Clothing is still an issue, but a larger one looms for Kate: is she a guest or is she a captive?
The Black Pearl had inflicted heavy damages on her assailant but had not escaped damage herself. Nicked up, she was still able to make her own way well but repairs were in order. Maintaining a neutral course sailing off the wind, Gibbs kept status quo until Jack was able to finally make decisions the next morning. Moving slowly, Jack listened to Gibbs' damage report intently. Kate observed from her chair. Nursing a tired headache of her own, she propped herself heavily on one arm on the table.
“We need to go in some where,” Jack pointed out. “Where are we?”
Leaning over the table to check the charts, he sagged, his knees buckling from under him as he grabbed the side of his head. Sitting hard in the chair, he clamped his eyes tightly shut, biting back an acid oath.
Too late, Kate offered a bit of advice. “Don't bend over.”
“You are too kind!” he replied sarcastically through a teeth-bared smile. He braced his head upright with his hand, adding: “Hadn't thought of that until just now.”
“I think his head hurts,” Kate observed flatly to Gibbs, too tired to muster full compassion. “Better get the rum,” she suggested, over the top of her coffee cup.
Inhaling deeply, she took another long drink, exceedingly grateful to Mr. Kirkland for his suggestion. Tea was fine for afternoon parlors, but nothing started the day like a good cup of coffee. Except this particular cup tasted like musty socks, and had a thick gritty texture that left a coating on her tongue and an edge on her teeth. She wondered how delicate she would have to be to convince Mr. Kirkland to change his brewing methods.
Slumping with exhaustion himself, Gibbs found the rum bottle and handed it to his captain, pausing to take a large swig off his own flask as he awaited orders.
Jack held his head as if he were trying to avoid it from falling off his neck, fingers dancing an urgent signal toward the charts, beckoning Gibbs to find their position.
Following a short discussion, a destination was chosen.
“Christianstaad,” Jack explained, after Gibbs left with the new bearings. “Originally, Dutch; not far. It's a fair enough sized town to offer what we need for repairs and it's away from most other traffic.” He smiled slightly, trailing a critical eye up and down Kate’s person. “We may even be able to find you some clothes. Those seem a bit...soiled?”
The Black Pearl was well under sail as Jack stood later that morning on the quarterdeck, quietly conversing with Gibbs. At the same time, movement below caught their eye, words dying in their throats. Like compass needles to north, their heads turned following Kate as she strolled from cabin to rail, tossing back a heavy lock of hair with a flip of her hand.
“Mr. Gibbs?” Jack said in slow thoughtfulness.
Neither pair of eyes wavered as Jack spoke in single, well-considered words. “How can it be all a woman need do is walk across a bit of deck and stand at a rail….”? His voice trailed off, neither one noticing the silence. Then he continued, even more slowly, distracted. “…and a man forgets everything he is about?”
The silence prevailed, their gazes locked in unison. Simultaneously realizing each was staring, they coughed, averting their eyes, and looking in opposing directions and muttering vague excuses.
Unable to resist, Gibbs’ eyes drifted back to the rail below. Thunderstruck, he urgently thumped Jack in the ribs, his eyes widening as his gaze was frozen on Kate.
“Jack! Jack!” With a tremulous hand, he pointed, his mouth gaping. “Look!”
“Don't you see?” His voice was a bare rasp, his throat tightening. “Can't you see it?”
“Huh?” Confused, Jack’s head swiveled from his first mate’s face, to his hand, to Kate and back to Gibbs.
“Watch her,” Gibbs urged, now pointing with his chin. “The way she moves; the way she stands.” He pulled his eyes away long enough to give his captain a curious look. “Don't you see it?”
“See what?” Jack retorted irritably.
“It's Elizabeth,” Gibbs replied cautiously, returning his stare. “Watch her.”
“Nonsense! Don’t be ridiculous!” Jack scoffed, waving a dismissive wrist. “You're daft, man! She doesn't look anything like Elizabeth. Lizzie was...” His hands drifted through the air, his eyes distant, lost in a vision, finally forming into a wavering straight shape. “Where Kate, she's...” His hands continued to waver, fingers wafting, eventually coalescing into several sequenced curves.
“Well, she's not as pretty as Miss Elizabeth, I’ll give ye that!” Gibbs shrugged equivocally. “It’s not the looks…. but, look!”
Jack, having never surrendered his gaze in the first place, looked with a new purpose, his eyes narrowing in consideration.
“Oh, bugger!” he gasped, staggering back from the rail. He swallowed hard, trying to rid himself of the huge, tight lump that had suddenly seated itself directly on top of his chest. “She's come back to haunt me.”
True enough, as Gibbs had said, it was there: the tip of the head and angle of the shoulders, the direct look and the go-to-blazes attitude. Something else; he wasn't sure what, He cocked his head sideways, his ear nearly to his shoulder. He closed one eye, and peered at Kate as she propped her hip against a deck gun. Maybe it was an air about her; maybe it was a smell. She certainly smelled good!
Straightening, he shook his head, twisting his jaw sideways in thought. Nope, he wasn't sure what it was, but it was definitely there—most definitely there!
Much to his consternation, the lump persisted, pressing down even harder on his chest. Any moment it was sure to crush him. Swallowing again, he recognized it, the feeling from before: when he lost the Pearl to Barbossa, when the one human he treasured most fed him to the Devil himself, and then when he lost that very person.
No, not again!
“I really have to stop pulling women out of the water.”
It took only a small part of the day to reach the bay at Christianstaad. Slightly larger than she had expected, Kate gazed eagerly at the little port town nestled between mountain and water, clinging to the shoreline. It was the closest she had been to land since leaving England, over three months ago. She had not thought about it earlier, but now she longed for the feel of solid land under her feet again, to walk on something that didn't pitch and roll at every step.
On the other hand, she felt a certain tug of regret. This was the first land since she had been pulled aboard the Black Pearl; this was probably where she would be put ashore. Sliding a careful look around the ship, she felt a pang of sorrow. Having only known these men for a few short days she had come to feel...what, connected? No, attached, like she may have finally found somewhere to belong. Living alone for the last five years, outcast and fugitive, she had been barred from open, personal contact with anyone, lest they be a risk of arrest. These men, these pirates, were the first people she had been able to have contact without fears and it felt good.
Casting an eye over her shoulder, she watched Jack leaning on the far rail, chatting with Mr. Cotton’s parrot. She thought maybe, just for a bit, she had at least found a friend. She would never forget him, that was for sure. He had wriggled his way well into her heart, a most unforgettable character. She would miss him severely. Feeling her gaze on him, he slid a look out of the corner of his eye and nodded, baring a broad golden grin as he continued his conversation with the bird. If anyone had told her as she stood on the Melody, watching the Black Pearl bear down on them, she was going to feel this bad in a matter of a few days, she would have called them insane. Now, it seemed insane to consider leaving.
“When are we going ashore?” she asked Jack anxiously, following him up the gangway to the quarterdeck.
“As soon as we can launch the boats,” he replied over his shoulder then stopped to face her. “But you're not going.”
Stunned, she rocked back on her bare feet. She had achieved a level of comfort and familiarity with him over the last few days, and had allowed herself to forget her real status. Her stomach plummeted as she stared at Jack, speechless, wondering how she could have been so seriously mistaken about him. Maybe, after all, he was the ruthless pirate he appeared to be. Worthless as a hostage, she was simply his possession, now, to do with as he chose.
She felt betrayed, but why? What had he said that would have implied anything any different? Specifically, she couldn't really recall what his answer had been when she had asked her fate, but it would seem clear enough, now. Anger over her own gullibility curdled up her throat, making it difficult to swallow.
“Why not?” The question seemed superfluous, but they were the only words she could form.
He hesitated, started to say something then stopped, his eyes shifting. “It's not safe,” he replied quickly, spun around, and swaggered away.
“So, I am a hostage, then,” she asked, tagging close behind.
“No,” he replied patiently, over his shoulder. “A hostage implies there would be someone to pay for you. And, since by your own admission there is no one, then you’re not a hostage.”
“Then, I’m a prisoner.”
“No, prisoner implies punishment. You’ve committed no crime, so there would be no punishment,” he finished with an elegant, embellishing wave of the hand.
“Then I’m being held against my will!”
“No, protective custody.”
Skidding to a halt, she clenched her fist, stomping her foot. “Protected from what?”
Stopping, he dropped his head to his chest and heaved a long, seeking-additional-patience sigh. Straightening with renewed resolve, he turned back. “As I said, it’s not safe.”
“Safe! What's safe have to do with it?”
“Everything.” And he was gone.
Slightly dazed and definitely confused, Kate stood watching as the longboat pushed away, carrying Jack and several other crewmen ashore. His bandage was well hidden under his headscarf, making him seem back to normal, uninjured. To her, under his bronzed tan, he looked pale and his eyes, especially at the corners, looked tightened, revealing he was hurting. Looking up at her, he made as if to wave then appeared to think better of it. Only then did she realize the clouded, angry, dark scowl she wore. She tried to rearrange her face but it was too late, they were gone, disappearing around a neighboring boat.
Landing party away, Mr. Gibbs took charge, and left no crewman on board wondering what might be done. Every man was pressed into some kind of service, the injured drawing easier duty than the well. At first Kate unsure of what she could do, but the answer became quickly apparent. One of the injured had to be re-bandaged, as his bleeding had not yet fully stopped, and all too soon one sailor ripped his stitches open as he over-exerted in his fervor to please Gibbs. In all, it softened the blow of being left on board as an undefined prisoner. She was needed.
Most of the chaotic rubble of the battle had been cleared, but there was still much to do. Poking about, trying to stay out of the way, she found herself gravitating toward Mr. Cotton repairing sails, a large blue and yellow parrot supervising from his shoulder. Aware of her watching, he looked up and gave her a noncommittal smile then bent back to his work. Only then did she recall he was a mute. The story, as she had been told it, was brief: His tongue had been cut out. She tried not to dwell on the horrors of such an act, forcing herself to watch his hands, moving swiftly along the canvas, needle and bobbin in tow.
Quickly becoming aware of her interest, he motioned her to sit and began a silent lesson in sail repair. Strangely, she found herself gesturing to him as he did to her, somehow becoming as mute as he. The work was hard, and tore roughly at her hands, but sewing was sewing and she was soon lost in the rhythms of the needle, buried to her waist in billowing chalky-black swells of sails.
Kate and Mr. Cotton continued to work in unison through the day, finishing one sail only to have another dragged in front of them. When he finally nodded to say they were finished the sun was dipping behind the mountains above Christianstaad.
Her back and shoulders ached, her fingers were nearly raw, but she felt wonderful. The work had been hard, but it had been rewarding to be able to see the immediate importance of what she was doing. The day had passed quickly; she hadn't realized how much of it was gone until she saw the deep purple cast of the mountains and the long shadow falling over the town.
Flexing the stiffness from her hands and shoulders, she stood at the rail gazing at the town. Night fires were beginning to twinkle lending the port the appearance of a jeweled necklace draped along the shore of the bay. Several smaller, skiff-type boats were anchored in the bay, their watch lamps glowing, but the Black Pearl was the only ship of her size and sat like a queen holding court over her lesser minions.
Leaning far over the rail, Kate tried to picture herself as one of those minions, and wondered how the Pearl must appear from the water, looking up. The only time Kate had seen her, the black ship was an approaching menace. Other than the black hull and black sails, there was little about the ship she could recall. Considering her prospects, from the rail might be the only view of the Pearl she might ever have.
Even from on deck, though, it was easy to see the Pearl was an ornate ship, with fretwork at the bow, wide curving banisters at the gangways and a heavily-carved stern pulpit of sea creatures and cherubs. Huge, fancy iron-worked lanterns stood as sentries at the stern, final gems in her crown.
Frustrated by the helplessness of her situation, hurt and anger were beginning to well up in her throat again. But she was distracted from her thoughts by the sight of a wide, flat boat carrying a multitude of supplies bearing toward the Pearl. Close behind, but gaining quickly, was the longboat, Jack stood prominently at the bow like, a returning conquering hero. A few times, he twisted back to speak with the oarsmen, but mostly kept his eyes forward, gazing at his ship.
She tried to remind herself she wanted to be angry with him, but found it too difficult. Irritated, she could manage; angry, she could not.
She saw him spot her, a wary look on his face, tension stiffening his back. She gave a small wave, and he visibly relaxed.
The longboat hadn’t tied off to the tether line before Jack was shouting orders at the crew, Gibbs often echoing behind him. Sensing she was soon going to be in the way, she moved to the opposite side of the Pearl as hold grates were pulled and the capstan’s spokes were shoved into place. Crewmen took their places on the long arms of the capstan and began the slow process of hoisting the cargo aboard.
On deck, Jack was still barking orders, good-naturedly haranguing several of the sailors, the care of his ship clearly foremost in his mind. He and Gibbs stood in council, their heads bent closely together for several minutes. Business complete, Jack peered around as if looking for her. One hand rising in the air in discovery, it wasn't until he was approaching she noticed he carried a bundle under one arm.
“Are you hiding from someone over here?” he inquired, seeming mildly irritated at having to walk so far.
“No, I was just trying to be out of the way.”
Casting a quick glance over his shoulder toward the bustle of activity behind him, he gave her a puzzled ‘Oh.’
“What happened to your face!” she exclaimed, seeing his cheek for the first time as he turned his head.
Startled, his hand went up wincing as his fingers touched the angry, bright red streaks.
“Oh, nothing,” he dismissed quickly, stepping back as she advanced. “Honest, it's nothing.”
“You're bleeding,” she argued, continuing her move toward him. He finally stopped, rolling his eyes as he reluctantly allowed her to inspect more closely.
“It's nothing, really,” he said, waving her away. “I just ran into...”
“Someone with fingernails,” she finished for him, with a knowing look. “I see.”
Through the day, she hadn't paused to consider what he was doing in port. It seemed obvious now what he had been doing and she felt disappointed. Somehow, she had thought him different, but clearly, he wasn't. He was just a typical man.
“No, you don’t see!”
“No, it's quite all right!” she said, holding up a hand. “I'm not shocked at what men do ashore. Although it would appear you met with some kind of a misunderstanding. Perhaps you should be exercising a little more discretion in your choices.”
“I wasn't doing anything,” he replied primly. “I don't think I appreciate your implications.”
“Then where did that come from?” she asked, pointing. “You should wash that, you know.”
“Must you wash everything? I got it trying to get these for you.”
He shoved the bundle brusquely at her, staring down his long nose at her, the dangles in his beard jostling as he gave his head a defiant jerk. She turned the wad in her hands, lifting away a top layer.
“Clothes?” She looked up, smiling. “You got me clothes!”
“Well, you said you wanted something other than...”
“No, you said you didn't want me in breeches.”
“Anyway...!” he continued, widening his eyes in emphasis, “I thought maybe this might be more to you liking, what with your standards being so high and all,” he finished, his fingers arcing in explanatory dance.
Shaking the bundle out, she found a skirt, red-checked, a shift and a dark brown pair of stays.
“I think they'll be more to your size than those…others.”
She felt his eyes measuring her but chose to ignore it, examining the clothes more closely instead.
“I think they'll do fine,” she said approvingly, giving him another moment to look. Pausing, she brought the clothing closer to her nose, frowning.
“You'll no doubt want to wash those,” he offered quickly, giving her a nervous smile.
“You took these off someone,” she said slowly, throwing him a hard look. “You stole these!”
“Not exactly,” he said, jerking back with a grimace.
“Is that how you got those scratches? What did you do, knock her down and take them?” she exclaimed, shaking the clothing at him. She paused again, giving him a narrow look. “Or, did you get her undressed and then snuck off?”
“You don't paint a very flattering picture, either way.”
“Then paint a better one.”
“There's no pleasing you, is there! A man risks life and limb, and you...”
“Which limb were you risking?”
They stood exchanging glares, each defying the other to back down. He took several breaths in preparation to say something, exhaling through his nose as he reconsidered. Finally, she gave in, caving at his indignation. “I'm sorry, Captain, I just couldn't help it. These are lovely and I do appreciate the effort. Thank you.”
Still ruffled, he calmed slightly, accepting her gratitude with exaggerated grace.
“I'll advise Mr. Kirkland you'll be looking to wash, again.”
“After we've washed out those scratches.”
He made to argue then rolled his eyes and quietly acquiesced, following her to the cabin. Upon request, Kirkland appeared with hot water and cloths and...
“Vinegar?” Jack declared, dubiously eying the jug.
“It works fine, and you're not going to smell like a pickle either, so stop complaining,” she cooed, urging him back in a chair. “Just sit back and relax; this will only take a minute.”
Muttering irritably under his breath, he sat watching as she made preparations.
“What happened to your hands?” he exclaimed, seizing her by one wrist.
“I was repairing sails today!” Proudly, she held out both hands, red and roughened, for his inspection. “Mr. Cotton showed me how; we worked together all day.”
“That's lovely, darling, but you should take better care of your hands. They're too lovely to be wasted on sails.”
For a moment, his fingers lingered tracing hers for just a second then he released her, looking away. Clearly disquieted by his own actions, he released her, awkwardly looking away.
Settling to her business, she washed the scratch marks with hot water first. There were three running parallel from his cheekbone to nearly the line of his beard, sparse as it was. Dried now, the blood had welled up in tiny droplets at the crest of each welt.
“How long before the repairs are complete?” she asked, conversationally, eyes on her work.
“Day or two,” he replied, sitting quiet under her touch. “They're simple enough when you're in a quiet harbor; a mite difficult rolling at sea.”
He sucked in sharply, jerking away as she touched the raw skin with the vinegar.
“Sorry,” she murmured. “I should have warned you.”
“I'm sorry my hands are so rough,” she said, wiping them self-consciously on her breeches. “Not very good when you need a gentle touch.”
“You've a gentle touch, regardless.” His eyes, kohl-darkened once again, turned toward, searching just for a bare moment. Dodging away, he quickly changed the subject. “Besides, I can't very well complain when it's me own ship you've roughened them on.”
“You take good care of her, don't you? The Pearl I mean.” she clarified when he glanced questioningly.
Holding his head still for her ministrations, his eyes circled the room.
“She was a right mess when I got her back; lazy old blighter that had her for ten years didn't care about her at all, except to get him where he wanted to go. Barnacled and wormy she was with spongy decks and stretched out sails.” He paused, giving the room a slow, loving look. “But she's better now; nearly got her back to what she was. A few more licks here and there, she'll be the pride of the seas again.”
“There,” she said softly, giving the scratches on final dab. “All done.”
“You've a gentle touch, Kate Harper,” he said rising. “You'd best be getting yourself dressed; hate to think you might contract some morbid disease from being required to walk about in sullied clothes.”
Waving a vague hand, he sauntered out of the cabin.
A short while later, he returned to his cabin stopping short near the mizzenmast where it passed through from the above deck. Hunched near several candles clustered together, Kate sat with small scissors in one hand and a piece of the clothing in the other. Her head jerked up at his entrance, and she looked guiltily about.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” she said quickly, tucking the garment into the chair next to her leg.
Narrowing a dubious eye, he moved around the mast, stopping next to her at the gallery of windows. Folding her hands in her lap, she returned his gaze unblinking. Preparing to say something, he looked down in the floor next to her feet. Stooping at her knee, he slowly rose holding several long, flat, narrow wooden-like bands.
“What are…” he started then stopped as he inspected them. “ This is whale bone.”
Mutely, she nodded. The knuckles of her fingers grew whiter as she clenched them tighter, burying them deeper between her legs in an attempt to hide them.
“Where did you find these?” he asked, with mild curiosity.
She chewed the inside of her mouth for several moments, clearly undecided what to say.
“I was just…fixing something,” she finally said, with considerable reluctance. “Why don’t I just take those and I’ll get them out of the way.”
He pulled back as she reached out. “Not so fast!” Looking more closely, he lifted a suspicious eyebrow. “The only place I’ve ever seen anything like these is from a corset.”
“Oh, all right!” she blurted, jerking the garment out from beside her leg. “They’re from this.”
“These are the stays I got you,” he said, holding them up. He frowned, curling up one lip in dismay. “I just got those for you today and you’re already tearing them apart? You should have let me know and I could have saved meself a lot of effort.”
“It’s not exactly that.”
“Then please enlighten me!” he demanded, towering over her. “You asked me to get you clothes…”
“It was rather a necessity, you’ll have to admit,” she interjected quickly.
“And I risk me very safety…”
“That was your choice, not mine!”
“And now I find you cutting them up? Why didn’t you just throw them overboard?”
“Because I need something to wear,” she pointed out evenly.
“And cutting them up serves that purpose how?”
Standing up suddenly, she jerked the clothing from his hand. She nervously fondled the garment, working her fingers along the lengths of whalebone still in place. She looked up once, as if to say something then looked away. Finally, she turned toward him, glaring.
“I’m taking them apart, all right?” She hesitated then continued. “I can’t bear to wear stays. Do you mind!”
He didn’t mind. In fact, he was a little surprised how quickly he could imagine her without stays, soft and… “No! I don’t mind.” He made a fist in an effort to halt the images of his fingers drifting down the unimpeded curve of her waist. “Bloody miserable contrivances, if you want me own opinion.”
“I would suspect they were a man’s idea, since no woman would ever come up with such a …thing. You’ll notice men wear nothing of the sort.”
“Yes, but men don’t have…things, that need…” His voice trailed off, suddenly uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. “How do you mean to…I mean, what are you going to…”
She was smirking at him, the wench! Enjoying his discomfort, she was.
“If I quilt the whole thing heavily enough, it will do everything the stays would do, without all those miserable whalebones or wood sticking me in the sides.”
He looked down at his hands to see them wavering in the air, arcing along the mental images his mind was already providing of this newly contrived bodice, fashionably low cut, her breasts pushed up…
“I’m sure that will be lovely!”
Shoving the whalebone slats into her hands, he left the quarters as quickly as possible, not daring to look back.