Chapter XX

Donovan followed the scent of something sweet and familiar down the passageway into the galley. There she spied Cookie calmly standing at the cutting table peeling potatoes while Hannah finished doing *something* to the cake on the table. Donovan stepped into the room and cleared her throat lest Cookie take it upon himself to throw her out because he thought she was trespassing.

Not that Cookie would... it was her ship, and she was his Captain. But he had made it very clear that he would appreciate no interference in his little domain, and since he turned out respectable grub for her and the crew daily, she'd accepted his little quirk. Now, however, Cookie had something that belonged to her, and she was anxious to reclaim it for herself.

Hannah looked up when she heard Donovan, and immediately leapt into her strong arms. Donovan just stood still and absorbed the sensations til she felt Hannah ease back from her. Then she gently set the blonde woman on her feet and nodded her chin towards the table.

"What did you make in here that smells so good?"

"Chocolate cake," waiting to see if Donovan would remember her first experience with the confection.

The blue eyes lit up. "Chocolate cake? You mean that lovely dessert we had on our picnic? *That* chocolate cake?"

"Well, not exactly," Hannah answered honestly. "There were a couple things I was missing. But it is as close as I can possibly make it."

"Do I have to share or is it all for me... I mean us?" Donovan grinned unrepentantly.

"It's for everyone, Donovan," Hannah replied, smacking the Captain lightly on the arm. "But you can have the biggest piece." Hannah grabbed Donovan by the arm of her shirt and tugged her towards the stove. "Now taste this... it needs something, and Cookie and I are stumped to figure out what. Then I'll let you lick the bowl."

Donovan did as she was asked and dutifully took a clean spoon from Hannah's fingers. She tasted the broth, staring into space for a moment before pulling several different spices off the nearby shelve, and adding a generous amount of each to the mixture. She tasted again and gave a satisfied nod before turning to face Hannah.

"The bowl, please," accepting it with good grace and proceeding to lick it clean.

Hannah meanwhile turned back to the stew and tasted the broth, her brows rising in pleased surprise. She gave Cookie a nod. "That'll about do it all right. Should be ready in about an hour."

Cookie stirred in the potatoes, then took his own taste. "By God, that was what it needed." He turned to Donovan, doing his best not to laugh at the bit of chocolate icing on the end of her nose. "Good work, Captain," paying Donovan his highest compliment.

Hannah didn't contain her laugh, but leaned over and licked the chocolate off Donovan's nose. Donovan froze at the sheer eroticism of the act, and willed herself to breathe. Especially when Hannah's tongue traced her lips as well. She felt the world tremble beneath her feet.

"CAPTAIN!!" The shout startled them apart, and Donovan jumped from her place and shoved the bowl in Hannah's direction. The urgency in the shout did not bode well for the news that was to follow.

"Captain!" Harold bellowed again. "Mr. Merryweather sent me to fetch you sir! It's Blackthorne sir! He's crippled in the water from another fight, and we have a chance to finish him."

Blue eyes shone brightly at the pronouncement, and Donovan turned to take Hannah's hand. "Harold, fetch my guns and my swords from my cabin." The boy scampered off unnoticed. "Hannah, I need you to go to the cabin and wait for me til this is all over."

"But I want...."

"PLEASE, Hannah. I need you to do this for me. I do not want... I cannot stand the thought of you being exposed to what is coming."

"Donovan...." She pulled her hand from Donovan's grasp.

"Do as the Captain asks, miss. It is important or he would not ask it of you." Cookie's voice broke the tableau and Hannah gazed at him with sorrowful eyes before nodding her acquiescence. Cookie looked back at the Captain, wincing internally at the anguish so clearly written across smooth features. But when Donovan's eyes met his own, the cook saw the mask slide into place, and Donovan nodded her thanks before she hurried up the stairs.

Cookie took Hannah's hand and led her from the galley. It would be a while before the crew got down here to eat now.


"Report!" Donovan said as she stepped onto the deck. Black smoke poured from the side of Blackthorne's vessel, and Donovan had time to wonder who had done the damage when a volley of cannon fire skirted her ship near the waterline. They appeared to be just out of range of Blackthorne's guns.

"We came upon her as you see her now, sir. We fired a warning shot as per protocol, and that was his response. Orders, sir?"

"Load the guns, Mr. Merryweather, and let us get a boarding party together. It is time to finish this between us."

The words weren't out of her mouth before Harold had handed her her weapons. Then a call went up from the crow's nest. "Sir, we're going to be bo...." The word was cut off by a shot and a scream, and Donovan watched helplessly as the first member of her crew fell bonelessly to the deck, dead before he hit.

She drew her pistols, and shot the first two men who climbed over the side of her ship. Donovan handed them to Harold with the command to reload, and drew her sword from its sheath. Then Captain Scott waded into the bloody battle with no thought except for victory.


Cookie left Hannah alone in her cabin against his better judgment. She pointed out that he needed to keep an eye on dinner lest the ship burn down, which was true, but he couldn't help but feel there was a more underlying motive to her wanting him out of the room.

"Miss, will you promise to stay here and out of the fight? Your being anywhere but right here could put everyone, but especially the Captain in very grave danger."

"Cookie, I promise you I will not go up on deck. I have no desire to cause anyone problems, but I'd rather the ship didn't burn down to the waterline either. Besides, you know and I know that Captain Scott and the crew will likely be ravenous when this is all over and best if we're not having to explain why dinner isn't ready."

"You have a good point, miss. Do me a favor though, and lock the door. On the off chance that Blackthorne tries to board us and gets past the crew, he'll come searching through here to see what kind of booty he can take. And you, Miss Hannah would be considered a mighty fine prize."

Hannah didn't know who was more embarrassed by Cookie's words, but she dipped her head in acknowledgement. Cookie accepted her nod and left for the galley at a near run. Hannah had made some good points, and he didn't want the crew to defeat Blackthorne, only to have the ship burn down because of his oversight.

Hannah waited until his footsteps faded in the distance, and she counted to one hundred... by tens. She could hear the battle raging above her, and her heart cried out to know what was going on. She slipped out of the cabin and up the three stairs to the deck. Then she cracked the door and watched the butchery take place around her with horror-filled eyes.

There were bodies strewn about the deck, though thankfully most of them were grungy pirates that Hannah didn't readily recognize. Her heart searched for its mate in the carnage of battle, and what she found made her want to both scream in fury and retch in agony.

Donovan stood with her back to her first mate, and together they cut down everything that swept into their path. She was covered in bits of gore and blood, but what hurt Hannah the most was the absolute deadness of the eyes she could see even at this distance.

Then they sparked with an unusual fire in them that Hannah had never seen before and did not understand, but before she had time to process the change, time seemed to come to a grinding halt.

A huge hulk of a man walked through the smoke, kicking bodies out of his way as he approached Donovan's position. Men on both sides of the fight stepped back from one another and waited with bated breath to see what would be the outcome of the final battle in a saga that had been running for almost four years.

Blackthorne was gigantic... almost head and shoulders taller than Donovan, and he looked to outweigh her by half again. When he smiled, half his teeth were rotting or missing from his head completely, and the smell of him was making Donovan's eyes water even from a distance.

"Donovan Scott!" he bellowed, and Donovan had all she could do not to wince away from his stench reflexively. "At last we meet, Captain." He drew closer, unable to believe what his eyes were telling him. "So, the rumors are true and you really are a woman then, eh? Well, then... maybe I won't kill ya where ya stand. Maybe I'll simply make ya me servin' wench, and maybe I'll take the boy too," pointing to Harold. "Then I'll see fer meself what other sorta treasures ya've got on this here boat. 'Cause when I'm done, the ship'll be mine, as will her crew."

Donovan had taken on a bored pose, and now politely covered her mouth with her hand. "Harold, my ceremonial blade please." She extended her hand and waited for the boy to place the sword in her grasp. Then she turned back to Blackthorne. "Are you done, blowhard? You are standing between me and chocolate cake."

"Ya wanna play then, lass? Fine by me!" And he raised his sabre above his head, poised for the killing blow.

Of course, he hadn't counted on the fact that Donovan was an expert, nor on the fact that she was deadly serious. His eyes widened and he looked at her in confusion for a moment before his attention turned to the sword that was now buried to its hilt in his chest.

"I protect what is mine," she growled at him, before yanking her sword from his body and pushing him to the ground.

She looked at the men who stood around watching the tableau and raised her bloody sword into the air. A cheer from her own men rose, and she grinned fiercely at the sound. Then she looked at the defeated remnants of Blackthorne's crew. "Surrender, gentlemen or die."

Several weapons hit the deck in a clattering of sound, but one man remained defiant. "Ya wouldn't kill us. The battle's over. It'd be murder." He clutched his sword even tighter.

Donovan stepped up to him. "Either you surrender or you die. I will not offer the choice a third time."

"Ya won't kill me. I've heard about ya and this crew. Ya have a high regard for life."

Donovan turned and walked away from him, before whipping around and severing his head from his shoulders, glad she'd had Harold retrieve both blades as it gave her the opportunity to take the head cleanly with one swipe. "I have no regard for those who prey on the less fortunate... who take advantage of women and children." She rested her bloody sword on her shoulder and looked around a final time. "Would anyone else like to question my regard for your worthless lives?"

The rest of the men dropped their weapons without a word, and Donovan looked around for her first mate. "Mr. Merryweather, have Mr. Trilby and Mr. Roberts escort the prisoners to the brig. We will put them off at the nearest uninhabited island."

"Aye, sir."

"Then get the men to cleaning up the deck as quickly as possible. We will have services for our dead as soon as I return and can clean up a bit."

"Aye, sir. Are you going aboard Blackthorne's ship, sir?"

"I am, Mr. Merryweather."

"Very good, sir. Be careful."

Donovan opened her mouth to answer when a flash of green at the stairwell caught her attention. It was gone almost instantly, and Donovan felt her heart sink. Then she squared her shoulders. There was nothing to be done for it now. She still had things to take care of. After that... well, after that, she and Hannah would talk... hopefully.

There was only one lone pirate left on Blackthorne's ship, and he was quick to surrender when he saw Donovan cross the gangplank between them looking like the specter of death itself. She and Hawks split and searched the ship quickly, not surprised to find several holds full of stolen goods.

"Mr. Hawks?"


"Get with Mr. Merryweather and let us see about getting these things onto the Maiden. I think we can return a majority of it to its rightful place. Have him send me three men besides yourself who can help move these crates. And bring a manifest so we can record them."

"Aye, sir."

"And Hawks?" She waited until the man turned, and pointed to the lone prisoner that Harold had been keeping an eye on. "Take the garbage with you."

"Aye sir."

Harold took his cue from her and began sorting through the crates. They were nearly done with the first room when Hawks returned with two more sailors. Donovan raised a brow in silent question on the length of his departure.

"Apologies, Captain. Mr. Merryweather had us help rinse the blood off the deck so we could transport the goods without fear of sliding overboard." Donovan nodded.

"Give the quill and parchment to Mr. Worthington," motioning to Harold, "and let us get this cargo moved quickly. It will be dark soon."

As it was, it was completely dark before they were done transferring things to the Maiden, even though a majority of the crew had been dispatched to help with recovering the crates. The blood and gore was dried and crusted on Donovan, and she winced from being rubbed raw in several place.

Donovan now stood with a torch in hand as Hawks and Trilby finished pouring pitch on the deck. She motioned them across the gangplank, then followed them halfway before tossing the torch back onto the pirate ship. She stood there a moment longer, ignoring the rocking motion and watched as the pitch caught fire. The fire began racing along soaked paths, and Donovan stepped onto the Maiden as the gangplank was pulled in.

"Report, Mr. Merryweather."

"We are riding very low, sir, due to the extra cargo and the prisoners. However, everything has been documented and the men are putting the last of it away as we speak. The deck has been cleaned and scrubbed, and Matthews and Richards have been cleaned and dressed for burial, sir."

Donovan nodded and looked to one side of the deck that Merryweather motioned to where two shrouded bodies lay motionless. She took a deep breath and then another, willing herself not to cry. This was the hardest part of being the Captain, and the deaths of two of her own cut deeply. She cleared her throat.

"Very well, Mr. Merryweather. Please have a hot bath sent to my quarters immediately."

"Aye, sir." He paused. "Captain?"

"Yes, Mr. Merryweather?"

"Could we have the burial in the morning, sir? The men... well sir, we're all exhausted, and I think Matthews and Richards would appreciate a morning burial."

Donovan closed her eyes to hide her relief, but nodded her head in surrender. "I believe we would all appreciate a morning burial at this point, Mr. Merryweather. Assign a man to keep watch as an honor guard tonight," nodding towards the bodies.

"Aye, sir. And I will have your bath drawn immediately."

"Thank you, John." Donovan hesitated. "Have you seen Hannah?"

"Not since she went below before all this started. I understand that her efforts in the kitchen have been greatly enjoyed by the whole crew, including Cookie himself."

Donovan turned a questioning eye his way. "You understand? Have you not eaten, my friend?"

"No sir. Not yet. I was waiting for Mr. Roberts to finish and relieve me," he gestured to the man just coming up from below. "I will see to your bath Captain, and then...."

"Go eat, Mr. Merryweather. Mr. Roberts will see to the hot water."

The grizzled second mate nodded, even as Merryweather replies, "Thank you, Captain."

Donovan went below to check the prisoners, pleasantly surprised to find them all quiet and well-behaved. She made a mental note to have them wash in the morning after the funeral rites were given, because not even the wonderful smell of whatever they had been given for supper could mask the putrid stench of body odor that hung in the air.

She moved back to her cabin, at once both oddly relieved and eerily dismayed that Hannah was not waiting for her. She crossed to the window and opened it, reveling in the fresh air that breezed through the cabin at her action. Almost immediately a knock sounded.


Harold came in carrying the tub, and behind him came four men with two pails of hot water apiece. Each quickly dumped their water into the wooden cask and with a respectful nod, made their way out of her cabin.

She shut the door behind them with a sigh, then groaned aloud as she sat in the wooden chair to try to begin removing her clothing. She struggled with her boots, dropping them on floor hard when she finally worked them off her feet. Donovan reached for the ties on her shirt, then dropped her arms and her head in sheer exhaustion.

She was surprised by the door opening, and she met Hannah's eyes for a brief moment before dropping hers back to the floor. Without a word Hannah knelt and raised her hands to the ties on Donovan's shirt. Donovan raised her own hands to stop Hannah until she realized the blood and gore that still covered them.

"Please do not," she said in a whisper so timid Hannah could hardly make out the words. "I did not want you to see this... to be exposed to this."

Hannah deliberately reached forward and took Donovan's hands in her own. She lifted them lightly to her lips and placed a kiss on each one, drawing a gasping sob from Donovan's lips. She dropped one hand to cup the anguished face while holding tightly to the other.

"Donovan," said in a commanding tone. "Look at me." Hannah urged the chin up, and slowly, Donovan lifted her head until pain-filled blue met compassionate green. "I know we haven't stood before a minister and exchanged vows yet, but right here, right now, I want you to understand and accept something if you never do anything else in your life, okay?"

Hannah waited patiently for Donovan to search her eyes and nod her agreement.

"I'm here for the long haul, Donovan. The good, the bad and the ugly. Nothing you could say or do could change what I feel for you, and the only way that I'll leave is if you send me away. The things I don't understand, like this, we will talk about eventually. But not tonight. Tonight I am going to take the very best care of you I can. This is a burden you've carried alone far too long, my love. Let me share it with you."

Donovan was too overwhelmed to speak, and she wanted very badly to simply immerse herself in Hannah. Hannah read the conflict in Donovan's eyes all too easily, and leaned forward to take the decision out of her hands.

Tenderly, without regard to the blood that still liberally speckled the skin of Donovan's face, Hannah captured the Captain's lips in a short, intense kiss meant more to reassure than stir great passion. Hannah felt Donovan trembling under the touch, and pulled away slowly, never completely losing tactile contact with her. Donovan reached out her free hand to cup Hannah's face and brought their lips together again in a blaze of passion.

"Thank you, Hannah," she whispered as they pulled apart again. "Thank you for loving me."

She sat still this time when Hannah reached for the ties on her shirt. The exhaustion she felt was crushing, and she was content to let Hannah help her get clean.

Hannah struggled with the ties that were caked with dried blood and difficult to maneuver to her satisfaction. Eventually though, after a good deal of frustration on her part, she managed to loosen them enough to pull the shirt over Donovan's head. Hannah had the same struggle with Donovan's trousers, though those were even more difficult since Donovan had to remain standing, and her fatigue made her sway slightly.

Finally Hannah was able slide the pants down Donovan's long legs, and helped her ease her feet from them. Then she led the Captain to the tub and steadied her as she stepped in and slid into the water.

"Lean back and relax a few minutes, love. I'll be right back."

Hannah grabbed Donovan's boots and moved to the door. She opened it and stepped out into the passageway where she was met by Harold and the crewman she only knew as Hawks.

"Miss Hannah?"

"Gentlemen, could I ask a favor?"

They looked at one another and shrugged. Anything she asked would be granted, but they found it odd that she presented it as a favor instead of a politely worded order.

"Yes ma'am," Harold said politely, wondering what she needed, but knowing a request from her was just like it was coming from the Captain himself.

"I need two things. If one of you gentlemen could take the Captain's boots and clean them...? And if the other of you would fetch some dinner from the galley... just tell Cookie I asked for it and tell him it's for the Captain, please?"

Both young men nodded. Harold reached for the boots even as Hawks turned and headed down the passageway. Hannah leaned against the door and closed her eyes when she was alone in the corridor. She felt drained, almost as though she had taken Donovan's pain and anguish into her own body. She took a deep breath and straightened, and re-entered the cabin.

Donovan sat unmoving in the tub, eyes closed and head tilted back. Hannah walked to the small table where she had left the soap and towels. She took the soap and wash cloth, and dipped them in the water, working up a good lather before beginning to wash the traces of battle from Donovan's skin.

Donovan didn't crack her eyes when she felt the disturbance in the water. She could feel Hannah, smell her light scent even over the stench of death she still carried in her own nostrils. Donovan flinched involuntarily but perceptibly when Hannah touched her. Hannah waited, knowing that Donovan was strung tighter than a bowstring, and gradually felt the muscles beneath her touch relax.

She gently washed away the tension of the day, doing as much massage therapy as she did actual bathing. She kept her touch light, bordering on impersonal in an effort not to stimulate either of them. It took a bit of doing on her part though, because even sedentary Donovan exuded a raw magnetism the Hannah was drawn to. And having Donovan naked under her touch was... tempting. Hannah focused her breathing and concentrated on getting Donovan clean.

When she was finished with Donovan's body, there was a knock on the door. Hannah rose to her feet and opened it, not surprised to see Hawks there with a laden tray. She took it with another whispered instruction, and he scampered off to do her bidding. Hannah placed the tray on the desk, and spoke to Donovan for the first time since the bath had started.

"Dunk your head for me, love."

Donovan never opened her eyes, but slipped beneath the surface of the water for a long moment. When she came up, she kept her eyes closed, and waited patiently for Hannah's hands to return to her body. They seemed to be grounding her, and she was more grateful for that than she could say.

She tilted her head back at Hannah's urging and moaned as gentle fingers massaged her scalp as they washed the sweat and grime from her hair. A second knock made Donovan slit her eyes and growl when Hannah stepped away from her.

She answered the door and whispered a few more terse instructions, then closed it with a solid thunk, taking a deep breath before she crossed to the tub again.

"Duck your head again, Captain. I need to wash it one more time."

Donovan did as she was bidden, and came up to feel Hannah's hands on her head almost immediately. Hannah worked up a good lather, pleased when it stayed white instead of tinting pink. Then she bit her lip. She hadn't thought this out very well, and was now stuck trying to rinse Donovan's hair in a mostly full tub. There were times when she missed the technology of the twenty-first century, and this was definitely one of them.

"Donovan, can you kneel for me and tilt your head back? I need to rinse the soap, and that is the best way I can figure how to do it."

Donovan rose to her knees in the middle of the tub, revealing toned abs and firm full breasts to Hannah's hungry gaze. She felt rather than saw the intensity, and took Hannah's hands in her own.

"Touch me, Hannah," she whispered, placing Hannah's hands on her stomach and urging them to move.

Hannah traced up Donovan's breastbone, listening to the hitch in her breathing. She allowed her hands to gently caress Donovan's breasts, teasing lightly as she bent her head to kiss the juncture of Donovan's neck and shoulder. Hannah was mindful of the conflicting emotions of desire and control Donovan was struggling with as well as the soap that was beginning to run down the sides of Donovan's face.

"I love you, Donovan, and I do want you... oh boy, do I want you. I just think...." She balled her hands into fists, not realizing the effect the sensation of her nails scraping along Donovan's skin was having on Donovan til she felt the low growling moan rumble in the skin beneath her hands. Hannah jerked her hands away. "Sorry," she muttered, then put her hands back on Donovan's head.

"Tilt back, love, and let me rinse, so you can get out of the water before it gets cold."

Donovan complied, and Hannah poured the pitcher of warm water slowly over the dark hair until she felt sure it was rinsed clean. Then she put the pitcher on the table and reached for the towel, holding it open for Donovan to step into. Hannah tried to avert her as when Donovan stood, but the temptation to watch the water sheet off the lithe body in front of her was too much, and she peeked out from beneath golden lashes.

"Do you like what you see, Angel?"

"Oh yes," Hannah answered before she thought, then blushed scarlet when she realized she'd been caught staring.

Donovan chuckled, wrapping herself in the linen and taking the seat Hannah indicated. Hannah snatched the second towel and began drying the long, dark locks, gently combing it to detangle it as she dried. Donovan simply sat and relished the attention. In all her years at sea, this was the first time after a battle that she hadn't felt like she was losing herself. Instead, through Hannah's presence and touch, she felt like she was doing the right thing for the right reasons, even if there was no real right way to get it done.

Hannah braided Donovan's hair, then rested a hand on her shoulder. "You should eat, love. You need some nourishment."

Donovan took the hand on her shoulder and led Hannah around until she could draw her down into her lap. Hannah cuddled up contentedly, and Donovan savored the feeling of being surrounded by love. "I have everything I need right here," she whispered into the blonde hair.

Hannah squeezed Donovan tightly but remained silent, hoping the Captain would open up and talk. It took a bit, but her patience was rewarded.

"I wish I could make you understand what a difference having you here with me has made for me... especially after a day like today was." Donovan spoke very and Hannah listened closely so as not to miss any words or inflections. "Even though I know that destroying pirates is the only thing that will stop them, even though doing so makes the world a better, safer place... I feel like I die a little bit every single time I am forced into the role of judge, jury and executioner."

"It is the same thing when we are forced to keep merchants who prey on those weaker than themselves. They think respectability makes them better than pirates, but it only serves to make them worse." Donovan rested her cheek on Hannah's head and closed her eyes.

"I am so tired, Hannah, so very tired. There are some days I just want to give it all up and go settle down on the island and never worry about things like this again." She sighed in wry knowledge. "Then I come to my senses and realize that we do make the best kind of difference."

She kissed Hannah's head and eased them to their feet, and Hannah immediately grabbed a shift for Donovan to slip into. Then she guided her back to the chair and pushed her rapidly cooling dinner towards Donovan.

"Eat, love," was all she said.

"Join me?" a plaintive plea.

There was only the one chair, and Hannah looked for a way to make it work. "Tell ya what," she said, placing her hands on Donovan's shoulders and kissing her hair. "You eat your stew and then we can sit on the bed together and share dessert."

Donovan pouted. "This is just an excuse to let you have part of my chocolate cake, isn't it?"

Hannah laughed. "Of course it is. Now eat, while I dump the bath water so we can get the tub out of here. It is crowded enough without it sitting in the middle of the room."

Things were quiet for a while then, but it was a comfortable silence. Donovan was amazed at the difference she felt in the aftermath of the day with Hannah's nearby presence. Hannah for her part was glad that Donovan had opened up to her. Given the myriad of ways things could have gone, she was not displeased with the results of their interaction so far... especially considering the acknowledged burning desire between them. No matter what else, she didn't think now would be the best time for them to consummate it, particularly where Donovan was concerned. There was something about her Donovan that was so fragile, and Hannah saw no reason to disrupt the balance they had found just to temporarily sate their lust. The love and the lust would always be there, and she felt Donovan still had some things to work through, hopefully aloud.

Hannah hadn't realized how heavy eight bucketsful of water could be until she started lifting them on by one to dump them out the window. She was quite tired out by the time she finished, and she was glad to plop down on the bed.

"You could have just called the boys in to do it you know."

"Yes, but I didn't want out solitude together disturbed by them traipsing in and out. This way, only you get to laugh at me."

Donovan did have to chuckle at her then, and gladly moved the tub onto its side next to the door. Then she picked up the rather large piece of cake she'd been given and made her way to the bed. Hannah scooted over voluntarily, and patted the place beside her. Donovan sat and became uneasily silent.

"Donovan?" Hannah eased the plate from her grip, and took the suddenly cold hands in her own, chafing them lightly.

"I used to come to you in my dreams after days like today," Donovan stated hoarsely. "We didn't do anything except lay together. You would hold me and I would sleep without dreams of anything but us." Donovan turned haunted eyes to meet Hannah's. "Will you hold me tonight?"

Hannah scooted of the bed and placed the cake on the table. Then she crawled over Donovan's body and opened her arms wide. Donovan fell into the embrace and both women gave a sigh of relief.

"I love you, Angel... forever."

"Always, my love. Sleep well."

Almost immediately Donovan dropped into a deep sleep, contentedly curled in Hannah's arms. Hannah watched the flame of the lone candle in the room until it burned very low as she tenderly stroked Donovan's skin. It was sometime after that before she fell asleep.

Chapter XXI

"I thought you weren't coming," Donovan said as Hannah appeared in the dreamscape.

"I'm sorry, love. I got to thinking and just now fell asleep, I guess."

A cold chill formed around Donovan's heart at Hannah's words. They'd just promised one another forever and always, but in the back of her mind, Donovan wondered if Hannah could accept all that meant. Maybe she was having second thoughts and had used the time to figure out a way to let Donovan down easily. Maybe she....

A hand on her face caused Donovan's mind to come to a screeching halt, and she looked down into concerned green eyes. "Donovan? Are you all right?"

Donovan stuffed her hands in the pockets of her favorite pair of trousers to keep from reaching out and pulling Hannah into her arms. She looked down at the ground before meeting Hannah's eyes again, then she blurted out her question.

"Hannah, are you having second thoughts about me... about us?" Her voice dropped to a whisper at the last.

Hannah's eyes dropped and Donovan fought not to pull away from her touch, only to feel the chill when Hannah pulled it away herself. She poised herself to run, to get away from the pain that was slicing through her very being. Then she felt her hands being removed from her pockets and clasped protectively in Hannah's.

Hannah pulled Donovan over to the rock where they usually sat and eased her down onto the surface. Hannah seated herself facing Donovan, knowing she needed to see Donovan's face when this was said.

"Donovan, do you remember what I said to you a few hours ago? About being with you for the long haul? About us being together forever?"

Donovan nodded slowly.

"Why do you doubt me? Why do you doubt the sincerity of my love for you?" Hannah blew out a frustrated breath. She reached a hand up and lifted Donovan's chin til their eyes met. "We have to get this settled Donovan... here and now. If you don't trust me, can't trust fully the love I have for you, this is not gonna work between us. So you need to make a decision one way or another. I know where I stand."

Hannah rose and would have walked off, except that she forgot that her letting go of Donovan's hands did not necessarily mean the reverse was true. Donovan had a firm hold on her hand and though obviously holding on delicately, she made it equally clear she was not letting go.

Hannah made as if to resume her seat across from Donovan, but Donovan shook her head. Instead she pulled Hannah into her customary position on the rock with Hannah's back against the Captain's chest, and Donovan's arms clasped around Hannah's waist and their hands linked together. Hannah couldn't help but relax; she fit perfectly here, and both she and Donovan knew it.

"I am sorry, Angel. My doubts are not of you, but of myself." She tightened her grip when Hannah flinched. "Not of my feelings, beloved, nor of us. Only of myself, and the darkness I seem to fall into when this... days like today... happen. You deserve...."

Hannah spun in her arms so quickly Donovan couldn't rightly say how she did it without either of them getting hurt. But she found her face caught in two hands and her gaze held by two fierce green eyes.

"Now you listen to me, Donovan Scott! We all have doubts about the choices we make. We all have faults and shortcomings and stinky feet and bad breath. It's what makes us human, and that's not a bad thing. I understand self-doubt; God knows I've experienced enough of it myself. But sweetheart, no matter what you think sometimes, I got exactly what I deserved when I got you. And you, bless your heart, got more than you bargained for when you got me. You have doubt or concerns, talk to me. Don't assume the worst. Life and love isn't all sunshine and roses. But it is us together forever, okay?"

"I love you," was all Donovan said before she leaned in and captured the lips so close to her own.

When they separated, Donovan asked, "Hannah what were you thinking about earlier?"

"Hmm? Oh, I was thinking about Blackthorne and why he'd been such a problem for you for so long. You seemed to have defeated him and his crew easily enough."

"It was easy, once we met face to face. But Blackthorne has spent years doing hit and run maneuvers that kept him a step ahead of us. We have had any number of skirmishes, but today was the first real opportunity we have had to engage them so closely."

"Did he not realize what he was really up against?"

"No. He had been mocking us for years... not just the Maiden, but the entire fleet. We have just been the ones he normally encountered. I think it was more of a game with him."

"But you knew better." Hannah made a statement.

"I knew better. My whole crew did. We have seen the damage and destruction Blackthorne and his type wreak. We put a stop to it by whatever means necessary. It has never been a game for us. It is a deadly serious business, and one that has the lives and well-being of human beings at stake."

Surprisingly, Hannah smiled. "Do me a favor, love?"

"Name it," came Donovan's instant reply.

"The next time you doubt yourself, remember that, will ya? And remember that you function in the guise of a pirate because the Navy restricts your ability to help those folks who need you to."

Donovan's jaw dropped and she was hard pressed to keep her eyes from bulging out of their sockets. "Uh... bu... um...." She forcefully closed her mouth and scratched the back of her neck. "That was very clever, Angel," she finally managed to mutter.

"Nah. You said it. I just pointed the obvious right back to ya." But Hannah couldn't help the grin that crossed her face. And the two of them fell into a deeper slumber wrapped in one another's embrace.


Things changed subtly for them after that, and life onboard ship quickly fell into a routine once more. Donovan and her crew were aware of several small, uninhabited, uncharted islands, and they chose one of these to drop the remainder of Blackthorne's pirate crew on. They left them with enough supplies to survive until they could establish themselves a bit, but Hannah's heart still went out to the five men standing forlornly on the shore as the ship pulled away.

"Do not fret, Miss Hannah," Merryweather said as he sidled up next to her. "It is more mercy than they deserved, and at least they have a fighting chance."

"I know you're right, Mr. Merryweather. But it makes me think. Makes me wonder what makes a man turn to that sort of life. And it makes me wonder if that could be me had I made different choices in life."

"I think, Miss Hannah, I think that it could very well be any one of us. Taken as a whole, humanity is very much alike, and it is only the decisions that we make and the reasons behind those decisions that make us different. It is what separates us from the rest of the animal world in my opinion."

"I agree with you, Mr. Merryweather. Thank you for reminding me of that."

"Glad to be of service, ma'am." He tipped his hat in salute and walked back to the bridge. He turned to Donovan who stood gracefully at the wheel, hair blowing back in the wind and smile.

"That is quite a lady you have yourself there, Captain."

"I am rather inclined to agree with you, Mr. Merryweather, but what precisely brought on that particular observation?"

"I like her mind, sir. She is a thinking person, and yet she feels things deeply too. Did you know she made sure each man including our prisoners was fed and had their wounds seen to after our skirmish the other day? And she had your hot water on; that is why it was ready as quickly as it was. And it certainly doesn't hurt that she is beautiful to look upon either. I think your father will heartily approve of your heart's choice."

"And my mother?" Donovan asked wryly, knowing she could count on John Merryweather for an honest assessment.

"Captain, my own mother raised me to keep a civil tongue in my head concerning the ladies."


"It is best if I be quiet now sir."

Donovan laughed aloud and clapped Merryweather on the shoulder. She nodded the steersman over. "You know where we are headed, Fitz?"

"Aye, sir."

"Good man. Steady as she goes then."

"Steady as she goes then, aye, sir."

Donovan squeezed her first mate's shoulder before releasing her hold and stepping down to the main deck. "You have the watch, Mr. Merryweather."

"Aye sir." Donovan took two steps from the bridge before she turned back to the first mate with a twinkle in her eye.

"And John?" He lifted his eyes and cocked an eyebrow in rejoinder. "Your response to my mother's reaction is much more polite than my own would have been." She chuckled again at his dropped jaw expression, and went off in search of Hannah.


Hannah watched in amazement as the crew of pirates converted themselves into sailors of the Royal Navy once more. There wasn't much change in their demeanor, really, except that they became even more formal with one another. And of course there was the whole uniform thing....

Hannah couldn't get over the difference it made in their presentation. They went from being a somewhat relaxed band of organized outlaws to a well-oiled military presence, and it changed how everyone around they responded to them, and how they reacted to one another as well.

The first time she saw Donovan in her Captain's uniform, she nearly swooned, and probably would have if she hadn't see the wicked twinkle in Donovan's bright blue eyes.

"You love this, don't you?" Hannah asked as they were preparing to make their last stop before shooting for home. They had gone almost two days out of their way to reach this tiny group of islands to drop off the stolen goods they'd recovered from Blackthorne's ship. Donovan and her crew were official representatives of the Royal Navy, and Hannah couldn't help but be impressed by the bearing that Donovan wore like a cloak. Her presence was even more outstanding than before, and Hannah had been very inspired by the original, thank you very much.

"Do not let the trappings fool you, Angel. I am still Donovan Scott beneath the finery."

"I know, love, and I adore what is hidden beneath the uniform. But you project a different aura as a Naval officer than you do as a pirate."

"Better or worse?"

"Neither, really. Just different... more aloof maybe."

Donovan thought about that. "I think I am actually. There is a certain amount of decorum I am expected to project as a Naval officer. To do that requires that I become more formal, less friendly with officers and crew alike."

"And me?"

Donovan reached out and drew Hannah to her, mindful of the sword that hung at her side. "There is an exception to every rule, Angel, and you are the exception to mine... at least in private." She sighed. "I have to maintain the facade in public for everyone's sake."

"I understand, Donovan. But one day... one day I hope I will be able to be your exception in public." Then Hannah took Donovan's arm, and let the Captain lead them from the cabin to the deck. The crew were waiting to take the goods to shore.


Donovan stood back and watched Hannah effortlessly charm the fascinated islanders. They had never seen spun gold hair or emerald green eyes. Most of Donovan's crew had dark hair and dark eyes and those that didn't didn't stand still long enough for anyone to note or comment on it anyway. But Hannah bore their curiosity graciously, and in doing so won herself a place in their hearts forever.

"They found you mesmerizing, you know," Donovan commented to Hannah later that evening. They were comfortably ensconced in their cabin, and Donovan was once more the relaxed looking adventurer. Hannah continued to wear her comfortable native garb. She wouldn't don the complicated period dress until they arrived in port, and then only so as not to embarrass Donovan in front of her mother.

"They found me different, Captain. Blonde hair and green eyes don't seem to be very common in these parts, even among your crew. John's hair is the closest, and it is still very different from mine."

"No, angel, they found you compelling. Not just because you *looked* different, but because you *acted* differently towards them then most of our race and breeding do. You accepted their looks and touches and questions without malice or rancor. You showed infinite patience with them. Even though my men are polite enough, they do not encourage questions or conversation in a first meeting. It takes a lot of time and effort on our parts to accomplish what you did in one afternoon."

Hannah lifted her head from Donovan's shoulder where she'd been happily resting. As much as she loved the look of Donovan in her uniform as the formidable British Navy Captain, she much preferred Donovan as she was now... as simply Donovan. Now she caught Donovan's eye. "Did I do wrong, love? By being so open with them, I mean?"

Donovan eased Hannah's head back down to her shoulder and gently kissed the blonde head tucked under her chin. "No, beloved. Absolutely not. If you were our ambassador, we could take over the world with that natural charm." She felt rather than saw the blush that crept up Hannah's face and chuckled soundlessly in response. "Oof!"

She sat up slightly so she could look down into green eyes she knew would turn her way. "Now, was that nice? I ask you! Pay a beautiful woman a compliment and get slapped for your trouble!" She smiled when Hannah gently began caressing the injured body part in question.

"Be nice to me," Hannah grumbled.

"Me?? I *was* being nice. I did not hit you. I simply said you were very charming."

Hannah narrowed her eyes at Donovan, and the Captain had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at the expression on the writer's face.

"It wasn't WHAT you said; it was HOW you SAID it," poking at Donovan's chest to emphasize her points.

Donovan laughed aloud. She'd never known anyone like Hannah, and she wondered if it was all due to the fact that Hannah was raised in a different time and place, or if it was just something about Hannah herself. Donovan squeezed the younger woman closer to her, eliciting a squawk from Hannah before she settled herself more firmly into Donovan's embrace.

"Hannah, I hope you never have cause to change your outlook or your attitude. I love you just the way you are."

"I love you too, Donovan, British officer or pirate. Happy dreams, my love."

"You too, beloved. Goodnight."


The next few weeks passed in something of a monotonous routine. Donovan took the first watch, and as such was up before dawn. Hannah got a very good idea of exactly what it took to be the Captain of a Royal Naval vessel. Everything was brought to Donovan's attention for approval, though most everything went through John Merryweather first.

Since the first mate took the mid watch, he and the Captain shared lunch and went over any business that needed to be seen to. Hannah couldn't believe the details involved in running a ship. Mr. Roberts usually had the third watch, and he shared breakfast with Donovan for the same purpose. Though Hannah enjoyed these informative times, she admittedly looked forward to the evening meal, when she and Donovan usually took the opportunity to eat alone. And when they did have to share mealtimes with the crew, they at least took a turn or two alone on deck under a canopy of stars, unbothered by the crewmen on duty.

Hannah decided she like the men who served under Donovan's command. They were individualistic when it came to their command styles and personalities and such. But they were all unerringly to a fault loyal to Donovan and supportive of her leadership as their Captain. Hannah had been approached by more than one member of the crew who was anxious to share with her how highly their Captain was regarded, both by themselves and others in the fleet.

For her part, Hannah pitched in and helped where ever she could lend a hand. She learned several new skills, including navigation, chart plotting and knot tying. Cookie was quick to express his joy on the occasions she helped out in the galley, even though she had him trying things he'd never conceived of trying before. Beyond that, she was just plain good company, and he looked forward to the quiet times they simply sat and talked while preparing the next meal.

Hannah also anticipated their exchanges. Cookie had well-thought out ideas, and given enough encouragement, he was willing to express them in a very intelligent manner. He and Hannah had some lively conversations, and their diametrically opposed backgrounds just made them all the more interesting.

So the weeks passed and they slowly neared the Warrior Maiden's home port. Hours upon days were spent scrubbing and polishing the already spotless ship, making her ready for her appearance at the Admiralty when they reached Portsmouth.


"Yes, Hannah?" Her voice was muffled as it came from the inside of the small wardrobe. She was busy preparing her dress uniform, as they expected to reach land in the next day or so. Already her buttons were polished and her sword sharpened, and now she was searching for her boot polish. It had to be in the wardrobe... there was no where else for it to be. But she had apparently not put it in its customary spot. So now she was trying not to become frustrated as she searched for it.

Hannah sidetracked her question in light of the obvious aggravation Donovan was emitting. "Love, what are you searching for?"

"My boot polish! I cannot find it and the boots will not polish correctly without it!" She ran a hand through her dark hair in an effort to calm herself.

"Donovan, Harold has it. He came by this morning when you were on deck and asked for your dress boots and the polish. I assumed you had sent him down here for them, and I gave them to him." She sighed and looked at the floor. "I'm sorry. I'll go get them fr...."

Donovan reached out a hand to Hannah to stop her before she could turn around. "No, Angel. That is perfectly fine. I am sorry I overreacted. It is just...."

"Just what, Donovan? Why is everyone acting so nuts around here? I thought ya'll'd be glad to get home, but instead, everybody's working like dogs, and no one seems thrilled that we are reaching land in another day or two. Am I missing something here?"

Donovan lowered her body until she was sitting on the bed; then she drew Hannah down onto her lap. "Everyone is 'acting so nuts' as you so eloquently put it because homecoming is very demanding on us. When we reach the port, the Fleet Admiral will immediately come aboard for an inspection and review. If that goes well, then we will put into the dock and the Maiden will be turned over to the yard inspector so she can be fitted out to return to sea again."

"And if you don't pass inspection?"

"If we fail to pass inspection, then we must start over, and that means we stay here and clean and scrub until the Admiral is satisfied." She paused then sighed. "Of all the ships in the fleet, only a very, very small handful have perfect inspection records, and the Maiden is one of them. We tend to be judged more harshly because of it."

"That hardly seems fair."

"No, but it is not surprising. Life is rarely fair."

Hannah sat quietly for a moment. "I'm gonna complicate things for you, aren't I?"

"Yes," Donovan answered honestly, "but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. At this point in my life, the Navy needs me much more than I need it. I would be very happy to settle in the cottage on the island and never leave again."

Hannah pulled back slightly to stare into Donovan's eyes and gauge her sincerity. What she found there surprised her, given her knowledge of Donovan's love of the sea and her duty as an officer of the crown. "You're serious."

"Yes, I am. If you were with me, I could be very content spending the rest of my life settled down there with you."

"Wow," Hannah said, her eyes taking on a shine.

"Could you bear something like that, Hannah? Knowing the differences between your world and mine? Could you give up all your advances to live a simple life with me there, here in this time?"

"I like to think I could, love. I know I would be content to live in any time and place that we were together. I like to think I am strong enough to adapt to the differences in our cultures and become a contributing member of this society." Hannah paused, correlating her thoughts. "But we are assuming that the portal has or will close at some point, and that we will no longer be able to cross from time to time. We don't know that."

"That is very true, and your world has so many fascinating things in it."

Hannah gently traced the strong brow line and cheekbones. "Do you think you would be able to choose to live in my time, if it was offered to you as an opportunity?"

"I like to think I would have your strength and courage to try, Hannah."

Hannah sighed, releasing a tension she didn't even realize she was carrying until that moment. "Good, but I'm glad it's not something we have to worry about for a few months. I have a feeling I'm gonna have my hands full trying to manage winning your mother over to my side."

"I would be willing to wager you are correct in that summation, madam."

Hannah slid from Donovan's lap and they both stood and began moving around the small room once more. "Why is that, Captain?"

"Why is that what, Angel?"

"Why am I going to have my hands full with your mother? I only based the comment on the impression I have gotten from the few comments you've made about her. Why is she gonna have a problem with me? She doesn't even know me!"

"Precisely, and that will only be the first problem she has with you." Donovan grew dizzy with their pacing and sat once more, pulling Hannah back into her lap.

"Excuse me?"

"She doesn't know you or know of you. Therefore you are not titled and as such beneath her consideration as a good marital match. The fact that you are a woman does not help. Although I cannot marry a man as long as I am regarded as a man, my mother will not like the fact that you are woman. And finally there is the fact that you are a colonist. That will probably be seen as treason in her eyes."

Green fire was burning hotly in Hannah's eyes before Donovan finished speaking. "Oh, I can see she and I are gonna need to clear up her few issues right at the beginning of things."

"Do not be hasty, my love. She is quite a formidable woman. And she does love me in her own fashion."

"Oh, I won't do anything to disgrace you, Donovan, unless she pushes all my buttons about you. Then she is gonna find out what happens when a formidable woman who loves you body and soul gets pushed too far. I won't roll over and play dead for her."

Donovan flushed from head to toe. There was something very sexy in Hannah's possessiveness, and she couldn't stop the thrill that ran up her spine with the words or the tone of voice. "I have the distinct impression that my mother may have finally met her match." She paused then smiled brightly. "My father will love you."

"Well, at least I'll have two-thirds of the family on my side."

"Oh, I believe there will be more support for you than you can possibly imagine, Angel."

Hannah waited for Donovan to continue, but instead the Captain lifted Hannah from her lap and rose. She walked to the door and opened it without speaking. Hannah finally realized the conversation was over for the moment and asked, "Whither are you bound, good sir?"

The twinkle in Donovan's eye belied the seriousness of her tone. "I must still fetch my boots, madam. It will not do for the Captain of this vessel to stand before the Admiral in stocking feet."

"And we will continue this conversation later?"

"No, beloved. I think you understand precisely how to manage my mother. The rest will be a pleasant surprise."


"Absolutely. I will be right beside you to insure that it is."

"Then go get your boots, Captain. I need to hang out my dress to let the wrinkles fall out of it." She chewed on her thumbnail. "I am gonna have to buy a few more dresses here, love. Much as I prefer the clothes Satosh made for me, I don't think your mother or anyone else here will approve of them very much."

Donovan looked thoughtful. "You are correct, Angel. But let us get past the trial of meeting my mother first. It may be that she will approve of you, and will help supply a dressmaker. And if she does not, there is no need for us to remain long, and you may as well be comfortable in that case."

Hannah walked the few steps to the door and wound her arms around Donovan's neck. "I like the way you think, Captain."

Donovan leaned down and stole a kiss, which lasted a bit longer than she expected it to. She drew back with a deep breath. "Well, do not share this around, madam, but, um... I like your thinking too."

"Oh really? Do ya now?" Hannah asked coyly.

"Yes ma'am, I do." Donovan reached out and unexpectedly swatted Hannah on the butt. "But I find you most distracting. Now, excuse me while I go find my boots!"

Hannah chuckled out loud as Donovan scampered out the door as though the Devil himself was on her heels. It was nice to know that she had the same effect on Donovan that Donovan had on her. I really like this giddy, being-in-love thing Hannah though with a smile, before turning her attention back to her dress.


Hannah was quite impressed with the ship's company and crew as they stood along the railing of the ship as it slowly made its way up the channel to Portsmouth. The ships and sailors on their route saluted as they went by, but nary a man turned his eye from his station.

Donovan stood on the bridge, dazzling in her array of bright brass button and the few glittering ribbons she wore on her chest. Hannah would never have recognized her had she passed her on the street. The stern demeanor, the powdered hair, the trim uniform were all so different from the Donovan she was so well acquainted with. It was only on the rare occasion that Donovan caught her attention and let her eyes twinkle briefly that Hannah felt it was all some great show put on for someone's benefit. She still hadn't quite decided whose.

As the boat pulled in to the dock, men scrambled to tie her off and returned to the positions on the rail as quickly as possible. This was unusual for the Maiden. Generally, she was anchored some distance from the dock and the crew was ferried to shore in long boats. Their tying to the dock itself signaled a longer shore rotation, and each man aboard knew the reason behind it. And with the exception of one or two, all were glad for it. Sailing with Captain Donovan Scott had always been a good thing. Hannah had simply made it better.

Almost immediately, the Admiral was piped on board. He studies his surroundings with a smile, noting the proud stance of the sailors and the polished look of the ship. Then his eyes fell on Hannah and he turned to Captain Scott with a lifted eyebrow.

"It appears, Captain that we need to talk."

Donovan nodded and saluted and motioned for the Admiral to lead the way. Then she extended an arm to Hannah who accepted it with alacrity.

"Mr. Merryweather, set the watch, and dismiss the men for leave time. Make sure it is understood when each is due back here for duty. We will begin unloading the stores in the morning. Then I expect the Admiral will have a schedule for us for repairs and such."

"Aye sir. Good luck," he muttered under his breath.

Donovan gave a bare nod of acknowledgement of his words. She clasped her free hand over the one Hannah was gripping her arm with. "Come, beloved. Time to face the music."


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