DISCLAIMER: D.E.B.S. and its characters are the property of Angela Robinson. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Three hundred years of history cheerfully mangled...because it was fun. Naval traditions and facts treated with slightly (but not much) more respect. Quibblers beware! So AU it's sitting a hair away from uber.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Being the First Adventure of Midshipman Amilene Bradshaw
By the ghost
"Fire!" Luc the Black shouted joyously. The eighteen-pounders thudded their response, smoke filling the air as wood and blood erupted from the sloop-of-war that had dared interrupt her own mid-Atlantic pounce. That had begun a long end chase, but the captain of the enemy ship had made a crucial error while jibing, giving Sky Diamond's sharp crew a chance to haul over and gain the wind. Now, the pursuer was pursued.
Finish them off quickly, she thought to herself, and we just might have enough time to get back to that merchantman. Wouldn't be too long now, she thought, seeing that one ball, which by rights should have been a miss, had cut the tiller line. Another volley belched from belowdecks, grapeshot now, sweeping the decks nearly clear of personnel. Blinking against the sting of acrid smoke, Luc grabbed rigging and started climbing, seeking better visibility. "Helmsman! Two points to starboard!"
"Two points t' stabb'd, aye Cap'n," the craggy old salt replied in a coarse shout.
She bared her teeth, in predatory anticipation as the Justice lolled in the water. Then she squinted...was that a figure heading for the rear rail? "Scudsley!" She yelled, knowing the mate would hear her. "Glass!"
The brass instrument promptly flew up through the smoke, and she snared it out of the air. Peering through it, she found the figure and chuckled delightedly. A tall blonde woman, stripped of her uniform, stood before the rail, pulling a bight of cable that was as thick as her arm over her shoulder, long knife clenched in one hand. Damn...she thinks she can repair the tiller, Luc thought to herself as she watched the girl climb to balance atop the rail before diving. She paused for a moment: likely she was unaware of the stunning picture she formed, hair blowing back from her shoulders, wind pressing the undergarments against the geography of her body, determination lighting her features. Then she dived.
Well, can't let that happen...though the lord knows how she thinks to bring that lumbering scull under the helm with so little crew.
"Cap'n!" The loyal response was instantaneous.
"Hoist the gallant, and bring us about. Cross her bows, Mister Scudsley! Fire as you bear!"
The response was startled, but obedient. "Cross her bows, aye Cap'n," he immediately began shouting orders to the crew, and Black Luc grinned to herself. It would take a little longer than she'd planned, but the orders she'd just given would ensure the destruction of the enemy ship...and not so coincidentally, put its entire bulk between the heavy guns of Diamond, and the gutsy blonde attempting damage control.
She slid down from her position in the rigging, shouting to the bos'n as she ran aft. "Away my cutter!"
"Away the cutter, aye Cap'n," he replied. His experienced eye saw the speed at which she was traveling, and simply grabbed a seaman and shoved him towards the block and tackle supporting the small ship. "Cut the line's soon's the cap'ns in, then dive after." He growled at Jennings.
Luc dove into the dinghy and braced herself for the splashing fall of the light craft to the surface of the ocean, managing to keep from being clobbered by the clumsy oaf who jumped onboard with the bosun. "Where to Cap'n?" The grizzled veteran asked with a laugh as he and Jennings slotted oars into position.
She waved regally towards the enemy ship. "Sternward Mister Cromley, we're going fishing."
"Aye, Cap'n," he began heaving on the long wood, muttering encouragement to Jennings to keep the mate in rhythm.
As the dinghy cleared the end of the ship, she found the blonde had given up on the steerboard (for good reason, it was in tatters) and was in the process of tying an unconscious midshipman to one of the many hunks of hull floating in the Justice's wake. She's been busy, Luc noted two other limp forms that had been similarly constrained. Nodding her head significantly, Luc instructed. "Go fish, Jennings."
"Aye aye, Cap'n," the man replied reflexively as he stood and removed his boots before diving after the figure. The noise caught her attention though, and she turned to face the new threat, long dagger at the ready.
"Not a very good swimmer, is he Cromley?" She observed idly, watching as the mate splashed up to the blonde, only to have his nose broken. The blonde rapidly took advantage of his stunned pain, wrapping an arm around his throat and threatening his eye with her blade.
"Don't come closer!" The girl shouted. "I'll take his eye, I truly will!"
Luc laughed, as the boat continued to float towards the girl under its' own momentum. "What are you going to accomplish? You think you can keep your blade to Jennings eye there through an entire journey?" She jerked her head towards the Diamond. "She's the only way home you've got girl, and if you think an entire shipful of salts can't get that pigsticker away from you, then you're naive as well as feisty." The girl blinked for a moment, indecision flashing in her eyes, and Luc took advantage of the small lack of focus to pull her pistol.
"Now I, I'm not so patient. I'd just as soon shoot you, as sit here and play games." She added in a steely tone, "You let my man go now, girl."
The girl's grip on her knife tightened briefly, and Luc cocked her pistol warningly. "I really wouldn't try it," she advised as the dinghy drifted closer.
Taking a deep breath, the girl released Jennings. Quick as a shot, Cromley angled his oar over and knocked the blonde on the head, causing her to sink beneath the waves, unconscious.
Luc didn't think about it, just dropped the pistol and dove. It wasn't too challenging, since the weight of her clothing gave her a more rapid dive than the slowly sinking Brit. A quick grab, and she had captured her prey. Now the fight to the surface, as girl, boots, clothes, gun belt, and sword worked to drag her back down. Damn, she thought, straining upwards. Didn't think this one through, then mentally blessed the bos'n as a line, weighted down with Jennings' boots, sank past her shoulder. She firmed her grip on the blonde with her left arm, then stretched out and grasped the line in her right, giving it two firm yanks.
"Damn, Cromley," Luc protested as she surfaced. "She's too interesting to drown."
"Too much fight in 'er to leave 'er conscious, begging the Cap'n's pardon." Luc grinned at her old cohort in concession, then turned a sharp gaze to Jennings. "Don't just sit there m'lad, haul this one in."
Jennings, looking miserable with blood streaming down onto his shirt, jumped to do his captain's bidding, and beginning to babble. "Sorry about that Cap'n, didn't see that there punch coming...."
"Leave off, sailor," Luc replied with a touch of irritation as she accepted the clasped arm Cromley offered to lift her gracefully back into the boat. "Just make sure she's breathing." When Jennings began to mince his way around hauling the girl into position to empty her lungs, Luc shoved him out of the way. "She's not going to break," Luc instructed, firmly wrapping her arms beneath the woman's breasts and forcibly pressing the water out of her lungs. She paused, listening. The girl didn't move for a long, disappointing moment, but then began coughing and spluttering. "Knew you wouldn't just give up and die," she whispered into a well-shaped ear, before turning her attention back to her abashed mate. "You'd think you'd never touched a woman before," she commented, then grinned devilishly as a blush rose on the young man's face.
Cromley began guffawing, then reached over to slap Jennings on the back. "Well, now I know what we'll be buying you, next time we make port laddie," he informed the even more furiously blushing seaman through his chuckles.
Luc laughed heartlessly as the man lost all knowledge of what to do with his hands and feet, before cocking an eyebrow towards the floating bodies tied to flotsam, her arms still filled with the raggedly breathing blonde. "Might as well gather those up as well, since we're taking boarders."
She felt it through her arms, the minute that the young sailor stopped struggling to survive, and began to contemplate taking some action. Luc bypassed the impulse by quickly grabbing the girl's nose and squeezing firmly while whispering into her ear. "If you come along quietly, you just might survive." She could feel the rejection in the woman's body, so continued. "What chance do you have? Realistically? Doesn't Her Majesty's navy teach that there is such a thing as an honorable surrender?"
"Not to pirates," the girl replied defiantly.
"So? You'd have me throw you back, then? Unfortunate, I haven't caught a fish quite this large in a while. The boys're going to think it's all a tall tail."
"What do you want?" The girl furiously asked.
"You were what...a midshipman?"
"Yes," the blonde spat.
"Good...then I'll accept your parole," Luc replied calmly.
"You'll not have it." How delightful, the honor and dignity of Her Majesty's officers.
"Hmmm...I'm really not in the mood to knock you out again, you might not survive this time."
"A brave woman dies but one death."
Luc laughed heartily. "You read the entire manual, didn't you? We'll make it simple...your parole in exchange for their lives," she used her grip on the woman's nose to point her gaze towards the three crew mates Cromley and Jennings were pulling aboard.
A long period of silence.
"I haven't all day, girl." Luc reminded the blonde.
"You have my parole," the midshipman muttered.
"Ah, say it properly lassie." Luc released the abused organ, betting that the fate of her friends would keep the young midshipman from making any drastic moves.
"I, Midshipman Amilene Bradshaw, swear by the honor of the queen, to give my parole to Black Luc, for the durance of my captivity. Until released back to my nation's graces, I will not act against her or her interest, so help me God."
"Well," Luc released the girl completely. "Now we find out the value of her majesty's honor, don't you think?"
Luc eyed the wind with distaste as she climbed the ladder up to the ship. "We're not going to retake that merchantman, are we Scudsley?"
"Hope it was worth it Captain," he answered, eying the leggy blonde climbing up the ladder behind his captain in her wet undergarments.
Luc swore under her breath, removing her surcoat and meeting the midshipman at the top of the ladder with it spread wide. "Best cover yourself, girl," she muttered before returning her attention Scudsley. "The clouds are certainly interesting, aren't they mister Scudsley?" She asked humorously.
"Uh...yes Cap'n," he dropped his gaze back to her face, and accepted her smile in apology for the teasing.
"Some good news, Cap'n. Their pay chests and stores were recovered, more than enough to cover the cost of munitions and give the boys a satisfying bit of change to jingle."
"Good," she gestured towards the cutter and it's contents. "Take care of those three, would you?"
"My pleasure, Cap'n." He replied.
"That's what I'm afraid of, you old pirate." She riposted, without real worry. Scudsley, had been with her longer than any other member of her crew. Glancing over her shoulder at the still silent blonde, she sighed internally a bit. What, exactly, are you supposed to do with her? Well, warm and dry seemed like a good start. Maybe she'd be good for a ransom...her majesty's officers usually come from the well-to-do. Not my usual line, but...
"Come on," she directed, heading for the ladder belowships without bothering to make certain that she was being followed. Distractions for the crew, keeping prisoners always takes more manpower than it's worth...What the hell were you thinking? She opened the hatch to her cabin with a sense of frustration, relieved beyond measure to find her steward fussing about within.
"Callahan...good," she commented as he snapped to attention. "How many times I gotta tell you, you old Mick, you're not serving on the governor's yacht any longer?"
She'd hired him out of Barbados, where he'd been rotting away after being beached by the temperamental tyrant. Something to do with nicking his grace during a shave. Well, his loss, my gain. Just wish the old boy would ease off.
"At least once more, I'm thinkin' Cap'n," the huge redhead replied, as he always did. His brows rose curiously as her shadow entered the room.
"Amilene Bradshaw, this is George Callahan, my steward. Callahan, Midshipman Bradshaw is in desperate need of a warm bath and a bit of food. You think you can take her off my hands?" She managed to repress the hint of desperation that wanted to color the last sentence. At least she thought she had, until she caught the gentle amusement in the steward's eye.
"Aye Cap'n, I think I can manage."
"Good," she turned and left, grateful to take up the grim duties that followed any battle.
Midshipman Amilene Bradshaw found herself alone with the huge redheaded steward, chilled to the bone and shivering. Silence still seemed the best choice, as she took in the world she'd fallen into. She remembered, briefly, the day she'd purchased her warrant. Before being allowed to take the oath, she and another female candidate had been seated in a small room with an ancient NCO and given a shockingly frank description of what happened to women who were captured at sea. It was particularly effective-members of the social strata who could afford commissions were infamous for keeping their women in the dark about the normal congress between humans, much less the brutal ways in which it could be twisted. The other girl, Amy remembered, had fainted dead away and declined a life at sea.
But you were determined, she reminded herself bitterly, and now you'll reap the reward of a cautionary word ignored. The redhead's look turned gentle, as if he found traces of her fears. "Don't fret, lassie. The Cap'n, she's a good'un," he soothed before bustling over to a clever cupboard in the wall, which revealed a surprisingly spacious tub mounted on wheels and a rail so he could pull it out on his own. "You'll not come to harm in her care."
"I already have," she replied, not yet recovered from the sting of the pirate's casually brutal behavior, treating Amilene's pride as a toy to be batted around.
He shot an inquiring glance her way from his kneeling position, where he was fussing about with a mechanism near the wheels of the tub. "Oh...so? You look half drowned lassie, but I dinna see any marks on ye."
She firmed her lips, unwilling to argue that she'd have welcomed blows as preferable. Shameful enough to be captured...and not by an enemy nation, but a band of pirates. Much had been made of the poor discipline, and slipshod mix of skills of the thieves of the sea. They were not true warships, but armed thugs who chose prey full of wealth and short on munitions. Every officer of the Royal Navy was smugly confident that the smallest of their warships could decimate twice it's piratical tonnage. Until today, she thought miserably.
Worse yet to be honor bound to cooperate with her own captivity. Completely insulting to know that her gender had made her a target. She hadn't failed to notice that it was only the female members of her wardroom that had been brought aboard. She bit her lip in worry, wondering what her friends' fates were.
"Here, lassie." Callahan handed her a thick robe. "Best you get out of that wet stuff while I get the water heating for ye. I'll send Trent along in a nonce with some hot tea while you wait...that should settle ye, I'm thinkin'."
Amy impulsively gripped his forearm to stop his exodus. "Mister Callahan..." He paused courteously. She took a deep breath before making her request. Better this man, whose respect and care seemed earnest, than asking anything of the arrogant Captain who had laughed while stripping away her dignity. "Would it be possible to find out what has become of my shipmates?"
He patted the hand in a fatherly way. "I'd be pleased te. Now you get yerself warm."
She wasted no time in divesting herself of the thin layer of soaked cotton, and equally damp velvet surcoat that barely kept her modest, exchanging them gratefully for the thick warm robe. She paused, fingering the heavy coat. It had been a courteous gesture...though delivered gruffly.
A timid knock caused her to look up to see a small form stumble into the room. "Mum? I brought yer tea..." A thick dockside accent mumbled as the tray tilted precariously to the left. Amilene realized, as she jumped to grasp its' edges and save the pot from crashing to the floor, that the boy had his eyes closed.
He opened them with a startled snap when she took the tray from his hands. "Cor! You're purty!" The artless exclamation made her feel like laughing for the first time that day.
"You must be Trent," she carried the tray over to the large dining table that dominated the starboard side of the room. "Thanks for the tea."
The scruffy boy looked down and shuffled his left toe against the rug. "Glad ter, Mum."
"Why the blind man's bluff?"
"Well...Call'n, he sed to wait long enough fer yer to change...but the pot was gonna get cold...and I dun' know how long it takes a lady ter change." A slight flush was becoming evident on his tanned cheek. "I heerd sometimes can take coupla hours...with s'rvants and all..."
"You know," she offered gently. "If you wait, after knocking, I would say 'Come in.' It's a simple method...and much more gentlemanly."
"Garsh, mum. Lookit me...not e'en a ha'penny in me pockets. Ain't no genn'lmun."
She smiled. "You're wrong about that, but I'm not in the mood to sound like a school ma'arm. Thank you for the tea."
He bobbed his head awkwardly and ran to escape, leaving Amilene Bradshaw feeling much more relaxed, and able to appreciate what turned out to be an excellent blend. Mmmm, been a long while since I've had anything quite this good. Military rations, especially those available to the denizens of the wardroom, were anything but savory. Guess there's no point in being a thief, if you can't get a good pot of tea.
She watched, in amusement, enjoying the warmth spreading in her belly while Callahan directed a stream of disreputable-looking men bearing buckets into the cabin. As the mostly silent parade of water-bearers filled the tub, the redhead laid out a small folding table with soap, sponges and combs. The last two men carried, not water, but a large sea-chest, which the steward unlocked and threw open. She saw that it was filled with clothing.
"There y'are lassie, make free with what ye find, Cap'n says." He shooed the last two sailors out of the room, waving off her reflexive attempt at thanks. "Don' waste time, now. Ye be turning blue about the edges."
A hot bath at sea was not something to turn her nose up at, and Amilene followed his advice by rapidly dropping the robe and sinking blissfully into the warm water. It was sea water, of course. Fresh water was too precious to waste on something as decadent as a bath, but it was surprisingly warm, and she felt the shivering tension of her muscles release as she sank in to her chin.
Ironic, that I'm enjoying luxuries as a captive that were unavailable to me as a midshipman. The thought stopped her sleepy pleasure. Captured or not, she was still an officer, she told herself sternly. She had worked too hard to gain the position, lowest of ranks or no, to give it up now. She looked around at the relatively luxurious surroundings, and recognized that it would be easy, with such small pleasures, to surrender military discipline. Not for me, she firmed her chin as she scrubbed roughly at her body with the soap. I'll not forget who and what I am.
She rose as soon as she was clean, and grabbed the pitcher of fresh water that had been left on the small table, bracing herself for the cold rinse that helped firm her resolve. Soon she was dry and back into her robe, poking about in the sea chest. It was, unfortunately, filled with wonderfully rich and impractical dresses. Silks and velvets that she hadn't even had in her wardrobe at home. Her family had been a minor cadet branch, well-to-do enough to provide a genteel lifestyle, but not so wealthy that they could afford deep indigo silk, so thick and smooth it fairly flowed across her hands. With a wry grimace, she set the beautiful thing aside, and dug deeper in search of something a little less desirable...and that didn't make her feel as if she had fallen into a thousand and one Arabian nights.
Finally, she found towards the bottom some sets of loose shirts and leggings. She sighed as she realized that none of the trousers were long enough, or hippy enough to fit her frame, but a simple dark green peasant skirt would, and topped with a sage shirt in cotton gauze, she at least felt comfortable. She had less luck with the undergarments. She'd grown used to the one-piece, long-john style cotton that sailors lived in, doubling as a sleeping garment as well as underwear. A far cry from the wispy, delicate items she found in the trunk. And what use does Black Luc have for such things? She wondered as she dressed rapidly, suddenly aware that she might not have long before one of her captors came looking for her.
Once clothed, she looked around, debating between going in search of the attentive Callahan, or waiting to find out what they had planned for her. Her indecision was broken by the guilty memory that she wasn't the only member of Justice's crew who was aboard. Poking her head through the hatch, she found that the passageway had a couple of sailors in it, but none she recognized. They gave her startled glances, but didn't make any move to restrict her movements, so she stepped out confidently to the ladder.
Top deck was a picture of organized activity. The Diamond was already under weigh, having only received negligible battle damage. The thought irked her. Justice had been nearly destroyed, and had gone down with all hands but four...while the pirate ship seemed not to have lost much more than rigging. At least I wasn't a gun deck captain, she thought defensively.
Then she was ashamed of the ungenerous sentiment. Perhaps you and Garner didn't get along, but he's dead now, and he was your senior. Her head began to hurt, as she suddenly realized how many friends and shipmates she'd lost. Reflexively, she headed forward, seeking the isolation of the bow. Midshipman Bradshaw, you will not cry in front of this lot of cowards and thieves, she instructed herself firmly, deeply breathing in the salt-laden wind of the Diamond's passage. The sounds of the battle, ended not an hour prior, floated up in memory.
She had frozen she remembered, uncertain where her duty lay, whether to obey orders, or venture topside to discover if she could somehow help to fight the ship. That moment of indecision haunted her now. Could she have done more, if she'd been more bold? Should she have left her post, laughable as it was, at all? If she hadn't, she realized, she'd at least have been saved the ignominy of surviving her ship and crew. Only a sloop, perhaps. But home for some one hundred and seventeen humans, most of whom, she knew, had died. The rest, she imagined, were asea in longboats. Packed tight with supply and miserable men, faced with days of deprivation as they strived towards the nearest shore.
"It's never easy, to be one of the survivors." a voice spoke from behind her.
Amilene turned to find Black Luc, changed into a dry set of dark breeches and vest, leaning against the foremast looking out towards the horizon.
"How can you bear to cause so much pain?" The words were out before she'd even thought of them.
The woman shrugged. "It's what I am, what I have always been. If you're fated for the sea, you learn to accept death."
"In exchange for gold and supply? You hold life cheaply."
Amilene heard deep fury in the reply, though the tempo and volume were moderate. "No less than her majesty's navy."
The blonde shook her head. "We protect from those like you, who would offer violence for profit."
"Do you?" The fury had left Luc's voice, and she simply sounded amused, and a bit tired.
"Surely you're not arrogant enough to deny it."
Luc pushed off from the mast, without turning to make eye contact. "Perhaps experienced enough. You'll find your shipmates in the infirmary," she offered surprisingly before heading aft.
"Hey Janess," Amilene smiled gently, seeing her friend sitting up in her cot and sucking greedily at a cup of water. "How are you feeling?"
The younger girl smiled wryly. "Like I was struck across the head with a yardarm, actually."
Amilene rubbed at the lump on her own skull, courtesy of Cromley's oar. "I know the feeling. How about the others?"
Neither Maxine or Dominique were aware, but Amy couldn't tell if they were sleeping or unconscious. "Doc here says they'll both probably pull through, though Max may lose that hand, and Dominique seems to be developing a fever."
Amy noted the splint bracing the girl's wrist with concern. "Damn."
"At least we're alive," Janess whispered. "But...what do they have planned for us?"
Sitting down at the foot of her friend's bed, Amilene shrugged. "I don't know." She took a bracing breath. "I imagine we'll find out soon."
Janess looked from her own ankle, to those of the sleeping duo, all clad in irons that ensured they stayed with their cots, then down to Amy's own bare leg. "I gave my parole," the blonde answered the unspoken question.
"Max'll be angry," Janess replied. Amy was startled for a moment. Of all the things to be concerned about on this eventful day, that ranked far down on the list.
"At least she's alive to be angry," she shrugged, consciously echoing Janess' words.
"I hope she wakes up soon," Janess hugged her legs to her. "I'm not certain what to do."
Amy reached out and grabbed her friend's shoulder. "You heal, sailor. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow."
"Yeah." Janess didn't sound convinced, but Amilene didn't have more encouragement within her. She knew, suddenly, that her own words carried little weight with her friend. Her parole separated her fortunes from her erstwhile wardmates, and it suddenly stood large in her mind.
"I'll leave you to rest, then." She said sadly before standing up.
Janess looked up at her briefly. "Thanks."
Resting just outside the door to the infirmary, Amilene was overcome with fatigue. It had been a long day, physically and mentally exhausting, and she found she simply wanted to curl up in her bunk and sleep. But this wasn't her ship, and there was no place on it where she belonged. It was a sad, lonely feeling that threatened to overwhelm her completely. She leaned against the bulkhead, closed her eyes, and wished herself back to yesterday morning.
"Come on," a hand grasped her arm and pulled, and she opened her eyes to find Black Luc manhandling her down the passage.
Oh god, not now. She truly didn't think she had the energy to go around with her captor a third time. "Please," she attempted to shake her arm loose.
Chocolate eyes looked over at her compellingly. "Don't talk, don't argue, and for the love of sanity, don't fight me." She lengthened her stride a little, causing sailors to scuttle out of their way as they hurried down the passage. "Tomorrow is soon enough if you still feel the need."
Out of the blue, the woman shot her a grin which was simultaneously daring and delighted, echoing the expression the pirate had worn when she'd laughingly held Amilene at gunpoint. "Which I'm certain you will."
Confused, and simply too tired to think or care, Amy stumbled along in her wake. Luc pulled her back into her own cabin, releasing her to stumble towards the center of the room.
"Sleepwear," the woman commented, throwing the garment at her chest, which Amilene grabbed reflexively before it fell to the floor.
"Bed," the woman gestured towards it, then left the cabin.
Amy stared at the closed hatch in a disturbing mix of surprise, gratitude and resentment. Huh...
"Get me Trent," Luc ordered the first sailor she passed on her way down the passage. She descended two ladders towards main stores, unconcerned about being easy to locate. The boy would find her eventually.
She paused at the top of the last ladder to grab a lamp, before descending down into the hold. Waiting for her eyes to adjust to the globe of yellow light that formed a sphere in the darkness, she wondered why she was doing this herself. I could just as easily sent Callahan down, she'd realized. But for some reason, she'd felt a bit reluctant about advertising that she'd bunked her captive down in her own bed, instead of say...the brig, or even one of the small cabins that held her officers. After all, if the girl had survived wardroom life, she'd hardly balk at the equivalent to lieutenant's quarters. With only four bunks to a room, it would seem verily private by comparison.
Why did you do that? She asked herself suddenly, sinking down onto a bale of canvass. It was just...the Midshipman had seemed young and lost when Luc had rounded the bend in the passage and seen her leaning there with her eyes closed and shoulders slumped.
"Cap'n?" The boy's voice intruded on her reverie hesitantly. Wondering why his commanding officer is slumped on a bale of fabric in the darkest hold, I'll bet.
"Trent. Any idea where Dobbins keeps the spare hammocks?"
"Yessir," Trent agilely scaled a pile of crates, disappearing momentarily. "Jes' one, Cap'n?" His voice floated out from the darkness.
"One will serve admirably, thank you."
The roll of canvass and cord appeared at the top of the pile before Trent did. She smiled as he scrambled back down to the deck, and waved off his attempt to hand the roll to her. "You know the Midshipman that came aboard this afternoon?"
He bobbed his head. "The purty one? Yessir," he replied.
She restrained her grin at the characterization. "She's resting in my cabin now. I'd like it if you kept anyone from bothering her. Do you think you can do that?"
"'Course Cap'n," the boy bobbed his head. "An' the hammock?"
"Just set it inside the door for me, would you lad?"
"Aye aye, Cap'n."
"Dismissed, sailor." He offered her a shy smile before scampering up the ladder.
That boy is far too nice to be at sea, she thought, not for the first time. How he'd maintained that lack of worldliness in St. Kit's dockside warrens was a mystery to her, but she was glad she'd found him. His eagerness to please and quick wit made him far more useful than his predecessor.
She sought dinner in the officer's mess, since her cabin was occupied. Since she sought a meal there fairly frequently, no eyebrows were raised. Instead, Scudsley simply slid from the chair at the head of the table, and onto the bench alongside its length, pulling his plate with him.
She accepted the bowl of stew and hunk of hard tack that made it's way down the table for her, and dug in. As she ate, she looked around and realized, not exactly for the first time, but with more clarity than usual, how her crew organization was closer to a man-of-war's than the usual rather loose organization of her peers. Perhaps none of her crew were addressed by the rank of lieutenant, yet she had men who functioned in those roles, and received the same privileges. Similarly, she had NCOs, specialists and of course, a bosun. But every ship has a bosun, right? She grinned to herself. What floating barge could successfully navigate without the experienced salt who can yell louder than anyone else?
Perhaps her unconscious molding of the crew's dynamics into an almost military community was one explanation for their continued success. Maybe, maybe not. Probably doesn't hurt, she shrugged to herself, dismissing the thought.
"Send down some ale, would you Rawlings?"
"Captayn," the dark man replied, pouring a tankard full from the pitcher the stewards had left on the table.
"You've set a southerly course," Scudsley commented, in a clear invitation for information.
"Got a look at the Justice's orders. They were going to attempt to ambush a Spanish convoy out of Caracas."
The men around the table licked their lips in anticipation. The Spaniards, more than any other colonial nation, had created a scarily efficient machine for wringing wealth out of the new land, and bringing it back to the old. And the word...convoy...not one merchantman, but many. Possibly...holds full of great wealth. Possibly.
"Gotta love her majesty's spies," Scudsley grinned.
"Don't get too excited," Luc warned. "Royal officers can royally err, as we saw this afternoon."
"It was a joy to see, how easily our fortunes were reversed." Rawlings offered.
"But a surprise," Scudsley reflected.
Luc snorted. "I would have agreed with you, until Williams brought me her log. HMS Justice, master and commander: Captain Richard Morehead." She shared a wolfish grin with Scudsley, as his eyes lit in recognition of the name. When he broke out in laughter, Luc explained to the rest of her men. "He's the type of man who needs a full set of diagrams to don his boots...and is likely to scream at the artist who provides them."
"Then how could 'ee be Captayn?" Rawlings wondered aloud.
Williams set his tankard down with a thud. "I'll tell you how, old boy. Patronage, wealth, and status. The Morehead family boasts more than a small share of all three," his crisp diction indicated that his roots weren't too far from that evil trilogy, despite his disparaging tone.
"Almost a shame we sank him," Scudsley stopped guffawing long enough to gasp. "I'm certain he'd do more to help us alive and sailing under the British flag."
"Speaking of Brits, Captain," Williams began, only to clearly change his question when Scudsley shot him a warning look. "Er...right. Where shall I quarter them?"
"The infirmary will do for now, Mister Williams." She replied. "I suppose we'll have to move them to the brig if we take any casualties, unless they feel like giving their parole."
"Unlikely, Captain." Scudsley interjected.
"I know Scuds," she replied. "Seems I took on more problems than booty, this time out."
"Four women, floating wounded at sea? I would not sail with a captayn that did not pluck dem out of the ocean," Rawlings commented. Luc looked around and nearly laughed at the agreement she saw on most faces. Irony, that this 'ruthless band of cutthroats' has a code I feel most at home with, she thought in amusement. Of course, I have spent nearly five years building this crew.
Her first mate caught her at it, and they shared a look of understanding. Luc stood when the stewards entered the room to clear plates and serve liquor. "I'll leave you to it, lads."
"The fore cours'l..." Amilene begged Charles Stilson to hear her for once. He sneered in response, looking down a supercilious nose at her. Ball shot exploded through the study walls. A large splinter broke from the frame of the piano, propelled violently across the room, and directly into his head. But the eyes never wavered.
"Wake up," his voice commanded her. She shook her head, confused.
"You dare to speak? You'll end us all!" He ranted, as blood oozed down his skull, pooling horribly in the right ear before dripping onto his collar. Turning to yell over his shoulder at Freddy Hightower, who was suddenly present and close enough to hear a whisper, proudly bearing an oozing gut wound. "Send her home, Freddy."
"The course..." Her voice seemed to be growing smaller in her chest.
He gripped her shoulder firmly. "Midshipman, wake up."
Amy jerked upright, inhaling audibly as if she'd just surfaced from a dive.
She was in a bed...that was wrong. The last bed she'd slept in... "No! Not home...Don't send me home...."
"Belay that!" the voice had the snap of command in it. The kind any sailor, on any ship, would jump to obey without checking in with their brain. It cut through her nightmares and fears like a scythe, and her eyes sought out source of the voice, as her spine stiffened slightly in reflex. A silhouette, standing right next to her bed with the light of the large multi-paned windows on the aft bulkhead providing a bright, warm border.
By the time Luc came to rest, angled to sit mostly on her right thigh next to Amilene, she was breathing normally. "You're on the Sky Diamond," the woman reminded her, unnecessarily. Luc wore her identity thoroughly, one couldn't look at her and see someone else. Even in the grip of... She blushed, realizing that she'd been crying out in her sleep like some scared child.
"Some officer I am," she muttered to herself.
Luc looked at her for a long moment. Amilene wanted to squirm, her shame out there to be seen. But the pirate surprised her. "Lord Nelson himself has suffered from the occasional night terror, after a battle." She paused. "So have I."
Luc stood. "Yes, even a bloodthirsty pirate."
"That's not what I..." Amy stopped herself, unwilling to admit what she did mean. Because the royal navy, even in the person of a midshipman on her first deployment, did not respect a criminal.
"Get dressed," the pirate suggested as she walked back to the desk that bore evidence that she had been hard at work while Amy slept. "Callahan's been holding breakfast for you."
Amy rose quickly, pleased at the thought of reacquiring the armor of clothing. Perhaps it wasn't the uniform she preferred, but the simple skirt and blouse were miles away from anything she'd wear at home. Strangely, she paused partway through unbuttoning her nightgown, looking over at Luc, confused. Modesty? She asked herself acerbically, thinking back to her berth, packed with twelve other cadet officers on the Justice. There had been no time or space for modesty.
She changed quickly, awkwardly, grateful for the ship's log that appeared to be consuming Luc's interest. A bit at loose ends when she'd finished, she shrugged to herself and began wrestling the bed sheets into place.
Luc looked up. "Leave it," she commanded, standing smoothly and walking over to the dining table, gesturing for Amilene to join her before pulling the small rope that rang a bell in the captain's galley.
Luc lifted a silver pot inquisitively, and Amilene nodded her desire for tea as she gingerly sat down.
"Thank you," she said reflexively, accepting the cup and then finding solace in the ritual of doctoring the beverage.
"So you saw that mangled sheet, did you?" The pirate asked, the amused arrogance of the conqueror firmly back in place.
Amilene glared at her, but forbore comment when Callahan bustled in, placing plates before them both; evidence that the captain had surprisingly held her own meal.
"Thank you, Mister Callahan." She said instead.
He smiled paternally and patted her shoulder before leaving.
"Therefore you were on the maindeck," Luc scooped up a forkful of eggs. "You must have unholy luck, to have escaped the shrapnel."
Amilene focused her attention on sectioning a slab of ham into manageable pieces. "I wasn't topside for long. The captain sent me below to..." She couldn't continue. Couldn't look this hardened veteran in the eye and tell her that she'd been heaved off the quarterdeck as a coward.
"I see." Amilene looked up to see a vague expression of contempt on the pirate's face. But the woman's next comment surprised her.
"Old No-head couldn't handle taking counsel from a midshipman. How on earth did a gutsy middy like you end up with such a dead-end billet in the first place?"
She couldn't help it, the sense of justification and pleasure the pirate's words brought to her. But she shrugged, before stating the obvious. "As the captain pointed out to me, I'm a midshipwoman."
Eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I was under the impression," Luc said carefully, "that her majesty had ordered complete integration of the officer's corps."
"She has...but she can't order the navy to like it," she laughed bitterly. "Are you really that naive?" She had no idea why she felt compelled to explain, but found herself continuing. Perhaps it should be no surprise that a woman who commanded in the fringe of society could fail to understand the complex traditions and attitudes of England's oldest military institution. "Look, do you know the story of Captain Reynolds?"
Luc stopped chewing for a moment, with a strange look on her face. By the time she'd swallowed, it was gone. "I've been told a few things," she replied.
Amy decided to abbreviate as much as possible. "Saved the queen's life, got a boon, asked for an officer's warrant...this part you know?"
"After she took tactical control of the Vesper during the battle of Lisbon, and received her commission direct from Nelson's hands, the queen decided, and was able, to ram through a proviso to draw women into the officer's corps. It was," she thought aloud, "also a coldly practical move to increase the available bodies. I think she knew even then what was brewing on the continent...and that we would need to build a bigger military machine. When Reynolds intuited the Medici ambush, enabling Rear Admiral Westing to pull a reverse, and cross the bows of Esquivel's fleet, she became the youngest captain in the history of our navy...and the lords of admiralty began to cautiously support the queen's edict...at least the ones who mattered."
When Luc didn't say anything, Amy questioned her. "Do you have any idea what a revolution that was? Suddenly, it was almost fashionable for a woman to act and think. It wasn't just the navy that changed, but society was beginning to react." She looked away for a moment. "Girls my age began to talk about being something in their own right, instead of just how well they could marry. Some embraced the trend, others rejected it violently, but everyone was confused, in some way or another. I was just reaching the age where I was allowed to attend the more adult functions, and I loved seeing the discomfort on some of the old stuffed shirt's faces, or watching Melissa Holden firmly demonstrate that she had a better head for the shipping business than her brother. Small acts of courage and defiance were happening around me. I remember being so excited..." Her voice trailed off.
"I had no idea," Luc's voice brought her out of her memories. "I was at sea during most of that."
"You haven't been home since?" Amilene asked.
Luc shook her head. "The Diamond is home."
"What about family or friends?"
Luc raised an eyebrow and quirked her lips a bit, causing Amy to blush. Of course, a pirate didn't pop back to the motherland regularly for family reunions. "Finish your story," Luc suggested.
"Well," Amilene retrieved her verbal momentum, "not much more to tell. The whole thing came to a crashing halt when Reynolds turned traitor. The fallback was nearly enough to force all women out of uniform, but the queen, supported by a few key members of parliament, and surprisingly, Nelson himself, just barely managed to prevent it. However, the navy as an institution, while bound to keep us, doesn't particularly care for us."
"Yet you took the oath." Luc observed.
Amy firmed her jaw and lifted her chin. "I'm not a coward."
"Clearly," the brunette's matter-of-fact tone caused the midshipman to relax. "But...why?"
Strange... With those two words, Luc made herself a little more human in Amilene's eyes. How? Why? Perhaps it was simply the first time that she'd shown as simple need as curiosity. Something other than a confident rogue. Regardless, it caught the blonde's attention, and she found herself looking past the visual picture of the woman, meeting her eyes instead of her gaze for the first time.
Luc gave her a small smile...not the adrenaline-filled rejoicing at a challenge that she'd used before, but the kind that grew slowly, with a life of its own. "Truly...I'm interested," sounding as if she were a bit surprised to find herself saying it.
Amy bit her lip for a moment, then found the courage to answer, revealing her childish silliness with surprisingly few qualms. "She was my hero," Amilene replied. "I wanted to be like her," she admitted wryly. "Even the action at Charlottesville didn't quench my need to follow her example...but do it right this time."
"Cap'n..." A sailor stepped through the hatch. Amy watched as Black Luc returned, the aura of command returning to coat the face that she'd just realized had a delicate beauty. "First mate be askin' fer ye...crow's watch spotted sail."
"I beg your pardon, Midshipman," Luc murmured an apology, before adding the reflexive, "At your leisure." She stood rapidly and followed the sailor from the cabin.
Amilene sat back in bemusement, recalling a similar incident aboard the Justice. It had been her turn in the rotation to dine with the Captain and officers, a formal weekly torment that the denizens of the wardroom mostly dreaded, despite the food being far more appetizing than at their usual mess. Midshipmen, were seen, not heard, until the alcohol was served, at which point they were grilled on nautical knowledge. The tradition was intended to be part of the culture of turning Middies into officers, but at Morehead's table, it was more a more vigorous exercise than in most ships. Amilene had even caught Garner, who she was certain had no room in his breast for a heart, with the volumes of ego it stored, at the verge of tears after one such meal.
The officer of the watch had sent for the captain in a disciplinary matter. He had fluffed with importance, and strutted from the room, failing to release them from the table. By the traditions of the captain's table, none of them could leave. It had been a small, petty gesture. One that had been within his rights, but foolish to demean good officers (Amilene did not include herself in that appraisal) by forcing them to languish at his whim. She had seen the repressed anger in their eyes at the discourtesy, and wondered what the captain had thought to gain from his gesture. She shook her head, automatically taking herself to task. Midshipman, the mere nuggets of future officers, could not expect to build careers on criticism of seniors who had experience enough to be entrusted with a command. A command he lost...
Enough. She stood up firmly, deciding to head topside and see what was happening, since no one had indicated that she couldn't. The maindeck was pleasantly busy, without the harried movement that would indicate an emergency of some kind. Amilene easily remained out of the path of the men as they moved, looking for a corner she might tuck herself into and remain unnoticed, or at least keep from being an obstacle. It was odd, to be aboard ship and yet have no duties, she reflected as she moved aft along the port rail, heading towards the poop deck as a good bet. One always had a place, or a station on a military vessel. Leisure time, what there was of it for middies, was spent in the wardroom, at mess, or exercising on a gun-deck. A rare moment might be found during the first or middle watch to stand in the bows, feeling the rise and fall of the ship and lose yourself to the sea. The lack of structure for her time was unnerving, she realized as she passed under the quarterdeck, looking inward instead of outward. The activity kept one from noticing the long hours that could otherwise drive a woman to insanity, trapped in an overcrowded container, floating in the middle of nothing.
Like a dunk in cold water, she was yanked from her reverie by the last thing she expected at that moment. A sailor had wrapped an arm about her waist, and pulled her into the shelter of a large capstan. Underneath the quarterdeck, and with few lines of sight from the maindeck, he leered at her as he tugged at the neck of her shirt, biting at the skin exposed while his hand forced it's way through the restrictions of the material to her breast. It was ridiculous, was her first coherent thought as she realized what was actually happening. He couldn't seriously think that he'd remain undiscovered. There were simply too many hands about for his temporary privacy to last. Unless he felt that his actions would be unremarked...
Her eyes widened at the thought. How could I have forgotten where I was? Who these people are? She chastised herself, even as she began to move. Parole, or no parole, there were some things she simply would not meekly tolerate. Her head slammed forward, causing him to yell out as his nose broke against her forehead. Grabbing the hand that had been violating her shirt, she spun rapidly, kicking out behind her while yanking at the twisted arm, hearing the satisfying 'oof' as her foot sunk deep into his side. She released his arm and doubled up her fist, finishing her spin to land a swinging blow to the back of his neck, watching in bemusement as he sank slowly to his knees and then fell flat to the deck.
She wasn't concerned about the sound of many feet approaching rapidly until her arms were pinioned firmly, and she was lifted entirely off her feet by what must have been a walking mountain behind her. Two others ran to the prone sailor, rolling him onto his side and exclaiming at the blood pooling beneath him. "Damn me, she's killed 'im," one bystander commented.
"Hardly. It's just his nose," she protested, directing her comment to the only face she recognized. Cromley, who was pushing his way through the gathering crowd of men.
He bent down to check on the sailor. "He'll live," he commented calmly, aiming his gaze past Amy's shoulder.
"Release her, Dobbins." It was the captain's voice, steely and cold in a way Amilene had not yet heard.
"But...aye, aye Cap'n," the brute who had her in a bear's grip rumbled. Amy stumbled when he abruptly let go, but managed to regain her balance and turn to face the furious woman behind her. Black Luc the ruthless, accept no substitutes. Amilene felt a small quiver of trepidation in her belly, but forced herself to keep her chin up, and her eyes defiant. Parole or no parole, she sent the message through her eyes. She caught a quick flash...was it appreciation? It was quickly gone.
"Cromley...wake that up," Luc snapped.
"Aye Cap'n," the burly bosun gestured imperatively towards a mop bucket. A sailor obediently picked it up and threw the contents on her still immobile attacker. It was effective, and the man spluttered a bit before bracing himself to a sitting position with one arm.
"Well, sailor?" The calm in the question was eerie. Amilene actually felt the menace climb down her spine, as the man looked quickly about at the circle of onlookers. When he didn't immediately reply, Cromley cuffed the back of his head. "Report, damn yer hide."
Amilene began to feel a glimmer of hope. Perhaps she wasn't about to see the inside of a brig after all...or worse.
"She was cutting the mizzen cable Cap'n...I jes' tried to stop 'er," the louse lied in the tones of the abused and righteous. He looked around the circle. "Can't trust no Brit...no matter what they says!"
Luc's eyes rose to examine the length of thick, tar encrusted rope that would be accessible from this portion of the deck. "It's unmarked, sailor."
"Tha's 'cause I stopped 'er!" He protested. "Lookit...she attacked me. Whet else y'need? Y'think she's thankin' us, for sinkin' 'er ship? Out fer revenge, she is..."
The captain walked over to stand in front of Amilene. The blonde forced herself to stand still as the pirate examined her minutely. When the brown eyes locked on a point below her chin, the fury erupted again. Amilene flinched in response to the anger, as much as to the hand that reached out and pulled her collar aside, revealing what was certain to be a very ugly mark on her neck. She couldn't keep her eyes up, as the evidence was revealed. She was naked, in this circle of men, the disgusting mark of victimization exposed, making her feel an odd shame she didn't particularly understand. The hand moved from her collar to her chin, forcing her head back up. A warm gaze met her as the pirate shook her head slightly. Somehow, she was pulled back from the shame, reminded of her duty by the small gesture. Her spine firmed, lifting her chin from the captain's hands.
Luc's small twitch of approval was all the strength she needed to restore her own pride. Then the woman turned away. Two long steps, and the bleeding man was backhanded back to the deck. "You lie," her calm tone contrasted sharply against the sudden violence her body had uncoiled. "Cromley?"
"Aye aye, Cap'n," the bosun manhandled the terrified sailor to his feet, and hauled him to the mainmast.
Amilene gulped, nausea threatening as she realized what was about to happen. It sounded like such a small thing, flogging. She hadn't truly given the term much thought throughout her life until she witnessed her first beating at sea. Until you stood there, at attention, a man bound and helpless, screaming out his pain as the leather pulled blood from his back, you didn't really understand. In was naval discipline exposed for the violence that lay at its core. Three seamen had fainted on the sidelines, she remembered. She'd almost been a fourth, herself. It was so easy, especially on a ship run with the vigorous discipline Moorehead enjoyed, to imagine that it could have been you who had accidentally forgotten one of the hundreds of pieces of responsibility, military courtesy, and odd bits of expectation labeled 'duty'. Midshipmen were more likely to find themselves over the barrel for a birching-humiliating and painful, and somehow far more personal, but were by no means held immune from the cat. It was, as it was intended, a brutal lesson for onlookers.
She took a deep breath. This wasn't her ship, and these were not her men. She had no duty here to be an example, and could escape below to the cabin, save her already shaky sense of equilibrium from one more shove. It was tempting, for a long, painful moment, but she knew even before the thought began that she had to bear witness. Firmly, she paced forward, finding herself subtly guided to mount the steps to the quarterdeck, and stand beside the captain. It was the least desirable position, in her mind. Here, she saw the man's face, instead of his back.
"Sixteen," Luc instructed Cromley when he turned to look at her in query. Amy's breath caught. Four floggings-she remembered each one distinctly. Eight, five, twelve, and six lashes respectively. Never so many.
The first lash landed with a sharp meaty sound, and the man raised his eyes to meet hers, a look of hatred painting his face. She felt herself tremble and clenched her jaws together tightly enough to feel her teeth strain as she stood impassive. She focused on the count, "four...five...six..."
Her knees were weak, now. Her breath felt rapid, shallow. A quiet thunk, as a sailor fainted to the deck. "Nine...ten...eleven..." A hand came to rest in the small of her back, giving her a point of stability.
"Almost there," the murmur was reassuring, for the second time that day giving her the strength.
"Fifteen..." A long pause. Oh god, I forgot. The parting blow...Cromley was already turning towards the ladder to the quarterdeck, handle of the cat turned towards her.
"Continue, Mr. Cromley." Luc's voice stopped the motion, and Amy's breath released all at once.
"Return to your duties, men." The subdued crew shuffled away, not even murmuring about the morning's dramas.
Luc watched with a sad smile as the young naval officer left the quarterdeck. Moorehead was more of an idiot than I thought. She'd done herself proud this morning, and had she been Luc's junior, she'd have been spending some careful time planning the girl's training.
"Put him off at the next port," she murmured to Scudsley as the man was untied and frog-marched below. He was new, and Cromley had already grumbled about him. Should have run him out the first time Cromley mentioned it.
"Aye..." Scudsley paused for a moment. "She's a scrappy one, isn't she Luc?" He was the only man aboard ship who felt free to use her given name.
Luc lightened up enough to grin a little, as he'd intended. "Two mangled noses in as many days. Wonder how many of the lads' faces she'll end up redecorating?"
"The thought boggles the mind," he exclaimed in humorous wonder, then pulled her towards the starboard rail, away from the ears of the helmsman before continuing. "Though, few of them are so monumentally stupid...especially since scuttlebutt is she spent the night in your cabin."
Luc raised an eyebrow. "You don't really think that of me, do you Scuds?"
"Think what? That you can appreciate beauty? You're right, it was a foolish thought."
"She's a junior..."
"Not your junior," he argued.
"A kid on her first deployment? I wouldn't..."
"That," he nodded meaningfully towards the ladder. "Is not some insecure, romantic young girl to be taken advantage of, so please don't lie to me or yourself by painting her in those colors."
She shook her head. "Why's this stuck in your head?"
"Three reasons," he held up his fingers to illustrate. "One-you're due, and I'm your friend. You've exiled yourself from the world for long enough," he shrugged off the beginnings of her protest. "I'm not arguing your decision. I'm here with you, aren't I? However, I don't think it means you have to treat yourself the way you think they see you."
She groaned, suddenly, remembering the breakfast conversation. "Speaking of..."
She paused, suddenly a bit embarrassed. "She told me some things about myself this morning..."
"Huh?" He tried to follow the logic, and failed. "What do you mean?"
Luc sighed. "I mean I got a sociology lesson on the effects that the traitor Captain Reynolds had on England's society."
He laughed, startling the helmsman who returned his eyes forward at Luc's glare. "She didn't know who she was talking to?"
"Clearly," she replied. "Did you know...?"
"What, that England's women were staging a quiet revolution under your banner?" He replied pithily. "Of course. You would have too, if you'd ever bothered to go home on leave."
"Perish the thought," she replied quellingly.
"Oh, this is just perfect. She's about the right age, too. I bet she had a serious case of hero worship..." His smile broadened when he saw the truth in her expression.
"Thus destroying your theory regarding romantic young girls." She tried to divert him, just a little.
He shook his head. "Nuh, uh. Maybe she was, once. But look me in the eye and tell me she doesn't know her own mind."
"Still young," she grumbled.
He looked over at her, seriously. "So're you, Captain." He scratched his head. "We all forget, sometimes; I think, even you. But if you're more than six years her senior, I'll eat Thom's hat." The hat in question, a battered ancient object that never left the grizzled cook's head, even in sleep, was a serious culinary threat.
She leaned a hip against the rail, and looked out over the sea. "I'm surprised, sometimes, not to find grey hair when I look in the glass."
"My point, exactly. You've accomplished...well," he stopped that thought when he saw her shift restlessly. He knew she wouldn't listen for overly long if he went that route. "All I'm saying, is you might find some joy in life outside of battle. And don't scowl your eyebrows at me, we both know it's part of what makes you...you."
"And the rest of your reasons for this intimate little tête-à-tête?"
He ignored the sarcasm and grinned broadly. "She's absolutely perfect...for you."
"Did you turn into a matchmaking grandmother during my sleep?"
"Did you turn into a nun during mine?"
She sighed, and just shook her head. "I'm not going to ask what you think you've seen in a single day to make you so set on this." She glared at him when he opened his mouth, undoubtedly to answer that very question. "She's a responsibility Scudsley, not an opportunity. She's also been traumatized more in the last twenty-four hours than she has been her entire life...all due to my actions, or lack thereof. Are you thinking, really, or just wishing?" She pushed off to descend the ladder. "You have the watch Mr. Scudsley."
"Aye aye, Captain, I have the watch. Don't you want to know the third reason?" He called after her unrepentantly.
"You're a sailor, Scuds. I know the third reason," she replied, causing him to grin devilishly.
"Hey," Amy called softly, seeing that Maxine Brewer was awake. The older girl gestured her into the cabin with her uninjured left hand. "How are they treating you?" Amy sat on the edge of her bed to ask.
"Doc seems to know his medicine," she shrugged. "Does the rest matter?" Amilene shouldn't have been surprised to hear the bitter edge in her senior's tone, but it still dug around in her gut.
"You seem to be doing alright by yourself though," Max made a show of examining her very non-naval attire. "Having a bit of a holiday?"
"You have to know better than that Max."
"Do I?" Max sat back against her pillow. "I suppose...it depends on what you have planned next."
"What can I plan? I gave my oath, Max. By god and the queen's honor."
The girl's upper lip curled. "And you just rolled over and gave that up, did you?"
"In exchange for your lives, yes." Amy gently clarified.
"Under duress," Max pointed out.
Amy grinned. "When is a parole given, except under duress?"
"It's a gentleman's agreement, given between effectives of civilized," she drew the word out slightly in emphasis, "nations after capture while awaiting ransom or exchange."
Yes, that was the crux, wasn't it? A subtle difference in circumstance, but the tradition was one of several pieces of shared military culture that preserved the humanity of those fighting the wars. Prisoners were expensive to keep, requiring guards and food, at a minimum. Under parole, prisoners could be put to work providing for their own support. Without it, well, it may not be practical to keep prisoners alive. Such agreements kept atrocities at a minimum, and maintained the distinction between a soldier and a murderer.
"You don't owe Black Luc anything," Max continued. "And it is the responsibility of a captured officer to seek escape from enemy hands, and to lead those subordinates he finds himself among to regain their liberty. Article 43, section 12." Amy restrained the urge to roll her eyes, but she knew how to fight this battle.
"An officer is a direct representative of her majesty's virtue. He will give his word sparingly, in full awe of the knowledge that he shall be required to live by his oath, and suffer the consequences arising from his condition. An officer is his oath." Amy felt uncomfortable, remembering how she'd already placed limits on her own word, when faced with sexual assault.
"An officer's duty to the service of the queen shall be held above desire, comfort, and breath." Max riposted.
"It won't wash, Max." Amilene replied. "Remember Johnston?" Lieutenant Johnston, while under parole, had sabotaged the French ship he was incarcerated upon, while it did battle with an English frigate. He had hijacked a longboat to join the English crew afterwards, only to face court marshal and execution...his body delivered in state to the French navy.
"Johnston placed us all at risk. This," Max gestured contemptuously. "Is a pirate ship. They don't honor the articles of war." Each word separated and emphasized with Max's anger.
"I do," Amy stood, and left the cabin, retreating from the field of battle.
"What are you doing?"
Amilene stood up a bit awkwardly, feeling slightly caught out, to face the dark woman lounging in the hatch. Candlelight did interesting things, she noticed. The pirate was wearing a leather vest-like garment that would have gotten her arrested back home, especially since the lacing didn't seem capable of bringing the two lapels closer together than a couple of inches. However, it was the way the light played over the pirate's arms and face, highlighting shifts of muscle and bone that captured her eye.
"Um...plotting problems?" Amy hesitantly admitted, gesturing at the charts that were scattered along the large table, realizing, far too late, that it could seem a bit suspicious.
To her relief Luc grinned. "Going a bit cabin-crazy?" The woman asked sympathetically.
"I hate charting, actually." Amilene relaxed enough to share. "But it didn't seem like a good idea to wander around again..."
"That's unfortunate," Luc replied deadpan. "Scudsley and I were taking bets on how many noses will be flattened by the end of the cruise."
Was she being teased? Amy's brow twitched together in thought. "I'm sorry about that," though no one had taken her to task. "I know I promised..."
Luc held up a hand, stopping her words. "Your oath was me and my interests...not some lunkheaded tar. I believe," a note of steel entered her voice, "that I have now made the situation clear to my crew. But should it happen again, I expect you to defend yourself Midshipman."
Amilene shivered slightly. "I will," it was more of an admission than agreement. "But..." She quenched the strange impulse to ask the captain's advice. Max's words from this afternoon were still tugging at her. But the idea of asking a pirate captain for help navigating her honor was laughable, on the surface.
On the surface. Why did she want to seek Luc's advice, then? Why did a part of her feel she could trust it?
Luc pushed off from the doorframe when she didn't continue. "But it never should have happened," the captain admitted with a grimace. "I'm exceedingly fortunate that you are equipped to provide for your own physical safety."
"You're fortunate..." It was the beginnings of a question, and then she understood what the captain was unwilling to admit explicitly. Again that disparity, the hint of integrity, the pull to see the woman as one thing, the knowledge that she was another. "You're a pirate," was the only phrase she could think to say.
Shutters came down on the eyes. "True." Luc began to leave the cabin.
"Wait..." Amy didn't know why she did it. Or why she felt embarrassed by the implied insult she'd just given. "I think...I don't know what a pirate is. What you are," it wasn't the best apology in the world, but it was honest enough. "It would help," she admitted in a rush. "If we could...speak."
An eyebrow twitched up at the ambiguous language she'd chosen.
"Dine with me," Amilene found herself urging, a little lost herself at what she was trying to accomplish. Listening to her own words just to find out. "Not as a captain or as a pirate, or my captor. Just...a person."
A second brow shot up to join the first, as Black Luc looked almost alarmed at the suggestion. It convinced Amilene that her wayward impulse was on the right track. She took the risk of stepping forward and grabbing Luc's hand in entreaty. "Please."
Brown eyes captured her own for a long moment, and then the usually confident woman bobbed her head in awkward acknowledgement. "It'll be late...after second dog," she explained before slipping away.
"I think he expected to find me surrounded by lady's maids, attending to my toilet," Amy laughed. "It was awful cute."
Luc chuckled, a sound Amilene found engaging. "He's a good lad," she replied. "Lord knows how he's managed to stay so naive..."
"It's endearing," Amy replied, grateful that she'd finally thought of telling the pirate the story of the boy trying to bring her tea with his eyes closed. They had been awkward and a bit formal before then. The pirate had been almost...reticent. Nervous? As if she wasn't certain what to say, or how, without the masks of authority Amilene had declared taboo. The long wait, almost three hours, hadn't done Amilene's composure much good either. The ship was, relatively, quiet at ten hundred, giving their meal a sense of intimacy that had been challenging to relax in...especially if you were filled with unexplained anticipation.
"I think he has a crush on you," Luc told her mischievously.
Amy blushed. "Well...he's young."
A brow arched at her. "He has good taste."
Amy took a sip of her wine to give herself time to recover from the surprising compliment. "How'd you end up...?" She gestured with her cup to indicate the Diamond.
A devilish grin teased her for the subject change. "What's a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?"
Feeling greatly daring, Amilene contradicted her. "I'm fairly certain that 'nice,' isn't one of the adjectives commonly applied to Black Luc of the seaways." She tempered the teasing comment, not wanting a return of the evening's shuttered hurt. "Bold, capable, and devilish perhaps. But nice?"
"My father was a whaler," Luc shared. "When my mother passed, he brought me out to sea."
"Whaling's a hard life," Amy grimaced. "I didn't realize until we had to help one that had gone adrift when a fire had taken about a third of the ship. We spent a fortnight helping them effect enough repairs to make port. I heard a lot of stories, then."
"Hard, dirty, and sometimes thankless." Luc agreed. "But, the sea became home." She shrugged. "When the time came for me to make my own way...I discovered that I preferred humans to animals as opponents."
The question, why not the navy, was on the tip of her tongue when she stalled it. Some instinct told her that the relaxed atmosphere would rapidly disappear if she gave it voice. Instead, she asked, "How'd you acquire the Sky Diamond? She's a Boadicea class, isn't she?"
"Won her at cards from a Spanish privateer named Gutierrez. He'd taken her under Letters of Marque, but was holding her off shore while he indulged in a few vices before braving the prize court."
The answer was filled with a world that Amy had only the vaguest of understanding of. "What were the stakes?" She asked, fascinated.
Luc shrugged. "The old reprobate wanted me for his crew...and his bed."
"Oh my," Amilene found herself replying.
The brunette laughed. "Wasn't that much of a risk, really. The working girls in Port Royal loved it when he came to port, since he'd lost the use of his weapon years ago."
"Poor man," Amy giggled at the salacious comment.
"More than you know," Luc replied. "The stakes were the Diamond...and his clothes."
"His what?" Amy chortled.
"I admit he aroused my ire a bit, when he suggested adding services in his cabin to the pot." Her lips twisted in self-mockery. "My pride demanded that he take as much risk. So...a march down High street without his clothes." She laughed in memory. "He was quite covered in rotten fruit by the time he made the safety of his ship."
"I'm surprised he didn't try to run you through."
"I don't recall saying he didn't." Luc's look turned predatory. Amilene watched, fascinated at how close to the surface that lived for the woman, surprised to find herself intrigued instead of repulsed. "How does it feel?" She asked quietly, not taking her eyes from Luc's face. "Knowing that no one can make you live by any rules but your own?"
"Transient," was the startling reply. "Eventually, someone will be good enough to stop me...Maybe you."
Why did the last sentence cause a burn in her gut? "Is that what you want?" She barely recognized the timbre of her own voice. "To be stopped?"
"Want, in this meaning," the deepening voice slid like silk between them, "is an emotion for the young. Now, I just live."
"No dreams?" Amilene bit her lower lip before whispering, "No desires?"
The brown eyes lit with a strange fire. Amy felt the crackling tension between them in a sudden gestalt. Deeply shocked at herself, unwilling to temper the moment by looking away, she waited...wondering what response her impulsive behavior would draw.
"Perhaps..." Luc raised a hand slowly, deliberately to cup her jaw. The hand paused, bare contact with Amy's skin, leaving a large opening for her to break away. She recognized the question in the gesture, and turned her head slightly into the hand in answer.
Caught her breath as the pirate used it to pull her forward as Luc leaned in, making her want to scream when she paused again, hesitant, mere inches away. Her hand shot out and buried itself in dark hair, pulling the woman to close that last gap. Releasing air in shuddering relief when warm lips covered her own, bringing new sensations of presence and power to her chest. It was liquid fire, burning like whiskey. Her whole body was shaking in reaction, while her lower back strained to support the task of bringing their lips together, keeping them there in a moment she feared to end.
"You're trembling," she could feel the words as puffs of air against her skin.
She didn't want to talk. She'd have to think, if she talked. She leaned forward further, intent on recapturing the warm lips, nearly falling into the pirate's lap.
"Whoa..." Luc laughed as her hands jumped to Amilene's waist, stabilizing her. Heat filled her face; she felt gauche, exposed, and a bit disappointed. "C'mere," Luc suggested, grabbing a hand and leading the blonde to a seat on the deep couch. The brunette pulled her down with her, and she found herself cradled in Luc's embrace, with her back against the sofa's arm. It was intimate and comforting, she found, and relaxed with her head resting against a strong shoulder, content to just live for a moment.
Luc felt the relaxation, and shifted her arms slightly in a move that was almost a hug. Damn...I hadn't intended on doing that. Then she grinned in appreciation of the blonde's boldness. Though, I really wasn't the one who did, was I?
Looks like you were right Scuds, she's not insecure, she admitted wryly. Though...
She sifted through the signals she'd been getting, wondering what was giving her pause. Certainly not her own mind, at the moment. Maybe she'd resented the shove Scuds had given her in this direction, but inherent honesty had forced her, after a long afternoon of walking the ship, to admit that she'd been fascinated from the moment that she'd seen the woman through the glass. Why else leave her ship in the midst of battle? Because the girl's actions were interesting?
Luc wasn't a scientist, she was a tactician, and that had been a damn poor tactical move. But...she also knew she was five foot nine inches of screaming id when the guns were roaring, and that part of her had seen something that she'd wanted, and grabbed it.
The girl relaxed further, murmuring thickly, and Luc's gut clenched, as she realized that she was falling towards sleep. It felt...nice.
The tables had certainly turned. Ah, that's it. Amilene hadn't been choosing, she'd been following an impulse, Luc realized with a strange sense of disappointment. What, you were expecting, true love? She mocked herself. Then laughed as she examined her own position. A kiss like that...Luc shook her head at the naked passion that had erupted from the girl, from herself, with a simple touch of the lips. A kiss like that should have had them both unclothed, and in bed by now. And it certainly wasn't Amilene who turned it into a cuddle, was it?
Alright Lucillious Reynolds, she demanded of herself. Are you sitting here and contemplating NOT taking a beautiful woman who throws herself at you? There was no earthly reason not to. Unless...she wanted more.
More was frightening. She was a thief, plain and simple. One who took her pleasures when and where she could find them, because the only reliable tie in the bottom of society was mutual interest. Anything else required respect, honesty...promises. And who believed the word of a criminal? Only the foolish and the naive, neither state holding much appeal for her.
Mutual interest, when applied to matters of romance, lasted as long as the novelty did. And that's what it really is, for Amilene, isn't it? She's outside the rules of her own world for the first time. Feeling reckless, and interested in the freedom and fascination of a woman living on the edge.
Damn, she thought again, knowing that she had found some truth. Guess the only question left to answer is...do I take what's offered, or not?
Two women rolled off the couch in spinal reflex as the drums rolled, landing in a pile on the deck. Luc ably disentangled herself, and grabbed her sword belt and surcoat before disappearing out the hatch.
Amilene blinked confusion out of her eyes, as the adrenaline of a beat to quarters started to peak. All revved up and nowhere to go, she chuckled in amusement at herself. Startled when Luc strode back in, eyes alight with the same joyous fire Amilene remembered from the first day she'd seen her. The brunette grabbed the back of her head and yanked her into a brief, but intense kiss.
Her eyes, when she pulled back, dared Amilene to protest. A quick cocky grin accompanied her orders. "Off the deck, Midshipman, and secure the infirmary." A pistol landed at her feet before the pirate disappeared out the hatch.
A moment of remembered anger sparked in Amilene, echoes of her last battle. Then she shook her head. The two situations were hardly parallel, and in truth, it was a brilliant choice. Amilene jumped to her feet, tucking the weapon into her waistband as she made her way through the frenzied commotion of a crew scrambling to quarters. If it had been me...I might have been tempted to secure me in the brig. I seriously doubt I would have armed me, she grinned as she flattened herself against the bulkhead, avoiding a powderboy running full tilt towards the gundecks with two buckets of cartridges. Of course, I don't have her monumental dose of daring...
However, her shipmates were in the infirmary. Chained and unarmed, defenseless if the Diamond were boarded. It was a place where Amilene's loyalties would be unlikely to be strained. She skidded her way into a turn, heading for the starboard ladder down to the berthing deck, where there were far fewer men running about. The first volley fired, causing the ship to recoil sharply against the impetus. I thought those were eighteen pounders...a bit long for this hull...
She paused when she got to the last bend before her destination, and looked at the pistol tucked into her waist. Max...
Max would see this as her chance, and Amy as her tool for escape. Silently, she began swearing to herself. A moment of thought, and she ducked into one of the berthing bays, scanning around rapidly until she found a bit of rope. One thing that's never in short supply on a ship, she thought in amusement to herself as she quickly lifted her skirt, and rigged an impromptu harness that ran around her waist and thigh, giving her access to the weapon if she really needed it, without making its bulk too obvious...she hoped.
Reassured, she resumed her trek. Janess' eyes lit as she entered, but Max gave her a cold look and turned slightly away.
"What's going on?" Janess asked in an excited whisper.
Amy shrugged. "All I know is about the same as you...we beat to quarters, and then the guns started firing. Clearly, we're either attacking or under attack." She looked over at Dominique in concern. "She hasn't woken yet?"
Janess shook her head. "Nuh uh. I'm getting worried."
Amy walked over to the unconscious girl's bedside, and felt her forehead. Hot. She grabbed the rag soaking in a bowl on the deck, clearly there for that purpose, and began bathing the girl's skin with the cool water. "I'm going to go see if I can be of use to the doctor," she commented as she worked, mostly thinking aloud, feeling a tremor of fear at the thought. Helping the wounded took a different kind of nerve, one she wasn't certain she possessed.
"I should have known...helping them now? While you pretend you're helping your shipmate? You'd help her more by getting her out of here," Max commented bitterly. "But you're too much of a coward, aren't you?'
Amy glanced up at the doctor, busy with his assistants preparing a table for the bloody work to come after the battle, worried that he might have overheard. They seemed safely intent on their tasks, so Amilene returned to caring for her friend. Once done, she turned to the aggressive Midshipman. "She seems to be getting good care...you all do. You'd rather, what? I pile her into a stolen dinghy, perhaps...days at sea with limited food and water? She'd die, Max."
"She'd at least have lived not knowing you for a traitor who cooperates with dirty, honorless beasts."
Amilene stared at her as the ship shook with another volley. She'd always known Max to be a bit...fervent. It was as if she felt that she had to be the perfect representative of the ideals of god and country. That there was nothing else to believe in. The small world of the Justice, for Max, had been divided into good sailors, and bad. Her contempt for those who didn't measure up was always present, in small ways. A curled lip, an unkind comment, a subtle suggestion that this or that person could not be trusted, because they were aboard for money instead of love, or as small a thing as a slight sloppiness in their duties. I thought she was my friend, she realized. She called herself that. But...I was one of the dedicated. Now...she had untapped what she realized was a deep well of venom seething under the skin of the perfect patriot.
"You don't really have all that integrity you vaunt so highly," she found herself saying. "Do you?" She provided her own answer as thoughts rose in her mind, putting together pieces that she'd never analyzed. "You need a cause...with a simple value system that insures that you're always perfect, always right." Amy bit her lip. "The world...isn't like that, filled with questions that have easy answers that you can look up in the articles of war. And the hard questions you've been avoiding...the ones that have no right answers...those are the ones that define us. Not a code written down on a piece of paper."
Max spat in her direction, the globule falling short of its target by nearly a foot. Amy didn't even feel angry, just sad to realize that she had just stripped the last mask off, and bared the ugly anger underneath. She turned her gaze to Janess. "Forget the word 'pirate' for a moment, or that we lost to this ship. The captain saved our lives, provided medical care, food and shelter. Have you been ill-kept?"
Janess, glancing quickly at Max, shook her head no. "Would you have found better treatment at the hands of the French, Spanish, or Dutch navies? Has anyone aboard failed to give you the courtesy of your rank?"
More confidently, Janess replied. "Mostly, it's just been the doctor and his mates. And they've been kind, if a little...coarse."
Max glared at the girl. "Can't you see that they're evil?" Amilene fell to her knees, as a violent concussion traveled through the ship. Apparently Luc's target had guns of his own.
Jesus, Amy thought, more in response to Max's venom than the blow. "Can't you see what that blind hatred is doing to you?" Amilene snapped as she struggled back to her feet, ignoring the shudder of the return volley. "Look at yourself Max. Better, look at your duty. You're senior Ms. Brewer. Is this the example we should be following? Contemplating killing our shipmate, just so you can escape your feelings of powerlessness? Encouraging me to break an oath? If that is where you think responsibility lies, why haven't you offered your own parole? Gained your own freedom of movement so that you can carry the burden?"
Max gaped at her. "I'd not offer my word to that cheap cowardly animal."
"She's braver and more civilized than you are," Amilene snapped before leaving Max to her own world, removing herself to stand just outside the hatch, leaning against the bulkhead. I seem to be laying claim to this particular spot, she thought in amusement. Max had been...ridiculous. But, perhaps, if Amilene wasn't feeling just a small amount of guilt, she might have responded a bit more moderately. She's in pain, helpless, and chained to a bed. Not a situation designed to bring out the best in any woman, Amy admitted to herself. Lieutenant Durham said that some people reacted this way...he made it sound like an illness to be pitied, and urged us not to be unkind while we set them aside to get on with our duties. He was talking about under fire, but...this is just as terrifying, in a way. Guess I failed the unkind part.
Wounded men began staggering down the passage, and Amilene took a long bracing breath before stepping out to offer a shoulder to the first seaman, a splinter of wood the length of her hand lodged horribly in his cheek.
Luc kicked the dead man off her sword violently, just in time to turn and meet the ax swinging towards her head. She caught it low on the blade, and then heaved, throwing the sailor back just far enough to give her room for a backswing, slicing him open from neck to knee. A leap and she cleared the slippery gore that erupted, landing on a drumhead, and swinging her blade down to tangle two swords thrust in her direction. Idiots, she grinned to herself as they got in each other's way, giving her time for a thrust to the shoulder of one. He dropped his blade and began yelling his pain, as she turned and made short work of his partner.
Grabbing a stay, she slid down to the spar deck, about fifteen feet, in time to catch a marlinspike aimed at Scudsley's back. It caught her hilts, so she punched the large Spaniard in the throat left handed. He sank to his knees, gurgling.
"Kind of you, Captain!" Scudsley shouted as he kicked out the knees of his own opponent.
"One of these days you're going to have to learn how to look after yourself, Mr. Scudsley." A rifle ball zinged into the rail next to her.
"But why should I?" He grunted, as he thrust the point of his sword into a thigh.
Luc turned her gaze upwards to find the shooter, and pulled out her pistol with her left hand to take aim at the sharpshooter on the mizzentop.
"When you're so much better at it?" He continued, turning to find his next opponent.
She fired. A rapier swung at her, taking advantage of the momentary lapse in her focus. "Because one of these days," She dove to the side, dropping the pistol and cursing as her shoulder struck something hard and protruding, then scrambled up to spin on her knee and catch the follow-up blow. In one swift move, she pulled a blade from her boot and charged forward, sinking it into the man's gut.
"I'm going to decide you're not worth it." She replied, grinning as a small squad of men started screaming to fuel their charge across the deck at her. Nice of them to give warning, she thought, locating a convenient line to grasp.
"Gotta go, Scudsley," she directed. "Grab on!" He glanced over his shoulder and groaned, even as he disarmed his opponent and kicked the man over the rail.
He obediently grabbed the rope, a topgallant sheet, complaining all the while. "I hate it when you do...thiiiiiisssss," he screamed as she sliced through the line, sending them flying into the rigging.
"Stop yer bitchin," she grinned at him, grabbing his firearm out of his waistband and firing at a sailor who had taken a bead on Cromley's back. "Don't you know it's not a proper fight if we don't ride the rigging at least once?"
He rolled his eyes at her as they got their feet onto a spar, balancing with one hand apiece on the mast.
An eye roll cannot go unpunished. "Stop lazing around sailor," she made him yelp by shoving him off the yardarm. "We've got a ship to take."
"Damnit Luc!" He shouted as he tangled in a ratline and stopped with a joint-popping yank. "Do you have to make everything hard?"
She slid down a cable, striking a pose as she passed him. "Just because you find a little morning scuffle challenge..."
"Captain! Don't take them all...."
She landed in the middle of the squad, who'd lost their forward momentum when their quarry had effected a vertical escape, managing to knock at least three down in her descent. "...on!" He completed his sentence as she scrambled to her feet, sword in one hand, and knife in the other.
"Mr. Cromley!" He shouted, still trying to escape the ratlines. "To the Captain!"
"How helpful!" She grunted, surprising the closest sailor by booting him in the nose. Ah...mayhem ala Bradshaw, she grinned in delight at the thought.
Four more presented themselves as a united front, and she finally had to start working. She managed to dance at the edge of their reach, taking advantage of her greater mobility. After all, I don't have to worry about keeping pace with my neighbor.
"Four's a bit much, ain't it Cap'n?" Cromley arrived at her opponent's left, his long knife sinking between the man's ribs with ease.
"You know me," She slid to the left, making use of the hole that Cromley had created. The three couldn't swing to stay with her; instead, they were at a diagonal, leaving the man in front to face both Luc and Cromley unsupported for a quick moment. "Always wanting more."
Cromley grabbed the man's sword arm, and swung his boot up to his gut, even as she leveled a swing at head height. Folding around his gut, the man ducked out of the way of her sword just in time, as they'd intended, causing it to slice across the face of the man behind him. The third sailor dropped his sword and held up his hands, as his wall of protection disappeared.
Cromley calmly knocked the man unconscious, as Luc turned to find a new opponent.
Only to find that all the men standing on the deck were either her crewmen, or unarmed, holding their hands up in the universal token of surrender.
Rawlings poked his head up from the lower decks. "We ahr secure below, Captayn."
"Captain?" The voice came from upship.
"Take a squad and sweep the ship. Clear all decks before we send our men back. Oh...find their wretched excuse for a captain, while you're at it."
"Aye aye," he replied.
"Cromley, use these boys to help get the wounded down to the infirmary, then lock them up...use as many of our men as you need for security."
"Rawlings, go check out the holds."
"Williams, get this tub under control before it founders."
"Aye aye, Captain."
"Mr. Scudsley!" Luc shouted at her first mate, still descending the rigging.
"Captain?" He thumped lightly onto the deck.
"Keep an eye on things here. I'll be on the Diamond."
"Aye Captain," he replied.
Fast and crisp, the ordered responses that eventually created order around them. Luc leaned against the rail momentarily, before heaving herself over the rail in a leap, grabbing one of the ropes stretched between the two ships on her way down, and propelling herself hand over hand to her own deck.
Damn...that stings a bit. She rotated her shoulder in her socket as it complained about the strain she'd just given it. She climbed the ladder to the quarterdeck.
"Damage, Mr. Jameson?"
"Good bit 'o rigging to be replaced, Cap'n. Took a good hit on the second gundeck, for'ard t'mainmast. Down four guns, for a bit. No dead, seven wounded...one of those might not make it, Cap'n. Old Pullman was caught beneath one t'em guns, Doc says 's got bleedin' on t'inside." Luc nodded in understanding. 'Bleedin' on t'inside,' was one of the phrases that men feared to hear from their physician, near code for 'almost dead.'
"Thank you Mr. Jameson. I imagine Mr. Scudsley will be removing wounded from the boarding party soon."
"I'll let the Doc know, Cap'n."
"No need," she replied. "My next stop. I'll be in my cabin, afterwards. Send the privateer's commanding officer to me there, once Scudsley's dug him out of a corner."
Jameson grinned as he replied. "Aye, Cap'n."
The uncomfortable sound of men in pain greeted her several feet down the passageway. She paused, just inside the hatch, surprised to see Amilene standing next to the surgeon, blood up to her elbows as she held something at his murmured orders. Luc blinked a couple of times, seeing the determined way she bit her lip, her pallor ashen almost to the point of green. Amy looked up and met her gaze. Luc lifted a brow in inquiry, worried at the fatigue she saw in the drawn face, and the blonde smiled a little in reassurance before returning to her task.
Then Luc turned to the left, and the bedside of the first wounded sailor. Most were awake, with relatively minor, though frequently painful wounds. She stopped for a quiet word with each of them, learning more about the fate of her ship from their words than Jameson's report. Like true salts, most were cheerful, asking jauntily after whether they'd taken their prize, looking forward to both their shares, and their wound fees.
She paused when she reached Pullman's cot, and sank to a knee. His eyes opened, and he looked over at her with a weak smile, grey hair dangling limply across a forehead beaded with sweat.
"Looks like my last battle, Cap'n."
She met his eyes levelly. "Looks like, George." She acknowledged quietly. "Your son is still in Jamestown?"
"You're a good'un, Cap'n, rememberin' that." He replied.
She crinkled her eyes at him with gentle teasing. "How could I forget? The best damn lawyer in the world..."
"Isn' that somethin'? Never coulda bought that fancy eddycation, if'n y'didn' have sech a good nose fer trouble." He leaned forward a bit. "Tha's a pretty lady," his eyes lit with mischief as he spoke.
It caught her by surprise, and she laughed. "That seems to be the consensus. If you're good, old man, I'll introduce you to her."
He looked at her seriously. "Cap'n, you lissen to old Georgie...don' blow t'is one."
Luc looked inside for a moment, feeling she owed him the best truth she could find. "George...I don't think she's..."
"Don' think y'er wurth nuthin, you don'." He interrupted her. "Yer dead wrong, an if'n you don' believ'er when she sees whut we all know, ye'll blow it."
Luc shifted uncomfortably.
"Ye lissen to old Georgie Cap'n," he repeated as he sank back into his pillow.
"I'll try George," she promised, a bit dazed at his blunt interest.
"You're a good'un," he whispered, eyes closing.
She lifted her hand to his pulse point for a moment, worried that he had just passed. Then slumped in relief when she felt a faint pulse. Not yet, at least, she thought sadly before standing. Turning to find Amilene Bradshaw gazing at her across the cabin with a look of sympathy. The blonde walked over to her side, and gave her arm a small tug.
"Come on," she said quietly. "Looks like it's your turn to collapse."
Luc allowed herself to be led out of the cabin, neither one of them noticing the Midshipman whose eyes followed.
Amilene felt strangely proprietary, as she pulled the pirate captain into her own cabin. But she didn't really know what to do with her, now that they'd arrived. The woman was looking sad, and tired, and she was a mess, with blood and smoot coating most of the parts Amilene could see. A bath, of course.
She stepped out into the passageway, and poked her head into the captain's galley. Fortunately, Callahan was there.
"Callahan?" She asked tentatively.
The odd combination of phrasing and accent he always used derailed her for a moment. "Scots mother?"
He grinned and nodded.
She shook her head, eyes wide in respect. "Must have been one interesting marriage."
"T'weren't borin' at home, certain sure."
"You think you might be able to rustle up a bath and warm food for the captain?"
His eyebrows rose. "Now? She hurt?"
Amilene shook her head. "No...I just thought it might make her more comfortable."
He started laughing. "Well, you might just pull it off. G'wan back, I'll take care o' ye."
She reentered the cabin, and found Luc standing at the broad windows, hands clasped behind her back, gazing out to sea. God, a lot has happened since last night. Looks like that might be true for her, too...
There were many things she could have said at that moment. She could offer sympathy, ask about the battle, or even express gratitude that she'd thought to send Amilene to guard her friends. "I yelled at Max," came out instead.
Luc turned from the window, her expression an invitation to continue.
Realizing where she was going with this, Amilene wandered over to one of the dining chairs and sat in it. "She called you...well, it doesn't matter. I think I was angry with myself," she admitted, before forcing herself to look Luc in the eye. "For treating you poorly last night."
Luc's brow creased into an almost frown, as her shoulders squared a little. Amy didn't give her time to respond. "Thing is, that was...new." She shrugged. "I kind of treated you like a new toy, instead of a person. I'm sorry."
"Perhaps," Luc said kindly. "We can blame the wine. I understand..."
"I'd like to try again...if you'll let me," Amy admitted in a rush.
The brows shot up. "Not the direction I thought this conversation was going," Luc replied in quiet surprise.
Amy cocked her head, then took in the squared stance, and replayed the words in her head. "You thought I...Oh, do I look that stupid?" She laughed at the startled expression on Luc's face.
She bubbled a bit in pleasure at having completely flummoxed Luc, and figured she had her answer. Looks like I'll be able to claim that second chance, she thought to herself. But, first... She crossed the room. "I asked Callahan to start heating a bath for you," she tugged on the surcoat. "So, you want to get out of these clothes?" She tried for a bold look, and knew that she'd succeeded when Luc laughed heartily, and lifted a thumb to brush along Amy's cheek.
"I'd love to audaza," she replied, putting a rich undercurrent into her voice. "But Scudsley should be dragging Gutierrez down here any moment. I'd hate to give the old boy any more food for thought."
"Gutierrez? The one you got the Diamond from?"
"You should have seen my face when I got topside," Luc shared. "Gives new meaning to 'speak of the devil'."
"Uh, yeah, then. I think maybe clothes should stay on." Amy approved.
"Glad you agree," Luc grinned. "However, I'd take a hand with the coat."
Amy reached out and grabbed both lapels, spreading them wide and pushing down, feeling a completely inappropriate sense of salaciousness in the move. That is, until Luc tried to hide a wince. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing...I just bruised my shoulder a trifle"
Amy walked behind her and found that the shirt had been adhered to Luc's back with blood. A narrow, but long gash stretched along the shoulder blade. Bits of shirt, surcoat and dirt had dried in the wound, giving it an angry, painful look. "Luc...it's not a bruise. It's not bleeding anymore, but it certainly did. I'll call for the doctor."
A hand shot out, stopping her. "Don't. The wounded from the boarding party are probably just getting down there...and as you said, it's not bleeding any longer."
Amy shook her head. "It needs to be cleaned...there's all this muck in it."
"You did order a bath," Luc reminded her, though Amy winced at the thought of the salt water. "Relax, I've had worse."
She cocked her head a bit at the sound of boots in the passageway, and sat down at her desk. "Well...sounds like they finally found him. You need not remain, if you'd prefer."
"Hardly," Amilene took a stance behind the captain's desk chair as the hatch opened, with Scudsley and Jennings escorting the tall Spaniard. He was quite the dandy, in plum colored breeches and voluminous ruffles appearing at neck and wrist. It was an interesting contrast...his fine, unmarked velvets without a single powder burn, to Luc's bloodstained, tattered appearance. The comparison did not serve him well. He seemed callow and pale, marked as soft and untouched.
His first act, Amilene was discomforted to note, was a head to foot examination of herself. The knowing, rather demeaning expression on his face was calculated to make her feel small.
"You were right, Luc." Amilene commented dismissively. "He does look a bit like a ferret. Though you didn't mention that he wore women's clothes."
Luc snorted a bit in surprise, as Gutierrez' face mottled into an interesting shade that came close to matching his trousers.
The pirate leaned back in her chair, interlacing her fingers across her abdomen and stretching her legs out before her, as she claimed Gutierrez' attention with a hooded look. "How is Baron Hudson these days?"
"You jest?" He replied. "I sail for Espana."
Luc shook her head in negation. "You sail for profit, Pablo, as I'm certain we'll be able to confirm, when my men dig the letters of marque from...What is it now, four nations?...out of your strongbox." She waved a hand languidly. "Not my concern, as I'm hardly a patriot of any nation, but you may wish to spend some quality time thinking on how the mother land is going to react when she discovers your games. No, not my concern," she paused, and quirked a brow at him. "I am, however, a bit curious. You see, you've never been particularly brave, Pablo. Commerce raiding is about all you're good for, the occasional unarmed merchant vessel being more than enough challenge for you."
He looked about him, indicating the Diamond. "Oh so? And are you sailing in a merchanter? It was I who captured her."
Luc's grin was not pleasant. "We both know how that occurred...or would you like a recap?" His expression made his answer clear. "I thought not. So...what concerns me is exactly what could have motivated a bottom-dweller like you to attempt to take my ship."
His eyes lit with a feral joy. "It is simple Senorita...Admiral Howard has finally found what has become of their greatest traitor." He paused for effect. "You truly are not a patriot, are you Negra? He has offered much gold for the capture of the infamous Captain Reynolds. Perhaps you have taken my ship, but there will be many, many more." He smiled maliciously. "And I will smile in delight when the wolves finally catch up to the arrogant Black Luc...even from hell, I will delight in this."
Amy stood frozen, feeling the blood drain from her face.
Luc merely quirked the corner of her mouth at the news. "Mr. Scudsley?"
"Please choose a small island kingdom in which Senor Gutierrez can await the Day of Judgment in comfort."
After they'd left, Luc rotated her chair to face Amy, face expressionless.
Amy just looked at her for a long moment, and discovered that she had nothing to say. With a small shake of her head, she turned and left the cabin.
Late that night...Captain's cabin
Scudsley carefully aimed the neck of the bottle at his glass, frowning in disapproval when only a small trickle of port emerged.
"Here..." Luc shoved another bottle towards him, before taking an appreciative sip from her own snifter. "Hafe to hand it to those Spaniards," she announced with an amazing lack of slurring, considering how much Scudsley had to think just to form sentences. "Know their port, they do."
Scuds looked from the full bottle in his hand to the glass, and felt challenged. With a shrug, he brought the bottle to his lips instead. "Iz time," he declared definitively, looking over at his shipmate.
Luc grinned at him crazily. "Time? Fer what you loon?"
"Talkabbouddit." He replied.
A fierce frown formed on her brow as she shook her head seriously. "Too early. We'll make for Georgetown after using the Domingo to take the convey, 'n...and, send Rawlings and Cromley to check it out. Mebbe not so bad...We've had a price on our heads for years now, regardless."
"Nah, nah," Scuds waved his hand so broadly, he almost fell off his chair. "Bout Br..., Br...."
"You cold?" Luc interjected, leaning her hand in her head, Scuds frowned, head in her hand and grinning at him.
"'Bout blondie," he finally compromised. When she didn't answer, he decided that she needed more help understanding. "One inna bunk? Mine, I mean...Girl"
Luc frowned at him. "You've got a girl in your bunk?"
He nodded vigorously. "Yer girl...my bunk. Sleepin' on deck, I am. Why izzat?"
Luc stared at her empty glass then reached out a long arm to snake the bottle out of his hands as he was lifting it to his lips. "Hey!"
She poured out a few inches, then returned it to him.
"Not my girl," she replied. He just snorted his opinion of the argument, until she finally gave an answer. "Simple Sscuds...she belongs to the RN, and the RN doesn' like Reynolds. 'Sp...Especially, it turns out, her women."
"Dinna tell'er? Stoopid." He opined grandly.
"She didn't seem inner...interested in asking."
"Stoopid," he repeated. "Crew'sh mad."
She leaned back, staring at him over her glass with a slightly owlish look. "I don't get it Scuds, why'd this lot of rogues suddenly turn into interferin' ...ng old aunts?"
"Love's Cap'n," he intoned as if sharing secrets of the universe. "Was jealoush, once."
Luc snorted. "She's hardly in love."
"Notther," he corrected. "Crew." He waved his bottle around. "We's rich," he proclaimed. "We's free, 'n nivver lose." He leaned forward, bracing the bottle against the table with both hands to support himself. "Mosht besht...we's men."
Luc's mouth quirked. "In theory, at any rate...some of us."
"Nossir," he focused on his words. "Not ani..ani...pigs." He finally got out proudly. "Men. Gots diginity...'n famly."
Luc lifted her glass, but set it back down carefully when she realized she was aiming two inches left of her mouth. Scudsley, for his part, was finding that the table was getting closer to his head as he spoke. "Crew loves...'n Blondie purfect. Nivver better 'n blondie. Brave 'nuff luv Cap'n. Good girl." The tablecloth was course against his cheek, but comfy. He didn't have to hold his heavy head up. Some rat had stuffed his head with lead when he wasn't looking. "Good table. Good girl."
Luc grinned broadly at him, then reached out a long arm and pulled the rope for Callahan. He was blinking sleepily when he appeared in the hatchway several minutes later. "Sorry Nick," she apologized, ignoring the surprise at the use of his given name. "C'n...Can you find a berth for Mr. Scudsley? His is full."
"Happy t', Cap'n."
"Take 'is boots off, too." She thought to add as Callahan began to heave her first mate into the passage. "Hate sleepin' with boots," she muttered to herself as she made her own way over to her bed, not bothering to douse the lanterns. "Scuds nuts," she muttered as she fumbled with the thick leather of her gunbelt.
Amilene rolled over in the narrow bunk for the hundredth time. I can't believe she's Reynolds. It was a litany in her head that had worn thick grooves by this time. How she must have been laughing at me, as I told her her own life story. Oh, god, I can't believe I said some of that... Of course, she hadn't mentioned the deep sense of betrayal she'd felt when Reynolds had gone rogue.
Just like every other girl who had been dreaming of a brighter future...and then one day discovered that now their trailblazer was a whip used by smug men to prove the unreliability of the female of the species. She betrayed more than the navy, that day. Does she realize that? Did anyone ever have the guts to tell her? The anger that had been building in her gut all night clawed at her. "I do," she found herself saying aloud.
She jumped up and dressed in rapid, jerky motions. She'd wake the woman up and tell her, in detail, exactly how many dreams she'd shattered, just because she'd rather take money than orders.
The cabin was lit when she burst through the hatch, a little disappointed that she wasn't going to be rudely waking the pirate up. "Just tell me one thing," she began angrily. "What was it? Money?"
Luc blinked rapidly at her, seated on the edge of her bed, a foot caught in both hands. "George's right...pretty lady," Luc said.
"What? Don't belittle me, Luc. Give me an answer."
"S...sorry," she replied, without putting her foot down. "What was the question?" Her gaze returned to the boot, and she frowned fiercely at it.
"Why did you do it?" She'd never known she had so much volume in her.
"Do what?" The pirate asked, without looking up from her boot.
"Kill Schaeffer? Destroy three RN men-of-war? Capture five merchantmen in a convoy you were supposed to be escorting? Does any of this sound familiar? Damnit, Luc, look at me!"
"Sorry," the pirate repeated, oddly turning her entire torso to face Amy in an exaggerated gesture. "Familiar?" She asked thoughtfully. "Yes...I remember," she replied informatively. "Can'...can't forget," then aggravatingly turned back to tugging ineffectually at her boot.
It only took three strides to get Amy across the room. "Jesus," she grabbed the woman's shirtfront and shook her, before letting go with a violent shove. "Stop playing games with me, Luc!"
To her surprise, Luc flopped backward onto the bed, as her foot fell to the floor with a thud. "Damnit," the pirate struggled back into an upright position. "Now I've gotta get my foot back."
Amy let out a frustrated breath. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Gotta get boots off," Luc replied, comically bent over and waving her hand at her foot.
Amy caught a clue. "You're drunk."
"Yep," Luc replied proudly. "Rip-roaring, three sheets to the wind, wanna rip your clothes off drunk. Can't though. You're mad. Aha!" She reclaimed her foot and yanked upward.
Amy sighed as the pirate ended up rolling onto her back, hands wrapped around her heel and knee in her chest. "Oh for the love of...just give me that." She grabbed the boot and pulled, as Luc grinned up at her. With sharp, angry motions, she let the foot fall unceremoniously to the deck while she grabbed the other one, yanking its boot off ungently.
She grabbed the manic pirate by the shirtfront again, hauling her up and turning so she could prop her against the headboard like a doll. "There...at least you're a harmless drunk."
Luc shook her head seriously. "Not ush...usually. Last time...threw Thomas Modyford in his own jail."
Amilene's eyebrows rose. "The governor of Jamaica?"
"Yep...pissed him off," she grinned.
She refused to be derailed from her anger by an interesting story. "Luc...listen to me alright?"
"Of course," Luc replied sincerely.
"Slaves," Luc replied seriously.
"What?" Amy sat down at the edge of the bed.
Luc nodded. "Slave ships, on the triangle trade."
"The triangle trade's an invention of yellow journalists," Amilene replied.
"Real...and we protect it. Guarding convoys. Packed tight like sardines, starving, children dead in chains." Luc's eyes glittered brightly. "Schaeffer...Howard...others... take bribes, call the cargo 'coffee from Sanani,' or sometin' like. Heard them, calm, like businesh, business deal." She managed a tiny, tired shrug. "Couldn't do it. Useless, though. Couldn't bring 'em home, couldn't save 'em. Most of 'em died in wilderness, too weak... Useless." Her voice was fading rapidly, and Amy, unwilling to end the conversation, reached out and grabbed Luc's chin. "Don't fall asleep," she commanded.
"Aye aye," Luc replied, fixing her eyes on Amilene. "Sorry," she added.
"For what?" Amy asked as her gut roiled at the implications of what Luc had just told her. Howard was a Lord of the Admiralty. If he truly was involved in... Then my whole life just changed, didn't it?
"Shouldna said...not comfortable, knowing." Luc replied with startling insight for a woman on the edge of passing out. "Easier, not to."
"Since I gave a rather pompous lecture about easy ethics this afternoon, I can hardly get angry at you now, can I?" She was talking to herself, more than Luc, she knew. The pirate was right...it would have been easier not to know. But better? She shook her head in frustration.
Luc's brows contracted. Oh...probably too much for her to wrap her mind around at the moment.
"Not mad?" Luc pulled out the essentials.
And Amy realized that it was true. "Not mad," she replied with a smile, reaching out and unbuckling the sword belt that Luc had apparently begun to remove at one point, and given up on.
Luc's eyes widened. "Too drunk," she cautioned.
Amilene reached out and ran a hand through Luc's bangs. "I know, honey. I'm just tucking you in."
"Honey?" A brow rose up in surprise, as Amilene loosened Luc's breeches a bit.
Amy blushed, and then shrugged the truth. "Weirdest courtship ever..." she muttered as she got up and pulled a blanket out of the sea chest at the foot of the bed. She didn't want to try to wrestle the bedding out from under Luc.
She draped the blanket over the pirate, who was blinking rapidly in an attempt to stay awake. I think...I'm relieved. Am I really happier knowing that the woman I'm attracted to is a good guy, at the expense of atrocity? No...Not exactly. I'm glad my gut wasn't wrong. Though, she added impishly, her being adorable right now doesn't help my case much. Scary Black Luc, huh?
"Y'gonna jus' stand there?" Luc muttered, patting the bed beside her. Amy bit her lip, and then smiled in rueful self-acknowledgement. Guess we'll talk tomorrow...
She lifted the edge of the blanket and lay down, and couldn't help the small contented sound that escaped when Luc's arms surrounded her, pulling her into the comfortable spot she remembered. "Luc?" She thought to say before closing her eyes.
The corny phrase, it's an honor and a privilege, hovered at her lips for a moment. She sighed, and snuggled in. "You're worth knowing," she opted for instead.
Luc groaned, feelingly. Fuck died in my skull?
"Good morning," a maliciously cheerful voice practically caroled.
"Fuggoff," Luc replied, rolling over and covering her head protectively.
A warm chuckle responded to her rudeness. "Now, how did I predict that response?"
"Too loud, too damn cheerful, and far too awake." Luc commented.
"And loving every minute of it," Amilene replied brattily.
"Amilene?" Luc muttered.
"The worst parts of my reputation were made while I had a hangover," she warned.
Amy relented. "Sorry, I couldn't resist." She actually wasn't certain what had come over her, only that she'd woken up feeling playful and happy. There were about five thousand problems waiting to be addressed, but she'd firmly boxed them away until later.
Luc groaned again. "Go pick on Scuds, would ya? Give a poor pirate some peace."
"Here," she said repentantly, "Have some of this...Callahan said it would help." She poured out a glass of the juice concoction the steward had provided. "Though he did seem rather relieved to leave administering it in my charge."
"That...would mean sitting up. No deal." Luc didn't move.
"It's really good," she sat at the edge of the bed and rubbed the bicep of the arm that was curled protectively over black locks. "Besides...never mind." She chickened out.
"Uh oh," Luc sat up; rubbing at her face with her palm so vigorously she warped her features. "Tell me I didn't fuck up again."
"Hangovers bring out the best in your language," Amy commented.
Luc accepted the glass of juice. "You don't know the half of it...I'm being good."
"And when have you f..." She shifted gears. "You really expect the worst, don't you?"
The pirate grimaced and began pouring juice into herself so rapidly Amilene was amazed. "Here...I'll get you some more." She reached for the glass.
Luc shook her head. "I'll get up," she replied, determinedly throwing her legs over the edge of the bed, staggering towards the large windows at the stern of the ship.
Amilene poured out some of the coffee Callahan had provided instead of tea. "Food sound good or revolting?" She turned to find Luc tying a rope around her waist.
"Good," Luc replied briefly as she opened one of the large windows.
"What in the world are you doing?"
"Swim'll get the sheep's dung out of my brain. Besides, I smell like the inside of a punch house."
Amy's jaw dropped open as the woman dove out the window, into the wake of the fast moving ship. "That's got to be cold." She shook her head as she went to the window. Shaking her head, she laughed, watching as the woman was dragged along, forming a plume of water. Could've fallen for a nice boring merchant, she thought to herself with a grin, watching as the pirate pulled herself hand over hand back up the rope.
"Feel better?" She asked as she grabbed an arm and hauled. Luc stuck her head out the window and squeezed water out of her hair before walking over to the chest and pulling out dry clothing.
"The important query," Luc replied, beginning to strip off her sodden breeches. Amilene decided that it was a good time to put together a plate of food from underneath the silver domes, keeping her eyes firmly on the table. "Is how are you feeling? That wasn't exactly the way I would have chosen to teach a young officer about corruption in the service."
"Oddly formal," Amy replied.
"Not an answer," Luc remonstrated.
Amilene expelled a breath and sat down. Looked up when she sensed Luc approaching. "I was trying not to think about it," she admitted, handing over the cup of coffee.
"Bless you," Luc said reverently after taking a sip of the warm beverage. Amy tugged at a convenient belt loop, "Sit down and eat."
The pirate obediently sat, but quirked a single brow at Amilene instead of eating. The blonde stared at her for a moment, then looked around at the table. Cozy little domestic scene, isn't it Amilene? "I'm doing it again," she realized, with a sinking sensation. "It's some sort of weird thing when I'm around you; I turn into this impulsive twitterbrain who takes carpe diem as her motto."
Luc's lips twitched a little. "I take it as a compliment."
"God, I'm sorry," Amy apologized.
The older woman reached out and brushed her cheek briefly. "I'm not feeling injured," she replied, before pulling back into her own space. "Truthfully. And you've had a lot happen to you in a few days. Look," she stretched her legs out in front of her, crossing her bare ankles and folding her hands along her abdomen in a relaxed open pose Amy had noticed that she was fond of. "If what you want is some diversionary fun, I can be there for that. In fact, I'm practically designed for that. But eventually, Midshipman," her eyes twinkled as she used the title, taking any sting out of it. "You are going to have to put that excellent courage to use and figure out what you want to do."
"Ever the captain, huh?" Amy replied ruefully.
Luc shrugged a little. "Can't help what I am...which is something else for you to think about."
"Ouch," Amy replied.
"Indeed. Are you certain you're not just diving in to this, because it'll force your hand? If that hard-nosed officer down there finds you romancing the RN's most notorious enemy, you'll be out of the service."
"No," Amy denied quickly, unwilling to allow Luc to entertain the idea even briefly. "I'm diving into this because you make me find my own strength...and it doesn't take away from yours." She shook her head, hating the limitations of words. "No one has ever...dared me to be myself before. That's worth grabbing onto the moment."
She was rewarded with one of the growing smiles that Luc showed so rarely. Uncertain what else to do, especially since she felt like it would be wrong to reach out and kiss the pirate just now, she broke the mood with a joke. "Besides, you're gorgeous," she batted her eyes at Luc. "And I'm shallow enough to be swayed by your dangerous charm."
Luc barked a startled laugh, but threw out a serious comment for Amilene to ponder. "We'll be making for Georgetown in a few days...and dropping off your shipmates." The corollary was clear. If Amilene wished to return to service, she'd have to decide by then.
A timid tap at the door. "Cap'n?" The voice was hesitant and apologetic.
"Come," Luc rapped out, as the burly bosun practically tiptoed in the door, looking as if he expected to find a slavering band of sea trolls waiting to jump him. Amy giggled, as she realized Luc wasn't kidding about her hangovers, if they could reduce a tough sea dog into a quivering puddle. "Sorry to innerupt, Cap'n..." He looked over at Amilene, and his eyes acknowledged her gentle, teasing smile with a self-aware twinkle. "It's just the prisoners, sir...the men, well, that is..."
Luc's eyebrows lowered in a dangerous portent. "Not again, Mr. Cromley."
"Uh...No...not that, Cap'n, it's just that after the flogging, none of 'em are willing to risk...and one of 'em, she...that is, uh..."
"Get yourself together man." Luc snapped, clearly impatient with her normally confident henchman.
Amy startled giggling. "Oh... Has Midshipman Flambeaux woken up Mr. Cromley?"
He let out a breath. "That she has...and half the men afraid to even go near, fer fear t'cap'n'll have 'em up aginst the mainmast."
Luc looked from her oddly embarrassed bosun to the giggling Amilene in confusion. "One of you want to explain it to me? Now?" She with impatient danger.
Amy kindly stopped the bosun, who was clearly trying to figure out a genteel way to put it (due in no small part to her own presence, no doubt). "Dominique Flambeaux is a bit...I guess randy is the best way to put it. I imagine she's been uh...overly friendly? with every man who's come within six feet."
Luc shot a disbelieving look at Cromley, and then started laughing. "Be careful what you wish for, eh Mr. Cromley? I imagine half the boys have had late night fantasies about exactly this situation."
"'Tis a bit ironic, Cap'n." He grinned in relief. "But someone's got t' bring 'em t'eir breakfast...an' get 'em to the necessary."
"This sounds like an excellent job for Mr. Scudsley," Luc replied devilishly.
"Haven't seen 'im all mornin' Cap'n," Cromley admitted. "Figgered he was sleepin' it off somewheres..."
Luc grinned. "Well, if I can drag myself out of bed at this ungodly hour, then my diligently conniving, excellent port-bearing first mate should have been up and about at least a bell ago, don't you think?"
The burly man's eyes twinkled in shared mischief. "I'll make certain he gets y'er message Cap'n."
"Bring a bucket of water with you," Luc suggested.
"I intend to Cap'n."
"That wasn't very kind," Amilene remonstrated after he'd been dismissed.
Luc grinned at her. "Last time he snuck into my room...we'd been carousing in Port Royal...and beat to quarters."
"Oh," Amy smiled. "After the Governor of Jamaica, right? Seems like spirits should be banned from your ship."
"Bite your tongue," Luc replied. "What would we do to ease the monotony?"
"Um..." Amy bit her lip, eyes sparkling with laughter at the thought of things ever getting dull on the Diamond. Only to have Luc lean over and kiss the abused lip gently. Uh... She thought in surprise. "I thought we were..."
Luc stood up and pulled her out of her chair in a swift move, bringing them together from neck to knee. Amy's body woke thoroughly at the contact, which was a new intimacy that her nerve endings didn't quite know what to do with. A sensation that redoubled when one of Luc's hands pressed firmly at the small of her back. Her hands floated up hesitantly, sliding along the pirate's arms, then clutching convulsively when Luc bent her head again.
The kiss she delivered showed none of the hesitancy she'd had the other night. Black Luc was taking what she wanted, and Amilene found the difference powerfully exciting as Luc's hand rose to tangle in her hair, freeing one of her own to slide down and grip the thick leather belt and pull with all her strength, bringing their hips into even closer contact.
Luc broke her mouth free with a groan, and pulled lightly at a fistful of Amilene's hair, exposing the blonde's throat in a demanding move that had her knees trembling as the pirate's mouth trailed lightly, teasingly down the line of her carotid. When Luc nipped gently at the thin skin, the tingling sensation that had been building in her gut caught fire. Her hollow knees stopped being equal to supporting her, and she drooped towards the deck.
Luc yelped in surprise when Amy started to fall, and desperately went to one knee as she tried to slow the blonde's descent. Amy landed softly, looking up at Luc from a seated sprawl blinking her eyes in confusion.
Luc looked at her in consternation. "Too fast?" She asked mildly, trying to calm the hormones and adrenaline that were still surging just beneath her skin.
"God," Amy exhaled. "Do that again?"
The chuckle rose from Luc's gut as she maneuvered to straddle the blonde's legs, sitting lightly on her own heels, knees flat to the floor. Amy's eyes widened a little as Luc grasped her hips, and slid the woman along the deck until the blonde's pelvis met her own. Holding eye contact, Luc reached down and tugged Amy's blouse free of the skirt, then pulled the loose garment over her head in a slow, deliberate move, feeling her blood catch fire again as Amilene willingly lifted her arms. She reached up and grasped the still lifted hands, then gently guided the woman to the deck. Amilene slowly laid back, balancing her weight against the strong support of Luc's hands. Luc paused for a moment, enjoying the sight lying below her.
"Beautiful," she murmured. Blue eyes were thick with passion, lips swollen, and flushed with color from her cheeks all the way down to below her collarbone. Gently, this time, Luc reminded herself. Hard to remember, when the woman's boldness and passion belied her inexperience. She brought the hands she still held to her lips, then placed them on her thighs before leaning forward to brush a feather light kiss between Amilene's brows. As she moved to each eyelid, she allowed a hand to begin tracing lightly along the skin of a taught stomach, a firm side, enjoying the play of silky skin over smooth muscle. A high, unconscious little sound came out of the blonde when she escaped the woman's attempt to capture her lips, simultaneous to bringing her tracing fingers up to the side of a breast, teasing the sensitive skin below the arm.
She grinned as she felt the hands clench at her thighs, as Amilene once again sought her mouth. Instead, she brought her attention to an ear, as her hand circled closer to center on the breast she was tormenting. The sounds, inarticulate spontaneous vocalizations, coming out from slightly parted lips were distracting. She could feel her gut contract with each one. Slow, goddamn it, she demanded of herself, working her way along a jaw. She gently gave Amilene the kiss she was seeking, even as she finally allowed fingers to lightly brush over the nipple that had been waiting so patiently.
Amilene groaned into her mouth and arched up, hand shooting from her thigh to cover fingers and clasp them to her.
"Captain!" Feet pounded on the passageway.
"Stand to!" She bellowed furiously, belaying any attempt to enter her cabin. She groaned when she looked back at the blonde, still marked by passion and holding her hand captive against her breast. Luc buried her head in the woman's neck, and mumbled "Someone's going to have to die."
Amy laughed shakily, and Luc felt her irritation grow at the delicious noise. "You need a lock," Amy rasped throatily, bringing her free hand up to stroke Luc's back.
"Captain!!!" A sound of feet moving.
"Stand fast," Luc tilted her head up to bellow. "Or I'll throw you overboard, see if I don't."
"Uh...aye aye," came the startled response.
Amy laughed more heartily when she caught sight of the frustration on Luc's face. "I never knew how much traffic one cabin could get." She reached up and smoothed the little vertical line that had formed between Luc's brows. A bell began to ring furiously in the background, and the sounds of shouting men could be heard. "You should go."
"I'm sorry, audaza," Luc apologized before jumping up. She offered Amilene a hand to her feet, and then scooped up her blouse and handed it to her with a rueful expression.
Luc strode through the hatch, strapping on her swordbelt and snapping with command. "Alright, report!"
Amy laughed as she resumed her blouse, trying to ignore the tingling along her skin, and the deep throbbing at her center that made her feel empty and disappointed. God...who knew ANYTHING could feel like that? Her breast was particularly protesting, nearly painful in the nerves' activated responses, and her neck...
She shook her head. Clearly, she needed a way to distract her body. Maybe she'd get lucky and a bunch of armed men would burst in with swords. She cocked her head, listening to the commotion hopefully. Nope, no drums, no battle. Drat.
Sitting on the sidelines suddenly seemed very unappealing. No battle, so...something interesting could be happening. Distracting, at least. She jumped up and headed aloft, looking for trouble.
"Alright, report!" Luc strode through the hatch and glared at Jennings.
He gulped. "One of the prisoners got loose Cap'n, set fire t' the galley. We've got her cornered, but...she grabbed Trent...and she's got a pistol to his head."
"Where away?" She snapped.
"Poop deck, Cap'n," he replied. "Mr. Scudsley's there now."
"And the galley?" She asked sharply as she strode down the passageway.
"Dunno much, Cap'n. Mr. Rawlings took charge of it."
"I see," she answered calmly as she ran up three deck's worth of ladders until she emerged topside. Up the ladder to the quarterdeck, then across and up again to the poop, where she found Scudsley and Williams, pistols drawn and cocked facing off against Max, who was flush with the sternward rail. She had Trent in a neck lock with her left arm, a pistol in her right hand aimed at the boy's head.
"For God's sake," she sighed, pulling her pistol and firing. The ball sank into the underside of the Midshipman's left arm, loosening her grip on the boy. Trent broke loose and ran for his crewmates, as Max lifted the pistol towards Luc in a panic, unfortunately realizing what Luc had seen immediately, that the weapon wasn't cocked. A click sounded her correction of the error.
"At least I can take you with me," Max announced as her body tensed.
"Don't, Max." Amilene said gently, putting herself in front of Luc.
Luc tensed as Max's expression became venomous when she regarded her erstwhile shipmate, and cocked her second chamber. "You're protecting them, now?" Max asked derisively.
"Protecting you," though the blonde nodded her head, negating her correction. "This isn't necessary, Max. They're heading for Georgetown..."
Max sneered. "They said that. Janess even believed them. Can't you see that it's just a trick, though?"
"To what end?" Amilene asked rationally, still easing forward. "What could they gain from you that they couldn't just take if they wanted?"
"My soul," Max replied. "They've corrupted you, Janess, even Dominique! A few days away from discipline, and you're no longer officers. Ready to believe anything of them." She looked briefly at Luc. "Of her. It isn't enough what she did to the service? To our ship? And to you," betrayal filled the girl's expression, and Luc suddenly realized that the girl had more than one fuel for her vitriol. "Get out of the way, Amilene." Max pled. "Let me end her evil, get you out of here."
"Here now..." Williams began angrily. Luc silenced him with a look. She knew how the RN viewed her, though the girl's near psychotic hatred was unsettling.
"I do believe her," Amilene took another step forward. Luc's jaw clenched, as Amilene drifted forward and moved into her firing line, the pirate shifting to the side to try and draw the weapon's aim away from the rash blonde. Who believed the word of a criminal? "I trust her."
"I'll see you cashiered," Max threatened angrily. "You've forgotten who you are, wooed away from your honor by pretty words and easy..."
Amilene ended the rant with a sweet blow, straight from the hip.
"I've found myself...and my honor," she muttered to the girl who collapsed at her feet. "They belong with hers." Luc couldn't restrain the broad grin that grew on her face, rising up from a wholly childish delight at the words, as Amilene turned an abashed expression of pride towards her.
"Told ya," Scuds snorted in the background as they met in an embrace.
Amilene broke away to look over Luc's shoulder at him. "Mr. Scudsley? Do you think a lock might be installed on the captain's hatch?"
He grinned and snapped a dress salute. "Aye ma'am."
"See to it," she requested before returning her attention to the pirate in her arms.
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