Set in the nebulous weeks post-Dragonstone.
It’s a little perplexing to admit that she’s become accustomed to thinking of the rather obtrusive scrape of the waves below her cabin as a benchmark for silence. Back on Thrumm, she’d been spooked by the palpable hush that descended at night; if anything, she found herself pining for sound. She might hate herself, just a little, for getting used to life on boats. (Ships. What you will.) Even so, unwillingly ensconced in a lumpy, miniscule bunk, packed in below deck with the rest of the crew, the difference between this and her cabin is quite considerable. The gentle murmur of the waves is one thing. The constant, arrhythmic shuffling, creaking, and occasional conversation of her crewmates is quite another. It is impossible to think, let alone silence her thoughts for long enough to sleep. How sailors do this on a regular basis, Tabitha will never know.
She wouldn’t know, after all. She’s not a sailor.
If she is anything, she is merely grateful for Pietro’s snores. This is if only because, should some vanishingly improbable future circumstance generate a need to stifle the sound of Tabitha sobbing quietly into her pillow, she is well provided for. Not that this is currently relevant at all.
(Pockmark Peggy snuffles in her sleep. Two Toe Tim mutters something distant and obscene into his pillow. Syphilis George coughs. Tabitha makes a thin, displeased sound, and backs further against the wall.)
It’s just that. Suddenly, at this moment, it’s rather a little too much.
Objectively speaking, it is also ridiculous. Tabitha Terrec, after all, was dead before any of this began. The fact that she’d taken half the name out for one last ill-considered ride and rendered it moribund in the process is hardly reason to mourn.
The necessity of adopting a permanent pseudonym just feels unnecessarily rife with symbolism, is all. And besides - she is so, so tired, and she misses Dan outrageously, and overall this is simply not - not optimal in the slightest.
She clenches her fists against the covers, and brings her knees up to her chest. Crushes her face hard against the pillow. Pietro’s snores seem to have gone the way of her best lavender crepe shawl last month - that is to say, vanished under mysterious circumstances - but he is kind enough to remain motionless in the opposite bunk, as if naively intent on giving the impression of continued unconsciousness. Very thoughtful. Still, she can’t guarantee he won’t go blabbing to the Captain about the brief crying fit that absolutely didn’t happen. Pietro is a lovely man with a vast knowledge of maritime navigation and quite beautiful hands, but he really is an inveterate tattletale.
Fine. Let him talk. Let the Captain know. Might as well dispense with dignity alongside everything else. Like privacy.
Pride and embarrassment vie uncomfortably within her at the prospect, though - and this, as it turns out, is enough to silence the tears that absolutely hadn’t begun to fall in the first place. Apparently, the thought of failing the latest challenge the Captain has thrown at her is enough to shock her out of self-pity. Good. That’ll show him.
Rolling over, she lapses into defiant silence.
“Will you just look at my nightgown, Adrianna?”
Tabitha turns appealing eyes to her crewmate, her mouth a perfect moue of distaste. Adrianna “Scourge of the High Seas” Abernathy peers back, seemingly at a loss for a reaction.
“The sleeve?” Tabitha clarifies. “Half of the lace is coming unravelled!”
Adrianna peers at the offending article, and raises an eyebrow. “Huh.”
“Symbolism again! My wardrobe is wilting, Adrianna, and I have neither the method nor the means of replenishment or repair!”
Her crewmate nods - Tabitha’s anguish apparently having touched a chord within her. “There’s a needle and thread in that barrel over there.”
“Gods, just thinking about it is enough to make one weep! Not that I have been. Weeping, that is. But - look, Adrianna, have you ever seen the last remnants of something you used to cherish get thrown out with yesterday’s bilge water? And even if perhaps you don’t cherish it quite as much as you once maybe might have done, it still stings?”
Adrianna opens her mouth. Closes it. Then: “I couldn’t say, Miss Terrec. But that sounds like an awful lot of mixed metaphors.”
“Oh, it’s Tabitha, darling - you’ve seen me entirely disrobed - but the point is, this isn’t about lace, per se. It’s about identity! And - and dignity! Plus, with my wardrobe diminished to this degree, we’ll be entirely bereft of costumes for the musical!”
It is entirely possible for a person to reinvent themselves. Joy has proven that, if nothing else. But although Tabitha may be many things, she is not Joy - and honestly, with all the trappings of her nobility inexorably dwindling to the point of inconsequentiality, she doesn’t feel like much of anything at all. Embracing life on board the Crimson Mother was easy until it became her actual life.
Sighing, she tucks the sleeve out of sight. “Losing the cabin wasn’t the last straw - I can tolerate that. Even the name, I can tolerate. But the point is, when it comes down to it, is there really anything left to distinguish me from the rest of the -” Suddenly, she halts, aware of what she is saying - and to whom.
It is Adrianna’s turn to look at her. It is the sort of look she normally reserves for Darrish merchants. Tabitha bites her lip.
“I, ah. I didn’t mean -”
Adrianna continues to stare for a steady, interminable moment. Tabitha looks down.
Carefully, Adrianna speaks. “Tabitha. Did you want me to show you how to climb to the crow’s nest or not?”
Tabitha looks up, meekly. “That would be really nice, Adrianna. Thank you.”
And okay, granted, she’s grown rather fond of the sea. She’s caught herself once or twice in the act of waxing lyrical about its unpredictability, its splendour - particularly when on land, and especially in the city, which leads her to suspect that she might have actually learned to miss the cursed thing on occasion. This, combined with the fact that she’s stopped bothered to pretend she doesn’t know how to strike the royals and shorten the mizzen-course - and has indeed known this for weeks at least - is probably indicative of something beyond the death knoll of her dignity. That much, she’ll admit.
“This any good?” asks Tabitha, tightening the last knot.
Pietro takes a step back, and eyes her handiwork critically. “It’ll serve, Terrec.”
She flashes him a grin, leaping back down onto the deck with playful disregard for his proffered hand. “Truly?”
Pietro’s eyebrows bump together, in a brief moment of doubt, as he inspects her knots for a second time. “This’d be a Sheet Bend, wouldn’t it? Over here, we tend to use a Highwayman’s Hitch. More secure.”
Tabitha’s nose wrinkles. “Oh really? Must everything be larceny and dramatics with you lot? Your Highwayman is all very well, but I’ll have you know they were perfectly satisfied with my Sheet Bend on the Melinda Salic’s Vengeance!”
Pietro, with laudable equanimity, shrugs. “There’s some as likes the Sheet Bend, and some as likes the Highwayman, Terrec. Me - I like doing as my captain says, and not wasting his time with either.”
Tabitha looks for a moment as if she is about to argue vehemently - but then pauses, as if struck by a sudden thought. “I mean. It’s not to say that I dislike the Highwayman’s Hitch, exactly.”
He nods, satisfied. “There you are then.” And turns to correct the offending Bend.
“It’s just that -” Pietro pauses, as Tabitha continues. “Well, you see, I’m accustomed to all sorts of knots. Sheet Bends, Stopper Knots, Bowlines and… whatnot. Given my upbringing - and personal predilections, of course - I’m accustomed to quite the variety, and all in all, the prospect of confining myself to one knot is so limiting as to be absurd!”
Pietro takes a moment to process this. “But… we don’t use just the one knot.”
Tabitha waves her hand, as if consigning this to irrelevance. “Nonetheless, one can grow to like all sorts of things. All sorts of knots, I mean. Liking the Highwayman’s Hitch might have appeared inconceivable at first, but that isn’t to say it prevents me from ever using the Sheet Bend, or even experimenting with a vast array of knots, from all kinds of places! Really, I oughtn’t to allow any fondness for the Highwayman’s Hitch to disconcert me, even if I currently happen to be resident of a place in which that one knot predominates.”
“… Yes,” says Pietro, with experimental certainty.
“And whilst I might initially have considered the Highwayman’s Hitch to be… well, uncouth, I suppose, and a tad immoral - perhaps I’ve expanded my horizons sufficiently to understand that this isn’t quite the case. Perhaps, even, I ought to consider the possibility that my upbringing wasn’t every bit as cosmopolitan as I took such pains to assure so many people it was. But that’s a little by the by, I guess.”
“Definitely,” agrees Pietro.
“So, overall, I suppose you must be right! After all, I’m here, am I not? Might as well embrace the Highwayman’s Hitch. The only thing that’s been holding me back is a misplaced sense of pride,” Tabitha concludes, triumphantly. “Pride and - snobbery!”
There is a pause, during which Pietro attempts to parse what he has just heard. Then: “Terrec, have you thought of just talking to the Captain?”
Another pause. Suddenly, Tabitha’s face lights up. “Oh, Pietro, you’re absolutely right! What was I thinking? Being a pirate - sorry, privateer - while I happen to be here doesn’t mean I have to abandon anything to do with my identity - not the bits that matter, at least! And I want to, so badly. I’ll talk to the Captain immediately about giving me more responsibility on deck!”
And with that, she departs in a small flurry of slightly fraying skirts, leaving Pietro with a handful of half-tied knots and an expression of utter bewilderment.
Tabitha surveys her own reflection, nose crinkling critically. Her turquoise sash is lopsided. Her hands have sprouted a number of highly unattractive callouses, and the less said about the deleterious effects of saltwater on hair, the better. For a fraction of a moment, she feels the old flare of panic - and wonders, half hysterically, what Lucian Graves would think of her now.
But then she swallows. Smiles. Her eyes retain the same lustre - if she says so herself - and there’s no denying that the tricorne hat she’s borrowed from Adrianna set them off quite admirably. A pirate perhaps she may be, but most assuredly she is a dashing one.
As if to prove this, she slants one of her very best captivating glances towards Pockmark Peggy - who giggles a little, and grins. Tabitha grins back.
“Done preening, Tabitha?” asks Adrianna, from the other side of the room. “Snuff the candle, would you - some of us would like to sleep.”
Tabitha meets her eyes in the mirror, and smiles. “Oh, I’m not quite in the mood for sleep.”
Adrianna, despite herself, makes no move to extinguish the candle.
Later, curled up in her hammock, surrounded by the slumbering forms of countless crewmates, Tabitha pulls the blanket contentedly over her head. A few seconds later, she stretches out her leg to prod Pietro, who has once again begun to snore.
And gods dash it all, even that feels like home.