Like Fading

It was raining, big drops that hit the wooden deck of the ship like acorns scattered from a tree, hard and loud. The sea was relatively calm, however, and the captain of the ship headed for the Holy Land didn't think they would be facing a serious storm any time soon. He retired to his upper-deck cabin to wait out the rain while most of the crew headed below. They all avoided the lone figure standing near the bow, immobile and seemingly oblivious to the cold, heavy drops.

Will Scarlett appeared at the entrance to the hold, facing into the rain rather than away from it. He ignored the crew moving past him as firmly as they were ignoring the person whom— after a quick shake of his head to ensure his long-uncut hair didn't drip water into his eyes— Will headed across the deck straight towards.

The rain speckled his shoulders with clammy spots like touches from a corpse, but he didn't stop moving until he reached the rail of the bow, and was able to reach out and brush his fingers against the warm flesh of a tightly strained arm.

"Djaq," he said.

She didn't flinch at his touch but he could tell it was an effort for her not to and he quickly dropped his hand. However, he moved a step closer and angled his body slightly behind her, trying to protect her at least a little from the rain, though her hair and shoulders were already soaked. She didn't seem to notice either her wetness or his stance, and so he felt compelled to point out,

"It's raining."

A small tremor passed through Djaq's body, making Will long to reach out and massage the tension from her shoulders, but he held still as she said in a deliberately calm voice,

"I can't go inside."

He could tell she was only responding because she didn't want to be rude to him. It was painfully obvious she didn't want to talk, but Will wasn't giving up that easily.

"Robin's taken over the galley," he told her as if she'd asked. "To look over all his maps. John even came out of his bunk for a little bit, and Much and Allan are there too— I think they almost spoke to each other once."

Djaq gave another twitch that may have been part of a laugh, though she remained rigid and facing the water. After a long moment of silence, Will tried again.

"We could heat water in the engine room and use Robin's cabin for a bath—" He broke off, face heating even in the cold damp air. "I mean, you could use it. You. . . I wouldn't—"

Djaq definitely choked out a laugh this time, leaning back slightly until her back brushed Will's chest.

"I can't go inside," she repeated with a shuddering sigh as he tentatively brought his hands to rest near her elbows.

"Is it the crew?" he asked, leaning forward to see her face, trying to understand. "Because they're in their bunks too." He was unable to keep the anger from his voice as he added, "They won't bother you."

Not like the first day. He didn't say the words aloud, but the memory stabbed sharply at him nonetheless. Following Allan's final leaded proclamation— that the Sheriff and Gisbourne had Marian and were bringing her along on their venture to the Holy Land to kill the King— they had rushed like horsemen of the apocalypse to the shore, stopping only at their camp to gather what necessities they could while Robin refused to dismount and progressed from suggesting to ordering to demanding the longer they took. He had used a similar technique to find them a ship with a waiting captain and crew willing to move up a planned trade excursion to the Holy Land, run a quick check of supplies, then usher his outlaws aboard.

Anxious and exhausted, they had gratefully started up the ramp leading to the ship, until the grizzled first mate, standing at the top, had thrown out an arm and barred their way.

"We don't take none of their kind on our ship," he had growled, glaring down at Djaq, who had been last in line and thus still standing on the dock. Robin, the farthest up the ramp, had thrown at glance behind him then released a rather colorful stream of profanity at the first mate.

"You travel halfway across the world to trade with Saracens and sell their goods here in England but you won't allow one on your ship?" he had eventually said, voice red-hot with anger and disdain.

"I don't care whether she's a Saracen or the bloody Queen Mother," the first mate had answered, his voice rising in response. "No goddamn woman is getting on this ship!"

The rest of the outlaws had let out furious exclamations at that statement, but Robin had gone still and cold, stepping closer to the first mate so they were eye to eye. "Her name," Robin had said, low and dangerous, "is Djaq. And she's one of us. Now, you don't have to understand that, but you do have to accept it. Or you may force me to do somethingI really don't want to do." His hand drifted to his sword hilt, his voice lowering even more, his gaze unblinking. "You see I have no doubt you could steer just as well with nine fingers."

There had been a moment when Will had been sure the first mate was going to continue to refuse and it would come to blows, but then he turned away with a sneer and violently spat, "Fine. But make sure you keep her under control."

Unable to contain himself, Will had shouted, "She's not an animal!" The first mate hadn't acknowledged him and Robin had turned to him with a glare that had said clearly Stay out of this. Hands shaking with fury, face hot and jaw clenched, Will had turned to Djaq. . . to realize she was still standing on the dock, and hadn't said anything at all.

"Let's go," Little John had encouraged, a valiant effort as he himself had looked petrified of setting foot on the ship. Allan had added a blatantly cheerful "Come on!" while Much had been the most direct with "You know once you're on you won't be getting off until the Holy Land." Will had taken a step back down the plank, staring at Djaq. She looked different than he had ever seen her before— young, vulnerable, and terrified. Her eyes were wide and her arms were wrapped tightly around her body as she physically leaned away from the ship as though it was a monster about to attack.

The sight of her looking so unlike herself, so scared and so fragile, had filled Will with something akin to horror and he had found the words to ask what was wrong stuck in his throat. Djaq had met his gaze but for a second didn't seem to recognize him; then she had begun to shake her head, mouth opening—

"Djaq!" Robin had burst out impatiently, whirling around at the top of the ramp when he noticed the delay. "We don't have time for this! If you're with us, then you're with us."

Djaq had continued to stare at Will for a moment longer, and he found along with his words his breath had also been stopped somewhere in his chest where it was starting to pierce him with a terrible pain.

"I'm with you," Djaq had called after what felt like the longest pause in Will's life.

"Good." Robin flashed her a brief but grateful smile before disappearing aboard the ship. Somewhat hesitantly, Much had followed, then Little John with his arms spread for balance, and finally Allan with a separate look for both Djaq and Will. Both had acknowledged him with slight inclinations of their head, then Will had taken another step down the ramp, feeling shaken and unsure and helpless. Slowly, he had stretched out his hand.

Moving in sharp, jerky bursts, Djaq had taken it, and had allowed herself to be led aboard the ship. The moment her foot had touched the deck she had pushed away all traces of unusual emotion and snapped almost violently into her calmest, most efficient mode— the one she used for escaping castle guards or treating grievous injuries. She had helped organize their supplies, she had claimed a bunk, talked for a while with Allan, played peacemaker between him and Much, but never once had she spent more than a few minutes below deck. When everything and everyone had become more or less settled she had retreated quietly to the bow and took up the position she was still occupying now, half-facing the far receded English shore and stridently ignoring the rain.

"It's not the crew," Djaq said in response to Will's question. He craned his neck still further, trying to catch her gaze, but she turned her head in the opposite direction, an uncommonly shy gesture that made Will frown. Unsure of what else to say and not wanting to press whatever was upsetting her so deeply, he rubbed his hands down her arms, trying to warm her frigid skin.

"You're getting all wet," Djaq murmured, but Will didn't stop until she leaned more heavily into him, her head coming to rest below his shoulder. With her head tilted back, he could finally see her face, but her eyes were closed. "Being inside reminds me too much of my first ship voyage," Djaq explained at last. "When I was a slave to be sold to the highest bidder."

Will froze, his insides going as cold as the rain around them. Any time he thought of Djaq enduring the hardships he knew she had, he felt frustrated and queasy, but this time it was far worse. How could he have forgotten? He should have said something to her, to Robin. . . the way she had looked just before getting on the boat—

Djaq must have noticed him stiffen behind her because she rolled her shoulders against him with a small noise of disquiet. "You are blameless," she said firmly.

Will dipped his head, the sickening guilt still rolling through him. "So were you," he said to her shoulder.

She shivered under his hands, and he knew it wasn't just from the rain. "It did not feel like it," she whispered, a confession rather than a comeback. "After a while."

Never good with words, Will felt there were absolutely none he could use right then that wouldn't be wretchedly inadequate, and yet there were a thousand things he wished to say. So instead of speaking, he took his hands from Djaq's arms and slid them to her stomach, wrapping his arms tightly around her body and pulling her gently back into him.

Djaq resisted at first and Will paused. The newfound intimacy released in the final, desperate moments of the barn still felt strange to both of them. Their actions and admissions that day had broken all their unwritten rules regarding each other and their relationship, and now they were floundering a little with the fluid boundaries.

After a moment, however, Djaq relaxed her tense posture and Will followed her, their bodies melding together with physical if not mental comfort. The rain continued to fall, streaking paths from Will's hair to Djaq's cheeks, from her face to his arms; like trading tears. The cold was seeping thoroughly into both of them, their shivers coming in time with each other, though Djaq's were significantly larger. Her eyes still closed, she turned her head at last away from the ocean and towards Will's neck, speaking in a barely controlled rush.

"I can't get it out of my mind." The words came sharp and fast, sounding like Djaq was desperate to say them but not to hear them. "Any of it. That journey, or what came before. When I think of home. . ." She shook her head against his shoulder, sucking in a rough gasp. "I can't think of home. All I can think of is that time when it stopped being home and became. . ." She said a phrase in her native tongue that Will could understand just by her tone— furious and horrified. A separate shudder ripped through Djaq's body and Will tightened his hold on her, bending his body to bring them closer.

"I cannot think of it being home, and I cannot think of going back," she whispered, shamed and halting, as though each word was forcing its way out and causing her pain on the way. "It doesn't seem real. . . It has become a different place to me, a different life, and I cannot even imagine being there again, after so much has changed. I almost believe this ship will simply sail off and disappear into the sunset. . ." There was a wetness on Djaq's cheeks that Will felt sure wasn't from the rain. "Either it will. . . or I will." She drew in a ragged breath. "It's like fading is the only way. . . the only way to keep this from being too real."

The naked fearin her voice struck something deep inside of Will. He understood exactly what she was saying. The thought of sailing to the Holy Land was one he couldn't truly accept the reality of yet either. The utterly foreign land was a blank spot in his mind, like a map that had yet to be filled, marked only with the phrase Here be monsters. The farthest he'd ever been was Scarborough; the most exotic place he could picture was the bustling main road on the way. It was easy to believe the ship was sailing off into some nether-world rather to a real place with real people and real dangers. Will guessed John and Allan were thinking much the same as him, though he had seen Robin and Much's eyes and knew they were not.

Shifting, Will angled his head until his lips were near Djaq's. The kissing thing was another boundary broken in the barn. Until that ultimate, wrenching confession lips had been off-limits by unspoken agreement, while safer areas like hands and forehead had not. Will had only kissed one other girl in his life— her name was Elizabeth, and they'd both been eight years old. She had made a face and said she didn't want to play with him anymore if he was going to be gross; he had been properly mortified and hardly ever touched her again for the remainder of their adolescent friendship. While Will doubted the same thing would happen with Djaq, his lack of experience added another layer of hesitation to his actions.

His lips brushed against hers and at first it wasn't quite a kiss; Djaq was still shaking and Will was still unsure, but after a moment the strangeness disappeared, the natural ease discovered in their first kiss returned and their mouths slid together like puzzle pieces.

Djaq twisted her body until she was facing Will, winding her arms slowly around his waist, hands faltering and tangling in his wet shirt. He realized then she was just as nervous and unsure as he was, and that despite her anguish from the ship's journey she hated being vulnerable, even with him. With that thought he kissed her harder, pressing his body firmly against hers, giving her something solid and real she could accept or resist. Lips parted under the pressure and their tongues met with a touch as sudden and electric as a flash of lightning, shocking them both into pulling back, struggling for breath.

Overwhelmed and overcome, Will moved his lips to Djaq's cheek, a safe area that didn't seem quite so safe anymore.

"No one," he whispered to her, voice low and hoarse, "is going to disappear into the sunset. Not tonight." Djaq twitched against him. He stroked a hesitant hand down her back, felt compelled to add, "In case you haven't noticed, it's raining."

Djaq pushed fully away from him at that, a smile on her lips but a plea and an apology in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but Will took her hand before she had the chance, tugging her across the deck.

"I'm not going inside," she stated, some of her earlier desperation returning and coloring her voice with panic, while her face drained of color.

"I know." Will continued to pull her along, away from the rail, past the entrance to the ship's lower deck, around the captain's quarters until they came to the steps on the side leading to the poop deck. There, between the stairs and the wall, a folded sail had been draped and then secured, forming a small canopy below which was an open yet still relatively dry space.

"I asked the captain if I could hang a hammock here," Will said quietly, watching Djaq in the corner of his vision as she looked at the structure with wide eyes. "But since it was raining it didn't make much sense. . ." He looked more fully at Djaq, though she continued to stare at the sail. "I knew you hadn't been sleeping though I didn't. . . I hadn't thought. . . I-I hope this is all right."

Djaq didn't speak, or turn to look at him, but her hand that until then had been limp in his hold tightened and she nodded tightly. Then, taking a deep breath as though preparing to dive under water, she ducked under the sail and settled herself on the deck beneath it, preventing Will from hanging back by keep her grip on his hand and pulling him in beside her. The space was almost small enough to be cramped and Will shifted nervously, doing his best to give Djaq enough room. His boots stuck out while she sat sideways at the very edge of the sail, her breathing still heavier than normal though her grip and her gaze, now meeting Will's, were steady.

The rain continued to patter gently on the wood and canvas around them while they looked at each other, and Will knew they were thinking the same thing. It wasn't perfect, the shelter or the ship or the way they were taking this journey and all the reasons why, but— Will flicked his gaze down to their entwined hands, Djaq's scars and his calluses visible even in the dim light— neither were they.

Djaq moved a few inches closer, turning a little and inclining her head until it rested on Will's bent knee. He released her hand to put an arm across her shoulders, not drawing her closer but letting her know he didn't want her to move away. It was an strange position, uncomfortable and clumsy, but it was exactly what they needed then and in an awkwardway it felt right. It felt real, and they would be holding onto that feeling even tighter than they were holding each other, letting it be the reality that would keep them both from fading away.