Title: Once In a Blue Moon, Chapter 1: Bon Voyage
Author: Webcrowmancer (webcrowmancer at hotmail.com)
Pairing: Will/Jack
Rating: NC-17 for adult themes, language and m/m sexual content (that would be slash and smutty thoughts, as well as rampantly gay lovin' fluff 'n' stuff)
Summary: 'You're a pirate after all, lad. Stolen my heart, true enough.' Will joins the crew of the Black Pearl and learns the true meaning of the word 'Matelotage'.
Disclaimer: I wonder what The Mouse Inc. would say, considering they are among one of the corporations to award gay-couple employees with domestic partner benefits. ;-)
Feedback: Yes. :-)
Author's Notes: Matelotage - French for Seamanship.
Also the unique name applied to the bond between two 'sailors' (pirates) in the Caribbean; they shared everything, including wives, assets, plunder, and bed. Probably the closest thing to recognized gay marriage the historical world has seen beyond the Theban Band - brothers/lovers in arms.
Lucky for us slashbucklers, it's an absolute fact and historical precedent. ;)


Will caught up with Jack Sparrow as the pirate and his straggling, hung-over companions wove their way down to where their longboat was secured. "Jack," he called, quickly striding along the pier with his satchel. "Jack Sparrow."

Jack turned and did a double take as Will joined them. "Well, well. Young William Turner. Haven't we been here before?"

Will glanced about them, at the surrounding tableau where he and Jack had departed Tortuga before, on the Interceptor, after sizing up their first crew. "Indeed, this very spot."

"Still got the hat. Good." Jack grinned at him. "Thought maybe you'd given it up for the hammer and tongs. Thought you'd be getting wedded and bedded by now. What, did the old man change 'is mind about your suitability, then?"

Will stifled a smile. "Elizabeth is fine, as is her father. We're engaged. We're to be married next year, come February. Governor Swann agreed we needed time to settle things properly. Arrangements to be made, and all. Listen, you're leaving; may I join you?"

Jack considered him, looking him up and down. "For as long as it takes to reach the Pearl."

Will realized Jack was in a hurry to be on his way. Damn the man's penchant for rum. If he'd been sober the previous night in the tavern, Will would have approached him then. But Jack had been sloshed. Completely. And he'd not had an opportunity to approach any sooner. He hadn't known that Jack would be sailing out so soon. He'd only just caught up with them in time. And the hell of it was, he had been waiting around in Tortuga for weeks, after learning that the Black Pearl might indeed be stopping there to pick up more crew and supplies.

He sighed to himself as he sat down in the longboat with the others. Jack was sitting opposite him.

A hand on his knee made him look up in surprise as Jack leaned forward. He'd not forgotten Jack's tendency to lean into people's personal space, but he still wasn't quite prepared for it. Something about the gesture seemed too intimate, despite the close quarters of the longboat, and Will stifled a flinch as he simultaneously tried to sort out the idea that it didn't bother him enough, that in fact Jack's seemingly friendly move took his welcome for granted.
"So was it that you were a eunuch after all, then?" Jack's grin also took too much for granted.
Will wanted to wipe it off his face. But he was hardly on safe ground, his previous association with Jack Sparrow notwithstanding. He couldn't afford to rise to Jack's inane jibes. He swallowed and drew himself up.

"I'm man enough," Will said earnestly. "But apparently not pirate enough, according to Elizabeth. I failed to meet her standards as a seaman, a brigand and a scoundrel." Will gave Jack a dry, self-mocking smile. "She said she wouldn't marry a man who'd never sailed beyond the Spanish Main and had no knowledge of the world."

"So the lady was expecting a pirate and instead found her blacksmith not quite impulsive enough for her liking. And you've come to me for lessons," Jack surmised, shrewdly.

"In a word, yes." Will wasn't sure how well this would go down. After all, Jack Sparrow had hardly been impressed with either his seamanship or his attitude during their venture to regain Elizabeth. And Jack's ship.

"Piracy isn't taught by pirates, lad, but life."

"Life aboard the Black Pearl, Captain," Will carefully agreed, with a nod. "Living aboard your ship, and under your command, among pirates."

Jack's eyes narrowed. "Well-said, but it's hardly enough to endear you to me crew. They won't take kindly to a lovelorn land-lover who's not yet proven his worth."

Jack wasn't playing and Will realized his interview had begun in earnest. "So give me the chance to prove my worth, Captain. You'll not regret it."

Will had started out addressing Jack formally to make a point, but now he suddenly found he had to rethink his approach. If he failed to meet Jack's estimation of a worthy crewman now, his chances of being accepted by the rest of the crew were nil. Yet, Jack was probably the one man aboard who would be willing to accept him at all, even if just for sentimental reasons, with him being Bootstrap Bill's son.

Jack had turned away and was regarding the ship with a serious gaze as they approached the Black Pearl.

"I won't let you down," Will promised in a low voice, acutely aware of the other men sitting in the boat with them. "We stood together before. And you know my sword-arm is good. Give me just one chance, Jack. Please."

Jack's dark eyes were a little too deep, unfathomable and holding some strange consideration Will couldn't begin to wonder at, as he held Will's gaze. He said nothing, however, and Will began to grow uncomfortable, wondering if Jack considered him not worth the trouble, or the risk. Instead, a knowing smiled crept onto Jack's face as he continued to regard Will. Will bit his lip, wondering if he was the one actually taking something for granted, such as their friendship. Finally Will looked away, willing to wait for the answer.

Of course, Jack seemed to take that as his cue. "We'll see, won't we?"

Will glanced back at him sharply, as it returned to him that he was, after all, among pirates.

The sun was bright on the water as the longboat neared the Black Pearl. Will was unaccountably struck by how glad he was to see her again. He felt it as an uplifting swell inside that nearly made him giddy.

An almost inaudible chuckle reached his ears. He glanced over at Jack who was watching him. "Good Turner blood," Jack commented quietly.

And then they were preparing to board, they were climbing upwards, with Jack going first, and the other men after him. Will had no chance to reply or ask further. Once on board the Pearl, Jack departed with the others and Will was left standing alone on the deck, wondering if he'd be made to swim back to shore.

He stood aimlessly on the deck for a while, shifting his heavy satchel from one arm to the other, watching as every crewmember aboard seemed preoccupied with busily preparing to make way, ignoring him.

Soon though, he caught sight of Jack returning to him, and he found himself tensing expectantly as Jack came to stand beside Will where he still waited.

"All right, William Turner," Jack replied, a hint of meaning in the way he spoke the name. "I've had a word with some of the others, and you'll receive an equal share of all takings. We have decided to make for Madagascar. It's very possible we'll see action along the way. You're willing to place your sword with ours?"

"I am," Will said.

"Good. Can't promise that we'll be back in the vicinity of Port Royal come February, but we'll try. Got unfinished business there, as it is."

Will considered him, bewildered. "Unfinished business?"

Jack nodded. "Managed to take most of the treasure from Isla de Muerta to another location, but it's still painfully vulnerable. Can't have some other light-fingered bastard helping himself to my stash, now can I? And Will," Jack added, leaning close to him. "Best you stay close to Gibbs and the others as remember you, as they knows you right enough, from before. Some of my crew are new faces and they don't look kindly on the British - could be trouble, what with you being a Port Royal citizen."

Will glanced about them, regarding some of the men who were preparing the sails to make way. "You mean -"

Jack nodded. "Marooners. Ex-slaves, Cimarrons seeking better than the pressgang had to offer. Good men. Good fighters, pirates all. But motivated by more than a desire to line their pockets, if you take my meaning."

Will took a breath. "Very well. I'll watch my step."

"Will, son, you're going about this all the wrong way," Jack said, putting an arm around his shoulders and giving him a friendly shake. "When I tell you there's something to fear, you're supposed to tell me to take the long swim. If I tell you there's men aboard who'd gut you for loose change, you're supposed to laugh and say something," Jack waved his other hand about loosely. "…Foolish. Like, 'let them try, do or die'. I've seen you with a blade, boy. You can hold your own. Or you could do what I do. Smile." Jack beamed at him. His face fell. "On second thought, don't. Leave 'at one to me. You start smiling at 'em, they're likely to think you're looking to get hitched."

Will sucked in a breath and said, "You want me to lie. Put on a brave face."

"No," Jack said, impatient with his decency. "I want you to bluff. There's a difference."

"A lie is a lie, however it's told," Will commented.

"You'd make an excellent Quartermaster, young William. But you're still young, young William, for all that, and Gibbs is me Quartermaster now that Anamaria's left. Which just leaves the position of First Mate, and I'm not sure you qualify as me First Mate, do you now? So, what -can- you do?"

"I can fight, and I can win. No quarter," Will said, sincerely.

Jack grimaced. "Best not be saying that until you've seen your first battle at sea. Quarter is sometimes dearly precious."

"I've already experienced my first battle at sea," Will reminded him. "Aboard a stol-" Will caught himself. "A commandeered ship, with a pirate crew that I sailed with out of Tortuga, with you." He met Jack's eye. "That battle… You were in the brig, apparently, at the time." He meant it as a reminder that Jack hadn't actually taken part much in that battle…and it was aboard his own ship. But then Jack's next words took him by surprise.

Jack nodded. "So I was, no thanks to you."

Will stopped, dead. "What?"

Jack turned, looking out to sea. "You were willing enough to leave me to Barbossa's kindness when it suited you."

Will was paralyzed with the realization that he had, indeed, deserted Jack in his desperation to see Elizabeth removed from Barbossa and his crew. His own glib reply came back to haunt him, when Gibbs had asked after Jack's whereabouts on their return to the Interceptor: "He fell behind."

The well-placed strike of an oar had ensured Jack wouldn't be able to use Will as his 'leverage', yet now he realized that Jack would have done anything to get back the Pearl from Barbossa, same as his own desire to regain Elizabeth - and had even seen to it that Elizabeth had been safe… where it was most convenient for his own plans of course, but then… How else were they to have had anything to deal with Barbossa, in any case? He suddenly saw it from Jack's point of view, the entire incident, and realized, thunderstruck, that Jack thought he'd not just been stupid, but incredibly stupid - and untrustworthy as well.

After all, Barbossa had ended up capturing him and marooning both Jack and Elizabeth on the island he'd marooned Jack on before.

He'd hoped Jack might have overlooked this matter, as he'd saved Jack from the gallows upon their return to Port Royal. He'd been willing, in fact, to stand between Norrington's blade and the condemned pirate, merely on the principle that it was the right thing to do.

His silence and delay in answering Jack didn't go unnoticed, however.

Jack tilted his head and regarded him, quietly saying, "Any man who falls behind. I do recall. But you know, there's another little saying and it goes something like this: any man that falters upon boarding another ship endangers the rest of the crew. Now, aboard the Pearl, Moses' Law applies, unless the company's in a good mood, and if I've got me rum, and everyone's a happy little crewman with his share of the booty when all's said and done. Savvy?"

"I'll not falter, so no. Yes. I mean, savvy. I do. Uh," Will looked up with a puzzled frown. "Moses' Law?"

"Forty lashes, minus one." Jack raised his brows. "But methinks saving me own life is fair exchange. Enough to forgo the Prophet's Threat and speak on your behalf to any who might question your being aboard, should any unpleasantness arise. Question is, what's in it for me?"

Will considered him. He was out of options. He'd asked Jack for one chance and now here he was asking him for a favor and another chance besides. He still owed it to Jack to prove his trustworthiness. Then again, he was not a murderer. A freeman did not necessarily take a life needlessly, although a pirate might. And yet again, he'd not seen Jack or any of his company ever take a life unnecessarily either. Barbossa and his undead crew had been an entirely different sort, undead or not. And Jack had lost the Pearl to Barbossa before, in the mutiny, because of his willingness to negotiate. He couldn't see the man as bloodthirsty. Besides, there was the Code.

Swallowing, he answered, "My sword is yours, and I'll lay down my life for yours, against any who might threaten you. Or the Pearl," he added. "Or her company and crew." At Jack's still expectant expression, he thought quickly, and then continued, "Or any that we might threaten."

Jack relaxed. "Excellent. Welcome aboard, Will." Jack grasped his arm, by the elbow, and Will returned the greeting, the clasp of a brother in arms, and Will realized in that moment that Jack had already decided he could stay, probably before they'd even left the pier. They were just sealing their agreement.

Will turned, looking up at the sails billowing in the sea breeze and the new rigging. "Hasn't been long, has it?"

Jack grinned, looking out to sea. "Long enough."

It had only been six months since Jack had fallen over the edge of the wall into the sea, out of his life.

Truth be told, though he would follow Mr. Cotton's involuntary example and cut out his tongue before admitting it to Jack, it hadn't exactly been Elizabeth who'd wished that he seek out Captain Jack Sparrow once again. In fact, Elizabeth had finally put her foot down and ordered him to get the sea out of his blood before she'd marry him. She'd insisted that he was worse than useless, unless he'd satisfied his distressing contradiction about his choices in life: freedom, or marriage.

Although she'd stated she well understood his feelings, she wasn't going to be a lonely wife and probable widow to a man who left once the babes began arriving. It was far better that he return to her in a while, after he'd satisfied himself as to how much of his father still boiled within him - now that Bootstrap Bill's legacy had awakened in his son. She would wait.

Marriage, indeed. He'd begun to understand why grooms become nervous closer to the set date… But for all that, Jack was married to his Black Pearl, and life as a pirate was a marriage of a different sort. And there was always the gamble that Elizabeth would decide before the year was out that she'd accept Commodore Norrington's proposal after all, if she got tired of waiting or finally realized that marrying a blacksmith was out of the question. The life of a pirate's wife… For that's what he was now. A pirate.

Perhaps it was worth it. He was committed, out of sheer curiosity, to see whether or not it was indeed something worth giving up after nearly a year's passing. And there was no better ship he could remember ever having laid eyes on than this one. Nor a better captain.

"Will we be returning to the Spanish Main, then, in nine months time?"

"Most probably."

Will smiled. "Then we have an accord."

"We do indeed," Jack grinned back at him. "After all, it was thanks to you I was returned to me fine ship, here."

"She is a fine ship," Will said respectfully, the reverence in his voice not a bluff at all.

"A fine lass indeed, to let you go," Jack said, meaningfully, leaving Will no mistake that Jack had already divined the truth about why Will was standing on his ship begging to become a pirate.

"She's taking a chance on me, just as you are. You were right," Will admitted, aghast at how easy it was to say it. "It's the Turner blood. My blood."

Jack smiled at him. "Don't worry, lad. I won't be expecting you to shed any of it on my account. We're blood brothers already, after all." And he held up his hand, the faintest trace of a white scar lining his palm where his own blade had cut to redeem the Aztec coin Jack had pilfered in the cave.

Will held up his own, and clasped Jack's left hand in his, where his own scar lay, and pressed the two scars together. "All is forgiven, then?"

Jack answered carefully, "If it weren't, you'd not be standing here now, would you?" Jack's sharp reply was delivered in a mild tone, but Will caught it nonetheless.

He met Jack's eyes. "I know."

Jack stared back at him and Will suddenly became aware again that although they had an accord, and they'd renewed the honor between them from their first venture together, it was an entirely new situation.

And for some bizarre reason, he was growing uncomfortable to still be holding Jack's hand. And Jack's eyes were looking through him, seeing right down into the very bare parts of him, where even he was afraid to look.

Jack's eyes were so brown, they were nearly black. Will felt a strange, leaping heat course through him, settling somewhere in his lower belly. It wasn't unpleasant, and that was the most disturbing of all.

The call of anchor's aweigh reached them, breaking his rapport with Jack, for Jack then clapped a hand on his shoulder and said, "We'll have us a little chat later, Will. Things to see to just now, you understand. Even a ship as fine as this one don't just run herself."

Will watched as Jack left him standing again, watching the pirate depart.

He stared down at the white scar in his left palm. Did Jack truly see a pirate in him? And had Jack glimpsed what he himself had only just grasped?

He hoped not. The stain of heat that spread over his face was delayed, but all too real now and, he knew, all too visible. He wanted Jack to approve of him, to consider him a good man. A good pirate. Like his father.

God, it was humiliating, actually. To know, to have to admit, that Jack was right. Had been right all along.

And to realize that his heart still was not his own. It had found roost here, with the Black Pearl, with a pirate crew. With Jack Sparrow.

It galled him to know that being once more reunited with Jack, to be feeling that edge, that keen zest for life and the thoughts in the man's heat-addled mind that were probably more tangled than before… To know that it was invigorating like nothing else had been since their first adventure half a year ago.

Will's spirits sank, even as the Black Pearl moved swiftly out of Tortuga's waters and beyond. Africa was a long ways away, and Will realized it was going to be a long journey indeed. For he'd just discovered what Elizabeth had already known.

He'd loved Elizabeth for such an extensive number of years. Attaining her was almost an anti-climax. The truth of his father and his heritage haunted him, and had remained a shadow between them ever since their return to Port Royal. It had tainted his love for her, and cast such a depressing shadow, in fact, that Will had been surprised to find himself ruminating consistently over the possibility of growing bored with an unending life of toiling in the smithy and just… running.

Anywhere, in any direction. Towards anything but what was expected of him. Despite his love of working metal, of crafting what he knew were the finest swords and watching their beauty shaped out of fire by his own artistry and skill, it was mostly a thankless task. Most still considered him merely Master Brown's apprentice. Only Commodore Norrington had actually ever revealed he knew Will to be the true master, working while Brown snored the afternoons away. And there was Port Royal, where he'd always felt at home.

He'd expected to have to resolve the contradiction of his pirate blood and his life as a metal-worker. But ever since his adventure with Jack, rescuing Elizabeth and discovering his father's legacy of piracy, he'd felt confined, constrained and tied down by the looks that the townspeople gave him. The Governor's daughter. A blacksmith.

A pirate.

***

"Jack," Gibbs said, from behind him.

Jack turned from where he was looking out to sea. He could feel the horizon calling him and it was nearly a physical wrench inside to have to look away.

"That Turner boy's going to be a problem, if we're going all the way on African account."

"Most probably," Jack agreed. "I'm counting on it."

"He won't be very happy when he finds out what you've got planned."

Jack grinned widely. "That is something I'm looking forward to. Therefore, I forbid you - and meself - to tell him until we've gone too far for him to turn back."

"Turn back?"

"In one of the longboats."

Gibbs muttered, "Aye, but I gets the feeling with 'im that there's no such words as 'too far'."

"We'll have to see, won't we?" Jack said, with a smile.

"Then you won't be letting him off at Toliara?"

"Port Elizabeth, maybe," Jack laughed.

"Aye," chuckled Gibbs. Then he shook his head. "It'll be bad, going around the Horn. Bad luck to have a man held against his will aboard, through those waters."

"He's a good lad, and eager to prove himself. He'll do."

"What position will you be givin' him, then? You can't keep him too low; the others'll eat him alive, quicker than sharks."

Jack considered Gibbs. "We don't need a First Mate, do we?"

"No; that we don't."

"Perfect." Jack shrugged. "He can be First Mate. And being Bootstrap's son will keep them off, as well."

"So he's off-limits then." Gibbs stated it but it was a question that Jack had been expecting.

This time, Jack's smile was more akin to that of a shark's, himself. "Terribly off-limits. And be sure you spread that one, too."

"It's for the best, really," Gibbs agreed, giving Jack a look that Jack wasn't sure he liked very much at all. And then Gibbs clarified, "With the Cimarrons knowing you've a soft spot for the lad, they'll not touch him. I'll see to it."

"It's not a soft spot at all," Jack said, suggestively.

Gibbs nodded. "I take your meaning, Jack. But… and meaning no offense, the Pearl's a lovely wench, but it's not good for a man to be alone so long, and she don't keep you very warm at night."

Jack shot him a glare. "That's what First Mates are for, aren't they?"

Gibbs smiled at him with a wicked expression. "Of course they are, matey."

As Gibbs moved away, Jack went back to scrutinizing the horizon. This time, however, his thoughts were filled with all the possible methods of best educating young William Turner.

Rum figured quite highly in all of them.

***

It was with some disappointment that Will realized his life was going to consist of grog, salmagundi and rum. He was aware that boredom and cabin fever were most likely to be both their companions and enemies for the duration of the journey. The Black Pearl was well stocked and armed, and ready for action, but the company of men she carried appeared almost too replete and tranquil for a crew embarking for Madagascar.

He wondered what their actual destination might be. Knowing Jack Sparrow, it was some convoluted pattern of trespasses from one port to another, undoubtedly helping themselves to whatever ships they came across in the meantime.

It wasn't the possible action, or even lack of it, that worried Will, however. It was the actual position he held aboard the Pearl. As the afternoon passed uneventfully and the Pearl made her graceful, majestic way through the sea, Will became aware that he was growing antsy from lack of activity already. This was not good. Not good at all.

As evening began to fall over the Caribbean Sea, and the sun slipped down into the reddened waters, he noticed that most of the men aboard were getting drunk. Again. They'd begun after they'd set sail and many of them had joined in the festivities of departing Tortuga in fine form. Now it looked as though they were going to keep it up on into the night.

Frowning, he wondered how they hoped to be able to defend the ship if they ran afoul of any others that might expect some form of altercation.

He didn't want to complain, nor did he want to have to argue with Jack about the dangers of sailing in Caribbean waters, which were patrolled by nations who would see the Black Pearl as not only a menace but a prize, with a crew that was roaringly stone drunk and most certainly too intoxicated to defend themselves. He'd heard stories, after all, of pirate galleons lost to Davy Jones' Locker due to the Devil's Drink.

As the hour passed, the men grew more and more inebriated and the clack of dice on the deck gave way to stampings and fiddle music and general out-of-tune songs that more resembled the caterwauling of unholy spirits.

Jack would probably think he was being unutterably stupid.

But he had to call it as he saw it, and this was one thing that he intended to have out with Jack.

Surely his father would not have approved.

And besides, Jack had said they'd speak later in the evening. Well, it was evening.

Determined, he sought the captain out amongst the crew, ignoring the few invitations and drunken fumbling thrown in his direction, stepping over them with ease.

Sure enough, he found Jack sitting propped against a hogshead of rum, with a bottle, staring out to where the sun had set some time before, and the last splashes of purple still lay scattered on the waves.

"Captain," Will said, to get his attention.

"Will," returned Jack, slurring even that simple name. "Will, Will, Will. Where therrre's a Will, there will be a way. Away."

"You're drunk."

"Aye."

"So is the rest of the company."

Jack peered at him. "You aren't."

"No, I'm not."

"Sit down, lad. You're blocking my -view-."

With a sigh, Will sank down to join Jack against the cask. "Jack-"

"Tha's Captain. Captain Jack," Jack reminded him in long-suffering tones.

"What are we sailing to Africa for?"

"Madagascar."

"Yes. Why?"

Jack turned and stared at him, his eyes a little wild around the edges. He gestured loosely with both hands, nearly spilling rum out of the bottle. "Profit! What else?"

"And how will we defend ourselves if we are attacked en route?"

Jack looked back at him, this time with disgust. "Bloody French again. I'm getting sick of it. Speak English, Will, lad."

Will stifled a sigh. "Alright, along the way, then. Captain, how can we possibly hope to survive any action at all, if everyone is too drunk to lift their heads, let alone their swords or pistols, or to man the guns?"

Jack sniffed, and said, "Tha's an excellent, excellent point. I'll drink to that."

Will had to still the urge to grab the bottle from Jack. "We will sink. We'll lose, and the Pearl will be lost. Is that what you want? Don't you care?"

Jack pointed the bottle at him. "Why do you care?"

"I like being alive, and I'd like to stay that way, thank you very much."

"Aye. It's good to be alive," Jack agreed. "I'll drink to that one."

Glumly, Will sat beside him, wondering if it was worth it after all. "So this is what it means to be a pirate?"

"Not how y're goin' 'bout it, 'ts not." Jack nodded wisely, and a little too slowly. "We're celebratin', not worryin'. Y're worryin' too much. That's what the rum's for."

"Oh, is that what it's for?" Will asked, allowing himself a note of condescension.

Jack spread his hands, nearly dropping the bottle, and said, as if Will had finally figured it all out, "There you are."

"I have to say, Jack, I'm really disappointed."

Jack peered at him in the dim light that flickered from the torches a good distance away. "Look, there's only one thing you really need to be worryin' about, and that's whether or not you're really a pirate, or not."

"I am a pirate. You even said I was."

"But you don't believe it yet."

Bitterly, Will said, "I don't believe that getting drunk constantly is going to help my chances of finding out."

"That's because you haven't tried it yet," Jack pointed out.

"It's stupid to do this when the cost could be one's life."

"It's stupid to worry about something you don't have any control over." Jack's slurring had somehow disappeared. "You're forgetting one very important thing. This is the Black Pearl. No one, least of all your British friends, is going to attack us. At night. With us flying Captain Death up there." Jack nodded up at the pirate jack that flew, the skull and crossbones visible and pale even in the gathering gloom.

Wait… Will peered upwards. Those were cutlasses, not bones. "Isn't that Calico Rackham's flag?"

"Jack," corrected Jack.

"No, I recognize it; it's Rackham's."

"Nautical term, Will. It's a jack."

"But it is Rackham's."

"That it is," Jack grinned. "Borrowed it from him, I did."

Will narrowed his eyes. "Stole, you mean."

"A capital fellow," Jack agreed. "I daresay I live up to it's reputation far better, don' you agree?"

Will sighed. "I don't understand. I thought that to be a free man, a gentleman of fortune, one only took risks one was certain of surviving in the first place."

"Mm. You took a risk coming aboard. Are you certain you'll survive?"

"According to you, I am stupid and nothing more," Will accused, already having had more than he could take. "As always."

"No need to get flustered. Have some rum."

"I don't want any of your damned rum, Jack! Don't you understand? I'm not the one slacking, nor am I failing to meet the requirements of being a crewman aboard your blasted ship! No one will tell me what I'm to do here aboard your ship, and now you're drunk again. I tried to talk to you last night but you were already passed out."

"Son, this rum is hardly damned. In fact, I take offense at the very suggestion that drinking my rum could possibly result in the damnation of you, or any man. Or any woman, for that matter. Why, even - even -" Jack cast his eyes about them, to attempt to find another recipient for imbibing. His eyes lit up. "Why, Cotton's parrot would handle this rum well-enough."

"It's the Devil's Drink," Will muttered, angry that Jack was avoiding the issue. So what was new? Stewing, Will stood and went to the edge, leaned both hands against the side and stared down into the rushing waves below without really seeing them. "I can't stand the stuff. It's everywhere, in everything. In you. Even the grog. Especially the grog."

"True enough; I won't contest that. Tha's what grog -is-. It's the principle, lad. And for once, the French are not to blame." Jack grinned, happily. "Fancy that."

"What have the French got to do with it?"

"Nothing, that's the point. Was the first sailors out this way started the fashion of spiking their water with it. Bootleggers simply thought it a bloody marvelous idea. Which it was. Lucrative as well. Because most men prefer it straight. Most pirates anyway."

"Jack, I'm curious. When did you turn from grog to rum? Because that may be the general time in your no-doubt fascinating history that you finally lost it."

Jack took a healthy swig and seemed to be considering Will's question. "Let's see. It was when I lost it."

"What?"

"The Pearl. When I lost the Pearl," Jack repeated, impatiently.

As this illumination dawned on Will, he began to see Jack's rum in perspective. "I see."

Jack smiled. "Good lad. Smart lad. Knew you would, eventually."

Will sighed. "Give me the bottle then."

"Why?"

"Because I'm stupid. And I'm going to join you in a drink."

Jack held up the bottle and checked how much he had left. Handing the bottle to Will, he suggested, "The key to surviving this, you see, is knowing when to drink, and when not to."

The fiery liquid scalded a trail down his throat as Will swallowed and gasped, "I'm starting to see that."

"Knew you would."

"You love her," Will observed, unnecessarily.

"Who?"

"This ship."

"Love a lot of ships. All ships."

"This one, Jack. The Pearl."

"Always have, always will. She's mine, you see, and I'm hers. Let no man sunder, and all that."

Will drank again, letting the rum lend him some courage, and cautiously licked his lips. "Does she mean more to you than a man's life?"

"Will, lad, you gave me my life and 'elped me escape from my cozy little cell back in Port Royal in exchange for a ship and passage to find your lass, if you'll recall."

Will hastily knocked back another stiff swig at this reminder. For it was true. Even Elizabeth had mentioned it, and she hadn't exactly been proud of him for it, either.

"Question is, then, does being a pirate mean more to -you - than another man's life?" Jack pointed out, irritatingly sober all of a sudden.

"I had assumed it was in a good cause," Will admitted, frowning at his own reprehensible selfishness. "You were right, Jack. Not all treasure is gold."

"Now, don't fret," Jack said, laying a hand on Will's arm. "Love's a worthy cause, to be sure. And freedom is worth even more."

"So you love freedom most of all."

"And you're free to love," Jack smiled.

Jack's hand on his arm still rested there, and it was warm. Hot, in fact. Hot like the rum inside of him, and the rum was joined now in his belly with that curious, twisting sensation of excitement and trepidation. Will hastily took another gulp, hoping to cover this awkward nervousness with it.

Jack removed his hand and Will was suddenly bereft. It had only been a friendly gesture, yet somehow it meant more to him than he'd ever have imagined. It had to be the rum. It had to be. After all, Elizabeth's hands had never affected him like that. He scowled at the bottle. It didn't help at all. The rum wasn't helping either.

After all, Jack Sparrow had the perpetual drunken manner of leaning into people's personal space on principle, and Will had never realized that it wasn't exactly meant to be offensive, but friendly to the point of being offensive. There was something in that. If only he could figure out what it was.

He couldn't stand this. He needed to get away from him. From Jack. From this pirate captain who had suddenly revealed to him, even all unwitting himself of it, as Will's role model. After all, his father was dead, gone, lost to him because of Barbossa's and his undead crew's treachery. Jack Sparrow had known Bootstrap. Even before he became Bootstrap.

And the rum loosened a stray thought from the depths of his brain and allowed it to float into view. Had Jack known his father… well? Very well? Were they friends? Well, more than friends? He jerked. It was too much. He couldn't be thinking this. He had to stop. After all he -liked- Jack.

OH no. No, no no. That was no good; because it immediately brought to mind the question: how much had his father liked Jack, and how much did Jack like him, or was it, how much did Jack like-

"Give us the bottle back. Ta." Jack looked up as Will stood rather too hastily, swaying from the effects of the liquor. "Where you off to?"

"I'm going to find Gibbs and ask him to give me an appointment as a member of your crew. If that's alright with you."

Jack shrugged. "You only had to ask, eh?"

Will sighed wearily through his nose, not understanding Jack's cryptic comment at all, and not really caring at this point. He went to seek out Gibbs.

He found the man sitting on the other side of the ship, starboard, leaning against the wall and knocking back ale.

"You as well," Will said.

"Me?" Gibbs asked.

"Never mind. I'm here to ask after my position aboard the Black Pearl."

Gibbs squinted at him. "Didn't Jack tell you?"

"No, he didn't. It's impossible, talking to him."

Gibbs shrugged. "That's right enough. But maybe he's not had enough rum."

"He's had too much."

"No, Will, lad; see, it works in reverse with ole Jack. He doesn't talk none too well without it."

Will exhaled. "Aren't you worried that a passing ship we come across may decide to attack us? We're flying the jolly roger. It still seems dangerous to me, for every man aboard to be dead-drunk."

Gibbs had choked on his ale, and now Will saw it was with laughter. "Will, you're a good sort. Attack the Pearl? No one'll dare. Why, you know as well as I, just what Barbossa's crew accomplished during his kidnapping and ransom of Jack's love, 'ere."

Curious, Will asked him, "Has Jack ever loved anything besides the Pearl?"

Gibbs pondered this. "Aye, Jack's first love is the Pearl, but his second is rum."

"Yes, rum. I'm well acquainted with his love of rum," Will said, dryly. "Isn't there anything else?"

Confused, Gibbs said, "Well, what else is there? Treasure? Freedom? -Is- there anything else?"

Aware his mouth was running away from him because of the rum, Will was still unable to stop wondering aloud, "Well, what else does he love besides the ship and his rum, and freedom and treasure?"

Obviously fancying that he'd solved some puzzle, Gibbs pointed out, "Ah, but the Pearl is freedom, to Jack."

"And rum is his treasure," Will said, caustically. "What was his third love? Doesn't he value anything else? Like, what was he before?"

"Before?"

"Before he turned pirate."

Gibbs took a deep breath, and then stopped, perplexed. "Can't say's I rightly know. Jack," Gibbs called out. For Jack was picking his way towards them, stepping over the occasional slouched body hampering his progress. "Jack, the boy's asking me a most mysterious question and I can't answer yea or nay."

Will grabbed his arm. "No, no, don't-"

It was too late. Jack had already meandered over to where they stood and looked from Gibbs to Will, and back again. "Wha's the question?" He sounded unstable.

Will sighed. Jack was still very drunk. Again. It seemed to come and go over time. Sometimes changing within a period of minutes. Will was beginning to suspect that Jack wasn't sober unless he was slightly drunk, and that Gibbs was right.

"What's yer third love?" Gibbs asked.

Jack frowned. "My what?"

"Well, everyone knows you love the Pearl."

"And rum," Will put in.

"My third love was -" Jack stopped. "Can't rightly recall, now that you mention it. Her name might have been Rosie. Or was it Henrietta?" He shook a finger at Gibbs. "Aye, that was it! It was Henri- Hen-Henry. That's it. Henry. She was fine. Or was it he?"

"Henrietta," Will corrected. In spite of being aware that most pirates hardly adhered to the strict social rules regarding same-sex relationships, Will could feel his cheeks going hot and was grateful for the merciful cover of darkness. It was far too disturbing to begin examining his feelings regarding Jack's… past. Or his predilections, for that matter.

Come to think of it, he didn't want to start thinking of his own, because there was the horrible sensation of excitement just being near Jack like this. Thanks to the damned rum. And he'd never felt this hot and feverish before with Elizabeth. He sighed.

"That's the one," Jack agreed. Then he grinned, the gold flashing opaquely in the flickering light. "He was a pretty sort of a likely lad. Like Will, here."

Gibbs was frowning. "No, that's not right."

Jack gave him a warning look. "You weren't there. I'd most absolutely, definitely remember if you were. T'was Henriella."

"That was Isabella, and I -was- there."

Will rolled his eyes and folded his arms across his chest. Useless. Completely and utterly useless. He began to reconsider the advantages of becoming a 'free man.' Then he began to equally weigh the advantages of joining them in the rum, as there was little else to do aboard, anyway.

"No, you weren't." Jack shook his head, slowly. "Not with Henry."

"Not who, but what. What was yer third love?" Gibbs repeated.

"Now see here, Gibbs, you're a good man," Jack swayed and leaned out with a hand, steadying himself by clutching at Gibbs' shoulder. "A good man. But I'll not stand for anyone implying the likes of anything of the sort that you're implying."

"Not that you can stand very well at the moment, in any case," Will put in.

Jack considered this. "V'ry true. But then, I would have absolutely, definitely and positively remembered if I'd loved a what, rather than a who. The real question is, who's asking, what?" He began to giggle.

Unfortunately, Gibbs joined him with an unhinged chuckle that ensured neither one was going to be of any use whatsoever.

For which Will was supremely grateful at the moment, seeing as they appeared to have left any semblance of sobriety behind along with the original question.

"William, my lad, you don't look v'ry happy. Methinks you need more rum."

"Or ale, which is good for what ails you," Gibbs remarked.

"Jack, if we meet another ship in these waters, on this course and heading, we'll be severely compromised. Everyone's too drunk to defend the Pearl, let alone themselves." Will was unhappy still with the irresponsibility, as he saw it.

Jack shot a knowing look at Gibbs who gave a little nod. "What'd I tell you? First Mate. Caring about all our welfare. The one sober man aboard." Jack turned and had apparently decided that Will would be a much better implement for keeping his balance than Gibbs was, for he transferred his arm to Will's shoulder. "I've thought it over, and you can stay."

"What would you have done if you'd have decided I couldn't?" Will muttered.

"Dropped you off somewhere, most likely." Jack halted, and nodded. "Recife."

Will raised a brow. "I thought we were bound for Madagascar."

Gibbs drained the last of his ale. "We'll need to restock our supplies. It's not that far out of our way."

Will blinked. "How long will our lay-over be?"

"Eh?" Jack and Gibbs both asked.

"How long will we be in port?" Will re-stated.

Jack looked at Gibbs and grinned evilly. "A very proper First Mate."

"Aye, 'e is," Gibbs agreed. "You'll do well, Will."

"Not a ne'er-do-well, our Will."

"Nor an unwilling one, neither," Gibbs said.

"Because where there's Will, there's a way." Jack considered Will. "Then again, he's most unwilling to drink with us."

Will laughed, letting his head fall back. He took a breath of the night air, with the salty scent and the ever-pervasive rum. "Very well, take me to the rum. If you can't beat them, join them. Is that it?"

"Something like that," Jack said, his drunken slur receding with alarming pace as he eyed Will.

TBC IN CHAPTER 2

(Aug 9, 2003)