The silence that descended over the room once Eleanor had entered and Max had pulled the doors shut was a tense one. At one time, when Max’s room had been home to her, Eleanor would have gone over to the bed and sat herself on it without a thought. But now she felt an interloper in the space and was unsure what to do with herself, so, she stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, watching Max with furtive longing as Max bent down to open the bottom drawer of her dresser.
“I thought we’d finished that off,” Eleanor commented when Max stood up and turned around, making visible to Eleanor what she had retrieved from the dresser drawer.
Max held two glasses, and a bottle of Calvados that Eleanor had given to her year ago after liberating it from a secret stash her father had left behind when he moved to Harbour Island.
“Almost, but not quite,” Max replied with a small smile as she took at sat at her table. She then turned to look at Eleanor and waved her wrist at the chair opposite her, inviting Eleanor to sit down. “We started it together. We can retire it together tonight,” Max breathed out as Eleanor joined her.
Max set the glasses down and the room became quiet again as Eleanor watched her pour.
“What did you want to say?” Max slid one of the glasses over to Eleanor.
Eleanor gazed at her contemplatively, and then she picked up her glass and swiftly downed two-thirds of it.
Max took a small sip of hers and kept her gaze firmly on Eleanor.
“Not long ago, you bade me speak and I did not,” Eleanor began, placing her glass down. “This silence has been a constant failing of mine, before our parting and since.”
Eleanor spoke slowly, choosing her words with the utmost care as she held Max’s gaze.
“You said,” her voice trembled and she bit down on her bottom lip nervously. “You said that you were not an end for me. This is not, and never has been, true. I love you Max, so fiercely that it frightens me sometimes. So strongly that I could not imagine that you could feel the same way about me,” Eleanor admitted softly, looking down at her lap.
Max shifted in her chair restlessly and her lip twitched with the desire to speak, but she managed to hold the words back. Her control was precarious for a moment. She wanted so badly to speak. But she could see that Eleanor was trying. Eleanor was struggling to be sure, but she was trying, which was what Max had asked her to do.
“I know now I was wrong about that,” Eleanor continued, looking up and over at Max. “The failing that led me to such worries lies within me, not you.”
Eleanor paused for a moment, gathering courage, and then she began to speak the words that she had kept to herself for far too long.
“I have spent hours watching your face as you slept, trying to commit every curve and dip to memory. You consume my thoughts, morning, noon and night. I have imagined your face lined with age and your hair streaked with grey, and prayed that I would still be lying beside you in those twilight years, forever yours. I should have said these things to you before, but I was afraid to. I … I was afraid of looking foolish.”
Eleanor dropped her eyes again, ashamed.
“I was afraid that what I saw in your eyes and felt in your touch was a product of my desperate imagination. I was plagued by the thought that I was just another fool who had mistaken your gentleness for more and become overly besotted with you,” Eleanor breathed out shakily, blinking against the tears that had begun to form in her eyes. “I know my words come too late, and that I cannot expect them to make a difference, but I want you to know that I loved you and cherished you, and that I still do. It was never my intention to dismiss you, and I never forgot you, Max. Never.”
Max looked up from the glass she was cradling in her hands, and there was hope in her gaze but also doubt.
“Such pretty words,” Max murmured finally, her voice soft and pained. “But words are easier than action.”
“Hammond is not in Port Royal,” Eleanor said, the words falling from her lips before she even realized that she was speaking.
Max’s eyes widened and her breathing quickened at the sound of Eleanor’s words.
“He’s dead,” Eleanor continued quickly, noticing Max’s fear. “So are the others,” she added. “Never able to harm you or any other again,” she stated fiercely.
“’ow do you know this?” Max asked, meeting Eleanor’s fiery gaze.
“Because I gave Anne Bonny the money she needed to lure them out to the dunes, where she and five of my men then killed them,” Eleanor related matter-of-factly. “It nearly got me lynched and my bank account now echoes, but we made them pay Anne and I,” Eleanor continued, her voice now low and fierce. “May they burn in the pits of hell where they belong,” she whispered viciously under her breath.
There was something in Eleanor’s eyes then that Max had never seen before, a quiet menace, cold and intense. That ferocity was in Eleanor’s eyes, was in Eleanor because of her, in defence of her, and that knowledge made something clench deep inside of Max, leaving her fighting back tears.
“You did this for Max?” she managed to choke out.
“Of course I did,” Eleanor declared, leaning forward passionately. “I never would have left you to those animals, Max. Never,” she swore. “My only regret is that I wasn’t able to rid the world of Charles Vane at the same time as his dogs.”
“That would ‘ave been more for you than for Max,” Max stated, the words falling from her lips with the surety of fact. “But, I would not ‘ave mourned ‘is passing,” she added, not wanting Eleanor to think that she disagreed with the sentiment.
“No one would have,” Eleanor muttered darkly, disappearing inside of herself for a moment before focusing outward, on Max, once again.
She only paused to indulge in her vengeful thoughts for a moment, but the break had given Max’s mind enough time to wander as well, and hers had taken her to an equally dark place as Eleanor’s.
“Max -” Eleanor began entreatingly.
“You would ‘ave let them beat me,” Max cut in, her voice low and harsh as she finally spoke the words that had been festering inside of her since the afternoon her world had shattered.
Eleanor’s eyes widened and she jerked forward.
Max recoiled from her and Eleanor froze for a moment, her arm outstretched.
“They wouldn’t have hurt you, Max,” Eleanor began softly as she drew back and settled properly in her chair instead of perching on the edge of it. “No one was to lay a hand on you. I was very clear about that before I …” Eleanor sighed and looked down in shame. “Before I brought them to your room.”
Eleanor took a deep breath, and then looked up to face the anger she knew she deserved.
“Gates was … he was just supposed to talk to you for a while … to motivate you.”
“Motivate?” Max repeated disdainfully. “You mean intimidate into submission.”
Eleanor did not say anything in her defense and Max released a harsh huff of air from her nose before she angled her head to the side, away from Eleanor.
“If you’re intention was not to cause Max pain, you failed, miserably,” Max declared, her voice and eyes hard as stared into the depths of her room.
“I know,” Eleanor breathed out wretchedly. “Believe me, Max. I am entirely aware of how spectacularly I fucked up,” she continued, meeting Max’s gaze and holding it when Max looked back over at her. “I do not deny the righteousness of your anger or your suspicion. I deserve it,” Eleanor stated firmly. “What I did was reprehensible … but I am asking you to try and forgive me, because I do love you Max, so very much, and despite the pain I have brought to you of late, I truly believe that I can make you happy. I want desperately to make you happy,” Eleanor stated with an earnestness that squeezed at Max’s heart, making it ache in the most blissful way.
“I know that we cannot control what our hearts feel, and if yours truly cannot forgive me for what I did that day, then I will accept this and leave you be – though I want you to know I will always be here for you if ever you found yourself in need of help,” Eleanor breathed out stiffly, though her eyes shone with sincerity. “If however, you think that you might be able to one day forgive me for the mistakes I have made, then I would ask that allow me the chance to try and prove myself to you. I beg you to allow me the opportunity to show you that you were not foolish to love me, and that it would not be foolish of you to do so again.”
Max closed her eyes as the last of Eleanor’s words washed over her and she breathed out deeply through her nose. She was still for a few moments, and then she swiftly rose to her feet.
“Max?” Eleanor asked, softly, hesitantly.
“I need a minute,” Max rasped before striding towards her terrace doors, which she quickly opened and stepped through, escaping into the cool night air.
Max walked to the wooden railing and clutched at it tightly.
Her heart was pounding madly in her chest and her head was swimming.
She felt dizzy and faint.
Her hands tightened on the railing and she sucked in deep breath of air after deep breath of air.
Max’s head jerked around at the sound of Eleanor’s voice.
“Are you okay?” Eleanor asked softly, stepping out onto the terrace. “You seem,” Eleanor continued, struggling to find the right word. “Perturbed,” she breathed out a few seconds later.
“Perturbed?” Max asked, momentarily forgetting that she had been in the middle of an anxious fit.
“Anxious,” Eleanor clarified awkwardly. “Unsettled,” she added a moment later, her nerves beginning to get the best of her as Max stared at her with an expression that Eleanor couldn’t quite decipher. “Upse…”
“I know what the word means,” Max injected before Eleanor could provide another synonym.
“Yes,” Eleanor murmured, looking down at her feet. “Of course. I’m sorry, I just…”
“Eleanor?” Max said, cutting in before Eleanor could begin rambling again.
“Yes?” Eleanor asked eagerly, desperate for any opportunity to start proving herself to Max.
“Will you ‘old me?” Max asked.
“Yes,” Eleanor said quickly, closing the scant distance that remained between their bodies before molding herself against Max’s back. “Thank you,” she whispered as she wrapped her arms around Max and drew the brunette back against her body.
Max sighed softly and curled into Eleanor’s embrace, and for some minutes they stood together in peaceful silence, watching the few flickering lights of the town beyond and listening to the ocean.
“If you think,” Max began, stepping away from Eleanor many minutes after she had first snuggled against her. “That you can win Max’s heart again,” Max continued, tilting her head to meet Eleanor’s eyes, “then Max bids you try.”
“Thank you,” Eleanor whispered for the third time since coming to Max’s room, and then she reached up, took Max’s face between her hands, and leaned down, bringing their lips together in a deep, penetrating kiss that left them both feeling lightheaded and breathless when it ended.
Eleanor leaned forward, intent on tasting Max’s lips again but Max placed a restraining hand on her stomach.
“It is late,” Max breathed out gently. “You should go.”
For a moment Eleanor looked confused, but when she spoke it was to say, “As you wish.”
Eleanor’s good behaviour made Max feel merciful, so she offered Eleanor an explanation for why she had stopped Eleanor from kissing her again.
“I ‘ave to speak with Anne.”
Eleanor nodded a few times and her eyes dropped away from Max’s before she murmured, “To confirm my story. Of course.”
“No,” Max said sharply, though her expression gentled when Eleanor looked up at her with a wounded, bewildered expression, clearly not understanding what she had said to earn Max’s ire. “Anne ‘as been sharing my bed, as I am sure you know,” she stated, holding Eleanor’s eyes steadily. “She ‘as been good to me. I cannot lay with you again until I ‘ave properly ended things with ‘er. I owe ‘er that much.”
She had lost control of herself earlier that night in Eleanor’s office. She had sought to soften Eleanor towards her cause with some gentle touches and chaste kisses, but she had underestimated the power of the desire that still burned inside of her for Eleanor, and once she had started kissing Eleanor and touching her, rational thought had left her.
It had disappointed her and hurt her when Eleanor had taken hold of her hand, stopping the pleasure it had been giving her, but Max was grateful for Eleanor’s earlier restraint now. After all she had given to Max, and given up for her, Anne deserved better from her. Max could not change how she felt, but she was now in control of her actions, and she would act with decency.
“Yes, of course. I…I’m sorry,” Eleanor replied softly. “I will take my leave now,” she continued, looking over at the winding walkway that would lead her back to the tavern and her office. “I have occupied enough of your time this night. I will let you sleep,” she went on, her nerves causing her to lapse into more formal speech patterns.
“Goodnight, Eleanor,” Max said gently before she pushed up onto her tiptoes and brushed her lips against Eleanor’s cheek.
“Goodnight, Max,” Eleanor whispered, reaching out to take Max’s hand which she squeezed steadfastly for a few seconds before finally releasing it and stepping back. “May I see you tomorrow?” Eleanor asked, soft and hopeful.
“If you wish,” Max murmured.
“Then I will see you tomorrow,” Eleanor stated resolutely, a cheeky little smile touching her lips before she turned and began to walk away.
Max watched her until she disappeared from sight, and then she turned and headed back into her room as a bright smile pulled up her lips.
To be continued...
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