|Home » Search » Fics » Epics » Pirate Vindaloo Menu » Chapter 25 »|
Pirate Vindaloo, Chapter 26
Disclaimers: The Rodent Empire owns them. We pilfer.
Originally Posted: 6/28/06
Note: Our sincerest and hearty thanks to smtfhw for her excellent beta. There are so many people we want to thank for making this possible: each other, smtfhw, smutcutter, the readers and, of course, the two protagonists, without whom there would have been no story at all.
Warnings: Potential spoilerish appearances for those who are adamant
Summary: A trip to Nassau is a change in the wind for James as the adventure comes to a close. There is one final illustration with this chapter.
Jack eased the Pearl into a shadowy cove just north of the main harbour. There were a few fishing boats and Mad Mickey's fast little sloop, the Marauder, bobbing in the purple-blue waters, but no sign of a Navy ensign. He had the guns run out, just in case, and went to toss on his effects, which now included a silk shirt of shockingly bright turquoise. It made him feel like a peacock and he carried himself accordingly. James was seated in the cabin, reading a book and pretending indifference. When Jack dressed, he looked up from the pages and arched an eyebrow. "Terribly important pirate business, I take it. What will you do? Turn someone blind with the colour of your shirt, or is that thing a distraction manoeuvre?" Jack grinned at his own reflection and settled his hat at a rakish angle. "Am I not blindingly gorgeous? Just a bit o'wrangling, then we get underway. You don't mind stayin' aboard, do you? This needs to be a one-on-one powwow, as it were." James did mind. On principle, he minded being aboard a ship without being privy to all plans and he worried, as any sane man would, about that gleam of madness that signaled such a plan in Jack's eyes. "I would rather say gorgeously blinding, but perhaps that is the same." Jack twirled in a pirouette, his sash flapping ragged ends around his boottops. "Must look me best. I promise I'll not be long." He swallowed a smirk and went to the desk, carefully rolling up several large and official-looking papers and stuffing them into his belt. "Ta!" He blew a kiss and swaggered out the door. Gibbs and a few of Jack's larger and more terrifying-looking crewmen manned the longboat and they stopped into the small shack that served as a clearing house long enough to say hello to Mad Mick and catch up on local gossip. Then they headed up the steep hill to the Governor's mansion. Jack took a moment before breaking in to settle himself, his effects and his breath. Hallem was in his study and was quite understandably startled to see Jack Sparrow throw open the doors and lock them behind him. "Evenin' Guv'nor. Lovely weather, ain't it?" Hallem sputtered, rising to his feet when the flat of Jack's cutlass rested on one shoulder. "Stay where y'are, mate. We've a few things to discuss in private. And I rather think you'll prefer they remain private, so don't go yellin' fer yer little servants." Jack's smile sparkled like treasure as he tossed the papers on the desk. "You, my dear sir, have a bit of explainin' t'do." Hallem's hands shook as he leafed through the documents: Hamilton's Letter of Marque, the patrol charts and a most indiscreet missive to the absent privateer about the division of spoils. Sparrow, of course, needed no introduction. "How in hell did you get hold of these?" Jack lounged on the desk. "I made the acquaintance of yer Captain Hamilton. Last I saw 'im, he was sleepin' off a bit o' brandy with one of his East India fellers in Bombay. Too bad he lost his pretty ship and will be havin' a right spot of trouble." Hallem blanched. "Now, Guv'nor, do you mind tellin' me why ya need so much of the Crown's plunder fer 'unknown reasons'? Or need I remind you that I've a few friends in high places in Jamaica?" Governor Hallem was not a politician for nothing and knew a corner when backed into one. "What possible interest could the Swann girl find in these?" Jack's blade danced about the curls of his wig. "I believe her father would be more than interested. Especially since Hamilton took to impressment along the docks o' Port Royal. Bad business, impressin' a commodore of the fleet, don't ya think?" The cutlass was old and battered, but its blade was razor sharp, as Jack demonstrated, slicing through the brocade collar with barely a flick of his wrist. "I'm waitin' fer an explanation, luv." There was a lot of hemming and hawing, many stories in which Jack got carried away, and the better part of a bottle of extremely rare old brandy before Jack got his explanation and a practical demonstration. Within three hands, he knew it was all gambling. Fortunately, Jack cheated and he did it well. Once he'd eased Hallem into a card game, he knew he'd won. He tossed out an ace with innocent eyes. "So y'mean to tell me this Winthrop feller has been bleedin' you dry and ya haven't called in his debts? Oh, that's right. Navy Admiral an' all. Well, Guv'nor that's a damned shame. And a pity about Hamilton too. You do know he was cheatin' you somethin' fierce. However, I can promise you a fair exchange, I ain't no privateer, but there's one just waitin' who could serve yer purposes very well an' get Winthrop off yer stern, too." Jack was never more brilliant than when he was enticing a fly into one of his webs. Hallem was no fool. It wasn't easy to follow the twists and turns of Sparrow's talk, but the threat was clear enough. He had no wish to return in disgrace to England after losing Nassau as had his predecessor. And to the same pirate! Sparrow, however, was much more interested in doing business than plundering the port and he desperately wanted to get rid of Winthrop and his damned debts. When the gaudy rapscallion offered to buy them outright, he jumped at the chance. There was, after all, no sense being stuck in colonial backwater with an aristocratic leech without any profit. All in all, it was better to be blackmailed by a professional. Sparrow would use those charts to his own advantage and be happy to have Nassau as a friendly drop point. The Governor would get a percentage of any plunder smuggled through the port and, if the cost included another few Letters, the Crown could worry about revoking them. Indeed, he could claim coercion, should it come to any court. Besides, the man was a pleasant enough player. They settled their wagers over more of the brandy and Hallem wrote the Letters of Marque most willingly. He did hesitate over the second name. "Norrington? A privateer?" Jack's lip lifted in one of his more dangerous grins. "Won't dear ole Winthrop shite bricks in his fine chamberpot?" The Governor could not agree more. Jack reached into his coat and plopped a heavy pouch on the desk. "Ya said he owes you some nine hundred guineas, aye? Well, there's three hundred here and I think you'll make up the rest in profit, aye? Now write me over the debts and we're square. I'll not fergit this and I will be back with a haul in a fortnight's time. When yer fine Admiral returns from Jamaica, keep mum and ye'll get the rest and more. Savvy?" They shook on it and Jack thanked all the gods for a hard head and a quick wit. He had the Navy patrol charts, a safe port, the Letters and Winthrop's soul in his hands. Not bad for a day's bargaining and Hallem was a welcome change from the stuffy aristocrat who had forced his hand last venture in Nassau. It was a pleasure to do business with someone who understood that gold buys damned near anything. By the time he boarded the Pearl, it was past midnight and he was in high spirits. James sat where he had left him, hunched over a book by lanternlight. He could hear Jack from afar; there was no mistaking the uneven, cadenced footsteps of his sway. He looked up, brows drawn. "Your grin makes me fear for this port." "Cross me heart, Nassau is more than safe, luv. 'Twill be more welcomin' next time we're here." He shed his coat and hat, letting the swordbelt drop to the floor. "Y'know, I never thought much of politics, but it's a rum game. Lot o'money to be made." "You do realise that you say little to appease my worry?" James rose and stretched, watching Jack curiously, the question on the tip of his tongue. "We're headin' fer the Penelope. Wouldn't you like t'see her? I gotta check how the work is comin' along, y'know." Jack danced around his intent delicately. "You are the Captain. Captain." James' words were indifferent, but there was a gleam in his eyes that defied it. "Where did you careen her?" "Petit Goave. Best place in th' world fer it. There's a whole bloody shipyard and no questions asked. Now that bit o'business is done, we can get her back in the water properly." Jack slouched in his chair, peeling an orange. The sharp citrus sweetened the close air. "Jamie, besides goin' back to the Navy, wot if you was able t'perform yer duties, as you call 'em, without wigs and brocade? Keep the Crown's interests safe an' all that?" James blinked at him, brow drawn tight in an instinctive defensive reaction, relaxing as he mulled over the words. "Do you mean as a privateer? For that I would need a ship, a crew and a Letter of Marque. As I have none of the three, I fear even a consideration of the possibility is moot." Jack pulled the rolls of paper from his sash and laid one in front of James, his grin splitting his face from ear to ear. "Is it?" James smoothed the parchment, read it and blinked. Blinked again at his name written there, above the Governor of Nassau's seal. "I must say, this looks surprisingly authentic. Whoever forged this is very talented." A ray of hope lingered in his words, tingling and tempting and lighting his eyes like a spark. "Aint no forgery, luv. I watched Guv'nor Hallem write it himself. Not a bad bloke and our business conducted to everyone's mutual benefit." Jack tossed the rest of the papers on the desk. "Quite reasonable." He didn't mention that he'd just spent a fortune for information he might have acquired for shillings, had James' need not been so pressing and time so very short. James was enthralled by the letter in his hand, the possibilities it bore. It was almost as if the paper billowed into a sail and the wood of the desk were that of the Penelope's wheel. As if he could hear it again, the song of the sea that had lured him away from land so long ago. He tore himself away and looked at Jack, eyes wide and faraway for a moment, then lit with a gleam thought lost as he rose and clasped Jack's hand in his. "Thank you." It seemed far too little, two little words for a future, but there was nothing he could have said that would suffice, and better to mean those two words than to stumble and stutter through what Jack had to know already or would never understand. Jack's eyes were dark pools, unreadable as that future and gleaming with all its possibilities. As uncannily ridiculous as his first and only declaration in the Chimaera's brig, he simply settled himself astride James' lap and kissed him. "And just so you don't go tryin' t'take me, I got one fer meself. Don't know as it's strictly necessary, but it never hurts, aye?" he laughed as he came up for air. "If I am no longer allowed to take you, better stop kissing me" James whispered with a laugh that shook just a little. He, a privateer? He had never held the practice in much esteem, but he remembered one thing he had learned: it depended on the man, not the Union Jack. And now, now he would have the chance to prove it, to stand firmly on his side of the law even without a Navy title to stand behind it. Jack held on for another kiss, watching James' eyes light with horizons undreamed and felt the same rush of pure pleasure that was his only on the Pearl. "Oh, Jamie, wait 'til you see her! She's comin' on so lovely an' we been workin' doubletime to get her fit. This, me love, calls fer a drink!" He bolted to his feet and poured two glasses. "Fair winds and free!" James lifted his glass. "The Pearl and the Penelope." It was strange how the same rum could sting at one moment and be so sweet in another, how the warmth didn't always burn a hole that needed to be filled with yet more of it. While they were sipping in contented silence, James snuck a glance at Jack's charts to estimate how long they would take to Petit Goave if the weather held.
Jack cracked one eye open and glared at the obscene ebony cherub gesturing at him from one of the enormous bedposts. The Pearl's Spanish origins showed in her elaborate and profuse decoration: fantastic gargoyles and fat, lascivious children poked out of odd corners or startled unwary crewmen at the top of stairs. Jack had often considered putting a bullet in this particularly lewd little boy's buttocks. He refrained only because the smirking bastard was part of his beloved Pearl and he could never hurt her in any way. The sheets were wound around him like swaddling clothes, along with James' left foot, digging uncomfortably into his groin. He spat out his hair and reached out for James, only to find a mass of pillows, then struggled up to one elbow. James was curled upside down on the bed, his head buried under half the covers, his arse completely bare and conveniently at arm's length. Jack smacked one cheek. James shot up, crashing with his head against the same putto which had caught Jack's eye. With a groan, he straightened, rubbing the back of his head. "Do the Articles really make you share your headache in equal parts?" Jack crawled down to James, taking pillows and blankets with him. "Damned brandy! Spent most of the afternoon swillin' it with Hallem." His chin rested on James' shoulder. "Don't wanna wake up yet." James kissed him lazily, that small, shy, wondering smile still firmly in place, twitching as he fought to contain a chuckle. Between his own doing and the brandy, Jack's lips were dry and swollen; red and irresistible. "Then stay asleep if you cannot hold your liquor," he teased. "I will find us breakfast." Jack threw a pillow at him as he padded around the cabin. "Can too hold me liquor! I just can't mix 'em up too well. Grape n' grain, y'know." He propped himself against the bedpost and grinned at the headboard with its altogether gruesomely realistic Crucifixion. "From down here, he looks damned uncomfortable, doncha think?" James, face frothed in shaving soap, swatted Jack. "Perhaps watching over your bed is not the most comfortable of tasks." He scraped away the growth of several days, grinning as he remembered Jack's squirming. " Speaking of comfort, I do believe I would have slept better had not a certain starfish fallen asleep draped over the back of my legs." Jack looked up with a sleepy satyr's smile. "That were I was? No wonder I dreamed o' being keelhauled. All that rough hair!" "And I thought it was because you were gasping for air like a stranded fish." James threw the pillow back on the bed. He successfully avoided decapitation by the frightening Creole cook and returned with a tray laden with pastries, fruit, and coffee. Jack's cup was liberally doused with brandy he had found in a dusty old bottle. Incapable of remaining in one position for longer than three thoughts, Jack bounced to his feet sniffing. "Oh merciful heaven!" He tossed a chunk of sugar in his cup and lit on the edge of the table. "You evil bastard!" he choked, guzzling the coffee with the air of a complete martyr. "Ugh! Nothin' t'eat yet or it'll come back up." Typically, his body ignored anything that emerged from his lips and he reached for a banana. James rolled his eyes and moved to a safe distance "I do believe it was you who repeatedly insisted that a hair of the dog was the best cure. Afraid to heed your own advice, Captain?" He grinned, but the rest of his face was calm, that forced stillness he took upon himself to hide whatever was going through him. But it was visible in the way his eyes flickered, how they danced to the half-rolled chart on the desk, again and again, calculating 'how long'. He was rather like Matthew, asking every other minute if the hour's wait was over yet. Jack grinned, refilling his cup. "Suppose that's true enough. Mid-afternoon, mebbe twilight if the wind don't pick up." He watched James for a moment and his smile was dazzling. "Ain't it wonderful?" Just as a precaution he rapped on the tabletop. James attempted sobriety for a moment longer, then his lips split into a wide smile. "Yes, it is." Hope was yet more fickle than fortune; lack of her could douse the brightest flame, but even the smallest spark sufficed to light it to a blaze once more. "It is," he repeated, his eyes wandering to the shelf in which he had carefully stowed the Letter. When he caught himself at it, he rose and stretched. "Why Captain, I do believe we have work to do." "Ah, yer a hard taskmaster in bed an' out!" Jack stood in front of the washstand and tugged at his beard. "So, you gonna tell yer crew? Don't think you'll lose any of 'em, but it could happen. We can recruit back in Tortuga if need be. Or see if some o' the workmen are lookin' fer a berth." "The worse the students, the harder the teacher," James tossed Jack's clothes at him. "Of course I will. I do believe more than a few already know, but I will play with open cards. I won't start out with a lie." Jack nodded, still attempting to coax his moustache into a feeble curl. "Meet you topside? Lemme take that back to th' galley. The barnacle is prob'ly pacin' my deck like a tiger fer another fencin' lesson." "That boy will be my death if you won't," James announced, buckling his swordbelt. He bent close, very close. "Could the comment on my rough hair perhaps have been a hint of jealousy, Captain?" he breathed against the scruffy hair, then pulled back and strode topside. "James, yer a degenerate!" Jack laughed after him, hopping to get into one boot. He avoided Pickles' threats in the galley and bounded to the quarterdeck, caressing the wheel and chattering like a magpie with Gibbs and Van. The breeze was fine and the Pearl eased her way through water as clear as glass and she a princess on its surface. Ana glared at him, still distressed by the noisy ‘reunion' that had disturbed her sleep. "Ye're mad as March, Sparrow!" He grinned and winked. Matthew sighted James immediately and pounced, sword half drawn before he saw James' raised eyebrow. He stopped in his tracks, pulled himself together and straightened into a proper position, earning a smile and a nod as James drew his sword and soon they were sparring again. Matthew squealed as James jumped over a coil of rope to chase him. James could see Jack watching from the corner of his eye and grinned, but Jack wasn't the only one who watched with interest. The Pearl's crew knew well enough who the newcomer was, and into fearful distance and spite, curiosity soon mingled. The grand pirate hunter did not look as if he would suddenly devour the child. On the contrary, he let himself be tackled to the ground by the boy to be tickled mercilessly. They rolled around until Matthew grabbed his sword again, taunting James into another tussle. Jack handed off the wheel to Ana and watched from the top of the steps when the Pearl gave a lurch and he tumbled, arse over heels into James. Deep below them, there was a distinct huffing groan. "Don't you start with me, luv!" Jack stuck out one arm, apparently unharmed except in dignity. James grinned down at him, eyebrows twitching, and offered his arm. "You do nothing to dispel my conviction that you enjoy looking up at me." "Bugger off!" Jack bounded to his feet. "She's bloody laughin' at me!" he grumbled, then raced over to the starboard rail to watch a pair of sharks battle over a kill. "Damn. Hoped there'd be dolphins, but sharks are better." Good omen fer a privateer, don't ya think, Gibbsy?" Gibbs took a nip from his flask and grimaced at the red waters. "Aye, Cap'n. Very good. Bedlam. He belongs in Bedlam, he do," he muttered. "The poor men there suffer enough already. They need no addition to their misery." James peered over the bulwark and shrugged. "I would rather say these sharks are an omen for a sweaty swordsman in your cabin, because he cannot take a swim, but then, I was never good with superstitions." "No swimmin' hereabouts unless ya wanna be sharkbait." Jack's eyes were hooded and his smile grew sly. "However, I can think of a few more----good Lord! We're passin' the marker!" He raced back to the wheel and began to coax the Pearl, veering sharply west. The inlet was on the horizon and within another hour, the deck was bustling as they heaved to and dropped anchor. There, on the beach, busier by far than the Pearl's deck, lay the Penelope, her great keel gleaming in the amber sun. The copper was blindingly bright, a beacon to welcome James home. James stood at the bow, staring and marveling as she lay there, careened and helpless like a beached whale. He stood very still, keeping up the mask of patience as the boats were readied to row ashore, fighting the urge to run as soon as they reached shore. The rest of the Chimaeras were there and rushed to greet him. James bore it all with a smile threatening to split his face. Whenever he approached the Penelope, lying there like a wounded animal, someone would start talking to him and he was too polite to ignore them. After he had listened to Cookie's newest, doubtful recipe, he finally managed to steal away, stepping into the shallow water behind her keel. There, in the small space where the tide foamed around his bare ankles, he was alone. The coppered keel was warm in the sun, smooth beneath his touch. He could see the bright colours where her new name had been painted on, stark white set off with dark green. "Now, my lady, do you like your new name?" he whispered, palms still pressed against her keel. She shuddered a little, a playful squeak sounding from somewhere inside her empty belly. Jack did not have to be close to know that whatever James asked, she was answering him. He lingered with the crewmen and hired workers, watching James, then turning away to listen to the report on her progress. This was Jamie's moment with his lady and one that Jack would not disturb. He glanced towards the Pearl with that same enigmatic smile on his lips that James might have recalled from the long months across to Africa. Intimacies of many sorts were, by nature, private. James laughed at himself and his ship, yes his ship, and stroked her keel wonderingly. "I know, I know. But I can't take your helm now. I would fall off if I did. But soon I will take you out. Just a little bit of patience, or have you been in Jack's company for too long?" Certainly, he answered only his own questions and not a ship's, but what harm was there if no one was close enough to overhear? He stayed until the sun sank and the copper cooled. "Just wait for me. I will be here soon." Still chiding himself for his affectations, he peered around the corner. Everyone was assembled around a large fire, laughing. Excellent. He withdrew behind the Penelope's keel and slipped into the water, swimming the few paces to the Pearl. As he remembered, Van was on watch. A brief search yielded up the golden hoop Jack had shown him that night on the Chimaera, and Van seemed near as eager as Jack to pierce his ear. The hoop was dangling from it only a few minutes later, Van content with a bottle of wine for his silence. He swam ashore and snuck into the shelter where the Chimaera's former contents were stowed, rummaging through them for a good hour. He had studied the detailed chart in Jack's cabin and quickly found what he was looking for, a wider arm of the small stream trickling to the shore, so wide that it was near as still as a pond. It was hidden behind an outcropping of rock, a bit up the cliff and overlooking part of the harbour. He dropped and arranged his burden there, then returned to the shore. The circle around the firepit was mirrored several times over down the beach. With near two hundred men employed on the refit, plus the crew of the Pearl, the beach was more crowded than twenty Brides at midnight and just as rowdy. Laughter, breaking bottles and cheers echoed without fear of stop or censure. This was life lived on the run and in the gallows' loop. The arrival of the new captain was as good a reason as any to break the cycle of hard work for a party. Gibbs was just warming to his tale when James settled with a trencher full of roast goat and rice, simmering in cauldrons over the cooler parts of the fire. "An' I says to the Cap'n 'Jack, Jack you know it's dreadful bad luck t'change any ship's name. Yer courtin' disaster.' " Many muttered "Aye!" and there was a round of head-shaking while Joshamee wet his throat. "So's I'm dreadin' the worst and we get t'work and wot d'ya think we find? After we scrape away all the old paint, there it be, hidden fer God knows how long. Her name, carved inta the very wood. Penelope. I don't know how Jack knew it, but it was plain as th' nose on me face." Jack turned to wink at James and raised his bottle. "The Penelope." James choked, coughing violently until the slaps on his back near sent him sprawling. He pushed himself up and stared at the looming shape, dark against the setting sun. "The Penelope," he whispered, then raised his voice, august and proud. "The Penelope." Jack leaned close and whispered, "Told you." He turned to the company with a grin. "Ah, but 'twasn't me who knew it. 'Twas her captain here. I was just th' messenger." There were shouts of laughter, a few wide eyes at a pair of men who clearly were touched by the Sea Witch and another round of stories and drinks, as the moon rose high and the skies lit with stars. Jack nestled against James comfortably. "Where you been, you rogue? Y'missed a good yarn or two." James grinned like a boy that had been up to a particularly good round of mischief and finally dug into his trencher. "Busy." His hair was dripping wet and hung free, draped over his ears. "And I do believe I have heard the best tale." He listened and laughed at another story, then another, but there was a part of him that remained in reserve until dusk bled into midnight. He nudged Jack with his elbow, rose and held out one hand. Jack took it and a full bottle and let himself be led. Outside of the firelight, his eyes gleamed in the darkness like a cat's. "Wot knavery are you up to?" He blinked, suddenly struck by the memory of a shore leave long ago and another hand leading him off into the darkness when he was still unsure of the meaning. That had been so many years ago but the thrill was every bit as fresh. "Lead on, McDuff, " he laughed. James grinned as he led Jack up the gently rising slope, following the stream's path to the small oasis, all without a word. He had spread tarpaulins on the ground, softened by silk and cushions that could not but remind of their time in Bombay. A small fire was smouldering a little further off, its flicker dancing on bottleglass. Jack looked at James, delighted and dumbfounded. "Jamie, you bloody fox. Or should I say shark? How in hell did ya manage all this on yer onesies? You didn't swim it ashore?" A more inviting bower could not have been invented in all the Caribbean. The night air was soft with just enough bite to make the fine blankets look delightful and the fire danced in James' eyes. "Yer a prince." Jack slid both arms around him. "A captain," he corrected. "Captain James Norrington." His voice was a fairly good imitation of Jack's, but his smile was different, shier and all the more obvious for it. "Thanks to you," he added in a whisper. He pulled Jack close for a kiss, hands tangled in the dark hair to push it back. Sparrows fly high and find their way home. That was the tale all sailors knew. Jack Sparrow had always flown high, or at least made people believe he did, but he'd only flown homewards once in his life. That ten-year flight had taken all his courage and determination and he could feel the Pearl, rocking in the bay. This felt like another flight home. "Captain Norrington, indeed," he murmured. "A most wonderful captain. Certainly is a strange place t'land after a knock on the head, Captain Norrington." James tugged at Jack's waistcoat, teasing it off. His hands stroked down the full length of Jack's torso to free the shirttails, then up again, calloused fingers against warm skin, to slide it off. "I did hope," he whispered between kisses, "that I might retain some of the privileges I had as First Mate." "Most definitely, and more." Jack eagerly helped to get every stitch of clothing out of the way as fast as possible. His hand wandered along James' neck into his hair, then stopped. He pulled back to squint, one finger tracing the hoop. "C'mere!" He tugged them both close to the fire and watched it catch and light the metal circlet. "You, my dear James, are amazin'ly sneaky. When? Who?" "I need to build a reputation, no?" James' hand slid up to trace the mirroring hoop in Jack's ear, then bent close for another kiss, eyebrows waggling teasingly. "Is this an interrogation? I do not think my letter allows passing information to pirates without incentive." Jack provided plenty of incentive. He grinned and groped, his lips quite busy except when they curved into another grin. He pulled them down into the nest of pillows and James' skin tasted of salt and warmth that defied any one sense. Jack decided that if one wouldn't do, all five would have to be employed. There was the firelight that bounced off their skin; sweat with its smell of salt and musk that trickled down to caress in a wet tickle; the taste of that smell and of warm rum in a shared kiss; soft panting that rose into moans and then stifled cries, all under the playful twinkle of the moon. The warmth lingered as James tucked his arm around Jack and whispered into his ear. "Van. About four hours ago." Jack's teeth glimmered in the light. "You've more tricks up yer sleeve than me Da!" He fingered the small hoop again. "They tell me she's ready t'set upright tomorra. It'll still be a few days before she can sail but we're workin' at top speed." He looked up at the stars and they were brighter than he'd seen them in a twelvemonth. "Good t'be back. Here." He paused. "Home." Tomorrow would be a busy day and there was no way that James would shirk what work he could do on his Penelope. After all, he had promised her. That she was a ship did not seem to matter, his word, after all, was his bond. "Home," he whispered, and it had the same conviction as when he'd said it of Port Royal all those months ago. Jack turned in his arms and kissed the hollow of his throat. His lashes bunched against James' shoulder as he fought to keep them open. The stars tilted as the moon set and they slept, huddled together in a blanket that had seen them halfway around the world and back. Jack's hair drifted into his mouth and his legs edged over James'; James snored faintly until he rolled over; the blanket twisted around them and the stars laughed along with the wicked little wind that rustled in the trees and set the waves dancing. The fire had burned itself out and Jack had been carefully covered. He sat up, took a swallow from the bottle dug into the sand and looked around the small campsite. No Jamie. Birds above were squawking and tittering like so many old women and he estimated it must be rather late in the morning. He grabbed his clothes and the bottle, trudged to the edge of the stream and stuck in one foot. His eyes opened very wide and he backed away from it. The water was icy cold to his warm-weather sensibilities. Fresh or not, he refused to subject himself to that kind of torture, made an exaggerated about-face and headed for the beach. The salt shallows were much more welcoming and he splashed enough to consider himself nominally clean, dressed and set off for the worksite. Surely, James must be there, with his Penelope. Jack found him standing in the shallow water, breeches rolled up, digging his bare feet into the sand as they all heaved to pull the ship upright. Jack could hear him bark orders, and then, once, just before she sat upright with a loud sigh and a crack, he could see James' lips move, the words that emerged too soft to overhear. Strange, how such a small movement could transform her so utterly from a wounded animal into a proud lady. They pushed and pulled her on logs, leaving the tide to do the rest and pull the Penelope into her grasp. There, she swam proudly in the small cove, her rocking barely percetible in the shallow waters, as though she meant to bid the Pearl a good morning. James had undressed and was treading water beside her bow, and all that Jack could see from the shore was his huge grin. He let himself be marginally distracted as James emerged and dressed, eyes bright. James was about to join the crew to retie the rigging when his gaze fell on Jack and he smiled. "Do you mean to make yourself useful, slugabed?" Jack shaded his eyes and finished signing some papers for Bertie, hiding them from James' sight, so he wouldn't see the obscene cost of the work. "I can always become a new figurehead fer ya!" he grinned before shedding his coat and boots to help raise the new mainmast. The days were a frenzy of work and they dropped like the dead at night, very much like the mad days rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Each day, the Penelope blossomed like a rare plant as her sails were hoisted, her rigging bound and her rails replaced. With every small part of her, the eager grin on James' face widened. Jack began to wonder if his habits were truly that contagious when, the last night before the Penelope would be seaworthy, James sat bolt upright to simply stare at her, as if afraid that the moon herself would stoop to commandeer such a pretty vessel. Or maybe he was just head over admittedly dirtied heels in love. Jack thought she shone like a moon herself, proud and dressed in her finest for a bridegroom who gaped at her in open adoration. He teased, he laughed and he thoroughly enjoyed the way James fell in love with her. All those months, she had been there, subdued and muffled the way the Pearl had been under the curse. Now she sang, and there wasn't a man of her crew who didn't thrill to see her. Even the weather caressed her with fine breezes that made the sun bearable and the nights soft as any in Paradise Beside her, the Pearl loomed like a dark orchid, flashes of her lines catching moonlight in nets of silver. Jack thought it a sight that a great painter should record, but none could do it justice, at least in his and James' eyes. There lay love and freedom, adventure, treasure, life itself heaving gently on water gone deep green in the moon's glow.
Despite his vigil, James was down with his Penelope by the break of dawn, restocking what supplies had been brought ashore. Then, finally, there was nothing left to do but to hoist anchor and unfurl the sails. It was utterly unlike any Navy ceremony to welcome a Captain; no one stood still, no bo'sun's whistle; instead there was laughter and murmurs as they all parted to open James' path to the quarterdeck. It was not yet time to go there. He glanced at the helm, smiling, then turned towards the crew, lifted his arm and waited for the cheers to subside. Jack stepped from behind the wheel on the quarterdeck and leaned over the rail, resplendent and a bit red in the face, owing to the bright silk shirt being so warm under his coat. He grinned and nodded eagerly. James remembered the first time he'd been made a Captain, nearly a decade ago, remembered the speech he'd made then, eyes bright with a fervour his crew had not shared. It had not mattered; as members of the Navy they had been obliged to follow his command. He had proved himself in action. Now, each of these men was free to choose whether to serve under James Norrington, former scourge of their ilk, or not. There was a soft groan from the deck beneath him and he hid a grin. "Most of you know me as James Norbury, crewman and First Mate of the Chimaera. But ‘ere you call me your Captain, you deserve to know the truth." He took a deep breath and raised his voice further. "My name is James Norrington. Most of you will have known me as Commodore Norrington." There were a few surprised gasps, but most remained silent. More than one of them had heard the truth from the crew of the Pearl. "Yes, I lied. I lied to survive. Think for one moment how long a Commodore of the fleet would have survived aboard the Chimaera and you will know why. James Norbury was a cover that allowed me to survive, an invented name for the same man. You will likely look at me now and think me a stranger. I am not. I am the man you knew, the man you trusted. I now ask you once more for this trust. I ask you to stay a part of this crew. I cannot promise that it will always be easy. I cannot even promise that all of you will survive. But what I can promise is to do my best. I have fought in these waters for nearly a decade now, and the only enemy I don't know and have not defeated is the British Navy." He smiled briefly. "Since I have a Letter of Marque, we will not have to worry about them." He blinked and stared down at the Penelope's deck for a split second. When he looked up, he seemed more confident, taller somehow. "Are you with me?" Jack hadn't heard such a rousing speech or such cheers and huzzahs since Jerome Zalandier had spoken for an hour at his own hanging. He whooped and stomped the deck and indulged in a little jig with Bertie. "Captain Norrington!" he bellowed, bottle upraised, and it was shouted back to echo in the cove. James grinned, stowing his relief deep inside, for it would show his prior doubts all too clearly. He raised his hand again, marvelling at the immediate silence. "I thank you for your trust and I will not let you down. However, there is one man I have to thank yet more. You all know him. That he can be annoying, insane and aggravating is beside the point, for he also is the kindest and most generous man I know, and I stand more in his debt than I will ever be able to repay. Thank you, Jack." Jack winced dramatically. "Yer ruinin' me reputation!" Amid the laughter, his eyes never left James', jet black and, for once, honest. He mouthed a 'thank you' and beckoned James to the quarterdeck. James sketched a bow. "Always glad to be of service." He strode up the stairs. Jack's hands were held up, as they had been on the docks when they first met. "The Penelope waits, Jamie." He backed away from the wheel. James took the wheel and the Penelope shimmied. He smiled and patted her wheel, pretending not to notice Jack's grin as his voice rose once again. "Enough dawdling! It is time to take her out!" He loosened his hold on the wheel and pulled Jack close for a searing kiss, whispering another 'thank you' into his ear. Jack held on, then winked at him. "So, Cap'n, wot are yer bearin's? I got a load t'drop near the Floridas." "Such a coincidence. Just where I intended to go. I hear the Spanish are most active there." James' eyes twinkled. "And now get off my ship, pirate." His voice dropped lower. "At least until we are anchored for the night." Jack swept off his hat in a bow. "Until then, ya scurvy excuse fer a captain. Race ya to the marker." He grinned and danced down the steps and into the larboard shrouds, grabbed a line and swung over to the Pearl. For once, he remembered to let go at the opportune moment and was on his own quarterdeck, bellowing orders at the top of his lungs. Above him, the black sails grabbed at the breeze, the Pearl herself straining for action. He waved, raised his bottle and took a long swallow. "Freedom, Jamie!" he yelled. James waved his tricorn. He barked orders until the Penelope gently swam out of the cove, resplendent in white as her sails unfurled to full glory. "Set stunsails! I don't want one idle hand until we have shown those seaslugs what real speed is!" His voice was lower, gentler, as he petted the wheel. "And we will show everyone in the Caribbean what a fine lady you are. Don't you worry. We both have a reputation to regain." The Penelope shimmied as her sails bellied in the wind.
Disclaimer: All characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean universe are the property of Disney et al, and the actors who portrayed
them. Neither the authors and artists hosted on this website nor the maintainers profit from the content of this site.
All content is copyrighted by its creator.