Most pirate crews were a mishmash of individuals from a whole assortment of backgrounds. There were more reasons than one might think for joining the pirate life. Some were former slaves who’d taken their only chance for freedom, some were mercenaries just in it for the gold, some were disenfranchised Royal Navy Officers who’d either been forced out or left of their own accord, and some were just regular folk doing whatever it took to make a living. Anthony was one of the few who’d been born into it. Well, grown up into it, at least.
Technically, he’d been born into nobility. His life as the son of Howard Stark, Earl of Warwick and owner of Britain’s most prominent munitions manufacturing company, had ended abruptly when he was only eight years of age. The ship he’d been traveling on to return home from a year of private tutelage had been attacked by a crew of pirates and he’d been taken hostage to ransom back to Howard, but it hadn’t gone so well when the Earl refused to pay. The months that followed were a haze of pain and backbreaking labor, but Anthony still counted himself lucky that he hadn’t just been outright killed. Instead, he lasted long enough for his captors to let their guard down while in port, allowing him to make a run for it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a British port, nor one that seemed very reputable in general. Anthony hadn’t known when he might get another chance, though. He would just have to work with what he had. He knew better than to think using his family name would bring him anything but trouble and, without money, the only way he was going to be able to get passage on any ship would be with work. The first couple of shiphands he approached laughed in his face for trying to do a ‘man’s work’ but he eventually found someone to point him in the direction of a ship docked away from the others, whose crew apparently had some open slots. Hoping that he wasn’t going to regret this, Anthony headed on over. After all, just about anything had to be better than where he’d been, and time was of the essence. He didn’t fancy his chances if he got caught.
‘Interviews’, if they could be called that, were being held right there on the docks and Anthony shuffled into line, heart pounding in his chest. His gaze kept flickering back to the shoreline, searching for any sign that he was missed. How long would it realistically take for them to realize he was gone? True, they had a tendency to leave him chained up in the ship’s hull whenever they were docked, forgetting about him in every sense of the word – going so far as to not even feed him until they were shipping out again – but that was no guarantee that they wouldn’t notice him missing.
He was still in line when a man, shoulders broader than anyone Anthony had ever seen in his life, wearing a derby cap and carrying a thick tome that he was scribbling notes in, stopped next to him. Anthony kept his gaze firmly on the ground and tugged nervously on his shirt sleeves, doing his best to hide his raw and bloody wrists from where he’d had to force himself out of his shackles.
“Oi!” the man boomed, making Anthony, and several others in the line, startle badly, “Eyes up! How do you expect us to believe you can work the rigging if you can’t even drag your gaze up far enough to see it?”
Anthony immediately snapped his head up and almost wished he hadn’t when he caught sight of the man’s scowl.
“What’s your name, boy?” the hulking shiphand barked.
The way he said it, chewing every syllable before spitting it out, sounded like ‘Wotsyernam,’ all one word. Tony flinched at the volume but forced his spine straight and refused to cower.
One bushy eyebrow quirked upward.
“This ain’t the Navy, boy. Ain’t no ‘sir’s here!” He laughed as he jotted something down in his book. “Last name?”
He froze for a moment, unsure how to respond.
“Uh… J-just Anthony.”
The man scowled harder and gave him another long look.
“Just Anthony, eh?”
Anthony nodded hurriedly, afraid to open his mouth and say the wrong thing again. Unfortunately, that, too, seemed to be the wrong thing.
“What’s that? Speak up!”
“Dum Dum,” another man, a slender one with fine-boned features, scolded as he strolled up. “Arrête de taquiner la pauvre chose. Renvoie-le juste à la maison, il est trop jeune pour être utile.”
Languages might never have been his favorite subject, but Anthony still knew enough French to understand what was being said.
Stop teasing the poor thing. Just send him home, he’s too young to be of any use.
His hands fisted at his sides.
“Je suis un travailleur acharné,” he spat back at the newcomer, frustration and exhaustion getting the best of him, “et je peux réparer des trucs. Je vais travailler deux fois plus durement que n'importe qui sur ce vaisseau, mais je ne peux pas rester ici.”
The new guy’s brows shot toward his hairline and Anthony belatedly realized that most adults in this tiny, mud-caked port town probably wouldn’t even be able to recognize French, much less speak it. Stupid.
“What?” the first man, Dum Dum, asked. “What’d he say, Falsworth?”
Now it was Falsworth giving him the once-over, and it was much more hyper-focused than Dum Dum’s had been. Anthony felt exposed under his gaze.
“He said he’ll work twice as hard as anyone else,” Falsworth answered in heavily-accented English. “I rather think he means it.”
Something in his tone must have caught Dum Dum’s attention because he was suddenly looking at Anthony with new eyes.
“Well, alright then, Just Anthony. Why don’t we go see the Captain?”
And that was how Anthony joined one of the most notorious pirate crews of the decade, under the command of Captain Peggy Carter.
“Captain Carter! There’s a ship on the horizon! It’s flying Royal Navy colors!”
Anthony cursed as he snatched up his spyglass and followed Rhodey out onto the ship’s deck. Sure enough, he was able to spot the outline of the Navy vessel across the waves, and not just any dinky old dinghy. Even from this distance, there was no mistaking the distinctive shape of the Avenger. Anthony cursed again. Ten years Peggy had trained him to step into her role as Captain, to take charge of the Siren’s Howl and her crew; no way was he going to lose her ship in his first year at the helm.
He was relieved to spot his first mate, Pepper, trotting toward him.
“What are our options?”
“Word in the last port was that the Avenger’s crew has got a bee in their bonnet about tracking us down. I don’t think they’ll let us slip by, and there’s no way we can outrun them. Having a man in charge might throw them off, but any of us who survive the initial fight will still be headed for the gallows.”
“Any chance we could come out on top in a straight fight?”
This question was directed at Rhodey, but he didn’t look very optimistic.
“We’re the best equipped rig on the Atlantic,” Rhodey said, “but the Avenger is a whole other animal. She was built to sink ships, not capture them. They might not even need to set foot on board.”
“They will,” Pepper countered. “With Earl Stark’s campaign against piracy and finally getting the crown to agree to his proposal? They want Captain Carter alive to drag back home.”
She sent Anthony a sympathetic look. It wasn’t just the fact that his punishment was doomed to be more drawn out and public than the rest of the crew’s, should they be taken, but she and Rhodey were among the small number of the crew who knew who Anthony’s parents were. As far as Anthony was concerned, the crew was his family, but that hadn’t stopped Howard from using his loss all those years ago as a foothold to push for harsher and harsher stances against piracy – and, in turn, more business for himself to arm the Navy against them.
There was no time to dwell on that now, though.
“Even if they board us,” Rhodey continued on, “any hope of winning would be with heavy losses. We likely wouldn’t come out of it with enough of a crew left to man the ship, even if we managed to survive the attack.”
It was a lose-lose situation. Fight or flee, they wouldn’t make it.
“What do you want us to do?” Pepper asked, looking fierce. “The crew is with you, just say the word. You’re the Captain.”
And suddenly it clicked. Anthony could have kissed her. He turned on his heel to march back to his quarters, already stripping off his brocade coat.
“I need a straw mat shoved in the corner of the galley, by the potatoes. Make sure it looks extra uncomfortable. Then I need a pair of shackles and two of Logan’s shirts – the dirtier, the better. And bring me Peter. He’s got an innocent, doe-eyed look about him.”
He was also the only one on the crew young enough to have a hope of pulling the role off. Tossing his coat to the side, Anthony began rifling through his desk for his stock of the powder that Helen – the witch doctor Peggy had been taking him to for years – had given him for his insomnia. He only used it when he got desperate, but no one could deny it did the job. It was extremely potent.
“Captain?” Pepper questioned, she and Rhodey exchanging a look. “What exactly are you planning?”
Anthony couldn’t hold back his grin.
“Isn’t it obvious? We’re going to surrender the ship.”
It was hell, having to stay below deck and do nothing while his crew was in danger, but Anthony knew that this was their best chance at survival. He just had to trust the plan, his plan. He’d never forgive himself if things went awry. He huddled close to Peter, one of the knives from the kitchen clutched in his shackled hands, and they listened to the sounds from overhead. The lack of cannonballs splintering the ship’s hull was a good sign, but it still felt like ages before they heard the tell-tale sound of many, booted feet stomping overhead. They were being boarded.
Captain Carter’s well-known status of womanhood meant that it was Pepper up there, wearing his hat and coat, selling the story of how there wasn’t a point in running or fighting. Knowing her, she was probably throwing out a few pointed barbs at the Naval officers and being as antagonistic as possible even in her surrender. A short scuffle and muffled shouting told him that Carol hadn’t managed to make it through being arrested without punching someone, but that probably helped sell the story rather than hinder it.
At least there hadn’t been any rifle fire. Not yet. Rhodey would never forgive him if this song-and-dance he’d come up with got Carol killed. Anthony certainly wouldn’t blame him. He doubted he’d ever be able to forgive himself.
By the time the hatch was hauled open and boots sounded on the stairs, soldiers tromping down to check the boat’s lower levels for any more of the crew, Anthony was a bundle of nerves. He’d take a firefight over this any day. Peter pressed close to his side and Anthony reached over to squeeze his knee before shifting to better stay between him and the door.
“Showtime, kiddo. Let’s sell it.”
Rather rudely, the soldiers from the Avenger kicked in the door to the galley, splintering the wood and sending it flying. It was total overkill, but it gave Anthony the perfect excuse to let out a choked cry and scramble backwards, pressing Peter further into the corner and holding the knife out in front of them with shaking hands.
“Knife!” the soldier who’d entered cried, and suddenly there were two more through the door, all three with rifles up and pointed their way. “Drop it!”
Against all his better instincts, Anthony did, letting it clatter to the floor and flinching away.
“Please,” he begged, doing his best to cower. “Please don’t hurt us!”
And then he used what was possibly the single most useful skill Peggy had ever taught him: he began to cry.
The soldiers hesitated, rifle barrels already dropping. Anthony had to resist the urge to smile. He saw the way their eyes flickered down to his wrists, taking in the shackles, and then to Peter and the miserable-looking sleeping mat behind them.
“Don’t move,” the first soldier ordered them, before addressing one of his fellows. “Get Barnes. He’ll want to make the call here.”
Anthony reached behind him, pulling Peter up and to his side, wrapping around him so it looked like they were just two captives seeking comfort in the only other person not out to hurt them. He used the opportunity to hide his hand running over the hidden pouch under Peter’s shirt. Lips pressed close to Peter’s ear, he murmured, “Remember, all the best lies are based on truths. Stick to what’s real as much as you can. Let them see how scared you are.”
Peter sniffled loudly and nodded, burrowing closer to hide his face in Anthony’s chest. Anthony was definitely going to need to give him a reward of some kind when all of this was over. Assuming it all went to plan. Anthony really hoped it went to plan. He wasn’t sure what he would do if it didn’t.
They stayed that way for several more minutes as they waited, the two soldiers standing guard, but not attempting to interact with them. Once again, it was the tell-tale sound of boots on the stairs that heralded the approach of this Barnes character, assumedly a person of somewhat high standing with the Avenger’s crew.
“Alright, Smith, what seems to be the problem?” a low voice rumbled as the uniformed officer stepped into the galley.
He was pretty much the definition of tall, dark and handsome, with a stubbled jaw and hair swept back from his face into a bun that hid its full length. Steely grey eyes jumped instantly to where Anthony and Peter cowered, awkwardly hovering in the middle of open space and more-or-less at gunpoint. He seemed to take in their bare feet, shackles, and grimy clothing in an instant and his broody expression only worsened as he spotted the tear tracks down Anthony’s cheeks.
It looked like Anthony had found his knight in shining armor.
“Found ‘em in here when we were doing the sweep,” the first soldier, Smith, replied. “That one had a knife when I came in, but he dropped it quick enough. They haven’t tried anything since I sent Rollins to get you.”
“Probably has something to do with the guns you’ve got pointed at them,” Barnes grumbled, though it didn’t sound like a reprimand. Then he was stepping forward and approaching Anthony and Peter himself. “Sorry about this,” he addressed them, tone gentle as if not to spook them, “but we’re going to need to make sure you’re not a part of the crew. Could you please step away from each other and show us your arms?”
They wanted to check for a pirate’s brand, a sign that they’d been caught before, possibly by the East India Trading Company, or a tattoo to show their loyalty to a certain crew. Peter was, thankfully, mark-free, but it wouldn’t be so easy for Anthony.
He stepped away from Peter slowly, making a show of his reluctance, and swallowed roughly several times before speaking up.
“I-I have a mark,” he confessed, pushing up his right sleeve as far as the shackles would allow, exposing just the bottom edge of his tattoo, “but I’m not part of the crew! Please, they’ve had me for so long and th-the captain, she took a special interest in me, but I swear-“
He cut himself off, more tears spilling down his cheeks. Barnes motioned Rollins towards Peter to check him over while he approached Anthony himself. He pushed up Anthony’s sleeve some more and grabbed hold of Anthony’s wrist to straighten his arm, just as Anthony hoped his would. Anthony hissed in pain and jerked away, though not enough to break away. Barnes’s grip tightened and Anthony whimpered.
His attention wasn’t on Anthony’ tattoo anymore, though, it was on the abrasions Anthony had furiously rubbed raw with his shackles and the clear scarring underneath from Anthony’s time in the Ten Rings’ hold. Barnes scowled even as his grip slackened. Gently cupping Anthony’s wrist, now, he raised it up to get a better look at the damage.
“These aren’t recent,” he growled out, prodding the scars.
This time, when Anthony flinched away, Barnes let him go. Anthony cradled his wrists to his chest.
“I’ve been here a long time. Years. Please, I just want to go home.”
Barnes looked to Rollins, waiting until he got a nod that Peter was clear of brands or tattoos, before the hard line of his shoulders softened.
“We’ll do the best we can to make that happen,” he assured, switching gears now from invader to rescuer. “I’m Bucky Barnes, first mate on the Avenger. We were tasked with capturing and bringing Captain Carter and her crew to justice. We’ll get you two back to England and try to find your families, alright? You’ll be well taken care of on our ship as we make our way back to port. You don’t have to be scared anymore. No one is going to hurt you. What’re your names?”
Anthony toyed with the hem of the over-large shirt he wore, head bowed.
“You’re with the Royal Navy?” he asked to clarify, even though he already knew the answer.
“Yes. The Avenger and her crew specialize in tracking down and taking care of pirate threats.”
Anthony chewed his lip.
“That’s Peter,” he said, motioning with his chin and not daring to look up in the first mate’s handsome face again.
Here is was, the moment of truth.
“My name’s Anthony,” he admitted. “Anthony Stark. My father is Howard Stark, the Earl of Warwick. I was taken when I was just a boy. Please, I’m sure my father would be happy to reward you for my return.”
Needless to say, Anthony’s story was an unbelievable one. Hell, his life was pretty unbelievable. Considering he was the son of nobility, kidnapped by pirates only to escape and join a different pirate crew, growing up to one day become the captain of that crew… Well, the story he was selling now might actually seem more plausible. Anthony hoped so, at least.
Once they’d been escorted onto the Avenger, Smith and the still unnamed guard took Peter to get cleaned up and get some food – likely with a round of subtle interrogation that Peter was more than smart enough to see right through – while Barnes and Rollins took Anthony to the captain’s quarters. They didn’t say it, but it was pretty obvious that Anthony would have to convince the captain of his heritage if he wanted to keep himself and Peter out of the brig. It was a risk, yes, as opposed to just playing the average captive, but being the son of a nobleman would give Anthony instant status aboard the Avenger, if he could just prove it.
The Avenger was a beautiful ship. Anthony couldn’t help but admire the workmanship that went into it. He’d developed an appreciation for fine sea-faring vessels only once he’d started living on one, but it was an appreciation Peggy had seen value in and nurtured. His own ship, passed down to him by Peggy together with the title of Captain, was one of the best maintained pirate ships to be found on any ocean. That being said, the Siren’s Howl had clearly been made with a much lower budget in mind than the Avenger.
Still, it was a military vessel, and it was outfitted like one. Soldiers marched across the deck, manning their various duties. Anthony’s crew had already been taken below to be crammed into the cells. Cannons sat locking in place next to the railing, with small supplies of cannonballs next to each one. There would be more another level down. Anthony did his best not to think of the damage they could have done if a battle had broken out. There were two more soldiers standing guard outside of the captain’s door and Barnes nodded to them before rapping his knuckles on the wood.
There was a muffled call for them to enter and Barnes opened the door, holding it open for Anthony to enter while addressing Rollins. “We’ve got it from here. Go check and make sure they don’t need any help below deck.”
Rollins gave a sharp nod and headed off. Barnes turned to Anthony then and raised an eyebrow, jerking his chin towards the still open doorway. Anthony ducked his head in a display of nervous meekness and scurried inside.
The captain’s quarters were well-lit, with plenty of windows looking out over the aft of the ship. The décor was sparse and functional, but Anthony knew quality when he saw it. A large, mahogany desk dominated the space, and it was stacked with parchments. The chair behind it was tufted leather and high-backed in what Anthony knew was the current court style. A shorter chair stood before it and off to one side that was made of sculpted wood, with a finely embroidered seat and back.
A long table piled with maps stood along one wall and a door on the other led to what Anthony assumed must be the captain’s sleeping arrangements. Three more of the shorter, wooden chairs dotted various spots along the wall, out of the way but ready in the case of company. There was a gorgeous painting hanging over the table in a gold-gilded frame depicting a sunset over the ocean. It was simultaneously haunting and beautiful, and Anthony decided in a split second that he had to have it.
One way or another.
The captain himself was on the far side of the room, back to the door and placing his saber back onto its stand. He was blonde with very broad shoulders leading down to a nice, trim waist, and Anthony couldn’t help but ogle the way his trousers clung to that absolutely incredible ass.
“Bucky, good. I’d like you’re help wi- Who’s this?”
Anthony was not at all prepared for the reality of just how handsome the captain of the Avenger was. Really? It wasn’t enough for the first mate to be a prime cut of man meat? Now the captain had to look all dashing and fuckable, too?
“Smith and his team found this one and another below deck.”
Captain Handsome raked his eyes over Anthony’s body, but they were full of concern, rather than arousal, as he took in Anthony’s dress and the shackles. His expression, however, was hard, all business.
“Welcome aboard,” he greeted, crossing the space between them to hold out a hand for Anthony to shake. “I’m Captain Rogers. We’ll try and get those off of you as soon as possible,” he continued, gesturing to the shackles. Then, addressing Barnes, “No key?”
Barnes just shrugged casually, and Captain Rogers’s eyes narrowed.
“Ask the kid his name.”
Anthony couldn’t help but scowl at that. He was nineteen, hardly a child, and neither Barnes nor Rogers could be much older than he was. At most, they were in their mid-twenties. Granted, he had a young face, but that only meant he was going to age well. There was no need to be insulting.
Still, he needed to keep his goal in mind. He’d get Barnes back for the slight later.
“A-Anthony Stark, sir,” he said, keeping his eyes big and open as he stared up at Rogers through his lashes. “I know it must be hard to believe, but I swear it’s true!”
Two blond eyebrows rose high.
“You’re Earl Stark’s son? Everybody thinks you’re dead.”
Anthony dropped his head, shoulders hunching up.
“I should be,” he said in a husky whisper. “I shouldn’t have survived this long. I-I don’t even know how long it’s been, really. Not exactly.”
He risked a glance upward at the captain’s frowning face. There was a softening around the edges, pity in his eyes, and Anthony had to fight down a grin of triumph. Damn, he was good.
“I-I can prove it?” he offered, hesitant. “Maybe? I can try, at least. I don’t have any belongings, or anything, but I remember a lot.”
The ring bearing his family’s crest had been the first thing the Ten Rings had taken from him, sending it back to Howard as proof that they really did have his son. Anything else he’d had on his person, from his fine clothing to jewelry, had been taken as loot even before the pirates had found out his bounty wouldn’t be paid. It had been humiliating and terrifying, and Anthony would never forget that feeling. Never.
Captain Rogers gave him a long, thoughtful look before circling his desk to take a seat in the leather chair and gesturing for Anthony to do the same in the embroidered one across from him. Barnes moved easily to stand guard behind it, a silent sentinel. Anthony glanced back at him nervously as he sat. Both officers cut impressive, intimidating figures, even if they weren’t showing any outright hostility. Anthony did his very best not to find it hot.
“You have to understand,” Captain Rogers spoke gently, “that it’s a very serious claim. You wouldn’t be the first one to have made it over the years.”
That, actually, surprised Anthony. He hadn’t known and he cursed silently. It definitely wouldn’t make his job any easier. Before, he could respond, though, Barnes crossed his arms and spoke up.
“Back when I was fresh out of training, only a few years after the kidnapping, I was out on my first venture with the Navy. We came upon a crew of pirates and attacked them. Those that survived, we took prisoner. There was this one young man, about my age, who begged and pleaded with us not to throw him in the brig with the others. He said he was the young Stark who’d been taken, that he’d been press-ganged into service for the crew. It was one of the other Navy rookies who was talking to him and he turned his back just for a second to call out to his superior. He bled out on the deck of our ship after that scallywag stuck him between the ribs. The pirate hadn’t even known Earl Stark’s son’s name, just wanted the opportunity to take one more life before he hanged.”
Anthony gaped at him, not even having to fake the horror of his reaction. Theirs was a rather civilized crew, in comparison to many other pirates, and sometimes Anthony forgot just what it could be like elsewhere. Peggy had always run a tight ship and had a firm policy against unnecessary violence. Even Logan, who was prone to both fits of rage and brawling in every port city they stopped in, could be relied on to hold to a code of honor. Yes, none of them would hold up within a court of law, but they weren’t completely without morals.
“So, you see,” Captain Rogers spoke again with a grim expression, “we have reason to be cautious against such a claim. I trust, since Bucky brought you here at all, that you really were a captive aboard this ship, but if this is a ploy for better treatment, you can rest assured that we would see you to safety without it.”
He seemed earnest in the offer, at least. Anthony got the feeling he was a good man, better than most Anthony had encountered.
“My name is Anthony Edward Stark,” he said, though his voice shook as he said it. “My father’s name is Howard and my mother’s name is Maria.”
“All matters of public record.”
But it seemed like he wanted to believe it. Captain Rogers was probably an optimist. It was an unusual trait to find in a Naval officer. Anthony found he liked seeing it, though. Despite himself, he was warming up to Captain Rogers.
“Our household was run by a man named Edwin Jarvis and his wife, Ana, did the cooking. She used to make me orange spritz cookies in the fall. I don’t know if you can confirm any of that, but it’s true. My father keeps a display of every sword style his company has made in the foyer. They’re hung in a lattice-work fashion up the wall on either side of the grand staircase. Or they were. I don’t- I don’t know what’s changed.”
Captain Rogers’s shoulders dropped, the tension disappearing, and a smile stole across his face.
“You’re very lucky I’ve actually been to the Stark estate,” he said. “Mr. Jarvis is a kind man, and his wife makes the best roasted chicken I’ve had in my life.”
The tears that sprung to Anthony’s eyes weren’t even faked. He didn’t regret his decision to leave his old life behind, but he certainly missed some of the people. Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis were definitely among that number. He choked on a sob.
“Th-they’re okay? A-and my mom?”
Captain Rogers was out of his chair and around the desk in a heartbeat, kneeling down in front of Anthony to gently take his hands.
“They’re fine,” he reassured. “And you’ll get to see them again very soon. I promise. Now, let’s see about getting these shackles off of you so you can get cleaned up. You can have some of my clothes. Buck?”
Barnes gave Anthony’s shoulder a squeeze before disappearing into the captain’s bed chambers, presumably to fetch the clothing.
“I can’t believe you’re alive,” the captain mused, tone awed. “I can’t believe we really found you.”
Letting out another sob, Anthony threw himself fully into the captain’s arms, ducking his head to hide his grin as they wrapped around him.
Barnes, who now insisted Anthony call him Bucky, was the one to accompany Anthony to having his shackles removed. He even washed and bandaged Anthony’s wrists where the shackles had rubbed them raw, hands surprisingly gentle. The suspicious, intimidating soldier had given way to the softer, charming man underneath.
“It doesn’t look like you have any infection, which is good. We wouldn’t want you losing one of those pretty hands.”
Bucky winced as soon as the flirtatious words were past his lips, but Anthony found them oddly endearing.
“Sorry. I’m, uh, a bit out of practice.”
Anthony spared him with a small, almost-shy smile.
“No, that’s – It’s been a long time since anyone’s wanted to, ah, practice with me.”
It wasn’t a complete lie. Anthony was a handsome man and flirted nearly on autopilot, but most of the people he flirted with were people he wanted something from. Those who flirted with him generally had similar motives, and even those who weren’t looking for some advantage didn’t have the sweetness to them that Bucky did.
Bucky’s answering smile was equally soft.
“Yeah? You don’t mind? Stevie’ll probably have my hide, but you aren’t exactly an opportunity I feel like I could pass up.”
“Because my father’s an Earl? You’ll already have his favor for bringing me back, I’m sure.”
“Because you’re just about the prettiest doll I’ve ever seen. I care about your face a lot more than I care about your father.” He frowned then, “Not that I’m trying to start anything. Everything you’ve been through, I’m sure that’s not anywhere on your priority list.”
It was a consideration that Anthony appreciated, even if he didn’t need it. If he actually had been a newly released captive, it would be easy to feel pressured to acquiesce to the advances of one of his rescuers, even if he wouldn’t have wanted to. Bucky was making clear that wasn’t something he wanted. He might be willing to flirt, but he wasn’t about to ask Anthony for anything he didn’t want to enthusiastically give.
Bucky’s unexpected softness was oddly endearing, and, in any other situation, Anthony would be sorely tempted to indulge himself. His crew came first, though. His crew would always come first.
“It’s not… it’s not unwelcome. Just… I-I don’t think I could- Not yet, at least.”
Bucky’s answering smile was easy, not betraying even a hint of negative feelings over the gentle rejection.
“I can work with not yet. Maybe we can circle back once you’re feeling better. Does the flirting bother you? I can back off from that, too, if you’d like. Or, well, I can try. It might be hard to resist when you’re sitting here so tempting.”
He certainly had a wicked tongue for a naval officer. It was really a shame Anthony couldn’t take him up on it.
“The flirting is… nice,” he decided on, figuring he could allow himself at least that much. “As long as it won’t get you into trouble with the captain?”
Bucky’s brow furrowed for a moment before tying to question back to his earlier statement.
“Oh, no. There’s no need to worry about that. Stevie just happens to be protective, is all; he doesn’t like bullies. Even if he didn’t already know your family, he’d be taking you in just for how you’ve been treated and those big doe eyes of yours. They’re like a siren call. Plus, you should probably know, we’re a bit of a package deal. So, me initiating anything would be signing him up for it, too.”
Anthony’s eyebrows shot upward, wholly unable to school his expression. That was… Well, he’d definitely be taking the time to think about it in detail later. It wasn’t unusual for shipmates to seek comfort amongst themselves during the long voyages at sea, but it rarely lasted past the dock once a ship was in port. That Captain Rogers had an on-going, established relationship with his first mate was rather scandalous. They were comfortable enough for Bucky to be open about it, though, so it had to be at least somewhat common knowledge.
“Oh,” was all he could think to say, mind still reeling with the implications and, rather tantalizing, mental images.
Bucky suddenly looked sheepish.
“A bit more than you were expecting to take in today, I’m sure,” he apologized.
Anthony was suddenly struck by a rush of want at the idea of ‘taking them in.’ He’d never felt ashamed of his promiscuous ways, but the desires running rampant through him at the moment were rather inconvenient. He needed to get himself back under control or this was not going to end well.
He hoped Peter was having an easier time of things.
“So, when you say you’re signing him up for something, you mean… together?”
Anthony’s voice cracked over the words and Bucky looked concerned for a split second before he clearly registered the desire in Anthony’s tone and positively leered.
“Yeah. Stevie and I are used to sharing, since we grew up together. We like it.”
He said ‘like’ as if it were the filthiest of words and a shiver ran up Anthony’s spine, his blood rushing south. This was… really not how he’d anticipated this venture going.
“Oh,” he found himself reduced to saying again.
Bucky grinned wolfishly.
“You think you might like that, too? Not now, of course, but sometime later? Maybe once you’re all settled in back home?”
Would he be okay with a roll in the hay with two men as gorgeous as them? Anthony was almost tempted to send word to Peter to delay their plan. Almost. He’d never actually do it.
“Maybe not that much later,” he said, and he could practically feel the heat passing between himself and Bucky. It was electrifying.
Bucky licked his lips.
“Well, then. You just say the word, whenever your ready.” He seemed to have to force himself to take a step backwards. “I’ll give you some time alone to change, now that we’ve got the shackles off. Then we can head back up and get some food in you. I’ll make some arrangements with Stevie,” he said, and ducked out of the room.
It was probably just an excuse to take a minute to cool off, but that was okay. Anthony needed it, too.
Captain Rogers’s clothes were, unsurprisingly, far too big for Anthony. He wasn’t exactly a small man, but he felt downright petite swimming in the captain’s breeches and tunic. Anthony had frowned at first, until he’s seen the look on Bucky’s face when he exited the room, a look that was then mirrored on the captain himself. It was a dark, hungry look and it sent a delicious shiver up Anthony’s spine.
If his career as a pirate ever fell through, maybe he’d try his hand at being a model in a French salon.
While he and Bucky had been gone, the table by the wall had been cleared of its maps and papers and moved a bit further into the room. Three chairs had been tucked around one end and something that resembled a tablecloth but might have actually been a bedsheet was draped over it. A bottle of wine, already open so it could breathe, sat atop the table with three modest goblets. Anthony blinked at the sight in surprise.
Captain Rogers cleared his throat and shifted awkwardly.
“I, uh, thought it might have been a while since you’d had a nice, proper meal. Not that this is exactly proper, but it’s about as close as we could get. I thought you might enjoy it.” A rosy hue colored his cheeks and Anthony was somewhat thrilled by the blush. “I invited Peter to join us as well, but he said he’d rather eat with the crew in the galley. He seemed a bit nervous to be around me, honestly, but with what he’s been through… what you’ve both been through…”
He trailed off, but Anthony nodded along.
“Having the captain’s attention wasn’t exactly a good thing, aboard the ship. We did our best to keep our heads down and avoid trouble. Peter’s pretty new, but he was around long enough to know that being skittish could save more than an inch of your skin.”
He ducked his head as he spoke, hiding his eyes that might give away the lie. He watched as Captain Rogers clenched and released his fist a few times at his side.
“She won’t get away with the things she did to you,” Rogers promised, voice laced with tension. “Even if your father didn’t make sure of it, I would.”
It was probably meant to be comforting, a reassurance that his tormentors wouldn’t be able to continue making his life miserable. Instead, all Anthony could think of was the overwhelming fear of seeing his crew, his family, hanging lifeless from the gallows. He needed to change the direction of the conversation before he became too emotional and gave himself away.
“Y-you know my father, yes, Captain Rogers?” he blurted out, grasping for the first thing that came to mind.
As much as he had no interest in talking about his father, it’d at least be better than talking about what would become of his crew if he failed them. Luckily, Rogers’s expression eased, and he reached for the bottle on the table while Bucky pulled out a chair for Anthony to sit.
“Please, call me Steve. And I do. A bit. Not well. He took a special interest in the project to outfit the Avenger, since it was designed specifically for hunting pirates. He’s very… passionate.”
Anthony sat gingerly and accepted the wine Steve poured for him. Their fingers brushed and Steve smiled down at him for a moment before pouring out wine for himself and Bucky as well.
“I know you’re probably tempted to indulge with your new-found freedom, but you’ll want to just sip that,” Bucky warned gently as he rounded the table to sit in the chair opposite. “If you don’t, you’ll just end up sick.”
Once again, their concern was rather touching. Too bad Tony couldn’t be sure the wine hadn’t already been laced, though. He’d have to wait and see, he supposed.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said with a small smile and set his cup aside. He kept his gaze on his fingers as he turned the cup in small circles. “I… I have to admit I’d all but accepted that I would never see my father again.”
He hadn’t wanted to, honestly. He’d been desperate to get home for a while, of course, but, once he was on Peggy’s ship and more or less out of danger, he’d found himself furious that Howard hadn’t even thought him worth enough to pay the ransom. It was belittling in the worst of ways. Then he’d discovered the bonds between the members of Peggy’s crew, the way they took care of each other. Captain Peggy Carter would lay her life down for any one of her crew. That was what family really was.
Steve reached over to lay one large, warm hand atop his, stilling Anthony’s fidgeting.
“He’ll be overjoyed to have you home,” Steve reassured, “just as I’m sure you mother and the Jarvises will, too. I’m not sure he ever recovered from losing you back then.”
Anthony bit back a response of vitriol and bitterness. What had Howard expected? That the Ten Rings would just drop Anthony off on the doorstep when they realized he wouldn’t pay? Anthony was lucky they hadn’t just killed him.
“It’s surreal. I keep waiting to wake up and none of this to be real.” He dropped his chin to his chest but didn’t pull his hands away from Steve’s. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Steve made a wounded sound in the back of this throat.
Bucky set his wine back down on the table perhaps a bit more forcefully than necessary, drawing Anthony’s gaze. The other soldier reached out to add his own hand to their little pile.
“This is no dream. It’s real and you’re going home.” The levity of his words was alleviated somewhat as he threw a wink Anthony’s way and his expression morphed into a roguish grin, “Even if you do look like a walking fantasy.”
Anthony blushed as Steve squawked in indignation and hissed Bucky’s name warningly. Bucky, however, was completely unaffected as he scooped his glass up once more with his free hand and gave his superior officer a jaunty toast.
“No need to worry, Stevie. Anthony and I have talked. It’s just a bit of flirting. For now.”
Steve’s eyebrows rose and he glanced back and forth between them. Anthony did his best to give a smile that was reassuring-yet-shy.
“Yes. Bucky made sure I understood the… particulars.”
Steve blinked once, looking dazed, before reaching out for his wine glass and throwing the whole thing back in one gulp.
“When I wind up in Hell, it’s going to be your fault,” he informed Bucky succinctly.
Bucky just laughed at him.
“Consider it a fair trade for everything you put me through when we were growing up.”
And then they were off, Steve refilling his glass of wine and both of them taking sips between their banter. Anthony couldn’t help but settle in to listen, a small smile creeping across his face entirely without permission. After the first minute with neither of them passing out, he even chanced taking a sip of his own wine, too. It was surprisingly good quality. Steve must have pulled it from his own stores.
“There you go,” Bucky said, spotting Anthony’s first sip. “See? You can relax. We’re not so bad.”
“Bucky, I swear to you, if you say we don’t bite-“
Bucky made an affronted noise.
“I would never lie like that!” he protested. “We absolutely bite. Just only when we’re asked to.”
Steve buried his face in his hands.
“You are the worst. Remind me why I put up with you again?”
Bucky leaned over to smack a noisy kiss to Steve’s cheek.
“Because you love me, obviously.”
Steve raised his head up just enough for them to share a soft look and Anthony suddenly felt as if he were intruding on some private moment. His heart gave a little pang. His time aboard the Siren’s Howl had brought him many things – a mentor, friends, a new family, an admittedly long string of lovers – but it hadn’t brought him a bond like that which these two shared. His gut churned to witness their easy familiarity and closeness, the love that warmed their eyes as they gazed at each other.
There’d been a few partners over the years who’d made him hope, but none that worked out. That was okay. They just weren’t the right fit. Anthony didn’t blame them – except for Sunset, but Peggy had been furious over that little incident and Anthony honestly wasn’t sure Sunset had made it off that island. He’d tried not to let it bother him, but it was tough when witnessing someone else’s connection so up-close and personally.
He cleared his throat gently to break the moment, doing his best to ignore the twist of guilt in his gut as Bucky and Steve jumped apart.
“How long do you think it will take us to get back to England?” he asked, in a not-so-subtle change of subject that would also keep Steve from apologizing like he looked to want to. “I, uh, don’t really know where we are.”
He knew exactly where they were, actually, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get an idea of the Avenger’s timeline back to port, just in case their little scheme tonight failed.
“If we sailed straight there, about five weeks,” Steve responded, clearly wrestling with his own embarrassment. “We’ll need to stop off in port before we do, though, to pick up supplies. We weren’t exactly planning to head back quite yet and not with so many additional mouths in our hold. That should add about a week. We’re a few days out.”
So, they were sailing toward Jamaica. That made sense. It’s where Anthony would have guessed they were headed. It was reassuring to know his instincts were right.
“Could I-“ he cut himself off, biting his lip and looking down at his lap.
It was a dirty manipulation, but he couldn’t help but feel pleased by how they both instantly turned their attention on him.
“What is it?” Bucky asked, voice gentle.
“Could I go on land, when we get to port? J-just for a little while? I’ll do my best not to get in the way!”
The two exchanged a glance, some wordless communication passing between them.
“Anthony,” Bucky spoke again, still just as gentle, trying not to spook him, “when was the last time you were off a ship?”
Anthony couldn’t look either of them in the eye, not when they were so clearly concerned about him and he was lying through his teeth. Not when he was planning to drug them and their crew.
“A while,” he hedged noncommittally. It was technically true. Their own ship was due for a visit to port.
Steve cursed colorfully and stood from his chair, striding angrily across the room. It only made Anthony feel even guiltier.
“Port might not be exactly safe, but we’ll make it happen,” Bucky promised. “I’ll go with you, be your guard.”
Anthony was saved from having to answer when all he wanted to do was crawl in a hole of shame by a knock on the door. It opened a moment later to reveal two soldiers bearing their meals. Steve gestured for them to come in and made his way back to the table as well. The meal was simple, just a stew over rice, but it smelled fantastic. Anthony was rather disappointed he wouldn’t be getting to eat it.
“It’s not much, but it should still be good,” Steve said as he settled into his seat. “Bruce is a great cook.”
Anthony’s answering smile was shaky, and there was nothing faked about it. His insides felt like they were twisted up in knots.
“That’s alright. I’m not used to anything very rich.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do about that on the journey home,” Bucky cut in, scooping up a spoonful from his plate and shoveling it into his mouth. “Your father’s sure to throw a big affair as part of your homecoming. We wouldn’t want you getting sick your first night back.”
Steve hummed in agreement as he started in on his own food. Anthony frowned at the plate and used his spoon to stir the stew and rice up with each other. Perhaps it was the guilt of so many lies already told, or maybe it was the security of knowing a stew would have been incredibly easy for Peter to lace with the sleeping powder, but Anthony found his next words spilling forth with absolutely no input on his part.
“If he wanted me back so much, why didn’t he just pay the ransom?”
He sounded bitter and childish, but he had a right to be angry! His father had all but cast him aside and abandoned him to his fate, and now Anthony was supposed to sit here and listen to how much he cared?
Steve and Bucky both looked surprised.
It took a moment for the words to register, but then Anthony’s spoon hit his bowl with a clatter.
“Earl Stark paid the ransom to get you back,” Steve repeated. “It wasn’t until later that it was discovered the pirates had actually been paid to take you, that there’d never been any intention to return you. They’d just used the ransom to get a bit extra, greedy scum.”
Steve took another bite, but it was an awkward one, like he thought keeping his mouth full would stop him from talking. Anthony just stared at him.
“Th-they’d been paid to take me?” Anthony stuttered out, feeling like he’d just been slapped across the face. Howard had paid the ransom? He’d tried to get Anthony back? “By whom?”
Steve stared down at his plate, probably belatedly realizing he wasn’t the one Anthony should be having this conversation with. Fuck that, though. Anthony wanted to know who had stolen his life from him. Bucky swallowed his own mouthful and decided to answer in Steve’s place.
“Stone? Stake? I don’t quite remember. The first name was something biblical, though.”
A cold feeling curled through Anthony’s chest, constricting around his heart.
Bucky winced at his tone but nodded anyway. Anthony reeled with the new information.
“Why would Uncle Obie pay pirates to kidnap me?”
If he’d sounded bitter before, now he just sounded helpless and hurt. He felt hurt, hurt and lost as his entire world was turned on its head.
“Uncle Obie? He was your father’s brother?”
“Cousin,” Anthony corrected, almost absent-mindedly. “My father didn’t have any sibling. But he was close enough. Uncle Obie would have been the next in line for the title if something had happened to my father-“ the realization suddenly struck him. “Or me. He would have become the Earl of Warwick is something happened to my father and me. He was trying to get me out of the way…”
He felt suddenly ill and had to grab the edge of the table to keep himself upright and in his chair. Anthony was so caught up in the realization, he was jolted at the solid ‘thwump’ as Bucky slid sideways out of his own chair and to the floor, motionless.
Steve was out of his chair a second later, kneeling beside his fallen lover and checking for a pulse. He swayed badly as he did so.
“Shit!” he cursed.
Steve’s gaze darted to the other side of the room, where his sword and rifle sat on their display case. He reached for Anthony, grabbing hold on his wrist and dragging him down off his chair, half using him to steady himself as he blinked blearily.
“We’ve got to- got to-“
He wasn’t able to finish as the door to his quarters burst open, slapping loudly against the wall. Anthony tried to peek his head out to look, but Steve just dragged him back down again, trying to hide Anthony’s body with his own. There was a moment of silence before the tread of a solitary pair of boots could be heard making their way across the room. Moments later, Pepper appeared, looking roughed up but none the worse for wear. Her gaze was quite unimpressed with their current predicament.
“Well, well, well, Captain Rogers,” she purred out, picking up the bottle of wine from the table to examine, “I hadn’t expected you to be one for seducing hapless captives. Nevertheless, I’ll be taking Anthony back now.”
Steve growled at her, actually growled.
“You won’t get away with this. My men-“
“Your men have already been taken care of, Captain Rogers. And I can assure you,” here, Pepper leaned in close with a vicious grin, one hand wrapping around Anthony’s bicep, “I get away with whatever I damn well want.”
She yanked him up and away as the drug finally dragged Steve under, leaving him slumped across the ground.
“Really, Pep? A bit dramatic, don’t you think?”
He glanced past her to see Rhodey and Carol both loitering by the door, Peter just behind them.
“And let you have all the fun?” Pepper teased. “Pretending to be captain has to come with some perks and, let me assure you, being locked up was not one of them.”
Anthony couldn’t help but snort his amusement. Whatever turmoil his emotions were in, he needed to push them aside. He could deal with them later, once his crew was taken care of.
“Would it make you feel better if we took their ship?”
The Avenger, after all, was a very fine vessel.
“You know what? I think it just might.”