Hey there! Sorry for the wait with this chapter. Serious writer's block took over for some time but hopefully I'm back in the game!

Chapter Seventy One - Habit of a lifetime

Because I love
The sun pours out its rays of living gold
Pours out its gold and silver on the sea.

Because I love
The earth upon her astral spindle winds
Her ecstasy-producing dance.

Because I love
Clouds travel on the winds through wide skies,
Skies wide and beautiful, blue and deep.

Because I love
Wind blows white sails,
The wind blows over flowers, the sweet wind blows.

Because I love
The ferns grow green, and green the grass, and green
The transparent sunlit trees.

Because I love
Larks rise up from the grass
And all the leaves are full of singing birds.

Because I love
The summer air quivers with a thousand wings,
Myriads of jewelled eyes burn in the light.

Because I love
The iridescent shells upon the sand
Takes forms as fine and intricate as thought.

Because I love
There is an invisible way across the sky,
Birds travel by that way, the sun and moon
And all the stars travel that path by night.

Because I love
There is a river flowing all night long.

Because I love
All night the river flows into my sleep,
Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms,
And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

Amo Ergo Sum – Kathleen Reine

"Stop fussing," I pleaded as I tried to swat Elizabeth's hand away from the blankets she had been trying to fix. Once she had stepped back, I kicked out at the mountain of blankets that covered me. "There's no need for it."

"Is there anything else you'd like?" a mollified Elizabeth asked me. "Something to eat?"

I shook my head blandly from where it had been propped up by countless pillows. I had the sneaking suspicion that Elizabeth had given up her own pillows to me, but I didn't have the energy to make any protestations about it. "I don't think I could eat. Thank you though. I've got water because someone brings me a jug of it every ten minutes so there's really no need to fuss over me." I moved my head a little so that I could see the rest of the cabin and spotted Anamaria and Mai silently watching on. "I see you've all heard I'm not contagious then?"

"Still sick," Mai supplied confidently as if she was trying to remind me to stay abed.

"You're lucky," Anamaria chimed in. "I've seen worse insect bites. It's not even visible. Strange that Norrington should notice something so hidden to the naked eye. What cause would he have to be running his hands over your neck?"

I felt my face beginning to redden but I tried to school my expression into one of indifference. Elizabeth got there first. "He carried her down here from the deck. He was holding her hair back when she was being sick. I'd say that's how."

It was Anamaria's turn to roll her eyes. "He never mentioned it to me at the time. In fact, he seemed quite clueless!"

"For heaven's sake, they are friends. So he touched her neck, what of it?" Elizabeth turned back to me with an exasperated expression on her face, but it vanished when she saw my own sheepish expression. "Oh!"

I shook my head at her pleadingly, but the cat was out of the bag. "Something has happened between you," Anamaria confirmed. "Do not deny it. It is written all over your face."

Elizabeth came closer once more and took my hand in hers this time. "This is good news. This is good. This is what you wanted. I know you are a private person, so I will not ask for details but please confirm the good news. It will prevent awkwardness in future."

I groaned softly, but I did not really feel so very pestered by them. Elizabeth had a kind heart and wanted to see two people she cared for happy and in love with each other. Mai wanted us together because she believed it was fate. Anamaria, well I'm not quite sure why she was interested, but she was still in the room and awaiting my answer just like the other two.

I shrugged, not quite knowing what to say to the three women who were all so very decidedly different to one another. Elizabeth was right in that I did not want to disclose details. I suppose I didn't know how to or if it was the done thing because I'd never had any close female friends before. In the end I realised I could settle for the truth and keep it rather simple. "I think… I think I'm falling in love with my husband."

Anamaria gave a short and sharp bark of laughter. "Falling? That ship sailed a long time ago! You two have been head over heels for a long time."

They all turned sharply at the new presence in the cabin and found James in the doorway. He appeared a little perturbed, as if he had not thought to find us all together. "My apologies, I did not expect to find so many of you here." He began to back out into the corridor again sheepishly as if he did not wish to disturb our discussion.

"Stay James," Elizabeth said as she moved towards the door to try and usher him back into the cabin. "We only came to see how Fiona was feeling. We're going now. We don't wish to tire her out too much. I expect you'll be a much calmer and less taxing presence on her than all of us."

At once Anamaria and Mai moved towards the door too, shuffling out past James who still stood on the threshold, looking for all the world as if he regretted even coming below deck. Once the women's footsteps could be heard on the stairs, heading back out onto deck again, he finally entered the cabin and closed the door softly behind him.

"You look a little better," he commented quietly from where he stood. I did not know how he could say that, when the cabin wasn't lit well enough for him to see me from so far away.

I decided to humour him. "I feel a little better."

Could you eat?" he countered. "I can-"

"I don't think I should risk that just yet." I frowned a little, surprised by his eagerness to use any excuse to be away from me when he had only just arrived. "I'm happy to talk though if you came here for that. Elizabeth and the others didn't ware me out quite so much. You should come closer though. I can barely see you where you're standing."

He slowly crossed the room then, picking up a chair on his way towards me. He didn't show his face to me until he had righted the chair and sat himself down upon it. His expression was drawn and even a little pale. My first initial feeling was dread and I worried that I had perhaps made him ill and was in fact contagious after all, but when he spoke, I realised that he had made himself appear ill. He had been fretting like an old washer woman on a rainy day.

"I did wish to speak with you," he began rather gravely, "But we can do it at another time if you would prefer. It is not an urgent matter."

I raised my eyebrows at him. "Judging by the colour of grey that you've turned since I last saw you, I'd say that it's pretty urgent." I sighed a little and finally met his gaze with my own. The emerald hue was a little dimmed and I took in the dark circles under his eyes. He was exhausted himself, but that was something he would never admit to. He liked to call me stubborn but, he was far worse than me. He had been brought up to always remain on one level emotionally, to never let his guard down and absolutely never admit when anything might be bothering him. "If this is about this morning, then I'd quite like you to just say whatever it is you're thinking. You always say you're glad of my honesty. Right now, I'd be glad of yours. If this is about you feeling like you've done something wrong, I've already told you what I think."

"Respectfully, it does not matter what you think." There was no emotion in his statement whatsoever. "No matter how willing you were, I still took advantage. You are ill. I should not have pushed you."

"I don't-"

"Despite your willingness," James interrupted me with a hand held up, pleading for me to remain quiet. "I am responsible for your care. Whether you were ill or not, it should not have happened. I swore to you that I would protect you, but I could not do so even from myself."

I was shaking my head vehemently at him. "I told you earlier, I don't care about fine courtships and respect. I mean, I already know you respect me otherwise you would not be feeling so bad. You would not be trying to apologise if you did not respect me. You've always shown me respect. Perhaps you might consider that to shut down my thoughts and feelings on the matter is actually not respecting me at all. You've said all along that I have the right to make my own choices. What I mean is that you don't need pretence with me. I understand what happened this morning perhaps a little better than you do. It was gut instinct, a reaction to what I showed you. You saw in a few seconds what I have been seeing for months. I had the chance to process what I saw over months and months whereas you were bombarded with all of that new information in only seconds. You did not have time to think things through. I'm glad in a way that you did not. I think you and I are both guilty of thinking rather too much. I think it sets up a block somewhere, stops us living in the moment and making real connections."

"So you have known for months and you never thought to tell me?" James asked softly, leaning in closer to me.

"How was I to tell you? I didn't know if you would understand. I only did this morning because I had not the energy to fight you. There were so many times when I wanted to tell you the absolute truth of what I knew, but I suppose I kept coming back to the simple fact that we are both from very different worlds. I didn't know if you would believe me. Then we went to Port Royal and I met Elizabeth and her father. Nice people though they evidently are, I couldn't quite believe such fine people were concerned at all with someone like me. It further widened the gap between us."

James sighed softly. "But you are forgetting what I had already seen for myself. The cave and the sword were both challenging me to believe in something far greater than the world I have known for thirty-three years. Then there was the revelation of captain O'Malley's logbooks which confirmed your impossible story of washing up in Tortuga after being so great a distance away. There is also what we saw on the chart. The moving symbol which you think is Pandora's box. I understand that to the rest of the world I may still be a rather rigid fellow with blinkers on, but you were with me for all of that, Fiona. You knew I'd seen it all too. I had no plausible explanation for any of it but I was willing to put faith in what I had seen and in the words of another person for the first time in my life. You gave me that advantage. I wish you had unburdened yourself months ago, when I first showed the signs of a willingness to believe in that which I could not yet see. Perhaps we might have saved ourselves a great deal of trouble. No matter though. We have come full circle. I do not hold you accountable for your secrets. I know myself how hard it can be to open yourself up to another person, especially one you believe to be so far above yourself in rank, society and in every other way possible. I hope if nothing else, I have taught you that wherever you go, you are entitled to receive the upmost respect from anyone you meet. You should never expect less."

I nodded quickly, beginning to feel guilty that he might think my lack of communication was a rejection. "You have been nothing short of a gentleman since we first met. Even when I did not like you very much at the beginning, you were always respectful. I don't want you to think that I liked keeping things from you. It's like you said; it can be hard to open up to people sometimes. I haven't had that many friends or confidantes in my life. I have spent a lot of it keeping myself to myself. To be so open with someone after so long on my own… I think it rankled Elizabeth in the beginning that I was not immediately sharing my heart with her."

James smirked then. "On the contrary, Elizabeth was mightily impressed with you. You have an undeniable spirit and strength about you that dazzles us both. I think she was saddened that you were such a lonely person, but she respected your privacy. I suppose it was your first chance for proper privacy in some time, being in Port Royal. I must confess that even I know there is not much of it to be found aboard a ship. We are both still learning how to live, Fiona. We are both embarking upon a new journey in our lives and figuring it out as we go. I can only hope that now you will feel comfortable enough to share all of your thoughts with me. If this is still not the life you envision for yourself then you must be honest with me. If an annulment is still what you wish for, then I am happy to oblige."

I grabbed his hand then on impulse because I could feel him mentally pulling away once more. "I don't want an annulment. I've never wanted an annulment; not really! I just didn't want to find myself stuck in a situation where I felt things that you didn't. I didn't want to tie you down to me when you'd done so much for me already. If you are willing though, I am happy and keen to give all of this a try, to give us a try. I think we owe it to ourselves I think to at least try. I'm not saying it will work and be wonderful but perhaps we could try and begin slowly. We are friends after all as you keep reminding me. I'd still like to remain friends in some way. We work well together under pressure. I shouldn't like to complicate all of that."

James was nodding slowly, appearing to be rather taken aback by my concise and decisive words. "Then that is what we shall do. But for now, I want you to rest. I do not want to cause you more illness or stress. Stay below deck if you wish. If it is fresh air you would like, then I shall permit you to come above deck, but you shall do no work. You shall rest above deck too. Fetch me or someone else to walk you above deck." I opened my mouth to protest but James yet again raised his hand to halt me. "I respect your desire for independence, Fiona. I do fear that there have been times in your life though when someone should have told you to hold fire and recoup your energy. For now, we are husband and wife. I have a duty of care. I want you to be well again before you go dashing about the deck like a mad woman. I also need those sharp eyes of yours at their best. Take a few days of complete rest and then we'll revaluate."

I've never liked being told off by James. I think you will already be well aware of that. I liked it no more that day than any other. I understood though what he was trying to say. He cared about me enough to override my stubborn nature and issue orders to ensure my safety and wellbeing. I was going to have to allow him that if things were going to work well enough between us both. There had to be some semblance of harmony. Heaven forbid he fell ill in any way but I was beginning to realise that in future there may come a time when I would have to step in and order him about if I felt it was necessary. We would simply have to trust even further in one another's judgement.

I spent another two days sequestered in the cabin with only a few short trips above deck to get some fresh air into my lungs. I was thoroughly exhausted after each trip and could only agree with James that whatever it was that had caused my illness, it was still present for the time being and needed to be treated carefully. On the third day I managed to dress and allow Thompson to walk me up to the quarter deck where James had charge of the ship's wheel. I felt foolish emerging onto the deck, Thompson clutching my elbow in case I should take a funny turn and fall. I had hoped I'd have been allowed a little more freedom once I'd declared that I felt a little better, but it appeared James's friends were being overly cautious. I was sure it was all upon James's instruction. Thompson dashed off as soon as James acknowledged my presence with a soft smile. He turned away from the wheel and approached some barrels nearby. I followed him, guessing his intentions. I was glad when he reached for my waist and lifted me up to sit on the barrel. I had hoped he would be willing to let me spend some time in the air and with him rather than banishing me below decks again for fear I'd overtire myself.

"You're feeling better?" he asked as I adjusted my skirts so that I was sitting as demurely as possible. I was aware that everyone on the main deck would see me perched on the barrel and didn't want to make a show of myself.

I nodded at him as he stepped away a little. "I don't feel as if my head's going to roll off my neck anymore. I feel like I'll be right as rain in a day or two."

James raised an eyebrow at me. "We'll see about that. Could you eat?"

I'd not been badgered about food and was glad of it. For the first time in my three days of convalescence, the thought of food did not immediately turn my stomach. I resolved that it would be far more agreeable to accept his offer of help rather than spoil this newfound companionship that appeared to have developed over the last few days. "I could eat," I agreed amenably.

"Stay there," he told me before he disappeared below decks for a time. When I caught sight of him climbing the steps again towards the quarter deck, I felt this strange sort of sensation that began in my stomach and soon after began to spread to every part of my body. It was a warm and comfortable sensation, such a certain feeling of belonging with James that I suddenly realised something as he reached me and set down a platter of bread, cheese and sweet meats on the barrel beside me. For many years I'd never really considered that I had a home anymore. The real truth was that my home had become James. Wherever he was, that was where I felt I belonged.

It was as if the world changed, pivoted on its axis in that second. The sun came out from behind a cloud to delight a perfectly blue sky. The calm waters we sailed in seemed for the first time in a long time to be the realm of possibility and wonder. A light and welcome breeze ruffled my hair, reminding me just how far we'd travelled and still had to travel. The world was so open to us and perhaps even more so because we suddenly had something to fight for. I watched James carefully as he returned to the helm and we fell into the easiest silence in the world. There was not need for talk or for closeness. Even standing feet from me, we were together in a way that I'd never thought we could be. It gave me hope as nothing had ever done before.

I tucked into my food with a renewed sense of determination. I knew I'd need to build my strength back up again in order for us to undertake all of the adventures that we were bound to have if things worked in our favour. I managed only a little food but it was the comfortable companionable silence that really buoyed my soul more than anything that day. I picked at the food every so often, happy to simply spend time with James in some way as he managed the running of the ship from the helm. He glanced back at me every so often as if to check I had not fallen off the stern of the ship. It had occurred to me of course that there were many things we needed to talk through but that new sense of hope I had was trying to convince me that we had years to talk through where we wanted our lives to take us. I think it would have been hard to dampen my spirits at all that day.

"So," James began blithely as Gillette took the helm so that James could have his own lunch, "Virginia is only a matter of a few weeks away. I know there will be time when we are there to think through all of our options and discuss them further. I rather thought though that you and I could try to flesh out some kind of general plan between us both and make a decision about where we wish to journey to next. It does appear that we have a ship full of people willing to follow our every word. I have experience there, but I know it may be a new sensation for you, Fiona. I do not want you to allow it to alarm you too much. After all, we do not know how long we will retain their confidence in us for. There are those who are only following us because they think that in the long run, we may lead them to treasure. Whilst I'm now rather convinced after what you showed me a few days ago that together we have the potential to find any treasure we wish to; we have no notion of how long that might take. We must come to terms with the fact that our friends may not follow us for very much longer. Indeed, we may be the ones to decide to leave them. We have no notion of what the future holds."

"But the two of us are sticking together?" I asked him brightly, certain that was what he meant. "I've no doubt of that. You've made your position very clear James. I've come to agree with you over the last few days. You have given up a hell of a lot just to make sure I'm safe. It would be a poor way to repay you if I just disappeared off on my own. I've no desire to do that now. I see that we may be stronger together. I also don't want to because … well you know … we've become closer and … well…"

I felt myself blushing profusely and I was glad that he turned to pour us both a drink in that moment because it gave me time to compose myself. He moved closer to me than was strictly necessary to hand over the glass of small ale and I came to wonder if he didn't want Gillette to hear too much of our conversation. His eyes caught mine as our fingers brushed against one another, but he didn't move away once he'd passed me the glass. "You want to see where it might go?"

I nodded; glad he'd had the sense to finish my sentence for me. I did hear nerves in his own voice and I was glad I was not the only one feeling awkward. I think it's true to say though that it was as strange an occurrence for James as it was for me. James was used to the rigid conforms of courting that society had pressed upon him from a young age. Even though he had told me that his family were quite liberal, I was sure his parents wanted him to make a good marriage and would have wanted him to court as propriety dictated. Thus he had barely spoken of his repressed feelings before he'd proposed to Elizabeth. He was not used to friendships that grew into something more over time. That rarely happened in society, if ever. Most of the marriages he had been aware of were arranged and perhaps some of the most unhappy ones. I was glad that he had seen Elizabeth and Will muddling along well enough together. Despite the obstacles they came up against it was their love for one another that kept them on the same path and supporting one another. Although I know it must have hurt James to see them so in love in the beginning, they were proof that anything is possible. It would reaffirm his belief that we might just make it. To be honest, I took as much from watching their relationship blossom in times of strife. It was me after all who'd been planning on parting ways. It was so odd how quickly I'd given up all thoughts of that though. All it had taken was for us to both lay our cards on the table for me to realise the stupidity of my solo plans.

Even more so than ever, I was willing to listen to what James had to say, and to believe in him. So much so in fact that I finally broached the subject we'd been avoiding for days just as James finished his lunch.

"You still want to go after The Crown of Immortality, Don't you?"

I saw something change in James's expression, as if he was readying himself for a debate. "I still think it has merit. We have no other real leads after all. For now, that is. In Virginia we might find more potential, but for now I'm afraid it still occupies many of my thoughts. Your uncle does believe in it and whilst I'm loath to place any confidence in that man's beliefs; if it is real and he gets to it first… I just think it's something we need to consider."

I nodded quickly. "You're right about all of that. You have always been right. It irks me that it's always the evillest and decrepit souls in this world who have the ability to believe in the most wonderous of things. To have such a dark soul and to believe that there is still a redemption out there … how infuriating it is. I know I've not always been the biggest champion of that theory, but you've supported anything I've ever said. You've taken chances on whatever I've thrown at you. I always thought I was so open minded but perhaps I'm a little too superstitious and that's the problem. I don't have to believe in the crown's existence to go looking for it. Now more than ever I understand that it's my support that counts, not just my belief. What you say about my uncle is also true. If it is real and he gets his hands on it … Well I'd rather be at the bottom of the sea than to meet that day. I want you to look into it in Virginia. I'll help you. That's where we should go next. It is our only lead after all."

"I was always sure you'd eventually come to believe in it," James mused as he leaned against the barrel next to mine. "You have that uncanny knack for finding hope and magic where there really ought to be none. Perhaps Fiona, that is the single trait you do share with your uncle. I'm glad you've chosen to use it against him and to your own advantage. You have this strange mix of ardent superstition that runs through your very veins and yet you are also one of the most pragmatic people I've ever met. That's why I've not tried to push you too hard with regards to the crown. I wanted you to make your own mind up. Your support will be appreciated but I still want you to be pragmatic. Whatever it is we may find in Virginia; I'd be grateful for your objective nature. I don't want you to simply agree with me because it's what I want to hear. I want you to challenge my beliefs. You've been challenging me since we first met, after all. Why change the habit of a lifetime?" He was smirking then and when he glanced down and saw me gazing at him curiously, he laughed a little.

"What's so funny?"

James shook his head and glanced out at the wide expanse of water behind us. He was still smirking though, and I continued to stare at the mirth in his eyes. "You. It's a wonder your parents didn't name you challenging instead of Niamh. Then at least I'd have known what I was letting myself in for. You were quite the shock to the system, Fiona O'Connell. In a good way, I should emphasise. But wholly unexpected."

I didn't tell him then how wholly unexpected he had been. The scourge of the seas and capturer of pirates who was the most decent and kind person I'd ever met. The man capable of so much change, growth and belief that he'd knocked everything in my life upside down. I decided it could wait for later. I would allow him to revel in the fact he'd managed to change my mind and we could both enjoy each other's company without the sheer awkwardness I'd felt before.

So Fiona and James have finally come to quite a peaceful accord, but how will they handle the inevitable problems of being a married couple in 18th Century Virginia?