Chapter 25 - Last glance

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They were at a standoff. Stuck in hopelessness with no way out. They hadn't spoken to each other in days. Only sitting at opposite sides of the cabin, waiting for the other one to make a move. The trust that might've sprung with their kiss was nowhere to be seen and they were yet again enemies. Nora's attempt to break through James's hard exterior had not been successful. Instead it had done the opposite. The small window to change was closed, all that was left was to wait for whatever the future had in store for them. And Nora wasn't foolish enough to think that her fate would be kind. That didn't bother her anymore though, it hadn't for a while. Not even the uncertainty bothered her. And what was there really to be uncertain about? The small glimpse of hope she had had for James to be something else that what she'd always feared was gone. There was no more plan, no more wishes to be made. James Haddock was a cruel monster and what ever kindness she'd seen in him had been a lie, a façade to lure her in. And it had worked. In another world perhaps, they could've met. To adventurers travelling the world, finding each other in the middle of nowhere. Maybe then they could've been happy. But this path had no happiness. Happy endings only occurred in fairytales.

It was a weird sensation, to have lost all hope. There was no more escape, no more last chances. Nora's nine lives were all gone, and this time death had found her. She knew it the moment James walked into the cabin after being gone all day. It was dark outside the windows. Most of the crew was sleeping, their snores loud enough to be heard all the way to Nora's place on the hard-wooden chair. By now she knew most of James's expressions. And the one he had now was a face of determination. He didn't utter a word as he walked up to her. No witty comments, no intimidation, nothing. He only grabbed her hard by the arm and looked her straight in the eye.

"Not a word, got it?" Nora only nodded. She had nothing to say. Together they walked up the creaky stairs, James first and Nora closely after. They seemed to be in a hurry, but Nora couldn't understand why. What needed to be stressful about her death? If there was anything they had in this world, it was time. But James didn't seem to want to waste his. Neither did he seem to want to waste anyone else's time, as there was no crewmember insight as they walked up on deck. Not even Belmore was seen at the rudder. Nora didn't know what she'd expected her death to be like, James had made so many suggestions on the matter of execution that she'd could never be sure which he'd choose. But she'd certainly been sure of the fact that James would make a spectacle about it. Made the whole crew enjoy the moments when she took her last breaths. But the only company they had on deck was the cold night air and the sea surrounding them.

Soon they reached the rail and Nora could faintly see the waves crash against the ship as she looked down.

"So this is how it ends then?" She said quietly, her gaze locked at the water beneath her.

"I said quiet." James gruffed and let go of her arm.

"Don't I get a few lasts words?" She asked.

"Stop being melodramatic." The tone of James's voice tore her eyes from the waves and she turned to him. She half expected to see him point his sword at her, forcing her to climb over the rail and jump. But instead his back was turned to her and he was busy untying some ropes. Cruel, she thought. He was going to tie her up, not even allowing her to die free, but forever be a prisoner, even at the bottom of the ocean. Nora braced herself and closed her eyes, waiting for the rugged ropes to tighten around her body. But no bounds were put on her.

"Some help would be nice", James grunted after a while. Astonished, Nora opened her eyes, only to see that James wasn't untying the ropes to bound her but untying the ropes that held the lifeboat anchored to the side of the ship. It now hung freely from the rail, swaying in the wind as it waited to be submerged into the water.

"This surely is an odd way of killing someone."

"You're not dying today, love", James said between clenched teeth.

"I'm not?"

"You should", James sighed. "But you're not."

"Why?" Nora stared at him, wondering if it was some last cruel joke that he was playing on her. But James didn't look malicious or cunning, he only looked tired and uncertain. With a deep breath he turned to her, not meeting her questioning gaze.

"Because I can't. And I never will. But you can't stay here, and the crew won't tolerate you being alive. So I am letting you go." The heavy silence between them was interrupted with Nora's laugh. It was uncontrollable and loud, which earned her James's hand over her mouth. But she couldn't stop. Everything was suddenly so surreal. Her body and soul had accepted the fate that had been given to her, they had welcomed death as the final peace. But she should've known better than to think she knew what was going on I James's head. Even though she often could read him, far better than any other, he still managed to catch her off guard sometimes. As this was certainly one of those times.

"Stop laughing", James growled, cramping down harder with his hand. Nora tried to gather herself, but there was no way. The chock had taken over and she felt oddly light, as if someone had grabbed her and was slowly taking her up into the sky. It only caused her to laugh more, wondering if this was one last, sick joke, or if it was really true. If this was how her story ended.

"You'll be the death of me, I hope you know that."

"I'd say the same, but now I'm not so sure." James rolled his eyes at her answer as he helped her onto the boat. Being able to compose herself enough to climb in, Nora sat down at the hard-wooden bench. In the boat she, to her surprise, found food and water as well as blankets and a small pouch of coins. With big eyes she looked up at James, starting to realize that his words had been true. She followed his quick hands with her gaze, seeing as he untied the last of the ropes.

"Head east. Land is not far, and there is a harbor there where you can find passage home." He didn't look at her as he spoke, but Nora studied him. Took in all his features; the strong jaw and thick brow, his full lips and long, dark lashes. She would remember his face as long as she lived, remember what it had brought her and what it had taken away. As she studied him, he finally met her eyes and time stopped for a moment. His eyes wandered over her face as hers had just wandered over his. And with a determined look on his face, he started to lower her down. Quickly, Nora reached out and grabbed his hand.

"James..." she started, finding herself at a loss of words. "Thank you", she said at last, letting go of him. The sound of waves crashing against the ship got louder as James's silhouette slowly disappeared in the dark. And when the small boat hit the water, Nora started to row, and did not stop until the Gisela had disappeared from view and land appeared in the light from the starting sunrise.

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