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A Moment of Repose [Closed]

Nicolette O'Hara

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#1
[[OOC: 4th Wintermarch, morning, the Waking Sea towards the Amaranthine Ocean]] Celeste Monroe

Nicolette had not known any of the crew members on the Wicked Grace more than a few weeks, but even if it had been only a matter of days she would have noticed the general lift in spirits ever since they had finally cast off from Kirkwall. When the final rope had been thrown and the small pilot boats started to tug them out towards the harbour entrance, every breath on board had been held, awaiting some last minute disaster; the masts to fall, the rudder to stick, the – she did not know enough of the terminology yet to guess at whatever else might have gone wrong.

And yet nothing had; they had sailed cleanly through The Twins, and they had slipped through the imposing bronze giants and the first ocean breeze had caught the sails, an almighty cheer had gone up. Celeste had not been the only one affected by the lengthened stay in Kirkwall, and as the usual jobs required to get a ship skimming across the waves took place, there was a general lifting of spirits that had been evident in every move of every sailor. Delighted by the rising energy, Nicolette had started a shanty with lyrics that were easy to learn for a call-and-response, and as the city had shrunk behind them everybody bellowed along and set to their jobs with a new vigour.

A vigour shared by their captain. Nicolette had slept a little later than Celeste this morning, having spent a good portion of the night enjoying the benefits of sharing the captain’s cabin and therefore having Celeste in arm’s reach. Celeste had met her enthusiasm with equal measure and it was with a happy languor that Nicolette finally stirred, taking a few extra minutes to relax in the warmth that the captain had left her with before finally dressing and preparing herself for the day.

It was still quite early. The crew not on night duties were still dozing beneath decks, and the dawn was partway through blooming, pink clouds crowning the golden disc of the rising sun. As they sailed north it would come earlier, and it would get warmer. Warmth! After months in chilly Kirkwall, it would be a blessing.

Speaking of blessings…

Celeste had taken to the helm, and Nicolette climbed the steps towards her. Gold strands of hair flickered around her face and the vivacious green eyes were as alight as Nicolette had ever seen them. She was truly in her element, at last.

Nicolette came up behind her and wrapped her arms around Celeste’s waist, loosely enough that she would not impede the other woman if she had to make a sudden move, and purred in her ear. “Good morning, my captain.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#2
Second only to being at the helm on a cloudless midnight when you could see every star in the sky overhead was being at the helm at dawn. Celeste had foregone the first pleasure, turning it over to Dax to retire to her cabin with Nicolette. She’d been pushing hard since casting off from the docks at Kirkwall, the superstitious sailor in her convinced that something was going to happen that would hinder them: a snapped line, a broken rudder … something. Not until they had cleared the harbor had that dread lifted, and when they had finally hoisted the sails -

Watching them billow as the wind filled them, feeling the Wicked Grace leap forward as though her ship shared her eagerness to be under way, she’d been reborn. She’d spent the rest of the day on deck: sometimes at the helm, sometimes helping to adjust the sails, sometimes aloft in the crow’s nest, glorying in the freshness of the salt air, the feel of the water rushing past the hull, the land on the port side receding from view until there was nothing in sight but the open ocean, the sound of Nicolette’s voice echoed by the crew, every one of them sharing her jubilation at being once more back where they belonged.

Normally, that elation would have kept her on deck long after the sun had sunken into the sea behind them, but the invitation in Nicolette’s eyes had been impossible to resist. She had spent much of the night introducing the minstrel to the experience of making love on a ship that rocked gently through the waves, only succumbing to a pleasantly loose-limbed exhaustion in the wee hours of the morning. But internal rhythms developed over a lifetime at sea still had her awake well before sunrise, and even the soft warmth of the woman asleep at her side wasn’t enough to keep her abed for long once her eyes were open.

She kept a cautious eye on the southeastern horizon, but the skies remained largely clear, the sky ahead shifting from deepest black toward violet, then red, orange and gold, the wispy clouds catching fire briefly in the moments before the edge of the sun appeared above the waves. Celeste shifted her gaze slightly, a smile of welcome touching her lips as Nicolette came into view, eyes still ever so slightly hazy from sleep.

“Good morning, my captain.” Arms slipped around her waist, and Celeste leaned back slightly into the embrace, turning her head to meet soft lips with her own while keeping her hands steady on the wheel.

“Good morning, beautiful,” she replied. She turned her eyes forward again, where the sunrise illuminated the wind-swollen sails and cast the masts and lines into silhouette. Torgun, Bailey and Piotr moved about on the main deck, making the minute adjustments needed to capture the greatest amount of the breeze. “What do you think of her now?” To this point, Nico had only seen the Wicked Grace tied up, mastless and crippled. Like an injured bird. Now, her ship flew free once more, and Celeste’s spirits soared across the waves with her.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#3
Nicolette could have kept her distance and been happy enough just watching Celeste for quite some time. Her joy at being back at the helm shone through her, and while Nicolette had seen Celeste happy in a number of different situations, she had never seen her as full of life as she appeared now.

But Nicolette knew the other woman wouldn’t begrudge her getting closer, and she gave in to the desire to wrap herself around Celeste, breathing in her scent; one that offered increasing comfort every time Nicolette noticed it. The kiss was brief, but tender, and when Celeste turned her gaze back to the horizon, Nicolette nestled her chin into the crook of Celeste’s shoulder, a soft happy hum escaping her.

“Good morning, beautiful.”

For a moment, they gazed out together over the ship. A few of the crew were tweaking ropes and doing other things, the purpose at which Nicolette could not guess, but other than that they were alone. Above them, the sails had caught the wind at their backs and billowed full, rippling slightly in the breeze. Golden sun crept across the decking and set the sea alight, dazzling Nicolette for a moment. She had been at sea many times before now but she had always missed this moment at the dawn, and she could not think of a better situation in which she could be seeing it for the first time.

“What do you think of her now?”

Nicolette did not need to weigh her words. Even if she had not been experiencing her own delight at seeing Celeste so enlivened by finally being away from Kirkwall, the Wicked Grace was a beautiful ship and she leapt across the waves with ease. No wonder Celeste had been on edge, waiting for her to be whole again.

“She is magnificent. I can see why you missed her so much.” Nicolette stepped back a little, resting her hands lightly on Celeste’s shoulders, a playful smile in her tone. “Do you wish me to leave you both alone a little while?”

If Celeste did want to be left in peace to renew her acquaintance with her ship, Nicolette would not begrudge her that; she would go to the front of the ship and admire the view from there. She would be a little reluctant to abandon the other woman’s warmth, though.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#4
Had the seas been rough, or the winds shifting, Celeste would have gently disengaged from Nicolette’s embrace. She was insouciant and irreverent about nearly everything on land, and she frequently seemed the same at sea, but her ship was one of the few things that she took seriously. Any shenanigans or distractions that might endanger the Wicked Grace or her crew were out of the question, and everyone on board knew it.

But this morning might have been sent by the Maker as an apology for spending much of the past few months pissing on their heads: clear sky, steady and brisk winds, and gentle swells that the schooner skipped through with the sleek ease of a dolphin. Given the season, they were all but guaranteed to encounter worse before they made it to Antiva City, so Celeste was damned if she wasn’t going to enjoy this while it lasted, with her lover warm at her back, the whole damn world spread out before her, and her ship finally able to take her to it.

“She is magnificent,” Nico murmured with a reverence that kindled a glow of approval in the captain’s chest. “I can see why you missed her so much.” She shifted, ending the embrace and stepping back a bit, her hands moving to Celeste’s shoulders. “Do you wish me to leave you both alone a little while?” Her voice was gently teasing, but Celeste knew that she would be given solitude if she wanted it.

She didn't.

“No need.” Celeste shook her head and took one hand off the wheel, capturing one of the minstrel’s hands and guiding it back around her waist, drawing them back together. “You need to get to know her, too.” There was more than romantic whimsy behind the idea - though there was more of that present than Celeste would admit to anyone except maybe Gideon; there would come a time when all hands would be needed on deck, and Nicolette would be called upon to do more than provide music to work by. Best to get her acclimated before that necessity arose.

In fact …

Celeste cast an appraising eye on the sails and the sea. “Ever steered a ship?” she asked, turning her head to look back at the minstrel with a smile. She couldn’t have asked for better weather for a first lesson.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#5
Nicolette would have been fine to step away and leave Celeste to the ship for a while. It was a relationship that went back far earlier than them, and Nicolette was not the type to be jealous of it. If Celeste had asked her for a little space, she would have claimed a kiss before heading for the bow of the ship to play figurehead for a while. At this time and in this weather, there was little Nicolette could do to help the rest of the crew with the basic tasks of running a ship, and she would have positioned herself to get the strongest possible blast of sea air she could. The cooling breeze felt like a miracle after the still, almost grimy air of Kirkwall.

Instead, Celeste drew Nicolette’s arm back around her waist. “No need. You need to get to know her too.”

Nicolette hummed in contentment and rested her chin on her captain’s shoulder. “I feel as though I am beginning to.”

Beneath the shirt she could feel the other woman’s muscles tighten and slacken a little with each gentle touch on the wheel to keep them on course. More than once she had been impressed with Celeste’s upper body strength without really considering where it came from, but of course – steering a ship through rough weather must take every ounce of strength and then some more. Even more telling, then, that she chose to steer the ship herself rather than leaving it somebody else’s hands.

Nicolette was just wondering if through the wheel, Celeste could feel every current that buffeted the ship, when her lover’s voice drew her from her idle musings. “Ever steered a ship?”

It was an offer, that was clear in Celeste’s smile, and Nicolette’s face lit up in response. “No. I have asked on one or two occasions whether I could, and the suggestion was never well received.” Her eyes gleamed. “May I try?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#6
Nicolette’s smile gave Celeste her answer before the other woman spoke. “No. I have asked on one or two occasions whether I could, and the suggestion was never well received.” She regarded the wheel like a child at the window of a candy store. “May I try?”

“Be my guest.” Celeste shifted, keeping one hand on the wheel and stepping away enough to let Nico slip into place, then guiding her hands into position, covering them with her own for the moment.

“Now,” she rested her chin on the minstrel’s shoulder, her mouth near her ear, but for now, thoughts of seduction were far away. “This is port.” She squeezed Nicolette’s left hand. “And starboard.” Now the right. Releasing that hand, she pointed ahead, then behind. “Fore and aft. Got it?”

Below, Isabela sauntered out onto the main deck. The pirate had been no less delighted than the rest of them to be back at sea, but beneath it, there had been a bittersweet cast in the golden eyes that Celeste understood. She’d feel the same way on a ship that was not hers if she lost the Wicked Grace. She’d give her a turn at the helm later today; for now, she was pretty sure of the look she’d get when Bela caught sight of the morning’s lesson. There had been remarkably little teasing so far, but the pirate’s opinion of lasting romantic attachments outside the bedroom remained unchanged, regardless of how well she liked Nicolette.

“The wheel is attached to the rudder,” she went on. “That’s what we were replacing the day you moved onto the ship.” She tipped her head up to the crow’s nest, ensuring that Bailey was there and on watch. “Your eyes are in the crow’s nest. They can see a lot farther ahead than we can from here. Close your eyes.” She waited for a moment for Nico to comply, feeling the minute tremors vibrating through the wood beneath their hands. “Feel it? That’s the water rushing along the rudder. Give it some time, you’ll be able to feel when there’s a cross current that’s slowing us down. Feel the breeze?” Her fingers touched the minstrel’s jaw, turning her head gently into the wind. “We’re running downwind. Easier, but if the wind shifts, we can adjust the sails to tack and still keep moving.

“You don’t have to remember all that just yet,” she assured her lover with a smile. “Just … feel.” One last squeeze of the minstrel’s hands, and Celeste released and backed up a bit, close enough to step back in if needed, but far enough to let Nicolette feel the joy of guiding the Wicked Grace through wind and waves, angling herself so that she could see her face.
 
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Nicolette O'Hara

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#7
Nicolette noted as she slipped into position that Celeste kept one hand firmly on the wheel, and did not let go even when she had a hold of it; instead, the captain covered her hands, shifting behind her. Nicolette was briefly tempted to press herself against the other woman, teasing her as she had done many times before, but she already had a sense of how much trust Celeste was placing in her with this, and she tried not to be distracted by the warm puff of air on her ear as Celeste rested her chin on her shoulder.

“This is port.” Her fingers tightened over Nicolette’s left hand. “And starboard.” The other hand, this time. Celeste let go to point forward then back. “Fore and aft. Got it.”

“Port.” Nicolette tapped the thumb of her left hand against the wheel. “Starboard.” Now the right. “Fore, forward, aft, behind. Like before and afterwards.” The word ‘starboard’ had a poetic ring to it. She had heard it quite a few times by now, although never learned what it actually meant. She suspected she had probably used it wrong in a few stories before now.

Isabela was roaming around the deck now with the same slow lazy energy as The Thing. Golden eyes turned towards them, one eyebrow raised. A brief, indecipherable expression had flickered across her face but now it spread into a grin as she looked up at them. It was difficult for Nicolette to look at the other woman without remembering her freezing dip into Kirkwall’s waters, or the subsequent ‘apology’ that both she and Celeste had enjoyed. Fortunately, Celeste’s voice brought her back to the present, talking through the parts of the ship.

Nicolette could not see properly through the sails and wondered how Celeste predicted oncoming danger, but that answer came quickly; the crow’s nest provided her eyes. At Celeste’s instruction, she closed her own. “Feel it?” There were faint tremors in the wheel, a pull against her hands that she almost locked herself against before she realised that Celeste’s arms around her were making minute adjustments to compensate rather than trying to fight it. “That’s the water rushing along the rudder. Give it some time, you’ll be able to feel when there’s a cross current that’s slowing us down. Feel the breeze?”

Fingers pressed her jaw, turning her face to the breeze. “We’re running downwind. If the wing shifts, we can adjust the sails to tack and still keep moving.”

Nicolette was lost as to what ‘tack’ was, but Celeste reassured her that she did not need to remember it all now. “Just…feel.”

She felt her breath shudder a little as the other woman pulled away, suddenly and awesomely aware of how the smallest movement of her hands could send the entire ship skittering this way or that on the waves, and then she felt the cool air rushing over her face and the way the ship responded to her movements, heard the rustle of the sailcloth and the soft splash of the waves against the sides of the ships, and felt a rising sense of freedom not far from the first few moments of riding a horse as it gained speed. Her eyes opened wide with wonder as she adjusted her hold, trying to match what Celeste had shown her, feeling the ship turn this way and that at her slightly still too-heavy touches. "Ouah...this is...incredible."

On the deck below, Isabela was still looking up at them; more specifically, at Celeste. She widened her eyes and batted her eyelashes, making exaggerated kissing motions at the other woman; she then turned her back, wrapping her arms around herself until her hands on her back looked like those of another person, shimmying her hips at the captain as she mimed passionate kissing.

She turned back around as Nicolette shut her eyes briefly to feel the movements of the ship again and caught Celeste’s gaze, lining her mouth with two fingers and sticking her tongue through them, waggling it exaggeratedly while wearing the expression of a person who knows full well they were on their way to getting kicked.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#8
The basics of sailing were easy; mastering them took a lifetime. But everybody had to start somewhere, and today was Nicolette’s turn. Celeste had no real concerns on that score; the minstrel was more than intelligent enough to master the theory, and while she might not yet have the strength and skill to fight the Wicked Grace through a storm at sea, her travels and performing had left her more than fit enough to steer the ship on a day like this.

She remained alert and ready to step in for the first few moments, watching intently as apprehension rippled over Nico’s features, her hands gripping the wheel tightly, her first movements jerky and hesitant. Another glance to the crow’s nest; Bailey had noticed the change at the helm and signaled that they were in the clear. With nothing but open ocean around them and a lookout on duty, Celeste allowed herself to relax as Nicolette took the Wicked Grace through a few sweeping curves, her confidence growing as the best damn ship on the seas of Thedas responded smoothly to her every motion, her expression shifting from worry to wonder.

From the corner of her eye, Celeste could see that Isabela had taken note of what was happening on the bridge, but she didn’t turn to watch the pirate’s antics, even when Sorcha burst out laughing. Her gaze remained on Nicolette’s face, eyes closed and chin lifted to feel the breeze, the few strands of hair that had escaped her braid fluttering about her ears. She didn’t want to miss the moment she was hoping for, and after a bit longer, her patience was rewarded as a smile of purest joy and delight spread across the minstrel’s face and the glorious eyes opened wide, seeking out Celeste.

"Ouah...this is...incredible."

The awed words drew an answering smile from Celeste, a quiet satisfaction and pride thrumming pleasantly in her chest. “You’re doing fine,” she praised her, glancing up at the sails and seeing the faintest luffing starting. “Take her back to starboard a bit … bit more … perfect.” She remembered that smile and the feeling that lay behind it quite well; she still felt it on a regular basis at sea. Nicolette would always be a minstrel, but from this moment, at least a little bit of her would be a sailor, as well, and a part of her heart would always belong to the wind and waves. It was a realization that pleased Celeste more than she would ever have thought possible a few weeks earlier.

Nicolette closed her eyes again, and Celeste turned to watch Isabela’s performance, which had shifted from miming a passionate embrace to making faces, stretching her mouth wide with her fingers and sticking out her tongue as far as it would go. Not to be outdone, Celeste reached a hand over her head, lifting up the tip of her nose to make a pig’s snout, crossed her eyes and sucked her cheeks in to make a fish mouth. Because that was totally how mature women and badass sailors did things.

“I think the sea air is doing her good,” she quipped, letting her features return to normal and quirking a grin at Nicolette. She knew why the pirate was acting up; she’d caught the pointed look from the golden eyes when Isabela had boarded and discovered that Nicolette had taken up residence in the captain’s cabin. It wasn’t anything like jealousy; she doubted that Bela had ever entertained that emotion in her life, and what was between them had never warranted it.

“She doesn’t believe in getting attached,” she explained, propping her hands against the rail and leaning back. Tempting to stand behind Nicolette again, arms around her waist, but the minstrel might think that she didn’t trust her at the helm. Then too, just watching her like this, truly discovering the freedom of the sea for the first time, communing with the ship … that was a fine thing, as well.

“She thinks I’m being foolish,” she went on. “About you.” No sense in trying to dodge it, because the pirate was likely to say it outright in pretty much those terms before the voyage ended. She’d felt the same way about Daniel, as kind as he had been to her. Too many people, from her mother to Luis to Castillon, had controlled her against her will, and she was determined to never give anyone the chance to do it again. Her choice, and Celeste wasn’t arrogant enough to assume that some day she’d break her own rules by falling in love with someone, or that she’d wind up miserable and alone if she didn’t. It wasn’t about just having someone. Celeste had known more than a few of that type, but neither she nor Bela had ever fit that mold. It was about the right one: someone you wanted to be with, and Celeste was damned if she’d be fool enough to let that go just to be able to say that she could.

“This’ll be the longest we’ve been in each other’s company in a while,” she warned Nicolette. “We’ll likely be butting heads before the voyage is done, but that’s nothing new. We fight, we make up.” More than a touch of affection tinged her voice, and she turned back to fire a return salvo to Bela’s continued clowning, sticking a thumb in each ear, fingers spread wide and wiggling, tongue curling up to her nose, head bobbing back and forth and ass waving like it had a signaling flag attached.

That seen to, she turned back to the helm. “It’s nothing to be alarmed at,” she told Nico. “End of the day, she’s the oldest friend I’ve got outside of this crew.” The minstrel didn't like conflict, but with Celeste and Bela, sparks - and not the erotic kind - were all but guaranteed at some point.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#9
Nicolette opened her eyes in time to see Celeste and Isabela trading faces, fingers stretching their features wild as they waggled their tongues at each other. She chuckled. It had not escaped her notice the previous day how Isabela had responded to their departure from Kirkwall with as much wistfulness as joy, but the sorrow seemed to have blown away entirely this morning, and she entertained herself watching her lover and the other woman clowning around.

“I think the sea air is doing her good.”

“It seems to be. She is always fun, but I do not think I have seen her so light-hearted before.” Well, she was fun when she was not accidentally nearly drowning her, anyway.

“She doesn’t believe in getting attached.” Nicolette turned her head towards Celeste, surprised– she had not missed Isabela’s eyes rolling when she had realised that Nicolette and Celeste now shared a cabin, but before their evening in the crow’s nest the night before Addie’s rescue, neither of them had been particularly explicit about their feelings for one another. It was still new to hear Celeste being so open about it. New, and enough to cause her a little thrill that combined excitement and nerves.

She had promised herself after Eward that she would not get so attached to anybody as she had to him, and while some people had come close, the relationships had not survived her constant need to roam. Even now she was double-guessing herself…although it was easy enough to forget the moment she spent any time around Celeste. Her captain had crept into her heart without her even noticing, and all the caution in the world could not make Nicolette wish that away.

“Neither did I, once upon a time.”

“She thinks I’m being foolish. About you.”

Nicolette looked back down at Isabela, who was currently miming passionate kissing on the mast, one leg wrapped around the trunk. It was hard to be annoyed at her with that going on. Despite herself, she smiled.

“Foolish? No. But you are a risk-taker, and I like that about you.” And it was infectious – Nicolette had taken more chances around Celeste than she had in quite a long time. “For many reasons.”

Isabela had graduated to fondling the mast at around chest level and grinding against it, evidently enjoying the reactions she was getting from Sorcha. Without the context learned from previous interactions with her, Nicolette might have assumed Isabela to be funny, salacious, and mostly harmless. By now she knew full well the other woman was not, although by reputation rather than direct experience.

Apparently on the same line of thought, Celeste moved to a warning. “This’ll be the longest we’ve been in each others’ company in a while. We’ll likely be butting heads before the voyage is done, but that’s nothing new. We fight, we make up.”

Isabela was making faces again, trying to get Celeste’s attention, and it worked. The captain stuck her tongue out and waved her behind at her.

“It’s nothing to be alarmed at. End of the day, she’s the oldest friend I’ve got outside of the crew.”

Nicolette made a note not to try and interfere if she saw the two of them arguing. Not only would she likely be out of her depth, but trying to play peacemaker while they had it out with each other could backfire. “I will keep that in mind. If she challenges you to a duel for the ownership of the Wicked Grace, though, I might interfere.” This last in a slightly teasing tone. Various members of the crew, and Celeste herself, had assisted in advancing Nicolette’s abilities as a defensive fighter, but the fact remained that she would always choose running away above running towards a scrap – unless somebody she liked was in danger, and in which case she could not predict her own actions. Celeste would be better off if she stayed out of it, and she would not stand a snowball’s chance in a fire in a fight against Isabela. “I am sure it would alleviate tensions to watch her chasing me in a circle around the deck.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#10
Nicolette laughed softly at Isabela’s antics. “She is always fun, but I do not think I have seen her so light-hearted before,” she observed as she watched the pirate swaggering toward the mast.

“Losing the Siren’s Call and her crew hurt her.” That was putting it mildly. It wasn’t just hurt; it was losing part of you. Just having the Wicked Grace disabled for so long had felt like having both legs broken. To have her ship lost with all on board … she couldn’t even conceive of it. Isabela was a different type of captain, but she had cared for her crew in her own rough and tumble way, though she had never allowed any of them - or anyone - to get too close.

“Neither did I, once upon a time.” The minstrel’s words, and the soft smile that accompanied them, brought an answering smile to Celeste’s lips. Neither had Celeste, once upon a time, though not for the same reasons as Isabela. Daniel had been nothing like Luis; Celeste had simply not thought to find his match again … and she likely wouldn’t. Nicolette was nothing like Daniel on the surface: one a bold and dashing ship’s captain who thought nothing of getting into a brawl or smuggling a load past customs, the other a gentle spirited minstrel who loathed the idea of violence and was generally law abiding. But they both loved life and lived to the fullest, even when it meant taking risks, and that was what had drawn Celeste to them both. Watching Nicolette at the helm now, the wind in her hair and elation lighting her face as her confidence grew, the sailor could feel the swell of satisfaction in her chest that was usual when she observed someone daring something new and loving it, but the pride and pleasure that accompanied it was something altogether unfamiliar, but undeniably welcome.

Perhaps it was foolish to open herself up to loss again; Isabela certainly thought so.

“Foolish? No,” Nicolette disagreed when Celeste told her of the pirate’s opinions. “But you are a risk-taker, and I like that about you. For many reasons.”

“Some risks are more worth taking than others,” the sailor replied. What she was feeling now was different from the rush that she got from pulling off a caper for the Jennies, taking on three thugs in a fight or piloting the Wicked Grace through a storm. The prospect of teaching Nicolette more about sailing, seeing those beautiful eyes dancing with delight at a successful prank, even just waking up beside her in the morning … it tugged at a much deeper level, and the risks were far more daunting than simple life or death. Celeste might screw it up, as she had already come close to doing, or Nico might decide that a seagoing, semi-legal lifestyle wasn’t for her after all. Those possibilities paled beside the chance that Celeste might lead her lover - who already trusted her far more than seemed sensible - onto an adventure that might get her hurt or worse. But Celeste had never been one to let the what-if’s hold her back, and Nicolette was no different. They would go forward together, at least for now, and whatever came, Celeste resolved to have no regrets.

Isabela was now doing things to the mast that would get her arrested in more than one port. The pirate was very like Celeste in many ways, but very different in others, and if the similarities had always drawn them back together, the differences had made it all but certain that they would never stay that way. And sometimes those differences grew heated. Her friend was currently enjoying being back on the sea, but the loss of the Siren’s Call would make itself felt again sooner or later.

“I will keep that in mind,” Nicolette responded when Celeste warned her of the near inevitability of conflict. Celeste and Isabela had fought and made up more times than the sailor could easily count; it was as much a part of their relationship as getting drunk together. “If she challenges you to a duel for the ownership of the Wicked Grace, though, I might interfere.”

“Don’t,” Celeste warned her quickly. The chances of that taking place were beyond slim, but not completely out of the realm of possibility. But even if she were that reckless, the crew of the Wicked Grace would never support the pirate in that sort of mutiny, and she knew it. “She’s better with her knives than I am, but the crew will be on my side.” If it ever came to a fight, the winner would be determined by who cheated the best. “If you’re interested, she could probably teach you a thing or two.” Weaving innuendo throughout undoubtedly, but that would not bother the minstrel; more than a few of her lessons in self defense with Celeste had ended in passion.

“I am sure it would alleviate tensions to watch her chasing me in a circle around the deck.”

Celeste laughed. “And Thibault chasing her?” she suggested with a grin. “And whoever’s in the crow’s nest doing their best to drop whatever’s handy on her head.” It would never happen; Bela would never be that damn stupid, and so Celeste could enjoy the mental image.

The pirate was still humping the mast; Piotr was staring with his mouth ajar, and Sorcha was in danger of rolling overboard. “If you give my ship the clap, I’m charging you to replace that mast!” she roared at the pirate, hands cupped around her mouth. “And if you give birth to a dinghy in nine months, don’t look to me for child support!”
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#11
Nicolette had been jesting when she suggested placing herself between Celeste and Isabela in a fight, but her captain was quick to warn her against it. “Don’t. She’s better with her knives than I am, but the crew will be on my side. If you’re interested, she could probably teach you a thing or two.”

The jewelled blades mounted behind Isabela’s shoulders were certainly pretty, although it had not escaped Nicolette’s attention that she had yet to see the other woman without them. It strongly suggested that fights happened often enough for her that she never went unarmed. “I may ask if she can show me some more defensive manoeuvres.” Celeste had been teaching her some hand to hand, but they had a habit of getting distracted during their practice. The last time, Celeste had pinned her wrists to the wall, and Nicolette had not even tried to get out of that. Perhaps she would be a bit more focused with Isabela training her.

Then again, maybe not.

She joked that she could serve as distraction instead, fleeing around the deck with Isabela on her tail, and earned a laugh. “And Thibault chasing her? And whoever’s in the crow’s nest doing their best to drop whatever’s handy on her head.”

Nicolette chuckled – the chuckle became a laugh as Celeste bellowed at Isabela. “If you give my ship the clap, I’m charging you to replace the mast! And if you give birth to a dingy in nine months, don’t look to me for child support!”

“I’m pretty sure you have a spare mast hidden in one of your cabin drawers!” Isabela shouted back. “That thing was huge!”

She had left off trying to climb the mast with her hips, and sauntered in their direction, pausing to give Piotr a slow wink. The cabin boy blushed, and then disappeared into the galley as fast as he could without breaking into a run. Isabela turned her attention back to them, wearing a wide grin. “Now the question is, which one of you is the ship that mast is attached to, and which one rides it? Ooh, I bet you take turns.” She draped one arm around Celeste’s shoulders. “Celeste here’s a very fair captain.”

Nicolette laughed again, although she was aware her face was turning a little rosy. “I have no complaints.” The quiet moment between her and Celeste was gone for now, but she still smiled at her captain.

Isabela reached out to pinch her cheek. “No need to blush, darling. We have all seen each other naked.” And done much more, besides. “And as it happens, right now I’m in the mood to wrap my hands around something…”

Her fingers were now creeping towards the wheel. Nicolette glanced at Celeste, silently asking if it was all right for Isabela to take the helm.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#12
“I may ask if she can show me some more defensive manoeuvres,” Nicolette reflected, watching Isabela’s antics with amusement.

“She’s not much on defense,” Celeste warned her. “When she’s in that position, she usually cheats.” Not that she would object if Nico learned that from the pirate; anything that let you walk away from a fight was fine in her book, but the minstrel might not feel quite the same way about Bela’s preferred tactics, which weren’t for the faint of heart.

Not much about Isabela was, to be honest, a fact that was currently being put on blazing display on the main deck, to the great amusement of the crew.

“I’m pretty sure you have a spare mast hidden in one of your cabin drawers!” the Rivaini shouted back when Celeste challenged her. “That thing was huge!”

Piotr was looking puzzled and Bailey leaned in to whisper to him; his eyes went as wide as saucers, and when Bela winked at him as she swaggered toward the bridge, he blushed beet red and bolted. No big shock that she’d snooped in Celeste’s cabin; the only surprise was that she hadn't worn it out on deck, and the sailor had to laugh as her friend climbed the ladder and slung a friendly arm about her neck.

“Now the question is, which one of you is the ship that mast is attached to, and which one rides it? Ooh, I bet you take turns.” She turned her salacious grin onto Nico. “Celeste here’s a very fair captain.”

"Only fair?" Celeste protested in mock indignation.

The minstrel kept her composure admirably. “I have no complaints,” she replied, with a pretty laugh and a prettier blush.

“You’ve got an imagination,” Celeste teased the pirate, “and I know you know how to use it.”

Leaving Celeste, she approached Nicolette with lazy grace, tweaking her cheek teasingly with thumb and forefinger. “No need to blush, darling. We have all seen each other naked.” That was putting it mildly, to say the least. “And as it happens, right now I’m in the mood to wrap my hands around something…”

The lust in her eyes was not for the woman at the helm, and when Nico gave Celeste a questioning look, the captain nodded. She’d waited long enough; Celeste couldn’t give her friend the Siren’s Call back, but she could give her this.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#13
Isabela did not truly need an imagination to guess at what Celeste and Nicolette enjoyed behind closed doors - and occasionally alleyways, rooftops, and the Grand Cleric’s balcony - given that she had seen it up close. And participated. It had been a long time since Nicolette counted herself an innocent, and she could recite bawdy stories and songs with the best of them, but thinking about that evening still made her face warm up. It had been a very good one, and Isabela proved as inventive as her friend.

Fortunately, the teasing only lasted a few moments. Isabela had not come to the helm to suggest an encore (although Nicolette would not have turned her away if she had); she wanted to claim her turn at steering, and while Nicolette was enjoying herself, she was happy enough to hand over the wheel and step back towards her captain.

She did pause to glance at Isabela’s face as she settled behind the wheel, and was struck by the momentary softness she saw there. Isabela caressed the wood with none of the lewd intent that she had shown to the mast; it was with reverence, and an expression that mingled joy and pain flitted across her features. Nicolette turned away, fairly certain that Isabela would not want anybody to have noticed. Celeste probably had, though, and Nicolette reached for her hand to squeeze it softly.

She had come to understand Celeste’s pain over being trapped in Kirkwall with her ship badly wounded. For Isabela, it had to be many times worse.

It seemed prudent to draw attention away from Isabela’s poignant moment, so Nicolette pointed towards up. “So what are the commands for the sails? I have heard a few but I have to admit to not knowing what any of them actually mean.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#14
Celeste averted her gaze as Isabela took the wheel, though not before she saw the play of emotion across the other sailor’s features. That Bela trusted her enough to be so unguarded was no small thing, but a big part of their lengthy friendship lay in knowing when to look away and say nothing, which is what she did now, turning her eyes to the activity on the main deck, where the crew went about their business like the well oiled machine that they were at sea.

A warm hand slipped into hers, and Celeste let her fingers lace with Nicolette’s, feeling an undeniable spark of pleasure at the simple contact. ‘Content’ was a word that she seldom applied to herself, but right now, with the wind in her face and the clean salt air in her nose, Isabela at the helm and Nicolette beside her, it was an apt descriptive, and she was quite willing to simply bask in the moment.

Nicolette was interested in continuing her education, however. “So what are the commands for the sails?” she asked, gesturing towards the billowing canvas. “I have heard a few but I have to admit to not knowing what any of them actually mean.”

This kind of interruption Celeste did not mind in the least. “Names first,” she began, tugging her lover a bit closer to her side. “That’s the mainmast.” She pointed to the one that Isabela had been rubbing against. “The one fore of that is the foremast. The biggest sails on each one take their names from that, so mainsail and foresail.” She went on to point out the topsails, jibs and staysails. “The spars at the tops of the sails are the gaffs; the ones at the bottom are the booms.” From there to the commands for the basics: hoisting and lowering the sails, jibing and tacking, reefing and furling. Terms that she had learned from her earliest years, as familiar to her as music was to Nicolette, but she had no doubt that the minstrel was intelligent enough to pick up both theory and practice, given time and teaching. Kalindra had been a landlubber once, as had Sorcha and Bailey.

“So,” she concluded after giving her lover enough to digest in a single session, “would you like to tour the main deck, or should we relieve Bailey in the crow’s nest?” She knew her own preference, but being atop the mast in even such light seas as this was a far cry from being up there at anchor. If Nicolette had any tendencies toward seasickness, it would definitely bring them out.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#15
Celeste had been engaged in surveying the ocean ahead of her, but did not seem put out by the request for further knowledge, and she pointed out each aspect of the ship in turn and gave it its name. Then the pulleys, the knots, which ones could be pulled apart quickly if needed and which ones were permanently tangled together. Nicolette knew a fair bit of the vocabulary already, but had never been sure which words applied to what - casual references to the booms had been taken to mean something to do with explosive powder. She listened attentively, absorbing the details while trying not to be distracted by the graceful sweep of Celeste’s arm as she pointed out the different parts, or the clear joy on her face as she spoke.

Fortunately, most of it was easy enough to retain, and Celeste knew when to end a lesson before her pupil’s attention wandered far. “Would you like to tour the main deck, or should we relieve Bailey in the crow’s nest?”

As if that was even a question. Although things had been somewhat frantic since the last trip up there, Nicolette knew it would be an evening she held in her mind for a long time - the icy air contrasting with the warmth of the the other woman in her arms, the sway of the ship between them even hindered by being in port, and the quiet offer that Celeste had made. It had been only a few days since Nicolette had stashed her belongings in the captain’s cabin, but she was still dizzy on the memory of it.

“To the crow’s nest, I think.” She beamed. “It felt like flying.”

She headed towards the rigging, slowing her step a little to keep pace with her lover. “I imagine I have to be a little more careful going up when we are at sea? Or do you have another special rope trick to go up quickly?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#16
Celeste was fairly sure where Nicolette would want to be; she’d seen her eyeing the crow’s nest longingly ever since they’d set sail, but the minstrel had not pushed for a return visit, allowing the crew to do their jobs as she played shanty after shanty that turned the repetitive tasks into a dance of sorts. She offered a choice anyway, as she tried to do as often as possible, because she knew how much her lover treasured her freedom, a sentiment that the sailor shared. She remembered quite well the frustration of having decisions made for her, based upon what someone thought she wanted, what was thought best for her or - worst yet - what was "proper". Nicolette had experienced it, as well, but it had left deeper scars upon her; the one time that Celeste had taken a choice from her that she believed was hers to make had caused a rift between them that had startled the sailor - not only for the intensity of Nicolette's distress, but also for how deeply it had unsettled her to find herself at odds with her gentle-spirited lover.

Sometimes, there wouldn’t be choices; as captain, she would have to issue orders, and as a part of the crew, Nico would need to follow them. But this was not one of those times, so she offered the choice, and enjoyed the smile that lit up her lover’s face like the sunrise.

“To the crow’s nest, I think,” she replied without hesitation. “It felt like flying.” She started to skip ahead toward the main deck in her eagerness, caught herself and hung back until Celeste reached her. “I imagine I have to be a little more careful going up when we are at sea? Or do you have another special rope trick to go up quickly?”

“No way up but to climb,” Celeste confirmed with a grin. “Just mind the movement of the shrouds.” Putting two fingers to her mouth, she sent a piercing whistle upward, and when Bailey looked over the side, she waved him down. A few moments later, his feet hit the deck, and Celeste headed for the rail, gripping the ropes of the shrouds and scrambling up, then waiting for Nicolette to join her before beginning to climb. She enjoyed the journey almost as much as the destination: feeling the sway of the ship, the way the shroud slackened and tightened with the waves, the challenge of matching the movement of her body with that of the ship, the roughness of the rope against her hands and feet, the way the wind swirled around her the further aloft she got. She could have made the ascent in a matter of seconds, but she kept pace with Nicolette, keeping a close eye on her hands and feet, pleased when the minstrel quickly copied her movements. She clambered over the rail into the crow’s nest, reached out a hand to assist Nico.

Below them, the deck had been rocking gently as the ship cut through the waves, but up here, the distance amplified that easy motion into a decided sway fore and aft that jostled them against each other in a manner that Celeste didn’t mind in the least (two in the crow’s nest was never a good idea unless they could at least tolerate each other). She braced her feet with the ease of long practice, watching to see how Nicolette adapted.

“We fit eight up here once,” she remarked with a smirk. “All of us drunk off our asses, and nobody with more than one leg in.” That none of them had fallen was proof that the Maker looked out for fools and drunken sailors.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#17
There was no fast way to ascend, and they would have to watch how the shrouds - sails? - moved. Bailey came down with an admirable speed which caused a lurch in Nicolette’s stomach as she remembered being wrapped in Celeste’s arms as they returned to the deck, as well as the fire of the kiss that had followed immediately afterwards. It had taken no encouragement to return to the crow’s nest, and that memory acted as further incentive as she began the climb.

Skies, but it was different at sea! She resisted the urge to keep glancing over at Celeste, focusing on one hand and foot at a time, climbing quickly but not so fast she might risk her foot slipping. The rigging seemed to pull away from her, but she could adapt well to unexpected movement, and she thought she had made the climb at a respectable speed. Nonetheless her shoulders ached a little by the time she reached the top, and she heaved herself into the nest with a grateful sigh. Celeste followed a second later, and the wide pitch of the mast rolled them against one another. Cold air blew sharply across her face, cooling the beads of sweat at her temple. Now Nicolette looked to see how Celeste braced herself, and copied her, pressing close to the other woman - for safety, of course. Nicolette’s eyes shone with the exertion, and ahead of them, the wide ocean stretched for miles

Once they were safely ensconced, Celeste grinned. “We fit eight up here once. All of us drunk off our asses, and nobody with more than one leg in.”

Nicolette giggled. “That would have been quite the tangle of limbs. Some of you must have been hanging by your fingertips.” Her own fingertips skimmed Celeste’s stomach as she turned to the other woman, smile warming. “It must have been quite intimate up here-”

She paused, her attention suddenly caught by something beyond Celeste’s face. Canting her head slightly to the side, she noticed that the beautiful morning they had been enjoying so far might have an interruption. Grey clouds brewed ominously on the far horizon. Nicolette had not spent as long on the road as she had not to have a good weather eye. “Euh. Celeste?” She pointed. “We may have to get the rest of the crew on deck. Or can you outrun it?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#18
Nicolette made it into the crow’s nest with no close calls, though a light sheen of sweat touched her face when she climbed over the rail. She didn’t seem to mind, however, and her eyes danced with enthusiasm as they surveyed the expanse of rolling waves around the ship. It was close quarters, but far from the closest Celeste had experienced up here; while they wouldn’t try such shenanigans at sea, in port or at anchor filling the crow’s nest was a semi-regular game when no other amusements were in the offing, with eight being the record for the Wicked Grace.

“That would have been quite the tangle of limbs,” Nico observed with a musical laugh. “Some of you must have been hanging by your fingertips.”

“And other body parts,” Celeste agreed with a wink.

A light dance of fingers across her belly sent out a pleasant twist of warmth that offset the chill of the wind. “It must have been quite intimate up here-” the minstrel murmured with a suggestive twinkle in her eye.

Celeste snorted. “Intimate is two or three,” she countered, letting her hand graze the curve of her lover’s hip. No more than that, though. Fooling around up here was fun in port, but at sea, getting that distracted (and present company was worth nothing less than total distraction) was asking for a fast trip to the deck if a wave hit right. “Pretty sure I had someone’s elbow up my ass and one of Gid’s horns in my ear.” The ship they’d been competing with had squeezed in ten, but they hadn’t had a Tal-Vashoth on their crew.

“Euh. Celeste?” The sudden note of concern in her companion’s tone got her attention, and she turned her eyes to follow the minstrel’s gesture. “We may have to get the rest of the crew on deck. Or can you outrun it?”

“No need,” the sailor asserted confidently, studying the bank of clouds and the haze of rain beneath. “Good eye, though. Weather’s one of the main thing the lookout is looking out for.” They weren’t the towering thunderheads that presaged a dangerous storm. Cupping her hands to her mouth, she called below, “Squall coming up southeast!” The crew on deck immediately set to work. “Taking in the sails before we hit bad weather is a lot easier,” she explained to Nico as they began shortening the mainsail and foresail and reefing the topsails in completely. “Even a light storm can snap the spars if you’re running under full sail. We’ll get wet and cold, but not much more than that.” Pretty typical for this time of year at these latitudes, and one of the reasons she was more than ready to be northbound.

She kept a close eye on the approaching front as she went on to describe the things to be watched for from the crow’s nest besides the weather: hidden reefs that could rip the bottom out of a ship; sandbars that could strand it; wreckage that could damage the hull or foul the rudder; flotsam and jetsam that could mean salvageable cargo or shipwreck survivors in need of rescue. Bit by bit, the encroaching clouds covered the blue sky, and the wind began to pick up, whipping her hair around her face, bringing with it the unmistakable scent of rain.

“Time to go,” she decided, reaching for the line. No lightning, but best to get down before the rain arrived to slick up the ropes. Once on deck, she ducked back into their cabin to grab an oilcloth slicker that she gave to Nicolette. “Stay in the lee of the fo’c’sle,” she instructed her, nodding toward the shelter of the galley. It would keep the minstrel out of the worst of the weather while letting her observe the activity on the deck. Deciding to let Bela have the fun of steering them through the storm, she moved to help Bailey shorten the mainsail a bit further. The waves had kicked up a bit, though far from being dangerous, and she instinctively adopted the rolling gait that she'd learned almost as soon as she could walk, moving easily with the rise and fall of the deck and enjoying the feel of it, even as the first drops of rain quickly quickened into a shower.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#19
Nicolette was reasonably well versed in Celeste’s unspoken language by now, so, she could tell that taking it any further up here might not be the best idea. She was happy to tease, though, and Celeste reciprocated, while expanding on how ‘intimate’ had meant ‘deeply uncomfortable’ during her previous adventure. Nicolette was still tickled by the idea of most of the crew being rammed up here, to say nothing of what Brannigan must have made of the prospect of treating anybody who took a tumble.

Still, even if she had been minded to see if she could push the teasing a bit further, the grey swell of clouds on the horizon would have distracted her. Celeste did not seem too bothered by it, however; she warned the crew, but without too much of an edge to her voice, and below everybody started moving ropes and canvas about in a manner still largely mysterious to Nicolette. Celeste picked up on her curiosity. “Taking in the sails before we hit bad weather is a lot easier. Even a light storm can snap the spars if you’re running under full sail. We’ll get wet and cold, but not much more than that.”

The weather began to pick up. There was something almost intoxicating about it up here, the impending wildness of rain and wind. Not so intoxicating that she was willing to disobey Celeste when her captain decided it was time to go, and after another fast descent she was quick to follow Celeste’s pace towards the stern. If there was not too much risk, however, Nicolette would rather stay on deck rather than being thrown back and forth in the cabin, and Celeste was wise enough to her by now that she did not even suggest hiding below decks. “Stay in the lee of the fo’c’sle.”

Nicolette nodded, wrapping the slicker around herself and wrapping one arm around a column as a brace. Under the ledge, she could not see Isabela but she could hear the pirate whooping into the wind. Evidently this was more than she could have hoped for, and Nicolette could not help a smile at the sound. Celeste strode away, her steps easily adjusting to the rolling pitch of the ship, and Nicolette watched her go with open admiration.

Then she heard a distant barking.

Of course, Thibault had let himself out when she did, to roam around the deck and follow the interesting smells. When at sea before, he had usually been happiest at the bow, ears rippling in the breeze and challenging the shadows of any large creatures he saw below the water. Now he was at the far end of the ship from her, and while Celeste had not indicated that this would be a storm of any particular note, she was immediately nervous about him being anywhere near the sides. Fortunately, he was a sensible sort, and had evidently tired of being bucked around at the front. With his limbs akimbo in the effort of making his way back, Thibault staggered across the deck with none of the sailors’ grace.

The ship’s pitching increased; the waves were starting to rise up on either side, and Nicolette, keeping one arm about the column, beckoned to Thibault, calling to him in Orlesian. “Here boy, faster!”

He gained speed, lolloping in her direction, then everything happened at once. The ship rolled down to the left, and when it came up in the hollow of the wave, the water crashed over the deck. It was not much, but enough to send Thibault spinning, crashing into the rails at the side, and then the ship’s roll went the other way, more water surged, and when it retreated, it dragged Thibault with it, his terrified howls rising above the storm.

No more than Nicolette’s scream of terror and grief; she was already in motion, making a line for the side, when firm hands caught her arms and dragged her back. Brannigan was a ship’s physican, and strong; she could not fight him off, try as she might, although she was barely even sensible of trying to do so, her gaze focused on the spot where her oldest, dearest friend had been moments ago.

“Thibault!”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#20
Celeste had thought nothing of it when she had spotted Thibault on deck. The hound had long since become an accepted member of the Wicked Grace, and despite his size, was remarkably adept at keeping out from underfoot of the crew as they worked. Even as the seas grew rougher with the arrival of the storm, she wasn’t overly concerned; compared to the southeaster that had nearly sunk them, this barely qualified as bad weather. Isabela was whooping it up at the helm, and Celeste could feel the grin on her face as her ship rocked through the choppy waves and the wind and rain whipped at her face. After weeks stranded in Kirkwall, it felt like heaven.

The big waves weren’t unusual; even in calm seas, you’d get the outliers that were two or three times the height of their fellows. In stormy conditions, those differences magnified, but the sleek lines of the schooner handled the pitch and roll with ease. Thibault, however, had not gotten his sea legs yet, and as the ship dipped into a trough, he lost his footing and was caught up in the water that the next cresting wave dropped onto the deck. Bailey made a grab for him as he tumbled across the boards, but missed. Another second, and the churning water lifted him over the rail, his frightened baying trailing in his wake.

Celeste was in motion before Nicolette screamed, propelled by something more than the sure knowledge that they would have to tie the minstrel up if they left her dog to drown. There was no time to analyze reasons, no time for thought or hesitation. As Brannigan caught Nico, Celeste snatched up the rescue rope, that was kept neatly coiled on the wall of the aftercastle.

“Dax!” Normally, Gideon served as the anchor, but Belzer was strong enough for the job. Celeste dropped the loop at one end over her head, one arm through, and let the coil fall to the deck. No doubt in her mind that Dax would catch the free end, or that the rope would play out smoothly, because if either of these failed to happen, she and Thibault were both fucked.

“Bailey, get the net!” Kali, calling for the cargo net that they dropped over the side to assist with reboarding, was the last thing that Celeste heard before she dove over the side, arrowing in the direction that Thibault had been taken.

Cold. Not the sullen chill of Kirkwall’s harbor. This cold was alive and angry, knifing to the bone and seeking to drag you down. The big waves were past, but the storm chop was still formidable, slowing her progress and hampering her vision. She fought to top one crest, stretching as high as she could to see - there! A burly head and flailing paws, maybe thirty feet beyond, and she struck out, swimming strongly, knowing she wouldn't be able to do it for long. The Waking Sea in winter was deadly, survival measured in minutes; even the strongest swimmer couldn’t stay afloat with limbs numbed by the icy water.

And she had less time than that. Seconds, at most. Ships didn’t stop easily or quickly, particularly in such seas, circling back required precious time, with no guarantee that they would be able to spot the dog again once they’d lost sight of him. When the rope pulled tight, they were going to start hauling her back in, whether she had him or not.

She wasn’t going to get a second chance at this.
 
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