Jude and Lottie looked up when they heard the cry from above deck. Their game of cards went forgotten as they shot to their feet and followed the rush of pirates who were already swarming the stairs, eager to get a look at what they approached.
“Oh, brilliant!” Lottie whispered to herself as they emerged into the sunlight. Jude followed her gaze to a tiny island in the distance. The land was covered in greenery and curved like a crescent moon, the open beach like arms spread wide, enticing them to approach it.
“Are we heading towards it?” Jude asked upon noticing the taught direction of the sails.
“Aye, we stop by whenever we pass it,” Lottie confirmed, her grin still directed at the little patch of sand and trees. “There’s a tavern and a fishing dock– it’s a neat little isle for folks like us!”
As they approached, Jude started to make out the shape of a dock and building at the centre of the beach. He looked over his shoulder to check the rest of the crew’s reactions, but faltered when his eye fell upon the helm.
Now that he’d met him once, the captain continued to catch his eye. It was barely noon and Jude’s gaze had wandered over him three times already, where he stood stiffly at the back of the ship with the first mate by his side. Straps still called the orders and directed the men, but Jude finally started noticing the shadow of a man who stood behind her, who talked quietly in her ear before each shout was called across the deck.
This time, where he and Lottie hung over the bannister on the starboard deck, he was close enough to make out the captain’s face. Without the pale light of the moon, the earthy shade of his skin shone through, with warmed cheeks and soft pink lips. A single jewel held his hair away from his face, pinning it to one side where it then cascaded down his shoulders. It looked silken in the sunlight, and the greys at his temples glowed warmly in the sunlight.
Jude stared, transfixed by the flowing mixture of black and gold, until the captain looked down and laid his eyes directly upon him. Jude sucked in a sharp, startled breath, whipping back around to join his crewmates in watching the approaching island.
The captain likes you fine.
What on earth had Straps meant by that?
Was Jude doing a good enough job that she went out of her way to mention him? Had the captain been out on the deck all along, watching Jude as he fumbled with ropes and cannonballs? The thought of either made a nervous heat creep up his neck, so he hunched forward and turned his attention back to Lottie.
“How long will we be staying?” he asked, nudging her shoulder.
“Last time we stayed overnight,” she recounted. “It’s a good bit of R’n’R for the crew. Will you come ashore with us?”
Jude dared one last glance over his shoulder, relieved to see the captain was already making his way down to his quarters under the helm.
“Definitely,” he nodded, eager to feel some solid ground under his feet.
As beautiful as the crescent beach looked from afar, it was too shallow for them to sail up to the dock. The ship anchored just outside the mouth of the island, and one by one the crew took to shore on crowded rowboats. Only a handful stayed behind with the captain, but even Straps made her way to the small tavern at the end of the narrow dock.
It wasn’t until they set foot on land that Jude finally saw Sebastián for the first time that day. As the crew peeled off into groups – some to wander the shoreline, others to take up spots along the dock – Jude followed his meagre entourage towards the tavern. He paused outside the door to look up and admire the flag fluttering above the entrance, when suddenly a pair of hands grabbed him from behind.
He jumped and spun, startled to find his mate standing there with a wide grin on his face. Jude thought he’d be nervous to face Sebastián again, to acknowledge he ditched their rendezvous and slept in his own bed the night before– but Sebastián seemed pleased to see him, and just as affectionate as he always had been.
“I’m so excited you get to see this place!” he exclaimed, patting Jude’s shoulder and urging him towards the door. “It’s like a little piece of paradise. Let’s go, let’s go!”
Jude rushed in with Sebastián clung to his side, earning him a cheer when he approached his table of friends. As soon as they sat down, pots of lager were thrust upon each of them, and Sebastián wasted no time downing half of his in one go. Jude sipped tentatively, wary of how much he’d eaten that day, but as soon as the full-bodied ale met his lips he melted into the flavour and groaned with delight.
The table came to life with songs and shanties, and it only took two glasses for Jude to learn all the words. It was clear as they sung and swayed together that many of them were using the evening as an opportunity to cut loose and treat themselves, evident by the way Lottie slunk her way into another pirate’s lap, while others wandered off into smaller groups to better hear each other’s playful whispers and flirtations. Jude watched through blurred vision as his crewmates and friends drifted from their loud playfulness into a sleepy and intimate haze.
It made him all the more aware of Sebastián’s arm, which had snaked its way around his shoulders at some point during the evening.
He still wasn’t sure what to do about Sebastián. Jude knew what he wanted to say, but saying it was another task entirely. It was easier to tiptoe away; to laugh along with everyone’s jokes, then wait until the middle of a particularly rambunctious argument to slip out of the tavern unnoticed.
When Jude set foot outside, the sun had long since set and stars were already starting to light up the sky. He walked with a heavy, uneven gait down the length of the dock, until the planks gradually eroded into the shoreline. He stumbled when his boot came down upon the soft sand, sloshing the remaining liquid in his glass when he fell onto the uneven ground.
It was only after he tripped that Jude thought to look around, to see if anyone had noticed him– but the beach was bare, the docks were empty, and he had the rising tide to himself. From where he sat on the edge of grass and sand, the waves looked incredibly inviting, and he suddenly remembered what Sebastián had said about bathing when they were anchored.
Jude was shirtless before he really stopped to think it through. He hopped forward as he tugged off his boots, tugged weakly at the knot on his sash to untie it, and left his clothes in a messy trail on his way from the bank to the water’s edge. All that remained when he shuffled into the shallows was the emerald necklace around his throat and the near-empty glass in his hand.
He gasped as he skipped into the cold lapping waves, but continued trudging forward until the water came up to his waist. Glass held high so he wouldn’t drop the last of his ale in the gentle swell, Jude buckled his legs and gave himself to the ocean’s gasp. He dunked his head under the surface, then threw it back into the air with a sharp exhale as the water knocked him back towards sobriety.
With no one to overhear him, Jude laughed freely as he rubbed his fingers into his short dark curls and splashed the water up into his face. He could feel the crust of salt and sweat melting off him the longer he waded, and eventually threw his near-empty glass into the waves so he had both hands to swim with.
“Not a bad idea, that.”
Jude spun around to face the shore, sloshing the calm waters around him. It was too dark to make out any details of the figure who stood on the beach watching him, but he recognised the voice instantly.
“Mind if I join you?” Sebastián called out to him.
Jude exhaled slowly as he sunk down, crouching so the water lapped at his chin. He knew he had no reason to feel shy, but something about Sebastián’s confidence left him feeling small in contrast.
“Of course. Plenty of ocean for two,” he replied, his voice so small that he was surprised it could be heard.
Jude sat still and watched as Sebastián slowly disrobed.
Though he felt sure against the idea of romance, his eyes were glued to his friend as he watched him step out of his boots, slip off his shirt, and untie his trousers. Looking, after all, was something else entirely. Despite the yards of distance between them, Jude instinctively moved backwards to give him space when Sebastián started walking into the water– but his gaze never wavered.
“It’s fucking cold tonight,” Sebastián uttered right before diving forward into the shallows. Jude tried to watch his shadow under the water, but lost sight of him until he resurfaced by his side.
“Much better than a bucket, though,” Jude murmured as he watched Sebastián’s hands rake through his hair.
“Isn’t it?” he grinned, his smile bright in the moonlight now that he was close enough for Jude to see. “I told you this place was paradise.”
Jude finally broke his gaze away from his friend to admire the curve of the beach and all its serenity. The last of the sunset’s colours had finally drained from the sky to leave them into a blue-black haze, with a half moon that glowed brightly in the centre of the sky. From where Jude floated, the life within the tavern was distant and muted– the only clear sounds in his ears were the whispers of the waves lapping the beach, and the quiet splashes from his hands cutting through the surface.
A louder splash tore his attention from their surroundings and back to his friend. Jude watched as Sebastian washed his face with water and submerged himself again, this time jumping back up immediately and flipping his hair out of his face. The longer Jude stared, the further down he sunk, until the waves kissed at the skin above his top lip and hid his tipsy smile from view.
After wiping the water from his eyes, Sebastián set his sights upon Jude. He paused when he caught his gaze, lips slowly melting into a smile before wading closer to his half-hidden crewmate.
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