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stormy calm

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Rain beat down on the window panes, rattling the glass as the ship shook gently. The sky had gotten so dark that he’d been forced to light several candles around the mirror, even though it was hardly halfway through the day. Charles had let him take use of his cabin on the Ranger from time to time, allowing relative peace and privacy when needed, at times such as this. And so, with a cracked mirror propped up against a pile of rather splendid looking leather books he was sure Charles had never even opened, let alone read, trinkets left by the ill-fated last captain of the Ranger, he got to work.

He took his cloth to the bowl of water prepared in front of him, dipping it into the liquid he’d tried to warm briefly over a small fire, and bringing the soaked rag to his jaw, sweeping it up and wetting his cheek. He moved to the other side, stopping only to dip the cloth again, until the whole lower half of his face was glistening in the light of the candles.

He picked up the blade from where he’d carefully placed it on one of the cleaner-looking books, and wiped it down with the rag, holding it up to the light to look for any imperfections. He found several. Spots of rust near the handle, a dent near the end of the blade. No matter, there wasn’t exactly much he could do about it until he got ashore again. He slowly raised the razor to his cheek, lining it up just right in the mirror, and sweeping down cautiously, he shaved off a wide line of thick stubble, leaving only patches behind. Imperfect, and he’d have to go over a good few times to get it completely smooth where he needed it, but it was a start.

He washed the blade off in the water, watching the dark hairs sink to the bottom of the bowl. He began his next cut, when he suddenly picked up the creak of the cabin door, the wood moving just so.

Waiting a moment, he watched the sliver of light coming through the crack of the open door. Once he was satisfied it wasn’t Charles coming back to speak with him, he spoke.

“Don’t dawdle, whoever you are. I’m rather busy at the moment, can’t you take it up with the captain?” he snapped, returning to his blade. The door opened another few inches, and he saw the slight form of young Miss Bonny, peering at him through the dark of the cabin.

“He was the one who told me you’d be in here.” she said simply, sliding through the gap and into the room. She held her head down, hat obscuring her face. She was still quite unsociable with most of the crew, even now she’d been on the ship a fair while, outlasted a good few of the crew, watched men come and go bloody. She had proved her worth in a hunt very early on, picking up quickly from her training sessions with Jack, even getting bold enough to challenge Charles once or twice. A risky move in Jack’s eyes, he knew Charles would never back down, never go easier on her than he would any other crew member, but she held her own, powerful in her own way if not with Charles’ sheer muscle and experience. Yet she still scurried away when they went to the tavern after a good raid, would eat away from the men on the ship and say little to Jack when he’d join her for meals. They would eat in companionable silence, and the rest of the men would leave them well alone, Charles occasionally calling him up to hear about his latest plot.

He’d insisted on her sleeping near him right from the start, given her history and the proclivities of the men on deck. She’d done so the first night without protest, sleeping under the blankets he’d found for her on top of his own bed roll, while he tried to sleep sitting up against the wood of the hull, dagger in hand, a warning to the men. Once she had gathered her own belongings, a bed roll of her own, she still elected to sleep beside Jack. She would curl away from him, and he’d watch her twitching in her sleep, fighting off some night terror in her dreams, and then say nothing of it in the morning.

They had become quick companions, Jack very much unlike the rest of the brutes on the crew. She gravitated to him even once he’d given her space among the rest of them. Charles had asked Jack rather frankly, not many months after Anne had joined them, if he’d fucked her yet. He’d scoffed at the mere suggestion, the idea of it making him indescribably uncomfortable for some reason, and made a comment about how he was happy enough with getting his cock wet every once in a while ashore. Charles hadn’t asked again, but he’d seen him watching them out of the corner of those narrow eyes, calculating and a little amused.

He hummed and jerked a finger, wordlessly beckoning her to come in and close the door behind her. She did so, slinking out from the shadows, her brow creasing when she caught sight of his equipment laid out in front of him.

“The fuck you doing that for?” she muttered, peering at the blade as he raised it back to his cheek, carefully lining up the first straight swipe of his sideburn. He focused on the mirror as he swiped downwards, seeing only one drop of blood blossom to the surface.

“Well, they don’t just grow like this, you know. ” he said gruffly, cleaning the blade to begin another line. “Did you have something you needed to discuss with me?”

Anne edged closer, ignoring his question. “No other fucker I’ve ever met does it like you do. All pointy, like that.” she said, nodding at him as she crept forward. She nudged the wet cloth laying limp on the wood with her knuckle, watching his reflection. He let out a low chuckle.

“And therein lies the point, my dear.” he said, grabbing the rag to wipe the razor clean with a flourish. Anne continued to frown at him.

“How do you get it so straight on both sides?” she asked, curiosity grasping her as she dragged a chair closer to where Jack sat. He could feel her stare as he shaved again, tidying up the work he had already completed before he swapped to the next cheek.

“Frankly, it’s a miracle if they’re ever even. I can’t remember the last time I had enough spare coin to warrant a barber.” he sighed, inspecting the skin and pulling it taut over his cheekbone. Happy enough with his work, he twisted his chair, angling himself so he could see the other side of his face in the flickering light of the cabin, preparing the next cheek. Suddenly he heard a scrape of wood on wood, and saw Anne standing up, head tilted low enough to obscure her face entirely.

“Let me try.” she said, still refusing to look at Jack directly. He stilled, letting the blade in his hand drop to the bowl with a soft thunk.

“Why?” he asked slowly, frowning at the woman. He watched as she let her fingers fall into the basin, breaking the surface of the water as she swilled them around gently. She shrugged.

“Thought it might help. I can see better than what you can.” she replied nonchalantly, fingers still moving. He could see more of her face now, but it stayed emotionless, mask-like, and Jack remained perplexed by the whole situation at hand.

“You’ve shaved a lot of beards, have you?” he said, shuffling his chair to sit in front of Anne nevertheless. She took the blade from the basin, wiping the handle roughly with the rag.

“I’m steady enough with a sword, and a dagger. Ain’t that much different.” she said, low and quiet as she came to stand right in front of him with the razor at hand. Her small stature put her almost at a height with him, even with him sat down, and all it took was for Anne to gently tilt his face upwards, fingers underneath his chin, to put him at the perfect angle. He hummed in agreement. She wasn’t exactly wrong, he’d seen what she could do to a man after all.

She left her hand at his chin as she carefully judged the angle, bringing up the blade to his cheek. He drew a breath in, holding it in his chest and trying to keep as still as the dead as the sharp edge swept down, taking the dark hairs with it. He focused on the press of callouses on his skin, softer than his own, and swallowed.

“I’ll not forgive you if you bugger this up, you know.” he joked. Anne continued to work, ignoring Jack as she went between his cheek and the bowl of water. He listened to the sound of the rain as it hammered at the side of the ship, the storm picking up slightly and making the room sway, the waterline of the basin tipping in the corner of his vision.

“Should get back on deck when this is done, if Vane ain’t already sent men looking for us. Lend a hand.” Anne said after a few minutes of silence while she continued to tidy up the edges of his sideburns, eyes darting quickly over different points on his face. Jack could feel her breath, warm and sweetened by the rum the crew had broken out earlier, on the wetness of his jaw. He wondered if she could see his pulse thudding underneath the thin skin of his neck, but if she had then she’d payed little attention to it. This close, he had been forced to stare at the pale brown constellations dotted underneath her eyes, and he could have sworn he’d have been able to count them if pressed.

She stood back, looking over him with a scrutinising eye. Tilting his chin to and fro once more, she examined the angles there, and seemed happy enough with her work, crossing her arms over her chest with a pleased huff.

“Look alright to you?” she asked, a smile playing about her eyes. He grabbed the rag once more, wiping his face off as he shuffled back to the mirror perched upon the books. He brought a hand to his skin, flushed and smooth, and compared the triangles of hair on either side. As good and even a shave as any other he’d paid his fair share of gold for in his time. He really was rather impressed with her work.

“You’ve a talent for it, truly.” he admitted, giving Anne a grin as he dismantled his set-up, returning Charles’ cabin to its usual chaos bit by bit. He saw her shuffle awkwardly as he returned the chairs and Charles’ blankets and draperies back to where they belonged, from where Jack had stowed them from harms way. “So, what do I owe you for the pleasure?” he joked as he moved around the room. Anne said nothing, but continued to watch him as her expression turned strange, the small bit of smugness that had crossed her features all but disappeared. “All I can offer is half a bottle of rum, or some tobacco perhaps, but I’m rather low on that so I’m afraid it’ll only be a pinch.”

She shrugged, head tilted towards the floor as she closed back in on herself again. “I offered. You didn’t ask, so.”

He watched as she slowly went to the door of the cabin, back still hunched over. He felt something strange come about him, and felt the need to follow her, grabbing the basin of now-dirty water with one hand and racing to open the door with the other, holding it open higher up than Anne had been able to reach. She froze in the doorway rather than let Jack follow her into the heart of the ship, and turned around to face him. He backed away slightly, far too aware of their proximity, close enough again to see the freckles that scattered over Anne’s cheekbones. He took a deep breath, staring down at the woman in front of him.

“Thank you, is…is what I meant to say. Thank you, Anne.” he said, sincere for once and hesitant. He stepped backwards another foot, nudging his head forwards and encouraging her to move into the ship.

Anne raised her head, wild ocean eyes meeting his own, her face hard. She took a step towards him and Jack felt himself gulp before she went on tiptoes. A heartbeat passed and he felt a pair of soft lips press against the corner of his own, overlapping his mouth slightly. She had raised her hand to cup the cheek opposite, her calloused finger pressing against the smooth skin there. As quick as Anne had kissed him, she dropped down and lowered her hand to her side again, hat turned down towards the sea to hide her face.

Jack stood, stunned and with his heart pounding, and watched her disappear into the ship without a word. He put his fingers to where her kiss still lingered, and was too dazed to react when a large wave rocked the Ranger, sending him crashing backwards into the door of Charles’ cabin.

Stumbling into the door had managed to knock some sense into him, at least, and he swore as he steadied the basin he still held. It had been sloshing water over his boots. He heard Charles call out his name, a shout to get him on deck, and a grin slowly spread over his face as he walked out of the cabin. He held his head tall as he strode, bolstered by the sound of the rain and the waves, still rather unsure of what had just occurred, but willing to assume it had meant plenty of good things going forward. Jack was, if nothing else, an optimist at heart.