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5. Birthstone

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.

Thanks to the warmth of the day, Jude’s skin was almost completely dry by the time he arrived with Sebastián in the crew’s quarters. His face felt crispy from the sea salt and his clothes no longer dripped, but they were still damp enough to hang heavily off his frame. When Sebastián pulled his hand off Jude’s shoulder, he frowned at his palm before wiping it off on his vest.

“Your clothes are still drenched,” he noted. “Do you have something to change into? Trust me, I’ve sailed through enough storms to know that working whilst wet becomes a real slog.”

Jude hummed as he tugged at his tunic. He was relieved that it no longer clung to his skin, but now it was pointed out to him, he realised how uncomfortable it was.

“I should have something. Give me a minute,” he nodded and peeled off to find his hammock.

“I’ll be here, doing all the work,” Sebastián sang after him.

Jude smiled and shook his head to himself as he stuck his fingers into the pale yellow sash tied around his waist. He loosened the knot, pulled it undone, then lifted his tunic over his head. His chest was still damp from the water collected in his clothes, which sent a chill through him now that he was hidden from the sun’s comforting rays.

Once he found his hammock, he hung his wet clothes over it to dry, then dug around for his burlap sack. He’d managed to keep it mostly hidden from the other crewmates by using it as a pillow, which let him keep his clothes and personal items to himself.

Granted, he hadn’t brought much. Half the point of starting fresh was to do just that– to leave his old life behind. He only had room for a single change of clothes and some trinkets he’d mostly forgotten about since packing. As he dug around to find his fresh blouse, his hand passed over a velvet coin purse from his father, which held the few pieces of coin he’d managed to scrounge together for emergencies. His fingers then brushed over a folded scrap of paper, which he knew to be a sketch of him and his mother. Jude decided to leave that at the bottom of the sack for a little while longer.

He grasped the blouse when he finally managed to differentiate it from the material of his trousers. Jude pulled it out and flourished the deep green fabric loose, but frowned when he held it up to inspect it. The tie was missing from its loops, letting it fall completely open. His chest would be completely exposed if he wore it like that, so he sighed and threw it down so he could search through his sack for the missing string.

Jude dug his hand in a little deeper, pushing past his papers and his coin purse to search through the folds of his other clothes. He gasped with delight when his fingers brushed something resembling the leather string, and he snatched it up right away.

He tugged the cord out of the bag, but his face fell when he held it up to the light. Instead of the tie, in his hand was an old hemp necklace with an emerald pendant hanging off the end.

It was the finest thing he owned, and he’d already forgotten about its existence.

Jude jumped when he felt something suddenly brush over his shoulders. He spun around, eyes widened to see Sebastián stood there holding a thick blanket up to him. He too looked startled, frozen in place with the blanket held up high.

“It’s just me,” he teetered. “You’re just standing there all wet, I thought you could use a hand to get dry.”

Jude exhaled and pressed his fist to his chest to help calm his racing heart. “Thank you,” he gasped, shaking his head. “You just caught me off guard.”

At the sign of relief on Jude’s face, Sebastián relaxed and stepped closer to wrap the blanket around him.

“Bloody fool,” he murmured affectionately as he tugged the linen close, pulling it shut to cocoon him and dry off the last of the seawater. He fussed as he adjusted it to fit around him comfortably, but froze when Jude lifted his hands to help hold the blanket closed.

“...What have you got there?” Sebastián asked, head tilted curiously.

Jude looked down at his hands where the necklace was still wound between his fingers. “Ah,” he breathed, lifting his fist to reveal the emerald to his friend. “My, uh… I found it under all my things... It’s my birthstone.”

Sebastian inched closer and gently took hold of Jude’s wrist, lifting the pendant into the light. “It’s beautiful. Is that emerald? What birth month is that, then?”

A smile tugged the corner of Jude’s lips as Sebastián stared, transfixed on the gem.

“May,” he murmured.

Sebastián hummed softly and finally turned his gaze back to Jude’s face. “Would you like me to fasten it for you?”

Jude tensed. He turned his hand to look at the pendant again, unable to help the frown that pinched his brow. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “It was given to me by… Someone I’m not particularly fond of.”

Sebastián hummed again, this time in thought as he snaked his hand back around Jude’s fist. He ran his thumb across Jude’s knuckles, then gave them a gentle squeeze until his hold loosened enough for Sebastián to slowly pry the necklace out of his grip.

“Here,” he whispered, smiling up at Jude as he held one end of the cord in each hand. “Now I’m giving it to you.”

Jude huffed out a quiet laugh and rubbed a hand over his face. He couldn’t ignore the sparkle in Sebastián’s eye, nor how badly he wanted to chase it; to keep that smile wide for as long as he could. So he obediently turned around, offering his back to him.

Sebastián looped his hands around his head from behind, placing the jewellery delicately around Jude’s neck. He twisted the clasp at the back to secure it in place, then ran his hands along the curve of Jude’s shoulders to let him know it was done. When Jude turned back around, Sebastián was already looking down at his chest, ready to admire his new accessory.

The hemp was short and snug around the base of his neck, the pendant sitting atop the dip of his collarbone. Sebastián couldn’t help but reach out and touch it, his smile growing as he traced Jude’s skin around the teardrop shape of the gem. Jude’s insides shivered at the touch, that familiar heat quickly returning to his chest and flourishing underneath Sebastián’s fingertips.

“It suits you,” Sebastián murmured, glancing up at Jude’s face through his lashes. “You should wear it.”

Jude swallowed dryly. Sebastián’s fingertips lingered on his collar, barely grazing his hair that grew thick across his chest. His gaze never wavered.

“Okay,” Jude whispered.


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