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Your Diploma, Mr. Turner

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Before they left Singapore, Will made Jack write out and sign a declaration that whatever personal epiphanies still to be had by William S. Turner, they would be had at Jack's hands, and Jack's hands only. After a week in port, Jack's hands were fairly exhausted, and it was time to hoist anchor. Plus, Jack had earned the wrath of some local Chinese overlord by winning an impossible number of rounds of Ma Tiae. It was a given that Jack was cheating, but no one, not even Will, could figure out how. No matter. Their welcome was wearing as thin as the overlord's purse. The recent letter from Missus Commodore nee Swann made it emphatically clear that the Commodore was still, "quite miffed" (or as Jack said, got his smalls in a right twist) over the nicked books, so they decided to give the Caribbean a wide berth for the near future.

They sailed the globe twice, survived a particularly brutal trip about the tip of Africa, nearly lost Mr. Gibbs off the coast of Gibraltar to a bad case of ague, and somewhere, somehow, Mr. Cotton had acquired another parrot. Which enraged Jack—Will heard about it no less than four times a week at a minimum—but with Black and Black, he really didn't have a leg to stand on. And now two parrots would dive for a nip at the trinkets when the sun hit Jack's head at the right angle.

They still fought, although less, they still fucked, just as much, and Will was blissfully happy—Jack's tirades about the parrots not withstanding. Which is why the thought of not sharing that horizon with Jack unthinkable. Because two years after they left Singapore—now called by Jack and the crew as That-Place-Where-Mister-Turner-Truly-Lost-His-Virginity—William was convinced that Jack Sparrow was dying.

The idea first began after that disastrous trip to the New World and the subsequent trip to New Orleans. After being chased out of some Portuguese port by an angry mob brandishing pitchforks and axes with deadly intent, they'd decided that enough time had passed and it was time to go home. Not even the stuffy, stick-up-his-arse Commodore could harbor a grudge for that long—Jack's opinion. Over the course of their travels, Will had painstakingly replaced all of the Commodore's books that Jack had stolen, so now they could in good grace return to Port Royal with stolen books in hand—Will's opinion. They crossed the Atlantic, and, running low on food, water, and ale, they'd tied up at some half rotted-out dock on the edge of an English settlement along the coast of the Carolinas.

For starters, the one alehouse only had ale to drink, which Jack considered to be basically water, except made out of hops. And second, it was cold, and under all those effects, Jack had a fine, delicate structure. Never happier than when naked, in the water, with the sun bearing down on his shoulders, a cold Jack was a grumpy Jack, an uncharacteristically out-of-sorts Jack. He even refused to man the wheel, handing it over to Anamaria, and retreated to the smithy where he curled up in a corner near the fire, glaring at Will, as if the snow were his fault. Will was all for putting it down as total churlishness, because it was as hot as hell in the smithy, but then Jack said out of the blue, "This place reminds me of home." What little Jack had said about his life in England had painted a picture of a life so bleak that Will forgot the scolding on his lips. Instead, he buttoned the top button of Jack's great coat and said, "Let's go south. Tomorrow with the tide."

Jack was often heard to say, "If you can't get drunk in Tortuga, God help you; but then there's New Orleans! God love us all." So Will wasn't surprised to learn that Jack set course for New Orleans, but even given the plethora of bawdy houses and dank inns, with enough liquor to quench the thirst of the entire population of England, Will was surprised that they'd dropped anchor and Jack acted like they’d be there for a long bit. The push for Port Royal seemed to have been forgotten.

They had only been in port three days when Will got the first inkling that something was drastically wrong.

When Will had first come onboard, it was an unusual week when Jack didn’t get thoroughly in his cups and then sneak off for a heart to heart with the Pearl. He’d lean against the main mast, one cheek against wood, and talk to her. Will couldn’t help but hear snatches of his conversation, as Will always sat fairly close by to give Jack a hand and a steady arm when it was time to call it a night. Often he’d sing her sea shanties in his low, husky baritone, sometimes Will could hear him crying softly (Jack was something of a weepy drunk), about how he was so sorry for all those years when she was under Barbossa’s command. Sometimes he’d talk about England and how cold it was and how he had hated it and how everyone had hated him and how different it all would have been had his mother not died bringing him into the world.

As the years went by, the weeping had gradually stopped. Jack talked mostly about Will and their travels, and how that whorehouse in Italy had a red wine that made your cock turn purple when you drank too much of it, and how next time he suggested setting course for Portugal, would she remind him of those irate wankers with the pitchforks.

Will had long ago acceded that if you were in Jack Sparrow’s presence for any length of time, then you had better leave any preconceived notions of heaven and earth behind you on the dock. It took several years, but Will finally realized that the Pearl was answering Jack just as surely as if Will had been the one Jack had been talking to. A sail would ruffle when she was pleased. When she was being saucy, the rigging would rattle against the masts. Angry, the ship would roll, and Will would have to put out a hand to steady himself.

A couple of days after they’d arrived in New Orleans, Will woke up as the ship heaved against the dock. A sleepy “Jack” left his mouth, but his hand felt nothing but an empty spot next to him. Jack had been up some time obviously; his half of the bed was cold. Not bothering to put on his boots, he eased his way out of their cabin, not sure if the Pearl was issuing a warning to him or that it had been nothing more than the wake from a large ship passing by.

Then he heard Jack’s baritone. He had his arms wrapped around the wheel, hatless for once, his silhouette stark and defined from the light of the moon, the perfect picture of a pirate and his ship. There was that roll again and despite all his years at sea, Will had to throw out a hand and grab a rope to stay upright.

“’M not a coward,” Jack said with some asperity, and all the consonants were audible so he wasn’t drunk.

That got a creak.

“I'll tell him, promise. Just trying to get my sea legs.”

Five years ago, if anyone had said that a ship could laugh, he would have thought them decidedly mad. The rigging rippled and Will would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that it was the Pearl issuing a throaty haw.

“Easy for you,” Jack pouted.

The rigging snapped.

“Sorry, love. Sorry. You’re my best girl and he’s my best boy, and I’ll do it. Promise.”

Jack, continuing to cradle the wheel between his two arms, began to sing her lullabys. On careful, silent feet, Will made his way back to their cabin and feigned sleep when Jack slipped in an hour later.

Then there was the business with the crew.

Once docked, one of the first orders of the day was to stock up on smithing supplies. That last run in with the French had depleted their stock of bullets. He’d nipped out shortly after breakfast to make his rounds, only later realizing that Jack had more or less shooed him off the ship. The latest skirmishes with the Spanish had left the French with bugger all in terms of raw minerals, and he’d concluded his business in half the time. Worried about the state of their readiness should they meet hostile ships, he sprinted back to the ship to discuss with Jack about pulling anchor and sailing somewhere so they could stock up on what they needed.

His first clue should have been that the cats were on watch. Black and Black greeted him with identical hisses and raced off.

Sprinting up the gangplank, Will could see that Jack was holding court in front of all the crew. Dear god! Jack was blushing, most definitely blushing. A slight red tinged his tan cheeks. Will had never seen Jack blush in their entire five years together.
“Black, would you...? Black, my boot is not a fish head. Although it probably smells like a fishhead. What is wrong with you two? Go...kill parrots or something. Sorry, Cotton, just sort of slipped out. Now, we’re all agreed. We say nothing to Will…”

At that, one of the cats jumped on Will’s back and clawed his shoulder. Will yowled in pain and he jumped off, giving Will that sneer that cats have perfected over the centuries.

“Will, my lad. What brings you back so soon?”

Jack, the master trickster, had recovered his equilibrium, but now the crew, down to a man (with the exception of Anamaria, who had bigger balls than all of them put together) were blushing.

*****************

He waited for a couple of days and then decided enough was enough. He would ask Mr. Gibbs. When he and Jack put their heads together, there was something of the “partners in crime” aspect to the plotting, but aside from himself and the Pearl, there was no one Will trusted more with Jack’s life.

To say he was completely unprepared for Mr. Gibbs’ unceremonious refusal to discuss the issue was putting it mildly.

“But—”

“No, Mr. Turner. This is another one of those instances when it is between you and Jack. Remember what happened last time the crew got in the middle of your doings? And—”

“I don’t know what is between me and Jack,” Will protested with some indignation, “and last time is only relevant if I know what in the hell is going on. Since I don’t know—”

“Jesus, I need a drink,” he cried up into the air. “What in God’s name did I do to deserve these two,” and he walked away muttering about insanity, blacksmiths, pirate captains, and purgatory on Earth.

As much as Will was not the superstitious sort, he couldn’t help but subscribe to Mr. Gibbs’ dictum of three, because the final straw was when Jack wouldn’t let him touch him.

Jack tended to play his cards close to his vest. Will acknowledged that this was a tried and true survival technique. Because a great majority of the scrapes and near-death experiences that seemed to dog Jack like sweat on a warm day were his own damn fault, there were times when Will actually appreciated being kept in the dark. On the odd occasion when Jack would put a finger up to his lips in response to a question, Will more often than not considered it a blessing. Truly, sometimes he didn’t want to know. Like the time Jack showed up wearing a monk’s robe, with the hood pulled up over the baubles and braids, and threw an extra robe at Will with the plea to put it on posthaste. Then Jack dragged him into the nearest church, threw him down on a pew, and ordered him to bow his head. The prayers Will uttered were not manufactured, as he heard the thump on wood of at least ten booted men, who ignored them, while screaming, “Encuentre del pirata y matarlo, encuentre el pirata y matarlo,” at the top of their lungs.

So when Jack announced he had business in town and put a finger up to his lips, Will was mildly concerned, but not overly alarmed. At least he’d save his alarm for when the situation truly warranted it, which probably was about two hours hence. Jack appeared four hours later, a strained smile on his lips.

When in port, Jack gave shore leave to Cook, always wanting to savor the local fare, yet tonight, he waved a tired hand and said that he just wanted to turn in early. Will turned to the other crew members in alarm. Jack never turned in before the moon was up and certainly had never passed by an opportunity to revel in the debauched air that characterized New Orleans. This was evidence that something was radically wrong, but his mute pleas were met with flat stares by every single one of the crew, and Jack slipped into their cabin without a word.

In Jack’s absence, Mr. Gibbs set up the watch and Will was on first. It was a couple of hours before Will could check on Jack in the cabin. Sure enough, he was asleep, the smell of stale rum assaulted Will’s nose the second he stepped across the threshold. Why was Jack drinking himself to sleep? And why was he still dressed?

Will stripped down to his smalls, curled up next to Jack, and began running a hand over his waist. Jack woke immediate and flinched. “Not tonight, Will. Not tonight.”

It was a night for “nevers,” because Jack had never refused Will, had never balked at his touch.

So it was for three days and three more nights. Trips to town, the pained expression on Jack’s face that never abated, the silence of the crew, Jack drinking himself to sleep, and the continued refusal to let Will touch him or be touched.

On the fourth night, Will could stand no more.

No sooner did Jack gather the crew to mete out watch and shore leave, than Will barked out a “Captain.”

If Will hadn’t been on the verge of hysterics, he might have appreciated the startled look Jack gave over his shoulder, looking for someone else, and then realizing it was Jack Will was addressing, gave everyone a pleased smirk that it was him being addressed as “Captain.”

“Mr. Turner, if you please.” Jack turned and preened in front of all the crew. It was so normal and so, well, Jack that Will almost smiled.

“Parlay.”

Will ignored the gasps of surprise from the crew and the “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” mumbled by Mr. Gibbs.

Jack drew himself up.

“Mr. Turner.”

This must be said. He would no longer be kept in the dark. Lying there night after night, listening to Jack moan in his sleep as he turned over, the rank odor of rum off his breath. They would face this together.

“Why haven’t you told me you were dying? Everyone else, everyone else, but me knows. Why? Do you mean to spare me the pain? Nothing could be worse than this…this...” He flailed a hand.

Jack’s eyes swept the crew.

“I’m dying? Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded.

The entire crew rolled their eyes.

“You’re not dying, Jack. Will is...” Mr. Gibbs paused, scrunched his eyebrows together, “confused about, well, matters. You know. Your matter.”

Jack remained confused until Mr. Gibbs’ wriggled his eyebrows a few more times and directed several pointed looks between him and Jack.

“Yes, yes, yes. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. See,” Jack said brightly. “I’m not dying. I was dying before, back when...” Jack narrowed his eyes and sought out the parrots. Mr. Cotton hunched his shoulders forward in a protective curl. The parrots squawked out a, “Shiver me timbers,” in unison.

Everyone said en masse, “No, you weren’t!”

“Was too,” he insisted. He pointed at the cats. “Black and Black think so.”

Everyone turned to look at the cats glaring at the parrots. A collective sigh was heard.

Will really didn’t want to relive that entire afternoon where Jack was convinced that old parrot (the crew had designed the parrots “old parrot” and “new parrot,” Jack called them “dead parrot” and “deader parrot”) had foretold his doom, when it was really just a bad bottle of rum poisoning his liver. Now that there were two parrots, the possibility for histrionics and hysterics was double. Jack never missed an opportunity to malign the parrots, and Will wasn’t going to let Jack turn the afternoon into a parrot-baiting session.

“I know, Jack. I heard you talking to the Pearl, and the crew, and, well, the other. You won’t let me... You know.” Will blushed.

“The Pearl? The crew? What in the blue blazes are you… Oh. That.” Jack’s mouth shut tight and then his face softened, and brought a hand up to Will’s head, bringing him close. “Silly William,” he cooed into Will’s ear. “’M not dying, you daft bugger.” With a chaste kiss to the cheek, he stepped back to address the crew.

“Well, lads,” at a growl from Anamaria Jack amended it to, “people, pirates, crew, men, women, cats, and I’m not including the bloody parrots, though they’ll stick their nosy beaks in anyway.” At that the main mast creaked, which Will was absolutely convinced was the Pearl rolling her metaphorical eyes. “The jig is up. Sooner than we thought, but the best laid plans.”

Then Jack turned to him, grabbed Will’s hands and said in a quiet voice. “Mr. Turner, will you marry me?”

*******************

They lay side by side, trickles of sweat running down the length of their chests. Even though the cabin was hot and sticky, they opted to keep the windows closed. The music was loud and the voices raucous. Put a fiddle in Marty’s hands and he’d play until dawn.

“Silly Jack,” Will cooed into Jack’s ear. Jack eased into his touch with a hiss. “It’s beautiful. How long will it take to heal?”

“Tis done now, so no more than a week.”

Will placed a gentle hand just about the small of Jack’s back, thinking very dirty thoughts of running the tip of his tongue over the elaborate serif of the intertwined “J” and “W” before running the tip of the tongue elsewhere.

“Why did you have to ask the crew?”

Will didn’t bother asking why Jack had had to ask the Pearl.

“They’re my family, Will,” Jack said in some surprise. “Yours too, my lad.”

Will let the “my lad” part go. He wasn’t a lad any longer, hadn’t been for many moons and several hundred ports, but he suspected that Jack got as much pleasure out of laying claim to him that he got in being claimed.

“Aye, they are. Why are we waiting again?”

In among all the hullabaloo after Will shouted a yes (the cats began to chase Cotton, the parrots began flying in and around everyone’s heads, Mr. Gibbs unearthed a flask from a pile of ropes and down the whole thing in one gulp, and Marty grabbed his fiddle and the crew started dancing and singing), he never quite heard why they couldn’t get married right there and then.

“Need a captain, Will. Finally, am going to get that blasted nag, I mean, I’m finally honoring my debt to Anamaria and have bought her the sweetest sloop. Arrives from Nassau in a couple of days, wind willing. Hand over the ship, do a bunch of nonsense to make her Captain, and then she can marry us.”

“Two captains?” Will kissed the inside of Jack’s neck and tasted salt and rum. Jack lifted his head for more kisses.

“Just one.”

Will stopped to look at him.

He grinned. Despite the dull, meager light of the candle, the gold teeth gleamed.

“Commodore Jack Sparrow.”

Fin