Disclaimer: Disney's. No money. Don't sue.
Pairing: Jack Sparrow/James Norrington
Warnings: Language, graphic nookie.
Archiving: You like it? I give it to you.
Comments: Welcomed in all forms. I'm a spastic answerer: sometimes I'm Rabbit, sometimes I'm Turtle. But I do read every one.
Summary: Time to say goodbye.
Once again, a bajillion thanks to the gang commenting at my journal on the roughdraft. You folks helped me more than you know. And a special thanks to webcrowmancer for all the usual stuff, the title, and the cover art, which stole my breath and hasn't given it back yet.
This concludes the Full Moon story arc. There may yet be future stories set in this universe, but this part of the tale is over.
He'd turned James into a leopard.
The night trickled away, sky already softening from deepest black with stars jabbing through to smudgy charcoal gray hiding all but the brightest of the firmament's lights. There'd been no sleep. There would be none, if he had the final word on the matter. Once the Pearl moved out in the morning, Port Royal would be no more than a vigorous stone's throw away. Barring intercession by storm or sea monster -- the former seemed a possibility, but he suspected they were too near land for the latter to manifest -- the Pearl would sail into that harbor by midday. Will and Elizabeth would row out to greet them, if they'd heeded the commodore's letter. He might be able to stretch that visit into a few hours, but his lack of faith in the self-control of some of the more truculent members of his crew made overnighting in the harbor out of the question. By eventide tomorrow they'd have Port Royal at their backs.
So the leopard. The spotting. A pattern of careful, deliberate bruises sucked into existence over the course of an hour, covering the man's chest and his stomach, his arms and his thighs, his flanks and his back and even, to James's considerable amusement, his backside. Where he'd run out of energy to suck, he'd bitten. Where he'd not dared risk a nip, he'd collected lampblack and smeared a mark with his thumb. As much skin as could be hidden beneath clothing had been transformed, arrogated as the property of one pirate who couldn't hold what he claimed, couldn't keep what he took, and who had, despite code and credo, given far too much back.
His forehead pressed into James's chest as he half-crouched, half-sprawled across, busily stroking, petting, feeling flanks, arms, his touch wandering aimlessly for sake of the wandering. And now James ranged hands across his shoulders, down along his spine and then circling over his back, tucking beneath his hair to massage his neck. Callused fingers tried to unknot some of the headache-inducing tautness there. Jack exhaled unevenly, flinching a bit as James hit a spot of particular discomfort.
The word startled him. There'd been nearly no talking for...how long? Since the spotting started, and all had been steady breathing and wet, sucking kisses and the occasional soft grunt of surprise when teeth closed on skin.
He turned his head a little, arching his neck against that hand. "Stiff."
Both hands moved now, one pressing and circling at the top of his back, the other working rhythmically against the complaints in his neck. "You're tense."
A brief, bitter chuff of laughter. He said nothing. Slid hands up, curving beneath James's arms and over his shoulders, anchoring himself there.
James quieted and rubbed his neck, and more of the night faded away.
"We should sleep," James ventured after a while. "No doubt it will be a...trying day."
"No," he said against leopard skin.
"You're not exhausted?"
He was. So very. "You're young. Daresay you'll bounce back from missin' one night's sleep."
"And what of an old man of forty who gets no rest?"
"This old man of forty appears to be outlasting you."
Hands stilled. "Is that a challenge?"
"Aye," he murmured, smiling faintly, eyes closed. "Take it that way."
His leopard moved swiftly, rolling him very nearly off the edge of the cot, catching the both of them at just the last moment as they teetered precariously, far too close to a nasty spill down over the cannon. James grabbed at a suspension chain. Pulled them both into safer territory, getting no help at all from Jack.
Lightening gray outside made the spots more visible. Jack reached out a finger, tapping them one by one. He should count them up. It was certainly a personal record.
James ignored his tallying and grazed lips over his. Tired from sucking cock and skin all night long, Jack's mouth responded lazily, sluggishly, drunkenly. Hands he let fall limply to the cot, his body going pliant beneath renewed caresses. Grainy eyes gratefully closed.
Lips worked over to his ear. Warm softness, deliciously wet, filled its cavity, the heat of a breath sensitizing skin, and agreeable shivers ran through his veins. A leg nudged between his, gliding along his thigh. He curved a knee up to stroke against James's hip.
The probing tongue left his ear but the lips didn't move away. Amusement layered James's crushed velvet voice. "I am so very, very sleepy."
"Giving up then?"
"I'm no quitter, Captain Jack." But after a moment he groaned and stretched out across the pirate, catching weight on an arm, face going into the pillow by Jack's ear. His words were cloth-muffled and plaintive. "Would you just fall asleep?"
Reluctant pity and unusual guilt nibbled at the edge of Jack's consciousness. He tried very hard to ignore it. "We lack only an hour or so 'til dawn, wouldn't you say? Hardly much point in sleeping now..."
A mumbled, indistinct something into the pillow.
Enunciated somewhat more clearly-- "You hate me."
"Only occasionally," Jack assured him seriously, "and then only a little."
James rolled his head enough to free his words, which put lips once more against Jack's ear. "You just want to make sure it takes me a very long time to recover from you."
Turning his face, Jack kissed him lightly. Grinned at those half-lidded, drowsy eyes, bringing a hand over to stroke hair back from James's face. "Fair's fair, Commodore James."
The barest of smiles. "Let me sleep, Jack."
"But then I'll have won."
"I cede the field."
"You strike your colors? For a pirate?"
Eyelids drooped more, brown-black lashes curved against skin. "It's probably a ruse intended to lure you into an ambush. You'd best proceed with caution. Perhaps even retreat."
A sigh, drawn out, meant to be noted. James had no comment. Already his breathing was leveling, deepening, and his body relaxed into limp heaviness.
Jack sighed again, for his own benefit this time, and gave a little wriggle and a shove. "Get off me, then."
James curled off to his side without opening eyes. Left an arm on him as though forgotten there, slung over his body, fingers curving 'round his hip and digging in a bit, gripping. So the man was a little possessive, then, when sinking into dreamtides. Wanting on some level to keep him and hold him, even while insisting that this end, and soon. The weight of that arm could be taken to mean something, if Jack let it.
He shifted to his side, careful not to dislodge the hand. Tucked his arm beneath the pillow and studied the face inches from his own. Relaxed in sleep, James looked a different man. His lips were parted slightly, not firmly pressed as was so often the case, and that stern tightness couldn't be found anywhere around his eyes. He might be able to laugh at thirty-one after all if he could see himself this way.
Jack had succeeded. He had him. Little doubt that the man trusted him, even loved him some -- at least enough to suit Jack's future needs for an ally on the lawful side of the line. Moreover, he knew James now, inside (oh yes) and out. He knew the beliefs he tried to cling to. He knew the conscience that wouldn't ignore challenges to those beliefs, when they arose. He had a fair idea just where he might count on James and where he'd best not ask. Brilliant work, all in all, mapping out the soul of a commodore.
Yet always his brilliance walked hand in hand with his madness, and clearly this was no exception. As proof of that, he lay here awake and restive while James slept with every appearance of peace, the finality of the coming day seemingly acknowledged and accepted and not worth the bother of a sleepless night.
Jack reached out a finger. Prodded at the man's upper lip, pushing it up, down, from side to side, frowning all the while. James twitched a little and pressed his face into the pillow with a distant mumble.
Hmph. Didn't feel all that stiff.
Charcoal skies eased up to misty gray outside as the Pearl rocked, but this time her sway didn't lull him. This time her every motion only managed to remind him that James had, however briefly, felt her too.
The newest corpses had been hanging there at Gallows Point just long enough to be unrecognizable, not long enough to begin falling away into the waters below. Flesh, withered by sun and picked at by carrion birds, held bones together by shreds in places. Eyeless heads grimaced with undead humor at the black ship that ghosted by, the men watching in silence from her deck. The sign with its ominously empty noose seemed hardly necessary to pummel the message home.
But it spelled the message out anyway, for the literate: Pirates Ye Be Warned.
Norrington stared at the two gruesome bodies as if he'd never seen their like before. As if he hadn't ordered them placed here himself only weeks ago, just prior to heading out with the Dauntless to pursue more of their kind.
He'd not thought about this moment. Hadn't considered what it would feel like, what it would mean, to pass this grisly warning while standing amongst outlaws on deck of the most storied pirate ship existent. Every day this past week, contemplating his homecoming, he'd considered methods to keep Jack and his crew safe until they left Port Royal; he'd considered the political maneuvering he'd need to manage to keep this incident from doing irreparable harm to his reputation; he'd considered (and quickly shied away from) the things he might say to Jack in lieu of 'goodbye'... But nowhere in his consideration had he imagined the solemnity and the smothered rage and the utter revulsion coming at him from all sides right here, right now, while the evidence of who he was once again was ground into each and every one of them.
Jack stood to his left. He'd said nothing since they first caught sight of the corpses. Only doffed his hat, as all the pirates did, paying his respects. Carefully not looking at him.
After a minute or so the captain asked, very quietly, "Who were they?"
Norrington wracked his memory for their names. Pointed. "That one was, I believe, William Patrick." He hesitated. Shook his head and pointed again. "No. That was Patrick." To the first-- "He was Henry Moody."
From the corner of his eye he saw Jack's face tighten. His own stomach turned a lazy somersault.
"You knew them."
Faint nod. "I knew 'em."
There seemed no possible answer to that. Tearing his eyes from the dead pirates, he swept a gaze over the live ones all around. Found it interesting, in an oddly detached way, that he could tell which of these had developed some measure of liking for him, because those men weren't looking at him at all. As though by not looking they might not have to admit that he'd been here and shared their food and drink and conversation, even a few ribald jokes he'd never have chance to tell again.
As for those who hated him -- oh, they looked. They looked with fire, with ice, with deadly warning of their own.
"Get inside," Jack said suddenly.
He turned to find those dark eyes on him, thoughts shielded behind them. "You want me to hide from this?"
Jack's gaze shifted. Marked a few of those malicious faces that didn't turn away. "I want you to get inside, Commodore. Now."
After another survey of those silent, furious men, Norrington went without another word.
The doors to his cabin felt oddly heavy, as though the Pearl herself didn't want him to step through to confront the man inside.
James wasn't sitting. That didn't surprise him. He had his own share of restless energy that cried for burning off, and no more outlet at hand than James had. They were as constrained by place as by what little time remained.
Near the rear of the cabin, standing by a window like a man in a cell, James regarded him with his most commodorial face -- a cold thing, it was, composed of marble and blue-blooded arrogance. Quite an intimidating mask.
But not the worst he was capable of. Jack had seen his hanging face, and nothing short of it stood much chance of impressing him.
"We're coming up on the harbor."
A brief nod, curt. James crossed the room with a measured pace, the picture of military composure, even lacking the accoutrements of his station.
Jack didn't move out of the way. Stopped him, a hand pressing against his chest. James kept his stare on the door and said nothing, but Jack felt the tension in his body, so tightly strung he thought he might play a tune if he plucked his arm.
Finally a reluctant shift of green eyes to his. This close, even the mask couldn't hide the ache and confusion in them.
"We haven't the time for this," Jack said quietly. "Just let it be, eh?"
Tightening around those eyes. "Ignore it?"
"Aye, ignore it."
"How am I supposed to--"
James gazed at him, inscrutable. "That's all you have to say to me?"
His eyes dropped to the hand on James's chest. Beneath his palm thudded the man's heart, its drumming a sound and a sensation that called to mind the feel of that rhythmic pounding beneath his cheek, in his ear as night faded away. "You'll 'ave to square with this one alone, mate."
That heart thumped quite a few times before James lifted a hand, lightly touching at his jaw to nudge his face up. And he was James again, the mask gone, his eyes sad, already so very lonely. "All right," he said simply.
Jack stepped away before those eyes could ruin him, turning abruptly to push through the doors and onto the sun-soaked deck.
The crew, proud and defiant, manned the Pearl with a bit of flair. More than a few had even gone so far as to wash themselves last night and this morning. Hats abounded, big and floppy. He'd rarely seen these tars so crisp and efficient in their every move as they reefed the sails, the Pearl coasting, slowing. At the helm, Gibbs guided her with paternal care.
Jack ascended to the quarterdeck, but didn't take the helm. Collected a spyglass from his quartermaster and surveyed the ships in the harbor, far too many of them thick with watchers, redcoats scattered liberally throughout. There was the Dauntless, a great brute of a warship with enough fire in her belly to make Jack privately agree that she might have held her own against his Pearl and the Royal Fortune. Either one of them could have outmaneuvered her, but if she'd gotten off a few good volleys... No, there was just no telling how that would have ended, except to say the sharks would've fed well.
Two well-armed sloops were anchored near each other farther into the harbor. Nondescript, both of them. Looked to be of local manufacture, though -- speedy little vessels any pirate would covet. Privateers? Likely. Marines dotted their decks, armed, staring at the Pearl with fear and awe.
He swept a searching look over the imposing bulk of Fort Charles next, scanning the ramparts. Those cannons wanted to fire. A few small figures in blue watched from the west tower, one of them peering through a telescope. Jack lowered his glass. Glanced down at the main deck, prepared to tell James to make himself seen, but saw the words unnecessary; James had already taken a place at the starboard bulwark, a hand upraised in greeting and signal. Home.
Jack turned his attention to barking orders to the crew. In short order the Pearl rode at anchor, her ebon elegance holding all eyes from ships and shore. Thrice now she'd sailed into Port Royal: once to destroy, again to retrieve her captain, and now this third time, this final time, taunting the establishment once more before taking her leave. Eighty-one pirates stared down their noses at their hunters in their own lair, feeling like immortals. Those of the crew who stayed in the Caribbean would carry a reputation for fearlessness that precious few could match. Black Bart himself might well recruit from their numbers.
And James wanted Bart now. Fiercely. Which could put some of this very crew on the scaffold at his orders someday. Jack didn't envy James the battles he'd be waging with his conscience after this.
A rowboat had started from the docks. Jack reclaimed the spyglass and strode to stand with James, taking a look. A frown lined his brow. "The children appear rather angry."
"They're very fond of you."
He studied the stern scowl William kept tossing over a rowing shoulder, the threatening squint to Elizabeth's eyes. "Don't look fond."
James's voice dripped irony. "You're risking your life for afternoon tea. How would you expect them to look?"
"Impressed?" he ventured. "Flattered? Moved beyond words?" Elizabeth's jaw had a decidedly rigid clench to it. "Five shillings says she slaps me."
"Elizabeth? She's a woman of breeding, Jack. Culture. Civility."
James peered over the water as if trying to gauge the girl's temper. "Ten shillings?"
"Very well, you're on. But no taunting her."
Jack straightened indignantly. "Do you think me an amateur?"
James snorted, softly, and watched the boat.
The sharp crack of the slap reverberated off the fort and came back to knock against their ears a moment later.
"Don't even try to claim you didn't deserve that, Jack," young Turner suggested from over his fuming wife's shoulder. "It'll only go worse for you."
Rubbing his cheek, squinting painfully, Jack stepped back nearly to Norrington's side, grimacing. "I've said nothing of the sort, now have I, William? Elizabeth, darling...you do not hit like a lady."
For a moment, eyeing the trembling young woman with her flashing eyes, Norrington thought she'd throw herself after Jack to demonstrate more of her unladylike violence. "Jack Sparrow, you have got to be the greatest fool of a pirate I've ever met."
"And I've met Barbossa! Not to mention his entire bloody crew. Not to mention many of your bloody crew." And she swept the nearby pirates with that fierce glare, visibly cowing more than a few of them. Norrington rather suspected even Marty wouldn't brave the girl's temper at this point. "What in God's name are you thinking?"
Jack glanced his way, aggrieved. "It would have killed you to put a little more detail in that letter, would it?"
He rolled his eyes. Frowned faintly at the young woman. "I'm disappointed in your behavior, Elizabeth."
Instantly reminded of his victory, Jack brightened. At least the man had the sense not to mention the bet.
For her part, Elizabeth had the grace to look embarrassed. Slightly. "My apologies, Commodore, it's only that...since receiving your letter, I've been so terribly worried..."
A small part of him wondered how much of that worry might have been meant for him. But no -- it wasn't his place to expect concern from her. He'd not even found it in him to extend friendship to the couple after that painfully public rejection, preferring to lose himself in his duties instead. "Calm yourself. No one's been harmed as of yet." A sidelong look at Jack. "Though I'd be the last to dispute that Captain Sparrow is being a unique sort of fool in this course of action."
Jack scowled. Turner, no doubt torn between his loyalties here, took a step forward, expression that same annoyingly noble visage he'd worn when he'd stood between them, Jack and Norrington, daring the commodore to strike him down. "Commodore Norrington, if you'll permit me to speak in Jack's behalf..."
Norrington blinked at him. Then at Jack, who blinked right back in turn.
"Actually, Will, this time I believe I prefer speaking in me own behalf," Jack said, rather kindly. "And the good commodore has been a guest on the Pearl now for better than a week. Do you not think his opinions are well and truly formed already? Him bein' such a stubborn, muttonheaded bastard an' all, that is?"
"Jack!" Turner said sharply, with a look of panic.
A smile tried to break through. He wrestled it back, remembering the warning and advice Groves had offered. But how would he be acting if they hadn't become...whatever they were? And were the Turners, naive younglings both, observant enough to note the (not so) subtleties? More importantly, were they worldly enough to put the clues together?
Jack was trying quite earnestly to explain that while Norrington wasn't technically a bastard, it was Jack's responsibility as a buccaneer and a scoundrel to levy some manner of insult on a representative of the Navy. An obscure passage in the Code, Jack assured them. He didn't expect any of them to understand.
It was a dance, really, the way Jack moved and spoke and wove his little spell with fingers that seemed to relay their own language and words that slurred and dripped and slipped by angry defenses to merrily confuse the brains behind. Standing back, feeling oddly objective, he could see himself from a great many yesterdays ago, frustrated by the uncatchable flightiness of the man's mind. A lightweight, he'd thought him: fast and shallow and altogether pointless.
Watching now, Norrington felt the most peculiar sense of possessive pride. The Turners, bright youths both, were helpless against the full force of Jack's shrewd charm. He had them enthralled in minutes for all that they tried to maintain their reserve, their jaws jutting in twin settings of stubbornness. Jack was informing them that, in point of fact, he might as well be viewed as a hero this once, and there was no call at all for hitting heroes after the heroing was done, and weren't they even the tiniest bit glad to see him?
At that, the captain ambled over to him and draped an arm over his near shoulder, still fixing the children -- the Turners -- with a look of such sincerity that Norrington really marveled at their resistance. "I even made nice with the commodore. Is that not so, Jimmy? Have we not become the best of mates?"
Deliberately nettlesome. He'd have to thank Jack for that later. "I'd advise you to not call me 'Jimmy' while you're still in range of the fort's guns, Captain."
"Now now, Jimmy, keep talkin' like that, they'll b'lieve the very worst things about my hospitality."
Turner -- William -- winced in apparent sympathy with Norrington's plight. How much more flinching would there be if the lad had any idea of the innumerable markings covering his body right now and how exactly they got there?
He forced a humorless little smile. "Perhaps, Captain, as this whole escapade is in the cause of permitting yourself a social visit with the Turners, you should adjourn with them and get on with it."
"Excellent idea, sir. Wish I'd thought of it myself. Everyone!" A glide away from Norrington, arms spreading theatrically to pull the attention of the crew (as if it could have been any other place). "Remember what we talked about. You are all to behave with the dignity and respect one would expect of the finest buccaneer crew in the Spanish Main."
"Oh dear God," Norrington muttered, sighing.
"Anyone who leaves the ship will 'ave to fend for himself, savvy?"
A chorus of "ayes." Norrington was somewhat reassured to see a very grim-looking Gibbs surveying the crew with severe eyes from the quarterdeck. If anyone could keep them in hand...
Jack spun in a staggering twirl. Wiggled fingers at the Turners in invitation. "Teatime."
William frowned. "We're actually having tea?"
"Of course we are. What kind of host do you take me for?"
"Will!" Elizabeth slapped the back of a hand against his chest. Norrington's eyebrows rose, and for a moment he had to work very hard to suppress laughter. Was that what he would have been in for, had she kept her troth with him? A beautiful, intelligent woman, to be sure, but he began to suspect she was about as tamable as a cat.
His eyes flicked over Jack, who'd never be civilized. Suddenly he wondered if the girl's half-hidden wildness hadn't been a large part of the allure she'd held for him in the first place. He'd certainly been drawn in deeply enough by those same qualities in Jack, where they resided in great measure, tempered by that surprising, unpredictable thread of canniness that bordered on wisdom.
As though sensing eyes or thoughts, Jack glanced at him sidelong. It came to him in a rush that he might be able to count how many of those sly looks remained for him; their number might be tallied on two hands, or even one. And then, God willing, Jack would leave in one piece, never to return, and that fact was undeniably real now. Undeniably, urgently real.
It's over. The thought echoed hollowly in his mind. No more stays. No more delays. In a few hours, he'll be a memory.
The feelings that invoked -- cold and sharp, like ice that shattered and cut him inside -- very nearly overwhelmed him then and there. He had to tear his eyes away from Jack's and was dimly surprised to find the hand he raised to rub over his face was shaking with a tiny, constant tremor. His hands betrayed him now? Angry, almost scared, he fisted them at his sides. Looked towards the fort, towards his command, and tried to focus on all the work awaiting him, the duties that he'd often found tiresome but always considered an honor to perform.
The unrelieved gray of those sturdy walls had once seemed to represent objectivity and strength. Never before had it felt so much like a prison. But never before had he so fiercely wanted something that could never, ever belong there, except in the most tragic sense.
Jack had gone over to the Turners, looping an arm casually around each pair of shoulders and saying something about taking the tea in his cabin where they might catch up without a bunch of scallywags butting in. Norrington thought to stay out here -- in sight of the fort, away from the risk of revealing too much if Elizabeth or William proved to be more perceptive than he hoped.
But Jack paused in his guidance of the couple, gazing his way. "Come now, Commodore. You'd not be so discourteous as to deprive us of your company, would you?"
And he could find no objection in him for all that he knew he should.
Jack was the one to relay the story this time, and in his hands it took on a great deal more drama and peril than James's rather too accurate retelling had. He, for instance, was decidedly selfless and heroic -- which seemed to mollify William, at least, who'd no doubt been suffering some pangs of doubt over whether rescuing from the noose a pirate who'd later turned around and abducted a commodore might not have been a bit...rash. Even Elizabeth's more skeptical ears seemed primed to receive the story of a markedly nobler Jack Sparrow, complete with honorable motivations and unremitting bravery. If James got to paint the tale in a way that showed him in a favorable, Navy-approved light, then Jack claimed the same privilege. In spades.
Though he really was surprised that James didn't jump in to correct anything when he got to the part about the ship-to-ship swordfight with Bart during which Jack had single-handedly negotiated a temporary peace between pirates and the Royal Navy throughout the Caribbean.
"You had him hanging from the crow's nest?" Elizabeth asked, sounding as if she teetered on the edge of belief. "Black Bart. The Black Bart."
A solemn nod. "By his ankle, love."
"By his ankle."
"His left one."
She looked over at James, silent and pensive in his chair. "You saw this?"
"The commodore was under lock and key on the Pearl at the time," Jack cut in smoothly. "Can't negotiate a pirate's truce with a military man at the table. Or in the crow's nest, as it were."
William paled, sending a wary, apologetic glance at the man in question. "So he did kidnap you."
"Detained me," James said calmly before Jack could once again intervene. "Though ultimately I remained on the Pearl of my own will." The gaze he turned on Jack was steady, difficult to interpret, and painfully direct. "Tell them the rest, Captain. It is the whole reason you're risking the fort's defenses, after all."
He frowned faintly. Didn't speak right away.
"The rest?" Will asked, dubiously.
"Captain Sparrow isn't merely paying you a social call, Mister Turner."
Jack's eyes narrowed irritably. "I was getting to that."
"Getting to what, Jack?"
A silent sigh filled him, left him. He knew James would want him to -- knew he should in fairness do so -- but he didn't look away from that troubling green gaze as he said, flatly, "Goodbye."
It was really rather touching to note how quiet the two youngsters fell, following that.
The first sound was the scraping of chair legs across the floor as James pushed away from the table and stood. "I believe I should give you three some privacy for this," he said, his voice a hair too rough, eyes now evasive. "Excuse me."
Jack wanted to stop him -- to say there wasn't time for bloody privacy, and that he wanted Commodore James nearby for every last minute he could have him.
Instead he studied the thus-far-ignored tea kettle and listened to the footsteps, the schwooping door, and then the silence.
The children started in with their questions, and for the moment Jack had to put James in a corner of his thoughts.
He walked. Just to keep moving, keep his mind occupied with the business of lifting a foot, extending it forward, rolling it down from heel to ball to toe. With a little concentration, walking could indeed absorb the attention. Step by step, striding the length of the main deck on the starboard side, then returning down the larboard, step by step by step. Preparing without a thought to do it again.
A glance up to meet pale blue eyes that watched him from the quarterdeck. "Mister Gibbs?"
"Come an' stand wi'me a bit, sir."
He was unaccountably glad of the invitation. So far he'd not yet found a way to thank Gibbs for the kindness he'd demonstrated in those first, rather intimidating days aboard the Black Pearl. And his presence, he knew, had been an uncomfortable reminder for the old sailor of the path he'd left behind and could never now return to. It seemed an unjust repayment, and he felt a need to make amends somehow.
The crew was quiet for the present moment as he ascended to the quarterdeck, though he couldn't guess whether it was due to his presence or some modicum of heretofore hidden self-control. He felt fewer daggers of hatred sent his way than he'd expected after the tension of passing Gallows Point. Maybe they remembered that for the time being he was their safety. Or maybe pirates just couldn't stay worked up over a few dead fellows for any length of time. The lifestyle hardly afforded a long life even without the intercession of any given military authority.
Though Jack had so far stretched his piratical career out far longer than the average. Perhaps he could continue to be the exception to the grim rule that determined these men's lifespans.
God willing, he thought again, and realized he'd be invoking that wish a lot.
Gibbs's eyes were on the Dauntless when he reached his side. Gazing at his proud beauty of a ship, Norrington felt another tickle of pride of possession, one disconcertingly similar to what he'd noticed earlier, for Jack. He didn't even want to think about the implications of that.
"Do you remember how she sailed?" he asked Gibbs.
"Aye. Heavy an' slow next to the Pearl, but she was a right fine lady, proud as a queen. An' I recall she had heart an' power t' spare."
"Has," Norrington corrected quietly. "Has heart."
A wry little grin split the lined face. "Her heart's gone 'gainst me, sir. You'll understand if I can't be holdin' much love fer the lady nowadays." Suddenly he straightened without warning, bellowing down the length of the ship, "Off the cannon, you halfwits! And cover your scaly backsides, now!"
Norrington winced. Made a special effort not to turn and look.
After a few seconds Gibbs continued as though the interruption hadn't occurred. "Commodore, I wonder if I might say somethin' without you takin' offense."
His eyebrows arched. "I'm unaccustomed to anyone from this crew feeling the need to worry about whether or not I'll be offended by anything that gets said."
"Most don't know no better."
Norrington settled back against the rail that guarded the raised quarterdeck from the main deck. Crossed his arms. "Go on."
Gibbs sized him up, uncertainty evident. "Can't say as I ever had reason to much know ye, back when I crewed the Dauntless. Little while back Jack asked me what I thought o' you from those days. What kinda man ye be."
Well now. "How far back is a 'little while'?"
The man didn't even pretend to not understand exactly what he was getting at. "Before the island." That grin again, uncomfortably knowing. "After that, seems Jack didn't have much use fer advice with regard t'yerself."
He couldn't quite manage to casually hold that candid gaze, so instead he looked back towards the Dauntless, pretending preoccupation. "I suppose the next question would have to be what you told him."
"Aye, well..." A few breaths. He waited. "Told 'im I reckoned ye be a fair man, by your way o' thinkin'. But not a good man, I told 'im."
Considering he was speaking to a pirate, and a man from the lower class at that, it really shouldn't have stung in the slightest to hear that. So it startled him to feel a shard of self-doubt stab through him. That in itself was disturbing. Just when had he allowed this common-sailor-turned-common-pirate to take up a position of relative worth in his estimation?
But no, that wasn't quite right. One could never consider the quartermaster of the Black Pearl a 'common' anything.
"I see," he said, flatly.
From the corner of his eye he saw Gibbs shake his head. "Hear me out now, Commodore. Only reason I'm a'sayin' this is so I can tell ye my thinkin's changed."
Irritatingly, he felt that doubt-shard ease off its pressure at that. Apparently he had no say in whose opinion would matter to him now. Lovely. "Has it?"
"Aye. Reckon I decided you're a right enough lad then, James."
Gibbs tried to play it off, but Norrington recognized how much daring it took for the man to use his first name. Not to mention calling him 'lad,' for all that Gibbs, with his years, had more excuse than most. In their prior acquaintance Norrington hadn't been 'James' or 'lad'; he'd been 'Lieutenant' and 'sir' and far too imposing for such informality despite his relatively tender age. He wasn't sure what to make of the fact that he was oddly warmed by Gibbs's awkward effort here.
Before he could respond, Gibbs cleared his throat and continued in a level voice strung with tension, "An' if ever I've cause to say otherwise, I want ye rememberin' I meant it now."
The Dauntless no longer seemed such a welcome place to rest his eyes. He looked instead to the aging gob, still sturdy against the years. Reflected distantly that Gibbs might be near his father's age, actually, though he was both stronger and harder used by life. "You'll be leaving with Jack?"
"Aye, I will."
"Good." He smiled very faintly. "It would...pain me considerably...to ever give you cause to say otherwise."
That earned him a real grin. "A right enough lad, all right. An' I wantcha knowin' that when we leave here I'm gonna be keepin' a sharp eye on our Jack. He plays the fool, but most times he ain't one. Reckon I can keep his head above water those occasions when he is."
His throat tightened. He had to clear it to speak evenly. "I would count it a personal favor if you would."
"Aye aye, Commodore," Gibbs said.
He loved them and was fond of them and figured there was very little he'd not do for them, were they to ask. But he was finding that all of that didn't mean he especially liked them.
No, that wasn't fair either. He liked them. Truly. Didn't entirely get them, and found William's continuing distaste for pirates (present company excepted, the lad was careful to clarify) rather tiresome, but overall he figured that once they'd been a little more seasoned by experience they'd make damn fine company in most any circumstance. Elizabeth, he had reason to know, could even hold her liquor better than most men of his acquaintance. Surprising for a slip of supposedly genteel womanhood like her.
Right then, however, he was finding a growing thread of resentment winding through his thoughts with every minute the children kept him there, seated at the table, talking endlessly. Moments kept slipping by impossibly faster, the very seconds seeming to shorten in ways that violated every principle of time he'd ever heard of. He could all but feel the sun crawling across the sky and stretching midday into afternoon.
Making it worse, he'd swear the both of them were forcing themselves to come up with conversation out of some sense of obligation. What he shared in common with them could be measured in the sum total of their collective adventure, and while it certainly had forged an enduring bond, it didn't give them much to jaw over once they'd gotten the requisite reminiscing out of the way. They asked a bit about his plans upon leaving; he told them little, figuring they couldn't spill what they didn't know, and they seemed to accept that.
Really, beyond belated congratulations for their nuptials and the intended affectionate farewell, he had not much else to say to them. How long did he owe to this meeting to make it look good? He studied the steep slant of sunlight coming in through the windows. Judged barely more than a scant two hours left before the Pearl would need to be underway in order to put safe distance between herself and the privateers before nightfall.
Oh yes, he loved them. He even liked them. And at the moment, he wanted nothing more than to be away from these younglings and with someone else entirely.
Norrington had to smile a little when he saw where Matelot had led him. He waited until the crewman left, however, before arching an eyebrow and saying drolly, "The powder magazine, Jack? Am I to read a message in this?"
Jack sat against an empty wooden barrel turned on its side against the bulkhead. A lantern hanging by the door well away from the room's dangerous contents offered the only illumination, and in its light Jack looked copper-skinned, impossibly dark of eye. He wasn't smiling. "Figured you might take it as reassurance that the men aren't preparing to fire on all you hold dear."
His smile faded. "I trust you more than that."
No answer. Jack's gaze was unusually furtive, skittering away from his to wander with seeming idleness over the store of filled barrels deeper in the hold.
"James." Out of habit.
He wanted suddenly, very badly, to go to him. "You didn't spend much time with the Turners."
A noncommittal grunt.
"How did they take it?"
Half a smile, so blatantly counterfeit that Norrington wondered why he bothered. "I'll 'be missed.'"
He waited. Nothing followed. "And?"
"More of a 'but,' really," Jack said, too casually. "I'll be missed, but won't we all be terribly relieved to no longer have to worry that we'll finally see ol' Jack rotting off the line at Gallows Point?"
Norrington hesitated, fighting back a queasy feeling. Spoke the ugly truth. "You're infamous, Jack. You'd go to Deadman's Cay. And you'd be...your body would be hung in a cage."
That drew Jack's eyes to him, and the sudden, macabre interest made his skin crawl. "To hold me together longer, aye? Make me a lasting lesson to all them 'at might be pirates?"
A silent nod. He didn't let himself look away.
"Izzat where I was bound before?"
Another nod, wordless.
"Huh." Lips pursed in thought. "That's interesting."
Norrington cleared his throat. "Not quite the word I'd use."
"What word might that be then?"
Jack snorted. "If I were scared of a little hanging I'd not be much of a pirate."
Slowly, Norrington shook his head. "I meant for me."
Teeth flashed, gold sparking in lantern light. "We certainly have changed your tune."
"Don't blame the Turners for wanting you safe." His face felt stiff, wooden with the effort of composure. "And don't blame me either."
"An' you're tellin' yourself I'll be 'safe' once I'm outta sight, eh? You know better'n that. Your Navy's infected near every corner of the globe. Then there's the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the--" He broke off with a headshake. "So long as some men think to own and rule everything, them 'at won't be owned nor ruled can't hope to find safe berth for long. 's just the way it is, mate." A hand swept the air, palm up. "The Black Pearl may be the last big prize left for you lot before long. Pretty soon there won't be an ocean empty enough to sail 'er in without contest."
"So give her up," Norrington heard himself say, the words suddenly heated, angry. "Buy new clothes. Get a bloody haircut. You don't have to be Captain Jack Sparrow."
Jack reached behind him to press a hand against the bulkhead. "Can't do that, mate."
"It's just a ship, Jack."
The pirate's face went hard, rebuking. "You know better."
He closed eyes and took a calming breath. Leaned back against the door, his thoughts returning unbidden to the night before last, with his body flushed and heated and already aching, his mind strangely peaceful, so overwhelmingly aware of his surroundings. Beneath bare feet, under a questing palm, the Black Pearl had radiated warmth. And he'd believed...for just a little while, he'd sworn he felt a steady, constant thrumming through the ship, as if somewhere in her hold there beat a living heart.
Daylight had brought a return of rationality, and he'd shelved that fancy as he had so many others in his time. But Jack believed in this ship in a way he'd just managed to glimpse that night. Without a word being said to confirm it, he knew Jack would sail the Pearl for as long as she floated and he drew breath. Or until another mutiny took her away from him.
And she was indeed a coveted target for every military that had shipping interests in the Spanish Main. Soon enough, if Jack pursued piracy beyond these waters, it would be difficult to find a naval authority in the world that didn't seek a piece of the ghost ship.
The realization made him feel...powerless. Adrift on fickle currents. Which he suspected was Jack's point all along.
"She'll be the death of you," he said hollowly. Opened his eyes and gazed through the amber gloom. "You know that."
A fluid shrug. "That remains to be seen." Headtilt. "Have you forgotten the dangers you stand to face, Commodore James?"
"They hardly compare."
"You cost Bart Roberts the most valuable alliance he might ever 'ave forged," Jack told him pointedly, standing with an abrupt motion and swaying forward, step by step. "Those were my options. Or did I neglect to inform you of that? I could join with him and see you indeed subjected to those..." A smirk. "...most flagitious mercies, sealing our accord, his and mine, to stand together against the Royal Navy. Or, upon proving I lacked the stomach to watch what he had in mind for you..." Arms spread, hands open. "The other choice. Care to guess which he preferred?"
It occurred to Norrington that, when this whole thing began, he really wouldn't have credited Jack with the conscience required for choosing the latter option. Certainly not for his sake. "Are you saying you're leaving because of me?"
"Ironic, is it not?" Jack came to an unsteady halt a stride away from him. "I agree to take my leave on your account, and then you go and give me reason to stay."
Fear hit him, tasting of metal and acid. "You have to leave."
"You have to leave. I can't..." He reached for him all at once, hands gripping wiry arms tightly, aware he was looming over the smaller man and not caring. "Don't you understand? I was prepared to sign the order myself. Deadman's Cay, Jack."
Jack didn't fight his hold in the least. "How many places like Deadman's Cay d'you imagine there are in the world?"
"But by my hand."
"Perhaps I'd prefer your hand to another's."
Desperation made his voice harsh...made him shake the man in his grasp roughly. "Jack, you cannot do this. You can't put me in the position to...to be the one to..."
Jack's hands clutched his arms, steadying them both. He blinked mildly, calmly, as if conversations of this sort happened every day. His voice quieted. "I'm leaving, James. I gave the man my word, remember?"
Norrington clenched teeth. Unclenched them. "Then you did this to torment me?"
A smile hinted. "Not entirely."
He released Jack, but Jack didn't release him. Fingers held his forearms with a light touch that he knew could turn to steel in an instant.
"You're wrong, you realize," Jack said with assurance.
"So you often inform me," he countered testily, not ready to let go his ill temper. "What is it this time?"
"Thinking it'd be easier to get the news from afar. Trust me: it's not easier. You wonder too much. It rips you up, wondering. An' you start to tell yourself you coulda done something, changed something, if you'd only been there." The smile was strained, small. "It's easier to know, mate."
Every beat of his heart felt like a blow, from inside, thudding painfully against his breastbone, rattling the bars of its cage. It all sounded so...inevitable. Was that how Jack could live the way he did, so carefree and vigorously? By accepting upfront his life's ephemeral nature, the inescapability of his untimely death, and dismissing its importance?
He might not even get word when it happened. A man at sea could perish in a thousand ways without news ever spreading to the civilized world. For a few heartbeats he allowed himself to imagine the years stretching ahead, his scrutiny of every dispatch for some suggestion of Jack or the Black Pearl, the pressing weight of not knowing, never knowing, of trying to imagine the best and seeing only the more likely truth.
And then the specter of imminent separation was too much for him, and he grabbed Jack's arms bruisingly and slammed him up against the coarse-grained wall by the door, crushing against him, seizing his mouth as if the claiming could in some impossible way make the danger a shared thing between them. The kiss was furious, deep, invading. The suddenness and force of it seemed to catch Jack by surprise; for a moment he was stiff, unmoving, his arms tense in Norrington's grip, mouth receiving but not giving.
Until, quite abruptly, he became liquid heat, molding to him and kissing him back without technique, without titillation, with nothing but wild aggression and need. He twisted arms free, both hands going to tangle in Norrington's hair as though to somehow pull him closer still.
Norrington -- burned. Every inch of him, inside and out, right down to the intangible soul. His hands worked frantically to free Jack's belt, unwind the sash, clear a path to his breeches and then rip them open. The pirate's breath hitched, froze, then shuddered out unevenly when Norrington grasped his quickly rising erection and pulled hard along its length.
"An' here I thought you'd need convincing," Jack muttered.
Only then did it occur to him. His words came short and terse. "Are we likely to be disturbed?"
A swift headshake. "Gibbs an' Cotton an' Marty are 'catching up' with the children. They'll keep 'em distracted."
Teeth glinted. "Apparently he feels he owes you something."
"Good," Norrington said briefly. Then dropped to his knees and took Jack in his mouth without fanfare.
"Bloody--" Jack slumped back against the wall, quaking a bit. Norrington sucked his cock in deeper, all the way to the back of his throat, opening eyes to look up and meet the shadow-rimmed pair that stared at him with startlement.
Holding Jack's gaze, he trailed back along that veined shaft, tongue skirting, lips tight, cheeks caved. Down again and back, bobbing, fingers now gripping lean hips to guide Jack in, out, in. The hands in his hair fisted tight.
It was fast, rough, demanding. Jack finally gripped his head and took control, fucking his mouth, barely managing to swear around shortened breaths, what words he got out sounding more imploring than insistent. Norrington looked up again somewhere during it and was treated to a glimpse of glimmering, bared teeth and desperate eyes in an expression he never, ever wanted to forget. Not even for a moment. He wanted to see it in the back of his mind always, from here to his grave.
Jack jerked against him. The organ in his mouth pulsated. Norrington wrenched back despite Jack's suddenly painful hold on him, replacing mouth with hand for those last convulsive thrusts, catching the spurting release in his palm. The instant comprehension and desire on Jack's face sent a new wave of heat crashing through his bloodstream.
His throat hurt, and not only from the assault just now. "One more time," he said hoarsely to the shaking man above him. "One more time."
Jack's eyes gleamed dangerously bright. Without speaking, he shifted unsteadily to lift a leg, tug off a boot. The other. Norrington tore his own breeches open with a trembling hand and immediately slicked Jack's pearly fluid over his rigid, rosy erection.
In a few breaths Jack wore only his shirt while Norrington remained all but fully clothed. As last times went, he supposed this was rather unromantic -- this messy, almost savage rutting under a dim lantern in a room that stank of acrid powder and salty sweat and musky arousal, Jack's shirt getting further stained and his skin abraded by the dirty floor beneath his abruptly laid-out body. But he didn't care. He didn't need a perfect memory. His mind was full of discoveries made under moon and stars over the course of this journey, and all of them were so much truer, so much less complete and more important than 'perfect' could ever be.
His fingers were plunging into Jack urgently as the pirate hissed encouragement, legs drawn up, watching his face with those unfathomable eyes. Only they weren't so unfathomable now, were they? They were wanting, and hungry, and despairing. They told him he wasn't a distant, poor second to anyone -- not here and now, not to this man. Unless he counted the bloody ship, which he'd already decided a sane man didn't compete with.
"I'm all right," Jack growled after only a moment's preparation, "come on, come on..."
He didn't question. Moved up, helping Jack position legs over his shoulders and then guiding himself into him, biting his lip to concentrate on entering carefully.
Jack was having none of it. The pirate collected himself, braced on elbows and shoved down onto him, the incredible tightness and Jack's involuntary outcry searing all thoughts of restraint from his mind.
With a groan from his very core, Norrington drew back. Surged into him, gripping his thighs, knees scrabbling for purchase on the gritty floor. The string of beads and medallion hanging from Jack's bandana rolled and jerked with their motions, the dull metal flashing irregularly, entrancingly.
Hands reached for his face. Pulled him down. Eyes open, not wanting to miss a thing, he let Jack draw him to within an inch of his lips and then...hold him there. Not kissing. Not licking, not biting. Just keeping him in place, green eyes locked with deepest brown as sweat rolled down their faces and breath shuddered through their lips and his pelvis pounded into Jack's with a thrust, a grind, a thrust...
He broke first, needing that mouth under his. Dipped the short distance and licked Jack's open, flushed lips, feeling the tickle of hair, then the rippling wet heat of Jack's tongue stroking his, enticing him in for a deeper taste. His hands flattened on the floor by Jack's heaving ribcage. He felt legs cross behind his neck securely, and gave himself over to storming the eager mouth and penetrating the quivering, contorting body beneath him.
Jack's respiration came in strangled moans and gasping, ragged curses whenever the kiss permitted breath. Each sound spurred Norrington on, made him need to shaft him harder, faster, deeper...to wring every last utterance from him, every - single - one.
"Oh Christ," Jack rasped harshly, almost stammering, fingers digging claw-like at his trembling arms. "Please, James...please..."
The frenzied pace, the muscular vise of Jack's ass clutching his spearing length, the maddening, disjointed words whispering against his eardrums flung him relentlessly towards completion. He brought his right hand up. Rubbed it quickly against his thigh to rid it of the worst of the abrasive dirt, then closed it around Jack's tool, squeezing and pumping. The beginnings of a blurted cry escaped the pirate's throat before he smothered the sound, swallowing it into his own mouth.
Jack came an instant before he did, his face twisting in a rictus that looked like excruciation, voice catching on a keen that sounded like mourning. The sight of him, the spasming of his body around Norrington's cock, yanked the commodore along as well. Pulsing deeply, he heard his own tremulous cry as if from far away.
Even spent, his body kept rocking against Jack's, shuddering, moving the both of them in a swagging, faltering rhythm as he came down from that height. He blinked stingy sweat from his eyes. Looked into Jack's, brighter than the lantern light alone could account for.
He sagged forward, panting, forehead falling to press into a drenched shirt over a racing heart. Eyes burned. From the sweat, of course. He closed them tightly and dragged in air through a throat that felt too constricted to allow it.
Hands stroked his hair, his neck, his still-clothed shoulders as legs slipped down, knees brushing his flanks. He didn't pull back yet. Wasn't ready to leave Jack's body for the very last time. For his part, Jack seemed in no hurry to be rid of him.
Distantly he heard the normal sounds of movement throughout the ship. It occurred to him to wonder how loud they'd been, who might have heard, but he couldn't think about it for long. It just didn't seem to matter. At the moment he thought he might shrug off even Elizabeth's embarrassing suspicions as unimportant next to the sense of loss that welled ever more torrentially from some newly tapped spring inside.
A long sigh filled and left the chest he leaned into. "What do we do, what do we do," Jack murmured, so softly he could barely make out the words. "What oh what do we do with you, Commodore James?"
He didn't open his eyes. "I believe we just did it, Captain Jack."
The caressing, the petting, continued. Jack made no acknowledgment of his words, mumbling now in the rhythm of a rhyme. "I one time had a Navy lad, but him I could not keep..."
"Does this end with the lad lost to the deep?"
A pause. Hands kneaded his back. "Not this time, I think. He's a bright enough boy to look after himself." Fingers dug gently against the ridge of muscle running from neck to shoulders. "I'll just have to trust 'im, is all."
The hot stinging in his eyes returned, stronger, even closed as they were. He cleared his throat, but his voice still sounded husky. "Point taken."
"Did I say I had a point?" Warm and teasing. God, how he'd miss that amused rumble, taking him down a peg and shoring him up at once...
Jack patted his back. "Off. We need t'get cleaned up a bit." As Norrington drew back, regretfully pulling out, Jack lifted, wincing a little, to glance down his sweat-soaked, cum-spattered torso with a grimace. "'specially me."
Sitting on his knees, fastening breeches, Norrington found a bit of a grin. "Personally, I think it's a good look for you."
Jack straightened and began awkwardly brushing dirt from his back. "Aye, well, oddly enough, it's not the most conducive to respect."
Norrington stood. Offered a hand, pulling him to his feet. "Give me your shirt."
Jack stripped it off and did so, donning breeches while Norrington shook out the shirt, slapping the dirt from it rather ineffectually. "The vest will cover most of it, I think..."
"Aye, it's fine." He reclaimed the shirt, and it was with no small regret that Norrington watched it fall over familiar skin, scars and tattoos and all, realizing that this was yet another last in his rapidly accumulating store of them.
The long blue vest was pulled on, hitting mid-thigh. A ring-adorned hand waved toward the discarded sash. "Gimme that, would you?"
He collected it. Instead of handing it over, though, he stepped in to wind it about the slim waist himself, smiling faintly. A first amidst all the lasts. Jack cocked an eyebrow but made no objection, only correcting his hands when they went wrong, wordlessly guiding him through wrapping and tucking the long strip around him, then motioning for the leather belt, hands going to Norrington's shoulders as he fastened that as well, running it through the buckle, looping it again for security.
After a quick scrutiny of the finished product Jack gave a little nod. "Nicely done."
Norrington's lips curved in sensual memory. "I've watched you dress often enough." He stepped back and busied himself with retying his hair as Jack pulled on boots and ran fingers through his own disheveled mane. A minute later, except for assorted smudges of dirt that hardly stood out amongst those that'd been there before, they both presented reasonably neatly. For men who'd been on a pirate ship a while, at any rate.
"I almost feel bad," Norrington commented, watching Jack work loose a snarl. "Keeping you from the Turners so long."
"After you went to all this trouble just to see them, I mean."
That scarred eyebrow quirked. Jack's mouth twisted sardonically. "I take back what I said about you bein' such a bright boy, James."
His brow furrowed. He opened his mouth to protest. Paused, studying the glint in amber-lit eyes, thinking through words and actions and a night of skin-spotting and a rather intense fuck just now.
"Oh," he said, crimsoning a little, a smile -- that damn smile -- breaking through without his leave. He rubbed at the back of his neck and looked away, unaccountably abashed.
Jack padded to stand before him, fingers touching his cheek, drawing his eyes. "Remember the woman I told you you'll meet?"
"Jimmy Junior's mother?"
"When you find her...show her that smile." Full lips tugged to one side, wistfully. "She'll be all yours, mate."
"It's ridiculous," he said for the thousandth time, his voice quiet, coarser than usual.
No reply to that. Jack just kept tracing alongside his face, following lines and curves, gazing at him with absorption that he sensed he might find uncomfortable under other circumstances. But now...
His smile was gone. He lifted a hand. Caught a beard braid and rolled it between thumb and two fingers. Pretty gallows bird.
He weighed it in his mind: never knowing versus seeing his body rotting to bones in a cage. Put like that, there really seemed no choice between the two. At least with the former he could try to pretend.
So he took a painful breath and told him, "Don't come back."
Dark eyes stayed steady on his. Jack didn't answer.
Fingers hooked behind his neck, pulling him down. Jack kissed him gently, almost chastely, a soft caress of lips against his, then turned away and opened the door.
It surprised him a little, how many of the crew had arrayed themselves between James and the boat, making certain he'd speak to them before the little thing was launched with commodore and kids to convey the three of them to the waiting Encounter as arranged.
He'd known that some of the men found the novelty of the officer's presence on the Pearl irresistible, and he'd known that a few of the bolder, more open-minded gobs had gone so far as to acquire some honest fondness for the man. But better than a quarter of his crew -- nearly twenty-five rough-hewn scallywags -- had gathered to offer a word or a handshake or a slap on the back now that they'd moved out of the harbor, away from the prying eyes (and threatening guns) of the fort, with only the complement of the Encounter near enough to observe.
Will had his own goodbyes to make. Those who'd been among the crew the boy had sailed with remembered him warmly as a bit of a lubber, but strong and willing and endearingly dedicated to his girl. And Elizabeth -- "Grown into 'bout the scariest little lady I know, save Anamaria," according to Gibbs -- couldn't escape a few overly friendly farewells of her own. Thankfully Gibbs stuck very near her, warning off any groping with his grimmest quartermaster face, seeing both Elizabeth and Will into the boat before watching it be lowered into the water to await its final passenger.
Jack hung back a bit, listening to this exchange and that as James made his way to the bulwark to climb down, his expression occasionally revealing an interesting mix of discomfiture and gratitude for the sendoff. Many of these men very likely intended to imprint their faces on his mind in a friendly context, just in case, and no doubt James realized that. He still shook what hands were offered and traded parting words with the ingrained politeness he'd had sense enough to behave with since boarding. It tickled the pirates, being spoken to like gentlemen. Boosted their spirits. Good for morale, certainly, to have not only triumphed in a standoff with a man-of-war like the Dauntless, not only sailed safely into and out of the defensive range of Fort Charles in broad daylight, but to also find themselves treated with courtesy by a man they all had reason to fear and respect. These tars would be drinking on this story for many months to come.
When James halted before Marty his expression became guarded, cautious. "Mister Marty."
Grudgingly, Marty grunted. Jack's eyebrows went up. High praise indeed.
James seemed to realize that, and gave a formal nod. "And to you." Then wisely moved on before their new accord could be broken.
When Bobby's turn came, the cheeky young fiddler grinned broadly, hand out for a shake. Jack detected a little more warmth in James's smile for the lad. His playing had marked something of a highlight of the stay.
"I'm making a song about this, y'know," the boy said. "The fearsome commodore on the Black Pearl? It's a tale that's begging to be told."
A quizzical frown, no little bit worried, lined James's brow. He cast a look over his shoulder at Jack, and the captain had to battle a smile at the thought of that song reaching Port Royal's docks. James returned his eyes to the fiddler. "Are you sure you won't reconsider and travel with the Pearl after all?"
Bobby's grin widened. "It's been good to know you, sir," he said only, stepping away.
And then Gibbs, waiting at the end of the line. The quartermaster, more aware of their need to get gone than most, wasted no time with a long goodbye -- merely thrust out a hand and gripped James's strongly. "Take care o' yerself."
"Take care of this ship," James returned, an oddly intent note in his voice.
"I will." Gibbs looked to Jack, eyes questioning, and Jack nodded for him to prepare to get underway. In a moment he'd stepped off and shouted the crew to order, breaking up the line, calling some men down from the rigging and sending others up, putting all in place for a swift departure.
In the midst of the bustle Jack moved to stand before James. Not too close -- Will and Elizabeth were down there, looking up, and though the Encounter was kept at a safe distance there were still invasive eyes peering through spyglasses at this very moment. Too late for the personal. He regarded the man silently, wondering what that left.
Face stiffly composed, James extended his hand in full view of the watchers on the other ship. Memory clicked. Jack made a show of warily considering the gesture before delicately placing his hand in that firm clasp, chin high, a tiny smirk on his face mocking them both.
"Captain," James said, with gruff brusqueness.
Jack squeezed his hand. Hard. "Commodore."
Too quickly, James was pulling away, swinging a leg across the gunwale, climbing spryly down to the boat.
Jack leaned over the bulwark as Will took up the oars. "No forgettin' ol' Jack now."
James didn't look up. Will bared teeth and shouted, "I've tried! It's well nigh impossible!"
Black sails unfurled to the tune of Gibbs's battlefield bellow. Jack strode along the bulwark, keeping as near the boat as possible as Will's rowing pulled it away and the Pearl began to turn. "I fully expect a Turner lad to bear my name," he said sternly. "Savvy?"
"Bear the child," Elizabeth retorted, "and then you may name him."
He grinned. Sprang up the stairway to the quarterdeck, hurrying now. The Pearl wanted to kick and the wind appeared ready to oblige her. Any privateers lurking nearby and thinking to give chase would be in for a mighty good run.
He hit the aft rail. James sat rigidly in the boat, facing away, his back ramrod straight. Jack's heart hammered in his ears.
James turned his head slightly.
"I'm surprised you've not noticed the sword yet, Commodore!"
Swiftly, almost comically, James twisted to regard the weapon at his hip. Right swordbelt; definitely the wrong hilt. Jack's grin spread wider. Distract a man sufficiently, be in the right place at the right time, and he'd found that almost any switch was possible.
James spun around, standing, rocking the boat dangerously enough to make Will blanch. Green eyes were wide, his mouth hanging open. No words emerged.
Jack cupped hands, yelling against the wind. "Couldn't resist havin' my very own Turner sword, mate! They don't make 'em where I'm goin'! But listen, that blade may not be pretty, but it's seen me through. 'twill do the same for you, I wager."
It looked as though Will wanted very badly to say something. But Elizabeth, darling Elizabeth, stopped him with a hand on his arm, her eyes on James, something resembling comprehension dawning across her face.
He saw James hesitate, glancing behind him at the Turners. The Pearl glided farther, faster, very nearly out of earshot now.
James turned back, face resolute. Cupped hands around his mouth and shouted across the water, the wind picking up his voice, dancing it right up to the Pearl.
"May it keep you safe, Captain Jack!"
By the time Jack's throat loosened enough for an answer they'd gone too far for words to make the journey. Instead he lifted his hat, holding it steadily aloft for a long moment, watching the tall figure in dirty white breeches and a much-abused blue coat grow smaller.
Then he turned, settled the hat firmly on his head, and went to take the helm.
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