Bethany exhaled, a cleansing stream of former agitation passing pursed lips as she fell back onto the lush hill, arms spread wide. "I love days like this. When it seems as if you could bump into one of those large clouds up there if you stretched too far…" a rueful sigh, "And here I almost forgot…." Her bright eyes took in the white billows above, a smile summoned as the slow giants sailed lazily in their blue sea; she turned to her sister, expression fonder. "Thank you. You always know just what to do to make me feel better."
A medley of greens, yellows; browns, stretched out, endless, before them, the wild tufts of grass that made up Lothering's vast fields swaying with an easy breeze.
Gaile drew another grassy strand from the earth, a small yellow flower accompanying it. "You do know it was more for my benefit than Carver's?" She smiled back, handily splitting the middle of the flower's stem with her nail. "You're downright scary when you shout. You start to spit fire and threaten others with being turned into foul toads…."
The young apostate giggled, lazily swatting the other's knee, "I do not!"
"Do too. Older sisters don't lie, Bets."
"Then you're a terrible older sister."
Gaile gasped, clutching the upper half of her tunic as if mortally wounded. "Daggers! Daggers to my heart!" She grinned, dropping the act as she continued to thread stem and grass into one another. "Go on — name one time I've lied to you."
"If only I brought my list…." Bethany drawled, eyes rolling back to the sky.
"Now you're just being hurtful." A long-suffering sigh. "If only I weren't so terrified of being green and warty…"
Another swat to her knee. "How about that one time I was younger and you told me all of Carver's dirty socks would come alive at night, slinking their way into my bed to eat my toes?"
"Absolute truth." It was managed with a straight face. "Despite Mother's vigilance."
"Or the time you told me that if I kept sucking my thumb, it'd pop 'clean off' one day and run away?"
The older girl held out a hand, thumb tucked neatly beneath her spare fingers. "I am but a survivor, seeking to share my precious wisdom."
"Or the time you told our brother he was born with a bushy, little tail Father had to cut off when he was born and he ran around naked the entire day trying to find the scar?"
Gaile laughed. "A-and he shouted 'Where's my tail? I want my tail!' the entire time until he was bawling and banging his little fists on the floor!" More chuckles escaped until her stomach hurt. "You…" a quick gasp for air; she laughed again, "You've got me there."
Bethany shook her head, chuckling until she coughed. "You're horrible."
"Eh. The little snot deserved it after the things he'd done—nailing your hair to the headboard, for one." Gaile spotted a telltale wrinkle mar the other's forehead from mention of the incident. "It just so happens the eldest is allowed to torture rotten little brothers who act like tits. There's an ancient tome on it and everything." A wink, before she turned her attention back to her work; weaved another link. "And, if I'm not mistaken, the rules of this merry game of ours was to see how many times I lied to you, not that other one."
"I suppose the first two examples didn't count at all, then?"
"They counted." Another finished link. "I've simply chosen to ignore them, is all."
"Yes. That makes sense." Bethany repositioned her arms, hands cushioning the back of her head as she closed her eyes. "You've always been just about perfect at ignoring everyone's rules but your own."
"You say that as if I've been unfair! I'll have you know, it's not lying until you've been caught. That also goes for cheating and the occasional pie-napping."
"Oh—" the mage suddenly rose, propped on her elbows to eye her sister accusingly, "I remember you stole that entire pie, once, from poor Mrs. Miriam's windowsill! You were so bad… Of course, you still looked accomplished when you found me in the woods to share. I wouldn't touch it so you ate the entire thing yourself, bare hands and all."
The other groaned. "Paid for that one in full. I was beyond sick afterward, the pie making a rather nasty…reoccurrence by the time we made our way back home."
"It was a cherry pie." Bethany frowned, slender brows dipping. "So it looked as if you were vomiting blood. Mother nearly jumped out of her skin when she caught sight of you, thinking you'd acquired some incurable disease that would leave you dead by the morrow's end."
"I was smacked senseless afterward when you finally told her what I'd done." Gaile touched her cheek, as if she could still feel the lingering sting—grinned. "I certainly learned a lesson that day. Never eat a pie all at once: it's terribly messy and you don't even get to keep the gooey, deliciousness in the end."
"Oh, Abby…" it came as a disheartened sigh, "You're a hopeless idiot."
"I'm your hopeless idiot." She corrected, carefully setting her finished creation aside as a familiar look crossed her face.
Bethany's eyes immediately narrowed. "Don't you dare."
Her grin widened and she pounced, capturing her sister in a fierce hug as the other squealed in protest when they both hit the ground.
"Hopeless!" The apostate reiterated through giggles, squirming while her sister continued to squeeze and rub their cheeks together.
"To your credit, I'd have no other fret over me and try their best to keep me out of trouble. I just don't know what I'd do without my wonderfully principled sister by my side."
"Little 'ol me stop you from having a good time? I'm convinced nothing short of the Maker's divine will could accomplish that." The other's blithe expression remained unchanged and Bethany sighed again at that unapologetic demeanor. "But, I suppose it's not so bad. Though you're never, ever serious," a smile, "you always make me laugh."
Gaile's grin fell. A large cloud eclipsed the afternoon sun, its shadow swallowing her sister whole—obscuring once defined edges of Bethany's form. The darkness then slithered toward her, only halting when it consumed her hands.
All of it: the shadow; the words — she felt unsettled and did not know why.
Gaile shook her head.
"Here." Her fingers fled the inky veil to obtain the project she'd been working on, only to turn back and see the cloud had passed. "Thought this might cheer you up."
"Abby — it's wonderful!" Bethany was quickly roused, marveling at the intricate crown of grass and bright flowers, doting on the simple gift as if it were spun gold. "You're so good at these sorts of things. I love it."
A broad smile. "You're just easy to please, is all. Bend for me; I'll put it on." The other complied and she slipped the ring around her sister's head, seeing it to be a comfortable fit while its yellows contrasted brilliantly against her ebony hair; her dusky skin. "There. You're a beautiful princess. There's no castle, status, or wealth to come with the title, mind—and there'll be no 'happily ever after'—but you are beautiful."
"Such a charmer…" a finger grazed one of the soft petals of her crown fondly, "It's why people are consistently drawn to you, I think. I won't swell that head of yours and go on about your looks;" she did not miss the other's exaggerated pout, "but you have this way about you… You're…dashing. Enigmatic."
"I can also pat my head and rub my belly at the same time. As one would expect, I have to beat the multitude back with a stick."
Bethany chuckled. "Ah, yes: how could I forget that cheeky wit? It's too bad you only use that head of yours for snide remarks and little else."
"But I like my snide remarks… I lay in bed, each night, thinking them up and you just take them for granted." A smirk. "Besides, I'm 'enigmatic'! That has to count for something. Not all of us can master 'dark and broody' so thoroughly as Carver, but I make do."
She tsked. "You know what I mean. Most only get one side of you—that levity—when you're so much more. You're not as open with others as you are with me."
"Well, I happen to like you, dear Sister. Or did you think me being here and not out gallivanting was for some other reason?"
A smile. "It's certainly flattering…But, to the rest, compelling. And you're nowhere near dense—not when you don't wish to be." Bethany cradled a flower between her fingers, petals more golden-orange than yellow, before gently plucking it; she raised it to the other's cheek before tucking it behind her ear. "They want to figure you out. See if you're more than your humor."
"Maybe I'm not." Her eyes went astray. "Maybe I don't think them worth it."
"Since we'll no doubt move again because of my…condition?" The frown from the older woman was so ready, Bethany could not help a smile. "You're so strong, Abby; I know what you sacrifice for me — what our entire family sacrifices. Why Carver—"
"Because you're worth it, Bets." Gaile apprehended her hand, squeezing it with conviction. "That's what family does: take care of their own. Even that ass of a brother." The other did not look convinced—did not laugh—and her frown deepened, brows knitting together sharply. "You are no less deserving of freedom than I. Than anyone."
"Sometimes I wonder…" the mage's gaze drifted away, meeting the ground as if weighed down by the guilt of what was to be said, "I have friends, but are they really? I can never get too close and they can never know me—the real me. I'm always lying to them; hiding myself…." Her hesitation became palpable; it was so rare for her to share such worries. "It's just… hard at times; I didn't ask for this. Didn't ask for 'different'. Should I feel this awful longing to be normal like everyone else?"
A vice seized Gaile's chest; a crippling sort of helplessness…. "Are you unhappy?"
"It's not about my happiness, is it?" Suspect: a signal to the return of her usual way, that modest perseverance. "We all have our burdens in life, and mine could be so much worse. The Circle… I've had far more given to me than other mages. There's so much I don't have to fight for…."
Fingers retracted sharply, nails clawing at the grass—piercing the fleshy dirt as if it were the cause of her sister's misfortune; it the one that made her feel so useless. "I wish I could take it from you."
"I wouldn't let you." The firmness of her tone proved a direct contrast to her wan expression. "Not this; I wouldn't wish this on anyone. And maybe it's not so terrible that there's at least one thing you can't endure on my behalf; you already take on far more than you should."
"That's only what I want you all to think — life's a dream." Her sister's stare was both soft and disapproving. "You worry too much."
"Your fault—not mine: you've never done a decent enough job of it. Between Mother and I, I'd like to think we manage to pick up your slack. Wishful thinking, I'm sure." Bethany's arms folded across her chest. "Let the rest of Thedas think you're perfect, if it wants; I'll be the one to know better."
"But I am, still, 'perfect'?" Gaile grinned as the other shot her a look. "Not that you don't drive a hard bargain. However will I suffer everyone's delightful assumptions when you refuse to play along?"
"Someone has to get the truth from you. The least I can do is try, no matter how hard you might make it." Bethany sighed, taking in the other's crisp features. "You're so very much like Father — you have his heart. His smile… His defenses. In the way you both could be near, but not close." Her next breath was uneven; raspier. "You hold back as he did, carrying the same lofty obligations he was so loathe to mete out." Her brows seemed to crash with the words, gathering in pain. "He couldn't just…trust us with it."
The vice squeezed anew. "No. He couldn't share everything…That doesn't mean Father loved any of us less." A smile stretched her lips. "He absolutely adored you." The pads of her fingers slipped under the apostate's chin, lifting it — yet something felt off, her skin too cool to the touch. "You were his baby girl."
"But you were special. He saw something in you; something you shared, maybe." A beat, dark orbs roving as she delved into memories. "With me…it was always in his eyes, a regret to tuck away, as if he were shamed. We had our sessions, but that was a different side altogether. I never had what you two did. That depth." She shook her head, as if already denying the other's unspoken objections. "Though I think I understood even then… Why he was so hard on you; so proud. Father was giving you everything you would need to take care of us as he did. In case the inevitable would happen… did happen."
"Well, it was certainly considerate. And for the best. He wouldn't want our family in tatters because of his…absence." It was as her sister said before: they all had their burdens. Life would not stall for them. "Father was strong because he had to be—for what he cherished most. It's all surprisingly simple when you think of it that way."
"My knight in shinning armor. Always moving forward." Bethany smiled in her usual way, happy compromising with sad. "It's nice to know that we have you to depend on, even if, at times, a bit daunting. You were the oldest; I had magic…Is it any wonder Carver felt as left out as he did? He tries so hard to be useful when he shouldn't have to." Their brother was never far from her mind. Maybe it was a twin thing. Maybe the woman would always be so sweet; a scoff. "Even now, I'm defending him."
"He went too far." Gaile's tone darkened; their 'darling' brother had left the mage in tears with his unnecessary griping, claiming she was the cause of all their troubles. "He's lucky to have only gotten away with a well placed kick in the shin."
"You two…More alike than you'll ever admit. Both sensitive deep down, caring so much, just with different ways of showing it." She giggled when the other made a face. "I really do think that's why you and Carver get on the way you do."
"Sure. It has nothing at all to do with him being a whiny, inconsiderate, foul-tempered, thick-witted, self-centered—"
Bethany laughed, resuming her playful swats. "Stop that!"
A grin. "I have more."
"You are just the worst." Another chuckle. "I—" a harsh intake of air and a hand clutched her throat—one cough—two, rattling her entire form and leaving her wheezing.
"Bets?" Gaile's eyes widened, horror touching her face—gripping her heart; she forced an exhalation, realizing she'd stopped breathing. Calm down… "Bethany — what's wrong?"
"I only…" her voice was hoarse, "need to…" more coughs: violent, rasping bursts as the mage's hold tightened, digits straining against her neck. The same hand she had squeezed not long ago was now pale, the extremity providing too much of a contrast against her brown skin.
Gaile's mouth was dry. What was this? It clipped her breaths, hysteria rising in her throat like bile, making her sick to her stomach. An insurmountable dread coming in waves….
"You s-shouldn't…" an irrepressible tremor, her lip quivering fiercely until she bit it, "I'll fetch some water, just—"
"No." The word was faint, but managed, the coughing fit barely quelled as Bethany tugged the other's sleeve. "It's time, isn't it?" A pallid finger rose to her sister's lips, blue tinting its nailbed. "You're bleeding."
Gaile loosed the puff of flesh, tasting iron even as the slit began to close. "Don't—healing me when…" Realization scratched at her mind, telling her she knew this, even as her pulse raced, "There has to be a way — something I didn't think of, something I missed."
"There isn't. Wasn't." The words hit too hard, uttered with a finality they both understood; cold fingers softly brushed her cheek. "You did so well… But you couldn't keep saving me all your life. And maybe this is the only way I could ever be free."
"Maker help me…" Gaile gasped—but oxygen refused her lungs, the inexplicable burning in her chest, mounting, "You deserved so much better. So much…" her hand weaved through her sister's hair, dark clumps breaking off from the slightest tug.
"Abby." Her hand cupped Bethany's cheek and dark veins snaked across her face, strangling her limbs as brown orbs clouded over. "Kill me…"
Gaile couldn't scream. Couldn't feel.
"What are you waiting for—a bloody invitation?" The stark audacity is already familiar. "Kill it so we can move on."
Equal parts disgust and tumult compelled a backward glance, her eyes catching Carver's face, severe and scowling.
"You…" it was barely a whisper, her throat raw; everything—all of her—ached. "When did you get here?" Why wasn't he here earlier? Why hadn't he helped?
"Let me guess: your idea of a joke? They're all bloody terrible, but that has to be your worst yet." He crossed his thick arms grouchily. "I've been here all along. And, if you've forgotten, that's," he cocked his head and she turned to see a monstrous beast a fair distance away, their sister missing, "an ogre. We learned about them before Ostagar. Didn't think I'd ever get to face one." His brown eyes lit as they always did when personal status could be gained. "We're going to slay it."
"Where is she?" A distracted murmur — the other's words were secondary; navigating the haze of her stupor, Gaile held onto the memory even as something…something tried to snatch it away. Flowers…Fears…. "Before anything—we need to find her."
Carver's scowl deepened. "What are you mumbling about? Did you hear a word I just said?" A scoff. "Of course you didn't. Nothing I have to say could ever be worthy of your glorious consideration."
A trickle of annoyance: always, he was like this, the indignant gnat droning constantly in her ear. "Perhaps if what came out of that mouth were actually useful? Something beyond the grand topic of yourself?"
"Big talk coming from someone whose name is tossed around every waking second; the one everyone comes running to." Bitter. "I'm just as talented with a blade as you—just as capable—but I'm still only good enough to be stuck in your shadow."
"That's right: why not continue to gripe about it at every given opportunity? Surely, you'll come off as the bigger person by complaining about how unfair your life is. Yet another brilliant deduction, Brother." This—what they did—was routine, but it felt wrong. That this was their conversation after what had just happened.
Why weren't things more urgent—
Why couldn't she stop?
"You think you're so damned clever."
"You do make it easy."
He glowered at her, puffing out his chest. "Fine. Stuff your quips. If you won't get off your ass, I'll do it myself; I'll be the one to take the ogre's head." His hand settled on the pommel of the massive sword strapped to his back. "Then I'll bring it back and tell everyone how much of a coward you were."
Gaile wanted to yell at him, to tell him that it was not, and would never be, a bloody contest, but the creature that was once far away was now much closer, roaring and beating its barrel chest with an inhumanly large fist.
"There it is." Carver brandished his weapon, hatred in his eyes. "The soulless bastard."
She doesn't know what he's seeing. Doesn't spot what makes him so furious. Her eyes scanned the darkspawn and caught only the glistening wet streaks trailing from its sunken white eyes, the mangled crown of flowers wrapped around one of its gnarled horns.
The Realization is no longer gentle—slamming into her like a physical blow.
"Bets…" Gaile stayed her brother's hand, missing the black tendrils that coiled his arm at her touch, "Carver—that's Bethany!"
A moment: his expression softened at the thought of his twin before twisting back into his horrible scowl. "No…This is all some plot to earn yourself a bigger name than you already have, isn't it? Saying it's Bethany—you're trying to hold me back!"
"What?" She couldn't…Her heart was in her ears, raging wildly. Ringing—
Carver's brow crumpled with cynicism; he snatched his arm away. "If I die, I die a hero. Not even you would be able to take that from me." The same hatred that once belonged solely to the ogre was now focused on her. "Maybe you'll even get blamed for something once in your life. Not be so damned perfect."
I'm not. Why wasn't it reaching his ears — why was he still walking away? Was his resentment so deep? Was she not screaming? I'm not!
There was no glance back.
Her sister and brother were fighting once more. The events jarring, frenzied clips Gaile could not keep up with.
A blink: her brother charged.
Another: the ogre smacked his sword away, meaty hand crushing his body.
Her brother's screams.
The blood that… There's so much blood.
Bethany looked to her, an anguished bellow before attacking.
Her daggers lodged deep in the abomination's chest.
Gaile yielded her blades to the mottled flesh beneath her, fingers trembling from the reds and blacks that coated her hands like a second skin.
Thinking was mercifully impossible.
The thoughts were there, head throbbing with more and more of the rationalizations, but couldn't be processed—each fragment accompanied by too complicated an emotion. But her bloodied hands made this harder. She needed to clean them — needed to… They were too sticky—disgusting; the dark stains—why wouldn't they come off?
Her hands scrubbed vigorously against her leathers. If she could just get it off…she wouldn't have to relive it…. How she—
"Abigaile." Her heart stopped, the wearied voice as painful as it was paralyzing. "I knew you would come."
Even as Gaile commanded it otherwise—screamed not to look—her body betrayed her, gaze dragging from her filthy hands. The open fields were now a single, dank room, two corpses littering the dirt ground, the back of a large chair behind them. A sutured arm spilled from its edge, dangling lifelessly.
"Mother…" a choked sob; buckling knees.
"Now, now…You mustn't fret. You'll move past this; you always find your way." The figure's head lurched forward, lolling at a grotesque angle. "Even when your father passed…You were so brave. Never shedding a tear. Taking on all of his duties as if you'd done them since the day you were born."
The scoff was brittle, riddled with emotion, "A fine job I made of it…I…" her voice cracked, stomach quaking with each labored breath, "couldn't save any of you."
"You did your best." A rat scurried the length of the room. "Tried so hard… Just like you always have. Always will."
"It wasn't enough." Someone had to be held responsible. She was the only one left. "I wasn't enough. Not for Bethany; not for Carver." Unshed tears burned her eyes. "Not for you."
"Alone, all this time. My beautiful girl…You've been so strong."
A strength born of necessity. If there had been a choice… "I never wanted to be strong! Not like this…" her violated mother dying; dead siblings to her left and right, "Not if it takes this."
"I love you."
"Please…" a frantic plea, pitiful and desperate; it was too soon—always too soon, "Don't leave me…"
"You've always made me so proud…"
The body slumped—falling from the chair and landing on the ground with a sick thud. Her mother's glassy eyes bore into her, body basted as if an impatient child's rag doll.
Gaile retched, dry, violent heaves that gave nothing. The anguish was too much, the voice gone but the words lingering — ringing loudly in her ears; misery jabbed from all sides, prickly, hot knives at her heart.
Proud? What was there to be proud of?
Her mother was the last. The last she had to protect. The last she still failed.
Bethany's tainted face.
Carver's mangled form.
Was this her shining achievement? Survival?
Footsteps made their way into the room—into her thoughts. Heavy and sure, each step seemed purposeful, passing her hunched form without so much as a pause. Gaile glanced up, breath hitching as she took in the tall form before her; the sharp features, the proud countenance.
Dried blood caked the left side of the man's face, stained his dark robes. Three dead bodies: he kneeled, one by one, to each, pausing reverently; grievously.
Cupping Bethany's cheek.
Clutching Carver's hand.
Closing Mother's eyes.
Her father did not speak, focused singly on the tasks set for himself. Only when done regarding them all, did he look to her, dismal expression asking questions that never left his lips:
Why are they dead?
Why didn't you stop this?
I gave you my trust.
She could not defend herself. Could not say, 'You shouldn't have left!', or 'How could I do this alone?'.
'This wasn't my burden to bear.'
Over and over, she tried speaking them, the words burning in her chest; clawing at her throat; dying on her tongue.
Those crippling eyes…
Her father lifted his heavy gaze, looking once more to the motionless bodies, dismay etched into every line of his face… until, he too stilled.
Fell to the ground.
Gaile's eyes shot open, torso lunging forward as her chest heaved painfully, the ins and outs of each breath more urgent than her last. Auburn orbs darted frantically, trying to make sense of these new surroundings. Details blurred as she looked for a thing to claim: a writing desk; small circular windows; the warm wood of each wall. All of them were illusive, a taste somewhat known—savored—but forgotten.
Where was this? Where was her family?
A cloth was laid on her forehead and she flinched, despite the gentle pressure behind it.
"You'll pass out if you keep that up." Isabela. Murmured; a softer shade. "And not in that warm, tingly way after I've ravaged you for the night." The pirate's hand grazed her cheek before trailing lower, fingers slipping under fabric to rest at the valley between her breasts. "Deep breaths…"
Gaile involuntarily shivered from the chill of her sweat soaked tunic combined with the warmth of the other's hand.
She focused on the contact: the gentle press against her chest, wanting — needing it to pull her from the shadows….
But her mind doubted…Everything before had been just as persuasive. She could feel her sister's playful slaps, see the bitterness twist her brother's features, smell the rotting flesh of her mother's stitched limbs.
Sense her father's devastation….
She needed to know that this was real.
Gaile attacked. The hand between her breasts was apprehended, fingers tightening against Isabela's wrist as her free hand shoved off the bed. Their bodies crashed—a delicious friction—hot, shocked breaths thrilling her skin as the pirate was forced to stumble backward. Isabela gasped her name and Gaile devoured it, mouth pressed urgently against pliant lips—stealing the other's air as if it were her very essence.
More. It wasn't enough. Not nearly enough.
Gaile released her wrist, hand snaking behind the other's head to grab a fistful of uncovered hair—relishing its distinct feel before tugging the pirate's head back. Her tongue trailed the length of Isabela's neck, bronzed skin stretched in offering as she sucked and nipped, feeling the other's pulse throb in response.
Yes. This was what she needed — to feel the other woman's hot flesh pulsing with life energy just beneath. To feel her own surging.
Back to her mouth. Crazed. Wanting to break the illusion if not real. Another gasp from the pirate—but it's too sharp; the sweet taste of her lips now bitter.
Gaile froze, eyes widening with realization:
Isabela pulled back, sensing the sudden shift. "Hawke?"
A finger touched her mouth and came back red, the rogue's hand trembling, eyes shifting rapidly. "No…"
The pirate caught her bottom lip, tonguing the new slit. "It's just a scratch. And you happen to be fun when you're feisty." The other woman continued to stare at her hand, haunted, and it both made sense and made her ache at the same time. "You had an awful dream, didn't you?" More than that: from the look of things, it bloody terrified her. Isabela mentally cursed, capturing the shaking appendage and bringing it to her lips; sucking the stained finger clean. "Look at me. What happened?"
Gaile's eyes were damp, flicking away each time she saw amber. "Bethany…" her voice shook, "C-carver," a sharp, pained gasp, "M-my—" a tear rolled down her cheek, quivering lips parting but nothing coming out.
Isabela's chest clenched. Hawke rarely brought up her deceased family—a sleazy uncle and a cousin she barely knew, all she had left.
"I…" the rogue's entire form shook now, as if in effort for continuing, "I killed…"
A newfound instinct dictated Isabela pull the woman closer, the pirate softly stroking her hair.
"You're a damned idiot." Her gentle caress went uninterrupted, despite the words. "I'm no good at this sort of thing and there you go only making it harder." A stammered apology. "Oh, stop it. I do it too. We really do make quite the pair." She sighed. "Not even a week at sea and one of us is already falling apart."
Gaile looked away — mortified; she couldn't depend on her usual defenses, the dream still too vivid, too fresh in her mind, shaking her to her very core. But now she had no place to hide, the pirate captain privy to the worst and best of her at all times….
The rogue desperately sniffled in vain, the action only making the tears flow faster.
Isabela's free hand secured her chin, guiding it back. "Look… I don't like this useless feeling. A rather annoying part of me wants to help you, but you have to be willing to show me how." A hand slid from chestnut tresses to cup the side of her face. "I can't change the past, no one can, but…you don't have to go it alone; I'd make a piss poor captain if my first mate didn't think she could share these things with me. And I'm not going anywhere." Her thumb wiped the wetness lingering in the corners of her eyes. "If anything, you'd be tossed overboard—it's my bloody ship."
Gaile gave a tearful laugh, fragile smile on her lips; she would never cease to be amazed how the pirate could always pull her from any dark situation, with a few choice words. "And you were doing so well…I was almost sure we were about to declare our undying love for the other and go frolic on the main deck."
"Well, your first mistake was thinking pirates 'frolic'. We party. Plunder. Pillage. And all those other wonderful things that start with 'P'."
Isabela smirked. "That's my girl."
A moment of hesitation… an entire dialogue involving only their eyes; conveying what words could not.... Gaile's shoulders sagged, the sudden release of tensed muscles, leaving her weak as she leaned into the pirate's body; melted into supple curves; rested her head on the other's shoulder. Isabela's arms wrapped around her in turn, hands caressing from her waist up to the small of her back, wrapping a leg around the rogue's to pull her closer. Neither said a word: the simple pleasure of their bodies pressed together, swaying gently, enough.