Chapter 12:

When I woke up the next morning, my back hurt like hell. I groaned and squirmed in the by now unbearably uncomfortable armchair, trying desperately to find a better sleeping position, but to no avail. The main problem was me needing more space to stretch my legs without them getting limp, which simply was impossible due to the design of the chair. Either I slept curled up like a pretzel, hence the hurting back, or with my blood circulation effectively cut off because my legs were hanging over one side of the chair.

"Come 'ere, love," I heard his soft yet commanding voice from bed. Jack was awake, probably thanks to the commotion I had made, moving around and cursing softly. Well done, Valentina. Well done.

"No, I...," I stifled a yawn, "I'll stay here. It's alright. Very comfortable, see," I desperately tried to look cozy, sprawled on that tormenting mahogany rack.

"Come 'ere!" this time his voice is more insistent. "Don't make me rise an' get ya! Every bloody bone in me body hurts."

Begrudgingly I stood up from my chair and walked over to lie down besides him. It was kind of awkward at first. I tried to put as much distance between us as possible, but he wouldn't have any of it, so I was pulled closer by a pair of strong arms in a matter of seconds. After desperately trying to keep up the illusion that I didn't enjoy it at all, I finally had to surrender to the fact that it was more than just enjoyable, it felt fantastic. A goofy grin spread on my face. I guess he already had me there, no matter how much I try to deny it.

A few minutes passed in comfortable silence. I closed my eyes and everything but the feeling of being held in his arms faded into the background. His body warmth radiated from him and engulfed me, but it was not only the knowledge and the certainty that he was so close that made the whole experience so amazing, so utterly breath-taking. I knew that he enjoyed this as much as I did, that he liked being close to me and would not want to be anywhere else but here with me. In this very moment we were sharing the same thoughts, drifting away on a flood of pleasant feelings together.

I snuggled closer to him with a content sigh, while - unbeknownst to me - my mind tried in one last ditch effort to remind me of something important. There had been something I had wanted to ask. I concentrated hard and finally after a while it all came back to me.

"Do you remember what we talked about yesterday?" I finally asked, my voice sounded husky and extremely content.

"Not everythin'," he admitted sleepily. His mouth was very close to my ear and every time he spoke his breath tickled my skin. It was sweet torture as I had sworn myself not to give in yet.

"You were looking for me," I tried to volunteer.

I felt him grin widely at the back of my head even without looking at him. "Aye, me darlin', I was," I could clearly hear an amused undertone in his voice. He knew precisely what I was getting at. That bastard!

"So? Why was that?"

"Hmmmmmm?" the sound was a rumble in his chest whose vibration spread throughout my entire body.

"Was there any particular reason why you were looking for me?"

"Oh, yes, yes, indeed. Me thinks it could 'ave been 'cause the atmosphere on board 'ad gotten unbearably dull," he chuckled mischievously, "The lack of banterin', annoyin' remarks an' complainin' was dreadfully disquietin'. Can drive even the most respectable pirate out of his wits, savvy?"

In response my elbow hit him in the rips and he laughed in amusement. It was nothing more than a gentle nudge, as his friendly teasing made me grin - despite myself I might add - from ear to ear, though I tried hard to resist his well-hidden, yet irresistible charm.

"Oh, if that's all I might as well leave now," I said light-heartedly, pretending to get out off bed. I didn't get very far.

"Where d' ya think ya be going?!" he growled playfully and possessively rapped his arms around me.

It turned out his playful mood was infectious and also able to chase away those troublesome thoughts for a while, but they have the tendency of turning up again sooner or later and after a few minutes they had reemerged with full intensity.

"You said you used me for your plan," I finally reminded him. The echo of hurt feelings was still audible in my words.

He sighed that was the part that was extremely difficult to explain. "I'm sorry 'bout that love, but it's true. I really did," he felt me tense beside him, "What's not true, however, is that I ever thought ya be only convenient. Never," his two index fingers hovered in front my face in emphasis of his words, "Never will ya, me love, be convenient. Yer excitin', beautiful and sharp witted, but never convenient."

"It was a great adventure an' it was even more excitin' because ya were there with me."

I felt relieved. His words had taken away some of the worries that had burdened my soul in the last few days. But only some!

"Still, that's no reason why I should be staying here with you. If you could name me but one reason, one good reason, then I might reconsider my plans."

"Only one? Well, that be easy then," he joked, "Ya'll be staying, because........," I could almost hear the noisy battle cries that announced the opening of his inner struggle. He cleared his throat nervously. Could it be? Was he scared to repeat what he had said the other night?

I turned around so that our faces were merely inches apart. The expression in his chocolaty eyes was unusually soft; the hard edge that was an integral part of who he was had suddenly gotten a little bit smoother. There was so much warmth and tenderness in his gaze it made me shiver.

"Yes?" my voice was barely more than a whisper. I needed to hear those words from him, just this once, just to know he was serious.

"Because I love you," Jack said, looking me directly in the eye. I held his gaze in baffled fascination. Somehow he looked different than usually - almost vulnerable. It seemed to me that in this very moment I could look right into his soul. He had taken off his ever present mask for me, all the personas he played so expertly on an every day basis. I alone enjoyed the privilege of knowing who he truly was. That was a lot to ask for from a man like him - a pirate, a liar, a thief. Dissimulation was the art with which he earned his daily bread. Honesty was the greatest gift he had to offer and he was offering it to me. That was when I knew precisely what I had to do and what I had to say.

"I love you, too," I replied softly and smiled at him, while my heart was beating quickly inside my chest and the butterflies in my stomach did a happy dance.

His enormous grin threatened to break his face into two halves. "So that means ya'll be staying then?" relief was clearly audible in his voice. He scooted closer, our noses almost touching.

"I guess so," I replied with a smile.

"An' ya won't be going back t' swabbing the deck anymore, ya 'ave me word," he joked, coming closer and closer, while his eyes looked at me hungrily. Suddenly it felt like the temperature inside the room had risen a few degrees. My heartbeat accelerated and was hammering excitedly inside my chest.

"What will I be doing then?"

"That I will still 'ave t' think about," he trailed a line of butterfly kisses down my chin and by that time I was almost trembling with anticipation. "Maybe I should keep ya in me quarters for the rest of the journey," he continued teasing me, tracing my bottom lip with his thumb, while his eyes devoured me greedily.

"Sounds like a good plan for a change," I smiled and pulled him closer, finally closing the small distance between us. I had kissed him before, but this time it was different. It held all the meaning it had lacked before. There was no need for pretence, only us both and the kiss we shared. The boundaries words represented were lifted away as we got lost in each other and the exquisite feelings we shared. The kiss itself was everything at once: sweet, passionate, addictive, dazzling..We didn't want to end it - ever, but sooner or later we had to come up for air.

"I must have you know that we are disgustingly cute right now," I laughed in between kisses.

"Aye," he kissed the tip of my nose, "but I always thought that be the point of all this," he smirked and I snuggled closer into his arms.

"Oh, good," I purred contently, smiling from ear to ear.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Weeeeeell, that's it then. I hope you enjoyed reading the story (because I most certainly enjoyed writing it - fluffiness rocks *grins*). Take care, you guys, and thanks for the support! Bye!