Bare arms straining, sun glinting off the sweat that limned corded muscle in flexing biceps and heaving chest, Will Turner bailed his boat with increasing desperation. He had been at sea for too long, he knew, and this venture had been ill-advised, to say the least.
Still, all he had to do was hold out a bit longer. The black speck on the horizon was no island, but a moving ship. It grew larger by degrees measured in the angle of the sun striking the water, buckets hauled hand over hand, the drip of sweat from his brow. If his luck was turning, the swelling bulk of that ship meant salvation.
Hindsight was kind enough to inform Will that leaving Elizabeth, even if only for a proposed "hiatus" from engagement, had been an incredibly stupid idea. Not so much so for the lady's sake, though her ire had been fierce. Oh, no.
No... It had been John Norrington's men who coshed him on the head and tossed him on a boat headed for the open sea with a single cask of water and no oars. Hell hath no fury like that of a suitor scorned, and all that.
Will turned his face up, shielding his eyes from the sun as the ship pulled abreast of him and a rope was thrown over the side, frayed end touching the water. He had nothing to lose.
Once he'd grasped it, he was lofted into the air by the strength of a dozen men. He landed with a thud and sprawled, gasping, on the deck for a moment before squinting up at his unexpected benefactor as a pair of boots entered his field of vision. Never had a pair of boots looked so expectant.
"Well, lad, are you living, or are you dead?" The raspy voice was familiar as a glove being pulled back onto his hand.
Will Turner looked up the length of scuffed old black boots and patchy breeches, further past belled, dirty white sleeves and an exposed triangle of tanned chest into the grinning face of one Captain Jack Sparrow. "Ah," he said, sounding remarkably unsurprised. "Pirates."
Then he passed out.
"So, that Elizabeth, she marooned you?" Jack preceded Will into the empty galley, absently picking a tooth with his thumbnail. "Always knew that gal was poison. Sorry, lad."
Will shook his head, raking through his hair with an impatient hand. "No, it wasn't Elizabeth, Jack. It was Norrington -- Commodore Norrington's men, rather."
"Beg pardon?" Jack gave him a blank look. "You're going to have to be a bit plainer with old Jack; he don't savvy."
"I left," Will said, looking as if his face hurt him. "And Norrington took steps."
"Cold feet?" Jack asked, attempting an ingratiating look as he tipped himself into a galley chair, setting his boots on the table.
"No!" Will exclaimed, an indignant expression flashing across his face, wiped away the next instant by indecision. "Well, maybe..."
"She's awful headstrong, is your Elizabeth," Jack said knowledgeably. "You can lay low here for a bit, if you like. See if she comes after you. Y'know, there's some old saw: if you love...no, if you want something to love you...er, true love...or was that to bluff...oh, bugger."
Will seized a galley chair, turning it with the flick of a strong wrist and seating himself. "If you love something, set it free. If it returns, then it was meant to be."
"Ah! That's it." Jack waved a hand. "So if this girl of yours really loves you, she'll come back."
Will gave him a kind of half-smile. "Jack, by those lights, it means I'm supposed to go back to her, not the other way around." It should be strange to be seated here in the low, smoke-scented galley, furlongs from Port Royale. As he settled into the chair he felt it strange only that it seemed so natural.
Jack waved a beringed hand. "Don't argue with the captain." With a lithe movement he lifted his legs off the table and planted both feet firmly on the planking floor, leaning forward with arms braced on his thighs. A canny look crossed his face.
"What?" Will prompted, wary. He recognized that look, and it plainly spelled trouble.
"Anamaria turned in her first mate's hat not two days ago...this is fortuitous, a spell of luck for me, Will Turner; you're quite the portent."
Will grasped the implications at once. "You mean for me to be first mate?" His breath hissed between his teeth. Pirate's in your blood, boy, and one day you'll have to square with that.
"Aye," Jack said, drawing the word out with seeming relish.
Jack shifted in his seat, boots creaking, kohl-lined eyes capturing Will's gaze securely. "You think I'd have ever lost the Pearl if I'd taken your father on for my mate?"
Will shook his head slowly, and breath eased between his teeth. "So why didn't you?"
"Ah, well." Jack shrugged and leaned back, an uncomfortable look crossing his face. "Barbossa, he bought me a hat."
Will covered his mouth with one hand. "A hat," he said, muffled.
"Aye, a hat." Jack turned his head and spat neatly out the porthole to his right. "It was a fine big hat, a hat of stature. Gone now, of course." He sounded almost wistful.
Will heaved a sigh. "I don't know." He crossed his arms and gave Jack a measuring kind of look. "Why would you want me for your first mate? I've barely shipped out to sea before."
"You and me, lad, we work well together." Jack gave him a slow smile, dark eyes never leaving his. "'Sides, you've a clever head in a crisis. You think any of this raggedy lot's half as good as you are?"
"You make a compelling argument," Will said wryly, rubbing his chin.
"How 'bout joining on a trial basis?" Jack suggested. "If it don't work out we can part ways at the next port...and I'll give you Anamaria's old room, cleanest berth on the Pearl."
"Yes, it would be, wouldn't it?" That much appealed to Will's fastidious nature. He was wavering. He had, after all, no place to go.
Jack spread his hands expansively. "What else can a lad ask for?"
Will caught his breath. There was another thing, one he dared not ask though he thought he glimpsed its promise in Jack's dark eyes, the quizzical set of his head. There had been a night in Tortuga, and a bottle of fine rum, and Jack... Will flushed and looked away, shaking his head. It had been, he thought, a particularly strange erotic dream and nothing more.
Swallowing a moment's qualm, Will gave a nod.
"Well, that's it, then." Jack got to his feet and slapped his thighs. "I'll have to give you a proper hat."
"A proper hat," Jack corrected, hands making a wide arc. "Not like that dreadful thing you wore to my hanging." He swaggered forward, plucking his own hat from his head and depositing it onto Will's.
"You said you liked that hat," Will protested, his hands rising involuntarily to touch the brim of the hat that had been bestowed on him. "Jack, this is your hat." He got to his feet, intending to hand it right back.
Jack swung round. "'S yours, now," he announced, and that sly look returned. "You can give me a bit of payment for it, if you like."
"Payment--" Will began, brow furrowing, but without waiting for an answer Jack stepped close, seized the back of his neck, and kissed him.
It was a very thorough kind of kiss.
Will's first thought was resistance, as his hands fisted in the once-white material of Jack's shirt. When Jack's tongue breached his defenses, though, he realized this was what he'd been angling for all along and perhaps Elizabeth had known, and that had been why she'd cried; perhaps Norrington had known, and that had been why he'd ordered him marooned. Once he relaxed into it, Jack steered him into turbulent waters and their teeth clashed.
He was released only when his lungs had no more to sustain him.
"I hope you didn't do that with Anamaria as your first mate," was all Will had to say, catching his breath, tongue swiping out to run over his glistening lower lip.
Jack snorted. "She sleeps with a knife in each hand, love, and wakes ill-tempered; not exactly the welcoming sort." He leaned in and brushed another open-mouthed kiss to Will's lips, retreated, and then he was gone, wiry length of him lounging against the doorway at the end of the galley. "Is all that enough incentive for you, Will Turner?"
With a self-conscious hand, Will reached up to the three-cornered hat perched precariously atop his head. It was more than just the Black Pearl or the intoxicating presence of Jack Sparrow himself; it was the freedom the sea encompassed, flush with possibility and breadth and the oddest sense of coming home. "We have an accord," he said, dredging words up from not so long ago. "I'm your man."
"Now let's get you out of those wet clothes." Jack's teeth flashed gold in a leering, appreciative grin as his dark eyes traveled the course from hat-brim to boot-heels. "You can leave your hat on."