As convenient as it was when the seas got rough, the biggest downside to sleeping in a hammock was that Jude couldn’t belly-flop onto it at the end of an exhausting day.
Though, once his head was sunken into his makeshift pillow, none of that mattered– he was just happy to have his feet up and finally be shielded from the heavy weight of the sun’s warmth.
Jude could hear the murmur of his crewmates’ chatter from the other side of the sleeping quarters, but when he closed his eyes, the light from their lantern barely registered through his eyelids. He was free to lay back, let his bones melt into his blankets, and cradle his hands to his chest to protect his many cuts and bruises from getting knocked around in the night.
Though he’d started his day on a frustrating note, he’d done so much manual labour that he was sure he could fall asleep within a minute. Curious to try, he began counting down in his mind.
He stirred when the barely-there halo of lantern light suddenly shifted into bright morning sun rays, painting the backs of his eyelids a soft glow of red. That was quick. Jude blinked his eyes open and squinted into the light.
The sleeping quarters were still dark. His crewmates continued chattering on the far side of the room. The light in front of him was not from the sun, but another oil lamp being held up to his face. Jude tiredly rubbed his wrist over his eyes.
“Sorry,” a man whispered as he lowered the light. Jude exhaled with relief when he opened his eyes and saw Sebastián standing over him. “Were you asleep?”
“Not yet,” Jude matched his volume as his head fell back against his pillow. “Everything alright?”
Sebastián smiled guiltily as he held his other hand up into the light. His fist was clasped around the neck of a bottle, which was filled to the brim with an appealing auburn liquid.
“I barely saw you today. I wondered if you’d like to sit up with me for a while,” he mumbled, clearly embarrassed of his request when Jude was already so settled in his bed.
But, he was right. Jude remembered only seeing Sebastián’s face once while he was threading rope in the afternoon. He smiled and nodded, then heaved himself out of his hammock to join him.
To his surprise, Sebastián didn’t lead them towards the light and sound of their fellow crewmates. Instead they crossed to the farthest side of the quarters, where a flat bed of blankets was nestled between the wall and one of the giant support beams that ran through the ship. It was a sweet little corner, still surrounded by the beds of sleeping pirates, but hidden enough that it almost felt private.
Sebastián hooked the oil lamp onto the wall so the flame cast a gentle glow over his bed, then meandered down onto his blankets with his back against the wall. Jude slowly joined him as Sebastián clawed at the cork of his bottle.
They sat in silence as they took their first few sips, re-acclimating themselves to the taste of the watery booze as they passed it gently back and forth. Eventually Jude finally felt relaxed enough to stretch out his legs and tip his head back against the wall with a soft thud, taking his time to swirl the liquid in the bottle before offering it back.
Sebastián paused when he reached for it, his brow furrowing. “My God,” he muttered, his tone shifting into a quiet whine. “What have you done to yourself?”
Jude blinked and the bottle was gone, replaced with Sebastián’s gentle grip around his hand. He winced when the pad of his friend’s thumb dragged over one of the fresh cuts: a souvenir from his evening spent fumbling against the hull of the ship.
“Barnacles,” Jude muttered. He tensed to pull away, but Sebastian resisted it, so Jude allowed himself to be held.
Sebastián tutted as he gently turned his wrist to inspect the tiny ruby slashes. He was covered from knuckle to fingertip, from the back of his hand to the ball of his palm. It was impossible to avoid them while he scraped and scrubbed; even when he thought he was being careful, he’d turn his hand against a jagged mollusc and a new cut would appear out of nowhere.
“I’ll be more careful next time,” he promised with a coy smile, which fell when he watched Sebastián pull his hand up to his lips.
It was a chaste kiss, but Sebastián’s mouth lingered against Jude’s knuckles while he looked up at him through his lashes. He peppered one against each finger, the gentle heat of his lips surprisingly soothing against his wounds, then lowered his hand down to their laps.
“Heal quickly,” he urged, voice still a whisper.
Jude only realised he’d been holding his breath when he opened his mouth to respond and fresh air rushed in. Sebastián chuckled at his reaction.
“You know,” he continued on, tipping his head back against the wall to match Jude’s stance, “I was surprised to hear about your inquiry today…”
Jude immediately shut his eyes, unable to stifle the laugh that came out of him. Of course they would have to talk about that. An embarrassed heat rose up his neck, leaving the stinging cuts on his hands forgotten.
Sebastián smiled and leant a little closer, turning his head to the side so his temple rested against the wall. Jude mimicked his movement so they could meet each other’s eye, the smile of his laughter still lingering.
“Is it so surprising?” Jude finally muttered, rolling his eyes at himself. “Are you not struggling at sea?”
Sebastián hummed, but his smile was pinched. “I am,” he admitted, “But that’s not what surprised me.”
“Oh?” Jude prompted, his smile turning coy despite the way his flushed chest had begun to burn like hot embers beneath his skin.
His companion nodded against the wall. “I didn’t expect to hear something like that… From the rest of the crew,” he noted. “I am your friend, Jude. You know you can come to me with anything that ails you.”
Jude laughed again, a nervous little flutter as he lowered his head and stared at his hands.
“You help me with everything,” he pointed out. “I’m growing tired of looking like a fool in front of you.”
Suddenly a hand laid across his cheek, turning him to look back at Sebastián’s face. Jude’s smile faded when he saw his companion’s eye was already turned down to his mouth.
“Venga– you never look a fool,” he whispered, his hand steady against Jude’s face. “You should come to me. You should let me help you.”
Jude opened his mouth to reply, but Sebastián had already leant forward to mute the words with a kiss.
Jude’s heart was already beating loudly against his ribcage, but once their mouths connected, it began to skip, then sprint, until thrummed with an intensity that shook him to his core.
Sebastián’s lips were soft and his kiss was delicate. Despite the shock, it left Jude wanting more, leaning in, and tilting his head to chase the breath that Sebastián stole from him. His lips opened Jude’s mouth with such kind persuasion; a secret whisper that would be lost under a heavy sigh, until his tongue had the room to tease the seal of his mouth.
Jude sucked in a breath just as Sebastián pulled away. It was only then that he realised he’d wrapped a hand around Sebastián’s wrist, gripping it so tightly his knuckles had turned white. He dug his fingers into the man’s skin, flaring the tender cuts that littered his fingertips.
Sebastián put an inch between them and laughed under his breath. He looked up from Jude’s mouth to finally meet his eye, fondness falling off him in waves.
Jude swallowed dryly and carefully pried his hand away from Sebastián’s arm.
“You want it too, do you not?” Sebastian whispered, his nose brushed against Jude’s cheek. He was impossibly close, but Jude could still make out when Sebastián’s eyes fell back down to his lips, then felt his hand drop from his cheek to lay against Jude’s lap.
His body clearly wanted it.
“I certainly, um…” Jude whispered, teeth gritted in preparation for his next words. “But I… Have to go. The first mate told me to report to her at nightfall.”
Sebastián blinked, stunned by his response.
They sat frozen in place for a long moment, Sebastián’s hand still grazing over the mound in Jude’s trousers, his nose still hovering against his cheek. Then he smiled, laughed incredulously, and pulled back so Jude could see him properly.
“You best not keep her waiting,” he murmured, but the look of fondness was still there as he slowly admired Jude from head to toe. “But I am happy to do so. Come back to me when she’s done with you.”
Jude tried to nod, but only managed to raise his head stiffly as he scrambled to his feet. He threw one last look at Sebastián in time to see his mate grinning around the neck of their rum bottle, with one hand lifted to wave him off.
Jude returned the gesture, his actions slow and languid, while his heart continued its fevered thrashing.