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Title: Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix)
Genre: Historical romance.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 3,005
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 9


She landed hard in the crews' quarters. The hammocks swung eerily empty, and Catherine carefully began picking her way toward the stern of the ship. It was slow going, what with her injured foot, and paranoia kept making her look over her shoulder to ensure no one else had followed her down. Somehow, in the chaos, she'd lost Derrick's pistol, and couldn't decide if that was a bad thing or a good thing.

Eventually, she reached the door, and as she burst through it, prepared to make a hobbled dash for Derrick's cabin, she almost ran straight into the first mate.

"Mr. Smythe!"

"Ah, Miss Markham," he said, clearly tired but otherwise in surprisingly good spirits, "glad to see ye're safe and sound. Ye'll be pleased to know the fightin's dyin' down. We've got 'em on the run, we do." He gave her a quick wink and then turned around. "Bring him on through, boys!" he bellowed, and a moment later, two sailors appeared, carrying—dear God, they were carrying Lucas. His face was pale and sweating, and his shirt was covered in far more blood than any thirteen-year-old's ought to be.

"What happened?" she exclaimed.

"The lad caught a bit of a saber swipe, is all," Smythe said. "Usually he's smart enough to stay out of the fray, but even the best of us get surprised sometimes. Don't ye worry, miss," he assured. "We'll get him down to the physic and he'll be sewn up in no time."

"No he won't," another voice said, and they turned to see another sailor appear in the cramped corridor. He was in the process of wrapping a bandage around his arm. "Marley took a bad splinter to the leg," he explained, "and Little's up to his elbows in it. Lucas'll have to wait."

"Oh, dear," the first mate said, and his face fell gravely. Far too gravely, it seemed.

"What?" Catherine asked. "What is it?"

"Well…" he said, "the lad needs tendin' to now, not later. He's already lost a lot of blood, and if he loses much more, I don't know if he'll make it."

"But surely someone else could do it, couldn't they?" she asked. "If it's just a simple stitching."

The first mate blanched. "Ah, aye," he stammered. "I mean…that is…" Catherine turned expectantly to the other sailors, but they dropped their eyes from her and shifted uncomfortably, suddenly appearing just as reluctant as Smythe did. Catherine almost couldn't believe what she was seeing, and under different circumstances might have actually laughed. To think, that men who could so eagerly charge into battle and cause wounds would be so squeamish when it came to patching them up.

Quickly, before she could think about it, she pressed her lips into a determined line. "Bring him to the captain's cabin," she said. "And fetch me a needle and thread." And with that, she began to limp her way toward Derrick's cabin, herself.

Smythe blinked, caught off guard. "Miss?"

"That was an order, Mr. Smythe!" she snapped, and whether it was because of the authority in her voice or simply because he was used to following commands, he suddenly jerked to attention and nodded.

Upon reaching Derrick's quarters, she threw open the door and hobbled to the bunk. The two sailors carrying Lucas were right behind her, and she hastily stripped the blankets off the bed so that they could lay him on the bare sheets. She hoped it was just the brighter light of the cabin that was doing it, but she thought the boy might have looked even paler than before. Certainly he looked closer to unconsciousness, his eyelids fluttering not only weakly, but infrequently. "Help me remove his shirt," she said, and one man stepped forward. "I'll need some water and bandages," she said to the other, and he darted off.

Smythe came in, huffing and puffing, just as they pulled Lucas's shirt over his head, and the other sailor returned with a bowl and bandages a moment later. Smythe sent the two men back up on deck as Catherine fought to thread the needle. After three attempts, she finally got it.

"Here," she said, handing the first mate a bandage, "try to keep the bleeding down." The cut wasn't especially deep, but it was long, arcing from the bottom of the cabin boy's ribs all the way up to the opposite shoulder. His eyes weren't fluttering at all any more, which was almost comforting. If he was passed out, he wouldn't be able to feel her jabbing a needle into his skin. But if he was passed out, she realized, perhaps he was that much closer to death.

She couldn't wait any longer. She positioned herself at one end of the wound. Smythe glanced at her, looking more than a little concerned.

"Ye sure ye know what ye're doin', miss?"

No. She wasn't. "Of course," she said, as if convincing the first mate would also convince herself. "It isn't any different from patching a quilt or embroidering a pillow." Too bad she'd always been terrible at embroidery. On the bright side, at least Lucas wouldn't wake up expecting to see French knots and feather stitching adorning his chest. The thought that he would sent a bubble of laughter through her, and Smythe sent her another look.

"Miss?" he asked.

"It's nothing," she insisted, managing to school her features straight. "It's nothing. Just a little giddy from the battle, that's all."

The first mate didn't appear entirely reassured. "If ye say so, miss." But Catherine paid him no mind. With a hard swallow, she began.

It was difficult, more difficult than she would have expected, and as she worked the needle in and out, she tried to distance herself from the situation. Tried to imagine she was merely working with thin, wet leather, or else an oilskin that hadn't yet cured. Catherine wasn't sure if it helped or not. The smell of blood was overpowering, the stuff somehow both sticky and slick on her hands, and it seemed hours passed before the last edges of the wound finally came together. With trembling hands and tired muscles, she tied the last knot, and when she finally snipped the thread, it was as if she was a marionette and her own strings had just been cut. It took all her strength to not sink down onto the side of the bunk beside Lucas. Instead, she bolstered herself with a deep breath, and together, she and the first mate set about to wrapping the cabin boy's chest.

Just as they were tying the bandage, Little barged in, his clothes even bloodier than Lucas's had been, and Derrick followed right behind. There was soot on his shirt and a cut across one of his cheeks, but he seemed otherwise unharmed, and Catherine was surprised by the flood of relief that swept through her. This time she did sink down onto the side of the bunk.

"Ah! Cap'n," Smythe said. "Is the battle over, then? Did we lose any men?"

Derrick shook his head, looking as exhausted as he was anxious. "No, but a few are badly wounded. How is Lucas?"

"Not too bad," Little said. He was peeking under the boy's bandages, and seemed almost bewildered by his own diagnosis. "Not too bad at all, if I do say so meself." The admiration was apparent in his voice, but rather than praise Catherine, he simply straightened up and said, "Some rest and a bit o' me granny's special tonic, and he should be on his feet in no time."

"Spare him yer granny's special tonic, will ye?" Smythe said. "The lad's been through enough." The first mate turned to Catherine. "Ye'd swear he makes it foul on purpose, to force everyone to climb out of the sickbed all the quicker."

"It works," Derrick said.

Little bristled. "Say what ye like, but it ain't true. Me granny's tonic is legendary—"

"Legendary because a man would rather die than have to drink it," Smythe muttered.

"—and 'twill heal all manner o' ills," Little continued irritably, "which ye would know if ye would but give it a try."

"I already gave it a try," the first mate shot back. "Last year, when I had a touch of the ague." He placed a hand on his ample stomach and grimaced at the memory. "As sick as I was, I'd have rather been starved and beaten than drink that poison again."

"Ye were happy enough to take it when I brung it to ye," Little pointed out sourly.

"That was afore I tasted it!"

The cook went red in the face. "Well! That's gratitude fer ye! If it's all the same to ye, I'll just go on back to the galley, then! That is, if ye think I'm fit to make yer rations!" And with that, he stomped out, slamming the door behind him.

Derrick sent Smythe a tired look. "We'll be eating pig's swill for a week, at least."

The first mate waved it off. "Oh, he'll calm down afore then. Just to make sure of it, I'll challenge him to a game of cards and let him win. That always puts him in a better mood."

"See that you take care of it before dinner, will you?"

Smythe grinned. "Aye," he said, and then sobered. "How're things on deck?"

Derrick sighed. "We've had worse, I suppose is the best that can be said. We'll probably have to put in somewhere to repair that hole that blew through the mess, and a number of our sails are done for."

"I'll set the crew to mendin' 'em right away." He made for the door, but then paused. His face reddened somewhat, and he said, "Miss Markham, Lucas owes his life to ye. I'm…I'm glad ye're here."

Catherine managed a smile, her own cheeks growing a little pink. "Thank you, Mr. Smythe. I'm glad I'm here, too." The first mate ducked a quick nod her way, and then he was gone. With the click of the latch, she was suddenly aware that she and Derrick were now alone. She found that she couldn't quite meet his eyes, and instead busied herself with collecting the extra bandages. Her ankle, she abruptly noticed, was aching something awful.

Derrick, himself, seemed at a little bit of a loss, for he stepped forward and silently went about inspecting Lucas's wound. Upon peeking under the bandages, much the way Little had done, his eyebrows shot up. "That's some of the cleanest stitching I've ever seen," he murmured.

Catherine laughed a little weakly. "Perhaps I should become a surgeon."

She'd meant to lighten the atmosphere with the words, but all Derrick did was look at her, his dark brows drawn together in worry. After a moment, she managed to meet his gaze, and the air in the cabin suddenly seemed charged. Involuntarily, her mind went back to the kiss he'd given her. Had that really happened? Had he really pressed his mouth against hers? It seemed distant enough to be a dream, she couldn't even remember what it had felt like, but considering the way he was staring at her…

Before the silence could become too awkward, she lifted her hand, brushing demonstratively at the side of her face. "Your cheek," she said.

The spell apparently broken, Derrick blinked and reached up, dabbing gingerly at the cut on his face. His fingertips came away red, and he looked at them as if he hadn't even been aware of the injury until just then. Catherine fished around in the remaining supplies and held out a clean bandage for him, taking care to not let her hand brush his as he took it. It was a shallow wound, already clotting, and after he gave his cheek a couple token wipes, he went across the room to drag his desk chair—the only one that wasn't bolted to the floor—over to the side of the bunk. He didn't sit down, though, and instead just let his hand rest across the back of it as he again regarded Lucas. The boy's breathing had since evened out, and Catherine could only hope that meant he would recover.

"Smythe was right about one thing," Derrick said. "Lucas owes his life to you. What you did was very brave."

Catherine looked down at her hands in her lap. It was strange, but she didn't feel very brave. She felt almost guilty. Responsible, at the very least. "It was the least I could do," she said quietly. "I'm the reason you and your men are even on this voyage, after all. It was the least I could do," she said again.

A faint smile touched Derrick's mouth, but didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'll have you know that there are times when you sound far too much like your brother."

"Royce…" She almost smiled at the thought of her brother's outrage if he'd heard such a comment, but somehow the expression wouldn't come. It stuck solidly in her chest, pressing on her heart and keeping her from breathing.

Where was he now, she wondered. Alone? Afraid? Had he lost hope of money being sent to secure his freedom? Or maybe he was none of those things. Maybe he was already…

Derrick must have read the anxiety in her expression, for he finally sat down. He leaned forward and closed a warm, strong hand over hers. "We'll find him, Catherine. I promise."

Her eyes suddenly swam with tears, and she cried, "But how can you say that? How do you know? How do you know he isn't…" She clamped her other hand over her mouth, as if to physically keep the word from coming out. Her chest felt like it was about to cave in on itself, and Derrick brought his other hand up so that both of his surrounded hers, his thumb running soothingly over her knuckles. Catherine gripped his fingers back hard, desperately, as if her very life depended on that connection, and a wave of empathy washed over him.

"Then at least you'll know for certain," he heard himself say. "Personally, I think that's the worst part: not knowing one way or the other." He took a breath and reached up to her shoulder. "Catherine—"

He only meant to give her a reassuring squeeze, but the thread of her nerves seemed to break at the touch, and she ended up falling right into him, her arms around his neck and her face buried against his shoulder. She sobbed, the weight of the day's events suddenly crashing down on her, and Derrick silently wrapped his arms around her trembling body.

"Catherine, everything is fine," he murmured, rubbing her back in an attempt to offer comfort, but her hands just grabbed him tighter.

"I—I can't seem to stop shaking," she said.

"I know. It's common after a battle." To say nothing of how her clothes were still wet. He realized he'd have to have something done about that.

Underneath his calm words, though, he was struck with a measure of uneasiness at the situation; he wasn't her brother, and he really shouldn't have been holding her so closely. Never mind that she obviously needed the embrace. Never mind how good she felt against him, damp clothes and all.

Against his will, his mind went back to the kiss he'd given her, before the battle raged. Why in God's name had he done such an asinine thing? Which was consequently an asinine question, because he knew precisely why he'd done it: Because he'd wanted to, simple as that. Because there was a chance he wouldn't have lived to see the battle through, and he would have regretted facing death without knowing the feel of her lips against his.

Clearly, he hadn't entirely outgrown the selfishness that had so defined his youth. Nor did admitting that fact provide any consolation, because he was still sitting there with his arms around her and his nose in her hair.

"Catherine…" he started, and maybe she heard the hesitation in his voice, for she promptly disengaged herself.

"I—I'm sorry," she said, and quickly wiped her cheeks. "I didn't mean to throw myself into your arms like that. It won't happen again."

Derrick didn't let himself acknowledge the disappointment that stabbed through him at the words. Instead, he simply sat back and said, "Catherine, trust me. I know all about men like this. Assuming Royce was alive, whoever has captured him will keep him that way, if only because there is the possibility that you are on your way with the gold."

Her eyes were haunted, the lashes still spiky with tears, and she whispered, "I hope you are right."

He was. The reason he knew all about men like this was because he had firsthand experience with them. There was a time when even he might have entertained the idea of holding someone hostage in the name of profit. The shame of his past burned, brighter and fiercer than it had in a long while, and all of a sudden, the gulf between their stations seemed immeasurable. Ironic, that she should feel so far beyond his reach when just a moment ago she'd been so physically close. Or perhaps, he thought, that was the very reason why she felt so far beyond his reach.

Derrick ran a hand over his face and stood. "I need to return to deck," he said. "I'll have someone draw a bath for you. You're liable to catch cold if you stay in those clothes much longer."

She nodded, and then stood, herself, retrieving the blankets that had previously been pushed to the floor. As she tucked them gently around Lucas, the length of her neck lay exposed, and Derrick didn't trust himself to stay even one moment longer. He swiftly turned and headed for the deck, trying to ignore the way she'd looked, leaning over his bed, and trying to forget the way she'd felt, resting in his arms.




-----

All other fics can be found here.
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