Mariqah awoke with a shudder. She sniffed and lifted her head from Vasquez's bare chest - brushing back her sweat-dampened hair with one hand. She shifted her weight onto her elbows and rose slightly. God, it was hot. She squinted out of the small circular window and, regarding the faint trickles of light, wondered what time it was. She sat up and itched her head, still dazed and groggy. She heard Vasquez snort and wake from his sleep. Mariqah smiled at him, took the blanket from him and threw it over her shoulders.
“Buenas días, princesa,” he said, laughing gruffly, “A bit late for shyness, isn't it?”
He held out an arm and Mariqah took his invitation and rested on his chest while Vasquez put his arm around her. For a while, they didn't say anything - they just lay there, listening to each other breathe. Content and undisturbed. Vasquez yawned lazily, and Mariqah heard him cracking his toe-joints.
“Estaban...” Mariqah murmured.
“Mariqah?” he replied.
Mariqah hesitated. She got up and said, “Never mind.”
Vasquez furrowed his brows and rose, “No, what is it?” he said.
She sighed, “When we first did this, you said it meant nothing...” Mariqah began.
“And it still means nothing,” Vasquez affirmed.
Mariqah gave him a look.
“...For you,” he added, “Isn't that what matters?”
“I don't want to hurt you.”
Vasquez shook his head, “You're not hurting me.”
“Yes,” Mariqah insisted, with furrowed brows, “I am. And you're too drunk on man-juice to even see it!”
“No, you just-”
“Listen to me!”
“I've heard it all before!”
Vasquez sighed, “Why do you do that?”
“Push away! Why do you push away? Why do you have to be so cold, like even getting a little bit close might burn you somehow?”
“I don't think I'd call this a 'little bit' close!” Mariqah retorted, gesturing around her.
Vasquez shook his head, ignoring her, “Not every man is like Captain O'Brien!” he used both hands to point at himself, “I'm not like Captain O'Brien! And you are not hurting me! Is that so hard to believe?”
Mariqah looked away.
Vasquez paused, “Or...” he said carefully, “is this not about Captain O'Brien?”
“How can you say I'm not hurting you? After what that woman did to you?” Mariqah mumbled, avoiding the question, “You know I have to leave. You know I don't want to stay.”
“Mariqah, look at me.”
She turned around slowly.
Vasquez came up to her and took her hands. He looked at the ground and said, “Love is a hard thing for a man to just give up. And most times, he never finds it again.”
“And now you're going to lose it. Again.”
“No. Sí, you might leave and never come back - but I've never felt as alive as I do now. And that will always be with me, even if you aren't. You have not hurt me,” he stroked her face, “Better to have loved and lost - sí?”
Mariqah closed her eyes, “Is it?”
“What... do you mean?”
Mariqah felt shivers run like tremors through her body. Heat rose to the bridge of her nose and made her eyes water.
“The first man I loved, was the first man I saw die,” she said.
Vasquez's shoulders slumped and his face softened. As he pulled Mariqah into an embrace, he felt numb with guilt.
“I've seen many people die after that,” Mariqah said, pressing the side of her face into Vasquez's chest, “And it used to worry my brother that I wouldn't even flinch at the sight of it. It worried him that I killed almost without remorse or fear of consequence. It worried him that I just did what I do and was good at it,” tears streamed from her eyes and onto Vasquez's body, “It will never leave me. I will always be too raw, too numb to get passed the fear that I might love someone and they might die before my eyes.”
Vasquez offered no consoling words, no deep pieces of advice, again just the two-worded sentiment that said everything that needed to be said, “I'm sorry, Mariqah.”
Mariqah sniffed and pulled out of the embrace, and rubbed her eyes, “I thought you were going to call me stupid,” she said.
Vasquez ignored her, “I didn't mean to...”
“It's fine,” Mariqah sighed and smiled, “I knew finding a stranger to talk to might do me some good.”
Vasquez scoffed, “Stranger? Really?”
“Well, you were one.”
“A weird friend.”
Vasquez chuckled and put his hands on his hips, “Fair enough,” he said, “We should get out onto the deck.”
“Who did you leave in-charge?”
“The man named Liam McLean. He seems to admire you, so I made him a first-mate.”
“And me? What's my place here?”
Mariqah rolled her eyes and started putting on her clothes, “No, really, Estaban.”
Vasquez sat down and pulled on his breeches, “Well, if you'll take the job - I wanted to make you my quarter-master. And a part-time helmsman.”
Mariqah paused, “Shouldn't you keep a more permanent sailor as your quarter-master?”
Vasquez feigned thoughtfulness, “No. I think it should be you.”
“But I don't know maps, or how to navigate stars, or-”
“Ey, ey - you haven't failed me so far. Right?” Vasquez smiled at her.
Mariqah pulled her jacket on and strapped on her belts, “Fine. For now,” she said, taking her hat and putting it on, “Urgh...” she muttered, “What I'd kill for a shower right about now...”
Mariqah stepped out of the cabin - squinting at the strength of the rays of the early sun - and climbed onto the quarter-deck, taking her place next to Liam McLean, who was steering the ship.
“G'Mornin', Miss de Saint-Omer,” he said, “A fine day, wouldn't ye say?”
“Aye,” she replied, “A fine day, indeed, Mr McLean.”
“What's our course?”
“We'll have to wait on the captain's orders, though - as far as I'm aware - we won't be heading for any island. It's prizes and plunder ahead, I should think,” Mariqah replied, “Haven't you been minding the ship for most of the night?”
“Aye, Miss de Saint-Omer.”
“Then you'd better get some rest, before you drop dead. I'll manage the wheel.”
Mr McLean hesitated, “Er... thank you, miss.”
“It's no trouble,” Mariqah replied, taking the wheel from him.
He paused a moment, standing by Mariqah as if meaning to say something, but then left her. Mariqah watched him climb down the quarter deck and open the hatch to go below decks. She heard Vasquez come stamping up the steps, and she saw him stand next to her and fold his arms.
“Um...” Mariqah said, “Are you feeling alright?”
“More than alright, Miss Mariqah,” he said.
“O-kay... Well. What's our course, Estaban?”
“What do you think, quarter-master? Where should we head?”
“Before I say anything else, can we drop this silly act?” Mariqah giggled.
“-You are a pirate and you will act like one.”
“I'm not a pirate and... I'm not a pirate,” Mariqah replied, giving Vasquez a look.
“Please? Please, Estaban? Get a hold of yourself,” Mariqah scoffed.
“Why aren't these decks clean and scrubbed?” Vasquez barked, “All hands on deck! I don't want to see a fucking blemish on those boards!”
“Back to normal, I see,” Mariqah muttered, as she watched the other sailors mutter and get to cleaning the wooden floor.
“This gunpowder better not be wet!”
“Uncoil this fucking rope! What is this? A crochet club?”
“Stitch these sails, they're in fucking tatters!”
Mariqah held her head as she listened to Vasquez sqwauk at his men constantly.
“Now,” he said to Mariqah, “What were you saying?”
Mariqah looked at him, “I'm sorry, I seem to have lost me ability to hear you - WHAT WAS THAT?”
The other sailors looked in their direction and visibly held back their laughter.
Vasquez gave her a look, pissed as he was, and was about to rail on her, when Mariqah said, “They aren't slaves anymore, grief! Don't you pirates claim to be free men - who do as they please and be who they like?” she smiled at him, “There's more to being a leader than just getting your way all the time, Estaban.”
“What are you saying?”
“Lighten up. Don't scream at them, they can all hear you just fine,” Mariqah explained, “Can't you, boys?”
A chorus of “Aye!”
“You're not going to be the next one mutinying against me, are you?” Vasquez asked.
“Believe me, if I was planning it - it would have already happened,” Mariqah laughed and then ordered, “Trim the mains! Get off the wind! And, for God's sake, sing a song or two! Are you sailors or dead men?”
Vasquez furrowed a brow, the men hesitated, but then one man started up a song and the others joined him in the chorus.
He listened to Mariqah hum along as she steered the ship.
“This... is different,” Vasquez commented.
“A little pleasure in work never did any harm,” Mariqah shrugged.
“You really are more suited to captaining this ship.”
“Well, I wouldn't have voted for you,” Mariqah said, “if I didn't think you couldn't do it. Besides, this is not for me.”
“Are you sure?” Vasquez chuckled.
“Nope. I prefer bellowing at my men to sing, rather than just telling to them. But you definitely need to calm down.”
“Rocks, Miss Mariqah! Off the starboard-bow!” cried the look-out.
Mariqah steered the ship clear, “This crew works as a unit, Estaban, each man necessary for the whole ship to function,” she explained, “You need to respect each man, or they will find a new captain. And join in on the work some of the time, ask their opinions before just diving into your own ideas, tell them stories on tedious days.”
“Stories?” Vasquez said.
“Always worked for me,” Mariqah said, “There's little entertainment out here. I'm sure they could do with a few laughs.”
“You're asking me to be more... friendly?”
“Is that so wrong, Estaban?” Mariqah asked, “These men aren't machines, they're people like you. You shouldn't have to be aggressive all the time. Granted, I'm not saying you should be a complete clown, but they have to like you.”
“No. They have to respect me.”
“And respect does not translate into fear,” Mariqah pointed out, “Fear is probably what got you marooned in the first place. Your crew probably wanted a more flexible captain.”
Vasquez gave her words some thought, before he said, “And you have faith that this will work?”
“Aye,” Mariqah said, “You need to balance fear and love. They need to take you seriously, aye, but there needs to be room for leniency. They're only human, as are you.”
“Thank you for the lecture,” Vasquez said, laughing.
“You're welcome,” Mariqah scoffed with him, “I just hope that wasn't sarcasm. Because I do not want to end up on a desolate island with you again.”
Vasquez squeezed her arse, “Of course not.”
Mariqah rolled her eyes, listening to the sound of song.
“So, what was the plan for today?” Vasquez asked, leaning against the banister.
“We need to attract the attention of a pirate-hunter,” Mariqah said, “Chances are, they're already looking for us. Commodore Stockington in Martinique mentioned that the men we stole Blackwell from have sold us out. We just need to make some trouble so we make it easier for them to find us.”
“You're asking to raid ships?” Vasquez asked, “What happened to 'I'm not a pirate'?”
“It turned into 'I can be a pirate'.”
“You just became that much more attractive,” Vasquez commented, “So we cause trouble and the hunters find us. Then what?”
“We put up enough of a fight, but we let them dismantle Blackwell-”
“What?” Vasquez snapped.
“So when they decide to board Blackwell, we throw ourselves overboard and steal the hunter's man-of-war.”
Vasquez sighed, “They won't board. They'll sink us.”
“Oh, they'll board. I happen to make a fine ornament for British prisons. And I imagine you would as well.”
“That's not a guarantee.”
“No, but I like our odds.”
Vasquez paused for a moment, smiling. He shook his head and said, “You really aren't a sailor.”
“A sailor would never volunteer to destroy his ship for another. No matter how much bigger or better the other one is.”
“Well, that's just illogical.”
“Is it? Would you trade your sword for anything? Anything at all? Bayonets and blunderbusses are far more effective these days, but I've never seen you part with your sword for those. I've rarely seen you take it off.”
Mariqah paused, “Alright, fair point,” she said, “But what are you trying to tell me? Do you not want to leave Blackwell?”
“She's a perfectly good ship. Why let her go?”
“Because we'll definitely need a man-of-war to destroy that fort on Tortuga,” Mariqah said, “Still... It would mean we'd need to incapacitate a hunter's man-of-war - if you want to keep this ship. But the rest of the plan after that can be difficult to arrange.”
“There are plenty of supplies aboard this ship. We will be able to make the necessary repairs to the man-of-war to at least sail well enough - I'm sure of it. Then we can make a heading for Nassau and repair her completely there. That could work, no? I mean, we'll need to go there anyway, to get a bigger crew.”
“Fair enough, Estaban. You can keep Blackwell,” Mariqah smiled, “But don't get too excited - incapacitating a man-of-war is no stroll on the beach.”