Sunlight sparkled on the surface of the water, the tiny flecks of light so bright they blinded Jude as he leant over the bow of the ship. He held on tight to the bannister while his legs dangled freely over the edge, the heels of his boots occasionally knocking against the side of the hull when the ship rocked into the waves.
He had crewmates sitting on either side, but it was a pirate perched on top of the bannister who heaved a rope and pulley to drag a bucket of ocean water up to them. As soon as the bucket was in reach, someone from behind him snatched their hand at it, but the pirate holding the rope gave it a sharp yank to hoist it out of their grip.
“Oi! It’s Jude’s turn!” she snapped, glaring at the pirate who had tried to cut the line.
Jude gave her a thankful smile as she lowered the bucket back into his reach.
His first week aboard had slowed down considerably after the raid. The speed in which they found their prey worried him at first, leaving him wondering whether they’d be called to arms every other day– but as the week dragged on, the chores around the ship lessened, and Jude found himself daydreaming and sunbathing more often than working.
In hindsight, he was also grateful that Sebastián’s affections had become clear so early in the journey. As affronting as it was, it raised the important realisation that Sebastián was his only friend in the crew. Though he hadn’t yet decided if he should pull back from their friendship or let himself lean into the advances, Jude knew that, either way, he needed to diversify the company he kept.
After spending two full days glued to Sebastián’s side, it thankfully wasn’t that difficult to strike up conversation with the other sailors. He was fortunate that Peaches was quite a popular crewmate, so Jude was given the benefit of the doubt as he shyly greeted those he shared chores with. Though he worked for years in a tavern, his social skills were a little rusty to start with – his fellow pirates were far more intimidating than his old regulars – so at first he just made small talk and shared quiet platitudes with anyone who would listen.
By the time he sat down to eat at the end of the week, he felt a little more comfortable to lean over and join the conversation being had at the table. Jude wasn’t expecting to be greeted so quickly, but as soon as he’d piped up, the pirates paused and shifted in their seats, turning to include him in their banter.
It was this group of pirates who he sat with on the bow of the ship, taking turns to splash their face with sea water and give themselves the closest they could get to a bath. He’d waited patiently until it was his turn, then held the bucket steady between his thighs while he dunked his hands in the water.
After so many days baking under the heat of an unforgiving sun, the cold rush of water between his fingers instantly soothed his calluses and rope burns. At first he just sat with his hands in the water, soaking up the relief, until his patience finally waned and he lifted the bucket over his head. His companions realised what was happening a moment too late, as Jude hoisted the bucket up and emptied it over his head. Groans mixed with laughter as his fellow pirates rushed to stand and avoid the splash, all while Jude remained sitting with a giant smile on his face.
“That’s one way to do it!” The woman holding the rope laughed heartily as she watched, her spot on the bannister keeping her well out of the splash zone. In the mess hall, she’d introduced herself as Lottie, and Jude realised she was the girl with messy hair who smirked at him in the sleeping quarters. Jude had been wary to befriend her, but she apologised about her nosiness before he even had the chance to bring it up.
“The only way to do it,” Jude grinned up at her as he ran his hands over his face, spreading the water into his hair and down his stubbly jaw.
“Not a bad look for you,” piped up a voice from behind him, which had Jude spinning to look over his shoulder.
Sebastian took slow steps towards them, a relaxed smile on his face while his hands rested deep in his pockets. His eyes were set on Jude, paying no mind to his companions who gathered aside to wring the seawater out of their clothes.
“Sebastián,” Jude greeted, suddenly feeling quite shy to be sitting in a white linen tunic that was soaked through to his skin.
“Steady now,” Sebastián warned as he offered him a hand. “Don’t slip.”
Jude laughed as he took his hand and rose to his feet. “Are you here to bathe as well?” He murmured, shooting Lottie a glance. She had already turned to face the ocean, but her smile was barely hidden as she clearly eavesdropped on their conversation.
“I like to wait until we’re anchored,” Sebastian admitted. “Nothing compares to a proper dive into the water.” Jude bit his lip and nodded as he listened, but he couldn’t help notice the way Sebastián’s eyes drifted across his face when he spoke.
He was glad to have realised his introverted habits and made more friends on the crew, but he still had no idea how to feel about Sebastián.
“My God,” his friend suddenly murmured, then reached out to cup Jude’s jaw. Jude froze at the feeling of Sebastián’s thumb rubbing gently across his stubble, gliding with ease through the water that coated his skin. “It’s only been a week– this grows so fast. Please tell me how you do it.”
Jude had to remind himself to laugh, completely distracted by the heat that burned across his cheeks.
“Yours is fine,” he responded weakly.
Sebastián hummed, unconvinced, but finally removed his hand to run his fingers around the length of his beard. “Yes, but it took forever,” he chuckled, then slowly turned to acknowledge the rest of their company.
Jude took a deep breath and backed up to the bannister while Sebastián was distracted.
“Has he always been like this?” He whispered to Lottie, who looked at him from the side while she kept her head turned to sea.
“Mhm,” she hummed, smile growing. “You really didn’t notice?”
Jude rubbed his jaw where the ghost of Sebastián’s fingers still lingered. He started to shake his head, thought about nodding, then shrugged– unsure of his own truth.
“Well,” she continued, voice still hushed, “He is handsome. It pays to have a handsome friend aboard.”
Jude started to nod, but realised he had no idea what she meant. “Why’s that?”
Lottie turned to look at him properly, then shot a quick look at Sebastian to make sure he was distracted in conversation.
“We’re at sea for a while,” Lottie began vaguely. “And yes, the captain does well to provide us with the necessities, like food and water, even some playing cards. But that only kills one kind of boredom…”
Jude stared, waiting for her to make sense.
“Oh, don’t make me say it,” she muttered, shaking her head. “For God’s sake, it’s been a week already. Are you not… Itching, yet? I can’t last three days before I start climbing the walls.”
Jude laughed at her bizarre allusions, but it faded when her words started to sink in.
“Oh my God… Are you asking if I’m horny?” he hissed.
It was Lottie’s turn to laugh as Jude’s face twisted into horrified realisation. “Well? Are you?” she cackled, no longer paying any mind to her volume as amusement overtook her.
“Shut up!” he whispered again, the flush on his cheeks now drifting down his neck. “I mean… Maybe! But I’m not going to hitch myself to someone, just to–”
Jude glanced over at Sebastián as he spoke, but found him looking right back, his curiosity peaked by their stifled laughter. Jude silenced himself when his friend began to approach and gave Lottie’s arm a smack to try and settle her down.
“Alright, you two?” Sebastián greeted, an eyebrow cocked suspiciously.
“Yes,” Jude answered quickly before Lottie had a chance. “Just mucking about, nothing important.”
Lottie had finally calmed and looked between them with a controlled, friendly smile. Jude made a mental note to thank her later, but another to kick her for setting them off in the first place.
He had been perfectly happy meandering along beside Sebastián, to go with the flow and let the friendship take whatever turns it was destined to take. But now, thanks to her giggling, he couldn’t help but notice just how warm his chest felt whenever Sebastián touched him, smiled his way, shared a bottle, or even so much as looked at him.
Even now, his relaxed eye contact was enough to have Jude’s stomach fluttering.
“Did you come up here for a reason?” Jude blurted out, desperate for the conversation to change its course.
Sebastián leaned back, startled by the question. “Well, yes,” he chuckled, “Straps is having a tiff over the state of the sleeping quarters, so I came to find someone to help me clean up. But if you’re busy–” he mocked, with a playful smirk and roll of his eyes.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” Jude interrupted, the flutters in his stomach quickly twisting into an embarrassed knot. “I just… Nevermind. I’ll help.”
Sebastián looked from Jude to Lottie with a pleased grin on his face. “Well, that was easy!” He pulled his hands from his pockets to clap a palm against Jude’s back. “Don’t worry– it won’t take long, and it’ll get us in her good graces.”
Jude nodded and turned to wave goodbye at his crewmates. Lottie just rolled her eyes and waved a hand to shoo him away, before returning her focus to the rope and pulley to haul the bucket back into the water.
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