Jude glanced at the shadowed waves that sloshed against the marina’s posts. He set his eyes back on Sebastián’s dreamy smile and frowned. “What…?”
“Shh,” Sebastián immediately hushed, nestling himself closer to Jude’s side as he pointed outside again. “This is my favourite part of the trip.”
Jude bit his lip to silence himself.
When he turned back to the window, he froze at the changing sight before him. The winds had picked up to carry them out of the harbour, and algae-ridden slosh had quickly turned into a wide view of sprawling piers with the town’s humble skyline behind. Jude slowly released his lip from his teeth as he kept his gaze steady and watched that wretch of a place slowly shrink into the horizon.
Before long, his home was just a blur of buildings along the tree line.
He slumped again, this time from awe as he watched the last twenty-something years of his life melt into an eyestrain. When he finally blinked away from the window, Sebastián had turned his smile onto Jude.
“You hate it too?” Jude asked, trying to laugh but only managing a small grimace.
Sebastián glanced at the horizon with raised brows. “The town? Not exactly… There’s just something so invigorating about leaving the land behind, to walk on water for a time.”
Jude huffed out a quiet laugh as he turned away to lean his back against the wall. “Right, of course. That too.”
“You hate the place?” Sebastián immediately asked, scooting closer to follow Jude as he shifted. “Did something happen there?”
Jude sighed and scanned his eyes absently around the gun deck, hesitating as he took in the sheer amount of cannons that were locked into place, ready for battle. He rolled the question around in his head for a moment longer, then smiled dryly at his companion.
“No, I just woke up one day and decided to become a pirate,” he responded sarcastically.
Sebastián laughed as merrily as he would in the old tavern with a set of cards in his hand and a drink to his lips.
“Okay, fine. You don’t want to talk,” he grinned, shaking his head. “But you’ll soon realise there’s little else to do at sea. Promise you’ll come to me before you bore yourself to death.”
Jude finally broke into a proper smile as he watched Sebastián push himself up to his feet.
“Shall I show you around, then?” Sebastián offered, holding a hand out to him.
Jude considered it for a moment. “I suppose you should,” he murmured, then reached out to hoist himself up. Sebastián beamed at him and patted his back before dusting himself off.
While the ship seemed vast from the outside, with its huge belly, neverending tangle of ropes, and masts that seemed to reach endlessly into the sky, the inside felt cramped and dark around every corner. Most of the space below deck was dedicated to vast amounts of storage, while the crew’s area was made up of a kitchen, mess hall, and group sleeping quarters.
All throughout the tour, Sebastián led Jude through the ship with a relaxed stride. He leaned against doorways and waved his hand casually, like he was showing off some scrap he’d found washed ashore rather than a miracle of modern engineering. Jude supposed that after three long journeys Sebastián must have been well used to its marvels.
When they finally resurfaced onto the deck, they were surrounded by open waters on every side. The wind whipped against their clothes and carried the ship with great speed into the unknown.
“There you are,” a voice cut through the flapping of sails from behind them. Jude spun around, clutching a rig of rope to steady himself, and gripped it tighter when he saw the first mate standing at the top of the helm’s stairs.
“Alright, Straps?” Sebastián greeted cheerfully, paying no mind to her foreboding aura that intensified with each heavy step towards them.
“Where the hell have you been?” She growled down at him.
Sebastián continued to smile through her attempt at intimidation and spun to face Jude. “Showing the little one around,” he answered as if it were obvious. “Why’d you let him wander like a lost pup? He didn’t even know what a brig was.”
Jude’s eyes widened in embarrassment and he stamped his heel down on the toe of Sebastián’s boot before he could stop himself. His companion jumped, but only raised his eyebrows at Jude’s interruption.
“I told him to find someone to show him around,” the first mate spat back at him. “And clearly… He found you. How unfortunate for him– but at least you’re doing as you’re told this time.”
Jude’s blood ran cold to see Sebastián so casually taunting the ship’s authority. When he saw the man open his mouth to speak again, he reached out to grab his wrist and give it a tight squeeze; a silent plea for him to reel it back. He was relieved to see it had more of an effect than his kick, as Sebastián froze and turned his attention onto his new crewmate.
“Wh-what duties should we start on, First Mate Strap?” Jude stammered, hoping to fill the silence with some kind of instruction.
Straps eyed him up curiously, then leant back with a smirk. She turned to Sebastián as she responded, “The munitions need unpacking, then I imagine the kitchen will be ready for assistance.” She glanced at Jude, then back at Sebastián. “Keep an eye on him.”
Jude wasn’t sure who she was speaking to.
Before he could ask, Sebastián saluted her with far too much enthusiasm, then turned back to the stairs. He grabbed ahold of Jude’s hand as he walked, dragging him along.
Jude’s ears grew hot when he heard the first mate call out to them, right as they ducked down below deck. “I like this one, Peaches. Maybe he’ll start rubbing off on you.”
He dreaded Sebastián’s response, but thankfully they continued down in silence.
To Jude’s surprise, Sebastián led them right through to the end of the gun deck as he was told, where a small huddle of pirates were already digging into crates of cannonballs and empty grenade bottles. He hoisted himself up onto one of the empty crates, sitting down on top of it with enough room for Jude to join at his side. Jude sat tentatively, hesitant to interrupt the men and their banter with his presence.
Sebastián wasn’t so careful. “Morning, lads,” he greeted, happily kicking his feet against the side of the box. “Travelling well?”
“Alright, Peaches,” one of them muttered, barely lifting his head to nod as he heaved an armful of cannonballs out of an even larger crate.
Jude subconsciously leant forward at the sound of the nickname. He’d wondered if he misheard the first mate when she’d called out to them, but that time he knew he heard it clearly. He looked at Sebastián questioningly, hoping for some kind of story, but his companion ignored him to continue smiling at their crewmates.
“Say, anyone know where we’re off to?” He asked.
The same pirate paused to look up at him before focusing back on the heavy balls in his arms. “Off to Spain to meet a fancy fence, I heard. Then we’ll probably be docking on the archipelago for a spell.”
The pirate then readjusted his grip on all the cannonballs and trudged over to the pair of them. Sebastián held his hands out obediently and let the man roll a few of them into his arms, before he turned to offer some to Jude without so much as a greeting.
“Much obliged, friend,” Sebastián thanked him with a friendly grin, then leapt up to his feet.
He waited for Jude to find his footing with an arm full of lead, then together they wandered down the length of the deck. Between each cannon were empty racks mounted on the walls, waiting to be filled with the cannonballs. Sebastián unloaded all of his, then beckoned for Jude to do the same, hovering by his side to help if he needed it.
Once they were all set in place, they returned to the group for another load. The pirates were already deep in conversation again, this time wondering what they’d be getting for their treasures, and sharing daydreams about what they’d do with their profits. The two of them were handed another armfull of cannonballs, and they were sent to continue the back-and-forth job of stacking and preparing them for battle.
At least he didn’t have to worry about interrupting or standing out; the pirates let him meld in like he’d always been there.
For at least an hour they shuffled back and forth to stack the munitions, until another pirate wandered onto the gun deck to call for assistance. Sebastián and Jude were carted into the kitchen to help take stock of the rations, then called away again by a crewmate who needed help fixing a rig of rope. They carried, counted, and cleaned all day, so by the time the winds began to die down in the early evening, every bone and muscle in Jude’s body was aching.
While the work was long and tiresome, he wouldn’t deny it felt invigorating to be using his hands again. It had only been a week since his final shift at the tavern back home, but apparently that was long enough for him to miss it. Not to mention the conversations he heard while they worked were entertaining to say the least, and he learned a great deal many things about the ship he now lived on.
But beyond all else, Sebastián was a truly wonderful mentor.
No matter what unpleasant chore they were made to do, his companion stayed merry and kept the conversation flowing. Jude heard stories about his many jobs before he joined the crew, and he managed to pry a few tales of the sea out of him as well. Sebastián didn’t pry too incessantly about Jude’s dislike of the old port he’d left behind, just occasionally nudged him with bright, hopeful eyes.
Jude was able to redirect the conversation each time, but he could tell Sebastián was eager for the gossip whenever he would be ready to tell it. Another time, Jude decided, when it wasn’t all so fresh in his mind.
The conversation continued as they slumped down at a long mess table for supper, both leaning in close to keep their laughter quiet. It had been such a long first day in Sebastián’s close orbit that Jude almost forgot his place as a newcomer amongst a hoard of pirates– that is, until one of them sat down across from him.
“Oi, Peaches,” barked a tall, pale man with a clean-shaven head and bushy ginger beard. “Who’s the new kid?”
Jude froze with his spoon stuck in his mouth, cheeks too full of stew to speak up for himself. He looked around uselessly, but none of the nearby pirates were looking at him; they were all focused on Sebastián.
Sebastián took his time to answer, pausing to take a sip of water while holding the bearded pirate’s gaze.
When he finally spoke, the sparkle had gone from his eye, and his voice was low and serious. “This is Jude,” he began slowly. “A mate from back home. He’s my friend– Understand?”
Jude couldn’t help but feel like this introduction was a warning. A threat.
“Yeah, yeah,” the bearded one muttered, finally glancing over at Jude. “So, Peaches’ friend… You ever sailed before?”
Jude held his breath as all the eyes in the room suddenly transfixed onto him. He opened his mouth to respond, but paused when a warm weight pressed against his thigh. He flickered his eyes downwards, finding Sebastián’s hand gently squeezing his knee under the table; what Jude could only assume was a show of support.
“No,” Jude answered honestly, but continued before anyone could interrupt him, hoping his confidence would put any qualms to rest, “But I’m learning quickly, thanks to… Peaches’ help.”
The hand gave another quick squeeze before it released his knee. Jude’s leg immediately felt cold without it there.
“He’s actually doing well?” A different pirate asked, their brow raised suspiciously at Sebastián.
Sebastián simply nodded, then turned his focus back to his stew without another care for their companions. When he dismissed their attention, they started to sit back, one by one glancing at Jude then returning to their own conversations.
It sent a chill down his spine to see Sebastián act so cold with their crewmates, for him to defend Jude so firmly after a single day together. It touched him too, to know he was doing well enough to deserve such camaraderie from someone the rest of the crew seemed to respect. Jude suddenly felt a strong urge to reach down and return the favour, to give Sebastián’s hand a little squeeze as a way of saying thank you– but he stood before Jude had the chance.
“Let’s go make sure no one’s stolen your hammock,” Sebastián smiled down at him like they were the only ones in the room. “Then perhaps we should call it a day.”
Jude leapt up as he was beckoned, nodding eagerly with his friend’s suggestion. “Good idea,” he murmured, his voice smaller than he meant it to be, as he obediently followed Sebastián from the mess hall.