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September 1717

Billy couldn't help his sigh of relief as he jumped from the launch into the surf on Nassau beach. It didn't matter the actual length of the voyage, every trip out felt like too long away, these days. If the crew was aware of how anxious he was to be on his way to the Interior, they didn't show it — but then, he supposed it wasn't even that novel, anymore. After helping to heave the boat up onto the beach, he made his farewells and gathered up his waxed canvas satchel. He began the familiar hike up the hill away from town, the sounds of the beach drifting to silence behind him.

The sun was just setting, leaving the road bathed in twilight, but he knew the way well enough, wouldn't miss the little path that led off the main road even though it would be full dark by the time he got there. The items in his satchel clinked and shifted oddly against each other, and he adjusted the angle of it over his shoulder. He hadn't meant to bring this much back with him, but, well— he didn't see why he should have to show restraint in this of all things.

The path was marked with a white stone, visible even in the faint light of a new moon, but the entrance was nearly hidden by the overgrown hedge. As he ducked past it Billy made a mental note to see to that while he was ashore. The gardens were silent but for the creaking of insects, and he continued on with single-minded focus on his destination, just beyond the orchard. He knew every step of this walk by heart, but in these first moments back on land, it always seemed to take an unreasonable amount of time.

The cottage finally slid into view, its windows lit up in the gathering dusk, the brass bell hung on the porch swaying gently in the breeze and reflecting the candlelight. The smoke billowing from the chimney was just visible against the darkened sky, and as the wind shifted Billy could smell food cooking, certainly worlds better than anything he'd eaten aboard ship.

There was a sweetness to this, to being away so long only to make his way directly home. There was a sweetness to the light spilling from the windows, to the familiar creak of the boards of the porch under his boots, to this last moment of anticipation as he opened the door…

"Miranda? If you came for that book—"

She was in their little kitchen when he entered, and looked up from kneading bread dough to meet his gaze, eyes bright and surprised in the candlelight. There was a smear of flour along her cheekbone.

"Not Miranda, but I did bring you a book," he grinned at her, as Abby quickly dusted off her hands and came to meet him at the door.

He leaned down to kiss her and felt her steady herself with a hand against his chest, knew she was on tip-toe, as eager for this greeting as he was.

"I wasn't expecting you yet!" she exclaimed finally, a little breathless.

"You know I can't stay away too long." He brought a hand up to touch her face, and wiped the flour from her cheek with the pad of his thumb.

She grinned up at him in that impish way he loved so much, and he had to duck down for another quick kiss. At an angry sounding rumble from the pot hung over the hearth, they broke apart, Abby going to stir the soup as Billy set his satchel on the bench by the door and then sat to tug off his boots.

"How was your voyage?" she asked.

"As expected," he shrugged, not feeling he had the energy to go into details just now. She would want all the specifics on how fared their sailing, but there would be time for that, later. "Though Jones is being a prat again, made it feel twice as long."

"You did wonder if perhaps he is more trouble than he's worth," she noted conversationally.

"An opinion I have not yet been swayed from, though I truly thought he'd gotten past all that." He dropped a kiss to the crown of her head as he went by on his way to the wash basin.

"You're inclined to give him a second chance, aren't you?" she asked, reading him easily. "Or, well, a third, I suppose."

"I am feeling particularly generous, at the moment," he grinned at her over his shoulder as he washed. "No need to make any decisions now. We can always foist him off on Vane later on, if we have to."

Abby laughed, surprised but not unkind. "Would serve them both right."

Now that he felt marginally cleaner, at least — Abby would insist on a bath after dinner, and they both knew she wouldn't have to do much to convince him — he pulled a pair of earthen bowls from their low cupboard, and two mismatched silver spoons from the jar on the worktop. Oh, he'd almost forgotten—

He set the dishes on the table then went back over to his satchel on the bench by the door. Opening it up, he rooted around inside for the several objects he'd brought home with him, fished them out and took them back to the table just as Abby brought the warm soup pot over, looking at him curiously. He waited until they were both seated to bring the items out one by one.

"This should probably be washed before we use it, it's been through a bit," he said, presenting her with a single silver spoon. She accepted it with an appreciative noise, holding it up to examine the fine filigree of the handle.

"Thought you might like this," he next brought out a seashell the size of his fist, one of the rare ones he'd never seen by the island.

"Ohh, it's gorgeous."

"And the book I mentioned." He handed her the large leather-bound book, and she turned it over to read the title on the spine.

"Oh! Shakespeare! Excellent, we'll be able to return Miranda's copy, finally."

"Perhaps more a gift for her than for you," he allowed with a laugh. "Though this next one I vote we keep for ourselves."

He placed the bottle of Madeira wine on the table between them, and watched her thought process flicker across her face.

"Oh?" she said, raising her questioning gaze to his.

"It's your birthday next week, I do believe," he said, grinning at her.

She looked startled for a moment and then delighted. "So it is. With the weather here, it seems to sneak up on me." She smiled giddily at him, clearly catching up with his train of thought. "Thank you for the gifts, husband dearest," she said, leaning over to kiss him.

"You are very welcome, my love," he replied when they parted.

"Oh! Wait here," Abby said, touching his hand and rising from her seat, "I forgot the ladle."

Billy laughed and leaned back in his chair, easy and relaxed. "I'm not going anywhere."