too,” Sid said warmly. He tucked a flint into his pocket and turned to descend the steps to the deck. Tanger was waiting with three-dozen bottles sitting on the rail, wrapped together in small bundles and protected from breakage by cushions of coiled rope. Each bundle was tethered by a longer rope between them, keeping them all tied together “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Tanger replied. “Are you sure this is going to work?”

“If you have a better idea, this is the time, Tanger.”

Tanger shook his head. “Not really,” he sighed, and crossed himself. The island was fast approaching.

“Reavsey,” Sid called, and the muscular gunner came swaggering up. “You know the plan, eh? Shoot across her stern, into her mast. No shots to the body, though. Don’t try to sink her, just get her attention.”

Reaves smiled eagerly. “Oh yeah, I can definitely do that.”

“Good man. I’m counting on you.”

“I won’t let you down.”

Sid clapped him on one enormous shoulder. He took a final look around the Flyer at his determined crew, readying themselves for battle, then he turned for the railing.

They were cutting a path as close to the island as they could get. The jagged rocks of Cat Island were sticking up from the water barely two ship-lengths away, allowing Sid and his team to make a short swim to shore. Tanger had gathered Jake and Sheary for the task. The kids looked nervous, quiet and solemn as they awaited his order.

On another day, under different circumstances, Sid might have given a speech. He might have rallied his boys with rousing words. Or Geno would. Instead, Sid nodded at them. They knew the stakes.

They pitched the bottles out with a heave, holding their breath as the oil flew. The bottles bobbed up and down in the surf. None looked broken. Sid sighed with relief and climbed the rail. He dove into the water clear of the Flyer and swam for the bottles. He heard the other splashes behind him, the rest of his small team. He reached the floating bottles and checked them quickly for damage while the others caught up.

They pushed the oil toward the islands, and Sid spared a glance back. The Flyer was dropping the last of her sails, pushing to a faster speed to close the gap between her and the Capital. With luck and wind on their side, they would be within range in less than half an hour.

The swim was tough in full clothes, weighed down with his pistols on his hip and his sword bobbing against his thigh, but he needed to keep everything on him. He needed his weapons if they succeeded. Besides, he was a strong swimmer. He would make it.

They drug the bottles up on shore and cut the bundles free of each other, then started the process of ferrying them up to the top of the cliff overhanging the sea. It was a tedious process, dangerous. Sid tried to ignore the sound of cannon fire in the distance as he shouldered a bundle and used one hand to climb a nearly vertical surface.

Each trip seemed to take ages, but they couldn’t carry more than a few bottles at a time while maintaining a grip on the rocks. By the time Sid put the last bottles down on top of the cliffs, the sun was dipping into late afternoon. He looked out over the water and started. The Flyer was much closer than expected, sailing with speed back toward the island with the Capital bearing down on her rear. It was working. The Capital took the bait.

“Alright, boys. This is it. Everybody take as many bottles as you can carry and fan out. We’ll have one chance at this. Aim for her sails.”

Sid took four bottles and made for the end of the cliff, so he would be the last one throwing. In part, it was to ensure that he could pick up whatever slack remained. But there was another reason. Tanger settled in near him, but not too close. Good. Tanger wouldn’t approve. Sid knelt to start yanking the corks out of the bottles. He pulled out a pocket full of flannels and got to work stuffing the cloths into the bottles. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Flyer maneuvering between the rocks just off shore.

The Flyer careened past them at full speed as they got the cloths into the bottles. Sid pulled out his flint and struck it. He set fire to the leftover rags to use as an ignition point. At the front, Jake was lighting his first bottle as the Capital drew in, following the path of the Flyer between the high cliffs of the island.

The Capital looked huge and imposing. She had three masts compared to the Flyer’s two, and the top of her main mast was at eye-level when she came into range. Sid held his breath as Jake stood and flung the bottle. It shattered against the main foresail and a burst of flame fanned out. Jake didn’t hesitate. He kept throwing bottles at the mainsails as Sheary took up the same on the foresails. Their aim was true. Most bottles hit the canvas as anticipated and shattered into bursts of fire.

Shots began to fire up from the deck immediately. The Capital’s crew was shooting up at them, but the angle was bad and it was already too late. Fires had begun to catch on all the mainsails, and it was licking up the foresails from the bottom before Tanger even threw his first missile. Men on deck were shouting, scrambling to get the fires doused as the ship careened on, close enough for Sid to light his first bottle and pitch it at the top foresail. He tossed another before the bow drew even with him. He pitched his last bottles at the mainsails as they came near.

Sid tensed. He knew there would be a moment, just as the mizzen mast came past them, where his position would be totally hidden from the deck by the sails. The mizzen sails were barely touched, only the bottommost sail showing some flame. There would be a moment, in a matter of seconds, when he would be invisible.

This was the part of the plan Sid didn’t tell anyone about. He carefully slipped the knife out of his boot and took a few steps back to give himself some speed. It would be a long jump, longer than he was confident he could make, but he had to. For Geno. If Geno was alive, Ovechkin would figure out pretty quickly why the Flyer was tailing them. His first move would be to hurt Geno, to use him as leverage against Sid. Sid had to be on board before the Flyer made her approach, so he could stop whatever Ovechkin would try. He took a couple of heaving breaths in preparation.

Tanger saw him move and turned. His eyes went wide. “Sid, no!” he hissed.

Sid sprinted to the edge of the cliff, aimed for the very edge of the mizzen mainsail, where it was just close enough to the cliffs, and leapt. The impact was surprisingly painful, his right shoulder crushing against the canvas hard. He sunk his knife into the sail with his left hand and painfully reached to grip the handle with both hands. His muscles trembled as the friction slowed his progress. He dropped from the sail to the wooden yard above the deck, crouched, and held his breath.

The crew below him was busy putting out fires. They never looked back at the mizzen sails. They never saw him leap. He crept to the ratline, climbed up to the top yard, and hauled himself into the crow’s nest. There, hidden from the eyes of the Capital’s crew, he slumped back against the mast and caught his breath.

Far below, he could hear a sharp voice snapping out orders in English and Russian in turn, seamlessly bouncing between the two. Ovechkin. Sid should have known his crew was half English. Privateers and bounty hunters tended to be just as international as pirate vessels.

The crew seemed mostly busy dealing with the fires. He could hear them on the ratlines, passing buckets up to splash on the sails. Some of the men must also have been manning cannons, though, because a sudden concussive blast rang out as eighteen port-side cannons fired. Sid kept down in the crow’s nest, hidden and silent, until he heard the voices retreat from the ratlines back down to the deck.

He poked his head up after the first few rounds of cannon fire to check on the Flyer. The Capital was dead in the water without sails, but the fires were doused. She had drifted on momentum free of Cat Island, out into open water. The Flyer was circling out of range of the Capital’s cannons. Shots fired again, eighteen rounds splashing harmlessly into the sea.

“Stop!” Ovechkin snapped. “Stop firing. They want us to. They’re baiting us to run out of ammo.”

Sid’s heart sank. They hadn’t even fired three rounds, and Ovechkin had already figured out the plan.

“Let them approach,” Ovechkin yelled. “Pirates want to attack me? Let them come. And someone bring me the fucking prisoner.”

Another voice, softer, answered Ovechkin questioningly. Sid peeked down and saw Ovechkin speaking to a blond man, his first mate. He couldn’t hear anything from his perch, only able to hear the previous booming yells because Ovechkin was shouting.

The blond apparently lost the fight, because Ovechkin handed him something and walked away to approach the cannons. He spoke to the men in the process of loading rounds and they stood down. The blond moved toward the hold and gestured for two more men to follow him down.

“We can take them in a fight, boys,” Ovechkin yelled, moving away from the cannons. “Hand-to-hand, we’re more experienced. We’re disciplined. And we need their sails. Let them come and we will take them down!”

Sid couldn’t help but admire his balls. It wasn’t what Sid expected to happen. He thought Ovechkin would try to limp his ship toward a harbor with a third of her sails, using cannon shot to keep the Flyer at bay. He thought they would eventually run out of ammo. The Penguin’s crew was always going to have to board the Capital. It was always going to come down to a hand to hand fight. It was just happening sooner than expected.

His eyes were drawn back to movement from the cargo doors. The blond man reappeared on deck with something in his hand. A rope, by the look of it. He tugged on it and the two huge guys who went down with him reappeared, struggling with someone.

Someone tall with long legs and straight shoulders, much stronger than he looked as he yanked against his captors and nearly freed himself. Someone utterly fucking familiar. Sid almost cried out at the sight of Geno when they finally got him wrestled out onto the deck.

The blond was holding a rope attached to Geno’s hands, which were bound in front of him. The two big guys had a hold on each elbow, but they were struggling. Sid could hear Geno snapping curses from the crow’s nest. Sid pressed his hand to his mouth and took a few shaky breaths. Geno was alive. He was so alive, kicking his bare feet at the piece of shit holding his right elbow. Sid couldn’t force his eyes away even as the deck grew blurry with unshed tears.

The big guy on the left shoved Geno down and the blond yanked on his rope. Geno’s knees slammed into the deck. Sid wanted to jump out of the crow’s nest and make his way down to fight the whole fucking crew himself for the mistreatment.

Ovechkin sauntered up. Sid could barely make out the glare on Geno’s face from so far away. Ovechkin put his hand under Geno’s chin and held him in place while he talked. Geno thrashed against him uselessly, since the two big guys were holding him down by the shoulders. Ovechkin was speaking. He could hear the murmur of his voice, but couldn’t make out the words. He gestured out at the Flyer and Geno shook his head. Ovechkin slapped him and Sid forced himself down into the crow’s nest, shaking with fury. His anger wouldn’t help. He would do something rash and get them both killed.

He peeked up again and found Ovechkin walking away from Geno with his hands threaded into his hair. He looked frustrated. Sid smirked. Geno had a way of doing that to people. The blond and the two big guys wrestled him back to his feet. Geno spat on the deck in Ovechkin’s direction before he went, which earned him a smack to the back of the head from one of the big guys. Sid would remember him, with his shaggy brown hair. Sid would hurt him. He just had to bide his time.

Geno disappeared into the hold, struggling the whole way. Sid watched until he was gone.

It was only a matter of time before Phil dared the approach. He gave it a couple of false starts, and when the Capital didn’t shoot, he brought her in.

“Swords at the ready, boys. Give them everything,” Ovechkin yelled.

Sid looked over the crow’s nest again. The Capital’s crew was nervously waiting, ready to fight as soon as the Flyer came close enough. He had time. The entire crew was facing out toward the Flyer on the starboard side. He could make it down if he was careful. He climbed out of the crow’s nest and crept toward the port ratline.

Every moment he was on the ratline, he was totally exposed. He could be shot down or mobbed at the bottom. He took the descent as fast as he dared until his feet touched down on the poop deck. He crouched and he was hidden from the main deck’s view. There were two men just below him on the quarterdeck, but they weren’t facing him. He was safe for the moment. He crept to the port railing and looked over. He could just make out a few places to hold, something he could use to make his way down the side of the ship.

When he peeked at the starboard side again, he saw the first of the Flyer’s hooks sink into the side of the Capital, pulling her in to tie her up.

He waited until the first pistol fired and then he rose. He climbed swiftly over the side of the ship and put his feet on the places he’d identified. He barely had a grip on the side when the Flyer pulled flush and rocked the Capital hard enough to nearly send him flying. He gripped hard while the ship settled, righted himself, and started his descent.

The climb down was perilous, the hull wet with seawater. He inched his way down until he was below the deck, on an even plane with the cannon ports. They were thankfully open, giving him a way into the ship’s underbelly. He moved toward them, forcing himself to move deliberately. If he fell, it would take ages to climb back up.

Sid reached the first cannon port. It was just large enough for a man, if the barrel of the cannon weren’t in the way. He pushed on it with a hand and it barely budged an inch. Which made sense. It was supposed to be moved by four men, working together to reload and return it to the port. But he needed to move it.

Sid found a handhold above the cannon port door and planted first one foot then the other against the muzzle of the cannon. He prayed his hands keep their grip as he leaned out and put all his weight against the cannon. It moved a little. He pushed harder and it slid back until his shin hit the top of the port door. He got his feet inside the hold and lowered himself into the belly of the Capital.

Compared to the chaos above, the hold was quiet. He could still hear the clang of swords, the pistol shots, but it was muted. The light was dim. He crept through the seemingly deserted underbelly of the ship.

Sid froze at the sound of an appreciative whistle and turned sharply toward the stern. Geno leaned on the door of an iron-barred cell, arms hung out between the bars. He blatantly checked Sid out, eyes traveling down and up again. Sid rushed toward him with his heart racing and kissed him through the bars.

“Hi Sid.”

“Geno,” he breathed against Geno’s mouth. His hands threaded into Geno’s hair, holding him close. He was real. He wasn’t just a hopeful hallucination from the top yard. He was real and warm and alive under Sid’s hands.

“We have to stop meet like this,” Geno said wryly.

Sid laughed, but it was definitely closer to a sob. “Yeah. For real.” He pulled back to soak in the sight he thought he’d never see again, and saw Geno’s split lip, his bruised eye. The fire that was quenched in him when he saw Geno sparked anew.

Geno touched his cheek tenderly, and Sid leaned into it.

“How’s Penguin?”

“Uh, survived. Barely. She’s burnt up, but she wasn’t sunk.”

“How you know I’m alive? Pierre?”

“I uh... I didn’t,” Sid said, and no amount of repression would keep the tears from springing up in his eyes again. “Geno, I thought you were dead.”

Geno’s fond expression dropped into worry. “But... Pierre was supposed to tell you.”

“He tried, I think. I didn’t get it.”

“You shoot him?”

“No. He’s on the Flyer-”

“You come on Flyer? I see her outside, but don’t know why she’s here.”

“Right, yeah. Um, I kinda stole it.”

Geno’s mouth dropped open. “You steal a pirate ship?”

“I thought Ovi killed you. I wasn’t thinking straight. I just wanted to hurt him.”

Geno blew out a big breath. “Giroux gonna be pissed.”

“I’ll make it up to him,” Sid said with a shrug, and he pulled Geno in to kiss him again. When he drew back, Geno was smiling tenderly again. He reached up to pass his thumbs under Sid’s eyes, taking care of the tears there. “Where’s the key?”

Geno’s smile fell away. “You not gonna like this.”

“What?”

“Ovi has. He keeps on a necklace.”

“He’s wearing it?” Sid groaned. “How paranoid is this guy?”

“You sneak in here? Where’s crew?”

“They’re coming aboard now. They were on the Flyer. I kind of took another path.”

Geno gave him a weird look, but let it pass. “They fight? They try to beat Capital crew?”

“Yeah. That’s the idea.”

Geno made a face and pulled against the bars like they might suddenly give. “Okay. Help me get out. Crew need me.”

Sid nodded. “Okay. I’ll go get the key.”

“Wait, no,” Geno said, reaching out to grab his wrist before he could back away. “Not what I mean. You can’t fight Ovi.”

“I sure can.”

“Sid, he’s mean. Strong. I try to fight when he board Penguin.”

“You didn’t have a sword. I saw it still in the cabin. I do. I’ll be fine.”

Geno shook his head. “I was try to get the ship going, get her free. Get away from Capital. But Sid, he put down his sword. He tell his men back off. He beat me fair.”

That gave Sid pause. Geno fought like the devil himself. He was probably better at close-quarters combat than Sid was, and definitely better at hand-to-hand. Sid’s hand dropped to the hilt of his sword. “Well then,” he said, “I guess I won’t fight fair.”

“No, wait.”

Sid stepped close to give him a lingering kiss. “I’ll come back. I’ll get you out of here.”

“Sid, no. Just work on the hinges. We can break them.”

“It’ll take too long,” Sid said, and pulled out of Geno’s grip. “I love you. I’ll be back.”

“Sid!”

Sid forced his feet to step away, made himself retreat to the stairs. Geno cursed and shouted at him, but he took the stairs up two at a time and opened the cargo access doors.

He stepped up into chaos. Men were bleeding on the deck while others were locked in combat. Humanity was everywhere, bodies clashing and slamming into each other. He flinched down when a gunshot rang out and got back up just in time to block a sword swinging down at him. He batted it aside with his own sword and shoved the man back.

The guy sneered at Sid, damp, brown hair swinging around his face, and Sid recognized him. He was the big guy who mistreated Geno, who smacked him on the back of the head when he was taking him down to the hold.

“I saw what you did,” Sid said archly. The guy looked confused. “I don’t usually like to kill people.”

The guy’s heavy brow furrowed. “Right. A peaceful pirate.”

“Not anymore.”

The guy lunged and Sid dodged. He let the guy waste his considerable effort missing while Sid dodged out of his way, then he side-stepped and drove his sword through the man’s heart. Sid sneered and shoved him over onto the deck, where he stilled.

A primal roar tipped him off that someone was coming to avenge his freshly-killed shipmate. Sid dodged around a huge man, the other one who dragged Geno up from the hold. The guy was swinging wildly at him with a club. Sid backed into the railing and jumped up onto it before Horny came in from the left and plowed into the guy. He had Jarry right behind him, so Sid left them to handle things and moved on to track Ovechkin.

He found Ovechkin exchanging blows with Muzz, who looked like he was just about depleted. Ovechkin knocked his sword away and grabbed his shirt to pull him close with a sneer. Sid reached them just in time to hear, “You think you can attack my ship?”

Sid bowled into Ovechkin before he could run his sword through Muzz. Muzz rolled away, struggled once to get up, and failed. He collapsed against the deck. Ovechkin barely stumbled from the hit and recovered as Sid got between them. His eyes froze on Sid.

“Crosby.”

“Be honest, are you really surprised? You took my quartermaster.”

Ovechkin’s laugh was harsh and bitter. “I took nothing. I rescued a Russian citizen kidnapped by pirates. He will thank me when he’s home.”

“Wow. You really believe that,” Sid mused, keeping his sword pointed at Ovi as he sidestepped, circling him. “I’ll give you one chance, Ovi. Just call off your men and let me take Geno. He’s all I want. Nobody else has to die.”

Ovechkin sneered. “Every one of my crew would die before we surrender to pirates.”

“Yeah,” Sid said grimly. “I kinda figured you’d say something like that.” He pulled in a big breath and settled his stance with his feet firmly planted, his sword out in front of him, and his body angled away from Ovechkin’s potential blows. “Well. We gonna do this?”

Ovechkin rolled his shoulders and countered Sid’s stance. Typical military man, always working by the books. Even fighting had rules in the navy, and Ovechkin was navy-trained.

Ovechkin struck first. His hit landed against the blade of Sid’s sword and sent shocks up his arm. He struck again before Sid could recover. The hits kept coming until Sid spun away. He stumbled past Ovechkin and set up again just as Ovechkin swung for him. Fighting him was like blocking a tidal wave with an oar. He just kept hitting, each hit harder than the last.

Sid didn’t dodge fast enough and Ovechkin’s blade glanced off his shoulder. He grunted in pain, but used the sudden proximity to punch Ovechkin in the face. That, at least, bought him a few seconds to back away and get his feet firmly under him again.

Ovechkin wiped at the blood on his lip with the back of his hand. Then he adjusted his grip on his sword and advanced again. Sid countered the blows as best he can, deflecting them. He kept his feet moving, edging away from Ovechkin as they fought. Around them, the crew of the Penguin was overwhelmed by the ferocity of the privateers. Sid saw them in flashes of sword blades and flurries of movement. They couldn’t help him. He had to win this alone.

Ovechkin backed him nearly up to the quarterdeck staircase and raised a huge boot to kick him in the stomach. Sid’s back slammed into the capstan. He rolled away from Ovechkin’s sword and scrambled back. He couldn’t draw a breath. The capstan knocked the wind out of him. He crawled up to the quarterdeck stairs and used them to pull himself back up to his feet. Darkness crept in at the edge of his vision as he leaned unsteadily against the stair rail and held his sword out against Ovechkin’s advance.

But Ovechkin wasn’t advancing. He was standing still, watching Sid struggle to take a breath. He was smirking.

“This is Captain Sidney Crosby? Best in the sea?” Ovechkin laughed at him. “After all I heard about you, all I’ve seen of your skill, I really expected better. At least Evgeni put up a fight, and he’s no one. He’s not a military man, deserter or no.”

“Fuck you,” Sid wheezed as his breath comes back.

“Sore subject?” Ovechkin asked coolly. “They still talk about you, on the Oceanic. They say you were a hero.”

Sid drew a full breath. His vision started to clear.

“They say you were a great kid, before Mario Lemieux seduced you-”

Sid clenched his teeth together and lunged for Ovechkin, on the attack for the first time. They locked up, so close he could see the cloudy-day color of Ovechkin’s eyes. Ovechkin shoved him aside and thrust the sword at him. Sid dodged and backed up the quarterdeck stairs. Ovechkin advanced and he retreated until they were fighting near the helm, above the deck.

Sid backed into the wheel and stopped. He was out of room. There was nowhere left to run. He blocked another blow from Ovechkin, panting. Ovechkin looked smug.

“I think I can retire after this,” Ovechkin mused, weighing his sword thoughtfully in his hand. “Take down the most feared pirate captain in the Caribbean. Prove I’m the best ever. Maybe I give the ship to Backy and go home, enjoy life.”

“Oh yeah, totally. And Geno will be there too, thanking you for rescuing him.”

“Evgeni will remember his life, his place. His duty.”

“You’re all about duty, eh? Not very imaginative.”

Ovechkin made a face like he didn’t understand the words. He straightened, prepared to strike again.

It was Sid’s only chance. He had learned in their fight that Ovechkin opened up his midsection when he moved to strike. It wouldn’t be a problem for an officer and a gentleman, if proper fighting etiquette were being followed. It wasn’t enough for a sword to graze, so no real fighter would take the opening. Sid was neither an officer nor a gentleman, and he was desperate. If his play didn’t work, he would die, his whole crew would die, and Geno would be carted back to Russia to face god knew what in their court system.

When Ovechkin moved to strike, Sid dodged in close and brought a knee up as hard as he could into Ovechkin’s crotch. Ovechkin bowled over, gasping and Sid punched him. It took three more hits to knock him down.

Ovechkin groaned, slammed his fist into the wood beneath his hand. He mainly cursed in Russian, but Sid had been around Geno long enough to catch some. He definitely caught the word, “cheat.”

“Yeah,” Sid said, grimacing. “That’s the thing about pirates. We’re not all that trustworthy.”

Ovechkin tried valiantly to bring his sword up and Sid knocked it out of his hand.

“No. We’re done here. You’re done. Tell your men to stand down.”

“Blow me,” Ovechkin hissed in Russian, a phrase Sid was intimately familiar with in a very different context.

Sid kicked him to put him on his back and placed the tip of his sword above Ovechkin’s heart. “Tell your men to stand down, and I’ll drop you off on this island. I’ll let you live.”

“Liar. Why should I believe you?”

“You definitely shouldn’t. But right now, you’re on your back and I have your sword. So you can either tell your men to stand down and hand over the key to Geno’s cell or... Well... I hate the use the word massacre...”

Ovechkin glowered up at him. “I will tear you apart. I will hunt you every day.”

“That’ll be a lot harder to do that if you’re dead.”

Ovechkin seethed, but Sid knew he had won.

“C’mon, big guy. Live to fight another day. Give me the key and call them off.”

With a final tight glare, Ovechkin reached into his shirt and pulled out a necklace. He yanked it off and held it out to Sid. Sid took the key gratefully.

“Do you want some help up?”

Ovechkin looked at Sid like he would rather set him on fire. He rolled to his side and crawled to his feet, then limped painfully up to the railing overlooking the deck. “Everybody, stop,” he called in English, and repeated in Russian. “Stand down. Let the pirates go.”

Swords slowly stopped clashing on the deck. Sid studied Ovechkin’s defiant expression as he looked out over his crew.

“Sid?” Phil called from the deck.

“Yeah, we’ve reached a truce. Sort of. Come help me out up here. Bring some rope.”

Ovechkin didn’t look away from Sid as Phil and Oleksiak got him tied up with his arms bound tight behind his back. His cold eyes followed Sid the whole time as they worked.

“What’s that?” Phil asked, pointing to the key dangling from Sid’s hand.

Sid broke his gaze away from Ovechkin’s glare. “Geno’s freedom.”

“Wait, Geno?” Phil asked, like he hardly wanted to hope.

“Yeah,” Sid breathed with a helpless smile. “He’s in the hold. I’m going to-”

“Yeah. Go! I’ll be right behind you.”

Sid patted Phil’s shoulder gratefully and strode away. He trotted down the stairs with his heart light because they won. They won and Geno was alive. On the deck, his men were tending each other’s wounds while the crew of the Capital stayed carefully away from them. There were bodies, men lying slumped and still on the deck, reminding him that every victory comes with loss, but there would be time for that later. They would mourn their dead when they were safely back on the Penguin.

Sid reached the open cargo doors to the hold and stepped down. He took the steps quickly, descending into the dim light again. He turned a corner and froze at the sight of Ovechkin’s first mate standing outside Geno’s cell pointing a gun at Geno’s head.

“Woah, hey,” Sid said, holding up his hands. The blond watched him with cold eyes. “Hey. Uh, Backy, right?”

Anger flashed over the blond man’s face. “You don’t call me that.”

His accent was strong, but it wasn’t Russian. So there probably wasn’t any appealing to his national loyalty to spare Geno. “Okay. Sorry. I won’t call you that.”

“You always win, don’t you?” Backy sneered. “You pirates. Alex is twice the man you are, and still you win. But not today. You don’t win today.”

Sid glanced past Backy into the cell. Geno looked truly worried for the first time, like until that moment, he really believed Sid had it all figured out.

“Okay,” Sid said. “Sure. I don’t win today. But that’s doesn’t have to mean you shoot him.”

Even Backy’s smile was grim. “What do you propose instead?”

“Just...” Sid tried to think. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t have gone through all this to lose Geno at the end. There had to be a way out, a way to survive.

Backy cocked the gun and Sid fought not to rush him. It would just make him fire before he could get to him.

“Please,” Sid said in an impulsive moment. “Please. Shoot me instead.”

“Sid,” Geno warned.

“No, I’m serious. Shoot me. There’s a truce upstairs, but if you really want it to fall apart, shoot me, not him. If you shoot him, I’ll just fucking kill you before you can reload. And then I’ll go upstairs and kill Ovechkin. Hell, I’ll line up your whole goddamn crew and kill every single one myself.”

“Am I supposed to believe this one won’t do the same thing?” Backy sneered, gesturing at Geno.

“Oh, he totally would. But he’s in a cage. So shooting me is your best bet.”

“Sid, shut up,” Geno growled.

Backy paused, considering, and then nodded. “Very well.”

Sid had a fraction of a second to process the fact that he won before Backy’s hand came around and the gun fired. He got a moment to see Geno lunge at the bars, crying out his name and reaching for him helplessly. And then his world was pain.

The shock of the impact drove him to his knees. Hot agony radiated out from the wound, burning through his chest. He tried reach up, to feel where it went in, but his body wasn’t responding. He could see blood just starting to stain his shirt, dripping down from his upper chest, right above his heart. Did it get his heart? Everything hurt so bad he couldn't tell. He couldn’t take a breath. Blackness was creeping in already, and it couldn’t have been more than a second.

“Sid!” Geno cried. Sid looked up at him. Backy was reloading the pistol with expert movements. Oh god, he was going to shoot Geno, too. This was all for nothing. A desperate sound tore out of Sid’s throat.

“No,” he pleaded. He had to get up. He had to reach Backy to stop him from shooting Geno. He tried to get one foot up. When he pushed, he only made it half way before he fell again. This time, he was on his stomach, too weak and dizzy to try again.

Thank god, the shot must have tipped off the people on the deck because there were voices on the stairs, footsteps. Then, Backy was struggling with someone while Geno snapped out frustrated orders. “Get the key!” he said. “Fucking, just kill him! I don’t care. Get the fucking key. Sid has.”

Someone snapped up the key beside Sid’s hand while another someone knelt beside him.

“Hey, Sid,” Phil said. Sid struggled to look at him. “I gotta turn you, okay? Look at the wound.”

Sid couldn’t help the sound he made when Phil put him on his back. He had heard animals make that sound in traps when their legs were mangled by wire. Phil was tearing his shirt, exposing the place where the ball entered.

Geno crashed in on his other side and reached out. He looked panicked when he touched around the wound and darted a look up at Phil. “What can we do?”

“It’s not that bad,” Phil lied, pressing a hand over the wound. Sid tensed every muscle in his body to keep from thrashing at the pain and a scream nearly tore out of his throat. “Sorry, Sid. I have to check. But if it were bad, I would feel it. Bad wounds kind of... suck. They have air moving through them, so they pull in. Sid, deep breath.”

“Fuck,” Sid wheezed at the jolt of agony when he tried. Geno grasped his hand, and he forced himself to inhale.

“Yeah, we just need to stop the bleeding. I think he’ll be okay. Does the Capital have a doctor?” he called back to somebody over his shoulder.

Footsteps faded away as whoever it is goes to check. Geno petted his free hand over Sid’s hair.

“You going to be okay,” Geno murmured, bending in close. “You going to get all better. And when you do, I get so mad at you. I yell at you all day. You don’t do this. Don’t take shot for me.”

“Sure I do,” Sid rasped, trying to concentrate on anything but the pain. He could barely focus on his words. He squeezed his uninjured hand on Geno’s and fought to grin. “Worth it.”

Geno kissed him on the forehead. There were definitely tears rolling down his cheeks and he was definitely going to be mad that Sid made him cry in front of the men later. “Don’t die.”

“Doing my best, G,” he quipped, but god, he felt like he was dying. His body was getting cold. His hands were shaking. The pain was starting to fade into something quieter, softer, like he was being wrapped in blankets. He turned his head. Backy wasn’t moving over by the cell. There were footsteps above his head, clicking against the deck in a rhythm. Everything was muted and slow and growing darker.

Geno shook his hand as he started to fade. “Stay awake,” he ordered. Sid forced his eyes to stay open, watching Geno’s worried expression as he looked toward the stairs.

“We’ve got a doctor coming,” Phil assured them.

Sid wanted to obey Geno. He wanted to keep himself awake and alert, but his eyelids were so heavy.

“Sid,” Geno reminded him, and he snapped his eyes back open. Geno looked like he was about to break down. “Please. Stay awake.”

Geno looked desperate. It was understandable. Objectively, Sid knew if he slept, he was unlikely to ever wake again. They had watched men die like this, a gunshot to the chest followed by a long sleep, and then they stopped breathing. Sid wanted to comfort him, but staving off sleep was effort enough.

The doctor appeared in his sight with a lit lamp and a steel rod, and suddenly Sid felt very fucking awake. “No,” he begged, grasping at Geno with sluggish hands.

“Hold him down,” the doctor said coldly as he put the tip of the steel rod into the flame of the lamp.

“Geno, don’t.”

Geno looked up at the doctor suspiciously.

“If you don’t want to be treated, that’s your prerogative,” the doctor said in a faintly German-sounding accent as he knelt to look at the wound. “But there’s a shot in there, likely resting up against your shoulder blade. If we don’t get it out, it’ll fester the wound, and... Well, there’s not exactly any way to cut out the bad tissue, is there? Being that it’s so near your heart. But to pull the ball out, we have to make the wound worse. Which will cause a lot more bleeding, which will have to stop somehow.”

Sid gripped onto Geno’s elbow and shook his head, but Geno looked determined. “Sid... he’s a doctor. He says.”

“Your choice,” the doctor said, poking at the wound like Sid was nothing more than an interesting thing he found on the beach.

“No. My choice,” Geno said. “Fix him.”

The doctor nodded. “Hold him.”

Geno jerked his head at the stairs and Phil reappeared, this time with Oleksiak. “Don’t worry. It’ll be over before you know it.” Phil said with a wry grin like he wasn’t pinning Sid’s uninjured shoulder to the deck. Oleksiak practically sat on his legs. And Geno, the fucking traitor, kissed his knuckles before he held down his other arm.

“I’m sorry,” Geno said softly.

“No, you’re not,” Sid accused, and Geno offered a guilty stretch of lips trying to masquerade as a smile. Sid blew out a breath and grimaced. “Okay. It’s okay. Let’s do this.”

“Bite this,” the doctor said, holding a piece of cork up to his mouth. Sid shook his head and the doctor shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

The doctor put on a pair of thin glasses and leaned over the wound. He splashed it with rum and a shock of pain jolted through Sid. He yanked against his captors but they held fast.

“Do be still,” the doctor said, leaning over him with eyes only for the wound. “This will be much worse if you move.”

Sid got one look at the thin, gleaming knife the doctor was moving toward his chest before Geno touched his cheek and tipped his chin up to look at him instead. He squeezed where he had Sid’s arm pinned to the wood. “Hi. Just look at me. Not him.”

Sid opened his mouth to say he didn’t think it was going to matter all that much, but that’s when the doctor dug in without preamble or hesitation. He thrust the knife deep down in the wound, chasing the shot, and Sid clenched his teeth around a scream. Geno squeezed his eyes shut like he could stop Sid’s suffering if he just couldn’t see it.

“I’m nearly there. I can feel the metal.”

The doctor twisted the knife and Sid couldn’t help but buck against Oleksiak and try to kick out. He wasn’t even sure anymore if he was screaming or crying. The pain overwhelmed his other senses.

“Nearly... Just another moment. There!”

The final twist was horrible, the worst one yet, as the doctor leveraged the bullet out. Geno petted his hair. “It’s almost done. So close.”

When the knife left his chest, it felt like being released from hell. He slumped back against the deck, breathing hard. “Fuck, doc. Holy shit,” he panted.

“No,” the doctor said to Geno as he started to move to let Sid go. “There is one more thing.”

The doctor rose and reached for the metal rod, glowing red from its time in the fire. Sid thumped his head back against the deck.

“Okay. Shit. Okay, just gimme a three count.”

The doctor gave an acquiescent tilt of the head, and Sid braced as he leaned over him with the rod. “Ready?”

Sid nodded.

“One, two.” The doctor lowered the rod into the open wound. Sid screamed, but thankfully he couldn’t keep his consciousness for most of it.

*****************

Sid woke up sluggishly in an unfamiliar bed, but with the recognizable rock of waves against a hull. When he cracked an eye open, he saw his chest was wrapped in a clean bandage. He felt slow and fuzzy, like he was very drunk.

“Hey,” Geno said. Sid struggled to turn his head. Geno was sitting on the edge of the bed and reached out to touch his face. “You feel okay?”

Sid’s mouth didn’t respond to his desire to speak. He swallowed and tried again. “Slow,” he mumbled.

Geno looked sympathetic. “Maybe don’t try to talk yet. Doctor gives you laudanum.”

That explained it. Sid’s arm responded better than his mouth did. He tugged on Geno and got his message across. Geno slid into bed with him.

“Doctor say you be okay. Just lots of pain for a few days.”

Sid didn’t feel much of anything, actually. When he moved his injured shoulder, a jolt of something like pain burned down his chest, but it was so distant. He pulled on Geno again until he got a kiss. “You’re alive,” he murmured.

Geno cupped his cheek. “Yeah, I’m alive. It’s okay. I’m not go anywhere. You sleep.”

Sid was more than happy to obey that command. He nuzzled in close to Geno and closed his eyes.

He had no idea how long he drifted in sleep, but when he woke again, it was dark out. Geno was asleep next to him in bed and jumped awake when Sid reached for him.

“You awake,” Geno said, voice rough with sleep. “I go get medicine. Need to take.”

Sid let his fingers fall away as Geno got up and walked across the floor to the desk in the room. There was a small bottle there, which Geno brought back to the bed. He measured the liquid into a small dropper and squinted at it in the dim light.

“Not too much, G.”

“Doctor says twenty drops.”

“Let’s make it ten, eh?”

Geno pressed his lips together in disapproval but adjusted the liquid in the dropper according to Sid’s wishes. “You might have lots pain,” he warned as he held the dropper to Sid’s lower lip.

The laudanum was disgusting, bitter as a lemon rind and overwhelmingly earthy. Sid swallowed it dutifully but vowed not to take another dose if he could help it.

“Is bad?”

Sid nodded miserably.

“Here,” Geno said, reaching for something by the headboard. He held a canteen up to Sid’s lips and poured cool, sweet liquid over the foul taste of the laudanum. He recognized the taste as bumbo, grog flavored with sugar and nutmeg, but he was surprised to find it in this strange cabin. “I make for you,” Geno explained, offering another sip. “Mostly water, only little bit rum. Help with taste?”

Sid nodded. “Yeah, much better.”

“Good. You drink little bit more, okay?”

It wasn’t a difficult request. The bumbo tasted wonderful and cooled his dry throat. He drank as much as Geno deemed necessary before he hung the canteen back in its place by the bed. Geno returned the bottle of laudanum to the desk, tightly corked, before he finally crawled back into bed.

“You okay? Feel sick?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Okay, good. Doctor say maybe you feel sick from laudanum.”

“Nope.”

“Pain gets too bad, tell me. I get more.”

“I think I’ll be fine.”

“You get shot, Sid. Is big deal. Don’t have to be so tough for me.”

Sid grinned at his fussing and captured his hand. “I’m fine, G. Everything’s okay.”

Geno’s worried expression transformed into fondness. “Okay.”

“We made it.”

“Yes. Big adventure. You capture biggest ship ever. So proud.”

Sid blinked and looked around, for the first time realizing what it must mean that he didn’t recognize the room. “This is the Capital.”

“Yeah.”

“Where’s the Flyer?”

Geno laughed. “She’s up front, help tug back to Nassau. Capital’s sails are fucked by some pirate.”

“Aw, man. What a bad guy,” Sid replied wryly.

“Sure. Sails so expensive, that pretty red. All burned up.”

“You kept the whole ship? Wouldn’t it be easier to just take the Flyer back to Nassau?”

“Doctor say is better not. Keep you here, only move you little bit. I drop off all other Capital crew, but keep doctor. In case. Also, maybe we use Capital to fix Penguin. Big Rig rehang some mizzen sails to mains, patch others. Not fast, but we get back to Nassau okay with Flyer helping.”

“That was smart.”

“You like? I’m think you do, when I decide. I’m thinking, what’s Sid do? Then I make most smart decision I can think.”

Sid pulled him in and kissed him. “I love you.”

Geno’s smile faded into something serious and pensive. He gripped Sid’s hand and held it up to rub against his cheek. “I love you, Sid. Most.”

Sid took a while to gather the courage before he spoke again. “Hey, G?”

“Yeah?”

“What if... What if we don’t go back to Nassau?”

Geno frowned curiously. “Be kind of hard to rebuild Penguin if we don’t go to get her.”

“Yeah. What if we don’t rebuild the Penguin?”

“You mean... Keep Capital? I dunno, Sid. She kind of big ship, big ass. Slow.”

“Yeah, no. I don’t mean... What if we head for the colonies? For Port Royal.”

Geno propped himself up to look at Sid pensively. “Port Royal is long way away. Why you want to go there for?”

“It's home, I guess. It's where I came from.”

Geno shrugged. “Okay. We go visit. But we take Penguin. I’m not like to leave her.”

“No, just... I don’t mean for a visit.”

Geno studied Sid, a conflict of confusion all over his face. At least he was getting that Sid was serious, so Sid pressed on in a rush.

“People leave you alone there. It’s nice. We could drop by on the way, empty our stores. We’ve got enough to buy a house and then some.”

“A house,” Geno said flatly.

“Yeah. We can get a place on the coast. Get a little fishing boat. Plant some potatoes.”

Geno’s expression was growing more incredulous with every word. “I’m go talk to doctor. Maybe you not okay.”

“No, G, listen. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while.”

That got him. “Back at Nassau, before Capital. You were going to say...”

Sid nodded. “I know you love being a pirate. But look at this. You’re all beat up, I’m shot. And that’s lucky. One of these days, we’re not going to get lucky.”

“So you want to quit. Go to land.”

“Yeah. I think maybe it’s time.”

To his surprise, Geno laughed at him, bright and uncomplicated, and said, “No way. I’m not deal with that. You say I’m bad on land. You never see you. Get so grouchy and mean.”

“We’ll learn. We’ll get better.”

“No. I don’t want to learn. You don’t want to learn. Is better we run out of luck as pirates.”

“You really don’t want to give it a chance? Have a safe life?”

“I think you get bored with safe life in, like, three days. Maybe this isn’t safe life, but this is good life. Our life. I don’t want to give up, ever.”

Sid leaned up for another kiss, ignoring the stab of pain it caused and the disapproving sound from Geno. “Okay.”

“Okay, we stay with Penguin?”

“Yeah. We’ll stay with the Penguin.”

Geno looked satisfied at that and patted his hand. “Good.”

Sid reached to touch his cheek. His eyelids were heavy again, the pull of medicine dragging him under. He distantly felt Geno kiss him on the forehead before he lost consciousness completely.

The next time he woke, it was to an empty bed. He came to sluggishly in fits and starts, climbing to consciousness before sinking back into sleep. He could hear rustling, the jingle of metal. Something thumped hard against wood. He finally forced his eyes to stay open, to turn his head and look.

Geno was hauling a small chest from the corner of the cabin to the middle of the room. He saw Sid’s eyes open and smiled tightly. “Good morning.”

“What’re you doing?” Sid mumbled.

“Get treasure. Ovi keep Russian gold here, bounty from pirates. I’m take.”

“We have the whole ship. You don’t have to loot it.”

Geno grimaced. “Not for us,” he said, and he looked up at the door like he was expecting someone. “Giroux on his way.”

Sid jolted, much more alert. “We’re at Nassau?” he asked, moving gingerly to sit up and push himself back against the headboard.

“Yes. Arrive not long ago, make anchor. Think, maybe Giroux just take Flyer and go, but he’s come to us now.”

“We can’t kill him,” Sid said reluctantly. “I’ve already broken enough rules in Nassau.”

“I’m not kill him. You see.”

Sid watched as Geno went to get another chest from the corner. He returned to drop it down beside the two already sitting in the middle of the floor. Outside, he could hear voices shouting. Geno looked up with serious eyes. He grabbed Sid’s pistols out of their holsters and strode over to the bed.

“Take this,” Geno said, pressing one of the guns into Sid’s hand. He cupped a hand around the back of Sid’s head and kissed his temple. “Pretend sleep.”

“What? No! I need to be alert in case you need me.”

“You doped up. Probably shoot bad. Besides, Giroux fucking hate you. Pretend asleep, wake up if he shoot.”

Sid made a doubtful face but acquiesced in part. A thump sounded against the door and he slumped back against the pillows with the pistol under the blankets, eyes closed.

He heard the door slam open and cracked his eyes to see Claude Giroux step in, gun drawn. His cold eyes scanned the room and came to rest on Geno. They flicked down to Geno’s gun, which was trained on Giroux.

“I think you’re the wrong Russian for this ship,” Giroux quipped, his tone heavy with irritation. “You’re on quite a tear, stealing from everybody.”

“Ovi deserve. He break Penguin.”

“And what did I do?” Giroux asked, eyebrow arched.

Geno made a placating gesture. “How about we put down guns.”

Giroux laughed bitterly.

“Really,” Geno said, and he slowly lowered his gun to the floor. “I just want talk.”

Giroux’s eyes flicked to Sid, who made sure to shut his eyes completely. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Shot. He’s sleep.”

“Will he live?”

“He live. We have doctor on board, take care. Don’t worry about him.”

“Considering he stole my fucking ship, I’d like a word.”

“You talk to me. He’s sleep. I think you like what I say.”

Giroux’s footsteps moved away and Sid cracked his eyes again. He could just make out Giroux lowering his gun and holstering it. “You assholes broke the code. I should have you both hung.”

Geno rolled his eyes. “Stop. We don’t break your ship. Is fine. We just borrow.”

“Borrow!”

“Yes. And we pay.”

Giroux paused, clearly interested. “Pay?”

“We take Flyer to catch Capital. So, you take loot.”

Giroux darted a look to the three chests on the floor. He stepped toward them and toed one open. His eyes grew wide.

Geno looked smug, like he knew this was going to work. “Not bad, huh?”

“You still broke the code,” Giroux said, never taking his eyes off the heaping gold coins.

“You tell Nassau everything okay. Nobody hang. Is all good.”

Giroux tore his gaze away from the treasure. “How do I know you won’t do it again?”

“We don’t want your ship,” Geno said. “We want only Penguin. She burn, Sid need ship right away. What he do, ask? You say no.”

“Exactly. So what happens next time? How do I know Sid won’t steal another ship or break the code in Nassau or Tortuga or-”

“Giroux,” Geno said, his voice strained with exhausted patience. “Is only happen one time, in emergency. You fine, ship is fine. Maybe little bit embarrass, but you say you kick his ass. People see he shot, say you did. We go back to code now, promise. We’re not wanting to fight.”

“I’m not sure you could right now,” Giroux said, sizing Geno up. Sid tensed with his hand around the pistol, but Giroux finally relaxed. “Fine. You’re lucky I like gold more than I want to see him dead.”

Geno breathed and nodded. “Good. Good choice. Thank you.”

Giroux turned like he was going to look at Sid again and Sid closed his eyes completely. He never found another opportunity to crack them open again while Giroux called his men to get the treasure, but he could feel Geno hovering close by, protecting him.

The door shut heavily and the footsteps faded away.

Sid opened his eyes when he felt Geno reaching to take back his pistol. “I can’t believe that ended without any shots.”

Geno shrugged. “We have to stay in Nassau, so we have to make Giroux happy. I think, this is best way. We don’t need treasure. Only need ship.”

“Smart.”

Geno grinned, a pleased flush painting his cheeks. “I take care of everything. You just take care of get better.”

Sid adjusted his position against the pillows. It hurt his chest a lot, and he flinched. “Right. Good idea,” he groaned. He looked around the cabin, his prison for as long as he took to recover, with a growing feeling of dread.

******************

It took two months in Nassau to fix the Penguin enough to sail again. Sid spent the first two weeks strictly relegated to bed, watched carefully by Geno. He couldn’t even tell his crew what to do because Geno said it riled him up too much.

“You get excite, you move. You need rest. Calm,” Geno said as he sat on the edge of the bed and tried to coax Sid to drink some soup. “Don’t worry. I’m tell them everything.”

“You told them to tar the boat? The heat from the fire probably melted a lot of it out, even from the undamaged wood.”

“Yes, I tell them. They already do.”

“And they need to make sure, when they’re moving the cannons, to balance the weight evenly or the ship will list.”

“They know, Sid. Is okay.”

“Who’s building the new mast?”

“Charlie. He do good work, I check.”

“Yeah, good. That’s who I was going to suggest. Just make sure he knows she needs to support a wider top yard than most brigs, because we want to be able to-”

Geno hit him with a flat glare, and Sid stopped talking. “She my ship, too, Sid. Don’t worry. I know all this.”

Sid shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry. I know you do. I just... I hate not being there. I’m on the fucking Capital while our ship is being rebuilt.”

“You control freak. I know. Twelve years, I learn this about you.”

Sid barked a laugh and shrugged again. “Maybe a little.”

Geno laughed at him fondly and reached out to push Sid’s hand holding the cup up toward his mouth. “Enough excite. Eat.”

Sid made it all the way through the soup and was feeling pretty sleepy before he jolted with another realization. “G?”

“Hmm?”

“Nassau’s defenses are shit.”

Geno chuckled and reached out to touch his cheek. “You tell me? I get arrest in Nassau Bay.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. We have his ship, but Ovi-”

Geno’s fingers slid into Sid’s hair. “Don’t worry.”

“We need to talk to them, tell them. If Ovi gets a ship, if he sends someone after us-”

“Tanger is already. He’s stay ashore, help with defense.”

“Tanger?”

Geno nodded and soothed him quietly. “Everything is good. You can sleep.”

Sid rested back against the pillows. “Is that your nice way of telling me to shut up?”

Geno kissed him. It was an even nicer way of telling him to shut up.

The recovery almost grew worse once Sid was cleared to walk around the deck and travel over to the Penguin. Being able to observe the repairs underway but not help was torment. He hated feeling useless, watching as his crewmen freed pieces of decking from the Capital and carried them to replace the charred wood on the Penguin.

The damage hadn’t been extensive. Only the quarter deck, upper deck, main mast, and sails were completely ruined. Almost everything below deck could be repaired with minimal effort. They could take most of what they needed to make repairs from the Capital, but Geno knew better than to get the wheel.

“We order new one,” he said when Sid was standing on the half-finished quarter deck frowning at the charred wheel.

“We couldn’t take Ovi’s?”

“You want?”

Sid darted a guilty look at him and shook his head. “No.”

Geno grinned smugly like he was just so clever.

The men buzzed around Sid while he couldn’t so much as lift a hammer. They got the decking entirely laid and were well into repairing the railings before Sid was cleared to help.

“Carefully,” the doctor said sternly. “You could still tear the wound. Don’t lift anything heavy or go climbing up the masts.”

They didn’t even have a main mast to climb yet, and Sid was thrilled to be allowed to do something. He cajoled Sheary into letting him man a tin of wood oil, rubbing it into the new railing in even strokes. It was a good task, nothing strenuous, but requiring enough of his concentration that he could feel busy.

Of course, he got chirped mercilessly.

“We got a new deckhand?” Phil called from down the line where he and Horny were oiling and tying the cannons on the new deck. Sheary grinned back but didn’t dare say a word. He was too new to be chirping the captain just yet.

“Missed a spot,” Knuckles said as he passed.

“When you’re done with that, make sure you sweep the deck real good,” Reavesy teased.

“Then get below and make dinner,” Horny chimed in. “Rookies work on this crew.”

Sid took it all with a chuckle, shaking his head as he continued rubbing oil into the wood.

He kept finding small jobs here and there for a month before the doctor finally, reluctantly, after much coaxing, cleared him to lift heavy objects. By that time, the main mast was up. The cannons were placed, the deck was solid, and the Penguin was nearly ready to be underway again. She only needed sails, which Sid was determined to help hang.

Sid’s wound gave barely a twinge of protest as he manned a line to hoist the new main topsail. The gunshot was an ugly scar, a little starburst of shiny pink, but it didn’t slow him down anymore.

“Last one,” Geno exclaimed after they tied the sail off.

“Oh yeah? I had no idea. Maybe somebody should have counted them down for me every day while complaining about having to touch dry land too often.”

Geno shoved at him with a silly grin and then squinted up to see Oleksiak busily ensuring that the sail was hung just right. “We set sail tomorrow.”

“That’s the plan.”

Pierre, who had been up observing Oleksiak, fluttered down from the crow’s nest and landed on Sid’s shoulder. He bit Sid’s ear gently and said, “Help Sid.”

“We really have to get him to stop saying that,” Sid laughed as he pulled a nut out of his pocket and handed it to Pierre.

“Why? He always want to help. Good bird,” Geno cooed.

“Good,” Pierre agreed before he got to work cracking the nut open with his beak. He succeeded and ate the flesh inside happily.

Sid shrugged. “At least he knows my name now. I think.”

“He know. He like you. See, he sit on shoulder. Like real pirate.”

“Oh yeah, up until now I was just playing pretend,” Sid said dryly. He grabbed his hat from the capstan, where he sat it while they hoisted the sail, and placed it back on his head. Pierre side-eyed the feather in the brim but stayed perched on his shoulder as he strode past his crewmen and up to the helm. The new wheel gleamed with fresh oil. He gingerly reached out to grasp it.

“You get used to it,” Geno remarked, going to lean back on the shiny new rail like he always did to the old one. He crossed his arms and studied Sid’s face. “You learn to like, even. I bet.”

Sid hummed, doubtful. “Maybe.”

Geno was definitely laughing at him, like he wasn’t just as set in his ways, like he hadn’t already commented on how the new deck boards sounded under his boots.

“Hey, you still want to try for a whale?”

That stopped Geno laughing. His teasing grin was replaced with a look of pure hope. “Really? You say is silly.”

“Eh, it is a little silly, but...” Sid shrugged. “Might be fun. And it’s a good way to test out the new gear.”

“So much fun! Can’t wait! We go now, not wait until tomorrow.”

“Easy, there. The boys have worked hard getting the Penguin back in order. We’ll give them a night to relax before we head out.”

Geno rolled his eyes fondly. “Okay, fine. Tomorrow we hunt whale. Tonight...” he grinned and licked his lips.

“I was thinking we could go ashore, have dinner in the little tavern Tanger likes,” Sid said with a straight face.

Geno wasn’t fooled at all. He leered and moved in close. “Could do that.”

“Maybe get a room. Have a quiet night.”

Geno was looking at him like he wanted to eat him alive. “Hmm, yeah. Quiet night. Maybe have really sneaky sex.”

“Sure. Not a sound. We’d hate to bother the neighbors.”

Geno pulled him back from the wheel. “Or...”

Sid’s grin got away from him, agreeing with anything. “You could stay on board with me instead.”

Geno kissed him long enough that a chorus of catcalls arose to tease them from the deck. “Whatever you say, Captain.”