Page name: pearl and liam 2 [Logged in view] [RSS]
2006-03-21 01:24:26
Last author: kilichan
Owner: rummel
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Pearl woke the next morning after sunrise, a change for her, she usually tried to get up with the sun. If she'd dreamed she didn't know it. She took a moment to get her bearings, remembering slowly that Liam was still here in the house and shouldn't see her dressed like she was, and other minor details. She got dressed and exited her room quietly. She found them both still asleep and shook her head. Jade was used to her being up, but she decided to let them both sleep. She retrieved her sword and sat down at the table to clean it.

Liam awoke with a crick in his neck. Serves me right for sleepin' in a chair... he thought, pushing himself to his feet. The sun was already shining, and he picked up the chair to carry it back to the table. She was there, shining her sword. "Mornin'" he said with a yawn, though he was a little worried that she wouldn't be happy with him. It wasn't exactly normal for a person you barely knew to spend the night watching your son sleep...

...Unless they understood why. Pearl glanced up at him. "Morning," she replied, "You can sleep anywhere can't you?" she said. She scrubbed at an annoying stain toward the tip of the sword, and finally got it off. It gave her a morbid feeling, putting her in mind of the blood that stained her first sword, although this couldn't have been blood, because she hadn't cut anyone with it since the last time she cleaned it.

"It's a gift," he replied, smiling. "I'll make breakfast, if yeh like... an' if yeh've got anything edible..." he offered in a teasing tone, but the offer was genuine. He wasn't the greatest cook, but he had a few good dishes that didn't involve alcohol.

Pearl looked up at him, and then away. "You can try," she said, looking down. She finished cleaning her sword and sheathed it slowly, with a satisfying hiss, and set it aside. She pulled out her daggers and cleaned them as well, there were several, but the cleaning went quicker.

Liam smiled at her, Not much of a morning person, eh? but then he got to work clearing the ashes out of the stove and building a new fire inside. As it heated up, he took down a bowl and cracked some eggs into it. He hummed sea chanties as he whipped the eggs and played around some more. "Sleep well?" he asked her as he tore up the remainder of his loaf of bread and tossed it in with the eggs.

She shrugged. "Yeah, I had trouble getting to sleep at first though," she said. She smelled the air, and started to feel more confident in his ability to cook. She smiled to herself, at least he was good for something. She finished with her weapons and leaned back in her chair. She felt idle, she hated feeling idle, but she had no job now and she wasn't sure what to do at the moment.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Me too." He rummaged around in the cupboard and pulled down a covered pan. In when the eggs and bread, and he crumbled cheese to put on top. "This'll be ready in a bit," he told her, setting it into the flames. He looked over at her and found himself smiling. Their gazes met and it became awkward. "So," he said, turning to wash up. "What are your plans for the day?"

Pearl shrugged. "I s'pose I could look for a job," she said, wondering what she could possibly do. She felt her thoughts shift to any kind of job with horses. She hadn't owned a horse since Shadow had died, she loved horses. There was bound to be something.

"Jobs are important," he agreed. "Oh!" he muttered, wiping his wet hands on the front of his shirt as he moved over to where he had tossed his bag against the wall. He reached into it, pulled out his purse, and groped inside for coins. "Here we are. Five for showin' me around. Seven an' two bits for the place ta sleep." He put the twelve and two bits into her hands, then quickly moved back to the dishes, hoping she wouldn't protest. He wanted to give her everything he had... he could support her and Jade for years with what he'd hidden up in the tree outside of town. Of course, she probably wouldn't take it, and then she'd want to know how he came by it, and he couldn't tell her. It'd be too dangerous, for her and Jade.

Pearl accepted the coins with some discomfort but thought we made a deal, he was honoring his part of the bargain. She put the coins in her purse. "That smells good," she said, feeling hungry. 

"Well, I don't know about good, but I know it'll be edible," he replied with a smile, glad she had taken the money. The grin twitched into a grimace as he sat down, putting a hand against his side. "I don't really know what to do with myself now. Not hung-over, so I can't sleep. I'll get arrested if I snoop around too much, and I'd like to avoid that..." He shrugged. "I've spent years of my life chasing a shadow, but the longer it goes on, the less I seem to care if I do find the vagrant. There's nothing for me if I go back, aside from a half a fortune that I really don't want." He sighed slowly. "I don't think I've ever felt so... lost."

Pearl's eyebrows knitted together first in concern, and then in thought. "Don't you hate it?" she asked, intently. "Just going from one thing to the other, or giving up something you've been doing for so long--just 'cuz you're sick of it?" She stood slowly and walked over to Jade at sat down next to him. She lowered her voice. "And then what do you do? Leave? Start-over? Stay?" Her face had dropped into a frown. "Settle down?" she asked more quietly. "How do you do that exactly?" She rubbed her son's hair and the corners of her lips curled up a little. "...Make a good life for yourself and your son?" she finished, leaving the "how" hanging in the air.

He scoffed. "I hope yeh're not asking me," he replied, his voice pained. "We both know how well I did..." He stood, walking back into the kitchen area and staring down into the fire with his back to Pearl, as if the flames could burn the images out of his eyes, or the pain out of his heart. He wanted to cry... he needed to cry, but the tears didn't fall.

Pearl stood up and crossed the room smoothly. "Sorry," she said, turning and leaning against the counter and looking at Jade. "I was talking about myself really. I've picked up and left a lot. I went back home once since I left there for good, and... and met an old friend, Jade's--ahem--his father, then I went back to where I was living and stayed for a while... And left again when things got bad and I couldn't find a job," she said, and shifted uncomfortably, realizing how much she'd been telling him about herself.

"No, I... I should apologize," he replied, turning. "Jade is... he's a wonderful boy. Yeh've been a good mum. I can't help thinkin' that... that Connor..." He lifted his head, tears dripping from his eyes finally. "He'd still be alive if he'd had a mother like yeh." He bit his lip, and as he closed his eyes, another two tears streaked down his face. "Yeh're a good woman, Pearl. An' a great mum. I know yeh'll be fine. I can feel it." He looked at her for a moment, and then turned. "Blimey me... I've used all your water. I'll go haul in some more," he offered, picking up a bucket.

Pearl smiled a bit and nodded. "Thank you," she said in a sad-happy voice, "for saying that," she finished, nodding again. She looked at the bucket, "Uh, yeah, sure," she said, letting him go. She felt her heart aching for the pain he was in, the guilt he'd had to wrestle with, still felt.

Liam nodded, taking up the bucket and heading out the door, standing in the blinding sunshine for a momement before moving over to the well. There was another woman, a gray-haired lady there, struggling to pull up the rope. "Here," he offered, hurrying his pace and taking the rope from her. "Allow me." He drew her water up, and poured it into her bucket. "There yeh are," he said, smiling.

The Dowager Pernelle turned to Liam with a curious, but somewhat-grateful smile. "Thank you, Sonny," she said. "These old bones need a rest," she said. She looked at him curiously again, "Haven't seen you before," she said. She was fishing, she'd seen him come out of Pearl's house.

"Oh, just passin' through," he replied, smiling at her as he drew his own water. "Do yeh live closeby? I could help yeh tote that home..."

She smiled mysteriously. "Is that so?" she asked. "Oh, I just live right next door. I sometimes talk to the young lady who lives here. How do you know her?" She asked.

Pearl opens her shutters to see what was taking so long, spots Pernelle and curses, moving swiftly to the side, hoping Pernelle hadn't seen her. "It would be her he'd run into," she muttered.

A fun but truthful explanation came to Liam's mind. "Oh, we got into a fight, destroyed a pub, spent a night in the stocks together, an' she let me sleep over... Her son's a real gem, eh?" These words didn't leave his lips though. This old lady seemed rather nosy. "She took pity on me after I was busted up by some over-zealous soldiers," he said instead, picking up both Pearl's and the old lady's buckets. "Was generous enough to let me kip on a patch of floor in her kitchen."

The Dowager raises her eyebrows. "Oh, that was nice of her, wasn't it?" she asked. "Strapping man like you," she said with a smile. She put her hand over her heart, "But why would they do such a thing?" she asked.

Pearl listed closely to the conversation coming through the window and shook her head. Ohhh, she is bad. The meddling, coniving old bag... She stealed herself for what she was about to do with a deep breath. Then she snuck her head around the window and waved her hands frantically, preparing a beseeching look for him, if only he would look... this woman makes me crazy! she thought, hoping she wouldn't attract Pernelle's attention instead.

Liam glanced up, eyes drawn to the movement, seeing her desperate, pleading expression. A wicked smile flashes across his face, and he lifts his eyebrows suggestively.

Pearl dropped her arms and looks at him irritatedly, like she wanted to sigh, daring him to say something she didn't like. But her expression switched. "Don't. tell. her. ANYTHING!" she mouthed.

Liam had to work hard not to laugh, but then turned back down to the woman before she could become suspicious of his inattention. "Ah, well..." He winked at her. "'Twas for helpin' beautiful young ladies like yerself carry about their water." They were nearly to her door now. "Anywhere I can put this for yeh?"

Pernelle smiled tightly. "So nice of you," she said. "Inside on the counter will do," she said, issuing him in. Her house was immaculate, as if she spent all of her time cleaning it, or her children did. "Thank you, dearie," she said. "There aren't many gentlemen left these days," she got that look in her eye, "Pearl's lucky to have one staying with her," she said.

After putting the bucket on the counter, Liam made a low bow, and would have swept the floor with his hat if he'd had one. The movement felt like a knife in his side, but he didn't let that show. "If I may ever be of service, m'lady, don't hesitate to call. I'm always eager to help a beautiful damsel in distress." He smiled, hefted Pearl's bucket, and headed back to her house.

Pernelle followed him to the door. "I might just do that," she said and closed the door behind him. She hurried to the window and looked out after him.

Pearl practically jumped on him when he entered the door. "You went in her house!" she shrieked, and then thought about Jade and quieted. He was sleeping a long time. "What'd you tell her?"

"Very tidy lady. Place is clean as a whistle," Liam commented instead of answering, setting the bucket on the side. He moved to the stove, pulling his shirtcuff over his fingers to lift the lid away. "Cheese is almost melted," he reported. "Should be ready soon." He couldn't hide his grin as he leaned against the table.

Pearl's eyes grew big. He was avoiding answering her. She followed him into the kitchen, she was going to harass him until he gave up something. "What'd you tell her, Liam?" she asked seriously, trying to sound more nonchalant about it. "Not that I care," she said, but she said it while looking at him intently.

He folded his arms across his chest. "Well, if yeh don't care, why does it matter?" he replied. "Are yeh ashamed to have a man stayin' in your home?" He lifted an eyebrow at her. "Do I embarrass yeh?"

Pearl's eyes narrowed slightly, then she turned away in exasperation, and then turned around again and pointed out the window. "That woman," she said, shuddering, "is my worst nightmare," she admitted shamelessly. "She's horrible. She gets under my skin--and that is NOT a comfortable experience!"

Maybe she could give me lessons. Maybe I'd like to get under your skin... his dirty mind thought, but he didn't let those thoughts show. Liam smiled then, walking over and reaching down to take her hand. "I would never do or say anythin' ta embarrass yeh, Pearl. I promise." The then made a quick summery of exactly what he had told the woman. "She said that yeh was lucky ta have a gentleman such as m'self stayin' with yeh," he concluded.

Pearl looked at him suspiciously and then sighed and shuddered again. Then she looked down at their hands and then up at him with an expectant look and a raised eyebrow.

Jade appeared next to them, holding his toy and looking up at them curiously.

Liam met her eyes, not seeing the boy because his back was that way. Her expectant look spurred him on, and he felt his heart flutter. He looked at her lips, feeling the urge to discover what they felt like when pressed against his, but he couldn't move, and after a split second, released her hand and turned away, to face the boy. "Well, hey there, little man," he greeted. "Yeh ready for some breakfast?"

Pearl felt her cheeks redden, realizing that he had misinterpreted her expression, and wished he had left her the option of turning to Jade to hide her face. Well, she had wanted to be like every other woman in the village, so that no one would talk about her and Jade, but turning into a blushing fool was a little more than she bargained for. So she turned and went to sit at the table, and called Jade to her. "Here, Jade," she said, pulling out his chair.

Liam took a deep breath, stepping out of the kitchen for a moment to grab another log to throw in the fire, the cool air feeling wonderful on his red cheeks. Back off, Liam, he warned himself. You don't want to ruin this... Pearl is too nice of a lady, and you don't want to hurt Jade. At ease, soldier... He took another deep breath, and then moved back inside with a load of wood.

Pearl breathed a sigh of relief when he left and sat in front of Jade and fixed his hair. "Wasn't that nice of Liam, to make us breakfast?" she said. Jade nodded. Pearl smiled at him and wondered what just happened there. She allowed herself to calm down and not think about it. She went into the kitchen and brought breakfast over to table and some plates and forks, and mugs. When Liam came back in she gave him a casual smile and a nod. "Thanks," she said, fighting back a brief thought of awful Pernelle next door, who must surely be spying on them.

"Beh, Me pleasure," he replied, pulling out his chair. "Somethin' ta drink, little man? Pearl?" he asked, dipping out a glass of cool water for himself and taking up the other two glasses on the table.

"Yeah," she said. Jade nodded again, fiddling with the toy. Pearl asked him to put it away, and put some food on his plate, and then some on hers. She sat down and took a bite. "This is really good," she said.

Liam poured water into their glasses before coming over and spooning out a portion for himself. "Well, it's one of the only things I can make," he replied sheepishly. "Me mum was a great cook, an' since I didn't have no sisters what cared about cookin', I was the one what had ta learn all her secret recipes." He looked down at Jade. "Yeh gonna be a good cook when yeh grow up and cook for yer mummy?" Liam asked him.

Jade shook his head and smiled. Pearl smiled too, looking at Jade. "That's okay, I'm not the best cook either," she said. "My mother used to teach me, but I hardly remember any of that," she looked sad for a moment, but it passed, "I used to hunt and eat by the fire a lot," she went on.

"Done my fair share of that too. But just 'cause yeh're at a fire don't mean yeh can't cook good food. I make a wicked stew outta anything meat-related." He smiled. "Breads and simple cakes, meat pies... concoctions like this," he pointed at the cheesy egg-bread mix. He smiled. "Mum always had me covered in flour and up ta me elbows in summat. Haven't cooked a decent meal in... Lord... years. Never been able ta work up the gumption ta cook for m'self."

Pearl smiled at him. "Glad we could give you an excuse." She took another bite. "I could get used to this," she said, "having someone cook for me." She thought for a moment. "Your mother sounds nice," she observed.

"Finest lady what ever lived," he confirmed with a smile. "Raised eleven snotty little brats m'self, though only six were her own. She would take in orphans and runaways. I was a middle child, six older--two brothers and four sisters, and four younger, all boys." He smiled, and his expression might have been a little sad, but it was still mostly happy. "It was a fun way ta grow up, runnin' all over Dathon like a pack of heathens... though we made it ta Mass every Sunday, all eleven of us in twenty-two pairs of shoes. An' some folk don't believe in miracles."

"Sounds nice," she said. "I was an only child. I never had any siblings. I hear they're annoying--but I would've liked to have a few," she admitted. Pearl had always been a very family-oriented person. She had been close her her parents when they were executed for being rebels, the sight still lived in her memory, though it didn't haunt her so much as it used to. They hadn't taken any chances--they killed every rebel they found on the spot, including her parents who had hardly been involved in the invasion--who had stayed home with their only daughter... The memories made her sad, but not as overly-much as they used to.

He watched as she scowled at his breakfast, but he didn't take it personally. "I left home at fourteen. Mum had enough troubles to take care of without my mouth ta feed too." He took another bite, though it wasn't as good cold. "Ain't seen them in years... since Mum passed on." He looked sad for a moment, but it passed. "But such things happen when yeh's an old fart like me."

Pearl finished off her breakfast and smiled at him again, she was getting better at that. The smiling. It was a sign that she was becoming more comfortable with him, and she realized it in the back of her mind. As they say, the surest way to a girl's heart--even such a cynical one as dear Pearl's--is through her stomach. Jade had already finished and was playing with his toy again. Pearl decided to try not to think of it as a gift from him, but she knew that Jade felt attached to it for that reason, which is why she wouldn't take it away, just try to persuade him not to play with it so much.

Liam took the last swallows of his drink, then collected the plates and took them over to the washbasin. Humming again, he set a pot of water on to boil so the dishwater would be warm. He moved back to the table, taking up the silverware and empty cups. He didn't really think about the fact that he was preforming a traditionally female role... this was his job when he was a boy, and everything came back naturally. It never even occurred to her to leave it to Pearl or ask her to do it. "Soap?" he asked as he poured the boiling water into the tub and cooled it with more from the well.

Pearl pointed to a cabinet. "Don't use a lot of it, that stuff's really expensive," she said, pushing in her chair at the table. She sat down in a more comfortable chair and considered what she was going to do today. She shouldn't wait to start looking for another job, working at the bar was the back-up plan, so now she had no back-up plan. The blacksmith in this town had made it very clear that he wouldn't hire her for anything, not even, she suspected, if it was to clean the place, and that wouldn't get her much. She liked the idea of working with horses, but the only thing she could think of for that would be working as a hostler in the stables--and that particular job didn't warrant her attention. "Did you want me to show you around again?" she asked Liam.

"Only if yeh have the time," he replied after tossing in a handful of soap flakes and stirring the water to make suds. "I know yeh have a real life you need to lead, and can't just waste your days with a bumbler like me." He scrubbed the plates and pans, glancing over at her. "Course, if yeh have the time, I could do with gettin' acquainted better with the town." He didn't want to ask if she needed the money, knowing she probably did and probably wouldn't tell him so. He fought back a sigh, wishing again he could just give her what she needed, but that just wouldn't do. "Yeh know, it's a demmed shame soap is expensive as it is. I mean, all soap is is boiled animal fat and pottash. Me mum taught me how to cook it up too, once upon a time."

Pearl thought about it for a moment. "I have time," she said. "If I show you around I might get a better idea of things people need help doing," she said. She watched him with the soap for a moment. "Think you could teach me to make it?" she asked.

"Well, sure," he replied, smiling. "Yeh got a butcher in town, no? We can stop by an' ask him for all the fat and carcases he'll throw out. Shouldn't take no time for yeh ta learn. It's simple enough, though..." he scratched his head. "Mum always added flowers ta here. I suppose we could wander through the woods lookin' for wildflowers." He smiled, glad she was willing to learn to make soap. Even if she didn't make the stuff as a career, he felt better knowing she'd always be able to support herself. It was how his mother had gotten by in tough times too. He thought of his squat, red-headed little mother and how she would smile to know that her little Liam was passing on her knowledge. He finished washing the dishes and set them on a towel to dry. "I'm ready when yeh are," he said, pretending to frown down at Jade. "Yeh plannin' ta walk about without brushin' yer hair or washin' yer face, there, little man?" he asked with a wink and a smile.

Pearl nodded. "Great," she said, although it didn't really occur to her that she could make soap for a living. She had more glamorous ideas in mind. She rubbed her eyes, she'd slept pretty good last night, once she'd gotten to sleep, but she still felt tired from staying away all night in the stocks. She never planned to have to do that again. She watched Jade shake his head and go with Liam to wash up, and looked a bit surprised. Jade was a quiet child but he wasn't always compliant. She spared a glance at herself in a reflective surface, and then wondered why and determined not to do it again.

Liam helped the kid brush his hair and made him scrub his face and his hands as he stood over him and shaved. "Yer gonna have ta learn ta use one of these someday," he told the boy as the kid watched in amazement as Liam scrapped the razor over his skin to cut away the stubble. "Yeh gotta be careful, 'cause if yeh ain't, yeh might slit yer own throat." He smiled at the kid's wide eyes. "Don't worry. When that time comes, someone'll show yeh how ta shave."

"You?" he asked, and Liam didn't answer, only rinsing his razor and folding it back up.

"Eh, I wouldn't worry, little man. Yeh've got a while. Let's go see if yer mum is ready, heh?" He didn't want to think about Jade's honest question, even though the kid did deserve an answer. What was he supposed to say? He followed the boy as he toddled into the other room.

"Mommy, he's gonna teach me to shave," he informed her in a serious voice, his eyes very wide. "Wif a knife."

Pearl looked up. "Oh really?" she asked, smiling. "Well, you've got a while before then," she said, resisting the urge to toussle his newly combed hair. She hugged him instead and started to tickle him.

Liam smiled, moving over to his napsack and taking out his purse and a hunting knife. The knife wasn't really a weapon as much as a tool, but it could potentially be used for defense. He also clipped his sword to his belt, though he sincerely hoped he wouldn't need it for anything. It was better to be overburdened and prepared than need something in a pinch, though. He stood, pressing his side slightly before looking back at the mother and son. "Anything yeh need?" he asked.

Pearl picked up her sword and hooked it to her hip as well. If something did happen, which she doubted, she'd be in a better position (no broken ribs and whatnot) to fight, but what could happen? Well, she could think of a couple of things, but she doubted that, for instance, they would run into the man who'd been so mad when she splashed him with the beer, and later sent flying over her shoulder. She shook her head. "Nope, I think we can go now," she said and they headed out.

She took them through the square and pointed out shops. She indicated the butcher shop, but suggested that they stop there on their way back. Most of the stores were close to each other and close to the center of town--the square, where the stocks where, and sometimes hangings. She wished for a festival, but the closest one was months away, unless she felt like traveling to one elsewhere. But pretty soon the town would have a market day, and she was looking forward to it, though the streets would be crowded and she'd be tempted to spend more than she should, and had nothing of her own to sell. She wondered what would happen if they entered the bar, who would be there that would recognize him, if they'd be thrown out. She decided she wasn't very curious. She considered stopping by to see if Artemis was there, but decided against it for one reason--Artemis was at work--or another.

Liam also looked over at the pub, though he had no real urge to go inside. It was too early for drinking, after all. "Is there a weaver?" he queried, thinking to buy his own blanket while they were out and about. His old one had been removed from his bag before he found it at the side of the road. "An' then yeh want ta walk out to that pear tree I was talkin' about? It's not far, an' we can look for nice smelling weeds ta add ta yer soap."

Pearl nodded. "Yeah, it's this way," she said, steering them in the right direction. She remembered the pear fondly and nodded, besides a walk in the woods (or whatever) would be nice, she always felt at ease around nature.

Liam stepped inside the weaver's shop, and picked out a fair-sized woolen blanket that would be light enough for spring and fall use, but still warm in the winter. The color was singularly ugly, some mix between olive green and moldy brown, but that was okay too. It would serve as camouflage in the woods. He paid for it without undo haggling, and took a bit of rope, tying either end around the ends of the blanket with the rope looser in the middle. Then, he slung it over his head and a shoulder, and it rode nicely. "There we are. Shall we, then?" he suggested, smiling at the other two.

Pearl gave him a funny look. "Did you have to pick that one?" she asked.

His expression was both shocked and confused. "What?" he replied, honestly curious. "What about it?"

"It's ugly," she said.

He pulled it over his shoulder, looking at it. "Yeh think so?"

Pearl sighed in exasperation. "Liam, I don't know how to tell you this," she said, but she did know, "You have absolutely no taste for fashion. First the sword... Which I was trying to get over, because you seem very attached to it, but the blanket is just ugly," she said.

He looked at her for a moment, and then laughed. "So yer sayin' I only like ugly things?" he persisted.

"Yes!" she said, finally, tempted to throw up her hands in exasperation.

Liam couldn't help but smile then, having worked her into just this situation on purpose. He tried not to make a habit of manipulating people, but sometimes it was just too tempting. "But Sweetness, that just ain't so. I like yeh, and yeh're more beautiful than the stars in the sky." He lowered his arms to protect his ribs in case her elbows were overeager, but he really did mean every word, and his ears blushed a bit as he said it. He changed the subject quickly. "When yer raised poor an' in a big family, there ain't spare coin to buy pretty things. If it's ugly and functional, odds are it's cheaper. Raised two feet from starvin', yeh just come ta learn ta be happy with the ugly stuff, 'cause yeh know yeh're never gonna be worthy of the beautiful things."

The worst Pearl was tempted to do was roll her eyes at his compliment, but she didn't. She noticed that he was slightly embarrassed, but she wondered if it was because of what she said, or his compliment, or what he was admitting about his family. She already knew that he couldn't have had much money with his large family, and that he cared more that the blanket did what it was made to do than that it was attractive, but she still wondered if he was shy about the compliment or not. Considering the way they'd met, she'd been on guard about flirting with him. But he really hadn't been, and he hadn't really hesitated this time, even if he did blush, could he have blushed the other times, she wondered? Because he was a guy, a nice guy, but a guy--and she'd known guys to say flowery compliments as freely as they said hello.
Was he one? She couldn't figure it out, she'd taken him for one when she first saw him, but he was such a considerate guy that it was hard to figure out. Oh well.

Pearl hoped she hadn't been staring at him, and really didn't think she had been, at least not in a suspicious way. She hadn't heard the tail end of his conversation, but she gave up anyway. "Well, at least everyone will know I'm showing you around town," she said. "Just like a traveler to sling a blanket over his shoulder like that," she said. "Come on."

He was a little grateful she hadn't taken offense, emotionally and worrying about his ribs. He smiled at the blanket comment. "How else should I carry a blanket?" he replied, glancing down to make sure Jade was keeping up. "This works just dandily. Hands free..., comfortable..." he shrugged, looking down at Jade. "I think your mummy's just giving me a hard time," he said teasingly. "You don't think my blanket's ugly, do you?"

She looked over at Liam, "You are a very exasperating man," she said.

Jade shook his head at his question. Pearl saw him, and then she shook her head too. "Men," she said, walking smoothly in front of them. "Can't live with 'em," she said, looking right at Liam, "and you can't live without 'em," she finished, looking at Jade. "So, are we seeing what's left of the town, or going for a walk?" she asked. It was still quite early.

"Either sounds fine ta me," he replied, but looked to Jade. "What do yeh say, little man? Wanna go find some more pears, or walk around town some more. You decide."

Jade smiled shyly. "Pears!" he said.

Liam smiled at his enthusiasm. "Pears it is, then. This way," he said, leading them out of town. The road was easy, and the sun warm on their faces. "Hmm... wonderful weather," he said with a smile, glancing over at Pearl.

Pearl relinquished her role as leader, though she felt a little perturbed about it. She liked leading the way. So she moved to his side, instead of following behind him, and let Jade walk between them, when she started wriggling his way to that spot. She nodded about the weather. "Yeah," she said.

The enormous old pear tree was at the bank of the river in a nice, slow spot. Liam pointed up to it. "There they are," he said, and smiled as Jade rushed over to get them. The only ones he could reach, naturally, were the windfalls, and they were mostly rotten. "Hold up there, little man," Liam said, quickening his pace to get there too. "Most of those are bad," he explained. "We have to get the ones up in the tree." Of course, all the pears in the tree were out of Liam's reach too, if he were standing on the ground. "Here," he said, sitting where he could be sure he wouldn't be crushing a rotten pear with his rear. He pulled his boots off and took the blanket from his back, unrolling it and folding it into a square that the kid could manage. "I'll jump up in the tree and toss them down to you, you catch them in that, okay?" The boy's enthusiasm was infectious, and Liam moved up to the trunk and grabbed the lowest branch, which was just barely in reach.

Pearl looked up the tree after him. "Are you sure you're okay with your ribs like that?" she asked. "It's only been a day or so," she said, worriedly. "I could've done that," she said, knowing she was a fantastic tree-climber, though he wasn't such a bad one himself, in spite of his injury.

"Just... don't drop any pears on Jade's head," she warned, since by now he was already up there. She fought with herself to stay back, even if Jade got hit on the head or dropped everyone, it'd be better than her taking his fun away by catching them all.

"I'm fine," he called back, scrabbling like a squirrel over the branches, hanging by his legs as he bent to grab a particularly ripe one. "Ready?" he asked Jade, then very carefully aimed for the blanket. "Bullseye!" he said with a grin, then turned back and moved to a new branch, biting his tongue to hold back the groan of pain. So it did hurt, so what? It was worth it to see the happy expression on Jade's face as the pears fell into his arms, one after the other. "Hold on," he said, crawling to a large branch that hung over the water. "I'm gonna get the few out here and carry them back," he told them, reaching to pick the succulent pears there. He got one, then two, and as he was reaching for the third, the first slipped, and he automatically tried to grab it. Unfortunately, that meant he didn't have a good grip, and with a cut-off cry, he toppled into the water.

Pearl felt a split-second of fear course through her body. Then she saw where he was going to fall and calmed down. Then she worried if he could swim, since not many people could. Some superstition or other. She could swim. She rushed over with Jade and tried to decide if she was going to have to jump in after him.

She needn't have worried as a moment later, Liam burst out of the water, coughing and laughing at the same time. He sunk back under for a moment, but then surfaced again, still laughing. "Well that was terribly graceful," he said, kicking his way over to the side. "But..." He found his footing and stood, dripping everywhere. There were three pears in his hands. "Saved everything important." He handed them to the laughing Jade and then pushed his hair back, water flowing down his back.

Jade looked up at his mother. "Mommy, can I swim too?" he asked in a soft but eager voice.

Liam looked at Pearl, in the middle of taking his shirt off. It'd dry faster off of his equally wet body. He hung the wet garment on a knob on the tree and started to unwrap the wet bandages. "I really don't mind. Already wet, and all..."

Pearl sighed with relief when he surfaced and eventually started laughing too. That could've been bad. She found she liked his reaction to his fall.

Pearl looked at Jade, and then at Liam, and then at the water hesitantly. "If it isn't too cold," she said with a nod at Jade. Jade wasn't really a swimmer but she'd been teaching him how to stay above the water well enough. She felt the sun on her and considered how willing she was to get in too.

Liam noticed her expression. "Come on in, he urged as he took the last of the bandages away. The water beaded on the muscles of his wet chest, trickling down his abs. "I promise I'll behave..." he teased, lifting his eyebrows.

Jade smiled, and stripped down to his very last undergarment and jumped into the water, splashing Liam. "Yippee!" he squealed. Liam kicked off the side. The water was deeper than Liam's height at this point, and he didn't know how well the kid could swim. He grabbed the little munchkin by the foot as he bobbed to the surface and pulled him close as he treaded water. "You little snot," he said lightly, making sure he stayed afloat.

Pearl grinned a bit, and looked away for a second, and then back at him with a more serious expression. She suppressed a sigh and removed a few over garments. Woman that she was, it was harder to stay modest, but she managed it as well as she could and slid into the water, ducking into the water and pushing back her hair. The water felt good on her skin, chilly, but a relief from the sun. As long as the wind wasn't blowing, they'd be fine.

Liam was amazed that she'd actually come in, and helped Jade dog-paddle over to her. Pearl had amazing legs, but Liam knew well enough to keep that thought to himself as he dove under the water once Pearl had a hand on Jade. The bubbles in his goatee tickled his chin. He was a squirrel in a tree, and a pretty good fish in the water too. He swam about, come back out of the water after a moment, tossing water back with his hair, little trickles of water dribbling from his chin fur, and he swam over where it was a little shallower, sitting up on the rocks a bit to catch his breath.

Pearl took Jade happily and smiled at him. She wished things were as simple for adults as they were for kids.

"Is the water shallower over there?" she asked. Jade was doing well, but he'd tire out eventually, it'd be good if he was closer to the bottom. When he confirmed she swam over with Jade and relaxed in the water, closing her eyes for a moment and breathing out. He wasn't the only one who'd noticed an attractive body in the water with him. She'd noticed too, but distracted herself by the bruises decorating his skin, especially around his ribs. She had bruises too, and her floating garments occasionally revealed them, such as the big purple bruise on her shoulder, but the important things were still bound tightly beneath her blouse so she was alright.

Pearl briefly sunk under the water again to clear her head. She picked up a few stones as she scraped the bottom, picked the flat ones and attempted to skip them across the water. Most skidded about three or four times. If she had been on the bank, and really trying, she might've done better.

Liam looked over at her as she skipped the rocks. He smiled. "Never been able to do that," he admitted as he drifted over, still watching Jade with one eye. "Watch the stones over there, little man," he urged. "They're slick." Pearl's white shirt clung to her body, letting him see every curve of her tight, restrictive undergarment. But there was something else he could see too. "Hey," he said, concerned. "How's your shoulder? That looks painful..." Without thinking, he reached over, carefully pealing the wet material from her skin so he could see the bruise better.

Pearl smiled. "I used to do this a lot," she said. "Most people can do it better than me," she said. "I'll teach you," she offered, after a pause. "It's easy enough after a lot of practice." She smiled at her son and skipped the second to last one.

She looked over at Liam in surprise and then realized what he'd seen. "Oh," she said, shaking her head. "It's sore a little, that's all. Happened when I threw that big lug at you... sorry for that," she said, but she winced when he touched it gently. "I was smart enough not to dislocate it, or I would've been howling about it in the stocks..." But she let him look at it. "Besides... yours is worse," she was blushing at his nearness, but it could've been pain or embarrassment about getting bruised at all. She kept an eye on Jade, over Liam's shoulder.

He shook his head. "Nah. Got fair skin. Bruises look worse than they are," he lied. The cool water on his ribs felt wonderful, after all. A thought hit him, and he took the flat stone from her hand and held in by two fingers under the water for a moment before taking it back out and placing it over the bruise, rubbing lightly. The cool flat rock would chill the wound and probably feel pretty good. With his other hand, he gently massaged the ligaments in her neck, feeling them tight beneath his fingers. "How's that feel?" he asked, glancing over to make sure Jade was okay. He was sitting in the shallows building a rock dam around himself to make a still pool.

Pearl's mouth curled to the side. Uh-uh, sure they did. She shied away, and dropped the last stone she held with a gunk sound, but didn't pull away. It did feel good, and it was a relief to her tense, achy, exhausted body.

He felt her muscles soften under his fingertips, and he smiled. "Come over here," he said, directing her towards a rock that sloped up out of the water gently. "Lay down and hold on," he directed, and once she had, he found another flat stone and with one in each hand began to gently massage her back. "How's that?" he asked. "Too hard?" Her tight undergarment made things rather difficult, and he peeled her shirt back and started to pull at the strings to loosen it.

Pearl followed him and did so. She shook her head, it was better if he pressed harder in certain spots. She was realizing herself how difficult her clothes were making this, but she was still slightly startled by his forwardness. She looked over her shoulder curiously, and saw that he was looking down, at what he was doing. She planted her feet and turned to face him. But she didn't look mad. She cleared her throat, and there was a very obvious rose about her cheeks. "How about I just take it off?" she suggested, seriously. She was not going to turn down a massage.

Liam may have been lying when it came to his fair skin making bruises look worse than they were, but it also made him turn absolutely scarlet when he blushed. "I... uh..." He swallowed. "You can, uh, open the back and hold it on the front with your hand," he suggested, and then very deliberately turned away, splashing water onto his face, as if that could cool the fire there.

Pearl rolled her eyes slightly and turned around again. She fumbled with the strings on her shirt but did get them open and pulled the shirt around, in front of her. She still had a think band wrapped around herself. For heaven sakes, Liam, she thought, I do have a kid. I could do worse than take my shirt off. I wouldn't've let you see anything important... She pressed her cheek against the rock and tried to relax her muscles again before he came back and noticed how tense they'd gotten.

Get a hold of yerself, Liam, yeh nut. This ain't the first woman yeh've ever seen. Hell, she ain't even the prettiest... He dared a quick glance back, seeing that she was once again flat against the rock. He walked over, armed with smooth stones, and started to work on her back, kneading her flesh like dough. "Tell me if I hurt you," he told her, amazed his voice was as level as it was.

Jade splashed over, looking curiously at his mother and Liam. "What are you doing to Mommy?" he asked.

Liam smiled, and decided to let Pearl answer as he started to work on her lower back.

Pearl nodded. She turned her head to look at Jade. She looked kind of uncomfortable.

Liam took pity on her. "It is called a massage, little man," he explained. "It makes Mummy's muscles feel all soft and happy."

Jade nodded sagely, and then took up a rock of his own and tried to mimic Liam's movements.

"Yeh need a smooth flat rock, like this one," he handed his to Jade, and demonstrated. "And then you move like this..."

Jade studied Liam's movements seriously, and did a decent job imitating them, though he didn't have the strength in his hands that Liam did. "Like this?" the boy asked.

"Don't ask me," Liam replied. "Ask yer mum."

Pearl smiled a bit. "You're a regular teacher, Liam," she said. "And... very good at this," she said. She felt like her muscles wouldn't even be able to tense up for a while, after this. She moved slightly and fixed the way she was holding her shirt.

Liam smiled. "When me mum was pregnant, she'd always have terrible back aches. She taught the older ones to give good massages to keep her sane." He pushed a little harder on a knot he found in her lower back. "I was right, you know. That scar of yers is quite pretty." He ran his finger down the parts that weren't covered by the band. "Do yeh have feeling on the scar?"

Pearl smiled at that. "Learned something from it at least," she said. "And, not really. In some spots I do, but I can barely feel that, mostly I can just feel the pressure of your finger tracing it," she explained.

"Mm," he said, and then got a mischievous grin on his face. He motioned to Jade to keep quiet, then mimed throwing water on her. The boy giggled and nodded. Liam held up one hand and used his fingers to count down from three. Then they both tossed water on her with their hands. The water wasn't any colder than before, of course, but laying in the sun out of it had made it seem that way. As they both laughed, Liam scooped Jade up with one arm and kicked out of the shallows, finding safety in the deep water as he continued to laugh.

Pearl's eyes widened and she gave a little shriek. "Haaaaa," she said breathily. That was cold! She ducked under and shivered. "Liam!" she yelled. She snatched after her shirt, which she had stupidly forgotten about, and missed it, and it floated away. She cursed and decided that she was going to steal his shirt and try not to care what anyone else thought. He could wear his ugly blanket for all she cared.

She swam over and started splashing them. She cupped her hands and shoved the water at Liam, in a very effective splash. "Evil!" she accused, staying low enough in the water that her band didn't become too revealing.

"Hey sweetness, you lost something," he teased, trying not to laugh too much. She might drown him if he did. "Heh, heh. We got her, little man," he said, giving a thumbs up to Jade. "Of course, we might have to sleep in a barn tonight..." He laughed again, and then shook his head. "I'll go try to catch it," he offered, stroking into the main current, and then putting on some speed. He was a few dozen yards downstream in just a few seconds.

Pearl glowered at him, both for the comment and the return of the pet name. She sighed and watched him swim away, slightly impressed despite herself. She crawled out and she and Jade laid in the sun, trying to dry themselves a bit. She kept a sharp eye out for Liam's return though, and grabbed his shirt, fully intending to wear it if he didn't come back with hers. It was his fault she lost it anyway.

Liam had to swim several hundred yards, but then he saw a suspicious hunk of cloth hanging in the roots of a tree. There you are... he thought, swimming over and grabbing the shirt. It was filthy, stained by the green slime on the roots. Liam sighed, then moved to the beach, walking back. It was a lot harder going in the return direction, but finally he made it back. "You should hang on to your clothes better," he chided, holding up the green-smeared blouse.

Pearl had seen him coming. She was sitting by the time he walked up, with her knees pulled up. "Well excuse me for forgetting about my shirt after being splashed with ice cold water!" She wasn't surprised about her shirt, and swiftly pulled his shirt over her head, and walked over to her own pants and pulled them on, and then retrieved Jade's clothes to help him get dressed again too.

Liam laughed, but really couldn't find anything to say. "Would yeh like me ta take me pants off too an' skip home nekked as a jay bird?" he teased, folding his blanket around the pears and tying it back up.

Pearl pulled Jade's shirt over his head and looked up at Liam with a look at said: I really don't care what you do. But she was smiling lightly. "You're not getting this shirt back 'til tomorrow," she said. She walked over and snatched her blouse, sitting by the water to wash it out and twist the water out of it. It was still stained though, and she didn't hold out hope for it.

Liam sighed, though he didn't really care. Beside which, his shirt was so huge on her, and he thought it made her look absolutely adorable. He knew better to say that, though he decided to let something similar slip. "Oh well," he said theatrically as he pulled on his boots. "Looks better on yeh than it does on me anyway." He finished clipping on his sword and trying up his purse. "To the butcher's, then, so we can make soap? I bet yeh dinner I can make a soap what'll get that out."

Pearl set the twisted up shirt aside and knotted his shirt in two places to make it fit a little better. "Oh, I'd forgotten about that," she said. "I think we should change first," she said. "And hope to God Pernelle is not at home," she muttered.

Liam gave her a funny look, but didn't call her on it. "Home first it is then," he replied lightly. He glanced down at Jade. "Here, little man," he said, holding out the pear bundle for him. "Yeh caught 'em, yeh carry 'em. But don't trip and fall, or they'll get all mushy in me nice new blanket." Jade nodded seriously, holding the bundle as carefully as if it held glass. Liam waved a hand for Pearl to lead the way. She seemed to like doing that.

Pearl took the the lead, she hadn't known how to get to this exact spot, but she'd wandered these woods before. She ran her fingers through her hair a few times as the walked, conscious(sp?) of the fact that if she didn't it would be a gigantic mass of curls. As it was, it began to dry in more of a tame way. Her hair was very curly, but the curls were fat, rather than tight, and gathered mostly at the bottom. She had always wanted straight hair, but after she had Jade her hair had gotten curlier rather than straighter and had given up on it. It may've been that the curls suited her, especially as they were, but she wished for something to tie them back with, and wished her hair wasn't so long.

Liam bit his tongue to resist the temptation to tell her to quit her fussing. It looked beautiful, just as it was. As they walked, he gathered flowers to crush into the soap, fragrant honey-suckle and lavender, and a few other wild weeds he remembered. They started getting looks as they neared town; or rather, people looked at Liam, and then stared at Pearl. Liam didn't care, really, but he imagined that Pearl had to be pretty uncomfortable. "Do yeh want to split up, an' I'll meet you at home?" he asked, his voice soft as he scowled at the people staring.

Pearl did seem uncomfortable, but she'd prepared herself for it. "Might be smart," she said, glancing at him. She looked away and started smoothing her face into a practiced, indifferent expression, since she couldn't manage to look as casual as if there was nothing for anyone to gossip about. She walked with Jade back to her house, avoiding as many people as possible along the way. She probably should've put her stained, sopping wet blouse back on, but wearing his shirt, even if it left him without one, still seemed a little better.

She entered the house and quickly changed into a simple, brown skirt and bodice, with a long-sleeved white blouse underneath, which wasn't as unusual for her as it might seem. Even now-a-days she was loathe to be without her sword, but she still knew how to fight with her body and could carry and utilize daggers with impressive force and accuracy, dresses didn't inhibit that. Besides, these days such danger did not often present itself, except in the form of a thief or two on the street. She suddenly felt a rush of nostalgia flood her body. She missed living as a rebel, away from society and it's expectations. She would not have minded raising Jade there, though she would've wanted more for him.

Pearl slipped out of her room. She took the blanket and pears away from Jade with a smile. "You did very well, Jade," she exclaimed, "They didn't get to heavy for you, and you didn't smush any of them!" He beamed at her which belied his exhaustion, because he plopped down sort of tiredly. She found a basket, inexplicably--what was she doing with a basket? It didn't even have a handle, but basket it was--and put the pears in it, since they appeared to fit. She gave the blanket a sniff, and wondered how long the pear-smell would linger in the fabric. Then she folded it up and set it aside.

Next she started to pull out things she guessed they might need to make soap, but she really didn't know much about it. She spared a thought for how much Liam would bring back from the Butcher's, since he didn't have any help carrying anything, which is why it would've been better to go together. She felt her stomach growl, and started to think about possible lunchtime meals that she could make, since he'd make breakfast.

Liam didn't mind the stares, or the shy giggles that followed in his wake. Part of him wanted to strut about for a while, but he quashed that part easily enough. He didn't need to attract any more attention. He moved into the butcher's shop, an purchased two pails full of reeking animal fat, and the butcher was nice enough to let him borrow the pails. He lugged them back to Pearl's home, getting a whistle from somewhere. He glanced around, seeing a matronly old woman staring down at him from a second story window. "Mornin'," he called up to her, though he couldn't tip his hat with his hands full. Quickly enough, though, he made it back. He walked around the house to put the pails by the kitchen door, but when he tried to open it, he found that Pearl had barred it when they left. He moved to the open window, folding his arms on it and resting his chin on them. "Well, well," he teased as she came into view. "Nice an' clean, you sure shine up pretty, sweetness."

Pearl turned to him in surprise and then her face broke out into a smile, partly sincere, but also teasing and mischievous, she'd had an idea. "Welcome home, Honey!" She sobered a bit and said "I s'pose I should let you in..." raising her eyebrows. She slipped from view with a fleeting smile and unbarred the door. She opened the door and immediately stepped back from the smell. "Phew," she said, pulling a face. "Maybe we could leave that outside?" she suggested.

"It'd be best to cook it outside, actually," he said as he walked in, turning to kiss her on the cheek and only managed to stop himself a few inches from her face. He tried to cover it by putting a hand on his ribs and grimacing, as if he had bent over because of the pain. She smelled wonderful at this distance, but he pulled himself back up. "Ow, sorry," he said, moving past her. Laud above, Liam, what the hell was that? he chided himself as he moved to the table. Behave, yeh heathen! Behave! "Uhm, what's for lunch?" he asked.

Pearl looked at him wonderingly, but she wasn't blushing this time. She seemed to accept that his ribs were hurting, though he'd done such very little complaining about them it was easy enough for her to forget about them most of time. She nodded. "Good," she said. "Because the smell would send us out of the house for a month... and we wouldn't be able to eat!" she said. She caught herself watching him as he walked away, the muscles in his back, and the dimples in his skin around his hips, and the way his wet pants still clung to him revealingly in certain places. She tilted her head studiously. "As it is, we might need another bath anyway," she said slowly.

He glanced back at her, noticing her expression. "I can think of worse things," he said, putting a hand on his hip, and arching an eyebrow. He deliberately didn't turn all the way around. If she thought his backside was revealing, she'd be amazed at how much was very, very apparent in the front. If he wasn't so demmed cold, he might not mind so much, but... He stared back at her, wondering how long she was going to keep staring at him.

She didn't blush when he caught her looking. She straightened her head and raised both eyebrows in a shameless expression, and smirked. But after a second or two she turned away with a self-satisfied smile and still not a trace of shame.

Liam coughed faintly. "Do yeh mind if I get changed?" he asked teasingly. "Or would yeh like ta keep lookin'?"

Her cheeks did slightly rose at that, but they stayed surprisingly calm. She looked over at him again. And shook her head. "Nope, I'm good for now," she gave him a devilish smile and headed deeper into the kitchen, keeping her back turned.

Liam shrugged at that, walking out of sight for a moment, stripping out of the pants and finding his blanket not far away. He wrapped it around his middle and tucked it in, taking is pants back and putting them on the edge of the stove where they steamed a little. "Need help with anything?" he asked, keeping one hand on the blanket, just in case.

"Nope," she called. She sounded a decent distance away, and she didn't attempt to peek at him. She would've decked him if he did it to her, which was probably her biggest reason for not looking. She was looking around for something. "I know it's here somewhere. Arty gave it to me..." She frowned, squatting where she was on the floor in front of a cabinet. Where did she put that apron? She wasn't likely to remember, just stumble across it, because she never expected to have need of it, though she did cook occasionally.

Liam took a seat then, keeping his knees together and releasing his hold on the blanket since he was sure it'd stay shut. "What are you looking for?" he asked her, glancing over to see that Jade had worn himself out swimming. The boy was curled up on another chair, still holding a pear.

"Aren't you done yet?" she called to him. "Because I tell ya, in a few minutes or so the temptation might get to be a bit much for me," she said, though she didn't mean it at all. And she didn't want to think about the kind of comments she was giving him leave to say to her in the future. "I'm looking for an apron," she said, and left it at that.

"Hey!" he protested. "I've only got the one pair of britches," he explained. "Let 'em dry a bit so I won't catch me death." He allowed for a pause, but then asked. "What do yeh have an apron for? Was it a gift from someone what didn't know yeh?"

After a pause he would be able hear laugher ringing out from her side of the room. "Actually," she said, having found it, and rising to her feet with her back still turned. "Artemis thought it was quite a funny gag," she explained. "Although I found it slightly less funny," she added. "Mind if I turn around?" she asked.

"Yeh won't get a free show, if that's what yer askin,'" he replied, safely sitting with the blanket wrapped around his hips. "Artemis is yer friend what takes care of Jade?" he asked, taking one of the pears, shining it on the blanket at his thigh, then biting into it.

Pearl turned around and leaned against the counter. She nodded. "Goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and... fertility," she added, with an amused smile about her lips. "I went to her when I was pregnant with Jade. She was a much better friend to me than she had to be, even now," she said. She put the apron on and modeled it for him. "How do I look?" she asked with a cheeky smile, as she tied it around her dress, behind her back. She looked down at it. "I suppose I should be grateful she didn't think it funnier to at frills or anything," she said, her voice dropping as if it were too horrifying to think of.

Liam smiled at her. "Yeh look... cute," he said, taking a bite of pear to hide his goofy grin. Actually, she looked adorable, but he didn't want to press his luck. As he looked at her, he had a sudden vision of what she would look like pregnant, that flat belly of hers swollen with new life. That was an even more attractive thought, but he knew demmed well not to even think loudly about that one. "Yeh know, there's nothing ta be embarrassed about. It's just a piece of clothes... a demmed useful piece."

She shrugged slightly, finished tying it on. "I know, but there's still this wild part of me, that wants to live in woods with my horse and bow and laugh in the face of the law... Or make beautiful swords that serve every self-respecting wielder well in battle, or--" she cut off, and waved her hands. "This doesn't exactly suit that part of me," she said.

He shrugged back at her, but then had to reach down as he felt the blanket try to slip. Saved, thankfully. "No shame in that. But no shame in bein' a mum, neither. I mean, making swords an' spittin' at the law ain't terrible hard-like. Most folk can do that. Bringin' life inta the world? Less than half of folk can... and even the half that can't don't have a guarantee of doin' it well. Yeh're an amazin' woman, Pearl, an' I mean that."

She managed to stop herself from uncharacteristically beaming at him, by telling herself that in comparison to his son--Connor--'s mother she would certainly seem that way. But she warmed under the compliment and she felt a bit lighter, like the dense fog of the town's gossip had just been penetrated. "Thank you," she said, seriously, but her face was bright. And remembered a similar conversation they must've had earlier.

He smiled back at her, realizing this was the first time she had really smiled at him like this. It almost made his cheeks heat, and he pulled at his blanket, though everything was still safely covered. "Yer welcome," he replied just as seriously, and then bit into the pear again, glancing down at Jade. "I think we tuckered him out," he said, glancing over at Pearl with a grin.

Pearl had come farther into the room now, and followed his gaze to Jade. She smiled her motherly smile, and nodded. "Happens that way sometimes," she said knowingly.

She looked up. "So, while you're... er... drying," she said, "what am I supposed to do?"

Liam nearly snorted pear. "Well, first off," he said as soon as he could speak again. "I ain't the one what needs dryin'. I'm dry as a preacher's sheets. But while we wait for me pants ta dry, yeh could gather up a bucket full of white ash from yer stove, the whiter the better. An' put the flowers in oil and set them on the stove ta simmer."

Pearl chose not to take any of that in a bad light, her mishief from before had drained away. She was bored--not that she hadn't been enjoying talking to him, and receiving such wonderful compliments. She picked out a pot and found some oil, after a little bit of searching--she really didn't know her way around her own kitchen very well--and gathered up the flowers. She figured she could do this, she wasn't completely alien to the idea of how to cook in a civilized manner, she just hardly ever did.

Liam seemed to notice, and he stood to retrieve his still very-damp pants. They'd do, though, and he moved into the other room, stuggling to get them on. He rummaged around in his bag, but his other shirt still reeked of beer. He decided instead to take up his waistcoat, putting it on and leaving it unbuttoned. He glanced in the mirror, and flexed. Yer a sexy beast, he told himself, grinning. He moved back into the other room, still barefoot. The flowers were soaking, which was great, and the ash, he remembered, was actually already gathered up. "Hmm," he said, looking down at his pants a tiny bit worriedly. He liked these pants, and he really didn't want them ruined by splashed fat or soap. "Don't suppose yeh have another of those darlin' aprons?" he asked lightly. "Preferably with ruffles, ta set off me girlish figure..."

Pearl turned around and saw him. She looked amused. "What? In case this one gets ruined?" she asked, "Or do you think I make bringing soap-making drunks home from bars a habit?" she asked. Her eyes traveled to the window. She frowned a bit but seemed to let it go. "If you're desperate, I bet Pernelle would have an extra one," she said, dismissively. "But you have to go over there yourself," she said, turning back to the flowers.

Liam smiled and shrugged. "Don't mind," he replied, heading for the door. "Give those flowers a stir now an' then," he instructed, and then walked over the grass barefoot, coming to Pernelle's door and rapping his knuckles lightly against the wood. "Hallo?" he called.

After a minute or so Pernelle came to the door, wearing an apron of her own. She looked up at him in surprise. "What can I do for you, sonny?" she asked. The smells of lunch, and a bit of smoke wafted through her door to him.

"Ah, that smells wonderful," he said, smiling at her. "I was wonderin' if I might ask yeh for a bit o' help. Yeh see, I'm gonna teach the young Mista' Jade how ta make soap, but I'd like not ta get me clothes ruined. Is there any possible way yeh might have a spare apron layin' about what yeh wouldn't mind me borrowin' and maybe stainin' just a smidge? I c'n pay yeh back with a premium ball o' soap, the nice frothy soap at the top..." Liam smiled as he said this, self-conscious in only a vest. His arms were attractive--lean and muscular--but there were also marred by old scars, some from battles that he'd rather forget, others from bars he couldn't remember. He felt distinctly naked, but didn't let it show on his face.

Pernelle, despite her love of gossip did not appear shocked by his clothing. "Soap?" she said slowly. "You're teaching Pearl and Jade to make soap?" she asked, looking up at him. After getting a conformation in his face, she looked impressed. "Well, I think that's wonderful! Come in," she said opening the door wider. She closed it after him and kept right on talking, "Heaven knows she needs some kind of skill to take care of herself! Something to improve her reputation," she said. "Though it's so far gone, there's not much hope for her," she commented viciously, in a happy tone. "I think I have an old apron around here somewhere," she said looking around.

Liam waited patiently as she rummaged about, leaning casually against a doorjam. "I wouldn't know much about reputations," he replied to her comments about Pearl. "Never put much stock in 'em m'self. Folk sometimes have a habit of only speakin' of the bad in folk's life instead of the good. Folk might speak ill of Pearl havin' a son when she ain't got a husband, but at the same time they might miss the fact that she's a demmed good mum, an' loves that little boy with all her heart an' works as hard as she can ta provide for him." Liam kept his voice casual and face innocent, because he had a good impression of where the gossip originated from, and he didn't want to insult Pernelle to her face. "An' I think it's great how yeh look after Pearl an' Jade, though yeh got no blood ties ta them. Pearl mentioned how much of help yeh are, watchin' out for them. She really appreciates it." The words could have been said sardonically, with the wicked, biting sarcasm that Liam had used more than once, but instead, his voice sounded earnest, like he truly believed what he was telling Pernelle, and he was a skilled enough liar that no deception showed on his honest-looking features.

Pernelle started to appear increasingly disconcerted throughout his speech, but she nodded politely and gauged his face every once and a while (as inconspicuously as she could). She cleared her throat, too "polite" not to answer him. "Y-yes she does," she said uneasily.

"Ah, here it is," she said, sounding more relieved than she should have. She pulled out a pink apron, large enough that it would fit and cover him well enough, and sporting a few worn ruffles. "I don't throw many things away. My daughter gave me this years ago, it used to be red," she said. She turned away from him and shook it out. A few tiny dust clouds billowed out of it, but it hadn't been covered in dust. She handed it to him with a smile. "Here you go, sonny, you don't have to bother returning it. I've made soap before, it's messy," she said knowingly.

Liam smiled at her, noting her expression. Well, that should get her off of Pearl for a while at least... he thought, taking the apron from her. "Thank yeh, Pearnelle," he said, bending over to kiss her cheek. "Yer a sweetheart." He smiled again, and took his leave, heading back over to Pearl's and setting up a fire in her outdoor pit. It took a bit of doing, but he managed, and set up a stake to hold the pot that would boil the fat, then went inside, wearing his ruffled pink apron. "That old lady's just the sweetest," he said, grinning at her.

Pearl had finished up her tasks and ate a few pears to stave of her hunger since she really didn't feel like cooking and didn't know what to make besides. But when Liam arrived she couldn't contain her amusement and burst into laughter at the sight of him in pink. It was a pleasant sound, if rarely expressed to anyone other than her son, and, perhaps, even to him once or twice in recent days. No intruding snorts or anything. She was surprised and felt genuinely amused.

Liam smiled at her laugher, striking a pose in the ridiculous garment. "Now, no fussin' about yers, agreed?" he said, and despite how ridiculous he looked, he didn't seem to mind that she was laughing at him. He wasn't embarrassed; he knew that he looked absurd. It didn't bother him, though. It was worth looking absurd to hear Pearl laugh like that and smile so honestly. "All right, all right," he pretended to growl. "Yeh just contain yerself. We got work ta do."

Pearl quieted slowly, though a small smile remained on her lips. "Yes," she said, nodding. She finished off her pear and threw it in with the trash. "What do we do first?" she asked.

Liam explained, and they got to work. Four and a half hours later, they had thirty-some balls of wonderful smelling soap. Even Jade had gotten into the action helping mold the warm soap into balls before it cooled completely. Of course, both Liam and Pearl could use some of their new product, which would sell well in the market. Ash had kicked up over Pearl, and was in her hair, and tiny flakes of it hung from her eyelashes. Liam had less ash and more fat. It had splashed up across the apron, and left a few painful burns when it popped up on his arms. He also had ash on his face, smudged and mixed with his sweat to form a mug-like consistency. "That's the last of it," he reported. They were all tired, and the news was quite welcome.

Pearl sighed with relief. She barely managed to stop herself from plopping down next to him--rather, she forced herself to sink more dignifiably into the chair. She missed the endurance she used to have, and the darker color of her skin in those days. She was exhausted and vaguely suspected a light sunburn to appear the next day. Slight puffs of ash did float away from her despite the controlled ease with which she sat, and she smiled at how she must look. She glanced at Liam and figured she was better off than he was, or at least better smelling.

He glanced back, and then chuckled. "Sweetness, yeh've got ash on yer eyelashes. Close 'em," he ordered, reaching over to delicately brush them away from her eyes. "There," he said, smiling and realizing they were very close together. She smelled of the flower oil, which was wonderful, but he knew he had to reek to high heaven, and sat back. "I think yeh were right about baths," he said, smiling.

Pearl laughed slightly, wondering that he kept bringing up that name. She didn't like it. But she smiled and nodded. "Yes and soon it will be getting dark," she said. She waved her hand in the air, as if to rid her immediate vicinity of his reeking odor. "Though, you need one more than me," she said. She looked around and stood, grabbing a cloth and wetting it, to wipe off her face. She sat back down and called Jade to her and started to wipe off his face and hands as well.

Liam laughed slightly, pulling off the apron and his sweated-though vest and tossing them aside, along with a good portion of the smell. At least, the dead animal smell. Aside from that, he was still hot and sweaty, but that was a more tolerable smell. "Looks like I need ta do some laundry too, or find a wench what will." He glanced up at Pearl. "Know anyone who might be willin'?"

Pearl threw the rag at his face and scoffed. "Do it yourself," she said. She smiled though. Then her stomach growled. "I guess I'll attempt to make something to eat," she said, though the only thing she felt confident about making to eat after his breakfast that morning was stew and she wasn't about to make stew. "Or we could go the the tavern and eat," she said.

"I can think of a lot worse things that sitting in a nice tavern and sippin' at a pint," he agreed, wiping off his face. "One of those being cookin' anything except bath water at this moment. A tavern sounds fine. How 'bout it, little man?" Liam asked Jade, always wanting to let the young fellow feel included in decisions. "Does eatin' out sound good?"

Jade looked at his stomach and then nodded eagerly.

Pearl sighed with relief. She didn't want to make him cook again--she would've felt awkward and spoiled if he did, and didn't want to display her cooking talents yet. She felt better about breakfast the next morning though, she could probably manage that. Pearl smiled at Jade. "I think I know a place or two we could go," she said. "After we're cleaned up."

Liam nodded, deciding for a quick wash down now, followed later that night by a dip in the river. He figured he'd be able to slip out while Pearl and Jade were asleep. He went into the other room, armed with a pail of water, a rag, and some of their hard-earned soap. He shut the door behind him, and stripped out of his pants, happy to see that the apron had done its job well. They weren't stained anywhere, though they needed a good washing. He washed his body down, his ribs aching a bit as he bent, but that was a pain he could ignore. After scrubbing down in front of the mirror, he put his pants on again, and walked out. "Hey Pearl, where'd yeh put my other shirt?" he asked, still damp from the sponge bath.

Pearl looked up and looked confused, and then amused. She turned and went into her room and fetched his shirt, from where it had been lying carelessly on the floor. She folded it, but not neatly, before she left her room. She handed it to him after she crossed the room. "I'm going to have to take you shopping if these are the only clothes you have," she said.

He grimaced theatrically as he pulled it over his head, leaving it untucked. "I'm a wanderin' bum. I got ta carry what I own, so there ain't no point in keepin' a lot of clothes. 'Sides," he added, lifting an eyebrow at her. "I ain't normally gettin' 'em soaked in beer an' stoled by silly wenches what can't keep a hold of own their shirts." He grinned impishly, knowing that there would be some sort of retaliation for a comment like that and wondering what form it would take.

She glared at him playfully and gave him a punch in the arm, enough for a sting, not enough to give the impression she was actually trying. "I'm not silly," she said with the utmost sincerity. She did not refute his other accusations and gave him a smile, knowing he would notice she didn't. Her eyes flashed, "However, seeing as we're going to be around so much beer I might not be able to stop myself from splashing you a bit," she said. "I'll make you no promises." And with that she went to clean up too, she was hungry.

Liam waited as any gentleman would: finding the nearest chair and slumping down in it, feet hanging in midair as they draped over the chair arm. He counted the balls of soap cooling on the counter and did some mental math. Soap was expensive, and theirs was good quality and scented. He figured they could sell it easily for two to three silvers a ball, times thirty balls... Of course, he'd have to subtract a ball of Pernelle and another for the butcher, but they were still looking at over sixty silver pieces... that was nothing to sneeze at. Plus, with that much coin, he'd be able to slip in ten or twenty silver pieces of his own without Pearl's noticing. He smiled, congratulating himself. This was one of his better ideas...

She tried to be quick about it, knowing both boys must be as hungry as she--her stomach was spurring her on. She didn't bother to change out of the dress since Liam had handled the messier stuff and the ash pretty much came right off. She sighed about her hair, wetted it, rain her fingers through it, and shook it out, lamenting again at its length, she'd never allowed it to grow very far past her chin in the past, and now it was several inches past her shoulders. After a few minutes she exited again, with her hair and dress slightly damp from the removal of the ash, and the apron discarded. Jade was also clean. She retrieved her purse and the key to the door.

"Looks like she's finally ready, little man," Liam said, spinning his feet around and standing. He walked over to the door, letting Jade pass him and then walking past Pearl with a smile. She still smelled like honeysuckle--the oil in her hands probably wouldn't fade for days--not that Liam minded, of course. It reminded him of his mother, though Pearl was really nothing like her, and Liam was a whole, whole lot more attracted it Pearl. It was really more of a memory of better times, when things went well for him, and it was safe. He had missed that smell.

Pearl was conscious of the smell as well, and it was nice, to smell sweet. She locked the door behind him and strolled after them. They resumed an earlier arrangement, Pearl at Liam's side since she refused to follow and didn't feel like stalking ahead, and Jade wedging himself in between so as not to be left out.

Liam let Pearl lead, even though they were side by side. The air was a bit cooler than before, quite comfortable. The streets bustled just a bit with folks trying to get places after dark, and as they rounded a corner, Liam had a sudden premonition, and jumped towards Pearl, pressing her against the building and holding Jade back with his legs as an overloaded wagon scraped by, scarce inches from his back. "Watch it, yeh bloody idiot!" Liam yelled after the speeding driver, and then turned to Pearl, their faces only inches apart. "Sorry," he said, backing up. "Yeh okay, little man?" he asked, looking down at Jade, who was a bit shaken, but unharmed.

Pearl was a bit shaken too. She nodded at him and swallowed at the feeling in her throat. "That's okay," she said, since she couldn't bring herself to say thanks just now. She felt her motherly instincts prickling on her skin and she dropped down to Jade and offered him a reassuring smile. He moved closer and hugged her. She picked him up and hugged him tightly, protectively, and then looked over at Liam and her face expressed her thanks. It would not be fun to miss dinner because one, or all, of them got run over by a wagon she thought grimly. She had the urge to lighten the mood surrounding them and tried to take up a seductive look--and she could manage it extremely well if she tried--but this one was more playful and not-quite-(overly)-flirtatious. "I've heard that the Irish fling themselves at women, but I didn't know they did it so literally!" she said, and she did feel her mood lighten from the comment. "It's the soap smell, isn't it?" she said more seriously, in a lowered voice as if she were suggesting something important. She seemed poised to reply with an I knew it whatever his response would be.

Liam snorted, and started to laugh so hard his side ached, and he finally had to stop himself, holding his ribs and blinking away tears. "Oh... oh..." he panted, and then looked up at Pearl, wiping the tears from his face as he tried hard not to laugh again. "Ah, Pearl," he said, shaking his head. "When we first met, I would've sworn that yeh had no sense of humor. It's good ta see I'm a demmed fool." He chortled again one last time, then blew out a long breath. "Well, shall we find some dinner an' try to avoid bein' run over?" he suggested, offering his elbow to Pearl without remembering she probably wouldn't take it.

She didn't seem to remember either, even after she paused to set Jade back on the ground, she hooked elbows with him companionably, rather than hang on it like some trophy--which she would never do. "We can do that," she said with a nod, steering them to the nearest tavern. Her face had brightened considerably. Her eyes were dancing and she had a big smile on her face. She'd laughed with him a bit too, and it was such a relief to do it, everytime she did, perhaps she would like it so much she'd do it more often.

Liam smiled as they walked together, and he freed himself to pull out Pearl's chair after they'd chosen a table. He helped pushed Jade up to the table, and then sat himself as a waiter wandered over. "I'll have an ale," he told her, and then turned to Pearl.

She draw her mouth to the side in thought. She didn't want something so elegant as wine, so she said, "That sounds good actually... and milk for Jade," she said with a nod at her son, who didn't like drinks anymore than she ever had.

The wench nodded, and wandered off, leaving them alone for the moment. Jade yawned, attracting Liam's attention. "Yeh tired, little man?" he asked, getting a nod. "Well, we'll have dinner, an' then yeh can go to bed, eh?" he suggested, looking up at Pearl. "Early ta bed don't sound too bad, really. Tomorrow's market day, isn't it?" he asked her, never being very good at keeping track of the days. "We can sell the soap, an' if yeh insist, buy me a few new clothes."

Pearl smiled at her sleepy son, who they'd seemed to be exhausting over and over again lately. "Yes," she said, and then she paused to think. "Yes," she said more confidently. "We can sell the soap, and we will buy you clothes," she said. She suddenly had the idea to buy a gift for him, to say thank you, but she wasn't the best at knowing what people would like. So she decided to think about it in advance... and realized just how much she still didn't know about him. And yet she felt she did--he was living in her house, they'd spent so much time together it felt like weeks. He'd bonded with Jade in a way she couldn't have stopped if she'd tried. And her own opinion of him had greatly improved since the first time they met--she felt at ease with him already, and attracted to him as well. She tried to force the image of him crossing the room to change clothes from her brain and focused on the ale in front of her. Thoughts for later, she felt her stomach rumble.

The wench came back a moment later, and Liam ordered three house specials--two full portions and a smaller size--because that wouldn't need to be specially cooked, and would arrive in minutes. The quiet at the table was a little disconcerting, but he refused to let it bother him. Sometimes, silence was good. It allowed for thought, though Liam didn't want to do that. He had a sudden image of staying with Pearl for years, watching Jade grow up, but he couldn't do that.... or could he? No one would suspect the Highwayman to suddenly settle down and become a house-husband, making soap and fixing meals. They wouldn't find him... right? He frowned at the ale, taking a swallow though it felt sour on his tongue.

Pearl glanced at him and wondered why he his expression was similar to the one she must have just put on when she tried to chase of that image from her brain. She was tempted to ask him what he was thinking about, but suddenly felt like it was invading his privacy. She shook her head at that, slightly, to herself. He didn't have to answer--or he could lie. "What are you thinking about?" she asked, her elbows on the table, leaning her cheek against the back of the hand holding her drink and looking at him curiously.

He blinked, and looked up at her. "Nothin' at all," he lied instantly, too quick, and he sighed, knowing she'd never let it go at that. "It's just..." He bit his tongue for a moment, thinking. "I haven't had a day like today since... since I was a boy. Spending time... bein' a part of summat that was more than m'self. Bein' part of a family, even if just for a day. I don't like the thought of tomorrow comin' and havin' ta give that up. 'Cause things can't stay like this, can they?" he asked rhetorically.

Pearl leaned back in her chair, her face was a mess of thoughts. She nodded slowly. "You can't stay in my house forever," she said, that was obvious, though it didn't bother her except for the gossip it inspired. "But you don't have to be in a rush to leave," she said hastily, she didn't want him to leave, "There's houses available--or rooms up for rent that you could find, for as long as you want to linger around here." After a long moment she said, "You know, you said you thought he might come here, but he hasn't yet," she pointed out, and there was a strange look on her face to accompany the comment. "Are you wanting to see if you can pick up his trail again?" she asked. She felt distressed and she scolded herself fiercely for it, keeping as much as possible off of her face. Things couldn't stay like they were, and she knew it. He wasn't Jade's father, as much as she'd like him to be. He'd been following the Highwayman around, but that didn't mean he didn't have some semblance of a life somewhere that he'd like to go back to, that he wouldn't give up for some girl and her son he'd just met.

"I don't care about some damned Highwayman," he replied, scowling at the floor. "He can rot in hell or steal the queen's bedroom slippers, for all I care. Finding him was a job, when I had nothing better ta do with my time. I had nothing to live for, nothing that I wanted. Now I do, but..." he sighed, hanging his head so his forehead rested on his fists which were propped up by his elbows. He remained like that for a moment, but then looked up, his face resuming its slightly inane, happy expression. "I'm ruining dinner. What else should we talk about?"

She felt her heart rise at his words Now I do have something better to do with my time. But his demeanor still affected her so she had to agree about his ruining dinner. She wanted to lighten the mood again but she didn't feel so light-hearted.

So it was almost a relief when the food came. She picked at it with her fork as she tried to think, and lamented her poor social skills for the billionth time since she'd met him--though she felt she usually did alright. It seemed neither of them wanted to think about him leaving, and she let her spirits raise slightly again at that, pushing reasons away again. She considered bringing up his visit to Pernelle, but didn't know how happy of a conversation that would turn out to be for her. "Tell me a story," she said, after a moment. "About someone you love or a friend or a stranger, doesn't matter."

He blew a raspberry between his lips, and then scratched his head. "Stories, eh? I'm good at those..." He laughed, sipping at his ale again, though the taste was still a little off. Or maybe it was him that was off. He ought to know better than to think about the Highwayman, but he couldn't keep his brain from returning to the thought of having to run away in the middle of the night without any explanation, or worse, being caught by someone and watching Pearl and Jade stare at him as he was hanged. He reached up, rubbing his neck at the thought. "I'm usually good at those," he amended with a smile. "But tonight, I can't think of a one." He shrugged as he took another mouthful of food, the scar on the back of his hand shining slightly as he did.

Pearl sighed. "I told you once you were an exasperating man," she said, accusing him again. "Come on, there has to be something," she said, "everyone has stories, I'm sure Jade," she pitched her voice to get his attention, "would like to hear about the Highwayman," she said in a low, dramatic voice. "And you're in such a position to tell it, having followed around and inquired about him," she said. She leaned over slightly. "You can make up things where ever you have to for the sake of narration, of course" she said.

Liam took a fast swallow of his ale, and cleared his throat. "Well, uh... okay," he agreed, since he really didn't have much of a choice. "Hmm..." he bit his tongue, trying to think of an event that was worthy of retelling. "Okay, how's this. Up north, there's this town called Blackwater, and the master of the guard there was a very corrupt and nasty fellow. He loved to steal from the people, and was very wealthy besides. Now, he had this one goblet that was one of the prettiest things anyone had ever seen. It was solid gold, and covered with rubies and emeralds. The Master of Blackwater was so proud of this silly, ugly cup that every important person that came into the town had to see this cup. He never drank out of it, either. He just kept it on a pedestal in its own room at the top of a tall tower." Liam paused for a drink, seeing that he had the attention of his audience. "Now, the Highwayman heard about the Master and his cup, and that the people of Blackwater were really bad off. So he went there, and climbed to the top of that great, tall tower."

"How?" Jade asked, enthralled.

Liam didn't really like that Jade found him so interesting, but it was a hard subject to approach. "Tied a rope around an arrow, an' shot it straight into the windowsill. But in the gold cup's place, he left an old wooden cup that he must have had forever. See, he didn't just steal the Master's cup, he traded him, an old cup for a new one."

Pearl started laughing at that. "Yes, you would think he would appreciate the switch," she said, smiling. The grim subject of his leaving was gone for now, chased away... She was thinking instead about the Highwayman.

Liam smiled, nodding. "In the old cup, he, the Highwayman, left a note. In it, he said that if the Master wanted ta see his old cup again, he had to throw a ball, and invite every beggar on the street. If one beggar was turned away, then he'd never see the cup again. So, a big party he had. Hundreds of beggars were rounded up, given new clothes and food. The Master went an' found every beggar, brought him into his keep, and fed them well. An' sometime durin' that party, the Highwayman snuck up past a dozen guards, put the gold cup back where he found it, an' stole every silver spoon in the place. There was a note on the Master's pillow what said, 'Thanks for the party, yeh can have your ugly cup back. There weren't no way I could sell it, so I'll take yer spoons instead.' Liam took a long sip of ale at the conclusion of his story, waiting for a reaction.

Jade was grinning. Pearl was chuckling. The Highwayman had tricked him into spending so much more money than that cup was worth, and lost his silverware too. She leaned back in her chair and smiled bigger. "I'm glad he was gullible," she said, rather than saying stupid, which sounded harsh in front of her four-year-old son. "Because he did a great thing for all of those beggars. Maybe he's not just a petty thief," she said. "He's got a good heart if he does stuff like that."

Liam scoffed. "What better way ta sneak inta the castle than ta insist it be open to everybody? Sorry ta say, Pearl, but his heart weren't in it for the beggars. That cup was too well known ta sell ta anybody, but it was fun ta steal, because no one woulda dared except him. So once he got it, he used it as an excuse to sneak back in an' make even more, since the Master only let the beggars use the pewter and wood flatware, packin' the silver all up in one spot. Naw, he's a braggart an' a showoff, an' we'll all be better off once he's caught." Liam scowled at his drink. "Once the theft was discovered, most o' those nice beggars were flogged or tortured, ta find out if the Highwayman had an accomplice," he said softly, glaring at the table.

Pearl sobered at his response and nodded. "So, he's selfish," she said. "He enjoys out-witting people, and takes it a little to far. Most people still think he's a hero, probably even most of those beggars," she said. But before he could reply again she said, "But I won't be the one to go around hailing him as the best thing to happen to this country, or anything. And it's a dangerous game he's playing--one day someone's going to catch up to him. It's just how it works," she said with a sigh.

Sometimes she caught herself fearing what time might dredge up from her past to make her pay for. She had been involved with two rebel groups in two different countries, both of which removed rulers from their thrones. She had fought and killed more than once. She'd stolen, lied, and cheated. She'd also had a child out of wedlock, but she had been paying for that since the day she realized she was pregnant. Some of that was probably bound to catch up to her as well, though after each passing year, it seemed to her increasingly unlikely that it ever would, and she had settled into the idea that it wouldn't.

Liam hadn't wanted to talk about the Highwayman for just this reason; he had known the conversation would ebb after a moment, and he'd be left thinking about the conflict between what he needed to do and what he wanted to do. Between what he should do, and what he longed to do. It will probably be okay, he assured himself. Surely, they'd never look for me here. It's fine. It's safe... Liam was a skilled enough liar to know when he was lying to himself, and he knew that this was one of those times. He sighed, finishing off one ale and knowing he shouldn't have another.

Pearl took her knife and cut up some of Jade's food for him. And smiled at him. He was still excited about the story, though he had calmed down a bit. She glanced over at Liam and wished he would tell her why he kept looking so sad. He wasn't giving her enough information. Did he want to stay here? If so, why couldn't he? Why did he have to go after this man--he'd been commissioned to, but would it be so difficult to go back on it? To send the guy a message saying, "Hey, I've lost track of the guy, he seems to have gone into hiding. I can't do this anymore, here's the money you gave me to find him, this is the last place I saw him if you want to send someone else. These are some of his habits, knowing this should help your next guy find him. Good luck." This Duke of Etherridge or whatever would probably understand that, right? That he wanted to get a life and not follow around some thief? She sighed despite herself but didn't bring up anything to talk about. She just ate--she was famished.

Liam caught the barmaid's eye, holding up his mug. One more wouldn't really hurt, it wouldn't even give him a buzz--it took a lot more than two with dinner to phase him. He looked down at Jade as he ate. "Hey, tell me, little man," he said, addressing the boy seriously. "What are yeh gonna do with yerself when yeh get older?"

"Be a Highwayman!" the boy declared. "Or a soap-maker person."

Liam chuckled faintly. "Make soap, it's better for yer health."

Pearl smiled at them both and felt a twinge in her heart. It wasn't strictly a father-son moment they'd just had--it could've passed between anyone and her son, but it still reminded her of how much Jade needed a father, and how good at it Liam would be. "Yes," she said. "Make soap, and you'll smell as sweet as me and all the girls will want to kiss you," she said.

Jade's face smushed up in disgust and horror. "Ewwww," he said. "But I don't want to be kissed!"

That had been the response Pearl was hoping for. "'Course you do," she said, leaning over and kissing him on the forehead. "Or you will someday," she added quietly, and barely stopped herself from looking at Liam, by looking away instead and drinking from her mug. There was the slightest tint to her cheeks. She never could decide if she was embarrassed about her attraction to him or not, she seemed to shift from one to the other.

Liam's jaw almost fell at that. Did she just almost not-exactly say what I think she just almost not-exactly said? he asked himself, though he stared at his ale very carefully, only daring a quick glance up to see that Pearl's cheeks were just a bit pink. Well, well, well... he thought, though he kept such thoughts from his face. I do indeed think she just almost not-exactly said what I thought she just almost not-exactly said. "Yeh should listen ta yer mum," he told Jade. "It may not interest yeh now, but trust me, yeh'll get there. An' when yeh do, I've give yeh some pointers, just so's yeh'll be ready." He grinned. "I bet yeh'll be a regular heartbreaker."

Pearl got a hold on herself and did not clear her throat, and thereby draw attention to herself. She did, however, turn her head at look at him expressionlessly. She said, in a mock-haughty voice, "I would rather you not teach my son to pull barmaids into his lap!" she said. "And I would hate for him to end up in the stocks with a few broken ribs."

"Hey now," he replied, shaking a finger at her. "That wasn't my fault... at least, not exclusively my fault," he amended, smiling at Pearl. He looked at Jade. "Yeh see, Jade, the most important thing about pickin' up women is ta pick the right target. It's..." He smirked at Jade's disinterested, slightly repulsed expression. "Okay, okay," he allowed. "We'll give it a few years." He looked up at Pearl, letting his smirk pull into a smile. It was nice to make plans for the future, and he refused to let himself get depressed about how short that future might be or how many of the plans they might not get to be fulfilled.

Pearl let his comment go, and nodded at something else instead. "Yes, and the shaving too," she said, looking at Liam reprimandingly. She ruffled Jade's hair. "I'm not ready for my boy to grow up," she said.

"There's no hurry," he replied, still smiling. He had finished his food, and let the wench take his plate and the empty stein. He stretched, feeling the bones in his back creak and snap. "It's been a long day," he noted, working his shoulder around in a circle. Definitely not sleeping in a chair tonight. His back hurt too much, and, though he hated to admit it, he wasn't a kid anymore. His body would only let him get away with so much.

Pearl knew exactly what that was like. Since having Jade she'd become very out-of-shape, though she hadn't really gained much weight and could still wield a sword expertly. She wasn't as old as Liam though (:P) and his massage from earlier had relieved the tension from her muscles, so the sleepiness she felt was within the normal range. Jade had reverted back to his sleepy state as well. She wondered about how exhausted he was lately, and caught herself yawning from watching Jade do it. "Yeah, I guess we should get on home," she said.

He nodded, fishing out a few silver coins and waving the barmaid over. He put them in her pocket and shooed her away before Pearl could protest. "My treat," he replied. "Yeh can pay me back tomorra by helping me pick out a suitable wardrobe." He stood, and then moved to pull out her chair. "Come on, little man, time for bed." Liam pulled him up by one arm, hauling him up to his back, where the boy clung on like a monkey--a very tired monkey that was already dozing off. Liam's back protested at this a little, but he didn't let it show as he waved Pearl towards the door.

Pearl let him do it, she was too tired to fight with him about it. She walked out ahead of him and kept alert for speeding wagons this time, so he wouldn't have to attempt that little maneuver again with Jade on his back. She didn't bother to talk to him. Thinking back, he had to be way more exhausted than he was letting on--he had a short nap under a tree in the square, another when she left to get some sleep herself before she came back later to show him around town, and a night's uncomfortable sleep in a chair, and nothing else since then. Everything they'd done lately seemed to exhaust Jade, especially making the soap. Just thinking about it all made her feel tireder than she really was, it felt like they'd fit weeks into the span of a few days! Looking at him closely, she could tell he was tired, but he didn't look much more tired than her. And she knew that his ribs had to be in a lot of pain, but he'd only visibly complained about it once, right after he'd returned with the animal fat. Realizing all of this, she appreciated that he was so good at keeping discomfort off of his face, he must have really been drunk--or she must have really been mad--to get the impression otherwise when they were in the stocks that night.

Liam was greatful for the silence--it was nice to not have to worry about making conversation. He glanced towards the horizon, knowing that the moon would be full tonight, but it hadn't risen quite yet. His back ached, and he shifted Jade over towards the other side. The kid didn't stir; he must have been really tired. Liam understood, he could do with a day and a half of sleep himself. Of course, leading the life he did, he learned to survive when sleep was impossible and binge on it when he could. Sixty hours awake was his record, but he wasn't exactly functioning at that point, more like gliding or sleepwalking. The thought of spending a night on the floor was almost enough to make him want to rent a room in an inn--at least then he'd have a bed. Yer an old fart, Liam, he reminded himself. Yer weak. There used to be a time when yeh slept on the floor because beds felt too soft... Part of Liam wished for those days again. Nothing to be done for it, though. A smirk pulled at his lip and he scoffed quietly. There wasn't much chance of getting Pearl to share her bed now, was there?

Pearl was really feeling tired. Tireder than she'd felt in ages, and she knew that she wasn't feeling so tired a while ago. Why was that? It had to be because she was dwelling on it, and because bedtime was drawing nearer. She hoped she'd be able to sleep. She'd never been much of a sleeper, she wasn't an insomniac, but she tended to have trouble getting to sleep unless she was truly, utterly tired, or bored. Or after she... did things that could wind me up with a son she chided herself, she wouldn't want that to happen again. One kid was enough. She held back a sigh and glanced over at Liam. She saw an idea occur on his face, and wondered what it might be. But they rounded a corner and there was her house. So she unlocked the door and let them both in. He'd know where to go with Jade. She lit some candles again.

Liam took Jade to his bed, laid him down and pulled his boots off. The kid's eyes opened, but he was obviously still asleep. Liam pulled him out of his day clothes an into is pajamas, smiling at the kid's weary moans. Again, he started singing, this time in Irish.

Sinne Fianna Fáil
Atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn,
Buíon dár slua
Thar toinn do ráinig chugainn
Faoi mhóid bheith saor,
Sean-tír ár sinsear feasta
Ní fhágfar faoin tíoran ná faoin tráill.
Anocht a théam sa bhearna baoil
Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis bó saoil
Le gunna screech faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh canaig amhrán na bhFiann.

The song was slow and sweet, and before long, Jade was tucked in and sound asleep again. Liam turned, and moved away, sitting wearily in a chair with a heavy sigh. He yawned. "Mm, 'scuse me," he said. "Mus' be tireder than I thought..."

Pearl watched him sing to Jade and felt that twinge in her heart again. Jade's father, had he stuck around, would never have sung to him, especially not twice in a row. It put Jade at peace, like only she had been able to do before him, Artemis could not pull it off. Her eyes and nose were burning, she wished they could have him. That they could keep him. But didn't even live here... he was a traveler, chasing some vagrant, with a past he was trying to leave behind. She still hardly knew him... But she wondered... Did he find comfort here, with them, would he want to stay and get to know them better? Watch Jade grow up? Or did it hurt him more than she realized to be reminded of Connor? She smiled sadly to herself and left, coming back with some extra blankets, to soften the floor for him, she felt really bad about giving him the floor, but she wasn't brave enough to suggest the first alternative that came to her mind, and if he didn't complain... this would be alright for now.

Liam smiled at her and the blankets--they would help to pad his aching bones. "Thank yeh," he said, taking them from her. "Ne'er wantin' ta be rude, but I'm demmed tired. I think I've got ta call it a night."

Pearl smiled and went to grab a candle to take with her to her room, she put the other one out. "Go to sleep, silly," she said. "You've got to be exhausted." She smiled again and headed to room, and closed the door behind her. She got into her bed and closed her eyes, trying to remember the exhaustion she'd been feeling earlier. It was there, hanging around in the background. Maybe she would sleep tonight?

Liam set the blankets out, and gently set himself down upon them. They helped, but the floor still felt a whole lot harder than it should be. He stared up at the roof, and was out after a few moments of staring at the rafters over his head. He snored softly, not enough to be annoying, just enough to know that he was still alive and happily asleep.

Pearl woke up slowly, just fell out of sleep, it seemed. Like she'd grabbed onto something, and it'd slid out of her hands. It wasn't as if she'd heard something, or had some eerie premonition that something was going to happen, or that she was simply resisted enough. But she was now awake, for whatever the reason. Tired as she was, she knew she would not be able to go back to sleep again, for hours. So after tormenting herself by laying there another few minutes, she got up, and had one idea as to what she could do, thinking back on her day. She'd been to the stream with the boys in the morning, when what she'd needed to do was go after all of that sweaty soap making, in spite of the fact that the flowery smell had really overpowered the rest. She still knew she could use a bath, and it would be relaxing, no matter the temperature. She grabbed everything she would need and slowly, quietly, slipped out of the house. She checked on Jade, and then stole past Liam, and out of the door into the fresh night air. Jade would be safe there with Liam, boy that was good to know! Really made her wish he'd stick around, she never had the nights to herself, she couldn't leave Jade alone, and Artemis rarely agreed to keep him overnight.

Pearl walked through the trees deliberately, she may not have traveled around much during the night, but she'd taken every free opportunity she had to visit this forest--it was a comfort to her, in the alien life she'd been leading, a connection to her old life. She loved the trees. So she walked with a purpose, to the stream they had visited earlier in the day, upstream from the spot they'd been at before. She was very happy that there was such a full moon this night. It was beautiful, and it filtered through the trees to guide her here.

She took of her shoes and stuck her feet in the water, testing the temperature. It was very cold, but it didn't seem to be freezing. She would be able to get used it eventually and to relax. She withdrew her feet and completely undressed. This wasn't the first time she'd bathed in this river either, this area was hidden well enough to make her feel safe even in the day, and even with a full moon out it was still dark enough, and late enough, for her to feel safe about it. She splashed into the water, going completely under. She wasn't the kind of person to be afraid of the dark, or anything that might be lurking in or around it. She swam around until she could touch the bottom of the stream, which wasn't very far away, and shivered slightly, and tried to relax.

Liam dreamed of Connor. That in itself wasn’t odd, he dreamt of Connor a lot, but this was the old nightmare that he’d worked hard to repress—normally though alcohol. The dream was nothing like what had happened, but terrifying none-the-less. He ran through trees—gnarled old trees with reaching fingers and sinister branches—and a thick fog, so thick, he could only see a few feet in front of him. Connor was lost in that mist, hurt, in danger, and Liam knew that he had to find his son. “Connor! Connor!” he yelled again and again until his throat was raw, stumbling blindly. He was running out of time, he had to go faster. Hurry, hurry, run! Liam ran through his dream, though he didn’t want to. He knew what he would find in the end, and he didn’t want to find it there. Still, he kept on running and shouting. Maybe the dream would end... maybe he would wake up before... Liam sobbed, rushing forward, but it was too late. His son’s body was swinging slowly from the tree branch, the noose still tight around his little neck. Liam cried out, falling to his knees, sobbing. “I’m the one you wanted!” he shouted to the fog-filled forest. “It was me! Not him. He was innocent! He was just a boy!” Voices echoed around him, whispered on the wind. It’s your fault. You shouldn’t have brought him into this. It’s your fault... Liam sobbed again, defeated. Somehow, the body moved from the tree to his arms, and he hugged the child, looking down. It wasn’t Connor, it was Jade. Beautiful, playful, innocent Jade.

“You killed my son.” Liam looked up, seeing a nightmarish Pearl standing over him, her eyes shadowed, her hair flying around her wildly, her sword held ready in her hand. “You killed my Jade. You killed my son.”

“I’m sorry,” Liam protested. “I didn’t mean to... I’m...”

Pearl shook her head, and lifted her sword, slashing it towards Liam’s head. It would fly off in once sweep, probably. A flash of steel, and that would be all...

Gasping, Liam woke, heart pounding. He rolled off the blankets, the hardness of the floor bringing him back to himself. He curled into the fetal position for a moment, resisting the urge to start crying uncontrollably. Just a dream, he reminded himself. Just a dream... Despite that fact, he pushed his aching body to his feet, and walked over to where Jade was still sleeping peacefully. Though he'd had some doozies of nightmares before, that was probably the worst ever. He knew it'd be a challenge to sleep again after this. He scratched himself, a wave of body odor rippling up. The sponge bath helped, but he really needed another full back, soap and all. He looked around for a moment, and then shrugged. Well, why not? Jade was asleep, and if he woke, Pearl would be there to take care of him. This would be a great chance to slip away, have some time of his own. Another dip in the river sounded just divine. Careful not to make any noise, Liam took up his own blanket, a misshapen left-over ball of soap, and his dirty laundry. No reason why he couldn't clean his shirts while he was in the water. Thus prepared and barefoot, he headed out to the river again.

The river was right where he remembered it, and he sat by water's edge, tossing his things to the side. First things first. He stripped out of his clothes and slipped into the water with nary a ripple. Whoa, it was cold! Bracing himself, Liam dove under with a splash, coming up a moment later sucking for air as the cold shocked him a bit.

Pearl swam back over to the stuff she had brought and grabbed the soap. She was thankful to have it, and it was really good soap too. She worked it into a lather, chilled by the air as she raised herself out of the water to rub soap all over. When she was done she sunk down again and rinsed off.

She moved further in the direction she had headed before, to find more ground for her feet, it was shallower here, though she knew it got deeper again further along. No one was around to see her, so she just relaxed in the water, and raised her legs, allowing herself to float in place. The current was not very strong and she made an effort to stay in one place--she didn't want to lose track of her clothes. She tried to clear her head of any and all thought, though she knew in the back of her mind that eventually she would have to go back home and sleep. It was a distasteful thought at the moment, since she really wanted to stay here and relax. She was too far away from Liam to know he was there, or even to hear his splashing. Though it was night, there were still other sounds in her ears.

Tired though he was, Liam was restless after the dream, filled with a nervous energy that wouldn't leave. Liam made note of the specific rocks nearby so he would be able to recover his belongings, and then started to swim upstream. He would swim up as far as his muscles wanted to, and float back down. Plan set, he started to stroke against the slow current, making pretty good headway. Oh, the joys of skinny-dipping in a beautiful river at night. His dirty mind admitted that the only thing that could possibly make this better would be Pearl in the same river in an equal state of undress, but he was satisfied to be without as he pushed his way up the river, making quite a bit of extra noise.

Pearl was very calm by this time, she had started to remember that massage she'd gotten earlier in this stream, and her muscles remembered the way it felt to be so relaxed. She had even tried not to worry about what ifs and had managed to keep most of them off of her mind. So when she heard noise approaching from the distance, she was not ready to believe it might be someone else in the water with her. But, when it became clear that it was splashing she gasped, and dropped back under water. She moved closer to the edge of the stream and cursed fluently to herself about her folly, particularly at being so far from her clothes. She had been enjoying the moonlight on her face, this area was much more exposed than she would've liked. She quickly swam further back, to shallower water again. Here there was brush surrounding her and she wasn't completely in the open.

She continued to curse herself and her situation so much that it didn't occur to her to call out and say "stop right there, don't come any closer or I'll throw my soap at you!" So she became increasingly paranoid and adrenaline-pumped as the splashing came closer. But then she decided to try to make it to her clothes before whoever it was got any closer, and swam across to the other side quickly. As he approached she had the uncomfortable thought of how awful it would be for it to be Liam.

Liam tired more quickly than he would have liked, and ended up stopping slightly past where Pearl was trying to splash across for her clothes. He'd swum into the shallows by mistake, and slipped about for a moment to find his footing in water that probably wasn't that much higher than his thighs. He shook water out of his hair and started to turn towards Pearl's location, the water only a few inches above his knees, but he had no shame at all, thinking he was very much alone.

She stopped, feet from her clothes, now that he'd gotten so close. She hesitated and retreated to the other side of the bank, where there was more brush and which was still closer. "Dammit," she whispered, not loud enough for him to hear. She was hiding as best she could. It was definately a guy, just her luck, but she couldn't tell who. She saw him start to turn and thanked God for his graciousness--that they were both still mostly hidden, that the moon didn't direct her rays elsewhere. She was as hidden as she could be, which wasn't hidden enough for her. As he approached she realized he was humming, humming a familar song, one that escaped her.

Oh god... she thought slowly oh god, oh god! I take it back! she thought in alarm, now that he was close enough for her to see his face, which was the only place she was even going to try to look, You have no graciousness! It's Liam. He was humming the song he had sung to Jade. She hastily turned her back to him, and stared the other way, covering her face, and sank down to her chin in the water. She would never live this down. Never. She started cursing herself again, she should've stayed in bed! She wished he'd just keep going by, and not notice the quiet shadow in the corner, or the clothes on the other side of the bank. But if he did notice her, at least she wasn't facing him anymore.

With complete disregard for the audience he was unaware of, he turned to Pearl's side of the river, displaying everything. He saw something floating in the water, though, and with the moon behind him, he had no trouble at all recognizing it as a human head. "Ah, bloody hell," he hissed, sitting quickly on the stones so the water covered everything vital. "I, uh, erm... Hey there," he stammared, not knowing what to say. He was stuck on the shallows--there was no way for him to get into the deeper water without showcasing himself to the poor soul in the water over there, at least, not without making sure she didn't glance the wrong way at the wrong time. "Sorry ta embarrass yeh, but..." Liam broke off, studying the lump in the water that was a human face a bit longer, and then glancing up at the clothing on the bank, and the pretty sword. "Pearl?" he gasped, sounding horrified.

Pearl winced and make a "gah" sound to herself. He'd noticed her. And he'd had the decency to try to alert her to his presence, which she hadn't had. Oh, she could just die. Sorry ta embarrass yeh, but... She was already embarrassed. She didn't think she could bear to turn around but she knew he would've covered up by now. And now she kind of had to say something, he knew it was her. So she turned around a little bit, and kept her eyes on his face. She cleared her throat so that her voice wouldn't come out so shrilly. "Hiiii, Liam," she said, adding, "Nice night for a swim, huh?" as calmly as she could, but her voice came out shaky. If he could see her face he could see her expression and she was redder than rose petals.

"Dandy," he muttered, thinking many of the same thoughts. "Pearl, I'm, uh... goin' to move ta deeper water. Yeh mind not turnin' around for a second?" Liam didn't really wait for a response, sliding off his shallow point and finding water that came up over his waist. This put him closer to Pearl, of course, but there wasn't much he could do about that. "Uh... um..." He scratched his head. "Well, this is awkward."

Pearl kept her entire face away from him the whole time. At this distance he could definately see the color of her face. She her eyes flicked to his face once, but was pointedly looking away. She laughed halfheartedly at his comment. "Yes, it is," she said, trying not to be snippy.

Liam bit his lip, part of him wanting to swim closer, the rest of him arguing that this was a very bad idea. "Yeh know Pearl, we both have had children, which means we've had to have seen the other sex nekked before." He left the comment as just what it was, a simple observation, but then he sighed. "If yeh want ta keep hidin' yer face, I can swim downstream an' leave yeh be, if it'd make yeh happy," he offered simply. He didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable, but honestly, he didn't want to leave either. Swimming alone at night was wonderful, but he didn't really want to be alone right at the moment either.

She glanced at him and then turned her head toward him guiltily. She tried to calm down, and remembered that she'd been irritated earlier with his reaction to her suggesting that she take her shirt off so he could massage her, this was a billion times worse and he was the one not to be very embarrassed. She nodded slightly, "Mhm," she said, to his observation. She closed her eyes and tried to figure out what it is she wanted. She just looked uncomfortable, but the blood faded from her cheeks, and went elsewhere. She had to admit to herself that part of her did want him to just swim away, but another, very very bad part of her didn't. "Mmmff," she mumbled, inaudibly.

He laughed gently. "Is that a 'mmmff' yes or and 'mmmff' no?" he asked teasingly, studying her expression. He had excellent night vision, and was able to read some of the mixed emotions on her face. The fact that she hadn't shouted 'LEAVE!' at the top of her lungs certainly meant something, as did what she almost not-exactly said earlier. Despite the cold water, he felt his body start to warm, and he fought against it desperately. That was the last thing they needed. "If it makes yeh feel any better, I have terrible night vision," he lied, finding a comfortable pair of rocks to wedge himself against, resting aginst them.

She produced another inaudible response to that question. She cursed the lighter color of her skin, more visible in the moonlight. She relaxed slightly at the hint that he couldn't see very well, but she wasn't going to put any stock in the comment. She half wished he'd swum further away to find his rocks to lean on. She slipped under the water and swam to his side of the river, and resurfaced further away from him. Then she moved closer again, but she was still mostly hidden by the rocks near her. Her clothes were closer to him still, but she was closer to them than she had been before.

Liam looked at her, but then sighed, kicking up from his position. "Look, I'll just go," he said, unable to keep all of the irritation from his voice. Since when had Pearl been afraid to give her opinion? "Since it's obvious yeh don't want my company." He dove under the water, coming up for air ten or fifteen feet later.

Pearl watched him go, and hesitated. But a second later she pulled away from the rocks. "Liam!" she called, waiting for him to turn around. She took a deep breath, both for the air, and to calm her nerves, and sank under the water again, swimming over to him, and resurfacing again. "Hey," she said, sounding more concerned. She swam up a little closer and looked into his face. "I happen to like your company," she admitted. She paused delicately, "What's been bothering you all day?" she asked bluntly, though she said it in a gentle voice.

He looked down at her face, and then turned away. Such a blunt question begged a blunt answer, and he didn't have a good enough lie ready for that. "I.. it's just..." he sighed, running a hand through his wet hair. "Damnit, Pearl, I don't want to lose yeh," he blurted. This was true, strangely enough, and he didn't want to lie, not about such an issue. He didn't have to. "I feel like... I feel like yeh're the one person I've been searching for my whole life, and..." He sighed, more frustratedly this time. "I don't... I don't want to lose yeh, or Jade, or the last two days. I haven't been this happy since... since maybe ever." With this confession, he looked up at the moon, eyes closed.

Pearl drew back slightly in surprise, when what she really wanted to do what throw herself at him. She felt her eyes burning, trying to cry. "That's what's been bothering you?" she whispered to him, and a happy smile started to tug at her lips. She wanted to lighten the mood, but it didn't deserve to be lightened. She reached out and touched his chest tenatively, still conscious of the situation they were in. "You won't," she said shaking her head. She smiled a little bit. "you won't loose us... The past two days meant more to Jade, and me, than you know. We've never had this before," she said. "I don't want you leave! I'm afraid that... if you do, there'll be this big hole were you were," she said earnestly.

He looked down at her, his face tortured in the moonlight. "But Pearl," he protested. "It ain't my life. Yeh ain't my wife, and Jade ain't my son. As much as I want ta be part of yer family, I can't be," he tried to explain.

She moved her hand and flattened on his chest, pressing it against him gently. "You could be," she whispered, looking down. "Jade's father is--was--he just left us!" she said. "He gave me some money, but not very much, and he said that he didn't want a son," her voice had taken on an aggravated tone, though she was trying to keep it out of there, "and we didn't mean anything to each other," she added, that was the honest to god truth, "--Jade just happened--days before he left to go to sea for a year. And that's where he is now... He never," she swallowed, trying to get him to see the importance of what he'd done for them, "He never would've sung to Jade. Or included him in things," she said looking up at him desperately. "It's not your life--and we're not yours. Someone, someday will have to take his place, why can't it be you?" she asked. "Why can't you stick around and see what happens?"

He shook his head. "Pearl..." he said softly, reaching up to take her hand away from his chest. "There are parts of me... My past... Things I'm not proud of." He squeezed her hand a little tighter. "Things that... might come back ta bite me in the arse. If that happens... You and Jade might get involved. That's why..." He pushed her hand away and let go of it.

Pearl caught his fingers as they pulled away, and held them tigher. She moved closer. "I don't care about your past!" she exclaimed. "There's things that can catch up to me too... To anyone," she said. "You have to live your life. I'd like you to live it with us... If you want," she added.

Liam couldn't keep his lips from trembling, and he bit down on it to hold back the tears. Instead, he lifted a foot and let himself float into Pearl, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her tight, burying his face in her suffocating wet hair. "Thank you," he whispered in her ear, holding her tight for another minute before remembering that they were both.... you know... naked. His arms twitched, and he pulled himself away from her just a little, so that only their arms were touching. He closed one eye and winced. "Are yeh gonna throw somethin' at me?" he teased.

She let him move close and hug her, softened at his thanks. She looked up at him, blushing slightly. Then she her face took on a look of determination. "Yes," she said simply, and in one swift movement she had moved closer, she caught his lips in hers and kissed him, like she'd wanted to do all day.

Liam stood there frozen for a fourth of a second, then took her by the shoulders, pulling her closer, his mind blank in joyous bliss. Unfortunately that meant he wasn't paying attention to his footing, and when he moved a little closer to Pearl, he slipped, staggaring as he tried to keep from drowning them both. Needless to say, he ruined the moment, and then started to laugh lightly, his heart in his throat. "Maybe we should do this out of the water?" he suggested, and then a thought occured to him. "Wait a second... if you're here, and I'm here, Jade's home alone..."

She slipped her arms around him and helped him draw her closer. She broke away when they started to fall, realizing what was about to happen. "Ah!' she got out quickly, then she started laughing with him, though she felt dissappointed. "Yes," she said with a smile. She took her arms away and wrapped them quickly around... herself. 

She didn't register his thought at first, but then her face fell and her motherly instincts took over. She stopped herself from hypervenalating, "Turn around," she whispered, and swept past him to her clothes. She didn't really care though if he did turn around, she heaved herself out of the water and wrapped up in the blanket she'd brought to dry off with, and then started getting dressed. She looked over her shoulder at him, "Where's your clothes?" she asked. "Jade is okay, neither of us were gone that long," she added, mostly to reassure herself. "But we have to go back now," she said, trying to convey both her dissappointment and her fear to him.

He nodded, still standing in the water. "My things are downstream," he told her. "I'll swim down and meet you there. Oh, and Pearl..." he said, feeling a little silly, but wanting her to know that he wasn't running away from intimacy with her. "My back's been a little sore lately. Probably from sleeping in the stocks... Would yeh mind terribly if we shared yer bed?"

She was feeling a little like he might be, in the back of her head, and she smiled at him for bringing that up now. "No, I wouldn't mind at all," she said, in a carefree voice, still drying off with the blanket. Then her worry for Jade came back full force. "I'll see you at the house, then," she said, anxiously. She put on her shirt and picked up the rest of her things, wrapping herself back up in the damp blanket, and hurrying away just like she was. She was scared for Jade, but she knew deep down that he'd be fine. And she thought it was significant that it had been Liam had realized about Jade, especially at that moment.

Liam floated in the water a moment, grateful for the cool temperature. Wow... he could still taste her sweet lips on his, and he didn't want the memory of this moment to fade. But then he snapped back to reality. He needed to get back. He splashed his way over into the main current, and got back to where he'd left his things. His shirts really needed the washing, so, quickly, he soaped them up and rubbed the flith from them on a nearby rock. He couldn't sleep with Pearl smelling like a butcher shop, so he soaped himself up as well and wrinsed in the water. He looked up at his pants, and then pulled them into the water as well. They needed the cleaning. It was late, and he was the Highwayman. He'd be able to slip back to Pearl's house unnoticed. He had a pair of thin long underwear in his bag, for when it got cold. He could put those on for the night, assuming he needed underwear tonight. He forced himself to put those kind of thoughts out of his head. He didn't want to pressure Pearl into making love with him. He wanted to fall in love even more deeply with her, which was an entirely different thing all together. He wrung out his clothes, put them into a bundle, and draped his blanket over his shoulers like a cloak. Then, with a catlike grace that he was careful not to show to everyone, he stalked off through the trees, silent as a shadow.

Pearl walked quicklu back the way she came, back home. She stopped only once, to pull on her pants (she only put on a long shirt before) and tear off the blanket. Then she was off again, the bundled up blanket tucked under one arm and her sheathed sword gribbed firmly in the other hand. But the pause had caused her to think back. She could still feel his lips on hers--his body--he had kissed her back. She was afraid he wouldn't, especially since he froze at first, but the situation had been in her favor anyway, he'd kissed her back and drawn her closer. She felt her body temperature rising, and between thinking about Liam, and the exercise, and worrying about Jade (though she was trying not to), she had started to sweat, and her breath was irregular. She wished they'd had more of a chance to get that kiss right before they'd slipped and broken apart... Maybe they still did, he was coming to her room--she sighed inwardly and pushed those thoughts away, for later.

But she still had to fight away fears of what could happen to a four-year-old boy at home alone, in the middle of the night, with only a mean old lady for a neighbor. She broke through the trees and picked up the pace. But then she shook her head, to clear her thoughts--Jade would still be asleep when she got there. He didn't often wake up in the night, though he'd had nightmares a few times. And it would be just like a kid to be safe and asleep while his mother was worried sick. When she got to the door she paused and opened it carefully, in case he was still asleep, threw down her stuff, shut the door, and went straight to Jade. Who was, of course, sleeping soundly, unconscious of the fact that he'd been left home alone. She released a shuddering sigh and then laughed quietly to herself. She knelt next to him and stroked his hair gently, curling it around her fingers. He was so precious to her, she wanted the world for him. He made her a better person, she could not loose him. But she needed help, and he needed a father.

She lingered a moment longer and found that she was relieved enough for her thoughts to revert back to the situation at hand, and Liam's imminent arrival. So she slipped out of Jade's room and went to her own. She shut the door and changed quickly into a shift. She was actually quite handy with a needle and thread, something she would never admit, and had sown this one up to a shorter length, and made it a little snugger around her waist. But it was loose and comfortable, and still modest enough.

She looked in a small mirror she had on the wall in her room and started running her hands through her unruly hair, which was still practically sopping wet. She sank onto the bed and yawned, just realizing how tired she was. Her eyes drooped. Maybe she could just... lie down... for a minute... She laid down on top of the covers and her eyes closed slowly. She fell asleep.

Liam used all his skills to slip back into town, still naked under the blanket. He stayed in the trees and shadows, and had to draw himself into the rafters of am open-sided shed to avoid a guard patrol. Boy, that would be a fun thing to try to explain to the guards... or to Pearl. He wasn't so old yet that he couldn't avoid a few bored soldiers, and he made it to Pearl's house without being seen. He moved to the back, hanging his clothes on the line. If there was a moment in all this that he would be caught, this was it. He couldn't keep the blanket on his shoulders and hang the wet things, so he just hung them up fast, and crept around to the front door. He moved first to his bag, pulling out the soft pants and slipping into them. It was good it was night--they were rather see-through, but so light and wonderfully comfortable. He moved over to Jade's bed, finding him still asleep with the covers smooth around him. He must not have woken up, and Pearl had re-tucked him in when she got in a few moments before. Silently, he padded towards her room and slipped the door open with just the faintest creak. She was lying atop the bed, dressed in a beautiful white nightgown that fell around her at all the right spots. Her eyes were closed, and he crept over, wanting to keep his presence from her until the very last moment. Smiling, he knelt beside her and pressed his lips to hers in a soft, playful kiss.

She stirred at that, smiling, and opened her eyes slowly. She sat up and covered her mouth in a yawn and was still smiling when she was done. She looked up at him and asked playfully, "If I lie back down and pretend to be asleep can you do that again?" but there was a deeper sort of meaning behind her words, some more almost-saids that she was not-exactly saying.

He lifted an eyebrow. "If you're going to ask so nicely, I don't see why not," he teased back, though he moved to sit on the bed beside her. He ran a finger down her smooth leg, just feasting his eyes on her. "You are beautiful," he said softly, looking back at her face and licking his lip. "Tasty too..." He didn't want to keep undercutting the mood like that, but he felt nervous. He hadn't been with a woman that mattered to him in a long time. Mostly, it had just been barmaids and pretty wenches--Connor's mother even fit that category. He wasn't exactly sure how to act, he just knew that the one thing he absolutely didn't want to do was ruin this.

She shivered as he touched her leg, but it was a good shiver. She felt her temperature flaring again. After a second of listening to him, and watching him, she moved a little closer, and walked her fingers up his shoulder to his hair and ran her fingers through it. "You're not so bad yourself," she said, in a voice that implied it was a grave understatement in her world. She curled a bit of it around her finger and tugged it a little, leaning closer to kiss him again.

Liam kissed her back again, his heart thudding just like before as he pulled her closer, quite aware of her skin moving below the shift. He let his hands wander down her sides, resting at her waist as he gently pushed against her, easing her back down to her pillow as he beant over her. He broke away after a moment, panting for air. Leaning over like this, though, wasn't great for his back, so he detangled himself from her, moving to lay beside her. He groaned and then sighed as he lied down, letting himself sink gratefully into the matress. Oh, that feels better...

Pearl was breathing hard too by the time he pulled away, and she was flushed. She looked after him when he pulled away and tried to calm herself down. She heard him groan, and knew it was because of his back. She rolled over and faced him, at a little bit of an angle, kissing him quickly on the lips. She had a bit of pity in her eyes, her back had been killing her after the stocks too, but it was mostly okay now. She started to reposition herself, when the door opened and Jade came walking in.

"Mommy!" he said.

Pearl stopped and looked confused, and then slightly irritated.

"I had a bad dream," he said.

She sighed and rested her head against Liam's chest for a second, and then pulled away, glancing at his face before she turning around and looked at Jade's tear-streaked face instead. She stayed sitting on the bed and leaned forward. "You did?" she said, pushing his hair away from his face and wiping away his tears. "I'm sorry," she said.

Jade sniffled and moved to hug her as tight as he could. "Can I sleep wiff you?" he asked innocently.

Pearl rested her head lightly on top of her son's head as he hugged her. She winced at his question, but she'd known it was coming. "Of course, sweetie," she said quietly, letting him go. He wriggled away from her and climbed up next to Liam. Pearl turned back around and gave Liam her most apologetic look.

Liam smiled at her, and then put an arm around him. "Don't yeh worry, little man," he said warmly. "Come on, let's get under the covers." They both squirmed around and then Liam pulled the blankets up to the level of Jade's chin. Liam was laying on his side, facing the middle of the bed and Jade curled up in his arms, still sniffling. "Don't yeh fret, little man. I'll beat up any bad dreams that try ta come yer way." Jade nodded, and settled in, closing his eyes. Liam looked at Pearl, a slightly-disappointed but content expression on his face. If he was to join this family, Jade was a big part of it. Liam knew that, and it didn't bother him--well, not more than he could deal with. Besides, what could he have said? 'Jade, go back an' sleep in yer own bed. Yer mummy an' I wanna have a tumble?' Not a chance. "If yeh squeeze close, there still might be a bit of space for yeh," he said in a low, soft voice.

Pearl smiled slightly and climbed into bed with them. "Oof," she said, squeezing in. She settled in to her spot and then glanced at Liam and said, "We're going to have to get a bigger bed," in a matter-of-fact voice.

"I don't know," he said softly, his voice just a tiny bit seductive. "I like cuddling close." He reached over, placing a hand on her hip. "We just might need to kick someone out every once in a while." He glanced down at Jade, but his eyes were already closed again, feeling safe curled up between them. Liam craned his neck forward a little bit, kissing Pearl on the tip of her nose over Jade's head. "Night," he said, still smiling as his eyes drifted shut.

She smiled at that and nodded slightly. She put her hand over his, where it was on her hip, and rested it there. "Night," she said back to him. She took a second to look at the two of them and smiled happily. They were having a nice family moment. She moved his hand and held it. She gave his hand a slight squeeze and then closed her eyes and relaxed, trying to sleep, or at least rest.

Liam was tired enough that he drifted right off, and this time, if he dreamt, he didn't remember the dreams. When he slept, his face went slack and peaceful, though his bangs always fell across his eyes and cheeks. It was only in moment like this that all the laughter lines and worry wrinkles went slack, and it made him look ten years younger than he was. In moments like these, it was nearly impossible to imagine how much sorrow he had seen.

Pearl felt him go to sleep, heard his breathing change. She glanced over at him and studied his face. Then she closed her eyes again, feeling at peace, and was able to go right to sleep as well, something that rarely happened for her. She'd always had trouble sleeping. She was younger than he, though she'd had years of unhappiness stacked upon her as well, so there were less worry-marks to relax once she was sleeping. Jade could be stressful, but he was the light in her life, he was her joy, so it had to do with him as well.


continued at pearl and liam 3.

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2006-03-12 [rummel]: Sorry I wasn't around more today. See, this is the problem with being at home. The phoneline issue means I can't get on and stay on, and there are always distractions at home. The next few days aren't lookin' too terribly good either. Sorry.

2006-03-12 [kilichan]: Aw, yeah, I kept hopin' you would be on. :( That's okay though, I understand. It just sucks. ^^;;

2006-03-13 [rummel]: I am sorry, Pretty. I solemnly swear that I will try my hardest to be on tomorrow (or today, depending on how one marks the days) bewteen 9:30 pm and on, central time. You are allowed to hunt me down and beat me with a stick if I don't show.

2006-03-15 [kilichan]: It's fine.

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