He'd thought a trip across the Atlantic would constitute a simple diversion (and a lucrative one, by preference, though his preferences in that direction were a byword in many parts of the world and required no especial statement). A change of scenery. A break from the routine of piratical doings in the warm Caribbee; for routine was Jack Sparrow's enemy sure as the sun had a tendency to rise in the East. At no point had it occurred to her captain that the Black Pearl might run into more trouble of the messy, battling kind on this side of the ocean—where the world was nominated civilised—than she typically did in the savage Spanish Main. But that was precisely the kind of trouble they'd come in for when that bloody galley appeared on the horizon, evincing a yen to come after the pretty prize that was Jack's ship; and employing, to do it, an irksome hierarchy of Barbary Coast corsairs, their pet Janissaries, and a heap of oar-chained wretches to keep the whole mess locomotive.
Oh, the Pearl had won the day fair enough. Jack's darling had made short work of those foreign fools who didn't seem to fathom that he had no quarrel with them. Well, no quarrel 'til they'd begun trying to blow holes in his ship and his men (at the first of which they had failed, but at the second of which they'd regrettably succeeded several times over). Then there'd been quarrel aplenty. Quarrel that ended when Jack had suggested via cannonball that masts—and therefore sails—should no longer be considered parts of this particular galley and hinted strongly that similar suggestions would soon be put forward regarding her more essential bits, those being oars and an unperforated hull. But now that the quarrel was over came the more challenging bother, namely how best to salvage something useful from the defeated ship.
It was Jack's (experientially well-informed) belief that galleys in the Mediterranean, much like other vessels used by pirates in other watery bits of the world and much unlike the easy pickings offered by most merchant ships, were only worth taking on if they had a hold full of loot or if they started firing their guns without provocation. This particular galley fell into the latter category but not the former, and as such, seemed to offer no valuable goods or other material reward. And what was a life of piracy without material reward? A damn shame, that's what.
So Jack was currently putting his squirrelly brain to work attempting to extract some alternative type of worthwhile prize from this unforeseen and vexatious encounter. Much of the ship had already been thoroughly perused (being a piratical term often resulting, as now, in mass quantities of debris flung harum-scarum about the surfaces of the captured vessel) by himself and the crew, and no such prize had yet presented itself. Jack was beginning to attempt a swallow of the idea that he might leave this skirmish with nothing to show for it.
The resultant shudder had just finished its way down his spine when a shout from his good ship's doctor Boothe (who was perhaps not such a very good doctor but was the only one of the crew who abstained from spirits and so could be counted on to have a more or less steady hand at most, though not all, times) got him to thinking.
"Down he goes to Davy Jones!" was the shout in question, and was followed by a splash that Jack could safely assume was the very recently deceased body of Bruno, who'd taken a shredded piece of timber to the gut in the fracas and, when last Jack saw him before undertaking his current perusal of the galley, had been bleeding great quantities of that most passionate of humours out onto the deck of the Pearl. Bruno hadn't sailed with them long, and in truth, he'd been a rather surly sort who Jack wasn't entirely displeased to be rid of but he was a big strong man who'd been able to heave at an anchor chain or haul canvas better than most. No captain, pirate or otherwise, ever liked to lose that sort of deckhand, but this particular loss offered Jack some much-needed afflatus.
Exiting the aft cabin and descending the half-flight of stairs to the larboard oar deck, Jack went in search of potential replacement crew members. The smell alone nearly made him reconsider, and if that hadn't been enough, the sight of these pitiful curs chained to their benches almost did it. But though many seemed too scrawny and whip-scarred to stand, let alone pull an oar or a hawser, a handful still had the brawn Jack was after. On this side of the ship were several possibilities, most notably a giant with a distinctly threatening Muscovite appearance. And when Jack re-mounted the steps and descended to starboard, there were a few more who still looked to have a spark of vitality left in 'em along with their varied, and in some cases outlandish, appearances. Here was one whose visage was covered in tattoos. There a Nipponese man with his hair knotted atop his head. Next to him was a Jew in a funny skull cap. And next to him...
Jack's blood ran to ice in his veins.
Next to the Jew was a man whose dirt and unfamiliar scars and matted hair did nothing, nothing at all, to keep Jack from knowing him instantly. Nor to keep the involuntary tide swell of memory from flooding him. Nor to hold an improbable pulse of lust at bay. Because next to the Jew sat Jack Shaftoe.
Jack Shaftoe who, years ago, had provided so many of the bliss-full, sense-less experiences Jack still brought to mind in his cabin during more onanistic moments. Jack Shaftoe, who'd been the only one in a lifetime of many to produce in Jack the softer emotions that could accompany rampant desire. The very same Jack Shaftoe who'd then so cruelly and cavalierly abandoned Jack and thereby subjected him to the blade-sharp hidden edge of those same softer emotions. Shaftoe, who Jack wanted to hurt and maim and punish, to touch and kiss and fuck, to howl at and hunger for and hold. Still. After all these years.
Jack Shaftoe, who was looking right at Jack without so much as a glimmer of recognition on his face.
"Jack?" said Jack, hoarsely.
"Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, L'Emmerdeur, King of the Vagabonds, at your service," said Shaftoe with a theatrickal tilt of the head that might have been an approximation of the top of a bow. Then he closed his eyes and began mumbling inaudibly to himself.
"If you're looking for him to know you," said the Jew next to Shaftoe, "which I take it you are from your intent staring and apparent speaking difficulties, he's not likely to. Too far gone with the French Pox to know or be good for much of anything apart from rowing and telling self-glorifying tales of his youth."
Jack swallowed and broke his gaze away from Shaftoe with some difficulty. "And who might you be?" he asked the Jew.
"Moseh de la Cruz," he was answered.
"'Moses of the Cross?' What the hell kind of name is that?"
"You're not the first to ask, nor will you be the last, I expect," answered Moseh with a sigh that suggested he was mightily tired of this inquiry. "Who is asking this time?"
"Captain Jack Sparrow, of the Black Pearl," Jack said with a small reflexive bow.
At that moment, Shaftoe huffed a breath that was suspiciously sob-like. A tear slipped from under one closed eyelid, and his mumbling reached a discernible level just long enough for Jack to make out My lovely Eliza, which phrase drove something cold and spiked into his heart.
Moseh rolled his eyes and groaned, as did several other oar slaves in the vicinity. "He won't stop going on about Eliza. When he's like this, it's mainly indistinguishable ravings. Consider yourself lucky you're not here on one of his lucid days; then he won't shut up about her golden hair and clever little hands." Commiserating groans sounded from the neighbouring benches.
The desire to hurt Shaftoe was crackling at the forefront of Jack's thoughts now. That he could've been so duplicitous as to feign some care for Jack's person (and how convincingly he'd feigned!) and then to've run off back to his Vagabonding life and this Eliza! It made Jack's right hand twitch for his sword and something dubiously solid start to form in his throat. But, as he'd learned painstakingly to do in the years after Shaftoe'd left him, he snapped a frozen layer into place around his injured heart and turned a player's face toward the crowd. "Well, how would a few of you gents like to be rid of his nonsense, eh?" he asked the nearest galériens.
Moseh looked cautious and calculating. "How do you mean?" he asked, speaking for the enslaved masses.
"Well, it's this way, boys," Jack said with a long-ago-perfected dramatick flare that bore little relation to the churning in his belly. "I've recently lost a member or two of my redoubtable comp'ny, and I'm in the mood to recruit some replacements. Would any of you like to join the crew of the most fearsome pirate ship in the Caribbean... nay... after this set-to, I'd wager she's the most fearsome in the entire ocean!"
A few of the men around him laughed and raised a small chorus of Ayes.
"Then perhaps we should see about getting you out of these chains and over to the deck of the Black Pearl for a signing of her Articles," said Jack to the group, which offer was met with cautiously hopeful faces and low-level murmurs. "To be properly celebrated with plenty of rum, of course," he went on, which raised the hope from cautious to outright and the murmurings from muted to vociferous.
It was a matter of short work to find the keys to the various padlocks at each oar chain's end, and Jack, being a fair-minded sort of man, arranged with Moseh (clearly cleverest of the motley company) that those men as were not interested in joining the Pearl be given control of the galley. This was accomplished by an abbreviated dispatching of the few remaining live corsairs, which the former oar-slaves seemed only too glad to carry out. The galley still possessed most of her oars and could, by her very nature, be rowed to the nearest port for new masts to be stepped. A Dutchman named van Hoek who seemed to have a seafaring past was elected captain by popular vote, and Jack welcomed three strapping new hands to his crew.
This flurry of activity took little time but required enough attention that Jack was temporarily able to put aside the matter of Jack Shaftoe. But once the necessary arrangements were made and the Pearl was making ready to get under way, Jack found himself standing with Moseh back on the starboard oar deck where some of the newly freed were manning the oars (voluntarily now) in preparation for their own incipient departure. Shaftoe hadn't risen from his bench, even after the cuff was unlocked from round his ankle. He gripped his oar mechanically and remained in a shut-eyed reverie, periodically muttering Eliza.
With no one immediately proximal but a Jew he was unlikely to see again and the Pox-mad man to whom he'd once lost his heart, Jack bothered less to avoid the questions pressing at him. Could he leave Shaftoe behind here, taking no revenge, receiving no explanation? And counter to that, could he (should he? did he want to?) take Shaftoe aboard the Pearl in his current state? Would his madness continue indefinitely? Would he snap awake one day and know Jack and want him again? Or, better (or worse) still, would he come to his senses and want nothing to do with Jack any longer? Jack tamped angrily down at the reality that no matter how irate he was at the ill treatment he'd received at Shaftoe's hand, no matter how much of him wanted to torment Shaftoe in richly-deserved retribution, there was still a sizable part of him that wanted all resolved with the two of them abed once more. More than once more.
Moseh, plainly an observant fellow, seemed to have cottoned to Jack's inner disharmony. "You don't know whether to leave him here or not, do you?" the Jew asked.
"I am indeed conflicted on that score," Jack said carefully.
"He is someone important to you from your past, is he not?" Moseh asked quietly in a tone rather more declarative than querulous, intimating that he well knew the answer.
Jack was silent, staring at Shaftoe's frowning face. "He'll not improve from this state, will he?" he asked.
"Not likely, no," said Moseh, not without sympathy. "If you ask me, you would do best to leave him here. He rows well, and we'll see to it that he's treated decently for as long as he may go on." It was left unsaid that this might be a rather short period of time.
Jack was forced to admit inside his own head that for all these years he'd been inhabited by some small illuminated node of hope that Shaftoe was somewhere in the world with a plausible explanation for why he'd left and never returned. Now, though it felt akin to self-amputation, it was time for the light of that node to be extinguished. Shaftoe had clearly given a great deal less weight than Jack himself to what had happened between them when they were young together. His current raving was that of a lunatick, and a lunatick besotted with some unknown woman. He'd been lost to Jack nearly twenty years ago, but the loss was only truly and powerfully driven home now, when no honest man (which Jack was, infallibly, when dealing with himself) could convince himself of the chance of reversion to the Shaftoe of those glorious weeks they'd had together in the naïve freedom of their youth.
"Very well, Señor de la Cruz," said Jack, not sure—though he tried with all his skill to put it on—his customary brusque mask was quite in place. "I've no need of more delirium aboard my ship, and at least he'll do you some good at an oar here. If you'll give me a moment, I'll take my leave of the both of you."
Moseh stepped away a few paces, considerately leaving Jack some semi-privacy with Shaftoe, who was currently alone on his particular bench. No words were forthcoming. But then, none were likely to be understood by their intended recipient.
"Goodbye, Jack," he muttered, crouching in front of Shaftoe, and he found he was reaching out to touch a begrimed cheek before he could stop his arm from moving. Shaftoe'd been murmuring on about Eliza until Jack's hand connected with his face, at which he went still. His head tic'd minutely into Jack's hand and something seemed to click likewise in his addled brain, for his blue blue eyes opened and his face took on the hint of a wolfish grin that Jack remembered very clearly, and he spoke a repetition of an oath vowed long ago but forever burned in Jack's memory. "Never, no never," he said, and then in a voice both fierce and fond, "Oh, Jack."
Jack snatched his hand back as though scalded, but Shaftoe's eyes stared unseeing, and he remained unaware as ever of Jack's presence. His interior reminiscences, however, took on a new quality, which seemed to Jack synchronous with the tone of his own recollections of his time with Shaftoe. That is to say, Shaftoe's face was now expressing a rather more feral mien that flickered back and forth into something almost tender. The recently-doused node inside Jack blazed again with light.
He stood rapidly. "Moseh," he called. "Is this behavior also typical of Mr. Shaftoe?"
The Jew approached and observed Shaftoe's current set of twitches and mumbles. "Indeed it is. When he is not rambling about his fame or his Eliza, he seems to fall into fits wherein I can only imagine that inside his decaying brain he is reliving some of the more... amorous adventures of his misbegotten youth, though apparently viewed from the outside as it is his own name, rather than another's, that he–" Moseh stopped and looked appraisingly at Jack for a moment. "Ah, but it is not his own name he calls in those moments, is it, Captain Sparrow?" he asked, his face shrewd but not unkind.
Jack looked him directly in the eye and answered, "No, it is not. And your edification has sufficed to change my mind. Seems the Black Pearl could do with one more inhabitant's worth of delirium after all."
Moseh nodded and said, "Very well. For all that he is often a trial, he has also proven an entertaining companion for several years of a life that sees very little entertainment. Though I suspect I need not say it, I do entreat you to care well for him in however long he has."
"And though I suspect I need not say it, I swear to you that I will," said Jack. He shook Moseh's hand as if sealing a tradesman's pact. And, steeling himself against the contact, he put his hand on Shaftoe's bare shoulder (how warm and how broadly muscled, still), and led the unresisting man toward the Black Pearl, which had briefly been, years ago, and would now again be for whatever time remained, their shared home.
Jack was thankful that the Imp of the Perverse, that most reliable of companions, had been sitting stalwartly upon his shoulder through recent days. Or maybe weeks. Could it be years? Yes, Jack thought it could possibly be years he'd been stuck on this bench rowing and rowing and rowing without let up. It was on the dull side, rowing, as far as amusement or opportunities afforded. But the Imp was quite settled in and happy to provide Jack's increasingly dissipated mind an ongoing narrative of tales venturesome and venal from his past. This was far superior to the theater-goings of his boyhood, as in these Imp-ish productions, it was always his very own younger self in the lead role, always for him to play the dashing varlet who invariably came out on top. Or beneath, in some of the more vividly debauched interludes. As far as going mad unto death from the Pox was concerned, it was all much more enjoyable than he'd previously assumed.
Occasionally, impressions from the external world filtered into Jack's decidedly more exciting internal one. It was thus that he was able to recognize some of the longer-lived of his oar-bound compatriots and further see that they had no Imps of their own to perversify their dreary toil. On the sensible thought that this lack would make for a dull and onerous life indeed—and this was likely true even had his fellows each possessed an Imp, since few could possibly have lived lives of such variety and excitement as he—Jack had taken it upon himself to recite the Imp's yarns aloud as it communicated them to him. He was past finer brain functions such as evaluating the passage of time or recalling whether any given tale had been previously told, but eventually he was made to understand by way of certain repeated vocalisations, viz. Not again, Jack! and I'll bash your head in with this padlock if you don't stow it!, that his associates were somewhat disinterested in his narratives.
Once this state of affairs was as clear as could be to one in the rapidly advancing stages of syphilis, Jack obligingly kept his entertaining biographickals to himself. He was fair sure of it. On occasion an external impression or a vocalisation made it seem as though he were not remaining as silent as he believed himself to be. But his head remained un-bashed, and the Imp's recitations were quite enjoyable enough solo. Happy remembrances of escapes made, duties shirked, sights seen, and companions enjoyed. Most especially that last. The Imp was always glad to remind Jack of his better times with the various actresses and serving wenches of his young acquaintance. Or of the months he rode Turk across Europe with Eliza's small, fiery, not-yet-harpoon-wielding self before him in the saddle. He'd been through countless recalls of his time in that warm Bohemian spring when Eliza'd taught him her memorable literary lesson with a little hand encased in sheep gut.
But as often as not, his perverse companion was wont to focus on just that: the perverse; and the highest and best perversity in Jack's life had most often been accompanied (and indeed occasioned) by one Jack Sparrow. And so the Imp quite often led Jack's thoughts away from Eliza, who, for all her intriguing lessons, had never let Jack see to her as he'd have liked or touch her as he'd thought she deserved. Instead the capering little demon would dance Jack down dark paths lit by the flickering light of a lanthorn swinging to and fro with the rocking of a ship. And then he'd be back in that cramped cabin, tangled in filthy sheets and hastily-discarded clothing and clinging sun-dark limbs, buried body and spirit in a place of such utter irradiant bliss that he'd always half expected to combust spontaneously at the moment of his release.
These recollections made the Imp cackle and cavort madly and made Jack wonder (not for the first time) if his friend was the heavenly or the hellish partner of the duo the Mohametans named kiraman katibin. For none of the heavens he'd heard expounded upon in such tedious detail, from many an espouser of many a faith, condoned the behaviours he and Jack Sparrow had practiced 'pon one another. But how could something so blastingly, phenomenally, transcendently good damn the soul to an eternity of fire? Never before then or since had Jack felt so close to touching the divine as he had in Jack Sparrow's perfervid embrace.
Jack was never able to follow this philosophical train of thought for very long before he was distracted, either by the Imp waving about another History of Shaftoe or by the overseer's whip meeting his back. At which juncture he shrugged his shoulders (though metaphorickally in the case of the second distraction) and was resolutely glad he'd never been a religious man.
And so life continued apace, with Jack's days full of less and less attention to rowing and more and more to Impish delights as the Disease continued to eat away at his faculties. Every few weeks or so, to the best of his reckoning (which, as has already been established, was somewhat curtailed), the corsairs running the show would do what they were on this tub to do. That is, attack some vessel or other and variously plunder, rape, pillage, press-gang, and murther its stores and inhabitants. If Jack had been in a clearer frame of mind, he might have mustered some regret that he was invariably chained to an oar during this excitement and therefore uninvited and unable to participate in some of his most cherished pastimes. Well, but for press-ganging—freedom being all too valuable a commodity to such a successful Vagabond—and rape, which he'd never much gone in for, having had very little trouble in attracting and (pre-Dunkirk) pleasing any number of appealing bedmates. As it was, he merely exhorted the Imp to start in on another story of his enterprising youth while the noises of screaming and cannonfire bounced sporadically into his head.
But following one of these naval batailles came a point at which Jack knew he'd reached a new stage of his madness. He began to see apparitions. Perhaps it was that he'd been dreaming again of Eliza and the Imp had had enough. That was the only explanation that matched what was passing for logic in Jack's mind for why he looked up one day and saw Jack Sparrow standing before him.
It was a finely drawn phantasm, which Jack credited to the Imp's devilish creativity. For this was not the youthful Sparrow Jack remembered, but a sort of continuation thereupon. This Sparrow had been aged in accordance with the time that had passed since his death, and then reanimated as living once more. It put Jack in mind of a theatrickal interpretation he'd once seen of a dreadfully long poem by a wordy Roman chap; one of the tales had been of a sculptor who'd fallen in love with his carven ivory lady and had her brought to life for his adoration. At the time, Jack had thought it beyond silly, for he was then just beginning to discover the delights of pretty women who were sentient without need for godly intervention. But now he felt a keen sympathy with that fictive sculptor, because this artistic rendering of Jack Sparrow augmented by nearly two decades was somehow even more beguiling than he'd been as a young man. Jack hadn't thought such a thing possible, but determined that he'd never mind being proved wrong if the proof could always come in such a package as this. This being a version of Sparrow with an impressive array of hair trinkets and jewelry; with thickly applied lamp-black round those pitchy eyes that now sported a fine web of lines at their corners; with a fully grown man's dual-braided beard and trim mustachios perfectly framing the mouth that had been the very first aspect of Sparrow to've been Jack's undoing. The Sparrow vision had all these things and more that united to make of him, implausibly, an even greater paragon of the handsome pirate rogue than he'd been in youth.
The vision came and went several times without approaching Jack, but when it inevitably did come near and proceeded so far as to lift its hand to Jack's face, it was cruelly reminiscent of Sparrow's touch. It came clear to Jack in that moment that that touch had somehow been stored away in a cavity of his body unknown to him, for when this Pox-induced phantom put a hand to his cheek, the absolute physical reality of Sparrow's hand rushed through him. The Imp fed his reeling mind the remembered image of Sparrow beneath him, legs pulling him down and in, arms pressing the two of them together with all their strength, low intense voice demanding You can never leave me, Jack, say it, say it.
And this time he was perfectly aware of his own voice repeating aloud the response he'd given Sparrow all those years ago. That Never, no never that had come from the very depths of his being and soul and self, that had made Jack Sparrow cry out and spend between their tightly serried bodies. It was a vivid memory, assuredly, and a bittersweet one, given that the real Sparrow was dead so long now as to be nothing but dry dust and bone. "Oh, Jack," he muttered, intoning it like a prayer.
But the Imp refused to let him wallow in the misery of his cruel and permanent separation from the man he'd once held so close in his arms and in his heart. No, the Imp was bent on his happiness, friendly fellow, and so directed Jack's thoughts back towards recollection of the pleasure he'd had from and in and with Jack Sparrow, and he grinned to himself to remember how he'd loved it and loved—yes, loved—the man who'd brought it to him. And if, shortly thereafter, the Sparrow apparition seemed to lead him up and away from his bench and off the galley to a ship that seemed very like to Jack's memory of the Black Pearl, well then perhaps it was Jack's time to pass from the world altogether, and he was to serve as proof that even a Vagabond could achieve heavenly reward.
It was a widely acknowledged fact that Jack Sparrow would hear no word calumnous or condemnatory about his ship. She was perfect in every way. Anyone overheard suggesting otherwise found himself insulted rudely, robbed spectacularly, or else injured. Gravely. Publicly he found her flawless, but in the privacy of his own thoughts, Jack had found recent cause to sorely lament her utter lack of sufficient guest quarters. Particularly as said lack had brought about his current state of cohabitation.
Under nearly every circumstance imaginable, Jack Shaftoe was the one comrogue Jack desired above all others to have in his chambers. But as a madman in a deteriorating state, he was to Jack a constant source of pain. After the galley incident, they'd called at Mamora to re-provision for their return across the Atlantic. The crew had been none too pleased to find their captain had brought aboard a mouth to feed during this extended journey who couldn't be counted upon to take his share of the watches, climb rigging, mend sails, or even swab the deck without causing disruption and difficulty. Pirates were not as a rule known for their patience, and after only a few such incidents, Jack had begun to fear that he might, one fast-approaching morning, discover Shaftoe's initial bunk in the crew's quarters mysteriously and permanently emptied by resentful shipmates. And while Jack was still entertaining the (less and less satisfying) idea of killing Shaftoe with his bare hands in retribution for that precipitous and longterm leavetaking, he'd not brook being deprived of Shaftoe's presence until he had made up his mind on the matter for good and all.
To that end, Jack had slung Shaftoe a hammock in his own cabin. That had been three days earlier. Jack could account well for the interim, as he'd been unable to snatch more than a half hour's sleep at any given time therein before Shaftoe would begin a lament for Eliza (causing Jack to grind his teeth 'til he thought they'd fall from his head) or a stimulating recall of some one of their shared libidinous moments (at which Jack was hard-pressed to do aught but press hard at his own responsive corpus with an unsatisfactory hand or 'gainst an unresponsive wooden surface with his head).
Perhaps he'd have done better to leave Shaftoe aboard that galley. Under its new management, he'd have been well-treated and simple repetitive rowing was the sort of mindless task Shaftoe was best suited to as he possessed less and less of a mind. Perhaps, too, Jack's own mind would have been better soothed by putting the whole affair to rest back there. By opting for a final, irrevocable split between himself and Jack Shaftoe just as Shaftoe had done those many years before.
Instead, fool that he was for a fine face and a firm form—call a spade a spade, Jack—for this face and this form, he'd chosen prolongation. The choice of sad, smitten fools the world over. For when it came to matters Shaftoe, Jack knew at the very core of him that he'd be a sad, smitten fool 'til the day he died, though he might bury it under never-so-many layers of spiky indignation or feigned insouciance.
Hence Jack had arrived at his current state of unaccustomed, unsettling uncertainty. Three nights of Shaftoe's constant but unreachable presence in his cabin had made a wreck of him and forced him into a terrible choice between the Scylla of remaining in the room, with all the torments it proffered, and the Charybdis of haunting the decks as he was now, spectral, thinking of nothing but the man back in his cabin. He needed more sleep than this if he wanted to remain Captainly enough to avoid a second mutiny (and he very much wanted to avoid a second mutiny). But sleep was not to be his. On deck was wet and windy, like as not (currently like to an unpleasant degree), and in his bunk, he was tormented by Shaftoe's insanity. It had to end. But apart from dropping Shaftoe overboard, there was nothing to be done until they reached St. Thomas, which was still some weeks away, presuming the weather favored them. Even then, the options were depressingly few and unpleasant.
This helpless indecision was anathema to Jack. If he couldn't think his problem away, he'd simply have to distract himself for the nonce. He doffed coat, hat, and boots, and scurried up the ratlines fast as he could (still a damn sight faster than most rigging monkeys he'd seen) to the foretop, where he wrapped one arm around the mast and yelled for all he was worth into the wind and the dark.
When he finally dragged himself—drenched and hoarse and hopefully sufficiently exhausted to sleep through anything Shaftoe could muster—back to his cabin, he was met with blessed silence. Silence to a degree so unexpected and fervently hoped for that, after a cursory glance to make sure Shaftoe was still breathing, Jack fell directly into his bed, wet clothes and all. He balled himself in the blanket and plummeted into unconsciousness like a sounding lead into still water.
It wasn't until he woke that he realized he'd slept the night through, and that the reason for this unanticipated boon was likely the fact that Shaftoe was broiling with fever.
When Jack woke, he could recall an impressive array of dreams involving rowing, whippings, and hull scraping. From the sheer number of these, he concluded that he'd been asleep for quite some time.
Jack had had no doctor's training, but he'd seen quite a few oddities medical in the camps he and Bob had run 'round as lads, and in his experience, such extended somnolence was an indicator of a chap's being severely wounded, gravely ill, or dead; but a quick check assured him that all of his limbs remained fully attached and functional, that he had no telltale swellings heralding Plague or other sickness (including, in a surprising and unquestioned twist, no signs mental or physical of the Pox) and that his beating heart and expanding-contracting lungs indicated a continued state of animation. If he were called upon to swear to his own health in a Court of Law, he could testify affirmatively and not be called out for a liar. (Other charges were less easily avoided. Best to continue his well-established policy of general avoidance where Courts of Law were concerned.)
He sat up to determine his location and was quickly made aware of several things at once. He was in a proper bed (a rare enough occurrence for him). The bed seemed to be moving (rarer still). And under the bedsheet he was naked (rare as fleas on a dog, which is to say dead common).
He widened the scope of his investigation from there; and, had he pursued it to its natural end, would have been able to ascertain that the bed was in a rather spacious well-appointed room, that it moved because he was on a ship, and that nothing lay to hand with which to alter his state of nudity. Instead he was frozen in place by the sight of the room's other occupant, who was sitting immediately beside the bed and whose wary face was illustrated with the pallor and sunken eyes of the chronically awake.
"Jack Sparrow!" For it did seem to be that very man. "I must be delirious or dreaming still," said Jack, and then, in a far-reached conjecture, "or dead."
"Not presently, no. Though of late the same could not be said, for at least two of those," Sparrow said to him with something brittle and cutting in his voice that Jack had never heard. "'S a matter of fact," he went on observationally, peering at Jack with cold scrutiny, "this looks to be delirium's end."
"But you're dead!"
"Not presently, no. Though of late the same could not be said," Sparrow parroted, his words no less hard-edged.
Any confusion this might have provoked was buried in the dawning realisation that Jack Sparrow was, no matter how unlikely it seemed, not dead. Jack Sparrow. Was. Not. Dead. Which meant Jack Sparrow was alive! And here! And past that wondrous thought Jack could not seem to get.
"Jack," he tried, but found he was unable to speak around the constriction in his throat. He swallowed hard and made a second attempt. "Jack, is it really you? You're alive..." It came out soft and faltering. He cemented its truth with repetition. "You're alive!"
A golden bubbling light kindled and began triumphantly illuminating his body. Alive! Jack Sparrow was alive! And here! Here in a room with Jack's naked self and a bed, and therefore exactly where he should be. Where he always should have been. Jack lifted his hand toward Sparrow's face, that beautiful face he'd thought never to see again, and was answered with a sharp, sick-making twist in his gut as Sparrow wrenched his head away and stood back from Jack's reach.
"Aye, I'm alive. No need for false and weeping declarations of care. You'll not be dropped overboard for honesty, though on one or two other matters I've yet to make up my mind," said Sparrow, voice laden with poison.
That tone left Jack at sea, in a symbolic sense to match the literal. He was filling and welling with joy at their unlooked-for reunion, but perhaps he was dead and in hell after all, for to receive the miraculous boon of a returned whole, hale Jack Sparrow and then only his scorn was the ultimate cruelty. But he could smell the unfortunately ripe aroma of his long-unwashed body, which seemed too realistic a detail to be a likely inclusion in a hell cooked up only to torment him. Why then was Sparrow not here against him, where, as far as Jack Shaftoe was concerned, he'd never stopped belonging?
"My care's not one jot false! How could I not care that you're alive?! Alive! And you're here! I– Where have you– I don't understand–" He broke off in frustration and mutely stretched his arms to Sparrow, hoping his action would say what his words clearly could not.
Sparrow did wheel toward him then, though the look on his face was more baleful than benevolent.
"What is there not to understand, mate?" the pirate demanded icily, making that friendly word a savage barb. Jack was suddenly glad to've never crossed blades in anger with Jack Sparrow. "You expect that after you disappear for nearly two decades, you can require—all within a month, mind—my rescue from slavery, passage on my ship with the great privilege of a berth in the captain's cabin, and my attendance through your illness both corporeal and cerebral. That, my friend," the brutality of the epithet was like a blow, "is a prolonged list. And yet, at the end of it, you come to all sensible-like and further expect me to jump at your beckoning? To be overjoyed when you reappear half a lifetime after sneaking away like a thief without so much as an adieu? Tell me why I should not simply gut you where you lie."
Sparrow's eyes were snapping with barely-restrained and ferocious rage. His melodious voice gone flat and hard, positively shaking with ire. And it was monstrous unfair! The utter frustrated injustice of it all waved red anger before Jack's face like a dog bedeviling a bear in a Southwark baiting garden.
"That's never how it was, Jack!" he growled, fists crumpling swathes of bedsheet. "'Twasn't me as left you. Not knowingly. I'd never! You were dead, Jack! They told me you were dead! That Tom Skene had killed you! Do you hear?! Bootstrap wept as he told me, and I went all miserable and cold and so sick with the dread of setting foot in our cabin without you to share it. So I went. That's why I went. Christ, if I'd known you were alive, Jack, d'you think I would have left?! Could have left you? I swore to you I'd never leave, don't you remember?!"
Indeed, how could he, how could either of them, forget that passionate avowal? And the look on Sparrow's face told plainly that he was recalling it at that very moment, same as Jack.
You can never leave me, Jack, say it, say it.
Never, no never.
Jack Sparrow knew he'd never forget it as long as a breath remained in his body. But if neither he nor Shaftoe had forgotten it, then how had so many years gone the way of memory since they'd last seen one another? Jack shook his head clear enough to alight on something Shaftoe'd just said.
"Bill told you I was dead?"
"Aye. Well, Barbossa told me and Bootstrap confirmed it later. Said you went down with Skene's ship," said Shaftoe, leery.
But with that it all came clear, and Jack was nearly swamped by the flood in his chest of anguish at just how much he'd lost and candent joy at exactly who and what was come back to him. "It was Tobias who was dead, Jack. Bootstrap meant Tobias. And Barbossa," he had to swallow to keep from screaming, "was playing another of his thrice-damned games in making you think it was me. Bastard. Bastard!"
Shaftoe's look of consternation and dawning clarity appeared to match his own feelings on the subject.
"So you'd been made captain?" Shaftoe asked. "Of the Pearl?"
"And you're not dead?"
He shook his head.
"For certain, you're not?"
Jack shook more vehemently, charms all a-clack.
"Then come–" Shaftoe's voice broke and his blue eyes filled with tears.
He reached out again, and this time Jack cleaved to him, practically diving to the bed in his rush toward that embrace. And then oh! oh, to be circled in Jack Shaftoe's strong warm arms again! He'd not forgotten how good this felt, but to have it once more in the flesh, to have it without the lance of pain that had accompanied his rememb'rances! It was blissful, and he clasped tighter at Shaftoe's back, crushing him close-closer-closest, which was still too far away.
He was babbling Jack, Jack, oh God Jack, it's you. Possibly Shaftoe was babbling it, too. Right now he didn't care, for Shaftoe had buried his face in Jack's neck and was taking in great deep breaths interspersed with sucking open-mouthed kisses anywhere his lips and tongue and teeth could reach. Jack surrendered wholly to such glorious marking, lifting his chin in invitation and pressing encouragingly at the back of Shaftoe's head. He writhed and sighed as that clever tongue hit the spot behind his right ear, and he shifted to kneel—boots be damned!—astride Shaftoe's sheet-covered legs.
"I'll kill Barbossa, Jack. I'll kill him for keeping us from this," Shaftoe was murmuring into his skin, so thrillingly, intently animal that for a moment Jack regretted having previously done the job himself.
"Already done, mate. If I'd known what he did I'd have taken more time about it. But he's dead, well and truly. And you've come back. You've come back. Jesus, Jack. Jack." His greedy hands were skittering over Shaftoe's body, unable to alight anywhere for long in their rush to reaffirm and remember and reinscribe the feel of Shaftoe's skin on his own. He brought one to either side of that beloved face and lifted Shaftoe's head so their eyes met. "Jack, you're real and here and you never wanted to leave," he said, half question, all fervent.
"I swear it to you, Jack. I'll swear it as often as you like," Shaftoe's arms curved up Jack's back and his big capable hands rested on Jack's shoulders, and that weight and warmth, as much as anything, convinced Jack of the truth.
"Oh, but you took my heart with you when you left, Jack Shaftoe," he said.
Shaftoe's reply—"Then it was in exchange for my own, which surely stayed behind that day on Roatán"—burst something that had been constricted inside Jack's body for years and that now inflated until all the minuscule cavities of his being were full of warm and ferocious delight. And he kept his hands on Shaftoe's face and bent to kiss him with every last ounce of that delight on his lips.
Christ, how he'd missed the red-wet glory of Jack Sparrow's mouth on his. Teasing at him, sipping and nipping in constant motion one minute, striking deep and fast, hard and true the next until Jack no longer distinguished the rum-and-rainwater taste of Sparrow from the life-giving air around him. Now that skirly beautiful Jack Sparrow was back his arms, kissing and writhing and running clever hands over every bit of Jack he could reach, Jack figured he'd be hard put to determine which between that air and those kisses was, in fact, the more essential to his continued survival. Sparrow licked wickedly into Jack's mouth again. Jack laid his money on the kisses.
From the way Sparrow was wriggling and the sounds escaping him, Jack concluded (rightly, in point of fact) that if given the same choice, Sparrow would wager in favor of kisses, as well. A wager that, as a prosperous pirate captain, would be worth a great deal more than Jack's own recently-post-galley-slave contribution. He'd have to balance the scales in other ways.
With a mind to settling this inequality, he slid both hands down to cup Sparrow's arse (how seemingly little the man's lithe, hard body had changed in their time apart). Sparrow, shameless as ever (for his hedonism had apparently changed not at all), arched into Jack's grip and let slip a breathy moan when Jack hauled their bodies together hard.
He was still registering the delectable skitters running through him where he touched Jack Sparrow, when their rearranged position brought the hard line of Sparrow's cock, trapped still under breeches and sash, into direct contact with the base of Jack's belly. Sparrow whined and pressed his hips forward, but Jack froze, his euphoria fizzling like a spark on wet tinder. He'd been so utterly lost and dazed in the face of Sparrow's seeming resurrection that he hadn't thought through the details, admittedly never his strongest suit.
The last time he'd been in a position to act on his desire to fuck Jack Sparrow, he'd been equipped—quite well—to do so. In the intervening years, he'd... well, generally he preferred to think of it as earning his most popular sobriquet the hard way. But now, faced with the reality of the most fuckable arse he'd ever laid eyes on once more in his eager hands, he had to likewise face the much grimmer fact that he'd never again be able to put it to Sparrow properly, the way he wanted—Sparrow had set his hips shifting forward against Jack's stomach and back into his hands—the way they both wanted, apparently.
And if he couldn't do that, what kind of match could he be, scarred, truncated, and hard-used, for the glittering, bewitching houri Sparrow still so obviously was—his hair tumbling down his back as he threw his head up to gasp in air—irrespective of passing years.
The houri'd noticed that Jack's participation had rapidly halted. He looked Jack in the face and raised an inquisitive eyebrow, hips still pulsing sporadically. "What's gone amiss, Jack?" he asked.
"Nothing's gone amiss," Jack answered him, feeling suddenly and uneasily aware of the fact that he was bare as a babe beneath the thin bedsheet and that nothing separated Sparrow from a precipitous discovery of Jack's Abbreviated Status but that bedsheet (it really was very thin) and Sparrow's own breeches (which would likely be removed sooner rather than later if things continued in their current course). "Only, my head's just gone for a swim," Jack improvised, lying through his teeth.
"If you ain't up for it..." Sparrow seemed unenthusiastic about the possibility, but two furrows of worry curved up from the inner corners of his eyebrows.
"Oh, I'm up for it," Jack responded, furthering his pretence with a thrust of pelvis he hoped was sufficiently brief to keep Sparrow from noting that where there should be an entire line of solidity, the area between Jack's legs that was most attentive to current proceedings more closely resembled a largish knot. He tightened his grip on Sparrow's hips, making as if to pull the man toward him, and then feigned a sort of swoon (a manly one, to be sure). He felt an unfamiliar pang of remorse for his deception, that it should be directed toward Jack Sparrow, and at this particular juncture.
But remorseful or no, Jack Shaftoe was a master of misrepresentation, and Sparrow's look of concern deepened at his effective bit of drama. "Never thought I'd say it, mate, but p'raps we should postpone this little reunion, eh? 'Til you've regained your proper strength. Can't have you nodding off during the doings, now, can we?"
Jack judged it necessary to put up one last token protestation. "I've been without you nigh on twenty years, Jack Sparrow. I'll be damned if I go one more night without you in my bed now I have you back." His insides twisted on him that he should be speaking these words, utterly true as they were, in the name of a ruse to extract himself from just such a shared bed.
"Well, seeing as how the bed ain't yours but the Captain's, and how the Captain is—phant'sy that!—myself, it's myself as'll be making the final decisions regarding its uses. And I say I haven't sat here for ten days nursing you through the highest fever I've ever seen just for you to exert yourself back into sickliness. And before you say 'twil be no exertion, I will remind you that once 'pon a time we fucked many ways, you and I, and they were all, every one of 'em, exceedingly and enjoyably exerting. S'what I love best about you; no half measures," Sparrow concluded with a naughty wink and a firm nod of the head, apparently quite decided on the matter.
Which was a great relief to Jack, as it bought him some time to ascertain and weigh his options. But a melancholy had fallen upon him, and he saw no way out from it. For every conceivable plan of action ended with taking his leave of darkling Jack Sparrow, and though Jack had survived much and seen more, he was near certain that here at last was a thing that would kill him.
Jack knew it was the logical decision, the appropriate, the Captainly decision, to allow them both some rest. The piratical part of his mind—not habituated to going without that which it desired—was demanding that he hang logic and propriety and even Captaincy (with all due excuses to the lovely Pearl), because what it wanted in this moment, with every mote and scintilla of its being, was to be entwined, naked, with Jack Shaftoe. But another part—quieter and more-carefully tucked away, the part Jack was amused to think of in young Will Turner's voice as a good man—was telling him to take some care with Shaftoe's miraculously-restored health. After all, the curing of syphilitics was a thing rarely seen in any part of the world where Jack's far-reaching nautical peregrinations had taken him.
Yes, sadly, Jack thought he'd best listen to the quiet inner voice this time and let the pirate one content itself for now with counting its Shaftoeian treasure rather than bedding it. He'd not say no to some rest himself after his long vigil and the disturbing weeks of sleeplessness that had led to it, particularly if that rest could be had in current company. But it seemed that, though current company was disappointingly too weak to properly celebrate their reunification, he still wanted information before any sort of resting could take place.
Shaftoe was asking him, "Did I really need tending to for over a week?"
"That you did," said Jack, pulling back a few inches to eliminate the tantalising contact between his clothed-but-eager yard and Shaftoe's unclothed-but-convalescent body.
"And you saw to me yourself? You alone?"
"In the main," Jack nodded. "Though a helpful hand or two may've briefly assisted with the more complex bits on the promise of extra swag," he added, and dropped his arms to rest lightly on Shaftoe's hips, without intent. Well, without much intent.
"What of your watches? What of the crew? You're their Captain, ain't you? That's the seaman's pact; they sail under you, and you keep all going smoothly as it ought. Only you can't do your part if you're locked away in a cabin with a sick man." Shaftoe's words were confrontational, but his tone merely curious, and he kept his arms linked 'round Jack's waist, a choice of which Jack heartily approved, though he wasn't sure as he could say the same of Shaftoe's line of questioning.
"Aye, I'm their Captain. And they're a good able-bodied lot, this one. Which means when I give 'em orders, they carry 'em out, even if those orders are to shift the watch schedule around to keep me out of it."
"But Jack," Shaftoe said, plainly confused still. "You love this ship. I've seen how you love her, and that was afore you'd come Captain.
Jack nodded, smiling fondly at the thought of his lady and his man and himself, all three together again. "Aye, I love her dearly. Sometime soon I'll tell you how we were cruelly separated for many years by a stupid mutinous mistake. I imagine the tale will prove terribly parallel to some other extended separations with which you may already be familiar," he added pointedly.
But Shaftoe would not be distracted. "Then why let the running of her go to anyone else needlessly? You could've had anyone see to me. If I were truly one for the questions, I imagine I'd be asking why you'd bother having anyone see to me at all if you still thought I'd run off on you all those years ago. Or how you found me in the first place and then why you brought me aboard and why you put me up in your own cabin and lots more besides. But most times I find questions only beget more questions and more and more after that, and I've no patience with it. So I'll limit myself to this inquiry. Why did you bother with me yourself?"
"Well, the crew weren't leaping up for a chance to come close to the stricken, now, were they? My orders carry farther than duties purely shiply, to be sure, but I couldn't extend 'em to ordering my men—and woman; just you wait 'til you meet Anamaria—to attending a sick man they didn't want on board in the first. The promise of extra shares'll only convince a man so far, even a pirate. By my count, that only leaves myself available," Jack answered, greatly desirous of sidestepping any discussion of the muddle of tricky feelings that had informed his decisions and accompanied him while he'd sat bedside day after day watching Shaftoe toss and sweat and rave. Looking back from the far side of it, it seemed he'd lived for ten days with his heart taken up permanent residence in his throat, sure as shackles that Jack Shaftoe was about to expire before his eyes.
But Shaftoe hadn't expired. Was, in point of fact, very much alive and doggedly pursuing an undesirable inquiry before Jack's own eyes. "But surely I didn't require attendance 'round the clock. Was I that ill?"
Jack nodded solemnly. "Ill as I've ever seen, mate. Though that's likely why the Pox has left you. They say a profound fever can cure a man of that most sociable disease. And your fever was more profound than the wisdom of sages. I was fair sure you'd burn yourself up from the inside."
This seemed to add up in Shaftoe's reckoning, as it produced an affirmative nod. But it didn't stop him from pressing on. "Then I'm back to my earlier question that I note you've thus far avoided. Why did you insist on staying here? For if it was that severe an affliction, I'd imagine you'd have preferred to avoid catching it yourself, and I'd further imagine there'd be nothing for you in your non-medical capacity to do 'bout it. So why, Jack?"
Jack felt his cheeks heat like the sort of innocent young thing he'd never really been (not much room for innocence when a pretty boy joins a company of Seafaring Men with Dubious Morals). The truth of it made him feel abashed, a feeling he was unused to.
"Jack?" Shaftoe prompted, gently but with no room for evasion.
"Because I couldn't bear the thought of you sickening and suffering and dying alone, all right?! Even angry with you as I was. Because for all I wanted to kill you—and I still will, mind, in ways too painful and slow to imagine, if you laugh at this next," he squirmed fretfully and brought his mouth to Shaftoe's ear so's to avoid that sharp blue stare as he whispered the next words strung fast together. "For all I wanted to kill you, I'd have been utterly lost had you died."
Shaftoe seemed to take this as answer enough, though he said nothing. Jack well remembered (had, in fact, reveled in) Shaftoe's uncanny knack for suiting actions, rather than words, to his emotions. And when he slid a coaxing hand under Jack's chin, brought his face back into range, and kissed him, sweet and soft as anything, Jack judged that ability still well in place and let go his discomfiture.
When they pulled apart, Jack smiled (a bit more wetly than usual, but the occasion was meritorious) in silence, lifted his hands to Shaftoe's broad shoulders, and told him, "So you see, Jack, I'll not have you wearing yourself out and undoing all the good I've done for you. I should be bloody well canonised for my work here."
Shaftoe chuckled short and low and said, "St. Sparrow. I pity the rest of the heavenly population should that ever come to pass. Though I'm not over-concerned it will." Jack gasped in feigned outrage, returned to form right and proper. Shaftoe went on, "I reckon you're right about postponing certain aspects of our reunion."
Jack waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Shaftoe smirked and appended, "Though, from the sound of it, 'tis you who's too tired to perform the necessary duties."
Jack gave an indignant harrumph. "Never! Vile calumny!" And then, giving the lie to his words, he yawned hugely. "Though perhaps a wee sleep with you wouldn't go amiss."
That sleep was sounding better and better the closer it came, and he didn't so much climb off Shaftoe's lap as tumble from it to a prone position, his eyes already drifting shut. The whirl and strain that'd run their way through him these the past weeks were suddenly let go all at once. They crashed over Jack like a monstrous, ship-wracking wave, and he murmured Later, Jack. I promise, and without even removing his boots, went numb to the world.
Jack had intended to slip from the bed as soon as he'd ascertained that Sparrow was asleep. But Sparrow'd been quite obviously asleep for a good long while now, and Jack lay there yet, wakeful and watching. He was greedy for the sight of this man, and having been recently unconscious for ten days (or a month, or several years, depending on your reckoning), he hadn't the slightest desire to succumb so soon again to Morpheus's lure.
A memory flashed to the fore of Jack's brain of being abed with Sparrow in the tiny First Mate's cabin they'd once shared. They'd both awoken in the pitch of one night in a convoluted ball of limbs, and, spurred by the lack of sight, Sparrow had begun, in roughened thrumming whispers in Jack's ear, to catalogue the ways Jack stimulated each of his other senses. Jack remembered just what had happened when he arrived at touch, too excited too quickly to get through more than half of his four proposed topics. But before touch had come smell, and now Jack could practically hear Sparrow's voice again in his ear, describing how all the divers and sundry aromas of Jack's divers and sundry parts pleased him in divers and sundry ways.
The one Jack thought of now, watching Sparrow sleep curled in against Jack's side atop the bedlinen, was not the most prurient, but the oddest and somehow most endearing. Sparrow had told him delightedly that his skin smelled warm and yeasty like new-baked bread, at which Jack had laughed and pulled Sparrow's face into his neck for a great whiff. Now, sunk in a rare pessimistic mood, Jack concluded blackly that this markedly wholesome, fresh scent must have been baked and compressed through arduous living into the dry, musty one of hardtack.
Sparrow himself smelt of something smoky and exotic, of spices for which Jack had no names. But he was dead certain that all the exotic spices in the world couldn't make hardtack anything more than it was: stale and flavorless, a travelling man's unappealing last resort. And he'd be damned before being the one to dull Jack Sparrow's mouth-watering sapidity.
Jack levered himself up and managed, keeping his back to the bed lest Sparrow suddenly awake, to scavenge from the Captain's sea chest a pair of trousers (tight, but not wholly indecent) and a shirt (just fine, and therefore like to've been scavenged at least once before from an owner with shoulders broader than Sparrow's). He slipped them on and padded topside on leathered bare feet.
Though Jack thought of himself primarily as a terrestrial sort of fellow, he had to admit that the sun-soaked dark wood of the Black Pearl was a welcome feel under his soles again. A fresh breeze was blowing through the dogwatches of the afternoon, and he relished a deep breath of clear salt air. A breath that was knocked clean out of him by an unexpected fist in his gut.
Jack doubled over, sputtering and gasping, and, craning his neck to size up his attacker, he noticed the fist was actually rather small. And attached to a wrist and an arm of similar scale, which were in turn connected to a proportional shoulder, neck, and head. Ah.
"Anamaria, I presume," Jack wheezed. "I'd offer you a bow, but as I'm already down here, let's both assume it's out of respect and greeting and leave it there."
"What have you done wi' the Captain?" she demanded of him sternly, fist still curled and poised to strike again.
"I've left him sleeping in his own cabin. As he tells it, it's the first sleep he's had in some time. I'm going to straighten up now. Being recently recovered from a variety of ailments, I'd rather not be socked in the belly again if it's all the same to you."
"Recovered, are you?" she asked sceptically. Jack achieved upright status, only to note that he was now encircled by unhappy-looking pirates. "Well, we can't say the same of the rest of us. Moises, how's the arm?" The crew laughed rather nastily, and Jack saw one man whose right forearm was held tight against a length of wood by a number of looped and tied bandages. A hazy recollection came to him of a spar swinging loose and hard into this man's arm. A spar, he was afraid, whose securing line ought to've been held in his very own hand.
"Ah, my good men and very dear lady, it seems I owe you all—though perhaps some more concretely than others—" (this with a nod toward the glowering Moises), "a most humble and abject apology for any... objectionable behaviour I may have recently displayed aboard your fine vessel." Jack extended two peaceable palm-up hands and turned slowly in circular fashion to face the motley visages of his audience. "For some time I was what some might refer to—should they like to exaggerate matters impolitely—as barmy." A few of the gathered pirates chuckled low. "Please note my careful phrasing, for I myself would state rather that I was under the control of the Imp of the Perverse, a mischievous sprite who delights in nothing more than re-jiggering the orderly routine." More scattered laughter. Jack had missed playing to an attentive crowd.
"Who among a company illustrious as yourselves," he went on, "has never been swayed by such Impish motivations? Has never begun a brawl in a tavern for the sheer excitement of it?" Came a murmur redolent with the joy of remembered mayhem. "Has never perhaps seen the back of a stable or tavern with a Tib or a Tom he shouldn't have?"
A loud solo cheer from amidst the crowd was answered by a round of ribald guffaws and knowing backslaps. Even injured Moises seemed somewhat mollified, and Jack would swear he'd seen a lecherous twinkle in Anamaria's eye.
"I see I am in good company indeed, that you are all so familiar with the Imp and its works. So please do accept my most sincerely intended excuses and my assurance that, should I be once more taken by the Imp's strange phant'sies and bring further pain or suffering 'pon any of this fine crew, I shall honorably stand by and let you carry out whatsoever punishments you deem fitting for my failings."
The promise of permitted violence carried the day, and Jack bowed to the cheers of the men surrounding him. With a theatrickal flourish, he stretched his arms to their fullest, pressing his wrists together in mock irons and offering them up to the crew.
The company, used as they were to taking offence quickly and just as quickly to letting go their ire (for when one is stuck on a ship for long increments of time with only a few score faces to see, it behooves no one to hold grudges), seemed to judge the matter closed and scattered back to their respective tasks. Anamaria nodded in abrupt satisfaction and returned to take the helm back from the grizzled man who'd been holding it for her while his parrot squawked assorted nauticisms. Jack followed.
Cotton, for so Anamaria named him in thanks, wandered away, and Jack approached warily, with a hand resting casually protective over his smarting stomach. She hit hard. "Glad as I am that that's sorted, I am, in fact, hoping you'll help me with a few things. None of which should occasion any further pugnacity," he said. She glared at him, but didn't show signs of violence, which Jack took as a sign he was safe to proceed. "What I'd very much like to have is a bath and a shave of some kind." He looked down scornfully at his matted beard, which, yes, was long enough that he could see it. His skin didn't merit close inspection.
Anamaria seemed to agree with his sorry accounting, for she called up one of the idling deckhands and told him to fetch Jack a bucket, a knife, and a scrap of something reflective. Jack's next hour was occupied by the hauling of bucket after bucket of water up from the sea, the subsequent pouring of those buckets' contents over himself (accompanied by as much scrubbing as he could stand), and the difficult but ultimately successful work of scraping away at the stubborn growth along his jaw until he was left looking into the bottom of someone's snuff box (a fine piece of metalwork, therefore doubtless acquired the piratical way), which was finally showing him something that looked like what he remembered of his own phiz. Not a bad one, as these things went. Certainly it was much improved after his recently completed ablutions, which had returned his hair and remaining short beard to their natural blond and eliminated the stale odor that'd become so ingrained that its loss had been momentarily disorienting. No, not bad. But he'd never be a match for Jack Sparrow's gleam and dazzle.
This was the thought that sent him back up to Anamaria at the helm to ask for the next of his favors. "I need you to help me get off this ship," he told her.
She looked at him doubtfully, as if assessing whether the Imp had returned to govern his words. "Only ways you get off this ship are by jumping overboard or waiting like the rest 'til we make St. Thomas, which is three, maybe four weeks out. If you'd like to try the former, I'll not stop you," she said.
"And when we make St. Thomas," Jack asked in a tone that had cajoled many a woman into many a kindness towards Jack's person over the years, "would you consider, seeing as you're so ready to be rid of me, helping me off this ship in a quietish fashion?"
A look came over her face that actually made Jack quail from its ferocity. "Now see you here, Mr. Shaftoe," she hissed at him, mad as a cat protecting her kits. "You can't charm me with your smiles and your English eyes. I'm not swayed by the sudden return of your favorable looks. I see you're trying to escape from the Captain. And seems to me that's a mite ungrateful after all he's done for you. Lord knows why he's done it, but he has, and I'll not see you bring grief to him. Man's had more'n his share of that at your hands."
Jack startled. "What did he tell you?"
The woman laughed mockingly at him. "You fool, it wasn't like that. Jack Sparrow don't tell no one his heart. Leastways not anymore. But I've known him longer than most here, seen him in his cups in private, heard him speak in the dark. Oh, don't look so damn surprised! You're not the only one to 'preciate what he looks like. And I'd lay the ship he owes me that you 'preciate how he is in the dark, too." She leered. Quite passably. "I'm no bumbling drunken lout like these sea dogs. Women see things, Mr. Shaftoe. Women know. And I know that whatever it is you're tryin' to do now, your leavin'll hurt Jack Sparrow deep. I'll have no part of that."
"Why, Ana, I'd no idea you cared so," said Jack Sparrow himself.
Jack whirled to face him and concluded from his bristling posture that he'd been standing at the foot of the bridge deck steps through most of the previous exchange.
"I'm quite touched, darlin', but it sounds as if Mr. Shaftoe and myself need to have a forthright conversation.” Sparrow was all politeness and respect towards Anamaria, but when he turned to Jack, his face was a dangerous mask. "Jack, be so good as to accompany me back to my cabin and tell me exactly why it is you're so desperate to get away from me and my ship. Again."
He turned on his heel and strode away, not looking to see if Jack was following. Expecting his order to be obeyed. And Jack wasn't fooled for a second by the solicitous language. He'd been given a direct order by Captain Jack Sparrow on board the Black Pearl. Even the Imp didn't countenance transgression. He followed.
On waking, Jack Sparrow had stretched and sighed, remembered in a flash that a certain blond and long-lost lover had been returned to him, reached for that lover, and found his bed empty. Apart from himself, of course. A glance 'round the cabin had found his sea chest rifled through and the door hanging slightly open. Jack had put his cunning powers of deduction to work and determined Shaftoe'd taken some clothing (how utterly, unnecessarily modest of him) and gone up on deck.
He'd rolled to the center of the bed and taken several deep breaths of the residual Shaftoe funk that invested the linens. It was funkier than he remembered, but then Shaftoe hadn't been living amidst a plethora of available bathing options for the last however long he'd been chained to that damned oar. At any rate, Jack had decided that while it was certainly far from the pleasantest Shaftoe odour he'd ever encountered, he didn't find the scent entirely distasteful. In truth, he'd never found any of Shaftoe's scents completely distasteful on the very sound basis that, when he could smell any of them, there was a more than fair likelihood of Shaftoe being somewhere close by, and how could that ever be a bad thing? Too, Jack was accustomed to life in a world of wood and tar and canvas and metal and men, all of whom were regularly doused in brine, dried out, and doused again. Didn't make for a pervading bouquet of roses.
All this thinking of Shaftoe's various aromas had stirred Jack (in some parts more actively than others) with the motivation to reacquaint himself with them at their source. He'd exited the cabin and scanned the decks until his eyes had found Shaftoe standing with Anamaria at the helm. He'd approached on quiet feet, having removed his boots upon waking in them (admittedly a reversal of the common order of these things), and now took the opportunity of being undiscovered to look his fill at the man turned sidewards to him up on the bridge deck.
For oh, what a sight was Jack Shaftoe. He'd taken some pains to clean himself recently (very recently, for there were still transparent areas of wet decorating his borrowed shirt—a shirt that'd never looked so dashingly fine on Jack himself as it did now with Shaftoe's wide and muscled shoulders filling it) and the results made Jack swallow convulsively. His skin was near as dark as Jack's own from his galley years in the sun, and it currently sported a fresh-scrubbed pinkish tinge that put Jack in mind of nothing so much as the way Shaftoe flushed with his (considerable) passions. He'd trimmed his beard back to the short bristle Jack remembered from their youth and secured with a scrap of something-or-other his hair that'd been blanched blonder in mouth-watering contrast with the bronzing of his skin. By the devil, he cut a fine figure of a man! And with that figure currently displayed to great advantage, too, in borrowed breeches that would have fit Jack properly, but on Shaftoe's rangy frame clung close 'round the muscles of his long, strong thighs and the firmest, roundest arse Jack'd ever had occasion to lay hand on. Nothing of the fey or the androgyne in this one. No, Jack Shaftoe was a Man. And Jack Sparrow wanted most desperately to Take Him to Bed.
This admirable primary objective was put off to the side momentarily, however, when he began to take note of the actual conversation occurring between his First Mate (p'raps he should offer to change her title to First Mistress, just for the predictable rise he'd get) and Shaftoe. It was, in point of fact, more of a sound scolding from his First Mistress (heh) towards Shaftoe. About– What?! Your leavin'.
No. Jack's brain grabbed a hold on that useful little word and clung tight. No to that horrid phrase your leavin' that had blown a dart of poison fear into Jack's heart. No to a return to life sans-Shaftoe. No no no, Shaftoe wasn't leaving this ship if Jack had any say in the matter, and Jack—as Captain of their floating domicile—had plenty of say.
Betrayal and outrage were rearing and bucking in him, and a mad possessiveness told him to simply clamp his hand 'round Shaftoe's wrist, drag him back to the cabin, and chain him there so he could never leave. Instead, he played the Captain's part and didn't wait for Shaftoe to follow after issuing a thinly veiled directive to get his fine but vexing self into Jack's chambers. And once arrived in those chambers, the Black Pearl's Captain allowed his fierce anger free rein as he turned to face the man entering a few steps behind him.
"Shut the door, Jack," he ground out. Shaftoe did so, a defiant look on his face.
"Good. Now you're going to tell me exactly what. the. fuck. you think you're doing trying to sneak away from me," Jack kept his words quiet, but his blood was up. His anger burned through him, and he held tight to it, refusing admittance to the world of hurt clamoring at the edges of his mind.
Shaftoe met him ire for ire. "Damn you, Jack Sparrow! I'll do what I need to, and I don't owe you a single God-damned word in explanation," he shouted, loud after Jack's low-voiced, steely demand.
"Don't owe me? Don't owe me?! Is that what we're down to, then?" Jack asked nastily. "Let's have a tally of what you owe me. How's about the dues for saving your wretched hide from that galley? Or for saving your life from fever? I'd say you owe me a very great deal."
Shaftoe clenched his fists 'til the knuckles popped audibly. "Fine then," he grated. "I'll pay you in labor 'til we make port at St. Thomas. And then I'm gone, and you'll have to lock me in the brig to stop me."
"You'll pay me in labor? Is that right?" Jack spat back. "A month's labor isn't much repayment for the things I've done for you. Not to mention any number of past things I've let you do to me." He curved his mouth upward into a smirking leer, though 'twas no more than a grotesque parody of the way he ought to be looking at Shaftoe. "Maybe I feel like collecting my earnings in... other coin," and to make sure Shaftoe took his meaning, Jack cupped his cock rudely. He ignored the corner of him that scorned his behaviour (he'd never wanted nor needed to take this particular type of coin by force) and let the fear-fueled fury have control.
Shaftoe gaped at him in outraged disbelief. "You'd never!"
"Says who?" Jack snapped at him. "You haven't bothered to be around for near twenty years. That much time? A man changes."
"I've told you why I left! Over and over, I've told you," Shaftoe groaned in frustration and began pacing the cabin like a caged lion.
"Aye, but not why you're so keen to leave now," Jack was dismayed at the note of plea that crept into his voice at this. But his anger was suddenly draining away into the sucking vortex of anguished confusion that'd swirled into being in his stomach. "Didn't we work that all out this morning? We did. I know it, for I was there and I saw you and heard you. What of all that never leaving talk? Was it nothing, Jack?" And finally, the question upon whose answer turned Jack's vision of his future happiness, "Do you want to go?"
The look Shaftoe brought to bear on him at that was nothing but bare naked misery. "I don't. Christ in heaven, I don't. But I've got to, just as sure."
"Why?!" Jack entreated the answer with ev'ry knotted thread of his being.
Shaftoe stilled in his 'cross-room trajectory and leveled his miserable stare Jack-ward. "I just– I can't stay," he was fighting, clearly and hard, for the right words. "I can't stay and be your– your match or your mate or– none of it, Jack. I can't be none of it. I just can't."
Jack didn't know if he wanted to scream, or kill, or possibly even blub. "And you'll not even tell me why?" he cried. "That's cold, Jack Shaftoe, is what that is. Cold to a man who'd run bootless to the ends of the earth and back for you. What of the Shaftoe I remember, eh? What of that man who was fierce and unafraid and contrary to a fault? Is he gone, Jack? For he'd never turn tail and run from this."
"Did you not say yourself that a man changes in twenty years?" Shaftoe shot back. "Well, I've changed! In plenty of ways. In ways you can guess at and ways likely even you with your doubtless far-flung experiences can't imagine. I've been through 'em all: changes locational, spiritual, physical. And I say to you–"
But Jack, who'd had a thought at physical, cut him off sharply. "Satan's beard, man! Is this about how you're missing part of your cock?!"
Jack had never seen a man so immediately, effectively silenced and discombobulated without grievous bodily injury involved. He'd have liked to repeat this trick in future, only it was bound to be inapplicable in the vast majority of situations. Shaftoe gawped at him and opened and closed his mouth several times, evidently trying (and failing) to speak. Jack saved him the effort.
"When I brought you aboard the Pearl, you had nothing but a few strips of cloth clinging to you that didn't merit the name trousers," he said, holding up one finger. "You ran mad on my ship," (a second finger), "'til you took fever and wound up abed in my cabin for ten days." (A third). "During this time, I was seeing to you myself, as you have heard, though don't yourself recall due to aforementioned insanity and ill health. What's involved in seeing to a man with fever? you might ask, and I'd tell you there's many things, but one's pertinent to this discussion, and that's this. You've got to keep him cooled somehow, and the way that's done shipboard is with rags soaked in seawater and applied directly to the skin." Four fingers were now held up on Jack's right hand. "How, in all of that," he said, wiggling his digits at Shaftoe, "do you think I'd manage not to notice that an organ I have good cause to remember excellent well had been significantly curtailed?"
Mercurially, Jack had gone from bereft to gleeful in a matter of only moments. That this had been the thing standing between himself and having Jack Shaftoe... On second thought, best end that thought right there with a period and some carefully-placed italics. That this had been the thing standing between himself and having Jack Shaftoe. It was a factor not inconsiderable, true, and when he'd caught first glimpse of the scarred and truncated stub of what had once been an impressively broad, long cock that had repeatedly fucked him into deep black-gold bliss, Jack had been chagrined, to be sure. Though he'd not dwelt on it overlong (having been still half-convinced he wanted Shaftoe dead and, that aside, much more concerned with the immediacy of Shaftoe's other ailments, viz. madness and fever), the thought that he'd never again know the feeling of Jack Shaftoe's heat and strength spread over his back as that glorious yard pressed hard into him and took him and made him howl... Jack'd had to force his mind back to the reality that no, he'd never have that again. And he mourned it.
But somewhere in amongst the mourning for what he'd lost and the conflict over what he wanted, Jack had realised that, in the center of his heart, in that place where he'd always only wanted Shaftoe back in his arms, there in that place, he cared not one whit for how Shaftoe came back, only that he did. And if the how had to include a poor, mutilated prick, then so be it, if Shaftoe would only be his again.
After all, Jack had always prided himself on being quite a resourceful fellow when it came to things amatory, and, looked at through one sort of perspective glass, Shaftoe had become a tantalising venal challenge. Certainly a new experience to be had. So, though he was manifestly bereaved that he'd never again lose himself in those sublime moments wherein Jack Shaftoe had complete mastery of him and was at once entirely dependent upon Jack for his pleasure, the thought of being the one to bring Shaftoe back to the world of libidinous delight—for he'd lay odds no whore and likely not even the much-lamented (by Shaftoe) and much-maligned (by Jack himself) Eliza had been sufficiently creative and desirous to explore the fullest extent of the possibilities—made Jack shudder with how much he wanted it.
Jack Shaftoe remembered once, during his time with the Regiment, standing next to a fired canon without covering his ears. The deafening silence that had rung through his head those first few moments after was akin to what he felt now.
"You know?" he finally managed to ask of Jack Sparrow, who was not only attentively looking back at him, but grinning.
"I do. Have to admit, mate, when you were running 'round spouting off lunatickally about how you were Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, L'Emmerdeur, etcetera, etcetera, I was sure it was in reference to your penchant for jumping into action without a plan. I'd no inkling it was such a literal epithet," Sparrow replied.
Jack duly gave silence another few moments of his time. "You might've said. When I woke up," he essayed, sullen.
Sparrow lifted a sceptical eyebrow at him and said, "Well, it's not exactly the sort of thing one likes to open a conversation with, eh? 'Specially the conversation we were 'bout to have. 'Hello, mate. Good to see you awake and aware then. How've you been for the best part of twenty years? I want to kill you for running off on me a while back. Also want to fuck you something rotten, but it seems we'll be somewhat limited in that regard, as I noticed during your unconsciousness that you seem to be lacking part of your cock.'"
Jack conceded this might have been slightly awkward.
His mind was slow to grasp the concept that, despite certain inescapable shortcomings, Jack Sparrow—flashing, wicked, hypnotic Jack Sparrow—might not be averse to Jack's own continued presence. Might, in fact, desire it. And didn't seem overly concerned that any sodomitical giving and taking would be, perforce, somewhat one-directional between them going forward. But then, why should Sparrow (who'd be doing the giving) mind so awfully? It was Jack (who'd be doing the taking) as should be concerned.
And yet, he found himself remembering the look on Sparrow's face when he'd taken all that Jack had to give out. That ecstatic feral glow that'd suffused his entire body, inhabited him 'til he'd moaned and writhed and panted with it. Had strained and begged for more. Jack found he housed no more of the terror he'd once felt over being on that end of the transaction. Only curiosity. Or perhaps not only, suggested the Imp, who prodded into being an image of Jack astride Sparrow's lap, as Sparrow'd sat in his just that morning. But in this imagining, Sparrow's cock was buried to the hilt in Jack's own body. His Inescapable Shortcoming twitched violently.
"It doesn't bother you?" Jack asked, as Sparrow's eyes rose to meet his from where they'd been fixed on his breeches and all twitchings they might contain.
"Of course it bothers me," Sparrow said feelingly, the grin dissolved into a terrible, thrilling solemnity. "That someone's maimed you, taken this from you. Makes me want to kill whoever's hurt what's mine." And Jack could do nothing (and to be frank, had no desire) to stop the galvanick charge that ran through him at the possessive. "Aye, you're mine, Mr. Shaftoe. Mine if you're whole or if you're a mess of pieces fit for none but the sharks. Because you're mine in here, Jack." Sparrow pressed his left hand to his chest and reached for Jack with the other. When Jack came near in answer, Sparrow took Jack's right and held it firm atop the hand already on his heart. "You're mine in here, and ain't nothing can change that fact, darlin'. My dear and most darlin' Jack."
Jack stared at their joined hands on the warm plane of Sparrow's chest. He could feel the man's pulse under his skin. It called to him, and he answered by aping Sparrow's pose; pressing his own left hand to his own breast and nodding for Sparrow's right to join it. And for a few minutes they simply stood, hands on hands on hearts, and Jack let burgeoning hope and relief fill him to his rafters. "You don't care," he finally said, awed and mystified and grateful beyond the telling of it.
Sparrow shook his head fervently, and the beloved sound of his gewgaws clattering—so elementally, uniquely Sparrow—nearly brought a tear to Jack's eye.
"I don't, Jack," said that beautiful man, voice thick with fond emotion. "I don't care. I know you're sharp-witted, so find a way to get it into your otherwise impenetrably thick Vagabond skull that I. Don't. Care. I don't. I don't. Truly." Jack nodded, not quite able to speak.
Sparrow, on the other hand, could speak through nearly everything, was always so artful with words. And Jack had always been, right from the first on Turk's Island, highly susceptible to suggestions from that voluble mouth. Right now it was suggesting, amorous and fervent, "Kiss me, Jack. Kiss me and then stay," and the last thing in the world Jack wanted to do was resist.
So he didn't. Emphatically. He hauled Sparrow to him with one arm slid 'round that trim waist and sent the other hand pushing up into Sparrow's mass of hair to pull his mouth in closer 'gainst Jack's own. Sparrow fair sobbed with laughter under Jack's lips, kissing with a messy imprecision that sparked something primal in Jack's body. A long, groaning growl was the nearest approximating sound he could make, and when he did, he felt an answering leap in Sparrow's yard where it prodded rhythmically at his hip.
He dragged his mouth to Sparrow's jaw and bit, bit along that sharp line and reveled in the scratching play of his mouth over the bristles of a rough beard. Reveled, too, in the torrent of words flooding from Sparrow's clever mouth.
"How I've missed you, my Jack. My nameling. Missed your skin. Missed your hands and your breath and your mouth on me and the chance to put my mouth to you. No one's ever fucked me half so well, Jack. Nor called to me, fought with me, fit with me half so well. No one's been anything near the match you are to me." And here he pulled away from Jack's mouth at his throat to look him dead in the eye. "Nothing changes that, d'you hear? Nothing."
The things that hot black stare did to Jack's innards were just as twistingly, meltingly in evidence as ever they'd been, and he was powerless as always to resist the old, familiar yankings in his gut and his heart and his now-reduced cock.
"Aye, I hear you. I'm yours, as I ever was. And you're mine, Jack Sparrow."
"As I ever was," Sparrow affirmed, his mobile face earnest and still.
This was Right and Good, and Jack put his arms 'round Sparrow's shoulders and roughly embraced him, was embraced in return. And somehow it was this moment, holding each to the other in a fashion perfectly decorous for any kin or comrade, that brought Jack home, more than any of their more intimate physicalities or the sure-to-follow conjoining.
Though with the length of Sparrow's wiry body pressed all against him, Jack's focus didn't stay away from conjunction for long. He turned away and crossed the cabin slowly toward the bed, knowing exactly how Sparrow's eyes would follow and on which parts of him they'd be focused in his tight, borrowed breeches. And when he sent a warm, inviting glance back over his shoulder in a gesture doubtless used by harlots as long as there'd been harlots to use it, he smirked at his accuracy.
He arranged himself on the mattress so as to lean 'gainst the bulkhead, and Sparrow leered and made to join him. Jack, however, shook his head.
"You've had your chance to eye me up for weeks now, and I've been in no state to 'preciate it, nor reciprocate. That, my dear Jack, is what you might call a damn shame, for I seem to recall you once had an anatomy that would tempt Jesus Christ himself to buggery."
Sparrow pouted outrageously and said, "Once?! And now you think my anatomy less tempting than when you last laid lucky eyes on it?"
"Oh no, that ain't what I think a'tall. Quite the reverse, in fact," Jack said, letting his eyes wander hungry over Sparrow's lean physique to show just how much of the reverse he thought. He slid a hand between his legs and rubbed at himself with the heel of it, slow and hard. "Show me, Jack," he husked. "Let me look at you."
Sparrow grinned, putting Jack in mind of the Imp, and began untying his sash. "I'll let you look all right, mate." He unwound the sash from his waist slowly. Teasingly. "But only if you promise to touch when you've looked your fill."
Jack could feel his heart speed at the mere thought. His Remnant twitched under his hand, and Sparrow's eyes darted downward. When they lifted back to meet Jack's own, they were simmering with lascivious intent.
Jack's breath caught. "I'd lay as that promise goes unspoken and constant between you and me, Jack," he said, shifting his hips restlessly in unconscious search for friction. "I've had days in my life when the thought of touching you was the only thing kept me going. Too, there've been days when the memory of your skin's been my torment. When thinking about the way you felt under my hands has driven me near mad with the longing for it. But what there hasn't been is a day gone by without some thought of touching you."
As Jack spoke, Sparrow had dropped his sash to the floor and taken up a slow stroke, pressing along the hard line of his yard trapped flat to his belly beneath his clothes. He matched his rhythm to Jack's, hips and breath hitching at his own hand and at Jack's words. For a moment they stayed there, staring heat and want and promises as each touched himself and thought of the other.
And then Sparrow broke the tension by extending the slide of his right hand from his cock up his flat stomach and his chest, further up along his throat, then forward over his jaw to skate up one precipitous cheekbone. He let the tip of his smallest finger catch briefly in his mouth on its way past, flicking his tongue at it and then releasing it as he finished this vertical traverse of his body with his hand meeting its mate to untie the cloth from 'round his head. This last was dropped to join his discarded sash, letting that wild mane of black hair fall forward around a face whose half-lidded, decadent expression belonged, or so Jack felt sure despite a lack of firsthand knowledge, on an exotic and vastly expensive male whore.
Sparrow lifted one corner of his mouth, evidently amused at what he saw on Jack's face (likely a rather unintelligent-seeming something at the moment), and pressed his palms flat to his belly. He drew them up his chest sinuously, bringing his shirt with them until its hem slipped free from his breeches and flashed a tantalising ribbon of bronze skin at Jack's greedy gaze, at which moment, Sparrow abruptly let the cloth fall. Jack, already aching in anticipation, growled in a way he hoped was threatening rather than simply desperate.
"'Tis cruel to play the prick tease to a man who's only got half a prick," he said. But Sparrow just grinned slyly back at this and fiddled with the hem of his shirt.
"Ah, but shouldn't the man thus sadly afflicted have only half the lustful urgings of the man doing the teasing? And therefore shouldn't the man doing the teasing logically need twice as long to inspire his sadly afflicted partner?"
"Confound you, Jack Sparrow!" snarled Jack, confounded. "I have twenty years' pent up lustful urgings in your direction, besides which, you know perfectly well you could inspire lust in a blind, neutered saint. Now show me your skin, damn you, because I want to see it, and then I want to fuck, and I'm very keen to get to the fucking!"
Sparrow's breath quickened at this in a way Jack found extremely satisfying. Those fine, high arches of bone beneath Sparrow's eyes were decorated with an appealing flush, and he wasted no more time before pulling his shirt over his head. "I'll not have it said that Jack Sparrow ever put up serious delay to fucking of the highest order," he said, and said more besides, but this was as long as it took him to unfasten, drop, and step out of his breeches so that he stood before Jack's voracious stare, bare but for his attached adornments, and then Jack could no more listen to Sparrow's words than a fired shot could pull itself back into a gun.
Had he thought earlier that Sparrow's body was little changed? How wonderfully wrong he'd been! For the body revealed to him in the slanting sunset light was... Jack hated to rely on the French, but Sparrow was surely what was meant by their curious phrase chef d'oeuvre.
When they'd first met, Sparrow'd had little in the way of tattoos, piercings, or other permanent marks. Jack himself had seen the first lash scars added to that smooth back. Now he could see there'd been others since, criss-crossing over his shoulders and down to his thin, hard waist. And there were myriad more scars scattered 'cross Sparrow's bronze skin, and a good deal of ink, and a few brands (Jack's own V-marked thumb seemed to throb in sympathy with the vivid P on the back of Sparrow's wrist). The piercings Jack had noted before. All but one newly revealed in Sparrow's nipple; and Jack's tongue curled in his closed mouth with the urge to lap at the gold in that flesh. He was a masterpiece, well and true, composed of his marks and his toil-built muscles and the sun's worshipful sienna burnish. Jack, fascinated, motioned for Sparrow to turn 'round to facilitate full inspection. Sparrow, preening, did so.
"'Tis just as well you know how fine a thing you are, Jack Sparrow," Jack said, warm and wondrous. "Now come here to me."
This was where Jack Sparrow belonged most on the face of the earth: here in his own bed onboard the Pearl, all apprest to Jack Shaftoe, with the promise of carnality hanging thick in the air. His skin vibrated and sang where Shaftoe touched it, and Shaftoe was greedily touching it all with avid, callused hands that knew just where to linger to make Jack quiver.
"Get your clothes off, Jack Shaftoe," he was saying. "God knows those tight breeches do you a service, but I want your skin on mine."
Shaftoe lifted his laughing, roseate mouth from a gratifyingly limpet-like position at Jack's gold-pierced nipple. "Impatient as always, I see. Though why now, and for this, I can't fathom, because sure as shit I'm not as pretty to look at as you are."
Jack would have none of it. "Every man carries his scars, Jack. Men like you and me, lives we lead, we carry most of 'em on the outside. I'm just as marked as you." He slid Shaftoe's hand—purely for illustrative purposes, o'course—to several of his more prominent reminders of shots and stings taken. "And lest you forget, I know of what I speak, for there's little I haven't seen of your body since you came aboard the Pearl. I've seen it, and I tell you it's magnificent, and not one bit the less for how much life it's lived. Sometime I'd particularly like to hear the doubtless fascinating story behind that rather large scar on your left arm. But at the moment I just want, God how I want, to touch you."
Shaftoe made a rumbling sound in his chest that Jack took for explicit approval, and divested himself of shirt and trousers in short order. He came to rest sprawled lengthwise along the bed, in a brazen attitude with his long legs spread and a provocative (though inconveniently concealing) hand on what remained of his cock.
Jack suspected the concealment was no accident and tsk'd in mock-severity as he pulled that hiding hand to rest on Shaftoe's own thigh and pressed it there, as if to say mind that's where it stays. His own hand he brought directly back to Shaftoe's half-a-cock, fluttering light, curious touches over and around the smooth skin and gnarled scar tissue with exploratory fingers.
"Can you feel that, Jack?" he asked, all honest solicitous intent until he glanced up to see Shaftoe biting his lip and kneading his head into the pillow with how much he could, obviously, feel it.
"Ah," Jack said, wickedness returned in full. "I sh'll take that as a yes." He slid his first two fingers along the underside, pressing more firmly, then cocked an inquisitive eye up for Shaftoe's reaction. The way Shaftoe's hips arched from the bed was more telling than anything on his face, and Jack was pleased, and pleased further when he wrapped his whole hand 'round that too-soon-terminated prick, and Shaftoe whined in his throat like a wounded thing.
"Seems as though the feeling's all still there, then, eh? 'Course, I've only tested with a hand so far. S'not very thorough experimenting." And without further preamble–
"Oh Christ! Jack!" was Shaftoe's gratifying response as Jack sealed his mouth 'round his current Object of Study and went to work with flickering tongue strokes and tight, rhythmic suction. A lifetime's dedication to the profligate arts was justified by the mindless speed with which Shaftoe's hands flew to bury themselves, pressing, in Jack's hair, and Jack was forced to rut his own hips into the linens by the way Shaftoe's made upward-thrusting movements; abortive until, by way of an encouraging hum and a lifting hand under that clenching arse, Jack made him to understand that he was welcome—nay, invited—to attempt by all means at his disposal to plunge himself into Jack's ingurgitatious mouth and down his throat.
Jack looked up an arching torso, sheened already with sweat, gilded by the red gold sunset light, and saw Shaftoe propped on his elbows staring right back down at him, debauched and disheveled as an attendant at some Bacchic orgy. Those blue eyes were flicking from Jack's busy mouth to his eyes, and they reflected back all of Jack's eager pleasure in this act admixed with an awed gratitude that made something fiercely tender claw through Jack's heart.
And that deep London voice spoke to him, soliloquising a halting flow of lewd descriptives and directives.
"Oh yes, Jack! Go on. Ah, God, how that feels. How you feel. Your mouth! Ah, your mouth, your mouth. Oh, it's heaven, Jack. It's fucking heaven, your mouth. I'm fucking heaven in your mouth. Yes, God yes. No, wait. No, no! Stop!"
Jack found himself suddenly dragged away from his prize. "All right mate?" For Shaftoe's eyes were squeezed tight shut and his face contorted as if in pain. But no, in a moment those strong hands that had pushed Jack's mouth away pulled his head up level with Shaftoe's, and Shaftoe opened his eyes and smiled beatifically, showing the dimple high on his cheek.
"Indeed. All's righter than I thought to ever have it again," he said wetly, and he laughed with an unadulterated delight that pleased Jack no end. "I well remember that spending in your mouth is a joy greater'n most, but I'll do it if you keep on, and that's not what I want so soon in the proceedings."
"Has no one offered you that, Jack? Since..."
"No. No one's put a mouth to me since the mouthful was halved."
"But surely you've found alternative means of relief, eh?" The notion that for years no one had touched this splendid specimen of a man with pleasurable intent was not to be born. Damn them all for making him think so little of his own appeal!
Shaftoe shook his head. "Only once, Jack. And that only after a fair bit of internal manipulation on her part." (Jack guessed this would be the long gone and little missed Eliza. He made no further inquiries.) "Didn't think any amount of sweet touches to my lopped-off yard would get the job done since, believe me, I tried it myself 'til my fingers cramped." Shaftoe huffed a brief, rueful sort of laugh. "But a few moments of Jack Sparrow's wicked, wicked mouth," and here Shaftoe traced a thumb 'round Jack's lips, his eyes tracking it, gone all wide and, oh Lord, so blue, "and I'm ready as any youngling."
Jack allowed the sin of Pride to eclipse the others (even oh-so-very-present Lust) momentarily. "I'd lay that's down to my impressive skill in that area. I've been told I have a way with a cock in my mouth," he boasted, wriggling himself happily along the length of heated, muscled Jack Shaftoe. "'Course usually there's a cock in my mouth at the time, which tends to make men run on repetitive."
Shaftoe laughed, but after a particularly well-aligned wriggle, his gaze turned hot and fond upon Jack, and he said, "'Tis down to the fact that it's you," and pulled Jack atop his broad chest and kissed him.
Jack Shaftoe was faintly a-mazed that this mouth (a mouth currently savoury with Essence of Sparrow and a faint Hint of Shaftoe) could affect him so easily and so well. But then, Jack Sparrow's effect upon him had always been something apart from the rest, so it was only logical that in this, as in all things, Sparrow should be so readily able to send Jack beyond himself.
Nay, not logical. What lay between them would never be cold and clear as logic, a precept for which Jack had had precious little use in his wand'ring and spontaneous life. Nothing logical to this building peak of perfect bliss brought about by two Jackly bodies in confrication. This slide of skin on skin and muscle 'gainst muscle that, with any other, would be a pleasurable (though ineffective, since Dunkirk) means to an end, but with Sparrow, sent metallic scards of ever-increasing delight pinging 'round Jack's body and urged him on toward a physiologically improbable—but nevertheless certain—release. And all the while, a part of him just wanted to stay like this forever. Only touching and gliding and kissing that lush mouth.
But touching and gliding and kissing with Jack Sparrow inevitably brought about other urges, baser and more direct. Urges to grind and bite and fuck, and oh yes, those were things he wanted. Right now. He surged up and rolled Sparrow beneath him, and Sparrow gasped at it and then sighed at finding himself pinned beneath Jack's seeking hips and mouth. Yes, yes, yes, my Jack, he was chanting into Jack's mouth, around Jack's tongue, and then he was putting his inborn harlotry to work by planting one foot on the bed, which changed the angle of his hips and brought their one and a half cocks together in a flashing, insistent bliss that sent shimmering shivers running up Jack's spine.
The feel of it! Oh the joyous, heady feel of pushing and pressing at, of being pulled to the body of this man. It was incendiary, and though Jack was well aware that he tended toward a view of the world highly influenced by his experience with things conflagrant, there was simply no apt comparison to the heat and force he was now feeling but one based upon fire and propulsion. It made him want. It made him hard.
"Holy hell, Jack Sparrow! I know I can't fuck you proper, but God how I ache to," Jack groaned, inspiring a plaintive, inflammatorily submissive sound in the back of Sparrow's throat that only made Jack's unattainable desire all the stronger.
"I know that ache, love. I do, for by Christ, I ache with wanting you in me. I remember how it was just as you do, and it was glorious, you fucking me. But, Jaaack," came Sparrow's voice, a slow coax of a purr as he pulled Jack's head down to speak into his ear. "I can fuck you, Jack, and don't tell me you don't ache for that as well, 'cause I can feel how you want it."
It was no lie, for as Sparrow'd spoken, he'd smoothed his hands down Jack's back to cup his arse, and with no further inducement than hands and words, Jack had gasped sharpish and pushed back into that grip, his mind flashing on pictures of the many ways in which Sparrow could make good this vaunted ability.
"Oh yes, Jack, that's it," Sparrow chanted low and rough in Jack's ear. "You've an arse that begs for it, you do. Begs to be slicked and stretched and spitted and spent into. That promises absolute bliss to him who fucks it. And that's to be me, because I've wanted to fuck you for damn near twenty years, and tonight I mean to have my wants fulfilled. Tonight I mean to have you."
Jack moaned and gripped tight to Sparrow's angular hips, driving helplessly down and down and down in a timeless, mindless search for friction against that narrow pelvis. He rolled them again until Sparrow was over him and pulled at his thrusting backside, needing—Christ Jesus, how Sparrow's bruising kiss made his blood sing alive in his veins—more, and more, and all, and–
"Inside. Oh, inside, Jack," he babbled. "I want it, I want you, I want your cock. God, Jack, fuck me!"
Sparrow's answering noise was a beast's, not a man's. "Oh I'll fuck you, Jack Shaftoe. 'Til you're crying out for it. Aye, 'til you're begging me to bury myself in you to your throat. Jesus fucking Christ, Jack, I want you like nothing on this earth. Want to push into you 'til I'm so far up inside there's no empty space left. None, Jack. I want all your spaces filled by me." Sparrow's eyes were wide and ferine with lust that seemed a mirror for Jack's own. The muscles in his tanned shoulders stood in sharp relief as he took his own weight and pistoned his hips wildly, curtained like a savage in his long, dark hair.
Jack shut his eyes for a moment, afraid that the further sight of Jack Sparrow above him speaking and staring pure, dripping sex at Jack himself would make him shoot. They flew open a second later as Sparrow rolled away and Jack's skin fair shrieked at the loss. His hands lit out of their own accord after that hot, coppery tegument and found it on Sparrow's shoulders as they slid down Jack's belly, retreating along with the rest of the man. Jack growled an inquisitive noise, and Sparrow grinned and shook his head devilishly. But when he lifted Jack's hips high off the bed and dropped his head to meet them, Jack's patience was up.
"No more of your damn'd teasing!" He gripped hard to Sparrow's shoulders. "I want to be fucked, not played with. And I've already told you I don't aim to come in your mouth," he snarled, then amended, "Yet."
Sparrow's wicked eyes went somehow hotter, and he drawled, "Your yard wasn't where I was aimin', darling. You want to be fucked, we need to ease the way somehow, don't we?" He flicked his tongue at the air three times in lewd succession.
He couldn't mean to... Surely not. But the unholy gleam in those dark eyes said Surely so, no matter how unsound it might seem. A skitter went through Jack at the thought of all the filthy things they could dream up to do to one another. And somehow the thought of Jack Sparrow's wet, red mouth licking into him there sent its own particular frisson, all the more enticing for being so utterly tabu.
"Later, later. Give that to me later," Jack moaned, pulling Sparrow back up his body. "But give me your cock now," he curled his hand 'round the organ in question and jerked it fast and hard. "Give me your fuck now, because, damn you, I don't want it teasing and slow. I want to come, Jack. And I want to do it with your prick up my arse."
Sparrow keened under Jack's hand and under his words, nodding his head in senseless agreement and scrabbling over Jack's head in a cupboard on the wall. He lowered his arms, clutching a small Chinee ceramic pot full of something that smelled of warmth and spice, already coating his fingers with it. He strangled a breath in his throat, and thrust Jack away from him, panting harsh and loud. "If you want my fuck, Jack Shaftoe, you'd best leave off what you're doin', or I'll be spending nowhere but over your belly. God, but what you do to me. Hands and knees. And hurry."
But Jack was having none of it. "No." He sat up and arranged himself to mirror Sparrow's positioning, draping his own bent-kneed legs overtop of Sparrow's, so that if he'd wanted, he could have wrapped his legs 'round that lean, hard waist and held prisoner his very own pirate captain. Perhaps another day. "Like this," he said, waving a hand from his own heated face to Sparrow's wild-eyed phiz.
"It'll be easier on you my way," Sparrow told him with the rushed concern of a man desperately hard for release.
"I know, but I'm athirst to see your face when you're buried inside–"
"Jack!" Sparrow wailed, cutting him off. "Jack, Jack, Jesus, you can't say these things if you want me to last long enough to get inside." Jack grinned as if to say It's only what you deserve, you wretched teasing thing, and canted his hips up toward the greased hand sliding down his Remnant and back over his balls to that place he most wanted Sparrow to be.
He grunted at the first finger's intrusion, and Sparrow tried to gentle him with his free hand, petting with frantic distraction as his hips twitched forward at the air. Jack let relax those parts of his body still capable of any amount of lassitude. 'Twas a hard thing to do, even for just the one finger, but Jack was possessed of another hard thing (and an Imp) that was mighty motivational, and it was enough to encourage Sparrow to add a second finger. The two of them twisted inside, scissoring and pushing, and there. There was that place, that chakra that Eliza'd found in his body. Oh God, he'd forgotten how good that felt! And to have it touched by the long, strong, blunt fingers of Jack Sparrow, who wanted to touch Jack everywhere with every part of himself, who'd wanted to put his tongue there, for– "Ah! Ah, Jack!" he cried as a third finger joined that delicious, sparkling rubbing inside Jack's body.
And Sparrow was gabbling on about Need you, Jack, Christ, you look so fine like this, need to be in you, Jack, oh yes, right the hell now and slipping his fingers out—Jack cried out for that emptiness to be re-filled—and coating his straining cockstand with the slick from that little pot. And then Jack was lifting himself up on his own hands pressed into the mattress as Sparrow aligned himself and clasped Jack's hips and pushed and–
Jack's senses whited out for an instant. There was pain and pleasure and a pressure that was somehow both in one. He heard, as though from a far-off distance, Sparrow making a noise over and over that put Jack incongruously in mind of a wolf, cut short mid-howl. Sparrow's hands were like iron at his hips, sliding him down slowly (Jack faintly admired the control of it, remembering all the times he'd sunk into the vice-like inferno of the other man's body, and how the only thought in his mind had been to bury himself as deeply and as quickly as humanly possible) until his arse was snug against Sparrow's pelvis. Until Jack Sparrow's prick was fully engulfed inside of him.
And then he opened his eyes (when had they closed?) and looked at Sparrow's face and knew he'd never seen anything so perfect in his life. For Sparrow looked somehow both lost and found at once. His mouth opened and closed soundlessly, for once unable to muster speech, no matter that he was clearly reaching for it. And oh, those fathomless dark eyes were starkly unshuttered to Jack's wondrous gaze, and in that moment, with no words at all, they told him of how much he was treasured and wanted and yes, loved. They shimmered, though they shed no tears, and Jack's heart pounded in thundering response.
His hard-thumping heart didn't prevent Jack from hearing when Sparrow finally did dredge up some whispered words. Words Jack had already had from him. "You can never leave me, Jack, say it, say it," he said, and it was no less fervent for being spoken so softly. Likewise Jack's reply was hushed and yet no ounce less intense than the long-past oath it echoed; "Never, no never."
And with that, the still spell in the air between them dissolved, and Sparrow leaned back to take his weight on his hands, and slid himself nearly out of Jack's body before slamming back in with a force that made Jack cry out short, sharp, and wordless. On Sparrow's next slow slide out, only one word filtered back into Jack's brain, and he put it to immediate use. "Again!"
Sparrow obliged repeatedly, speeding the pace of his movement and restlessly shifting every few strokes. He was utterly abandoned and free, and so beautiful; now laid back on his elbows, hips arching from the bed, intoning unh unh unh with each sharp thrust; now contorting nearly sideways to push into Jack at another angle, striving to slake his own ceaseless desire.
Finally he sat upright, guiding Jack to kneel over him with clutching hands on Jack's arse. And then their movements aligned like some perfectly made device, and every stab of Sparrow's cock hit that magical flint-and-steel place in Jack's vitals and showered sparks all through him. He thought he might come apart from the inside at the blissful effervescence in his body that built and built and built and was suddenly, rapturously released as "Jack!" one called, and "Jack!" was answered, and there was a liquid rush of heat inside him and an even more miraculous one from his own body as he jerked and spent and laughed with the glory and wonder of it all.
Jack Sparrow swam back to consciousness slowly, floating mazy and content on a sea of sexual satisfaction. He was splayed where he'd fallen atop the cleverest, wickedest, most gorgeous mattress on Earth. He was limned in sweat, produced in the most delightful way of them all, and when he opened his eyes, he noted his mattress was similarly sheened.
The mattress stirred. Jack eyed it appreciatively and Mmmed low and vibratory in his chest. Shaftoe (the mattress) responded in kind and stroked two large hands down Jack's back to pull him up for a lengthy kiss. Jack had extensive plans to habituate himself to this sort of treatment. Only the best for the captain of the Black Pearl, after all.
"So, Jack," he asked after a moment. "How does the idea strike you of a life aboard ship seeking untold treasures and being repeatedly sodomised by said ship's captain?"
Shaftoe laughed—a joyful, unfettered sound whose frequent, Jack-inspired repetition was greatly desired—and said, "Strikes me just fine, so long as it's this ship and you're the captain doing the sodomisin'."
"Wouldn't have it any other way for the world, love," said Jack, bringing a hand up to his mouth that he'd passed through the glairy mess between their bellies. "To freedom," he toasted, licking at his sticky fingers.
Shaftoe rolled his eyes in mock-disgust and sighed as if greatly put-upon. "To freedom," he agreed, twisting his tongue 'round Jack's for his own share of the libations. "And to unbreakable partnerships," he added solemnly.
"Aye," Jack responded in kind. "To unbreakable partnerships, should they face never-so-many trials and–"
But the rest of his words were swallowed into Shaftoe's clamant kiss.