Jack knows from bitter experience that it is in a captain’s own best interest to look after his crew. When he takes the helm of the Pearl for the second time, he considers this a lesson well-learned. If he paid attention to whether or not his men were satisfied before the mutiny, he might have saved himself some trouble. But truth be told, it's not the first thing on his mind when he asks after Marty’s wife or brushes Matelot up on his letters or slips a jar of expensive balm into Anamaria’s share of the take. That would be dwelling on the past, and there is no longer any reason for Jack to do that. Mostly he makes certain of their well-being because he’s their captain and it is his responsibility, and also because he likes them.
When Will Turner taps Jack on the shoulder one night in Tortuga and asks if he might come aboard, Jack knows he’s going to have his work cut out for him. The whelp caused enough trouble on their first meeting; he’s going to need a world of looking after.
It is Jack himself who spends several days showing Will the ropes of a sailor’s daily life, though one of the others could’ve easily done it. He sees that Will has new clothes to replace his shabby, patched things, as well as a proper pirate’s earring (Will flatly refuses Gibbs’ needle and ink, even though Jack sheds his shirt to prove the man’s work is sound). A few weeks into the journey, after much badgering, Jack finally gets Will to tell him the story of how he’s come to be part of Jack’s crew and, presumably, separated from one Miss Elizabeth Swann. He can’t really understand a word of it, since Will is extremely drunk at the time and by turns belligerent and melancholy, but the important thing is that Will gets it off his chest.
It quickly becomes clear that Will is lacking in more practical areas of his education. Although it is a rare thing for Jack Sparrow to show restraint in his desires, he stops himself from taking the boy to his bed, even when they’re sharing a drink and Will’s brown eyes crinkle at the corners as he questions one of Jack's tales and Jack is sure he’d be amenable to the idea. He understands that Will would only be confused and resentful in the morning, and that doesn’t bode well for anyone because Will tends to do stupid things when he’s upset.
With that thought in mind, Jack shadows Will during their first raid. To his surprise, the boy is perfectly calm and collected. Not even when their quarry makes a stand next time does Will lose his head, either figuratively or literally. In fact he sustains nary a scratch, hiding a grin behind one hand as he watches Anamaria stitch up a scowling Jack’s shoulder. He’s a masterful swordsman, no doubt about that, and he takes easily to the sails, but even the best of men slip up sometimes. Jack waits for Will to shed that first drop of blood aboard his ship, worrying that it will bring it all home to him and he’ll have some sort of crisis of self.
After nearly four months, Will hasn’t sustained a single injury, not once tripped over a wayward line nor gotten knocked on the head by the debris of battle. He even manages to start a couple of bar brawls and then stumble back to the Pearl while the rest of the patrons are duking it out, three sheets to the wind but otherwise hale and healthy. None of the sailors have ever seen anything quite like it. They start calling him Lucky Turner, asking him to blow on their dice or tap their deck of trick cards for good fortune. Jack will admit to a faint sting of jealousy, but the boy blushes so fetchingly that one can’t hold the admiration against him.
They’re on their way to eastern waters one afternoon when they catch the edge of a hurricane. The Pearl fights hard to keep from being drawn in towards the eye. Jack has the unnerving suspicion that they’re circling around the rim of the monster’s mouth, unable to break free. He sails by feel and instinct, his toes slowly going numb, while the waves bash against their hull and the rain spits sideways into their faces.
Some time passes – might be several hours, might be only one; the sky’s too dark to tell – and suddenly people are crying out in panic. Jack shields his eyes with one hand, squinting at the source of the disturbance.
“Man overboard!” shouts Gibbs in his brassy, carrying voice. It’s Will at the forefront, knotting a rope around the mainmast and then his own waist. He takes a dive into the frothing sea while those free to watch, Jack included, take a collective gasp. Jack’s eyes start to sting from not blinking as he stares at the water where Will has disappeared and is not coming up – the rope’s pulled taut –
Finally the boy’s head breaks the surface in the distance. He waves with one arm, the other locked around a man that looks to be – yes, Jack can see that it’s Duncan with his carrot-red hair as his crew start to heave on the thick rope. He’s a bold fellow, but not the strongest swimmer. The closer they draw, the more Jack can see of Will: the way he kicks, doing his best to get back to the ship while hauling an unconscious Duncan, and the blade between his teeth. Jack calls Anamaria to the wheel with a sharp whistle, ducking a wave to make his way aft.
The first thing he says to Will, after clapping him on the back to help him get out most of the seawater, happens to be, “What might this be for, eh?”
Will, bracing his arms on his knees as he sucks in air, replies, “To cut us free if the Pearl started to capsize.”
Jack stares at him, speechless for a rare moment. First making sure Duncan is all right, he snags Will’s arm and drags him below where he can lay into him in private. “Lad, in that story I told you last week?” He gives Will a spasmodic shake. “The line came from the jib boom, not the base of the bloody mast. You’d not have heeled the ship over.”
Will blinks up at him, water dripping from his clothing and his tangled hair. “Oh.”
“You great stupid whelp,” Jack hisses, backing Will against the door to his cabin, fingers clenching in the soaked fabric of his shirt. “If you’d cut that rope...”
Will’s lips part, but Jack stops all apologies and protests with his own mouth. The storm’s thunder crashes above them and in Jack’s own head, lighting crackling from Will’s hands to Jack’s hips, between their slick-searching tongues. He pulls free very slowly, waiting for Will to move, to yell, to slap him, to do something in retaliation for the liberty Jack has taken.
But Will just stands there, leaning against the door, one hip slightly cocked. When he opens his eyes, there is a illuminated joy in them to match the curve of his mouth. “I suppose,” he says, squeezing moisture from his hair with one hand, “it’s a good thing I didn’t, then.”
Jack’s skin prickles at the smugness in Will’s voice, but he quickly forgets to be annoyed as Will dries his hand in the folds of Jack’s shirt, which does him no good at all. He lets himself lean forward until he’s resting his full weight against the younger man, their faces a bare breath apart. Before he can taste Will again, however, a shout from above startles them both.
“We don’t have time for this right now,” says Jack with real regret, touching his lips to Will’s flushed cheek. “But you’re gonna go in there, and by the time I get back, you will be warm an’ dry.”
“And waiting,” Will murmurs, tugging on a beaded strand of Jack’s hair. He grins and kisses Jack swiftly before disappearing into the captain’s cabin.
Jack remains still for a moment, taking deep breaths to clear his head, before he returns to his duties on deck.
The storm picks up again and battles them thoroughly. When it settles down, he diverts his attention to the damage done to the Pearl and promptly forgets the boy in his cabin. Night is falling when he finally remembers. He whistles as he skips down the stairs, rapping on the door and calling out, “Now, William, ‘tis time we see about your punishment for being a brave young dolt.”
There is no answer from within.
“Will?” Jack frowns, finding the door locked when he tries to open it. His first instinct is to force it open, but he keeps his wits about him and ferrets in his pockets for the lockpick he’s carried ever since Port Royal. The aged mechanism creaks a bit before it relents and snaps open.
Will is not fast asleep in bed, as Jack assumed he would be. He is huddled in the far corner, shirtless, his knees drawn up and his face buried in one hand. Jack’s eyes slide around the room to check for shattered bottles or possibly some ill-mannered spirits. Nothing appears to be out of the ordinary.
He crosses the floor to crouch in front of Will, noticing the smell of sick for the first time.
“I threw up,” Will says in a small voice, still hiding his face. His free hand clutches his balled-up shirt.
Jack puts a hand to his shoulder, eyes widening at the heat he can feel rising before he even touches Will’s skin. The boy cringes and shudders
“It’s all right, Will,” says Jack, soothing him with a low voice and a caress down his arm. He pries the stained cloth from Will’s clenched fingers. “‘M not angry with you, I promise. Look at me, lad,” he coaxes, resting his chin on Will’s bent knees.
Will raises his head, eyes bright with shame and fever. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
“Shhh, none o’ that now.” Jack slips an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get you to bed, love.” Will turns his hot face into Jack’s neck as Jack helps him to the bunk. He burrows under the blanket, then kicks it off his legs, then fumbles to pull it back over himself again, his face screwed up in discomfort all the while
Jack sits on the edge and strokes Will’s sweat-soaked curls back from his brow, which seems to calm him some. He squints at Jack as though it’s hard to focus his eyes.
“Tell me what ails you,” Jack says, swallowing past the sudden acid taste of fear in his throat.
Will shifts in the bed, breathing a little too quickly. “My head started to ache and then I threw up on my shirt. I’m hot everywhere except – I’m so cold inside, but my skin burns...” His fingers creep from beneath the sheet, grabbing for Jack. “Your hands are cool,” he murmurs. Everywhere he moves Jack’s hands – to his cheeks, his lips, the back of his neck – the flesh is aflame.
“You must’ve taken a chill from the water.” Jack speaks more to himself than to Will, whose eyes are closed as he holds the heel of Jack’s hand to them. “We’ll see you right again in no time.”
Will cries out when Jack starts to pull away. “Don’t leave – please, Jack.”
“I’ll be right back, sweet,” Jack promises, leaning down to press his lips to Will’s fevered brow. His hands tighten on the boy’s shoulders for a moment before he can make himself let go.
He barely notices the way the crew stares at him when he comes on deck, nor the harsh tenor of his voice when he calls for Gibbs. The experienced seaman checks the boy’s throat, studies his eyes and the faint rash across his chest. His eyes are grave when he pulls Jack outside the cabin.
“Came upon ‘im quick,” says Gibbs in a quiet voice, glancing inside at a dozing Will. “That don’t bode well. Wish we ‘ad us some leeches, but we’re too far off land yet.”
Jack blocks out most of the words. “What can we do?” he demands.
“Give ‘im plenty o’ water, a drop o’ brandy if’n he’ll take it. I’ve some willow bark in me trunk, that oughter help bring the fever down.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
Gibbs rubs his whiskers thoughtfully. “We’ll give it a coupla hours, then see if we can’t sweat it outta ‘im.”
Jack feels that Will might burst into flames if the temperature of his body gets any higher, but he trusts Gibbs’ word. Himself, he’s had a fair number of sicknesses in his day, but not for some years, and he was always on or close to land at the time. He understands that there is little they can do for Will out here, except keep him as comfortable as possible and try to get water in him as he loses it in perspiration.
Will doesn’t stir when Jack drops into the chair beside the bed. He looks down at the boy’s face, tight and pinched even in sleep, and abruptly feels every single one of his forty years, heavy in his bones and his heart.
Water he will take, gulping it thirstily, but the tea he refuses even after they let it cool. Jack holds him, alarmed by the feebleness of his struggles, as Gibbs pours the stuff down his throat. He vomits most of it up a scant ten minutes later.
They wait for nearly an hour, Jack holding a wet rag to Will’s brow. Once he feels it warming beneath his fingers, he dips it in the bucket to refresh it – over and over, so often he loses count. Late into the night they try the willow tea again, having to force Will to drink it as before. He manages to keep it down, but by this time he is approaching delirium. One moment he screams at unseen assailants, lashing out when Jack tries to pacify him, and the next he is weeping and clinging to his captain’s arm.
However, it is when he goes completely silent that Jack and Gibbs exchange worried glances. Gibbs puts a hand on his forehead and swears violently.
“Light the fires,” says Jack, a dull pounding behind his eyes.
Dangerous as it is, braziers are brought to fill the cabin and secured as best they can be. Jack strips off his own shirt and ties his hair back, ordering Gibbs off to get some rest, but mostly to escape from the torturous heat. The air shimmers before his eyes.
Will whimpers beneath the blankets they have piled atop him, his eyes searching the cabin.
“I’m here, Will,” Jack tells him, taking his hand.
It might work, said Gibbs dubiously. Either that or it will kill him quicker. There were no chances left to take, so Jack chose this one. The lad was a fine blacksmith and he can bear up under the heat. He can, and he will.
“Water,” Will rasps. Sweat has seeped into the cracks on his dry lips, making them bleed. Jack holds the tankard steady as Will swallows most of it. When he finishes, he gazes up at Jack and his brown eyes are more lucid that they’ve been in some time. “Talk to me, Jack.”
Jack rubs a thumb over the pulse in his wrist. “What would you hear?”
“Anything. Stories. Just so it’s your voice.” He rolls his neck on his shoulders, wincing.
So Jack begins to speak.
He has no gods to call his own but he had long collected their stories, and he figures if any of them might ever listen to him, it would be now. Therefore, he passes over tales of his own adventures in favor of blatant flattery.
First he calls upon those who would claim Will for their heart’s own. He speaks of David, the youth who brought down a giant, and Daniel, who walked unafraid among the lions; El Cid and his valiant battles for Spain; Cuchulain of the green hills; divine Krishna’s stirring speeches; the smith-god Vulcan, who would do well to look after his own, in Jack’s opinion.
For himself, he spins tales of quick feet and quicker tongues: Loki shifting form and inflicting merry chaos upon his brethren, clever opportunist Anansi, Odysseus conquering the cyclops by wit over brawn, Coyote’s insatiable curiosity, Mercury with his winged helm and his money bag.
When Will’s lids begin to flutter closed, Jack turns to the sea herself, ignoring the ache in his throat. The waters that buoy them are home to mermaids and krakens, to King Neptune and his court of sea nymphs. Sirens lure sailors to their deaths; lake-dwelling demons protect their damp realms; dark-haired selkies sing for their mortal husbands even as they mourn their hidden skins. The earth was born from its waters, as most of the stories agree, and Jack is far from the first man to hear the call of those tides.
At length he falls asleep, tired beyond measure and lulled by his own stories. In his dreams, Will walks a distant shore and Jack cannot swim to him no matter how hard he kicks. Sand swallows the boy up while Jack lets the waves close over his head.
He wakes in an awkward position, still seated in his chair but with his top half bent over the bed, his head cradled in Will’s lap. He cranes his stiff neck to see the boy smiling down at him.
“Good morning.” Will’s face is pale and there are deep blue shadows beneath his lids, but his eyes are clear. His hands tremble faintly as they comb idly through Jack's twisted locks, but he is sitting up straight. Gone are the sweltering fires, the pot of tea, the extra layers of bedclothes. Gibbs is sitting cross-legged against the door, snoring softly.
Jack straightens as well, perching himself on the mattress rather than the uncomfortable chair. Will immediately tucks against his side, wrapping an arm around him.
Jack has to cough several times before he can make his overused voice obey him. “Got through the night, did you?”
“You got me through,” Will corrects. His grip is weak but it tightens around Jack nonetheless.
Holding him makes the buzzing in Jack’s head cease. “Thought I might lose you.” He speaks in a hoarse whisper, causing Will to nudge his nose against the bob of his Adam’s apple. “Tried leading you back, wasn’t sure you’d be able t’ follow..”
Will tilts his head, kissing him just below the ear with chapped lips. “There is nowhere I wouldn’t follow you, Jack.”
His eyes are burning as hot as Will’s fever. Unaccustomed to the tears though he is, Jack lets them spill over, fall into salt-stiff brown curls.
The men will think Will Turner even luckier after this narrow brush with the fate to which all men must eventually succumb, but Jack will know better. Every morning he will kiss Will awake and marvel at his own good fortune; every night he will drift to sleep in Will’s arms, wondering if perhaps it was more than that. Even so, he’ll be worn out from lovemaking and far too content to wonder very long.