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The next time they attack a Spanish ship, Diana doesn't ask to join the boarding party. Penny again calls her over to help with the sails, and Diana is happy to do so. She's good at this; good at working the rigging and handling the sails and wonders if perhaps one day she'll follow in Penny's footsteps.

This time, everything goes smoothly and Diana is quickly enlisted to help carry various crates and boxes down into the hold. Everyone's spirits are high after their successes, and even with her arms and back aching from the heavy lifting, Diana feels the same.

She realizes, after a while, that the crates seem a lot lighter and working the sails leaves her less tired, even after a long day. She asks Penny one night, and Penny simply laughs, patting Diana on the arm.

"You've grown," Penny simply says, before leaning forward and softly kissing Diana on the forehead. "Good night, Dee."

Diana spends her entire watch squinting at her reflection in the dark waves, illuminated by a nearby hanging lantern. She doesn't think she looks any different.

But then the next night, she's arm wrestling in the galley and beats Whalen and as the small crowd around them whoops and cheers, Diana just stares in surprise at her hand for a moment. She's never beaten Whalen before (or at least, not without cheating) and Penny's words from the night before echo in her head.

Whalen grumbles, but she's smiling as she passes over a rum bottle to Diana, saying that she's earned it.

Diana grins, and takes a swig.

And then promptly chokes.

Whatever it was in the bottle, it certainly wasn't rum.

The group roars with laughter and someone slaps her firmly on the back. Diana is spluttering as JMac congratulates her on her introduction to the results of the doctor's below decks still.

It tastes foul, but that doesn't stop Diana from drinking it, and an embarrassingly short time later, she finds herself on top of one of the tables, minus her shirt.

Which, of course, is when Penny walks in.

"Good God, Diana. Get yourself down from there before you fall down and break your neck!" Penny exclaims, her clarion tones cutting across the noise. Diana gulps and immediately drops down so she is sitting on the table. "And can someone give her shirt back too?"

Grumblings come from the crowd.

"But Penny," whines JMac. "We're having fun. You really want us to cover that up?"

JMac is pointing in her direction, and Diana looks down at herself. She doesn't get what's supposedly so impressive about her body.

"Yes," says Penny, a hint of steel creeping in her voice. "Now."

The shirt instantly comes flying from the back of the group, hitting Diana on the head. Even though Diana's technically just an ordinary crewman now, everyone knows Penny is still a little overprotective of the girl. And everyone also knows that they don't ever want to cross Penny Taylor.

"I think it's time to break up this party and call it a night," Penny declares, the bite leaving her voice. "Diana, let's get you to your bed."

"I'll take her!" Seimone volunteers instantly.

"I'll help!" Schuey exclaims, jostling her way to the table.

Penny just clears her throat, and others, who look like they were about to volunteer their services as well, slink back.

Diana hops off the table, sways dangerously for a moment and is not too proud to take Penny's arm to leave the galley. She's just thankful for the escort away from all those eyes staring at her like she was a piece of meat.

"I'm drunk," she tells Penny, who just laughs at her. Again. Penny is always laughing at her.

"That's what you get for drinking Katie's moonshine," says Penny unsympathetically. "Tomorrow morning's going to be a bitch for you."

"I don't get it. I didn't think that I drunk that much, but I must have done to be this drunk," Diana continues.

"Katie's moonshine'll do that to a person," Penny explains. "I've only ever seen three people still standing after downing a bottle of the stuff – LJ, Big Syl and Katie herself. Don't beat yourself up over it, Dee. We've all been in your shoes before, more or less."

Diana looks down and frowns. "But I'm not wearing any shoes."

~*~


The Storm doesn't make berth in New York that often. The last visit they had made, one of the crew had jumped ship, melting away into the darkness and dirt of the city. Sue supposes she can't complain too much; that trip had been the same which had brought Ice onboard, and her work, so far, has been exemplary. She also can't blame the girl for leaving; knowing full well that most of her crew need to plan for a life after the Storm, but it was the way in which she departed which left a bad taste in Sue's mouth.

But when one of Sue's contacts in Williamsburg passes on a message that he's heard from a friend of a friend that there may be a business opportunity for her in New York, then the Storm will make berth in New York and Sue will sit and nurse a pint in the Old Orange tavern. She'd been told to come alone, and she wonders if that had something to do with the selection of a Dutch pub as a meeting place; her English speaking crew obvious as soon as they opened their mouths. It's irrelevant anyway, as both LJ and Penny are fluent enough and are happy enough carrying on a conversation in the language at table not far from Sue's.

Her eyes dart around the room, coming to rest on the door as she slowly sips her drink. There's a sparse crowd tonight and everyone seems to be minding their own business. The door creaks as it opens, and Sue feels her expectations rise as a man stomps in, and then fall again when he heads straight to the bar.

She doesn't even know if the person she's supposed to be meeting will even be here tonight or if they're going to end up passing like two ships in the night and this sojourn in New York will ultimately be a waste of time. (Not a total waste, she amends to herself; the cargo of tobacco they had sailed with was definitely profitable enough to make the trip worth it.)

The door groans again, and the instant the woman steps inside, Sue knows that this is who she is waiting for. A woman like that doesn't belong in a place like this, and Sue can see her uncertainty as she looks around. Her eyes lock with Sue's and she delicately picks her way across the room, sidestepping an overly affectionate Dutchman with enough skill that Sue knows it's not her first time.

Sue leans back in her chair, tilting her hat upwards so she can meet the pale and watery eyes of the mysterious stranger and waits for her to speak.

"You must be Captain Bird." The words are spoken confidently in heavily accented English. The accent, if not the voice, is familiar to Sue and the recognition gnaws at her.

"I suppose I must," drawls Sue, kicking out the chair opposite her. The woman looks down at it distastefully, but perches herself daintily on the edge. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Madam. You know who I am, but I am at a loss as to your identity."

"My name is of no concern," the woman says, and Sue scowls.

"Well, if that's the case," she begins, reaching behind her for her jacket. "I don't do business with people with no names."

"I believe we have a mutual friend," the woman says quickly. "Svetlana Abrosimova."

Sue pauses. She hears it now with crystal clarity, the same lilting cadence and atypical inflections, and doesn't know how she didn't recognize it instantly as the same accent as Sveta's. There had been a time when that voice had been an ever-present whisper in her ear, guiding her through life and teaching her the ways of the world. Even after she had left the ship, Sue had continued to hear Sveta's voice in her head for months afterwards and for a while, not a day had passed without Sue wondering just where her friend had ended up.

She drops her jacket back down and leans across the table, poised and alert. Name or no name, this woman has her full attention now.

"Speak," she says shortly.

~*~


Diana drums her fingers on the table, looking down at the flush of red royalty and tries not to smirk.

"I'll see your fifty, and raise you another fifty," she says, pushing the pile of coin into the middle of the table. It's pretty much everything she's got, but there's no way she's losing this hand.

There's a mutter of uncertainty from around the table. She's supposed to be the naïve kid, fresh off the ship and ripe for pickings, only she's not one to play by someone else's rules. Her opponent stares her down, and Diana just shrugs nonchalantly, reaching for her drink.

"I'm in," he mutters around his pipe. "Come on then, son. Lay it on me."

Diana allows herself the triumphant smirk as she slowly lays down her royal flush and watches the jaws just drop. The old man just slams his cards down on the table, swearing in ways that would make Diana blush if she was actually listening to him.

"Again?" she asks innocently, even as she's scraping her winnings together. There's some discontented grumblings and she wonders if it's too late to amble down the docks to the next pub and find a game to join there instead.

But then the door to the tavern slams open, and LJ is standing there, her face grim. Her eyes scan the room, and she nods curtly when she spots Diana and the small contingent of crewmembers with her.

"Everyone, back to the ship," says LJ. The surprised look on Shea's face tells Diana that this sort of thing doesn't happen very often, and she wonders just what trouble someone's got themselves into. She can only be glad that it's not going to be her that Sue will be yelling at this time; her heart still aches whenever she thinks back to their argument in New Providence.

"What's going on, LJ?" Shea demands as they dutifully traipse past her and head towards the wharf where only a few hours previously they had berthed the Storm, supposedly for a few days. Diana lags back, waiting to hear what LJ says; Shea's years of duty giving her both the privilege to ask, and the expectation of an answer.

"Sue met with some woman, and now we're sailing out at first light, so Penny and I were told to round you lot up," LJ says with a shrug. "She says she'll explain more later, but whatever that woman said to her shook her up pretty bad. Don't think I've ever seen her look so pale before; I thought she was going to keel over in the middle of the street to be honest."

Diana's curiosity is piqued. She wonders if it has anything to do with Sue's sister, as the only time she's ever seen such extreme emotions from Sue has been when Sue's family has been involved.

It's buzzing below decks that night, as theories and complaints fly thick and fast. JMac is whining about how she'd paid upfront for a girl for the night and Ice remarks that maybe she should try and seek reimbursement from Sue. JMac takes her seriously for a moment, and they explode with laughter as JMac flushes a bright red and tells them all just where they can stick it.

Diana keeps her theory to herself. She'll see tomorrow, if Sue tells them to set a course for Philadelphia.

But Sue doesn't.

They're sailing north, to Boston.

The next morning dawns bright and clear, and the Storm's sails flap happily in the breeze as they sail smoothly out of New York. Sue is there, barking out orders on deck, although Diana is certain that her captain didn't sleep a wink the night before. She watches as LJ places a hand on Sue's shoulder, and Sue just shrugs it off with a glare. The whole crew is tense and on edge and it's not until mid-afternoon, when Katie appears and forcefully pushes Sue into her cabin, that the ship's entire demeanor relaxes.

Boston isn't their final destination. Sue disappears into the city, accompanied only by her almost-ever-present shadow, Big Syl, after declaring that the only ones to step foot on land would be those loading fresh supplies onto the ship. There's grumblings from the crew, but no one dares to disobey Sue's orders – especially when she's in such a foul mood. When she and Big Syl return to the ship, hours later, Syl is immediately surrounded by curious crew members as she takes a seat in galley.

"We're looking for a French ship," Big Syl says in between mouthfuls.

"A specific French ship, or any French ship?" Schuey asked.

Big Syl pauses, food halfway to her mouth. "A specific ship," she says quietly. "Dumerc's ship."

Although the name means absolutely nothing to Diana, it obviously does to everyone surrounding her.

"Who's Dumerc?" she demands.

An uneasy silence falls after her question, and Diana rolls her eyes. "Well, don't all rush to answer me at once," she says.

"It's... it's complicated," says Moe uncomfortably. "To be honest, I'm not sure if most of us even know half the story."

"Well, what about the half that you do know? There's got to be something, else we wouldn't be here, right?" Diana points out.

"Dumerc is..." Shea begins and then pauses, frowning somewhat. "She's a captain that Sue has some history with."

Diana feels her stomach sink. "What sort of history?" she asks.

Shea shrugs. "No one's exactly sure," she says. "There's all these rumors, but all we really know is that now swords fly every time they cross paths with one another. I can't imagine why Sue would be actively seeking her out."

Big Syl clears her throat and she is suddenly the center of attention again. "She's got Sveta."

There's instant outcry and once again, Diana finds herself lost and confused. "...who's Sveta?"

This time, the answers come at her thick and fast. "...mercenary..." "...used to sail with us…" "...great hand with a sword..." "...really close to Sue…"

Only the last really sinks in, and it's on the tip of Diana's tongue to ask "How close to Sue?" but she bites it back and merely remarks, "Oh. Right." She ignores the stab in her chest that comes from the realization that maybe Sue didn't use to have any problem with getting involved with a crew member under her command; she just had a problem with getting involved with Diana.

"Well, that explains a lot," Moe says thoughtfully.

Shea nods slowly, looking pensive herself. "Sue would do practically anything for Sveta," she agrees. Diana clenches her fists, willing herself to stay calm. She's supposed to be trying to get over Sue, but her heart hasn't quite grasped that concept.

Diana catches Moe giving her a quizzical look, and barely noticeably shakes her head. She clears her throat, trying to clear her mind at the same time. "I think," she begins, pausing in surprise when people turn to her, waiting expectantly on what she has to say. "I think we could continue talking about this all night, but there's no point in wondering about something that hasn't happened yet. We'll find out what's happening when it happens, right?"

There's a murmur of agreement from a smattering of crew members, and Shea claps her roughly on the back. "You know if Dee's making sense for once, then we probably should listen to her," she says with a laugh.

The crowd starts to disperse and Shea pats her on the arm, still smiling. "Joking aside, that was some good, mature advice, Dee," she says warmly.

Diana nods, mustering a small smile of her own. Shea squeezes her shoulder and disappears with the rest of the crew, leaving Diana standing in the middle of the galley with just her own thoughts.

They don't make for good company.

~*~


It's the fourth time they've made port in as many days, and Diana wonders if any of the others are growing as weary of the monotony as she is. It wouldn't be so bad if they were allowed to make landfall themselves, but it is only Sue, always accompanied by Big Syl, who is permitted to leave the ship, disappearing for hours into the towns and villages and who returns with her face longer and her eyes sadder.

Diana can hear the weariness in Sue's voice as she gives her orders, can see her pushing down her emotions; can see the slump in her shoulders that she tries to hide. They're the same things Diana tries to hide herself, her melancholy growing with Sue's. She can't help but wonder what it would be like if Sue was half as dedicated to Diana as she is to this mysterious Sveta, and a small sigh escapes her lips.

"Something on your mind?" Seimone asks casually, glancing across the sail at Diana.

Diana shrugs half-heartedly, concentrating on attaching the bolt rope to the edge of the canvas, hissing with pain as she rams the needle into her finger yet again. She sticks her finger in her mouth for a moment, leaning back in the sun. Though the air has grown chillier and chillier as they travel further and further north, Diana still takes every opportunity to venture out onto the deck. She'll freely admit that she's looking forward to finishing in these waters, however, and making their way back to warmer climes.

"Just a little bored, I guess," she confesses. "This isn't exactly what I had in mind, you know, when I signed up."

"This isn't too bad," Seimone says, laying down her own needle for a moment. "Sometimes it's good to take things easy for a while. And if you think this is bad, wait 'til we careen the ship. Penny was muttering something about it the other day."

Diana tilts her head curiously. "Careen?" she questions. "What's that?"

Seimone gives her a long, slow grin. "It's when we beach the ship and turn her on her side for repairs and cleaning," she explains.

Diana just stares, her eyes and mouth wide. "You're having me on," she exclaims, and Seimone chuckles.

"No, I'm not. How else do you think we do work on the outer hull?" Seimone points out. "In fact..."

Shouts from the lower deck interrupt whatever Seimone had been about to say, and she and Diana both dart to the ladder. Diana reaches it first, scrambling down into the bustle and almost crashes headlong into Big Syl.

"...You're back!" Diana exclaims redundantly, and Big Syl gives her a puzzled look.

",,,Yes?" she replies, moving Diana out of her way. "Best make yourself useful or make yourself scarce, Dee. We're sailing immediately."

"We are?" says Diana, momentarily confused, but then she just shrugs her shoulders. "What's happened?"

Big Syl turns to look back at her, incomprehension across her face. "Sue found her, Dee. She's found Dumerc's ship."

~*~



They've just spotted Dumerc's ship on the horizon when it starts to rain.

On the deck of the Storm, telescope still in hand, Sue just starts to laugh, lifting her face up to the skies.

"Ah, Sue?" She turns to look at LJ and Penny, who had darted for shelter at the first drops. "Are you feeling well?"

"As good as I have in days," Sue confesses, a wide smile on her face. "I shall, of course, be feeling much better once we've got Sveta onboard, but just finding the Tarbes is something to celebrate. I was beginning to fear that we would never catch up with her."

"And, ah, the rain?" LJ presses, still looking at Sue uncertainly.

Sue just shrugs. "It's merely water," she points out, pulling the tie out of her hair and shaking it loose around her face. "And it can only aid us in boarding them unnoticed, as I'm sure they'll have only left a few crew above deck. Whalen," she calls, turning away from the matching hesitant looks on LJ and Penny's faces. "Bring us alongside the Tarbes."

She can see the moment of uncertainty from her helmsman, before it's hid behind the usual stoic mask and Whalen nods firmly. "Aye, Captain," she says, twisting the wheel.

Sue flashes her a brief smile, before she turns her attention back to LJ and Penny, all business again. "LJ, you'll be with me, so, Penny, I'm leaving the ship in your capable hands." As expected, there are immediate protests from both of them, their exclamations overlapping each other.

Sue merely raises her hand, silencing them both. "I know neither of you like the idea, but it's not up for debate," she says. "I'm going. I owe Sveta that much at least." The looks on LJ and Penny's faces are both rebellious, but Sue knows that they don't have enough time to try and argue with her, nor ultimately, will they refuse to follow her orders. "I'll leave the rest of the boarding party in your hands, LJ, but keep it small – maybe three or four – and experienced."

Sue tries to tell herself that she's not thinking about Diana, not at a time like this when she has so much else to be worried about, but the remark about experience slips out and she knows just how LJ will choose to interpret it. She pushes the thought to one side; she really does have other things on her mind that she needs to focus on. Still, she can't deny that the knowledge that Diana will be safe on the Storm isn't giving her a small amount of relief.

"Have your choices convene in my cabin immediately," Sue adds, focusing her attention back to the task at hand. "Oh, and tell them blades only. We're trying to keep quiet on this one." She turns as LJ nods, heading straight to her cabin. She lays her telescope away in its case and reties her hair, taking a minute to look at herself critically in her mirror. Her face is pale and the dark circles under her eyes spell out the sleepless nights since she had first heard the news about Sveta from the mysterious woman in New York. Still, she acknowledges, this waking nightmare will be over soon, one way or another, and maybe sleep will no longer elude her.

She moves quickly around her cabin, strapping on two scabbards; one for a sword at her waist, and another for a dagger across her thigh. She stops for a moment in front of the weapon's stand bolted to her wall, and hesitates as she scrutinizes the blades there. She passes over her preferred rapier, and hefts up the cutlass, holding it in front of her and watching the light reflect off the curve of its blade before she holsters it.

There's a knock at the door, and she calls enter. Big Syl is the first to slip inside, followed by Schuey, Douglas and LJ and Sue nods in satisfaction.

"Reporting as ordered, Captain," LJ says, and if she is a little stiff and formal, Sue can't blame her.

"Thank you, LJ. Now, I'm sure you all know why you're here, so this is going to be pretty straightforward," Sue begins, and the little group nods. "Our goal is simple; to board the Tarbes, rescue Sveta and return to the Storm with as little fuss as possible. Schuey and Douglas, you'll stay on top and make sure no one raises the alarm. Most likely, you'll have to subdue their helmsman at least. Syl, you'll be with me and LJ, and we're going straight down to the hold. If any crew member spots us on the way, they're to be silenced, by any means necessary."

"And if we're caught below decks?" LJ queries. Sue can tell how much LJ doesn't like her plan.

"We won't get caught," says Sue seriously, staring at LJ, who stares stubbornly back.

The rain is still lashing down when they head back on deck. They're almost alongside the Tarbes now, a hulking shadow lurking in the growing darkness.

"Bring us in, close as you can, Mr. Whalen, and then hold her steady until we return," Sue says to her helmsman, who nods. She turns to her boarding party. "Once we're alongside, they'll be no shout to board; just follow my lead."

"No, I'll board first and you'll follow my lead," LJ insists, and after a moment, Sue nods in agreement, giving LJ the small victory.

Sue lands on the deck of the Tarbes just a fraction behind LJ, and the other three crew members just a moment behind her. Douglas slips slightly on the wet boards as she lands, but quickly picks herself up, and she and Schuey disappear into the pounding rain.

Sue leads LJ and Big Syl to the hatch, and although LJ tries to push in front of her to lead, Sue just shakes her head and insists on going in first, sword in hand.

She knows exactly where she's going.

There is only one crewmember in the dimly lit hold, and their head meets the dull edge of Sue's cutlass before any sound can be uttered. Sue glances around, her eyes alighting on a huddled figure chained in the corner, and she darts over, leaving LJ and Big Syl to keep an eye out. She crouches down, reaching forward to brush dark, matted hair away from the figure's face, and a bony hand snaps to grab her wrist, though there is no real force behind the action.

"Sveta, it's me, Sue," she whispers urgently. She can see the light dawning in Sveta's eyes, and the hand drops, the chains clanking.

"Sue?" Sveta questions, her voice rough and croaking. "It's really you?"

"Yes. We've come to rescue you." Sue is examining the old and rusty chains, and coming to a decision, reaches for her dagger and wiggles the point experimentally in the lock. It breaks away, and she immediately turns to do the same to the other one.

A smile slowly spreads across Sveta's face. "What took you so damn long?" she drawls.

"Fuck you," Sue mutters, although she is grinning as she snaps the second lock and Sveta's chains fall away. "Want me to leave you here?"

"No, no, no," Sveta assures her as she tries to push herself up, swaying dangerously. Sue sheathes her dagger immediately and wraps her arm around Sveta's waist. "I've spent far too long down here. I want to feel the sun on my face once more."

"Well, you're going to be disappointed. It's raining," Sue says flippantly, as she nods to Big Syl to take the lead on their return to the surface. She notices another fallen crewmember as she pushes Sveta in front of her, stepping over the body. LJ just shrugs innocently.

A silhouette of a large figure hovers over the hatch as they near their exit, and Sue panics for just a moment, before the silhouette offers Big Syl a hand and she realizes that it's Schuey. There are a couple more bodies lying on the deck as Schuey pulls her up, and Sue quickly looks around, relaxing slightly when she sees Douglas on the other side of the hatch.

It's still raining hard, but that doesn't stop her crew from swarming the deck once they've landed back on the Storm and Penny's given Whalen the order to break her holding pattern and sail away. Sveta is next to Sue, unknowingly echoing Sue's earlier actions as she raises her face and laughs into the rain.

"Thank you, my friend," Sveta exclaims, turning to Sue. Sveta's hands clasp both sides of Sue's face, and she leans in to firmly kiss Sue's lips, accompanied by whoops and cheers from the surrounding crew.




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April 2011

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