A Light in the Night
It was late and the tavern was deserted but for a few passed out souls slumped over tables and two old timers singing near one of the fireplaces as they shared a jug of wine. Rackham had been seated with Max at a table in the back corner of the tavern for the past couple of hours going over the brothels books, but a few minutes before Anne had showed up to collect him, leaving Max on her own.
In the momentary calm, Max allowed her eyes to close and her shoulders to sag. She was exhausted. She hadn't realized it until she had nothing to occupy her mind, but with Rackham gone, and the tavern as quiet as it ever was, Max began to feel the effects of being up well past midnight after she had risen before sun.
There was a half-full glass of whiskey sitting in front of her, and Max gazed at it contemplatively for a few seconds. Before she'd found a healthier way to ease Eleanor to sleep after a stressful day, a shot or two before bed had been Eleanor's go to recipe for a full night's sleep. Max was tired, but she had not slept well since she was released from bondage on the beach, and she was tempted to try the remedy that she had once chastised Eleanor for employing. A heavy, dreamless sleep was quite an alluring proposition to her at the moment, but ultimately Max decided against it and pushed the glass to the side. She had never been one for drink and she didn't want to start developing a dependency on the stuff now that she had finally started to get her life in order.
Putting tiredness and alcohol from her mind, Max dropped her eyes back down to the ledger in front of her. However, before she could even contemplate continuing to go over it, a loud clanging sound echoed through the tavern, followed closely by a familiar voice irritably exclaiming, "Motherfucker!"
Max's head lifted instinctively and her eyes unerringly found Eleanor on the second floor of the tavern. The blonde was staring down at the ground when Max spotted her, and under Max's watchful eyes, Eleanor bent at the waist to retrieve something from the floor. A metal jug, Max was able to see when Eleanor rose again holding it in her hand. Some strands of blonde hair had come loose from the bun Eleanor kept her hair tied in during the day, and Eleanor blew at the blonde curls impatiently before finally putting the jug down on a nearby table so that she could use her hands to tuck the curls behind her ears.
Watching Eleanor like this was a bad idea, but Max could not look away. She had always found Eleanor particularly fetching at the end of the day, when her clothes and hair had become mildly dishevelled, and Max felt her body respond to the sight of Eleanor the way it had before, when they were together, when she was the one who used to tuck Eleanor's hair behind her ears before kissing Eleanor until her pale cheeks flushed becomingly.
A familiar ache began between Max's legs as she watched Eleanor, and Max realized that it was time to leave the tavern.
Shifting her gaze from Eleanor, Max focused her attention on the ledger in front of her. She marked the page she had been looking at, and then closed the book and rose from her chair. She tucked the ledger under her arm, and then she began to resolutely make her way across the tavern.
Max did not intend to look towards the second floor of the building again as she made her exit, but as she walked her skin began to tingle with awareness. Eyes were on her, Eleanor's eyes were on her. She could feel it, and unconsciously she found herself looking up.
When she did, she found exactly what she knew she would; Eleanor looking down at her yearningly with those big, blue doe-like eyes of hers. Torch light flickered attractively over Eleanor's features, lighting up her eyes, making them seem to shine, and for a moment Max was ensnared. Oh but how she had loved to trace her eyes over that face. She knew every dip, every curve, every freckle and birth mark. As some people gazed at the sea and its rippling waters for calm and comfort, Max had gazed at Eleanor.
But that was then, and presently Max turned her head from Eleanor and began to walk again.
The word was soft and hesitant. It seemed impossible to Max that such a small sound could reach her ears from as far away as Eleanor was, but she heard it, and once again she came to a stop and looked up.
When she tilted her head up again, Eleanor's body jerked awkwardly, lurching forward toward the railing which she grasped tightly, her knuckles turning white with the strength of her hold.
"Please," Eleanor called down to Max in that same soft, timid tone. "Can we talk? I'll come down."
Silence met Eleanor's words for a few seconds as Max stared at her contemplatively. Eleanor had kept her distance from her since she had returned to the brothel, but from that distance Eleanor had been watching over her. Just as Max had felt Eleanor watching her a minute before, she had felt Eleanor's eyes on her over the past couple of weeks, and every time their eyes met she had been able to see Eleanor's desire to approach her and talk to her writ on Eleanor's face, but until that night Eleanor had never acted.
Cutting her eyes to the side, Max was able to see that the passed out pirates were still passed out, but the two ancient mariners by the fire had stopped singing and were openly watching the scene unfolding between herself and Eleanor.
"No," Max called out, turning her attention back to Eleanor. "Max will come to you," she continued, watching as Eleanor's shoulders sagged in relief and her death grip on the railing loosened.
The second floor of the tavern was empty, as Max knew it would be. Eleanor was standing in the same spot she had been when Max had made her way to the stairs, and she remained rooted in place even as Max walked past her and took a seat at the cleanest table on the landing.
"You would be more comfortable if you sat," Max said, looking over at Eleanor once she had taken a seat.
"Can I?" Eleanor asked, blinking more rapidly than usual as she looked over at Max. "I mean, would that be acceptable to you?" she amended nervously. "I know that my presence has not been desired of late and I …"
"I would not 'ave come up 'ere if I was not willing to speak," Max interjected, mercifully stemming the flow of nervous chatter streaming from Eleanor's lips. "Sit," she continued, gesturing to the chair opposite her. "Max will not bite."
Eleanor's lips quirked up slightly, no doubt remembering all of the times Max had proven those words to be a lie, but there was no gentle expression in Max's eyes or teasing lilt to her words now, and Eleanor's expression sobered as she made her way over to the table and settled herself in the chair opposite Max.
"Thank you," Eleanor began awkwardly, "for agreeing to speak with me."
"Words cost Max nothing but time," Max breathed out.
"Then I thank you for your time," Eleanor amended.
"Thank me by not wasting it," Max replied dully, feeling a twinge of remorse for her stony tone when Eleanor's face fell, but not enough to force herself to be warmer, at least not yet.
Eleanor was silent for a moment in the wake of Max's curt response, but then she straightened her back so that she was sitting properly in the chair, and she took a deep calming breath.
"I'll do my best," Eleanor responded firmly, her features composed once again. "I suspect it will not make much difference to you given all that has happened between us, but even so I think you deserve to hear the words spoken aloud, so folly or not I will speak them," Eleanor began. "I wronged you, I hurt you, you suffered unimaginably because of me, and I am deeply sorry," she continued, forcing herself to maintain her composure and carry on even as Max turned away from her, unwilling to meet her eyes.
"I know, words, words, merely words, no matter from the heart," Eleanor continued. "They cannot change the past, and may have no bearing on the future, but I am truly sorry. It was never my intention to hurt you or abandon you. I … I lacked the courage and the confidence to say it before, when perhaps the words might have been able to touch your heart, but I loved you Max, and I love you still."
In silence that followed Eleanor's pronouncement, Max did nothing but breathe out harshly through her nostrils, a sound Eleanor knew was meant convey exasperation.
"I fucked up as much as it is humanly possible for someone to fuck things up, and I know that my actions and inaction have irrevocably changed things between us. You hate me, and I cannot say that I do not deserve it, but please know that I will forever hold you in my heart, and that if you ever need anything, anything at all, I am here for you and always will be."
Silence descended between them once again when Eleanor finished speaking; Eleanor waiting for a reply to all that she had said, while Max tried to sort through complicated and painful tangle of emotions that Eleanor's words and presence had produced in her.
Max's lips parted and twitched as they sometimes did when words she knew she should not speak danced on the tip of her tongue. She was restraining herself from voicing whatever response had first come to her, and Eleanor tried to view her restraint as a positive sign because it meant that angry as Max was, she did not want to deliberately hurt her. As the silence wore on however, the embers of hope that had begun to flare in Eleanor's heart were stamped out, and Eleanor resigned herself to the fact that Max's refusal to reply angrily meant that Max was not going to reply at all.
Eleanor closed her eyes and dipped her head down. She had not expected her words to erase the damage she had done. She had not thought that she would apologize and then end the night with Max once again in her arms. But she had been hoping for something, for, if not forgiveness, then perhaps a sign that one day forgiveness might come. It was a blessing, she supposed, that Max had agreed to listen to her at all. Things could have gone far worse Eleanor knew, but Max's refusal to look at her or acknowledge her still wounded her to the core.
"Thank you for allowing me to speak," Eleanor said, finally breaking the silence between them. Her voice was a little shaky, and she was just managing to blink back tears, but for the moment she was managing to hold herself together. "It was a kindness most wouldn't have paid," she finished before rising from her chair.
She was in control of herself for the moment, but despair and desperation were starting to rise within her and she knew it was best to remove herself from Max's presence before her feelings got the better of her and she threw herself at Max's feet, tears streaming from her eyes as she begged for forgiveness that would not come.
"I don't 'ate you."
Eleanor had just walked past Max when the softly spoken words reached her ears.
Upon hearing them Eleanor stopped walking and turned back to look at Max.
"I don't know 'ow I feel about you, but I know I don't 'ate you," Max said, craning her neck so that she could see Eleanor where she stood behind her. "She told me. 'ow you 'elped her, with them," Max continued, her expression and tone darkening as referred to Hammond and other men Eleanor and Anne had slain on her behalf. "For that," Max said, her gaze and tone softening, "thank you."
Eleanor breathed in deeply, and then nodded, afraid of what would come out of her mouth if she spoke right then.
"Your partnership with Rackham," Eleanor finally breathed out, changing the topic to something she could speak of without falling apart. "It was shrewdly done. I wish you the best of luck in this pursuit … and all others."
Once again silence met her words, but this time Max held her eyes through it, and though it might have been wishful thinking, Eleanor thought that she detected a warmth in those hazel eyes that she had not seen since the day Max had kicked her out of her room.
"Bonne nuit," Max finally breathed out.
"Goodnight," Eleanor returned, struggling mightily against the deep longing inside of her to cross the distance between them and press her lips to Max's cheek, as she used to whenever they parted. "I…" Eleanor began, but then she paused and sighed, allowing the plea that had been on the tip of her tongue to fade away. She would not push Max, not after all that she had already been through. She would be grateful that Max had spoken to her, and that Max did not hate her, even if the love Max had once had for her was gone. "Goodnight," Eleanor repeated softly, and then reluctantly she turned from Max and started towards the stairs.
"Eleanor," Max called out just as the blonde reached the staircase.
Once again Eleanor paused and turned to look back at the brunette.
"You said that if I needed anything…"
"I meant it," Eleanor cut in eagerly. "Anything at all."
"You fight for this place, against the British, against your father," Max began slowly, uncertainly, not sure herself why she had called out to Eleanor or where her words were leading her. "You fought against 'im and 'is men. I would 'ave you fight again."
"Who?" Eleanor asked, turning so that she was properly facing Max. "For what?" she inquired, tired to her bones but willing to dig deep inside of herself and mine whatever reserves of strength and energy she had left if it was what Max needed.
"For me," Max breathed out.
She could not say that she had planned the words, but she was not surprised to have spoken them. Love, after all, was not like the flame of a candle, it was not something that could be extinguished at will. Love, once it had taken root, was hard to kill. Max knew this, for she had tried. As she laid shivering and bleeding in that tent on the beach, she had tried very hard to hate Eleanor. She had told herself that she wanted Eleanor to experience pain and heartbreak, to know the same misery Max had felt as she sobbed on her bedroom floor. But when Max imagined Eleanor's face contorted in pain, tearing streaming from her eyes, it brought Max no comfort. For as angry as she had been with Eleanor before and after her ill-fated flight and capture, as much as she had wanted to hate Eleanor, she had not been able to stop herself from caring.
Eleanor had fucked up tremendously that day in her room, but in the days that followed Max's return to the brothel, when she'd shunned the world and hidden herself away, she'd had plenty of time to think and in doing so she had not been able to ignore that she too had made mistakes.
The anger she had felt towards Eleanor had sustained Max during her hellish time on the beach, but in the quiet of her room, without pain and fear to distract her from her thoughts, Max also realized that her anger had helped lead her down that path of suffering. In hindsight she was able to see that grief and heartbreak had robbed her of reason and caused her to act rashly. She thought that she had been wrong about Eleanor's feelings for her, that she had been a fool, or worse, that she had been played for a fool by the person she loved, and driven by anger and pain she had reacted to the events that followed their fight badly.
The talk she'd had with Anne Bonny days after she left the sanctuary of her room had robbed Max of much of the frothing anger that had kept her going when she thought Eleanor did not, and had never loved her, however. After hearing from Anne how Eleanor had put her business and her life in jeopardy to maintain her punishment of Hammond and the others, Max could not believe that Eleanor had never felt anything for her. After hearing the grudging respect in Anne's voice as spoke of the plan Eleanor had devised to rid Max of the devils that held her captive, Max could not believe that Eleanor did not care about her. And after all that she had seen and heard from Eleanor that night and since her return to the brothel, Max could not deny that Eleanor still cared about her.
"You would … I can … you would allow it?" Eleanor began, blinking rapidly as the tears that had been threatening to fall since she rose from the table began to make their escape. "You would … want that?" she breathed out as the tears began to line her cheeks. "There is still hope?" she asked, unconsciously beginning to walk back over to Max.
"There is always 'ope," Max replied softly.
She did not know if she could love Eleanor again the way she had before things had gone wrong. As sorry as she believed Eleanor was for her actions the day she had brought Flint and his men to her room, the wound that Eleanor had dealt her remained. She could not deny that she still felt drawn to Eleanor, but after having been betrayed by her so completely, Max was hesitant to trust the blonde with her still bleeding heart.
Still, where she had been Eleanor's harbour, her calm in a raging sea, Eleanor had been her sanctuary, an oasis of tenderness and companionship and respect in cold and unforgiving world, and Max wanted her sanctuary back. She wanted to believe in Eleanor again, she wanted to fall into Eleanor's arms and feel safe and cared for again. She didn't know if it was possible, she didn't know if an injured heart could be healed, but she wanted to try.
When Eleanor reached Max, she knelt before the brunette, heedless of her skirt and how dirty it'd become. She moved her hand towards Max's tentatively, uncertain - despite the turn their conversation had taken - if Max would allow her to hold it.
She did, and Eleanor had never been more grateful to someone for so small an act.
Eleanor lifted Max's hand to her lips and pressed a tender kiss to her palm.
"I would take arms against the sea if you asked. If you desired eternal sunlight, I would find a way to strangle the moon. I will fight for you, with all that I am," Eleanor pledged, never happier to be facing an uphill battle. "I will not disappoint you again."
"On verra," We shall see,Max breathed out, though she stroked Eleanor's cheek gently despite the uncertain nature of her words.
Max's fingers lingered for a few seconds longer on Eleanor's smooth cheek, and then she drew her hand back and stood, Eleanor joining her a moment later.
"May I walk you to your room?" Eleanor asked as Max reached to pick up the ledger she had rested on the table. "No more than that, I promise," Eleanor continued when Max eyed her apprehensively.
Satisfied with Eleanor's assurance, Max nodded her head, agreeing to the blonde's request.
In response, Eleanor released a shaky, relieved breath. She started to reach for Max's free hand, but she paused before grasping it and turned to look at Max questioningly, uncertain if Max would consider the touch untoward.
Max's response to her silent question was to reach out and take Eleanor's hand into hers.
"Tell me what 'appened with Scott," Max began as they started towards the stairs together.
She had noticed Scott's absence from the tavern and Eleanor's side, but she had not been able to discern the reason for it by listening to gossip.
"My father's a bastard and the world is chamber pot overflowing with piss and shit," Eleanor breathed out morosely, her hand reflexively tightening around Max's, as if through the strength of her hold she could stop the world from tearing Max away from her as it had before, as it had taken Scott from her so soon after.
"All things already known to Max," Max replied as they descended the stairs. "What 'appened with Scott?"
Eleanor looked over at Max hesitantly, uncertain whether it was a good idea to bring up the hunt for the Urca de Lima now, after all of the strife it had caused between them in the past. Things were going well with Max, far better than she had dared hope for, and she didn't want to fuck it up.
"If I did not want to 'ear the answer, I would not 'ave asked," Max reassured her.
Eleanor bit down on her bottom lip and worried it for a minute as they continued towards the brothel, still unsure whether or not she should speak about it. But finally she decided she had better. Keeping things from Max was part of the reason things had gone so wrong between them before, and she did not want to repeat the sins of the past.
"My father turned him against me," Eleanor began softly. "He convinced Scott that I was going to get myself killed playing pirate and that it was their masculine duty to protect me from myself," she breathed out irritably, though Max knew her well enough to hear the pain beneath her petulant tone. "They came to an agreement. Scott was to turn The Andromache away before my man could unload the guns I had purchased. Scott kept his end of the deal he had struck with my father, but my father betrayed him. By standing at my side at all, in father's mind Scott had been disloyal to him, and so he sold Scott to that slaver bastard Bryson."
"No," Max breathed out. She had heard enough from Eleanor about Richard Guthrie to know that the man bore no resemblance in terms of character and intelligence to his daughter, but she had thought him weak and capricious from Eleanor's stories, not vindictive and cruel. "Scott is not still…"
"No," Eleanor interjected, realizing that Max must not have not laid eyes on Scott since her return to what passed for civilization on Nassau. "The Walrus caught up to The Andromache and successfully boarded it. Scott," Eleanor said with a touch of pride, "had already been aiding the slaves in a revolt below, and facing a war on two fronts Bryson's crew was overcome. The Walrusreturned Scott safely to Nassau, however upon his return Captain Hornigold made him an offer to join his crew and Scott chose to accept it."
"You could have stopped him if you wished," Max pointed out. She knew what is was to be owned, and that most people in Eleanor's position would have exerted the power they wielded to keep their property in line.
"No," Eleanor said softly as she looked over at Max. "I couldn't have. He is a man and capable of making his own decisions like any other. The law may say I have a claim on him, but the law is wrong, and as such it is my duty and the duty of any decent person to disregard it. Mr. Scott has been my teacher, my friend and my family, and that is always how I have regarded him. I would not have disappointed him any more than I already have by trying to force him to stay where he does not want to be," Eleanor sighed.
"I'm sorry," Max breathed out, stroking her thumb over the back of Eleanor's hand.
Scott had never thought much of her, but she knew that Eleanor loved him.
Eleanor inclined her head in acknowledgement of Max's words, but said nothing for some moments as she tried to gather her thoughts.
"It is what he wants," Eleanor finally murmured as they entered the brothel. "He's looked after me for all my life. I cannot resent him for choosing to live his own now, no matter how much I miss him."
"That may be true, but reason does not take the pain away," Max said as they began to ascend the stairs.
"No," Eleanor said softly, looking over at Max, understanding that her words related to them as well as to herself and Mr. Scott. "It does not, though I pray time will see most wounds heal."
"I've 'eard it is good for that," Max replied as they reached the top of the stairs and headed towards her room.
When they came to a stop in front of her door, Eleanor clung to Max's hand for a moment longer before reluctantly drawing her away and stepping back.
"Thank you for this," Eleanor breathed out, her words genuine though tinged with sadness.
She was grateful for the time Max had given her, but she did not want to leave Max yet. Being in Max's presence had only made her acutely aware of how lonely she had been without her, and the prospect of parting with Max for the night left Eleanor feeling bereft.
"De rien," Max breathed out, watching Eleanor thoughtfully.
She could see that Eleanor was reluctant to leave, and she understood the feeling for she felt it too. After having shared her room and her bed with Eleanor on so many nights, the space felt oppressively empty without Eleanor occupying it with her, and a part of Max longed to invite Eleanor inside and fall asleep wrapped in her embrace.
It was too soon for such things however, she was still too raw. She could not have Eleanor in her bed – in any capacity – not yet, but Max wanted Eleanor to know that sending her away was not a rejection, so she closed the scant distance Eleanor had placed between them and lifted herself up onto her tiptoes so that she could press a kiss to Eleanor's cheek.
"Dormez bien," Sleep well, Max whispered.
"Et tu," Eleanor breathed out, her voice gentle as a prayer.
Max stepped back from Eleanor then and turned to open the door to room.
"Max," Eleanor said quickly, before the brunette could disappear inside.
"Oui," Max replied, turning to face her.
"Would you have lunch with me tomorrow? That is to say today, later today … at midday?" Eleanor began, her skin flushing with embarrassment as she stumbled over her words. "The terrace behind the house is shaded and cool even at noon and I think you'd find it quite pleasant."
It had long been a desire of Eleanor's to share a midday meal with Max, but they had never been able to because Noonan had always refused to let Max leave brothel to meet her, even when Eleanor had offered to pay. 'Nights're yours, days're mine,' he'd said, and the memory of it threatened to make Eleanor's blood begin to boil anew. But that was then, and now Noonan was gone and Max was her own mistress, able to set her own schedule, and to meet Eleanor for lunch, if she wished to.
"You needn't respond right now," Eleanor continued anxiously, "I'm not trying to put you on the spot, and I would completely understand if you cannot join me. I know the myriad demands of running a business. However, if you should … I mean to say, I shall be there, on the terrace that is, and if you should find yourself with the time and the desire, I would very much like to have you … to have you join me that is, for food," she finished, biting down on her bottom lip and lowering her head, mortified by how badly she had bungled the invitation.
"Okay," Max murmured, her voice drawing Eleanor face up. "Max will join you today, later today, at midday, for food," she continued, her lips curving up as she smiled at Eleanor, her words and tone teasing but gently so. "Now go, before you forget 'ow to walk as well as talk."
"I … okay," Eleanor replied awkwardly, surprised but pleased that Max had accepted her invitation so readily. "Goodbye … for now," she continued taking a step back, struggling to keep the bright smile threatening to spread across her lips from showing.
She had never tried to keep her smiles from Max in the past, but at this point in time she did not want to appear overly pleased with herself and put Max off. Max had agreed to nothing but sharing a meal with her, she still had much work to do to repair their damaged relationship. But there was tenderness in Max's eyes as she gazed at her, there was affection in them that Eleanor had feared she would never see directed at her again, and it seeing it brought a joy to her heart that was hard to stop from showing.
"Au revoir," Max breathed softly. "Do not fall," she added as Eleanor continued to move backwards towards the stairs in an attempt to keep Max in her sight for as long as possible.
"I won't," Eleanor replied sheepishly. "I'll turn and watch where I'm going now," she promised, her lips curving up in a small self-deprecating smile. "Goodnight … again," she murmured, and then as she had said, she turned and headed towards the stairs now able to see where she was walking.
Max watched Eleanor for a few moments to make sure she would be okay, and then she turned from Eleanor and entered her room before gently closing the door behind her. Walking further into the room, her eyes immediately drifted to her bed, but for the first night in some time she did not fear it. For this night, there was hope in her heart, and she was sure, for the first time in a long while, that she would be able to sleep through the night.