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Pirate Vindaloo, Chapter 13
Passion and Philosphy
Disclaimers: The Rodent Empire owns them. We pilfer.
Originally Posted: 06/20/06
Note: Our sincerest and hearty thanks to smtfhw for her excellent beta.
Warnings: Potential spoilerish appearances for those who are adamant
Summary: A chance for real privacy gives rise to several things.
As soon as they were inside the room, James pinned Jack up against the wall in a furious kiss, calloused hands roaming up under his shirt. Then James paused to simply stand there, breathing hard, his nose buried in the side of Jack's neck. It was a miracle to finally be rid of the stench of tar and sweat, replaced by the sweet scent of oil. "That bath was wonderful," he whispered, nuzzling below Jack's ear. "This port is wonderful. Miraculous." Jack's coat was half-off, hanging from one shoulder, his arms around James, and he laughed softly. "Just the bath?" he winked. "I love the east. Lemme get outta me coat! Impatient ole Commodore!" James flinched and glanced around the room before he relaxed again, lips curving into a grin. "I rather thought I could do that for you." He pulled the coat's other side off, leaving it to pool on the floor. "So," he began between kisses and touches, untucking Jack's shirt and slipping his palms beneath it, "What utterly insane plan have you come up with to get us out of here? Should we not hide further away from the docks? Hamilton will come after us if we do not report in the morning, but in a port so large, he will have little chance." "Well, luv, "Jack was busy with James' buttons for the second time that day. "I rather think it best if we be good lads an' go back to the Chimaera and see wot's happenin' with the repairs. It'll keep him off our arses, and in the dark. As it were." His face crinkled into his most irrepressibly wicked smile. He got James' breeches down and admiringly gave him a quick stroke. "Nice t'see you've such recuperative powers." "There seems to be something in those oils," James observed as he pulled at the slipknot of Jack's breeches and slid them down. "But," he kicked off his boots and breeches to carry Jack the few steps to the bed, kneeling astride him for more kisses, nipping at the soft flesh between his ribs, "what if he decides not to take the risk and locks us up again?" "Jamie, luv, if he let us out first day in port an' we follow orders and report back in the morn, he won't be lockin' us anywhere. Besides, y'know how many of us joined up with him same as we did. I need t'get a feel fer how many might resent it as much as we do." He lay back and returned James' kisses lazily. "And do remind me t'tell Bertie not to go anywhere but Farhad's if he's lookin' fer more tail. Only place I know of hereabouts where ya can be sure of not needin' French letters." "Right. But if he makes us keep watch, it will be difficult to contact your shady friends." James grinned and nuzzled a path down Jack's throat, then suddenly stopped, looking serious. "I know you are well-reputed for such insane plans, but do you really believe we can take the Chimaera? You may have managed to sail a brig with just two men, but daring the Cape in an undermanned frigate is another matter entirely. Hamilton is not a bad captain. It will be difficult to convince them to...." He bit his lip. "Mutiny." Jack stretched in his arms and laughed. "Mate, d'ya not think my 'shady friends', as you put it, won't know I'm here damned quick? Believe me, there's many a sailor here lookin' fer a way out, and they'll be glad to find a ship willin' t'take 'em on. Just trust me, luv. I'll figure out a way, even if we gotta brave the Barbary. We've got at least a week fer the repairs. Now stop worryin' and let's take care of yer ragin' stiffy there before you explode." His fingers brushed over James' buttocks and he closed his eyes, remembering the sweat running into the chestnut hair as James thrust into the dusky girl. "You were beautiful with her, Jamie. Just beautiful." Trust. James gulped and flushed bright red, hiding it against Jack's chest to breathe warm against the dip just beneath the sternum, where the ribs met and he could faintly feel the heartbeat. He thought of Jack with the girl; both girls kissing atop them and stifled a gasp. He peered up, blushed again, then his eyes shot wide. "You planned that!" he burst out. Jack's laugh rumbled and set his ribs quaking beneath James' lips. "Was it so very dreadful? I didn't see you object too much." His hands tangled in James' hair. "And lovely though they were, I think I prefer havin' you all t'me onesies." His legs shifted to either side of James, one foot trailing up a pale, lean calf. James laughed, a huff of breath disappearing beneath the collar of Jack's shirt. "I guess it was better than sharing an alcove with Bertie and his girl. I swear I could hear his grunting." He freed himself and scooted lower, pushing the shirt up to taste Jack's navel. "So...what you were doing to that girl when I came in was just a close examination to see if you would need French letters?" Jack burst into a gale of laughter. "That? I know there's some Latin word fer it, but damned if I can remember rightly. I just know I like a taste before a shag." He wriggled his way out of his shirt, feeling very depraved indeed, lying half-dressed beneath a naked James who seemed intent on driving him mad with an inquisitive tongue. "Sorta the same French I did with you, aye?" His fingers curled into James' hair and tugged at his ears. "An' naughty you, knowin' all about French letters!" "Jack? You are not talking to Matthew here. I have been a sailor for twenty years, you do recall that? Yet, I have little doubt your knowledge on them, or anything...French is far more extensive than mine. And the French truly wonder why they are considered depraved." James settled between Jack's legs, curiously peering down at his hard prick and giving it an evaluating stroke. The smell of sweet oil was predominant, mingled with the faintest hint of something saltier, muskier. Jack was as clean as he would ever be, and the bed beneath them did not sway or shake. If he was ever going to do this, it would have to be now. He looked up at Jack's knowing grin, and lifted his chin. Certainly, if the pirate could do it, he was capable of it, too. With a wicked smirk, he remembered how helpless he had felt; and, hoping that he might reduce Jack to a similar level of incoherency, he bent down to trace his tongue along the hard length. Prepared for the lurch this time, he held Jack's bucking hips down with both hands, curled around his hipbones. Jack's laugh became a strangled gulp. James' fingers were hard, calloused against his skin, holding him immobile and his own hands reached for the broad shoulders, his breath quickening to a pant. He reached up and shoved a pillow under his head, watching James with wide eyes. "You sure 'bout this, luv?" His voice was a low purr. James peered up, frowned once, then grinned. "I do not think the bed will spill us to the floor," he murmured against the crease of Jack's thigh. A single lamp flickered on the table and cast half of his face into darkness. His tongue, too, was in shadow as he hesitantly flicked it out to lick again, contemplating. He slowly traced his way up to the tip, then, after another short hesitation, sucked it in. Jack groaned as the wet heat surrounded him, James' lips tight and warm. He was shaking, despite himself. He knew this well; it was no great revelation to him, but watching James, his hair tumbling to tickle his thighs, the crescent of his lashes fluttering as he suckled and tasted, was very different than the legions of lovers and whores he'd known. "God" and "James" were the only intelligible words he could manage between gasps of pure pleasure. James wanted to retort, to tease, but could not, and hummed instead. The soft and sometimes not-so-soft vocalisations of pleasure made him redouble his efforts and he bobbed down further, pulling back in shock when he gagged, blinking. He paused, his eyes wide, then he closed them again and let his tongue tease and swirl, as he dimly remembered from the haze of his own pleasure. Jack held himself still by sheer willpower, afraid to pump when he felt James' startled choke, groaning as the teasing tongue made him shudder, his prick beginning to throb. He hands twisted in the sheets, white-knuckled. "James?' His voice was hoarse. "Jamie, I can't hold back." He was trembling with the effort, his hips wriggling against James' grip and his disintegrating control. It was strange to James to hear Jack coming apart so completely while he was still in full possession of his senses. Empowering, elating, but, at the same time, humbling. The thought of Jack's release in his mouth did not seem as disgusting as before. Jack had not minded. It would be unfair of James to do so. A grin dancing in his eyes, he bobbed down and sucked hard. Jack was incapable of speech. He panted and groaned, his mouth quivering half-open, his eyes glassy. They closed and he could feel it building, his prick twitching against James' tongue, the hot mouth sucking away any restraint, and he cried out, long and low, emptying himself in that wet cavern and trembling, tiptoe against ecstasy. His head spun in circles and heard himself dimly, still moaning. Wet warmth in his mouth, the taste corresponding to the smell before; James was surprised by the intimacy of it all. He could keenly feel every single pulse; every bitten back gasp seemed to rumble all through Jack and quiver against his tongue. He remained like that for a while, contemplating it, then withdrew gently before crawling up with a shy smile. "Better?" Jack's eyes opened dazedly and he smiled, throwing both arms around James and pulling him up for a kiss, tasting himself and James at once. "That was wonderful. Thank you." His voice had a choked sound to it, his smile shuddering on the very edge of emotions he didn't dare to name. He only knew he felt boneless, grateful and more vulnerable than he'd been in years, and yet, there was no fear in it. The green eyes chased away any kind of fear. He swallowed hard and kissed James again, his vision blurring as he hid his face against the sunbrown neck and his breath slowed. James grinned lazily, ridiculously proud. That it was an act of depravity he once had thought beneath him did not matter, not when he saw how speechless it had left even Jack. He bent down for another kiss. "You set an excellent example." Jack blinked at him, his eyes suspiciously liquid. "Me? Now that's an impossibility! I'm not known fer bein' any kind of example, luv." There were many words written for what he wanted to say, but he'd feel a complete fool speaking them aloud. Instead, he kissed James, convinced that fate had enveloped them in some safe cocoon of blackest velvet and emerald stars. His hand travelled down along the hard muscles of James' abdomen, so much firmer than the first time he'd touched them. "You've changed so. I hardly remember wot ya were like before," he smiled. "Have I changed, or just your view of me?" Certainly, James' view of Jack had, first to that of a friend, now to something he could not quite define. His own appearance had changed, his demeanour adapted to the men he was forced to spend his time with, but the man he was had become no different. He still longed for home, to return to being the Commodore who protected others from such men as Hamilton. Jack grinned. "Rose-coloured spectacles, eh? Maybe so, but 'tis a damned sight more pleasant than swords or the noose, aye?" His fingers teased, watching the browned face flush ruddy copper, his eyes dancing again. It really was impossible for Jack to remain serious for more than a child's minute. He kissed his way along James' shoulder, inhaling sweet oil and the warm smell of the man himself. The noose. James had hardly thought of it, had not wanted to. The thought of hanging a man he now considered a friend made him shudder, made him wonder how many of those he called friends aboard the Chimaera would deserve the fate. He thought of Bertie with a noose around his neck, of little Matthew, perhaps in five years; of a hempen rope around the neck he was just kissing. Thought of his own actions that by law dubbed him a pirate. He shuddered again, and hid his face. Jack held him tight, divining the reason for the trembling and held his tongue. His fingers stroked through the unruly gold-kissed hair and he wondered. What must it be like for James to see so much after his ordered, careful life? How hard would it go with any man to realise just how close that rope could come to his own neck, with nothing more than a twist of fate? He shook away the thoughts and concentrated on skin. Even with his face buried in the hollow of the brown throat, James could feel him smile. "Don't you go gettin' all serious here. We've a lovely room all to our onesies an' it'd be a damned shame t'waste it." He wriggled down a little further to nip at one pink nipple. James gasped and flinched, shuddering with a low moan of pleasure. "Why do I believe you would consider anything but further depravities a waste of these fine accommodations?" He stared into the distance a little while longer, then looked down and managed a longsuffering smile that turned honest before he knew it. "And you feel the need to comment on my recuperative abilities?" Jack took hold of James' prick and encouraged a few more good shudders to chase away the bad. "Never did tell you how much, " he kissed lower, his tongue dipping into James' navel, "I love the taste of you." His laugh puffed a little gust through the dark curls. "Which is because even you likely do not enjoy the taste of a body three months unwashed?" James arched an eyebrow, and his whole forehead drew tight as warm breath teased delicately. "Of course," he amended with hooded eyes, dark and dilated, "you are free to contradict me by demonstration." "That which we call a rose, mate!" Jack's lips closed around the tip and he sucked gently, his tongue teasing around it, pausing at a pulse point where he could feel the blood pounding; the ridge of a vein, then back up again. "Want you, Jamie." He growled, sliding half-off the bed to reach for his coat and tumbling to the floor. He laughed and crawled to where it lay crumpled, until he found a small vial of oil in an opalescent glass container, lifted neatly from one of the market stalls earlier. He tossed it with a wink. James caught it with one hand, held the little flask up for a moment and smiled at it. "Do I even want to know where you got this?" He slicked himself and settled back on one elbow, crooking one finger that gleamed with oil and lantern light, beckoning. Jack's head poked up from the foot of the bed and he tickled James' toes before creeping up the length of his legs to lie atop him, his hips wriggling, their pricks waging a somewhat confined duel between them. Kisses that laughed and passion with a joke; that was pure Sparrow. He enjoyed everything with complete abandon and James most of all. His black eyes were glittery as his straddled his prey. James looked up and laughed softly, restrained. Never would he have thought of Jack as light, but compared to the girl, he was, even if his black hair was just as dark, just as long, his eyes even darker. James lifted his arms, still pale against that golden skin, to hold Jack's hips steady, to thrust up into him, but after the barest of touches, he dropped them back to the sheets, then lifted them again to stroke lightly along one quivering thigh. Jack moved in counterpoint, his head thrown back, lips curved into smile. His hand wandered over James' chest and belly, tracing the muscles that bunched and flexed, soft little sounds torn from deep in his throat. Slowly, he unfolded his legs to stretch them out on either side of James' shoulders, bracing himself on his arms, knees crooked as they moved. His eyes opened wide at the angle's shift, his cry low and keening. Again James was sweating, salt water collecting at his hairline and slipping down, but this time, his eyes were open, staring and wide. He bit his lip and arched from the mattress once, then again, slowly finding a rhythm. Just as slowly, his hand eased up Jack's thigh, slipping inward until he had a hold of the hardening prick. Jack started at the touch, his whole body twitching and he breathed out a soft little sigh, his hair falling back to tickle James' knees. He rocked, picking up speed, pulling his legs back down, his hands planted on James' shoulders. His face was flushed dark red, the gold teeth winking in the lamplight. "Want you. Want you now." James' second hand came up to steady Jack's hips and he surged up harder, gasping out a harsh cry. His palms pressed into the firm muscles, body arcing up, meeting Jack's rhythm, speeding up. His breathing hitched, a gasp caught on the next, and he froze mid-thrust for a second; then dropped back on the sheets with a stifled cry. Jack's head whirled, all thought swallowed in sensation, the smell of James tangled with sweat, clean skin and the musk of his own body, the intensity of the throb inside of him. Most of all, he was mesmerised by James' face, tension quivering in the strong jaw, the light in his eyes flaring like twin beacons, then ebbing away as they closed. Sticky heat glued them together and ran slow rivulets to puddle on the sheet beneath James. "Much better than th' hammock, luv. Not quite so risky, " he laughed. "I still feel quite dizzy," James chuckled, pulling Jack down for a languid kiss. "It might be caused by watching you and your trinkets sway above me." He lay still for a moment, then rolled out from under Jack to find the washstand. He brandished the wet towel. "Much better than salt water. Not quite so smelly." "Damn me, yes! Don't tickle, ya bastard!" Jack giggled as the towel flicked over his ribs. He rolled over at a push and waggled his arse as James attempted to wash it. "Here, gimme that." He took the wet towel and ran it over James' chest and groin with sure fingers. "I must admit, 'tis a real blessin' t'get clean. Never can understand why they don't stock in a bit more water. Healthier, too. They're all mad about it in China. Baths ev'ry day, if ya can believe it. I even heard tell that in th' Japans, they've got entire rooms fer 'em." He wiped the sweat from James' hairline. "Better?" "Much better. Considering how we must have smelled, it is little wonder that Hamilton did not dare lock us up this time. The cabin would have been contaminated." James grinned and, with a sigh, buried his head in the clean linen of the bedclothes. "Don't laugh." His voice was muffled. "This is one of the things I miss the most. A basin with clean water and fresh bedclothes." "That's why I try t'keep the Pearl's water supply half-doubled, mate. Don't cost more n' a bit of room in the hold and I don't care who calls me mad." He began to chuckle. "You shoulda been there when we all decided that Gibbs needed a good dunkin'. Took nearly half a barrel to make him smell a bit more like a man than a pig!" "I doubt the fresh water is the reason everyone calls you mad, Jack." James sighed and rolled onto his side. "My first captain would always insist everyone was washed behind the ears, and that their right hands were clean. The smell didn't matter, only that all Midshipmen had to be capable of a 'clean salute', as he put it." Jack chortled into the pillow. "Typical Navy! Always th' appearance that counts. Ah well, long voyage like this, wot can ya do? 'Tis different when you can just pop over t'one o' them little islands and fill up the barrels in a day." He settled on one elbow, playing with James' hair. "So you did get out here at some point in yer Navy career. Y'mentioned once. Where'd ya land?" "And if a hidden rum supply just happens to be stored upon such an island, all the better, I take it?" James, in turn, was lying completely still, contemplating some spot in the darkness, a half-smile on his face, green eyes gleaming. "Ten years ago. The last journey before I was transferred to the Dauntless." He laughed softly. "The other Lieutenants were all senior to me, so I did not get any shoreleave in Africa that time, either. I had the watch. Then, Goa... not much to see, and the Portuguese taste in women did not quite match mine, quaintly put." "Too plump and if ya wanted 'em with moustaches, ye'd rather they had the bits t'match, aye?" Jack teased and punched his shoulder. He bounded to his feet and pulled the flask from his boot. "Here, luv. I filled it up afore we left. Rum's a bit hard t'come by unless yer Navy hereabouts." He lay back down, watching James with a smile. He looked so different from the brocaded toff with the poker up his arse, gazing into the darkness with cat's eyes and a grin that begged for another kiss. Jack waited until he'd taken a drink to claim it. "Was it that which led to your brush with the East India Trading Company? The lack of rum?" James' words were continuously interrupted, Jack nibbling at his lips and stopping him just when he had spoken a single syllable. "Just how did you convince them to brand you on the arm rather than the forehead?" The gilded grin widened. "Never noticed, didja?" He pulled off the headscarf and reached over to grab the lamp from the table, holding it close to his face. There was a long, thin scar, white with age, running from under his hairline across his forehead, just shy of his right brow. "When they caught me, I'd taken a sabre slice. It were a right mess, so I kept openin' it up while coolin' me heels in their little gaol. Made the buggers feel sorry fer me, I guess. Or they figured it wouldn't be such a great punishment on top of a big scar." He giggled another kiss against James' ear and took a swig. "Lack o' rum! Now that's hell, mate!" "Keep it to yourself, then. I would not put you through hell." James grinned into another rum-flavoured kiss, calloused fingertips lightly tracing the scar. "You were lucky," he murmured. "But then, are you ever not, in the long run? One could believe you are cursed yourself." Jack considered that over another swallow. "Dunno, rightly. Sometimes, I ain't lucky at all so I guess it all squares in the end, don't it?" He made an odd gesture with his fingers, index and pinky thrust out from a fist. "Worst thing as ever happened t'me. That were losin' the Pearl. Wasn't sure I'd ever get through it." He paused over the flask, dark eyes thoughtful. "Y'know, I'd heard tell of a curse, but there's always stories about such things. I never really believed it until I saw it m'self. Guess it were lucky, cos I'da been cursed right along with 'em all, wouldn't I?" He shook his head and laughed softly. "And you got her back." James shivered. "What was it like, to be one of them? Do you rightly remember?" He looked up, eyes wary and somehow fearful. "Sometimes, I still hope it was merely a nightmare." Jack gnawed on his lip. "Chilly," he said after a moment. "But that coulda been the cave. 'Twas awful damp an' cold in there." He shrugged. "I were too busy tradin' blades with old Hector t'pay much mind. Musta been awful for 'em. Ten years without a drink or a good shag? A fine meal or a warm bed? Can't say as I'd like that at all. I mean, wot th' hell good is life if ya can't enjoy it? Those heathens sure knew how t'curse a body proper!" "Do you really believe in them? Curses?" Without a doubt, James remembered his sword clanking against bones and tendons, sinking again and again into the same body without effect, had sometimes seen it again at night. But his mind was still at war with it. He was not insane, he did not have hallucinations. "Was it real?" Jack thought about that for a moment, playing with his pet curl and frowning. "I'd hafta say yes t'that. It was as real as you and me lyin' here when I ran me cutlass through the bastard." Jack's face darkened a little. "He stood there, pulled it out and stuck it inta me gizzard. Knocked the breath outta me and I knew it shoulda hurt. It shoulda killed me dead right there. Strange, lookin' at me own hand in the moonlight." Jack examined his fingers, remembering the white bones and the clicking, grinding sound as they flexed. "Y'know Jamie, I've seen some damned strange things in my time. Things that shouldn't be, right in front o' me face. Can I do less than trust my own eyes?" Those eyes were guileless, half-truths buried in their depths. "I know I would rather not have trusted mine." There was enough evil without heathen curses, without death itself turning against men. James shuddered and took one of Jack's braids, turning it thoughtfully between his fingers. "Do you have one as memento for...that day?" Jack grinned at him, his eyes sliding sideways. He reached up without glancing to lift a newer braid, one he'd done himself the first night back on the Pearl, the end bobbing with a tiny carved skull bead and a small pearl, both so dark they blended almost invisibly into his mane. "Can't ya guess. It weren't there last time I saw ya. I mean, before all this." "So this," James turned the braid, watching the pearl reflect the lantern light, that light then swallowed by hair, "This for that day in Port Royal, and then, aboard the Pearl." He was lying on his side now, the look in his eyes distant. "Do you keep any more mementos of that venture?" "Didn't need to, luv. Best memento of all is the one thing I wanted: my Pearl. With her decks 'neath my feet, I need nothin' more." Jack's eyes had softened. When he spoke of her, it was the way most men spoke of a sweetheart. "I supposed I'll hafta find somethin' fer this little venture, won't I?" He lay down into the curve of James' body, his hand gentle against one hip. "Tho' I don't really need one now." "Jack Sparrow, you will not braid me into your hair." James slipped an arm around Jack's shoulder and curled closer, as though to make sure himself the body next to him was not yet a memory. Jack huffed a laugh against his chest. "Now that would be a sight, wouldn't it?" He rested there, content for a moment, then looked up at the lines drawn between James' dark brows. "Jamie? Wot's wrong? Yer lookin' peaky on me." He automatically reached for the flask to hand it over. James declined it with a little smile and a headshake. "Nothing. I am merely beginning to wonder that if now I miss home, in Port Royal I might miss this." Jack smiled into the neck of the flask. "Luv, I'm countin' on it. Hell, I'm gonna spend the whole bloody voyage back dreamin' up excuses t'sneak back to Port Royal so I can surprise ya." He wondered what they might find upon returning and kept those thoughts to himself. There was always the chance that Gibbs and Ana had disappeared with the Pearl. Or, God forbid, lost her. He'd spent a decade searching for her and would do it again if need be, but that didn't mean he relished the idea. Would James find Port Royal the same home he'd left? Jack had his doubts, but there was no sense distressing him just as escape became possible. They'd cross those bridges when the seas were turquoise and the sun beat on the decks like a summer's day. "Will you?" James blurted out. He had never imagined taking a part of this with him, certainly not in the shape of a pirate. Dangerous, to even think it, let alone want it. Sense returned on the heels of hope. "You can't, Jack. It will be too dangerous. After all that has happened, I do not want your blood on my hands, directly or indirectly." Jack's lip lifted in his trademark grin. "Mate, I'm Captain Jack Sparrow, remember?" Do ya think I'd jus' laugh and wave ‘ta' on the dock?" It was as close as Jack would come to another ridiculous confession. He still danced around his feelings, pushing them into a corner of his mind, but they did have a most troublesome way of popping out all over, like measles. He leaned over to kiss James. "Couldn't do that, luv. We'll jus' figger it out when we get back, but I'm not gonna sail off inta th' sunset and say, 'So long, been nice, dear.'" James kissed back without hesitation, blinking. Had Jack, the weasely pirate, just told him he'd come back for him? Disregarding all risk and, while not sanity, the savvy he certainly possessed? Was it possible to take this back into his life as Commodore, as the one obliged to hunt and hang Jack? It seemed hypocritical to enjoy it even now, but he did, and that was honest. He pulled at Jack's neck until he received another kiss, then settled back into the pillows, his eyes curious. "Tell me more about matelots, Jack." Jack raised an eyebrow and curled himself next to James. "Matelots?" He whistled softly. "The word's French--aye, those depraved froggies again." He grinned. " 'Tis very like a marriage. Yer mates in ev'rythin'. Ya share ev'rythin'. Know of one pair m'self who shared two wives and a coupla mistresses an' when one of 'em died, the other inherited ev'rythin'. Course, then it was his responsibility t'take care of the ladies an' their dozen or so kiddies. Poor bastard!" He tugged at his lovelock thoughtfully. "They say it started long ago, when the Frenchies settled in the Caribe. I dunno, really. But that's wot it is." "But how can it be compared to a marriage? How can two men, in front of anyone, try to act as...as husband and wife?" James blinked again, forcing himself to seriously consider a concept all his upbringing told him to deplore. "Is it not merely an arrangement shipboard? Does it not stop the moment they set foot ashore?" Jack nibbled at the end of his hair and tried to choose his words with care. "Well, the French got very sensible notions about marriage, luv. They think of it as business, like two companies mergin'. An' their laws, at least in the Caribbean, treat matelots the same way. 'Tisn't just about the people: 'tis the property. I guess it's because most Frenchwomen are the sharpest managers in the bloody world. I swear, James, y'ever met a French gal who couldn't stretch a sou till it breaks? Maybe the menfolk didn't trust 'em. Wotever the cause, by willin' things to his mate, a man can be sure all his kids are provided fer without jealous women playing favourites, and his property will be distributed fairly." "And," James swallowed hard, studied his fingers briefly, then looked up again, "the carnal aspect? That is not about children, not about property. The French, depraved as they may be, believe in the Lord and His Book. How can they accept...this? " He sounded like Matthew asking why a ship floated. "Y'mean fuckin' each other?" Jack shrugged in a most French manner. "That goes without sayin'. Part o' the deal. Very practical folks, the frogs. They don't see any point in tryin' to improve human nature." He grinned. "Guess they figger if God wants t'change things, He'll let 'em know." James huffed out an exasperated breath and shook his head. "Aboard the Chimaera, when I said we were mates, they... respected that. Respected it more than anything else I could have said. How can the term matelot make this sin more respectable? Why did they acknowledge it as a right, rather than something that should not happen at all?" "Because, James, they're pirates." Jack said it simply, but the gleam in his eyes told a different story; it said quite clearly, 'we don't play by your rules.' "And who's t'say which is a worse sin; backsidin' yer mate because you cherish him, or screwin' yer fellow man? I'm no cleric. I dunno." James' eyes were still foggy and confused and Jack sighed. He sat up, his head cocked to one side. If he owed James anything, it was at least an explanation. "James, we got our own ways of doin' things. All of us, we're just gallows-fodder to the rest of the world. So we take care of our own. Sin don't mean much t'most men and that's a fact. Oh, certainly, you'll find Deacons aboard any ship at sea, even a pirate ship. But did ya know that, accordin' to th' Code, if ya lose an eye, a leg or an arm, you get a certain amount o' coin to compensate ya? We aren't bound by the laws that keep fine folk in order so we make our own. Matelots is one of 'em. We know it happens shipboard an' see no reason why it shouldn't be treated fair." James did not answer for a while, just stared into the distance, into his own memories. Of the first two men he'd watched hang for sodomy, then and there, hung from the yardarm after enduring more spite than a tar who'd beaten a boy senseless for a piece of bread. It was supposed to make sense why one warranted barely a dozen lashes and the other death. Was that the freedom of which Jack spoke? Not simply freedom from responsibility, but the choice to pick one's own responsibility. Many were not up to the challenge, but maybe, some were. He had seen it aboard the Chimaera, the camaraderie. How they all worried about young Matthew. Were they pirates, in the way he'd always used the word? They were. They plundered and stole, but at the same time, there was more to them. If nothing else, Jack and his own time aboard had forced him to admit that. He bit his lip and did not even notice as the silence between them stretched. Jack's eyes were soft in the lamplight. "I know wot yer thinkin'. How can we be wot we are an' still be good men?" Jack smiled. "It don't take a giant leap t'understand, luv. We're not monsters. Not all of us. Not even most of us. We're jus' men, survivin'." Jack wrapped his arms around his knees and stole a look a James under his lashes. "Most men turn pirate outta need. Needin' t'eat, needin' to provide fer a family, needin' adventure or just needin' to survive. Some were privateers who got themselves caught up in politics, like Kidd. Some have t'choose between dyin' or the Articles." He grinned broadly. "That's how it happened t'me." James swallowed hard. "You? When? But," he sat up with a start, nearly throwing off the bedclothes, "how can you possibly call it freedom then?" Jack laughed. "I were nine, somewheres off the coast of Africa. But it really don't count with me because pirate's in me blood from way back. An' y'know, it is freedom, Jamie. Not the kind ya salute an' pay lip service to, but the kind that sneaks up behind ya and bashes you on the head. When ya wake up, it hits ya: yer free. Y'don't answer to no one; not even the captain, ‘cause you can vote him out. No master workin' yer fingers t'the bone and givin' ya the lash because he's got a bit of a head one morn. No watchin' yer kiddies starve so some fat-arsed rich man, landowner or king, can squeeze those extra shillin's outta yer hide." His eyes grew tar-black and bright. "No borders, no laws save those we agree on, an' no ropes fer a poor bastard who steals more n' sixpence t'feed himself." Jack laughed at his own words. "Sometimes, it's just fate, but it's a damned fine one." James was silent for a while, his voice strangely and misleadingly light when he eventually spoke. "And who pays for that freedom? Doesn't it just make other men freeze or fear for their starving children? Doesn't it just make others miss their fathers?" In that moment, James looked so old, older than he ever had in full regalia. He shook his head. "That isn't freedom to me." Jack's smile became sly. "Jamie, don't be so bloody naive. D'ya really think we could do business without the help of many a town an' their people? We offer fair barter and fair exchange. They get their goods without the King's bleedin' taxes and we make a profit fer our risk. Y'see, mate, in a pirate crew, every man has a voice an' a share. Nothin' is one man's province. Oh, there'll always be those like Barbossa, greedy fer power an' slaughter, but they don't last long because we couldn't operate if we didn't have no one t'sell th' goods to, could we? Who d'ya think buys 'em? Damn, do you not know the black market trade as happens right in Port Royal?" James stood up and went to the lone window of the room, leaning against it heavily. "They may not last long, but too long. Your former crew sowed fear and death for ten years. Ten years, Jack. How much blood flowed then? And for what? For greed alone." With a start, he turned around. "I may see only what I choose to see, but you pretend to be just as blind." Jack lounged back, sipping from his flask. "Well, luv, you really can't count them as they were undead and no man can know wot t'do against that, aye? Besides, they were searchin' fer all those coins t'break the curse." He took another swallow and tugged at his lip. "Y'ever hear of a fella named John Locke? He wrote some damned interestin' things, all about government being only valid by consent of the people. Died some fifteen years back but he had some fine thoughts. Why d'ya think black markets exist, James? Because most people pay those taxes and see nothin' in return but slavery. Some day, luv, the Kings of this world won't be so damned secure on their thrones. No chair can make a man a king." "You are making it too easy. Piracy is not the people-constituted nobility you claim it to be. Go into a port raided by pirates, and there, tell the mother of a dead son that they only wished to trade. Tell it to her raped daughter." James' eyes were wide, alight with every reason why he had sworn to hunt pirates. "For this manner of pirates to be an exception, I have had to see it far too often." He took a sharp breath and shook his head. "Thomas Hobbes had a name for humans doing such a thing. He called them wolves, but they do not even have respect for their own pack. It is not themselves who die for their greed, and as long as they have their comfort, their freedom, they do not care. Because they cannot live by the rules, they take from everyone else." He bit his lip with a sigh. "Freedom comes at a price, Jack. This price is too high. And that is what I have sworn to do: see that nobody is forced to pay it for another. That is what the Navy does, because else, any of us would prey on the other until there is nothing left but blood." Jack's eyes twinkled. "Didn't Hobbes also say that life was 'nasty, brutish and short', and that believin' in anything ya can't see was the act of a fool?" He laughed softly. "We both seen some strange things no one'd believe, luv. I dunno. Maybe it's because piracy is just a reflection o' the governments that make it possible. They do the same things an' call it 'conquest' or 'exploration' and plunder whole countries 'stead o' ships." He stretched out and gazed at James with a half-smile. "I'm not sayin' it's all noble. It's all business. That's all any of it really is: just business, an' that's a fancy system fer survivin'. There was somethin' Mr. Locke wrote I think you would like. He argued that kings got no divine rights and--oh, wot was it? 'Lest men fall into the dangerous belief that all government in the world is merely the product of force and violence.' I rather like that." Jack swallowed more rum and thought for a moment. "Besides, I sacked Nassau an' never fired a shot. Can be done. But it's all life and men bein' men, there's always gonna be bloodshed somewhere." He shrugged. "Human nature, I suppose." "Oh yes, and it is human nature to die, so why do pirates complain about the noose?" James' lips curled into a sneer. "Why would any citizen mind being killed by a pirate defending the noble ideas of John Locke, despite the fact that said pirate never even heard of him in the first place." Jack chuckled and held out the flask to James. "Never said most did. My copy was still on the Pearl after all those years. Figgers. Barbossa couldn't suss philosophy outta his arse with a standin' pump." He snorted derisively. "Besides, most times a raid goes bad 'tis because some bloody arse in a uniform decided t'be noble. Then all wagers are off, aye?" "Of course! It is the fault of the Navy for defending people and property! Had they not defended the port and instead handed over all valuables, never a drop of blood or a maidenhead would have been taken. You conveniently forget that your precious Mr. Locke also proclaimed life and property as rights, not just freedom," James snarled, voice full of derision, gripping the windowsill tight. He fell silent for a while, took the few steps towards the bed and sat down. After another minute, he stretched out, arms folded behind his head, staring up. "I concede your point that there are different manners of piracy which are not given enough regard in the face of the law." His voice was soft. "But there need to be laws. Else it is all just bloodshed." "And the Navy's never sacked a town or taken a maidenhead, has it?" Jack eyes were dark, the shadow of a smile lingering on his lips. "Tell that t'the local tribes anywhere in the new world, mate. Ahh, the hell with it. Wot say you we have an accord. You'll not spout Navy horseshit at me, and I'll not bore you with philosophical blather. Aye, luv?" James jerkily shook his head, the following silence enough answer. "Is it so wrong to wish to fight this dreadfulness?" he asked, pulling the blanket tight around himself, suddenly far too tired. Jack wound his arms around the tense body and stole a kiss. "Not at all, James. Just a bit like tiltin' at windmills. An' I'd much rather tilt at you." "But the windmills are more important." James chuckled softly, just a little forced, then he arched an eyebrow. "Not to mention that attempting to satisfy you is even more like tilting at windmills." "Can't help it. Yer too much temptation fer this pirate." Jack's arms tightened. "I'm sorry, Jamie. Didn't mean t'go off on such a tear. Don't pay any attention when I start blabberin' like that." James looked up, his face strangely serene now, like the sea after a raging storm. "The worst is that there are some reasonable words among that blather. And I have to sift them out." Jack did a curious thing: he ran the back of his hand down James' cheek very gently. "Kinda like a woman's burblin'. Sometimes it makes sense but it goes sideways, like a crab walkin'." His fingers rested against one cheekbone. "I know this hasn't been easy fer you, luv. We'll get home. I promised ya that and I meant it." "Yes, mother." Whatever his thoughts, James seemed to have stowed them away for now, memorised for later, when he could think of right and wrong, of pirates and Navymen - and of freedom - as a free man once more. "I don't know why, but I trust you on that. Bloody pirate," he muttered. "But I'm your bloody pirate an' you don't seem t'mind ole Jack too much." He stroked James' hair, soft now and clean, shot through with gold that glimmered in the light. Jack thought he could die and only see one sight more lovely, and that was his Pearl. "When you are not smelling of bilges and dead fish, I don't. Much." He sounded playful enough, only a little subdued by thoughts that would not quite let go, tugging stubbornly at his shaky smile. "Jamie?" Jack's eyes were soft as the night sky. "It isn't possible t'solve the problems of this world. Just gives ya a headache. And I'm glad you approve of me a little. If I've bathed," he laughed. "You give me a headache often enough, and I doubt that solves any problems." James laughed softly and rolled over, draping an arm around him. Jack curled into his arms more than willingly, glad to be free of the philosophical cloud. He reckoned that Locke and Hobbes could argue with Aristotle and leave him and Jamie to enjoy life. Plenty of time for that sort of talk after one was dead. And, since neither of them was dead, they used their time to more enjoyable purposes into the wee hours of morning, leaving them but a brief period of rest before they had to return to the Chimaera.
Chapter 12 ::
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