At the end of a long day, Jude slumped against the bannister at the back of the ship with his forearms on the railing, his cheek nestled against his arms, and his legs dangling over the edge of the deck. Lottie sat beside him and meticulously tore into an orange, flinging the scraps of peel into the ocean without care.
“So… What exactly is he doing wrong?” Lottie tentatively asked, still transfixed on her fruit.
Jude sighed and kicked his heel against the side of the hull. “It’s not that he’s doing it wrong,” he tried, “It’s just… Something’s not right. It feels odd.”
Lottie hummed and paused to take a bite of orange. Jude turned his cheek to watch her, hoping some gem of wisdom would come.
“It’ll be hard to talk to him about it if you can’t even explain it to me,” she pointed out.
Jude groaned and dropped his head forward to cover his eyes. “Exactly,” he grumbled. “It’s all just so… Nice. I wish he would be just a little more…” He trailed off in thought, praying the words would come to him eventually.
The cowardly part of him considered calling things off entirely. They didn’t seem to mesh together, their hearts seemed to beat to vastly different rhythms– but guilt quickly followed that thought, as he knew he was being brash at the first sign of complications.
He couldn’t run from Sebastián the same way he’d run from his hometown, and he wasn’t sure if he truly wanted to.
Before he could think back on his evening with Sebastián and try to put his feelings to words, the steady beat of boot steps slowly approached them from across the helm. Lottie turned to look first, and when Jude saw her shoot up to her feet, he threw a glance over his shoulder at the approaching figure.
The panic in his heart thought it would be Sebastián, and the hope wanted it to be a fellow crewmate. But, as he should have known, the stride was too slow and heavy to be either.
Jude’s heart sank as he looked up to see the silhouette of the captain towering over them. He grasped at the bannister and scrambled to his feet to join Lottie’s side.
“Evening,” Captain Kit greeted Lottie first. “May I borrow this one?”
Lottie threw a glance at Jude, but wasted no time nodding at the captain and ducking out of his way. Jude’s eyes widened as he watched her scurry across the deck, his hands balling into nervous fists as she gave him a sheepish, apologetic wave.
“Captain,” Jude looked back at him, hoping it would sound more confident than it felt.
The captain had already turned away from him to stare out to sea, his hands poised behind his back. Jude followed his gaze off the edge of the ship; it was getting late, but the sun remained just above the horizon line and painted everything with warm red hues.
“Jude,” Kit eventually responded.
A shiver ran down Jude’s spine at the sound of his name in that deep, rough tone. He then cursed himself, furious that the last two times he’d run in with the captain he was feeling this same kind of pent up way. He couldn’t imagine how many lashes he might get for thinking such things– but the dark, handsome, mysterious nature of the captain was impossible not to fantasise about, especially now that Sebastián’s gentle tendencies left him feeling so restless.
He was busy stifling those thoughts when the captain spoke again, pulling him back to reality. “Come with me,” Kit gently commanded, “If you would.”
Jude nodded before he’d even registered the captain’s request. When Kit turned away, Jude followed a step behind, careful not to tread on the tattered tails of his long coat. They walked at a leisurely pace, and the captain talked from over his shoulder as they went.
“Did you have a good time on the Isle of White Sands?”
The words didn’t sound right coming out of his mouth; the small talk felt forced, and Jude wondered why on earth he was trying at all.
Regardless, his captain had asked him a question. “The crescent island, with the tavern?” He confirmed. “Yes, it was wonderful.” He certainly didn’t need to go into detail about his night on the beach, nor his friend’s advances that were already leaving him perplexed.
His answer seemed to be enough. The captain hummed his agreement, then continued in silence.
Once they were at the foot of the helm’s stairs, the captain made a sharp turn into the officers’ quarters, bee-lining for his cabin without pausing to look back. Jude nervously glanced around the deck as he followed along, but none of his crewmates paid them any mind. The captain only stopped when he came to the french doors that lead into his cabin, where he paused to hold them open for the young sailor to enter.
Jude hesitated, but the captain looked as stern as always, and he dreaded to test his patience. He hurried inside and stepped up to the war table in the centre of the room, which was still covered in a sprawl of maps and paperweights.
With the curtains pulled open to allow late afternoon sun through the grand windows, the room felt far more comfortable than the evening he’d spent in it serving wine, with light and life breathed into every nook. With no shadows to hide them, the clutter of overstuffed cabinets, stacked treasure chests, and toppled towers of books and papers sat clearly in every corner.
He also saw there was more to the room than just an old war table. In one corner was his bed, stilted so he would be able to see out the windows even if he were to lay against the pillows. In the other corner was a wide desk and high backed chair, with empty cups scattered around paperweights and journaling tools.
Jude turned around to face the captain, but Kit had already walked past him to approach his desk and shed his coat. Jude’s eyes followed him as he leaned over and plucked the lid off a round jade box, then set it aside to reveal a stash of tobacco. Though its contents were humble, the pale green holloware was covered in delicate webs of gold that glinted in the sunlight, like it was held together with cracks of molten ore.
Jude stood with his hands folded in front of him, silently waiting for instruction as he watched the captain pack his pipe.
He couldn’t help but notice that Kit was rather stiff, his back straight and his head high, even as he stood in his own quarters and focused on lighting his smoke. His loose hair and billowing sleeves fluttered gently with his movements, but the statue beneath them was cold and stony.
When the pipe was set firmly between Kit’s teeth, he finally looked up at Jude again. “Do you smoke?”
Jude had to pause and think. Did the sheer amount of smoke inhaled from patrons at the old tavern count as smoking for himself? Tobacco was never something he’d bothered to budget for, but he didn’t mind the taste of a leaf now and then.
“I’m not opposed to it,” he said carefully, figuring that would summarise his experiences well enough.
The captain hummed as he chewed his pipe and slowly walked out from behind his desk. He nodded his head to beckon Jude over to him, then began to walk the length of the back wall alongside all its grand windows.
Jude hurried to his side. The captain came to a halt at the opposing corner of the room, where a tall bookshelf towered over his unmade bed. Many of the books and papers had been pulled out and were left lying around the room, some of which were in a toppled heap on his blankets. The captain reached out to run his finger along one of the shelves as he thoughtfully puffed away at his pipe.
“Can you read?”
Jude grit his teeth as he thought back through his shameful literary experiences. “Somewhat,” he admitted shyly. “I can… But I’m quite slow, and my pronunciation could use some work…”
For a brief moment, the captain flashed a smile around the bit of his pipe. “You and I both,” he admitted. “My English could always be better…”
Jude’s eyes scanned the bookshelf as the captain muttered to himself, eventually coming to land on one of the spines in particular. He couldn’t help but reach out when he noticed it; it was a dusty grey hardback with scarce details or embellishments, but a beautifully intricate symbol embossed into the spine with a dark, gold leaf.
Jude stopped himself at the last moment and quickly drew his hand back to his chest. He glanced over at the captain, but Kit’s expression was calm and blank as he watched Jude’s movements.
“It’s pretty,” Jude quickly explained, pointing at the spine that caught his eye.
Kit reached out to slowly pull the book from where it was crammed between two almanacks. “It is,” he confirmed as he held it out for Jude to see the cover. “It’s Japanese– it starts from this side.”
Jude couldn’t resist reaching out and grazing his finger over the embossed symbol that matched that of the spine. The cover was a coarse material, but the gold kanji shimmered in the light.
“Not that you’ll be able to read it,” Kit added with a coy grin. “But, the pictures are lovely.”
Jude laughed, somewhat nervously, as he gently took the book from the captain’s hand. As beautiful as it was, he was distracted wondering why he was there in the first place, and couldn’t help but feel like he was missing something.
The captain breathed out a smoky breath as he turned back to the shelf. “Do you like it in here?” he asked, glancing at Jude from the side of his eye as he tapped his fingers against a row of books. “It’s not much… But it’s private.”
Jude opened his mouth to respond, but paused at the last second. His heart began to pound when he realised the captain’s choice of words, their implication, and his grip tightened around the volume.
“Excuse me?” he stammered.
A nervous chill ran down his spine as he watched the captain set his pipe down on a shelf, then reached out to slowly pry the book from his hands.
“Word travels slowly through my cabin, but… I heard you were on a quest for privacy.”
Jude paled. Though his fingers tensed, the captain was able to easily pluck the book from his grasp, then gave it one last look before sliding back onto the shelf.
The mortification must have shown on his face, for the captain continued before he had a chance to answer. “I would like to offer you my cabin,” he explained, his tone deadly serious. “I know ‘privacy’ does not mean you intend to smoke or read… But you may help yourself to such things while you’re here.”
Jude was suddenly finding it somewhat difficult to breathe. He dropped his hands, which now felt incredibly clammy, and wiped them nervously on his trousers. He tried averting his eyes by gazing out the window, but the ocean swell was too tempting to throw himself into, so he opted to stare at his feet instead.
At first, he didn’t realise he’d said anything aloud, but the rustling of Kit’s sleeves as he dipped his fingers into the pockets of his waistcoat reminded him of who he was with and how he ought to speak.
Jude cleared his throat and tried again. “I… can’t imagine that just anyone would be allowed into your cabin, especially without supervision,” he noted. “W-why would you offer me the privilege?”
Kit hummed thoughtfully and cast a glance around the room.
“I quite like you, Jude,” he muttered towards the curtains. “I saw you fight against that merchant ship. Not a day into our venture and you threw yourself at those merchants like a seasoned scallywag.”
The captain sighed and his posture began to relax as he took his pipe back from the shelf. After another puff he continued, ignoring Jude’s shocked silence, “I don’t get to see that every day. Your willingness to fight and your loyalty to my ship impressed me. You have a lot of promise as a sailor.”
After countless days of being peppered by Sebastián’s compliments and unabashed affection, Jude was surprised at how touched he felt at the captain’s words. His breathing felt shallow again, and his chest grew hot and tight like he’d just sculled boiling seawater. He couldn’t remember a single time he’d heard such kindness from his old employer for all the years he’d worked behind the bar, and none of Sebastián’s sweet nothings had ever made him feel so tender.
“Um… Thank you,” Jude stammered, unable to choke out much else.
Because, when he really thought about it, an offer like that was exactly what he’d been praying for. Some kind of getaway or secret nook where he could unwind, without dozens of eyes ready to find him around every corner.
It was just difficult to believe who was offering it to him.
“I would… Ah… Yes. Thank you,” he managed to bite out, his gaze still transfixed on his boots.
Then he remembered Sebastián. Perhaps, if they had somewhere completely private to meet, it would be easier for him to find the words and talk to him; to get them both on the same page and enjoy a proper evening together.
It seemed like a perfect plan, but he couldn’t think of any remotely polite way to ask ‘Can I bring a mate?’
He tucked that thought to the back of his mind, making a silent promise to Sebastián that he’d give it his best shot when he could. For the moment, he would absolutely take advantage of the captain’s offer to end his long day on a high note.
“If I, say… Wanted to stay tonight…”
The captain huffed out a short laugh, startling Jude with the sound. His stone veneer began to crumble with the quirk of a smile, which lingered in his eyes even after he turned his attention back to his pipe.
“I can find something to do for an hour,” he murmured, fighting back his grin. “Draw the curtain over the doors and you’ll be left alone. Keziah – First Mate Strap – knows not to enter when they’re closed.”
Jude remained fixed in place and stared in awe as Kit wandered back to his desk. When he finally reached his chair, he set down his pipe and flourished out his coat, pulling it over his shoulders like a cape to shield him from the evening breeze. At last, he lifted a tricorn hat from a hook on the wall and set it firmly on his head.
“My only request is that you clean up after yourself,” he added, flashing a cheeky grin at the clear look of embarrassment on Jude’s face.