Title: The Play's the Thing
Author: Sirocco email@example.com
Warning: M/M slash.
Disclaimer: Pirates of the Caribbean belongs to Disney. I make no money from this story.
Written for: The Cavern, for the JackXWill Ficathon
Requests: Mock swordplay and reminiscing about England
Restrictions: No mooning over Elizabeth, no non-con
Feedback: If you'd like.
Summary: Jack and Will exchange stories about their pasts, and learn some interesting things about each other.
1) Inspiration came in part from the documentary footage on the PotC DVD showing Johnny Depp accidentally catching Orlando Bloom's hand with his blade as they rehearsed the swordfight in the blacksmith's shop.
2) It's no secret that the movie takes liberties with its historical setting, but my research for this story and my estimation of the characters' ages -- Will's age is given as 20 in the screenplay, and I consider Jack to be about 40 -- have led me to set it in the mid-1680s, approximately twenty-five years after the Restoration of 1660, when Charles II ascended the English throne; conveniently, it also precedes the Port Royal earthquake of 1692. Apologies for any glaring historical inaccuracies on my part.
3) Elizabeth is mentioned, but rest assured there is no mooning.
Additional notes follow at the end.
-- The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King. -- Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.
Will Turner loved the sound of swords clashing in the morning.
He especially loved it when the sound came from his sword clashing with Jack's, as they wound their way around the deck of the Black Pearl. Feeling the vibration and hearing the ring of metal against metal as their blades made contact. Unable to decide which was more brilliant, the flash of sunlight glinting off their weapons, or the fire in Jack's eyes as he advanced on Will, as Will met his attack and deflected it.
He was only marginally aware of the various crew members who had paused in their tasks and conversations to watch their captain and his newest recruit sparring in the early-morning sun. He barely noticed the small wagers that sprang up among them as to who would win, or whether one would seriously injure the other. A few months ago such practices would have appalled him, but now he regarded them as mundane. He didn't know if that was an improvement or not, but he didn't care. He was alive, he wasn't in shackles, no one was seriously trying to kill him, and he was with Jack. And that was what mattered.
Well, he wasn't exactly with Jack. He was on Jack's ship, and he was part of the crew, and Jack was certainly friendly enough towards him, but the longer Will was here the more he realized that he wanted...more. More what, he wasn't entirely certain: more time, more companionship, more attention, more...Jack.
From the forecastle, around the mainmast, over and around barrels and coils of rope, to the quarterdeck, they made a circuit of the ship; lunge, parry, feint, parry, clank clank clank. At times like this Will thought he had almost everything he could possibly want: sunshine, fresh air, a sharp shiny sword, and Jack Sparrow grinning at him. Just like that.
Unfortunately, "that" was sufficient to momentarily distract Will from fully blocking Jack's next swipe, and the edge of the pirate's blade came down on the blacksmith's right hand. Will hissed and drew his hand back, dropping his sword and cursing his own carelessness. Before he could give his injury more than a cursory inspection, Jack had dropped his own weapon to the deck with a crash and had grabbed Will's hand.
Oh, right. That was what he wanted more of. More of Jack touching him. As he was doing right now.
It wasn't the sort of thing a decent, law-abiding tradesman was supposed to want. But then, decent law-abiding tradesmen didn't routinely go around breaking criminals out of jail or stealing navy vessels with said criminals, and they most certainly didn't court death by rescuing said criminals from the gallows.
What he did know was that he regretted none of it. Not even after it had cost him the trust of the citizens of Port Royal, who no longer felt safe bringing their business to a pirate-sympathizing blacksmith. He could hardly blame them, of course.
Even now, he couldn't honestly say that he liked pirates, really. But Jack's crew treated him as one of their own, and overall seemed about as, well, decent as one could expect pirates to be.
And he definitely couldn't regret it when Jack was murmuring apologies at him, prodding carefully at his cut, and generally fussing over him. His skin was astoundingly sensitive where Jack touched him, and it wasn't from pain. Jack's touch tingled.
It was about this time that Will remembered that they had an audience, and recognized that if Jack kept on stroking his hand that way, the crew would really get something to look at.
"It's nothing, Jack," he said, in what he hoped was a casual tone. "Just a little cut." Jack gave no sign he'd heard, and didn't let go. Will tried to gently tug his hand away. "Honestly, I've had far worse."
Will, Jack decided, was right; the cut, between thumb and forefinger, was minor. And from the looks of things, he had indeed had worse. Examining his hand at close range like this, Jack could see dozens of fading scars and blemishes. Those small circular marks that peppered his fingers and the back of his hand might have been caused by hot ash or flying sparks. More were undoubtedly hidden beneath his sleeve. And that larger, longer spot along the base of his thumb where the skin was taut and shiny -- that was a burn, too. Not at all surprising, of course: the boy had spent years working with molten metal.
And those narrow, straight scars that crossed his palm and fingertips -- well, he'd spent those same years working with sharpened metal, as well. Inevitable that it would have bitten him a few times.
There was another scar, Jack knew, on his other palm, the left one: narrow and straight, all right, but considerably longer and deeper than any on his right hand. More deliberate. Jack himself had one much like it on his own left hand, a souvenir of the very adventure that had seen him returned to the embrace of his beloved Black Pearl. That had brought Bootstrap Bill Turner's extraordinarily handsome, breathtakingly brave, infuriatingly stubborn, wonderfully impulsive, maddeningly repressed, and only occasionally thickheaded son into Jack's life.
That had, somehow, culminated in Jack standing on the deck of his aforementioned beloved ship, holding Will's right hand in both of his own, lightly caressing the callused fingertips and palm, imagining what those rough, work-hardened hands would feel like as they rubbed up and down and across his --
Yes, that's exactly how Will's voice would sound as Jack encouraged him to put those big, strong, callused, scarred, beautiful hands to a more satisfying use: a little tentative, a little shy, a little uncertain -- at first. Still unaccustomed to what he was doing, what was being done to him. But he would come around quickly, he would, for he knew that Will Turner was nothing if not a fast learner, when given the proper motivation to --
More forceful now, more demanding. Even better. Taking the lead, taking control, taking what he wanted. From Jack. Who would, of course, give it to him willingly. Oh yes, so very willingl --
That wasn't amorous; that was anxious. Why should Will be anxious? Ah, yes. Because, Jack's fantasies notwithstanding, the two of them were in fact still standing on the deck of the Pearl, in full sight of the crew, and Jack was in fact still holding Will's hand. "Hm? Yes?"
"May I have my hand back now? Please?" Will tried to keep the desperation out of his voice, but he couldn't conceal the blush that coloured his cheeks; Jack would think him ridiculously callow and naïve if he knew what Will was feeling. He had been aboard ship long enough to know what sometimes went on between sailors at sea, but he had never known Jack to invite any of his crew into his bed; not even Anamaria, although there was unmistakably some kind of history there. Apparently it wasn't entirely good history, what with the boat-stealing and all.
In fact, the only person who regularly spent time alone with the Captain was -- Will. Not in the Captain's bed, of course. Just talking. And drinking, but Will himself did relatively little of that. He had spent many nights listening to Jack's tales of his sundry adventures, some of which might possibly be true; not every night, but frequently enough that Will felt the loss when something -- or someone -- interrupted their routine for too long.
Take their recent shore leave, for example, when Jack spent several days visiting the local...houses.
That bothered him more than he cared to admit, though he'd be hard pressed to say which disturbed him more: what Jack was actually doing (he'd declined Jack's invitation to watch or share, but his imagination was functional enough), or the simple fact that Jack was spending his recreational time with someone other than Will.
And it was ridiculous, because none of it should have meant anything special; it was merely Jack being friendly, because Jack could be a very friendly fellow, when the mood struck him.
He was being friendly right now. And Will was on the verge of embarrassing himself terribly -- in front of the crew, and more importantly, Jack -- if the friendliness continued unabated.
He yanked his hand out of Jack's grasp.
The move was sudden enough that Jack did something rare for him while on a ship: he almost lost his balance. Startled, he caught himself, looking from his empty hands to Will's reddening face and wide eyes.
Damn. He'd spooked the boy. It was unseemly, really. A pirate ship's captain should be able to control himself better than that, especially where his crew was concerned. Even when his crew included a young, naïve, comely, well-muscled --
Change the subject. That's what he needed to do. Show the boy he had nothing whatsoever to fear from the Captain.
"True, 'tis little more than a scratch," Jack replied. "Still, it needs keepin' clean," he said, waving his hand toward a bucket of salt water. "Wouldn't do to come down with blood poisoning, now would it?" There. Nothing more than a captain's purely platonic concern for an injured member of his crew.
Will grimaced as Jack dumped the brine over his hand, grateful for the sharp sting that effectively took his mind off his more urgent problem. He wanted to go somewhere else, put some distance between him and Jack for a while; but the ship was dead in the water, stuck in a lull for a day and a half, and there were few chores that needed doing. Everyone was idle, and bored.
At least the rest of the crew had found something else to amuse themselves. Now that the show was over, they had disappeared to a shady spot to shoot dice. So he sat down on a barrel and tried to change the subject to something relatively safe.
"Jack, how did you learn the sword?" Will asked, and now that he'd done so, it seemed strange indeed that the question had never come up before. After all, he had wondered, more than once.
Jack's first instinct was, quite naturally, to weave an elaborate, contradictory, and not-entirely-unbelievable tale of intrigue, adventure, and perhaps even a touch of romance, to answer what would otherwise be a simple question. He had a yarn already on the tip of his tongue, waiting to be spun. Something that involved master swordsmen of the Orient, stoic and disciplined. Years of rigorous training, daily hours of meditation and self-denial...
Oh, wait. That was true.
That wasn't the start of it, though. The first time had been nearly five-and-twenty years ago. In London, to be more precise.
He didn't recollect ever telling this particular story before, and was silent for a moment as he contemplated the best place to begin. "When I was a pup, I used to get myself into a fair bit of trouble."
Jack glared, eyes narrowed. "Y'want to hear it or not?"
Will made a placating gesture. Jack, placated, continued.
"Owner of a theater company needed an apprentice to run errands, set up the stage, carry costumes around. Me folks didn't mind 'cause it kept me from underfoot an' I brought home a few extra coins ev'ry so often. I'd taught meself to read,see -- so's I could partake of some of the more salacious literature l lifted from the 'scholarly' section of the neighborhood bookseller -- on account of which I was able to help the players rehearse their parts. Weren't long before I knew their lines better'n they did.
"When I got a bit older, I discovered that, in addition to having a good memory for lines, I had something of a...gift for the verbal communicatory arts."
"You mean you could talk rings around everyone else." Will's smirk was audible as he examined the polished surface of his blade.
"You, dear William, would be positively astounded to learn what I can accomplish with my mouth alone...Now ye've disrupted me concentration. Ah, yes. So before long I had moved from the wings to the stage, an' there was nothin' like it in the world. Bein' up there in front of a payin' crowd, center of attention -- stole the show ev'ry chance I got, too -- showered with coins, flowers, gifts, and the odd offer of a hot meal, a warm bed and warmer company, if ye get me drift. I was sure I'd found me one true calling.
"Thing was, I was what one might call a 'late bloomer,' if you will. Rather small for me age, y'see, and me voice took its own sweet time to break. So even though I had more talent in me little finger than some of those great bloody lummoxes had in the whole of their overgrown carcasses -- and believe you me, I knew how to wear costumes, mate -- there were certain...limits to the roles I was deemed suitable to inhabit. But even when I didn't look the part, I knew them well enough and on occasion I stood as understudy, stepping in when the lead players got too deep in their cups or became guests of the local constabulary.
"Two things y'can always count on people wantin' in their entertainment: bawdiness an' bloodiness. Or the possibility of bloodiness. Excitement. So the plays tended to have, among other things, plenty of fighting. Duels over honor, duels over a woman, battles in war, good ol' drunken brawls.
"Now fightin' for show and fightin' for sport or in combat have naught to do with one another. Swordplay for the stage is like a dance. Ye learn yer steps and ye practice 'em. Not for three hours a day, mind you, 'cause we didn't have that kind o' time. Thing is, the two activities have completely contradictin' goals: on stage ye've got to think with yer partner an' in a real fight you've got to outthink your opponent.
"I was no stranger to a good scrap, but it was usually with me fists or whatever was at hand. Learnin' to twirl a sword around was the closest I'd ever felt to bein' a highborn gentleman. Now me, I'd rather dance than fight any day. But just 'cause we were playactin' don't mean it were all fun an' games. Wasn't unheard of for an actor to lose an eye, or his life, and the audience would ken if ye knew what ye were about, or if ye'd never wielded steel before.
"So I learned the dance, an' I learned it well. By the time I'd begun to look me age, the company'd hit a rough patch an' I needed to find a new way to feed m'self. Signed on to a merchant ship, got me first real taste of the sea, and fell in love for good this time. Along the way I learned how to fight for real, o' course, but the stage was where I first picked up a sword.
"Went back to it once after, for a lark. Company owner was still in the business an' doin' well, an' he invited me to do one more show for old times' sake. Still remembered the lines an' everything. Naturally, I brought the house down."
Jack credited the wide-eyed wonder on Will's face to his own superior oratory skills, so he wasn't quite prepared for Will's next words.
"My mother loved the theater. I think she wanted to be an actress, but it wasn't considered proper." He glanced at Jack, who looked more than a little surprised at this bit of information about his old friend's wife. "I mean, it was reasonably acceptable for a man to do it, but women on the stage were considered little more than -- than whores." His lip curled in distaste, the word still sitting uneasily on his tongue; but it was the most fitting. "But you probably knew that."
Jack shrugged. "Rules are strange an' capricious things, mate. 'S why I don't put much store in 'em." He smiled, crookedly. "But ye probably knew that, too."
Will grinned back, his earlier unease forgotten. "She knew how to read, and she taught me. We used to act out scenes from her favorite plays. She was especially fond of a playwright called William Shakespeare. You're familiar with him?"
Jack nodded. "Company owner had a liking for 'im, as well. I've some acquaintance with the works of the Bard, aye."
"I used to think at times that she married my father because he shared the same first name," Will said with a half-smile. He had never recounted this part of his life to anyone, not even to Elizabeth, though he couldn't say why. "Once in a while, when we could afford it, she took me to see a performance. The only times I saw her happier was when my father came home.
"When I was...about eight or nine years old, I think, my father did come home for a week or two. Yes, it was two. It was the first time I had seen him in -- must have been nearly a year -- and I was so excited. He surprised us -- he walked through the door, and my mother screamed and ran to him; I was hanging onto his coat and he was trying to embrace us both together. We were probably all crying a bit.
"On his second night home, some of his shipmates dragged him out for a night on the town. Mum wasn't very happy about it, but she let him go with an admonishment to be home by midnight or she would come fetch him. It was past my bedtime, but I stayed awake long enough to see midnight to come and go, and true to her word, she went out after him. They returned together within the hour; my mother was clearly angry and my father was very apologetic and trying to calm her. They kept their voices low so as not to wake me -- I was already awake, of course -- and I couldn't hear what they were arguing about, but I assumed it had to do with him staying out so late.
"The next day Father must have wanted to make it up to her, because he offered to do most of the chores around the house and make some repairs that had gone neglected for a while, and he'd recruited some of his shipmates to help. He gave her some money and told her to treat herself to something nice. She was reluctant to have them at the house, which now leads me to believe she must have known or suspected what kind of sailors they were -- pirates, of course -- though she never said it directly. I remember my father saying something about a Code -- " here another tiny smile flickered across Will's face, " -- and assuring her that the house, and everything in it, would be in better condition than when she left.
"She took him at his word, but insisted that I accompany her. I wanted to stay home to spend time with my father and see what his friends were like -- which is exactly what worried her, I imagine. She didn't want me exposed to such bad influences."
Jack snorted and rolled his eyes, but kept his tongue.
"As I was saying," Will continued, loudly, before resuming his conversational tone, "she took me with her, and we went to see a play. Shakespeare, of course, a -- comedy. As You Like It." He looked to Jack quizzically.
"Aye," Jack replied. "I know of it. Was in that one meself a few times, I believe."
"It was one of my mother's favorites. I didn't understand why back then, but I think it was because it was about people learning to be who they truly are, outside the constraints of polite society. It's what she wished for herself." He cast his gaze around himself: at the ocean, at the Pearl, and, briefly, at Jack. "I wonder what she'd think of me now. If she'd be proud of me. Not necessarily the piracy part, but -- " he looked at Jack again, then away, quickly.
"Followin' your heart?" Jack finished. Will nodded, somewhat shyly. "I imagine she'd understand that much. An' if, as you say, she knew how your father made his livelihood, she'd not fault you for being yer father's son."
Will swallowed his disappointment that Jack had misunderstood his meaning and pressed on with his story.
"I wanted to be upset at her for not letting me stay with Father, but the show was so well-done and she was enjoying herself so much that I couldn't stay angry. And I had what one might call...an epiphany."
Jack, intrigued, perked up a bit and waited patiently while Will's eyes turned faraway and dreamy.
"There was a young woman playing the female lead, and I thought she was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen in my life."
Jack chuckled. "All nine years of it, eh?" -- Will smiled and shrugged, and Jack couldn't let it alone. "Even lovelier than your fair maid -- " Jack stopped himself short before that name could cross his lips, wishing he could throw a rope around the words he'd already uttered and haul them back into his mouth.
In the three months since he'd found Will waiting for him at Tortuga, the young blacksmith had never mentioned his lady love or why he'd sought a berth on a pirate ship at all. Jack had been mightily curious, of course, but he didn't make a habit of prying into the personal lives of his crew members. There were enough death warrants and open bounties amongst them -- Jack included -- that the odds of getting an honest answer about such matters were about as great as finding a virgin in a whorehouse.
Certainly not this virgin, in any case; on the one occasion Jack had managed to drag Will into a Tortugan brothel (and a fine establishment it was, too -- one of Jack's favorites) the boy had turned red as a sunburn, stammered something about waiting outside until Jack had "finished his business," and made a run for the door. Damnable shame, too; quite a few of the ladies had clearly fancied the lad, and had employed extremely tactile methods to make said fact known to him. Might've given him a discount. Hell, given the heights of their enthusiasm and the depths of their subsequent disappointment, they'd have probably given him a free tumble or three. And it was not entirely inconceivable that Jack could have persuaded them to extend the courtesy to himself as well. As a finder's fee, as it were.
Bloody whelp. Jack hated needless waste.
And the evening had come perilously close to being a waste for Jack too, for he'd found himself preoccupied with thoughts of Will, who was no doubt standing forlorn and alone outside the brothel door, moping and moaning over that rum-burning wench (and there had been a waste of the highest order if ever there was one). Broad shoulders hunched over dejectedly; well-rounded calf muscles flexing and stretching as he scuffed at the packed-dirt street with his foot; those long, strong fingers hooked into his sword belt, sliding sideways to clench around the hilt of his weapon whenever he saw someone or something that made him uneasy, which would be...oh...approximately every twenty-eight seconds.
Angelique (for that had been his companion's name that night) had done her best, and Jack had managed to keep himself sufficiently focused to avoid embarrassment (as well as the attendant damage to his reputation, which would have been, in many ways, far worse than failure itself), but in the end he'd concluded their transaction significantly sooner than was his custom and made an excuse about keeping his inexperienced crew member out of trouble in the lawless alleys of Tortuga.
Sure enough, he'd found the boy loitering awkwardly outside the house, and Jack got a glimpse of that glum expression on his handsome visage. It had evaporated the moment he'd laid eyes on Jack, however, and his face had had no tear-streaks. While it never crossed the pirate's mind for a minute that there existed anyone whose life wouldn't be brightened by Captain Jack Sparrow's presence in it, he found Will's persistent good cheer perplexing.
If Will had gone all soggy and teary-eyed over the girl, Jack would have prescribed what he felt was a sure cure for heartbreak: good rum and a good rogering. He would have been happy to procure the former for the lad himself. And if the practiced ladies of the local entertainment establishments weren't to his liking, Jack would have been more than happy to provide him with the latter, as well. Positively ecstatic, in fact.
But it had never happened. No moaning, no whingeing, no crying into his drink. No opportunity for Jack to offer comfort: neither of one sort, nor of the other. There were times when the boy seemed lost in thought, to be sure, but his pensiveness never seemed to lapse into melancholy. He seemed quite content to be where he was, which was on board the Pearl as part of her crew and at arm's length from Jack.
Will seemed perfectly happy.
Jack was almost disappointed.
Perfectly, soberly, chastely happy.
Jack was seriously reconsidering the "almost" part.
Really, it was just as well, because in all likelihood the rum and rogering would quickly be followed by regrets, resentment and recriminations. Maybe even revenge, if young William decided that his fall from grace was Jack's responsibility, and that only Jack's blood on his sword would lead to his own redemption.
Jack made a mental notation not to use another "r" word for at least ten minutes.
He was so lost in his reverie that he almost failed to notice that Will was speaking again. Must pay attention, he chided himself. Else the boy might think I don't want to listen to him, and then he'll stop speaking to me altogether, and then I'll never know when he's in need of...comforting.
Will noticed Jack's slip, but did not remark on it. This childhood infatuation -- it was an adequate term, he reckoned, though it fell far short of fully conveying the depth of its significance -- was entirely separate from Elizabeth, who had turned out to be no less of a fantasy to him. Some barriers were not so easily broken as others, nor were they meant to be.
"She was so vibrant, so alive, that she stole the show from the rest of the cast. She was tall and slender and graceful and her voice sounded like -- like -- like honey," he exclaimed, before his momentum petered out. "...If honey could have a sound, that is." His mouth twisted apologetically at his sudden lack of eloquence. "She spent most of the play disguised as a boy, but even then she was...breathtaking." He studied his hands, a little self-consciously. "To my nine-year-old eyes, anyway."
Jack dismissed Will's discomfiture with a wave of his hand. "The eyes of the young can see what their elders' cannot," he stated. "Makes it no less real for it. What happened next with your inamorata?"
Will carried on, unaccountably relieved that Jack wasn't laughing at him. "After the show was over, I begged my mother to let me go meet her. She was glad that I had stopped sulking and that I had become so enthusiastic about the whole affair, so she indulged me.
"I ran up ahead to where she was being congratulated by some other theater-goers and cast members, and she was even more bewitching up close. As soon as she turned toward me I blurted out that I thought she was beautiful and I wanted to marry her." He rolled his eyes at the memory, and blushed sheepishly. "I suppose I was...impulsive even then."
"An' me neck thanks ye for that, mate," Jack said. "Pearl an' I had a lot of catchin' up to do. She thanks ye, too."
Jack's expression was very close to being serious, and Will's blush stayed put, though for a reason far different from that which created it.
"She smiled at me," he continued, "and it was positively dazzling. I mean, I thought my heart would grow wings and take flight out of my chest. By this time, my mother had caught up with me, and when she got a good look at the actress, her face...clouded over. I can think of no other way to describe it. It was as if a thunderstorm passed across her features. As if she recognized the girl, and not as a friend.
"She didn't seem to recognize my mother, though, because her smile never wavered; if anything, it got bigger. She opened her mouth to answer me, or say hello, or something, but before she could say anything, my mother raised her hand and caught the girl a blow across the face.
"I was completely dumbfounded; my mother was high-spirited, but I'd never seen her attack someone that way, without provocation. Then she dragged me away and we went home."
Jack laughed, shaking his head. "Sounds like yer mum, all right. Spitfire, when she wanted to be."
"You knew my mother?" That was news. Though he must have been quite young, Will was sure he would have recalled meeting someone as unequivocally memorable as Jack Sparrow.
"Met her once, or so Bill told me. I've no reason to believe otherwise."
"You don't remember." It wasn't a question; if it had been anyone other than Jack, Will would have been surprised.
Actually, he amended, it wouldn't have surprised him much from Gibbs, either.
Jack's demeanor changed so swiftly that Will was taken aback. He shrank a little, squirming nervously on his barrel, and fixed his gaze somewhere over Will's left shoulder. "Well, there was a good deal of celebratin' going on that night. Can't quite recall the occasion at present, but it must've been something incredibly momentous. Anyhow, as Bill told me the tale, he had the honor of introducing yours truly to his most assuredly lovely better half, and I -- " Here Jack faltered, wincing, unable to meet Will's eyes. "Well, let's just say I overwhelmed her with me wealth of charm and charisma."
Will pondered that for a moment, until his jaw dropped open in comprehension. He closed it with a snap. "Jack, you didn't."
Embarrassment was an emotion uncommon to Jack's colourful existence, but here it was again, big as life. It had been a bitter dram to swallow then, more than a decade ago, and it was no less potent with the passage of time. Not with Bill's son sitting two feet away, staring aghast at his uncouth blackguard of a captain.
"Aye," Jack sighed, ruefully. "Took her for a hussy, I must've done, an' acted the cad with me best mate's wife. Accordin' to Bill, yer mum was so piqued that yer da had to pull her off me ere she tore me limb from limb. Surprised Bill didn't belt me a good one, to tell ye the truth." He fidgeted, tugging nervously at a bead in his hair. "He was definitely riled enough. Guess he figured it was bad luck to strike his captain, no matter his captain had it coming."
Will was thoroughly and righteously livid in a heartbeat, sorely tempted to call Jack out for such an insult to his cherished mother -- and hadn't he once been willing to kill the man for calling his father a pirate?
It was only when he noticed Jack cringing slightly from him that he discovered he had jumped to his feet, clenched fist raised in the air.
"Go on, son," Jack said quietly, turning his cheek towards him and closing his eyes. "That one I deserve."
...But the pirate bit had turned out to be true, hadn't it? And Jack looked so uncharacteristically abashed now that it gave Will pause. If his own father hadn't seen fit to give Jack the drubbing he had so obviously earned, could Will claim that right so many years later?
He took a deep breath, held it a few seconds, then let it out slowly, lowered his hand and sat back down. "As you said, it's bad luck to hit one's captain." Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Cotton and Marty exchanging something, then wandering back out of sight. Another wager, no doubt. Distantly, he wondered who had won.
Jack opened one eye dubiously, then the other. "Ye don't want to bludgeon me within an inch of me worthless life for attemptin' to tarnish yer ma's honor?"
"No, Jack," Will said, running a hand through his hair. "No, I don't." And, surprisingly, he meant it. "It was a long time ago, and no lasting harm was done, I suppose. Besides, it hardly seems fair to punish you simply for being yourself."
Jack raised an eyebrow and the corners of his mouth twitched a bit. "I'm not sure whether that was a compliment or an insult. Yer learnin', mate."
Will stayed quiet for a full minute, staring at his feet, gathering his thoughts. It mattered a great deal, somehow, that he tell this part, that he share this with someone who might understand. "That night my parents had another hushed argument, and I knew it must have been over that girl. Maybe that's why Mum was so angry the night before, because she had seen my father and that girl...together. I didn't figure that bit out until a few years later, of course, and by that time my parents were both gone.
"I wanted to hate them both, the girl and my father, for causing my mother pain, but Mum seemed to have forgiven him by the following day, and they were happy for the rest of his visit. A week and a half later he shipped out, and he never came back. I missed him too much to stay angry at him; I only wanted to see him again.
"As for the girl, I never forgot her, either. I'm not sure how much of it was the personality of her character, Rosalind, and how much was simply herself." He chose his words carefully, needing to say this correctly. "In a way, I think she -- both of them, the character and the actress -- represented everything that my mother wanted to be and couldn't. She couldn't follow her heart because she had a child to raise, and she was doing it mostly alone. Not that I ever had reason to question her love for me, but she was trapped by convention. By society. It wouldn't let her become the person she was supposed to be. Rosalind -- she freed herself, for a time, by leaving society behind and doing things that women of her station weren't supposed to do. And that girl, that actress, brought her to life for me."
He looked back up at Jack, whose countenance showed only compassion. "I suppose you could say she was my first first love." He smiled wistfully. "I never even knew her name."
He inhaled deeply again, filling his lungs with fresh sea air. His anger, inexplicably, had gone without a trace. "Later, when I ended up in Port Royal, all those rules trapped me too, as I grew up. Even -- no, especially where Elizabeth was concerned, as much as she wanted to pretend it didn't matter." His smile lost its sadness, and brightened. "And then you came along and I saw there was another way to live my life. And here I am. I think my mother would be proud of my decision, if not entirely approving of the path I chose. But you're right -- she would understand."
There. He'd gotten it out, and reasonably well, if he said so himself. It wasn't even close to everything he wanted to say, but it would do for a start. Jack said nothing, but his expression -- was it affection? admiration? -- made Will feel...accepted. It was something he'd had precious little of since leaving England, but he'd found no shortage of it here with Jack, despite the man's numerous flaws.
But now, having bared his soul, he needed something in return. There was absolutely no guarantee he'd get it, but nothing ventured..."Do you still have family somewhere, Jack?"
"None as would lay claim to me," Jack said casually. "Though I am prodigiously talented at many things, 'respectability' ain't one of 'em. They were none too pleased when I took to the stage, an' you can imagine what they'd think of my present vocation."
"Then they don't know...who you are?"
"Can't say for sure whether they do or don't, but it hardly matters now." His affability of a few seconds ago was gone, replaced by a cultivated aloofness that Will had come to know well, and the warning was as clear as a carillon. Someday, maybe, Jack would say more. But not today.
He didn't want to lose this moment, this feeling of connectedness, and he fumbled in vain for something to say that might restore Jack's good humour. Failing that, he fell silent, wishing he'd shut his mouth a few sentences sooner.
Blast it. Wasn't the boy's fault he'd touched a sore spot. Now Will had gone all skittish and withdrawn. That wouldn't do at all. Best to turn the conversation back to a safer topic. Put him at ease.
"So, then, this play of yours that moved ye so -- how did it go?"
Will's brow furrowed in suspicion. "I thought you said you knew it. That you'd done it yourself."
"Aye, I have done, I'm sure of it," Jack admitted, "but that was a lot of rum and a lot of sun and lot of water under the ship gone by. Me powers of anamnesis ain't what they once were." He vaguely recalled something to do with a forest and a wedding -- he did so love weddings -- but not much else.
The name -- "Rosalind," Will had said -- rang a faint bell or two, but he couldn't quite place it. "Help an old sailor out, lad." He gave Will his most ingratiating smile and waited.
Will couldn't be sure whether Jack was sincere or if he was merely trying to salvage the conversation, but either way it meant Jack was no longer annoyed with him so it didn't really matter.
It had been years since he'd last read the text or seen a performance, but the plot, as he remembered it, was fairly simple.
"Let's see...it begins with a young man named Orlando, who -- "
"'Orlando?' What kind of name's that for an Englishman?"
Will's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, then he resolutely ignored the interruption. " -- Who resents his ill treatment at the hands of his elder brother, Oliver -- "
"Now there's a proper English name. From the Germanic 'Alfihar.' Means 'elf-army.'"
Jack might have been annoyed at Will a minute ago, but the situation was quickly reversing itself.
"Shall I continue or not?" Will asked as pleasantly as he could through gritted teeth.
Jack waved him on. "By all means. My apologies."
Deep, calming breath. Where did he leave off? Right. "Orlando, who resents his ill treatment at the hands of his brother Oliver after the death of their father. Orlando takes part in a wrestling match, where he meets Rosalind, and they fall in love at first sight."
"Rosalind was a wrestler? Sturdy girl."
"No, she was watching the match, with her cousin, Celia."
"Orlando wins the match, and Rosalind rewards him with a necklace as a token of her esteem, but he's too intimidated to say a word, let alone admit his love for her."
Will closed his eyes. "THEN, Rosalind is ordered into exile by her uncle and Celia's father, Duke Frederick, who did the same to his own brother, Rosalind's father, years before." He waited for another interruption, but there was none. He shrugged and went on. "Celia, who loves Rosalind like a sister, vows to leave with her. At the same time, Orlando learns from a loyal servant that his brother Oliver plans to have him murdered. Orlando is determined to stay and fight for his name and his honor, but the servant, Adam, convinces him to flee for his own safety."
"Ye certain this Orlando wasn't a grand-sire of yours?"
"He and Adam both take refuge in the forest of Arden -- "
"Hah! I knew there was a forest!"
" -- Where they are befriended by Duke Senior, Rosalind's banished father. Orlando, unable to tell his beloved how he feels, writes love-poems to her and tacks them to trees all over the woods."
"Oh good lord."
"Meanwhile Rosalind and Celia, travelling as brother and sister -- "
"Hold on. I thought ye said they were cousins."
"They were. They -- "
"An' I'm fair certain ye said they were both lasses."
"They were," Will said, fighting the urge to scream. "They were in disguise. It was safer than to be two maidens travelling unchaperoned."
"Ah. Why not two lads, then? T'would be doubly safe, I'd expect."
"Because Rosalind was the taller of the two, and would make a more convincing boy than Celia would." Will tried very hard to remember what the point to all this had been.
"Oh. That's all right, then. Pray, continue."
"Rosalind and Celia, disguised as Ganymede and his sister Aliena -- "
"Now I know you're havin' me on."
"Celia chose that name as a symbol of her self-imposed exile," Will said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "What's important is that both she and Rosalind regard their banishment as freedom, not punishment. They are no longer bound by the rules of polite society, and are free to say and do as they please."
"Now that is the first thing ye've said that makes any sense," said Jack earnestly, and Will felt his irritation begin to recede.
It wouldn't last.
"Rosalind and Celia, as Ganymede and Aliena, arrive in Arden -- "
"Mighty fashionable place, for a forest."
" -- Where they find Orlando's love-verses to Rosalind. She's overjoyed to learn he feels the same as she, but when she encounters him she decides to keep up her charade of being a boy, to put him at ease in her presence." He waited a beat, then decided it was safe to keep talking. "Orlando tells Ganymede of his lovesickness over Rosalind, and Ganymede offers to cure him of it."
"Wait up. I thought Ganymede and Rosalind were one an' the same."
A shaky sigh, with just a hint of a whimper. Bad luck to strike the captain. "They are."
"An' Rosalind is as smitten with Orlando as he is with her."
"So why would she want him cured of it?"
"She doesn't. It's an excuse for them to spend more time together and get better acquainted with one another."
"Mm. A scheme to seduce him through misdirection and deceit, then."
"...Yes, I suppose you could say that."
"Ganymede tells Orlando to treat him as if he were Rosalind; Ganymede will in turn behave as he claims a woman would, with...a tendency towards an easily changeable disposition, and in so doing drive him to madness and out of love."
"Hell-spawned mood swings, y'mean."
"Erm...yes. I suppose."
Jack nodded sagely.
"Orlando agrees, and from that point on he addresses Ganymede by the name of Rosalind, and courts him as if he were she. Celia even performs a mock wedding for them."
"This is the same silly bugger who was too tongue-tied to speak to the lass when she was a lass?"
"Yes. It is."
"But he's able to woo her, speak words of love to her, even take vows of matrimony with her, all the while believin' her a tom?"
"So he fancied her more as a boy."
"No, that's -- " Will began, then paused. That certainly had never occurred to him before. "I don't think that's what it meant," he said skeptically. True, he hadn't seen or read the play in such a long time, but -- No. Couldn't be. "He was more relaxed around Rosalind as a boy because he wasn't attracted to her. Him."
This was getting far more complicated than it had any conceivable right to be.
"So along the way, a shepherdess named Phebe falls in love with Rosalind -- "
" -- I mean Ganymede, and Oliver tells -- no, wait, I missed a bit. When Duke Frederick discovers Celia has gone with Rosalind, he concludes they must be with Orlando, and intends to ask him of their whereabouts. But Orlando's suspicious disappearance lead him to believe his brother Oliver has done him harm, and Frederick banishes Oliver until he can produce his brother, dead or alive.
"Oliver too winds up in Arden, where Orlando finds him and saves him from being eaten by a lion. Orlando is wounded and weakened from loss of blood, and sends Oliver -- they've by now put aside their quarrels and reconciled -- to find Rosalind and explain to her why he -- Orlando -- cannot meet her in person as he'd promised.
"Oliver meets Celia and they fall in love immediately. Orlando recovers from his injury and encourages his brother to marry Celia right away. Orlando also confesses to Ganymede that he's still in love with Rosalind and that their game isn't working to cure him. Rosalind, who had feared for Orlando's life after the lion-attack, grows tired of the make-believe and promises, as Ganymede, to conjure a magic spell that will deliver Rosalind to him as his bride by the following day.
"She also tells Phebe that should she -- that's Phebe -- change her mind about loving him -- that's Ganymede, since Rosalind is still him -- then she -- Phebe again -- should instead marry Silvius, a shepherd who's in love with her. With Phebe...Right." Almost finished now. Will plowed ahead.
"The next day, Rosalind and Celia reveal their true identities to everyone, including Duke Senior, Rosalind's exiled father. Rosalind marries Orlando, Celia marries Oliver, other people marry other people, and Orlando's other brother Jaques appears for the first time to inform everyone that Duke Frederick has had a religious conversion and rescinded all the banishments so everyone can go home and live happily ever after.
"Oh, and Phebe decides not to marry Rosalind and agrees to marry Silvius after all."
Will fell silent, completely spent from the effort of doing that much talking while barely pausing for breath. He'd left out some details, but he'd covered the relevant points, and he was filled with a sense of accomplishment that Jack hadn't been able to throw him off-course again. Or perhaps it was just dizziness from lack of air.
"Lions don't live in England."
"I never said it WAS England, did I??"
"Never said it wasn't, neither."
"I don't KNOW where it was. Maybe it was England. Maybe it was Atlantis. It doesn't matter." Will finally recalled why he'd undertaken such a herculean task, and wondered if it had been for naught. "Don't you remember any of it?"
Jack scowled, brows knitted in concentration. "Hard to be certain." He sorted through the vast catalogue of fables at his disposal, ready to be called up when the situation required it. He'd long ago lost track of which were mostly real and which were largely fanciful and which had equal elements of both, because the power was often in the telling of the story, not in the truth of it. "Perhaps if ye spoke a few lines, it might come back to me."
"Oh, I don't know if I can -- " Will was just about to admit defeat when something sparked. "My mother liked certain passages enough that we both had them committed to memory back then, and I was reminded of them during lessons with Elizabeth's tutors. There was a speech that Rosalind gives to Orlando as she promises to magically summon Rosalind to be his wife." That didn't sound right. "You know what I mean." He hoped. "It's not fully clear whether or not Orlando suspects who Rosalind really is, or if Rosalind knows that he knows. In any case, Orlando says that it is no longer enough for him to pretend that Ganymede is Rosalind. In reply, Rosalind says -- hold on a moment." He ran through the words in his head, and not finding any obvious gaps, began reciting.
"'I will weary you then no longer with idle talking. Know of me then (for now I speak to some purpose) that I know you are a gentleman of good conceit. I speak not this that you should bear a good opinion of my knowledge -- '"
Recognition dawned across Jack's face and he began, first haltingly, then with increasing confidence, to recount the words along with him, "' -- Insomuch I say I know you are; neither do I labour for a greater esteem than may in some little measure draw a belief from you, to do yourself good and not to grace me.'"
Will stopped his recitation and simply watched in fascination as Jack, transported, warmed to the speech. His posture, his movements, his diction all shifted subtly, and Will could easily picture him on a stage, holding forth before a packed house, enthralling the spectators with --
"'Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things.'"
Jack paused, cleared his throat noisily, and then his voice...changed.
"'I have, since I was three year old, conversed with a magician, most profound in his art and yet not damnable.'"
Lost its usual gruffness and baritone timbre and smoothed out into a startlingly convincing, very feminine contralto.
"'If you do love Rosalind so near the heart as your gesture cries it out, when your brother marries Aliena, shall you marry her. I know into what straits of fortune she is driven, -- '"
A sweet, mellifluous, honeyed feminine contralto.
"' -- And it is not impossible to me, if it appear not inconvenient to you, to set her before your eyes tomorrow human as she is and without any danger.'"
Will's mouth went slack, and had he been sensible of anything else around him, he wouldn't have been surprised in the slightest if his jaw had kept on falling until his chin landed with a thud on the deck.
Jack, having reached the end of his monologue, stood still for a moment and took a deep, satisfied breath. What do you know, he thought. I have it in me yet. He turned to Will, expecting him to be impressed by his captain's impromptu display of this all-but-forgotten talent, and got rather more than he'd anticipated.
Will didn't look impressed. He looked positively gobsmacked.
Jack began to suspect Something Very Important was happening.
Jack Sparrow had been slapped so many times in his life that there were few distinguishing characteristics amongst them all. Might as well ask him to remember every bottle of rum he'd ever emptied down his gullet.
Ten, eleven years back.
Bootstrap going home on shore leave to visit his wife and son.
Running into Miller at the tavern and learning to his delight that his new theater company was thriving under the patronage of King Charlie; Miller daring him to reprise one of his most popular performances for one night, just to prove he hadn't lost his touch.
Jack never could resist a dare.
More memories: Bill informing him, with hard eyes and tight jaw, of his deplorable behavior toward the good Missus Rosemary Turner the night before. The cold fury softening into long-suffering weariness as Jack swore on the Pearl's soul that he didn't remember any of it and that he'd meant no offense -- he never had been able to stay mad at Jack for long, no matter what. Bill telling him to steer clear of the house for the duration of their leave, since he couldn't be responsible for what his wife might do if she saw him again.
And now, images began to emerge from the murky depths of his memory, like sunken treasure being hauled to the surface. A young boy, beaming up at him with huge adoring brown eyes and tousled dark curly hair...just like Bill's. A strikingly attractive woman standing next to him. Emphasis on 'striking.' He never had known what he'd done to deserve that.
"Will," Jack began, slowly, because the words were sticking together in his brain and he had to pull them apart gradually, like taffy. "Did ye say it was the last time yer father came home?"
"Yes," replied Will, whose head was beginning to swim, just a little. There was something crucial, and very obvious, right in front of him but he had to adjust his focus, his perception, before he could comprehend it. Like an optical illusion, except it wasn't actually optical.
...Except it really was, wasn't it?
Will tried to call up the details of a childhood memory, half a lifetime old, and did his best to fit them into this entirely unforeseen new template. The complexion had been less tanned, or perhaps it had been powdered. The lines of the face had been softer, rounder; the cheekbones less defined but still high and strong. The lips had been painted red, but not garishly so, and it wasn't terribly difficult to imagine them as the same now half-hidden behind a slightly scraggly moustache. There had been no gold teeth then; they'd been all natural, white and even. The long dark hair had been combed, less unkempt, though there might have been a few braids and ribbons in it even then. The black outlines had been drawn around the eyes with a good deal more restraint, but the eyes themselves had been just as large and dark and sharp as those that were staring at him right now, although the contemporary versions looked a bit dazed.
Something Jack had said. It felt like an eternity ago, but it was very very important.
"Jack," he said, trying to keep his voice neutral, "what sort of 'limits' were there to the roles you usually played?"
Jack cleared his throat, feeling faintly surreal. Not that it was a new experience for him, but he could say, quite honestly, that he had never seen this one coming. "Well, y'see, lad...back in ol' Bill's day -- that's Shakespeare, not yer father -- it was customary for female roles to be played by boys. An' young men. Th' practice fell outta favor 'bout the time I took to the sea, when women started takin' to the stage, 'cause most people wanted to see the real thing. Up 'til then, some fine fellows made an entire career of it, an' successful, too, for a time."
"...And I was young an' pretty enough to pull it off. Even up close, which led to some...interesting encounters." Jack smiled fondly at the recollection before snapping back to the present. "Ten years on, I guess I hadn't changed much."
"Not yet, anyway." Will's mind was no longer swimming; it was now caught in a whirlpool that was dragging it, helpless and shrieking, toward a greedy, grasping funnel from which he feared it might never escape. "The beard came later, I suppose," he said weakly.
Jack scratched his chin absently. "Now that I think on it, you're right." His face brightened as he remembered. "Had a sudden need to change me appearance, I believe. Now there's a story all in itself."
"If it's all the same to you, I think I'd rather hear it some other time." He found himself, strangely, wanting a drink, more than he'd ever wanted one in his life. Not that it would make anything any less bizarre. It was you, he thought to himself. It was you all along. The words looped through his consciousness like a mantra, and he never realized he was speaking them aloud.
He did know that the effort of trying to sort it all out was giving him a pounding headache, but the pain vanished when he felt Jack's fingers link through his, and he opened his eyes to see Jack press his lips gently to the dried wound on Will's hand.
"Will, lad, I think we'd best take this discussion into my cabin."
Will only blinked dumbly at him until Jack growled "Oh hell," and then Jack was kissing him, firmly and very demandingly, on the mouth. He broke from his trance instantly; the quickening he'd felt while Jack was examining his hand was nothing compared to this. He surprised himself and Jack both by returning the kiss tenfold, with teeth and tongue and moans and grasping hands; in the end it was Jack who had to pull away first, hand tangled in Will's hair, gasping for breath.
"Now, boy, before we give 'em a real show." Jack nodded in the general direction of the crew, who were engrossed in some sort of card game.
Jack slid an arm around Will's waist as they crossed the deck towards the cabin door.
Gibbs shook his head in resignation and pressed a coin into Anamaria's waiting hand. "Thought sure they'd be another three months, at least," he muttered, scratching his sideburns. Anamaria said nothing and walked away, snickering smugly as she went.
Will finally figured out what he'd wanted from Jack. It did indeed involve a great deal of touching, quite a lot of Jack at his absolute friendliest, and shockingly little clothing for either of them.
Jack finally discovered what Will could do with his hands (and the rest of himself), when provided with the proper motivation and instruction. The lessons proved mutually (and rather vocally, to the considerable amusement of the crew) illuminating.
Now that, Jack thought as he sprawled himself across Will's left side and rubbed his cheek contentedly against Will's very muscular and very bare shoulder, had turned out far better than even he could have hoped.
Will lay on his back, simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated, his right hand -- now tied with a narrow bandage -- tracing little patterns in the cooling sweat on Jack's lower back. His left arm would be numb soon if he didn't push Jack off him, but at present he lacked the energy to move. "Jack?"
"Hmmm?" Jack's voice was sleepy and muffled.
"Who was your favorite character to play? The one that meant the most to you."
"The one closest to me heart? Hmm." A brief silence; then, "Think I'd have to say...Orestes -- no, that's not it. Orpheus -- no, wait." Jack concentrated hard for a couple of seconds, then snapped his fingers.
"Ophelia!" he announced triumphantly, then snuggled happily against Will's chest and wrapped an arm around him.
Will did an internal search for a moment, then found a match. "From Hamlet?"
"That's the one."
Will thought some more, then frowned. "Didn't she go mad and drown herself?" His initial bemusement turned to mild alarm as he considered this, because, frankly, Jack was halfway there already. "She's your favorite character?" he asked into the top of Jack's head.
"Aye." Jack stretched lazily, then turned a broad drowsy grin on Will as he dropped his cheek back down to the younger man's shoulder. "Always did look good with flowers in me hair."
Drifting into sleep, Will decided that on their next visit to port, he would make it a point to see that for himself.
William Shakespeare is believed to have been born in 1564, and he died in 1616.
Between the English civil war of 1642 and the Restoration of 1660, theaters were closed by law and actors were considered "rogues and vagabonds," subject to punishment; spectators could be fined. It seemed to me like the sort of thing that would have appealed to young Jack. Charles II (1630-1685) was a supporter of the theatrical arts and officially lifted the restriction against women appearing on the stage.
The origin of the name "Oliver" is attributed to The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, by Elizabeth Gidley Withycombe (1977) and is cited on several different name-origin-related web sites.
Rosalind's speech comes from Shakespeare's As You Like It, Act V, Scene ii.
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