xxiii. The End
There wasn't a great, earth-shattering conclusion betwixt John and Kingston, for Laurie had found her heart in possession of another and the selkie was a prince, and princes do not break their word. And to tell truth, John was relieved because between the sleepless night and the duel he'd already fought he wasn't actually sure if he could have acquitted himself with distinction against a mythical creature. Not that there was any need to tell Laurie that.
Besides which he couldn't have told her because his lips were otherwise engaged, but they did have to breathe sometime. Her grey eyes were satisfied, a little fierce, and awash with gold in the first hint of dawn. The sky, he realised, had been slowly lightening, and now the top edge of the sun had burnt a hole in the horizon.
"It'll have to do," he shrugged and curled one hand around the nape of her neck to pull her closer.
"And what is it you think you're doing?"
"Throwing my arms around your neck and swearing eternal love so we can sail off into the sunrise."
He smiled at her and bent his head to kiss her again but she was not to be so easily impressed.
"Well, are you going to do it or no?"
"I've already saved your life, what more do you want?"
"I've saved yours a dozen times over, 'tis not so hard a matter to accomplish."
"Were you not even listening to what I said? It was pretty damn near poetry some of it."
"You said it under duress; I'm not sure I believe you."
"You are a contrary and frustrating creature, Laurie."
Laura developed a sudden interest in the top button of his shirt and her left thumb nail slipped between her teeth. "You broke my heart, Jackie, ground the pieces beneath your heel and spat on it for good measure."
He took her hand from her mouth to hold it against his heart and rested his forehead against hers. "I know; I meant to, and I'm sorry. It's the risk that comes with loving your best friend – they know your thoughts and your secrets and exactly what will hurt you most. But I won't do it again, I swear. I'd cut out my own heart before I hurt you again."
"That's a rash and foolish promise to be making, Jackie, when you must know I'd beat you black and blue before I let you harm the heart I love best in all the world." With a finger, she inscribed a cross over said heart. "And I won't lie to you again. Well, to be honest, I will always spin tales for that's the way my tongue works best, but I won't lie to you about important things, not ever again; that I swear to you, Jackie."
"Say you love me, Laurie."
"You love me, Laurie."
"I love you, Jackie, like Merope loved her man, like stars love the night, like salt loves the sea, and wind loves the sails. I love you like poetry loves music, and knights love princesses, and grass loves green. I love you like the traveller loves the first step of a journey and their own warm bed at last. You never did answer me before, Jackie, so say now. Will you come with me, sail to the ends of the earth and back again, you to keep us on a straight course and I to protect us from danger?"
He raised her hands to his lips, first one then the other.
"No. I'll go further."
The breeze was fresh; plucking at sails and lines like a new-begun harpist with more enthusiasm than skill. The ship was light enough to jump and shudder as it scudded across the rolling surface of the sea. Jack drummed a complex little tattoo on the wheel to stop himself throwing his arms in the air and whooping as if he did he would quite simply soar. Pure, unadulterated joy flooded his blood. He cast a glance at the figure beside him who was, by his estimation, unnaturally still and quiet in the circumstances.
Laurie was gazing out over the ocean and, as if hearing his thoughts, said in a voice so contemplative it boded no good for the amount of sense that was to come, "You know, I've been of the thinking . . . 'Lorelai'? The thieving little sea-cow stole my name."
"Think straight, Laurie. Of course she didn't."
"What, a fish in the tropics with a Germanic handle? She didn't come up with it herself, and it's close enough to Laurie to make a person suspicious."
"She must've sensed from the start that you were more than common attached to me and thought to make you more receptive to her through a similar name."
"I will tip you over the side in a minute, I swear."
She grinned that grin of hers. "Oh, I'm just a-quivering in my boots, Jackie, truly I am."
Would you look at that, finished and all. Thanks to everyone who's come along for the ride. And special thanks to Faylinn, for the idea in the first place and graciously waiting a year rather than a month to see her prompt come to fruition; to Murtle Yuts who is entirely responsible for the events of the last two chapters, so you may thank or blame her as you see fit; and Slippy McShodster, I don't know, I mean I could have tried to do it without you but just imagine what kind of mess that would have been.