Rating: NC-17 slash m/m sexual content.
Disclaimer: See disclaimer below on this page.

Dedicated to the Lady on every ship and to Her Sparrow… with many additional thanks to Webcrowmancer for her kind words, support, and fantastic photomanips

Summary: Wherein Jack, haunted by the spirits of Barbossa and the dead crew of the Black Pearl, ends up a guest in Norrington's home. Can Jack and Norrington eventually turn mutual attraction into a gentleman's accord between them?


By Garnet

"The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
The sails swell full. To sea, to sea!"

     Sailor's Song
     Thomas Lovell Beddoes


The rope snugged tight around his neck, but he knew full well it would soon be tighter still. The drums sounded their warning, one long roll towards that sudden stop, and though he could feel the sun on his face, the salt-spray of the breeze, they were fleeting before the quick time of his heart as a dreadfully cold frisson rolled through his veins, turning his stomach hollow with fear.

No, it could not have come to this…not for him…please, God…

Distantly, Jack heard the mumbling of the waiting crowd, then shouting. But the man in the black hood was already reaching for the lever and he knew it was too late. That it had always been too late.

Then the sun was in his eyes, dazzling and blinding him at the same time, and he felt the floor drop out from under him, leaving nothingness below. He fell and the rope snapped taut, tightening to the point of pain and beyond, stealing his breath, before one of his feet caught on something and, desperately, almost instinctively, he managed to find his balance once more.

A sword, somehow he knew it was a sword, and well he knew that trick. The one that had once damned him and now returned to save him. Just like the man who'd thrown it. The young man even now racing up the stairs of the scaffold, charging straight for the executioner. Fighting to save his life, even if it condemned him in the process.

Will Turner. A good man. The son of a good man. Pirate blood or no.

One of Jack's boots slipped and the rope tightened even further and now he couldn't breathe at all and blackness sparked through him, a darkness sharp and merciless as the edge of a blade, but in the next instant it gave way entirely and he fell off the slender sword and down to the ground below. He hit hard, but was up in a moment, cutting the ropes from his hands with that ever so fine steel.

And Will was there quick as a wink to catch the other end of the rope, the two of them working together as if they had never been enemies, as if they had always been true brethren before the mast, and the guards were tumbling before them. Falling away. With freedom, best beloved freedom, beckoning just beyond.

But then it was gone just like that as they were surrounded, a sea of bloody red coats and pointed guns. Before which Will surrendered his sword, only to step forward in the face of death and speak out for him anyway. Fixed and firm and sure as ever.

And suddenly Elizabeth was there as well, the two of them straight-backed and resolute in their beliefs that he was a good man, that he should not be condemned. That they would stand with him no matter what. The eyes of the Commodore turning stricken as he realized what his lady love was really saying and the Governor himself calling for the guards to put down their weapons.

Then the bright colors of the parrot caught his eye, making his heart pound in his bruised throat, as he stared up at the walls of the fort. And he knew he was truly free as he made his farewells - the eyes of the soldiers glinting at him as he backed away from them, Will smiling broadly beneath that marvelous new hat of his - only to tip over the wall and fall to the ocean below.

The breath knocked clean out of him again by the impact with the warm waters. Then once more by the sight of those dark sails catching the winds before him. As the Black Pearl came to claim him, his own lady love. The ache in his heart one of both joy and regret at the same time at the sight of her - regret that they had spent so many years apart from each other and joy at this long denied reunion.

And, never would he let her go again, as he took up his hat, was given his coat and his command by the crew that had braved their own deaths to come back for him. As he felt the polished wood of her wheel come alive beneath his hands. His eyes already on the grand horizon, the compass in his hand spinning out their next destination, their destiny.

The ship turning to catch the wind, graceful as ever, already picking up speed, uncatchable, lovely, his…



The shock of cold water striking his face woke him and Jack half-started up, blindly choking. The dream fading away like mist on the water. Familiar laughter bringing him back to himself, as well as the rattle of chains and the jarring pain as cold metal caught him up short.

He raised his head up from the damp straw beneath him and looked through the bars at the two guardsmen standing there, the taller of the two still holding a bucket in his hands. The smile on his face made all the more cruel by the scar that pulled the corner of his mouth up on one side. He dropped the empty bucket on the floor.

"That'll do ye," he said. "No good sleeping the day away, now is it? What few remain to ye."

Jack glared at him, but the soldier seemed oblivious. Instead, he just watched as Jack pushed himself up against the wall and rested his arms on his knees. He was drenched through and shivering a little already, though he tried to disguise it as quick as he could. It would never do to let them see him at less than his best, even if he was clearly at less than his best.

Considering that his whole body ached and his head hurt and he seemed to have lost yet another day. At least, the light coming in through the window at the far wall was soft now, nearing dusk he would reckon. And was this his sixth day here or the seventh? He wasn't sure anymore.

All he was sure of was that he was alone. That no one, not even Will or Elizabeth had come to see him, to speak with him. Not even to say their farewells. Ah, but then what right had he to expect anything more? Elizabeth was the very daughter of the Governor and Will was a respectable man at heart, no matter his bloodline, and he was…well, he was a pirate and a condemned man and that's all there was to that.

"This last lot had a few fine words to say before the end," the second guard commented, his higher voice betraying his youth far more than the smooth skin of his face, and the first man turned to look at him. "You think this one might do them a sight better?"

"Aye, that he might." And the older guard turned back to leer at Jack, before his eyes fell to the hunk of dark bread on the floor just inside the cell. "Unless he starves himself to death first. The ungrateful dog."

"Not been eating has he?" the second guard asked. He knelt down and carefully reached into the cell and picked up the piece of bread. He inspected it, wrinkling up his nose, then shrugged. "Seems perfectly fine to me. Better than such as he deserves, I imagine."

"Aye, much better," the other man commented.

The second guard threw the bread back into the cell and it landed almost as Jack's feet. He ignored it, as he had been ignoring it all day. As he had been ignoring all the other food they had brought him. Only the water he had drunk, giving in to his thirst, albeit reluctantly.

Rum he might have drunk willingly enough, but that he doubted they would provide. Even if he could have brought himself to ask for it.

"Not much to look at," the second guard said, an honest enough curiosity in his voice. "For someone they tell so many tales about."

"Aye," the first one replied. "And tales be what they are. What we have here be just a man and, like any other man, his neck will stretch as well as any other."

"And a good job of it, too." His shouldered his gun and started to turn away.

The other joined him, kicking the bucket away down the stairs as he did so. "Aye, a short drop and a sudden stop. Tis all a pirate's good for in the end. Not that he were good for much else before then."

They both laughed again and then were gone.

Jack immediately huddled closer into himself as the shivers grew worse. He rested his forehand on his knees and closed his eyes. Feeling the cool air prickling at his damp skin and shirt, the dank breath of the thick stone walls around him.

They had taken no chances, this time.

Not only was he locked in a different cell than the last, but they'd chained him to the far wall by his right leg as well. With only just enough length to the chain for him to let him be able to touch the iron bars of his prison with the barest tips of his fingers. Three stone walls, good strong iron, and a scattering of dirt and straw, that had been his home for the last…a week was it now? With a near two weeks before that, locked up in the brig of the Dauntless.

The only good thing that he could name these days was that at least he hadn't been forced to share the small cell. The former crew of the Pearl - those that still remained breathing, that is - were packed into a couple of slighter larger cells at the far end of the corridor. He couldn't see them, though he could hear them night and day. As they complained steadily to anyone who passed, about the lack of fresh water, the scarcity of fresh straw, how jolly well crowded they were.

Other times, when there was no one else about, they would amuse themselves by shouting and cursing at him, mostly threats and insults; insults that he just found moderately amusing and threats that no one would bother to take seriously. Being that their numbers were being steadily whittled down.

He never stirred himself to answer, anymore than he spoke to the guards.

As for his own lack of fresh straw and water and the cruelty of the pair of guards who had decided to make what remained of his life their own, he didn't care enough to bother overmuch with that either. Nor hardly to move from the corner of the cell he had staked out. Where the darkest shadows fell. Where he couldn't see the sea through the one small window.

They had hung another three of the Pearl's crew just this morning. At this rate, he figured they should be finishing up with the last of them and taking himself to the block in another two or three days.

After which, they would most likely string his body up with those other unfortunates at the entrance to the bay - giving fair warning as it were to the other free brethren of the coast. With naught but rotting flesh and bone to remain at the last of Captain Jack Sparrow, would-be scourge of the Spanish Main.

Well he knew what that felt like. Not that he would be exactly alive to feel it, this time.

Not that any of it truly mattered anymore.

He had lost the Pearl once and it had nearly destroyed him. For ten years her loss had haunted him. And then, when she had been in his grasp once more, when he had schemed and fought and been cursed and nearly died to gain it once more, she had slipped away again. Lost to the night and lost to the fog and with her had gone his heart, his hope, his last chance of reclaiming the life he had once had.

The only life left worth living.

The chain rattled as he lay back down on the rotting straw and curled his legs up closer to him, the iron rubbing raw on the bare skin of his ankle. His boots they had taken first thing they had chained him in this cell and his sword and pistol as a matter of course back on the Dauntless. Only his compass they had left him, as if they had known full well if was of no use to him anymore. That he would sail the seas no more, never chase that horizon. Never know freedom, true freedom, again.

He had done his best by his word and still it had proved not enough.

A pirate he was and a pirate he always would be and as a pirate he would soon die. As guilty in the eyes of the law as any of the miscreants in the far cells. With a common ending awaited them all. The same rope, the same knot, the same short drop.

Full circle he had come and it had availed him naught. Ten years and it had availed him naught. And he was weary now, so very weary. Sometimes it felt as if all his strength had drained away into this great hole deep inside him where once his heart had been. A hole as black and empty as that stretch of water where the Pearl should have been and was not. Leaving him alone and to the tender mercies of the Crown.

And now in two, mayhap three days, and his own waiting would be over at the last. He would either see the island of the dead again or join Barbossa in hell's blackest depths. Still, be he Heathen or Christian - and he counted himself as neither, not really, not quite - one thing was clear. He felt as if his soul was already slipping from his body, fleeing from this simple husk of flesh and bone. And that if he had any say in the matter he would go to neither place after they had hung him, but right straight to the Pearl. Where he truly belonged. Where he could soar with black wings, black sails, to distant parts he had never seen.

He had so sworn, upon the sea, upon his heart, with his own blood, and it was the only thing that made him keep on drawing breath right now - till at last they took it from him, that is. He had sworn that he would be with her again, no matter what it took. Even if it took his life.

As well it seemed it soon would.


He woke slowly the next morning, woke to the sound of shouting down the corridor - familiar and coarse curses in which his name figured prominently. He was confused for a few minutes, lost somewhere between his prison cell and the brig on the Pearl, but then genuine physical discomforts roused him completely and he reluctantly forced himself to open his eyes.

He had dreamt last night, but they hadn't been pleasant dreams. Any more than they were pleasant memories.

Ten years ago, but he could remember it clear well. How they had all taken their turns tormenting him during the days between the mutiny and his being marooned on that hot lick of land. How they had all spit on him and cursed him and struck at every turn. Not that they wouldn't have done far more and worse than that, but for that Barbossa had denied them the chance of that last indignation on their former captain.

Not out of any form of kindness, most certainly, but simply because he wanted him still alive to be marooned. Break the Code he might, but only so far. Besides, what the men may do to one captain they may all the readily do to another.

Wearily, Jack closed his eyes again, but now all he could see was Barbossa. Standing there as he had that day, as Jack had been forced to the plank, and smiling that cruel little smile of his. The monkey on his shoulder hissing its own approval as the pistol with its single shot was shoved into his belt and he was forced out over the sea.

All the men shouting and the wind rippling in the sails and the sky so blue that it hurt to look at it. Before it all went whirling away as he tumbled off by a quick fired shot that singed the side of his head. Before he were forced to swim to land as best he could, his hands still tied before him and the Pearl already turning away behind him.

Disappearing into the shimmer of water and sky.

At least, he had not been alone the second time they'd left him there. That had been the worst of it on that day so long ago; the thought of starving to death slowly and all alone, with no one to ever know what had become of Captain Jack Sparrow. Not that it would have gotten to that. He would have given himself to the sea before then, swum out as far as he could and then let the waves and the tides have their use of him.

Since he would never have taken that single shot to himself, no matter how bad it got. He wouldn't have given his betrayer the satisfaction.

There was a rattling down the corridor and the men fell suddenly silent except for a muttered curse or two. No doubt, they were being fed. Even those who were scheduled to be hung today. One last meal, even if be but bread and water.

Slowly, Jack rolled over to face the wall and closed his arms about his head. He was so tired. He hurt so much. Mayhap, if he roused himself enough to plead his case they would put him before the others, but he doubted it. He was the prize. T'wasn't every day they caught a pirate such as him. Norrington and his men were, no doubt, savoring the thought of his demise. Certainly, the two guards who he had gotten to know this last week were making the most of it.

Speaking of which…

"Here you go then, Mister Sparrow," a familiar and oddly almost friendly voice said. "Some fresh water for ye and some stew even today with your bread. I'd lay into it before it gets too cold, though. Can't be bringing you another bowl, you understand."

Distantly, he heard the clunk of metal against metal and then something being set down inside his cell.

"Ah, now that's a waste of a good bit of meat, Murtogg," a second voice replied, the voice of his younger tormentor from last night.

"An why is that?" the first man asked, honestly curious.

"He won't be eating it, that's all. Picket says he hasn't touched a crumb since he were brought here. Turned up his nose at the lot."

"Has he now?" The first man, Murtogg, sounded genuinely concerned now. Suddenly, his voice drew closer, as if he'd knelt down beside the door of the cell. "Mister Sparrow? Is that true? Have ye not been eating?"

Jack simply closed his eyes tighter, his head starting to hurt again now, too. He knew that voice - he'd been one of the two guards with him that day on the dock, the day he'd rescued Elizabeth and this had all began. Not too bright, but seemingly honest enough. For a moment, he tasted salt and remembered the sharp look in Norrington's eyes, the hard way he had grasped his arm and pulled up his sleeve to reveal the brand the East India Company had laid upon him.

Before he'd ordered him to be clapped in irons.

He would have hung with that dawn, as well, if the man had anything to say about it.

"Captain Sparrow?"

He let himself drift away from the voice, drift back to that day. To Will lifting his sword to him in the gloom of the blacksmith's shop…to the sound of the Pearl's guns as they relentlessly pounded the town and the fort…to the first feel of the Interceptor catching the wind beneath his hands, taking him far away from Port Royal, taking the both of them to Tortuga.

Taking them to the Isla de Muerta.

He could almost see it now…


When next he opened his eyes, it was near unto evening once more and he almost smiled as he realized that he had missed the passing of more of his former crew. That he had missed the passing of the day.

That he was not alone.

"Mister Sparrow…"

The tone was sharp, dignified, ever so used to being obeyed.

Slowly, he rolled over and then had to close his eyes again as his head swam. When he opened them again, he looked up to see Commodore James Norrington looking in at him. His cap and hair perfectly in place and every last button polished. Not a speck of dirt on his boots.

His back was straight as a rod and his hands were clasped behind his back. As if he were out reviewing his men, instead of visiting a convicted prisoner.

"Mister Sparrow," the man repeated. "I have been informed that you have not found the food entirely to your liking. Whereas, your fellows seem well enough pleased by it. Is there a problem?"

He shrugged and swallowed hard as the movement made him slightly dizzy.

"Because if you intend on cheating the gallows," Norrington went on. "You know this is not the way to accomplish it."

That oh so reasonable tone grated on him, but then most probably it had been intended to. Why wouldn't the damn man just go away and leave him in peace? One more day was done and soon enough it would all be over. Soon, he would be brought out to that waiting crowd. Soon they would be gasping and cheering for him. Mayhap, even Will and Elizabeth would be there, watching as he took the drop. Certainly, the man looking at him now would be. Well pleased with himself and the law and glad to be rid of such a scoundrel as Jack Sparrow.

The sudden rattle of iron made him instinctively glance up. The Commodore's face was bland as he tested the strength of the door once more and then stood back to attention just outside it. The light from the setting sun caught on the buttons of his coat, turning them briefly to gold.

"Seems solid enough," Norrington said. "Though appearances can be deceptive, wouldn't you say, Mister Sparrow? You had aid escaping the noose last time, what makes you think the same might not hold true again?"

There were many answers to that, but Jack chose the least painful one. He raised his head and stared directly into the other man's eyes, managed the ghost of his normal insolent smile.

"Every man's luck must run out eventually." His voice sounded rough even to his own ears.

Norrington nodded. "Does that mean that you believe that you've reached the end of yours then?"

"The end of something," he replied softly. "Why not it be my life?"

The Commodore's eyebrow went up. "Why not, indeed."

Jack closed his eyes again, but he could still feel the gaze of the other man on him. One more day or two, that's all he had left. That's all that kept him from his Pearl. But, of course, they had to go on making it difficult…

"Perhaps you would not be so quick to condemn yourself," Norrington spoke again. "If you knew how hard young master Turner and Miss Swann are working towards your release."

"My release?" He opened his eyes, but the Commodore was now glancing across the cell, out the window beyond. Perhaps watching as the sun went down over the horizon.

"Yes, I believe the words 'full pardon' have crossed their lips more than once. The Governor is still considering it, but with his own daughter advocating your innocence, your honor, how you put your own life on the line to save her own and her new fiancé's…well, I imagine that she will get her way eventually. And then you will be free to go on yours."

The words were carefully cool, but Jack could detect an edge beneath them. Whether that was because of Norrington's own thwarted suit with the Governor's daughter or because he couldn't bear the thought of a convicted pirate being set free, he couldn't quite tell.

"Will I now?" Jack said.

One of Norrington's eyebrows rose at that. "Yes, of course," he replied. "So, in the meantime, while you're still my responsibility, I would prefer you not expire through any lack of your own or mine."

"Would you?" Jack asked. "Well, that's not how I heard tell of it. A hard man when it comes to a buccaneer's life, or rather for the ending of it. Don't tell me this last little trip has changed your mind of that?"

Norrington glanced down and, seemingly quite deliberately, brushed a non-existent speck of dust off his coat.

"In general, no," he replied at last, his eyes coming back to rest on Jack. Unreadable and cool as steel. "But you did not play false by me, even though I must admit that I expected it, and for that alone I would rather not see you hang. One good deed may not redeem a lifetime of wickedness, as I said, but reluctantly I find myself in your debt. Both for the capture of the men who attacked this town and this fort and for Miss Swann's return."

His eyes lifted, seemingly looking into nothingness, and he hesitated a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was softer. "And for the safe return of Mister Turner, as well, of course. Even if you did lead him astray in the first place."

Jack could have corrected him on that, but prudently held his tongue. Far better any black marks fall on him than on the boy. He already had so many, after all. Even, if it seemed, that Will and Elizabeth might actually be working to wipe them clean. Give him a fresh start.

A pardon from the Governor, himself.

Oh, aye, a pardon that was only good so long as he didn't turn pirate again. An how much chance was there of that? Still, a pardon would save him from the noose and that's what most mattered, right?

Again, he saw black night and empty waves and that self-same emptiness swept over him as when he'd first seen that the Pearl was gone. Ten years - and he couldn't wait another ten years to get her back. He hadn't it in him. He hadn't…

But Norrington was still standing there, as if waiting for some response from him, and he nodded.

"As you like," he said. "When might you know whether or no I'll be going free?"

"By dawn tomorrow, I imagine," the other man replied. "Since you're the last of the lot, it will be either that or the block, after all."

"Even if, as you say, you don't wish to see me hang?"

Norrington lifted his head slightly. "Even so, Mister Sparrow. In this matter, I am as bound by the law as you are."

"Aye, that may be so," Jack replied. "But since you're the one out there and I'm the one in irons, I'll not be feeling too sorry for ye."

The other man looked almost amused for a moment, then his face cleared of all expression again. He straightened minutely and his voice was clipped and precise. "I'll have the guards bring you something to eat. See that you do, this time."

"Or I'll have to answer to you?" Jack couldn't keep back the smile, nor the slightly insolent tone of his voice.

"Or you'll have to answer to me," Norrington replied. He didn't respond to either the smile or the insolence, but Jack thought he caught a hint of something in the other man's eyes for a moment, something that almost bordered on amusement.

With that, the other man turned on his heel and walked away. And Jack sank down to the floor again, more exhausted than he would readily admit. Not just his head aching, this time, but his whole body.

It was almost too good to be believed. That Will and Elizabeth hadn't forgotten him, but were working to secure his freedom. An almost he could see it. Elizabeth was a woman to be reckoned with, both in cunning and in determination. While, Will…well, Will was young and eager and earnest and still believed in doing the right thing.

No matter the cost.

Jack let his eyes sink shut again and he remembered the last sight of them he'd had aboard the Dauntless. Will starting half-forward towards him as the irons were put about his wrists, as he was roughly pulled below decks by two soldiers. Elizabeth staring after him, then glancing over at Will as if expecting him to do something about it right then and there. Not that they'd gotten the chance. As more soldiers closed about them and they were led away to the captain's cabin, Elizabeth's father coming forward with his wig askew and this relieved look on his face.

Embracing his daughter and then, after a hesitation, shaking young Will's hand. Norrington frowning at the exchange, before stalking off, undoubtedly to get the ship underway.

He had eaten and drunk most of what they'd given him then, still hopeful that he might make his escape once more, but when they'd finally reached Port Royal and the metal bars of the Dauntless' brig had been exchanged for the metal bars of the fort's prison, he had found even that slight appetite fading.

As had any interest in escape, slight enough chance as there were of that.

And now the very thought of eating actually made his stomach turn, but he had promised and he had no intention of breaking his word. Least of all to a man who had only begun to respect him. Pirate or no.

Still, it was several hours and full dark before a guard appeared at the last. Clattering down the stairs and humming some song just beneath his breath. It didn't sound like the one Elizabeth had taught him, but it seemed cheery enough.

Jack forced himself to sit up, then had to stop and just breathe for a while. There was a sour taste to his mouth that didn't help his stomach at all and he felt another chill run through him, even though no one had thrown water at him today. Yet anyway.

"Well, well, well," a familiar voice said. "Look what we have here. You must be terrible hungry by now. Well, I've got what you need. There's a good boy."

Jack looked up and the guard - the older man, Picket he believed his name was - grinned in at him. He had a bowl with a bit of bread sticking up over one side in one hand and a jug in the other. And, as Jack watched, the other man knelt down and whistled. The self-same dog that Jack had tried to bribe once immediately sauntered into view and let the man take the keys from his mouth. After which, the mongrel immediately started into eating Jack's supper.

The guard watched him for a moment, then stood up and tossed the ring of keys into the air, catching them again easily. He took a swig from the jug and water ran down his chin. He wiped it off with the back of his hand and smiled.

"One more night," he said. "An then I can watch you swing. In the meantime, you see, if I'm asked, I can honestly say your bit of beef and bread were eaten well enough."

"And if'n I don't hang?" Jack asked. "I can always tell the truth of it. I doubt the Commodore will be well pleased at how his order were carried out."

"Oh, you'll hang," Picket replied, this avid look to his eyes. As if he was seeing it even now. "An as for the rest, tis well known what Norrington truly feels about such as you. No matter that you've managed to fool all the rest, even the Governor's own daughter, he can see through you, right enough. All the way to your black heart."

Jack glared at him, but the man only laughed again.

The dog was licking the bowl clean by then and the other man picked it up and gave the keys back with a little flourish. The dog took them in his mouth and immediately disappeared back into the darkness once more. Just the clicking of toenails and the rattle of the keys to mark where he had been.

"Well, and a good night to ye, Mister Sparrow," he said, briefly mimicking the tones of the more friendly guard from earlier. "I'd promise to pray for your immortal soul on the morrow, if I'd actually believed you'd got one. As it is, I'll pray the drop won't be breaking your neck right off. A man can last a long time I hear, stranglin' on the rope and his own weight. Now that would be a fine sight. A black tongue to go with your black heart."

He turned and started off towards the stairs, taking the bowl and jug with him. At the last, just as he was about to go out of sight, Jack realized what he was doing and forced himself over to the bars. He reached out to touch them, called after him.

"Wait! At least give me my water…"

But he knew the plea was already useless even as he offered it. His fingers trailed down the metal and then dropped to his side. After a moment, his head dropped as well. Well, that was as it would be and, most probably, it wouldn't have mattered if the man had given him the food; the way he felt right now it wouldn't have settled for long.

But the loss of the water was harder felt. He was so thirsty right now. His throat seemed as dry and scratchy as the straw he was sitting on and a nice long draught of cool water wouldn't have gone amiss.

Finally, Jack crawled back over to his corner and lay down again, curling up tightly. After a little while, he realized that he was shivering slightly again. That the pain behind his eyes was sharper even than before.

That there were none of the usual sounds coming from the men down the corridor.

He raised himself up and listened intently for a long minute, then sank back down again as it quickly grew to be too much effort to keep his head up. Nothing. Not a whisper. Either the last of them were already asleep or he was the only one left. He suspected it was the latter, since Norrington had said he would either be pardoned or hang on the morrow. Not that he mourned their loss, not in the least, but it meant that he really was alone tonight. Mayhap, his last night on this earth.

Life or death…his life or death, and it was all dependent on the mood and moral judgment of one man. Elizabeth's father. A man who hadn't seemed any more keen on pirates than the Commodore. Mayhap, he even less so. Most especially since it had been such who had stolen his beloved daughter in the first place.

Not that Jack had had anything to do with that, but he couldn't see Master Swann as seeing much beyond the mast he was sworn to.

The flag he had sailed under.

After all, he had only just found out Jack were a pirate that day on the docks and he was already calling for the noose for him. When he hadn't been commanding them to shoot him in the first place - even before he'd been found out as a buccaneer - just for cutting that gods-be-damned corset off'n her. He couldn't see the man changing his mind all that readily about him, even if Elizabeth knew all the ways to turn him to it.

Even if Norrington thought there was still a chance of it.

Jack closed his eyes and saw again the man standing there beyond the bars. So precise, so perfect, his stance proud and his eyes determined. A smart man, an honest man, one to be reckoned on. A man well used to duty and doing what needs must be done.

Even if it had taken Elizabeth's acceptance of his proposal to send him and the Dauntless off after the Pearl at the last.

But then men in love did foolish things. Men in love oft times saw only what they most wanted to see.

She had changed her mind after, of course, once William Turner was safe; everyone aboard Dauntless had known how it had gone well before they reached Port Royal again, even Jack moldering away down in the deepest bowels of the ship. He hadn't heard most of the details, but a fair number of the Commodore's men had been angry with her for jilting him and several had had a few choice words for young master Will, as well.

Especially since some of them had thought the blacksmith should be sharing Jack's cell with him and not be roaming free about the ship. Let alone getting himself engaged to the Governor's daughter. A man well below her station and with bad blood, to boot. Pirate's blood.

That story, too, had gone the rounds. Give it some months and few in all the Caribbean wouldn't not know about what had happened on the Isla de Muerta. About the breaking of the curse and the battle aboard ship and how the Pearl had stolen away into the night, leaving her crew behind to face the noose. Soldiers talked near as much as sailors and a tale like that were a hard one to pass up. Even if most would never know the whole truth of it.

And would never know, not if they expected him to do the telling of it.

Some things were best left secret.

Some things were best forgotten about, even if they could never be forgiven.


Dark it was, but not so dark that he couldn't see the gleam in the other man's eyes as he took his chin with rough fingers and made him look at him.

"Well now, Jack," Barbossa whispered. "I warned ye it might come to this one day, but heed me you would not."

He didn't respond. He wouldn't have even if his throat and mouth hadn't been so dry he could hardly swallow then and there, let alone speak. Two full days it had been since they had seen fit to give him any water and the sun and the salt had well done its work in the meantime.

But then the other man ran his hand down his neck and across his chest, before settling between his legs at the last, and Jack did fight to pull back, to get away. Not that the ropes binding him to the mast gave him any leeway, well he knew that already.

Barbossa only smiled at his muted struggles, though. His fingers squeezing tight for a moment, before starting in to caressing him instead.

"An now this ship is mine at the last," the other man continued in a dreamy soft voice. "As you never would be. An damn ye for that, Jack, but I still want ye more than your ship. An for that, tis sorry to say, but ye must die. I'll not be having you be my downfall. I'll not be having ye own me heart, cold as it is. Though, I'll not be having your blood on me hands, either. Tis why I saved you…for the nonce."

Jack somehow managed to swallow, though it pained him terribly. "Saved? You betrayed me, mate. There's none lower than that."

Barbossa's eyes flashed and he leaned in abruptly, as if to kiss him, but instead he only dropped his voice to something hardly a whisper at all. Something rough and cool and relentless.

"Then we're square, Jack me lad. We're square."

"We're square…"

And Elizabeth was wet and warm in his arms and he was triumphant with his gear returned to him and with freedom beckoning just a rope and tackle away. They would never catch him, not if they had a thousand men and a thousand years between them…because he was Captain Jack Sparrow and that's all there was to it.

But as he tossed the girl at them and went for the rope, the ground shifted beneath him and he half-fell, dizzy as sin, only to suddenly realize that his hands were bound in front of him and he was surrounded by men in red coats and the block was right in front of him. He struggled, but they laid hands on him and bundled him forward as if he were of no weight, right up the stairs and to the waiting noose.

And he couldn't see for a second with the sun dazzling his eyes and, when it finally cleared, he saw faces staring up at him and their eyes were hungry, angry, avid. As if they all had good reason to want to see him hang. As if they hated him, every man jack of them.

"Jack Sparrow," a man stepped forward and started to read from his scroll, "you stand accused…"

Accused, condemned, executed. One, two, three and it were done. Would that he had had only one person to speak up for him.

But hadn't he? Hadn't Norrington said as much?

Over the heads of the crowd, then, he saw the forms of his salvation, but they didn't acknowledge his look at all, let alone the charges that were being read over him. Will, Elizabeth, the Governor and the Commodore. All of them dressed in their best - as if for a ball or some other grand event - all of them cool-eyed and distant, even Will, whose eyes had always before been filled with his own heat.

"Did you think it would be any different?" a voice said. "You're one of ours, mate, not one of theirs."

Jack turned his head to see another man right beside him, standing bound and sullen before his own noose.

It was Twig, and as he looked at him the other man's mouth twisted up into a familiar cruel smile.

"Aye, Captain," he went on. "Tis your fate as much as ours. Brothers we were and brothers we are and none such as they will ever see beyond that."

"Norrington…" he said, but another voice cut him off.

"Norrington, Norrington…aye, an you believed the man? You believed the Governor himself would send you down a pardon? Give ye a last minute reprieve? An who's the fool now, Jack Sparrow."

He turned his head the other way and saw Pintel glaring at him. Before he bared his own yellowed teeth in something almost a smile.

"You're the one who killed me, Captain, much as them," he said. "We've not forgotten that, Jack, nor are we likely to forgive. You think we didn't learn a thing or two about death, being dead for so long. Being trapped, as we were, between this world an the next."

"Aye," Twig muttered. "As we learned a fair thing or two about sufferin'. Be glad to share it with ye, most glad, as you'll most like see once this rope has had its way with ye.

"No," Jack said, but the others were already laughing.

"Oh, aye. Deny it all you like, but you've been promised to us, you see. Promised to us one and all and fair and free. Was Barbossa, himself, swore that once you were dead you'd be ours again."

"Only proper," Pintel added. "After he's had his own fill of ye first, o'course. Been waiting a fair bit longer, he has. An he is the Captain, after all. Entitled to the first spoils."

Jack shook his head, but the man with the scroll had long finished and the executioner was stepping forward, his eyes unreadable beneath his black mask. Fixing the noose first around Twig's neck, before stepping up to him and looping it around his own. And the rope was rough and far too tight already and he couldn't swallow and he couldn't hardly breathe. Sweat trickling down his back as he raised his face to the sky and wished desperately to be anywhere but here.

As he heard Twig laugh and laugh and Pintel cursing hard enough to scorch hell itself as the rope were placed around his own thick neck.


But hadn't he been here before. Hadn't he been saved?

Over the heads of the waiting crowd, he caught the eye of Will Turner, but the lad was turning away from him. Turning to Elizabeth. And as he watched, the two enfolded each other and kissed, uncaring of any who might see. Of the man who was about to die before them.

And the Governor was nodding and the Commodore had this ever-so-pleased look on his face and then there was a sharp sound and a sudden roar and something both hot and cold poured over him at the same time.

He couldn't breathe. He couldn't see. It hurt, oh Jesus, it hurt…

He awoke with a start, his heart pounding like cannon shot in his chest, his throat tight, and his blood feeling as if it had been set on fire. He rolled over and coughed and coughed over and over again, each effort making his head ache and his heart pound louder. Finally it subsided, but when he opened his eyes at the last he realized that the moon was pouring in through the window and, for a moment, he saw his clothing in tatters, his flesh and skin decayed, his hands as bones.

He shut his eyes tight and, when he opened them again, the vision was gone, but it didn't much help.

He was going to die tomorrow and then it would be true enough. No matter what the Commodore had said, he knew the right of it.

But then it was what he wanted…it was the only way…he believed that as well, didn't he?

Oh yes, he believed it. But it still hurt and it scared him half to death.


It was dawn at the last and silent, so very silent, silent as the grave was always said to be, and he knew they would be coming for him soon.

But hadn't they come for him already? In the corner of the small cell, Pintel leered at him, his own neck half-cocked over to an impossible angle and raw red marks around his throat. His hand rubbing at the front of his breeches.

"We've not forgotten, Jack…"

Not forgotten. He'd not been forgotten. As if the thought had heralded the action, he heard footsteps then. Coming slowly down the far stairs.

He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them again Pintel was gone and all he could see was stone walls and the filthy straw he'd been sleeping on. All he could feel was the weight of his flesh and just how fragile it was, and all he could remember was the snap of the rope, what it had felt like to be dead on the outside and yet still alive. Interesting, yes, but horrible at the same time.

To feel the flesh rotting around you. Your blood lying cold and black in your veins.

A throbbing pain lanced through his head and neck and he heard laughter again as he crawled and stumbled to his feet, using up what felt like the last of his strength in the process. He almost fell twice before he could get over to the window and pull himself up to the bars. His hands trembling the whole time and his legs feeling hollow, hardly able to bear his weight.

Yes, it was dawn and the sky was pale with it, still streaked here and there with gold and soft red clouds, a soft sweet breeze pouring in to touch his face. The horizon was an even paler mark beyond the bay, as if the sky and the sea had finally been able to merge into one. It was lovely, so very lovely, that it stole his breath away. How many times had he turned a ship to the wind. How may times had he tried to catch that distant horizon?

But there were no sails out there today, black or otherwise.

Had he really expected there would be?

Had he really thought that the Commodore himself had come to see him last night? That the Governor would actually pardon him? A man he felt complete and utter contempt for. A man whose crimes were entirely clear.

A short drop and a sudden stop…

A pirate's life for me…

But Elizabeth had abandoned him and Will and the Pearl as well and now there was nothing left, nothing left at all.

Nothing but his life and he didn't want to die, after all. Life was too sweet for that, even if everything good had abandoned him. His luck had to turn around. She had never left him for long before, bitch goddess though She could be to some. Even through the curse She had sustained him, so why not now?

He could still escape the noose…return to the sea…chase that horizon…mayhap even get his Pearl back at long last…

He shook the bars, but they had no give to them at all, and then his legs abruptly gave way and he fell hard to the floor. He landed full on his back, his head striking the stone floor a glancing blow that dazed him. Distantly, he realized that the iron on his ankle had torn his skin again, that the chain binding him had rattled loud enough to wake the dead. Except that the dead were already awake, weren't they? They were already here with him.

After all, he could feel their cold breath on the back of his neck. The fog raised by the touch of the other world. The same fog that had dogged the Pearl as she had searched the seas for that cursed gold, town by town, ship by ship, piece by bloody piece. Plundering as she went. Destroying what she could not plunder.

His ship…his ship…lost again, though no longer a ghost…

Nay, he would be the ghost now.

And Jack laid there, breathing hard, shivering even harder, his stomach climbing up into his throat as the ceiling started to slowly turn above him. As the walls and the floor began to spin in the opposite direction. Warm fresh blood trickling down his foot and thousands of dust motes dancing in the air and those footsteps coming to a halt right in front of his cell.

But Pintel was back again, Ragetti peering over his shoulder, his wooden eye rolling in its socket as if of its own accord. A knowing look on his face. A hungry look. A look that said that he hadn't forgotten or forgiven either.

"Captain Sparrow?"

So very polite for someone come to tell him that the gallows was even now waiting for him. And it was strange, but he hadn't heard the usual crowd gathering below…mayhap, they had grown bored with the whole thing at the last. Or perhaps they were down there already, silent and waiting, all their eyes like polished coins, watching that empty noose with an eagerness that would have made any man shudder.

He suddenly decided he would smile at them. Sing Elizabeth's song, perhaps. Strike a pose they'd not soon forget before the rope came round his neck.

Hanged by the neck until dead…

An then you'll be ours…

"Captain Sparrow?"

"Aye," he whispered in response, but the word came out a harsh croak. If it had even passed his throat at all.

He tried to roll to his side, to get to his knees, if not to his feet, but the attempt just made him even more dizzy. It made the dust motes swirl and turn from gold to black. Gathering around him like carrion birds. At this rate, they would have to carry him hand and foot to the block.

He wasn't sure if he was entirely amused by that or no.

But the other two surely seemed to be. They started in to laughing and then their laughing turned into a harsh sound, as if of crows, tar-black birds coming to peck his eyes out, to eat the flesh off his bones…and he could feel their hands on him now, hard, skeletal fingers…and his head was spinning as hard as the walls and ceiling and he was cold, so very cold…

And then burning hot a bare moment later, pistol fire and smoke filling his head, as he felt himself lifted. Grapeshot tearing the flesh from his bones. Black sails moaning over his head, ragged and torn, his Pearl missing him as much as he missed her. Then he heard hushed voices beneath the sound of the crows, beneath the rattle of chains, and the shadow of the noose was falling over him, the blue sky swirling almost lazily over his head, and then he knew nothing more for a long time.


Barbossa flung his sword away with an impatient gesture.

"You can't beat me, Jack," he said, but Jack tried anyway. He had to. He wanted to. Ten years and he had been wanting to kill the other man. Both for betraying him and for taking from him the one thing that had ever mattered.

But the blade sank into him without care and Barbossa just sighed and rolled his eyes. Before yanking out and turning it right around on him.

And Jack felt the steel slip inside him, felt it go right through him, and the sensation was icy-cold, convulsive, the cut of it so very sharp there was almost no pain. At first. He gasped, then looked up and saw a look of triumph on Barbossa's face…

And it shouldn't have hurt so very much, should it have? After all, he was cursed as well. He had stolen one of the Aztec coins. But now he could taste blood in his mouth and somehow the floor was coming up fast towards him. His vision beginning to spin, making him dizzy, forcing him to close his eyes.

No, mayhap not…had he only dreamt taking it then? The gold in his hand, cold and slick as blood. Aye, perhaps he was truly dead now, instead of simply cursed. Dead or dying.

But somewhere strong arms caught him, held him, and now the pain was in his chest as well, behind his eyes, in his head. He couldn't hardly breathe for the blood and he was so thirsty, so damnably thirsty…

"Plenty of water, Jack," he heard Barbossa say as he forced him to the plank. "An none of it to drink. Such a shame to see you go, but go you must."

He pried his eyes open somehow and found himself no longer in the cave on the Isla de Muerta, but on his own little island. The island he had been marooned on. The waves washing in and the white sand burning his bare feet and the Pearl vanishing in the distance as she seemed so very fond of, drifting out of his life like a dream.

Like a dream of a dream.

"No," he said somehow, the words tearing his throat. "Please…"

He went down to his knees on the shore, pleading with God, with the Devil, with any spirit who might be listening. But none were. Or if they were, they didn't care to respond. Because the Pearl was gone already, leaving him all alone on this tiny spit of land in the middle of a vast ocean. Leaving him with no food and no water. Nothing but a pistol with which to take his life when the last of it proved too much.

The sun flashed off the waves and made his head ache and he put a hand to his neck. It hurt, too. It was still badly bruised and sore from when the crew had strung him up the night of the mutiny.

Even now he could still hear the shouting, someone's brayish laughter, as he had swung above them. As they struck his legs with the edges of their blades, cutting flesh and leather and cloth alike. His vision rapidly going black and his pulse pounding hard and fast behind his eyes. The moon spinning high above the sails. The wind in his heart.

"Kick up your heels, Captain!"

"Dance for us, Jack…go on dance!"

Just before they'd abruptly all gone silent and he'd felt a tug on the rope, felt it give way before his weight. Spilling him hard at the feet of his former First Mate. Choking and gasping and choking again as he heard that familiar voice, the voice of the new Captain of the Pearl, as it mockingly chastised what had once been his own loyal crew.

"Now, now, gents," Barbossa had said. "Is that any way to be treating such a fine fellow as our Jack Sparrow here? Surely, even such as he doesn't deserve to be strung up like some common cutthroat."

He had somehow managed to roll half over then and look up, just before a boot came down on his throat, half-cutting his air off a second time. Holding him fast to the deck beneath the weight of the taller man. As the crew had roared in response, half of them in agreement with the sentiment and half still wanting his blood right then and there. But Barbossa had calmed them with a raised hand, oh so elegant and seemingly well assured of his new position aboard ship. Even as his foot ground down hard and harder.

Until Jack could hardly breathe again. Until even the moon went away. Barbossa's voice drifting like a ghost in the darkness.

"Well, lads. The treasure lies close ahead of us and I'm in the mood to be merciful. So, let's say we tie our Jack here to the mast and, by the Code, we'll find him a home eventually. Some lovely little isle to be all his own. Where none could say him any different."

All his own.

All alone…

"Water, Jack. C'mon, drink some of it…"

But the water was salt and he couldn't swallow it to save his life.

And the blade lodged inside him still was making him shiver and it hurt so bad…every little bit of him hurt. The fish were at his bones right this moment. The birds had already stolen his eyes. His bones, his bones…

The face of a skull was grinning at him.

As he suddenly was on the floor of the cave once more, surrounded by treasure, silver and gold and gleaming, and Barbossa was looking down at him. An amused glint in his eyes that matched any bit of shine. An edge to his smile as sharp as the one he had thrust inside him.

His flesh and clothes gone to rags and rot.

"Monsters, Jack," he said. "I warned ye. You may have escaped from that other isle, but from this island there be no reprieve."

Then he knelt down close, close enough that Jack could smell the decay on his breath, could have put his fingers between his ribs if he liked. If he could have lifted a hand. But he was unable to move, unable to stop him, as Barbossa slid skeletal fingers into his hair. As he put the remains of that rotted mouth to his and kissed the blood off his own lips, sucked it out of his mouth. Taking his time of it. Naked teeth grating against his own. Something foul and slick squirming across his tongue, turning to burrow at the back of his throat.

"Still warm," Barbossa said then, sounding well pleased. "But soon t'will be cold enough. Soon ye'll be joining me, me lad. In Hell if nowhere else."

"No," Jack said, but the other man was laughing. Laughing like only the damned could laugh.

"C'mon, Jack…please fight…please drink this…"

But he didn't want to fight anymore and whatever they were pouring into his mouth tasted foul, as foul as Barbossa's kiss had been. He sputtered and tried to spit it back out, but they had forced his nose shut and his mouth and he was forced to swallow. It tried to come back up straight off, but those strong arms lifted him and held him until the urge passed.

And then he felt gentle-rough fingers touching his face. Pulling his hair back and laying something wet and cool across his forehead. He heard footsteps and another voice, this one seemingly as familiar as the last.

"Has the fever broken yet?"

"No," the second voice sounded right in his ear, worried, so worried, as those arms laid him back down again. Before they laid something heavy over the top of him. "And if not tonight then never, I'm afraid."

"A shame," the first responded. "To be given his freedom, only to die. Perhaps, he was right and his luck has run out, after all."

He knew that voice now. It was Norrington and the other…Will, Will Turner. But what were they doing together, what were they doing with him? It didn't make any sense and before he could try and make it make sense, he saw Barbossa's face again, saw that damned monkey grinning at him - both of them naught but bones and rags and dust - and he turned away from his betrayer, from the hands that were trying to soothe him, and sought the darkness that lay behind them all.

The darkness of black seas and, mingled as ever, the taste of salt-spray and tears.


After that, he heard voices a few more times. Sometimes it were Will again, other times a woman's soft tones. The words never did seem to come clear, but none of it mattered to him really.

As he drifted with the Pearl, burning hot one moment and deathly cold the next. Sometimes he were alone on the ship, lost in the fog and the night, sailing on black slate seas, and other times Barbossa stood there next to him. One hand on his shoulder, an almost amiable look on his grizzled face.

The same look he got when he was at his most dangerous.

But then the wind would shift and the Pearl turn with it and he would be alone again.

Feeling hands on him once more and something warm trickling down his throat and his body seeming like an empty shell of itself, an anchor holding him to what he least understood. Let alone was entirely sure he wanted anymore.

But was, still, unable to completely let go of.


The first thing he became aware of was a smell. Lovely and fleeting and delicate. Roses, and he hadn't smelled roses in years. Not since he'd been a boy in England.

The second thing he noticed was that he was naked and that there were cool sheets at his back and cool sheets tucked in around him, crisp clean linen, and he hadn't slept in such as that for years. Well, to be entirely honest, he'd never had fine bedding as he was lying in. Nor such a fine bed, either.

The smell of the roses was coming in on the breeze and, slowly, cautiously, Jack opened his eyes and saw an open window just past the polished wood of the bedpost. He could hear birds singing now as well and, more distantly, the sound of the sea. A comforting sound as much as it was familiar to him.

There was a lemon tree right outside and, as he watched, the sun came out from behind a cloud and turned the leaves a brilliant green. It flooded into the room he was in as well and washed the walls white, brought out the rich coloring of the expensive woodwork and the portrait of a woman and three children hanging opposite him, one of them holding a small brown and white dog that seemed to be looking directly at him.

The light stung his eyes and he felt tears gathering, but quickly blinked them back and turned his head away from the window. The movement made him only slightly dizzy, which was a definite improvement.

Now, if he could only fathom where he was and remember how he might have gotten here.

Roses and lemons and fine linen. Sure, and he wasn't in Governor's own house, was he? Even the most forward missy Elizabeth couldn't have swung that with her father. But if he wasn't there and he wasn't back in his charming little cell back at the fort, then where was he?

Jack started to push himself up to look around a bit more, only to send that oh so fine room spinning around him, his arms trembling with even this tiny bit of effort. He fell back and closed his eyes again, gasping for breath.

"Damn," he whispered. At this rate, he wasn't likely to be going anywhere soon. Let alone getting out of this bed.

The sound of floorboards creaking drew his attention then. A moment later, the door across the room opened and a young woman in a plain brown dress and white cap began to walk inside. She stopped immediately, though, when she saw him looking at her and her eyes widened. She began to back out the door again.

Jack raised a hand. "Wait…miss…"

But she was gone, leaving the door still open behind her, and he heard her footsteps ringing out as she quite obviously rushed down the hall beyond.

He let his hand fall again, not that he had much choice about the matter. It was difficult enough to keep his eyes open, let alone anything beyond that.

He was even more sure of just how exhausted he was, when he rather belatedly realized that someone else had come into the room and was, even now, standing next to where he was lying. Clearing their throat with an impatient sound.

Slowly, he opened his eyes again and turned his head.

Commodore Norrington was looking down at him with a deceptively mild expression.

"Well, I see you're awake at the last," he commented. "Turner will be sorely disappointed that he wasn't here to witness your return to the world of the living."

"Oh, aye?" Jack managed.

Norrington gave him a clipped nod. "It was rather inconvenient of you to fall ill on the morning of your redemption. Both Master Turner and Miss Swann were quite concerned. In fact, Miss Swann came straight to my office when she found out and accused me of complicity in your ill health. Seems she thought I hadn't taken well enough care with you during your imprisonment. Apparently, she was quite correct."

"Tis a bad habit she has," Jack mumbled.

The other man seemingly ignored the comment. Instead, he took his eyes off Jack and walked past the bed and over to the window. He gazed out and put his hands behind his back, clasping his fingers together. His head bowed.

"Of course, that same day she also took ill. Along with many townsfolk and a good quarter of my men. Thank God, she recovered quickly enough, but many others were less fortunate. Including a dozen of my own. As for Miss Swann, Master Turner remained with her until her fever broke, soon after which she chased him from her own bedside, insisting that he look after you in turn."

Jack closed his eyes for a moment. It hurt now to recall how he had doubted them; both Will and Elizabeth had more than proved themselves true friends and he more than owed them an apology for his lack of trust.

"How long?" Jack asked, looking back over at the other man again. At the straight back, the long fine coat, the expensive powdered wig. Norrington was the perfect picture of a military man, forthright and compelling and strict. And, obviously, rather at odds with himself over having found himself playing nursemaid to such a scallywag as himself. "An where am I?"

"My home," Norrington replied, answering his second question first. With the tone that more than made it clear that it were a sore point with him. "And nearly a week, Mister Sparrow. Since you last seemed cognizant of your surroundings anyway."

"Aye," Jack said softly. A week, and it seemed from what the Commodore wasn't saying that he must have nearly died as well. How much of a sore point that was with him yet remained to be seen.

Norrington turned around then, his hands still clasped behind his back, and raised his head. Those sharp blue-grey eyes rested on him, appeared to almost look right through him.

"I will, of course, let Turner know that it appears that you have recovered. Your wits, if nothing else. No doubt, he will be here within the hour. In the meantime, I will send Emma up with some more broth for you. I trust that you will find the accommodations and the fare here more to your liking. Though, of course, now that you are a free man, you may leave and find better if you wish."

"Free?" Jack echoed.

Norrington's eyes flashed. A small smile edged his lips. It wasn't particularly kind nor cutting. "Oh, of course, didn't I tell you? The Governor pardoned you, Mister Sparrow. So, perhaps, your luck hasn't abandoned you, after all."


Jack contemplated that parting shot over the next couple of days. Slowly, he grew stronger, though he had still yet to go more than a step or two around the room without fearing that he might fall flat on his face.

The Commodore would look in on him every morning and evening, but he refused to be dragged into a conversation, good, bad, or indifferent. He was polite enough, always inquired about his health and his needs, but it went no further than that. And, to be perfectly honest, Jack was too tired to truly give it much effort.

The young woman he had first seen - Emma - came and, rather nervously, brought him broth in the morning and evening as well and, on the second day, the fort surgeon came and looked in on him. He had been a man of middle years, with this air of exhaustion about him that had been palpable. He had pronounced him fit enough, though had suggested bed rest for at least another three days.

The servant who had shown him up to Jack's room - and who'd stood there as the surgeon had conducted his examination, as if making sure that he didn't pinch the man's pockets or some such - hadn't seemed overly pleased at that pronouncement, though he had said nothing. Just looked down his nose at him and told him that the master of the house had told him to make 'our guest' as comfortable as possible.

His name had been Knox and Emma had seemed somewhat leery of him whenever she'd come into the room to find him there. As if he were a man who might take his temper out on her. Or the fact that they were being forced to wait upon the needs of a pirate.

Though, he hadn't seemed happy to see to a blacksmith, either.

Will had come and seen Jack on that second day as well, looking worn around the edges himself and yet warm enough for all that. He had clasped Jack's hand between his own, tight enough near to bruise it, and then told him that Elizabeth was relieved to hear that he was on the mend and was already itching to get back on her feet as well.

Then he had gone on about the pardon the Governor had signed for him and handed the paper to him with a flourish and a smile that had been just this side of blinding. Jack had taken it and stared at it as Will had talked about the fever that had swept through the town and how they were already making plans for their wedding and his plans to open his very own smithy. Or to buy the old one from Master Brown, donkey and all.

He hadn't had the heart to tell the man that it would take him at least an hour to puzzle out the fancy writing on the damn piece of paper, except for his own name, which he recognized straight off of course, and that he wasn't sure what it really meant to him either. Except that Norrington no longer had the right to hang him. For piracy, anyhow.

Still, it had been good to see the lad and good to hear that both he and his lady love were well and that their lives were going on and he had smiled and joked with him and thanked him well enough and said that, yes indeed, he would like to see Elizabeth again, as soon as they both could manage it.

Even though he doubted either her father or the Commodore would approve of that little reunion.

"Take care now, Jack," Will had said at the last, clasping his hand again. "I'll see you again, soon enough."

"Aye," he had replied. "An the same to you and yours."

Not able to help the smile as William Turner had stood up and bowed at him and then swept back out the door, dour Master Knox already there to show him out. Frowning at the younger man as he gave him a somewhat impudent smile and stepped out ahead of him, all with a fresh air of confidence and grace that suited him from the tip of his brand new boots to his brand new hat, dashing white feather and all.

Even more like his father than he had been before.

Like old Bootstrap had truly come back from the dead.

As it seemed he was coming back from the dead as well, albeit a little more slowly. Rather too slowly for the Commodore, at least from the somewhat disappointed look in his eyes whenever he came in and found him still abed, as if he hoped he might wander off on his own if given half a chance and absolve him of any further trouble on his account.

Not that Jack didn't contemplate it. While he drank down his broth. While he stared out at the lemon trees outside his window or up at that portrait on the wall in front of him. While he worked to get himself up and out of bed until he could begin to totter his way around the room.

But, mostly, he slept and ate and slept again.

Though, sometimes, he fingered that single piece of paper that had set him free.


Emma came in with a tray and set it down on the table next to the bed. She shot Jack her usual nervous look from beneath her cap, then faced him and gave a quick bob of her head when she saw he was watching her.

"Sir," she said in a soft voice. "To break your fast. The master says if you require anything more today, you may please ring the bell and Cook will come and see to you since I shall be out and Mister Knox is somewhat indisposed today."

"Oh," he replied. "I hope the poor man hasn't caught fever."

No doubt, he would be blaming Jack if he had. For which he wouldn't be in the least sorry.

Another head bob was his only answer, before she began backing away from him. A quick flash of her eyes and then she was out in the hall and closing the door behind her.

Jack pushed the bedclothes down and leaned over to take the tray. He settled it between his stretched-out legs and inspected what she had brought him this morning. There was another bowl of broth, plus bread and cheese and wine this time. Plain enough fare, though everything was laid out on finely painted china as always and the wine was in a pristine glass goblet.

Not terribly surprising, since he had known that the Commodore was a man well-enough off, but to be using his best serving ware on a pirate day after day…

No, Jack told himself as he picked up the goblet and twirled it before his eyes, following the blended glimmer of wine and glass, before taking a sip. Not a pirate. Not anymore. He had been granted a pardon, after all. Not that a piece of paper - signed by the governor or no - made him any less a buccaneer than before. Pirate was in his blood, as much if not more so than young Will Turner's.

And blood always won through in the end.

Look at young Will.

Jack slowly finished off the wine. It was a good vintage, though rather too watered for his taste. He tucked into the food then, eating more than he expected as he found his appetite had returned with a vengeance. When he had finally finished off the last crumb, though, he found he was tired again. So tired that a nap certainly wouldn't go amiss, not at all.

Putting the tray aside, he pulled the bedclothes back up again around him and settled down. And was asleep again before he hardly closed his eyes.

It was afternoon when he woke again, the house silent around him and rain coming down outside from a soft silver sky. Jack rolled over and watched the droplets on the glass for a while, then - feeling infinitely better than he had in for what seemed like forever - he pushed his way from the bed and over to the window.

In the distance, far below the house and the town, misty shapes of ships bobbed on the water of the harbor and he recognized the massive bulk of the Dauntless near the mouth of the bay. The same anchorage she'd been at when he and Will had made their pretence of attempting to commandeer her.

Before they made off with the Interceptor, instead. She had been a fine little ship and, for a moment, Jack bowed his head as he remembered her loss. Only to have that feeling give way to a far more painful one, as he remembered his own. Odds were, he would never see the Pearl again, except in his dreams

He pressed his forehead to the glass, then angled his head until he could see the fort as well, dark and massive of stone, with her flags all hanging down, wet and nearly colorless on this grey day, as if half in mourning themselves. No doubt, the Commodore was there right at this moment - perhaps sitting in his office with a cup of tea before him, mayhap even contemplating how best to rid himself of one unwelcome guest without risking further offence to the Governor's daughter.

Except that this was the third day and the surgeon had given him leave to end their reluctant association at that point.

Not that Jack felt completely his old self yet, but he did feel well enough that he doubted he could honestly protest the other man tossing him out of house and home this very day if he liked.

Testing the thought, he pulled off the nightshirt he had been given to wear and went to where his clothing had been laid out on the chair by the window. He put on his breeches and shirt and sash - all of which had been cleaned at some point and now seemed almost unfamiliar to him - then buckled on his belt and made his way over to the door. His bare feet silent on the floor as he crept down the hallway beyond, past closed doors and more dark paintings full of serious-looking people. Many of the men in naval uniform of by-gone years.

Norrington's ancestors all seemed a somber sort.

The stairway beyond was a bit more of a challenge and he was breathing harder than he liked by the time he got to the bottom. Watery light came in through the windows to either side of the front door and a clock ticked away gently on one wall. Next to it, another door stood half-open and Jack saw the edge of a desk and a case full of books just beyond. The door opposite was closed and a narrow hall skirted the bottom of the stairs and led away, presumably to the back of the house.

Jack went up to the front door and tried the handle. To his surprise, it opened freely and he swung it just slightly ajar and peered out. The smell of damp greenery swept over him immediately, intermixed with the scent of the sea, and a fine spray from off the rain cooled his face. There were more lemon trees here, along with a couple of palms, and an iron gate marked the end of the property.

He was about to open the door wide, when movement and a hint of bright color caught his eye and he slid back into the shadows of the foyer.

A man in red and white livery had stepped out from behind one of the trees, glancing up at the house as he walked past the closed gate. As Jack watched, another man appeared as well, the two conversing briefly before shouldering their weapons once more and retaking their positions. Out of sight, though definitely not out of mind.

So, despite his ever so proper pardon, he was still being treated as a prisoner. That bore thinking about. Certainly before he decided to walk out this door and mayhap find himself on the wrong end of a pistol or a sword.

Speaking of which, he still needed to find his own. Odds are, they were still confiscated and back up at the fort, but he had played worse odds than that before and ended up coming out on top.

He would just have to search the house. Which would be a pleasant enough pastime, even if he didn't have things of his own perhaps hidden somewhere here. To be sure, he would have to avoid the servants, but the only one he currently knew was about was the cook and he doubted he'd find either some wayward purse or his own effects in the kitchen.

Jack closed the front door and turned towards the other open door. He slipped inside and glanced around, noting several more cases full of books, plus a large and probably quite expensive globe. The curtains here were heavy, dark velvet and kept out all but narrow slivers of light from outside. There was a table with several chairs on the far side of the room, a few other chairs near the hearth, but the desk predominated.

It was made of good stout oak and had a silver writing set placed on it, plus several pieces of blank paper being held in place by a chunk of sea-smoothed glass. He picked it up and glanced through it, seeing the world momentarily through an amber hue, broken into all sorts of odd shapes and angles.

Rather like looking at the morning through the bottom of a bottle of cheap rum.

Jack thought about pocketing the stone, then remembered that he had nowhere to keep it for the nonce. He set it back precisely, well aware that the man who owned this desk and this library would most probably be sure to know if something were moved but an inch out of position.

He wandered over to look at the globe, then spun it and jabbed a finger at it to stop it again. He peered in at where it had paused, but couldn't read the name of the place. It looked to be somewhere in the middle of the East Indies, though. He had been in that part of the world but twice himself and had loved the sights and smells and women there practically to distraction.

Though none could compare with his desire for the sea. To regain what had been lost to him. And, for a moment, he remembered his dream of rescue. Of seeing the Pearl come flying into the bay, her sails full and perfect again. Of having Cotton handing him his hat and AnaMaria laying his coat across his shoulders. As she told him the Black Pearl were his again.

Of the feel of her wheel beneath his hand and how she had come about almost eagerly, as if she had been pleased to see him as well. No other ship could ever take her place. Not in his heart, anyway.

Even if some other ship were actually on offer.

Walking away from the globe, he went over to Norrington's desk and ran a finger along the top of it. He tried the drawers, but they were all locked - all but the top one which only contained more paper, a small bottle of ink, some sealing wax, and spare quills. The contents of the drawer were laid out as neatly as the rest of the desk and the room itself.

But then neatness and order seemed to be watchwords for Commodore James Norrington; no doubt, he had been entirely proper as a young boy as well, a boon to his dear mother and father and all those other dour military relations of his. As, no doubt, it had been plotted out from the moment of his birth - if not before - that he should join His Majesty's navy and rise to high rank therein.

Most like, he got his attitude towards pirates and the disposition thereof due to their influence.

More's the pity…

Jack sighed and closed the drawer again. After which, he proceeded to pick the locks of the rest, finding his belt, compass, and pistol in one of them - the weapon cleaned and polished and wrapped up in the soft brown cloth. He ran his fingers over the compass, but didn't open it. Still it felt good to hold it again and he put it and his belt on with an acute sense of relief. Before picking up the pistol and inspecting it. Aye, it had been well taken care, but it wasn't loaded and there was still no spare powder or shot, so he put that next on his list to find.

Besides his sword, of course. There was no way he was leaving without his sword. And his boots, don't forget his boots. He'd be needing his pistol and his blade and his boots, even if the men at the gate would leave him pass without a fight. Which he doubted. Pardon or no, he just couldn't see himself walking free without some issue being raised. Or, at least, without the Commodore demanding some promise out of him that most probably would consist of him leaving Port Royal and its surrounds immediately, never to return again.

Humming softly, feeling better already at the return of at least some of his effects, Jack stuffed his pistol into its usual place in his sash and then ventured back out.

O'course, if he had to, he'd leave without his boots - comfort, though they were - but no man could make him surrender his sword. He be leaving with it or he'd not be leaving at all.

And the ever so proper, should have had better locks on his desk, Commodore bloody Norrington would just have to live with that.


"I see you're well on the mend," a voice commented dryly.

Jack turned his head slowly, the book still open in his hands.

Norrington was standing just inside the doors in just his shirtsleeves and vest. Somehow, he managed to look just as formal, even though his coat and hat were missing and his sword belt was unbuckled, hanging loose in one hand. As if he were about to come in and relax for the evening, perhaps write a few letters or settle down before the fire with a book and a fine glass of wine, only to catch a thief with all of those things in hand already.

Still, despite his cool tone, those blue-grey eyes were mild enough. Mayhap, he had expected to catch this self-same thief. If not with his bare feet up on his desk, then at least sitting in his chair.

"I wasn't aware that you knew how to read, Mister Sparrow."

Jack closed the book and shrugged. "A little."

Norrington nodded. He finished taking off his sword belt and placed both belt and sword on the nearest table. He then walked across the room towards him and put out his hand.

After a moment, Jack stood up and handed the book over to its owner.

Norrington took it with the air of a man who well knew its value. He ran long fingers over the leather binding, then let it fall open once more.

"Rather interesting choice of subject," he said, glancing down at the page in front of him. "Tell me, Mister Sparrow, do you believe in witchcraft or did you just pick out this particular volume by mere happenstance."

"Not sure," Jack replied, his own gaze falling to the lurid woodcut only partially hidden by the other man's hands. "I've met some who claimed the name. An I've seen things some would name impossible. As have you, if ye recall."

"Ah, yes," Norrington said and looked up at the same time that Jack finally tore his gaze from the page.

For a long moment, they stared directly at each other, as if neither of them were quite willing to be the one to look away first, before Jack belatedly remembered under whose sufferance he was here and what he owed the other man.

"I apologize," he said, letting his eyes fall ever so slightly. "I shouldn't have presumed."

"Indeed not," Norrington replied. He shut the book with a decided snap and brushed past him to return it to its shelf. "But since you already have, feel free to peruse any book which may catch your fancy. You are, after all, a guest in my home."

"A guest, aye," Jack said with a scorn he couldn't help. "With a guard at the gate."

Norrington turned and, once more, gave him that deceptively mild look.

Then his eyes fell to Jack's belt. "I see you have reacquired your pistol and that rather useless compass. Sentiment? Or should I fear for my life?"

Jack shrugged. "Only if ye don't see fit to give me me boots. An ye know full well there's no shot in me pistol and none to be found in this entire house. Is that exactly wise, man?"

"Normally, no," Norrington replied. "But in this case…all monies, shot and powder have been removed to a safe place. Free from the temptation of your nimble fingers."

"Should I be offended?"

Instead of answering, the other man went over to the side table and poured himself out a glass of port. He drank half of it, as if fortifying himself, then turned to face Jack again. His eyes were cool now, his face perfectly controlled, perfectly formal. As if posing for a portrait himself.

"I imagine you wish your sword returned as well," he commented. "But for that, you'll have to inquire after young master Turner. He took it in his head that you'd would be wanting it well taken care of and he did seem slightly offended himself at the manner in which it had previously been looked after."

Jack shook his head. Impertinent whelp…

But there could be no help for that; his father had been strong-willed as well and more of a ruddy pain then ten other men combined at times. But a good man in a fight, same as Will, and just as loyal. When it counted.

"Cook can tell you where your boots are. I assume you know where the kitchens lie by now," Norrington said then, finishing off his glass. He set it down again and picked up his own sword and belt, starting out of the room. Only to pause there in the doorway to add, still in that controlled voice. "Dinner in an hour, Mister Sparrow. And I believe you may dine with me downstairs, tonight. That is, if you are still here in an hour's time. The choice is, of course, entirely yours."

And, with that, he walked out. Leaving Jack standing there. Wondering if he'd just been to told to get the hell out or if he'd actually been invited to stay.


Dinner was both more and less formal than Jack had expected. He'd found his boots, also cleaned, put away in a cupboard in the kitchen. Cook had been quite happy to show them to him, her teeth gleaming white in her dark face as she smiled broadly at him and then shooed him back out the door. Her friendliness had been a welcome change from the attitude of the rest of Norrington's servants.

Who, no doubt, took their cue from the master of the house himself.

Who was just now sitting opposite him, stiff and silent in a matching high-backed chair at a well-laid table, white linen all around, ivory candles burning in the center and gleaming silver before them both. As they'd already worked their way through a cream and wine flavored soup and now were starting in on a good piece of pork cooked with onions, parsley, apples, and pickled mangos. It was richer food than he was used to - especially of late - but it made a welcome change.

Even if the company it were being served into wasn't the best.

Norrington hadn't said a single word since he'd sat down at the table and didn't look to be changing that habit any time soon.

The Commodore was dressed simply enough for him, still in his shirtsleeves and a pair of fawn breeches. He had eschewed his wig as well, and his dark hair was gathered at the back of his neck with a matching ribbon. Jack, himself, had dressed as if for battle or for sudden flight - his empty pistol still tucked into his sash, right next to the piece of paper that indicated his pardon. He wasn't sure which could be of more use in this situation, let alone if he actually aimed to try and get past the men outside yet tonight.

It would have been helpful if he knew exactly what their orders were as far as he were concerned.

When Norrington poured himself a second glass of wine, he finally took his life in his hands, laid down his fork across his almost empty plate, and spoke up.

"I'm free to go, then?"

The other man took a drink and lowered his glass again to the table, before looking over at him.

"I thought I'd already made that clear," he commented. "If not, the piece of paper shoved into your belt this minute should have been proof enough."

"Aye," Jack said softly. "But you don't like it, do you?"

"My likes or dislikes don't enter into it," Norrington replied. He lifted a piece of pork towards his mouth, then set it down again and pushed his own still mostly full plate away. "The law is the law and I uphold the law, no matter my own feelings on it."

"I thought your feelings were that you didn't want to see me hanged. Or were those just kind words meant for a condemned man and of no other account than that?"

The other man's eyes were pale in the candlelight, giving little to nothing away. "They were true enough and not meant to be kind. I, personally, did not wish to see you die, but that doesn't mean that I believe you innocent enough to warrant a full pardon. Especially since I am well aware - even if Miss Swann and Master Turner are not or don't wish to be - of just how little such a pardon is worth to you. And just how long it will last."

"You believe I'll turn pirate again?" He asked the question, even though both he and, he suspected, the other man full well knew the answer to that.

"Again, that's your choice," Norrington replied. "But I would consider the ramifications full well before making it. But then, that would be my choice. To think before acting."

"Mayhap, you think too much," Jack said. "Have ye ever thought of that? Sometimes, you just have to trust in fate and hope it turns out for the best."

"Is that what you did when you took that piece of accursed gold back on the island? Trust in fate and hope for the best?"

Jack raised his head. "Will told you?"

Norrington said nothing, but that was answer enough.

Jack nodded and leaned back in his chair. He played with the stem of his wine glass, so smooth beneath his own rough fingers. "Aye. An twas the only way I could think of to fight the man and stand half a chance of it."


He nodded again.

"Turner also said that the man was your First Mate once. That he led a mutiny that ended up with you being marooned on that island we found you and Miss Swann on."

"Aye. Tis so. O'er ten years ago now it was."

"I see." Norrington's voice was quieter now, as if to hide the fact that there was suddenly more emotion in it. "Ten years and you finally achieved your revenge on the man for what he did to you. Ten years is a long time, Mister Sparrow. More patience than I would have accounted you with."

"A man may well be patient when there is little other choice."

"Yes, and mutiny is a most foul business." Softer still, a roughness to it now. "The worst sort of betrayal. Unless, of course, the man in question has been proved to be less than honest, as when he goes against his own articles for example, and so gains his fate as appropriate."

Jack raised his head, his first impulse to take offense. But Norrington's eyes were seemingly fixed on the candle flame and he realized that the other man was just trying to come to the root of the matter, and not deliberately attempting to provoke him. He relaxed again, deliberately slouching down in the chair now, spreading his legs out in front of him.

"Aye, that's true," he replied. "Even the worst sort of pirate needs be an honorable man."

"And are you the 'worst sort of pirate,' Captain Sparrow?"

Ah, now there was the true question, the one that had obviously been haunting the other man all during dinner, if not for days.

Jack contemplated how to answer and as he did - here was his luck yet again, thanks be - one of the servants came in and cleared away their plates, replacing them with bowls of still-steaming apple pudding. He set a pitcher of fresh cream down as well, then bowed and left the room, closing the doors behind him.

"I've never broken me word," Jack said, once they were alone again. "There were no grounds for such as what they did to me, aside from their own greed and Barbossa's desire to take me ship away from me."

"A greed for which they paid dearly," Norrington commented. He picked up the pitcher and poured a generous amount over his pudding, before politely offering it to Jack.

"Aye, an many others as well," Jack said softly. He reached for the cream, but then paused as he curled his hand around it. Briefly touching Norrington's fingers as well as the cool silver surface of the pitcher.

The Commodore's eyes met his and, in that moment, there was nothing cool about them, nor restrained. Instead, they were uncertain, a little surprised, more than a little nervous. As if he'd just been caught doing something he shouldn't. Something he wouldn't have ever contemplated.

But was suddenly contemplating all the same.

"Thank ye," Jack said then, taking the pitcher away and pouring an even more generous helping over his own dessert.

For once, Norrington didn't reply, even though it would have been the polite thing to do.

That same silence returned as they ate their pudding, but Jack was well aware of the Commodore's regard when he thought he wasn't looking. And by the time his bowl was clean, he was pleasantly full and somewhat pleasantly sleepy and well amused by the effect such a small thing had had on the other man.

Which was interesting. Very interesting.


Jack woke slowly, the sound of the sea slowly transforming to the cries of birds and the rush of the wind just outside his open window. For once, his dreams has been peaceful enough - no hangman's noose or accusing ghosts. Just the ocean and the sky and the feel of the wheel beneath his hands as he steered the ship between the two.

It had been the Pearl he'd dreamt of, he was sure of that. No other ship had ever felt like her. Or made him feel so very alive inside, like his veins were filled by fire and his feet might very well lift off the decks if given half a chance. She had always convinced him that he could half fly and it had been a rude awakening each time he'd been forced to go ashore and leave her and the sea behind.

But then he'd never felt at home on land. If pirate was in his blood, as it also surged through young Will's veins, then it were made nine-tenths of salt and sea. And it was the one true treasure he couldn't live without.

Jack rolled over lazily and tucked the edge of his pillow beneath his chin. He closed his eyes again and began to drift off to sleep once more. Only to have the ringing of bells start him awake again. For a second he wondered if an alarm were being raised, then he relaxed again as he realized what day it was.

The Lord's Day and all good souls of Port Royal would be heading off to services to renew their faith and to offer up earnest prayers for those souls who were deemed less fortunate than they.

No doubt, Elizabeth and her father would be there even now, ensconced in their own private box. Idly, he wondered if Will had accompanied them there. Bootstrap's boy hadn't seemed the worshipful kind, unless of course you counted his feelings for Elizabeth. But if they did aim to be wed, then he might very well be there with her and the Governor. Those work and forge-hardened hands of his folded before him and his head bowed, naked of that jaunty white-feathered hat, as he listened to those self-same bells and possibly thought less than pure thoughts about the woman sitting next to him.

And would the lad be dismayed by them? By how long it was yet till their nuptials could be celebrated? Or had he finally accepted the fire in his blood, the same fire that Jack had seen in Miss Swann's eyes from the first. Since, if any of the two could be said to scorn propriety, then it were the Governor's daughter. No doubt, she would have a thing or two to teach her betrothed, even if the both of them were yet innocent of anything more sinful than a kiss or three.

Not that his own thoughts on this fine Sunday morning were anything near to pure, let alone proclaiming of their innocence. Most especially where a certain officer of the Crown were concerned. But then he had never cared to attend services of any kind and he had no intention of attempting to pray away the lustful thoughts he was currently entertaining, let alone chastising the burgeoning erection it was giving him. Even if he believed it to be a sin. Which he didn't.

Jack slipped a hand down beneath the sheets and took hold of himself.

As for propriety…well, that was already shot to hell. After all, he was a guest in the man's home. What more could be said than that. And as for what may or may not go on behind closed doors of that same house - well, they didn't need to know that. Even if Jack had a mind to tell them. Which he didn't.

He began slowly stroking his prick, imaging it was some other hand than his own. Imagining the look on the man's face when both their hands had met over that pitcher of cream.

Which left only one problem. Well, to be perfectly honest, two problems.

One, what he was going to do with himself now that he were a free man, and whether or not that freedom extended to returning to his former freebooting lifestyle. And, if it didn't, what else he could see himself doing in order to make a living. A comfortable living. One where he didn't have to work too hard.

And two, how he was going to get that certain officer of the Crown to bed him. Preferably, the sooner the better. Without ending up back on the block or with that pretty little sword of Will Turner's somewhere where it didn't rightly belong.

A fine spot of buggery were against the law much as it were considered a sin, but he had never much minded either. A belief that his prick certainly agreed with. Just as it agreed that a certain pair of steel-blue eyes were quite fine to look into and that the legs in those pristine breeches were a fair sight to even a blind man. Strong, fine legs. Long fingers. A firm mouth and just a hint of disdain and wry amusement.

Oh, aye…

Jack's fingers caught the cream of his efforts as he let out a soft sigh, arching up on the bed. The pleasure warm, soft as a summer's breeze, and yet sharp for all that. As he imagined tasting that same cream on the other man's lips. Or, better still, the feel of Norrington's own sweet spendings going deep inside him.

Yes, he'd best be thinking about those two questions. But it would be better on a full stomach or, baring that, with a full glass. He'd take the man's porter or brandy if it came to that, but he did his best contemplating while imbibing the mother's milk of all honest sailors.

Rum…difficult contemplations such as these definitely required rum. And if there were none to be had here in the Commodore's house, then he'd just have to bribe someone to bring him some.


It was a lazy afternoon and Jack Sparrow was lazing in it. He had his head firmly planted on a fat red and gold brocade pillow stolen from up the house and his legs stretched full out, and one hand dandling off the side off the bench. While his other hand clutched a nearly empty bottle of rum to his chest.

His eyes were half-open, but he saw nothing but dappled shadow and shifting light through the branches over his head. The bench he had chosen was well shaded by trees and surrounded by rose bushes, blocking off most of the view from the house. And that was just how he liked it.

Thinking was hard work, with the added lubrication of rum or no, and he more than deserved some rest on this blessed day of rest.

Cook had brought him his rum, after he'd liberated a small stock of monies from behind a loose stone in the hearth of the dining room he'd just visited last night. Either the Commodore had forgotten about his wee stash when he'd emptied the house of other valuables, or he'd seriously underestimated his houseguest's sharp eyes and nimble fingers.

And the servant woman must have known from whom he'd gotten the gold, but she had asked no questions. Instead, she'd nipped out and brought him several bottles of rum and handed them over to him with a curtsy and a smile and a plate of fresh-baked cakes.

The empty plate lay on the pathway beside him now, the crumbs a gathering post for an army of reddish ants.

He ignored them as he'd ignored the passing of the day. The nodding of the tree over his head and the dance of the clouds beyond and the roses bobbing on their long stems, victims of the breeze blowing in from the southwest. Squall weather, apt to shift and change with little to no notice at all.

Jack took another drink of his rum, then sloshed it around as if just noticing that it were almost empty. Then he let the bottle and his head drop again. Good thing he had stashed the other two bottles away before he'd found this most-comfortable and secluded spot, else he might well have drunk them as well. The way he was feeling.

He hadn't yet solved either of his two problems and it was wearing on him. As much as the rum would let it.

So, perhaps, he should just stop thinking at all and rely on luck and good fortune to see him through. It had served him well enough in the past, with one glaring exception. One grand, black-sailed, quite breathtakingly lovely exception. It were enough to bring a tear to his eyes and the bottle back to his lips.

Ah, my love…

Boot heels crunched on stone then, heading down the path towards him. A firm, constant tread. A man with little time this fine day and even less patience. He could tell that already, even before he hoisted the bottle back into the air and extended out it in his general direction.

"Rum, Commodore?"

"Yes, I see," Norrington replied, his tone flat. "As I see a man lolling about drunk when he should be applying himself to acquiring some means of making a living other than thievery."

""M not drunk," he mumbled. "But if ye've come to clamp me in irons and haul me off to yon fine prison again, well then it were better I should be."

He turned his head then and looked at Norrington, who was standing at attention just a few feet away from his bench. His hands clasped behind his back and every nip and tuck nipped and tucked and this fixed expression on his face. The one that they must have taught near every officer who ever served in His Majesty's navy, at least those Jack had come into contact with.

"But then what's the matter of a few shillings among friends," he added.

"A small purse of gold, you mean," the Commodore corrected.

"Ah, but that's all that's left." It wasn't but the man didn't have to know that, now did he? Just in case he did end up having to make some sort of escape.

For a moment, Norrington's eyes hardened, then his whole manner seemed to ease a bit. Something rueful flickered across his face, as if he'd bitten into something he'd suspected of being rotten, but had wanted all the same. Then, even that was gone as he turned his head and stared rather pointedly at the far end of the bench. Where Jack's boots had taken up residence.

Jack let them rest there just long enough to make it clear that he were moving them entirely under duress, then he shifted over and sat up with something approaching a moan. From his aching back and not from the rum, not from that dear drink at all.

And Norrington's back must have been aching, too, because he sat down slowly on the emptied spot, wrenched open the top of his jacket, and then stretched out his own long legs.

"Long day, Commodore?" Jack asked, gazing at him sidelong. "Overseeing the troops an catching the odd miscreant or two? After you attended services, o' course, good Christian soul that you are."

"Letters," Norrington said. "Requisitions. Orders that wait for no man. Not even on a Sunday. A buccaneer ship may well run on rum, Mister Sparrow, but a ship of the line requires paper. Reams of paper. And, yes, as if you really were concerned about the state of my soul, I did attend services this day."

And must have gotten an unwelcome eyeful, Jack added silently. Will and Elizabeth sitting there, cozy as you please and half as engaged. The Governor cottaging over them both, as if he were well and truly pleased about the swain his headstrong young daughter had dragged home from the seas to wed. Actually, Jack was quite looking forward to it. Whether he was invited or no. Which, he figured he was, being that they had, at least in part, bonded together over the saving of his life.

Now, what a wedding gift that made.

"So," Jack said. "If you haven't come down to your gardens to charge me with thieving, then was there something else on your mind?"

"They are my gardens, Mister Sparrow," Norrington said in a rather droll tone.

"An very fine they are, too," Jack replied, sweeping his hand around in a broad gesture at the bushes next to him. Uncaring of the rum sloshing in its bottle. "Especially these lovely roses of yours. Do you know they're near the shade of a woman's cheeks. If you've ever seen a woman's cheeks when they're flushed with delight."

The Commodore said nothing to that and Jack glanced at him. That fixed look was back again and he was staring across at the lemon trees that lined one side of the garden. The same lemon trees that Jack could see from the room he'd been given to stay in. Speaking of which…

"I imagine," he said. "You'll be wanting me to leave. Though another dinner as fine as the last wouldn't go amiss first. You wouldn't toss a man out on an empty stomach, now would you?"

"Please yourself," came the quiet reply. "You're a free man, Mister Sparrow."

"Free," Jack echoed, as if it were actually true anymore. As if that thought didn't bring problem number one roaring back to life in his head. He had been free as a pirate - free to go where he wished and free to serve no man but himself - but now? Now, if he didn't wish to starve, he'd have to find work somewhere, whether that be on land or at sea. Work for which he was most undoubtedly ill-suited, at least in temperament.

"So, have you given any thought at all to your future?" the other man went on. "That purse you stole from me can't last forever."

"One or two, aye," Jack replied.

"You do realize," the Commodore said, his voice ever so cool. Even condescending. "That should you decide to return to your old and rather dissolute life, that no quarter will be given next time. This is your one and only chance to make an honest man of yourself and I, for one, would make the most of it."

"An if I liked the man I was before?" he said, aware of just how sharp his words were. He had been oddly stung by the other man's tone, even though it wasn't unexpected.

Norrington paused and then turned his head and looked at him for a long moment. His eyes were sympathetic enough, even if his voice remained remote.

"Now that is a quandary. I trust, however, that you will make the right choice in the end, Mister Sparrow. I would hate to see you in irons again. Let alone facing the noose."

"An if I don't…do what it is ye think is right?"

The other man straightened minutely and his face grew as cool as his voice. His eyes suddenly looked more grey than blue, as if all the color had leached out of them.

"Then I shall see to it that you make that appointment with the gallows, as is my sworn duty."

"Is that all ye believe in?" Jack asked. "Duty makes for a cold mistress."

Norrington's face grew even stonier at that and, too late, Jack realized what a sore point it was he had just touched upon.

"If you must know," Norrington finally answered, his voice flat, empty of all expression. "It's all I have. And I find it comfort enough."

He got to his feet then and walked up the path, heading back towards the house. His back held ramrod straight and his head high, boot heels clicking on stones with a precision tread. A man perfectly aware of who he was and entirely at peace with his place in the world. Or, at least, a man intent on giving that impression.

Jack glanced over at the rose bushes, then leaned over and plucked a blossom with his free hand. He held it to his nose. The perfume was even sweeter up close, almost too sweet. A thorn pricked his thumb and he licked it, before hoisting his bottle of rum again. This time, in a salute.

"Do ye now," he said softly then. "An why do I not believe that."


Jack woke to the sound of the waves against the hull, woke to blackness and the smell of rot and tar and fish. Blindly, he reached out and touched cool metal, then wood, and realized that he was locked up below decks. And, by the feel of it, it was the Pearl.

He pushed himself to his feet and put his hands to the bars, testing their strength, but there was no shifting them. He had expected as much. There may be some water underfoot, enough to dampen any man's spirits, and the sails above were in tatters, but the rest of the ship was sound enough for all that. Sound enough to still out-sail and out-fight just about any vessel in the Caribbean.

Footsteps sounded and then a lantern come into view, the light stinging his eyes after the darkness.

Pale blue, shrewd eyes appraised him as Barbossa himself walked into view and stood there a pace or two away, tall and thin as ever in his once elegant coat and hat. The pure silver buckle of his belt caught the light as he took one last step towards him, raising the lantern a trifle.

"Well now, Jack," he said. "I hope you've not been to lonesome down here by yourself. I would have come to visit with ye sooner, but I was a mite busy guiding the ship out of these here waters and after your friends."

"An who told you they was friends of mine," Jack replied. "Or have ye forgotten they left me behind."

"Did they now?" Barbossa commented. "Aye, true enough. But whether this lack of trust be a fault of theirs or one of your own, remains to be seen."

"Says the man who broke both with his word and the Code in one."

Barbossa frowned at him, obviously disliking what he could not dispute. "I'd watch me tongue, Jack Sparrow. There's many on this ship still would take out ten years of suffering on you if they could. If I allowed it."

"We all voted full well to go after the treasure, if you remember," Jack retorted. "Twas not my fault it were cursed. I've naught to do with that."

"You believe it matters to them? Would you had died on that island, they would think themselves well served. But bein' that you're still alive…" The other man shook his head. "Some are all for torturing the name out of you. Some would just as soon kill you straight off and take their chances that you'll take what we need to your grave."

"An you? Or need I ask?"

A sly smile answered him. "I would take what's owed me and damn the rest of them. You'd fair give me the name by the time I were done."

"An be damned yourself," Jack hissed, raising his head slightly.

"Ye think I'm not?" Barbossa took another step towards him. "I'd fuck thee by moonlight if I could and show thee what damnation is. An then I'd choke the truth and the name out of ye and send ye off to be with old Bootstrap."

"A good man, Bill Turner. Better than most."

"A fool." Barbossa shrugged. "But then ye was always soft on him. He weren't perfect, Jack, any more than you."

"Pot and kettle, Captain," Jack said. "Who's more the fool. Me, or the man who sent his own salvation to the depths?"

Any trace of good humor - sly or otherwise - faded from Barbossa's face at that. With his free hand, he pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Jack. Who stood his ground, even though he had seen that look on the other man's face before. As, no doubt, had hundreds of dead men.

"Well," he said softly. "If you're going to be killing me, then get on with it."

Barbossa raised his head a little and frowned at him, but his hand was steady enough. "Killing you," he repeated. "No, Jack. You'll soon be wishing it were that simple if we don't get that medallion back."

"What then of our bargain?"

"We've no accord yet, as well you know."

Ignoring the pistol, Jack stepped forward and grasped the bars with both hands. His voice dropped, grew even harsher. "You know what I want."

Barbossa's eyes narrowed. "The same as you always wanted, I imagine. The only thing you ever wanted."

"Ten years and you've no forgotten that, either," Jack said. "Should I be flattered?"

"Please yourself," the other man responded, his own voice cool by comparison. But then Barbossa's anger had always run cold. As cold as his blood. "It were always what you were best at."

"Ah…" Jack replied, with exaggerated care. "You wound me."

The other man stared at him for a moment or two, then let out a sharp breath through his teeth. He stepped up to the bars as well and pressed the barrel of his pistol hard into Jack's stomach. His face so close to his that Jack could see himself reflected in those pale eyes. Could all but taste death on his tongue.

"Soon enough, Jack Sparrow," Barbossa whispered. "For I know full well what ye love. An better even than you, I imagine, I know…who ye love…"


I know who ye love…

Jack woke with a start, breathing hard, damp with sweat and yet cold inside and out at the same time. He sat up in bed, his head bowed, his heart pounding loud as cannon fire, his hands clutched tight in the bedding.

Dead. Dead. The man was dead and yet he could still hear that voice, could still feel the mute pressure of the pistol against his flesh.

O' course it were but a dream, but it had seemed so very real. And Barbossa had come down to the brig to see him the once while he were a prisoner aboard the Pearl. But he had never spoke of what had passed between them in the past, let alone made any kind of threat. In fact, they had barely spoke at all, not until he had had him hauled up to the captain's cabin to work out the details of their accord at the last. An accord that had been interrupted before it even really began by the sighting of the Interceptor ahead of them.

Jack raised his head at the last and opened his eyes. The palest whisper of moonlight glowed from the open windows. The rest of the room lay heavy with shadows and he peered into the darkness as if more than half-expecting to find the man himself there. A foolish notion, but he found he couldn't shake it.

Grimacing at himself, he shoved the bedding away and rolled out of bed. He cocked his head, listening intently, but the house was silent enough. Almost, too silent. He went over to the door and opened it, looking out into an even darker hallway. No doubt all the servants were safely tucked in their beds at this time of night, and the Commodore himself as well. Sleeping the sleep of the just, the sleep of the honest man. Or woman, in the case of smitten young Emma and the robust Cook.

Speaking of which, he realized that he were slightly hungry. He had dined well enough earlier this evening, though Norrington hadn't joined him at the table, this time. Instead, the man had taken his own supper in his office, pleading a surfeit of work. However, he weren't quite fool enough to believe that.

Duty makes for a cold mistress…

If he could have taken those words back, he would have. After all, the man had been kind enough to him. More than kind to take him in, deathly ill and a pirate to boot, and treat him as an honored guest. Even if it half had been done at Elizabeth's urgings, or under the lash of her tongue, anyways.

He well remembered that and Will was more than welcome to it. Even if it came in a most lovely package.

Jack stepped out and closed the door silently behind him. On ghost feet of his own, he crept down the hall and to the back stairs. Following them down to the kitchen below. A candle burned on the table there and the fire lay banked, a soft red glow from one corner of the room. A door stood ajar and he could hear soft snores coming from within.

Smiling the whole time to himself, he ruthlessly pillaged the kitchen, coming away with part of a small round of cheese, a slice of the ham pie left over from dinner, and more of those lovely little cakes. Tucking his finds away into a piece of cloth, he let himself out the side door and into the night.

Treading carefully, he walked along the edge of Cook's kitchen garden, catching a hint of the smell of the herbs planted there as he did. He then hoisted himself over the low wall that protected them, and made his way around the corner of the house and into the back garden. Intending on reclaiming his favorite bench.

As he sauntered down the path, though, weaving between lemon trees and a few smaller palms, he saw that he wasn't the only one who had found himself awake at this hour. The slender moon above cast just barely enough light to see the man sitting at the far end of the garden. Sitting on the bench half-hidden between the rose bushes, their blossoms pale as smoke in the darkness, his face and shirt gleaming just as softly.

Norrington didn't move even though he had to have seen him coming down the path. Didn't acknowledge his presence at all.

Jack sat down boldly on the bench next to him, all for as if he'd actually been invited there. He laid his cloth full of edibles between them. A peace offering of sorts, not that the other man would most likely see it as such.

Taking a cake for himself, he bit into it as he tilted his head back to stare up at the sky. It was a perfectly clear night and the stars overhead were bright as jewels, forming patterns that Jack well knew. One could steer a ship by them, as much as he had heard tell that one could charter your life if one knew how to read the signs. Not that he really believed that; a man's destiny were written upon his own flesh and etched deep within his heart, far more than on some distant spangles of light.

Norrington drew in a deep breath and stirred slightly then.

"I waited too long," he said, all for as if they had already been conversing for several minutes. "I should have…I would have approached her sooner if not for that I wished to have more to offer. My promotion seemed the perfect opportunity to finally speak my mind, but I fear - knowing what I know now - that it was, by far, too late even then."

Jack shook his head slightly, swallowing his bite of cake. "One cannot know the mind of a woman. Let alone her heart. She were a fool not to marry you, aye, but even more a fool would she be if she didn't listen to what that same heart told her."

"A fool," Norrington repeated softly. "I was a fool to have ever believed her. Perhaps, part of me did not even as I did what she asked of me. So that when she came to me aboard the Dauntless after, well…she said she would keep her vow, but I knew I could not myself keep her to it. Not after I'd seen where her heart truly lay. And with whom."

"You wanted to believe. No fault in that, man. An it were the right thing to do, even so."

"Or else Turner would be dead, you mean."

Jack shrugged. "An the crew of the Pearl even now would be free to plunder to their own heart's content. Though, quit of the curse, they would be a sight less formidable, I imagine."

"The Black Pearl," the other man said pensively. "Your ship."

Jack nodded, taking another bite of cake, but finding it oddly less savory than before. He had been her captain for less years than he had had her, but she would always be his ship. No matter how distantly she sailed or under whose hand and colors. She owned the best part of him, ever and always. The part that, even now, felt hollow inside him. But then he were used to that; he had spent the last ten years trying to fill that emptiness and nothing had succeeded ere long, not rum nor gold nor women.

Aye, well used to it he was, but still he'd never gotten past the pain of it. He laid the rest of the cake aside and leaned back on the bench instead, contemplating those stars once more.

"A fast ship is she?" Norrington asked, an honest enough curiosity in his voice.

"Fast enough," he replied. "She took the Interceptor easy enough."

"Easy as you took her from me in the first place?"

Jack shrugged again, before he gave the other man a sidelong glance. But Norrington wasn't looking at him and he suspected that to be quite deliberate.

"Not a trick you'll be falling for twice, I suspect," he replied.

Norrington said nothing to that, but Jack caught a quick flash of his eyes in the dark as he too leaned further back on the bench, almost slouching for once.

"You know," he went on. "I didn't mean for her to be destroyed like she was. I would have…"

"Brought her back eventually?" Norrington's voice was amused, droll even.

"Well, no," Jack freely admitted. "But she were a fine ship. Stalwart through storm and through fire. But no match for the Pearl in the end, mores the pity. I would have rather seen her returned to you than at the bottom of the ocean."

Norrington raised his head at that and gave a very small smile. "Strange. I would have said quite the opposite."

Jack was silent for a long moment, watching the other man and well aware that he was aware of that self-same attention.

"Well now, ye still have Dauntless."

"Unless you take it in your mind to steal her as well, you mean."

Jack sat back up and laid a hand directly over his heart. "Ah, no. Just for ye, Commodore, I pledge to leave her be."

Norrington let out a soft breath through his nose at that and shook his head. "You are a scoundrel, Jack Sparrow. And a trial to any man."

"Ah," Jack replied, and couldn't keep back the smile for the sake of his own life. "A trial I may be and a scoundrel, no doubt of it. But question is - am I also a temptation? Even for the likes of thee?"

The figure next to him stiffened and seemed to stop breathing entirely for a second.

"I don't know what you mean," Norrington replied at the last. His voice had gone as frigid as those distant stars.

"I think ye do," Jack said softly.

"You presume entirely too much," the other man said and his tone would have warned off most men. Or made them shiver in their boots. Well, it made Jack shiver a little, but not out of fear.

"Nay." He turned entirely towards Norrington now, who couldn't help but look back at him. His eyes glancing as pale as the moon and his face suddenly betraying what he most didn't want to be betrayed - a helpless kind of wonder and fear and fascination. "I've not yet begun to presume, James Norrington."

Then the other man's eyes fell to the cloth between them, Jack's spoils laid out across it for all to see.

"More thieving, I see," he commented, though there was only the tiniest smidgeon of accusation in his voice. More a sense of relief at finding something else to bring up between them.

"Just a little something for a moonlight tryst," Jack replied. "Keep our strength up, as it were."

"You're impossible," Norrington said, and his whole manner was suddenly knife edged, dark as the night around them. "And I don't know why I bother."

He stood up and started to walk away, but Jack reached out and snatched at his sleeve. Holding him there by means of that fragile piece of cloth, but more by that same fear and fascination he'd just seen betrayed full well on the other man's face.

"My apologies," he said quietly, well aware that he'd pushed the other just a little too far. "I didn't mean to offend thee."

Norrington didn't look at him, but he didn't pull away either. Instead, his eyes sank shut for a long moment, before he opened them again and glanced down at the ground below his feet.

"No offense meant and none taken," he said just a quietly. "And my own apologies for calling you thief once more. You are welcome to all within my home. Within the bounds of good reason, that is. What I would consider good reason."

That last was added wryly enough and Jack smiled a little at it. A smile which drew the other man's eyes back to him when nothing else had. Oh yes, interested and interesting, indeed.

Jack let go of Norrington's sleeve and stood up then, taking on a serious air.

"Then, if it would please you, I would enjoy your company at dinner on the morrow. That is, unless you have other, more pressing, duties to attend to. As you did this evening."

"I imagine I should be able to clear my schedule." Again, the man's voice was wry - not doubt, in part, at being invited to attend his own table. But his eyes were intent, pale and clear as water by the moon, and quite obviously intrigued. Almost against their own will.

Jack gave a little half bow, before sweeping up the cloth holding his appropriated cakes and food and starting back up to the house himself.

"Well, then. Until the morrow, Commodore," he called back over his shoulder. "Ta."

Leaving the other man - he was more than half sure-standing there alone in his own back garden, probably open-mouthed and more than half wondering what he'd just gotten himself into.

Well, for that, he would just have to wait, wouldn't he?


Cook had been more than pleased to see him the next morn and, after Jack had praised her efforts and accredited them with his swift recovery to health, she had invited him to stay and had laid him out a repast on the kitchen table that had made it near impossible for him to move thereafter. She had also gossiped as he sat there, making the occasional attentive noise and appreciative sound, telling him more than she may even have known.

About Master Knox and his occasional foray into town in order to see to his own business, which she suspected involved either women of ill repute or gambling or both. Somehow, Jack couldn't see the man indulging in either, but then he couldn't see the man indulging in anything so that was as it may be.

As for Emma, well, Cook was most distressed with the young maid. Being that she'd had more than a dozen offers of marriage since she'd come of age, but had turned them all down. Almost as if she feared leaving the master's household. And was seemingly unconcerned that she wasn't getting any younger in the meantime. The last had offered for her hand near on three month ago now and had been an earnest enough young lieutenant from up the Fort, who had seen her when he'd brought by some letters for the Commodore to sign. Whom she had turned down flat.

Speaking of which, Cook's concerns also extended to the head of said household. She was a little more circumspect about her words, but Jack still picked up on her worry about what the recent turn of events had done to the man. About how he was too fine a figure of a man to be alone such as he was, and that were a clear shame, and how any woman should be glad to have him, if they had any sense at all. Especially a man who worked so very hard and had built this lovely house and gardens, all so that he may bring back the woman of his fondest dreams to live there.

A shame, it was just a shame…

He'd nodded at that obviously heartfelt sentiment and put his feet up, only to have Cook slap them back down off her table and then bring him another plate of cakes as if to make up for it. Despite his full stomach, he slowly polished them off and was pleased to hear as he did that Emma was planning on visiting her sister in King's Town and was leaving this afternoon, not to return until the day after next.

Moreover, Cook suspected tonight would be one of Knox's nights in town, despite the fact that he was still feeling a wee bit under the weather.

Which would only leave the three of them knocking about the Commodore's house this evening if all went well. His own self, Cook down in her kitchens, and the fine figure of a man for whom it was such a shame that he was ever alone.

Trust in luck, aye. Jack were never one to turn down an opportunity if it were presented to him. Whether that be a plate of cakes or a chance to find out what might lie beneath the spit and polish exterior of a certain Commodore James Norrington. Discipline and duty could serve a man well, that were true enough, but discipline kept a rather empty bed, one that duty could never fill.

Even if the other man had half convinced himself that it could.

And Jack Sparrow was anything but cold.


Candles, linen, silver, a fine glass or two of wine, some scalloped crabs served with lemon slices that Cook would do well to be proud of, and a conversation that had somehow managed to steer clear of the shoals of both piracy and morality, and Jack felt the evening well served. Or, at the very least, off to an opportune beginning.

Even Norrington had seemed surprised by the ease of it all, though he'd hidden any hint of enthusiasm beneath his usual calm reserve.

As they'd talked of shipboard life and the sea and, even briefly, of London. As Jack had related tales of his adventures in the East Indies, suitably edited for present company, and then listened as Norrington had talked of a trip he'd once made to Boston, to see his younger sister and her husband. With five children already and another born shortly after he'd stayed with them.

Apparently, it had been a love match and the Commodore grew silent after he'd mentioned that fact, obviously reminded of his own failings in that regard. His eyes fixed on his plate and his hand gripping the half-full glass of wine, as if they could save him from his own feelings.

Jack sat back in his own chair then, knowing that to say anything at that moment would only make matters worse. But Norrington seemed to shake off his mood on his own when Cook brought in their dessert a minute later, a fine custard flavored with mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, and rose-water. Bowing and smiling at them both, before disappearing back into her kitchens.

"A fine meal, Mister Sparrow," the other man said then, picking up his spoon. "Even if I'd paid for it myself."

"An the company?" Jack couldn't help but ask, picking up his own spoon.

Mild-enough eyes gazed at him. "Tolerable," the Commodore replied.

It was slightly more than Jack had expected and he smiled as he began to eat the custard, wondering as he did if the roses for the flavoring had come from the other man's own garden same as the lemons.

Sure and Elizabeth had been a fool to turn down all this man had to offer, but men - and women, for that matter - had to follow their own hearts, or what good were their lives to be to them otherwise? Better a fool in Will Turner's bed, then a wise woman in a loveless marriage. Though, it was quite clear that Norrington had loved her. That he still did. Enough to give her up to the man she loved.

Aye, a fine figure of a man to be sure, and one who deserved better than an empty bed and a lonely life.

The Commodore pleaded that he still had some work to do after dinner, but Jack followed him into the other room and sat down in front of the fire, as if he'd been invited to accompany him. He listened to the rustle of paper for a good while, while he thought of when he'd first seen the other man. Himself gazing up over the point of a blade. Norrington's eyes even more sharp than his sword in that moment, as he warned him away from the young woman he'd just rescued from the sea.

He remembered how the Commodore had almost seemed to delight in taunting him right from the beginning. Of course, he had returned the favor ten times over by now, but no other officer - whether they had actually captured him or were simply intent on doing such - had ever taken such an obvious personal interest in him. Not even the men of the East India Company, with whom he had spent a good two weeks before his eventual escape.

Jack rubbed at his right arm, where the pain of the brand had long since faded. Though the mark never would.

Pirate. It was more than just a name.

Just as the Pearl was more than just any ship.

He didn't turn around as Knox came in and told Norrington that he was going in to town, which the Commodore acknowledged with a rather distracted sound. Still, he felt the disapproving gaze of the servant linger on the back of his head, before the man finally left, closing the doors behind him.

Jack waited another long while, then finally got up and began to wander around the room. He pulled one book out, riffled through it, then put it back. He went back and inspected the globe once more, though he didn't spin it this time. He even went over and peered at the small, though exquisite, collection of brandies, wines, and port that the Commodore had set by, all for as if he'd never seen them before.

And, eventually, he felt other eyes settle on him. A slightly puzzled, moderately annoyed gaze.

"Mister Sparrow," Norrington said at the last. "If you insist on remaining here, if you would please…"

"Drink?" he asked, interrupting the man.

There was a long heart-felt sigh, then he looked back as he heard the other man push out of his chair and begin to walk towards him.

"If you must," the Commodore said.

He took two glasses and splashed a goodly portion of brandy into one and rather less into the other. He then made to hand the first glass to Jack, who took it with one hand and then laid the other on Norrington's arm as he started to pick up his own glass.

The other man looked down at it, then back up at him. "Yes?" he asked.

Jack leaned in and kissed him.

Only to pull back again, before Norrington could even catch his breath. Let alone muster any other kind of response, good or ill.

As stolen kisses went, it wasn't the best he'd ever had, but the look on the other man's face made it all the sweeter. Consternation, surprise, confusion - taken all together it made Norrington look almost boyish for an instant. All for as if it was the very first time he'd ever been kissed.

Which Jack doubted, but that didn't rob the pleasure from it.

Nor from the look on the man's face as he leaned in again, almost, but not quite touching those lips with his own a second time. Only to draw back again at the last possible moment, knowing he were taunting him mercilessly. Quite unable to stop himself. Especially when he saw the sudden flicker of something at the back of the other man's eyes, something neither surprise nor confusion. But a loneliness and hunger fair to match his own. Perhaps, even greater than his own.

But Norrington had stepped back. "Please…" he said, his voice shaken, but then gaining control once more. "I would rather not, Mister Sparrow."

Jack lifted his glass, draining the brandy within in one gulp. He set his glass down next to the Commodore's still untouched one, then gazed at the other man once more.

"An why not?" he asked, moving forward. Taking hold of him once more, feeling the other man stiffen within his grasp. Drawing himself up to his full height and authority beneath his hands, as if that would put stop to everything immediately.

"Because it is wrong, Mister Sparrow. As well you know it."

"Aye, but it feels so very right."

Norrington tried to draw away, but Jack just tightened his grip and though the other man might have easily been able to break free, he slowly allowed himself to relax again. Still, when he looked up at him, his eyes seemed almost stricken.

"You don't understand," Norrington said, his voice even softer than before.

Jack leaned down a little, close enough that he could feel the other man's breath on his face.

"What don't I understand?" he asked, his own voice just as soft.

But Norrington had closed his eyes, his mouth grown tight once more. As if daring him to try and pry the truth out of him.

Jack sighed.

He looked the other man up and down, noting how the firelight from across the room played across the fine linen shirt, the buttons of his vest, the long legs in their pristine white breeches. Even out of uniform, he was all but in uniform still. Even his face seemed fixed in place - every line, the hollows beneath those blue-grey eyes, speaking of the heavy burdens he lived under from day to day, month to month, year to year. Reserve and responsibility and honor, that was what a man might readily see when he looked upon Commodore James Norrington. And yet…

Jack had seen, more than once, how that same face could display a deep sense of compassion. How those same blue-steel eyes could betray the most shocking vulnerability.

He leaned forward again and gently placed his lips on that taut mouth, not pressing the issue, but reminding the other man that it was still there, that he was still there. And, after a long moment, he felt Norrington's lips soften and open ever so slightly to him.

He teased them open further and they shared a breath, intimate and tentative at the same time. Then Jack ever so slowly began to deepen the kiss and was pleased when the other man began to respond willingly enough, his own tongue moving to touch his own, to twine and glide close around it. Slipping across his lips then to trace out his teeth, bone and gold both.

And Jack felt almost as dizzy as if the fever was still upon him. The man kissed so very sweetly, so gently, one would never have thought it of him. His heart was already skipping in his chest, his blood pounding through his veins, and finally he couldn't take it anymore. He let go of Norrington's arm and moved his hand to cup the back of his neck instead, his thumb tracing out mute patterns along the sweat-damp skin there. Deepening the kiss even further. His prick already hard as iron.

But then it had been a long time for him, truly. Months and months since he had been with anyone and, he suspected, even longer for the other man. Norrington didn't strike him as the sort of man who might frequent a bawdy house, either to drink or to bed a woman. Let alone another man.

Even though Norrington's own right hand was now sliding up his arm to close tight on his shoulder. His tongue dipping deeper into Jack's mouth as if it had always belonged there.

Oh no, the Commodore might be a wee bit inexperienced when compared to such as himself, but he had never seemed naïve, let alone particularly innocent to him. Still there was an odd sort of innocence here and Jack had no doubts at all that this was virgin territory to the other man. Just as he had little doubt that Norrington was a bit of a romantic at heart - how else could he have given up so very much for the woman he loved, even given her to another, and yet done right by them both thereafter. When a lesser man would have sought revenge or, at the very least, would have eschewed their company from then on.

No, Norrington was a good man, pure and simple, and Jack's life had never been pure or simple, let alone particularly good. But that is as it was, and all he cared for at the moment was how much he wanted the other man and how much Norrington seemed inclined to want him in return.

Long fingers bruised his shoulder, before slowly relaxing again, and Norrington finally pulled back. He swallowed hard, his eyes still closed, then opened them and looked up at Jack. His mouth slightly swollen and his eyes almost sad.

"Shouldn't have done that," he breathed, as if to himself.

"An why not?" Jack asked. His own hand moved to touch the other's face, his thumb gliding along the firm line of his jaw.

"You're a guest in my home," Norrington replied. "You're a man. You're a pirate."

"Mayhap, a guest. A man, aye," Jack said. "But a pirate no longer. I have the governor's own word on it."

Norrington swallowed again, then turned his head away from Jack's hand. He pulled himself free and brushed past him, not roughly, but with an obvious determination.

"Do you wish another glass, Mister Sparrow?" he asked, his voice also obviously making an attempt to sound formal. As if for all the world they hadn't just spend the last few minutes tasting each other. "I have a rather fine claret here as well if you wish to sample it. From Governor Swann's own table."

"Aye," Jack replied. "Another drink then."

Norrington busied himself with a second bottle, taking his time of it. Taking more than his time of it.

Finally, he turned again, a glass in either hand, and the firelight made the claret look more like blood. Just as it made his eyes abruptly seem more gold than grey. As if the flames themselves had crawled down inside him. His shirt was stained gold and red as well, and Jack couldn't help but notice the bulge at the crutch of his breeches.

Still he said nothing, nothing at all. Though a blind man would have known.

"Thank ye," he just muttered as the Commodore handed him one of the glasses.

Norrington nodded, but seemed distracted. His fingers clenched too tight around the fragile stem of his own glass. He moved across the room and sat down in one of the chairs by the fire and closed his eyes. His shoulders slumped.

Jack downed half the claret in one gulp and grimaced. He would have much preferred rum than this or even the brandy, but…

One made do with what one had.

He drank off the rest, then sauntered over to the other man to dangle the empty glass right in front of him. When Norrington opened his eyes and looked up at the last, he smiled as broad as he could. Which was fairly broad.

"Help yourself," the other man said. He hadn't even touched his own drink yet.

"Oh, I mean to," Jack replied. "No worries, there."

He took the other man's glass out of his hand - expecting no resistance at the act and getting none - and drained that one as well, before swiping his sleeve across his mouth.

"An now that we've each a drink to fortify ourselves," he said. "What say we get back to our little debate about right and wrong."

Norrington seemed rather bemused, both at the loss of his glass and at Jack's seemingly casual attitude. He leaned back in his chair and gazed up at him, this almost serene expression on his face now.

"You imagine that you know the distinctions?" he asked, through it really didn't come off as sounding like a question. "Or are such matters as right and wrong as rhetorical to you as ownership of property."

Jack carefully set the two empty glasses down on the floor, then turned and put both hands on the arms of the chair, effectively trapping the Commodore within its confines for the moment. He leaned in close, almost touching Norrington. Close enough that the other man must have been able to smell the claret on his breath, if not the brandy as well.

"Not rhetorical," he said. "Just…mutable."

And then he kissed the other man again.

And if the other had been sweet, this one was bitter fire. This was a man's kiss, demanding and sure, and Norrington - after one brief hesitation - gave back as good as he got. Teeth clashing, tongues twisting together, wet, hot, a test and a challenge in one. It made Jack's veins burn and his heart pound until he felt he might very well go blind with the pain and pleasure of it.

Certainly, his prick was telling him that he was going to.

God's love, but the man tasted so very good…

Norrington breathed a word into his mouth. It didn't sound like a threat, but Jack pulled back a little anyway. Kissing the corner of the man's mouth instead, before nudging down beneath his chin and biting every so lightly on the tender flesh there.

The Commodore jumped slightly, but didn't pull away.

"Aye?" Jack asked softly.

When the other man didn't answer, he moved back a little from him and gazed at him. Norrington's mouth was half-open and his eyes were dazed. He shook his head once, obviously at a complete loss for words, then this slightly mortified, this shamed look crossed his face.

"Ah," Jack said. "Tis not as wicked as all that."

"Wicked enough." Soft, so very soft.

Jack knelt down before him and took Norrington's hands in his own, running his thumbs gently across the other man's palms. He looked full into his face, then gestured with his head towards the door.

"Come now. Tis more than time to go upstairs, methinks. An I would accompany thee, if ye would have me."

"Are you asking?"

Jack nodded. "I would command it of ye, but a man should be willing. I am willing enough, but you…what do ye desire, James Norrington? Tell old Jack. Tell him how best to please thee."

Norrington sucked in a harsh breath. His eyes flashed like the sun on the waves, like polished silver, and then his hands turned and grasped Jack's own. Held them tight enough to bruise. The shame abruptly giving way to an even more dreadful longing.

"You," he said, his voice equally harsh. "I desire you, and damn me for it."

Jack rose gracefully and pulled the other man up with him, pulled him close.

"Now, that's in God's hands, not in me own," he said. "But I'll put in a good word for ye."

"With God or the Devil?"

Jack shrugged. "It matters o'er much?"


But it wasn't as quick as all that.

Since they were all but alone tonight, Norrington paused to blow out each lamp and candle as they went. Leaving the house and halls behind them dark and still. Finally, he took the last candle from its place and held it to light their way up the stairs and to his bedroom. It was at the far end of the corridor from the one Jack had been staying in and the windows there were open wide, letting in a soft breeze redolent of night blooms and sea salt. A large bed stood in the middle of the room, the covers turned down on one side. No doubt, one of the maid's last duties before she'd gone to visit her sister this evening.

On the bedside table a pitcher stood and a glass and a bowl of fresh fruit, oranges and apples and bananas. Jack saw Emma's hand in this, as well; clearly she was well used to taking care of a man who oft times forgot to take care of himself. Either that, or she was bucking for a change in station. After all, he had caught her eye on Norrington more than once. No, if the Commodore was lacking in womanly company, it was only that he were not seeing what was on offer.

Though, tonight anyway, it seemed that he had noticed. Not that Jack had been particularly subtle.

Norrington lit a couple of candles on the table, then returned to the foot of the bed and blew out the one he still held. Smoke rose in front of his face and Jack smelled the faint scent of honey and heated wax for one brief moment.

He stepped up to the Commodore then and took the candle and tossed it away over his shoulder. He tilted his head to one side and leaned in closer and when Norrington would have recoiled, albeit involuntarily, he reached out and put the tips of his fingers to the other man's face. Just the smallest of touches, but Norrington stilled beneath it.

"Tell me to leave," Jack said gently. "An I will go…from your bed, from your house. From this place."

"And if I did that," Norrington asked. "Where would you go?"

Jack shook his head. "I know naught. But does it really matter? I'll make my way as I always do."

"Even if it means a return to piracy?"

"Even so."

Jack slipped one hand stealthily down the side of the man's neck and then cupped it close, feeling the pulse firm and steady beneath his fingers. "But me future, or lack thereof, is not what we came here to discourse on, now is it?"



Jack started to shift even closer, but the other man stiffened, and not in a good light.

"What not?" Jack asked, not unkindly. He relaxed his grip on the Commodore just slightly.

"Simple enough," Norrington replied, though his tone said it was anything but. "I just am thinking that I may well live to regret this. In fact, I'm quite sure I will end up regretting this."

"An have ye never done anything before in your life that you regretted?" Jack asked, ever so softly. "Rather than simply regretting having done nothing?"

Norrington frowned slightly at that. "You well know the answer to that."

"Aye," Jack replied. He ran a thumb along the edge of the other man's jaw and then felt his way up to his mouth with it. He held it there then, as if he could seal the Commodore's lips tight with it alone. "So there then, if there are to be regrets, better they be for something ye've done and had, than for something ye've not. Savvy?"

Norrington's eyes narrowed to a dangerous pitch, but he kept his silence. He kept his mouth tight shut as well, at least until Jack began to press against it with the tip of his thumb. Then suddenly, something seemed to give - either his resolve or his temper - and his eyes flickered and he gave the smallest of smiles. Before he opened his lips and let Jack slip the offending member into his mouth.

Jack stood perfectly still then as Norrington licked his thumb, before drawing it into his mouth fully and starting to suck on it. The feeling of moist heat and pressure being applied to it seemed, oddly enough, to go straight to his prick as well and he couldn't stop the tiny gasp that escaped him.

"Ah…" he breathed, swaying a little in place. "Ah, yes…"

Norrington cocked an eyebrow at him, as if finding his lack of larger words amusing, but he seemed pleased enough by the intensity of his response. Before he went back to focusing his whole attention on the matter of Jack's thumb, as if more than aware of what effect it also had on Jack's prick.

Which had jolly well decided to pretend to the mainmast of some rather proud, even downright jaunty ship.

Jack took the opportunity then to slip his free arm around the other man and pull him a shade closer. He laid his face down into the crook of the Commodore's shoulder and ran his nose along the other man's skin. Powder, sweat, and the faintest lingering of perfumes. Clean scents all. He put out the veryest tip of his tongue, then, and licked at the tempting spot just behind Norrington's ear. Before biting down briefly on the lobe and thrusting his tongue full score into the depths of it.

The Commodore jumped a little at that and his own teeth closed for a moment on the root of Jack's imprisoned thumb, before they relaxed once more.

Jack then licked his way down the man's neck and to the open collar of his shirt. He sucked on the hollow displayed there, before lifting his head at the last.

"I'll be having that back again, if you please?" he asked.

Norrington's eyes were half-closed and his face was slightly flushed. It made Jack well imagine - and his imaginings were often quite…well, quite vivid, to be truthful - the flushed state of some other part of him. A part that, even now, was pressing up against his thigh. Raising a dampish spot in that pair of pristine white breeches.

Unable to resist it o'er long, he rubbed his leg up against it and his thumb abruptly popped free of the other man's mouth as the Commodore gasped and bucked in response.

"Oh, God…" the man mumbled, as if shocked to find such a thing happening to him.

"Not the Devil?" Jack asked and then snaked his now free hand down between them to grasp that ever so firm length through the confines of the cloth. He squeezed and stroked it as best he could, even as he began to press his own prick against the other man's hip. Bone to bone and, by God' own wounds, but it felt good.

And Norrington's head was falling back and his hand was clutching Jack's shoulder now, certainly hard enough to bruise it this time, and they could have gone on there, just like that - finished it - and it wouldn't have been a sin. Well, not much of one anyway. But Jack wanted more than that. He wanted as much as he could take this night, most especially if the Commodore found his good senses and more of those sticky sensibilities by cock's crow and tossed him out hard on his ear.

It had happened before, more than he cared to admit to. Sometimes, with the added bonus of a full chamber pot being tossed after him. Though, he doubted that Commodore James Norrington were much the chamber pot tossing sort. More of a run you clean through with a yard long piece of steel sort.

O' course, he wouldn't less mind being run through by a rather warmer and more friendly yard. In fact, he was conspiring to it, if truth be told.

"James," he said in a clear, almost clipped voice.

The shock of hearing his Christian name like that seemed to shake the Commodore somewhat out of the trance his rampant prick had put him into.

"Bed," Jack reminded him. "You do have one, eh?"

"Yes," Norrington replied, then blinked at him. "Of course."

Jack nodded at him, encouragingly. But still, it took an effort of will that even he was reluctant to admit to, to step back from the other man and walk those few steps to the bed in question. He sat down on the edge of it, then ever so slowly let himself sink down, until he was flat on his back.

Staring upwards at the Commodore. Who stared down at him, this little frown on his face. With a rather large promontory in his breeches.

Jack looked at it, quite pointedly, taking his time of it, before he looked back into the other man's eyes.

Who met his gaze with an equally pointed, though somewhat shaky, degree of reserve he'd managed to find once more. A reserve that couldn't even begin to dampen the fire that lay beneath it.

"Yes," Norrington said then, almost to himself. "Most definitely the Devil's work. But then, I fear you temptation enough for a saint, let alone a sinner."

Jack smiled. "High praise, indeed. But prithee, which one do ye name yourself?"

A rueful expression was his response. Before even that fragile reserve melted and the other man joined him on the bed. As they wrapped their arms and bodies around each other once more, their mouths meeting in an almost tender duel.

And Jack wasn't quite sure when it happened, being much occupied with other matters, but at some point he found his shirt had disappeared and the other man's as well. Perhaps, thievery came so easily to him these days that he'd stolen them both without really thinking. But, then again, Norrington's own fingers were clever enough for two men, especially as they stroked down his stomach to stop just inches from the bulge in his own breeches.

Blue-grey eyes coming up to meet his own, as if asking permission - when he, himself, had asked none before - before those fingers continued downward. To deftly undo his braces and slip inside.

"Ah," Jack breathed as they closed tight around him. "Yes…"

Warm, so very warm, and knowing. Norrington's hand felt rough and smooth at the same time as he began to stroke him ever so slowly. And the pleasure was slow as well, a gentle wellspring rising up inside him. The other man's eyes gleaming at each small gasp he drew out of him.

As if he saw each one as some kind of victory.

Before Jack's own hand found its own nimble way into a pair of white breeches and evened up matters entirely. Never let it be said that he couldn't give as good as he got.

Then the Commodore's mouth was on his again, commanding and demanding at the same time, not so much a mere meeting of lips and tongue but a heat and force that poured itself down into him as if he were some vessel but waiting to be filled. And who could have known that it had lain behind that stern façade, behind those cool sea and steel eyes. No one but Jack Sparrow, that is.

As he felt consumed by fire. As he rose on wings of his own to meet it.

Rolling the other man over to lie beneath him. Ripping those white breeches down in the process. Only to find shaking fingers doing much the same to him. Until they lay naked together, pale flesh against burnt, the kiss shared between them having somehow grown more compassionate in the meantime.

A midnight conspirators' kiss. Forged half of warm breath and of heart-pounding fear. As if they were already part of each other. As if they had always been and were ever meant to be.

Ah, if only that were true…

The Caribbees - no the whole world - would never be the same.

Jack chuckled and Norrington drew back a moment later to look at him. His mouth swollen and his color high. This fine line appeared between his eyes, not quite a frown. But if he was already feeling those regrets, he said nothing. Just reached up to touch Jack's face, long fingers tracing out the contours of his cheeks, the line of his beard. His lips.

Jack smiled and bent down to rub the side of his face against the other man's own smooth shaven skin. Before moving down to lick at the side of his neck, feeling the pulse there as if it were his own. Feeling the other man's prick leap against his hip as if it believed the same.

No, nothing would ever be the same…

Then Jack was clutching Norrington to him even harder, shifting up until his member rubbed against the man's own.

Norrington immediately gasped and Jack stole the sound from him with his own mouth. He curved one hand around the back of the other man's skull and thrust against him, a long smooth stroke that sent sharp little blades of pleasure through his prick. That made his very blood hum.

Then the world was turning again, a dizzy movement torn between hands and lips, and Jack somehow found himself beneath the other man, caught between cool sheets and hot skin. His hair fallen into his face, beads prickling at his eyes, and their legs entangled, knotting them even tighter together. As Norrington stabbed rapidly downwards at him, his prick like bone, like steel, swollen so much it must have hurt.

Fast, too fast. It would never last this way. They would never last.

But Jack didn't want it to last, not this time.

He wanted the roughness of that prick as it rubbed and jabbed and stroked across his own. He wanted the fire. He wanted the quickening. Slickness rampaging against slickness and that stern mouth close and hungry on his own, teeth clashing, a tongue thrusting deep and hard, almost as hard as the man was pushing down against him. These soft helpless sounds coming out of him now, sounds that mirrored the desperation of those clutching hands, that weeping prick.

Jack put his other arm around Norrington's back and held him close, moving against him in time to each thrust - once more giving as good as he got - and was rewarded when the other man abruptly stiffened against him. As he moaned and then suddenly cut that moan off, as if it were almost more than he could bear.

And Jack felt liquid heat spill out between them, making his own prick stutter and slide and then burn with its own measure of pain. Before, as keen as a knife's blade, liquid as melted wax, he felt pleasure leap through him and then out of him as well.

"Ah…" he gaped, open-mouthed against the other man's panting breaths. "There…"

He shuddered and surrendered to the pure simple joy of it all, fleeting as such things always were, even as Norrington collapsed on top of him. Shaking a little still and his hips making these little sideways movements. Somewhat more to starboard than to port.

Then Jack let his head fall back and closed his eyes, comforted by the weight on top of him as much as he were being crushed by it, his fingers moving down almost of their own accord to dabble in the honey-warm liquid pooling against his hip. Trickling down to those clean white sheets.

Oh, aye, it had been a long time…

Far far too long.


When next he opened his eyes, the candles had burned down slightly and Norrington was lying stiffly a good hands' breadth away from him, the sheets pulled up mid-way on his chest, his arms ramrod straight at his sides and all his muscles as tight as if they were woolded taut around a mast. With this terribly intent Godforsaken look to his face as he stared up at the ceiling. All for as if he expected it to be falling in on him any moment now.

Jack sat up, but the other man didn't react to his movement at all, which wasn't a good sign. Almost, he reached out to touch him, but then pulled his hand back and rolled off the end of the bed instead. He walked across the room to a chest near the window, then bent down and fished in the narrow space between it and the wall. He pulled out an object wrapped up in a long grey piece of silk.

Norrington's eyes were on him now, feverishly bright, as he sauntered back across the room, unwrapping it as he went.

"That happens to be one of my best stockings," he said sharply.

"Aye," Jack replied, pulling the half-full bottle out of it and tossing the article of clothing in question over his shoulder to the floor. "An this here happens to be a fine bit o' rum. Fit for stashing in an Admiral's stocking, let alone a Commodore's."

He uncorked the bottle and took a long healthy drink, feeling the weight of the world lift as it burned its way down his throat. Or, at least, a goodly portion of it. The bit of it which included this room and those already somewhat regretful eyes.

He sat down on the edge of the bed, then offered the bottle to the other man, who gazed at it as if he were trying to hand him a poisonous snake. Jack let his hand drop briefly, then offered the rum again, this time with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Go on," he said. "T'will help, I swear to it."

Norrington grimaced at him, tight-lipped. Then he sighed and the tension abruptly seemed to run out of him like water, leaving an even greater weariness behind. He took the rum from him and stared at the bottle for a moment, before lifting it to his mouth and taking several largish gulps. Jack laughed softly; a few more like those and, even if the ceiling did fall in, the man wouldn't much care.

The Commodore politely offered the bottle back to him, but Jack shook his head. Instead, he crawled back on the bed and right over the other man, to settle back in the spot he'd just abandoned. His left hand immediately slipped down beneath the sheets as if it had always belonged there. He let it lay across Norrington's stomach.

Who said nothing either to protest or encourage the act, but simply took another drink.

"I still prefer brandy," he said then, easily enough. So easily it betrayed the effort of it. "Or wine."

"Of course," Jack replied. "I'm a mind to a nice Madeira myself sometimes, save that it leaves me with a frightful head the next morning."

"Pity," Norrington said. He offered the bottle back again and, this time, Jack took it. He lifted his head up slightly to take a drink and, as he did, the other man reached down beneath those same sheets and covered his hand with his own. Warm hands, plain and strong, seeming too strong for such a fine touch.

Jack handed the bottle back, then settled in more securely, laying his head on the other man's shoulder. Slyly, he reached over with his other hand and began to pull the sheet down, inch by inch, slowly revealing all of that fair flesh that he could reach. A body sturdily enough built, as sturdy as the prick he'd just had the enjoyment of, and still bearing the faint sheen of sweat and effort.

Norrington took another drink, watching this renewed attack on his virtue, though saying nothing - either to encourage or stop it - before he let the bottle come to rest by his side. One hand holding onto it and the other onto Jack.

"Why did you…?" he started to ask, then stopped as suddenly as he'd started, as if already reconsidering his own question. Or his curiosity.

Jack turned his head to look up at him, then burrowed closer still to the heat of the other man. Making himself right at home while he could. While the night and the gentle candlelight still held them hidden from the world outside. Anchored to this bed, to these arms, he suddenly felt oddly safe. An illusion, aye, but one he wanted to keep for at least a few hours more.

"Why did I become a pirate?" he chanced. "That what you want to know?"

Norrington hesitated, his eyes flickering, then nodded.

Jack turned his left hand over and the other man immediately threaded his fingers through his, as if it were entirely natural to him. As if he were indulging himself in the same illusion.

"Well, I could tell you there's a story in it," he replied. "But there isn't. Not an interesting one, anyhow. I signed aboard a merchant ship when I near on ten years old. Learned me trade there. Then, a few years later, we were set to by pirates. The Captain were killed an several others. Half the rest of the crew were forced to sign the articles. Including meself. Our new Captain were a fair enough man, but our vessel ran aground about six month later and he and a dozen other men died. The rest of us spent another three month stranded. Still, we had good luck. There were fresh water and fair hunting and we sighted a ship and managed to commandeer her without too much in the way of trouble. After we renamed and refitted her, we set to sea again under a new captain and a new set of articles. By then it seemed as good a life as any to me and better than some."

"What about your mother and your father?" Norrington asked. "Have you never gone home?"

Jack shrugged. "Me mother's dead. Hanged at Tyburn when I was but a lad. Me father and the woman he took up with after she died…well, they were glad enough to be shut of me. I weren't never much to them."

"I'm sorry," Norrington said quietly.

Jack shook his head, then pulled his hand away and sat up and looked back at the other man through the tide of his dark hair. He took the rum back and drank it eagerly, knowing the other man was watching him the whole time. It was empty when he lowered it again and wiped at his mouth with a languid hand.

"Don't be," he replied. "'M not. Twas meant to be. This is who I am. I doubt now it could have been any different."

Norrington frowned up at him. "You don't believe a man makes his own destiny?"

"I believe…a man should embrace it. If he knows what it is he truly wants. There's never so great a thing as that."

The Commodore shook his head slowly. "So your destiny is to be a brigand and a thief and to end up hanging for it. Not a life I'd wish to call my own."

"Well," Jack said. "Best that you're not me, then."

Norrington looked away, his face suddenly gone cold again.

Jack shook his head and leaned off the far side of the bed to set the bottle down on the floor. Then he moved back over to the other man and ran a finger down the middle of his chest, before letting his whole hand come to rest on Norrington's still-moist prick where it lay across his thigh.

"Still," he said. "There's something to be said for respectability. For coming to a comfortable end in your own bed. Mayhap, you could convince me of it. Turn me from my wicked ways and into an honest man at the last."

Norrington didn't respond for a long moment, then he laughed softly. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and looked back at Jack.

"If I believed that, I'd deserve to have another ship stolen out from under me."

Jack smiled at him, then gently squeezed the other man's member and felt it twitch and grow slightly in response. He circled it with his fingers and began stroking it, not looking at what he was doing, watching Norrington's face instead.

Who was watching him in turn, a hint of amusement lingering in his eyes and his mouth slightly parted. His lips still swollen from Jack's kisses and his forehead damp with sweat and his skin flushed a pale rose.

Perfect as any blossom in his garden.

Not that Norrington were anything akin to a flower, though part of him were even now growing to full bloom. Rising and filling Jack's hand, sliding across his palm, weeping pearls that he had yet to know the taste of.

And Jack felt his own prick hardening again at the thought of those salty tears filling his mouth, at the thought of letting Norrington fill him as well. It had been even longer for him for that and he suddenly wanted it with an eagerness that he found both cheery and somewhat surprising. Though mainly cheery.

Without releasing his hold on the other man's prick, he leaned forward and kissed him. Lightly. Sweetly. Then started to move back again. But Norrington's hand shot out instantly and closed around his throat and drew him near again, long fingers digging in as the Commodore renewed the kiss. Never so lightly and not near as sweet, but lovely for all that. An arrogant kiss - rough and forceful and deep - with a tongue that thrust fully into his mouth as if bent on its own plundering. Salt and rum-flavored.

Finally, Norrington released his mouth again, if not his throat. He drew back far enough to stare into Jack's eyes and his own were more blue now than grey, storm-shot, almost oddly possessive. Then he pressed yet one more kiss on him, this one as dazzling in its gentleness as the other had been demanding.

Jack felt need move through him, slow and deadly as good rum, hot and dark and thick. It made his head spin and his lungs burn and the next he knew he was pulling the other man to him, rolling him beneath him. Then sliding downwards, slick skin on slick skin, until Norrington's prick were bobbing just there in front of him.

"Jack?" the other man questioned.

But it was too late. Jack closed his lips around the head of that scarlet prize and took it in, deep and hard and fast enough that Norrington came half up off the bed and gasped out loud with the shock of it.

And he did taste of salt, much more subtle than the sea, but rich for all that. Warm and throbbing against his tongue, caught up on the roof of his mouth, and then hitting the back of his throat once again as he swallowed him up a second time. Norrington moaning softly now, his face thrown back against one of those pristine white pillows, his hands clenched tight in the bedding.

"My…" he breathed, sounding appalled and amazed at the same time.

It was a pleasant thing to hear. But the muffled almost-whimper that followed was even more pleasant to his ears and Jack rewarded him with a few grand licks around the head of the man's prick. Before sticking the tip of his tongue into the narrow slit. Finding one last pearl there all his own.

"Aye," he said, pulling back a little. He closed his fist around the man's member instead and leaned forward to kiss Norrington's navel, then licked it thoroughly both in and out, finding the skin there nearly as full of salt. No doubt, the remains of both his own and the Commodore's earlier emissions.

It mingled on his tongue as it had mingled on their bodies and he smiled.

Norrington must have caught the flash of gold, because he looked down at him then. His face even more flushed now, more rouge than roses in his cheeks, and his mouth wet, his eyes sparkling. Sea bright and hungry.

Jack's prick jumped at the sight and his smile grew equally well. He tilted his head at the other man, silver and beads and bone jangling together in his hair.

"Well," he said. "Do ye want to fuck me, then?"

Norrington's eyes widened ever so slightly. "Pardon?" he asked, as if, in his shock, he had instinctively reverted to his obvious good upbringing.

"Do you," Jack repeated, carefully enunciating each and every word. "Commodore James Norrington, wish to put your prick up me arse?"

Blue-grey eyes blinked, only to be followed by this rather sardonic look. As if he wasn't entirely sure of what he'd just heard, but had rather wanted to hear it, and now found himself caught out by that same desire.

"Do you honestly expect me to say no?" Norrington asked.

Jack shook his head, his eyebrows raised slightly.

And was rewarded by the small, though sweetly anxious smile that crossed the other man's face. Matched only by the sudden flare of devout longing in his eyes.

"Honestly, I'll take that as a yes," Jack said.

And he slid back up to kiss him, winding his hand into the other man's hair, feeling his own head held between sure fingers. Lips to lips and breath to breath and expectation like some precious thing caught between them. More real than an illusion, but closer still to a dream. A wild fluttering in his chest, made even more careless by the soft moan the other man fed directly into his mouth.

"Please…" Norrington breathed.

He smiled and drew back, his hand dipping down to claim the flesh pressing against his stomach. Watching the other man's eyes slowly close as he stroked it, as he teased it back to its full length and breadth. With was fair substantial. He had noticed before, but now he took stock of it in an entirely different light.

"Salve," the Commodore said suddenly.

"Pardon?" Jack asked, with the same exact inflection and tone as before.

Eyes opened ever so slightly, an almost silvery gleam. "In the top drawer," he added. "A small tin. Fetch it, there's a good lad."

Jack snorted, but did as he was bid. The tin contained a thick yellowish substance that smelled of chamomile and, ever so faintly, of other herbs which he didn't recognize. He rubbed some of it between two fingers and then brought them to his nose again.

"Tis some petal you'll be thinking of me, then," he said.

Norrington's eyes opened completely and he reached out, taking hold of Jack's wrist and pulling those same two fingers to his own nose. He inhaled appreciatively, his gaze never leaving him.

"Not a sweetling," he said. "Nor a bloom of a lad, true enough. I've ample proof of that."

And his eyes fell to Jack's own prick, before returning to his face.

"Well, thank ye for that," Jack commented.

Norrington shook his head, the corners of his mouth curving up ever so slightly. "Wrong it may be and not something I've occasion to indulge in personally," he said. "But I know of men and you'll be needing that, I think."

Jack returned the smile, his own with far more edge to it. "I'd full well tell ye it's a shame ye've never before had the pleasure, but that I am greedy enough to claim it all for me very own."

Norrington's eyes glinted, then they slid partially closed again as Jack took more of the salve on his fingers and closed them tight around the root of the other man's prick. The delicate scent of flowers filled the air as he stroked the ointment up and down his length, making sure he covered every inch of it. Before he scooped more of the thick salve out of the tin and brought his fingers to his own backside.

His own gasp made the other man's eyes open once more, an inquisitive look. Which Jack met with a dark gaze as he worked those two fingers in and out, well aware in that moment of his own prick bobbing and leaking its own salty little pearls on the smooth skin of the Commodore's stomach.

As it made suddenly aware of it, himself, Norrington reached down and took hold of him. His thumb rubbing square across the head of his prick, sending a sudden burst of pleasure surging through him. One that mingled with the feel of his own fingers in his arse.

"Ah, God," Jack slurred.

"You quite sure it's not the Devil?" Norrington asked, sounding like Old Hob himself in that moment. His hand still holding him tight and his thumb scrubbing across that spot over and over again.

"No," Jack replied, arching slightly into that touch. Unable to stop himself. Not wanting the other man to stop either. He took the fingers from his backside before it all proved too much. "But if it were, I'd gladly pay his price."

"Even if it was your soul?"

"Oh, but that were lost a long time ago now," Jack said. "And she a jealous mistress to be sure."

"the Pearl?" Norrington asked.

Jack shook his head. "The sea."

"Yes," the other man replied, his hand moving to stroke him now. Not quick this time, but slow and thoroughly. Watching Jack as he watched him. As Jack writhed in reaction to his touch. "The sea."

There was understanding in his eyes, along with a mild triumph. Which only grew as Jack gasped yet again and drove his prick hard through the other man's fingers. Tight, so very tight, and he was enough on the edge already with the thought of letting Norrington have him. Fire, he was on fire, and only this man could soothe him, only this man could save him. And that was as much frightening as it was pleasing. He would have named it witchery, if not for the fact that he well knew it sprang from a more earthly source than that.

He bent down to kiss the other man, then stopped just before their lips could touch. Watching the seas and sky melting within Norrington's eyes, blue and grey and silver and black. Finding a similar melting within his own flesh, one that he disguised by a brusque manner as he pulled back abruptly. From both those eyes and those lips and that warm hand.

"Enough," he said.

Norrington blinked up at him. "Sparrow?"

Jack smiled widely, knowing as he did that it would not fool the other man. Not for long, anyway. Perhaps, only long enough. He moved away from him, laying on his stomach and spreading his legs. Only then turning his head to gaze back at him.

"If you please," he said.

Norrington's face pinched a little, but then smoothed over once more. He moved on top of him, carefully resting his weight on him, his hands stroking up his sides to take hold of his arms. Jack let his eyes sink shut, feeling the other man's prick trail over him. Then one of those hands moving back down to take hold of it, to position it at the center of him.


He nodded, his eyes still shut, then bit his own lip as Norrington pushed inside. It hurt more than he had expected, even knowing the size of the other man. Still, he shivered as that prick pushed further into him - inch by blessed inch, not giving any quarter, though he truly had not asked for any - sweat breaking out on his skin and the thud of his heart growing stronger by the moment.

Distantly, he heard the other man's gasps, and knew that the Commodore was attempting to be as gentle as possible. It was a warming thought.

Still, he couldn't stop the tiny hiss and shudder as Norrington finally pressed home. Feeling himself stretched to the limit and mayhap even a bit beyond. He swallowed and turned his head a little further, opening his eyes to look over his own shoulder. Seeing a matching fever in the other man's eyes, the dew of sweat on his brow and upper lip. A flush across his cheeks that had nothing at all to do with blooms, maidenly or otherwise.

"Ye all right there, Commodore?" he said, his own voice none too steady at the moment.

"Right enough," Norrington replied, though it was an obvious effort for him to talk as well.

But then this wasn't a time for talking.

Jack put his head back to the sheets and closed his eyes once more. He felt the other man's prick twitch deep inside him, and with that tiny motion came a tiny twinge of real pleasure. Ah, yes…

He clamped down on the presence inside him and felt another twitch in response, followed by the smallest movement of the Norrington's hips. Notching his prick ever so slightly deeper, making the fit all the better. Making the beat of blood in Jack's head sound even louder, a matching pulse in his prick where it lay trapped beneath the both of them.

But then he dimly heard the other man whisper something and pull back, only to push in yet again. Still slow and gentle, but the movement burned even as it sent another spark of pleasure through him. Jack clenched his hands down into the bedding and began to push back, keeping it just as slow, letting the Commodore set the pace.

It was a luxurious feeling, the languid ebb and flow of the other man's prick moving in and out of him, the way the pain slowly began to give way to true pleasure. Bright and sharp as a blade, as the blade that was sheathed within him, and yet providing its own easement at the same time. As if there were dark places that had needed just this very thing and had gone unassuaged for far too long.

And the Commodore may regret this come morning, but he never would. It was too fine a thing. To have this man upon him, inside him, putting his lips to the side of his face in the lightest of kisses. Even as he began to thrust inside him harder, quicker, with a snap to his hips that made Jack gasp.

But then Norrington's breathing had grown harsh as well, shallow little sounds coming out of him each time he sank himself back inside. His hands moving to take hold of Jack's arms, fingers digging in with bruising force. Sweat dripping down on Jack's back, on the side of his face that the other man had just kissed.

His prick going in deep every time, deep as the man could get it, doing as thorough a job of this as he did of everything. Each stroke making Jack's body feel a little heavier, his head a little lighter, until he started to feel like he may very well split apart at the seams at any moment.

But still he wanted more. And more. And he must have mumbled something, because suddenly Norrington was jabbing into him harder than ever before. He was closing his arms around him and pulling him closer still, pulling him half-up on the bed before him. His prick slipping in at a higher angle, scraping across even more tender flesh, making Jack moan with the sheer shock and pain and joy of it.

Until he could see that horizon. Until he swore he could almost reach out and touch it.

The shimmer of the sun upon the waves, far and distant and rushing close and closer. Until, at last, the waves broke themselves upon the shore. The spray flashing up like diamonds, in a surge of white foam and spangles so bright they hurt his eyes. His bones aching within his body, his blood burning as it rushed within his veins, fast and faster, seeking, yearning, desperate for release.

His prick rigid and angry before him. While Norrington's was rigid and potent inside him, thick as an oak and stronger still than steel. Filling him completely, sending him crashing into that shore over and over again. Until he thought he would die of it. Until he wanted to die and to live and to laugh and to cry.

Though he would do none of those things. Nothing except unravel at the last. As he fell into the cool-warm embrace of the sea - which welcomed him as always, lover and mother and mistress of the damned all at once, mistress of all he ever was and all he could ever be. And dark pleasure rose to entangle him, to drag him down with it to the greater depths. A pleasure black and bright at the same time. All but blinding him even as his prick surged and throbbed and pulsed. Heat pouring out of him, draining him, as unstoppable as the tide.

Jack shuddered, then shuddered again. Feeling the other man clasp him even tighter in response. Holding him for the prick still driving deeply inside him, making its own kind of heat and carnage. Norrington gasping in his ear, not words, but senseless sounds. As if he had lost all capacity for speech at the last.

Though not his capacity for movement, as each thrust testified to. The pleasure still resounding through Jack each time the other man slid home, receding only slightly with each retreat. A mouth closing on his shoulder now, teeth biting down, not hard enough to draw blood, but nearly. Arms crushing the life and breath out of him.

Before Norrington stopped altogether, pressed all the way up inside him as far as he could go, and then quit breathing himself.

And Jack felt liquid warmth flood through him, sending one last sharp little surge of pleasure through his prick, through his heart, though his lungs. A pleasure he yielded to without a thought, without a care. Without wondering if it would prove to be his undoing in the end. First blood, then. And a well fought battle it had been, if battle it was.

He turned his head and saw Norrington's eyes were shut tight, his mouth open, this look of rapture and utter transport on his face. As if he'd never before thought he could feel this way and had feared he never would.

It made Jack's own heart jolt in his chest, sudden and percussive as a cannon blast. Because he knew full well he had wanted the other man and now, knowing him like this, he had to admit that it was more than that. Else he would not have felt so much joy at the feel of being held like this, of having Norrington's seed spilled out inside him. At seeing the vulnerability on his face, plain as day and twice as damning.

What was a man to do with that? And him a pirate…

Though, mayhap, the Commodore wasn't much better off than he when it came to knowing the secrets of their hearts. Because he was saying his name even as he sank down, as he pulled both of them back down to lie, shaking and gasping almost as one, on the bed. He was saying "Jack" over and over, as if he'd never truly heard the name before. And wanted to burn it into his memory so he'd never forget again.

His prick still imbedded inside him and one hand moving down to touch his own member, two fingers gently stroking up and down his length, taking his own seed for their very own.

And Jack closed his eyes for a while, just breathing, just letting James Norrington touch him. Own him for a little while.

Even if it was an illusion.

Eventually, though, the other man's prick softened and slipped free of him, leaving an emptiness behind that he didn't wish to dwell on. Then the man himself moved away, turning on to his back and pulling him to his side. One arm laid heavy across his stomach and the other curled beneath his neck. Fingers just barely touching the side of his face.

They both lay there for another long time, before Norrington finally moved ever so slightly.

"You're not injured, are you?" The question when it came was soft, almost tentative.

Jack rubbed his chin along those same fingers, before he turned his head to look at the other man. Norrington's eyes were warm, concerned, still somewhat dazed. And though he had intended to make light of the moment, he found he couldn't.

"Aye, there's a little pain," he admitted, smiling slightly. "But it's the kind I'm rather honored to live with. You're a fine braw man, Commodore, there's no denying it. I'll be feeling ye in me backside for a while."

Pleasure and embarrassment warred on Norrington's face, but pleasure finally won out. Though it was a near thing. The other man let his head settle back down to the pillow and his other fingers began a somewhat languid exploration of Jack's ribs. Silence growing between them, not uncomfortable, but uncertain.

Finally, Jack shoved the hair back from his face and shifted over to lay his chin on the other man's shoulder. His own hand began steadily creeping downwards across Norrington's stomach, stealthy as the touch of the thief he'd already been named more than once.

Still, the Commodore caught his wrist before his fingers could reach the flesh now lying red and slick and ever so innocent between the crutch of his legs.

"None of that, now," he warned, more mocking than serious. "What do you think - I'm made of iron?"

"Well, ye were," Jack retorted. But he let his hand be guided back to where it had first come from. "An ye may well be again, I'm thinking."

"It will be morning soon enough," the Commodore said. "And I can see that you're insatiable."

"No," Jack replied. "Just ever hopeful, if you like." And, with that, he pushed his own prick against the other man's leg, even though it was only partially hard again. And, perhaps, wishful thinking on his part that it may be more than that.

Norrington sighed, but it sounded rather more pleased than annoyed. His own hand moved ever so slowly down Jack's side, tickled across his stomach, only to drift to one side rather than touching his member.

"Here now," Jack chided. "I think was a little more to the right."

"And I think we both need to sleep," the other man replied.

Jack let himself fall flat to the bed next to him and put a hand to his heart. "Ah, spurned already. Tis a sadness I fear has no true measure."

Norrington gave him a look of almost tolerant contentment. "Blow out the candle, Jack," he said, then gathered him close once he'd done just that. Tucking their legs together, his nose buried within Jack's hair, and his hand moving to lay itself almost protectively over that still wistful prick.

Before he sighed and went to sleep. Jack following him a scant moment later.


"Jack…Jack…" A familiar voice said.

Barbossa stepped out the shadows and up to the side of the bed, his hat tilted to a jaunty angle - the feather Jack had sliced in half, now whole and complete again - and his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. "What have ye been doing? And with one of the King's own, no less?"

Jack glanced down at the man on the bed, then realized that it was his own bed he were looking at. His old bed in the Captain's cabin aboard the Pearl.

The same bed that Barbossa had slept in for nigh on ten years in his absence.

But Norrington lay in it now, fast asleep, his head pillowed on one crooked arm and the bedding slipped down to reveal the broad expanse of his back. His exposed skin was pale and seemingly flawless in the dim light of the room, as smooth looking as Jack well remembered it feeling against his own skin.

He looked back up then as he heard the sound of steel being drawn and saw that Barbossa had his blade in hand now and was standing closer to the bed. Far too near for all that vulnerable flesh to rest easy o'er long.

He took a half-step forward himself, but Barbossa only smiled at him and let the tip of his sword touch the side of the bed. Just a few inches from the Norrington's spine. Not quite touching it.

"Jack, be careful now." Barbossa shook his head, as the blade slid upward along the sheets. "An tell me, if you please. Tell me who decreed that ye should live when the rest of us did not? An who allowed that ye should find pleasure in the very man who brought about the end of so many of our own? Come now, you're one of ours. You'll always be one of ours. One of the brethren. Just as ye'll swing at the last like so many before ye, mark my words on it. Free pardon or no."

Jack made as if to move again, but the other man's eyes narrowed and the point immediately swung up towards Norrington's throat.

"No," he said, stopping in his tracks.

"No…what?" Barbossa's voice was soft, but steel for all that.

"Please," Jack added. "Don't hurt him."

Barbossa tipped his head, a sly look on his face. "So fond of the man already? You're losing your touch, Jack. Twas always them as was more fond of you. Even though they saw you would give your heart to none. An yet promise them the world."

"There were no promises between us," Jack retorted. "Save that of First Mate to Captain. A promise which ye broke when ye led my crew to mutiny against me."

The other man bared his teeth and it was the mocking grin of a skull, even if he were fully fleshed at the moment.

"Consider it payment in kind," he replied. "As will this be…"

And, with that, he thrust forward with the sword.

"No!" Jack jumped for the other man, only to find Barbossa gone as suddenly as he had first appeared and himself the one standing over the bed, a naked blade in his hand, and Norrington staring up at him from the tangled bedding. Despite this, the man's eyes were calm, as if it were something he woke up to every night.

"Well, Jack," he said, his voice equally calm. "Either run me through or come back to bed."

Jack dropped the sword, then dropped himself. Distantly, he felt strong arms close themselves around him as he laid there, curled up as tight as he could manage, shaking desperately, and sick to his stomach. By God's tender mercies, he had thought Barbossa gone with the rest of his fever dreams, but obviously the man was not done with haunting him.

"Jack, Jack…" Norrington's tone was puzzled, but soothing for all that. "What is it? Have you taken ill again? Should I fetch the surgeon?"

He shook his head and buried his face into the other man's thigh. And, after a moment, Norrington quit trying to draw him out and just stroked his shoulder, his back, his head, as if by touch alone he could cure what ailed him.


Jack was alone in that big bed when next he woke, sunlight already pouring into the room through the open windows. The curtains drifting with the warm breeze that followed in its wake. He was confused for a moment or two as he looked around the room, then let his head sink back down to the pillow as he remembered the night before. Every last bit of the night before.

A lot of it was good, jolly good if the ache in his body was any indication, but the pleasure was overshadowed by his remembrance of the dream. Of Barbossa. Of Norrington's sword in his hand. Of how very vulnerable he must have seemed to the other man after his collapse. With him lying in his arms like that, as a wee child would after being frightened out of their wits by some bad dream, only to fall asleep on him at the last.

Norrington must have put him back to bed. God only knew what he thought of him for it.

Jack wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Scourge of the Spanish Main…aye, that was him all right. Taken such fright by a ghost. By a ghost of a ghost. For Barbossa was dead, quite dead. He had killed him with the very pistol that the Commodore had taken from him. The pistol even now lying with his belt and boots in that little room that he had taken to calling his own. Blood there had been and blood there was and there was no coming back from that.

Heathen curses or no.

It must be the remains of the fever. Mayhap, it had damaged him more than the surgeon had allowed for. And if he were well and truly mad these days - mad all round the points of the compass, rather than just mad north - north-west, when the wind blew in from the east - then it would be better he left this place soon as he could. Before he did anyone harm. Well, anyone that he actually cared about.

Like Will or Elizabeth or…James…

"That's Commodore Norrington to you, Jack me lad," he mumbled. "Or…sir, if you please."

Though they had pleased each other well enough last night for any ten men.

He put his arms up over his head and stretched, feeling the pull of each and every muscle, as well as the dull burn of some that had not been so stretched in some time. It felt good, though, and he smiled to himself. Thinking of that look on Norrington's face, the one that he swore he would not soon be forgetting.

The look of delirious abandonment.

And of possessive delight.

He may be a fool, but he wanted to see that look again. Even if it did cost him his soul. Except that he could not be sure it wouldn't cost much more than that, for others if not for him.

He could have killed the man…

Jack signed and rolled out of bed. He went over to the window, gazing out at a blue sky not marred by a single cloud. By the looks of it, it was mid-morning already and the fact that no one had disturbed him here must mean that Knox had not returned from this evening in town. Either that or he had and Norrington had sent him off again with some excuse.

Speaking of which, the Commodore must have gone off to the fort already. Leaving his guest alone in both his home and his bed. It may not have been complete trust, but it was…well, it was a risk and trust enough. A trust that he didn't wish to abuse. He had to go. There was no other choice.

Jack rummaged through the bedding and found his shirt and breeches. He pulled them both on and then ventured over to the door. He listened at it a moment, then peered out. The hall beyond was silent and dark and he could see the door to his own room at the far end.

He walked as quietly as he could down the passageway to it and had just put out his hand to open the door, when the sound of footsteps on the stairs beyond made him pause. He spun around, ready to see Knox after all, or Emma returned early from her sister's home, but it was Norrington. Who seemed just as surprised to see him standing there as he was to find the man not only still home, but wearing just a pair of breeches and shirt same as him. And barefoot, as well.

"Oh," Jack said. "I thought I was on me own."

Norrington shook his head at him, but his look of surprise was already fading. Leaving the familiar mask of reserve firmly in place in its stead.

"Mister Sparrow," he said, formal indeed. "We must talk."

Jack stared at him, but the Commodore's eyes were unreadable by that dim light. As somber as his countless relations in their portraits on the wall.

"Aye," he said then, opening the door to his own room and ushering the other man inside.

But when he turned back around to face the other man, that coolness was already melting. Norrington took him by the arm and led him over to the bed, gesturing at him that he should sit down. Jack remained standing.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. "I shouldn't have…"

Jack shook his head. "Twas naught but a dream. My apologies if I led thee to believe anything more than that was amiss."

"A dream," the other man said, his tone one of obvious disbelief. Even verging on anger. "Of course. That explains it all."

Norrington let go of his arm and turned away. "I had thought…" he went on, only to suddenly stop, his back stiffening once more. "But I am rather late already. I'm sorry, Mister Sparrow, but I must leave you. I've a lot of work to do today and half the morning is already past."

"James, wait…" Now it was Jack's turn to reach out, even though he wasn't sure of what he wished to say. Only that he must say something. He laid a hand on the other man's back, but Norrington only stepped away from him.

Still, the Commodore's head went down and then he turned, giving him the briefest glimpse of hurt and mild confusion in his eyes, before they shuttered themselves again.

His voice remained soft, though. "Jack, please," he said. "May we talk of this tonight?"

Jack nodded, letting his hand fall back to his side. "If that's what ye wish. Commodore. Tonight, then."

It wasn't quite a lie, but it came close.

A final look, this one that even he couldn't read, and the other man walked out, closing the door quietly behind him. Leaving Jack to finally collapse onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering if he could truly bear the weight of Norrington's regrets as well as he had thought he could. If he could bear what the man might think of him when he returned home tonight and found him gone at the last.

Let alone if…when he discovered him sailing beneath the black flag once more. Or, worst still, standing at the foot of some gallows.

Jack got back up and roughly began drawing on his boots.

Still, he could no more be other than what he was then he had ever managed to forget the Pearl.

Even if it did take him right straight back to the noose.



He didn't look at the other man as Will sat down on the sand next to him and stretched out those lean legs of his. Instead, he watched as the Dauntless came about with ponderous grace and began to move off out of the bay. Her great sails billowing full of the wind. The same wind that Jack could see rippling the waters, carrying with it the rich salt scent of the sea, of distant shores and exotic places.

And there were no words for it, but he wanted to be on that ship, any ship, in that moment, going anywhere but here, and it was a wanting so strong that it hurt inside and out. He had told Elizabeth once about how much freedom meant to him, but he really didn't think that she'd understood.

Mayhap, no one could, unless they had salt in their veins already. Or pirate blood. The blood burning inside him even now.

Jack let his head sink down to rest on his knees.

It had been more difficult than he had imagined to leave the Commodore's house. Not that he had run into any trouble. The guards had been gone from the gate and he had a small purse of gold to see him though. Plus his pardon and his effects - all but his sword, that is - but still he had felt at loose ends. Like the thief he had always been, but this time with the full weight of guilt that he had never before known.

It was an uncomfortable feeling and not much appreciated.

"Find me, you did," he said coldly. "Now, leave me be."

"No," Will replied, his tone as resolute as he had proved himself to be. "Tell me about the dream, Jack."

He shrugged and dug the heels of his boots down into the sand. "There's naught to tell."

"Now that was a lie," Will said. "Which warns me there is something to it, something important. Is it the Pearl? I know how you felt when you saw she was gone that day. When they'd left you behind."

"Worse and worse," Jack mumbled. Persistent whelp, William Turner; he got that from his father, no less. But still, he relented ever so slightly. "How can ye know what I felt, son. You have what you most desired, what you would have died for. I have naught left to me but my life, an tis not worth two pennies at the moment, let alone the price of the paper it were wrote on."

"Don't tell me you would have rather hanged?" Will's voice was mocking, yet still sharp for all that. Sharp as all those godsbedamned blades of his. Just like the one had made Norrington.

"No," Jack said. Though, in this precise moment, it felt more like his answer should be a yes. It would have been simpler, if not particularly pleasant. But then, when had his life ever been simple? If he had wanted a simple life, he never would have bedded a Commodore.

"Then what, Jack?"

Suddenly, Will's hand was on his arm, pulling him around to face the younger man. And Jack realized that the sharpness he had heard was because Will was little frightened, more than a little concerned, and quite determined to try and help him. As if both he and Elizabeth - and Norrington, for that matter - hadn't already gone far past the bounds of good reason, let alone good sense, where he were concerned.

He stared into Will's face, still so very young, so very earnest, as if all the world could right itself if he only believed in it enough, and sighed.

"All right, lad," he said softly. "I'll tell ye. But tis not a pleasant story."

Will nodded and released his arm, but his eyes were still intent, as if he fully intended to drag the truth out of him if needs be. But Jack were full ready to tell someone right about now, and better it be the son of Bootstrap than just about anybody else.

"Gibbs told ye it were Barbossa who fostered the mutiny," he said.

Will nodded.

"Well," Jack went on. "Twas for his own purposes and not all because he desired the Pearl."

The younger man frowned a little. "Yes?"

Jack let out a long breath and gathered his legs tighter to him, his hands laced over the worn leather of his boots. He rested his chin on his knees and gazed out across the water, the sun striking the waves silver and blue. Reminding him of a pair of eyes he dearly did not wish to be reminded of at this moment. Anymore, than he wished to be reminded of yet another pair of blue eyes.

He had never told anyone of this before, not in ten long years.

"Yer a good lad, Will," he said at the last. "An I know ye love Elizabeth dearly, but I doubt you've much experience with the ways a man loves a maid, let alone what a man may get up to with a man."

"Jack." Will's voice was soft, but a wee bit impatient for all that. "Just tell me, will you?"

Jack turned his head to gaze at the younger man. "It were me Barbossa wanted, even more than the Pearl, you see, and I would have naught to do with him. Not because I would have naught to do with another man, but because he were a cruel man at heart and with that cruelty I could not abide."

"He…desired you?"

"Aye," Jack said, just a whisper.

He watched as Will looked down, obviously disconcerted at the thought. Then he looked up again, but not at Jack. Instead, he looked at the ocean, as if seeking his answers there.

"I know," the younger man said at the last, slowly, as if picking his words with great care. "A little of what men may do with other men, even though I've never…well, I suppose I never really imagined that it may mean the same to them as what a man may feel for a woman or a woman for a man."

"You're speaking of love, lad?"

Will nodded.

"Aye, that betimes happens as well twixt one man and another. Same as between man and maid. But he never loved me."

"How do you know that?"

Jack sighed and let his head drop again. "The man only wished ever to possess. An what he could not possess, he would destroy if he could. Tis as simple as that."

"So, because he could not possess you, he took your ship and left you to die."

"Aye, an he fancied himself as captain well enough, not to be forgetting that. He were always ambitious."

"Hence, he took your offer of the Dauntless that day."

"She weren't never mine to give, mores the pity," Jack replied. "But, aye, I knew t'would appeal to him. More so than all the swag in the world."

"Just as the thought of you sailing under his command appealed to him," Will said.

Jack looked over at the younger man again at that. Will had this almost slyly pleased look on his face right at the moment, the same look he'd gotten when Jack had praised his quickness in learning how to help him sail the Interceptor on their little jaunt from Port Royal to Tortuga. All as if he'd never been given a compliment before in his life. Considering the man he'd been apprenticed to, mayhap he'd never had.

"That it did," he replied. "An a good thing it were or else both of us might be dead ere now. For which your missy would never have forgiven me."

The mention of Elizabeth made Will's eyes sparkle even brighter than the sun on the waves and he smiled, a wide, almost sweet smile. A smile that made Jack abruptly feel ten times older than the other man, rather than just a dozen or more years. Had he ever been that young? Even when he'd been that young? But then, at Will's age, he'd already been Captain of the Pearl and had crewed aboard a handful of ships before her.

But that vibrant smile faded all too soon. "So what does all that have to do with your dream?" Will asked.

Jack shook his head. Persistent indeed. "When I was ill," he said. "I dreamt of the curse, of the mutiny, of a lot of things I'd just as soon not remember. But I'm no ill now, an still I see the man."


Jack nodded. "He claims my life is forfeit for my part in sending the crew of the Pearl to their deaths. That I owe them, an him, for breaking me word."

"Do you believe that?"

"Which part of it, lad?"

"Any of it, Jack. Because, if you do, then you're wrong. I was there, remember? My life being in your hands, as it were."

"I would never have let ye die, lad."

"Well, thanks," Will said dryly. "But tell me…if Barbossa's crew had succeeded in taking the Dauntless and if he handed the Pearl over to you thereafter, made you her captain again - would you have abided by the terms of your agreement with him. Sailed under his colors and split your spoils with him and named him 'Commodore'?"

Jack let out a long breath. "Aye," he replied. "Pain me though it would to call that man master."

"And would you have served him well?" Will was relentless, heartless, obviously determined to make him see his point.

"Well as any." His voice was a whisper now, harsh even to his own ears.

Will's sunny smile returned again. "Then there is no issue, Jack. You're as honest a man as you ever were."

Jack gave him a sidelong gaze at that, but it didn't put a dent into the younger man. Either his good humor or the intensity of those warm brown eyes.

"Aye," he relented himself before them, knowing full well the moment of surrender when he'd reached it. Though he didn't have to much like it. "Honesty and stupidity. Hand in hand as ever they would be."

"More often even than madness and brilliance?" Will shot back at him. "Jack Sparrow, did you actually think that rescuing my Elizabeth from the waters that day was anything but sheer stupidity on your part?"

Jack, for once, had nothing to say to that. Or to how Will suddenly took his hand and grasped it tightly between two of his own. All humor suddenly fading from his face, leaving nothing but an earnestness that was almost frightening. If Jack hadn't already seen the man face down a whole crew of pirates, knowing that he couldn't kill but one of them.

"I've never thanked you for that," Will said, his voice low, almost harsh. "For saving her, with no thought to the risk to your own life. If she had died…"

He broke off suddenly, as if more than his voice was failing him, his eyes falling as well.

Jack struggled with himself, some part of him wanting to make light of it, but in the end he couldn't. Not to the son of Bootstrap. Not to the man who had stood up for him at the last and saved him from the rough embrace of the gallows.

"You're welcome, lad," he said softly. "You do well by her now an that's all I'll be asking in return. Savvy?"

Will nodded. Then he let go of Jack's hand and glanced up, out across the bay again. "Are you going to stay?" he asked then, his voice still low. Serious.

Jack shot him a glance, but the younger man didn't look at him. "Here in Port Royal? Or do you mean, do I plan on keeping to the straight and true?"

Will shrugged, but the disregard seemed somewhat forced. "Both, I guess."

Jack dug a hand down into the warm sand between them and held it before him, letting the grains trickle through his fingers. "Tis a fair enough town. Good as any and better than some. But I doubt as there's a place here for the likes of me. Even if I wished it. As for the other…tis all I know. Mayhap, tis all I am."

Will said nothing and his eyes dropped to the sand at his own feet once more. As if he could find answers he liked better there. But Jack could sense the disappointment in the lad, as if he truly had come to mean much to him in just this short a time. More than he had meant to any man in a very long time.

Well, except for…

Jack roughly scrubbed the last of the sand free between both palms, then got to his feet. Will immediately glanced up at him and, when Jack offered him his right hand, he nodded and took it, allowing the older man to haul him back to his feet. Jack held onto his hand then, staring directly into those warm brown eyes of his, more aware in that instance than he had ever been before of just how like Will Turner was to his father.

"I'm sorry, son," he said in a much softer tone. "But I imagine I should be moving on. In fact, I'll be seeking passage out sometime in the next few days most like. Soon as I find me a likely ship."

Will nodded, but disappointment quite clearly crossed his face. "Where will you go?" he asked quietly.

Jack shrugged. He let go of Will's hand and turned to look out across the bay himself, then further. Out to where the sea waited. "Where ever the wind takes me. As always."

"Elizabeth will want to see you," the younger man said, sounding seemingly resigned now. "She'll be coming down to the smithy tomorrow. For some reason, she likes to watch me work. And we don't tell her father about how much she fancies the swords."

"And swordsmanship?"

A rueful smile, but oddly proud all the same. "She wants me to teach her. I'm not sure it's a good idea."

Jack poked his finger at Will's chest, leaning in close. "I'm sure," he replied, then smiled. "Teach her."

Will nodded. Jack drew back again, before he pulled the other man close so suddenly that he just about knocked him off his feet. He held him tight for several moments, then let go enough that he could throw an arm amiably about his shoulders.

"Come with me," he said with all the authority of his years. "We need a drink or three and I wish to tell thee more about your father. If you're interested, that is. In hearing about the exploits of a pirate and a scallywag."

He started them walking down the beach back towards the docks, the two of them wavering a little back and forth across the sands. "And, in return…you, young Master Turner, will have to tell old Jack whether or not ye've yet managed to steal some private time with your lovely betrothed. Or are ye still waiting for that opportune moment?"

"I believe that is none of your business, Mister Sparrow," Will replied, though his voice was good-humored enough.

"Ah," Jack replied sorrowfully. "I thought as much. Haven't even kissed the lass yet, have ye?"

"I have so," Will retorted, pausing to draw himself up straight as Jack's arm would allow.

Jack paused as well, staring up into the younger man's face. Which was blushing most fetchingly right at the moment. Though, he would never dare tell the lad so.

"Well, then," was all he said. "That certainly calls for a drink."


Several drinks later, followed by a visit to the smithy so that he could see and admire and retrieve his freshly cleaned and sharpened blade, and Jack took his leave of the lad. He found the captain of a decently-served sloop ready to take most of what remained of the Commodore's purse in return for passage to Barbados, the bargaining of which involved several more drinks bought on both sides and a handshake that had left Jack's fingers smarting for several minutes. The Captain of the Wren being a large man - certainly quite large for the size of his own ship's name - and somewhat unknowing of his own strength.

The Wren would be leaving in two days time, which meant that he would be able to see Elizabeth on the morrow. Perhaps, even trying on her first strokes with a carefully dulled blade. Will had still been considering it when they'd parted, but Jack suspected his soon to be lady wife would be getting her way, as well as private lessons, soon enough. As he suspected Elizabeth would be getting her way in most things, whether she swore to obedience in her wedding vows or no.

The road back seemed longer than it had on the way down and the hill much steeper. The sun was just going down over the horizon as he finally reached the Commodore's house and paused there in front of the gate. Before he swung it wide open and sauntered down the front path, watching his shadow proceed him the whole time. As if leading the way back.

It was only when he got to the door that he stopped and just stood there, staring up at the silent house. Reconsidering the impulse that had made him return here after all. Not that he couldn't still turn around. Go down to the town once more. More than likely, Will would put him up somewhere till his ship left - even if it were only a mound of fresh straw down at the smithy. Not that he and Master Brown's donkey were on the best of terms, but it might well have been better than returning to face a certain Naval officer and gentleman.

Not that he intended to do more than make his proper fair thee well to the man. Even though he had never been one much for them before, preferring more a quick kiss, a pinch, and a wave as he was already well on his way out the door. Or diving from the nearest window, whichever seemed likely to save him the most trouble. And the nuisance of having said chamber pot catch him on the way out.

Of course, with as much rum under his belt as he'd had for the nonce, he wouldn't be any too graceful if he tried a maneuver like that. Which made it all to the good that James Norrington would more likely - as he'd already considered - take his own sword to him instead. But just let him try. He had his own back now and it were polished enough to bloody well blind a man if he wasn't half careful.

Will definitely needed to marry that girl, now that he'd actually managed to woo and win her. The lad still had entirely too much time on his hands.

Jack leaned against the side of the house for a moment, then noticed he had a bottle in one hand. And that there was still some rum in said bottle. He tilted it back, tilting his whole body with it in the process, and drained the lot of it. He heard a dog barking somewhere and turned to look back at the gate, which he'd left unlatched. Oh, well…that's what the man had servants for. Or guards. Or something.

Speaking of which, he wondered if he shouldn't nip back around and come in through the servant's entrance instead. If no one else would be glad to see him, certainly Cook would. And she might even have some more of those cakes to go with his rum. He would miss those fresh cakes. He would miss…

Jack frowned and lifted the bottle again, but it was empty. He glared at it, then - forgetting the cakes and etiquette entirely - he walked up to the front door and pounded on it.

"Here, now," he shouted. "Let a man in, will you?"

When no one answered immediately, he bent down to peer at the keyhole. And thus found himself staring at the starched shirt of the man who finally opened the door. Jack stood up straight again and smiled at the man's clear consternation.

"Knoxy, isn't it," he said. "Well, you may tell the master of the house that Jack Sparrow is back."

He brushed past the man, only to spin around in the middle of the front hall and hand him the empty bottle.

"Look after this for me, will you?"

The servant frowned at him, then drew himself up. But, before he could speak, another voice rang out from the top of the stairs.

"Mister Sparrow, if you please."

Jack glanced up at Norrington's stern face, those cool eyes, then gave a little half-bow, all for as if they were meeting for the first time at some formal and all too boring official function.

"Commodore," he said. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Mister Sparrow," Norrington repeated, his voice like a lash now, cooler even than his eyes. "If you would wait for me in my office. And, Mister Knox, you may return to your other duties. After you inform Cook that I wish dinner to be served an hour later tonight."

"Sir…" Knox bowed his head, shooting Jack a potentially lethal glance at the same time. "Right away, sir."

Jack watched as the man went down the side passage, heading into the back of the house, then looked up Norrington. Who started down the stairs towards him as if he were heading to his own execution. He was still in uniform, perfectly powdered and buttoned and polished. All white and gold and robins' egg blue. It well suited him, though Jack suspected that it was not the time to be telling the man so.

Then he knew it for sure as Norrington took him hard by the arm and steered him into his office, closing and locking the door behind him.

"Drunk again, I see," the other man hissed, nearly into his ear.

Jack straightened and pulled his arm free, turning to face the other man with a haughty look of his own, his manner suddenly entirely less amiable.

"Not so drunk as that. And rather less than I mean to be," he said, and there wasn't a hint of slurred speech to his voice now.

Norrington stepped back. He looked him up and down, before his eyes fell to the hilt of Jack's sword.

"I see the smith has done his usual fine job. Though I swear that, if the blade had, in fact, been made of wood, no doubt he would have polished that to a turn, as well."

"Jealous?" Jack asked, then realized that he were deliberately goading him. And Norrington a man who didn't seem to easily see the humor of things. At least, at the moment. At least where he was concerned.

Instead of answering, though, the Commodore turned away and walked across the room. His head bowed as he stared down into the fire that someone had started in the hearth.

"I wasn't entirely sure that you would return," Norrington said. His voice was matter-of-fact, but there was something uncertain about it as well.

Jack followed him across the room. He threw himself into the chair nearest the fire, put his legs out towards it, then laid his head back with a sigh. So, it wasn't jealousy so much as fear. Rightly so, considering his frame of mind when he had left this morning. And not that it wasn't flattering, but it also made him slightly uncomfortable. As if said chamber pot was about to come flying at him at any moment.

"Ah," he said slowly. "Well, I did. An though ye did not have to send the lad after me, I appreciate the gesture."

Norrington sat down with rather more dignity in the chair opposite and looked at the fire. The oddest expression crossing his face, before it went carefully blank again.

"Strange. That's not what Turner said when he came by the fort this afternoon. He also implied that you were intending on leaving Port Royal. The sooner the better."

Jack slumped down deeper into the reaches of the chair. "Aye. That's true enough."

So, why had he come back then? While he'd still been drinking it had seemed like a good enough idea, but now that he was here in front of the other man he suspected the rum had had its own thoughts on the matter.

"I see. Am I to believe that you have had an offer of honest work elsewhere, or do you wish simply to escape from me?"

That brought Jack's head back up. He stared over at the other man, but Norrington was quite deliberately not looking at him.

"Last night…" Jack said, then paused as he saw a flicker of something pass over the Commodore's face. Something that looked suspiciously like pain or regret. Or, perhaps, it was simply resignation.

It hurt to see it. More than he cared to admit. No, he should never have come back. But it was too late now. Or almost too late. He could still at least try and make it right before he left. He owed him that, at least. And Jack Sparrow always paid his debts.

"Yes?" Norrington prompted, his voice ever so soft.

Jack pushed himself free of the chair and walked over to the other man. He stood there between him and the fire that seemed to so completely hold his attention, then knelt down before him.

"James…" he said.

Blue-grey eyes slowly moved to fix on his own, though Norrington said nothing. He didn't need to; try as he liked, Jack could read every bit of what the Commodore was feeling in that moment and it made him reach out to take the other man's hand, to hold it tight within both of his own.

"Tis not you," he said gently. "You did naught amiss. Fact of the matter, you did everything right. Tis me, Commodore, wherein lies the trouble. I've been…dreaming of late of the men o' the Pearl. It's as if they've come back for me. As if they won't let me go."

He didn't want to mention that it was Barbossa in the main who was appearing to him. Telling Will had been one thing, but somehow he couldn't bear the thought of having this man know about that unsavory little history with his former First Mate. About just how personal his betrayal had been.

"I hate to break this to you, Mister Sparrow," Norrington replied, his voice coolly mocking. "But these men you speak of are all dead."

"Aye, I know that." Jack shook his head. "I know that full well and so do they. An that's what galls them. That they are dead and that I…am not. Last night…"

He started to speak of it again, but Norrington suddenly turned his hand and caught tight hold of his wrist, using it to pull him closer, half off balance.

"Yes," the Commodore said, his tone sharpening to something approaching anger now. "Tell me about last night, damn you. Did you think to kill a ghost with my sword?"

Jack pulled back slightly, testing the other man's grip of him, but Norrington was implacable. His face as hard as it had been when he'd first met him down on the docks after the rescue of the woman he loved. There had been a sword betwixt them then, too. But it had been in the hand of the man it belonged to, the man for whom Will had made it.

Not in the hands of a pirate. A pirate who had, at last, persuaded the Commodore to bed him. If not entirely to trust him. And trust was the issue here, far more even than belief. Than the fact that they had shared a single night's pleasure together.

Finally, Jack gave up and sagged a little, relaxing in the man's grip. Which didn't change at all, despite his apparent acquiescence. As if Norrington were expecting some sort of trick. But Jack was in no mood for tricks, and if the Commodore needed to win so very badly right now - to feel himself in charge - then so be it. Instead, he stared right into Norrington's eyes and smiled. It was not a particularly pleasing smile, but it was a smile and all he could readily manage at the moment.

"A man's word is his bond, is it not?" he said.

Norrington frowned, then nodded.

"An if he has'na anything else, he has that. An if he does not have his word, he has naught."

"Get on with it, Mister Sparrow," was all the Commodore said, but the frown left his face.

Jack let his voice drop. "Mutiny is a bloody bad business, as you said. An there's no coming back from that. They deserved what end they got for that. But Captain Barbossa…"

"Will said that you killed him. Back on the island."

"Aye. But it were more than that. I don't know if Will told ye that as well, but Barbossa and I made an accord an was on the strength of it that he sent his men out to Dauntless. Now, ye defeated them, so the letter o' the agreement we reached were never truly set in motion. But the spirit…aye, the spirit. Barbossa knows full well he were betrayed - and, aye, he betrayed me first, an some would say it were no more than such as he deserved. But still it pains me. It pains me that me own word might not be as good as I may wish it to be, an that he may very well have the right of it."

"You mean the right to haunt you?" Scathing now, Norrington was shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he'd just heard. .

Jack let his eyes drop, but said nothing. That he was a scoundrel and a scallywag, Norrington already knew full well, but as to the agreement he and Barbossa had made between them that night, he would not and could not speak of it further than what he had already. Not to a man who was not a pirate, anyway, or had not pirate's blood within his veins.

Norrington suddenly let go of him, so abruptly that Jack had to throw back a hand to catch himself from spilling across the floor.

"Claptrap," the other man said. "I have never, in all my life, heard such absolute rubbish. If we had lost the ship that day to those…men, would you have kept your agreement with Captain Barbossa?"

"Yes," Jack replied quietly. Both of them in one day. First Will and now Norrington. It was almost more than a man could bear.

The Commodore rose to his full height, towering over him. His face was stern, commanding, as if Jack were one of his own, most like one of his own caught doing something he shouldn't be doing.

"Then what price your honor? You are an honest man, Jack Sparrow, though it may pain me at times to admit such. So stow your guilt, if you please. I never want to hear the likes of it again. From what I know, this man is better served dead. And more so at your own hand. If you swear to me now that he walks in your dreams, crying foul, then I'd look more to your own heart for the truth of it, than to his intent. And, yes, if you truly wish to die and be well rid of this world, then I'm sure that can be arranged. But that shall be at your own choosing then, not at the behest of some restless spirit and not by my own choice."

Jack shifted and got to his feet before the man. He stood there, swaying slightly, as those last few words repeated themselves several times over in his head, growing with import each time he heard them.

…not by my own choice…

So, pirate or no, Norrington had decided for a fact that he did not wish to hang him. Ever so glad of that eleventh hour pardon then, he must have been. That he'd not had to balance duty with his own desires on the matter. But what if…when he broke with that self-same pardon and returned to his old life? He doubted that the other man could overlook such as that a second time, even if he somehow managed to find another Governor's daughter to rescue.

"Aye," he said at the last. "So, perhaps tis not a ghost. As you would have it. But I know the secret of it, I imagine, man or spirit. The secret of me very own soul."

"And what secret is that?"

Jack shrugged and told the truth at the last. "That I'm a pirate, Commodore. Tis in me blood, in me heart, and all I truly know. An no piece of paper, no matter how fine, can ere make me anything more or less than that. Than Captain Jack Sparrow, even if he be a captain without a ship and with no hopes at the last of ever reclaiming her."

"So you say," Norrington said, and his voice had grown soft again, soft and somewhat teasing, though entirely serious at the same time. "And I believe you…I do, Jack. I've been thinking of nothing else all this day and I find I must believe you. You're a pirate, and a damned good one at that. And it would be wrong for anyone, even of me, especially of me, to ask of you more than that. But to be a pirate, you need a ship. And I can think of no other for you than your own Pearl. Savvy?"

Jack opened his mouth, then closed it tight again. He frowned at the other man. The Commodore stared back at him, this light in his eyes that looked a wee bit mad almost, as if he were daring him to do something at that precise moment. Something that may well get him tossed into a prison cell. Or, at the very least, clapped back in irons.

"Drink, Mister Sparrow?" was all he said though, as polite as if Jack had just dropped by unexpectedly for tea.

Instead of roundly cursing the other man, which is what he really desired to do, Jack sat back down in the nearest chair and swung his legs comfortably up over the arm. And gave Norrington his best, most insolent, smile.

"Aye then," he said. "An tell me, if you please, how I am to acquire a ship that not the best of you lot could catch, let alone capture."

Norrington gave him a rather smug look and walked over to the side table. He took up one of the bottles and two of the glasses there and poured out a generous amount in one. He handed it to Jack. His own he filled nearly as full, then sat down in another chair and placed the bottle on the floor at his feet.

Jack inspected the glass. "Brandy?"

Norrington nodded.

"To your renewed health," he said, raising his glass.

"Aye, an to yours as well," Jack replied politely enough.

They drank as one and t'were more of a challenge than Jack had expected for him to finish his off before the other man.

Norrington immediately plied the bottle again, before placing it on the floor between them. As if it were some prize they both fancied, or some piece of disputed territory. Jack sipped at his glass, then gave the Commodore a speculative look. The other man returned it full well, one of his eyebrows arched.

"The ship is one matter," Norrington commented, returning at last to the subject at hand. "Piracy yet another. You do realize that, of course, as a loyal and dedicated, commissioned servant of the Crown, that I can never officially condone such a thing. However…"

Jack raised his own eyebrows.

Norrington stared at him for one long moment, before he lowered his gaze to his glass. He turned it slowly in his fingers, making it flash with fire-gold and amber-red hues.

"I have no fondness for the Spanish," he said at the last. "And I believe that the King quite echoes my sentiments. And as the King goes, so goes England. Even though we are not currently at war with Spain, it does not, of course, mean that we are not at odds with them. The King - and the Governor, of course - may, most easily I must imagine, be persuaded to turn a blind eye should a few choice Spanish ships go amiss. Most especially if a percentage of the spoils were to fall into their hands thereafter."

Jack let out a sharp breath. "You wish me to turn privateer?"

"Now, how can I wish that?" Norrington replied. "To do so would mean that you'd need a ship, and you don't have a ship now, do you?"

"But you know of one," Jack said, nodding slightly. "I might very well fancy. An you're…let's say, willing to help me get it."

"Duty bound. To aid in ridding these waters of a most dread pirate scourge," the Commodore corrected. He sipped his brandy reflectively, then added mildly. "You do owe me a ship. A fast ship. If you haven't forgotten."


"And as a privateer, you will for working for the Crown and, as such, working for me. In a manner of speaking, Jack Sparrow…Captain Jack Sparrow."

Jack nodded and smiled, finishing off the last of his own glass of brandy with one quick flick of his wrist. Captain…now that had rolled off the other man's tongue so very beautifully.

"Aye," he replied, leaning down to claim the bottle and filling his glass again. "In a manner of speaking, I like the sound of that…"

"I thought you might," the other man said, a smile of his own crossing his face, a private little smile that Jack fancied only he had ever before had the occasion to see.

But then Jack frowned and let his glass fall again. "An what of her 'dread pirate' crew? Are ye also 'duty bound' to hang them, if'n you actually do catch the ship in question?"

"I believe that is at my discretion."

"An your discretion tells you…what?"

Norrington leaned forward and lifted his own glass and Jack obligingly topped it off. "Well, if they were to sign on with an honest enough man, a man with a quite legitimate letter of marque in his pocket, then…why they wouldn't need fear the noose. Not in Port Royal, anyway."

"Meaning we'd have to take our chances with the Spanish."

"As you say, Mister Sparrow."

"And Port Royal would welcome us with open arms, is that also what you're saying?"

"Yes." A simple enough answer, but there were worlds in it.

"An you?"

Those storm-grey eyes tracked back up to his face. Not surprised, merely speculative. As if he'd been half expecting the question and had been considering it, at least in part, for some time already. Jack stared back at him and something both hot and cold ran right straight through him, as though his body had taken fever again, though his thoughts were perfectly clear at the moment. Almost painfully clear.

Now, and why had he asked that particular question? It wasn't no mind to the likes of him if this man - Commodore James Norrington, if you please, an never forget that - wished to disregard what had gone on between them already, let alone if he wished never to renew that particular acquaintanceship ever again. Tonight, tomorrow, or in ten long years. Except that it was and he wished and he doubted he could wait that long, hardly even one day if truth be told.

"Such a course would, you understand, not be prudent." Norrington took another small, almost delicate, sip of his brandy. "Let alone advantageous for either my command or my career."

It wasn't a no, but it wasn't quite a yes either. But, Jack took it as the invitation for further persuasion that he wished it to be. He had no problem with chasing after what he wanted. And long practice with it.

And, mayhap, this time he would get exactly what he wanted.

And all those ghosts could just go hang themselves, as it were. For a chance of getting both the Pearl and this man he would go to Hell and back and come out laughing. He would pay just about any price. Even if he didn't have his soul to bargain with anymore. Or even if he did.

Now that was definitely worth a thought and rather more worth a drink. He stood up and the other man immediately followed suit. They stood there, looking at each other for a long time, as if neither of them were quite willing to make the first move, then both reached out as one to shake hands.

"We have an agreement then, Captain Sparrow?"

"Most definitely," he answered. Well, he remembered that firm grip and he were quite looking forward to remembering more of it again. "We most definitely have an accord…Commodore."

They stood there then, neither of them moving, until Jack raised his glass of brandy once more in all seriousness.

"A toast then, if you please. But not with this. If you'd rather…some rum?"

"I thought the rum was gone," Norrington commented dryly. Standing there in his pristine uniform, controlled and precise and smiling ever so slightly. As if he believed he'd just gotten exactly what he wanted. As if he'd just pulled one over on Captain Jack Sparrow.

But Jack just shook his head, smiling quite broadly now, knowing he'd soon find out different. "Not this time."

And then he reached out and pulled the other man to him and kissed him, long and slow and quite thoroughly enough to seal the deal on it even without that one last drink.

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