It was in something of a daze that Rashavi entered the captain’s cabin.

Oh, he knew full well what he’d been hired to do. And after he’d got past his initial bitterness at the decision being made without him, it had turned out to be pleasant enough. A deckhand’s work was straightforward – he never needed fret about how the sails were rigged, so long as he didn’t clip his head on a boom. It was sometimes dull, but it could be satisfying; and, of course, his other duties kept the voyage from being too dull.

But those other duties had been limited to four particular men of the crew. The captain hadn’t been one; the mate hadn’t given Rashavi any reason to believe that the soft-spoken, quietly-intimidating Sebastien Mercier had any interest in other men, and, after all, most men didn’t.

Grouping Sebastien Mercier with “most men” in any respect would plainly be a vast error, though, so maybe it wasn’t all that surprising that he was among the minority in this, too.

“I will not command this,” the ferret had said, the prior – and first – time Rashavi had seen the inside of this cabin, for a light dinner. “I’m aware of that portion of your duties that isn’t a seaman’s normal fare, but that negotiation was not made with me. And, in truth, I’ve no great fondness for paid company for myself.” He’d smiled – a warmer, more earnest smile than his public face ever showed. “Thus, I wished a chance to learn more about you – and let you come to know me – to see if we’re as compatible as I think we might be.”

Rashavi had felt so dull and uninteresting, talking about his quiet life. But the ferret had coaxed some more details out of him, and in so doing, Rashavi had gained some better appreciation for the sights he’d seen that Mercier hadn’t. Mercier, who’d come from desert clans to the shore and then gone to sea without looking back, had never beheld the terraced gardens of Drellian, which the black jaguar had lived among for years; never woken up to the scent of flowers drifting in the window. That was where Rashavi had plied the courtesan’s trade, giving men and women of moderate or even high station a comfortable place to rest for an evening, or well-groomed company at a ball, or a lavish meal – or, yes, the pleasures of his own body.

Breaking bread with the captain, trying to tell tales worthy of such a man, brought those years to mind in a fond way that pleasuring some of his crew had not. Being a prostitute could be enjoyable, with the right clients, but it wasn’t as engaging.

He’d felt even less certain of himself when Mercier explained what he and some of his officers had done before plying the trade lanes with the Passing Whim.

Rashavi had heard rumours of some “Pirate Prince,” who was at once the most effective and the safest threat to shipping among the Isles. But a name and description had never reached him. The name of Red Sebastien, for all it had terrorized sea captains in a dozen nations, hadn’t been part of his experience.

But Mercier had become a pirate only when being a good man had failed him. And he’d taken the opportunity to be a good man again, aiding and trusting a prince of the very nation that had first betrayed and condemned him. And while he’d been ready for his own sake to spurn the pardons and set sail before his parole expired, he hadn’t been willing to refuse that chance for his own crew – many of whom were, like him, men who would have been good had they not been forced out by “upstanding” society.

He’d won them a chance to be forgiven, and he and they had taken it.

So it was not a pirate that Rashavi had dined with. It was a good and honourable man.

“You’re not the sort of man who should need to avoid such contact with his crew,” Rashavi had said. “You’d always take care to ensure they were willing for themselves, not just because you are their captain. I can see that.”

The ferret had sighed, and said, “It’s not an easy course to walk, that one. I couldn’t ask that of a man who will need to work under me for the gods only know how many voyages. To always wonder, in some tiny corner of his mind, if any success he earned was on his own proper merit, or because of my favour… I can’t rob a man of his victories like that.”

“And I can see that, too,” the panther had replied, and taken his hands. “So I can see why someone along for one voyage is safer. And maybe, if you call at Kheldor again in the future…”

That had won him a laugh. “Let’s start with one night ahead before we think too far into the future, hm?”

Now the ferret emerged from one of the side rooms of his suite, and greeted Rashavi with a smile. He’d put aside his red coat and his plumed tricorne and his boots; now he wore black trousers and a cream-coloured shirt, both silk, with the latter hanging open on his slender frame. “I was about to bathe,” the man said, reaching up to grip Rashavi’s shoulders. “Join me?”

“That’s a pleasing notion,” confessed the jaguar, and grinned. “Enough so that we might actually get some bathing done.”

The ferret laughed, and led him back into the chamber he’d emerged from.

It was a small space, and it was entirely dominated by the enchanted bath in its gimbals – large enough for two, indeed, so long as they didn’t mind resting against one another. Disrobing was a bit tricky in the limited space, but the ferret’s deft fingers helped that process along.

“I’ve one request of you,” he murmured over Rashavi’s ear as he slid the panther’s shirt along his arms. “Try not to call me ‘Captain,’ hm? I’ll not break or fly into a rage if you do, but it would be comforting to be, for a few hours at least, just a man.”

Rashavi reached behind him, pressing his hand against the ferret’s waist, letting that touch guide him back to lean against the other man. “I think,” he sighed, “that’s quite reasonable… Sebastien.” The name sat on his tongue pleasingly enough; soft and whispery, it was, perhaps, not a fine name for roaring out in the throes of passion – but for whispering afterwards, in the trembling haze of the afterglow?

The ferret shivered against his back. “You make my own name sound so delicious, Rashavi of…”

“Hold on, now,” Rashavi cut in, smirking over his shoulder. “If you can leave your rank aside, I think it’d be fair if I do the same with my birthplace.”

A laugh. “Fair enough.”

Sebastien urged Rashavi into the bath first – “I’ve enjoyed this pleasure all through the journey, whereas I don’t doubt you’ve found yourself short of time for the common bath,” he said. And, truthfully, Rashavi was quite willing to be coaxed. A touch to the strip of tinted glass that was fixed under the spout, and water poured out from the ewer which the robed pewter woman held aloft; a bit more fiddling and he got it to a comfortable warmth, and only then did he lower himself into the tub, letting the water course over him.

It was an almost sinful pleasure; the warm water caressed him more thoroughly than any hands could, from his collarbone, over his ribs and stomach, down over the bare brown skin of his member and his balls in their snug pouch beneath; he let his head tilt back over the tub’s edge and let a groan slip past his lips.

Not that that was going to be the extent of things, of course.

Sebastien eased in with him, and he shifted his legs in the rising water to let the ferret straddle them. The ferret kneaded at Rashavi’s chest, working the water deeper into his pelt and massaging the muscle beneath. As the water rose, the ferret’s hands descended, until they were sliding along Rashavi’s thighs, with the jaguar gripping his shoulders in turn and their mouths coming together.

Anticipation, even if only a few hours’ worth, had brought with it a charge that was almost electric; at the touch of Sebastien’s lips to his own, so soft, so… not hesitant, but patient, Rashavi shivered.

When the water was up to his collarbone and Sebastien’s breast, the ferret lifted a hand to still the flow, and nudged his nose against the cat’s. “You’re an utter delight,” he murmured.

“There’s plenty more of me to enjoy,” Rashavi teased. “You’ve only sampled the surface.”

“The depths will, I think, need to wait,” the other man replied, his tone exaggeratedly easygoing and offhand, entirely at odds with the way his hand curled around Rashavi’s slightly-firm flesh, squeezed it, and only reluctantly slid away; at the cat’s groan, he let out a sigh over Rashavi’s whiskers. “Unfortunately. But we’ve some opportunity to explore that surface in detail, hm?”

Not that they rushed things even then, for those… deeper delights, indeed… would bide a time. But neither did they linger. Sebastien produced a cake of light-scented soap and slid it all over the jaguar’s body, and he wasn’t beyond taking a stroke or a squeeze with his free hand in the process – not around the cat’s rising manhood, but his shoulders, arms, chest, thighs… his face was reserved for the ferret’s own mouth, and his package left alone, but otherwise the ferret’s hands explored him quite thoroughly.

And then it was his turn, and he responded in equal measure. Out of his clothing, and especially with his fur wet down, Sebastien was as incredibly slender as any of his kind, but the muscle strung along that body was like steel wire – flexible, yet firm and strong – and the play of it under Rashavi’s fingers was a joy.

A bit of adjustment to the tub and it swiftly drained – not from any spout, but made to be elsewhere by the substance of the bath itself – and another set the water pouring over him again; Sebastien’s strong fingers worked into his fur that much more firmly, working the water in and the suds out, and once he’d had both sides thus rinsed he gave the ferret the same treatment. Another simple charm left their fur dry, and after a few moments combing it out, they retired to the bedroom.

Sebastien slept in a hammock much like the one Rashavi had in his own quarters, though there was more space around it; nothing exotic. This time Rashavi took charge, or at least made a suggestion that the ferret was content to follow, stretching out face-up in that hammock; there he lay while Rashavi, no longer content to wait, leaned over him, stroking him, fondling him, bending down to stroke the ferret’s rising flesh with his tongue.

He’d already seen, elsewhere on the Whim, the sort of flask that its men who favoured men kept on hand; he wasted no time admiring the erotic carvings, just tipped some of the thick, clear oil within over Sebastien’s manhood, into the path of his other, stroking hand. One-handed, he stoppered the flask and tucked it back into its niche, and then he swung up and over that hammock himself, grinning down at the other man.

It was a familiar motion, and the ferret was endowed on the generous side, but not big; thus prepared, he slid into Rashavi in one smooth motion.

That was enough for him. It wasn’t release he craved now, just the heat and heft of the other man inside him, that ultimate closeness. And Sebastien in turn seemed content to have Rashavi atop him, hard against his stomach.

There’d be time enough for more in a later hour. For now, the subtle stirring inside him from the Whim’s pitch and roll was all he needed.