"What's that effing racket?" Anne roused herself as the pounding kept going. Max watched her as she pulled on her shirt but nothing else to answer the front door.
"Who's there?" Anne called, half reaching for the knife she kept by the bedroom door times such as these. The streets were more peaceful now but they still had enemies. She started down the hall towards the front room.
"It's me." The voice was still muffled slightly but Anne stiffened in recognition. She shot a look back at Max but Max had already sat up, reaching for the robe across the foot of the bed. She followed Anne down the hall.
Anne still hesitated, looking at her and Max nodded at Anne who released the bolt with a sigh and opened the door.
Eleanor leaned against the doorway. Her hair was loose, falling over her face. Her clothes smelt of rum. She tilted her head to look at Anne.
“I knew you’d be here.”
There was no menace in the words but the tension hadn’t left Anne. She waited, looking at Max, wanting to know what she wanted to do.
“Eleanor, why are you here?” Max tied the belt around her waist, folding her arms over her breasts.
Eleanor shrugged. “Thought we could all be friends.” She lifted the bottle she’d been holding in her hand, offering it to Anne.
“Bottle’s half empty.” Anne observed.
Another shrug. “Started without you.”
Max sighed. “Eleanor, this is…” She paused, moving closer again but clearly hesitant to speak.
“I should go.” Eleanor turned away, half lurching against the doorframe again.
Max half started forward, but Anne had already moved to steady her. “Why don’t you come in?”
Max gave Anne a sharp look; so did Eleanor for that matter.
“Is that such a good idea?” Max asked very quietly, but Eleanor heard it all the same.
“Yeah, is it a good idea?” She gave Anne a suggestive look and Anne just sighed.
“Would you rather leave her out there?”
Max shook her head.
“Didn’t think so.”
Anne shut the door and turned around to look at Eleanor was studying the bottle in her hands. This time when Eleanor offered it, it was Anne’s turn to shrug and take it.
“I can think of several reasons.” Max murmured, watching Anne tip the bottle back.
Anne wiped her mouth. “She’s already here.”
“She’s right here.” Eleanor agreed, looking around the room. “She can hear you.”
Anne nodded. “Yeah, you want to talk about that?”
Eleanor shook her head. She rested a hand on the wall, and then slowly slid down to sit on the floor.
Max stood there, her hands on her hips. For a moment, she felt just looked at Eleanor as though she couldn’t really see her, as though there was nothing she could say or do to move forward through this moment, and then she found herself going to Eleanor, crouching down. Gently, she took Eleanor’s hands in hers, holding them close. It had been a long time since she had held Eleanor’s like this and she marveled at how cold they were in her grasp.
“Whatever it is.” She clasped Eleanor’s hands more tightly. “It’s all right.”
“Is it?” Eleanor whispered. She leaned forward slightly and there was no hesitation as Max rested her forehead against Eleanor’s.
“It is.” She murmured. “It is.”
* * *
They helped Eleanor into bed, or rather helped her lay down and then Eleanor immediately curled her way around a pillow and fell asleep, snoring softly into the pillow. Max had helped her get undressed down to her shirt and underthings, undoing her boots in spite of Eleanor’s protests that she “needed them, in case of an attack.”
Anne watched silently as Max hung Eleanor’s shirt and skirt over a chair, smoothing them with careful hands before she looked up. There was so much they could say, but after a moment Max just said.
“Thank you, for letting her in.”
Anne just nodded.
Max sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. “Now I am the one who needs a drink.”
Anne gestured to the bottle she had set on the dresser. Max gave a helpless shrug of her shoulders and took a swig. She studied Eleanor’s sleeping form for a moment, and then took another.
“What’re you thinking?” Anne asked softly.
Max took another drink, and Anne moved behind her, slipping her hands around Max’s waist, pressing her lips to the back of her neck.
“You can tell me.” Anne’s words were still low as she pressed another kiss to Max’s skin.
“I’m thinking…I don’t know what brought her here, but I hope…” She cut herself off and took another drink.
“You gonna tell me, or you want to get proper drunk?” Anne asked the question in all fairness, giving her the honest option.
Max licked her lips and then she turned in Anne’s embrace so they faced each other. She put her arms around Anne, the bottle pressing into Anne’s back. Max kissed Anne, tasting her lips slowly, softly, like she wasn’t sure how Anne would respond.
Anne responded by pressing her back against the wall, kissing Max deeply. Their bodies melded into each other. Max seemed as though she were trying to drown herself in Anne. When she finally broke apart, she was panting, her breasts heaving. Her eyes were focused on Anne’s, her lips parted, savoring the taste of Anne.
Anne felt it through her clothes, the rapid rush of her heartbeat. She felt her own heart beating in response, a warmth of love sent out to Max. Did this woman have any idea how much she loved her? She still sailed with Jack, and she carried her sword, and she was her own woman, but her heart belonged to Max, and she would lay at her doorstep, begging if Max ever closed it on her now. She hadn’t known she was capable of loving someone this much, not like this. Jack was different; Jack would always be different. She would always love Jack, but Max’s love for Eleanor was different, and she had not chosen to give Eleanor up. Not truly. It had been forced upon Max, to keep her heart from breaking further, to keep herself in some measure of control. It wasn’t fair.
“I asked her once…to run away with me.” Max looked Eleanor over Anne’s shoulder, and then she turned towards the wall, as though she couldn’t bear to look at Anne, for fear of what she’d see.
“Hey.” Anne reached over to touch her chin with her fingers, drawing Max’s face up. “After all the shit you’ve been through with Jack and me...it’s only fair I help you with this.”
Max half chuckled. “You.” She reached up to clasp Anne’s face in her hands. “You know I love you.”
“Yeah, I know.” Anne kissed her palm. She didn’t add, I know you love her too. She thought she didn’t need to.
* * *
They slept, the three of them in the bed. Eleanor on the far side where she had fallen asleep. Max beside her, not falling asleep for the longest time, in case Eleanor woke and needed something. And then Anne on her other side, her hand resting on Max’s hip, her face buried in Max’s hair.
* * *
In the morning Eleanor woke, her mouth dry and head aching. She hadn’t consciously decided to get drunk for once. She had simply needed to think of nothing, to drift from the place she had landed, and then once she was drinking, she had found herself thinking of Max. A sore spot amongst all the things she had done, but something she could still…do, fix, amend, apologize for. She wasn’t sure what she had meant to do, but she had definitely headed towards Max’s quarters with the intention of speaking with her.
She didn’t know where she stood these days. She didn’t want to sleep in the bed where her husband had slept beside her, even though he wasn’t there. A husband she had married out of convenience and necessity, a husband she had hoped would be other than he was, only to discover he wasn’t.
Eleanor had only remembered the existence of Anne when she opened the door. This sharp-faced woman who had stolen her way into Max’s heart. A woman who somehow deserved to safeguard Max’s heart. It wasn’t that Eleanor didn’t believe she was. It was that she didn’t want someone else to be the person Max went to, or had in her bed, or held in her arms.
It was a bit hypocritical on her part. Eleanor knew that perfectly well. She who had loved Vane with all her girlish foolish heart, and married Woodes, and still she wanted part of herself, her heart in particular, some portion of it, to still be held carefully in care by Max, where it belonged. And she wanted that in return, for Max to know that Eleanor always had part of her with her. She'd thought she had lost that chance, somehow.
And then Anne Bonny had opened the door and let her in.
* * *
She knew Anne was sleeping there on the other side of Max; she could sense her. Eleanor reached for Max’s hair, brushing her cheek and then she sighed and sat up. She needed to leave. She needed to sort herself out. She didn’t want to leave this bed or this room or Max. Even with Anne there. Maybe her pride had completely left her or, maybe she had grown to realize the complexities of people were simply beyond her.
She rose and walked to the window. She had woken in beds beside Max far more times than she could count but this time her heart rested so heavily in her chest, she wasn’t sure she could bear it.
Behind her Eleanor could hear Anne moving around the room. She knew she had to face her, but still Eleanor delayed, watching the view of the sea far beyond the town.
Eleanor turned to see Anne holding out a cup of water.
“Drink it. It’ll help.” Anne’s voice was gruff, but not unkind.
Eleanor accepted the water. “Thank you.”
She watched Anne and Anne watched her and sooner or later Max would wake up and then there would be another pair of eyes to avoid. The room was suddenly too small for Eleanor’s aching head. Eleanor finished the water and set the cup down.
“I should go.”
“You don’t have to.”
At that, Eleanor couldn’t looking surprised. “Why?”
“She’ll want to talk to you.” Anne nodded at the bed.
“Will she?” Eleanor’s fists were knotted tightly.
Anne looked at her hard then. “You trying to tell me you don’t want to talk to her?”
“What is there to say?”
“What were you going to say last night?”
Eleanor closed her eyes briefly. “Last night, I foolishly let myself drink too much and got nostalgic over what was between us.”
“Mmm.” Anne nodded. “I know that feeling.” She glanced towards the bed. “I just think…the two of you should talk.”
“Why did you let me in last night?”
Now Anne looked at Eleanor quick and careful. She folded her arms over her chest, gnawing her lip before she finally responded. “I let you in because she wanted you to be safe. And I owed you. You helped me that night on the beach, you were half of that plan and I hated you for being so fucking brilliant and I…”
“You don’t owe me anything.” That was the last thing Eleanor wanted. She especially didn’t want to think about that time on the beach when she had failed Max so utterly that Max had turned to Vane instead.
“Maybe not.” Anne shrugged. “But I’ll still help you if I can.”
“Thank you.” Eleanor said after a moment.
Anne nodded and then, abruptly reached for the jug on the washstand. “I’ll just go and get some more water.”
She was gone before Eleanor could speak.
* * *
Outside the room Anne leaned against the door. What the fuck was she doing, practically leaving them in bed together? When she knew full well that Eleanor still cared for Max, and Max would never stop loving Eleanor. Not fully, not completely. There was no way for that to end, not with how Max carried this in her heart. And as selfish as Anne knew she was at times, and Anne felt no remorse over that, she didn’t want that to end. She didn’t want Max to let go of something she wanted, not as long as Max wanted to carry it. When Anne looked at Eleanor, maybe she was jealous of her beauty, yeah, all right, that she could admit to, for Eleanor was beautiful. But she understood why Max loved her, and Anne wouldn’t take that away from her.
She set her jaw and went to fetch the water like she’d said.
* * *
Max woke slowly, like she had been submerged underwater for a long time. She had dreamed, but the dreams had been murky and bewildering and now she wanted to clear her head. She wanted to dive into the sea and drift upon the waves. She wanted…
“Are you awake?”
Eleanor. Eleanor was still there. Max turned over and saw her sitting on the other side of the bed. She was already dressed and all Max could think was she had missed watching Eleanor go through that ritual of dressing, as she had a hundred times. She missed that intimacy with this woman, she missed Eleanor so much at times she thought her heart would shatter. Even now. Even now when she’d thought she’d come far enough that she didn’t love Eleanor anymore. It wasn’t true. It would never be true. There was a moment of heaviness, her chest tightening, and then it was gone.
She sat up, resting her hands on either side of her on the bed. The acceptance of that realization was simply there, like the daylight. She could walk through it and not let it weigh her down.
“Anne went to get some water. She thought we should talk.” Eleanor’s voice was measured and contained. She would listen and she would go.
Max turned, reaching across the bed, catching her wrist. “Eleanor. I….”
Eleanor looked down at her hand, holding her wrist. She should go, she should go. After the kindness Anne had shown her she should go. Instead, slowly and deliberately she leaned down, bringing Max’s hand up to her lips, kissing her palm.
* * *
Max gazed at her in silence, letting the warmth of the kiss pass over her skin from her palm to her heart. She had never thought she would feel Eleanor’s lips again. Now, sitting here with her, looking at her, she was sharply aware of how long it had been since Eleanor had last kissed her, and now she felt as though she would die if Eleanor never kissed her again.
“Eleanor.” She whispered the name like a prayer, still fearful of uttering it aloud.
“I have missed you so.” Eleanor still held her hand and now she traced her thumb over the heart of Max’s palm. “Sometimes I thought I would die if I never saw you again.”
Max closed her eyes. It hurt too much to be with her now, to sit here and still hear these things.
“I am so sorry, Max. I thought…I thought it mattered. And I thought I made the right decision and now I don’t know anymore. I don’t want the chair if it means not having you.”
“Eleanor.” Max began and then Eleanor leaned and kissed her.
This time the shock of it raced through Max’s body, the heat and desire building within her. She cupped Eleanor’s face with her hands, a face her hands knew so well, they felt blessed to touch her so once again.
“I’ve missed you too.” She whispered when they finally drew apart.
Eleanor rested her forehead against Max’s, and then pulled back with a sigh. “I should be going.” She made no move to leave the bed, her hands still held Max’s tightly. “I should go.” She repeated, willing herself to do what was necessary and yet she couldn’t.
“And where is it you’re going to then, eh?”
They both looked up sharply to see Anne standing in the doorway, watching them. Eleanor’s face flushed; she hadn’t even heard the door open.
“Eleanor was just…” Max began and then her voice died away as though she wasn’t sure how to end that sentence.
“ know what she was just.” Anne said, half scornfully. “’not a fool.” She muttered, half to herself.
“I never took you for a fool.” Eleanor stood at last.
“Then don’t take me for one now.” Anne told her. “Answer the question. Where are you going?”
“I…” Eleanor said helplessly. It was true. She didn't have an answer.
“Because it sure sounded to me as though you were leaving that husband of yours or you were wanting to, last night. Changed your mind now that you’ve sobered up? Is that it?” There was a challenging note to her words.
“No.” Eleanor’s chin jutted out stubbornly. “I’m leaving him. I just haven’t decided whether to... to…”
“To ask her to run away you?” Anne jerked her head in Max’s direction. “Why don’t you try it then?”
“Because I don’t believe she would.” Eleanor shot back. “Because of you.”
Anne’s lip curled. “You’re not wrong.”
“Excuse me, but I believe I have some say in this.”
They both looked at Max then. She still sat upon the bed, her hands folded upon her lap. “You’re both correct.” She looked at Eleanor, pain showing in her clear eyes. “I would not run away with you now because of her.”
“Max.” Eleanor began but Max held up her hand and she fell silent.
“All the same,” now she looked to Anne. “I do not wish her gone from my life, even now and I cannot change that.”
“I know.” Anne’s voice was hoarse. “It’s all right.”
“Is it?” Max asked softly. “Would it be all right if Eleanor stayed in Nassau and ran her own business and was not far away over the sea in England?”
“If it’s all right with you.” Anne nodded.
Max looked to Eleanor. “I don’t know your plans, or what methods you’re devising to secure your departure from your husband.”
Eleanor looked very weary suddenly. “I have kept records of his debts. If he will not grant me a divorce in a civil fashion, I will send word to my grandfather to make it known that the name of Woodes Rogers is that of a liar and a cheat.” She didn’t look forward to the thought of that conversation.
“Will it come to that?”
Eleanor shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“But once you are separated from him, you do plan to stay in Nassau?”
“I’m not sure…” Eleanor started to pace. “I had thought to go to Boston, perhaps, but…” She looked at Max. “If you’re willing…if you’re staying here.”
“I’m staying here.” Max said softly. “This is where the pirate ships return to, after all.” She sent a look at Anne.
“Always.” Anne murmured.
Eleanor watched them. “All right. I’ll stay.”
* * *
She meant stay in Nassau, not in their house, but there were nights she still wound up sleeping on a corner of the bed, or often on the sofa when it was late and she didn’t want to wake anyone. It was just until she found a place of her own.
Eleanor had known it would be hard, starting afresh yet again, in a place that held no respect for her. A fair share of the town’s population still spat when she passed by on the street, and she heard the whispers and the sneers, the children laughing, but she ignored them as she had always done. There were others who thought well of her for leaving the governor’s house, and the governor behind. For as much as she hadn’t been liked on the island, Rogers was liked even less. She found some small comfort in that.
Eventually she took rooms in a small house at the end of town while she waited for her grandfather to respond to her request, and when it came at last, she wasn’t surprised to see her grandmother’s handwriting instead.
My dearest Eleanor,
I know you are fully aware that you are always welcome to come home to us in Boston, but I am very proud of you all the same for continuing to make your own way in Nassau. The funds you have requested are enclosed, and I trust you to invest them wisely. I look forward to your regular correspondence. I wish you the best of luck, my dear.
It was a new beginning and Eleanor resolved to make the most of it. She hired two men who had been reliable employees in the past. She rebuilt the storehouse and started organizing.
She sent a basket of fruit to Max, and a bottle of brandy to Anne with a note to thank them for their kindness. She had seen Anne in the streets since that day, and Max in the window of the tavern, but there had been no chance to speak. Or rather Eleanor had kept herself from finding that opportunity yet. She wanted to stand upon her own two feet before she called on Max.
* * *
She had thought the hardest part would be facing Woodes but when it came down to it, it was cold and efficiently done. He allowed her to pack her things and that was more than she had expected.
It was remarkably easy to select things to place inside the valise. There was so little of herself in this place. It had never truly been her home and the tightness coiled inside her was easing slowly as she readied herself to leave it.
When she went down the stairs, he stood in the doorway of the office. “A moment if you don’t mind.”
“All right.” Eleanor set her valise down and followed him into the room.
It seemed strange to stand here with this man now, to feel as distant from him as though she were on the other side of the ocean, with no inclination or desire to cross it to reach him.
“You know I still need you here.” He said. “The aftermath of this…” He gestured at the heap of papers on his desk, all his debts come back to haunt him now that his deal with Spain had fallen through. The pirates might have lost their war, but he was losing too. It was only a matter of time before he was arrested and they both knew it.
“I’m sorry.” Eleanor said softly. “But I can’t stay.”
“I expected no less frankly, but I thought I’d ask.” He paused. “Will you do me the courtesy of answering one question?”
Eleanor faced him evenly. “If I can.”
“Did you ever feel anything for me?”
What was there to say to that? Eleanor wet her lips. There was the truth. There was necessity. There was what she had done to survive, and there was her own ability to let her heart mutate into what she needed to achieve that. She wondered if anyone had ever been able to understand that, if anyone could. Other than Max.
“Not as you wanted me to.” She said at last. “No.”
He nodded to himself and turned away. The last she saw was him standing, staring into the shadows, his hand resting on the back of the governor’s chair.
* * *
Eleanor took her valise back to her rooms and set it down. Then she sat on the bed and closed her eyes, breathing in deep. The silence of the room overwhelmed her and she bit down hard on her lower lip for a moment.
“It’s done.” She told herself. “It’s done.”
Then she smoothed her skirts and rose, to see about the day’s work.
* * *
There was a pounding at her door and Eleanor clasped the handle of her pistol in her belt before she went to it.
“What is it?”
“Let me in.”
Eleanor pulled open the door to find Anne half leaning over, one hand braced against the door.
“Fuck’s sake, let me in.” Anne muttered. Her other hand clutched her side. Eleanor stood back and let her in. Anne entered and then swayed slightly.
“Got any rum?”
“You need a fucking doctor.” Eleanor went to her.
Anne half shrugged her off but then let Eleanor ease her over to the bed to sit. “I need a drink is what I need.”
“Why haven’t you gone home?” Eleanor fetched her bottle. She figured if she gave Anne what she wanted it’d be easier to get at her wounds.
“Because I told her it wasn’t dangerous.” Anne tipped the bottle back. “And I hate lying to her.”
“So don’t.” Eleanor’s tone was sharper than she meant. She reached for the folds of Anne’s coat, pulling it open.
The wound wasn’t as bad as she feared though, and the rum kept Anne busy while she washed it and wrapped a bandage around Anne’s slim waist. Eleanor was aware of how important this woman was to Max as she tended her, how much it mattered that she be all right.
“You really should see a doctor.” She repeated.
“This is good enough.” Anne eyed her. “You’re doing well.”
It was an observation, not a question. Eleanor nodded all the same.
“Heard you left the governor’s house and all.”
“It’s done.” Eleanor went to stand by the window. It was late, the lights of town were dying down. She suddenly felt so very weary. If anything happened to Anne, she would never forgive herself.
“Good.” Anne said curtly.
“What difference does it make?”
Anne shrugged and then winced, pressing a hand to her wound. “It don’t make no difference, not to me, but to Max it does.”
Eleanor waited but she said no more and when she looked back, she saw Anne had leaned against the the headboard and fallen asleep.
Eleanor sighed and went over to her. Slowly she maneuvered Anne down into a more comfortable position, taking care not to jostle her wound. Then she covered her with a blanket and gazed at her for a moment before sliding under the blanket with her. The warmth of Anne was oddly comforting as well as the familiar scents of gunpowder and sweat clinging to her skin and clothes. Eleanor closed her eyes and slept.
* * *
She woke with her face pressed into Anne’s tangled hair. For a moment she wasn’t sure where she was, or who she was with, but then Anne murmured something sleepily and Eleanor remembered the night before. She should check Anne’s wound before she left. If she were lucky, she could do it before Anne even woke.
She sat up quietly, but Anne’s eyes flickered open all the same.
For a moment they just looked at each other and then with a groan, Anne sat up.
“How’s your wound?”
“Feels like shit.” Anne slowly stood. “I’ve had worse.”
“I’m sure.” Eleanor watched her make her way to the basin where she splashed water over her face and then turned.
In the dim morning light, in her shirt and bandage, Anne looked oddly vulnerable. She had to be the same age or even older than Eleanor and still she had the urge to reassure her somehow. Eleanor squashed the thought firmly. What a ridiculous idea, reassuring Anne Bonny of all people.
“What’re you going to do now?” Please say you’re going home to Max, she will be worried. Please.
At the same time she understood Anne not wanting to face Max, not yet. She would have done the same thing in her boots.
“I’m going home.” Anne said softly. “I just wanted to get it tended too before I went there.” She looked at Eleanor. “You know she wants to see you.”
“I’d thought…” Eleanor hesitated. “I wondered if that had just been…something she said.” She had been so afraid that deep down Max hadn’t really wanted her to stay, she hadn’t wanted to truly examine the thought that she did.
Anne shook her head. “She wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it.”
She pulled her coat on, only a faint wince this time, and found her hat. “So I suppose I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah.” Eleanor followed her to the door.
Anne paused in the door. “Thanks again for last night.”
“There’s no need.” Eleanor told her. “I owed you.”
Anne gave her a fleeting half smile and then she was gone, making her way down the street. Eleanor watched her till she was out of sight.
* * *
She told herself she would go see Max the following week, but the very next morning there was a knock at her door and this time it was Max waiting there.
Eleanor stopped, gazing at her in silence.
“Anne told me, what you did.” Max began. “How can I thank you for…for.” Her eyes were reddened, and the thought of Max crying tore at Eleanor’s heart.
“I was glad to do it.” She said softly, reaching out to take Max’s hand.
Max let herself be drawn into the room, and then she pressed herself into Eleanor’s surprised embrace.
“If I had lost her, I don’t know what I would do.” She whispered. “I so nearly lost her, through my own betrayal and stupidity, if I lost her now…I don’t think I could bear it.”
“You could, if you had to.” Eleanor told her, her arms firmly around Max. “You’re so strong, Max, you can bear anything.” But you shouldn’t have to, she thought, and never again was she going to put Max in a position where she had to do such a thing. Never again, Eleanor vowed.
“How could I?” Max turned her face upward, gazing at her. “When I haven’t gotten over losing you?”
Eleanor had no words to answer that, but her lips met Max’s in a response all their own.
* * *
She drew Max down on the bed, letting her hands follow the familiar ritual. Every shared breath, every movement as their bodies touched and drew apart, every kiss as new as the first time, as familiar as time, the scent of Max filling the air as Eleanor knelt between her thighs, wanting more. Max gasped aloud in the morning air, her fingers pulling at Eleanor’s hair. Eleanor just pressed closer, wanting more and more, knowing all the while, it would never be enough, even now.
Afterwards she lay with Max in her arms, listening to the sound of her breath in the still air.
“I am still with Anne.” Max murmured at last.
“I know.” Eleanor stroked her hair. “I know.” She had no illusions on that front. But the thought that Max had come to her, it meant something. She couldn’t ignore that either.
“But you have left him.” Max pushed herself up to study Eleanor’s face. “You are free.”
“Yes.” Eleanor told her. “I am free.”
She leaned in, clasping Max’s face as she kissed her again.
“Good.” Max rested her forward against Eleanor’s. “Good.”
* * *
Anne half sat, half lay in bed, resting ostensibly. She had promised she would rest for today, and that promise (and the fact that their housekeeper Marie was there in case she needed anything) was the only reason Max had left.
Anne gazed at the ceiling, ignoring the faint twinge of pain. She had had worse wounds., as she’d said. The bleeding had just been inconvenient. She didn’t want to return to Max covered in blood, putting that fear in her. It had been instinct that had led her to Eleanor’s door, and she had known from the moment she knocked, that it would simply entangle the three of them further, and she knocked anyway.
She didn’t know what the fuck she was doing. If Jack wasn’t gone on one of his stupid trips to Boston (every few months or so now, he traveled to keep Lady Guthrie updated on the progress of Nassau), she would have wanted to sit and drink with him, maybe try to talk about it, but maybe just having him there would have helped.
You stuck by me, she thought. You stayed, even when I wasn’t everything you wanted, how you wanted.
Even now, she knew if she sent word to Boston that she needed him, she knew that he would come. She wanted Max to have that certainty. She wanted Max to have that in her life, people who would come running if she needed them, if she wanted them, and Eleanor Guthrie was one of those people.
The front door opened and Anne tensed. She heard it close, and the faint sound of footsteps in the hall. She waited till the door opened and Max stood there.
Max closed the door behind her and looked at Anne. “At least you’re still in bed.”
“I said I’d rest, didn’t I?” Anne leaned back against the pillows a little more.
Max smiled and came around the bed to her. “I know.” She sat down beside Anne, resting her hand on Anne’s knee. “I know that’s hard for you.”
Anne waited, watching her face. She knew what had happened; she could tell. But she wanted, no, she needed Max to tell her. As long as Max told her, she knew it would be all right. Somehow, this thing between them would work itself out. As long as Max told. So she waited, forcing herself to sit still.
“I saw Eleanor.” Max began. “And when I spoke with her, I realized again how close I came to losing you.”
“The wound’s not that bad.” Anne started, but Max shook her head.
“You know I don’t mean that.”
“I know. Because I’ve done things.” Anne shrugged. “You’ve done things. Fucking Jack’s done things, cutting me off from his crew. We all made those choices, and we have to live with them.”
“What if I can’t?” Max’s eyes were sorrow filled. “What if I can’t live with what I did to you?”
“Too fucking bad.” Anne murmured, reaching for her. She cupped Max’s face with her hand. “I have to live with what I did to you.”
Max froze. “Is that why you’re doing this? You regret what happened?”
“Of course I regret it.” Anne snarled. “You think I could ever not regret that? What happened to you? What I caused to happen to you?” She started to pull away but Max caught her wrist.
“It’s behind us.” Her grip was steady on Anne’s skin. “Anne…yes, I can live.”
“Good,” Anne’s voice was muffled, her face half turned away. “Cause I need you to live.”
She kissed Max, stroking her face, soft touches, still so aware of the past with each caress.
“I slept with Eleanor.” Max whispered as they broke apart.
Anne grinned wryly. “Wondered if you were gonna tell me.”
Max searched her face, studying her reaction. “You’re not mad.”
Anne shrugged, and then winced. “No.”
“You still love her.” Anne said matter-of-factly.
Max bit her lip, but she didn’t deny it.
Anne leaned close, wrapping her hand around Max’s, brushing her thumb over Max’s. “I love you, and you love me, and you love Eleanor, and Eleanor and I…can probably tolerate each other.”
Max laughed in spite of herself. “You would do that?”
“I’d do anything for you.” Anne whispered. Once there had been a time that wasn’t true, but she had changed and she knew it, and while it had scared her, the first time she had woken in the night, gazing at Max while she slept beside her, that knowledge of loving her so much she would do anything at all for her, she had since accepted it. She had killed men in the dead of night for Max; that was a bond she and Eleanor had between them still.
* * *
It was a few days after that that Eleanor received a formal invitation to dinner, or as formal as you get when the invitation involved Anne Bonny tossing it at you and saying, “You coming or what?”
* * *
Eleanor dressed carefully though she didn't know why she was taking care at all. It was just dinner for god's sake. Still she took care with her hair, and her dress, one of the few slightly fancier dresses she had taken when she packed her things. A dress she had seen Max looking at more than once.
She brought a bottle of wine and flowers with her as a gift, dimly remembering that was the sort of thing one did.
* * *
When she came to Anne and Max's place, she stopped and looked at the lit windows. it looked warm and welcoming and there was a lump in Eleanor's throat as she gazed at the home they had made together. A home that could have been hers.
But that wasn't fair, she reminded herself. If she had gone with Max, it would have been different, they would have gone somewhere. It would have looked different. This was what Max and Anne made together. It wasn't fair to be envious of it, but she was all the same.
She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Max pulled the door almost immediately. "Good evening."
Eleanor's nervousness faded as she gazed at Max. “You look…”
She had seen Max in all her glory, seen her dressed as fine as any lady in London, seen her in nothing at all and been blessed by the sight, but she had never seen Max as she saw her now. Quietly, serenely happy. And looking entirely too damn fuckable in a rich blue dress that made Eleanor’s fingers itch to touch her again.
“Yes?” Max raised an eyebrow. “Was there more or…”
Eleanor laughed and handed her the flowers. “You know how beautiful you are.”
Max smiled at her over the flowers and Eleanor followed her inside the house.
* * *
Eleanor realized as she sat in their front room, that what she really was was envious, envious of Anne in so many respects. Anne still held a position on a ship, she belonged somewhere. Eleanor had her business but she had thought more than once that she would like to be on her own ship. If the business succeeded perhaps next year she could buy a ship and hire a captain she trusted.
Anne leaned against the mantle, eyeing her.
Eleanor drank her brandy. "How's your wound?"
"Healing." Anne took her sip of her own brandy.
Max came in then and sat. "Marie said the dinner would be served shortly."
"This is very pleasant." Eleanor said after there had been a moment of silence. She had made society talk before; she could do it easily, but she had never done with Max before. That hadn't been their relationship. and she couldn't fathom having it now with Anne. She looked around the room. “I like the curtains."
"I have always wanted curtains like this."
“The fuck are we talking about curtains for?”
“The curtains are nice.” Max said unperturbed by her lover’s tone.
“Of course, they’re nice. You chose them.”
Eleanor couldn’t help smiling at that.
* * *
They sat down to dinner and again there was the awkwardness of making conversation.
It would be easier if we were all on a ship, Eleanor thought. With something to do. Here the food, while delicious, was barely any distraction. Anne ate steadily, but made little conversation so it was mostly Max and Eleanor.
“And business is good?” Max inquired.
“Slow, but growing.” Eleanor nodded. “I think they’re all curious to see if I’ll fail again. Half of them hope I will, I expect.”
“The street is easily swayed.” Max told her. “If you continue as you have these last few weeks, they will come around.”
“I hope so.” Eleanor took a sip of wine. “I confess, it’s good to get back to work. I’ve had so little to do this last year.” She paused. “Well, any sort of real work.”
“Seems to me, being a governor’s wife is work enough.” Anne commented.
“It was.” Eleanor said flatly. “And I don’t miss it.”
“Didn’t think so.” Anne’s lip curled faintly. “Fucking bastard.”
“Anne.” Max shot her a look.
Anne sighed but took a drink of wine.
“It’s quite all right.” Eleanor assured her. Although she wasn’t as ready to speak of Woodes like that, it was almost refreshing to hear someone else do so. She enjoyed Anne’s open animosity towards someone, when it wasn’t aimed directly at her. “I think Anne should speak plainly.”
“Oh?” Max didn’t look as though she agreed with this at all.
“Sure you want that?” Anne challenged.
“It’s better than not saying it.” Eleanor reasoned.
“All right. We should go to bed together.” Anne nodded at her. “The three of us.”
“What?” Eleanor choked on her wine. That she hadn’t been expecting.
Anne shrugged. “I mean, it’s never going to be the same as you two. But it might make things easier between the three of us.”
Max just stared at her incredulously, and then abruptly got up and left the room.
Anne watched her and then with a sight, went after her.
Eleanor stayed at the table and poured herself more wine while she thought about what the fuck to do next.
* * *
“What’s wrong?” Anne asked once they were in the kitchen alone.
“What’s wrong?” Max turned to her, her hands on her hips. “You just suggested we all go to bed together.”
Max sighed. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I know that.” Anne sounded exasperated. “You think I don’t know that?”
“I want you to know how much I value what we have, that I don’t want to risk losing it simply because of my own stupidity.”
“Hey, hey.” Anne caught her hand. “It ain’t stupid to want to hold on to something you love.”
Max gazed at her, and she was aware that perhaps she had not been giving Anne enough credit. They had maneuvered their way through the whole business with Jack after all. And he was still there, he had a room in their house. He still belonged in Anne’s life. Would it be so wrong to admit that she wanted that for Eleanor too? That she didn’t want to let go of her?
“If ever you…”
Anne held her hands very gently. “I know what you’re willing to give up for me.” Her words were very soft, but each one curled deep in Max’s heart. “I know.”
“Good.” Max murmured, kissing her fiercely.
* * *
When they returned to the sitting room however, Eleanor was reaching for her jacket.
“I should go.” Eleanor said. “The two of you. I can’t come between that.” Her face looked miserable and Anne thought if she saw Eleanor Guthrie actually fucking cry the world might end.
“For fuck’s sake, do I have to talk the both of you into everything?” Anne sighed. “Fine…we don’t have to fuck. Just stay.”
Eleanor looked questioningly at Max, who nodded. “Please just stay.”
“Besides it’s raining now.” Anne said carelessly, almost as though she had conjured the rain just in case Eleanor tried to slip out like this.
Eleanor looked at her, the slightest smirk twitching at the corner of Anne’s mouth. The bitch was secretly pleased with herself and Eleanor couldn’t blame her. She wanted to laugh suddenly, at the absurdity of it all.
“All right.” She surrendered gracefully. “I’ll stay.”
“Good.” Anne said. “I’m going to get some rum. I’ll meet you upstairs.” She went down the hall to the kitchen.
“You heard her.” Max said. She held out her hand. “Shall we?”
Eleanor slipped her hand in Max’s.
* * *
Anne stripped down to her shirt, and watched Eleanor out of the corner of her eye, glad to see her do the same. Max on the other hand preferred to sleep in a simple cotton nightgown that Anne loved the feel of when she touched her.
“Get into bed.” Anne directed. She had brought cups and she poured them all full cups.
“This feels ridiculous.” Eleanor murmured into her rum and Max just shushed her.
After a few minutes Eleanor had to admit was nice, even if it was unfamiliar. The patter of rain on the roof was soothing when you were somewhere warm and safe. And she was safe here. She knew it in her heart and soul and bones.
She took another sip and looked at Anne over her rum.
Anne had one leg drawn up, balancing her cup on her knee as she leaned her head back against the headboard. Her long red hair spilled over her shoulders and Eleanor wondered if she knew how lovely she was in the lamplight, instead of being hidden away under that droopy hat.
And then she looked at Max, propped up on pillows between them, humming softly under her breath. She looked relaxed and content and that sight alone made Eleanor’s heart turn over in her breast. She leaned down and pressed a kiss to Max’s mouth almost out of habit.
Max sighed contentedly and Eleanor smiled at her.
“This isn’t the last time.” Max murmured sleepily, half to herself, half to Eleanor. “We have time, don’t we?”
“Yes.” Eleanor kissed Max’s brow, brushing the curls back from her face. “We have time.”
She looked up to see Anne watching her, and then Anne lifted her cup in a toast. Eleanor raised hers in response. They would sleep eventually, but for a while it was good just sit there as the lamp burned low and Max safely between them.
* * *
There was time, days and days stretching out ahead of them as summer passed over the island and Nassau regrouped and settled down under its new governor and governor’s lady.
At times Eleanor stopped in front of the house and watched through the window as Idelle went about her business. It was a strange feeling, watching the sight, and Eleanor puzzled over it as she headed home. It took her far too long to realize the feeling was relief, relief at being free.
* * *
There were fencing lessons. Eleanor had always wanted to learn, always tried to persuade Flint to teach her, but there had never been time. Anne Bonny had time.
“Every woman should know how to handle a sword.” She said, rolling her eyes at Eleanor’s suggestive look. “Anyone can handle that sorta sword. But this, takes skill. And practice. Are you ready?”
Stripped to shirts and breeches, ( Anne had watched her change, what of it?) their faces flushed as they practiced across the back garden, in the early mornings, in the mid-evenings before the dusk. Max would watch them from the window, her eyes fixed on the two figures dancing across the soft grasses.
* * *
There were evenings where Eleanor finished up her business, business that was slowly growing more and more, and went to the small green house down the street for a dinner she knew was waiting.
Her grandmother’s assistance had helped her, she knew that. She could never have accomplished it without her. But she was the one putting the effort in, she was the one who was making it work. That she could take pride in, and she did wholeheartedly.
* * *
One night while Max was busy going over plans with Idelle and Featherstone, Eleanor had stopped by the house and Anne told her to come in.
“She’ll be a while.” She told Anne, fetching the bottle. “You know how they get.”
Eleanor nodded, removing her jacket and going to the mantle. A small fire burned in the grate and she felt its warmth. The night was oddly chill, a storm hovering out over the bay.
She accepted the mug of rum Anne handed her, and finally, asked the question Anne had known she would ask eventually.
“What was it like?” Eleanor asked.
“Satisfying.” Anne said. She could still close her eyes and hear the sounds of those men dying on the beach. She had killed a great many men, and only held a few regrets, but those were not among them. The satisfaction rose up in her again, sharp and hungry. It had been a pleasure to kill those men and she wouldn’t deny it.
“You hadn’t even been with her yet.” Eleanor murmured absently.
At that Anne looked away. “No.”
“I’m sorry, I…” Eleanor started.
Anne just brushed it away, and reached for the rum bottle. Eleanor thought she would leave the topic there, but after a moment Anne spoke again. “I couldn’t admit it to myself for so long. I didn’t recognize it as desire. I didn’t recognize myself. I just knew that when I looked at her, she made the world brighter.”
Eleanor nodded. That she understood all too well.
She took a deep sip of rum. “First time I saw I saw a girl I wanted to kiss was on this island. She was one of the fishermen’s daughters and she had the most glorious hair.”
Anne watched her face, alight in the memory. “Did you kiss her?”
“No.” Eleanor admitted. “But I thought about it, and remembered how it felt, and the next time I wanted to kiss a girl, I did.”
Anne just shook her head and grinned into her rum. “Suppose it’s easy for you.”
“I suppose.” Eleanor tilted her head and looked at her, waiting, knowing somehow that there would be more.
“The first person I kissed, of my own choosing was Jack.” Anne licked the rum from her lips. “He had killed my husband and he took me in, and…I wanted to thank him.” She took another sip. “And he very politely kissed me back, and then said he had something to show me,” here she made a face, “And I thought, fuck he’s just like all the rest, but instead of taking me to bed, he took me out to the harbor and showed me which ship we were gonna sail away on.”
There was a faint smile of remembrance upon her lips as Eleanor looked at her, and she thought of the life Anne Bonny had led, and how it had led her here to this warm room with the curtains Max had chosen because she wanted a home of her own, and how fucking lucky we are, Eleanor thought, quickly blinking away even the slightest hint of tears, to have survived this whole fucking mess of life and be here, drinking together.
“Anyway.” Anne said after a moment. “That’s one of the reasons Jack and me, are still Jack and me.”
“But you did fuck.” Eleanor attempted to lighten the mood.
“Yeah, we fucked eventually. I wanted it, wanted him, wanted my own way in the world and he gave it to me. Wanted that closeness with someone and he was the only one who mattered.”
“You can kiss someone and it doesn’t have to mean life or death.” Eleanor said lightly.
“I know it, I just…” Anne shrugged, looking suddenly awkward.
“Here.” Eleanor set her cup down and leaned forward. Anne didn’t move away, though she looked wary as Eleanor leaned in. Eleanor brushed her lips lightly over Anne’s mouth and sat back. “There.”
“Well, yeah, anyone can do that.” Anne said dismissively.
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “For fuck’s sake.” She leaned over the table again, this time clasping Anne’s face and really fucking kissed her. Anne’s lips parted, her tongue met Eleanor’s hungrily. Her hands rose to slide over Eleanor’s shoulders. Eleanor felt the familiar stirring inside herself, found her wanting more, and only the table biting into her waist kept her from it.
Abruptly she pulled back and sat in her seat. “There.” She knew she was flushed, the heat between her legs wouldn’t go away.
Anne licked her lips. Her eyes were bright with mischief. “That got you hot, didn’t it?’
“Oh shut up.” Eleanor reached for the rum. She carried her cup over to the mantle, taking another swig and setting it down, trying to think of what she should do. The flames weren’t helping.
Soft as a cat Anne moved behind her, brushing her hand over her arm. Eleanor turned sharply and then Anne’s finger stole through her hair and Eleanor’s mouth came crashing down hers, claiming Anne in another hungry kiss.
“Doesn’t have to be life or death.” Anne muttered.
Eleanor simply tugged at her shirt, wanting skin, wanting to know Anne and then Anne’s slim breasts were bared before her and Eleanor dropped her mouth to suck at a sweet, tempting nipple. Anne’s fingers curled tighter in her hair as she moaned and Eleanor grazed her teeth over Anne’s nub, feeling it tighten in her mouth. She drew off, gazing at Anne.
“What’re you stopping for?” Anne panted.
“There.” Eleanor pointed to the sofa behind her. She nudged Anne over to it, sinking down between her legs. Admiring Anne with her breasts spilling out of her shirt, and her leather breeches. She pressed a hand between Anne’s legs, feeling the heat even through the material. She loosened Anne’s belt, pulling it free and opened her breeches.
The scent of Anne’s arousal filled the air and Eleanor pressed her mouth to Anne’s cunt, starving for this, for Anne. That Anne was letting her, that Anne wanted her, made her own cunt throb in response. She sat back and undid her shirt.
Anne watched her with bright eyes, and then Eleanor tossed her shirt aside, leaning in to kiss Anne again. Anne reached for her, pulling Eleanor onto her lap. Eleanor kept kissing her, pressing her breasts against Anne’s as she slipped two fingers down between them to rub Anne’s clit.
“Fuck,” Anne groaned, arching her back. She was so wet, Eleanor slipped the tips of her fingers inside her, and then further, stroking deep inside Anne’s dripping heat.
Anne’s hands gripped her backside tightly and she leaned in to mouth desperately at Eleanor’s breasts. The warmth of her mouth on Eleanor’s erect nipple made Eleanor gasp aloud. Anne did it again, sucking tightly as her hands clasped her harder, rocking Eleanor closer to her body.
“Anne.” Eleanor panted. She didn’t stop, stroking harder, feeling Anne’s cunt clenching tightly around her fingers as she neared competition. Anne drew back to lick hungrily at Eleanor’s breast, one hand coming up to clasp the other firmly, stroking the tip with her thumb.
“So fucking pretty.” Anne growled, biting at her breast again.
Eleanor shrieked aloud as heat rushed over her, her fingers seeking deeper, wanting to make Anne feel this as much as she did, fucking Anne Bonny making her come without even touching her fucking cunt.
Anne moaned and then her arm tightened around Eleanor’s body, and she lifted her head to kiss Eleanor’s neck as she came, tightening around Eleanor’s fingers as they rung every last bit of pleasure out of her.
Eleanor slumped against Anne, pressing into her as she tried to compose herself, tried anything, but all she could think was Anne let me in. It wasn’t life or death. It wasn’t because they’d tried to do it for Max. It was simply this. She leaned down to kiss Anne’s mouth, licking tasting the salt sweetness there and then she slowly brushed her thumb over Anne’s clit, causing Anne to shudder deeply beneath her.
“I want to eat your cunt.” Eleanor whispered. “I want to make you come again.”
Anne gazed at her with half-lidded eyes. “Fair’s fair.”
“What’s that mean?” Eleanor curled her fingers, still deep inside Anne and Anne gasped, her lips parting, failing to control her body’s reaction.
“It means I wanna fuck you.”
Eleanor smiled and curled her fingers again.
* * *
When Max came home late that night, she paused at the doorway to the bedroom. Since this arrangement had begun Eleanor had slept in this bed with them, sometimes her and Max if Anne was at sea, but never just the two of them. Now she found them there, not lying together, not precisely. But Eleanor was curled facing the door, as though waiting for Max, and Anne lay close beside her, one hand resting on Eleanor’s thigh.
Max studied them a moment. So it had happened. She had made a private bet with herself as to when it would and who would initiate it. She supposed she would learn the second in the morning. For now she undressed quietly and blew out the lamp before crawling into bed beside Anne.
In the morning they would talk, and no doubt there would be more assurances, more promises, and no doubt uncertainties all the same. She suspected that would be the way it was for some time now. And she could only imagine what it would be like when Jack returned from Boston and learned of this development. Max stifled a giggle at the thought of his face.
But that was tomorrow. For now Max lay there in the dark, listening to the quietly mingled breath of the women she loved, and she knew for once she would have no regrets.