Merely Players

Act One


Hippediva & Elessil

Pairing: J/N
Rating: NC-17 overall (also includes R-rated illustration)
Disclaimer: The Rodent Empire owns them. We plunder.
Originally Posted: 2/28/06
Warning: Crossdressing, masks and secrets and extreme insanity
Summary: The small (fictional) island of San Felipe proves to be a large problem for more than one person. In honour of Carnivale, we offer a masquerade.


Jack skirted the corner of one street and bolted down the small alley as fast as his legs could carry him. He paused, glancing over his shoulder, eyes darting between the only cover all the way across the square and the large wagon half-mired in the street to his left. He heard the shouts from the next street over and opted for the wagon, diving in and scrambling to the back, covering himself in whatever came to hand.

Breathlessly, he heard the soldier's footsteps pass and tugged at his beard, thinking so hard it made his eyes cross.

Norrington pressed deeper into the shadows, his breath stopping when the cloth flap was pushed apart. No shouts, no search, no Spanish. In fact, no sound at all but for a breath as hard and shallow as his own. Then, suddenly, someone pulled the blanket he was hiding beneath from him and he jumped to his feet, hand on his sword. It was fortunate he didn't drop it. He slammed a hand over Sparrow's mouth and yanked the blanket over both of them.

Jack was too shocked to struggle, his eyebrows stuck in his headscarf. He hunched down, listening to the thud of his blood rushing in his veins and wondered if there was something strange about the rum in this part of New Spain. He could have sworn the hand bruising his chin belonged to Commodore Norrington, but that was quite impossible, since Jamaica was leagues away and the Commodore would have no business hiding from Spanish soldiers in any event.

Norrington also had his doubts. It just seemed too unlikely that Jack Bloody Sparrow could show up everywhere, particularly when his life was already so perilous. His heart was pounding so hard that it imagined what he always did when he was angry. That didn't explain the faint chime next to him. Oh bloody hell.

Jack squirmed and pulled at his fingers in the darkness, snuffling a bit at the amount of dust in the heavy blanket over them. He made a soft sound and punched Norrington in the arm.

Frantically, Norrington crushed Sparrow's head against his chest, holding him with a firm grip in his hair. Oh yes. Definitely Sparrow. Sneezing.

And he had thought the day could not get any worse.

Jack's narrow shoulders heaved as he tried to still the sound against the broadcloth coat. He thought the top of his head would explode with the effort. His breath came in short huffs and he clutched at the coat, fearful of another sneeze.

Spanish voices rose and Norrington could feel him tense, like a cat readying itself to flee, but there was another one, fine Spanish with only the slightest bit of an English accent. They talked for nigh a minute, the soldiers hasty and urgent, the second voice careless and indifferent, then contemplative. Steps moved away from the wagon, quick and definitely military.

Another minute of silence, then the second voice rose. "You can come out."

Jack froze. He didn't want to get skewered by Spanish steel huddled in James Norrington's arms, but then again, if he could get behind Norrington, perhaps he wouldn't get skewered at all. He wriggled around until his head was half under Norrington's arm, one leg thrown over his, sitting, to all extents and purposes, on his lap. The blanket was plucked away and he peeked.

The first thing he saw were thin legs and stockings that continued to a skinny body, then a red mane over a grin that was as mischievous as Jack's at his best and even wider.

"I said you can come out. Don't you understand me?" He sighed, then repeated the question first in Spanish, then French, then German.

Jack pulled his head off Norrington's chest. "Awright, awright, I understan'." He looked up warily at the pale eyes twinkling down at them. "Uh... thanks." He shifted a little and slid between Norrington's outstretched legs like a rag doll. "Ow."

"My thanks," Norrington muttered, got to his feet and dusted off the dark brown coat he was wearing.

Meanwhile, the pale eyes were following Jack's every move with interest, and the light in them grew even brighter. "They're gone for now. But they will be back." He grinned. "I can hide you. Under one condition."


* * *


Norrington was scowling at his cuffs. He was grateful there was no mirror, for then there would be no way to pretend that he was not, in fact, wearing all the garments he saw when peering down his body. The boots, he supposed, were the best part. A little worn perhaps, but at least his own. Fernando (whose real name was Finch) had spared him that at least when the many pairs in the wagon—which had turned out to be the prop wagon of a traveling actors' troupe—had proved too small.

The breeches were bearable. Dingy black more faded than the rust coloured coat and the tarnished orange masquerading as gold at collar and cuffs. There, where the cheap Irish lace was peering forward, horribly gaudy and worse than anything he would imagine even Sparrow wearing.

Just as he thought of his personal demon, he heard a shriek, then loud complaints that definitely were Sparrow's. He grinned, strode a few steps, the black cape billowing, to get a look at the proceedings.

"Hey, James! I'm not done with you yet," Fernando shouted, brandishing a monstrosity of a hat.

There was a huge clatter and a yelp and all Norrington could see was Sparrow's legs and arse as he struggled with two very large men who were trying to hold him still. His face was covered in shaving soap and it flew about like flakes of new snow. "I will not! Get offa me, damn ya t'hell in a rusty trough!"

He stopped struggling and was staring down at the razor with enormous eyes that flicked up to meet Norrington's, then he started to laugh. "Oh Lord! Ain't you jus' fit fer market day in Seven Dials!"

Norrington scowled down at him and took vicious pleasure at Sparrow's gulp when the razor found his jaw, scraping at the rakish beard, taking away even the two long braids. Fernando had followed him with a shrug and was now kneeling behind Jack and busily untying the stingray bone from his hair.

"Stop it! Don't ya dare t'lose that! Ouch. Help?"

Jack didn't dare to fight, not with a straight razor under his nose, but he panicked as all the braids in his hair were combed out, the trinkets gone, the dreads yanked and tugged into some kind of order or hidden beneath the rest of his mane as it was pinned up around his ears. "Wot th' bloody hell are ya doin' t'me!"

He appealed to Norrington. "Yer the law. Make 'em stop!"

"Not in these waters," Norrington chuckled, but he did stop Fernando from throwing the trinkets away, arguing that trash or not, they were Sparrow's property and should be returned to him.

He nearly dropped the pouch with them when he again saw Sparrow, still the odd bit of shaving soap on his face, his hair curling into ringlets where the braids had been undone. Norrington grinned wide. "Without those, you seem almost pretty."

"Yes, and that is why he'll take over for Mariella," Fernando announced cheerfully.

"I will NOT!" Jack crossed his arms and pouted. Unfortunately for him, this only made the assembled company of stage hands, actresses and actors laugh.

"Coo! He even looks like 'er when she's in a temper!"

"C'mon, pretty, smile fer us!"

"Yea, but can he fit inta her frocks?"

Jack glared at them all, especially Norrington. He felt naked and his upper lip was cold. "Wot in hell is happenin'?"

Norrington had heard the tale while Fernando had been busy redressing him, and had quickly reconsidered his original refusal when another patrol marched by, followed by yet another only minutes later. Not to forget that his Spanish had more than sufficed to hear the order about the additional patrols on the docks passed on.

At least now, looking at Sparrow, he was feeling marginally less ridiculous, especially when Fernando knelt before the pirate, kissed his hand and stroked his cheek.

"Oh, Mon cher, do not hate me. You said you would do everything for our love—or was is your life?—and it is hardly too much to ask for three weeks of your time. You see, we are at a bit of an impasse, what with our lead actress running away with her lover and he stabbing Antonio here in the arse. But," he lifted a finger, "the stage shall not be abandoned! We have a contract, and you will help us fulfill it." The French accent was not helping to make it sound any less ridiculous.

Jack looked at him blankly. "I did? Musta been in me cups."

James watched with ill-concealed amusement as they painted and powdered Sparrow's dark skin to ivory pallor, rouged his lips and cheeks and added a conspicuously heart-shaped beauty mark on one cheekbone. His hair was half-piled atop his head, the dreadlocks making very convenient rats to puff it on either side. In short, he looked, at least from the neck up, the very soul of a coquette.

"An' wot in hell are you doin' here? I got enough mis'ry wifout you!" His eyes spat canister shot at the Commodore.

"I assure you, Mademoiselle, the misery is entirely mine." Norrington's grin was dark, like the one he had worn on the docks of Port Royal when mocking Jack without any humour at all.

Fernando clapped his hands. "Oh, this personality! I can see it, this will be perfect! Antonio! Antonio, come here and have a look at him, and tell me he isn't just perfect! Yes, he will need a little bit of a beard here, but won't they be a beautiful couple?"

It was difficult to tell whose mouth fell open wider. "Couple?!"

Jack glared. "I wanted t'save me arse, not peddle it!" The full weight of Fernando's words sank in and his eyes became huge. "I gotta act? On a stage? Wif him!" He pointed.

"While we rarely agree, he does have a point. I am supposed to act? With him?"

Fernando was still grinning sweetly. "You can also attempt to try acting on the docks. But there you won't have an excuse to speak English."

The plump women with flaming scarlet hair hit Fernando lightly with her stocking, emerging from the darkness of the wagon in her chemise and little else. "I think yer jus' ducky. An' y'know, ya really do look like Mariella. Now jus' act like a bitch in heat an' ye'll be fine!"

"Dorcas, don't be a tart! He's prettier than she is!" Dawkins, the big stage hand laughed and pinched Jack's backside. Jack turned in a flash, his hand raised. "Yep. Jus' like her. You two can read, right?"

"I would not be so certain about him, but I can," Norrington muttered. Obviously, there was a reason why officers normally didn't go spying. He strove to remember that. "This is ridiculous."

"Yes, and people pay well to see it. Have in fact already paid to see it tomorrow evening, so you will better start learning quickly. Antonio, what do you say to him?"

"I can too read!" Jack exploded, his voice at ridiculous odds with his head. Dawkins hauled him off the stool and began to pull at his clothes. "Hey! Stop! Wait!" Jack slapped his hands.

Fernando jumped in to rescue his hairstyling.

There was a lot of pulling and tugging and Dorcas even threateningly aimed her pointed boots at Jack's crotch until he finally went still. Nothing however could stop him from squeaking as Dawkins yanked at the corset laces until he could tie them fast. "Well, 'e's a bit wider in the waist but no tits to speak of."

Norrington laughed, long and hard. "You, on the other hand, would fit Maiden Lane, Mademoiselle."

Antonio, a bit older than the others and leaning heavily on a stick, limped around him. "Hold still and stop mocking." He grabbed Norrington's chin and laughed as he broke free with an angry headshake. "He has temper. Maybe."

Fernando was far more enthusiastic and danced up to James, kissing his hand again and when he let go, pulled away his signet ring, then danced over to Jack. "I love you, will you marry me?" He thrust the ring on Jack's thumb.

Zelina, nee Margery Ann Jenkins, sidled next to Norrington. "And he's gonna marry me an' take me off t'a grand estate on th' canals o' Venice."

Jack was still straining to breathe. The corset left him no alternative than to pant, the petticoats caught between his legs, and the heavy velvet frock threatened to tear if he so much as slouched. His lips worked almost pitifully.

"Yer on th' davenport t'night," he deadpanned at the disguised and very dashing, if loud, Commodore.

Norrington was about to tear his ring off Sparrow's finger, but Fernando shook his head and grabbed the hand.

"No. This is part of his costume, and stays there."

Antonio lifted a hand at their antics. "Stop that. Zelina, get back to rehearsing, you still do not know your part. If she's married at all, then obviously to him," he pointed towards James, "because it's his ring."

He limped a few steps and got a stack of paper which he thrust into Norrington's hands.

"You're Tarquin."

He turned, pushed another stack at Jack. "And you Lucrece."

Jack stared at the pages, then at Norrington. "Oh God, I'm scuppered!"


* * *


"O foul, thou beast would take from me this life,
Beating fast and true beneath this breast? Ain't got none! It's wool an' it itches!" Jack scratched at his left tit.

"'Tis here, alas, in darkness only can I moan my sorry fate.
Left priceless my treasure in one man's hands too late. Faint." Jack pointed at the page. "I ain't fallin' flat on me arse!"

Norrington pushed him down on the bare stage.

"Beauty our greatest temptress is and fair art thou—like hell.
But greater still and all more powerful is lust,
That burning fire that destroys and births.
Thou hast kindled it, and now I press, fulfil!"

Jack turned his head away, one hand raised.

"Do not for pity's sake destroy what is mine only pride and fortress. Oh fer Chrissakes, wot th' hell is he thinkin'? Get off me skirt!"

He had had a running battle with every direction from the back of the plaza enclosed within the grounds of the fine capital. He turned back to Norrington, warding him off in a flurry of opalescent silk bought on the cheap in Tortuga and almost tripping over the high heeled shoes.


"You're terrified. This monster is going to wreck your life, whether you do or do not his bidding. You are helpless. Feel helpless," the voice intoned.


James thought his role despicable, but Sparrow gazing at him in terror was deeply satisfying.

"You as the epitome of virtue is a joke in itself," he muttered.

"As my father ruleth this proud kingdom, I shall rule thee,
With thy will or against it.
Fair as Rome herself, thou art but mine."

"Ay me!" Jack exploded. "AY ME! Bloody fuckin' hell. Get offa me, you lump! "

"You're supposed to touch her! Not like she disgusts you! For pity's sake, you want to ravish her. Show that!"

"And when does a pirate become a critic and a spy a star, pray tell?" The voice grew closer and Solomon D'Yves glowered magnificently at his newest additions.

"I beg you, gentlemen. Madame. We have a performance in three hours' time. I don't care what you say, but say it convincingly and try to remember the plot." He puffed out his considerable chest and looked down a classically Roman nose at them.

Norrington was kneeling atop Sparrow and gladly let go, straightening to his full height.

Antonio shook his head. "This won't work! The one's an indignant fool and the other entirely stiff with God knows what up his arse who can't keep disgust and lust apart."

"All right, five minutes' pause and then you two try this again. And proper this time!"

Fernando, for the first time, scowled. He grabbed Norrington's collar. "I know you don't give a damn about us and the success of this play. But you'd better give a damn about your own hide, because they are looking for two Englishmen, and if it shows that two of the actors aren't actors at all, you can bet they will take a closer look."

D'Yves waved a hand. "I beg to request a moment with my two 'stars."

He waited until Antonio and Fernando ducked behind the curtains.

"Sirs. I believe you owe to this fine company the fact that neither of you is languishing in a cell, swinging from a rope or shot in the streets. The least you can do is afford me a proper performance." His eyes were a light brown, almost gold and danced in the light of so many lanterns. "I have the utmost faith in you both. Adieu."

With that, he turned and stalked off, leaving Jack to wrench his train around and stare at Norrington. He bit his lip and it was a completely ridiculous thing to see Sparrow, speechless and yes, afraid; painted and primped and looking every bit the female.

Norrington glared, but beneath the fire, there also was fear. A thousand comments on Sparrow's appearance were on his lips, but he didn't say one, instead wondered how to keep both his face and his life.

"He is right," he muttered.

Jack gulped. Then he nodded. "Back to the beginning?"


* * *


"As to love and plea thou didst not submit,
I then sought threats that did not soft your heart,
Cold and hard and hiding but in chastity's fairest gown.
Hence now to force I find myself reduced,
And if thou shalt not yield, for thee it may be done. "

Norrington's voice was tightly controlled, loud and filling the stage as a Captain's filled his ship in a storm. He could feel the audience's gaze, and could not miss the cheers from the pit and the gasps from the galleries as he grasped 'Lucrece's' wrist and forced her down on the stage.

Jack's heel caught in the hem of his skirt and he would have fallen heavily, but for Norrington's strength.

"I have no recourse here and so cannot but yield,
As flowers will to rain, as rock to water."

He kicked his upstage leg, trying to free the shoe and lost his balance, reaching out towards the audience with one desperate hand before Norrington's face was buried in the false illusion of his bosom.

"Sweet Gods, look down with pity, for I am undone."

He froze as the curtain pulled close and the applause deafened him.

"I'm stuck!" he snarled.

"Brilliant," Norrington hissed.

He tore at Sparrow's shoe and managed to free it.


This was positively insane. The theatre was filled up to the last place and he could still hear their cheers. God, how common, to be cheered on by them, watched as though he were a whore to put himself on display.

Fernando yanked him off the stage. "Not your scene, friend. Get yourself off stage until it's my turn to kill you."

Jack cursed his way around to where Zelina, Dawkins and the half-dozen others surrounded him and pulled off the gown, replacing it with the torn and draggled copy.

"Yer on."

He was shoved forward and stared at the lamps until he was nearly cross-eyed. Antonio poked him with his cane and he managed a pathetic shuffle as the damned heel caught again in the loose lace of the petticoats, sending him careening. Somehow, he remembered, if not the lines, the plot, gasping to catch his breath and wrenching at the skirts.

Lucretia's death was truly piteous, breathed out at the audience in an agony of pain, as the heel had turned enough to hurt and the stage splintered into his left palm. Certain he would erupt into mad laughter any moment, he collapsed, never moving until the applause faded as the curtain closed and Fernando kicked him.

Tarquin's pride and impenitence was done fine justice when Norrington glared at the audience and then Fernando as he pointed the avenging sword at him. He obediently fell and did not move at all during the poignant speech on justice and revenge, on tyrants and their fall. He was more than relieved when the curtain finally fell.

D'Yves hustled him backstage and into a dressing gown. "Get ready. The Great Ones come to pay homage! Where is our Mariella?"

Jack was far less comfortable in the trailing French gown with its plunging neckline and layers of filmy ruffles. "I feel like a bag o'sheets!"

"You look like one, too."

"An' you look like a parson on a four-day binge!"

"At least someone with a remainder of decency under the mask of depravity."

"Now, my sweet children, do not fight! Bestow your genius on your adoring public. Mariella, flirt."

A large woman gushed over James, pushing her considerable breasts in his face. "Mr. Jefferson, you were positively terrifying! I was at my wit's end with fear!"

Fernando glared at James and he smiled sweetly, bowing stiffly and kissed the woman's hand. "Milady, it certainly was not my intention to frighten you, but you must understand that above all, my duty is to the art itself." He only hoped he was sounding pathetic enough.

"Such a charming rogue!" She winked and nudged closer.

Apparently, he did.

Jack was batting his eyes at the very Commandante seeking to garrote him and, by all appearances, doing a very good job of flirting.

James was horrified. Acting on stage was bad enough, but to submit to this public ogling was hard on his pride. Had not a good third of the attendants been so obviously officers, he would have protested. As it was, he swallowed hard and settled for glaring at Sparrow.

Jack kept his voice in that upper register, the warm contralto a shock compared to his normal, baritone growl.

"But, la, sir, should I sup with you at this hour, what would my husband think?

Norrington was too preoccupied to take notice, but Fernando watched with wide eyes, a lady on his arm. She had urged a glass on him which he now raised hastily.

"To the marriage of our Mariella!" He grabbed Jack's hand with the ring and lifted that too. "Isn't it a fine ring?"

Jack lifted a hand and threatened to slap Fernando, smiled and used the toe of his pointed shoe to good effect under cover of his skirts. "Really, it is too much to burden our kind audience with my humble affairs."

"Oh you wound me, fair one! Am I too late?" The dark Spaniard at his elbow was almost drooling.

Jack hid a grin behind the painted paper. "Patience always, sir. Marriage may be all well and good, but there's room on every man's head for a set of horns."

He smiled sweetly at Norrington.

Fernando gave James a well-aimed push which propelled him close to Jack, smiling widely.

"My dearest wife, you break my heart. Were thy words not different when I bade thee for thy hand?" He stroked a hand through Sparrow's hair, warningly close to his throat.

"Only when you gave me your bank balance." Jack hissed.

He arched into James hand and planted a kiss on his lips, leaving red smudges. "My heart is always thine. And is he not such a prize, clad in splendor and striding though, a very Tarquin to my trembling soul."

The Spanish Commandante was enchanted.

Two hours later, bundled into one of the wagons, Jack scrubbed at the hard white paste coating his golden teeth with a chewed licorice root. Fernando had sweetly showed them their honeymoon suite and then bade them good night, leaving behind a complaining Jack and a scowling James.

"Bloody hell! How'd you get here! I don't know me head from me arse round this bedlam!"

"I admit, it is nigh impossible to keep them apart in your case. And if I had known you were in that wagon, I may have chosen to surrender to the Spanish. They are known to at least occasionally have sense!"

"Oh shut up an' unlace me, please!" Jack turned his back with a swish, the chemise billowing around him. The corset had cinched his waist in cruelly and the stomacher pushed his posture into something that should have been stiff, but wasn't at all.

"But why? I do think it fits you charmingly." Norrington sighed and moved to undo the laces easily with one hand, half-smiling. "The last time I did this, it certainly had more satisfactory results."

"An' paid a pretty penny fer it, too, I'll warrant!" Jack retorted, breathing deeply and scratching his side. He looked around for his clothes and realised, in a daze of mingled terror and fury that he was wearing the only garment left to him. He tugged at it helplessly. "I didn't agree t'three weeks of this!"

"I fail to see how it is any more ridiculous than your usual demeanor." Norrington tore at the cape and coat, settling himself on the small bed, smiling sweetly. "And I fail to see how I have to pay anything for undressing you, my dearest wife."

"Mollyboy!" Jack wrenched the worn linen around himself and huddled into a corner of the bed. He was still breathless. Too many hours of not enough air had addled his head. "Ya jus' hate me, plain an' simple!"

"Applause, applause! Mademoiselle Sparrow has made a correct assessment!"

Jack harrumphed and turned his back, pulling the blanket up over himself. "Go fuck yer mother."

James retreated in the other corner of the bed, scowling. It was cold and he pulled the other side of the blanket around himself, which put him a lot closer to Sparrow than he wanted. "That might be milder on her than introducing my wife," he snarled.

Jack rolled over, his eyes wide. "Listen, mate, this is bloody bad enough. Don't need you on top of it. Jus' shut yer gob an' lemme sleep!" But when he turned over again, there was a hitch in his breath, a nervous exhalation that went beyond the absurd situation. He tucked into himself and tried to make himself calm.

"As you like it. That is Shakespeare, in case you do not know."

Suddenly, Jack rolled over again, his fist clutching the pillow. "Wot did they do t' my hair!"

"I realise it may be a new sensation to you, but the civilised world refers to it as washing and combing."

Jack sniffed. He felt quite lost without the weighty nest of assorted memories in it. "Ain't fair at all. Damn, that wind is bloody cold!" He really did shiver. The harbour was cool at night and it was quiet outside. "Think we could sneak outta here?"

"We could. But there are increased guards at the docks and they check literally everyone. Fernando told me, and the Commandante's wife was most excited to speak of the hunt for the dreadful English spy and that pirate. That every outgoing ship had to be checked lest they escape."

Jack groaned and rolled into James' arms. "Awright. I know when t'fold. Hold me, husband."

"Only in irons, pirate." James pushed him away.

"But it's cold!" Jack turned insistently back and curled up against James shoulder. "When did you start spyin'?

James pushed him away again, rougher this time. "Obviously cold enough for your brain to freeze if you think I would allow that; or tell you anything about my task here."

Jack hitched the long skirt up over his legs and sprawled on the bed, absently scratching his groin with a sigh of relief. "Don't get on yer high horse, mate. Spyin' ain't much better than piracy in anyone's book, so stop givin' yerself airs."

"The only air here is the bad one you are causing." James' face curled into an expressive mask of disgust, then he rolled over. "Good night."

Jack waited until his back was turned to stick out his tongue and settled back with his script. He studied diligently for five minutes, then tossed the papers aside and curled up under the blankets. It really was chilly and he was shivering, huddled into a ball around his pillow. "Hope th' real Mariella's havin' a better weddin' night!"

"If she is, then because she is a better wife," James growled. He was not about to admit that he was freezing himself, certainly not in front of the pirate. It was as if he were caught in a comedy himself, written by someone with dreadful taste in humour.

Jack rolled over and nestled closer. "Well, mebbe she's not bein' told t'shut her gob an' treated like a slop bucket."

"Maybe she isn't a consistently blathering slop bucket." James retreated to the very edge of their makeshift bed.

"Damnation, Commodore will ya stop hoggin' the blankets!" Jack gave a tug. "An' I'll give you slop! Yer in th' same bloody boat as me, so don't you start wif yer all-fired pride, mate. Yer on the run an' hidin' out, jus' like I am." Jack kicked at the sheets and shivered a little more. Maybe, if he concentrated very hard, he could get his teeth to chatter.

"If we were in a boat, you would be in the brig and all this trouble wouldn't take place. Of course, if you would shout my title a little louder, even the guards might hear it. Little wonder that you are caught so often."

James took the blankets, rolled them up and tossed them at Sparrow. "There! Now just stop talking." The annoyance kept him warm enough and he instead pulled the cape from his costume around himself. It was thin and short and not warm at all, but it would suffice, if only Sparrow stopped babbling.

Jack shook his head and missed jingle of his hair. It only served to make his mood more foul. His voice was soft. "Got any idea where me boots are? I ain't gonna wear 'em. Jus' want me flask."

He should have known his sudden black temper for what it was: the inevitable result of the heady terror of being onstage in front of hundreds and the whole attendant farce. But Jack was far too busy feeling very abused.

James rose and went to the chest where he had seen Fernando stow their clothes. It was locked. "In there."

Jack looked up at him with a comical face, lips still reddened thrust out in a pout, painted eyes smudged and sulky, then it brightened. "Ahh. We've gotta have a needle or sumpthin' round here."

Immediately, he was in action again, rummaging through cases and boxes until he found a hat pin, the wicked five inches of steel gleaming between his fingers. "Keep me from me own boots, willya?"

To a detached spirit hovering overhead, it could not have been a more ridiculous scene; the apparent 'woman' crouched next to the chest and working like an expert lockpick, the tall man trying to tuck his long legs into a prop bed in a costume-crammed mess of boxes and piles.

Jack gave the pin another twist and the lock sprang. He looked over at Norrington and grinned. "Never met one I couldn't pick 'ventually." He found the boots and fooled with the left until he had a long, narrow leather flask in hand.

"Wonderful, master thief. I only fear you would be less successful in a Spanish prison. Their brigs are one thing, but their prisons ashore are quite safe."

"Think so?" Jack's lips curled and his grin was strange even to Norrington. Without the golden teeth glinting so brightly, it was almost a sneer and completely at odds with his dancing eyes.

He tossed the flask to James. "Th' way outta any Spanish prison, or any bloody prison, mate, is cash. That'll pick a lock quicker n' anythin'. "

He went back to the bed and pulled at the blanket awkwardly, then sighed, laid it down and folded it diagonally into a rough but serviceable shawl. "Don't you say a bloody word!"

James did not exactly speak. He was holding fast to the flask and shaking with laughter.

"Cash might work for common little criminals such as yourself, but I fear the level for British officers is a little higher."

Jack bristled at the 'little' comment, his eyes narrowing. "I ain't little! And drink some o'that, if yer gonna. I'm parched." He hunched against the headboard, his knees drawn up, arms wrapped around them. "Wot are you laughin' at? Chrissakes, I know I look bleedin' ridiculous. Thanks a lot! An' if I'm so common, why are you so damned fast t'chase me all over the Caribbean?"

James continued to laugh, took a sip of the rum and handed it back. "Because your ship isn't. She is the only challenge left in the Caribbean that is more than a sloop."

He didn't think he needed to explain the thrill of a challenge to Sparrow, and he wouldn't, although he knew it was the same that had caused him to embark on this particular challenge. It made him feel alive.

"Of course, a sane man, unlike you, would be glad to be able to get out of prison more easily."

"Wot's easier than findin' someone t'pay yer way? Breakin' out, sure! But it ain't always possible. An' y'know, Norrington. Seems t'me that all the bother outside ain't jus' on my account. Wot 'ave you been up to makes them so fired up t'catch ya?" he smiled. He was still chilly and hunkered down under the covers with the flask.

Norrington arched an eyebrow. The worst thing was that Sparrow was right. He had a distinct idea what or rather who betrayed him, but this was certainly more of a mess than he had expected. "Why do you believe it is on my account, and even if it is, why would I tell you?"

"Well, mate, Commodores are usually guests in foreign ports when there ain't a war on. An' since I haven't heard Ole German George declare one lately, I gotta wonder wot th' hell they're chasin' you fer?" Jack's eyes, sharply intelligent and alert peered out from the curling mass of hair on the pillow.

"Don't tell if ya don't wanna. I'll figger it out soon enough. But it seems t'me that ya did me a good turn t'night. That required infermation, aye? Well, you know why I'm here an' why they're after me. That rather makes it impossible fer me t'repay ya since I'm in th' dark, as it were."

James' eyes narrowed at the offer. That certainly was a new tactic. Either the rum had softened Sparrow's demeanor, or simply supplied him with a new plan. Perhaps all the talk of buying one's way out had given him the idea to do so with Norrington's hide. But then, he could have done that the moment he realised they were looking for him.

"Sparrow, you had enough sense to arrive at this conclusion. Is it too much bother to think further and realise that if my task here is as important as you believe it is, I certainly will not reveal it to you?"

"Course you won't. Then again," he mused, "been more English than usual round these parts. Beggin' yer pardon, but it does have me wonderin'." He mulled over the puzzle of a few faces he'd seen both here in San Felipe and in Santo Domingo a few weeks earlier. He took another pull and held the flask out. "Wotever ya like, mate. Jus' hope ya don't run inta familiar faces that ye'd rather not been seein'."

"I already did, Sparrow." With a pointed look at the pirate, James took the flask and sipped from it. For a little while, he stared at it, then at the gaudy coat, neatly folded beside the bed. Again he laughed, almost hysterically.

Jack crept closer and pulled one of the blankets over him, his brows knotting. "Norrington, wot have you got yerself into? Listen, mate, I know there's been a lot of babble lately an' certain merchant vessels have gone missin' an' not because of me or any o' my kind. Yer a Navy officer! Wot th' hell put you in such a pickle? Playin' at espionage, James?" He was more than a bit concerned by the laughter. There was a high, thin note of panic under it that he recognised.

James caught himself and went still. "I am getting too old for such matters as these."

The problem was something he had not unlearnt in all his years in the Navy: If a matter was important, he had to do it himself. There was many a man he would trust with his life, but when it came to this, he could only trust himself. Betrayal was a despicable thing and he was now bitterly convinced it had taken place.

"Ahhh." Jack sat up and wrapped the blanket around Norrington's shoulders. His hands rested on them for a moment, his stare disconcerting and uncharacteristically serious. "Tried t'do a bit of reconnoissance yerself an' someone blabbed. Hurts, don't it?"

He got up and padded across the space like a small ghost to pull the curtains closer and stabbed a gaudy broach through them to hold them tight. It was absurdly chilly and he hurried back to the warmth of the bed.

James was watching him curiously. What was this sudden sympathy? An act, as on stage, or part of the reason why he had helped Sparrow before; that they were, so eloquently put, 'in the same boat'.

"The order was the other way around, but yes, your guess is fairly close," he muttered. He didn't move away as Sparrow crawled into the bed, and wordlessly lifted the blanket.

"Miserable thing, that. Don't much like betrayals. I mean, 'tis one thing it's nigh impossible t'fergive." He took another swallow of rum and plastered himself against Norrington. "Sorry 'bout it, mate. I'm so damned cold. Blood's all thinned out, y'know. Is it religion again or jus' gold that's makin' the Spanish dogs bark at Merry Olde?"

"Maybe if you drank less rum, your blood would be thicker," James muttered. For all his shivering, Sparrow was quite warm and to himself he admitted that with the blankets drawn around them both, the chill certainly had less bite. His arm was uncomfortably wedged between their bodies until he relented and put it around Sparrow. Decidedly awkward, but at least warm. "Do they ever need a particular reason? I believe the simple opportunity suffices."

Jack nestled against him. "Yer right. Nat'rul antipathy I think. Well, I'm no patriot an' don't owe England a bloody thing, but I don't much like th' games th' Spaniards play. Sneaky bastards." His tone, while disapproving, had a ring of admiration. "Anyways, can't let 'em get one up on ya, so it mus' needs that we get you home t'Port Royal intact. An' I jus' wanna get back t'me Pearl." He sniffed indignantly. "Last time I do business 'round here."

"Fernando will be disappointed. He did say you performed so much better than Mariella." James chuckled softly. "Where is the Pearl, anyway?" Strange, that for once he would ask that without capture in mind, instead escape. "Do you think we could sneak away to find her?"

Jack rolled over to face him, his glance distressingly direct. "An' why would I tell ya where she is?"

He let that retort quiver in the air between them for a moment, then grinned. "She's not too far. Three, four days' sail. If we could get back t'this lovely little boat, yes,we could. They've prob'ly searched her already but that's fine. Nothin' there t'say I was here."

James cursed under his breath. "Why did you for once not hide her in one of those useful little coves the Dauntless cannot sail into? Four days' sail and she might as well be in the East Indies. It would seem we are stuck here until the troupe continues their tour with us aboard."

Jack sighed. He secretly quite agreed with Norrington, but, considering their current predicament, was doubly glad he had opted to leave the Pearl in more secure quarters. Jack had an animal's instincts, and, unlike most men, he listened to them. Often, they appeared insane or preposterous, sometimes just superstitious or silly, but he trusted those instincts.

He'd had a strong feeling that Jose El Gordo was either playing two sides from the middle or talking out of his arse. Hence, he'd come to negotiate the sale of certain things personally and without the Pearl. He'd been right and had not so much walked into a trap as skirted around the edges. Then all hell had broken loose with soldiers running everywhere like madmen and no where safe for a private businessman to hide.

"So it was you caused all th' ruckus! Damn me, I shoulda bolted sooner."

"I humbly apologise if my presence has complicated your criminal endeavours."

This was a bloody mess, and to find himself in it with Jack Sparrow of all people was highly ironic. Not that James couldn't appreciate irony at times, but this time, it rather went too far. "May I sleep now, or do you have any further bouts of insanity planned?"

'Mariella' snored softly against his shoulder in response, blinked himself awake and smiled. "Sounds good t'me, mate. Worry about t'morra in th' mornin'."

He nestled closer and fell back to sleep within a heartbeat.

These were quite possibly the most horrible sleeping conditions James had ever had to endure. Sparrow clung, without the least reserve, using James' arm as pillow, snoring into his shoulder. He only hoped the bloody pirate did not drool.

Appalling or not, he eventually fell asleep as well, while inventing plans to reach the docks in secrecy and discarding them after only a moment.


* * *


Jack was just drifting to consciousness, aware of being tangled in a spider's web that held him fast and he yelped, flailing.

The long chemise was twisted three times around his legs and he bounced around, fighting to get free of it and cursing quite audibly.

James started awake, hand to the bedside where normally his sword would lie. His curses were, quite possibly, even fouler than Sparrow's.

Fernando was standing at the foot of the bed, laughing. "Up, my young couple! Wedding Night is over!

"Shut up!" Jack bellowed, throwing a shoe. "Goddamn it, where's th' rum!"

Fernando nearly toppled over laughing while James was glaring alternately at him and at Sparrow.

"A simple good morning would have sufficed."

Jack glared from under heavy, smeared lids, his hair a curling mass that tumbled into his eyes and face, like a French hunting dog gone ungroomed for years. "RUM!"

Fernando shook his head. "Sorry, no rum. But we do have porridge for breakfast."

Jack growled, rolled over and pulled the pillow on top of his head. There was a moment of silence, then a burst of laughter from outside the wagon. Zelina and Dorcas lumbered in and poked at the 'sleeping' beauty.

"James, make these persons go 'way or come back wif rum. I ain't budgin'."

Fernando and Dorcas were strong enough to hold him fast as they wedged him into the corset.

"Just like our Mariella!"

At that moment, James did have mercy and found the rum flask where it had dropped between the bedclothes and offered it to Sparrow, who was flailing wildly, battling Fernando's hands.

"Ye've no feelin' heart in ye!" Jack complained between swallows. "Damn ya man, I can't breathe!"

He collapsed onto the stool, sitting bolt upright because the amount of bone, steel and buckram in the damned thing kept him stiff as the pole up the Commodore's arse. He handed the flask back, still blinking. "Thanks. Man could perish of thirst an' you lot wouldn't care!"

Fernando was yanking at the laces to fasten them even tighter, whistling all the while.

"There is water from the fountain," he offered cheerfully, brushing Jack's hair and arranging it once more from its unruly mess. "What did you do with my wonderful headdress?" he admonished in a motherly, chastising tone. Then he peered into James' direction. "Or what did he do with it?"

Jack tried to punch him and missed. "God Almighty, can't ya let me be fer two minutes!" he roared.

"As soon as I am done with you, my sweet stubborn filly."

On the other side of the narrow wagon, James was warding off Zelina's and Dorcas' attempts to help him dress and cooing admiration of his beard, proclaiming that he must not shave it.

Jack sat still after Fernando yanked his hair so hard he whimpered and watched James' arms and legs being thrust into various garments in the mirror, giggling.

When the infuriating redhead tried to wipe his eyes, he grabbed the rag.

"Oh lemme do it. I know bloody how." He took advantage of the basin Dorcas had brought with her and washed his face, letting Fernando shave him and glaring cutlasses and 9-pounders at him.

Once his eyes were done, the irrepressible Fernando began pasting and powdering until he thought he would sneeze himself to death.

"James, are you alive?"

He was, but rather too busy fighting off any attempts to dress him in a wig of long dark hair which still smelled of horse.

"Enough! This is ridiculous enough as is!"

"I do not think it is ridiculous. You are most dashing." Dorcas leaned close.

James cursed.

She grinned and began to carefully darken the areas where his beard already showed, adding a touch to his brows and just a touch of rouge to his lips.

"There's a luvvie. Ye'll break their hearts. Our noble host has come t'watch the rehearsal, so mind yerselves. Sir. Madame."

Jack turned with a pained expression.

Fernando had outdone himself with Jack's hair. It billowed around his face, piled atop his head and cascading down his neck in long ringlets.

"I don't think I can live through three weeks o'this, mate." More rum poured between cherry red lips.

"Nonsense! You will charm everyone out of their mind and will learn to love it!" Fernando clapped his hands. "Such a beautiful couple!"

James groaned. "And who is this 'noble host'?"

Dorcas clapped and Zelina stopped fussing with the lace around Jack's 'bosom'. "No one a'tall. But the Guv'nor himself. An' that grand soldier and a coupla his officers." She winked. "I know I'll make my keep t'night!"

"Please tell me he has not brought his mistress again."

Dorcas giggled. "Oh no. He's an eye fer our black-haired lovely."

The trio burst into fits of giggles as Fernando pulled the twice-turned velvet gown tight around Jack and laced it. He fluffed the 'lace' collar and beamed at James.

A look of pure horror was on James' face. Not only would he have to play along with the marriage tale, he would have to enforce it, make certain that no one got close enough to 'Mariella' to realise that she was in fact Jack Sparrow.

"I am doomed," he muttered. "O, what men dare do!"


* * *


NOTES: We are the miscreants responsible for the overblown Rape of Lucrece. Our abject apologies to Shakespeare.


Act 2


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