It was only after Jude took his first bite of lunch that he realised how starving he was. After waking up to the scurry of the raid, he’d run on pure adrenaline all morning, without so much as a swig of water to get him through it. But, now that they were all safely back on the galleon, huddled around bowls of steaming broth with fresh vegetables and fists of bread, he was finally able to let his guard down.
Sebastián had been right– the merchants had surrendered almost immediately after noticing the damage to their hull, leaving the pirates to loot as much as they fancied. Alongside barrels of spices and teas that they would be able to sell once they reached Spain, they helped themselves to a bounty of fresh vegetables and ingredients, which the pirate cook leapt at the opportunity to use.
Jude was still working down the last of his broth when the seats beside him started to clear. He glanced up to watch his neighbours run their empty dishes back to the kitchen, and when he turned his attention back to his meal, he found someone sliding into the empty seat beside him.
Jude breathed a sigh of relief to see Sebastián filling the space. His companion wore that same worried smile on his face, while his body was turned on the bench to face Jude as he ate.
“Keep eating,” he murmured, his hand finding a place on Jude’s back. “Don’t waste a drop.”
Jude had considered pushing his bowl away and leaving it forgotten, to give Sebastián his full attention. But, as he was instructed, he took up his spoon again and reluctantly tore his eyes away so he could focus on finishing his meal.
“Thank you,” Jude said into his stew as he scooped up the last few pieces of potato. “That was quite a morning, wasn’t it? I’m glad I had you looking out for me.”
Sebastián’s hand tensed to give Jude’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. When Jude’s eyes flickered over to him, his smile had lessened and his frown had deepened.
“You were supposed to meet me on the gun deck,” Sebastián responded quietly.
Jude gripped his spoon tightly as guilt flooded his chest. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “It just happened so fast– I didn’t mean to…”
Sebastián lifted his hand up to Jude’s head, letting his fingers relax into his curls as he turned his head to face him.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, clearly trying to bring his smile back, for Jude. “Just be careful, alright? We should practise with that halberd so you actually know how to use it next time.”
Jude let out an involuntary laugh and shoved Sebastián’s hand away. “I did fine,” he muttered, “But… a lesson doesn’t sound half bad.”
“Perhaps tonight,” Sebastián agreed. He sighed as he finally leant out of Jude’s space, stretching his arms to rest his hands behind his head. “After our chores. They barely scathed us, but we probably have some minor repairs to do.”
Jude nodded as he downed his last spoonful. “On deck, then?” He asked as he gathered up his bowl.
“On deck,” Sebastián confirmed. He rose from his seat, but leant his hip against the table to wait for Jude before leaving.
Thanks to the unexpected raid, their second day at sea was just as busy as their first. Most of the repairs had been taken care of by the time the pair made it onto the deck, so they spent their time cleaning the guns, replenishing munitions, and helping to organise the barrels of loot they’d managed to haul back from the merchants. At first Jude was disappointed by their unglamorous rewards, but Sebastián quickly assured him that once they sold the goods in Spain, they’d be seeing plenty of gold.
It was also thanks to the raid that the rest of the crew seemed a little more hospitable that evening, many of them staying up to chat in their sleeping quarters. Every inch of the sleeping area was covered in makeshift beds; piles of blankets were folded up as sleeping bags, crates were stacked to create lofted mattresses, and hammocks hung from the ceiling alongside every wall.
Jude trudged towards the hammock Sebastián secured for him on their first day, eager to rest for the night, but Sebastián stopped him when they passed a group of pirates who were gathered around drinking by the light of an oil lamp. Sebastián tiptoed around their beds and until he found an empty space amidst all the folded blankets, then plopped down in the middle of the conversation and patted the spot next to him, inviting Jude to join.
As exhausted as he was, Jude didn’t want to pass up an opportunity for camaraderie after such a successful day. He eagerly shuffled over and settled down, making himself comfortable with his back leant up against the wall. Just as he sat, someone handed Sebastián an unopened bottle of rum, who took it gladly and started working on the cork with his teeth.
“Not a bad day,” he remarked as he offered the open bottle to Jude. “Cheers, to many more.”
Jude snatched up the rum when he realised just how thirsty he was. He nodded in agreement as he took a generous swig, then paused afterwards to hold the bottle appreciatively to his chest. He opened his eyes when he heard Sebastián chuckle beside him, then handed it back as he glanced at the other pirates around the room.
Everyone was already transfixed in conversation, except for a small statured woman with short, messily chopped hair. She was sitting up in a bed beside them, smiling at him. Jude continued gazing around, but when his eye fell back on her, she hadn’t moved.
“What?” he laughed, curling up defensively under her gaze.
The woman glanced at Sebastián beside him then screwed up her face in a smile. “Nothing,” she shook her head. “Just you two.”
Jude felt his heart skip just as Sebastián affectionately snaked an arm around his shoulders. He looked suddenly at his mate, but Sebastián didn’t seem to be paying any attention to their conversation. Jude turned back to the girl.
“What about us?”
She shrugged, her smile turning into a cheeky smirk. “Oh, you know… Just the way you managed to stay attached at the hip all day, even as we were reigning terror on another ship.”
Jude lifted a hand to nervously itch his neck, but jumped when his fingers collided with Sebastián’s arm. The man looked at him as he sipped from the bottle, his brows raised in a question.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about; we’re just mates,” Jude said to the girl again, but she was already focused on some other conversation. Much to his dismay, someone in another bed heard his excuse and leapt to take her place in the conversation.
“What, you and Peaches?” The pirate asked, leaning forward over his pillow and grinning at the two of them. “Yeah, real good mates by the look of it.”
That one caught Sebastián’s attention, but he kept his arm steady around Jude’s shoulders.
Jude’s heart began to hammer louder as their assumptions echoed in his head. “We know each other from ashore,” he tried to explain, but the words came out a little too rushed while his throat began to swell with nervous heat. “That’s all.”
In all honesty, Jude hadn’t thought much of the lingering looks and affectionate touches Sebastián always gave to him. He was so easy to be around, so friendly with everyone aboard, Jude had just assumed he was a touchy person who communicated best with gestures. It made sense that he and Jude would form a friendship considering they’d known each other ashore, right? There was nothing unusual about spending time together now they were at sea–
“It’s nothing, mate!” The woman cooed, her attention back on them. “Don’t be shy, it’s cute to see some love birds so early on in the journey.”
“Oi, leave him alone,” Sebastián interrupted, but his voice was soft and his smile persistent. “He’s new.”
Jude clenched his jaw shut as the pirates turned away and continued to chatter, their accusations still burning in his mind. He looked at Sebastián shyly, hoping his rapid heart beat wasn’t so loud that he could hear it, and reached a shaking hand for the bottle.
Sebastián held his gaze for a long moment, his eyes flickering across Jude’s face, before he finally handed the rum back in silence.
Jude gulped it down desperately, his thoughts even more scrambled than before. Okay, maybe Sebastián wasn’t like that with everyone, considering Jude hadn’t ever seen him so much as pat another pirate on the shoulder. Maybe Jude was nothing but a tavern server when he stepped onto the deck of the galleon, and they had no real claim to forming such a fast friendship.
Maybe Jude was the only one who was startled about this revelation, and Sebastián’s nonchalant response was because he knew exactly what he wanted from the beginning.
Jude felt his cheeks flush with heat, embarrassed by his own naivety. He thrust the bottle back into Sebastián’s grip, not wanting the alcohol to dizzy his thoughts any further.
“Everything alright?” Sebastián asked under his breath, his gaze still loving as he twisted one of Jude’s curls away from his face.
Even the lightest of touches had Jude’s chest burning up now. He scooted to the edge of the blanket, nodding quickly as he ducked out of his companion’s grasp. “I’m fine. Just realised how tired I am,” he lied, really just needing a moment alone to smack himself in the head and bury his face into a pillow.
“Alright,” Sebastián hummed, seeming totally unbothered as he took another sip and smiled against the glass rim. “You know where we are, if you change your mind.”
Jude tread as carefully as he could between the beds and blankets spread across the floor. Once he was out of their way, he all but fled to his hammock, diving into it and wrapping himself up in his sheets. From within his linen cocoon, the beating of his heart sounded even louder and faster than before; it felt like hours before it slowed to a gentle, steady rate.
When he really thought about it, of Sebastián’s affections and the assumptions of the rest of the crew, he was… Touched. If everything in his racing mind was true and his crewmate harboured feelings for him, he felt a little giddy at the idea of someone looking at him in such a way. Especially considering how handsome a man Sebastián was, and how meel Jude felt in comparison.
Everything about him reminded Jude of a summer’s evening. His bronze hair, with dark roots and bright lustre, curled and cascaded like the gentle waves that lapped at the hull of the galleon. His skin was freshly baked from the warmth of afternoon light, and though he was pale compared to Jude, his face always seemed to glow when he smiled. That smile, with heart shaped lips and a peachy hue, was like looking directly into the sunset, when it flared brightest before dipping down behind the ocean’s waves.
Not only was he soft and warm which made Jude feel so easygoing in his presence, he always moved with such confidence. Like the severity of the summer heat, his grip was steadfast, his voice was sure, and his gaze was unwavering.
Jude couldn’t deny Sebastián was, in a way… Perfect. Everything as he remembered it was alluring and mystifying, but he couldn’t ignore the dread that pooled in his gut when he thought about being the recipient of his attention. As much as he wanted to cast aside all his hesitation, plenty still remained as he worried over how much he would be able to reciprocate.
Considering he’d just run from his entire life, considering everything that still flurried and twisted in his tailwind, romance was the last thing Jude could imagine for himself. As delightful as it was to lay there and remember all of Sebastián’s soft curves and hard edges, the mere thought of emotional entanglement exhausted him enough to eventually pull him into a deep, restless sleep.
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