Carlos stepped inside the dimly lit pub and tried not to wrinkle his nose in distaste. Far too many bodies, the majority of them filthy and in various states of inebriation, were crammed into far too small a space, which appeared to have been rather squalid even before they'd entered. If he had been given a choice, Carlos would never even have set foot in the place. Unfortunately, according to the information Carlos's sources had given, the men they were looking for — a group of pirates with a habit of attacking Spanish trading vessels — frequented this establishment.
The laughter and loud din of talking voices silenced mere seconds after Carlos and his men had stepped over the threshold, a hush falling over the room. The sight of a Spanish naval uniform usually provoked that reaction, at least from men like these. They were in the less reputable part of the city, where a pirate or two occasionally thought they might pass unnoticed.
The grimy windows kept out more sunlight than they let in and the light of the burning candles was barely enough to see by. Fortunately, the descriptions Carlos and his men had been given of the pirates were distinct enough that it shouldn't be a problem. With a couple of curt, efficient words he directed his men to fan out and start searching, while Carlos and two others remained guarding the door.
His gaze swept over the room, his hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. Some of the patrons were already twisting in their seats, throwing nervous glances around them, as if looking for alternate escape routes. The owner of the place stood behind the counter, looking displeased by the disruption, but clearly knew better than to complain, lest he wanted to lose his establishment.
Had Carlos held any sympathy for the pub's patrons, he might have explained that they were only there to apprehend three of them and that the rest could relax. As it were, he had very little patience for the sort of men who lived at odds with the law — which seemed to be the majority of the people in this room — and therefore remained silent by the door, watching them squirm.
The downside of having so many men of questionable morals in one place was that it made it impossible to spot their pirates on their behaviour alone. Everyone was acting at least a little bit suspicious — even those who were probably only guilty of petty crimes.
Protests were beginning to rise as Carlos's men made their way from one table to another, manhandling where necessary to get a better look at those trying to hide their faces. It was probably only a matter of time before a too-nervous patron threw a punch, but Carlos had a vague hope that they would find the pirates they were looking for before that happened. Any act of aggression would not doubt jolt every single one of these men into action, and Carlos didn't want to lose his targets in the chaos that would follow.
A voice, louder than the others, caught Carlos's attention, his gaze snapping to the right. A man — tall, broad-shouldered, and possibly of British or French descent judging by his light hair — was swaying to his feet, glasses askew and slurring something in horrendously poor Spanish. He wasn't one of those Carlos was looking for and, unlike most of the other patrons, seemed too drunk to have realised what was going on. If he had, he probably wouldn't have offered a Spanish sailor a drink from his rum bottle.
Carlos was just about to dismiss him as insignificant when, a heartbeat later, that same man caused the tension in the room to snap — like a spark lighting up a powder keg.
When Hernández reached to push the swaying blond back down onto his chair, the man dodged in under the outstretched arm with a grace no one that drunk should possess. Carlos was shocked by the swiftness of the man's movements — how he slipped past Hernández and, with a well-aimed jab with his elbow across Hernández's back, sent him stumbling forward, crashing into the nearby table.
That was all it took for the rest of the patrons to burst into action.
Shouts erupted, followed by the scuffle of chairs and glass breaking, and the chaos Carlos had hoped to avoid descended upon the room. He lost sight of the tall blond as two men tried to rush for the door and, before long, an all-out brawl had erupted inside the pub.
Carlos was not looking forward to reporting back to his superiors about this particular incident.
It was too crowded, the space too narrow, for Carlos to pull his sword or gun, but a couple of well-aimed punches worked just as well. In their desperation, many of the men tried to reach the door, no doubt making the mistake of assuming that, since he was wearing an officer's uniform, Carlos was less accustomed to fighting than the average sailor.
That was a mistake they only made once.
The warning shout from Mendoza made Carlos look up, just in time to see the blond man appear from out of the mess of struggling bodies, clearly headed for the door Carlos was guarding. It was pure reflex, fuelled by a sudden flare of anger, that made Carlos move to meet him. If there was one thing Carlos hated more than being taken by surprise, it was failing a mission, and this man was now the cause of both. He might not be who Carlos initially came to arrest, but he would gladly chain him up with the rest, just because of his audacity.
Their gazes locked but, even then, the blond didn't break his stride. A grin flashed on his face, wide and impish, and, in the next second, he had scaled one of the tables, steps so light he might as well have been flying. Carlos's eyes widened when he realised what was about to happen next and it was pure self-preservation that made him duck.
Even hunched over, Carlos was not a short man, but this daredevil vaulted over him as if it was nothing — he didn't even knock the hat off of Carlos's head.
Carlos spun on his heel, too shocked to really do anything but watch as the man smoothly rolled to his feet as soon as he touched the ground. López made a fumbling attempt to grab him but, just like with Hernández, the blond easily slid out of reach, twisting under López's arm and out of harm's way.
A moment later, the man was shouldering open the door, letting a burst of blinding sunlight into the dark pub. Carlos couldn't help flinching from the sudden brightness, but, as the man threw one last glance over his shoulder, Carlos was still able to catch the elated smile on his face.
The next second, he had slipped out onto the street and disappeared.
It wasn't until long after, once Carlos and his men had broken up the pub brawl and managed to apprehend one — but not all three — of their pirates, that Carlos found himself reflecting back on that moment.
His first reaction was anger, partly because his mission had only been partially successful, but, more so than that, because he had been so easily outmanoeuvred by that grinning scoundrel.
His second was a reluctant dash of awe — he had never seen a man move like that before. Carlos knew grace, of course, and was known to be a skilled sword fighter himself, but that had been something else entirely. The man had moved with such litheness, steps light and barely touching the ground, almost as if he had been dancing.
The third was puzzlement because, during that brief second when the man had looked back, haloed by white sunlight, Carlos had found the time to register that the blond's eyes were blue — bright, brilliantly blue, like a cloud-free sky stretching out over the open ocean.
Why he had thought that worthy of note, Carlos couldn't say, and he decided not to linger on it any longer than he had to.
Carlos was headed for the docks, having delivered his weekly report to his superiors at La Fuerza. The air was stifling outside the marginally cooler fortress and it didn't take long before he could feel himself grow increasingly agitated. While Carlos was proud of his uniform, it was awfully hot to wear some days. There was very little mercy to be had under the Cuban sun, especially during days like these, when the heat made everything seem unnaturally bright and shimmery around the edges.
He was passing down a narrow side-street — blessedly shaded — when a cheerful call caught his attention.
The fact that it came from above made Carlos snap to attention — cursing himself for having let his mind wander in the first place. He looked up, then even higher up, until he spotted a man perched on top of the smooth, white-painted wall on his right. Carlos knew he should have kept walking, but the moment he recognised that wide, beaming grin, he stopped in his tracks. Why, he couldn't say.
The man had one leg tucked in under him, the other dangling carelessly over the edge of the wall, and what looked to be a half-eaten mango in one hand, a small knife in the other.
The man grinned cheekily. "¿Cómo estás?"
His Spanish was atrocious — far worse than Carlos's English. But at least the accent was clear enough that Carlos could determine the man to be British rather than French. Though both were equally bad, in his opinion.
Carlos glared up at the man and tried not to be jealous of his much more weather-appropriate attire. A loose white shirt, unlaced and open wide at the collar, tucked into dark grey trousers, and high boots looked a lot more comfortable than the uniform Carlos was currently wearing. The blond was squinting slightly in the bright afternoon sun and his hair, so pale it almost looked white when lit by sunlight, was sticking out at odd angles — as if he had carelessly swept it out of his face and hadn't quite cared where it ended up afterwards. Two stray locks had fallen back down, just long enough to brush against his cheekbone.
"I should have you arrested," Carlos replied flatly in English, his pettiness getting the better of him.
A second too late, Carlos realised his mistake. The man's entire countenance brightened, a wide smile splitting his face.
"Oh! You know English! Excellent!"
And, with that, he hopped down from the wall, landing light on his feet — like a cat — despite the frankly alarming distance between his perch and the cobblestones below.
He didn't even drop his fruit.
Carlos took an instinctive step back, his hand reaching for his sword, though he didn't draw it — not yet, at least. The man was frustratingly undeterred, his grin not faltering, but at least he seemed to know better than to move closer. That still only left a couple of feet between them, but Carlos had too much pride to back up another step.
"I'm curious, though," the man said. "What would you charge me with?"
He looked infuriatingly calm as he sliced off a piece of mango, his eyes wide and innocent behind his round glasses.
"Attacking a Spanish marinero," Carlos replied evenly.
"He started it." The man shrugged. The movement caused his to shirt slip open just a little wider and, for some reason, Carlos caught himself looking down at the man's collarbones. Granted, they were in plain view, but Carlos wasn't sure what had prompted him to do that.
He felt a subtle burn of embarrassment and quickly looked back up again.
"Besides," the man continued, taking a bite out of his fruit, making his next couple of words a little muffled by his chewing, "I barely even touched him."
That was a lie, considering that Hernández'd had a bruise across his back for over a week afterwards. The man's obvious strength didn't come as a surprise to Carlos, however, since one of the first things he had noticed about him were his broad shoulders. Now that they stood opposite each other, Carlos reluctantly had to admit that he was just a little bit shorter than the man as well. All in all, the blond would have been a rather impressive man, if not for the glasses and that annoying, impish grin.
"Still enough to arrest you," Carlos bit out.
He was usually calmer than this, but something about this man got under his skin in ways few things did. He was unnerved by the casual, carefree smile, despite the threats of arrest. Truth be told, Carlos didn't even need a reason if he wanted to lock this man away. His men would trust his word if he told them he had apprehended a criminal. That would be unfair, of course, and a clear abuse of power Carlos had always avoided, but he was beginning to feel that exceptions could be made.
Carlos wished he had kept walking.
The man swallowed and wiped his thumb just below his bottom lip, his finger scratching against his beard.
"I bet you won't, though," he said, eyes alight with mischief and something else Carlos couldn't name.
The amount of smugness in the man's voice made Carlos's hackles rise.
If he hadn't been determined to arrest the blond before, he certainly was now, if only to prove the bastard wrong. Carlos was about to take a step forward and do just that when the man held up a finger, mango still in hand.
"No, wait, correction," he said, slipping his knife back into the sheath dangling from his wide leather belt. "You won't be able to."
Carlos was known for being patient— virtuously so, according to his men — but even he had limits. He wouldn't stand for being ridiculed by this man, who clearly had no manners or shame.
Carlos's hand tightened around the hilt of his sword, but, before he had time to unsheathe it, the man flashed him that same, infuriating grin he'd worn back at the pub. The one Carlos knew from experience meant he wasn't going to like what happened next.
"Catch," the man said.
Then, with a quick flick of his wrist, he sent the half-eaten mango flying straight at Carlos's face. There wasn't enough force behind it to cause any actual harm, but Carlos's reflex was still to recoil, abandoning his grip on his sword to bat the fruit aside.
It didn't take more than a couple of seconds, but that was still enough for the man to have backed up to the opposite side of the narrow street. Before Carlos had time to act, the man was running towards the wall he had previously been perched on and, to Carlos's astonishment, didn't stop. His boot hit the smooth surface, launching him upwards, high enough that he could hook his fingers over the edge. Then, with a heave that looked altogether too easy, the man had pulled himself back up onto the wall.
Carlos stared, not sure what to do with a man who had just climbed a flat wall with more grace than a bloody mountain goat. The fact that the man was now out of his reach — and had more or less proved his prediction that Carlos wouldn't be able to catch him — was somehow secondary.
What kind of man was this? How was he able to move like that?
The blond laughed, bright and happy, and, somehow, Carlos could tell it wasn't at his expense.
"You'll have to forgive me," the man said. He looked decidedly boyish with his hands braced against the wall on either side of him, leaning slightly forwards with his feet dangling. "I'm not fond of prisons."
Carlos pressed his lips together. "You're not supposed to be."
"Yes, I suppose that would defeat the purpose of imprisonment."
Frustration was bubbling under Carlos's skin, but he tried to tell himself that reaching for his pistol would be rash. He was an excellent marksman — one of the best — and could easily make sure the wound wouldn't be fatal, but he liked to think he was better than that.
He had better control of his emotions than that.
"I'm Jacob Jensen, by the way."
"I don't care," Carlos snapped, glaring up at the man.
He could admit, though, that knowing the man's name would help him figure out who he was and track him down later. What exactly Carlos planned to do this Jensen when he did, well — he had ample time to decide.
"I look forward to changing your mind, Teniente," Jensen replied, bold as brass, the words accompanied by a playful wink. "I think this is the start of something beautiful. Wouldn't you agree?"
Carlos did not agree. His teeth were gritted so tightly they hurt and the temptation to draw his sword and smack it against Jensen's dangling legs was overwhelming. They should still be within his reach.
It was astounding that one man could be so infuriating.
"If I see you again, I will arrest you," Carlos threatened. The fact that he wasn't sure if it was an empty threat or not only made his agitation grow.
He didn't like being bested.
"Well, you'd have to catch me first," Jensen replied teasingly. "And you haven't had much luck with that so far."
At that point, Carlos's anger definitely got the better of him. It was partly the fact that he was being mocked but, even more so, because he had a sneaking suspicion that Jensen was right. Judging by their two encounters, Carlos was going to have to try much harder if he ever wanted to catch this man.
Unless he made it easy for himself, of course.
When Carlos reached for his pistol, those blue eyes widened in alarm. It might just have been the act itself, or perhaps Jensen saw something in Carlos's face that finally made him realise that Carlos wasn't interested in playing games.
By the time Carlos was taking aim, Jensen had swung his legs over onto the other side of the wall. He wasn't quite fast enough, however, and, with a jolt, Carlos realised he could put a bullet in Jensen's back, right then and there. He should — he had more than enough reason to — but found himself hesitating, finger resting on the trigger but not moving.
That split-second of doubt was all the time Jensen needed to drop down on the other side of the wall, disappearing out of view.
Carlos took a slow breath and lowered his pistol. Only then did he feel how tense his shoulders were — how he was practically thrumming with anger — but, underneath that, he felt a curl of shame. He had almost shot an unarmed man in the back.
That was not the kind of man he wanted to be.
Carlos grimaced and tucked his pistol back in its holster, still staring up at the top of the wall where Jensen had disappeared. He usually prided himself on being calm and rational, but his reaction to Jensen's taunts had been anything but that.
He was supposed to be better than this.
After a slow exhale, during which he forced his tense shoulders to relax, he vowed not to let Jensen get a rise out of him again. Carlos would chase him down if necessary, like promised, but he would keep his emotions out of it. They had no place in this situation and he hated to give Jensen the satisfaction of seeing him react.
With that decided, Carlos turned to leave, making sure to curb the childish urge to kick the sad-looking mango lying forgotten on the cobblestones.
That would have been beneath him, no matter how tempting.
It was only when Carlos got frustrated enough to ask his informants that he reached any kind of breakthrough.
They, too, said there was no one by that name in Havana — at least that they were aware of — but one bloke did know of a pirate who matched Jensen's description, though he had introduced himself as Jake rather than Jacob. There was a chance that this wasn't the same person, but it was slim at best. Mainly because there weren't a whole lot of people of Jensen's description walking around, and even fewer who also happened to have the same first name.
No matter how hard Carlos pressed, he was unable to get the name of the crew or ship Jensen might be sailing with, however, which made it more difficult to predict when he might show up again.
Still, he now knew Jensen was a pirate.
Which, considering Jensen's general attitude and lack of manners, wasn't much of a surprise. The vindication felt less satisfying than Carlos would have wanted, though, tainted somewhat by the knowledge that Jensen had gone from someone Carlos might have thrown into a cell for a week or two, to someone he was expected to arrest and watch get hanged.
Whatever hint of reluctance he felt was quickly pushed aside.
Pirates were to be captured and executed, and it certainly wasn't Carlos's place to start making exceptions. Jensen had made his choice and Carlos would do what was expected of him, even if it meant actually pulling the trigger next time.
Though Carlos would be lying if he said he looked forward to it.
It took four months before Carlos and Jensen crossed paths a third time. By then, Carlos had almost started hoping they never would. It was easier to imagine Jensen out on the seas somewhere, probably pillaging and plundering, but far enough away that it wasn't Carlos's responsibility to arrest him. He still disliked the man — Jensen was far too aggravating and a criminal to boot — but that didn't mean he wanted to be the one to sign his death warrant.
Despite Carlos's wishes, he found himself in exactly that position one late evening while out patrolling with his men.
The moon was bright and full, the stars twinkling, while scattered laughs and murmuring voices could be heard from the houses they passed along the street. Lanterns hung from posts and awnings, like bright spots of warmth in the otherwise dark night, attracting eagerly fluttering moths. It was a quiet patrol, aside from the occasional interruption of loud drunkards belting out whatever passed for a song in their inebriated state. A couple of the tunes were raunchy enough to make his men chuckle and elbow each other like little boys, which drew a smile out of Carlos. It was a simple joy he didn't begrudge them, especially since they were all getting a bit restless, having been stationed in Havana for so long. They missed the sea — Carlos especially — but he had been told that as soon as new troops arrived from Spain, they would be back on a ship.
Carlos was definitely looking forward to that.
They rounded a corner and Carlos absently noted the two men standing outside one of the taverns a little further down the street. He was just about to dismiss them, his gaze ready to move on, when he noticed that the yellow he had seen in one of the men's hair — a very tall, broad-shouldered man — wasn't just a trick of the lantern-light, but its actual colour.
Had Carlos been any less in control of his impulses, he might have stopped in the middle of the street, recognition turning his stomach into knots. As it were, he kept walking — towards Jensen and whoever he was talking to — feeling a rush of conflicting emotions. There was something like anticipation, but also a sense of foreboding that settled, heavy and suffocating, in his chest.
He quickly stifled the latter and straightened his spine. He was not going to let his emotions get the better of him this time. He would do his duty, nothing more and nothing less.
The death sentence hanging over Jensen's head was his own fault and not something Carlos could change.
Carlos and his men were about ten paces away when Jensen finally looked up. It was just a glance, so quick Jensen had time to look back at his companion before he seemed to register what he had actually seen — and promptly stiffened. His gaze snapped back up, meeting Carlos's. For what could only be a couple of beats but felt much longer, they stared at each other, Jensen's eyes widening in realisation.
A part of Carlos almost expected Jensen to break out another one of those beaming grins and attempt to talk his way out of an arrest, but things were clearly different this time around. Perhaps because of the six sailors at Carlos's back or the way he and Jensen had last parted ways, but the pirate seemed to understand that Carlos was serious this time.
Whatever game Jensen had tried to play was officially over.
Instead, he blurted out an empathic, "Shit," before he turned on his heel and took off running.
Carlos was following before he had even made a conscious decision to do so.
His men shouted in surprise, but they were well-trained and Carlos could soon hear the sound of their running footsteps not too far behind him. Carlos kept his eyes on Jensen, not wanting to lose him in the dark gaps between the lit lanterns. It would be far too easy for Jensen to duck into a shielded side street and disappear into the shadows.
It didn't take Carlos long to realise that Jensen was a very fast runner. Carlos hadn't lost him yet, but he wasn't gaining on him, either. On top of that, Jensen was his usual agile self, easily vaulting over a low wall without even breaking his stride.
It was sheer stubbornness that had Carlos grit his teeth and follow him.
When Carlos reached the wall, he braced his hand atop it, feeling the rough stone scratch his palm, and jumped over. Carlos was grateful for his innate sense of balance when he landed on the other side — thankfully without stumbling — but he admitted that he could have done that more gracefully.
His coat was the biggest problem, restricting his movement, and, as he watched Jensen head for a low roof — no doubt aiming for a repeat of their last meeting by scampering up and out of reach — Carlos bit back a curse.
He would never be able to climb that in his bloody coat.
It was a split-second decision to flick off his hat and start tugging on the buttons of his coat. He was not going to let Jensen get away that easily this time. Carlos could hear surprised shouts behind him when he ripped off his coat and unceremoniously tossed it aside, but he was too focused on Jensen to care.
If he was lucky, one of his men would stop and pick up his clothes — if they managed to find them in the dark.
Carlos watched as Jensen scaled the roof, taking note of where he put his feet, and, without giving himself time to hesitate, followed suit. Before he got promoted, Carlos had spent as much time in the riggings as any sailor and knew how to climb, but he had to admit this was something else entirely, without proper handholds and places to put his feet.
Not to mention that it was a while since he had last climbed anything.
He still managed, possibly on sheer determination and stubbornness, and was soon heaving himself up onto the roof. He could hear the clatter of tiles as Jensen kept running, stopping only to climb up onto the next roof, this one even higher.
Carlos rolled to his feet with less grace than he would have liked, mostly because his legs got tangled in his sword, before picking up the chase. His breaths were coming in short bursts, his heart beating hard and fast in his chest, but he wasn't tired — not yet, at least. He wasn't ready to give up.
Jensen had disappeared from view by the time Carlos reached the next climb, the angle of the roof making it impossible to see where he had gone. Carlos didn't let that deter him, however, focusing on getting onto the same level. There was a convenient window ledge for Carlos to put his foot on, thankfully enough, and his arms shook with the effort of pulling him up the rest of the way. He was in no way in bad shape, this was simply not the kind of exercise he was used to.
He made it up onto the roof, refusing to give himself time to catch his breath — no matter how much his lungs burned — and instead pushed himself to his feet. The roof he found himself on was long but narrow, brightly lit by moonlight, and, as such, Jensen was easy to spot. He had slowed his pace considerably, clearly not having expected Carlos to follow him this far. That was enough reason for Carlos to keep going.
It was impossible to be quiet, however, the clay tiles clattering under his feet as he ran. The sound made Jensen glance back over his shoulder and while Carlos couldn't see his expression clearly, he imagined there had to be a fair amount of surprise in it.
Jensen picked up the pace again — or at least he would have, had he not stumbled after the second step.
One of the roof tiles had slid out of place, Carlos realised, costing Jensen his footing. Jensen fell, hitting the tiles hard, his left shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. For a brief second, Carlos felt triumph. He would easily catch up with Jensen now. His elation was short-lived, however, vanishing at the sound of tiles shattering against the ground below.
They were falling off the roof, one by one, and Jensen was sliding down with them.
Carlos's heart leapt up into his throat, an entirely different kind of urgency pushing him forward. Jensen was scrambling for something to hold on to, but more and more tiles were coming loose, both those he tried to grab and those underneath him. With a painful pang, Carlos realised he wouldn't make it in time — he wouldn't be able to stop Jensen from falling.
Carlos was still several steps away when he heard Jensen's half-choked noise of fear, the split second before he disappeared over the edge of the roof. Carlos's heart was hammering, the beats so loud he could barely register anything above them, but, somehow, he still managed to hear the sound of Jensen hitting the ground.
That sound would haunt Carlos for a long time to come.
A painful whine followed which, all things considered, was hopefully a good sign. At least that meant Jensen had survived the fall. He might be hurt, but not dead. Carlos skidded to a halt not too far from the edge, the tiles trembling underneath his feet — threatening to give out on him — and threw a quick glance down below. It was a paved courtyard of some kind, not quite as far down as Carlos had feared — closer to one story than two.
Without pause, he crouched, grabbed a hold of the roof, and swung down over the edge. For a brief moment, he hung suspended in the air, bracing himself for the impact, before letting go. Hitting the ground jarred his bones, but he was soon stumbling towards Jensen, who was — thank God — moving where he lay on the ground.
Carlos fell to his knees next to Jensen, ignoring the sharp jab of broken roof tiles. Before he had time to really consider what he was doing, he reached out, one hand settling on Jensen's shoulder and the other cupping his face.
"¿Estás herido?" Carlos was surprised by the urgency in his own voice.
He was panting, the excitement of the chase — it was a long time since he'd had to fight this hard to catch someone — having been replaced by a worry so strong it actually seemed like a living thing, twisting and curling in his chest.
Jensen let out a wheezy, staggering laugh. "Only my pride."
The way Jensen's hand was pressing against his left side — the one he'd landed on while up the roof — said that might be a lie, however. Thankfully, the moonlight was more than enough to see by and, at least from what Carlos could tell, there were no obviously broken bones or open wounds. Jensen could easily have cut himself on the sharp clay tiles.
"My glasses," Jensen mumbled, twisting his head, as if hoping to spot them on the ground next to him.
Only then did Carlos realise that Jensen was, in fact, not wearing his glasses — and that Carlos still had his palm against Jensen's cheek.
Carlos quickly snatched his hands back and busied himself with finding Jensen's glasses. It was a thankfully simple task, the bright moonlight reflecting off of the round lenses making them easy to find. Carlos reached out and picked them up, quickly checking to make sure they weren't broken before holding them out to Jensen.
"Gracias." Jensen's smile looked pained.
He fumbled slightly when he put his glasses back on and didn't seem in a hurry to get up from the ground. He looked up at Carlos, smiling faintly — still more pained than anything else — and said:
"You're still going to arrest me, aren't you?"
Carlos stiffened, reality coming crashing back down. It made no sense for him to be worried about Jensen's health — he was there to apprehend him. Whether or not Jensen broke his neck falling off a roof didn't matter, since he'd hang by that very same neck in a matter of days.
Despite his best attempts, Carlos's emotions had gotten the better of him after all, but not the kind of emotions he had expected. He had never thought he'd feel concern for Jensen — especially not this strongly.
Carlos swallowed, knowing there was only one answer he could give. He had his duty to think of.
"Sí," Carlos replied, pretending his voice wasn't terribly low, bordering on regretful. "Eres un pirata."
"Ah. So you've figured that out."
Jensen's still-present smile was beginning to make Carlos's stomach twist with something he'd rather not name — it was far too close to guilt for his comfort. There was no reason for him to feel guilty. He didn't even like Jensen. On top of that, Jensen was a criminal — someone Carlos should be happy to see brought to justice. But, for some reason, the sense of achievement Carlos would usually feel when he caught a particularly fickle outlaw didn't make an appearance.
Jensen made to push himself up, but didn't get very far before he had to stop and suck in a sharp breath in pain.
"Uh, help me up?" Jensen asked sheepishly, grimacing as his hand returned to his left side.
Carlos should have said no, but the sound of Jensen's pain wasn't something he liked to hear again if he could help it. He got to his feet, then held out his hand for Jensen to take. It took some manoeuvring, but they eventually managed to get Jensen up from the ground, though his teeth were gritted tight by the time they did.
Once they were both on their feet, it took several seconds for Carlos to realise that he was still holding on to Jensen's hand. He couldn't say why, other than that Jensen's palm was distractingly warm against his own — a thought Carlos hadn't expected to have and didn't know what to do with.
Carlos was just about to let go when Jensen gave his fingers a gentle squeeze.
"I'm sorry about this," Jensen said softly. "I just really don't like prisons."
Before Carlos had time to ask what he meant, Jensen crowded closer, using his slight advantage in size and his grip on Carlos's hand to push him backwards. Carlos couldn't see where he was going, almost tripping when his heel caught on something, his back soon slamming against the nearby wall, hard enough to leave him breathless. It was dark, the moonlight not reaching them through whatever awning or canopy he had been pushed in under, but Carlos could feel Jensen's firm body pressed up against his own.
Jensen's hand brushed against Carlos's throat and he fully expected to feel fingers close around it — that Jensen would try to choke him next — but that didn't happen. By the time Carlos had wrapped his free hand around Jensen's wrist, ready to pull him away, all Jensen had done was to tip Carlos's head back — surprisingly gently, at that.
And then Jensen kissed him.
Every single thought inside Carlos's head came to a screeching halt.
He stood frozen, not knowing what to do. Jensen was kissing him and Carlos couldn't think beyond that — beyond the soft press of Jensen's lips against his own and the loud, echoing thumps of his heart. It was as if the world itself was holding its breath and Carlos was afraid to move, not knowing what would happen if he did.
He felt like he might shatter.
Then Jensen's thumb brushed against Carlos's jaw, the touch light as a butterfly, and Carlos shivered. He couldn't say why he closed his eyes or why he tilted his chin just a fraction higher, his lips pressing more firmly against Jensen's. It was only in a very distant part of his mind that Carlos even registered that he was, for all intents and purposes, kissing Jensen back.
Something seemed to unfurl inside Carlos's chest, making an exquisite, sizzling warmth spread under his skin. It burned through him, setting everything alight, until he almost forgot how to draw breath, too swept up by the sensations.
When Jensen eased back, Carlos wasn't sure how much time had passed. Thoughts were tumbling around inside his head, none of them making sense. He was suddenly panting again, air rushing in and out of his lungs while his heart raced. He could feel Jensen's breaths against his own, just as fast and trembling, his lips so close that Carlos couldn't hold back another shiver.
Jensen was a source of scorching heat, pressing against him — pushing him against the wall and pinning him in place. It felt as if Carlos's entire being had suddenly come alive, humming with anticipation and purpose, strung so tight he was almost shaking. A part of him knew he shouldn't be doing this — shouldn't be feeling this way — but it was easily silenced in the face of the need burning under his skin, pooling hot and molten in the pit of his stomach.
When Jensen's thumb touched his chin, Carlos allowed his mouth to drop open.
"Fuck," Jensen whispered, hoarse and breathless, as if the word had been punched out of him.
The next kiss was deeper, open-mouthed and bone-melting, and Carlos shivered when Jensen's tongue met his. With obvious impatience, Jensen untangled their hands — still caught in between their bodies — to instead sink his fingers into Carlos's long hair. His hands curled around the back of Carlos's skull, holding him with an almost heartbreaking gentleness, all while his kiss set Carlos's entire world on fire.
The burn was breathtaking, roaring and fierce, and Carlos allowed himself to get swept up by it, hungrier than he could ever remember being. His hand, still wrapped around Jensen's wrist, slid down along his arm, catching slightly in the bracelets Jensen wore. It settled in the crook of Jensen's elbow and, even through the fabric of Jensen's shirt, Carlos could feel the warmth of his skin. Carlos's other hand moved on its own accord, settling on Jensen's hip, which prompted Jensen to push even closer.
A noise, desperate and wanton, caught in Carlos's throat when he felt Jensen's hardness press against him. It was a dizzying sensation, sending a shock of desire down his spine. The kiss flared even brighter and Carlos, rash and reckless, savoured how it made him burn with yearning. Jensen moaned against his lips — a sound so shameless and sincere it made Carlos's stomach clench — and Carlos's grip on Jensen's hip tightened, needing more.
He didn't even know where all the desire had come from, only that he didn't want it to stop. Nothing seemed to matter but the kiss and Jensen's body pressed up against his own. It was unlike anything Carlos had ever experienced.
He had been kissed before, of course — and done much more than that, when given the opportunity — but it had never felt like this, as if they might both die if they stopped. As if he might just stop breathing entirely if they were separated.
Then again, he had only kissed women before.
That thought, as fleeting and innocent as it might have been, struck Carlos like lightning. It brought everything up short, Carlos holding his breath as something cold and dreadful lodged in his chest.
He was kissing a man.
With a painful jolt, Carlos was brought out of whatever spell Jensen had him under. What was Carlos thinking? He couldn't be kissing a man — a pirate.
This was wrong.
Panic overtook him and Carlos quickly gave Jensen as hard a push as he could manage, considering how close they were standing. There was a tug in Carlos's hair — one of Jensen's rings snagging as he stumbled backwards — but the pain was easy to ignore. Much easier than the building pressure in his chest.
Jensen came to a stop after a couple of steps, his hands still slightly raised from where they had been buried in Carlos's hair. It was too dark to read Jensen's expression, but Carlos knew there had to be surprise there, perhaps confusion as well. Not that it mattered.
Carlos pressed the back of his hand against his lips, his heart beating in a frightened, rapid tattoo. Nausea was twisting inside of him, but he tried to swallow it down.
What had he done?
"I... I'm sorry." Jensen's voice was hoarse, sending an involuntary shiver down Carlos's spine. "I was only trying to throw you off guard. I didn't think you would—"
Jensen didn't seem to know how to finish the sentence, allowing Carlos to do so on his own.
Carlos was grateful for the wall behind him, since he feared his knees would buckle without it. Of course the original intention had been a diversion — Jensen was good at those, after all. Why and how it had turned into something more, Carlos couldn't say. He was scrambling to pull himself together — to figure out what he was expected to do next — but he couldn't get past the fact that he had kissed a man. And, worse than that — he had liked it.
He could still feel that heady burn in his gut, no matter how much he tried to deny or ignore it.
Jensen didn't seem to know what to do, either, standing a couple of feet away, neither moving closer nor leaving. What they had just done had effectively thrown them both off their usual rhythm, leaving them fumbling and uncertain.
In the end, it was a shout from a nearby street that broke the stalemate, startling Jensen into action. Carlos recognized the voices and knew it was his men coming to look for him. They must have lost track of him when he and Jensen went up onto the roofs, but were still searching.
Jensen backed up a couple of steps, the set of his shoulders wary, as if he expected Carlos to follow. Carlos knew he should, but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't make himself move. Fear and shame swirled around inside of him, but it wasn't quite able to drown out that bright, breathtaking burn that lingered in his gut. He felt raw and exposed, as if he had been cracked open and was now barely able to hold himself together. As if the next touch against his skin would break him apart.
"For what it's worth," Jensen said, his hand going back to press against his ribs, showing that hadn't been a ruse, at least, "that was the best kiss I've ever had."
If Jensen expected that to be a comfort, he was sorely mistaken.
Thankfully, he didn't seem to expect an answer. Without another word, Jensen turned and ran for the opening of the courtyard, which would take him back out onto the street. Distantly, Carlos noted that Jensen's steps were less graceful than they had been before and he felt a pang of concern, knowing Jensen had gotten that hurt in the fall.
Carlos quickly pushed the thought aside. He shouldn't feel compassion for a pirate. He shouldn't be feeling any of the emotions he felt towards Jensen in that moment.
After a deep, trembling breath, Carlos placed a hand over his mouth, telling himself he couldn't still feel the touch of Jensen's lips against his. That was just his imagination. He closed his eyes, trying desperately to scrounge up some semblance of composure. It was only a matter of time before his men found him and he couldn't let them see him like this.
They couldn't know what had just happened.
Carlos grit his teeth and cursed his own weakness. This should never have happened. He should have pushed Jensen away the moment their lips met, but he hadn't. Instead, he had kissed back and there were no excuses for that — no way to justify his behaviour.
What was wrong with him?
Things are heating up, in more ways than one! And, yes, Cougar is only going to get more confused from here on out.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it!I I'll see you next Friday!
The following days, Carlos was more distracted than he wanted to admit. None of it showed outwardly — he couldn't risk his men seeing just how distressed he felt — but his thoughts wouldn't stop churning. Guilt became an ever-present companion, joined by a feeling of disgust at his obvious perversion — thoughts he tried to banish but couldn't, no matter how hard he tried.
He knew the kiss he and Jensen had shared was wrong, but, every time he thought back on it, that thrilling, treacherous burn flared to life once more. He wished he felt nothing but shame and repulsion, but apparently his depravity ran much too deep. Even days afterwards, he would shudder longingly at the thought of Jensen pressed up against him, the heat of Jensen's body igniting something within Carlos he tried desperately to quench. It was as if Jensen had planted an ember inside him and left if there to burn and fester, slowly eating Carlos from within.
With each transgression, Carlos could feel the fire growing and knew he had to extinguish it before it became too vicious to control.
He should seek penance for his impure thoughts, but the thought of admitting to them out loud, even during confession, filled him with an unshakable, bone-deep fear. He knew he would have to, eventually, unless he wanted to condemn himself to hell, but not yet. He told himself it was because he first needed to overcome them — why ask for forgiveness for a sin he might continue to commit — but that was mostly a cowardly attempt to buy himself more time.
Though time seemed to do very little to dampen the intoxicating memories of Jensen.
Even days after that fateful kiss, Carlos was plagued by it — both in his dreams and during his waking hours — despite not having seen Jensen since that night. Carlos still felt drawn to him, as if under some unnatural spell, pulled along against his better judgement.
Jensen was like a siren, dangerous and irresistible, leading Carlos straight towards ruin, and it would require a miracle for Carlos to emerge with his sanity intact, let alone his immortal soul.
Some mornings, Carlos would wake, hard and aching, the ghost of Jensen still lingering from his dreams — the phantom taste of his lips still on Carlos's tongue and his touch burning against Carlos's skin. In those moments, Carlos was close — far too close — to submitting to temptation, but he refused to commit the sin of self-gratification on top of his already unnatural desires.
How could he have let this happen? How could he be this weak? How did Jensen have such power over him?
Carlos didn't have the answers and, as the days wore on, he began to doubt he would ever find them.
He much preferred to be on a ship, to once again feel the roll of the sea underneath his feet, the hard work and steady routine calming him and leaving his mind blissfully blank when he went to sleep. There were still mornings when he woke to find himself overwhelmed with need, his insides burning for a release he refused to seek, or when a glance at the sky would remind him of Jensen's eyes, so bright and breathtakingly blue, but it was getting easier. More and more, he found himself able to push his straying thoughts aside and focus only on the tasks set out before him.
For a while, Carlos almost felt like he had gotten his life back.
Usually, a galleon of the Santa Magdalena's size would not have been chosen for this type of voyage, but attacks on slave transports had become increasingly frequent in the past year. Most raids were attributed to the same crew, Carlos had been told, and while they didn't expect trouble on such a short trip, it was best to be prepared. The Santa Magdalena had enough guns to fight off most other ships currently sailing the seas and enough soldiers to defend her, should they be boarded.
As Carlos stood by the railing, back straight and teeth tightly clenched, he still wished his superiors had picked any other ship but the Santa Magdalena for this particular assignment.
The reason was entirely selfish, which Carlos wasn't proud of. He knew it was his duty to serve Spain in whatever way his commanding officers saw fit, but this was one he had always — and always would — feel doubt about.
Carlos had never liked dealing with slaves.
It left a sour taste at the back of his mouth and an ache in his chest he couldn't seem to banish. If he had been able to, Carlos would have tried to live in ignorance and simply not think of the cargo down in the hold, but he was one of those expected to make sure it remained relatively unharmed. And, every single time he went down there, the nausea just kept building.
Think of them as animals, Carlos had been told — akin to a horse or an ox — but that was harder than he would ever dare to admit out loud.
He had the most difficulty with the children.
Carlos couldn't stop thinking of those frail, trembling children chained up like livestock. Some of them looked frightened, their dark eyes wide and tear-filled in their equally dark faces, while others were completely blank, their gazes empty and unseeing. Those were worse, because Carlos knew that meant they were already lost, long before they had even had a chance to start living.
They were only transporting the slaves a short distance, but Carlos knew it would take all of his will-power not to show how much he hated this assignment. How much he wished there was no such thing as slavery to begin with.
He couldn't stop thinking of the children.
Not that his opinion mattered, nor was there anything he could do to stop what was happening. He had his orders and he was expected to follow them. That was what set them aside from pirates — duty and loyalty to something bigger than their own greed and search for fulfilment and gratification.
Carlos was only doing his duty.
The brig seemed to appear out of nowhere, fast as a dolphin cutting through the waters, but Carlos could tell it shouldn't be much of a threat to the Santa Magdalena. The brig was fast, yes, but, when looking through his spyglass, Carlos saw that she had surprisingly few guns on her. Adding to that, the pirates seemed reluctant to use their cannons even when they did come within range. Probably, Carlos realised, because they knew what cargo the Santa Magdalena was carrying.
Cannon balls risked damaging the goods.
Despite the months in Havana — during which he had seen very little action — Carlos easily fell back into the rhythm of battle. Preparations were made and as soon as the brig drew up parallel with them on the starboard side, the first volley flew out across the water. The thunderous roar of the cannons had barely silenced before Carlos saw that the captain's order had been premature. Only a few shots found their target, the rest striking the rolling waves between their two ships.
That wasn't Captain Herrera's fault, however, since the pirates seemed to be pulling back rather than attacking. The Santa Magdalena and the brig might be side by side, but the pirate ship was still a significant distance away, teasing just within the range of their cannons — no doubt by design.
That was confirmed when the captain ordered them to get closer, only to find that the brig quickly widened the distance. The pirates were definitely not willing to come within range of the Santa Magdalena's cannons, but that was hardly a solid strategy. Unless they hoped their adversaries were foolish enough to waste more ammunition on them — which Carlos knew that Captain Herrera wouldn't — this wasn't a battle the pirates could win.
A trickle of foreboding ran down Carlos's spine, but he pushed it aside. Odds were, the pirates had realised they had bitten off more than they could chew and would retreat. Whether or not the captain would order them to make chase, Carlos couldn't say, but he hoped not, considering their cargo. Even if the pirates should be apprehended and the Santa Magdalena had the clear advantage, chasing after a fight while transporting slaves could potentially end in disaster.
Carlos grit his teeth, feeling the men's growing restlessness as the pirate ship stayed out of reach, but also refused to retreat — as if mocking them. Usually, a battle might be over within minutes and this drawn-out tension was bad for the men's focus. Everyone was wound tight, waiting for something that might or might not happen, and, the longer they stood there, the higher the risk of a nervous fumble that could prove catastrophic.
Carlos was just about to turn away from the pirate ship and ask Captain Herrera for new orders when a deafening boom rang out across the ocean. He couldn't say for sure what had made the noise, only that it hadn't come from the Santa Magdalena. A heartbeat later, Carlos both felt and heard something whistle past over his head, followed by a crack so loud he could feel the vibration in his bones.
That sound could only mean one thing.
With his heart in his throat, Carlos whirled around, just in time to watch as the mainmast began to tilt. A big chunk of wood had been blown clean off, but by what, Carlos couldn't say. Ropes pulled taunt, then snapped, as the mast began its slow, groaning descent, the sails flapping like the wings of a dying bird.
Carlos shouted for his men to get out of the way, just as the ship began to tip, the falling mast pulling her sideways. Carlos had time to fear that they would capsize — sparing a panicked thought for all the slaves down in the cargo hold — and it felt like an eternity before the mast eventually broke with a loud crack. It crashed into the sea, sending water splashing up onto the deck. The Santa Magdalena lurched, trying to right herself, the motion almost sending Carlos stumbling to his knees.
His ears were still ringing when he looked up, surveying the damage with a growing knot of dread in his stomach. The mast had broken clean off, the jagged end resting against the port railing, caught in a tangle of ropes that kept it from sliding fully into the sea. The weight of it made the entire ship tilt, but she didn't seem in danger of capsizing anymore.
Whatever the pirates had fired at them hadn't been anything Carlos had seen before. Nothing he knew of could cause that much damage from such a distance.
With some luck, the Santa Magdalena might still be able to limp her way to the nearest port, depending on how much damage the other two masts had taken when the main one fell. Carlos's heartbeats were loud in his ears, but he quickly started ordering his men to find those who had been wounded from flying debris and work on detaching the mainmast. The pirates might try to board them now, unless the Santa Magdalena could get rid of the literal weight holding her down and retreat.
The words had barely crossed Carlos's lips before another deafening roar sounded and, a split second later, the foremast gave a violent shudder. Carlos stared in horror as that mast, too, began to splinter and fall. The men around him shouted in fear and Carlos couldn't even blame them — some of them were barely older than boys and even Carlos was terrified of what he was seeing.
That two precise shots could bring down an entire galleon was unheard of.
There was no time to give in to the fear, however, as the ship, yet again, was pulled to start tilting by the falling mast. They had to work quickly, unless they wanted the Santa Magdalena to sink entirely. She might not be able to handle two broken masts weighing her down.
Everything became a blur of shouted orders and frantic movement as the crew scrambled to obey. Wounded were carried out of the way, ropes cut, and, somewhere in the midst of that chaos, the pirates boarded the Santa Magdalena.
Carlos heard the shouted warning and was there to meet the first pirate who climbed aboard, sending him tumbling back over the railing with two well-aimed strikes of his sword. More soon followed and, in short order, the deck was swarming with them.
A cold fury burned inside of Carlos as he fought the pirates, but he could tell that, despite their numeral advantage, he and his men were losing ground. Many were already wounded, the rest frightened by whatever devilish weapon the pirates had unleashed on them, and the state of their ship was another blow to their morale.
Carlos whirled out of the way of a charging pirate, giving him a quick slash across his back for his trouble, before moving to block the attack he saw coming in the corner of his eye. The blades clashed with enough force to send a vibration up along his arm and, when Carlos met the gaze of his new opponent, he could admit that he faltered for a second.
A woman was staring back at him.
Not that she looked any less fierce than her fellow pirates, her dark eyes burning with determination and what could be hate, but he hadn't expected her all the same. Women were rarely let aboard ships and certainly not allowed to engage in the fighting. Even less so women whose skin was almost as dark as the slaves chained up in the hold.
Carlos hesitated for a second too long, her teeth baring in a snarl as she shifted her grip and pushed, their swords unlocking. Carlos barely had time to block her next strike and stumbled at the ferocity of her attack. Whatever qualms he might have about fighting a woman clearly had to be abandoned, unless he wanted her to run him through right then and there.
He might have rules and morals he lived by, but not to the point of foolishness — not if it would get him killed.
The next lunge he met with a controlled parry, trying to gauge if the first couple of hits had been pure luck due to his shock, or if she actually knew how to fight. Somehow, he wasn't surprised when it turned out to be the latter, her form somewhat lacking in grace, but certainly not strength or daring.
Carlos could best her, he was quite sure, but it would take him considerably more effort than he had expected.
He was just about to make a lunge of his own when, over the sound of clashing swords and cracks of gunfire, he heard a sudden shout — the voice so familiar it made Carlos's entire being come to a screeching halt.
"No! Not that one!"
Carlos blinked when, without warning, someone appeared in between him and the woman, knocking her sword aside with an almost careless flick of his own. Except this wasn't just anyone. Even when he saw nothing but the man's back, Carlos knew right away who it was.
He would recognise those wide shoulders and unruly mess of blond hair anywhere.
Jensen was there.
While Carlos shouldn't have been surprised — he already knew that Jensen was a pirate — he still hadn't expected Jensen to be a part of the crew attacking them. Out of all the ships on the wide open sea, why the Santa Madgalena?
The woman snapped something in a language Carlos didn't understand. Jensen replied, equally curt, before waving carelessly in the direction of the fighting still raging around them, apparently telling her to pick another target amongst Carlos's men. Carlos knew he should probably do something — stop her and Jensen both — but the thought of attacking Jensen's unprotected back made Carlos's stomach clench with nausea.
Why Jensen had dared to turn it to him in the first place, Carlos couldn't say.
He remained frozen on the spot, staring as the woman rolled her eyes but eventually did as told. The look she gave Carlos before she turned and left was part loathing and part curiosity — Carlos couldn't say for sure which one of those emotions he preferred.
Then Jensen turned around, effectively stealing all of Carlos's attention.
"You don't want to fight Aisha," Jensen said, his tone unsuitably familiar — as if they were old acquaintances who just happened to bump into each other while out on the street. "Trust me, I might just have saved your life."
Carlos's heart performed a complex skip and tumble, his chest suddenly tight. He tried to deny it — he didn't want to have any kind of reaction upon seeing Jensen again — but the way his heart was suddenly racing was impossible to ignore.
Jensen's eyes were as blue as the sky above them.
Carlos hated that he noticed — that his thoughts strayed, noting how dashing Jensen looked in his dark red coat and that his hair had grown just a little bit longer since they last saw each other. Carlos hated that, even now, months after their kiss, he was unable to resist Jensen's siren song.
They were in the middle of a battle, Carlos's men dying around him, and he couldn't stop thinking of how the sun turned Jensen's hair into a warm, rich gold.
It was mostly anger at himself that made Carlos raise his sword, his strike sloppy enough that he felt a distinct curl of shame. He knew better than to fight while overwhelmed by emotions. Jensen easily parried the blow, but he looked surprised.
"Hey!" Jensen scowled at Carlos, as if he didn't have every right to defend his crew and ship. "That's a weird way to say thank you."
Carlos grit his teeth, the anger still coursing through him, and, instead of replying, attacked in earnest. Jensen stumbled back, clearly not prepared for the onslaught, but he managed to get his sword up, deflecting or dodging Carlos's swipes. A part of Carlos was appalled at his actions — he could still remember the breathtaking fear he had felt when Jensen had tumbled off that roof and the thought of hurting him with his own hands was sickening — but any objections were drowned out by his anger.
There might even be a hint of betrayal, mixed in with that anger. Even if Carlos had known that Jensen was a pirate, he had almost been able to ignore what that entailed — just what kind of horrible deeds Jensen must have committed. But now, as they stood on the deck of a ship Jensen and his crew had attacked, surrounded by the men these pirates had wounded and killed — Carlos's men — it became far too real.
Betrayal was a foolish emotion — Jensen had never pretended to be anything but a scoundrel — but Carlos still felt disappointed.
He still felt like this was all Jensen's fault, for turning out to be a ruthless, murderous outlaw.
Carlos kept pushing Jensen back, clearly the better swordsman of the two. Or perhaps it was the fact that Jensen didn't attack him in turn — not once. He just kept parrying and evading, even if it meant that he was slowly losing ground, being pushed closer and closer to the stern of the ship.
That only made Carlos more angry. He wanted Jensen to fight back — he needed to be given a reason for all the hurt and anger threatening to swallow him whole. Jensen wouldn't even give him that. Jensen's focus was on Carlos and their clashing swords, but there was a small wrinkle of despair, right there between his eyebrows, that left Carlos's chest feeling tight.
He hated it.
In the next second, Carlos managed to knock Jensen's weapon out of his hand, sending it clattering over the deck. Before he even registered what he was doing, Carlos had raised his sword, pressing the tip against Jensen's throat. The rush of triumph he felt upon winning was short-lived, his heart lurching when he met that sky-blue gaze and realised the position he had just put himself in.
He now either had to kill Jensen or let him go. Those were his only two options.
Carlos knew he should do the former — the latter would mean showing weakness and admitting to an attachment he was trying his best to deny — but he still didn't move. It wouldn't even require much. Just a quick, short thrust and all of Carlos's problems would be solved. The temptation would be gone — the siren song silenced, once and for all.
Jensen's expression had smoothed out, showing nothing as he calmly raised his hands in surrender. He didn't beg or plead — he didn't even try to joke. He just stood there, with Carlos's sword against his throat, staring back at him with those painfully beautiful eyes of his.
Jensen put the decision in Carlos's hands.
That was more power than Carlos wanted.
His heartbeats were suddenly roaring in his ears, his grip around his sword tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Carlos knew what he should do, but something inside of him was screaming at him not to. He knew he shouldn't listen — his heart was weak, corrupted, and not to be trusted — but he couldn't deny that he was hesitating. Seconds had passed and he still hadn't made a decision.
He wasn't sure how.
Only that was a lie. When the ship suddenly shifted under their feet, Jensen tipping slightly forward, the panic Carlos felt was too raw to be anything but a choice. He could claim that the decision had been made for him — that it was instinct, brought on by the ship's movement — but that, too, would have been a lie.
Carlos knew exactly what he was doing when he angled his sword away, a split second before it would have broken Jensen's skin.
They both froze, staring at each other in silence. The flat side of Carlos's sword rested harmlessly against Jensen's shoulder, glinting against the deep red of his coat. Even if he knew that he had failed his duty and his country, Carlos didn't regret his decision — he was too relieved for regret.
He didn't want to kill Jensen — he couldn't even stand the thought of him getting hurt.
Something flared in Jensen's eyes, intense and burning, and Carlos's heart leapt into his throat. He could imagine that this was what Jensen had looked like, back during their kiss. For a moment, the only clear thought inside Carlos's head was that Jensen was breathtakingly beautiful and he wouldn't mind kissing him again.
The moment shattered at the sound of wood splintering somewhere behind Carlos. Jensen's gaze snapped up, his eyes widening, but, before Carlos had time to turn around, Jensen was in motion.
Jensen darted forward, heedless of the sword dangerously close to his throat, and grabbed Carlos's coat. He tugged, hard enough to send Carlos stumbling into his arm, before twisting them around. Carlos couldn't see what happened next, but he certainly heard it.
There was a splintering crash, the ship rocking underneath their feet, and then something slammed into them, hard enough to send them both flying. Carlos had time to register that Jensen must have taken the brunt of the impact before his shoulder and head connected with something hard.
His world blurred and the last thing he registered before darkness overtook him was the sensation of falling.
I almost forgot I was supposed to post a chapter today. In my defense, me and my wife were busy getting the keys to the house we just bought. And, on that subject, next weeks' chapter might also be a little late, since we'll be moving that day. I'll post it at some point, but it might not be until the evening. Which, considering how this chapter ended, is perhaps a little cruel, but good things come to those who wait, and all that ;)
Take care, darlings!
Slowly, Carlos returned to awareness. He was lying on his back — on the ground, he decided, upon noticing the soft tickle of grass against his hand — but he wasn't sure why. Or where. When he tried to open his eyes to find out, the world that greeted him was jarringly bright and he quickly squeezed them shut again. That was clearly a bad idea.
A faint ache radiated from his right shoulder, but it was barely noticeable over the splitting pain in his head. Aside from that, all limbs seemed accounted for, if in various states of aching. Each impression came to him slowly, his senses dull and disoriented. Eventually, he managed to identify the sound of seagulls nearby and the rustle of wind through foliage. Trying to piece together what had happened took even longer, his memories slipping through his fingers when he tried to make sense of the chaotic blur of impressions.
Pirates had attacked the Santa Magdalena. Jensen had been there.
Carlos's chest clenched.
He had fought Jensen — almost killed him.
Carlos had to swallow against the twist of nausea.
Then something had fallen. Jensen had grabbed him, pulled him into his arms and shielded him from—
Carlos's eyes snapped open and he quickly sat up, almost falling back down when a sharp spike of pain lanced through his skull. The dizziness that followed was no better. His head was spinning, the world tilting on its axis, but he tried desperately to look around him.
Where was Jensen?
The last thing Carlos remembered was the impact — the one Jensen had shielded him from with his own body. Had Jensen been hurt? Carlos felt tendrils of cold, paralyzing fear close around his heart, squeezing until he could barely breathe. If Jensen had—
"Hey, hey, be careful! Don't move so quickly."
Carlos turned his head, his vision still blurry, but the shape coming towards him had to be Jensen. The relief hit Carlos hard enough that he would have gasped, had his throat not closed up at the sound of Jensen's voice.
"You should lie down," Jensen said as he kneeled next to Carlos, finally coming back into focus. His expression was concerned, but his hand was gentle when it settled on Carlos's left shoulder and started pushing him back down. "You hit your head pretty hard."
Carlos found himself obeying, still too disoriented to string together coherent thoughts of his own. The mention of his head made him raise his hand, reaching for the aching spot somewhere above his right ear.
He didn't get very far before warm fingers wrapped around his, tugging his hand away.
"No, no, don't touch that. I just cleaned the sand out of it."
Carlos tried to look up at Jensen, but found that what little clarity he'd had a couple of seconds ago was already fading. His eyelids were frighteningly heavy. Carlos attempted to blink the blurriness away, but a bone-deep tiredness had settled over him, slowly but surely pulling him under. He should ask if Jensen was hurt.
A hand settled against his cheek and Carlos leaned into it without thinking, his eyelids fluttering shut. That heavy weight inside his chest was still there — he didn't know if Jensen was unharmed — but fighting against the exhaustion was clearly a losing battle.
"Get some rest."
Carlos wanted to protest, but he was too tired to speak. The tension slowly bled out of him, his body turning weightless.
The soft, tender touch against his cheek lingered until he slipped back into the darkness.
His head was still hurting, the pain sharp enough to make him grimace, but he felt more coherent than last time, for which he was grateful. He had also learned his lesson and didn't open his eyes straight away. That gave him time to sort through some of the thoughts clamouring for his attention.
He and Jensen were both alive. Where they were was the question, though the obvious answer was somewhere on land. Probably one of the islands close to where the Santa Magdalena had been attacked, or the Cuban mainland. How exactly that had happened, Carlos didn't know, but, considering that he felt the dampness of his clothes against his back, he assumed they had been in the water at some point. Probably fallen overboard, in that case.
Which meant Jensen must have brought them ashore — Carlos certainly hadn't.
He swallowed before slowly opening his eyes. The light didn't hurt quite as much, but it was still uncomfortable. Carlos stared up at the swaying palm trees above him and, with a pang, realised that Jensen had been considerate enough to put him somewhere shaded. He also had a vague memory of Jensen telling him he had cleaned Carlos's wound. On pure reflex, Carlos's right hand rose towards his head, but he stopped short of touching whatever injury he had sustained. Partly because the pain in his right shoulder made him falter, but also because he remembered Jensen's words, urging him not to.
It seemed that all of Carlos's thoughts eventually led back to Jensen.
Carefully, Carlos pushed himself up into a sitting position. His shoulder gave a twinge in complaint, his head throbbing ominously, but the pain was manageable, all things considered. He had no doubt that there were bruises and scrapes on other parts of him as well, but they were easily overshadowed.
Carlos was sitting on a patch of grass on the edge of a beach, white sand stretching out in front of him and, behind him, more trees and vegetation. A bit further ahead, out on the sand, a roaring fire was burning, a plume of black smoke rising towards the cloudless, blue sky. Next to it was Jensen, sitting hunched over with his legs crossed, staring into the flames. Carlos could only see his profile, but took a moment to study him, knowing he hadn't been in any shape to do so last time he was awake.
What little he saw worried him.
Jensen's hair was in disarray, his arms folded carefully in his lap, and it was impossible not to notice the splash of red hinting against the collar of Jensen's white shirt. He wasn't wearing his coat and, after a quick glance, Carlos found it had been neatly folded and used to support his head while he was unconscious.
That show of concern — so simple yet selfless — made it difficult for Carlos to breathe.
He wasn't sure if it was all the staring or if he had made some involuntary sound, but Jensen finally became aware of him, his gaze snapping up. Jensen's eyes widened before he hurriedly — and with an uncharacteristic clumsiness — pushed himself to his feet. The moment Jensen turned to walk towards him, Carlos realised why.
The entire left side of Jensen's shirt was stained with blood, and the way he kept his arm pressed tightly to his body was a telltale sign of an injury of some kind.
The bottom dropped out of Carlos's stomach, his throat closing. Jensen was hurt. He was seriously hurt, to the point where he stumbled as he walked across the sand.
"Hey," Jensen said, smiling faintly, "how are you—"
"What happened?" Carlos interrupted, voice sharper than intended.
Jensen stopped, several feet away from Carlos's little patch of grass.
"The yardarm on the mizzenmast broke," Jensen replied. When their gazes met, Carlos noticed a crack along one of the lenses of Jensen's glasses. "It almost came crashing down on your head, then knocked us over the railing."
That wasn't what Carlos had meant — he had figured out the majority of that already. What he wanted to know was where Jensen was hurt and why he had let Carlos fall back asleep when he was in this state. Carlos could have helped him.
"I lost your hat in the water," Jensen continued, looking genuinely apologetic — bordering on contrite — as if this was a grievous error on his part. As if he should definitely have been able to salvage the hat, too, on top of saving Carlos's life. "Sorry."
Carlos couldn't care less about his damned hat — not when Jensen was looking pale and exhausted, barely able to stand.
Jensen blinked, as if the statement was somehow a surprise to him. He glanced down at his shoulder and, had he been able to, he would probably have shrugged. In Jensen's current state, that probably hurt too much, however.
"It's nothing," Jensen said with a faint smile, clearly ignoring that he was covered in enough blood to make most people blanch in horror. "How are you feeling?"
Fuelled by a surge of frustration, Carlos pushed himself to his feet. He swayed slightly, there was no denying that — his head was still not agreeing with too-fast movements — and Jensen took a couple of quick steps forwards, no doubt in an urge to help him. Jensen seemed to think better of it before he actually reached out, however, or maybe whatever injury he had sustained kept him from it.
"You shouldn't be moving yet," Jensen admonished.
Carlos ignored him, too focused on crossing the remaining distance between them. Jensen looked seconds from recoiling, possibly because last time Carlos had been coherent and physically able to move, he had attacked him with a sword. Carlos knew he had no reason to regret his actions — not as an officer of the Spanish Navy — but he couldn't deny that he did.
He hated the flash of wariness in Jensen's eyes, and the way he stiffened when Carlos came close.
Even if Carlos was careful to move slowly, Jensen still flinched when Carlos raised his hand — his left, since his right shoulder was still throbbing. Carlos looked up, a lump of guilt lodging in his throat when their gazes met. The distrust in Jensen's eyes was obvious, but he didn't step out of reach. That wasn't permission, exactly, but close enough to it that Carlos gently, as gingerly as possible, dared to push the collar of Jensen's bloodied shirt aside. Jensen was still obviously wary, but allowed it.
The moment Carlos's gaze flicked down to Jensen's shoulder, his breath caught.
There, on Jensen's shoulder, reaching as far down as his collarbone, was a deep, angry cut. It was still bleeding, however sluggishly, and looked extremely painful. The suffocating feeling in Carlos's chest only grew, squeezing so tightly around his ribcage it actually hurt. He knew instantly where the injury came from.
Jensen had cut himself on Carlos's sword. He had walked straight into the blade that had been resting against his shoulder and not stopped until he had pulled Carlos out of harm's way.
Jensen had done this to himself, just to save Carlos.
The only reason Carlos didn't let out a noise of distress was because he still couldn't breathe around the guilt. Why would Jensen do this to himself? Why would he do any of this? He had saved Carlos's life at least two times, heedless of his own safety — at the expense of his own well-being — and he had no reason to. After Carlos had tried to kill him on the Santa Magdalena, Jensen should hate him. He should know that Carlos wasn't worth all this pain.
Carlos realised his hand was trembling and he knew it wasn't because of the pain from his own injuries.
"It's not so bad," Jensen said softly. In an obvious attempt at levity, he added, "The back is worse."
Carlos's gaze snapped up to Jensen's face the second before Jensen seemed to realise his mistake. This time, Jensen did try to back away, but Carlos quickly shifted his grip to grab his arm, holding him in place.
"What?" Carlos asked, voice dangerously calm.
Jensen averted his gaze. "It's nothing—"
"Let me see."
It was a demand, not a question, but Jensen still tried to argue.
"You should be careful with—"
Carlos didn't want to forcibly turn Jensen around, afraid he might hurt him in doing so. Jensen was silent for several seconds, looking awkward. When he eventually spoke, his voice was so low Carlos had to lean closer to hear him.
"I tried to get them out. I just... couldn't reach."
The words sent a chill of dread down Carlos's spine. He could guess what Jensen was referring to — splinters of wood and other flying debris often hurt more sailors than the actual cannon balls. The fact that Jensen had been walking around with things lodged in his back for God knew how long made Carlos's frustration flare. It was the helpless kind, however, founded mostly in concern and guilt.
Carlos swallowed around the by then familiar lump in his throat and gently tugged on Jensen's arm, pulling him towards the patch of grass where Carlos had woken up. Someone had to look at Jensen's back and, clearly, that someone had to be Carlos. Jensen didn't seem entirely convinced, but still followed, if hesitantly.
"You should be resting," Jensen said, in a clear yet feeble attempt to divert attention.
Carlos ignored him and pushed to have Jensen sit down on the grass. Jensen looked uncomfortable and didn't obey straight away, as if Carlos showing concern made him nervous. Jensen's usual smug smile was nowhere to be seen and, no matter how hard he might try to hide it, Jensen appeared quite vulnerable with his hunched shoulders and flickering gaze.
Seeing that only made Carlos's urge to help grow stronger. He didn't like it when Jensen looked so unsure of himself.
Finally, after several long seconds, Jensen sat down, grimacing when he accidentally jostled his shoulder. Carlos took a careful step around him and looked down at Jensen's back. There was less blood than at the front, but it was difficult to gauge the damage while Jensen was still wearing his shirt. Whatever splinters there were would be found on Jensen's left side, judging by the tears and flecks of blood. Carlos lightly touched Jensen's uninjured shoulder, pretending not to notice how Jensen stiffened underneath his hand.
"Take this off." Carlos made sure to keep his voice gentle.
Jensen laughed hoarsely, not looking at Carlos, and replied, "I, uh, don't think I can."
That was understandable, considering the state of Jensen's shoulder. He probably couldn't move it much at all. After a beat of indecision, Carlos settled down on his knees behind Jensen.
"Let me help?" he asked, just as softly as before.
A shiver ran through Jensen and he remained silent for several beats. Carlos couldn't read his expression, what with only seeing the back of his head, but the tension in Jensen's shoulders suggested that he would decline. Whether it was a lack of trust or not wanting to appear weak, Carlos couldn't say.
Then, to Carlos's surprise, Jensen gave a twitchy nod.
It was Carlos's turn to hesitate, but, after a bracing inhale, he reached down and took a hold of Jensen's shirt. He gently tugged it out from Jensen's trousers, refusing to acknowledge that his hands might be shaking.
It took a lot of careful manoeuvring to get the shirt off of Jensen's right arm, then his left. More than once, Carlos's knuckles and fingers brushed against Jensen's skin — warm and tantalisingly bare — and, each time, Carlos found himself holding his breath. At every touch, no matter how small, little sparks of lightning shot down Carlos's spine. When the shirt finally came off, Carlos's heart was beating hard and fast against his ribcage, the by then familiar burn having flared up inside him.
One glance at Jensen's back was enough to stifle that, however.
A dark bruise coloured the skin on his left shoulder a mottled purple, all the way down to below his shoulder blade. As if that wasn't enough, there were bloody scratches and small, jagged pieces of wood lodged in his flesh. Some of the splinters must have come out when Jensen took his coat off, but the smaller ones where still there, stuck under the utmost layer of skin. Before he realised what he was doing, Carlos reached out, his fingertips brushing against Jensen's bruised skin. When Jensen flinched, Carlos quickly snatched his hand back.
"Perdóname," he whispered, not knowing what else to say. His voice was rough, choked from the guilt and compassion threatening to suffocate him.
This was his fault, too.
These injuries would have been Carlos's to bear, if Jensen hadn't used his own body to shield him from them. That was a sacrifice Jensen should never have had to make. This should never have happened.
"It's okay," Jensen mumbled. He glanced over his shoulder, his smile soft but frail. Then, as if reading Carlos's thoughts, said, "If given the choice, I'd do it again."
Hearing Jensen's reassurance only made Carlos's guilt worsen. Jensen had no reason to save him — Carlos had never given him one. A pirate shouldn't be this selfless. It went against everything Carlos knew about them and he didn't know how to reconcile his previous experiences with what Jensen was showing him now. There was no such thing as a good pirate, but, for a second, Carlos found himself wishing Jensen was just that.
Carlos wished there would be a way for him to forgive what Jensen was — to justify the way his heart squeezed at the sight of Jensen's pain.
"There's a small brook some distance into the forest," Jensen said, pulling Carlos from his increasingly desperate thoughts. "There's water there."
Carlos let out a slow breath and decided to focus on the task at hand. He needed to get the splinters out of Jensen's back, then hopefully manage some kind of haphazard bandage. But cleaning away all the blood was the first step.
Carlos could figure out the rest later. Or, perhaps more likely, ignore it entirely in hopes it would eventually go away.
He had a feeling he wouldn't be that lucky.
The fact that Jensen was left with very little to wear didn't occur to Carlos until it was already too late, when he was left staring at a distractingly half-naked pirate. As long as there had been blood and injuries to distract him, Carlos hadn't really reflected on Jensen's physique, but it was quite impossible not to after all of that had been taken care of.
Jensen was all smooth, tanned skin, spanning over hard muscles, his shoulders wide and hips narrow. Just watching him felt like a sin and, every time Carlos caught himself glancing in Jensen's direction, his stomach performed a guilty flip. He shouldn't be staring. Jensen was temptation on legs and Carlos refused to succumb.
That would no doubt prove a difficult challenge, however, since he had no idea how long they would have to stay on that beach. They were on one of the bigger islands, Jensen had told him, not far from the Cuban mainland. When Carlos had asked why he should trust his judgement, Jensen had replied that he was the navigator on his ship, which Carlos certainly couldn't argue against.
Jensen had also informed him that the chances of ships passing by were pretty high, what with it being on the route to Havana, hence the fire he kept burning on the beach. That wasn't a guarantee that someone would actually come looking, but it was as good a plan as any, the smoke rising like a beacon against the sky.
The only thing Carlos knew for sure was that the Santa Magdalena wasn't likely to be the ship that found them, considering the state she'd been in after the pirate attack. Even if she had been fully operational, there was a high chance he was presumed dead and that no efforts would be made to find him. His men liked him, yes, but there were only so many resources they could waste on finding what they assumed would be his dead body.
If he had any men left after the pirates were done with them, that was.
Carlos quickly pushed the thought aside, knowing now wasn't the time to wallow in that.
"Someone will find us," Jensen had said with a crooked grin, almost, but not quite, like the ones he used to give Carlos back in Havana. "If it'll be my friends or yours, well — we'll just have to wait and see."
That thought didn't exactly leave Carlos feeling comforted — he did not look forward to finding out what a crew of pirates would do to him — but there wasn't much he could do to prevent it, either. For now, it was simply a matter of waiting. Whatever happened would happen.
In the meantime, they had to make sure to survive.
Water was already on hand, which was usually the hardest part, and, with some effort, they should be able to find food, if only in the shape of various fruits. The biggest threat by far was infection, both of them having sustained wounds that might begin to fester. That, too, was beyond Carlos's powers to prevent, however.
"How's your head?"
Carlos looked away from the distant horizon — he had been staring at it for God knew how many minutes, needing some space to breathe after having finished with Jensen's injuries — and turned to look at the pirate in question. There was a hesitant smile on Jensen's lips, the care with which Carlos had seen to his injuries clearly having eased some of his distrust.
"Manageable," Carlos replied, feeling a flutter in his stomach when Jensen came to stand next to him. They weren't nearly close enough to touch, but it seemed that any decrease in proximity to Jensen left Carlos a little breathless.
He tried his best to ignore it.
"And your shoulder?"
Carlos huffed. "Better than yours."
It hurt, yes, but the damage seemed to be nothing more than a bruise and some scratches. He could still move his arm relatively unhindered, as long as he didn't raise it too high — which was more than could be said for Jensen.
It was only when he noticed Jensen's stare that Carlos realised he had been smiling. Crookedly, granted, but smiling nonetheless. He couldn't recall if he had ever smiled at Jensen before, but the expression on his face — the wide-eyed look of amazement — told Carlos the answer had to be no.
The knowledge sent Carlos's heartbeat skittering and he quickly looked away.
A couple of seconds of uncomfortable silence passed, though Carlos couldn't say for sure why he felt so awkward.
Jensen didn't get any further, falling silent abruptly enough that Carlos glanced back up. Jensen was the one to look away this time, nervously clearing his throat.
"Never mind. I'll find some more wood for the fire," Jensen mumbled, before quickly turning around to head back towards the forest, presumably to complete the task he had just set for himself.
Carlos watched him leave, not sure why he felt such a strong urge to ask Jensen to stay. He quickly pushed it down and hardened his resolve. Jensen was still a pirate and just because they were trapped on a deserted island together, it didn't mean Jensen's crimes were forgiven. They might have to work together to survive — a temporary truce out of necessity — but that was it. There could be nothing more between them, no matter how Carlos's heart raced every time Jensen so much as looked at him. He could not permit himself to commit such an unforgivable sin.
No matter what happened, Jensen was the enemy. Carlos would do well to remember that. It was difficult, he had to admit, when Jensen didn't behave like the average pirate — his selflessness and concern for Carlos's well-being extremely disorienting — but Carlos knew better than to trust him.
Sooner or later, they would be found, and Carlos vowed that he would not submit to temptation before they were. No matter how alluring Jensen might be, Carlos had to be stronger.
He would not fail.
I managed to sneak some time to upload the chapter. I hope you'll like it! <3
And yes, I couldn't write a Pirate AU without sticking them on a deserted island at some point, could I?
The hours passed slowly on the island, not at all helped by Carlos's restlessness. The thought of sitting down next to Jensen and simply waiting for rescue did not appeal to him in the slightest, so Carlos spent his time searching for food and gathering more wood for the fire. Despite what he had said, Jensen was in no shape to be doing so and, to be honest, Carlos welcomed the distraction. Partly because focusing on a set task helped keep the worried thoughts of his men at bay, but more so because it took him away from Jensen.
Try as he might, Carlos had not learned how to stop staring.
So, he kept himself busy instead, making sure they were fed and only spared Jensen a couple of stray glances to make sure his condition wasn't worsening. Jensen was still awfully pale, but managed a smile every time Carlos returned with more food or firewood. What he did when Carlos was away on his excursions, Carlos couldn't say.
It was only when darkness fell, making it too dangerous to keep stumbling through the forest, that Carlos admitted defeat and returned to the beach. He followed the flickering light of the fire, the sound of waves crashing against the shore growing stronger the closer he came. He stopped when he reached the edge where forest bled into sandy beach, his gaze inevitably finding Jensen. He was sitting in front of the fire, legs crossed and those broad shoulders slightly hunched, a dark silhouette against the bright flames. The moon was out, stars twinkling above, giving everything a silvery hue.
Everything but Jensen, who glowed warm and golden in the light of the fire.
Carlos swallowed and slowly made his way over. The air was still quite warm, despite the late hour, so there was no real need to sit close to the fire, aside from the light it offered. A part of Carlos wanted to avoid it — to retreat to that patch of grass where Jensen's coat still lay, now joined by Carlos's, and perhaps get some sleep — but he felt that would be cowardly of him.
Besides, he wanted to make sure that Jensen wasn't feeling worse.
Jensen glanced up when Carlos approached, that faint, half-smile he'd been giving Carlos all day making a reappearance. He looked tired and, once Carlos came close enough to notice, turned out to be shivering. A spike of concern had Carlos frowning, but Jensen didn't look feverish, thankfully enough, just cold — probably on account of his significantly diminished wardrobe.
Carlos hesitated and, before he had time to change his mind, doubled back to fetch Jensen's coat. It would be impossible to put on without aggravating Jensen's injuries, but it could at least be draped across his shoulders.
Jensen was obviously confused by Carlos's detour but, before he had time to ask, Carlos was returning with the folded up coat. Without meeting Jensen's gaze, Carlos stepped closer and laid the coat across Jensen's shoulders, taking care not to brush against the injuries on Jensen's left side. Carlos felt more self-conscious than he liked to admit, for reasons he couldn't quite explain.
Without intending to, Carlos's hands lingered against Jensen's shoulders, gently smoothing out the fabric — as if they could still remember what it had been like to touch Jensen's bare skin and desperately wanted more. The thought caused a pang of guilt, since Carlos had only touched Jensen with the intention to clean and treat his wounds, which was as far from pleasurable as you could get. But Carlos would be lying if he said he couldn't still remember the feel of Jensen's warm, smooth skin against his fingertips.
He would also be lying if he said he didn't want to do it again.
Or perhaps Carlos could brush aside that stubborn lock of hair that kept falling into Jensen's eyes? It looked sinfully soft, making Carlos's fingers itch with the need to reach out and touch.
Perhaps, if Jensen hadn't turned his head to look up at Carlos, he might even have done it. But the moment their gazes met and Carlos saw the tentative — almost hopeful — question in Jensen's eyes, he came to his senses.
Carlos snatched his hand back and quickly retreated a step, looking at the fire, the nearby shoreline, the sand at his feet — anything but Jensen.
Seconds passed, the silence between them awkward, before Jensen eventually spoke.
Carlos swallowed around the tightness in his throat, feeling tension curl around his spine, but forced himself to nod. He didn't want to throw Jensen's gratitude back in his face. Once more, Carlos debated slinking off into the shadows instead of putting himself through the torture of being this close to Jensen, but one stolen glance was enough to make him hesitate. Jensen still looked miserable, his shoulders hunched and head bent.
Seeing him so quiet and subdued made something inside Carlos's chest catch and squeeze.
With stiff movements, Carlos sat down on the sand, a safe distance away from Jensen. It was foolish to stay, but he couldn't just leave Jensen out there on the beach, all alone — not when he was so tired and weary.
Carlos still tried his best not to look at Jensen. It was as if every time he did, he found something new that his gaze would linger on — something new to admire.
Something new that would leave him breathless with yearning.
Carlos pulled up his knees and, with a grimace at the pinch of pain in his shoulder, rested his arms against them. His right shoulder throbbed, though not quite as badly as it had earlier in the day, which meant it was easier to ignore — the same could be said for his head. Carlos's gaze settled on the fire, but he was still acutely aware of Jensen, a little more than an arm's length away. No matter what Carlos tried to focus on — the flickering flames, the scuff marks on his own boots, the small cut on his left index finger — his thoughts and attention was inevitably drawn back to Jensen.
It was like a call that couldn't be ignored — a spell too strong for a mere mortal to break.
Carlos found himself thinking of Jensen's eyes — bright, sparkling, and so wonderfully blue — and the brilliance of his smiles. Carlos wondered what it would be like to run his fingers through Jensen's golden hair. What it would feel like to be allowed to touch his warm, soft skin without inhibitions.
Then Carlos remembered what it was like to kiss him. The rough, breathless little sounds Jensen had made. The feel of him, pressed up against Carlos. The heat of his touch.
"How long do you think it will take for someone to find us?"
Carlos snapped back to the present, guilt and shame flooding him. He had been fantasising about the man sitting only a couple of feet away from him. Carlos was supposed to be better than that. Not only because it was a sin, but because he had no idea what Jensen's thoughts on the matter were. Carlos knew Jensen had enjoyed the kiss — there had been rather firm evidence of that — but what Jensen felt about it now was impossible to say. There had been one or two hopeful glances, but that could have been Carlos reading the situation wrong. Jensen might have left the whole behind without a second glance, while Carlos pined away like a moron.
Carlos should not be fantasising about someone who didn't feel the same. That was both intrusive and pathetic.
He glanced Jensen's way, but felt much too embarrassed to meet his gaze.
"No sé," he replied, perhaps more curtly than Jensen deserved.
To be honest, Carlos had tried not to think about that. He knew that the odds of being found, even with the fire functioning as a beacon, were relatively low. Many ships passed, yes, but not a whole lot of them would find a reason to stop and investigate a supposedly uninhabited island. In the long run, it might be wiser to accept that they could very well end up dying on that beach.
Carlos was surprisingly calm at the prospect, though he wouldn't say he was in any hurry to leave the land of the living. He just knew that agonising about it wouldn't actually change his fate.
Fortunately, it seemed like they could survive for another couple of days with ease, as long as they managed to avoid infection and other unpleasantries. In all honesty, his own mental state worried Carlos more than food or water, since the latter two were more or less taken care of. Being this close to Jensen for an extended period of time was more than Carlos might be able to handle. He was determined not to succumb to temptation, yes, but he hadn't thought he would be tested quite this harshly.
Each second he spent sitting there, trying not to look at Jensen, only made Carlos more aware of his presence. It was as if there was a steadily growing tension, gathering just under his skin, urging him to act. Only he knew he couldn't. He had to remain strong.
Jensen sighed and shifted where he sat on the sand. "I wish I had something to read. At this point, boredom is more likely to kill me than starvation."
Carlos couldn't help that he blinked, turning his head to stare at Jensen. His surprise was noted and, clearly, taken as an insult.
"What? I like to read," Jensen said defensively, hitching his shoulders a little higher, despite how much it had to hurt. "There's nothing wrong with that."
"No, I just..." Carlos wasn't sure how to finish the sentence. He hadn't meant to offend, he'd simply been surprised to hear that Jensen knew how to read. Not many did — especially not pirates.
Jensen pursed his lips, his gaze returning to the fire.
"Thought I was too stupid," he finished bitterly. "Duly noted."
That wasn't true. Even from what little Carlos had seen, he knew calling Jensen stupid would be a grave error. Not only could Jensen make split-second decisions that left him with tactical advantages, but he had spoken at least three languages in Carlos's presence — though his Spanish obviously needed some practice.
A better word would be uneducated, but that, too, was clearly a mistake.
Before Carlos had time to try and explain his reasoning, Jensen spoke up again, his tone biting.
"You don't have a very high opinion of pirates, do you?"
Carlos balked at the question. Pirates were rowdy outlaws, preying on others to further their own gains. Why would he think of them as anything but criminals to be apprehended and hanged?
"Or is it because I'm British?"
That, too, would have been enough to justify Carlos's scorn, at least in some of his fellow sailors' eyes. Both the British and the French were their enemies, but, at least in this case, the piracy took precedence. Carlos was more concerned with that than Jensen's country of origin.
He still couldn't think of anything to say, knowing he would probably only make Jensen more angry with him. Why Carlos suddenly wanted to avoid that, he couldn't say.
"How about a British naval officer?" Jensen suggested scathingly. "I used to be one of those, too."
At that, Carlos couldn't help looking stunned. Of course he knew that there were several reasons why someone might turn to piracy, but that a naval officer — be it a British one — would do so surprised him.
"What? You thought I sprung out of the sea, a fully-fledged pirate?" Jensen shook his head, his smile patronising — though Carlos couldn't say he hadn't deserved it. "Nah, I was in the British Navy. They were the ones who taught me how to sail." He did a sloppy salute, clearly mocking. "Lieutenant Jensen, at your service."
That meant Jensen had had the same rank Carlos now held. They had, for all intents and purposes, been equals. Carlos had no idea what to do with that information, trying desperately to hold on to a world view he could feel begin to tilt.
There were corrupt officers, of course — Jensen might have been thrown out for some kind of misconduct — but, as much as Carlos would like to think that, he knew Jensen would never. Hearing that Jensen had been in the navy actually made a lot of sense.
He had always seemed too good — too kind and caring — to be a pirate.
That left the question as to what had happened to turn him into one. As proud as Jensen seemed over his outlaw status, it probably hadn't been a voluntary choice, at least not at the beginning.
Carlos had blurted out the words before he had time to think better of it.
Jensen looked up, his expression guarded, as if trying to gauge Carlos's sincerity. He had every right to be suspicious — there was no reason for him to give Carlos this information — but he seemed to be weighing his options. The light of the fire was flickering in Jensen's cracked glasses, his hands clenched around the edges of his coat, holding it wrapped tight around himself.
When he eventually spoke, his tone was flat and his gaze unreadable.
"Two years ago, we were told to wipe out a small village," he said. Carlos's felt his stomach lurch, but Jensen kept talking, his voice unnervingly calm. "It was populated by runaway slaves, trying to rebuild their lives, desperate for a bit of freedom."
Carlos swallowed, already knowing he wouldn't like the ending of this story.
"Of course, they weren't allowed to do that. They were goods, we were told — property of the British Crown." Jensen's gaze returned to the fire, staring blankly at the flames, as if he was somewhere else entirely. "Damaged goods. That bit of freedom had tainted them — would make them less compliant — and we were ordered to kill them, down to the very last child."
Carlos had to struggle to breathe, not just because of the hollow look on Jensen's face, but because he could picture those children all too well. He had seen some just like them, down in the hold of the Santa Magdalena.
"What did you do?" Carlos was almost too afraid to ask, but knew he had to.
Jensen let out a shuddering breath, still staring into the fire.
"I refused. So did my captain and some others." He swallowed and seemed to shrink in on himself. "But not everyone. We... we tried to stop them, but—"
Carlos had no words to soothe the pain he saw in Jensen's eyes. The only thing he could offer was to look away, giving Jensen a moment to collect himself.
That also gave Carlos time to try and curb the nausea rising at the back of his throat. As much as he wanted to be appalled by what Jensen was telling him, Carlos knew how easily some officers would give such an order. He had seen the disregard for the slaves' lives amongst his own men — how they were seen as less than human, barely above livestock — and, with a rush of cold, horrified dread, he realised he could easily have been given that order himself.
It was a miracle he hadn't already.
"They wanted to execute us for disobeying orders." Jensen's voice was soft, close to cracking. "But we fled before they could. Turned to piracy."
Carlos swallowed tightly, thumb rubbing against the small cut on his finger. He hadn't expected Jensen's story to be quite this horrific, or that the main emotion Carlos would be feeling when he heard it was sympathy. Becoming a pirate had always seemed like a selfish decision to him — something you must have done for your own gain — but Jensen hadn't been given much of a choice. He had tried to do the right thing and ended up an outlaw because of it.
Jensen could be lying, of course, but Carlos doubted he was a good enough actor for that. The anguish he saw on Jensen's face was far too real — far too close to what Carlos had seen on some of his men's faces after one too many horrible experiences.
What was more, Carlos realised he would have done the same himself. If he had been put in Jensen's position, he would have made the exact same choices. He would have refused to slaughter innocents and, if thrown out of the navy, there would only be so many choices for him left.
Piracy might even seem tempting, after suffering such betrayal at the hands of your superiors.
It was becoming clearer and clearer that Carlos had made a lot of assumptions about Jensen — ones that weren't true and based only on what Carlos had been made to believe. Not that any of this justified killing honest sailors as a part of a pirate crew, but it made more sense than Carlos would ever dare to admit out loud.
It also made him wonder about Jensen and his crew. They were most likely the ones who had been attacking slave ships the past couple months, which Carlos had always assumed was for profit — slavery was lucrative, no matter where you sold your wares. Now he suspected that there was a different reason for the attacks than plain greed.
If Jensen was anything like Carlos, he could never agree to serve on a ship that dealt in slavery.
"What do you do with them?" Carlos asked. Jensen looked up, his confusion evident, so Carlos clarified. "The slaves you take from the ships."
Jensen didn't reply at first, staring at Carlos with that unnervingly blank look on his face.
"Usually, they disembark at the closest friendly harbour," Jensen said in a monotone. "Those who want to can stay on the ship. Over half of our crew consists of freed slaves by now."
They were saving them. Jensen and his crew were attacking ship upon ship with the intention of setting the slaves free. How well they managed so far from home, in a world where people with their skin colour were deemed as property Carlos didn't know, but at least they had their freedom.
At least they weren't treated like goods to be sold off to the highest bidder.
Carlos swallowed, feeling the last threads of loathing for Jensen slip through his fingers. There hadn't been much to begin with — he had been clinging to his contempt mostly in an attempt to protect himself — but, with what he now knew, it was impossible to hate Jensen.
He couldn't hate someone who did what Carlos wanted to, deep down, but was too cowardly to try. Hadn't that been his very thought, back on the Santa Magdalena? That there was nothing he could do to make a difference — no way for him to help or make a change.
And here Jensen was, doing just that, despite the scorn it earned him from people like Carlos.
"We don't usually attack the Spanish." Jensen spoke softly, staring down into his lap rather than at Carlos. "What with the asiento, the British ships are usually the ones carrying the slaves. We just heard there would be a transport and it... seemed like an easy target."
Not many would say that about a fully-armed galleon, but, considering whatever hellish weapon Jensen and his crew had at their disposal, Carlos could understand why they would think that. It suddenly occurred to him that he had an opportunity to ask exactly what kind of contraption it had been.
"What cannon did you use?"
A crooked smile spread on Jensen's lips.
"That's a secret," he replied, but a little bit of life was returning to him as he spoke. Carlos was relieved to see that, not liking how empty Jensen had looked the past couple of minutes. "It's something we came up with. Roque likes everything that explodes, Porteous likes guns and machines, and I like chemistry." Jensen shrugged, grimacing in pain when his left shoulder must have complained. He was soon back to smiling, though. "Things get interesting when we put our minds together."
Clearly. Carlos had seen that with his own eyes.
It didn't surprise him in the least that Jensen had been a part of creating whatever weapon had obliterated the Santa Magdalena. He was, after all, frustrating resourceful and clearly a lot more clever than Carlos had given him credit for.
"The British have learned to look out for us." There was no bragging in those words, just a calmly stated fact. Jensen started drawing nonsensical patterns in the sand. "But we... we assumed the Spanish wouldn't know. That's what made you an easy target."
Carlos grit his teeth, but said nothing. He had to wonder, though, what they could have done, even if they had known. How did you protect yourself against something that could crack a mast with one shot?
"I'm sorry." Jensen seemed unwilling to meet Carlos's gaze, but did so all the same. "I know you must be angry with me, for attacking your ship. For all the men you lost. I'm perfectly aware that some of them were innocent — just doing what they were told."
Carlos had not expected Jensen to bring up this subject — it wasn't one that would put him in a very pretty light. But, once again, Carlos had clearly underestimated Jensen and his surprising sense of integrity.
"If it's any consolation," Jensen continued, "we're not in the business of killing prisoners. Once the sailors have surrendered, we leave them be."
That was a relief, Carlos could admit, but only a marginal one. He still didn't know how many of his men had died during the actual battle, or when Captain Herrera had decided to surrender.
Jensen turned his gaze to look out over the dark horizon.
"I don't regret us attacking your ship, though," he said. "I'm sorry your men died, but people shouldn't be treated the way slaves are."
Carlos felt conflicted, torn between his anger and sense of morals. Jensen was right about the slaves, but did that give him a free pass to kill Carlos's men? He was still a pirate, be it one with more of a conscience than Carlos had expected.
"I don't expect you to agree with me," Jensen carried on, tone low but firm. "In fact, I know most people wouldn't. But this is where I take my stand. I think everyone is created equal and we have no right to enslave some based on the colour of their skin or the country of their birth." He let out a trembling breath, as if he had been longing to say those words out loud. "This is what I believe in."
Jensen looked up, his expression so sincere Carlos found himself holding his breath.
"What do you believe in?"
Carlos stiffened. He had no idea what to reply. The easy answer would be that he believed in God, but he knew that wasn't what Jensen meant. Jensen was asking him what his beliefs and values were — what he fought and would be willing to die for. The next obvious choice would be the navy — the Crown and his country — but those weren't Carlos's beliefs, exactly. Those were values given to him by someone else, that he had carried for years without really questioning them.
But, when asked what he believed in, he had no answer.
He had never given himself the chance to figure that out.
Slowly, Jensen began to smile. It was a sad smile, kind and sympathetic, which only served to make Carlos feel like even more of a failure — like a child never having been taught how to think for himself.
"It's okay," Jensen said. "For a long time, I was the same." He looked up at the stars, his smile turning wistful. "But then I learned the value of free will — of standing up for your beliefs — and now I'm never going to let anyone tell me what to think or feel, ever again."
Carlos's throat was tight and, even if he had known what to reply, he wouldn't have been able to. This was not a subject he was comfortable discussing, even less so with a pirate.
He pushed himself to his feet, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder, then turned to leave. He knew doing so was the same as admitting defeat, but he didn't know what else to do. Carlos was already having difficulties with his faith because of Jensen — to question his life's purpose on top of that was more than he could handle.
He couldn't let Jensen get under his skin.
Except, deep down, Carlos knew that was already too late. He wouldn't be walking away if what Jensen was saying wasn't affecting him. Carlos would never admit that out loud, however.
"One day," Jensen called, "I hope you find something to believe in, Teniente."
Carlos ignored him and kept walking.
Guess who almost forgot she's supposed to upload a chapter today? It's been a hectic couple of weeks.
I hope you enjoy it, anyway! More than Cougar is, at least. That poor man — Jensen makes him so very confused.
The next day Carlos continued to give Jensen a wide berth, still unsettled by their conversation the night before. Carlos had gotten very little sleep, partly because of the possible threat from the local wildlife, but more so because of his own churning thoughts — thoughts Jensen had set in motion.
Losing sleep over something Jensen had done was fast becoming one of Carlos's habits — and a very bad one, at that.
When it came to this particular subject, Jensen had a point, however, no matter how much it stung for Carlos to have to admit it. He didn't know what his purpose in life was. Carlos had simply accepted the navy's views as his own, content to follow whatever path was set out for him, and he'd had very little reason to question his superiors' motives.
Last night, Jensen's words had resulted in Carlos lying there in the dark, blankly staring up at the stars while trying to figure out his own values. It wasn't something he had ever done before and it shocked him how little he knew of his own beliefs. Most were ones he could trace back to his faith or his profession. Some, Carlos had no idea where he had picked up but, as soon as he studied them critically, he realised he might not agree with them after all.
Slavery was one of them. It had always seemed like a necessary evil — something that existed because it always had and everyone accepted it for that same reason. People spoke about it as if it was a given — an inevitable fact of the universe. For many years, Carlos had assumed it was. Despite his own discomfort, he hadn't thought to question it. He had thought that he was the problem when, all this time, there were those who felt the same way. The fact that they were pirates was perhaps not the best endorsement, but Carlos commended them for not simply accepting what they were told.
He, himself, had been doing that for far too long.
Of course, there were still things he knew to be wrong — things he was not going to question, no matter how tempting. It was one thing to doubt the words of his superiors or the people around him, but another entirely to challenge the word of God. Carlos was in no position to do that.
Slavery, he decided, was something he was against, however. What he intended to do with that knowledge, he had no idea, but, for the first time in far too many years, Carlos knew exactly where his opinion came from.
There was a certain kind of pride in knowing that.
Carlos didn't look up from the mango he was slicing, silently hoping Jensen would just leave him alone. The odds of that were small, however, since Jensen really liked to talk. The fact that Jensen had allowed Carlos to borrow his knife for said slicing of fruit — since it was the only one they had — didn't make Carlos any more gracious towards the pirate. Or so he told himself.
"I should probably have asked this much sooner, but it never seemed like the right time."
A feeling of foreboding settled over Carlos and he wondered if Jensen was going to bring up the kiss. They hadn't spoken about it, despite having been trapped on the island for close to a day, by Carlos's count. He might avoid the subject with a determination bordering on an obsession, but he wasn't sure why Jensen hadn't said anything yet.
Then again, perhaps it was nothing out of the ordinary for Jensen? Perhaps he went around kissing people — men — like that on a regular basis?
Carlos refused to admit how much that thought unsettled him.
"What's your name?"
Carlos froze. A beat passed while he re-translated the words inside his head, sure he must have gotten that wrong.
When he couldn't figure out a way he could have misinterpreted them, he broke his own rule of not looking at Jensen unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Jensen's head was tilted to the side, his expression open and unguarded.
"I mean, you know mine," Jensen said, when Carlos didn't reply right away, "and it would be nice to know yours."
It hadn't even occurred to Carlos that Jensen didn't. That they could have gone through so much together without Jensen even knowing his name felt bizarre. Considering some of the activities they had engaged in, they should maybe even be on first-name basis. Carlos frowned up at Jensen, realising he could say no. His name was his to give and, quite frankly, it would probably be better if he didn't.
Still, he didn't see the harm.
"Alvarez," he replied, looking back down at the fruit he was slicing. "Carlos Alvarez."
A smile was evident in Jensen's voice, but, to Carlos's surprise, no more questions came. Without another word, Jensen turned and left again, prompting Carlos to look up. Jensen was still walking hunched over, holding his left arm close to his side, but he seemed to have regained some of his strength. Carlos watched him leave with a distinct feeling of having done something right, but not quite knowing what — or why it might matter.
He shook his head and focused back on his food. It was probably better if he didn't know.
In many ways, that surprised Carlos, since Jensen was usually much more insistent. Then again, he was no longer in any shape to run away from Carlos should his teasing backfire, so perhaps it was self-preservation.
Jensen offered a tired smile when Carlos sat down in front of the fire.
"Nothing new to report," Jensen said, the trace of humour doing little to cover the exhaustion underneath. "Not a single thing."
The bitterness in Jensen's voice was almost startling. He sounded frustrated, as if he was disappointed that they hadn't been rescued already. That shouldn't come as a surprise, Carlos supposed, since Jensen had always seemed quite optimistic — almost innocently so. He faced life with an eagerness that made Carlos both frustrated and a little jealous, and inevitably left him wondering what the world must look like through Jensen's eyes.
Much brighter, Carlos guessed, and full of adventure and opportunities.
Carlos was much more of a realist, who suspected that they wouldn't be rescued at all. But, for some reason, he found it difficult to voice those words out loud — he didn't want to crush what little hope Jensen might have. It was nice that one of them did.
"Your back?" Carlos asked instead, almost wincing at the hoarse rasp of his own voice. He hadn't spoken much since they ended up on the island, partly because the English words still felt thick and uncomfortable on his tongue but, more so than that, because he had been avoiding the only other person he could speak to.
Jensen grimaced and gave a small shrug — he couldn't manage much more with his injuries.
"Hurts," he replied, turning his gaze to the fire. "But not worse than before."
That was a relief, at least. Carlos's own injuries were much the same. His shoulder still throbbed angrily whenever he raised his arm too high, but the pain was stable for now. The wound above his right ear — which he had no way of actually examining himself — was less of a bother than Carlos had expected. He did, however, suspect it might be the cause for the occasional dizzy spells that hit him when he moved his head too quickly. All in all, his injuries were annoying, but he managed.
Carlos's gaze trailed to Jensen, who didn't seem to be fairing quite as well. Jensen's physical strength was returning little by little, but, in some inexplicable way, he also seemed weaker. It was the dullness in his eyes, Carlos decided — eyes that were usually bright, alert, and full of mischief. Jensen didn't look like himself when he wasn't bursting with enthusiasm. The difference was unsettling and, even if Carlos knew it was foolish of him, he couldn't help wanting to do something about it.
"Let me see," he said, before he had time to think better of it. He should be putting distance between Jensen and himself, not offering to look over his wounds.
Jensen glanced up, an unreadable expression on his face, before he nodded.
"Sure, be my guest."
He didn't sound particularly excited, but let go of the edges of his coat and allowed it to slide off his shoulders. Carlos's heart skipped a treacherous little beat — which he resolutely ignored — before he managed to force himself to his feet. He was already regretting the offer, but he couldn't bring himself to retract it. He was concerned about Jensen's injuries and the easiest way to settle those worries would be to examine them himself. He would be calm and clinical, Carlos told himself, and not allow himself to get distracted from his purpose.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, Carlos's mouth went dry the moment he settled down on his knees next to Jensen. Even with his left shoulder bandaged, Jensen was a temptation, the dancing flames lending his skin a soft, golden glow. Carlos swallowed and, despite telling himself he shouldn't, lightly touched Jensen's shoulder.
"Turn," he said, pretending that the roughness in his voice was still because of disuse. A second later, when Jensen tilted his head in obvious confusion, Carlos realised he could have been more informative and added. "I need more light."
Jensen shuffled around on the sand, nowhere near as graceful as Carlos was used to seeing him, until he sat with his left side towards the fire. It gave Carlos a much better view of the bandages and, after a slow and deliberate exhale, he focused on the task at hand.
To his relief, Jensen's wounds were doing quite well — almost miraculously so, considering the circumstances. Carlos was certainly not going to complain. He had seen the kind of horrors that could befall those injured during battle and he had no desire to see Jensen suffer through the same fate.
As Carlos carefully rewrapped Jensen's bandages, he wished he could do more. He only had the most rudimentary understanding of how to care for an injury, and none involving how to prevent infection or other diseases. Jensen was doing well for now, but Carlos knew how quickly that could change. Perhaps, if Carlos had been more knowledgeable, he could increase Jensen's odds of recovery.
When the last strip of bandage had been fastened, Jensen looked at Carlos over his shoulder.
"Now you," he said.
Carlos blinked. "¿Que?"
Jensen started turning and Carlos automatically shifted backwards. It was, as always, unnerving to be the sole focus of Jensen's attention and Carlos felt there was no need to make it worse by sitting closer than necessary. Whatever distance was between them wasn't enough, however — Carlos could feel that right away. The look in Jensen's eyes — those blue, blue eyes — was enough to make Carlos swallow. It wasn't a sultry or tempting look by any means and that, somehow, only made it worse. Jensen looked at Carlos with openness and honesty, as if he had nothing to hide and, even if he had secrets, he wouldn't have kept them from Carlos.
Jensen looked at Carlos with trust Carlos knew he hadn't earned — he couldn't have, not after what he had done on the Santa Magdalena.
"Let me see your wound," Jensen said, nodding towards Carlos's head. "I just want to make sure there's no dirt in it."
Carlos's first instinct was to refuse, not quite comfortable with the thought of being at Jensen's mercy. Carlos clearly had a harder time trusting people than Jensen did. Not to mention that he needed to avoid temptation and not let Jensen closer than absolutely necessary.
Jensen's voice was so soft it made Carlos's chest squeeze and whatever he had planned to say died on his tongue. The gently whispered word wasn't a plea, exactly, but it was still more than Carlos had expected — guileless and unguarded in a way he wasn't used to. Carlos came from a world of proud military officers who would never show weakness or put themselves in a position where they were at a disadvantage. Jensen apparently had no such reservations.
Their gazes held, the moment stretching out between them. Carlos swallowed where he sat opposite Jensen, feeling himself waver. It wasn't that he trusted Jensen — not to any real extent, at least — but he did believe that Jensen was genuinely concerned about his well-being. Jensen would never have saved Carlos's life if he wasn't. The odds of him harming Carlos now were slim.
Even so, it was with some hesitation that Carlos nodded, and he did his best to ignore the grateful smile Jensen gave him.
Carlos felt his heart skip a beat when Jensen moved closer and raised his right hand to gently tilt Carlos's head to the side. With effort, Carlos was able to hold back the shiver that wanted to run through him, Jensen's fingers light against his chin. When Jensen's left hand rose to push Carlos's hair aside — slowly, considering Jensen's injury — Carlos saw it best to close his eyes. He could barely hear the waves crashing against the beach over the sound of his own rushing heartbeat, his hands clenched tight in his lap to keep himself from reaching out for Jensen in turn.
"It looks good," Jensen said. "Or as good as it's gonna out here."
Carlos didn't reply, mostly because he was afraid of what words would come out of his mouth if he tried.
"I wish Jolene was here," Jensen mumbled. "She'd know what to do."
For a split second, Carlos almost asked who Jolene was, but decided against it. He chose to assume she was the surgeon in Jensen's crew. Carlos had never heard of a woman being allowed to practice medicine, but, then again, he had never fought a female pirate before, either. If Jensen's crew had one of those, Carlos wouldn't be surprised if they had a female surgeon as well.
It sounded like Jensen was smiling when he continued.
"You're not dying, anyway. I can tell that much."
Carlos opened his eyes which, in hindsight, was a bad idea. Jensen was very close — dangerously close — and, as always, Carlos's gaze was drawn to him, his head turning back to face Jensen seemingly of its own accord.
Jensen didn't look away.
His right hand still hadn't lowered, his thumb brushing against Carlos's jaw, sending little shocks of awareness down Carlos's spine. The touch, just like everything else Jensen did, was intoxicating.
When Jensen sucked in a breath, Carlos could hear it tremble.
"Sometimes, I'm struck dumb by how handsome you are," Jensen whispered, something like reverence in his voice.
Carlos could only blink, words escaping him entirely. The compliment caused a pleased flutter in his chest, warming him from within. The look in Jensen's eyes was almost a little frightening, simply for how unguarded it was.
He looked spellbound.
Carlos wasn't used to that. He often got attention from the ladies, both for his looks and his uniform, but what he saw in Jensen's eyes wasn't admiration or hunger — it was something else entirely. Something soft and almost fragile that made Carlos's throat close up. Jensen's hand moved, his thumb stroking Carlos's cheek. The caress wasn't heavy, but Carlos's skin burned where Jensen touched him. He was too startled to react, simply staring back at Jensen, barely even daring to breathe.
It was only when Jensen shifted, leaning closer, that Carlos realised Jensen was about to kiss him.
A breathtaking, burning need roared through Carlos, his entire body suddenly alight with anticipation. He remembered what their previous kiss had been like and, by God, did Carlos want to experience it again. The need was thick and heady, gathering inside of him with a fierceness that was almost dizzying.
Then his sense returned.
Carlos wanted Jensen to kiss him — with a desperation that left him ashamed — but he couldn't allow it. Kissing another man was a sin. He couldn't make the same mistake as he had back in Havana. Carlos should never have let Jensen come this close. He should have pulled back.
Panic took over, fuelled in equal parts by anger and shame.
"Don't touch me!" Carlos snapped, slapping Jensen's hand away before getting to his feet. His boots sank into the sand, but Carlos managed to back up a couple of ungraceful steps, desperately needing more distance between Jensen and himself.
Jensen's eyes widened, a flash of hurt flickering past on his face before he was able to curb it.
"I... I'm sorry. I thought—" He swallowed, looking confused but genuinely regretful. Jensen held up his hands and hunched slightly forward, as if trying to appear smaller and like less of a threat. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
Jensen made no move to stand or chase after Carlos.
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," Jensen said, voice soft and apologetic. For some reason, Carlos felt his chest clench. "I won't do it again. I promise."
That promise should have left Carlos feeling relieved, but the twist of disappointment inside him betrayed what he really wanted. He knew he didn't owe Jensen an explanation, but, at the same time, he wanted to give one. Carlos wanted Jensen to understand that he couldn't kiss him, even if he might want to.
"It's a sin."
Carlos swallowed, the words leaving a surprisingly sour taste in his mouth. They were true, but a part of him wished they weren't — which only proved how far he had transgressed already. Carlos couldn't allow himself to succumb to temptation.
Jensen slowly lowered his hands, tilting his head to the side.
"What is?" he asked.
That was a stupid question, but Carlos wasn't overly surprised. Jensen was a pirate — he clearly didn't put much weight on the Word of God.
"What we did." Carlos had to push the words past his teeth, feeling another pinch of shame as he spoke them out loud. "The kiss."
"Because we're both men?"
Jensen sounded calm, but there was something in his voice — a hint of defiance — that made Carlos wary.
"It's wrong," he replied, hoping that if he said the words firmly enough, Jensen wouldn't question them.
As always, Jensen didn't react at all like Carlos had expected or wanted him to.
"Is God infallible?"
That wasn't the question Carlos thought Jensen would ask, but the answer was simple.
Jensen looked deceptively innocent when he asked, "And there's a purpose to everything He has created?"
Carlos got the feeling that he was walking into a trap somehow, though he couldn't say what kind of trap it would be.
The reply, once again firm, had the opposite effect than Carlos had intended. Jensen smiled. It was a sad smile, with a hint of something that could have been pity — or perhaps just compassion.
"Then why question how He made you?" Jensen's voice was soft, only barely audible over the sound of the crackling fire and waves crashing against the beach. "He must have had a reason."
Carlos swallowed but held firm.
"Men are fallible."
Carlos couldn't believe that he was discussing the concept of sin with a pirate. Granted that Jensen wasn't as bad as some were, but he had still murdered and stolen. He had kissed Carlos without any regret — he had even attempted to do it a second time.
Jensen clearly didn't care about what was a sin or not.
"They are," Jensen agreed, "but, when you think about it, that's how He made us." Jensen kept smiling. "And He must have had a reason for that."
"To test us. So that we can—"
"I know, I know." Jensen looked out over the ocean — or what little he could see of it with only the light of the moon and stars to aid him. "But has it ever occurred to you that, maybe, the true test of faith is whether or not you live as He intended for you to live, rather than how other people tell you to live? That, just maybe, He would be more proud of you for being exactly who you were meant to be?"
Carlos frowned, feeling a clench of unease. That was bordering on blasphemous. Jensen couldn't possibly know what God had intended for them.
"Because that's what I'm trying to do," Jensen continued. "He made my heart big enough to love anyone, be they man or woman, and I would rather share that love than think He wants me to withhold it. Do not murder, do not lie, do not steal — those I can understand. I clearly don't abide by them, but I understand them." Jensen shrugged, his gaze returning to Carlos. "But what kind of test of faith would that be, to ask me not to love?"
The word 'love' made Carlos's heart skip a beat. What was between him and Jensen wasn't love — it was far too raw and visceral to be love — but he could admit that he had never thought of it like that. He had seen their kiss as an act of taking — of greed and depravity — instead of giving. Love had never even been a part of the equation. Surely, it couldn't be.
And yet, maybe that was what he had seen in Jensen's eyes the seconds before he had tried to lean in and kiss him. That soft, vulnerable look that still made Carlos's breath catch.
That still didn't make it right, as much as it was beginning to pain Carlos to admit it.
"The Bible." Carlos felt like he was grasping for straws, trying to argue against a tidal wave. "It condemns it."
Jensen rose to his feet, wobbly and unstable, but Carlos was too uncomfortable to offer him help. Jensen brushed off the sand from his trousers and gave Carlos a crooked smile.
"The Bible is written by man, not God. It is His Word, but not His penmanship," he said. The sheer audacity made Carlos blink. "At best, the Bible is an interpretation recorded by, as you have pointed out, fallible men. How do you know they didn't add their own values to it, when they wrote it down?"
Carlos opened his mouth to argue, but found he couldn't. He didn't know what to reply. Jensen took the opportunity to continue.
"How do you know they translated it correctly?"
Carlos couldn't answer that, either. He didn't know. He had simply assumed it was true, since that was what he had been told.
Just like with so many other things, it seemed.
"I'm not telling you not to believe in God — I definitely do," Jensen said, voice softer now, perhaps able to sense Carlos's distress. "I'm just pointing out that there are different interpretations. I have chosen mine, because I like to believe that God would rather have me love than spread hate."
Jensen paused and, in that second, he was almost painfully beautiful. Even with his thoughts spinning, conflicting emotions tearing through him, Carlos couldn't help but be in awe of Jensen. He had never met a person who stood so firmly for what he believed in, unapologetic and unafraid. Even if some of what he was saying might be blasphemous, Jensen's conviction and integrity was something to envy.
Another couple of seconds passed, Jensen letting out a slow breath.
"What you choose to believe is up to you, not anyone else," he said. He was warm and golden yet again, bathed in the light of the burning fire, and Carlos wouldn't have been able to look away even if he had wanted to. Sincerity laced every word that Jensen spoke. "I just want you to know that."
There was nothing Carlos could think of answering. Just like before, Jensen left him speechless, confused and torn by the things he was saying. Carlos didn't know how to handle any of it.
How could anyone be expected to handle the choices Jensen was suddenly putting in front of him?
Carlos remained helplessly silent and, after a soft, disappointed sigh, Jensen turned and walked away.
Jensen was distancing himself to avoid making Carlos uncomfortable.
He had taken Carlos's barked order not to touch him to heart, saying only the bare minimum and offering only brief, flickering flashes of his usually confident smile. This was exactly what Carlos had asked for, but, once had it, he loathed it. Not just because of how miserable Jensen looked, but because Carlos genuinely missed the company. As much as he had tried to deny it, he liked Jensen. His presence was a relief, especially on a deserted island, and Carlos felt lost and disoriented without it.
Having Jensen avoid him was downright jarring, to the point where Carlos left the beach just to avoid how uneasy it made him.
It took Carlos less than half a day to decide he had to do something about it. He couldn't leave things as they were between them, even if he wasn't entirely sure how to make amends. But he could start by apologising for being too harsh.
Except when he went back to the beach to talk to Jensen, Carlos found that he was too late. All thoughts of asking for forgiveness fled him as the real world suddenly came crashing back into their lives, disrupting the strange, isolated existence they had lived the past couple of days.
There, some distance out on the sea, was a ship.
Jensen stood on the beach, watching as the longboat was lowered into the water. Carlos walked up and stopped beside him, a lump of panic growing in his throat.
They were about to get rescued.
"I guess you won," Jensen said softly.
They could both see the colours the ship was sailing. The rueful smile on Jensen's lips made Carlos's heart clench. Jensen looked resigned, as if he had already accepted the fate that awaited him once the boat reached the shore.
Carlos had always assumed the pirates would find them first. He hadn't even considered the possibility that the Spanish Navy would be the one to rescue them. He hadn't wanted to, because he knew what would happen to Jensen if they did.
The thought of Jensen getting hanged made Carlos nauseous.
Was this really how this was going to end?
Jensen let out a slow breath, turning his gaze to the sky. Carlos looked at him — he couldn't not — desperately trying to commit Jensen's features to memory. This might be the last time Carlos saw him alive. It was all happening so fast and, with a jolt, Carlos realised he didn't want to be rescued. He would much rather stay on that beach with Jensen, for however long they would survive it.
Carlos wanted more time. He wanted to examine and explore all the things Jensen had told him because, just maybe, there was some kind of solution for Carlos in there — some kind of salvation. Maybe Carlos was the one who was wrong about faith and sin — not Jensen.
Maybe Carlos should learn to love like Jensen did.
Only there was no time — Carlos would never get to know what that was like.
Jensen's smile was still resigned when he turned to look at Carlos, his words so sincere and achingly final that the lump of panic in Carlos's throat grew to the point where he couldn't breathe.
"I'm glad you're getting out of this alive, Carlos."
They both knew Jensen wouldn't.
If you thought the time for cliffhangers were behind us, you were wrong. That's just how I roll.
I realise that this is probably one the most slow-paced Pirate AU's out there, but, uh, I just ended up wanting to focus more on Carlos's inner struggles. It was fascinating.
See you next Friday! <3
When Carlos made it onto the Spanish galleon, he was treated like a hero.
After the attack on the Santa Magdalena, he had been presumed dead, he was told. Finding him alive was no small miracle and several of the men aboard the ship stepped forward to welcome him back. Carlos recognised many of them, having been stationed with them at one point or another during his career. It was a relief to see some familiar faces, but, at the same time, it was incredibly jarring.
Carlos knew they hadn't been on that island very long at all — just over two days — but he felt slightly out of alignment with the rest of the world. As if it had kept turning while he was stuck in limbo and now he was scrambling to catch up.
Or maybe he was the one who had changed?
He looked at the men around him and, to his horror, realised that he didn't feel the same kind of kinship as he had before he ended up on that blasted island together with Jensen. Carlos couldn't help wondering which of these men wouldn't hesitate to execute the kind of order that had forced Jensen to turn to piracy.
Which of these men thought that slaves were worth less than them?
Carlos forced himself to push the thought aside and instead asked what had happened to his men after the pirate attack. He was told that the survivors from the Santa Magdalena had been rescued and transported to Havana. Some were injured and more than a couple had died, but the majority of them were alive.
Jensen had apparently been telling the truth when he claimed that his crew didn't kill prisoners.
As if summoned by the thought, Jensen appeared on the deck, stumbling slightly as he climbed over the railing. The ascent must have been difficult for him considering his injured shoulder and Carlos had to curb the instinct to step forward and help steady him.
The shaky truce they had maintained on the island was no longer in effect. They were now enemies again and Carlos would do well to remember that.
Jensen seemed to have no trouble adapting to the new circumstances. He only threw the briefest of glances in Carlos's direction, making no attempt to plead for help or compassion. It was jarring, just how blank his face was, as if he barely even recognised Carlos.
As if he hadn't tried to kiss him just the night before.
Carlos couldn't quite explain the twist of disappointment in his chest. Jensen putting distance between them was a good thing, not only because it was what Carlos had asked for, but because he couldn't be seen feeling concern for a pirate. The crew would grow suspicious. They couldn't, under any circumstances, know exactly what had transpired between Carlos and Jensen.
Keeping it hidden was more difficult than Carlos had expected. Especially when one of the sailors — Galvez, if Carlos remembered correctly — shoved Jensen towards the stairs leading down below deck, his hand rough against Jensen's injured shoulder. Carlos stiffened at the horrible, half-choked noise of pain Jensen let out, and it took everything he had not to rush to Jensen's side when his legs gave out. Jensen's knees hit the deck with a dull thud, but he somehow managed not to fall over completely.
When the sailors started laughing and jeering, Carlos went cold.
He knew he should have expected this — Jensen was a pirate and this was how pirates were treated — but, somehow, he hadn't. He hadn't wanted to. Seeing his fellow sailors treat Jensen with such cruelty made Carlos stomach twist. At the same time, he couldn't blame them. Carlos couldn't even count the number of sailors they had lost to pirates over the years and Jensen's conscience certainly wasn't clear in that regard. He had been one of those attacking the Santa Magdalena and had helped build whatever hellish creation had obliterated her masts.
It obviously took a lot of effort, but Jensen managed to stagger to his feet, his strong shoulders hunched and shaking from the pain. He kept his head down, not looking up at Carlos, probably because he knew there was nothing to be found there. Carlos had no compassion to give, no matter how much he wished that he did.
He and Jensen were enemies.
Carlos still felt a clench of regret and shame as he watched Jensen get taken away. Not that there was anything he could do; Jensen had made his choices and now he had to accept the consequences. As much as he might want to, Carlos didn't have the power to keep Jensen from getting hanged.
It was out of Carlos's hands.
Or perhaps that was his conscience.
Carlos tried his best to ignore it. He spent time with the crew instead, but, unlike before, never managed to feel like he was a part of the camaraderie. He was jarred out of more than one conversation at the mention of slaves or pirates, and had to grit his teeth whenever Jensen was brought up. The sailors were outright smug over Jensen's fate and Carlos was never able to share their glee.
The only thing Carlos felt at the thought of Jensen dying was despair.
He knew he shouldn't. Jensen was a criminal and, by all accounts, shouldn't be trusted. And yet, Jensen had saved Carlos's life without expecting anything in return. He had taken care of Carlos's injuries and been almost indifferent about his own — injuries he had sustained while protecting Carlos.
In the end, Jensen had done more to earn Carlos's respect and loyalty than some of Carlos's own men. That didn't change anything about their situation, but it was unsettling to realise.
Had Jensen not been a pirate, Carlos would have been proud to call him his friend.
But now, as things were, that wasn't possible. When they reached Havana, Jensen would be tried and no doubt hanged for piracy. That was all the future held for Jacob Jensen. His story would come to an end and whatever chance they had for a friendship — or something more, a treacherous part of Carlos's whispered — would end with it. There was nothing Carlos could do about it.
Or at least that was what he kept telling himself.
Maybe if Carlos didn't know exactly what happened to Jensen, he would stop feeling so guilty. Maybe then he would be able to sleep at night. And, maybe, he would be able to stop feeling like he was letting himself down, for falling back into old patterns. For still not having learned how to make his own decisions, despite the epiphanies he'd had back on that cursed island.
It would have been easier if this specific decision hadn't involved a pirate. The only way to spare Jensen his fate would be to release him, and Carlos didn't have the authority to do that through the proper channels — not considering the severity of Jensen's crimes. It would have to be done in secret.
Carlos would have to break the law if he wanted to set Jensen free.
He couldn't do that. It would mean going against orders and everything Carlos stood for. Or at least everything he thought he stood for. He barely even knew who he was, still unmoored and confused after the uncomfortable questions Jensen had thrown at him. Carlos's uniform and service was the one firm point he had left and he didn't know what he would do if he lost that.
He couldn't risk it, not even for Jensen.
He just couldn't.
Carlos had always found solace inside churches. They were quiet and peaceful, reminding him of his childhood, when his mother brought him and his siblings to mass. Those were fond memories, even if he might not have thought so at the time, much too restless to sit still during the long, boring sermons. It was only now, when he was older and his mother since long dead, that he understood just how precious those memories were. Now he knew to treasure them, that every moment sitting in the pews next to his mother had been a gift in and of itself — time spent with her that he would never regret.
Unfortunately, Carlos found none of that peace now.
The calm that usually settled over him as he stepped over the threshold was absent. Perhaps, he reasoned, that was because of all the sins he had committed lately. He could barely count them anymore, though he knew he would have to, once he gathered up enough courage to confess. He should feel uncomfortable, with all the impure thoughts he was carrying.
It was early, during that time in the morning when the sun had only just begun to rise and the city with it. Carlos sat on one of the hard benches, watching the light outside the window grow brighter and brighter. Soon it began slanting in through the colourful glass, painting beautiful patterns on the walls and floor.
Four days had passed since their return to Havana and Carlos was too restless to sleep. Since he hadn't asked, he was unsure if Jensen had been tried yet. For all he knew, Jensen had already been hanged.
The thought made Carlos close his eyes against the sickening roll of his stomach, his teeth tightly clenched.
If he was to be truthful — and it would have been blasphemy to lie in church — that was why he couldn't find peace. Not knowing if Jensen was alive or dead was slowly but surely tearing him apart. He knew he shouldn't feel concern for a pirate, let alone one as sinful as Jensen, but, no matter how hard he tried, Carlos's heart would not be swayed by reason. His duty was tugging him in one direction, but his heart was set on another.
He had visited the church, hoping to find clarity, but, if anything, he only felt more torn. He found no answers in prayers and knew that the priest could give him none, either. As much respect as Carlos had for men of the cloth, he knew they were just that — mortal men. Ones supposedly closer to God, definitely, but still men. Still fallible.
Carlos could still remember that one priest from his childhood, who had driven off beggars and locked the doors to the church at night, denying sanctuary to those most in need. He had been cruel and cold, his sermons always closer to giving Carlos nightmares than anything else. That priest, despite having been supposedly chosen by God, was not what Carlos would call a good man. As sacrilegious as that thought was, it felt more right than Carlos's previous blind belief.
Before Jensen, he would never have dared to question the actions of a priest.
Carlos saw things more clearly now. Some would no doubt call that a bad thing, but Carlos felt as if his eyes had finally been opened — as if he had been walking around with them closed up until that moment.
He still believed in God. He still valued his faith and the strength it gave him, but Jensen had set new thoughts in motion and Carlos was helpless to stop them. He couldn't help questioning his trust in his country, his superiors, and his priests, and wonder what made them qualified to decide what he should do, especially when some of them were bad themselves.
Men — be they pirates or priests — should be held accountable for and judged by their actions. While Jensen was far from innocent, he had devoted his life to rescuing slaves from a fate worse than Carlos even dared to imagine. The priest from Carlos's childhood might never have committed an actual murder, but Carlos had no doubt that people had died because of his cruelty and unwillingness to offer shelter.
Which one of those was truly the better man? Which one deserved Carlos's respect?
Carlos let out a slow breath, his gaze finding the cross displayed at the front of the church. Unconventional as he may be, Jensen was doing more to better the world than Carlos. He actually fought for something — a cause he had chosen and felt so strongly for that he had been willing to risk his own life. Why was that conviction less worth that Carlos's?
The truth, of course, was that it wasn't. Jensen might have racked up more sins — murder and stealing were still forbidden, not to mention his obvious inclination towards kissing men — but at least he was doing something useful. At least Jensen was trying to save people.
That was more than could be said for Carlos.
Out of the two of them, Jensen had more to offer the world. His actions spoke of compassion and conviction, both of which Carlos had thought that he possessed, but was beginning to realise he might not. In comparison to Jensen, Carlos was a coward, hiding behind his uniform to avoid taking responsibility and voicing his actual opinion.
That was not the kind of man Carlos wanted to be.
He looked down at his hands, his thumb rubbing against the small cut on his finger. It was healing nicely, like his other injuries. Had it not been for Jensen, Carlos would probably have died. The man had saved his life — selflessly and without regret — and Carlos was repaying him by, once again, hiding.
Jensen didn't deserve to die. He had chosen to become a pirate only when his own turned against him and he had risked his life not only to save Spanish officers he had no reason saving, but innocent lives as well. Jensen was good in a way that most could only hope to be. He shouldn't have to die.
Carlos closed his eyes, finally feeling that long-awaited calm settle over him. He knew what he had to do and he knew what it would cost him, but it seemed a small price to pay for what he had gained. The peace Carlos felt was indescribable. Having made the decision, no matter how reckless, lifted a weight off his shoulders. For the first time in years, Carlos was absolutely certain of what he believed in and he was willing — no, prepared — to act on it.
There were aspects of his and Jensen's relationship that Carlos had yet to face, granted, but at least his mind was made up. His heart, treacherous as it may be, and his sense of faith, shaken to its very foundations, would have to wait. He had more urgent matters to attend to.
Hopefully, it wasn't too late to save Jensen.
After all, there was no point in trying to hide what he was doing — his superiors were bound to find out eventually.
Incapacitating the guards posted down in the dungeon was laughably easy, simply because they didn't see it coming. Carlos knew them both by name and, understandably, they hadn't expected him to turn on them. They would no doubt feel betrayed once they woke and realised what he had done, but that was something Carlos would have to face later. Freeing Jensen took priority.
Carlos unhooked the ring of keys from Sanchez's belt before hurrying down the corridor towards the holding cells. He was fairly certain that no one had heard the commotion, but the longer he waited, the higher the risk that he would be discovered.
He rounded the corner, his heartbeat surprisingly steady, and caught sight of Jensen three cells down. Thankfully, the other cells were empty, meaning that they wouldn't have an audience to the escape attempt. Carlos had feared that other prisoners might try to sabotage his efforts when he refused to free them as well.
Jensen looked up at the sound of Carlos's footsteps, sitting propped up against the wall with his long legs stretched out before him, crossed at the ankles. Whatever he had expected to see, it clearly wasn't Carlos. Jensen's eyes widened in surprise and he quickly — still somewhat fumbling from his injuries — pushed himself to his feet.
"Alvarez?" His voice was hoarse, as if he hadn't been speaking much the past couple of days. Jensen hurried closer to the bars, a confused frown settling on his face. He looked pale and tired, but remarkably whole, all things considered. "What are you doing here?"
Carlos didn't know what to reply. His apologies felt pathetically insufficient after everything he had put Jensen through. The way Carlos had avoided him — washing his hands of the whole thing as soon as they were rescued — made bile rise at the back of Carlos's throat.
He had been such a coward.
Carlos came to a stop on the other side of the bars, the keys jingling in his hand.
"What's that?" Jensen asked, his eyes going impossibly wider a second later, when he recognised what Carlos was holding. He stared at Carlos with something akin to horror. "What did you do?"
His voice sounded frail, and not just from disuse. There was genuine fear in Jensen's eyes, though Carlos couldn't understand why. He was going to make sure Jensen survived this whole ordeal, not hurt him.
Carlos had already done quite enough of that for a lifetime.
"Did you steal those from the guards?" Jensen asked, clearly not as excited about the rescue attempt as Carlos had expected. His tone was pleading. "Alvarez, please tell me you didn't."
Carlos ignored Jensen question, instead focusing on shoving the key into the lock. They had to hurry.
"No! No, no, no, no, no! Stop!" Jensen snapped as Carlos began to turn the key. "Don't—"
The lock clicked open and Carlos pulled open the cell door, the hinges squealing. Jensen made no attempt to step out, staring at Carlos with wide, frightened eyes.
Impatience made Carlos grit his teeth before he reached inside, grabbing a hold of Jensen's shirt. It wasn't the blood-splattered one from the island, so Jensen must have been given a new one before the trial. He was still injured, however, as became obvious by his pained wince when Carlos tugged him out of the cell.
Carlos's fingers remained clenched around the fabric, so close to Jensen's chest that his hand rose and fell with Jensen's breaths.
"The side door. Go," Carlos urged, nodding towards the door in question.
Even when he released his grip on the shirt, Jensen didn't move. He was looking unreasonably sad for someone who was getting rescued mere hours before his own hanging.
Jensen's breath trembled, his voice so soft it almost broke.
"When they find out, you will—"
"Hang, I know."
Despite the blunt statement, Carlos didn't feel any fear, only determination. He knew that he would never get away with what he was doing, but he didn't care. He had made his choice and he refused to regret it. This was worth it.
Jensen was worth it.
Carlos pointed towards the side door. "Go!"
"No! How can you—" Jensen reached out towards Carlos, but, a split second later, seemed to realise his mistake. His hand froze in mid-air.
Seeing the hesitation on Jensen's face broke Carlos's heart, especially since it was caused by Carlos's cruelty — by his weakness and insecurities. Jensen was afraid to touch him, but only because Carlos had told him not to.
He had lied and told Jensen not to.
Carlos took a careful step closer and reached up, placing his hand against Jensen's cheek. Jensen stiffened at the touch, but didn't pull back.
"Perdóname," Carlos whispered, voice raw. He tried to smile, but he knew it had to look more sad than anything else. He stroked Jensen's cheek with his thumb, swallowing tightly when he realised this was the last time he would ever get to touch him. "I made a mistake. And it hurt you."
Carlos prayed Jensen would see just how much he regretted all of this — how sorry he was for being such a coward.
Jensen sucked in a sharp breath, his expression crumpling. "Alvarez—"
Carlos looked up into Jensen's eyes — those beautiful, sky-blue eyes of his — and knew that, if he was to die soon, this was the only thing that mattered. God might choose to abandon him for his sins and the Navy would demand he pay for his crimes with his life, but Jensen's was the only forgiveness he wanted. In his heart, Carlos knew this was the right thing to do.
Jensen looked pained, his words rough and choked when he replied.
"Yes, of course." Jensen closed his eyes and covered Carlos's hand with his own, pressing his cheek against Carlos's palm, as if seeking more warmth. As he if he couldn't bear to part from Carlos's touch. "Of course I forgive you."
The relief was overwhelming. Another smile spread on Carlos's lips, but he could feel it trembling.
"Thank you. Now go," Carlos whispered. He could barely breathe around the tightness in his throat, but placed his other hand against Jensen's chest, giving him a push. "Please, go."
They didn't have much time. Jensen had to be gone before anyone found out what Carlos had done — he couldn't get caught again. Carlos would much rather take Jensen's place at the gallows than watch him hang.
Jensen's reluctance to leave Carlos to his fate was admirable, but more than Carlos deserved. Jensen needed to understand that, out of the two of them, he was the better person.
"This," Carlos interrupted, his hand still resting against Jensen's chest, right over his heart, "is what I believe in."
The words lifted a weight off of Carlos's chest. For so many years, he had believed in what he had been told to believe, but not anymore. He was finally making a stand.
"I believe in you." Carlos held Jensen's gaze, not wanting there to be any doubt about his sincerity — about how important this was to him. "In what you are trying to do. The change you are fighting for. I want you to live, Jake."
Carlos was breathless, his heart hammering in his chest — and he had never felt freer.
"I believe in love," he whispered, smiling up at Jensen.
The wounded little noise Jensen made was barely human. It sounded as if Carlos had just ripped his heart into pieces. The look on his face was equally shattered, sorrow mingling with anguish.
Jensen suddenly surged forward, his hands sliding into Carlos's hair. The kiss he pressed against Carlos's lips tasted of desperation and fear, his fingers curling around the back of Carlos's neck. The spark in Carlos's chest — that steady flame of heat Jensen had planted all those weeks ago — flared to life, roaring through him and setting every inch of him alight. Just like the first time, Carlos was overwhelmed by the intensity of his own want — the almost painful clench deep in his gut, stealing his breath and any rational thought he might have had.
Unlike the first time, Carlos didn't push Jensen away.
His hands found purchase, closing around the fabric of Jensen's loose shirt, pulling them closer together. When Carlos opened his mouth, their tongues meeting, Jensen let out a helpless moan. The kiss deepened, turning deliciously filthy, fuelled by urgency and weeks of suppressed need — a need Carlos knew better than to deny himself any longer. Jensen kissed with a fierceness and focus that took Carlos's breath away, a jolt of pleasure shooting down his spine. It pooled in the pit of his stomach, spreading the fire through his veins until he was thrumming with it — thrumming with desperate, aching need.
Carlos felt suddenly ravenous — insatiable — and mourned the fact that he had been too stubborn to embrace this earlier. Now it was too late. This was all he would ever get.
Jensen was slipping through his fingers.
And, no matter how much Carlos would have liked to be selfish and linger, they truly didn't have time. Each second they spent in this dungeon was one more during which Jensen might be discovered. Carlos couldn't risk that.
Carlos pulled back, reluctant to end the kiss but knowing that he had to. Jensen made a heartbreaking noise of complaint, his grip around Carlos's hair tightening, refusing to let go. He leaned his forehead against Carlos's, his breaths tickling against Carlos's lips. Jensen was practically vibrating with tension, his anguish so palpable Carlos could almost taste it. He tried to soothe him as best he could, his hand stroking Jensen's side.
"Come with me," Jensen whispered hoarsely.
"Please, come with me," Jensen pleaded. His eyes were closed but the desperation was unmistakable. Carlos could feel his hitched breaths against his palm. "They'll kill you for this."
It was difficult to describe what Carlos felt in that moment. His first reaction was outrage — fleeing wouldn't clear him of his crimes. The only thing that would accomplish was a price on his head and a lifetime of running from his former allies. He had planned to accept his fate with as much pride and dignity as possible.
The second, and far more surprising emotion, was a flare of tentative hope.
"I don't want you to die," Jensen whispered. "There will be a place for you on the ship. Captain Clay won't mind."
Carlos had never even considered the possibility of becoming a pirate. Even if he didn't blame Jensen for the choice he had made, Carlos felt unease at the thought of doing the same. It wasn't honourable, and Carlos wanted to die with at least that intact, considering how much else he had already sacrificed.
Then again, he could live. If he left with Jensen, he could actually be with Jensen. This didn't have to end — he could have countless moments with Jensen. This didn't have to be their last. Exactly what that would mean for Carlos's eternal soul and his guilt was difficult to say — loving a man was still unnatural — but Carlos would be lying if he said he wasn't tempted.
He wanted to believe that Jensen was right — that God wanted them to love rather than condemn, even if the love came in unconventional shapes.
"Come with me." Jensen pulled back just enough to meet Carlos's gaze, his hands moving to gently, albeit desperately, frame Carlos's face. "Please."
Was it really that much of a choice? Was he willing to take the risk? Was Carlos's pride and honour worth more than his life? A couple of weeks ago, he would no doubt have said yes, but that was before he realised just how hollow that honour was. Unlike Jensen, Carlos had done nothing to fight for what he actually believed in, content to let others tell him what to think and do.
If he went with Jensen, Carlos would be able to help make a change. He, too, could start freeing slaves. He could fight for what he actually believed in.
With that in mind, it wasn't a very difficult decision.
Carlos's hands rose to wrap around Jensen's wrists. There was a flash of uncertainty on Jensen's face, but it settled the moment Carlos began to smile.
"I will," Carlos said softly, comforted by the feeling of rightness building inside him. "I will come with you."
Jensen blinked. "You will?"
The sheer amount of hope in his voice, hiding just underneath the disbelief, made Carlos's smile grow stronger.
"Sí." Carlos titled his head, pressing his cheek against Jensen's palm. "But we need to go. Now."
They had already lingered too long. It could only be a matter of minutes — maybe even seconds — before they were discovered.
"Yes. Yes, of course," Jensen agreed, but, instead of letting go, he leaned in for another quick kiss. Despite how brief if it was, the touch of Jensen's lips against his own made Carlos shiver with delight.
When Jensen pulled back, the spark had returned to his eyes. His grin was giddy and so joyous it caused Carlos's heart to miss a beat.
"The back door, was it?" Jensen asked cheekily.
Carlos snorted before turning Jensen around and pushing him towards the door in question.
Jensen laughed, bright and happy, but did as told.
It certainly took him a while, but Carlos got there in the end! There's a short epilogue left (which you will be getting tomorrow) but, other than that, we're more or less done!
I hope you all enjoyed the journey!
Carlos woke to fingertips tracing gentle, nonsensical patterns against his back. He didn't open his eyes, content to lie there and soak up the soothing intimacy of the touch. Seagulls were shrieking in the distance and Carlos could hear the breeze rustling through the trees outside their open window. He felt so utterly at peace that he mourned the fact that he would have to move at some point.
Minutes passed before Jake leaned closer, placing a kiss against Carlos's bare shoulder.
"Sleep well?" he asked.
Carlos let out an amused huff. It was the first time they had slept in a real bed in about five months and Carlos was certainly not complaining. He liked being at sea, but the luxury of an actual mattress was a nice reward every now and then.
After a lazy yawn, Carlos turned onto his back and smiled at Jensen, who was lying next to him. That seemed to be answer enough, judging by Jake's responding smile. He hadn't bothered to put his glasses on yet, which was always a little disorienting. Not in a bad way — Jake was just as handsome with them off — but it wasn't how Carlos was used to seeing him.
"Good," Jake murmured, before leaning in for a kiss. He cupped Carlos's cheek, his touch ever-so-gentle, and Carlos closed his eyes to better savour it.
Even after a year, he still hadn't tired of Jake's kisses, and Jake's touch never failed to light that delicious fire in Carlos's gut. Embracing his desires still caused a flinch of doubt every now and then — Carlos wasn't sure if he was living in sin or not — but they were brief and easy to brush aside.
The love he felt for Jake — and Jake for him — was worth it.
Jake pulled back, his smile fond. The tips of his hair were bright white in the light of the morning sun, his skin glowing warm and golden. He was so beautiful it took Carlos's breath away.
Similar thoughts seemed to be running through Jake's head, his thumb reverently stroking Carlos's cheek.
"I am so lucky," Jake mumbled, so low Carlos almost didn't hear it. There was no mistaking the awe in his voice.
Carlos smiled. "Yo también."
Jake's smile was radiant and, as always, there was a flash of relief in his eyes. While he had never said so, Carlos knew that Jake felt guilty sometimes — worried that he had asked too much when he had convinced Carlos to join the pirate crew. And it had been an adjustment, Carlos wouldn't lie, but not one he regretted.
Sure, he could probably never set foot in Havana again, considering how well-known he was there, and it hurt to know that he would never again talk to the men he had served with for years. In their eyes, he was a traitor — one that freed a prisoner set for the gallows and had abandoned their cause for a life of piracy. They had every right to hate him, but Carlos still didn't regret his decision to go with Jake. Not when each slave they rescued helped ease just a tiny bit of the guilt Carlos had been carrying around for years. With each life they saved, Carlos's resolve only grew stronger. The act itself — attacking ships and killing sailors — wasn't something Carlos was particularly proud of, but he would do it to save the slaves.
All in all, the life Carlos had now, aboard a rowdy pirate ship with a crew that was just as bold and unpredictable as Jake, was so much better than the one he'd had before. Not just because he had found his purpose and something to actually believe in, but because it felt like a home — a family.
The crew had been suspicious of him at first, of course — it wasn't every day a Spanish naval officer tried to join their ranks — but they had warmed up to him soon enough. Aisha had, surprisingly, been the first to accept him aside from Jake, perhaps because Carlos was one of the few who gave her an actual challenge whenever they sparred.
By now, a year after he stepped aboard their ship, he was a part of the family.
That was something Carlos had never expected to have again, not after his mother died and his sisters were married off. This was a different kind of family, of course, but still somewhere Carlos felt that he belonged. Every time he woke up next to Jake, Carlos felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude. That he could have this — that he allowed himself to have it — was a blessing.
He really couldn't believe how lucky he was.
Jake turned onto his stomach and propped himself up on his elbows, his smile soft and his bare skin warm against Carlos's. The mischievous spark in Jake's eyes could be both good and bad — though, this time, Carlos suspected good.
"So, I asked the captain last night and he says we'll be staying here for at least a week."
That was nothing new, so Carlos merely hummed in response. He was more interested in the fact that the sheets had slid a lot further down with all the shuffling around, now having settled at the small of Jake's back. The angle was wrong for Carlos to really get a good look, but that didn't stop him from getting thoroughly distracted.
"And we don't really have anywhere to be..."
The way Jake trailed off was telling enough, but the warm hand that settled on Carlos's stomach left very little doubt as to what Jake was hinting at. Carlos had to bite the inside of his cheek to hold back a smile, though he was pretty sure that Jake could see the amusement in his eyes.
Carlos raised a questioning eyebrow, as if he had no idea what Jake was referring to — as if both of them weren't starving for it.
Being a part of a pirate crew as opposed to the navy did mean some looser rules here and there, but it was still frowned upon to engage in indecent activities while aboard the ship — at least if they were too loud about it. If nothing else, it was considered rude towards those who didn't have a partner on board.
Which was everyone but Carlos, Jake, Porteous, and Jolene.
As Jake's hand began to wander lower, Carlos couldn't help sucking in a sharp breath. Jake's fingertips left a trail of heat in their wake and Carlos had to struggle to lie still. Little sparks were dancing underneath his skin, anticipation thrumming through his veins.
"Unless you have any objections?" Jake's voice was low and husky, whispered close to Carlos's ear.
Carlos let out a breathless laugh and, despite his best attempts not to, shifted his hips as Jake's hand wandered lower still. As if this was something he would ever object to?
Still, he knew that Jake wanted an actual reply this time, or he might stop, if only just to tease. Jake's hand was so close to where Carlos wanted it and he would rather not risk it.
"None," Carlos replied, holding back a moan when a delightful tingle of pleasure travelled down his spine.
Jake hummed in response and pressed a kiss against Carlos's ear.
"Te amo," he whispered softly — so softly Carlos felt his chest squeeze.
He had to take a second to even be able to reply, but the answer itself was obvious.
"Yo también te amo."
In some people's eyes, that was no doubt a sin, but Carlos chose to believe that Jake was right — God would rather have him love than spread hate. Even if he might be in love with another man, at least he knew how to love. That had to count for something.
Another kiss, this one against Carlos's cheek, made him smile. Carlos reached up, his fingers burying in Jake's soft, blond locks, and pulled him down for a proper kiss. Jake responded eagerly, getting distracted enough that his hand stilled. That wasn't quite what Carlos had intended, but he was too caught up in the kiss to complain.
Jake's lips were wonderfully soft, the taste of him familiar yet still thrilling, and Carlos simply couldn't get enough. He doubted that he ever would. Now, when he finally knew what he wanted, he had no intention of denying himself. Perhaps that was reckless of him, but Carlos couldn't care less. This was what he wanted.
Jake was what he wanted.
Never had Carlos felt as alive as when he was with Jake. His entire world might have been turned upside down the moment Jake stepped into it, but Carlos had no regrets. Jake was worth it, as was the peace of mind Carlos had found, knowing that he was making a difference. He was happier than he thought possible, having found a purpose and a place where he belonged. As resistant as he had been at the start — afraid of his own needs and desires — he now knew better. He knew what he wanted and he embraced it with all of his heart.
Carlos surrendered to Jake's irresistible siren song — and he did it gladly, without regret.
Aaaand done! I just wanted an epilogue to wrap it all up and show how happy they end up being. Because there can never be too much fluff.
Thank you again to Shi_Toyu for doing the beta reading and thank you to everyone who's read and commented! You are all awesome <3
If you want to say hi, you can find me onTumblr!