Such thoughts are most pleasant, of course. And not by accident, perhaps, have you thoughtlessly wound the line around one arm and one leg, and spent the last little while just savoring the images, dangling in place amid a cloud of strong musk. Dampening the line with more than seawater, too, you suddenly realize.

But you can't stay here forever, and you're almost back up on the deck; you're past the turn of the hull, and the boards are close alongside now. A moment's respite first, though, you think—easy enough to swing your legs out and prop your feet against the boards, and indeed easy enough to climb this way, walking sideways up the hull as you pull yourself up the line. Just a little care as you come up to the captain's cabin windows—mustn't put a foot through the glass—but they're narrow enough windows, though many, that it's simple to "stand" astraddle one of them, one foot on the glazing bar to either side of the pane.

Which is fine, as far as it goes. But a sudden wash of warm yellow-orange light, bright enough for your night-adapted eyes to squint against it, might suggest that it doesn't go far enough. There's only one way that such a thing might happen: if someone in the captain's cabin—roused perhaps by a noise from the quarterdeck above or an incautious bump against the hull—were to raise the wick in an oil lamp, and rise from her bunk, and carry that lamp over to a window, and pull the curtain aside. And who else, in the captain's cabin, would it be, but...

You hardly dare move. But you can even more hardly refuse to acknowledge the situation. And so, dreading every instant what you're about to see, you raise your head, and look down the length of your naked body, and—yes. Of course. Round wiry-furred face, blunt dark muzzle, short rounded ears with a tallish tuft of fur rising between them, all framing a pair of dark, dark eyes.

You have awakened your captain. And not only awakened her; you have caused her to come to her cabin window and find a sight for the ages: the newest member of her crew, stark bare-assed naked, fur soaked and clinging to your every inch. And not only that, even—but in your present undignified posture, a foot planted either side of the very window out which she is looking—so much for modesty: you are currently giving her an extremely good vantage of your thoroughly engorged sex, slick and wet with the fluids brought freely flowing by your rather heated imaginings of the great tentacled sea-beast with whom you have so recently, if all too briefly, sojourned.

You are far too terror-struck to move. It's all you can do not to wet yourself. All you can think about is the screams you've heard from this very cabin through whose window you now stare—that, and how the next of them will certainly be your own. That, and how impossible it is to break your captain's expressionless gaze, as she stares back at you.

Only an instant. A million years. Both at once. And then, still without the slightest hint of her thoughts appearing on her face, Captain Hua draws the curtain back across, breaking the moment—freeing you to resume your climb back to the quarterdeck. Although you do briefly contemplate simply letting go of the rope, and letting the sea swallow you for good this time...but no. You're hardly above flight in general—but the deep thing still needs your help, without which it will die. And you cannot save it if you flee. So climb you do, and far too quickly find yourself clambering over the quarterdeck rail, to face the fate to which you have now no doubt condemned yourself...

It doesn't take long to finish the climb. Just a few moments; also, forever. Long enough, anyway, for the captain to reach the quarterdeck before you do; seeing her there gives you to discover that, as exhausting as this watch has already been, you have not yet reached the limit of dread.

But she's not all there is to see. Lu and Quen are still there—the latter kneeling on the deck with her arms behind her, and something about her movement, when she shifts and drops her head as if to hide from your gaze, tells you that at the very least her wrists are tied. Lu, evidently undeceived as to the nature of your fall, stands half a pace behind Quen and a bit to one side, enough so that you can see the dark shape of a blackjack dangling from her hand. Not hard to put together what went on up here in the moments after your fall, then; had you not been failing to free yourself from the lines in time to go on breathing, you'd probably have heard what must have been the rather solid thump of Quen's long body hitting the boards. By the set of Lu's shoulders, by something about her expression that you can't quite put a name to, she's ready upon the instant to lay Quen out again.

As for Quen herself—well, she did try to kill you, after all. And even before that, you never thought very well of the tall woman, or had much cause to imagine she thought very well of you. To be sure, you've had your reasons to avoid getting close to anyone—given your proclivities and the life in which you found them, trust was far too great a risk—but, precisely because of your intimate knowledge of such dissimulations, you easily spot them in others. You have since first meeting seen them in Quen. You never imagined that she would wish you dead, but the evidence of her actions seems incontrovertible—and not to you alone, for here after all she now is, bound on her knees and—

weeping? Hard to tell, but she's shaking, just slightly—

But to inquire further will have to wait, because you can feel your captain's eyes on you. It's faintly surprising, in fact, that she's had nothing yet to say; you've never known her to be so reticent, when ired, and surely your actions tonight must have aroused her ire beyond compare. Perhaps she has only found herself yet unable to frame the extent of her fury in words?

You know you should meet Captain Hua's eyes, now. Look her in the eye and at least try to apologize for what you've done—you might after all have risked the ship! Had the great beast below been of a temper to lash out, when you meddled in its agony, and strike the Bitch a blow beneath her waterline—your captain's fine ship might even now be on her way to the bottom, every soul of her crew bobbing lost in the sea—or worse, trapped drowning aboard, crewing the Reaver Bitch's final cruise—surely whatever hells the captain will inflict on you, in recompense for this night's work, are only too well earned, and you wish again to have simply let go the line and sunk beneath the surface, to make the vasty deeps your home forever. The guilt like fever sickness tells you you merit no better.

But merit what you may, here you are, and mortified with shame though you be, you feel a matching responsibility to your captain, too. Hard though she's been and fearsome, timid as she's made you feel—she has nevertheless made her ship a far finer home for you, as for all her crew, than any you hoped ever to find after you fled the little coastal village where you were born and raised. You have to at least try to apologize, somehow.

And, you surprise yourself to find, you will not mumble your shame under your breath, eyes on the boards. Though you may not love Captain Hua—especially when she has you greasing the capstan bearing, again—you do most strongly respect her, and this has a force of its own upon you.

And so, though it be by far the hardest thing you've ever done in your life, you raise your head again.

It takes an age. Plenty of time, as your gaze tracks up from the boards, for irrelevant thoughts—for example, that you've never seen Captain Hua out of daywear, and after all why would you? But, dragged up from a well-earned and no doubt much-needed sleep, her apparently solitary garment just now is a surprisingly fine and rather lovely robe in vermilion silk moiré, belted around her waist and doing all but nothing to conceal the heavy musculature beneath. Rather lovely—and surprisingly decolleté, you see as your eyeline rises, exposing the verges of a pair of rather slight curves owing nothing to mere muscle—exposing, too, some of the more subtle among the captain's spots, much unlike the sharply defined ones which decorate her limbs and neck. Altogether a remarkable diversion, on the way to the gallows, and even in this swamp of shame and horror and dread, you find a fleeting moment in which to appreciate the sight.

But fleeting, though; for an instant, as the captain's blunt muzzle passes from peripheral vision into central, you quail, and only barely do you gather yourself in time not to look away. And then, even if you would look away, it's too late.

Meeting her eyes, you find a strange sort of magnetism there, as if at any instant you must and certainly shall be devoured whole in them. But perhaps you only imagine it. Because your captain, normally anything but impassive, is so blank of expression now—so devoid—that perhaps you would after all have done better to keep your eyes downcast. Surely the very boards of the Bitch's quarterdeck would be more forthcoming now than the face of her master!—hers, and yours. That was, after all, the bargain, in exchange for whatever home you might find or make for yourself here: your life, as the lives of all her crew, hers to command, and entrusted to her care.

Care of which you find nothing, now, in her face. Nothing of care, of rage, of disappointment or fury or the sort of terrible purpose that ends with a line from the yardarm, a body—only a body, unalive—depending therefrom. Nothing of any of that. Just—nothing. And seeing the nothing on Captain Hua's face, you find you have still not yet reached your limit of dread.

You've no idea what you could possibly say. No idea in all the world. You feel an overwhelming urge to say something, anyway. To say anything that might—that might shift that basalt imperturbability, just a little. Anything that might a little relieve the terrifying uncertainty that seems to strike further into your heart every instant. Better to be hanged from the yardarm—better to be flayed alive, every shriek a salutary lesson to the crew you die for failing—than not to know. To have to wait for it.

But you'll never know what you might have said, because in the very moment when your lips part, when your mouth begins to shape speech, your captain's head turns. It is a tiny movement, almost imperceptible, but the terror has so sharpened your senses that you would notice the shift of a single hair in the short stiff fur between her eyes, and tiny though it be, the movement conveys her imperative of negation as strongly as a shout. And so you do not speak, after all.

You don't, but she does, in the deep and slightly husky voice which is her wont—a voice whose calm betrays no more than the utter lack of expression on her face.