Helloooo everyone! I'm back!

I'm really sorry for lack of chapters as of late. I'm back at school and I have a very demanding schedule, including three writing classes, so my creative energy is mostly used up on those sorts of projects, since they affect my grades.

But here we go, chapter 25! Things are beginning to shift to the end, and I'd estimate maybe 2-3 more chapters and an epilogue at this point. Almost done, guys! And soon after we'll have a prequel on the way, starring the Grey sibling's parents. That'll be mostly a standalone, a story you can read without reading this one, that is.

Anyway, thanks to all who reviewed, here's a nice fat chapter for you! Love you all, and as always…REVIEW!!! Thanks!

Chapter 25: Shades of Grey

The room was filling with smoke rapidly enough that Grey almost feared they would not escape. The men had left minutes ago, leaving behind them their torches, which they helpfully tossed at the curtains, igniting them into a blaze which had already spread from the drawing room into the hall, filling it with acrid smoke and embers.

"Fools," Ana said irritably in between coughs while she sloppily sawed away at her ropes with a dagger, "they're such typical villains, rather they'd leave us to die without them watching than kill us by their own hand."

Cameron grunted. "Yeah," he agreed, "they shouldda known Cameron Grey can't be held, 'specially when he's in love."

Ana rolled her eyes at the moony look on Grey's face. "Enough daydreaming," she said, pausing to cough heavily, "we gotta get out of here 'fore it gets any worse."

"Working on it," Cameron replied, "these ropes are just tied awful tight."

"Oh," Ana said, giving up and letting the knife drop from her sweaty, cut-up hand. "I don't care anymore. Let me die here, it would be better than facing anything out there." She tried to wipe some sweat roiling down her cheek with her shoulder, but it didn't work well. The smoke was getting thicker and she wanted desperately to breathe in deep, but every breath was filled with thick black smoke.

"What?!" Grey said sharply, turning to his sister. "What's gotten into ye, Ana? What's the matter? Is Charlotte right, did ye lose someone ye love, or is she just crazy?"

Ana nodded, and a solitary tear fell down her cheek, which mixed with her sweat. "It's too much, Cam, just leave me here."

"Nonsense. Greys have died for lots of causes, but not fer pining away, an' I'm not gonna let ye die here, 'cause I love ye too much, an' that's damn important."

Ana wanted to take a deep breath to collect herself, but she didn't. "Even if I wanted to escape, Cam, look at us. Maybe they were smart to leave us here, to choke to death."

"I hate to interrupt," Jimmy said from Ana's other side, "but as much as you might want to die, I certainly don't, not fer any cause, and if I have to die 'cause yer bein' a silly girl, I'm gonna hunt ye down and personally assist the devil in makin' yer life even more of a hell."

Everyone quieted, and the only sound was that of the crackling fire and some coughing from the crew. "Duly noted," Ana said thoughtfully, "let's get back to struggling."

The entire crew continued to struggle against their bonds, almost desperately so, for the fire was now making its way up the stairs and around the entranceway walls. This went on for a few moments until the front door to the mansion opened, or more accurately, was kicked in, sending fresh air to the fire, which blazed up and framed the figure in the doorway as it stepped forward.

"Oh, shit," Ana said as everyone turned to gaze at the figure that, had he not looked as if he was there to save them, they'd scowl at for feeding the fire. "It's him."

"Him who?" Jimmy asked, narrowing his eyes to see the figure through the smoke.

"How can ye tell who it is?" Grey asked. "The smoke's so thick."

"I'd recognize him anywhere," Ana replied, "that's Captain Pembroke."

"Don't you think you should let me go?" Charlotte drawled irritably from her place at the end of Pierce's pistol. Their boat glided with quiet ease through the morning ocean, set on a course with The Pyre, which stood silently and menacingly offshore. The sun was coolly rising over the hills, and a mist still clung to the ocean, enveloping them like a cloak. The air still had an early morning feel to it, and Charlotte enjoyed this against her skin. She laughed internally – she was facing down the barrel of a gun, and yet she thought about the cool morning air. Grey had surely influenced her more than she originally thought.

Pierce looked sharply at Charlotte, squinting. He was facing east and therefore receiving the blunt of the stubborn sunlight. "What did ye just say?" he asked in near-disbelief.

"I said, don't you think you should let me go?" Charlotte repeated, with all of the disdain of a true aristocrat.

"And why should I be doin' that?" Pierce asked with mock-concern, leaning forward and waving his gun a little for added effect.

Charlotte shrugged, looking up at the hills, from which there came a thick plume of smoke. Lawrence Manor was likely near gone by now. "Well, Captain Grey is going to be hot on your trail. No pun intended, of course."

Pierce nodded.

"And if you had just taken the map and left his crew for dead in a burning mansion, it wouldn't bode well for you. But you've also taken me, which means you're essentially already dead."

At this, Pierce chuckled. "Ye make a good case, Charlotte, love, but I think ye already know the answer to the question ye be askin'. Besides," he said, leaning in, "what makes ye think he's still alive, anyway?"

Charlotte raised an eyebrow. "I know he's still alive. I can feel it."

"Oh, fer christ's death," Pierce laughed heartily, leaning back, "people in love. They're ridiculous, aren't they, Randall?"

Randall grunted a response from the front of the ship.

"Anyway, I'm just kidding ya," Pierce turned back to Charlotte. "Of course I know Grey's still alive. In fact, I'm bankin' on his comin' here to rescue you."

There was nothing but cold steel reflected in Pierce's eyes, and Charlotte shivered, despite the ever-increasing temperature. Cameron and Ana truly were in trouble, and it was her fault. Slowly Charlotte swallowed as the rowboat came to rest next to the pirate vessel The Pyre.

From a safe distance the Vesper's Pride crew and Captain Reginald Pembroke watched the Lawrence Manor burn against the morning sky. It sent plumes of thick black smoke into the sky that could likely been seen for miles. Grey wondered if Charlotte could see them, wherever she happened to be.

"Why did you do it?" Ana finally asked, quietly, her question nearly inaudible against the roar of the ocean below. Cameron turned to look at her, but he knew the question wasn't meant for him. It had definitely reached the intended target, the seemingly silent Captain Pembroke, who had released every member of Vesper's Pride without so much as a word.

Ana was a talker. Grey had never seen her so silent in all of his years. She had talked from the moment she was born, and yet, she was suddenly rendered silent, until this moment.

Pembroke snapped a glance at Anatola, whose dark hair blew against her ash-covered cheek. The smoldering ruins of the mansion were reflected in her turquoise eyes. He hesitated a moment, then opened his mouth to speak. "The navy set everything out to me as black and white," he said coldly, "but I have found that there are more shades of gray than they care to admit."

The party fell back into silence, and Anatola seemed satisfied with this answer. She nodded once and backs out from the line of onlooking pirates. "Come on, men," she said, authority seeping back into her voice, "let's go get that treasure and Miss Lawrence back from the clutches of those scurvy dogs!"

The men let out a furtive cry and ran down the hill towards the patiently waiting Vesper's Pride. Even Grey went after a moment, but Anatola held back when Pembroke stayed put. She doubled back around and stood next to him without looking at him.

"Are you going to come?" she asked, trying desperately to hide any emotion in her voice.

Pembroke took a deep breath. He looked past the mansion out to the bay, and through the black smoke he could see the retreating speck that he knew was Pierce's ship – the ship with the real Miss Lawrence. The ship that led to…what? Pembroke asked himself. That promotion he'd been hoping for for years? Why did it suddenly no longer matter? He tired for a moment to will himself to care, but he knew something about him was different. Something that he could pinpoint exactly, but refused to acknowledge, lest it tear his carefully built life apart.

He took in another deep breath. "Of course I'll help you, Anatola," he finally said, and followed her down the hill.

Charlotte could tell her options were becoming limited. There were very few choices in the situation at hand, and while before simply getting on the ship seemed like a good idea, now it was a poor option to accept. What other ideas presented themselves? Charlotte could jump and make a swim for it. No, she thought, looking down at her heavy clothing, bad idea. She looked up at the wooden planking of the Pyre. Fire? Commandeering a pistol or sword? Screaming and kicking a lot?

Nothing, Charlotte thought morosely. She held no cards in her hand. She wondered when Pierce was planning on Grey catching up to him. Charlotte looked out to sea. The tide was going to turn soon. Pierce and Randall either had to leave now or wait hours for the tide to turn in their favor once more. She could see the mansion smoldering on the hilltop and knew Grey had escaped by now.

Jump. That's all Charlotte thought before she leapt from the rowboat, not allowing herself the chance to second-guess. Without a word she rolled over and threw herself into the water. She didn't even let herself rise, but stayed just underneath the surface and kicked furiously in the opposite direction of the rowboat. The water wasn't freezing, but it wasn't welcomingly warm, either, and Charlotte struggle against her confining garments.

Above the surface, chaos broke out. Pierce and Randall stood the moment she splashed into the water, causing the boat to rock furiously. Several men were already scaling the ship. Pierce looked out to the sea.

"We need to leave now!" he said desperately, looking at Randall. "If we don't leave now we'll miss the tide!"

"I'm not going after her," Randall replied shrilly, "you go after her!"

Pierce shook his head furiously. "Yer the one who insisted on bringing her. Yer gonna be the one to get her."

"But I can't swim!"

Pierce sighed deeply. Of course not. He quickly removed his doublet, hat and pistol and made a graceful swan dive in the water towards Charlotte.

Only a few minutes. That's all Charlotte needed. She kept repeating this to herself. Her legs burned and her lungs were on fire, but she couldn't allow herself to stop. She kicked until she felt like she would die, and then kicked some more.

And then a hand around her ankle, and another. Charlotte froze, struggling, and in a panic accidentally breathed in a mouthful of sea water. She choked and sputtered, taking in more sea water. Everything burned – lungs, throat, eyes – and fire was the last thing she thought of before she sank into a sea of inky black.

"—serious about this, we have to do it before we leave the island."

"I still think it's a fool's idea to kill him when we've got at least half the crew on his side."

"Hmm. I see your point. Completely loyal, or loyal save for money?"

"Could be either, as far as I know. Ask them yerself if ye'd think it'd help anythin'. But listen, I ain't doing anything right now, Randall, ye hear me?"

The first thing Charlotte felt when she came to was the doubled weight of her dress, which clung to her inconveniently and struggled to keep her on the deck. As she regained consciousness, she realized she was on the top deck of The Pyre, far removed from the water where she last remembered being. After this, she recalled the sea-water that rushed into her lungs, and let out a long-delayed cough, followed by the spitting up of copious amounts of seawater.

It was then that Charlotte realized the conversation she had been overhearing before she opened her eyes. Randall and Kearney. Quickly feigning unconsciousness, she listened intently to the private conversation, her ears straining over the sound of deck activity.

"—but if we take some true blue mutineers, we can claim it was an accident that did him in," Randall was explaining patiently.

"I just don't make head or tail of it, Randall."

"Look," Randall replied, aggravated, "I'm going to kill him with or without you. I made a deal that would make you captain, but if you are going to bail, I will just find another way."

There was a pause, during which Kearney, Charlotte could tell, was thinking. "I will think on this some more. We have a bit o' time, don't we?"

"Not much," Randall replied sharply, looking up at the sun in the sky, which indicated it was already nearing evening. "We shall reconvene in a few hours' time. Let me tell you, whether you choose to help me kill Pierce or not, he is going to die."

She could hear the sound of footsteps departing in either direction, and when they sounded comfortably distant, Charlotte opened her eyes to see an irritated-looking Captain Pierce standing over her. His clothing and hair were still damp, and he looked none too pleased about this.

"Have a nice rest?" he asked dangerously, placing his hands on his hips.

"Did it work?" Charlotte asked, propping herself up on her elbows to get a good look around.

Ocean. Nothing but ocean in every direction. Damn it all, Charlotte cursed.

"Nice try, Missie," Pierce said angrily, "next time, you're drowning. That's the last time I go in after you."

Would there be another time? Charlotte thought to herself before she was grabbed by the arm and roughly pulled up by Pierce.

"How does it feel?" Grey asked jovially, leaning on the balcony a few feet behind Pembroke and looking at him pointedly.

"How does what feel?" Pembroke asked cordially, gripping the ship's wheel with ferocity, as he had been ever since he had wrestled his way into control of the ship hours before. It had taken him quite a but of time of bargaining, cajoling and begging to convince Grey to let him steer the ship for a while. Grey had only caved because Ana had given him a look, but she hadn't stopped him from buzzing around Pembroke the whole time, trying to irritate him out of steering.

"Oh, I dunno," Grey sighed, "you know, commandeering another man's ship. Ye know, things like that."

"It isn't your ship," Pembroke corrected, "in fact, it was a ship of the English navy until your father commandeered himself it in 1630."

"I know—wait, how did ye know that?"

"I read up on my history," Pembroke replied dryly, never taking his eyes off of the horizon and the sun dipping down over the waves. "Technically, I'm the first legal man to steer this ship in fifty years."

"Don't you get real claim over a ship after, say, forty years or somethin' like that?"

Silence from the wheel. Pembroke pursed his lips as if he were seriously considering this idea. "No, of course not," he finally said, as if it were obvious.

"Well," Grey replied, "it still don't feel right."

More silence, save for the crashing waves. "It feels nice," Pembroke finally said, quietly. "I feel as if I am steering of my own accord, not of anyone else's."

From Grey there came a deep, rumbling laugh, the kind of laugh only he could give. He slapped Pembroke on the back, and Pembroke shot him a dirty look. "Ah, I knew it. I knew it, lad."

"Knew what?" Pembroke asked, irritated.

"I always knew ye were a pirate," Grey laughed.