Hal Gates was a good man.
DeGroot stood over the body, feeling as though the ship was sinking. They were beached now, completely still, but the world tumbled and churned under his feet.
He could still see Hal when they'd first met, all dark curls and sharp eyes. It had been 1699. DeGroot had never thought he'd survive pirates off the African coasts, let alone the Fancy, Avery's infamous crew. He'd never thought he'd choose to join them. He'd never thought he'd fall so hard for the bosun.
Something had happened on the Fancy, something nasty and brutal during their raid of an Indian fleet that had left Hal shaken. DeGroot only found out later that it had involved rape and massacre beyond anything they'd done before. Hal wanted to avoid some of his crew after that, and had focused on the newcomers instead, under the pretence of training them up. DeGroot hadn't minded the attention. Neither had Joji who had been sailing on the same ship as DeGroot when it had been taken.
There was something soft about Hal, a tenderness that shone through his gruff exterior. He was a perfect bosun, firm and competent and clear. He'd been kind to DeGroot, and even kinder to Joji, who was lost and confused, barely able to understand Dutch, let alone English.
Hal's laughter was infectious, especially when they were drunk and he was regaling DeGroot with his crew's feats. His voice was beguiling, as were his eyes, his grin. It hadn't been long before DeGroot shared a hammock with him, shared breath, skin against skin, mouth against mouth. He'd never been this close to a man before, never let himself get lost in someone like this.
There had been a few quiet years, after Avery left them in Nassau. They'd lived off Hal's share of treasure, DeGroot had repaired ships in Nassau. DeGroot had been happy then, content with that simple life.
But Hal had always been more of a pirate at heart than DeGroot was. He'd stolen the Fancy from its incompetent owners with Avery, after all; he'd decided to reclaim his life from his callous, unjust employers. DeGroot understood that feeling. He'd felt the rebellion too, time and again, when captains and quartermasters took advantage of the crew, and used him and his technical knowledge to justify their cruel orders. But the adventure of being a pirate, well, that was another thing. DeGroot liked sailing; Hal liked danger.
And Hal liked Flint. He liked him the moment they met, admired that charisma, that flair for the dramatic, that strategic mind. Fell under his charm. Something about Flint's determination to fuck over what he called civilised society called to Hal like a siren's song. And Flint had taken advantage of it. Hal had sank the rest of his savings, the rest of his life, in the venture with Flint.
DeGroot had followed, grudgingly. Flint rubbed him up the wrong way, but DeGroot liked the crew well enough. They'd stolen ships until they'd finally got their hands on the Walrus, a mammoth, just like Flint's ambition. Time and again DeGroot warned Hal about Flint, until it drove a wedge between them, until there were secrets between them. By the end they barely spoke.
Now Hal lay there lifeless. Anger and grief roiled through DeGroot in turn, dizzying, choking. They could have had a quiet life. Hal could have listened to him. It could all have been different, were it not for Flint.
Gently, DeGroot knelt beside Hal's body and pressed a kiss to his forehead. He was already growing cold.
Hal Gates was a good man, a kind man, and an idiot who wanted to save their troubled, tyrannical Captain.
DeGroot stood again, and made his way out of the ship. The vote to decide what to do with their Captain would soon begin. DeGroot wasn't sure he had it in him to respect Hal's wish to keep the man alive.