Thank you again, to and for the beta and support.
The first time Jack slept with her, he thought he was seducing a boy. Not that taking her clothes off had dissuaded him--just changed his plans, slightly--but all the same, she had seen the surprise in his eyes, the shift. It wasn't unusual. She'd learned to defend herself from the ones who got angry when their--drunken--assumptions proved wrong. Jack hadn't been drunk, not really. A little tipsy, perhaps, but not drunk. When she was fully naked Annamaria had said, "I don't do buggery."
He'd passed an appreciative eye over her--self-admittedly scant--charms and smiled like he'd found treasure. "And why would you, m'dear? Why indeed?"
When people realized what she was, their first assumption was always that she was the unwanted get of some dockside whore. Annamaria wouldn't have been ashamed to be; most of the whores she had met had their own stories and reasons and were women just the same as her mother, it was simply that it wasn't the truth. Annamaria had been born into a family of two devout Christian parents. She'd been their fourth daughter and clearly a punishment for something, some unseen, unsuspected deviance. She'd grown up in britches with short hair to spare her family the shame, and underneath the britches she'd worn the stripes of the cane more often that not, simply for the crime of having failed to form the desired anatomy.
Annamaria decided two things pretty early on: being a boy had it all over being a girl, and religion was for people who had nothing better to do with their time than be miserable. She ran away from her sex and the cross the first chance she got, and never really looked back.
The captain of the first ship she hired herself out to never found out, but she didn't stay on the ship for long, on account of several of the crew giving her looks she knew better than to ignore. The problem was, just when she'd begun to think she knew her body, it began doing all sorts of traitorish things, making her look like a girl, and she hadn't the first clue of how to hide it.
It was a barmaid who helped her, a girl not that much older than herself who demanded a kiss and a grope for showing Annamaria her way with rags about her breasts and a cap to hide her features and a walk that made believe things existed between her legs. The kiss was gentle, the grope not so much, but Annamaria had given back as good as she got no sooner than the shock wore off. The girl's laugh had been rough and heady and kind, and Annamaria had sort of wished she had something better to give her.
She was good at tying ropes and her night-vision was all but perfect. Her strength, though, was nowhere near that of the other sailors, and it was obvious in basic tasks, such as cleaning the sails, or rigging the masts. She could out-eat just about any of the men, but evidently that was normal in a growing boy, and none of them thought any the wiser of it. She loved the sea. She loved the sound of it in the night and the violence of it in the storms and the smell it evinced, even at the shore. She found in it something like kin; something constantly changing, never telling all its secrets.
She wasn't caught out on her second ship at all until the day she started bleeding.
That was the same day she learned that buggery was a type of burning hell and fucking was only worse. (She would relearn that part later, learn it in different ways.) A week later she was set on shore, barely able to walk and unsure of where she was. A sailor touched a hand to her shoulder, said, "Miss," and she fought as hard as she could, flailing against the touch, but she'd lost too much blood and when she woke up she was in a bed. She looked up for the ropes holding it, but no, it was a bed, not a cot. She was about to get up when a voice said, "Ah, you're awake."
The voice was feminine, but with the harsh edges of the English lower class. Annamaria asked, "Where am I?" then asked it again when she had been given a bit of water and was intelligible.
The woman, who was easily twice Annamaria's size and had a scar on her face that looked to be from a butcher's knife, said, "Somewhere safe."
The sailor, Christian, was Kate's second husband. Her first had beaten her nearly to death. Annamaria learned this in the nine months that she stayed with them, watching her body grow into something she didn't understand, something she could neither control nor hide. When Kate had told her, had explained, she'd said, "Cut it out, cut it out of me," but Kate had said, "I can't have one. I-- We've more than tried."
So for nine months Annamaria stayed in one place and helped tend house, while Kate let trousers out ever further for her, and never once tried to get her to be anything other than what she was. She thought she might have left if not for that.
The baby came at night, to the tune of screams and blood, but Annamaria was used to that. He cried at being forced from her. Kate offered her the child, offered her to hold him, but the child was Kate's, then, Kate's and Christian's, and Annamaria was well out of it, her body once again under her own domain.
It was Kate who taught her about pleasure, who whispered things at night when Annamaria's back had hurt, or in the early days when her stomach couldn't seem to keep anything for itself. Whispered and plucked and played with skill and when Annamaria asked, breathlessly, "Christian?" Kate had said, "I'll teach you about that kind, too."
Christian taught her how to hold a knife, how to hide it, how to know when to avoid someone. Some of it she already knew, but it wasn't anything she minded learning again. When she left them he sent her with one of his knives, the handle carved by him. He said, "You be the surprise."
She tucked the knife where none would see it, widened her stance, and walked off to find herself a boat.