A/N: Very sorry for the long wait once again! To make up for it, this chapter's extra long. ;) Read, review, enjoy! Also, Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, me hearties!
Someone was throwing up overboard, and it wasn't David.
It was Skittery, and by the looks of things, he wouldn't be the last to rush to the railings and retch that night. The fact that he was the first was a little surprising; Skittery was well known amongst the crew for being able to hold his liquor—however, he was also known for imbibing quite a lot of it when the occasion came, and everyone has their breaking point. Or vomiting point.
Jack's, at least, probably wouldn't come tonight. He was determined to keep up some semblance of sobriety—someone, after all, had to be conscious enough to steer the ship if a storm or other unexpected occurrence happened. All the same, surely no one could fault him for having a drink or two. Or three. After all, this was a celebration.
That in mind and rum in hand, Jack made his way belowdecks again, the sound of badly off-tune harmonica music and random bangs that sounded as though they might have been trying to establish a rhythm reaching his ears as he descended. The raucous yells and loud laughter didn't help the attempts at music sound any more appealing, although it was doubtful that anyone minded, since the rum and ale had long before made their second and third rounds about the room.
Perhaps, Jack thought, as he looked around at his crew, the drinks had even made fourth and fifth rounds, judging from, for instance, Blink, who was drunkenly telling off a completely sober Louie the parrot, or Itey and Snitch, who had each unattached one end of a hammock from the ceiling and were using them to swing across the room like monkeys. Mush and Racetrack had their arms around each other and were dancing a merry jig on a table, surrounded by their somewhat-adoring fans. The contents of their tankards splashed everywhere, making the table sticky beneath their feet, which led to not a few comic falls. Of course, the rocking of the ship and the drunkenness of the dancers probably helped as well.
David, both the honoree and cause of the current party, was among those standing around the table, although unlike everyone else, he wasn't yelling and clapping his hands, and he didn't appear to be totally soused. In fact, he looked rather muddled and unsure, which, as far as Jack could tell, was a usual look for him; but it was hard to watch Race and Mush sing and dance so horribly without laughing at least a little, and sure enough, Jack soon saw him crack a smile. It was quite a nice smile, really.
Making his way through the drunken revelry and debauchery, Jack approached David from behind and slung an arm around his shoulder. "Rum, David?" he asked, grinning, pressing a glass he'd collected on the way over into David's hand.
David looked down at the rum as though he wasn't quite sure what it was or what he was supposed to do with it, and then he looked at Jack as though he wasn't quite sure why he was touching him or what he was supposed to do about it, but at that moment Racetrack crashed loudly to the floor, distracting them both. Jack grinned. Giving David's shoulder a quick squeeze, Jack released him and sprung forward to take Race's spot on the table. Mush hopped down as Jack raised his glass in the air and yelled to get everyone's attention.
It took quite a bit of yelling, but eventually the noise ceased—after Snoddy hit Race's harmonica out of Jake's hands—and everyone in the room was looking up at Jack.
"I'd like," Jack began to announce, noting proudly that his words weren't even slurring (much), "to make a toast."
The pirates cheered, raised their glasses, and drank deeply.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Jack yelled over their enthusiastic shouts. "I haven't said what it is yet!"
There were general murmurs of agreement. "Sorry, Jack!" someone called.
"All right then," he said, when they'd quieted again. "I'd like to make a toast…"
"You already said that!"
"…to our new friend David Jacobs…"
Everyone cheered again.
"…the newest crew member of The World and official pirate inductee!"
To say David looked a little embarrassed would be a horrific understatement, but Jack didn't much care as he raised his glass high to the ceiling.
"So here's to you, David—and to all our new treasure!" Jack threw his head back and drank.
The loudest cheers yet echoed around the room as Jack leaped down again. Blink and Mush were getting completely soaked trying to drink out of the same glass. David was still holding his untouched glass of rum.
"C'mon, drink!" Jack encouraged him, clapping a hand on his captive's shoulder. David took a deep breath, glanced at Jack out of the corner of his eye, and took a large sip, which he immediately spit back out.
"All right there?" Jack asked, thumping David enthusiastically on the back as the latter spluttered and choked.
"Fine," David gasped out. "Just—swallowed it funny—"
"Take another sip; it'll help!"
Reluctantly, David did so, and managed to keep it down this time, although he did make a pained face, as though he was swallowing cough medicine instead of alcohol.
"What, you've never had rum before?" Jack asked incredulously. David shrugged. "What do you drink at home?"
"Um," David said. "Water?"
Jack put his arm around David's shoulder again and guided him out of the thick of the crowd of pirates. "Well, welcome to a whole new world of fun, Davey," he said grandly. "I have taken it upon myself to show you the ways of my people."
"Your people?" David repeated, still looking as though he wasn't at all sure why Jack was even talking to him.
"Pirates." Jack stopped and leaned casually against the ladder leading abovedecks. "Observe."
Jack tipped his head back and skillfully drained his glass in one gigantic swallow. "Easy, see?" he said when he was done, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"What do the other lessons involve?" David asked, raising an eyebrow. "Stealing, pillaging, plundering and marauding?"
"Something like that," Jack agreed. "Though it isn't all that simple, Dave. This life takes grit. Strength. Hard, serious work." He banged his fist hard on the ladder to prove his point.
"I can see that," David said as Jack winced, massaging his hand. Jack barely heard him, too busy turning his hand over, checking for signs of blood. David sighed and took another sip of rum, longer this time.
Having determined his hand to be bloodless, Jack raised his glass again, only to find it empty, and blinked at it in confusion.
"S'empty," he said.
"You drank it all."
"Right." Jack glanced around the room, wondering when it got so blurry. He'd only had, what, three drinks? Five? Something like that. He giggled a little.
"You want to get some air?" David asked, sounding mildly concerned. Jack blinked at him.
"Right," he repeated, and started up the ladder.
Being out in the open, away from the loud noise and stale air, seemed to clear Jack's head and return him to (mostly) full consciousness. David watched his steps carefully, but Jack didn't seem to wobble too much as he strode to the starboard railing and gripped the edge of the ship, so David followed him.
"Nice, ain't it?" Jack asked, gesturing rather vaguely towards the sea and the sky. David looked out, over the dark, clear water, reflected in the sky, dotted with a million stars, and felt…seasick. He groaned.
"I probably shouldn't have drunk that rum," he said, closing his eyes tightly and trying to fight the dizziness.
"You had what, two sips?" asked Jack, sounding amused.
"Three," David corrected. He opened his eyes again when he felt his glass being lifted out of his hands. "Hey!" he protested.
"Well, seeing as how you don't want it," Jack smirked, drinking deeply.
"Haven't you had enough?" David asked, sounding, although he did not realize it, suspiciously like his mother.
"Nah." Jack smiled at him—not a smirk, for once, not a wild grin, just a smile. He seemed in his element here, on his ship on the sea, drink in hand. David couldn't for the life of him figure out why someone would actually enjoy being disconnected to any land, in constant danger of sinking, tossed about by the whims of water and wind. He didn't say so, though, just watched as his captor polished off David's rum with a contented sigh. It surprised David when Jack spoke.
"S'been a good day," he pronounced. "Brilliant, y'know, finding the treasure. I had no idea you actually had it in you. You'll be a real pirate yet." For some reason, David noticed, Jack actually seemed to consider this a compliment. Maybe because he was drunk?
"Um," David said, feeling he ought to at least put this right. "I wasn't actually looking, you know, for a secret stash of treasure or anything."
"Then what were you doing?" Jack asked, furrowing his brow.
David blushed deep red, barely visible in the moonlight, even though he wasn't quite sure what he was embarrassed about. Not being a villainous thief? "Trying to get away," he admitted.
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Oh," he said. He sounded almost surprised, as though he wouldn't have expected a pirates' prisoner to want to escape, let alone to actually attempt it. It was like the idea had barely even occurred to him. He looked at David strangely. David, uncomfortable, looked away, out over the darkening sea.
They stood in silence for a while longer.
"Tell me about yourself, Dave," Jack finally said. "What do you do when you're not writing terrible plays?"
"Terrible?" David repeated, stung.
"Well," Jack said, as though it should have been obvious, "yeah. You didn't know?"
"Know what? That my plays are terrible?" David asked indignantly. He wasn't quite sure why he was taking the opinion of a pirate so personally. It wasn't like Captain Jack Kelly would know much about great literature. Still. Who was he to judge?
"Of course." Jack looked amused at the amount of offense David was taking, which really only made David more offended.
David opened his mouth to defend himself, couldn't think of anything to say, closed it again, opened it to change the subject, stopped himself, and finally muttered, "It must be the rum talking."
Jack threw his head back and laughed. His laughter was so loud and infectious David almost wanted to laugh with him, but Jack was laughing at his expense, and that really wasn't okay, so David compromised by scratching the back of his head uncomfortably.
"You know, David," Jack said when he could breathe again, "you're all right. I had my doubts about you at first, but I guess you're not such a stick in the mud, after all."
"Um," David said, not quite following Jack's train of thought, but willing to go along with it regardless. At least he wasn't being insulted anymore—at least, he didn't think so. "Thanks?"
"Well, aren't ya gonna replicate?" Jack asked, leaning against the ship's railing and grinning. David took a minute to figure out what Jack was talking about.
"Um—I used to think you were going to end up being an evil murderer, but I guess I was wrong?" David tried.
"There we are," Jack grinned, then yawned. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Dave," he said, sliding down to sit on the deck, his back slumped against the ship wall. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes
"And I think you're drunk," David said, surveying Jack as he stretched out on the wooden boards.
"Nah. Just tired."
David thought they were both sort of proved right when Jack passed out cold, still lying on the deck, about thirty seconds later. David thought about returning belowdecks, but didn't really want to go back to the party, and besides, it seemed almost irresponsible to leave Jack just lying there by himself.
That night they both slept out on open sea under open sky.
They clipped smoothly along westwards the next few days, and David slowly adjusted to this strange, unfathomable way of life. They said you could get used to anything, and he supposed that applied even to the (supposedly) relatively rare situation of getting abducted by pirates. Day by day, David became accustomed to the routine on board The World, to the point where he could anticipate when Dutchy would relieve Specs from lookout duty; he had come to appreciate Pie Eater's often burnt offerings in the kitchen (still an improvement on what he'd eaten on board Greyhound); and he was no longer surprised at the daily squabbles that would erupt between Blink and Mush's parrot, who seemed perfectly nice to David. These squabbles sometimes resulted in some short-lived bickering between Blink and Mush, which they both promptly forgot about five minutes later and were back to being a cohesive unit. By the end of his first week, David nearly felt like a member of the crew. One who hadn't volunteered and wasn't asked to do any work, but a crew member all the same.
Like he had been on his previous ship, he was free to sit at the bow and write whenever he liked. But he found that all his words had quite literally dried up in the arid desert setting of his play, and he spent a good more amount of time staring at the blank parchment in front of him than actually putting ink to paper. These writing sessions would usually end in him heaving a sigh, packing up his stuff, and going belowdecks to watch Racetrack defeat all comers at cards. Still, every day, he'd sit in his spot and try, however fruitlessly, to make ideas form into words in his mind, and put them to paper.
"Lemme see, will ya, Dave?" David looked up: Jack had come up beside him at the bow, completely unnoticed. He was grinning slightly as he held his hand out, but it wasn't really a mocking smile, and neither was his request a demand. David supposed he could easily have refused—he was pretty sure by now he wouldn't be made to walk the plank or anything—but, in all honesty, even though they had kidnapped him, he couldn't really bring himself to hate any of these pirates, or even to dislike them. Not even Jack. Especially not Jack, really.
David handed him his script wordlessly and hoped for the best.
Jack lowered his head to read, his hair falling softly across his forehead, jaw casting a partial shadow across the script, forehead constricted in concentration. David watched him reading in silence, and then:
"See, your problem is, Davey, that you're going for the sappy romance. You stink at it," Jack said frankly (apparently it hadn't been just the rum talking the other night). "That's 'cause only saps and losers are good at this stuff, and you're neither. What you really need is some good, action, adventure-y type stuff… Like, y'know, Blood Drips in the Sahara, or something. A real thriller."
"Blood Drips in the Sahara?" David repeated, not entirely sure he could have possibly heard Jack right.
"Sure! Camel chases through the desert, killer locusts, that sort of thing."
David opened his mouth to reply (although he wasn't quite sure what exactly one could say to that sort of idea) but before he could, Racetrack had come up and laid a friendly hand on Jack's shoulder. "Yeah, because wonderboy here's such an expert on Shakespearean literature." Which was really exactly what David had been thinking.
Jack just shrugged. "Tell ya what, David, when we dock on Tortuga, before we find someone to help with the map, I'll show you a real play. The best the island has to offer—it's great."
That did sound rather appealing. It was almost too bad, then, that David wasn't planning on being around for it.
He had had his escape planned almost from the moment he'd learned they were actually going ashore at some point. Provided they didn't leave him onboard—which now he was pretty sure they wouldn't, if Jack was planning on taking him to see a play—it would be all too easy to slip away in the throngs of people crowding Tortuga's streets. The best disguise, after all, was no disguise at all, just the cover of a few thousand unsuspecting people. Once he was sure that he was safe and the pirates had stopped looking for him, David would be able to send a letter ahead to his family, reassuring them of his safety, and finally begin looking for passage home.
Of course, being on board the ship wasn't such a terrible time, as he'd discovered not long after this whole mess had started. From time to time he even found himself enjoying the company of these pirates, so different from anyone David had ever interacted with before. He was fairly lucky, he supposed, to be treated so well, and the whole thing could one day be written off as a very interesting, if short, adventure in his lifetime. On the whole, it could almost be considered a positive experience, as it was rather like being on his father's ship, except that here, they actually seemed to like him more. On Greyhound, he had been simply the boss's son, a gentleman, there to supervise the sailors and the goods. So although he was paid respect to and treated politely enough, he knew there was a boiling resentment towards him just under the surface, coupled with disdain over his inability to tell bow from stern, or port from mizzen. Here, though, there was none of that. The pirates, odd as it may have seemed, were genuinely friendly people.
However, as interesting of a time as he might have been having, it wasn't enough that he wouldn't prefer to be in the safety and comfort of his own home on land, going back to the daily routine of England, safe and free. So even though he felt almost guilty for planning on giving the pirates the slip—some were practically his friends now, strangely enough, so familiar with him he occasionally forgot he'd been kidnapped—he figured it would at least make him even with them for actually having been kidnapped.
David was startled out of his somewhat guilty reverie by a cry from Dutchy in the crow's nest.
"Cutter off port bow!"
David groaned. Not again. Did they have to rob every ship they came into contact with?
Jack and Race turned to look at once, as did David, and sure enough, he saw the telltale speck he had come to associate with an approaching ship. Jack fumbled in his pockets and took out his small spyglass, raising it to his eye. He squinted for a moment, then, sounding surprised, said, "Black sails." He lowered the telescope. "You know what that means." He looked at Race when he said this, which was good, because David had absolutely no clue what "that" meant.
Race whistled. "Guess Spotty's coming for his semi-annual visit," he said, leaning against the railing.
"About damn time?"
Racetrack laughed. David didn't understand any of it. "Spotty"? Black sails? Semi-annual visit?
Jack grinned and patted Race on the shoulder.
"What are you talking about?" David finally tried. Jack turned to look at him, raising his eyebrows.
"Captain Spot Conlon. Brooklyn? C'mon, with your pop in the shipping trade, you must'a heard of him. Most famous pirate around these days."
Well, David had actually heard of him. As recently as last month, as he now recalled, when the captain of Greyhound had instructed the lookout to always ascertain as soon as possible what color the sails of any approaching ships were. So they would be warned if Captain Spot Conlon was on his way. So they could run.
"Semi-annual visit?" he choked out. "You're friends with him?" After spending an entire week with them, David had been pretty certain that The World's pirates were different: mavericks, so to speak, what with their never-fire-a-shot policy and clean murder records, and he wasn't quite sure at all why they would be friends with a pirate with a reputation like Spot Conlon's.
Jack grinned. "You could say that."
David swallowed. "Doesn't Spot Conlon, um, kill?" he asked, feeling stupid for even asking.
"Nah, that's all talk," Jack said. Race nodded.
"Spot's got a bad reputation, but he's not a killer. I mean, maybe once or twice, but only the worst of the worst—y'know, people who really deserved it. Or in self-defense, I guess, if someone was about to kill him. But he's not the slaughter-everybody-on-board kind of pirate. Like most of 'em."
"He's actually one a' the few—very few—pirates I actually like," Jack said, "outside this crew. Spot's a good sort. He'll make you think he's not, but that's really only 'cause he's more successful that way—if everyone's scared of him. It's worked, too."
"Don't worry, Dave," Racetrack said, seeing the look on David's face and correctly interpreting it as fear. "He's really no worse than any of us. Well—close enough, anyway. Unless you're a Spanish king or anything, I wouldn't worry too much."
"Yeah," Jack smirked. "He definitely killed him. Heard the king's wife was so grateful she gave him half the crown jewels. And a nice bed for the night. Hers."
"It's Spot!" Dutchy yelled at that moment from the crow's nest.
"I know!" Jack yelled back, striding back to the main deck, where the rest of the pirates, obviously aided by Dutchy's cry, were also beginning to become aware of this fact. Their reactions varied somewhat—some looked excited, some rather scared, and a few began to swab the decks with what seemed like nervous energy. David wouldn't have guessed pirates did get nervous, and really, the thought that they were made him very nervous. Jack, at least, didn't seem to even notice the air of apprehension.
"So, uh, how often do you actually see him?" David asked, hurrying along after Jack, somehow feeling safer the nearer he stayed.
Jack shrugged, stopping about midship on portside. "Once, sometimes twice a year. More'n that, probably. Usually we end up running into each other on Tortuga, or else out at sea, and he stays and plays poker for a day or two."
"Poker?" David repeated, tearing his eyes away from the billowing black sails that were now clearly visible in the distance to look at Jack. "He comes to play poker?"
"Aye, with Racetrack," Jack said, jerking his head in Race's direction behind him. "It's a…tradition of sorts, you could say."
"Great tradition," Racetrack himself sighed, rolling his eyes and coming up from behind to stand at Jack's other side, all three of them watching the approaching ship. Jack smirked.
"He's just bitter," he told David. David shook his head in bewilderment.
"A tradition? To play poker? You guys play poker all the time." If there was one thing he'd learned in the past week, it was that pirates loved to play poker. And also how to do so (he stunk at it. If the pirates hadn't already stolen his money, he would have lost it all playing poker anyway, particularly to Racetrack.).
Jack's smirk grew wider as he leaned back, away from the edge, gripping the railing to hold himself in place. "Yeah. See," he began, and David could tell that Jack loved this story, whatever it was. Or at least found it endlessly amusing. "The first time they played poker, Racetrack lost."
David waited for him to continue. "So?" he said when Jack didn't, not understanding what he was getting at.
"So," Jack said, "As long as you've been on this ship, have you ever known Racetrack to lose? At poker? Even once?" David thought about it a moment.
"No," he realized. He knew Race was good,but he had supposed the pirate had to at least lose sometimes, as even the most skilled poker player occasionally drew a bad hand. But then, Race did seem exceptionally lucky, and luck, apparently, was something superstitious pirates believed in. A lot.
"Racetrack never loses," confirmed Jack. "Well, hardly ever. And definitely not when playing just one person, and for the first time, too. So it was a bit of a surprise to him when Spot won that first game."
"Dirty cheat," Race said, but it was obvious he didn't mean it.
"Race couldn't believe he'd lost," Jack explained. "And he's been making up for it ever since. He demanded a rematch, won. Demanded another, won it ditto. Every single game they've played since he's won, easy, even if he's lost to other people in the meantime. But he won't let it go. He won't forgive himself for losing that one time." Jack glanced fondly over at Racetrack. He seemed dangerously close to ruffling his friend's hair. "Stubborn little proud bastard."
"I'm right here, you know," Racetrack said, punching Jack in the arm, obviously not very painfully. David was still confused.
"Why does Spot keep playing, then, if he keeps losing? Why doesn't he just admit defeat?"
"Same reasons, I'd guess. Stubbornness. Pride. Figures maybe if he could beat him once, he can do it again. Anyway, Spot's hardly the type to admit defeat at anything. Ever. So they're in constant rematch. I don't think Race'll be satisfied that he's come out ahead even if he takes every damn penny Spot's got."
"Not likely to happen," Racetrack said. "He's got heaps."
"That is stubborn," David agreed. Racetrack shrugged.
"Keeps things interesting," he said, sounding a bit more cheerful now that story time was over. David looked back towards the ship with the black sails, which was getting closer, ever closer. Suddenly, he noticed something else.
"What are those other ships?" he asked, looking at the extra little black dots that had appeared on the horizon behind Spot's ship. Jack had just stuck his hand in his pocket, apparently felt something, and pulled it out; he was now busy counting the coins in his palm and it took him a moment to answer.
"Oh, those're his fleet," Jack said, not looking up to see what David was talking about.
"Yeah." Jack pocketed the money again, seeming pleased, and looked at the growing ship-shaped-specks on the sea. "A bevy of pirate ships that all sail under his command. Useful for sea battles and all that. Mostly they're ships that he captures and doesn't want to give up. He puts men from his own crew to captain 'em, and for the crew—well, there's no shortage of men wanting to sail with Spot Conlon. He keeps his best men on his own ship, 'course. And I think a few of the ships weren't originally his men, but pirates who made alliances with him—former enemies wanting protection, weak pirates who made more of a living under him than they do on their own, that sorta thing. Brooklyn's the flagship, of course, the one Spot's on."
"How many total?" David asked, shocked at the multitude of specks that were becoming visible in the distance.
"'Round about a dozen, maybe a few more. But he doesn't keep 'em with him all the time. Don't ask me what they do when he decides they're not wanted, though." Jack shaded his eyes against the bright sun. "He's nearly here. Think we should go over there or wait for him to come to us?"
Racetrack gave him a sardonic look. Jack nodded his head, conceding.
"Fine, you're right; we'll go over there. Look, there he is up in his perch—" Jack pointed; David looked—by now, you could see him, famous Spot Conlon, or what David supposed was him: a small figure up in the approaching ship's crow's nest, far above the ocean surface, still a little bit aways. "Think he can hear us from there?"
"Dunno," Racetrack said, and was it just David, or was Brooklyn getting closer with increasing speed? He could see faces of men on the other ship, now. Dammit, now the whites of their eyes! David tried to make himself look as inconspicuous as possible, drawing back a little bit from the edge of the ship. Of course it was at that moment Race decided to draw attention to them.
"Hey there, Spot!" Racetrack yelled genially across the water, waving his arm. Spot, Captain Spot Conlon, high up above, looked—and stuck his tongue out. Possibly the least threatening and most immature thing David could have imagined a pirate to do, of all things the first thing he ever saw Captain Spot do. But he had an uneasy feeling that most people didn't come out of interactions with Spot Conlon so blessed.
Racetrack, his greeting complete, contentedly lit up a cigar and leaned back against the main mast.
Jack, meanwhile, had also given a quick wave, and was now trying to assemble a small group to swing over to Spot's ship.
"So me and you Boots, we'll go to Brooklyn," he was saying. David edged further away towards the other side of the ship.
"And Davey will keep us company!"