The last time we saw sails on the horizon had to be three weeks ago now. Well, technically the last time we saw sails was about fifteen minutes ago, when we tied up a black one to use as a sunshade. But the point is, three weeks ago, the Leviathan went down in a cannonade of splinters and shattering planks, and two survivors watched their only hope of escape disappear from view.
The Echelon and everyone on board – my crew – they must’ve assumed I went down with the Leviathan. I’d been kidnapped, after all. You don’t get kidnapped by pirates and then live to tell the tale once said pirate ship takes a trip down to Davy Jones’ locker.
Except I did. Live to tell the tale, I mean. I’m telling it right now.
My name is Dean Winchester, and I’m trapped on an island with the Caribbean’s most notorious asshole.
“This is not standard practice,” Dean said, a frown as deep as the Mariana Trench drawn on his face. Sweat beaded on his upper lip and he punched it off, dragging another sweep of the oars through the choppy water. “I’m going to get demoted because of this. Because of you.”
“You think I care?” Captain Castiel raised a curt eyebrow, glancing back over his shoulder to glare at Dean. “You were useless enough that you needed my help, so to be perfectly blunt, Lieutenant—”
“I didn’t need your help,” Dean interrupted. “I was doing fine on my own.”
“You don’t know that crew, Winchester. They’re ruthless.”
“And so am I.” Dean gritted his teeth and swept the oars through the water again. His shoulders were burning; he was used to giving orders, not doing the legwork. Armwork. Whatever.
Castiel shook his head, eyes locked on the two ships anchored in the water four hundred feet away. One with black sails, one with white. Despite the distance they’d put between themselves and the ships, the sound of cannonfire still struck the muggy air around them, and Dean didn’t think the noise was going to stop until one ship went down. He hoped with every beat of his heart that it wouldn’t be his own ship sitting at the bottom of the ocean before sunset. That way he could be certain someone would come looking for him.
“This is your fault,” Dean muttered. “If you hadn’t decided to rescue me from your own crew, we would still be on that ship right now, fighting along with everyone else. I’d have slit your throat by now.”
“Ha,” Castiel said, without humour.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Let’s just say I think a Lieutenant of the Royal Trading Ship Echelon would get weak-kneed over a dehydrated plant, and would rather tend to that before he turned his mind to murder.”
Dean chewed on his tongue, simmering with a burning-hot fury. “That’s where you pirates have your priorities out of line. Plants are life.”
“Gold is life,” Castiel corrected.
“And you know what there’s none of on the Echelon? Gold. There’s livestock. Sheep. Chickens. Ripe fruit. Baby trees. Nearly a quarter-ton of plant seeds. We’re not a treasure trove of shiny gems, Captain. We’re a cargo export.”
“What are you intending to do with your cargo once you reach Europe?” Castiel asked, glancing back at Dean again. “Sell it?”
“Half goes to the Queen’s gardens. The other half we sell. Obviously.”
“For gold, I imagine. Because gold is life,” Castiel said smugly, eyes-half shut against the hard beam of the sun. “With enough gold you can do anything you like.”
Dean was about to retort, but his eyes lighted on the Leviathan. Even from this distance, when the ship’s deck snapped in two, the sound echoed across the waves. Dean watched as the ship started to sink, black sails sagging. Castiel stopped rowing to watch, and Dean did too.
No matter how much Dean hated pirates, and how much he’d hoped those good-for-nothing black sails folded in on themselves as they were doing now, there was no stopping the heart-thudding terror and panic that came with the sight of a ship going down.
How many would survive? Would any?
“We have to go back,” Dean breathed. “We could tie some of the wood to this ship, build a train raft. Some of them could cling on, we could tow them to land.”
Castiel looked over his shoulder, the same horror in his expression. “They’re pirates, Winchester. You wouldn’t dare to imagine what they were going to do with you if I hadn’t intervened.”
Dean swallowed his first reply, all at once imagining what Castiel dared him to imagine. It wasn’t a pleasant fantasy.
Castiel’s concern turned to fire in his eyes, jaw chewing on his bitter words as he spoke. “I drove my crew to mutiny so you’d be safe. Now I’ve lost my ship, the respect of my crew, my livelihood. I gave everything for you. I won’t allow you to undo that now.”
Breath lost, Dean shook his head. “They may be pirates, and – and cruel ones, at that. But they’re people. They’re still human.”
Castiel seemed ready to argue, but a moment passed, and then something of the hardness in his face seemed to melt away. Dean blinked, wondering what had changed.
“Turn her about,” Castiel instructed, swivelling one oar. “But mark my words, Lieutenant, you will regret this. I can’t protect you forever.”
“I don’t need your protection,” Dean insisted, heaving with the strain of turning the rowboat around. They were working against the tide now, and Dean felt the strength of the waves trying to take them back towards land.
Resisting the pull of both of the tide and the higher likelihood of personal safety had to be one of the hardest things Dean had ever done in his life.
They rowed in silence, both watching the shape of the beach grow smaller. This seemed like such a counterproductive decision to make, but Dean was not the sort of man to let another man drown, even in clear, tropical waters as beautiful as these.
A thought came to Dean’s mind as he saw the first pieces of shattered wood drift past the rowboat. “I’m surprised you don’t care more about your crew. They could be drowning out here, and yet you seem more concerned about me.”
Castiel was quiet. There was a new stiffness to his shoulders, but Dean didn’t know what it meant. “Captain?” Dean asked, a snarky lilt to his voice as he addressed the pirate in front of him.
“‘Care’ is a strong word,” Castiel said eventually. “I don’t care. I don’t care about them any more than I care about you. But logic dictates that I make a stand on a deserted island with someone who is less likely to see me as food in the future.”
Dean sucked on his tongue, decidedly glum about that answer.
“Pull in that plank and tie it to something,” Castiel instructed, as a block of thick wood knocked against the hull of the rowboat. “If you see a survivor, throw it to him. I’ll row.”
“Aye, sir,” Dean said, with as much sarcasm as he could muster. Castiel gave him a cold look, but that was all.
They surveyed the wreckage of the Leviathan, and Dean began picking precious cargo out of the water as he saw it. Oranges bobbed about in white froth, apples rolled around on loose planks. Dean hauled in a ripped sail and used it as a net, dragging debris into the boat to sort through.
He started in surprise as he heard a squawk. He looked around, searching for a pirate’s waving hand, but he saw only a chicken, struggling about in the water.
“Aim a little starboard,” Dean called to Castiel.
Dean plucked the bird out of the water and tossed it under the rowboat seat. The chicken clucked and shook itself down, then started preening.
Dean scanned the water again. He saw tree branches bobbing around here and there, and heard a few sheep bleating for their lives, but Dean frowned when he realised something very significant was missing.
“There’s no people here.”
“That’s because the Echelon is gone,” Castiel said.
“What?” Dean’s head whipped around to look at Castiel. Castiel only tipped his head starboard, his gleaming blue eyes gazing into the distance. Dean’s eyes shot to his right, and he gasped – the Echelon was a good distance away, white sails full of a fresh breeze.
“Where are they going?” Dean yelped, suddenly in a panic. “Hey! Where the hell do you think you’re going?! Hey! HEY!”
“They can’t hear you, Lieutenant,” Castiel said dryly. “We can’t catch up. Even if we followed, and even if they did spot us before the sun goes down, your crew are most likely too preoccupied to go about, what with all the pirates on board. If they were paying attention they’d have come back for their livestock.”
Dean was on his feet, waving madly in the hope someone on board had their telescope pointed at the wreckage. “You assholes! I’m still here! I’m still here!”
“They probably assume you went down with the Leviathan,” Castiel said, setting his oars to rest and reaching for the sopping-wet sail, launching it out to wrangle a panicked sheep. “If all the pirates were on board your ship when this one went down, and you were nowhere to be seen—”
“Quit using your logic on me, Captain, and get me a fire going. I’ll burn this rowboat if I have to! HEY! COME BACK! COME BACK!”
“Would you stop? You’re scaring the sheep.”
“I don’t give a damn about the sheep!”
“Well, I do, so unless you’re prepared to starve in the near future, I suggest you sit your perky little buttocks down and help me pull this animal in.”
Dean seethed, but the sight of the Echelon riding a thin tail of white was too real to let him play pretend any more. His ship and his crew was gone, taking the pirates with them.
Dean sat down, mind blanked by shock.
“Dean,” Castiel said. “Pull your weight, or I’ll throw you in. I’d rather a sheep take your space anyway.”
Dean shut his eyes, then opened them again. “When it comes to building shelters and digging sewage pits, I doubt Woolly there will be much help.”
“Then assist me.”
Dean took the other end of the sail, and he pulled, almost tipping the boat. The sheep sculled the water, bleating madly, eyes wide and wild.
“Grab its ears,” Castiel snapped, launching himself halfway into the water to grab the animal’s sodden back. “Pull it in!”
With a roar of exertion, then a second, then a third, with a heavy slosh of sea water, the sheep kicked its way onto the boat, sending the chicken into a fluster.
The sheep stood up, galloping about the small space in an effort to get away from the humans. But there was nowhere to go, and it settled, breathing heavily, waiting with Dean and Castiel for the boat to stop lurching.
The chicken screeched and flapped, wet feathers exploding across the deck. It pattered around in a circle, then went back to preening.
“Good,” Castiel said, out of breath. He picked up his tricorne hat from where he’d left it, snatching it from under the sheep’s trotters. He put the hat on, its triangular brim shading his face, the white feather sprawling damply over one ear. “Now,” he said, catching Dean’s eye, “let’s collect everything we can, and then head back to the island before the sun goes down. I have a feeling we could be stranded for a very long time.”
Three. Whole. Weeks.
I’ll put it this way. Imagine everything you’d expect from a remote tropical island. Sunny golden beaches, tall palms that crane out over the swell of the sand. Colourful, long-tailed birds that yap and yodel and sing, flying from palm to palm and in and out of the lush, dripping-wet bamboo rainforest that grows in immense all-day whispers. Frogs that whistle at night, fireflies that tick alight like flickering candle flames.
Sizzling heat. Monkeys stealing your food. Chickens shitting on everything you love. Sheep eating every attempt at a roof you ever make. A hut made of splinters. Taking turns to sleep in the hut, keeping watch for ships every other night. Having to share space with the single most irritating person to ever sail the high seas.
It’s not fun. It’s not satisfying, it’s not something I can bear for another second.
And yet I have no other choice. We’re stuck here. By Castiel’s calculations (from what he remembers from all his pirating), unless we can signal a ship in the next few days, there won’t be another ship headed this way for at least another six weeks. So far we’ve seen nothing. I don’t even know if I’ll survive that long.
Captain Castiel is admittedly not too bad with his hands, but there’s only so much ‘Pass me the hammer-rock and another splinter’ and ‘Go and uproot some dinner while I make a fire’ I can take. I’m not second-in-command here, I don’t think he gets that. Pirate ranks and Royal ranks aren’t interchangeable. They’re not even compatible. If that man honestly thinks I’m meant to be taking orders from him he’s got another thing coming.
Yeah, it’s taken me three weeks to say anything about it outright, but that’s purely because of the stress of our situation. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Captain is kind of hard to ignore when he gives instructions. He has a voice like a tiger. Make of that what you will.
Anyway, that’s what I’m dealing with.
...Actually, screw that. Hell is probably colder.
Dean looked up from writing in his journal, shaking out an ache in his hand. “Huh?”
Castiel had his back to Dean and his hands on his hips, loose white shirt billowing in the dense breeze that coasted towards the island. “On the horizon.”
Dean peered into the distance, seeing the piles of grey clouds that were building miles high, rolling in as he watched. Lightning stuck in their cores, snapping light across sections of the sky.
“Shit,” Dean said.
“Two hours until it hits, maybe less,” Castiel estimated. He turned from the beach, bare feet shedding sand. “Help me round up the sheep. We need to get them into the shelter.”
Dean shut his journal and stood. “That shack’s gonna collapse at the first touch of drizzle.”
“That’s why we’ve stockpiled bamboo,” Castiel said, shooting Dean an unimpressed glare. “Help me with the sheep and then we’ll reinforce the walls.”
“Whoa-whoa. Hold on just a minute,” Dean said. Castiel paused and looked back, which was certainly progress. Dean flustered at the eye contact; Castiel didn’t usually hold his eye for more than a second. Now his eyes had locked onto Dean’s, stern and fierce, the sight of crystal-blue irises striking Dean harder than lightning ever could.
“Well?” Castiel asked, squaring his shoulders with Dean’s. He had an impressively straight nose and a stubbled jaw, and he carried a darkness in his face that went beyond the copper tone of his well-sunned skin. Something about him felt ancient.
“Uh,” Dean muttered, dropping his gaze. “I just think w-we should...”
“Chin up, Dean.” Castiel bumped his curled knuckles under Dean’s jaw. “Hold the man’s eye and you’ll own him.”
Dean was breathless by the time Castiel let his fingers fall.
Castiel looked expectant.
“Uh,” Dean huffed. He stood straighter, taking Castiel’s words to heart. He cleared his throat. “Reinforce the shelter first. Then get the sheep. Else they’ll just run off and knock the whole place down on their way out.”
Castiel smirked, just for a second. “Good, Dean.”
Dean blinked, bewildered. Castiel sauntered off, heading for the stacks of bamboo they’d been storing for later.
“Wait, that’s it?” Dean frowned. “‘Good’?”
“I admire your initiative,” Castiel said, taking an armful of bamboo stalks and carrying them to the hut. “Your logic is sound.”
“You and your logic,” Dean said, rolling his eyes as he went to help Castiel. “You ever do anything just for the fun of it? Logic aside?”
Castiel raised an eyebrow, a twinkle in his eye. “Masturbate.”
Dean coughed, nearly dropping his bamboo. “Wh— You, uh.”
“What’s wrong, Dean? Never heard someone say that word aloud?”
Oh, Castiel looked mischievous. Dean sneered. “So what if I haven’t, huh? I grew up in polite company.”
“I dare say you did,” Castiel murmured, his voice only just meeting Dean’s ears as he swept past.
Dean stared after him. A strange, achy feeling churned in his gut. He hated the guy, sure, but there was something enticing about him. Almost exciting.
Dean didn’t know what to make of the feeling, and that was one feeling he wasn’t sure he wanted to understand.
“Secure the filthy beasts or I’ll make them all into mutton,” Castiel bellowed, slamming a hand on the dirt hollow he and Dean had dug the day they set foot on the island. “One more bleat and I’m through.”
“Easy, easy,” Dean said through gritted teeth, standing in a slight crouch, hands outstretched to the sheep that fancied itself the leader. “Trust me, Woolly, you don’t want to be mutton, now, do you? No.”
Castiel scoffed, raising an eyebrow. He sat cross-legged on the low-slung bed hammock, his hands working on the bamboo he’d made into a candle, trying hard to light a second flame. All the wood was wet; the storm had arrived before they were ready, and even once they were inside the shelter, water poured down the walls, trickling onto the sand and making parts of the pit into swamp-like mush.
“That’s it,” Dean said in a hush, breathing out in relief as Woolly and her compatriots settled enough that they no longer bolted at the slightest movement. They still trembled on their thin legs, anxious as anything.
Thunder rolled across the sky like God Himself was playing bowls on the roof. Dean shut his eyes and waited it out, forehead tense with a frown.
“You have a way with animals, you know,” Castiel said, a smirk in his voice. “Part of me is almost pleased I didn’t throw you overboard the first chance I got.”
“Mighty flattered, I’m sure,” Dean said, keeping his voice remarkably steady.
“If you can get them to sing and dance while you’re at it, maybe I might consider letting you stay the night inside.”
Dean’s eyes snapped towards Castiel. “You can’t throw me out! It’s mad out there!”
Castiel paused, eyes lifting from his task with the flames. His mouth was open, but he closed it slowly as he considered Dean. “That was what you might call a joke, Lieutenant,” he said.
Dean looked away, under the pretence of checking on the hens. They clucked, still awake despite it being well past their bedtimes.
“Tell me, Dean,” Castiel said, “are you... afraid of the storm?”
“What! Me, scared of a little rain? No way,” Dean lied. Convincingly, he hoped.
“I see,” Castiel said. His words were nearly drowned out by a roar that practically tore the sky in two, churning Dean’s stomach and putting a hitch in his breath.
Dean could still feel the roll of storm waves below him, his ship’s deck creaking in protest as the sea pulled at the tiny wooden shape. A ship was nothing to the power and magnitude of the ocean. A storm was a mere tickle upon the Earth’s surface, but to a set of sails, a small hull, and a handful of people, a storm could easily mean death. It would be such a meaningless death, too. Set one foot wrong on a slippery deck and no man would stand a chance against the wind or the force of a crashing wave, or even the impossible angle of the ship. Gravity itself could pull a crewman overboard. He was on land now, but the memory of every other storm he’d weathered still haunted him.
Dean shivered despite the humidity and the heat, and he backed himself up against the shelter’s back wall, shutting his eyes. He slid down the wall and sat hunched against it, arms around his knees. It was solid and unmoving; it reassured him. He bent his head down, letting out a soothing breath. Now the sheep were calmer, he had nothing to focus him, nothing to draw his attention away from the monster raging only inches from his back.
Castiel stuck the two bamboo candles into the sand, burying the ends down deep so they wouldn’t fall over. “When I was younger,” he said, running a fingertip through one flame, “I rode out the storms huddled under my father’s desk. I’d—”
His sentence halted there.
Dean looked up properly, seeing the way the flames caught Castiel’s angular face in a flattering yet eerie relief.
Castiel’s eyes met Dean’s, and a smile touched his lips, only for a moment. “Before a storm hit, I’d go looking for our cat, and I’d cradle her to my stomach. She and I wrapped ourselves up in a blanket. The sound of the thunder filled me with – incomparable terror. The cat...” His eyes drifted away. “Deirdre. That was her name. She’d claw my thighs, wanting to escape as much as I did. But there was nowhere to go.” His eyes moved back to Dean’s, and he sighed. “Where is there to go, on a ship?”
“You grew up at sea?”
Castiel lowered his eyes. “A merchant ship.”
“And somehow you became a pirate?”
“Now I’m a shepherd, a cook and a carpenter,” Castiel smiled, tilting his head. “There’s not a lot of plundering to be done on an island without a name.”
Dean blinked slowly, realising that for the minute or so that Castiel had been talking, his paralysing fear had been left forgotten. Of course, upon Dean’s realisation, his awareness came crashing back along with the furious sound of the wind trying its best to tear the shelter out of the ground.
“W-w-w-we-we—” Dean shut his eyes and regained control over his tongue. “W-we should name the island. Right now.”
“Aye, Lieutenant, maybe we should. What name would you suggest?”
Dean blinked hard and fast, trying to think beyond the roar in his ears, the too-fast pounding of his terrified heart. “Deirdre,” he breathed.
When Dean opened his eyes, Castiel was looking at him with an expression that, for a second, looked almost... fond.
“Deirdre it is,” Castiel said, in a soft voice. Dean had never heard him speak so gently.
He let out a breath as his eyes focused on the face in front of him. Castiel lay asleep, fractured lines of sunshine cast across his face, mapping the points and curves of his handsome cheeks, his tall lips and his dark eyelashes. He exhaled in his slumber, a murmur sailing on the breath.
Dean could hear the sea lapping at the shore, and he could smell the clearness of the air. The world around him felt lighter now the rain was gone.
Dean closed his eyes again, listening for the sheep. He heard them in the distance, one bleat. They must’ve kicked apart the shelter as soon as the storm broke, and Dean didn’t blame them for wanting to get out of the crowded space. One of the roosters crowed at the seashore, joined soon afterwards by the other two. It probably wasn’t too long after dawn.
Eyes open, Dean rolled onto his side and stretched back across the hammock, groaning when his shoulders clicked in their sockets and blissful relief released from his stiff muscles.
“Hm,” Castiel said, as the shift of the hammock stirred him from sleep. The two men together weighed the hammock to the ground, but there was still a space to let them sway. “Hmmh—? Dean?”
“I’m here,” Dean sighed, relaxing back with one leg crooked upward. As the hammock rocked to a halt, he stared at the water-pale sky through the gaping holes in the ceiling, where the roof had collapsed and the structure of the whole shelter had come apart. They lay in the wreckage, and Dean looked out towards the sea, spying the sunrise in all its magnificence. Pink radiance spread like fingers across the whole sky, the light broken by a group of sea birds that flashed across the orb of the sun.
Dean shut his eyes and enjoyed the warmth.
“I don’t r’member you asking if you could join me,” Castiel drawled sleepily, rolling onto his front and making the hammock swing again. Dean hadn’t bothered to hide the erection tenting his breeches, but Castiel perhaps wasn’t so comfortable.
“Sorry, Cap,” Dean muttered, eyes still watching the sun as it rose. “It was either bunk with you or sleep with the sheep.”
Castiel rolled himself out of the hammock and set his bare feet to the dirt before standing, shoving part of the collapsed roof out of his way before it could hit his head. “Next time, you sleep with the sheep,” he said curtly, and stepped over Dean and the hammock to leave.
“Hey— Hey! Cas!”
Castiel paused in what was once the entryway, his slender form silhouetted by the dawn. He looked back, contemplating Dean and what Dean knew was his most pleading expression.
“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it,” Dean said, with genuine feeling. Despite his reluctance, he forced himself to speak the truth. “I just didn’t want to deal with the storm alone, okay? You fell asleep and I... I couldn’t...”
Castiel waited a few beats before he parted his lips to reply. And his words were soft as they’d been last night when they’d named their island, their home. “I know,” he said.
He left, and Dean’s face washed over in gold, bathed in the heat of the sunrise again.