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The Mercy Series, Chapter 3
Rating: PG-13 this chapter. NC-17 overall.
Archive: Yes, help yourself. Just include ALL parts/chapters, please.
Disclaimer: The Mouse/Bruckheimer Productions owns them, except for Jack Sparrow who belongs to J.Depp. ;-)
Author's Note: Thanks to Firesignwriter (KJ, dearling, thanks—for as always, you provide plenty of ZenGoo and perfervious inspiration!) Many special thanks to Thalia Seawood for her invaluable research and character studies on Jack Sparrow and Commodore Norrington. Also, particular thanks to the members of the SparrowandNorrington yahoogroup list, for the inspiration and discussion of finer points of the J/N dynamic.
Setting: After the end of the movie.
Summary: Norrington catches up with Jack Sparrow. But what is he to do with him, once he's caught him?
As Jack awoke, there was a brief flash of disorientation as he opened his eyes and saw the unfamiliar interior of the cabin, and then the events of the night before filled in. He could tell from the pronounced swaying that the ship was well on its way. It was obvious that they'd left with the tide. A glance where the Commodore had been revealed the hammock was already taken down and the Commodore nowhere to be seen. Jack frowned and made to sit up. Swearing under his breath at the pain that lanced through his arm, he managed to rise, wondering if it was worth it. He probably wouldn't be allowed to wander freely above deck anyway. He was stiff and sore, and although it was the first night since he'd been captured that he'd really had any proper sleep, he still felt as though he'd been through a squall, beaten and battered by wind and rain for too long. Fortunately, Norrington appeared to be on the upswing, his conscience forcing him to pluck Jack out of prison and place him— Jack had to laugh quietly to himself at this. An equal footing now, in the captain's cabin of the Dauntless. Interesting. Equally interesting was breakfast, left out for him almost as if he was supposed to take it as an afterthought, and yet far too obviously left with care. He wondered if Commodore Norrington had any idea what his actions said about him, let alone what they said about what he thought of his captive guest. Tea, bread, honey, fruit... and he saw the bottle of rum had been taken up off the floor and placed there as well. A glance revealed his sword, and his pistol, where he'd put them the night before, untouched. A glance through the window nearest him proved it was nearly mid-morning. He supposed he'd better make the most of this while it lasted; no doubt Norrington would begin regretting this little change of heart once he'd thought it over a few times. Sitting at the table, he helped himself to the food on the tray. The cabin doors opened, and as Jack looked up, he saw Norrington standing there with a strange expression on his face. "Thanks for breakfast," Jack said, noting the Commodore's thoughtful look. Norrington came in and shut the doors. "You're welcome. We're making good time. Barring any poor weather, we should arrive back at the Isle de Muerte by dawn tomorrow." He took off his hat and coat, hung them up, and went to sit at his desk, pulling out a small book, presumably his log. Pouring himself tea, Jack asked, "You do realize that we may have to wait a good while for my Pearl to show herself there again? The crew's going to be very wary after her last encounter with your Dauntless, here. Then there's any damage 'at might need repairing, after that exchange with your cannons and all." Norrington looked up at him, startled, but quickly shuttering it away behind the usual cool demeanor Jack saw upon the Commodore. To Jack's sharp eye, he appeared to wear it like a shield, after having seen the man's open confusion and distress the previous evening. "Then wait we shall." He returned to his book, and picked up a quill. So that's how it was to be. "Does your hospitality extend to the rest of the ship, or just this cabin, 'ey?" Norrington gave him a sidelong glance but continued writing in his log. "You're a free man; do as you please." Jack's brows lifted. He sipped the tea. Lukewarm, but better than nothing. Like the hospitality. He actually didn't expect the Pearl to return to the Isle de Muerte until they'd stashed the treasure elsewhere and spent their own divisions in Tortuga for a week, which meant they probably wouldn't be back there for a good five or six days more. Which meant four days aboard this ship with the foul tempered Commodore and all the King's men, at the very least. What fun. Well, he'd have to see what he could do in the meantime to relieve the tedium. He wasn't sure which was worse: being locked in the brig or confined in Norrington's cabin with him. Spreading honey on a slice of bread, Jack considered the best tack to take. He couldn't poke at him too much, or he'd end up back in the brig. What was it with people always tossing him in cells? He really wasn't as dangerous as all that, reputation notwithstanding. He leaned over and fished an apple out of the bowl of fruit on the table. The scratch of Norrington's quill in his book filled the silence of the cabin. Without looking up, Norrington commented, "You slept the whole night through." So the Commodore had not, Jack surmised. "Ships tend to have that effect. Although it's a far cry from the dungeon, I'll admit." He bit into the honeyed bread, waited to see what response, if any, that one garnered. Sure enough, a fleeting little expression of guilt was quickly suppressed. Norrington glanced up at him, his quill poised over the ink. "You may consider this my attempt to make it up to you." Jack smiled to himself, and settled back in the chair more comfortably. "You're proving yourself the soul of generosity." Biting into the bread, he saw that Norrington appeared to ignore this. But the Commodore seemed preoccupied, in any case, with whatever it was he was scribbling in that book of his. Must have been an active morning, to warrant such a voluminous amount of words. Jack was beginning to get the feeling that Norrington was avoiding him. No doubt all the officers aboard were going to be disappointed if they expected to be invited in here for luncheon, or supper, or even tactical discussions. Couldn't have officers of the Crown sharing the same air as a pirate, after all. Who knew what bad manners they might pick up? He chuckled quietly to himself, earning a puzzled glance from Norrington. Contenting himself with watching Norrington as he continued to write, Jack ate in silence, wondering if it should come down to it which of them would break first. It was revealing in and of itself that Norrington appeared to be treating him as if he were a part of the cabin: unremarkable and completely beneath his notice. That rather sullen and desperate revelation the previous night regarding 'friendship' and 'trust' must be driving the Commodore quite mad, to be retreating to such a display of poise and nerve this morning. Jack smiled, knowing the next time it happened would probably be even more revealing than the last. As he bit into the apple, it occurred to him that he hadn't as yet managed to determine exactly what it was that Norrington wanted from him. It certainly wasn't friendship; he couldn't see the Commodore actually desiring such a relationship with a man he'd obviously felt was so far beneath him—for being a pirate as well as for not being a fellow commodore. Or captain. Jack grinned. It really rankled Norrington to have to accept that despite being a 'civilian' and a pirate, Jack himself was still a captain, and of the finest, fiercest, prettiest, fastest ship in the Caribbean. That Norrington was lonely and now mourning the loss of Miss Elizabeth was in part the reason for this nigh desperate attempt to reach out a hand of friendship, but he doubted Norrington himself even knew what he really wanted. From a pirate. It couldn't just be freedom; or could it be that simple? Ships were safe in the harbor, but it wasn't what they were built for. Perhaps the Commodore was a little too confined himself, in that safe little English port town. Perhaps the fact that he, Jack Sparrow, infamous pirate captain, could actually be a good man was a terribly distressing reminder that anyone could be free and a pirate, an outlaw, rather than just wicked types as Norrington had been restricting himself to believing. He narrowed his eyes, watching the Commodore continue to dip his quill again and again, scratching out far too many lines for a simple morning sail with the tide. Jack briefly wondered if the steersman that Norrington had given the bearings to had any idea whatsoever, just how dearly they'd been bought and paid for. Interesting, too, that Norrington looked down on him for seeking treasure or the simpler joys life had to offer, as if what he valued was less than the rigid duty and obligation that a military career required. And yet here he was, his presence in Norrington's cabin proof of the man's curiosity with his identity as a pirate. For that's really in essence what this was all about, Jack knew. He supposed he ought to be used to it by now. People generally appeared to have a mixed and volatile view of pirates, seeing them as both living examples of romantic, unspeakably dashing scoundrels and completely untrustworthy vile sinners. Miss Swann was an excellent example, as was her paramour, young Will. He had thought Norrington here was of the mind that he was scum, and yet the good, upstanding Commodore now appeared no less susceptible to these opinions. Far be it from Jack Sparrow to enlighten him, especially so far as it kept him from the brig. Norrington finally put up his quill and opened the desk drawer to put away his book. Standing up, he pushed the chair back beneath the desk and went to sit down at the table, across from Jack. Who took another bite of his apple, regarding Norrington. The Commodore looked away, to the windows behind him, over Jack's shoulder. "I'll have the doctor have a look at your wound." "Thanks," Jack replied, cheerfully. "Just being back at sea seems to be doing it a world of good. Funny, that. How's your neck?" Norrington glanced at him and considered the bowl of fruit. "Improving." Jack leaned back further and frowned. "Are you always this happy, or have you eaten something that disagreed with you? Or maybe you're disagreeing with something that's eating you?" he added meaningfully. Norrington gave him a sardonic look, his eyes sliding away again, this time to the tray, as if bored. "Not at all," he replied, a little too casually. "Usually on ocean voyages, I read. This time, I'm looking forward to hearing you elaborate on some of the more interesting stories of your exploits." Amused, Jack said, "I'm sure you've already heard them all. Sometimes they print the tales beneath, on the wanted poster. With the longer stories, they have to use very tiny letters, and it can even take two posters or more to do them justice." Norrington's eyes met his, with a small smile. "I believe they're called 'books'." "Those too," Jack agreed, not bothering to rise to the sarcasm. He was quite used to it, expecting it from Norrington now, and would have thought something terribly wrong indeed if Norrington hadn't retreated to it by this time. Mocking him seemed to be Norrington's favorite pastime, as if doing anything else somehow left him open for possible corruption by his very pirate nature. "I suppose hearing the actual truth behind the tales is too much to hope for," Norrington commented. "Depends on the tale," Jack explained. "Sometimes, the truth is far less likely to be believed, and has to be toned down for anyone to swallow it." "So why do they all sound so far-fetched?" "Because other people embellish it as it moves from each teller," Jack said. "I've heard the most amazing stories about myself, and been quite surprised to find them completely new. There's nothing more disconcerting than hearing you've done things you have absolutely no memory of doing. Of course, going to bed with a bottle of rum often has that effect too," Jack mused, leaning forward and placing his apple core on the tray, and selecting a banana from the fruit bowl. "Although it can be very strange to hear you've been in three different places all at the same time. Makes me wonder how I manage it." Norrington's smile at this was at least a little wider than before. "Then you can hardly be surprised if I find most of the stories about you highly suspect in their accuracy; particularly if you refuse to verify them." Jack peeled the banana, saying, "Considering I have a reputation to uphold, I'm surprised you'd think I'd tell you the truth." He gave him a half-smile and bit off the top of the banana. Norrington seemed to regard the banana with some displeasure, looking quickly away with a slight frown to fix on the cabin doors. Jack frowned, chewing, and examined his banana. There didn't seem to be anything remarkable about it. Well, maybe Norrington didn't care for the fruit. Or maybe it was too green for him. "Do you play chess?" Norrington asked. "On the rare occasion," Jack replied. He wondered if Norrington would consider a game of chess between them on the same level as a duel, matching wits instead of swords. "If the Pearl is late in showing, I daresay we'll 'ave time enough for a tournament." He took another bite. Norrington swallowed and carefully regarded the doors, shifting slightly in his seat. Curious, Jack asked, "Are you alright, mate?" Norrington let out a breath. "I'm fine. But four days of this... I'm beginning to wonder if it won't start to take its toll on our mental faculties." "I rather reckon your temper will be the first to go," Jack said, dryly, taking another bite of the banana, wondering at the way that Norrington steadfastly did not look at him. This was most interesting, indeed. What, did Norrington believe that pirates ate their food raw and still moving about? Or was the novelty of having a pirate in his cabin simply too much for the Commodore? But Norrington didn't look angry. He looked worried, if anything. Jack frowned at his banana again, wondering why it was too much simply to watch him eat. Odd. "If I do lose my temper, no doubt I will be justified in doing so," Norrington said, without the usual cold note his voice usually held. Jack finished the last bite and placed the banana peel on the tray beside the apple core, noting with some mirth that Norrington watched him now with a relieved expression. "I take it you don't care for bananas," Jack drawled. Norrington sat up straighter. "I do not." "Well," Jack said brightly, "that's alright, because I do. You won't have to worry about them going to waste." Norrington didn't look very pleased about this. "The chart you gave me, before; the one showing the route through the shoals and that passage... It was very neatly done." Jack's brows rose. A compliment? "Thanks. I take it they were the reason you were able to sneak up on me ship so cleverly." Norrington's little smile held a bit more of his usual cool, disdainful humor. "Indeed." Jack stood and stretched, gingerly. "So I'm free to go about your ship, without any of your sailors pitching me into the brine?" "You're a guest, within reason. There are limits, Jack." "Fine," Jack agreed. "Just so long as they know that, 'ey?" Norrington frowned up at him. "Where are you going?" Jack gave him a look askance. "A man's got to relieve himself sometime, you know. First thing in the morning, aye?" Norrington looked worried but he didn't say anything. Jack laughed quietly to himself, going to the doors and opening them to blink in the bright sunlight. No doubt the thought of a pirate pissing off the side of his Dauntless was a little too much, particularly given the early hour of the day. He earned a few stares from the soldiers aboard, especially the ones hanging about in the rigging, as he made his way to the side. After all, he was hardly going to use the Commodore's chamber pot at the breakfast table. Such things just weren't done. There was etiquette to consider. He hummed as his bladder rejoiced at finally being allowed relief. It wasn't until he was shaking himself dry that he grasped what had offended the Commodore so, about the banana. And he grinned, widely. If the simple act of eating a banana in front of the man should offend the good Commodore's sensibilities that much, he wondered what other innocuous little activities might achieve the same effect. He'd have to set about discovering so immediately, to oblige Norrington. Wouldn't want him growing bored, after all, on the journey back to the Isle de Muerte and during the subsequent stakeout for his Pearl. He caught sight of the bucket of rainwater nearby. Going over to it, he saw it was more likely fresh water that had been brought on board that morning, for the trip. Excellent. He went and picked it up, and carried it back to the cabin. Opening the doors and stepping inside with it, he saw Norrington was sitting back at his desk, scribbling in that book of his again. He took the bucket over to the other side of the room, then turned, wondering where Norrington kept his clothing. Going to the cupboard, Jack began searching through it. "What are you looking for?" Norrington demanded. "A spare shirt," Jack answered, absently. Norrington was quiet, briefly, then said, "Try the second drawer underneath." Jack did, and encountered one of Norrington's long white shirts. "Ah, thanks very much." Pulling it out, he went over to where the hammock was still strung, and took it down, stowing it off in the corner. Then he began to remove his clothes, starting with his sash and his boots. A glance at Norrington revealed the man was lost in his book. Intently so. With a fine shade of crimson creeping into his cheeks. Jack grinned to himself. Bananas, pissing off the side, and now: undressing. Norrington really needed to spend more time at sea. After removing his headscarf, shirt, and breeches, Jack checked the wound on his shoulder. The bandage really needed to be changed. He removed it too. Norrington said with a long-suffering tone, "Must you do that in here?" Jack regarded him with some suspicion. "You'd rather I was outside?" Without looking at him, Norrington sighed. Jack gave a little shrug. And went to the cabinet to retrieve a cloth, then went to the fresh water. Cleaning himself up to a moderate degree of satisfaction, he wondered how Norrington could retain the modesty of a virgin bride after living a soldier's life for the last several years, often at sea himself for all his time spent in Port Royal. Then he turned his attention to his shoulder. The wound's stitches were neat and small, but the flesh around them was still red and angry. And it hurt like a bastard. He was going to need a salve on it later on, to stop it from itching. And he wasn't looking forward to the stitches being pulled, which they would have to be at some point soon. It would be worth saving the rum for that alone. He'd have to befriend the cook, and promised himself to visit the galley again as soon as possible. He regarded the water, looking down into it. It was still relatively clean, and he was willing to bet doubloons that no one, least of all Norrington, was going to take it from him now. No doubt on the principle that he was a pirate, and if one washed one's clothing or self after a pirate, something piratey might get transferred onto them and infect them with villainous urges to plunder ships and maidens. He looked over at Norrington again. Sure enough, he was being ignored. Jack grinned, helplessly. There was something far too tempting about Norrington's sensibilities. The Commodore simply made far too large a target to ignore. Pulling on the long white shirt, Jack regarded the way the long sleeves extended down too far for the shirt to be useful. Rolling them up, he picked up his clothing and then the bucket, and began to make his way back to the door. Norrington continued to ignore him. Despite the pain in his shoulder, Jack heaved the bucket outside and set it down on the deck, by the starboard rail, and proceeded to wash his clothes. The bandage he picked up and hurled over the side; it was sticky with more than blood, and he really didn't think that any amount of washing was going to render it re-usable. When he'd washed the clothes to his satisfaction, he spread them carefully over the rail, keeping most of the material hanging down towards the deck in case the wind should try to snatch anything over the side. Stepping back to survey the sight, he had to laugh quietly at it. No doubt Norrington was sequestering himself in the cabin at all costs, at this point, in every effort to avoid having to see pirate laundry spread all over his fine Navy ship. Jack studied the horizon, seeing the high wispy clouds above. They had a very good chance of fair sailing all the way. With the breeze and the sun shining down, his clothes would be dry in no time. One of Norrington's men approached him. "'Ere, you! Does the Commodore know you're out 'ere, doing that?" "Aye," Jack replied, noting the fellow's familiar countenance. "Have we met before?" The man blinked, and then gave a bit of a smile. "We 'ave, indeed. Mr. Murtogg," he introduced himself, with a proffered hand. "And you're Jack Sparrow." Jack shook it with a smile. "Aye. And I do recall. The corset." "Aye," Murtogg said, hesitantly. "That's the one." The cabin doors were flung open and Norrington stood there, looking out. He caught sight of the laundry and sighed, looking up at the blue sky. With a frown, Jack turned to look, and realized Norrington was searching the heavens for patience, and no doubt a goodly portion of endurance. "Mr. Murtogg," Norrington said. "Aye, Sir," Murtogg went forward, leaving Jack. "On your way," said Norrington. "Sir," Murtogg agreed, and obeyed, with a final look towards Jack who smiled slightly. "Mr. Sparrow," Norrington continued. "Perhaps you might find a spare pair of breeches as well." Jack tilted his head back a little and regarded Norrington down his nose, saying, "Mine will suffice very nicely, in not much more time at all, Commodore. And besides your men, yourself, an' a few gulls, there aren't any witnesses around to start spreading any of those interesting tales. So there's really no cause for alarm." He gave him a cheerful grin. "And I highly I doubt me legs are frightening enough to start any rumors about my parentage." Norrington seemed less than pleased. But he let it go, interestingly, and turned away, moving back into the cabin and shutting the doors behind him. Jack went to sit by the side to watch the waves below. Norrington appeared almost obsessively disturbed by the least little things he did. Let's see, how was the tally coming along? He marked them off in his head, along with a mental note of the strength of Norrington's accompanying reactions, as well. Bananas: very, very disturbing. Pissing over the side: mildly irritating. Undressing: very much so. Shocking, in fact. Jack chuckled. And laundry: a necessary evil, tolerated even over wearing the Commodore's spare shirt. Mustn't forget that one: wearing a shirt without breeches. Almost as distressing as taking his clothes off. So, it was the same whether he was undressed or half-dressed. Also, speaking to the men: to be halted as quickly as possible. So if Jack were to remain out of sight and out of mind for the duration of their trip, and try to keep any hint of his presence... or his clothing... from Norrington's vicinity, they'd get along nicely. It all seemed to contradict Norrington's compulsion regarding capturing him and keeping him imprisoned, to a ridiculous degree. Enough, in fact, to set Jack to wondering if Norrington really wanted a friend, or a pet. Hm. Very interesting, that one. A pet, Jack mused. To be sure, Norrington would be happiest if Jack didn't speak to anyone but him. And kept himself in the cabin as much as possible, avoiding the rest of the ship and other men aboard. Including Norrington himself. Jack rather suspected that Norrington didn't know what to do with him now that he had him. It was quite funny, really. Like a hound who'd been a bit too obsessed with chasing a cat... and didn't know what to do with it once he'd caught it, much less when it turned on him and showed him that cats have, in fact, very sharp claws—especially when cornered. Norrington's over-developed sense of modesty, too, was quite suspect. Probably had something to do with his being a pirate again, though. If he were a blacksmith or the daughter of a governor, no doubt Norrington would be less than piqued at his wearing Norrington's shirt and eating fruit in his cabin at the breakfast table. Jack sighed, looking at the sea as it rolled and heaved below. He'd have to make an effort to find the right note to take with Norrington, even as a pirate. He wondered if he made too much of an effort to behave as a gentleman, if Norrington would become suspicious, or weary of him, expecting a certain measure of outrageous behavior. Norrington appeared to make a habit of being professionally tolerant. Always on the edge, letting his humor out only when his sense of irony or sarcasm was invoked. Jack had always avoided men like him, usually because such men tended to want to see him hanged. Or shot, he recalled. Or marooned. Then again, regarding the banana and the over-developed modesty, Norrington had very improper thoughts. And he was the sort of man who believed that to lie with any woman other than his wife was a very sinful thing to do, indeed. And one should wait until the wedding night. It was a miracle the man had managed to allow himself to succumb to curiosity and temptation even at the age of eighteen. It was also a certainty that with the loss of Miss Swann, the Commodore was unlikely to find any sort of relief any time soon. Which accounted for all the dirty thought associations Norrington was suffering from. The few times Jack had tried to flirt with him had revealed Norrington regarded such with as much annoyance as he did pirates in general, so it was very unlikely the Commodore would allow himself to be friends with him as a drinking partner. Therefore he'd have to find a way to get him drunk gradually, slyly. Surreptitiously. A plan began to form in Jack's mind, regarding stitches and neck wounds... and the removal of the former. When one could only flirt with someone when they were drunk, it usually bespoke of a very strait-laced surface, beneath which seethed a volcano of suppressed longings that were never acted upon. Jack wondered if the duel had been a result of that alone. Aha... swords, ships, cannons, bananas and breeches. All those stiff uniforms and uptight men. Norrington was undoubtedly a man who was completely unable to accept taking the belly-up position... or the hands-and-knees-do-me-sir position. Probably liked to be firmly on top and use all that command in his voice to ensure he wouldn't lose control until he was sure he was safe to do so, and only ever on his terms. Combine that with the worshipful devotion of the man's idealistically romantic heart and one would have quite a time of it. Jack's eyes narrowed, and he wondered if Miss Swann had any idea what she was missing. The quiet, hard ones with the soft centers were usually the most interesting and inventive between the sheets. If Norrington weren't so dangerously predisposed towards hating him and either seeing him hung or driven out of the Caribbean altogether, he might have considered having a go himself. In fact... his eyes slid to the closed doors of the cabin. But no, it was highly inadvisable. There was absolutely no way that the Commodore would be able to tolerate intimacy with a pirate, without attempting to immediately redeem him—cure him of his piracy as if it were a disease of some kind, and reform him into exactly the kind of pet horror that Jack fancied Norrington had thought he'd caught, before. And despite what Norrington believed about pirates, Jack wasn't cruel. He had no wish to break Norrington's heart. There wasn't even any sport in it; it would be too easy, especially considering the fine job Miss Elizabeth had only just managed not long ago. As it was, Norrington didn't seem to really want his friendship or his company. And the more welcoming galley awaited, as did the surgeon. He reached over to feel his shirt and found it was drying nicely. Not long now. Without the wig, and with those brilliant green eyes, Norrington was a rather handsome specimen, Jack considered. It was a shame, actually, that they occupied such opposite sides. And there was the whole animosity issue. Sometimes, Norrington's attitude was unbearable. There was only so far he could try to charm, befriend or appeal to the man's sense of propriety or humanity. Four days of this. Four days more of Norrington's wild pendulum swinging from angry disdain to helpless fascination. Jack wondered if they'd survive each other. Why, Norrington couldn't even look him in the eye. Come to think of it, Norrington had been like this with him even before he'd lost Miss Swann, this irrational love/hate attitude. Except of course it had all been undeniably 'hate' before... Jack blinked. He studied the waves a bit longer. It was all coming clearer now. It would have been clearer before, except he hadn't had access to the rum, being incarcerated for the most part without it. And what with the whole bit about possibly being hung or jailed for life. And losing his Pearl again. He'd been understandably distracted, what with the fear and the pain of his shoulder and everything. He sighed at the unwanted responsibility of it all. Then cursed himself for being a blind, self-absorbed fool not to have seen it before.
* * *
Commodore James Norrington sat at his desk, his head in his hands. He'd thought it would be difficult to have but the duration of one day and a night in Jack's company. Somehow, the trip hadn't improved upon knowing he'd have up to three extra days and nights on top of that. Jack had been gone somewhere below deck for hours, now. He'd be damned though if he was going to leave the cabin and go searching him out. He could wait. So far, he'd made a right bollocks of the situation. His composure was shredded, and he hadn't even managed to make it through thirty minutes in the pirate's presence without making a complete ass of himself. Dourly, he considered confining the pirate to anywhere but his cabin. James was also starting to believe that Jack had absolutely no idea what he was doing to him. The ordeal with the banana had been embarrassing; the episode with Jack stripping most decidedly not self-consciously, doubly so. Jack undoubtedly considered him to be an idiot, at this point, as well as a prude. And if Jack hadn't already guessed at the reason for his complete inability to handle relating with him, he would soon enough. He glumly resigned himself to the inadvisability of drinking with Jack; God alone knew what he might end up saying to make matters worse, once the drink was in him. This was far more painful to endure than Elizabeth's rejection, because he was rejected even before it had begun. And he had three more days' worth of this hell than he'd thought he would have to suffer, yesterday. The problem was, now that he knew how he felt about Jack, he had absolutely no idea what to say to him, or how to talk to him. How to act around him. How to behave. He was completely unprepared for anything to do with him, most particularly because Jack was a man. With Elizabeth, he'd been nervous and incredibly uncomfortable. With Jack, he'd already tried to see him to the gallows, and then had him captured and imprisoned—there was no way to make up for that. Let alone present his heart on a platter and expect Jack to do anything but carve it up. He sat back in the chair and steepled his fingers, tapping his chin. There was always the painful and obvious route: telling the truth and just letting Jack have it between the eyes. He couldn't see any of it being very welcome, but at least he'd have the advantage of honesty and having it all out in the open. Then Jack would have the security of knowing he could either rip him apart, with glee, or take pity on him and merely... be slightly kind about it all before attempting to have as little to do with him as possible. It had to be at least more welcome than trying to kill him. Of course, the opportunity for blackmail or outright destruction of his reputation and his name was the obvious retaliation, and regardless of what shaky agreement or 'trust' they had built so far, Jack was hardly in a position to give a damn. The least he could expect was mercy, and the most he could hope for was pity. James let out a frustrated breath. He couldn't afford to admit his feelings for him, not now. He could not allow himself to forget that Jack was, simply, a pirate. He wondered if Jack was staying away from the cabin deliberately. Avoiding more unpleasant and tense moments with him. Or was he projecting, and Jack was only wandering about the ship examining weak points, resources to exploit, soldiers to charm and rum to help himself to? The meager breakfast he'd managed to swallow earlier was a cold lump in the pit of his stomach. The thought of having to eat anything in front of Jack was far from appetizing. Not to mention the distinctly unsettling roiling sensation he'd felt earlier, in seeing the man actually awake and moving about, behaving like himself and—and with his eyes open; too dark and too hot and seeing too much. Seeing right through him. Damn it all, anyway. He'd said he wanted friendship and now to know he wanted too much more, without any hope of having any of it, he was left without any options or alternatives. He'd already burned his bridge behind him, even before he'd known what it meant to him. Trust. The word felt empty and had a mocking ring to it. Did he truly deserve his current situation? He had no right to indulge in self-pity, not when he'd behaved so foolishly, hiding from the truth of his actions and his own heart. All he could do was try to preserve what was left of his dignity, which was precious little, and act as though he was merely unused to the company of pirates. Which was no lie. And attempt to cover the pain and mortifying humiliation of not knowing how to comport himself in the presence of someone who had unknowingly already become the most prominent star in his fantasy life. The doors opened and he flinched, sitting up straighter and feigning absorption in his book. Jack entered in his own clothes, with two more bottles of rum, the white shirt draped on his arm, some bandages, and an orange. He glanced at James and said, "We may be having our stitches removed tonight." "Oh, joy," James muttered. "Aye," Jack sighed. He placed the rum on the table, as well as the orange, and then went to the cabinet to place the bandages and the shirt beside the basin. Returning to the table, he slid back the chair on the far end and slouched in it. Reaching out for the bottle he'd already opened the previous night, he took a sip from it. "Your journal?" James started, looking over at him. He took a breath and closed it, not caring if the ink was wet. "Yes." Then wondered at the wisdom of acknowledging as much, with the possibility it would arouse Jack's curiosity. He put the book away in the drawer and stood, stretching. He rubbed at the bandage at his neck, wincing as he realized that he would indeed end up wanting a drink or two for that procedure. Jack took another swig of rum and said, quietly, "You weren't counting on having to put up with me here, were you?" James pulled a slight face. "To be honest, no. I hadn't thought about it." He went to the other end of the table, across from Jack, and sat down, toying with the idea that perhaps he'd been panicking and there really wasn't as much to fear here as he'd imagined. "Three more days... " "At the least," Jack put in. "The very least. Probably more." James grimaced. Jack's answering smile was less than reassuring. "I've not had to look far to see where young Will developed such a dim view on pirates, but you've got us completely skewed, mate." James looked over at him, suspiciously. "Somehow I doubt that." "You live by the Law; we live by the Code. Where you feel free to interpret the Law and how rigidly it applies to the specifics, we do the same. What's the difference?" Jack seemed to be genuinely asking it of him; James didn't get the impression it was a rhetorical question at all. James made an effort to meet his eye, and was surprised at how easy it was. Besides, Jack seemed actually to be making an effort to be civil, so the least he could do was return the favor. "The difference is that you live outside the Law, by your Code, which makes you an outlaw, and subject to receiving the consequences of it, regardless of your Code." Jack sat up, animated by this. "Your rules, then, can be broken by yourself and those that make them, but not the men who are subject to the power you hold?" Stiffly, James answered, "Laws are not open to interpretation. They are agreed upon by men who understand the nature of both themselves and the Laws that the Lord has set down. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal. I'm sure you're familiar with the rest." Jack snorted. "So if the King of England steals Spanish gold, it's his God-given right, but if the King of Spain or meself were to steal his silver, it's a crime punishable by death." James chuckled quietly and nodded. "Remind me never to debate theology with you, Jack." He threw him a look. "Or politics." Jack grinned back at him. "So what will you debate with me?" James made a very great effort not to drop his eyes to Jack's mouth, and congratulated himself on accomplishing it, remaining fixed on those eyes. Dark eyes. Lively eyes. "The wisdom of trusting a pirate ship to return to Port Royal and willingly give up sixty percent of the treasure she's carrying." Slyly, Jack said, "You still don't trust me, yet." "Whether I trust you or not on this point is immaterial, Jack, and you know it. I don't trust your crew. And frankly, neither should you." "But I should trust you?" Jack's question had the virtue of sounding sincere, but James was all too aware of the bite in it. James pressed his lips together, looking away. "Probably not," he admitted. Jack drummed his fingers on the table, the wood echoing with it. "Suppose I sailed the Pearl alongside your Dauntless, and you offered us a proper escort? Would you trust me then?" James regarded him at this, wondering what the flaw in this suggestion could be. "Both our crews are likely to be far too edgy, considering. Yours would probably mutiny on you." Jack looked rueful. "They probably would, at that." He brightened. "Although, if we made it forty-five percent instead, and I could tell 'em that you agreed to it to prove you valued our services in transporting it all." James smiled and looked down, snickering quietly and shaking his head. "You are, without a doubt, incorrigible beyond all hope." "Forty-two percent and a half?" Jack amended. James gave him a look askance. "Pray tell how anyone, least of all you and I, would be able to determine exactly two and a half percent less of sixty, to be left aboard your ship each time we arrive back at port." Jack squinted at him. "You'd be surprised how motivation encourages accurate mathematics, especially motivation of the doubloon variety. Down to the ha'penny and the single coin." Slowly, James said, "I believe you. But that doesn't solve the dilemma of why I should believe you'll keep to this vastly expensive undertaking and not simply flee the Caribbean upon being returned to your ship." "Aye," Jack agreed, more subdued. "I'd be a fool thrice-over if I didn't, 'ey?" James suppressed the twinge of pain in his chest rather admirably, he thought, as his heart clenched at the reminder that Jack really had no reason to remain at all, and had every reason to want to leave as quickly as he could manage. Particularly from this ship, and... from this commodore. He looked away, letting his gaze drop to the table between them. "You would," he decided, with a note of finality. Jack leaned back in his seat and stroked his chin. "Rather think we've come full circle, really." Letting out a breath, James answered, "The truth, then. We're returning you to your ship. And that's all." "And I'm not leaving the Caribbean, nor all that gold," Jack said, in an amused tone. James shot him a sharp look. "This isn't a game, Jack. If you keep playing it as one, you will end up on the gallows." "Will I?" Jack asked, enigmatically. "This is the fourth time you've had me in your custody, and you're about to let me go. Again. Seems like a game where you're concerned." A flush of heat took James by surprise. Before he could retort, Jack continued. "You're certainly playing it like one, mate. Could it be you've actually been enjoying the chase?" It didn't sound so much an accusation, as a suggestion. James looked down at the floor. "Possibly," he admitted. "If I die, the game ends," Jack stated. James most carefully did not look at him, afraid of what his eyes might reveal at that dire remark. "If you don't leave the Main, then you continue to play it, yourself; and the next time, there may not be an opportunity for you to continue to gamble with your life." Jack smiled, "Well, I'll just have to make sure I'm playing the game with you, and not someone else who doesn't savvy the rules, 'ey?" "I'm playing according to the Law. You're playing by your Code. I doubt that this 'game' as you call it is anything other than life and death." "Then why can't you see me to the gallows?" Jack asked. "What's changed?" James swallowed at this, with a little frown. "You did. Well, rather, my view of you." "Try seeing it from where I'm sitting," Jack urged. "What would you do, if you were me?" "I wouldn't be you, because you're a pirate," James pointed out. Jack rolled his eyes. "Humor me." James drew a breath at this, wondering if he indeed wanted to, at this point. It was already reaching the point of absurdity. Game, indeed. "If I were you, I wouldn't have returned to that damned island. I'd have left well enough alone and cut my losses." "Suppose you hadn't, though. What would you do now?" Jack asked, impatiently. James met his eye at this and gave a terse smile. "Get back to my ship and depart the Caribbean." Jack smiled back at him. "An' what would I do, if I were you?" He settled back, appearing to think on this. That was an interesting notion. James wondered at it, himself. When Jack didn't elaborate, James looked back at him, and saw that Jack was watching him. Slowly, significantly, Jack said, "It's hard to know what freedom is by staring out at the world from inside a cell." James digested this. Jack wasn't going to play it safely, because he enjoyed freedom too much to not take the risks life had to offer. Removing himself from their 'game' altogether was to play it safe, the way James himself played it. But James could hardly appreciate why Jack would be willing to take that risk, when he himself had never allowed himself to, even once. He nodded. "Very well. You take your chances outside the cage, whereas I live in the relative security of knowing that my days may number longer than yours." Jack smirked. "That's just like you, Commodore James. Always taking the gloomy view of things." "How would you put it, then?" "I take the risk of enjoying life, whereas you are afraid to." Jack's eyes glittered at him with this pronouncement. "In fact, you're even afraid to admit that you're bending those high and mighty laws carved in stone that you say you adhere to, while preaching at me that I should be living by them, and giving up my freedom for them." Slowly, James replied, "One conversation with you, and I'm very near to settling into a bottle of rum, myself." "It's a very good thing I brought up the other bottles then, isn't it?" Jack nodded at the two extra bottles of rum on the table. James gave a wry smile. "Not to mention for the removal of our stitches, later, which will require yet more." Jack's expression was one of shared camaraderie at this reminder, but he could see that Jack was not looking forward to it either. James considered the fact that he was going to have to sit and watch the ship's doctor pull stitches out of Jack's shoulder—from a wound that, although was apparently healing well, had been given to him by James himself. And now he would have to endure Jack's pain. Perhaps he deserved that, more than the cut on his neck he'd sustained. There was a knock on the door. "Enter," James called. The door opened and Officer Gillette stood there, his eyes going from James to the pirate, and back again, successively. "Sir, I wondered if I might have a word." James lifted a brow. "Come in, Gillette. There's no need to stand about in the door." Gillette came in and shut the cabin door he'd opened, his eyes going to the bottles of the rum on the table and an expression of worried distaste moved over him. Ignoring Jack Sparrow for the moment, and obviously ill at ease to be speaking to his superior in front of the pirate, Gillette cleared his throat. "We're making good time, Sir. But the men and I, well, we're wondering what we're going to do when we arrive at the island." James replied, dryly, "My orders were perfectly clear. We will be removing yet more of the illegal pirate cache from the cavern and transporting it back to Port Royal, again, for redistribution as before." "Well, yes, Sir, to be sure. But—" Gillette's eyes flickered at Jack and then back to James. "What about Sparrow, Sir?" he finally asked, outright. Jack was looking at the floor, and adopted a wondering look himself, his brows raised slightly. As if moderately curious. But he said nothing, interestingly remaining quiet. James turned a wry smile on Gillette. "Oh, I think we can manage to keep one pirate contained aboard a shipful of officers and fine soldiers, until such time as he can prove himself useful." Gillette stared back at him, bemused. "Useful, Sir?" "The Black Pearl, Gillette," James reminded him. "It will undoubtedly be returning when the crew decide to help themselves. Mr. Sparrow will be a decided advantage in helping them to understand that they cannot, in fact, simply make off with whatever suits them whenever they feel like it. We may not have proven ourselves to be much of a deterrent last time, but even, as you claimed, when they fired upon us they still turned tail and ran. It's unlikely they will want to engage us a second time." Proudly, Gillette lifted his chin. "To be sure, Sir. So he's our hostage?" James considered Jack who was yet staring at the floor while they discussed him. "Guest, however unwilling," James explained. Gillette thought this over. "Aye, Sir. I suppose supper is out of the question, then." James regarded him. "Seeing as Mr. Sparrow is going to be aboard until his ship shows, I'm afraid we'll be deprived of that luxury, yes." For it was the routine for the officers of the ship to dine in the captain's cabin—however unwilling such a task might be for some. It was bad form indeed for anyone to turn down such an invitation. Sparrow's presence aboard would provide a deterrent. "Very good, Sir," Gillette responded, a look of relief coming over him. James smiled dryly. "You many inform everyone that Mr. Sparrow is free to go where he pleases, but the weapons, the powder, the helm and the quarters belonging to the Mate and the Quartermaster are off-limits." "Ah. Very good, Sir," Gillette agreed, giving Jack a sterner glance. James wondered why Gillette had such a proprietary attitude concerning their prisoner, which Jack really was, even now. And he realized that it was much as he himself probably had appeared, if not more so. It was curious to note that he'd changed, and could now see the difference; relative to Gillette, Commodore James Norrington had already dealt with his immediate reaction to the pirate as a simple captive and was now well on his way to seeing the man as more than a random element or a catalyst in their dealings with the treasure of the Isle de Muerte. For it was pirate treasure, after all. Although stolen, to be sure, the Black Pearl, whatever crew aboard her now manned her, still had the most rights to it from their perspective. With a note of finality, James said, "Was there anything else, Lieutenant?" "I think that about covers it, Sir," Gillette agreed, seemingly accepting James's reasoning, as well as his orders. Although James knew it still confused his lieutenant, why he should first declare acceptance of a duel with the pirate and then take him prisoner without seeing him hung, only to have him aboard the Dauntless in his own cabin—only to let him go again. James sighed under his breath. But Gillette contented himself with another stern glance at Jack, almost a warning, and then nodded, leaving the cabin. When Gillette had gone, Jack observed, "That one's starting to wonder about you, Commodore James." "He is," James agreed. "And he can continue to wonder. I continue to wonder, myself. At this rate, he may figure it out before I do." Jack threw him a sharp look. "You'd better hope not. Seems to me your crew is starting to trust you about as much as mine trusts me. That doesn't bode well on a Navy ship, now does it?" James gave a tight smile. "I'm not sure which I find more alarming: the thought of them figuring it out before me, or you." Certainly James did wonder more than ever, how much Jack had already ascertained about him, even before he could attempt to explain it to any degree to himself. What Jack was really doing aboard. "Of course, that's assuming you'd want to know if I'd figured it out," Jack grinned, slightly dangerously. James raised a brow at him. "Have you?" "As if I'd tell you," Jack returned, instantly. Feeling at this point as though he really didn't have much to lose, James said, "Seeing as I haven't, I'd appreciate the gesture." "Would you believe me though?" Jack seemed amused. Once more, the word 'trust' rang a little hollow. But it was irrelevant now. Or was it? He wondered. "It comes down to that matter of trust, does it not?" "Trust?" Jack nodded, the almost inaudible jingles from that silver ornament distracting James momentarily. It looked Turkish. Or Moroccan. "I suppose. You can't trust me because you can't trust yourself. If you can't trust yourself, how can you expect me to trust you—or anyone else to trust you, for that matter?" "I can't trust you because you're a pirate," James replied, grimly. "I can't trust myself because I find that I want to trust you, despite your unfortunate calling in life." Jack's eyes dropped to the bottles of rum between them, and then lifted to meet his again. "That's... where you're wrong, you see? That's what you haven't figured out yet, mate." James frowned. "What is?" "You don't know what trust is, 'ey?" Jack stated, simply. "And it's not about trust, actually. That's also what you haven't figured out." "I see. And you have. Yet you won't tell me." James cast a sardonic glance at the cabin doors, wondering if Gillette had any idea. Or the others. Probably not. He'd spent too long cultivating such a hands-off and superior relationship with them that he was firmly above their ranks... and out of reach on any social or personal level. Hence the problem of Sparrow, and their confusion regarding his wavering on Sparrow's behalf. Jack let out a breath. "Happiness, Commodore." At James's surprised look, Jack added, "You're not happy. I was very happy, until you decided that making me unhappy was going to make you happy. Now that you've decided it doesn't, you're trying to make yourself happy by making me happy... by returning me to my ship." And he grinned. "Of course, that will make me very happy indeed. But then you're left with the problem of still being unhappy, aren't you?" James followed this path of thought, right to the end. Making Jack happy by returning him to his ship wasn't going to make him very happy at all, because at this point, he had admittedly figured out that not having Jack anywhere nearby was making him unhappy in the first place. He let out a breath of exasperated impatience with himself. The whole situation was vexing, and didn't appear to have the slightest ounce of satisfaction. Happiness. "The real question here is," Jack asked, slowly, in a careful tone of voice that James found abruptly disturbing, "why did you think that keeping me from my ship would make you happy?" "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" James slung at him, darkly. "It's better than chess," Jack agreed, cheerfully. After a moment's pause, James admitted, "I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought doing the right thing would... bring a measure of happiness." "Ah, but you're now doing the right thing in returning me to my ship—but that doesn't make you any happier, either," Jack pointed out, with a tone of self-possessed logic that James didn't like much. "You're saying that's not the point at all?" "That's exactly what I'm saying," Jack smiled at him. "So what is the point, Jack?" James demanded. Jack tilted his head and gave him a narrowed look of those dark eyes. "And there we are, mate. I'm not sure you'd believe me if I told you." James regarded the table again, wondering at the folly of insisting that Jack out the truth between them. He wondered if Jack must already know about the conflicting feelings he was suffering from where the pirate was concerned. In fact, he had to know, to be dancing around it this way, so pointedly. If Jack said it aloud, calling him out, and he denied it, Jack would merely claim that he'd been right to say James didn't believe him after all. James sighed through his nose. It was making his head hurt; it quite possibly hurt worse than his heart already did. He was already resigned to not having Jack; to have to play this game of denial now simply compounded the pain. He blinked, wondering if maybe that was another self-deception. Was he assuming that having Jack would... make him happy? He frowned. He wasn't even sure what that would entail; 'having' Jack. In what way? To simply have him near? Enjoy his company? He couldn't say that he'd been enjoying Jack's company in the slightest. At this point, he could hardly wait to return the man to his ship and hope that Jack would actually flee the Caribbean after all. "Miss Elizabeth made you unhappy," Jack commented. "So you thought that if you made me unhappy, you'd feel better. But to try to make yourself happy at someone else's expense... It doesn't work that way. Unless you're very cruel and enjoy watching people suffer. Which you aren't, are you?" "Certainly not," James agreed, stiffly. Although the entire thread of this conversation was growing distinctly unsettling, veering far too closely to the matter of his heart... and the helplessness he felt regarding Jack. "You're assuming that, in lieu of a wife, having a friend will make you happy," Jack stated, meaningfully, staring at him. James looked away from him again, not sure what to make of the serious expression Jack wore now. "I suppose you're right," he said, in a low voice. "I was assuming that. But not anymore." He closed his eyes. God, he was saying too much. This was worse than he'd feared. It was too strange and unreal, too threatening, to have Jack so effortlessly voicing the relentless truth of his own conscience. Even the parts he hadn't wanted to see. But maybe that was what he really wanted from Jack. From the very beginning. So why? Why this? James considered the freedom Jack had. He'd been jealous of Jack's freedom and lack of confinement to the very laws James kept trying to force upon him. That was the key. Freedom; from the same prison cell he'd put Jack in, repeatedly. "I'm supposed to believe," James stated, slowly, "that happiness is synonymous with freedom?" Jack gave him a quizzical look. "What do you believe, 'ey?" James considered this. "You gave Elizabeth the freedom to choose Will," Jack pointed out, gently. "And then you gave me my freedom. The question is, why won't you give yourself the freedom you long for? Or is it freedom that you want?" James stated, "You desire freedom. I desire happiness." Interestingly, Jack's eyes slid away at this. James continued, "You enjoy your freedom, so obviously. You enjoy your life. I suppose, in a way, I envied you that happiness. Which is why it was wrong for me to try to take it from you. It only made me unhappier in the long run. So I'll return you to your ship, and you can do as you please. You can take your chances, even it brings you to the gallows," he added, bitterly. "That's not the point here though," Jack argued. "All that really matters is whether or not you're happy, and what would make you so. What would make you enjoy your life more?" James looked down. "I'm not sure." Dryly, Jack said, "Not more hangings, then." James smiled at this. Of that he was very sure. "I've never enjoyed the necessity of killing a man. Even those of your former crew," he reminded Jack. "Or maybe especially those of your crew. I had the opportunity. I discovered that hanging men brings me no pleasure." Jack grimaced at this though. "To be sure. They weren't the best sort." James stared back at him now. "As I've said to you, I have no wish to see you dead. Seeing you upon the gallows brought me no happiness then, and it never will." "Neither will seeing me free," Jack pointed out. James looked down at the rum bottles, watching as the liquid sloshed in them with the roll and gentle heave of the ship. "Nor seeing you in a cell." "Or seeing me at all," Jack said, perceptively. Too close, far too close to home. James drew in a shuddering breath. "Indeed." He flicked a glance at Jack. "Pirates," he commented, darkly. But the damage was done and he could feel the heat in his face once more. However much he tried to step away from it, he knew now. Jack was already very aware of the cause of his distress. He felt trapped, as trapped as he'd tried to ensure that the pirate was, days before. He waited for Jack to say it, to say anything that might end it, here and now; something that would hint at the fact that however broken his heart might have been in the wake of Elizabeth's rejection, he now lay vulnerable and broken before Jack, even before the man had to say a word. He closed his eyes and swallowed, and wondered if the word 'mercy' meant anything at all in the present moment. It did to him. Would Jack share that particular understanding? Or would he offer pity, instead? Jack's voice filtered in through the pained heat he felt inside. "It seems to me," Jack said, lazily, "that you're looking to me to tell you the answer. Perhaps I'm leaping to conclusions, but it's simply a process of elimination. The Law doesn't make you very happy, nor enforcing it. Nor did Miss Swann. Nor bein' a most feared Pirate Hunter in these parts. Probably because you're not very happy being a commodore, Commodore." James felt a curious mixture of relief and disappointment. Pity it was to be, then. Or Jack really didn't know, yet, how far down the path of madness his broken heart had sailed. "I don't have anything else," he stated, stoically. Jack laughed quietly. "At the moment," he pointed out in a reasonable tone, "you still have me. But I'm thinking that my being a pirate complicates things somewhat, 'ey?" James's heart skipped a beat, and a tinge of panic went through him at this. "I would have thought that your being a pirate in fact cancels out any possibility of 'having you' here. Particularly as I am, in fact, that feared Pirate Hunter and by all accounts should have seen you to the gallows from the start." "Ah, to be sure. But if I weren't a pirate, I wouldn't be here in the first place, would I?" Jack smirked at him. "Come to think of it, the dear Miss Swann had a bit of a pirate in her blood too, 'ey? Which might explain your attraction for the lass." James blinked at this. Dear God, the insufferable man was right. Elizabeth's high-spirited quality... her passion and humor. Aching, he said, "Then what I've been refusing to see all along was merely the fact that pirates are not simply the violent and repulsive villains I believed them to be." "Some," Jack qualified. "Some are, some aren't. Take young Mr. Turner, for example. He's still struggling with the fact that his father was a good man, as well as a pirate." He grinned at James. "Much like yourself, Commodore. You struggle with that one even now." James looked back at him, wishing in that very instant that he didn't have to find Jack so overwhelmingly alluring. "Not at all. I've already accepted that you are a good man, Jack." Jack's brows rose. "Have you now? So you do trust me, then?" The implication was that he trusted himself, and knew himself—which was almost as bad as admitting aloud—or having Jack state aloud—that he, James Norrington, feared Pirate Hunting Commodore of the Royal Navy, was in love with a pirate. He didn't answer, wondering if the shiver than ran through him was perceptible, or caused by heat, or chill. And he hated the fact that they were now both of them dancing around it. "We've been over this," he muttered. "I'm not here because I'm a pirate, then?" Jack asked, shrewdly. "Nor because I'm a good man?" James clenched his teeth, and wondered if Jack was deliberately pushing him. Undoubtedly; he must be. A pirate, after all. He gave Jack a look askance. "At this point, I don't much care." Jack adopted a wounded expression. "You don't?" In an irritable voice, James repeated, "No. I don't." He feared it sounded petulant, and at the moment he didn't care about that either. All he wanted was for his life to seem simpler again, not filled with this distressing... distressing longing. It was unbecoming of him. Jack reached for his bottle, the opened one. Taking a drink from it, he said, "That's the first outright lie you've told me to my face, Commodore James." James had to laugh at this, humorlessly, under his breath. "Are all pirates as pedantic as you?" "Some," Jack said. "That's what the Code's for, you know." He gave James an uncertain look. "But you probably don't." James saw the way Jack was favoring his shoulder and something slid into place in his mind. "Considering how raw my neck is, I doubt you're ready to have those stitches removed yet. Did you bribe the doctor? Or have you plans after the night is over, that requires having them pulled tonight?" Jack gave a smirk and actually looked... caught. "Didn't manage to see him but for a moment. I did wonder what you would do." James let out an exasperated breath. "What did he really say? What is the verdict on your injury?" "At least another week," Jack said, with another drink of the rum, referring to the stitches. So it was all for effect then, again, and Jack was consistently gauging his reactions. James felt slightly ill. There was no way Jack didn't know what he was going through, here. He began to feel angry, as well as humiliated. Although why he should feel any shame whatsoever for feeling concern at the thought of Jack in pain, he had no idea. He stood up, and stretched. "I need some air," he muttered, going to put on his hat and coat. At the doors, he stopped and turned to regard Jack, who was watching him with an inexplicable look on his face. "I doubt even you could finish three bottles off on your own, but you might want to consider keeping some for the stitches." He left the cabin, wondering why he felt as though he was running from Jack. Glumly, he realized that was exactly what he was doing. Anything to spend some time away from the pirate. He had to give himself some time, some space, away from the man, to deliberate what options he might have. So far, pursuing the friendly course wasn't working; Jack already knew he was compromised, at least where his heart was concerned. And he couldn't trust anything Jack might say or do now, as Jack was still in essence a captive prisoner and therefore unable to say or do what he might truly want—where James himself was concerned. A part of him longed to see the pirate back down below in the brig so he would at least have his cabin to himself again. That way he could ensure that the night would be his also, and not have to spend it restlessly and keenly aware of Jack sleeping near him. Which only served to remind him of the painfully embarrassing fact that last night they had ended up in a strange reversal of their positions, with Jack in the captain's cabin and himself... in the brig. He supposed that was an adequate and more accurate assessment of their situation, really. James stalked coldly forward, wishing he'd left well enough alone and let the damned pirate captain simply sail off with his treasure. It seemed the ship and the gold were truly the only things Jack valued. Let him keep them.
He was looking forward to simply ridding himself of the irritation and heartbreak the entire matter had come to mean to him.
* * *
Jack thoughtfully took another mouthful of rum, considering Norrington's temper. They were nearing that edge now, the one that had pushed Norrington to accept his offer of that duel. Only now he was aware, as Norrington was, that this time it wouldn't reach the point of dueling. It wouldn't be long before Norrington broke down. Considering how tightly-strung the Commodore was, Jack wasn't at all certain it would be a good idea for the man to drink much, if any. It was likely to be a highly emotional and messy scene otherwise. Taking another swig, he gratefully felt the rum beginning to lift free certain tangled pieces of this knotted problem, allowing him to see them more clearly. Norrington wanted him, but was afraid to allow himself to, and with good reason. The man simply was not in a position to let himself do something so 'reprehensible' as admit feelings for another man. But Jack also remained Norrington's involuntary guest, so until such time as he managed to escape, he was dependent on Norrington's interest in his welfare. Surely the Commodore realized that a 'good man' could hardly return his interest at this point, without it being merely an exploitation of his feelings? Jack ruminated on this. It was as before; Norrington wasn't a bad sort, and if he'd had the mind to, it might have been fun. But a Commodore who believed he was in love was all too likely to swing back the other way if he suspected Jack was playing him false. And Jack's shoulder and subsequent days imprisoned in the brig and the prison bore witness to that. By not openly discussing it, they were both tacitly pretending it wasn't an issue. Norrington could hardly admit it outright, without compromising himself as a Commodore... and a gentleman. So the task fell to Jack, as the 'evil pirate' to out the man? Jack grimaced. This was going to be very unpleasant. And that little game with the journal—as if he was expected to go read it, thus proving even more of Norrington's assumptions about pirates being utterly shameless thieves, voyeurs and scoundrels who had no respect for people's privacy. He chuckled to himself, imagining what was probably the last entry: 'Jack, if you're reading this, you shouldn't be. Pirate.' Well, of course. He was a pirate, and proud to call himself one. Jack's eyes narrowed as he took another swallow of rum. Clear, amber-clear now. Glancing over at the cabinet behind him, he saw the mirror and realized he hadn't reapplied the smut beneath his eyes in a long time... Norrington was no doubt wondering why he wore it. It always got the most interesting reactions, even despite the originally innocent reasons he'd adopted it after the African tribes who'd introduced him to it. For the sun, and medicinal purposes... but it always garnered such attention and hilarious responses. He retrieved it from his effects and reapplied it, carefully, wondering if Norrington would even realize that he was doing so for the Commodore's benefit. Norrington was counting on Jack's so-called nature as a pirate and debaucher to save Norrington from his little repressed Navy self, so afterwards his conscience could be square and clean and he could even tell himself Jack had tempted him to sin. Although, he knew that the Commodore wasn't too happy to have to be having feelings like this for a pirate—and a man—in the first place. It wasn't easy for him. As if it was supposed to be easy for Jack. As if it was his fault that Norrington had a hard-on for him. Talk about placing a man in an awkward position. Jack sighed, put the black smudge away, and sat down in the chair at the table once more, slumping. And while aboard the H.M.S. Dauntless... sweet Jesus—as if this was any sort of a place to be conducting this kind of delicate procedure. It wasn't merely a matter of honor or reputation. He could very well end up in the brig again. In fact... Jack sat up. That was it. That was the solution. Norrington had a choice: he could treat Jack as a guest, or he could treat him... as a pirate. But he'd have to make up his mind. Though, the Commodore's heart was likely to make it up for him; Jack chuckled and grabbed the bottle for another drink. He heard voices outside the cabin, and realized Norrington would be coming back in soon. He put the rum down and reached over to grab the orange. As he began to peel it, Jack considered the most likely course the evening would take. Dinner would be interesting but strained; Norrington would be unable to enjoy it and would no doubt be offended that he, Jack, wasn't suffering an equal measure of indigestion over the state of Norrington's broken heart. Although, to be sure, Jack wasn't looking forward to it either. As the orange peel grew longer in a circular fashion, Jack wondered if he could possibly get away with actually doing anything with the man. Unlikely, particularly as Norrington's sensibilities would be so shocked at actually having physical contact with him, a foul and disturbingly male pirate, that Norrington would go into an apoplexy of self-disgust and blame afterwards. Miss Swann was partly to blame, really; why she couldn't have accepted the man was really beyond him. Young Will was quite young; the lad had a lot to learn about himself, about Elizabeth, about women, and about life. Norrington was the wiser, and would have offered her so much more. And Norrington was the sort of gentleman who, once he gave his heart away, would idealistically devote himself to the object of his affections without reservation. Now that was worth remembering. If he wanted Norrington, he had him. Jack stopped, considering the length of the orange peel. It was long... and still unbroken. Carefully, he attempted to keep it in one piece, nearing the bottom of the orange. Did he want Norrington? A very interesting opportunity. As long as it remained on his terms. He wondered if Norrington could even handle having a long-distance affair with a pirate. Most unlikely. But not impossible. The cabin doors opened and Norrington returned inside, shutting the doors behind him and giving Jack an accusatory glance. Jack ignored this, and triumphantly peeled off the last of the bottom of the orange, holding it up in one long strip. Setting it down on the table to curl into an empty remnant of its original shape, Jack selected a segment of the orange and ate it, furtively noticing how Norrington appeared to not know what to do with himself, hovering by his desk. "I didn't sneak a read of it, 'ey? Your little book's safe from me," Jack informed him. Norrington blinked at him a couple of times. "It's my log. I doubt you'd find anything revealing in it." Jack grinned over the orange, selecting another segment. "You'd be surprised." Norrington removed the coat and hat and put them up. Returning to the table across from Jack, he sat down. He eyed the orange peel dubiously. Jack asked, "Do you want a piece?" Norrington's eyes flickered, as though he might say yes. He looked away. "No, thank you," he said, a hint of dryness in his voice. Jack gave a half-smile and ate another segment of the orange. As if accepting orange slices from a pirate were anything like accepting apples from the Tree. "I'm hardly the serpent," he commented, under his breath. "I beg your pardon?" Norrington asked, as if surprised. Jack shot him a look. "I'm not Lucifer, and this isn't the Garden, mate. You're quite safe, I assure you." Norrington looked worried. Jack continued, picking off another orange segment, "Taking a bite of orange isn't the equal of Biblical sin, now is it?" Norrington regarded him, looking for all the world as though he suspected a form of trickery somehow. "Very well." Jack chewed, and raised his brows, motioning. At Norrington's acceptance, he stood, and went around the table to where Norrington sat, and selected a segment for him. Norrington made as if to take it, reaching. Jack shook his head, withdrawing slightly. "Open your mouth," he suggested, smiling. Norrington flushed, his eyes widening, looking as if he didn't know whether to be outraged or afraid. He was probably both. And gulped, looking up at Jack with a nervous and accusing expression, unable to look away. Jack gestured with the segment, as if impatient. "Well?" He held it before Norrington, waiting. Norrington's eyes narrowed and despite his obvious discomfiture, he opened his mouth. Jack slipped the orange segment between the Commodore's parted lips and then broke off another one for himself. Norrington chewed, but he looked like he was having difficulty breathing. Nonchalantly, Jack ate the piece he held, and raised his brows at him again. "Not bad, is it?" He gestured with the remainder of the orange. "Another one?" Norrington shook his head. With a smile, Jack turned and went to sit back down at the other end of the table. Jack glanced at him. Norrington looked thoughtful. Conversationally, he said, "You know, mate, it's only a suggestion, but you may want to consider the possibility that I'm not, in fact, a bad pirate, but a good one. Contrary as that may sound." He removed another orange segment and held it up to the light from the window. Norrington was looking at the floor. Jack was certain that Norrington would never look at oranges the same way again. He was beginning to find this situation they were both in rather interesting, himself. He popped the segment into his mouth, and regarded those that were left. He flicked a glance up at Norrington. "Are you quite sure you won't have one more?" he asked, casually. Norrington looked back at him, and Jack almost had to catch his breath at the depth of the pain in the man's eyes. Now this was more to the point. Gallows, prison cells, duels... this was where it had been going, all along. With a visible effort, Norrington straightened and steeled himself. "Very well," he answered. "One more." Jack didn't get up. "Your turn, this time." He gave him a smile. And carefully selected a segment that would be large enough for what he had in mind, but not too big... Norrington hadn't moved. Jack gestured for him to come over. "You're very safe, Commodore James. I promise." Norrington sighed almost inaudibly and got up, walking over to stand before Jack. "Just give it to me." Jack looked up at him, guilelessly. "Trust me," he said. And held it up between them. Norrington leaned down to take it between his parted lips. But Jack slowly began to draw it closer to himself, before placing it between his teeth, leaving a good portion of it for Norrington to take. Norrington straightened, standing in what looked like a mingling of fear, anger, and indecision. Jack waited, holding his gaze, not biting the orange. Norrington stared down at him, those green eyes filled with... want, and fear. Finally, he sucked the piece of orange into his mouth and chewed it, selecting another from the dwindling pieces. "Right then, one last time?" he asked, casually. The expression of pure distress on Norrington's face was really quite touching. "It won't hurt," Jack said, in a low voice, meeting his eyes. And he placed the segment between his lips a second time. A wince of panic crossed Norrington's face and to Jack's edification, he quickly leaned down to bite the segment, orange juice splattering both their lips. Norrington's mouth was on his in the next instant, their lips pressed together, hard, Norrington bending over him to push his head back farther, kissing him with an intensity that shot a bolt of heat through Jack's belly. Norrington's hand stole to Jack's right shoulder, and Jack swallowed the bit of orange, opening his lips against the other man's, to allow the tip of his tongue to dart out. But at it, Norrington pulled back as if stung. He stood, staring down at Jack with a betrayed expression. "I—I... No. No, I can't." And he turned away, returning to the chair at the far end of the table. He didn't look at Jack as he said, "I can't do this." "You can. You want to." Jack licked his lips, tasting the orange juice and the other man's mouth still upon him. It had been better than he'd thought it would be. Hotter, sweeter. "Maybe you're right," he added, with a sigh. "It might be very inadvisable. What with you being a commodore and me being Captain Jack Sparrow, after all." He prided himself on delivering this with the right note of jauntiness and mockery. He ate the last two segments together. Norrington took a deep breath. "I don't know what I was thinking. This is madness." "Aye, it usually is," Jack agreed, eyeing the rum. It was going to be a long afternoon. And a longer evening. Norrington wore the face of a man who had given up. Brightly, Jack said, "Just between the two of us, I think Miss Elizabeth really didn't know what she was passing up." He gave a sardonic grin. "With either of us." Norrington was quiet. At length, he said in a low voice, "You lied." As Jack swiftly glanced over at him with a frown, Norrington continued, "You said it wouldn't hurt." "If you'd stop fighting it," Jack said, letting his voice trail meaningfully. He felt a creeping doubt of misgiving at the tone in Norrington's voice though. Norrington met his gaze straight on, not even attempting to hide the anguish he was so obviously feeling. "And what is this to you? A dalliance? An attempt to ensure your continued safety with me?" Jack sobered, looking away; feeling not a little betrayed himself at this. "When you've decided that I can be trusted, Commodore James, you let me know." "Is this mercy, or pity?" Norrington pressed, sounding a tad angrier. Jack held up a hand. "That," he said, "is a very interesting question. You tell me: are you letting me return to my ship out of mercy... or is it pity?" "Neither," Norrington snapped. Jack's brows rose. "Pray tell?" He was surprised, to say the least. "Guilt," Norrington replied, brusquely. "Which you know very well, after all that has been said." "You want this, but you can't let yourself have it; is that it?" Jack enquired, wanting to be clear. Norrington's eyes fluttered, and he looked away again, as if beholding Jack was pain enough. "I can't afford to, and, I think, neither can you." Jack went silent, thinking this over. Norrington couldn't afford to allow himself to have something for himself alone that wasn't somehow earning credit in Heaven or that fit the rigid, narrowly predetermined social bounds of moral conduct. Sad, really. Very sad. "Is that your final word?" "It will have to be, won't it?" Norrington said, slowly, sounding melancholy. "Well," Jack said, standing up. "That's very final, indeed. I am free to go anywhere aboard your ship, aye?" Norrington's brow creased. "Yes, as I said." Jack gathered his effects, including his coat and hat... notably his sword and pistol also, and casually walked to the doors. "Wh-where are you going?" Norrington asked. "Removing meself from your presence, so as not to present the temptation," Jack said, turning to catch his eye. Norrington looked stricken. "But—you can't..." he said, helplessly. Jack tilted his head at him. "Are you forbidding it?" Wounded anger underscored Norrington's reply. "No. Do as you please." Jack inclined his head, and opened the cabin doors, leaving Norrington to think it over, and shutting them behind him. He wondered how many hours it would take for Norrington to break, and come seeking him out. It wouldn't take him long to figure out where he was, once Norrington crumbled. Jack found he wasn't even really all that worried. Norrington just needed some time to think it through, and realize that this was what they'd both been edging towards, since they'd first met. He'd been surprised, actually, at how swiftly Norrington had given in and allowed himself to be drawn into that kiss. He hadn't expected Norrington to do anything but take offense, reject him. Hit him, even. The passion and intensity of Norrington's kiss had been a revelation. The man's desperation and sincerity was quite humbling, really. Glumly, Jack resigned himself to a few hours of patience in the dark. James Norrington was bound to come round. It was fear and wounded pride, that was all. As he went below, Jack tasted oranges and desire lingering on his lips.
* * *
James sat in the chair before the table, wondering what had happened, where he had gone wrong, and why he had given into Jack's game. For it couldn't have been anything other than a game. To just... leave, like that. For God's sake, what did the man think—that he could just crook his finger and expect him to fall at Jack's feet? To his knees? He closed his eyes. He practically had. He'd fallen for it, completely. If Jack had any doubt about where his heart lay, he did no longer. James had played into it like a lamb to the slaughter. His own accusation, hurled so glibly the night before, about Jack's no-doubt considerable seductive abilities, rang in his own ears. But to kiss him... Jack's all-too-easy playful gesture of feeding him that slice of orange... James opened his eyes and looked over to where the empty chair still sat, devoid of Jack Sparrow. Damn the man. Placing that slice of orange between his lips, inviting. Taunting. That pleading expression in the seemingly innocent, dark eyes. And freshly painted, all too obviously. It was infuriating. James growled in frustration. Jack had known exactly what he was doing. And, oh God, that kiss... The crushing sweetness of it, to finally taste those lips, to feel them under his own. Softer, so much warmer than he'd imagined. Heat flooded his face anew at the memory. Warm, gentle, too inviting, too good. His mouth burned and, absently licking his lips, he still tasted traces of orange on them. That flick of Jack's hot, wet tongue—oh God, no. It had been too much. He'd had to stop, or else endanger both of them by taking the man then and there. Did Jack have no conception of the risks? Did he have no idea of just how... tempting he was? He must. He had to. Which meant it was deliberate. 'Removing himself from presenting the temptation'... James's face hardened once more. It wasn't fair. He'd fallen for the one person that he shouldn't. A man and a pirate. It was overwhelming, engulfing, and too much. Far too soon. He couldn't take all of it at once, without drowning, without going mad. It was like a fever; rushing through him, seizing his senses and dashing them against the rocks of duty, obligation and what was right. Expected. How could he allow himself to take what was so freely offered, after he'd convinced himself it could never happen? It was terrifying. It was anything but safe. That was an irony, in itself. Jack had claimed he was quite safe, consistently so. And he was anything but. One kiss wasn't enough! One touch, one moment stolen out of all the loneliness, heartache and dreams unfulfilled for so long. It had been far too long since he'd allowed himself to seek out the touch of another. He'd been saving himself for Elizabeth, in fact. And now, to have that one, fleeting taste of it. Bloody hell. He wished he'd never given into it, because now he could only yearn for more. And for it to be Jack Sparrow... God. The shame of it; the man probably had people throwing themselves at him, begging to be allowed to commit that sin, only discovering afterwards that it really didn't mean as much as all that. All too alluring and inviting. This would drive him mad. It had already driven him half-mad, and reduced him to a fragment of his former pride. Jack had deduced his feelings accurately and then proceeded to peel his emotional defenses away from his heart exactly like that orange, and then had consumed it with as much carefree unconcern. And now to be left sitting here with nothing. A vacancy that all too soon would be permanent. Perhaps he was a fool not to take it now and be damned later. What else did he have? He had to close his eyes against the pain that realization caused to well up once more, within him. The prick of heat behind his eyelids was unwanted. For God's sake, he couldn't lose that much dignity... over a pirate. But it wasn't just anyone, it was Jack. And as much as he might shame himself by having to blink away these unwanted tears that threatened, he couldn't lie to himself even now. Especially now. The thought of losing him. To lose him... He shouldn't have pushed Jack away. The notion that it was a sinful, shameful desire, to want him—only had a place in him so long as he ignored what his heart had already told him. That there is no shame in love. No shame in feeling it. The shame and guilt was in pushing it away. The problem was, Jack couldn't be serious. It had to be a game. It hadn't felt like one. But maybe Jack was testing him. Seeing how committed he was to wanting this. How compromised he was. That issue of trust again raised its ugly head, and he considered the possibility that Jack would betray him. Jack would be well within his rights, actually, considering how he'd treated Jack so far. He could be ruined; destroyed utterly. James frowned, remembering something Jack had uttered earlier, however. About happiness, and the truth of their intentions. Jack wasn't going to leave the Caribbean... and he was going to let Jack go. If he believed that, and of all the things Jack had said this day it had the truest ring of sincerity in it, then he could quite conceivably believe that in letting him go, Jack... might come back to him. A wistful sort of hope whispered inside of his breast at this, countering the sodden, leaden sensation dragging upon his heart. This strange alliance he'd formed with the pirate—it had all the makings of a play. A game. He admitted to playing it. But when all was said and done, and the play and masks were stripped away, all that was left was the bare truth: two men alone, each with a heart and the need for happiness. For Jack, that happiness was freedom. For himself, it was... Jack. Swallowing at the simplistic revelation, James wondered if it was too easy. But already he felt lighter inside, and could see a way through. A careful one, a path that didn't entail hangings, or conflict, or even pain and loss, and unrequited love. A secret. Well, it would certainly be dangerous. But considering Jack Sparrow's love of risks in his 'game of life', that wouldn't be enough to deter him, if he wanted it also. So it came down to himself alone. A secret affair, he mused. It might just work. He was a little thrown by how pleasant this thought was, in fact, and decided he was glad Jack had left the cabin for a time. Just to give him the space to think. It was impossible to think when the man was around. He could afford to let himself have this, for himself alone. Elizabeth had broken his heart so completely; was he in danger of making the same mistake again? There was the whole concept of it being entirely against the law, but at this point, he realized what Jack had said was true also; when kings and magistrates behaved with hypocritical corruption and the intent to do harm to others, it was between themselves and God, how they would be judged. If he was to be damned for loving a man, a pirate, so be it. His own conscience was still clear, in having let Jack go that day. He knew it was right. Therefore it could hardly be wrong to love him. If it felt right. He thought on this, wondering if there might be some fatal flaw in his reasoning. Was he merely trying to rationalize it away so he could have what he wanted? Was it corrupt? He'd seen far worse, in his time. And it had the advantage of being more than carnal lust; he knew that to his core. Jack had confounded him at first by causing him to question his set principles, his ideas of what constituted good and bad, right and wrong. Every step he took along the path Jack took however led him to believe all the more that, so long as he followed his own conscience and his own path, there was no reason why they couldn't walk side by side, in parallel. He sat for a long time, weighing the alternatives. As the afternoon faded from the sky and Jack still didn't return to the cabin, James knew it was up to him to seek him out and attempt to convince him to come back. No doubt it would be horribly humiliating in so many innumerable ways. At this point, he didn't care. In fact, he felt so much lighter, that he realized he'd come to a point of balance inside, having finally harmonized his mind with his feelings. And really, he could do no more than to offer some form of continued alliance with Jack now, whether as friends, or more. He stirred himself, and went out, to ensure affairs were order and that the ship was on course, and all was well. The mood of the men seemed rather piquant; from what he could ascertain they were looking forward to gathering the treasure—something of the lure of touching gold, probably. But they were also hoping to engage the pirates again. James found he was actually hoping that it wouldn't be necessary. He wondered yet again if he were going soft. As he went to go below deck, he saw one of his men coming up to him. "Ah, Mr. Stephens." "Aye, Sir," the soldier said. "The Lieutenant said you'd want supper for two brought." "Yes. Be sure to include the claret, as well," James said. "And Mr. Stephens, have you seen our erstwhile guest, the pirate?" "I 'aven't, Sir," Stephens said. "Shall I 'ave a look for 'im?" "No, don't bother. I'll find him. Just see to it than supper is left for us." "Aye, Sir; that I will." James looked about the deck, and saw the sun was now already sinking down beneath the horizon. There were a few gray puffs of cloud in the sky, hinting with purple as the last light of the sunset painted them. Sighing, he realized where Jack would have gone. Making his way down to the brig, down the ladder and along the bowels of the ship, he nearly stumbled as he edged along in the dark. He knew the way, but his eyes still hadn't acclimatized to the darkness. He should have brought a torch. There was enough of a dim light however, that he began to see. Going to stand before the cell Jack had been in before, he saw, sure enough, Jack Sparrow lying in it. The door of the cell was even open. Leaning against the bars, James said, indulgently, "Are you going to stay down here all night?" Jack's gold grin was visible even in the dark. "That rather depends on you, now doesn't it?" Lightly, James said, "I shudder to even try to bring myself to contemplate your upbringing. I was told never to eat between meals. No doubt that orange has ruined your appetite." "Funny," Jack murmured, from the dark floor of the cell. "Had the opposite effect on me, I must say." James felt his face go hot once more, at the knowing and suggestive tone in Jack's voice. Replying in a rather mournful tone, he said, "Yes, for me also, I'm afraid." "Did it now?" Jack drawled, and he chuckled quietly. "You're a piece of work, Commodore James. You do know that, don't you?" James was abruptly brought back to the fact that he was standing in almost exactly the same spot he'd been the night before, when he'd allowed himself to indulge in imagining this very same pirate here with him. "As are you, Jack." "No," Jack corrected him, moving and sounding as though he was getting to his feet. "I'm a pirate. That's different. Very different." Wryly, James replied, "As you no doubt intended, I've changed my mind. I therefore request the, ah, temptation of your presence above, for dinner." With a smile James could hear, Jack asked, "An' if I refuse?" James said seriously, "I suppose we'd have to dine down here, then. Although it doesn't seem very comfortable. Why you would choose to come down here of your own accord is quite beyond me." Jack leaned against the bars closer to the open door and James could make out his eyes, even his face now. "Have you ever been on the inside, Commodore?" he asked, curiously, a hint of... something, in his voice. A wave of excitement broke over James and he abruptly found it thudding through his body, settling in his groin. "I can't say that I have, actually." "Well," Jack said, sprightly, "you should try it." James regarded him in the dark. "Is that an invitation?" he asked, quietly, hoping Jack could hear more than what the simple words conveyed. "It always has been," Jack answered. "Though it's taken you long enough, 'ey?" "I'm sure you can overlook that, seeing as I'm not a pirate," James reminded him. "Don't be so certain," Jack grinned at him. "Remember that business about the Law and the Code? Only someone possessing the flair of a pirate would let themselves start interpreting laws and such. Letting pirates go, letting them out of prisons, letting them dry their clothes on Navy ships. Not to mention letting them do absolutely filthy things with common fruits." James smiled wryly, and stepped to the opening, joining Jack inside the cell. "You are anything but a common fruit." "You're sure, after sampling the one time, are you?" James replied in a voice gone thick, "I may have to try once more, to be certain." Jack turned around, leaning against the bars, and James stepped up against him, careful not to press Jack's left shoulder, but allowing himself to lean forward...The pure delight in pressing Jack back into the bars, trapped between them and his own body, was too good, and apparently Jack was of the same opinion, for James heard his indrawn breath at it. Looking down at him, James asked, "And what does your 'Code' say about the relations between pirate captains and Navy commanders?" "Fraternizing with the enemy," Jack mused. "Not sure if I remember 'at one. You might have to jog me memory." James leaned down to capture Jack's mouth under his, taken aback at how easy it was, and yet how overpowering the simple, delicious sensation of claiming those lips again turned out to be. And Jack's lips were warmer than he remembered. And still as soft, but that tongue—he sought it out, eagerly, wondering if something that was so hot, so slippery against his own, but that tasted so good, could be called wicked. God, he was drowning. Jack's choked moan as he pushed the slighter man up against the bars was enough to pull at his cock, the sound tugging it to hardness, and he realized he was in danger of throwing caution to the wind and just seeking completion against him then and there. His breath came too short, he couldn't breathe, and he was pushing Jack up against the bars too hard, and it was all he could do to pull back and gasp out, "We can't do this here. Someone will come looking for me." Jack paused, waiting, and then said, dryly, "Well, if you'll give me the chance to move, love." James remembered himself and stepped back, letting Jack sidle out from between him and the cell and go gather up his things with a quiet snicker. "I do recall now," Jack commented, picking up his sword and then his hat. "Something in me own Articles, about fraternizing with the Navy. It's a recent addition of course, quite new." "Really?" James said, with more of a statement than an enquiry. "Aye, just tonight," Jack grinned. "Now, after you, Commodore, unless you want to sup down here with me an' and the rats. Although I have to say, I do have a complaint about the rats." James preceded him out of the cell. "What about them?" "Substandard, really. They don't taste very good." "You aren't supposed to eat them, Jack. They're there to give the place an air of authenticity." James walked ahead to the ladder. "And what does this addendum have to say regarding the Navy?" "The details are somewhat cloudy; I expect you'll have to help me with 'em." "I'm sure we can thrash it out over dinner," James mused. As they made their way above deck, Jack leaned in and said in an undertone, "I'll bet you don't spend much time down there, do you, mate?" James blinked, wondering if he ought to illuminate him. "You might be surprised." Jack was quiet, then muttered, "Well, what other nasty tricks do you have up your sleeve, then, I wonder? A taste for the cane?" James looked down at him with a smile. "Oh, I wouldn't worry, Jack. You're 'quite safe'." At having his words tossed back at him, Jack's eyes narrowed. "Let me guess. You really dislike oranges." As they walked towards his cabin, James said, in a quiet voice, "Better than rum, I expect. But I would have preferred something a little more verbal." Acidly, Jack said, "Well, let me know which tongue you want me to address you with, next time." James frowned at him, and stopped, his hands on the cabin doors, saying, "You mean 'undress', don't you?" Flinging them open, he went inside, wondering if he'd seen anything more delightful than that little startled look on Jack's face. Suppressing a chuckle, James went to light the candles, and the two lamps. Casually, he glanced around at Jack who stowed his effects once more on the other side of the cabin where the hammock rings were. He leaned to light the lamp on his desk. "I believe that's our supper, on the table." With a wary note that James caught, Jack asked, "I do hope you don't mind if I ask, mate; but what brought about this change of heart of yours?" Slowly, he replied, lighting the candles along the sides of the shelves and the cabinets, "Realizing that my heart wasn't going to change. So I changed my mind instead." Jack washed his hands, picked up the towel, and went to sit down in the same chair he'd been occupying since that morning. "That's something you appear to do frequently, though. Particularly when it comes to meself, and whether or not to let me leave." James followed suit, wiping his hands, and then went to the platter and lifted the silver lid, noting the roast fowl. He picked up the knife and began dividing it into portions. Slowly, he said, "It's true. But only the one time." He threw Jack a look. "I daresay that new addition to your Articles may coincide with the changes I'm about to suggest to our agreement, here." Jack leaned forward. He smirked. "The one about the forty-two and one half percent?" "Indeed," James agreed, wryly, serving Jack a plate of the fowl before returning to pick up his own and sit down with it. "I would in fact suggest that you can keep any treasure you can collect, so long as I don't catch you with it." "That goes without saying," Jack stated. "What of our agreement?" James gave him a cheerful smile. "Well, you already said as much: I'm simply going to let you return to your ship, and you're going to attempt to make off with the gold." He paused, meaningfully. "I did say 'attempt'. If I catch you first, well of course then it's moot, isn't it?" Jack didn't look amused. "So the chase is on, then?" James poured himself a glass of the claret, careful not to fill it too close to the brim, to compensate for the slightly rougher waves they were experiencing. The Dauntless was smooth, but the sea had picked a more tense night mood. He expected it was rather apt, mirroring the level of suppressed nerves he felt running through him at the moment. "Actually, I'd prefer to call it 'fair play'." "Noblesse oblige," Jack mused. "Exactly." James smiled at him again, enjoying feeling a little more in control than he'd been since Jack had awoken that morning. But Jack had picked up on this, and he had a rather sly and suspicious expression in his eyes as James began to eat. "Well, Commodore James. It would seem you've given this a great deal of thought, indeed. So what happens the next time we meet up then, 'ey?" "That will depend on you," James informed him with some satisfaction. "I'm letting you go. It's up to you whether or not you come back again." Jack looked down at this and then said, "That would depend on the reception. How welcome would I be?" James carefully swallowed a sip of claret, and said over his glass, "As welcome as you want to be." Jack considered him, a little smile hovering over his mouth now. "An' if I invited you aboard my ship, would you trust me not to throw you in the brig?" With a look of distaste, James sighed. "Well, I suppose if you did, I would have that one coming, wouldn't I? But you do realize, accepting an invitation to join you aboard your pirate ship, fine as she is, I'd still be held accountable for it. I can't see that one working out for either of us." "Oh, good," said Jack, returning to his plate as if relieved. "That's settled then. Grand." "Well, neutral ground would be in order, I expect." "To be sure," Jack agreed, with a winsome smirk. James stared at him, to see it. It made him want to get up and just... seize him. Hold him down. Kiss him until that smirk turned into something a little more helpless and pleading and breathlessly begging - Jack leaned back in his chair and said, knowingly, "I do hope we can get through the preliminaries without you trying to skip to dessert." James looked away and cleared his throat. "Forgive me. It's not every night I dine with a pirate captain, or outline agreements with one that entails a good deal of outlaw behavior and bending of the Law." "Bent, or broken; that's the question, really," Jack suggested. "Although considering you're already broken yourself, it would be disputable to say you're bent." "I'm hardly broken," James corrected him. "Oh but you are, most assuredly, and a fine job of it that lass did, 'ey?" Jack smiled at him. "Ah," James said, dryly. "So it's your job now to bend me." "Aye, just as it's your job, Commodore, to decide which laws are to be broken, and which are to be bent." And Jack gave him a rather salacious leer at this. "An' which ones first, and in what order, and position..." To have that look turned on him full-force however, caused a surge of renewed fire to race through his veins and it was all James could do to remain in his seat, and remember that they could be disturbed at any time. Somehow, the danger of it was causing him to feel reckless, and he realized that Jack was entirely too volatile to keep in his cabin for any length of time. "We'll have to find some neutral ground," he declared, firmly. Jack looked about them. "Don't you have a valet? Cabin-boy? Or does one of your men double?" James shrugged. "For voyages of this short duration, I usually don't bother. I prefer my privacy." "How convenient," Jack commented. "Now that does explain why you're broken. Not enough company." He leaned forward, with both elbows on the table, stroking his beard and looking for all purposes like some sort of devilish imp. "If I may be so bold, Commodore James, have you ever entertained anyone else like this?" James considered his plate. "Once or twice, but never a man, and certainly never a pirate." "Well, but that goes without saying," Jack said, waving a hand negligently. "If you knew most women pirates, you wouldn't bother with the distinction." James abruptly felt the enclosed cabin was stifling him. The doors irritated him and he wanted nothing more than to find some dark, quiet place to pull Jack into and just... At this, he wondered. What does one do with someone like Jack? He pondered this. Jack must have guessed the course of his thoughts, for he queried, "Is this going a little too quickly for you, mate? Just last night, you were all, 'let's be friends and best mates and go on treasure-bearing voyages together, forty-two percent, and one half percent more', 'ey? And now it's straight to how soon, how hard and how often." James nodded. "Yes, but as I believe I mentioned, I'm a quick study. So I'd say, very soon, very hard, and as often as possible. Although I daresay the latter is precisely what we haven't yet deliberated to our mutual satisfaction." "But once you've let me go, it's my turn, innit?" Jack grinned at him, and James was rather pleased to find himself growing terribly fond of it, almost in an indulgent fashion. "You'll just have to trust me." With a glimmer of slow astonishment, James realized that he did trust Jack. In fact, if he did not, it would be quite impossible for him to claim, even in the silence of his own being, that he loved him. "I will, won't I?" he replied, quietly, enjoying the effect his words had on Jack. It was somewhat of a marvel, to see that playful lasciviousness melt into a combination of the thoughtful shrewdness he'd seen on Jack before, and that appealing wistful expression—the one that made him want grab him; seize hold of him and- It was the violence of the response that made him catch his breath. Jack picked up a bit of the roast fowl and began to nibble at it, with that thoughtful look, and fixed his eyes upon him, not looking away. Just to watch Jack eating, so slowly, deliberately and with obvious intent, while staring at him, it was one of the most erotic things he could remember ever seeing. He should have expected it, after the traumatic morning with the banana. But that had been unintentional, whereas this was a show just for him. The now familiar heat made him reach for his glass of claret, only to find he'd finished it already. He poured himself more, congratulating himself on not spilling any; no mean feat, with Jack's lips now turning up into a slow approximation of that devil-smile. He wondered why it was that this felt so different, to be watching Jack eat. And it came to him: watching him sleep was altogether another story, but to be allowed to devour Jack with his own eyes as slowly, as lingeringly, feasting on him, as Jack feasted on that succulent meat... He was growing aroused, and recognized that it had been building for some while. It felt new, as if it didn't matter if he sought release or not, because it was enough just to sit in the room with him, enjoying the sight and the company. It felt too deliciously good for it to be anything but sinful, and the knowledge that he might, even if it was hours from now, press his body to Jack's again, did nothing to alleviate the hardening of his cock. Jack put down the bones and began licking his fingers, one by one, too carefully, still watching him. The thrill of pleasure that whipped through James at it nearly made him gasp, and he couldn't look away, feeling almost hypnotized. He wanted to lick those fingers himself, and the glare of absolute cold fury he cast momentarily upon the cabin doors had Jack laughing. How was he supposed to get through hours of this? It was all he could do to retain his composure. To not rise from his chair and strip the clothes from him, explore the body he'd only briefly glimpsed that morning. He'd not allowed himself to look, certain that he'd be damned if he did, and unable to ever forget. Now he wished he'd drunk his fill. Jack glanced down calculatingly at the greens, and asked, nonchalantly, "Ever really tasted someone? I mean, properly?" James hastily swallowed a gulp of claret and sniffed, regarding the candles off to the side. "I have. Although I doubt the one time really compares to the benefit of your experiences." Jack seemed determined to avoid using silverware from this point, and began to eat once more. Gradually, he said, with a knowing grin, "What did she taste like?" Sitting was becoming an uncomfortable activity, and he shifted, leaning forward a little. He did recall the lady however, most vividly; long fair hair and skin like cream. "Strawberries." Jack gave him a curious frown. "Seriously?" James nodded. "I was surprised, actually." He smiled wryly with a chuckle. "I was expecting fish." Jack grinned back at him. "Believe me, mate; there's nothing quite like expecting fish and then getting it." He sounded less than enthusiastic. "I'll take your word for it," James commented. "Do," Jack suggested. "Another excellent reason why rum is very useful." James gave him a searching gaze. "I believe the names of certain taverns I should avoid is what comes next, then?" Jack raised his brows at him, his eyes widening. "It's usually most indiscreet to tell, matey, but on this occasion I do believe I need to set you straight. That one was a duchess." "If this has anything to do with the Lord Dewhurst's townhouse being razed to the ground, you'd probably better not tell me. He was most put out. You're still a wanted man, for that incident." In a grieved and put-upon tone, Jack said, "Everyone always blames me. It's as I've been trying to tell you, aye? I was with the duchess at the time." "Ah," James nodded. "Another one of those magical instances where you were in two places at once?" "Now you're catching on." Jack reached for another portion of fowl. James didn't think he could last the duration of the meal, let alone until it was late enough to pounce without as much fear of being interrupted. Not if Jack kept eating fowl dripping with juices and licking his fingers. This time, he wasn't even making a production of it. He decided he'd better try to finish his own plateful; even despite the leaping and coursing of his insides. Jack didn't make it any easier though with his next question, which was delivered so smoothly that James barely registered the significance of its import until it sat for a moment in his head. "Tell me, then, Commodore James, 'ave any of your fair lasses let you bugger them?" As James sat with some shock, not sure whether to be completely unsurprised or indignant, Jack added, "Even one?" At James's look, his face fell. "Not even one, then." He shook his head. "You don't know what you've been missing." "I've hardly gone out of my way to plough through the female population of eligible maidens and lonely spinsters of Port Royal," he stiffly reminded Jack. "And I don't make a habit of frequenting the brothels." At which Jack promptly grinned, a new twinkle entering his eyes. "I'm sure no one holds it against you, mate." "No doubt I'll provide you with ample entertainment at having to prove myself a fast learner," James muttered. "Not to worry, 'ey? It's not about the regularity, or the positions, or the variety," Jack assured him. "Tell me something, Jack," James said, a hard edge he hadn't intended creeping into his voice anyway. "Have you ever made love to a woman who loved you passionately? Truly?" Jack paused and said quite seriously, "There are any number of people who can go to bed with you, believing they love you to the exclusion of all others, and when they wake up the next morning, find they were quite mistaken." Despite the light tone in which Jack delivered this, James found himself actually sympathizing for Jack. "That hardly sounds romantic." Jack gave a little shrug. James began to suspect that Jack was the one who'd been missing out. Something in his countenance must have revealed this because Jack settled back in his chair with his glass in hand, and said with a bit of a smirk, "I have, however, been manhandled, imprisoned, starved, stabbed and nearly run through, according to military courtship ritual." James flinched. Coolly though, he answered, "The life of a pirate captain is not an easy one." "One does begin to wonder where the romance lies," Jack admitted, with a smirk that belied his words. "Oh, I'm sure it lies in a large puddle in some dark cave somewhere, awaiting collection," James replied. Jack sat up swiftly, and said, unaccountably, "Do me a favor, mate, and try not to lose your temper over this one, 'ey?" James stopped. "'This one?'" he repeated, trying to ignore the tiny chill he felt at it. Jack's dark gaze pinned him though. "Me," Jack said, simply. What Jack had revealed to him a minute ago suddenly made more sense to him. Jack feared he would take him to bed... and in the morning discard him. This unwitting revealing of how deeply Jack's own insecurity ran where he, Commodore—and even now, captor—was concerned, caused a painful wince from somewhere in the region of his heart on Jack's behalf. "Although you have less reason to believe me than I have of you, I will ask you to trust me," James said quietly, still meeting Jack's eyes. The irony that they'd both been spurned by the same woman was not lost on James, either. He smiled, abruptly. "I'm sure Miss Swann would be more than a little astonished if she knew that two of her suitors were surviving her rejection so well. And in this fashion." Jack's answering smile was rather moody. James grew acutely aware that he was quite forcefully keeping at bay any thoughts about how exactly they had come to this moment. This... meal together. Hardly romantic, indeed, especially given that only one day previously Jack had still been in the Fort's dungeon. He swallowed. It wasn't even a question of trust, anymore. It literally came down to mercy. He could afford to be merciful. It behooved him though to allow Jack the same latitude where he was concerned. Uncomfortably, he said, "To err is human..." He flicked a glance back up at Jack. Jack seemed to take this quite seriously, fortunately. "To forgive, divine," he finished. It seemed pitiful and woefully inadequate to attempt to apologize for the way he'd treated him, but James could not help but wonder if he should at least attempt to. It wasn't even a question of pride. He suddenly felt ill, wondering if Jack would find it offensive if he did. Jack's eyes narrowed, making him appear almost feral, and he said, "Not trust, then." James looked down at his plate without seeing it. "I can only give you my word," he started. Interrupting him with a reconciliatory tone, Jack said, "We both want the same thing, then. Forgiveness?" As James looked up, a sickly sort of hope in him, Jack nodded briefly. "Apology accepted, Commodore." He threw him a quick grin. "James. And I do apologize for depriving you of such a fine little ship; your Interceptor. Will was rather insistent, you understand, that we depart speedily before any harm befall fair Elizabeth." James snorted, although the relief that covered him at Jack's words was very welcome indeed. "You came into Port Royal specifically intending to commandeer that ship; don't even try to pretend otherwise." "Yes, well, there is that," Jack grinned, "but you did intercept me before I could accomplish it. If it hadn't been for Will..." He gave that little shrug again, that didn't seem so much a shrug of apology as a winsome attempt at an innocent leer. The bizarrely banal note of their nostalgia over recent encounters made James blink with some surprise, realizing that he hadn't really known Jack Sparrow for all that long, yet. It struck him that he had fallen for Jack faster than he'd thought possible. Slowly, he said, "True, although you also seemed somewhat unfortunate in your luck thereafter. I must say, it was as if your fate conspired to throw you into my path repeatedly." Jack gave him an accusing grin. "All but this last time, aye." James noticed his arousal had been banked considerably in the resurgence of the guilt and awkward recollection of their circumstances. And Jack's barbed reminder didn't help. "I-I do need you," he said, wondering at the quavering in his voice that he suddenly couldn't control. "You think you do, because you want me," Jack explained. "That's not quite the same thing." Feeling as though he was opening himself up for a world of hurt, James said, "You said you wouldn't leave the Caribbean. Because of the gold." "Aye," Jack agreed. "I did." He was watching James. "I'd like to think..." James managed, "that you'd stay for me, as well." Jack regarded the table between them, the dishes, the food, the candles nearby, and surrounding them. "At the captain's table," he said. "Occasionally captive? Or did you have something else in mind?" James began to understand what Jack needed, however. "I'll await your word," he contented himself with saying. He hardly wanted Jack to continue to feel pursued. Jack regarded him knowingly and gave a little quiet laugh. "A quick study," he repeated, looking almost fondly at him. In fact, James realized, it was fondness. His heart experienced a thud at this, and he said, "I am honestly sorry, you know. I never meant for it to get so out of hand." Jack smiled grimly. "No, but you did intend to make sure that I was in hand." "And I owe you, for that," James stated with certainty. "So leave the treasure alone," Jack suggested. He was watching James most carefully now. James began to wonder if he was being played. But then, if he was constantly bringing the Dauntless into harbor there beyond the cave, it would certainly make life difficult for Jack. He picked up his glass and sipped at the claret. "Alright," he replied. Jack was bemused. "Aye?" James looked back at him, earnestly. "Yes." Jack's look of blank surprise was almost funny. "Yes, Jack," James said, lazily. "You can have your treasure, your ship, your freedom. You can have anything you want." "Anything I want?" Jack asked with a return of that smirk, the one that reminded James of a dark imp. He was reminded that he was still dealing with a pirate. In fact, a pirate captain who, despite having a repeatedly horrendous run of bad luck, was still in Jack's favorite phrase, 'savvy'. He sighed. "Yes. Anything. I do owe you, after all." Jack leaned back in his chair, his grin now so smug that James began to quail at it. Whatever the hell Jack was planning... it couldn't possibly bode well for him. "Excellent," Jack commented, lightly. James sighed. Jack began laughing at him. "James, you'll have to trust me, won't you?" "Indeed," James replied, wondering why all of a sudden the humor was quite lost on him. Jack got up from the chair and ambled in his queerly swaying gait over to where James was still sitting, watching him now with wariness. "A very fine gentleman," Jack murmured, looking down at him. And he leaned closer, even as James held his breath, entranced by the novelty of having Jack so very, very close, overpowered by having Jack's dark hair brushing down against him, and being completely transfixed by those dark eyes. "Very fine," Jack whispered against his mouth, before pressing his lips to James's, too gently and too sweetly to be mistaken for anything but what it was. James instinctively closed his eyes, and the softness of it, no heaving passion this time, just lightly pressing to him, made him tremble. He couldn't bear this; not moving, just... held there, beneath Jack's lips; more a prisoner than he'd ever be able to make of Jack in any cell or dungeon anywhere. And it went on and on, Jack barely moving, and not his lips at all against him, either, and Jack didn't lift his head, keeping him there, until James finally felt his heart break at it. To have felt such longing, such anguish and keen pain and now to have this—it was overwhelming. He felt the flames flash over his face and the rest of his body. Too much beloved—please, God, stop, before he drowned. He felt in distant shock the tears run down his cheeks and then Jack was pulling back even as a groan was pulled from him by the cold sensation of Jack ending it now. It was with only a little soothing of the horrified and awkward despair he suddenly felt, at this distressing undoing of everything he was or had believed himself to be, the touch of Jack's finger against his left cheek, brushing at the wetness there. He opened his eyes, blinking, helpless, and saw Jack standing over him. "Easy, love," Jack murmured. "Broken wings can mend, aye?" "I never meant—to hurt you," James said, haltingly, while the pain of knowing that he had suddenly caught at him anew. Jack gave him a little smile. And leaned over to kiss him lightly on the mouth again, this time not for long enough at all, and before James could register that Jack was moving away, he heard Jack say over his shoulder, "Need to see the waves. It's been too long." And opening the doors, he left James sitting and blinking in his wake. James wiped at his face, wondering if he'd just glimpsed in too many terrifying moments all at once their very dual natures, superimposed. Jack, for all his devilish impish ways, with an angelic gift for caring. And his own self—God forgive him, indeed—capable of selfish darkness and a possessive greed that far outweighed the so-called moral decency he'd always supposed made him better than any 'pirate'. He sat for a long while, watching the candles melt down like his composure, and finally, the last of his resistance to the truth: in trying to enslave love, it had enslaved him.
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