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Title: Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix)
Genre: Historical romance.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 3,439
Summary: A rewrite of the book, Catherine and the Pirate. Full summary and chapter index can be found here.



- Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix) -



Chapter 8


The next day dawned blustery and grey, and Catherine stepped on deck to find the sails billowing wildly and an air of anticipation among the crew. Smythe hurried by, and she trotted up to him.

"Is something the matter?" she asked.

He didn't stop, and Catherine struggled to keep pace. "Storm brewin'," he said. "We're tryin' to lash everything in place afore she hits."

Oh, dear. That didn't sound good. "Do you think the ship will survive?"

The first mate finally stopped, if only to give a laugh. "Of course she will! She's light and prone to gettin' tossed around plenty, but we'll hug the shoreline." He glanced over his shoulder and sobered. "Though perhaps ye'd best stay below, miss. Won't be safe on deck if that storm turns out to be as strong as the cap'n thinks it'll be." And with that, he was gone, barking orders to the men around him.

Catherine looked up at the sky. It was overcast, just as it had turned the night before, but there was an urgency in the wind and a heaviness to the clouds—an excitement that hadn't been there before.

Upon bringing her gaze back down, she caught sight of Derrick on the foredeck. He stood, calmly giving orders even though the wind whipped at his hair and shirt-sleeves, and the collected image of him was enough to ease her nerves, enough to assure her that they would ride everything out without major incident—until a shout came from the crow's nest, that was.

"Ship ho!"

Derrick pulled out his spyglass and stared out to sea. Catherine followed his gaze and could just discern a faint outline dancing on the horizon. She turned back just as he said something, and while she was too far away to make out the words, it seemed he cursed. Unconsciously, she began to walk toward him, straining to hear.

"What is it, Cap'n?" Smythe asked, clambering up the steps to reach Derrick's side. Catherine followed up after him, curiosity getting the better of her.

" 'Tis a ship," Derrick said. "Coming from the east."

The first mate appeared concerned. "East? And can ye make out her flag?"

"Aye," Derrick spat, finally lowering the glass from his eye. "She's flying a Jolly Roger."

"Pirates!" Smythe exclaimed. "But…they can't be after us. We're carryin' no haul."

Catherine sidled over to Lucas, who was also standing on the foredeck, his young eyes wide and alert. In a hushed voice, she asked, "How could the pirates know what we are carrying?"

" 'Cause we're ridin' so high in the water," Lucas answered, similarly quiet. " 'Course, we could be carryin' somethin' of value that didn't weigh so much as cotton or tea, but 'tis unlikely."

Catherine nodded, filing the information away, and then turned her attention back to Derrick.

Again, he pulled the glass away from his eye. "They're coming this way." He snapped the instrument closed and returned it to the pouch at his waist. "We're going to have to make a stand. Ready the ship, Smythe."

"Aye, Cap'n." The first mate leaned over the railing and bellowed, "Man the deck! Prepare fer attack! We've guests, lads, so step lively!"

His words sent a wild flurry of activity across the ship. Men seemed to pour out of every opening, swarming the deck, and even Lucas abandoned her side to disappear amongst them. Before Catherine's bemused gaze, sails were adjusted, kegs of shot and powder were hauled to the outer railing, and a full sixteen cannon were unlashed from their moorings and pushed to one side of the ship, where they were then neatly tied in place.

"She's a large 'un, Cap'n," Smythe said as the ship moved closer. "I suspect she'll have twenty-four pound shot, if not more."

"Indeed," Derrick said grimly. He was curiously calm, his sharp gaze watching every movement of his men even as he checked the progress of the approaching ship. "It's a damnable shame the wind's against us. We could probably outrun her, otherwise."

Catherine stepped back as men bustled by, her heart pounding in her chest. Surely they weren't going to engage in battle. It was probably just a mistake, she told herself. She must have misheard, or else misunderstood. Surely. But the other ship hung on the horizon, dark and ominous, inching ever closer.

After a moment, Catherine realized that the commotion had ceased around her. Instead, each man was at his station, all eyes focused on the approaching danger.

"Miss Markham," Derrick said from behind her, "go below."

Catherine nodded faintly, and after another couple seconds finally managed to pull her eyes away from the pirate ship. With an eagerness that surprised her, she scrambled down the steps that led to the main deck, and was on her way to the ladder that led below when she heard Smythe curse. She halted and looked back to see Derrick's mouth white with tension as he stared out at the sea.

"Bring her about," he suddenly said.

The first mate sent him a questioning glance. "Cap'n?"

"You heard me, Mr. Smythe. If we run into that storm, we'll be in even more danger than we are now."

Smythe nodded, and then yelled an indecipherable string of orders that sent the men tumbling silently to work. Catherine, meanwhile, felt as if she were in a bad dream. The other ship was close enough now that she could make out the shape of her hull, could trace the lines of her rigging.

"Turn her starboard, Smythe," Derrick said.

"Starboard? But that'll have us sailing directly toward—"

"I know what starboard is, thank you very much," Derrick snapped.

Smythe nodded again. "Aye, Cap'n," he said, mustering conviction. He passed the order on, and with a certain amount of horror, Catherine watched as the Sea Princess turned so that they were…good heavens, but they were sailing toward the pirate vessel. Across from her, three men readied a cannon, pouring in powder and a small cannonball before tamping it all down with a large ramrod.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light from the other ship, and a moment later, a deep boom sounded across the water. Catherine held her breath. A cannonball passed straight overhead, ripping through one of the sails and then crashing into the ocean beyond. Another one followed, falling short. And yet another, and this one succeeded in hitting the side of the hull with a thunderous crack. The entire ship rocked, and Catherine stumbled against a barrel, her arm thudding into one of the iron bands around it. She grasped it for balance, and through the noise and confusion, she could hear Derrick's voice, strangely comforting in its familiarity and control.

"Damage, Smythe?"

"We were lucky, Cap'n. It made a clean hole into the mess hall, but no one was about."

"Good. Hold to course."

Another shot came, this time splintering in the center of the main deck. Someone screamed "Man down!" and Catherine watched as two men quickly picked up a limp body and carried it out of sight. She closed her eyes, praying as she had never prayed before.

"Cap'n?" Smythe asked. "Shouldn't we trim the sail? I don't mean to question yer orders, but 'tis madness to run straight at 'em at this speed."

Derrick stood, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes as cold as ash and never wavering from the other ship. "Full sail, Mr. Smythe."

Smythe swallowed hard, but merely said, "Aye, aye, Cap'n."

Catherine couldn't believe it. The first mate might have been under the Derrick's spell, but she certainly wasn't. They were flying toward danger, not away from it—couldn't they see that? She wanted to protest, wanted to say that "madness" was right, but couldn't manage to make the words come. It was as if the wind had torn them right out of her throat and sent them up to the heavy clouds above, which had then promptly folded over and smothered them.

Another boom sounded, and then another, and soon an entire volley came their way. Many shots went awry, but several came close to hitting the main mast, and a number of them ripped through the sails. One whistled close by and men scrambled to get out of the way. It cracked against the ship, wood splintering and smoke pouring forth, and Derrick yelled, "Put out that fire!"

"Cap'n!" Smythe said, his broad face pale. "We're in their firing range! We've got to turn—"

"Hold to course!" Derrick barked, and Smythe gulped, but nodded.

Catherine peered through the railing at the attacking vessel. It was almost a thing of beauty, the way the two ships danced on the waves, edging closer and closer to one another. Beautiful and decidedly deadly. Like a lion or a bolt of lightning. She shivered and two more cannonballs thundered toward them. One hit the mainsail, tearing a huge hole in it, while the other passed harmlessly over the ship and crashed into the water on the other side. A faint smile touched Derrick's lips as he surveyed the shots.

Catherine, meanwhile, rubbed her sore arm and wondered what it was about the situation that he could possibly deem humorous. More than a few men muttered and cursed, but they all stayed staunchly at their posts, and she realized it was a testament to how much they trusted their captain. They might not have liked his orders, might not have even understood the intentions behind them, but there was no way they wouldn't see them through.

The sea roiled and pitched as the storm threatened to break, the sky above as menacing as the ship that plowed their way. More smoke and fire belched from the pirate's cannons, but the shot lobbed overheard, once again landing harmlessly in the ocean. The next made only a token tear through one of the royal sails. And the third again passed right over.

Derrick's mouth suddenly broke into an uncharacteristically wide and wolfish smirk. "We're under their range," he said. "Turn to port, Mr. Smythe, and fire when ready."

Smythe blinked, then gave a whoop of laughter. "We're under their range, mates!" He leaned over the railing to give the order to the helmsman, and when the ship was in position, yelled, "Fire!"

That was all it took. The Sea Princess's cannons burst into action. The acrid scent of sulfur burned Catherine's nose and the smoke obscured her vision, but she could still make out the first mate, who now stood grinning ear to ear. And even Catherine, with her meager knowledge of naval strategy, could see why: Virtually every shot from the Sea Princess was rendering damage, hitting the hull, the mainmast, even taking out some of the other ship's cannons.

The Sea Princess lurched, and Smythe's smile faded. "The wind's shiftin'!" he called.

Derrick pushed himself away from the rail triumphantly. "Bring her about! I daresay our friends over there have had enough."

The first mate gave the order, and soon the Sea Princess was limping away. Derrick leaned over the side to check on the hull while Smythe looked up at the sails overhead. He let out a low whistle and said, "We'll have a rackin' time mendin' those. Good thing we've plenty of canvas and—" He frowned as he brought his gaze back down and caught sight of the pirate ship. "Cap'n! She's tacking!"

"What?" Derrick whirled away from where he was to join the first mate. "That makes no sense. We're not loaded and we've nothing of value on board."

"Clearly, they think we do," Smythe said grimly.

Derrick was silent for a moment, his mouth thin and his brow furrowed, and then he nodded decisively. "We've no choice. Ready the men."

Smythe issued the new directions, and as weapons were hauled out and quickly equipped, Derrick caught sight of Catherine, still standing stunned on the main deck. His expression turned veritably black with disapproval, and he outright bellowed, "I told you to get below!"

His words seemed to scare some sense into her, for she immediately resumed her rush toward the ladder, all too willing to flee to the relative safety of her bunk. But just as her foot touched the first step, the ship lurched, and a wave of freezing water crashed across the deck. Catherine lost her balance and fell to one side, landing hard on her hip. And then the ship lurched again, and she started sliding before she could even tell which way was up.

Something scooped her from the deck just as she tried to get out a cry for help. She coughed, trying to clear salt water from her lungs, and it took her a moment to realize that what was around her was a pair of arms, and what her hands were braced against was a firm chest. She opened her eyes and found herself staring up into Derrick's apprehensive face.

"Cap'n!" Smythe called. "They've all hands on deck, and I can see grappling hooks. They're going to try to board us."

Derrick cursed and looked down at her. "Are you all right?"

Catherine nodded, shivering in her now-soaked clothes. "I think so," she got out shakily. Despite the comforting heat of his body, some distant part of her recognized how utterly improper this all was, and she struggled to stand—but the instant she put weight on her foot, pain shot up her leg, and she involuntarily clutched at him for support. Derrick didn't say a word, but his arms tightened back around her and his lips pressed into a grim line. All around them, the crew was running into place, weapons at the ready, and a haze of smoke covered the deck, lending an unreal feel to the moment.

"I—I'm fine," she insisted, too breathlessly to her own ears. She needed to get away from him. He was too close, too warm, too—

"Like hell you are," he said darkly. He looked around, and then, before she could even realize what he was doing, swung her into his arms. And before she could even think to protest, he had deposited her behind a stack of barrels that was lashed to the deck. "You stay behind these and hide," he said. "No matter what happens, do not come out until I come for you."

Catherine couldn't manage a response. She was too cold and frightened. Derrick glanced over the barrels, then bent back down. He pulled a pistol from where it was tucked into his waistband and curled her fingers around it. The gun sat cold and heavy in her hands, and she opened her mouth to try to say something, but he didn't give her the chance.

"Here," he said. "You pull this back to cock it, you aim, you pull the trigger. If they manage to board us, I want you to make your way below deck and lock yourself in my cabin. According to the rules of war, they cannot take women prisoner, but these are pirates and I'll not take any chances. You crawl if you have to, but I will not have you on deck if we're boarded. Is that understood?" Desperately, he put his hands to her cheeks, tilting her face up to his. "Catherine, do you understand me?"

There was something about the warmth in his hands, something about the concern written all over his features, that managed to give her some strength. She swallowed and nodded against his palms. "Make my way below deck," she repeated, her voice faint and unsteady to her own ears. "Lock myself in your cabin."

Derrick hesitated briefly, his gaze flicking anxiously over her features—and then he bent and brushed a rough kiss across her mouth. Catherine blinked, and before she could even think to respond, he had broken away. "I'll come for you, I promise," he whispered, and then he was gone, heading back to the foredeck with wide, purposeful strides.

She blinked again, and pressed trembling fingers to her lips. Good God, had he really just—?

"They're boarding us!" Smythe yelled.

Catherine turned, peeking through the barrels, and couldn't help the gasp that escaped her. The other ship was mere yards away, and this close, it was easy to see the horrible damage the Sea Princess had inflicted. Huge holes had been ripped through the hull, barrels on deck were smashed and broken, and multiple sails were blackened and burning. Scattered here and there amongst the debris were what at first appeared to be piles of rags, but her throat tightened as she realized they were actually fallen men. And even more of them, alive and angry, stood at the railing and tossed large iron hooks at the Sea Princess.

Below. She had to get below.

She turned back around, giving her ankle an experimental flex. It didn't appear to be broken, thank God, but she'd most definitely twisted it in some respect. Walking would be difficult, but not impossible.

There was a horrible yell from the myriad of men, and Catherine involuntarily clamped her eyes shut as the two ships came alongside with a dreadful, reverberating thud. Fear was making her heart beat so hard she could barely think, but she'd promised Derrick… She'd promised.

She swallowed and opened her eyes. Following Derrick's example, she tucked the pistol into the waistband of her breeches, then carefully used the barrels to help her to her feet. The mêlée was in full swing, guns blazing and sabers clashing, and it seemed like there was a good chance she'd be able to escape undetected, if she could only keep to the edges.

Her eyes stung from the thick smoke, but she forced herself to peer through it, one hand over her mouth to muffle her coughing. There. Off to her left, not too far beyond the cover of the barrels, was a hatch. All she had to do was sneak along the side of the ship, then make a break for it. She could do this. She would do this.

Bracing herself, Catherine began picking her way around the barrels, using them for support as best she could, gritting her teeth against the pain that shot up her leg with every hobbled step. Finally she reached the last one, and she paused to prepare herself for the few yards she would have to traverse unaided.

"Ah, there ye be!" came a low, gravelly voice from behind her. "I win the prize."

Catherine whirled around, almost stumbling due to her injured foot, and found herself face to face with one of the pirates. He was taller than she was, with a wild black beard and narrow black eyes, a sword in one hand and a smoking pistol in the other. He was grinning, dropped his now useless gun, and moved closer.

Catherine backed up, struggling to keep her balance, and belatedly remembered Derrick's pistol. She yanked the weapon out, putting both hands around the grip in an effort to keep it steady, and managed to speak in a voice that only wavered slightly. "Don't come any closer."

The pirate's triumphant grin turned into an ingratiating smile, and he took another step toward her. "Aw, ye wouldn't use that. Not a sweet little thing like ye." And here his smile turned mocking. "Ye don't even have it cocked."

Catherine cursed herself for forgetting such an important detail—and after Derrick had specifically told her, too—and quickly pulled the hammer back. Her hands shook something fierce, and she fought to keep it aimed at the man's chest. She edged further backwards, wishing it wasn't so obvious she was favoring one leg over the other, wondering how she could feel so cornered when there wasn't any wall behind her, and swallowed. "I'm warning you."

The pirate put his hands up in front of him. "There now, there's no need fer—" And then he lunged for her, his fingers closing over the barrel of the pistol.

There was a sharp retort, and the man suddenly arched forward, his eyes widening, his body far too close to hers for comfort—and then he fell into a lifeless heap at her feet. For a stunned moment, Catherine could only look down at him, and then at her gun. The hammer was still back, ready to fire, so who—?

She jerked her gaze up, and there was Derrick, at the edge of the foredeck, a smoking blunderbuss in his hands and an entirely unreadable expression on his face. He didn't say a word, and Catherine didn't give him a chance to. She scrambled to the hatch and swung herself down into it.




-----

A/N: The alternative summary for this chapter was, "In which Derrick and Catherine do not demonstrate proper gun safety." But, um…it's 1780? And an emergency?

All other fics can be found here.

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