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The Mercy Series, Chapter 5
Rating: NC-17 overall, for language, & slash m/m sexual content. Believe it.
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: This story is altogether dedicated to Thalia Seawood. :) Thank you, Thalia, for your insights, fuel and constant support. This would not have been written if it weren't for you!
Additional Note: I know it would probably take twice as long for them to reach the Isle—if not longer, given the Dauntless's speed, but I'm 'The Creator' here, so you'll just have to live with it. ;) Also, I realize that the captain's cabin would probably be off to the side away from the main room, but I've dispensed with that and it's a bit late to change it. Sue me.
Summary: Arrival at the Isle de Muerte leads to discoveries, plots and twists of fate.
James awoke with a start, feeling unaccountably cold. Sitting up, he saw he was alone; Jack was absent from the cabin. The last of the dreamy cobwebs of sleep fled in the dart of misgiving that followed this revelation. James rubbed his face with both hands, wondering how much of what he'd enjoyed with Jack in the previous dark hours belonged with the night and would remain there. The daylight seemed cold and white, and he knew they must be nearing the passage; the channel littered with the chilling remains of ships. If they hadn't already arrived. A glance towards Jack's clothes revealed they were gone, likely adorning the pirate even now, and... everything else as well. Sword, hat, boots... in fact, James was willing to bet Jack was prepared for anything. He couldn't help wondering if Jack was perhaps mistaken, about his ship loitering near the Isle de Muerte all this time. It had sounded like wishful thinking. He wouldn't be at all disappointed if the Black Pearl took its sweet time to arrive, as it meant more of the same with Jack. He found a small, private smile seizing him before he realized it. But it was true; he hadn't felt this content or comfortable in a long while. He carefully ignored the quiet voice in the back of his mind that whispered it couldn't last. He was reluctant to admit it, but falling asleep with Jack in his arms had been one of the most warm and wonderful reveries he'd ever experienced. He hadn't thought it would be possible. And that rather surprising declaration of Jack's, as well... Love. James closed his eyes and let it sit within him, warming him. Jack loved him. But he couldn't afford to dream, now that the night had passed. The day would no doubt provide ample challenges for him to overcome. He couldn't afford to add distraction to his own course—Jack Sparrow would afford him enough of it as it was. After he'd roused himself enough to prepare for the day, changed his bandage around his neck, put away the hammocks, washed, shaved and dressed and gone out on deck, he realized they had indeed already reached the passage. Most of the men were muttering solemnly amongst themselves and were arranged all around the sides of the Dauntless, watching as they barely slipped through the grim obstacle course of dead ships in the water. The sobering presence of a fleet of shark fins that kept pace with them was a reminder that they did not want to tarry here. They were fools enough to intend to tarry near the Isle of Dead. It was not yet mid-morning, and the sunlight was unable to pierce the dense wreaths of fog that surrounded the ship. Jack accompanied the steersman at the helm, two armed men standing guard behind them. They all appeared to be taking the task of maneuvering them through this passage very seriously. James realized he felt very little nervousness about their safety, seeing Jack at the helm, and then frowned to himself, wondering why Jack hadn't woken him. Lieutenant Gillette was standing apart from the soldiers, and now approached him. "Good morning, Sir." James regarded him. "Good morning, Gillette. I take it Sparrow is providing the bearings?" Gillette directed a rather annoyed glance up at Jack and the helmsman. "Indeed, Sir. He came out on deck a while ago, and said you'd ordered him to cooperate by lending a hand as before. He insisted he knows this course quite well, now." "As well he might, for all the times he's been through it," James agreed. "Although I'm not entirely sure we can afford to believe the Black Pearl isn't there already." Gillette raised his brows at him. "Sir, considering all that gold, I'd say it's very unlikely she's not been and gone again." James gave him a tight smile. "Pirates don't appear to keep to a chain of command, or a shipping schedule. They do as they please; which no doubt Mr. Sparrow is regretting even now." As Gillette raised his chin, he said, "Well, Sir, you can be sure that we're ready for them if they should turn up. After the last time, the men are fairly eager to engage them. It would be a disappointment for the pirates to turn coward and run again." "Considering the Dauntless' reputation in the Main, I'd be surprised if they show themselves to us at all, gold or no gold," James observed wryly. "They're more likely to lurk nearby and wait for us to depart before helping themselves, regardless of whether we have their captain or not." After a momentary silence, Gillette said, "I must say, I'm disappointed. I'd expected a bit more of a fight from the blighters." "Your zeal is acknowledged, if a little misplaced. I hope you won't forget yourself in the event of encountering the Black Pearl, Lieutenant." He gave Gillette as sharp look, recalling Gillette's over-eager enthusiasm regarding their last encounter. "Although, you may yet see some action." James glanced back up at Jack Sparrow. "Not just pirates, but opportunists who are light-fingered cowards and can be convinced to listen to reason. But I doubt that even they can resist venturing here for more, captain-less or otherwise. Like flies to honey." "Yes, Sir," Gillette agreed. "It's just a shame we couldn't rally more ships and lay a proper trap. That way, we could transport more of the gold at a time, too." James let out a breath. "Indeed, though I've no doubt we will see replacements soon enough; another ship or two, and more men... Give it two months perhaps, and we'll see a definite weighing of the odds in our favor." Gillette said, a little more brightly, "I'm glad to hear you say that, Commodore. I must say, I'd wondered if your sympathy for the scoundrel hadn't begun affecting your judgment." James lifted a brow at him. "I assure you, Lieutenant; weighing prudence against open battle, I'll choose negotiation over risking the Dauntless in a pointless firefight with the Black Pearl. Cowards her crew may be, and her captain decidedly addled, but the ship is formidable enough." For it was true: there was no point risking all their lives by pitting themselves in a cannon exchange that would do nothing but damage both ships and leave them in the hoary position of limping back to Port Royal—if they were lucky. The opportunity of removing the Black Pearl from the Caribbean was hardly worth the cost of the entire Dauntless and all her men. The loss of the Interceptor was still an ache that angered him if he stopped to think of it; and not just for the humiliation of how she'd been lost. He sighed. "Discretion being the better part of valor?" Gillette ventured. "So, no action then. Damn," he said, with a short laugh. "I hardly think it will be necessary, when you factor in their continuing inclination of weighing anchor at the sight of us." Stiffly, Gillette said, "If I were aboard the Black Pearl, I'd have taken out this ship long before now." James turned a surprised eye upon him. "You'd be a particularly ruthless pirate, then?" Gillette colored, his fair skin betraying his eagerness. "Well, Sir, that is—if I were a proper pirate, and not a—a common thief, Sir." "A 'proper' pirate," James commented with a raised brow, not really sure whether he should attempt to point out that Jack Sparrow was hardly a common thief. He didn't really know how to encompass the fact that he was actually on the verge of defending Jack Sparrow, of all people, to Gillette—one of his own officers. And so it begins, he thought gloomily to himself. "I'm glad you aren't, Gillette, for the pleasure of knowing our ship won't be added to this sad, motley collection of wrecks here." The dead remnants of old hulks long sunk in the waters of the passage still provided a danger to the Dauntless, even as she was steered carefully through them with Jack's expertise... and his compass, James could see from where he stood, doubtfully noting Jack's strangely affected compass in hand. He'd dismissed it as a toy, or a broken piece, at their first meeting. Now he knew it somehow led Jack straight to the Isle de Muerte, and he felt a shiver tingle up his spine at the reminder of curses, animated skeletons and Aztec coins. Fighting murderous, undead skull-faced pirates was not something one was prepared to encounter when one joined the Navy. He wondered if Jack had any idea that the chances of rejoining his ship here were actually very slim. From where Jack stood above at the helm, Jack's eyes casually flickered over him at that moment—and James was surprised to find it was reassuring. He hadn't known until Jack's gaze met his, how much he'd wanted some affirmation of the connection they had formed over the night before. He had to look away, however. It wouldn't do to compromise himself in the open before his own men by openly gawking at the pirate. But it was good to know that Jack acknowledged his presence here. Even here. And he had to swallow abruptly against the rush of tenderness he felt inside of him, welling upwards and making him quite warm. The flash of memory of what it felt like to have Jack's naked skin upon his own, Jack's hot mouth against his, and the way their bodies had joined... A bolt of lust savaged him inside as he recalled how Jack had moved atop him, even with his hands upon Jack's hips, urging him onwards... He realized he hadn't even heard Gillette's words as the man finished speaking. He regarded the lieutenant. But Gillette didn't appear to notice his lapse, and was staring off towards the bow, forward. Just as well, really. Let Gillette believe he had the last word. James sighed quietly, wondering how he was going to survive the next few hours, already craving the sensation of Jack's body against his again. A scant night was hardly enough to satisfy, now that he knew where his heart belonged. A dark shaft of pragmatism crept into his mind with reminders of duty, command and service. He couldn't avoid the reality of their tenuous relationship. He'd not brought it up again, last night. And neither of them had wanted to mar the comfort and joy of each other's presence by dwelling on the future. Not with such a short spell given to them. The luxury of falling asleep with Jack in his arms. It had been a boon he hadn't expected, on top of all the indulgence of the prelude of sensuous sin. He suddenly wondered at the wisdom of allowing Jack to keep his weapons, as they neared the Isle. It was one thing to allow him his sword and pistol while aboard the Dauntless, so far from anywhere and obviously outnumbered. It was another thing to let him keep them with their arrival at the Isle. And then he remembered their agreement. He had agreed to allow Jack the chance to threaten him to make his escape look good—and thus allow James the dignity of keeping their arrangements between them alone. James blinked, realizing that in point of fact, he could very easily keep Jack aboard, and not let him rejoin his ship just yet. Steal one last voyage from him. But no, it wouldn't do. He had to at least show a measure of honor towards their deal. Pirate or not, he owed Jack that much. So he'd allow the show to unfold, and let Jack depart for his ship, and his freedom, and his desired gold. Besides, what would he do with him, and how would he be able to explain it away? He had already taken this particular circumstance too far, as it was. He began to understand, now, just how painful this trust issue was going to be for him. To trust that Jack would not simply... run. But considering that Jack was assured he would chase after, James wondered how compromised he already had become. Surely Jack wouldn't back out of their relations now? Surely... last night hadn't been a mere passing, fleeting joy? The worry that he'd never see Jack again except on the gallows or in battle was enough to nudge his comfortable warmth away, forcing it back and causing in its place a grudging resignation to see this through to the inevitable end. After a time, he supposed, Jack might venture to reconnect with him in some form. Trysting with a pirate... he could hardly ignore the irony of this. Yet, it was true they might not happen upon the Pearl despite Jack's surmising they'd already have returned, being unable to resist the lure of the gold. He suspected Jack was forgetting that as their captain, he was less cowardly than they. Which suited James, for if he had but one more night with Jack, he'd consider himself fortunate indeed. He had to straighten and take a breath at the thrill of lust that seized him at this. The thought of... taking Jack again... sinking into the man's hot depths, driving into him, melding their mouths together in passion, delighting in the sensation of his skin against Jack's nude form... that incredible look of surprise as he was taken... James gulped. Thankfully, Gillette had moved from his side, as unnerved by the broken ships in the water as any of them. All things considered, he knew he had been fortunate. Despite the creepy chill of their surrounds, and the restless anticipation of nearly arriving at the Isle once again, James felt invigorated. His overall mood had so improved this morning, in fact, that he was certain he'd have to watch himself and not behave with too relaxed an attitude. He just felt so damned good. For once, life was good. It couldn't last, he knew. But right now, he didn't care. He'd take what he could get. And despite Jack's scheming, the reality of their situation was that Jack was still aboard, still under his power, and still completely dependent on his goodwill, not to mention his protection. The satisfaction of having Jack surrender to him, regardless of the emotional strain of nightly admissions and reluctant trust, was enough to offer a balm to both his conscience and his wounded heart at long last. Worries be damned, he thought. He wasn't going to allow doubt to persuade him that what he'd felt and what he'd seen in Jack's eyes hadn't been anything other than the truth. The fog cleared slightly, lifting a little, and as it parted in thick gouts, there lay the dreaded Isle de Muerte before them. Jack neatly brought them to a point a little ways beyond the mouth of the entrance to the caves, leaving the Dauntless crew to drop anchor and begin to prepare the boats. James ordered Gillette to take the boats directly to the treasure cache and oversee the first haul of the day, load part of what was left into the longboats and return with it. He also instructed him to look for signs that the pirates might have been there once again for another haul, themselves. He and the other officers, as well as Jack Sparrow, would remain aboard for this first trip. There was no sign of the Black Pearl. Not that he'd really expected any. As the boatloads of soldiers left the Dauntless and rowed off into the dark mouth of the entrance, James wondered what he was going to do with Jack if the Black Pearl never showed up at all. He'd be stuck with taking him back to Port Royal with them, for he couldn't exactly wait around the Isle for longer than three or four days. It would be completely unjustifiable, behaving as a Royal escort for a pirate captain to return to his ship—and letting him go with the gold to boot. It was already barely conscionable. Regardless of whether anyone but he knew of what they'd agreed. He glanced back up the helm, and saw Jack standing straight, looking towards the cavemouth after the disappearing boats as the darkness swallowed them. For a moment, James felt disoriented to see Jack Sparrow standing there, the reality of the man too apparent after their night of intimacy and shared affections. It was strange, to be all too lucid of where they were and what was at stake, after the close memory of holding him in the dark, recalling lazy moments of stroking his hands upon Jack's body as if they had all the time in the world. He allowed the brazen awareness of his declarations of his feelings the previous night to rise to the forefront of his mind. Wanting; needing... And the truth, that he loved Jack—love, of all things. It was interesting to watch Jack when the pirate was unaware of it. He enjoyed the simple pleasure of knowing that he now knew all the flesh currently covered by the man's clothes, the lissome legs under the breeches... the curve of that backside beneath them, and what it felt like to run one's hands over it, clasping both buttocks firmly while driving into him hard, repeatedly... God. Secret knowledge; taboo intelligence that would cost him his life, if any should know of it. Made all the more sweet and dark for the fact it was illicit. James frowned, noting that Jack's face was at rest as he watched the dark cave mouth, the boats now gone within. Jack looked thoughtful. As if aware he was being watched now, Jack started slightly, his eyes darting down to where James stood looking up at him, too far away for them to do anything but meet each other's eyes in a tacit acknowledgment of it. Jack grinned down at him, that knowing leer all too apparent upon his face. Then he raised his brows a little, almost a question. James was uncomfortably aware of their very public position; and he feared Jack would wink at him or otherwise draw attention to them. James gave a slight nod and looked away, not wanting to linger further for the fear their shared look was almost certainly too personal, too apparent. Unnervingly, he realized he was growing hard in response. In an attempt to remove himself from the awkward position of playing the eying game with Jack, he moved forward on the deck, noting how the remainder of his men seemed more subdued now that they had arrived at the Isle. He could relate; on their previous visits here, the Isle of Dead had proven to be a most trying spot. He was certain most of the men aboard who'd faced the undead grinning skulls of the cursed pirate crew would never forget it, and their own nightmares would haunt them for many years to come. The entire island was a gray, forbidding place, with very little to recommend itself to any man. Nothing appeared to grow there, and the fog was lent thickness by the ashes and smoke that belched from the volcanic pits farther ashore. The only lure it held was the gold the pirates had been stashing there for a decade. Darkly, James wondered how much of a temptation the gold truly represented to his men. It was a fortune; enough for them to set themselves up elsewhere and live happily as deserters for any number of years. But then there was the curse, and it no doubt tempered the temptation the gold offered. The stored treasure itself, although not touched by the curse, was tainted in that it had sat so long beside the cursed Aztec chest, so much so that no doubt the allure it held was offset considerably for most of the soldiers who'd seen it. Officer Thompson came to stand near him. "Good morning, Commodore," he greeted. James turned to him. "Ah, Thompson. Good morning." At Thompson's nervous look, he smiled. "I trust you're not letting the atmosphere of this place get to you?" Thompson inclined his head a little. "Well, Sir, it's... trying. Very trying. Damnable difficult, what with the pirates that were here before, and all. It does rather help that we dumped the cursed heathen box overboard, Sir." "Yes," James agreed. "Good riddance, indeed. We may have to stick it out for some time however, until the pirate's ship shows again. If it shows again," he added, sardonically. A thought struck him. Mildly, he asked, "Tell me something, Mr. Thompson. If you were a pirate... a particularly wary and crafty pirate, would you return to this treasure right away?" Thompson grinned before he could help himself. "Well, Sir, to be honest, I wouldn't. I'd wait until the Dauntless showed up, and left again, well out of range, before helping myself. If I were a pirate. Sir." "Yes, my thoughts, exactly," James mused. He glanced back at the helm, catching sight of Jack, who'd now gone to sit to one side and was staring off into the surrounding fog and the visible portions of the Isle's stern gray stone. Thompson cleared his throat. "In fact, Sir, I'd venture to say you're right: that the pirate's bound to be disappointed if he expects his ship to arrive. The only way we might catch them is by leaving him in the cave as bait, and waiting around nearby for the Black Pearl to collect him." "We're here to collect treasure, ourselves," James reminded him. "If we meet his ship, that's a bonus rather than our primary objective. The crew's cowardly, but the ship is not. She's more than a match for us, and I'm afraid I still don't share Gillette's eager attitude towards sea battles that could be avoided, particularly with our odds. They're expecting us. Now, if you were aware that the Dauntless would probably lie in wait, what would you do, if you were a cautious pirate?" Thompson thought this over. "I suppose I'd wait a few days and then leave, until such time as we left the area. But then, they'd be running the risk of running out of supplies, running into us out of the passage, or even losing what chance they have at collecting any of the treasure at all. If I were cautious, I'd not come near the place. But they tend to be a crazy lot, Sir. Who knows what they might do?" He shot a glance at Jack who sat innocuously above, near the helm. James considered Jack, then turned to the cavemouth. "So we play the waiting game. Except that we still have their captain." Thompson regarded him. "Begging your pardon, Sir, I honestly don't think they care. As a hostage, he's fairly useless. They don't seem to value him too highly; this is the second time they've deserted him." James smiled smugly, wondering how Jack would react to hearing himself being described by one of the Commodore's own officers as 'useless'. But Thompson added, "We could still set an ambush, ourselves." "Yes," James murmured. "I daresay it's the only option that makes sense, under the circumstances." Thompson cleared his throat. "I'm not alone in saying this, Sir; but... staying here in these waters, night after night... it's not something I'm looking forward to, after all that's happened here." James shot him a look. Nightmares aside, he wondered if morale would be eroded to the point of compromising their effectiveness, the longer they remained. "I can't blame you for being spooked by this Godless place. But there's no helping it; we'll have to make do the best we can and see it through." "Yes, Sir," Thompson agreed, meeting his eye. "I just think we'd all prefer action to simply doing nothing at all." He lowered his voice. "I suspect it will start to affect the men's mood." James narrowed his eyes. "Pirates are an overly superstitious lot, Mr. Thompson, but we're made of sterner stuff than that, aren't we?" "To be sure," Thompson said. "Even after fighting men that can't be killed. Skeletal... dead men." James sighed. It was going to be a long wait.
* * *
Jack sat with his arms folded, watching Norrington and his officers milling about below, waiting for the return of the boats. All that gold, he thought, and grimaced to himself. His gold. But he was reasonably sure that the Pearl would show at some point. He didn't think Gibbs and the others were fool enough to ignore the fact that there was yet a vast remainder of gold to take away. Despite the disappointment of not surprising his crew in the caves already, it was probably better this way. Less possibility of a confrontation that could all too readily turn out worse off for both ships. It wouldn't be hard to take one of the boats and make off with it towards the other side of the Isle, as they'd discussed in the event of the Dauntless's arrival, before the unfortunate outcome of his being captured. Hiding around in the fog was relatively easy, and he didn't think it would be much longer than a day or so before they arrived. However many of the crew might be tempted to leave with what gold they'd managed to take, he was sure that most of them wouldn't leave the Pearl prematurely, or permanently. And he trusted them not to let his ship fall into the wrong hands. He could only hope she'd not sustained much damage. But he couldn't allow himself to worry about that, or it would start to affect his concentration. To slip away and leave the Navy wondering where he'd vanished would be child's play. The only complication was that he found he really didn't want the Pearl to arrive until he'd had a bit more time alone with the Commodore... which went completely against any survival instinct or common sense. He hadn't lied when he'd said he intended to keep Norrington. The man had promised him anything, after all. Jack smiled to himself, wondering if Norrington had any idea what that entailed, even now. And he hated to have to admit it, but this Godforsaken, God-cursed island really had cost him far too much over the years. Over and over again, his luck fell short where this Isle was concerned. Except... it had yielded him a commodore this time around. And there was still the gold that was left. Ahh, Norrington was looking back up towards him again. Jack chuckled. The man couldn't stop himself, obviously. And he winced as he considered the soreness of his ass. The Commodore was well-endowed. Also, as pleasant as it had been, he rather fancied turning the tables on him, and giving him a taste of the same. Jack had to admit though, Norrington had surprised him with the care and affection he'd lavished upon him. He hadn't expected it, what with all the inexperience and heated temper... not to mention the distress and contradictions the man had been suffering from where he was concerned. His Jamie had melted, revealing a gentle, caring nature and surprisingly trusting heart. It had been too easy to speak words of love. It was almost terrifying, how easy it had been. Almost as terrifying as knowing that he'd meant them, and he'd no intention of retracting them at all. Almost as terrifying as wondering if James would at some point decide that, against both their hearts, the obstacles between them were too great to risk or endure. Oh, well. What was life for, but for living? If he could just get off this damned ship in one piece... There was an island he knew, lush but deserted, an excellent place for lingering upon while between ventures. Jack wondered when the last time was that James had even allowed himself a day off, much less spend some time with a lover in a romantic setting. With the decided lack of one in the man's life, Jack was willing to bet that James hadn't spent any time with any lover in any romantic situation at all. This had to be remedied. He owed it to the Commodore to show him exactly what it was that pirates did all that plundering for. Besides the added benefits of actually enjoying the admittedly wicked pursuit of said plunder, itself. But he didn't think Norrington had any idea what could be achieved simply by sitting on one's bum in the sand and watching the waves come and go, or listening to the bird calls and the surf. Or enjoying the sunlight on one's skin, touching with a warmth that one couldn't find at night. Could it be that his Commodore didn't just 'believe' he was in love with his captive? The answer lay in the way that James had held that endearing expression of combined lust and adoration as he'd watched Jack fucking himself into oblivion on him. It wasn't just desperation, or loneliness... James wanted him. It was the first time in a long time that Jack could remember feeling more than simply turned on. There was a dangerously happy glow of warmth settled in his chest. It hadn't left when he'd awoken this morning. It hadn't left even when Norrington came out and joined them. He didn't want it to leave. It was beyond trust, or even what he'd come to think of as 'love'. It was nice, and sweet, and simple... and altogether alarming in how comfortable it was. Oh, to be sure, there was that pounding fire in his blood, the one that made him want to return to the cabin with that fine man below, still pretending he wasn't the most interesting thing aboard the Dauntless, and trying not to stare too long or too often. And shag him senseless. Norrington needed a surfeit of pleasure, and Jack began to recognize it was his duty to provide it for him. It was the least he could do, seeing as the man was about to give him leave to make off with all the gold he could possibly carry aboard one ship. Let it not be said that someone he loved would find theirself wanting for a good time. From where he sat, Jack turned a benign smile upon Commodore Norrington below. Yes, just as soon as he had his ship back. Then there was the little matter of repaying Norrington for his hospitality—all those nights in the brig, this aggravating shoulder-wound... the list went on, really, from there. Military men. There was a reason why Jack had avoided them up until now. Cheerfully, he began to ponder all the lovely ways he could bestow some much-needed courtesy upon James for the troubles he'd endured. Besides, he really needed something now that would ensure his Commodore wouldn't stray. Wouldn't possibly want to back out of this little... relationship they had formed. This exchange of hearts. James Norrington was his, now. As much as the Pearl had ever been, and if Commodore Jamie actually believed there might be the slightest chance that Jack was going to let him go, he was sorely mistaken. Jack grinned absently to himself, watching as Norrington paced the deck, speaking with his men. He needed to find the best way to let James know that, even as Jack belonged to him, James now belonged to Jack as well. He needed a plan, something that would cause Norrington to believe he had to re-stake his claim on him... and then turn the tables on Norrington, claiming him in turn. Only fair, after all; 'ey, Commodore? Jack's eyes narrowed. Ahhh yes, he thought delightedly. Jealousy was the best way to go. Norrington already thought the worst of him for being a pirate—as did the rest of them. Why fly in the face of public opinion? He grinned, relishing the anticipation that flared at this thought, wondering how many of them found him disturbing merely on the principle that he flaunted licentious lawlessness? He owed it to all of them, in fact, to remind them what they were missing to insist on remaining so consistently uptight and rigid. To remain so rigidly anti-pirate in their outlook on life. Mind, most of the rigid ones just sorely needed to be brought off; else they'd not be so rigid in the first place. All these lonely men, aboard their tight-run ship, pretending they weren't desperately horny and needing relief... Carefully ignoring the presence of a free man aboard who didn't hold to their remarkably blinkered view on life's experiences and all those offered. No, it was a wonderful idea. Couldn't fail to ruffle some feathers, indeed. He wondered what it would take to have the entire ship desperate to jump overboard into the water, simply to cool their heels and escape the need to indulge in the finer vices of life. Cold shock to ensure they wouldn't be tempted to start questioning why it was that sex was a Bad Thing. Of course, one needed wenches to properly encourage real desperation, but drink was the next best thing. Cabin fever took a while to develop properly, but he was willing to bet that with the right reminders of clashes with skeletons and the eerie Isle of Dead they were visiting again, he could single-handedly promote a good deal of imbibing. The isle was unsettling for the hardiest soul; he was certain that Norrington's men would be more than rattled, come nightfall. There was the strict rule against excessive or wanton consumption of alcohol aboard the Dauntless, but if his Pearl hadn't showed by the evening, damned if he was going to be the only man drinking aboard this fine vessel. Rattled nerves would demand soothing. Rum could provide all the soothing in the world. All he had to do was provide the need for soothing. And of course with everyone drinking, it left the game open for a little debauchery in the captain's cabin with less possibility of being exposed... Norrington's sensibilities did bear some consideration and he didn't want James shamed before his men. Uncomfortable perhaps, but hardly brought to ruin. Then there was the additional benefit of being able to slip away in the night if the opportunity arose, and the Pearl happened nearby. There was the worrying aspect of the Pearl perhaps not even showing, especially if she'd sustained heavy damage. He hoped she was all right—the thought of losing her now, after only having just got her back again, was intolerable. Unthinkable. He refused to dwell on it. He couldn't afford to, or he'd lose his mind. The nagging worry kept returning however, no matter how many times he tried to shove it away. Days, it had been. If Norrington ended up having to depart this Isle with himself still aboard, Jack was all for being left at the nearest port town, there to make his way as best he could. Jack preferred though to be able to keep to his original plan: creating the proper show to best effect, when the Pearl arrived, using Norrington as his voluntary hostage until he could get back to his own ship. When. Not if, but when. He swallowed against the sudden pang of distress that resurged, wondering if she'd fallen afoul of another Navy ship somewhere, or perhaps run aground in an unfriendly locale... He had to trust that the others would take good care of her. He had to concentrate on utilizing every advantage his current situation offered. The billowing fog and altogether unpleasant island hardly made for a romantic setting, but the additional stimulus of nervousness and dismay that it engendered was not to be dismissed lightly, for the dismal effect it would have on morale. And he wondered if he really stood a hope in hell of actually getting Norrington to let the men have a drink later. If he played it right, he'd be able to offer it as a suggestion that would make perfect sense. And if he prepared the ground beforehand, slipping the right suggestions amongst the men, those nerves would be rattled soon enough. An inebriated Navy crew was much more malleable than a tense, trigger-happy one that was longing to blow his ship out of the water. Jack scowled down at the deck, at Norrington and all his little men below. Sometimes, being a pirate was bloody hard work.
* * *
James stood, his hands clasped behind his back, sternly overseeing the ship as the boats went back into the caves again. Treasure was being carried painstakingly down into the hold of the Dauntless. This was the fourth trip this afternoon, and he was almost moved by the sorrowful expression on Jack's face that lengthened considerably after each time the boats returned laden with more of the stolen stash of treasure. Almost, but not quite enough to call a halt to it. After all, Jack only had himself to blame for getting himself captured in the first place. Still, it was sad to see the look of piteous, nearly pathetic misery Jack wore, as each load of gold and loot was carefully taken below into the Dauntless' hold. As the afternoon had worn on, James was growing more aggravated at the impatient wait he was having to endure, wondering if the Black Pearl would arrive and deprive him of Jack's company, or if the night might yet hold one last embrace in store for them. He chafed at the gnawing hunger inside him; it threatened his composure, his temper and his wits. He wanted to seize Jack and pull him into the cabin, lock the doors and give himself over to the desire to ravish the man's body. Console the pirate for the loss of the gold... Oh God, yes. In the worst way. Pulling at the bandage where his sore neck-wound itched, he tried to ignore the tiny whisper in his mind that reminded him time was running out; he should give in to the temptation to snatch what scarce moments were left to them, and spend all futile remainder of the hours with Jack. Jack was mournfully watching the boats disappear into the dark of the cave entrance, a familiar sight. James went to join him, standing beside him to watch after the dipping oars. "From Gillette's account, there will be plenty left for you to try to take, you know." He meant it kindly enough, but was taken aback at Jack's tone as the pirate replied, "Aye, thanks ever so much. As if His Majesty's Navy has more right to it than meself." And therein lay the difference between them. James thought silently upon service, hypocrisy and greed. Was he behaving any differently than a pirate would, to swoop down upon this treasure? He stood to gain nothing personally, but getting the treasure back to Port Royal did not include seeing it dispensed to French or Spanish settlements, or most of the merchants who'd lost it in the first place. Quietly, he asked, "Somehow, I cannot see you buying an island, settling down and living comfortably or safely for the rest of your years." Jack eyed him, sharply. "I take your point, Commodore, but I'm afraid you're wrong about 'at one. There's an island I've been setting aside for some while. A miniature paradise, not very far at all." James gave him a good-humored smile. "A buccaneer's utopia; an autonomous community beyond the arm of the law?" He wondered, for there were various islands scattered throughout the Caribbean that boasted such secretive pirate hideaways. They gave no tribute to any nation or government, and were self-sufficient, the last of the Brethren of the Coast. It was his job to seek them out and put them to route, in fact. Jack gave him an answering smile that had very little warmth. "Not one of those, nay. The one I've in mind is a bit more modest, really." James met his eye, and was humbled at the tense wariness he found there. He wanted to put his arms around him, pull him close, kiss the moodiness from Jack's lips, and chase his gloom away. "Perhaps someday you'll show it to me," he suggested, keeping his voice low in the uncomfortably accompanying awareness of how very exposed they were to the eyes and ears of others. Jack's eyes narrowed a little at this and he observed shrewdly, "Perhaps one day you'll also learn the difference between adversaries and potential allies." James drew himself up at this, straightening and looking away back over towards the cave. "Are you suggesting that a pirate can be anything other than a brigand and a robber? I didn't choose sides. You're the one who has placed himself on the other side of the law. You've made yourself into an adversary, Jack. No one forced you to." Expansively, Jack said, "Ahh, of course. It's no business of mine, James, but does the Crown not first make thieves, and then condemn them?" James looked down with a nod, then pinned Jack with an answering glare. "I'll not debate Thomas More's rather questionable premise on this occasion, as I'm quite certain it's not an appropriate example for you to draw upon to make your case." But Jack merely laughed softly and said, "And what would you know of my past, 'ey? Maybe it's more appropriate than you'd care to guess." His curiosity was piqued now, but James found himself dreading getting tangled up in any kind of evasive question and answer game with Jack regarding his life history. In a low, hard voice, he contented himself with replying, "Perhaps you'd care to remember that in fact I am already currently holding to this alliance with you, Jack. One that could very well mean my ruin, if not the end of both our careers." "Huh," Jack said, looking at him. "Must say, mate, I've never considered piracy a 'career'." James was a little taken aback. "You haven't?" Jack gave him a grin, entirely too seductive under their circumstances. "It's a lifestyle." "My mistake, I'm sure," James said, dryly. Giving him a doubtful once-over, Jack asked, "Do you even know where you are, Jamie? You're in the Caribbean—it's a bloody paradise on Earth. When was the last time you really enjoyed yourself?" He held up a hand. "Beg your pardon: let yourself enjoy yourself?" James looked down at him with a twinkle and a tiny smile, saying mildly, "I do believe it was this very night past. I dined with a disreputable fellow who turned out to have interesting table manners and a scintillating wit. Not to mention a sweet tooth. He seemed positively preoccupied with dessert. Although I must add he has a scandalous habit of eating in between meals." With some amusement, Jack was watching him slyly. "I see. And did this fellow's preoccupation provide any edification as to the particulars of how one might enjoy the company of such a rogue?" James thoughtfully lifted his chin, looking out across the dark water. "It was most illuminating, indeed. If I'm not afforded the opportunity to repeat the experience tonight, I daresay I may have to take you up on the offer of visiting that island you spoke of." "So you've developed a taste for the fellow's company, I take it," Jack smiled, lazily. James almost wanted to laugh. Jack Sparrow, fishing for compliments. It was... adorable. His lips twitching, he replied, "I've discovered I share his sweet tooth. Unfortunately, snacking between meals isn't a luxury I can indulge in. I am still a commodore of the fleet, after all." "To be sure," Jack agreed. "Are you a man who keeps his word, Jamie?" The swift turn of topic brought James back to himself, and to where they were. "Of course," he said, stiffly. "Then I take it you will make good on your promise? You said I could have anything at all, anything I wanted?" Jack reminded him. "I do recall," James said, slowly, wondering what outrageous demand Jack was going to come up with next. Sunnily, Jack continued, "Excellent. I'll request your presence then, at a certain location as yet undisclosed, until such time in the future as we deem it safe for you to rendezvous with a disreputable, if irresistible, fellow. The one with that sweet tooth. See, it's a very sweet island," Jack added, as if in explanation. Then his expression darkened. "If'n, that is, I ever get off this bloody boat of yours." At James's raised brow, he swiftly corrected, "Ship. This bloody ship." As James looked away, Jack muttered, "Damn touchy you lot are, about that." "It's not a boat, by any stretch of the imagination," James corrected him, feeling a little put out that Jack would put down the Dauntless. She was, after all, a ship of the line, and very fine indeed. Tempting enough a target for any pirate. "Calm down, man," Jack said, with a half-smile, obviously enjoying James's reaction. "She's a fine enough ship. Just that she can't really hold a candle to the Pearl, now can she?" James frowned. "I fail to see the necessity of the comparison." "Well," Jack began, getting his wind up now at the opportunity of singing the Black Pearl's praises, "the Pearl's prettier, faster, bigger, and altogether better. Can't help comparing most ships to her. Can you blame me?" James regarded him thoughtfully. "Jack, I'm of the mind that your feelings where your ship is concerned are somewhat unhealthy, if not downright obsessive." "She's the most important thing in the world, you see. I've sweat, bled, cried and nearly died for her many times over," Jack explained. "But you already knew that." James felt a pang of envy in him at this passionate declaration. He wondered if he was becoming entirely too compromised and infected with this romantic attachment to Jack, to begin harboring ridiculous feelings of jealousy over a ship. But he couldn't help wondering if there was enough room in Jack's heart for anyone to share with that blasted pirate ship. He looked away, out towards the cave once more. "She means everything to you, then." He glanced back at the pirate captain and saw Jack watching him. He flushed at the unreasonable response of actually feeling jealous over what held Jack's affections. Jack's grin didn't seem diabolical at all. James found a thrill of warmth lance through him at it. "Not quite everything," Jack admitted. "There are other things to treasure." His dark eyes held James's, meaningfully. Somewhat mollified, James looked down. "What manner of persuasion will you require then, to give up the bearings of this island paradise of yours?" Jack's expression took on a predatory nature. "I'll let you know," he murmured.
* * *
The overcast murkiness of the Isle began to shroud them all in darkness, and a decidedly unsettled disposition lay upon the crew, soldiers and sailors alike. Jack was glad to see them affected so. As evening crept in, he wondered how these men had fared, the last time they'd been here. He'd been dropping hints and insinuations the rest of this afternoon, wherever possible, that played upon the doubts surrounding the treasure and this Isle. Two of the men standing near him were casting dirty looks at the sky and the Isle's stone coast about them, as well as the cave entrance. It was Murtogg and Mullroy, the two guards whose acquaintances he made on that day he'd ventured into Port Royal and saved the Swann girl, and met Bill Turner's boy. The splash of a fish in the water not far from them caught their attention. Murtogg stiffened and stared out into the gathering dark. "What was 'at?" he demanded. Mullroy shook his head. "I can tell you what it wasn't." At Murtogg's sharp look, Mullroy continued, "It wasn't undead pirates. They were all changed back." Murtogg regarded him, and the two shared a knowing look. "How would you know if it was or not? Who's to say the other pirates didn't take any of the cursed treasure?" Mullroy shrugged. "If they were, by the time they'd be upon us, it'd be too late to say if I was right or wrong, now wouldn't it?" "I don't like this place. I didn't like it last time, and I still don't," Murtogg declared. "I don't like coming here, and I don't see why we have to keep coming back. Treasure or not." "Well, it's a cursed island," Mullroy pointed out, reasonably. "You're not supposed to like it. That's the point." Murtogg rolled his eyes. "It was the treasure that was cursed, not the island itself." "Then how come nothing's growing on it?" Mullroy asked. They stared out into the darkness again, looking decidedly less pleased than ever about the surroundings. The slap of the water against the hull was less than reassuring. The additional splash of another fish nearby made both men jump. "I heard that one," exclaimed Murtogg. Mullroy peered into the gloom. "So did I, that time. What is it?" "A fish, mostly likely," Jack spoke up. Both of them startled, straightened quickly to look over at him. Mullroy said, "And how would you know?" "Well, you said it, didn't you? If it wasn't, we'd all be dead." Jack grinned at them. They exchanged a look. Jack continued, mildly, "I was one of 'em for a bit, back then. Just before the curse was lifted. Isn't something a man likes to remember, I'll tell you that." Mullroy said, "Y-you were undead? All skeletal and the like?" "Very," Jack said, getting up to move closer to them. "You see, my mutinous First Mate had the advantage, being undead and all, and it was the only way to equal the odds, so I pinched a piece. Saved me life, it did. He ran me through, standing under the moonlight, and I saw myself turn completely undead, with my own sword sticking through me middle. Ghastly experience. I don't recommend it." Both men were staring at him with a mixture of horror and fascination. Murtogg asked, "What did you do?" "Well, I'll tell you." Jack said with a gesture, "I pulled it out, beat the bastard back, bloodied the gold to pay the blood sacrifice for the coin I'd taken," he held up his left palm where the cut was still healing, "tossed it to Mr. Turner, and shot Barbossa through the heart. Or... well, where his heart would have been, if he hadn't been undead and a lying, treacherous, thieving, mutinous bastard to begin with. The curse was lifted, luckily. He fell down dead, and that was that. But I'll never forget holding my hand up in the light and seeing the flesh decayed off me bones, with nothing to hold me up but a curse." Mullroy was decidedly unsettled at this tale, even more so than before. "You saw your own bones?" "Aye," Jack grimaced. "A terrible sight for a sober man, I can promise you." Both of them looked shaken at the grisly reminder of that night, and the undead pirates they'd fought aboard this very ship. Stephens joined them, coming to stand beside them. "Well, gents. Looks like yet another dark night for us to be sitting here in this appalling place." "I don't see why we have to be here at all. Once we've filled the hold with the treasure, why can't we just sail home again?" Mullroy asked. Stephens wryly observed, "Because we're staking out the cave for the return of the Black Pearl. I've heard too that we're going to be here a good long while. Days, maybe." ''I know that," Mullroy said. "What I mean is, why are we bothering? We aren't going up against the Pearl again, and everyone knows it." "Well, I have to get back to her," Jack pointed out, lifting a finger. "I'm not really supposed to be aboard in the first place, now am I?" Stephens regarded him with a frown. "You're supposed to be on the gallows, actually." "Already been there," Jack explained. "Didn't care much for that experience, either. I wouldn't recommend it." Mullroy squinted at him. "He's our hostage," he said to Stephens, as if this explained everything. "He's a pirate," Stephens retorted. "He was supposed to swing days ago." He gave Jack a frown. "How do you do it? How do you keep avoiding the noose?" "Just lucky, I suppose," Jack muttered. "But I'll warrant that all the gold coins you'll have nicked in the cave today will have brought bad fortune upon the lot of us." Stiffening, Murtogg said, "We never." Mullroy added, "I certainly didn't. Didn't see anyone else pinching any, either." Jack just gave them a cheerful grin. "So sure, are you? All that treasure, gold and jewels just lying there, strewn about, waiting to be picked up. Who'd miss a piece or two?" Stephens gave him a look of distaste. "We're not thieves, Mr. Sparrow." "Captain Sparrow," Jack corrected. "Although I'll reckon there's bound to be no good come of you lot helping yourself to all this treasure you've got aboard. It's been sitting in that cave with the cursed Aztec chest for nigh ten years. And you've had that chest aboard this very ship... can you honestly tell me that there's no chance this ship has been doomed from the carrying of it?" "We didn't steal it though," Murtogg pointed out. "That's the trouble with interpreting Aztec curses, innit?" Jack smiled. "How can you be sure that taking it doesn't constitute the same as stealing it?" Stephens said, "We were removing it for everybody's good." "Tell it to the heathen gods," Jack drawled. "I'm not sure they'll be inclined to listen to you, though." Mullroy frowned at Jack. "Your ship carried some of this treasure off, as well. Wouldn't that make it just as cursed as ours?" "To be sure," Jack agreed. "But you're forgetting that the Pearl sailed under that curse for over ten years; she's quite used to it. It's the other ships that tend to sink, once they come into contact with anything that's been taken from this Isle." With a worried look, Murtogg said, slowly, "So if we took the chest from this place, the curse might have fallen upon the entire ship." "Then why hasn't it affected us already?" Mullroy asked. "Maybe it just takes a little while for it to come into full effect," Murtogg suggested. "Nonsense, utter nonsense," Stephens declared, almost laughing. "You two are too gullible." "You're right there," Jack smiled agreeably at him. "And a few weeks ago, you'd have sworn on your mother's good name that there were no such things as immortal skeleton crews aboard ships of the damned, sailing under Aztec curses." The three men all fell silent, considering this with renewed morbidity. "All I'm saying is," Jack pointed out in the pause, "we really can't tell how the curse might affect this ship or its crew, or what the implications of removing it from its rightful home here on this dead island might be. Helping meself to one coin was enough to turn me into one of 'em undead. Imagine what would happen if one took the entire chest." He stopped, beginning to wonder if getting off the Dauntless at this point might not be a damned good idea after all. "Well." Stephens cleared his throat. "I still say it's unlikely. We'd have sunk long before now." "But we might be tempting fate, to have come back," Mullroy pointed out. Stephens swallowed, blinking. The splashing sound of what was presumably another fish caused all four men to jump this time. "I need a bloody drink," Jack muttered, moving past them and leaving them to consider the ramifications of removing cursed Aztec boxes from scary islands. As he made his way with every intention of going below, Norrington caught sight of him. "Mr. Sparrow," he called in a warning voice. Jack froze, and sighed. "Perhaps you'd be so kind as to join me in my cabin?" Norrington added pointedly, with the reproachful tone of an impending scolding. Jack wondered if the Commodore had finally apprehended the fact that it had been Jack himself who'd been inserting the odd comment here and there throughout the rest of the afternoon, enough to instill some doubts and fears in the men's minds aboard. As Jack stepped into the cabin, Norrington preceding him, he said, "Now, see here, Commodore, it isn't my fault your men are a superstitious bunch. I was only pointing out the obvious. We really can't begin to question how some mouldy, ancient Aztec gods might view our repeated incursions onto their island, here. The Codex was never very clear about it all, and from what I was told in the very beginning before this whole bloody mess started, it was the gold that was the problem, not the Isle." Norrington was staring at him. "What are you on about now?" Jack paused, and smiled with what he hoped was innocence. "Nothing. Really." Norrington frowned, regarding him with a dubious expression. "I wonder if you might suppress your desire for mischief long enough this evening to join me for supper. I've invited Officers Gillette, Groves and Thompson to attend. I have no doubt that you'll find any possible opportunity to make fools of me, them, yourself and our situation, but I'd appreciate it if you would stop playing on the fears of my men. They've been through enough as it is." Jack considered this. "For you, James, darling, I'll cease and desist. But it will cost you." Norrington rolled his eyes. "Of course it will. What now?" Jack considered the light from the candles in the wall sconces all around the inside of the cabin. Then the windows at the back of the room. He gestured towards them. "Over here. Can't exactly go speaking about this where curious ears might be listening, 'ey?" Norrington regarded him sardonically. But he followed him to the windows, away from the doors, out of sight, in the corner of the room. Instinctively lowering his voice, Norrington asked, "What is it?" In an echoing conspiratorial fashion, Jack murmured, "Nothing too pricey, I assure you." And he beckoned for Norrington to listen closer. Norrington leaned down to hear, and Jack took the chance to bring his hand up around Norrington's neck, pulling him down so that their lips met in a soft collision. The startled, enlightened moan that Norrington made against him was a lovely sound to hear. Now this was more like it. After the initial surprise, Norrington met the kiss with equal fervor, if not more. Pulling back the barest fraction of an inch from his face, Jack asked, "Or maybe even a kiss from you is too expensive? Imagine if one of your little officers stumbled in here just now." Norrington didn't answer, just stared back at him. With his eyes glittering in an excitement that had been too long denied, Norrington caught Jack's mouth beneath his again, swiftly. Heated, heart-pounding seconds slipped by with Norrington's hands going up to clutch at his arms, pulling him yet closer. Their tongues met in wet delight, and Jack was reminded sharply of how much Norrington wanted this, wanted him, in the desperate way that the man was possessing his mouth, moving over his lips demandingly, returning to join the dance of tongues upon each other. As they finally broke apart, Norrington gasped in a low voice, "Will you at least try to behave yourself for the duration of the meal? For me?" Jack sighed, casting his eyes upwards. "Very well. Etiquette it is, then." Norrington gave him a smile, and kissed him again, lingeringly. "Thank you," he murmured against Jack's mouth. Norrington stepped away, leaving Jack blinking and feeling... bereft. This whole supper thing was going to be most tedious. He just knew it. Jack sighed, wondering if it was wise of Norrington to have him here when dining with the other men. But then, they probably considered Norrington with a measure of sympathy at having to still share his quarters with a pirate he'd already outwardly condemned as an irritating nuisance. Norrington said, over his shoulder, as he went to wash his hands, "Don't think I'm unaware of what you've been up to, Jack. You want everyone off-balance and nervous. Not very sporting of you, I must say." Jack went to the chair he usually occupied, at the end of the table, and slouched in it. "What would you do in my place, 'ey?" Norrington turned to regard him, drying his hands. "A little trust would be nice." He met Jack's eye. "I said I would let you go. I will. There's no need to fear, Jack." Jack smiled back at him, fondly. "So long as you remember the same applies to yourself, love." Norrington's face softened as he took this in, remembering that Jack had said he'd come back. Both of them turned at the sudden knock upon the cabin door, however. "Come in," Norrington called. Jack breathed out though; the frustration at the wait until they could be alone again was a palpable ache in his body, and he knew Norrington felt it also. As the food was brought in, and Gillette, Groves and Thompson entered as well, Jack wondered if this was entirely wise of Norrington, to have them all present. Sharing the table with a pirate. Things could get... messy. Especially if he had anything to do with it. So Jamie wanted him to play nice, 'ey? He wondered what repercussions there might be later, if he decided to have just a little bit of fun.
* * *
There is nothing more frustrating than having to deal with a crisis when all one wants to do is fuck someone. Particularly when that someone is Jack Sparrow. Captain. Pirate. Drunken sashaying pirate captain with too-dark eyes and too-hot lips. Particularly when the crisis isn't even something tangible, but of a completely psychological nature. Composed mostly of one's own fears regarding the loss of one's heart to said pirate, and the supposed tacit accusation of one's loss of nerve amongst one's crew. And said drunken, pretty pirate captain is right there in front of one on the deck all day long, weaving about with impossible, sure-footed grace despite the rum, his fingers dancing before the eyes of one's own marines like a snake-charmer. And the madness of not being able to touch him, because it's forbidden—and not even according to him, as he's already made it quite clear that such laws don't apply to him and he wants one to touch him as often as possible. And all the while one is trying to ignore the rather gratuitous attempts of such a charming pirate to instill as much uncertainty and fear in one's crew and soldiers as possible, there is the additional personal fear that consumes any semblance of composure. The private, lonely little fear that ate within James even now, watching as Gillette tried not to notice the pirate captain sitting at the table. The fear that bit at him sharply, that he might not ever see Jack again, in spite of their continuing alliance, dalliance and somewhat overwhelmingly romantic gestures. James sat at his end of the table, with Jack at the other. Gillette was sitting to James's left, on Jack's right. To James's immediate right was Groves, then seated beside him was Thompson. Groves was trying his hardest to pretend he wasn't completely intrigued by Jack Sparrow. Thompson was pretending he wasn't intrigued by the way Groves seemed intrigued by Jack Sparrow. And Gillette was still trying to ignore Sparrow completely. The supper so far had been quiet banal exchanges of small talk, consisting of almost embarrassingly obvious attempts to discuss something, anything, that would not include Jack Sparrow. The weather. The fog. The state of the ship. The treasure. The previous battle with the undead pirates. Their meal. James was near exasperation with them at this point. Jack Sparrow was hardly a source of fear or folly. But then, the man was a pirate. That had to account for their strange reticence to discuss something more interesting than how underdone the pork was. He'd wanted to take the opportunity for some mischief himself, for once. He knew he was playing with fire, but he rather fancied seeing Jack on the defensive for a change, and he was growing tired of playing the game with these three officers of his, pretending that Sparrow was any sort of an enemy at the moment. A pirate, still, to be sure; but hardly the threat that he was supposed to consider him. James was relatively certain Jack would not out them both, but he was also rather anticipating a certain amount of bantering that left them both treading close to the line. He relished it, in fact. It was a personal whimsy, but he also intended for it to give a message to all three of his men present, that he could actually hold his own with the pirate captain and not lose face. The fact that he and Jack were already in complicity together put the odds in his favor, but it wasn't exactly anything he was even ashamed of at this juncture. James admittedly found himself having a very hard time not chuckling throughout the meal. It was somehow desperately amusing to see Jack's pained look of boredom and restraint, Groves' silent and complete lack of self-control in his curiosity regarding the pirate, Gillette's stiffly reproving manner, and Thompson's ineffective but well-intended attempts to make conversation. Things had ground to a halt, however, and with the last of the supper wilting in the dishes along with their spirits, James broke the silence. "Well, Mr. Sparrow," he directed casually, catching Jack's eye. "It would appear that your ship has been delayed." Jack stared back at him, and James almost began to believe he hadn't understood or heard. Nonchalantly, Jack replied, "Oh, you know pirates. Slovenly, slacking sinners, all. No doubt they're spending all that swag on rum and whores." At Gillette's frown of distaste, Jack shrugged a little, obviously noting that his shoulder still hurt too much to try to attempt anything very physically daring. "What else is there?" In a casual tone, James remarked, "You led me to believe there was every possibility that they'd have already arrived. Wishful thinking, perhaps?" Jack sat up, reached for his glass, and swirled the remainder of its contents thoughtfully, matching his gaze. "You should thank me, Commodore. It's kept you and your crew on your toes. No sense indulging a false sense of security when sailing around the Isle de Muerte, now, is there?" "And supposing they never show?" James smiled at him mildly. "What are we to do with you?" "Why not put it to a vote?" Jack suggested, a bit too brightly. "What say you?" he asked of Groves. Groves glanced back at James, who raised a brow at him. Looking a bit uncomfortable at being placed on the spot, Groves said, "Well, seeing as you're a pirate and a fugitive, we'd have to bring you back to Port Royal." Jack looked to Gillette, expectantly. Gillette said, "It's hardly worth discussing. We've no alternative." Turning to Thompson on his left, Jack said, "And you?" Thompson regarded him. "I don't see that we've much of a choice, seeing as you have no intention to give up piracy, Sparrow." "There is that, isn't there," Jack agreed, lifting his glass in a mock toast and then drinking from it. He gave Thompson a warning look. "And it's Captain Sparrow." "Yet, there is the possibility they might show within the next few days," James put in. "Or so you said." Groves let out a breath. "So, we're to sit here waiting, until then." "Marvelous," Thompson muttered. Jack made a little moue of helplessness. "Don't blame me; I'm not the one who's decided that pirate hunting and stealing treasure is the best use of the Navy's time." "We're not stealing it," Gillette corrected him, reprovingly. "We're confiscating it." "What a coincidence," Jack smiled at him. "So was I." Groves said, "Whatever you call it, you're still a pirate, and it's still theft." "Very perceptive of you," Jack replied. "Although I'm not sure why that's so distressing." "Oh, I'm sure the fact that you're Captain Jack Sparrow has something to do with it," James put in, dryly. "You're so right, love," Jack said, mildly, and then smiled at him. Groves swallowed and picked up his glass. James had to suppress a sigh. Gillette didn't appear to be impressed. Although James was quite certain the full import of Jack's outright flirting had passed over his head for the moment. Gillette scoffed, "If you were anything like the legend you're purported to be, Sparrow, you wouldn't have been captured, would you? Again, no less." "'Tis very true," Jack sighed at him, over his glass. "It's you bloody Navy types; always trying to pick me up. Simply can't keep your hands off me, can you?" James pinched the top of his nose, closing his eyes. So this is how it was going to be. Gillette was sitting in speechlessness, his mouth open slightly, a little too startled to really respond immediately. But Thompson said, "Really, Sparrow, I think you're overrating your appeal. Not everyone wants to be a pirate." "They don't?" Jack asked innocently. "And why not, pray tell? We keep much better hours; the pay is—well, to be honest the pay is grand in comparison to your paltry wages. And the women." He sighed happily and raised his glass slightly. "The women," he said, dreamily. "Well, really," Gillette said, a bit disgustedly. "No women?" Jack asked, curiously, then frowned. "Hm. Right then; no women." His face coloring somewhat, Groves put in, "I'd thought it was rum, rather." "That," Jack said, lifting a finger, "goes without saying, mate. Must have the rum. Always. Makes the women look even better. And if you've no women, then it's absolutely essential, as rum makes anyone look better if you've had enough." Thompson snorted. "I hardly believe what you're implying, Sparrow. I've met many pirates in my time: violent wastrels and sea robbers, nothing more. They're not at all the festive, free characters you're trying to paint them as." "I may not be free at the moment," Jack replied coolly, "but I rather think I'm more festive than anyone aboard this ship. It's the uniforms, 'ey? Snug in all the wrong places." Jack looked back at James, meaningfully. James wondered if Jack had any idea just how cooked his goose was now. He was going to make Jack pay for this. He didn't care if they had to conduct it down below in the brig. Jack was taking it too far. The most disturbing thing about it was that he didn't actually care if Jack flirted outrageously with his officers... the fact that Jack knew what it was doing to him to have to put up with it. And knowing how James felt about him... yet doing this anyway. Jack was pushing him. He let his ire show, but Jack merely smirked and sipped from his glass. "I'm afraid that's not good enough," Thompson informed Jack. "You're hardly making a very good case, and certainly not enough to convince me I should turn pirate." "I'd be happy to oblige you, but somehow I get the feeling I'd be locked up before I got very far," Jack said to him with that smirk. Groves' face was still flushed but at this, he stepped in with obvious intent to try to save Thompson. "I was under the impression that being a pirate simply meant helping oneself to anything that wasn't nailed down." James almost groaned. Good Lord above... Jack grinned at him, slowly. "I thought that's precisely what I'd said. Well, not exactly in the Biblical sense, but where rum is concerned, there's not much room for repenting of one's sins. That comes the following morning. But then, anyone who's not yet nailed... down... is fair game, are they not?" Stiffly, Gillette said, "We're well-aware of the effects of kill-devil, Sparrow. Just because you pirates souse yourselves with it doesn't mean it's any sort of achievement." Jack shook his head, tsking at him. "Can't hold your liquor, son?" Gillette stared back at him now. "Is that a challenge, pirate?" James sighed. "Gillette, he's making a point, not offering a challenge. Let us not forget that we're not here to enter into a drinking contest. Or even attempt to match Sparrow's no-doubt lengthy list of conquests, but to await the possible arrival of an enemy ship we may have to engage. We'll need our wits about us." "And," Jack said, decidedly, "let us also not forget the Commodore's taste for brandy, claret and rum, himself." At James's dark look he turned upon Jack, the pirate unabashedly added, "And oranges. Between meals." James swallowed at this reminder. Jack, he thought, you have no idea of the amount of trouble you are in, following this meal. Not the slightest conception. "If I understand you correctly," Groves said to Jack in a matter-of-fact tone, "then being a pirate constitutes living the life of a shameless, drunken debauching thief. Hardly any sort of a recommendation, don't you think?" "Over that of an ashamed, virginal, abstemious, depressed eunuch?" Jack grimaced, leaning forward to pour himself more of the watered-down wine that had accompanied their supper. "And a poor one, at that," he muttered. James coughed, realizing he was very close to laughter. In as cold a voice as he could muster under the circumstances, he said, "I hardly think that is a fair assessment of military life." "Wasn't referring to the Navy life, James," Jack said. "Merely the outcome that faces those who shun piracy as a healthy alternative to starvation or slavery. Although the desertion rate amongst your own little ranks is rather high, isn't it?" All three officers tensed and looked rather appalled at Jack's flagrant use of their Commodore's first name. Wryly, James replied, "Well, there's always honest work, now isn't there? Such as that of a butler, or an innkeeper. Or even a blacksmith," he added, in an equally dry tone. Jack's eyes narrowed but he smiled, accepting this. He turned to Thompson. "If you had the choice between piracy and becoming an innkeeper, which would you choose?" He lifted a hand before Thompson could reply. "And remember, mate: as an innkeeper, you aren't allowed to sleep with the guests, nor drink with 'em." Thompson turned a disdainful eye upon him. "That's assuming that drinking and promiscuously bedding women are my two objectives in life, which they are not. But I'd choose to be an innkeeper, yes. For the very simple reason that if I'm caught keeping my inn, it won't result with my standing on the gallows with a rope around my neck." "And you?" Jack asked Groves. "Same question?" Groves licked his lips, and said, carefully, "I'd choose to be an innkeeper. I've seen too many pirates come to a bad end, as Mr. Thompson has so eloquently stated." Gillette gave Jack a condescending smile. "I'd choose to be a pirate. And I would hunt down your ship and blow it out of the water." "You could try," Jack smiled back at him, with a bit more steel behind his gaze now, however. "Being a pirate, though, I'd offer you a deal. If my ship were to take yours, and you suffered the most unfortunate mishap of being taken prisoner, I'd let you join my crew. You're a bloodthirsty young fellow, I'll give you that. We could go hunting Navy ships together," he suggested cheerily. "What do you say to that, 'ey?" Gillette declared, "It's true what they say about you, isn't it? You are mad." Jack looked across the table at James, with more than a bit of a dare in his eyes. "What about you, Commodore? Piracy, or innkeeping?" "Actually," James admitted serenely, "I'd choose both. Innkeeper by day, pirate by night." Jack chuckled. "Beware, guests of Norrington's hospitality—lest ye be plundered, come evening." "Not to mention mine would be the most successful inn, as the others would go out of business due to nightly pirate raids upon the town, in which my inn would mysteriously escape all harm, every time," James pointed out. Groves was laughing. "You would," he commented to James. The tension seemed to have dissipated somewhat, with their Commodore's assertion. Even Gillette was chuckling at this. Thompson sighed and held up his own glass. "Why am I not surprised, Norrington?" But Jack was now thoughtfully stroking his beard and watching James with a new look of fresh appraisal. James found it distinctly unsettling. He wondered if he'd actually given Jack far too much material to use against him somehow. He'd only spoken in jest. What had he revealed in his answer that would so interest Jack? "And what of you, Sparrow?" Thompson asked. "What would you choose, between the life of an innkeeper or that of a Naval officer?" "Sailors are like fish," Jack replied, obliquely. "Neither one of 'em can last very long ashore." And he looked up, at Groves, meeting the man's eye. James felt a surge of pure hostility run through him at it. He blinked in surprise and dismay, realizing he was only rising to Jack's baiting; the pirate knew damn well what it was doing to him even now, to be playing so with the others. Thompson seemed uncomfortable with the current between Jack and Groves; understandably so, as he was sitting between them, James realized. To Gillette, he said, "Lieutenant, I can appreciate your dedication, but I doubt it will be necessary to turn pirate to achieve your goals. It would almost seem to justify Sparrow's continued folly, would it not? After all, can one pirate really sit in judgment upon another? It would seem to be the height of hypocrisy." "I only offered it as a hypothetical example," Gillette confessed. "I'd never stoop that low. All pirates deserve to hang; it's that simple." Jack winced outright. "No quarter, 'ey?" he murmured, despite the slight he'd just been delivered. James took the point, even if Gillette didn't. There was indeed a merciless side to the Navy, even as Jack had mentioned, regarding deserters, slaves and punishment. He was hardly one himself to put up with infractions or lawlessness, but he was nevertheless far from as cruel as some British captains were known to be. He merely refused to tolerate piracy. Until now, he sighed to himself. But Jack's point was an interesting one. Whether pirate or Naval officer, Gillette didn't seem to understand the concept of... mercy. James sat in somewhat stunned and blank surprise. Had he been, once, that merciless? Was he, even now? Pity... or mercy? Pity was something one felt for someone less fortunate. Mercy was an act; an act of kindness for anyone, in any position, regardless of their status. To show compassion to someone. To show forgiveness. Was that not a high virtue? A quality worth cultivating? He was curiously ashamed to realize he'd always assumed he knew what mercy was, what it meant to show it. He'd always believed that he was, in fact, merciful—and capable of knowing how to judge which of those men condemned by him were worthy of being shown mercy. "It's hardly relevant, when one considers the amount of damage, death and disaster that pirates visit upon honest civilians," Thompson said. "Are wars any prettier?" Jack asked him. James could tell they were starting to tread that semantic ground where whatever personal, moral principles or beliefs they each held, it was unlikely that whether or not they reached a debate or consensus on this would scarcely make any difference in the long run. The idea of rum was in fact more palatable. Coolly, he interjected, "The point is not which is prettier: proud piracy or national pride. It's whether or not piracy has anything to offer a man that an honest day's work does not." He shot a look at Jack, daring him to answer that one. "Any butler or blacksmith can find their way into a brothel or tavern. But most pirates can't find their way back out." Jack slowly smiled at him. "I'd hardly equate your cabin with a tavern, Commodore. Or a brothel, for that matter." James had to give him a tight smile for that one. Nodding, he agreed, "Very well, seeing as you've managed to make a guest at my table. But you've still not convinced anyone here that becoming a pirate has any real advantages." "That's assuming anyone here would recognize a real advantage if it bit them in the arse," Jack replied, dryly. "Let alone a lucrative opportunity." "I don't find hangings very profitable," Gillette observed. "Yet here we are, hanging around the dreaded Isle de Muerte, collecting pirate treasure," Jack remarked. "But some treasures are worth the risk, aren't they?" Jack directed this last question at James, who abruptly found himself facing a much greater danger. The truth. For it was very true that even now, James was taking a risk with Jack, trusting him not to out them both before these good men. His own officers. James met his eye and nodded. "It's not a question of morality, but of value." Groves said quietly, "I value my life, and the lives of others. I daresay many of the pirates we've encountered, even that of your former crew, Mr. Sparrow, were not among those who share that value." "To be sure," Jack agreed. "But if I were to, say, venture aboard this ship uninvited, and help meself to a loaf of bread from the galley below, I'd be strung up for my trouble. So my life is worth less than that of a loaf of bread?" James shifted uncomfortably in his chair. As did Groves. Thompson replied, "The question is, why would you be stealing aboard the ship in the first place, if you're that hungry? Why not find work, and earn your bread?" Jack grinned at him. "You'd hire me?" "I would not, but a baker might," Thompson said. Jack looked down, then cast his dark eyes back up James, thoughtfully. "The life of a sailor, indeed. One I'd choose over any other. Between loaves and fishes, I'll take the fish. But then we come full-circle, and we've been in these waters before, have we not?" Gillette snorted. "Man cannot live on bread alone?" "Yes, why not?" Groves smiled. "Teach a man to fish, and he can support himself for life. It comes down to a matter of trade and values, the principle of fair economics and the basis for any civilized community." Slowly, James said, "The final question then, should be: what value does piracy offer us, that we should show mercy, Mr. Sparrow?" He found himself holding his breath, awaiting Jack's answer for this one. It was indeed the most crucial question, one he'd been asking himself since he'd caught the pirate in that same cave out there, days before. Jack met his stare, saying shrewdly, "You tell me, Commodore. It comes as a complete surprise to me, I assure you, to find myself dining with you and your officers rather than gracing your gallows again. Pray tell, what value can my life possibly hold for you?" Groves swallowed and he looked like he was trying to avoid looking at Jack. James noticed the high color had returned to the man's cheeks, and he suppressed a sigh. Well, that made two of the King's finest that had fallen victim to Jack Sparrow's charms, he mused darkly. Thompson was watching Jack, though, and his eyes narrowed. "Comic relief, perhaps?" he said with some humor. Gillette was laughing at this, though. James cast his eyes to the ceiling. Make that three, he thought. Thompson was obviously more intrigued by Jack Sparrow than he wanted to believe. "You'd better hope so, Jack, after stirring the crew and all the men aboard into a state of ragged nerves. I'm considering breaking out the rum rations, simply to give them something to sustain them through this dark night." Groves shivered. "Yes. The, ah, skeletal undead. Hard to shake, that one." Jack looked delighted. James immediately regretted saying it. If it afforded Jack that much pleasure, it couldn't mean anything beneficial for their situation. Then he smiled. Of course: with the Dauntless compromised by strong drink, it made Jack's situation all the better, especially if the Pearl should show. But he was willing to bet doubloons now that the Pearl wasn't going to turn up for quite some time, if at all. "I still think I'd make a more successful pirate than you do, Sparrow," Gillette declared, sulkily. "I'm sure you will, lad," Jack said, pacifically. Thompson turned to James. "Commodore, this evening has been most entertaining, but I daresay it's getting late." "Very well," James agreed. "Although keep extra men on watch. If there's any sign of the Black Pearl, you're to inform me immediately." "Yes, Sir," Thompson said, rising and stretching. Groves and Gillette took the cue, and also made to get up. Jack stood, and muttered something about night air, rum and fog, and was the first to leave the cabin. James sat unmoving after they'd departed. He couldn't stop hearing what Jack had asked, at the last. What value did Jack's life hold for him, indeed? It had been a poignant little aside. Not only had he left the onus upon James to have to answer, it had in fact already been answered by the fact that he'd declared his heart belonged to James—and James had declared his heart was Jack's. Then it dawned on him... Jack had been all too obviously attempting to make him jealous, as well as mischievously skirting around the edges of their affair. There he'd been worried, all morning and all throughout that long afternoon, that he wouldn't be able to keep Jack. And the whole time, Jack had been worried about keeping him. Jack had been trying to make him jealous... because Jack himself was jealous of anything that held his attention—away from Jack. It was... endearing, James thought to himself with some amusement. Their shaky trust was still mutual, and as such, very vulnerable, yes. But real. He had a smile on his face that wouldn't leave, and the warmth he felt returning to his chest was very welcome. He supposed too that he owed it to Jack, to allow him the measure of discomfort through that meal that he'd had to suffer on Jack's account, seeing as he'd really placed Jack on the spot. In fact, he fully expected to have to make it up to him. The next few hours could prove to be very interesting, he mused happily.
* * *
Standing forrud, Jack gazed at the sky where stars shone through patches of thinner fog. It looked clear and bright above, and he was willing to bet that once out of the passage, it would be plain sailing. The flapping of wings nearby overhead made him look up, and Jack frowned to make out what manner of bird would be fool enough to attempt to nest on a dead island. It was Cotton's parrot. Blessed be. Jack heaved a sigh of relief. The parrot fluttered down and nearly entangled himself in the rigging. Managing to right himself, the parrot gave Jack a sharp eye. Grinning, Jack said, "Red sky at morning, sailor take warning." The parrot bobbed his head a few times and squawked, "Wind in yer sails!" before flapping away, out of sight into the dark fog. Well, well; they'd showed after all. Jack felt the relief fill him better than the meal had in Norrington's cabin. Now all he had to do was hope that birdbrain there would relay the message back to the others properly. He had one night. One last night with James. One of the sailors moved to stand beside him, and commented, "Talking to yourself?" Jack turned to regard the man. "Best conversation to be had, really." The sailor chuckled. "A dismal evening, innit?" Jack turned back to regard the swirling fog beyond the ship. "Aye, 'tis." The sailor continued, "Is it true, what blokes say about you, Sparrow?" "Very probably," Jack replied. "What have you heard?" "I couldn't help wondering if you went loopy from all those days marooned, when your crew mutinied." Jack squinted at him. "That was years ago, mate. An' if I were mad, would you really expect me to admit it?" The sailor paused. "I suppose you've a point, there." But he was lingering and Jack got the impression the sailor was about to try to get some sort of tale out of him... He had precious enough hours left as it was, and he stood. Leaning closer to put a hand on the sailor's shoulder, he said, "Best be watchful, mate; there's likely to be a tempest at dawn." The sailor glanced about them. "Looks calm to me. How would you know?" "A bird told me." He brushed the side of his nose. "This ship will be on her way, come morning. Savvy?" "Right," the sailor agreed slowly, nodding his head as if finally coming to the opinion that he was, in fact, quite mad after all. Jack left him standing there, looking about them uncertainly. He shrugged. Couldn't say he didn't warn anyone. As he made his way back to Norrington's cabin, he wondered if the Commodore had any idea of the chance he was taking here, not to simply leave now while he had the Pearl so close at hand. Come to think of it, why was he reluctant to leave at all? Well, it would be easier to slip away in the small hours, he reasoned. But now that he knew the Pearl had returned, and he was very nearly safe again, he felt a melancholy upon him, knowing he'd be leaving his Commodore behind. Nothing in this world was certain, not even that any rendezvous at any particular island could be counted on. Stolen nights, stolen days... well, after having yearned for his ship for ten years and then regaining her, to have this addition of a heart-healing was welcome indeed. He couldn't regret wanting it, or wanting to hold onto it. Regardless of the risks to both of them. As he opened the doors and went inside, he saw Norrington sitting at his desk, scribbling in his log. He shut the doors behind him and sauntered over to where the hammocks were stowed. Getting them out and unrolling one, he began to sling it with a glance at Norrington, fastening one end to the iron hoop in the wall. "You aren't allowing them rum, then?" Norrington paused, his quill poised over the book. "No," he mused. "They can make do. Perhaps tomorrow night, however, if it starts to get a bit much." He gave Jack an accusatory glance. "I don't usually allow women or drink aboard." "It's true," Jack agreed, heartily. "Both have a tendency to take charge, and before you know it, they've got control of your ship, your helm and your crew. Not good." It was worrying at times, how proprietary AnaMaria was about the wheel—if Jack himself weren't at it, she'd refuse to relinquish it. She seemed to have some sort of nautically-inspired idea that none of the rest of the crew were competent enough. Norrington finished writing and put the book away in his desk drawer. Turning, he stood and stretched. "We survived supper, at least. Without much help from you, I might add." Jack raised his brows, and finished slinging the hammock. "I found it most fascinating. Your lieutenant there would make a fairly ruthless menace of himself, given half a chance." He went to the table and sat down. "Gillette?" Norrington smiled coldly. "He's never understood my decision to let you go, let alone allow you to dine with us at my table, or even sleep in my cabin, nights on end. You really are shameless though, Jack. You went too far." "How far is that?" Jack frowned at him. "I thought I was in fine form. They were expectin' a pirate, and that's what they got. You should be proud of me, James. I delivered." He threw him a grin. Norrington sat down at the table, in his usual spot. No doubt to keep the table between them and avoid temptation. Jack smiled to himself, glancing at the doors where the occasional sailor or soldier could be seen passing by. The muffled sound of a chantey droned from above, an Irish tune that abruptly filled Jack with homesickness, unaccountably. He shook himself. "One more night, then," he murmured, glancing at Norrington. Norrington met his eye and seemed covered with a wistful tenderness that softened his features considerably. Jack liked that look on him. The melted one, where all the man's defenses relaxed and he allowed his feelings to show. "One more," Norrington agreed. The candles were still burning around the walls in their sconces with too much light, and Jack felt a drifting calm, akin to the inexorable pull of waves when the tide moves out. Like a siren call that one cannot resist, this was. Looking back at Norrington again, he saw the heat creeping into the man's gaze, and found an answering flicker rise inside him at it. He smiled, smugly. "An innkeeper by day, and a pirate by night," he said, reflectively. "That's interesting." "Yes, I thought you'd like that," Norrington replied, dryly. Jack wondered if he'd underestimated him. He'd thought it a nice adventure, a dalliance indeed. He was fine with playing it out to its conclusion, but he'd imagined Norrington finding himself far too caught up in his moral dilemmas and contradictory desires, to hold to duty and his Navy life while trying to accept his feelings for a pirate. Now it seemed that Norrington truly had come to a resolution within himself, of acceptance of both his own desires, and of Jack too. Norrington had reached an equilibrium, and was finally beginning to balance his own desires with his external persona. Jack was... surprised. He hadn't expected it. But maybe the possibility had been there from the very beginning, in the way that Norrington had been able to let him go, despite the law and the fact that he'd stood in the noose. This was, perhaps, a natural progression. Jack looked away. "Said you were a man of your word, James. Yet you backed out of the terms of our duel. Terms you agreed to before your own men." Norrington regarded him with a look of confusion. "What are you talking about?" "We-ell," Jack said, slowly, "If you'll recall, I won our duel last time we were here. First blood, 'ey? If memory serves, your terms were that the winner gets to take the loser prisoner... and all the treasure as well. At first blood. I'm sure all your men who were present would vouch for that, would they not?" "We agreed afterwards that we wouldn't stop there." "Ahh, but you were the one who didn't want to end it there, remember? You could have surrendered, but you didn't. And—you could have killed me, but you didn't. So the result's the same, and here we are, if a bit delayed. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't take you with me, aboard my ship, and the treasure also." "Oh, for Heaven's sake, Jack," James exclaimed in a low, threatening voice. "Things have progressed way beyond whatever outcome that duel had, and you know it. You can't honestly believe you'd get away with it." Jack grinned back at him, irritatingly. "You refused me invitation, Jamie. You've left me without any choice in the matter. Besides, you promised me anything I wanted, an' I do believe you heard me earlier when I said I wanted you. Refusing an invitation to spend some time aboard a pirate ship is very understandable, considering you're a commodore and all. Therefore, the best thing is to be captured. Then one doesn't have to explain anything. A pirate is expected to take prisoners. And plunder them. Plus I have yet to return your hospitality." Norrington smiled back him, undaunted. "Granted, my hospitality has been lacking, but only in the beginning. You must admit it's improved, since." "Oh, it has," Jack agreed. "Greatly. You did promise, Commodore, if you'll recall. Anything I want... " he trailed off, significantly, with a sidelong look up at Norrington. "Suppose I said that I do want you? And I'll not give you up for anything?" Norrington looked away with a troubled expression. "Do you honestly expect me to give up my career, my position, my dignity? My life? Everything I am, that I've worked for? How can you expect me to do that, if you truly care for me?" Jack looked askance at him. "I've not asked you to do anything of the kind, my James. In fact, I've no intention of asking you to. I don't want you to." "You don't." Norrington met his eyes. "No. Better the Devil you know, than the Devil you don't, after all," Jack explained, reasonably. "If you leave Port Royal, they'll just replace you with someone who'll see me hunted down and hanged." Norrington frowned at him. "Then what are you suggesting?" "If we agreed that I capture you next, it makes our little rendezvous so much easier," Jack explained. "It has the added advantage that you'll not have to explain yourself or your actions... nor will your reputation suffer the ruination of depravity or consorting with pirates." He grinned unpleasantly, well aware that most would find it a delicious gossip item in any case. Norrington coldly glared at him. "I was under the impression that we would be conducting this secretly, without any public repercussions or involvement." Jack shrugged lightly. "How do you intend to meet me alone on some island in the middle of nowhere without telling anyone?" Norrington looked away again. "I don't know," he admitted. "I'm sure something would reveal itself in time. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Not to mention that necessity is the mother of invention." "Ah, but would your conscience suffer it well enough? Or would you stand me up, in light of having returned to your life of service and hangings?" Jack asked, pointedly. "Once you're back on familiar ground, at home... you might find yourself reconsidering." Hollowly, Norrington replied, "I will find a way to live with myself, as well as my actions, as always. It is possible to find an honorable existence that includes the presence of a pirate, I'm sure." "Where there's a will, there's a way?" Jack smiled at him. "The satisfaction of command is not one I'm willing to give up," Norrington stated. "But neither will I give you up, either. I have to accept that, and now so do you." "To be sure," Jack agreed. "Just as you've had to accept that I'm not going to give up my ship or my life. So we accept each other, regardless of how fate determines the hows and whys of when we may next face each other openly, 'ey?" Norrington considered him thoughtfully. "Have you forgotten so quickly, Jack?" Jack hesitated at this. Norrington raised his brows at him, giving him a rather fond and almost patronizing look. "I love you, and I'm not going to lose you. I refuse to give you up. You'll just have to get used to the idea." Jack was a little taken aback at the rush of happiness that flooded through him at this. "Suppose I will, at that. I must say, it sounds better each time you tell it, Jamie." Norrington gave him a fond little smile. "I hadn't realized you needed so much reassurance, Jack." A sensation of warm panic followed Norrington's words, chasing through Jack with alternately hot and cold desires, to flee... or to get up and kiss him breathless. He hadn't anticipated just how binding this relationship was going to end up. Saying he refused to give up James was very different to being owned in turn. He wasn't sure he wanted to be owned, actually. To allow the terror of being needed, desired, wanted. To allow oneself the luxury of the same. It was crashing over him like a breaking wave, now, the reality of their situation. Their agreement. What it really meant, to belong to each other, however sporadic their circumstances demanded their trysts would be. It went far beyond occasionally easing each other's loneliness, or healing broken hearts. He'd never wanted this. To be forced into the situation of facing it, accepting Norrington's heart and then accepting as well as pledging his own... he was beginning to feel confined. Restless. Something in his face must have shown this, because Norrington looked away and stated, quietly, "You're leaving, aren't you? You'll take your chances on this Isle." He blinked, and then faced Jack again, pinning him with that knowing, wounded stare. "I knew it had to come to this, but why have you stayed this evening? Or can you admit that you want this, that you want me? One night more." Jack looked away, to the frosted glass panes in the doors. Dryly, he answered, "I thought it was clear. Wouldn't be here if I didn't want you." Norrington nodded. "Can you admit it, Jack; that you don't want to leave?" "That would hardly be the truth," Jack returned. "I'd much rather you came with me." "Yes, on your terms," Norrington smiled. Jack threw him a sharp look, warned by the mild tone. "Don't worry," Norrington continued. "I'll let you go. I trust you, remember? I'll not ask you to compromise yourself, nor will you ask me to do the same. As we agreed." Jack looked down again. "Well," he said, more brightly, "I owe you the coordinates of a fine piece of real estate, do I not?" Norrington regarded him, that knowing look far too self-satisfied for Jack's peace of mind. Jack felt caught out somehow, and not even sure why. Norrington asked, "Is it really so terrifying? To be in love?" "You tell me," Jack said, meaningfully. "You started this." "So love is not synonymous with freedom or happiness, then?" Norrington was gauging his reactions. With a little grimace, Jack looked away. There was a small, distant ache in his heart, however, that he'd been keeping at bay all day long, and throughout the supper as well. It would be far too easy for Norrington to decide the risks weren't worth it... and decide to back out of this little 'arrangement' of theirs. It was one thing to believe and trust that James loved him... It was another thing to believe and trust that James would not end up having to make a decision he didn't even want to make, such as finding them both in a possibly public confrontation in future. Best to avoid such things, on principle, or else one or the other of them would end up—dead. "And what is love to you, honestly?" Jack asked him. "You," Norrington replied immediately, with certainty. And continued to watch him, and wait. Jack was uncomfortable. Since when had this shifted and become about his heart, his feelings? What did Norrington want from him? He'd already said he loved him, already pledged his heart to him. His time. His trust. What more was there? "Why are you afraid of me?" Norrington asked gently, almost as if afraid of the answer. Jack gave him a sharp look. "The brig? The prison cell? The duel?" he asked, significantly. "We've progressed rather rapidly past all that, but you can hardly deny how we started out, here." "Considering you're a pirate, and I'm an officer of the British military, you can hardly be surprised," Norrington stated. Jack tilted his head, regarding him. "There you are. Answered your own question, haven't you?" Norrington's eyes slid away from his. "The point is whether or not you can trust an officer of the law who is capable of being an innkeeper and a pirate, simultaneously." Jack grinned humorlessly at him. "Rather like a pirate who's also a good man, then?" Norrington gave a laugh. "Indeed, yes. Very well, Jack." An awkwardly full silence sprang up, leaving Jack to wonder if he'd bitten off more than he could chew, here. He glanced at the hammock, strung up off to the side. Norrington followed his gaze, saying in a low voice, "Having you aboard today has been the hardest thing I've had to endure." "Blow out some of the candles, mate," Jack directed with a lift of his chin. "I'll see to the other hammock. The one for effect." Norrington licked his lips. "What if we're disturbed, if your ship shows up?" "She won't." Jack shook his head. Norrington threw him a look. Slowly, he said, "She's already here, isn't she?" At Jack's evasive glance at the doors, Norrington added, "How long? Since we arrived, then?" Jack gave him a look. "Not until morning, actually. I expect she'll be here at dawn. I've a feeling." Norrington nodded, with a self-effacing smile at the floor. He got up and began to put out the candles, dimming the room. "One more night, then." Jack wasn't really feeling like doing much of anything, particularly after their rather worrisome discussion. And having been set upon by Norrington's three officers after supper. And knowing his Pearl was out there, waiting for him. But he finished putting up the hammock, and was about to turn away when he found Norrington stepping up to pull him into his arms. "I can't bear it," Norrington whispered in a raw voice, slightly muffled against him. "The thought of—of not seeing you." Norrington was holding him too tightly, a measure of tension running through him and transmitting itself through his embrace. The pure, genuine hurt in Norrington's tone was undeniable. The anguish of wanting to make it last. Jack was hardly in a position to disagree; it was painful. Very. Almost enough to extinguish the flame of desire. But being wrapped around each other as they were, and feeling the pounding of James's heart against him, this embrace was most eloquently convincing. "In two weeks time," Jack stated, slowly, "I'll meet you at that little island, 'ey? And you won't have to miss this for very long at all." Norrington paused, and his muffled reply was hopeful. "Two weeks?" "Well," Jack grinned, "there's the rest of the treasure to remove. Let's not forget that." Norrington pulled away, holding him at arm's length. "What are you going to do with it all?" Jack regarded him, allowing his eyes to wander downwards, all the way down... "I'm going to buy an island, remember? The one 'at we're supposed to be meeting at?" Glibly, Norrington replied, "You? Buy something?" "Not at first, certainly," Jack agreed. "I'll steal it first, and wait for the owner to catch up. And then I'll make them an offer they can't refuse." "Sell or die?" Norrington asked, dryly. Jack grinned saucily at him, at this. "It's a British island, mate. You might want to consider the fact it'll probably be yourself 'at's sent in to negotiate the purchase." "How long have you been planning this particular stunt?" Norrington asked, suspiciously. Jack raised his brows at him, saying airily, "I believe it was when you said I wasn't going to cost you your integrity." Norrington reached up a hand to stroke a finger across his right cheek. "Your eyes are deep enough to fall into without painting them. Why do you?" "Cuts out the glare from the sunlight off the water," Jack explained, shortly. "And now, I'm afraid I shall have to insist you remove the wig, Jamie lad, as you look much more like a pirate without it." "I do not," Norrington said with a raised brow, but he stepped away and pulled it off, also unbuttoning his shirt. Jack pulled off his boots, and took off his sash. With a chuckle, he contradicted, "Oh, but you do. Remove the trappings of the gentleman and you're far less civilized than you want to believe." Norrington was soon standing in nothing but his shirt, and came back to stand by one of the hammocks. "A commentary on human existence, by Jack Sparrow," he said, thoughtfully. "I'll never ask you to give up the sailor's life, you know. I'm not that cruel." "I know you're not," Jack said, catching his eye. "Was sort of waiting for you to figure that one out." Shimmying out of his breeches, leaving his shirt on also, Jack looked at him from beneath his lashes. "Although I must say it wasn't very sporting to keep me in the dungeon, back there." Norrington sniffed and admitted, darkly, "You're right. How shall I make it up to you?" Seizing his opening, Jack said, "There's but one possible way you could ever hope to make it up to me for keeping me that filthy little cell, James. But I doubt you'd agree to it." With an uncertain expression, Norrington said, "I'm not sure I follow what you're getting at." Jack stepped closer to him now, letting his hands steal about Norrington's waist, and pulled him against him, enjoying the way their bodies met. Norrington's sudden intake of breath at it was good to hear. It was rather hot, with the silky caress of skin upon skin, and both of them suddenly not wanting to endure the separation of one from the other. Moving his hands up over Norrington's back beneath his open shirt, he gradually let them come to rest on the man's hips. "Tonight, it's my turn to want you." Almost as if on cue, Norrington tensed. Jack leaned in to lick at his left nipple, going to his knees and letting his mouth trail down over his waist, down to where his thigh met his groin... and carefully avoided the considerably interested, hard member jutting upwards. "God," Norrington breathed, "What are you—" "Shh," Jack said against his skin, "I'm tasting you." And he went back to licking at the pale flesh there, lightly. A shiver overtook Norrington, and he gasped. Jack allowed his mouth to meander back towards the middle, nearing the heavy balls that now began to draw up slightly. He stroked his tongue over them and received a strangled curse for his explorations. Mouthing them more earnestly, he had to reach around to grasp Norrington's thighs to steady himself. This was rather more interesting, indeed. Nuzzling amidst the thatch of hair there, he began to nibble his way up, up to the base of the strong shaft that stood so proudly. Continued upwards along its length, remembering how Norrington had reacted to his ministrations the previous night. Then he stopped, grinning up evilly at him. "Can't do this properly down here. You've got these long legs," he added, admiringly, running his hands up and down Norrington's right leg, letting his hands stay up at the top of his thigh. "Nice legs," he nodded. Norrington let out a breath of extreme exasperation. "Let's... move this to a better place then, shall we?" "Thought you'd never suggest it," Jack said, rising to his feet. The flushed look in Norrington's face, the way his dark hair was mussed and his eyes fever-bright, Jack privately thought that there was absolutely no way on God's Earth that anyone, should they be disturbed, could believe that they were doing anything but cavorting in the most sinful fashion. Somehow, they managed to climb into one of the hammocks, whereupon Jack hungrily began to mouth his way down Norrington's belly to his erect cock, even as the hammock still swung too crazily. The stiff organ in his face was dripping cock-honey, and Jack licked at it, savoring the taste. Too delightful. He had to allow himself this pleasure. It would be two weeks, if not longer, before he'd have the opportunity again. He shut away any possible doubts about their future, not wanting it to intrude upon this moment of theirs. Without any preamble, Jack deeming it unnecessary, he opened his mouth and took Norrington's knob between his lips, swirling his tongue over it as he went down. Norrington was emitting groans that, under other circumstances, would have been worrying. "All god-damned day," Norrington gasped out. "Watching you prance about on deck, like a bloody tart. Parading yourself—you knew what you were doing to me, didn't you?" Jack ignored this outburst, realizing it was entirely rhetorical, seeing as Norrington would probably be devastated if he were to stop at this juncture. He merely continued to lave at the flared crown of Norrington's cock, and then settled into a leisurely rhythm, sucking him in and out from between his lips, never quite letting go—but never going all the way down, either. He knew Norrington was a quick study, and had proven it last night, showing Jack that with very little demonstration, he could yet become adept in the art of cocksucking. He'd only felt teeth a few times during it, and to be honest, James had been very good indeed, making up for his inexperience with sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment. The sweetness of allowing the heavy, satiny shaft between his lips to penetrate his mouth over and over was beginning to take its toll on his jaws. He could feel the slight ache, which he put down to simply being out of practice. When was the last time he'd really let himself take care of another man properly? It had been... years, actually. In spite of the innuendo he encouraged. Besides, this felt different. It wasn't simply about enjoying the act, or giving appreciated relief to someone else, for Norrington was too smitten with him for it to be anything but an astounding gift. It was so far out of the realm of sexual favors, he was hard-pressed to liken it to anything but granting the man his heart's desire. And that wounded little moan, as Norrington breathed, "Jack," in a tone of wonder and admiration, staring down at him with widened eyes and slackened mouth, it made a little more of the uncertainty and pain inside tiptoe away. He renewed the sucking, pulling at Norrington's quivering prick, feeling it tense and pulse against his tongue and the inside of his lips. His Jamie was close— The first spurts of love-juice were a surprise, seemingly premature, but he eagerly swallowed them, holding Norrington down so that the man's bucking wouldn't choke him. Norrington's spasms wracked him, and finally Jack let him go, letting him fuck his mouth, the head of his sizeable cock hitting the back of his throat repeatedly. Warm cream flooded his mouth, and he gulped to catch it all, barely stopping it from spilling between his lips. Greedily, he managed to claim all of it, ignoring the nearly painful tug of James's hands upon his head. Happily, he settled down into a lapping routine for a while, still suckling at Norrington's newly-exhausted organ, feeling somewhat possessive and not wanting to relinquish it just yet. But soon, between heaving breaths, Norrington said, "E-enough, it's... too much. For now. You keep that up, it'll be too much." Reluctantly, Jack let him slip out, and licked his lips, saying, "Dessert was never better. You're very sweet, Jamie." He stared back up at Norrington hotly, wondering how many times he could make the man come in one night. Might as well make the most of what they had here, after all. "Come up here," Norrington ordered gently, watching him with a curious expression of awe and tenderness. Jack hesitated, and then began the laborious process of maneuvering himself into a different position, so that he could clamber up beside him... without spilling them both onto the floor. He was more practiced at doing this sort of thing on beaches... and although the hammock could take them both, it was harder to keep one's balance. He felt rather grateful he'd not had too much rum for this. He sank against Norrington's left, turned upon his right side with a sigh, feeling a definite sense of achievement and satisfaction. Norrington's hand came up to touch his left shoulder, below the bandage. "Thank you," he murmured. "'Twas my pleasure," Jack assured him, reaching up to take his hand, and bringing it to his lips for a kiss. He didn't let go, keeping the elegant, long fingers against his mouth, enjoying the simple luxury of holding his hand. Norrington shifted slightly, resettling against him, and leaned his head closer to Jack's, both of them looking up at the ceiling. Norrington eyed the long spiny bone doubtfully. "You could put my eye out with that." "You'll have to trust me that I've no intention of putting out your lovely eyes," Jack stated. "I've something much better in mind." "You've decided to add me to that long list of conquests then, have you?" Norrington asked, sardonically. He didn't sound worried, but Jack could feel him tense against him. "You'll love it," Jack said. "You'll have to trust me on this one. Besides, you liked doing it well enough yourself, last night." He casually sucked Norrington's little finger into his mouth, performing an echo of his previous ministration upon it. Norrington's breath hitched in his throat at it. "Your mouth," Norrington muttered, "was made for sin." Jack pulled Norrington's finger away. "An' yours wasn't?" Jack grinned suddenly. Norrington abruptly pulled him in, reaching up to pull his face closer, and Jack found himself being soundly kissed. Norrington drew back, and regarded him thoughtfully, not letting go of him. "I wondered," he confessed suddenly, "how different it would be, to kiss a man. With that beard of yours," he added, by way of explanation. With a wry smile, he said, "Now I find myself wondering what I'd worried about." Jack raised a brow at him. "Less different than a lass, 'ey?" Norrington gave a little nod. "Something like that. That something that's decried as so unnatural should feel... well, more natural and less strained than... as you said, being with a lass." Jack's eyes narrowed. "Careful, there, Commodore. You're starting to sound like a fellow who's been converted to the joys of debauchery." "It's rather late to begin worrying about that," Norrington said. "Pirate." "Aye," Jack grinned. "Takes one to know one, though. If you ever give up being a commodore, I highly recommend you take to innkeeping. I have no doubt your guests would be well-satisfied." He instantly regretted it however, for the swift expression of sobriety that replaced Norrington's afterglow. "There's more to this than feeling corrupted," Jack informed him. "I don't hold with the notion that my love for you is corrupt," Norrington replied, mildly. "If anything, I'm beginning to question why it is something I should be ashamed of in the first place." "A shameless pirate innkeeper, no less," Jack mused. "Build me an inn on that island of yours, Jack, and I'll keep it," Norrington said. Jack's eyes widened at this. "You shouldn't say things like that," Jack said. "I might start to get ideas. It's a bad idea, to start giving me ideas, especially when I've not had you yet." "Well, then, by all means; have me," Norrington said, amused. "Heaven forbid that I might give you the idea I'm serious about this. About loving you, I mean." Norrington's hand was slowly trailing over Jack's ribs, moving to his waist. Jack wasn't sure which he found more distracting: Norrington's caress and the anticipation of fucking him into the hammock under him, or the pointed reminders Norrington kept flinging at him all night, about... love. Usually the word 'love' meant anything to do with physical pleasure, but the volatile and romantic relationship he'd found himself in, here with Norrington aboard this ship, was still requiring some adjustment. Emotionally and mentally. They'd already declared their love for each other; why did he have to keep reaffirming it, as if anything would have changed between one declaration and the next? Norrington's lips on his eyebrow was accompanied with a murmured, "Don't be afraid. For just as I own you, you own me." This was followed by a rather unfair continuance of those gentle kisses, as Norrington pressed his lips to Jack's cheek, moving lower, and then to his mouth, coaxing him into an open-mouthed and heated kiss that robbed him of thought. This... kiss... hot... and wonderful, and just... what had he been—?... oh yes. Jack tried to mumble against him testily, "'M not afraid—" in some protest, but he was silenced by Norrington's renewing the kiss and not letting him answer. Norrington was too fervent and possessive like this, claiming his lips with more than a touch of besotted rapture, and Jack was losing the thread, starting to wonder what he'd been concerned about in the first place. Finally, to catch his breath, feeling himself going under beneath the onslaught of Norrington's decidedly intent passion, he pulled back a bit and said, "Now, just... hold on, there, 'ey? I'm not exactly through with you." Norrington regarded him uncomprehending. "Did I say you were?" "Look," Jack said, woundedly, "who's taking whom, here?" "Why, Jack," Norrington said with a slow smile, "I do believe you're off your game. Could it be that you're actually enjoying the attention?" Norrington snagged him closer, and tightened his arm about him, snugly. With a sigh, Jack said, "You said I could have you, to make up for... things. Before. Remember?" With that damnably knowing smirk, Norrington said, reasonably, "I do, indeed. I'm hardly putting up any resistance." Another kiss... "I'm still—"... lips nibbling upon his... "—waiting—"... slow trail of those lips moving up his face... "—for you to get on with it." It was slightly embarrassing to find himself so completely adrift due to the simple proximity and embrace of someone, let alone under the few lingering kisses he was being subjected to. But he couldn't think properly, and it was far worse than reaching that point during a particularly heavy binge where one's mind gave out and the body gave in and one just gave up until the morning, to attempt any serious thinking whatsoever. But he couldn't relinquish the notion that not only did he have to keep his wits about him this night, especially considering he was supposed to be escaping from this ship afterwards, but that he really, truly, seriously wanted to shaft James properly before he left. He was close, in fact, to telling Norrington to go down on him; just to take the edge off. "Right," he decided, drawing a breath. "Budge over. Need to get hold of that wonderful stuff I got off your ship's doctor... " and he managed to extricate himself from Norrington enough to edge himself off of the hammock, and kneel to rummage through his effects for the small jar of salve. There it was. Straightening, he turned and saw Norrington watching him with a thoughtful expression. "It's occurred to me," Norrington told him, "that quite possibly, one of the reasons your lovers leave you is because they don't think they can keep you." "What—?" Jack stared at him, wondering where on Earth this segue had sprung from. Relentlessly, Norrington continued, "Think about it, Jack. They finally offer the ultimatum of choosing between being a pirate... and remaining with them. It isn't that you've been found wanting; they fear that they have." Jack's eyes narrowed as he advanced on the hammock. "That's assuming I haven't left them before they could make such an absurd demand. And of a pirate such as myself, no less. It's passing understanding how anyone could believe that Captain Jack Sparrow, of all people, would give up piracy. Now move up, because I'll need a bit of room for this." Norrington's rather smug look told him the Commodore was hardly fooled at his dismissal of what he'd said, but at this point, Jack didn't much care. Removing his shirt, Jack gave him a look, daring him to tell him not to. Damned if he was going to pretend this was anything other than what it was. If anyone burst in on them now, it was hardly going to come as a huge shock. Particularly to those little officers that had been in here earlier. Norrington could always claim that Jack had been attempting to ravish him. He regarded James with a smile. It was nothing but the truth, after all. His Commodore looked a little green about the gills, now that they were reaching that moment of truth, however. And he tilted his head. "Lie down, on your side," he said, with another smile. "I know what you need." "I'm sure," Norrington muttered. "No, no," Jack said, taking his place beside him, facing him, wincing a little at the pull on his shoulder wound. "Trust me. You'll like this." He reached around a hand to pull Norrington closer, shifting them so that they were pressed up against each other, cozily. Then he began to trace the tips of his fingers lightly along Norrington's back, up and down and around; nothing but a hint of a touch, repeating it over and over. "Sometimes," Jack murmured, looking into his eyes, "this can help relax one." He kept up the light tracings, and simply enjoyed the way Norrington was looking back at him, first expectantly and then with a little more contentment. As he'd expected, Norrington's muscles lost some of their tightness, and he began to respond to Jack's simple caresses by unconsciously leaning into him further. Keeping his fingers light, Jack began to use more than his fingertips, until he was using his whole hand, stroking, feeling rather as though he was petting him. Norrington leaned in all the way now, meeting his lips, warmly. Returning the kiss, Jack used the distraction of it to concentrate on slowly trailing the length of Norrington's back, from his shoulders all the way to the slight swell of his backside. And it was as a single shiver ran over Norrington at it that he went ahead and laid his hand against it, cupping him more firmly and pulling Norrington against himself, so that their legs were entangled and their bodies joined completely. All the while, Norrington's eyes remained closed. Jack pulled back a hair's breadth and whispered against him, his hand still on his ass, "Do you want to go through with this?" Norrington's eyes snapped open and he said, dryly, "Sometime before the year is out, yes." Jack pulled a face and said, huffily, "Only thinking of your sensibilities, m'dear. I hardly expect you to take to being buggered like a duck to water." Norrington grinned and kissed him, saying with a chuckle, "Who knows, Jack? I may surprise you, yet." "Some things," Jack retorted, "are too good to rush." "You are adorable," Norrington informed him with a straight face, but there was a definite twinkle in his eye that belied the affection somewhat. After a moment's pause, in which Jack found himself trying to decide if the man was being insufferable on purpose or was merely caught up in the moment with him, he said, "You're making this bleeding difficult, you know." "Let me make it easier for you," Norrington said. "Simply fuck me, Jack." Jack grinned at him. "Finally." Norrington regarded him. "I should have known. Getting me to ask you for exactly what you want me to ask for." Jack nodded with a little moue of resignation. "True, but don't expect me to go to all this trouble every time, 'ey?" "Well, naturally," Norrington commented, lifting his leg to bring it to rest against Jack's side, his heel pressing into Jack's back. "I'm beginning to understand just how threatening romance is for you, after all." Fumbling to get the stopper off of the jar of salve, Jack said, absently, "Well, but we both know how romantic it is for you, to threaten me." A wild edge returned to Norrington's eyes at that, and Jack was abruptly caught in the memory of their duel. And the haunted desperation he'd seen in them when Norrington had been to see him in the brig and also in that cell. He regarded Norrington solemnly. "Your choice, love; on your front, or on your back?" With a moment's hesitation, Norrington said, "My back. It's easier this way." And he rolled back a little, edging over as Jack lifted himself up to hover over him. "Lift your legs," Jack said, enjoying the dart of fear that visibly ran through Norrington. He smiled. "Trust me." But Norrington complied, and Jack helped him, positioning himself with his knees on either side of Norrington's flanks, enjoying the touch of smooth skin against the insides of his thighs. Slathering his cock with the salve, Jack casually observed, "This is quite the sight, I must say. I reckon your little men would be rather startled to see you like this, Commodore." Norrington's cheeks were coloring well, but he merely replied, "As I would be, in their place." And then Jack's finger had found its way along Norrington's exposed cleft, and he gently slipped it within him, only to the first knuckle, slowly working it in and around. Norrington's look of dismayed pleasure was almost endearing in itself, and Jack said, holding his gaze, "Alright, then?" Norrington swallowed, not replying, and Jack gave him a wicked smile, knowing what he was about to do to his Commodore... a slight twist of his finger upwards, searching... there. And suddenly Norrington was gasping aloud, his head going back, eyes closed. Jack was starting to feel the anticipation thrum within him, at the thought of sliding into this hot, silky channel. He withdrew his finger, applied more salve, and then slid it inside that waiting pucker again, and this time, a little deeper, more vigorously, coaxing that not-so-easily dismissed cock back to life with each press against the sweet spot inside him. Norrington's eyes opened, catching his with an expression of disbelief. Jack tilted his head and regarded him with a sly smile. Then he added the second finger. Norrington's eyes widened as he pressed his lips together, tightening. "I don't suppose we could try for a third?" Jack murmured, casually. Norrington swallowed visibly, his eyelids fluttering a couple of times. Jack let out a breath, realizing he was going to have to remember to keep this at a slow pace. "If you could just see yourself, love," he said, admiringly. "Dessert, indeed. You're like some sort of a feast, all laid out here," he added, gesturing with the jar of salve in his other hand. "Get on with it," Norrington gritted out, twin marks of color staining either cheek. "Please." "And so demanding," Jack commented, dryly. He added the third finger, slowly, feeling a thrill go through him at the desperation on Norrington's face at it, and the way Norrington brought his knees up further, almost as if unaware he was doing it. Relishing the surrender of this altogether dominant and usually so restrained man to this act, Jack let drop the salve and leaned over him, still working his fingers in him, and said, thoughtfully, "I wonder how many of your little men secretly dream about doing this to you? Wonder how many of 'em wish they could?" A new look entered Norrington's eyes at this suggestion, and he looked faintly appalled... and intrigued. Jack laughed silently at this, and pulled his fingers out of him, slowly. "Ready for something a little more interesting, Jamie?" "Jack," Norrington gritted out, "your incessant need to demonstrate hyperbole is growing tiresome. Just fucking well get on with it, if you please." Jack tutted at him. "Such language. Shocking, really." Norrington stared back at him. "You'll pay for this, Jack. Mark my words. It's my turn next, after all." "Now, now," he remonstrated him, grinning. "You must never, ever, threaten a man who's about to ravish your waiting backside, Jamie." He brought the tip of his cock to that nervous rosebud entrance, and then let himself slide into him, just a little. Oh God, it was too hot, too tight... he'd never last. Unable to suppress a slight whimper at the sensation of that clutching heat gripping the head of his shaft, Jack tried to still himself, biting his lower lip. Norrington's eyes were burning into his, and Jack leaned back a little, placing both hands on the legs spread on either side of him, helping them to rest by his neck. "James," he managed, wondering if he could... just... Norrington gave him a tight nod. Gratefully, Jack sank into him, deeper, feeling himself sliding in, pushing into the hot, dark, deep, tight slickness of forever, sweetest he'd ever had, wanting to bury himself to the root, lost in it. Too close by half; he was near to coming, to letting loose a volley of fire into the tight, clenching haven that surrounded his cock. He realized his eyes had closed and he forced them open, staring down in astonishment that Norrington, Commodore and feared pirate hunter, would let him—him—fuck this tight arsehole. As if under a spell, against his own volition, he felt himself surge forward a little, driving deeper, enjoying the helpless look on Norrington's face at it. God, yes, to take him there... The sweet, effortless bliss of being able to thrust forward, again and again, slowly, rocking into the man who was staring up at him with an almost heart-clenching expression of trust and need. Jack found himself rather humbled at it. And there was the continuing pressure driving him to go ahead and simply shaft him, hard. To give it to him, properly. Something broke inside him and very nearly eradicated his self-control entirely, and he was thrusting into Norrington with a stabbing rhythm. "Want you, like this," he managed to hiss, feeling almost-pain at trying to explain what it was doing to him, to have this, to be able to have it. To have him. And it suddenly wasn't enough, although he felt as though he was trying to climb into the other man's body completely, driving his cock into him faster, harder, deeper, wanting to bury himself in him so utterly that he'd never find his way back out again, never have to leave, never go. Although he said nothing, Norrington's eyes appeared to give him permission, and suddenly it was too much; he was flying, feeling everything in his body rushing out of his bloodstream, pooling in his lower belly as his balls drew up tight. A fire-flood of desire, shuddering through him and out of his cock as the impossibly beautiful feeling of fucking such an altogether forbidden ass gradually sucked it out of him. He was pouring his very being into him, giving far too much and never would it be enough, ever, even if they managed to steal years of this for themselves. The pleasure that careened through him was not enough, even as wholly overwhelming as it was. A height too quickly found and seized, and he couldn't keep it. Couldn't hold onto it. Seconds slipped by, and it was too beautiful to capture. Treasure. Like time, like grains of sand, slipping through the fingers, even as one tried to hold onto something as precious, like love... or a lover. He opened his eyes again, looking down at Norrington, wondering how many moments he'd been lost in the black wave of ecstasy. He looked down, seeing the sticky mess of Norrington's issue now gracing his midriff. And he gave a delighted, quiet laugh. Norrington was breathing hard, and now brought his legs down from Jack's shoulders. Jack sadly pulled out of him, wishing he could stay there longer, even as he could feel his member twitch with the desire to go again. Jack frowned a little though. "How was that?" Norrington regarded him with an almost blank look, then smiled. "Very... educational, indeed. Although I daresay I'll not be able to sit in any comfort tomorrow." Jack abruptly looked away, suddenly feeling as though he'd shared too much, too soon. When had this turned into something too raw to enjoy? A hand on his hip brought him back, and he looked down. Norrington said, quietly, "There's nothing to fear, I promise." Feeling nettled at this, and slightly dismayed at how completely he was so very not in control at all, Jack muttered, "Very sure, are you?" Norrington raised his brows. "Apart from the fact that if anyone were to walk in at the moment, we would most likely both swing for it? Yes, I'm sure." Jack ran his hands over Norrington's chest, and leaned forward, to position himself atop him, face to face. Catching his lips in a kiss, he avoided that pointed reminder of what they were risking. Lifting his head abruptly, he said gruffly, "Tell me again, Commodore, why I'm not supposed to take you with me?" Norrington looked positively mournful at this. "Don't. Just... don't, Jack. Please." With a slightly angry grunt, he bent once more to seize those damnably annoying, desirable lips again, losing himself in the warmth, the heat of him, the sheer torment of wanting him, their mouths sealed together, too much hunger and desperation in it to really feel as though he'd got what he'd wanted. Norrington was turning, attempting to shift under him to reposition both of them in the hammock, and they fumbled for a moment, both unwilling to break away from the kiss as they rose up, until Norrington finally pulled back. "Jack," he muttered. Pushing Jack backwards, he continued, moving atop him, and covering him heavily, trapping him under his weight, "Do you honestly think this is any easier for me?" Realizing it couldn't be, Jack admitted, "Nay, love, but then you've had longer to get used to the idea." Norrington frowned down at him. "What idea?" Jack licked his lips, feeling clumsy suddenly, with the words. They didn't seem... right, somehow. "Love," he attempted. And stopped. Understanding filled Norrington's face though, at this. "I won't hurt you. I give you my word." "It's supposed to be fun," Jack complained, a bit plaintively. Norrington gave him a smile, too predatory by far. "Is it, now?" Swiftly, he pressed a hard kiss to Jack's mouth, possessively, lifting up quickly to add, "So far, I think it's been rather more than just 'fun'. Or perhaps that's what's worrying you? That it's more than you bargained for?" "Just rub it in, why don't you," Jack sulked. Norrington blinked at him. "What do you want?" he asked, baldly. "What more?" Jack had to swallow abruptly against the rising sensation of falling into him, not knowing why he was still aboard this damned ship, with this man who had claimed repeatedly to love him, and here they both were, far too naked and laid bare to each other's eyes. Which was strange, considering that he'd not felt shame, as such, or self-consciousness, until this moment, at this time. And he realized it wasn't shame at all, but—yes, fear. With a helpless moan, Norrington kissed him again, and muttered against his mouth, "Damn it, Jack, what else can I do? I want you; I want this," and he punctuated this with the capturing of his lips, so that Jack couldn't reply even if he'd found words to. It was too much, that was the problem, Jack realized. It was more than either of them had bargained for. In capturing him, Norrington had found he had more than he knew what to do with, and in having each other, having gone this far—even to the point of declaring their undying love, it was more than either could cope with. Because nothing could ever be enough, or could ever explain it to their satisfaction as to... why. Why them? Why they two, of all the people in the world? To find each other here aboard this Navy ship, by this absurdly frightening island in the middle of the bloody Caribbean? To be able to have a surcease of loneliness, longing and loveless existence for a scant few days? To hope to touch this again? To touch each other? Abruptly, Jack found himself looking forward to leaving, even as he found himself losing his sense and thought in the kiss that was gradually gaining force, their tongues tangling in too much heat and sweetness, desire and knowledge of each other. He wanted to leave. Was looking forward to going. Being back aboard his Pearl. True love, indeed. Safety. Home. Not this terrifying, rushing vortex of longing that could never be fulfilled, regardless of how many times they might bring each other to climax, again and again, each moment of it a crime and a sin, an offense that could lead to the most severe punishment. As if the helpless pain and pleasure of it all were not punishment enough. Norrington raised his head again, releasing his mouth, and said, his breath hot against him, "Have you ever been in love before?" Staggered by the simplicity of this question, he had to take a few moments to think about it. "Aye, more than once," he muttered. "And has anyone ever been in love with you?" Norrington was watching him carefully. Jack thought about this. "I suppose. Yes. Why?" "But never at the same time?" Norrington asked, knowingly. "Ah," Jack drawled. "Now, see, this is where it starts to get a bit messy, 'ey? You and I." "The question is, do you want this to work? Because I do," Norrington declared. "And if you say no, I'll claim you're lying." Helplessly, Jack said, softly, "But 'twill never be enough, you see?" "If it's real, it's not supposed to be enough," Norrington said, reasonably. "Which is why we're agreeing to meet again." Jack was still for a time, then he nodded slowly. "Very well, my James. We'll carry on, though it be the death of both of us." Holding him a little too tightly, moving against him, Norrington said, staring at him, "You didn't love me until now, did you?" Jack frowned at this, searching Norrington's eyes which seemed far too close, far too penetrating. A little breath of panic caught at him, and he found his mouth was too parched to swallow. Norrington said, quietly, "To finally catch you; to have you... " Pressing a gentle, not-so-passionate kiss to Jack's lips, a gesture more akin to a tenderly possessive reassurance, he continued, "Try to remember, Jack, in the future. To trust me?" "We'll see, won't we? Come a fortnight from now, on that island," Jack stated, more surely. For it still held true; neither could really be sure until Jack was no longer being held aboard this ship of Norrington's... and both of them stood on neutral ground. "We haven't lost anything, you know. We've gained," Norrington said. Jack reached up to touch Norrington's cheek, then ran his fingers up through the dark hair, admiringly. Quietly, he said, in a wondering voice, "Well, now. I guess my fortune has improved, for a change." "Mine, also." Norrington smiled down at him, and kissed him again, leisurely. Too warm, too much tenderness; it was a soft spear through him to know that this fine gentleman truly meant it. That he loved him. A pirate. Jack returned the kiss in equal measure, meeting it with everything in him. Norrington raised his head, and commented a little too casually, "Well, Captain. I think you've a ship awaiting you, yes?" "Not until dawn," Jack corrected. With that smug smile that Jack had come to understand was Norrington's enjoyment at having comprehended more than anyone would give him credit for, Norrington said, "Oh, come now. We both know they're out there, even now. They've probably been there for days, waiting for you. You'd better join them while you can." With a wince, Jack said lowly, "Thought you weren't exactly looking forward to my leaving, mate. Are you kicking me out?" Norrington swallowed. "If I don't, I may not be able to let you go," he admitted. "I'll miss you," he said, his voice trailing off a little. At this, Jack wasn't sure who he was feeling sorry for, Norrington or himself. "Not just yet," he said, and tightened his own hold around him. Lazily, Norrington asked, "Just how do you intend to try to get off this ship?" "By way of one of your jolly-boats, Commodore. Is there a better way?" Jack replied, matter-of-factly. "I could see you off," Norrington said, uncertainly. "Bad idea," Jack stated. "Think of it: a commodore of the fleet, giving a pirate a send-off? A fond farewell? A peck on the cheek? Very inadvisable. Not to mention incredibly indiscreet. Better for everyone if I borrow one of your little boats and disappear." "And if you don't manage to?" "I will," he promised. Doubtfully, Norrington said, "What of the guards?" Jack heaved a sigh. "I'm Captain Jack Sparrow. There's never been a boat—or a ship—that I've not been able to take. Ever. Trust me on this one." Norrington's grip on him tightened again. Jack gave him a cool smile. "Thought I was meant to be leaving?" "I'd like—just once more," Norrington said, haltingly. "To have you, one more time. Please." Jack flinched a little. "I'm still recovering from the first time you had your way with me, Commodore James." Norrington kissed him, saying, "I'll be careful, Jack. Just once more." "Ready for it again?" Jack grinned at him. "I am," Norrington gravely informed him. "Although it does feel a little... odd, to still be feeling you inside me." With a sigh, Jack rolled his eyes. "I'll not be able to sit properly for a fortnight, and then you'll make me start all over again." "Let's hope so," Norrington said, taking hold of his knee and bringing his leg up. Grabbing up the salve with a look of intent, Norrington smeared two fingers and said, contemplatively, "Considering what this is meant for, I rather think you'll recover swiftly." "Very funny," Jack said, and then found his breath being sucked from him at the cool intrusion. Trying not to wince, he said, "I've only myself to blame, I guess, for introducing you to this particular pastime." But he'd forgotten that Norrington truly was a fast learner, and the slick finger penetrating him knowingly brushed up inside him, just so, Norrington's slight smirk accompanying it, and Jack was abruptly seeing stars and lights glinting as he gasped. With a dark chuckle, Norrington began to tease him open, and Jack was wildly grabbing for a better hold of something, anything, as the burn and the pleasure seized him. "I'm of the mind that you deserve it," Norrington said, his voice reaching through the sensations, "for swaying all over my ship all day long, making a spectacle of yourself." "Ruddy... bastard," Jack managed, knowing that even as long and knowledgeable as that finger was, it wasn't going to be enough. "You play the tramp a little too well, I think," Norrington observed, adding another finger. "Methinks you play the commanding officer a little too commandingly, yourself," Jack said, breathing hard. Norrington's fingers left him too swiftly, leaving him empty, and then Norrington's hands were upon him, rising up and pushing his legs up a bit too far. For a moment, Jack actually wondered if they were about to capsize. And then his world capsized instead, as the thick, blunt head of Norrington's cock speared him a good few inches. Biting back a few choice curses, Jack said, "Easy, mate... steady on." Norrington slid into him further, muttering fervently, "God, yes." The burn began to dissipate, and Jack found that elusive moment, the one that made him involuntarily squirm, seeking to increase it, expand it, catch hold of it at least one more time. It nevertheless stayed just out of reach, even as Norrington smiled smugly down at him and began to move. Liquid heat turned his bones to water and he realized he'd been right the day before, when he'd suspected that being taken by Norrington would be like getting dragged under by the outgoing tide. No quarter, indeed. The first true thrust in earnest surprised him, however, and without any prompting or direction, Norrington repeated it, angling just... so, beautifully so; timing it a little too perfectly for Jack not to reconsider taking him with him when he left. It was far too good, and he began to wonder if he'd be able to even bother trying to make some kind of escape afterwards. It was hard to imagine which meant more at this moment: the Pearl, the gold, or this relentless, pounding pleasure. It all merged into the same thing after a while. Without the Pearl, there'd be no gold, and without the gold, there could be no more of—of this. And he found his breath caught anew at the expression of sublime wonder on the face of his James; for the ecstasy mirrored his own, and in this act yet one more opportunity to touch heaven was afforded them, stolen moments to be treasured later. There was a moment's return of that fear from earlier. The one that spoke voicelessly, wordlessly, of enslavement; of being chained to this in the very necessity of it being repeated as often as possible. "I knew you'd be beautiful like this," Norrington said, lowly, not slackening his thrusts at all, "giving it up. That's it, Jack. God," he breathed. There was that rising bubble of heat expanding within him, with white licks of fire cascading over his skin, leaving him sweating and trembling, desperate to fall over the edge. So many different ways to lose one's mind with someone. All too quickly it was rushing over him, catching him up in the crest of it as he was stretched, filled, released and thoroughly cored out, Norrington's cock inside of him just ever so slightly too big, weakening him. His legs were trembling and Norrington's sudden look of helplessness was enough to set him off, spasming nearly dry spasms for having already come too recently and copiously. The scent of sex in the air was heady and blatant, unmistakable. He was gasping out loud, as the dark shocks of pleasure jutted through, and down, and out of him. Which set Norrington off in turn, with a choked whine smothered quickly as he stiffened and gave a few more jerking, hard series of driven shoves into him, ending with as spare an offering inside of Jack as he had just delivered himself. Shuddering atop him, Norrington was open-mouthed, awed, before remembering to breathe again. Sinking down a little, quivering. Jack winced as his shoulder pulled, and he realized he'd been ignoring it, as the pain of his wound ached. The reality of the cabin surrounded him and he was light-headed, wondering how the fuck he was supposed to remember anything as banal as safety, decorum or the risk his James was taking to even do this here with him. Not to mention how completely sore his ass was going to be later. At his look of real pain, Norrington moved, sliding out of him and leaving him feeling that awkward emptiness all too soon again. But he let his legs down, as Norrington moved in closer and lay nestled in against his right side, even as he wriggled to the left to make a bit of room. With some reshuffling and maneuvering of limbs, they found a position that suited both of them. Still catching his breath, Norrington murmured against him, "I don't know how I'm going to make do without this. Without you." "Amen," Jack muttered. And tightened his own hold as Norrington laughed silently against him. A smile in his voice, Norrington remarked, "Of course, you're right. We'll probably need this fortnight to recover from each other." "If not longer," Jack said. "Why d'you think I suggested two weeks rather than one?" Norrington asked, suddenly solicitous, "Are you alright?" "Now he asks me," Jack murmured. "Well, are you?" Jack smiled. "Ask me that again two weeks from now." There was a pause. And more quietly, he heard, "I will." Jack smiled a little. Implicit in his agreement was that he'd meet Jack at that island that Jack had yet to leave him the position of. Jack breathed a sigh of combined release and relief, satisfaction and soothed nerves. Maybe they'd truly lost nothing, and gained everything. As he felt Norrington's breathing even out and become steady, he finally glimpsed the assurance he'd needed. It was in this simple closeness, in the dark, as the final candle guttered out. It was in the warmth of their bodies, sharing this small space, for even just a few moments of quietude. It was in the span of time it took for one to fall asleep with another, even if neither found dreams, nor even sleep at all. It was in the comfort of touch. He brought his Jamie's hand up to his lips, pressing a kiss to those elegant fingers.
* * *
James awoke with a sense of sharp loss, feeling disoriented and entirely too tired. He was alone in the hammock, and a glance at the windows nearest him revealed the palest of dawn beginning to arrive. He sat up, seeing no sign of Jack... or the pirate's effects, for that matter. There was a momentary feeling of panic that rippled over him, and he wished that the longing to keep him had been abated by this extra night past that Jack had given both of them. The urge to go outside and perhaps see if he was still there, even making his escape at that moment maybe, was strong. But in the next breath, he realized that it was better this way. Jack hadn't said farewell. He closed his eyes against the hope and yet wistfully accompanying sadness that went through him. A sound at one of the other windows caught his attention and he glanced over, catching sight of the strangest shadow moving down, impossibly, from the top of his window to the bottom, to disappear below it into silence, leaving him wondering if he'd actually seen it. The shadow of a monkey. He frowned, wondering if he'd imagined it, or if it had been a seagull... but no, it was definitely that of a monkey. Odd. And he suddenly realized Jack hadn't given him the location of that island. Damn. Feeling stupid and a little angry, he let out a breath of frustration. But maybe Jack would have left a message. He got up, went to his desk, and saw nothing there. At a further thought, however, he opened the desk drawer and took out his book. Opening it to the last entry, he sat down, and then laughed to himself, for written in Jack's scrawl, was the latitude and longitude of the island, as well as the words, 'Fourteen nights. C.J.S.' Certainly nothing that would condemn him if anyone else should see it, but also remarkably personal, to leave his initials. Far too telling, for it would be easy for anyone to guess. Regarding it for a while, he closed the book and put it away. Returning to his hammock, he curled up in it, wondering at the fact that he actually felt less sad than he'd thought he would. He was still tired and eventually fell asleep, dreaming of that look in Jack's eyes as he held him under him, taking him again and again... A pleasant smile curled over him, and James did not dream of nightmarish skulls from that night on, finding them replaced with the handsome, if wicked, visage of a pirate captain.
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