Chapter 5: Sailing

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I.

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Shrimpy had come back up to check on Lace. His thin face, worn and small with its pale red whiskers, crinkled with concentration. "She's worn out – still exhausted and a touch feverish," he said, touching a large and grimy handkerchief to his forehead. "Best thing is rest, of course, but it would be good if you can get her to laugh maybe; dark spirits never cured any patient of mine."

"We'll try that," said Sashay, nodding. A little too eagerly, thought Quest. She looked over to the bed, where Lace lay against the back of the bunk, eyes half-closed, breathing softly. A nagging little thought began shifting itself in the back of Quest's mind. She knew she ought to empathize with the poor girl, but at the moment all she could see was the tender concern on Sashay's face, and how becomingly Lace's hair was splayed and curled over the striped pillow - and she abandoned empathy and thought: that rotten Lace, why did she have to float up to this ship, of all things? Why couldn't she have minded her own business?

"We'll leave you to sleep for a while," said Sashay.

Lace's head moved up and down briefly with a little sigh before she was still.

"Meanwhile," Sashay said as he closed the door behind them, "We'll see this Willis fellow—Shrimpy says he's worse off than Lace. We can find out how he's managing."

"You haven't been letting Salt administer his physic?"

Sashay laughed. "Heaven and earth, no! I put aside his green glass bottle and emptied it back out where it came; we'll see what the mermaids make of it now, eh?"

Salt's oft-attempted and seldom-applied 'physic' was a strong dose of seawater - it was where he got his name. He drank it himself, saying it "bolstered the jibs of one"; but nary a sailor would try a half-teaspoon of the stuff, except for Bad Lucky - once. "It was like drowning, bit by bit, on purpose," he had lamented afterwards.

Smiling to herself – at the memory, or because Sashay had condescended to share a joke with her, she couldn't tell - Quest followed the captain through the dark hall, rimmed with creaking wood walls and ceiling and studded with dim lamps. They were in the center of the ship, and the weight of the thing was close. Quest liked it.

Sashay opened a slatted door at the end, and they entered the small room under the prow. There was only one bed built into the curve of the wall, with a single figure in it.

The first thing that struck Quest about Willis was the odd juxtaposition of his dark hair and pale skin. The second thing she saw was that though he was clearly sleeping, his face and arms were as tense as anchor rope – even his hands were clenched.

"Has he been like this long?" she whispered to Sashay.

Sashay nodded, whispering back: "He hasn't been awake since he told us their names. Something has him staying behind that wall of consciousness – I don't know what."

Quest frowned and knelt by the bunk, touched her hand lightly to the man's forehead. There was no fever. He wasn't shaking or chilled. But as her fingers touched his skin, he visibly stiffened further and a pained look settled on his face.

Sashay, watching her calm the troubled sleeper, looked closely at the brown eyes of Quest and saw that behind her concern for Willis and the thoughts running through her mind, there was admiration – and the admiration was for the handsome face of the youth before her.

It's perfectly natural, he thought. If a mysterious young man appears on the ship, a romantic like Quest is going to notice his looks. And how very odd, Sashay thought, that he - Captain Sashay of the Suzy - here he almost laughed in spite of himself. It was preposterous that Sashay should - mind. At all. Because, you know, Quest was only—how old was it? Sixteen or so? Barely past childhood.

Quest smoothed the dark hair from the young man's forehead. He mumbled something and slept on. Quest spoke something softly and gently, calming his face a little. Sashay felt a burst of protective - what? Quest had done the same thing with Lace.

"Quest," he began, rather loudly.

Quest looked up.

"Let's go," said Sashay. "Better not disturb him." Well, it wasn't an excuse - it was the truth – wasn't it? Yes, it was. Of course it was.

But it wasn't.

As he followed Quest out, his train of thought went on, the two sides of his mind fencing with each other, back and forth. He admitted to himself, begrudgingly, that she was older than he had given her credit for. But she had stolen on the ship, without so much as a how-do, and that was inexcusable – well – no, but she had asked; and then had come in spite of the "No" she had been given. Which was even worse.

Sashay suddenly discovered that he was still following Quest back to the kitchen, and before he could betake himself off, she had stopped and he bumped - smack - into her. She turned around.

"Sashay, what are you doing? Why are you coming here with me? Don't you have some kind of captainy things you need to do?" Sashay didn't like the way she fired questions at him, or the suspicious-looking laugh-gleam in her eye.

"I thought - I mean - " Well, he didn't know. She was extremely aggravating, standing there, tapping her foot most abominally. His old command took hold of him again. This foolishness must stop at once.

"Nothing, Quest." He paused and continued, "I'd almost forgotten - tell Salt the fried sweet potatoes last night were excellent, and the men would like them again."

"Oh," said Quest. She looked like she was trying to decide whether or not to tell him something.

"Well – I made them," she said, almost timidly.

So there he went again. Bad Lucky had said that a woman on board would be trouble, and here she was, making mincemeat of the Captain's superior status. Sweet potatoes be - !

No good will come of this, he thought darkly.

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II.

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Quest was aware that they were very close to Dongun-Ar. And she was prepared to use that fact to her own advantage. As soon as this ship pulls in, she decided to herself, I'm outta here. I'm going to go capture this Dolly Maybe myself.

But then there was also the fact that Captain Sashay was maybe just beginning to have perhaps the teensiest little bit of halfway admiration…for Quest. Quest, who had always been a speck in his manly eye. Oh, she was no fool. She had seen the way he looked when she had tried to calm Willis. She hadn't tried to do anything on purpose; if Sashay wished to see things that weren't there so be it. And if Sashay had the dimmest bit of sense, he might have realized that that had pleased her.

But he didn't. So he hadn't.

Quest chuckled to herself, shaking her head, as she wiped off the last dish.

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Elfine's Note: I noticed, reading this chapter over, that it is told from two alternating points of view. Do you think it goes over well?

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