Rating: NC-17, m/m slash, hurt/comfort
Archive: Yes, help yourself. Please include ALL chapters. Ta!
Disclaimer: The Mouse/Bruckheimer Productions owns them, except for Jack Sparrow who belongs to J.Depp. ;-)
Beta: Moonsalt & viva_gloria
Author's Note: This is for KJ, who was ill and needed comfort. Comfort!fic, in fact. :) May the heat and the sun warm you, dearling.
A/N2: Thanks to hija_paloma for the mental jewelry
Summary: 'Keep one's friends close, but one's enemies closer.'
Jack finds himself in the care of one Commodore Norrington, enjoying unlikely, unexpected hospitality. But is Norrington enjoying it at all?
It was all a dreadful misunderstanding, really.
Upon reflection, Jack could understand how Mathieux Laurens, captain of the brig that had sailed into Il Tortue, may have taken offense at being turned down. The man was French, after all.
Always so bloody particular when it came to reminding others of their fantastical reputations as great lovers, the French. Insufferable, really.
And Laurens was as vain as a wench, with all that borrowed frippery and lace. The painted Cupid's Bow that graced the man's lips wasn't so much the indication of a noble, as that of a fiend. And the garlic - someone should do the man a favor and educate him on his diet if he wished to enjoy any success with his seductions. Though, Jack privately thought the lace rather a nice touch. Still, it just wouldn't do to encourage the man after having turned him down repeatedly. And after only four drinks, no less. Jack had still had his wits about him even as the wretched, pompous creature kept accosting him over the table.
He hadn't counted on Laurens deciding to challenge him to a duel then and there, however.
How novel, Jack had thought, rolling his eyes at the time. To go around pissing off perfectly pleasant pirates in public taverns by refusing to take no for an answer. To insistently absurd and demanding courtship displays. And refusing to even speak English while doing so. Then again, Captain Laurens had been rather more drunk than himself.
Unfortunately, Laurens had decided to take offense at being dunked in the water trough outside. When he'd sobered, he'd rallied his crew and decided taking the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow prisoner aboard his French vessel was the best retaliation, surprising Jack from behind with no less than fifteen men. He'd fought bravely, but there had been too many of them.
Or so he would claim to any who might hear the tale in future. It just wouldn't do for people to be spreading it about that Captain Jack Sparrow had slipped into a drunken stupor in his room at the inn, and had merely been carted away whilst sleeping off the rum.
Of course, once they'd left Tortuga, both captains had sobered upon the morn to find they were neither of them very pleased with the outcome. Laurens had the very devil of a hangover and couldn't remember anything but the dunking, which he then grew angered by, all over again. Jack found himself in the brig's brig below…
It had carried on for days, with Laurens sending down badly-translated French curses and wheedlings, trying to get Jack to succumb to his demands of that night whilst also demanding an apology for sousing him in the trough.
For some reason, the bloody French didn't recognize their own bloody word, and Jack's attempts to explain 'parley' to them fell on deaf ears. Although that was probably the fault of the interpreter's missing ears, which had both been cut off during his jaunt aboard a slave-ship from the East African coast some years before. The man didn't have too good an ear for either French or English, point of fact.
Being a gentleman, Jack had naturally enough attempted to reason with Laurens through negotiation, but Lady Luck seemed to have buggered off with Lucifer, leaving him in this stinking cell with nothing but a near-deaf-mute for occasional company.
And the rats.
Days turned to weeks and there were times Jack wondered if Laurens was insane. Wouldn't be the first time a pirate went mad from sailing about ad nauseum in Caribbean waters.
With no sunlight, constant days and nights in darkness, virtually starving, and feeling decidedly despondent (for the Black Pearl was safe and far away, being careened under the watchful, whisky-colored eye of Gibbs, while Jack had sought possible lucrative news elsewhere), Jack found himself feeling seasick for the first time in decades.
When the fever hit him, he knew better. He wasn't seasick. He was Laurens-sick, and if he could just get out of the bloody, confining cell that was giving him additional cabin-fever (bloody man apparently couldn't even afford to give him a decent shot of rum, or understand when Jack had finally had enough and actually agreed to his bloody 'terms'…) Jack was clear on what he would do. First, he would kill him. Then he'd shoot him. Then he'd slice him into tiny pieces.
Various angry and delirious scenarios suggested themselves to him as he cursed Laurens with a vitriol he hadn't realized he still possessed. He thought he'd cleared all of that out of his blood back on the island that the oh-so-noble Miss Swann had been marooned upon with him, all those months ago.
No one knew how it had started, but for some reason there was a fight on deck above. The ex-slave with the missing ears had come down with his victuals - bread and fresh water - with the news that Laurens had decided to attack a passing merchant ship.
Several women had been captured; five ladies and an adolescent girl. Apparently, there was some sort of scuffle in which two men had knifed each other over who got to ravish their captives, and a few other of the mates had decided having women aboard was bad luck after all, and wanted to throw them overboard.
Then the British Navy arrived.
Or so Jack made out from the screams and hollering above, and the sudden booming of cannons followed by the timber-shattering pounding that the hull of Lauren's ship received.
Apparently the women were English. And the English wanted them back.
When the ship surrendered, several quiet moments passed, and Jack wondered if perhaps Laurens was truly mad after all to believe that the British would do anything to French corsairs except hang them. They'd be lucky to make it to the nearest British port. The yardarm would suffice.
Silence reigned. Jack sighed. Laurens was gutless as well as insane. Wonderful.
Feverish, weak, starved and half-mad himself, Jack waited in the cell for the inevitable search by soldiers below, of the hold and brig.
He wasn't prepared, however, for the sight of a somewhat familiar Lieutenant standing outside his cell, flanked by three Marines.
The young man had a haughty countenance and sneered, "Well, well. Jack Sparrow. I must say, you don't look much the prize, do you?" The Lieutenant pulled a face and continued, "Bring him along. We'll take him back with the others, aboard the Dauntless."
As one of the soldiers unlocked the cell, the other two advanced upon him, and Jack unfortunately found himself overcome at last to the deprivations he'd suffered of late. As they carried him above, weakness claimed his limbs and his last thoughts were of darkness as it swirled over him with a sickening lassitude.
Black depths clutched at him, robbing him of his breath and voice, and every noise that came to him was a muted cacophony of sibilants and irritating sounds that grated on his nerves.
It felt like drowning. Or, at least what he imagined the experience of finally drowning would be like.
He felt cold, also, wracked with chills and shivering unpleasantly in and out of consciousness.
It may have been a fragment of a dream, but Jack was surprised to find the erstwhile Miss Elizabeth Swann featuring in it so vividly, seated beside him and speaking in that sharp, angry tone of condescension she adopted when she was very displeased at the way things had turned out. He blinked at the apparition. It did not go away. And she was saying the most interesting things.
"I don't care. And you may tell the Commodore that he'll just have to make do with the prisoners he has. He can't have this one."
"But, Miss, he's a pirate! You can't keep him here indefinitely."
"He is my patient now, and under my care," she insisted.
Aha. The haughty young Lieutenant never had been too pleased about Miss Swann's tendency to consort with pirates. Then again, neither had Commodore Norrington.
Elizabeth's voice took on the dangerous edge she adopted when dealing with people 'beneath her station'. "This is my friend, and a friend of my fiance's, and he is a good man. I have my father's full support in this matter and I'll thank you to remember it, Mr. Gillette."
The Lieutenant coughed. "Begging your pardon, Miss Swann, the Governor has not yet returned from Port Antonio. Sparrow's been here only a day - you can't possibly expect me to believe you've dispatched word to him already, let alone heard back from him in this time!"
Give it up, mate, Jack thought. When the lass sets her mind to something, best get out of the way.
Sure enough, Elizabeth withdrew from Jack's bedside, stood and advanced upon Gillette. "Don't be so sure, sir," she retorted. "If you try to remove him from this room by force, you will not only have the Governor to answer to, but Mr. Turner's sword. I'm sure you're well-acquainted with my fiance's proficiency with the blade, Leftenant?"
Oo, that's telling him, missy. Put the fear of Turner into him, Jack thought, smiling at the thought. How lovely. Both of his young acquaintances had pulled him out from under the noose, yet again.
"It's no good, Miss," Gillette said, trying a new note of pleading with her now. "He's a known criminal and a fugitive. We've been hunting him for months, waiting for him to turn up. The Commodore has been waiting for this chance for too long; you can't possibly expect to simply spirit Sparrow away again, right out from under his nose! We all have the law to answer to, even that- that brigand," Gillette finished, with a disparaging tone at the last.
"James would not be satisfied by a victory so cheaply won," Elizabeth snapped. "You simply picked him up off someone else's ship! Not terribly brave an effort, you really must admit, Mr. Gillette. If he wants to take Jack back into custody, let him come here in person and do it himself. And face me. My father will be home tomorrow afternoon. I can assure you that Commodore Norrington will think twice before facing the Governor, Mr. Turner, and myself, all at the same time," she added, firmly.
Jack frowned. Why in the world was Elizabeth willing to risk so much for his common soul? She was bluffing, that was all too clear to everyone, including the eager Lieutenant Gillette. But maybe Will had already spoken with her about his presence there.
Come to think of it, how had they managed to get him out of the hands of the Navy, off the Dauntless, once they'd come into Port Royal?
Gillette was standing by the door, and Elizabeth continued to move towards him as he backed away.
Jack took the opportunity to raise his head and abruptly found that horrible swirling sensation rise up to take him yet again. He bit back a gasp at the pain that hammered through his skull, and felt the dark blankets swallow him whole once more.
Consciousness returned, creeping back over him with a despondency that was at first unexpected but then less so, as he considered his weeks of incarceration, and waking to always find himself still aboard that mad pirate's ship. As he opened his eyes however, he quickly established that his recollection really had been no dream and he really was in the care of Miss Swann, who was standing at the foot of his bed before Will Turner.
Christ, the lad had changed. So much. Jack frowned. Even in the lamp-lit evening of the darkened room, he could see Will's bearing and appearance resembled something of a cross between a knight of the realm and his father, old Bootstrap. Curious combination, that. Though surely impressive.
In a low, quiet and worried voice, Elizabeth said, "I'm not sure what else we can do. James is bound to end up changing his mind. Everyone already knows how avidly and publicly he's stated his resolve to catch him."
"Maybe we could sequester him in the smithy," Will suggested. "Although I'm not certain that wouldn't be the first place anyone would think to look. I'm already known for standing between the Commodore and Jack once before. No one will ever forget the day Jack was almost hanged. It was a spectacle."
My own self least of all, thought Jack, with a bright spark of gratitude towards the young man for his self-less, last-minute rescue. He could still feel the rope where it had tightened around his neck…Jack swallowed.
Firmly, Elizabeth said, "When Father arrives, I shall have to explain all of this to him. He won't be pleased to find this same pirate in the house, not to mention in our best guest room." She paused, and then said anxiously, "Well, we must do something."
"Wait," Will said slowly, looking back at her, both of them still oblivious to Jack's awakened observance as he hung on every word. "That's it!"
"What is?" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Whatever his feelings on the matter, James can't just let Jack go again. We have to get him out of town altogether. And where is the Black Pearl? Why won't anyone explain what Jack was doing aboard that French ship?" She sounded distraught. As well she might, to be taking yet another chance on a pirate such as himself.
Jack opened his mouth to speak but was startled to hear Will's grinned reply to her.
"Where is the one place that no one, least of all any officer of the Navy, would think to look for a wanted man, the pirate Captain Jack Sparrow? No, this is perfect. He'll be perfectly safe."
"Will," she said, sharply. "What are you thinking? You've got that look. You know the one I mean."
Will took hold of her by both arms and smiled at her. "I'll be back. I won't be long, I promise. Don't worry. Jack will be safe." He leaned down to kiss her.
When he relinquished her, Elizabeth stuttered, "But - Will, you- where are you going? What do you mean?"
Will turned at the door briefly, and grinned back, "To see Commodore Norrington. He owes me a favor for that incident several weeks back."
As Elizabeth's eyebrows lifted dangerously high, Will left the room, closing the door behind himself.
"And exactly which incident is Mister Turner referring to?" Jack asked, in a voice uncompromisingly hoarse.
"Jack," Elizabeth said, turning to him and looking startled. "You're awake." She came closer to him, sitting on the bed beside him.
Licking dry lips, he muttered, "Apparently, I've you and Will to thank for waking at all. I'm surprised Norrington didn't jus' string me up as I am, when we arrived."
Elizabeth pulled a wry face. "Yes, well, they did take you straight to the Fort, at first. But news travels fast, especially in a town this dull. Will and I immediately had you brought here."
"And where is here?" Jack asked, a bit suspicious. "The Governor's own manor, I take it? Going a bit out of your way for an old pirate captain, aren't you, love?"
Elizabeth's expression echoed his own reservations. "Will insisted, I'm afraid. And there really was nowhere else to take you. I seriously hope that whatever you're suffering from isn't contagious."
Jack scowled at her indignantly. "Of course not. The very idea. I'd like to see you aboard that blackguard's ship - and in his brig, mind you - for as long as I was and not lose that rosy complexion of yours, Miss Swann."
He swallowed in a parched throat, wondering if he dared to ask for any rum. The lass would probably take it personally if he did.
She turned away however, and reached by the bedside for what looked like a cup. "Are you thirsty?"
"Aye, thanks very much," Jack admitted, abruptly wondering at the fact that fresh water suddenly appealed as greatly as rum. If not more so.
Blessed, cool and rain-fresh, the water slid down his throat as he swallowed from the cup she held to his mouth.
As he wetted his dry lips, Jack found his curiosity returning full-force. "Ah, Elizabeth?" he asked, querulously. "Don't mean to be a bother, love, but would you mind terribly," he gestured with a free hand, "explaining what Will thinks he's doing, going to Norrington? Which little incident was he referring to?"
"I'll tell you, but only if you promise to tell me what you were doing aboard that French captain's ship, Jack," she stated.
"Ah, yes. Dear Laurens. Where is the bastard, anyway?" Jack asked, cheerily. "He's still in the Fort, I hope?"
At Jack's vulgar language, Elizabeth shot him a look. "He wasn't a friend of yours, I take it?"
Jack was abruptly assailed with the very real danger of his current situation. There was only so long that his two idealistic young friends here in Port Royal could shield him from the Law, and he really was too weak to travel. He felt exposed, and he was most decidedly at a disadvantage. Why, he could barely lift his head; and was as weak as a babe. Slowly, he said, "It was all a simple misunderstanding," he began.
Elizabeth snorted derisively, less ladylike and more like a pirate lass.
He grinned at her. "Rude, pushy fellow. He accosted me where I was sitting, having a quiet little drink by me onesie. He was completely sloshed and decided to pick a fight as some fellows do when they've-" he paused, not wanting to ruin any future chances that some rum, however slim the chance might be, would find its way into his hands somehow. Best not to bring up the rum. She'd probably toss any that might still be in the confines of the Governor's home, if he reminded her of it.
Quickly, he continued, "Well, to put it in not too fine a nutshell, he was most ungrateful for my efforts in helping him achieve a state of lucid sobriety."
Looking slightly bored, Elizabeth said in a tone of distaste, "What did you do to him, Jack?"
He raised his brows at her. "Cold water in the face does wonders for a man too deep in his cups, 'ey? Blighter took offense, that's all. He's mad, quite mad. Best to stay away from that sort, you know." He began to feel an itch, an unpleasant one, in the back of his throat and raised a hand to his lips as he coughed, in spite of himself.
"That sort?" Elizabeth asked, in a humoring tone.
He waved a hand negligently. "Oh, you know, mad pirates. The demented sort. You've been well acquainted with them. Such as me previous crew."
His nose tickled. Elizabeth handed him a handkerchief with alacrity, perceiving his distress, and he sneezed. "Thank you, Miss Swann. Now, will you please get on with this no doubt fascinating explanation as to why Commodore bloody Norrington will be so pleased to help your future husband spirit me away to safety, rather than his gallows?"
"Ah, that," Elizabeth answered, with more amusement. Dryly, she said, "Three weeks ago, Will and I were officially engaged-"
"Oh yes," Jack chimed in. "Gathered that, when you were intimidating the Commodore's little Lieutenant a while ago. Congratulations," he smiled. She looked well, truly. She had the happy glow of youth and young love; quite the couple they made. He could even forgive her for burning the rum.
"You can stop leering at me, Jack," she said, sharply.
Wounded, he lifted his brows, his eyes widening in mock surprise. "Wasn't leering at you, darling. 'M happy for you both, honestly."
She gave him a sardonic, sideways look. "So was James, and he-"
"James?" Jack frowned in confusion. "Ah, Norrington, aye. Carry on. Sorry."
"You know, for a bedridden patient, Jack, you're remarkably talkative. You're as annoyingly garrulous lying on your back as you are standing up," Elizabeth observed.
"So James was happy for you, then; both of you," he prompted.
"He was," Elizabeth continued. "And very gracious about it, considering, well, the way I'd broken off my engagement to him." She had the decency to share a look with him at that, with a bit of a shamefaced expression. He could tell she was remembering how she'd accepted Norrington's marriage proposal simply to get Will back, safe and sound. And how she'd broken away to stand by Will's side between Norrington and his own self that day…
She looked down, and continued in a rush, "But since Will and I were already known to be getting married, a certain bilious female, a spinster by the name of Miss Augustine Willard, originally from Massachusetts in the Colonies, set her sights on him. She rather openly planned to ardently accost him at our engagement party, and as you can imagine, the Commodore was most alarmed. It was the talk of the town and has cost him quite a great deal of gossip and whispered unpleasantness at social functions. He begged Will to hide him upstairs, very near here, actually…in the next room. And while I kept Miss Willard distracted downstairs, he made his way out of the house to safety, with Will's help and blessing. Will spoke for him afterwards, covering his absence at our very public social occasion by claiming that business of a military nature had arisen, demanding our Commodore's immediate attention."
"Good on Will; was fairly gracious of him, must admit." Jack laughed weakly, then coughed. And kept coughing. Damn. Sniffling, he said, struggling to master his rough voice, "So now Will thinks to trade in on that little favor, by letting me escape once more? The lad's bold but still not too clever. There's no way Norrington will allow it. The Law is the Law, and as we all know, dear James is a stickler for sticking to each and every letter of it."
Elizabeth's voice rose to Will's defense, and to James's, no doubt nettled at his slurs he'd aimed at both of them. "James was very grateful to him, as he should be. It could have been a blot on his reputation, to be seen snubbing both of us by leaving even before the engagement had been announced. And besides, he's been remarkably lenient in allowing Will and I to take you out of the Fort's prison as long as he has. And you know as well as I that if it weren't for Will, you'd still be there."
He wondered if she had any idea how easy it was to rouse her indignation and thus get extra tidbits of information she might not otherwise have revealed. He'd never forgotten her words to him aboard the Dauntless on their arrival to the Isle of Dead, that night. She didn't trust him. And the feeling was mutual. He rather fancied if Will was not as noble a creature as he was, or perhaps not there at all, that he'd not currently be enjoying the surrounds of the Governor's guest room, just as Elizabeth had pointed out.
And then Elizabeth shocked him with her next words, for he truly wasn't expecting them.
"But Will does have a point, you know. No one would expect the Commodore himself to be hiding you under his roof."
A surge of panic went through him. Surely she wasn't that naive? Surely Will wasn't that stupid?
She smiled. "I'm sure you and James will have ample opportunities to discuss naval strategy on how to conduct your future battles, and in his own bedroom," Elizabeth said, with a hint of amusement now.
"That is Will's idea of safely hiding me? Bloody hell," he squeaked roughly, his indignation and nervous outrage quite ruined by the uncooperative state of his hoarse voice.
Defensively, and with a practical air, Elizabeth said, "Well, we can't exactly let you go wandering around the countryside or the docks in your current state, Jack. You're not well."
"But, but," he spluttered, quite at a loss. He'd assumed Will would be going to Norrington to trade in on his favor in exchange for letting him go.
"James is a man of his word," Elizabeth cut in, narrowing her eyes at him. "If he gives Will his word that you'll not be harmed, then you can expect him to keep it, I assure you."
"Elizabeth…" With a worried grimace, Jack said cautiously, "You do remember how terrible dear William is at- at parleying, don't you? Remember the ship? And that desolate little island we were stranded on?"
Elizabeth smiled at him. "Why, Jack. Don't be so distressed; if James let us take you from his own prison, he's hardly going to go back on his word to Will afterwards and throw you back in there again. He's obviously not as eager to see you hanged as he was before. Which, considering the loss of that very same ship, is quite charitable of him, I think."
Jack swallowed hard, unconvinced. "Easy for you to say," he muttered. "Wasn't yourself standing up on that gallows with his rope around your lovely neck. You just got me out of his prison. He might very well change his mind. "
Elizabeth regarded him and her voice softened. "Don't worry, Jack. We won't let him. I give you my word on that. So stop worrying, and get some rest, alright?"
Jack blinked in surprise as she leaned over and laid the back of her cool fingers against his forehead.
Trailing them over his overly-warm brow, she murmured, "I'll have the maid pack your belongings. We've your clothes, and your boots and hat, and a few other things, but unfortunately, Will was unable to recover your pistol and your sword. James kept them. I'm sure you'll be able to negotiate their return."
She smiled at him and stood up.
As she reached the door and opened it, Jack called out, roughly, "Elizabeth?" She turned, and he said, meeting her eyes, "Thank you."
The words rang in the stillness of the guest room between them, and she said, "I'm just sorry we had to meet again under such dire circumstances, Captain Sparrow. Considering your reputation, I doubt either of us is surprised, though." She gave him another smile, quite genuine. "Rest well."
As she shut the door behind her, Jack gritted his teeth and turned to survey the window. It was shut fast, but he doubted it would be difficult to leave the house from that particular point. Ah, yes - what had the lass helpfully told him? The next room was a good one to leave by; same as the Commodore had managed.
But he was upstairs, and in his current condition, it was unlikely he'd get very far once he found his way down the outside of the house.
He really was too weak and ill to make it very far and he'd need someone to stay with in any case, at least until he could find passage off Jamaica, out of this port town once more. Not to mention his clothes were gone and he was lying under the sheets in - he lifted them to have a look - in what appeared to be a very fine gentleman's nightshirt indeed, lacy cuffs and all, but no breeches. And no boots. Not even a pair of stockings.
Pursing his lips, he regarded the fine cut of the sleeve, the way the cuff lay against his wrist as he held up his right hand. Then he chuckled to himself. He'd ended up with lace after all. Ironic, after all that Laurens had put him through.
Lace had got him into this; maybe lace would get him out.
Fevered dreams rose and fell in his mind, and Jack flitted in and out of a dark, hazy procession of images and delirium. It went on for far too long. He felt quite sick.
He could have sworn there was a carriage ride at some point, some dream about tossing about behind unruly horses clattering along a bumpy road, jostling him horribly. That particular nightmare was thankfully quite gone.
Then there was the dream about being splashed with water when all he wanted to do was sleep. Horrid. And the one featuring the monkey that wouldn't stop chittering at him and screeching. Although that might have been the parrot.
But the light was shining too bright off the water, blinding him, and it was rousing him from sleep with the heat on his face… Or was the sunshine streaming in through the window of his cabin? Come to think of it, why wasn't the ship moving?
As he tried to open his eyes, the daylight shot spikes of brilliant sunlight from a nearby window directly into them. He squeezed them closed and tried to ignore the shooting pain in his head. Quite apart from the soreness and aching all throughout his body, he felt…seasick.
No, not seasick…he couldn't be. He'd not been sick at sea since he was a small child. But the unmistakable sensations of nausea from the lack of comfortable, shifting, rocking ship's motion beneath him were making him edgy.
Wonderful. Not only had he succumbed to a literal cabin fever in Laurens' brig, but now he was land-sick as well. He hoped Norrington had hanged Laurens. Hanging was too good for the bastard. Absurd; holding perfectly amenable and willing-to-parley fellow captains in the brig. On the whim and fancy of a sodding French fop. Over a simple dunking, no less.
It was all starting to come back now…
Blinking, he tried to suppress a bout of coughing, and failed. After he managed to stop, his lungs hurt. Squinting, he tried to lift his head and ended up dropping immediately back into the soft, feathered pillow beneath, feeling strangely heavy inside.
The pillow felt different. In fact, the sheets did, too. Most definitely wasn't the same bed he'd awoken to find himself in before. And the sounds were different; it wasn't even the same house. And the walls were white rather than decorated. The room was slightly more austere, in fact nearly Spartan compared to the Swann's guest bedroom.
It was a smaller room, with fine rosewood furnishings, and nary even a painting to be seen, and only the barest of essentials on the vanity against the wall - a pitcher and a basin, a towel.
So. He was now a guest at Commodore Norrington's residence; with his host as equally discontented at his presence here as he was.
But the darkness was gone and the sunlight on his face was warm and renewing. It was almost enough to dispel the misery he felt at being quite so ill. He hadn't been this unhealthy in…well, years.
He found it unnerving. Even more unnerving, however, was the fact that he was quite enjoying simply lying there, feeling the sunlight move over his face as the gentle breeze from the open window stirred the curtains, which caused slight shadows to dance over his face before settling back again to allow the full light of the sun upon him, obscured only for that moment.
Fresh air, clean and sweet.
It was peaceful, in the morning light. He was quite sure it was morning. The rays of sun had that lovely crisp quality, clear and diamond-cold bright despite the warmth.
The calls of birds were quite loud, and he supposed they must be in nearby trees for such a large gathering of them to be so close. Probably a garden. In fact, he breathed in and promptly found his nose tickling again, from the scent of some sort of flowers beyond. He sneezed, dryly, managing to avoid messing the lace at his wrist. Still the same nightshirt.
He felt odd, somehow. Something was amiss.
His head felt stuffed over-full on the inside and lighter on the outside. Something…was very wrong indeed.
He put up a hand to his forehead and realized that his beads were gone.
Jack's eyes widened as consternation filled him. With growing horror, he reached up to touch his hair.
Oh, no, no no.
His hair was gone. Every braid and elflock he'd carefully cultivated all these years -
Gone. Just like that.
His heart sank inside him and despite the panic swilling around inside of him, he felt his face, his chin…But that too had been taken from him. Clean-shaven as a lad. Alternative waves of cold and heat washed through him.
The utter bastards, he thought, with rising rage. How dare they?! Who- who would have-
Swift comprehension seized him.
"Bloody Norrington", he growled aloud vengefully, more angry with the man over this assault, this humiliation, this degradation of his person, than even standing on the gallows. That at least had been understandable, considering his reputation and standing in the eyes of the Law. But this, this was unwarranted defacement. Defilement. The sullying of his very being!
Furious, he lay very still, in horrified contemplation of this outrage that had been done to him. He was worried to notice that the hot anger didn't quite dispel the cold sinking feeling in his stomach. Humiliation. How to face the world now, after this travesty? He felt - denuded. Stripped bare. Raw and exposed.
Christ…it had taken years for him to acquire his hair and image; no one would be able to take him seriously now. All gone, over the course of a single night. He'd realized long ago that his features were too fey and youthful for anyone to accept him as a pirate and a dangerous man without the cultivation of some seriously roguish style. Glumly, he fancied he felt rather akin to a hawk whose wings had been clipped. Or a cat whose claws had been ruthlessly cut away.
Or a man who'd literally been shaved and shorn in a pitiless act of pure spite.
That bleeding, thrice-damned, ruddy bastard! Norrington would pay. Oh, he'd pay for this.
He couldn't help reaching up to touch his hair. They'd left him with only about four inches of length and it was going to take months and months to grow it out.
And to be ill and entirely within the man's power, here in his very home. Jack felt sick anew, and not just from being on land. It was more than the fever and his aching head. Which was still throbbing.
The door to the bedroom opened then, Jack's eyes shooting towards it quickly at the sound, and there was the man himself.
Jack stared back at Norrington, feeling a curious mixture of anger and… fear.
Norrington's piercing green stare skewered him where he lay defenseless, and the fear crept back to let the anger at his position surge to the fore, now. Despite his position and his current…state, he had some pride left.
And damn it all, the man was suppressing (and not very well) that little smile. The triumphal smirk that seemed to proclaim his smug satisfaction at having Jack at his mercy this way. Jack's mind abruptly found its way to their first meeting on the dock, here in this same port town, after saving the life of Miss Elizabeth Swann. He recollected how Norrington had mocked him, then. It was the same expression Norrington wore now.
"Ah, Mister Sparrow. Good morning. Still with us, I see. I half-expected you to have perished in the night." Norrington closed the door behind him and came into the room, coming to stand by the left side of Jack's bed, looking down at him - too close and far too familiar for Jack's peace of mind.
Norrington's easy and nearly jocular tone had been almost too loud for Jack's still sensitive ears as the man's voice had echoed off the empty walls, and he cleared his throat, realizing anew that he was quite helpless. Completely so, in fact.
Both the anger and the fear dissipated a little, giving way to the awareness that he truly was at the mercy of this man's good will, good intentions, and his good word, which Elizabeth had said he'd keep. He wondered if maybe this little humiliation he'd arranged for him wasn't part of the good Commodore's displeasure and revenge being acted out upon him in retaliation for being placed in this unwanted position by Jack's two advocates.
Norrington would pay. Oh, but he would find a way. He would.
"Why," Jack began in a voice husky from coughing and disuse, "in the name of all that is holy or unholy, was it necessary to do this to me, 'ey?" He held Norrington's cat-like, amused gaze with his own, quite wary even now of the fact that he could not defend himself. But he allowed the full measure of his cold displeasure to show in his face and tone.
Norrington's gaze fell at that, and the man even had the grace to look a little sheepish. "It was Miss Swann's idea, Sparrow. Mister Turner did mention that you'd be most put out. But really, we had no alternative. If you're to stay here, under my roof, for the duration of your recovery, steps had to be taken to disguise you. As it were," Norrington added, meaningfully.
He looked down again though, and continued, "Should anyone ask as to your whereabouts, or perhaps even discover your presence here, my life would be as forfeit as your own. I hope you recognize the risk I'm taking on your behalf, simply to avoid unpleasantness with Miss Swann and her beau. But I do apologize for the necessity of implementing such an extreme measure. Perhaps if you dressed more like a gentleman, it wouldn't have had to have been quite such an extreme change."
Jack suppressed a growl of aggravation. And wondered why he felt the shame at being in this outrageous situation trickling hotly into his face. He hoped Norrington would put it down to his fever, and once again thanked his darkened skin for covering his flush of confusion. Then again, he remembered, he was ill, and probably wan from lack of sun for so many days in Laurens' bloody brig.
He felt naked, more naked than he could recall ever feeling in, well, years and years.
The Commodore glanced back up at Jack and with a curious look entering his face, he said with a return of that smirk, "We even had you scrubbed down. Our servants were quite astounded. They claimed it was a miracle that you had any skin left after what it took for them to bathe you."
Ignoring the sharp, sarcastic barbs laced throughout all of Norrington's delivery, Jack contended himself with replying huskily, "Incredibly foolish, giving a fevered man a bath, wouldn't you say?"
Norrington put his hands behind his back and went to stand by the window, looking out of it. "Oh, I wouldn't worry. I had the doctor come have a look at you. Not the Fort's surgeon, mind, but Dr. Samuels from the other side of town. He's been advised to keep silent on your presence here. The good doctor actually advised the bath himself; he said you'd fare better if you were clean. But he says you'll need rest and recuperation."
"For how long?" Jack asked, a mite caustically at having to prod Norrington to tell him outright.
"A month, perhaps longer," Norrington informed him cheerfully, turning a bit to glance at him with a raised brow. "You're very fortunate in your choice of friends, Sparrow."
"And in my choice of enemies, apparently," Jack replied significantly, watching him.
Norrington returned to staring out of the window. "I would caution you against leaving these walls too soon. If you're seen about the town, we'll have no choice but to arrest you."
Mildly, Jack asked, "To be sure. And what of Mister Turner's deal with you, which was struck last night? Am I to know of the particulars, or shall I guess?"
He broke off to cough, briefly, but the menace in his queries was dulled by this renewed expression of his current helpless state. Well, bugger it, Jack thought, in unaccustomed pessimism.
He tried manfully to meet Norrington's eye with his usual stoic calm, but found it woefully avoiding him, and wondered forlornly if there was even any chance of attempting to probe what chink might exist in this Officer's cold, uniformed facade. Certainly he'd witnessed on a few occasions the man's vulnerability before Miss Swann's regard and affection. Considering his current predicament, it was the only card to play with, and was the only thing keeping him from the gallows. That, and Turner's sword. Again.
But Norrington merely regarded him impassively, and answered in as mild a tone, "I gave him my word that you would not be harmed while you remain in my house." With a meaningful lift of his brows, he added, "I even agreed to let you leave unharmed. I will escort you to the docks myself, after such time as you've actually recovered."
"You're going to let me go? Again?" Jack's own brows lifted at this, wondering why.
"Where is your ship?" Norrington asked him, in genuine curiosity…or was it bemusement?
His gaze slid away from Norrington's, and he focused on the closed door instead, on the far side of the room, across from the bed where he lay.
Briefly, he closed his eyes against the feeling of remaining utterly bereft of any shred of dignity at this point.
Jack knew what it looked like. And it did not look good.
He was far from his ship - again. Captured and imprisoned by a notoriously foppish and less than legendary corsair, feeling the sting of not only being found aboard Laurens' ship but to be found imprisoned at all. And then to be recaptured by the same bloody Navy ship that had taken him back to Port Royal the second time, after his crew had left without him back at the Isla de Muerta. And having to be rescued, yet again, by the same blacksmith-son-of-an-old-pirate friend who'd been killed in his name by bloody Barbossa… And Miss Swann having to place herself yet once more between the Governor and Norrington…and himself. And now to be here at this man's disposal.
It didn't reflect well on him at all. Trust this Commodore, yet again, to take every opportunity to point out his failings and pick apart the legend, leaving him appearing foolish rather than mythical; inadequate rather than colorful.
Oh he clearly recalled the Commodore's scathing tones: "…the worst pirate I've ever heard of."
Grimly, Jack wondered if it mattered. His pride was quite shattered already. With the loss of his hair. He had to suppress a wince at feeling that keen loss again. Damn the man. Miss Swann's idea, indeed…There was no chance that Norrington hadn't taken express delight in seeing him reduced to his present condition.
Oddly enough, Norrington straightened and stared stiffly and resolutely out of the window again, his hands still clasped behind his back. With an almost uncomfortable note to his voice, as if embarrassed a little at finding himself in the position of mocking someone less fortunate than himself, he said, "Well, no matter. I'm sure Mister Turner or some other messenger will be able to send a letter to your crew, informing them of your whereabouts."
"That won't be necessary, mate, thanks all the same," Jack said, with a sniffle. "Already instructed 'em they've no reason to come looking. I'll find my way back. Besides, there's bound to be some ship come in I'll find passage on, come the time to leave."
Norrington gave him a warning glance at this. "You'll not step one foot on any ship in my harbor without being escorted by myself."
Jack grinned in spite of himself. "Worried about your Dauntless, are you? Don't trouble yourself; I'll not be helping meself to any of your little ships this time 'round."
Obviously slightly stung by his remark, Norrington sniffed now, and replied in a bit of a sulky, defending tone, "She's hardly little."
"To be sure, aye," Jack agreed, still grinning. "Although, most ships are smaller compared to my Pearl, 'ey? And slower, still." Before Norrington could continue to take offense however, he swiftly changed the subject. "So what does a patient in your care have to do to get a drink of water, mate?"
Norrington drew a breath and looked taken aback. Obviously he hadn't expected to be caring for Jack himself. "I'll have my man bring up a fresh jug for you, as well as some fruit."
"You're very kind…James. Too kind, really, to a man down on his luck. My thanks," Jack said easily.
Norrington looked down his nose at him, obviously refusing to rise to the bait of being addressed so informally. "My hospitality towards you as a patient and a guest in my home does not extend to anything beyond these four walls. I'll trust you to remember that, Sparrow, as I'm sure you will carry the pretense of remaining bedridden long after you can actually rise from that bed."
"So," Jack said, slowly, retranslating his statement, "in other words, you'll not tolerate my helping myself to any valuables as such." He allowed himself a knowing smile at Norrington.
Unaccountably, Norrington awarded him with that broader smile - the indulgent one. "Precisely. I must leave you now, Sparrow. Try not to be too difficult with Harold. He's a good sort; you'll not find him much sport if you attempt any of your jibes with him. Rest well."
And he turned and departed, leaving Jack wondering if he should have tried to press his luck regarding rum - eventually. Or the return of his sword and pistol. But such successes seemed very unlikely, considering the man's damnable hard exterior.
It was going to be a long couple of weeks. A month, though? Not bloody likely. Jack sighed. And promptly began coughing again.
With little else to do but ponder his sojourn in Norrington's house, Jack mulled over the one thing that kept returning to plague him.
Why had the Commodore allowed him to be given into Elizabeth and Will's care in the first place?
He couldn't account for it. Pity, perhaps?
He couldn't see Norrington risking himself simply for the joy of retaining the friendship of the very woman who had thrown him over - and who'd then chosen a man of lesser station over him. And in public, no less, with nary a regard for his feelings.
That had resulted in Jack's freedom, to be sure, and he was very grateful for Elizabeth's actions - which had tipped the scale in Will's favor; Will, who had stood there so bravely, between Jack and the sword he'd forged, and the officer who held it.
But why would Norrington…release him? After having just caught him?
What possible motive could the man have had, to let him go again? And then to allow him to stay here in his own home?
Perhaps Elizabeth was right; Norrington had allowed himself the sport of seeing his prisoner fly free, only to give chase. Catching him as an already-apprehended prisoner was no sport at all. A victory too easily won, indeed.
But Norrington seemed to yet regard him with as much scorn and distaste as before, upon their first acquaintance, and it made no sense for him to have allowed a pirate such as himself, the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow, to escape - not once, but twice. And now to take him under his own protection regardless of the risk to the Commodore's own career, reputation, and life.
What value did he hold for Norrington?
The loss of his hair and beard still rankled; the humiliation of being treated as a prisoner of war, under the pretense of 'disguising' him, was not to be borne.
The sudden thought, however, that Commodore Norrington did not, in fact, consider him a worthy opponent in this little game, this 'chase' of theirs, brought his thoughts to a sudden halt.
Jack's eyes narrowed as he pondered that one.
Norrington had gone too far. But he hadn't exactly had him hanged. And despite the risk that the man might change his mind, Elizabeth was right. It looked as though he no longer wished to. This was going to be interesting.
Had he let him go out of pity then, simply for lack of anything better on offer? Jack knew there weren't really very many successful pirates left in the Caribbean. A very scattered lot, in fact. He'd not been exaggerating when he'd reminded Norrington of it, aboard the Dauntless that morning he and Miss Swann had been rescued from that desolate little islet.
Or was it that Norrington did consider him a worthy opponent and hence his reasoning behind letting him stay here under his own roof?
Or could it possibly even be a curious combination of both?
He wouldn't put it past Norrington to be so devious, or so conflicted either.
No, the important question was why in the name of King George's hairy arse would Norrington actually allow him to "rest well" for weeks on end under his very nose?
By the time evening rolled in along with some gray clouds moving in off the sea, Jack was thoroughly disinterested in whatever conflicted motivations dear Commodore might be sheltering in the act of extending shelter to his fair self.
He was tired, grouchy, very disgruntled at being bedridden, and worst of all, bored. And without even any rum to smooth the hours.
Norrington's manservant, Harold, was a tight-lipped fellow, who tolerated him only because Norrington had apparently told him to. Jack wondered if Harold had been one of the servants who'd helped to de-tar and de-grime him in that bath he had no remembrance of, the night before, and was perhaps resentful of having had to clean an unconscious pirate in his master's chambers.
If Harold had been one of them that had cut his hair, he had half a mind to retaliate.
But his fever still had not broken, and despite having plenty of water and at least the luxury of a real bed as opposed to the filthy cell Laurens had kept him in, Jack was past caring. He could only sleep in fits and starts, and ever since awaking that morning it seemed his bouts of unconsciousness, that had been broken with only rare moments of wakefulness, had given way to sleepless agitation. Upon which his body seemed hell-bent on remaining, despite his best efforts to shut his eyes.
Harold refused to engage him in conversation, treating him as though he were dangerous; a pariah. And Jack found he was wishing Norrington would come back up, simply to have that fiery glare and icy sarcasm to play with a little.
The hours crept by, dusk deepening into darkness outside the window, and eventually the bright crescent moon lifted above the windowsill and shone into the room, lighting his face with a silvery glow that for once did not disturb him at the remembrance of its rays revealing his very bones.
It was a long time and very nearly dawn before he managed to close his eyes and found blessed slumber, but it did not last long.
Dreams tormented him, wracking him with heat and disorienting images he couldn't block out nor escape from. He was dimly aware of tossing and turning where he lay, unable to find respite from the fever.
An uncomfortable sheen of sweat, clammy and obnoxious, also plagued him relentlessly, but it wasn't the healthy kind that might have been a fire he could fall into and find peace within at last. He was shuddering from the cold.
It was dark, too dark in the room, unbroken except by the flicker of candles that caused nightmarish and garish forms to rise up out of black waves below, to claw at him.
He heard himself moaning wordlessly as if from far away, and a soothing, low voice answered him in words he couldn't understand. Mercifully cool water wetted his mouth, bathed his brow and face, and someone kindly brought up the bedcovers to tuck them in about him.
Sleep fell over him once more. Pieces from his memory dislodged from the past and choked him, making him cough, unable to truly sleep deeply, or awaken properly. It was far worse than being insensate from drink and he wished heartily, praying to the Good Lord above, that someone would just take pity on him and give him some bloody rum because God knew it would be better than this damned fever.
"Please, don't leave me," he whispered.
But the cool water was again applied to his face, thankfully, and it was followed by the calming, gentle stroking of hands upon him; of long, warm slender fingers against his burning skin, against his hair, accompanied by murmuring in that quiet voice, and he sighed.
The covers were rearranged around him and he was rolled onto his left side, warmth curling about behind him.
"Don't go," he implored.
Comforting, warm arms surrounded him as he shivered uncontrollably, and he instinctively leaned back into that protective embrace, grateful for the kindness of this unseen angel.
Surrounded at last in the parody of a lover's hold, which he'd not had the pleasure of receiving without coin for the artificial favor in far too long, surrounded by safety and the affection of freely bestowed compassion, Jack at last found sweet darkness and tumbled into it gratefully.
He awoke to the sound of the sea, with the surf and the birds, and the breeze blowing salty and cool from the water through the window that stood partially ajar.
Morning had broken along with his fever, it seemed, and Jack noted that his head still ached, though the pain had abated and his skin no longer burned. His throat still tickled along with his nose in the cool air.
The sun had risen high, in fact, for the swaying fronds of the palm tree beyond the window cast dancing shadows into the room.
He was alone in the bed and the realization that someone had held him, only a few hours before, abruptly came to him.
All right. Things had gone too far. First the man was trying to hang him, then he was letting him slip away aboard his ship. Then promptly taking him back to gaol, only to let Miss Swann care for him, and then even allowing him succor within his own home…followed by the utter humiliation of shaving and shearing him like a trussed fowl. And then to go caring for him as kind as any nurse, holding him tenderly in his ravings and fever.
What was he to make of that? Of all of it? It made no sense. Norrington was contradicting each action at every turn, it seemed.
The man was conflicted, no doubt of that.
There was a noise at the door and Will Turner stood there, managing somehow to look noble and dignified beyond what his plain blacksmith's clothes afforded him.
"Jack," Will said with a note of gladness, coming in and shutting the door quietly behind him. "How are you feeling?" he asked, nearing the bedside.
"Somewhat better, thanks to you and yours," Jack admitted. He paused, seeing how Will's eyes moved over his face.
Ah yes. Jack suppressed a sigh. "That changed, am I?" he muttered.
Will gave him a friendly smile and sat down on the edge of the bed beside him, shaking his head. "Only for the better. No one would ever think it's you, that's for certain. It suits you though. I told them you'd be angry," he added, with a lift of his brows. "Elizabeth seemed to take a great measure of satisfaction at the thought of making a gentleman out of you, if only for the sake of disguise. But I think she and Norrington both were quite surprised at the transformation."
Jack squinted, pulling a face. "Lovely. And angry doesn't begin to cover it, not even by half."
"Commodore Norrington insisted upon it, once she suggested it, I'm afraid. And he does have a point, Jack, you have to admit. If anyone were to suspect that he was aiding us in hiding you here, he would be held accountable. It's best if everyone believes you're Elizabeth's distant cousin, and a friend of his, enjoying his hospitality while you recuperate from your trials at the hands of the corsairs."
Jack grinned sharply. "Hold up, there. His friend? How else does this story go, then?"
Will gave a shrug. "Hard to say, as no one has yet discovered you. But I daresay even the Commodore won't be able to keep you here indefinitely. And the doctor said you'll need at least a month to regain your strength and your health."
Jack let out an amused noise, saying, "Won't be a month, or even a week longer, lad, I can promise you that."
Will gave him a pointed look. "Where is the Pearl, Jack? Do you want me to send a message to them?"
Jack glanced furtively at the closed door and lowered his voice. "Considering the circumstances, you'd probably better not, 'ey? No telling what will happen once Norrington's good Samaritan act comes home to roost, and he decides I'm not worth all this trouble. I wouldn't put it past him to see me ambushed and me ship sunk in the harbor."
Will merely smiled at this. "He gave me his word he'd not see you harmed, until you've returned to your ship and departed out of sight. Wherever your ship may be. I made sure to include that fine point; something you probably thought me incapable of remembering, no doubt." Will grinned at him now, widely.
Jack regarded him with a new eye of appraisal. "Ah, good. So you're finally picking up the art of parley, are you?"
With a slight roll of his eyes, Will explained, "Elizabeth has been tutoring me. In what it takes to be a good pirate. Especially at parleying. She insisted upon it."
Jack grimaced. "She's what? Tutoring you? How does a lady who knows nothing of pirates come to tutor a man on being a pirate?"
"I know, I know," Will nodded. "There's only so much one can pick up from reports of pirates' exploits that happen to cross official desks. She reads her father's letters. And she has a collection she's kept since childhood, of all the printed stories of the Brethren. It's fascinating. She has a copy of the Articles and the Code. That's how she's tutoring me. She's been trying to help me square with the pirate in my blood." Will's smile slipped away. "Come to think of it, I'm not sure which she wants to win. The pirate or me."
Jack began to cough at this outrageous notion. "You can't become sufficiently adept at parleying with pirates by reading romantic novels, boy! This is preposterous, really. Did she not learn anything the last time?"
"The last time?"
"The first time," Jack iterated. And promptly began coughing again.
Firmly, Will said, "Regardless, I'm the one still on my feet, while you're lying here under the auspices of Fort Charles's commander of the Royal Navy, Jack. Being a pirate doesn't seem to bring you very good fortune, either."
Nettled, Jack asked, "Are you saying I'm not a good pirate?"
"I'm saying," Will said in a placatory tone, "that you're a good man. But when it comes to piracy, you're still a good man and it seems to get you into trouble. Repeatedly."
"Unbelievable," Jack muttered. "I lie here sick in body, heart and mind, and you start making like bloody Norrington, hurling insults to add to me injury."
Will's face fell. He let out a breath, and passed a hand over his face. "I'm sorry. It's just…you gave us quite a fright. We feared you might die. You've been very ill indeed. You mustn't tell her I told you, but she was very worried to see you in such a state. She cried, Jack." Will's eyes went distant and unfocussed, obviously troubled indeed even at just the memory of his lady's tears.
Jack blinked. "She cried?"
This little revelation was surprising. The staunchly stubborn and gutsy Miss Swann hadn't shed a single tear throughout their sojourn after their marooning. Even after drinking the rum. She hadn't even wept for Will. "Over me?"
Will gave him a hard look, narrowing his eyes. "Upon my word, Jack, if you tell her I told you-"
Jack quickly held up a hand. "No worries, mate; my lips are sealed." And then he asked, "She actually cried? That must have been very disturbing, 'ey?" he added.
"It was," Will agreed, gravely. Then Will grinned down at him. "Is it really so hard for you to believe that we care about you, Jack?"
Shiftily, Jack replied, "Not in the least. I am Captain Jack Sparrow, after all. If I were to die, let us say by succumbing to a simple case of the sniffles or something equally ignominious and embarrassingly non-threatening, it would be outrageous in the extreme, and quite unlikely. You can assure the lass that Captain Sparrow is harder to eliminate than that. A little faith wouldn't go amiss."
Shaking his head and laughing under his breath, Will repeated, "A simple case of the sniffles. Have it your way, Jack. But I had words with the Commodore before coming here this morning and he says you had quite a terrible night. He told me your fever had broken at last. I shall be very glad to tell Elizabeth. She's been worried frantic about you." Will hesitated, glancing at the door over his shoulder. "Although, that might also be partly to do with her father's return. The Governor doesn't know about any of this yet. She made Norrington promise he'd make up a suitable story about you appearing to have died and your body going missing afterwards, so that you must have feigned illness and death to escape."
Jack sucked a tooth, considering this. "That will do, I suppose. Not a bad way to escape, all told. Yes, a tale of my miraculous survival after death…it's almost Biblical. That will do very nicely."
Will looked back to him, fondly. "I'm glad it wasn't true, you know. In fact," Will added, with a thoughtful little frown, "I suspect Norrington was too. He seemed to have a different opinion this morning than he did yesterday evening. He seemed almost…glad. That you were recovering."
"To be sure," Jack agreed. "I'm the most exciting thing to happen to this little port and his sad little military excuse for a life. And I probably always will be."
Will glanced at the window again, and said with a sigh, "You might be right about that, Jack. Life has…gone on, I'm afraid. Same as always. You know, I always feared the sea, after the Pearl wrecked my ship on arrival from England, and I never liked the water. But ever since we lifted the curse, I've heard it calling to me. Not," he added quickly, "enough to lure me from Elizabeth, but it's there, all the same."
Jack turned onto his side and sniffed. "Told you."
"You did. I've never forgotten." Will looked down at him. "So do you want me to send word to Gibbs, and the others?"
Jack briefly shook his head, and then wished he hadn't for the ache was still there. "No need. Pearl's being careened just now; she'll need another two months, at the very least."
"How do you intend to leave?"
Jack gave a little smile. "Leave that one to me, 'ey?"
Doubtfully, Will said, "Let me know if you need my help. I wouldn't put it past Norrington to try to see you not leave Port Royal at all, just to keep you from committing further acts of piracy. He might have taken it into his head to try such a thing, due to seeing you looking so unaccustomedly non-piratical in your appearance…"
Jack made a mournful face. "Took me bloody years, that. And moments to lose."
Will looked away, down at the floor. "I'm sorry, Jack. If it's any reassurance, you don't look bad at all. And it will grow back."
Jack snorted, "Hah; 'm a bloody sheep, trying to turn me into one of the town's good little flock so I can mingle with 'em like a good civilian ought."
Will lifted one brow at him. "Is that what you think of me?"
Quietly, Jack replied, "No, Will, I don't. But they do, and that's just it."
But Will smiled widely at him at this, and said, "Oh, I must disagree with you on that, Captain Sparrow. It seems that saving your life that day has put the fear of pirates into the hearts of the good folk of Port Royal. Everyone takes me a lot more seriously than they did before. And stories circle now, about my prowess with the blade."
Jack grinned in spite of himself. "Good. Good for you, Mister Turner. Not to mention you're marrying the Governor's daughter though too, 'ey? That can't be bad for your reputation either."
Will shrugged. "Be that as it may, it still doesn't exempt you from making it up to Elizabeth for worrying her so badly. You'll have to give me your word that you'll not drive Norrington to do anything untoward. Promise me that you won't try to see him pay for having your hair cut, Jack? Your word." And he stared hard at Jack. "I want your word on this."
Jack found himself quailing before that sharp Turner gaze. Impressed, he said, "Certainly. I give my word there'll be no comeuppance nor revenge upon the Commodore for robbing me of me hair and beard, or for humiliating me most unnecessarily and most spitefully while I lay here helpless to do anything to stop it. Nor will I seek recompense from the bloody Commodore while I remain here in Port Royal." And to stave off any further anxiety, he held up a finger quickly, adding, "Or," in a serious tone with a serious eye meeting Will's, "or until I reach my Pearl once again. Satisfied, Mister Turner?"
Will nodded. And he took Jack's hand. "We have an accord, Jack," he said, jovially repeating the affirmation of their earlier deal, previously.
Jack laughed quietly and then let out a muffled curse as he began to cough. He hadn't given his word not to humiliate or discomfit Norrington for anything else, after all. And no one had said anything about his remaining a good and obedient patient or houseguest either.
Besides, Norrington didn't want him helping himself to the contents of his house; but he'd hardly given his word not to. Wanting him to keep to his room was one thing; enforcing it was another.
Still, the mystery of why Norrington would let him stay here at all had not yet been answered to his satisfaction. He wondered what persuasion might be necessary to get the truth from the man, seeing as Norrington was probably just as unaware of the real reasoning behind it as anyone else.
Officers of His Majesty's Navy simply did not offer shelter and bedside comfort to pirates, ill or not. And they most certainly did not hold them and keep them warm, snug as a pair of turtledoves in a love-nest.
But Will's thoughts had taken an uncannily similar path, for he asked aloud in the quiet morning, "You know, you have a point, I think. Why is Norrington helping us? Helping you? I thought it was because he didn't want any trouble with Elizabeth, and he knows you're our friend. But after this morning, I'm not so sure. He seemed…relieved, almost. Happy, that you're getting better."
Jack raised his brows. "Maybe it's the sport of the thing. Catching a fish in a barrel isn't the same as playing one on the line, or hunting a bigger catch out to sea."
"Flushing game," Will mused, absently.
"Perhaps. See, this is why it'd be best to leave me ship out of it altogether, savvy? Don't want any ambushes or sneaky tricks getting pulled on me, now do I?"
Will looked doubtful. "Norrington wouldn't do that."
With a grunt of laughter, Jack said, "Wouldn't he? He's craftier than you give him credit for."
"He's an idealist, and that makes him fallible," Will stated. "He sees things in black and white, in terms of right and wrong. Anything else confuses him."
Jack gave Will a look of slight disbelief. "He's a canny fellow, with more tactical ability and sense than any man can afford to ignore. He treads that line very carefully, and I'll warrant he's more aware of it than you are, lad. And he's all the more dangerous for it. Too bloody aware of the morality of any situation to stop himself from interpreting things the way he likes."
"When it comes to matters of the heart, especially where Elizabeth is concerned, he's completely out of his element," Will rejoined. "You haven't seen him with her. Even after our engagement was announced, he's still completely pliant to her will. It's actually rather embarrassing to witness."
Gruffly, Jack said, "God's teeth, I have seen it; more times than anyone should have to, Will. She broke his heart in front of me. Twice. You should know that better than most; you're the one who stole his heart's desire, 'ey? He's another 'good man'. Especially surprising in your case, since you got the girl."
"He's been nothing but courteous to me," Will remarked.
Jack sighed, bored with this turn of conversation already. "O' course he is; he's being noble and self-sacrificing, getting some sort of thrill from being all selfless and dutiful and whatnot."
"I must say, Jack," Will observed, shrewdly, "you seem rather conflicted about him. First you're defending him and then you're running him down for the same attributes you hold him up on."
Indignantly, Jack let out a strangled oath. "He's the one who can't bloody well make up his mind whether to hang me or hold me."
Will stared down at him. "Hold you?"
Jack waved a hand, saying, "Comfort, and the like."
"Well, maybe he feels sorry for you."
"Can we move along to something a little more cheery than Norrington?" Jack complained, growing tired of contemplating the mysteries of the Commodore's intentions.
"There's precious little, other than the price of eggs. Or did you already forget we're in Port Royal?" Will asked him, a twinkle lingering in his eyes. "You and Norrington are just about the most fascinating things to discuss, apart from whatever criminal activities you've been engaged in since last I saw you. And I really don't think that would be advisable, seeing as Norrington will probably press me on that matter once I've left here."
Jack grinned. "On the contrary, dear boy. There's Governor Swann. How is the chap? I take it he just returned from Port Antonio?"
Will nodded. "There have been some problems there lately."
"What sort of problems?" Jack frowned.
"The coffee and plantain crops were blighted this past season, and the plantation owners and the townsfolk are uneasy. They seem to be seeking recompense from the Crown, to put towards better seed and re-cultivation. I'm not entirely sure that it was resolved. I think he'll probably be going back out there in a week or so."
"You don't say," Jack smiled at him, wondering if he might not have just discovered his passage out of Port Royal.
But Will stared down at him. "I've got it," he declared.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Whatever it is, don't give it to me," he said, tetchily. "I've quite enough with this fever, already."
Ignoring this, Will slowly said, "I'd been wondering why it is, that Norrington would be willing to look the other way once you escaped that day, and even to allow me to become engaged to the woman he'd proposed to. I thought it was because he wanted her happiness, even at the cost of his own. But maybe it's more than that. You saved her from drowning."
"Aye," Jack remarked, bitterly. "And he wanted me hanged for it; immediately upon clapping eyes on me, he was clapping me in irons."
"…Because he considered you a rival," Will said. And he grinned at Jack. "Don't you see? You were a pirate; the very thing Elizabeth has always romanticized. I'm not a real pirate, but you were. And, well, you still are. I'm not quite the threat that you are, even in claiming Elizabeth's hand, because that one has been in the cards from the beginning. Ever since they fished me out of the sea that day, she's had a soft spot for me and the whole town knew of it. Her maid used to gossip about it, and everyone else's maids hung on her every word, apparently."
Jack yawned. "Fascinating."
Blithely, Will forged onwards. "But don't you see, Jack! When you saved her life that day, you stole the moment from him. From him! On the day he was promoted, on the day he'd only just proposed to her, and then suddenly you, a pirate…you're stripping her dress and corset from her, and saving her life. She told me all about it." Will paused, looking pleased at his reasoning. "Then when I helped you escape, we took his ship. He really was put out about that, you know."
Unable to help himself, Jack pointed out, "I wasn't the one who let Barbossa sink it."
Will raised a brow at him at this reminder of his failure to deal with Barbossa adequately. "Norrington's confused because he cannot understand why it is that we're willing to pledge our lives for yours. In his mind, you're just a pirate…although admittedly a good man. He can't get past it. He can't accept that maybe you're more than a good man. You're a good friend. And so you still enjoy something more than he does, with both Elizabeth and myself."
But Jack had already comprehended as much, and he winced to himself. "Wonderful."
"Not only is Elizabeth guilty of romanticizing pirates, but not him, he can't have her friendship either, whereas she bestows it upon you. In choosing me as her husband and you as her friend, that's two pirates over one commodore."
He turned and sat up a bit, against the pillows. "So he's letting me live out of simple determination to prove that he's a worthy husband and friend, even though he's already lost on both counts."
Will frowned. "Maybe. Or maybe he simply can't afford to allow himself to see you as a friend or a good man, but just a pirate. Maybe he's proving himself against you, and feels honor-bound now to prove he can be a good man, to you, in our eyes."
"God forbid; the Heavens might fall, if he were to admit he already thinks me a good man," Jack slowly nodded. "Hence the reason for giving his word and being so helpful towards a simple pirate. The lass is teachin' you well, boy. You're getting sharper."
Will regarded him with a hint of amusement. "It probably helped your cause that she broke down crying in front of both of us, once we'd got you here. Norrington was as disturbed as I was. I had to go to her, and he stood there looking most alarmed at the fact he couldn't do anything and had to watch. He may have decided to help us simply out of the relief of having something to offer her in the way of comfort."
Jack chuckled out loud. "That girl," he said, "is the most manipulative creature I've ever had the honor of knowing. She's got both of you wrapped around her little fingers. Daresay I was wrong about your tutor, lad. Keep it up. She'll make a first-rate negotiator out of you. Where does she get it from, I wonder? Ahh, the Governor, I reckon. Man can't have found his way up from that Captaincy to the position of viceroy without knowing what strings to pull, 'ey?"
Although, Jack was certain now that he knew which strings to pull, himself. All things considered, he was feeling more cheerful about his chances of being able to leave once he was no longer bedridden.
And his two young friends here were proving most helpful indeed. It was with a slight twinge of discomfiture to his conscience that he realized he hadn't really given that much thought to young Will and his lass since that day he'd escaped. He'd been grateful, certainly, but not to the point of keeping them in his thoughts days on end. Life had gone on.
Now he owed them his life twice over. And what better way to attempt to repay them for their kindness and their friendship than to sort out their problem with the Commodore, who obviously had nothing better to do in this little port than to pine uselessly over his lost ladylove and fret over the blacksmith's friendship with a notorious pirate…
"Did I thank you, Will?" Jack asked, aloud. "For saving my life, twice now?"
"Not yet," Will grinned.
"I will," Jack smiled back at him. "Despite the dismal treatment your lass has subjected my appearance."
Will nodded. "I sort of figured you'd get around to it. You are a man of your word, after all." His gaze flicked back to Jack's. "What did you have in mind?"
"The Commodore's successfully pulled my claws," Jack grinned, more feral now. "Suppose I clip the hawk's wings in return?"
Will immediately looked worried.
Jack laughed. "Not to fear, Mister Turner; I'll do him no harm. Just a lesson, 'ey? He's changed the rules of the game. And I'm nothing if not flexible. I'll fix things for you and your missy, and keep Norrington occupied at the same time. Give him something better to do than to be worrying young lovebirds who deserve better."
Will frowned, and peered at him from the corner of his eye with a very worried look indeed. "Jack?" he intoned in warning and suspicion.
Jack adopted a guiltless expression. "Believe me, everyone will be happier all around. T'will put some excitement back in Port Royal life."
"You say not to fear, Jack, but you've got that look. The one that says you're planning something dastardly and clever that will leave everyone else wondering how many steps ahead of everybody you've been since the beginning."
Jack lifted his brows and asked innocently, "I do? Wasn't aware I had such a look, Will. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Can't have people predicting my every move, now can I?"
Will cast his eyes to the ceiling. "As if anyone ever could, or will, Jack. As if."
"Best not to forget that," Jack grinned back at him.
Evening fell, the moon rose, and clouds arrived once more.
Boredom came swifter still, and although it technically wasn't cabin fever, and his fever had broken, Jack lay in bed feeling very, very alone.
After Will had left, he'd found more sleep, which was a good thing, of course. But after awaking and finding that Norrington's manservant had grown even more surly and less talkative than before, to the point of leaving him a small meal on a tray at the end of the bed and then disappearing, Jack had to admit to himself that as luxurious as the bed might be, it was still a gilt cage he was in.
The sound of the waves that crashed against sand and wood far away, down by the docks from outside the window, seemed to taunt him now, rather than offer much solace.
And the memory of Norrington (for who else could it have been) comforting him the previous night…or early morning…seemed so out of character and out of place somehow. Even more so, once he'd thought it over in the wake of Will's departure before noon. Pirate or not, rival or not, he still didn't represent anything to the Commodore other than a man to be pitied, and after so blatantly shearing him of all his pirate's identity and captain's dignity, to then comfort him during his illness… It seemed almost insincere in that light. It had appeared to be a good, kind deed but it really wasn't, seeing as it had been offered out of pity.
And seeing as he hadn't even been all that conscious during it, he doubted Norrington even expected him to remember it, or thank him…or find a way to repay him for his kindness. To look after him in that way, nursing him back to health during his dark hour, when no one, least of all Jack himself, would expect it of the man.
Which troubled him, because it meant that young Will Turner, for all his under-developed skill of grasping other people's motives under Miss Swann's tutelage, was right. Norrington did regard him as a rival because he was a pirate, and a good man also. And his being a good man was the one thing that threw Norrington's world into upheaval, because it secured him Turner & Swann's friendship and regard, to the point of saving his life. Twice, he reminded himself again.
Yes, Norrington had a lesson coming to him, if only the Commodore would have the decency to show up for it. But as the night crept on and Jack dozed off, he realized that Norrington was not going to visit him again.
Since their first little chat the morning before, he'd not exchanged a word with the man whose hospitality and protection he currently enjoyed.
Yet the night turned over and the darkness went from supreme to watery-pale, and Jack slept, and still Norrington didn't come in.
It was enough to make a man believe that perhaps he'd imagined it as part of his delirium. But as he slept fitfully, occasionally drifting awake, he found a very small part of him (just very small, mind) rather missed the warmth and comfort of being held.
He almost wished Norrington hadn't done it. It would have been far better not to have a taste of it. He couldn't even resent Norrington for not coming back. Affection and care, unlooked for, bestowed freely, however much out of pity or some driven sense of obligation to a woman the man had already lost to another…
But well did he already know the pain of losing someone like that. And he wondered if Norrington had any idea that he wasn't alone in that, himself; that there was a pirate, of all people, who knew far better and far more intimately, what losing felt like.
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, and Jack found himself rising from the bed feeling better than he'd felt since succumbing to the feverish malaise in Laurens' brig aboard his accursed ship.
Stretching, he went to the window and sat perched on the sill, regarding the mist coming in off the sea, catching the light and casting a brilliant white glow over everything, obscuring the trees and the rooftops with bright veils. They were quickly dispersing, those swathes of light, and tropical green peeped through in the distance. The birds were merry, the town was alive, and the sea…the distant sliver of blue and silver on the horizon was nearly indistinct through the fog, but he could see it.
The sea. He could feel it from where he sat. Smell it, even. The longing for it ached inside him, and suddenly he hated this little room, and the sad little people in this little town with its fort and its rules and society and absurd sense of security that was oh-so-flimsy, and its nonexistent freedom.
When the bedroom door was rapped upon, and then flung open, he didn't move, but merely continued to sit on the windowsill, looking over to see the Commodore standing there wearing an expression of surprise.
"You're awake," Norrington stated, as if this was a most unusual and unexpected event.
"Aye," Jack agreed, quietly.
"I instructed Harold to draw you a bath last night, but you were asleep. We thought it best to let you rest." Norrington stood in the doorway, frowning and looking for all the world as though he'd never seen a… Well, Jack amended to himself, it probably never happened that a pirate in a nightshirt borrowed from the Governor himself perched upon windowsills in the local Navy Commander's own house.
Jamaica would never see the like again, Jack thought, and flashed Norrington a grin. "Ta."
Norrington cleared his throat and came into the room, shutting the door behind him. He wore the wig and clothes of a gentleman and officer very well, Jack couldn't help himself from noting, letting his eyes travel the length of the taller man. Obviously Norrington was about to leave; he had not yet donned his hat and coat however. Shame about the fellow's uptight, bottled and quite intractable control. Only ever let it out to play when mocking those who represented something he found disturbing, Jack observed while continuing to grin, liking the way it made Norrington react.
The Commodore ventured closer, to stand at the foot of the bed, regarding him. "I trust you slept better, last night?"
"Very well," Jack agreed, watching him, "despite the distinct lack of company. As opposed to the previous night."
The expression of looking absolutely caught immediately gave way to exasperation. Norrington stiffly replied with a defensive petulance to his voice that quite ruined the effect he no doubt intended, "You certainly did not appear to be in any distress when I checked on you earlier this morning. Your fever had already gone, and you appeared to be asleep."
A tiny part of Jack found he was disappointed that he'd not been awake for that. Must have been very close to dawn, indeed. "Aye. You've been most conspicuous in your absence. If it weren't for Mister Turner's visit yesterday, I'd have long since expired from boredom."
Norrington's eyes narrowed. "Really? How shocking, that a fugitive and criminal might lack from finding suitable mischief to engage him while recovering from a deathly illness," he said dryly.
Not feeling much like playing anymore, Jack looked down and away, to look back out the window once more.
"You really should remain in bed," Norrington continued in a reasonable tone, his eyes flickering as he blinked, his gaze dropping momentarily to regard Jack's bare legs and feet with a frown. "It would be a shame to catch your death sitting in that draft, after all we've done to keep you alive thus far."
"A frightful shame," Jack murmured, glancing quickly back at him, wondering when the man might mention the unsuitability of his sitting in his current attire in the window for anyone to notice, even despite the extensive and shielding garden below.
A hard look returned to Norrington's face now though, and he said, "Indeed, the angels would weep." Sarcasm dripped heavily.
"Not to mention certain swan-like maidens," Jack threw back, with an insincere little smile and tilt to his head.
But obviously his current dishabille and lack of facial hair or indeed much hair at all, left as he was with the long tufts he now had in the wake of the shears that had graced him…all failed to provide the necessary significance or weight. For Norrington merely awarded him a tight smile; one that was a little too comfortable for him to consider anything but frustrating.
"I can assure you, Sparrow; neither Miss Swann's histrionics nor Mister Turner's misplaced loyalty are as compelling as the Governor's clemency, which I believe is a gift you don't currently enjoy." The dry relish in Norrington's voice nearly demanded some sort of rejoinder.
Jack stared back him. "Your point?" he asked, with a raised brow, refusing to be baited. The man used 'civility' to the limits of flagrant abuse of the word. He'd be damned if he rose to Norrington's jibes at him while still in the man's house.
"Only that you'd do well to remember you are a guest in my home."
"Believe me when I tell you, mate; I've not forgotten for a moment. And sometime I shall repay your kindness for nursing me back to health, keeping me warm when I was cold, and cool when I was hot, and remaining at all times at a stable temperature. If I do leave this house of yours alive."
Norrington looked frustrated at this. "For God's sake, I gave you my word you'd not be harmed. Why must you constantly harp on about my wanting you dead? I have no such wish." Then he added in a sullen voice, "If I did, you can be sure it would have happened upon your arrival."
"And therein lies a tale," Jack observed, folding his arms before him and refusing to move from the window, despite Norrington's seeming inability to stop inadvertently glancing down to the no-doubt scandalous appearance of his bare legs, as the nightshirt only fell to Jack's knees, and rode higher while he sat there. "Why did you not, mate? Or is it only to remain in the good graces of the lovely and very engaged Miss Swann that you've renounced your bloodthirsty little nature, 'ey?"
A cold, hard look of real anger sat upon Norrington's face now, and Jack let out a quiet sigh, looking away once more. Well, really, what did the fellow expect? He could hardly expect him to believe that he hadn't wanted him dead. He had. On each encounter, right up to the moment Jack had fallen off the wall of his fort to safety.
"I was giving you the benefit of the doubt," Norrington remarked, icily. "I agreed you were a good man, for all that you are a pirate, and I didn't wish to see you die. Despite your legendary reputation, you seem unable to keep out of cells of any kind, be they other pirates', or mine."
Jack smiled back at him, "Ah, so t'was pity after all, then."
Norrington sighed. "I'm not the cold-hearted, merciless villain everyone seems to be painting me of late. Contrary to what you, Mister Turner and Miss Swann appear to believe, I don't bear you ill will, Sparrow. You've placed yourself quite publicly and willfully on the wrong side of the Law. I have not wished you there, not once. Why is that so difficult to accept?"
With some surprise, Jack asked in an ironic tone, "And I'm to believe you wish all the best for my health and happiness, I expect?"
Norrington let out a breath of exasperation and looked away. "Why ever not? I have repeatedly given my word that I'll not see you harmed, and I've risked my own life by allowing you to remain here. How you can continue to disregard that and behave as though I'm plotting your demise in some cowardly fashion, I cannot begin to fathom."
Placating, Jack put out both of his hands, saying, "Alright, alright, mate. I believe you. Just…you have to admit, it's rather unlikely that you're doing it out of any regard for me, rather than the young missy, 'ey? You've made it rather clear on many an occasion that you'd rather I was anywhere but where you are."
Norrington stared back at him. "Simply astonishing," he commented. "You're taking it personally… that I am not overjoyed that you've come back… to Port Royal?"
Jack placed his hands back in his lap and looked down at the floor with a moue of resignation. "Everyone else seems to be quite happy about it. I would've thought you'd be a little grateful, really, for the respite from your usual routine."
Norrington considered him now with the same studiousness a bird might eye an insect it wasn't sure about picking off or not, wondering whether to bother, or if it really would be worth the trouble.
"I see," he replied, slowly. "I, along with the rest of the inhabitants of our pathetic town, should welcome the infamous and entertaining pirate captain back with open arms and free drinks, extending clemency on principle, so as to assure that whatever mischief and misbegotten intentions you might have will corrupt what is left of the virtue of your young friends. When, that is, you aren't dying in their arms and needing to be rescued by the Navy," Norrington paused, lifting his brows high, "twice, from the mistreatment you receive with apparent regularity at the hands of your fellow pirates."
And damn, but if Norrington wasn't right, for the second time he'd been marooned (with the defiant Miss Swann) on that blasted island, it had been thanks to the Dauntless and Norrington that he'd been picked up from it. And now again to the Dauntless for rescuing him from Laurens and this man, again, for looking after him in his fever.
And damned but if at that moment his body didn't seem to rebel against him and shudder once from head to toe, shivering due to the cool wind coming in from the window.
Norrington took a step forward as if unconsciously moving towards him, and then stopped instantly, covering his slip of solicitude by saying, "For heaven's sake, Sparrow, get back into bed."
Jack stirred himself, getting up from the sill to pad back over to the bed, climbing back into it and beneath the covers, drawing them up to his middle and leaning back against the pillows with a glance at Norrington. Settling himself, he asked roughly, "Alright, then?"
Norrington stood looking back at him, a troubled and indecisive look upon his face. Slowly, he said, "What do you want, Sparrow?"
Jack brightly replied, "You can't expect me to just stay here all alone, with each passing day. A lady, perhaps. A man needs a bit of company at times, 'ey?"
A hard look of near disgust went over Norrington. "I'm not going to bring back a whore for you, Sparrow. That is completely-"
"Now did I say anything about a whore?" Jack interrupted him with a note of reproach. "I don't believe I did. In point of fact, I distinctly recall saying 'lady'."
Norrington tilted his head to one side, regarding him with obvious skepticism. "And what would you want with a lady?"
Jack frowned. "What do you think I would want with a lady?"
"I'm not sure what to think at this point. What on Earth could you possibly need with one? Why a lady? Why not a whore? One more suitable for someone in your position. I very much doubt I'm going to be able to convince any of the 'ladies' of Port Royal to come along to your bedside and entertain you." He rolled his eyes. "Apart from Miss Swann, of course, who is perhaps in danger of causing far too much gossip about herself of late, in any case."
"You think I can't entertain a lady?" Jack demanded, in slight umbrage.
"I didn't say that," Norrington said patiently. "What do you want one for, apart from the need to indulge in debauchery?"
Jack raised his brows at him. "You think I don't know what else to do with a lady, but to debauch her?"
"No, I didn't mean that. I didn't even say-" Norrington bit his lip, pressing his mouth into a tight line as if to stop himself from saying something angry that he might regret. "I simply…look, what else could you possibly want her for?"
Jack smiled slightly. "This is interesting, mate. I'm curious. What would you do with her, I wonder? And why d'you believe the only possible reason I might want a lady, a whore, or anyone of the female sex, to visit me here in your little bedroom would be for the sole and exclusive purpose of debauching one?"
Norrington looked to be angrier now than he had since coming in to see him.
Swiftly, Jack asked, "Commodore, may I ask you something? James, may I call you James?"
A profound Sigh. " What is it?"
"Now, perhaps I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm really quite curious. Why d'you hate me, James? From whence did all this hatred and anger spring from, towards me and my kind?" Jack carefully refrained from using the name 'pirate'.
Norrington regarded him long-sufferingly. "For God's sake, I don't hate you. Don't be so dramatic."
"Well, you tried to have me hanged. You nearly succeeded."
"We've been over this," Norrington sighed. "That was duty. It was not my wish to see you hanged. And I don't have any intention of seeing you hanged. How many times must I repeat this?"
"Then why did you? In the name of duty, and all? I'm not clear on that, yet."
"Because," Norrington said, in a sharper tone, "you are a pirate, and I want to see you nullified."
Jack grimaced. "That sounds painful. And how d'you intend to nullify me, exactly?"
Norrington's green eyes flashed. "Keep this up and I shall be tempted to strangle you."
"Well, better that than strangling me on the gallows. In this bed, even. Although why you'd rather strangle me than hang me is unclear at best."
Norrington pinched the bridge of his nose, as if to stave off an incipient headache. "I don't want to strangle you! Why must you always twist everything I say?"
But Jack had got his second wind now. "Or, perhaps it is that you don't want to strangle me neck at all, but some other portion of my anatomy? Or is it that you'd rather I be strangling yours, 'ey?" He smirked at Norrington, giving him an eye.
But Norrington refused to be baited, himself. "You've lost me, Sparrow. I'm sure I have no idea what you are talking about."
With a sigh, Jack said, "So no companionship then. Of either the female or the male variety. Not monkeys, nor goats nor mules. That's what the parrots are usually for, you know, on long voyages. After a few weeks out to sea, the parrot's usually the most sensible conversation to be had amongst the crew."
Wryly, Norrington said, "Try to rest, Jack. I think we'd both be happier if you managed to recover quickly and return to wherever your ship happens to be anchored. Just please tell me you haven't lost it again. The idea of having to extend my hospitality a day longer than necessary is agony just now."
"Aye," Jack agreed. "So agonizing, it is, to consider wrapping yourself around another man suffering from fever."
He watched as the impact of his words sank into the Commodore, leaving a path of volatile and acute anxiety mixed with nervousness, only to be followed up by a cold mask falling neatly into place.
In stiff, wounded anger, Norrington managed tightly, "I can assure you, Sparrow, that any remnant of pity I may have felt for you while you lay in need of care no longer exists to cause you any confusion or distress. Good day."
And Norrington turned on his heel with undeniable Naval dignity, poise and oh-so-controlled official dismissal, leaving Jack to watch his departure through the doorway and the door closing after him with mingled admiration and melancholy at having elicited such a display from the man.
In the wake of the Commodore's leaving, as he heard Norrington leave the house downstairs not long after, Jack settled himself for another day of sleep and enforced inactivity. He really was not recovered enough to consider leaving, himself.
To his dismay and apprehension, Jack found he was reconsidering what Norrington had said. Reconsidering that he might have misjudged him, for all that Norrington consistently appeared to misjudge him in the first place.
It was most unfortunate that they were each in a position where it was quite impossible to trust the other.
The day continued beyond the window, with light, and gentle tedium, and Jack could hear the hissing sigh of the sea mocking him with its closeness beyond.
Chafing at the idleness, Jack absently scratched at the new growth slowly accumulating upon his chin and upper lip. He'd adamantly refused the shave that Harold had offered him after drawing his bath, which Jack had luxuriated in.
But the weakness of his infirmity forced him to admit defeat to his intentions of exploring Norrington's house. Not to mention any possible unpleasant encounters with the maid or Harold. In his current state, he doubted he could take on anyone, and he really did not savor the thought of any further altercations with them as might be less than friendly. His head ached still, and his nose was stuffy, and he found himself caught off-guard by sneezing with regularity.
The afternoon crept by with the steadily plodding pace of an unhurried old clock, and by the time evening arrived, Jack was prepared to beg, borrow or steal in order to acquire a bottle of rum.
In fact, well after Harold had apparently retired to his quarters, the staircase beckoned irresistibly and Jack crept downstairs to investigate the contents of the Commodore's study. His hopeful search yielded a small drinks cabinet in which resided several interesting and promising bottles.
As he held up the French brandy, Norrington's frosty voice reached him from the entrance of the room.
"Mister Sparrow, my hospitality towards you does not extend to allowing you to guzzle my best cognac. I'll thank you to replace that at once."
Jack eyed him with a glower, but he straightened and turned to face the Commodore…without putting the bottle back. "Have a heart, man," he growled. "'M stuck upstairs in that stuffy little room for days on end, without respite or company. Trading one fever in for another is hardly going to help me recover any quicker, 'ey?"
Norrington exhaled through his nose and lifted his chin, holding up the candle he carried, which illuminated his wigless person. Apparently the good Commodore was off to bed, himself. Sardonically, he answered, "The rum is further down. Put the cognac back, if you please."
With a happy grin, Jack complied, and with a bit more searching below, lifted a proper bottle of rum from the back, covered with dust. It was unopened. His heart felt lighter already, and he wiped it off, then kissed the bottle. "Much, much better," he murmured reverently.
"Why," Norrington asked, "are you wandering about the house in such a state?"
"Well, everyone's abed, as should you be," Jack began.
"I was referring to your wandering around dressed like- like that," Norrington gestured at him with his other hand, his eyes dropping to Jack's bare legs and feet…only to quickly dart back up again.
"Hm?" Jack frowned, then glanced downwards; wishing not for the first time that the lacy cuffs of the nightshirt didn't extend beyond the length of his arm as much as they did. Far too long, really. Made things awkward when he tried to pick up anything. "Oh, my attire? You'll have to forgive me, Commodore, but it would seem no one's bothered to leave me a robe… or even a pair of slippers. Your man there seems to have neglected to equip me with anything appropriate, so I had no choice, really."
"Mister Sparrow," Norrington began in a tone of sufferance.
"Captain," Jack reminded him, pointing the bottle at him slightly.
"-Yes," Norrington continued indulgently, "he's not left you anything for the very good reason that I instructed him not to. You're supposed to remain confined to your bed. For your own sake, I suggest you return to the bedroom."
Docilely, Jack shrugged and made a face of compliance, moving towards him bare-footed along the wooden floor. Norrington looked worried as he approached. Jack gestured with an Oriental bow, flourishing the bottle. "After you, Commodore."
Norrington swallowed and looked as though a mouse was lodged in his throat. But he didn't say anything and actually stepped out of the way.
Jack shrugged and went past him. Humming 'yo ho' under his breath, Jack left the Commodore in the study and made his way back up the stairs, noting as he did so that Norrington followed him up in the dark, carrying his candle.
Once he reached his room, Jack left the door open and carried on back to bed, climbing beneath the covers with the rum. Wresting the stopper off of it, he took a healthy swig. Blessed, blessed fire, to chase away the nasties and the night. Not to mention the boredom. He fancied he could nearly feel the happy glow already.
Meantime, the more diminutive glow from Norrington's candle followed and Norrington stood in the doorway, just inside from the hall, regarding him without patience.
"You off to bed, then?" Jack asked easily, before placing the bottle to his lips again.
Coming into the room and closing the door, Norrington stood looking at him with an expression of troubled indecision. "Sparrow," he started, his voice sounding low and hollower than before. "I- there are some things we really must talk about."
Gesturing, Jack motioned for him to sit.
But Norrington avoided the bedside and instead went to stand by the window, where the tip of the horn of the moon was starting to show.
Awkwardly, Norrington continued, "I…I believe I owe you an apology."
Jack raised his brows.
"For- for having your hair cut. For taking the liberty. We, that is, I, deemed it necessary at the time. In retrospect, I daresay it was overdone. I thought, in fact, that it served a dual purpose in helping to disguise you, while also ensuring no one would suspect I was sheltering a notorious pirate under my roof. But I do realize now that it was…well, that I went too far. So, I do apologize, and I hope you won't hold it against me."
"It was, at that," Jack agreed, not exactly mollified yet, even with this unexpected apology. "Quite overdone."
Norrington glanced over at him. "If it's any consolation, I was quite startled to find it an improvement over your usual, wild dishevelment. I didn't imagine you would turn out to appear so- so-" he paused.
Jack grinned. "Refined?"
"Well, genteel, yes…" Norrington halted, obviously finding the urge to apologize warring with the satisfaction he still took even yet, at robbing Jack of his 'wild' appearance previously and turning him into something more resembling his idea of a gentleman. "Will you forgive me, then?"
Hardly. Jack looked away, and thoughtfully pulled at the bottle of rum again, thinking it over. But he remained silent.
Norrington turned to place the candle on the small dresser against the wall, pulling at his cravat and loosening it, and unbuttoning the top of his shirt. "About this morning, too; I should not have allowed myself to lose my temper. I do know it must be difficult for you to remain here under these conditions, and in my home, no less."
"Very gracious of you, I'm sure," Jack remarked. "But that still doesn't answer why I should trust you, nor you should trust me."
Norrington's eyes glittered at this, as if deliberating in his mind whether or not it made sense that he should have to prove his trustworthiness. Slowly, he replied, "Perhaps on this occasion, we might agree to a truce? In which both of us consent to allow the other a measure of confidence, for the duration of your stay?"
"So, I'll agree not to commit acts of piracy while enjoying Port Royal's hospitality, and you'll agree not to stretch my neck?" Jack restated.
Norrington let out a breath. "Very well."
"Until I get back to my ship, then," Jack said with a hint of a smile, before bringing the rum to his lips once more.
Norrington looked positively miserable.
"You know what your problem is?" Jack directed at him, sympathetically. "You've no idea how to let go and just relax for a bit. Let things take their course, so to speak."
"You don't exactly make it easy," Norrington pointed out. "You're dishonest. That makes it rather hard for me to trust you, you must admit."
"Well, at least I'm reliably dishonest. You can count on me to be dishonest. And a good man."
Norrington shot him a look. "Those two qualities would seem to exist in constant disharmony. It's paradoxical, Sparrow. However do you manage to keep anything straight?"
Lightly, Jack explained, "That's what the Code is for. To provide guiding principles to keep dishonest men within reasonable boundaries, beyond which lies insanity.
There's a fine line between dishonesty and madness. A dishonest man may be a criminal, but a criminal gone mad is much more dangerous. You remember Barbossa, my treacherous First Mate, and me former crew, do you not?"
Norrington let out a derisive noise. "That's hardly a resounding endorsement. If anything, it would seem to prove you wrong, and that piracy should be eradicated. Something I'm determined to achieve."
"Depends how one looks at it though, doesn't it?" Jack pointed out. "In history lessons, even your little schools teach that the Catholic Church condones violence and conversion by the sword. Leastways, I've not raped or killed anyone… A spot of dishonesty here and there is hardly damning, 'ey? When so-called honest folk commit dishonest deeds, what am I, really, besides willing to call a spade a spade?"
But Norrington was not amused. "Are you saying I should condone your actions?"
Jack lifted his eyes to the ceiling. "No, mate; I wouldn't dare. Not to you, the bloody great, imposing pirate hunter; bane of buccaneers and freemen in all the Caribbee," he gestured grandly, with scathing tones.
"Well, you can hardly claim to be a good man when you're incapable of being an honest one."
"Naturally," Jack agreed. "I'm about as dishonest as they come; just checking to see if you're paying attention. But I've the best of intentions. There's no need for alarm."
Norrington raised his brows now. "No need for alarm? You rob people. You steal their gold, their belongings…you're a thief."
"Aye, well, at least I don't steal their food," Jack stressed vehemently against this most dire of crimes. For it was true; he'd never leave a ship recently plundered without allowing the crew and passengers to keep their rations aboard. One couldn't eat gold; and he wasn't so heartless as to help himself to their stores in their holds - apart from liberating them of casks of rum, of course. But that went without saying, really. "There's a difference between simple thievery, and piracy."
Norrington's lip curled slightly with disgust now, however. "Yes, the difference being that pirates loot with the aid of violence. You're a sea robber, Sparrow, and nothing grander than that. I shall never understand the penchant among the young, for idolizing felonious outlaws."
Jack leaned back against the pillows with a smile. So young William had been right. Norrington did have a burr in his breeches over his being a pirate, and Miss Swann's romantic notions about the same.
"As many times as I tell you, you never seem to believe me, mate, but I really was rooting for you, you know."
Norrington winced. "I don't care to discuss Miss Swann with you, either now or anytime in the future."
"Perhaps you should," Jack suggested, calmly. "Get it out of your system. You've accepted it in very good grace, but it still smarts, doesn't it?"
Was that a blush? Jack couldn't tell for certain, but it appeared even by the dim flicker of the candle that the good Commodore's face was pinkening. Interesting.
"She deserves far better than myself," Norrington said, quietly.
A touch of sympathy arose inside Jack upon hearing this. "Oh, come; surely you don't mean that? We both know the lass would've made a better match with yourself."
Norrington briefly shook his head. "I'm not a fool, nor am I blind. They love each other deeply; I'm not a man to stand in the way of romance, and I wish them the best. No, the fault is mine. And mine alone. I could not have loved her half as well as he does. I wanted a good marriage. Whereas he," Norrington said, implying Will, "he offers her the romance she always longed for."
Jack tried to stop the stir of compassion he felt rise at this. But the unspeakable regret and loss in his voice was not dispelled even by the rosy glow of the rum now coursing through Jack's blood, nor the accompanying flush in Norrington's cheeks.
Jack frowned. "You're saying you didn't love her?"
"I loved her, but I think it's fairly obvious to all that I was not in love with her, nor she with me," Norrington explained, plainly enough despite the mournful undercurrent.
Bloody hell. He was not feeing sorry for the man. Jack sighed inwardly and dourly took another long pull of the rum.
Then he wiped the rim of the bottle and offered it to Norrington, holding it out. He waited as Norrington eyed it in slight surprise and then cautiously took it, then exchanged a glance with Jack before tipping it back with a practiced air.
Jack grinned. Still a sailor, for all the fancy naval trappings and impressive title.
Norrington sat down on the edge of the bed. The rum seemed to help, for then Norrington bitterly observed, "I suppose I deserve it, for allowing myself to labor under the delusion that I had a chance in the first place. I always knew she fancied the blacksmith boy, but I couldn't allow myself to imagine she'd want to marry beneath her station."
And then he helped himself to the rum again, gulping down more this time.
Jack began to fidget. At this rate, Norrington would down far too much, and this bottle was going to have to last him for the duration of his stay in Norrington's house. Anxiously, he inquired, "Ah, James…"
Norrington turned a sharp eye on him. "I suppose you've never had that problem."
Taken aback, Jack frowned back at him. "You're wrong there, Jim lad. Quite wrong. You're not exactly the first man to lose his heart and dreams to a woman with other ideas. And I'll have the bottle back, if you don't mind."
Staring sullenly at the rum he held, Norrington muttered, "Dreams. I could do without those." And he knocked back the bottle again, as Jack flinched.
Leaning forward, he waited for Norrington to pull the bottle from his lips, and then reached to wrest it slowly from his grip.
Norrington relinquished it though without looking at it, and said cynically, "So pirates are just like other men, then?"
Jack frowned at him. "How do you mean? It's a meaningless question. We're men. Well, most of us."
Norrington absently gestured with a loose hand in his direction. "Oh, you know, one can't help but hear stories, of men settling on distant islands in unnatural bliss with their male consorts, and the like. And then there's that absurd superstition about it being bad luck to have women aboard, and all."
Jack eyed him guardedly. "Some stories are better than others," he remarked.
Norrington smiled, letting out a silent chuff of laughter.
"Commodore," Jack ventured, soberly, "Are you at all happy?"
Norrington looked up at him, regarding him seriously. "Yes. Well, happy with my life, such as it is. Perhaps…not always happy in love, and in matters of the heart. For obvious reasons." He looked away, towards the window. "The love I felt for her was comforting, my private hope; it fulfilled my sense of duty and obligation. It was expected of me to make her happy, and to find my own happiness in doing so. As opposed to merely acting to please myself. By nature of it being a good match, a good marriage, to a fine woman. And she is, you know. But I'm not one to stand in the way of true love. Of course."
At which Jack agreed, "Of course." And drank. Interesting little confession he was getting here. He wondered if Norrington had any idea how misguided this level of profound trust was, agreement or no.
Norrington rambled on, "It wasn't love, I wasn't in love with her, and I lost her due to my illusion in thinking it would be enough. I cared for her deeply, and would have done anything to make her happy. But it wouldn't ever be enough, I know that now."
The morbidity had now progressed fully into the realm of gruesome self-pity and self-blame, Jack could see. It was reaching levels of intolerance, and he said cheerfully, "Well, look at it this way, there are more fish in the sea. There are other islands, other Governors and their daughters, other ladies…"
Norrington pressed his lips together thoughtfully, and then said hesitantly, "Sparrow, I wonder if I might ask your advice on another matter. Something perhaps more in your realm of experience and expertise, what with your being a pirate." His blush intensified. Jack could see it from where he sat, not a foot and a half away from him, seated on the bed beside him.
He handed Norrington the rum. "And which matter is this?"
Norrington regarded the bottle and took a large swig from it, probably for more courage. Swallowing, he gasped a bit, saying, "I know I wasn't in love with her, because I fear my heart's already found another. And this new flame is nearly twice as misguided, and ten times as inadvisable."
Jack suppressed a sigh. Well, it was going to be a long night, that was for certain. But he'd opened this particular Pandora's Box, and now he had the obligation of seeing it through, which included enduring the admission of Norrington's sins and confusion and haunted repression. He grimaced. They were going to need the rum.
Cheerfully, he suggested, "Let me guess, 'ey? This time, it's real passion, and all the qualities you saw in Miss Swann and admired about her are also shared by this new lady, who is also someone you can tragically never have, despite her possessing virtues and qualities in abundance, which are magnified and multiplied in impossibly alluring and bewitching ways. Am I right?"
Norrington stared at him, clutching the rum bottle. He swallowed, his green eyes dark and wide in the dim light of the candle-lit room. "Well, yes," he admitted, awkwardly.
Jack nodded wisely. "Follow your heart, Jim lad. It knows the way better than you do."
"Don't call me that," Norrington corrected him. Then sorrowfully admitted, "You're right. The one I love now would never have me, anymore than Miss Swann would. First Miss Swann and now this fresh tormentor."
Jack gave him a sympathetic look. "Love hasn't been very kind to you, has it, mate? So who is she, this paragon of paramours?"
Norrington regarded him sharply. "It's all quite amusing to you, I'm sure."
Jack swiftly shook his head. "No, mate; it's never pleasant to see a man suffering this way. Falling from one ill-advised, hopeless infatuation into another. You never allowed yourself to see Miss Swann's failings, her true character. That lass is a pirate at heart, and no mistake. I know it, you know it. Will knows it…even her father knows it. But now you're making the same mistake all over again, aye? You won't let yourself see the defects of this new lady you've found."
"Quite the contrary," Norrington informed him dryly. "I'm all too aware of the defects, hence the reason for my distress."
Jack took the rum back from him. "What, is she too old? Too young? Too low? Too high? Short, tall, plump or scrawny?" He knocked back the rum gratefully.
Norrington's eyes fell to the bedcover, looking torn and troubled, his hue darkening again. "Just…unsuitable. Entirely." And he let out a breath of exasperation. "I was a fool," he proclaimed, bitterly. "Breaking my heart over a woman I should have known was in love with another, and to remain blind to it to the last, only to transfer my illusions and yearning for happiness onto someone even less deserving and more disturbing."
The gloom and tragedy of it all was undeniable, but Jack found himself really curious at this last. "Disturbing?" he repeated. "How so?"
"Blast it all, Sparrow, you were right," Norrington ground out with a look of anger towards him. "The very qualities I admired in her are- are…"
Jack waited. Norrington's mouth worked and then he stopped. Jack gesticulated impatiently. "What? What are they?"
Norrington shook his head. "I shouldn't even be speaking of this. It's - it's sinful and wrong and completely - unhelpful. Inadvisable. I don't know what I was thinking."
"Ah," Jack drawled, knowingly in sudden comprehension. "It's a man, then?"
At Norrington's look of pain and anxiety at this, however, Jack found his face contorting in dread. "Dear God, tell me it's not the missy's father?"
Norrington stared at him in a moment's shock and then burst out with barely-restrained laughter. "That's a good one, yes, very good." And he continued laughing, shaking his head.
Relief followed his doubtful dismay. Jack thankfully took another swig of rum. For what he had in mind, it would have complicated matters, had he been anywhere near the mark with that one. "So who is he? This disturbing 'un-deserver'?" Then he choked on his next drink of rum as a thought came to him. "It had better not be Mister Turner," he rasped, accusatorily.
Norrington sighed heavily and agitatedly ran a hand through his hair. "For God's sake, Jack, I've better manners than that. I'd hardly let Miss Swann choose for love, only to attempt to steal her fiance from her."
"Why ever not?" Jack grinned back at him. "She chose him over you. Think of it, you could seduce both of them and end up happier than either."
Norrington gave him a suspicious glance at this. "Careful, pirate; I might start to believe you let slip far more than you'd wish, with that one."
Jack shrugged. "They're a lovely couple. A bit young, but then, aren't all young lovers far too young to know better? Told you, didn't I? She'd have been far better off with you, you know. But try telling them as much. And we both know that boy has the sea in his blood."
Norrington tongued the inside of his lower lip, as if thinking, and asked slowly, with the attitude of someone finally grasping something that's been eluding them, "You don't believe in true love, then, surviving the obstacles and rigors of life to eventually conquer all?"
Guardedly, Jack said, "True love is grand, to be sure. But how can a man be sure it's true, 'ey? A lifetime's worth of dreams spent in a moment's passion, and what's left afterwards?"
Norrington gave a little smile and nodded, looking down. "You're right. Ordinarily I wouldn't say so, but on this rare occasion, I daresay you've the benefit of experience. I never believed in it, myself. Sometimes, the idealism of lovers is rather shocking in it's naiveté. You know, I do believe I wish we could have met under different circumstances."
Jack blinked at him, a mite startled at this sudden turn. The singing of crickets and frogs drifting in through the open window was abruptly stark in the stillness. He could hear the restless waves still dancing at the shoreline far below, as well.
Norrington drew a breath.
But Jack quickly said, "Then again, there's much to be said for passion itself, the sort of love that burns brightly, however quick to fade. You just have to know when to seize it, savvy?"
"Ah," Norrington said, expressively. "And what of you, Jack? Are you happy? Truly?"
Jack gave him a knowing smile. "Sickeningly happy, apart from this little setback. I'm afraid I won't be able to last for the month's duration, however. I simply must return to my ship, 'ey? The little matter of my being her rightful captain; I'm sure you understand. And then there's the sea to consider."
Norrington's gaze fell at that, and suddenly Jack did not see a Navy captain and commander, but rather a lonely, proud young man who had the misfortune of possessing a heart too easily lost to those he imagined possessed the virtue and ideals he carried so loftily; like that torch for love and a sword for King and Country, yet never finding fulfillment in either act, not for himself or for his duty.
Quietly, Norrington said, "I envy you that happiness. That…carefree abandon. Not that I'd wish to be free of responsibility, but…" and he fell silent.
Gently, Jack asked, "Is that why you hunt pirates, then?"
Norrington set his jaw and his mood turned serious. "I suppose it is," he admitted. "The satisfaction of preserving freedom and peace. I can procure it for others, even if I cannot have it for myself."
Jack gave him a sly grin. "Bollocks. You're not interested in peace, not in the slightest."
Norrington looked up to meet his eye with a surge of indignation, but Jack merely chuckled at him.
"No, it's all about passion with you, 'ey? It's all about the swords, the cannon-fire and the chase. The fire in the blood."
Dryly, Norrington asked, "You think it hypocritical then, that I should seek to preserve freedom and peace? Such as that of the innocent citizens dwelling here on these islands, through action and passionate commitment?"
"No, I just think you're dying to find an appropriate object of desire to shag yourself senseless with. I've never seen a case of a man needing it so badly," Jack stated with candor, bringing the rum back to his lips with a contended smile.
Oo, that struck a nerve, Jack could tell. That bright flare of high color was back, staining Norrington's face.
"I don't believe that merely rutting like beasts is the answer," Norrington bit out. "We cannot all be as liberated and decadent as yourself."
Jack scowled thoughtfully at him and handed him the rum. "An' what makes you believe I'm decadent?"
"Thank you." Norrington swigged from the rum and waved in his direction. "Well, really, Jack; with the- the hair, and the eyes, and all. Swaying all over everyone, leaning on people; the way you carry on, there's nothing about you that isn't composed of innuendo and flagrant invitation."
Jack brought up one finger to tap against his chin, resting his elbow in his other hand. "And this leads you to assume I'm a decadent, debauching sinner?"
"Aren't you?" Norrington asked him, point-blank.
"Of course," Jack replied readily, without any attempt to dissemble, "but that's hardly the point. I find it surprising that you assume so, without knowing the first thing about me, really. And that it upsets you so. Is it truly that much of an affront, or is it that you see me as leading the sort of life you cannot have?"
Smiling indulgently at him, Norrington said, "Let's just say I'm curious to know if you could pass in polite society for a man of good taste rather than a depraved wanton reveling in wickedness."
He could feel ire rising swift and untrammeled at this. "So that's why you- you-," Jack gestured furiously, "with the- the shears and the-" he angrily made snipping motions under his lifted chin.
"Quite," Norrington agreed. "Although I do apologize, as I said. I know I went too far." And he had the grace to look shamefaced, and handed him back the bottle.
Disgruntled, Jack was nowhere near ready to forgive him. He heatedly knocked back more rum, wondering if he could find some way to assuage the anger and humiliation he still felt at his present condition.
But there was. Jack narrowed his eyes. Glibly, he inquired, casually, "So who is this fellow who's stolen your heart without your say-so?" He already had an inkling but one could never tell with gents as cagey as Norrington was.
Norrington turned an unmoved look upon him. "I may be a fool and a sinner for allowing myself to fall that low, but I'm not twice the fool as to believe it would be a good idea to confide as much in you, Jack."
"Ah, well, perhaps it's for the best," Jack commented, giving the appearance of considering this soberly. "At least this way I know I was safe the other night, with you snuggling up to me when I was too far gone to say yea or nay. Or was I?" He glanced at Norrington. "Safe?"
Whoa. Now that had to be the most impressive combination of colors Jack had managed to arouse from the Commodore, yet. Flashing green ice in the eyes, hot dark rage in his expression and a return of that dusky hue marching over his cheekbones and painting his face.
"You know," Jack followed up, quietly, "you really must stop getting so upset when I mention that little incident. I know you meant it kindly, and it only causes me further speculation."
The moon was rising higher now, casting faint silver light in through the window to join with the candlelight. The midnight tableau of illuminated, flushed and provoked Commodore abruptly sent a frisson through Jack's gut, a ripple of heat that joined the rum singing in his veins. He watched Norrington's eyes, matching his stare, daring him to look away.
And to his credit, Norrington didn't take his gaze off of Jack as he managed, "You were suffering from the fever."
"Aye," Jack agreed.
"-And you were raving about rum and sea monsters and some fellow named Hector who apparently did you a terrible wrong. Then you started begging me for water and to not leave you alone," Norrington continued, defensively and angrily. "And to make matters worse, you'd caught a chill. I was hardly going to desert you in such a terrible state."
"Aye, well, there are worse things in this world even than curses," Jack muttered. "I'm grateful for your kindness, James. And I owe you for your hospitality, so I'll let it go, alright?"
Norrington stared at a point on the wall near the window, up high, unseeing. "Unbelievable. You can help yourself to my ships, my town, my hospitality, and then mock my composure, but I'm not allowed to venture into your proximity when you're half-mad from sickness and delirium, when all I was offering was comfort?"
Jack laughed quietly at him. "I'd say a shave and a haircut constitute more than either mere comfort or venturing into my proximity, Commodore."
Bemusedly, Norrington asked, "I'm still failing to comprehend why you've decided that it was such a desecration. You look well. Have you even seen yourself, Jack? It suits you much better."
Hotly, Jack replied, "Aye, I have, thank you so very much. Took me bloody years to grow it all out. Pray tell what manner of pirates would even consider taking me seriously, looking like this? Have you any conception of what dealing with bloody 'Capitan' Laurens was like, 'ey?" Jack added, livid afresh now.
Startled by his angry response, Norrington asked, "Really, Jack, you're making too great a fuss over it. If anything, you can pass for a gentleman, if not a noble. Even with your- your darker skin. Do you not have even the slightest idea whatsoever of the effect?" He stopped short, as if wary of saying more.
Jack leaned back and narrowed his eyes now, regarding Norrington with dawning realization. "It's an improvement, then, I take it?" He smiled ingenuously.
Norrington only snorted at this though. "As if your opinion of yourself needs to be raised any higher."
"But it's flattering though? Rather than ridiculously uncomplimentary?" Jack pressed, despite Norrington's scathing expression.
Finally, Norrington relented. "Alright, I can understand why you'd prefer the more dangerous look. Which is precisely why Miss Swann and I agreed it would be far safer to keep you here without it. It's still my life on the line here for you, you realize."
But Jack answered, "So that's why you don't want me knowin' the identity of your beloved, then? For fear I'll steal him away from you?"
Norrington's expression of confusion was swiftly replaced with dismay. Tightly, he said, "Forget it, Sparrow. I'm not telling you. I've already compromised myself far too greatly as it is."
Grinning, Jack reassured him, "Never you mind on that score, Commodore. I'll not be subjecting you to blackmail or anything of the kind."
Sarcastically, Norrington replied, "How generous of you, considering all else I've done for you lately."
"Ah yes," Jack nodded, as if remembering. "Holding me right close, until dawn."
Norrington blinked at him. "What upsets you more, Jack? That I held you, or that I only did it the once, and haven't returned to offer more?"
Jack shrugged and replied in a mild voice, "Took the words out of me mouth. Was going to ask you the very same. The very same."
As Norrington struggled to find his composure, Jack blinked and looked over at the window. "The night's getting on, 'ey? Or shall we carry on into the small hours?"
But Norrington appeared to have lost his hold on both his composure and the situation now, for he looked back at Jack with the expression of a drowning man pleading for an anchor, for something to keep him from getting lost.
Lovely. Jack smiled winsomely at him. "Seeing as it's quite hopeless, and you've already resigned yourself to never attaining him, why don't you stay here," Jack indicated the bed they were on, "with me, and we can work out exactly what it means, that you'd offer comfort to a pirate such as meself?"
Norrington let out a breath of frustration and said in a low voice, "It's incredible. Even with the face of an angel, you are the epitome of wickedness."
Jack's brows rose in surprise at this little piece of news. The face of an angel, indeed? "The least you can do is inform me which it is that makes me so wicked, Commodore; the fact that I'd offer the invitation, or that you so very badly want to take me up on it."
A very, very palpable hit. He could see it still reverberating through him, that blush that never quite faded returning now in full-force, along with the stormy green fire, and…was that a barely-perceptible trembling in the brave Commodore's hands?
Norrington carefully licked his lips and said, in a cold, furious voice, "No, Mister Sparrow: what makes you wicked is that you're as devious as she is, and more besides. She may have used my feelings for her to rescue the man she loved, but you use mine against me merely for your own amusement. Keep the rum. I have no doubt you'll have need of it over the next week or so."
And he stood up angrily, leaving towards the door. "Good night, Mister Sparrow."
He got to the door with his hand on the knob when Jack quickly said, "It's surprising; how a man as purportedly brave as you're meant to be keeps running from me, whenever I suggest there might be a less violent way to work out our differences."
As Norrington stood frozen by the door, staring hotly back at him with mingled fear and rage, and probably no small bit of embarrassment, Jack added with a slight grin, "But which are you really more afraid of, 'ey? Me, or your own self, James? I'm sure I don't have to remind you that you could put many leagues between us, but you'll always be left with your own company." Jack didn't blanch from the look of pure anguish that Norrington leveled at him, at this.
But the sudden brightness in Norrington's eyes threatened to spill over, at odds with the fury and the fear.
And suddenly Jack was sorry, but there was nothing else he could say that would not sound insincere or mocking in light of what he'd just thrown out between them, and Norrington grasped the handle to fling open the door and stalk out, shutting the door firmly behind him, not quite slamming it.
Jack cast his eyes heavenward. For the love of bleeding Jesus, he thought. How was he to deal with the unwanted and conflicted adoration of an uptight, domineering, caustic and emotionally sensitive naval officer, who first wanted him hanged and then expected him to play the part of a pretty gentleman?
Then he frowned, wondering if Norrington was perhaps wracked with remorse over this little exchange, and was lurking outside the door; too proud maybe, to come back inside?
Slipping from the bed, Jack leaned over to the candle to blow it out, then crept on cat-feet to the door, opening it silently to peer out into the hallway in the direction of the master bedroom.
To his surprise, Norrington was leaning against the wall opposite, just outside the door to his own bedroom, in the dark, with the light from the hall window beyond just bright enough to see him by.
Jack recoiled, ducking back into the dark behind the door, but Norrington didn't appear to notice he was there. He peered carefully around once more.
Norrington was breathing hard, gulping breaths of air in some obvious distress, and tearing at his cravat to remove it from around his neck. Then he emitted a stifled moan and leaned back farther, with his head back against the wall, and whispered hoarsely in seeming anguish, "Oh God; God…Jack; oh Jack-"
Jack grimaced in sympathy, feeling a lance of remorse at having pushed the man to this point. And he had to fight the urge to go to him and…and what? The Commodore would hardly welcome such a gesture.
Still trying to master his harsh breaths, Norrington stood for a few trembling moments more, in ostensible and tangible distress, then abruptly reached for the door to his bedroom and disappeared inside.
Jack sucked a tooth, considering. Silently, he made his way to the now-closed door Norrington had disappeared behind, and listened.
He could hear the sounds of what was probably Norrington ripping off his garments, with muffled curses. He frowned, and sighed mournfully. Damn it all; why did the man have to be so- so bloody-minded and proud? He didn't wish the man ill; not physically or emotionally. He certainly never intended to cause this amount of torment.
And in the next breath, Jack closed his eyes, for the unmistakable sound of desperate pleasure emitted from inside the room, behind this closed door, caused a bolt of answering heat and desire to ravage his insides.
Most of the time, Jack felt little shame and yet afforded all men the dignity they deserved, but this was different. It was personal. It was - well, it was unnecessary. They could have worked this out another way, surely.
So he dropped to look through the keyhole.
Any shame he might have still felt at spying upon the Commodore unseen in this unseemly fashion fled as he made out Norrington within, having thrown himself upon his bed, partly obscured due to the angle, but enough of him visible to prove that he was more than man enough to keep anyone well satisfied.
And Norrington's hand was rapidly moving over himself, with a desperate urgency that made Jack bite his lower lip against a groan of answering heat, in the longing to imitate the rhythmic motions upon his own member.
Norrington was writhing a little, where he lay back upon his own bed, the near curtains thankfully open to let the moon betray the entire enactment.
Norrington's strangled whine was both painful and arousing to hear, and as he found release, Norrington choked out, "Jack! Oh- God, oh God- Jack…oh Christ-" He moaned, and gasped, "Jack… ohhhhhh-" Only to trail off into muted sighs.
No, not sighs, Jack realized, as he heard them turn into stifled sniffles and saw the shaking of the man's shoulders as Norrington turned, curling nearly out of the line of sight through the keyhole, to clutch at the bed under him.
Jack found himself reaching for the door handle and then stopping partway, over and over, until finally, angry with himself at being unable to go in and try to offer a little 'comfort' in return, he grimaced, shaking his fists in helpless indecision, before turning to slip back along the hallway to his own bedroom, there to attempt to close the door behind him as quietly as possible.
Letting out a shaky breath, he realized Norrington was a man who'd made his own hell. Problem was, he'd dragged Jack into it along with him, and all unwitting.
Bloody, insufferable man, Jack thought furiously. He'd never asked Norrington to fall for him.
It was altogether implausible and absurd, really. He'd never imagined the Commodore might actually come to terms with the fact that he might feel any sort of attraction for such as himself. A pirate. Let alone a man.
Should he go in?
Not good; very bad idea. Norrington blamed him for his unwanted desire, and would undoubtedly take it in the wrong spirit.
Jack leaned back and let out a breath. Well, he wasn't going to stay around to provide either 'wicked' temptation, or the obviously excruciating torment of being the means of breaking Norrington's already-fragile heart. Who knew what gallows might be in store, in either case, should Norrington decide he was better off eradicated, nullified, in a more permanent fashion?
His fever had broken, and he was hardly going to remain here another night, let alone another day.
Norrington still had his pistol and his sword, but he was sure he could convince Will to lend him a blade in the meantime. He opened the closet that had his clothes and his effects within, all neatly cleaned, folded and stored away by Norrington's nigh-invisible maid.
Dressing quickly in the dark, he happened in the bottom of the closet upon his scarf, finding within it all his beads and ornaments, as well as the stingray spine.
Part of him was angry again at this reminder of the loss of his hair, and Norrington's presumption in removing it. Another part of him though was resigned and melancholy at leaving in the night like this, knowing that Norrington would probably feel both relieved at his departure (for obvious reasons) and miffed that he'd left without telling him.
But really, it was the best for both of them, and everyone else all around. It was. And the darkness was suddenly cloying and miserable, split only by silver moonlight from the window, and he wondered what the cost might be to both of them, if he were to go into the Commodore's bedchamber and offer the affection each of them needed from the other.
He shook his head and pulled on his boots. Madness. It would be utterly mad. And very, very inadvisable, indeed. Norrington was in a delicate state at the moment; it wouldn't do to push him over the edge.
It wasn't very hard to leave by the window, and Jack was glad to find that despite his still ever-so-slightly aching head, it was easy to make his way down to the ground and out of the garden beyond the garden wall.
When he found his way to Will's forge, luckily the lad was a light sleeper, and he let Jack in with some consternation.
At first it took some convincing for Will to accept he might let Jack stay with him, but as he was already deemed escaped or dead, it was unlikely anyone would actively be searching for him, and even more unlikely that Norrington might renew any kind of search for him, particularly after the night's disagreement and unfortunate end, (although naturally he didn't elucidate upon any of that for innocent young William's education or edification) and insisted that he might hide in Will's room for the next couple of days, until such time as he could leave for Port Antonio.
Will was most helpful. Even when Jack informed him cheerfully that whatever might happen following his departure from Port Royal, neither he nor Miss Swann should be too perturbed, as undoubtedly events would transpire that might alarm them.
And when Will demanded to know what they might be, Jack contented himself with an enigmatic grin. And merely reminded him of his promise to ensure that Norrington would eventually come around and stop acting like a man with a pole shoved up his arse.
But it was a long, long time before Jack could close his own eyes that night, without hearing the longing and painful utterance of his name as Norrington found his pleasure. It was all he could do not to wonder if he ought to have stayed, and seduced the man.
No, far better to put some distance between them.
And some time.
Yes, best let things take their course, once he'd set his plan in motion. Everyone would be much happier once things got moving; the Commodore most of all.
Jack was able to find rest in the contemplation of knowing that in this instance, helping himself would actually be a simultaneous act of altruism. Idealism. Philanthropy.
Wait, he was a pirate. He didn't dabble in acts of charity, surely? Ah well, might as well be damned for being a philanthropist as for a philanderer.
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