Title: Wherever the Wind Will Blow (Leaves in the Wind)
Summary: The boy on the table's name is Jack. He wants to be a pretty pirate.
Fandom: Pirates of the Caribbean.
Characters: Bootstrap Bill Turner, Jack Sparrow
Rating: mild PG-13
Disclaimer: Disney's characters (with a few extra by stephantom), not mine. It's just a fanfic.
Original story: Wherever the Wind Will Blow by stephantom
"Here in Tortuga," said the boy standing on the table, "children are raised knowing they're not really of any use until around the age fourteen, fifteen, or... or twelve, savvy? And seein' as I'm twelve years into my life this year, I've decided it's high time I take up the family business."
"Has the boy been drinking?" someone asked.
"Has the boy been smoking?"
"Has the boy been raised by whores and drunken lecherous pirates?"
Bill felt he'd had enough of rum and smoke and whores and pirates in the past year to spoil him for a lifetime. And as he watched the young boy offer himself to the highest bidder, smiling charmingly at the ladies of the house as they sat on their own clients' laps, Bill didn't know whether he wanted to laugh or cry or be sick with horror or stage a daring rescue.
His shipmates had other conflicts to discuss.
"How much have we got between us?"
"Don't even think of it. That's Bethany Thompson's brat – she'd cut off your balls and feed 'em to the dog if she found out."
"She wouldn't never need to find out if we just took him with us on the boat."
"What, do you think the womenfolk don't talk to each other? None of us would ever be allowed in a whorehouse again! And don't think having one pretty lad on board with us would make that worth it for all the men."
"'Sides that, he won't stay that pretty for very long if he's servicing the whole crew."
"But besides that, he's just a child," said Bill, but the others only stared, as if waiting for him to make his point.
In the time Bill had been in the Indies, these men hadn't stopped talking about the wonders of Tortuga (and its excellent tavern, the Three Dead Men), but as far as he could tell from his first night here the place was no better than any other dirty port or island he'd set foot on.
That was to say, it was good to be on land, but having firm ground under his feet made him wish more than ever he were in his own home.
Port Royal had been more to his taste. He'd had a letter there. And Fiona had shown she really had no understanding at all of who Bill was or what he was doing here, but it had been good to see the words written in her hand nonetheless.
From another corner of the room, a great bulking man Bill didn't recognize propositioned the boy, who hesitated only briefly before answering, "That's unexpected, I must say, but I suppose I can't be picky about me customers, so I'll meet you upstairs at whatever time's best for you."
Bill was reaching for his sword then (the outrage having cleared away the bleariness and the nausea) but a heavy hand landed on his shoulder and a familiar voice spoke softly to him, "Don't be so hasty. Your instincts are noble, and I know your heart's in the right place, but you need to know when to tack against the wind and when to let the wind do your work for you. No harm will come to young Jack in his mother's house." Then he called out in his other voice (even more familiar, since it was the one he used to give orders), "Someone get this kid a beer!"
As the boy jumped gracefully down from the table and, grinning, started making his way toward them, Bill's captain added, "And by someone I mean you, Bootstrap. And some rum for you and me."
So Jack Thompson did not initiate a career in prostitution that evening but made the acquaintance of two pirates instead. Bill had thought he'd have a glass and then head off to sleep, leaving the others to talk if they would, but he found himself charmed by the boy. And when Jack asked him "What's it like? Being a pirate..?" with all the hope and eagerness of any lad of twelve (never mind that he had been raised by whores and drunkards), Bill found he didn't want to let him down gently, or even let him down at all. Captain Hawk had gone quiet and thoughtful, so Bill took it on himself to start telling stories. He went with the ones he'd heard as a boy though, from the sailors who made port in his town, because those were more fantastic than anything he'd actually seen himself in the time he'd spent on the sea. But as he kept talking of mermaids and monsters, as he watched the boy's eyes shining with wonder, Bill found it didn't matter that he knew just how tiresome and thirsty and filthy the life of a real pirate could be. When he told the stories he found himself believing them. If Jack had heard them before, or if he'd heard enough from the other pirates who passed through the Three Dead Men to know Bill's tales were bunk, he didn't complain. And when the hour grew late and finally Cecily announced it was time for them to close and that Jack most definitely would not be going to anyone's room but his own or his mother's, Bill was sad to say goodbye.
Sadder still to wake up in the morning and realize the captain wouldn't let him get away with any less work today just because they'd been up drinking the night before.
Bill spent most of the next day loading supplies. Walking on and off the ship over and over made him dread the next day, when he knew they'd be setting sail, though he didn't know how long it would be until they made port again.
When he was released from his work he went back to the tavern, hoping to meet his young friend. And since he didn't, he sat at the bar and drank, admiring the handsome but hard-looking mulatta who served the drinks, knowing better than to try anything.
Bill knew that all the time they were in Tortuga he was meant to be recruiting more men to serve on their crew, to replace those who'd deserted. But it seemed rather a lost cause, and Bill found he didn't have it in him to talk up the advantages of a pirate's life to grown men like himself who knew better. Not after spending the last four months sailing in circles in search of an island he was now fairly sure didn't exist. And why would anyone want to find a dead woman's island anyhow? And why would Bill want to convince any of these lechers to come along?
He sat at the bar and drank, and spoke to no one. And the old man sitting next to him drank till he fell asleep with a bottle in his hand, and dropped his head on the stained wood, and Bill felt at once disgusted and envious. After a while Bill laid his head in his arms as well. He wouldn't let down his guard here, but he was very tired. He didn't feel like paying for a room or company, but he wasn't ready to go back to the ship or be alone just yet.
When Captain Hawk swaggered in and sat down at the bar, he paid as little head to Bill as he did to the sleeping man sitting between them and launched straight in to flirting with the bartender.
She called him a pirate and he said she should call him a captain, and they asked each other's names and talked like suspicious strangers until finally he laughed and said, "Ah, but you know me, Beth. Surely you know me still. It hasn't been so long."
"But you've come too soon as far as I'm concerned," she said, so I was trying to postpone the reunion another minute or two. Now tell me, what do you want with my son?"
Bill was awake then, very awake, but he kept his eyes closed, kept his head still in his arms. Hawk paused. "Clever little lad, inne?"
"Hmm, not the word I'd use," said Bethany. "I'd likely say somethin' more along the lines of bloody troublesome, provoking, impetuous, crude, dishonest, mischievous, disobedient, lazy, ungrateful..."
"Alright, I get it," said Hawk, cutting her off with a laugh. "You mean to tell me you love the boy."
"Don't ever doubt it. Now I asked you what it is you want."
"I've come to take him with me, Beth."
When she spoke again she sounded a good deal less sure of herself than she had all evening, and all she said was, "Aw, Hawk."
"You knew I'd be comin' back for him one of these days."
"But it's too soon, I tell you. He's only twelve years old, for heaven's sake!"
"Perfectly acceptable for a cabin boy. It's time he started gettin' to know the family business."
"You ain't his family."
"He's my son."
She lowered her voice but seemed to put more energy in it as she said, "You paid for a night with me – that doesn't give you any rights over my Jack."
"It weren't just a night and it weren't just for the money and you know that as well as I."
"It..." Bill opened his eyes, wondering if she might start to cry, but her face was closed, set. "You don't get to talk to me about love and family," she said. "Twelve years you never came back to see me and find out what happened, twelve years you never even set foot on this bloody island. A father stays with his family."
"Not when he's a pirate."
"And that's why Jack won't ever become one of those. I'll take care of bringing him up in the family business, thank you very much."
"What's that, whorin'?"
She slapped him hard across the face, hard enough to turn him around, nearly hard enough to knock him off his chair, and Bill gave up his lame pretense, went to his captain to see that he was all right.
"Leave it alone, Bootstrap, I've told you. No need to hurry when the wind's already takin' us just where we need to go." He turned back to Bethany, tenderly touching his own face, and started to speak in the same patient tone, "I won't say I didn't deserve that, and you may think I don't deserve to take Jack with me..."
"You got that right, at least."
"Thing is, this ain't about what I deserve, but what Jack does."
"What's that, a home? A mother who loves him?"
"The boy wants to be a pirate. You've realized that, surely."
She stared at him, for the first time appearing to be frightened rather than simply angry.
"Sooner or later he'll go off," he continued. "You've got sailors and soldiers and pirates coming in and out of this place every night. Wouldn't you like to know who he's gone with at least? Wouldn't you like to know it's someone who cares for him and will watch out for him?"
"He likes it here, he won't run off. Oh, he says some foolish things, but the girls here care for him and they won't let harm come to him." She sounded distant, resigned, even as she argued. "When I'm ready to retire Jack can take over proprietorship of the tavern, and that's a decent life, I think. What better could the son of a pirate and a working woman hope for in this world?"
"I'll make him captain of a ship someday."
She shook her head. "If I let him go with you he'll be hanged or drowned or marooned before I ever see him again."
"You know you can't keep him here."
"I know," she said quickly, then took a long, deep breath. "My Jack, my Jack," she said, shaking her head. "The grey hairs he's given me... But it'll be so quiet when he's gone."
Again Bill thought she might start to cry, but just then they heard a crash from across the room. A fight had broken out between two men, apparently over one of Bethany's employees.
"Somehow I think you'll find a way to keep busy," said Bill.
Bethany made eye contact with the girl in question and seemed satisfied "Cecily's got them under control. And," – and here she acknowledged Bill for the first time, gazing at him severely – "I do believe we were discussing a family matter. Not that privacy's ever meant much around here. Oh, which reminds me, Hawk – and I suppose I'll say this to you as well, mister... pirate – he's not to know."
"What's that?" said Hawk.
"He's going with you because you're slightly more trustworthy than the average pirate. But I've not raised my boy to believe in destiny or blood. He'll make his own choices. And if he obeys you it's because you're his captain, not because you're his father. Since, as I've said, you ain't."
It didn't seem right to Bill to keep it secret, but Hawk eventually gave in to her demands and swore Bill to secrecy as well. Then the two parents went to talk to the boy together, pretending they weren't the two parents but his mother and some captain of some ship.
The next morning Bill was the one to help him pack up his things while Hawk went back to the port to get ready to set sail.
Jack didn't have a lot of possessions, and he gathered them up easily enough. He laid out a few sets of clothes and a pocket knife on the bed and tied up the corners of his blanket in a crude knot. Bill took them apart again to teach him a proper sailor's knot – though it was a bit awkward with the thick folds of cloth. Still Jack watched the motions of his hands with eager, focused eyes, observing the technique. Bill untied it once again and nodded, indicating that Jack should try it. He watched Jack repeat the procedure, his small, agile fingers going through the steps rapidly, soundly securing the knap-sack.
"No books to take with you then?" said Bill, looking around the bare little room.
"What would I do with them?"
"I'd wager your mother would be pleased to have a letter from you from time to time."
"You know how to read then?" Jack sounded intrigued, though not nearly as eager as he'd been to hear about sea monsters.
"Yes, my father sent me to school, back in England."
"I didn't enjoy it much at the time, but I'm glad I know it now, or I wouldn't be able to read my wife's letters."
"I see. Do you have a whole family back there, in England?" The word sounded strange on his tongue, distant as Antigua and Barbados and had seemed when Bill was his age.
"I have a son."
"Who's going to take care of him?"
"His mother is, for now, and I work in the Indies to make money to send to them. But once I make enough, or we find the treasure the captain thinks is hiding around here somewhere, then I can give up this life and go home to them."
Jack frowned. "But why would you want to give it up?"
Bill smiled. "You'll learn. Sailing on a pirate ship's not all fun and games."
"Oh, I know that, but neither is living on land and fussing about with big bosses and little babies, is it? Or washing dishes just because your mother tells you to? I'll bet you your son runs away from home and comes to join you out here before you ever go back to them."
Still and all, he cried when he said goodbye to his mother.
As they walked toward the harbor Bill tried to cheer him up, saying, "I'll teach you if you'd like."
"How to be a pirate?"
"Aye, that too, but there'll be plenty of men who know that. But I'll teach you how to read and write, and then you can let her know how you're doing."
Jack shrugged. "She knows I'll be all right. Once we're out on the sea we'll be free, and I'm lookin' forward to it, savvy? No need to write home and tell anyone what I'm up to."
"If that's how you feel."
"It is, I don't need any obligations. And I'm never going to marry," Jack said proudly, and after a while added, "but you can teach me my letters if you want."
"All right then," said Bill. "As long as you promise not to use your knowledge to read any of my things, eh?"
"But what else would I use it for?"
When the boarded the ship Bill noticed how easily Jack tripped up the gangplank and over all the parts of the ship, was already as comfortable as Bill had come to be after a year's time.
Jack was thin and muscled like his mother. He'd find it easy to climb the mast and swing on the ropes. Bill wondered suddenly how Bethany would have done on a ship, whether it had ever even occurred to Hawk to take her with him. Fiona wouldn't have been any use on a ship, with her great long dresses and her stately ways -- nor would she ever have agreed to come aboard. But Beth was different, and Jack was different than any son Fiona would raise.
Hawk had work for Bill and within a few minutes he'd lost track of Jack. When he caught sight of him again O'Malley had him pressed back against and over the railing and his feet dangling in the air, and was calling him a stowaway.
"I’m no more a stowaway," said Jack, breathing in gasps, "than you a pretty young girl in pink!"
Bill started toward them, meaning to clear up the initial confusion and whatever worse situation Jack was bringing on himself by his words, but he felt the hand on his shoulder again and Hawk said softly, "Just watch."
O'Malley, rather than lose his temper, simply blinked in confusion and frowned as the boy continued, "...dancing gaily in a field of flowers in the spring sunshine, with her puppy, who is little and white and fluffy and—”
"—All right, shut up already,” O'Malley snarled.
"...named Princess," Jack finished.
"The worst O'Malley'd ever do to a stowaway is toss 'im back on land," Hawk said to Bill as they watched from a distance. "Let him sort it out for himself, see how well he handles it?"
Bill had to admit that the boy's calm was admirable, though he did have a thing or two to learn about how to tranquilize angry foes.
O'Malley still growled but Jack offered his appealing smile, eyes shining in a fashion similar, no doubt, to those of Princess. The pirate raised an eyebrow an shook his head. Perhaps he was just a harmless idiot who had stumbled onto the ship somehow. He grumbled and lowered Jack to the deck. "You are one strange kid."
Jack grinned. "But I’m no stowaway. If I was, I reckon I'd be stowin' meself away underdeck rather than out here makin' your fine acquaintance."
"What are you doing on this ship then?"
"I, sir, am the new cabin boy, thank you very much, and very honored to meet you," said Jack, holding out his hand.
"And what exactly do you think you're doin' here?"
"What do you think I'm doing? I'm comin' along for the ride, mate! And for the pilferin' and plunderin' and such."
"You've got a lot to learn, little matey," said O'Malley, but he was smiling.
"I expect so, but I'll be captain of a ship someday too, just like Captain Hawk."
"But for now you're nothin' but a little sparrow, is you?"
Rather than respond, he simply said, "The name's Jack" and moved his hand again, and this time O'Malley finally took it and shook. "And just between you and me," Jack added, leaning in close, conspiratorially, "You really ought to work on how you welcome mates."
"There you are," Hawk said softly. "We'll be here watching, we'll guide him on his way, but the boy knows what he wants, and what he wants and needs most right now is freedom."
"You really think he'll be all right?"
"No harm will come to him, I tell you. Not in his mother's house, and not on his father's ship." Then he called out in his other voice, "Cast off the lines and loose the sails," and all of them moved to obey.