Marinette woke up slowly. Her throat felt raw and moving any limbs took too much effort for her to be bothered to try. She hadn’t forgotten where she was but took this transition from sleep to wakefulness to throw around fantasy escape scenarios in her mind. Marinette had no fighting skills and to her it was a wonder she was even alive. Volpina was a newly famous pirate. She’d mutinied from Captain Hawkmoth and taken half his crew with her. And of that crew, Marinette noted, there were quite a few old acquaintances of hers. The night before she’d been escorted to a small cell, hay covering the ground and a bedroll in the corner, by two girls she’d known in adolescence as Rose and Juleka. They acted as if they’d never met Marinette and had quietly locked her up, then left.
Propping herself up on her elbow, Marinette turned her bleary eyes to the barred window. The sun was bright and she guessed it was midday already. If so, she appreciated being left alone.
The thought of her cake sprang to her mind. Oh lord! She’d spent so long making it, meticulously following her father’s recipe. Mrs. Chamack likely wouldn’t collect it. Cakes aren’t important during the aftermath of a pirate attack. Maybe she would, though. Maybe she’d go to check on Marinette only to find her missing. Marinette hoped someone noticed her absence.
A soft clanking alerted Marinette to the fact that she wasn’t alone. She turned in her bedroll to see Volpina, casually leaning against the opposite wall. She had shifted and caused the keys on her belt to make noise.
“Were you...watching me?,” Marinette furrowed her eyebrows. “That’s a bit creepy.”
Volpina replied with a snort, pushing herself off the wall and walking closer to the bars.
“Definitely not. I’m just sneaky,” She smiled slyly, “like a fox.”
Marinette kept a close eye on the captain. She could see the resemblance, obviously complimented by her burnt orange coat and laced white blouse.
Marinette pushed herself into a seated position, pulling her legs to her chest. Her head ached from what was most likely a concussion. She felt anxious.
“Gonna hand over the goods yet?” Volpina asked. She seemed almost playful, leaning against the bars. The sunlight from the window made her green eyes stand out, vibrant and focused.
Marinette looked away, the eye contact too much for her.
“This seems like a big hassle for some earrings.”
Volpina merely shrugged. “What kind of lady would I be, to give up after all this trouble?”
Though nothing changed about the pirate’s demeanour, Marinette felt like she was being lied to. She couldn’t explain it, but it annoyed her.
The conversation was ended by the sound of approaching footsteps. A man was descending the stairs to the hold, his rusty orange hair draped over one eye, while what little of his face showed was coated with a smear of charcoal. Something about him tugged at Marinette’s memory. It wasn’t until he spoke, after tossing her a block of cheese and bread through the bars, that she was able to remember.
“Nathanael?!,” Marinette gasped. She scrambled to stand up.
The last time she had seen the quiet boy was a year ago, before he had decided to study art abroad. Marinette was having a hard time believing the meek boy she’d once known was now a pirate.
She stared at him, and he gazed back. He didn’t seem surprised, implying he had known who she was ahead of time. Well, duh. Marinette figured. He probably saw me last night.
The thought quickly turned her stomach over. Nathanael, Juleka...even Rose. They were all people who had grown up with Marinette. Yesterday they had torn her hometown apart. Their hometown.
Dimly, Marinette heard Volpina and Nathanael exchanging words. She couldn’t focus on what they were saying, too busy imagining former friends pillaging her town. She heard the bars rattle and Volpina’s voice but all she could focus on was how hard it was to breathe. Marinette felt herself swaying and pressed into the back wall of the cell. She felt herself starting to shake.
With terrified eyes she looked at Nathanael and Volpina who had unlocked the door to her cell and approached her. Volpina grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to say something, anything. A wheeze escaped her lips.
“You aren’t in danger, calm down.” Volpina sighed, her voice was both authoritative and a bit exasperated.
It didn’t help. With Volpina this close and bad thoughts racing through her mind she could only think of her earring. She took her hand off her heaving chest and clutched her earlobe. Volpina looked annoyed at this before Nathanael placed a tentative hand on her shoulder tentatively.
“I think you’re making it worse, Captain.”
“You do something about this, then.” Volpina backed away and was replaced by Nathanael. Instead of grabbing Marinette, he quietly instructed her to take a deep breath in.
“Focus on me, don’t think. Just take slow breaths.”
Marinette was grateful for his attitude. It reminded her of the Nathanael she had once known, which was markedly more relaxing than his breathing exercises. Though the breathing did help. Obviously.
Soon enough Marinette was back to normal albeit a bit flushed. Nathanael moved away to give her space, for which she was grateful.
Marinette looked at Volpina who stood with her arms crossed and had the look of a woman greatly inconvenienced. But Marinette noticed the captain scan Marinette’s face before relaxing her shoulders and assuming a more casual stance. Volpina seemed to be at least a bit worried. Marinette was intrigued by this, remembering the scene last night on the main deck; Volpina’s closeness and the flush she had tried to hide.
“Well, that was dramatic.” Volpina snarked. “I’m running a ship, not a hospital. Keep your crazy in check.”
“Keep my crazy in check? Half of your crew is from the town you just wrecked! You had them destroy their own home!!”
Marinette watched Volpina frown before dismissing Nathanael with a wave of her hand. He brushed past Marinette wordlessly and slowly walked towards the stairs, looking back at Marinette. She smiled briefly to show she would be alright and he disappeared upwards. Marinette marveled at her own assurance. Two minutes ago she’d been panicking hard. Nathanael had given her back her confidence, even if he was working with these ruffians, she felt he could still be trusted. At least a bit.
“Well?” Marinette said. Her eyes turned from the stairs to Volpina.
“I didn’t know.” Volpina paused, looking at Marinette. “But whatever notions you have about your friends still being innocent, or forced into this, you’re wrong.”
Marinette knew her confusion was showing on her face, because Volpina seemed annoyed that her vague explanation hadn’t done the job.
“At some point in your life you face disappointment, Marinette. Anger, humiliation, sadness. It can change a person, and it can definitely be used to control a person if someone is good at manipulating people.”
Marinette felt off balance. In barely ten minutes the atmosphere had shifted far too many times for comfort. Volpina’s words were angry, but sincere; one of the few honest moments she’d had with this wild pirate.
Marinette felt like she had to say something. Before she could, Volpina continued.
“Hawkmoth deceived us all. He wanted to build an army and was willing to tell any desperate kid what they wanted to hear. My crew’s lucky to have survived the escape.” Volpina shook her head. “And now what? We’re known pirates, we can’t go back to being civilians. So now we continue to do what we know how to do.”
Marinette knew they had a point but couldn’t help disagreeing.
“Hawkmoth doesn’t have you under his thumb anymore! You can change your image, you don’t have to do this anymore.” She thought of the old friends she’d seen on the Akuma and had to wonder how many more of her childhood friends were just out of sight, working under Volpina as pirates, robbed of their lives by this manipulative Hawkmoth. She desperately wanted to save them, somehow.
Even Volpina, who was harsh, who lied, she knew there had to be something more. The newest admission she’d made showed she felt something for her crew even if she hardly knew anything about them. She had worried about Marinette when she had her panic attack, though Marinette wasn’t sure that counted since this whole mess she was in was Volpina’s fault. Ok now I’m disproving my own thoughts, jeez. She thought with a tinge of exasperation.
Volpina sneered at Marinette’s pleading recommendation. “Change our image? And do what, become vigilantes? Steal from the rich and give to the poor? We’d still be criminals.”
They stared at each other in stubborn silence for a long moment. Neither were willing to give up their positions. Volpina made a noise of frustration.
“You were right, earlier. Too much work for one earring.” She smiled viciously. “I can still sell the one I’ve got. In a few weeks we’re going to be hitting land again. You can find your way from there, you meddling bug.”
Marinette gawked. She watched Volpina lock the cell door and storm up the stairs.
After a moment, she sat down in a vaguely clean-looking pile of hay. All her frustration drained out of her body. Resting her face on the cool metal bars, Marinette mulled over what had just happened. These people, their situation...she supposed it wasn’t as black and white as she’d been thinking. Still, she thought, I think they can be saved.
Volpina’s last words rang in her mind, too. In a few weeks she’d be on land. Despite being ableto push aside her anxiousness regarding how she would get home from wherever she’d be dumped; the fact that Volpina still had her other earring made her stomach twist and turn more than a country road. Regardless, Marinette felt giddy at the knowledge she would no longer be a captive at sea.
She sighed softly and closed her eyes. Please let these weeks pass quickly.