I apologize deeply at how long it has taken me to get this chapter out. Unfortunately, this story just stalled out at about one page in. Thankfully several friends (I see you Neko!) bashed my brains in until I got off my tush and worked on it. So here it is.
A thank you to Shira's Song for looking over this for me and catching most of the mistakes!
Disclaimer: I do not own the RK characters.
Misao walked into the kitchen and stared as she recognized the dark hair tied up with the muted color of her barrowed scarf. She was sitting at the tiny, knife scarred table with a bowl propped up on her knees. "Please," Misao said in surprise. "Tell me you are not about to eat what I think you are about to eat?"
Yahiko looked up from where he was carefully feeding clumps of coal into the little furnace. "She is," there was an almost admiring tone to his voice. "Can't think of why she would want to." He shook his head.
Kaoru rolled her eyes and blew on the soup a little more before spooning up a mouthful and sighing in bliss. It was so hot that little tears well into her eyes but she took another bite gamely. It burned a river of fire down her throat, leaving her mouth on fire but it was so good. "What do you put in this?" Kaoru asked reverently as she wiped her eyes and obediently took a bite of the bread in front of her. "It's wonderful!"
Sae smiled with dimpled pleasure. "I am glad you like it." She sniffed over at Yahiko who snorted and then started violently sneezing thanks to the coal dust. "Yahiko, how many times have I told you to wear something over your face? Doctor Megumi says breathing in a lot of that dust is bad for you."
Misao rolled her eyes and looked back at Kaoru. "You really like that stuff?" She made a face when Kaoru nodded her head happily, chewing the bits of bean and meat that floated in the thick broth. "I can't believe it. The only other two people who will touch that pot is Kenshin and Aoshi. Kenshin seems to enjoy it, and I had hoped it would get a reaction from my lover." She sighed. "Of course, the only thing that seems to get a reaction out of Aoshi is if you…"
Kaoru watched as Yahiko deliberately kicked the bucket over, blocking out the words to whatever Misao was going to say. The small woman turned and glared at Yahiko, who in turn stuck his tongue out at her. It contrasted with the dark smudges on his face and Kaoru set about finishing her bowl of soup to block out the noise. It also helped hide her smile of amusement.
Setting her now empty bowl down she smiled at the cook. "That was wonderful," she told her with a smile, picking a one of the papaya muffins that the pirates had been fighting over at dinner the night before. Even cold the next day they were delicious. "Where do you guys keep all the supplies, anyway?"
"In the hold." Yahiko said in a disgusted voice. "Don't you know anything about being on board a ship?"
Kaoru glared at him. "I have never been anything more than a passenger on a ship." And she had been thankful that on those three ships that she had been allowed to eat her food in the dark. There were some things that even her iron stomach had not wanted to see. "It's just the food here is much better than what I am used to," she confessed.
Tae smiled. "I am very particular of our stores and the Captain knows it. When we raid we go through their stores. If there is something there we need we take it." She shrugged.
"What are you making?" Kaoru asked, watching her chop what looked like some sort of odd vegetable and several different types of meat.
"Some of the men went fishing this morning." Taesaid easily. "This particular dish is called salamagundi."
Kaoru blinked when she watched Yahiko perk up from the corner where he was sitting.
"I marinate fish and turtle in my special sauce and then combine it with palm hearts and oil. All of that goes into the pot with spiced wine." She said with a nod of her head. "Depending on what is on hand depends on what else goes into it. I don't want the grapes or olives to go bad, so those are going in along with some pickled cabbage and boiled eggs."
Tae laughed at Kaoru's disturbed expression. "I still have some left over muffins and I am sure you can eat some of the boiled eggs if you don't like it. Its standard fare on this ship, so you might as well get used to it," her voice was soothing. "I promise, it's not as bad as it sounds."
Kaoru shrugged. "It can't be worse than my own cooking." No matter what went into it this 'salamagundi,' it still sounded better than the hard tack she had originally thought they would be living off of. Apparently, this pirate ship had several safe havens and used them often to keep from loosing their supplies to weevils and rats.
Tae smiled at her. "Why don't you go with Yahiko and he can show you the stores while he takes care of his duties down there." Kaoru stood obediently, knowing a dismissal when she heard one.
Yahiko, on the other hand, was displeased if the way he dragged his feet and swore as he led her down the inside of the boat. He had stopped to pick up a lantern and carefully light it and then they moved down the narrows steps. The narrow hallway was dark and she was thankful for the lantern. She had gotten used to smell of old wood and sea salt but it was still a little overpowering. "Don't touch anything!" He snapped "If you move something and someone gets upset I am not covering for you."
Kaoru raised a brow and kept her mouth shut. There was musty smell mixed with male sweat this far inside the ship and she wrinkled her nose. No wonder the men spent all their time on deck playing cards or dice. "They keep all the supplies down here?" Kaoru asked, curious.
"Yes." He said reluctantly. "You're lucky; I already cleaned up last nights messes."
She opened her mouth to ask him what he meant but he stepped into a room and her already open jaw dropped even further. "Turtles? You keep Turtles?" Kaoru demanded in shock as she stared at the large bodies. "What…why…" She looked confused. "I didn't know you could keep them on ship!"
"We eat them." Yahiko said in exasperation. "These two are still young. Their just Hawksbill turtles." He informed her irrtably. "Were do you think the turtle meat comes from that Tae coosk with?" He looked at the turtles and shrugged. "Were going to have to catch some more soon."
Yahiko rolled her eyes at her. "You're lucky," he told her mater-of-fact. "Its egg season so when we get to Barbados we can go look for nests for eggs. Turtle eggs are very tasty."
She blinked. "But you feed them and then eat them…" Kaoru stared at the turtles for several long moments before shaking her head. "You know…for all the ships I have been on I have never seen any of them catch turtles and then have them on ship before. Whose idea was this?" She raised a brow as she turned, shifting her weight away from a curious creature that was eyeing her foot.
"It's not like I name them and get attached. They're just turtles. They bite if you're not careful." He remarked, going to a bucket. "And it was Kenshin's idea. He got tired of bad meat and him and Aoshi figured out how to convert some of the hold to store animals. Its not the best situation but its better than some pirates have it."
Kaoru was distracted by how he feed them when something brushed against her ankle. Looking down she found herself looking down at a fuzzy black cat that had to be just a little older than a kitten.
"That's Biscuit." Yahiko said easily when he noticed who she was looking at her. "Her mother, Eight-piece only has one eye but is very good at sniffing out the rats." He moved towards her with a bored expression. "You wanted to see the stores?"
She nodded dumbly and followed him to another room. "What do you keep here?"
"The goods are in a different room." Yahiko said sternly. "If you want to see the booty you have to ask the Captain. The vittles are Tae's business so that's why you can see them. We keep any sort of fruit or vegetable that's in season. The barrels," the lantern illuminated shelves and barrels and sacks hanging from hooks. "Are beer, rum, port and brandy; the Captain doesn't really care for sherry so we don't keep it."
Kaoru stared at everything that was hanging. There were chunks of dried and salted meat hanging in bags off the floor to keep it away from the cats and the rats and everything was neatly organized. Some of the shelves were bare and there was a curious mixing of old fruit, salty meat, and the tang of alcohol in the room. "Are we low on supplies?"
Yahiko squinted. "Looks like it. I was afraid of that. We just stocked up when we picked you up but apparently the men who loaded it up had some complications and we lost some of it before we could get it stored properly. We will either stop again or hit up a ship to get more."
"You mean…raid a ship?"
"Of course. It's what we do. We are," he reminded her haughtily, drawing himself up straight in an attempt to look down at her, "Pirates."
Kaoru rocked gently with the motions of the boat in her hammock.
After her tour from Yahiko, which also included being followed by the little black cat, she had helped Tae with a few small chores and then gotten bored. After lunch there had been a flurry of activity she didn't understanda sort of excited humming in the air, and so she had retreated back to her room to nap.
But before she had retired she had stood and watched for a moment, fascinated with the way the canvas sails had snapped in the wind. There had been anticipatory smiles on everyone's faces as they moved; a sort of charged excitement as they moved around in well ordered chaos. Bodies had slid around each other in a sort of primal awareness. She had turned back up to the wheel to see Kenshin balanced on a rail, a spy-glass held easily in one hand, a expression on his face she had never noticed before. His eyes had been narrowed slightly, the edges of his mouth curling, his spine straight; it was obvious who was creating most of the charged energy in the air.
She wondered what was going on.
Turning in surprise when the door opened she blinked when Misao moved in smoothly. There was none of the normal bounce in her young friends step. "Can you use any weapons? Kenshin wants you armed."
"Armed for what?" Kaoru asked softly. Her stomach tightened in anticipation and she was aware of the sounds going on above deck. Somehow, she already knew the answer. "I can use a pistol if the kick isn't too bad…" she admitted while she watched Misao practical dance in place.
"A Spanish war-ship has been spotted." Misao said grimly, her eyes narrowed with those same bright sparks of fire. "We're going to take it."
"Take it?" Kaoru demanded. "How are we going to do that?"
Her stomach knotted up. Kaoru had never been on board a ship that had been hit by pirates and she had never once thought she would be on board a ship where they went out and attacked other ships. She remembered that as a child she and her father had stood on the deck of a ship. It was one of her clearest memories, being held by her father as they sailed by the burning remains of a ship that had been obviously hit by a pirate.
"Isn't that…dangerous?" Her voice was soft and worried.
"Of course it is," Misao said in that same hard tone. "Everything is dangerous." She gave Kaoru a grim little smile. "If we are lucky we won't have to use the cannons. This far out in the Caribbean? No…I imagine both Captains are going to want to avoid a full out cannon ball match." Her smile was predatory. "This will, hopefully, be mostly hand-to-hand."
"What's the point of attacking a war-ship?" Kaoru asked as she extracted herself from the hammock without dumping herself on the floor. "How do you even attack anything?" Her voice was uneven and she squared her spine to make up for it. Just because she was in over her head didn't mean that she should act like a scaredchild.
Misao paused and tossed her a scarf to keep her hair out of her face. "First, we get to fire a warning shot. That's mostly point blank. Spanish cannons are slower and heavier than ours, so we can get the shot off. If they don't put all their cannons away then Aoshi takes down their masts. He is a really good shot!" Her voice was attempting to be assuring, but somehow she lost the affect with the amount of excitement that hummed in her words.
Kaoru blinked and bit her lip as she tied the scarf around her hair. "So then you board?"
Misao shook her head as she strapped a serious of belts around her waist. "No, we still have to force them to put away their cannons. Even if they don't fire cannon balls they can stuff them full of other things and fire those at us. We have a seriesof…presents…that Katsu excels at. He makes bombs." At Kaoru's confused expression she elaborated. "They're pretty much just iron balls filled with powder and topped with wax to hold everything inside and a fuse. I'm not sure what he does with them but the goal is to explode on impact. It's tricky, but he manages three out of five, which is impressive. It makes the coolest sound. We have a few other tricks, of course, to tear apart sails and such." Misao rolled her neck. "Our biggest assistance is our flag." Her little hand wrapped around Kaoru's wrist and dragged her outside.
"Battousai's flag is easily recognized. Even you know him. That sort of ruthlessness will have ships surrendering when they see it's us. It helps. We might have to kill some officers so don't get squeamish on me!" She ordered, flashing her a fierce smile. "Captain won't keelhaul anyone, so you won't have to watch that done."
Her mouth turned down, her entire demeanor suddenly serious. "Listen, if for some reason we loose…shoot yourself." It was a sudden change of topic that Kaoru stopped in the middle of the corridor and looked over at Misao. Her eyes had turned brittle. "The men will be keelhauled and what they will do to us women will be far worse."
Kaoru licked her suddenly dry lips and nodded. She was far too aware of the consequences of what could happen. She had only seen a man keelhauled once and she never, ever wanted to see it again. Kaoru didn't have the charged energy of the men around her but there was a growing grim determination to keep as many people alive as possible growing inside her chest.
She patted Kaoru on the cheek just as they stepped onto the deck. She flashed a large smile, instantlyexcited again. "I wouldn't worry about that, though. We don't loose."
The deck was silent.
Kaoru wasn't sure why that surprised her. Some of the deck cannons had been rolled out and if the grinding noises underneath her said anything, the ones underneath the deck had been rolled into place as well. Swallowing, she watched as the four men around the cannon began loading gun powder and a large cannon ball into place. Misao dragged her forward until they stood next to a railing, quite a bit away from Kenshin and Aoshi.
His sword was strapped to his waist, a black bandana holding his hair away from his face. The pale white of his shirt clung damply to his shoulders. Either from sweat or sea-spray as they shot forward; yet, the pitch and fore of the ship seemed to go unnoticed by him as he balanced lightly. "They aren't lowering their flag." Kenshin murmured softly. His voice somehow managed to carry over the complete length of the deck. There was a breathless moment as everyone waited for his decision. "Take the mast, Aoshi."
Kaoru watched the other ship. There were many brightly uniformed men scrambling to get their own cannons into place. Misao's expression was gleeful and Kaoru realized, in that moment, that every person on this ship was looking forward to what was about to happen. Her breathing was labored as she listened to Aoshi's deep voice give orders as the cannon was put into place. None of them seemed concerned that the other boat was loading their own cannon. She missed whatever signal they but as she Misao placed her hands over her ears, she turned her head to watch. Aoshi lit a long match and set it to the fuse.
He was really going to…
The cannon exploded loud enough to make her ears ring.
There was a loud, crunching noise and Kaoru jerked back around to look at the other ship. The great wooden mast cracked and tilted to one side, slowly being dragged down by its own weight. The men boiled like a beehive that had just had water thrown on it. "They have stinkpots!" Sano warned from the other end of the deck, holding something small in his own hand with a determined expression. "I think they are planning on being difficult!" Sano shouted out to Kenshin.
"Get the anti-personnel gear loaded. It shouldn't take more than one bundle shot!" Kenshin ordered, never leaving his position. "Megumi, Misao, get ready to clear the desk as quickly as you can. They are going to start launching as soon as we get close enough." His voice was grim but there was something about his expression…
"What about that cannon?" Katsu asked fiercely. His hands were dirty and his face was streaked with some odd gray substance. "They're going to fire soon."
"Take it out." Kenshin ordered. The second deck cannon exploded and Kaoru jumped when there was an answering shot from the Spanish ship'scannon. The crew droppe down flat as the cannon ball was shot over the deck.
Katsu raised a brow. "They're giving us a warning shot this late in the game?" He sounded amused and disgusted. He shook his head and then took off in a fast walk towards the center of the ship where the boarding planks were ready to be put into use.
Kaoru grabbed Misao's hand as everyone seemed to know what they were doing. She didn't dare ask Kenshin a question. "Stink pots?" She vaguely knew that bundle shotsinvolved lots of short, metal bars being fired in close rang at the soldiers but that was as far as her knowledge of pirate weaponry actually went.
"Clay pots filled with anything from tobacco to dead fish set on fire. They throw them on deck because they smell bad and cause panic. Try to breath through your mouth or wrap your bandana around your nose." She instructed, mimicking her words.
Kaoru blinked when she realized that most of the crew had already done similar. Kaoru found her hands filed with a pistol and a very long knife, shoved there by Misao. She looked up in surprise at the girl. The belts Misao had wrapped around her waist were holding dozens of dirks in place. "Our job is too get the stink pots off the deck as soon as possible. Yahiko will bring the scoopers…there he is." Yahiko's face was flushed and his eyes gleaming with excitement.
"I told you we would be hitting a ship soon." He gasped, shoving sticks with odd scoop shaped plates attached at the end. "Idiots are going to try to smoke us out."
"Or have us throw up to death." Misao pointed out. Her jaw was set. "Those things are vile." She shuddered as she watched the first few clay pots fly into the air. "Breath now."
Kaoru sucked in a deep breath as the first pot smashed into the side of the boat. The second hit its target and Misao and Yahiko moved quickly filling their scoops. Kaoru followed them and stomped on the smoldering bits that were burning the wood. Each pot received a similar treatment. Kaoru made the mistake of breathing in through her nose once and almost threw up her lunch, gagging instinctively at the rank smell.
Yahiko looked up from his scoop, sweat dripping down his face, and grinned. "We're going to board." He said fiercely. "I better go and find Tae."
Two more black pots hit the deck and started to smoke. Misao raced over and took care of them and Kaoru followed, her eyes flickering to the deck. The vibrations of a cannon below deck going off rattled her bones. There were screams coming from the other boat. Whatever Katsu was stuffing into those cannons was doing its trick because soldiers were writhing and bits and pieces of something were sticking out of bodies….
After the first round the sailors simply waited.
She soon found out why.
Her mouth went dry as she watched Kenshin's crew pick up small axes that she thought were called tomahawks. It shouldn't have surprised her that they were going to use weapons like that but…turning on her heel she ducked behind a mast and breathed deeply She didn't watch. Instead she managed to position herself in a semi-safe position with a large piece of wood between her and most of the throwing back and forth. She bit down on her bottom lip so hard that she could taste her own blood.
Between the smoke and the screams Kaoru almost missed the sounds of the boarding hooks being thrown. She jumped into the air ten when Misao suddenly appeared covered in ash and her face twisted into a wild grin. "Stay on this boat. Don't cross over. It's going to get bloody over there. The guys here will take care of you." Her jaw was set. "Don't hesitate to use your weapons! The pistol is loaded so don't point it at anything you don't want to kill." She disappeared and Kaoru watched as they pirates leapt over the rails and met the grim Spanish soldiers.
Kaoru watched the fighting with a sense of morbid fascination. People were being killed, and yet all she could do was watch. Something bright caught her attention and she shifted her gaze and swallowed.
Kenshin was fast.
He moved through people almost as if they weren't there. Even with the sounds of swords clashing, guns being fired, there was an unearthly sort of silence that seemed to follow him. She had never seen anything like it.
Sitting there, dirty and terrified, Kaoru almost forgot to watch for on-coming soldiers bent on destroying this ship's masts. She had lifted her gun and fired it before she thoughtand was grateful for the thankful expression on the pirate whose life she had saved.
She realized it was over only because the men around her seemed to relax from hyper aware to semi-aware. Her wrist ached from the kick of the pistol and her hands were stained from the shot and gunpowder she had nicked from a young boys body. Kaoru had been surprised at how fast she had gone through her bullets and had been forced to scrounge around for more.
She had thrown up in a corner but she doubted that anyone had noticed. There was blood everywhere on the deck and she was suddenly thankful that she wouldn't be responsible for cleaning it up. Dead bodies were being tossed over sea along with…pieces. She watched as Megumi came out, her face pale, and set about binding up wounds for those who were still alive on the deck. One of the men was missing two fingers and she thought she heard someone mummer about loses of men.
How could this be worth whatever was on that ship?
"Are you alright?" Megumi's voice came out of no-where. The young doctor was covered in blood, but none of it seemed to be hers.
"Generally it's not this bloody," she told the girl, sitting down beside her as they watched the men gather up tools to break down doors. Apparently they were going to clean the ship out. "Reputation plays a big part out here on the water when it's too easy to destroy both ships. Most Captains are willing to give up their goods instead of their lives and then sometimes there not." She offered her a small smile. "Or it can be worse. It depends on the captain. Unfortunately, this one was desperate."
"What's so important?" Kaoru asked softly. Her voice was low. "What about the men who are dead or injured?"
"We need whatever is in their stores." Megumi told her flatly. "We don't choose the ships we attack lightly. The Spanish Armada has been using bribes to buy off our own officials and this ship contains proof. We operate under a letter of marque, Kaoru. If we lose that to underhanded politicians we can be tried and hanged."
Kaoru bit her lip as she considered Megumi's words before giving a slow nod of recognition.
Megumi gave her a hesitant look. Whatever she was going to say, she apparently changed her mind. "The pirateswho are wounded will be compensated and those who died will have their compensation given to their wives or children. We are not heartless."
She winked. "Besides, we're running low on bombo." She teased breaking the mood. Her laughter was bright as she took in Karou's expression. The drink made of rum, water, sugar and nutmeg was not Karou's favorite but it was better than the alternative. Water spoiled too quickly on a ship.
"So we just want their goods and information." Kaoru said softly not really believing that. There was something going on here…Megumi's dropped comment about bribes and officials. Who exactly was this woman and what was the captain of this ship?
Megumi's eyes flickered, and she opened her mouth to say something else, and closed it. "Yes." She gave her a mischievous smile and stood.
Kaoru offered a faint grin in return not entirely certain if she was comfortable with all the information she had just been given.
Kenshin ruffled through the dead captain's papers. "Are you sure?" He asked Aoshi. The tall man was going through a cabinet that had been built into the wall. "Our information might have been faulty." There was a grim note in his voice but neither man stopped their search.
"This close to Barbados? If the Spanish are bribing the French we need to know about it. Forged letters of marque are not to be tolerated by the Governor of Jamaica, and you and I both know it." Aoshi countered. "If we can get him proof of such an event then we might be able to keep certain individuals off our backs for a bit longer."
Kenshin gave a grim smile. "The sooner the better," he said his voice hard "I grow tired of this charade."
Aoshi made a satisfied noise and pulled a series of pages out of a file. "Here they are," he said lightly. "Do you think anyone will notice they're missing?" His tone was as close to sarcasm as Aoshi came.
"It will be too late by the time they do," Kenshin sneered at the messy office. "Let's get out of here. The sooner we clear out the better. These ships don't often travel alone and someone would have heard the fight."
"Want to check on Kaoru, do you?" Aoshi asked as he followed his captain.
"Sano always screws up the placement of the arms." Kenshin countered, not bothering to mask the way his eyes shifted across his own deck as they hit the hot sunlight. "I don't want to be stuck in firing distance if the winds die. The air is shifting. Have someone keep an eye on the sky."
Kaoru had almost bit through her bottom lip by the time she had gone through a set of rounds. Most of the wounds were minor now. Anything that had been major Megumi had seen to first. The worst of the wounds that were still alive was a cut one man took to the gut. If it had been any deeper his insides would have spilled out. She had fled to the starboard deck to lean up against some of the crates still on deck. The air was warm and she looked down at the blood still on her hands and swallowed.
She almost jumped out of her skin when a damp cloth was dropped onto her hands. Looking up she found herself looking up at Kenshin. "Wash your hands."
She did so slowly, carefully cleaning out each line in her palm. Her nails were short but took a few more moments to clean. When she was finished the rag held dark red splotches and she wasn't sure weather to give it back or not. He took from her hands and put it in a bucket she didn't recognize. Ringing it out several times she jumped in surprise when he reached out and dabbed at her face.
"You didn't have to help them." He told her carefully, something like curiosity in his voice. "My men told me what you did. It wasn't expected of you." He said in a soft voice. There was something in his eyes that had her shoving to her feet.
"Listen here," Kaoru growled down at him. "I don't agree with a damn thing that's going on on this damn ship. That does not mean that I am going to sit around and let someone die in front of me and do nothing." She spun to head back down to somewhere, anywhere, when his hand snapped out and caught her wrist.
"I didn't mean to insult." He said in apology.
She turned and looked down and him and glared. "What exactly do you mean to do? You kidnapped me, dragged me here, insult my intelligence and then apologize for suggesting that I don't have enough compassion to help someone in need." She continued to stare down at him and was surprised speechless when he smiled.
"Sit." He said, tugging her wrist. "Please."
Uncertain, and more than a littleweary from the day, she folded her knees and settled. Tugging her hand she silently demanded that he let her go, which he ignored, His fingers slid down to her wrist and then slipped his fingers between hers. "You're very stubborn." He told her in amusement when she tugged irritably.
"I am very peeved," she corrected darkly. His low chuckle could have been amusing she supposed. It did wonderful things to his smile and his eyes gleamed like polished jewels. Yet, at this point, it really just made her want to hit him. Repeatedly. Some of it must have shown on her face because she found her hand being pressed up his lips in what could have been an attempt at a placating gesture.
Her fingers wiggled unhappily. "What are your plans now, Oh Great Captain?"
He lowered his hand to his kneestill holding her hand in hisand rubbed her knuckles. "It depends," he murmured, his eyes darkening with something unknown. "Can you feel the shift?"
"The shift?" Kaoru asked, unsure what he was going at. Her eyes flickered across the open deck and she was surprised when she saw several crew members deliberately ignoring them.
"The air," Kenshin murmured. His eyes canned the clear skies. "A storm is brewing somewhere. It's just a matter if we will end up caught in its grasp."
"You can tell that just by feeling the air?" Kaoru asked, startled.
His eyes swung back to her. "Well," his mouth curved in a teasing smile. "That and the fact that Katsu's right wrist has been aching all day and it only aches when a storm is brewing." He winked at her and Kaoru continued to stare at him. "I suggest you eat. Get something light for dinner. It might get rough tonight." He glanced down at their hands and ran his thumb across her knuckles before letting go.
He stood fluidly, leaving her there, and walked easily back to whatever he had been doing.
Shaking her head, Kaoru stood. She was going to thankful when she got off this damn ship and have solid ground under her feet. It was just confusing around that man.
Kenshin lowered his spy glass and sighed. Dusk was starting to fall so it could have been a reflection but his gut told him it was something else. In the distance there was the faintest speck in the sky and it seemed to be coming closer. "We're in for a blow." Kenshin said moodily. "I say we have about five hours before it hits." He was thankful that he had Hannya watching for a sign. Spring storms could hit hard and fast without warning. "Are we close enough to outrun to a port or are we going to ride it out?"
"There are three." Aoshi said as he approached his hands behind his back. "Barbados is the closest." He braced his feet in a wide stance and looked at the horizon.
Kenshin turned and raised a crimson brow, his mouth set into a thin line. "Is that the only harbor?" His voice was neutral yet there was a tense set to his shoulders.
Aoshi chose his words carefully. "It is the one we are most likely to make. If this storm is more than a spring storm we could be in for a wild ride. Do we want to risk that or take the shield on the backside of Barbados island?" He met Kenshin's eyes. "Barbados is the only one available."
Kenshin shut the spyglass in his hands before nodding slowly. "So be it. I want all hands on deck. We will get hit with hard winds soon and we need to be prepared. Warn Misao and Megumi to keep Kaoru below deck. It's going to get rough up here soon. Make sure that everyone puts safety lines on before they start running around like idiots." Slamming the spy glass closed, he moved towards his office. Hopefully, they would be able to out-run the worst of it.
Aoshi nodded once and spun on his heel, turning to gather the crew.
They moved quickly and it wasn't long before the canvas sails were snapping in the wind as they cut them all loose. The prow of the boat cut cleanly through the choppy water, but it wasn't long before the waves began to increase. The men kept themselves busy, tying off safety lines and partnering up. A tense bubble of silence was only broken by the occasional cry of a bird that landed on the ship to squawk its warning before it took off in its own attempt to race the violent storm.
The clouds chased them almost lazily, bringing a cold wind and sharp rain long before the lighting and waves began. The men worked to keep the sails intact as great gusts of wind tore at them. Eventually they were forced to roll them up or risk loosing them all together. It was dangerous, grim work and more than one man suffered rope burns and bruises from being caught on their safety lines.
Kaoru was thankful that Misao had suggested that she not go to sleep in her hammock. They had been forced to put all the lanterns out on the ship because of the sheer force of the waves that were tossing them about. Kaoru was certain that her arms and legs were going to have bruises. Megumi had been muttering vile things under her breath for close to an hour now. Kaoru suspected that the men who had been injured in the fight were having a hard time of it but it was too rough to go from room to room without being thrown about.
Kaoru hated storms. She always had, but her experience on ships had taught her to really dislike the terrible blows that rocked a ship like a child's toy on the great water. "Are we going to make it to Barbados?" Kaoru asked softly. Megumi had told her that was were they were heading and even if they did make it they would have to stay on board throughout the storm because of the terrible winds.
"Yes," Misao's voice said firmly. "We have the time. This is still just the beginning. Don't worry, Kaoru. This ship has been put together very well and survived worse storms than this on the high seas."
That didn't make her feel better. They had been in the dark for so long that she was hypersensitive to each noise and motion and she almost screamed when the door banged open and Sano's figure was outlined in the doorway by the lantern he held in a white-knuckled grip. "Are you ladies alright?" He asked in a rough voice. At his feet rain and saltwater were forming a puddle.
"Were fine," Misao said with a smile. "It's been a little rough, but we're okay."
Sano nodded. "We have dropped anchor so things shouldn't get much worse than they are. It depends on how bad this thing gets. It's wild up there. We're pretty lucky we got here when we did."
His teeth flashed white in the room. "I better go and report to the Captain that everything is alright down here. You were my last stop. Go ahead and bed down for the night. It's probably still going to be raining in the morning but we will attempt to get everyone into some place warm and a hot meal before we assess damage." He nodded at Kaoru. "Kenshin has plans for you and the rest of the girls to be moved to Dr. Gensai's in the morning." With that he slammed the door behind him and the sounds of his boots thumping down the hall had everyone sighing.
"Well, we better follow his example. Were probably going to wake up wet with all the rainwater that's going to make its way down here but at least we won't have to worry about rats." Misao muttered. "The cats have been enjoying themselves."
Kaoru shuddered, quite certain that she wouldn't be able to sleep for the rest of the night.
Well, let me know what you lot think! I can't express how much I appreciate all the reviews that I get!
For those who were sweet enough to offer to beta-read my stuff: Hotmail spazed out on me and I no longer have email address. I apologize but if you would care to resend an review or email with which fic you were beta-reading?