Title: A Pirate's Trail

Author: The Other Exception

Pairing: Slight Jack/Will; slight Will/Elizabeth

Rating: Soft PG-13

Disclaimer: I, obviously, do not own Pirates. Nor do I own the dialogue used herein, actually. It's straight from the script. I just added pretty details around it.

Summary: A decidedly slashier take on the "Bread Crumb Trail" scene between Jack and Will in At World's End.

Will tries not to think about the stench of decay or the cold flesh or the deed that is staining his hands with disloyalty as he works. He can't allow himself to think; he must only do. Because that seems to be Jack's motto, doesn't it? Don't think. Just do. Act on impulse and deal with the consequences as they arise. And it's worked for Jack so far, hasn't it? Well, Will amends, despite the fact that Jack was until recently a doomed prisoner of Jones's locker, it has worked. But even that leveled out in the end.

It is a sad day, Will decides as he lashes another rotting corpse to a barrel, when he is reduced to equivocating himself with Jack. There was a day - it couldn't have been too long ago - when Will scorned the very idea that there were any similarities between himself and a pirate, let alone between him and Jack Sparrow. Why now did he almost welcome the thought?

With a groan, he heaved the finished barrel off the side of the Pearl and into the blackened waters below. Will paused before moving onto the next barrel. Should he be feeling guiltier about his betrayal? If Beckett arrived at Shipwreck Cove via Will's trail, there was no telling what fate awaited the Brethren Court and, indeed, the very existence of piracy. And what he should care if the lot of unwashed, plundering, nautical rogues were washed from the seas forever? Will was not a pirate. He could not lump himself in with that crowd. And he'd feel no remorse if he took part in their eradication.

Still, it was bothersome how alike his and Jack's minds had become. No sane man, for instance, would be standing on the deck of a pirate ship late at night amid a pile of decomposing bodies, roping them to barrels in hopes of leaving behind a morbid bread crumb trail for an ambitious mercantile empire to follow. The situation was wrought with Jack's influence. Somehow.

Just as soon as he had begun winding the ropes around the next carcass, Will stopped again, reminded suddenly of his ultimate purpose for all of this troubling activity. His father… trapped aboard the Dutchman for eternity. That, surely, was motivation enough to continue. Yet Will's hands had stilled. Slowly, he pulled his father's dagger from its sheath. The moonlight caught it at just the right angle to reflect brightly off of the blade, knowing nothing about the promise sealed within the metal confines. The promise of freedom…

And yet… Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind, Will lingered on another promise he had made. Elizabeth… In Port Royal, Will the Blacksmith had had every intention of fulfilling his marriage vow to her. However, the seas were a different matter, and Will was no longer only a blacksmith.

"Bravo, you escaped the brig even quicker than I expected."

Jack's voice cuts in like an unsolicited dance partner, and Will does not feel up to waltzing in circles with the pirate at the moment. It is by instinct that the dagger in his hands raises itself to Jack - an empty threat that Jack ignores completely.

"William," he says, hoisting himself up by the rigging and balancing himself precariously on the bow. "Do you notice something? Or rather, do you notice something that is not there to be noted?"

Will notices a lot of things, as it were - the steady pitching of the ship, the unearthly gray tone of the dead naval officer's skin, the pirate's naturally fluid movements, the gentle lapping of the waves against the Pearl. The lattermost of which strikes him as odd, being that that is the only sound which greets his ears.

"You haven't raised an alarm," he replies, sounding more suspicious than he means to.

Jack is gradually making his way down to the deck, and it's a wonder that he hasn't slipped off the slick pole yet. "Odd, isn't it?" he continues, stopping for a time to gesture down at Will's sinister work. "But not as odd as this. Come up with this all by your lonesome, did you?"

Will questions how much information Jack has already pieced together, and how much he can chance giving away. The decision is quickly made to keep mum. He's already mutinied against Jack - it's not worth getting even further on the eccentric captain's bad side. Not at this proximity.

"I said to myself, think like Jack," Will supplies in an attempt at a tease, although it's not far off from the truth of the matter.

"And this is what you've arrived at?" Jack counters, and for a fleeting moment they're not enemies, not pitted against each other in a merciless world. "Lead Beckett to Shipwreck Cove so as to gain his trust, accomplish your own ends? It's like you don't know me at all, mate."

Ah, so apparently Jack has pieced together quite a bit of information. Will can't help but wonder how much of it was intuitive and how much was aided by Jack's own likewise ambitions.

"And how does your dearly beloved feel about this?"

Will's insides freeze at the mention of Elizabeth. He feels himself lowering the dagger away from Jack although he's not sure why. Elizabeth has been one of the three people dominating his thoughts recently, and they are not pleasant thoughts. How did their perfect happy ending become so twisted? Wasn't there a time when Will would go to any lengths to save her? And now they couldn't even trust one another's loyalties.

Jack caught onto Will's hesitation. Indeed, Will surmised that the pirate had asked that question already knowing the answer, just to get under Will's skin. "Ah," he croons smugly. "You've not seen fit to trust her with it."

Trust. For some reason, Will can't meet Jack's eyes after this. He returns to securing the body to its barrel as an excuse not to immediately reply. However, Jack is not easily deterred. Will hears the thud of his boots on the deck behind him, a sound reminder that Jack isn't going to leave. There's no escaping this conversation then, is there?

"I'm losing her, Jack," Will admits finally, his eyes rooted on the disgusting image of a moonlit corpse. He's always been a carefully guarded individual, and Jack Sparrow was the last person Will ever thought he'd be opening up to, but here he is doing just that. Perhaps it's foolish to do so, but Will finds himself trusting Jack, at least to listen. "Every step I take for my father is a step away from Elizabeth." He's voicing the thoughts that have been running rampant in his mind for a long time… although he leaves out that he's not sure whether or not Elizabeth would have him, should he redirect those steps towards her.

He's unexplainably grateful that Jack doesn't turn his words into a joke. Maybe Jack can sense that Will is letting down some of the walls around himself, and how uncomfortable he is about doing so. "Mate," Jack says, his voice low and serious, "if you choose to lock your heart away, you'll lose it for certain."

Will does look up at this. Jack had just outright said that he didn't want Will to defeat Jones. Back on Isla Cruces, his reasoning for this was that with Jones dead, there'd be no one to call the Kraken off its hunt for Jack's blood. But the Kraken was dead; they'd both seen it with their own eyes. Then why…

The confusion must have been evident in Will's face, because Jack moves away from Will and begins what the former blacksmith knows to be one of his manipulative monologues. "If I may lend a machete to your intellectual thicket," he starts eloquently, his back turned. It's one of those perplexing things about the pirate (one of many) - his need to walk around while delivering said manipulative monologues. Perhaps by giving his intended audience something else to focus on, it distracts them from paying too much attention his nonsensical and oftentimes radical words. "Avoid the choice altogether," he's saying. "Change the facts. Let someone else dispatch Jones."

Brow furrowed, the nonplused "Who?" escapes Will's mouth before he can consciously process asking it. Jack's head is turned just enough so that Will can see his eyes slide backwards towards the blacksmith, the gold in his teeth glinting mischievously in an unsettling way. "You?" Will ventures, hardly daring to believe he had caught the hint correctly. That made no sense - why would Jack sacrifice himself like that for the sake of Will's promise?

"Death has a curious way of reshuffling one's priorities," Jack explains in a would-be profound manner. To Will's ear, it just sounds as though Jack's making a joke that only he understands. And in the next second, Will's reminded of the second peculiar thing about Jack - his need to stand uncomfortably close to his prey when imparting his final point. Those dark, kohl-rimmed eyes are glued on him, creating a much more intimate feel than Will wants. He shifts on his feet.

"I'll slip aboard the Dutchman, find the heart, stab the beating thing," Jack proposes, his eyes alight with possibility. He's making it sound entirely too easy for the job he's describing - not like he's undertaking a life-or-death operation, merely casually discussing what he plans to do for the day. "Your father goes free, and you're free to be with your charming murderess."

There's a catch, Will knows it. He just has to find it. And quick - before Jack can manage to conclude the act of persuasion he's putting on. Will allows the jibe at Elizabeth to roll off him harmlessly. Besides, a dark part of him thinks, he hasn't quite forgiven her for condemning Jack to death yet.

Will buys time. "And you're willing to carve out your heart and bind yourself to the Dutchman," he presses. "Forever."

"No mate," Jack rejoins without delay, a grin spreading itself onto his face. "I'm free forever. Free to sail the seas beyond the edges of the map, free from death itself."

Jack just doesn't understand the gravity of what he is suggesting. And although Will supposes he can see the appeal of immortality from the standpoint of someone who has been resurrected, in the sense, the eternal Captain of the Flying Dutchman is not a fate he'd ever choose for himself, given the choice. As he sees it, he doesn't have that choice. Jack does. There's no need for him to submit himself to that future.

"You've got to do the job though, Jack," Will says, bent on dissuading Jack from his intentions. "You have to ferry souls to the next world. Or end up just like Jones." He strokes his chin for effect, noting that he hasn't had a chance to shave the stubble from the past day.

What freedom could be had in a cursed position like that? Why would Jack want that for himself? And why was Will so determined not to allow Jack to bring that fate upon himself?

Jack makes a childish face. "I don't have the face for tentacles," he laments, touching his own chin in turn. "But immortal has to count for something, eh?"

Will knows he hasn't fully discouraged Jack from stabbing Jones's heart himself - Jack can prove quite stubborn at times, especially when he believes he's acting for his best interests. Which, Will understands, he isn't. Jones isn't free in any sense of the word, and neither would Jack be. A caged Sparrow would be even worse to behold than a dead one.

"Oh!" Jack suddenly exclaims, seemingly just remembered something. He dives into the pockets of his surplus clothing and somehow manages to retrieve his compass, which he then offers to Will. Hesitantly, Will takes the proffered compass, his fingers brushing Jack's lightly. This was what Beckett had originally been after - what use was it now, since Jones's heart was already in the East India Trading Company's possession?

"What's this for?" he asks, uncomprehending.

The sudden atmospheric shift between them is damn near palpable. Jack falters for the briefest of glimmers, apparently torn among responses. Will is struck with the urge to take a step back. Since when was Jack so close to him? The pirate's eyes haven't left his.

"Think like me," Jack finally settles on. "It'll come to you…"

Silkily, Jack closes the distance between his mouth and Will's. Jack's bristly beard is suddenly scratching against Will's chin, his rough lips pressed into Will's own, his hand sneaking its way into Will's sea-sprayed tresses. Will can't react - can barely even form coherent thoughts - as Jack pushes forward, causing Will to retreat blindly.

The kiss breaks - whether it's his or Jack's doing, he doesn't know - and all Will can say is a breathy, "Jack…" Then Jack's hands are on him again, but in a decidedly less affectionate manner - they give Will a hard shove and Will is unexpectedly sent backwards over the open railing of the Pearl. It doesn't take him long to plummet into the icy cold water, resurfacing just in time to hear Jack's parting words.

"My regards to Davy Jones!"

The barrel Will had been working on from before lands a short distance away.

Will feels the heat rising to his face despite the temperature of the ocean. "I hate him."