And, here we are:
The very last chapter of My Tornado. It's been a long journey, kids, but we made it. And I'm actually finishing a story! I KNOW! Maybe it IS the end of the world, after all…
As for the future of Gaile and Bela (if anyone's interested), I've been rolling around the idea of doing my own version of the Silent Grove/Those Who Speak/(insert title of last one here) comic series, because it's heartbreaking not to see Hawke mentioned in them AT ALL. And, Isabela/femHawke romance IS cannon, yes?
So, that may happen. For now, though, I'd like to thank everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who ever took the time to read this little story of mine and clicked review, fav, alert, or just thought to themselves 'Hey, that's good'. Especially those of you who've been with me from the beginning. You know who you are, ya crazies.
So. Here's to one door closing and opening a window:
"Where did you get these?" A soft pitch. "What do they mean?"
The question came from nowhere: Isabela traced the bold markings decorating the face of the woman beside her, finger unbidden as Hawke's arm draped decidedly along her hip. They were tangled now. Secure. Pressed close and gloriously bare – an unabashed, unconcerned sort of nakedness–
Because they were shameless.
Incredibly, gloriously shameless.
Gaile chuckled, low like rolling thunder, eyes shut as the bed they shared shook with the sweet sound. "Must they mean something? I'm terribly conceited – they could just make me," her brows waggled, "enigmatic." Another peal of mirth, as if taking pleasure in a joke only she knew; her brows lowered. "You've known me for years, Isabela. Why ask now?"
"I didn't care before." Plain. "Answer the question."
If there was any offense taken from her comment, the rogue did not show it. "It's an old warrior's blessing. Chasind." Hawke caught her finger, repositioning it to the center of her forehead. "This is the cause. What a person chooses to fight for." Isabela trailed the shape there, following it across the bridge of her nose, before the digit was shifted to the corner of her eye. "Tears," elaborate lines spilled down her cheeks, "for the fallen. Because there's always a price." Her eyelids clenched. "Always…" The word was repeated – soft; flat – barely there…Until she was guided to the longest curve of the tattoo, a sharp descent, hooking at her jaw. "A blade," a pause, "when all that's left is vengeance." The rogue released her hold, opening her eyes to reveal unreadable auburn depths. "It was before Ostagar. On a dare from my brother."
The pirate stared, not knowing what to say in that particular moment – because, shit, the thick, creeping astonishment was already filling her chest, that all too familiar feeling lacing her throat from the woman beside her – the utter enigma that was Hawke. The sides upon sides; layers upon layers…Because, when it came right down to it, it was far too easy to forget the woman had actually fought a war. Too easy to discount all the terrible things she'd been through.
How damned good she was at hiding it.
So, Isabela did what she could do – with the woman so close and truth laid stark between them – a familiar of her own as she acted without thinking:
Her forearm was presented, the serpentine emblem there clear against her skin.
"See this brand?" She watched Hawke's eyes devour it, a telling gleam that said she did – had, many times before. "There are a lot of old traditions in Rivain. Markings that do more than look pretty." The tips of her fingers brushed a caramel cheek. "Like yours." A sigh left her lips, it little more than reflex to the topic she was about to bring; the pirate apprehended the other's hand, bringing it to rest on the golden symbol. "When I was married, I had no more worth than the man I was bound to. Long before, where I lived, this," she squeezed the rogue's fingers, "used to be a punishment. A mark of a bad woman: untrustworthy and ill-bred. One no one would ever think to marry if they had any wits about them." She smirked – only because the other chose to frown. "Most didn't get to choose; I did it on purpose. A promise to myself and a warning to everyone else: I would never be tied down like that again."
Hawke was quiet. Not expecting more. Giving careful, reverent touches…Fingers trembling at what was given – as if finding a precious thing…Taking the mark in – eventually meeting her gaze.
A moment, vivid and intense…She leaned forward to kiss it.
Her next breath was unstable.
Anyone else would have had questions. Immediate and selfish: anyone else would have needed to press. Taken advantage of her slip, the small reveal she allowed of her past – the tiny, insignificant crack – and want to breach it further.
A tightness gripped her chest.
Stepping forward; stepping back – what to hold, what to give: it was always her choice – the other always made it her choice…And she wanted to keep going. Digging.
Beyond gold and giggles….
"This too." The pirate's voice was low, a discernible breath bargaining with deeper emotion; her hand slipped away, a finger tapping the stud beneath her lip. "It just so happens, tattoos aren't the only thing a woman can do to her body to get a point across. Where I'm from, anyway." That place was recalled easily enough – like a bad stench the nose wouldn't forget. "Ah, Llomerryn…" a smile, "What a piece of shit."
The sun is unforgiving. Relentless. Making the air equal parts thick and dry – hard to bear, hard to breathe – for those who aren't familiar. Those who are, know it only as second nature. A thing to endure; survive long enough to suffer another day. It is their existence – their burden. There is nothing else. So, when a native feels the blinding orb in the sky burning more brightly each moment it remains, their first purpose is always finding shade.
Shoeless children zip across dirt paths, making it a game.
Old men, established like dusky pillars, swat lazily at flies.
Everyone else moans.
The market is busy, regardless, filled with every sort of poor and unsavory character – the thief; the swindler; the whore – despite the oppressive heat. Doing nothing yields no coin. And, in Llomerryn, coin is all. 'Remember that' her mother would say, 'there is nothing coin cannot cure. Gain it and little else matters.'
Now, her mother chastises her.
"Keep up, keep up." The words are terse. Impatient; the woman clucks her tongue as she falls behind, but the heat has made her oddly sluggish, thoughts syrupy and slow as she navigates the crowds. "I have too much to do to waste time on your daydreams." Another tsk. "Lift your head. Walk as I taught you."
She quickly straightens; she is the daughter of a 'seer'. Always on display.
And why not? She feels the eyes on her. Hears the low whistles of men as they pass. Her looks are something desired, the angles of adolescence now curves; her mother will use them to get the best price.
The voice is masculine. Sudden, in a way that fuels her mother's irritation and makes her curious; they both turn to see a merchant, middle-aged and Antivan, stepping from behind his stall.
She does not know this man.
She does know the look in his eyes.
Expectant – as if recognizing an item he knows can be bought.
He speaks her mother's name sweetly, flattering, honied words dripping from his lips. "I apologize if I appear forward, but your," a smile, "well – she cannot be your daughter – of this, I am certain!"
The irritation lifts from the older woman's face, a fog exposed to sun; she is suddenly delighted. "And, if she were?"
"I would be surprised." He says plainly, brows raising just so that even she almost believes him. "You are the very picture of vitality."
"Why have you stopped us?" An interruption. She generally behaves, plays at demure and docile – but is outspoken still.
Her mother's eyes cut to her. A sternness takes the man's gaze…before his smile appears again.
"Ah. Well: I should introduce myself before we go any further, yes? It is only proper, after all." An exaggerated bow. "My name is Luis. As I am sure you've gleaned, I am a very successful merchant, based, primarily, in Antiva."
"Luis." Her mother echoes the name, sucking it through her teeth – weighing its worth. "A merchant, you said?" She grins toothily, creating more wrinkles along her face. "And so handsome…Is there a wife waiting for you back in Antiva?"
She looks away, feeling the man's gaze, strong, on her – doesn't like it. Her mother is not enough of a distraction, even if believing herself clever as she lists virtues, puffing the man's ego – only to bed him and leave with his coin.
"No…No, I've yet to find a woman…virtuous enough to have a place at my side." Dark eyes continue to feast upon her skin. "Unspoiled and pristine…" his pause is riddled with implication, "A prize to make any man sick with envy."
Her lashes flutter, eyes to the ground – not because she is flustered – but because that is what she has been instructed to do when an influential man parts with a compliment. And she does not want to look at him. "If you had not already claimed being a merchant, I would think you'd stolen one's tongue…."
"I am not known to flatter;" she feels his step closer, "I have merely an eye for quality…" she cannot describe this new look in his eyes; it flicks between something dark and…hungry, "Even if surrounded by filth."
That, she assumes, is a compliment as well – even when that 'filth' is her home.
"My lady, if I may be so bold," his attentions find her mother once more, "let us discuss, why I keep you from your errands." The tone of his voice changes, no longer so flattering, as if proposing a deal. "Has a man secured your daughter's hand?" A pointed look. "Is there someone to satisfy her needs?"
The older woman eyes him, up – down…before taking in the well stocked wares behind. "Surely, you can see my girl is no common beauty." Her eyes narrow. "Requests for her hand come like flies: numerous but unwanted." A hand waves through the air, dismissing him. "She does not need charity."
"I do not offer charity – I offer a way out. A future." He gestures to what is around them, their well worn clothes. "More." Superiority lifts his chin. "She will be well cared for. She will be a reflection of me."
Her mother clucks petulantly; she would like to believe this second rebuke is for a reason beyond being lost as a bargaining tool. But knows better. "She is hardly well behaved: her mouth is often two steps ahead of her head." A shake of her own. "There is too much water in her. You will think you've contained her only to lift your hand and find nothing there."
"I will tame her."
Her blood runs cold.
Her mother says nothing.
A confident smile stretches his lips. "She will learn to be proper. To speak only when spoken to."
And it is no different from the Qun.
She bites her lip – hard – so the words do not spill out. They speak as if she is not there; over her; around her; above her – but not to her.
He is waved off once more. "So many words – yet you offer nothing. Nothing tangible. Did you think my daughter's hand would come without a price?" A scoff. "She is far more valuable at my side than yours." With this refusal, her mother turns away; she quickly follows, relief washing over her like a curtain, draped like precious shade.
It is not even two breaths before the man stops them.
"Six sovereigns." His voice differs, no longer honied, but thick with insistence. "My finest doe. You can sell her milk until she is too old and partake of her meat after. Surely, a pragmatic woman such as yourself can appreciate this offer…"
But she is secure now. Her mother has turned down the merchant once – she will do so again. She is useful. She can fetch a higher purse.
She is her daughter.
Her mother extends her hand.
The sound of each deposited coin is deafening. Its meaning shattering.
Clink. Clink. Clink.
It hits her in waves…To know that she is not so far from the turnip that lies in a crate to the right of her, a price to be paid once before she is owned.
The sounds stop.
A hand retracts.
Luis steps to her again, eclipsing her. "What is her name?"
Her mother tosses it carelessly – distracted – fingering the coins still.
Smooth fingers, the fingers of the rich, glide beneath her chin.
His lips say her name. His eyes say 'Mine'.
"Isabela…" slow; the pirate laid on her back, eying the wood ceiling – not – a foot in the present, a foot in the past, "You know," she felt the corner of her lips curl, "that's not my real name."
She regarded Hawke fully…Waiting…Until– "That's it?" She may have been pouting. "You don't want to know what it was?"
Gaile shifted toward her, a single brow raised. "I have pretty eyes."
A perfect imitation.
The curl of her mouth returned, blooming a liberal smile; a harmless shove. "You're no fun." The trap had been evaded. She wasn't surprised – the other woman always managed to keep her on her toes.
The rogue shrugged: simply; naturally. "Your name is whatever you answer to."
And that was that.
That also wasn't surprising…But it was.
No matter its frequency….
There was a small piece, a private part of her no one would ever touch; belonging to her and her alone. Just a fragment – mind and soul…That fool girl, bearing a different name, waiting, always waiting, for a mother that would never come.
It had nothing to do with 'want'. And it would not change – not even for the woman beside her.
Hawke respected it regardless.
The fact made her only want to share more.
What she could.
"That deal…" bitterness claimed the word – a 'deal' for everyone involved but her, "My mother 'assured' me what she chose was for my good. That she had only been thinking of my 'future'. That it was my turn to take care of her." The pirate scoffed. "She said each of those things only after she finished counting her coin."
A tentative touch, the other kneading muscle as she worked her way down an arm – the connection immediate, skin against skin as their fingers twined. "You mentioned it before…Your mother. What she did…" hesitation. Her brow creased with uncertainty. "But not like this."
Isabela smirked, gaze back to the ceiling. "Aren't you glad I didn't bog you down with all those pesky details then?"
Her hand stilled. "I'm glad I've done something to make you share them now." Brief – an instant where their eyes met, the statement directing her, persuading her to see it – that truth – before flitting away; the rogue's ministrations resumed. "I've never thought much of marriage…Even when Mother did constantly." The pause that always accompanied mention of her family. "But, I knew it could be good – it could be real…Because my parents had it." Her voice was hushed; a solemn whisper. "There was nothing more real than the two of them."
"Is that…something you wanted?" She felt it, then: the senseless, sticky fear – even when she had an idea on the answer. "That life. Marriage…" a thing she could not give; her eyes made the slow journey back to her. "Children?"
"I have what I want."
It shouldn't have made her heart flutter like it did – that effortless conviction – not for as long as they'd known each other…But her heart paid no mind – did it anyway. "Hawke…"
Now it was the other woman who smiled, before glancing away. "It's too dangerous, isn't it?" Her hand fell from her grasp, rumpling the dark sheets. "Our lives aren't meant for children." Fingers pinched fabric. "And I can't lose anyone else. I can't-" she swallowed thickly – shakily – hand flattening, smoothing the creases. "What I have now…What I've been allowed," an upward glance, "is far more than I deserve."
Those auburn orbs, a mixture of sadness and something more…And suddenly, she saw it – the rogue voicing her fears, shining light on her own dark places – all to make her feel at ease as she did the same. Equal. So, it was no longer just her revelations – her story:
It was theirs.
Isabela grasped her cheek. "You're happy?"
A definite nod.
"Then it isn't."
Another smile: bright and full and real – the shadows melting from her eyes until there was only light – and, she did that – as Gaile leaned into her touch.
They both remained silent for several moments, the pirate running her fingers through the other's hair. "I was scared." A murmur, soft. "Terrified…I didn't want to leave. Not with that man." She caught a chestnut curl, twining it – releasing it. "Taken from all you know and just thrust elsewhere…" she shook her head. "I don't know why I'm telling you this…" a hand covered her eyes, as if it would stop her feeling more naked than she already was, "Balls…"
Hawke's hand was sudden – gentle, on top of her own, slowly, patiently, peeling it away. "Maybe, it wants to be said." Another, careful inch. "Finally. Maybe it knows there's someone to listen." The rogue laced their fingers once more. "Bela…" a gentle squeeze, "I want to listen…"
Isabela felt herself become undone, the simple words unraveling her: there was no choice when Hawke spoke like that – every bit of her wanted to give in…A measured breath. "I wasn't allowed to take anything with me… 'Rags', he called them. 'Filth'. Unfit for 'his' new wife." Her eyes narrowed. "I was his prized possession; his beauty from Llomerryn – only I wasn't meant to look it. So, he wrapped me in silks and jewels, until I became something else entirely. Until I almost believed…" the tips of her fingers tapped against Hawke's knuckles; agitated, "'Maybe he saved me' – 'maybe this sort of living wouldn't be so terrible'…Stowed in a gilded cage." The pirate felt her nose twist in disgust, nostrils flaring. "It's sickening, how naive I was."
A frown took Gaile's lips, even as she said nothing – listening – thumb moving in tiny circles, soothing the skin it found.
Her fingers relaxed; her tone mellowed; another breath. "Antivan men prefer their women chaste and helpless…If there was one thing I learned from that place, it was how to be resourceful." She smirked. "If you can't change your fate, change your attitude. You look at the people who've played a role far longer and learn from them." A hard stare. "Watch and learn to survive."
There are books.
Varied and innumerable, they cover every inch of wall defining the cramped, narrow space – surrounding her in endless, stacked rows. Beneath each occupied tier of inset bookcases are metal plates, descriptors engraved on what each volume holds.
'A place for everything and everything in its place.' Luis once offered with an air of pride; she had smiled politely.
Eying the impeccable surroundings with which she is so very familiar, she wonders why there is no allotted space for her with shiny, accompanying plaque – a place for her to sit, on constant display, and gather dust until one of the servants get to her.
Then, her husband's guests would not even have to go out of their way…
She shuts the book in her lap with a sigh, fingers securing the delicate, crystal stem of a wine goblet, only to cant its contents toward painted lips…before depositing the glass back on a polished end table. Her eyes take a moment to linger on both items: the highly crafted wood; the stained gold rim – she knows either is worth more than she could ever have hoped to see if she remained in Rivain. Here, she is provided for. Here, she never worries on the likelihood of her next meal…Thoughts like these convince her when written words no longer can.
She pushes the finished novel aside, rising from the leather armchair only to grasp at its puckered arm to steady herself, head swimming from the wine's influence; the bottle her husband so 'graciously' provided has about a fourth left. Feeling pleasantly lightheaded, and warm in all the right places, is a much preferred alternative to pacing the small room anxiously, counting the short number of steps (8) needed to cross from one end to the other. Or feeling as if the windowless walls were very quickly closing in as she struggled to breathe….
Now, she is loose and calm and fine…Barely realizing just how much she hates being locked in the evening gallery. Barely realizing how being constantly paraded at Luis' fetes is the one thing she despises more.
But there are books.
Plenty, she's read. Others, boring or difficult, she's skimmed.
Her favorites are of ships and navigating – of geography and the open seas. Of Freedom… On these subjects, a great deal of information is stored in thick, intimidating tomes that cover everything from ship maintenance to wind direction to knots, outlined in impossibly long lists written in even more impossibly small script – but even those she reads, employing a magnifying glass wherever necessary. She does all this even if only allowed on her husband's vessel a handful of times – and he would never let a woman man it – but cherishes the thought all the same. Anything to keep those memories: the feel of sun warmed wood beneath her feet, the call of the insistent, salty breeze….
Though, when she is…'indisposed', thoughts slurring until the words she reads begin to do much the same, she takes advantage of the other thing Luis sees fit to provide:
A dirty book.
Most are utterly ridiculous. Absurd. Fantastical tales of love and passion that she cannot stomach sober – there is no connection. These women, so rapt by always powerful, endowed men that ravish them with such an illicit combination of savagery and grace. Whispered sentiments to take the woman's mind right after he has conquered her body. So in love…Yet, where are the books of the woman who stays for coin? Where is the novel on the woman whose marriage is loveless?
She, however, is certainly not sober, and those sort of questions no longer matter – everything is fair game, and 'maybe' becomes her latest stance on all she takes in. She welcomes the tales of seduction, of intrigue – of carnal nights and tender mornings – imagines being a part of them – rereading the dirtiest, most daring bits over and over until she is sure the flush in her cheeks is no longer solely from drink…
A rap on the door.
"Mistress?" A servant. "Mistress, are you there?"
"Yes…" her response is disinterested, if not a bit annoyed; she is used to the occasional visit from the help to make sure she hasn't done anything drastic, but usually by ones with better timing. "Still here…."
The tumbler of the lock shivers, the knob rattling in turn – and suddenly, she is focused, the door gaining her full attention as she makes hesitant steps forward. It opens, revealing a small, elven woman, blond and blue eyed, looking uncharacteristically nervous.
"Adelina." She smiles – not just because she swears she can literally feel the new air invading the old, but also because the servant is one she likes greatly. "Has my darling husband ordered you to feed this bothersome creature again?"
The elf returns her smile – but then it's gone – maybe too quickly…maybe not. "The master of the estate has requested your audience in his parlor."
"Has he now?" Slippery words fall from her lips, sliding from her head straight to her mouth – and Luis wanted this? He knew her being locked away for hours meant she wasn't in a presentable state; she shrugs. "I don't suppose I have a choice in the matter…."
Adelina shook her head; the statement must have come as more a question than a statement.
"All right. Just…" she smooths her dress, "give me a…moment." A hand was at her face, brushing back the stray strands of hair there as she took a deep breath; more so than anything physical was her grasp on mental: she needed to be in the right state of mind; docile and obedient. "All right." Repeated; the elf steps aside to let her go first as they walk down a hallway.
They travel in silence down the familiar path as she tries to sharpen the glowing streams of orange that come from the lit candles hung along the wall.
"Well, you're quiet!" She laughs – because it's true and that's worth a chuckle or two – realizing too late that she might be too loud.
Adelina shushes her, looking extraordinarily nervous once again. "Mistress, please…"
They turn. "'Mistress'?" A scoff. "You usually don't…" she trails, but, in truth, it doesn't really matter – the thought is gone. "Luis. Did he say what he wanted?"
A pause; a second turn. "No."
She bites her lip, because she can't help but feel as though she's missing something, her instincts telling her she should ask the elf something else, but her mind not responding.
Before long, they're at the start of another long corridor, her husband's parlor at its end.
"I…" the other woman covers her mouth, brows furrowing.
Her eyes roam to her lazily. "What?"
Adelina shakes her head.
She shrugs, looking away from the elf to focus, again, on the door that lies before them, gaining more and more definition with each step…And then, a hand is on her shoulder stopping her.
"Look, I don't want to go either, but-"
"Here," something is pressed into her hand, "drink this."
She is too loose to question it further – it could be more alcohol given the person handing it to her, and that is always welcome in these situations; taking the vial she depletes it. The liquid is smooth, having no taste she can readily identify, but somehow she knows it isn't water.
Adelina checks the vial the moment its lowered, making sure it's empty – nodding – nervous jerks of the head as she does not meet her eye. "It…" a hitch in her words, "It will deaden the senses."
She says nothing more, leading her, now – as if she cannot be rid of her fast enough – until they are at her husband's parlor door and she is opening it for her.
"Ah," Luis eyes her expectantly, that small, pleased smile on his lips, as if he is about to lick them, "there you are." He shoos Adelina away dismissively before gesturing to the other end of the room. "I have a few guests who are interested in meeting you."
She takes a confident step forward, because this is nothing new – the constant parading – and makes her way to the four men, dipping in a proper curtsey, making sure to provide diffident smiles for each, before returning to her husband's side.
One of them loosens the cravat around his neck, nodding appreciatively. "Well, she's filled out nicely, hasn't she?" He leers shamelessly. "Guess your little investment paid off…"
"Yes…" she feels the familiar knots of aversion in her stomach from their words; ignores them, "I've brought you here for a reason, dear." He steps from beside her, a finger finding its way beneath her chin before glancing away. "It just so happens my guests are in dire need of a bit of…entertainment. It occurred, my doting wife, could be the perfect solution."
It is only a moment – the fog in her mind clearing enough until what she hears is a bit too real.
"I d-don't understand…" she feels sick with unease.
Another of his friends barks with laughter. "You taught her Antivan?" He grins cruelly. "And here I thought Rivaini women could only learn one thing!"
Luis raises a hand, turning back to her. "There is nothing to understand; I have been asked for sufficient entertainment; you are what I provide."
"That–" her mind feels even more sluggish than before, not being able to process both the words and all four men now approaching her, "You can't…possibly…"
Her husband shushes her like Adelina did – like when he feels she is being too dramatic, a tight grip on her arm as he tosses her forward, into the arms of the man that laughed at her before. She tries to escape – quick – but the hold around her is already unyielding and she cannot break free.
The room spins and she can see each of the men's expressions – ugly, twisted things on their lips – until she is forced in an unknown direction. A step backward and she is no longer standing, falling unto a chaise, instead, a form hovering over her before she is flipped over.
She feels her arm start to loose feeling.
Luis merely watches.
Fingers tear at the ties along her back.
She prays the rest of her numbs faster.
"Hold her down."
Hot breath against her ear; nails dig into her, holding her firmly where she is. The sleeve of her dress is ripped down her shoulder. A tongue drags down the exposed skin. Another tongue along her neck. The skirt of her dress is thrust upward-
"Hawke…?" She had to stop. The woman beside her was shaking.
"I'm sorry – I-" her voice shook dangerously, "I know…" the rogue's mouth quivered with broken, unsaid things; she looked away, "Shit…" a fist slammed against the mattress. Again. "Shit!"
Isabela rolled on her side, snatching her chin, free hand covering the trembling fist – keeping it there. "Don't." She forced the other woman to look her in the eye. "Don't you dare." Hawke's eyes were red, darting every which way – needing something to blame – to punish. "Don't you dare blame yourself for what happened then. We didn't even know each other."
The words were harsh, but necessary. Because she knew Hawke. Knew the woman, even with no possible way of knowing – no possible way of stopping it – would still feel guilt.
Because that was just the selfless sort of person she was.
But she already carried those memories, carried that weight – didn't need another to share the load with her, saw no need to add to it; another damned drop in an already full bucket….
"I didn't tell you about that to have you defend me."
Instant – the way Hawke's expression utterly crumbled, anger ebbing to become a sad, regretful thing.
And there was a moment where the woman simply looked as if she did not know what to do.
The pirate loosed her grip, fingers moving to find her face:
She'd been careless. Foolish to think the woman next to her wouldn't be affected – that she'd share her level of detachment…And maybe it would have been better to have warned her, warned of all the bad to come. Then, after, she could have told her to re-imagine those things – but ten times worse.
Not even considered a person. Regarded more like a cheap wine, fit only to be passed and shared.
Hawke stared silently at the sheets – deliberating – clenching and unclenching her hand as a wave rocked them gently…She finally met her eyes. "What…" heavy, "what else?" Tiny, curved welts littered her palm. "After…" she had no more to give.
Isabela sighed. "He ordered a few servants to 'clean me up' before having me brought to his chambers. Then, it was 'his turn'." She watched the rogue's nails forcefully dig into her palm. "And I laid there. While he did what he did, until he was satisfied. And I never was. A girl who barely knew her own parts…" a glance elsewhere, "No hope; no trust; no innocence."
She could hear her voice losing color, the images in her head now, merely a series of events:
They had happened. They were over.
"You know…" a thin smile, "there were times when I just wanted to end it all. Kill myself when he locked me in his "evening galley" for days at a time – at least it would be my choice…only to hate myself when I couldn't." She chuckled brittlely – because there it was again, that want to tell Hawke silly, extra things that shouldn't have mattered. "Such a stupid girl…Shut away, afraid even to speak. Wondering why she wanted to live so damned much…."
It wasn't her next breath before Gaile's lips were against hers – soft, but unrelenting – as if trying to kiss her words away; their mouths parted inches, breaths mingling. "I'm sorry."
"There's nothing for you to be sorry about, Hawke." There was no need for pity. She would not accept it.
"No…" their lips brushed, "But it doesn't seem like anyone's said it." It was given in her usual way, as if she could not help being the good that she was. "Someone should say it…" the rogue kissed her again – and it's too quick, "I wanted to say it…"
Isabela captured her lips, insistent on tasting her – urgent, the other having no choice against her tongue as she pressed closer, taking as much as she could…before pulling away, panting.
Sometimes, the other woman was just too brilliant.
And she didn't want to stop. Almost relieved, in some strange way: the dulled pains presented, there – but always fading. Because, with every glance, every word, every minute press closer, Hawke was tearing it away – the walls, the anger, the fears – taking every bit of it and placing it upon herself. Taking it all until she was forced to see what was left.
The brilliance of them.
"So." A recovering breath – another; the rogue grinned. "Always on top?"
Their eyes locked.
"Always on top." Gaile's expression softened, a smile that said she knew and nothing more need be said on the matter. "I told you about Zevran, didn't I? His hand in all this?"
"If I recall, Zevran had his hand in quite a few things that day…"
Isabela laughed. "Ooh," she traced the slight turn of her lips, "still jealous, pet?"
"Tragically." That decisive arm found its place along her hip once more. "If we could skim over the parts on how very proficient and bendy he is…"
A smirk. "Oh, fine…You big baby." Hawke grinned smugly. "He came," a wicked glance, "not too long after my husband's…'request'; did us all a favor and lodged a dagger deep in the back of his skull." The pirate hummed with satisfaction. "He'd been so confused, too…I'll never forget the look of sheer panic on his face right before it happened…" her eyes closed – seeing it – the memory as clear as it had ever been; her expression grew. "Do you know, Zev apologized after? Said something along the lines of it being 'unfortunate to have to do such ugly things in front of so beautiful a woman'." She shook her head, opening her eyes. "I don't think I ever laughed so hard in my life…Then I kicked the lifeless bastard and spat on him for good measure."
The woman next to her smirked wordlessly, but those auburn orbs told the pirate everything she needed to know: Hawke was just as pleased the pestilent bastard was dead and there was a good chance she'd turn her ship around if it just so happened he wasn't.
She didn't need anyone to defend her…but the thought made her tingle all the same. "Zevran passed along everything he knew about the job to me – a 'courtesy', he said – though I'm fairly sure he knew by then I'd lose no sleep at night." The pirate chuckled. "Regardless, he told me about my husband and his dealings with the Felicisima Armada. Back then, I'd heard of them, but knew little enough; Luis, however, did business with them from time to time – and by 'business', I mean he paid their 'sail tax' to ensure his cargo would make it to wherever it was headed, safely. But, apparently, my darling husband got a bit too greedy and crossed someone he shouldn't have." She grinned. "Those people hired a Crow."
Gaile's brow rose, clearly amused. "Now, why am I not surprised you joined the 'illustrious' organization that made your husband a mark?"
She shrugged. "It wasn't the only reason," a sinful curve soon took her lips, "but it was a damned good one." They traded grins. "And, while Zevran may have been the one to introduce me to the idea of the Armada – that wasn't the best thing he did." Isabela spotted the wrinkle forming on the other's brow, swatting her gently. "Oh, stop. I won't go into details, but…that night, I discovered it. Sex. What it was supposed to feel like, that it could be fun. Give so much pleasure…" her toes curled at the thought, "And it was mine. My decision to open my legs to whomever I chose – to get what I wanted – and not give a damn about anyone else. The power that held…" she shivered: there was nothing like it – to be completely and utterly invincible… "I wasn't going to let Luis or those men take that from me."
Hawke's next breath was audible – raw – the woman biting her lip as the grip on her hip tightened, those brown orbs suddenly unreadable. Dark…. Everything hidden – except hunger.
Isabela felt her body respond so acutely, it rendered her breathless–
The rogue wanted to take her…but was resisting the urge.
And she understood. Hearing the other's conclusion without words – seeing her resolve:
Nothing was more important to her than this.
The pirate leaned in to kiss her – giving something they both needed; short enough not to break any promises, long enough to convey something deeper…She broke away with a sigh, licking her lips for that last taste. "Antivan men liked their women chaste and helpless;" again, "I became anything but. Taking my husband's ship, joining the Felicisima Armada – until I was the immoral woman in all their worst tales." She chuckled, husky and low. "Lips that dripped honey, a mouth smoother than oil…But in the end, bitter as wormwood and sharp as a double edged blade." The tips of her fingers began to draw along the canvas of Gaile's skin, small, meaningless patterns. "Whore, slattern–" a snort, "I'd been called it all – not once did it matter. Because I knew what I had and I knew what I could get for it. I embraced it…With both arms open and both eyes closed." She could already hear her voice becoming distant, memories scratching at the surface, "Some people don't want to be saved. Some people prefer ignorance…And then, it becomes a bit like walking in darkness…" twin brows dipped severely, "They have no idea why they continue to stumble."
An arc of lightening knifes through the blue-black sky, illuminating everything, in one, resplendent moment.
Bouts of thunder rumble threateningly – exploding without warning, loud, vicious cracks, like those of a whip.
She loves every second.
"Brace!" Her voice delivers the command sharply, bellow stronger than the rain that pounds the deck – the roar of the wind whipping her hair about wildly; the Siren's Call bobs against tumultuous waters. "Best keep a hand to something, boys!" She smirks, spotting another large swell swiftly approaching. "Lest you're fond of a dip in the drink!"
Her girl hits it head on, riding the colossal wave like a champ – even as another surges forward to slam violently against her hull.
She laughs, turning to the crew that remains above deck. "Secure those drums! Anselmo – Celso – if you both think you're done soiling yourselves, take in that sail! Those winds get any worse, and I want her at bare poles!" The two men grunt their affirmation, running off to perform their given task; she spins on her heel. "The rest of you – we've everything on top and nothing handy! I want this deck cleared!"
Multiple calls of 'captain' meet her ears before an array of subordinate orders get barked behind her, a hectic, glorious chorus of scattered voices intermediately drowned out by the elements.
She makes her way toward the bow, effortlessly weaving past the darting forms of her crew before taking a step up, gaining an unobstructed view of their dreary surroundings – her ship plowing through rampant waters – carving her way toward oblivion.
Another brazen flash of lightening.
Another deafening roll of thunder.
Wind and rain blow harshly against her, but she feels no chill.
She spreads her arms, eyes closing with a deep, shuddering breath:
The euphoria leaves her dizzy.
Sailing in a storm, completely at the mercy of the sea…She knows no feeling like it. Riding agitated waves, weathering relentless winds–
Surviving…At all costs.
The thought strays too close: to slaves; to her decision; to her regret – and she starts to hear screaming – before the storm rips it from her, her ship pitched by a fit of turbulence.
"Are we adrift, Captain?" The question comes soon after, and she recognizes its owner as her first mate. "I'd come up to see how the men were faring, to find her stripped."
She opens her eyes; Anselmo and Celso must have dropped the last sail. "Thought I'd give the old girl back to the sea. Storm like this, you've got to head a bit off course to keep where you're going." Her arms drop to their respective sides. "We're forging along, aren't we? And I happen to be enjoying the show…" she turns to eye him, smirking, "What's your concern?"
"None from me, but you should know not everyone's happy about it." He shrugs. "Crew's not a crew less they're complaining."
She laughs. "If I wanted to be handed a line, I would have asked someone else…" her smirk grows, "I've never known you to hold back, Casavir – no need to start now." A gesture summoning him forward. "Speak your mind."
The man steps up to join her. "Brand passed along how some of the crew wanted you to go off on another tack earlier. That they're threatening mutiny…Several are of the mind you sailed right into this storm when it could've been avoided." A pause, his countenance darkening. "I'll be frank, Captain: the lot of them seem to think you're going on without both oars in the water. With that nasty piece of business with those elves…" he glanced at her, gauging, "They're starting think you've gone soft. That you've got some kind of death wish."
Her face betrays nothing. "And you?"
A small grin tugs his lips. "I think half the bastards on this ship are too scared of you to make their opinion known one way or the other." He scoffs. "And, what about me? I'm your first; your ship, your rules, far as I see it."
It's words like those that let her know she was right to trust her instincts when choosing the man's position; she clucks her tongue, starting to pace. "Those men…They hear a few scary noises, feel a few bumps here and there, and they're like rats deserting a sinking ship. Useless unless they've got a drink in their hand." An exasperated sigh. "Does no one appreciate a good storm, anymore?"
Casavir whistles low, taking a step toward the railing. "She's a beauty, sure…Only seen a few others like her – less, of captains willing to brave 'em. And here's you, not batting an eye." He chuckles. "I've met my share of crazy leading the life I have – but you?" A look is cast over his shoulder, "You're a kind all your own."
She stops. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
"That why you took those slaves? 'Venturing'?" Her eyes cut to him. "I've seen my share of cutthroats and coin chasers – and while I've watched you enjoy your share of the spoils well enough, those aren't the things that keep you going. Not fully." He turns from the surging, murky depths, facing her. "So, here's a question, Captain, 'fore we go any further: what do you want out of this life?" Only curiosity tinges his tone. "Why are you here?"
"Freedom." Immediate – the word never far from her tongue. "If you don't know how important that is, you haven't found it yet. Dead or alive; you're free if you have the power to choose." Her brows furrow. "You saw those elves – chained like animals – never given a proper choice in their lives – and look where they ended up." She looks away, feeling the anger well up inside her – the disgust. "They're all dead."
"Tossin' 'em in the sea by twos…" a deep frown mars the man's expression, "Still shackled so they had no chance of making it…" he shook his head, "I'm not saying you're not fit – I said I'm with you and I meant it – but that sort of thing does something to a person. And I saw how you looked that day, Captain." She didn't meet his eye. "What we did, left its mark…"
Her teeth clench. "Those people," she snorts; they weren't people anymore – not at that point, "those slaves, were dead regardless. Whether they drowned in the sea or were forced into a life of servitude, they were dead." Again – as if spitting those words over and over would somehow make it right. "They were dead, and the Orlesians were gaining and I did what I had to." Their eyes lock fiercely. "I wasn't going to die like some dog – not for them, not for anyone."
They hadn't even put up a struggle. The sheer number of elves packed in those holds could have overpowered them easily – gained control of the situation and fought to the very last – yet they did nothing. Only stared and waited for the choices to be made for them.
What in that was worth saving? Slaves that didn't even know how to be free?
So, why had she tried?
A crash of thunder pierces the silence between them.
Casavir crosses his arms, exhaling. "Not a person on this ship holds that decision against you. Like you said, you were doing what you had to given the situation…" a ridge in his brow only adds to the hard lines of his face, "But just because we escaped, doesn't mean regrets won't follow."
"It was a job."
"You don't believe that."
She didn't…Even when it would make everything easier. "What I believe is life isn't fair – you play the hand you're dealt and you play it the best you can." Her eyes find the ocean, seeing their faces still – pushing them toward the darkness. "Me or them…" because those are always her options. "I had the better hand."
Acceptable or not, the man only nods.
It is a moment…before the shift – she whips back around, clapping her hands. "Check to see if the deck's been cleared; any essentials left, I want them strapped and weighed down."
He leaves and she smirks – spreading her arms, closing her eyes.
Me or them.
Gaile's arms were around her, hugging her tightly from behind. "You're so beautiful…"
The action – the words – set off an intolerable chain reaction of chest clenching and throat tightening – because, of course, the other would say the thing so far from what she expected, the thing she anticipated least, so reverently…it made her ache; she managed a weak roll of her eyes – glad Hawke couldn't see her, glad she turned away when she did – needing to dampen the feeling. "Shouldn't you be looking at my face when you say that?"
"I don't have to…" breathed against her skin, the rogue's lips brushing the crook of her neck, "It's that strong." A searing kiss. "You're so strong, Isabela…"
And she was helpless against it: the thick heat coursing throughout her body, pooling in her cheeks – simmering beneath flushed skin. Because it was more than a line, desperate for her affections – sappy, desperate lines did nothing for her – but Hawke was her exception, always saying these things with such undiluted passion…that even if she could not bring herself to believe them–
In Hawke's world, it was true.
And that was enough. If she was called a whore; a murderer – worthless, a thousand times over, but this single person thought her beautiful…
It was enough.
Isabela swallowed thickly, testing her first words mutely until positive they wouldn't break. "There's a story…an old tale, of the Sun and the Sea. Everyone loved the Sun: it was kind and warm – it gave light to the darkness. And shined on everyone. But, many hated the Sea – cold and dark – causing only death and misfortune, while providing waters no man could drink. Useless. But the Sun admired the Sea – told her she was beautiful." She felt the other's quiet, steady breathing. "The Sea didn't believe the Sun's words: it whipped and crashed in anger, from, what had to be, deceit – because the Wind carried the dissent of the people, and she knew no one thought such things…But the Sun was patient and asked her to calm, shining on her brightly until she did. 'Look', the Sun said, 'look how you glisten, your waters like diamonds…You are beautiful. As I said.' Though only a murmur, now, the Sea disagreed, 'It is only your influence that makes me that way. I am only beautiful because you have shined on me.' The Sun smiled, even brighter than before. 'My dear Sea,' it proclaimed gently, 'my light can only reveal what is already there.'"
The pirate felt the other's lips shift in a familiar way, the light brush of teeth against her as she was pulled in closer; she did not need to look to know when the other was smiling.
Isabela closed her eyes…Remembering the first time she heard the tale – remembering the man who told it to her.
The only other who thought her beautiful.
She finally turned, a slow shift in the other's arms, "…One more story."
She sighs contently, strolling the coastline as her feet dip deliciously into wet sand, humming with pleasure each time an ambitious wave laps at her ankles.
The sun bathes her skin.
The water sneaks between her toes.
And it's perfect….
"Mm…" a low rumble of approval, "Right there…" the rich, masculine tone finds her ears, stealing her from the moment, "Beautiful."
She turns to see its owner a few feet behind her – beaming, his hands raised to an eye, framing her with his fingers.
A smirk; she'd almost forgotten about him.
Her hand slips to the back of her head, unraveling the knot of her scarf – letting the fabric fall into her grasp – the breeze rippling its new plaything…before letting it go.
She watches the man's pose drop instantly, not moving an inch as he scrambles to secure the windswept fabric, limbs darting wildly until he is successful.
"Ha!" He grins triumphantly.
"I knew you'd catch it." Matter-of-fact – as if nothing could be more boring. "You're…dependable, I suppose. Good in a pinch."
"Do not forget practical." He holds the scarf out in display, moving closer. "What a lovely gift this will make for the next girl to warm my bed…" she kicks water at him and he chuckles. "Ah. I suppose I'll have to keep it then." The man fingers the fabric, eying its subtle intricacies. "'Dependable' …" a crease in his brow, "Is that truly so terrible?"
There's something new to his voice, a certain cheerlessness she does not like. "Not if that's what you're looking for – consistency and routine…" a smirk curls her lips, "But wouldn't you much rather have unpredictable?" Her feet resume their trek, carelessly splashing a wave. "Exciting?"
"I'd like to think a person can have both. Excitement and stability."
"I've had stability." She casts a glance behind her shoulder. "It's overrated." Another sigh escapes her lips, the wind tousling her hair. "Life's messy; you can't expect to experience the gloriousness of it all locked away in someone else's arms."
Several moments of silence pass between them and she has to consciously – repeatedly – stop herself from looking back at the man again.
There is only the sound of wet footsteps following her, until– "You really do love the sea, don't you?"
The change in subject is welcome.
"I'm being obvious again, aren't I?" And she cannot help smiling, hearing him chuckle again. "She just so happens to be one of those rare things in life that expects nary a thing in return…You can't get that from people." With people, there was only give or take; she turns her focus back to the persistent swells of the ocean, their crashes against the sand. "That, and I respect the untamable. You can ride her buxom waves, weather her storms, but you can never own her." She bends down, dipping a hand in the rushing water, foam swirling about her fingers. "Of course, there are always men willing to try…Only to meet a quick and gruesome death." A smile. "It's one of those lovely little morals I can appreciate."
"You make the sea sound so fearsome…" the thud of his steps suddenly disappear. "Should I be afraid?"
She finally allows herself to look his way. "Of me or her?"
The man's blue eyes shine with amusement, only reminding her of the thing she adores. "Either."
Her fingers play in the water once more, the curve of her smile now wicked. "Not if you know your place."
"Beneath you?" Their eyes catch. "You see, that's clever, though not so appealing when dealing with the sea." She laughs, standing to her feet. "With you, however," a mere step, and he is in front of her, "I'd never complain." His free hand captures her wet one, bringing their bodies closer. "I don't want to own you."
"Oh?" She studies him intently, caught between something wary and strange. "What do you want?"
His smile is beautiful. "You care?"
She scoffs. "Maybe I trust you won't be melodramatic." The smallest pause. "And I'm…curious." The small admittance feels like a surrender.
The twin pools of his eyes soften in a way that renders her useless. "You are what I want." It is both expected yet completely unanticipated. "And, if I am allowed to be selfish," a strong arm slides around her waist, "the chance to make you happy…"
"Because the world's not as bad as you think."
The statement – the moment – catches her unaware, finding all the cracks and crevices it shouldn't…
She smirks – because it's all she has. "You haven't been to Antiva."
The corner of his lips twitch – and it's that sadness again, the one she can't stand – as if she is made of glass and he can see right through her. "Why do you do that?"
His gaze is unbearable – she can no longer meet it. "What?"
"Sabotage yourself." The words pierce as easily as any dagger. "As if you cannot wait for the bad to happen…" fingers delicately trail her cheek. "As if you must bring it yourself if it does not come on its own?"
"Survival." She shrugs, a careless flick of the shoulders. "There isn't anything else to it." Her eyes narrow at the sand. "Nothing good ever happened to me sitting around waiting for it. So, I make my own luck – good, bad, or otherwise."
"And now?" The question is as soft and firm as his touch. "You've survived – we both have…Long enough to find this." He shifts closer, conquering the space between them – and, even without walls, she feels cornered. "You only need stop running…"
"I don't know how to do that." Frustration strains her voice.
He releases his hold, securing her hand again, pressing the scarf there. "Then stay with me until you can."
She closes her fingers around it, holds it on its end – and something is off, the fabric…heavier than it should be.
A knot that was not there.
It unravels easily, revealing a gold band.
Her heart stops.
The words hang like a death sentence.
The ring a prison.
She doesn't know how to do this. She doesn't know how to be this.
Not if it's different from what she knew.
Why hadn't he listened?
A choked sob. "You fool." She eyes the small weight plaintively…before it falls from her hand. "You've ruined it now. Gone and ruined it all."
She shakes her head – feels herself backing away. And he looks so torn, so heartbroken…she can hardly breathe.
But if she stays, the pain will be so much worse.
She turns away.
"And I ran."
Isabela looked to Gaile – trying to gauge her – taking what she could from a tenuous expression. The woman's face seemed to deny all absolutes, neither happy nor sad – but even then…a touch of both…. Pensive.
All for a faceless man.
She never mentioned his name.
But, Hawke was smart. It wouldn't surprise her if she'd noticed.
The pirate gave up on the other's expression, rolling onto her back – eying the ceiling, talking to it instead. "He put such stupid thoughts in my head, useless little thoughts…" she chuckled mirthlessly, "Like how I could have married a good man. That, maybe, they all weren't like him. And, why didn't I know I had that choice?" More silence – but she hadn't expected an answer. "So, I ran." A sigh. "Before he could prove me wrong."
"How did you know?" Soft…shattering the silence.
"I felt the danger of it. Of him. The way he loomed closer, tugging all the old aches…Until I barely recognized it anymore." Her gaze fell from the ceiling. "That I was sharing that pain."
It was an odd she could not readily identify, remembering that man now when she hadn't thought of him in years. Like accidentally stumbling upon lost treasure; a piece of her heart she showed no one, a regret she hadn't told anyone…
Isabela felt the mattress shift, knew the woman now looked her way – and, suddenly, the pause between them was palpable. "Why–" Hawke's voice broke, "why was I different?" She turned to see the full weight of it burning in her eyes, tugging the rogue's every feature. "Why did you come back?"
A frown took her lips – chest clenching – because it wasn't surprise that crippled her, the sudden breach of a well avoided topic – but the utter confusion – as if the other could not possibly see why she was not the same.
And she knew – dammit, she knew – before her mouth even opened, she'd say whatever she had to to prove that wrong.
"You…" out of all the damned words that filled her head – that was the only one that seemed sufficient, "It was you, Hawke. You made it all…not enough." Her brows furrowed heavily. "The drinking, the sailing – the sex. Everything that used to be enough…" the pirate felt her mouth work wordlessly – frustratingly – not knowing any other way of saying it.
She had waited for the feeling to lessen – to dull – nothing lasted forever, and any desire she'd come across was always temporary. But it never did. What she felt for Hawke…it just grew. That thick, warm, all encompassing feeling, dictating her every move, taking her every thought…And still – she only wanted more. Constantly. Incessantly. Always in search of more of her.
One more day of that smile. One more day of that laugh.
One more day of those stupid jokes–
Because all of those things were right.
The pirate let her body fall to action, pushing herself to her knees, straddling the other woman to stare deeply into damp, auburn orbs.
That terrible flicker. Fleeting and unsure. An achy sort of hope – bright and beyond reason. So many times, she'd seen it and done nothing…But it was still there.
Isabela bit her lip, a startling, sudden heat swelling within her chest.
"There." Breathed. "Right there." She traced the curve of her eyelid. "I want you to tell me."
Those brown eyes widened impossibly, Hawke's lips parting only to immediately shut again – orbs pleading, 'anything but this'.
"Isabela…" she said her name as if afraid of breaking it.
But she couldn't.
The pirate shook her head: the woman had already given enough over the years – and she was sick of clever. "I love you." She whispered the words again, whispered something beautiful – heart refusing to hold it any longer. "Don't you know that by now?"
And even if the words had come in their usual way – she saw it – the undeniable effect: the woman beneath her stripped bare, heart fragile and easily ruined, wanting nothing more than to be loved. By her. Until, all she could do was hope to whatever bloody deity out there listening, that she could. Let herself…have this. Be this.
Isabela kissed her, placing a delicate hand on the other's chest. "Idiot." The word had no bite. "You've wanted that for such a long time now, haven't you?"
Gaile's lip trembled, tears welling in her eyes. "I was so lonely…"
The thud against her chest was close to painful.
The words split her wide open – striking just the right place as they always did – making her feel young and inexperienced. Because, maybe…maybe she had been too. Always running…Her happiest times, her worst times – only remembered by her. And, maybe they were just two women – strong and sure – who could take whatever life threw at them – who could survive – but secretly…wanted that person. A person with which to share…
"Waminoda…" she whispered the foreign tongue in her ear, the shiver in Hawke's pulse letting her know there was no need to translate, "Never again." It was so easy, this promise.
The rogue hugged her close, capturing her lips thoroughly – making long, sweet promises of her own…before Isabela thought to break away. She owed the other an explanation – it the least she could do – and, knowing Hawke, she wouldn't require it of her…But the woman had already overlooked far too many of her blunders; she had no intention of letting herself off so easily.
Gaile eyed her with that curious patience, watching her think – giving her the time for it…A shaky exhale, her fingers curling against the other's skin. "I…knew I could give it." Her eyes met Hawke's, only to flick away. "Love. That was never the problem. It…" a pause; a sigh, "Receiving it, was the tricky part. I think a part of me knew, even then, that I could do it – be that for you – have this thing that could be so…" the pirate faltered, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat, "good…If only I could let myself be loved by you. Because, if I said it…that I loved…" a broken breath, "I didn't want to disappoint you. But that – I could never understand–" twin brows dipped sharply, "how could you?" Accusatory – her eyes finally met hers. "Why would you want to love someone like me?"
The tenderest smile, the woman's face devoid of conflict. "I could have died alone." It was barely a whisper, drenched in emotion. "Died without a home; without a family…" a brief flicker of pain in her eyes – before being utterly washed away with adoration, "You gave me all of those things – you give them." Gaile cupped her cheek. "I want to live, Isabela." Simple. "I live to love you."
And that was terrifying, and beautiful, and everything she could have ever wanted to hear…shaking her to her core, stealing her breaths – filling her with such
Her lip trembled. A tear rolled down her cheek.
She loved this woman.
The pirate felt overwhelmed – unstable. Full. A dam close to bursting, with only the need to be emptied. "I'm yours…"
"Yours…" an echo – immediate – the woman nodding fervently, the same, unmistakable look in her eyes.
The last, verbal barrier had been torn down.
Their lips crashed violently – and she could taste their salty desperation – teeth and passion – as if they had never kissed before…
It didn't have to be possession. Why hadn't she seen that? That it could be more – that Hawke made it more:
A sense of belonging. Without feeling possessed.
She was Hawke's.
Hawke was hers.
An equal exchange.
Isabela laughed into their kiss, not being able to help herself.
The rogue's lips brushed her own, eyes sparkling. "What?"
She shook her head. "I just had an epiphany, is all." Both of the other's brows shot up in alarm and she swatted her, smile never fading from her lips. "Oh, shush. I was just thinking about the hero and the villain falling in love…" a scoff, the pirate pressing closer, "And what a terrible story that would be."
Gaile smirked. "Terrible."
Their lips met again – something slow and deep and loving–
But maybe…they were the exception.
Maybe, they both deserved a happy ending.
Just this once.
Waminoda: 'My love' in Shona. ;)