First chapter of... more. I don't know. Might have BarbossaSparrow down the line, but I'm not all-the-way sure that it will. Just...
This is a story over how Hector Barbossa and Jack Sparrow met.
...A response to a request made a terribly long time ago by Adi88.
The sun was bright and the sails were stiff with the Trade Winds that were as reliable as death and taxes for eight months of a year. Men hammered away at small repairs, others sat with their backs against stowed cannons to mend torn canvas, still others, now off their watch, simply milled about on deck to drink the sea and blink bemusedly at the thin border separating sapphire from blue agate. There were some half-hearted, relaxed arguments about the exact colors, but those were easily settled by one becoming too apathetic to care.
It was as close to Heaven as the sea ever got, discounting the minutes after a successful battle. Just the kind of day that Hector loved to bask in.
Which he would have been doing with zeal, were it not for the little trollop who'd been taken aboard five days before.
The entire affair had been a bit eerie. They'd found him three hundred nautical miles from the Lizard, the last point of England a southbound ship could see. He was aboard a tired little galley, half-full of rice undoubtedly meant for a settlement somewhere in the Spanish Main. There had been no other soul on board, nor sign of struggle – beyond the boy's own fumbled attempts to single-handedly control a ship fit for a forty-man crew.
The Achilles' crew knew easy prey when they saw it, but had nevertheless been well prepared for the traps undoubtedly set for them on the galley.
No one appeared to stop them from boarding. So, they stayed on their guards and searched the rigging and deck for hiding places.
In the cargo hold?
No, there had only ever been that boy, sitting cross-legged on a gunwale and patiently waiting for the nice pirates to stop yelling and sticking him with less-than-sharp, pointy things.
No one on the Achilles could guess at him. It had been four days, and their guest had spent two-thirds of each sitting astride the bowsprit and searching the horizon – just where sapphire met blue agate, and they made a thin white line of the sun glinting off five miles of pleasantly bouncing water – without a word to any man jack of them. The other third of the day was slept away, a body that was all joints curled up in an unassuming ball and shoved between a roped and stowed cannon and the deck's rail for whatever protection from the wind they offered. Food and shelter were accepted with a nod when offered, but never actively sought. Hector himself had shared his ration of rum near sunset one day, and had wound up donating more than just the invited swig.
There had been theories dancing around: he'd gone berserk and massacred the crew – yes, all of them, he was a small lad but a strong one – and the frenzy had rattled the sense out of him; he was an escaped slave from the barbarous Afrikas, with no English with which to communicate; he was a spirit, searching for the way over to the next world. Each theory was more fantastic than the last and spoken more for entertainment value than true hypothesis any longer.
On the morning of the fifth day, the boy was summoned to the cabin of Captain Clovite.
His real name was Clavette, changed because of popular fact that all French were three sheets to the wind and, even worse, invariably awful sailors. He was naturally thin and small, but tried to compensate by eating through most of his share of spoils; through this, he achieved a sickly sort of bulk that turned corners a considerable time after the man himself. The men agreed that, through originally French, he'd tried hard enough to be counted as an Honorary Englishman. Besides, any man who had done enough mischief to the French navy to shift the lazy Frogs into whipping him had to be basically all right. Clovite had quickly become the Achilles' Lucky Clover.
But the boy went below to see him. Presumably, he would be required to talk, and possibly even respond to the world around him, what with having nothing to look for in the distance.
The entire scandalous affair stirred a fresh interest in the boy, and how he'd managed to board the ship all by himself and scarper off so cleanly, and exactly how many (nubile, young) goddesses had been present when the phantom crew had committed the indiscretion that would be their death warrant.
An hour passed, and some of the crew began estimating how long before they should go down and check that the mass-murderer hadn't removed the Lucky Clover of his more necessary extremities. Half again, and Long stuck his weather-beaten head abovedecks to call for Barbossa.
And now Hector glanced back for one last look at the perfect once-in-a-year day as the ship swallowed him once again.
A few seconds' negotiation of tight corridors, and Hector was at the door of the Clover's cabin. He paused and exchanged the residual flat, brackish taste of the deck for a stale, aged, and wooden one of the ship. Then, he checked that he'd no hat on – a pity, but there was an unspoken law that only those who had been in the business long enough could wear any kind of respectable hat – before pushing the narrow door open.
After the tight corridor, the cabin was cavernous. There was room for: the Clover's hammock slung behind the door; a wide, squat window; a writing desk full of mostly-forged privateering licenses from five different countries; and a sea-chest full of flags and ensigns and more costumes for the Achilles than the bloody Frogs during Carnivale. There was a little hole in the wall, leading to the head. No one was sure if the Clover could fit through it, still.
Hector could nearly stand up straight, hunching his shoulders down more and touching his chin to his collar. He was to the right of the boy, who was in the center and hadn't moved over to make room or balance the equation.
"Sir," Hector said respectfully, ignoring the way the boy's pitch-dark eyes hadn't even moved toward him.
The Clover, sitting at his desk, waved a flat, vertical hand between the two sailors he was looking at. "Barboza, zis is ze newest member of ar 'appy crew. 'E'll be on all ze same watches as you, to start, so eet will be your job to keep 'im in line."
"Aye, sir," Hector said immediately, now giving the boy a curious glance. He'd had to work as a bloody cabin boy for a month before being trusted within two feet of a mains'l line, a horrible indignity at fifteen when the world should have moved aside for him. This kid stood around for five days and earned the same.
"Find a place for him. Make eet work." The Clover bent back to his charts, poking a mathematicks compass at the approximate hundred square nautical miles where they might be. After a long moment of looking like he was doing something important, he glanced up and his loose jowls wobbled as he dismissed them.
Hector nodded and moved toward the door, expecting the dark-skinned little mute to follow behind.
But no, he was slipping through the door ahead of Hector, uneven brown hair catching the light from the window and showing huge craters where a thick tuft had been hacked off and sharp peaks that had been missed.
Hector scowled and hurried after him, closing the door as he left. The bastard was already at the end of the corridor, bright sunlight on his face as he looked up the stair to the deck, eyes flickering from the sky to Hector and back. He was gone in a flash, before Hector had shoved himself more than halfway down the hall.
Frustrated, Hector turned himself sideways to shuffle along more quickly, passing smaller rooms that previously housed Navy officers but now were claimed by whatever crewmember held the most respect.
He got up to deck, more frustrated than ever that he'd shot up five inches since his capture and subsequent induction to the crew and more than a foot since he'd been thirteen and just the right size for a position in the cramped quarters of the West India Trading Company.
And then he stopped.
The boy, dressed in too-big clothes that he'd apparently scavenged from his galley, was turning a slow circle, craning his neck to see around men when they were in his way.
Whatever he was looking for, he didn't find it. He refocused his eyes on the sails as Hector came closer, eyes moving quickly over the spider's web of the rigging.
Hector said, "Yer to listen to me. Don't just light off as ye did."
The boy's head returned to face forward, but then he was turning in a faster circle, marking where all of the ropes tied down to the deck. He didn't look at Hector even once.
Hector pushed on his shoulder. He was twice the boy's size, so he didn't put much force behind it. "Ye hear me, boy?"
No response. No acknowledgement.
They had an audience, now. Everyone not on watch, and a fair share of those who were, gathered around to see. One, an escaped Haitian slave self-named Kent, asked, "Ba-boe-ssa. Is the Clova olright?"
Hector shrugged, and motioned to his new responsibility. "This one's part of the crew. I'm lookin' after him. Clover's orders."
"What watch?" an eager, spindly man – Orthon – asked.
"He'll have the same as I've got."
Half of them sighed. Having different watches meant that they would hardly ever be awake at the same time, let alone get to speak to the boy.
Who was, come to think of it, still ignoring him.
Hector was in a foul mood.
The weather was still perfect, and the saltiness had settled on the back of his tongue again.
The next watch was theirs. Hector took the boy forward, to the foremast, and explained sternly that they would be responsible for trimming the sails. Others would be helping, like Orthon and Long, and it was fine if he didn't know what to do – he would learn quickly enough – and he should just try to keep up and stay out of the way.
The black eyes did one run around the horizon, stopped on Hector for half a second, and went on.
That was more than he'd gotten before, at least.
Poor little snot, though. Whatever he'd been thinking by himself on that blasted galley was beyond Hector, but now he'd be expected to pull his weight and some of the knots tied on the sails would make a man's fingers bleed.
A whistle blew, with the universal three-note trill for the mainmast, and then more for the tops'l and to single-reef it.
Hector turned to the boy to tell him what that all meant, but there was no one next to him.
He looked up to see the gangly bastard squirming his way up a rope ladder that led directly to the main tops'l, and Hector had no doubt that he knew right bloody well what the whistle had meant.
Hector felt an immediate, dark resentment – for letting him make a fool of himself, for watching him try to make nice and look after the new crewmate, for still completely disregarding and ignoring him.
He grabbed the nearest rope and struggled up it with much less talent than the boy had displayed.
And then, once they had the sail folded properly and bent and re-knotted and secured, Hector grabbed a fistful of the boy's coarse wool shirt and hauled him over the smooth wood of the yardarm until they were nose to nose and the tripe had no choice but to look at him.
Hector hissed, "If ye know the riggin' and orders, why in Jones' locker have I got to look after ye, boy?"
The mute didn't say anything. He gave Hector a blank, nearly-disinterested stare, and then his eyes flickered up to the upper canopy of crisscrossing heavy rope and all around at the horizon.
"And stop lookin' for whatever blasted thing ye think ye'll find!" Hector pushed him away, now, not caring if it was too hard or even looking to see if the boy would fall.
He didn't, though. He tripped over the heel of his other foot, and then he was going to fall, but he put one foot down and then the other and landed in the center of the heavy wooden yardarm with perfect grace and balance and he seemed almost, but not quite, like a cat.
And then he jumped into the air with his arms above his head, caught the rungs of another rope ladder, and was running up that on all fours, loose shirt trailing after him comically.
Hector was still standing with his arm out, holding nothing, staring at where the quick thing used to be.
The boy went to the crow's nest and stayed there till supper, except for when the whistle blew to trim another sail. Then, he flew through the rigging without apparent need for it, appearing on the appropriate yardarm first and always as far away from Hector as he could be.
The crew noticed, of course. How could they not?
By dinner, every man was discussing his own theory about the boy. He was a spirit, a harbinger of death – just look at the crew of the galley, after all.
When the other watch was called out, everyone had generally reached a consensus.
The boy was a bird, lighting about like that so quickly and on constant vigilance for true land and skulking about in the crow's nest.
Hector had to agree. The way he'd stuck to the yardarm, stepped out of a tumble like that, with the Achilles swinging like a pendulum under them both, gone up ninety feet in thirty seconds…
Not quite like a cat.
But a bird…
Two weeks passed.
Hector took to avoiding the boy. It wasn't hard to lose someone on a hundred-man ship.
And it wasn't hard to avoid someone who spent as much time in the crow's nest as possible.
But Hector finished his dinner early and went up to the deck to watch the moon rise and breathe the sea in. He moved forward, nearly to the bowsprit, and then he came around the other side of a cannon and saw a dark shape huddled against it.
He stopped, leaned closer, peered at the shape for a moment. "Who's that?"
"'E's not coming."
That voice was quiet, and resigned, and not paying enough attention to separate the end of one word from the next. It was young, male, deep (besides the one time it cracked), and alone.
And Hector didn't recognize it.
"Boy?" he hissed, amazed.
"I've a name," he huffed. "It's Jack."
Hector looked where Jack was looking. The moon, this time. At least it wasn't the horizon.
"I'm Hector Barbossa."
"I knew that," he claimed. "I'm not stupid."
"Just dumb," Hector said.
"Clear out. I'll thank you to leave me in peace. You've cultivated a talent for it."
Hector remembered why he didn't like the trollop. He stomped forward to the bowsprit, as he meant to do in the first place. He glared at the moon, too, but it was gloomy and grey, and he breathed in the sea, only it was sour and burned his throat.
The boy – Jack – was standing next to him, or at least near the bowsprit. He slouched absentmindedly, held his chin up, let his arms hang loose and too far away from his body to be natural.
Hector wasn't looking, though. He was still burning a hole through the moon. The occasional rogue wave threw up spray enough to make him damp and press parts of his shirt to his skin, but the salt on his face and hands – and everywhere else; salt was a very pervasive thing at sea – was dry and mildly itchy.
They just stood there. After the laughter belowdecks had died down and most everyone had gone to sleep – besides the ten or so spread out on deck, watching for shoals or prey. After the tired, dim moon began to slide back down toward the sea. After Hector's legs were tired and his feet numb.
Jack was next to him and apart from him. He had that faraway look he got when he was searching.
There was really nothing tying them together beyond the coincidence that they both lived on the same piece of driftwood.
But then, suddenly, Jack spoke again. "I stole 'er." He let that sink in for a beat and then added, "Bella Maria. The galley. I stole 'er."
Hector made a show of being distracted from his epistemic regard of the rigging directly behind Jack. Distantly, he said, "Oh? The one we found ye on, would that be her?"
"She was all alone. Abandoned. I thought."
"Where'd ye come across her?"
He shrugged, making his arms dance and dangle limply. He was looking out over the ocean. "Portsmouth."
"A fit galley, abandoned at Portsm'th?" Hector asked, scandalized. "That's absurd, boy!"
"Leave off the 'boy', ay?" Jack hedged. He frowned, and finally looked at Hector. "She was alone. No one aboard. I kept 'er company, an' she helped me away from dry land."
Something about the way he said it – 'drielund', like two words were one, like a name – struck Hector oddly. He asked, "If yer not searchin' fer dry land, what is it that's out there for ye?"
He was quiet a while longer. As Hector resigned himself to more standing, Jack said meditatively, "I wasn't in Portsmouth for me own jollies. I was left."
There were many different ways that Hector could take this news. He said, "By whom?"
"Achilles isn't me first ship," he admitted. "Nor was Maria."
"Yes, I'd guessed," Hector said impatiently.
"But the Clover is me first captain," he added cryptically, pitching his voice just barely too dramatic to be taken seriously.
Hector decided that he was being strung along and turned to go. "I've no time for riddles, boy."
"I said to leave off that. That's what 'e calls me."
Now, Hector was getting somewhere. "Who?"
Jack sighed. "The one who wasn't me captain, but can still order me around?"
Hector refused to go along. Whatever point he was playing at, he should reach it.
Jack was obviously determined, and said in the same leading tone, "Married to me mum?"
"Ye got left by yer own father?" Hector asked.
Jack waved a dismissive hand. "I'm sure it was by accident. 'E took me out with 'im when we made port, but Drielund always makes me nauseous so I 'eaded back to our Fresca and then I woke up facedown with blood down me neck and a bastard of an 'eadache. Get back to harbor and our Fresca's vanished."
The ship's name sidled into Hector's brain and proceeded to slowly churn it into mush.
"Obviously, I 'ad to get off Drielund, on account of I couldn't think straight and I kept falling sideways. So I found Maria and we away-ed."
Hector raised a hand. "The name of yer father's ship?"
"Teague's Fresca? The terror of the seven seas and most fjords?"
"Named after me mum," Jack confirmed a touch proudly.
"Yer father is Edward Teague?"
"Captain Teague, to me," he mumbled sullenly.
"Ye spent yer entire life up till this point in the presence of Edward Teague?"
"All fourteen years. Why?"
"Simple curiosity. Carry on."
"Right. Anyway, there was a letter in me back pocket addressed to 'Whatever Scalliwag Jackie-Boy Falls In With'. 'Aving nothing else to set me compass by, I went about getting Maria to seem the perfect prey, thereby to find some scalliwags with 'om to fall in. It worked fairly well, and I gave me letter to the Clover directly. Took 'im five 'ole days to let me fall in properly, and then 'e won't toss it back over for me to get a look."
"Yer Maria was prefect prey to start with," Hector pointed out with no small measure of malice.
Jack ignored him, and mumbled slowly, "I thought that – If I fell in with scalliwags prop'ly, right, and they read that letter from Teague, then they'd be able to fix it. I thought…"
"Ye thought ye'd find each other on a million-mile sea without overmuch effort?"
"I don't know what I thought." Jack mumbled. "Not this."
Hector shrugged, and turned back toward the stairwell belowdecks. He hadn't seen his parents for three years, but at least he'd known what he was getting into. He had the vague impression that Jack would like to be alone, rather than with someone who'd nearly pushed him off a yardarm.
Jack said, "'E's not coming, though."
Hector stopped, and swung his broad shoulders around to face him. "Who, Teague?"
Jack didn't say anything.
It was too dark for the other to see, but Hector moved his head toward the lit passageway toward sleep. "Come on and stow yerself, Jack. We've got first watch in the morning."
Jack didn't make any noise as he followed Hector down. Hector nearly looked back for him twice, but remembered the old, old myths about men wishing their wives back from the dead and turning to look before the person was all the way hale again.
So he kept his eyes forward.
Jack hung upside-down by the knees, putting his head about level with Hector's, and looked nonchalant.
Hector gave a long-suffering sigh. "Will ye be needin' somethin', Jack?"
"Though I'm not sure I appreciate your mindset, I will, in fact, be needin' somethin'."
"What is it?" Hector asked.
Jack swung forward until his knees came free of the rope, and then twisted around to land on his feet. He straightened, taking special care to beat off as much dirt and salt detritus as he could.
It took a long time. Hector shook his head and took a few steps away.
"Wait," Jack said.
Hector stopped again, shifting broad shoulders so that the aggravation didn't build between them and begin to ache.
Jack sidled in next him and said conspiratorially, "What I need is – a name."
Hector gave him the look that one man gives another who has suddenly sprouted gills. "Ye've got a name, Jack. It's Teague."
He moved to throw this argument over his left shoulder as if it were table salt. "That's Teague's name."
Hector put out one hand, not seeing the joke. "Yes, it is, at that."
Jack huffed, frustrated. "I mean that it's me father's name."
"That's usually how a man gets a name," Hector said.
"I can't be gallivantin' about under the Teague name. I need one of me own."
Hector shrugged it off. "So invent one, Jack. Pick one from the sky. That's the general style of pirates."
"I'm terrible at namin' things," he pressed. It was the closest Hector had heard him to whining.
"I'm no better. Leave off."
Jack's dark eyes were just as guarded as usual, but they were harder now. "If a blade were to your neck, and you 'ad to say somethin'," he waited for this scenario to surround Hector, letting him get into character and consider it, and then finished, "what would you say?"
Hector said sternly, "It'd be better that a man as actually likes ye names ye."
Jack shrugged noncommittally. "I could always get a new one. Hindsight, and all that."
"Why ask me, though?"
Jack blinked, let his affected stance rearrange itself into a neutral one, and said baldly, "You're Hector."
"That doesn't make sense, ye must realize." Hector cast about for anything to say, and let the first thing he found out into the world. "Sparrow."
Jack cocked his head to the side. "Why?"
Hector took hold of a little bit of Jack's hair and pulled his head to sit properly on his shoulders. "Annoying mannerisms ye've got. The flying is a mite peculiar."
"I can't fly," Jack said quizzically. "But, even if I'm avian at all – which remains to been debated over exhaustively – why would me name be Sparrow, of all things?"
Hector made a meaningless, absentminded hand gesture. He didn't say that it was chosen at random from the handful of birds that he knew, or that he had had a vague thought of it being a land-based bird just for spite.
"Sparrow," Jack said, guarded black eyes thoughtful and looking like he knew exactly what Hector's motivations had been. "It's somethin'. At least you didn't pick 'swallow', ay?"
Hector laughed, surprising himself. He had assumed that Jack went in for physical comedy, tumbling tricks that he showed to the crew and lunatic, drunk-except-he-hadn't-been-drinking jigs. Now he could turn words to jokes as well.
Jack disappeared into the rigging – he didn't much like the deck, did he? – and Hector considered that he might grow to dislike him a little less.
Hector was back to disliking Jack.
Now that he was talking, the entire crew was drawn to him. They wanted to know why he'd been so reticent, where the crew of the Maria had gone, why his hair was cut uneven.
Jack gave them grand yarns. The crew'd gone ashore on an island, probably lured by sirens, and ne'er returned. Jack had stayed aboard only because he'd cleverly tied himself to the railing at the first sign of alluring music. It'd been three days before his hunger had forced some sense into him and he'd got the ship away. Naturally, the ordeal had so addled his mind as to shake the language out.
Weeks and weeks after Jack's adoption, they were tripping and jumping and sliding through the rigging. Jack was the fastest, as he'd always been; Orthon was struggling to stay near him.
When a call came to trim the fore mains'l, Jack flew straight there. The rest struggled through the maze of ropes and knots.
After it was done, Long asked, "Jackie, how d'you do that? You're not really a sparrow, are you?"
Jack scratched at his hair, which was getting longer and beginning to even out. "'Onestly, mate. It's not that difficult. You must merely figger a path through to where you're wantin' to go, and then… go."
Hector, balanced in a naturally formed hammock with his back to them, snorted. "Ye can't know how much weight a line'll take, Jack. Or how securely it be tied. An' knowing the ropes well enough for that would take more years than ye've been walking."
"Interestin' fact, my dear boy," Jack said blithely. "I've been climbing ropes since before me legs sorted themselves out."
"Fine, then. Tell us this." Long pointed at the bowsprit, then the aftermost deck. "From stem to stern, how would you get through the rigging? Without touching the deck."
Jack looked at the bowsprit, at the ropes threading through and around and between each other, and followed them all to the deck.
He cocked his head to the side, thought a moment, and then grinned. For once, there was more white in his face than just his eyes.
"Isn't it obvious? The fore t'pmast preventer stay to the yardarm, the main t'pmast stay to the t'pmast, slidin' down the main t'pmast standin' backstay, grabbin' 'old of the mizzen t'pmast stay and up to where the mast steps, and down the mizzen t'gallent standin' backstay to the deck."
Hector looked at the ropes as they were named and frowned. "The main topmast standing backstay to the mizzen topmast stay? Ye can't use 'em, Jack. That's gap's ten foot."
"I can jump it," Jack said simply. "I 'ave before."
"Yeell die," Orthon said with uncertainty.
"I'm fit, as you'll note. In perfect health. Never fallen from a rope in me life."
Hector said sarcastically, "It's not a thing one's like to do more than the once."
There was a sullen silence as they stared each other down, both of their egos too young and threatened to leave off.
Long looked between them, then said, "Could you prove that, Jackie?"
Hector gave Long a dark glare and Jack smiled.
Then, he was off, darting through too-small gaps and dodging the wind toward the bowsprit for the starting point. Hector watched him closely – he was going to fall, certain sure. Twice on the way forward, he could swear that Jack wasn't holding onto anything at all, just giving himself over into a freefall.
But then he was at the bow, and turned back to them with a loose, harlequin somersault that left him standing at the base of the fore topmast preventer stay, just as he said he'd do.
He ran up it, at full speed, his boots gaining traction from the slope and inertia. When that began to fail, Jack bent at the waist and went on all fours, loping like an animal, still on top and balancing.
He was at the yardarm of the foremast, facing them as they stood on the corresponding arm of the mainmast.
Then up he went again, at a steeper angle, hanging down as a fast-moving sloth, hands and knees hooked on the thick stay and tumbling over themselves to pull him up.
Jack stood fifteen feet above them, now, where the first length of the mainmast ended and the next fastened onto it.
He took hold of the main topmast standing backstay and Hector sucked in a breath.
He wasn't going to do it.
No one could.
As Jack stepped off of solid wood, Hector knew that he was going to watch him die.
He slid down the rope, which had a far steeper angle than the others, quickly, controlling the speed with the soles of his boots and holding his elbows in a hug around the rough stay instead of using his hands. When he got closer to his transfer point, he swung his body to the proper side of the stay and let himself gain just a little more speed.
His soles bit into the rope and he flew.
He was eye-level with the men, now, and coming on the mizzen topmast stay at speed.
He reached out one arm, preparing to hook it around the new rope and then sort out his legs.
The mizzen topmast stay came within a foot.
And then it went.
And Jack was still flying.
Long and Orthon gasped. Hector hadn't started breathing again yet.
There was a cry from the deck when they saw him, and then everyone saw, and then they could only clear a circle and wait a few more seconds.
Jack was facing down, and Hector couldn't see what expression he wore. Reports came later, from those on deck; they ranged from horror to calm, terror to poise. No way to know.
One second later, it was over.
Jack was dangling from the mizzen main stay, a rope twenty feet below his original goal, by one knee and one arm. He was scuttling up it to the next piece of solid mast before anyone realized what had happened, and what hadn't happened.
The cheers had already reached a fever pitch before Hector felt prepared to clamber down the rope ladder leading from the end of the yardarm to the deck.
Jack was leaning against the stern, grinning broadly and basking in the entire crew's attention.
Hector came to the group and pressed in, forcing it to part for him.
Jack's grin flickered.
Hector said loudly, "Good trick, there, lad, must've been terrifyin'!" He wrapped both arms around the much smaller man's shoulders and clapped him on the back several times, knocking the wind out of him and knowing he was doing it.
Quietly, furiously, he growled into Jack's ear, "If ye ever try it again, I'll kill ye myself."
And he let go, backed out, let the others close around Jack again.
He went to stand by the bowsprit, taste the sea, and brood.
Jack was stretched out along the yardarm when Hector stepped onto the end of it.
He was going to leave again – wouldn't have come at all, if the boy would have the decency to growing big enough to be seen from deck – but Jack said, "Did I ever tell you about me 'air?"
His hair was longer, now, and starting to tangle and mat in little bunches. Hector could remember what it looked like the day Jack had been named part of the crew, when whole chunks had apparently been hacked off.
There had to be some kind of story behind it.
He stepped closer, always more careful because of his size. He loomed over Jack intentionally, blocking out the sunlight.
Jack squinted up at him to see what the problem was.
"Now, when ye say that, d'ye mean to give me a yarn like ye do the others?"
Jack gave him a funny look. "'Course not. You're Hector."
Hector shrugged and sat down with his back against the mast and his feet in Jack's direction, facing him. "Fine, then. If ye say it like that, there must be something to it."
Jack tipped his chin up and his head back, looking at Hector with an upside-down grin. "It was me first 'aircut ever. No idea what I was meant to do wi'the extra stuff, either. Just sort of dropped it where I stood."
Hector frowned and asked, "Why were ye cuttin' yer own hair, Jack?"
He shrugged, pulling himself back and forth on the wood, looking back at the sky again and no longer smiling. "You'd 'ave to understand more than you do. Suffice to say that me 'air's prone to tangle – a bit – as is ol' Teague's. 'E's very particular towards it all. You'll never find a man more proud of 'is 'air; even braids things into it, like a little painting of Fresca. Not me mum, but 'is ship."
There was a long stretch of silence as Jack fidgeted angrily, grimacing up at the sky.
Hector said impatiently, ""Ye can't stop there, Jack. Let's have the full thing."
"I 'ad what you may call a… fit of temper. I can't," Jack glowered at something internal, "remember what 'appened, precisely, but Teague made me slightly put out and things were said – amicably, of course, nothin' involving extremely specific and 'urtful insults. Then I said somethin' involvin' me not bein' like 'e was, and I took a big chunk, you know, one of the tangles, as what's started here," he showed Hector a half-inch-long, tightly-wound clump of hair, "–and then there was a 'nife handy and the chunk came free in me 'and. And it was just silly, 'aving one bit shorn off and no more."
Hector watched him closely for a long moment.
Jack had his eyes closed, now, and the fingers of one hand were poking experimentally at one of the short tangles.
"How long after this was it that ye got left in Portsm'th?"
Jack opened his eyes again, but focused them on a nice bit of sapphire sky and apparently struck up an inner philosophical debate over the color.
Hector frowned. "Jack."
Jack fidgeted with his hair for a few more seconds, then snatched his hand away and rested it flat against his stomach. With feigned, distracted friendliness, Jack said, "Yes?"
"Do ye really think Teague left ye by accident?"
Jack rolled to his feet, shoulders curling up to knees and that position somehow leading to an upright one – Hector had seen Jack do it before, but still couldn't understand how it happened. Dark eyes slid over the horizon, but that had to be habit; he couldn't expect to find the Fresca after several months had passed.
They settled on one place, in the middle distance, so that they weren't looking at Hector. "Teague wouldn't've done that, mate."
Hector showed Jack the flat palms of both hands. "Pirate."
Jack jumped without warning, launching himself cleanly off the yardarm to catch hold of a stay that led up the mast.
Hector leaned out and looked up. He called, "Where're ye going?"
"Crow's," Jack said shortly.
"Don't be a woman, Jack. Even if yer upset, ye needn't hide away –"
From twenty feet up, Jack's careful, calm voice drifted back to him. "'Ail the deck, would you?"
An arm stretched out into view, over the lip of the crow's nest. "We've found ourselves some company."
Hector followed the direction – just where Jack had been looking – and saw the tiny white square of a filled sail slowly slipping away from the line of white between sapphire and blue agate.
He looked down and bellowed, "Deck, there! A sail, three points off starboard!"
There went the rest of the day.
Hector was lumbering through the rigging, usually awkward movements turned clumsy and frustrated by a large amount of concealed weaponry sticking him in uncomfortable places.
Most of the crew were fetched up behind the deck's railing, trying to fold themselves and their weapons into as tight a ball as possible.
He, Orthon, Long, Kent, and Jack were up in the rigging, making a poor show of trimming the sails to make the Achilles seem more like the cargo vessel they were masquerading as. They were sailing under the Spanish flag, just as their mark was.
She was a galley, larger than Jack's but more maneuverable – being that she had her full complement of men. Probably not too big a haul, but they might be able to capture her without sinking her and sell her in port whenever they made it.
Hector worked next to Jack, hauling in the rope about half as fast as he could. Below him, the white sail billowed out heavily, now a crescent, now spilling the wind out, now drawing one side up faster than the other, now straightened out and starting to fold in huge, uneven loops that would have to be taken out and redone after all this was over.
To his left, Jack was talking quickly, murmuring nonsense things and correcting himself aloud when he made mistakes that were so far below his mastery of all this.
The galley came alongside and men started shouting back and forth. There were only about fifteen men visible on the Achilles' deck, chosen because they spoke the most passable Spanish – you couldn't make port anywhere in the Spanish Main without picking some up. Hector made out certain words: What, babble babble, port you? Take papers babble port, please. We take, babble babble, papers, babble, loved ones also.
The galley wanted to give them post for whatever port they were pretending to sail from.
The men all raced below, returning with scraps of paper – some still drying from the pen. They were all gathered in a tough canvas bag, and the bag heaved over onto the Achilles.
Jack's dark skin was thinly covering a tinge of green under his eyes. Hector imagined that he would look like this on dry land, if they ever saw each other in such an alien setting.
He finished tying the sail, finally. Doing the work sloppily used a great deal more energy.
Hector shifted closer to Jack. "Ye were reared around this, I thought."
Jack stumbled over a, "Yes," and then swallowed. "Teague never let me abovedecks during. Wasn't a man, said 'e," Jack explained with a tight, desperate smile.
"Well. Welcome to manhood, Jack."
And then the men hidden behind the Achilles' railing started roaring. They all stood up at once, swords and cutlasses and one-shot hand-pistols showing everywhere.
Along the yardarm, Orthon, Kent, and Long half-fell down the rope ladder to the deck, joining the invading army.
Jack stood in a stoop, fumbled for his cutlass, let it alone, and took a few steps along the thick wood before turning back to Hector. "Come on!" he hissed, seizing Hector's sleeve and hauling him toward the galley.
Hector frowned. "What are ye – Jack, we must get t' the deck! The deck, boy!"
The sounds of yelling and steel striking steal and the occasional gunshot, though those were now mostly past, were becoming deafening.
"Ropes're faster!" Jack shouted back without turning around.
Ten feet from the tip of the yardarm, Jack let go and prepared to sprint for a long jump.
Hector shouted, "Ye can't jump over! She's half the Achilles' size; the riggin' don't match at all! That ship's ropes are fifteen feet out and at least ten feet down!"
Jack shrugged. "I've done it before."
"On luck! By accident! Ye missed yer target by too much before, Jack, don't think t' hit it this time 'round!"
Jack hesitated, looked at the brawl below, Hector, the galley's rigging, and up at the sapphire sky. With quiet, patient confidence, he said, "I can."
And then he was running as fast as he could, too quick for Hector to catch one last time. When the wood stopped, he caught the corner with his boot, pushing out and up and flying.
He dropped, and the yardarm was in the way and Hector was already racing to the edge to see…
…That Jack was hanging onto the gallery's yardarm with both hands and nothing else, trying to climb up.
He had made it.
Near enough to count.
Hector breathed out.
He saw something dark moving through the rigging towards Jack and didn't breathe in again.
"Jack! Along the arm, there – one of them!"
Jack looked, and tried harder to haul himself up.
Hector could see the man more clearly. He looked Spanish, as far as Hector could distinguish. He was paler than the mestizos – Spanish-native offspring – of the Caribbean, with black hair and thick eyebrows and a knife.
He'd been taken by surprise by the boarding party, had stayed in the rigging and taken the only weapon he could – a five-inch blade, designed for splitting and remaking ropes. It wouldn't be worth much on the deck, but with Jack dangling as he was and the man only wanting everyone else out of the rigging…
…Well, in that case it would only take enough sharp pains to get Jack to let go.
And it was still a sizable drop.
Jack was looking around himself frantically, mostly panicked, trying to see a way out that didn't involve painting the deck an extremely unfortunate color.
Suddenly, the scene pressed in on Hector: screaming men, screaming metal, occasional splashes as someone fell overboard; Jack dangling, alone and helpless, still hysterically trying to haul himself up; the galley's deck running with every bodily fluid imaginable, and the smell of too much blood; the electric, coppery taste of adrenaline mixing in with bile.
He had to watch Jack die entirely too often. Especially for disliking him so much.
Hector's gun, originally hidden in his waistband, had magicked into his hand, and Hector aimed, and Hector fired.
Jack jerked in surprise, ducked his head down, pressed his face into the sturdy wood of the yardarm on reflex. The Spaniard clutched his shoulder, stumbled, and vacated the arm.
Jack looked, saw the threat gone, and turned back to Hector with wide eyes.
Hector shouted, "What're ye waitin' for, boy?"
Jack looked around one more time, eyes sliding over ropes and knots, and then he let go.
Before Hector had time to become furious, Jack had a rope and was sliding down it quickly.
Then he was on deck and part of the fray and Hector could only see glimpses of him. Maybe he was smart enough to use his speed to his advantage and not get himself killed. It'd be terribly inconvenient for Hector; the rest of the crew liked him well enough, and Hector had been charged with his looking-after.
Hector was too big and unwieldy to make it back to deck fast enough to do any good. The melee was already waning, some Achilles men breaking off to explore the galley's hold for whatever it was worth.
When the massive Clover found it tasteful to emerge from his cabin and begin shouting encouragements, Hector swung himself down on the rope ladder and made his way to deck.
He scanned the crew. Orthon was alive. Long was not. Kent was poking tentatively at a wide, deep tear in his upper arm.
There – behind and under, a flash of dark skin. Hector pushed through the crew to where Jack was resting in a crouch, on the balls of his feet and with his knees sticking out. His face was resting in his palms, he breathed slowly, and his fingers sporadically curled and relaxed at random.
In front of him, Jack's cutlass was sticking out of the collarbone of someone on the galley's crew. It had gone in through the neck, taken his head half off. He was, very obstinately, dead.
Jack peeked out over the top of his hands and forced a smile. "That went well, I thought."
Hector took Jack by the shoulder and hauled him up, and then firmly steered him toward the Achilles. He half-pushed the smaller boy up the ladder to the foremast mains'l yardarm, away from everyone else and using the badly furled sail to block most of the scene.
Then, Hector turned to Jack. "Yer alive."
"That I am," Jack said, trying to slip into an obvious, slightly mocking tone and managing something queasy. He looked down at this hands. "That I am."
Jack shrugged. "After you… I was on deck, and eveythin' was goin' on at once, and I couldn' think so I just protected meself, savvy? I didn't kill any except that man, at the very end, because there was nothin' to do for me own defense and 'e was makin' to kill one of ours."
Hector shrugged. Such things happened. "Will ye…"
"I'll be back to meself in no time, ay?" Jack said, and already his voice was stronger and had that smirk in it, if not on his face.
Hector nodded and turned to go back down to the deck. "Stay here until ye think the men won't notice."
Hector turned back. Jack was still looking at his hands.
"When I said… About Teague. He wouldn't've left me in Portsmouth." He looked up and suddenly the shock and adrenaline were gone and it was the same Jack as had plagued Hector's existence for four months. "'S not 'ow 'e works, ay? 'E would've just killed me."
Hector had no idea how to react to this revelation, either. Poor little bastard had had an odd home life. He just turned to go again.
"And… you saved my life," Jack mumbled with bad grace. "I-owe-you-one."
Hector just ignored this altogether and left to help clean the galley up. He'd saved other men's lives before, and had his life saved no less often. It was the way the world worked. But one thing was certain; pirates never owed other pirates anything.
And, if there were even 'one's to be owed, they were promptly forgotten or greedily collected.
There wasn't anything Jack could do to get rid of his self-declared obligation, anyway. Unless he would consider being less obnoxious.
Welcome to Cartagena.
The Clover was a sentimental man. After they'd fixed the galley – named Eume – up, they had still taken the letters given them by the men to port in order to post them.
The men had gone ashore to explore the less upstanding drinking establishments and contract as many diseases as would consent – or not fight back convincingly enough.
Quickly, like wildfire, word spread from one Achilles man to the next that the papers they had used to register for port had been discovered as false. The ship had been seized, the Clover and anyone else still aboard arrested.
Sentimentality in pirates was usually short-lived.
Hector had heard an hour before, and now he sat with a dark glass that didn't have anything good in it. He ignored the girls that knew how to make a man with no job or home suddenly have no money or clothes, either.
He finished the drink, put down just barely enough to look like he'd paid the full amount, and went out onto the street.
He took a few steps, and then became aware of some drunkard staggering down the road toward him. Not having the patience to deal with begging for one more drink in Spanish, Hector ducked into a narrow alley and discovered that it become even narrower at the other end. He was too big to get out the other side.
Damn the lackadaisical approach to Spanish infrastructure.
Oh, well. If Hector stayed in here long enough for the drunk to pass, it should be fine.
He thought this right up until the drunk half-fell into the alley with him.
"Get off me –"
"Hec-ta, didja hear abou' the Clove', and the ship…"
"Oi was aboard, too, 'cept you went ashore an' you'd be quite surprised, I think, at 'ow quiet a ship 'at big can be…"
"Jack, you're dunk."
"…Now I'm stuck back on Drielund and me 'ead 'urts somefin' terribul…"
"Drinkin' has that effect, in my experience."
"'M not drunk," Jack said stubbornly. "Just 'aven't got no land-legs…"
Hector pushed Jack out of the little half-alley, and then followed him out to the street. He led the smaller man by the arm toward the docks.
"…Where're we goin'?" Jack asked eventually, trying to locate the next patch of unfortunately motionless ground.
"There's a ship in port. A less-than-reputable one. I marked it when we came in. Ye need t' hurry, they prob'ly didn't have space to begin with, but if ye simply ask for passage to Tortuga they're like to give it t' ye. In Tortuga ye'll find another ship without much effort, understood?"
"You're not comin'?" Jack asked slowly.
"No. They'll maybe have room for one, but definitely not two. I can at least keep my wits without a bit of roll under me."
Hector found the ship he was thinking of and pushed Jack up the gangplank. He stumbled the first few feet, and then there were waves lifting and moving under him and he'd just about sorted himself out by time he came up to the side and a crew member gently urged him to stop by grabbing his shoulder threateningly.
Hector waited on the dock with nowhere to go. He'd enough money for two weeks in this mangy port, but only if he was careful and slept somewhere cheap, like outside. If an equally less-than-reputable ship didn't come in before then, Hector would need to be creative about food…
Jack came back down the gangplank. "They said I can stay on, if I make meself useful. I said that I'm best at riggin', but I don't think they b'lieved me. I'll be catchin' rats."
"Lucky," Hector said, mostly sarcastically.
"And they said that they'd no more room. I asked."
"How kind of ye."
"But what'll you do?" he pressed.
"I've been out in the world longer than ye have, Jack. I'll manage somethin'."
Jack nodded slowly, swaying only a little now and not looking to be sick within ten minutes. "You know the worst part of all this, mate?"
"What'd that be?"
"The Clover never let me read Teague's letter." Jack shrugged, as though it didn't mean much at all. And then he took a few steps back. "Well, 've got to get settled in, and all that. They – we're leavin' in the mornin'."
Hector gave a short wave and walked back up the docks, maybe to that little alley. It looked warm enough, especially for a balmy night like this…
He thought about the Achilles, about asking the Clover that morning if he could have Teague's letter, about the Clover saying that there was nothing mentioned against other people reading it – just Jack. He wondered just how many weeks it would take for the little envelope in the mailbag on the ship to make it back to his parents in England, and if they would keep it safe for him as he'd asked in the letter.
Well. If a million ifs turned out the right way, he might get that letter back, eventually.
But he would need to see Jack again.
Damn. A nearly perfect plan.
At least in Cartagena, for the next few weeks, he wouldn't have to deal with the bastard.