Kaija West (kaijawest) wrote in noeunuchshere,
Kaija West
kaijawest
noeunuchshere

Fic: Treading Water

Title: Treading Water
Author: Kaija West
Rating: PG
Summery: Jack forces Will to make a choice.
Disclaimer: I own only Shelly, Nicholas and Henry. Everyone/everything else is not mine and I make no money from this.
Notes: Originally written for the J/W ficathon on the JackXWill Yahoo group (story had to include Jack taking care of Will (who feels insecure and desolate) after Elizabeth left him at the altar). Cross-posted to jackwill


*****
Chapter 1

“An thas’ when I tol’ him those weren’t barnacles in ‘is bed!” Jack finished his tale with a flourish of his mug as the rowdy crowd laughed. Seated at the head of his customary table, Jack smiled and threw back more rum. Story telling, at least the way Jack did it, was a parching activity. He watched as rough and rowdy sailors and pirates slowly dispersed throughout the tavern. Several of his own crew remained at the table as Jack took a break from his dramatic storytelling.

Over the rim of his mug, the tavern owner’s wife caught his eye. Shelly, a woman probably only a few years older than himself, had caught Jack’s eye the very first time he’d entered The Rusty Heel. He’d mistaken her for one of the numerous ladies of leisure at first and had threatened a man propositioning her in a less than appropriate way. She’d been most grateful, and Jack had thankfully discovered that she was the proprietor’s wife before he’d gone on to make any ill conceived propositions of his own. The next day, upon discovering that the man harassing her had been found dead, likely a victim of poisoning, he doubly thanked his lucky stars that he was on the good side of both Shelly and her husband Nicholas. It was most useful to be friends with the house, particularly in a place like Tortuga where most people would as easily slit your throat as let you pass by. While Jack still found Shelly more appealing then any of the “available” ladies, he knew to leave well enough alone. He flirted with her like mad whenever in the tavern, but had no intentions of ever bedding her. He did however take time to talk with her whenever in Tortuga.

Tonight would be no exception. Jack watched her grabbing some things behind the bar, pouring drinks, all normal but for the look of concern on her face. She was dealing with the rowdy and noisy patrons in a distracted way that was very different from her normal game and fun attitude. She might not be a member of his crew, nor was she a conquest, but Jack was certainly not going to leave her alone looking so unhappy, if for no other reason than he’d managed to entertain and enthrall every occupant of the tavern during his stories earlier; it simply would not do to have someone, let alone a woman he considered a friend, not enjoy the bright mood.

Getting up and staggering just a tad more than he wanted to, Jack weaved his way across the crowded room toward the bar. Having a crew (a TRUSTED crew, he amended) around, and finding himself in a tavern where he knew the staff would look out for him as well, Jack drank far more freely. He was almost surprised to find himself that drunk, but then they’d been at it all day, and he’d never quite managed to get a meal. No longer surviving all by his “onesies”, Jack was a bit less careful about the amount he drank while ashore. Still, he’d learned his lessons the hard way, and wasn’t about to put all his trust in others to protect him. Those who he did trust to help watch his back meant a great deal to him, however, and as Jack reached the edge of the bar, bumping into it slightly before resting his hands on the edge, it occurred to him that his thoughts were bouncing around just a bit more than he was used to. Looking up from the bar to see Shelly handing off a drink to the man next to him, Jack remembered why he’d walked (the term being used rather loosely) over from his table.

“Shelly!” he said a touch too loudly, his words slurring together. “W’as a matter, Luv? Ye look like somebody dropped an anchor on yer wee puppy.”

“Captain Jack, ‘is good to see ya,” Shelly said sincerely with a smile, though the look of concern never left her face totally. About to say something else to the reeling pirate, Shelly was interrupted when Jack was smashed into from behind. She saw him get shoved hard into the bar from behind before she could warn him.

“Jus’ a moment, Shel,” Jack said, grinning at her. He turned and cuffed the offending man hard on the ear. Addressing the young man, who was now holding his wounded ear, Jack growled out, “Best be watchin’ who ye be bangin’ into, and more importantly who ye be interruptin’.”

While Jack had been referring to Shelly, the man recognized the infamous pirate captain and immediately apologized, a nervous look in his eyes. “S-sorry Captain Sparrow,” he said with a small duck of his head.

Impressed with the man’s way of addressing him, Jack clapped an arm around his shoulders, and spoke loudly enough to be overheard by many in the bar, though he seemed to direct his speech to those of his crew who were seated at the table.

“CAPTAIN, eh? Well, you may not ‘ave the best of manners, but you do have the good sense to address me properly.” Jack paused and glared at his crew, especially those who were forever leaving out his title, though he suspected they did this just to irk him. “Tell you what, mate, you apologize to th’ lady Shelly here for interruptin’, and maybe there’ll be a place for a man like you abord t’ Pearl. How’s that sound then?”

Several minutes later Shelly was leading Jack to a small table off to the side where they could talk more in private.

“You gave ‘im a job cause he smashed inta ya or cause he got yer name right?” Shelly asked, watching as Jack sat down, and nearly tipped over the side of the chair before righting himself.

“I gave ‘im a chance on me crew ‘cause the lad clearly has no clue how to win a bar fight, nor does he ‘ave a position on any ship.”

“And you know this how?” Shelly asked.

With a small shrug, Jack admitted, “Been watchin’ him all evenin’ since he came in ‘ere. Been turned down by every man ‘e asked for a place on a ship.”

“So he ‘as no ability at convincin’ others and he can’t fight. Well, there’s a winnin’ pirate for ye, Jack,” Shelly observed.

“Lad’s persistent and knows how to address a Captain,” Jack said with a meaningful look. “He can learn the rest.”

“Well, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, groomer of young pirates then, eh?” Shelly asked with a grin. “Enjoy lookin’ out for clueless youngins do ya?”

Jack was watching the young man, Henry he’d learned was his name, as he talked with some of Jack’s crew. Henry was animated, and looked pleased as he conversed with Gibbs, likely about the details of his new position on the Pearl. Jack could tell Henry clearly knew next to nothing about pirating and likely had little knowledge about sailing, but the lad was strong and had potential. There was something about the young man that reminded Jack very much of another youth he’d run into some months back.

Turning back to Shelly, Jack saw the smirk on her face.

“I know yer a big softy, Captain. You jus’ want to keep the ignorant lad safe, don’t ya?” Shelly asked, finally getting it.

“Pfft! I needed another crew member. Tha’s all,” Jack justified. They both knew he was lying. They both also knew a man who couldn’t handle himself in a bar fight would have to learn to either be a better fighter or be more careful whom he slammed into.

After a moment, the rum in Jack’s brain sloshed in a different direction, and he finally remembered why he’d come over to talk with Shelly in the first place.

“So why’r you lookin’ so glum t’night? I ‘aven’t seen hide nor ‘air of ye all a’fernoon.”

Shelly sighed, the concerned look back in place on her features. “Well let’s jus’ say the last young man who did something stupid didn’t have the benefit of you around to help ‘im out.”

When she paused, Jack motioned to her to continue with one hand, glugging rum from his mug with the other.

“Upstairs, e’s in one of the rooms. Was pretty badly beaten by th’ time Nicholas pulled him out of the brawl last night. Nice enough lookin’ young lad. Polite as you can imagine even when he was half passin’ out. In rough shape now though. Can’t imagine what a well mannered lad like that would be doin’ here or ‘ow he came to be mixed up in such a fight.”

Jack looked around the tavern, and, seeing his audience and crew spread out and otherwise entertained, he decided to see just who this young man was. Shelly might know more truth about Jack’s motivations than he’d like but it was true that, likewise, he knew she was never one to turn out a wounded or needy man. If she’d been so concerned about this young man, then Jack figured the least he could do was go see if he needed a doctor or if perhaps he needed a job.

“Well le’s go see him then,” Jack said as he rose unsteadily from the chair.

Shelly got up, shaking her head slightly, a knowing grin on her face.

At her look Jack said, “Well, I might be in need of another crew member.”

Guiding the wobbling man towards the stairs, Shelly snorted, “The Black Pearl’s a large ship, Captain, but at this rate you’re not going to have room enough for all your treasure.”

Jack paused for a moment, a look on his face like he was considering her words.

He decided that just having a chat with the young man couldn’t hurt. He could set him straight, give him some advice, maybe find him passage on a ship back home if he weren’t the pirating type.

Following after Shelly, and holding tightly onto the railing of the rickety stairs, Jack shook his own head at his actions. When had he become so concerned with the fates of young men? He supposed it started with finding himself alone for so long, stuck in his arduous quest to regain control of the Pearl. Living that solitary life had taught him the importance of having a safe and secure home on a ship surrounded by trustworthy … well, pirates. As trustworthy as any such group could be at any rate. He didn’t envy those who found themselves without a place and fellow crew, as he himself had been for so long. But really, he knew that this particular interest, this almost paternal watching out for young men, especially those with more bravery than brains or savvy, had been the direct result of his encounter with one Will Turner. Their adventure had so impressed upon him the importance of guiding whelps, in particular those who would charge to the rescue in what was seemingly the most reckless and unplanned way possible. Henry had potential, that was true, but he paled in comparison to Will, who had all the makings of an even better pirate than his father had been.

Weaving his way down the dim hallway after Shelly, Jack sighed. ‘You damn well better appreciate him, Elizabeth,’ he thought. ‘Whole pirating business is missing out ‘cause of you.’

“Quiet now, ‘e was sleepin’ las’ time I looked in on ‘im,” Shelly warned.

Jack followed her through the opened door, into the room. There on the bed laid a very badly beaten man. Jack however hardly noticed the bruises and cuts he was so intent on the unfocused, defeated look in the young man’s red rimmed and puffy eyes.

In shock, Jack softly said, “Will?”
*****

Chapter 2

Will stirred at the familiar voice. He struggled to focus on the blurry figure. Seeing his obvious difficulty, Jack moved closer to the bed Will was lying on.

“Jack, it IS you,” Will said, sounding somewhat relieved. His voice had a roughened edge to it, almost as though he’d been screaming. Taking in the puffy, crimson-streaked eyes, Jack figured out it was more likely there was another reason for the gravelly scrape to his voice.

“What’re you doing ‘ere, Will?” Jack asked. He held back the natural impulse to make some kind of suggestive comment about just what he figured Will should be up to with his new fiancée. Quickly considering the date, he amended that it was likely that should be wife, not fiancée. But if Will was here, in Tortuga, a place he’d claimed to loath last time they left it together, then that could only mean something had gone very wrong. “You didn’t lose yer bonny lass to cursed pirates again now did ya?”

Jack could hear Shelly snort softy behind him and he turned to glare at her before returning his attention to Will. He winced at the look of absolute despair that had returned to Will’s face.

“Oh Jack, I-I did lose-“ Will began before a surprise cough interrupted him. Jack watched as Will curled on his side, breathing hard through his nose, arms tightly curled around his chest.

Unable to stop himself, for Jack knew what it was like to hurt that much, he placed a reassuring warm hand on Will’s shoulder. “s all right, lad. We’ll talk more on it later. Be back in a jif.”

Jack quickly spun around and left the room before he lost the ability to go. Will looked up at Shelly, unshed tears in his eyes.

“Rest quiet now, boy,” Shelly said softly. “Hurricane Jack’ll surely return for ye.”

“Thank you Miss Shelly,” Will said looking for all the world like he wanted nothing more than to burst into unmanly tears but was holding it back for all he was worth.

Shelly was headed for the door when Jack’s arm came through the doorway and yanked her out in a hurry. She was about to rebuke him when she caught the look in his eyes. Will’s expression had nearly broken her heart, but seeing Jack’s barely contained, seething rage was something all together different. Feeling his fingers bite into her upper arms as he held her pinned to the hallway wall wasn’t exactly pleasant either.

“What…the hell…happened…to Will,” he growled out.

“Same thing I tol’ ya downstairs, Jack. Fight, losin’ end,” she said, nodding her head towards the open door.

“Captain Sparrow,” Shelly’s husband Nicholas said from behind them. “I’ll be askin’ you to unhand my wife now.”

As though he was only just now realizing his position, Jack let go of Shelly and backed off.

“My sincerest apologies,” Jack said seriously to both of them with a slight bow and clasped hands.

Nicholas nodded and Shelly returned to Will’s room, giving Jack a very cold look as she went by.

“So you know the Turner lad then do you?” Nicholas inquired.

“I know ‘im. I know tha’ it would take one hell of a fight to put ‘im in such a state. Will can hold ‘is own,” Jack said.

“I don’t think he was trying to win, or at least not tryin’ that terribly hard,” Nicholas explained. “Caught part of the mess m’self. He did well enough but seemed like his heart wasn’t in it. Was outnumbered as well.”

“Why didn’t you do somethin’?” Jack asked, his tone somewhere between honest uncomprehension and anger.

“Not my place an’ you know that, Jack. I pulled him out when things got too rough, but you know I’m not ‘ere to be watchin’ over every argument and brawl that happens under this roof.”

Jack sighed. He understood where Nicholas was coming from, even if he wasn’t sure he agreed with him at the moment. “I’m goin’ to send one of my men to find th’ doctor.” Nicholas nodded as Jack continued, “An’ then I’m gonna ‘ave a little talk wif Will. Would you ‘ave Shel send up a couple bottles when she’s done?”

“I’ll be bringing them up,” Nicholas said as Jack headed for the stairs.

“I am sorry ‘bout that. Didn’t meant it,” Jack said, gesturing the hold he’d had on Nicholas’s wife. He was still embarrassed with himself for nearly losing it on Shelly.

“I know Jack, but she’s a touch funny ‘bout some things. If you want to still be breathing tomorrow, best to not ask her to be servin’ you.”

Remembering the poisoning victim of before, Jack nodded and added, “I’ll be keepin’ that in mind.”

He went downstairs.

*****

Jack knocked lightly at the door to Will’s room. The doctor had come and gone, having been retrieved in record time by Henry. Shelly was back downstairs. Jack had made certain of this before returning from the noisy tavern into the relative quite of the upstairs boarding rooms. He planned on giving her a wide berth for the rest of this visit and hoped he’d be back on her good side next time he arrived in Tortuga.

Opening the door slowly, Jack poked his head in. Will looked over and again appeared relieved to see it was Jack. Taking this as his cue to enter, Jack came inside, shutting the door behind him.

“Are you feelin’ any better?” he asked as he made his way to the chair beside the bed.

“Yes, thank you, Jack. I understand I have you to thank for the doctor’s visit.”

Jack looked slightly puzzled as he considered Will’s words and tone. The young man certainly looked better. Jack could see fresh bandages wrapped tightly around his chest under the open shirt. The doctor had also covered the gash on Will’s arm. The bruises that were just now starting to darken were still present, of course, and a number of minor cuts were clearly visible. Overall, Will looked pretty bad still, but now that he was sitting up in bed against a pile of pillows and wasn’t as pale, he looked far better. But there was still a look in his eyes that all but screamed that he was anything but all right, and his tone and wording was almost formal in stark contrast with his earlier words.

It was obvious that Will was hiding something. Jack had long since admitted to himself that he wasn’t always a subtle man, but this was clearly a situation that would require some level of tact and subtlety. On the one hand, he wanted to joke that he’d had a hard time choosing between sending a doctor to Will or one of the lovely “ladies” instead, that he’d been unsure who would make Will feel better in the end. However, since Will was clearly falling into formality to distance himself from Jack, this didn’t seem to be the best of all conversation starters.

Jack leaned over to the small bedside table snatching a bottle of rum that Nicholas had obviously remembered to leave for him. He took several swigs before offering the bottle to Will. As expected Will refused, a look of distaste on his face.

“Go on. I won’t be spreadin’ rumors an’ tarnishin’ yer reputation for just ‘avin’ a bit now, ‘specially considerin’ yer injured an all.”

With a weary smile, Will said, “Jack, I very much doubt you could do any more damage to my reputation.”

Not sure if it was intended as an insult, Jack decided to let the comment go. For now anyway. “It’ll help ye feel better. I’ve been hurt far worse b’fore and this,” he said, sloshing the steadily emptying bottle for emphasis, “has often been of a great deal of help.”

Will looked like he was considering the rum for a moment when he remembered the doctor had left him a bottle of medicine.

“The doctor left that,” he said, pointing to a small bottle of dark liquid sitting on the table.

Jack picked up the bottle and uncorked it, giving it a sniff. He couldn’t remember where exactly he’d smelled the medicine before but it brought up very unpleasant, if hazy, memories.

“I’m not entirely sure I trust that man,” Will said, referring to the admittedly shifty doctor who’d visited earlier.

Jack pushed the small cork back into the bottle. “Well, can’t hurt anymore, eh? Might as well give it a shot, hmm?” He unthinkingly tossed the bottle the few feet to Will who caught it with an audible hiss. The sudden movement had started his already sore, broken ribs, to hurting all over again.

Jack watched as Will threw back a large mouthful of the medicine. Something wasn’t right, he was more sure of it than ever. Will, an excellent swordsman, had been trounced in a fight - in a place he’d loudly vowed never to visit again - and now he was gulping down an unknown medicine from a person he obviously had doubts about. Jack considered Will’s behavior to be too rash and unplanned at times but this was too far off. And if all of this wasn’t evidence enough that something was very wrong with Will, then that ever present look of despair in the lads eyes was.

Jack leaned forward and snatched the small bottle back from Will. Since he had no idea of its contents, he couldn’t be sure, but somehow doubted it was supposed to be consumed in one sitting as Will had seemed intent on doing.

“Tha’s prolly enough for now,” he said, setting the little bottle beside his own rum bottle on the bedside table.

By the time he looked back at Will, he could see the drug taking effect. The boy’s eyes were at half mast and his pupils so large they nearly blocked out all colour.

“Better?” Jack asked.

“Mmm Hmm,” Will murmured, clearly not feeling as much pain. In fact, judging by the little smile on his face, Jack would venture Will wasn’t feeling much of anything anymore. He surreptitiously tucked the bottle into the drawer and out of Will’s reach when he wasn’t looking.

‘Well, I’d been planning to get him drunk and talking, but this was just a whole lot faster and easier,’ Jack thought. ‘Best be getting’ rid of the rest of that stuff though. Anything that works that fast can’t be good for him.’

“So Will,” Jack began, rum bottle comfortably held in his left hand. “Exactly what ‘er ye doin’ in Tortuga of all places?”

“Hated it here,” Will said, his words slightly slurred. “So I had to come.”

“Allllright,” Jack said. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. If he couldn’t make sense of what Will was trying to get across, then this would be something of a waste of time. He decided on another tactic. “Where’s Elizabeth, Will?”

“She left me,” Will said nodding slightly, brown creasing. “She left me standing in front of the priest.”

“You don’t mean-“ Jack began before Will interrupted.

“Yup, right there at the altar,” he said. There was a noticeable lack of emotion behind the words as though Will either was too numb to feel it or simply refused to feel anything at all at that moment. Jack watched as the young man’s trembling fingers pulled at a thread in the blanket.

“I wanted her Jack,” Will continued, his voice suddenly too full of emotion, his words nearly choking on it. “She’s all I ever wanted, all I ever dreamed of for 10 years. I saw her, in her wedding dress. She was the most beautiful sight I’d ever dreamed of. Like an angel, she seemed to float down the aisle.” His voice turning flat again, he continued, “But I knew. The moment I looked into her eyes. She didn’t want to be there.”

“Will I-“ Jack started, but Will charged on.

“She waited until the last moment. She looked at me and I could see it all in her eyes. Said she couldn’t do it, couldn’t m-marry me,” Will finished with a choked sob. He seemed to swallow down his sorrow as he looked out the tiny window across the room, into the dark black.

Without thinking, Jack got up and sat on the bed beside Will and pulled him into an awkward hug.

“What are you doing?” Will asked, sounding slightly alarmed, though it had taken several moments for his mind to catch up with what was happening.

“Shhhh,” Jack shushed him softly. He wondered whether he’d pushed the boy too far, trying to get the truth from him. But it seemed that Will needed to say it, let it out. It might be Will Turner in his arms, but this was by no means the brave sword fighter who had challenged him in a dusty blacksmith shop not so long ago. Somebody had seriously hurt the young man, and while Jack could see the wounds on Will’s body, it was becoming increasingly clear that the source of most of the pain couldn’t be traced to brawling pirates. No, this pain had a different cause, and Jack found himself wishing for a moment that he’d put a bullet into the head of the girl back on that burning beach.

Coming back from his thoughts, Jack realized that he’d somehow managed to arrange himself behind Will so that the boy’s trembling back was pressed against his chest, his arms encircling the slightly shaking body. He could tell that Will wasn’t crying, but the strain of holding so much sadness inside was causing the quaking Jack felt against him.

“It’s never going to feel better is it, Jack?” Will asked in a small voice. “It’s just going to go on forever, this…” he trailed off.

Holding Will tighter, Jack found himself instinctively rocking them both a bit. Eventually Will’s tremors ceased.

In a tired sounding voice, Will asked, “Jack?”

“Mmm?”

Sleepily, but now sounding clearer than he had all night Will continued, “You know that feeling when you realize that tomorrow you’ll find things terribly awkward, but for the moment you couldn’t care less?”

“Yes, Will,” Jack said. Then he waited. And waited.

After several moments, it occurred to him that Will had finally fallen into an exhausted sleep.

*****

Chapter 3

The next morning, Will had the nagging feeling that he should be embarrassed. The problem was he wasn’t entirely sure why. He’d woken alone and in considerable pain. It had taken his mind several moments to remember where he was and why. When he saw Elizabeth’s face in his head, heard her words as she turned and ran out of the church, he wished he hadn’t awakened at all. Sniffling, he rolled over, moaning softly as his ribs felt like they were grinding together, and curled up on his side. His back was to the door and he could see out the tiny window. Will had only once felt this alone and lost before. But then there had been a beautiful young lady who smiled at him and promised to take care of him. In the end she’d broken that promise, and Will felt like he’d come full circle, might as well be floating in the ocean alone. Maybe things would have been better if he’d never been found…

*

Jack made his way back up the narrow stairs to Will’s room. When he’d woken that morning, an hour ago, he been mildly surprised to find himself still protectively holding Will in his arms. Seeing the sleeping boy curled up on his chest, Jack had made some decisions.

Will had been totally off-limits before. Clearly the boy had a definite single-mindedness when it came to his bonny lass. She was, however, no longer the same kind of obstacle. Still, Jack had doubts that Will would let her go quickly. Maybe he wouldn’t let her, or the idea of her, go at all. The thought of watching the young man pine away over her indefinitely sickened Jack, more because it saddened him to consider Will so set on something that was now clearly a one sided love than because it would mean that he’d never have a chance with the boy himself.

Jack had always equated love more with admiration than lust, and he’d known the moment Will challenged him with a sword that he admired the brave youth. Given their quest to rescue Elizabeth, Jack had figured that his feelings should stop there, at admiration. It was different now though. Very different.

Barely resisting the urge to kiss the top of the soft, messy curls just under his chin, Jack carefully squiggled out from underneath Will. As he laid the still sleeping man back on the pillows, Jack sighed to himself. Seeing Will laying there, so innocent and soft in the weak morning light, Jack admitted to himself he was feeling something very different than admiration. The feelings were something much deeper and it wasn’t just a sense of responsibility.

After lingering a moment to assure himself Will hadn’t woken during the move, Jack silently slipped out of the room. His thought were much too clear for his liking. Walking down the hallway, he considered getting some breakfast while he waited for Will to wake, but decided that some rum would quell not only his hunger, but also the nagging voice in his head that was insistent on telling him that he was falling for the broken man on the other side of the door.

*

Will was yanked up from his dark thoughts when the door popped open and Jack swaggered into the room. He couldn’t stop the rush of relief he felt as he saw the familiar man. Remembering the previous hazy night, Will realized that every time Jack appeared he was able to almost block out the painful memory of his love turning and running from him, from what was supposed to be their life together. The dark swirl of blue and black and beads almost made him forget the elegant flow of ivory satin and lace, as it carried his love away from him.

Jack watched as Will’s expression changed from recognition and relief to loss and sadness in only a moment.

“Will?” Jack asked as he approached the bed, trying to pull the boy from his thoughts.

After a moment, and with a small shake of his head, Will looked to Jack, a forced grin on his face. “Good morning, Jack.”

“Are ye doin’ any better?”

“I’m still feeling rather poorly to tell you the truth.” It was an understatement on all accounts.

Jack reached into the drawer and pulled out the small bottle of medicine. “Maybe you should try a lil’ more of this, should dull things. Unless of course you’d prefer somethin’ else,” Jack said holding up the bottle of rum Will hadn’t even noticed he’d been holding.

“What time is it?” asked Will.

“Morning,” Jack said with a shrug. He took a pull from the bottle in his hand.

“Do you always drink so early?”

“Not always, no. But ye see on land there’s not so much fer me to do. Need to entertain meself some’ow. Little early for the ladies an’ much too late for stories ye see,” Jack said in a roundabout explanation. “Now drink up a bit of tha’ vile stuff, we ‘ave to be goin’ soon.”

“Going?”

Nodding Jack said, “Back to the Pearl. ‘s time to be ‘eading out soon.”

“Oh, well, don’t let me hold you up, Jack. Thank you for looking out for me last night, for getting a doctor I mean. Perhaps I’ll see you again sometime when you’re back this way again,” Will said, sounding unsure and saddened. He knew Jack would have to leave at some point. He’d just hoped maybe the Captain would be on the island for a couple more days.

“You weren’t seriously plannin’ on stayin’ in Tortuga, were you mate?” Jack asked with a toothy grin.

“I was - um, was going to - that is…” Will sighed. “I don’t know Jack. I don’t know what to do. I mean it’s not as though I planned on being in this situation.”

Hearing Will’s uncertainty and discomfort, Jack said quickly, “I need someone to do a few minor repairs on the Pearl, need a man who’s good with his hands and tools.” Jack mentally kicked himself for his double speak but let it go when Will didn’t seem to catch any secondary meaning in the words. ‘Need to be more careful how I speak. Can’t be letting ideas and thoughts just worm their way in like that. Down boy!’ he thought before continuing aloud. “Tortuga is no place for you Will. So, what do ye say? Help a mate out?” Jack asked with a tilt of his head.

‘Jack’s giving you an out you fool!’ Will yelled in his mind. ‘You don’t really want to stay here and mope forever do you? Well … maybe I do. It suits. I’m miserable, so I might as well be somewhere that fits that for me. Couldn’t very well go back to Port Royal, see them all shaking their heads at me, their looks of pity. No, Tortuga is a far better fit. But Jack, I could go with him, could venture away. Maybe being on the sea would help me forget Eliz- … forget HER. But I don’t want to forget her … do I?’

Jack sighed as he watched Will get lost in his thoughts again. Clearly the young man couldn’t make the decision to leave Tortuga in his present state of mind. Jack decided he needed to make the decision for the distraught young man, though really, he already had. He had wanted to at least give Will the chance to say it.

Jack placed the medicine bottle in Will’s hands, saw him look up with confused eyes almost as though the young man had forgotten he was even there.

“We’re ‘eading out in a few minutes. ’s a long walk, especially in your condition so I’d be drinking a bit of tha’ to dull the pain if I were you.”

Will felt too tired to argue. His mind was exhausted and he decided that at least for the moment it would be easier to do as Jack directed him.

Watching Will pull the cork on the bottle Jack warned, “Jus’ don’ try an’ drink it all at once like you did las’ night.”

Taking a swallow, Will looked up at Jack. He couldn’t remember the previous night very clearly. He did, however, feel a twinge of embarrassment, though he wasn’t sure about what exactly.

“Jack? Did I … say anything foolish last night? Or, um, do anything?”

“Nah,” Jack half lied. “Just up and passed out on me af’er tryin’ to drain that bottle.”

“Oh, well, I guess I own you an explanation as to why I’m here in Tortuga and how I got myself in this condition,” Will said, gesturing to the bandages that adorned his arm and chest.

“No ‘splaination’s necess’ry, Will. I know things wen’ badly with Elizabeth.” Jack cringed inside when the mere mention of the girl’s name caused Will to frown. “You don’ need to be tellin’ ol’ Jack anythin’ right now. Not ‘till ye want to, savvy?”

“Thanks, Jack,” Will said with a small smile that died before it reached his eyes. He could feel the medicine already dulling the sharp pinch he felt in his chest with every breath. He could also feel it clouding his mind, and he welcomed the feeling because at the moment he felt everything too clearly, too painfully. He knew the pain in his chest wasn’t caused only by his broken ribs. He took another swallow of the medicine. The numbing sensation was a relief.

*****

Chapter 4

Jack was right. The walk was long and not at all pleasant for Will. They were barely outside The Rusty Heel when Will’s head had started pounding and his legs were none too steady. Jack had carefully put an arm around Will’s waist, mindful of his injuries, and guided the young man through the winding, filthy streets.

When he felt Jack’s arm around him, Will looked nervously at the other people on the street. If there was anything out of place, if it was at all odd to see two men with their arms around each other, nobody gave any kind of indication. Will mentally kicked himself when he remembered that this was, after all, Tortuga, and the sense of propriety that currently permeated Port Royal didn’t seem to exist here. Nobody gave a damn what he and Jack looked like. Will supposed that was a good thing, as he was still wearing very expensive, broquade breechers and a now torn and stained, but still very elaborate and obviously costly, white shirt. He refused to take his jacket with him despite Jack’s protests. He wanted nothing to do with the clothes he had worn to his almost wedding. In fact, Will would have been more than happy to leave behind the rest of the outfit except that he assumed walking (or limping as the case were) through town naked would have drawn unnecessary attention. Not that he’d have ever seriously considered doing that. As another person passed them, clearly disinterested in the pair, Will wondered if he’d have drawn any attention at all had he gone parading around in the nude.

“Jack?” Will started, slightly winded though they were not going very quickly. “How is it this place is so different during the day? It almost feels abandoned,” he commented as they turned a corner only to find yet another nearly empty street.

“’s the middle of the night Will,” Jack said. He was becoming more certain that Will wasn’t going to make it all the way back to the Pearl under his own power. While he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of carrying the young man, Jack could tell it was becoming a very real possibility that he might need to.

Looking up at the sun that was not yet overhead but shining down on them nonetheless, Will gave Jack a confused look. “It’s not night, Jack. I wasn’t hit THAT hard on the head you know.”

Smiling, Jack shook his head. “Well for the folks ‘ere it migh’ as well be. Work on a different clock. When yer up all ‘ours of the night, mid mornin’ becomes the wee ‘ours, savvy?”

“Not so much,” Will admitted. He wasn’t sure if it was the pain or the medicine that was making it so much harder to understand Jack, but Will was certain there must be an explanation for why next to nothing the pirate captain said made sense to him since they left the tavern.

Stopping and pulling away a bit as though to assess his condition, Jack narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing Will. The lad seemed particularly daft this morning.

“They’re all sleeping, Will” he said slowly, enunciating his words.

“Ah, yes, I see,” Will said, nodding slightly. His head was now not only pounding but there was also a faint buzzing too. He imagined a miniature version of himself in a smithy located inside his head, banging over and over at a piece of metal laid out on an anvil. There was also some kind of giant bug standing in place of the donkey, its enormous wings flitting over and over making the horrible buzzing sound in his mind…

“Will!”

Will felt himself being shook a little. He pulled himself back out of his thoughts. “What?”

“I’ve been sayin’ yer name for awhile now,” Jack explained, a look of concern on his face.

“Sorry, Jack. Just got a little, uh, distracted.”

“Pearl’s not that much farther.” Putting his arm back around Will, Jack slowly started guiding the unsteady man forward again. “Be there in no time.”

Will looked back in the direction they’d come from. The movement made his head hurt worse. He was right to leave this place with Jack. He could leave behind the memories of getting into a stupid fight, unarmed and exhausted. He could forget his mistake. Now if only he could forget what had come before…

*****

Surprisingly they’d made it to the Pearl and were on board before Will’s battered body finally gave out. Jack had been talking with Gibbs (who was very pleased to hear Will would be joining them) and several other crew members whom Will had not met before. The Captain had been giving instructions about their departure, though Will wondered if perhaps that was more a formality given the way the crew confidently and efficiently went about making the ship ready to sail. Will had been watching one of the men shimmy up a rope in an almost gravity-defying manner when he’d started to get dizzy. Black and red spots blotted out his vision quickly, and he could feel himself blacking out, but was powerless to stop it. As soon as his knees buckled, and right about the time he began to slip away so far that he no longer cared he was passing out right on deck, Will felt Jack tighten his hold. He hadn’t even realized Jack still had an arm around him, supporting him, until his unplanned nap caused Jack to tighten his grip in an effort to prevent him from taking a nose drive into the deck. Unfortunately, the hastily tightened grip caused the pain in his ribs to flare up, and Will heard himself groaning just before he was pulled unwillingly into the darkness.

*

Anamaria waited until Jack had Will settled on his own bed before she slapped him on the face.

“What do you think yer doin’? Bringing a hurt man on board-“

“Now Ana,” Jack started, surprised by her outburst. Anamaria wasn’t a typical female, so Jack expected no sudden show of sympathy or hysterics, but he definitely hadn’t expected she’d object to Will’s presence onboard.

“…and makin’ him stand there ‘till ‘e drops!” she finished, ignoring his interruption. Turning to look at the unconscious man lying on the bed, she continued, her tone now softer, “What ‘appened to ‘im?”

“Elizabeth lef’ him at the alter.”

“I could have tol’ ya that was gonna ‘apppen,” Anamaria said, though there was no pride or smugness in her voice. On Jack’s look of confusion, she explained, “Women’s intuition.”

“Yer no’ a woman. Yer pirate,” Jack said.

Anamaria rolled her eyes before continuing, “What else ‘appened? Elizabeth might be a spirited lady, but there’s no way she did all tha’ to ‘im.” She gestured to the red and purple bruises and cuts on Will’s face.

“Losin’ end of a fight I’m told,” Jack said looking at the marks again. He leaned over to unbutton Will’s shirt and make him more comfortable. “Nothin’ too bad, nothin’ permanent anyway. I expect he won’t be up an’ around much for a few days though.”

Anamaria nodded as she watched Jack work. He was so careful and gentle as he loosened Will’s clothing and pulled the covers over the sleeping man.

“And th’ other? ‘ow’s he feelin’ ‘bout being left like that, ‘bout ‘er droppin’ ‘im?”

“Don’t know,” Jack admitted as he took a seat on the side of the bed. “Not too happy ‘bout it so far as I can tell.” After a pause, Jack admitted, “Hell, he’s a mess.”

Feeling like it was a good time to give Jack some space, Anamaria started to leave the cabin. “I’ll see us off. You take care of him, you hear me, Jack?” she threatened unnecessarily and out of habit.

“That’s Captain Jack!” Jack said as she left. When the door swung shut as she left without an apology, Jack returned his attention to the figure on the bed. “Don’t you worry, I’ll be watchin’ o’er him,” he said softly to himself.

Though he kept his eyes closed, mainly because his head was still threatening to explode, Will barely resisted the urge to smile. Again he felt as though things were coming full circle.

*****
Chapter 5

“This can’t continue,” Jack said seriously, nodding to himself.

It had been two weeks since they’d departed from Tortuga. Will had again tried his hand at sailing and met with success for the most part, but Jack insisted the ex-blacksmith concentrate on repairs to the Pearl. There was a great deal of minor repair work constantly needed by a ship the size of the Black Pearl, and having a skilled crewmember aboard allowed many such repairs to be completed without being stuck in port. Not that Will had been entirely willing…

“I’m not saying I can’t do it, Jack. It’s just, well, I’m not really that good working with wood. It’s not my thing really,” Will had explained, squinting up at Jack in the bright sunlight.

“It can be your new thing then, hmm? A change of pace and all that, eh?”

“I don’t think I could possibly change anything more,” Will had said resignedly. “I think I’m just not very good with it.”

“Nonsense!” Jack barked. He pointed to a recently repaired section of railing. It looked as good as new, and if it showed up at all as different it was only because the newer wood hadn’t been thoroughly storm beaten yet. “You do lovely work on me Pearl,” he said sincerely.

Will looked where Jack was pointing. He saw a horribly mismatched and lopsided area of railing. Surely it hadn’t looked THAT bad when he’d finished. Will thought he should have noticed how awful it looked before. “It looks like a child repaired it,” Will said with a sigh.

Jack peered over again at the railing, wrinkled his nose in concentration, then looked back at Will, trying to judge if perhaps sitting out too long in the sun had fried the young man’s brain.

“Maybe I should try helping Gibbs again,” Will offered.

“No, no, I want yer hands on the wood! That is, I want you doin’ these repairs, Will,” Jack quickly clarified, kicking himself mentally for the umpteenth time for letting his baser thoughts about Will slip out. “Look, I know yer not used to workin’ with wood but yer doin’ a smashin’ job so far. You jus’ need t’ do more of it, then you’ll get more comfer’ble with it, savvy?”

Will gave a forced, tight lipped grin. “Alright Jack, I’ll do it. With luck I won’t cause her to become totally lopsided and sink.” He walked off, feet almost dragging.

Jack ran a hand over his face and deeply sighed. Where to begin? Most of the work that Will did really was above average. It wasn’t like Jack would trust his Pearl in the hands of just anybody after all. Having said that, there was something very flawed about Will’s work, or rather more often, the way he worked.

Jack had watched Will often lately and was always fascinated by the look of concentration and determination on Will’s face when he worked. There was something fascinating about watching the young man focus totally on something and create beauty and necessity all at once. Jack found himself often wondering what it would be like to be the object of Will’s focus, to have the young man totally fixed on HIM to the exclusion of everything else. Jack wasn’t surprised to find himself feeling jealous of a railing pole as he watched Will’s strong hands running up and down its length, sanding it to perfection.

But the problem, the real root of the issue, was what happened when Will’s focus wavered. It wasn’t that he was distractible so much as he became totally absorbed and lost in his own thoughts. Jack had witnessed this many times over the past couple weeks. Will would just seem to shut off, getting a blank look on his face. Whatever he’d been working on would either be forgotten or hastily and roughly finished with no apparent care as to quality, in stark contrast to Will’s normally perfect work. The young man would then wander off, seemingly in a daze, though Jack had seen tears in Will’s eyes on several occasions. He’d tried to talk to Will the first couple times he’d seen this happen, but the upset man simply shut and locked the door to Jack’s cabin.

And that was another thing - Jack had at first insisted Will stay in his cabin so he could keep an eye on the other man as his injuries healed. He’d fully expected Will would want to find other accommodations shortly after, yet the younger man had simply continued to share his cabin and bed without any comment. They fell asleep separately, but Jack had woken every morning to find himself with a warm body wrapped around him, seemingly clinging to him as if to keep nightmares a bay. Since he always woke first, Jack disentangled himself before Will stirred. He wasn’t even sure if Will was aware he kept doing that every night.

Much in the same way Jack was hesitant to say anything to Will about his sleeping positions, he was disinclined to mention the strange blanking out moments the young man suffered. It was those moments that made Jack decided there was absolutely no way Will was fit to assist in the sailing of the ship. If he were to shut down and drift off in his head while up in the rigging or, without warning, stop paying attention at the wrong time, the results could be disastrous for both Will and the crew members around him. Jack would much rather have the odd unfinished or rough-looking stair than find out Will had accidentally fallen overboard or worse. He did however made a mental note to hang onto the railings near any staircases Will had been working on. Just in case.

But after two weeks, Jack had finally had his fill. “I’m tellin’ ya, Gibbs. It’s got to stop one way or t’ other. I know he’s torn up o’er what ‘appened but he can’t keep shuttin’ off like that.”

“’e’s not doin’ any damage though, Captain,” Gibbs said.

Stressing the first word, Jack explained, “I can’t take watchin’ it. ‘s like watchin’ a shipwreck o’er and o’er again. An there’s not a damn thing I can do ‘bout it.”

“Give ‘im time, Jack. ‘e’ll be alright.”

“No,” Jack said. Pausing for a moment, letting the pieces of a plan fall into place. Suddenly, and commandingly, he ordered Gibbs, “Set sail for Port Royal.”

“What?” Gibbs asked, sure his captain couldn’t have said what he thought he’d heard.

“You ‘eard me. We’re heading for Port Royal. Will is going to make a decision, one way or another.”

Jack turned and left a confused Gibbs standing on deck and, after a moment’s hesitation, barking out orders to change course and head straight for the very pirate unfriendly waters.

*****

Chapter 6

There was something about the way Jack looked at him that had been unnerving Will for almost three days now. He couldn’t think of anything in particular that had changed recently, but Will got the distinct impression that Jack was frustrated with him. There was a sort of dismissing nature to the looks he received from the Captain now. Will had noticed that Jack often watched him. He’d long since decided it was just Jack’s way of making sure he didn’t cause any damage to the ship while repairing it. Will snorted at the thought – “repairs” indeed. It seemed like he was more often making things worse than really improving them. No wonder the Pearl’s captain saw fit to oversee his work. Still, somewhere in the back of his head, in a very quiet voice he had to strain to hear, Will admitted that there might be other reasons why he was being so often observed.

‘Perhaps he cares about you beyond just what damage you might do to his beloved ship,’ that quiet voice in his head whispered.

Working alone, away from the others on deck, Will answered himself aloud, though he spoke under his breath. “And I should believe that because of my exceptional accuracy when it comes to knowing who cares for me, is that it? After all, it’s not as though I watched my fiancée, whom I THOUGHT cared for me, run away from me at the alter, right?”

In a moment of irritation and sadness, Will realized he’d pushed the awl too hard, and felt it skip out of the groove in the plank and scrape a ghastly line down the polished surface. Dropping his project onto the deck, Will stood up and headed for Jack’s cabin. It had become habit for him, locking himself away in there when he became overwhelmed. The reasons behind that habit were something he’d rather not consider, particularly when he was barraged with images of a laughing, sweet smiling young lady he had thought returned his love.

Will nearly crashed into Jack when the Captain suddenly appeared in his path. He tried ducking around the human obstacle but to no avail as Jack swayed easily to match Will’s movements and thus blocked the way to the cabin.

“Jack, if you’ll excuse me,” Will said tersely, looking anywhere but Jack’s face. He could feel the pain in his chest steadily growing, gnawing its way out of him as images of white lace and curls assaulted him.

“This has to stop, Will,” Jack said, trying to look Will in the eyes. “You can’t keep doin’ this.”

Incorrectly assuming Jack was referring to the work he had abandoned moments before, Will tried to quickly apologize. The sooner he got in the cabin, the sooner he could be free of this horrible, consuming, internal pain. “Sorry, Jack. I’ll finish that shortly and try to get rid of the scratch as well.”

Will tried again to get around Jack but was as unsuccessful as before.

“Wasn’t talkin’ ‘bout your work-“ Jack started.

Will felt his temper hit its limit. He needed to be free from the searing, raging fire of hurt inside himself. If he couldn’t get inside the cabin to let it out in tears then Jack would have to do. Without really thinking Will lashed out, his words exploding, aimed at Jack with as deadly precision as a sword.

“What then!?!” he yelled. “You’d have me believe you care what I feel? Hmm? That you give a damn for me beyond what I do to your precious ship?”

Jack said nothing. In fact, his face was blank as Will raged on. While he remained expressionless, Jack did take slow steps to the side. Will was too furious to notice the path to the cabin was no longer blocked and, just as Jack had hoped, Will advanced toward him. Slowly backing away, Jack led Will to right where he wanted him.

“Is it that I sleep in your bed, Jack?” Will seethed on. “Hoping I’ll become some kind of sorted, perverted pirate like you?”

‘Alright, that hurt,’ Jack admitted in his head. Sure, he’d wanted to see Will be back to himself, show at least a bit of that Turner spirit the youth had previously demonstrated in abundance, but this? This wasn’t anymore Will Turner than the beaten down, almost listless man he’d spent the last two weeks watching over. The words stung, but as his back bumped against the ship’s railing, it occurred to Jack that they also presented the opportune moment to put his plan into action.

Jack glanced behind him, instantly confirming what he already knew about the water currents in this particular spot. He turned back to face Will, his trademark, devilish golden grin firmly in place.

“Didn’t ‘ear you complaining any ‘bout sharing my bed when you were curled up around ol’ Captain Jack.”

The words stopped Will short. Jack watched as not only did the rage melt away but a look of slight recollection and confusion graced the young man’s face.

‘Ah, so it is that you remember at least something about the way you sleep,’ Jack thought in the brief moment before he took action. He grabbed the shocked young man by his upper arms and before Will had a second to register what was happening their positions were reversed. With Will now standing with his back to the ocean, Jack gave a very strong shove at the same time that he expertly swept Will’s legs out from under him.

Will felt dizzy and more than a bit afraid as he watched the railing and Jack quickly shrink as he plummeted toward the water below. He hit with a loud crack and continued alarmingly far beneath the ocean’s surface before his reflexes kicked in. He kicked hard and swam up, breaking the surface and gulping down air. It took several moments before he could stop gasping and regained his bearings enough to look up at the Pearl. Will could make out Jack, forearms resting comfortably on the railing, crossed at his wrists, his posture seemingly relaxed.

“Jack! Throw me a rope. This isn’t funny,” Will hollered up. He’d never realized just how far up it was from the water’s surface to the deck.

“You’re right, Will. It isn’t funny,” Jack hollered back, an unhappy, forced grin on his face.

“I’m serious!” Will shouted as he bobbed in the water. Seeing that Jack was likely to be of no immediate help, Will decided on another tactic. “Man overboard!” he called out in as loud a voice as he could muster, with small waves threatening to fill his mouth with salt water.

It was quickly apparent that none of the crew were coming to save him. In fact, Will realized, besides Jack there was no one else in sight on deck, or at least not that he could see from his vantage point in the water below.

“Now, as long as yer down there floatin’ around, listen up,” Jack yelled gruffly. “I’ve had it with yer lying.”

“My lying?” Will asked in confusion.

“Aye, lying. Tha’s what you call it when someone asks how yer doin’ and you say yer fine when it’s clear that yer not. Now, I’m giving ye a choice, Mr. Turner. You see that land o’er there?” Jack asked, pointing behind Will. He waited as Will turned around to look at the familiar port. “Tha’s yer ol’ Port Royal.” Dramatically looking up the sun, Jack continued. “You could make it there b’fore dark if you started swimmin’ now.”

“You want me to swim to Port Royal?” Will asked in disbelief.

“I want ye to make a choice!” Jack yelled. “You want Elizabeth still? Then you go back and win ‘er heart. You fight, and woo and do what you need cause if you really want ‘er back you can get ‘er, I’ve no doubt of that. But if tha’s not what you want, then you come back to the Black Pearl. Swim fast enough and ye should be able to catch up wif us before it’s too late.”

Looking at the land behind him, then back at the ship that was slowly but steadily moving away from him, Will bawked, “You can’t be serious!”

“I’m very serious Will,” Jack called out. He knew that soon Will would be too far to hear his voice. “One thing’s fer sure, mate: You can’t stay here treadin’ water forever.”

Will watched as the huge ship slowly left him, bobbing in the currents. He felt very, very alone.

*****

Chapter 7

The crew watched as Jack left the side of the ship. Gibbs gave the orders to resume positions. He’d done just as Jack had asked him previously and made sure everyone knew to stay out of sight and not interfere with the argument between their Captain and the newcomer.

Gibbs followed after Jack and finally caught up with him in one of the few spots on the deck that was not visible from most angles. Leave it to Jack to know every nook and cranny on his ship. What he found Jack doing didn’t really surprise him given what had just happened.

*

Jack turned from the sight of Will staring back at him. It was a long distance down but he could swear there was a look of betrayal on the young man’s face. Reasonably he knew there was enough distance that he couldn’t be sure of Will’s expression and it was more than possible he was simply thinking he’d seen that look because he expected it.

With a seemingly confident swagger across the deck, Jack passed the gawking crew without a look or word. He disappeared into a small space between the hatchway and the side of the ship where he knew he could remain unseen. There were actually four such places on this side of the ship that Jack knew of, but this had been the closest. It was also the only hidden area where he could lean over the railings as became necessary when his stomach revolted. As Jack threw up over the side of his ship he was vaguely interested to note that vomiting was no less disgusting when it contained no rum. He couldn’t remember ever getting sick like that without the aid of copious amounts of alcohol.

‘At least none of the crew ‘ill see me. They won’t know how hard that was,’ Jack thought.

He then felt a hand on his shoulder. After coughing once more and spitting several times (and checking his chin braids weren’t wet), Jack turned around to find Gibbs was the owner of the hand on his shoulder currently steadying him.

“All right now, Jack?” Gibbs asked him.

Jack nodded, eyes downcast. After a moment he took a deep breath. “Anamaria’s still in place?”

“Aye,” Gibbs confirmed. “She’s there.”

Jack looked up to see that she was indeed in the crow’s nest, spyglass in hand.

“An’ the boat, she’s ready as well?” Jack asked of the small life boat clearly ready to be dropped to the water’s surface at a moments notice.

“Aye, tha’s ready too.”

“And th crew? You tol’ em to-“

Gibbs interrupted, “Capt’n, we’re all ready to pull ‘im out if need be.”

“Good,” Jack said nodding to himself. “I’ll be waitin’ in me cabin,” Jack said trying valiantly to sound like he wasn’t regretting his decision to toss Will into the ocean. ‘With my nose pressed to the window,’ Jack added in his head. He suspected Gibbs would figure as much.

“I’ll come an’ let ye know the moment somethin’ ‘appens,” Gibbs said reassuringly.

“Good,” Jack said still nodding nervously. “Thank you Mr. Gibbs,” he added sincerely. Jack felt very fortunate to have someone as trusted and, by in large, tight lipped, to help him. After all, it wouldn’t do for the rest of the crew to know he was terrified he’d made a mistake and pestering Gibbs about Will’s safety like some kind of pirate mother hen. No, that wouldn’t do at all. Jack trusted Gibbs wouldn’t say anything, at least not right now when it mattered at any rate. He did however have the sneaking suspicion that some distorted version of the current goings on would surface in the form of a tavern story, though it would be Gibbs reciting the tale and not himself.

Giving his head a quick shake, Jack headed for his cabin to wait.

*

It wasn’t the first time he’d found himself in this situation and somehow, that’s what scared Will the most. He remembered the terror and confusion when the ship he’d traveled on from England had exploded beneath him, remembered a thunderous bang and the deck was suddenly not beneath his feet anymore. He was no child anymore, but being alone in the ocean was still intimidating. He also noticed that there was no broken chunk of ship to cling to and help him stay afloat. On the plus side, he wasn’t stunned by an explosion this time either.

Will had been out in the water for only a short time, but already he could feel the strain in his muscles to keep his head above water in the small waves. This might be pleasant weather for sailing but even minimal waves were rather difficult to navigate when one found themselves without a ship or even a piece of one.

Watching the retreating Pearl, Will felt the first true stirrings of real panic. He was very alone in the seemingly never-ending expanse of brilliant blue water. He looked back at Port Royal. It was farther away from him than the ship, but with the way the waves were moving it would seem to be a far easier swim.

‘But to what?’ thought Will. ‘To a woman who doesn’t love me, at least not the way I loved her?’ he admitted. ‘To a life I can’t have and a place that doesn’t even feel like home anymore?’

Will turned in place and looked back at the ship. It didn’t really look all that far but then it wasn’t as if the wind was just going to blow him where he needed to go. The currents seemed to be working against him, and Will Turner didn’t exactly come equipped with sails.

He tried to relax and float a bit, looking up at the sky. It didn’t work very well as the water was just too choppy to float in. Will was starting to tire and it wasn’t going to be easy whichever way he chose to swim.

*

Jack paced nervously in his cabin, rum bottle firmly clenched in his hand. It was nearly empty as he again approached the window, peering out desperately. Just as every other time, he could barely see Will, a tiny white spot surrounded by sparkling water growing smaller each time he checked. Jack knew it was taking considerable effort to keep the ship moving away from Will at an extremely slow pace. It would probably have been easier to drop sail entirely except then they’d be forced to drop anchor (and thus not move enough) or be pushed by the currents into Port Royal.

Jack was startled out of his thoughts by a sudden crack and bang of breaking glass. He thought someone had thrown a bottle inside his cabin (though that was impossible as he was the only one in there) when a sharp pain in his hand drew his attention. He looked down only to find that he’d clutched the rum bottle so tightly he’d broken it. There were glass shards stuck in his palm and fingers. Conveniently, the remaining rum had not gone totally to waste as it coated his hand, burning and sterilizing the cuts all at once. Jack wasn’t looking forward to having all that glass pulled from his hand. He could feel the blood and rum dripping onto the floor. He knew he should take care of it but instead found himself pressed up against the small window panes, watching the tiny white spot bobbing in the water.

*****

Chapter 8

Jack was right, Will realized: he couldn’t stay there forever just treading water. Nobody was going to save him this time, nobody was going to fish him out of the water, no girl was going to tell him it was all right. Will realized that it was up to him to decide, to sink or swim, to Port Royal or the Black Pearl. With grim determination Will took his first stroke in the direction he chose. It was going to be a long afternoon.

*

Jack heard a knock at his door and pulled his attention from the window. He was less than pleased when he realized that his glass-filled hand had been bleeding profusely, and there was now a sizeable bloodstain on his favorite rug. He looked up just as the door opened and was surprised to see not Gibbs but Henry, the young, inexperienced sailor he’d picked up in Tortuga the night he’d found Will.

“Sorry fer interrupting Captain,” Henry said nervously, “but Gibbs asked me to come in an’ check- Agh!” Henry interrupted himself, finally noticing the bloodstained rug, and, more importantly, the source. “You want help with tha’ Captain?”

“No, no, ‘s alright, take care of it m’self,” Jack said dismissively. “How’s ever’thing … out there?” Jack finished lamely, not knowing how much Gibbs explained to the crew about their current situation.

“Mr. Turner is still in around the same area as you dropped ‘im, sir.” Henry explained. “He’s not made an attempt to swim either way so far as we can tell.”

“We?” Jack asked, suddenly having
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