For the new guest of the Black Pearl there is one small, minor problem: clothes. What's to do?
Jack was standing at the large carved table of the main cabin when Kate returned.
“Everyone finished?” he inquired, looking up.
“Everyone has been tended to, Captain Sparrow,” she sighed, nodding. “Your crew should be ship shape in a matter of a few days.” She tried to sound upbeat, but he could hear the fatigue in her voice. Exhaling heavily, she half sat, half collapsed into a chair. Rubbing her neck, she stared at the floor. Feeling the tails of the headscarf brush across the back of her wrist, she straightened, pulling it away from her head.
“Here,” she said simply, her voice flat and listless. Shaking her hair free, she proffered it back. “Thank you.”
“You looked a right proper pirate, in that,” he mused, fondling the red fabric.
Watching her for a moment, he had an inspiration and retrieved a bottle of rum from a nearby table, swiping a cup from yet another as he passed.
“You look bloody awful,” he observed, pouring, setting the cup in front of her.
“You really shouldn’t flatter me so, Captain Sparrow.” She took the cup and slumped back in the chair. “You’ll turn my head.”
She took a sip of the rum, rolled it briefly in her mouth and then swallowed, wincing and shuddering.
“Jack,” he said, quietly, sitting on the table before her. “I’ve asked you to call me Jack.”
They fell silent. Kate stared tiredly at her cup; Jack stared at her. With his shawl tied as it was about her body, her figure was clearly apparent. Not as thin as he had previously thought, she was full and curvaceous, wide-shouldered and slim-waisted. She must have felt his eyes, because she looked up at him, her green—yes, they were green, then—eyes, mildly curious, but too fatigued to muster the strength to inquire.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” he observed, cautiously. “The healing,” he went on to clarify, arcing his fingers in a vague explanation.
She seemed hesitant to answer, but finally surrendered. “Yes.” Her voice was a bare whisper, tinged with remorse, heavy with despair, the single word laden with the weight of the past.
“You’ve done it a lot,” he added, tilting his head sympathetically.
She sagged forward, setting the cup on the table. Resting her elbows on her knees, she dropped her head into her hands, her hair falling forward in a mahogany-colored tangle.
“Yes,” she confessed, fatigue dragging her voice as she rubbed the back of her neck, again. “I’ve done it a lot; probably more than I care to think.” She heaved a labored sigh, frowning slightly. “Is there any reason why your crew were so awe-struck down there? They all looked as if I were completely undressed.”
“Well, you were, almost.”
“Oh, I guess you’re right,” she said, tugging at the front of the shawl. “I hadn’t considered that.”
“I don’t suppose they’ve ever seen a half-dressed woman on the gundeck of a pirate ship kneeling in someone else’s blood.”
“No, I suppose not.” She groaned, digging her fingers into the base of her neck.
Unable to contain himself, he moved behind her and began rubbing her neck and shoulders. Blissfully moaning, she leaned back in the chair, yielding to his hands. He worked slowly, firm but easy, feeling her relax, the taught, knotted muscles loosening as he dug his fingers into her flesh. Maybe it was the work, maybe it was the rum, or maybe it was his touch. Whatever, within a few minutes, she was asleep, her head lolling against the back of the chair.
He continued to massage, her body now limp under his hands; it was a good excuse to touch her. Her hair slid heavily back and forth across his arms, silky and fine, a bare whisper trailing over his wrists. Her skin was as velvety as he had expected, flush with the warm rush of sleep. Her breathing slowed into a deep, somnolent rhythm.
He wondered where she had been. What was it that seasoned woman to torn flesh and blood, allowed her to wade in, half dressed, in front of an audience of strange men, without hesitation? For himself, he knew well the trauma and horrors that hardened him and taught him the indispensable skill of separating himself from harsh realities. That process he had considered a rite of passage, to becoming a seaman, and had willing accepted it. Distancing himself from inconvenient truths had become a well-tuned tool, a survival mechanism, which had served, often and well. Never had he expected to find a woman who had been to the same school, learning the same violent lessons.
He looked down at the tip of the scar on her shoulder, peeking from under the makeshift sarong, clearly a mark of war. He shook his head slowly. No woman should have to endure war first hand. No woman should be physically touched, scarred by it.
“No more, luv,” he whispered, his thumb tracing the curve of her neck. “No more.”
He moved quietly about the cabin, occasionally leaving to attend whatever duties called. They were under sail, on course and steady winds, so there was little to do. The crow's nest was alert; were few worries there. One time, as he passed her chair, he draped his coat over her, occurring to him she might be cold. A small, satisfied moan escaped as she stirred, nestling deeper into the chair. Trimming a new quill, he tried to complete his log entries, but found himself gazing at her instead, watching a piece of hair fluttering at the corner of her mouth with each breath. Before, when she had slept in his lap, her face had been hidden. Now directly across, he could see her face full, taking special notice of the angel-winged eyebrows, slightly lighter than her hair, and full-lipped mouth, pouting slightly as she slept.
His mind wandered to urges and thoughts he did not want to host. Rising abruptly, he left the cabin, most of the thoughts, unfortunately, following close behind.
Returning some time later, he could see that she had just woken. Trying to focus sleep-blurred eyes, she blinked wide as he entered, rooting deeper under his coat, chilled.
“Nap well?” he inquired lightly, as he passed.
“Honest, Captain,” she said, straightening, rubbing one side of her face drowsily. “It's nothing about you personally that keeps putting me to sleep.”
“Didn't you sleep well last night?” he asked conversationally, poking about the table.
“Not really, “ she said through a yawn. She paused a moment, shifting uncomfortably under his gaze. “Strange bed, I guess,” she finished, lamely. “Captain...”
“Jack,” he said patiently, arching one eye. “I've asked you to call me Jack.”
“I'm sorry.” She smiled briefly, the apology seeming sincere. “Jack, there's still the small matter of clothes for me. I appreciate the use of your shawl...”
“I imagine it's a large part of the reason the crew was so willing to have you attend them.”
“Yes, I have no doubt,” she continued, tugging at the edge of the shawl. “I can't very well go 'round like this, now can I?” The question was without anger, but her point was well made.
“I thought you said you sewed.” He waved a loose hand toward the trunks, now shoved in a corner of the cabin. “Can't you just fix something out of one of those dresses?”
“Sure, in a couple of days!” Rising from her chair, hunching his coat over her shoulders, she moved to one trunk, and lifted the lid. “But these are ladies' things,” she said, holding up a pink satin sleeve, heavily ruched in lace. “Silks and satins, and fine laces.”
“You're a lady,” he pointed out, strolling toward the same trunk.
“Hardly,” she snorted. “It's not usually the first word that is used to describe me. Regardless,” she said, waving a dismissive hand, “I don't think any of these would be appropriate for on a ship of this nature.”
“You mean a pirate ship?”
“Exactly, a pirate ship.”
He could see the word made her nervous, even as she agreed with him. He couldn't blame her; men far stronger than her had difficulty facing the word. Sometimes, he even struggled with it himself, just a bit.
Catching himself staring at her again, he dropped his gaze down to the trunk instead.
“You're right, these are very fine things,” he murmured, fingering an azure blue brocade sleeve, frothing with lace. “You'd look lovely in this.”
“All in good time,” she replied, but without impatience. “Maybe I can get something made out of them, but I need something slightly more urgently—unless you're trying to keep me undressed and in here,” she finished, warily sliding a look.
“No,” he answered quietly, his attention still on the dress. Realizing what she had just said, his head came up quickly, slightly startled. “No!! No, you're not a prisoner!” he declared firmly. “You're free to go anywhere about this ship you wish.”
“And when we make land?” Tipping her head, she raised one brow high in question in quiet demand.
“Well, there is no land currently, is there?” he replied, strolling away, waving another loose hand. “When there is, we'll worry about it. I've only the one shirt, meself, but I'll see what I can find.”
Disgruntled, he rummaged through another of the several massive trunks in the hold of the Pearl, clothing boiling out of them like milk out of a pot. Surely, somewhere in all these bloody rags, there had to be something decent for her to wear! Knee-deep in everything from satin wedding dresses to uniforms and water-silk ball gowns, he moved to the next leather and brass-studded trunk and threw the lid open. Bugger!! More gilded buttons and satin cording; officer's uniforms, Spanish by the look of it.
Hands on his hips, he glared around the hold, looking for any trunk he may have failed to ransack. Did everyone in the entire bloody world wear nothing but fancies and fripperies? Wasn't there, at least, one practical person in the entire Caribbean that had the misfortune of being raided by him?
“And since when would we be taking linen skirts and serviceable bodices?” he growled, kicking angrily at a pile of satin robes and velvet jackets.
Why in the blazes did the woman have to be so insipidly practical?
Stooping, he picked up a rose-petal pink dress with a heavily quilted and gold-embroidered front, sleeves billowing with gossamer-like lace, his eyes lighting at the mental picture of Kate wearing it. Low cut, the gown would show off those wide shoulders and full breasts, her warm peach skin glowing. Frustrated, he tossed it aside, adjusting his goods slightly. The bloody woman was driving him near mad dressed in naught by a striped shawl; he'd never be able to control himself with her dressed in that!
What was it about her? Unable to answer the question, and unwilling to delve too deeply, he satisfied himself with the knowing she was just different, that's all there was to it. Any man who was to surrender himself to her would be lost forever; there would be no turning back. She had a spark about her. He had dealt with her sort before: bold and self-assured. Bloody touchy business, it was. One wrong word or move, and she'd be long gone, leaving him but a distant speck on her horizon.
Heaving a long, exasperated sigh, he jerked out a shirt he had dug out at the very first, holding it up again for inspection. Lacy it was, aye, but it was a man's shirt. Maybe that would be plain enough for her, wicked wench. It was large enough to hide her in, tying it up at the neck, notwithstanding. Holding it up a little higher to see better, he noticed for the first time the thinness of the fabric, a fine lawn of some type. That would never do! Every man on the ship would be able to see every bit of her goods.
Swearing, he threw it down and dove in up to his elbows in the next trunk. Exclaiming in victory, he came up with another shirt. Less frilly, he could feel already by its weight that this one would be more substantial. Again, the opening at the neck was wide, but the ties were intact, so she could close it up well. Tossing it over his shoulder, he continued digging, finally locating a pair of breeches, pitching them angrily behind him upon discovering they were large enough to fit three of her. Success was his in the next trunk; a pair of breeches near his size, maybe a bit larger. That would be just fine, he thought crossly.
The thought of Kate in breeches irritated him to no end. Truth be told, he had been around one or two women before, in breeches, and it had not gone well, not at all. Ana Marie had nearly taken his head off with her sword, settling for hitting him in the head with a rum bottle, before she left the ship. And Elizabeth...well, not good.
Stomping angrily through the hold toward the companionway, he stopped and held up the shirt again, another overlooked detail occurring to him. The shirt was large and loose enough, the sleeves billowing and full, but when she walked—well, things were going to be moving, and, by what he had been able to perceive of her, thus far, moving a lot!
Making a disgusted sound at the back of his throat, he returned to the trunks, tossing through them again. With a sudden thought, he snatched up the earlier shirt, the fine lawn. Too finely woven to be worn as a shirt, aye, but torn into strips it could serve as a comfortable binder. Pleased with himself, and his thoughtfulness, he snatched the lantern off its nail and pounded up the companionway.
“They'll work fine!” Kate declared, holding up the shirt and breeches. “Can't say the last time I wore pants, but it's certainly better than a quilt or a shawl. What's this for?” she asked, holding up a long ripped strip of fabric.
“It's for...well, you know...it's for...” Lacking words, he cleared his throat loudly, gesturing across himself. “It's to help with...things.”
“Oh,” she said vaguely, shifting her gaze away from him, biting her lip.
She saw him bite back a retort, his irk clearly rising. “Well, hopefully, you can have something else made in a day or so,” he grumbled, keeping his eyes downward.
Lowering the shirt, she gave him a curious look.
“Don't tell me!” she exclaimed, a slow, disbelieving smile growing. “You're not one of those men who think women shouldn't have legs!!”
“The last two women I knew who wore breeches both tired to kill me; one succeeded,” he informed her tersely, bracing his hands on his hips.
“And you figure, somehow, that was the breeches fault?”
“What else would it be?” he asked, swaying slightly.
She thought he was kidding, until she saw the deadpan, serious look on his face. She laughed, a rippling sound that came from deep in her throat.
“I'm sorry,” she said, holding up a barely apologetic hand. “I'll try to give you warning, if I feel the urge.”
“I would appreciate that!” he huffed, ruffling with indignation.
“Where can I wash these?”
“Wash,” she repeated patiently, holding up the clothing, shaking. “They need washing.”
“Because they smell.”
“Like what?” he queried cautiously.
“Any manner of things!” She shoved them to his nose. “Here, smell!”
“Not that bad,” he said, pulling back, frowning, suddenly appearing aware of his own shirt. “I've smelled worse.”
“Not on me!” she retorted hotly. “Either they're washed, or they stay on the deck, I don't care!”
“Have you any idea what it took to find those for you?”
“No!” she shot back. “But, more's the point, I don't care! I'm not wearing anything that smells like...that!”
“Well, I don't give a bloody damn if you stay naked in the bunk for the next fortnight!” he shouted back, glaring at her. Giving a loud, disgusted, guttural growl, he turned on his heel, and made for the doors of the cabin, stopping momentarily at the top of the galley companionway.
“Mr. Kirkland!!” he bellowed loudly, his throat vibrating with the effort. “The lady wishes to wash!”
Throwing a dagger look over his shoulder, he stormed out, slamming the doors shut behind him. On deck, he turned from the doors to find several of the crew, standing, staring, gape mouthed.
“What are you looking at!!”
Still bristling, Jack stood at the helm minding his watch, relieved to have an excuse not to have to return to the cabin for the next several hours.
Did the blessed woman have to wash everything?
He understood cleanliness well enough, even though his standards had become considerably lax, about himself at any rate. His ship was the best kept in the Caribbean, even the whole world; he prided himself on that. But as to himself...well, when was the last time he washed his shirt? Granted, it did rain, a few days ago, and then again, a few days before that. Somehow, he had the impression rainwater would not meet with her full approval.
Surreptitiously, he sniffed. Not bad, he thought, equivocally; certainly not as bad as some of the crew, And, giving Kate her due, not as bad as the shirt he'd found, but that just smelled like the hold. It always smells like that down there. It's the hold, what does she expect?
Thumping his hand angrily on the wheel, he swore under his breath. Maybe, now, he was beginning to understand the superstitions regarding women aboard ship.